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RIP Dennis Hopper, 1936-2010
(This piece originally appeared in Providence Monthly’s July edition, albeit in an altered, shortened form.)
In the long, ever strange history of Hollywood, Dennis Hopper shall stand fast as one of the most vivid flesh-and-blood parameters of an American industry turned inside out and eventually splintered and rendered all too soporific. Born in Dodge City, Kansas he was a pure-bred farm boy whose family eventually moved to San Diego in the late 1940s. He apprenticed at that city’s well-known Old Globe Theatre and became a very young contract player at Warner Brothers, building a budding career until a now apocryphal 1958 showdown with one of the then movie industry’s most macho despots, director Henry Hathaway, wherein the rebellious and cocksure young actor refused to give into Hathaway’s direction and faced him off in a widely viewed and reported public showdown that supposedly went on for some 80 takes, which resulted in a newfound status as a Tinseltown pariah.
You've read about them
in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times.
HERE'S the big beat sound of that
fantastic, phenomenal foursome:
Me, The Mob, and the Music
One Helluva of a Ride with Tommy James and the Shondells
By Tommy James with Martin Fitzpatrick
225 pp, Scribner
Tommy James', Me, the Mob and the Music isn’t quite a tell-all, which may come as a relief to afficianados of 60's pop/rock. Despite the title, you shouldn't expect any sketches of the inner-workings of the Genovese crime family or lurid details about what James may have witnessed or overheard—it’s mostly an occasionally troubling story about Tommy the barely post-pubescent babe in the woods’ dealings with the so-called Godfather of the music business, that Bully of Broadway (or thereabouts) Morris “Moish” Levy.
For almost a decade James was a veritable hit-making machine for Levy’s Roulette Records, really the only winner in the Roulette stable. As the tape unwinds though, James emerges as the hardest working serf on Levy’s manor, locked in a bizarre mentor/tormentor relationship with Moish that drives him to heavy drinking, pill-popping, a penchant for guns and therapy.
It’s easy to see why the legend of Robin Hood lives on and on as an essential big screen vehicle, as it allows for pungent flourishes of pageantry, romance, violence, and the eternally appealing defense of the common man, and it’s rebel-with-a-cause (plus a bow and arrow) central figure must be as appealing to a big name actor as it might be intoxicating to his director to provide said actor with the aforementioned ornamentations.
It’s equally easy to understand why long time collaborators Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott (American Gangster, A Good Year, Body of Lies, and, most pertinent to this outing, Gladiator) would leap at the undertaking of revisiting the Robin Hood mythology. Crowe has the unarguable presence for such a spotlight role, and Scott has both the pedigree and the mentality to deliver his star to some greater cinematic glories. Their new film, Robin Hood, is muscular and sinewy, impeccably burnished and floridly filmed, totally flowing with populist ideology. Crowe stands erect throughout, emanating his particular brawny brand of minimalism, yet the movie seems devoid of passion or warmth and absolutely lacks any sense of the dashing tomfoolery that usually part and parcel of the landscape. It’s a ponderously gloomy origins tale, and after two and a half bombastic hours you’ll be zapped of both interest and energy.
There used to be
to Keith Moon.
Not any more....
I don’t care that the album Yardbirds fans have come to know as Roger the Engineer didn’t include “Happening Ten Years Time Ago,” or the B side, “Psycho Daisies” on it originally. I don’t care either that Epic called it Over Under Sideways Down in the U.S. when it was called The Yardbirds in England. It’s the Jeff Beck Yardbirds album, because whatever style is happening, going down, transpiring and/or taking place, Beck is nearly without exception at his all-time experimental best in a group format on this record.
There I said it, hedgingly. You can come after me if you like. I’ll make you tea and scones. Beck had set a tone, more accurately a fuzz tone on the psychedelic/blues single “Shapes of Things” earlier in 1966. And that's a mystery too: why was the Yardbirds’ biggest stateside hit left off? “Shapes” came out in the winter of 1966, Roger in the summer. Go figure. But nothing about the Yardbirds’ legitimate recorded output and its subsequent marketing makes a whole lot of sense. No, not a whole lotta sense.
See, I’m not going to argue with Tom Henderson, Frank Portman’s rock savvy teenage protagonist in the wonderful King Dork when he says, “Now Led Zeppelin is all right (good drums and guitar anyway, though that lead singer should have been silenced or muzzled or something—frankly, I prefer it in Yardbird form to be honest).” Me too. And I’m inclined to think of the Marquee and Giorgio Gomelsky’s Crawdaddy club as cauldrons of cool. From 1964-1966, the Yardbirds held forth famously at both.
There may have been no greater meat & three dining experience in Nashville, TN, than Hap Townes' Restaurant, renowned for their amazing dessert of stewed raisins (find the recipe in Real American Food by Jane and Michael Stern).
For 65 years, the father & son Hap Townes team served up Southern home cooking to a long line of faithful customers, oftentimes famous country producers and singers, including Faron Young.
I ran into Faron one June at the legendary little stone diner. I was taking a break from Fan Fair festivities, and there was Faron standing in line, looking lean and hungry. Hap Townes even then only had 49 seats, and remained hard to find on a quiet back street in south Nashville.
And there was Faron: the star of the great hillbilly exploitation flick, Nashville Rebel, and whose version of Willie Nelson's "Hello Walls" still holds me in awe and haunts my brain everytime I think of Faron shooting himself because he believed the country music industry had abandoned him (despite the fact that his "It's Four in the Morning" was the first video to air on CMT when it launched!)....
But here you have it: a truly rare document where eternal legends meet, one country celebrity checking in with another--proof positive.