-March 2000-

Other Fein Messes

Fein Mess Mar 2000

Critics: Carbuncles or Cancers?

Watched nearly the entire hour of the Vanilla Ice story. He was big, for a while, then he faded away.

People, generally, like to make fun of people who have failed; a while back it was John Travolta; always it's Erik Estrada. So rock crits, who are almost people, really like to lay into someone like Ice.

Do I care about Vanilla Ice? No, but I don't wish him ill. He looked like a cartoon, a stretched-out guy with blonde crewcut and silly angular clothes. He got popular, then a Detroit newspaper guy "found him out," i.e. that he didn't grow up tough in a black neighborhood like his bio said. That, suposedly, was the crux of his downfall.

On this tv show, they interviewed the guy who "broke" the "story" ten years ago and he was sober and proud.

"His bio said he was one thing, but he was another" he said, like God On High.

What is the matter with that reporter? It's difficult to imagine someone giving a shit ten years ago about some white rap guy's bio, but to gloat about it now? Shouldn't he be laughing? This is show business! Entertainment "news"! Nobody believes any of it! It's not like cold fusion, something that needs to be confirmed.

The narrator reported that there was a Vanilla Ice backlash from the press. It brought back shivers to me, remembering their outrage over -- gasp! -- Milli Vanilli.

That this 'shocking' discovery could led to his downfall seems ridiculous; the public must've just tired of his music.

Everyone knows critics are useless scolds.

We Get Letters

I was thinking again about late-career flashes I mentioned in an earlier column, and need to add one. Chuck Berry's final two first-era hits, "Promised Land" and "Let It Rock," I think are the best of his career. Other medium-tempo hits came later -- all good -- but none shone like those.

From the category Followup Records That Were Almost Identical To Hits But Were Better, Kent Benjamin of Austin, Texas, sez the Hollies' "The Day Curly Shot Sheriff Sam McGee" (Gee, wonder why nobody aired it) is like, but superior to, "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress." And Skip Heller, late of Philadelphia, sez Lou Rawls' followup record, "See You When I Get There," is vastly superior to his hit "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine".

Still another addendum. A couple of people have expressed sympathy for my seeming low self-esteem, from "The Fan" column in December. I didn't mean to convey self-pity: though I've never gotten rich, I LOVE what I do. (Whatever that is.) Nobody who knows me thinks I suffer from a lack of ego. Don't forget, I force myself on tv, and hammer out this column with absolute certainty that people care. If that ain't vanity, my name isn't Elvin Pretzel.

More TV Stuff

Watching VH1's lengthy bio of the Mamas & Papas, I was surprised that they omitted John Phillips much-publicized venting of his, and his daughter's, drug addiction in the 1980s, or the time when Spanky MacFarland replaced Cass Elliott in the group. What's funny is that on another M&Ps bio, A&E maybe, Phillips being interviewed has red watery eyes and slurred speech and seems sloshed to near-incoherence.

But here I go again on critics. I taped 16 or 24 hours of those VH1 shows so maybe I could learn stuff. I watched the Stevie Nicks one, and at the end she lamented that when she made a concert tour in, say, 1995, "All the critics seemed to care about was that I had gained weight." She said it made her feel bad.

WHY DON'T THEY LICENSE THESE IDIOTS? Why are they allowed to spew their damaging words without being held responsible? I KNOW what it's like to be one of these fools. They REVEL, they REJOICE in finding something WRONG. If Stevie Nicks got fat, HO HO, it's time to pull out the KNIVES. Finding flaw in a performance is what critics live for: they snicker, they gibe, they act, for just a second, SUPERIOR to the musicians. And if the performer's not flawed, the critic harks back to ten years ago and reminds you that though HE (or SHE, equally heinous) remembers when they were OTHERWISE wrong. In L.A., the worst hack (in this case not a writing jibe, but a machete simile) is probably Steve Hochman at the L.A. Times, who routinely opens a story with "You probably thought so-and-so was an idiot. Well, she's gotten better!" Steve Appelford, closing in on Hochman, recently "reviewed" a Michael McDonald tribute concert by saying McDonald and his guest stars (Christopher Cross, Kenny Loggins) all wrote elevator music, and that the 80s were a terrible decade that ought to stay buried. WHO was the subject of this review? Appelford, of course. And who wants to buy HIS records?

Do I have space left to comment on Bob Hilburn too? Hey, it's my column! Recently he opined the Moonglows did not DESERVE to be in the R&R Hall of Fame bec their output, today, seems tepid. Never mind that IN ITS TIME it was a breakthrough, just think about Hilburn's insensitivity airing such a carping and questionable opinion. (His words are syndicated nationally, god help us.) He is picking on a bunch of men in their 60s who HELPED power in the R&B/R&R/C&W explosion of the 1950s, while not questioning, not allowing a glimmer of doubt about, the contributions of' fellow inductees James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt. (I like both of them, but exactly, precisely, even VAGUELY, what is their connection to ROCK & ROLL?)
To savage the Moonglows is thoughtless, unnecessary, and megalomaniacal.

No-Go at Mojo

Most people in "our" crowd dig Mojo, the $8 or so (import tag) music mag from England. It's like Let It Rock was in the 70s, but with more current stuff.

I can't get a foot in the door, but that's probably my fault. Back in 1995 I wrote the editor suggesting a story about Louis Prima bec he's important and overlooked. I know Sam Butera, and could've filed a heck of a piece. But that elicited no response. Six months later the editor wrote me, "I have an assignment for you. You interview Phil Spector about his time with John Lennon in New York, nothing else."

I wasn't flattered. I would like nothing better than to interview Spector, but that ain't happened in the dozen years I've had his acquaintance. And quite frankly I wouldn't care to talk to him about Lennon bec I think of the two Spector is more important. What cheezed me off was that it was an "assignment," not a request. Like I was beholding to this creep. And it was based, I am certain, on my relationship with Phil. I wrote back, "Spector doesn't give interviews, and if I was so lucky as to get one I wouldn't waste it on a Lennon angle for Mojo."

And people call me tactless.

In mid 1999 I heard that super-duper drummer Hal Blaine hosted breakfast once a week at a deli in L.A. where the hale Wall Of Sound fellows met well. I attended one and was dazzled to see Goldstar old-timers (I think alte kachers applies here) enjoying each other's company and Blaine's endless stream of jokes. (He is, now, a standup comedian. Has an album and everything.) As their life was not my life, I was the fly on the wall, saying nothing, digging their ambiance. I thought, "THIS is a Mojo story," offbeat and reverent and unique. But I submitted it, and, once again, no reply.

Well, I ain't new to rejection.

Elvis Again

I recently watched snatches of Elvis In Hollywood on AMC. On one hand I don't seek out Elvis stuff anymore, but on the other I don't switch channels when I see him, unless it's any movie made after King Creole. I watched with half-attention, then all of a sudden I was looking at him lip-synching Blue Suede Shoes in full color in front of a purple-lit curtain. To say it was breathtaking is an understatement. Not only was it literally brilliant (well lit), but it was clearly from about April, 1956 -- he looks just-21 and his hair is sandy brown. It looked so perfect I kept staring at it wondering how this early moment had been captured on film so vividly. I felt like screaming. I phoned James Intveld, whom I woke at 11:45 a.m. "It's his movie screen test" he said groggily. I called Paul Body. "It's his movie screen test" he said. How come this slipped by me all these years? I remember seeing stills from this and wondering what it was. And what screen test? If they're putting him in Love Me Tender or the Rainmaker why do they want a musical performance? I liked Body's explanation.

"I think it was a screen test for 'The Girl Can't Help It.' You know, the scene where they show Eddie Cochran." That is a brilliant deduction. It's not just lit it's overlit, and the purple curtain is throbbing just like the cartoon-based visuals in "GCHI." I choose to believe that's what it is. I've always propounded that theory, that Elvis was in line for the Cochran shot, even though it's been pretty authoritatively disproven.

Seeing is believing, and wishing is believing too.

Next they ran home movies of Elvis at a marina, maybe Miami or Las Vegas (is there water there?). He posed with some tourists, and as he left the cameraman kept shooting as he walked away down the street, and half jumped on Nick Adams' back horsing around. The sight of this guy! It was 1956 or 1957, he was wearing a hep cat 50s short sleeve shirt. I couldn't take my eyes off him. I had trouble breathing. It was like watching god. It seems impossible to believe that someone that cool, that absolutely perfect, walked on the earth. He looked like he could have parted the ocean.

Which leads me to the story that Kent Benjamin told me. In 1962, in Memphis, his friend Dennis was in his mother's car parked in front of a laundromat when Elvis and some friends went into a store next door. Dennis went catatonic with excitement. When his mother came to the car she asked what was the matter and he told her. Just then Elvis and the guys came out. She went up to him and said, "My son Dennis is ten years old and doesn't have any friends. But he's crazy about you. Do you think you could say hello to him, over in that car?" Elvis said sure, and opened the back door, slid in next to him, put his arm around him and talked to him for five minutes.

For some reason, I cannot write or think about this without crying.

- 57 -

Email Art Fein

Other Fein Messes