Buffy Sainte-Marie

Never have understood why this album stubbornly resists a revival. I suppose it’s not pretty enough, and too edgy, and her American Indian vibrato bothers people. I can’t think of a single other folk album that has anywhere near this kind of ferocity. Uncompromising. It won’t make you feel any better about yourself. It might even make you feel just plain lousy. Now That The Buffalo’s Gone is not aimed at the Man, it’s aimed at everyone who’s not a tribal member. Even you there with the feathers and the Cherokee great great grandmother. That song is aimed right at you. As such, it’s gospel among American Indians. They all came up on this record. We have Dylan or whoever. They have this. Somewhere I have a YouTube video of a seventy-something Buffy Sainte-Marie performing Cod’ine in a casino on a reservation deep in the American northwest. The room is packed with tribals and hippies, and her performance is bone chilling and as the last quavering note fades the air is rent by war cries and ululations.

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The Wasp Woman

Not only is The Wasp Woman the greatest guinea pig morphing into white rat and we’re not supposed to notice movie ever (apparently the pet store didn’t have any baby guinea pigs), but Fred Katz’s score is brilliant. It’s so strange how these American International flicks have some of the finest jazz soundtracks in all of filmdom. Like who’s playing this alto saxophone solo underneath the meathead delivery men trying to pick up on the secretaries? Though I think I heard this same alto solo in Bucket of Blood when a crazed beatnik was covering a dead cat (as in kitty cat, not hepcat) in modeling clay. It was probably the exact same solo in The Haunted Sea that I heard between fits of giggling at a profoundly dumb sea monster. I remember reading that Katz sold Roger Corman the same score over and over and Corman never noticed. Serves him right for not being musical. Meanwhile, Wasp Woman is having a bad morph day. The music suddenly swells into a cacophony like Sun Ra and crashes to a halt, Wasp Woman dead, though the kids in the back seats never noticed. It was a drive in double feature anyway and who knows, they might be humping their way through the exact same alto saxophone solo in the next flick. Popcorn anyone?

Hellzapoppin’

I have one of those Mill Creek comedy collections, full of mostly completely forgotten comedies from the 30’s, 40’s and early 50’s, mostly B flicks, some lousy, some with moments, and some really funny. They range from sophisticated–the nearly completely forgotten Animal Kingdom, a Noel Coward thing from 1932 written by the same guy who did Philadelphia Story and a real gem–to virtually plotless Hal Roach things that are excuses to pull out every slapstick bit he ever used in a silent short. I’d never actually seen Olsen and Johnson and gotta admit in their couple films in this monstrous box set (fifty movies!) they completely break me up, much funnier than Abbott and Costello, and their physical comedy bits are really similar to the Marx Brothers, you can certainly get the feel of the vaudeville both came from. In fact, that led me to Hellzapoppin’ on YouTube (a beautiful print), which was the Universal Studios version of Olsen and Johnson’s huge Broadway hit Hellzapoppin (Universal’s grammar nazis insisted on the apostrophe). The Broadway show was, by all accounts, the most anarchic thing in the history of American entertainment, utter madness, script be damned, incredibly loud, with action on the stage, behind the stage, in the audience, in the aisles, and in the lobby as people left. None of its 1,404 performances were alike. Skits could be dropped, or stopped midway, or completely altered, or destroyed by manic improvisation. Musical numbers rarely made it uninterrupted. Shills planted in the audience would start yelling or weirding out or heckling or loudly announce, over and over, they were going to the bathroom. Things were dropped from the rafters onto the audience, and buzzers jolted them out of their seats. The fourth wall was not just broken through, it was shredded, it was inverted, it was drawn on, it was pulled inside out, it had its own fourth wall (would that be a fifth wall?) Critics hated it. Audiences loved it. It was vaudeville’s last crazy act, really. That was our grandparents’ and great grandparents’ world, vaudeville, this sort of unapologetic cornball Yiddish and yokel and music hall madness. It’s the anarchy you see in the early Marx Brothers flicks, in Duck Soup and Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, before MGM tamed them. Universal tamed Hellzapoppin, too, or tried to, with an inane love story and too many uninterrupted musical numbers (though Martha Raye was no comic slouch, and there’s a killer jazz and lindy hop bit, just perfect, perhaps the best swing dance movie scene ever). But Olsen and Johnson (and screenwriter Nat Perrin, who also wrote Monkey Business as well as conceived and wrote the original Addams Family) manage to keep the anarchy going, with the fourth wall shattered in a zillion pieces. The first fifteen minutes apparently come closest to the dementia of the live show, and it is probably the most intensely manic comedy I have ever seen on film including the Marx Brothers. It’s more low brow than the Marx Brothers, with none of their intellectual cachet, and I imagine neither Olsen nor Johnson ever sat around the Algonquin Round Table, but it is absolutely insane. Wonderful stuff. If you’re a fan of screwball comedy in its purest and most uncompromising form, or just want to see what it was that died when vaudeville died, I imagine Hellzapoppin’ (apostrophe’d) is essential. Besides, it has the hippest Citizen Kane reference ever: “I thought they burned that thing.”

Trapped

Watched an old noir I’d never seen before, Trapped, with Lloyd Bridges as the anti-hero, a moltenly sexy Barbara Payton before she’d carrie fishered herself into oblivion, and the guy who played proto-Bones in the Star Trek pilot “The Cage”. It was a fast, tough and heartless tale in glorious black and white set in Hollywood and downtown LA with terrific location footage c. 1949. Any movie that says we’ll meet on Fountain is cool by me. Amazing finish where the old Red Line cars slept at night. Also, 1949 had the goofiest cars ever. Damn, like bulbous tin cans or huge aluminum shoes. Anyway, the ending is an appropriate shocker of dubious moral certitude. Amazing what a world war will do to society’s underpinnings.

Ihu – Todos Os Sons

A music utterly alien to our own, like it’s from a different planet. But the cultures of the Amazon were as different from our own as time and geography made possible. If our music and this music held any common roots, it may have been in Africa. The roots of western civilization went one way, the roots of the Amazonian cultures went another. We and they may have been bands of peoples that had not been closely related in tens of thousand of years before they even left Africa. We’ve been so far apart so long this is probably some of the strangest sounding folk music you have ever heard, and we assume ours sounded the same to them when they first heard it. Before the Spanish arrived there were six million people living in the Amazon, in large towns, with expansive farms, canals and road systems. This album, the tunes collected by musicologist Marlui Miranda (an Amazon Indian herself) and transcribed for Brazilian musicians playing on acoustic instruments, is a survey of the music she heard sung and played by members of tribes throughout the Amazonian jungle. It’s a selection what remains of the music of those pre-Columbian cultures. The CD is annotated, with descriptions of the tunes and peoples and meanings. We lose the text on YouTube. All we hear is the beautifully alien melodies. I began with track four here because it is among the most jarring to western ears. I have to say that as a connoisseur of music from about the world and especially field recordings, I was never struck by a selection of music so different as this album, even if it has been scored and played and sung by a lot of Brazilian musicians. What a wonderful world the Amazon must have been before 1492. Within decades Old World diseases swept it like thermonuclear war. The population was reduced by 90%. The tribes that exist are all that remain. It’s a post apocalyptic world. A dozen or so bands yet remain uncontacted. They sings songs like these, oblivious to us, and then when the barrier between them and us is breached they too die, 70%, 80% even 90%. Who knows how many melodies disappear with the dead.

Blank Generation

This is a hysterical send up of Beat poetry–it was a parody of The Beat Generation spoken word LP–and an homage to Beat poetry at the same time. Trash the things you love. There is no higher compliment. Thus the Pistols annihilated the New York Dolls in “New York” while worshipping them at the same time. It was a punk rock thing. Years later I was at a show heckling my friend’s band because I liked them so much. Glares from the much younger audience. Try playing this one in tune, I yelled. A kid in a leather jacket and a Ramones tee shirt shushed me. Show some respect, he said. Respect? Seriously? This is punk rock, you little fuck. He slunk away. Ah well, times change. People are so nice now. I hate it.

Don’t sit under the apogee

Don’t sit under the apogee with anybody else but me. Heard myself singing that, but it’s as far as I got. One line, or half a line, of the Andrews Sisters looping round and round in my brain. That’s what I woke up to. Some Allan Sherman I’d make.

I have no idea when the pun was added. Ten minutes ago? In my sleep? Last year? During childhood? Perhaps it was one of the lesser episodes in a previous life as an unsuccessful songwriter on Tin Pan Alley. Whatever. All I know is that if it doesn’t leave my skull soon I’ll have to blast it out with Steam. Na na na na, Na na na na, hey hey, kiss it goodbye. Never fails.