Here I go getting lost in my Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lou Tabackin Big Band albums again. She was signed to a major label back in the ‘80’s and seemed to release an album a year, at least, gorgeously swinging things, richly orchestrated—a lot of notes, Med Flory told me (or was that Steve Hufstetter?)—and review copies fill the cut out bins. Doubt I spent more than a buck on any of them. They have beautiful cover art too, free of the happy smiling jazz musician photos that were on the cover jackets of even the grumpiest players back then. Anyway, every once in a while I pull one out of the stacks, then another and eventually all of them, one after the other, and they fill the office with very intense orchestral jazz and you know what that means. No ear worms, not yet anyway, this isn’t Duke Ellington. But it’s glorious.
One of my favorite moments was a jazz party at Chuck Manning’s pad and there were all these cool nice people except for one table where I was sitting with Chris Conner, George Herms, Theo Saunders, Chuck and others and it was one of the most gloriously abrasive, insulting, mean spirited, sarcastic and anarchistic few hours I’ve ever spent (and I’ve had more than my share), and just pure jazz. I couldn’t tell you why it was pure jazz, but it was. It was so Beat. Finally, leaving a pile of bottles, butts, roaches and egos in our wake, we repaired to the music room where Chris and Chuck and Theo joined a spontaneous sextet and did amazing things with old melodies and a little Trane. It was gorgeous stuff, pushing and reaching and, once there, reaching even further, ever further. A timeless hour later Chris thrummed the last notes of A Love Supreme into the ether and we all went our different ways, renewed. Gonna miss Chris and his sharp wit and ill considered sarcasm and cigars and that ancient gorgeous bass. I once wrote a beautiful piece on a night where he’d played bass and I copped one of his wisecracks and slipped it into the narrative. You stole my line, he said. Sorry, I said. You stole my line, he said. So I went home and rewrote the line and gave him credit. That’s better, he said. Chris Conner never kissed a jazz critic’s ass in his life. Rest In Peace.
She asked what I was doing tonight. Just gonna hang, I said, start a couple projects I’ve been planning and watch some hockey. So you’re one of those people, she said. Those people? Yeah, one of those people who make sure everyone knows you don’t watch Game of Thrones. Is that on tonight? Don’t patronize me, she said. Sorry, I said. So you’re going to watch it? But I’ve never watched it. There you go again, she said.
So at movie night last night the host said go ahead Brick, you pick the movie and I instantly picked The Beast of Yucca Flats before anyone could tear the keyboard from my cold dead hands. Alas I was mortified, as it was the edited for incredibly bad television version and the scene where the children feed soda to the pigs was cut, losing all that pathos and and rendering the complex multi dimensional narratives a confusing mess. Not even Tor Johnson’s wailing and stumbling and Russian scientist turned into a psychopathic killer by an unexpected atomic blast shtick could save it. Imagine a Plan 9 without the 9. I say stick to the Criterion edition, where the restored director’s cut shows the children feeding soda to the pigs as well as lots more driving around. There is also audio commentary by Tor Johnson and the pigs, as well as several clips from the original Broadway production of the Beast of Yucca Flats, with James Coco as the Beast.
As soon as that ended, the keyboard still in my colder and even deader hands, I selected Bucket of Blood, perhaps my favorite Roger Corman flick, full of stoned beatniks and uptight narcs and murderous artists (well, one) and bad poets and Paul Horn playing some truly gorgeous tenor sax, much cooler than anything he did inside the Great Pyramid. Indeed all the jazz—these are beatniks, remember—in the flick is cool, with Fred Katz providing his usual amazingly hip jazz score, or maybe his identically hip jazz score, since he handed Corman the same recordings for a couple different flicks, just changing the title on the can, figuring nobody would notice, which they did not. Which just goes to show you can never trust a cello player.
Finally, the evil artist hoisted on his own metaphorical beatnik petard beneath the jagged swell of saxophones and brass, it’s over. I hate when it’s over as I don’t think there’s another film quite like it. I sat back on the couch, they pried the keyboard from my cold dead hands and said I could keep coming to movie night but I couldn’t pick the movies. I said cool, Daddy o.
[Just found this, a pretty rough first draft from a while back, but I’ll post it as is.]
A Lion In Winter would be a lot less Lion In Winter without all that beautiful English, which in all likelihood none of the characters personally could speak much of of, if any. Rather all the soliloquies would have been intoned in a variety of the French languages at the time. Peter O’Toole’s Henry II in Norman (which the language of the English royal court till Henry IV was raised speaking English a couple centuries later), Katherine Hepburn’s Eleanor of Aquitaine in Poitevin, and Anthony Hopkins’ Richard I in Occitan. I’ve no idea what form of French Geoffrey connived and young John sniveled in. Philip II, I assume, was speaking what eventually became standard French though doubtless he could make himself understood in a variety of the regional Frenches of the north, though perhaps Richard I’s Occitan would have been a stretch. I’m not sure what language mistress Alais did her sulking in, she was raised everywhere by everybody. Any of the above, I suppose, and as she’d been spent some of her childhood in England she probably picked up some English from the household help. In what tongue the various characters would have sniped, raged, conspired and hit on each other is anybody’s guess. Various of the Frenches, mostly, though Henry II and Eleanor both were fully conversant and literate in the Medieval Latin of the time (which is considerably closer to the Latin of the Catholic mass than the Latin of Caesar’s Commentaries), which would have been useful in front of the children. Qui auditunt quod stupri nocte?
Despite the characters enunciating some of the most glorious English you will ever hear on film—“he came down from the north with a mind like Aristotle and a form like mortal sin; we shattered the Commandments on the spot”—it’s unlikely that any of the characters could utter more than a smattering of English. Enough on some rare trip across the Channel to order some peasants this way or that, or curse like in Beowulf, or say something filthy to a maid in the market. Otherwise the only character in the whole of the film that could actually be fluent in English would have been William Marshall, who spends the movie scurrying about obeying Peter O’Toole or arresting people. He’s the character you forget. O’Toole’s Henry II, though, is unforgettable. “I hope we never die!” he bellows at the close as only Peter O’Toole can bellow. “Do you think there’s a chance of it?” Alas, there wasn’t, he was gone soon enough, as was Eleanor. Indeed as was every man of royal blood in the story, beginning with Geoffrey, trampled to death at a jousting tournament. It’s William Marshall who came close to never dying, by medieval standards anyway, outliving Henry and his wife and sons by decades. He died in his bed at 72 and was buried with honor in London, the mass said in Latin, the eulogies in French, the throng of onlookers murmuring in English.
It would be two centuries before an English king could bellow at his wife and sons in the same language as Chaucer, another couple centuries till an English speaker could rage like Lawrence Olivier’s Richard II raged three centuries after that, and it’d be deep into the twentieth century before they could bellow like they bellowed in A Lion In Winter, a high medieval Francophone drama spoken in twentieth century English.
Robert Plant was always my fave Led Zep guy (Page was cool as guitar players go, except for that dorky bowing solo bit, sheesh, and I never was a Bonham fan), but Bobby Plant nailed it, though for years the Bilbo Baggins hippie shit drove me up the wall. As I hated everything they did after Houses of the Holy anyway I paid no attention to all his missteps early in his solo career, tho’ I remember a good Little Sister (which Elvis absolutely nailed in ‘56 or whenever, one of his best songs) and I have a vague memory of cut out bins full of something with Robert Plant in a late period spangly doo woo get up on the cover, smiling a lost hippie smile, but I was so fucking punk rock at the time Robert Plant might as well have been from another planet. Hell, I don’t know if they were missteps, everything by older rock musicians qualified as a misstep to me at the time, even Bowie. Those were revolutionary years, things had to burn.
But the years passed and one night I was bored or maybe just stoned and staring at the TV, a million channels and nothing to watch and suddenly there was Robert Plant on the normally underwhelmingly alt hip Austin City Limits. He looked great, one of those rare Englishmen over six feet tall, sounded great if a little shy of the high notes he once screamed about the wrath of the gods in, and had this amazing band that swung from outish ethnic alt into old timey into a killer Led Zep tune—I can’t remember which—and ending with some remarkable melange of Malian sounds with everything else. I was hooked. Watched that show several times. Said to Fyl we gotta go see Robert Plant! We’d get primo seats, of course, free to the press, and green room access and I’d ask him about Festival of the Desert instead of some stupid Led Zep question because I was a jazz critic. Then I’d see Patty Griffin and be so star struck I couldn’t talk. Homina homina homina…. Anyway, it never happened. The best laid plans of moose-like men, etc.
Then last night I was doing the million channels nothing to watch thing again unstoned and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t Robert Plant on Austin City Limits again, this time from 2016, still tall and looking great and sounding even better (and they’ve done a little audio trickery to stretch out the high notes a bit, but it barely shows). Robert Plant and the Sensational Shape Shifters I think he’s called it, fine musicians all, and the set was as old timey ethno Malian (or maybe Gambian) blues as before, but half the set was Led Zep tunes (I keep saying Led Zep covers) that are rearranged and jazzed up and weirded out but then kick into that classic babe I’m gonna leave you fury, the audience undulating to a hard and sinewy and groovily fucked up Whole Lotta Love like the gods never intended and the whole scene was beautiful and left me sort of nostalgic for an age yet to come.
It was good.
Saw Sayonara (from 1957) last night, with Red Buttons in a kimono and Marlon Brando doing Elvis in a colonel’s uniform. A deep dive into Japanese culture, with none of the usual smarm and patronizing, it turned out to be quite a moving flick, and a pretty effective anti-bigotry story. Doubt it’s everybody’s thing, and no Stella! or you’re a big lousy dirty stinking mug moments, but it ain’t no Tea House Of The Freaking Harvest Moon either. Also, Ricardo Montalban in kabuki drag. Shot in Japan.