Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Gloria Stavers: Princess of Pop

U.N.C.L.E. - David McCallum?

16 magazine. 1957-2001. A ‘fan’ publication. Written —primarily—for teenage, American girls. The editorial focus was on television and teen male music celebrities.

How did an editor who extolled the talents of David Cassidy and Paul Revere & the Raiders ever gain such influence? Well, for a start, she gave us answers: What does the Dave Clark Five eat for breakfast? How tall, really, is the Monkees’ Davy Jones? What about Paul McCartney’s favorite color? Are Sonny and Cher dating or married?

Just considering the career of Gloria Stavers (1926-1983) causes one to hold, and balance, sets of opposed virtues, tastes and interpretations. She is evasive, on one page jabbering about Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the next, discussing the career of Lenny Bruce or getting physical with Jim Morrison.
Gloria glammed

How this former magazine subscription clerk and model helmed bubblegum pop promotion with such élan has as much to do with ambition and self-confidence than discernible talent.  It’s as if she willed herself into existence.

As editor-in-chief, she never accepted advertising and readership peaked at more than five million in 1964. Actually, her talent was quite discernible.

The magazine offered clean, sober intimacy, unpinned with grade-school photo collages and non-threatening confessions, trivializing real-world, contemporary concerns. There was little chest hair. Gloria knew who paid the bills.

Gloria editing
She focused on boys but occasionally let girls through the door—Connie Francis, Hayley Mills, Patty Duke, Susan Dey, Marie Osmond, Farrah Fawcett. But young male readers generally went elsewhere to look at pictures of pretty women.

When she died, Dave Marsh in Rolling Stone opined… “[we have] lost America’s original pop-music writer, the force behind what was at one time the most influential and widely circulated rock publication in America.”

Dave Marsh wrote that?

Gloria Stavers knew, intuitively, that pop culture is interchangeable with
Jim and G-L-O-R-I-A
commercial culture: therein lies its genius, its banality, its endurance, and its fragility.

16 magazine offered an ambiance unsullied by pregnancy, napalm, drugs and rebellion... It was a state of mind,  a place to go when you were a young girl, a gentle reprieve before the long slow you-can-never-turn-back stroll from the magic garden and across the field to Grownup Land.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The existential paean of Julie Andrews

Long-haired Julie
The key to her character is...a hairstyle?

She is rare — a woman who is more feminine with short, boyish hair. Both an enigma and a clue. With substantial tresses she appears ordinary, domestic and inconspicuous. It’s as if her rejection of an average coif adds an air independence, honesty and good health. She is strong in a focused, private Zen way. Small wonder that her two most successful roles (Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music) are really one — that of a kindly, virginal English governess.

The skin is not blemished by sin or wrinkled with profundities. Whether her breeding is innate or acquired cannot be answered.  Her multi-octave voice is pitch-perfect and lilting, no Billie Holiday-style slurring and sadness. Her only mystery is motivation: what does she need? Who, really, is she?
Julie gets ready to shred it

Julie Andrews, with her Rogers & Hammerstein and her Lerner & Loewe is anti-Vegas and anti-Woodstock. Her space is occupied by others like Petulia Clark and Anthony Newley (kind of), those with a sing-along music hall sensibility. How she ended up in two monster money-making films of the 1960s is indicative of the era’s sly playfulness and hybrid nature of its entertainments. (Remember, Janis Joplin sang with Tom Jones, and it worked.)

Come fly with
Long after rainbow psychedelia is bleached away by the idle tears of nostalgic boomers, we shall still see Julie swirling atop that Austrian mountain, her arms wide open to a celestial lover, or floating to earth on an umbrella, detached from us, from sex, from the war and disease, Saint Andrews, joyous and unsullied in a self-contained, uncontaminated existence in which you sing your way out of any darkness, even the darkness of death. Untouched and untouchable.

Julie, must you leave so soon?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

John F. Kennedy: The Song, Never the Singer

"Hey you, doll face - road trip!"
He remains the Don Draper of U.S. presidents. His promiscuity was of gargantuan proportions. His inclination for risk-taking was pathological. He lied and cheated with energetic abandon and shared a family trait for vengeance and a dark appreciation of noblesse oblige.

Arguably —is there any other way? — his approx. 1,000-day reign was potholed with self-induced crises. His decisions surrounding the Bay of Pigs exposed the decomposition of his character. His heedless drive to murder Fidel Castro propelled the world into a U.S./Russian nuclear showdown. His womanizing exposed him to blackmail.

'Hiya girls': Frank, JFK, and, well...
Yet he was brave, handsome, articulate, wealthy and witty. He loved his children and had great taste in clothes. His image alone attracted a generation of bright, educated young people to pursue careers in the civil service, including a cigar-smoking William Jefferson Clinton — a career path that just a few years later Richard Nixon, building on Kennedy’s boneheaded involvement in Vietnam, would napalm into destruction.

Actually, it looks pretty good
Though he kick-started the 1960s, JFK was nothing if not a swingin’ rat-packer, a rich kid slumming with Sinatra and bed-fulls of prostitutes. In fact, his autopsy report indicated the presence of sexually transmitted diseases which, the doctors surmised, must have given him years of grief, let alone the pain imparted to his paramours.

The question arrives: do we wish to know salacious details as means of explaining motivations and judgments, or are we mired, sick with frustration and boredom, in belittling men and women of accomplishment? Is it a combination of the two?

In our sleep comes the song
Anyway, his importance can not be found in what he was, but what he seemed to be, what he could have been, and most importantly, what we wanted him to be. JFK knew his history, and he knew that in our dreams comes the song, not the singer, rounding our little life with a sleep.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Steve McQueen: You Gotta Move

You may be high
You may be low
You may be rich, child
You may be poor
But when the Lord gets ready

You've gotta move- Fred McDowell & Rev. Gary Davis

McQueen at home
Seems there’s an inherent romance to moving…just being in motion…You might be On the Road...or getting Kicks on Route 66. And there goes The Wanderer and exactly one million songs and books about that ribbon o’ highway.

Because... to move is to quest, and to quest is to discover... yourself… eventually, or the Big Man, or whoever is going to drag you legs jangling over the final finish line.

Cool is about failed romance, about the impossibility but yearning for an unbreakable trust, for love, for eternity, for that lasting embrace that lasts for as long as forever is, and you don’t get cooler than Steve McQueen — for he was the ultimate moving machine, a man
Go Baby Go
head back and handsome, passing the galloping Knights of Old, switching a horse for motorcycle, a holy grail for a moto-cross trophy. McQueen was a loner in the most hallowed sense of the word, sensing at a young age the inverse relationship between distance and love.

 Maybe he was racing from a rough childhood of alcoholic/absent parents and reformatory school. (It was said he had been raped while in school and later worked as a prostitute). There was drive, but there was baggage... Could be he never hold the mirror to his dyslexia? What about the wife beating? The drugs? The serial adultery? Nobody ever asked him because you know he wouldn't have an answer — for anything. Answers weren't his thing. Nor explanations. 
Just being cool

When asked about film acting, he replied the ‘bread’ was pretty good. That’s cool. Don't go too deep because the deeper you go the darker it is — and desperate ghosts wait in the shadows, so anxious to drag down the blue-eyed boy.

Better to hunker in a ’68 Shelby Mustang careening through the zigzag streets of San Francisco. Or to snatch up a beautiful Faye Dunaway from a pointless chess match and tell her ‘let's play something else’. Because in the end, it’s all a game. He would repeat that more than once. It's all a game.

Not even sweating in the sauna
The faster you go, the less you belong to earth, to all this, because speed always lifts you up and doesn’t have to explain anything to anyone ever again. You don’t need the job and the wife and the house because they have no role in the pounding sex thud of torque and raining chain sparks as you skid off Coastal Highway # 1 by Big Sur, up and over the haphazard cliff and moving now thru sweet wet clouds with a high-pitch velocity unknown by anyone to that day.

In November 1980, the King of Cool was gunning a Husqvarna 400 Cross full bore when he jumped The Gates... and a thousand angels, taken by surprise, twirled like feathers in his winding wake.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Federico Fellini: Life is a party. Let’s live it together.

A black & white study of color
Someone once said of Charles Dickens that with all his plot contrivances, his silly character names, his terrible coincidences and reliance on low-end melodrama, he should be bad. Really bad. But he’s great. And he’s great because through it all his over abounding love for life shines through like a summer sun.

Love for life. Love of life. When you consider Federico Fellini, consider love and life. It will get you through the often meandering story structures, the over-reliance on the grotesque, and the unsatisfying conclusions.

You see the colors, the emotions swirling up like kite tails, unpredictable and playful. You see the people, who often seem to belong to a kind of theatrical troupe, argumentative but rarely mean, cheerful but foolish, wounded but dancing into tomorrow.

Fellini takes off the makeup
As Guido says — his greatest character in his greatest film — “What is this flash of joy that's giving me new life? … I feel I've been set free. Everything looks good to me, it has a sense, it's true. How I wish I could explain, but I can't... I'm not afraid to tell the truth now…what I'm seeking... Life is a party, let's live it together. I can't say anything else, to you or others. Take me as I am, if you can... it's the only way we can try to find each other.”

‘Felliniesque’. Few people have had their surname metamorphosed into an adjective, but how else to define this indefinable parade of glistening souls.

“Life is a party. Let’s live it together.” Federico, we try, but unlike you, few of us dream in color.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Andy Warhol: Imprisoned in Eternity for 15 Minutes

Mr. Detachment
No one did banality like Andy Warhol. He never had a business card, so who knew if he was artist or graphic artist. For Andy, there was no difference. And anyway, who cared as long as you got paid.

Indeed, he never escaped the charge of poseur, and to his credit, he never tried.

Somehow he tapped the mother-load of a nation’s early-60s spiritual fatigue. And he knew it had a lot do with cash, consumers, and celebrities.

Andy's Selfie
His droning speech patterns. His childlike, gentle observations. His fright wig. His voyeuristic films. He was a way of life, one billion miles from Woodstock and campus rebellions. To complain is to commit, and that wasn't Andy’s bag. He never explained a thing.

He was all for detachment and from the beginning knew it's the observer who adds depth to the painting, never the other way around.

To this day, no one does Andy better than Andy, a monochrome magician, silk-screened with pixie dust, juggling soup cans, still frugging with it-girls, imprisoned in eternity for 15 minutes.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Jimi Hendrix: Some of us are looking at the stars

"Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear/but you're not really here/ it's just the radio."

- Superstar

The electric guitar of Jimi Hendrix spoke an odd language to everyone that heard it, world over, time and again. People were baffled. It was so foreign. Wasn't feedback to be avoided? Not long after Woodstock, I overheard my primary school teacher say of Hendrix, "What  planet did he come from?" Yeah, there was much day-glo coloratura.

Notice his lyrics have a lot to do with outer space and distant planets, which makes sense considering the cosmic lexicon of his fingers.
Mom & Son: Hendrix begins 

Getting the groove
And similar to an alien that carries no immunity to systematic greed and racism, he became sadly indentured, tethered to lawsuits and fair-weather friends and lecherous relatives and well-wishers’ drugs. A friend of mine met him in Toronto, and said, "He looked very thin and very frail."

If ever there was tragic hero crushed between the tectonic plates of art and commerce, it was Jimi Hendrix.

Visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and stand before his stage outfits. He was slim-shouldered but held out for five years under punishing pressure. Oscar Wilde: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

New York Times: September 18 2025

Neptune probe reveals strange discovery

Performing on Neptune. Where else...
AP - New York - NASA’s small but determined Columbus 5 probe that has been scouring Neptune for the past two weeks made an unusual discovery today. What can be described as balls of used electric guitar strings rolled down the blue plains like dancing tumbleweeds. Scientists are puzzled by the strings and the odd sound made by the warm winds which, they say, is reminiscent of singing and amplified feedback.

So wish Jimi well on his beloved Valleys of Neptune where every night forever he plays under the stars and the face of God...sweet and clear.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Peter Sellers - When the Fake Exceeds the Original

Ursula causes high blood pressure
Spike Milligan said Peter Sellers was not a actor, but a freak — and meant it as high praise. Sellers’ aptitude for mimicry was so far beyond the norm, there had to be something else going on. Possibly he was sad heir to a Frankensteinian alchemy endowing the chosen to speak with genuine voices — yet unable to fake souls.

A freak? An article about Sellers in a 1960's edition of Vogue suggests that it’s genius when we accept the veracity of the fake over the fiction of the original. Director Stanley Kubrick was astonished at Sellers' seemingly limitless talent - and astonishment was rarely a Kubrickian reaction.

A Frankensteinian alchemy
That Sellers was mentally ill - yet functional - is tribute to his will power and the more morbid aspects of the entertainment industry.

There was about him sadness, a technical detachment that veered away from ensemble performances and aligned him with gadgetry — anything that wasn't alive. His best work is seen in films with thin plot lines — because  Sellers never belonged to anything, let alone himself. He was no good at life.

Not Being Anywhere
Every girlfriend, every wife, every movie, seemed to further eviscerate his damaged heart. And when the end arrived, a slumming deity gazed from a cloud and pronounced, “Let him speak to us all in the voice of God — because God is hard to imitate and He never makes us laugh."

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Joe Namath Long Bombs to the Hands of Time

CC riding with Ann-Margret
Until he appeared, professional sports strained to be wholesome, bursting with brush-cuts, white teeth and ponytails. Stadiums rattled under Romanesque, military vibrations, and the pre-game national anthem forged a linked between competition (war) and nationalism (war). Athletes were to appear humbled by their talents for—after all—accomplishments are attributable to clean living and supplication.

But Joe Namath didn’t give a hot damn about any of that. He was egocentric, boastful, drank, partied, bedded legions of women and—this is the spoiler—won games. In fact, as quarterback for the New York Jets, he QB’d the win for Super Bowl III in 1969. Not only did he win, but a few days beforehand, he, the underdog, predicted his team would win, an up-to-then outrageous and inappropriate attitude. It drove the Brush Cuts crazy. Hell, he even made Richard Nixon’s enemies list, and Nixon loved football.

His career? Namath tossed 220 interceptions to his 173 touchdowns and compiled a quarterback rating of only 65.5 – the lowest career rating for any quarterback who has ever won the Super Bowl. But why focus on that? Focus on The Game, sweetheart.
Namath lookin' good

With good looks and an ironic sense of humor, you have a guy that should be in movies, and he was, getting down with Ann-Margaret on motorbikes.

First, you gotta win
What the Brush Cuts didn't understand was that Namath, even with his pimp hat and fox-fur coat, his swinging bachelor pad and TV commercials, came a lot closer to embodying the Constitutional qualities of liberty and individualism than they ever did, with their ‘yes sirs’ and drip-dry beliefs. Namath was a Hail-Mary-throwing embodiment of the American Dream, a risk-taker, an innovator, a leader.

His legacy can be found on a tropical island, reclined by a beach, laughing with a sumptuous blonde, now and then standing to whip a long bomb over the waves, secure with the knowledge that it will always be caught by the hands of time.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Beatles: Forever On Their Way to Capistrano

"I think their music could only appeal to adolescents and retarded adults." - Shirley Mair, Macleans Magazine, 1965

There was so much talent that you ignored the raw ambition. How else to explain our willful disregard of their psychotic work regime backed by matching haircuts and suits. The first drip-dry, bespoke boy band.

In (less than) three minute segments, infused with jangling guitars and timpani, Lennon and McCartney delivered truffle-weight paeans to teenage angst. For a brief time, they were the best in the world at it.
Forever winging through the great cosmic clouds

But then something happened. The great space-time tidal bores of fate, talent and time criss-crossed like never before. Drugged-out rock musicians became prominent and respected social icons. And the Beatles reigned from the electronic Olympus of sound reproduction.

But against all expectations, they just got better and better. They actually improved. ‘She Loves You’ was subsumed by the layered dream scape of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ belonged not only to a different band, but a different century, than ‘I Am the Walrus'.

Massive WTF.

The Beatles were embedded gypsies of the day-glo, patchouli-laden 1960s, so hyper-responsive to both their temporal and secular surroundings, that they could move swiftly, without footprints, from Los  Angeles to Rishikesh, from the dank bricks of the Cavern Club to the swirling valleys of the Himalayas.
The absolutely last group photo

By the time an entire generation became lost and despondent on the long and winding road to nowhere, the Beatles themselves had vanished just as fast as they had arrived, leaving few clues to their genius, never to fully reform (anticipating the extreme fragility of collective memory).

Long after their peers have been sealed up silent in tombs of black vinyl, the Beatles are still heard, disembodied melodies, riding the backs of swallows winging through cosmic clouds, forever on their way to San Juan Capistrano. 

It's the next best thing to be...