GOOD NEWS, LESS GOOD NEWS….

The good news is my Covid-19 test came back negative. The further good news is I can now see my doctor tomorrow concerning whatever it is I DO have (nagging cough, trouble sleeping).

The less good news is during this whole thing my legs have swollen to twice normal size and I’ve gained 19 pounds in 13 days despite limiting myself to two meals a day…So they’ll be checking on that as well. I’ll keep everyone posted on here as much as possible. I don’t think it’s out of the question I might need a hospital stay to figure out what’s going on, but hoping otherwise. I’ll know more tomorrow evening after I see the doctor!

Thanks to everyone for their concern the meanwhile! You know how I roll:

 

THE LOVE THAT BURNED (Peter Green, R.I.P.)

In the late 60’s, a handful of men managed to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the blues had no color, or even nationality. The one who, along with the long gone Duane Allman, proved it deepest and truest, was Peter Green, founder of the original Fleetwood Mac.

He died today in a world that is on fire in large part because the lessons of his music remain ignored and discarded. I’m not feeling too good myself, but I pause to remember and reflect. Maybe we should listen this time. Maybe we should even refuse to forget.

I’M A FOOTNOTE! (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #159)

And not just any old footnote either:

Back in 2017, I wrote a post delving into the connections between the country churchyard where my parents are buried and the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” which you can read (and listen to)  here.

Shortly after that, a kerfluffle broke out (yet again…o’er the years there have been many) on Greil Marcus’ website mailbag section, regarding whether the “Robert E. Lee” in the song was a reference to the General or a steamboat. People took it very seriously. Marcus used his in with the song’s composer, Robbie Robertson, to email him and ask direct. Robbie said “There’s no boat in the song.”

Next step in the process involved me writing into Marcus’s mailbag with my explanation for the possible source of the confusion (basically, the practical Yankee mind which knows Robert E. Lee was never in that part of the country vs. the romantic Southern mind which knows he is with us always and everywhere) to which Greil offered a brief but gracious response.

Now cut to this morning,very early in the A.M., with me sitting on the throne, fending off another coughing fit while I wait for my Covid-19 test results, reading the latest edition of Marcus’ most famous book Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.

It was first published in 1975, with six main chapters, one of which deals with the Band. I first read it in the spring of 1982, when I used the free week I had at the FSU music library before I officially became an alumni and would lose my lending privileges to check it out. I was suitably impressed, sorry I couldn’t keep it, loaned it to my mother so she could read the famous essay on Elvis which closes the book. She was less impressed. Her wise words were “Well, at least he took him seriously,” as if that was the most you could expect from an intellectual. I’ve got whole categories on this blog dedicated to the idea she was right but that’s another story for another time.

For now, I have to get back to this morning, when I was sitting in my bathroom, reading the 7th edition of the book and the third I own. For those who wonder why I would buy more than one edition of the book, it’s because with every new edition, Marcus updates a “Notes and Discography” section that, by now, is longer than the original book itself and is generally at least as interesting as the original text. Given endless resources, I’d own every edition, but as it is I’m satisfied to check in every decade or two.

This latest, however, is likely to be definitive because it’s from The Folio Society, a London house which specializes in bringing out collectible editions of classic works in all fields. I collect Folio when I can. I collect Mystery Train when I can. It made sense to celebrate my getting out of bankruptcy this Spring by ordering a copy which promises (and delivers) a bunch of stunning photos and greatly expanded Notes in addition to Folio’s usual slipcase and superior print craftsmanship.

Instead of reading the book straight through, I’ve been reading a chapter and then the notes associated with that chapter. So this morning I had finished reading the third chapter, which is the one on the Band, and was now reading the notes.

And right there on page 285, Folio Society Edition, 2020 I let my weary eyes wander down to a footnote* that takes up nearly half the page….and what do I see:

*”A week or so ago,” the musician Oliver Hall wrote in 2006, “[we] passed through Greenville, North Carolina, and a wonderful space of appearances called Spazzatorium gallery. Afterwards, we sat around with some locals and we sang loud, drunken harmony together: Woody Guthrie, Carter Family, some Civil War ballads I didn’t know (one in which “Jeff Davis rides a dappled grey mare, Abe Lincoln rides a mule”). When we were well in our cups, I began to sing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” but after the first chorus, the Southerners begged me to stop. They had tears in their eyes and said the song was too painful for them to sing.” When in 2017 an online controversy broke out over whether or not, in certain live performances, Levon (Helm) himself sang not “There goes Robert E. Lee,” in other words the person, but “there goes the Robert E. Lee,” which, as denoting a Mississippi steamship, would properly be, “the Robert E. Lee,” Robbie confirmed “There is no boat in the song.” John Ross added: “For the record, every white citizen in the South who had a living memory of the Civil War believed they had caught a glimpse of Robert E. Lee, just as every white citizen thereafter has believed they’re related to him. Stoneman’s Cavalry left from my father’s back yard and ended up in my mother’s so I know a little about this. Sorry I can’t pass on what all Virgil told my uncle. But I promise you he’d be amused by this.”

Okay, so I was a little disappointed I didn’t make the Index, like my Medium partner Lew Shiner (Marcus referenced one of his short stories in the Robert Johnson Notes). And I’ll still hope for the day when some future edition reads “novelist John Ross added:”

But, as it stands, I’ve got a worthy mention in the definitive edition of the most famous and important book of rock criticism written in the twentieth century.

Coughing fits and constipation be damned.

Life ain’t all bad!

OKAY HERE’S THE SCOOP…

A week ago yesterday, having become frustrated with a week’s worth of phone-tag and various snafus regarding a cholesterol test, I visited two doctor’s offices and a lab in order to straighten out some paperwork and get retested. The paperwork got straightened out. I got retested. However, coincidentally or not (and, yes, we were all wearing masks), I woke up around 4 a.m. the next morning with a nagging, persistent cough.

I wasn’t anything I hadn’t had before so I gave it a week to improve. It didn’t so today I went back to the lab and had a Covid-19 test. I should have results in 3-7 business days. The major effect on the blog is that the coughing is making it very hard to concentrate well enough or long enough to post anything. I’ll probably need a nap when I finish this post. I’ll keep everybody posted as things develop.

In the meantime, all I can say is thank God for Al Green. It’s not many people I can listen to for four days straight when I’m too weak to fight and personally keeping Ricola in business:

THE LAST TEN MOVIES I WATCHED…AND WHY I WATCHED THEM (May/June, 2020)

Okay, once more not even close to the last ten I watched but I’m tryin’. really I am. On the upside, a lot more first and second viewings than usual. Here goes:

May 25-A Streetcar Named Desire (1951, d. Elia Kazan, 2nd Viewing)

Well, it had been twenty years, so it was time. Vivien Leigh still scared the bejesus out of me but at least I knew it was coming. Brando’s best performance by miles, though you can still see her cocking an eyebrow and hear her whispering sotto voce, “Yes, dear, but are you willing to tip yourself into madness?” And if you listen close you can still hear him saying…”Maybe?” The question was never asked again so he was never forced to resolve it before the short journey to self-parody was completed. Everyone else is terrific acting their little hearts out in the background. If you wonder whether he knew what happened, just study the sad arc of his life. One of the essential American movies, though not perhaps for the reasons most people seem to think.

May 26-Viva Zapata! (1952, d. Elia Kazan, 1st Viewing)

Okay, truth be told, I’ve had the Elia Kazan box sitting around for at least a decade, trying to watch them all in order and just waiting until I was up to Streetcar again. (I broke the sequence to re-watch Man on a Tightrope, about which more when I do my Handy Ten on Gloria Grahame). This was next in line and another chance to see early Brando. He only had to deal with Anthony Quinn and Dr. No in this one so he was, alas, in his comfort zone. Still pretty interesting, but given the talents involved, I couldn’t help thinking it might have been more. And frankly, the Great Actor of the Age wasn’t as convincing a Mexican as Chuck Heston in his much-derided Touch of Evil turn.

May 30-The Great Escape (1963, d. John Sturges, Umpteenth Viewing)

Well, for all the reasons I’ll always watch it, up to and including the moment when Virgil Hilts (not Steve McQueen, not his stunt man, Virgil Hilts, who by that point is no longer fictional or even a composite) make that leap. But the reaction shots alone are always worth the price of admission and time spent. Plus, it’s out in a great new eye-popping transfer from the Criterion Collection. Get it if you can!

June 2-The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015, d. Guy Ritchie, 1st Viewing)

I’m always looking for good popcorn in the bargain bins of America while they last. Took a chance on this one and I’ll say it’s…pretty good. Seemed like I was just catching hold of the odd rhythm when it ended so I’ll probably watch it again at some point. Given some of the things they’ve made franchises of, I’m surprised this hasn’t produced at least one sequel.

June 3-The Last of Sheila (1973, d. Herbert Ross, 3rd Viewing)

Because it had been a long time, I had it lying around, and somebody or other was lauding it on Twitter. Thought what I thought the other two times I watched it….Wanted James Coburn to have the last laugh and he doesn’t. Wish there was more Dyan Cannon…and there isn’t. Still, diverting, as, with that cast, it could hardly fail to be.

June 5-Dance, Girl, Dance (1940, d. Dorothy Arzner, 1st Viewing)

Out this summer on Criterion, (with notes from my blog-pal Sheila O’Malley, who also did the same for The Great Escape…the lady has range). This is a combo backstage musical/women’s picture from the only female director working under contract for a major Hollywood studio at the time and it’s a small gem. It’s odd, disorienting, feature is that a young Lucille Ball makes a young Maureen O’Hara look dowdy. Granted, the worldly, wise-cracking dame always has an advantage, but I guarantee that’s the last time that happened! A cracking good time for anyone who has the good taste to like this sort of thing.

June 6-The Wild and the Innocent (1959, d. Jack Sher, 1st Viewing)

This was the first film in a four-movie set of Audie Murphy westerns I scored cheap on Amazon. It was the weakest of the lot and, like most of Murphy’s lesser efforts, still pretty entertaining. Even the eternally baby-faced Audie was a little long in the tooth to be playing the teenage frontier hick who’s never been to town. But it works out over the long run, with Gilbert Roland giving a nice twist on a sympathetic villain and a genuinely touching performance from Sandra Dee that suggests there might have been a lot more to her than heaven, Bobby Darin, or Hollywood allowed.

June 6-The Lincoln Lawyer (2011, d. Brad Furman, 2nd Viewing)

Now this is a popcorn movie, as good as it gets. So good, in fact, that it transcends the concept and has some insightful and occasionally moving things to say about this modern land that so many somebodies who weren’t paying attention during the whole Frozen Silence (1980-2016) or even the early Trump years, have suddenly awakened to find has turned into a crap-hole while they were busy staring at the disco ball. You want a sign of the Apocalypse: there’s been no sequel. What, are Matthew McConaughey and Marisa Tomei just too busy?

June 7-Liberty Heights (1999, d. Barry Levinson, 1st Viewing)

Another bargain bin pickup. I hadn’t seen any of Barry Levinson’s Baltimore movies except Diner, which is a big fave. This isn’t as good as Diner. Like all of Levinson’s movies, post Wag the Dog, it’s a little awkward, as if made by a man who is not sure he’s in the right profession any more. But it’s got a sweet spirit made melancholy by the distance the world has traveled in the wrong direction since its 50’s setting…or even since its 1999 release date. I could still swear the trailer had a scene that cut from a baseball crashing through a window, and kids scattering, to Joe Montegna saying (as only he could) “Put Joe DiMaggio on the phone.” In the movie that exists, it’s “Put the Fuhrer on the phone.” in response to the Jewish teenage protagonist dressing up as Hitler for Halloween. It was funnier in my head when it was Joe DiMaggio so if anybody knows where that movie went, let me know. I swear I didn’t dream it.

June 7-On the Waterfront (1954, d. Elia Kazan, 2nd Viewing)

I’m being a little hard on Brando, as happens from time to time, so let me just say that this is a great performance. I don’t think it’s anywhere near the greatest performance of all time–heck, I don’t even think it’s Brando’s greatest–see above), any more than I think Citizen Kane (a very great movie) is the greatest film of all time, but you can be pretty darn great and still not be the greatest ever. This was only the second time I watched it, and the first time I watched it without the baggage of unreasonable expectations. Now I just have to figure out why Noam Chomsky thought it was an anti-union, or even anti-Communist, film.

It could take a while.

Til then….

 

 

 

 

 

DEVIL’S DOUBLE DICTIONARY: Tolerance

tolerance: the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.

To the oppressed: that which I will demand from others until I win.

To the oppressor: that which I am perfectly willing to put up with to the exact extent it guarantees I will not lose.

All entries in the Devil’s Double Dictionary at RPM will be accompanied by this photograph of Ambrose Bierce, author of the original Devil's Dictionary.

All entries in the Devil’s Double Dictionary at RPM will be accompanied by this photograph of Ambrose Bierce, author of the original Devil’s Dictionary.

THE PAST HAS NEVER SEEMED FURTHER AWAY (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #158)

A couple of weeks ago I ended a decades long search for Tanya Tucker’s first four Columbia albums on CD. Turns out they’re now available in one glorious, affordable set from Morello Records. A couple of nights ago I sat down and listened to them and was reminded of why she used to keep me up nights. I cried a few times, but nothing hit quite like this, a modest hit just as she was leaving the label where she became a superstar at thirteen. It was conceived and recorded in the mid-70’s, at the height of the New Nashville, and might as well be a three-hundred-year-old Childe ballad about a thousand-year-old memory, a reminder that it takes thousands of years to build civilization and one generation to tear it down.

Listen close….

THE LONG HAIRED COUNTRY BOY MOVES ALONG (Charlie Daniels, R.I.P.)

I spent the summer of 1979 working at the Southern Baptist Conference Center in Ridgecrest, North Carolina. My car was a ’71 Ford Maverick with no air-conditioning and an AM-only radio. In that part of North Carolina I could pull about four stations. If I spent more than four minutes in the hot car I heard “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band on at least one of those stations.

More than a few times, when I was tooling around looking for record shops, I heard it on all four stations consecutively. The record would end on one station and go to a commercial or a song I didn’t like (a VERY common occurrence in 1979 no matter where I was) and I would punch the button and land in the middle of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Then it would end and I would change stations again and the next station would be playing it and so on. I learned the words a long time before the summer was over.

Today when I found out Charlie had passed, I pulled it up on YouTube and, though I hadn’t heard it in at least twenty years, I hadn’t forgot a thing–including the fall of ’79, when I came home and started watching college football and poor Chris Schenkel was doing a game intro, welcoming the fans to the game of the week and, whichever southern stadium was hosting (Athens? Auburn? Baton Rouge?…the memory hazes) had Charlie for a guest and the network cut to him just as he was substituting “son of a bitch” for “son of a gun.”

Different times.

Of course there was a lot more to Charlie Daniels than my memories (which stretched back to my sister and me laughing at “Uneasy Rider” on the way home from the mall almost a decade before). He was a top-tier session man and formidable band leader and his big break came writing the greatest record in Elvis’ vast secret catalog (and one of the greatest in his catalog, period):

Later on, in 1982 to be exact, he took the lid off the top 40’s resistance to the damage Viet Nam had left in both individual vet’s lives and the country’s psyche with his cover of Dan Daley’s “Still in Saigon.” Whether that was a makeup for redneck anthems like “Leave This Long Haired Country Boy Alone” and “The South’s Gonna Do It Again” or a continuum of a valid world view is a matter of taste. What is undeniable is that it opened a seam that, on the radio, ran all the way to Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road.”

But to tell you the truth, what I remember today is the Summer of ’79, when he was literally the only good thing on the radio…so good they played him on every station, country, rock and pop, all day long, all summer long:

POE THE FRONTIER PHILOSOPHER (Great Quotations)

My major reading goal for the year was/is to read the Running Press edition of The Unabridged Edgar Allan Poe. I’m a bit more than halfway through so I’m right on course. The surprising thing so far has been just how little of Poe’s output was dedicated to the tales of horror and the macabre for which he’s best (and nowadays almost solely) known.

Horror was definitely his metier…you can literally feel his pulse quicken–the writer finding himself–when he writes his first true horror scene in “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.”

But, like most great writers he had many dimensions. His greatness in horror came from a much deeper foundation. Here in “The Journal of Julius Rodman,” he gets as far into the heart of the frontier adventurer as even Fenimore Cooper, with whom most people forget he was an almost exact contemporary:

“Some singular evidences of the feeling which more or less pervaded us all occurred during the prosecution of the voyage. Interests, which, in the settlements, would have been looked upon as of the highest importance, were here treated as matters unworthy of a serious word, and neglected, or totally discarded upon the most frivolous pretext. Men who had traveled thousands of miles through a howling wilderness, beset by horrible dangers, and enduring the most heart-rending privations for the ostensible purpose of collecting peltries, would seldom take the trouble to secure them when obtained, and would leave behind them without a sigh an entire cache of fine beaver skin rather than forego the pleasure of pushing up some romantic-looking river, or penetrating into some craggy and dangerous cavern, for minerals whose use they knew nothing about, and which they threw aside as lumber at the first decent opportunity.

“In all this my own heart was very much with the rest of the party…”

(June, 1940).

Thus was America born. How it dies will be up to us I guess.

SUZI Q REMEMBERS ELVIS…AND LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE, IT’S HER OWN WAY (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #157)

There’s a new documentary out on Suzi Quatro, the pioneering rocker who sold fifty million records worldwide but is best known in her native land for a hit duet and a part-time role on Happy Days. Sheila O’Malley reviewed the documentary for Ebert.com. You can find the review by following the link here.

Then Sheila and I got into a wide-ranging chat about women in rock (which you can find by following the link above and scrolling to the comments) and she sent me a link to something I just gotta share here. Please look, listen and smile:

If the YouTube thread sends you straight to “Stumblin’ In” like it did me…just keep listening.