Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Living in New York City With the Cemeteries Filling Up

Foto by tgw, New York City, 2010
Today: FRIDAY, June 4th, 2010, is the second anniversary of the death of George Carlin. George was one of the deepest thinkers America ever produced--a master of logic and hypothetically conceived ironies all accumulating in long stretches of brilliant analysis as to just what makes the United States of America's citizens so god-damn gullible and stupid and unattentive and uncaring and with such "fuck them, it's all about me" attitudes. Here's an example of one of George's brilliant weavings of thought:

“The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A Death! What's that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you're too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating...

...and you finish off as an orgasm.”

----------------------------------------------and now back to our story:
And Then They Were Gone

One of my own kind, jazz pianist Hank Jones, died last week. Hank Jones first entered my life while I was in college. I saved up $3.50 out of the money my parents were sending me to live on--I swear it was $3.00 a week--and they bitched about that--and I called my hometown record shop owner, a wonderful cosmopolitan woman named Bea, and special ordered a Storyville LP featuring Zoot Sims and Bob Brookmeyer. I'd only recently gotten into Zoot, plus I'd heard Bob Brookmeyer with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet one time and I knew he was different in jazz because he played a valve trombone, and I'd seen this record reviewed in Down Beat, then I'd sent Dick Martin down in New Orleans a request to play it on his 11 pm jazz radio show, and he played it--he always played my requests--he called me "Doc Wolf"--and he played the first track, Basie's "The King," and it really swung and I decided it was a record I had to have. I still clearly remember the day the record arrived. I eagerly cut open the mailer and took the record out of its sleeve and soon it was blasting through my off-campus room and out the window and through the trees and over toward the girl's dorm that was just up the street from the boarding house in which I was playing the record loudly and listening to it with a great energetic digging, fingerpopping, ooh-shooby-doobin' along, Lester Youngin' with Zoot and blowin' trombone sounds through my lips mimicking Bob Brookmeyer--with an OK bass from Bill Crow and as I was excited to see that the drummer was one of the all-time greats, Papa Jo Jones--all chordally topped with a bright sparkling John-Lewis-type (pianist-leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet) piano of--"Who is that pianist?"--I picked up the album sleeve and saw it was Hank Jones.

Hank Jones wasn't a bombastic pianist like Oscar Peterson. Nor was he virtuosic like Oscar or Art Tatum or Nat Cole. He wasn't as facile and quick as Bud Powell. The only one I could compare him to, like I said, was John Lewis of the MJQ [Modern Jazz Quartet]. These guys played right. Right on the notes. Right on the beat. Hank Jones knew tons of riffs and tons of tunes and he was the perfect pianist to work with the mellow thumping of Bill Crow and the high drivin'/ridin' drums of the master Jo Jones.

Hank made it to 92. Some jazz guys seem blessed with longevity. Red Norvo lived into his 90s. Les Paul (at one time the house guitarist with Jazz at the Philharmonic (great interplay between Les and the early JATP pianist Nat "King" Cole on one of the earliest JATP recordings) was able to hit 90. Andy Kirk (Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy) lived into his 90s. So it wasn't that I mourned Hank for dying before his time. It's just that his passing reminds me of how most of these men and women who I thought of as mentors, teachers, gurus, inspirers are now gone. Oscar Peterson's gone, dying only a couple of years ago. Terry Pollard died last year. As did Jimmy Guiffre. Herbie Ellis just died a few weeks back. And Ed Thigpen died just a few weeks ago. And Johnny Griffin died last year. Mingus is long gone. Miles is long gone. Dizzy's long gone. Coltrane's long-long gone. Parker's been gone so long he's mythical. Bird. An old jazz fan and player like me can't get Bird as God out of my head. He's the heavyweight champion; the undefeated heavyweight champion. I wonder if Bird has that much power over today's young jazzmakers?

But even outside of jazz, hell, Gary Coleman died this week. I got used to him being a little spoiled asshole--sometimes totally Hollywood hilarious in his goofy attempts at keeping his show-biz image alive. He did it by punching out people--especially women. Or he did it by fighting with his parents--all child stars at some time or another claim their parents stole all their child star big bucks--or something worse like abused them some way. Remember when Roseanne Barr tried to regenerate her fading career by announcing that her father, a drab sort of tired-looking hungover man, had sexually molested her in the cradle? She remembered it suddenly--she'd often privately wondered what had made her so butterball fat and sexually unattractive most of her life--so she figured it out--her father had sexually molested her in the cradle with her mother approving of it. This so outraged the self-centered Roseanne, she denounced her parents as "gone" out of her life and to prove it she dropped Barr from her name and became just simple old Roseanne. Her father, this so tired-looking drab dude, was crushed. He didn't know how to respond to it, so he just disappeared from the scene--left humiliated by his celebrity daughter.

The fatties of Hollywood. All fatties have emotional problems. And, yes, I'm talking about fatty men, too. I watched recently poor old sad Carnie Wilson trying to make another one of her "poor little old spoiled me" comebacks by reappearing on the scene once again back dealing with her seemingly permanent overweight condition. Carnie (pronounced like "meat" in Spanish) is even bigger and fatter than ever now. Bigger and fatter even than she got after her last stomach stapling episode.

All the Hollywood fatties die young. So who of them live good long lives in Hollywood? How about Mae West. Mae lived way up into her 80s--hell she was doing a Vegas act almost nude when she was in her late seventies. Greta Garbo lived to be 90. Marlena Dietrich lived into her 90s. Tallulah Bankhead, too, a neurotic sot of a woman. Bette Davis even smoking 3 packs a day lived into her seventies. Or Kathryn Hepburn. Katie lived to be 90. Never an ounce of fat on Katie Hepburn's rail-like body. Old swashbuckling Cary Grant lived a good full 80-plus years. And old George Burns lived up right at 100, as did Bob Hope. It's not that these people took good care of themselves--naw, some people just live good long lives while others--well, you know the alternative. Thus proving taking care of your health doesn't matter in terms of celebrity longevity. Check out old Liz Taylor. I mean here's a woman who has lived life at the pedal-to-the-medal hilt, starting when she became a star at 15 in National Velvet, then going her jolly way marrying and divorcing and marrying again, and playing whore roles, and fucking all her co-stars, and marrying again and divorcing again, and doing drugs and alcohol and pain pills and sleeping pills and partying all over the world, posing nude for Roddy McDowell when she was in her forties and blimping up while trying to play Cleopatra in a highly publicized movie in which she was diddling poor old distraught Richard Burton, who ironically she's outlived by decades--and look at Liz now, still going, even though she's a puffed up physical wreck that has to be hauled around in a wheelchair. And, yes, she has to be rushed to the hospital near death several times a year. But hey, she's not dead yet.

And Lena Horne died just a couple'a weeks ago in her 90s. Also about 3 weeks ago, the last of the Ziegfield Girls died at age 104.

I guess what I'm trying to say is the matter of longevity is based on survival, though not whether you're fit or not.

I look at the Wikipedia Death List every other day--and I'm amazed at the number of young men and women dying of cancer, especially men dying of prostate cancer. Like old Dennis Hopper just died of prostate cancer.

When I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, back in the early 70s, Taos, New Mexico, just up north of Santa Fe, was still a quiet little artsy-fartsy original-looking Old West town, inhabited mostly by Mexican-New Mexicans and Native Americans, but also by a gaggle of White artists who got famous as the Taos Artists. Taos was also the home of the spoiled-brat rich man's daughter, Mabel Dodge, a literary celebrity chaser. And later Taos was the home of D.H. Lawrence, who bought a ranch from Mabel Dodge up above Taos near Wheeler Peak. [I made love to my second wife 3 different times in 3 different places one spring day when we spent a night at the D.H. Lawrence Ranch after we went there and found ourselves up there all alone one whole long afternoon, no other humans for at least 10 miles, and it was getting late, and after we made love in D.H. and Frieda's dinky kitchen on one of their kitchen table chairs, still soaking wet with sexual sweat, we went out in the front yard naked to watch the very erotic sunset that was out of this world and so romantic we just stayed out there as long as we could, doing it again in that grassy front yard with the universe spinning in wild starburst-spitting motion over us--staying naked until it soon got mountain-high frosty as the night mists rolled down off the surrounding peaks and ran the temperature down from tolerable to just-plain cold and unbearable, driving us indoors where we slept the rest of the night--and that wife is now gone, dying, a surprise to me, at age 58 just a few years ago.]

So one afternoon I and my old hometown pal who was a pianist-singer at the most popular hang out in Santa Fe got high as coyotes on locoweed on some of the actor Robert Mitchum's pot my friend and I had sent to us from Hollywood (another story for another time--though I think I've written about that way back in that forest of words I've left behind in the The Daily Growler archives). And high as the hanging Jesus, we got in JGB's station wagon and we drove high and laughing and breaking into song up the winding mountain road to Taos (my friend later, after he'd gotten a gig in Taos, drove that very station wagon off the edge of that wild highway one night after his gig--he and the car fell a hundred yards straight down off through the pinon pines down the side of that canyon-rimming road and was there for several hours before a passing motorist saw the headlights of the station wagon shining up into the heavens from its perch just on the brink of a hell of a plummet). As we came up to the Taos plaza, we noticed a big bunch of Mexican men standing around. One or two of them were carrying rifles. "What the fuck's going on?" we asked the club owner of this bar and grill where my friend was contracting to play on a regular weekend basis (the Taos ski resort was notorious around the ski world as one of the most exciting set of ski runs in the world--but this was summer and the ski bums wouldn't arrive until the first snows in September). "The natives are getting restless," the club owner said. "A bunch of them Hollywood creeps are up here trying to buy land...led by that crazy actor, that Dennis Hopper. Yeah, he's up here with a lot of his Hollywood money trying to become a Native American, you know. The locals don't want his kind up here. These people whose families have lived here for over a hundred years know these Hollywood types will ruin Taos. 'Sides, Hopper claims the locals shot up where he was staying last night, shot at him and his party--they're trying to buy some ranch land up here out at Rancho de Taos and the native ranchers and farmers are protesting all these celebrity types who think they can come in here and throw their money around and take over the town. They've tried to take Taos over since the 1920s, but...."

My friend and I came on back to Santa Fe and laughed like hyenas as we told our wives and friends about Dennis Hopper and all his Hollywood hippy friends being shot at by the Taos locals trying to run them out of town. (Santa Fe, by the way, at this time had developed into an alternative-to-California movie-shooting site. The Texas oilman, Buddy Foggleson, he was better known as Mister Greer Garson (married to the old Hollywood actress), had willed his ranch to the State with instructions that they turn it into a movie shooting location. A complete up-to-date lot. As a result, several Hollywood features were made in Santa Fe back then and a lot of Hollywood types discovered Santa Fe (Stephen Spielburg for one). Even I worked on an MGM filming out at that ranch one summer; I used my car and drove the actors and actresses (Stella Stevens for one) from Santa Fe out to the set--this is how I eventually got connected with Bob Mitchum's pot.) So how surprised was I to read in old Dennis Hopper's obit that, son of a bitch, he was going to be buried in the cemetery near his home in the Rancho de Taos, New Mexico. The son of a bitch had evidently bought that land that day we were up in Taos--and since I haven't been to Taos in 40 years, I assume it's now filled to the brim with celebrities with so much money they don't know what to do with it so they buy land and build mansions on it--like real estate partying--and I assume Taos, like Santa Fe, is now ruined in terms of the quaint Taos we used to run up to to get away from the hustle and bustle of ugly Albuquerque and being-ruined Santa Fe. I'm sure there must be an amusement park now up at the D.H. Lawrence Ranch--Frieda Lawrence left it to the University of New Mexico--with a Lady Chatterley's Lover girlie show. Condos and A-frames and ski chalets all over those once beautiful empty mountain meadows around Rancho de Taos. Hopper, and what a fucking great life he lived to the hilt, was married to Brooke Hayward--crazy Leland's daughter with Maureen O'Sullivan (?)--yeah, that Brooke Hayward--and after she divorced him, he married Michelle Phillips of the Mamas & Pappas. They were married two weeks when Michelle divorced him. What a man, eh?
And speaking of obituaries, from the prestigious Fortnightly Review comes an obit written by our own old pal, L Hat of :

Andrei Voznesensky, 1933-2010.

By Stephen Dodson

FORTY YEARS AGO, WHEN I was a newly minted Russian major at Occidental College (having transferred from the math department because I discovered I liked language more than calculus), I was checking the shelves of the campus bookstore when my eye was caught by a blue paperback called Antiworlds. I picked it up and saw that it was a bilingual edition of Russian poetry, and leafing through it I learned that the author had given up architecture for poetry and that he wrote about things like parabolas, airports, and New York City. I read a short poem called “Goya” whose punchy rhythms, bravura off-rhymes, and fiery antiwar message took my breath away. I bought the book and read it obsessively. When I visited London on my way to the U.S.S.R. I stopped off at Foyles—sacred ground for a lover of bookstores—and bought a slim black Soviet hardcover of Voznesensky’s Akhillesovo serdtse (Achilles’ heart); I carried it with me everywhere, inspiring envy and some anger on the part of Russians my age, equally enamored of the young poet but unable to get hold of his books, which sold out the moment they were published.

I was actually a little embarrassed that I had the book and they didn’t. He was, after all, theirs and not mine; I was a foreign dilettante to whom his poetry was an adornment, while for them he was a peer, an inspiration, a vital necessity. They packed stadiums to hear him read alongside his fellow rebellious poets Evgeny Evtushenko and Bella Akhmadulina. They knew, as I did not yet, that he had been publicly threatened by Khrushchev at a Kremlin meeting, called an agent of foreign enemies, and told by the head of the KGB that he should leave the country. I did know that he had denounced censorship and criticized the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. He was one of my few heroes.

OVER THE YEARS, ALTHOUGH I never lost my affection for him and his work, a deeper acquaintance with Russian poetry led me to qualify my appreciation. When I read Mayakovsky and Pasternak, his main teachers and models, I saw that what I had thought original in his versification was hand-me-down, though pleasingly deployed, and realized that the older poets had excavated life and language more deeply. When I was finally able to read Brodsky in the original (the translations give off only a pale reflection of his genius) I realized that he was the one truly great contemporary Russian poet. And after the fall of the Soviet Union, the old dissidents had to come down off the mountain and find their way in a suddenly ordinary country; Solzhenitsyn became a scold who called for a return to monarchy, while Voznesensky organized provincial poetry festivals and apparently became something of a recluse. In his public appearances, he looked unwell. While it was a shock that he died at seventy-seven, it wasn’t really a surprise.

LinkBut poetry isn’t a contest, and life always ends badly. He was brave when it mattered, and he wrote beautifully and memorably. A two-word line from his poem “Bicycles”—Smol√°, shmel√≠ (‘Resin, bumblebees’)—stays with me long after I’ve forgotten my calculus. Goodbye, Andrei Andreevich: you were a good man and a good poet.

Stephen Dodson is a lover of language who lives in Massachusetts, where he edits books and writes the popular Languagehat website at


To the dead we give praise,

for The Daily Growler


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