Sippican Cottage

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What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?

Al Wilson was one of those guys.

He’s dead now. Died about seven years ago. A year before he died, there was a fire in his garage, and it burned all the master tapes of his recordings. He must have died wondering why the universe was trying to scrub itself of him.

I like reading about people like Al Wilson. He was a good singer, of course, but not gifted or anything. He learned to sing in church in Mississippi.  His family moved to San Berdoo, and Al got jobs as a janitor, a clerk of some sort, and a postman, according to Wikipedia. He taught himself to play drums for some reason. He joined the Navy. He tried to become a stand-up comedian, but only so he’d still have a job if singing didn’t work out. He hustled. I admire people who hustle.

He ended up in various club groups in the sixties, and he had a minor hit which I don’t remember, but I was in second grade, I think, so forgive me. Then, nothing.

Lots of people have that nothing on their CV for long periods of time. I’m sure it wasn’t anything truly resembling nothing. It was the kind of nothing that regular people find necessary from time to time. Furious activity is nothing. Despair is a blip on a resume, sometimes. Many people plug away anyway, mostly because there’s really no alternative. I imagine he never worked harder than he did when the Internet says he was busy doing nothing. I can only imagine the convergence of cupidity and caprice that made the someones that decide such things decide to make Al Wilson famous in 1973.

Look how happy he made the people in the audience, just to hear their favorite song one more time. He probably didn’t feel like it at the time, but his garage gave him the Viking funeral he deserved.

Like Watching Alphonse Mucha Do An Underpainting: Tim Pierce

The Intertunnel can be wonderful if you let it. It’s full of drivel and orthographically-challenged cats, of course; but 1/10 of one percent of it is amazing, and 1/10 of one percent of the Interwebs is more than any human can make use of anyway.

This genial fellow is named Tim Pierce. He has a dedicated website in addition to his YouTube page where I found this video. His webpage will be a big hit, I’m sure of it. I don’t know Tim, but he did me a favor once without trying to, and maybe someday I’ll get to return it.

You’ve never met Tim Pierce either, but you can know exactly who he is without knowing him. He’s played on so many records that have come out of every speaker on earth at one time or another that you couldn’t have avoided him if you tried. I don’t know why you would try. He plays pretty good, don’t you think?

Someone sets up a camera and you get to watch records being made. It’s possible to simply find this interesting for its own sake, or plain entertaining, but if you were trying to find out about the music industry in a serious way, this is like a graduate school lecture. What one man can do, another man can do, as they say, but first you have to know what the other man did.

I’ve always liked people who have one foot planted in art and the other in commerce. All my favorite visual artists from the last century or so are illustrators. I’d rather look at Leyendecker ads all day than Picasso for five minutes.

Snobs believe participating in commerce as an artist dilutes your art. I might point out that Leyendecker devoted only half his time to commerce, and half to art. His customers showed up at his door with a briefcase full of commerce because they knew he had the art they coveted but couldn’t produce if they had a million years to try. A “pure” artist like Picasso devoted one hundred percent of his time to commerce, if you ask me. Self-promotion is not art. It’s an art, but it’s not art.

People that should know better tell me that John Singer Sargent wasn’t a real painter because he painted portraits for money. Filthy lucre. Me, I just stood in front of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw once, and I swear that dead broad was looking right out of the painting at me.

I’m a barbarian, and I refer to her as “Spiro Agnew with Lockjaw,” but even a barbarian knew that the Roman Empire was better than the village of huts he lived in. That’s why he wanted to sack Rome. Duh.

Tim Pierce straddles the line between art and commerce. He’ll play on your record for money. Unlike so many of his brethren, he at least supplies some real art if you supply the commerce. Everyone else just cashes the checks.

El Jefe

[The end of a saga. I was a welder in the desert back in the day. I’ve been trying to explain how I got into that predicament without sounding stupid. It’s not working]

The tribe wasn’t talking, at least not to me, and not in English when I was nearby. Larry the foreman wasn’t interested in holding my hand. His hands were full of index cards with pencil runes scrawled on them. Hitler’s stunt double, and Irwin Corey’s red-headed nosemining love-child, seemed of doubtful utility. The girl from Flashdance wasn’t going to show up anytime soon and show me how to weld between dance numbers. I was going to have to, as Peachy Carnehan says, “brass it out.”

Nowadays, dorks on the Internet enjoy playing the The Dunning-Kruger card in blog comments at 3 AM to try to settle things, but the concept isn’t useful out in the real world. It wasn’t a useful thing to know before the Internet, either. Everyone in the Dunning-Kruger experiment was a college kid — i.e., someone full of themselves for no reason. Saying that stupid people think they’re smart, and smart people think they’re stupid, is simply a way for people with an IQ of 105 to attempt to sidle up to people forty points north of that and say, “Isn’t that guy with an IQ of 103 a dolt?”

The people educated people think are really stupid — people with dirt under their fingernails –don’t “think” they’re smart. They are smart in the only way that matters. They know what they’re about. They don’t go on Jeopardy and expect loading dock questions. Conversely, if you’re a welder and can’t weld, your enthusiasm for French poetry or something equally useless wouldn’t enter into it. So I might have been the smartest person to ever enter the zip code I was in, but I most certainly was the dumbest fool in the room. There’s only one way to keep score. Style points can’t weld things. So I hitched up my britches, got in line at each work station, and when in Rome…

I did as the Romans did. Badly. I couldn’t pass for Roman, but I could have at least ridden the short bus to an Etruscan elementary school after a while. At first I couldn’t get the electrode to spark, then I welded it to the brass fixture. I used ten pieces of filler rod to everyone else’s one. My work had more bubbles in it than a frappe, and was more lopsided than an election in a dictatorship, but I stuck with it. I drove home every afternoon in a trance, then slept in my dirty clothes on top of my bedclothes until the next morning. That’s when I discovered that a little help would have gone a long way.  I woke up on fire. And not the good kind of fire that can be extinguished, either. The sensation was the same, though. I went to the bathroom and pulled off my shirt.

I’d worn a long sleeve shirt — cotton; even I knew that any sort of polyester version would ignite if welding sparks hit it, cotton just smolders —  a welding helmet, and leather gauntlets. But I didn’t know enough to button my shirt all the way to the top. I’d left a triangle of flesh exposed to the ultraviolet rays that welding likes to bless you with without you noticing, and I’d burned a big Bass Ale logo onto my chest. It hurt like taxation, with the lemon juice of sheepishness ladled on it. I buttoned my shirt over my own personal superman logo, and slowly abraded it off over the next couple of weeks. I swear I can still make out its outline all these years later, whenever I’m shaving that fool’s face in the bathroom mirror.

Day in, day out, I hung in there, no more than that, and no one talked to me in any meaningful way. Amish couldn’t have shunned me more effectively. At lunchtime I sat alone and ate my pasty sandwich at my shabby desk while the easy laughter of the other men drifted in through the open door as they stood out in the blazing sun and ate burritos from the “roach coach” that pulled into the lot every day at lunchtime. I slowly morphed from a gibbering Irishman into one of those fellows that lives in a barrel and eats thistles and drinks from puddles and waits for wise men that never show up.

Like all places with a rough and tumble workforce, everything worth a farthing was locked in a big cage, which was lorded over by a human guard dog. There was a very calm and quiet young fellow in charge of the place. He was a short Messcan. There were tall, lordly Messcans about, too; they looked like Andalusian Senators or something. But he looked like Mexico before the Europeans showed up. He was dark and doe-eyed and taciturn, and had been trying to grow a moustache unsuccessfully since he was born. He sat at the neatest desk in the building, knew the protocol for everything without hesitation, and spent most of his time reading. He was not required to do anything except hand us stuff, and keep track of it all. All of a sudden, I was informed that he’d been keeping track of me, too.

“Do you know why they don’t like you?”

I briefly considered feigning ignorance of this Everest of quiet contempt I’d scrambled up and down every day, but I thought the better of it and just said, “No.” Which was the truth.

“They don’t like you because you took their cousins’ job. Their brothers’. Maybe their fathers’. Who do you think all those cholos in the lobby were when you came in here? They need to weld. You don’t need to weld. You don’t even know how to weld. You could do what you like. You took someone’s place.”

I was sort of stunned. I’d been in unions that cared less about whether you were part of their brotherhood. 

“They would have gotten over that, I guess, eventually, but they know that you hate messcans, man.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Who says I hate Mexicans?”

“You think we all steal.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Every day you bring all your tools home. We see it. Every day. You think we’re all thieves.”

There was a long pause while I processed this information. I imagine I had a look of wonder and astonishment on my face that wouldn’t be equaled until much later in my life, when another, smaller version of me appeared, coming out of my wife.  That would be quite a long time, as she was currently in ninth grade.

“Do you really think that if I could do something else — skin diver for Roto-Rooter, rottweiler dentist, anything —  that I’d be a welder in the desert? You must be crazier than I am. And let’s get one more thing straight. I bring my tools home every night because every single goddamn day I figure today is the day that I can’t take another minute of this godforsaken filthy oven, and I’m never coming back here. Every day I bring my tools home because I might need something fairly sharp to kill myself with when I get home. If I thought you’d steal my tools, I’d have left them here and prayed you’d steal them, if it meant one less day working in this dungeon.”

The next day, they came in a gang, and dragged me bodily out into the late morning sun, the parking lot shimmering with the heat like a cookie tin from the oven, and they hugged me and bought me burritos from the roach coach, so spicy that they made me shiver, and after work they hauled me all over their town and got me drunker than a fiddler’s whore, and the next morning I threw up chicken mole and Tecate in the john, and the man in the cage said, “Now you’re one of us, jefe.”

Steal With Your Eyes

[If you just came in, I was a welder in the desert back in the day. I’ve been trying to explain how I got into that predicament without sounding stupid. It’s not working]

You can bluff your way through most any circumstances if you’ll simply pay attention. “Steal with your eyes,” it was once explained to me. But paying attention to what? That’s the big question. First day on the job, first date, whatever. What do you pay attention to, and to whom? Who’s a sage, and who’s a doofus? I swear this is the only kind of wisdom you can pick up in this world. You tune out one thing after another, one philosophy followed by another, stop reading bad books, stop wasting your time caring what flavor of imbecilic pop songs comes out of someone else’s radio. To live in this world is to be an editor, not a writer.

So I’d promised them I was a welder, and I needed to be a welder, and I was determined to be a welder right quick. I looked around furtively early on, and tried to espy anyone giving off a Stakhanovite vibe, determined to shadow them to see what’s what. Grand Theft Eyeball.

In these situations, it’s my experience — hard-won — that the first person from any insular group that tries to strike up a friendship with you, the new guy, is invariably either a ne’er-do-well or an incompetent. Usually both. Everyone else in the building already knows of, and is tired of, his schtick, so he tries it on the new guy. You can generally learn how to get fired, immediately, from this person.

But I was young then, and didn’t have this sort of information in my head yet. I was a lamb for any stray coyote to get ahold of. I’d be friendly with anyone that would be friendly back. This place presented a problem. No one was friendly. No one even looked at me, except to glare, and precious little of even that. I immediately got the impression I was a seal on an ice floe with a dozen polar bears, and the bears did nothing but whisper to each other, then look over their shoulder at me from time to time. I didn’t get the impression they were planning a surprise party for me. My attitude toward them didn’t matter, so I relied on my grade school education to see me through. Who was the nun in the room? They’ll have to talk to me. Larry, the happy Hawaiian with the fantastic aureole of frizz around his head, was the nun. He was in charge. He’d have to help me, surely.

This simply presented another problem. Larry was sort of silly. He smiled all the time. He smiled when things went badly. He smiled when things went well. He smiled while he was being devoured by crocodiles. OK, OK, but he would have, I’m sure of it. If you asked him a question past where’s the john you flummoxed him. He smiled when he was flummoxed, especially.

But it was me, of course, that was truly flummoxed, not Larry. Larry wasn’t going to be fired if I couldn’t weld. Larry would smile and wave to me in the same way if I was run out of the town on a rail, or picked up by limousine to go get my Nobel Prize. I was in a strange place among strange men, doing a strange thing. They all belonged there. I didn’t. But I had to. My back was against the wall and the cigarette was almost out.

There was a work room separate from the big shop area. Everybody got a metal desk that looked like reform school, where you could solder things, or eat your lunch, or solder your lunch, or eat solder, or do any number of other interesting things. Larry pointed out mine, towards the back. I sat down and looked around. To my left was a voluntarily mentally retarded young man with Professor Irwin Corey’s hairdo, thick glasses with bent frames, and skin like the Sea of Tranquility. I tried watching him, first. I watched him mine his nose, and add the contents to his diet. I did not get the feeling that he was reading encyclopedias at home by the hour for amusement. My eye wandered on.

In front of me there was what appeared to me to be an immensely old man, probably four years younger than I am now, with a bucket-shaped head, a haircut that was obviously the denouement of some sort of bet he’d lost, and a moustache that had gone grey mostly on the sides, so that only the portion of his cookie-duster directly below his philtrum was black, and so rendered him the spitting image of the former chancellor of the Third Reich. He was repeating the same non-joke over and over to no one, just out into the ether. He thought it was funny to hold up a can of Glyptol, a kind of sealer paint, and pronounced it “Griptol,” in a Charlie Chan accent. My eye wandered on.

Everyone else was, in the charming vernacular they all used, “Messcan.” They were a tribe and a family and an army. I could see immediately that in any real sense of the word, they owned the place. And they were inscrutable to me.

[To be continued, if you feel like it]

Strange Adventures In The Fall And Rise Of Sippican Cottage

[Editor’s note: We continue the seemingly neverending saga of Sippican welding in the desert. It was uphill both ways in the snow, in the desert, apparently.]
[Author’s note: The fancy writing dudes always pooh pooh physically demanding things. Mental toughness is a form of intelligence, if you ask me. And there is no editor.]

I’ve read that it’s smells that humans remember the longest, or are the most likely to jog memories. After positing that, the pseudoscientists often talk about Grandma’s cookies. Let me tell you about smells.

It smells like exotic bread is baking near the dust collector when you put pine through the drum sander. You know the fine dust is giving you nose cancer and lung trouble so you’re almost immune to its charms. Almost. There was this smell once, when I had to renovate an apartment a guy died in. He was in there a good long time, too. It’s the smell of the mass grave. That was fun. But nothing can compare to the smell of the abrasive cutoff saw going through steel. It makes brimstone smell like French pastry.

You see, to cut metal like that you don’t often use a saw with teeth. It’s just an abrasive disc, and you send a shower of sparks and an acrid, burning blast of stink up your nose. It’s like snorting sand from the outdoor ashtray next to the door at the place they hold Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. I’ll never forget it.

Work started about a half hour before you were scheduled to go to bed, so there was a dreary weariness writ on everyone’s face. There was a huddle with everyone looking off into the middle distance, while Larry, the Hawaiian guy with the Long Island housewife afro told us what to do. All the work was tracked on little yellow index cards in pencil. There wasn’t a lot to know; outside diameter of the stainless steel tube, length of the finished probe, and what kind of metals were used for the electrodes inside the tube. We made all kinds, but it was mostly J and K types, which are common things made from common metals. By common people, Larry’s aureole of hair notwithstanding.

The raw stock to make the thermocouples was coiled to make it easy to store, and simply labeled with a tag tied to the coil with a letter on it. You’d find the coil, which weighed a bit when it was new but was infinitely more appealing than handling the light remainders of the coils. The guys that had worked there awhile never touched the bits and pieces and broke open new coils all the time. Sooner or later someone had to face the short, stainless steel straw, though.

You had to straighten out the coiled pieces by shoving them through a machine called a desuager. A desuager is just a revolving bend. You feed the SS tube through a yoke with three holes. Input output, and the middle. The middle hole is offset from center. The yoke was spun by a motor, and you have to hold on for dear life to the coil as the revolving bend tries to spin it — and you–all around. It’s easy to hold onto the big coils of small diameter tubing, but the scraps of large diameter stuff were almost impossible to hold. You’d clamp the world’s oldest Vise-Grip to those and hold on for dear life. More about that later.

So you’d straighten the coil out, and use the abrasive saw to chop them to length. 20 ea K 1/4″ 24″ is all the work order would say on it. You didn’t measure, there were rude markings in pencil on the work bench from the first person who worked there, and you’d use them. Then you got the smell.

It was starting to get hot now. The metal roof sorta glowed with it when the sun started rising up in the sky. So we did what any intelligent person would do. We climbed a ladder to get closer to it.

You see, the shop was set up to handle the largest thing we might sell, not the usual two foot trifle, so you climbed a sort of gangway ladder to a tower where you’d weld. You were working on the tip of the thermocouple, and it had to be oriented vertically. To this day, I can’t understand how I climbed up there carrying all the welding stuff and the thermocouples.

The Road Warrior came out shortly after I worked at this place, and I thought they filmed it on location there. It was a barbarous set of circumstances. You’d sit in the kind of chair you’d find at a flea market held outside a torture dungeon, the hot metal roof right over your head. In front of you was a Fred Flintsone looking vise arrangement with brass jaws with a series of holes drilled in it. You’d clamp the thermocouple stock in the appropriate circle, and get to work.

You had to sandblast the insulation out of the tip of the stock to expose the two electrodes inside. And now you had to weld them together. To work, a thermocouple joins two dissimilar metals at one end, sticks that end in the nasty spot full of incredible hotness, and you measure the tiny voltage at the other end with a meter to tell the temperature. The operative term here is: dissimilar.

It’s hard as hell to weld identical metals together properly. Welding dissimilar metals is impossible. You do it, but I stand behind the word: it’s impossible.

It becomes possible because if you falter once, you will be immediately fired and the other 135 guys that got passed over get their shot. It’s possible because if you tarry on the only tower, the other ten guys waiting to do their work while you fumble around will meet you outside after work, and they don’t knit for a hobby. You’ll lose the only job you can find twenty-five states away from the place of your birth and you won’t even have enough money to drive home to be poor there in the snowbanks.

So it’s not even possible. It’s downright easy.

(to be continued)

Being A Welder In The Desert Is Overrated By Exactly No One

[Editor’s Note: If you’re just getting here, Sippican is droning on about walking uphill both ways to work in the seventies or something, a continuation of this.]
[Author’s Note: I Think it was the early eighties, I can’t recall exactly when, and won’t research it. I’d fire that editor, if I had one.]


I can’t remember what year it was, or the exact address of the place, or a host of other things, but I can tell you what I had for lunch on my first day as a welder in the desert. I can tell you because I had the exact same thing every day for a year. Paper bag was a Toreador Squat, I think. Peanut butter sandwich on wheat bread. Verifine apple juice in a likewise squat little glass bottle with a metal cap and a sort of foam label/wrapper. An apple. A granola bar, A paper napkin. I tried eating the napkin a few times before I lost interest.

You couldn’t get an apartment in LA without a bank account and a job. You couldn’t get a bank account without a fixed address. I couldn’t get a job without an apartment. I can’t remember who was governor of California at the time. It might have been Jerry Brown or maybe George Deukmejian. At any rate, Franz Kafka was actually running the place. I picked a day, and simultaneously told the apartment landlady I had the job, told the bank I had the apartment, and told the job I could TIG weld thermocouples all the live-long day, baby. The Million Pound Bank Note is just a short story to you; it’s an instruction manual to me. You guys should read less Rand and more Twain if you want to get on in this world. By “less Rand,” I mean “no Rand,” and “all Twain,” actually.

(I put “actually” at the end of that sentence so you’d get the proper Valley Girl vibe that was born in LA at the time.)

TIG means Tungsten Inert Gas. You have an electrode in your right hand and you blast an arc through an aureole of plasma while you feed in the filler metal with your other hand. It’s harder to do than other types of welding.

I went to Catholic School, so when I said I lied about welding, I don’t mean lie in the contemporary sense. I am incapable of looking anyone directly in the face and lying. The nun is there over your shoulder forevermore. To us, even giving people the wrong impression was considered lying. We didn’t parse “is.” People mistake it for false modesty now, but it’s pure terror of the shades of nuns past.

But it’s also just a venial sin, and in the Berretta fashion of being willing to do the time for the crime I figured I could take a few weeks in Purgatory or Limbo or Hell’s Kitchen or the Department of Motor Vehicles or whatever God’s badboy waiting room is called. A man’s gotta eat.

I had TIG welded under a microscope in a clean room before. I wore a nylon smock, sat at a sort of school desk, looked through a little green peep lens, pressed a button and stepped on a foot pedal while a tiny weld was made. But it was TIG welding.

Now it was 5:45 in the morning. You have to start early in the desert or it gets too hot for much of anything. The roof is corrugated steel, uninsulated. There are no windows. I eventually used to see the guys working at other shops on the street in sort of shantytown lean-tos, or just under a roof with no walls, and envy them. We were a more formal business, so we got to work in a concrete block Minotaur’s labyrinth with a warming tray over our heads. I’ll leave it to your imagination and arithmetic to figure out what time you get up to arrive at a job over fifty miles away at 5:45.

I’m not stupid, I’m just dumb. I know I’m in for it, and have to be prepared. No nylon smock is gonna cut it here. I wore jeans, boots, and a flannel shirt. I brought leather gauntlets.

When people talk about thermocouples, they generally think of the little one in their oven the size of two Excedrin laid end to end. Hmmm…. That’s incorrect; no one ever thinks about any sort of thermocouple until you have to weld them or you don’t eat. Then you think of them really hard.

There was no money in that sort of thermocouple and the company didn’t bother with them. We made them for sticking into thermowells that we also made, which in turn were stuck into oil wells and foundry cauldrons and heat treat furnaces. We made those, too.

A small thermocouple for us was about the diameter of a pencil, a big one like the handle of a baseball bat, and made all sorts of lengths. They are made from a stainless steel tube, filled with a kind of white itching powder they called insulation, with two conductors made from dissimilar metals buried in it. The raw stock came coiled to make it easy to store, and you’d desuage them using a barbaric machine that used a revolving bend to straighten the coil as you pushed it through and held on for dear life. We made the desuaging machine, too, and sold it to other companies who had employees as valuable as the crewmen with no names on Star Trek that beam down to the planet’s surface and take up permanent residence there.

Then there’s this smell. Did I tell you about the smell?

(to be continued)

The Search for Authenticity

J.J. Cale passed away. The headline on MSNBC bleats: “Songwriter on Eric Clapton’s Cocaine.”

That ain’t English, son, as I’m wont to say. It’s not Eric Clapton’s song. It’s J.J. Cale’s song. He wrote it. He’d be the songwriter of, not on, anyway. Since Cale both wrote and recorded the song originally, Eric Clapton was performing a cover of J.J. Cale’s Cocaine.  That’s the way English works. It’s the way the music business functions, as well.

Eric Clapton is a scholar of music. He’s mostly a syncretist. He studies and absorbs, then lets it loose in a mashup. Like many syncretists, he searches for and prizes authenticity. J.J. Cale had that. He absorbed what Tulsa, Oklahoma had to offer, boiled it down into an identifiable mixture, and then let it back out. Leon Russell was from Tulsa, too, and they both went out to Los Angeles in the sixties and peddled their authenticity as best they could. Eric Clapton couldn’t compose like Tulsa, but he could hire it out. He was a J. J. Cale tribute band for a few years, more or less.

Hipsters like authenticity. Interestingly, they have a tendency to despise and revile the cultures that produce that authenticity. Tulsa’s flyover country. Redstate. Redneck. Oil patch yokel. The actual culture that produced J. J. Cale would make everybody at the record company’s flesh crawl.

Pop culture is mostly vampiric. It sucks the life out of real culture without getting any nourishment from it, infects it in turn with its lack of real life by interacting with it, and then moves on from the shambles it’s created when its finished. It’s the same attitude that inserts 45 minutes of raging Catholicism into movies made by unbelievers. See: Cimino, Michael, or Coppola, Francis.

J. J. Cale was the real thing, nourished on the real thing. He deserves more respect than tortured grammar and an ad for a Clapton record on his tombstone. RIP John Weldon Cale.

(Thanks to Mark Miller for sending that one along)

Bear Won’t Be Down For Breakfast

It’s a crabby little world I inhabit.

James Gandolfini was Bear, the semi-kindhearted semi-mobbed-up stuntman in Get Shorty. I never saw him in anything else, except that submarine movie with Gene Hackman.

Get Shorty
is the best movie about the movie business I ever saw. It’s the most “Los Angeles” movie ever made. It’s the only Elmore Leonard book I ever read. I read it because I liked the movie, and wondered if the book was any good. It was alright. Get Shorty has one of the best soundtracks of any movie I’ve ever heard. Get Shorty has one of the best soundtracks of any movie I’ve ever heard. It was the last fresh sale date for about 75 percent of the cast, too.

My brother Garrett told me yesterday that he has a friend that plays saxophone, and has played with everybody. He laughed and told me his friend can claim to have played with Garrett, and with Elvis. I said I knew who Garrett was, but which Elvis was he referring to? That’s how crabby my worldview is.

James Gandofini was Bear, and he was someone because I watched Get Shorty and liked it. You could run over the rest of the cast of The Sopranos with a bus and I’d never notice. RIP big fellow.

Write It On A Twenty And Send It On Up

Ode To The Working Man: Tommy Tedesco

Yesterday’s blast of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman corollary goodness elicited a few comments about the relative obscurity or importance, and the entertainment value, of Happy Kyne and The Mirth-Makers.

It was a joke that wasn’t funny for some, or one you didn’t get for others. It was mordantly funny, and a bit subversive for a devotee. I was one of those.

A commenter pointed out that Happy was Frank De Vol. Frank is one of those guys. Guys that work in Hollywood. It’s almost not possible to list Frank’s accomplishments. There are too many, and they’re all sort of notable, and even if no longer household words, they’re at least recognizable to almost any human in the United States, and plenty elsewhere, too.

Hollywood’s a weird place. It’s full of people that work. They’re not like the stars; they’re generally pleasant, hardworking, and more or less salubrious, and have real, cultivated talents. They make the whole place go, no matter how dissipated and ephemeral the people in front of the camera or the microphone might be. Frank was no doubt considered flighty in his social circle, as he was married twice; of course his first marriage lasted 54 years until his wife passed away — but still.

Martin Mull’s show was about breaking down the wall of phony between the audience and the host, and the host and the guests, and the talent and the heavy lifting, so it’s natural that he’d hire the fellows that usually sat anonymously in a studio and made the likes of Nancy Sinatra listenable for a few minutes on the radio, and use them right out front. Or misuse them, amusingly. That’s a very heavy bunch of musicians acting like they’re the worst wedding band you ever heard. Look in the back row. He’s not wearing his glasses, but I do believe that’s Tommy Tedesco playing the guitar. Tommy Tedesco is way more famous than Frank De Vol, who you never heard of. Tommy Tedesco might be twice as unheard of as Frank. If it was sorta square, but immensely popular, and it came out of the radio, Tommy played on it. Tommy Tedesco was well known for being anonymous.

Dude could play:

Hollywood is filled with lots and lots of waiters and personal trainers and dog walkers and assistants that pick up dry cleaning that are sure they’re gong to be big stars tomorrow. But they are all trying to compete in the sweepstakes of the talentless. They wish to be made into demi-gods for no apparent reason, the same reason the people they work for (while grumbling and smiling) were made famous. The only skill they cultivate is acting strange and rude, which will be useful if you eventually get a three-picture deal from Sony, but just makes you a garden variety jerk in real life.

Then there are guys like Tommy Tedesco. They are truly useful, and make themselves useful to the people that have enough to worry about, dealing with the neurotic people with no real talent that get nailed like wooden figureheads on the front of hit records and TV shows and movies. The producers have to sober up the talent, so they like guys and girls that show up and get real things done when money is on the line. Guys like Tommy.

How many hit records and TV shows and movies did Tommy Tedesco have a hand in? I bet Tommy couldn’t have told you. I bet he couldn’t remember half of them. Hell, just look at the list at IMDB of his movie and TV work. It’s insanely long. To someone my age, you could just say he’s the guitar you hear twanging away in the Bonanza theme. Someone has to play that. Guys like Tommy said it might as well be them, and never did anything else but work. They weren’t waiting for their big break. Every day is a big break. You’ll notice that almost everything he does says “uncredited” after it. Tommy got the best credit you can earn in Hollyweird — they write it on the lower right corner of a check.

Tommy was part of a loose agglomeration of musicians that made the Los Angeles music scene go for decades, often referred to as The Wrecking Crew. They played on every damn thing.

It’s telling that Tommy Tedesco’s son Denny’s tribute to his father and his colleagues will likely never be widely released, because the people that had the least to do with how all the entertainment sounded –the people with their names and faces on the covers of the albums, and a bunch of guys in suits — will never agree to the licensing of their songs for the project. It’s a pound of flesh, first, last and always in the entertainment business.

Guys like Tommy Tedesco were smart, though, if anonymous. They had the distilled wisdom of everyone that’s ever performed music for money:

 “If you have a request, write it on a twenty and send it on up.”

Everyone did, from Barbra Streisand to Frank Zappa.

Tag: Los Angeles

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