Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Death of a Cyclist, Birth of a Fan

The lovely, luminous Lucia Bose

Just when you think you've seen all the cult and arthouse films you need to see and are free to numb your mind watching the The Gilmore Girls on the idiot box, Turner Classic Movies reels you right back in with some undiscovered gem. Like Juan Antonio Bardem's 1955 masterpiece The Death of a Cyclist. I accidentally started watching this film Tuesday night while flipping through the channels, noticed the beautiful actress Lucia Bose, and was instantly hooked. The neo-realistic style initially fooled me into thinking it was an Italian film, but while Lucia Bose is in fact a mote bellisimo Italian actress (and a former Miss Italy), I soon picked up from the dialogue that it was indeed Spanish (and officially known there as Muerte de un Ciclista; in 1958 it was released in America under the title Age of Infidelity).

Apparently, TCM is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Janus films every Tuesday night in September and October. It's part of Janus' national promotion of its imminent "Essential Art House" DVD box set release coming in October (the 14-pound box set will contain 50 classic films on DVD and a 240-page illustrated hardcover book that tells the story of Janus Films through an essay by film historian Peter Cowie, a short tribute from Martin Scorsese, and extensive notes on all 50 films, plus cast and credit listings and U.S. premiere information). As part of the celebration, from September 30 through October 26, Lincoln Center and the New York Film Festival will present a tribute to Janus Films, featuring new or pristine 35mm prints of thirty-two of most of their classic titles, many of which have not been seen in years and are unavailable on DVD. That indoor "hardtop" series, like the one TCM is broadcasting, will include some of the most beloved works of Jean Renoir, Truffaut, Kurosawa, Jean Cocteau, Bergman, Agnès Varda, Fellini, Max Ophüls, and many more.

After watching the Bardem gem, I watched a film Bardem helped make possible, Luis Bunuel's Viridiana, followed by Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast (1946) and Cocteau's masterpiece, Orpheus (1949).

I'm bleary-eyed as a result, so I'll leave to others to describe Death of a Cyclist and director Bardem in detail (Marsha Kinder's study of Spanish cinema, Blood Cinema, is a good place to start). Suffice it to say that it's a beautifully-acted psychological drama whose guilt-ridden and class-conscious narrative is equal parts Macbeth and I Know What You Did Last Summer and is noteworthy for its brilliant editing technique. One minute you're watching bored aristocrats dance at a society ball, the next street urchins are kicking a ball in a run-down barrio - all courtesy of a seamless panning shot. And the print is gorgeous! Needless to say, I'm vexed that I didn't tape Death of a Cyclist, because it's currently not available on video or DVD. Doh!

Accidents will happen; they're always hit & run

In Spanish director Juan Antonio Bardem's lacerating Death of a Cyclist (1955), released in America as Age of Infidelity, a couple traveling through the countryside strike a man on a bicycle. When they get out of their car to examine him, they find that he is injured but not dead. But instead of helping the man, Juan (Alberto Closas) and Maria Jose (Lucia Bosé) do the unthinkable. They flee - rather than reveal that they have been carrying on a long-term affair.

When they return to Madrid, the couple pay a terrible price for their deception. Guilt begins to gnaw away at them, especially at Juan, who is also experiencing conflict with his young students over an ethical issue at the university where he teaches.

Maria Jose is less bothered by the moral implications of killing a man, as she is fearful that her affair will be discovered and her social position slip should her wealthy industrialist husband Miguel (Otello Toso) find out. Matters become even more complicated when the couple discover a member of their social circle, a hanger-on and art critic, Rafa (Carlos Casaravilla), may know something about their affair and the crime and intends to trade on what he knows for money.

Maintaining an intense level of suspense, director Juan Antonio Bardem examines not only the burden of guilt, but also a Spanish society of disturbing schisms where people like Juan and Maria Jose operate above the law, in a bubble of wealth and privilege, while far below people like the dead cyclist's family and neighbors struggle to survive. These themes are further articulated in a haunting musical score by Isidro B. Maiztegui.

Unlike the dominant cinema of the day, Bardem veered away from the militarist, costume dramas and literary adaptations preferred during Francisco Franco's dictatorship. Highly influenced in tone and style by Italian neorealism, Bardem helped bring Spanish cinema to international prominence with his socially conscious and stylish films.

Bardem, who initially trained as an agricultural engineer, would go on to direct a number of other films which often concentrated on a central character named Juan and his disgust with the suffocating society in which he lived.

Death of a Cyclist was hailed by the international film community and became a winner of the International Critics Award at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival. At least one American critic was unable to appreciate Bardem's gift. In an ungenerous and shortsighted review in The New York Times, Bosley Crowther criticized Bardem's unique style in which the lovers are perpetually linked through editing, a self-consciously artful device which Crowther misunderstood as a technical deficiency.

At the time of his Cannes award, Bardem was serving a prison sentence for his political beliefs, until international outcry eventually led to his release from prison. Nevertheless, Bardem was arrested a total of seven times under Franco.

Spanish cinema under Franco was a stifled and sterile industry, kept under strict government control. Bardem was one of the few brave filmmakers to question the psychological and political oppression of the day and deal with the realities of contemporary life. As Bardem wrote in a 1955 manifesto of film principles being adopted by the Spanish filmmaking vanguard, "Spanish cinema has turned its back on reality and is totally removed from Spanish realistic traditions as found in paintings and novels."

Biting social criticism was the foundation of Bardem's work beginning with his first film, That Happy Couple (1953) co-directed by frequent collaborator Luis Garcia Berlanga, ironically enough, about a chronically unhappy couple.

In 1953, Bardem founded a Spanish film journal Objectivo which would become the voice of the country's cinemaphiles before it was banned, just two years later, by the Franco government.

Bardem continued his critique with his most acclaimed film, Death of a Cyclist. Though scathing for showing the stark, cruel divisions between rich and poor in contemporary Madrid, the film also offered some concessions to Franco moralism. At the film's end, Maria Jose must be punished for her role in the affair and tragic accident, much in the way the wayward women in Hollywood melodramas were invariably punished for their transgressions. Bardem's films were also frequently censored and reedited to bring them more in line with Franco-era politics.

In 1958 Bardem, acting as president, founded the independent production company UNINCI. Under his leadership, Luis Buñuel was invited back to Spain from exile to make Viridiana (1961). But Buñuel's film was banned and UNINCI was closed down for co-producing the film. Though he continued to make films, often international co-productions in Italy and France and works in Spain such as The Mysterious Island of Captain Nemo (1973) starring Omar Sharif, Bardem suffered for the remainder of his career under Franco's restrictions. Unfortunately, his death in 2002 meant that Bardem did not live long enough to see the cultural freedoms that came about after Franco's death.

Director: Juan Antonio Bardem
Producer: Georges de Beauregard, Manuel J. Goyanes
Screenplay: Juan Antonio Bardem from a short story by Luis F. Delgoa
Cinematography: Alfredo Fraile
Production Design: Enrique Alarcón
Music: Isidro B. Maiztegui
Cast: Lucia Bosé (Maria Jose), Alberto Closas (Juan), Otello Toso (Miguel), Carlos Casaravilla (Rafa).
- by Felicia Feaster


Juan Antonio Bardem (pictured above) died in 2002. Below is a reposting of Ronald Bergen's obit from The Guardian.
Brave director whose films mocked the repession of Franco's Spain

Ronald Bergan
Saturday November 2, 2002
The Guardian

After the Spanish civil war, the victorious nationalists immediately began to bring the film industry under government control; as a result, its output in the 1940s reflected the sterility of the country's moral and political repression. But in the 1950s, a new generation of Spanish directors emerged, headed by Juan Antonio Bardem, who has died aged 80, and Louis Garcia Berlanga.

As far as it was possible, both men rejected the values of the Franco regime, and the militaristic, folkloric costume films it sanctioned. With their first co-directed feature, That Happy Couple (1951), it was clear that they had chosen to go against the prevailing trend by presenting scenes of contemporary Spanish life, and using humour to describe and criticise aspects of society.

Bardem, whose parents were actors, originally trained as an agricultural engineer, and was assigned to the agriculture ministry's cinema section in 1946. The following year, he became a student at the Spanish institute of cinema research and experimentation, but failed to get a diploma, possibly because of his political views. Thereafter, he supported himself by writing articles and criticism, and directing short documentaries.

The turning point came with That Happy Couple, much influenced by Italian neo-realism, a style which was already passé in Italy. The title is ironic, since the young couple, offered Madrid at their feet for a day by a soap company, are not really happy.

It was followed by Welcome, Mr Marshall (1952), one of the biggest international successes of the Franco years, which Bardem co-wrote with Berlanga, who directed. Another example of Spanish neo-realism, it focuses on a poor village in Castile trying to create a good impression on visiting Americans in the hope of getting Marshall aid. Pointedly written and observed, the film was condemned by Edward G Robinson, a member of the Cannes festival jury, as anti-American. However, it is far more a sardonic look at Spanish foibles and greed.

In 1953, Bardem founded Objectivo, a cinema journal that became a rallying point for cinéastes, raised the level of film criticism in Spain and informed readers about prohibited films. Two years later, it was banned by the government after only nine issues.

Bardem made his most celebrated solo effort in 1955, writing and directing Death Of A Cyclist. An attempt to make a socially critical film under Franco, it tells the story of a university professor and his well-connected mistress who knock down a worker on a bicycle while out driving. Fearful that their affair will be discovered, they leave the man to die. The contrasting milieu of the rich and poor districts of Madrid are well caught, but censorship forced Bardem to punish the adulterous woman in a melodramatic ending.

At a meeting in Salamanca in 1955, a statement of principles was penned in which Bardem wrote: "After 60 years, Spanish cinema is politically futile, socially false, intellectually worthless, aesthetically valueless, and industrially paralytic. Spanish cinema has turned its back on reality and is totally removed from Spanish realistic traditions as found in paintings and novels."

But the situation worsened, and Bardem was imprisoned on political grounds while shooting the uncomfortable comedy-drama Calle Mayor (1956). He was in jail when Death Of A Cyclist won the Cannes critics' prize, but was released after two weeks following an international outcry, and was able to complete his new film - though he was arrested several more times during the Franco years.

Calle Mayor involved a group of provincial layabouts who, for a bet, persuade a young stud from Madrid to make love and propose to a plain spinster, Betsy Blair, virtually repeating her Oscar-nominated role in Marty, the year before. The atmosphere of a stultifying small town is well caught, as is the portrayal of machismo, but, again, Bardem was under some restraint.

His next film, The Reapers, was intended as a critical study of peasant life, but was heavily censored and re-edited. As a conventional melodrama, and retitled Vengeance, it was coolly received in Cannes in 1958.

That same year, in desperation, Bardem, Berlanga, Carlos Saura and other directors founded their own production company, UNINCI. It was Bardem, as president, who bravely invited Luis Bunuel back to Spain after a 29-year exile to make Viridiana (1961), but, although the script of this savage comedy on Catholic mentality and rituals was unaccountably passed by Franco's censors, it was banned outright in Spain, and UNINCI was closed down.

These battles sapped Bardem's creative energy, though he continued to direct films in Spain, as well as co-productions in Italy, France and Argentina, many of which were shown at festivals around the world. In several works, he concentrated on a single character, often called Juan, who feels frustrated and stifled in a closed society.
Among his large, less personal, productions were The Uninhibited (Los Pianos Mecanicos, 1965), starring Melina Mercouri and James Mason, and The Mysterious Island Of Captain Nemo (1973), with Omar Sharif in the title role - both shot in Spain. His last film was Resultado Final, before which came two rather academic studies: Lorca, The Death Of A Poet (1987) and Young Picasso (1993), for television.

Sadly, the cultural liberation that followed Franco's death came too late for Bardem. He is survived by his wife Maria and their four children.

Juan Antonio Bardem, film director, born July 2 1922; died October 30

Not much information is available in English about Lucia Bose - born Lucia Borlani January 28, 1931, who these days sports blue hair (as shown below),

but it is interesting to note that when the beautiful Milan native was crowned Miss Italy 1947, she stood on the same stage with a number of future Italian cinema stars, including Gina Lollobrigida, Silvana Mangano, Eleonora Rossi Drago and Gianna Maria Canale (as shown below). Quite a vintage crop, 1947!

Miss Italy 1947 Finalists

Her first film, at age 19, was 1950's Non C'e Pace Tra Gli Ulive (Under the Olive Tree), followed by a starring role the same year in Michelangelo Antonioni's first feature, Cronica di un Amore (Story of a Love Affair). The plot of Cronica di un Amore is quite similar to Death of a Cyclist - in both cases Bose plays a commoner-turned-bourgois adulteress wife of a wealthy industrialist who carries the torch for a pre-war sweetheart (The Spanish Civil War in Bardem's film, World War II in Antonioni's) and who is suspected of murder in what Marsha Kinder (Blood Cinema) calls a "a class-crossed melodrama." (Antonioni had originally wanted American actress Gene Tierney to play the role of Bose's character Paola in Cronica di un Amore, perhaps impressed by Tierney's glamourous femme fatale role in 1945's Leave Her To Heaven.)

Bose was married to Luis Miguel Dominguin from 1955-1967, curtailing her film career between 1956-1966 to raise her family, which includes Miguel Bose and Paola Dominguin. Other notable films in her later career include roles in Fellini's Satyricon (1969), Jean Moreau's directorial debut Lumiere (1976) and 1999's Harum Suare. She also had an uncredited role in 1960 in Jean Cocteau's Testament d'Orphee (Testament of Orpheus). She most recently appeared in the Spanish TV series Las Cerezas (2005). A brief interview with a middle-aged, blue-haired Lucia Bose appears in "Story of a Peculiar Night," on the special features disc of the 2005 DVD release of Story of a Love Affair; the occasion was the screening of a restored print of Antonioni's film in Rome.

Related Links:
Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films DVD
Juan Antonio Bardem bio (IMDB)
Death of a Cyclist (IMDB)
Lucia Bose Filmography (IMDB)
Blood Cinema: The Reconstruction of National Identity in Spain by Marsha Kinder (contains a chapter on Muerte de un Ciclista)
Death of a Cyclist review (roughly translated from Spanish site
Ozus' World Movie Reviews (by Dennis Schwartz)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Baltimore's Playboy Magazine

While we've all heard of Hugh Hefner's famous girlie mag, Baltimore's Playboy Magazine (shown left) is relatively unknown. Alternately known as This Week In Baltimore: The Playboy Magazine or The Playboy Presents: This Week In Baltimore (with the subheading "In the Land of Pleasant Living, The Magazine of Baltimore City, The Surrounding Counties & Seashores of Maryland, and Delaware Nite-Life"), it appears to have been a events calendar that was published from November 1, 1947 (pre-dating Hefner's December 1953 Playboy debut by a dozen years) through the late 60s by one Bernie Lit, who also wrote its main column "Baltimore Nite-Life" (subheaded "MEN, MAIDS and MISScelaneous LITerature) and advertised in its pages looking for new talent ("TOPlus Go Go Girls Wanted") for the "Bernie Lit Theatrical Agency" of Water Steet. The magazine's logo (which was also used to illustrate Bernie Lit's column) was a drawing of a tipsy "Man About Town" dandy in a tux and tophat who steadied himself with a walking stick in one hand while his other arm was wrapped around a lampost (as pictured above left).

Other columns in the 32-page publication included "Kutting Kapers--With Kenny" (subheaded "Glorified Nite-Life Potpourri"), a featured stripper listing entitled either "Where the Girls Are" or "For Men Lonely...," a featured singer/musician listing entitled either "Where the Boys Are" or "For Women Lonely...," and "This Week In Baltimore County" (as well as other counties rotated on a week to week basis). One 1967 issue even featured an epic poem entitled "Ode to the Man Behind the Bar" by Chuck Hancock, Bar-Host of the Friendship International Airport Lounge-Restaurant.

In the late '40s, Leo Lion wrote the "Moviesense" column, reviewing films currently playing in Baltimore and name-dropping visiting film and theatre stars spotted around town. One of Leo's columns also "lionized" publisher Bernie Lit's charming wife Janis, who ran Bernie's Delicatessen, who was described as "doing her utmost to make you feel at home at 3 A.M. while picking the corned beef out of your teeth." Also, Dundalk and Essex were apparently hep enough 'burb hotspots to warrant a regular column called "Where To Go To Dine and Dance...Music and Fun in Essex and Dundalk" that featured lots of ads for Lambert's Tavern on Middle River road, Lynwood's ("Dancing Every Saturday to the Sophisticats") on Old Eastern Avenue at Wilbur Avenue, "Barn Dancing" at Old Buedel's Park on Old Eastern Avenue, more barn dancing at The Old Mill on Dundalk Avenue at Maryland Turner's Station, Dovie's Supper Club on Stansbury Rd. and Merritt Avenue, Diffendall's Airport Cocktail Lounge on Back River Neck Rd., Hollywood Park Supper Club & Cocktail Lounge ("The Largest Cocktail Lounge in East Baltimore" with two suffleboards and "Blind Pig" Tournaments every Monday night!) on Eastern Avenue and Sealover Brothers Restaurant on Turkey Pt. and Beck Avenue.

There's no price listed on Playboy Magazine, so I suspect it was some sort of touristy promotional events calendar put out by the Baltimore clubs, restaurants and businesses who advertised in its pages. A 1953 issue of Playboy Magazine indicates that it covered Washington, D.C. at one point before there was a regional edition strictly for the Capital. (Apparently "This Week In" was a national tourist guide publishing venture, with "This Week In" magazines serving New York City, Miami, Washington, D.C. and other cities.) The picture below of a mailer envelope suggests it may have been a free circular left in Baltimore hotel rooms.

If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can see that it reads: "Hi, If you don't think there's plenty doing in Baltimore, the Counties & Washington, look through the pages of this magazine I found in my room when I checked in. I circled some of the places I visited. See you soon - P.S. I know you'll love it here too!"

The only place you're likely to find this nostalgic look at Baltimore's swinging nightlife past is in the Serials Collection of Enoch Pratt Free Library's Maryland Department (at the downtown Central Library) and the occasional eBAY listing (where my friend Scott Huffines was fortunately able to snatch one of these rarities). The Pratt carries annual bound volumes from 1947-1967. I accidentally came across this treasure-trove of Baltimore nightlife when I researching information about the Gayety Theatre on Baltimore's infamous Block. The Gayety Theatre (or "teatir" in the parlance of Bernie Lit) was apparently a big-name nightclub in the '40s (or else a big advertiser!), because Playboy Magazine reserved a regular back-page column to the burlesque house, with accompanying ad and a glamour pic of that week's featured dancer. Some sample colums are shown below. If you look closely at the ad for the Gayety - calling itself "The Gayest Spot in Town!" and "The Meeting Spot of the Show World" - you'll see it bills itself as "Buddy Nickel's Gayety Night Club." I only point this out because my friend Scott Huffines always claimed the Gayety was once owned by his mom's (Jackle Nickel's) family and, as Casey Stengel said, there it is is, you can look it up. (Buddy Nickel was Scott's mom's uncle, who took over The Gayety when Scott's grandfather passed away.)

It's hard to find information about the pre-sleaze era of Baltimore's Block (a time when H. L. Mencken dubbed burlesque strippers "ecdysiasts" - from the Greek word ekdysis, meaning "casting off" - because of the way they shed their clothing like snake skin), but it does exist - and Charm City's Playboy Magazine is an invaluable resource for researching the clubs and performers of that era. This was the golden era of Burlesque, the days when they "sold the sizzle and not the steak," a time when bands played down on the Block (as part of what were billed as "burly revusicals") and when actual "Striptease Artists" (as opposed to the skanky junkie prostitutes of today) danced in "Gentlemen's Clubs" on Baltimore street and similar venues around town. Places like Joey Jackman's Zebra Room, Sweeney's Lounge, Cy Bloom's The Place in the Alley (which featured Inga and Dottie, "curvaceous giggle-water servers"), the Fabulous Chavez Brothers' Club Basement, Pete Boinis' Hunka Munka Lounge, The Oasis Nite Club ("World's Worst Show! World's Best Time!"), and Bettye Mills' Stork Club. And, of course, the 2 O'Clock Club - which wasn't yet owned by Blaze Starr.

Anyway, the best thing about Playboy magazine is the language, a hard-boiled Damon Runyon-esque vernacular in which players are "Men About Town," female bartenders are "Mixtrix," liquor-toting waitresses are "giggle-water servers," and strippers are variously "striptootsies," "stripeelers," "Quiver Queens," "curvaceous twistin' cupidolls," "teasin' glamazons," "sexy pultritudinous charmers," "sexciting chassinality charmers," "sexy glamazons," "twistin go-go gals" or "toe-tingling show dolls" who dance under such nomes de stage as Faye Mignon ("the Glamgorgeous Gourmand"), Princess Naja, Lady Masha, Green Eyes, Electra (the "electrifying Blue Flame"), Tiger O'Hara, Bonita Guitar, Candy Stripe, AnnieEEE Banana (the "shapely ankled bardoll"), Go-Go Gal Shirley, Stormy Taylor the Bat Girl, Satin Doll (the "Bronze bombshell from Boston"), Fabulous Maya, La Petite Nana, Margo Moreno ("The girl with the guided muscles"), Tiki LaTore, The Raven Sisters, "swinging stripzotic" Indian princess Starr Markee and Mystery Girl 36-26-36.

I especially like the Swingin' 60s editions of Charm City's Playboy, because it shed light on an era I remember faintly - but distinctly - as having "Go Go Clubs" where girls danced in cages in knee-high boots - kind of like they did on TV shows like Shindig! and Hullabaloo - and female singers were described as "vocaluscious showstoppers," "saucy chirpers," and "cutrix song & dance dolls." Male singers were often called "solo vox"-ers. Musicians received colorful adjectives, as well. Pianists were referred to as "solitudie 88ers" and guitar players were called "swellegant guitarist aces."

Skimming through the 1967 issues of Playboy, I noticed several ads for Fanny Foxe (sometimes also spelled "Fanne" or "Fannie"); a sexy glossy pic of her in the Jan. 26 - Feb. 1, 1967 issue featured the tagline: "Stars girlesk funsicle nitely at Bernie Brown's KAY'S CABARET." (In KAY'S ads, by the way, the management touted its "Who's Messin' with the French Dressin' Revue - The Boys from France Say She Makes the Eiffel Tower Sway!" and its "Savage Sized Drinks for Civilized People.")

You might recall that native Argentine Fanny Foxe (born Annabelle Battistella and known onstage as "The Argentina Firecracker") was the stripper who caused one of the great Washington, D.C. scandals back in 1974 when the police stopped the car of drunk-as-a-skunk House Ways and Means Committee Chariman Wilbur Mills (D-Ark.) at 2 a.m. and Ms. Foxe leapt from the car and plunged into the Tidal Basin. His political opponent in that year's election subsequently ran under the slogan: "If you like liquor, sex and thrills, cast your vote for Wilbur Mills."

Still, nothing beats the naive charm of the 1940s editions of Playboy, like this ad for Manny Berg's sports lounge that boasts of being Baltimore's first downtown bar with a television! (Something we take for granted in today's high-tech world!).

Related Links for Bawdy Baltimore:
Baltimore's Bawdy Block (excerpt from America's Cities of Sin, 1952)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Memory Jostling Jingles

This morning I spotted a Hampden Moving & Storage truck on Joppa Road that had one of the all-time great local commercial jingles painted on its side. You know the one, with the big-headed Dennis the Menace-looking kid saying "Mommy call Hampden...BElmont 5-0600!" The full jingle, as any Baltimore Baby Boomer worth their salt (which Mash's Hams throws away!) knows, was:

Mommy, call Hampden
Our rugs need cleaning bad
Mommy--I DID it!
Please don't be so mad.

Hampden cleans your rugs like new
Triple-rinses through and through

Mommy, call Hampden
Belmont 5 0600
[baritone with echo]BELMONT 5 0600
Almost as famous a local shout out to Mater Familias was the "More Parks Sausages, Mom.........Please!" slogan. These and many more remembrances of jingles past were recently rekindled by a visit to the Internet forum site ("The neat place where transit and local history mingle!"), a great resource for taking a ride down the Baltimore commercial version of Memory Lane. There's that old chestnut for the old Jerry Chevrolet's that used to be in my 'hood, "Jerry's Chevrolet, at York and Bellona/Best place to become a Chevrolet owna!" Jerry's main location these days is out on Joppa Road, making the rhyme somewhat problematic today. Then there was the good old capitalist car competition in the form of Fox Chevrolet's "Hey, hey, Fox Chevrolet 10% down, 48 months to pay."

I had forgotten so many of these damned ephemeral commercial ditties. The "I Love Luby Chevrolet" slogan...Royal Parker's booming imperative "HEY KIDS, GET OFFA THAT SOFA!" for some plastic furniture covering company...or "Don't own a Cow? Call Cloverland Now!!! Lafayette 4920"...or the aforementioned Mash's Hams' "What's the extra 'S' for? That's for salt, we throw that away!" (OK, but what was the first 'S' for in the MASH'S equation - Maple Aged Smithfield Ham?)

And I never knew that Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore provided the source material for the Mary Sue Butter Creams jingle! Thanks to Joncub for posting the complete lyrics on his Live Journal page, reposted below:
Here's a treat that is sunny for your Easter Bunny
The creamiest candy that's made...
Mary Sue Easter Eggs, Mary Sue Easter Eggs
Brighten your Easter Parade!

We love those Easter Eggs, Mary Sue Easter Eggs
People are making the switch...
'cuz using pure butter makes Mary Sue better,
and you never had it so rich...
Or that there were the radio ads for Lexington Market, one with a jingle that went:
When the Monitor and the Merrimac
Were choosing their favorite targets
Business went on just the same
At busy Lexington Market

It was true back then
And it's true today
As Chesapeake Bay folks know
For the finest in foods from near or far
Lexington's the place to go

Many of these commercial jingles seem to be lodged in my brain, achieving Jungian archetype status in my collective unconscious - like dreams of flying or the great flood myth - only to be triggered by some event like a passing moving & storage truck or a musical refrain from a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. One particularly vexing long-dormant ditty that has recently been driving me to dementia is the old jingle, "Riggs Counselman Michaels and Down, RCM and D!" And I don't even remember who RCM&D where or what product or service they sold!

Related Links:
Bojingles Audio (Brent Hardesty's resource for mp3s of ads)
Bohjingles' "Mommy Call Hampden"

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Dark Stuff


Elvis Costello once famously cracked that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture," but while that dis against pop music critics may well be true, I have to admit that there are certain rock scribes who are able to rise to the challenge of describing the indescribable, who are neither too over analytical (it's only rock & roll, after all) nor too gushing a fanboy/fangirl. Brit rock writer Nick Kent is one of them. In fact, not only is Kent the polar opposite of a fanboy, he actually seems to be one of the very few guys in the pop press to actually call the rock idols of his generation out, and he does so in a style that makes him one of the greatest "architectural dancers" of his times, one whose celebrity profiles - as England's Evening Standard put it - "are essential reading for anyone who has refused to take rock music at face value." Maybe it's because he's been in the club himself, having played guitar with the Sex Pistols in 1975 (he claimed to have turned them on to the Small Faces, Stooges and Modern Lovers), fronting his own band the Subterraneans (with Rat Scabies and Bryan James of The Damned), and even later becoming the ultimate rock cliche, the re-habbed drug addict.

I was always a fan of Kent's writing in NME and other British music mags and recently picked up The Dark Stuff: Selected Writings On Rock Music (2002), an updated collection of his best articles that Iggy Pop has rightly described as "a nasty book." (The Igster meant it as a compliment, of course.) In fact, in his preface to the 1993 edition, Iggy wrote:
I read this nasty book with an unusual degree of interest. I found it to have a feverish effect. By the end of each chapter I experienced an exhausted, depressed feeling, coupled with a desire to relisten to the music of the subject/artist...Such, I suppose, is the strange relationship between the repulsive and attractive poles of human beings. I love you, I hate you, you disappoint me, you elevate me." - Iggy Pop
The Dark Stuff contains great writing about both ends of that strange pole, about both the legends (Brian Wilson, Lou Reed, Neil Young, Kurt Cobain, Syd Barrett, Iggy Pop, The Rolling Stones) and the lowlifes (Jerry Lee Lewis, Brian Jones, Sid Vicious, Guns 'N' Roses) of rock & roll. Most times, Kent discovers, the line between legends and lowlifes is razor-thin. A mixing of "the Byronic and the Moronic." Or, as the text from the back cover so accurately describes it, "In the cut-throat marketplace of rock 'n' roll music-making, there are two classes of people: the Superstars and the Slaves, the Living Legends and the Lowly Burn-Outs."

And speaking of razors, Kent is almost as famous for being the victim of rock star backlash as his is for his words, being famously attacked by John Simon Richie (AKA "Sid Vicious"), at the goading of Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and with the assistance of future PiL guitarist Jah Wobble. Writing of the "glory years" of UK punk circa 1976-77, Kent debunks the hindsight-is-golden hype about the merits of Punk's "liberating force":
"After the aforementioned knife-chain Sid incident, I became an ongoing victim of mindless punk brutality throughout 1977. I was stabbed repeatedly one night in an open field close by London's King Cross by four youths clearly overwhelmed by the liberating force of punk rock and their ardent desire to ape anything Sid did. Another time I was attacked in the toilets of the fabled Roxy by a guy with a knife...I can distinctly remember...wondering to myself, did Greg Marcus get to find himself in such life-or-death situations when out reviewing Randy Newman?"

Apparently rock star familiarity breeds indignation, if not downright injury. But then Nick Kent was always just as much a part of the story as his reputed subjects. No wonder a nervous Brian Wilson quipped upon meeting him, "Maybe I should interview you. You look more like a rock star than me." Such was his impact that, as Barney Hoskyns observed in a 1994 profile of Kent for Vogue, "For any callow, maladjusted youth growing up in the early-to-mid-‘70s with the New Musical Express as his bible, Nick Kent was unquestionably the coolest rock scribe on the planet." Or as Iggy put it, in greater detail:
"It needs to be mentioned that Mr. Kent has a side to his history as sordid and generally unsavory and sometimes downright hilarious as anyone described in this book.

An unlikely, ungainly figure, well over six feet tall, unsteadily negotiating the sidewalks of London and LA like a great palsied mantis, dressed in the same tattered black-leather and velvet guitar-slinger garb regardless of season or the passing of time, hospital-thin, with a perpetually dripping bright red nose caused by an equally perpetual drug shortage, all brought to life by a wrist-waving, head-flung-back Keith Richards effect, and an abiding interest in all dirt. That's Nick Kent for you in the seventies and eighties. In short, a true rock'n'roller: someone who cared.

Which brings us to the end, It's hard to care anymore. The 'music industry' is fat and satisfied. They can buy anything, and turn anyone into a spiritual eunuch. That means no balls.

Yet, reading this creepy book, I wanted to hear the music again. I was interested. As for 'today's music industry' and its bed-mate 'music journalism,' I just don't care anymore. How could I?"

- Iggy Pop

But obviously Kent cared, which is why his articles describing the sad plummeting of so many high-flying rock luminaries is so poignant. And why Kent calls it like it is, holding no punches. Because he cares. It matters to him that Keith Richard squandered his promise with too much drug use, becoming a wizened caricature of his stage image, one whose musical ability was stunted by settling for a drug buddy (Ron Wood) as second guitarist in the Stones rather than a maestro who could challenge Keef (like Mick Taylor) and make him grow as an artist. (One can only imagine what the Stones would have sounded like if they had called up fanboy/guitar whizkid Nils Lofgren, whose "Keith Don't Go" made it obvious what his answer would have been to an invite - but then Nils would ultimately squander his talents playing second, and third, fiddle to The Boss and Little Stephen in the E Street Band.) It matters to Kent that Lou Reed likewise dissipated his promise in "The Wasted Years" of the 70s and 80s before death and sobriety gave him a new lease on life in the 90s. And it matters to him that Brian Wilson and Syd Barrett suffered mental meltdowns so severe that they short-circuited the bright promise of their youthful genius to become barely functioning mental vegetable in their middle ages (both seemingly stemming from insurmountable dysfunctional family upbringings, combined with the obvious drug over-indulgence).


And while we're dishing the celebrity dirt, in 1974 Kent had a brief fling with fellow NME writer Chrissie Hynde before she formed The Pretenders and while she was still working at Malcolm McLaren and Viviene Westwood's Sex Shop. Hynde later told Jon Savage - in his essential history of British punk, England's Dreaming - that a jealous Kent came into the Sex shop looking to whip her with his belt, causing her to flee to Paris (where Kent himself moved in 1988). Savage also claimed that the "typewriter god" mentioned in the Sex Pistols' B-side "I Wanna Be Me" (You wanna ruin me in your magazine/
You wanna cover us in margarine
) was none other than Mr. Kent:
Turn the page and it’s the scoop of the century
Don't wanna be L7
I had enough of this
This is brainwash
And this is a clue
To the stars who fool you
Tell me why you cant explain
You're only looking for vinyl
Yeah, didn't they fool you
They wanna be you

Gimme world war three
We can live again
You didn't fool me
I fooled you
You wanna be me
Yeah, you wanna be me
You wanna be someone
Ruin someone
Yeah, didn't I fool you
I ruined you
Yeah, didn't I fool you
I sussed you out

I got you in the camera
And I got you in my camera
A second of your life
Ruined for life
You wanna ruin me in your magazine
You wanna cover us in margarine
And now is the time
You got the time
To realise
To have real eyes

Down, down, down, down
I'll take you down on the underground
Down in the dark
And down in the crypt
Down in the dark
Where the typewriter fit
Down with your pen and pad
Ready to kill
To make me ill
Down, wanna be someone
Wanna be someone
Need to be someone
You wanna be me
Ruin me
A typewriter god
A black and white king
Blackboard books
Black and white

- The Sex Pistols ("I Wanna Be Me," B-side of the 1976 "Anarchy in the UK" single)
And according to my friend Ray, Nick was also name-checked in Adam Ant's "Press Darlings": "If passion ends in fashion Nick Kent/Bushell is the best-dressed man in town." (Garry Bushell being a rival music critic for Sounds mag.)

Obviously, Nick Kent was quite the (beloved?) character. No wonder he's in my top 10 all-time rock critics list, along with fellow Nicks Tosches and Hornby, Chuck Eddy, R. Meltzer, Robot A. Hull, Matt Groening (circa his LA Reader "Sound Mix" column), "oral historian" Legs McNeil (of Punk magazine and Please Kill Me fame), local Shockwave scribe Todd Stachowski and, of course, Kent's idol Lester Bangs - the only rock critic as of yet to have a biography written of him (Jim DeRogatis' Let It Blurt). (To see Nick Kent's great obit for Bangs, click here.)


I've selected some personal fave highlights from The Dark Stuff below, organized by artist:

The Sex Pistols: "Maybe you'll wonder...why I've kept from documenting my own experiences with the band in a special chapter. Fuck it, they were all absolute bastards. What else do you need to know?"

"...working with the Sex Pistols was like blending into some late-twentieth century update of Charles Dickens' portrayal of Fagin, the Artful Dodger and that wretched den of teenaged thieves out of the pages of Oliver Twist..."

Malcolm McLaren: "...he was the one who coaxed Sid Vicious into attacking me with a rusty old bike chain while the future "Jah" Wobble held a knife three inches from my face."

Sid and Nancy: "...when you break it down, decomposing was their greatest achievement. A mere seven hours after expiring Nancy Spungen was already smelling of death. It takes up to forty-eight hours before the putrefying odour commences in the corpses of the old. At the age of twenty both had wasted themselves beyond belief. Let them rot."

Brian Wilson: "A genius musician but an amateur human being."

Roky Erickson: "Looking like a heavily sedated midget Rasputin with long crow-black hair and a lank beard to match, Erickson's barely capable of articulating more than two syllables every five minutes. The lights may be half on, but there is absolutely no one home...You can literally see the eyes beginning to fog over again: a strange chemical mist descending around the retinas. In three minutes he'll be back in the land of the living dead. ('Ah kinda liked that film. Ah love to see them zombies dance.') I meanwhile will be silently praying that the much-predicted psychedelic revival gets postponed just a little while longer."

The Rolling Stones: "The first thing you need to know about my adventures with the Rolling Stones is that they pretty much all took place once the basic thrill had gone out of the group and their music."

Brian Jones: "Dying when he did - frankly that was the best thing that could have happened to Brian Jones. For friends and fans alike, as sick as it sounds, it was a blessing because he was geting fat, losing his looks fast, and the image of a fat ugly Brian Jones was simply intolerable...For the Stones, of course, it was perfect because the dimension no replacement could ever hope to cover was suddenly filled up by his ghost. I mean, everyone knew the Stones were bad, but now they were so bad one of them was holding up a tombstone...Poor baby Brian Jones, so twisted, lost and loveless: the spirit that Jim Morrison and Patti Smith eulogized in public verse, the image that stares out provocatively, disdainfully from all those timeless sixties photographs. He will never grow old."

Mick Jagger: "He had this particular habit of adopting the dialect and accent of anyone he was talking to, just as he was talking to them. On one occasion I found myself in a room with him, a white guy from the American South, a black guy from Los Angeles and someone from the North of England, and everyone stood quietly aghast as the singer's voice weaved a reckless path away from his usual faux Cockney intonations to attempt a 'y'all' drenched drawl straight out of a particularly arch Tennessee Williams production before slipping into 'soul brother' black speak somewhat in the over-excited cadence of Little Richard. When he finally started talking like a Manchester bus conductor, everyone in the room looked utterly mystified because the whole performance was frankly ridiculous to begin with and ou really couldn't tell if Jagger consciously realized he was even doing it or not. But ultimately it didn't matter because it got him what he wanted, which was to be the centre of attention...But he'd only stay the centre of attention until Keith Richards walked into the room."

Keith Richards: "There was also this doomed poetic quality about him that Marianne Faithful pegged nicely when she talked about 'how if you're an over-imaginative schoolgirl who's read Shelley and Byron, well, that's what Keith Richards is. This perfect vision of damned youth. Even though he's turning more and more into Count Dracula.' "

"He consumed drugs like other people consume air, which is to say, unceasingly...But hard drugs - particularly in the amounts he was consuming - can only end up blunting creative instinct and stealing all natural reserves of energy and that's what was hapenning to him. Watching him on stage, it was like he was lost in this deep dense fog, but there was something so poignant about seeing him still standing there because there was always a very real possibility that it could be the last time. But it was also kind of sordid seeing him stumble through his signature tune, 'Happy,' missing half the lyrics and having Jagger conclude the thing by adopting his most sarcastic voice to remark, 'Uh, thank you Keith, that was really amazing!' As in 'not.' "

Iggy Pop: " 'I tell you, all the bitches - all these women - want me now because they can sense the strength in me. And they want it sooo bad. But they're not gonna get me. Uh-huh. Only on my terms. And my terms are simply phoning 'em up, telling them to be at such and such a place at such and such a time, in good physical condition, to be fucked. And then leave, goddammit.' "

[Woa! Terms of Endearment, indeed. Truly, A Man With a Plan!]

" ' This particular attitude I all stems from Nico actually,' he continues. 'She was the one who took me when I was a skinny, little naive brat and taught me how to eat pussy and all about the best German wines and French champagnes. Anyway, one day she aid to me' - adopted doomy German tone - 'Jimmy, you have ziz one big problem' - I was just a little lad for chrissakes, but I was till game - 'You are not full of zee poison!...We do not want to see a person on the stage, no, no, no. We want to see a performance, and zee poison is the essence of the performer...' "

The Stooges: (circa Funhouse): "It was real "heart of darkness" music in the classic Kurtzian sense and a lot further down the river of no return..."

Syd Barrett: "First came the Floyd. Then came the void. And sometime in between this tragic passage the omens were there for all to see that something terribly wrong was happening to their golden boy but everyone was being too cool and 'laissez-faire' to accept them for what they were..."

[After Syd had doused his hair with a mixture of crushed-up Mandrax tranquilizer pills and Brylcream and started to melt under hot stagelights at a gig:] "His kohl-encircled eyes were glazed and sunken, and his hair looked even worse, bursting from his skull like a badly orchestrated explosion...anyone could tell that Syd, once the leader, was no lonegr inhabitating the same planet planet as the other three...It was then that everyone could see how desperately things were going wrong, for he looked like some groestque waxwork of himself on fire, a blurred effigy of melting flesh and brain tissue coming apart in front of his peers, his fans and his followers."

Related Links:
Nick Kent entry at
Rock's Back Pages Library(Great rock articles resource)
Novelty Rock (great Washington City Paper article on rock criticism)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Who Has Left This Hole In the Ground?

We have not forgotten, Mr. President. You have. May this country forgive you

I love MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olberman and, according to Netscape News, the former ESPN Sports Center host has a doozy of a rebuff to George Dubya on tonight's "Special Comment" that blasts Bush's opportunistically shameless shilling for his political agenda on this the 5th anniversary of 9/11. I'm reposting tonight's transcript below.

Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment on Bush:

And lastly tonight a Special Comment on why we are here. Half a lifetime ago, I worked in this now-empty space.

And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what happened, and was yet to happen, as a reporter.

And all the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends, two in the planes and — as I discovered from those "missing posters" seared still into my soul — two more in the Towers.

And I knew too, that this was the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen, of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more, as our ancestors.

I belabor this to emphasize that, for me… this was, and is, and always shall be, personal.

And anyone who claims that I and others like me are "soft", or have "forgotten" the lessons of what happened here — is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante — and at worst, an idiot — whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President.

However. Of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast — of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds… none of us could have predicted… this.

Five years later this space… is still empty.

Five years later there is no Memorial to the dead.

Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us, by cowards and criminals.

Five years later this country’s wound is still open.

Five years… later this country’s mass grave is still unmarked.

Five years later… this is still… just a background for a photo-op.

It is beyond shameful.

At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial — barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field, Mr. Lincoln said "we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

Lincoln used those words to immortalize their sacrifice.

Today our leaders could use those same words to rationalize their reprehensible inaction. "We can nto dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground." So we won’t.

Instead they bicker and buck-pass. They thwart private efforts, and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars, and elaborate self-congratulations, and buying off columnists to write how good a job they’re doing — instead of doing any job at all.

Five years later, Mr. Bush… we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets. And look carefully, sir — on these 16 empty acres, the terrorists...are clearly, still winning.

And, in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.

And there is something worse still than this vast gaping hole in this city, and in the fabric of our nation.

There is, its symbolism — of the promise unfulfilled, the urgent oath, reduced to lazy execution.

The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it… was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the President in particular, was given every possible measure of support.

Those who did not belong to his party — tabled that.

Those who doubted the mechanics of his election — ignored that.

Those who wondered of his qualifications — forgot that.

History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government, by its critics.

It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation’s wounds, but to take political advantage.

Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President — and those around him — did that.

They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused; as appeasers; as those who, in the Vice President’s words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."

They promised protection, and then showed that to them "protection" meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken… a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated Al-Qaeda as much as we did.

The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had ’something to do’ with 9/11, is "lying by implication."

The impolite phrase, is "impeachable offense."

Not once in now five years has this President ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space… and to this, the current, curdled, version of our beloved country.

Still, there is a last snapping flame from a final candle of respect and fairness: even his most virulent critics have never suggested he alone bears the full brunt of the blame for 9/11.

Half the time, in fact, this President has been so gently treated, that he has seemed not even to be the man most responsible — for anything — in his own administration.

Yet what is happening this very night?

A mini-series, created, influenced — possibly financed by — the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavellis, continues to be televised into our homes.

The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred, by spin, to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office, seem like the only option.

How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death… after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections… how dare you or those around you… ever "spin" 9/11.

Just as the terrorists have succeeded — are still succeeding — as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero…

So too have they succeeded, and are still succeeding — as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.

This is an odd point to cite a television program, especially one from March of 1960. But as Disney’s continuing sell-out of the truth (and this country) suggests, even television programs can be powerful things.

And long ago, a series called "The Twilight Zone" broadcast a riveting episode entitled "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street."

In brief: a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extra-terrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out. A neighbor pleads for calm.

Suddenly his car — and only his car — starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another man’s lights go on.

As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced.

An "alien" is shot — but he turns out to be just another neighbor, returning from going for help.

The camera pulls back to a near-by hill, where two extra-terrestrials areseen, manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that there’s no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines and then, "they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it’s themselves."

And then, in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight.

"The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices - to be found only in the minds of men.

"For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own — for the children, and the children yet unborn."

When those who dissent are told time and time again — as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus — that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of it, we are somehow un-American…

When we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have "forgotten the lessons of 9/11"… look into this empty space behind me and the bi-partisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me:Who has left this hole in the ground?

We have not forgotten, Mr. President.

You have.

May this country forgive you.
Related Links:
Keith Olberman's Blog