Foto by tgw, New York City, 2010
Breakfast With Kitty Kelly
I was in Allentown, P.A., all day yesterday (Saturday, April 24). First time I'd ever been (pointing west) "over there," as a person living in New York City would refer to it--in its direction rather than actually where it is. Pennsylvania is a big old rambling state. There are parts of it north of New York City, parts of it west of New York City, and parts of it south of New York City. Yet, I still think of it as being "that way" (pointing west). Even Philadelphia is "over there" to me, which is south of me as I sit here at this machine--and don't get me started on computers--I'm pissed off at PCs this week--now the fur on the back of my neck is rising and my snarl is revealing my extra-long canine teeth dripping with venom.
All of that to get back to Allentown, P.A. and all day yesterday.
I was in Allentown with a couple of my old musician buddies and friends of many years attending of all things a paper show, one of the biggest and best in the East (don't get me into defining what I think is east of me--though it is interesting. Like right now I'm thinking of what's east of me and all I can think of is the East River, though the following are east of me, Queens, Brooklyn, Long Island, Montauk, the Atlantic Ocean, Iceland, my true love...to name a few, and yet I can only think as far as the East River. Manhattanites, thinking Manhattan is the center of the universe, especially are so inwardly thinking all the time. Inwardly thinking about outward appearances, I might add.
One of these friends, my old drummer friend, is into airline-related paper: post cards, tickets, on-board passes, ticket holders, schedules...the works. He'd brought 500 smackers with him; that was his limit. The other friend, Major Contay of Canebrake Rattler fame, when talking about his paper interests, pulled me aside and in a low voice told me he was into serious paper. What's serious paper? I asked. And he answered, like pages out of old books. Aha, like a page of an old 17th Century bible? Well, you're on the right track but way off really. Turns out he collects handwritten and hand-painted (illustrated) pages out of 12th, 13th, and 14th Century prayer books or sermons which the monastery monks used to create--all by hand--and by special commission, prayer books (Book of Hours, I think they're referenced as) for both church and secular royalty. These were very expensive made-to-order items even in those Medieval times. But then the Major is a collector whole hog. Though he totally denies that he is a collector since he thinks of himself more as a museum director (and he is a legitimate museum director and it is his own museum), meaning he's simply purchasing things for his museum, which is his collection, thus making the museum the collector and not he.
Jesus, I get enswirled in the eddys of my own stream of consciousness; yet sending sentences out like lariats trying to rope in a reader is the bright light I'm following--and oh my God, now I'll have to aside to a comment about my bright light theory of genuine reflection.
I, though most people don't know me as a collector, am, though I wasn't in Allentown for the paper show. I was in Allentown because I had never hung out with these two characters from my past life as a New York City musician and band singer together at the same time before. Plus since all three of us had a very close relationship with the late great Bob Guida (a true man of all seasons), it had the potential of becoming a hell of'a musician-bullshit-session as we drove over and back to and from the paper show. And, folks, to old musicians there's nothing more fun than reminiscing about our pasts--story after story--"Do you remember when we played Paradise Alley out in Queens?" "Yeah, the night we did 'My Gal Is Red Hot' for 15 minutes and you were playing that fucking Korg remote keyboard." "Yeah, I was there...I was there, guys...remember the fight and that Marine they almost beat to death...he was sitting out on the curb bleeding like a motherfucker wearing his gyrene uniform, remember, and we had to move him out of the way to get our equipment into Bob's van...."
So that's what I was doing in Allentown, P.A. all day yesterday.
I didn't get back from Allentown until around 9 last night--they dropped me off a little before 34th and Broadway and I took advantage of that to walk up to Broadway, put my back up against the side of Macy's and look at it--Herald Square--in all its old glory--on the left was once the New York Herald Tribune newspaper building; Horace Greeley's newspaper. And then I walked down Broadway (or sadly what our mall-mad mayor has left of it) to Greeley Square and that little park there under the statue of old Horace himself sitting in a big office chair--the statue all green with patina like the nice little park is green with trees and shrubs and flowers in pots. And I sat there and looked back up toward the Firemen's Memorial Clock Monument that sits right across from Macy's front door. So I didn't get in my apartment until around 10. Next thing I know, I'm waking up this Sunday morning.
I walked up to Fifth Avenue and got my morning breakfast, a pecan roll, a pomegranate juice, and a Styrofoam cup of strong coffee and came back and climbed back into bed and flipped on the old teevee. Boom, crackle, and bam, up popped the CBS "Sunday Morning" show--remember it was started by old Charlie Kurault--remember, Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. Sophisticated, Mr. Know-it-all--turned out he was a bigamist--had a wife he kept on his Montana ranch unbeknownst to his New York City wife. What a life these overpaid talking heads have--a lot of them started as weathermen--what a drain on our economy to have to give these celebrity phonies these expensive, big tax-break, privileged lives?
And it was on "Sunday Morning" (now hosted by a true American fop who still wears a bowtie to get him the right sophisticated attention) that I spied a segment on the great Kitty Kelly. And immediately the "reporter" interviewing her (a cool thirtyish blonde, I thought; I was more interested in her than I was Kitty Litter Kelly) started grilling Kelly on her surefire new bestseller big fat bullshit celeb gossip book just out. Another one of Kitty Litter's trademarked "unauthorized biographies," this latest one ditching the dirt on our billionairess, big, fat, cow Oprah Winfrey (I call her what I see--she's on her way to matching Aretha Franklin in a most obese celebrity race--I mean Oprah could now play Precious herself in that precious movie she just backed for big-time bucks). I'm sitting there watching this crap, not pissed off at Kitty Kelly, hell, she's a successful American author--I'm jealous as hell, but wondering who in the holiest of fucks is excited by a rumor as to whether or not Oprah's mother lied to her about her worthless real father--or Kitty Litter's hinting that Oprah and her gal-pal Gayle, also becoming a fat-cow, are secretly licking each other's pussies--while Steadman, who we all know is gay (don't quote me on that), watches--isn't presenting this kind of shit as news actually a form of human degeneration? End-times worship of these filthy rich beings as gods and goddesses, these filthy rich personalities who on becoming richer and richer get filthier and filthier in their attitudes and habits as well--and how these clowns, these teevee talk show hosts, especially Oprah, lecture you on how to live your life according to theirs--blah-blah-blah--and yet look at how they get to live life--they can balloon up to 200 pounds and then balloon down to 160 pounds only to balloon back up to 215, while traveling around the world blowing money on shopping sprees, staying at fabulously expensive hotels and spas--Oprah brags about visiting P Diddy and his several illegitimate children and his not-yet-married-to wife in St. Tropez--P Diddy's another filthy rich slime-ball motherfucker--don't get me started on these creepy celebrities. Oprah and P Diddy and Jay-Z and all these people are worth enough money they could rebuild Haiti out of their pocket change--and instead, what do they do with their fabulous wealth--blow it on pleasure, baby. And so would I, I don't deny that. And I am jealous, as an artist, of how richly these to me untalented people are rewarded.
Kitty Kelly doesn't bother me at all. Kitty came to Washington, D.C., believe it or not as an aide to Senator Eugene McCarthy--old "Get Clean for Gene"--the poet candidate for President. Then she went to work at the Washington Post (that rag of a worthless newspaper). Her first celebrity dirt book was her Jackie Oh! in which she supposedly ditched a whole frontloader's worth of dirt on the lullaby-brained Jackie Kennedy, later Onassis (and check out depressed Jackie Oh's machinations against poor old Maria Callas in stealing from her the slimy, greaseball, Ari (headed) Onassis. The big accusation in that first Kitty Litter unauthorized biography was that Jackie Oh had gone through electro-shock treatments for her depression. She seemed to get over her depression mucho pronto after JFK was in his eternally enflamed grave.
Oh how trivial and boring. Who the fuck gives one fucking bullshit crap in hell about whether Oprah Winfrey's father was a black snake or whether she and her gal pal Gayle are burying their faces in each other's vaginas?
I had a ball at that paper show in Allentown, P.A. by the way. On the way home, like all collectors and museum directors, we all took out our buys and started telling wowser tales about the buying of each one. The Major was the most excited. He scored big by finding a whole slew of treasures--which he paid dearly for--including 5 or 6 pages from the Book of Hours--his most treasured a small page handtexted and handpainted by monks in Ghent from the 12th Century--all handwritten in black ink--all designs done by hand in gold leaf and the very expensive aquamarine color, which, according to the Major, the monks fought over in terms of getting their hands on it. I was pretty excited when he pulled out a big double-page hand-done copy of a Gregorian chant--only the three-line staff had been invented by then--the five-line staff coming later. The pages had to be large enough so they could be read by the chanters easily. The Major scored bigger than the drummer or I did. The drummer scored big, though, too, when one of his airline postcard dealers took him out to his van and brought out a trophy for him to contemplate buying--a Trans-World Airline silver-plated coffee pot (what the stewardess (bar maid in the sky) poured your coffee out of when she waited on you--"Freshen up your coffee, sir?).
And, me, did I score? You bet I did. I bought three old 1941 Metronome magazines and some old mills (state sales tax tokens), one a red plastic one from Oklahoma like the kind my father used to give me to play with when I was a little man in Enid, Oklahoma. But my big find was in a Philadelphia book dealer's booth. The Major was already sitting in this guy's booth bullshitting with him over some items he'd found in the guy's collection--they were items having to do with Hawaiian steel guitars, one a brochure on Hawaiian guitars by the greatest Hawaiian guitar player ever, Sol Oopie (pronounced "Oh-Ohpie"). The bookseller turned out to be a nice guy, from Philadelphia, a book dealer by expertise who had just recently gotten into Afro-American paper collectibles--right off I noticed a great Nat "King" Cole Trio poster (from 1942) on his booth wall. I sat down and started getting into the bullshit. The dealer was a blues enthusiast and he had some photographs of an old Phillie blues guitarist street musician who not only was blind but had lost his first two fingers of his picking hand--the Major knew all about the guy. Then the Major officially introduced me to this guy. Bob was his name. And Bob said he and the Major had been talking about me--the Major telling him stories about me before I got there. "Was it true Sonny Boy Williamson the 2nd taught you how to play the harmonica?" And I spieled out that story and then he asked me, "Well, do you collect like the Major?" and I told him I'd recently gotten into jazz photographs from the golden age by photogs like William Claxton, etc. He said, "Look over there in that box. There's a huge lot of prints from a photographer I know nothing about, Hans Knopf...." "Oh yeah," pipes up the Major, "check out those pictures of Leadbelly in there."
The first print I saw was of a black woman with a flower in her hair singing live with the Babe Russo Band, an all White band, at the Sherman House in Chicago. I knew she looked familiar--I turned it over and Hans had marked it "Billie Holiday at the Sherman House, 1941." Holy shit. I dug deeper. And then I saw them. There they were, several prints of Hudie Ledbetter performing on his 12-string live with another guitarist accompanying him on a 6-string. I flipped it over. Hans had marked it "Hudie Ledbetter at Village Vanguard with Josh White." There was no date on it, but I know for sure about when that famous event happened. I immediately thought of L Hat's ( www.languagehat.com ) lovely wife's father, the great Richard Dyer-Bennet (never with two ts, please), and how he was on that same bill with Hudie during that time at the Vanguard--and I was thinking, heck fire, surely Dick Dyer-Bennet was there when this photo was taken and L Hat's wife was a baby then who went along with her father and mother to his gigs and they made her a bed in her father's guitar case backstage.
From 25 November, 1941, until the spring of 1944, Huddie performed a great deal at the Village Vanguard, which is located in Greenwich Village on Seventh Avenue at 11th Street. In it's Night Life listings, the New Yorker magazine described the Vanguard as "a low-ceilinged cellar spot, specializing in folk singers." After the war began, the place was often referred to as being "something like an air-raid shelter, except for Huddie Ledbetter singing folk songs." At the beginning, Huddie shared the billing with "Joshua White and other folk singers."
Excerpt from a nice blog: misterhuddie.blogspot.com/ So I've narrowed my photograph down to 1941 to 1944--probably 1941. One reason I think it's from 1941 is because the next Hans Knopf's print I saw in this box I wanted was of Peewee Russell the great wonderful old jazz clarinetist and artist--live at some gig, and on the back it's marked "Peewee Russell 1941."
I picked out what I thought was the coolest Hudie (I've always spelled it Hudie, but a lot of people spell it with two Ds. I think Hudie is correct, but then I always thought Richard Dyer-Bennet's spelled Bennet with two ts and I was wrong on that count) and the Peewee. How much, I asked: "$40 for the two." But when I fished my money out of my pocket, I found I only had 40 bucks left to my name--and we still had to get back to New York City. "Shit," I said, "I can only afford one...I'll take the Hudie...." "Take 'em both for twenty," Bob the Book Dealer said. Which I did. And I'm glad I did because they look fabulous hanging on my apartment wall. Check out my treasures:
There's Peewee Russell, taken in 1941 by Hans Knopf. I'll have to research it--find out where in NYC Peewee was playing in '41--probably with the Eddie Condon Band--I don't recognize the bass player.
And that's my real treasure, Hudie playing his 12-string Stella guitar, with Josh White (Joshua White at first) accompanying him on a 6-string at the Village Vanguard--dig that mural. I assume since most of these prints were marked 1941, that's when this one was taken, too--Josh was billed along with him then. Hudie died in New York City. His body was taken back to Louisiana to be buried.
Hans Knopf, though there's not much personal info about him, in 1941 was a staff photographer for PIX. During those years his work was in publications all over the place. In later life, Hans became a sports photographer on the first Sports Illustrated staff, where he was from 1956 until 1964 when he died. Hans was celebrity famous when he married Amy Vanderbilt, called the Staten Island Vanderbilt. Hans and Amy lived life to the fullest!
And that's the story of my trip to Allentown, P.A.
And as far as Kitty Kelly is concerned: "Right on, Kitty," milk these sorry celebrity worshipping trash for all there spare monies. Like who in his right mind would pay $35 to read trash about Oprah Winfrey? I say take that person out in the back alley and give a good beating before you rob 'em blind. Don't worry, they can always become street musicians. Maybe I'll photograph them one day down in the subway.
for The Sunday Daily Growler