MYSTERY SONG…NO MORE (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #151)

So I go up to the local diner several times a week. They have good food, but mostly I go to get out of the house. I live alone and work at home so a little human contact is a good thing. They play oldies from the fifties and early sixties. I don’t get stumped often. Well, really I never get stumped.

Except for one song that has been driving me crazy.

I tried looking it up online by whatever lyrics I could make out but no luck.

It’s in constant rotation, i hear it at least once a week.

One among hundreds and I couldn’t identify it!

Last year sometime, I had made up my mind to pull up Greil Marcus’s old “Treasure Island” list from his 1979 book Stranded and see if I could find the couple of dozen records I wasn’t familiar with on YouTube.

I finally got back to the project today.

It’s been fun and I’m about halfway through….but I didn’t get a thrill I came to this one.

MYSTERY SOLVED!

Funny thing: I’d heard the song. I know I had because it’s on a list I made of a Casey Kasem Top 40 special in the late 70’s that listed the forty biggest hits with girl’s names in the title. I used to write stuff down just so I would remember.

But memory is a funny thing. It comes and it goes.I didn’t make an impression forty years ago, but it’s burned in my memory now.

For however long it lasts!

(Even better, it’s pay day so I just ordered Robin’s Bear Family CD as my splurge of the month….perhaps more later.)

“AND THEN ONE DAY WE WERE THE ONLY UNSIGNED BAND IN THE WHOLE OF LANCASHIRE” (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #150)

You just never know what you’ll find on YouTube. Here’s a lengthy interview of Peter Noone, ostensibly to talk about his recording of  “There’s a Kind of Hush,” for Mark Steyn’s “Song of the Week” feature. But it covers his early days as the teenage leader of a band in an exciting time and place–you know where and when (okay, for you youngsters, mid-60s Britain).

I learned a few things I didn’t know, including that the distinctive “shhhhh” was not only not a sound effect but Noone’s idea. One of many no doubt, which, as a nonwriter, he never got credit for, even though it’s those precise touches that often make the difference between a stiff and a smash.  He also does a nice Englebert Humperdinck imitation.

But my favorite moment, of course, was this, about his older sister’s record collection:

“My sister couldn’t say a word to anybody. But it was all said by Lesley Gore or people on records and I bought into that.”

BTW, this is me from 5/1/15:

I picked up the Hermits’ set in lieu of some generic greatest hits package or waiting until I could afford the complete Mickie Most sessions, which I wasn’t even sure I needed. I’m still not sure I need it, but the 66-track Bear Family treatment certainly has its deep pleasures, including a new shine on the few tracks I already considered essential (“I’m Into Something Good,” “A Must To Avoid,” “No Milk Today”) and a new level of intimacy made available by the gods of re-mastering that allowed me to hear qualities I’d missed in say, “End of the World,” and “This Door Swings Both Ways” that strengthened my abiding sense that Peter Noone was really a girl-group singer in disguise and gave me an entirely new sneaking suspicion that he might have been a first-rate one.

Just sayin’.

AND THEN I HEARD THIS ABSOLUTELY CRAZY RECORD THAT SOUNDED LIKE IT HAD BEEN PHONED IN FROM ANOTHER WORLD (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End # 149)

I think I’ve mentioned that, after many years, my local radio market once more has an oldies’ station. Today, driving home from a friend’s birthday party, I heard this in the middle of a run of great records (“What a Wonderful World,” “Mr. Big Stuff,” “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” “Dancing Queen,” Barry White, like that) and it was as shocking as the very first time I heard it, coming out of the tiny, tinny speakers attached to my old budget-level Sears Roebuck turntable. I mean, if “punk” meant what its principle acolytes would have you believe–the complete rejection and transcendence of business as usual–it would be the punkest record ever.

And it occurred to me that it might be the first time I’ve actually heard it on the radio:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzOIYZNtlm8

“THE ONE THING I CAN HAVE SOME SAY IN IS HOW I DIE.” (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #148)

This is getting a lot of attention on the Right (especially social media) for a twenty-minute segment where Lara Logan eviscerates the media she has worked for most of her life, but it’s way more than that.

Ignore, if you can, the usual stream of vulgarities that always make adults sound like twelve-year-olds trying to impress Mummy and Daddy. And bear with the first hour. It’s boilerplate about Logan’s upbringing and journalistic background (though it does give some explanation for her responses to what happened later).

And take or leave her political views.

Most of the last two hours are war stories, many never shared before, and it concludes with her lengthy, unflinching account of being the victim of modern history’s most famous gang-rape in Cairo at the high point of the “Arab Spring.”

This is probably the best interview ever given by one of the danger jockeys we call “war correspondents.” Even for those who consider yourselves far from faint of heart, be warned. She’s tougher than you. Way tougher.

AS I WAS SAYING….(Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #147)

Well, it was just the other day that I was referencing the rottenness at the core of the French Empire that precipitated its fall.

Now this, from the Navy Times:

When Fort walked into the trash-strewn CIC in the wake of the disaster, he was hit with the acrid smell of urine. He saw kettlebells on the floor and bottles filled with pee. Some radar controls didn’t work and he soon discovered crew members who didn’t know how to use them anyway.

The U.S. Navy is our Empire’s Maginot Line, the defense system the French built to insure there would never be another attack from the east that brought the Germans as close to Paris as they had come in the Great War.

The Maginot Line was deemed invincible, like the U.S. Navy today.

The state of the French Aristocracy, the equivalent of our D.C. Swamp (at which the Pentagon sits in the geographic and psychological center) can be viewed in the pre-war films of Jean Renoir, especially The Rules of the Game, though one could see Le Marseillaise, set in the French Revolution, as a warning masked by historical costume.

Then as now, the Swamp decides.

When soldiers, sailors and marines are set to the task of doing anything other than guarding their homeland or taking and holding ground from a well-defined enemy, the scenes described aboard The Fitzgerald become, as the French would say, de rigueur.

This will be worth remembering when our ships are being sunk by enemies rather than accidents.

Hey, Clarence Jr., Alohe, James, Dennis, Keni. Tell ’em how it was supposed to be….

Hey Eddie. Tell ’em how it is:

FROM WHICH WE DO NOT LEARN (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #146)

Vietnam 1907:

Patriots took to the streets and lanes with scissors, giving haircuts to all who wanted them, and to many who did not. The French were rightly suspicious of the political implications of this activity. They were also exasperated at being put in a position where they either had to ignore revolutionary agitation or appear ridiculous by objecting to haircuts exactly like their own. Finally, despite the snickers it aroused, an official investigation was launched into what was called “Le Mouvement de la Tonsure.”…

Although the possession of opium was a criminal offense in France, the French administration purchased raw opium in India and Yunnan, brought it to Saigon for processing, and then sold it at official outlets at a profit of 400 to 500 percent. With sardonic humor, Vietnamese observed that the French at least granted them freedom to poison themselves, a liberty denied the inhabitants of the mother country. But indirect taxation through state monopolies took other and even more invidious forms. The state alcohol monopoly was bitterly resented. Rice whiskey was an essential part of the many feast days celebrated by each family and each village during the course of the year. Not only did the Vietnamese have to pay more money for an inferior product, they were also forced to purchase it in carefully stamped official bottles, which raised the actual cost by about 900 percent.

Predictably, the opium monopoly was threatened by extensive smuggling activity, and the alcohol monopoly resulted in much illicit distilling. The French response was direct, brutal, and effective in the short run. Networks of secret agents and informers were organized, and the law was changed to permit unregulated entry, search, and seizure in private homes in a manner never before tolerated under either French or Vietnamese law. While the use of opium was only encouraged, the purchase of alcohol was made compulsory. Quota systems were established whereby a province was obliged to purchase a certain amount of whiskey each month, based on “normal usage.” Then within each province every village had to buy a certain quantity of whiskey or face harsh punishment on the charge that illicit distilling was being condoned. The evils produced by these techniques of enforcement generated even more resentment than the indirect taxes themselves.

Although the French opium policies were racist and exploitive, and the alcohol monopoly forced the Vietnamese to purchase a beverage they did not like in bottles they did not need at a price they could not afford, the salt monopoly was even worse.

(Neil L. Jamieson, Understanding Vietnam, 1993)

Within fifty years the French had been chased from Vietnam, leaving we who had learned nothing except the astounding profits to be made from the drug trade (especially if you brought it home, where the real money was) to take their place.

They’ve been spiraling downward ever since. Thus to empires.

Ours will go the same way. The massive, across-the-board elite resistance to Donald Trump’s attempt to draw down in Syria and (horrors!) Afghanistan, is more proof that nothing changes in imperial capitals, except possibly the tactics deployed to meet any threat to the status quo.

Hey Freda, tell ’em what the first step on the road to freedom is…

HOLDING THE NOTE (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #145)

My region just got an oldies station back a few months ago (after many years of going without), so I have something to listen to besides classic rock and talk radio when I drive to town.

On my way to a haircut today I ran into the Reflections’ “(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet” a top ten one hit wonder from 1964. Sounded great. Greater for having been gone so long (I probably haven’t heard it since the last oldies station went off the air more than a decade ago).

I was driving along, half-remembering the words, thinking how Our love’s gonna be written down in hist-o-ry…Just like Romeo and Juliet! had turned out to be prophetic. What’s it been? Fifty-five years? More time than passed between the end of the American Civil War and the end of World War I?

Seems like that love has been written down in history.

And then….

The song reached the climactic close (do any songs climax anymore? at the close or anywhere else? yes, I know they climax from the first note to the last, it’s one long drone of a climax, song after song, but that’s not quite the same thing is it?), and the lead singer started holding a note (like hadn’t been done for the whole song–that’s what climaxing is all about) and kept right on holding it for God knew how long.

I confess I never heard that note before. Not really heard it mean. I probably noticed it…but that’s not the same thing either is it. Because hearing it–as opposed to merely noticing it–took the song to a whole other level. I’m going to pay much closer attention in the future and I bet by the time I plumb this mystery I’ll have even memorized the words, something forty years of previous listening (in 1978, K-Tel was a thing, and probably not the best way to be introduced to this music even if it was often the only way) hadn’t convinced me was worth the effort.

It starts around the 2:05 mark and lasts the rest of the song, something like thirteen seconds.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDq4-oEC76Q

And just to prove it was no studio trick, here’s that same lead singer, Tony Micale, in 2015, holding it exactly like he did on the record–so far as I could tell, to the second.

Take that Shakespeare.

MEMORY…ABOLISHED (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #144)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
(D. Milos Forman)

I revisited One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on my once-every-two-weeks (whether I need it or not!) day off yesterday. My only previous viewing was on a black-and-white 19″ TV showing an expurgated version for a major network in the late seventies.

Even then, it made an impression, one that kept me at bay for forty years, even though it has been readily available in various home video formats since the early eighties and sitting on my to-watch shelf for a decade.

The impression–and the decade-by-decade avoidance, knowing all the while I would have to confront it some time–was entirely due to Louise Fletcher’s terrifying performance as Nurse Ratched.  Even as a teenager, I saw Jack Nicholson’s fine Randle McMurphy as being a bit by-the-numbers, and all his fellow “crazies” as a touch hyperbolic, if admittedly effective.

I’m sure I am not the only one who missed the subtlety of Fletcher’s performance. The image above is so firmly etched in the culture’s memory, it’s possible to forget entirely (as I had), that this look was more representative–and just as chilling.

In the “Making of” documentary available on the two-disc “Special Edition” DVD I picked up on some sale table all those years ago, Fletcher says that director Milos Forman never gave her any directions on how to play the character except “Keep it real.”

For her, that meant keeping it Southern. My first shock while watching this again was thinking “She’s from the South!” By which I meant Nurse Ratched, but also Louise Fletcher. I say a shock because the novel (by counter culture hero Ken Kesey) and the film (shot in Oregon) are both so identifiably West Coast that an authentic (not Hollywood) Southern accent is far more “foreign” to the setting than, say, an Asian, Hispanic or Swedish one.

But even more shocking was that Fletcher–about whom I knew nothing except that she was Nurse Ratched–was recognizably Southern. I knew there was no way hers was a put-on accent. Put back on, maybe (I could only guess how many acting classes she had taken), but not put on.

All of which deepened the mystery of what is already a mysterious character, one who is never seen outside her hospital (and rarely off her ward), and gives no overt indication of what her outside life might be like. You might assume a lot–that she’s a lonely, frigid spinster, a regular church-goer, a reader of serious books, dedicated to her profession–but it’s all intuited. It’s not in the script. Everything you think you know is suggested by the distance between Fletcher’s tight smiles and the moment when she can no longer force those smiles.

It’s a short distance, and I can tell you from experience, it’s a persona rooted, at least to the depth with which it is played here, in Fletcher’s time (she was born in 1934) and place (Birmingham, Alabama).

It’s unlikely anyone else who had real creative input on the film (Czechoslovakia’s Forman directing; New Jersey’s Jack Nicholson starring; California’s Michael Douglas and New Jersey’s Saul Zaentz producing; New York’s Bo Goldman adapting Oregonian-by-way-of-California Kesey’s novel) understood what she was doing–regionalizing a universal type, as opposed to the usual universalizing of a regional type–but they must have seen how well it was working. (When Nicholson wanted a first name for the Nurse Ratched character, he asked not Forman or Goldman, but Fletcher. “Mildred” she immediately replied. “Perfect,” he said. He uses the name once in the film, to a gentle but devastating effect which Fletcher says caught her–and her character–off guard. I think one of the several Nurse Ratcheds I encountered growing up was actually named Mildred. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if one of Fletcher’s was, too.)

It’s not that any one of Nurse Ratched’s obvious or not-so-obvious characteristics couldn’t be found in non-southerners. I’m sure they all have been and perhaps even all in one place. It’s just that the Southern connotation, so delicately applied here, opens up a whole new set of questions.

How did she come here? (Or, How did she come here? Or, How did she come here?)

What has she been through?

What has she seen?

What did she think of what she has seen?

And is what she has seen what made her this way, determined to right the world’s wrongs at any cost?

Not wanting to know the answers to any of these was understandable when Nurse Ratched was a simple monster, floating around in our selective memories–mine and the culture’s.

But now I want to know–almost need to know. Kesey and Forman are gone. Fletcher, so far as I can find, has given only the perfectly sound and reasonable answers you would expect her to give, which don’t really answer any question worth asking.

I need to know, though. (Put the emphasis where you like.)

Otherwise I’m left with only my old, now wretchedly incomplete, understanding.

That it isn’t the monsters you need to watch out for.

It’s the “responsible” people.

The ones who know what’s best for you.

Until a couple of days ago, that was reassuring.

No longer.

FIFTY YEARS ON…IT STILL GOES ON (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #143)

My brother served in Okinawa during the Viet Nam war as some sort of secretary attached to military intelligence. He spoke with a lot of soldiers who were transitioning back to the states (some being debriefed). Years later, he told me every single man he spoke with had told him some version of the same thing:

I have no idea what we’re supposed to be doing there.

“So when was that,” I asked. “Sixty-eight?”

“No,” he said. “Sixty-six.”

Here’s an interview from 1990. Nothing had changed since 1968….or 1966.

Nothing has changed since.

“Nobody told the Viet Cong we had set them back four months.”

These days, for Viet Cong, just substitute Taliban…or any number of other adversaries around the world who are not having their ground taken from them and hence have no reason to either fear or respect us.

No reason to do anything but wait for the empire to exhaust itself while the fiddlers fiddle.

1968. The year that never ended:

HOW SHE WAS MADE (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #142)

The most interesting part of this hour long interview Hayley Mills gave last year to Leonard Maltin and his daughter is the part where she reveals, off-handedly,  that she had already dreamed herself into being on her father’s farm before the lightning strikes of Tiger Bay and Pollyanna made her a star in England, then the world–and how lightly it’s glossed over.

But for the rest, there’s her encounters with the Beatles, Judy Garland, Walt Disney, et al. Most of that’s at the beginning, but do stay for the end, where she recounts her experience–as the most human-sized movie icon–of attending the 75th Anniversary Oscars, where all living recipients in the acting categories were honored, after her parents had kept her away from the ceremony where she would have received her special Oscar for Pollyanna when she was twelve.

By then, you might have almost forgotten that her honest-to-God date with George Harrison (for a special showing of Charade) was arranged by her mom.

When she was seventeen.

I guess that’s what you call a trade-off!

(Update: I originally had the age of the Beatle date as sixteen because I misread her birth date on Wikipedia..Thanks to Neal U. for the sharp eye!)