We finally had a chilly day this week. New Orleanians tend to overdress when it cools off so there were many coats, sweaters, and scarves about town. This cold-ish snap is another example of how extreme the weather has been this year: the first cold weather doesn’t usually arrive until around Thanksgiving. I am opposed to turning on the central heat until November but dragged out the space heaters. It warmed up yesterday, but it’s going to be cold today. We’re back on the autumnal weather yo-yo. So it goes.
The big local story is the precipitous fall of celebrity chef John Besh. Picayune restaurant critic Brett Anderson spent 8 months investigating charges of sexual harassment in Besh’s empire. The story landed last weekend and Besh has resigned from his company and lost two casino based locations. I’d heard that he was a hound and a creep but hadn’t heard how systematic the problem was. The timing couldn’t have been worse for Besh since it followed the Weinstein revelations. I am trying out a new word to describe the outing of sexual harassers: Beshed. It probably won’t catch on but if it does, you heard it here first.
Another big local news story popped up as I was Oddsing and Sodsing. It’s a flap involving mayoral frontrunner LaToya Cantrell, her use of city credit cards, and the heavy-handed intervention of District Attorney Leon Cannizzarro who is supporting her opponent. So much for that campaign being dull. It’s New Orleans politics in all its seedy glory but I’m going to save it for the Bayou Brief. I’ll let y’all know when my column drops. I’m uncertain if it will be Ionic, Doric, or Corinthian. Corinthian leather?
Now that I’ve incited the wrath of Khan, let’s move on to this week’s theme song. It was composed by Charles Mingus in honor of his friend the great jazz sax player, Lester (Prez) Young.
Here are three versions for your enjoyment. First, Charlie’s original instrumental followed by Joni Mitchell who added lyrics for her Mingus album in 1979. Finally, a guitar driven version by Jeff Beck from his Wired album:
Now that we’ve tipped our pork pie hat to the great Lester Young, it’s time to say goodbye and jump to the break or something like that. Sometimes I even confuse myself.
This is going to be a music-centric edition of the Saturday post so let’s get down to it with a segment about one of the most interesting and influential artists of the last 50 years.
Joni Mitchell: Fear of a Female Genius is a manifesto of sorts by Lindsay Zoladz. Joni Mitchell has always gone her own way and ignored trends and musical fashions. It’s what geniuses do. Like other geniuses, she has a reputation of being irascible and cantankerous, charges she cops to because they’re true.
I’ve long thought that Joni’s music really took flight when she began to play with jazz musicians in the mid-1970’s:
And so—to the frustration of some of her fans—as the years went on she sought out her artistic equals in the jazz world. One of her first collaborators to truly challenge her was the electric bass iconoclast Jaco Pastorius; they started working together on Hejira. “Nearly every bass player that I tried did the same thing. They would put up a dark picket fence through my music,” she recalls in Woman of Heart and Mind. “Finally, one guy said to me, ‘Joni, you’ve gotta play with jazz musicians.’” Eventually, in 1978, she was summoned for her most daunting collaboration yet, working with the legendary Charles Mingus on his final album, while he was dying of ALS. Though plenty of jazz purists scoffed at Mitchell’s involvement, she earned the admiration of her brilliant, cantankerous collaborator. (He called her, affectionately, “motherfucker.”) As her music grew less commercial, it sometimes felt—for better and worse—that she was simply sending out dog whistles to other musicians as accomplished as herself. The very first time she met Mingus, he said to her, “The strings on ‘Paprika Plains’—they’re out of tune.” Far from offended, she was delighted—the strings were out of tune, and “she wished someone else had noticed.” Only a fellow genius would have noticed, and introduced himself like that.
Folk fans are funny weird, not funny ha ha. I like my music eclectic and complicated. American folk buffs prefer their music stripped down to its essentials. That’s why I prefer British folk music, it splits the difference like a pair of tight trousers. Rip.
Before moving on, here’s a lesser known Joni song that makes me think of someone close to me. It has nothing to do with the Carpenters or even Bachararch and David:
We’re going to stick with the subject of American folk music.
How Does It Feel? An Alternative American History, Told With Folk Music is a long excerpt from a book by Michael Wolff about the importance of folk music to American history between 1913-1967. If you’re interested in Alan Lomax, Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan this article is for you. Check it out at Longreads.com.
Wolff focuses at some length on the recording of Like A Rolling Stone, which thoughtfully provides a swell segue to our next segment. But first the song:
I don’t know about you but I don’t think of Dylan as beach music. In fact, the image of Bob on the beach in a Speedo at any age is both comical and appalling.
Let’s move on from Like A Rolling Stone to one of life’s Wenners, the founder of Rolling Stone Magazine.
Forever Jann: Jann Wenner hates Joe Hagan’s new biography about him with a fine fury. He hates Hagan’s focus on his sex life and even the title, Sticky Fingers. The title is a nod to Wenner’s twisted relationship with Mick Jagger and the Stones.
That brings me to an extended excerpt at Vulture. I got a kick out of the passage about the Stones’ irritation with Wenner’s using their band name for his publication:
What Wenner understood clearly from the start was that rock and roll was about sex. “All of rock and roll is sex, defined,” said Wenner. And no one proved this point more than rock’s foremost provocateur, Mick Jagger, the ur-Rolling Stone. Jagger and Wenner would become fellow travelers in the rock revolution — both of them pragmatists and opportunists — but the shared name, Rolling Stone, put them in a kind of uneasy shotgun marriage from the start. When he first saw it, Mick Jagger was startled by the audacity of Rolling Stone — to name a newspaper after his band and not even put the Rolling Stones on the cover of the first issue? It was an affront that would stick with Jagger for the next fifty years. “Why did Jann call it that, when there was a band called that?” asked Jagger. “You could have thought something else, to be honest. I mean, I know it arised from a song name, but that’s not really the point.”
Keith Richards put it more succinctly: “We thought, ‘What a thief!’ ”
That’s a bit rich since *they* swiped the name from this Muddy Waters tune:
I was a Rolling Stone subscriber until some time in the Nineties when it got a bit too glossy fan zine for my taste. They did a lot of good work in their Seventies heyday, which is a lot more interesting to me that where Jann Wenner put his penis.
It’s time for some comic relief.
The Saturday GIF Horse: I’m a big Martin Short fan. He’s a very funny little man. I must say that I’m particularly fond of his Pat Sajak-loving, high-waisted pants wearing character, Ed Grimley, I must say. What’s not to love about a character with Alfalfa hair?
Let’s shut this post down with some music. Same it as ever was.
Saturday Classic: Lester Young was more than just the dude in the pork pie hat. He was one of the most respected musicians of his time. That’s why he was nicknamed Prez, short for President. Of course, in 2017 that would be an insult but those were simpler times with presidents named Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower.
There’s a lotta Lester to choose from, but when was I able to resist anything involving Oscar Peterson? This 1952 session captures the mature Prez playing with a youthful OP. Oscar was 27 when they recorded this swell album. Enjoy.
That’s it for this week. It’s been a fun ride. There’s only one person to close things out, the great Lester Young.