-March 2003-

Other Fein Messes

This is pretty terrif

I don't even remember the name of the first girl I banged, so how in the hell am I gonna remember the first record I bought? The records I remember owning as a child (early '50s) were Bozo Under the Sea and Bozo & the Birds. But I often played my dad's cowboy records (Gene Autry 78s like "A Boy From Texas, a Girl From Tennessee," plus Ernest Tubb's "Mr Love," which endlessly fascinated me) and my mom's pop stuff (Dinah Shore's "Buttons & Bows," some things by Buddy Clark, who died in a 1949 plane crash). The first 45 I ever held in my hand was Roger Williams' "Autumn Leaves." I started spending my allowance on 45s around 1956. I know that Elvis' "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" was in there, along with my first collectible (that is, a record I felt was intrinsically valuable in some way), a white deejay copy of Gene Vincent's "B-I-Bickey-Bi-Bo-Bo-Go," which I took great pride in being able to pronounce at a moment's notice, without thinking about it. I don't recall how I got hold of it, but that was my introduction to the fact that radio stations got different records than the rest of us. I also discovered fairly early that if you went over to the local jukebox distributor you could pick up used 45s for a nickel apiece. If they were trashed from repeated plays on the jukeboxes, my shitty little record player didn't seem to notice.

As for my first concert, I'm ashamed to say that I never saw anything in the 1950s because Parkersburg, West Virginia, was so off the beaten path that nobody ever came there except Neil Sedeka, and who wanted to see him? But in 1962, after I went off to the Marines, I found a club called Jazzland in Jacksonville, NC, just outside Camp Lejeune, whose house band was led by Paul Peek, who advertised himself as being a former member of the Blue Caps. Just a few years ago, when I had a chance to meet Peek at the Derby during one of the Blue Caps reunion tours, we had a nice talk about his days at Jazzland. His specialty back then was singing popular songs with dirty lyrics, like in "Splish Splash" he'd sing, "Bing bang, she banged the whole gang." It wasn't quite Cole Porter, but it went over well in front of a bunch of drunk Marines.

I saw my first famous entertainer in 1963 or '64 in Washington, D.C. I saw an ad for a club where Link Wray was playing, so I hurried out to some suburb and ended up in a dive that frankly surprised me, because I figured if you'd had a couple of hits you were supposed to be rich, so why would you be playing in a dump? Anyway, it was a pretty good show, even though Wray was late for the second set because, according to the scuttlebutt, he was screwing some chick out in the parking lot.

Sometimes I like to go back and rewrite my own history to include somebody (my older brother maybe) taking me up to the Armory in Akron, Ohio (about 120 miles northwest) on my thirteenth birthday (9-10-57) to see the Show of Stars of 1957. I'm sorry if you're one of those people I lied to and said, "Oh sure, yeah, for only a buck-twenty-five I saw Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, Frankie Lymon, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, LaVern Baker, et al!" But somehow I felt like more of a whole human being claiming I'd been there and seen that, instead of a culturally deprived West Virginia hillbilly whose idea of the big time was seeing Paul Peek sing, "Bing bang, she banged the whole gang."

By the way, did I ever tell you that the first 45 I ever bought, back in '52 when I was only seven or eight, was "Rocket 88"? What a prescient and precocious little fucker I was, huh?

Jim Dawson

Jim Dawson has written all the best books in anyone's library: "What Was the First Rock & Roll Record" (with Steve Propes); "Who Cut the Cheese - The Cultural History Of The Fart"; "The Twist"; and "Nervous Man Nervous, Big Jay McNeely and The Rise of The Honking Tenor Sax!"

Fein Mess March 03

L'Affaire Spector

Like most sane people, I have nothing to say about the current Phil Spector imbroglio. But plenty of people do.

I don't mind the Alhambra police woman saying "Phil Spector of Motown Records was arrested today" because she does not claim music expertise. I DO mind when Rick Lyman, of the NY Times, identifies him as producer of Elvis Presley. Why do they assign the generalist Lyman? Is rock & roll so unimportant no experts are needed? I enjoyed the local Channel 9 "breaking news" newswoman who, standing outside the Spector manse, snarled "Well, he got past us, but what I've heard about Phil Spector is that he is eccentric AND SOME SAY PSYCHOTIC!" She was one pissed-off interview-failing airhead.

The real psycho worm who's emerged from the Spector rain is Mark Ribowsky, who wrote a 1989 Spector bio that's being rush-republished. His attitude in the book was scowling, but it held no hint of the guy's personal, unpersonable, mien. He spits venom at Spector past and present like Phil ran off with his girlfriend. This guy should not be given air time, he should be given the air.

Bo, Chuck

The NY Times has been running long stories about old rockers. Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry are the first two subjects.

I say subjects, not victims. The victims are the readers of non-expert lock-step PC doggerelist Bernard Weinraub.

On Sun Feb 23's Chuck Berry story, Weinraub trots out many cliches and unproven facts. That Chuck's music, alone, awakened "white" teenagers (I guess black kids, whom we know were buying Carl Perkins and Everly Brothers records, are not important); later, he specifies white "suburban" teenagers, as if city kids were .....poor? statistically insignificant? dumb like Weinraub? That Chuck punched Jerry Lee Lewis in the nose for claiming he, Lewis, was the king of rock & roll is reported as fact in the "paper of record." (1) He sees as odd behavior Berry's ejection of Keith Richards from a concert stage for playing too loud - by Weinraub, the featured performer should welcome an overloud unidentified interloper; try it your next symphony visit. (Maybe Weinraub, no expert on the 1950s -- or anything, it seems -- thinks everyone should genuflect to Richards.) In the lyrics to "Maybellene" (whose title Weinraub clearly distinguishes from the makeup line, Maybelline -- perhaps THAT is Weinraub's field of study), the first line is writ "As I was motivatin' over the hill." Perhaps the song's publisher, or the NY Times, "corrected" the line WE all heard, the incredible, ethereally wonderful made-up word "motorvatin,'" but then Weinraub should have pointed it out. Nah. He's not savvy enough.

(1) I wrote a book about such undocumented tales. I'd like to see Weinraub's source for this incident. If it was Chuck Berry's mouth, that doesn't make it true, (and would be odd, as Chuck is at the least amibivalent about rock & roll).

Dignity Doesn't Live Here

Though the NY Times uses people unfamiliar with rock & roll, the L.A. Times has "attitude." In their Feb 23, 03 edition, The NY Times traced the career of Great White, the band that incinerated 100 of its fans, with detachment. The same day, the L.A. Times did the same story but haughtily stressed that "critics" don't like them or their type of music.

Their final insult to the dead? They were listening to the wrong music.

Living In The Past

Yeah, the title of a Jethro Tull album. But that guy was living in someone else's past, 300 years earlier. I live in the current past, my past.

Like so many others, I never quite outgrew the mold (2) that was established when I was 11, in 1957. Was the music that good, or was it just that my receptors were fresh and open? Hair was good -- Have you noticed how many longhairs of the past have returned to the 50s look? Those who still have hair, that is. Deep in my craw I still believe a corned beef sandwich is 55 cents, a car costs $1700, $2 an hour is a living wage, and this world we're living in is just a mistake that will someday be corrected. I'm hopping with the changes bec one foot is stuck in the past.

Goals set when I was 11 occasionally are realized. I'm not seeking them, but they happen. As I mentioned a yar ago, in 1977 I started hanging around Monday nights in front of the Troubadour in West Hollywood. My gang, or the gang I joined, was Chuck E Weiss, Paul Body, Tom Waits and Rick Dubov -- two Troub employees and two hangers-on. It wasn't until it was over that I realized I fulfilled a teenage ambition -- I'd had a 'street corner' to hang out at.

Likewise my involvement with the rockabilly fringe. In the 70s I hung with Ronny Weiser and the Rollin' Rock Records crowd. I was now fully grown, and could shout from rooftops that the music of my childhood was the best. (Fervent as we were, we were not part of a movement; we WERE the movement. Our shouts for a return to real rock & roll were spit in the ocean. No legion of crusaders marched behind us.)

In the 80s, after my involvement with the Blasters and the hibernation of Rollin' Rock, I began spinning 50's/60s records at Club Lingerie in Hollywood. I had my own night - Wensdays - and it grew to include live music. I booked in everything I could, drawing from old masters Rose Maddox, Sleepy Labeef and Ray Campi and newies including James Intveld, the Paladins, and Los Lobos. (3)

There was that quasi-deja vu again. At high school dances, I had not danced, I played the records. Playing records now for more-extreme and -dedicated (not changing, ever) new jitterbuggers was like the best of the old world. Adding bands was like high school sent to heaven.

And I had that same sudden recognition in the early 90s at a recording studio with some nouveau-rockabillies. There I was with crew-cutted young hillbilly types with checked cowboy shirts and jeans with foot-high cuffs playing 50s style rock & roll, and it dawned on me "This was my hang-out dream when I was 11." (4)

It was not profound or lasting. It was just another connection between old young me and new old me.

(2) Even I am not immune to lazy thinking: I had at first written the word "template" because it is epidemic in journalism, like "spike" and cliched-at-birth "back in the day." (After writing this, I found the word "template" in TWO articles in first section of the Feb 22, 03 NY Times.)

(3) Just look at the credits on "L.A. Rockabilly."

(4) Sadly, that probably was my ambition, to be around creative people. Not be one.

Up- (With) Chuck

I mentioned Chuck Weiss. When I arrived at the University of Colorado in 1965, I had a head full of oldies. (Preferring oldies at the height of Beatlemania was not unique. Let's don't forget that Art Laboe's first "Oldies But Goodies" album came out in 1959.) There were few of us among the 17,000 campusites, and we gravitated to each other. One was Chuck Weiss, who had the enormous advantage of his dad owning a record store (!!!!) on the college Hill. Someone set up a contest between me and him, and I'll say I won bec this is my space. Actually, neither of us could know much about R&R history, bec all there was was our individual experiences. There were no annals for this info, people were not writing books about it. You just looked and listened and went to thrift stores.

I left Boulder in 1970, and in 1972 moved to L.A. One day in 1974 I ran into Chuck at the Troubadour. He told me he was living at the Tropicana with the singer Tom Waits. We reestablished our friendship, and convened every so often.

In 1970, Chuck had recorded some songs at Chess in Chicago with Willie Dixon's band, and an album was released on Rollin' Rock. I didn't think much of his singing or the idea of him recording with the 'masters.' In 1979 when Rickie Lee Jones (5) recorded Chuck E's In Love, I called a guy at Mercury Records in Chicago and said "I've got Chuck E." He said he'd pay $5000 for a Chuck Weiss single if it could come out fast. I told Chuck and he said, "Uh uh, I'm doing my own album; my cousin from Denver is producing it."

The "opening" -- interest in "Chuck E" -- demanded immediate response. Chuck's was anything but. His album was recorded a year later, and came out the year after that. Recording circumstances were not ideal, nor was the recorder: I recall seeing him carried out of Canter's deli the night before the sessions, intoxicated. This resultant album didn't kill me either.

Tom strangles Chuck. outside the Troubadour.
Paul Body watches

In late 1978 some friends and I began producing private New Years parties, and Chuck and Waits came to the first two. Tom met his wife at the second one, which featured Roy Brown. In 1984 I supplied outside music for the film "Roadhouse 66" (which includes James Intveld's band in the live footage, and a 5-second close-up of me) including three Chuck Weiss songs which I 'produced' (stood around and said OK) at an 8-track studio in Culver City

I give Chuck $1000 for the useof his songs in "Roadhouse 66"
Then in the late 80s he began playing midnight Mondays at The Central on Sunset Strip. I came to every show (6), and they were phenomenal and wildly popular. Stars would come out to see Chuck! And as I learned his stuff and his style, I went back and studied the 1980 album again. Now I got it: he really did have talent as both a singer and songwriter. I just missed it the first time.

So we all clamored for a new Chuck Weiss album. Never one to rush things, he made it in 2000. And it was a worldwide hit! Now there's two. It's really weird to hear now. Even though they're new songs, they are nostalgic to me, redolent of all those nights at the Central.

(5) She must have been out on the sidewalk with the Monday night gang, but darned if I remember her.

(6) A regular who used to stand with me next to the cigarette machine by the back door was Bobby Pastorelli, the actor.

Book Readin' (7)

Looking at a Gore Vidal book of essays, I am gassed how he dissects criticisms of his book "Lincoln," and gets the last word. Pauline Kael, in her earlier books of criticism (oops, I'm lauding a critic), would take apart other crits and ridicule them, a technique she dropped after receiving some heat, but not before, it seems, affecting me.

I felt personally thrilled by Vidal's explaining that the word hooker has several explanations, depending on the era of its use: In Lincoln's time it is thought to have referred to the camp followers who serviced General Hooker's troops (8) while in earlier times it referred to women in London hooking your arm to solicit your trade. My satisfaction was that I wrote him a letter about these disparities in two of his books ("Lincoln" and "Burr," I think), which he never answered, but did in the book. Thanks, neighbor! (He lives, part of the time, in the Hollywood Hills.)

(7) As you're probably dying to know my reading taste, I run to Updike, Philip Roth, Vidal, Dostoefsky, and one Balzac book, Lost Illusions. For humor I like Peter DeVries, his mentor James Thurber and S.J. Perlman.
The best book ever written is Mine Enemy Grows Older by Alexander King.
And I would read a good rock & roll novel if there was one. (OK, "High Fidelity" is good.)

(8) My friend Everett has a problem with etymologies of old phrases and words, as they often seem convenient and unprovable. For example, in this case, why single out General Hooker's prostitutes, when other generals had them?

Those Who Know Only Their Own Generation....

A while ago I wrote that my discovery of something doesn't make it news: for me to say, "Chocolate tastes good" only signals my late arrival. Yet day after day I read about discoveries of common things.

It's not just an age thing, but that's part of it. There's also peer-group blindness. Rock crits for instance, routinely point to the Dave Matthews Band as a bad, uninteresting band. Their group of prune-faced scribes numbers in the hundreds while Dave Matthews' fans are in the millions, yet they write as if the band's shortcomings are widely known and accepted. It's madness. Also, going back a bit (this was 1989: though I forgive, I don't forget[9]), I remember a review of "1969," a film about the Viet Nam War's effect on teenagers in Kansas. "This is ridiculous" wrote flick crit Peter Rainer in stunning blindness. "The rebellion of the 1960s didn't happen in the midwest, it happened in New York." Where Rainer lived, one guesses.

A schoolteacher friend gave me a book by a scholaress who explained that teenage females had LIKED musicians before 1964, but the Beatles were the first to sexually arouse them. This was presented as fact (10), without considering that considerable pants-wetting went on for Elvis, Sinatra, and probably John Phillip Sousa. Likewise, the L.A. Times entertainment section (Feb 03)tells us that walking is “the new craze,” because someone there has begun walking. And recently, Julia Gaynor in the L.A. Times ("L.A. Defines Happy Hour," 11/7/2002) wrote a Calendar cover story declaiming “People are now gathering to have cocktails after work.”

This last one is easy. She who has discovered after-work drinking (her next 'find' is that people drink coffee in the morning - stay tuned) is in her 20s and has lived a fiercely alternate lifestyle, drinking wheatgrass or taking Ecstasy since finishing journalism school (11) so she wouldn't be lumped with the 9-to-5 'suits' she and other avant-gardistes disdain. But lately her friends have been dabbling in 5 p.m. martinis JUST TO MOCK OTHER PEOPLE, and now you who perhaps toss back after-work drinks unironically, ergo insignificantly, are presented to the world as trendy.

(9) Quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, in that Vidal book ("United States, Essays 1952-1992").

(10)The 'fact' is the writer was born around 1950.

(11) As if! I mean, before she got a job at a newspaper.

Arton Of The Movies

Music is better than movies. Music is more important than movies.
But I belabor the obvious.

I was watching a bio of some movie guy, and they said "Blotto is really devoted to acting." I thought, Devoted to WHAT? To pretending he's someone else? Wow, what a meaningful path. A life's work of convincing people that you're not yourself. Brilliant! Can you imagine being married to a great actor? If he/she says they love you, what do you respond -- "I love you too" or "Bravo!"?

I've read thousands of interviews with movie people who describe, as if it were unique, their feeling of transportation when they sat in the darkened movie theater and saw the big images on the screen. Whoop de doo. Hell, I felt it. It was neat. And transitory. And meaningless. Occasionally movie moments crop up in my life, flashbacks to things, but on the whole no 90-minute flickering image holds a candle to the atomic-blast white-light of Little Richard doing "Lucille." Yet movies and tv hold the world's attention. It's a shame. An inversion of priority.

Excuse for Yet Another Chuck E. Photo

In the movie "The Producers" (12), dozens of 'Hitlers' audition for a role. That reminds me of 20 years ago, when I read in Variety that there was an open call for an actor to play Little Richard. I went down to an office on south Cahuenga just to look, and what did I encounter but a dozen thin fey black guys with heavy makeup.

Oops. When I hear Little Richard I think of thundering rock & roll. To the generations after mine, it's a mincing guy who says "Shut up!"

Also, I encountered Chuck Weiss and Tom Waits there. Chuck said he was gonna audition, but he didn't.

(12) Like so many things, that title reminds me of something stupid I read. In the LA Times in 2001 some jerk wrote about that film's initial death, and its resurrection due to some hepsters (Peter Sellers) discovering it. "It was the 60s, and of course everyone was stoned" wrote the moron (13). Yes, everyone took drugs then. Just like now. Everyone agrees on everything!

(13) Egads, that's the article I attacked in this column, where the guy said Mel Brooks' subsequent films were less good bec they did less b.o. Like "Men In Tights" isn't great? I don't care for Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein, his agreed-upon apogees, but of course I'm wrong.


Despite my perpetual look-back, I don't spend a lot of time intentionally nostalgicizing. I've thrown away my high school yearbooks. I have no friends from pre-California (age 24). Not long ago I almost signed up for Classmates, but on the very cusp of doing it I thought "Do I need to dig up any more of my past?" (14) I recalled episodes of Unsolved Mysteries where someone locates their best friend from childhood. The seeker is obviously a lost and troubled soul, and usually the findee is simply puzzled by the new stranger. (A few years ago my best friend age 8-10 contacted me on e-mail. He had moved to LA from Chicago many years ago, and then seen me on tv. We exchanged two more communications yet neither of us made an effort to see one another! So mature.)

But "things" surface like the answers on a Magic 8-Ball. Like my parents telling me not to sit close to the tv because the X-rays or something will make me sterile. Have tv emissions changed? Or was that an old wives tale? Certainly a lap-top computer would do wonders for population control, if it's the case.

And what about gym? Swimming class in high school was always in the nude. (Boys alone, darn it.) I always felt uncomfortable and ridiculous. What ever was the meaning of that? Same for swimming at the YMCA. Was it to prepare you for the crudity of the Army? Was Chicago uniquely steeped in ancient Greek Olympian tradition? I marvel at this, and wonder what the heck was going on, and whether it's still so.

What really sticks in my brain from childhood is how merchants, adults, would steal your money. They would short-change you or rob you some other way (14). Not all of them, but there were plenty. "How much are these sunglasses?" the clerk shouted to the cashier. "A dollar" came the answer. "Two dollars" the guy said to me. Or movies, which of course still rob you, would charge 6 cents for nickel candy bar. Why? And they had small, medium and large drinks for 10, 15 and 25 cents. The big one was twice the size of the medium but had a red line around the middle that said "Cup full at this point."

So why, today, am I surprised when after the Information-operator recording says "And you can dial that number by simply pressing One" there are several beats of silence, then "For an additional charge"? Or after I buy my kid a year-round pass to Disneyland for only twice the admission price, the guy hands me a list of 160 days it isn't valid?

This leads to my trip to Vegas Feb 19-21. I called a hotel (15) to make a reservation for two nights. She asked for my credit card number. I said I needed to see the room first, as it was a 'smoking' room and might stink.

"Just give me your credit card number to reserve it" she said.
"Why do that?" I said. "I'll be there in a half hour. Just take my name."
"We need a card to hold the room."
"But I don't want to commit payment."
"Sir, you are not PAYING for the room. You do that at the front desk."
"So, if I get there and don't like the room, the credit card is removed?"
"No, you have to forfeit the first night's deposit."
"WHAT deposit?"
"The deposit you make when you make the reservation."
"I said I didn't want to PAY for the room til I see it."
"Tell it to someone else" I said.
This was The Gold Coast. I didn't stay there.

(14) This type of larceny only exists in mom-and-pop stores, as corporate stores have fixed prices and are manned by indifferent employees. This leads you, or me, to the conclusion that chain stores are better than self-owned. On one hand, variety is lost and cultural growth stifled by every city having a Target while independent stores vanish. On the other, when you spill your milkshake at Denny's, it's simply replaced with a smile. No worried owner is wringing his hands over it -- and charging you for it -- as the loss is factored into the worldwide plan.

(15) Actually called a tourist-bureau switchboard, which has room rates and availabilities, then connects you. 877-847-4858.

Rollin' Rock Got The Sock

When I got to Vegas, I went to see Rockin' Ronny Weiser. Here's a pictorial highlight.

"Surrounded by his vintage blue jean collection,
Ronny Weiser holds a picture of Gene Vincent.
Ronny owns Gene's black leather jumpsuit!

Other Fein Messes