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Posts Tagged ‘Ricky Nelson’

SOAK THE RICH: BACK TO THE GOOD OLD DAYS

In history, ideology, morality on August 22, 2014 at 11:50 pm

There follows a sequence of nonrandom musings and ramblings, added in time, which eventually might come together to form a point in the end, or at least pose a few questions.

Not so long ago people seemed to run the world and corporations bent over backwards to serve us — or at least made a point of seeming so. This was in living memory for some of us, and I’m in my fifties. I’ve just watched a documentary about the founding of the massive Selfridge’s department store in London in March 1909 — apparently the first high-toned “shopping cathedral” where idle people were not moved on by bouncers but actively encouraged to “browse”. In New Zealand through these years of the early 20th Century before much government welfare had been introduced, the biggest employers in the country had their own health, welfare and old-age schemes for employees and their families. In the US, Independent senator for Vermont, Bernie Sanders, has just released details of a telling comparison between corporate responsibility in the good old days and irresponsibility in the rotten new days. In 1952, the last year of the Truman Democrats before the Eisenhower-Nixon administration took over, corporations paid 33% of the US tax bill; now, in an era of record corporate profits, 9%. Hearing of the depravities of Walmarts and their many, many cohorts around the world these days, inflicted on their employees it’s hard to believe we’re in the same universe. Maybe we’re not — dropped through some wormhole.

Next month, on September 20th 2014, comes the general election in New Zealand. This morning on a current affairs program the spokesmen of the Labour and Green parties were interviewed — two parties promised to ally to form a “left wing” government. In NZ the Greens are said by the media to be Far Left, and the Labour Party — no longer recognisably to the right of centre as they have been for most of the past 30 years — are said to be way to the left also. The main right wing, and ruling party, National, has up to now sided with the far-right libertarians called Act, yet the combination of the two of them have somehow produced what has always been called a centre-right government.

In the good old days things were so much simpler. Even the master of spin, Goebbels, was easy to see through if you didn’t have blinders on. Sometime between the two World Wars, income tax in that bastion of Free Enterprise, the United States, multiplied out of sight from virtually none in the 1920s to massive during the Roosevelt era when resources were poured into civil works, but even long afterwards. Through the Great Depression and World War II and beyond there was a general realisation by people that there was a great deal of luck involved in who got rich and who didn’t. In a concession to humility, the lucky who received money mostly saw it as their duty to spread it around and include people in their “good fortune”. In 1959, after seven years of Republican rule under Eisenhower, the tv and rock’n’roll star Ricky Nelson was questioned about his income, heading up towards half a million annually, and was matter-of-fact about it and the tax rate he was paying. He paid 78% tax on the first $150,000 every year, and 93% on everything over that. Britain, also still investing in its people and infrastructure in recovery from the war, was even in 1965 charging the Beatles a tax rate of 95% — and American promoters were paying them fortunes of millions of dollars in cash under the counter on every concert tour. (By the time the canny Rolling Stones reached the 1980s, with the celebrated financial acumen of Mick Jagger, without shame they had spread their tax “burden” across five different countries and ended up paying a total of less than 3% tax — just one pointer to how the world has changed.)

These days it seems to be enough for rich people to take one of two attitudes: either, like Oprah, tell everyone “Follow your passion and your inner child, think positive — If I’ve done it everyone can do it”; or to take the diva route with “Thank God I have this much talent (and God must know what he’s doing to have given it all to me. It would be questioning Him to say I don’t deserve it).” Those billionaires can be counted on one hand who have come out publicly worldwide to admit they haven’t done anything approaching deserving of their riches and they’re where they are based on vagaries of the world economy. In the Wall Street Crash of 1929 rich people went bust overnight and threw themselves out of high windows when they realised suddenly they were not God’s chosen ones,but just His moral guinea pigs. Rich people these days don’t seem to have got the same message after the so-called disaster of the 2008 share market downturn — because bailed out by the heavy taxpayers of the middle class.

The lower-income tax payers of New Zealand too, in just one instance, bailed out $1.8 billion worth of bad loans (the equivalent of more than $150 billion in the US economy) issued by a capialist mate of the government. Yet, this morning on the interview show the big question, according to the interviewer, was how the Labour Party could possibly reconcile its tax policy after the election with that of the Greens. Labour would charge an increased top tax rate of 36% on top earners on over $150,000 — whereas the Greens wanted a 40% top tax rate over roughly the same amount ($140,000). The Labour Party spokesman refused to be drawn, knowing that these days even the mention of 40% will produce a kneejerk reaction in most people these days and send them screaming from the room in horror. WHY? Why on earth is it taboo to tax rich people?

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BUY MY BOOKS, DAMN IT!

In literature, music on August 17, 2013 at 8:55 am

Once upon a time in London, centuries ago, before Fleet Street became a synonym for the journalism of daily reportage, there was Grub Street. This was a catch-all for the work place and social milieu of the hack writer, hundreds of whom hired themselves out to write bits and pieces great and small. The famous Dr Samuel Johnson started like this, lucky to be able to afford company at a coffee shoppe, compiling his dictionary in the 1750s with assistance from emmanuensises, sponsored by wealthy “patrons”. After the best part of a decade the dictionary was finished and when his patrons came a-calling he could afford to kick their asses. Don’t know exactly what I’m trying to say here, but if you buy my books as a patron of my work I promise I won’t kick your ass…

Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith (She Stoops to Conquer, The Vicar of Wakefield) was another habitue of Grub Street and friend of Johnson, who was finally acknowledged but was forced to sell his classics cheap to publishers, was continually hounded by creditors and died young of privations already sustained. Johnson himself didn’t escape multiple afflictions from his imposed lifestyle. And Richard Savage was another notable acquaintance, a talented poet who never made it and starved to death.

But I’m quite comfortably off, though it’s normally two months between moca bowls (at the NZ Herald Proofreaders Old Boys Gathering, Cafe Liaison, Pompallier Tce, Ponsonby) — So, sorry for laying the guilt trip on you. The thing is, I don’t care at all for the marketing that goes into being “an author” these days and being a shameless self-promoter rubbing shoulders with get-rich-quick grifters and self-improvement freaks. But if I’m doing this once I might as well try the hard sell.

The series "Sixties Whiteboy Rock" is based on my 2007 book "Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music" -- revised and expanded.

The series “Sixties Whiteboy Rock” is based on my 2007 book “Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music” — revised and expanded.

To buy ($9.99) or borrow (about $2.50) an ebook go to Amazon and look up “Sixties Whiteboy Rock”. There will be two available in the series to choose from, but since you’re there you might as well buy both — featuring everything you ever wanted to know about Sixties Music up to around mid 1965; though black music will be featured more fully in its own volume later. Each volume is about 65,000 words plus 60 photos. The next two volumes, due out in the next few months, will cover the second half of the Sixties. Even if you don’t like Sixties Music there are some good polemical chapters/passages arguing for authenticity in art. And if you don’t care for early rock music or argumentative criticism, I should have my first short novel up in the next half-year or so, of the gritty-street-life variety and set in Auckland.

My New Book: “Black Rock via Beach Boys vs Beatlemania = Sixties Music”

In celebrity, history, music on October 21, 2011 at 10:11 pm

MichaelJasboy284My new book is due out before Christmas — this Xmas, 2011 [CORRECTION: Xmas 2013]. Entitled “Black Rock via Beach Boys vs Beatlemania = Sixties Music”, it is an ebook distributed by Booklocker.com — The price hasn’t been set yet, but should be way affordable for all you rockers interested in reading over 600 pages (over 250,000 words) touching on almost every aspect of the music business in the Sixties. Again, like the previous paperback “Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music” (booklocker.com, 448 pages, publ 2007), it is seen in the context of the Beach Boys vs Beatles debate. The bulk of the original book is still there, and refined. But I’ve added a LOT more (nearly 200 pages) especially on the highly influential and pivotal roles of your favorite neglected African American acts of the Sixties: James Brown, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard & the Midniters, the Tokens, the Isley Bros, Chubby Checker, Ike & Tina Turner, Etta James, the Chantels, the Shirelles, the Chiffons, the Crystals, the Ronettes, the New Orleans and Chicago schools, Sly & the Family Stone — and all the VeeJay, Motown, Atlantic stars including Little Esther Phillips, Little Willie John, Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions, Bobby Blue Bland and Mercury stars Sarah Vaughan, Brook Benton,Dinah Washington, Timi Yuro.

Don’t miss out on what could be the ONE book on Sixties Music you’ve been wanting.

MOVIE REVIEW — HOWARD HAWKS: Rio Bravo (1958) vs El Dorado (1966)

In film on June 27, 2009 at 9:28 pm

Famous man’s-man director Howard Hawks was primarily a maker of “action” movies, but in the olden days of Hollywood the tag was a thoroughly respectable one implying no aspersion on the audience of such films. Some of the most admired directors of silents, Rex Ingram, and Sergei Eisenstein himself, were action directors. In the Thirties came Michael Curtiz and Raoul Walsh, both today considered master craftsmen of fast-paced adventures made with intelligence, imagination and spirit: in other words, more than Spielberg, Lucas or other of their ilk have ever achieved, and bearing hardly any relation at all to today’s blood-and-gore fests dished up as standard fare for desensitized ghouls who pass as film buffs.

Modern cineastes have concluded that Hawks’ particular schtick was the theme of male comaraderie, starting notably with Only Angels Have Wings (1939) most familiar to modern film fans. But by then he had produced all-time classics in several genres: the similarly pilot-concerned Dawn Patrol, Scarface, Road to Glory, and not least, screwball comedy in Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday to follow shortly after with Sergeant York, his third classic on World War I. He came late to westerns with 1948’s Red River but only John Ford’s are admired more, and just a few including Henry King are said to rank with Hawks as authentic interpreters of the American scene. Rio Bravo was remade with the same director-star combination into El Dorado (and certain refrains were replayed in Rio Lobo four years later). Superstar John Wayne was accompanied by Dean Martin in the first, Robert Mitchum in the second. The Duke is his Mount Rushmore self in both, each time a former hired gun turned lawman (the town sheriff in the first; allying himself with the town sheriff, an old friend, in the remake). And each story centers on him supporting his co-star in rehabilitating from town bumhood brought on by a no-good floozie. Making up the rest of the male ingroup are Ricky Nelson/James Caan on the youth side and Walter Brennan/Arthur Hunnicut as the curmudgeonly but humorously persnickety jailkeeper.

Angie Dickinson and that famous shape in costume for 'Rio Bravo', 1958

Angie Dickinson and that famous shape in costume for 'Rio Bravo', 1958

Rio Bravo, for ill-defined reasons, is the more generally admired by critics. Maybe the prominent contemporary critics that greeted the remake in the Sixties were just more vicious: Pauline Kael, Richard Schickel … Hawks specifically remade it because he believed he could improve on the first version, and then believed he had. I too, maybe because a child of the Sixties, have always preferred El Dorado, though having just seen Rio Bravo again and giving it proper attention, I appreciate its niceties more than before.

Hawks knew what he was doing in remaking it. There seems to be more happening, backed with a booming wall-to-wall Sixties soundtrack. It is in every way less sentimental than its Fifties forebear. The female roles are less defined in the remake (spread as they are now between Charlene Holt and Michele Carey), almost perfunctory compared with Angie Dickinson’s fully defined one, more in the nature of eye candy. That by itself says more about how spectacularly constructed female stars were treated in the Sixties. Raquel Welch hardly ever got a whiff of the central roles Sophia Loren had been entrusted with at an even younger age a decade earlier. And compare ingenue Natalie Wood with, say, the later Sandra Dee — typical Sixties teen fodder; and Tuesday Weld not allowed to show her talent until almost middle age. Dickinson plays a hard-drinking professional gambler turning back to saloon singing for new beau Duke’s sake, while in the Sixties version Duke comes across all bashful as an old-friend-of-the-family even responding to all-grown-up wholesome Charlene Holt, who has a scene sashaying around in a revealing figure-hugging number for no apparent reason but the aforementioned eye-candy factor.

John Wayne and Robert Mitchum on the set of 'El Dorado', 1966

John Wayne and Robert Mitchum on the set of 'El Dorado', 1966

I would have thought by most measures El Dorado is a less compromised piece of filmmaking. The performances of Robert Mitchum and James Caan are more convincing than those of their prototypes. Moreover, the expanded, modified role of Caan allows a real relationship to develop between him and his mentor (Wayne). Maybe simply to give the ensemble cast more on-screen time, there is a conscious insert in Rio Bravo where singing stars Martin and Nelson get to do their thing — Dean crooning a cowboy song — ‘My Rifle, My Pony, and Me’ — with less C & W feel than anyone since Roy Rogers. Ricky bats his thick eyelashes and heavy lids for the girls rather irritatingly throughout, and almost pouts his more-generous-than-Elvis lips. Walter Brennan comes close to self-parody with his incessant cackling. On top of this, the original is far too wordy, especially for a western — courtesy of the screenplay by highly cultured Hawks favorites Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett.

ROCK MUSIC — BEACH BOYS JOIN CAPITOL RECORDS, MAY 1962

In celebrity, history, music on February 11, 2008 at 10:40 am

Excerpt #3 from BEACH BOYS vs BEATLEMANIA: Rediscovering Sixties Music by G. A. De Forest, published by Booklocker.com and available for around $19.95 from Amazon, Borders, Books-a-Million, Barnes & Noble or any other of your favorite Internet stops

Sales peak thus far: #23 on Amazon.com’s hot 100 Music History & Criticism books, April 26th 2008

Early Capitol publicity shot of the Beach Boys, May 1962

Early Capitol publicity shot of the Beach Boys, May 1962. Top row, from left, Brian Wilson, Mike Love; bottom row from left, Carl Wilson, Dave Marks, Dennis Wilson.

Problem #1: According to Nick Venet (in Tom Nolan, 1972), as the company wallahs celebrated their twentieth anniversary in Hollywood, he was at this time the only one of Capitol’s management aged under 62; the others are therefore older than Bing Crosby, Capitol’s most famous client among a roster of legends but now retired golfing at Palm Springs. Among numerous investments that would make him almost as rich as his pal Bob Hope, he went into tv production (Hogan’s Heroes).

From the current generation, just to get on the rock’n’roll bandwagon, scouting and auditioning of hundreds of prospects in 1956 had netted Gene Vincent & his Blue Caps. But Gene was long gone to the UK where he was hero-worshipped, and had not been replaced—unless the pretend “rock and roll” of Tommy Sands counted (‘Teenage Crush’, 1957). LA’s top r&b performer, Johnny Otis (‘Willie and the Hand Jive’, 1958), had trouble crossing over to the pop market. Country chanteuse Wanda Jackson remodelled herself into a rock’n’roller—‘Let’s Have a Party’—and added young glamor to the Capitol lineup through the sixties. While replicating the gruffer side of Brenda Lee she never managed top twenty, switching back to country and still releasing on Capitol into the seventies.

So, far removed from the priorities of youth, tuned out from rock music and the special requirements of the Beach Boys, Capitol bosses were heavily committed to a mature market for such prestigious ‘young’ artists in their portfolio as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat ‘King’ Cole—all just one generation adrift in their mid-forties—and the spritely Al Martino, 35, ten years later awarded a comeback in The Godfather by Marlon Brando making an offer that couldn’t be refused. Capitol’s jazz greats Judy Garland and Peggy Lee were entering middle age and still popular with the veteran audience but, established for more than twenty years, could hardly be called promising prospects. There was nothing the Beach Boys could do apart from Murry’s constant cajoling to get the company’s attention, short of severing the head off Bing’s putter for some big shot’s bed.

It must have been all these seniors could do to pretend any kind of empathy even with the straight, collegiate-style Four Freshmen & Preps and Lettermen already on Capitol’s books.

The Kingston Trio, c.1961

The Kingston Trio, c.1961

What relationship they could find with their most popular young incumbents is anyone’s guess: folk group the Kingston Trio, prone to left-wingish social statements in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, the Weavers and other proletarian, people’s troubadours—of whom Peter, Paul & Mary were the latest, but on Warner Bros. The Kingstons—hailing from Hawaii and Southern California but named after Jamaica’s capital of Calypso Folk—had in the spring just past celebrated their biggest hit in three years, ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’—and would have three top forty hits in 1963 plucked from popular albums.

Bing, the most successful recording star of the quarter-century from 1930, and the biggest box-office star in movies through the middle of that period, had come to Capitol when his hit-making days were over, other than drives, chips and putts; he would die on a golf course in Spain. Lowlights he had to look forward to in 1962 were a return of his ‘White Christmas’, which had sold 30 million—but on Decca—and a minor Xmas outing next year for Capitol, ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’, much later remade by Mike Love in solo career.

But, as Capitol would advertise on the dust-slips of Beach Boy albums through the Sixties, Bing remained one of the label’s prides along with acts as diverse as recently deceased thespian Charles Laughton, operetta show-tune belter Gordon McRae, Pasadena parodier Stan Freberg, Soul crooner Lou Rawls, black and soulful Nancy Wilson and Ketty Lester, jazzman Cannonball Adderley, country & western stars Sonny James and Buck Owens, and the orchestra of Carmen Dragon, musical director at the Hollywood Bowl and father of Daryl Dragon, later to feature prominently as a session man for the group, a collaborator with Dennis Wilson and the husband and Captain of Tennille.

In other words, the Beach Boys were not exactly the single-minded focus of this major label that wanted to be all things to all listeners. Capitol tended to poach established stars, and many former staffers from the sixties have been scathing about the company’s lack of insight in picking quality in new performers. As one put it, as one might expect from a company represented by Bozo the Clown, “They threw stuff at the wall to see what would stick.” New York vocal group the Tokens, coming from their one huge hit, were hired by Capitol early in 1962 as producers on a one-year contract. Learning to produce as they went along, all ten demo recordings they submitted were rejected including the last, a lively r&b number which they got the Chiffons to record independently on Laurie. Having been knocked back on this song by other labels, a simple rejection letter wasn’t enough for Capitol and the Tokens were treated to a full description by Voyle Gilmore memo of just “how bad it stunk”, according to Token Phil Margo who played drums on the record. ‘He’s So Fine’ became the most durable no.1 of 1963, and copying the melody for ‘My Sweet Lord’ landed Beatle George Harrison in trouble years later.

Of the middle-agers Frank Sinatra had recently founded his own label, Reprise, breaking out of a long fallow period that wasn’t bringing many residual sales for Capitol. “Old Blue Eyes”‘s bestselling albums from the fifties, including Come Fly With Me, would wait for a new millennium to be certified gold. Hollywood-Las Vegas “Rat Pack” buddy Dean Martin followed him from Capitol. Near-namesake Martino stayed a company man sharing in the middle-aged market: ‘I Love You Because’, ‘I Love You More Everyday’, ‘Spanish Eyes’, ‘Mary in the Morning’—as did Cole: ‘Ramblin’ Rose’, ‘Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer’, until cut down by cancer early in ’65.

None—young, old or in between—could live in the same ballpark as the Beach Boys: rookies of the year promising a third-base hit every time up at bat, thickly peppered with high-flying homers. The softening of the way for later rock groups arriving at Capitol—including the Beatles—might be jotted under “Beach Boys: runs batted in”. Capitol’s runner-up harmony act, the Lettermen, whose pristine but low-energy sound was already spacing their top 40 hits out three years apart, couldn’t compete. The Four Preps, popular on campuses for their satirical revues, had started strong with the almost rock’n’roll “I was a ‘Big Man’ yesterday—but boy you oughtta see me now” amid gentler fare. Now they were noted for satirical parodies ‘The Big Draft’, and to come, ‘A Letter to the Beatles’.

From the day they signed it was obvious (if only to Nick Venet at Capitol) that the Beach Boys would be the most important thing to happen to the company for the foreseeable future—i.e. over the next year or so. He disdained their youthful cockiness though only 23 himself, and at the time even he doubted their durability. But Capitol had nothing to lose and everything to gain by going all out on the group. It didn’t happen that way.

bobby-darin[Bobby Darin: Mr Cool of 1962 and supposed successor to Frank Sinatra]

BOBBY DARIN, ROCK’N’ROLLER THROUGH ‘SPLISH SPLASH’ and ‘Queen of the Hop’, switching to crown prince of the teen idols with ‘Dream Lover’, had restyled himself as a junior Sinatra by redoing classics ‘Mack the Knife’, ‘Beyond the Sea’ and ‘Up the Lazy River’ in a swept-up jazz style, not even the so-called rock and roll beloved of teenieboppers. In late summer ’62 came his biggest hit for some time, the self-penned (“Thinkin’ about”) ‘Things’, and Capitol lured him from the home of Drifters/Coasters r&b, up-and-coming Atlantic where creative conditions were right to make all Darin’s hits. Capitol must have suspected they didn’t have the producing scope to match Atlantic and his star dimmed within a year. The time and energy they spent on Bobby went to waste though Venet, seeing the Beach Boys handle themselves in the studio, relished his time in New York recording him. Bobby would return to Atlantic when it had grown into a major. For the burgeoning career of the Beach Boys it meant just one more distraction for their new record label that they couldn’t afford.

Hard up against Motown, girl groups, the Beach Boys and Four Seasons, the time for crooners was over. They were slow to get the message from young record buyers, insulated by continuing high play by radio stations as a hopeful alternative to rock’n’roll. Yet by late 1962 Fifties survivors Pat Boone and Paul Anka disappeared from even Billboard’s top twenty, Darin following in another six months—the most youthful, Ricky Nelson, reprieved for a further semester.

There would be little recognition from the management of the fact that within a year of the group joining Capitol the company was boosted from lowly eighth place to second in singles sales figures (Murry Wilson in Tom Nolan). 1963 would see it overtake such industry giants as RCA, Decca, Philips, Mercury, Warners and ABC-Paramount and drive clear of hungry youth specialists Atlantic, Motown, Cameo-Parkway and Philles—thanks to the Beach Boys’ seven songs in and around Billboard’s top twenty that year: exactly half of Capitol’s biggest hits.

The prior claims of the sedate, white vocal quartets signed by Gilmore and Venet (who had to sneak even the unchallenging Lettermen in through the back door) explains why Capitol repeatedly through the Sixties attempted to tone down the Beach Boys’ rock sound—by eliminating the instrumental grunt from the group’s recordings by electronic processing, sanitising them into pale reissues, resembling as far as practicable the old-styled groups’ mannered, almost monastic harmonies. In early ’63 Brian went in tears to Murry, complaining, “They’re changing our sound.”: a situation not wholly remedied by ‘going independent’ in the middle of that year; Capitol still owned the master tapes. It was the opposite of what they did for the Beatles, beefing up the volume and other rock-enhancing effects. Listeners always had to tweak up the volume knob on a gramophone to even hear the Beach Boys. Aside from consistently castrating the drums and bass, and boosting the treble-scale giving them an anaemic ‘whitebread’ taint, the most notorious specific example of wanton interference has to be hacking off the ending, the climax, of ‘Fun Fun Fun’ as heard on the Brian Wilson-produced single— Brian’s wailing falsetto refrain backed up by Dennis’s thumping-good drum flourishes: mindlessly deleted and not restored until the 1990s.
If not exactly cultural vandalism ranking with drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa, such interference in an artist’s work can hardly have had a parallel since the Renaissance. Did 18th Century sheet music salesmen ‘improve on’ Haydn or Mozart scores for publication? The attitude would worsen—undoubtedly a factor in the Beach Boys being written off in many circles as lightweights: a speeded-up version of the insipid offerings that proved readily acceptable to Middle America from Capitol’s college glee club foursomes. But, come to that, they were white, with whatever advantages (and later disadvantages) that brought.

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