Early June 2009:
Rita Licciardolo was my senior year English teacher at Passaic Valley High School in Little Falls, New Jersey, and she passed away in late April. She was such a lovable person and full of joy, it seemed to me then and also the (too) few times we saw each other later. She always had a light in her eyes that seemed to say that she was having a great time, almost in secret.
I never stopped desperately needing her approval for my work, and she was such a unbegrudging cheerleader to me that I never doubted for a moment that I had it. No one else in the world could have made me feel more secure or surer that I was doing the right thing with my life.
In high school she read Chaucer to us with the original accent, and I recall her standing on a chair while she did it. That's pretty much my permanent visual of her, and it's a happy and fine one to have. Oh was I fortunate to know this lady, and thrilled that she would come to see me play, even though later in life her arthritis made every move a difficult one.
No more standing on chairs, but some people only have to do it once to make you love them forever.
Late May 2009:
I remember walking down South Orange Avenue by Gruning's (great coffee ice cream) in downtown South Orange, New Jersey, not a "rough-edged factory town" as Wikipedia would have it, but the second richest city in the the United States, with beautiful cobbled streets, a place some of you have heard of in legends long ago and far away.
I was in ninth grade and at that time spent most of my waking hours searching through the radio stations of our large Zenith console, on which you could "get" Europe (guess who couldn't have been less interested in "getting" Europe), searching, as I say, for any fleeting moment of "Heartbreak Hotel" by Elvis Presley, which was the first song you'd ever heard from him if you lived in New Jersey and went to Seton Hall Prep, with their dorky blue/white reversible raglan jackets that at the time I thought were the hippest, having visions of wearing the damn thing to Mass till I was thirty-nine and senile.
At this point my entire experience of show business was helping Kenny Shapiro pick up his dropped schoolbooks one time on South Orange Avenue. Kenny had recently been on the Milton Berle Texaco Four-Star Theater doing something precocious, and years later wrote for "Groove Tube", a movie that Richard Belzer did early in his career ("Just You, Just Me", giddily lip-synched and danced down a crowded NY boulevard, you remember, if you're almost dead).
Fourteen years old,
mind you, and I distinctly remember thinking: that Elvis Presley guy is so cool but
he needs to change his name right away, to something like, oh, Mickey Ritz. A real
show biz name... Elvis Presley is just too weird a name for him to get successful.
Story of My Life Part II.
In the early sixties there was this coffeehouse in Kent, Ohio, called The Blind Owl, where I gigged for a little while when I was in a duet with a guy from Canada named Sam Cancilla. We called ourselves The Talismen. Did thirteen groups call themselves The Talismen around that time? Well, we were one of them. Sam was a tenor and very good, as I recall, and I kept myself busy thinking of serenely inappropriate things for us to sing together.
There was another duet there, at the Blind Owl. The name of the group was The Missing Otis Trio. Yeah, Otis, like the elevator. And the guy on Andy Griffith. They were actually a duet, see, and they were Missing Otis, who was in the trio but who never showed up. Ever. And that was their thing, and at that time it seemed kind of clever.
So one night me and Dave MacIntosh (sp, maybe) from the Missing Otises start writing this tune that is just really as unpleasant and gross as two twenty-two year olds can make it, and I'm so not going to tell you what it was about but believe me it was collegiate. collegiate, nothing intermediate. And because we were twenty-two it seemed just hilarious. So believe me when I tell you (whoo) it was really gross, and because I hadn't had much sleep I thought I had discovered a whole new way of looking at writing songs.
I think it was around this time I heard my first Beatle songs, and said (out loud): oh these cats sound too much like Buddy Holly. And that right there is the story of my life.
Early May 2009:
So I'm driving to this gig in Texas and this young lady comes on the radio doing "Fools Rush In", which is a tune that (most remarkably for me) was recorded by Rick Nelson when he was still Ricky Nelson. I loved Ricky Nelson, wasn't that crazy about Rick, but in any case always kinda felt embarassed at sixteen that I was such a big Ricky Nelson fan. I even remember being embarassed at how square the label on his 45s looked, compared to, say, Little Richard's (Specialty, big yellow and white, looked like an orange fudgesicle).
So this young lady (she sounded young, what can I say) is working her way through this tune and she sounds so sexy, almost too sexy for the tune, and me being older and all, I'm going to myself: she coulda held a little back, it'd have been cooler for the song. But I'm digging it, for one reason right away: she's so in tune, effortlessly, perfectly in tune. And two: she's phrasing it in such an interesting way, stretching some lines out, that it's kind of illuminating lines that I hadn't really focussed on before, and there's, as I say, this kind of worldliness and insinuation in the way she reads it that makes you feel like she knows something about you that you don't, which Julie London used to be able to do, and also Chris Connor. But she's groovier than Julie London, and groovier (for me) than Chris Connor. And the accompaniment is very hip sounding.
And I'm going well this could be somebody really new, you know, because whoever she is she also sounds maybe too young for the tune, like someone who's used to doing today's pop songs and is rummaging back in the past and doesn't really have the authentic past feel; is, regardless of intent, stuck in the present like all her contemporaries, and sounding very fresh simply because of the accident of her birthdate, and I'm thinking maybe it's Diana Krall, though I haven't heard much Diana Krall, but these days if something hip (and a standard) is on the radio it usually turns out to be her, or maybe Norah Jones, somebody of that ilk. And it's just so beguiling, you know. And did I mention sexy? And a little smartass, I don't know how else to put it. And finally groovy groovy groovy and a whole lot of fun. OK, the song's over and the DJ comes on. So are you ready? It was Doris Day, 1951.
Late April 2009:
Three musicians, me and two others:
My friend Steve Goodman will have been gone twenty-five years this September. I'm thinking about him lately a lot, after rereading the booklet that comes with his No Big Surprise CD, which I found at my friends the Chapmans' house. I haven't been immersed in Steve's life for a little while, having had some emotional difficulty reading his (wonderfully written) recent biography. There is something about seeing events and personalities with which you are very or even somewhat familiar being described for others to contemplate, like looking in a series of mirrors and trying to get your bearings. Also sometimes I think I have been taught to give too much power to words.
A lot of what you read about Steve is people assessing his life, his talent, and the impact of his personality on them. You come away with a feeling that he was a very good guy. I spent a lot of time with him and he was. He was truly courageous, too, on a level that I am quite certain I will never reach. When I read about him and see him through others' eyes I realize anew (I saw this now and again when he was here) that he lived his life on a plane that is not at all usual for me, the big difference being that by and large I have been allowed the luxury of attempting to shunt Mr. Death aside from my everyday life, and I will attempt to do so, I'm sure, until I absolutely can no longer. I'm not crazy about looking elemental things right in the face. For one thing, they look right back, and they don't blink. But Steve had to do that everyday, and I think it gave him, among other invaluable things, a good sense of proportion. Or maybe it was just his raisin'.
Meanwhile, speaking of Mr. Death (I know this is a jump) I've been somewhat obsessed with the fate of Phil Spector, a musician who for all of us, unless we're really weird, occupies quite the other end of the likeability spectrum. Who will speak well of him now? Given twice the allowance of time on earth as Steve had, what has he done with it? Given the respect and admiration of millions, into what did he spin this gold? He threw it all away, a DJ friend of mine said in Cambridge.
Compare and despair, a friend of mine in Chicago says. Well it depends on with whom you compare. I have done and said some cool things in my time (I'm sure), but folks will never speak of me the way they do Steve, never, never, ever, take it to the bank. I've done and said some really dumb things (can't sleep tonight, thinking of some lately), but I'll never be as unhappy and doomed a specimen as Phil Spector. Thank you God for that big middle campground, where so far, at least, I can set up my little pup tent.
I may have to move my fire drastically one way or the other occasionally but my neighborhood remains the same, essentially: Never as cool as Steve, but always cooler than Phil.
They could put that on my tombstone, that would be all right with me.
What do you do when you're a songwriter and you find yourself getting less and less verbal, except when you're watching a movie? (Sorry, Barbara.)
Reading the lyrics to "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen on Youtube, with Rufus W. singing, and can't believe what a web is being spun before my eyes. Out of nothing, in the best possible sense.
"Sons of the Never Wrong" are coming out with a new recording soon, and it sounds really interesting from what I've heard so far. They are Very Bold. They told me Pete Seeger said to them: Is this supposed to be folk music? Youtube their "Golden Slumbers", you'll love it.
"Selfish Giant" finished its current run at the Museum Of Science And Industry and my days are comparatively free again. Let me tell you, the laughter of little kids is such a beautiful sound to hear. Some days when I'd be playing mandolin and the giant would be dancing the laughter came in like waves of the ocean. Wunnerful, wunnerful. One time as I was leaving the stage I heard this little girl about four years old say: Now THAT'S a good show.
What a pleasure to play for kids.
So these days I am playing the piano like crazy. Not for public consumption, though. Daily drill: "Poinciana", "Moonlight Sonata", " Martha My Dear", "Lady Madonna","Invention in D" and "Third Man Theme", that Harry Lime, what a great name. Oh, and two of mine: "Weeping Madonna" and "Poor Dear Dead Baby Jim's Drive In Restaurant". Those two I am gonna record with the piano. I do plan to make several CD's soon that no one will like but me (here insert editor's note about me having done that already a bunch).
If you look up "The Flick Coffeehouse" on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6q8caI5QRKg) you'll see a couple of pictures of me when I was twenty-five, with my gorgeous Guild twelve string. O we were so beautiful then, me and my guitar, and of course neither of us knew it. All you have to do to like a picture of yourself is wait forty years, no sweat, you'll love it. My old friend Peter Neff did the production on that one, it's quite lovely. I played The Flick for three years. Max Launer, the owner, told me once: A coffeehouse is like a flower, it blooms and it dies. Thirty years later I used that line in a song. People would line up down Ponce de Leon for each show. Once somebody wanted to get in early to use the bathroom. Max said: Why didn't you go before you left home?
I have done a CD of the songs from "Selfish Giant" and it's now on sale at the usual location on this site. I think it's pretty cool, I'm proud of it. All I used was 12 string guitar, mandolin and bass. It's supposed to be for little kids, but I wrote it for me. Well maybe for the little kid I was, a bit of an oddball. The wonderfully written story, which made me cry when I first read it, is by Oscar Wilde and you can Google it and read it, in fact I wish you would, certainly before you listen to the CD. [Note: It's here.] Mr. Flaubert wanted everyone to check out a specific stained glass window before reading a collection of his stories. But did they?
Snow Queen is coming back to Victory Gardens next Christmas! Fourth year! Hooray! Make yr. plans now! Exact same cast, I'm so happy to say incl. that great new bass amplifier.
Three movies we rented lately and loved: "Appaloosa" "The Life Before her Eyes", "Married Life"...OK bye, drive safe.
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