Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday clips

Here are some excerpts from the Sunday newspapers.

1. I have to say I don’t know what Wald is talking about. The Beatles always struck me as pretty bland and very white (exceptions for me: Revolver and Rubber Soul) but the Stones? The Animals? Eric Clapton? They couldn’t exist without black music.

Elijah Wald: How The Beatles Destroyed Rock `n Roll reviewed by Erik Himmelsbach in the Los Angeles Times

Wald explains that the Beatles did in fact destroy rock 'n' roll by creating a schism between white and black music that's only grown farther apart in the decades since the dawn of Beatlemania (see: disco, soul, hip-hop). Like many early rock bands, the Beatles were rooted in the music of Chuck Berry and Little Richard. As the band found its creative voice, its members abandoned their early influences. The results included "the effetely sentimental ballad" "Yesterday," a song that Wald claims "diffused" rock's energy and opened the door for milquetoasts such as Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Billy Joel and Elton John. With the "Sgt. Pepper" album, the band draped their music "in a robe of arty mystification, opening the way for the Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, Yes, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer."

"Rather than being a high point of rock," he continues, "the Beatles destroyed rock 'n' roll, turning it from a vibrant (or integrated) dance music into a vehicle for white pap and pretension." And what, again, was so revolutionary about Pat Boone?,0,6306516.story

2. The sad last days of Scott Fitzgerald have never seemed sadder than here.

Francis Kroll Ring: The Typist of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon
By David L. Ulin in The Los Angeles Times

From the start, Fitzgerald was frail, if focused. He had just returned from a disastrous trip to Cuba with Zelda -- the last time they would see each other -- and was recovering from the bender the voyage had become. "He was lying in bed," Ring says of their first meeting, "and he asked me all kinds of questions. Then he gave me some money and asked me to wire it to his daughter -- and to call him when I was done. That was his way of testing my honesty. He was only in his 40s, but he was fragile. The kind you wanted to help. He was very pale and had very blue eyes, and he was a charmer."

Toward the end of the interview, Fitzgerald asked Ring to open a drawer in his bedroom; "Instead of shirts or underwear or whatever one might expect to find in a bureau drawer, there were gin bottles," she writes in her book.


Fitzgerald wasn't, at first, able to work. "He wasn't organized yet," Ring says. "We did letters. I could type, I could do letters, I could do bookkeeping because I used to take care of my father's stuff. And at the beginning, he wanted to sit and talk. He was in bed most of the time, or he'd get up and pace around. He'd talk about books, and I was well-read, which intrigued him, because a lot of the secretaries were not well-read. There were other functions for them at the time and I wasn't that kind of girl."

"What's fascinating," muses Berg over the telephone, "is that in the end, here is Scott Fitzgerald, his wife in the asylum, his daughter at school on the East Coast, and he falls in love with another blond and in many ways adopts another girl named Frances -- like his daughter -- and replicates the family. It's spooky to me, eerie, almost like a parallel universe.",0,3318381.story

Stand By Them reviewed by Jim Windolf
The New York Times

(Ed here: This is the story of Leiber and Stoller, the great black-oriented white songwriters. They teamed up with David Ritz to write the book and to their credit talk about accusations that they cribbed this song or that from others. These accusations seem to be endemic in the music business. My favorite line in the review is the one about Norman Mailer. Not long ago I read another book review in which Mailer put in a brief appearance. The book’s writer was having a drink in a bar one night in NYC when Mailer walked in with his dog. You know how it goes with long nights of boozing and bitching. Ultimately Mailer gets into with some guy. The reason (only if you’re on eleventh drink does this make sense) ? ”The guy called Mailer’s dog a fag.” )

Windolf: I love autobiographies that chart a slow, difficult rise. This isn’t one of them. The boys score a songwriting contract soon after meeting each other at 17, and the book chugs through encounters with Elvis Presley, the wreck of the Andrea Doria (Stoller was a passenger) and a night when Norman Mailer puts Leiber in a chokehold at Elaine’s restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

The Screen’s Seduction of Graham Greene
Published: June 12, 2009

This is an excellent overview of Greene’s career in movies. My favorite line here is what would have happened if Greene had become a priest.

THE British novelist Graham Greene was a connoisseur of human frailty: he savored the bouquet of sin. He was, unlike most of his countrymen, Roman Catholic, and unlike most practitioners of the literary arts, entirely comfortable with the movies. His religious affiliation was well known, to the point where, at the height of his fame, he bristled at being labeled a “Catholic writer.” His relationship to film was pretty visible too; almost all his 25 novels and many of his short stories were turned into movies or television shows (several of them more than once), and for some of the best of them, like Carol Reed’s classic “Third Man” (1949), he was also the screenwriter.

Both his Catholicism and his movie-friendliness are in full cry in John Boulting’s terrific 1947 gangster picture, “Brighton Rock,” which Greene adapted from his own novel... The movie shows, as clearly as anything he ever did, his very Catholic preoccupation with the allure of sin. And it suggests too why filmmaking might have appealed to him so strongly. In what other activity could he so reliably enjoy the dashed hopes, the queasy compromises and the nagging knowledge of failure, which for him were the staples of life in this fallen world.

But for the last 30-plus years of his life (he died in 1991) he railed against Joseph P. Mankiewicz, who brought “The Quiet American” to the screen in 1957 and turned Greene’s dangerous idealist into a sympathetic one.
That was unpardonable. (It’s a lucky thing Greene wasn’t a priest; you’d never get absolution.)


Todd Mason said...

Good to read that Rafferty's good for Something...his occasional horror columns are equalled in NYT uselessness only by Dave Itzkoff's sf columns, though perhaps there's someone else similarly out of their depth in the Gray Pompousness that I've consistenly missed.

Yeah, the Beatles ruined rock by making it possible to do something other than ape Chuck Berry.

Terrill Lee Lankford said...

That Beatles article has to be one of the dumbest things I've read in a long time. Everyone bemoans the demise of the newspaper, but there is an element to them I won't miss - like the bottomless pit of TV, newspapers have to constantly come up with content. Much if it ends up being just as boneheaded as this article.

The internet is far worse of course, but at least on the web we are certain that 99% of what we read is nonsense. Newspapers carry an automatic gravitas (with most people, at least) that they don't always deserve.

Todd Mason said...

That Mailer anecdote also parallels a Lenny Bruce he recorded for his Fantasy Records sets...

...between the discussion of Mailer and of Yes and ELP, it's almost inevitable that my Word Verification is "progfugs."

Max Allan Collins said...

Hey Ed, one of the few things we've ever disagreed about is the Beatles vs. Stones thing. The Beatles were terrific musicians and songwriters as well as charismatic performers (even Ringo), and combined their influences (some black, some white) into songs you'd never heard before. I find them less interesting post RUBBER SOUL, and understand I'm in a minority -- I like the pop and not the attempts at art. I have always preferred the Animals and Them to the Stones, who made great singles and mostly dismal albums. The Beatles also, by the way, changed everything, not just rock.

Cohen I think is a genius, and I had followed him via PAL DVDs (many never released here) for years before he hit. His art was to make fools (bigger ones) out of bigots....He destroyed Pat Buchanon, for example. He reveals stupid American "values" in a brave way -- he takes SCTV-like characters and inserts them into real-life, at much personal risk, and allows horrible people (and sometimes nice ones) to reveal themselves.

All the Jerry Lewis haters and Three Stooges haters who have commented here make a sad lot. To not appreciate Dean and Jerry at their best, and Jerry in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and THE LADIES' MAN, is to exist not to live. Shemp rules.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Ed, the Beatle's article was inane. While they clearly had an influence on culture and music, so many other rock bands at that time from the Who, the Stones, Animals, Grand Funk Railroad, etc., also had their strong influences on rock n roll.

About Jerry Lewis, it has to be a generational thing. I've never met anyone in my generation who thought Lewis was funny. Of course, this doesn't explain the French...

About Shemp vs. Curly, I wonder if this is regional? Growing up the Shemps were the episodes you had to sit through to get to the far superior Curly's. No one I knew growing up preferred the Shemps, and the first I ever heard that there were such people was from your blog.


charlie stella said...

Yesterday the boss and I watched The Commitments ... I'd never saw it before, but my wife had. Funny, funny movie ... and the music was/remains great.

Beatles/Stones ... I can live with both, but prefer the collective Beatles ... that said, a few Stones songs probably top the best of the Beatles.

CREAM was my choice for blues/rock from back in the day, but I've found a new appreciation for Allman Bros. and the more pure blues (Hooker, Wolf, Waters, James, ect.).

That said, Mozart's Don Giovanni kicks all their asses ...

Lewis, Stooges were top of the line but Curly Joe gets my nod.

Max Allan Collins said...

Lewis is generational in the sense that it depends on where you came in. DRAGNET seems ridiculous if all you ever saw were the later color episodes, and not the great black-and-white ones. Knowing Lewis as an older, often obnoxious man isn't the same as being a kid and seeing him as a brilliant improvising cut-up capering with a differently amusing Dean Martin. They were the Beatles of comedy. (Not the Stones.)

Curly Joe gets my unfunny vote, too. Shemp is the greatest stooge because he's the most tragic -- he's the only stooge smart enough to perceive he's a stooge, but is not smart enough to do anything about it.

Everything I say must be taken with a grain of salt, however -- because I also think the Ritz Brothers and Olsen and Johnson are funny. Even my wife can't understand this.

Todd Mason said...

Well, HELLZAPOPPIN' was funnier than the Ritzes were allowed to be onscreen in what I've seen. But I do tend to think of the hiearchy as Marxes/Ritzes/Stooges.

charlie stella said...

I know of the Ritz crackers, but ehhhhhh on the brothers ritz ...

Google time ...