Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Ken Curtis Does Tom Blog

September 4, 2012

let all the children boo-geh

July 14, 2012

Bill Ham, the Internet’s Original King of Comedy, posted this on Facebook and, well, it’s irresistible.

“Love is Here to Stay”

July 13, 2012

The smoky little piano intro. The lilting but emphatic beats Sinatra lays on the words “But. Oh. My. Dear.” The sweet, sane heresy of “The radio, and the telephone, and the movies that we know/May just be passing fancies, and in time may go”. The spirit of a bygone New York hovering over the song. Its spot on one of the greatest albums in all Christendom. And because it’s the last melody that George Gershwin ever completed.

That’s why I love this song—

(And in the middle of my little Sinatra wallow this morning, I stumbled across this short memoir by Milt Bernhart, the man whose trombone solo in “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” has sent a charge through God knows how many barrooms over the decades. His views of life on the road, 1950 Las Vegas, and Benny Goodman are ones you don’t see every day.)

because no blog’s complete without it

June 12, 2012

How could I dance with another?

March 28, 2012

Speaking of the genesis of The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit, Albert Maysles says that one day the phone rang and it was Granada TV on the other end of the line, announcing that the band was landing at Idlewild in two hours, and, oh, did the brothers want to make a film about them? Albert, who was into classical music, was at a loss, so he kindly put the phone down and asked his brother David “Are they any good?” The result, after the filmmakers had followed the band around New York, Washington and Miami for three weeks, was this terrific 84-minute film. It’s fortunate, though, that both the Beatles and the Maysles were so good at what they did because, really, they could make it awfully hard to love them much as people. Albert Maysles is one of the greatest documentary filmmakers to ever walk the earth, but he can also be a pompous ass, and even if their every tenth joke is fall-on-the-floor funny, The Beatles couldn’t stop acting out all the worst scenes from Help!

That leaves the music, which is a gas. The band’s energy noticeably drops off in the last Sullivan show (the one in which Ed threw the Fab Four by relaying Richard Rodgers’ congrats to them), but the first Sullivan show and especially the show in D.C. were just killer. (Don’t believe me? Just check out the clip below.) Its innocence comes from it getting under the door in time to still be just about the music—not the war or the drugs or any of that other stuff—a still pure youth happening before it gelled into a Movement. The concerts also made for the best audience reaction shots this side of Jazz on a Summer’s Day. The shriekers and criers top the bill, of course, but there are also the Anthropologists—the girls (and certain of the guys) who only sit, chin in hand, soberly studying the scene even as it explodes all around them—as well as the Lost Souls (almost all guys), who look as if they showed up only because they were given tickets to what they thought was going to be a car show. In any case, you can’t help but love the two girls in the matching checked shirts.


February 8, 2012

From condescending laughter to singalong in 2:00 flat.

Art is Our Friend, Part 399

February 2, 2012

Last night I stumbled across something I forgot I even had, a copy of the color version of Jacques Tati’s Jour de Fête, so I popped it in the ol’ player. I’d only seen the black and white version, which was the only version available for decades because the lab in ’49 couldn’t process the color negative correctly, and I’d wondered if I was going to find it half as funny as I did when I saw it back in ’91. At least I think it was ’91; anyway, whenever the hell it was, I remember the circumstances well enough because the night before I’d been assaulted by some jackasses in North Beach. They roughed me up pretty good—broke my schnozz and knocked four teeth out, just for the sweet hell of it. The good news, if you could see it that way, is that I was so drunk when it happened that afterward I kept cracking jokes for the E.M.T. who happened to be on the scene, and who kept glumly shaking his head while he checked out my shredded gums. Because that was the other angle to it all. I’d spent the previous two years in A.A. and had just a week earlier decided to try drinking again; and, since this night represented my first trip back into the bars, it certainly felt like the universe was sending me a message reading YOU ARE A DOLT in big block letters.

So between falling off the wagon and having my ass handed to me, I definitely wasn’t cracking any jokes when I woke up the next morning. In fact my first conscious action of the day, even before opening my eyes, was to burst into tears. It was the most surprising, most spontaneous outburst of grief I’ve ever experienced; one moment I wasn’t crying, and suddenly I was sobbing my guts out. It was a perfect little squall of emotions that was blistering while it lasted—but it lasted only a minute or so, and then I was ready to start the day. At some point that morning I talked to my friends M. and D., who offered solace in the form of soup and company. I did not say no to this offer, and they showed up around noon bearing a quart of miso, a couple of joints, no moral judgments, and a copy of Jour de Fête.

I’d never seen any Tati, and when the movie started I was thinking Jesus, some old French movie, played largely in pantomime, about a mailman out in the provinces…Man, I don’t think so…But about 20 minutes into it Tati, while pedaling his bike down a country lane, is attacked by an invisible bumblebee. By much frantic waving of the arms and whipping his legs in circles, he drives the bee away, and one perfectly timed moment later a farmer standing on a nearby hilltop begins waving his arms, and when the farmer’s waving drives the bee off, Tati—who in the meantime has ridden his bicycle to the opposite corner of the frame from whence he entered—again begins waving like a madman.

I would’ve said you were crazy if you’d told me five minutes earlier that I’d be laughing hysterically that morning, but I was laughing so hard by the end of that bee scene that I thought I was having a stroke. There are a lot of good reasons to love Jacques Tati, but I’ll always owe him for the flood of endorphins that spilled through me on one of the shittiest days of my life. As for Jour de Fête, it’s still a wonderful movie.

And since I’m getting stuff off my chest here…I’ve always been a morbid sonofabitch, and I long wondered if my fascination with certain true crimes wouldn’t someday come back to bite me—and then one day it did. I’m not detailing the murders of the musician Bryan Harvey and his family here because they don’t bear thinking about—which was exactly my problem. The two killers had, to use Colin Wilson’s phrase, made a decision to be out of control, leading them to commit crimes so brutal that even the lead killer, in his police confession, seemed stunned by his own actions. I had a harder time processing the Harvey murders than I did Columbine, and it was only when I chanced upon the Drive-By Truckers’ loving and intelligent tribute to them that I got a handle on what went down. As a container and an organizer for a lot of raw emotion, this song is unbeatable.

Adventures in Puberty #9: Julie London

January 31, 2012

I Can Die a Happy Man

August 6, 2011

When I was a kid I had this 45 I used to listen to a lot—it was a novelty song about a guy who finds a mysterious box on the beach. It tantalized me, probably because it frightened me a little, too, and I listened to it obsessively until I outgrew it at some point.  I lost the record while I was still a kid and I forgot all about it until 10 or 15 years ago, when I stumbled across my dusty old copy of another childhood favorite, Kenny Ball’s “Midnight in Moscow”, and it caused me to suddenly remember the song about the box—but I didn’t know who did it, couldn’t remember any of its lyrics, and my best guess at its title was a Googly unfruitful “The Box”.  I only recalled that the singer talk-sang the lyrics and that there seemed to be something about sand in it.

Then about a half hour ago I was sitting here watching Solaris, of all the fucking things, and something in it, I don’t even know what, triggered the tune in my head, and this time I was able to conjure up the first line: “I was walking down the beach one bright and sunny day”. So I Googled that + “box”, and lo and behold up popped…“The Thing”, by Phil Harris. (He was a pop fixture in the ’50s and ’6os; if he’s remembered today, it’s probably for his voice work in The Jungle Book.) Weird thing is, “The Thing” was a hit in 1950, four years before I was even born, and I was at least four when I was listening to it so much. Whatever, man—I’m just happy to scratch it off the list. From Wikipedia:

The song aired on radio concurrently with a series of teaser ads which ran weekly in Collier’s promoting Howard Hawks’ science fiction movie, The Thing from Another World. The Hawks film was released April 6, 1951. While the song had no connection with the movie, some suspect it was a clever marketing tool to increase interest in seeing the film.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I give you “The Thing”. Don’t say I never did anything for you.

And what the hell…since it’s a song I actually still dig.

Breast Beating

September 27, 2010

So here’s the thoroughly charming duet with Elmo that got Katy Perry booted off Sesame Street:

The great bogeyman “parent protests” won this battle just by showing up on the field: to save itself a headache PBS caved in to a handful of puritanical whiners, leaving the hard work of defending free speech and common-sense to some other luckless sap. (It’s sure to be the saddest lesson kids will learn on Sesame Street this year.) Since no normal pre-pubescent child would ever notice Ms. Perry’s chest without some helpful adult writing F-I-L-T-H across it with a Sharpie pen, the parents are clearly registering their own reaction to her body. And because (unless you have a thing for Elmo) it’s all occurring in the most innocent possible context (even the song is a plea for emotional constancy), these prigs really are saying that the tops of a young woman’s breasts are objectionable in themselves—which, I gotta say, is both mind-boggling and kind of exciting, because it’s also very, very dirty. In fact, if anyone here can explain to me how, except by degree, this is any different from the Taliban and all of their crazy-ass shame-based bullshit about the female body, there’s a plateful of blueberry pancakes in it for you.

Meanwhile, over at Slate the professional busybody Emily Yoffe (aka “Dear Prudence”), who earns a living by solving “problems” that would make the average Somali laugh bitterly in your face, is busy having this exchange:

Dear Prudence,

Two colleagues and I own a business. We are all good friends and do great work together. Our dress code tends to be somewhat formal, but we don’t have a specific uniform. One of us has been showing up lately for professional events braless, very obviously so. This concerns the other two of us, because we have a relatively conservative clientele, the market has been extremely cutthroat for the service we offer, and we always want to put our best foot forward. Is one of us “nipping out” a big deal? The two of us who wear bras have been trying to dress by example, but our third colleague doesn’t seem to notice. Should we mention it and, if so, how? Should just one of us take her aside? Or should we drop it?

—Mountains out of Molehills?

Dear Mountains,

There you two are, trying to put your best foot forward, but all anyone notices is her bouncing chest. If her lack of undergarments is so obvious, your female clients are going to wonder what’s up (or not) with your partner. And your male clients are going to have a hard time focusing on your actual message when she’s sending such a distracting subliminal one. So she doesn’t feel ganged up on, before the next presentation, one of you should bring up the two of hers. Do it with as little drama as possible. Say something like, “Marissa, we’ve noticed that at the last few meetings, you’ve been going braless. That is just not a professional enough look for the image we’re trying to convey. So please truss up your gals.” Let’s hope she takes to heart that you’re just being supportive.


Is there a single line of this drivel that doesn’t make you want to spew? It’s all so neutered and boringly affable, it’s like the verbal equivalent of mom jeans. Note that we’re never given any information that would be actually useful in diagnosing the situation, such as which industry the women service, what kind of “professional events” the colleague is attending, whether the clothes she does wear are appropriate, whether any clients have complained about her, and whether or not she is known to have cost the company a penny’s worth of revenue. Instead we’re treated to that ghastly faux collegiate tone and a snotty assertion—“All anyone notices is her bouncing chest”—that isn’t backed up by even a whisper of evidence.

But other parts of Prudie’s advice caught my eye, too, beginning with: “[Your] male clients are going to have a hard time focusing on your actual message when she’s sending such a distracting subliminal one.” You want to know somethin’? A long, long time ago, back in the 1970s, there were these funny creatures running around who were called “feminists”. Oh, they were a pissed-off bunch of bitches alright, but if you listened to them long enough they began to make a lot of sense, and one of the things they made greatest sense about was how their actions didn’t necessarily mean what men might want them to mean. A lot of women back then didn’t wear bras—some to make a political statement, some to make a statement no bigger than “I don’t like the damn things”—yet somehow the engine of capitalism didn’t come flying off the rails. More to the point, if a man ever suggested that a woman’s bralessness was actually a “subliminal message” to him, he was usually disabused of the notion with extreme prejudice. Indeed, this happened enough times that guys eventually began to understand that a woman showing up braless—at school, in a meeting, or even on a date—didn’t necessarily mean that she wanted to break in a box-spring with them. In fact—and here was the gargantuan leap—it might not have anything to do with them at all.

And then there’s this:

So she doesn’t feel ganged up on, before the next presentation, one of you should bring up the two of hers. Do it with as little drama as possible. Say something like, “Marissa, we’ve noticed that at the last few meetings, you’ve been going braless. That is just not a professional enough look for the image we’re trying to convey. So please truss up your gals.”

Yeah, that’s the ticket, baby! Work her, but don’t let her feel ganged up on, even though that’s exactly you’re doing. And keep the drama down, for heaven’s sake! If crazy ol’ “Marissa” is willing to walk around in undergarments of her own choosing, God knows what psycho reaction she and her giant floppy tits might have if you simply approach her with your concerns. (She might even have a reasonable comeback to your objections.) I swear, if any adult professional woman thinks a line like “Truss up your gals” is anything other than sick-making in the extreme, having a braless colleague is the least of her problems. She needs to forget about doing grown-up things like running a business or slagging her friends in Slate, and stick to watching Sesame Street.

Played Out

July 29, 2010

My favorite 30 seconds of Reservoir Dogs that don’t involve Chris Penn talking about black semen coming out of Michael Madsen’s mouth is a little scene that never got any love at all: the transitional little series of shots showing Tim Roth putzing around his half-painted apartment as Penn calls him from downstairs on one of those old mobile phones that looks like it saw action at Anzio. Roth’s character takes the call, and when it’s over he throws on a jacket, checks his guns (Roth is great with the props), and heads out the door. That’s all there is to it, but playing on a radio in the background is a swaying little C&W number that helps give the scene its sunny Sunday afternoon atmosphere. The song is called “Fool for Love”, and it came from the terrible Robert Altman movie of the same name. (It’s almost surely the worst film that the names of Altman, Sam Shepard, Harry Dean Stanton, the gaffer, the grips, the teamsters, or any of their children or grandchildren will ever be associated with.) I’d always thought I remembered the song from its air-play on the radio in the ’70s—it’s got that kind of ring to it—but apparently not, at least if Wiki’s to be believed. If indeed I did hear it before Tarantino’s movie, it would’ve been during the two very unhappy hours I spent in a movie theater in 1985.

The songwriter and singer Sandy Rogers is, it turns out, Sam Shepard’s sister. (I always wonder about the siblings of people who hit it big in the entertainment industry—no way can it be easy for them, and in some cases it must be mudslinging hell.) The song is fine as AM fodder, or maybe a dash more than that: one line in particular has kept me amused for a couple of days now. It’s about a guy who keeps blowing his relationships because his romantic streak is out of control, and the last verse goes:

The last time I saw him alive
He was standing up on the bride’s side
Yelling his objections at the groom.
The blushing bride was my best friend,
She turned around and to him said
“Yes, you were my only sunshine then…”

It’s the fact that the guy addresses his grievances to the groom that gets me; you’d have to be pretty strung out to start screaming at a wedding to begin with, and I can just picture some tuxedoed sap being startled by the red-faced nut-job blasting him from the pews. Even after multiple hearings I’m pleased by the bride’s generosity towards the man who’s wrecking the happiest day of her life, and in that last line Rogers packs a lot of the ache and tenderness we can feel for old lovers into just a few short words. Taken with Sam’s plays, it all makes you wonder just what the hell was happening inside the Shepard household while these people were growing up there.

Here’s the song. I’m warning you now, though, you do not want to watch the actual video.

“Elvis” (1979)

March 29, 2010

The 1979 TV movie Elvis offers the most commonly held take on Elvis Aron Presley: the poor son of Tupelo who, bereft of an inner life beyond mother worship, a love for performing, and a taste for success—each boundless and unquenchable—succeeded so completely that he lost his soul in the process. It has all the drawbacks common to the made-for-TV format, especially in its second half: rushed action, inert staging (scenes involving a toy airplane and Priscilla hitting a punching bag are so hopeless that their retention is inexplicable), characters popping in and out like restless genii, undeveloped plot points, and a sucker’s fall-back on formula: after an angry Elvis smashes a bedroom lamp, he clutches his head in his hands and wails “What’s happening to me?” That’s precisely the kind of thing that makes me want to grab the sides of my hair and run screaming out of the room, but other flaws run even deeper. Budgetary restrictions limited the concert audiences to a couple of hundred people, so that we never really see the fullest blossoming of the world that terrified and depressed the man. Key chunks of his output are omitted or glossed over, so that hit after major hit—including “Hound Dog”, for God’s sake—goes completely unmentioned. (From a purely entertainment viewpoint, there’s not nearly enough music.) The contractual stranglehold that enabled Colonel Parker to snuff out Elvis’ attempts to widen his musical and acting horizons is shifted into the hands of a few unseen, unnamed producers and, but for one quick reference, Elvis’ absorption of black music is wholly ignored. This is all by way of saying that all the things that actually made Elvis a phenomenon—something bigger and more different than most of us can even imagine—are largely ignored in favor of the ways that he was only like us.

It could have been worse. At least Elvis was made by people—most prominently John Carpenter, working on his first film after Halloween—who were clear Presley fans. In places—a simple shot of Elvis and his parents singing a gospel song on their ramshackle porch one summer night, or the scene in which Presley addresses his dead twin brother by talking to his own shadow on the wall—it’s a surprisingly evocative work. But Carpenter really captured lightning in a bottle when he cast Kurt Russell as his lead.

I first encountered Russell when I was 10 or 12 in the old Disney movie Follow Me, Boys, and in one scene the very young Russell, embarrassed by his drunken father, unleashed a blistering tirade against Fred MacMurray that absolutely gutted me. I’d never consciously gotten it before that a kid could have such strong feelings, or that those feelings could be put into words, or that those words could be pure enough, and angry enough, to spellbind and wound an adult. Most of all it was Russell’s fraught delivery that made me want to look away—it was searing, a bigger jolt of emotion than anything I’d ever feel from a James Dean performance.*

Beginning with the opening shot of Elvis sitting in a hotel room just before the first of his “comeback” concerts at a Vegas hotel in 1969, Russell’s impersonation of Presley is so exact that at times—especially when he’s wearing Elvis’ Army haircut—it’s hard to get your head around the idea that you’re not watching The King. He doesn’t settle for a mere impression, though. When Gladys Presley (Shelley Winters, in yet another of her grisly Oedipal mama roles) dies, Elvis bends over her bed sobbing, and after holding that pose a moment, Russell crashes to one knee in a way that looks not just unplanned but wholly out of control; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a physical movement by an actor that seemed more alive the first time I saw it. Russell’s taken for a lightweight in some circles because of his square ingénue features, his marriage to Goldie Hawn, or his not always stellar choices of projects, and even people who do like him are more likely to think of Snake Plissken or of Rudy Russo in Used Cars—roles which depend at least partly on a parodic appreciation of his looks. I like him plenty in those movies, too—hell, I even like him in Tombstone—but forget all that. Elvis, for all its problems, makes one thing clear: the man has chops, whenever he wants to call on them.

*After writing this I watched that scene on YouTube for the first time since I was a kid. It was like going back to a childhood home and being surprised by how small it is—the scene’s barely a minute long and what I remembered as a tirade is just a short sentence or two. Russell’s tears and quivering anger are still there, though, and still feel real.

but of course

March 19, 2010

A madeleine cake

March 19, 2010

It’s a certifiably beautiful day out there today. The air’s got that seasonal feeling of promise, with moms pushing their kids in strollers and the secretaries coming up the hill with their yoga mats strung over their shoulders like quivers—all welcome sights after a wet and crappy winter that left me feeling 70 years old.  It’s walking weather for sure, and if it didn’t mean chewing up vacation time I’d just split, head up Second Street towards the ballpark and head from there over to North Beach or somewhere. Anyways…

Alex Chilton’s death was a fucking blow. It called up a few memories, the happiest one being a solo concert he gave at the Noe Valley Ministry, where he disarmed the crowd by singing a bunch of children’s songs. There was also a night in the late ’80s where I was recovering from a breakup, and sat up drinking and listening to “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” over and over—probably not the best cure for a heartbreak, but it felt right at the time. It also reminded me of some stuff that happened around ’77 or ’78.  I was taking some classes at UH, basically for shits and giggles, and part of the crowd I wound up running around with included a few guys who had a punk band called AK-47. (Trust me, the name was at least a tad less obvious at the time, and besides, their main rivals were called fucking Legionnaire’s Disease.) AK-47 didn’t have a lot of songs in their repertoire but they did achieve a certain notoriety with one of their numbers.

The Houston Police Department was in the news a lot at the time because it had a bad habit of giving a home to every psychotic redneck who could fill out a job application. These guys hadn’t been any fun in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when they’d pull longhairs over for bullshit infractions and then tear their cars apart looking for dope (even simple possession was still a felony, so it was no damn joke when the cherries popped up in your rearview mirror), and naturally they had an even bigger hard-on for minorities, a handful of whom they more or less blatantly murdered in about an 18-month span. It took a while for the stray brutality complaints and lawsuits to come together in a pattern, and the case that opened a lot of eyes was Joe Campos Torres. Torres was a troublemaker who’d been making a scene in a bar when the cops took him away; by the time they got to the lockup, he’d been beaten so badly that the desk sergeant ordered the arresting officers to take him to the hospital; instead, they took him to a dark corner of Buffalo Bayou and pushed him into the water with his hands cuffed behind his back—the body was found there two days later. (In another case a cop killed a young black man for turning towards him with the ever-popular “dark object” in his hand; but the object turned out to be a Bible and the kid turned out to be retarded.) The HPD didn’t even have an internal affairs division at the time, but it did dream up a spiffy new slogan to change the dynamics of things and pull the Silent Majority into the fray. And it worked: the slogan—“The Badge Means You Care”—found an immediate home in the hearts and minds of yahoos everywhere.

I’m telling you, you couldn’t go anywhere in Houston then without seeing those words, either on TV, a poster, a billboard or (the most popular venue) a bumper sticker, to the point where the crimes they were meant to gloss over nearly became less offensive than the slogan’s stomach-turning ubiquity, and it was at this point that AK-47 conjured up an angry little ditty entitled “The Badge Means You Suck”. It was a pretty good song, and the band cut it as a single which got some airplay on the college stations. Mostly, though, they used it to cap off their sets at the Paradise Lounge, a cavernous hall on South Main which served as a Filipino restaurant by day and then, inexplicably, was converted into a punk club at night. (The Mabuhay made me do a double-take once I moved out here.) The owners were a middle-aged and very straight Filipino couple, nice people, and how in the world they decided to open a punk club, or even knew that Houston had a punk scene, I’ll never know.

I was never a real punk, of course. I liked plenty of the music and the vibe, and some of the most interesting people I knew at the time were being pulled into its circle, but I’ve always had this thing where I was never cool enough to be fully accepted by cool people while I never looked straight enough to be accepted in the straight world. (When I flew back from Austin last time, I had to share a tiny three-seat row with two MBA types who took one look at me, then looked at each other, and immediately fell into a gregarious and utterly exclusive two-man conversation that stretched from Denver to SF.) So I kind of stood out from the rest of the Paradise crowd, and this woman, the bartender, who was a little afraid of her own patrons, turned to me to ease her mind, and asked me to work as the club bouncer in return for free drinks. Big Mistake. First, I wasn’t solid enough back then to bounce a rabbit. Second, I was going through a breakup then, too, and I was trying to smother the pain with my tried-and-sometimes-true blend of booze and smart-ass quips, a combination which effectively made me the one true asshole in the entire place, to the point where the single best way I could’ve done my job would’ve been to throw myself onto the street. Instead I just drank the Filipinos’ booze, practically by the gallon, while hitting futilely on the women and doling out drunken hostility to everybody else. I still remember the alarmed look that Mrs. What’s-her-name gave me over the bar one night, while I was shooting my mouth off with a glass of her rum in my hand.

Agh, it was fun while it lasted. AK-47 played there practically every weekend, and they always finished their set with “The Badge Means You Suck”. For a few days there was a kerfuffle over it in the Houston media (which replaced the “uck” in “Suck” with hyphens), with everyone pulling their longest faces because such a noble sentiment had been so badly trampled by such godless uncouth so-and-so’s. The cops caught wind of it quickly enough, and one night they came crashing in during the song and shooed everyone home early. They only did that once, though, so between their gigs at the Paradise and hanging out at the warehouse where they held their rehearsals, I got way too familiar with AK-47’s set list. The band’s leader was their bass player, a skinny, sharp-eyed guy named Harry who, like most of the people I knew at the time, had come out of UH’s English department. Harry was an okay guy, a little stuck on himself maybe, and maybe a little pretentious (sometime I’ll tell you about his other band), and maybe he was a complete horn-dog who I envied and hated because he was brimming with confidence and successful with women—he used to twitch his narrow black moustache at them—whereas I only had my nervous drunken writer routine to fall back on.

Anyway…Now I’m back to hearing the guitars from “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” in my head. I swear, that little fucker…

“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”

March 9, 2010

Hattie Carroll was a maid in the kitchen
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn’t even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle
And she never done nothing to William Zanzinger…

The tempered, almost lawyerly voice that recounts Carroll’s history; the unforced off-rhymes that would look at home in a Dickinson poem; the unconventional, doom-laden repetition of the same word at the end of three consecutive lines; the surprising appearance in a 1963 song of the phrase “a whole other level”, here given a slight mystical nudge even as it’s yoked to the image of some dirty ashtrays; the harmonious coexistence of assonance, internal rhyme, alliteration, and Biblical echo all in the single line “Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane”; the way all of this builds to a description of the murder that’s journalistically precise yet, when heard sung, comes at you in sections like Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase; and finally, all of this taken together yet never detracting from the obscenity of the actual deed…Even for a young Dylan it’s impressive.

Hattie Carroll headline -- Free to Share and Use via MS Edge -- 4-4-16

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