Picked up this album from 1973 in the back room at Rockaway probably twenty some years ago. Sale day and everything in that room was 75% off and nothing had been over three bucks anyway. This was the nadir of vinyl, everyone was buying CDs and most records weren’t worth much of anything anymore. Those were good days. I’d go full nerd in there, walk out with a stack of records for less than $50. Jazz to die for, nearly all of it mint or unopened. Rock albums people now pay ridiculous money for. Country they couldn’t give away (I remember getting a whole stack of classic Buck Owens in flawless condition for less than a buck a piece). And all kinds of music from all over the world. When records are under a buck you really can’t lose buying whatever. This was one of those. Probably paid six bits for it, unopened. I had never heard it, and his name was only vaguely and very distantly a memory and I had no idea from when or where or how. Later at home I put it on the turntable. This tune caught my ear. Listened to it again. Again. The liner notes gave an interesting backstory, how he’d lived in Liberia for a couple years and this was a conversation he’d heard on the local bus, hence “Overheard”. I put it aside and played some other records, then later went back and played the tune again. And again. And again again. I bet I listened to it—just this song—a dozen times in a couple days. And I just now listened to it now three times in a quick row. Weird how some songs get into your ear and under your skin like that, and you find’ll yourself hearing it from memory at odd times forever after, and have no idea why.
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” Friedrich Nietzsche
Damn, that’s a beautiful line. A little romantic maybe, but beautiful. Very much the Europe of la Belle Epoque. Vast wars are still in the future, ancient empires intact, and even weirdos were harmlessly dancing. Sweet. Nostalgic. Flowers in the rain.
Of course, Nietzsche wound up completely insane. Utterly mad. Which led me to wonder about his quote. It didn’t sound like Nietzsche. “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Now that was Nietzsche. And it didn’t sound like German, either. “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” That sounded German, with the verb sitting there solidly at the end. “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” lilted. It’s musical. In rolls off the tongue in English and English has rolled off the tongue like that since the Normans dressed up our west Germanic language in layers of French finery. English and German deep underneath are quite the same. But we’ve moved a few things around, softened a lot of consonants and dipthonged every vowel we could get our hands on, and eventually our language developed a bit of a lilt–not a swish, certainly, but definitely a lilt–that pries it free from the German so far that you have to hit bedrock before you realize it’s a Germanic tongue you are speaking. But I’m digressing from my point that “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” just didn’t ring German to me.
So I googled it. I found the same quote and same Nietzsche attribution everywhere, on site after site. Dozens and dozens, all the same. It’s one of those things that makes romantics swoon. Then, several Google pages in, I stumbled onto a site called Quote Investigator, whose quote investigator wrote a long and magnificent account of his elaborate investigation that established that it was definitely not Nietzsche, nor any of the myriad other people to whom it was attributed, including Anne Louise Germaine de Staël, John Stewart (not Jon Stewart), a science fiction fan, Angela Monet, the great Sufi philosopher Rumi, some more science fiction fans, George Carlin, or Megan Fox, who had it tattooed on her back which would give her away instantly should she be the victim of a celebrity sex tape. My favorite choice was a mysterious someone named Norman Flint. I love that name–Norman Flint. No lilt there.
The thing has been attributed to everyone, even just an unknown (“anon.”) . In fact now someone will attribute it to me if they are high enough and only look at the first two sentences of anything they see online, which is what stoned people do. Then they babble knowingly to their friends and urban myths are born.
Anyway, it turns out that back in 2005 a newspaper in Florida said it was Nietzsche. They probably found that on the internet which has since collectively settled on Nietzsche, so it must be true. Alas, it ain’t, and our dogged quote detective finally throws up his hands and admits he has no idea who said it. He even added a mess of footnotes to show how he tried. Several commenters chimed in with their theories of their own (none, alas, Norman Flint.) Then came this:
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” is a translation from one of the lines in a French play called The Madwoman of Chaillot. It’s a fabulous play about living a life free from the pollution of money and all the dark, needless things that cause life to become dreary.
That rather nails it. The Madwoman of Chaillot (La Folle de Chaillot) written by French playwright Jean Giraudoux in 1943, first performed after the Liberation in Paris in 1945, though Giradoux himself died (no word on how) in 1944. Apparently it’s a satire, so I’m not sure if those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music was as overtly romantic as it appears to be all over the Internet. I suspect a subtlety or layered meaning but I can’t tell without reading the original (or the English translation, anyway). Alas, after some dogged googling myself it seems the play does not seem to be online, nor a script of the movie (starring Katharine Hepburn, Paul Henreid, Oskar Homolka, Richard Chamberlain, Donald Pleasance, Danny Kaye and Charles Boyer) that came out in 1969. That’s a powerhouse cast–and besides Boyer there’s dozens more French cast members as well–for a film that no one seems to have heard of anymore. Weird how that happens. But maybe Turner Classic Movies will show it. Or maybe they already have. So is the line in the movie’s script? I found a site that contained an online version of the screenplay…but it was gone. Poof. Funny how sites disappear like that, and right at critical moments. Makes you wonder about conspiracies, or bad luck, or meaningless chance. Something. Or maybe someone, who wants us not to know. There’s a danger in being a man who knows too much. Que sera sera. But Doris Day is not in The Mad Woman of Chaillot. You can look that up for yourself on the International Movie Database. IMDB don’t lie, baby. You can set your watches by that. Plus IMDB lets you look for crazy credits, those wacky, zany things. There are no crazy credits for The Mad Woman of Chaillot. The French are very serious about these things. A lady probably takes her top off, though. You can’t make a French movie without a lady taking her top off. It’s the law.
You can watch the flick online. If you watch it you might hear the line in question. Katharine Hepburn would say and those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music. Unless it was Richard Chamberlain, who would say it in a perfect monotone that sounded so grave and sexy that all the ladies would want to make mad love to him right there on the spot. That’s what I think. Someone check with Robert Osborne. Though maybe if you had the right English translation of the play itself it’d be there, just like the commenter said.That would nail the answer in a heartbeat. That’s what I think.
But this is not quite good enough for our dogged Quote Investigator. He wasn’t so sure. Do you know the specific part of the play that you believe contains the statement? he asks. Do you know which character makes the statement, or what phrase was used in the original French? A good quote investigator is always suspicious. False flags and prevarications lay across the internet like mine fields.
Of course, he could have found out for himself by going to the library, or even calling a library information desk. My friend Linda works at the library. You could call her, she’d research around, and if they have the book she’s hold it aside for you. You wouldn’t even have to check it out but sit there quietly and read till you found the quote and shout Voila! Then Linda would bop you on the head. No shouting in the library. But you would have found your answer and set civilization at ease. Which is a good thing. That’s what I would have done. Called the library and then gone down there and found the quote. I wouldn’t shout Voila! though. Linda would bop me twice as hard and then tell everybody we know. Imagine my shame
But our dogged quote investigator would probably not even bother. No one goes to libraries anymore, he seems to hint. No one reads books, let along plays. What’s the point? If it’s not on the internet, it can’t be true.
Which is why I still think it’s by Norman Flint.
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.
Danny Thomas’s first spit take. It’s there at the end of the bit. Though he didn’t invent the art form, Danny Thomas—Marlo’s dad—was the Jimi Hendrix of spit takes, and even if we kids didn’t get the jokes we loved his spit takes, because he was Danny Thomas, who was still on TV weekly and on every day in syndication, for when we were home with chicken pox or on snow days or it looked like maybe WW3, duck and cover. We’d watch Danny Thomas at his kitchen table with his cup of coffee and the kid would suddenly say something funny and Danny Thomas would wait a quarter beat and then do these perfect firehosed explosions. It was awesome. We kids used to practice spitting mouthfuls of hose water in our backyards and finally, when we had the finer points mastered, we’d try it at the table once, because Danny Thomas did. If we did it well then mom and dad would laugh because Danny Thomas and tell us if we ever did that again they would break our necks, sounding just like Danny Thomas. I haven’t done a spit take since I splurted a beautifully timed spray of tea all over the kitchen table. Think I was in third grade, up in Maine, well over a half century ago. I’d have to learn the fine points all over again, watching YouTube clips of ancient, faded and flickering Make Room For Daddy’s. You’re never too old, I tell myself. It’ll be a surprise.
Found this in my drafts, completely forgotten. I only found it again when one of these bits–Walking About–wound up on a tee shirt in Australia. Seems I had once spent a late evening on YouTube digging up old tunes from my past life and writing about them. They’re not for the jazzbos, most of ’em, they’re a little harsh….
Venom P. Stinger – Flourish Wish
“At times life seemed so narrow down/simply consisting of a wish to die and a relentless feeling of non-being/laying on the bed unable to sleep….” One of the great tunes of those times, and almost completely forgotten, if it was ever really known in the first place. The extended jam towards the end, harsh and beautiful both, still sends me, and in it you can hear the seeds of the Dirty Three. Extraordinary Australian band, Venom P Stinger, and I was thrilled to be able to see them more than once on their US tour so long ago now….
Venom P. Stinger – Walking About
There was quite a stretch there, back in the 80’s, where I listened to this song every day. Put it on when I got up in the morning, loud, and had it going through my head all day long at work. Then I’d play it again when I got home, even louder. Al told me what it was about, how back in Melbourne a guy stole his keys and he was stuck at home all weekend till the locksmith got there, trapped indoors, while out there someone walked about with the keys to everything Al held dear. His car, his stuff, his gear, his sanity. It seethed in him, drove him mad and boiled out into this song, and eventually onto this little seven inch, perhaps the greatest punk rock record nobody ever heard of. I love the crowd at the Aussie party, too, they look just like the freaks we hung over here on our side of the Pacific Ocean. Freaks is freaks, I guess, and Venom P Stinger attracted them. What a great band. They crashed on our floor here in L.A. I don’t know how many times.
God – My Pal
If I had to pick one and only one song Australian song, this would be it. So simple, so urgent–almost frantic even–and so disturbing. The chorus hangs with you. Not an ideal tune to end the night on. You’re my only friend, and you don’t even like me…..
Steaming Coils – Carne del sol
There’s a planet somewhere, and it’s my planet, and on that planet this is one of the biggest hits ever, and you would have heard this song so many times by now you’d be sick to death of it, that’s how popular a tune it is on my planet. Here, on this planet, only a few have ever heard it, but they know what I’m talking about. Dig the drums, too.
In jazz they call it telling a story, that is when a soloist seems to turn his instrumental break into a narrative. Clifford Brown could really tell a story. So could Louis Armstrong. Even on What a Wonderful World he’s telling a story. You don’t really hear that kind of story telling much in rock’n’roll, certainly not on a guitar solo. So what happens here? Steve Diggle–I assume it’s Diggle–weaves us a remarkable little tale, completely with mood changes. Amazing. One of my favorite guitar passages of all time. I wore out my original copy–picked up in ’78, I think–but I still get a thrill following the story told on that guitar. Brilliant band. Saw them twice in ’79. Long time ago…..
Tower of Power – You’re Still a Young Man
Rick Stevens–finally out of prison again, thankfully, and in full voice–had the most amazing ability to slip from speech into song and back again, that if you stop to think about it, it is almost surreal. I mean listen to him here, talking, singing, talking, singing, back and forth, with exquisite timing and pacing and dropping in notes and words like Monk dropped big fat chords into the empty spaces in a melody, just perfect. Language is music and music language, in our heads they blend, and it’s a shame we insist on thinking them entirely different things.
Kris Kristofferson – Sunday Morning Coming Down
We’ve all been here. Of course, some people are here a lot more than usual. Me, I usually have coffee for breakfast, even on a Sunday. But then I don’t write anything as good as this. Kris used to dash them off like it was nothing. Too bad he found Jesus. He was a much better writer hungover.
Then I turned off the computer and went to bed, apparently.
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.
“I was so enraptured by the whole Ramones’ oeuvre that I never even questioned their comical self-mythologising.”
“A favorite leitmotiv in the Ramones’ oeuvre.”
“A testament to the uplifting power of rock, and a welcome addition to the Ramones’ oeuvre.”
“All of which are the least necessary entries in the Ramones’ oeuvre.”
“Worthy additions to the Ramones oeuvre.”
“As well as a near-obsessive devotion to the Ramones oeuvre.”
“Deliberate dumbness pretty much sums up the Ramones oeuvre.”
“But the end result is a great bit of variety in the Ramones oeuvre.”
“One of the most amusing quirks in the Ramones’ recorded legacy is their penchant for songs with war movie themes: indeed, their oeuvre is stuffed to the gills with songs with titles like Blitzkreig Bop.”
“Made the Ramones so blessedly unique in the entire punk oeuvre.”
“The whole Ramones oeuvre was one long ode to the individual.”
“And, like much of Joey Ramones’s oeuvre, it reflects his mentality throughout life: don’t worry, be happy.”
“With almost mathematical totality the Ramones oeuvre turns away mourners, the self-obsessed, the wallflowers already retiring to life’s sidelines.”
“The Ramones were trailblazers unconcerned with imitating and who worked solely to develop their own distinct oeuvre.”
Robert Plant was always my fave Led Zep guy (Page was cool as guitar players go, except for that dorky bowing solo bit, sheesh, and I never was a Bonham fan), but Bobby Plant nailed it, though for years the Bilbo Baggins hippie shit drove me up the wall. As I hated everything they did after Houses of the Holy anyway I paid no attention to all his missteps early in his solo career, tho’ I remember a good Little Sister (which Elvis absolutely nailed in ‘56 or whenever, one of his best songs) and I have a vague memory of cut out bins full of something with Robert Plant in a late period spangly doo woo get up on the cover, smiling a lost hippie smile, but I was so fucking punk rock at the time Robert Plant might as well have been from another planet. Hell, I don’t know if they were missteps, everything by older rock musicians qualified as a misstep to me at the time, even Bowie. Those were revolutionary years, things had to burn.
But the years passed and one night I was bored or maybe just stoned and staring at the TV, a million channels and nothing to watch and suddenly there was Robert Plant on the normally underwhelmingly alt hip Austin City Limits. He looked great, one of those rare Englishmen over six feet tall, sounded great if a little shy of the high notes he once screamed about the wrath of the gods in, and had this amazing band that swung from outish ethnic alt into old timey into a killer Led Zep tune—I can’t remember which—and ending with some remarkable melange of Malian sounds with everything else. I was hooked. Watched that show several times. Said to Fyl we gotta go see Robert Plant! We’d get primo seats, of course, free to the press, and green room access and I’d ask him about Festival of the Desert instead of some stupid Led Zep question because I was a jazz critic. Then I’d see Patty Griffin and be so star struck I couldn’t talk. Homina homina homina…. Anyway, it never happened. The best laid plans of moose-like men, etc.
Then last night I was doing the million channels nothing to watch thing again unstoned and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t Robert Plant on Austin City Limits again, this time from 2016, still tall and looking great and sounding even better (and they’ve done a little audio trickery to stretch out the high notes a bit, but it barely shows). Robert Plant and the Sensational Shape Shifters I think he’s called it, fine musicians all, and the set was as old timey ethno Malian (or maybe Gambian) blues as before, but half the set was Led Zep tunes (I keep saying Led Zep covers) that are rearranged and jazzed up and weirded out but then kick into that classic babe I’m gonna leave you fury, the audience undulating to a hard and sinewy and groovily fucked up Whole Lotta Love like the gods never intended and the whole scene was beautiful and left me sort of nostalgic for an age yet to come.
It was good.
(from a Brick’ s Picks in the LA Weekly, c. 2007)
Several years ago i can remember walking into a posh Valley jazz joint and realizing, alas, no one else had wandered in. The place was so empty that the lounge area where the musicians set up away from the main dinner room seemed cavernous….which was too goddam bad, as one of the best pianists in jazz was up there with a remarkable quartet and the music was simply stunning. Chuck Manning was subbing for the regular saxophonist, and the stuff he came up with…free thinking rushes of chords that just filled up all that space in the room, or low tones, held, that flowed over the rhythm section in shades of blue…wow, and when he and the pianist met in the middle entirely new compositions burst out of whatever standard they were doing, completely new creations that took the breath away and then disappeared forever when they got back to the head and the traditional melody fell into place. Oh man, this jazz music is so ephemeral. All the recorded jazz that there is in the world—your entire music collection—it’s just an infinitesimal bit of all the jazz that’s ever been and will never be heard. Improvisation, it comes, and it goes. If you’re there, you’re lucky enough to hear it and maybe later you’ll remember a bit of it, can even pick out a trace on the piano, or try and write about it. Maybe a photo you took will spark a snippet in your mind’s ear. Maybe, just maybe, there’s even a recording somewhere. Those recordings….jazz fanatics can be driven mad by those, like that junkie following Bird around, desperately trying to catch every last note of his solos on a wire recorder before the bartender threw him out for not buying anything. Imagine that poor tortured bastard, haunted by all Bird’s solos that the world never hear again unless he can catch the sounds on his tinny little machine…and imagine his desperation as he was tossed again out into the street, hearing Bird’s alto spinning brilliance into the air that disappeared like a morning fog in the brutal summer sun….
The last time I took a bath was in this beautiful Victorian tub with cast iron feet in a fabulous apartment in the Castro. Later that night we were out of our minds on psychedelics as beautiful boys in leather copulated madly all around. Rushes of color, swirls of sound. We woke up in a vast bed to the sounds of the streets coming through an open window. We dressed, she shimmered. Everything shimmered. Everything vibrated. Touches had colors. She took my hand and we took a long walk though the city streets, smoking a furtive joint and looking, just looking. What a beautiful analog world it was then. Words came and disappeared unrecorded and unworried about. As last we piled into the car and took the long ride down the 101 back to Santa Barbara, punk rock screaming from the cassette player. It was an unusual courtship, ours.