Once apon a time Under-my [Tom's brother] Thumb was walking threw Gram Central Station when he came apon a running woman. She was running, running, running, running... well you get the idea. While this author has no proof, he believes that while the woman was running, running, running, running, she was also thumbing through a magazine. All of a sudden, thummmmp! She fell, hand over foot, write into the blind man's cane, barely keeping her balance and probably fingering herself for blame. The man landed, thumb first, right in to the pillar. Just then the woman said: "you're bleeding." The man said: "You hit the nail off the thumb." His cane was also broken. He shouted: "Oh no! It's brocane." A cop asked what was broke and the man said: "You mean broken, officer. Broke is when you're out of money." The cop said: "You mean you're out of money." This embarrassing exchange went on for a few hours when finally, the man exchanged his cane for a bandage. Speaking of Band Aid, didn't that record suck? The man was thumbling for something to say when the cop said: "Let me give you a ride in my cart." The man said: "Don't put the cart before the horse." The cop said: "Don't nose your thumb at me, young man." The man was able to make it to the train. While on the train, he couldn't help singing his favorite Beatles song:
"Thumbthing in the way she moves, a tracks me like no elbow lover." When the man got off the train, he held out his thumb for a cab and said to the driver: "Hey, pull my finger." OK, that was uncalled for.
Friday, February 28, 2003
Wednesday, February 26, 2003
Saturday, February 22, 2003
Speaking of "How Do You Do It," it's interesting to hear that record in context with the other hits that were on the British charts at the time. I was struck by the use of jazzy piano as the lead instrument within a Merseybeat band. I know Fats Domino paved the way, but the Pacemakers' use of the piano is still impressive in that it's so different even from what was being done at the time. I'm sure Ben Folds must have done a double-take when he heard that record. (Not that the Pacemakers weren't bound by contemporary pop conventions; I nearly broke up when I heard the way the pianist [the Pacemakers' Les McGuire?] brought his solo to an abrupt halt as his eight bars came to a close.)
Friday, February 21, 2003
In the other dream, I had somehow been drafted into backing Eminem at a concert at a hotel—playing violin. This is funny because I have never played violin in my life. It was just the two of us onstage together, with a synthesized backing track. I remember being quite proud of myself because I figured out fairly quickly that, if I only bowed one string, I could estimate the space between the intervals on the violin neck, playing the notes with surprising accuracy. Occasionally, when I felt super-confident, I bowed two strings. And, yes, I was thinking, "If Deni Bonet could see me now!"
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Going Underground: My friend Michael Lynch, whom Dawn Patrol regulars know as a highly talented singer/songwriter/multinstrumentalist (he composed the famous Gaits of Eden and Dawn Patrol jingles), did me a great favor a couple of years ago by demo-ing a song I wrote with Anderson Council in mind: the London Underground-inspired "Girl on the Northern Line." He did it exactly the way I requested: a Peter & Gordon feel (complete with a "World Without Love"-inspired bass line), with a jangly guitar line ripped (yolk and all) from the Nightcrawlers' "Little Black Egg." I'm putting it up here [click on the song's title to hear it] at the request of Perry, an ace singer and songwriter himself, who was able to hear beyond my out-of-practice fingers when I tried to play the song for him on guitar last night.
Although the Anderson Council never did record my song or perform it live, their singer, Peter Horvath, did record an excellent demo of it, which I would love to share with you. Unfortunately, I only have it on cassette tape and so can't record an mp3 of it. If any Dawn Patrol reader writes me to say they'd like to hear his version, I'll write Peter and ask him to send me a digital copy.
Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Saturday, February 15, 2003
I love this song [click on that "Woman" link if you haven't already] because it is so beautifully arranged [which you can tell even from this bandwidth-saving forced-mono mp3] and so unabashedly romantic. As I listen to it, I'm alternately identifying with its sentiments and wishing that someone else—someone in particular—would express them to me. It brings to mind the mixture of joy and pain that I associate with the first, uncertain stages of relationships, where the joy is made even more so by the overcoming of pain, and the pain would be unbearable were it not for the hope of joy.
Probably the feeling of hope that I have right now, which is almost completely unfounded, will be gone in a day or two and I will be back to listening to Fortunes songs like "Here It Comes Again" or, at best, "That Same Old Feeling." Probably too that Ivy League CD which has left my CD player for no more than two days in the past two years will go back into heavy rotation as I zone out on "Funny How Love Can Be" and "My World Fell Down." (If you're not familiar with those, you can hear a few reverb-drenched seconds of the former on Amazon.com.) Probably I will wake up this very morning (or afternoon, at this rate), and realize that I am as close to being in love as I am to being, as Dorothy Parker would put it, Marie of Romania. But, for this one moment before I go to bed, Gordon Waller is crooning "Woman" like he really means it, the cellos are reverberating through Abbey Road's cavernous Studio One, and I'm imagining that someone I care about could feel that way about me.
Wednesday, February 12, 2003
The only funny thing that I can almost remember is something Nick said with regard to the dessert we shared, which was Nutty Waffle Cone ice cream (the Ben & Jerry's kind, I think). Nick commented that he wasn't crazy about the selection, as he didn't like nuts. I asked if he was allergic and he said no.
Perry said, "How can anyone not like nuts?"
Nick's answer was something like, "They're so annoying. You bite into one and you think it's a chocolate chip..."
The next sound anyone heard was me doubled over, dying, hack-hack-hack. What a wonderful way to end the evening.
While in the ale house, we heard a version of George Harrison's "What Is Life" which Nick, with his perfect pitch, perceived was three whole steps (musical notes) below the original one. We couldn't find out who did it, but, now that I'm home and can check the All Music Guide, I think it was Shawn Mullins. It's not really worth seeking out, though—nobody beats George.
Incidentally, Nick had an interesting take on a past Dawn Patrol topic, the Tanked Michael bracelet incident. Nick is a dedicated fan of Michael's heroine Ayn Rand and says her philosophy would not have condoned Michael's keeping the bracelet. I forget his exact explanation—it had to do with Michael's not having earned the value of the bracelet. I'll have to ask him to e-mail me the details so I can post them here. I like having ongoing philosophical dialogues on The Dawn Patrol.
Saturday, February 8, 2003
Del Shannon died thirteen years ago today, by his own hand.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Since (thank God) I've yet to lose a close friend or member of my immediate family, February 8, 1990 remains the saddest day of my life.
What made me feel especially sad was the feeling that I could have helped him. I'd interviewed him nine months earlier for Goldmine, but was then so wrapped up in my own existential melodrama—compounded by being days away from college graduation, with no job lined up—that I was oblivious to signs of his depression. I know now that, realistically, there was little, if anything, that I could have done, being an outsider (and a reporter at that), but the thought of having been in any kind of a position to have helped Del weighed heavily on me for some time after his death.
My guilt was compounded by the memory of having sensed at the time that Del was not long for this world. Specifically, after the interview, I had a bizarre and completely irrational feeling that I would never see him again. It didn't make sense; he was only 49 years old (or so his publicity bio stated—it later came out that he was five years older), and seemed to be in excellent health. Yet, on the morning of the following February 8, when I heard WCBS-FM's Harry Harrison back-announcing "Runaway," saying, "Born Charles Westover in Coopersville, Michigan . . ." I froze. I knew he wasn't just giving the listener extra bits of trivia, as the CBS-FM DJs often do. Something terrible had happened.
Another of my regrets was not having written up my interview with Del before his death. It finally appeared in Goldmine in the spring of 1990. I wish I still had it on my computer so I could share it with you. Instead, I'll excerpt my liner notes to the CD This Is . . . Del Shannon, which includes quotes from the interview. These excerpts are from my own manuscript, so they're slightly different from the final edit:
When I met Del Shannon, nine months before his death, he had a childlike innocence unlike anyone I'd ever seen. It was backstage at an oldies show. While his contemporaries on the bill were all jaded to various degrees, Del's eyes sparkled brightly. When he took the stage, his whole body was infused with the youthful brio of one for whom rock was a genuine means of expression. In other words, he sure as heck wasn't just going through the motions.
Yes, Del was sensitive, but not just in the "sensitive artist" sense. He reached out to friends and strangers alike, taking a genuine interest in their well-being. But the flip side of sensitivity is vulnerability, something he knew only too well.
The feelings of loneliness and isolation in his songs were real. However, as he noted to me, he didn't compose them through a veil of tears. "When I wrote 'I Go To Pieces,' I was in a great place. I usually write when I'm in a great place. When I'm depressed, I don't usually write. So I take all of when I'm depressed and throw it into when I'm feeling good. Weird, I guess."
He was born Charles Westover on December 30, 1934 in Coopersville, Michigan. (Once he became a recording artist, he knocked five years off his age.) He began playing guitar while in his teens, honing his skills while stationed in the U.S. Army in Germany. Upon his return to Michigan, in 1959, he formed his first band, landing a residency at Battle Creek's Hi-Lo Club. One patron there claimed that he was going to be a famous wrestler—"Mark Shannon, the wrestler." Westover liked the surname and decided to use it himself. "Del" was a contraction of Coupe DeVille, a car he liked at the time.
Ann Arbor disc jockey Ollie McLaughlin liked Del's songs and produced demos of them, which he played for Big Top label owners Harry Balk and Irving Micahnik. The pair signed Del not only to their label, but also to their management and production companies. Although their hold on Del's career would ultimately prove limiting, his tenure with them brought forth his best-known songs. The tracks on this collection are all from that period, 1961-1965.
Del's first single would be the biggest hit of his career. He never made a secret of the true subject of "Runaway." "I ran away from myself. . . . I always want to run away from A to B, and then I get to B and I wanna go back to A. I think everybody wants to run away. That's why that song seems to live on."
Aided by Max Crook on Musitron (a prehistoric synthesizer), Del wrote the song at the Hi-Lo Club one night in 1960. Onstage. As they were playing with Shannon's band, Crook hit upon a chord progression that Shannon liked. He asked Crook to keep playing it, over and over, while he worked out a melody. "Got in trouble with the club's manager, too," he recalled, "who finally came up on the stage and told us we were nuts: 'Stop playing that! What are you doing?'"
A worldwide hit, "Runaway" topped the charts for a month in both America and England in the spring of '61, catapulting Del to stardom. He and Crook quickly composed a follow-up, "Hats Off to Larry," which went Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic that summer.
During the next year and a half, Del had five singles, none of which made Billboard's Top 20, although "So Long Baby" did manage to make it up to #28. Then, in January 1963, "Little Town Flirt" brought him back into the public consciousness, peaking at #12. The song, like much of Del's material, was inspired by personal experience. His then-collaborator, Robert McKenzie, suggested the title, sparking Del's memory of a little town flirt he once knew.
. . . . While many of his contemporaries would eventually confine their recordings to remakes of their hits, Del was forever true to his muse. He always wrote from the heart, and he loved performing, whether for 1,000 or 10,000. He recalled to me, "Jeff Lynne said to me, years ago, 'Del, you seem to be lost a bit and you don't know which direction you're going in.' [But] the last time I worked with him, there was no doubt. We just sat down and we just did it. I'm not afraid to risk now at all. I don't have to follow, 'cause if it isn't successful, it's OK. It's successful to me."
Friday, February 7, 2003
One big plus, which I'll mention right upfront because there's no minus to go with it, is that I still have wonderful friends, including new ones I've made over the years. If you're one of them, just the fact that you read this Weblog and want to keep up with me when we're apart means a lot to me.
Tanked Michael has observed that within my pristine Jewish-Christian exterior lies a foul-mouthed vixen who occasionally springs out to say something existential. He calls that side of me "Dusk." So I'll call the pluses "Dawns" and the minuses "Dusks":
Dawn: I'm better employed. At this time last year, I was scrambling for writing gigs and temp jobs to make up for the several days each week when I wasn't at the newspaper. Now, I'm getting more work at the newspaper (at least for the time being; there are no guarantees for freelancers), plus hosting Tuesday Night Trivia (now in its ninth month), working a regular part-time job as a medical biller, and still doing some freelance writing here and there. It's not easy, but it adds up to a living wage, with occasional money left over for sushi.
Dusk: I still long for a single, full-time, career position where I'm not always having to work at someone else's desk.
Dawn: I was in a serious, committed relationship for much of the past year, something to which I'd aspired for some time. . .
Dusk: . . .and which is now over.
Dawn: I'm attempting, in every aspect of my life—very much including The Dawn Patrol—to place less emphasis on what I do and more on who I am.
Dusk: In the immortal words of Petula Clark, "Who Am I"? [Don't miss that link—Ed.]
Dawn (who usually gets the last word):I don't know the answer to that question as well as I'd like. In fact, I find it impossible to answer without resorting to descriptions of what I do, or Christian talk about how I exist in relation to God. And, while I do believe what the Bible says about the latter, it doesn't give any kind of sense of my individual identity.
So, of course, I did a Google search on "who am I"—throwing "Chesterton" into the engine as well to make it more interesting?and found a great quotation from a G.K. Chesterton book so obscure that I've never heard of it: Basil Howe. The quotation (from an excellent page full of them ) doesn't answer the question, but it does give an idea of the conflict I experience (and I'd imagine others do too) between wanting to define myself by my own achievements versus wanting to define myself by my relationship to God.
It's easy for Chesterton to decry wit, because he possessed such a supreme wit that he could hold his own in public debates with George Bernard Shaw. But I like his point:
"The curse of our modern man of the worldism is that we court the women we disapprove and despise the women we respect: we talk of a good woman lightly, like an old household chattel, and forget that her price is above rubies. We are not lowest on our knees before the pure and tender woman, but before two eyes and half a dozen diamonds. I am sick of all this fin de siècle sniggering over wit and culture and the rest of it. Did wit bring us into the world? Did culture bear pain that we might live? Did they love us in our silly fractious childhood and have no thought on earth but us? Can they comfort us, or kindle or sustain? Do we go to an authoress when we are wretched, or think of a woman of fashion when we are tempted? No, indeed, . . . but a woman that feareth the Lord she shall be praised: give her the portion that is due to her, and let her works praise her in the gates!"
Tuesday, February 4, 2003
But it was not to be. I had only about nine steps to go, when I spotted a man walking up the stairs who had a body language and, uh, searching gaze that I knew well from 20 years of walking around Manhattan. He might as well have been wearing a sign saying, "I Come From a Culture Where It's Perfectly Fine and in Fact Encouraged to Give Strange Women Reviews and Commentary About Their Body Parts." Sure enough, as he prepared to pass me, he took me in with a stare that I knew would precede something unwelcome.
"Nice thick legs," he started. I immediately wished him ill. I know I shouldn't care what a total stranger thinks of my physique, and never mind that to him it's a compliment, but I just hate comments like that. Especially when they're from a stranger who might well be drunk or drugged and decide to grab at those nice thick legs.
All this went through my head in a nanosecond and I was walking on past him as quickly as I could, when he continued, without a beat (and without a verb), "You like a Ha-seed-ic Jew."
By then, he was past me on the stairs, which is a good thing, because, after the two seconds that it took for his statement to sink in, I couldn't contain my laughter.