Saturday, February 04, 2017

Jim Morrison: Enemy of the State in 'Bright Midnight,' Cosmic Mate of Pamela Courson

Bright Midnight: Live in America is a live album by the band The Doors released in 2001. It is a compilation of recordings of concerts performed in the United States between July 1969 and August 1970. All songs written by Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore except "Back Door Man" (written by Willie Dixon & Chester Burnett) and "Alabama Song/Whisky Bar" (written by Bertolt Brecht & Kurt Weill).

Several famous musicians have died at the age of 27. Can it just be a tragic coincidence? Rolling Stone writer Gantry Elliot always thought so. But as mysterious packages arrive and clues unfold, Gantry soon realizes someone knows the truth behind these deaths. Chris Formant presents an intriguing scenario about the deaths of several iconic rock and roll musicians from the late ’60s and early ’70s. What if, instead of accidental deaths or suicide, these rock and roll stars were actually murdered? And if this is the case, what possible reason would someone have for killing them just as they were at the pinnacle of stardom? Could Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin have been murdered, seen as 'enemies of the state'? Gantry Elliot becomes convinced there is truth to the allegations and he turns to close friend and record expert, Dennis Briganty, and FBI Agent Melendez to aid his investigation. Chris Formant presents an inventive (and plausible) theory for the long ago deaths of these famous rock and roll legends that is guaranteed to appeal to classic rock fans and conspiracy buffs. Source:

DANNY SAYS (2016) directed by Brendan Toller, is a documentary on the life and times of Danny Fields. Since 1966, Danny Fields has played a pivotal role in music and "culture" of the late 20th century: working for the Doors, Lou Reed, Nico, Judy Collins, and managing groundbreaking artists like the Stooges, the MC5 and the Ramones. DANNY SAYS follows Fields from Harvard Law dropout, to the Warhol Silver Factory, to Director of Publicity at Elektra Records, to "punk pioneer." Danny's taste and opinion, once deemed defiant and radical, has turned out to have been prescient. DANNY SAYS is a story of avant-garde turning prophetic, as Fields looks to the next generation.

Jim Morrison was now isolating himself from The Doors, taking long solitary walks around the empty streets of lower Manhattan. One night Elektra publicist Danny Fields took Jim out to the fabled back room of Max’s Kansas City on Park Avenue South, the ground zero of Manhattan’s downtown hipoisie. “Light My Fire” played incessantly on Max Kansas City’s juke-box, but no one—artists, musicians, dealers—bothered to look at Jim as he sauntered by in his leather trousers.

Danny Fields introduced German singer Nico to Jim Morrison at ‘The Castle,’ a Los Angeles mansion of the 1920’s which was being rented by Arthur Lee (frontman of the band Love) and had become a hangout for the Los Angeles/Sunset Strip rock scene. Danny Fields  thought Nico and Jim Morrison ‘would make a cute couple.’ Morrison “had a wonderful sense of manners. When he wasn’t drunk he was a pussycat, but when he got drunk he became a redneck boozer like the kind you’d see in some Alabama bowling alley.” Both Nico and Morrison took LSD and had an immediate attraction to one another; later that night they did end up naked and walking on the parapet of ‘The Castle.’

Nico dyed her hair red, although Jim Morrison didn’t pursue the relationship, since he returned to Pamela Courson (his 'cosmic mate'), but such was the obsession of Nico that she left her hair colored red even after Morrison’s death. "He was the first man I was in love with, because he was affectionate to my looks and my mind. But we took too much drink and too many drugs to make it, that was our difficulty," said Nico. Source:

Jim Morrison loved Pamela Courson to death. Morrison cheated on her (and she on him), but he always  came back to her side. He dedicated his poetry to her, and left her everything in his will. Pamela Susan Morrison is one of the more enigmatic figures of the American sixties. She would carve out her own legend of romance, high style and excess that rivaled Jim Morrison’s for recklessness and danger. Morrison spent unbelievable amounts of money keeping Pamela's fashion boutique Themis afloat. “Jim was always giving her stuff,” Paul Ferrara recalled: “Money, clothes, cars, anything. He pampered the hell out of her. She’d want something, and he’d call Max Fink and say, ‘Give her whatever she wants.’ Money meant nothing to Jim. It was immaterial to him, as long as she was happy.” When Pamela said she wanted a place in the country, Jim paid for a secluded cabin, up in tranquil Topanga Canyon. The Doors’ accountant later estimated that Jim spent a quarter million preinflation dollars on Pam's boutique.

Jim Morrison's self-destructiveness led him to personally dangerous and professionally suicidal outbursts. But along with this mean streak, and with the drug and alcohol use that greatly exacerbated it, came the heady idealism that accounts for part of the Doors' long-lived popularity. Oliver Stone's film The Doors, at times, dares to make the outrageous suggestion that he died for his audience's sins. The flimsy portrayal of Pamela Courson (by Meg Ryan), who died of a heroin overdose in 1974, offended the surviving Doors. Ray Manzarek disowned the whole film. At his most darkly ecstatic, Jim Morrison could invoke the liberating influences of mind-expanding drugs and literature. John Densmore (The Doors' drummer) wrote in his memoir that Morrison was "headed straight for a sad death in a gutter." Bloated, bearded and alcoholic, paranoid about persistent official persecution, Jim Morrison fled to Paris, battled his demons while writing poetry, and eventually died in a bathtub on July 3, 1971.  –"Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend" (2005) by Stephen Davis.

Monday, January 30, 2017

58th Anniversary of The Day The Music Died

"The Day the Music Died" (Behind the Music) documentary: The true story of the Plane Crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper.

Buddy Holly Died for Our Sins: "Buddy Holly's death was like a mythic sacrifice, plane dropping from an icy sky into the frozen American heartland, the blood of Holly flowing over the ground, replenishing rock 'n' roll so that the music didn't die. Instead it lived another few decades before eventually (after Kurt Cobain's death--the last great original rock talent) fading away. It may be that artistic genius is marked by an ability to feel more deeply than ordinary people. The last recordings show that Buddy Holly felt very deeply indeed. They're imbued with yearning, loneliness, and melancholy: "What to Do," "Crying, Waiting, Hoping," "Learning the Game," and "Peggy Sue Got Married." Genius recordings. Another strange part of the story is that for Buddy Holly the "music died" before the plane crash. Holly was no longer able to crack the Top 40. Rock, at that time still a rinky-dink flash-in-the-pan movement, seemed to many to be over. Holly's odd demeanor toward Peggy Sue, his sudden marriage to Maria Elena, his breaking free of Norman Petty: It's a mythic story, unreal." Source:

Your life really does flash before your eyes when you die, a study suggests - Research on those who have had "near death" experiences suggests that the phenomenon rarely involves flashbacks in chronological order, as happens in Hollywood films. The study found that many of the flashbacks involved intensely emotional moments. This suggests that a representation of life-events as a continuum exists in the cognitive system, and may be further expressed in extreme conditions. Researchers said that the phenomenon could be caused by the parts of the brain that store autobiographical memories like the prefrontal, medial temporal, and parietal cortices. Source:

Friday, Feb. 3, will mark the 58th anniversary of the 1959 death of legendary recording artist Charles Hardin “Buddy” Holly in the crash of a chartered Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft near Clear Lake, Iowa. The same day now is annually regarded as “The Day the Music Died” at the Buddy Holly Center, 1801 Crickets Ave. When it became clear that promoters had stopped producing festivals in Lubbock during the week of Holly’s birth, the Buddy Holly Center made certain to also pay notable tribute on “The Day the Music Died.” There is free admission to the Buddy Holly Center’s Gallery on Feb. 3 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and again from 6 to 9 p.m. during that day’s First Friday Art Trail. Source:

Maria Elena Holly is interviewed by Don McLean ("American Pie") for a special BBC broadcast, "Maria Elena: My Life with Buddy," scheduled to air February 7th — Anniversary of The Day The Music Died.

Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans had gone north to New York during the 1950s, altering the cultural face of the city and bringing a new vitality. The most distinguished musical of the 1950s, West Side Story, epitomized the character of this historic migration, and the musical was playing at the Winter Garden, featuring a chorus of Puerto Rican girls, including one named Maria, singing an impudent, spirited song about the wretchedness of San Juan and the dubious advantages of America. Since 1898, when the United States had seized the colony of Puerto Rico from Spain in the Spanish-American War, two million Puerto Ricans had immigrated to America. Between 1950 and 1956, the Puerto Rican population of New York alone escalated from 245,880 to 577,000. Most Puerto Ricans settled in the squalid tenements of what would become Spanish Harlem between Fifth Avenue and the East River. The smoldering Latino temperament lent an aura of romance to the ghetto. Songwriters soon celebrated it in sumptuous wall-of-sound recordings such as Leiber and Stoller's “A Rose in Spanish Harlem.” 

Maria Elena Santiago, who was born in Puerto Rico, had lost her mother when she was eight. At that point her father had sent her to live with her Aunt Provi GarcĂ­a in the district of Greenwich Village, Lower Manhattan. Maria Elena regarded Buddy Holly with interest, not only because he was a rock star: his self-confident behavior struck a chord in her heart. Before Provi paved the way for her to work at Peer-Southern, Maria Elena had held a variety of jobs in New York and had artistic aspirations. Her breezy air of friendliness enchanted Buddy, as did her Hispanic lineage, which would have kept most Caucasian boys at a distance in the fifties. Some of Buddy's prejudiced acquaintances from Lubbock didn't seem to accept his marriage or his new lifestyle.

“Buddy Holly wants me on The Winter Dance Party Tour. Book me.” Preston Allerton shook his head and smiled at me the way people smile at puppies and cretins: “With that loser? Don’t be absurd. Besides, that tour is insufferable. You’ll be in farm states, playing to a bunch of cowpokes, snow up to your derriere.” “Let me worry about my derriere, okay, Preston? I’ve been invited, and I want you to book me. And I want a new record—don’t give me any of this sissy insufferable bullshit.” “What do you mean, sissy?” See, Preston was the kind of guy you think might be a homo. He certainly was sensitive about the word sissy. Now I remembered Preston Allerton telling me: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Buddy was history in five months.” First Preston predicted that Buddy would be history, and a few weeks after the plane crash a collection of Buddy’s material is on the market.  It was a set-up. Buddy had been murdered. Stek-Circ spelled backwards is Crickets. Preston Allerton is an anagram for Norman Petty. —"The Winter Dance Party Murders" (2015) by Greg Herriges

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mad as Hell: Christine Chubbock and The Making of 'Network' (Paddy Chayefsky's Masterpiece)

Christine Chubbuck’s sad exit is said to have partly inspired Paddy Chayefsky during the writing of his screenplay for the 1976 film Network, famous for its own deeply troubled anchor. She certainly hates many of the same things as Howard Beale, especially the sensation-driven “If it bleeds, it leads” mentality then emerging in TV news. Rebecca Hall draws a richly detailed portrait of Chubbuck, and isn’t afraid to make her unlikable. She’s kind of a hard-ass, intimidating and hard to reach, so it’s a miracle, and a credit to Hall, that we find ourselves on her side. If we don’t come away with a complete explanation of what drove Chubbuck to her tragic personal apocalypse, thanks to Rebecca Hall’s expertise and control, we do at least feel like we know and understand her. Source:

Christine Chubbock's younger brother Greg told People magazine his sister suffered from bipolar disorder, a mood disorder characterised by bouts of manic highs and periods of depression: “She had no greys in her life. Everything was black and white. Chrissie just didn’t have a compromise button.” Greg also claims that his concerned parents had spent over 40.000 dollars per year during over 20 years on doctors fees, psychiatrists and psychologists to “help Chrissie find peace.” But aged 16, Christine received a devastating blow when her 23-year-old boyfriend was killed in a car accident, losing the man that Greg believes was “the love of her life”. As her mother, Peg, told the Washington Post in 1974: “she just couldn’t connect with people”. Mental illness may have driven her to suicide, but she didn’t want her death to be meaningless. “That salacious part of television, Chris detested,” Greg says. “Was her final action a raging statement against that sort of television? Yes, clearly it was.”

Bob Keehn, the WXLT-TV anchor man for the evening news, liked Christine Chubbuck: “She had a protective coloration, what might appear to be no need for friends. I felt she was someone with very deep feelings. Someone who seemed more involved with her job and with her emotions than most people seem to be. She had a little more depth than most people. What seemed to concern her was her involvement with the human condition. She would express a negative reaction to people and the way they treated each other.” Whether her last act should subsequently have been dramatised is up for debateher brother has accused the filmmakers of "cash[ing] in on a family tragedy"but 43 years after, Christine Chubbuck is still making the news. Source:

Howard Beale (Peter Finch), who is more depressed than Max Schumacher (William Holden) realizes, announces on the air the next day that, in one week’s time, he is going to commit suicide on his show. This scenario eerily paralleled a tragic real-life incident that occurred while Paddy Chayefsky worked on the screenplay of Network (1976). On the morning of July 15, 1974, viewers of WXLT-TV 40 in Sarasota, Florida, watched as Christine Chubbuck, the host of Suncoast Digest, looked into the camera and said, “In keeping with the WXLT policy, presenting the most immediate and complete reports of local "blood and guts", in living color, TV 40 presents what is believed to be a television first. an attempted suicide.” She then shot herself behind the right ear and died hours later. Months later, Chayefsky wrote a line for Beale in which the anchor declares he will “blow my brains out right on the air, right in the middle of the seven o’clock news, like that girl in Florida,” then he deleted it from the script. 

“Television is democracy at its ugliest,” said Chayefsky: “The conception of Network is a farce, but once the idea is there, it’s all real, every bit. I don’t attack; I just tell the truth. Television will do anything for a rating.” “The American tradition of journalism is objectivity,” Chayefsky said to Time magazine: “There is nothing valuable about a journalist comicalizing the news. The news should not—must not—become part of the entertainment scheduling. To make a gag out of the news is disreputable and extremely destructive.” Though the story of Howard Beale’s breakdown might contain “a fanciful, Frank Capra nuttiness that could be appealing,” Pauline Kael wrote that “Chayefsky is such a manic bard that I’m not sure whether Howard Beale’s epiphanies were the result of a nervous breakdown or were actually inspired by God.” 

“Let’s at least show the country to ourselves for what it really is,” Chayefsky wrote: I think the American people deserve some truth instead of pure entertainment or pure addiction. Life is not as coarse and brutalized as it is presented to us on TV. There is an America with a very complicated, pluralistic society that is worth honest presentation. Television coarsens all the complexities of human relationships, brutalizes them, makes them insensitive. The point about violence is not so much that it breeds violence but that it desensitizes viciousness, brutality, so that we no longer actively feel the pains of the victim or feel their grief.… We have become desensitized to things that are usually part of the human condition. This is the basic problem of television. We’ve lost our sense of shock, our sense of humanity.” 

Desperate as these words sounded, Chayefsky had not yet given up entirely on his fellow man. Speaking to an interviewer at his New York office some months after he quit Altered States, Chayefsky said, “I feel almost totally alienated from what’s going on today,” adding that he now lived “kind of a reclusive life almost. I take it the American people are becoming as alienated as I am.” Speaking from his office at 850 Seventh Avenue in the spring of 1981, Paddy Chayefsky offered his vision for what he expected the network news would look like someday—not as it might be depicted in Network, but as he believed it would appear on actual television as watched by people across the country. Chayefsky asserted: “Network wasn’t even a satire. I wrote a realistic drama. The industry satirizes itself.” Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist, wrote: “Chayefsky’s warning was made to people who knew everything he said was true, but they felt powerless to stop it.” Writer Aaron Sorkin affirmed: “No predictor of the future—not even Orwell—has ever been as right as Chayefsky was when he wrote Network.” —"Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies" (2014) by Dave Itzkoff

Oscars Nominations 2017

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester By the Sea

La La Land

Best supporting actor
Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)
Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea)
Dev Patel (Lion)

Best supporting actress
Michelle Williams (Manchester By the Sea)
Viola Davis (Fences)
Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)

Best actor
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
Casey Affleck (Manchester By the Sea)
Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Denzel Washington (Fences)

Best actress
Emma Stone (La La Land)
Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Ruth Negga (Loving)
Natalie Portman (Jackie)

Best director
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Best costume design
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
La La Land

Best score
La La Land

Best sound editing
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land

Best production design
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land

Best original screenplay
Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester By the Sea
20th Century Women

Best adapted screenplay
Hidden Figures

Best animated feature
Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life As a Zucchini
The Red Turtle

Best film editing
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land

La La Land matches record held by Titanic and All About Eve with 14 Oscar Nominations. Snubs: Martin Scorsese, Amy Adams, Rebecca Hall, etc. Source:

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Till the End of Time, Permissive Turn in the Fifties

Till the End of Time (1946) is in many ways a sad film, also inspiring and deeply touching. Star Guy Madison made his screen debut in Since You Went Away (1944), another film that explores war from the home front, but spent the bulk of his career in westerns. Here he is Cliff Harper, one of three veterans who continue their friendship as they adjust to life at home again. Though not officially a part of this trio, as traumatized war widow Pat Ruscomb, Dorothy McGuire, is as lost as these men who have lived to come home. While Cliff gets plenty of attention from the perky 18-year-old girl next door, he is drawn to Pat's gravity. Eventually, he is able to understand her aimlessness as well.

Cliff and Pat catch sight of each other in a diner, and ten minutes later they're at her place, kissing. By the standards of 1946 this is highly immoral activity, technically low-life behavior. Will Cliff recover the motivation to return to school, or to at least persevere at a job with a future? Will Pat find something beyond her present aimless pattern, and find a committed relationship? Guy Madison and Dorothy McGuire generate beaucoup chemistry in that tight clinch on the sofa in her sunny Southern California apartment; sex between them seems a real possibility. Till the End of Time is too socially conscious to be a film noir, but it is about disillusion in broad daylight.

While the movie doesn't look for solutions to the problems of returning soldiers, it offers hope. The wounds these men, and those at home, suffer will not completely heal, but time will help. The boxer won't wear his new prosthetic legs because they hurt him, but he throws them on and charges out of the house when he thinks a friend needs him. Mitchum's character lives recklessly, and in pain, but his buddies watch out for him, and you know they're not going to let him destroy himself.

Cliff's problems are more subtle. He struggles to stay employed, and to accept Pat's way of mourning, because the years where he should have been building an understanding of these things were spent at war. He's never in any real peril, but his struggle is significant, because it shows how no matter the state of the soldier's bodies when they returned home, they all had psychic wounds.

All of the performances are strong. McGuire is especially touching in her role, and Mitchum steals all of his scenes, clearly showing the birth of a star. Most of the film's Los Angeles locations are now unrecognizable. Cliff and Pat frequent a diner near the intersection of Wilshire and Western. The broad street visible at the end of a residential lane in Palms (West L.A.) might be Venice Blvd. The ice rink is something called the Westwood Ice Gardens, which certainly was gone by 1970.  

Jean Porter shows off her dancing skills on the swing hit "The Jitters" by Gene Rose, played by Benny Goodman's orchestra. Based on a Chopin melody, the romantic title tune saw a lot of radio play back in the day. It's not sung in the film (if I recall correctly), but here's the popular Perry Como cover version. I hope that this film will get more attention now that it is available on DVD, because it is certainly deserving of classic status and a good, low-key companion to that more legendary return from war drama The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).  Source:

Anytime a subject revolving around the 1950s is brought up, it is most likely that people will once again hear about great the ‘greatest decade of the 20th century’ was in the history of America. One of the reasons why this decade is highly praised is because of an impulse that was liberalizing or changing society’s way of life, talked about in the first chapter of Alan Petigny’s book The Permissive Society: America, 1941-1965. Petigny’s thesis: the 1960s was not the massive change of values for the American people but it was a gradual permissive attitude that started immediately after World War II; this is what would later be known as the Permissive Turn of society. The Youth Culture and Sex section talks about how schools wanted the teens to practice “going steady” because “the greater intimacy of going steady facilitated higher level of sexual intercourse amongst the young.” 

Most people, if asked, would say that the 1950’s was a time of the “June Cleaver” wife. Evidence proves it was not exactly the norm. The idea of the patriarchal family was slowly eroding; the ideas of sexual equality were being planted and sown in the 1950’s. “Feminism was [then] less a movement than sentiment, more an amorphous set of attitudes than an ideology or doctrine.” While the 1950’s is not credited for being a time of feminism, it most definitely was. The issue with easily recognizing the status of women in the 1950’s is based in “the failure to distinguish between private choice and general attitudes.” The women of the 1950’s used more subtle techniques such as having a say over which house their family would purchase to deciding when they would purchase the family car. 

Women were also gaining ground in the political arena. For the first time in history a forty-seven year old woman, Dorothy McCullough Lee, won a mayoral race in Portland, Oregon becoming the first woman mayor to serve a population over five hundred thousand. The number of female politicians increased drastically in the 1950’s. Sexual promiscuity no longer branded a woman as undesirable wife material. Women who held jobs were slowly losing their stigmas. The higher educated an individual was the more favorable gender equality became. Education helped the masses have a more progressive view on a variety of issues, including the status of women. While women in the 1950’s were overlooked in the history of feminism they paved the way for the feminist revolution.

Petigny speaks of a 'commoditization of sex' in the 1940s and 1950s, meaning the emerging prevalence of sexuality in popular culture. Petigny draws on examples of this in anything from music to film of the time, asserting, “During the 1960s, Americans were simply more willing to acknowledge the extracurricular activities of their youth than they had been during the previous decade.” Petigny’s ideas about the surge of sexuality in popular culture speak much to his argument of a “permissive turn” during the 40s and 50s, showing a loosening of restraint on issues of morality relating to sex. Most scholars would argue in favor of an emergence of a “sexual revolution” in the 1960s that coincides with the introduction of the birth control pill. However, Petigny supports his argument against the coincidence of the “sexual revolution” and “the pill” stating, “the pill was not an especially popular form of contraception.” In a 1971 survey, “only about 10 percent of sexually active single women between the ages of fifteen and nineteen even admitted to ‘being on the pill.’” Source:

In Peggy Sue Got Pregnant, author and Buddy Holly fan Deanna Adams tells a fictional story of an ill-fated love affair between a Southern rocker, Frankie London, and a Midwestern girl, Peggy Sue Lawrence. It's 1957 in Hereford, Texas: she's only sixteen, and he's a nineteen year old rising rock 'n' roll star. He's touring clubs or cutting records with his band in Nashville. Peggy has a secret and she doesn't want Frankie to know yet, because it could ruin his rising career. Peggy's parents are extremely upset and send her back to Cleveland, Ohio, with her Aunt and Uncle to live. She is strictly forbidden to contact Frankie, who can't understand why she just left him. Peggy Sue is confronted with the realization that keeping secrets is sometimes worse than the secret itself. Source:

For many years a story has circulated around Lubbock that, just as Buddy Holly’s long-delayed breakthrough finally seemed about to happen, he almost wrecked everything by making a Lubbock girl pregnant. On my first visit to his hometown in late 1994, I talked to Niki Sullivan, the Crickets’ rhythm guitarist, convinced that story was true. The story has just one flaw. The person named by several knowledgeable sources as the mother of Buddy’s illegitimate child (who supposedly, according to Sullivan, was visited by Holly at an unwed women refuge in Texas) is adamant that she knew him only slightly and certainly never dated him. She got married in 1954, almost two years before Buddy allegedly made her pregnant, and her two children – by the same husband – were both girls. The trail stops here. —"Rave On: The Biography of Buddy Holly" (2014) by Philip Norman

Monday, January 16, 2017

La La Land & Buddy Holly: American Mythologies

Both La La Land and Chazelle’s earlier film Whiplash (2014) play in American mythologies of success. In Whiplash a young musician at a top (imaginary) New York conservatory wants to be the best drummer in the world, to be a legend or nothing. He didn’t like his teacher's ferocious treatment but he did believe in it, and the end of the film proves him right. Humiliated one more time in a new context, he plays better than he has ever done before, and brings down the house, in this case Carnegie Hall. In La La Land  Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) get together in the beginning, but Sebastian wants to open a club to save jazz whereas Mia, more passive – a little old-style stereotyping – needs his support to pursue her ambitions.

In an elegant if despairing turn, almost outrageous for a musical, each succeeds in changing the other so they can’t live happily ever after. He joins a terrible glittery pop band; Mia writes a play and travels to Paris. The question we are asking, given their miserable triumph, is where the grand final musical number is going to come from, the spectacular celebration of the time and place where we gotta dance.

Gotta dance! Gene Kelly shouts towards the end of Singin' in the Rain. He’s right, he doesn’t have any option, he’s in a musical, and he’s been dancing since the film started. His words mean that dancing is his dream and his destiny, he will be nobody if he doesn’t dance.

In the dimly lit club, the two stare at each other. Sebastian plays a note or two on the piano, and we take off into a flashback which is also a fantasy, a version of the last five years where everything that happened to Mia – her success in film, her marriage, her motherhood – happened with Sebastian; there was no frame of her life without him. Mia smiles at Sebastian across the room; Sebastian barely smiles back. Source:

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) in La La Land: "I'm letting life hit me until it gets tired. Then I'll hit back. Jazz is about the future. Jazz is dying. It's conflict and it's compromise, and it's very, very exciting!"

“If anything I’ve ever done is remembered, part of it is because of Buddy Holly,” said Waylon Jennings to CMT (Country Music TV) in 1999: “He was just such a innovator, such an original. He didn't compromise anything. He never compromised his music in any way. I think a lot of us learned from that. I know I did. He told me `Just don't compromise your music. You are the only one that knows what you're doing. They don't.´”–Waylon Jennings Source:

“Buddy Holly would have the same stature musically whether he would have lived or died, because of his accomplishments which nobodynot the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or anyone elsecan beat, for these reasons: By the time he was 22 years old he had recorded some 50 tracks, most of which he had written himself and each of them, in the view of many, was a hit. No rock 'n' roll records can touch songs like "Rave On," "Think it Over," "Not Fade Away," "Peggy Sue" and many more. He was also a sensitive, ballad composer, which people often overlook, with songs like "Moondreams" and "True Love Ways." Death was not lingered over in those days. Death and grief did not go with the exuberance and bright colors of the 1950s. Since then we have embarked on the 'American death trip' and the endless regurgitation of Marilyn, Elvis and JFK's death details. Furthermore, because of the ever-growing psychological power of the media, we seem to think we can reach back half a century. Fortunately, Buddy Holly's music is forever young and all any young person has to do is listen to it and his life will be changed forever.” –Don McLean  Source:

Buddy Holly's older brother Travis teached him the basic guitar chords and, according to Bill Griggs of the Buddy Holly Memorial Society, Holly learned a unique way of picking: “Most people play down, up, down, up, when they're stroking the guitar. Buddy played basically downstrokes in a lot of his music. Therefore, he had to play twice as fast, but it also gave him what we call 'rhythm lead.' He kept hitting the bass chord on the guitar first. That's why he had that unique sound that people even today cannot duplicate, because you have to play the guitar 'wrong' to make it right.”

It is often said that rock'n'roll was the music of rebellion, a response to the dull, conventional lifestyle of the previous generation. There is none of that in the Buddy Holly story: his parents supported him all the way and he, in turn, loved them. Lawrence and Ella Holley had their fourth and final child, Charles Hardin, on 7 September 1936. Holly's father Lawrence was earning $12 a week as a tailor. Their house was a couple of rooms with no electricity or telephone. Ella considered Charles Hardin Holley a big name for a little boy and nicknamed him Buddy, the perfect friendly name for him.

Lubbock, on the buckle of the Bible Belt, was in the Texas Panhandle, a huge and isolated region with vast, featureless plains. On 17 June 1956, Lubbock's newspaper, the Avalanche-Journal, started a series on the evils of rock'n'roll. They showed the dancers at the Bamboo Club when Holly was performing, and blacked out their eyes. The youngsters were dancing the "dirty bop". The newspaper said: "The guitarist hoarsely shouted the unintelligible words 'Hound Dog'." Mrs Holley wrote to the newspaper defending the teenagers, but her letter was not printed. “Buddy Holly will always be rock's enduring mystery, the unfulfilled promise whose extraordinary potential almost certainly would have resulted in decades worth of brilliant music that we never had the chance to hear.” –Kevin O'Hare (Playback magazine, 2009)

Buddy Holly was distinctive and unmistakeable, both visually and aurally. He looked gangly, geekish with those glasses, and unbelievably cool. Alvin Stardust met Holly on his UK tour in 1958: “I was 13 or 14 and I had gone on the bus to see Buddy Holly and The Crickets in Doncaster. I had never been to a music concert before and I managed to get backstage. The Crickets were all so polite and quiet. They asked me how many chords I knew and I said, 'I know three,' and Buddy said, 'You can play all my songs then.'” “Buddy loved his fans,” says Maria Elena Holly: “He always said that those people were the ones who were making him popular, so he didn't think he should be distanced from them. So he was very approachable. He was a very giving person.” Source:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins: the Father of Rock and the King of Rockabilly

Coming soon at the Paramount Theatre: •Dance Party: A tribute to Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens featuring Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, with Denny Charnecki and the D.C. Drifters on Jan. 14. The Austin Area Commission for the Arts is proud to present a tribute to the ‘day the music died’ on Saturday, January 14 at the Historic Paramount Theatre.

Denny Charnecki and the D. C. Drifters will present a tribute to the music of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper with special appearances by ‘Elvis’ and ‘Marilyn Monroe.’ Fans of early rockabilly music won’t want to miss it. The high-energy romp led by Denny Charnecki is a great way to introduce kids and grandkids to classic rock of the late 1950s. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Order tickets online at or stop in to the ArtWorks Center at 300 N Main Street to purchase tickets (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday. Source:

The story of the “Million Dollar Quartet” — the nickname given to the formidable foursome of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins — has been told in both book and musical form. Now the tale is coming to TV via CMT and an eight-episode series that traces the rise of the famed label of the title, its genius producer Sam Phillips and the four disparate, but complementary musicians. “Sun Records,” executive produced by Leslie Greif and Gil Grant, is based on the Tony-winning musical “Million Dollar Quartet” and arrives shortly after the 60th anniversary of the legendary one-off recording session featuring the four men. Source:

The million Dollar Quartet  jam session seems to have happened by pure chance. Carl Perkins, who by this time had already met success with "Blue Suede Shoes", had come into the studios that day, accompanied by his brothers Clayton and Jay and by drummer W.S. Holland, their aim being to record some new material, including a revamped version of "Matchbox". Elvis Presley, a former Sun artist now with RCA Victor, arrived to pay a casual visit accompanied by a girlfriend, Marilyn Evans.

As Elvis played and Carl strummed along on guitar, Sam Phillips came out and said he'd like Elvis to hear what Carl had recorded earlier. Elvis listened to "Matchbox" and declared it a "killer" track; the harmony singing on "Your True Love" impressed him. Sam told engineer Jack Clement to start a tape rolling—“We may never have these people together again." The core and the focus remained Presley, Perkins, and Lewis; Johnny Cash had dropped by before Elvis's appearance and stayed long enough to sing with Carl and Elvis on “Blueberry Hill" and “Isle of Golden Dreams" before the recording began. Cash's presence was brief because he had to leave shortly to go pick up his wife Vivian to do some Christmas shopping. Newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis, born of similar roughneck stock as the others, wanted to prove himself to the veterans. Carl Perkins jumped in with a stunning version of Wynn Stewart's country hit "Keeper of the Key," accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, with Elvis and Jerry Lee harmonizing. Jerry Lee finally took over the piano when Carl and Elvis went into the control room, and proceeded to do a three-minutes-plus version of “Crazy Arms,” the longest song of the day. As Jerry Lee hit his final glissando, Elvis prepared to leave. It was nearly eight o' clock, Carl recalls, and Elvis told him that his female companion was hungry.

Elvis referred to Marilyn Evans as his "house guest," as Carl Perkins recalls: "People like Natalie Wood came home with him as house guests." Perkins' policy was to sign autographs only at the show venue; some girls often found their way to his motel room, but he refused to allow them entrance; he signed autographs outside. “I've never had affairs,” asserts Perkins. Unlike Presley, Perkins had a wife and three children waiting for him at home. Perkins' wife Valda had made it clear that if he cheated on her, she wouldn't be there when he came home, nor would she be talked into coming back. Perkins made it a practice to get back to his room quickly after the show and call home. When Carl would hear Valda's voice, and then hear one of his children squeal into the phone, "Hi, Dad-eeee", he knew he wouldn't stray: “I took my marriage vows very seriously. I knew if I wasn't true to them that Valda wouldn't stay with me a second. Presley? He took advantage of quite a few. I think that's pretty well documented. I've seen him with a lot of beautiful girls. He was pretty hot to trot.”

One of the acts Carl Perkins enjoyed playing was an obscure Buddy Holly song, "I'm Gonna Set My Foot Down" (cut during Holly's ill-fated Owen Bradley sessions in 1956), and he scorched it with a tough sounding arrangement and rowdy vocals. What had been a renegade subculture in the 1950s was moving into the mainstream of American life as its commercial potential became apparent. Magazines were launched featuring rock 'n' roll stars on their covers and featured stories about the artists on the inside. Elvis’s face and name showed up on everything from clothing and perfume to lunchboxes and trading cards, and as a film actor he was proving to be a box office smash.

Only Carl Perkins was absent from the new pantheon. On the road he was continuing to draw sizable, enthusiastic audiences, making his dismal showing on the charts all the more puzzling. A case can be made for the music changing and Carl not accommodating the marketplace, after having purveyed the purest form of rockabilly, having defined its style, he hadn’t thought to evolve it, as Buddy Holly had revolutionized the genre. Dick Clark once said, "Elvis was the King of Rock 'n' Roll, but Buddy Holly was the undisputed father of rock music." And Dick Clark is right. While chart failings dismayed Perkins, his sense of himself as a still-vital artist remained unwavering—"Dixie Fried" and "Matchbox" were as great as rockabilly or rock 'n' roll could get. Perkins believed that sitting on Sam Phillips's shelf in the Sun studio were some tracks, still unheard, hot enough to melt the disc jockeys' needles.

Of the early rock 'n' roll songwriters, Carl Perkins’ songs were the most subjective in narrative line. He was an artist who drew his best material from his own life in the cotton fields, in the tonks, and from having inhabited the lowest strata of the American working class. His memories were of a time and a place quickly receding into history.—"Go, Cat, Go!: The Life and Times of Carl Perkins, the King of Rockabilly" (1996) by Carl Perkins & David McGee