Monday, October 5, 2015

Mrs. Miller ► Monday Musical Appreciation

The '60s are known for great discoveries in music, from Motown to The British Invasion to Psychedelia. However, there was no greater discovery than Mrs. Miller, born on this day in 1907. 

Mrs. Miller was Kitch before Kitch was Kool.

She was discovered in the early '60s by LA DJ Gary Owens, better known as the announcer on Laugh-In. However, her star didn't begin to rise until she was signed to Capitol Records in 1965. According to the WikiWackyWoo:
Singing in an untrained, Mermanesque, vibrato-laden style, according to Irving Wallace, David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace in The Book of Lists 2, Miller's voice was compared to the sound of "roaches scurrying across a trash can lid." [1]

While growing up in the '60s, I was fascinated by Mrs. Miller. I couldn't wait for her many appearances on the various talk shows of the day. I thought, "If she can make it in Show Biz, then so can I," which may have been my impetus for starting Cobwebs and Strange, a band I formed with my childhood friends.

According to Searching For Mrs. Miller:
From Claremont [where she lived] to Capitol is two hours in average traffic. There is a piece of story missing here, being that an organist/pianist on these sessions, Fred Bock, by all accounts a smart man with a sharp sense of humor, knew he'd found something unique. Fortunately, he knew somebody of consequence in the music business.

Lois Bock recalls: "Mrs. Miller would come to the L.A. studios and make recordings to send as gifts to orphanages those old, old songs like ` Alice Blue Gown' in what she called her `operatic style', and, on one of these sessions, Fred talked her into doing `Downtown', which he took to Lex, who was an employee of Capitol at the time, and he heard something there." She was signed to the venerated label, and work began on her debut, Mrs. Miller's Greatest Hits.

Barry Hansen, a/k/a Dr. Demento raised an interesting point. "It took some imagination on Lex De Azevedo's part to make an album of her doing all rock 'n' roll songs. It certainly was a departure from what she had recorded before." Conventional legend has it that Mrs. Miller had no idea that she was a novelty act, but Lois Bock is quite clear about what Mrs. Miller was told. "Fred and I were honest with her. We told her it would be funny. And the audience loved it. The more they laughed, the more she would, you know, work it. I don't know if she knew more than she let on, because she was always quite a character. But she loved audiences."

Like so many superstars that burned far too bright, Mrs. Miller eventually flamed out:
As Lois Bock said, "She had a good run for eighteen months, which was seventeen-and-a-half more than anyone had a right to expect." Mrs. Miller continued to perform sporadically, playing more benefits than just about any performer I can name, including one to raise funds to build a hospital in her hometown Jetmore, KS. When the hospital was built, she personally furnished the nurse''s lounge. She also devoted much time to raising her niece, Audrey.

[...] She retired officially in 1973, resigning from the Screen Actors' Guild in honorable standing, and eventually settled into a condo at 9535 Reseda Blvd in Northridge, CA (the Valley). Unfortunately, in January 1994, the huge Northridge Quake destroyed the complex. Old age took its toll. Elva relocated to the Garden Terrace Retirement Center, in Vista, CA, where she died in 1997, at the age of 90. She is interred at the Pomona Mausoleum, near her beloved Claremont.
However, we still have her music to keep us warm on those cold nights:

Friday, October 2, 2015

Love Makes The World Go Round ► Unpacking The Writer

Reflections on the last month
Whew!!! It's been a whirlwind couple of months and it's long past time for another Unpacking The Writer.

As longtime readers of Not Now Silly know by now the Unpacking The Writer series is a monthly look at what's going on inside this writers head. This month I'll include my heart.

Last week, for Throwback Thursday, I wrote about my Nuptial Nostalgia Tour, a 2-week road trip in which I visited Toronto and Hamilton, cites I have lived in. Meanwhile, Pastor Kenny Responds to my latest Pastoral Letter called The Trunk Lost In Transit, which means all my gentle prodding to have a dialogue about God, Atheism, and the LGBT communities has paid off. There will be more to come in that series.

My numbers for the past 30 days. Click to enlarge.
Since the last Unpacking The Writer I've also written about Tuli Kupferberg, U-Roy, Yma Súmac, Arthur Godfrey, and Linton Kwesi Johnson for my newest series A Monday Musical Appreciation. Under the rubric of politics I've also written More Proof the Palin Family Are Liars and Grifters; taken a well-deserved slap at Bill "The Falafel King" O'Reilly; written about the day Frederick Douglass Escaped; and concocted a little thing called Donald Trump, Demagoguery, and The National Shrine of the Little Flower.

I've also written A Message to Facebookers, an effort to vanquish the trolls on my timeline; reported that Don Knotts Is Back in a highly anticipated Morgantown update; written about Murder and Morning Television; and launched Throwback Thursday with The Westerfield Journals.

It's been a very productive month. 

One of the statistics the Blogger platform returns to me is what search terms people have used to arrive at the Not Now Silly Newsroom. I always find this a weird, but interesting list. In the last month 2 people have arrived here by searching for "harris faulkner tit pictures." I'm sure they arrived disappointed, since there are none. (Not that I wouldn't want to see said pictures myself.) Two people have arrived here by searching "headly westerfield" and 2 by searching "where thevsidewalk [sic] ends headly wersterfield [sic]," which links to one of my more popular series on institutional racism in Coconut Grove.

I'm also celebrating an anniversary, of sorts. I've been writing Friday Fox Follies, my weekly column for PoliticusUSA, for a full year now. It's a challenge to write because it's carefully crafted by using the actual headlines found on the interwebs and put in prose form. It's a lot of fun (for me, at least) when it all comes together, but there are times it has to be forced more than others. In fact, as soon as I publish this post, I'll begin the next FFF column.

However, I've saved the biggest news for the very end: I fell in head over heels, madly, crazy in love. Incomprehensibly, it's been reciprocated and I am happier than I've been in many years.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

All Hail the King of Late Night Talk Shows ► Throwback Thursday

The undisputed King of Late Night is -- and forever will be -- Johnny Carson. On this day in 1962, Carson took the helm of The Tonight Show, and nothing was ever the same again.

Carson didn't invent the modern talk show. That honour goes to Steve Allen. However, Carson reinvented the talk show and kept reinventing it night after night for 30 years, racking up nearly 5,000 shows. But it wasn't his endurance that made Johnny Carson a star. According to Biography:
Audiences found comfort in Carson’s calm and steady presence in their living rooms each evening. Revered for his affable personality, quick wit and crisp interviews, he guided viewers into the late night hours with a familiarity they grew to rely on year after year. Featuring interviews with the stars of the latest Hollywood movies or the hottest bands, Carson kept Americans up-to-date on popular culture, and reflected some of the most distinct personalities of his era through impersonations, including his classic take on President Ronald Reagan. Carson created several recurring comedic characters that popped up regularly on his show, including Carnac the Magnificent, an Eastern psychic who was said to know the answers to all kinds of baffling questions. In these skits, Carson would wear a colorful cape and featured turban and attempt to answer questions on cards before even opening their sealed envelopes. Carson, as Carmac, would demand silence before answering questions such as "Answer: Flypaper." "Question: What do you use to gift wrap a zipper?"

In August I was thrilled when Variety announced Johnny Carson Returns: Antenna TV to Air Full ‘Tonight Show’ Episodes starting January 1st:
Antenna TV has struck a multi-year deal with Carson Entertainment Group to license hundreds of hours of the NBC late-night institution. Antenna will run episodes that aired from 1972 through the end of Carson’s 30-year reign in in 1992. Because NBC owns the rights to “The Tonight Show” moniker, Antenna TV’s episodes will be billed simply as “Johnny Carson.”

“This is not a clip show. This is full episodes of Johnny Carson, the man that everyone in late-night agrees was the greatest host of all time, airing in real time as he did back in the day,” Sean Compton, Tribune’s president of strategic programming and acquisitions, told Variety. “Tuning in to ‘The Tonight Show’ is like taking a walk down Main Street in Disneyland. The minute you step in there, you feel good and you know it’s a place you want to stay. We cannot wait to bring this show to fans who remember Carson and to a new generation of viewers who have never had the chance to see Johnny in his prime.”
Starting January 1st we'll see more comedy brilliance like this:

Monday, September 28, 2015

Tuli Kupferberg ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Today we celebrate the life, poetry, and music of counter-culture icon Tuli Kupferberg, born on this day in 1923. He was a ground-breaking New York City Bohemian in the right place, at the right time, to find his claim to fame in the Hippie era.

According to his obituary in the New York Times:
The Fugs were, in the view of the longtime Village Voice critic Robert Christgau, “the Lower East Side’s first true underground band.” They were also perhaps the most puerile and yet the most literary rock group of the 1960s, with songs suitable for the locker room as well as the graduate seminar (“Ah, Sunflower, Weary of Time,” based on a poem by William Blake); all were played with a ramshackle glee that anticipated punk rock.

With songs like “Kill for Peace,” the Fugs also established themselves as aggressively antiwar, with a touch of absurdist theater. The band became “the U.S.O. of the left,” Mr. Kupferberg once said, and it played innumerable peace rallies, including the “exorcism” of the Pentagon in 1967 that Norman Mailer chronicled in his book “The Armies of the Night.” (The band took its name from a usage in Mailer’s “Naked and the Dead.”)
When I was growing up The Fugs and Frank Zappa were my introduction to the counter-culture. While the '60s was filled with psychedelic bands, the fact that their records appeared on mainstream corporate record companies took them down a notch in my opinion. But, not The Fugs. They were as real as real could be.

Rolling Stone's obit reads in part:
The Fugs formed in 1964 when bookstore owner Sanders and poet Kupferberg, both barely musicians, teamed up to play an unpolished rock & roll combined with lyrics stocked with political satire and profanity. Because of their anti-war imagery — "Who can train guerillas by the dozens? Send them out to kill their untrained cousins?" asks frontman Kupferberg in "CIA Man" — and rambunctious live shows in the mid-'60s, the FBI reportedly investigated the Fugs. The band ultimately recorded six albums between 1964 and 1969, with Tupferberg contributing some of the band's most renowned tracks: "Nothing," "Kill for Peace," "The Ten Commandments" and "CIA Man." After a 15-year hiatus, Kupferberg and Sanders reformed the Fugs with a new lineup.

Kupferberg earned a reputation as one of New York's foremost bohemians, and even served as the inspiration for the man who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and survived in Allen Ginsberg's epic poem "Howl." Kupferberg "jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown," Ginsberg wrote. Kupferberg later admitted he was the jumper of Ginsberg's poem.
Whenever things get too real for me, I remember The Fugs Gospel-inspired tune Wide, Wide River, which, in a perfect world, should have been Number One on the Hit Parade longer than Carole King's reign on the top of the charts. Crank it up!!!

PSF:What did think of the Beat movement when it first started happening?

I remember being shocked by it. I guess I was still in some sort of traditional mode. Shocked, jealousy and then adaptation. It was liberating. I was shocked by Ed Sander's freedom of sexual expression. I'm sure people were shocked by mine when I started. Ginsberg is your best example of a liberating force. It's not just the language or the freedom of the language because that just reflects character structure. A person who drops dead or wants to kill someone would use all those words you're not supposed to use. It's more than language. It's attitude towards sexuality and human relations along with domination and love. It's not that people who shout about sexual freedom understand everything that's involved. In order to have good sex, you have to have good human relationships and vice versa. When I grew up, in my community, you weren't going to have sex until you got married- this was a middle-class Jewish community. Maybe you went to a prostitute... But that gradually broke down. That was all for the good and not just for me but also for most of America.

PSF: So you got to be part of the Beats yourself then?

Everyone was. But I felt that they had a heritage with the bohemians. The term comes from 12th century University of Paris. The craziest students came from Bohemia and they gave them this name. There's this old tradition of living outside of the mores of society. Until the burgeouis revolution, most artists lived on the patronage of the ruling class. LA VIE DE BOHEME, the libetto for that opera, tells you what was happening then in the 18th century. So that's a 150 year old tradition that's still going on. It used to be linked to geography with places like New York, San Francisco, Munich, Paris. But now, with the Internet, you could be crazy, wild, free and self-destructive anywhere you want. But hopefully, there's still communities of people out there. Utopian colonies who are just friends.
It was always about the poetry. Here's Tuli in recitation:

Tuli died in 2010 at the age of 86, but his poetry and music live on forever.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Nuptial Nostalgia Tour ► Throwback Thursday

In August I announced my Road Trip to Canada, which took me to Hamilton and Toronto, cities I've written about previously. It was transformed into a magical road trip, filled with Deja Vu and synchronicity; a trip when finished felt preordained. It was truly throwback in ways I could have never imagined and I'm still trying to process it all.

Wedding photography outside The Werx The Spice Factory
The first strong echo of the past was the wedding venue. The Spice Factory is in a building that was once called The Werx, but that was several owners ago. After the building sat idle for a while, the new owner renovated it to be a bar/special event venue. However, The Werx was the place in Hamilton where we all used to hang and put on our own events more than a decade ago. Now we were back in the building experiencing extreme Deja Vu.

In fact, The Werx was the location of the ghost hunt I conducted with the Girly Ghostbusters, first described in Hamilton Magazine.

It was great being in that building again. It was also pretty special being back with that group of people again. These are people I dearly love, but only get to have computer contact with. At one point we were all standing out in front of the building -- in our tuxedos and fancy dresses -- and realized, "How many times have we done this?" We laughed and laughed and laughed, just like we used to.

And yet, as comfortable as this all was, there was also a sense of dislocation. While some things were the same, other things were very different. And, the same is also true for all the other experiences I will relate below.

That's my old apartment on the top floor, left
After the Hamilton wedding I went to Toronto, the city I truly consider home.

One of the best apartments I ever had in Toronto (and I've had several great ones) is in a building I never thought I'd be in again after moving out some 17 years ago and leaving behind a pull-out couch that was too heavy to carry.

Yet, recently my daughter was looking for a new apartment and found one in the very same building. I spent 2 nights with her and it was so weird and wonderful being in the same building again.

While in the old neighbourhood I spent a couple of days looking for my old supers, who had moved to an apartment above a store on Queen Street West, above one of the antique stores. I had absolutely no luck. If anyone knows where to find Shane and Margaret, I'd be most interested in hearing all about it. They were two people I had really hoped to find while in Toronto.

While in Toronto I used Kensington Market as my home base because it was convenient to everything and everybody.

It was wonderful being in Kensington Market again. I lived in the Market 40 years ago, when the Island Records Canada offices were on the ground floor of a house on Nassau, at Augusta. That's why I'm considered a Marketeer and why this was a long-delayed homecoming.

There are few places on earth quite like Kensington Market. The WikiWackyWoo says:
Kensington Market is a distinctive multicultural neighbourhood in Downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Market is an older neighbourhood and one of the city's most well-known. In November 2006, it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.[1][2] Robert Fulford wrote in 1999 that "Kensington today is as much a legend as a district. The (partly) outdoor market has probably been photographed more often than any other site in Toronto."[3] 
Kensington Market: A small
place with a very big heart.
However, there's no way the Googlizer can convey the sense of family one finds in The Market. It only runs a few blocks in any direction and feels like a small village. Everyone looks out for everyone. While I was there I saw store owners bring out food to give to the Punks that congregate near the alley. There's an amazing energy in The Market, with the sidewalks crowded from early morning to late at night.

I could easily see myself living in The Market because it felt like home. Everyone welcomed me with open arms and seemed truly sorry that I had to leave.

For the most part The Market is The Market. On the surface it appears to have not changed at all. The cheese shop is still there. The fishmonger has the same smells. The green grocer next to my old house is as busy as it ever was. Yet on closer examination one notices new businesses tucked between the same stores as before: New Age stores, fancy coffee shops and restaurants, and funky vintage clothing stores.

You can take the boy out of the Market, but you can't take the Market out of the boy. That's my
old house behind me. Island Records was on the ground floor and I lived above on the third floor.
When I  walked into Lola, I ran into Brad, who I worked with at
Citytv for over decade. Now that he's retired, this is his hangout.
It was terrific being in the Market again!

And, I want to extend a special THANK YOU to Gwen and Huong Bang, the two sisters who own Lola in Kensington Market.

I had this crazy idea to throw myself a party while in Toronto. It was borne out of practicality. I couldn't possibly visit everybody I wanted to see and who wanted to see me in the 4 days I was there. But, what if they all came to me?

I approached a woman I knew slightly 40 years ago, when she became friends with my first wife after we had split. They went to George Brown college together. Barbette Kensington and I reconnected a few years back on the facebookery. I knew she was an event organizer so I asked her where she would hold a party for me. She found Lola (because it's one of her hangouts) and, somehow, 'convinced' Gwen and Haung to allow all of my crazy friends to descend on their place. [I'm told they were happy to do so.]

Barbette Kensington making sure all goes well at my party.
That's the infamous Richard Flohill in the foreground.
In fact, Barbette took that ball and ran with it. My party went off flawlessly and I had such a wonderful time that I wished it would have never ended.

In some respects it hasn't.

I've had a smile on my face since my trip to Toronto and my spirit has been changed in ways I can barely describe, despite my facility with words.

All I can say for now is that my life has been transformed and there are new roads and adventures in my future.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pastor Kenny Responds

Pastor Kenny. Pics stolen from his facebookery.
A Response to Your Pastoral Letter (Or How One Pastoral Letter Begets Another, Begets Another, Begets Another)

I’m a FB neophyte, so it took me quite a while to dig out your last pastoral letter once I had a little time to respond to it. I’ve not known how to respond to your pastoral letter because I wasn’t sure if or what might have been expected of me.  Was it an invitation to dialogue? In what forum?  I was just a little befuddled.  SO I figured, heck, I’ll just write something down on word doc and if Headly wants to publish it, so much the better.

I am going with Headly at your request, though I knew you as Marc.  I think we lost regular connection before you became Headly so it was good to hear your story about how the name came [about] and took.  Ken or Kenny works for me. Only my sisters, Marilyn and Nancy call me Kenny, so it reminds me of my past. (The name, btw was ruined by association with Barbie, and if it’s not too insulting to a fine musician, Kenny G. Nobody seems to name their kid Kenneth anymore.  Someone told me in Scottish (?) it means “handsome,” which [may] also account for its unpopularity. Who would want to name their kid “handsome”?  Alas. Mark has fared much better as a name, and the variant Marc (short for “Marcus”?) is a little exotic, given that we’re in the 1950’s Tom-Dick-Harrry-Mary-Deborah genre of Wonder Bread Names to begin in. But I digress.

I must say I have been honored by your interest in my little LGBT soap opera. Spreading the word about Letter to My Congregation, being interested, curious, sympathetic.  But it has also been comforting to reconnect a little bit with my Gilchrist past through your reaching out. 

Pastor Ken Wilson with wife Julia
My wife, Julia, grew up in Holland Michigan, where her dad still lives in the house she grew up in. (Her dad was an English Professor at Hope College.) She can go back to the house and stay overnight, as we have a few times since we got married.  Recently, at her moms memorial service, she met all sorts of people from her growing up years—people who babysat for her and for whom she babysat, teachers from high school, old friends.  It helped me realize how the decline of a city like Detroit can disconnect you from your past. 

Going back to the old neighborhood recently was stunning—urban blight such as I’d never seen just a few blocks South of where we grew up. Such an empty feeling. And no one from the old neighborhood to share it with. So reading your posts—especially your history of the Detroit riots—triggered all sorts of memories for me. Thank you.
One of the things I’d forgotten was just how racist things were growing up. You reminded me what it was like to grow up Jewish---and it all came rushing back, the horrible jokes about Jews, and Blacks, and Poles, and well, non WASPS. I remember being warned by someone not to attend a Catholic Mass because they spoke Latin and you didn’t know whether they were saying bad stuff or not.

It made me feel ashamed. Using the N-word was strictly forbidden in my family. Same with anti-Jewish rhetoric. But talk of “Injuns,” “Krauts” and “Japs” was tolerated. Now I’m ashamed. But I was also ashamed because of my forgetting. Forgetting how bad the Christian participation in anti-Semitism was in that era. Remembering how my late wife Nancy and I came to visit you in Toronto talking all our Jesus talk without remembering how your ears would have heard Jesus talk, having been called, as was common in that time, “Christ killer.” I can’t imagine what it would be like to associate the Jesus that I’m so ga-ga over with that kind of treatment from people who claim to be part of the religion he started. I have to admit, it’s a pretty reasonable thing to judge a religious figure by the behavior of the religion that he founded. So I can’t blame you for not picking up what Nancy and I were laying down in that trip to Toronto. 

Pastor Kenny's very important
book, which got him thrown out of
the church he founded 45 years ago
By the way, it was fun to talk about that Toronto trip and to hear you say that you found it kind of interesting despite the fact that the God talk went on a little too much for your tastes. New converts to anything are a trip and I imagine I was one too. You should hear me talk to my friends who show any interest in my Fitbit. I get enthusiastic about things and want the whole world to adopt them. (Say Headly, have you tried the Fitbit? It’s amazing how it helps you be more active—I walk so much more now that I have one of these little wonders.)  But I digress again. I think you bring the elementary school of me, the Kenny locked up in Pastor Ken. 

I do know that there’s a connection between the mistreatment of the LGBT community and the Jewish community. In much the same way that anti-Semitism was tolerated in the Church for millennia—based on a handful of biblical texts taken out of historical context—a handful of texts taken out of historical context have propped up teachings that are harmful to vulnerable sexual minorities. The Second Vatican Counsel—which took place while we were growing up in Detroit—signaled an important reversal on this. Now there’s virtually no respectable Christian tradition in which it is OK to refer to Jewish people as “Christ-killers.”  Maybe the same reversal is underway today when it comes to sexual minorities. I certainly hope so.

And drum circles. I found it fascinating that you’ve gotten into them.  I’ve always thought they would be a blast.  I walk through the Diag sometimes and there’s a drum circle happening. They don’t seem to be looking for people to join them, but I’d like to. I always think of you now when I see them.  The feeling of connection with other people that happens with a drum circle has got to be pleasurable. You could do a lot worse for a communal spiritual practice than a drum circle. He said, approvingly.

OK now I have to figure out how send you this word doc via FB. Oh crap, is that even possible? 

Grace and peace to you, fellow pilgrim and pastoral letter writer.

Editor's note: Kenneth John Wilson is my oldest friend in the world. We grew up together on Gilchrist Street in Detroit, catercorner from each other. We lost track of each other in the early '70s.

Last year I was made aware that Pastor Kenny is shaking the foundations of organized Christianity with his book A Letter to my Congregation, which argues for full inclusion of the LGBT communities in all congregations. We have since reconnected to my extreme happiness.

There has been some slight editing of this Pastoral Letter for clarity and spelling.

Monday, September 21, 2015

U-Roy ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Let's get right to it. Had it not been for Reggae "toasting," or "dancehall," there would have been no Rap or Hip Hop. U-Roy, was not only one of the firsts in the genre, but one of the best.

Born Ewart Beckford on this day in 1942, U-Roy got his nickname from a family member who couldn't pronounce his real name.

According to the WikiWackyWoo:
As a young man Beckford listened to the music of Louis Prima, James Brown, Ruth Brown, Fats Domino, Rufus Thomas, Smiley Lewis and was especially influenced by the vocal phrasing of Louis Jordan.

U-Roy's first single

U-Roy began as a DJ in 1961 toasting over the records at live events. In Jamaica there was no access to radio, so the toasting was done at live shows in front of a "sound system." Moving from one sound system to another, it took almost a decade before his career took off, but when it did U-Roy changed the face of Reggae music.

U-Roy has worked with the great producers of Dub Reggae, from King Tubby to Lee "Scratch" Perry, going from height to height.

According to All Music: 
His toasts were utterly relaxed and conversational, yet always in perfect synchronicity with the rhythms. The DJ had now gained a significant following in the U.K., as well, and in August 1976, visited Britain for the first time. He performed at the London Lyceum, backed by the always excellent Revolutionaries, and the 1978 Live EP was drawn from this phenomenal show. Back in Jamaica, U-Roy began recording his new album, Rasta Ambassador, filling the studio with musicians and singers, 15 strong in all. The Gladiators provided particularly sonorous backing vocals, while the band, led by the rhythm team of Sly & Robbie, created a deep roots sound appropriate to the album's title and accentuated by Robinson's deeply dubby production. 

U-Roy is still toasting and we are still listening. As always the proof is in the record grooves and in the beat. Listen to U-Roy and you'll see why he was awarded Jamaica's Order of Distinction. A fitting distinction for a man who changed the face of Reggae music.