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."