Friday, July 19, 2013

Richard Farina and Roman Candles

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved ... who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

― Jack Kerouac

The poet, the writer, the singer
Richard Farina was more than a cross-over figure of the 1960s, conjoining the folksy, woody-guthrie-depression-era-communist sing-alongs with the electrified, drug-infused, youth-enabled latter half of the decade. He sang with Pete Seeger and jammed — kind of — with Bob Dylan. He did that —but he was more.

He married Joan Baez’s sister, Mimi, (of whom critic Greil Marcus once wrote she was so beautiful it was hard to look at her) and was a college pal of Thomas Pynchon.

1966. Farina died in a motorcycle accident, age 29, after the launch party of his only novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. The book is more interesting than great, part relic, part testament, with the loopy, lasting and atavistic appeal of an Easy Rider. The talent was there.

Richard and Bob

And the talent was in his poems, songs and singing. You can feel it. He was driven, ambitious, creative, and young—and it was the 1960s and beatniks were hanging at the coffee bars while the hippies began the Quest for Woodstock.

Rich and Mimi go for it
Does a short wick burn brighter? Never. Then what to make of a Roman candle with his ghostly shadow, his trembling voice and votive glow that sails across the stars.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Gimme Shelter: Merry Clayton’s Scream of the Decade

What happened that night? The Valkyrie circled above black clouds, ready to break cover. 1969. The earth itself was unstable. Mick Jagger sounds defiant but scared -“See the fire is sweepin'/ Our very street today/ Burns like a red coal carpet/ Mad bull lost its way.” Mad bull?

Merry Clayton gives up the ghost
O Lord Gimme Shelter. The Stones sang of Apocalypse Right Now. The center could no longer hold. Every musician for himself – or herself. Even the harmonica has a death rattle. And singing backup was Merry Clayton. On her own among the most satanic of lyrics – “Rape, murder! / It's just a shot away/ It's just a shot away.”

She holds on tight for the first two shrieking invocations. But as she approaches for a final time, at three minutes into the song, something happens. Something no one, not even Merry, was prepared for or has been able to repeat in the same way — and never will. That’s the solitude of true magic.

Alone and abandoned, she takes war and rape and murder and poverty and riots and racism and blasts it all into a howling jet stream scream, mainlining out into darkness.

And her voice — that has held on for dear life until now — gives up the ghost. It's too much for one of us, let alone a nation, and the voice cracks on ‘murder’, and in doing so, releases an eternal, auditory bookend to that most confusing of times, an almost inhuman plea of frustration, that we must go beyond our flesh — but cannot. We just can't.We have limits.

Listen carefully at that moment and you can hear Jagger call out in shock – because he knows it can never get better – or worse – than this. And it never did.

We’re told “[Merry] suffered a miscarriage upon returning home, attributed by some sources to the strain involved in reaching the highest notes.1

Let’s hope instead that the scream was heard by a slumbering god, hidden in a celestial cave who awoke uncertain of himself, confused by a dream about beautiful dolls he'd made long ago that were now singing in their chains like the sea.

1‘Gimme Shelter’ Wikipedia

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Au Revoir Playboys of the Western World

Hefner - the only man able to prosper as a playboy

A playboy — as conceived by publisher Hugh Hefner — owes much to 1950s America, the decade of his birth. No matter how many times Hefner tried to reboot his pipe-smoking Lothario into a more contemporary milieu, it didn’t really work. His jazz-swinging, cocktail-swirling bon vivant had nothing to do with the 60s counter-culture. He just wasn't cool.

And the disco-era was too dumbed-down for a guy who grooved on space-age vibes, Lenny Bruce and Stan Getz. The Playboy clubs became a kitschy anachronism and finally hit the wall. Eventually, Hef’s priapic creature lumbered into bed with soft porn, gobbled a Viagra, and then did it for the Gipper.

Rubirosa: Human pepper grinder
Post-WW II, real life playboys, as typified by Portfirio Rubirosa and Gunter Sachs, managed to rat-pack their way from the lizard lounges to the Whiskey-A-Go-Goes, and along the way learned how to stuff a wild bikini. But pop critics dismissed them as Euro-Trash, living off the avails of rich wives/girlfriends, or, in Gunter’s case, a substantial inheritance.

Gunter and B. Bardot (his wife)
So the playboy of the western world was forced to live with the Undead of Monaco and Vegas and Gstaad or any of those places that Peter Sarstedt knocked off in Where Do You Go to My Lovely – the ultimate anti-playboy/girl anthem.

In the end, following an all-night party in July 1965, Portfirio ran his Ferrari 250 GT into a tree in Paris, and violently removed himself from an era that was gearing up for Monterrey Pop. As for Gunter, he somehow made it to 2011, and then ended in suicide.

But those are just two high profile swingin’ guys. Millions of playboys got strangled by their own silk ascots, weighed under by their Peter-Lawford-sized sideburns, washing up on Malibu Beach, gamely clutching an Old Fashioned or Bloody Mary, gasping for one last listen to Herb Albert’s Whipped Cream LP.

Swingin' Guys...Swingin' Gals
And the pretty young girls who danced beneath the diamond sky, over the white sand, were too busy humming The Jefferson Airplane to even notice the tired mad men of yesteryear, now rolling in the waves, to be pulled out to sea.

Through it all, Hefner, clad only in pajamas and slippers, pads on, in a hermetically-sealed, time-resistant Miss Havisham biosphere, Vampire Number One, indestructible, and surely given to celebrating the colossal irony that the only man ever able to truly live as a playboy — and flourish — is Hugh Hefner.