YES—THEY HAVE MORE MONEY
Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different. — F. Scott Fitzgerald, from “Rich Boy,” 1926
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER SEVEN: PART SIX: THE PLAN
“Listen, Yob,” said Tandy to Baby Boy Maddox, on that long-ago day —“I dinna ken how many times I can tell you how different a world it was, in Noxtown, back when I was a green Yellof, back in the short-pants days.”
Take your breakfast sausage. Right now you can buy your 100 per cent pork sausage all lined up in a neat little package or even in big plastic wrapper from one of them newfangled supermarkets, but back in the olden days your sausage hung from the ceiling of a butcher shop and was likely made from a pig’s snout, a hog’s eyebrow, and any other ground up part of the sickly beast as would fit snug in the see-through casing, which was made out of his gut. The butcher wore a white apron with black stripes, as was useful to hide the blood, which got to be everywhere.It was no job for a cream-puff inhaler—the butcher man wielded a mean cleaver and had to be strong enough to drive a knife through the thickest bone, which is why the job would often go to a roughneck.
Your fire department was manned, not by clean-shaven professionals, but by young toughs who like as not would battle each another for the privilege of aiming the hose, all the time ignoring the fire, and sometimes you would watch as your house burned clean down to the frame while they knocked each other on the head with clubs and axe-handles. There was never enough water pressure, especially in the summer months, and the patched-up hoses would sometimes only deliver a thin trickle instead of a powerful spray. The only protection you had agin a fire was to keep your own staff at the ready to form a bucket brigade, and that, of course, was only if you were one of the rich folks as lived on Snob Hill.
Cleary the Baker was a fat Yellof and his wife was a sallow wench who looked out into the street from her shop window and dreamed of all the pretties she mought have bought had she married the banker’s son. All for the want of an ‘N’! All in all, the baker was a good Yob who didn’t ladle too much plaster or alum into his bread—just enough to keep abreast of his rivals. You didn’t mind paying an extra half-penny for a good loaf. That’s what Red Mary told me when she’d send me to his shop a few blocks away. A word to the wise.
The blacksmith—big Yellof with a thick black handlebar mustache–also doubled as a harness-maker–he would chase me away from his shop—it was dangerous with all the chemicals and the flyin’ sparks for a little Yellof to be standing ‘round—but he wouldn’t pay me no never mind if I watched him doing his work from a distance. That blacksmith—I disremember his name–was my ideal. What could be a better object of admiration for a sprout than to watch a big strongman with muscles the size of small boulders–with his tongs and his mallets and his chisels–striking sparks from a big anvil or wrassling a hoss to fit him for a shoe? Mister, I says to that blacksmith, How does it feel to be you? It feels swell, little fella, says he—it feels swell.
I was afraid of the funeral home—but fascinated—drawn to what I dreaded, like many a lad before and since—and I feared the undertaker—him always dressed in black, with his starchy white shirt and his thin black necktie, and black bags under his eyes as if he never slept–never smiling but never really frowning either—you’d see his eyes light up in their sockets and become alive mostly when folks walked into his funeral parlor, but never would his poker face betray a human feeling. You’d see a faint smile curl up his lips only when he managed to sell a coffin made of slippery elm and manage to get the price of a coffin made of oak.
There was many a business establishment that you don’t see much of today.
The stout woman who made pastries and also had a line in wedding goods—spun sugar fantasias on top of creamy frosting and good honest cake. Makes my mouth water to this day.
The thin yaller wretch who sold priests outfits—store always smelled like musty candle-wax.
The oyster bar, with sawdust on the floor and fellers swallering shellfish the size of a puny baby.
The fat cheesemonger with his sweaty wares wrapped in pure white cloth.
All gone the way of the wind—done blowed away by progress.
On the dusty streets—dusty with the smell of dried horse shit– you’d see puchcart vendors you don’t see the likes of any more—the knife grinder—the vegetable pedlar—the watermelon man—the old clothes buyer—the ice man. They’d fill the streets with their cries: WATTY—WATTY-MELON—CLO’ES—OLD CLO’ES– ICE—ICE-Y—GETCHER ICE!
There was endless entertainment for a green mite who was out on the town on a summer day, with nowt to do but look and listen. You could go to a hardware store and hear the big men talk shop. The hardware store was full of shiny things a small boy could stare at and treasure up—if only in his memory–saws, axes, knives, and hammers. You could earn a penny or two by hanging around the baker’s or the druggist’s or the butcher’s and delivering a package for ‘em. Never occurred to ‘em that you might scoff the lot. That would of queered the pitch of the other small Yellofs, and it just wasn’t done. Back then, I noticed, everybody promoted themselves all the time. The butcher would burn his mark into the ham, the baker would have a raised brand in the loaves he would send out, and the druggist had his name and address stenciled on the bag.
The sign-painter was a big man in Noxtown. Business people always needed window dressing to promote their wares, and crumb-crushers and slack-jawed loafers would allus love to gather round to see the sign man ply his trade. He was a vagabond, who traveled light, with only his brushes and sometimes his paints, but he could whomp up a window glass sign, a placard, or even paint an entire billboard or a side of a building, and he’d make a pretty penny off it—and then would go and drink it up. Painters and cooks is mostly drunks—must be the fumes. But the sign painter was welcome anywhere, because he was a skilled man and could make art that the everyday people could understand. To this very day is a Tom Tucker Ginger Ale sign that I first saw painted back in ought-nine. Back then they used a certain kind o’ lead paint that wouldn’t wash away come hell ner water high.
On the fourth of July and especially on election day we young ‘uns would get up to all manners of devilment, what with hauling outhouses away and swiping empty wooden barrels and burnin’ ‘em up right there in the middle of the street—you can well imagine such a thing not flying today—you got to remember that even the main streets was paved with cobblestones–traffic back then was horse-drawn—not even the trolleys was all-electric. We would go wild with firecrackers and cherry bombs and other dangerous toys and many a tom-fool got his thumb blowed clean off, acting the smart-aleck with dangerous ‘splosives.
Some say we should bring back the stocks to punish thieves and tramps, and mischief-makers, and maybe even bring back the forty lashes. I can’t hold with that line of thinking, Yob. That’s the thinking of a born punk. Know this well: A caning can sometimes serve to simply fill a felon’s heart with a bitterment, rather than a resolve to hew to the straight and narrow.
And never you mind going to the law for justice in a case of fraud. If you was to lash all the dishonest tradesmen there ever was, that might be a good start, but it will never happen—never has and never will–only the poor are made to take their lumps—the well-off, with their clubby pals and secret handshakes always get off scot-free, or with forty lashes with a wet feather.
And know this well, Yob—then as now–it still be the Way of the World.
THE SERENDIPITY SINGERS
DON’T LET THE RAIN COME DOWN
DICTIONARY OF THE VULGAR TONGUE
DICTIONARY OF THE VULGAR TONGUE BECOMES ONLINE HIT
THE WORLD’S MOST AWKWARD TAXIDERMY
WHAT YOUR PICTURE PROFILE SAYS ABOUT YOU
5*AVATAR OF THE ZEITGEIST
WEIRD BOOTLEG SIMPSONS MERCH
6* DAILY UTILITY
CREATE YOUR OWN WEBSITE
RELIGIOUS AFFILIATIONS OF COMIC BOOK CHARACTERS
DON’T HIRE PEOPLE WHO AREN’T GREAT AT SOMETHING ELSE
HOW TO RUIN YOUR PROFESSIONAL REPUTATION
HALF OF AMERICA IN POVERTY
11* DEVIATIONS FROM THE PREPARED TEXT: A REVIEW OF OTHER MEDIA
THE GRAMMAR OF ROCK: ART AND ARTLESSNESS IN THE 20th CENTURY
By Alexander Theroux. Fantagraphics Books.2013. Hardcover. 346 pages.
Review by Francis DiMenno
Two things I’ve got to say right off. First is that Mr. Theroux was a teacher of mine way back in the 1970s and I even hung out with him on Cape Cod for an afternoon or two. Second is that he is a witty guy, a very witty guy, but I am very jealous of him, because he has written an exegesis of rock which puts my own humble effort in this vein, “Masterpieces of Rock”—you can google it if you like—far beyond the pale. This book is like one continuous stream of bafflingly hilarious erudition; dense, dithyrambic and infuriatingly opinionated. Early on he states: ”We cannot help but see, then, that pop music is, among other things, an extensive gallery of postures and… a compendium of diverse attitudes and odd approaches… I think it worthwhile to look at the successes and failures of this music, bringing an intelligence… to conclude what we will.”
And does he ever, This screed is one of those marvelous feats of writerly bravura which lifelong aficionados of the outré tend to treasure up. In its language it sometimes reminds me of Richard Meltzer’s bafflegab-laden put-on pronunciato “The Aesthetics of Rock” (1967). Its rhetoric is similar to Gershon Legman’s careering anti-hippie monograph “The Fake Revolt” (1967). Compare and contrast.
First, Legman: ”The main feeling one gets, picking one’s way through the sodden bodies and surly faces of the “flower children” in these psychedelic pads nowadays, is that of a terrible and empty sadness and meaninglessness. Mostly, the kids just sit around among the unwashed dishes, scratching their unwashed armpits, screwing…and work themselves up on drugs to writing newer and worse manifestoes and poems, all in a bad imitation of the style of Walt Whitman’s bad imitation of the King James Bible….”
Next, Theroux: “The continuing irony of lyrical verbosity in popular music is that…it is a kind of pedantry of the vigorous and athletic sort that usually expresses itself in a virulent form of anti-intellectualism. It is big on nature mysticism. Going out and getting grubby. Romantic solipsism. Wordsworthian trust in nature. Suspicion of ritual. The holiness of solitude. Hatred of authority. The inarticulate hero. Guitar as ikon. Spontaneity. Drugs-as-viaticum….”
In his polymathic verve, Theroux equals and sometimes excels the inspired snark of J. P. Donleavy’s “The Unexpurgated Code” (1975), and, at his best, he even rivals Walt Whitman’s rant-laden description of a antebellum Democratic National Convention: “The members who composed it were, seven-eighths of them, the meanest kind of bawling and blowing office-holders, office-seekers, pimps…carriers of conceal’d weapons, deaf men, pimpled men, scarr’d inside with vile disease, gaudy outside with gold chains made from the people’s money and harlots’ money twisted together; crawling, serpentine men, the lousy combings and born freedom-sellers of the earth.”
Why read the collected writings of, say, Hunter S. Thompson, when Theroux is much more often profoundly accurate, as well as insightful about a subject dear to any musician’s heart—and, also, far more willing to fling spiteful invective around like a dripping-wet workdog coming into your spotless vestibule from a gale-force hurricane? Theroux’s myriad of opinions regarding high culture might enlighten you; his roundhouse condemnations of low culture can and should make you laugh out loud. He takes an axe to the idiocies of—just a random survey sample here—Yes, REM, Springsteen, Cher, Elvis, Karen Carpenter, Barbra Streisand, Burt Bacharach—and he’s just getting warmed up. He also takes the time to get in subtle and not-so-subtle digs at his siblings; at Cape Cod Community College; at G.W. Bush; at NPR, and at Rush Limbaugh—you might say that he’s an equal opportunity hater, as the cliché has it, only his feelings never seem to rise to a crescendo of deep loathing—only to one of profound annoyance and scorn. He hilariously execrates hillbilly logic in general and country music in particular: “It was so hokey the way country singers tried to seem so ass-kickin tough, surly, and macho, monosyllabic and deep, meaningful and nonsensical, when any fool could tell it was all show-business.”
Nor does he stop there. He mocks the mawkish; knocks the props out from under hippie sentimentality; slaps hip-hop into a cocked hat. He comes off like the world’s wittiest curmudgeonly uncle complaining about That Damned Noise in language so efflorescent he might as well be writing one of his novels—a great American novel, as a matter of fact, in which not one word is fiction. (His 1973 novel “Three Wogs” caused a sensation—mostly for its hilarious cruelty—and his 1979 novel “D’Arconville’s Cat” was singled out in Anthony Burgess’s 1984 book “99 Novels: The Best in English since 1939.”)
This uncommonly opinionated production is likely to provoke many people into violently hurling the tome across the room or scribbling “bullshit” and “wrong” into the margins of nearly every other page.
Alas, such sticklers may have a point. The book is riddled with numerous small errors. Muddled song titles, for instance: The Big Bopper sang “Chantilly Lace,” not “You Know What I Like.” Muddled attributions: Donovan, not Dylan, wrote “Catch the Wind.” Brian Wilson never wrote a song called “Van Dyke Parks.” The song Theroux is thinking of is “Heroes and Villains,” with lyrics by Van Dyke Parks, and the line “columnated ruins domino”—which he professes not to understand—is surely no more obscure or difficult to understand than the poetry of, say, Hart Crane. (Some of these lapses may be due to shoddy editing. Souza wrote five novels. [Page 264.] Souza wrote three novels. [Page 272.] Which is it?)
But so many of his defenestrations are so devastatingly spot on that one is tempted to pluck the best of them from their overwhelming context and compile a list of favorites, and, surely, someday some canny operator will do just that. I will say that despite his breadth of knowledge regarding the American songbook, Theroux does not seem to know much about Boston-area rock—he does, however, have a kind word for the Remains, singles out the Lemonheads, and name-drops the Dropkick Murphys and the Modern Lovers.
Theroux is intensely vain. Only an egotist could have written such a book. But I say more power to him. It is brilliant. It is flawed and full of curious blind spots, and it is also very far indeed from a truly comprehensive survey of all the lyrical gaffes to be found in pop, rock, blues, rap, country, and show tunes. We get the impression sometimes that Theroux has been compelled to empty out, not only his notebooks, but his brain pan. Still, the book is compellingly entertaining.
Ultimately, what Theroux most vigorously protests is, not simply pop music lyrics, but the ongoing debasement of rational discourse: “Cliches, threadbare phrases, inane word usage, trite expressions, verbal tics, stock terms, cheap slang, and grammatical errors that even third graders would not make are indications of national brainlessness.” It is basically the same message that Confucius sent out some 25 centuries ago: Rectify the language.
11A BOOKS READ AND RATED (APRIL/MAY)
1001 FACTS THAT WILL SCARE THE SHIT OUT OF YOU. MCNEAL. **
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: AMERICAN SON. **
ANARCHY COMICS: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION. ****
ANYTHING FOR A VOTE. CUMMINS. ***
ARCHIE MARRIES. **
THE AUTHORITY: WORLD’S END. ***1/2
AVENGERS BY BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS 2. ***1/2
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE BY BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS. ***1/2
BATMAN 2: CITY OF OWLS. ***1/2
BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT 1. **1/2
BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. MILLER. ****1/2
BATMAN: YEAR ONE. MILLER. ****1/2
BATWOMAN 1. ***1/2
BATWOMAN 2. ***
BIG TROUBLE. LUKAS. ****1/2
THE CARTER FAMILY. YOUNG & LASKY. ****
CLAUDIUS THE GOD. GRAVES. ****1/2
COLONEL SUN. ****
COMEDY BY THE NUMBERS. HOFFMAN & RUDOREN. ***
COMPLETE CRUMB COMICS 5. ****1/2
COMPLETE FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROS 1. ****
COMPLETE FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROS 2. ****
THE CORNER. SIMON & BURNS. ***1/2
DAMN GOOD ADVICE. LOIS. ****
DAREDEVIL: RETURN OF THE KING. ****
ESSENTIAL JACK ZEIGLER. LORENZ. **1/2
EVERYTHING WE MISS. PEARSON. ****
FINDER: TALISMAN. MCNEAL. **1/2
THE FURRY TRAP. SIMMONS. ****
THE GOOD OLD DAYS—THEY WERE TERRIBLE! BETTMAN. ****
THE GRAMMAR OF ROCK. THEROUX. ****1/2
HUNTINGTON WV ON THE FLY. PEKAR. ****
I, CLAUDIUS. GRAVES. ****1/2
I’M DYING UP HERE. KNOEDELSEDER. ***1/2
IRON MAN 2. PUBLIC ID. **
JOHNNY RYAN’S XXX SCUMBAG PARTY. ***
JUSTIN GREEN’S THE SIGN GAME. ****
KENNEDY & NIXON. MATTHEWS. ***
THE KENNEDYS. PORTER & PRINCE. ***
LA NOIR. BUNTIN. ****
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. MOORE. ****
THE LIFE & TIMES OF WM. SHAKESPEARE. LEVI. ****
THE LOWBROW READER READER. RUTTENBERG. ***1/2
MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. ****
MENTAL FLOSS: THE BOOK. ***1/2
THE MENTAL FLOSS HISTORY OF THE WORLD. SASS & WIEGARD. ***
NEAR DEATH 1. FAERBER ETAL. ****
NEMO: HEART OF ICE. MOORE. ****
NEW AVENGERS 3. BENDIS. ***1/2
NEW AVENGERS 4. BENDIS. ***1/2
ON THE ROPES. VANCE & BURR. ****
PETER BAGGE’S OTHER STUFF. ***
PILLS A-GO-GO. HOGSHIRE. ***1/2
A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO RACISM. DALTON. **
PRESIDENTS’ MOST WANTED. RAGONE. **1/2
RED DAWN. [FILM]. *1/2
SCANDALOUS! FRYD. ***
SHARK BAIT. ***1/2
SIGN PAINTERS. LEVINE. ***1/2
STORIES MY FATHER TOLD ME. LYONS. ***1/2
SUPERMAN: TALES FROM THE PHANTOM ZONE. **1/2
SUPREME POWER 2. ***1/2
TAKE A JOKE. RYAN. **
THE 12 CAESARS. GRANT. ****
ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS: CRIME & PUNISHMENT. **1/2
ULTIMATE IRON MAN 1. EDMONDSON. **
UNDERSTANDING THE CRASH. TOBACMAN. ****
THE UNITED STATES OF PARANOIA. WALKER. ****
THE UNITED STATES OF STRANGE. GRZYMKOWSKI. ***
WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT. AXELROD. ****
WHO IN HELL. KELLY & ROGERS. ****
WILDCATS 3.0. YEAR ONE. ***1/2
WILDCATS. WORLD’S END. ***
THE WORLDLY PHILOSOPHERS. HEILBRONER. ****1/2
YOUNG ROMANCE. SIMON & KIRBY. ****
CONTROVERSIES IN POPULAR CULTURE. 689.
SOUNDALIKE APES AKA CLASSIC KNOCKOFF PSEUD
Three Notable examples:
Rolling Stones “It’s Only Rock and Roll” = T. Rex.
Hollies “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” = Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Zombies “Care of Cell 44” = Keith, “98.6”.
MORE (KUDOS TO “MUSIC OBSCURICA” ON FACEBOOK):
= James Taylor, Paul McCartney, Harry Chapin, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Cat Stevens, and Joni Mitchell! (Who’d I leave out? John Lennon. Jackson Browne. Elton John…) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xxugNQUtpE
= The Hollies “The Air That I Breathe” (and Radiohead was successfully sued for their plagiarism).
= Keith Jarrett solo (not a compliment to either, btw): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-mLkzFUzTA
= Phoebe Snow (voice, not mix): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0O9OmyV7BhY
= John Fogerty (in reverse): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8h0irK11vk0
Washington Phillips’ song ‘The Church Needs Good Deacons’, recorded 2 December 1929, bears a remarkable resemblance to the Theme from the ‘Magnificent Seven’.—Patrick Whittle http://youtu.be/9iteRKvRKFA
= ‘Handel’s Messiah’, with a heavy borrowing from ‘Angels We have Heard on High’. http://youtu.be/fy3kJt_tQrY
= “Dixie”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEuqWuQTSe4
Tribute to Kinks, “Lazy Old Sun”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttPNilF3v5A
Later swiped by Chicago. (kudos to Richard Smoley for pointing this out.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9OcPzjpXnk
Later swiped by ‘King Crimson’s’ ‘Lark’s Tongues in Aspic’, and ‘The Moody Blues’ ‘Days of Future Past’. http://youtu.be/JTGwTH1PUeI
Do I dare to suggest that Paul Simon’s principle flaws as a composer seem to be stem from self-indulgence and laziness? And a certain amount of –flay me until I drop–bad taste? “Mother and Child Reunion” as a touching encomium to–a Chinese chicken and egg dish? “Lincoln Duncan”–“Just thanking the Lord for my fingers.” (Cute.)
And Exhibit A: “American Tune”–a straight cop from the Christian hymn “O Sacred Head Surrounded. (By Crown of Piercing Thorns)” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0wIbgDVp5c