May 22, 2013
Entry One Hundred Twelve
Thursday, May 22 Weather marked as Clear.
Hal came over. Audrey, Me, Norman & Bill went to Ina Ray Hutton Show. I started out with Norman & ended with Bill. After he took Aud & Norm home but before he had to try things. He tried to neck and pet. He really had Russian hands & Roming fingers. He’s succeeded in kissing but not petting hardly. Gads he tried hard. Got home at 11:10.
Mr. Platner said to forget it.
Ina Ray Hutton was a blond bombshell with talent. In the 1930s she parlayed a successful run with her band, the all-female Melodears, into the refracted limelight of Bing Crosby in The Big Broadcast of 1936, a huge accomplishment for a woman of her time. Her eponymous show began filming in 1951, when Lois attended a taping, and was picked up by a major network in 1956; the featured clip below is from the very first episode of Hutton’s 1956 season.
May 21, 2013
To further illustrate the everlasting impacts of historic events on popular culture is this Portugal. The Man Take Away Show recorded in Paris, France. Aside from the latent choice of performing a song titled “So American” in a foreign country (such an American thing to do), this is a legacy song that synthesizes decades of U.S. history. In deconstructing the song critically, we see specifically American tropes and challenges highlighted in under four minutes.
Jesus Christ enters the song first and points to the country’s foundation as a Christian escape from religious persecution; to this day, the country that emblazons its currency with “In God We Trust” while bestowing religious institutions with tax-exempt status struggles to separate Church and State. This is immediately followed by a shout-out to rock and roll, the instantly identifiable American genre and possibly one the greatest American contributions to music. Music, in and of itself, is no stranger to religion and is used heavily in church to reinforce the gospel. Gospel and Blues, when viewed as secular genres both rooted in slavery, beget Rock and Roll, and although Jesus didn’t know no rock and roll it’s interesting that this type of music has been exalted by many to religious status as a supplement for religions that had alienated them. Take, for example, Rockabilly teenagers who craft their entire existence around a movement that had its moment in the 1950s. That type of immersion takes a religious devotion, and offers the same sense of belonging as that of a worshipping community within traditional brick and mortar churches. This sense of community, I believe, is the essential lure of religion today.
Next up is the Vietnam War, the watermark of American shame. During this conflict, American G.I.s were sent into foreign jungles to quash a civil war so as to prevent the spread of communism into the American sphere of influence. Sound like the logic of a deranged lunatic? That’s because it was; it was the result of many men infected by Red Fever enacting the Domino Theory in which they had been politically raised and would dominate American politics throughout the Cold War. And what did those GIs bring with them to Vietnam? Rock and roll. The domestic impact of the Vietnam War, fueled by anti-war songs, occurred in tandem with the general unrest of the 1960s that included, among other events too numerous to list, the Civil Rights Movement and the assassination of not one but two Kennedys.
In retrospect we must ask ourselves that which Portugal. The Man implores: is there madness in us all? Did we inherit this chaos as vegetables soak up chemicals from the soil? The entirety of the 1960s and 1970s seems anathema to American values, as does the institution of slavery (ironically, perpetuated by direct descendants of persecuted Christians) when viewed with the perspective afforded 21st-century citizens. We were raised to revere the American flag because it stood for liberty, equality and justice for all, but once we grew into our critical thinking skills we were left to wonder: who broke the rules, and where are we supposed to turn when the policemen don’t even understand?
So, you see, this Portugal. The Man song truly IS so American. It’s a conscious rebuttal to the past that ends with the nullifying “There’s two eyes for every one of us, but somebody got there first and took them all.” Americans are aware of their sins, but unable to atone for them because they cannot see through the haze of the past. This isn’t our fault, either, because the ability to see, our crucial sense of sight has literally been taken away from us by those who broke the rules, obfuscated the truth, and smiled while they did it.
No wonder we’ve all gone mad.
May 21, 2013
Entry One Hundred Eleven
Wednesday Mon., May 21 Weather marked as Clear.
Norman asked me on a double date for tomorrow with a friend of his from New York. I asked Audrey to be the other gal—she’s in. Bill Gordon (Norman’s friend) came over tonight after he called. Gads!!! What a fast worker. He says I have a wise voice. But man! (as I said before) is he fast!!!!!
Mr. Plater (Science) gave me a failure notice today.
May 20, 2013
The Doors were my first true experiential rock love. I drew Jim Morrison’s face on everything while my contemporaries were doodling Marvin the Martian. Being a sheltered suburban teen, Morrison’s sexuality was challenging and mystic, and Manzarek’s keystrokes were demonically cool. But cool in an approachable way because they sprang from and complimented Morrison’s crooning, which made their music more attainable for a tyke like me as opposed to jam bands that sputtered out impressively obscure psychedelic guitar goobledygook that I can appreciate now but had no hope to then.
So here’s to you, Ray: the genius behind The Doors who was eclipsed by a less talented lethario who had the good fortune of dying young. Your image may not be emblazoned in on lunch-boxes and T-shirts the world over, but the historical narrative of your genre will treat you far more kindly in…The End.
Rest In Peace, brother. Thank you for being the professor that ignited the fervor of my ongoing music education.
May 20, 2013
Entry One Hundred Ten
Tuesday, May 20 Weather marked as Clear.
Went to the Hollywood Bowl with Mr. & Mrs. Mendleson, Lynn, Ricky, Bob & me. We saw “I am an American” day. The show was good. But I had an awful time as Bob wasn’t in a very gay mood. His dad bought him a car. I cryed my eyes out when I got home because of him.
Baby sat for Frances.
According to Richard M. Fried’s The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! Pageantry and Patriotism in Cold-War America, I Am An American Day was conceptualized in 1938 by either Benjamin Edwards Neal, creator of the I Am An American Foundation, or The Helios Foundation, and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. The day was celebrated annually across the United States on the third Sunday of May, and commemorated the citizenship of newly naturalized immigrants and youngsters who had just come of age to vote (then the age of 21).
Following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the popular event acquired a patriotic immediacy and was used to reinforce and publicly display one’s devotion to the American cause, as a citizen. The end of the war augmented the event’s rhetoric as Cold War tensions focused the narrative on a need to find and report subversive activities; understandably, the popularity of I Am An American Day suffered and it fell out of favor. In 1952, Congress changed the name of I Am An American Day to Citizenship Day, and the date was moved from May to September 17th. It was again reformatted as “Constitution and Citizenship Day” at the request of late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia in 2004, and now celebrates the signing of the United States Constitution in 1787.
Seen below, courtesy of the Los Angeles Examiner Negative Collection, 1950-1961 maintained by the University of Southern California, is the Hollywood Bowl decked out for I Am An American Day in 1951–the very same one attended by our Lois. Perhaps if you scrutinize the crowd long enough you can see her, seated between the Mendlesons and gazing forlornly at Bob.
May 20, 2013
Playing Cafe du Nord, Monday, 5/20/2013.
Playing Cafe du Nord with Jeremy Messersmith, Monday, 5/20/2013.
Playing Great American Music Hall, Tuesday, 5/21/2013.
Playing the Elbo Room, Wednesday, 5/22/2013.
Brick & Mortar Music Hall, Thursday, 5/23/2013.
Playing Great American Music Hall, Thursday, 5/23/2013.
Playing Slim’s, Thursday, 5/23/2013.
Playing Slim’s with The Detroit Cobras, Thursday, 5/23/2013.
Playing Cafe du Nord, Friday, 5/24/2013.
May 19, 2013
Entry One Hundred Nine
Monday Sat., May 19 Weather marked as Clear.
Roggie & I saw Shirley today. We went to No. Hollywood & I got a strapless slip and Ronson Lighter for mommie. Baby sat for Roz.
May 18, 2013
Entry One Hundred Eight
Sunday, May 18 Weather marked as Clear.
Nothin’ much. Baby sat for Diane the cheap-skate.
May 17, 2013
Entry One Hundred Seven
Saturday Thurs. May 17 Weather marked as Clear.
Harvey is a wonderful as ever. Audrey & I bowled 3 games. Birch sat & talked to us all the time. He treated me to a coke & gave me a dime to go home on. Birch walked me to 5th again. He took my shoe & I had to walk to 5th with one shoe off. I bowled 90, 83 & 79. Hal called. Mrs. Mendleson invited me to the Hollywood Bowl this Sunday for “I am an American Day.” Lynn, Ricky, Mr. & Mrs. Mendleson are going. I called Bob & he’s going too. Maybe Mom & Dad too. Talked to Audrey over an hour on the phone.
We saw a real keen movie today in Science about how babys are formed in the mommies tummy. It hold all about how the sperm fertals the egg etc. I learned why you shouldn’t marry into the family.
Saw Mr. Platmers book eat a gopher. WOW! It was beautiful in a scientific way. Mr. Frisius is so wonderful. I don’t see how he can dot it. He’s so considerate & helpful & connsious of everyone. He goes out of his way soooo much, and for what? The kids treat him like dirt when they should be kissing his feet. Gads!! but I admire him.
May 17, 2013
Every time I listen to The Black Angels I immediately think of that scene in Apocalypse Now where Willard stares at the ceiling fan and we instantly know it’s a metaphor for helicopter blades, because it always is when talking about Nam. I blame my Undergrad thesis for this.
I was majoring in History, emphasis in 20th-century American, when the new millenium began. While I don’t regret choosing this major, I eventually took issue with the way history is traditionally studied, which is restrictive as opposed to the way students within the Humanities analyze the cause and effect of the world as it’s been given. Hindsight is 20/20. Which brings me back to my thesis and it’s failure.
Well, not failure: I swung a B+, but until that point I had only ever aced papers. You see, I couldn’t restrain myself to mere historical interpretation; I had to explore the Vietnam War in relation to the cultural. This, I believe, is the only responsible way to weigh the scope of history. Studying the historical narrative using only dates and broadly defined movements is insufficient if you cannot view it through a cultural lens. For example, Jackson Pollock’s seemingly incoherent No. 5 or William S. Burroughs’ brazen Naked Lunch speak with more immediacy of a postwar generation attempting to redefine its worldview than consumer trending or presidential elections. This is not to say the cultural is raised above the historical in importance, they are symbiotic; one cannot exist without the other.
With this in mind, my thesis attempted to explain the impact of the Vietnam War through an analysis of music made both during the conflict and in the years that followed as a way of explaining the lasting effects it had on not just one American generation but on MANY generations to come, generations that had no direct link to the event except to its fallout. Naturally, The Black Angels album Passover was the lynchpin of my argument. I even played the song Young Men Dead during my thesis presentation, which served two purposes: it illustrated my hypothesis in a stimulating way, and shortened the amount of time I had to speak in front of the class. I hate public speaking; I sweat and say inappropriate things when I’m nervous, and public speaking makes me very, very nervous. Although this paper was good, my arguments sound, it did not stay within the confines of traditional historiography: it was a Humanities paper. My professor did not consider Passover a source document, and I did; this is a valid difference of opinion.
If you read this blog regularly (fat chance) you’ll see that I continue to understand American history in the context of music because these are the two great loves of my life. Plus, it makes sense. History is the study of interacting civilizations, which, by definition, are groups of people who have attained a heightened level of cultural and technological development, and feel the need to document their accomplishments through the written word and the maintenance of records. Think of the Romans or Greece, think of the Japanese, think of England. To be civilized is to exude the characteristics of a state of civilization, mainly taste, refinement or restraint–all three of which are vital to the artistic process. Art is created when we fragile beings internalize our surroundings, digest their significance, and give them meaning by reformatting our conclusions in a physical way, manifesting as a movie, a song, a dress, a novel, a photograph, a sculpture, an oil painting, and so on. Since history is an amalgamation of decisions made by people, it’s logical to study it from personal perspectives.
Art, by its very nature, is more emotive than battle plans or congressional hearings. Art exists because we synthesize our surroundings and our surroundings synthesize us; it grabs us, it wants us, it needs us. We emotionally invest in the things to which we can relate, and we relate to things we think pertain to us because vanity is a very real thing. Pertinence happens when something is multilayered and offers the simplistic along with the profound; this is the key to engaging people in the study of history. Using a song by a contemporary band like The Black Angels, who you can see at The Fillmore tonight (5/17/2013), was a way to unconsciously draw my audience into the connectivity of history. Some may have walked away from my presentation liking the music, and may have downloaded it later that night. Hopefully I had planted a seed that perhaps, for a few, precipitated an investigation into the legacy of the music–how it related to the present because it was rooted to the past. It was a devious way of immersing them in the ongoing historical narrative.
Passover could have been released in 1969 just as easily as it was in 2006, the War in Iraq draws certain comparisons with the War in Vietnam, and what does that say about the continuity of history and the relevance of art? Go to The Fillmore tonight and find out for yourselves.