Fyl decided her husband is still too sick to be life of the party on a wet, cold night and so we’re sitting home on New Year’s Eve. I didn’t argue. Besides, there’s a Jack Benny marathon on Antenna TV. When the pizza came It was guest star Frankie Avalon singing, so I joined Fyl in front of her TV watching old Sid Caesar shows and munching on a Palermo’s special, thin crust, crispy, anchovies on half. Taking my empty plate into the kitchen later the Benny marathon was still on in the living room and I could hear Robert Goulet. Even an hour apart the difference in timbre, phrasing, range–hell, in sheer quality of everything–with Frankie Avalon was beyond glaring. Plus Goulet was much, much funnier in the follow up bit, a natural. Funniest of all, though, was Joan Marshall, the woman in the sketch and one of the great undiscovered comic talents of the sixties. Alas, she was gorgeous, and in that decade gorgeous and funny were not allowed to mix. In the thirties she might have been a screwball superstar, another Carole Lombard; in the fifties she could have been the female lead in a sophisticated comedy. But in the sixties only Jack Benny recognized how funny she was and let her run riot in a couple sketches. They said it really bothered Joan that she never got choice comedy roles, and she never seemed happy in her career being beautiful. Hollywood is full of beautiful women. It’s not full of naturally funny people. But sometimes what you are really good at and the times you live in don’t coincide. If only you’d been born twenty years earlier.
About fifteen minutes into Hard Day’s Night it occurred to me I had never seen it before. I was kind of amazed at that feat of unhipness. I’ve seen so many other Richard Lester flicks. And I liked the movie. It’s funny, for sure, and Paul’s grandfather was as weird a maguffin as any movie has ever had. Alas, I’ve never been a fan of the early Beatles tunes, they’re way too pop for my grizzled sensibilities, though without them it wouldn’t be much of a Beatles movie, would it? The title track is catchy, but I’m embarrassed to admit my favorite musical bit was the inventive little thing Paul McCartney goofed around with on the piano early in the flick. I listened to that three or four times, in fact. There was also a terrific saxophonist in the television studio band, and left me wondering who it was. Maybe John Dankworth?
Meanwhile I kept waiting for the lads to do Hide Your Love Away, my favorite by far of their old tunes, but by the time the credits began rolling it dawned on me that Hide Your Live Away was from Help!, which apparently I had seen and confused with Hard Day’s Night. Anyway, it’s a fun movie, a very unique bit of comedy, and certainly no other rocknroll band managed to be anywhere near as funny on celluloid. But the Beatles, musically, were much more interesting once they’d started doing drugs. Two years after Hard Day’s Night they recorded Tomorrow Never Knows. Amazing how fast things change sometimes.
I gotta admit that it’s kind of embarrassing to see Hard Day’s Night for the first time at age sixty one. Even more embarrassing when your favorite Beatle is the old man. In my defense, though, I did see all the Stones films, even Charlie Is My Darling. I was one of those high school kids in the seventies who hung out at the hippie art houses when they showed rocknroll movies. I saw them all. I could sing along to Country Joe and The Fish in Zachariah. Saw Jimi Plays Berkeley four times. Watched Stephen Stills sucker punch a freak in Celebration At Big Sure. Saw Yellow Submarine I don’t know how many times. But Hard Day’s Night not even once, somehow. Hard to be so ungear.
Someone asked what line up of the Ramones I saw. It was with Marky, twice I think. Marky, such a goofy name I always thought. But he was replacing Tommy, and while Mark Bell was a perfectly good name (good enough for Richard Hell and the Voidoids) it would never do for the Ramones. So Mark became Marky. My fave drummer of theirs was Tommy, of course, the first, a name that fit without sounding clunky. Marky was technically a better drummer, driving them hard, but Tommy’s lighter touch swung more, swung the Ramones, swung them across two identical sounding LPs and then across Rocket To Russia, which should have sold a million copies but probably barely scraped a tenth of that. Just listen to Tommy on Sheena is a Punk Rocker. It’s not that he’s rocking that thing, he was no power drummer, he never even wanted to be a drummer but they couldn’t find one. But damn if he ain’t swinging the thing, swinging like no other punk rock drummer has swung since. That was Tommy. Never saw him, though. The one time my brother and I tried to see that original line up at the Whiskey we didn’t get in. We stood in line forever listening to them inside tearing through their first show and came close. Real close. But that was it, Blitzkrieg Bop muffled by the Whiskey A Go Go wall, because the house was sold out, filled up, the last people let in only a few ahead from us. So close. I can still feel the disappointment. A couple beefy bouncers shooed us away. Damn. Not quite punks yet, not really, just punk rock fans, we didn’t even argue. Instead we went to Tower down the street and bought records. I got Pere Ubu’s Modern Dance and Datapanik In The Year Zero that time, I think, Scott Kraus driving the band on the drums using only mallets. A warm thuddy sound that, tom-like boomps on the snare instead of sharp pops and flat smacks. Music didn’t get any hipper than Pere Ubu in 1978. Still have both records, too, those very same copies. My brother Jon probably remembers what else I bought and what he bought. He remembers everything. I finally got to see the Ramones at the Palladium in ’80 I think. Marky was on drums. Pretty good show, though maybe a little formulaic. Next time we tried to see them at the Palladium the Minutemen and Black Flag opened and security and cops took one look at me and wouldn’t let me in. They had enough bruisers inside as it was. I could hear the Minutemen already on, doing Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs. Funny the things you remember four decades years later, ninety seconds of fast music. The overwhelmed Palladium people looked at me, looked at security, looked at a cop. Security nodded no. I’m sorry, no admission. I argued. We had tickets and everything, but there was a riot inside. Out of control punk rockers, guys my size beating people up. The cop waved his club around. You better leave, he said. I’d had my punk rock ass kicked from one end of a jail cell to the other by a mess of cops once already so I obeyed, though grousing loudly. Thus we missed both the killer show and the even bigger riot after the concert let out. Cars flipped, cops beating people. But we had gone to the Firefly on Vine Street to drink our outrage away and Fyl punched a guy out. Punk rock. He was some old creep, a pervert. I remember he said he’d been an extra on the set of Gone With the Wind. This was so long ago that people like him were still alive and in bars and saying filthy things to young women in tight rock’n’roll tee shirts. Sometimes the wrong young women. Fyl nailed him with a haymaker and he landed on the floor, his glasses skittering across the bar. I paid for our drinks and we split with some dude from Louisiana we’d just met, a serious wacko with a bag of killer weed who used to hang out with the Residents when they were still in Baton Rouge. Or was it Shrieveport. The Residents took a trip to San Francisco and fame. He took a million trips on LSD and was gone. He seemed like a cool guy, a musician, full of stories, but once at our place the more of his weed that he smoked–it was some serious shit–the more disassociated he became from reality, such as it was. We had to kick him out of the house after a couple hours when he weirded out suddenly and flipped over our terrarium. I’d forgotten we even had a terrarium until just now, we never had another. Plants just kind of sit there. He flipped it over, dirt everywhere, and began raving. I picked him up bodily and dumped him outside. We had two front doors then, our door, an entrance hall, and another front door, the front front door. He banged on the front front door for ages and howled into the wee hours of the morning. We sat inside stoned out of minds on his grass listening. I think one of the neighbors yelled they were gonna call the police and he disappeared. The cops never showed up, it being East Hollywood in the 1980’s and they were busy with murders and assaults and junkies and prostitutes. But I remember seeing him years later downtown at Al’s Bar, with a keeper. They’d let him out of the home for the night. I recognized him, but only after he recognized me first. Egad. His keeper said it was OK. I asked who he was. A trust fund kid, the helper told me, completely wacko. Only he didn’t say completely wacko, he said disturbed or schizophrenic or something. He still plays music, he said, and composes. This is therapy. This? Al’s was berserk that night, full of freaks watching demented bands at incredible volume. His parents arranged that he be let out on occasion to watch bands. He seemed perfectly contented there, probably medicated to the nth degree. I avoided him the rest of the night. A lifetime later I thought I saw him at a jazz gig, getting a little too much into it. Not jazz cool, but kind of losing it when the horns took off. I wasn’t sure if it was him, though–jazz has plenty of wackos of its own–and I wasn’t about to ask. But these trust fund kids….how many of those are there in this town anyway? I once saw a guy, filthy, mumbling to himself, walk up to a teller window at a big bank downtown. He reeked, his hair in all directions, a scraggly beard. He withdrew several hundred dollars in twenties and walked outside again. A trust fund, the teller whispered. He’s worth millions. As for the Ramones, we saw them one last time out in Pomona. Mid eighties, I think, at the Glass House. I remember Agent Orange opened and there was a hip Pomona band of the time the name of whom escapes me now. The Ramones were good and Fyl didn’t punch anybody out.
(Facebook post around Christmas 2015 regarding a photo posted by John Altman.)
I believe, and in keeping with the season, batsman Rona Anderson was the fiancée that Alistair Sim spurned for greed in that anti-capitalist epic Scrooge. Funny how the great American Christmas movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, is also anti-capitalist (and blatantly redistributionist). Perhaps it’s a running theme in classic old Christmas films, from Scrooge to Meet John Doe, The Man Who Came to Dinner, It Happened on Fifth Avenue, Holiday Affair, Miracle on 34th Street and of course It’s A Wonderful Life. But then Donna Reed was never photographed playing baseball with the Yankees in short shorts. Nor was Monty Woolley. Though if there’s a point here I’ve already forgotten it.