Friday, December 6, 2013

A Computer In Your Own Home!

The year 1977, as it turns out, was revolutionary. As decades fly by, we may not remember it as the year punk broke through, the year  skateboarders got vertical.  Instead, history may be more likely to mark it as the epoch-changing moment when the computer came home.

Until 1977, computers were mega-massive fearsome things, punch-card spewing titans that sprawled across huge laboratories, reels reeling, demanding air-conditioning and dust-proofing. They were tempestuous beasts with an appetite for electricity, tended by tiny bald men with white coats and clipboards., a

Suddenly, amazingly, unexpectedly, miraculously, computers entered the home — after knocking politely. They had odd, funny, and now nearly-forgotten names: Commodore, Tandy/Radio Shack, Apple. And they did amazing things, totally astonishing feats that we can't help but laugh about now, but which seemed totally astonishing at the time, damn it. We loved them. We all remember our first one, even though some of us have a hard time recalling the last name of our first love.

Oh, and 1977 was the year the name "Microsoft" was registered.

How Ants Ate Krishnamacharya's Homework

When Indra Devi came though the majestic gilded doors of the palace at Mysore, she was entering one of the most whirling, swirling, stirring crucibles of 20th Century culture. Mysore was a melange, a stew, a gumbo — it was an incomparable mulligatawny. The Maharaja of Mysore was acclaimed, often even by the very British administrators who had been instructed to keep an eye on him, as perhaps the greatest governor they had ever heard of or read about — not merely in colonial India, or  in all the colonies, but anywhere — and they were typically transformed by the experience. He was a patron of the arts and a creator of them — he played half a dozen instruments with true mastery, and half a dozen more with mere competence. He was a true disspeller of darkness: he created hydro-electric dams and the power lines that would bring electricity to all his people, even the lowest, and he founded schools of learning and language that preserved the old while encouraging the new. He was determined to restore the ancient arts of India even while flinging his kingdom's windows open to the new light of the West. He was likely the only great philosopher-king of the Twentieth Century. And he encouraged Krishnamacharya to establish his school of Yoga within the gloriously-decorated walls of the palace.

All contemporary Yoga stems from the palace at Mysore. Yet, curiously, Yoga's much-declared "lineage" may be — at least according to Western standards — composed less of history and heritage and tradition than fabrication, fraud, and wishful thinking. It involves secret scrolls, mysterious Tibetan caves . . . and the voracious ants who apparently thrive in those chilly Tibetan caves, thoughtfully chewing up the secret scrolls just in time to foil those who might care to have a quick look at them. Meanwhile, the Yoga school of Krishnamacharya more closely resembled a 1920s YMCA gym full of boisterous Brahmin boys than it did what we'd think of Yoga classes, and one of his biggest Yogic influences (if we discount the ant colonies of the mystic caves of Tibet, where he seems never to have gone anyway, if we're going to let facts factor in) were a set of British music hall tumblers who came to entertain the Maharaja.

Sex And Lies And Dutronc

March, 2009

(Here's a little something I did earlier this year (en Anglais, remerciez Dieu!) for an oddly-titled French publication that hasn't actually gotten around to paying yet, of course, but will, undoubtedly, certainly, soon. Mais oui! Bien sur! It was, however, lavishly illustrated with some of Jean-Marie Perier's amazing, startling photos, including one of Jacques Dutronc lounging in the black interior of a yellow '69 Pontiac Firebird convertible thoroughly surrounded by naked women. I'm not sure any of my writing has ever been so pleasingly illustrated.  It gives one future hope for such formidable elucubrations.)

“To tell the truth, you must lie.”  
Jean-Marie Perier

Possibly there are more important questions about Jacques Dutronc. Still, I have less curiosity about his living arrangement with Francoise Hardy than....well, than practically anybody else in France. She with her quiet Paris apartment, he in his Corsican villa legendarily crawling with cats, with fifty cats, or sixty cats, or seventy cats, or more cats than that. They, together, a couple for forty years, married for more than twenty-five — how do they do it? But my burning question, the only one that matters meaningfully to me: Just how many cats does Jacques Dutronc actually have?

At his early career peak, Dutronc unleashed a set of sardonic songs, satirized the excesses of the moment, a moment that has since been lumped together lumpily as The Sixties. Dutronc, whose hair was only long-ish, long-esque, at a time of long-nosity, wore very stylish but very proper suits at a time of paisley and purple and Nehru collars. He was a bespoke set of ironic quotation marks. Much more a rocker than his peers on the French pop charts, he dressed instead as an up-swinging broker of stocks, a ruling-party political hopeful. It was a joke, sort of. He was a playboy (just when his pal Daniel Filipacchi was selling French Playboy back to a startled Hugh Hefner), surrounded in photos by women en deshabille. His mere proximity, said the photos, worked as a powerful anti-clothing device for women, yet he himself managed to keep unmussed and amused.

Earlier, hanging handsomely around Le Golf Druout — the ‘60’s CBGB’s of Rock Et Roll En France, with shing-a-lingin’ copains et copines, as instructed by the arm-and-leg-flinging likes of Sheila and Clo-Clo, stomping et tromping around the 16th fairway of a mini-golf course above an English tea room in Paris — the young Jacques is just another guitar-playing loup garou impatiently waiting for his mini-tee-time with fate. His greatest asset? His look, casting his ironic blue eyes up and out and at and through you from a deGaulle-esque height. And perhaps the fact that in a time of astonishingly bad bandnames (Les Chaussettes Noires; Hector & Les Mediators; Gil Now & Les Turnips), he achieves a bandname that rings out in awe-inspirational awfulness: El Toro et les Cyclones.

For this, apparently, he is made musical director of Vogue Records. But in an elevator with Jacques Lanzmann, founder of Lui, greatest skin magazine in the inglorious history of such, they are joined by Antoine, hippie kid who has just blown youthful French brains with “Le Elucubrations.” A legend in his own mind, Antoine cuts them dead, ignores the be-suited salarymen, and righteously pisses ‘em off. Together , apres lunch, they write “Et Moi, Et Moi, Et Moi,” a meta-parody of such youthful self-orbitration, and Dutronc is launched.

Dutronc’s music, Lanzmann’s lyrics, these are certainly, unquestionably some of what made Dutronc into a central icon of the late ‘6os — the only popstar ever noticed (and thus, automatically, denounced) by Guy Debord, Pope of Situationism. But in fact, as good as this music is and enduring as it has turned out to be, there’s no question that much of Dutronc is his image, and it arrived first in the photos of Jean-Marie Perier, Dutronc’s friend, the man he replaced at the side of Francoise Hardy.

“For thirty years, my work was shit. Now they tell me it’s art. It’s neither art nor shit. It was just pictures to put on the wall of young people to make them dream.”
Jean-Marie Perier

Jean-Marie was the photographer for Salut Les Copains, a magazine that showed up in France in the early ‘60s and instantaneously gathered in all the pop moment as no other publication ever has. If one man had singlehandedly invented MTV in the early 1980s . . . but MTV never had as much impact in any single pop universe as SLC had in France. It was everything, and Jean-Marie’s photos were everything about SLC. The only direction he ever received from his friend and boss, Daniel Fillipacchi, was this: “The parents must hate your pictures.”
As SLC arrived, so did Francois Hardy, but so much more quietly. “Everybody in Paris, in show business,” Jean-Marie observes, “was obsessed by America, because America is the future in this time. They’re all trying to look American. Suddenly Francoise arrives. She has a French name, she writes her lyrics, and she makes original stories in her music. She is the only one! Everyone else is a copy. And she had a French name.”
It’s her complete lack of ye’-ye’ loco-motion, her disinclination to twist disrhythmically, that distinguishes her. She will become, whether we in the English-speaking world ever got it or not, the first Girl With A Guitar. Silent, serene, seventeen, she stands in front of Jean-Marie and his camera and she captures the Canal St. Martin, le Tour Eiffel, him, his Nikon, and all the rest of us. She begins, mild and beatified and bemused, as if she happens to know the precise spot where Lourdes and Fatima triangulate with the 14th Arrondissement, as though she’s perfectly prescient about how many cats Jacques Dutronc will posess in Corsica in the year 2009. Presumably Jean-Marie treated her to a croque madame to celebrate before dropping her back home to la mere. He was, after all, as dazzled as the rest of us.

“She was extremely beautiful — she didn’t know it — and she was great, especially for a girl of her age, and especially for a guy who’s in love with her.” And what follows, what transpires, what we can still see, is the greatest series of photographs a lover has made of just how lovely his love is. And she is. Dante’s Beatrice was kind of butt-ugly by way of comparison. Nobody ever loved Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn nor Louise Brooks in quite this way.

But Jean-Marie cuts to the chase. Or in this case, the crash. “So we live together five years, and then one day she tellls me, ‘I’ve met someone.’ I met her when I was twenty-two, she was seventeen ... we were children. Ok, life separates us, voila... I said, ‘Alright, so I want to meet him....’ Because for me, it would not have been possible to not love the person that she loves, since I love her. She’s my best friend, so who she loves, I will love.” A pause. “So she presents me Jacques." Another pause, but shorter. "For at least two years, I was more in love with him than with her.

“And with his music, it’s the same thing as with Francoise six years before. These are the two who are saying things in their music, Francoise and Jacques, because all the rest of the singers are singing stupid lyrics, stupid copies of stupid songs.
“Plus Jacques had an.... insolence? Isn’t that the right word? So loose, so....almost aggressive, that all the people in the business, I mean all the singers, used to go and look at him ....What he was daring to do on stage, he was daring so much! When Giscard was President, a big charity show, and the announcer asks Jacques, ‘What do you think about singing in front of the President?’ And Jacques pushes the President — like this! — and says to the crowd, ‘I fuck him like a rat at the pinball machine!’" Jean-Marie is pensive. "Jacques was the most insolent person of all the Sixties and Seventies.”

“Eddie Barclay said, just before he died, ‘Today there is more business than show.’” Jean-Marie Perier

Looking at Jean-Marie’s photos of Francoise Hardy, a friend said, and with truth, “But she doesn’t look this way any longer.” C’est vrai; this can be said of us all. She has returned to be the sixty-some-year-old version of the petit-bourgois French schoolgirl she was when her life exploded merely because she wrote a few simple songs. She has fulfilled that girl’s destiny. But more, much more: Once Jean-Marie’s astonished, astonishingly loving photographic eye left her, once his eye fell more modestly away, she was free, in her way, to be perhaps even a bit more of an artist, but ever so less an icon. It’s easier to be an artist than an icon, and surely so for Francoise Hardy. Pursued hotly by Mick Jagger, by Bob Dylan, by Peter Sellers, by the florist’s assistant down the street, by any guy with eyes, she is now the mother of Thomas Dutronc, manouche guitarist, gypsy-esque Djangoist of much modesty and some style, who waited into his thirties before bothering to venture near the mass-media launching pad that was his inadvertant birthright; of whom his mother has said, in effect, in her way, “He’s really quite good....”

And an email, as I write, from Jean-Marie:

“Jacques has actually 30 cats.”

In journalism, accuracy is all.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Aphorism Number 27; One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

Over coffee the other morning, we're looking at some of Jean-Marie Perier's photos, and among the hundreds that burst across the line of genius, there are some flash-blasted black & whites, young Bob Dylan being mobbed, Beatle-style, outside a stage-door in Paris.  It was,  Jean-Marie says, entirely a set-up, a fraud, a composed composition, a faux-Weegee (as Weegee himself was known to shove the murdered corpses around a bit before he snapped the shutter of the SpeedGraphic, before the flashbulb roared.)

Jean-Marie shrugs.

"To tell the truth, you must lie."

Aphorism Number Seven: Arizona (One of a Series; Collect 'em All!)

Arizona is where the Old West crawled off to die. Or if not actually to die, then at least establish a cranky early retirement.
Bart Bull

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Aphorisme Seventy — One of a Series; Collect The Whole Set!

"That may well be the way that we can best determine the ghetto parts and the barrio parts of LA from the non-ghetto, non-barrio parts — the presence or, conversely, the absence of valet parking, and then its effect on diminishing the prospect of great food."

Tijuana — Toda La Tripa, Ninguna Gloria

"Tu primer fiesta de toros, tu primer viage a un protibulo y quiza tu primera borrachera, tu primer pelea en un bar, tu primer viaje a la carcel, tu primer soborno...."

Bart Bull, from Details, quoted in Tijuana la horrible; entre la historia y la mito by Humberto Felix Beruman

Saint Joan of Jett (from SPIN)

Some people really like Joan Jett. The Kerista Islanders of San Francisco, for example, are crazy about her. In fact, they have a pamphlet called "18 Reasons Why We're Crazy About Joan Jett."   They have another pamphlet entitled "The Moral Philosophy of Joan Jett."  They have another publication, "Utopia 2 — Blueprint for Heaven on Earth" that sort of sketches in the details of why a polyfidelitous Haight-Ashbury commune engaged in creative caffeination, junk food therapy, computer consultation, and Gestalt-O-Rama would declare Joan Jett a saint. Sort of.

Last summer, the Keristans actually spoke with Joan, putting her on the speakerphone so everyone could gather around. When it came time to let Joan know she was a saint, they were kind of nervous. "You see, " they told her, "we have this paranoia that you're going to think we're like Rastafarians and the way they felt about Haile Selassie." You can see how they'd be paranoid that way, right? But it's not like that at all, because even though Joan is a saint, the Keristans are totally into equality. "We've gone through this in our mind," they explained, "even before we became your fans. We know that all human beings are equal, even if they're astonishing artists like Leonardo. You're in the Leonardo category."

And who was Joan Jett to disagree? "You guys are very articulate, and I don't get that weirdo vibe at all," she said, practically the Patron Saint of Graciousness.

(more to follow...)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Steampunk Paris — Bohemians from Bohemia, et la Rue de la Not So Very Expensive Shoes

Ah, Paris! Then and Now, veritable site and verified Verne-ian source of Steampunk! Ancient metropolis whose looming symbol, Le Tour Eiffel, has magically transmogrified from Engineering Marvel Of The Modern Age into a quaint anachronistic key-chain fob. But Steampunk — Le Punk å Vapeur — seems to comprehend Le Tour Eiffel best: Plainly, obviously, apparently, definitely,  it's a hitching post for dirigibles, conveniently located for international airships to disembark the duded-up likes of distinguished Daguerreotypist Camillus S. Fly, dauntless dental surgeon Dr. Holliday, and a spare Earp or two, each and all disenchanted with the freshness of Tombstone, Arizona's oysters, to sample the glorious assortment of huitre et homard arriving at breakneck speeds on gleaming super-streamlined seafood locomotives, avec lobster-claw-inspired cow-catchers, les receveurs de vache a la homard.

The ultra-annoying putt-putt of one-cylinder petrol-powered guillotines encircling the Egyptian obelisk at Place de la Concorde is only somewhat alleviated by the inimitable trill of that latest and greatest of technologically-advanced instruments, the Accordion, sexily squeezed by bohemians emigrated direct from Bohemia.  Later, in the darkest districts — neon is being invented in ultra-moderne Paris even as we speak, but its glow can never illuminate the furtive back alleys — accordions will warble wickedly as the devilish demi-monde dares that forbidden dance, le Apache!  But now, in the gleaming day, no farther than a champagne cork can fly on its absurd invisible wings, tiny two-man pedal-powered submarines lurk in the Seine, periscopes erectly alert, peering and leering up at the schools of arm-in-arm fishnet-legged femmes clicking their heels down into the Metro — yet another absolute marvel of the modern age. (The Parisian woman, we mean.) Shall they get off their sleek Michelin-tired train at Arts et Metier? Emerge into its copper-clad-and-riveted station, handily equipped with portholes? Moderne et retro et tres, tres chic? Oui, bien sur!

Do these daring darling steam-powered girls set sail, heels clack-clicking the cobblestones, to la Rue of the Not So Very Expensive Shoes? Where exists even now, only just nearby, the original laboratory of Georges Melies, inventor of all cinema? Melies, he whose most famous film, A Trip To The Moon — perhaps Steampunk's central artifact, perhaps even its dream come true — is so cavalierly dismissed as a comedy and a science-fiction, when clearly, obviously, plainly it is a supremely accurate documentary, circa 1902, of the ill-fated French Expedition To The Moon? Wherein Le Academie Francais Of Long-Bearded Astro-Alchemists assembled — as ever, with lots of leggy girl assistants — to cannon-fire themselves smack into the eye of the grimacing Moon, and then, upon insulting assault from annoying Moonmen less congenial to Franco-colonization than proper etiquette might suggest, managed to fall all the way back to Earth (which is to say, France).  It is, indeed, a moving monument to Man's Deep Need To Dump Evian Bottles On Other Planets. In fact, in recognition of the film's powerful economic tidal pull, Thomas Edison, All-American Inventor Of Everything, managed to snake Melies out of the distribution rights, proving, even in the fin de siecle of the turn of that century's velo-spokes, the Internet is the New Supreme Court.

Bu, mais non, they're going, this gaggle of goggle-wearing gals, to giggle at the spectacle of the the bat-winged aeroplane at the Musee de Science et Industrie, pinned there, a butterfly on corkboard, a larval Lindbergh.  Oh, and also to glance winsomely — wantonly, if necessary — at the dreadlocked steampunk boys who wander the Musee studiously checking their gimcrack wrist-chronographs and consulting tiny miniature brass telephones. But there — wait!  Those two white-haired old men?  Isn't that Jules Verne strolling with Mark Twain? And this glowing, sizzling, beeping ray-gun Mr. Twain has pulled — can he truly be pointing it at Monsieur Verne?

Monday, November 25, 2013

(excerpt) Dennis Hopper's Frank Gehry house in the rusty corrugated iron ghetto graffiti non-valelt-parking exterior of LA

     "Anyway, it had all proved pretty thrilling to all kinds of ultra-upscale and high-end magazines,  and even to daily newspapers and other such slum-dwellers, this super-stimulating non-valet parking juxtaposition of Dennis Hopper and Frank Gehry and the ghetto and the graffiti and the corrugated iron exterior of Dennis Hopper's Frank Gehry house. Me, I could never ever really figure out which locution was correct, or at least more correct — was it Frank Gehry's Dennis Hopper house? Or Dennis Hopper's Frank Gehry house? I think it depended on what magazine you were working for, and how glossy the magazine's pages were."

Friday, November 22, 2013

Tom Waits; Boho Blues

Tom Waits saves cigarette coupons. Moths fly from his change purse. The keys fall off his piano. Welcome to Miss Keiko's Chi Chi Club. . . it's showtime!
by Bart Bull
(published in Spin)

Tosca, Tuesday, late, Columbus near Broadway, San Francisco.

This is a fine bar, a lovely bar, loud but not too loud. The jukebox plays scratchy opera music. Francis Coppola is in back where the tables and booths are. He's listening to Lauren Hutton tell a story and when he laughs, so does everybody else. Sam Shepard stands up from his stool at the bar to pay his tab. His MasterCard falls to the floor, unnoticed except by the redhead standing nearby. She puts her foot on top of it and carries on her conversation. Shepard leaves. Lauren Hutton leaves. Coppola and his people leave. Almost everybody leaves. The bartender works a rag across the bar, and in the doorway behind him we see someone who looks just like Tom Waits. He peers in, squints, rubbing his head. A cigarette butt, stepped on but still glowing, trails smoke across the floor, left to right. He steps through the smoke and goes to the jukebox, searches. He finds a quarter in his pants, punches buttons. A tenor yelps. It's "Nessun dorma," from Puccini's "Turandot."

A pink paper cocktail umbrella, the kind that sprouts at the rims of colorful tropical drinks, blows across the floor at the foot of the stage, left to right, pushed by an invisible wind.

Tom Waits wears black tie and tails, red socks, and railroad boots. A big barrel-bellied woman sits next to him, one leg draped over his knee. She's wearing a red flamenco dress and a black mantilla, and her name is Val Diamond. She has eyeballs painted on her eyelids. She can see you with her eyes open; she watches you with her eyes closed. Polaroids are scattered on the stage at their feet.

TOM: I don't understand golf.
VAL: (mutters sympathetically)
TOM: It needs to have more sex. (Gleaming lightbulb appears directly over
his head.) Night golf!
VAL: Somebody won a lot of money golfing recently.
TOM: They get more money than boxers.
VAL: That doesn't seem right.
TOM: It doesn't seem right. Somebody gets beat up for an hour and somebody else hits a ball into a hole. Doesn't seem right.

From the floor, the DIRECTOR watches them through a little black lens, through his director's viewfinder. He hands the viewfinder to his assistant and walks off. The assistant stares carefully through the lens. Tom's zipper is at half mast.

It's dawn. Bats are hurrying back to the belfry, and below, one hand on the rope that rings the bell, Ken Nordine waits. Nordine, the word-jazzed Voice Of God as heard on Levi's commercials, has something he wants to say. This time it's Tom Waits' words and Ken Nordine's voice; sometimes it's the other way around. Here's how to tell: Tom Waits' voice sounds like he gargles with gravel; Ken Nordine's sounds like he's selling three truckloads of soft margarine in handy re-usable plastic tubs. There is no Devil (for our purposes here, at least), just God when he's drunk. Ken Nordine, God as we understand Him (for our purposes here), is not inebriated in the least, but he's willing to act (for our purposes here). He has something he'd like to say.

KEN NORDINE: (gritty voice) It's like Jack Nicholson said to me one time - Continuity is for sissies.

We're in a nightclub, an empty nightclub. A nearly empty nightclub, with a camera crew setting up in the back. Ken Nordine's butter-flavored voice is the only light.

KEN NORDINE: For our purposes here, perhaps some explanation is in order. Perhaps not. Welcome, in any case, to Miss Keiko's Chi Chi Club.

We see the stage now, bulbs flashing in sequence across the proscenium.

KEN NORDINE: Proscenium. Butter-flavored proscenium.

We see Tom Waits in a tuxedo, slumped in a chair at the center of the stage.

KEN NORDINE: We have a purpose here. We are filming a video here, a video to accompany the tune "Blow Wind Blow," from Tom Waits' new album, Frank's Wild Years.As Nordine speaks, we see Waits rise from his slump (as it were) and sit stiffly upright. His lips move precisely in time with Nordine's words, and his arms deliver florid gestures.

KEN NORDINE: But Frank's Wild Years is not merely an album. Frank's Wild Years is also a play, a stage production. Frank's Wild Years is two...

Val and Tom are holding breath mints in front of them. They click the packages together carefully.

KEN NORDINE: ...two mints in one. And the video from "Blow Wind Blow" is not merely a scene from the play, but an all-new and improved production. Tom is Frank, as it were, or perhaps he isn't, but in any case, he's a ventriloquist. He casts his voice into the rest of the cast. And the rest of the cast is ably portrayed by Val Diamond and a prosthetic leg.

Waits reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a pack of those personal details that reveal so much about a character's character. He smokes pre-war Lucky Strikes in the Raymond Loewy-designed green pack. Or Chesterfields, named after W.C. Fields' favorite son. In truth, they're Raleighs, and he takes a dramatic drag off the cigarette, makes nonchalant expressions as he holds it in, then looks off in another direction as Val, the ventriloquist's dummy, exhales a white cloud. Waits takes the pack, crumples it, flicks it into the wastebasket hidden in the wings. A pause, another pause, and then he leaps up, dumping Val to the floor, and we see him bent over the wastebasket, digging around for the cigarette pack. He finds it, tears a square off the back.

TOM: (turns to the camera) I save the coupons.

He sits back down. His lips keep moving.

KEN NORDINE: In truth, he doesn't smoke anymore. That would be too much like the old Tom Waits. And the old Tom Waits is over, done with, defunct, finito. Aesthetically, at least. He made his bed and he slept in it until it was past checkout time. Writing songs about dead-end kids on dead-end streets became a dead-end street. Damon Runyon demanded royalties.

Waits is making nonchalant expressions up on the stage. Val is staring baleful and blue-eyed, her eyelids clamped shut.

KEN NORDINE: And yet here we are in a nightclub, a nearly empty nightclub. Have you noticed the postage-stamp cocktail tables? The chains of garter snaps that decorate the walls? The black Naugahyde banquette booths? Once upon a time, this was Ann's 440 Club, where Lenny Bruce got that illustrious start of his. Ah, but that was along ago, and for more than 20 years this has been Miss Keiko's Chi Chi Club. Welcome. Have you met Miss Keiko yet?

A yellow spotlight comes on in the back of the club, illuminating a black and white photo. A signature in black felt-tip pen reads, "Miss Keiko - 1969." She stands forever on the toes of one foot, gazing over her shoulder, lifting her long dark hair above her bare back. Her costume is brief, her breasts are tassel-tipped projectiles. Tom Waits stands nearby, appraising the photograph.

TOM: (gravel-voiced) If I was a girl, I'd want to look like that.

Francis Coppola's sergeant-at-arms drops by to let Waits know that Francis is dining next door at Enrico's. He's willing to wait until the video crew takes a lunch break if Tom would care to come over and talk. There's a part for him in an upcoming project. Waits is sitting at the Chi Chi Club bar with a guy called Biff, waiting for the crew to set up the shot. Miss Keiko gazes down at them from over her shoulder.

TOM: Vegas. She worked the big rooms in Vegas. You know, I saw a guy go down with a heart attack at a crap table, and his wife was pounding on his chest, and the pit boss said, "New shooter coming up." I swear to God.

KEN NORDINE: (sounding godlike) Search me. Sounds like it could be true.

TOM: New dice, new shooter, keep it moving. Cold. Cold-blooded.

BIFF: How far away were you?

TOM: I was the new shooter.

BIFF: Were you wealthy when you left the table?

TOM: Nah. I gamble with scared money. I'm a tightwad. Moths in my change purse.

He gets up to get some cigarettes from the machine, although he doesn't smoke anymore. Moths burst forth from his change purse. He buys Raleighs. Doesn't smoke any.

TOM: So what do you think is suitable for manly footgear, Biff?

BIFF: Roman sandals. And beads to go with 'em.

TOM: I've been asking everyone I, uh, come into contact with, because I'm doin' a little survey. I'd say we're in a crisis in terms of American footgear.

BIFF: Slip-on loafers.

TOM: Nah, can't go that route. You can't go down that road, for down that road danger lies.

BIFF: How come?

TOM: I don't like the name. Loafers. For a guy that works as hard as you do, it's just not right.

BIFF: You could call 'em slip-ons, but...

TOM: That's even worse. That's worse than loafers. You wouldn't want me to call you a slip-on.

BIFF: You got a point there.

TOM: Points. I always gravitate toward points. Things are getting better - ten years ago, you couldn't find any points. Things are getting better, in shoes and music both.

Lunch comes, lunch goes. Coppola waits impatiently at Enrico's; Waits tells Biff of movie roles he's been offered. Coppola's fingers tap the tabletop.

TOM: Satanist cult leaders. The Iceman. I could've been the Iceman in 'Iceman'.

BIFF: You turned that down?

TOM: Yep. Big mistake. Look where the guy that took it is today. I could've been the hitcher in 'The Hitcher', too.

BIFF: Jesus Christ! You turned that down? You could've had a career. You could be Boris Karloff by now.

TOM: Yep. Big mistake.

Coppola, alfresco at Enrico's, fumes silently. Fumes loudly. Fumes. Vows revenge. One week later, Waits wakes up in bed next to the oil-splattered head of a 350 Chevy. He shrieks.

A small pile of pink confetti blows across the floor in front of the stage, left to right, blown by a hand-held fan.

Tom Waits wears black tie and tails, red socks, and railroad boots. His sideburns are going grey. Val Diamond wears a red flamenco dress. Her ginger hair is piled high in Spanish columns. Her left leg is draped over his right knee. Black fishnet stockings.

TOM: You know who Dick Shawn is? Was?

VAL: The World's Second-Greatest Entertainer? The guy who did that show called "The World's Second-Greatest Entertainer"?

Although he doesn't smoke, smoke rises from an invisible Raleigh between his fingers. He taps his ashes absentmindedly. They fall onto the brim of the top hat at his feet.

TOM: I did a little show with him, played the Wall Street Wino. It never aired. He had a dozen midgets on it. Thirteen.

A pause.

TOM: He died onstage. His son was in the audience. He was in the middle of a bit about death, and he threw himself to the stage in a simulated heart attack. And it was real. And everybody in the audience was laughing. Not a bad thing to hear in your last moment.

More ashes, real as life, fall into the hat; real smoke rises from the invisible Raleigh.

TOM: Good way to go, I guess. Maybe now they'll air the show.

The Chi Chi Club is empty, near empty. One chair is at the center of the stage, one chair is set in the center of the floor below. From the chair on the floor, we hear the voice of Ken Nordine.

KEN NORDINE: Curious as it is that Tom Waits abandoned his signature style of writing, it's every bit as intriguing that he jettisoned the very sound of his established style at the same time. Once known as something of a jazzed-down beat generation throwback, as the romantic street poet of the least romantic of un-poetic streets, as a narrative storyteller of the most talented sort, as a truly gifted liar, he suddenly and abruptly ceased spinning yarns. And as he did, his music itself came unraveled. Or if not unraveled, then...

A long pause. Long.

KEN NORDINE: Perhaps someone else would be better qualified to discuss what happened to the music of Tom Waits. Perhaps it would pay to introduce Harry Partch.

A small spotlight illuminates the chair onstage.

KEN NORDINE: Harry Partch, sadly deceased, was an American original. An eccentric, that is; a tinkerer, a free spirit, an inventor of instruments and of himself. A nut, in other words. A Californian, like Tom Waits, and like Tom Waits, a man who lived the hobo's life long before he captured it in music. He invented his remarkable 43-tone musical scale, and he invented gorgeous and monumental instruments specifically for playing his odd and glorious music. You may have to grant him a certain grandiosity, a certain tendency toward the making of Major Pronouncements, a certain self-centeredness, a certain extreme certainty. Harry Partch received so little recognition during life, and he required so much of it. He called his musical scale "just intonation," and he felt entirely justified in doing so.

The voice that comes from the chair onstage is deep and rugged and rigorously resonant. It sounds much like John Huston's acceptance speech upon his being unanimously voted God.

HARRY PARTCH: As I understand it, this young Tom Waits fellow has had some small contact with members of the ensemble that serves the noble purpose of preserving my music and my instruments, the Mazda Marimba, the Marimba Eroica, the Cloud Chamber Bowls, and all the rest. This contact, however limited, can't have hurt him, although it's impossible to say how much it has helped since what I've heard of his stuff is not more than a literal-minded bastardization of the eternal principles behind my system of just intonation. He'd be best served to study a little closer if he cares to attempt any further homage. Still, there is some small sense of my own music's grandeur in the young fellow's stuff. Like me, he's interested in the largest and the smallest of sounds, and like me, he's heard the music of the highway and the resonant clang of the beer bottle tapped with a church key. IMAGINE the sound of a hundred Chinamen beating spikes into the ground with nine-pound sledgehammers, laying the rails of the transcontinental railway! And the scream of the steam whistle as a locomotive flies over those same spikes. Imagine the snores of hobos sleeping in the open boxcars. Imagine the contrapuntal snores of the conductor comfortably bunked up in the caboose. IMAGINE THE THUNDER, the mighty prairie thunder that wakes them all from their slumbers! And imagine the raw COURAGE a composer would need to even ATTEMPT to create such sounds! I wish the young fellow a great deal of luck. I admire his theatricality.

At the back of the club, at the bar, a light glows. Tom Waits and the guy called Biff are back there, a beer bottle in front of each of them. Tom is not smoking, yet smoke rises from between two of his fingers.

TOM: I traveled with a gas pump for years.

He tosses back a little beer.

TOM: I still have nightmare where the whole crowd is moving toward me and then the keys are falling off the piano and the curtain rips and my shoe comes off and I'm crawling toward the wings and the crowd is moving toward me, hurling insults at me. And car parts. I played cow palaces, rodeos, sports facilities, hockey arenas with the ice beneath the cardboard. It cools off the place. It's alright in August, but it's a bitch in February. But if you can appreciate the rich pageantry of it...

Biff tosses back a little beer.

TOM: Never have your wallet with you onstage. It's bad luck. You shouldn't play the piano with money in your pocket. Play like you need the money.

Tom tosses back a little beer.

TOM: I don't play the piano much anymore. I don't compose on it. It's hard. Because sometimes it feels like it's all made out of ice. It's cold. It's square, so much about it is square, you know, and music is round. And so sometimes I think it puts corners on your stuff.

Tom and Biff toss back a little beer. Behind them, we see a single chair and a single spotlight on the stage, and now we can hear that Harry Partch has never stopped talking.

HARRY PARTCH: (from afar) ...the wrongheadedness of the chromatic scale of the Western world and the deleterious effect it has had on untold generations of innocent ears...a gang of Irishmen headed due west with nine-pound sledgehammers of their own...

A pink balloon blows across the floor in front of the stage, left to right.

Tom Waits wears black tie and tails, red socks and railroad boots. Val Diamond wears a red dress and a black top hat. "Blow Wind Blow" is playing frantically in the background, sung by Alvin of the Chipmunks. When the soundman has re-cued it, the take begins.

A clapboard claps. A pink balloon blows across the floor, left to right.

TOM: Welcome to Miss Keiko's Chi Chi Club. It's showtime!

Two pump organs, an alto horn, a glockenspiel. A gravel voice grumbles, singing. The voice comes from Val's mouth, and her eyes, clamped closed, stare blue ahead. Tom Waits, ventriloquist, nonchalant, takes a deep, dramatic drag on his cigarette; a smoke puffs from Val's mouth. Her lips grumble his song. He unscrews her wooden leg, pulls a pint of liquor from within it, swigs. He caps the bottle, puts it back, screws her leg back on. His cigarette rests between her fingers, his song sings off her lips. He takes his hand out from behind her back to scratch his head, and she slumps, but he catches her before she falls. The song grumbles towards an end, and as it ends, she pulls a dry-cell battery out of his back. He slumps, slumps and flops. He twitches in rigor mortis. Confetti falls free from his hand, gathers in a little pile. A hand-held fan blows it, left to right.

Wrap. The crew ascends to the stage, leaves nothing behind but a steamer trunk and a sousaphone. Tom sits on the trunk; the sousaphone sits on its side. A member of the crew grabs it and leaves.

TOM: Aw, bring the sousaphone back.

It comes back. Waits climbs inside it, adjust the mouthpiece. It makes hideous bleats, like someone is forcing it to watch its mother being turned into a coffee table. Waits' cheeks puff out, his face turns red. He hoists it off like a weight lifter. He leaves the stage with it under his arm, his tuxedo tails flapping behind. He puts his little finger in his ear and wrings it vigorously.

TOM: What should I do with this thing?

No answer. "Nessun dorma," from Puccini's 'Turandot."

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Henry Ford

from The New Vulgate:

Henry Ford was a nut, but he was an ungodly rich American nut, and when he got a bug up his butt, he had the resources to do something about it. He started his own newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, and when that was insufficient for spreading the hot news about the Hebrew-haters preferred hoax, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” he distributed it through Ford dealerships and had it translated into German. When he decided he needed a dam, he hired forty Negroes to dig him one, specifying an all-colored crew to his contractor, then had them knock off work to sing him Stephen Foster songs — he was especially fond of “Old Black Joe” and “Old Kentucky Home.” Once he decided that the contemporary world had gone to hell in a handbasket, he set himself up with a Never-Never Land right there in Dearborn and named it Greenfield Village. It was a psychic twin to John D. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller's Colonial Williamsburg (and both places were kin to Walt Disney's seven-eighths scaled Main Street USA, with its banjo-spanking Dixieland band, striped coats and straw hats direct from the blackface minstrel walkaround.)

These were industrialist fantasies of pre-industrial feudal villages — once she'd presided over the founding of the Museum of Modern Art, Mrs. Rockefeller sent forth her minions, collectors who would shortly be dubbed "curators" and they worked New England and the Mid-Atlantic states the way maidenly New Englanders were working the mountains of the South, hunting for the pure and the purer. Her employees gathered up weather vanes and quilts, pried Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs off the front of barns, loaded trucks with cigar-store Indians and sewing baskets and duck decoys, each and every one of them by that celebrated and super-prolific folk artiste "Anonymous." Then she commissioned her curators to come up with a definition of "folk art" that would fit a collection that included no totem poles or kachinas or Navajo blankets or santos or bultos or bottle trees or wrought iron work or anything else made by anyone who wasn't rustic, white, and located on the eastern seaboard. Mary Black, the director of Abby's collection, declared, "The genesis, rise and disappearance of folk art is closely connected with the events of the 19th Century when the dissolution of the old ways left rural folk everywhere with an unused surplus of time and energy." It was a theory to warm the heart of any Rockefeller.

Henry Ford, on the other hand, was a nouveau riche buttinski who supplied his own damn theories, and plenty of 'em. He turned collectors of his own loose, hunting for backwoods fiddlers who could remember the words and melodies of the old tunes, the fiddle tunes that were American's true pure heritage. He set himself up a dance hall in his factory's Engineering Lab, with his fiddle-and-dulcimer orchestra on hand at all times. He hired a dance instructor and produced a book, Good Morning — After a Sleep of 25 Years Old-Fashioned Dancing Is Being Revived by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford, then distributed hundreds of thousands of copies, just as he did with the Protocols. The book's rules of etiquette were as rigid and unwavering as a manual for a mass-production line.

By now, Henry Ford had dance fever. He traveled the country preaching the gospel of his square-danced etiquette. At his factory, engineers were constantly being dragged onto the dance floor, and on his Georgia plantation, Negro children were taught the polka. He created his own record label for "Henry Ford's Old Time Dance Orchestra." When his collectors brought Stradivarius violins for his approval, he'd saw off a fiddle tune, then write a check. He purchased the cottage where Stephen Foster was born and had it moved to Greenfield Village. He bought a Cape Cod windmill, and English shepherd's cottage, the schoolhouse where the author of McGuffey's Reader swatted his first sleeping students, the Springfield courthouse where Abe Lincoln lost his first court case and the Ford's Theater chair Lincoln was sitting in when John Wilkes Booth shot him. He came within days and dimes of buying a pickled corpse alleged to be Booth. He tried to have Foster's Old Dog Tray exhumed and stuffed but the operation was a failure. He purchased a dozen railroad cars of research on the folkloric history of "Mary Had A Little Lamb." (The poem's author died at seventeen, the lamb was gored by a cow, and Mary herself ended up in an asylum.)

Henry Ford had hated farm life when he was a boy stuck on a farm, and he invented his way out of it — a couple of ways. Late on a night in 1936, one of the many family acts who were making it through the Depression off country music drove down a Michigan road trying to find a tourist court so they could sleep. It was the Rhodes Family — brother Speck Rhodes would play bass with Porter Wagoner for many years, all the while playing the Toby role, a black-toothed rube variant from the minstrel days, the white Jim Crow, the Arkansas Traveler's squatter. Exhausted, they found a country road — it sure seemed like a country road — so they pulled over and slept in the car. A guard woke them in the morning; they had spent the night in Henry Ford's driveway. He'd let them stay there because they drove a Ford. "Sure enough," says Speck's brother Dusty, " comes Henry Ford with two bodyguards. He was a real nice fellow and after we talked to him for a while he asked us to plays some music. He really did like country music." He asked Dusty Rhodes if he wanted to play one of his fiddles, then sent the servants to fetch it. "This is a genuine Stradivarius violin," Ford told him, "and is worth $150,000." He asked me if I would play 'Red Wing' for him because that was his favorite fiddle tune. So I played 'Red Wing' and several other tunes for him on that Stradivarius fiddle."

Ford sure did love country music. "Red Wing" had been written and published in 1907 by Tin Pan Alley's Kerry Mills, author of "Rastus On Parade" and of "At A Georgia Camp Meeting" as well, the biggest cakewalk hit of the whole coon song era. Mills had been head of the violin department of the University of Michigan School of Music; he'd snagged the melody, all too appropriately, from Schumann's "The Merry Peasant." To this day, "Red Wing" is known as an old fiddle tune. (My mom, Lawrence Welk's cousin, Francesca Schweitzer Bull, has always played it oom-pah accordion style on the organ, but that's pretty much how she plays everything.) It is an old fiddle tune, just as it was in 1937, maybe just as it was by 1908. The vogue for coon songs was cooling down, and a brief fad for frontier Indian romance numbers came and went. It was a coon song of a different sort, and Henry Ford was right. It was country music, just as his driveway was close enough to a country road to fool country folks in a country band. Henry Ford, the man who killed off the horse-and-buggy-era, once the fastest man in the world, died by the light of a coal lamp. And that $150,000 fiddle of his? "Well," says Dusty Rhodes, "I have to admit that I didn't like it any better than the one Daddy made for me."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Aphorisme Soixaante-Neuf; (One of a Series; Collect 'Em All)

Some times the best thing for your reputation is the person attacking it.
(Corollary: Not always, just sometimes. )

Friday, April 26, 2013

Bob Brozman — He Wrote The Book

So now we're short another screwball, and down a knucklehead too.  And completely missing a genius and a half.
Rest in peace, buddy.
But you probably won't do much resting, will you?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Less Popular Than Jesus.

no comment

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Messin' With The Hook; John Lee Hooker profile excerpts from SPIN

I got given carte blanche at SPIN to write whatever I wanted, really — really! —  but one time I got asked point blank:  Who do you most want to write about?  Who would you write about if you could write about anybody?

Three-word instant response:  John Lee Hooker.

And because it was SPIN.... well, hell —just go do it.  That easy.  Oh, and write as best you can. Period.

I'm'na post the whole thing eventually, maybe, but I guess I'll just cherry-pick some stuff.   There were one or two paragraphs edited out —great paragraphs, of course, deathless prose crucified, don't you know — but because it was SPIN,  I really got to tell a whole set of tales.   And then... well, there's another small set of tales to go with it, about what happened after, but really, the real tale is the story.  Which won an ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award, for what that's worth.  SPIN's first, and I don't know, maybe only. (Journalists, those tough-minded cynics, offer each other more gilded bowling trophies than Hollywood would ever dare.)

Here's a couple of hunks.  (And I always kinda loved the subhead, the subtitle.  "Messin' With The Hook:  John Lee Hooker,  the living link between country blues and uptown R&B, answers the question that has baffled mankind throughout the ages: How Can I Impress The Ladies?"

(In retrospect, I wish we'd added another How or two or three in there, maybe.  How?  I don't know how.)

Some hunks:

"Elderly Bluesman interviewing Little Stevie Spielberg: 'So, tell me, man — what Is The Movies?'"

"Hooker may have been the toast of Detroit when he drifted in during the mid-'40s, but he supported his celebrity by sweeping factory floors and swabbing urinals."

"Hooker is saying:
'We got about ten [songs] there now.  Like I told you, don't take no three days for me to do no album, er um...'
Hite: We'll go for a triple album!
Hooker: 'You go for a triple album, you gonna go for triple money.' [Laughs}
Hite: 'We got lots of money.  This is a hit album — don't worry about that money, it'll come rollin' in.''  It's a carefree phrase that echoes through the ages, spoken who knows how many white times, etched into how many million black minds. 'Don't worry about that money...'
Hooker: [serious as death] 'You gotta worry about that now.  Nothin' but the best and later for the garbage.'
Hite: 'What's that?'
Hooker: 'Natural facts.'
The song that follows is 'Burnin' Hell,' and it's—"

And it's a masterpiece, one of the great frozen moments of the entire Twentieth Century.  Sometime I'll put up the rest of this, the whole thing.  Everything.  Nothin' but the best and later for the garbage.