Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, November 20, 2005

"words that don't mean anything"


I got a Michael Bloomfield anthology out from the library the other day. I’m nowhere near a connoisseur either of electric blues guitar or of Bloomfield, but he had a great biting tone, most famously on Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” and it was the library so what the heck. When I put it on I heard something that I hadn’t heard in 20 years, that I had forgotten, and it knocked me back: his mid-late ‘60s band Electric Flag and their version of Howlin’ Wolf’s Killing Floor. The happening proto-Blues-Brothers-style soul-horn arrangement of a classic paranoid blues number made it into a joyous sort of paranoid party music, and Bloomfield’s lead was hot, as was that of one of the saxophonists; singer Nick Gravenites is fine; drummer Buddy Miles lays down a super solid beat (most notably later for his work with Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys) -- the music is first-rate all around. What really knocked me back, though, was the soundclip that introduced the track: President Johnson intoning about “dignity” in what was obviously a Viet Nam war speech. It transformed Wolf’s lyric from a paranoid song of love gone bad to a political song -- “I should have quit you a long time ago.” And Johnson’s speech was just spooky -- that ghastly war.

I had bought the Electric Flag record in college because Miles Davis had touted them in a Downbeat magazine blindfold test that I had read in a Leonard Feather collection. I don’t know why I got rid of the record but now I want to hear more again.


Got a baby sitter and went with my beloved spouse last night to the new version of “Pride and Prejudice.” People in some quarters have complained about the over-romanticization of the director’s take, but I loved it, and the acting is uniformly wonderful. In the last year or so I’ve seen the quasi-Bollywood adaptation “Bride and Prejudice” and rented the Olivier “Pride and Prejudice” and the funny and occasionally annoying looser adaptation “Bridget Jones’s Diary”; I loved the Bollywood spectacle but this was by far the most moving. Haven’t seen the 5-hour BBC version from 10 years or so ago; that’s on the list.


Gordon Jenkins may have been Sinatra’s foppiest arranger with swooping impressionistic string lines and melodic lushness all around. I got into Jenkins in the summer ‘83 at the public library of Kodiac, Alaska, listening to records on headphones that the library had set up as free entertainment for all the college kids who came in the summer for the fishing industry; his arrangements on Nilsson’s album of standards “A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night” wrapped up my lonely not-yet-employed 20-year-old soul in a warm blanket of sweet, sweet sound. (The library also had some obscure Ornette records and a 1929 Broadway soundtrack of a Fats Waller show in which Louis Armstrong introduced “Ain’t Misbehaving” by joyously lying through his teeth; it was a very hip library for a town of 5,000, which swelled to 10,000 in the summer.)

Ella and Gordon Jenkins: pure gold. Their “Black Coffee” becomes pure majestic noir tragedy.


The kid was making squiggling lines on the paper so I knew that in his mind he was writing. (Pictured above.) I asked him what he was writing and he said, “Words that don’t mean anything.”
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