WEIRDLAND: March 2019

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Before Elvis: the prehistory of rock 'n' roll

The United States was the most influential economic power in the world after World War II under the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Inflation was moderate during the decade of the 1950s. The first few months had a deflationary hangover from the 1940s but the first full year ended with annual inflation rates ranging from 8% to 9%. By 1952 inflation subsided. 1954 and 1955 flirted with deflation again but the remainder of the decade had moderate inflation ranging from 1% to 3.7%. The average annual inflation for the entire decade was only 2.04%. The fifties has been heralded as the decade of a great social comfort and widespread cultural consensus. The fifties was also the decade when rock and roll officially broke out. The interaction of country music with jazz and R&B was especially important in the creation of rock and roll, but though western swing influence—country music’s string-powered response to big-band jazz—has been recently researched, the “hillbilly boogie,” which bridged the gap between western swing and the rockabilly genre, has been virtually ignored.

Hollywood musicals and animated cartoons helped popularize swing, and western films created a national audience for country music. “Blueberry Hill” became a rock classic at the hands of Fats Domino in 1956, but the song, which had been a No. 1 pop hit for Glenn Miller in 1940, was also sung by Gene Autry in 1941, and recorded in 1949 by Louis Armstrong. For the most part, the blues found its way into rock music through jazz, which had long incorporated blues in the early 1920s. With rare exceptions, the Delta blues had little impact on rock ’n’ roll before the British Invasion of the mid-1960s regarded it as influential. During the swing era, big bands such as Count Basie’s, Benny Goodman’s, and Tommy Dorsey’s had picked up the boogie-woogie sound, while blues and country music took on a jazzy feel. The roots of rock run through mainstream pop as well, from Irving Berlin’s vaudeville songs to the Andrews Sisters’ harmonized boogie-woogies, and the R&B-flavored crooning of Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray. The nascent sound of rock ’n’ roll could be heard as early as the 1920s in a number of piano boogies, and jazz-band arrangements.

Before Elvis Presley or Bill Haley had a hit, the pop singer Kay Starr made the Top 20 with her cover version of the Clovers’ 1951 rhythm-and-blues chart-topper “Fool, Fool, Fool.” Before Little Richard turned it into a rock ’n’ roll anthem in 1957, “Keep A Knockin’” was recorded by James Wiggins and by Bert Mays in 1928, by Lil Johnson in 1935, by Milton Brown in 1936, by Louis Jordan and by Jimmy Dorsey in 1939, and by Jimmy Yancey in 1950, among others. Most official rock ’n’ roll timelines begin with the late 1940s or early 1950s. Only a few historians, such as Ed Ward (The History of Rock & Roll: 1920-1963), Geoffrey Stokes (Star-Making Machinery: Inside the Business of Rock and Roll), or Robert Palmer (Rock & Roll: An Unruly History), dare to trace the rock and roll origins as early as the 1930s. Perhaps the best explanation of the origins of rock is still to be found in Charlie Gillett’s The Sound of the City (first published in 1970), one of the only books to recognize the link between big-band swing and rock ’n’ roll. Another writer who has traced some of the various musical strains that found their way into rock ’n’ roll is Nick Tosches (Unsung Heroes of Rock ’n’ Roll: The Birth Of Rock In The Wild Years Before Elvis).

Both Sam Phillips and Marion Keisker heatedly denied Phillips' alleged remark as Albert Goldman quoted it in his 1981 biography of Elvis Presley: “If I could find a white boy who could sing like a nigger, I could make a million dollars.” In 1957, Presley recorded “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” as the flip side of “All Shook Up,” with the Jordanaires adding vocal harmonies. Listening to these earliest Elvis recordings today, it is nearly impossible to understand the apocryphal Sam Phillips quote: the eighteen-year-old Presley does not sound black at all. Peter Guralnick (Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley) compares the voice of Elvis on his early demos to “a sentimental Irish tenor,” adding that “there could have been nothing less overtly African-American-sounding than this particular acetate or this particular song.” Presley evidently aspired to be a country-pop crooner, and though he earned the title King of Rock ’n’ Roll with up-tempo rockers such as “Hound Dog” and “All Shook Up,” he continued to sing and record ballads throughout his career. Published reports that Presley frequented blues clubs on Beale Street in Memphis while still in high school were also debunked by Peter Guralnick.

Presley’s early exposure to live music came mainly through shows by white gospel quartets such as the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen. Radio was Presley’s primary source of musical inspiration, but though he surely tuned in to the pioneering Memphis rhythm-and-blues station WDIA, his repertoire was largely drawn from pop singers such as Teresa Brewer, Jo Stafford, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Eddie Fisher, and Perry Como, as well as country singers such as Hank Williams, Eddie Arnold, and Hank Snow. John Lennon, in his final 1980 interview, told David Sheff that “Rock Around the Clock” had inspired him to pursue a musical career. “I really enjoyed Bill Haley, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by him,” Lennon added. “It wasn’t until ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ that I really got into it.” It was Lennon who is said to have stated, “Before Elvis, there was nothing,” although this widely circulated quotation appears to be apocryphal. By the early 1950s, hillbilly boogies were no longer novel. Boogie-woogie fever had swept America in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Western swing, country music’s fiddle-driven answer to big-band jazz, followed suit. The roots of rock are audible on “Boogie Woogie,” which Count Basie recorded with a small combo in 1936 and with his big band in 1937 (both versions featuring singer Jimmy Rushing), and which Tommy Dorsey recorded as an instrumental in 1938. Boogie-woogie fever peaked with “Beat Me Daddy,” a big hit for the Andrews Sisters in 1940, the same year that Frank Sinatra made his first records with Tommy Dorsey.

Duke Ellington took a more inclusive view in an article for Music Journal in 1962. “Rock ’n’ Roll is the most raucous form of jazz, beyond a doubt,” he wrote. “It maintains a link with the folk origins, and I believe that no other form of jazz has ever been accepted so enthusiastically by so many.” “Lovesick Blues,” a Tin Pan Alley song written by Irving Mills and Cliff Friend, was first recorded in 1922 by the vaudeville singer Elsie Clark. In 1928, Emmett Miller rerecorded “Lovesick Blues” in New York with a group of jazz musicians including trombonist Tommy Dorsey, saxophonist Jimmy Dorsey, and guitarist Eddie Lang. Rex Griffin’s 1939 cover of Miller’s “Lovesick Blues” is the basis for Hank Williams’s 1949 version, the biggest hit of Williams’s career. According to Peter Guralnick, Elvis Presley “sang quite a few of Kay Starr’s songs” while still in high school, but these were probably ballads. “Fool, Fool, Fool”/“Kay’s Lament” has been overlooked by compilers of the first rock ’n’ roll records, and though the Oklahoma-born Starr was a “white” southerner who scored pop hits mixing rhythm-and-blues in an authentic style before Bill Haley, she has so far escaped consideration as the first rock ’n’ roll singer (as has Anita O’Day). One of Decca’s first post-band recordings was of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters’ version of “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” a country, pop, and R&B hit. “Pistol Packin’ Mama” was covered by artists ranging from the Pied Pipers (a white vocal group featuring Jo Stafford) to the Hurricanes (a black doo-wop group) to Gene Vincent, whose rockabilly rendition, recorded in London, was arranged by Eddie Cochran.

Although Elvis Presley adapted some of his music directly from rhythm-and-blues and claimed that genre as the source of his style, it’s clear from his recording of “Milkcow Blues Boogie” that he was acquainted with western swing, and it’s hardly credible that he was less than familiar with the hillbilly boogie. Bill Haley’s roots in western swing and hillbilly boogie are well documented, and the melody of “Rock Around the Clock,” originally published by the African American bandleader Richard M. Jones, can be heard in a number of 1940s country songs. By the early 1950s, if not sooner, country artists were recording in an idiom recognizable as rockabilly or rock ’n’ roll, terms that would not be used to characterize the genre until a few years later. Swept up in the wave of enthusiasm that accompanied rock ’n’ roll’s breakthrough into the popular mainstream, Haley and Presley were hailed as musical pioneers, but they just were following a well-worn stylistic path. “Rock Around the Clock” was not the first rock and roll song, despite its shuffling rhythm, boogie-ish bass line, and twelve-bar verse-and-refrain structure. Although many 1950s rock songs feature one or more of these characteristics, many do not. Others, such as “Blue Suede Shoes” or “Jailhouse Rock,” have a sixteen-bar verse-and-refrain structure; “Great Balls of Fire” follows the thirty-two bar AABA pattern typical of ballads, complete with bridge.

Upon its emergence, rock ’n’ roll encountered a firestorm of criticism. “From 1958 to 1960 rock and roll lost much of its early drive and impetus, due largely to anti-rock pressures. From 1960 to 1962 rock and roll was toned down,” write Linda Martin and Kerry Segrave in Anti-Rock: Opposition to Rock and Roll. The songwriters headquartered in Manhattan’s Brill Building put their own distinctive stamp, a kind of pop-rock update on Tin Pan Alley, while the surf music of southern California brought guitar instrumentals to the forefront. The demise of rock ’n’ roll has been proclaimed at least since Don McLean’s 1971 hit “American Pie” lamented the passing of Buddy Holly on “the day the music died.” Nevertheless, rock lives on, however feebly, having shown relatively little creative spark since the grunge era. The remaining rock scene splintered into subgenres: power pop, psychobilly, post-punk, grunge, lo-fi, and Americana. Paralleling the development of jazz, rock music has grown so distant from its original sound that modern rock hardly seems to belong to the same genre as vintage rock ’n’ roll. Only the backbeat and amplified guitar-bass-and-drums instrumentation have endured. Rock ’n’ roll showed its greatest verve in the mid-1950s, being revived several times, spiking during the folk-rock and psychedelic rock of the 60s, the 70s glam/punk, the 80s new wave and the 90s grunge/avant-garde. What genuine inventiveness persists is mostly relegated to the fringes of the mainstream scene. Today’s rock musicians seem to have little or no familiarity with old-school rock ’n’ roll—regrettably, since reconnecting with the music’s roots might help restore its vigor. —"Before Elvis: the prehistory of rock 'n' roll" (2013) by Larry Birnbaum

Tom Hanks is in negotiations to play Elvis Presley’s iconic manager Colonel Tom Parker in Baz Luhrmann’s untitled Warner Bros. biopic about the legendary musician. Luhrmann will direct the movie. He also penned the script with Craig Pearce. Parker discovered Presley when he was just an unknown and quickly moved in as his lone representation. Parker was responsible for various milestones, including Presley’s record deal with RCA and his successful acting career. While Luhrmann always envisioned a star for Parker’s part, he wants a newcomer for the role of Elvis Presley. The director has begun meeting with talent for the part. Insiders say a budget is still being ironed out, but Hanks’ commitment will urge the studio to push the project forward. Luhrmann hopes to get the picture into production sometime this year. Source:

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly: Alternative Rock Masculinity, The Rock ‘N’ Roll Dream Tour

Our technology is advanced in 2019, but our yearning for yesteryear is stronger than ever. “The Rock ‘N’ Roll Dream Tour” is going to be a joint trek “headlined” by the holograms of music icons Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly. The tour — which features a live band and backing singers, along with remastered audio — will take place in October, running throughout both Europe and North America. Brian Becker, chairman of BASE Hologram, said in a release: “These two men were forward-thinkers who defined the genre of Rock and Roll, from writing to recording to the standard band configuration, and they influenced everyone from Elvis to The Beatles. Now to be able to recapture that magic on a grand scale and let their fans see them together will be something truly special.” “Buddy and Roy were Texans who shared a mutual respect and admiration for each other’s creative musical genius and songwriting abilities,” said Holly’s wife Maria Elena Holly in her press release. “Their long-time fans and a new generation of fans will now have the opportunity to see these great legends perform together in a unique setting, showcasing two of the finest, most influential, and beloved artists in music history.” Source:

In 1960 rock 'n' roll music was diminished by two watershed events: Elvis Presley's enlistment in the army and Buddy Holly's death. Roy Orbison had close personal ties with both Presley and Holly. When listening to "Only the Lonely," Orbison's first smash hit in 1960, we wondered who sang such a strange song—which sounded more like two songs than one—so beautifully? In 1988, in Newsweek's Orbison obituary, David Gates claimed that, along with Presley and Holly, Orbison "elevated a form of regional music into something approaching art song." Just as it has been important for classical musicians and scholars to understand the accomplishments of Beethoven or Mozart, it is equally important for scholars of popular culture to understand the accomplishments of Buddy Holly or Roy Orbison. Jazz musician Don Byron made a compelling case for collapsing these distinctions between "high" and "low," "art song" and "popular music," and even for erasing the artificial line we draw between classical, pop, and jazz music. We cannot simply assert that rock is a serious art without making an analysis of the accomplishments within the genre. In the 1998 issue of Entertainment Weekly, an article entitled "Orbison's Last Dream" concludes, "In the end it's that goose-bump-inducing voice that endures. Does anyone who's heard it need to ask why Elvis Presley once called Roy Orbison the greatest singer in the world?" Why we shouldn't think of producing a new recording using an old vocal track as equivalent to a theater director's staging a new production of a Shakespeare play? If it is the voice that endures and causes the goosebumps, then why shouldn't that enduring voice be re-played?

"The grain of the voice," in philosopher Roland Barthes's memorable phrase, escapes the language of analysis. It is so much easier to talk about the aesthetics and ideology of lyrics than to characterize the accomplishments of a voice. Listening to Buddy Holly or Roy Orbison is not a form of "slumming," or a case of arrested development; indeed, it is much like listening to Mozart. In 1996 Simon Frith argued in The Sociology of Rock: "There are obvious differences between classical and country or rock music, but that doesn't mean that the artistic processes are different." After leaving Sun Records, Roy Orbison—following the lead of Elvis Presley—signed with RCA, recording six songs produced by Chet Atkins. These songs supply an important link between Orbison's rockabilly period and the later Monument ballads, such as "Paper Boy" which reveals a growing poetic awareness in the lyrics and the inclusion of delicate motifs. Roy Orbison and his first wife Claudette Frady were getting divorced in November 1964 over her infidelities, but they reconciled 10 months later. Tragedy struck on June 6, 1966, however, when Orbison and Claudette were riding home from Bristol, Tennessee. Claudette died in a motorcycle accident that occurred as she rode by Orbison's side, and later two of his three children died in a 1968 fire that destroyed his Nashville home. 

In 1988, Roy Orbison's obituaries confirmed just how widespread and pervasive his tragic image had become. People magazine ran as front-cover headline, "The Haunted Life of Rock Legend Roy Orbison," declaring his death the final tragedy of a quite sad life. Orbison's ubiquitous black clothes and dark glasses, adopted in 1963, only reinforced his image as a dark, tragic figure. Thanks in part to David Lynch, Orbison was later repositioned as a major figure in the history of rock 'n' roll, on a scale close with Elvis Presley and the Beatles. In an article on Orbison's music, occasioned by the release of In Dreams: Greatest Hits (1987), Dave Marsh hailed Roy Orbison as "one of the greatest singers of all time," a view he reiterated after Orbison's death, when he called him "more than just the owner of the greatest white pop voice." Orbison's private world of loneliness and dreams contains an important, pervasive element of sexual masochism that had gone totally unnoticed. Dwight Yoakam described Orbison's voice as that of the cry of an angel falling backward through an open window. In a related vein, Bruce Springsteen, in his 1987 speech inducting Roy Orbison into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, said Orbison had the ability "to sound like he'd dropped in from another planet".

Most rock and roll singers of the period, most convincingly Elvis Presley, strutted around the stage, posturing in a sexually aggressive and overtly macho style. Critics have long pointed out that the display of the male body in rock 'n' roll is feminizing actually, for the male body becomes the object of an erotic spectacle like that traditionally reserved in Western culture for women. In the case of Buddy Holly, he channeled his (hetero) sexual power through his guitar, not displaying his body, so paradoxically Holly—although nerdy and shy—didn't look as feminized as Elvis. Buddy Holly held onto his inner masculinity, avoiding the dictates of rock and roll as erotic assimilation. Roy Orbison was also different from rock's macho performers, and this contrast can be seen in Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (1988), a documentary about Chuck Berry, in which we can compare Roy Orbison's scenes with those of Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry Lee, with his trademark cigar and bourbon in hand, talks in typically braggadocio fashion. While Roy Orbison appears in a black leather jacket, in fact totally enshrouded in black. However, he neither looks nor acts tough. 

Peter Watrous wrote in 1988: "Of all the rock-and-roll singers of his generation, Roy Orbison was the least obsessed with masculinity; the music, his voice and words are unmenacing and complex." By not creating and circulating sexually desirable images of himself in fan magazines and on record albums, by minimizing the sexual display of his body in performance and hiding behind impenetrable dark glasses, by singing in an eerie high range—and most of all by writing songs explicitly about male anxiety—Roy Orbison created a significant alternative to the sexual image of traditional male rock stars. In an obituary, the jazz magazine Down Beat claimed that "Elvis Presley said Orbison had the grandest voice in pop music. A listen to 'Only the Lonely,' 'Blue Bayou,' 'Oh, Pretty Woman,' and 'Crying' proves it." Roy Orbison was unique among major rock stars of the time in both his absence from the fan magazines and the de-emphasis on his looks as a major component of his image. Not even he had a press agent, something he would be proud of in later years.

In the rock 'n' roll scene, Buddy Holly also became associated with thick black frames similar to those that Roy Orbison would wear, and pictures show Holly wearing sunglasses indoors. The black frames gave Holly an air of coolness and a quasi intellectual aura. Orbison's dark glasses signified less that he was cool than, hidden behind them, he looked at the world darkly. David Lynch showed the dark, sexual side of the themes of "In Dreams," which he used in his cult film Blue Velvet (1986). Orbison's music not only sprang from loneliness and darkness; it was embraced by the same lonely darkness. Predictably, much of the initial reaction to Blue Velvet centered on its bizarreness. The Arizona Daily Star's critic Bob Campbell changed his mind about the film after he saw it a second time, whereupon he discovered that the film was "fiercely moral, and that explains its stunning force." 

Orbison's vocal range was extraordinary by any standard. "It's Over," for example, moves from D3 to B-flat 5 in full voice! This is an octave plus a fifth, or a thirteen-diatonic-note range in full voice. B-flat 5 is an octave above the full voice of a baritone, a fourth above the full voice of a tenor, and it is beyond the range of the full voice of an alto. Suffice it to say that few performers can do this. "Only the Lonely" has an even greater range. Here Orbison sings from B-flat 3 to C5, the C5 in falsetto. This represents two octaves plus a note, or a total of a seventeen-note range. Evan Eisenberg's analysis of Louis Armstrong located recorded music on a continuum within two poles, with what he calls the "rasp" at one extreme and the "bel canto" at the other. Such singers as Louis Armstrong and Bob Dylan typify the rasp, and singers like Paul McCartney and Roy Orbison typify the bel canto (literally, "beautiful singing"). There is a tendency to see the 'rasp' sound as closer to quintessential rock 'n' roll and the 'bel canto' voice as more closely related to the classical tradition, but the "pretty" voice of Paul McCartney, for example, is also capable of producing a raspy, tortured scream ("Hey Jude"). Dave Marsh breaks Orbison's songs into two groups, those dealing with pain and loss and those dealing with dreaming; Marsh argues that "Orbison's music suggests a way to absorb a very intense pain and stay alive: through dreams." Orbison constructed a complex masochist aesthetic based on a dark, passive, frightened, overly emotional figure, who either reveled in pain or lost himself in a world of dreams. For Orbison, rock 'n' roll was never primarily about sexuality as conventionally constructed and displayed. 

Orbison wrote many of his hits, so he was an early archetype, along with Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, of the singer-songwriter pioneer. "Twinkle Toes" supplies a complex variation on his themes and makes clear how, in addition to dreaming about his role in saving the female figure, the Orbison persona identifies with this woman. The song is about a go-go dancer and the singer sings to her while she dances. The woman is lonely and crying, or at least the singer thinks she is. He describes her as someone whose carefree exterior masks an inner sadness: "Yeah, behind the smile, I know you're crying." Again he offers emotional support, telling her to be tough and hang on. The song concludes with his fantasy of saving her; he tells her to get ready, 'I bet I take you home tonight / now when the dance is through / You wont be lonely, you won't be blue tonight / I'll be with you." In stark contrast to the crudity of the other men we hear shouting, the Orbison persona sensitively identifies with the woman whom he wants to save. He desires her just as strongly as the other men do, but unlike them, he identifies with her loneliness. On March 25, 1969, Orbison married one of his German fans, Barbara Jakobs, whom he had met several days before his sons' deaths. Wesley (born 1965), his youngest son with Claudette, was raised by Orbison's parents. Orbison and Barbara had a son (Roy Kelton) in 1970 and another (Alexander) in 1975.

Buddy Holly's Ting-A-Ling is one of his wildest sounding rock numbers. But the lyrics, although devoid of Orbison's sad melancholy, also help establish a powerful bond with the girl(s) featured in the song. "Well now I'm just a poor young boy/And these girls 'bout to drive me wild/The way they rock and roll and hold me, angel child/The way they laugh, the way they sing/Makes my heart go ting-a-ling/Well, I'm young and I'm free/I want a fine young gal that is so nice and free." Unlike the heroines of traditional country ballads, Peggy Sue is not described in detail in Holly's famous song. As Dave Laing explains, "Peggy Sue is sung in different ways, so as to suggest the infinite variety of his affection for her. If the words suggest the ingenuity of his approach to the girl, the rhythm denotes the determined character of his pursuit for her. For this song, like so many others of Buddy Holly's, he's uncertain that his love will reciprocated." Another beautiful song written by Holly in 1958, “Because I Love You,” suggests the emotional turmoil he went through a painful break-up. In the lyric, Holly expresses his fear that his girlfriend has found someone else and states he would rather die than go through the rest of his life without her.

"Blue Angel" is another important song that showcases Roy Orbison's romantic pulse. It departs from the usual first-person narratives in which he suffers the pain; in this variation, he comforts the woman who has suffered at the hands of another man. At the beginning of the song, he disapprovingly describes the other man as someone who "thought love was a game," assuring the woman that he, by contrast, will "never say goodbye." Yet as the song progresses we discover that the love he sings about is displaced into the future, and there is no indication that the woman has any interest in him, though he offers himself up to her unconditionally, describing the wonderful love they will have: "If you'll just say you're mine / I'll love you 'til the end of time." Again, "She's a Mystery to Me" offers a symbolic physical referent to the masochistic pain that is frequently more psychological in Orbison's music. The song concludes with an intense image of both physical pain and frozen time: "Am I left to burn / And burn eternally." These images of Hell invoke the most extreme an eternal form of that masochistic time that seeks to stop at the moment of greatest suffering. The image of the paralyzed man who wants to run but cannot and instead "melts away" points to the total dissolution of the self that lies at the heart of the masochist aesthetic. If melting away poetically but indirectly means the dissolution of the self, "Windsurfer" expresses clearly the masochist's desire for death. Executives at Virgin Records did not like the song and urged him to use another. "Windsurfer" was included on the Mystery Girl album only at Orbison's insistence.

"Oh, Pretty Woman" is much less about a rose-tinted view of female beauty and the street life than it is about a male form of masochistic desire. At the climax of "Oh, Pretty Woman," the masochistic sense of timing finds formal expression when the Orbison persona cries out, "But wait, what do I see?" The opening guitar riff, itself structured around a disruption of time, is repeated, freezing time as the Orbison persona passively waits to see what action the desired woman will take. Bob Dylan had long admired Orbison and had written "Don't Think Twice" for him, recording the song himself in 1963 only after Orbison decided not to record it. Most people think of Roy Orbison as just the smooth crooner who sang ballads like “Only the Lonely” and “Crying.” But Orbison was also a wicked guitar player, who ripped out several impressive solos with his iconic Gibson ES-335 guitar on early Sun Records singles like “Ooby Dooby.” By 1964, most of Orbison’s early rock and roll contemporaries were either dead, strung-out on drugs, or in jail, but Orbison’s musical career still hadn’t reached its peak. In between the ballads, he recorded singles like “Mean Woman Blues” (check his wild guitar solo) and “Oh, Pretty Woman” that showed upstarts like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Animals that Americans still could rock harder than any British band.

Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly opened rock 'n' roll to a wide range of emotions and intensity for other artists, far removed from the dominant macho posturing of the time. There were, to be sure, some elements of vulnerability in Elvis and others, but nothing comparable to Holly or Orbison. Buddy Holly had helped Roy Orbison with lead guitar structures on some of the songs Orbison was trying to write in the late 50s. When Orbison, from Wink, Texas, 125 miles south of Lubbock, heard Holly on KDAV, it certainly altered his life. It was Buddy Holly who showed Roy Orbison the guitar lick that would become so popular when Orbison recorded “Pretty Woman” in 1964. Buddy Holly’s detractors had been mostly mediocre C&W pickers who envied his talent, but they had a shattering effect on his self-esteem. And Holly began to withdraw from the crowd, turning inward. Despite his standoffishness, Buddy’s smart-aleck persona reasserted itself anytime he felt secure, especially when he was with other musicians, or a girl he liked. As a songwriter, Buddy Holly favored Major chords, as well as Brian Wilson (the favorite keys of Holly were A, E and D, whereas Wilson preferred to write in key B). Brian Wilson was another creative and sensitive pop genius who had no time for macho posturing ("I think cursing is a bunch of malarkey", Wilson once said). When he released his album No Pier Pressure in 2015, Brian Wilson explained: "The songs come to me sitting at a piano and out of the sudden, they come down from my brain and onto the keyboard."  

“I don’t want to be rich,” Buddy Holly had said to Sonny Curtis: “I don’t even want to be in the limelight. But I want people to remember the name Buddy Holley.” Buddy Holly had the kind of determination known only to heroes and fools. In profile, he looked strangely Martian, but when he faced the camera he was quite handsome, with a big, heroic forehead, gull-wing eyebrows, a squared-off chin, and a strong jaw-line. The rock ballad “I Guess I Was Just a Fool” was the first sign of Buddy Holly exploring deeper emotional states with insight and depth. It tells the story of a man who has lost a relationship but he's glad to know he’s at least capable of experiencing love. Buddy seems to be drawing on his ill-starred love for the wild girl of Lubbock. In the plaintive Mystery Girl Orbison admits freely "There are stronger men than me." Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly had the courage to be different as singers, songwriters and performers at a crucial moment in the evolution of rock 'n' roll. There are no stronger or more inspiring men than that. —Sources: "Roy Orbison: Invention Of An Alternative Rock Masculinity" (2003) by Peter Lehman and "This'll Be the Day: The Life and Legacy of Buddy Holly" (2009) by Maury Dean

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Buddy Holly: three chords and the truth

Music writer Dominic Pedler, author of The Songwriting Secrets Of The Beatles (2010): Amongst Buddy Holly’s finest musical moments is the bridge to ‘Everyday’ which showcases his understanding of a classically derived, five-chord cycle which unfolds so irresistibly towards the song’s musical and lyrical climax; ‘Do you ever long for true love from me?’ It's a brilliant take on that bridge, descending in inevitable fifths that end on that hanging imperfect cadence rather than a settled resolution. Buddy Holly didn’t follow the standard three-chord pattern that most rock’n’roll players were doing. Buddy had moved into country-rock, or moreso invented country-rock. Country music was ‘Three chords and the truth,’ to quote the songwriter Harlan Howard. Kent Westbury, who wrote Ann-Margret’s 1961 hit ‘I Just Don’t Understand’, loved Buddy playing ‘Modern Don Juan’. Kent said, ‘I liked Buddy Holly because he could change chords faster than anybody I’ve ever seen.’  Paul McCartney: ‘The white rock’n’roll singers like Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, and Jerry Lee Lewis were rooted in country. They got country and western, the Grand Ole Opry, from their own families and they merged it with black music, which was more naughty. Even Chuck Berry liked country music.’

The way Holly used bar chords was innovative. He wrote around three major chords, and he would go to a minor occasionally when he wanted to change the mood. If you are a guitarist, you generally put down a major chord as a happy chord: if it was a D chord, you would play D major and it would sound happy, but a minor chord would make the music sound sad. Buddy Holly would change the mood of the song with the minor chords to fulminant effect. When he was playing the lead solo in ‘Peggy Sue’, he was playing an A major to D, and it was structured with his rhythm guitar playing. Buddy was well versed in Ray Charles (‘Let the Good Times Roll’), liked Fats Domino’s ‘Goin’ Home’, LaVern Baker’s ‘Jim Dandy’, Sonny James’ ‘Young Love’ and its B-side ‘You’re the Reason I’m In Love’, Marvin and Johnny’s ‘Tick Tock’, Edna McGriff’s ‘Why oh Why’ and Charlie Gracie’s ‘Butterfly’. 

Carolyn Hester: ‘Buddy Holly was one of the few geniuses I actually knew. His love for music was overwhelming and we used to wonder, ‘Is this guy ever going to relax?’ Rock biographer Dominic Pedler: ‘Quite apart from his use of full scale key changes, Holly always had an ear for the unexpected, often ambitiously hijacking chords from beyond the prevailing scale to create the subtle departure from cliché, which typically defines songwriting brilliance.’ British music journalist Jon Savage (author of The Kinks: The Official Biography): ‘As a Beatles child, I’ve always found classic rock’n’roll a bit hard to take. The only exceptions are the early Elvis and almost all of Buddy Holly’s catalogue. There’s something about Buddy Holly that makes him still sound contemporary. Maybe it’s his ability to get to the heart of the matter with subtlety rather than bombast. All his songs are in major keys so it’s all very joyful sounding stuff. There’s a lot of joie de vivre in his music. The mood is not one of anger and defiance but of maturity before its time: calm, stoical, affirming his ‘dreams and wishes.’’

On 6 November 1957, The Crickets performed at the Kiel Opera House in St Louis, Missouri. While scuffling backstage, Paul Anka knocked out one of the plugs, thus turning off the stage microphones. Buddy Holly was on stage and came off furious. Johnny Moore of the Drifters recalled a similar incident: ‘Paul Anka, being the practical joker he is, hid Buddy Holly’s guitar just before they called out ‘Buddy Holly’ from the stage. Someone gave him a guitar to do his act and when he came off, he was in a rage. Otherwise, Buddy was a real nice guy–quiet, introverted, never spoke too much.’ On the road, Buddy’s humour and good nature did much to defuse the explosive incompatibility of his fellow headliners. Buddy admired the precocious songwriting talent of Paul Anka, and with his usual open-heartedness he suggested they might write songs together. Mark Lewisohn: "The various members of the Beatles didn’t see Buddy Holly when he came to Liverpool as it was also the opening night of the Morgue Skiffle Cellar in Oakhill Park. Considering what Holly fans they were, it’s a bit of surprise that they did not go see Holly. It is also surprising because the Philharmonic Hall is on Hope Street and only 100 yards away from both the art college (where John Lennon was) and Liverpool Institute (where Paul and George were). Lennon was rarely interested in seeing other performers and maybe he had talked Paul and George out of it. The Philharmonic Hall staged classical concerts and on this occasion, the venue had also booked the Paul Anka tour for the previous night. Like Holly, Anka was committed to performing on a variety showcase."

In Waterloo, Iowa, on 8 July 1958, The Crickets were supported by Eddie Randall and the Downbeats at the Electric Park. Besides lending Eddie his guitar, a photo shows Buddy handing him a pick, proof that you can be a rock star and still be a nice, helpful guy. Buddy had broken his standard glasses and was wearing dark ones, which he normally wore for driving. A photographer, Dick Cole, asked Buddy to take off his glasses, but he said, ‘I’m not trying to be a glamour boy. I’m trying to be a musician.’ Maybe the darkened glasses were another inventive trademark which would be so copied in the next decades (Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Lou Reed, etc). At one gig, a man complained about ‘that bastard making eyes at my girl’. The fan even challenged Buddy to a fight but he was calmed by Buddy's assurance he was only looking at the audience. In May 1959, Norman Petty had recorded Buddy Knox in Clovis covering a Bobby Darin song, ‘I Ain’t Sharin’ Sharon.’ This recording of Knox was disappointing and indicates that Buddy Holly knew more about recording with saxophones than Norman Petty. Buddy had invited King Curtis, who played with the Coasters, to Clovis, primarily to accompany him on a new song, ‘Reminiscing’. That's a brilliant rock and roll recording with accompanying saxophone. 

Buddy Holly had published a couple of singles which hadn’t made the charts, and some Decca executives were nursing doubts about him. Fortunately, both Bob Thiele and Dick Jacobs backed up his potential and agreed to finance an orchestral session at the Pythian Temple in New York. This session took place on 21 October 1958 with Dick Jacobs writing arrangements, and Jack Hansen securing the right orchestra musicians. There were eight violins, two violas, a cello and a harp. The Crickets, estranged from Buddy by then, were not invited. Jacobs could see the potential of It Doesn’t Matter Anymore and wrote an arrangement using pizzicato strings in unison, a sound pioneered by Tchaikovsky. Buddy once drove with George Atwood to Clovis and they wrote a song about the sun being like a big orange ball. It was never completed, though. Sonny Curtis: ‘The acoustic guitar at the beginning of ‘Three Steps to Heaven’ is Eddie Cochran and I’m playing electric guitar. He was a tremendous musician, innovative and full of ideas, and I loved his style. Cochran had a lot of drive, but you can’t compare him to Buddy Holly because Buddy was the only guitarist on most of his hit records. He had all the responsibility and he had to make every stroke count. Eddie had other guitarists, so he had more help in the studio.’ 

About 2 weeks before he died, Eddie Cochran was interviewed by a local magazine in the UK. When he was asked about his best friends, he said, ‘Buddy Holly and Vince Eager.’ Buddy Holly was the first rock’n’roll victim, a death that echoed that of 24-year-old James Dean in 1955, the rebel without a cause. Buddy Holly, in contrast, was a rebel with a cause. He was committed to his music and determined not to rest on his laurels and be as innovative as possible in conjunction with a punishing work schedule. Allegedly, The Crickets had phoned the Surf Ballroom but Buddy Holly could not be located. Instead, they called the next venue and left a message for Holly to call them. This seems astonishingly late to be making calls, but these are musicians, after all. Waylon Jennings, of all people, had fuelled controversy around the iffy details of the plane crash, by saying, ‘There’s a good chance that Buddy was flying that plane.’ A good chance? I think it was Waylon who was flying that night! When Buddy Holly died, he didn’t have an enemy in the world–if you don’t count Norman Petty, and who would want to count him? As Sonny Curtis wrote in his song ‘The Real Buddy Holly Story’: "He never knocked nobody down in his life." And that, when you come down to it, matters even more than the music.

With our modern hindsight, some disinformed critics could make the mistake of thinking of Buddy Holly's approach as shy or opaque. But look at Brian Wilson. His abstract songs about girls are the happiest–‘California Girls’ is him just saying what could be better than admiring a chick in a bathing suit? When he got to know girls better, this vision fell to pieces. ‘Caroline No’ and ‘Wendy’ are tragic and tormented. In addition to his astonishing ouvre, Buddy was reportedly working on new compositions with provisional titles as ‘I Feel Good’, ‘Lost Dreams’ and ‘Used-to-be’, chillingly similar to some hits from Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. Philip Norman, biographer of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, describes Buddy Holly’s death as ‘the most famous tragedy in rock history’ which presumably leaves John Lennon's death as the second most famous tragedy. 

Buddy Holly (2010) by Dave Laing: Most biographies start with a defining moment, a key happening in the subject’s life which should intrigue the reader. Unfortunately, Laing discusses the actor-network theory and how it applies to Buddy Holly work. This is because there is so little direct testimony of Buddy Holly's life and so Laing's essay works out as a sort of ventriloquism act. Still, Laing's essay is very good when it comes to analysing the technique of Holly’s compositions, although his form of analysis isn’t for everyone. Laing discusses the religious imagery in Holly’s music (‘You never listen to my prayer’ in ‘Maybe Baby’). He says that ‘Raining In My Heart’ is powered by an extended conceit, making a homology between rain and tears. Laing overreaches at times, when identifying Malinowski's meta messages within Holly's verses, but overall it's an interesting analysis.

In the essay Pity Peggy Sue, by sociologists Barbara Bradby and Brian Torode (Cambridge University Press, 1984), the authors point out "Peggy" as denoting the male confidence and "Sue" as the feminine attributes. Holly’s vocals have three performance modes in this mythical song: normal, falsetto and deep. Jerry Allison: "After I got married, someone told me that I was never in love with Peggy Sue. I was just infatuated, which was a little late for me to discover." Probably, Peggy Sue was more in love with Buddy Holly than Jerry Allison, whom she divorced in 1964. Jerry Allison and his second wife Joanie bought a 50 acre farm in Bon Aqua, Tennessee. According to Jerry Coleman, a former KDAV radio disc jockey in Lubbock, Texas, whose career extended back to 1956, Buddy was 'a good American boy, he could be the nicest but stubborn as hell too'. Coleman thought Buddy seemed infatuated with a girl who had a bad reputation in the Lubbock area. Buddy confessed he was in love with this girl (unhappily married) and met her at the Bamboo Club at night, although it's uncertain on what terms this relationship developed. Jerry Allison didn't give much credit to this story, although Niki Sullivan seemed convinced of the veracity of their clandestine romance. Although Allison seemed to regret his decision of not having backed up Holly against Norman Petty, he has not been too fond of looking back at the past. Possibly, too painful to reckon on having said no to a legend.

The official version of the romance with Maria Elena says that on some unspecified date in June 1958, Buddy paid a visit to Murray Deutch at Peer–Southern in New York. Maria Elena, who was then 25 years old, was a Puerto Rican recepcionist. While waiting, there was an instant spark between Buddy and her. Buddy asked her to go on a date that night. Over dinner, Buddy proposed marriage. Maria Elena thought he was kidding and said he would need her aunt Provi’s permission. At nine o’clock the next morning, Buddy turned up at the apartment of Provi Garcia to confirm his intention of marrying Maria Elena. Over the years, I realized Buddy must have known Maria Elena from his previous visits to Peer–Southern. He could hardly have failed to notice a pretty Latina girl sitting outside Murray Deutch’s door! So I learned about an interview Maria Elena gave to 16 magazine in March 1959 (A Farewell to Buddy Holly), which gives a more plausible account of her whirlwind romance with Buddy. In that interview, Maria Elena says that the pair first met in January 1958, which coincides with the Recording Stars tour (from 8-24 January). She began to think Buddy “was so shy we'd never get beyond the point of greeting each other.”

The spark between them occurred when she was lunching with Jo Harper at Howard Johnson’s and the Crickets, accompanied by Norman Petty, turned up and joined the girls. This would probably have been in late January 1958, around the time of the ‘Rave On’ session. It was after this meeting that Buddy turned to Petty and said: ‘You see that girl? I’m going to marry her.’ It was months later, probably around the time of the Big Beat tour, that Buddy and Maria Elena got closer together and shared a kiss in the back of a taxi. Maria Elena certainly attended one of the early performances of Alan Freed’s Big Beat Show in New York in March 1958, accompanied by Sonny Curtis. While Buddy was touring, they kept in touch by phone three or four times a day, and it was in June, around the ‘Early In The Morning’ session, that they got Aunt Provi’s approval of the marriage. The official version seems to have combined the events of January, March and June 1958 into one hectic couple of days. But whatever the details, Buddy and Maria Elena fell in love, very hard. Music producer Will Bratton (and Doc Pomus' son-in-law) recalls: "Buddy Holly wasn’t dangerous. He was quirky and dressed like a nerd, like the boy that dads want their daughters to marry. He would use folksy, self-deprecating humor on stage. Buddy Holly was in no way a threatening male type at all, but I think his music is very sexy." —"Not Fade Away: The Life and Music of Buddy Holly" (2009) by John Gribbin

Friday, March 22, 2019

Buddy Holly Hall will open in 2020

The fact that so many books still name the Beatles as "the greatest or most significant or most influential" rock band ever only tells you how far rock music still is from being considered as a serious art. Jazz critics have long recognized that the greatest jazz musicians of all times are Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, who were not the most famous or richest or best sellers of their times, let alone of all times. Classical critics rank the highly controversial Beethoven over classical musicians who were highly popular in courts around Europe. Rock critics are still blinded by commercial success. The Beatles sold more hits than anyone else, beside Elvis, and therefore they must have been the greatest? Jazz critics grow up listening to a lot of jazz music of the past, classical critics grow up listening to a lot of classical music of the past. Rock critics are often totally ignorant of the rock music of the past.

And that past is Buddy Holly. Hollywood has yet to produce an authentic portrait of the rock ’n’ roll experience, though it is one of the most emblematic of the twentieth century. The moviemakers’ flirtation with Buddy Holly’s life is a classic example of distortion, simplifying the uneven edges that made a life in rock ’n’ roll so giddy and tragic, and in Holly's case archetypically modern—torn between a yearning for acceptance and a compulsion to destroy all that is false in society. The real Buddy Holly is to be found nowhere in the scarce efforts to represent him on film. Society will begin to apply pressure on the individuals and their partners, from all angles. But some people are bigger than society. Most of us are not. And only a few artists have explored, in clear-sighted or delusional ways, the possibility of an alternative societal model. When some of Buddy Holly's pals from Lubbock teased him about not playing God's approved music, Holly retorted: "If people can't hear God in my music, it's their problem."

If you drive by Downtown Lubbock’s Buddy Holly Hall often, you can see the progress being made. A construction team of nearly 300 workers are responsible for that progress, and hope to present the hall to Lubbock in less than a year and a half. “We’re going to be on the cover of every architectural magazine in the country, for how really cool this staircase is," explains Tim Collins, Chairman of the board for the Lubbock Entertainment and Preforming Arts Association.

That staircase is one that has been designed in the shape of an ellipse, which means, “It’s larger at the second floor and the third floor then it is at the bottom. It’s a great architectural feature that we’re really excited about," says Collins. The larger theater will hold 2,200 people. “Because of the construction of our big theater, this small theater will also be an NC-15, so our school district children will have the opportunity to perform in a hall that is of the same quality as The Lincoln Center or The Kennedy Center.” The Hall is currently being paid for by fundraising, explains Collins. Source:

Delusional thinking is associated with slower alterations in personal belief, a new study reports. People who suffer more delusions also tend to seek out more information prior to making a guess. Delusions are one of the most common symptoms of psychosis, but little is known about what causes them. A new study from researchers at Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute offers insight into the development of delusions. An estimated 80-90 percent of individuals with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders experience delusions—false beliefs that can be distressing and debilitating. “We found that patients who experienced more severe delusions tended to seek more information before making a guess than their less-delusional counterparts. This is a truly novel finding, and it helps confirm the fact that rigidity is an important part of delusional beliefs,” says Horga. This may explain why delusional patients seek more information than non-delusional individuals. Source: Columbia University Irving Medical Center Source:

"There hasn't been anyone that famous in a single moment as he was during 'Thriller' time," Randall Sullivan (author of "Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson") said. "He eventually gave himself the nose of the boy, the young actor Bobby Driscoll, who was the model for Peter Pan in Walt Disney's movie."  There is something about the way Jackson morphed from pretty to disfigured, closer to Joseph Merrick, the medical case study whose “elephant man” bones Jackson swore he never tried to buy. The morphing could have been a result of the pigmentation ailment, vitiligo, that he told Winfrey he suffered from. But what if all of that change he so notoriously underwent, all the damage he seemed to wear on his body, all the creatures his videos turned him into (werewolves, zombies, a panther, a skeleton), what if his outward self became some semiconscious manifestation of a monster that lurked within? Source:

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Ana de Armas to play Marilyn Monroe in "Blonde"

For the last several years, Andrew Dominik has been developing an adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates‘ acclaimed novel Blonde at Netflix, and at long last, he has settled on his Marilyn Monroe. Multiple sources tell Collider that Blade Runner 2049 star Ana de Armas is Dominik’s choice to play the Hollywood icon best known for films such as Some Like It Hot, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Seven Year Itch. Dominik previously told Collider that he believes Blonde “will be one of the ten best movies ever made,” explaining that “it’s a film about the human condition. It tells the story of how a childhood trauma shapes an adult who’s split between a public and a private self. It’s basically the story of every human being, but it’s using a certain sense of association that we have with something very familiar, just through media exposure. It takes all of those things and turns the meanings of them inside out, according to how she feels, which is basically how we live. It’s how we all operate in the world. It just seems to me to be very resonant. I think the project has got a lot of really exciting possibilities, in terms of what can be done, cinematically.”

Sources caution that while Ana de Armas is in early talks, she does not have a closed deal yet, nor has the project been greenlit yet by the streaming company, though others say production could start as soon as this summer. Dominik wrote the script and will produce along with Brad Pitt and Dede Gardner‘s Plan B banner. Blonde follows the talented Norma Jeane Mortenson as she blossoms into movie star Marilyn Monroe. But after a series of failed relationships and heartbreaking tragedy, she spirals into drug addiction and mental instability. The project has had a long development history, with Naomi Watts and Jessica Chastain slated to play Marilyn in past incarnations. De Armas may not have the same wealth of experience as a lead, but she has been making a name for herself as a rising star over the past four years. The Cuban actress broke out in Todd Phillips‘ arms dealer dramedy War Dogs and, perhaps most memorably, as Ryan Gosling‘s holographic love interest Joi in Denis Villenueve‘s Blade Runner 2049. De Armas has already wrapped several high-profile features including Rian Johnson‘s murder mystery Knives Out and Danny Boyle‘s romantic musical YesterdaySource:

"A lush-bodied girl in the prime of her physical beauty. In an ivory georgette crepe sundress with a halter top that gathers her breasts up in soft undulating folds of the fabric. She's standing with bare legs apart on a New York subway grating. Her blond head is thrown rapturously back as an updraft lifts her full, flaring skirt, exposing white cotton panties. The ivory-crepe sundress is floating and filmy as magic." Happiness so acute it was like broken glass in Norma Jeane's mouth. Her waxy-pale skin gave off waves of heat like pavement in summer sun and her eyes!-flirty, slip-sliding and dilated. Norma Jeane stared memorizing what she saw; she was a camera taking snapshots; one day she might be lost and have to find her way back to this place she'd never seen before until this moment, but with Gladys such moments were urgent, highly charged and mysterious, to make your pulse beat hard as with a drug. Familiar, too, was the airless heat of the apartment, for Gladys didn't believe in leaving windows open even a crack while she was away, the pungent odor of coffee grounds, cigarette ashes, scorch, perfume, and that mysterious acrid chemical odor Gladys could never entirely wash away even if she scrubbed at her hands with medicinal soap. Yet these smells were comforting to Norma Jeane for they meant home. Coughing, Gladys seemed to give off a stronger scent of perfume, mingled with that faint sour-lemon chemical odor that seemed absorbed in her skin. 

There were fields of fire, canyons of fire, fireballs like comets within a few miles of Santa Monica. Sparks, borne by the wind like malicious seeds, erupted into flame in the residential communities of Thousand Oaks, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, and Topanga. There were tales of birds bursting into flame in midair. Gladys' face was a waxy-pale cosmetic mask like a mannequin's face, the features highlighted, her perfume sharply sweet, like the decaying oranges in their mostly iceless icebox. Gladys snorted: "Sometimes, Norma Jeane, you sound like such a fool. Like the rest of them." Gladys was committed to the California State Psychiatric Hospital, where her official diagnosis was: "Acute chronic paranoid schizophrenia with alcoholic and drug-induced neurological impairment." Norma Jeane's rage stoked a madness of ambition to revenge herself upon the world by conquering it-however any "world" is "conquered" by an individual who was female, parentless, isolated, and seemingly a solitary insect amid a teeming mass of insects. 

'Yet I will make you all love me,' was then Norma Jeane's threat. Norma Jeane's laugh was odd, unmusical: high-pitched and squeaky as a mouse being stepped on. Marilyn would let pasta boil to a mush if you didn't watch her and she was always dropping things in the kitchen. She couldn't do a risotto, her mind was always drifting off. She tasted something, she didn't know what she was tasting. 'Is it too salty? Does it need salt?' She thought onions and garlic were the same thing! She thought olive oil was the same as melted margarine! She leaved tissues caked with makeup in the bathroom, there were ugly splotches of makeup in the sink, blond hairs in combs and hairbrushes; and scum in the bathtub, unless he cleaned it himself. God damn. Sometimes she forgot to flush the toilet. Almost, it seemed it was ordinary life baffled her. And, that wistful little-girl look in her face, "Daddy, how hard it is to figure what people mean when probably they don't mean anything?" Joe would shake his head, not knowing what the hell to say. He'd dated actresses, models and party girls, and he'd have sworn he knew the personality type, but Marilyn was something else. Like his buddies said, suggestively, giving him a poke in the ribs, 'Marilyn's something else, eh?' Those assholes didn't know the half of it. Sometimes she scared him. Like if an actual doll opened its blue glass eyes and you're expecting baby talk but she says something so weird, and possibly so deep, you can't grasp it.  —"Blonde" (2000) by Joyce Carol Oates.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Dramatic Acting, Rock & Roll, and Heroin: Lou Reed, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain

Examining the neural basis of dramatic acting. While all people play multiple roles in daily life—for example, ‘spouse' or ‘employee'—these roles are all facets of the ‘self' and thus of the first-person perspective. Compared to such everyday role playing, actors are required to portray other people and to adopt their gestures, emotions and behaviours. Consequently, actors must think and behave not as themselves but as the characters they are pretending to be, by assuming a ‘fictional first-person' perspective. Through a series of functional MRI studies, we sought to identify brain regions preferentially activated when actors adopt a Fic1P perspective during dramatic role playing. Compared to responding as oneself, responding in character produced visible reductions in brain activity and deactivations in the cortical midline network of the frontal lobe. Thus, portraying a character through acting seems to be a deactivation-driven process, perhaps representing a ‘loss of self'. Dramatic acting is the process of portraying a character in the context of a theatrical performance. However, theatre is not the only context in which role playing occurs in human life. Acting can be thought of as a form of pretence, in particular the act of pretending to be someone who the actor is not. This idea is central to the acting method derived from the writings of Stanislavski that dominates the teaching and practice of acting in North America. Despite the central importance of role playing to social interaction, the topic of role playing has scarcely been examined in experimental psychology or cognitive neuroscience. Instead, there is a large literature devoted to the perceptual phenomenon of theory-of-mind, which is the process of inferring the intentions, thoughts and emotions of other people. It is about decoding the intentions of others, and displaying those intentions to people in the context of a theatrical performance.

In a general sense, acting methods can be polarized along the lines of being either ‘outside-in' or ‘inside-out', although these approaches are thought of by most acting theorists as complementary methods for getting into character. Outside-in approaches are gestural methods that emphasize the physical and expressive techniques of the actor. In contrast to this, inside-out approaches are psychological methods that rely on perspective-taking and identification with the character. The Stanislavski's approach is strongly oriented towards interpreting the motivations and emotions of the character and in using this information as a means for identifying with the character. Actors appear to be living through the performance as if the events were happening to them. Achieving this can involve a large degree of 3P perspective-taking with the character. However, it is important to keep in mind that, while the process of assuming a 3P perspective on a character may be a central part of the preparatory phrase of learning a role, it should not, according to Stanislavski's method, be an active process during a performance itself. The commonly understood goal of method acting is for the actor to ‘become' the character in performance. The principal objective of the current study was to examine dramatic acting for the first time using functional neuroimaging methods. The imaging results showed that acting led to deactivations in brain areas involved in self processing. This might suggest that acting, as neurocognitive phenomenon, is a suppression of self processing. The major increase in activation associated with role change was seen in the posterior part of the precuneus. If so, then the deactivations seen in the prefrontal cortex for acting would represent a loss of self processing related to a trait-based conception of the self.

The more that someone portrays another person, the fewer the resources there are to devote to him/herself. Certain entertainers, such as ventriloquists, rapidly switch between the self and a character within the time frame of a dialogue. Regardless of whether the relative increase in activation for the precuneus for acting was due to a decrease in deactivation the question we have to address is what processes activate the precuneus. The precuneus is a component of the dorsal attentional network of the brain, a network that is involved in functions such as attentional orienting, episodic retrieval and mental imagery. It is telling to point out that acting theorists for over a century have talked about the ‘split consciousness' involved in the process of acting. The actor has to be himself and someone else at the same time, and this could lead to a splitting of attentional resources devoted to the focalization of attention and consciousness. This is not simply the ‘divided attention' of multi-tasking procedures, but a fundamental split of resources devoted to a maintenance of one's identity as a conscious self. According to this interpretation, activation of the precuneus would represent a dispersion of self-related attentional resources, whereas deactivation would represent a focalization or internalization of such resources. Neither gestural modification in the form of a foreign accent nor other-orientation in the form of 3P mentalizing had an influence on this neural mechanism, whereas the explicit psychological process of role change through character portrayal did, perhaps resulting in the double consciousness that acting theorists talk about. Again, acting was the only condition in which self-identity was explicitly split during the task. We argued that the loss of deactivation in the precuneus for acting might represent a departure from a unified and focalized sense of consciousness, towards the dual consciousness that typically characterizes dramatic acting. The most surprising finding of the study was that gestural changes while still maintaining the self-identity led to a pattern of deactivations similar to that for acting. This study was approved by the Hamilton Integrated Research Ethics Board, St Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton (protocol no. 10-3457). Source:

Although we have slowly come to recognize the opioid epidemic as the Western world’s most perilous health crisis, things are getting worse. The National Safety Council recently reported that opioid addiction has become so pervasive that Americans are now more likely to die from an opioid overdose than an automobile accident. As history has demonstrated resoundingly, The Beatles were no strangers to drug experimentation. They had become veteran pill-poppers during their days in Hamburg’s seedy postwar clubs, seeking out amphetamines to increase their stamina during those long nights on the Reeperbahn. Later, marijuana would come into their lives by way of Bob Dylan in August 1964. In the coming years, they would make international headlines for tripping out on LSD, and in the summer of 1968, as the Beatles had toiled in the studio to record The White Album, they would engage in an extended dalliance with cocaine.

However, Lennon’s addiction left his bandmates in a state of alarm. By the advent of the "Get Back" sessions, Yoko Ono openly joked about taking heroin being the couple’s form of exercise. “The two of them were on heroin,” said McCartney, “and this was a fairly big shocker for us because we all thought we were far-out boys, but we kind of understood that we’d never get quite that far out.” Lennon later claimed that the couple’s addiction developed in the wake of a hashish raid on his Montagu Square flat by Detective-Sergeant Norman Pilcher’s notorious drugs squad. Lennon attributed Ono’s mid-November 1968 miscarriage to the raid’s aftermath, later remarking that “we were in real pain” after the loss of their baby. Yet at other times, he would attribute his flirtation with heroin to his bandmates’ refusal to accept Ono as their equal. But in truth, Lennon’s experimentation with the drug had begun much earlier—“I never injected,” he liked to say. “Just sniffing, you know.” But as journalist Ray Connolly observed, Lennon “rarely did anything he liked by halves. Before long, heroin would become a problem for him.”

When the Beatles finally got to the business of recording "Abbey Road," Lennon’s participation was delayed by a harrowing automobile accident in Scotland that left him and Ono briefly hospitalized and riddled with stitches. When he finally joined the other Beatles towards mid-July, he had a bed from Harrods installed in the studio to allow Ono to convalesce within easy reach. Lennon’s mood swings and absenteeism—the ups and downs of his erratic behavior—were likely the result of their protracted heroin use. As music historian Barry Miles later wrote, “The other Beatles had to walk on eggshells just to avoid one of his explosive rages. Whereas in the old days they could have tackled him about the strain that Yoko’s presence put on recording, now it was impossible because John was in such an unpredictable state and so obviously in pain.” Years later, American actor Dan Richter, a friend of Ono’s, recalled making his way inside EMI Studios to provide Ono with the Lennons’ latest fix. “It felt weird to be sitting on the bed talking to Yoko while the Beatles were working across the studio,” said Richter. “We wouldn’t kick it in a hospital because we wouldn’t let anybody know,” said Ono. “We just went straight cold turkey.” Lennon reportedly ordered Ono to tie him up to a chair. For some 36 hours, he roiled in pain as he attempted to rid the drug from his system.

In an effort to memorialize his recent experience trying to shake his heroin addiction, Lennon composed “Cold Turkey,” a song that illustrated the excruciating throes of heroin withdrawal in brutal detail: “My feet are so heavy / So is my head / I wish I was a baby / I wish I was dead.” But the composer’s triumph over the drug would be dishearteningly short-lived. By the time he debuted the song for Bob Dylan a few days later, he was snorting heroin yet again. It would take several more attempts for Lennon to beat the drug. In September 1980, he lamented that back in 1969 the BBC banned “Cold Turkey” from the radio airwaves “even though it's antidrug.” Even then—long before our contemporary opioid crisis took flight—Lennon intuited society’s inability to understand, much less combat addiction. “They’re so stupid about drugs,” he exclaimed. “They’re not looking at the cause of the drug problem: Why do people take drugs? To escape from what? Is life so terrible? Are we living in such a terrible situation that we can’t do anything without reinforcement of alcohol, tobacco? Aspirins, sleeping pills, uppers, downers, never mind the heroin and cocaine—they’re just the outer fringes of Librium and speed.” Source:

Kurt Cobain was probably the last rock star when rock music actually mattered as a cultural force. Cobain was the last rock star who (unwittingly) embodied all the profound contradictions of The Rock Star mythology as we know it. He was good-looking, a delicate soul, with an ear for melody and gift for crafting lyrics in a singular way, who both embraced and rejected much of the mythology of rock and roll. He wanted it, and he hated it. He had a great voice and he wasn't afraid to use it to express his inner anguish. Beyond that, he seemed a confused, retiring, angry kid who never got over his parents' divorce and their subsequent (perceived) rejection of him as a teenager. That feeling of rejection uniquely informed his character, and people really latched onto it. Cobain redefined what "rock star" could mean, and all of a sudden a rock star meant someone like him, so a rock star could be an anti-star. This contradiction has stayed with us ever since. Cobain wrote that he first had used heroin in Aberdeen in the late eighties; but former friends contest this, since he had a fear of needles at the time and there was no heroin to be found in his circle. He did occasionally take Percodan in Aberdeen, a prescription narcotic.

In early November 1990, he overcame his fear of needles and first injected heroin with a friend in Olympia, after his break-up with his first official girlfriend Tobi Vail from Bikini Kill. He found that the drug’s euphoric effects helped him temporarily escape both his heartache and his stomach pain. The next day, Kurt phoned Krist Novoselic. “Hey, Krist, I did heroin.” Krist cited his Olympia friends who had died of heroin addiction and warned Kurt that heroin wasn’t like the other drugs he’d done. “I remember literally telling him that he was playing with dynamite.” But the warning fell on deaf ears. Though Kurt promised Krist he wouldn’t try the drug again, he broke this promise. To avoid Krist’s or Grohl’s finding out, Kurt used the drug at friends’ houses. He found a dealer who was selling at Evergreen State College in Olympia. On December 11, 1990, Kurt sought medical help for his stomach condition, seeing a doctor in Tacoma. This time Kurt was prescribed Lidox, a form of clidinium. The drug didn’t seem to help his pain, and he discontinued it two weeks later when he got bronchitis. The year ended with a New Year’s Eve show in Portland at the Satyricon. According to his biographer Christopher Sandford, who painted an unflattering portrait of the grunge superstar: “Cobain was easily led, self-obsessed, and he lacked anything resembling an ethical centre. Cobain was also sick with a bipolar disorder resulting in alternate bouts of depression and mania. In certain circles, pain is thought to equal integrity; in other circles, pain is mistaken for art.”

On the 25th anniversary of his death comes a new perspective on Kurt Cobain. With candor, honesty and empathy, Danny Goldberg, one of Nirvana’s managers from 1990 to 1994, shares his memories of his brief but momentous time with Kurt in Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain. When Goldberg agreed to take on Nirvana, he had no idea that Cobain would become a pop-culture icon with a legacy arguably at the level of that of John Lennon or Elvis Presley. Kurt’s public struggles with addiction ended in a devastating suicide that would alter the course of rock history. Drawing on Goldberg’s own memories of Kurt, files that previously have not been made public, and interviews with Kurt’s close family, friends, and former bandmates, Serving the Servant sheds an entirely new light on these critical years. Casting aside the common obsession with the angst and depression that seemingly drove Kurt, Goldberg's account is an exploration of his compassion, his ambition, and the legacy he wrought. “Media depictions of Kurt typically focus on the tragedy of his death. While it is impossible to ignore the inner demons which tormented him, in researching Serving the Servant I have been more often reminded of Kurt’s brilliance, his sense of humour and his kindness to most of those around him. He was so complex, but I hope I am able to add another dimension to Kurt’s legacy.” Source:

Lou Reed was one of the most intelligent Rock musicians, a sardonic, world-weary chronicler of underground culture and the dark side of human nature. Lewis Allan Rudnitsky, the accountant’s son from Long Island, brough to light a fertile schizophrenia fueled by a restless creative energy. Reed was able to intermingle the contradictory aspects of his personality—downtown bohemian and middle class intellectual—into a complex and controversial figure that combined poetry with rock ’n’ roll. One quick story serves as a paradigm of his self-destructive impulses. In the autumn of 1963, when Reed was 21, he drove to St Lawrence University in upstate New York with his college band The Eldorados to perform at a fraternity weekend. His bandmate Richard Mishkin and Reed had a quarrel before the concert. ‘Mishkin, fuck you!’ an exasperated Reed retorted, thrusting his right hand through a glass door. Lou laughed as he looked at the injury he had done to himself, blood streaming down his arm as he held his hand up. ‘Because he didn’t have to play now,’ explains Richard, who took Lou to hospital for stitches, ‘He had won!’ As he would show time and again, Lou would rather harm himself than be coerced into doing anything he didn’t want to. Such integrity is a mark of a true artist. It also helps explain why Lou never achieved as much success as he deserved.

Shelley Albin was intrigued by Lou Reed from the start. ‘I knew from the second I met him this wasn’t an ordinary person.’ One of the first things he told her was the story of his Electroshock Therapy. ‘That was like his introductory bit. “This horrible thing happened to me… I’m tortured, and I don’t have any memory, and I’m a little weird, and just a little dangerous.”’ Lou Reed had an active heterosexual life in college and afterwards, so much so that former girlfriends like Shelley struggle to see him as bisexual or gay. ‘I never thought of him as being gay at all, or even bisexual.’ Rather, it seemed to Shelley, and women who came after her, that Lou flirted with homosexuality to create an image and get a reaction. ‘He always walked in a very effeminate way, but that was a very studied thing, like a joke,’ Shelley says. A former Lou's college friend, Richard Sigal, opines: "Lou Reed ended up getting married three times. So he obviously liked women." Lou's parents were evidently pleased that he had brought Shelley home. His father increased his allowance so Lou could take her out, and offered the couple the use of the family car. They dated as a couple on/off at Syracuse and afterwards, but Shelley chose not to take things further. ‘He couldn’t understand why we couldn’t just pick up again. He was really pissed at me for twenty years.’ She had decided that Lou was not the man she wanted to spend her life with, marry, or have children with. Lou never had children, and Shelley thinks that was wise. ‘I think he toyed with the idea of having a child by then, he brought the issue up [in the early 60s]’ Shelley says, but she decided that someone who couldn’t even look after himself was not the fatherly type.

Lou seemed to remain infatuated with Shelley, never wanting to understand why she'd left him. As late as the 1980s, when he was middle-aged and famous, he was still phoning her, maybe trying to win her back again, and asking her advice about his imminent wedding to Sylvia Morales. Despite his evident fascination with gay life, Lou’s relationships had been primarily and possibly exclusive with girls during the 60s. One of his conquests was the future journalist Barbara Hodes. Soon after his break-up with Shelley he started to date Erin Clermont, a likeable, gamine girl with an infectious sense of fun who also attended Delmore Schwartz’s classes. They were going to have an unusually long relationship, lasting until the early 1990s. Sylvia didn't know of their clandestine affair, Erin believes: ‘From the day I met him I accepted him as this complicated, different guy,’ says Erin, who told Shelley as soon as she had slept with Lou. The girls remained friends, often discussing Lou, who fascinated them both. Although Shelley knew him first, Erin maintained the longest relationship. ‘I was eternally interested in him, not in love with him, although we did love each other. There were periods when he gave me the impression of having little or no interest in sex.’ Although no longer an item, Lou and Shelley remained in touch, and she says that he had ‘really got heavy into heroin’ around the spring of 1964. In his final months at Syracuse, Lou wrote ‘Heroin’, describing what it feels like to inject and get high on heroin in language that is convincing, thrilling and scary.

The tension between Lou and Nico had eased briefly after they slept together. ‘I fell in love with him. He was so beautiful, and very tough, tough like a statue,’ was how Nico explained her feelings for Lou. Nico was a fabulist and spoke English ponderously with a heavy German accent. ‘I thought Lou was in love with her,’ says Richard Mishkin. ‘Lou was just completely stunned by her, and could never quite figure what was going on.’ Despite the fact that Nico was sleeping with Lou and had a child by Alain Delon, a rumour swept The Factory that she was a lesbian. Mary Woronov had designs on Lou and disliked Nico. Brigid Berlin from The Factory said: ‘Lou was a very strange person. I had a lot of fun with him, but he had a cranky side. Lou had an act going all the time.’ In his struggle to conquer his bad habits, Lou became depressed and was diagnosed as suffering with bipolar disorder. On 3 June 1980 Lou visited Erin Clermont to tell her about the diagnosis, adding that he was taking Lithium for his problem. Lithium salts have been used since the 19th century as a treatment for depression and manic behaviour, but overuse can result in lethargy and serious side effects. From what Erin could see, lithium ‘completely fucked him up.’

Talking about Like a Possum and its similar structure to Sister Ray, Reed explained: ‘It’s like watching a really good movie. You know it isn’t real. But at a certain point, if it’s really done well, you feel you’re there.’ ‘His paranoia sucks the life out of you,’ groaned a writer for The Times after a typically frustrating encounter with Lou in 2012. Lou Reed had no patience for journalists who asked him questions he had been asked too often. His crustiness was, to some extent, the carapace of an insecure, emotionally fragile man who was seldom at ease with journalists, distrusting their motives. Never a great interviewee like Bob Dylan or John Lennon, Reed once said: ‘I get nervous about interviews.’ Lou admitted: ‘I wanted to be an actor. That was my real goal. But I wasn't any good at it, so I wrote my own material and acted through that. That's my idea of fun. I get to be all these things in my songs.’ As Lou's sister Bunny wrote: ‘In his heart, my brother was a profoundly good, moral person.’ —"The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed" (2009) by Dave Thompson