This weekend the AMC movie channel has an all-rock-n-roll movie marathon going. Friday night I watched a long snippet of the film in which David Bowie plays a live concert in his "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" phase. There he was--costume changes, heavy mascara, dyed hair, and effortless oddity. Glam was an appropriate punctuation to the sixties--the realization that the social revolution that rock supplied did not take place in the streets or in the heart so much as in the color of the hair of people in nightclubs and suburban homes. So many of the glam themes merged into popular culture--the integration of rock into a broader music tradition, the loss of the faux earnestness which plagued too much sixties music, the use of 'persona' and 'concept' as a substitute for 'relevance', and a hypersexualized disdain for sexuality. Bowie comes off in the film as both an exhausted gimmickman in orange dyed hair and skin-tight costumes and as a man who understands that rock is over, completely exploded at Alatamont or Abbey Road Studios, and all that can be done is revel in playing with the exploded pieces. Mick Ronson, perhaps the most interesting Bowie guitarist, was amazing--although in this version I didn't see any footage in which Ronson plugs an ear to try to find the pitch (without success) on the falsetto harmony parts of the songs. I don't know if I just didn't see the right part, or if this wasn't the Santa Monica 1972 concert.
I think that 1960s rock ended when, in the middle of the Diamond Dogs tour, Bowie suddenly integrated the rhythm and blues into his glam numbers, which ultimately led to the Young Americans/Station to Station phase of his career and indirectly led the broader culture away from "rock as a thing unto itself". It can be fairly said that Bowie was never more than a synthesist of others' styles. But people miss the point about Bowie--Bowie was perhaps the first rock star, perhaps with the exception of Zappa, to really realize what a sham the entire rock construct could be. Glam "got" what its later cousin punk entirely missed--that fascinating as rock was, it was in the long run one more instrument for corporations to sell product to teens. The creation of a "youth culture" was not the product of the Movement. The youth culture was the product of corporate America. Glam parodied this culture, and escaped into this culture, and always gave a knowing wink that this culture wasn't real. Besides, I love singing along to Bowie songs of this era. So rock is dead. Long live rock. I want to get more music that rocks.
Saturday morning at 6 my brother picked me up to drive me to Arkansas. His car needs major repairs, so we were going to our parents' house to pick up a spare pick-up truck he will borrow while the whatever is being completely rebuilt to whatever. It's always nice hitting the road on a quiet Saturday morning; Labor Day weekend traffic must have already cleared the road the previous evening. We had a nice chat on the drive. He's a high tech guy, much brighter than I am, with interesting stories to tell. It's amazing to me to think that while my brother is 13 months younger than I am, his elder boy turns 15 in September. I begin to feel old at last, although I remain 17 inside. OTOH, when I was 17, my friends always told me I act 40, so I don't know about this age thing. We got to Camden, where my parents live now, in nearly record time. It was so good to see my mother, father, and my sister (who lives down the street from them) again. All of us but my sister sat down to a meal of barbecue beans cooked with hamburger, which is my brother's favorite dish. We had a nice chat, and then all the "grown ups" but me wished to settle in for a nap. I could probably have used a nap, but I hate to lose time to see relatives. So I grabbed up my 9 year old nephew and my 6 year old niece and headed over to White Oak Lake State Park.
White Oak Lake is about 20 minutes from my parents' home. When I was a kid, we had a little red cabin across the street from the lake, and I spent many a childhood day fishing for small bream from a wooden fishing dock on that lake. I remember hiking the wagon-wheel trails behind the cabin, where the trail was still grooved with use by people who did not have motorized vehicles.
The state park there is much nicer than it was when I was a kid.
The lake is visually stunning--tall piney woods mixed with some little hardwoods and understory plants, surrounding a beautiful, greenish lake. It's a breathtaking view, and yet the lake is not so popular as to be oppressively crowded. The kids and I hit the Spring Branch Trail, a short hiking trail through woods and over a very shallow clear creek over what looks like beach sand. We paused to marvel at the many frogs, at the velvet ants, and at how thick and lovely the woods were. I gave the kids throwaway cameras to snap photos. We'll see how they come out.
Because we finished the little trail quite quickly, I took the kids to the park store, got them some cane fishing poles and bait, and took them to the long-covered, pavilion that serves as a fishing dock. Eventually, my niece asked if we could get something to drink, so we walked back to the park store. As we returned, armed with two bottles of "Mountain Valley Mineral Water", which is made from springwater in Arkansas, my nephew came running up the road to us. He was so excited! He had an 8 inch or so immature striped bass he had caught in his hands. I remember being his age so well on days like that. A caught fish, particularly a bass, was like a fulfillment of long-awaited prophecy. I watched him release his fish back into the wild--he could have been releasing a marlin in a fishing show. I never underestimate the power of taking pride in very small things.
After our jaunt, I took a nap for an hour or two, and then it was time to go home to Texas. I drove on the country road to Hope, past a sign that said "Baby Turkeys for Sale" just above the sign that said "Yard Sale". I paid attention to the little place with all the metal in the front yard. On rapid breeze-bys in the past, I had fantasized that this place was some rural folk artist--a Howard Finster, maybe, with visions wrought in wrought iron in the yard. On a slower inspection, the home was instead a mobile home with a lot of metal junk collected without order in the front. I live my life hunting for unique art, and finding rows of discarded propane tanks.
In Rosston, Arkansas, population 262, I stopped at the post office to see if it had a postal scale. I have four packages I still need to mail. The post office was closed, and the customer area did not have a scale. But it did have a counter, on which local newspapers and advertising brochures had been placed. I had brought with me the four books I have posted on bookcrossing.com to give away, and I released a book about novelty songs "into the wild" right there in that rural post office.
In Hope, which has the nice juxtaposition of being Mr. Clinton's birthplace and the Watermelon Capital of the World, the watermelons were on sale at roadside stands for 3 melons for 5 dollars. I was not melon-minded, though, and kept on the road. At New Boston, Texas, I saw a sign on a country road visible from the freeway which said "largest and tallest gingko tree in Texas". The sign was really cool--but I didn't see a gingko tree.
East Texas is a place where those who do not listen to country music or hip-hop prefer to listen to very loud metal, elecric blues and commercial mainstream rock. Texarkana has a great radio station which delivers these musics in abundance. I listened to Geddy Lee say that while he granted me the permission to heed a Celestial Voice, he would choose "Free Will". Ever since sushimonkey wrote about how much she enjoyed recent Rush concerts, I've been much more Rush-attuned than in recent years. For me, Rush is a band which was a lot of fun in their early days, but which became far too commercial later on in order to get radio play. There is something enchanting about a power trio, though, particularly one whose bassist uses a falsetto so idiosyncratic that in South America, tropical birds are probably lured to mate by its intonations.
The next radio song up was "Sweet Child 'o' Mine", and I promptly blew out my own voice trying to duplicate that rather different falsetto. I drove past fields and forests, past the little decaying red barn with the huge painted roof that says "Maine-Anjou Bulls" (I do not believe that the Maine-Anjou variety ever really caught on in Texas, which may explain why the barn was in decay), and saw cows beyond number. At Mount Pleasant, a bit past the halfway point in our journey, I stopped at Blaylock barbeque, to which I'd never been, but had heard great things. It was located in an older mini-strip-mall, right next to the Greyhound Station. I noticed that on the woodpile right by the mall, a man sat with long brunette hair, who looked a bit like one of those guys in ZZ Top. He had on expensive snakeskin cowboy boots, and I wondered what stories he could tell about how he came to be waiting for a bus in Mount Pleasant, Texas.
The barbecue cafe was heavenly--large portions, friendly staff, nice rustic feel to the whole place. The walls seemed to be a sort of shrine to a much-loved daughter. There she was as a teased blonde hair cute coquette. Then her wedding pictures. Then pictures of her annual trip, here to Banff, there to Moorea, and there to Costa Rica. It's always tempting to assume that country people live simpler lives, but these folks clearly are world travellers.
I read an article in a 3 year old copy of D Magazine about how Ross Perot fell out with Patrick Buchanan (I am not at all a fan of either, but it made interesting reading). Then I asked permission to add one of my bookcrossing.com books to the reading rack at the barbecue stand. The owners, when I expained, gracious agreed. They had been watching Ozzy Osborne on TV as they ate their own meal ("thaaat Ozzzyyyy took TOOOO MENNNNIE DRUUUUUGS" the nice woman proprietor said, and I was reminded of a joke I once made up about how only three words in the English language from my native region have multiple "u"s in them---Truuuuuuuck, Guuuuuuunnnn,and Quuuuuuaaaaaluuuuude").
It's a bit incongruous there among newspapers, penny savers, old issues of D and People Magazine, and the other essential barbecue shack reading, but The Art of Ivan Gantschev, about the German picture book illustrator, with beautiful watercolors now has been released into the wild as well.
I got back on the freeway for a moment, but then quickly exited at a Low's truck stop to get gas and also something more to listen to for the rest of the way. I knew I was about to leave the range of that great Texarkanan station, and I wanted to get something fun to hear the rest of the way. I was hoping that the place would, as many trucker establishments do, offer discount cassettes. I hit the mother lode. Soon, for six dollars each, I had three seventies things from my childhood in hand:
a. Lyrnrd Skynrd's Second Helping album;
b. The Best of Three Dog Night; and
c. Bruce Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town.
I hit the road again, and put the Lynrd Skynrd album into the cassette player. The strains of "Sweet Home Alabama" were soon blowing through my car. nacowafer wrote a very good journal entry some time ago about how it would be great to learn "Sweet Home Alabama" on her blue electric guitar, which would be fun, but for my money, being Ronnie Van Zandt singing lead would be more fun indeed. I am intrigued that although I never bought any Skyrnrd albums when I was a teen, my friends and I being much more Brit metal, prog and art rock attuned, I know most Skynrd songs, and can sing a surprising number of the lyrics to them. Perhaps it's a southern osmosis thing. I wondered, as I'm sure any fan must, how much more that band would have developed if it had not lost core members in a plane crash. It's kind of funny how the country-western establishment, which was so dismissive of southern 'country rock' in the 70s, now fills the radio airwaves with endless watered down and liquored up Skynrd influenced material. If Van Zandt had lived, he would have moved everything forward, and not turned his music, as the c & w establishment did, into one endless lament about cheating and cheap beer (although, on the other hand, Skynrd could do meaningful songs about flings and cheap beer with the best of them). Who knows, though? Maybe Ronnie Van Zandt would be a sort of Charlie Daniels, elder statesman for a long haired country boy movement that still exists today.
After "Sweet Home Alabama" and that wonderful song about the bluesman who played for the money the lyricist saved by turning in coke bottles for nickels, I changed tapes in the middle of the nice gutbucket boogie that appears third on the album. I wanted to hear Three Dog Night sing Harry Nilsson's "One". I was not disappointed. What a great song. I listened to Nyro's (?) "Eli's Coming", to Randy Newman's "Mama Told me not to Come", and to "heaven is in your mind". I love that Three Dog Night was the ultimate covers band made good. I don't know who chose their material to cover, but they did some of the very best pop available in their time. The tape, for some reason, went silent before they got to Hoyt Axton's "Joy to the World", which is a good thing, because that spares my reader the story of how I went to the movie "The Big Chill" seven times in law school. Jeremiah was a bullfrog indeed.
Thus, it was time for the Boss. I am of the camp that believes that Springsteen's 4 great albums are Greetings from Asbury Park, the Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, Born to Run, and Darkness on the Edge of Town. I listened attentively, and within a few songs, I was rewarded with my very favorite Springsteen song. This is, of course, the incredible rocker "Candy's Room". Now, "Candy's Room" is a sort of jersey-boy "wish I were a beat" leather jacket fantasy entirely removed from my entirely conventional life. "Candy's Room" tells the story of an ordinary hep guy deeply in love with a prostitute, not at all life my life, but the song really works for me. I found myself singing along, and alternating between waving my fist and running my fingers through my hair like some Jersey boy preening on the shore on a Friday night. When it got to the climactic line, WHAT....SHE....WANTS....IS.....ME" I was screaming out the lyrics, and pounding my fist against the rental car dash. The song receded away, and I sang more quietly to "Racing in the Streets". In the back of my mind, I heard as background accompaniment Emmylou Harris' pristine cover of this song, and all was very lovely. It's funny--in his day, Springsteen was touted by the Dave Marsh type of "authentic rock critic" as the return to "genuine" rock n roll after the strays from the path made by bands into glam, prog and art rock. But "Candy's Room" would have sounded entirely at home in that David Bowie Ziggy concert. Indeed, Bowie does a wonderful cover of Springsteen's "It's Hard to be a Saint in the City". All those rock labels ignore that regardless of genre, when things rock, well, they rock.
I turned off the freeway for the last hour, and it was somehow appropriate that I was finishing off the Skynrd album at 9 at night, when I drove past the big John Deere harvesting equipment out harvesting in the dark, putting into the air a pungent smell of cut leaves. I got home in near record time, watched a bit of the AMC "behind the Rocky Horror Picture Show" (I'll save for another post my theory of how this movie is single-handedly responsble for homogenizing glam and packaging it for suburbia), spoke to my wife (who is having a lot of fun in the DC area) and then went to bed. Today I must listen to "Pieces of April", which I think is still the best slow-dance song ever performed. I'll also hike and eat Mongolian barbecue and rest up after a long, long but fun Saturday.