ON BOOKS: ‘Song’ a book you can judge by its cover
One thing you don’t do is blame an old man for his position or his place.
It makes you look like a baloney, like you might be jealous of its stately pleasure dome with the hammered copper roof in Malibu. And the pupil-eyed one doesn’t like it; she’s more after the spotless-hearted guy who knows full well what he doesn’t know to begin with. Such as the heartaches the old man could embrace. And you’re not a master thief, you’re not going to rob them – whoever they are.
No, you just want to sit in that chair right there and let Z. show you how it’s done.
The first thing you’ll want to understand is that all titles are ironic. There is no “philosophy” here; most of these songs are more properly described as mid-century modern. It’s just a stand-up routine by a carny old comedian in a snap-button black twill cowboy shirt and a cordobes sombrero, like the one Zorro wears, with the little tassels dangling.
He has a pencil-thin mustache (of the Boston Blackie kind) and his left fist is arthritically closed around the pommel of a toy cane, like the one William Zantzinger beat poor Hattie Carroll with for serving him too slowly.
He also has a contract to fulfill and a closet full of trinkets he needs to use, the knack of hiring (or having hired on his behalf) a major art director, and an ability to erase stock photography from a single leap.
This is a book that you can judge by its cover. There’s little Richard Penniman, he’s got a remarkably big head. A little later, he’ll get three paragraphs and another photo, and the author of Brylcreem will give him credit for taking “speaking in tongues straight off the sweaty canvas. [revival] tries” and put it “on mainstream radio” by smuggling black gay codes (Jesus-hit variety) into white teenage suburban bedrooms.
Later there is another paragraph, ostensibly on Little Richard’s version of “Long Tall Sally”. That’s it:
Long Tall Sally was 12 feet tall. She was part of the ancient biblical days in Samaria of the tribe called the Nephilim. They were giants who lived before the cataclysm of the flood. You can see pictures of the skulls of these giants and others. There were people as tall as one-story buildings. They discovered bones of these giants in Egypt and Iraq. And she was made for speed, she could run like a deer. And Uncle John was his giant counterpart. Little Richard is a giant of another kind, but in order not to scare anyone, he calls himself small, so as not to scare anyone.
And then, on the right, as it should be, is Eddie Cochran, not yet 20, fresh out of his performance of ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ in ‘The Girl Can’t Help It,’ a movie we’re still obsessed with. awaiting final edition approved by Criterion Collection Director. They are about to start a tour of Australia, having disembarked from a plane at Sydney Airport on September 28, 1957.
Eddie smiles slyly, focused on Sydney Morning Herald photographer Bruce Perry, while Richard’s attention wanders to his right – he’s checking something; perhaps a disturbing ghost. This was the tour where he suddenly felt the spirit and left the devil’s music (not for the last time).
This blocked Eddie and Gene Vincent, who were also on the bill, as well as Australian Johnny O’Keefe, who would later become the first Australian rock ‘n’ roll to tour the United States.
But who is the kid in the middle? It turns out that she is Alis Lesley (née Alice Lesley or Alice Leslie), who was three days younger than Cochran. Alis, 84, was a rockabilly singer from Phoenix who was billed as “the Elvis Presley wife.” Continuing the fame-adjacent theme, she had been discovered by Kathryn Godfrey, the less famous sister of Arthur Godfrey, who was locally famous in Phoenix. She had recently scored her only national record, a two-sided affair with “He Will Come Back to Me” on the A side and “Heartbreak Harry” on the reverse, which brought her on tour with Richard.
Neither Eddie nor Alis have an author-rated song, which isn’t surprising considering there are only 66 entries and it’s the curated list by the big artist here, which doesn’t only has four women and certainly not that truthful-mouthed witch Joni Mitchell.
It’s not wrong, despite the essays in the New Statesman and all that; these days, no one should confuse Bob Dylan with a progressive, let alone a social justice warrior. His spirit animal — another piece of culture that’s no longer cool to appropriate — is Frank Sinatra. All we get here is a taste map and a cool picture book, which is more than enough for the asking price if you do your comparison shopping.
It’s a fascinating book in the same way that looking at someone else’s bookshelves can be fascinating. We assume this music matters to him, and when there’s a match point – say, Sonny Burgess”https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/”Feel So Good”, who gets a full-throated try–there’s a little thrill of “affirmation.” And sometimes the Big Man chooses a clunker, like Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender,” an almost genius song ruined by an unusual lack of know- TO DO.
I love JB but almost everything he’s done is better than this particular track, which is both sterile and clumsy in a bad way. People use “pretentious” as a universal term for erasure these days, but that’s the gun I use when I hear Jackson rhyme “pretentious” with “ice cream salesman.” What makes it even worse is the image of having sex in sunglasses, which is so powerful in ’70s SoCal. “The Pretender” is a storyline that required at least one or two more passes.
Want a verdict on the reluctant Pulitzer Prize winner’s latest work? Well, he didn’t work too hard and he had fun, which is what you’re supposed to do when you’re 81 and rich like David Geffen. Old Man Midas actually touched this book; the least you can do is buy it, I guess.
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“The Philosophy of Modern Song” by Bob Dylan (Simon & Shuster, $45)