APRIL 21, 2017
Most of the appearance of mirth in the world is not mirth, it is art. The wounded spirit is not seen, but walks under a disguise. –Robert South

“A wise old Jew goniff as was a friend of mine once gave me the best advice of my entire life.” Count Justin Victor was in a typically expansive mood, and as they walked the cobblestoned and rain-slicked streets of early evening Blowtown in the early spring, he even looped his arm through that of Cadger Tandy, as though they were boon companions. 
There ensued a long pause. “When you get to be my age though, you have so many memories to draw from that things tend to get tangled up a mite, so I’m going to have to think a few minutes afore I can recall precisely what it was he said to me that left such an unforgettable impression. It wasn’t that old wheeze about polishing the back of your shoes as well as the front. But I will say this. You should always buy the best pair of shoes you can afford, and make sure they fit. They shouldn’t be too short and they shouldn’t be too narrow, or your toes will become deformed. Plus, you won’t be able to run away from the Rozzers. Also, a sturdy pair of shoes can be used to clobber a refractory Yob but good, once you’ve knocked him sky west. And women tend to notice things like shoes. So do military men. And other single-minded folk. Me, personally, I think it shouldn’t matter what you wear. But the world will have a long party knocking the snot-nose out of you if you try to go up agin in. So better you mind your ps and qs.
“Whether you’re in it for the short con or the long, it always pays to dress up, or down, as the occasion demands. You won’t be dining at Delmonico’s with clothing that looks like you stole it off’n a scarecrow. Nor will you get very far in the hobo jungle with a top hat and a tux. Apatetic coloration is what the double-domes call it. In order to survive, you is got to learn how to blend in. Learn which fork is used to eat a lobster. Learn which knife is best to stab a bindlestiff. You surely do not want to dress in such a way as to attract the attention of the nebby-nosed constabulary. Nor do you ever want to make a fuss in any crowded place, whether indoor or out. Unless, of course, you’re shilling for a cannon.
“You always want to be well-shaved. A man with straggly chin whiskers always looks like a bum. People won’t think very highly of you if they see that you’re that careless in attending to your personal appearance. You may say to yourself that you don’t give a good god-damn about what the world thinks, and that attitude is just fine–if you’re poor white trash and intend to stay that way. 
“Let me tell you something about white trash. There are about fifteen million weeping hillbillies roaming the mountains of Appalachia and points south and west, and as far as I’m concerned, not one of them is worth a good goddamn. They are poor, and they are stupid, and they were born that way, and they will stay that way. At least the negro of the southland is servile, and always knows his place, and is industrious when he can’t get away with loafing, and he can generally be trusted not to fuck things up too badly. The same can’t be said of the mountain man. He is surly, and illiterate, and stubborn as a mule, and proud of it. He always spends what few pennies he owns on trifles, and he don’t give a good goddamn what you think about it–but then he’ll turn around and try to borrow a sawbuck off of you. Money he has absolutely no intention of ever paying back to you. Because he is a moke. Call him what you will–a savage, a brawler, a brute, a mongrel–he is a cast-off; a moron; a lousy off-scouring of the land. And that’s because his germ plasm is of the lowest sort. He is descended from the lowest riff-raff of the English shores–cut-purses, counter-jumpers, common cheats, and cannibals.
“Of course, down south they have a very different notion of what constitutes a gentleman compared to what passes muster up hereabouts. In these parts, a gentleman has his nails manicured and wears a starched collar. His hat is of the very latest fashion, and he likely has a cane with a gold head, and a stickpin for his silk necktie, and cufflinks, but nothing too extravagant. The only rings he wears are a wedding band–and possibly a class ring or a Masonic ring. Whereas down south, a gentleman is more likely to sport a starched white shirt, and a bowtie, or a string tie, and a vest. He may favor a straw boater, and his suit is likely to be of a cotton weave, rather than heavy wool. He is also likely to have chin whiskers. And his tastes in attire tend slightly more toward to extravagant and gaudy. He is more of a Dandy, as befits a strutting cock of a Cavalier. He bids fair to light up a horse race, or a fancy hotel lobby. 
“Now I remember what the old Jew said! He said that whether you have the dosh or you don’t, when staying in a halfway decent hotel, the one thing you always do is tip your bellboy extravagantly well. It is fine to be thrifty, said he, or even frugal, but there’s no need to be stingy. There are many reasons to tip your bellboy, said he. The Yobs who work in a swell hotel get wised up fast, and soon know as much as the House Dick, and even more. The bellboy knows where all the best booze and whores and drugs are to be had. Tip him well and he’ll steer you clear of bad hooch and panel houses. Tip him well and you won’t be getting raw alky spiked with kerosene; you’ll be getting a bottle of the best bonded; the real McCoy. Tip him, damn you, and you won’t be getting some cheap clapped up floozie who reeks of milk puke and mildew; you’ll be getting a top-drawer Zook who looks and smells like peaches and cream. If the gendarmerie are snooping ’round the premises, he’ll make sure you’re the first to know. He can keep a confidence if you tip him well; everything you ask for will be between he and thee and certainly not the parson.  Fact is, if you give him a tip that’ll make his eyes pop open, he’ll figure you for a grand sport, and he won’t be able to do enough for you. Plus, he’ll feel as though you’ve taken a personal interest in him, and that there might be more where that came from. After you leave, he might even talk you up to the Bell Captain, and the next time you set foot in the place there will be dozens of servile lackeys waiting to fulfill your every depraved whim. Of course, it goes without saying that you never slip them the queer, any more than you would a rozzer. Those little monkeys with the caps are older heads than most coppers. No one ever got fat pitching fast balls past those Yellofs. Savvy?
“Maybe you’ve heard, Yob, of the most famous bellboy of all?  None other than Saint Peter, his own self…standing watch at the pearly gates of Heaven.”  

So Don Rickles is dead. He was the first comedian I ever admired. To think–he must have been at least 40 when I first saw him. 
He went through a phase of wild popularity in the early 1970s. Jack Kirby even used him in the pages of Jimmy Olsen:
The late Mr. Rickles had a bit of the schizophrenic about him. He blurted out the truth compulsively, due to his unique world-view. 
Not that he was actually schizophrenic, or even schizotypal. He just latched on to Texas Guinan’s gimmick of treating people like suckers, for laughs.
(Plus, as Gershon Legman informs us, there is a great old tradition of insult humor known as Water-Wit, which even Samuel Johnson allegedly indulged in.  “Sir, your wife under pretence of keeping a bawdy-house, is a receiver of stolen goods.”  Johnson’s summation of Lord Chesterfield’s letters to his son is hilarious: “They teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master.”) 
But seeing is believing:
Don Rickles Roasts Frank Sinatra
Don Rickles Roasts Jerry Lewis
Don Rickles and Michael Landon on Carson’s Tonight Show 1974

The Paragraphs. By Rick Berlin. Cutlass Press, 2016. Paperback. 248 pages.

The memoir form is a strange and wondrous beast. It tends to be less comprehensive than an autobiography, and therefore also tends to be impressionistic rather than concrete; terse rather than prolix; luminous rather than opaque. Impressionistic, terse and luminous is largely what we are given here; this book is mostly sweet, sometimes tough, and never, ever stuffy. All the verbal fireworks are expelled and exploded in short squibs rather than in ponderous earthshaking volleys. The Paragraphs is a memoir which is full of sentiment but seldom merely sentimental; the author is grandiose, but also humble; garrulous, but with a good sense of when to end a story or an anecdote or a thought exercise. Berlin indulges in solipsism, but manages to be entertaining at the same time. This memoir has the feeling of a series of miniatures, loosely strung together under a set list of thematic headings (“family”; “music”; “booze/drugs”). Berlin touches briefly on certain high points in his life: A movie to be shot in Grenada which he dropped out of Yale Drama School to participate in (culminating in the arrest of the entire cast and crew). His glory days as a performer in Orchestra Luna. His 29 years of “waitress” work at Doyle’s in Jamaica Plain. He also talks a bit about topics which appeal to his eccentric fancy: His cat, his new Kia, farts, asses, zits. I get the impression that Berlin has gathered up a series of his ruminations and jottings over the years and compiled them all together. It probably shouldn’t work as a memoir, but mostly it does. This is due almost entirely to the fact that Berlin is a keen observer with the instincts of an artist, as well as a flair for a certain type of (uncapitalized) bop prosody which is likely to be familiar to those who are fond of the works of Ginsberg, Corso, Kerouac, et al. However, even though this memoir may partake of the Romanticism of the Beats (as well as that of the Romantic poets) his voice and insights are entirely his own. In fact, one gets the sense, after reading The Paragraphs, that one has just enjoyed a long leisurely chat with the author. This is not necessarily all to the good; in the hands of a less gifted raconteur the reader might have on numerous occasions been tempted to put the book back on the shelf and leave it there. As it stands, the memoir, brief as it is, might have benefited from a few judicious elisions.(There are, to my taste, just a few too may anecdotes about Berlin’s unrequited boyhood crushes on boys.) However, it would be a shame if a ruthless editor had laid hands on this manuscript; he or she might have felt constrained to cut out some of the best chapters, simply because they are peripheral to the through-line. For instance, the chapter on “Band Parents” is cutting and incisive and just a little bit brutal. The ruminations in “College?” are both cynical and wise. The section on “the Grim Smile” reads like a stage-ready Performance Art piece.

There are many passages which stand out for their lyricism and prosody.

From “Performing”

if you give it all you got, if you ‘leave it all on the stage,’ you occasionally inhabit an ego-vanishing dimension. your ‘you’ vaporizes. you transmogrify into an energy that is not from, but through the Self. your ‘muse’ Ouija-boards an art wave. this is intoxicating and, let’s face it, you love the love even as you wonder how to win the anonymous art. you invent reciprocity.

From “Is the Grass Really Greener? (Redux)”:

we lie in bed, heavy with the weight of the not done, the ‘all’ we may never be, the relationships that are missing or too much with us, the families that drive us crazy, the cars that won’t start, the jobs that don’t pay enough for the shit we take, the books we never write, the plays we’re not in and the races we’re too scared to run. we’re charged so many debits and collect so few credits.

But Berlin can also be gnomic

From “College?”: “…to spend that much money to learn all the places you fail is false advertising….”

From “Neverland”: “did Peter Pan have it right, or did Dorian Gray?”

From “O Tannenbaum”: “pretty loses out to truth.”

This last quote is as good a place as any to conclude. Berlin’s style is sometimes lyrical and sometimes vulgar, but you always get the strong impression that he employs few, if any filters in this memoir. If you favor such wild, unalloyed Romaticism, then you might decide to read this diverting memoir in one fell swoop.


To find bands of related interest

I suspect that this application was not designed with the discerning cognoscenti in mind.

And the algorithm is probably based on some sort of citation analysis.

I guess it is more a tool to guide you toward other similarly good bands than it is a tool to guide you to other bands which sound alike.

But sometimes the results are a little…off.

“If you like Fabian you might also like Mingus.”

“If you like Noel Coward you might also like Corky and the Juice Pigs.”


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