Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Mamas & the Papas: It’s square to be hip

Harmony begins with dissonance
They were limousine hippies with wistful tunes about dreaming and having a bad (Mon) day.  It was hard to get them in focus.

The tall guy, John, tried damn hard to be cool, more like an aging beatnik fresh from a beer & bongo party than a tie-dyed, Haight-Asbury minstrel. The other Papa, Denny, was always bemused, pleasant-faced, perhaps recruited from a rural, Baptist choir. He sure wasn’t rebelling against anything or missing meals.

Cool was for the fool
Then the Mamas. Michelle: everything you ever wanted in a counter-culture slinky chick. Drop-dead-straight-part-in the-middle blonde hair. Slim as a stick. Beautiful face with wide-spaced eyes. Lolita pout. Cass, Mama # 2, was the polar opposite – a fact that, strangely, emphasized their unity. Read more.

Obviously, it couldn’t work. It should never, ever have worked.  No way… So they became international superstars. It didn’t last long – but it should never have lasted at all.

The group didn’t make sense. There was something Monkee-ish about them. A pre-fab four feel. Yet they were the real thing.

Years later, someone realized it’s in fact square to be hip. Cool was for the fool. It was their very awkward alchemy that blended such glorious harmonies. Who knew? It's chic to be geek.

Anyway, nothing succeeds like surprise.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Raquel Welch: The Beauty of Defiance

Somewhere between Las Vegas and
Haight-Asbury, she found a fur bikini
This kitten had no whip, though each film seemed an act of defiance. It was her attitude to her face and body that set her apart, not the corporeal charms themselves. But we were all looking in the wrong/right places and didn’t see.

The most successful American 1960s sex symbol couldn’t act much and just sang and danced a little. 

Determination hardened her eyes but softened her curves. She wasn’t blonde. She wasn’t dumb. She wasn’t available.

Surrealism vs. Reality
Somewhere between Las Vegas and Haight-Asbury, she found a fur bikini and rocked the world.

Life itself is sexy
The former cocktail waitress never looked back and never once took it all off. She didn’t need to – not with such a ferocious spirit and the realization, known to only a chosen few: it's Life itself that's sexy.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

All Yesterday's Parties: Anita Pallenberg and sweet milk of decadence

With Keef
She was a suitably dissolute member of the Royal Court of Rock. In through the backdoor with Fellini and Warhol. Then on the arm of ill-fated Brian Jones, and contiguously joined to junkie Keith Richards. Always stronger than the men, but without their discipline or guitars.

All yesterday's parties
And there were others. All through it she swayed like a wasted enchantress, leaves of the Black Forest commingled with trellises of blond hair all dusted with pixie powder.

Anita Pallenberg remains beautiful in a tableau of three-chord decadence, spun by late-night exhortations for flesh and sweat and blood, excesses amplified through Marshall stacks and road-house thunder beats.

Now as the witch deep in the mountain’s den, dancing by a fire orgy, imprisoned and crazed, for she on honeydew hath fed and drunk sweet milk of decadence.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Adam Diment: A Dandy in Aspic

 A kinky, cool mod flare that is outrageously entertaining….If you appreciate clever plotting, plenty of excitement, sex at its most uninhibited, a dollop or two of explicit sadism, Adam Diment is a name to remember. – Publishers’ Weekly, 1967

Adam heads for the sky
The author as book cover
Adam Diment’s greatest creation was himself. Whereas Ian Fleming liked to
pose with a firearm now and then, just for a bemused homage, Diment seemed to have fallen full-born from the pages of his own spy novels.

There he was, draped in scarfs, tall, long blonde hair, leaning against a sports car, with a detached attitude that suggested drug-based dissolution. The fact that it was confected and stage managed only added to his appeal.

The young women who appeared throughout his promotional photos were, one might conjecture, paid for their services, including cab fare. That too is immaterial.

Always the women
Adam D: Partius Maximus
His four spy novels, The Dolly Dolly Spy (1967), The Great Spy Race (1968), The Bang Bang Birds (1968), and Think, Inc. (1971), are in and out of print – mostly out. But like many things 60s, he’s coming back.

After his last novel, he vanished. Poof! Never to be seen again. “He’s in Zurich!” “He’s in London.” “He’s dead. “There was talk of criminal proceedings; that he changed his name; that he became bored with fame. Who was he?

Oddly, the story of Adam Diment has no protagonist, no hero, villain or love-interest. There’s no linear plot development or character exposition. No forward movement. Rather, with his billowing sleeves, satin vests, and bevy of hippy chicks, Time has left him unscathed. He’s a dandy in aspic. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Elvis Presley: 1968 Comeback Special. “I have no need for all this.”

It’s true, Elvis was never the same after he came back from the Army in 1960. There was a knowing in the famous lopsided smile, a restlessness fueled by something other than youth.
The Final Performance

The songs came and were forgettable; the films even worse. The hippies didn’t even wears shoes, let alone blue suedes.

Eight years passed by. He dyed his hair blue/black and became an eccentric relic, more a novelty than an entertainer.

For reasons known only to a Robert-Johnson-Cross-Roads shaman, the gods handed Elvis one last chance and he didn’t even know it.

A television special would have been unthinkable before. But this was not ‘before’. The producer noticed that Elvis liked to sit with his buddies and just play the old songs. So why not do some of that?

And it became the first unplugged segment in pop music.

It didn’t take long for Elvis to go off script. In a way, he was always off script, something all the others (Bobby This or Frankie That) never really got.

Off the grid. No auto-tune. Full bore.
Watch him. He slides off the grid and swings a trapeze up to his long dormant talent. Suddenly he has hold of an electric guitar with no strap. Doesn't stop him. Deep in his Memphis soul he must know this could be it, the Final Performance, no matter how long he lives.

Clad in black leather, with no vocal overdubbing and no auto-tune and no reverb and no backup singers, he becomes what he always was - among the best rock singers of the twentieth century, and one of a few genuine pop culture icons.

Today, it is impossible to hear him sing ‘Trying to Get to You’ and not notice how careful superbowl-style pop music has become. This is the mother-lode. The high-water mark. Pre-punk. The gold standard. 

Whatever rock was supposed to be, it doesn't get better. Rock critic Greil Marcus watched the show that night with a friend, who at one point turned to him and said, shocked, "He's doing all this with just three chords? Impossible."

And then, he leaves the stage forever. Just like that. Resigned to bedazzled white jumpsuits and ill-health, going through karate-kid motions and praying for an early release.
Savage. Mindless. Real.

Later, he writes a note to himself (to what he was, what he is to become) not to be shared, but discovered after his death:

-          “I feel so alone sometimes. The night is quiet for me. I'd love to be able to sleep. I'll probably not rest. I have no need for all this. Help me, Lord.”

Friday, March 3, 2017

William F. Buckley Jr.: Strategically Disheveled

Buckley. Vidal. Let's get it on.
He enjoyed being hated by liberals. They served to validate his beliefs. “There is an inverse relationship between reliance on the state and self-reliance,” he suggested.

William F. Buckley Jr. was often the smartest guy in the room, but he usually chose the room.

Bill was the go-to telegenic conservative public intellectual for much of the 60s. He was everywhere. Even ran for mayor of New York City – likely for the platform, not the position.

They called his accent ‘mid-Atlantic’. It gave him a natural, privileged aura. He often appeared strategically disheveled.

Of the Vietnam War he said, “The pity is that we are saving our tactical nuclear weapons for melodramatic use.” Near the end of his life, looking back, he surmised Vietnam was a mistake. Also reversed himself on Civil Rights. Flip-flops…but he had the guts to flop.

His TV show, Firing Line, was on the air for thirty-three years. He met his match with guest Noam Chomsky and purposely avoided him from thereon.

The writer Gore Vidal believed “[Buckley] was a very stupid guy, who never read any of those books he referred to, and Americans, being such hicks, thought he was a great nobleman and a real gentleman.”
Bardot. Buckley. Let's get it on.

He wrote a series of spy novels.

Buckley wasn’t really an intellectual, academic, capitalist or provocateur. He was an entertainer/entrepreneur. He once said it was a tough way to make a buck.

Someone with his learning, brains, and vocabulary wouldn’t last thirty minutes on today’s airwaves.

His career? ...Commenting on his convictions.

Love him or leave him, William Buckley had a very rare talent for a TV host. He made people... think.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Jean de Breiteuil: The Jet-Setting Angel of Death

“Jean wаѕ a horrible guy, ѕоmеоnе who had crawled out from under a stone. Sоmеhоw I ended uр with him…it wаѕ аll аbоut drugs аnd sex.” – Marianne Faithful

“The devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape.” - Shakespeare

Jean de Breiteuil. As a drug dealer/addict, he was in the right business. He just wasn’t good at it. Jim Morrison. Jimi Hendrix. Brian Jones. Janis Joplin. Talitha Getty. Pam Courson. Keith Richards. All clients, all dead – except for Keith Richards – for as we all know, what doesn’t destroy Keith only makes him
Jean de Breiteuil: Jet-setting

Maybe along the way, Jean’s self-loathing somehow metastasized into homicidal fantasies. Likely he didn’t care. Perhaps his spirit was cast at Altamont. He himself overdosed at the age of twenty-two. 1972.

Devil assumes a pleasing shape

The devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape.One could argue that taking out Morrison and Joplin changed the course of rock music, however subtlety. His involvement with Hendrix and Jones was more tangential.
His family owned French-language newspapers in North Africa. On the death of his father, he inherited the title of 'Count de Breteuil'. A debauched aristocrat if ever there was. Became a Eurotrash, drug-addled playboy. A rock n’ roll celebrity  drug enabler.

A few of his customers
What to make of it? ‘Heroin Dealer to the Stars’ isn’t a typical career choice. Who knows his passions. But when so many of your customers become young corpses, one may question a professional aptitude.

Jean de Breiteuil. The soundtrack of his life should include The Pusher, People Are Strange, and for this jet-setting junkie, Hank Williams’ Angel of Death. “The Angel of Death/ Will come from the sky/ And claim up your soul/ When the time comes to die.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Keith Moon: Little Drummer Boy as Charlie Chaplin

‘...that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
with gravity
to start her death-defying leap
And he
a little charleychaplin man
who may or may not catch
her fair eternal form
spread-eagled in the empty air
of existence’
-          Lawrence Ferlinghetti 

If you look closely, the jester is always sad, even when setting the table on a roar. Maybe it’s the quizzical eyebrows, or the saucer eyes themselves that speak beyond the trashed hotels and Berserker pandemonium.

The eternal boy, the jeering Trickster.

In full flight
The laugh was spring-loaded and greased with alcohol and a sparkling menagerie of drugs. Somehow the pain was transmuted into his hands and feet and out across taught drum skins, right into radios of the nation. Nobody had ever heard anything like Keith Moon. They never would again. He was a one-off.

To estimate his importance to one of the most successful rock acts in history, look at what The Who accomplished after Moon’s vanishing act. Enough said.

Rarely does a drummer have such influence. If ever a man was born to an extremely specific profession – in this case a drummer for a world-famous rock band – it was Keith Moon. It’s not possible to envisage him selling shoes or anything else.

“I love to see people laugh, “he said, “and I love it more if I can make them laugh.”
He loved his work

The 24/7 performer. An Emmet Kelly sprinkling cymbals crashes like pixie dust across the swaying heads of a whole generation. “I’ve always enjoyed myself,” he stated. “Unhappy periods for me last about twenty minutes.” (Until the drugs kicked in).

The Little Drummer Boy as Charley Chaplin. He left us but remains – because he never drummed from his heart – it had an off-beat… He drummed from somewhere else, very private and alone.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Edie Sedgwick: Holly Golightly Becomes a Superstar

“Loneliness is such a sad affair
And I can hardly wait
Andy lights Edie
To sleep with you again”

-           - ‘Superstar’ (Leon Russell/ Bonnie Bramlett)

It’s been said that Andy Warhol attracted damaged people – those who drifted into his orbit had shredded their own spiritual gravity - and so there they floated, like silver clouds, through his warehouse, termed – for good reason – ‘The Factory’.

The Youthquaker
Edie Sedgwick came from a family in which the veins of lineage coursed with blue blood, and bank accounts sagged under bullion. That gave her entre but not character – and mascara, thinness, long legs and a wide smile could never make her more than a cultural oddity, never a star.

Ciao Edie
Try watching her in Poor Little Rich Girl. The silence is noisy with ennui, and the deep loneliness of privilege is captured like a breathless, beautiful moth.

On being told by a palm reader that she had a very short life line, Edie replied, “It's okay — I know.” (She managed to avoid The 27 Club by a year).

Maybe fatalism is just predestination with a bad attitude, but Edie, often said to be so fragile, got tough and danced over with lipstick in hand, holly-go-lightlying across a Manhattan skyline to say a final “Ciao”, becoming - that which she was once so flippantly promised and so strangely desired - a Superstar.

No heavy makeup. No need.
"Long ago and oh so far away
I fell in love with you before the second show
Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear
But you're not really here
It's just the radio"

        - Superstar

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Brian Wilson: Tin Pan Became Beach Sand

In the beginning...
Given the phosphoric nature of his creativity, it couldn’t last beyond the next riptide.

He had no John Paul George or Ringo for that matter. Not even a George Martin.

In the middle...
So he lived without irony, which is to live unprotected, and alone offered up lazy-daisy melodies, two-minute paens of teenage angst, deep from within dark studios and collapsed dungeons of an exhausted mind.

Somehow the California sky birthed those sounds, glazed in light beams and downy floss. Tin Pan became beach sand. And the warm blue Pacific curled down the coast and sailed him in a glass-bottom dream.

So it was that ironic and that irony shoved him from a wave’s crest and he fell like an Icarus into the arms of startled sea nymphs. Then Charles Manson came around for coffee. Bad vibrations. Flat harmony.

In the end...
He remains a frozen-faced sentinel, Buddha in exile, now resting on a piano stool, the center of attention, while dancers shimmy and shake to those long-ago melodies raised by a young man (a nod to Yeats) tossing on his bed, rhyming in love’s despair.

Brian never made it out, but his songs race with summer children, forever kicking the sunset waves at Malibu, cheering storm clouds, knowing you can only see real fun fun fun in the rear-view mirror, hanging off the cracked windshield of a Little GTO.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Owsley Stanley: The Acid King, The Blood Bedazzler

A typical LSD-related scenario
He was there, you just couldn’t see him. They felt him in their heads, behind their eyes, how you saw the face of God on a grapefruit, the way her hair became a whirling rainbow as you ran together on MountTamalpais...

Owsley Stanley (born Augustus Owsley Stanley III) was a magician of sorts, part alchemist, an enabler, proffering the keys to the Kingdom of Psychedelia.

Sometime around 1965, within the walls of his own San Franciscan lab, he began producing LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide). It didn’t take long for Owsley Acid to be extolled as the gold standard among the West Coast counter culture

Pals: Owsley and Jerry
He wasn’t a one-hit wonder. In fact, Owsley supported brand extension, developing hallucinogens with names like STP, White Lightning, Monterey Purple and Blue Cheer.

It is estimated that he produced one-million doses of LSD between 1965 and 1967.

He became a sound engineer with the Grateful Dead and, likely, their embedded pharmacist.
The Acid King in His Prime

His lab was raided and he spent a few years in jail. Then it was off to Australia to avoid the coming Ice Age – which he did by dying in a car accident.

A Merlin figure, watching the newly crowned Kings and Queens dance the Fug at the Court of Fillmore West, bedazzling their blood with cosmic karma.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Pauline Boty: Blonde on Blonde

“'Friendly, glowing, bronzed, curious, eager, impulsive: the world was all before her, and she knew it” – Margaret Drabble

Boty in motion
She looked the part. Resembled Brigitte Bardot.  A beauty. Was in the film Alfie. Flew above the great unwashed through an exertion of willpower and talent.

Pauline Boty brought Bob Dylan to England. Picked him up at Heathrow and he crashed at her pad.(That alone should get you into Wikipedia).

She looked the part. The mother lode.
Painted Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Did collages of magazine cut-ups. Was in a Ken Russell film. Acted on the stage.

Died young so that her unborn baby would live. A dyed-blond hero.

Forgotten, hibernating, then rediscovered.

The Only Blonde in the World. 1963
A cranked-up combustion furnace of 60s pop culture who could do the Mashed Potato 'til dawn and have enough left over to mix the paint. The pure strain. The Mother Lode.

And for a brief, brush stroke of time, she really was the Only Blonde in the World.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Bob Dylan: The Bard of Branding

“Bob is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception.”

-         -  Joni Mitchell

Bob...before he became 'Dylan', man
The irony was apparent to those who chose to see the rickety, stove-piped legs that supported the façade. Here was a middle-class mid-western Baby Boomer folky transmuting Woody Guthrie Depression-era socialism into 1960s societal angst. Anti-government. Anti-corporation. Anti-status quo.

However, few entertainers ever had such an intuitive gasp of personal branding as Bob Dylan. In this pursuit, he is a genius. The untamed hair, the defiantly off-key singing, the poison pen lyrics, the confrontational attitude, the up-all-night pallor – Dylan created a powerful, pliable persona that was as original as Old Glory itself, and just as American.

He made it ok for teenagers to be thoughtful, intellectual, and skeptical. Goodbye Frankie and Annette, hello Mr. Jones and our Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.
Pre-lingerie commercial

When he tried to shift his brand - he lost exposure. Finally, he stopped trying. If he couldn’t grow outward, then inward it would be. The angry teen became a millionaire hobo, the squatter’s camp fire now a cluster of stage lights, the rail car a stretch limo with women he would immortalize and forget.

He did a lingerie commercial as it would strengthen, with back-handed condescension, his personal brand. He was right.

We never knew Bob because Bob  didn't exist. The most talented poseur of them all – laconic, jaded, detached, trailing in the wake of his own myth with no direction home, like a rolling stone.
The Bard of Branding

In the end a beautiful trickster, the Tambourine Man, one who sang the spell as a generation danced around him thrice and drank the milk of paradise.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Richard Burton: The Voice cleaved from a coal face

Buffalo Bill’s
Chronicles of wasted time
he was a handsome man
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death
-              - e.e. cummings

“I was merely the medium through which the words went.”Richard Burton

Listen Yorick: The love, beauty, fame. and death
The Voice was cleaved from a coal face deep beneath Welsh meadows always rich as the grass is green. It was born to be heard, that played language as an errant storm god racing the wind in pursuit of love, beauty, fame and death.

Richard Burton
The Voice....the voice
Absolve him of the drinking, the carousing, the nightclubs, the women, the reckless embrace of a mythic gift, and listen just as Shakespeare completes Hamlet’s soliloquy and hands the paper, still wet with ink, to Burton, to the one who can force the green fuse of life up through the roiling blood of his lungs and out into the world forever breathing.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Marcello Mastroianni and energetic ennui

"In the name of the Father, the Son..."
In his best roles, Marcello Mastroianni offered us a unique kind of detachment, call it energetic ennui. It's a tricky combination, light but brooding, gothic but with an appetite for fresh pasta.

An acceptance in the eyes
He was an actor unafraid of emotional extremes. Indeed, in La Dolce Vita, he is slapped about by existential ghosts, neutered in his quest for meaning, never knowing where to even begin the search. He plays a writer named Marcello (ah Fellini and his scattershot against the fourth wall) who must choose between evil (journalism) and good (fiction). The fact that this film gave us the term ‘paparazzi’ is a rather powerful clue of Fellini’s mind.

A unique kind of detachment
Marcello’s erotic baptism in the Trevi Fountain, with high priestess Anita Ekberg, is iconic, speaking a truth we are sadly too sophisticated to believe.

There was a resigned acceptance in his eyes that blessed humanity on its own terms, forever rendering him an ineffective villain. A love of life, and a playful, droll, gentle frolic with death. A leader who only wanted to follow. A passionate man who couldn’t stay mad. A devoted lover who left at dawn.

When he died the Trevi Fountain was turned off and draped in black. That says something. A baptismal font rarely offers an exit. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Jean Seberg and what's hidden in her face

“On every subsequent anniversary of her daughter Nina's death, Jean Seberg attempted suicide. In 1978, she somehow survived an attempt, throwing herself under a train on the Paris Metro.” – imdb

The eyes belonged to somebody else
The face was wholesome and healthy and feminine, the haircut boyish. Maybe that's what pulled you in. This seductive contrast. Not for her an Audrey Hepburn-type gamin. She didn’t eat breakfast, let alone at Tiffany’s. You sensed something darker, less playful than she herself suggested. 

There was intelligence in the eyes yet they often seemed distracted, in dispute with the face. The two were inharmonious. But that was her odd appeal. At those moments she has you.

To play Saint Joan, it helps to have resolve. And ambiguity. She set the tone for female roles in the la nouvelle vague. They are slim and smart and quote Camus and know all the answers but can’t tolerate questions.

All that's hidden behind her face
If she'd had a cinematic soul mate, it might have been Greta Garbo, emanating the inexplicable cool that comes from those who overheat. Too clever for their own good. (Small wonder she worshipped Brando). But Garbo knew to cut out before the Big Fear set in. And Marlon grew corpulent with rage. Jean Seberg never made it.

“It's sad to fall asleep. It separates people. Even when you're sleeping together, you're all alone.” She spoke that line in À bout de souffle, her most famous role, with such benign conviction that you sense she'd already made a final decision about life, though it was to be hidden behind her strange eyes and in her beautiful face, right to the end

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ted Kennedy Part II: Pale, Slim Hands

A Political Par-tee!
He was called the last and the least, an attitude firmly grounded on the morbid deification of his brothers. Perhaps it’s hard to appraise his value. Few people have had to perform publicly with as many ghosts as Ted Kennedy.

Ted never really escaped
The White House was his, until he abandoned a young girl to drown in his overturned, submerged car.  And then OJ'd his way out of it. After that, the only thing they would trust him with was an incumbent-for-life senatorial position. Massachusetts loved him.  Everyone felt so lousy about his murdered brothers, what else could you do?

Surprisingly, he performed well – which is either a testament to Kennedy’s innate political savoir faire, or evidence of what kind of job it really is.

O them ghosts
Ted had a hard-earned reputation for womanizing and boozing – not exactly a career-killer, but one that keeps you off Pennsylvania Avenue. It was impossible to tell whether he cared, or was just going through the motions ... Something, unprincipled and painful, kept pushing him on.

He had everything and, in a way, very little, choke-collared by historical expectations, and perhaps, when alone, subject to late-night Deliverance-type  nightmares of slim, pale hands rising from the deep.

‘In our sleep, pain that cannot forget' - Aeschylus