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Don Rickles: The Methuselah of Stand-Up


I’m putting this out here right now ___ Don Rickles should host the 2013 Academy Awards Show. Billy Crystal can watch from home, or maybe, since Crystal is such a fan of the octogenarian Rickles, they can co-host. Even at 87 and 65 respectively, they’d be a hilarious tag team. My hope would be no script, no set pieces, just fill the house with the usual Hollywood suspects and let the two of them rip/riff and sew panic throughout the woefully named Hollywood and Highland Theater.

Maybe they never get around to handing out an award except the honorary one Rickles picks up to go with the Emmy Award he won in 2008 for Mr. Warmth:  The Don Rickles Project.

An Oscar for what, you ask? Why for the body of work, of course, everything from the Annette and Frankie beach movies of the 60’s to the Toy Story franchise, with stops along the way at Run Silent Run Deep, Kelly’s Heroes and Casino.

I’m joking about the award (a little), but not Don Rickles, a comic deserving of every other accolade that might come his way. Maybe it was Crystal’s influence that gave him that talking head moment during one of the segments intended to whip up nostalgia for movie going. In any case, good call.

Rickles said he likes the Godfather. Any surprise, dummy? Although anytime he shows up in a movie is a pleasant occasion, Rickles is a television guy. And despite starring in a couple of sitcoms, CPO Sharkey and the winning but failed Daddy Dearest with Richard Lewis, the association between Rickles and late night television is strongest.

Withnail and I: La Fin D'une E'poque

It’s (nearly) 2012! High time we made a collective admission; that is, for those of us who were there, or in my case, for those of us whose older brothers were there as the watershed moments went down___ the anti-war marches, sit-ins, Woodstock, the proto-occupy squats that regionalized for us as headlines in the Boston Globe about “hippies squatting on the Boston Common” (my brother L. “crashed” there with a group of suburban buddies addled by pot and the Beacon Street Union) and the birth of R-O-C-K ___ there is no definitive statement in any form on the madness that was 1969.

To each their own, or in the parlance of that day, whatever turns you on---I choose a film, over which more ink has been spilled since its appearance in 1986 than most Best Picture winners ever attract. To wit, Bruce Robinson’s comedy, Withnail and I., #29, on the BFI’s list of favorite British films of the 20th century. It’s a film for writers, druggies, drunks, poets, lovesick losers of all stripes, and ACTORS!!!!!!!!! It’s also about industry versus celebrity, Epicureanism versus stuffiness, the end of impossible friendships, and a near complete evocation of the spirit of an era.

Sunburst Finish: Be-Bop Deluxe at their most luxurious

Be-Bop Deluxe was one of those mid-seventies bands that plugged the gap between glam and punk like Roxy Music on one side and Thin Lizzy on the other, less ballsy than the latter and less campy than the former. But like 10cc or Sparks, smart enough and tuneful enough to get one through the Horse Latitudes of most AOR programming: the endless sorties of the Eagles, America, ABBA, Elton, Jackson, Rod and the Doobie Brothers.

Lyrically, Bill Nelson’s songwriting seemed to ascribe more to the ethos of another underrated band of the era, Blue Oyster Cult, and their code language of flames and futurism, than any other contemporaries. And even these similarities are more subtle than striking. Nelson could write a song like “Blazing Apostles”, reminding the listener of BOC’s “Flaming Telepaths" in the construction of the title and the theme of transformation, but tone it up with the kind of lyricism that one associates with Brits and Romantic poetry: “Salvation brings a badge to wear/on the glad rags of your soul”…all the while extending a metaphor about pop fame and not buying one’s own press… “Posters make a prophet if you’ve got a soul to sell.”  Considering Nelson’s sad and sorry history of trying to get paid for his Be-Bop work, the lyrics seem prescient. He’s invested more than a pound of flesh only to be frustrated at every turn.

Starting with their Brilliant Name: The Clash

Maybe if Svengali manager Bernie Rhodes hadn't liked Paul Simonon's idea about a name for the outfit he and his friend Mick Jones had assembled, we'd never have The Clash, perhaps the most appropriately named band of the punk era, maybe of all time. Just a few years Later CBS publicity would describe them as "The Only Band that Mattered," seemingly unaware that one of the band's modus operandi was bolstering the likes of lesser-knowns, such as Lee "Scratch" Perry, the legendary Jamaican producer, who co-produced an early version of "Complete Control," which ironically, took a swipe at CBS.     

And as shows and venues increased exponentially in depth and breadth between 1976 and 1982, the Clash promoted unknowns, such as Mickey Dread, Tymon Dogg, and not once, but twice during their stint at NYC's Bonds Casino in June, 1981, the Bratles, a group of city kids with boho pedigrees, and the yet-to-be-known New York rappers, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, also at Bonds. 

Sandinista! proved that there was an internationalism, dare I say it, to the Clash that contravened the idea of the super group. The attempt to be inclusive at Bonds, featuring each night a tripartite lineup of a Brit band, an American and a Jamaican act, from The Slits to Joe Ely to Lee Perry, was as quintessential Clash as their eclectic and therefore, subversive, musical passions: including but not limited to rockabilly, reggae, ska, funk and jangly garage rock.

10 Reasons Why This Pic Works for Me


1. Look, I've always wanted a good reason for letting Paris Hilton into my heart.

2. Her hands are not perfect (read claw hand).

3. Any Captain Beefheart publicity is good publicity (even hoax publicity___ I'll take it if only for that one shining moment when I thought it could be true). See Number 6.

4. That red barrette---hair thing. I think my little sister had a set of those. If it's part of some designer line of accessories, I'll be crushed.

5. Strike the last part of 4, I'll take half a dozen.

6. It brings out the Candide in me. No seriously, this is how I picture Cunegonde.

7. Fast and bulbous, got me?

8. She's wearing Mike Nelson's watch.

9. Oh maid, if only I knew what causeth thou to smile so!

10. I'm booglarized. I'm just sayin'.

The American Metaphysical Circus: You Can't Ever Come Down

It would be too easy to wax nostalgic for nostalgic wax and just list the records that you heard first and will remember always coming out of your older brother's portable radio, the one in the perforated black pleather case. The thing had a handle and a bent antenna and ran on batteries, but around outlets, you could plug it in, and that was living. You remember it as it was, tuned to the same "underground" radio station for half a decade. 

Only in hindsight can you claim critical distinctions between any of the tunes or the musicians on the playlists spun by the college DJs with the cool nicknames, and nasally, post-adolescent voices. The ones bunkered in some out of the way corner on the campus of Brown University.   

As far as you cared, one tune was as laudable or as damnable as another, no matter who the performer. Perhaps with the advent of the rock press, an easily influenced adolescent (you!) started copping attitudes about geniuses and sellouts and all that nonsense, but in the halcyon days of first encounters with the underground, the song was the thing, whether it was the Beatles or Pearls Before Swine, the Byrds or Circus Maximus, Bob Dylan or Tim Buckley or Lord Buckley even.

Me, the Mob and the Music: Tommy James Tells Enough


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.

Roger the Engineer: An Appreciation

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.


Boom Boom Boomtown!

For boys of a certain age, certain time, adventure role models were characters more of this world than others. Taking your cues from Classics Illustrated, Wonder-Books, American Heritage histories and Marvel Comics, you might want to be a cowboy, a sea captain, an aviator (or the riskier version of that, a fighter pilot), a sports hero or some outsized superhero. Boys more darkly inclined might want to be gunslingers, pirates, Baron Von Richthofen, Bizzaro or a New York Yankee. All these characters were romanticized, and all, upon closer inspection, would reveal flaws, kinks in their makeup and the kinds of shortcomings that would shatter the idealized version. If you wanted to feel the air to go out of the balloon, all you had to do was put down the juvenile literature and read some eyewitness history, biography or open your own eyes to see Yaz sneaking a cigarette in the Boston Red Sox dugout.

In adolescence you’d discover that the American frontier attracted a lot of sociopaths, Ty Cobb was a racist and illegal gambling was part of most games, war was an ugly and unnecessary thing and in fantasy land, the price of being a superhero was a life of secrets and isolation. I think I’m pretty safe in saying, one could still go out to sea, but in hindsight it seems like a very lonely thing to do. There was, however, a type of hero celeb who seemed insulated from scandal, muck and mire, at least as far as my experience was concerned, and that was the local kids show host, the affable guy with the gimmick and the cartoons.

Emitt Rhodes: At Last?

Here’s how my mind works sometimes. Like a relay race. Alex Chilton dies and the synapses start yapping and snapping and something like this comes out. I had read and heard in different places, Paul Westerberg’s tribute in the online New York Times, a conversation I had with someone who knew him, that in the years after he moved from Memphis to New Orleans, Chilton was washing dishes for a living or as Westerberg mentioned, living in a tent in Tennessee. Whether these things were about choice or necessity, I don’t know. On the face of it, they are not activities one associates with legendary rock status, or lifestyle choices popular musicians normally make. But I don’t claim to have known Alex Chilton through anything but his music, and although his talent for melody seemed to flow without effort, there was nothing easy about the way Chilton treated it, as has been previously noted by Robert Hull on this site.

So what do I know? Washing dishes and living in a tent might have fulfilled some promise he made to himself. He would try to live like an ascetic. He would try the mendicant path. Maybe anything worth saying isn’t supposed to come easy.

But the synapses start yapping and snapping and the baton gets passed. I think, hey, what about That 70’s Show? Didn’t he make a pile from “In the Street?” Didn’t that show give the world Mila Kunis from Kiev? Didn’t Chilton agree to a Box Tops tour not so long ago? Hey, didn’t Big Star make their first studio record since 1973 in 2005 and weren’t they scheduled to play at South by Southwest when Chilton passed away. Wasn’t the world becoming A.C.’s oyster again?