It came out in 1969 and even though I’d heard of it for years, I didn’t actually hear Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica until much, much later: 1978. Nine years late. Talk about uncool, uneducated, and unhip. Still, it immediately had a huge impact on me. Not just the mind blowing music (“Pena” remains the strangest piece of music I’ve ever heard), but the stunning imagery in the lyrics, which shaped my own prose (especially “Bill’s Corpse” for some reason I could not begin to explain). People read my stuff and assume I’ve read James Joyce but I never have, what they’re hearing is Don Van Vliet. But perhaps most surreal to me now is the fact that four decades have transpired since this now five decades old album finally connected with my gray matter. It was on the third spin in perhaps as many days and it still eluded me until half way through “Hobo Chang Ba” I got it. Hobo Chang Ba, the Captain groaned, Hobo Chang Ba, and suddenly all was clear. What exactly made it so clear I do not know, but suddenly the frantic clattering music made perfect sense. It still does, most of my lifetime later. Forty years can make a man’s eyes, a Beefheart fan’s eyes, flow out water, salt water.
While being subjected to Lady Di’s mega-televised funeral, I started giggling and got shushed. I kept giggling. Angry stares. What’s so damn funny? She lived her life, I said, like a camel breaking wind. As the giggling spread, I was asked to leave.
No one remembers him anymore, but Warren William was an extraordinary actor. His Perry Mason is so morally deficient, alcoholic, shrewd, tough, venal and hysterically funny that there is no character in film even remotely like him. The Case of the Curious Bride is a wild ride, with be bop tempos and dialog so razor sharp there must have been blood everywhere. Imagine a cross of the Thin Man, Duck Soup and one of those very dark and troubled Dick Powell film noirs, plus the Galloping Gourmet. Warren Williams nailed it. Hugely popular in the thirties, his characters were apparently a little too much for the forties and fifties and with that came oblivion. There’s never been another like him, though it’s obvious that many of the classic film noir anti-heroes–Bogie, Dick Powell–picked up some of their shtick watching Warren William. If you dig old flicks then The Case of the Curious Bride especially is a must see.
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.