I decided to post this famous 1926 image by the surrealist artist/photographer Man Ray because this week has been rather surreal. The dust from the New Orleans monuments flap hasn’t quite settled, but I expect it will take some time for General Lee to be toppled from his pedestal. Nothing in this town happens quickly or on time. There’s a phrase for that: NOLA time. It’s got something to do with the summer heat, people mosey around like they’ve got all the time in the world:
Adding to the surreal aura has been the weather. This El Nino weather is some weird shit, y’all. It’s muggy and warm one day, cold and windy the next. I wish the weather gods would make up their fucking minds. I can hear you saying: he’s on about the weather again. I plead guilty. When your life is torn upside down by a weather event, you get a bit obsessed. After all, you don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows; not even Jim Fucking Cantore. Actually, Cantore usually gets Jimmy Buffetted about by the wind when he’s on the job…
Equally surreal has been the fearmongering on the national scene after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks. I never thought I’d write a sentence with those two city names in it. Until recently San Berdoo was, in Frank Zappa’s words, “where they take all the cars that get hurt.”
The Republican candidates have been dick waving, claiming that if they were the Oval One the terrorists would just surrender. Yeah, right. They ought to try that out on their pals at the NRA. Of course, they’re as afraid of the gun lobby as they want the rest of us to be of Daesh/ISIL.
Let’s move on to this week’s theme song. It’s one of the Beatles best known album tracks, A Day In The Life. It’s 90% Lennon but Macca contributed the “woke up, fell out of bed” bridge, which makes the song something of a marvel. I wish I had a Benjamin for every time I’ve picked up the morning paper, scanned the front page and sang, “I read the news today, oh boy.” It’s a lifelong earworm; there aren’t many of those.
We begin, of course, with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Billy Shears will be along directly:
Here’s a swell live version by Cheap Trick. Congrats on their election to the Jann Wenner Hall of Fame in Cleveland, which, apparently rocks. I’m still waiting for Yes and Jethro Tull to be inducted. But while we’re waiting, here are the swell fashion and vocal stylings of Robin Zander:
Finally, an instrumental interpretation of Lennon’s haunting melody by Sixties guitar god, Jeff Beck:
It’s a pity that Beck has no imagination when it comes to band names: the Jeff Beck Group may have been rough and ready but it’s a boring moniker. Here’s my suggestion: Jeff Beck and the Bowl Haircuts. It’s an even better Moniker than Lewinsky…
On that discordant note, it’s time for the break. That reminds me of an old joke I liked when I was a young bloke. If someone said, “Gimme a break.” I’d say, “Arm or leg?” I thought that was droll when I was 15…
I lied before the break. I use that groaner to this very day.
This is another music-heavy edition of Saturday Odds & Sods. We begin with a story about a story that nearly ended a writer’s career:
I Read Esquire Today, Oh Boy: December 8th was the 35th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder. Everyone my age remembers where they were when the former Beatle was gunned down by a deranged Salinger reader. I was at my parents’ house on a Monday night doing my laundry, which is what college boys do. Monday Night Football was on the teevee and ABC broke in with the news. That’s right, I had to listen to Howard Fucking Cosell drone on about it and my father opine that Lennon was probably shot buying drugs. Like Sinatra, Lou was a hippie hater. So it goes.
Laurence Shames was a twenty-nine-year-old freelance writer who, in the spring of 1980, was assigned to write about John Lennon. The resulting profile, “John Lennon, Where Are You?” details Shames’s unsuccessful attempts to reach the famous ex-Beatle, then in semiretirement. It’s a breezy article (a “how-I-didn’t-get-the-story story,” as Shames puts it), but one with an underpinning of disillusionment. What indeed had happened to Lennon the activist, the idealist, the most controversial of the Fab Four?
The article was well received, but that success quickly soured after Lennon was murdered in front of his apartment building on December 8, 1980. Shames, a huge Beatles fan, became the target of hate mail and threatening phone calls. The experience scarred him and deepened his ambivalence about journalism.
Imagine what would happen in the age of the Twitter outrage factory. It wouldn’t be all idealistic and shit like the song Imagine, which is my least favorite Lennon tune. It’s too earnest by half; pass the barf bag…
The good news is that Shames went on to be a successful novelist as well as playing the Batman villain Shame. I made that last bit up, unless he’s a time traveler who resembles Cliff Robertson. Btw, Robertson played the young JFK in PT 109. The story goes that Jack Kennedy wanted Warren Beatty to play him but that Joe and Bobby thought his image was too mixed up. I think they were full of Bulworth; it’s type casting at its finest. I am a bottomless pit of useless information this morning…
A final word about the original Shames article, John Lennon, Where Are You? It was the bastard offspring of the Gay Talese “how I tried to get the story” article that I wrote about last week, Sinatra Has A Cold.
It’s time to put Esquire in the rear view mirror and talk about another magazine.
Oxford American’s Georgia Music Issue: This issue has, two count ’em two, brilliant articles about Georgia born musicians:
Prayers For Richard is a beautifully written piece by David Ramsey about the rock-n-roll lion in winter:
Little Richard has always been attuned to signs. At the height of his fame, on tour in Australia in October 1957, he saw a big ball of fire in the sky above the stadium. This was his second vision of fire. On the flight over, the glow of the engines appeared to him as flames and he pictured yellow-haired angels holding the plane aloft.
The message, to Little Richard, was clear. He had to leave show business, quit singing the devil’s music, and get right with God.
“It looked as though the big ball of fire came directly over the stadium about two or three hundred feet above our heads,” he later told his biographer, Charles White. “It shook my mind. . . . I got up from the piano and said, ‘This is it. I am through. I am leaving show business to go back to God.’” And he did. He ditched the tour—leaving half a million dollars’ worth of canceled bookings, with multiple lawsuits to come. The change in plans kept him off a scheduled flight that crashed into the Pacific Ocean. The Lord wasn’t messing around.
Richard Wayne Penniman is now 82 years old and confined to a wheelchair. Ramsey was able to speak to Richard, but wasn’t granted an interview so the Talese/Shames theme continues to some extent. That puts Little Richard in very good company with Sinatra and Lennon. It’s where he belongs, y’all.
Reading about Little Richard reminded me of the time he rode with the Krewe of Orpheus on Lundi Gras in 1994. It was the first Orpheus parade and Little Richard was its first celebrity monarch. Befitting his status as both carnival and rock royalty, Richard was on one of the first floats. He was pounding on a piano, banging out his classics, greeted by much WOOING. The parade broke down in front of us and we were treated to a mini-set much like the one below, only in living color, not black and white:
It’s time to move on to the second brilliant piece in the Georgia music issue, Searching The Desert For The Blues. It was written by the great Peter Guralnick who takes a look at the life, times, and music of Blind Willie McTell.
It’s time to circle back to the enormous influence that Beatles had on generations of songwriters. Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze were frequently compared by music critics to Lennon and McCartney. It was like sportswriters back in the day who compared every San Francisco Giants Outfield prospect to Willie Mays; even the best of them, Bobby Bonds, wasn’t really the next Mays. Holy impossible comparison, Batman. Time for a Squeeze play:
From The Cradle To The Grave With Glenn Tilbrook: Squeeze broke up for the second time in 2000, regrouped in 2007, and finally released an album of new material this year, From The Cradle To The Grave. It’s a smashing album full of the melodic power pop Difford and Tilbrook are known for. One reason for the album gap is the changing economics of the music business. In Squeeze’s heyday, the money was in recording and publishing, today it’s in live performances and merch. Whatever the reason, this Squeeze fan is delighted they’re back with new material.
Glenn Tilbrook spoke about the new record and his old band to Marc Spitz of Salon. Hmm, I wonder if the interviewer wore a Speedo? I really shouldn’t mock Spitz since, like your humble blogger, he’s a die-hard Squeeze fan boy:
Okay, I should confess that Squeeze was my favorite band. I was too young for the Beatles and the Stones when they were starting out, but I remember buying “Argybargy” and “East Side Story.” I was wondering if you got feedback over the years from similar people who were not casual or ambivalent about Squeeze. They were a favorite band-band.
Yes. But I think that our relationship with our fans is sort of like the same with other bands: 10 percent are really absolutely mad about it, and the other 90 percent, who really like what you’re doing, then go back with their lives, and come back to you now and then. And why shouldn’t they do that? I am obviously obsessed with what we do, but that doesn’t mean everyone else should be. But, that 10 percent really stood by us.
There’s been a lot to stand by. I just remember watching MTV and learning that Squeeze and the Jam broke up, and it felt like being punched in the face. Then you came back, almost bigger than ever, in the mid-’80s, but left us again and then were back again…
There were one too many times.
Glenn, it was an emotional roller coaster for a serious Squeeze fan, let’s say. So, I was wondering how it was like for you? Same feelings?
You know, it has been very weird because most of Squeeze’s commercial success – it was way toward the beginning of our careers. We kept on going, but eventually we were dropped by the major labels in 1995. To go on tour a lot and carry on making records, after that, in a way, I rediscovered what I and what Squeeze had had in the beginning. It is about writing for yourself, and people either like it or they don’t. Generally they have, but you have to listen to yourself, and not listen to other people.
Life as a cult band can be sweet. Here are two tracks from the new album. The second one, Open, is best described as power pop gospel:
The Glorious Gloria Grahame: She was part femme fatale, part girl next door, but all movie star. Slate’s Karina Longworth dishes on one of my favorite film noir era actresses with a focus on her tempestuous marriage to cult director Nicholas Ray. Ray directed Gloria and Bogart in the creepy classic, In A Lonely Place. It’s one of Grahame’s finest performances as a woman who’s both in love with and terrified of Bogie’s demented screenwriter character:
My only cavil with Karina’s piece is that she didn’t discuss La Gloria’s stunning performance in Vincente Minnelli’s sublime The Bad and the Beautiful. Kirk Douglas was the bad and Gloria and Lana Turner were the beautiful. Grahame won an Oscar for her performance in this classic movie about the movies.
We move on to a different kind of blond bombshell, former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis. Lefties across the nation were thrilled when she filibustered an anti-abortion bill whilst shod in pink sneakers. She became a celebrity on the Left and a hate object on the Right: one winger malaka called her Abortion Barbie. Whatever, asswipe. Ms. Davis was the Democratic nominee for Texas Goober in 2014 but things didn’t go as planned. She recently wrote an apologia for Politico:
Why I Caved On Guns When I Ran For Governor Of Texas: It took courage for Ms. Davis to admit that she wimped out on this issue when she tried to become Texas Goober. It was received wisdom among Texas Democrats that Ann Richards lost to W in 1994 because she vetoed an open carry law. Davis supported one but lost anyway. Sometimes it’s just better to go down with guns blazing as it were.
Saturday Classic: I went on about surrealism at the beginning of the post, so it’s time to pull out your Surrealistic Pillow and set the dial on the wayback machine to 1967. This Jefferson Aiplane classic was one of the first LPs I ever owned and it remains a sentimental favorite to this day. It’s a beautifully sequenced album with two gorgeous Marty Balin ballads smack dab in the middle.
That’s it for this week. I’m not exactly sure what will be found in this space next week since it will be the day after Christmas. I’m hoping that Father Christmas doesn’t bring me a lump of coal because Bad Santa is my favorite holiday flick and this is my favorite Christmas song:
Here’s a rousing send-off from another obscure Batman villain, Louie the Lilac. He was played by the legendary joke stealing comedian Milton Berle: