Fein Mess Dec 01
Robert Hilburn, tenured-to-eternity L.A. Times rock crit, wrote an amazingly
frank mea culpa in November. Praising Bob Dylan's latest show, Hilburn
said that although critics have long given Dylan leeway for the erraticness
of his shows, THIS show was sensational.
It took my breath away. The mention that 'critics' went easy on Dylan's performances
sent me scurrying to recall the last time Hilburn said something bad about
them. I came up empty-handed.
So, knowing that HE had gone easy on Dylan in the past, Bob was owning
up thusly: "I lied to you before, but now I'm telling the truth."
Early in 1978 I was at the Ports restaurant in Hollywood, on Santa Monica acc
the street from a movie studio. I saw Bob Dylan and some people at a table.
On my way out, I said "Hey, Bob. There's a tv show on tonight with Roy
Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. What are you doing here?"
"Do you like those guys?" he said.
"Sure" I responded. "I talked with you about them at the Palomino."
"I remember. You were with some newspaper."
What a memory. It was 1973. I was at the Pal to see Waylon Jennings and Bob
was by the bar. I introduced myself and said that Playboy Records had just
signed Ray Harris, the old Sun rockabilly guy. "Yeah, I read that" he
said. "I had a long interview with Sam Phillips on tape, but someone stole
It was a healthy chat. I had known about the Phillips tape from an article
I'd read about Bob, and rockabilly was always my foot in the door when talking
to musicians 1. Suddenly Robin, the RCA
promo man, came up and asked Bob if he could have his picture taken with him. "Sure" he
said, and tugged on my shirt, "Get this guy in it too." The next
day RCA sent me the photo. I immediately cut Robin out of it, as he did me.
In 1978, the book "The Illustrated Dylan" came out. It followed Dylan
year by year with album covers. The author must have needed a 1973 shot badly,
bec there was the pic of Bob and me and Robin with no explanation; apparently
Jasper 2, the Palomino photographer, had supplied
In the mid 80s, Cameron Crow was assembling a Dylan box for Columbia and read
a bunch of Dylan fanzines. He told me that many Dylanologists were baffled
at the identity of the two guys on page 85 of "The Illustrated Dylan."
"The guy on the left with the cowboy shirt must be a musician" one
posited 3. Not even close, I'm afraid.
1 Not every time, though.
In 1973 I asked Elton John if he had heard the original "That's
Alright Mama" by Arthur Crudup -- Elton had used a slice of
that song in another song -- and he snapped, "Of course!"
2 He was once produced by
Brian Wilson. He was shooting the "Smile" sessions
for Capitol, and Brian had him sing a song.
3 I believe people also
commented on my shirt being open almost to the navel, like Harry
Belafonte. It was 100 degrees in the Pal, and dark. Nobody noticed
my aerated chest before or after the flash went off
Back to my story
So when I went to leave Ports at 8:00 Dylan asked what I was doing that
"Going to see Jerry Lee and Carl Perkins and Orbison on tv" I said.
"Do you want to see my new movie? I'm screening it across the street."
"I kinda wanted to see that tv show" I said.
"Well, come back if you want" he said.
I came back. I walked with Bob and his entourage to the theater and saw a preview
screening of "Renaldo & Clara." I didn't like it. At the break
I went onto the balcony to have a cigar. Dylan saw me go toward the door, and
said "You're not leaving are you!" I said no, though the thought
crossed my mind; there was still time to get home and see those Sun guys.
I stayed til the end and the next day got a call from Paul Wasserman, Dylan's
publicist.4 "Art, you know that was
a work print you saw, you can't review it anywhere." I never thought about
reviewing it til he said that. I called Rolling Stone and some other pubs,
but all declined my offer. At the time I worked for Elektra, so I was "with
a record company," they explained, and couldn't be trusted.
But the real problem was that rock editors wanted Dylan news to be "theirs."
|4 "Wasso" came to
a bad end, swindling friends and clients.
The world is coming to an end? Sorry, I'm making tapes. In ransacking my record
collection I found some doozies: "It Wouldn't Happen With Me" by
Jerry Lee Lewis, "Don't Want To Cry" by the Buckinghams, and "Devil's
Radio" by George Harrison, which sounds a lot like "Border Radio" by
the Blasters. I noticed a coppola things in the process:
1. On the resultant tape, I could tell which ones were taken from CD.
I use CD versions from laziness, and their tinniness, on songs heard
thousands of times, is apparent.
2. I fine-tuned this tape a dozen times. The last time to bring the sound down
on the first cut on side two bec it made the second cut sound faint. I thought, "What
if I only had a CD-burner? I could make no corrections!"
I gave a tape to a gal at a record company as a token of friendship.
She stared at it, perhaps suspecting it was a demo of a new group.
"It's a bunch of songs I like."
"Oh! Is it a MIX tape?"
"It's a bunch of songs I like."
"Oh, you mean a MIX tape!"
"I guess. What do YOU mean?"
"Didn't you see 'High Fidelity'? They made MIX tapes."
I liked the book. I didn't see the movie.
I resent its intrusion into my world.
More on New York
My friend came back from Philadelphia. I said something about New York/LA
and he said, "Don't start with LA versus the east coast. I got my
fill of it in Philly. Everyone there says people from L.A. think they're
at the center of the universe."
We are, but Angelenos say nothing about it, or other towns. If L.A. suffered
a mammoth tragedy, we'd all pull together, but nobody would say "Those
people have that L.A. spirit, that L.A. tenacity" because that's not the
cliche. We live our lives independently, and, when the occasion calls, heroically.
Like all people.
Now about New York. After the first half of the ninth inning of the
World Series, the announcer, a supposedly neutral observer, said "Well,
New York is just three outs from taking their (whatever-number) world
That caught my attention. The score was 2-1. That is not a big margin.
A World Series team entering ANY inning would be presumed capable of
scoring a run or two.
But there's the imbalance of perception. The announcer, like all media people
in America, leans toward New York. If they're winning now, they're gonna win
in a couple more minutes because they're New York -- America's team. If Arizona
had been ahead and the last half was coming up, can you imagine anyone saying "Well,
Arizona is just three outs away?" Of course not. He'd say, "This
is the Yankees' last chance to turn this game around."
The next day I read the LA Times. The writer said that Arizona pulled a miracle
by "stealing" the game in the last half of the ninth. The Yankees
had done the same thing in at least two prior games of this series, but they
weren't 'miracles,' they weren't 'thefts.'
Everyone EXPECTED them to win!
Everyone WANTED them to win!
They were ENTITLED to win!
Or so we're led to believe.
I always watch rock documentaries for the mistakes, the same reason
I read rock & roll books. Mistakes are inevitable -- I should know!
I also read the obits in the L.A Times for the same reason. The section
has been expanded so that each favored corpse gets nearly half a page.
No job, it seems, is too trivial to ballyhoo: jewelry salesman, English
printing press collector, first guy to advertise carpets on tv, entertainment
manager of a hotel in Hawaii. But with the added ink comes the increased
chance for error. And the errors pour out in our area of music.5
A recent one infuriated me. The Beatles' tailor died in England. The
L.A. Times 'newsman,' probably working from a wire service story, consulted
no one familiar with Beatle haberdashery, so 'his' obit repeats the tailor's
claim that in 1963 he created a collarless coat for the Beatles based
on the style of ship stewards.
No. In 1963, LA rock & roll star Chris Montez played England on
bills with the Beatles wearing the collarless coat he bought at Sy Devore's
on Vine Street. The Beatles dug it, and had their tailor copy it.
I thought everyone knew this. But day by day I learn that the stuff
I, and you by dint of your reading this, know is entirely unknown to
great portions of society. I must re-mention (in, oh, 1998 I told this)
my awakening in 1972 when the tv show "Streets Of San Francisco" debuted
with a young cop with Elvis hair and an old partner. They caromed around
that port town just like Warner Anderson and Tom Tully on "San Francisco
Beat" in 1957. It might as well have been in black and white, for
all its awareness of rock & roll and the hippie movement of a few
It screamed at me, "Nobody took that seriously but you."
Recently L.A. Times columnist Steve Harvey did a spit-take over a license
plate that said "RUDE GRL" -- he postulated that she must be
impolite to her parents. It's apparent that he, and everyone around him
on the editors desk -- and, perhaps, everyone in the world -- is ignorant
of that common reggae music term.
The chasm between us and normal people grows and grows.
|5 Just the other day, an L.A.
Times obit-writer credited the late Panama Francis with having played
drums on "Everyday" by Buddy Holly! It's a double miscredit,
as it was Holly, himself, on percussion, and it wasn't drums but
thigh-slaps. (Thanks TE.)
French-Reader Neal McCabe Shares This:
LE MONDE: You and Nick Tosches share a passion for obscure artists.
GREIL MARCUS: Nick Tosches has just published "Where Dead Voices Gather," about
his thirty-year long fascination with Emmett Miller, a forgotten minstrel singer.
The obscure artists I like are better. His book "Forgotten Heroes of R&R" discusses
artists who were unknown to me. I got their records and discovered that the
music was atrocious - totally boring. But Nick's writing was magnificent.
Can you believe he actually SAID that, Art? My obscure artists are
better than YOUR obscure artists? What an arrogant prick!
AF writes: This is my first actual sighting of the rumored absurdity
-- the person who likes writing about music more than music. I had no
opinion of Marcus til this, but now I place him on the lower rungs of
hell. The "atrocious" music of Amos Milburn? Wynonie Harris?
Louis Prima? Roy Brown?
GM, get your head on straight. This is the best music there is.
Artie Get Angry
I was watching "Men In Tights" with my daughter when an ugly
memory surfaced. It was an L.A. Times article last summer about "The
Producers" on Broadway. The writer, some nobody, contrasted Mel
Brooks' current vogue with his "missteps" after "Young
This nothing, this vapor, referred to "Spaceballs" and "Men
In Tights" as "disappointing" because they weren't boffo
b.o. It offends me because I like those films, and it offends me because
I know his shallow and mis-read motivation -- that he must say something
negative to balance the pro-"Producers" story to keep his "integrity
as a journalist."
That's alright, you say? He is entitled? Nah. A TALENTED guy makes a film,
and thousands or millions enjoy it, just not as many as his previous effort.
The moviemaker has TALENT and ADMIRERS, something jagoffs like Mr. Nobody do
not and can not. The slip in audience numbers unleashes him: "Now I can
wail on him, because I am as good as him, even better, but nobody realizes
it!" These people should not be permitted exorcise their inferiority complexes
on people who CREATE! Not in newspapers, at least.
Also setting my teeth on edge is the phenomenon of the counter-review.
When a newspaper editor assigns a music feature, he will often assign
a reviewer to assess the person's new record independent of the profile.
The reviewer's stance is predictable: "I'm my own person. I'm not
gonna be swayed by the editor, who apparently LIKES this act. I'm gonna
chop them down to size." So boxed in the middle of a positive story
is a slam from a misfit whose only joy is to whack someone talented at
the knees. 6
I think, too, of when "critics" infect listings. When a showtime
is listed in a magazine or newspaper, often a rock-shmuck or a movie-dweeb
reviews it in capsule. I remember a paper here giving showtimes for a
Grateful Dead concert with the addendum "If you like this kind of
droning non-music, you'll have a swell time." Who asked this worm
to sully the listings with his sputum? It ruins the fan's experience
-- Who else reads a showtime listing? -- and serves only to darken the
limp-lance writer's name. Or, if unsigned, the publication's 8.
Lists that sneer; it's sad there's such a category. In Los Angeles magazine,
Steve Erickson, a former reviewer supposedly gone straight, wrote a list
of a hundred songs that represent L.A. After self-congratulatorily namedropping
all the brilliant people he canvassed (book-writers all!), he led off
Number 100 -- "'Loser,' Beck. Before he became the most overrated
artist of the 90s, there was an even-money chance that he might record
a song that told you something about how he felt rather than how smart
Oh. I see. He listed Beck's song because it was good, or important,
but quickly back-pedaled to let you know that HE wasn't fooled by it
or by Beck because HE is wise to Beck's weaknesses, HE won't mislead
you into thinking Beck is good. HE, the great writer with all the important
friends is ABOVE Beck's falsity. He ends the entry with a sniveling remark
about Kurt Cobain's death, the punk.
And finally, a little afield, Bill Geist, "CBS News correspondent
and commentator," wrote a piece in the mid-November Sunday NY Times,
humorously critical of the Army's decision to send Wayne Newton to entertain
troops overseas. Geist issues a salvo of one-liners ("What troops?
World War One vets?") that is truly clever and obvious and unnecessary.
HE doesn't like Wayne Newton. Many people of his, I might say our, generation
find Newton a curious relic of Vegas Past (though Vegas Present is no
great shakes). But why write it in a national newspaper? Newton has feelings,
and thousands if not millions of fans. Since Sammy Davis died, Wayne
takes all the arrows. He's a surefire laugh-getter to a "hip" audience.
In a writing archery contest, Geist chooses the broad side of a barn.
I sound touchy, I am. In 1979 I wrote an article in the L.A.
Times about the best L.A. band I'd ever seen (and have seen since),
the Heaters 7. In
a separate box aside it, a liver-lipped cool-breeze punk-skunked
anti-pop malcontent wrote a scathing review of their excellent
performance at the Starwood citing their best qualities as something
shameful, saddening them and enraging me.
late 70s the Heaters made two tragically-unfulfilled
albums, on Ariola and Columbia. Suzi Quatro recorded a song off
the first one, "Never Been In Love." In 1986
Phil Spector expressed interest in producing them, but didn't,
despite their collaborating at several meetings. Mercy Bermudez,
the lead singer, was skedded for her own Spector session (it
was convened, in 1992) but it went on the shelf and she left
town. In 1996, bassist/songwriter Missy Connell put out a brilliant
self-produced tape under the name MAC, which was transmogrified
in 1997 into a Heaters album on Garage Records. Doug Fieger,
whose Knack copied the Heaters' white shirt-black vest stage
garb in 1979, rewrote and recorded "Everything I Do Makes
Her Mad," a song off Missy's album, for the 1999 Rhino Knack
album, "Zoom." Missy's sister, songwriter/ keyboardist
Maggie Connell, is currently playing clubs in New York and just
issued a magnificent album "The Luxury of Sadness," on
Frigidisk Records (www.frigidisk.com).
8 I have
long maintained that, like listings, news stories should not
be signed. Why put a person's name on news? Does the guy who
compiles the sports statistics sign his work? The person who
inserts the stock market numbers? Of course not. Data are data,
and news is news. To add a name to it is to make it suspect!
A good distortion of this is local weather
personalities, whose names are attached to weather forecasts
on radio. "And now the KBCD-TV Marvin Rainstorm weather." This
doesn't anger me, because tv 'news' people are clowns and actors.
It's newspapers that are supposed to have integrity.
Finally, Something Useful
I took my backup turntable to the shop. It had a hum. The guy asked
how my RCA-cables were and I said "new." A moment passed, and
I added "From the 99 Cent Store." He hooked his older cables
on it, and the hum was gone. 'Wire's too thin" he said.
I took this to be a flaw, but it wasn't. The 99 Cent RCA cables were
absolutely adequate for modern sound reproduction BECAUSE EVERYTHING'S
SMALLER. Not in size, but in power: Transistors, computer chips bring
wattage down to near zero.
If you are still messing with older stereo equipment, you gotta get
heavy-duty cables. What used to be called "standard weight."
And, oh yes, Merry Christmas. Play Phil Spector's "Christmas Gift
For You" loud and often.
- 57 -
This Just In
Andy Schwartz's letter to the NY Times, 11-30-01
To The Editor,
In the Associated Press obituary for George Harrison
which appears on the Times web site, the composer of
the Chiffons' 1963 No. 1 hit "He's So Fine" is
erroneously identified as Lonnie Mack.
"He's So Fine" was written by RONNIE Mack, a
songwriter who was the Chiffons' manager at the time.
I believe he died more than a decade ago.
Lonnie Mack is an influential blues-rock guitarist and
vocalist whose instrumental "Memphis" reached No. 5 on
the Billboard Hot 100, also in 1963. He continues to
perform and record--see http://www.lonniemack.com.
New York, NY