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Let’s Say, for Instance…

Let’s say, for instance, that there was an outbreak of a fairly serious respiratory illness. A coronavirus maybe. Perhaps in Canada. Without too much known about it, let’s say people got treated the same way as if they had viral pneumonia, which might be similar. Let’s say everyone did the best they could not to spread it around. Let’s allow that life being the way it is, the severest cases were bound to be people in hospitals, many elderly, who were already pretty unhealthy, and while doctors did the best they could, some died. Then let’s say some rock musicians, of all people, would realize that people’s fear of the illness might be worse than the thing itself, and the economy, especially the part of the economy they inhabit, might tank, which might be a problem larger than the illness. So a few month later, let’s say they organize an outdoor concert, and invite 500,000 of their closest friends and one dominatrix to attend, to simply get together without any trepidation and put an end to the whole shebang.

Now let’s say you didn’t do that.

I Have No Idea

I have no idea if they dance the polka in Germany anymore. I do know that they dance the polka in Mexico. With afterburners on.

I Have Known Americas

I have known America. I lived in it, of course, except for the briefest of periods away, which was not often. A man doesn’t always know the country he lives in. It is a fluid you swim in. It passes limpid past your eyes and silently past the gills of your awareness, and you don’t notice it.

The parts and pieces of America I haven’t known in my lifetime I’ve marinated in, in uncountable libraries, some made of stone and brick, others assembled like webs spun directly in my head by the men who bound books and sold them.

The portion I loved best dozed under a curtain of ice as centuries ticked by. It retreated and returned and ebbed again just out of memory, while Jericho might have still had a wall and the trumpet wasn’t invented yet. Wonderful men drifted in on bridges gone from memory and even geography and wandered the solitudes to find the game and elbow room they coveted. They made a thousand Spartas, probably before Sparta was even a dream, and respected each other enough to kill and be killed by their neighbors in turn.

Eventually came men so crazed with adventure they’d go half a world away to bring their own version of Sparta to life under strange constellations. How could maybe 1,000 men conquer a people? I don’t know. William knew, and Cortes, and Garibaldi, and Cochise and Zapata, ragamuffins in red shirts all. People manufacture opinions about such men, good and bad, as if opinions matter. They were wonderful facts, enough for me.

There is a statue in the harbor in New York with an inscription to insult everyone who stays here, but then again women are not among my favorite poets. I knew Americans. The wretched refuse stayed where they were. The brave and brilliant and industrious came, and most couldn’t read the plinth anyway. I have known their children, and grandchildren, and the trickle of descendants they adumbrated.

I’ve known and sometimes loved some Irish, and Italian, and French, and Britishers, and Dutch, and Finns and Swedes and Norwegians. I’ve rubbed elbows with Syrians and Lebanese and Russians and Germans and maybe a brazillion Brazilians. Azoreans and Greeks. I went to high school with most of the people I’ve already named, plus the Yoruba and Jews and assorted WASPs sprinkled over long, undifferentiated rows of desks. I’ve slept on an Apache’s reclining chair, and in a Tonawandan church basement. I’ve done business with Afghans and South Africans and Slavs of various kinds, plus of course Canadians, although they’re just a different admixture of the same ingredients we are. I’ve laid brick with Caribbeans and painted houses with Poles and welded with Mexicans. I’ve forgotten to mention a few dozen more, I’m sure.

I was asked once, at a conclave of people who styled themselves as intellectuals, if it wasn’t weird to have a parent who was Irish and another who was Italian. I was flummoxed. The answer wasn’t hard, exactly, the question seemed impossible. I was being interrogated in a foreign language, the language of the Thirty Years War, not proper American English, about a topic no decent person contemplated when I was a child. Everyone I mentioned was simply American, and that’s that. We all did the same sorts of things in the same sorts of ways and kissed or fought with each other over things solely because we were human beings, who do those sorts of things whenever we get the chance.

I left the United States for the first time in 25 years, and returned. The water was drained in the plane going away, and the aquarium of life was filled with another country’s fluid. I became acutely aware of my gills. I was transformed into an imbecile, a wonderful gift, because I spake only as a child, and looked at the world like a child.

When I returned, I looked around, and realized the world I was born into was completely gone. I’d been watching it sluice down the drain for so long, that I wondered if I was some sort of involuntary antichrist, making each tomorrow worse than today, every day since I was born. The whole 200,000,000- way handshake seems to have been totally replaced with nothing but a Balkan competition to see which sect could pull themselves to the top of a greasy pole with nothing but a Netflix login screen at the top. The competition was desultory, because no one wanted any job but greasing the pole. Climbing is a lot of work.

I’d been to a country filled with babies, the airport filled with cherubic faces peering over their mom or dad’s shoulders filled with wonder and confusion, same as me. I returned to a dead terminal where the only creature there to meet a traveler was a pit bull.

The Seven Cities of Cibola was a myth, of course. But I swear there is an entire country with no vinyl siding. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Mindblowing Masonry

I’ve become more interested in building construction techniques in other parts of the world. I have no use for This Old House type things anymore. I know as much as the hosts, so it’s kinda boring. Ignorance intensifies interest in these matters, or at least unfamiliarity does.

My wife and I watch old UK building shows sometimes. They sorta speak English, so it’s not too hard to follow along with what they’re saying.

We never get tired of George Clarke pronouncing 18 as AAAAAideen with his Cumbrian zest. We like all the people he interviews. They have no idea how to do any kind of construction, but they all honestly believe they’ll be out of their rented caravan and into their newly converted pig barn by Christmas. It’s always by Christmas. It’s already Thanksgiving, they don’t own a shovel, and they haven’t got any pounds, or spondulicks, or coof, or dosh, or tenners, or whatever they call the money they don’t have in the UK, but they have the bravery that blissful ignorance brings. That makes it fun.

The UK is a masonry world first, last, and always, completely different than what I’m accustomed to here in the Northeast US. I was always a wood construction sort of person. I’m familiar with masonry construction of all sorts, don’t get me wrong. But they do things very differently across the pond even when they’re building the same sort of thing we have here. A block house in Florida is not like a house in Bristol.

I’ve gotten interested in what goes on south of our border. Talk about masonry people. It’s all bricks and rocks and blocks and mortar and concrete, and a little steel here and there in Mejico. And they don’t get to the top of the masonry walls and start in with wood very often, like they do in the UK. They favor flat roofs, also made from masonry. And they have guys that can still construct masonry vaults. Here’s the description from the video, translated into English for you:

Diego García Villena explains in detail how to make a vault without trusses or shoring and achieve upper enclosures using only bricks, without joists as in the past
I find this fascinating. If you want to better understand what he’s doing, you can press on the gear icon on the video and tinker with the closed captioning setting to autotranslate the audio into English. It’s durn interesting.

They’re touting it as bioclimatica. It’s pretty hot in many parts of Mexico, and heavy masonry construction will absorb a lot of heat when it’s too hot, and release it during the cooler hours. It’s a smart approach. And all your tools will fit in a wheelbarrow when you’re done for the day.

I’m know the history of wood-frame housing in the US pretty well, not just building techniques. I have some idea of its origins, whether they be British or Scandinavian or Swiss or whatever. So I’m looking at this video, and trying to scope out the tradition this fellow is a part of. And all I can come up with is medieval Europe. Spain, Italy, northern Africa, that sort of place. He’s making a groined vault, and that might put its provenance back to the Roman Empire. It kinda blows my mind to think about it.

It’s a Groove Thang

Back in the ’80s, I used to play in blues and R&B bands, at least until I got tired of making no money. I surrendered to the zeitgeist, and started playing whitebread pop covers soon after. Happy Hour shite. I was instantly swimming in money and free beer and chicks, of course, but I still can’t hear three or four bars of a Beach Boys song without breaking out in hives. I specified three or four bars because that’s all I ever hear, before I plunge whatever’s making Beach Boys noises into the nearest tub full of water. This has led to problems when it’s a live band. Whatever. They all have it coming.

Da blues was really popular in the ’80s. Well, sorta. There was a lot of it, performed mostly in front of next to nobody. In the bar band world, the dividing line between straight blues and R&B was pretty much erased. I played electric bass, so I actually had something to occupy myself during R&B songs. The grooves were heavy on bass and drums.

We used to mine a weird little store that sold ’45 records used to load jukeboxes. It was cheaper to buy singles than whole albums when all you needed was an individual, audience-recognizable track. The original records were twenty or thirty years old already, and sometimes hard to lay your hands on back then. We were in cover bands, so we never played anything obscure, so the juke box guy always had what we were looking for.

This, I believe, is the granddaddy of all R&B groove thangs from that milieu. The Rosetta Stone of the genre. Junior Walker:

That’s James Jamerson playing the bass on the record. He’s in low earth orbit compared to the intergalactic stuff he played on later records. You could do worse than to learn Jamerson bass lines. He’s ranked Numero Uno on Bass Player Magazine’s 100 Greatest Bass Players list. Hmm. That’s news to me. Not that he’s number one. I’d rank him 1-10, and start the rest of the list on 11, but that’s just me. I’m only expressing surprise that a magazine thought bass players could read. And there are more than 100? I could barely play the thing, and I always worked. I thought there were only like forty of us.

Shotgun is about the first song I can remember learning on the drums, too. Big right foot, there. Of course the guitar part was also seminal. Learn that sharp 9, shangalang chord and you’re ready for bidness. It’s fun to watch Junior Walker sing and play, or at least mime Shotgun in that video. He was on Motown, and they were still in their Andy Williams sweater and business suit mode back in the early sixties. Everybody Frug!

It’s amusing to read that Junior was just supposed to play saxophone on the record, but the singer that Berry Gordy hired didn’t show up to the session. Junior offered to sing it to supply a reference track they could record over later. They liked it so much they released it that way. It was a big hit. Number One on the R&B singles chart, #4 on the Billboard chart.

People still recognize this song. They put it in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002. However, V-neck sweaters and skinny ties no longer need apply, I gather. Look what someone recently did with Shotgun using AI animation. Alice From the Hood Pulp Fiction Grand Theft Auto Wire in Wonderland:

Yikes. Hey, getting back to playing in front of nobody, the song made it all the way to RomCom movies in Norway. Let’s watch Public Enemies have a frosty go at it:

The song itself is truly a groove. There are essentially no chord changes. It’s all based on rhythms. James Brown would perfect this approach shortly after this. Lots of other musical people (who could afford the whole albums) mined the groove thang for their own sound back in the ’80s too:

So Shotgun was the Ur-Groove-Song for me, and I suspect plenty of other musicians. Not just Norwegians, either. That is, at least until Wilson Pickett showed up with this:

Lawd have mercy.

The Most Famouse Singer You Never Heard Of

No, intertunnel wags, that’s not a typo. I’m referring to Gloria Wood, the most famous singer no one’s ever heard of. Deuced difficult to find a picture of her, which also indicates her relative obscurity. Here she be:

Now, I could shoot fish in a barrel and list plenty of singers and other performers who were a big deal in their day, but are obscure today. Honestly, is their any difference between Leif Garrett and Bobby Sherman? And are you sure you could pick Bobby Sherman out of a lineup if David Cassidy and Bobby Goldsboro were in it, too? If you can, wait thirty years, and you’ll be the last person who can. Time passes, and everything and everybody, no matter how notable they might get, fades into obscurity, or gets blended into a recollective blur:

But I’m going to roll out Medford, Massachusetts’ own Gloria Wood, and even people born in George Bush’s second term will know who I mean, even if they never heard her name. Because Gloria Wood was the voice of Minnie Mouse. Oh, yes, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, at least on records. She was all sorts of voices, singing and speaking, on radio, television, and movies. She’s singing something in almost every Disney thang from back when they  still used ink and paper and talent to make their cartoons.

If you’re a little older, you might remember this, because they’re no way you can’t. Jingles do that to you, man, at least if they hire Gloria Wood:

That’s just a notable commercial. Between the years 1955 and 1958, she sang on 2,000 more. Gloria Wood has been in your ear more often than your pinkie, I tell you what. And while this is way before my time, if you’re old enough to move to Florida and wear white shoes, a white belt, and white pants hiked up to your armpits, and drive 15 miles an hour on the freeway, you might remember this:

She was a hired gun in numerous chorus jobs, too. I mean, someone has to sing one word over and over. Might as well be someone talented:

If you watch White Christmas at Christmas, because you’re brave, and not afraid the Technicolor will drill your rods and cones into the back of your skull, you can watch Vera-Ellen sing and dance with Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, and George Clooney’s aunt. Or not. Vera-Ellen’s skills were limited to hyphenation, prancing around, and looking like an anorexic with fetal alcohol syndrome working the Maybelline counter at the department store. Gloria Wood did all her singing.

Gloria’s dead and buried, now, in Glendale, California, but she’ll outlast “the UN,” I’ll bet, in people’s hearts, if not the mental phone books where we keep all the names.

So, a President and a Juggler Walk Into Ford’s Theater…

Many, that is pure cornball stuff. It’s the kind of show you avoid like the plague if you read a description of it, because you’re too cool for school, yo. But if you’re dragged to it, you end up laughing like a hyena. One wonders just how much dragging it takes to get a president back into Ford’s Theater.

It’s vaudeville and the circus, but edgy. It’s staggering to think of how much practice it took to make the juggling look like an offhand detail in the act.

If you’ve never tried it, juggling is really quite interesting. There was a bit of a fad for it back in the 80s. Davis makes a joke out of the primary practice for juggling at the beginning of the act. He throws one ball back and forth. That’s the muscle memory portion of the necessary practice. You have to be able to toss the balls in the same parabolic arc, over and over, without thinking about it. Then you perform 2/3 of a full cycle by starting with a ball in each hand, throwing one ball in the air, and “exchanging” the balls when the first ball is about halfway to the opposite hand. Then you graduate to a full exchange starting with two balls in one hand and one in the other. That’s where it gets interesting, and counter-intuitive. You can’t look at the balls. If you look at any one of the balls, you’ll miss the other two. You have to look out into the middle distance, and let the balls pass in front of you, and learn to simply let your hands find the balls without concentrating on any individual ball.

That’s how you juggle. Learn it, and maybe you can perform for a president or speaker of the house or a senator or two. You’ll need some jokes, though. Sorry, I can’t help you there. I don’t know how to tell jokes.

Sing Flat, Look Sharp

Texas Troubadours, indeed. Plenty of heavy hitters in that band. But Buddy Emmons, holy shit. Ernie Tubb was an impresario. If you’re a musician, you might be familiar with this sort of fellow. You can’t quite put your finger on their talent. Can’t really sing or play well enough to stand out. Not exactly Cary Grantish either.

Tubb was not known to possess the most adept voice: he always sang flat and actually mocked his own singing. He told an interviewer that 95% of the men in bars would hear his music on the juke box and say to their girlfriends, “I can sing better than him,” and Tubb added they would be right.

But somehow or another they end up with ten guys with way more talent working for them. I guess that’s the talent. Getting the gigs is the supreme skill. And a lot of those kinds of guys turn a taciturn, smiling face to the public, but are slightly more, ahem, serious in their private affairs.

In 1957, he walked into the lobby of the National Life Building in Nashville in the early morning hours and fired a .357 magnum, intending to shoot music producer Jim Denny. Instead, Tubb mistakenly shot at WSM news director, Bill Williams, as he was walking in to work. Luckily, Tubb barely missed (twice) before realizing he had shot at the wrong man. He was arrested and charged with public drunkenness.

Ernie Tubb is one of those guys that becomes larger than life. A country Santa Claus. I swear he was born looking fifty-five years old, but in return, the heavens decreed he would never look much older, either. He appeared on the Grand Ole Opry long after he had the chart hits to make it inevitable. He set up shop down the street with an eponymous record store, and hosted his own show, the Midnite Jamboree, right from the middle of the record stacks.

People just liked him. Sometimes it’s a simple as that.

Rag Rug Eclectic

The String Cheese Incident performing on Austin City Limits, I do believe. That was a good show to watch when you were a musician and got up late the morning after a gig. The video is 18 years old. The performance might be even older, who knows? Useful information is in short supply on ToYoube, generally.

That’s some fonkee whathaveyou. There’s some fun George Bensoning about four minutes in. The guy is a terrific player, and nice, relaxed singer, ain’t he? Audiences are unduly impressed when guitarists scat sing along with their solos. I was never much of a guitar player, but I’ve always found it harder not to grunt along with solos than to shut the hell up. I’ve found that it’s deuced difficult to sing scat while playing the trombone, though. Almost as difficult as playing cello in a marching band.

Dude’s got a beautiful guitar, too. I can’t pinpoint the maker. It’s koa wood, semi-hollowbody, and looks like it’s a short scale. Such questions vex me. The drummer is lefty, which also always freaks me out to watch. If you really need some disorienting drumming, you can watch old Fabulous Thunderbirds videos. Fran Christina is left-handed, but plays what’s called open grip, I think. He plays a right-handed set, but hits the hi-hat with his left hand, and the snare with his right. He was one of several Rhode Island guys that ended up in Austin.

The String Cheese Incident is still touring around, if you’re interested. I gather many people are. They’re from a genre I call Rag Rug Eclectic. Whenever I see bare feet and grandma’s carpets on the stage, I know I’m gonna get Jazz Odyssey or Groove Thang Omnibus or Whipping Post Deluxe or Grateful Dead Gloss, only longer. It’s generally just good time music for leisure spots like ski areas, beaches, festivoos, and multi-level marketing conventions. I’ve played all those places back when I was a musician. We were never that successful, however, because our grandma had tile floors, and we had to wear shoes.

They Showed Us… Something

It’s hard to tell from such a woolly, potato-cam video, but for a while, you might think The Turtles were actually performing You Showed Me live in that video. The guitar and bass have cords trailing off somewhere. They might be plugged into something. If the drummer isn’t really playing, he certainly remembers the drum part from the record exactly. I didn’t spot any misalignments. You have to wait for the outro for your definitive clue, Watson. The drummer loses interest and stands up while the song is still fading out.

It’s not an unusual question to ask. It was quite common back in the day for bands to appear on teevee shows of all kinds and mime their hits. It was part of the little personality cults bands have used as a substitute for talent for the last 75 years or so. Of course the Turtles had all sorts of talent, but they’d be lumped in with all the other acts in the 60s in the producer’s schedule. They wouldn’t have had any trouble performing it live, and probably would have brought something new to the table. That’s another reason the teevee producers would have them lip sync. Anything could break out on stage with these weirdos. Mark Volman is wearing chaps for some reason. Can’t chance it.

According to the ToYoube comments, the girls arrayed on stage are Miss Teen USA contestants. That looks quite believable. They’re well equipped with late sixties togs, and rocking the requisite bumpits and water buffalo hairdos. They don’t flinch when the camera focuses right on their faces. It’s a mark of the breed. One commenter claimed to have married one of them. Well, internet commenters are always like that. Informative, and married to beauty queens, who adore them for their Congressional Medals of Honor.

If you’re young, and you’ve tuned in to get an explanation of what the Turtles were up to back then, you’ve come to the wrong place. Absolutely uncategorizable.

Month: March 2024

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