Sunday, December 27, 2009

From Elvis, The Colonel & Me: Elvis — A Golden Celebration

for Hardy Price

(excerpt, from The Arizona Republic, December, 1984)

Within five years of his death in August 1977, RCA had released records like Elvis Sings For Children And Grown-Ups Too! (1978); Our Memories of Elvis; Vols. I & II (1979); The Elvis Medley (1982); and, (if in prominent past tense), I Was The One ( 1983). Our Memories stripped away ancient old backing tracks so as to forfeit and/or counterfeit and/or destroy and/or damage/and/derange and/or delete what was left of Our Memories. I Was The One' encircled Elvis' voice with other voices, fresh new voices, anonymous updated voices. The Elvis Medley sliced him into itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny bite-sized beef-a-roni bits, and if Elvis Sings For Children And Grown-Ups! was actively and aggressively bizarre while still achieving the spirit of the relentlessly stupid, it was only bizarre and relentlessly stupid in a tradition, in the tradition of earlier Elvis & The Colonel royalty-collaboration records like "Bossa Nova Baby, " "Petunia, The Gardener's Daughter," and "Do The Clam."

Unsurprisingly, it stank loudly of the same obtuse Country & Western greed that had turned the 14-year-old Hank Williams Junior unloose in a Nashville recording studio only just a few years after his father's unfortunate but entirely lucrative demise, and set him to singing along with his old man's overdubbed publishing ghost. There's never been any indication that RCA, most prominent of the biggest, dumbest, dimmest, least clever record labels in the history of the big ol' dumb record business, didn't intend to keep on doing the Elvis forever and ever. The year or two before and after Elvis died, every rock critic's brown-cardboard promo-carton of RCA records, arriving a couple few times a month, featured fat wads of wee tiny wallet-sized pocket-calendars, sometimes focused on the coming or current year, but not necessarily, not always; there were plenty of mailroom slip-ups, and undoubtedly even more mailroom jokes, featuring a slapped-together photo-collage of the white-suited Las Vegas Elvis as graphic-arted against an X-Acto'ed-in Christmas tree, and then a creepy under-age pink-petticoated sub-Barbie doll with Shirley Temple curls, set off against a shared mono-autograph that said, swear to God, "Merry Christmas from Elvis and The Colonel," with the Colonel himself playing Santa somewhere amidst the entire ham-handed photo-collage proposition. (The Colonel was collecting extra-large management commission from Elvis whilst counter-back-charging RCA for his promotional expertise, presumably by the added-mailing-cost calendar-pound; hence the fact that there were often more of these wallet-calendars in your promo-pak than actual RCA records — RCA was using them, featuring its most prominent artist and Santa and a plastic doll and this or that or some other year's daily calendar, as filler and as package-stuffing styrofoam popcorn and as independent promotion all in one, achieving a cost-tripling trifecta — and everybody already knew that RCA wasn't going to ever actually sell any records anyway, so the guy at the used record store was only gonna give you . . . well, nothing beyond than the bulk doubled-down trade-in rate, because it was on RCA, the amazing hitless wonder label.) There was a time when I could have wallpapered my bathroom with Elvis & The Colonel & The Little Pink Petticoated Creepy Doll-Gal Calendars, though now I inevitably wish I had an extra few to give away. In our joyous holiday season. I'd certainly send one to you. Personalized, from Elvis and The Colonel and me.

The Arizona Republic, December 12, 1984

Aphorism Sixty-One: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

"I know when I'm serious, even if no one else does."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Aphorism Sixty: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

History, whatever it may be, is not helping liars tell their lies.

(from forthcoming work, about . . . well, A Piece Of Work.)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Aphorism Fifty-Nine: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

I don't look for irony. It looks for me.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Aphorism (sorta) Fifty-Eight: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

I was Dr. Pepper and she was Mrs. Hyde.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Aphorism Fifty-Seven: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

No use crying over split milk.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Aphorism (Sort of) Fifty-Six: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

Some cultures like kites more than birds.

(Translation into English [never my native language]:

Some cultures prefer kites to birds.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Aphorism Fifty-Five: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

The French — they're so German!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Aphorism Fifty-Four: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

“You say one thing,” he said, “and then you say the exact opposite.” I thanked him for the compliment. “There’s a reason for that,” I said. “It’s because I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

William Michaelian

Aphorism Fifty-Three: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

I've spent my whole life avoiding men's underwear...

Aphorism Fifty-Two: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

from Patrick:

"Rope? If I had any rope, I would have hung myself already..."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Aphorism Fifty-One: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

"You can beat a dead horse to water but you can't make him drink it."

from How The West Was I

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Really Short Fiction

Here's the first line or two from the second chapter of my first novel or two, written way back...well, a while ago. And now, today, oddly, it felt appropriate to me.

(from How The West Was I; all rights reserved)

"When we come back again this time it was summer time which if you go to Arizona in June or July or August and know better all ready than you are probably crazy or stupid or more."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Aphorism Fifty: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

"A lie can only thrive on truth; lies, heaped one upon another, lack substance."

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Monday, August 10, 2009

Aphorism Forty-Nine: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

"That's like trying to pick out your favorite leg."

Jerry Reed, all-'round genius guy. . . and, ironically, a master picker

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

What IS The Blues?

Elderly Bluesman, interviewing Little Stevie Spielberg:

"So tell me, man — what is The Movies?"

(from SPIN; John Lee Hooker profile)

Aphorism (Sort of) Forty-Seven: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

Black Sabbath invented having the name of the band and the name of the first album and the name of the first song on the first album all be the same thing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Aphorism Forty-Six: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

Guess I shouldnt'a wiped that SuperGlue on my eyelids, huh?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Aphorism Forty-Five: One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

Man, if you think I look young now, you should've seen me when I was young!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Aphorismes Forty-three and Forty-four: (Two ((or maybe Three)) among a series; collect the whole set!)

Patrick, who on any good night is good for a dozen or more, and on any bad night is likely capable of twice that (aphorismes, that is) had a good set of weekend nights. I was there a bunch, but the mind— well, mine, certainly— is only capable of absorbing so many pithy witty bits. From among the few I remember:

"Sobriety is a quality."

And this one (or two, more or less), uttered as we were standing out front, Parisian twilight, not quite night, but trying hard to be, and nearly succeeding, Patrick rolling a cigarette:

"You can always lose more..."

And a contemplative pause. A puff.

"There's always more you can lose."

Me, I haven't figured out which I like more. Not that I like either one, in their essence or truth or trial; it's just that I recognize them both. Equally.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Carl Sandburg Proves You Can Do Folk Music And Not Be A Thief

Carl Sandburg, once neck and neck with Hemingway as America’s most famous writer (while unequivocally winning the droopy unpaid laurel of “America’s Most Famous Living Poet,” Non-Academic Division), has long since been given the unceremonious heave-ho from any and all AmLit surveys, defenestrated from the Pantheon’s upper deck, his literary stock sent plummeting like a brawny-shouldered Illinois anvil shoved sidelong off the once-and-former Sears Tower skydeck. But Sandburg was back in those days considered — and especially on the Left — as America’s Poet, probably the most widely known American literary figure since Mark Twain.

Sandburg had lived the type of life that would later become a standard joke, the fabled Proletarian Novelist’s Pedigree, practically a literary genre all on its own. (And one which as much as anything was inspired and shaped by Sandburg’s chronicling of the Great Rail-Splitter’s own homespun linsey-woolsey checkered past.) Child of Swedish immigrants, an illiterate blacksmith father and a mother who loved books, he had been a porter, a shoeshine boy, a kid with a milk route, a short-order cook, a hobo who did ten days on vagrancy charges, a dishwasher, a harvest hand, a house painter, a volunteer in the Sixth Illinois Regiment of State Militia when the time came to drive the foul Spaniard from Guantanamo Bay, a Socialist labor organizer, a salesman, a newspaper reporter, a poet (whose hog-butchering poem “Chicago,” actually won a $200 prize in 1914, a mark that may not yet have been eclipsed when you consider what $200 bought then, and what poetry in print pays then or ever), a pro folksinger and published folk song collector, and finally, as he would be best known from 1925 on, as the biographer Abraham Lincoln might have wished upon himself.

But Sandburg was beyond all this, because like it or not, he was actually a poet, and a great one, though a great one of sorts. At his worst, he was too direct, too maudlin, and plainspoken to a severe fault. These were his strengths as well, because he was determined to speak directly, a reporter-poet ready to risk the emotion raised by the drama of daily life observed closely, and he was especially determined to talk in his poetry rather than declaim, to talk, to talk as an American, to risk missing the arch tone of the poet if he could achieve the poetry of a joke made at lunchbreak. A committed Socialist, he was determined to trouble the political waters, but he was at least as determined to locate poetry in the land he’d surveyed around him, the same land young Abe had surveyed as frontier. It’s a pretty tough row to hoe, this political poetry jazz, and he missed more often than he hit. It was a batting average to be proud of.

Sandburg’s Lincoln biography, begun as “a book for young people,” bloomed beyond that but maintaining a certain intended sweetness at heart, was in its day considered to be one of the great literary works of America. “A Lincoln whom no other man than Carl Sandburg could have given us,” said Mark Van Doren; “A monument that will stand forever,” wrote Robert E. Sherwood, and the
New York Times reviewed it as, flatly, “...the best biography of our day.” The very few nay-sayers it ever gathered derided it as a hagiography but it was less A Life of the Saint than A Life of the Christ. The Prairie Years, published in two volumes in 1926, and originally titled simply “Abraham Lincoln,” had more of its juvenile origin in its genetic code, but after its great popular, critical, and financial and public success, Sandburg spent much of the next thirteen years working on the four volumes that would be The War Years, with their unavoidably darker vision. It was the Prairie Lincoln, though, — railsplitting rockabilly Abe, the Young Elvis, not the bearded Las Vegas President Lincoln — that was everywhere in the Popular Front years. Sherwood’s own play “Abe Lincoln in Illinois” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1938, and was dutifully turned into a dull Hollywood movie in 1940, lagging behind John Ford’s 1939 Young Mr. Lincoln.

The book that followed on the heels of
The Prairie Years, was a pioneering collection of songs, The American Songbag. Sandburg had always closed his poetry readings and lectures on Socialism with a few songs played on guitar, and on some nights members of his audience taught him new ones before the evening was ended. He described his collection as “ 280 songs, ballads, ditties, brought together from all regions of America.” He went on to declare the songs’ sources, commencing with “That notable distinctive American institution, the black-face minstrel...” and he spoke of railroad, hobo, work-gang, steamboat songs. He mentioned Mexican border songs before he touched on the lumberjacks, loggers and shanty boys, and even before bringing up the ballads of the southern mountains or the Negro spiritual. He was on the seventh paragraph of his introduction before he mentioned something called “folk songs.”

There had been collections of American songs before this one, and he pointedly acknowledged a number of the most recent ones. He suggested the songs be sung any way you could manage, and — listen; take note; pay attention here and now — he didn’t end up owning any of the copyrights. He didn’t claim any of copyrights. He didn’t get into any of the legal squabbles that the other folksong collectors who followed did whenever some tune they knew got on the radio, and the pennies began to pile up in somebody else’s account, even though they all knew they hadn’t ever written it. He proved that it was possible to print a folk song collection and not gut the wallet of any folk too dumb or dead or poor or stupid to have heard what a lawyer might do.

(excerpt from a forthcoming work)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Aphorism Forty-Two; (One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!)

Da mio amico, Michele Gazich, musicista e poeta e spiritu:

"Tra il diavolo e il mare . . . non vai a pescare."
(Between the devil and the sea . . . don't go fishing.")

But wait, there's more:

"Between the wood and the bark
Hide your love
Between the stone and the hammer
Make flowers grow..."

"Between Isaac and the knife
There's Abraham's heart..."

"Between the mouth and the wine
The road is short...
("Tra il vino e la mano
C'e un breve cammino...")

"Tra toro e torero
C'e poco pensiero..."
("Between bull and bullfighter
There's little thought...")

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Aphorism Forty-One; (One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set)

I could see her point, but I could see mine better.

Aphorism Forty; (One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set)

Time flies either way.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Aphorism Thirty-Nine; One of a Series; Collect The Whole Set

Think of the borders, la fronteras, the frontiers, the sheer distance, that tears have to travel from their home, the heart, only just to leap from the eyes.

(Piense las fronteras, la distancia escarpada, que rasgones tienen que viajar de su hogar, el corazon, solo apenas para saltar de los ojas.)

Aphorism Thirty-Eight; One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set

Quoth Miriam (with Franco-Hibernian accent):
That's when you know you've been somewhere too long — it doesn't exist.

Monday, March 2, 2009

King David, starring Richard Gere; Not another ancient movie review? Mais oui, mon ami...

Or, Meanwhile, back at The Bible...

Okay, 'nother movie review from days o' yore. I was having fun, obviously, if not at the actual movies. I mean, is this thing even on videotape? Much less an expanded director's-cut DVD? Despite the above-the-title of dual big dogs like Beresford and Geresford? (Not to mention that big ol' public-domain dog, the drooling St. Bernard of cinematic sincerity, The Bible.) Which means, I realize suddenly, that it's Filmic History! All it takes is a decade or two of free-fall through the cracks of commerce to make A Forgotten Hunk Of History, after all. (Although maybe its mere mention here, given my fanatical following over 'cross town at Cahiers du Cinema, may shift, Samson-like, the pillars of film scholar-ology. Let's wait and see.

King David
Directed by Bruce Beresford, starring Richard Gere

Why does everyone in King David, including (to the very utmost best of his ability) Richard Gere, speak with a clipped upper-class British accent. (And why did everyone in the mini-drama-docu-series A.D. speak the same way in those exact same English actorly accents?)
Ah, hell, let’s admit it — we all really know why it is, even if we generally like to ignore it. Americans have never gotten over the colonization process and we’re still in awe of all that’s upper-crustingly imported from England. All those plum-shaped rolling-toned stage-trained Old Vic voices turn an American’s under-developed class-consciousness to quivering jim-jams of jelly.

It’s true now, as it was again true a couple of years ago when pop music was once more dominated by pale young English accents; it was true when Hollywood first began importing washed-up British stage hacks; it was true when Mark Twain wrote again and again about shoddy conmen who assumed accents and then bilked their hapless fellow Americans by convincing them to bow down to their betters; it was true as soon as the first argument about whose family had arrived on the Mayflower took place.

But our laughable crush on the threadbare better-class of Brits — and the long-entrenched practice of using imported acting stock when the public must necessarily be impressed with the large artistic intentions of a film (the very term itself is British as well — we Americans say “movie” until we get self-conscious) — has to do with more than a slavish nastional inferiority complex. It has to do as well with our longstanding Anglo-Saxon disdain for the foreigners we’ve stolen our heritage from.

We’re Judeo-Christian as all get-out, but we’ve never thought much of Jews. We trace the lineage of Western Civilization though the Romans and the Greeks but when we create our dramas about those days, everyone looks like Richard Chamberlain and Peter O’Toole.
(Which reminds me, some way or another, of the headline on this current week’s TV Guide, timed to coincide with a docudrama about Sweden’s Raoul Wallenburg: "How Christians Saved Jews from Nazis." Nice. And concise!)

Plainly, we wouldn’t buy into the cast-of-thousands pomp and circumstance if our noble Romans had trouble speaka da Inglese, if the stars of our Biblical bio-pix spoke Lower East Side Yiddish. (Neither one would be any less or more correct than the clipped-tone, cricket-playing actorly English, even if it might lend a little culture-bending credence.) Our omnipresent docu-drama Nazis — and how many mini-series docu-dramas have delivered those thrilling, chilling, swastikaed savages to our screens in the last few years? Ten? Fifteen? Twenty? — get to sprecht their Englische in Colonel Klink-isch accents but the poor old Romans are obligated to speak their contractionless British as if they’d just gotten back from a brisk sculling holiday invasion of Cambridge.

Meanwhile, back at The Bible, we have Richard Gere in American Gigolo Goes To The Holy Land, and giving The Proper British Accent the best shot he’s got. You can laugh at the idea of Richard Gere as author of the Psalms, or you can wonder instead if it’s typecasting. David is, after all, undisputed sex king of the Old Testament and the New alike, the horny shepherd boy who made good — good and plenty. The Amadeus of his day, quite literally the Prince of his place and time, and in the background, you can hear the producers of this one — let’s call ‘em Saul and Sol — rubbing their palms together in sheer glee. “We’ll be able to show the babe who plays Bathsheeba in the absolute buff and still rate a PG-13 — it’s in The Bible! This guy porks more cuties than the kids in Porky’s and Porky’s II and Porky’s III all put together, for God’s sake! And it’s in The Bible! And they all have big fat British accents! We’re gonna get a PG-13 for certain! There ain’t a publicity-seeking fundamentalist preacher in the country who’d dare picket this one — they’re gonna be running church-camp buses to see it on group discounts! Call marketing right now!”

And who’s to say it’s not true? Who’s to say that David didn’t dance like a grotesque ape (or worse, like Richard Gere), that Bathsheeba’s full-frontal, tight-focus, soft-lighting sponge bath wasn’t designed — perhaps even Divinely — expressly for the purpose of swaying both poet-kings and producer-kings? The demands of docu-drama are simple and easily satisfied, given a bit of rearrangement, given a dash or splash of revisionism.

George C. Scott’s about to be seen docu-dramatizing the life and persona of Mussolini. Will Mussolini’s non-docu-drama flesh-and-blood pianist son announce his triumphant cross-marketing “Victory” tour, while the entrepreneurial biggies of rock squabble over the T-shirt merchandising rights? What sort of accent will Scott use? Will it be actorish English? Will it be woppish burlesque? Perhaps, maybe, but most likely it’ll be a Pattonish bark, more patently patented George C. Scott than Il Duce, just as Gere’s David is more breathless American gigolo than warrior-poet-king.

There is one line in King David, a single sentence delivered by the Godly announcer in the roundest of actorly anglo-tones that nonetheless rings -ultra- authentically true. It comes from the Book of Samuel: “And David smote the Philistines and put them into the sea.” You can’t blame David — the real one, not Richard Gere — that they resurfaced in Malibu a few thousand years later.

The Arizona Republic

Monday, February 23, 2009

Aphorisms 36 & 37 (Two of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!)

I'm not sure why, but the slightly aged (no! it's vintage!) (it is!) (swear to God!) magazine-y feature below seems to feature far more than its share of pithy aphorisms... it's chock full'o'nutty aphoristic goodness!

I think it's the muscle car factor. I used to remove surfboards and skateboards and skimboards and wetsuits and boogie-boards and Carl's Jr. styrofoam burger-boxes and Yellow Pages (hey, geezers, remember them?) and everything but the essential Thomas Bros. map out of the various GTOs and El Caminos that I would then go dyno-tweak onto the Pasadena Freeway on-ramps....

(For them that don't know, the Pasadena Freeway, allegedly The World's First Freeway, was and is kind of bizarrely designed, in that you must NECESSARILY, no matter what manner of vehicle you're steering, STOMP ON THE GAS in order to enter, from a dead stop with maybe twenty or thirty or forty or so yards until YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING AT LEAST THE MINIMUM 55 MPH (which any Californian can tell you is and ought to be and ever will be somewhere between 65 and 80). Which is way-bitchin', frankly, if, on-ramp after on-ramp, you're tuning your Tri-Power three-carburetor '66 GTO, or better yet, seeing, for entirely scientific study purposes, exactly how far the gas-gauge needle will drop if you crank open the hood scoop on your low-geared, high-compression-head RamAir III '69 GTO and Fuckin' STOMP ON IT. (Aimed, let it be said, almost directly from dear beloved glorious downtown LA straight toward Pasadena's mythical Jet Propulsion Labratory.)

Anyway, as I was saying up there somewheres: aphorisms. Galore!
Such as:

"Fiberglass being fiberglass and easy to slice with a Skilsaw..."
(See, I don't much care whether you personally think much of this as an aphorism, but I know, in my heart of Skilsaw'd fiberglas'd hearts, that this is about as pure a sentence as is possible to achieve in American. Screw you, as Ray Wylie Hubbard nearly almost said, I'm from Arizona.

Same goes double-or-nuthin' for this one: "Blowers and air-injector stacks began bursting through hoods just as Big Daddy Roth's cartoons had always predicted they would; All Hell burst loose."

Or this:
"Hood scoops — functional, semi-functional, quasi-functional — sprang up like flared nostrils on horny beasts..."

"Rockets are rockets, and cars from the Fifties are anything but."

And then there's the opening line of this opus, which I think has proved to have a near-eternal aesthetic endurance:
"Muscle cars don't have fins."

Okay, so maybe by Oscar Wildean standards these are long-winded and louche' . . . but this next, this next one, this very next one . . . well, if I write no other sentence in life . . . (and some afternoons, that's exactly my mood) well, I wrote this one:

"Good cars go fast."

So there, dammit.

"Good cars go fast."

Take that, LeCorbusier et/und Mies Van derRohe; Form follows function, less is more; both be damned.

"Good cars go fast."

That, if I must say so myself, kicks major ass.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Heavy Metal: Muscle Cars; A brief (and speedy!) cultural history

by Bart Bull
(published in Details)

Muscle cars don't have fins.

To put it another way: If it has fins, it's not a muscle car.  This is my contribution to peaceably settling the nasty aesthetic battle that rages whenever scholars gather to debate the demarcation lines of the Muscle-Car Era.  The argument can be made that the first muscle car was the 1964 GTO, created when Pontiac general manager Pete Estes and an ad exec named Jim Wangers snuck a 389 with no fewer than three two-barrel carbs into a Tempest body.  Then again, what about those mid-Fifties Chryslers with the early version of the hemi engine?  Or the '57 Studebaker with the Paxton supercharger?  And if you're stretching things that far, how about those postwar Hudson Hornets that stomped anything else you could drive onto and off of a stock-car track?  And that raises the question of all the limited-production devil-rides Detroit built primarily for stock-car racing, like the'64 Galaxie 500 with a 425-horse 427.  As you can see, down this road hairsplitting danger lies, and around then next turn, angels dance on pinheads.

Now, when I was about 12 or so, my big sister had a boyfriend who drove a '57 Chevy with a 396 dropped into it, and cheater slicks that left black peel-out marks on our sidewalk, which my dad never got over. (You could tell it didn't have Posi-Traction by the little hops where he laid rubber.)  Without question this was a righteous rod, but that's it exactly: it was a hot rod, something assembled after the fact by chopping and channeling and engine-swapping and such, extremely honorable pursuits one and all, but each aimed at adjusting the sad facts of life as defined by Detroit.  What distinguishes the muscle car, and what's all the more remarkable when you pull over and park to think about it, is that for just about a dollar a pound you could go down to a new car dealer and buy something strong enough to scare you to death when you stomped on the gas — and it would look hairy as hell, too.  With an absolute absence of fins.

It's my belief — no, it's larger than that, more like a faith bordering on religion, like the way some guys believe Fords Eat Chevys — that the best-looking, most fully realized mass-produced cars ever made came from Detroit in the 1968-through'70 model years (which is to say 1967-69).  I'm nothing like an absolutist about this naturally; I used to have a way cool '67 Malibu, for example, and a '66 GTO, and I firmly believe those '71-through-'73 Dodge Chargers are as unappreciated as they are only because their predecessors were so nearly perfect.  The way I see it — the right way – is that the cars of that period were the first group ever designed to look like nothing other than . . . a car.

The history of automotive design dates from the horseless carriage era, and even such bold efforts as the 1934 Chrysler Airflow had vestigial appendages like running boards.  The next significant change in looks came  once the Second World War was well and truly over, when Detroit preceded Cape Canaveral as America's rocket-ship launch pad.  I mean, the dopey space-age sociological stuff is fairly self-evident, from names like Oldsmobile Rocket 88 to Buick Starfire, Ford Galaxie, Chevy Nova, and most especially from the fins and the hood ornaments and the round retro-rocket tail-lights.  As late as 1961, Colonel Shorty Powers, the "10-9-8-7-6-5 . . ." guy from Cape Canaveral, had hired on as the official A-OK voice of Oldsmobile.  Inevitably, it has all worked out to be contemporary kitsch-fodder, since rockets are rockets, after all, and cars from the Fifties are usually anything but.

By the mid-Sixties, almost all that spaceship jazz was over, and while the marketing guys were having a brief stab at bestiality and fish fetishism — Impala, Mustang, Barracuda, Cougar, Wildcat, Falcon, and the never-to-be-forgotten Marlin — the guys making the clay models were bound and determined to do something that had never been done before; namely, to lose all the chrome bombsights and nose cones, the way hot-rodders did in their quest for speed and stripped down style, and see if Detroit couldn't come up with something that looked like it was intended to wear tires instead of fender skirts.  The original 1964 Mustang was like a bolt from the blue.  Mechanically, it wasn't much other than a Falcon chassis with a 289, but the long hood and short trunk deck suggested the same kind of balance the drag racers were aiming for.  It looked like no other car before, and Ford sold more than half a million the first year, the most successful new-model launch ever.  Meanwhile, the GTO (short for Gran Turismo Omologato, a fairly hilarious conceit but one based, as all the other letter and numeral names would be, on racing and thus actual cars rather instead of fireworks and livestock) arrived and sold ungodly numbers straight out of the box.  The difference between the '64 GTO and all the hyped-up Stock-Car-Specials that preceded it is that the Goat was meant all along to run on the streets, scaring children and scattering pedestrians and ticking everybody off with loud, reckless, and irresponsible displays of male arrested-development syndrome, an eminently marketable concept.  Detroit went full throttle behind it.

The major Detroit manufacturers had been slyly flirting with the NASCAR stock car racing world since the Fifties, supplying engines and expertise under the table, but in the early Sixties Pontiac and Ford and Dodge and Plymouth came out and publicly admitted that good cars go real fast.  Engine blocks got bigger, body shapes got aerodynamically slicker, and suddenly something Dodgelike or Fordish was flinging itself around the Daytona Speedway at speeds faster than the open-wheel racers at Indianapolis.  Wind tunnels became an essential part of body design, ostensibly so that if Mom pegged the speedometer on the way home from the grocery store (grocery bags in the trunk supply that invaluable extra weight over the rear wheels), she wouldn't launch airborne.  The more successful drag racers found guys from the factory hanging around, scuffing the toes of their wing tips in the gravel, and casually mentioning this spare dyno-tuned hemispherical-head 426 engine they happened tohave sitting around taking up space back at the plant.

What finally pushed the muscle car completely over the top was the funny car phenomenon.  Some daring drag-racing visionary made a fiberglass mold of the little woman's Dodge Dart, flopped it over what was essentially a AA/Fuel Altered dragster frame, with a blown and injected big block engine running on a risky mix of nitro and alcohol, and took it out to the dragstrip to see what the hell would happen.  Hot rodders being hot rodders and never any too respectful of Detroit's design sensibilities, and fiberglass being fiberglass and plenty easy to slice and dice with a Skilsaw, funny car racers commenced doing some open-air windtunnel testing of their own.  Noses got lower and rooflines got cleaner and rear ends got jacked-up to where Uncle Frank's John Deere tractor seat used to be.  Blowers and air-injector stacks began bursting through hoods just as Big Daddy Roth's cartoons had always predicted they would:  All hell broke loose.  Any wind-dragging design element Detroit had overlooked was as good as gone — fins were prehistoric science fiction but spoilers and wings and wheelie bars dragged you back down to earth orbit.

Over in Detroit, the designers and the engineers and the marketing guys were practicing burnouts in the corporate parking lot.  Hood scoops — functional, semi-functional, quasi-functional — sprang up like flared nostrils on horny beasts, and racing stripses became to muscle cars what flames had been to hot rods: sort of a painterly metaphor of metaphysical intent.  And as if you hadn't already been able to hear Mom from eight blocks away when she came back with all those groceries, colors got loud enough to compete with glasspack mufflers.

None of this was ocurring in a vacuum, and all those cliches about the swingin' Sixties ought to be troted out here with extra emphasis on the swingin' side.  The contemporary collective amnesia that recals everyone under 30 driving their flowered Volkswagen mini-bus to the peace demonstration is a charming and convenient piece of historical revisionism, nicely ignoring the millions of mean-looking muscle cars prowling those same streets, skidding from stoplight to stoplight.  Consider that entirely aside from the Corvette, Chevrolet's not atypical late Sixties selection of muscle machines included the Chevelle, the Camaro, the El Camino, and the Nova, with engine options starting with the incredibly strong and lightweight small-block 302 and moving up in cubic inches to the 327, the 350, the 396, the 427, and, by 1970, thge 454.  Within each of those engines all manner of horsepower variations were available, as well as transmission choices and axle ratios and suspensions.  That was before you even considered hood scoops and racing stripes or contemplated the weight-loss-versus-frame-stiffness issue of convertibles.

As far as cubic inches go, 1970 was the high-water mark.  GM, never able to leave well enough alone, added rococo flourishes to the fenders of a few of its finest Bodies By Fisher, but for the most part you could drive any decent muscle machine off the showroom floor and turn at least a low 14-second run on the quarter-mile.  The insurance companies, pitiful scriveners and drones, blinded worm-like by actuarial tables and fine print, had never been able to join in the spirit of things, and were doing their best to intimidate Mom into settling for a stationwagon with fake-wood paneling on the sides.   Sales were affected and between the emission-control athsma epidemic and the great fat-fender scare of 1972, the era trailed off to a miserable end.  When the Arab oil embargo occurred in 1974 and the priced of gas sky-rocketed (after holding tough at 29 cents a gallon for years), the muscle car suddenly seemed to have been some mass hallucination brought on by mixing psychedelic drugs with high octane leaded-gas fumes.

As late as the late Eighties, there was no collector's market whatsoever for muscle cars.  The few remaining affficionados were prophets without honor in their own country, more closely akin to the type of eccentrics who collect samples of used gum from the sidewalk than to reputable collectors of rare and exotic objjects; the phrase "muscle car" had almost entirely fallen from the language.  The movie The Road Warrior had much to do with reinvoking the rites and rituals of muscle, I reckon: a great bunch of guys and gals roaring around the Austral/American West in loud and shapely cars with hood scoops and blowers, gleefully racing to see who can make it to the gas station first. (The muscle-car era in Australia started and ended later than in the U.S., but produced some absolutely brilliant examples — the Ford XA-through-XC models, for instance, which are like seven-eighths-scaled Ford Torinos but far more curvaceous.) 
 In any case, the early Nineties saw the prices of muscle cars double and triple and double again, effectively hogging all the action on the entire car-collector scene, and kidney-punching the prices of even the most blue-chip of fin-mobiles.  The most blatantly desirable cars have achieved prices in the highest of five-figure realms, all the more extraordinary in that at the beginning of the Eighties you could have bought some of them for prices in the lowest of four-figure dungeons.  Naturally, the stamp-collector syndrome has emerged and there are all manner of Nineties types who restore their objets d'art to within an inch of the assembly line, wrap them in clear plastic, and never touch them again.  Fortunately, more often than not,  sanity prevails.   Cars are for driving, and muscle cars are for driving fast — real fast. Recently, here in Los Angeles, Ford and Mobil got together  and offered to buy — for some ludicrous lowball figure  — a whole bunch of pre-emission-control cars.  Placing a comforting hand on the throbbing hood of my '68 GTO (400 cubic inches, underrated at 360 horsepower to hoodwink the insurance weenies, 10.75-to-1 compression ratio, Hurst dual-gate shifter, Turbo-Hydramatic 400 transmission, extra-fat rubber in back, beefed-up sway bars with urethane bushings, classic Schaefer Cams Maltese Cross decal on the wing windows), I scoff at thaeir cultural imperialism, at their puny attempt at corporate P.R. eco-grandstanding.  There's a place not two miles away from me that sells leaded premium gas, 93 octane.  I don't know how they get away with it, but i can get there in one minute-thirty seven seconds if I hit the lights right.  And if I don't run out of gas on the way over.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Aphorism Thirty-five; (One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set)

Cats abhor a vacuum cleaner.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Aphorism Thirty-Four; (One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!)

"Eddie Barclay said,  just before he died, "Today there is more business than show."

Jean-Marie Perier

Monday, February 2, 2009

Aphorism Thirty-three; (One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!)

"We all wish we could play the way he couldn't stand."

Of Steve Connelly, guitar player,  Coloured Girl, Bomber's barracker, Messenger, and more

Aphorism Thirty-Two : (One of a Series: Collect the Whole Set!)

"Was the Sistine Chapel merely wallpaper for the Pope?"

(C'est moi, to JMP, eliciting a great laugh...)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Aphorism Thirty-One; (One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!)

God is invisible to the ignorant, and can't be seen by the knowledgeable.

Aphorism Thirty; One of a Series (Collect the whole set!)

Marketing: Letting the right people know, so they can let the wrong people know too. 

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Aphorism Twenty-Nine; (One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!)

"I don't know if I'll ever write another song again."

Paul Kelly to me, May 1997, in his "music room" in St.Kilda, Melbourne (the actual music room being the shed, of course). (Of course.)
From the interim dry spell, eight albums or so, with toss-offs, thrown-aways, and fake-outs like:
"Little Kings"; for sake of aphoristic brevity, allegedly, the only one I'll lyric-ize: ("I'm so afraid for my country/There's an ill wind blowing no good/So many lies in the name of history/They want to improve my neighbourhood/In the land of the Little Kings/There's a price on everything/And everywhere the Little Kings are getting away with murder/In the land of the Little Kings/Profit is the only thing/And everywhere the Little Kings/Are getting away with murder/I was born in a lucky country/Every day I hear the warning bells/They're so busy building palaces/They don't see the poison in the wells/In the land of the Little Kings/Profit is the only thing...")
"If I Could Start Today Again";
"The Oldest Story In The Book";
"Won't You Come Around?";
"Song of the Old Rake"'
"God Told Me To";
"I'll Be Your Lover Now";
"My Way Is To You";
"Nothing On My Mind";
"You Broke A Beautiful Thing";
"Words & Music";
and perhaps two or three others.

Aphorism Twenty-Eight; (One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!)

"It's really quite large-ish, i'nnit?"

Quoth Ian Dury to me, of . . .well . . . of "Phoenix," and of "Arizona," and perhaps even of Apache Junction," but obviously, apparently, evidentially, tangibly, metaphorically, of America. (Though he'd no doubt've said "the States.")

Monday, January 5, 2009

Watch Your Step; Ted Hawkins & me (continued)

The record cover showed a big black man with a big grey beard playing a big dreadnought acoustic guitar. He had a pink short-sleeve shirt on, and the background was a powerful construction of planes of color, white walls and barred windows, bisected by dark shadows and sun, and a bright raw triangle of blue, of blue sky. It was artful and direct and pure.

There was a terrific story connected to the record too, and the liner notes by the distinguished Peter Guralnick sketched it in roughly. Ted Hawkins had been singing on the streets of Los Angeles in 1971 when a young blues fan named Bruce Bromberg heard him.  Bromberg had produced a few bluesmen in the past and so now he recorded Hawkins. But the problem was that these tunes weren't blues, and Bromberg didn't exactly know what to do with them, although one song, "Sweet Baby," even got played a few times on a local R&B station.

A dozen years later, 500 miles away, by sheer accident, I heard it on the radio too. I couldn't tell you if it ever got played again — I couldn't prove to you it ever got played in the first place. It begins: "Sha la la la lala la la . . ." in a blasting burst of joy so solid words won't stick to it. But then words gather:

"Sweet baby, you know
That no one can love you the way I do
And I just proved it . . . "

and then the words race across a mind exposed in love and fear and ferocious pride, bragging, begging for praise, flirting, flattering, starting a jealous argument just for the sweet sake of smoothing all those ruffled feathers, rolling and tumbling in a bed of laughter, swearing true strong love on a stack of Bibles, and then offering up one of the largest and purest lies a lover can ever deliver:

"Don't worry, darlin'
I'll do nothin' at all
That would cause your teardrops to fall . . ."

before raking it all back under again with another burst of "Sha la la la . . . " just to remind you what a pack of liars we all are.

[see the beginning of this piece, "Watch Your Step; Ted Hawkins and me," below somewhere, and other Ted Hawkins documents]

Ted Hawkins Tells His Own Tale; Another Nicely Handwritten Biography

Over time, Ted sent me a number of versions of his life-story. In the music business, you'd call it a "bio," but the fact is that Ted was only just barely in the music business when he wrote these, and nobody who's really in the music business ever writes their own bio. Generally, they just hire somebody like Robert Hilburn, the "Pop Music Critic for the LA Times," and he or one of his cub scouts writes it anonymously and then, later, they get the privilege of quoting from it when they write a feature or a review or something. It's really kind of a charming music business tradition in its way. And Ted, had he known, would loved to have participated. But he didn't know. Of course. He didn't know. He couldn't know. Did you?

Written, with pretty nice penmanship (far better, say, than mine), on lined yellow legal pad:
"I was born in Biloxi Miss 10/28/36 My Mother drank Any thing she could by or beg upon. I had three brothers of whom I haven't seen since 1957. It was hard times back then for me. My Mother was always drunk. There Was Never enough food or None at all in that one room shack that we all had to live in together. I didn't have any Clothes Or shoes to Wair. The only way I could eat was on the little Money My Mother would luck up on Prostituting. I was forced to eat out of garbage cans. Of course I could sometime earn a little change singing On the street I was about 8 years of age then. The Children of the Naborhood used to Call Me dirty Junior. I went without shoes winter and summer. I don't remember a Father. He left My Mother when I was born. My brothers and I all had different Fathers.

"So After My Mother died I grew up and Caught a fraight train and left home. I didn't know where I was going or what what would happend to Me after I got there. I Arrived in Florida got a dishwashing job worked for one day. Caugh the fraight train and arrived in Chicago in 1958 Because I was Not Only riding the fraight. but I was also On the road and it took Me a while to get to Chicago. The Winter was Cold in Chicago. The Coldest Place I've ever been. The 'Windy City.' That is why I was forced to leave. Because it Was in December. So once again I Caught the Fraight train and arrived in Buffalo NY It Was 1959. There I got Married and had a little girl Whose Name is Marchell Hawkins. And the Marriage Was Anauld. So I took to the road again, arriving in Philadelphia Pen. It was 1960 I Could Not find Work there. You see I have Never been to school.

"So I took to the road again arriving in Newark NJ It was the year 1961 I Met A woman there. She fell in love With Me. So I lived With her about four years But she Coulden't hold Me. I left Newark and Went to Genevia NY That was the year 1965 There I got Married again. But My Wife died of Cancer. We Were togather one year. I left Genevia And Went to Los Angeles Calif. I Arrived here in 1966 got Married agan to a Very select person Name Elizabeth Hawkins We have 5 Children and we are happy, And Verry Much in love.

"As I Write this, It is the Year 1981"

Friday, January 2, 2009

Ted Hawkins Touches Another Heart

Here's a little Ted Hawkins tale for you. We're in the visitors' room of Vacaville of a Saturday afternoon, with all the chaos and formality that takes place on Saturday visits to any decent prison. Amidst our talk, one of the things I want to know is whether he's got a guitar. Well, no, in fact. "But Charlie Manson used to lend me his. I think my songs really touched his heart."

Watch Your Step: Ted Hawkins & me

The story I have to tell here scares me. It's a long story because it has to be, and I'm in it because I've never been able to find a way out. I don't know if the ending is happy or not. Although it was for Ted. I do know that — for Ted it was. I know that for sure, for certain. And for me? Well, I don't yet know. I don't know yet. I don't know.

In the summer of 1982, I received Ted Hawkins' album Watch Your Step in the mail. I always got lots of albums in the mail. I can remember the day, the afternoon, the shape of the room and the color of the walls, what the weather was like outside when I played that record for the first time.

The first thing to hear on that record is Ted Hawkins shouting, hollering:

"Watch your step!
Before you stumble and fall..."

and even though I listened to that record over and over and over again, a thousand times, and then a thousand times more, I still managed to miss the warning.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Read 'em & Weep; My tarot, ala Jodorowsky

C'est vrai.

My new copain, compadre, comrade, Julian from Columbia, tauromaquier, polyoptician, brilliant illuminator of bordels et bordellos, acolyte of Jodo, laid it out in the Marseilles way. "I love painting," he told me, "but tarot is my passion." The array arrived entirely as major arcana, and none reversed, despite a thorough shuffling of the complete deck. If you know tarot, you might doubt that this is real. It's real. C'est vrai.

(oh, and feel free, preferrably privately, maybe, to offer your own interpretations)