-March 2008-

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Another Fein Mess
AF Stone’s Monthly
March 2008

Life In The Bubble (Of Music, That Surrounds My Head)

I live in Show Biz City but you’d never know it. Or, I’d.

I met some music friends for an early breakfast in the empty restaurant at the Sunset Marquis, which I know as a rock & roll hotel. Afterward I said to the valet on this rainy morning “Business kinda slow now?” He said, ‘No, we’re actually nearly full.” “Hmmm” I responded sagely with a worldly shrug of my shoulders. “Of course,” he said, “there’s the Oscars on Sunday.”

This was Thursday. The whole world knew about the Academy Awards, but the news hadn’t reached me. I was grateful he treated me, like most people do, as he would a slightly ‘off’ relative.

My Great Life

I’m drenched in music. It’s my lingua franca.
And that’s why it’s so wonderful to live here.

A friend of his recently screened Allan Arkush’s “Elvis Meets Nixon,” a Showtime movie from 1998. I didn’t remember much about it except that it was terrific, fantastic: the best Elvis characterization I’d ever seen. Allan was there, and chimed in with details - like commentary on a DVD, but only for the attendees 1. What a wonderful time! Most on hand knew nothing of the film, but left exhausted from laughter and amazement at how it balanced exaggeration with compassion.

If I had the proverbial million dollars I don’t know what I’d do differently than spend an evening like this.

1 It was projected from VHS. There never was a DVD, and it is not commercially available.

The Proud, the Few

The lack of sustained interest in the remarkable “Elvis Meets Nixon” is part of our - you, me - life in the bubble. This movie had many music and side references that crack “us” up, but sail over other people’s heads.

We are a slight sliver of the population. Movies like this one are made for us, and because of that they die. Another one that got away was Viva Schaf Vegas, a 1989 Showtime movie presenting Paul Schaffer as a tv show bandleader who chucks it all to become a Vegas entertainer. 2

The music references had me howling; a girl’s father played saxophone in the Rockin Rebels, who made “Wild Weekend” and performs it in a trailer park. Schaffer’s mentor is Sam Butera. He meets the Checkmates Ltd. and talks about their Spector record.

Manna from heaven for us but of no interest to anyone else. “Walk Hard” was another one full of music history references. But history could have told them it would flop because it was made for “us.”

Music doesn’t matter. People hear it, leave it behind - and certainly don’t know or care about its history.

2 This was years before the mid-90’s Jump/Louis Prima revival, and yhe current Lost Generation’s enthusiasm for that entirely-crap city.

We Can’t Do THAT!

Life under the corporate masters.

At Staples. “I’d like the $22.95 100-pack of Sony DVD-Rs.”
“They’re all gone.”
“When will they be back?”
“The sale is over Sunday.”
“So you’ll have them tomorrow?”
Derisive laughter. “We’re not getting any more! Today is Wednesday! The sale has been on for 4 days!” 3

MEANING: It is a 3-day, 2-day or 1-day sale. We put in a small amount of stock. You better run in here when we open on Sunday or tough shit.

“I need someone from Sears to disassemble our exercise machine, which we bought from Sears.”
“We only assemble. We don’t disassemble.”
“What shall I do with your product, which is in our house and cannot be removed in its assembled state?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can you find out for me?”
“I don’t know who to ask.”

MEANING: You paid us, you’re no longer our concern. Thank you for shopping at Sears.

“I am returning this turntable to Brookstone. It doesn’t work right.”
“We’ll replace it.”
“No thanks, it is also poorly made. The sound reproduction is bad.”
“We’ll give you credit.”
“No thank you, just remove the charge from the credit card.”
“We can’t do that. It’s over 30 days.”
“But it was purchased early to be given as a gift.”
“We don’t do refunds after 30 days.”

MEANING: Buy all things at the last minute. Or go to Target, which has a 90-day return window. And sod Brookstone.

3 When kept on hold for five minutes, Staples answering message, “Please hold for prompt service,” is very not-funny, though they may think so.


I was flabbergasted to hear Romney question McCain’s integrity by sneering “and what about the McCain-Feingold bill?”

He spoke like they were Mafia members: “You’re not a stand-up guy.” I don’t know the bill, but if it’s a co-effort of the Repulsicans and the Democrats it must be something good like term limits or milk for children. Romney imputed that McCain had betrayed “our cause.” What’s Italian for Our Cause again?

McCain gets my vote because he’s not a flyweight like the two Demos and
Conservatives hate him fiercely. But during the Clinton impeachment follies I swore would never vote for a Republican so I’ll go with a donkey.

TV Tee-Hees

Now I get 9 or 10 Encore movie stations. But the digital cable descriptions (available by pressing a button) are cloying. “A delightful romp” or, an aerobics film, “Gym Dandy,” just like an opening sentence in the L.A. Times. A 1929 pic squib warns, “Dated.” It’s not in HD? Jennifer Aniston’s not in it? ... Do you feel manipulated when things are named for you? Black Friday? What the hell? A big shopping day with doom hovering over it? Voting day - Super Tuesday? Thank you for your sloganeering ... A reporter on morning news stood outside a polling place when Arnold walked by and shouted “Governor, I want to talk to you.” When his phalanx didn’t break stride she said, still oblivious of her stature, “I guess he didn’t hear me” ... A PBS Dean Martin bio says when he remarried he got custody of his children because his first wife’s “drinking got too bad.” Nice sidestep of the possiblility that she went loco after she’d stood by him on his way up, bore him four children, then got pushed aside by a cheerleader .... There’s a tv ad for a credit report service, a young man in a pirate suit in a restaurant singing a song that posits that he had a good job once but someone stole his identity so now he’s - singing at a restaurant. But he looks attractive, and the band looks like fun. Shouldn’t they have placed him in a more humiliating position, like, say, forced to be a rock critic?


Lisa Finnie: Tomorrow Night -- elvis birthday bash 08


Music Notes

I like the way the Sting-loving press called the Police reunion “Putting aside their differences.” Better would have been “Sting, who could have kept the band together like U2, now has a hundred million dollars while the other two are giving guitar and drum lessons” ... Whole books have been written about Bob Dylan, so my observations are piffle, but hearing “I Want You” on an iPod recently I felt that he was kidding. It’s simple, repetitious, and he does the word-heaving “Dylan” thing like a parody. It’s Rockaday Johnny ... I saw Elvis and Jerry Lee one day in February. Costello was shopping at Amoeba and the Killer did two songs at a NARAS show ... ... Smutty Smith (or Smiff) fell and broke bones in his hand and wrist. No word where - which hand or home (he often resides in the Seattle area, near his progeny) ... I’m no arbiter of morality, but I was offended when, on a rap documentary, a guy stated proudly that the New York blackout of 1979 was a milestone in the history of rap music. “Until then scratch-dj’s were rare in New York. After that everyone had a rig” ... On a PBS docu, Tom Dowd says that once the struggling label had a hit with Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee “everyone knew the red Atlantic label.” Well, not in 1950 they didn’t. It was yellow ... When I learned that ‘Cry Baby,’ the John Waters rockabilly followup to “Hairspray,” was likewise going to Broadway I thought “Great news for Dave Alvin.” He wrote the songs for the movie. (And James Intveld sang them, for Johnny Depp.) Ha, no such luck. The music is newly written so new investors can divvy up the pot at the end of the publishing rainbow ... When a high school in L.A.’s Glassell Park was locked down at 2 pm after two fatal nearby shootings in mid-February, one substitute teacher locked in til 9:00 when the last parents retrieved their kids was rockabilly king Ray Campi ...


In a tv description of a 1966 Italian film, the director is identified as “famed photographer.” If he’s famed you needn’t say it! Also the blurb says it’s about a supermodel. Sorry, forty years ago we weren’t priveleged with the word supermodel. The poor things were just models ... a bio of a blues singer says he was ruined by “drinking, gambling, and sex.” Sex? Oh, that’s PC for “women” ...

Tech Woes

1. The public access tv station in New York now accepts only mini-dv’s, a bizarre turn of events. (None but living-room shows are shot on that medium.) My shows are now shot on dvd (with a 3/4 kicker). My mini-dv camera does not have a line in. A mini-dv deck seems to cost $900.

2. I have a lineup of three Panasonic dvd recorders. I bought a $25 Coby player (also plays PAL!!!!) at Big Lots!, and thought I’d use it to make 3 copies of dvd’s. However, the third copy (at 4-hour speed) emerges with the sound lagging behind the picture. I don’t get it.

3. I have a raft of VHS tapes of movies. Often I’d leave an unfinished slow-speed 120 tape in the machine and race over to tape anything that was interesting, like shorts or “moments.” 4 As a result there’s a wealth of “auxilary” stuff (like punching stations, one after another, for an hour) in between movies but I’ll never get around to checking them. It is hard for me to throw out recorded tape (though I dumped a bunch of my friend’s Beta movies in front of a large video rental store in North Hollywood). There’s a place in Burbank that recycles old videotape (to the scrapyard) but i can’t seem to bring my old tapes to the glue factory, so the stuff stays! I wish I could unload it.

4 I am getting misty thinking about videotape. I find dvd’s uninteresting, unreliable, and uninvolving. The first of each month my friend Bill and I had a monthly appointment to schedule our 3/4-inch shows at public access studios, but when dvd’s took over last year we simultaneously lost interest - in delivering them, distributing them, and even producing them. There is something amiss about them.



Carlos Guitarlos band with Gene Taylor on keyboards. Jan ‘08

Mike Stinson, Art Fein, Mark Leviton. AFPP, 1/23/08

Dave Stuckey, Bobcat Goldthwait, AFPP 2/05/08

AF, Paul Body - Bobcat show AFPP


Critical Thinking

Stacks of newspaper tower over me, defying me to decide what to ‘print.’ Here’s some at random.

2/28/08 L.A. Times - An unsigned (though Geoff Boucher’s name graces the right column) recommendation in “Hottest Tickets For The Weekend” opens with “The Foo Fighters’ Grammy for best rock album was an obvious (if a bit indefensible) choice.” Who are you? Put up your dukes, you bastard or bitch! I’m reading this because I LIKE the Foo Fighters, not because I want your cowardly (anonymous) carping. It ends tsk-tsking that bandleader Dave Grohl’s former bandmate Kurt Cobain “liked the Melvins,” whom I guess indicates bygone integrity, to the phantom crab. In fact, Saint Cobain’s foremost ambition was to be like the Knack. Funny he/she/it didn’t mention that.

2/24/08 NY Times - It takes a while in Kalefa Sannah’s long complimentary story about Alan Jackson for the rock-crit defensiveness to emerge, but then 2/3 in we get his “Hey, I didn’t say I LIKE the guy” statement. Jackson makes millions, has millions of fans, but Sannah snivels “Mainstream country singers like him are routinely written off or ignored by listeners and critics who claim to champion the real thing.” Well shut my mouth! Or better yet, Sannah, shut yer’n.

2/16/08 L.A. Times - The Carpenter family home in Downey may be torn down bec Carps fans besiege the current owner. But buried within his straightforward acount of the brother-sister act and their rise to fame writer Bob Pool (a real person, or a name for anyone from the writers ‘pool’), not a rock crit but one who yearns for that “glory” (or is just a boor) gobs a wet one at their “soft - some say saccharine - songs” and another that “some” (?) of their music is now relegated “to dentist’s offices and elevators.” In behalf of Carpenters fans, the main readers of this article, I say “It’s understandable, ‘Bob,’ why no one wants to be ‘close to you.’ ”

2/28/08 - Ann Powers, on about some American Idol person, says that the aspiring star took a seemingly daring new tack tackling “Imagine,” the song “forever wedded to the Liverpudlian nasality of a certain martyred Beatle.” (Why overwrite when you can over-overwrite?) Lennon sang “Imagine” nasally? Maybe her album is warped. Liverpudlianally? Cor, blimey, it’s sung in neutral English - there’s no “raw-thur” or “tally ho” in it. Her point that he surmounted Lennon’s indelible imprint with a new approach is then quashed when she pulls back the curtain and reveals she knows the SOURCE of it - the late crit-fave Eva Cassidy. Gotcha! Oh the joy.

6/25/07 New Yorker. Judith Thurman. In an Edith Piaf piece, she writes that she died in 1963 “of malnutrition, alcoholism, morphine addiction” (names 8 more things) and then writes “It was the year of the Beatles’ first LP.” In England. So what?

5/5/07 N.Y. Times. Tom Carson hails a book about the life of Warren Zevon and calls Jackson Browne “super-wimpy.” What is the matter with Carson? Why does he stand on his hindlegs only to piss himself? Hurling such a graceless note hardly endears him to fans of Zevon, whose career was dynamited forward by Browne. And shouldn’t irony burn the fingers of sickly rock crits when they write the word ‘wimpy’ ?

2/22/07 L.A. Times, Bettijane Levine. “Of all the ills that beset the urban scene, the domesticated dog would seem least likely to offend.” Say what? A dog barking all night outside your bedroom window is no big deal? “Yet here in L.A., it is a reason neighbors turn hostile to one another.” Here in L.A.? Has she lived nowhere else? Obviously a dog owner.

2/4/07 L.A. Times, Margaret Wappler “The Street Level.” “Hipsters used to frown on dancing. Your typical East Side-living, American Apparel shopping art-school-educated type wouldn’t be caught dead busting a move.” TYPICAL hipster? Shopping, I’d wager, where Wappler shops. Hipsters are people who do unique things. They find out where Maggie’s flock goes and head elsewhere.


The best rock & roll movie is The Buddy Holly Story. Actually, it’s the only rock & roll movie. All other rock movies transfigure live music with Dolby, overdubs, re-mixes, etc. and get antiseptic studio sound. This movie’s music sounds like it’s actually happening in a roller rink!

I never went to a roller rink show 5 in Texas or anywhere else in 1956, but I maintain that this movie accurately represents the shock of real rock & roll in this, the music’s breakout year. The band plays a country song, then Gary Busey says “This is for the boppers” and they lay into “Rock Around With Ollie Vee.” The kids react like an atom bomb went off. 6

This movie has some problems. There are no characters named Jerry Alison or Joe Mauldin. I presume it’s a squabble between them and Holly’s widow Maria Elena 7. And I remember Marshall Crenshaw saying he went plumb crazy looking at the 70s amps and equipment they used.

The moviemakers were lucky to have an actual musician as the actor. Actors who are actors first cannot, ever, be as good as the musicians they portray. Busey, who was a drummer for Leon Russell, turned out to be an excellent front man. 8

5 But in 1979 I went to see the Blasters play on an island in the middle of the roller rink floor at Flippers in Hollywood. I talked them up to John Deacon and Roger Taylor of Queen, whom I knew from Elektra, and they they hired them to open shows on their west coast tour.

6 I’m sure it’s a similar feeling to seeing U2 in 3-D. I make the joke.

7 She is a good argument for 100% inheritance tax. Buddy was a genius: she is not. She is currently seeking to stop publication of a book by “Peggy Sue.” She seeks, foremost, control and profit from his work. The movie she OK’d shows his later life to be paradise because he met her - a love story. And children of famous people are never as good as the parents, no matter what the L.A. Times, in its endless stories glorifying the offspring of the priveleged, tells you.

8 But ultimately a swine. In ‘Valley Of The Wolves: Iraq,’ an anti-American movie made in Turkey in 2006, Busey took the role of a Jewish-American doctor who harvests organs from dead Iraqis to sell in New York and Tel Aviv. (That’s funny - “acting” is not usually a discriminating craft.) But of course, he had hit his head in a motorcycle accident a few years back. Also in this fine film - the biggest movie in Turkish history - was Billy Zane playing an American soldier who machineguns a canvas-backed truck full of Iraqi women and children. (“I’m just an actor!”)

Time Warp

Went to ‘Li’l Abner’ at UCLA 9. The storyline is that Dogpatch was chosen as an atom-bomb test site because nuclear fallout was ruining the blackjack tables in Vegas! The book wasn’t updated, so references to 1956 columnists and tv figures (“Call Robert Montgomery!”) were intact.

As they should be. Years ago John R. McDonald’s short stories from the late 40s were compiled and issued with updates, like changing a nickel for the jukebox to a quarter. 10 Fah! When I saw ‘The Odd Couple’ in January, 60s prices were intact (“I ruined my nine dollar roast!”), but then I heard that that theater company’s production of ‘Damn Yankees’ substituted the Dodgers after an infusion of Dodger corporate largess. Fooey.

9 At the break, my friend David observed that at this Sunday matinee the line for the men’s room was longer than for the women’s. The reason for that switcheroo took a while to sink in: the average audience age was 65, so the men had weak bladders. And the women less reason to use the rest room than when they were under 50.

10 Driving through Louisiana in 1975, I made a 5-cent phone call, my first and only. They’d been a dime all my life. But come to think of it, maybe I just saw the price on a pay phone - who would I have called?

More Quotes From Pete Frame’s book, The Restless Generation

Regarding Elvis’s impact on English teenagers in 1956: “We didn’t see him on television, we only saw pictures - but we soon knew he was wilder, younger, more graceful, more sexual, more lithe, more grease, more beautiful, more tender, more respectful, more vulnerable, more sensitive, more soulful, more exquisite, more animal, more naturally elegant, more sussed, and more us than anything else that was ever likely to visit our planet. The God of rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis was going to change the world. Frozen in that emerging moment, he makes Jim Morrison look like a sack of fertilizer, Michael Jackson a bag of spanners.”

I Now Pronounce You ....

Why would you pronounce the Reprise label re-prize? A re-do or “one more time” is a re-preeze: “She reprised the role made famous by Elizabeth Taylor.” A reprisal (re-prize-el) is a vendetta, retaliation: it’s never ‘a’ re-prize. Pronounced thusly it’s a Law term for an annuity.

And my daughter corrects me when I pronounce her persuasion vay-gun. “It’s VEE-gun.” Oh yeah? That’s just by agreement. She doesn’t eat vay-gut-ables or vee-gut-ables. I’ll hold firm to “vej-un.” It makes for exhilarating cross-generational banter.

Letter to L.A. Times, Feb 17, 08 (unpublished)

If I had a dollar for every time “icon” appeared in the L.A. Times last year I could buy a house in L.A. Throw in “iconic” and it’ll be in a good neighborhood.

- 57 -

Mark On The Move

The Center For the Arts in Grass Valley holds 300 concertgoers, and the folksy-community ambience was well-suited to David Lindley’s recent visit. I hadn’t seen him play in a few years, and being a solo gig (and from a front-row seat) it was easy to appreciate Dave’s virtuosity on a number of unusual instruments, including oud, bouzouki and his usual customized permutations of guitar. His humor was fully intact during two sets in which he played a few tunes new to me, including Danny O’Keefe’s clever “Where the Palm Tree Meets the Pine” (which I’d overlooked on a 1977 album of Danny’s), Warren Zevon’s “Seminole Bingo” and Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road.” Especially on lap/Hawaiian guitar, Lindley sounds like he’s got four hands, running countermelodies, drones and rhythmic punctuation in profusion. His new album Big Twang is available only at his website or at gigs. (www.davidlindley.com)

I found the new Yoshi’s jazz club in San Francisco less than great when I went to see Cassandra Wilson. Despite a $35 cover, two-drink minimum, and plush surroundings, you really don’t get an intimate club experience – the place is massive on the ground floor, and there’s a balcony. Capacity exceeds 400. The seating is crowded, with patrons on the same level sometimes blocking one another’s view. It’s more like a small concert hall.

This night we got a 55-minute set with no encore, during which Cassandra let her sometimes show-offy band stretch out, meaning by my reckoning she actually sang for about 15 minutes. She certainly has an uncanny ability to mix genres and make a seductive, sensual experience of songs as familiar as “St. James Infirmary Blues,” “Caravan” and “Dust My Broom,” and her version of “Witchita Lineman” revealed some new depths, but overall I felt she was coasting on sex appeal.

Afterwards the management offered us a chance to stay for the second set, but we’d had to leave our seats, get in line in the lobby and wait 45 minutes to come back in. I passed.

The DeadBeats – a Grateful Dead cover band popular in my neighborhood – showed exceptional bar-band skills at Miner’s Foundry Cultural Center (built in 1855) in Nevada City. For fifteen bucks I danced with the locals – tykes in tie-dye, grannies in yoga outfits, attorneys enjoying their “get stoned Saturday night” holiday -- to “Uncle John’s Band, “ “Shakedown Street,” “Promised Land,” “Truckin’” and the rest. Simple pleasures are sometimes the best.

-- Mark Leviton

(Mark’s sixties-themed radio show Pet Sounds can be heard alternate Mondays 4-7am PST on KVMR-FM 89.5 in the Sacramento area and streaming at www.kvmr.org )

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