CHUCK BERRY 1979: OUR FATHER WHO ART IN PRISON

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In 1979 when Chuck Berry, one of the founding fathers of rock & roll, was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to four months in prison in Lompoc, California, I was moved—provoked, actually—to write a song about him. My mission was twofold: a) to pay tribute to his indelible influence on music in general and mine in particular, and b) to protest what I, perhaps naively, perceived as an injustice. Not knowing the full scope of the case against him, I nevertheless concluded that someone–possibly chromatically motivated–was out to make an example of him. That was in no way excusing or defending the illegal actions to which he pleaded guilty.

“This tax thing that I was in was no bum rap,” he admitted in a 1983 Goldmine interview. “It was straight, true…”

However, as deep in the heart of taxes as the charges might have been, many others who similarly broke the law both before and after him, and often for a lot more than the $200,000 he denied Uncle Sam, were given the chance to pay their debts along with hefty penalties/fines/interest without serving any time. Years later, Willie Nelson, for instance, ran afoul of the law to the sour tune of more than $16,000,000 (that’s 80 times more than what Berry owed), yet he never spent a day behind bars. Crazy indeed. In addition, Berry received a run-on sentence of 1000 hours of community service. Whereas Nelson was On the Road Again, Berry had No Particular Place to Go. At least for four months.

 

The song I came up with, “Free Chuck Berry,” was purposely structured like one of his trademark tunes: a three-chorder featuring machine-gunned lyrics mixing humor with an issue, all propelled by guitar licks plucked straight from the Berry vine. A Chuck Berry song about Chuck Berry. It was a very crude home recording, but to my knowledge, no one–other than Elephant’s Memory with their “Chuck ‘n’ Bo,” which had gone largely unnoticed despite John Lennon’s production”–had written such an homage to the legend, let alone a plea for leniency, and I naturally hoped he would be amused by it.

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free chuck berry-

Unfortunately, red tape and Fed tape came between my tape and Chuck Berry. Prison officials sent my recording and letter, unopened, back to me marked “Unauthorized–Return to Sender.” The Sender was not happy.

After three calls to the joint and a round of pass-the-Chuck, I spoke to Berry’s cell-block leader and was informed that inmates, including the famous jailhouse rocker in question, were not permitted to receive any such packages containing bulk items. I guess it’s understandable; you never know what a convicted criminal might do with a cassette tape. And, admittedly, I did hope it would be considered a killer song.

“‘C’est la vie,’ say the old folks, which goes to show you never can tell”

(To hear the song, copy and paste): https://soundcloud.com/jim-george-101/free-chuck-berry-c-jim-george

(Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jim George and byjimgeorge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)

A Poem From JIM SHORTS

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     THE BRUCKO BROTHERS

The Brucko Brothers,
Buster and Buck,
Cut a fine figure
Despite their ill luck.
“My boys are all legs!”
Their mother exclaimed.
“But we’re fast as the wind!”
They said, unashamed.
“We bear no arms,
“No malice, no grudge.
“We never take handouts,
“And we make a mean fudge.
“We never need French cuffs
“Or mittens or gloves.
“We‘re experts at footsie,
“Just ask our true loves!”

© 2016 Jim George

For more information about Jim Shorts, please read:

JIM SHORTS – my first book

JIM BY GEORGE (A Self-Interview On Jim Shorts)

(Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jim George and byjimgeorge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)

 

A LOOKING-GLASSFUL OF LEWIS CARROLL

lewis-carroll

Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies

Those lyrics from The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” a song directly inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, partially conjure up the scene which provided the genesis and revelation of what has become The Bible of so-called nonsense literature, a work which more than a century and a half later still influences prose, poetry, art, music and film.

There were no tangerine trees on the English shores on July 4, 1862 when Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, his friend Robinson Duckworth, and the three little Liddell girls—Alice, Edith and Lorina—went for a boat ride.

And whether the sky was marmaladen with clouds is debatable (the author described it as a “cloudless day,” but meteorological records indicate that it rained on the date in question).

Whatever the reality, on that tranquil “golden afternoon,” as Dodgson termed it, he ad-libbed a wondrously nonsensical tale of a girl named Alice who fell down a rabbit-hole. At the non-fictional Alice’s behest, Dodgson was obliged to recollect the story and commit it to manuscript so that she could make the return trip over and over again with her namesake.

Although the final version wouldn’t materialize until some three years later, it was on that fateful July day that Dodgson, tuned into the gods and inspired by the presence of his friends, planted the seed of the story which would give him an immortality he never dreamed of.

Its first incarnation was Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, which he illustrated himself. Later, he added more material and new characters (The Cheshire Cat, The Mad Hatter), commissioned artist John Tenniel to do a new set of drawings, rejected the earlier title for sounding “too like a lesson book about mines,” and the fairy tale became the celebrated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865.

“In writing it out,” explained Lewis Carroll, Dodgson’s author alias, “I added many fresh ideas which seemed to grow of themselves upon the original stock; and many more added themselves when, years afterward, I wrote it all over again for publication; but…every such idea, and nearly every word of the dialogue, came of itself.”

Carroll cast himself and the other boaters in his magical tale. The Duck was an animalization of his pal Duckworth; The Dodo, Dodgson himself—in a self-deprecating jab at his own lifelong stammer (Do-Do-Dodgson) which, interestingly, vanished in the company of children; The Lory and The Eaglet, Lorina and Edith respectively; and, of course, Alice was Alice. In name and inspiration only, however.

“…Alice Liddell is not the character in the books,” wrote Jean Gattegno in Fragments of a Looking-Glass. “At most we can say that some kind of current passed through Alice Liddell and brought to life a picture waiting to become animated.”

Choosing one of four pen-names the author submitted to him, Edmund Yates (editor of Comic Times and The Train, a pair of publications for which Carroll wrote on occasion) christened Dodgson, Lewis Carroll. He might just as easily have been Edgar Cuthwellis, Edgar U.C. Westhill or Louis Carroll, the other names under consideration.

Both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its equally enchanting sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (1871), incorporated unfinished bits and piecemeal ideas Carroll had written years earlier. The first verse of the poem “Jabberwocky”—which Derek Hudson called “the ‘Kubla Khan’ of nonsense”—from Through the Looking-Glass is one such example.

Like Edward Lear, Carroll often invented his own language, and both authors’ words’ worth was primarily in their sound and meter. However, while Lear’s creations were purely nonsensical nonsense, if you will (or even if you won’t), Carroll frequently had a method to his mangling:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogroves
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Unlike other welders of words, e.g, James Joyce—who let it up to his readers to fathom the meaning of his newfound language—Carroll bothered to relate, right there in his book, via the mouth of the on-and-off-the-wall Humpty Dumpty, how and why he put a little english on his English.

“I can explain all of the poems that were ever invented—and a good many that haven’t been invented just yet,” proclaims the famous Eggman to Alice.

“Slithy” is a fusing of “slime” and “lithe,” “gimble” is to “make holes like a gimlet,” “Mimsy” is a compound of “miserable” and “flimsy,” “mome” is a contraction of “from home,” as “wabe” is of “way before” and “way behind.”

Similarly, “chortle,” from elsewhere down the lines of “Jabberwocky,” is a blend of “chuckle” and “snort,” and it is but one example of Carroll-coined words that have become assimilated into our everyday language, as any dictionary will attest.

Wrote Gattegno, “…While continually stressing the difference between the meaning intended and the meaning understood, and showing how words are empty forms that one can play about with and not worry about the ‘sense’ one may arrive at, he also makes the word the basic unit around which the whole universe of significance comes into being. Words, which he does his best to destroy (with puns, plays on words, word games, etc.), also take on a certain almost magical value as objects of supreme enjoyment.”

Alice in Wonderland broke new ground,” wrote Derek Hudson in Carroll, “because it was in no sense a goody-goody book but handled childhood freshly and without sententiousness.

“The nearest parallel to the humorous method of Lewis Carroll is probably that of The Marx Brothers, whose dialogue not only has many verbal similarities with his, but who also, like him, assert one grand false proposition at the outset and so persuade their audiences to accept anything as possible…Both have been based largely on a play with words, mixed with judicious slapstick, and set within the framework of an idiosyncratic view of the human situation; their purpose is entertainment. Lewis Carroll has one transcendent advantage—with his limpid prose, he paints the color of poetry.”

And Carroll was, after all, above all, a poet. Continued Hudson, “He was, indeed, perhaps the most poetic when he wrote in prose, and we must think of the Alice books, with their harmonious and unforced blending of prose and verse, as being primarily a poetic achievement.”

Despite his fame and good fortune, Charles Dodgson struggled to keep his pseudonymous alter ego a separate entity. Dodgson was a mathematician, a logician, and a don at Christ Church at Oxford, England; Lewis Carroll existed only when tucked under the covers of his dreamlike books.

“I cannot, of course,” stated Dodgson/Carroll, “help there being many people who know the connection between my real name and my ‘alias,’ but the fewer there are who are able to connect my face with the name ‘Lewis Carroll,’ the happier for me.”

Such sentiments were not merely aw-shucks idol chatter from a humble soul; besides publishing a leaflet in which he “neither claims nor acknowledges any connection with any pseudonym, or with any book that is not published under (his) own name,” he returned to senders all letters addressed to “Lewis Carroll.”

In Lewis Carroll and His World, John Pudney wrote, “Lewis Carroll has been described as the best photographer of children in the 19th century…Children were of course the inspiration for his most creative work, both in literary and photographic terms…(He had a) penchant for the company of pre-pubescent girls and situations which would now trendily be associated with a Lolita syndrome.”

Not a book has been written about Carroll, it seems, which hasn’t in some measure touched on (no pun intended—for a change) those young girls, who seemed to be the joy of Carroll’s life. Alice was neither the first nor the last.

Speculation and Freudian interpretations aside, what we do know as fact is A) He loved to spend time with females aged anywhere from, say, four to puberty (though in later years, he seemed equally delighted by older young women—up to 17 or thereabouts); and B) He loved to photograph them–with their parents’ permission–in the nude.

“In the last three decades of Victoria’s reign,” wrote Pudney, photographs of children in the nude, and voluptuously fleshy paintings of naked adults, were not only acceptable but fashionable. Carroll’s portraits sans habillement were neither a novelty nor necessarily an outrage.”

Much ado about nothing on? His photo-graphic hobby and/or his attachment to his subjects reportedly incurred mom wrath on more than one occasion, but while there has been no incriminating evidence against the man, the debate as to his true nature and motivations goes on.

Though violence creeps into the Alice books (“Off with their heads!”) Carroll was a gentle man who despised the degradation of women and was vehemently anti-vivisection and anti-hunting for sport with its happiness-is-a-warm-gun mentality. In a pamphlet he once wrote, he predicted a future “when the man of science, looking forth over a world which will then own no other sway than his, shall exult in the thought that he has made of this fair green earth, if not a heaven for man, at least a hell for animals.”

On the flip side, Carroll was said to be extremely class-conscious and decidedly self-centered, somewhat of a prima don. As Pudney stated, “He just never did anything much that he did not want to do or felt that duty called upon him to do.”

Carroll’s other literary works, which include “The Hunting of the Snark,” “A Tangled Tale,” “Sylvie and Bruno,” “Sylvie and Bruno Concluded” and “Phantasmagoria,” showcased his genius in varying degrees, though none of them eclipsed or matched the pair of Alice books.

Virgina Woolf wrote of Carroll, “(Childhood) lodged in him whole and entire…He could do what no one else has ever been able to do—he could return to that world: he could recreate it, so that we too become children again…The two Alices are not books for children, they are the only books in which we become children…”

Lewis Carroll was, in the best sense, kidding us.

(Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jim George and byjimgeorge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)

GOING ROUND WITH THE SMALL FACES

smallfaces.PNG“God knows how it worked, but it did, and I’m very proud of it, and the other Small Faces are, too. It was worth the year’s work…It’s timeless to me.”
–Steve Marriott, Trouser Press, 1981

The Round One. That’s how the Small Faces’ 1968 LP, Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, is sometimes referred to—providing it’s referred to at all.

The Round One? But aren’t all records round? Actually, plenty of records are square, but that’s another story. Getting back to the disc at hand (or in hand if you’re lucky enough to have an original copy in your possession), just as The Beatles’ White Album was so nicknamed for its distinctive cover, such was the case with this LP.

Released on the now-defunct and then-eclectic hot-pink Immediate label, co-owned by ex-Stones boss Andrew “Loog” Oldham (with the accent on ham), Ogdens’ inner tunes came shipped in a circular cover designed to simulate, in 2-D, a tobacco (wink wink) tin.

Unfortunately, although the album and its offsprung singles were hits everywhere else on the globe—topping the charts in their native England—the shape of the cover generated more attention back in the US than the shape of the music.

“While lacking the awesome stature of a Sgt. Pepper or a Pet Sounds, Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake is nevertheless a rock classic,” wrote Steve Clarke eight years after its release.

Another journalistic retrospectator, Richard Cromelin, opined, “Ogdens’ was the classic fulfillment of all the bands’s musical strains…Though packed to the brim with studio effects, minute overdubs and busy background din, its coherence and economy offset the tendency toward overproduction.”

Studded with no less than four musical jewels (“Afterglow,” “Rene,” “Song of a Baker,” “Lazy Sunday”), side one glistens with a refreshingly original blend of English music hall influences, psychedelia, R&B, rock & roll and pub sing-alongs.

“The Small Faces understood that power and fullness weren’t a product of sheer volume,” wrote Cromelin, “but of judicious arrangement and placement, as best exemplified in ‘Afterglow,’ which can attain monumental proportions and project an exciting ‘live’ atmosphere even when the volume knob is turned down low.”

Following the opening instrumental title track, replete with swirling phasing a la “Itchycoo Park”–Small Phasing—comes “Afterglow,” one of the ‘60s best singles. An unsilly love song, it is fueled by Marriott’s incomparable, impassioned vocal, alternately tender and frenetic, and beautifully colored by Ian McLagan’s soulful Hammond B-3 and insistent piano, Kenney Jones’ impressively dynamic skin-work and Ronnie Lane’s economical yet underrated bass lines (the bass by Lane stays mainly in the plain).

Ogdens’ unleashed a new aspect of The Small Faces’ melodus operandi: high-spirited humor. Side one’s nods to their jolly joie de vivre are the infectious “Rene (The Docker’s Delight)” and “Lazy Sunday,” the latter a jaunty tune sprinkled with the sounds of bells, whistles, birds, the ocean, a duo of paper-and-combers humming out a shaky Stones “Satisfaction” riff, and a comic Cockney vocal delivery by Marriott.

Wooden it be noyce to gat on wiv me nye-bas
They mike very clee-uh thy’ve gawt no room for rye-vas

Slotted midway between “Afterglow” and “Lazy Sunday” is “Rene,” a ribald classic spiced with lusty British humor, rich lyric imagery and English music-hallmarkings. The verses are a steal—they creep along Pink Panther-like, conjuring up salty visions of waterfront barflies on the prowl, while the choruses robustly sing out:

She’s Rene, the Docker’s Delight
And a ship’s in every night
Groping with a stoker from the coast of Kuala Lumpur

The elongated end of the song is somewhat reminiscent of the “Lovely Rita” climax on Sgt. Pepper. From a meter maid to a made meeter.

“Song of a Baker” is a mini-master-class in dynamics and pacing. Lane sings lead with Marriott high atop in harmony in the choruses. The killer guitar solo proves that Marriott was always an underrated axe-man, even when he was Facing the music in the ‘60s.

 Flipping the disc, The Small Faces went from apex to zenith.

“Are you all sitty comftybode two-square on your body? Then I’ll begin. Now of course, like all real-life experienstory, this also begins once apolly tie-toe…”

So begins side two, a thematic musical first. Narrated by English double-talk artiste Stanley Unwin, the story of Happiness Stan was the first (and possibly only) rock fairy tale, predating S.F. SorrowTommy or any of the so-called rock operas.

In a Trouser Press interview, Marriott recalled, “Me and Ronnie used to get very stoned and sit around the garden in the evenings, playing. We started talking about doing something about the idiot who wanted to find out where (the other half of) the moon went—a Cockney fairy story. It went from there…It made us laugh—anything that made us laugh, we liked.”

Quick of tongue and fractured of grammar, Unwin spins the delightful aslope fable which is interspersed with six numbers. Even more spectral in its musical stylings than side one, the A-grade B-side is a virtual surprise partita.

The Elizabethan-flavored “Happiness Stan,” with its harpsichord and chant-like background chorus, is followed by “Rollin’ Over,” in which the Faces are rock & rollin’ over with Marriott’s powerful double-tracked singing, a punctuative brass section and McLagan telegraphing the ebonies-and-ivories like some pint-sized Jerry Lee Lewis.

“The Hungry Intruder” is aurally woven into a tapestry of acoustic guitars, strings and flute, while “The Journey” kicks off like a Booker T and the MG’s workout—a hot cop of T.

Right down to its choral hi-diddly-hi-hi’s, “Mad John” is a beautiful evocation of an Old English folk song. Against the heavy-hearted strumming of his melancholy acoustic guitar, Marriott plaintively sings:

There was an old man that lived in the green wood
Nobody knew him or what he had done
But mothers would say to their children, “Beware of Mad John”
John would sing with the birds in the morning
Laugh with the wind in the cold hand of night
But people from behind their curtains said he’s not quite right

The tale tails off with the revelrous finale, “Happydaystoytown” with its infectious sing-along chorus and breakfast cereal philosophy:

Life is just a bowl of All-Bran
You wake up every morning and it’s there
So live as only you can
It’s all about enjoy it ‘cause ever since you saw it
There ain’t no one can take it away

When Happiness Stan is informed as to the moon’s whereabouts by the not-so-mad John, he simply says, “Of course, I nearly forgot it!”

Upon this revelation, he is joined, we are told, by a cast of characters including such nursery rhyme all-stars as Jack and Jill and Little Boy Blue, who “brought his mellotron amd freaked everyone out.”

“Stay cool, won’t you,” are the gnarly narrator’s parting words, and the band plays on, fading into the sunset—or, in this case, the moonglow.

Said Marriott, “I couldn’t see how we could follow Ogdens’…I thought, well if there’s a time to leave, it must be now…Whatever you read in print, it was in fact a case of Marriott was scared.”

America really missed the beat on this one. The Round One.

 

(Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jim George and byjimgeorge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)

REMEMBERING BRIAN JONES

1461011_261086927373100_1851635255_n(This profile of Brian Jones, with a few alterations, was written by me in 1981 on the 12th anniversary of his untimely death.)

Peace, peace!
He is not dead, he doth not sleep—
He hath awakened from the dream of life—
–“Adonais,” Percy Shelley

That is an excerpt from an excerpt of Shelley’s poem which was read by Mick Jagger as a tribute to Brian Jones at a free Rolling Stones concert in London’s Hyde Park in July 1969. Following his recital to the hushed, mourning afternoon audience, Jagger unleashed 3,500 butterflies to flutter by and zigzag in helter-skelter grace over the quarter-million Hyde Parkers.

“You can’t come down from being a Rolling Stone,” wrote Greil Marcus. “No way down, and one way out.”

That one way, of course, was–Shelley’s words, notwithstanding–The Big Sleep. Brian Jones, 27, drowned in his swimming pool 12 years ago this month. Booze, drugs, asthma, failing health, a midnight dip, nefarious guests: all elements of a who-or-what-dunnit. Who knows what really happened? The coroner’s verdict was “death by misadventure.” A perversely fitting toe-tag to a life peppered with misadventure.

Deservedly called the soul of The Rolling Stones, founder and original member Jones either officially quit the band or unofficially was booted out–The Stones were uncharacteristically diplomatic in discussing his exit–shortly before his tragic, moonlit check-out.

“The Stones’ music is not to my taste anymore,” Jones said in a press(ing) release. “I want to play my own kind of music. We had a friendly meeting and agreed that an amicable termination was the only answer.”

Reportedly Jones had become an albatross to The Stones. The others were anxious to tour again, after a two-year layoff, but Jones’ stage legs were far too shaky, as it were. Physically, mentally and legally (drug arrests had left him visa-less), he was in no condition to hit the road.

“When I first met Brian,” Keith Richards told Rolling Stone in 1971, “he was like a little Welsh bull. He was tough, but one thing and another, as he went along, he got more and more fragile and delicate. His personality and physically. I think all that touring did a lot to break him.”

Wrote Greil Marcus,“Jones was perhaps more of a Rolling Stone than any of the others. What the Stones as a group sang about, what Jagger and Richards wrote about, Jones did, and he did it right out in public, and he got caught, and he looked the part.

“Paternity suits even in the early days, dope busts, pink suits, chartreuse suits, the bell of yellow hair and the impish grin, even the red and yellow stripes he wore that made Jagger look like he was wearing Salvation Army leftovers—that was Brian Jones. A true rake. He wasn’t acting out The Stones’ music, he just happened to be The Stones’ music.”

Rolling Stone wrote of Jones, “With his fair, pouting face topped by a full bowl of flaxen blond hair, he was invariably placed in front of the others for group photos. (Look at the covers of Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass), Aftermath, Out of Our Heads and December’s Children.) He was the most hairy, the most dapper, and the most versatile with musical instruments.”

The dulcimer on “Lady Jane,” marimba on “Under My Thumb,” recorder on “Ruby Tuesday,” sitar on “Paint It Black” and “Street Fighting Man,” mellotron on Satanic Majesties’, and a guest-shot blowing sax on The Beatles’ “You Know My Name, Look Up the Number” were all courtesy of Brian Jones.

“Brian’s incredible,” said producer Glyn Johns in ’68. “He seems to be able to play anything he picks up…I don’t care what it is, give him five minutes with it and he’ll play it.”

Onstage, the main axe handled by Jones was guitar, but he was an underrated harmonica player as well. Many of the Stones’ early tracks howled with his slide guitar and harp.

“You know, there’s something really escapes people now, and I miss it when I hear Mick Jagger play the harmonica,” commented Pete Townshend in ’70, “and that’s Brian Jones’ harmonica playing. Brian really was a good harmonica player. He was into quite a lot of ethnic stuff.”

If Jones ever chipped in ideas for Stones’ compositions, he was never credited. Outside the band’s Jagger-Richards songwriting monopoly, Jones did compose, arrange and produce the music for Mord und Totschlag (the English title was A Degree of Murder), Germany’s entry into the 1967 Cannes Film Festival. But even if he had no involvement in the Stones’ songwriting per se, it’s clear when you compare post-Jones Stones to the earlier era that his contributions to arrangement were an integral part of what made those records the gems they were and still are. At the very least, he colored the music beautifully and offered it a variety and richness that slowly began to vanish once he did.

In the mid-‘60s, The Rolling Stones were the enfants terrible, the premier punks of rock & rolldom. Under the tutelage of Andrew “Loog” Oldham, they cultivated a scruffy, bad-boy public image (only to become, ironically, in the ‘70s, the jet-set’s pets, clinking cocktail glasses with the likes of Lee Radziwill and Truman Capote). Not surprisingly, the press took them on at every chance.

The difference in character between Keith Richards and Brian Jones is summed up in their reactions, circa ’65, to their detractors. While certainly having no sympathy for the devils who hounded The Stones in print, Richards could at least quip, “I don’t care what they write about us as long as they write about us.”

But his bandmate, Jonesing for respect, spit out, “These ruddy reporters don’t seem to want to take us seriously. Well, that’s OK. We’ll make them eat their lousy words one day.”

A series of calculated dope busts helped “19th Nervous Breakdown” become a reality for Jones as he began to suffer from a severe moxie-deficiency. As Richards put it, “They really went for him like when hound dogs smell blood: ‘There’s one that’ll break if we keep on.’ And they busted him and busted him–like they did to Lenny Bruce, the same tactics, break him down. That cat got so paranoid at the end.”

Jagger, in a ’74 interview added, “As far as Brian was concerned, it wasn’t only that, there must have been other contributing factors, but it finished him off—there’s no doubt about that.”

Which proves you can get blood from a Stone.

“Brian was desperate for attention,” continued Jagger. “He wanted to be admired and loved and all that…which he was by a lot of people, but it wasn’t enough for him.”

After Jones’ death, George Harrison and John Lennon, both friends from the early days, were asked to comment on the man. Harrison recalled, “I got to know Brian very well, I think, and I felt very close to him. You know how it is with some people, you feel for them, feel near to them…I don’t think he had any love or understanding. He was very nice and sincere and sensitive.”

John Lennon said, “Well, Brian was different over the years as he disintegrated. He ended up the kind of guy that you dread he’d come on the phone, you know, because you knew it was trouble. He was really in a lot of pain. But in the early days he was all right, because he was young and confident…He wasn’t sort of brilliant or anything, he was just a nice guy.”

Brian Jones unwittingly wrote his own epitaph. At his funeral, quoting from a telegram Jones had written to his parents following one of his drug arrests, the priest reportedly read his main-line plea: “Please don’t judge me too harshly.”

The harshest judgment by history would be to forget him and the undeniable impact he had on one of rock’s greatest bands. As his stalwart fans insist, “No Jones, no Stones.”

(Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jim George and byjimgeorge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)

THE LAST SITTING (& LUST SETTING) OF MARILYN MONROE

 

marilyn-keyhole
Photo by Bert Stern/Illustration by Jim George

(In all my years of freelance writing, I only ever had one article rejected, and that was because it was deemed too “suggestive.” It was a review of a book entitled The Last Sitting by Bert Stern which featured some of the last photos taken of Marilyn Monroe and the photographer-author’s personal account of the experience. Having reviewed it for my hometown newspaper, The Reading Eagle, in late 1982, I was fortunate enough to have a very progressive editor in Al Walentis, but he still had to answer to the powers-that-were. One of those powers—let’s call him Donald Dim—vetoed the piece after reading only the first paragraph. He then took a Dim view of every word thereafter in which he could infer something salacious—even objecting to the innocent phrase “makes no bones about it.” While I’m no stranger to double entendre, in the context of the review, wouldn’t “makes no bones” mean the very opposite of what he was accusing the phrase of connoting? My illustration, a keyhole-view of Marilyn, was also nixed. Interestingly, during the same period, the paper was happily accepting X-rated movie ads ($$$$), one of which included a small drawing of a bare-breasted woman (UU). To his credit, Al offered me the chance to edit out the offensive bits and rewrite the piece, but since I felt I did a good job of accurately capturing the tone of the book and the author’s state of mind, I declined, and so it never ran. Until now. For the record, my original title was “New Books Feature the Flesh and Flash of Marilyn Monroe”–plural, because I reviewed two others at the same time. At long last, here is the one which ruffled the Eagle’s feathers.)

Pussyfooting was never Bert Stern’s style. In The Last Sitting (William Morrow and Co. 192 pages), the photographer makes no bones—or bons mots–about his intentions circa 1962: “To get Marilyn Monroe in a room, with no one else around, and take all her clothes off.”

Much of his near-obsessive desire certainly could be attributed to artistic lust. Stern was unquestionably lens-horny to shoot Marilyn. Besides craving to snap that one immortal portrait, a picture the equivalent of Edward Steichen’s famous black-and-white of Garbo, Stern was dreaming of a white chrysalis—a glowing, pale, blonde beauty whose metamorphosis into her ultimate and definitive stage of au naturelism he could orchestrate and forever capture with his camera.

Should, however, MM’s accessibility extend beyond the realm of photography, should layout evolve into laydown, Stern was ready and welling.

The aesthetic side of Stern’s steamy fantasy was realized. In vogue with Vogue, he managed to get himself commissioned to shoot a fashion spread of the world’s most famous blonde for the publication—a coup he felt would be the magazenith of his career.

Whether by the intervention of a helpful hand of fate, his own shrewd manipulation of circumstances, or the utilization of the persuasive powers of Dom Perignon, Stern did indeed get his subject alone in a room, with no one else around. And while he shed light, she shed clothes.

Three highly charged sessions in the summer of ’62, some six weeks before Marilyn’s death, yielded the Steichen-caliber smiling black-and-white Stern aspired to as well as fashion shots of MM wrapped in rich furs and slipped into elegant black gowns, along with dozens of exquisite nudes.

Tame by today’s standards and practices, the nudes, in both color and black-and-white, are of two main groupings. In one, a topless Marilyn, shot through sheer silken scarves, is wearing a year-old scar (from gall bladder surgery) like a gash on a fresh peach. In the other set, a completely naked Marilyn is lying under, over and around cloud-white sheets on a bed. With stitches and without a stitch.

She is suspended in whiteness. Horizon is non-existent, as ground and background melt together in what Stern calls “a clear nowhere,” much like the dream sequence from Ingmar Bergman’s From the Life of the Marionettes.

Whether Marilyn is undressed or dressed to keel over observers, the photographs in The Last Sitting are superior. Made of Sterner stuff, as it were, the images spectacularly accomplish what their creator set out to do: “match his art of seeing to her mastery of the art of being seen.”

Stern’s desire to lay more than eyes on Marilyn, however, went unfulfilled. His knowledge of her was decidedly more corneal than carnal. But just barely, he claims. At the conclusion of the second marathon session, Marilyn was reportedly—cue up Glenn Miller–in the mood.

But Stern says something stopped him, and the seemingly imminent consummation was nipped in the bed. Stern backed off, Marilyn fell asleep. Gentlemen prefer blondes with all their faculties.

Some will undoubtedly find the very notion of such a prestigious artist as Stern deciding to nearly-kiss-and-tell tasteless. Granted, the luscious photos, not the reminiscences, are the essence of the book. But this is no mere tryst-and-shout exercise in sensationalism.

Stern rarely drools into these pages. His text has a distinct peeking-through-a-keyhole quality, but the voyeurism is more poetic than licentious. He always speaks of MM in exceedingly worshipful tones, even bucking those who chastised her notorious tardiness, stating, “I never understood that attitude. Goddesses don’t play by the rules.”

Since Annie Gottlieb is co-credited with the text, it is impossible to discern just how much of the straightforward yet lyrical tenor is her doing. Giving Stern the the benefit of the doting, however, there is in his strange brew of no-nonsense candidness and pulse-racing fantasizing an almost Tom Ewell-like (in The Seven-Year Itch) neurotic bent. More frank than funny, though, this stripe of insecurity humanizes what could have been, with clumsier treatment, general braggadocio.

The specifics of the experience cannot be substantiated, since only one of the victorious principals of the fateful, fruitful shooting is alive. But taken with a grain of salt—or saltpeter, as the case may be—Stern’s charged account is a fascinating adjunct to a portfolio of photographs every MM admirer will cherish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jim George and byjimgeorge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

BLONDE ON BLONDE WAS DYLAN’S GOLDEN HOUR

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(Note: This, with a few minor changes, is a piece I wrote back in 1983 for a series my hometown paper, The Reading Eagle, ran entitled “Album Classics.”)

“I’m the first person who’ll put it to you and the last person who’ll explain it to you.”
–Bob Dylan, 1978

It’s kind of a don’t ask/won’t tell situation. You don’t ask, he won’t tell. And for those who did ask, more often than not, Bob Dylan has elected not to tell. At least not too much.

A clue to his press behavior was crystallized in the following exchange between the erudite Jonathan Cott and the enigmatic Dylan in a ’78 Rolling Stone interview:

Cott: I guess there’s no point in asking a magician how he does his tricks.
Dylan: Exactly!

Elsewhere in their discussion, Dylan likened himself mediumistically to his mentor, Woody Guthrie, who said that he pulled songs out of the air.

“That meant,” said Dylan, “that they were already there and that he was tuned into them.”

Cott’s magician-parallel was a good one. Overall, Bob Dylan has been a musical magician–a singing sorcerer who has summoned up his own spirits, conjured songs out of the air, and transformed pieces of shiny black plastic into something indeed quite magical.

Like Blonde On Blonde.

“One of the most pleasing things about Blonde On Blonde,” wrote then-critic Jon Landau in a ’68 article for Crawdaddy magazine, “is that by shifting the focus from the impossible epics of earlier works to subjects which were closer to himself personally, Dylan was able to create a more powerful and lasting artistic tension than he ever was out of things like ‘With God On Our Side.’”

Blonde On Blonde was rock’s first double-album and the last album Dylan recorded before his breakneck pace of living climaxed with him literally breaking his neck in a motorcycle accident in July of ’66.

“At the time of my Blonde On Blonde album,” he later said, “I was going at a tremendous speed.” In life and, apparently, on his motorcycle, though he has never gone into much detail.

Dylanesque as it sounds, the album’s title was not a Zimmy (well, he did say we could call him that, didn’t he?) invention. As Dylan recollected—or failed to—in a ’69 Rolling Stone interview, “I don’t even recall exactly how it came up, but I do know it was all in good faith. It has to do with just the word. I don’t know who thought of that. I certainly didn’t.”

(While it may purely be coincidental, ever notice that the first letters acronymically spell BOB?)

Lyrically, musically, thematically and emotionally, Blonde On Blonde was a milestone in contemporary music. Dylan’s incomparable phrasing was played against the spare, soulful and eloquently simple (or simply eloquent) musical backing of Nashville Cat Charlie McCoy’s band, augmented by the likes of Al Kooper and Joe South.

Amusingly, the significance of the album’s kickoff, “Rainy Day Women Numbers 12 and 35,” wasn’t quite as high-minded as those who gleefully latched onto the catch-phrase “Everybody must get stoned.” Of course, the double-entendre is there. But if one listens to the verses of this Salvation Army-gone-awry number, clearly the song’s operative word “stoned” refers not to a euphoric condition, but rather to the act of being knocked, kicked, harassed, oppressed, criticized, slandered, maligned, beaten down or tangled up in blue.

Likewise, the “They” refers not to turned-on friends, but to those who wish ill will toward men (and women). In fact, the chorus is the only section of the song which can be (mis)interpreted as a paean to altered states. The smoky connotation doesn’t hold up beyond that.

(Dylan’s line, “They’ll stone you when you’re sent down in your grave,” rings forever true—evidence the heartfelt Mommie Dearest and Albert Goldman’s endearing The Lives of John Lennon.)

As for the cryptic title, Dylan psycho-analysts—preferring to sniff between the lines—failed to consider the possibility of a happenstance explanation. It has subsequently been revealed that Dylan either wrote or recorded (or both) the tune on a rainy day with two females, aged 12 and 35, present. Honest to Bob.

Similarly, “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” is “just about that,” admitted Dylan. “I think that’s something I mighta taken out of a newspaper. Mighta seen a picture of one in a department store window. There’s really no more to it than that. I know it can get blown up into some kind of illusion. But in reality, it’s no more than that. Just a leopard-skin pill-box. That’s all.”

“It balances on your head like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine,” sings Dylan of the millinery monstrosity. (Note the similarity of John Lennon’s guitar solo in “Yer Blues” to the stinging Dylan-fingered lead guitar licks of this blues-rocker.)

“Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” is inspired nonsense—an irresistible, funny, surreal tour de farce. Displaying his absurdist agility and a superlative vocal, Dylan delivers such wonderful lines as:

Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells
Speaking to some French girl
Who says she knows me well
And I would send a message
To find out if she’s talked
But the post office has been stolen
And the mailbox is locked

and:

When Ruthie says come see her
In her honky-tonk lagoon
Where I can watch her waltz for free
‘Neath her Panamanian moon
And I say, “Aw come on now
“You know you know about my debutante”
And she says, “Your debutante just knows what you need
“But I know what you want”

While Dylan’s unpolished and rough-around-the-etches harmonica playing has been disparaged by some over the years (virtuoso mouth organist Larry Adler felt his blowing and sucking, well, sucked), many more consider it beautifully soulful and spirited. As such, it lends an ingenuous charm to the songs so graced.

“Temporary Like Achilles” marries the two predominant elements of the album; it is a love song performed in the blues idiom. Love, lost or found, is all around Blonde On Blonde: “Just Like a Woman,” “I Want You,” “Visions of Johanna,” “Sooner or Later (One of Us Must Know),” and the epic “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” another gift from the gods.

“(‘Sad-Eyed Lady’) started out as just a little thing,” said Dylan, “but I got carried away somewhere along the line. I just sat down at a table and started writing. At the session itself….I just started writing and I couldn’t stop. After a period of time, I forgot what it was all about, and I started trying to get back to the beginning (laughs).”

Speaking of his work in general, Dylan stated, “The words are just as important as the music. There would be no music without the words. Indeed, despite its haunting melody, the lyrics of the 12-minute “Sad-Eyed Lady” (which accounts for one of the LP’s four sides) stand on their own as gorgeous poetry:

With your silhouette when the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims
And your matchbook songs and your gypsy hymns
Who among them would try to press you

In The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Bob Dylan’s legacy is summed up thusly: “Bob Dylan’s importance to the development of rock is rivaled only by that of The Beatles. His influence went much further than the innovative qualities of his lyrics, his semivisionary songs effecting a change in the consciousness of an entire generation and opening up a general awareness of attitudes, both personal and political, that, without him, might still be stifled and denied today.”

If by some simple twist of fate you’ve never heard Blonde On Blonde—whether you’re too young to remember it or you’ve spent the mid-‘60s in a coma—by all that is wholly superior, listen to this magnum opus. Everybody must get milestoned.

 

 

(Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jim George and byjimgeorge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)