Steve McQueen smoking a cigarette through Suzanne Pleshette’s toes.
We have her dog dishes. Went to a yard sale in Los Feliz and the guy had a mess of stuff from her garage he’d gotten in an estate sale. He’d had some connection to her, I can’t remember what it was. Anyway, there were these two ceramic bowls still wrapped in plastic. Of course I had to have them, I’d adored Emily Hartley since my impressionable adolescence. We bought them to fill with dips for parties. It wasn’t till I was washing the bowl after a party that I saw the face of a puppy in the bottom of the dish. We’d been serving people onion dip and salsa out of Suzanne Pleshette’s doggie dishes. Still do. It’s a tradition.
The 400,000 people at Woodstock were still antsy, high and loud after Santana’s starmaking performance, but the crew didn’t dare put another electric band on stage till the weather settled down. That upstate New York weather. John Sebastian was hanging around back stage just tripping on the acid he’d dosed somehow, when Chip Monck—that’s his voice, introducing him—told him he needed to play. John, way too buzzed, said no. He hadn’t even brought a guitar with him. Not even an autoharp. Someone handed him Tim Hardin’s guitar. (Tim didn’t make the cut for the movie so his guitar is as close as he got to Woodstock movie stardom that day.) Darling Be Home Soon is one of Lovin’ Spoonful’s classics, a hit you don’t hear on the classic rock stations, one of those earnest folkie things, like a Simon and Garfunkel tune, overly arranged, a loud horn section, perfect grammar and sweet melody, rhyming dawdled with toddled and with an unforgettable hook in the melody. He begins the song and the crowd cheers, like they’d been hoping that he’d sing it, and within a few seconds the vast throng is hushed, swaying slightly with the rhythm, quiet as a church, listening to the words, just John Sebastian and a guitar and a melody and the 400,000 people not making a sound. Go, he sings, and beat your crazy head against the sky, the melody somehow soaring like a big rock band, try and see beyond the houses and your eyes, it’s OK to shoot the moon, which a half century later sounds a little clumsy, but in the summer of 1969 in a sea of 400,000 heads and hippies it must’ve sounded like pure poetry, and it wasn’t until he sang the last few words that you can hear the sounds of 400,000 stoned people again, their cheers like waves rolling in from the deep to inundate the stage.
Present at the creation. Well, slightly after the creation, but still way early. Dig all the long hair, the band’s and the audience. Tommy’s is the hippiest. Johnny takes care of his. And everyone looks so nice. Rock’n’roll was still very nice in 1976. It had probably never been nicer. Nice people, nice music. I don’t think anyone had a clue about what was to erupt in a year. Punk rock—were we even calling it that yet?—was still a college kid thing. Not a drop out thing or a fuck up thing or a this close to being put away psycho thing. And it looks like somebody was recording the show on the state of the art portable recording machines (I’d say recorders instead of recording machines but recorders were still those inexpensive little woodwinds that hippies drove us up the wall with). The cassette he recorded would have sounded like he’d recorded inside a blender. Unlistenable. He probably still has it somewhere, Ramones scrawled across it in ball point pen, the venue and the date. Sometimes he finds it in a junk drawer and remembers.
Watching Laura for the zillionth time and Waldo Lydecker just had his seizure. I hope, says a recovered Clifton Webb to a radiantly overbit Gene Tierney, you’ll forgive my wee touch of epilepsy, my dear. Clifton Webb could sure say a my dear. He drops to a near whisper. It’s an old family custom he apologizes, but not really. There’s a touch of a boast to it. I grin. It’s my favorite line. Well, second favorite. You can’t top his I shall never forget the weekend Laura died. An opener, no less. And there’s a naked skinny epileptic Waldo typing in the bathtub. An epileptic in a bathtub. If he’d had his seizure then there’d have been no movie.
Just to age myself even more, I got that Spirit box set which includes the first four albums plus another album and a soundtracks and singles, outtakes and whatever else they could squeeze on five discs. Hot damn this shit is good. Always loved these guys. Poor bastards were not big enough to be really popular but too big to be considered a cult band. Spirit were the band whose manager cancelled their Woodstock appearance so they could play a high school auditorium in nearby Binghamton. Well, they got paid for playing Binghamton, there was that. But imagine playing a set to a few hundred people when you were could have been playing for hundreds of thousands a helicopter flight away. It shall be.
Been a decade or so since I saw John Ford’s The Informer and though I remembered it was riveting and powerful, unrelentingly so, I’d forgotten what a kick to the solar plexus that ending is. Jesus. Audiences in 1935 must have sat in stunned silence afterward for several long seconds. Talkies were only a few years old and I doubt they’d ever experienced anything like that before. Nearly a century later it’s still so intense it’s uncomfortable to watch and as the credits roll you’re left staring at the screen for a few long seconds, not feeling good about yourself at all.
Watching Wizard of Oz. This was a big national event when I was a kid, the one time all year you could see the Wizard of Oz and families would crowd around the TV to watch. CBS reaped incredibly high Neilsen ratings. It became one of my childhood memories. The Wizard of Oz was one of those rare things that stayed the same as we moved back and forth across the country, over and over. I’ve only seen it a couple times since then. The technicolor startles me everytime. When I watched it as a kid it was in black and white. We didn’t have a color set for years. My dad could keep any old TV running forever, so we had a black and white set long into the color era. Dorothy would open the door of the house and if she and Toto weren’t in Kansas anymore the hues gave no clue. My dad filled us in. The road was bright yellow he said. But I had no idea it was as bright as it looks now. Crazy yellow. Psychedelic yellow. And all those crazy midgets.
This was the anthem of all us disaffected teens in the early 70s and we had no idea why, it just was, somehow. We hadn’t a clue what it was actually about, we just figured it was about all us shambling young and clueless dudes and dudettes, and it meant, well, who knows. Whatever. Metaphors were still a little beyond us (it’s one of the last linguistic concepts the brain gets a handle on, metaphors, until just before we reach adulthood and there they are, metaphors, and suddenly Bob Dylan makes sense.) No, we were still at that precious age where everything is literal and things are things and dudes were, well, dudes. Its lyrical structure is pretty complicated for an anthem—they’re usually simple, We Shall Overcome, like that—and it’s got a lot of cool rhymes, and that all night/suicide/twenty five/speed jive/stay alive/twenty five it opens with could’ve come right out of Cole Porter. Bowie had never done better word wise, and never did again, not that we could have known that then, we were 15 and didn’t know anything, though we didn’t know that either. All we really knew was that chorus with all the young dudes singing all the young dudes, and we’d join in, all the young dudes joining all the young dudes singing all the young dudes. It was probably the only feeling of being part of a youth movement that wasn’t some old hippie thing we had in the early 1970’s, though what sort of movement that was we hadn’t a clue. Just us dudes singing about us dudes. It was our anthem. And ya know, it still gets me when I hear it, every single time, and it probably always will. I’m a dude, yeah.
Watched Downstairs last night, from 1932, in which John Gilbert is incredibly convincing as a vile, thieving, conniving lowlife of a chauffeur with no redeeming virtues whatsoever. Weird choice of role for a leading man with a career on the rocks, weirder still that he’d written the story himself and wanted to do it so badly he sold it to MGM for a dollar. Gilbert is ridiculously good in it, his attention to detail verges on fanatical—the character picks his nose and wipes it on his clothes, ferchrissakes—and his voice is fine. He did not have a squeaky voice, despite the legend. He did have a fight with Louis B Mayer, tho’. Combine that with a thirst for drink worthy of John Barrymore—it killed him four years after this film—and you can see where his career went, and the squeaky voice rumors were just post mortem Hollywood viciousness. John Gilbert should have been one of the top leading men in the thirties and forties, as good as any of them, but he drank himself to death first. You really do have to wonder about the mindset of a movie star who goes to such incredible lengths to play an absolutely loathsome character. Oh, and this being the pre-code era, the chauffeur doesn’t even get his comeuppance. He wins.
Sorry there’s no more of the great gobs of prose I used to spill out all over these blogs. People have been asking. Alas, epilepsy was really fucking with the long essays, and I finally had to stop. Had to stop working too. Had to stop just about everything. It’s been a couple years now and the synapses have calmed down nicely. They seem to like being bored. Me not so much at first but I’ve adapted. So I write tiny little essays now, scarcely ever longer than a paragraph. Hence all this tinyness where vastness used to be. Little gems, I tell myself. The actual gemage might be debatable, but they’re my blogs. You can think everything you do is art if no one is editing you.
Anyway, thanks for reading and feel free to complain.