Tonite is an astrologer's wet dream. Did I just say that? I know very little about astrology, but the moon in our skies is a blue one, or more precisely the second full moon of the month, with a partial eclipse, and it's made of (blue) cheese. It's also New Years Eve. The term, "once in a blue moon" has come to mean seldom, rarely, or perhaps never. Apply this as you wish, to whatever may be your current milieux. A full moon is prone to wreak emotional intensity or mahyem. Wolves howl at them, and singers sing about them.
"Blue Moon" is a Rogers and Hart standard. Lorenz Hart wrote four different sets of lyrics to it for four different Hollywood films. The one that stuck, has been recorded by hundreds of artists, and the Elvis Presley version of 1954, is in my mind, one of the most beautiful and haunting records ever recorded. Sam Phillips summoned up some real magic that day in Memphis. Another beautiful and different song of the same name, was recorded by Big Star, in the same city twenty years later with another shaman producer--the late great Jim Dickinson--at the helm.
Bill Monroe's 1947 hit, "Blue Moon of Kentucky" is also a standard, in bluegrass, country, and rock 'n roll. Elvis recorded it in the same sessions that yielded "Blue Moon." In Monroe's version, it's a sad and plaintive waltz to a lost love, ("It was on a moonlight night/ The stars were shining bright/ and they whispered from on high/ Your love has said goodbye"). The stars are whispering to Monroe and he asks the moon to shine on the one that's gone and left him blue. Bill Monroe was a spiritual man, and made some of the spookiest records I know. In some folktales, a blue moon has a face and talks to those in it's light. Elvis, states the same, but asks a favor of the moon in a new set of lyrics for the introduction, "Keep on shining bright and bring me back my baby tonite."
What does all this mean? I haven't a clue. Consult an astrologer.
Happy New Year, and may the moon shine on you and yours, brightly, tonight.
"Blue Moon" mp3
by Elvis Presley, 1954.
available on Elvis at Sun
"Blue Moon" mp3
by Big Star, 1974
available on Keep An Eye On The Sky
"Blue Moon of Kentucky" mp3
by Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, 1947.
available on Bill Monroe: Anthology
"Blue Moon of Kentucky" mp3
by Elvis Presley, 1955.
available on Elvis at Sun
Thursday, December 31, 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
by René Spencer Saller
I wish I didn’t have to write this obituary, elegy, tribute, grief porn, whatever. I got the assignment on Christmas night––after spending the day hoping, recklessly and stupidly, that Vic Chesnutt might emerge from his coma and, even more improbably, be magically scoured of his chronic death wish––and, with the full understanding that an obit should be, if nothing else, timely, I put off writing it and slipped a DVD into my iMac instead: Jean Cocteau’s frothy fable in glorious grisaille, La Belle et la Bête. This failed attempt to distract myself only reminded me of Chesnutt and his catalog of beautiful beasts. I was unaccountably pissed off. Couldn’t I postpone my sadness, pretend for a night that the gravity of the situation was not, in fact, apparent to us all? Sugarplums and baby Jesuses should have been dancing in my head, not drafts of sentences about how some poor sad fucker offed himself and why we should be sorry.
“The Gravity of the Situation” (live) mp3
by Vic Chesnutt, 1995.
from WFMU's Radio Thrift Shop
at the Museum of Television & Radio
(courtesy: Laura Cantrell)
by Vic Chesnutt, 1996.
from WFMU's The Music Faucet
(courtesy: Nicholas Hill)
“Bernadette & Her Crowd” mp3
by Vic Chesnutt, 1998.
available on The Salesman and Bernadette
"Sultan, So Mighty" mp3
by Vic Chesnutt, 2003.
available on Silver Lake
I regretted the lack of oxycodone, tried to console myself with my mother-in-law’s macaroons. I put away the Cocteau DVD and replaced it with The Salesman and Bernadette, Chesnutt’s 1998 masterpiece, and the man I never knew but loved came alive to me again, my own beautiful, unattainable, much-mourned Bernadette: Vic, I honor you. Vic, I owe you some.
Maybe it’s wrong to mourn him. Maybe we should respect his right to kill himself no matter how much it hurts the people who love him, because that's his choice, and life loses all meaning if it’s mandatory. Maybe it's selfish to ask additional favors of a man who suffered more in his 45 years than most of us can imagine. How many times have you heard someone say that he (and it's almost always a he) would kill himself if he ever became paralyzed? Chesnutt faced this nightmare and stuck it out for a long time. A car accident made him a paraplegic at the age of 18, and he spent the remaining 27 years in a wheelchair. In a weird way, maybe this qualifies as what some theologians call the Fortunate Fall, a bad event with good consequences. Maybe it helped transform him from, in his words, “a redneck bum from Georgia” to a sui generis musical genius, a songwriter’s songwriter, championed first by Michael Stipe and then by countless others, from Madonna to Jonathan Richman to Patti Smith. Without that formative misfortune, could he have written a song like “Sultan, So Mighty,” an odd and lovely little number from 2003’s Silver Lake, which he sings, in a spectral falsetto, from the perspective of a court eunuch? Would he have had the imagination, the empathy, to cast his lot with the freaks, the rejects, the degenerates? (Consider, for example, his heartbreaking, definitive cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Like a Monkey in the Zoo.”) At any rate, despite or because of his suffering, he made more people happy in his brief time on this planet than most of us can hope to do if we live twice as long. As he sang in a tender, revelatory cover of Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain,” “Life is sad, life is a bust/All you can do is do what you must.” He did what he must do, and he did it well.
"Like A Monkey In The Zoo" mp3
by Vic Chesnutt, 2004.
available on The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered
"Buckets Of Rain" mp3
by Vic Chesnutt, 2003.
available on Crossing Jordan
"The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia" mp3
by Vic Chesnutt, 1995.
available on Star Power!
He called himself “a brokeback atheist,” so I'm not going to hope he's in a better place, or at peace, or hanging out in heaven with his mama, eating pecan pie on a fluffy pearlescent cloud. What do you say on the death of an atheist? What can you wish for him? A miraculously intact spinal cord, pleasure in place of pain? For most believers, heaven is the absence of all hardship, the end to all desire, a magnificent tautology. Heaven, even the hypothetical heaven that nonbelievers believe in, is deadly dull. Chesnutt was many things, but he was never boring. It’s impossible to imagine him in that sterile libido-proof realm, this beautiful broken man who plucked blossoms from the muck, who found his consolation in the imperfect here, in the brutal now.
You could easily turn his suicide into an argument for single-payer health care, as several commentators have done. It’s especially tempting because Chesnutt, who had racked up more than $50,000 in medical debt despite the fact that he had health insurance, railed against our colossally corrupt system in recent interviews. As someone who knows all too well the unique agony of bickering with some midlevel insurance rep when you’re way too sick to care anymore, I have to wonder if he simply got tired of fighting. Maybe he figured, “Fuck it all, I did what I must do, and I did it well. Now I’m through.” He made many great records, he had thousands of fans all over the world, if nowhere near as many as he deserved, and a bunch of people he admired and respected admired and respected him back. What more could anyone reasonably expect? Maybe he got sick of always having to make that extra effort, always having to measure up.
But using Chesnutt’s death to advance a political argument seems reductive and wrong, and speculating about his motives won’t bring him back.
Suicide, unfortunately, inducts you into a special club, and you might not like the other members. There you are, wedged between Ian Curtis and Sylvia Plath, Mohammed Atta and David Foster Wallace, Kurt Cobain and my maternal grandmother. Everyone starts reading your life backward. They start inferring dark shit from your every innocent pronouncement, imposing new, unintended meanings. Skinny girls in black lipstick flop around in their darkened bedrooms and mouth the words to your songs, carve your lyrics into their flesh. Suddenly, despite your best intentions, you’re, ugh, kind of goth. Chesnutt, whose best songs are, like all great works of art, life-affirming and happy-making regardless of their subject, deserves a better fate.
I wish he wouldn’t have done it, of course, but more than that I wish he wouldn’t have wanted to do it. But then we’re back to the old Fortunate-Fall paradox: Maybe his curse was his gift. The ability to experience joy and share it comes with a price, the necessity of pain. Numb yourself to the latter, and you deny yourself the former.
And joy abounds in Chesnutt’s canon, a joy that’s always pitted against pain but somehow prevails. He grapples with the can’t-go-on-must-go-on quandary in Silver Lake’s transcendent closer, “In My Way, Yes,” a touching argument against self-annihilation. After he runs through a litany of life’s little compensations (“Driving fast all night/Bursting into song at first light/Sharing breakfast from one plate/Holding hands over loved ones’ graves”), a stern Greek chorus of alter egos asks him if he thinks he deserves his happiness, to which he replies, “I say yes, in my way yes.” Never has self-affirmation sounded so heroic.
“In My Way, Yes” mp3
by Vic Chesnutt, 2003.
available on Silver Lake
“Flirted With You All My Life” mp3
by Vic Chesnutt, 2009.
available on At the Cut
In the recent song “Flirted With You All My Life,” which Chesnutt described as a “breakup song with death,” he informs Death, the “You” of the title, that he’s not ready, not yet ready, to die. In hindsight, it’s far from reassuring. I said I wouldn’t speculate, but I can’t help myself. Why did he do it when he said he wouldn’t? Guess what, Vic: We weren’t ready either. We still aren’t.
Let’s try to be grateful for all the beautiful songs he left us––about 15 albums’ worth, depending on how you count them––and stop being greedy, wishing for more.
Here are a few that I’ve been comforting myself with lately, from my favorite Vic Chesnutt albums, The Salesman and Bernadette and Silver Lake.
There’s “Old Hotel,” which I recently decided is a metaphor for the human body, the way it can both betray and redeem us. The original version, on Salesman, is strange and a little off-putting, with Chesnutt’s multitracked mutter bobbing above Lambchop’s funereal horns. The vocal effect makes him sound slightly detached, at some remove. The lyrics are among Chesnutt’s best, though, a stoneristic riddle that starts out sordid (“I can see my old hotel down amongst the smells. I’m up above that ancient city river. It’s filtered by my lousy liver. It’s filtered by my wilted lily liver”) and accumulates an unlikely grace (“I’m giddy like a tipsy Mary Poppins”). The live version, from a 1995 performance on WFMU’s Radio Thrift Shop, is knee-bucklingly beautiful, with a more intimate arrangement of keening cello, shivery vibes, and Chesnutt’s plangent rasp.
“Old Hotel” (live) mp3
by Vic Chesnutt, 1995.
from WFMU's Radio Thrift Shop
at the Museum of Television & Radio
(courtesy: Laura Cantrell)
He’s one of those lyricists whose words can fall flat on the page––deliberately, operatically flat, like a slapstick stunt that makes you laugh all the harder because you know how much it hurt. For every perfect line, there’s a real howler, and it’s this friction between the sublime and the silly that sets Chesnutt apart from lesser poets. He is endearingly unafraid of looking stupid. He makes ridiculous rhymes, or more precisely, he reveals his own ridiculousness by stretching for them and failing extravagantly, like a sitcom drunk. He doesn’t embrace so much as tongue-kiss the absurd.
Sometimes he rhymes like a very stoned person trying to be funny, which, it turns out, can actually be really funny. Then, while you’re all relaxed and giggly, he tosses off a couplet so devastatingly gorgeous that you’d swear he ripped it off Yeats. He’s often quite crude, in an almost self-consciously juvenile way, as on the horndog pastorale “Maiden,” a sweet and slow art-soul high-five to fucking that begins, “Dogs are barking. Birds are chirping. The only thing better is if I was squirting.” It’s one of many songs in which he pokes fun at himself, at the male ego.
by Vic Chesnutt, 1998
available on The Salesman and Bernadette
He has always reminded me of Stanley Elkin, another dirty-minded genius in a wheelchair, another crass and extravagant lover of life. Elkin, who had multiple sclerosis, was a big-shot novelist at Washington University in St. Louis, where I attended grad school. I never took a class with him, never had the nerve, but more than once I saw male students awkwardly heaving him up the stairs of the old elevatorless building where Hurst Lounge, site of most of the fiction and poetry readings, was located. It seems unfathomable now, in light of the Americans with Disabilities Act and insurance regulations and the potential for lawsuits, that anyone, much less a literary lion, would have to undergo that particular humiliation, but endure it he did, probably several times a semester. All the petty indignities, the physical and emotional pain: How did they imprint themselves on Elkin’s work, on Chesnutt’s? To what extent are they responsible for that radiant empathy?
“Stay Inside,” another standout from Silver Lake, is the atheist’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” an introvert’s manifesto. Supported by a mournful choir and stately Wurlitzer, Chesnutt’s slippery moan sounds soulful and reverent, as timeless as Dylan or the Bible. Printed on a page, the words are almost unbearably sad: The last verse goes, “Suddenly everything’s different and/Everyone’s on edge/I just wanted to bring folks together/But it seems that I am the biggest wedge.” It’s hard to resist staying inside, the siren call of the chorus, when you know that shutting yourself off is the only sure way to keep from causing further damage. Somehow, though, the song demolishes its own argument, comes out on the side of the communal. It is so perversely beautiful that it almost sounds holy, more holy than a song that references stinky bedclothes has any right to be. The band comes together, gingerly at first and then with a loose but locked-in grandeur, as if they’ve all tapped into the universal mind. We’re not alone, not yet.
Come back outside, Vic. We owe you some.
"Stay Inside" mp3
by Vic Chesnutt, 2003.
available on Silver Lake
If you would like to make a contribution to VC's family, to help defray his medical bills, follow THIS LINK.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Joe Strummer died seven years ago yesterday. He was pretty cool.
"Johnny Appleseed" mp3
by Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros, 2001.
available on Global a Go-Go
"Julie's In The Drug Squad" mp3
by The Clash, 1978.
available on Give 'em Enough Rope
"Groovy Times" mp3
by The Clash, 1979.
available on Super Black Market Clash
by The Clash, 1980.
available on Sandinista!
"Redemption Song" mp3
by Johnny Cash & Joe Strummer, 2001.
available on Unearthed
Friday, December 18, 2009
By Chris O'Leary
"Listen, I told you I'm not a Jew."
"I don't give a damn what you are," he turned his half-dark eyes to me, wrenching his arm loose. "You talk like a Jew."
"What does that mean?" Some part of me wanted to laugh.
"How does a Jew talk?"
"They talk like you, buddy."
-John Berryman, "The Imaginary Jew"
The Kenyon Review, Vol. 7, No. 4, Autumn, 1945.
Although my name is Christopher Paul O’Leary and I was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church (that’s as far as it went: no communion, no confirmation), I am regularly taken for a Jew. This could be simply because I have a beard and wear glasses, or maybe whatever Irish Catholic residue I still carry reads instead as Jewish: a faulty translation.
I grew up in southwestern Virginia, where there are few Catholics, let alone Jews. My identity was fixed then. My third-grade teacher had me stand in front of the class and explain what a Catholic was. I stammered and tried to remember something from the masses I attended in the summer, when I was under the care of my grandmother in Connecticut. At last I said, “Well, we have the Pope.” The teacher, a brutal mountain-bred descendant of Covenanters, nodded. “That you do,” she said, and silently consigned me to hell.
Something changed. The Jewish confusion, let’s call it (it would be a good band name), first occurred in Boston, while I was in college. A Hasidic teenager with a clipboard (I never learned what he wanted) was approaching students on Commonwealth Avenue. He quickly appraised me: “Jewish, yes?” He startled me and I sharply replied no. He stepped back, stared at me again and said, “Well, good!”
It was a backwards curse. Once I moved to New York, the Jewish confusions multiplied. A typical example: I was walking on Eighth Avenue and ahead of me a man was passing out fliers for a strip club while he kept up a running patter. “Hey come on down. Come on down the block. Your wife don’t have to know. Your girlfriend don’t have to know.” He spun towards me. “Your rabbi don’t have to know. Come on down the block.”
I was even Jew-bashed once, in Sunnyside, Queens, while walking to the subway. As a group of teenagers passed me, the largest one nearly knocked me to the sidewalk as he sneered, “Well if it isn’t our friendly neighborhood Jew!” The rest laughed and cursed. I stewed over the encounter for days—angry at being harassed for something I wasn’t, then feeling guilty for being indignant about that factor. But there are more legitimate reasons to harass me, I countered. I was the victim of inaccurate bigots. I grew paranoid and wondered if people in the local market called me “the friendly neighborhood Jew” after I left. I stopped being friendly.
I married a half-Jew (I still have a menorah in the basement), we moved to Massachusetts, we divorced. Soon after the latter, I had to drive to Old Greenwich, Connecticut, to cover a conference. Old Greenwich is the sort of place where money goes for its retirement. Even the sewer grates look pristine. I pulled into a palatial hotel. The attendant at the gate was a West Indian man who offered me a wide smile and pointed at my chest: “Let me guess---you’re Jewish!” he boomed.
He seemed to savor the last word, drawing out the vowels. He seemed elated he had found a Jew. Was he one too? Was he grabbing at the opportunity to bond with any type of perceived outsider? Or was he just some lunatic? I denied the charge yet again, shaking my head no, took my ticket and drove past. He looked so sad. I’ve since regretted not temporarily converting for him: for a moment I finally would have been what the world wanted me to be.
"Dem Rebin's Nigun, Oy Tate (The Rabbi's Tune/That's The Way)"
by Lt. Joseph Frankel and Orchestra, 1919.
available on Klezmer Music 1910-1942: Recordings from the Yivo
top photograph: by Garry Winogrand Untitled, c. 1950s.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
by Pamela Harris
Years ago I got invited to a book party at Warner Leroy’s apartment. A foodie Jew, Mr. Leroy owned Tavern on the Green, The Russian Tea Room, et al. He came from a line of uber Jews -- his grandfather, Harry Warner, was Warner Brothers. and his father, Mervyn, produced The Wizard of Oz. (When filming completed, little Warner inherited little Toto.)
His apartment was in the Dakota -- Roman Polanski, naughty Jew, shot Rosemary’s Baby there -- a gothic fantasy of a building that looks massive from the outside, but inside is divided into quadrants around a large courtyard. (It was built this way to let more light in.)
The party was for a best of New York cookbook and took place on the last night of Hanukkah. My date was a nice Jewish boy. We entered the courtyard and a friendly gatekeeper directed us to a rickety elevator that was manned by an equally rickety attendant. The elevator creaked to a rise and a well-dressed woman behind me whispered to no one, "Warner’s neighbor is Leonard Bernstein," West Side Story musical genius Jew. But he also wrote "Kaddish" and "Mass."
And he was in The Revuers with Judy Holliday, a fellow Dakotan. I knew who she was because when I was a kid my dad and I would watch Creature Double Feature movies on Channel 38 and I’d sometimes get screaming. Most of the movies looked like they were made out of paper plates and glue, but occasionally the programmers would slip in Terror in the Wax Museum or Night of the Living Dead and I’d howl in the pillows until my dad changed the channel. The day he flipped the channel to Born Yesterday, a Judy Holliday (b. Judy Tuvim) fan was born.
I was wishing that Judy was still alive; maybe I’d see her upstairs and we’d share a latke, when the elevator stopped and a smiling blond welcomed us through the apartment’s heavy doors. She took our coats and we walked through a foyer into a hall. The ceilings were so high a T. Rex could roam upright -- Marc Bolan, singing Jew (b. Marc Feld) was front man for the band T. Rex -- and my date and I immediately snagged two grease-free mini latkes off a passing tray. We made our way toward the sound of the crowd, trying to be elegant as we downed three caviar blintzes and a quick glass of champagne.
At the end of the hall was a small living room. A Willem de Kooning – husband of Jewish painter Elaine - hung across from a Jasper Johns and I glimpsed the edge of what looked like a drawing by macho Jew Richard Serra. Central Park was lit up through deep-pocketed windows and the buildings far across the park were framed in a way that made their staccato heights look like a Menorah. I could see the old territory of Dutch Schultz – gangster Jew (b. Arthur Flegenheimer) –- and from this vantage point I understood why he wanted to own the city. This was New York, just like I pictured it.
My date wrote for an entertainment magazine and knew everyone by sight. We stood by the windows and stuffed our faces as he pointed out publishers and company presidents. I perked up when he gestured to a nondescript 30-something man. “His last name is Witz. I think he’s related to Gene Simmons.”
My date nodded. “Simmons’s real name is Chaim Witz. He went to a yeshiva in Brooklyn.” My date grabbed four champagnes off a passing tray and gave me two. “Aerosmith’s drummer, Joey Kramer, is from the Bronx.” We downed the champagne and he gracefully cornered four more glasses. Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl Jew, quietly sang from speakers. “Blue Oyster Cult – Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzter started that band. Us Jews can rock.”
My date was nebbishy, nasally and nerdy. I was beginning to like him. We finished off two more glasses of champagne and lined up six more on the window seat. “Mama Cass was a big Jew,” I said. “So was Carole King.” Now he was starting to like me.
I snagged a handful of mushroom cups – I was getting drunk – and handed some to my date. “My uncle was a poet,” I said. “He lived on Leonard Cohen’s couch until he ended up in a loony bin in Massachusetts.” Pop pop – I tossed the mushroom cups down my throat and chased them with champagne.
My cuter by the second date did the same then said, “My uncle Milton knew Barry Manilow when he was Barry Alan Pincus.” Why that was funny I don’t know but I snorted a laugh and champagne came out my nose. Wendy Wasserstein – Pulitzer Prize winning Jew – grinned at us then took a seat next to a man who looked like Don Kirschner, the monotone maven of 1970’s televised Friday Night Rock Concerts.
“Oh my god – “ I said a little too loud then pointed my elbow at Joey Ramone, punk Jew (b. Jeffrey Hyman.) My night was made. I had just been turned on to "I Believe in Miracles" and had worn the type off the ‘repeat’ button on my boom box. My date stumbled over to talk with him and I went to look for a bathroom.
A waiter pointed me past an elegant staircase into a master bedroom. I went into the master bath and as I washed my hands it registered that the little painting above the sink was a Renoir. I wanted to put it in my pants, the way we used to steal steaks from Waldbaums when I was in art school. Was that who I was still? Was that who I wanted to be? I smoothed the hand towels out and exited fast.
My date was at the windows, waiting for me. I grew up a lone Jew in New England’s Irish Catholic-ville where the Festival of Lights was Santa and his sleigh bells. I always felt too Jewish for there and not Jewish enough for New York. I walked to my date and we stood side by side, silent, looking out over the lights of Central Park. Etta James’s "At Last" came on the stereo and suddenly too much or not enough no longer mattered.
"At Last" mp3
by Etta James, 1961.
available on At Last!
"Telegram Sam" mp3
by T. Rex, 1972.
available on The Slider
"I Believe In Miracles" mp3
by The Ramones, 1989.
available on Brain Drain
"The Magazine Seller" mp3
by The Revuers, 1940.
Judy Holliday, Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolf Green
from NBC Radio Broadcast
"Cities on Flame With Rock & Roll" mp3
by Blue Öyster Cult, 1972.
available on Blue Öyster Cult
"Seasons of Wither" mp3
by Aerosmith, 1974.
available on Get Your Wings
"Got A Feelin'" mp3
by The Mamas and the Papas, 1966.
available on Gold
"Way Over Yonder" mp3
by Carole King, 1971.
available on Tapestry
The intro track to the Channel 38 Creature Double Feature.
[ed. note: It's very scary.]
by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, 1973.
available on Brain Salad Surgery
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
by Jason Gross
The editor here didn't want me to write about this and I understand why. It's mainstream corn, which doesn't have a place here otherwise, where roots music and under-rated artists get feted. Even though the idea of celebrating Jewish music around Chanukah time is admirable, in covering this, it also reminds us of the uncomfortable problem that Sandler's song brings up in the first place.
When he premiered it on Saturday Night Live in December 1994, he started it out like this:
"When I was a kid, this time of year always made me feel a little left out because in school, there were so many Christmas songs and all us Jewish kids had was the song 'Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.' So I wrote a brand new song for all you Jewish kids to sing and I hope you like it."
And then he launches into a song with a weird folky melody and hilarious lyrics that no one can remember except for the chorus. That didn't stop "The Chanukah Song" from becoming an instant classic.
Sandler had been on SNL since 1990 but this particular song was one of the reasons that he became a break-out star, going into a movie career the year after he sang this on the show.
The one thing in particular that struck me about the song is that it's still a classic fifteen years after the fact. When Billboard Magazine published its list of holiday hits based on radio play, "The Chanukah Song" came up as #3 on the rock list, beat out by Trans-Siberian Orchestra and U2 but charting higher than Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas," Springsteen's "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," No Doubt and the freaky Bowie/Bing duet. In fact, it's the only Jewish song on the list. So like it or not, it's a holiday mainstay.
Not only did Sandler give us a funny song that the goyem themselves loved but he also got to show off some of the biggest stars in our ranks: David Lee Roth, James Caan, Kirk Douglas, Dinah Shore, Sha Na Na's Bowser, Arthur Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler), Paul Newman, Goldie Hawn, Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nemoy), Howard Schultz (football owner), Ann Landers, Dear Abby, Three Stooges. He flubs Rod Carew (who does have a Jewish family otherwise) and Harrison Ford (not a 'quarter-jew' as he says). OJ Simpson and Scrooge ain't Jewish, he says but Tom Cruise's agent probably is (another wanna check that?). In a 1999 live version, he includes Winona Ryder, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, the Beastie Boys, Lenny Kravitz, Courtney Love, Harvey Keitel, Dustin Hoffman and Bob Dylan. For a 2002 movie version, he name-checks Melissa Gilbert, Michael Landon, Jerry Lewis, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Tom Arnold, Harry Houdini, Sean Penn, Perry Farrell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Connelly, Lou Reed, Paula Abdul, Joey Ramone, Natalie Portman (and for some reason, adds Willie Nelson to the list).
Since he’s a pop artist, he picks up on the most obvious stars, mostly from film with a few token music biz people thrown in for fun and more specifically American Jews in the entertainment biz. Still, he obviously had a much bigger, broader list that he could have worked with that could have included other popular Yankee Jews like: Pat Benatar, Blue Oyster Cult, the Cars, Mama Cass Elliot, Tony Curtis, J. Geils Band, Andy Kaufman, Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, Randy Newman, Gene Simmons, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Tony Randall, Geraldo Rivera, Joan Rivers, Oliver Stone, Steven Spielberg, Howard Stern, Barbara Streisand, Tiny Tim, and Gene Wilder.
But of course, that's just for starters. Sandler didn't wanna look like a fogey so he left out some great oldies: Harold Arlen, Milton Berle, Irving Berlin, Charlie Chaplin, Fanny Brice, Sid Caesar, Eddie Cantor, Cecil B. DeMille, George Gershwin, Benny Goodman, Elliot Gould, George Jessel, Al Jolson, Danny Kaye, Marx Brothers, Walter Matthau, Beverly Sills, Phil Silvers, Neil Simon, and Mel Torme.
For us culture junkies, we can always dream of a version of "The Chanukah Song" that would give shout-out's to some of our own alternative faves: Jonathan Ames, Diane Arbus, Asleep at the Wheel, Richard Avedon, Milton Babbitt, Bad Religion, Saul Bellow, Carl Bernstein, Harold Bloom, Lenny Bruce, Paddy Chayefsky, Aaron Copland, Albert Einstein, Jonathan Safran Foer, Robert Frank, Alan Freed, Kinky Friedman, Jerome Kern, Stanley Kramer, Tony Kushner, David Mamet, Meyer Lansky, Norman Lear, Jonathan Lethem, Helen Levitt, Sol Lewitt, Roy Lichtenstein, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Meredith Monk, Barnett Newman, Robert Oppenheimer, Harold Pinter, Steve Reich, Jerome Robbins, Jonathan Richman, Richard Rodgers, Philip Roth, Mark Rothko, Mort Sahl, Maurice Sendak, Rod Serling, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Susan Sontag, Gertrude Stein, Lee Strasberg, Studs Turkel, and Elie Wiesel. Think of it: Sandler could come up with some great rhymes for Forer, Oppenheimer and Wiesel alone.
And then there's the 100's of others that Sandler and I both missed...
Neil Diamond (a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn) covered the song on his recent holiday album (A Cherry Cherry Christmas), which included Christmas songs otherwise. But I seriously believe that the tune is ripe for cover versions many times over, where any of the names above that Sandler missed could be thrown in.
And why not? Anyone who scoffs at Sandler and his song misses the point. Compare him to later-day Jewish musical comedy and he's brainier than 2 Live Jew but not quite up there with Good For the Jews or M.O.T., which both happen to feature great music scribes (Rob Tannenbaum and Roy Trakin respectively). There's Jewish musicians who explore their faith in much more complex way, especially John Zorn and the Klezmatics (and more recently film-makers the Coen brothers), not to mention Jewish artists who don't explicitly explore their faith but seem to use it as a springboard for inspiration and exploration, like Dylan, Paul Simon, Woody Allen, Leonard Cohen. But Sandler is a comedian first and foremost and the boy ain't no artiste. He's unsubtle but good at what he does, which is getting over-the-top laughs, just like the Three Stooges or Mel Brooks, all of who are nice Jewish boys from Brooklyn, just like Diamond and the author of the song discussed here.
Think of him what you will but Sandler's tune was also groundbreaking and not just for his career. For one thing, his song was a source of pride- alongside the yucks it served up, it name-checked several famous Jews. Though he didn't make it up to the level of kick-ass Jews seen in recent films like Inglourious Basterds, Munich and Defiance, "The Chanukah Song" was still an unashamed show of strength, saying "hey, look who we got in our posse!" In his own way, Sandler's song got the word out to the faithful and the goyem more than a dozen B'nai B'rith conferences could have.
And even though the orthodox of his faith and in the music community might frown on him, Sandler's song is also some kind of achievement. As he explained in his original SNL intro (and Diamond repeats in his version), he didn't have a lot of competition for Jewish holiday.
I like "The Chanukah Song" myself but I admit that it doesn't hurt that I'm Jewish myself. It's not just that I think the song's funny (it's fucking hilarious actually) but I also sympathize with Sandler about holiday songs. The dreidel song is cute enough and you've probably heard "Hava Nagila" without knowing it but unless you're deeply into the culture (which many of us non-orthodox believers ain't), you'll have a hard time remembering any other Jewish holiday tunes. And if some other goofball wants to write a wacky Chanukah (or Purim or Yom Kippur) song that millions of people love, I'm for it. Even Sandler would admit that he could stand some competition himself.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
by Alex Abramovich
“I saw the film of Exodus in Kingston,” Ernest Ranglin said, when he was interviewed for a book called The Book of Exodus: The Meaning and the Making of Bob Marley and the Wailers. "A lot of people went to see it. I know it was a moving movie, with its moral about oppressed people fighting for their existence. I guess that’s why I did the tune, too.”
Ranglin wasn’t the only musician to look at independence-era Jamaica and see the Hebrew exodus. “Get up in the morning slaving for bread, Sir/So that every mouth can be fed,” Desmond Dekker sang, in an achingly beautiful song called “The Israelites” (which many of us first heard in a 1989 film, Drugstore Cowboy, which had to do with more American forms of enslavement). And a few years later, in yet another song called “Exodus,” Bob Marley sang: “Send us another brother Moses/From across the Red Sea!”
Then again, Marley himself was something of a latter-day Moses: “Bob Marley/Poet and a prophet,” Anthony Kiedis once sang. “Bob Marley/Taught me how to off it/Bob Marley, walkin’ like he talkin’/Goodness me, can’t see you see I’m going to cough it?” I don’t know what Kiedis meant by that. But then, I kind of know what he meant by it: He was describing the life arc and career trajectory of a moral and oppressed man who fought for his existence and did tunes, too.
Prince Buster was another Jamaican musician who saw Jamaica as a sort of Babylon and did his best to chant it down; his song “Islam” is a case in point: “My people, my people,“ he sings, “Do you not want to go home?/Africa is calling, and you not want to go home?”
A few years ago, I attended a service at an African synagogue; which is to say, a synagogue in Africa. I don’t usually attend services; bored, I looked around and saw: Indian Jews, Ethiopian Jews…. “Those people and my people?” I wondered. And then I thought, “who knows: maybe there just here for the contacts.” And then I remembered an old Jewish joke I’d heard, many years ago, in Brooklyn:
An old Jewish couple goes out to a Kosher Chinese joint in Crown Heights. The Chinese waiter speaks perfect Yiddish. The Jewish couple is stunned; asks him to sit with them and tell something of his life. And so, the Chinese waiter does, again in perfect Yiddish. On their way out, the Jewish couple compliments the restaurant’s manager. “The food was delicious,” they say. “And this waiter! Where did you find a Chinese waiter who speaks Yiddish so perfectly?” And the manager says “Shhh! He thinks it’s English.”
This song is dedicated to the waiter.
"Dining In Chinatown" mp3
by Jennifer Wells
available on Northern Soul's Classiest Rarities, Vol. 2
by Ernest Ranglin, 1963.
available on War Ina Babylon/An Island Reggae Anthology
by Desmond Dekker and the Aces, 1968.
available on Israelites: The Best of Desmond Dekker
by Bob Marley and the Wailers, 1977.
available on Exodus
by Prince Buster, 1965.
available on Rock A Shacka Vol. 5 Dance Cleopatra
"Give it Away" mp3
by The Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1991.
available on Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Monday, December 14, 2009
by Jesse Jarnow
I asked Tuli Kupferberg once, "Did you really jump off of The Manhattan Bridge?" "Yeah," he said, "I really did." "How come?" I said. "I thought that I had lost the ability to love," Tuli said. "So, I figured I might as well be dead. So, I went one night to the top of The Manhattan Bridge, & after a few minutes, I jumped off." "That's amazing," I said. "Yeah," Tuli said, "but nothing happened. I landed in the water, & I wasn't dead. So I swam ashore, & went home, & took a bath, & went to bed. Nobody even noticed."
- Anne Waldman and Ted Berrigan, Memorial Day, New York: Poetry Project, 1971.
"The basic unit of human society is the human body. You have to know how to use it and enjoy it."
- Tuli Kupferberg, Perfect Sound Forever Interview with Jason Gross, 1997.
Tuli Kupferberg was never blessed with a traditionally sweet voice. He sounded like, and was, a dude from the Lower East Side. It was his Yiddish-tinged baritone that gave the Fugs' harmonies their delightfully guttural unhingedness. Yet it was also Tuli who produced perhaps the Fugs' two most legit pop tunes--the bubblegum stomp "Supergirl" and the folk-pop charmer "Morning Morning"--and thus the radical poets' most radically mainstream dalliances.
Already 41 at the time of the Fugs' 1964 founding, Kupferberg, a self-described anarcho-pacifist, remains philosophically a lover, not a fighter. And, despite the brief crisis of confidence that resulted in his infamous bridge-jump, documented in Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" ("who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten"), he has at least never lost his ability or desire to express it. And though the Fugs are mostly (and, to be fair, accurately) remembered for their political humor, there remains a rich vein of love songs in their discography, many of them by Tuli.
For Tuli, love was an entrance point to politics, because it was the most important thing about humanity. "On the 6th of August in 1945, a bomb on Hiroshima killed 120 brides," he sings on a duet with the otherwise unrecorded Viki Pollon, his first, deeply humanist concern about the atrocity. On "the Hidden Dissuaders," a track on No Deposit, No Return, a 1966 collection of found poetry, he recites an article from a beauty magazine, which becomes the inverse of "Supergirl," a giant wink from Tuli, who knows (his sarcasm implies) what makes for a genuine, beautiful human being. (see also: Frank Zappa's "You Can Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance.")
Whether any of this is profoundly Jewish, or merely humanist, is irrelevant. But it's definitely not not-Jewish.
Since the Fugs' 1984 reunion, it's not that Tuli's voice isn't what it used to be. It's exactly what it always was. Only more. In the latter-day Fugs, he has sometimes passed gentler tunes to junior Fug Steven Taylor, who has sung "Dover Beach" (a setting of a poem by Matthew Arnold on 1985's No More Slavery) as well as "Try To Be Joyful" (on the The Fugs' Final CD [part I]), both reissued digitally by Fugs Records this year.
But once a lover always a lover. On the latter album, though Tuli passes his "Joyful" off to Taylor, he then delivers a throwaway "Septuagenarian In Love" Dion parody, but then "Where Is My Wandering Jew?" "Does ecstasy count in the fall of the night?" he asks, sounding very much like a 70-year old Jewish man, still figuring out the human body, even in its inevitable decline.
Since 2007, Kupferberg has seeded YouTube with nearly 150 videos, including song parodies, lectures about labor relations, collaborations with Jeffrey Lewis, Yiddish folk tales, and daily "perverbs." Even after suffering two strokes in 2009, and losing much of his eyesight, the bed-raggled Kupferberg continues to offer daily aphorisms.
Included in the YouTube flood is a quietly stunning November 2007 take of Tuli's own arrangement of the song "Moscow Nights," retitled "When I Was A Young Man." Tuli sings a capella. The official description notes that "Tuli has said this is the song he would most like to be remembered by." "Czars shall come but different czars will go, but darling, I still love you so," Tuli sings on the refrain.
It belongs on a collection of field recordings, one of those places where tradition and expression and politics collide in one, natural place -- the pure process of tradition and creativity entwined. Maybe not so radical, after all.
"Living In Hope" mp3
by Tuli Kupferberg, 1990.
available on Rutles Highway Revisited
by The Fugs, 1965.
available on The Fugs First Album
"Morning Morning" mp3
by The Fugs, 1966.
available on The Fugs Second Album
"Love and Ashes" mp3
by Tufi Kupferberg and Viki Pollon with Peter Rawson, 1967.
available on East Village Other: Electric Newspaper
"The Hidden Dissauders" mp3
by Tuli Kupferberg, 1966.
available on No Deposit, No Return
"Dover Beach" mp3
by The Fugs, 1985.
available on No More Slavery
"Where Is My Wandering Jew?" mp3
by The Fugs, 2003.
available on The Fugs Final CD, Pt. 1
"When I Was A Young Man" mp3
by Tuli Kupferberg, 2007.
available via YouTube
Jackson Browne, Tuli Kupferberg (center) Stefan Grossman and Steve Noonan by David Gahr, 1967.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
by David Gordon
I first discovered Leonard Cohen in the garbage. I was dumpster diving with some friends in San Francisco, and we found (along with a Nakamichi tape deck I still have) a CD player that was jammed shut. We popped it open with a knife, and The Best of Leonard Cohen was inside. Since it was the only CD we had, we played it over and over. Then I went out and bought everything I could find with his name on it. No doubt I registered that Cohen was a Jewish name – is there a name more Jewish? – but at the time other things intrigued me more: the poetry, the pain, the grown up sex and wisdom. It was adult entertainment, in every sense of those words.
I became a Serge Gainsbourg fan later, after hearing “Bonnie and Clyde,” becoming utterly haunted by it, and realizing he was the same guy who sang those smart, sleazy, slick songs “Je t’aime…moi non plus” and “69 année érotique.” His legend fascinated me too: the louche ladies’ man always looking as though he’d been up all night at the orgy while secretly producing great art. Later I had a girlfriend in Paris who was obsessed with Serge, his grave, the graffiti-covered house. Recommending other singers I thought she’d like, I suggested Cohen. Why? The similar, gravelly voices. The talk-singing. The witty, dark, perverse lyrics. And, I suddenly realized, both were Jews, Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern European descent, a concept that barely made sense to a Japanese Parisian girl who barely knew any Jews besides me. My other suggestion, the CD I made her in NY, only confirmed this hunch: Lou Reed, another lone voice in another wilderness, a Jewish boy from Long Island who’d gone off the reservation into a life of crime, drugs, sex and art. Did every culture have one of these underground Jews? And did someone who loved one love them all?
When my current girlfriend told me on our first date that Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground were her favorites, I knew she was not only beautiful but a woman of rare taste for her generation, and I also realized, without a moment’s hesitation, what else to play for her: Cohen and Gainsbourg, of course, (and of course she loved them, and me for playing them) as well as that other Jewish star: Randy Newman, the strangest creature of all…A Jew with a Southern accent!
In the end, as with so many things, it all leads back to Dylan.
I never registered that Bob Dylan was Jewish until he got born again. As a profoundly secular, atheistic Jew living in the Jewish heartland of NY/NJ, I never gave Mr. Zimmerman’s ethnic or religious background a second thought, since, in my mind, it couldn’t have anything to do with his genius: by definition, nothing that reminded me of middle-class Jewish-American life could be of any interest.
Then he became a Christian, which was much worse. It seemed, frankly, ridiculous. (Although the show I saw during this period was terrific.) It made me realize that the best thing about being a smart, urban Jew was that we didn’t take it all so seriously. It also led me to think about how very Jewish his music had actually always been. There are the myriad Biblical references, too numerous to tally here, with the Old Testament far out-weighing the New. There is the voice itself, closer in some ways to a high, wailing cantor than to Elvis. Just like the other (sort-of) singing, wandering Jews, who are his secret brethren.
There are many other characteristics this group shares: They are intellectual, poetic, high-minded yet low-down, wicked and a little sleazy, portrayed sometimes as sexually depraved or ambiguous and morally or politically suspect. Their singing skills are, let’s say, unconventional, yet their voices became famous. They are seen as prophetic commentators, doom callers with obsessive fans, and as leaders and originators of forms, yet they remain always apart, more like each other than their supposed peers in folk, rock, punk, whatever. Eventually adopted as national or cultural heroes by their home-states, they nevertheless remain uneasy figureheads, critical and in a way forever foreign. They even, as they age, seem to look alike: the sharp noses, the slashed lines around the mouth, the deep-set eyes, open foreheads and thick kinky hair. They look…well they look kind of like some of my relatives…and it suddenly becomes possible to imagine that these guys, Midwesterner, Long Islander, Louisianian, Frenchman, Canadian, all have ancestors from the same shtetl in Russia, or a territory once conquered by Russia.
Weirdly, this profile is almost exactly in keeping with one of the classic anti-Semite stereotypes: the rootless cosmopolitan, the wanderer, the hustler, the intellectual, anti-patriotic, amoral seducer of Christian girls and boys, who insinuates himself into the culture, infecting it with his subversive ideas, his degenerate songs and decadent art, but nevertheless remaining eternally alien.
It turns out that they were right to be afraid, for the little sneaky Jews have triumphed. It is, I would argue, a counter-lineage, a line of Jewish development just as noble as, if less frequently acknowledged than, the rabbinical one, and among its great figures I would include Philip Roth, Larry David, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Walter Benjamin, Kafka and Freud. The dirty-minded, dark-hearted, deep-souled and golden-voiced Jewboys, who carried their weird little light all over this dark globe. I’m proud to be their humble descendant. Happy Hanukkah and YWHW bless us all!
"Tower of Song" mp3
by Leonard Cohen, 1988
available on I'm Your Man
"God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)" mp3
by Randy Newman, 1972.
available on Sail Away
"I'm Set Free (Closet Mix)" mp3
by The Velvet Underground, 1969.
available on Peel Slowly and See
"Ring Them Bells" mp3
by Bob Dylan, 1988.
available on Tell Tale Signs: the Bootleg Series Vol. 8
"Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus" mp3
by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin
available on Jane Birkin et Serge Gainsbourg
David Gordon's first novel, The Serialist, will be published by Simon & Schuster in March 2010.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
by Paul Abruzzo
Snow fell at a stairway angle. Cats crossed my path as if imbeciles on fire. Moreover, I was in Juarez. I walked straight to a hot bordello. She led me up to her room, the wood loose at my feet. I had a temperature hovering around zero. My best friend the doctor rifled through my wallet for the malaria. I was immobilized, unable to do or undo a single button on my shirt. Naturally, the police arrived. They stood around the bed brandishing nightsticks. A red light blinked in my head. A line of steady moonlight shot through the room like a fallen girder.
A festival came out of the housing project yet I barely lifted my head. The confetti was my loneliness, my memory a goosestep. Jimmy Stewart was going on hysterically in Yiddish about raising the dead from an icy river. A man in a black hat handed out cards declaring Hanukkah a time for restitution. A lone voice repeatedly called out for two hard boiled eggs. Lily, the caretaker's daughter, was literally run off her feet. A shot glass appeared like whispered blackmail.
I went back to New York City, my voice hoarse and distant, where I was launching a new career in rectitude. An uncle on my mother’s side said he could get me in, but all he meant, it turned out, was that the joke was on me, that for the rest of my days I’d be selling electricity at the lip of an abandoned coal mine.
"Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" mp3
by Ramblin' Jack Elliott, 2007.
available on I'm Not There
by Manuel Alvarez-Bravo
El Umbral (Threshold), 1947.
Friday, December 11, 2009
by Ben Greenman
Marc Bolan, of course, was the front man and principal songwriter for T. Rex, both in the band’s early hippie incarnation (Tyrannosaurus Rex, which evolved out of the psychedelic folk ensemble John’s Children) and in its later, more successful glam-rock version. You know T. Rex, of course, from “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” which went top ten in 1972 and the band’s only American hit. In Britain, though, Bolan and T. Rex were a rock-and-roll phenomenon who repeatedly rose into the top five with songs like “Hot Love,” “Jeepster,” “Metal Guru,” “Telegram Sam.” Bolan was the original glam superstar, with glitter on his cheeks and a particularly phallic V guitar. He was also Jewish.
It is perhaps gimmicky to end a paragraph with that sentence, because that implies significance, and it’s not clear that Bolan’s Judaism had any. Bolan was born Mark Feld to a truck driver named Simeon and a housewife named Phyllis, and though he was raised Jewish, he was technically a half-Jew, and not the kind that counts. (Bolan’s father, the truck driver, was the Jew, which is odd to begin with—truck driving isn’t in the top ten of Favorite Jewish Professions). Bolan’s lyrics ranged far and wide, into both earthy realms (lust and sex; the “vampire for your love” of “Jeepster”) and unearthly realms (nearly half of the 1972 album “The Slider” takes place in space), but they rarely seemed Jewish. And when Bolan’s mother visited a psychic after his death, the subject of his faith never even came up once.
And yet, if you scratch the surface, Bolan was a prototypical Jewish rock star. He trafficked in outrageous behavior, but from behind a disguise (see David Lee Roth). He assimilated completely, changing his name, like Robert Zimmerman before him or Chaim Witz after him. Finally, T. Rex’s music was almost liturgical in character: impossible to understand, easy to sing along with. In that spirit, I’m offering three T. Rex covers by Jewish artists: Paul Westerberg and the Replacements with a boozy “20th Century Boy,” Richard Hell (born Richard Meyers) and Dim Stars with a sharp “Rip Off,” and Kramer (born Mark Kramer) with a creepy “Get It On” that includes the creepiest of all pop-music ingredients, the children's choir. Only the last of these is explicitly figured as Jewish, appearing as it does on the Bolan installment of Tzadik Records’ “Great Jewish Music” series. The other two are Jewish only by implication, though the “move like a cat, talk like a rat” line in “20th Century Boy” has an uncomfortable echo of the Nazi propaganda film “The Eternal Jew.”
On September 16, 1977—a few days after Rosh Hashanah—Bolan got into a purple Mini driven by the singer Gloria Jones, his girlfriend, and never got out. The car struck a tree on Queens Ridge, Barnes, in southwest London. Jones broke her arm and her jaw. Bolan lost his life. Is it a coincidence that Bolan’s age when he died, twenty-nine and then some, almost exactly equaled the average length of a month in the traditional Jewish lunisolar calendar? Probably.
"20th Century Boy" mp3
by The Replacements, 1984.
available on Let It Be
"Rip Off" mp3
by Dim Stars, 1992.
available on Dim Stars
"Get It On" mp3
by Kramer, 1998.
available on Great Jewish Music: Marc Bolan
"Ride A White Swan" mp3
by T. Rex, 1970
available on T. Rex
by T. Rex, 1971.
available on Electric Warrior
"Life's A Gas" mp3
by T. Rex, 1971.
available on Electric Warrior
"Metal Guru" mp3
by T. Rex, 1972.
available on The Slider
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Tomorrow, Hanukkah begins here in Fluville and everywhere else as well. Once again, we'll be hosting holiday reflections from Jewish writers on Jewish artists. That's right, Jew on Jew action right here at the Boogie Woogie Flu. The excitement starts tomorrow at sundown, Brooklyn Standard Time, and will continue for eight nights. In the meantime, here's a holiday favorite by a non-Jew, who married a Jew, and wrote a handful of Jewish songs for his Jewish children.
"Hanukkah Dance" mp3
by Woody Guthrie, 1949.
available on Hard Travelin': The Asch Recordings, Vol. 3
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
This is the fourth and final installment of the Maidens. I bought these paintings at a flea market in upstate New York about fifteen years ago. All four for ten bucks. If there had been more of them, I would have surely bought them as well. As with most thrift store art, they possess a naivete and are anonymous. Well, not quite. They're signed "Scottie," and I always assumed that Scottie was a man, until recently, an artist friend of mine, (who happens to be a woman) very astutely pointed out to me that the handwriting in the signature was that of a woman's hand. "Curvy letters," she said. Of course! And then there's the "ie" instead of "y" at the end of Scottie. It all made sense. Only a woman would paint another woman in such a manner. They are tender and bitchy all at the same time. The remarkable prose poems written in ballpoint pen on scraps of paper and lovingly Scotch-Taped to the back of the canvases set these apart from the usual still life studies, embarrassing attempts at nude figure painting, and the ubiquitous clown paintings that are found sadly waiting for a second life in flea markets and thrift stores everywhere. Scottie had artistic vision, and what she lacked in painterly skill, she made up for in her Spillane-esque scribblings or tough-girl fiction. I'm guessing she was one and the same with the women depicted in these paintings, and was trying to pass the time (or justify it) in whatever go-go or honky-tonk bar they were at. Or maybe she was trying to pursue her artistic aspirations while she whiled away the hours getting loaded and dancing in a titty bar. Who knows? I like to think of Scottie as an outsider Toulouse-Lautrec, but working on the inside, and a pretty good writer as well.
"Reptile Style" mp3
by The Reigning Sound, 2002.
available on Time Bomb High School
"Hip Hug-Her" mp3
by Booker T & the MG's, 1967.
available on The Complete Stax-Volt Singles 1959-1968
"Soul Finger" mp3
by The Bar-Kays, 1967.
available on The Complete Stax-Volt Singles 1959-1968
"Slum Goddess" mp3
by The Fugs, 1965.
available on The Fugs First Album
Painting and Poem:
Odd (high) Ball Maiden
by Scottie, 1973.
Acrylic on Canvas 8 x 10 inches
(click on image to enlarge)