For a solid week I listened to side A of Don Ellis’ Live in 3⅔/4 Time because I was too lazy to flip the damn record. Finally I gave up and put on the second Talking Heads album. That was a week ago and side one is finishing its umpteenth spin since then. Damn that television David Byrne shouts. Look at that picture. Found A Job he says. I snicker. The retired life.
Somebody innocently mentioned a cactus being picked up by the wind and hurled at them. Which was bad enough, but someone raised the discomfort level by several orders of magnitude by responding with a YouTube of Cactus doing Parchment Farm. Egad. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with Cactus. Well, they were Detroit band you loved if you thought the Grand Funk Railroad live album was overly melodic, subtle and well crafted. Because Cactus dispensed with even a hint of melody, subtlety and craft. They were the Detroit sound after Detroit had burned down. I remember finding their their album Restrictions in a bin somewhere for fifty cents. I think it was their third, by which time they had shed any hint of musicality, and is one of the most gloriously unmelodic hard rock records of its time. 40 minutes worth of songs pummeled to death by drums and guitars and the most tone deaf singer ever allowed into a studio. I loved that album. Wish I still had my copy, if only to bother people. Anyone who partied at our place in the mid 80’s was subjected to it at ridiculous volume.
Alas, at some point I became a jazz critic and now find that record utterly unlistenable. But there was a spell there circa early-mid-eighties when somehow finding the loosest, rawest, trashiest music imaginable became of utmost importance to a select few of us. I remember Humble Pie’s rendition of Honky Tonk Women was an unlistenable pleasure. Makes me almost glad that not a single soul in the entire world, not even some tone deaf record collector in Germany or Japan or Brazil, has posted the Lee Michaels unclassic Roochie Toochie Loochie, off his forgotten Tailface, which even then I thought was one of the dumbest album titles ever. But if you drunkenly drove from the Anti-Club to our pad in the mid 80’s at two in the morning, you and our neighbors were subjected to Roochie Toochie Loochie at ridiculous volume until one of you complained.
Anyway, here’s a cut off of Restrictions. If you are at work turn the volume as high as possible right now.
I loved this album and somehow never bought it and it disappeared from the stores quickly. Believe it or not, there was no internet then, and no way to get a record once it was gone from the stores. Life was brutal, cave men like. We lived in holes in the ground and ate meat raw and listened to punk rock. And of all my favorite albums I never owned, this was probably my favoritest.
Barber shop quartets. No one thinks of them anymore. Not even in jokes. Not even in commercials. They are gone. They were everywhere, once, sweet adelining in four part harmony, but they’re gone now. Extinct. Like dinosaurs in candy striped shirts. “When you hear music, after it’s over, it’s gone, in the air. You can never capture it again” Eric Dolphy said. Though I doubt he was thinking about barbershop quartets.
There are lots of cemeteries out near Palm Springs–Sinatra’s out there, and William Powell–full of past generations, and there are thrift stores, full of those past generations’ stuff. Flip through the record bins and you will find barber shop quartet LP’s by the dozen. Four guys in candy striped shirts with vast mustaches waxed like my neighbor’s Camaro. They stand mouths agape, and there’s a barber pole and a guy in a barber chair swathed in shaving cream, looking disturbed. You will find all kinds of these albums in thrift stores in Palm Springs, every one of which opens with “Bill Bailey”, and finishes with “Sweet Adeline”. I was always terrified of the idea of a barber shaving me while singing Bill Bailey. Syncopation and straight razors never make a great combination. Sweet Adeline would be OK, though.
The old people–our fathers, probably your grandfathers–also had collections of albums of forgettable music with unforgettable models on the covers in various states of undress. Come hither they whispered. Zowie. How many of my generation lost their imagination’s virginity looking at dad’s records? We didn’t have internet porn then, and Playboys were locked away, so all we had was the thrill of those women and wondering if they really do drape themselves across pianos like that.
The bins are also full of the greatest generation’s Dixieland records. They made the world safe for democracy, that generation did, and then they listened to Dixieland. Not while saving the world for democracy–Basie and Ellington and the Dorseys and Glenn Miller scored those scenes–but afterward, when they settled down and grew vaguely nostalgic about the music their own fathers listened to. As the originals were all ’78’s few could play them, even by the fifties. So they went out and bought records by the Firehouse Five Plus 2, Turk Murphy and a thousand similar bands across the country. Those records are fun, actually, even a blast, and a lot of the bands are first rate. A little hokey, sometimes, redolent of good times and happy funerals and riverboats slapping the Mississippi into white foam. It was a fairly innocent jazz. The Firehouse Five Plus 2 played Disneyland. They never played in whorehouses or got in knife fights or suffered acute alcoholic psychosis that landed them in the loony bin for the rest of their lives. No, this was all straw hats and banjos and good times. But I like them. My dad loved the stuff. I have a mess of them tucked away in the record cabinet, segregated from the real jazz that my real jazz friends listen to. That way nobody gets embarrassed.
And then there were sound effects records that were ideal for early marijuana experimentation, replete with prepared piano dissonance and percussion that would boing from speaker to speaker. Remember those? No? My dad had some, a bunch of them to go with the giant hi-fi console and speakers in the living room. We’d sit in the dark and listen to funny sounds pan from one end of the room to the other. My favorite was the fireworks show. Ten minutes of people listening to fireworks, oohing and ahhing and breaking into applause, big booms and whistles and bangs in the background. Wintry nights in Maine pretending it was 4th of July. There are scores of these records in the bins. Not sure why I never pick any up. They certainly were popular with the exotica crowd a few years ago. They’d put on Tiki shirts like their dads are wearing in the old photographs, and mix long forgotten martinis and listen to Martin Denny records. Somehow these people always thought that I, a jazz fan, was therefore a Martin Denny fan. Funny how wrong people can be. I never made the mistake of thinking the Tiki crowd was nuts about Dixieland, however. Or Cecil Taylor.
You can listen to Martin Denny, though. Listen to a lot of those old space age pop records, if only for the jazz players mentioned in Stan Cornyn’s liner notes. With patience, you can hear some terrific soloing. Those records helped an entire generation of musicians who’d once had steady work in swing bands now make the rent. I still catch myself picking up the occasional LP because a favorite jazz player–Buddy Collette, say, or Don Fagerquist–are in the credits. Jazz on the cheap, sort of.
Then there is Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald. The gene that made those records listenable seems to have disappeared from the genome. What sounded like real music to our grandparents sounds like torture to us now. Their albums stuff the Palm Springs thrift store bins where they sit forever, unwanted. Let’s just say that Gilbert and Sullivan did not age well for the rock’n’roll generation. It must sound like gas music from Jupiter to the hip hop generation. I hear Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald and I thank god for Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald and the others who saved my people from operetta.
Though personally I never minded a barbershop quartet.
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.
Still no coffee table, but a groovy wooden chair, bi-colored, for El Nino to warp beyond recognition, or Sketch. Found it at the Goodwill in Glassell Park that used to be the world’s most berserk K-Mart. I remember when a team of physicists from Cal Tech went in there to study Brownian Motion and were never seen again. Some say they were atomized by a Blue Light Special. Some say they married Armenians in the shoe department. Some say they were sold as patio fixtures. Soon afterward K Mart closed and remained empty and silent but for the screeches of gulls. Suddenly, as if by magic, it became a Goodwill. Or a Goodwill Galleria. There’s even a Goodwill Outlet Store. That’s a concept that made me think for a moment. The stuff poor people and hipsters didn’t buy winds up at the outlet store. Is there a 99 cent store outlet store? Anyway inside the Goodwill Galleria it’s like a Goodwill mall and there’s a store and a diner and planters and various offices and doorways and places, and it’s all very clean and orderly and friendly. We went through the double doors into the regular store. No coffee table. Well, coffee tables, but not what we’re looking for. Especially as we aren’t looking for beat up crap. Some people who shop at thrift stores for furniture are picky. Snooty even. That’s us. So we turned our noses up at the crappy, junky, or nice but wrongly shaped coffee tables and fixed our eyes, instead, on the groovy chair. $4.99. Plus our old people discount. We are old at Goodwill. We’re at that awkward age where we are old enough for senior discounts at thrift stores or on the little tram thing at the Zoo, but we pay full price at movie theaters.
Anyway, it’s a nice chair. Perhaps you’ll sit in it and feel special.
I also bought three LPs. One, inexplicably, by the Amboy Dukes, since I don’t like the Amboy Dukes. Another, mysteriously, by Harry Nilsson, as I have never bought an album by Harry Nilsson before. And the last one was what they used to call a loss leader, which was logical, because I have always dug loss leaders. I remember they used to cost a dollar or a quarter or something from Warner Brothers and would be full of tunes. I discovered things though those comps. Will I discover anything here? I only recognize one song (Dixie Chicken). I feel myself being dragged back into the 70’s. Stupid clothes and easy sex and Deep Purple in leisure suits. Disco Monk.
The only jazz I saw were some John Klemmer albums, all smooth, though I didn’t look very far. The record stacks were in a mess. I remembered why I had stopped looking for records at thrift stores. Then I remembered once finding an extremely rare Sun Ra LP between the Mantovani and Barbara Streisand at a thrift store in Pasadena, which I later sold for a lot more money to some excited vinyl geek, so I looked a little more. But I quickly gave up on finding another Sun Ra album, or even a Turk Murphy LP. Of course, had I found even one jazz album, I would likely not have bought this Amboy Dukes album, which, with the Nilsson album, had been pulled out of the stacks by some nerd along with a Dave Clark 5 album, which was a mess, played to death. So I think I bought those records because they were sitting there. I hate to think what else I would have bought had it been sitting there.
I also got a highly technical volume on dinosaurs, full of the long latin names and arcane anatomy that makes me such a hit at parties. Then we stood in the check out line behind two guys in dresses buying more dresses. Sparkly, spangly dresses, short and shiny dresses. They couldn’t buy all of them, apparently, and sighed and tsked and went back and forth trying to decide among the little pile. As they debated they talked girl talk with the pretty checker, who was much more girl in the right places than they could ever be, which bothered them. Ah well the one said, and went back to deciding on which dresses to buy. They held them up and debated the colors in Spanish. Purple was azul, pink a roja. The clerk threw us a glance and smiled. I flipped through my dinosaur book. Outside the glass doors a cold wind was blowing and everything seemed frozen to the touch, and the new moon was a hint on the horizon.
A buddy posted a video of a Rush Tom Sawyer 45 played at 33 and made a Melvins joke. Perhaps some of you don’t get the reference. Don’t worry about it. It’s not important. But I have to admit that a couple times over the years I’ve realized that I’d been listening to a track at the wrong speed. Had been listening to it a lot sometimes. Maybe even every day. Usually because it didn’t say 45 or 33 anywhere on the label so I guessed and it sounded alright. Sounded great even. Then I’d notice something funny in the cymbals. Cymbals always give it away. Sped up or slowed down, a cymbal will not sound like a cymbal. It’ll sound like some weird metallic thing the drummer hit by mistake. So I’d switch it to the correct speed and the cymbal sounded like a cymbal. Indeed, all the instruments sounded like instruments, sounded so much like real instruments now that the tune wasn’t all that special anymore. Just another tune. Or maybe just another tune that would have been much better played faster or played slower. But when I went back to the wrong speed all I’d hear is that goddamn cymbal sounding so otherworldly and wrong. Fifty times I might have listened to that record and never noticed the distortion in the cymbals. Now that’s all there is, a drummer hitting some weird metallic thing by mistake. So I’d start listening to it at the right speed all the time and it wouldn’t sound as good and after a while I stopped listening to it at all. The song had been ruined. Bitterness resulted. You can only take so much bitterness before you give up and become a jazz critic.