Monday, July 30, 2018

The Little Park In College Point

The little corner of Queens where I grew up was not overrun with public parks. There were two nice ones on the East River. Both were good sized parks, with paths and benches, and each had a baseball diamond. One, by far the nicer of the two, was well used. There were always people there, and when the school schedule allowed there were swarms of boys around looking to get into games of baseball or something. There was a nice children’s playground, and each day around sunset there would be people of all ages who had come to see the sun set over La Guardia Airport and Manhattan. I spent a lot of time there.

The other big park on the river was way off in a corner where it was hard to get to, and it was right next to a municipal waste-water treatment plant. It had a nice view of the Whitestone Bridge, which is beautiful, but usually it was empty. We used it mostly as a place for underage drinking in private.

There were also a couple of small parks around the middling areas of the town. Were there only two? If there was a third, I’ve forgotten it. One of these was on 115th Street, between 14th Avenue and 14th Road. It had very little to recommend it. There was no grass, and no view. There were benches, and playground equipment like swings and see-saws. It was surrounded by a chain-link fence, and I must say, it was not what anyone would call picturesque. Mothers could take their babies and small children there for some recreation, but it was usually empty. I am reminded of it now because another townie posted a recent picture of this park on Facebook.

While I was in late grammar school and early high school I spent quite a bit of time in that general area of town. I had many school friends down there, and it was only eight or ten blocks from my home. I always favored the lively boys to hang out with, and often we would be looking for some kind of trouble. That little park was right up the street from a deli that we liked. Howard’s Delicatessen, a family owned place. They’d been living in America, in this town, for over a century, but they still spoke German at home and had thick German accents. We could buy a nice deli sandwich for forty cents or so, and if we asked for it on rye bread the nice fellow behind the deli counter would say, “mit or mit out seeds?”

“Mit out,” we would blandly reply. The poor guy got furious every time.

Usually we did not have the money to buy sandwiches, or anything else for that matter. This led us to employ our trouble-making skills on occasion. One trick that we liked was to wait just around the corner for a soda truck to make a delivery. We would send out a scout who was a famously fast runner to grab a bottle of soda and run in a way that would cause the driver to chase him. Once he was half a block away he’d step on the gas and lose the guy. By the time the driver got back to the truck, we had all helped ourselves to a bottle of warm soda. Our friend would go around the block and meet us at that little park.
It wasn’t always as much fun as it seems. One day we were right down there on the corner in front of the store, there must have been eight or ten of us. We hadn’t done anything untoward, not yet anyway. A police car came down the street and stopped right in front of us. This was not an uncommon occurrence, and we all knew policemen, so we didn’t pay any attention. They probably want sandwiches, and look, it’s Whitey, so they want some beer as well. It got dramatic.

We were all familiar with Whitey. There was only ever one police car in town, and often Whitey was one of the two guys manning the car. He got out of the car, dressed as usual, with his tunic off, no hat, and his tie very loose around his neck. He was carrying his nightstick, which we were all familiar with. It was made of cherrywood, and the front had been drilled out and filled with lead. This was a typical set up for the NYPD at the time. Whitey’s also had a message carved into the handle. “Adios M.F.” 

He approached us and told us to “get the fuck out of here,” which was a very common phrase to hear from the NYPD in those days. My friend Tommy, whose father was also a cop, said something besides the preferred, “yes, officer.” Oh, Tommy, God bless and keep you. Tommy has preceded me into the afterlife. He was a tall boy, with a good nature but full of piss and vinegar. He was not one to take expressions of authority easily. Without saying anything, Whitey poked him exactly in the solar plexus with the tip of the nightstick, and Tommy went down like a wet dishrag.

“Anybody else wanna crack wise?” said Whitey. There was only a mumbled response to that. We helped Tommy to his feet and retreated around the corner. We were probably thirteen at the time.

Maybe we went to the little park. There were benches to sit on, after all, and a water fountain or two.

My last clear memory of that little park is one day when we had nothing to do and were sitting around in the park killing time. Someone suggested a spitting contest for accuracy, and we thought that that was a great idea. We set a coin about ten feet in front of the bench, and the person who’s spit landed closest to the coin was the winner. We had had a lot of practice, so it was pretty close.

Those were interesting times. Most of our parents were comfortable, but none of them were rich. Many of them worked the Civil Service jobs like policeman or firefighter or garbage man, and many of them had more or less unskilled jobs in the many factories. At least half of our parents owned their houses, though, and they all had decent cars. Most of our parents were active in the church, one church or other, the moms anyway, and we had all been through the same Cub Scout packs and Little Leagues for baseball. We led a life that started out much like a Little Rascals episode and in our early teens we looked and acted a lot like the Dead-End Kids. Most of us turned out okay.

I commented on Facebook recently that we grew up in a town where we lived simultaneously in small town America and the heart of New York City, and it’s true. Our town was on the East River, and it was surrounded on three sides by water and one side by swamp. It was so isolated that it retained its small-town character well past the middle of the 20th Century. We had access to the subway though, so we could get to anyplace in the city before too long, and very inexpensively. That was College Point.

I guess that if you’ve got to grow up somewhere, you could have done worse than College Point. It wasn’t all bad.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Lead Me Jesus - The Soul Stirrers

Got it. 

This is a 1961 release on SAR, so it's probably Sam Cooke on the lead vocal. (NOPE. That's Jimmy Outler. Says it right on the record, dummy! I'm not too proud to leave in my mistakes.) 

Sam & Dave Soothe me

The 1960s were full of these successful translations of great church songs into great radio hits. I should look for the original version, by, let's see, the Womack Brothers? The Soul Stirrers? One of Sam Cooke's gang. Happy Hunting! 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Big Youth - Hit The Road Jack - Trojan Reggae - 45 rpm

Some time in the mid-1970s, right? I'm surprised that I haven't shared this cut yet, because I think it's one of the most audacious cover versions of all time. Very successful, too. 

It looks like the 'Youth is still working, or he was a couple of years ago anyway. I hope that he's feeling fine. 

Jakarta Tapas Sliders

Let’s see, what to put in and what to leave out. “I spent a year in Jakarta last week.” At least, and it will take an entire year to forget about it. But it wasn’t all (redacted “ungood”). This trio of tiny cheeseburgers was at a very nicely designed and well-run bar/restaurant close to city-center. There was a varied menu of food and drinks, which followed the local custom of omitting pork but failed spectacularly to follow the local proscription of alcoholic drinks. There was wine everywhere, racks of it, behind the bar and in the dinning area, and it seemed to make up a good part of their business. They also had beer and spirits.

One section of the menu was called, “Tapas.” The Indonesian man accompanying us had no idea at all what Tapas were, a condition that he shared, no doubt, with almost all of his countrymen. It contained, however, eight or ten very Tapas-like items. This one, called “Cheese-Burger Sliders,” was one of them. So the owner was up on his American restaurant vocabulary as well. (I believe that he was Australian.)

I won’t keep you hanging, they were very tasty. Beef, actually. This being an Asian country, and Muslim, one is caught between the usual preference for pork and the common abhorrence for beef. Many South East Asians have a strong disliking for beef, and most Chinese think that beef is poisonous. If you order anything that is beef in Thailand, be prepared for it to be cooked to death, often cooked well beyond death. There is no “medium” in Thailand, beef is either done or well done, with both gradations being over-done. Somehow, the chef at this place had figured out a way to cook the hell out of these things without rendering them tasteless or tough.

Surely there was not a hint of the color pink or even a drop of hemoglobin in these little burgers, and their cross-section had a uniform, dark brown color, but they were somehow moist, light, and delicious. Sir, my hat is off to you!

The best thing about a trip to Jakarta is going home. Returning to Bangkok was like returning to Beverly Hills after a trip to San Bernardino. The silver lining, nay gold, is that I will never complain again about the minor annoyances of life in Bangkok. Even the Bangkok traffic, when compared with Jakarta, seems to flow like an unobstructed river.

Traveling is good; getting home is better.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

English Is Good, Weird Fun

I’ve been putting together book versions of this blog, and in the process I’ve been giving the whole thing a good line edit. There’s a difference between a blog and a book, at least as far as I’m concerned. Writing for this blog, I do try to get the spelling and the grammar as close to correct as can quickly be accomplished, and I do try to polish awkward sentences a bit before I push, “publish.” I go fast, though, so there have often been areas that could profit from more rewriting. In making some of the posts into books, I’m doing that last rewrite and a close line edit. It’s fascinating.

The English language provides the fascination. I’ve been learning about the fine points of grammar, vocabulary, and spelling, which is fun. The difference in the use of “loath” and “loathe,” for instance. Here is a section that’s got me thinking about this process:

“By now, of course, the evangelicals have grown in importance by leaps and bounds. Bounds and more bounds! They hardly know any bounds these days!”

I was very pleased with this section when I wrote it, for the simple reason that it uses two senses of the word, “bounds.”  Editing that post, I thought it wise to look up the words in my Concise Oxford English Dictionary, which was by far the most cost-effective huge etymological dictionary available at my nearest retail outlet at the time. (It’s a British English dictionary, but it is very careful to point out differences in spelling and usage between the British and the American versions of the language.) I had used it correctly in both cases, but it was interesting to see the word, “bound,” listed four times in a row. There was a verb, and a noun, and an adjective, with the past participle of another verb thrown in for good measure. All of them had very different origins.

There’s bound, verb, to walk or run with leaping strides (or as a noun, a leaping movement towards or over something). That one derives from the French, bond (n.), bondir (v.), originally appearing as the Latin word, bombus, meaning “humming.” 

Then there’s bound, noun, a boundary (in technical matters, a limiting factor). (As a verb, to form the boundary of something.) This one arrived in the English from the Old French noun, bodne, which in turn derived from the Medieval Latin noun, bodina.

There is also an adjective, bound, meaning that something is going towards somewhere. In this case, the word appeared first in Middle English as boun, from the Old Norse, buinn, the past participle of bua, “to get ready.”

The last of the four “bounds” is the past participle of the verb, “to bind,” which is another story altogether. I should have added to the above, "It's as though they were not bound by the laws of gravity! Perhaps they should be bound to a tree!" 

People who are just learning English love to complain about the complexity of the grammar and the huge vocabulary, but they don’t know the half of it. It’s an endless puzzle that no one ever really masters completely. I’m pretty sure that even old Winston Churchill would have admitted that he still came across English words and usages that he was not quite sure of.

Take heart, you English learners. We’re all in the same boat! There is always more to learn about English. Nobody could say with a straight face that learning English is easy, but it is endlessly fascinating, and it is a wonderfully useful language, capable of great precision and beauty.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

NS KTF 1571 Lucille Mathis I'm Not Your Regular Woman

I've been playing my way through a box of CDs and today's listening included a sampler of A-Bet and Exello records from the late 1960s. This is an interesting one, obscure, certainly, but not too obscure for YouTube.  

"I'm not your regular woman, 
You just keep me to do your day work . . ." 

Not a common sentiment in popular songs, but it's a good, heartfelt job all around. Thanks, Ms. Mathis! 

Monday, July 23, 2018

SO TOUGH ~ The Casuals (1957)

"My girl and I are happy, 
we're as happy as can be, 
I love her, 
and she likes me." 

That kind of sums it up, doesn't it? 

CNN Is Complicit, While America Burns

It was my dubious pleasure to watch CNN for six days in mid-July at a nice hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was a shocking display of pure cooperation with the cabal that is now in the final stages of taking complete control of all of the levers of power in what we call the “American Experiment.” It was sickening to see.

In that one week, the Justice Department indicted twelve Russian government officials in connection with efforts to hack into and influence the 2016 elections. Trump torpedoed NATO at a high level meeting, saying, inter alia, that it was actually Germany that was in Russia's pocket (because of a deal to buy Russian natural gas). Trump went to England, where his first official act was to torpedo Prime Minister Teresa May with vague criticisms regarding Brexit and immigration. He gratuitously torpedoed the Mayor of London almost in passing, accusing him of weakness that had caused terror attacks in London, and taking the occasion to expand on his remarks about immigration destroying European culture.* Next stop: a PRIVATE one on one meeting with Vladimir Putin, “unrecorded.” (What a Rube!) Nothing suspicious about that. We know by now how it turned out.

CNN is discussing all of this as though it were all very normal. All of the newsies and politicians and pundits talk about Trump as though he were a more-or-less normal human being with policies and political goals that may seem a bit off-center, but are actual real-life political strategies nonetheless, just like those of any other president, because, like, they must be, mustn't they? How could they be otherwise? That would be crazy! Occasionally someone goes off-script and reminds us that yes, Trumps behavior and actions are crazy, and they are way outside of the established norms and doctrines of American government and jurisprudence. In reality, of course, he and his weirdly unqualified minions are helping the Republicans and their principals to shred the Constitution and create a Brave New World of money and privilege, a new aristocracy of billionaire legacies, with a destitute, debt-ridden population to serve them. Finishing, as it were, the work that was begun in earnest back in the 1970s, with good old Ronnie Reagan as the first stooge in chief.

Meanwhile, back on CNN, Chris Cuomo is talking to Roger Stone, and taking him seriously, giving him all of the air-time that he needs to make all of his talking points about the greatness of Trump, the terrible danger of an out of control intelligence apparatus, and the evils of Hillary Clinton. It seems that there is always some clampdown flunky on camera saying that there is no problem, no collusion, and that Trump is saving America and returning it to the real Americans.

This is all a recipe for disaster.

Who is this Trump character anyway? Why are people suddenly taking him seriously? We've all known for forty-plus years that he is an untalented, spoiled rich kid who shoots his mouth off indiscriminately and leaves behind him only the wreckage of failed businesses and marriages. He's on his third marriage, with five children by three women, that we know about. He, himself, has always made sure that we know that he's getting more ass than a toilet seat, inside and outside of his marriages. If you asked people about him in the year 2000, almost everyone in every nook and cranny of the United States would have said, “what a jerk-off.”

He never stops talking about how rich his is, and what a financial genius he is, when the real fact of it is that if he had simply taken all of that money that he got from his father and invested it, leaving it to grow on its own without his interference, it would be a greater fortune today. He has only managed to lose money at that as well.

Now, all of a sudden, people who certainly DO know better are normalizing Trump, and people who SHOULD know better are voting for him, and people who obviously DON'T know any better are cheering him on. It's disquieting.

The man himself loves every minute of it. All of the chaos, the attention. One morning I watched him, on CNN, playing golf in Scotland, at a course that he owns. He was being trailed by about fifteen golf carts full of what, security? Were there reporters in there somewhere? Security from multiple countries and political entities? Fifteen carts is not an exaggeration, it was grid lock out there, and they were all watching him hit the little white ball. And of course he was billing everyone in sight, he made a fortune that day. He must have been in heaven.

We have Fox News on one side, and they are 100% “fake news; no collusion; Hillary is the crook; the missing server! Bengazi!” That's 24/7, because this is cable. And then we have CNN, which is the same kind of crap at least half of the time, to be, you know, fair. (I will leave the field clear for others to clarify what is going on with the other sources of so-called news in America. The MSNBCs, etc. As far as I can see in my limited observation, the only outlet approaching objectivity and delivering actual news about what is happening around the world is Al Jezeera. Yeah, I just said that! Go and watch some if you think that I'm wrong!)

The Democrats! Let's see what that crop of misguided losers can come up with in November. So far all I see is the “establishment Democrats” desperately fighting off the real democrats (the hated progressives). The Democrats laugh off as Utopian every good idea that rears its head, all of the things that would actually help a working man or a young family, preferring the occasional half measure, like raising the minimum wage, yeah, raising it from hopelessly low to merely very, very low. Jesus wept. Those people were once good for something. 

My advice to young people today is to figure out a way to make your own way into the market place. Figure out a way to sell a product or a service to the super-rich at wildly inflated prices. They have the money, go for it! I saw a guy on TV recently who did children's parties on private planes. Those rich assholes are now prepared to pay good money to avoid having to interact with their own children, the mostly neglected, maladjusted children that will grow up and become your billionaire bosses, and your landlords. The airborne party that was filmed for TV news was a very nice coast-to-coast affair, with a bunch of kids. There were balloon animals, and party hats with feathers, and I'm sure the affair was catered. The clown's bill to the parents was, I think, $85,000. Get into a scam, I mean business, like that, boys and girls. Whatever you do, don't borrow money for college! That's a Venus Flytrap of debt slavery right there. If you completely lack the entrepreneurial spirit, there's always crime.

And good luck! Get it while you can, 'cause it ain't gonna last.

*The Mayor of London was later interviewed for CNN by Christine Amanpour, who seems more independent minded than her co-workers at CNN, much to her credit. The mayor listed all of the other European cities that have been the victims of fatal terror attacks, with death counts, and wondered out loud why HE ALONE was singled out by The Great And Powerful Trump for criticism. Standing there on camera, the reason was obvious. The mayor is of Pakistani heritage.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Tales Of The Hook: Sha-La-La-La-Lee

The Small Faces were one of the best of the O.G. English Invasion bands. Okay, they came five minutes after Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Swinging Blue Jeans, but they were in there, towards the trailing edge of the first wave. They were a first-class act, with good material and great production. They rocked hard, and they were way up on the fun program. They, and their producers, understood the power of the hook.

Sha La La La Lee is an interesting song in several ways. Many acts leaned on the hook from the beginning of the song. The Beatles were merciless. Think about, “She Loves You.” The song leads off with a chorus, and the hook is in every chorus and every verse. Think about, “Let's Spend the Night Together,” by the 'Stones. It begins with the hook, and the hook is never off-screen for more than a moment or two. Sha La La La Lee puts the big hook at the end of the song.

It's set up this way:

Outro? Coda? What do you call it?

That last part is new; it's different. The song is like, “A, A, B, A, B, A, C.” That's a horse of a different color, now isn't it?

There's a hook in the verses; it's in with the “sha la la la lee” parts. It's a real hook, it works, it keeps you interested. That last bit, though, smacks you hard. I can only speak for myself, but the new hook in that last bit knocked me flat, and it still does, after fifty years. For many years I had a music room in my house in Los Angeles. I bought a set of drums, I had six guitars and five amps, I got a bass and a bass amp, and I'd invite friends over on the weekend to jam. (You can't expect drummers to tear down and rebuild their kits two times in one day just to show up at a jam.) During the week I'd fool around by myself, playing guitar or bass, playing along with records or tapes. I loved playing bass to this song, because the bass gets the big finish with the surprise hook. The bass is the hero.

Bands like the Small Faces never made any money. The economics of the business were all wrong for artists. Bands like the Small Faces, the Kinks, the Hollies, and even the Who, all great bands with great original songs, worked their asses off during the mid- to late-Sixties and had hit after hit on the English charts, and even a hit or two in America, but there wasn't really any money in it. They worked and worked and worked, playing shitty tours with multiple acts, selling 45 rpm records, and making bupkis. The Hollies had fourteen top-ten hits in a row and got nowhere. The Who finally cracked the big time with Tommy, they were never as exciting after that but I was still happy for them. The Small Faces tried very hard, and Ogden's Nut-Gone Flake is one of the best records of the period, but it wasn't enough. They broke up and tried different approaches, with Steve Marriott going with Peter Frampton of the Herd into Humble Pie, and the rest of the lads bringing in Rod Stewart and Ronnie Woods and changing the name of the band to simply “the Faces.” Humble Pie had some success in America, where the money was; Faces made a few very good albums, but nothing came of it. We're all so old by now, and so many of us are already dead, that I guess it doesn't really matter much. But there was a time, boys and girls. There was a time.

And it was good. We could go wild on a regular basis and still make some kind of easy living. The music was great, the cars were fast, and sex, whether in real life or in films and magazines, had gone mainstream. Life was much less stressful, and it was not because we were all young and stupid. Everything was cheaper and easier, jobs were plentiful, an almost free university education was easily available, medical care was never a problem. Hell, you could get married, have children, and buy a house! If I could do it, anybody could! Things are terrible now for young people starting out. I wish you all luck, although I'm afraid that nothing short of divine intervention will solve your problems.

So, how about that Sha La La La Lee? Pretty cool song, 'eh? Nice hook, don't you think? It's still three minutes of fun, and we can all use that every now and then.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Airport Review: Soekarno Hatti International Airport

That would be in Jakarta, Indonesia. Not to be confused with the other international airport on the other side of Jakarta. I never found out the name of that one. You must be very careful never to ask simply to be taken to “the airport,” or “the international airport.” The taxi drivers in Jakarta can be less than completely honest, I'm sorry to report.

The signage at Soekarno is next to useless. There are four terminals, and they are about a mile apart. As you enter the airport, there are signs directing you to “Terminal 1,” etc., but there is no information about what you may find at those terminals beyond the single words, “international,” or “domestic.” Our driver went to the first international terminal that he saw. It had a conventional curb-side drop-off area, with signs bearing the names of airlines, similar to what you find in most airports. None of these signs bore the name of our airline.

Travel tip for Indonesia: never unpack the car and pay the driver until you are absolutely sure that you are at the correct terminal or hotel. “Oh, you just have to go inside. This is the right terminal,” said our driver, who had seemed like a straight-shooter right up to that moment.

This was only my second taxi ride in Jakarta, but I had learned from the first one that shenanigans are always on the menu. I looked around, and it took a couple of minutes to find an airport security guy in whom the spark of intelligence had actually ignited a fire. “Oh, that's Terminal 3,” he said with enough certainty to convince me. I told our driver, who was still hovering around the trunk anxious to unload the bags, and we got back in the car. I saved myself an hour right there.

We got to Terminal 3 within about ten minutes, and then spent another five minutes getting to the drop-off point. The set up might be unique among all of the world's airports. Approaching Terminal 3, you go through something that looks like a toll gate and the driver is issued a parking ticket. The sign says, “Terminal 3 Parking and Lobby.” There was no mention of dropping anyone off or picking them up. You then enter the parking structure and slowly work your way up several levels behind people who are stopping to park and other people looking for the “lobby.”

The lobby was a simple entryway with some baggage carts outside. There was one “departures” board, but my flight wasn't on it, nor were any other flights of my airline. The list was static, and it ended about twenty minutes before my departure time. An unreliable looking young man wearing a shirt that said, “Airport Helper” told me that my airline did, indeed, depart from this terminal, and, being now about 80% convinced that I was in the right place, I unloaded the bags and paid the taxi guy. The inside of the terminal presented its own challenges, also mostly signage related.

None of the signs mentioned check-in counters. Following signs that said only, “International Departures” took us to the entrance to the security area, which we only discovered when two young people were very surprised that we had no boarding passes. They were NOT surprised in a good way. I told them the name of my airline and the young woman of the pair said, “go to Island C.” I noticed the A and the B over in another direction and set off, discovering upon arrival that my airline was actually part of Island B. None of this was marked in one of the usual ways.

Check in was unremarkable until the nice young woman tried to say, “Gate 6.” What she actually said sounded for all the world like, “get sick.” Somewhat puzzled, I asked her if there was a health check, like for bird flu or something. She looked at me as though she were suddenly afraid that I might be contagious. She said it a few more times and I looked at my boarding pass and realized that she was saying the number of the gate.

Security in Indonesia is separate for men and women. There were no other signs about how to proceed. I dropped my water bottle on the handiest flat surface, purely based on speculation that it would be forbidden beyond this point. As I was putting my stuff into trays, a fellow said, “watches and belts.” I put mine in the tray, and left my notebook computer in the carry on, which turned out to be fine.*

I went through the metal detector and it went off. I was sternly directed into the body scanner, the only one there to be so treated. A guard pointed to the image of my wallet and my passport, still resting comfortably in my pockets. I took them out and displayed them, and he waved me on. No one had mentioned anything about clearing your pockets of everything, as opposed to just the metal objects. It's been years since I went through one of those in America, and they've never had them in Thailand or Taiwan, my three most common sites for airport security.

The rest of the trip was just as we have come to expect, generating only the usual ambient stress of flying eight miles above the earth surrounded by fellow travelers who vary only from mildly annoying to actively disturbing. I haven't mentioned the name of my airline. Their service was only okay. For anyone traveling to Asia from America my recommendation remains EVA Air. They're a Taiwan outfit, and everything is really outstanding, every time. I've made ten round trips with them so far. They're in the low middle of the price range, and please believe me when I tell you, air travel that requires almost thirty hours door-to-door is not a good opportunity to save a couple of hundred bucks. Fly EVA, or one of the other very good Asian carriers. You'll be glad you did. Or you can fly one of the American carriers, if you miss those happy days at home with your mom sternly scolding you. The stewardesses will remind you of your mom on a bad day.

I have omitted any mention of my previous arrival at Soekarno Hatti, because I am doing my level best to try to forget all about it.  

*Soekarno Hatti had the lap-top thing backwards. Most airports now prefer that you put your lap-top in your checked baggage. This airport forbids lap-tops in checked baggage. Go figure.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Roxy Music: Editions Of You

Roxy Music: Editions of You

I believe that Roxy Music are under-reported as an attraction, under-attributed as a musical influence, and under-credited as cultural icons. They were a great act, packed with talent and energy. They brought a freshness to the “rock band” presentation both aurally and visually, and they did it after a decade that was rich in such freshness. So yeah, I really like Roxy Music. No surprise there! Why wouldn't I?

They still get good notices for their sound, and their looks, and their snark, and their arty, almost fashion-world point of view. I still listen to them, though, and I am often struck by the lyrics. The lyrics are very entertaining, although they do not get a lot of attention.

Take “Editions of You,” for instance.

It starts out as a fairly conventional ode to lost love. Missing you, hoping to find someone like you, etc. And then at the end, in the manner of great lyrics, there is a completely unrelated, gratuitous lesson tacked on. As follows:

Love me; leave me; do what you will,

Who knows what tomorrow may bring?

Learn from your mistakes is my only advice,

And stay cool, it's still the main rule,

Don't play yourself for a fool!

Too much cheesecake too soon!

Old money better than new,

No mention in the latest Tribune,

And don't let this happen to you.

Of a quiet Tuesday evening, there are worse ways to spend an hour than listening to old Roxy Music songs on YouTube. I once owned a great deal of their output, including many solo projects, but that is all lost to me now. Not as though they were all lost in a fire, nothing so permanent, no, my loss is more ambiguous, more like having forgotten the secret word that rolls away the giant stone that blocks the entrance to the treasure cave. YouTube is fine for now, though. I'm not a sound-quality purist.

I hope that you find this information useful, and congratulations if you do.

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Real Thing....Tina Britt

This is on my list of all-timers. It's part of the Sue umbrella-group of labels in the early-mid-1950s. 

I think that it's perfect. I love the life in it; I love the production; I love the performance; I love the loping, driving beat; I love the enthusiasm. 

Sometimes I wonder if it's just geezermania, or if music was actually better back in those days. Is it just a bunch of oldsters reminiscing? Or was this music drenched in a wild abundance of sincerity, talent, and enthusiasm that just can't be reproduced these days? 

I'm going to leave that one hanging. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Avana Hotel on Bang Na Trat

Any reporter worth his salt would have photographs to go along with this post. And then there are reporters like me.

Bang Na Trat is a well-traveled thoroughfare in the Bang Na District of Bangkok. No, not Bangkok, it's actually in Samut Prakan, the neighboring province to the south of BKK. A few decades ago you had to leave Bangkok and go for a while over minor roads before you got to Samut Prakan, which was an agricultural area at the time. Now the border is invisible, and the Bang Na area is being built up in spectacular fashion. Samut Prakan is now the freight container capitol of the Bangkok Metro Area. There are millions of the things stacked all over. The Sky Train already goes there, and more lines are planned. It's all pretty cosmopolitan by now.

The Avana Hotel tells an interesting story, a story with a distinctly mixed message. It's a good sized place, with nice signage, and it's been there for a long time. I have no photos to display because I've only ever laid eyes on it out of moving taxi cabs, and it is not well placed for efficient mobile photography. I've ridden by frequently though, so I've seen it very often, at different times of day, and in different lighting. The signs haven't changed. The hotel is set back about twenty meters from the street, on a street that turns at an oblique angle, and there are signs on the top of the building and at the end of the small street where you would turn in to go to the hotel.

The narrow side of the building is best visible from the main street. There are two messages at the top of the building, both reading vertically from top to down, one on the left side and the other on the right. The left side says, “Avana Hotel,” and the message on the right side is, “Jesus Loves You.” Those are large, permanently affixed, well lit signs. It's unambiguous; the hotel's owners must be Christians. That's unusual in Thailand, but not unheard of. About 2% of the population report as Christians.

The Twilight Zone music starts to play when you see the giant neon sign at the front of the access street. It's lit up like an arcade sign, on an arch that goes from one side to the other. Along the top it says, in very gay colors, Avana Hotel. Below that, in lettering of the same size and the same vivid colors, it says, “Massage 24 Hours.”

Thailand is full of massage places, and they come in a full range of the services provided. All of the massage places have signs that provide all of the information that any initiate will need to understand what kind of place it is. I'm going to leave you hanging here, rather than spell it out for you, but take my word for it, “Massage 24 Hours,” displayed so prominently, is a clear description of the place. They are serious about it. They want to improve your circulation in the worst way.

And some of the proceeds go to Mr. Jesus! How great is that? Everything in Thailand is Thai style, and that is really one of the best things about the country. Don't be so serious, let's have some fun, life is better if everyone is comfortable. Why would Mr. Jesus object if you wanted to relax with a special massage? Jesus loves you! He wants you to be happy! For Thais, there is zero tension in this mixed message. It's all about the love.

And the money, of course. I've been seeing the Avana Hotel and its lovely signage for ten years now, so it's a going concern. I wish them well. They are providing several valuable services to a grateful community.

The Secret to Success in the World of Fine Art

It's not that hard. There's a formula. There's money in it. You should try it!

Before my verbosity overtakes me, I should reduce the requirements to a list:

  1. Use noble materials;
  2. Observe the rules of academic technique;
  3. Come to the enterprise with a natural sociability (Your actual personality may be dark or light, but you must be under tight emotional control at all times and able to carefully monitor the content of your speech and the expression on your face. People are taking pictures! Also control your body-language.);
  4. Live in a big city, and ruthlessly meet and schmooz all of the important people in the local art community. Keep files; memorize them. Patrons of the arts; university professors in art related disciplines; gallery owners; society matrons; writers; collectors; critics; Chamber of Commerce types; journalists; anyone who is wealthy, or whose family was once wealthy; Masons; politicians; other artists; craftsmen; retailers; everybody;
  5. You must have a style that is immediately recognizable. There must be a narrative element, but too much narrative is not ideal. Just a hint of what may be happening in the shadow world of your art, whether it is a painting or a sculpture or what have you. Is that diagonal a stairway? Is that rectangle a window? Is that grass? Is that a cow? Leave a lot of mystery in it. All colors must be dark, but not muddy. Nothing is merely “brown,” or “gray.” But the colors must be very high on the hue and value charts. High-yellow, high-blue, high-red. So dark that they carry only a hint of their actual identity, but real colors just the same. There are formulas for such things. Those are among your “academic techniques”;
  6. Your art must be BIG. People like big things, and they will pay more for big things. A couple of meters by a few meters, anyway;
  7. Have no noticeable taste in art yourself. Speak of other artists work only in the most general terms. Change the subject. Tell personal anecdotes. Never let anyone pin you down about anything.

None of this will be easy, but with a detailed and closely observed plan based upon the above rules you could potentially earn enough money to actually be secure in this crazy new world of ours. As of 2018 I put the buy-in at about fifteen to twenty million dollars of bank, plus a couple of properties in your own name. A really hip studio with a cool address and a gourmet kitchen is a must, but you don't have to live there. Have a family if you must, but ensure that they will all join you in adherence to the plan.

At all costs, you must avoid following your personal interest in the art that you practice. I recently pointed out on this blog that Van Gogh painted for the sheer pleasure of it. He followed his vision, and where did it get him? He didn’t make a nickel on his art. It's the age old story.

During the 1960s we were all music fans and there was a lot of great music around. Most of my friends were quick to name the “best” guitar players, or even to identify the single greatest guitar player of them all. Those were heated debates. I would patiently point out to them that almost certainly the best guitar players were guys that we had never heard of, guys that perhaps no one had ever heard of. Guys that just practiced alone in their parents garages. One night I was driving a cab in Manhattan and listening to WWRL on a small radio that was lying on the seat next to me. They played a song that I had never heard before, and never heard again. I didn't catch the artists name. The guitarist on the cut was, forgive me for using a much overused word, amazing. He was like some guitar equivalent of Art Tatum on the piano. Put him on stage with any of the famous names and he would cut them to ribbons. It was like a science fiction blues record. It was, I think, a regional record being played in New York only because the disk jockey liked it. I never heard that guitarist again. The great unknowns are out there.

In the music world it takes much more than talent to make a living. It takes luck, and interpersonal skills, and good looks, and brains, and connections. The fine art world follows that same pattern. The financially successful fine artists whose names we know have all followed the rules outlined above. So, in fact, had all of the famously great guitarists of the 1960s. Following your dream is the death of making a living.

I visited a law client at his home one time (it was on my way; I saved him a trip to my office). He lived with his mother, who was a clinically observed lunatic who also happened to be a classically trained painter. She had been trained at a university in South America. The apartment was filled with her paintings, which were all quite spectacular, if a bit odd. The walls were full of them, and they were stacked everywhere. Every one of them had a narrative, there wasn’t an abstract painting in the bunch, or even an impressionist. Every painting was done in real oil paints on properly stretched canvases. My undergraduate degree is in Art History, and to my eyes these paintings were museum quality, worthy of cataloging and further study. She favored reds, and her subject matter may have been religious or allegorical, the iconography was obscure. She was an accurate draftsman though, and every person or object was perfectly modeled. All perspectives were rendered with academic precision. I almost asked to buy several, but I didn't want to intrude on the woman's lunatic solitude. She didn’t make a nickel on those paintings; she was further out of the circle than poor Vincent. I may be the only non-relative who ever saw those paintings. The dust-bins of the world are full of lost art. Some people make the art just to keep busy.

But this plan that I propose, I have seen it work. I have known a successful artist or two well enough to get invited to their studios. They were successful, and my observation of their strategies gave me the basis for this plan. I've also known a lot of craftsmen, many unsuccessful artists, and many members of the groups listed as “important people in the local art community.” I have not pulled this plan out of the air; it is based on observation.

Let's see, what needs clarification?

By noble materials I mean media that will withstand the ravages of time without quickly fading or losing their character color-wise. Don't be fooling around with tempera or acrylics. Nothing on paper, you could hardly sell it unless you were already very famous and rich. No pastels or chalk, they'll look different tomorrow than they do today. Stick with real oil-based paints, and apply them to properly prepared and stretched canvases. If you are working at the proper scale, which is to say something like four by seven meters, you may need help with the preparation of the canvases.

As you are beginning to accumulate some work product, you must begin a social whirl that will last you for the rest of your life. You will be out and about, meeting people and talking about the art business, at least three to five evenings every week. Here you will begin working on your lists and your files. You must remember everything about everyone that you meet, so that when you see them again, you can immediately say, “hello, Michael! How did that trip to Florence work out?” Or, “Joyce! How nice to see you again! How is that manuscript going? I'm looking forward to reading it!” You must have eyes and ears everywhere. If some important art professor's child suffers an unanticipated death, you must appear unbidden at the funeral and be appropriately subdued. Things like that are critically important.

Much more important, in fact, than the artistic quality of your output. That must only be consistent, and marketable.

Good luck! And look for the bright side. Art is much more susceptible to this scientific approach than music is. Music is the toughest gig in the show business. Art is a piece of cake compared to music.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Mummies - Zip A Dee Doo Dah

I'm just playing an old mix CD that I found in a box that has managed to stay with me through my various exiles, and this song came on. I still have a weakness for "talent optional" bands like the Mummies, or Tav Falco, or the early Shonen Knife (or early Small Faces!). There's a lot to be said for sincerity, enthusiasm, and just pure fun.