Sunday, January 23, 2011

The King

Missed Elvis's birthday, few weeks ago. He would only be 76, if he was alive. Hard to believe.

To begin, let me say that Elvis is my Mom's favorite singer. Hell, he's everyone's Mom's favorite singer, isn't he? He is hardly mine.

Increasingly it seems I hear opinions of him that are uninformed (to be polite). It is hip to diminish his importance among those who believe themselves to be more knowledgeable than they really are, but maybe it's always been so. Beatles-bashing is in vogue, too, but then it's been in vogue among revisionists and the grossly ignorant (not the same set, though they are often appalling in very similar ways) for a long long time. If you don't understand how massively important Elvis was (and is), you should educate yourself (Lester Bangs here, Dave Marsh here, Rolling Sone here, Jann Wenner here, Ben Fong-Torres here, Greil Marcus here, John Lennon here, Paul McCartney here, Keith Richards here, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Jackie Wilson, and Al Green here, Pete Townshend here, Jimi Hendrix here (really, check this one out, even if you ignore the others—it's fucking amazing), Buddy Holly here—do I need to go on?).

Remember reading something Sam Phillips said about him—equating his sensibility with African-Americans of his time. He said that Elvis carried a weight with him, some of it derived from a feeling of inferiority conferred upon him by experience. That, along with his well-known tribulations, excesses, and self-caricaturization, gives his life a southern gothic quality. As a southerner, I feel more than a little sympathy for the boy from Tupelo. As one who loves rock and roll, I know him to be its one—and only—King.

Do not equate the old fat Vegas Elvis with who he really was. For five years or so, ending the 1950's, he was about the coolest motherfucker who ever lived. Like the Rolling Stone Record Guide said, everything in rock and roll can be traced to him. When he played the Sullivan show, legions of guys stopped in their tracks, and said: That's what I wanta do. John Lennon is quoted as saying: Before Elvis, there was nothing.

It's been said, many times, that Elvis gave rock and roll its attitude, and this is true. Succinctly, Lester Bangs said that he "kicked How Much Is That Doggie In The Window out the window and replaced it with, Let's fuck". But beyond that, do not doubt how good he was—none of it would've mattered, if he wasn't.

So if you're one of those hipster-types, with a malformed opinion of one of the most important musical personalities of the twentieth century, do some research—open you're mind. Listen. Learn. No need to be an asshole forever.

Three songs: A live version of Heartbreak Hotel from a Tommy Dorsey TV special; Jailhouse Rock, from the film; and maybe my favorite of his songs, Love Me.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sam Cooke

The great Sam Cooke, who was murdered in 1964 at the age of 33, should be 80 years old today.

Three of his greatest songs: Wonderful World, Havin' a Party, and A Change Is Gonna Come.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Happy Birthday, Jim

Jim Croce oughta be 67 today.

Two videos. First, probably my favorite of his songs, Dreamin' Again. I love the lyric:

I'm not the same
Can you blame me?
Is it hard to understand?
I can't forget
You can't change me
I am not that kind of man

Typically Crocian conceit. Like the snake in the parable, none of us can really escape our natures, can we?

The second, another favorite, Operator.

Jim was hardly a man for our time. He was often bombastic, and unabashedly sentimental.

God bless and keep your constant soul, Jim.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Alice Todd. Aunt Lucille. Moral Courage.

Watching Sling Blade. The Lucas Black character just said I think too many good people die. That's what I think.

I think so, too.

I'd like to put down more of what I think. Hard thing. Such an optimistic act—no, more than that, more affirmative—interested, participatory, even concerned—involved, in mankind—more acutely than I usually feel.

There's all kinds of heroism. John Ritter's character is one. Standing up to Dwight Yoakum's psychopath, scared to fucking death, flinching from every unpredictable fit and froth. I find that really moving. Stalwart—virtuous—and gallant. God bless those with that kind of moral courage.

Had a good conversation at our party other night about what Texas means—to me, to the girl I was talking to. Though I was inarticulate—unprecise, stammering—as always. Remarked on Wolfe's contention about web and rock. How I am the latter. That is hardly the story though—I am rock, true enough, but porous, volcanic, untempered. And I wish to be web. Or is that some kind of myth I perpetuate?

My Aunt Lucille turned 95 years old Saturday. She's back in Texas, of course. Wish I could've been there. Had quite a soiree to celebrate, in Pontotoc—just a few miles from Turkey Creek, where Alice Todd left her bloody handprints, about 40 years before Lucille was born. Wrote a poem bout that. Think I'll post it, for what it's worth.

My cousin Bode's band played. Never heard em, but they're good, I've been told.

Aunt Lucille ever read this blog, I'd be ashamed. Can you understand that? Not sure I do, completely. Guess it's cause I come from a line of men—a long line of men—who don't struggle with things like I do. Simpler men, and better.

Used to hear the Todd legend all the time when I was a kid. Wrote the poem a few years back.

Ode for Alice Todd

Has anyone seen Alice Todd?
The Comanche took her away,
on a Sunday going to meeting—
Been gone near 30 days.
Her Pa is searching, near and far
and her Ma still calls her name.

Has anyone seen Alice Todd?
The girl with the bloody hands?
She left her mark at Turkey Creek,
bound up, with rawhide bands;
They followed her there, over the hills,
past the edge of the Pecos sands.

Has anyone seen Alice Todd?
She vanished, 10 years ago.
They sold her, I heard, down in Mexico,
to the son of a rich hacendado.
He keeps her at his hunting lodge,
in the mountains of Nuevo Leon.

Has anyone seen Alice Todd?
The girl with the yellow hair?
O, she's been dead these 20 years,
I heard a ranger swear;
Run off from them that took her,
she perished, alone and scared.

Has anyone seen Alice Todd?
The child the Comanche stole?
She belongs to a warrior, lithe and strong
and roams the Estacado;
She grinds up grasshoppers, to bitter tea,
And covers with buffalo robes.

Has anyone seen Alice Todd?
Since Ma and Pa moved on away?
Since the old home-place went to waste,
and all the varmints came?
Pa still searches in his dreams,
and Ma just murmurs her name.

Has anyone seen Alice Todd?
Since the Comanche died away?
The sun has bleached one and all,
every bone, the same.
Quarter was given no one.
Not any one