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.
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.
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 Sir. 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.