I used to own utterly worthless LPs just because I liked the liner notes. All those liner notes were by Stan Cornyn. My favorite was a profound piece of fluff that accompanied Happiness is Dean Martin. That was from 1967, the Summer of Love. The Age of Aquarius. The Human Be-In. Hair opened on Broadway, stark naked. I have no idea, though, if Stan Cornyn took lots of LSD or if god made him like this. But what a ball it must have been writing liner notes back then. They’re almost literature, and now that he’s dead, they are. I no longer have the album. I sold it to somebody at a garage sale after showing him the liner notes. I told him they were literature. Plus the vinyl was clean. He was thrilled to death. Offered me ten bucks. I said five was fine. He thought he was getting a bargain. I made a five thousand per cent profit. Here are the words:
Nothing is more Dean Martin than Dean Martin.
“Of course, doing a really preposterously good job of being Dean Martin depends a lot on knowing the rules about what makes the best Dean Martin. Knowing the archetypal definition of Martinism: How is he different? Why is he individual? What is he driving at?
What Dean Martin is driving at seems to be to lead a Life Of Sloth. A Life of EPIC Sloth. Not just your common little ol’ Sunday afternoon lazy Sloth, like you get with minor Erskine Caldwell Georgia darlins.
No, Martin now epitomizes EPIC SLOTH. Sloth like Joseph E. Levine would come up with. In big, 3-D letters, like in those Ben Hur movie ads, with all forms of EPIC EXHAUSTION draped over the letters. “Epic Sloth,” starring Dean Martin, and then running around the bottom, instead of Mongol hordes and Jack Palance you find other things, for this is “Epic Sloth.” Things like deflated innertubes. Like the ears of sleeping Spaniels. Like Kleenex ashes. Like all of Life’s Most Unresilient Stuff.
And there, leaned up in Herculean-Scope against those giant letters, our Pop Star slumps. Dean Martin. Kind of half-eyed looking out at you, grinning “Hi ya, pally,” like he hopes you haven’t got anything heavy on your mind. Dean Martin has been working at becoming an Epic Pop Art Object. He’s been getting in a good deal of pop art hypnotizing. Avis knows, you don’t get to be Number One by just sitting round. Some detractors have published this about Martin: that he sits round, trying to make spaghetti look tense.
“Pish tosh,” we say, and “Yellow journalism.”
You have to publicize to get to be Our National Epic Sloth. Martin has. His medium: the most popular art object of Our Times, meaning . . . your television set. (Breathes there a soul with fingers so dull he can’t find his Vertical Knob blindfolded?)
The mind-boggling task which DM has accomplished in his upwards surge to Number One Epic Sloth in this: he has put other would- be number one lazy slobs into limbo. “Amos ‘N Andy’s” Lightnin, for instance, now is largely forgot. Shiftless and No-Account has moved to Beverly Hills, where dey got no deltas, chile. The other competition–those slothy Southern belles once played by Lee Remick and Joanne Woodward–are now minor league stuff.
Martin (few people have known this until this very minute; it has been a closely kept secret) was actually only Number Two until quite recently. The spot of Number One Epic Sloth was recently held by another performer. Not a human being, but a small dog. His name: Red Dust. He is (or was, for he has largely disappeared from our scene) part of a Vaudeville turn. His master would bark out commands: “Red Dust, Roll Over! Up, Red Dust!” But Red Dust was an utterly and irrevocably sag-boned hound. Red Dust never voluntarily moved anything, least of all a paw. The pooch looked permanently pickled. It was pretty funny stuff.
Dean Martin finally won out over Red Dust. Much of his triumph has been ascribed by some scribes to his ability to project an alcoholic aura from coast-to-coast, into millions of Puritan homes. Good, Puritan, beer-drinking homes. Martin has almost by himself established Booze-o-Vision as America’s new Art Populaire. It’s difficult to imagine any other object that would currently be more welcome in our historic nation’s thousands of beer bars and juke joints. Nothing more popular than DM, slumped there, looking for his cue card, all brung to you in NBC’s surrealist color. Martin and his–dare we say it?–goopy baritone. Martin: the biggest sex symbol to hit neighborhood taverns since the heyday of The Rheingold Girl, may she in our secret imaginations requiescat in flagrante delicto.
Nothing should slow up his reign as our beloved epic boozer short of a sudden attack of dysphagia.
You don’t see too many liner notes that end in the word dysphagia anymore. Hell, you don’t see many liner notes anymore. But those were the days. Record albums were new, liner notes newer, and nobody knew what they were doing, except it made a lot of money. Not to mention made me the easiest five bucks I ever earned.