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Book 1. En Nueva York, 1957…

June 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Book 1. En Nueva York, 1957.

As noted once and said twice, we would learn a great deal in Far Rockaway, New York, USA in the winter, spring, summer and fall, of 1957.

Right from the beginning, the music meant almost everything and was somehow more real than the reality that it was sound tracking, Gale and I went back to school to discover that we might as well have been studying moon rocks on Mars for all our previous book, (and lack of book,) larnin’ had to do with the New York City Public School curriculum.

The flash back was to sitting in La Escuela de San Juan Bautista where no one spoke a lick a da lingo (English) and I didn’t speak a lick a la lingua (Spanish) only this time we were able to comprende the sniddy snoody and snide comments made about our pathetic fraternal idiocy.

The only saving grace for me came in the person of a Puerto Rican kid whose command of English began and ended with a fruit salad of four letter words like you’ve never heard. It was fantastic. This angel faced boy knew nothing but cuss words and creative combinations of cuss words presented so fluently and floridly inappropriately that I’m certain that we today, would have an entire field of scatological study devoted  to and franticly seeking the cure for FFFWS (Flagrantly Floridly Filthy Word Syndrome) it was amazing.

Anyway, I was able to demonstrate a smidge-lit of intelligence by virtue of the fact that I was the only person in the entire school able to translate his linguistic intentions (though there is the small possibility that I may have inadvertently taken too broad a horizon or perhaps one too many small liberties with my interpretations and translations, but only to demonstrate my own facility with multi-syllabic  language, in the hope that they (the school) would realize the kind of intellects that they were too quickly dismissing as “the gang of three ..Idiots”.

He really was a sweet sincere kid who had more than likely been victimized by a psycho Tio (uncle) with his own hysterical but cruel agenda for getting even with  all the school Marms and Principals in the New York City Public School system, and boy if his intention was to cuss ‘im out, he got ‘im good…

I can’t help but wonder how my life might have been different if a kid like me had been assigned to interpret for a kid like me at San Juan Bautista…Good Lord Awmighty.

Needless to say, my attention to my own school work was frustrating and minimal, in truth because we had missed so much of what led up to the sixth grade, but mostly because I was much more interested in The Spanish Main, the clash of sword against sword, the clash of cultures in the race for God Gold and Glory and most especially, the names and exact locations of the great treasure Galleons that had gone to the bottom bursting with doubloons and now swayed in the sea tide with red eyed skeletons guarding the golden pieces of eight, than in Millard Flurbush, or Floyd Huckabucket  (who or what ever they were)

But that was school daze, and when not immersed in defending a translingual scatological diatribe, or my dream life along the Spanish Main, my antenna was “full tuned” out the window towards every passing car radio and the essential life lessons being broadcast freely into the air. Life lessons as only Chuck Berry and Rock n’ Roll could structure and present them…” Be Bop A Lula She’s Mah Ah Bay Bay” “Up in the Morning and off to school” These are the days of “Be Bop A Lula” “Hail Hail Rock n’ Roll” “Party Doll”, “Little Darlin” and “All Shook Up” music that moved us through winter to spring and into the summer of 57. (10 years later as a young staff writer in New York City, I would spend my days at Screen Gems writing “SOON”, cubicle to cubicle with the Great Otis Blackwell, writer of “All Shook up” “Don’t Be Cruel” “Great Balls A Fire” “Fever” and many other seminal, inspirational works of Rock And Roll, but that is another story. One which we will surely get to in it’s time)

Summer, dazzling full on blazing hot, tar melting Summer on the Boardwalk is (in my opinion) one of the elemental full sensory joys of life on Earth. Truly something that everyone  ought to experience at least once in their lives.

Many people, especially the old folks and the teenage girls in Far Rockaway, seemed to live for it. The old folks would endure all the bitter winter winds, wearisome woes, disappointments and God awful depression of that seemingly endless time in between. Trudging along, their little spark of the divine flickering through dampness and the blasted semi-damnation of the dark time; waiting for the when the world would be born again.

The when, when a kind of honeyed hell comes to the city and Beelzebub’s own wicked heat hots up the place and the human race once again flings off the cloth (and all modesty) and prances out bellies bouncing, barely clothed, slathered in Sea and Ski, straw hat on the top knot, down to the glorious sea side.

Another group raring to go was the mysterious sideshow of pseudo carnies that opened and ran the flipped out, tripped out stands along the strand, that made and manned the crazy sand blasted or freshly painted pre-psychedelic, psychedelic art and amplified lunacy of the Boardwalk

Oh the smells, my God the smells, the French Fries, Candied popcorn and Hot Dogs (Kosher thank you) Cotton candy, Candied Apples, foot wide lolly pops, Soft Custard in Chocolate and Vanilla, the double Rainbow array of Popsicles and the sodas, Cel-Ray, Sarsaparilla, Orange Crush, Cream Soda, Cherry, Root beer, and the Coca-Pepsi and Chocolate syrup egg creams and the Lemon, Pineapple and Strawberry scent of twirling Salt Water Taffy,

I am sure that the Angeles in Heaven (but perhaps only the goodest of the good ones, like Vicki Sue and my dear partner Kookoolis) are from time to time allowed to part the firmament and stick their noggins down to whiff deeply the aromatics of the Boardwalk…and the Beach (the seaweed, salt air, sea and ski and the fishtunken stink-a-moids stuck in the flotsam and jetsam) because in the Summertime, the super heated swirled up smell of it all together, is well, all together, out of this world.

You understand of course that I (and we) were well adapted to the mystical turquoise tranquility of mountain sheltered coves along the Caribees and the sweet reflective solitude to be found ‘neath the shading (coconut) tree. I’m guessing that you know or have at least heard tell that the Beaches in the Rockaways are any and everything but that. In fact they are the opposite of that in every way.

They are a Symphonic, electronic, “Ca-ca-ca-ca-phony” of clashing color, scent, sound and crazy characters, double amped to the max. I could not believe my eyes and ears (and taste buds) nor the heat of the frying pan hot sand under my feet, the Icy cold water, sea birds screeching, wheeling and robbing, up down around and around, Kiddies screaming and yelling (as often as not because the sea gulls were making off with their samrichs,) people wall to wall everywhere ,standing sitting laying leaping running back and forth slipping, tripping, back flipping  ball flying, babies crying, the guys screamin’ Ice Cream, “Hey uh huh getchur Ice Cold Ice Cream Heeya!” It was five towers of Babel fallen on their sides and popping open to spill man’s madness willy nilly upon the land..ah..sand 

Every conceivable human activity was being plotted, planed or in process there, I understood it to be my first real exposure to Democracy, and the downtrodden, weary rabble yearning to really be free.. And weaving under around, through and ultimately over and above it all, was the music. The glorious music a never ending arrhythmic crescendo of clashing keys, the competing themes of ultimate liberation of the human spirit.

That was the summer of ”Good Golly Miss Molly” “Searchin’””Bye Bye Love” and well yes “Love Letters In The Sand” and “Tammy” (I WAS a 12 year old romantic, much the same as now) but most of all, it was the Summer of 16 year old Paul Anka’s beautiful record “Diana”. “Diana” was the dream theme of every cross-eyed lovesick skinny bagabones boy who had ever set his eyes and heart on a slightly more physically mature, and sophisticated teenaged dream queen… (you may recall how wide a gap a year or two means in early teen time), “Diana” playing full blast over and above it all took us out of the crazy mind-boggling and delirious Boardwalk  Beach,  Summer of 57, (so exciting to me),  and into the Fall….   

Un “supra-stuporus” impression that has lasted, pasted and blasted the test of time, (and still takes my breath away) was what I can only call “My Vision of Arleta”

One pre-adolescent September afternoon when I was twelve, there on a side street close to the Boardwalk just inside the slightly elevated doorway, standing coolly in the tidal wave of jingling boinging bell banging, screeching sirens rackety raucous, sizzled grease burnt electronics and sawdusty scent and sound cloud that is a pinball arcade, was a girl.

And Oh my dear Lord what a girl. A sixteen year old Garrison Belted gum snapping, cigarette dangling helmet haired black leather jacketed death in blue denim Queen, A 1957 New York City, Rock n’ Roll indigo dolly of the most extraordinary God help us, “first plus” order.

Heavy lidded, red lipped, rouge on ivory, pouty, sultry, tough teen atomically charged, motorcycle booted “A-Bomb Baby” white teethed, smooth skinned, insolent virgin seductress, big bang born goddess of love, ah.. Ah… I mean burning lust. Teen Venus Diana Magdalene Italian Valkeri, proud, ah… very proud, of bosom, switch blade flashing, ebony eyed, Arleta.

 I stopped, heart pounding in my tracks right in front of her and looked dumb struck directly straight and completely into her face, into her eyes, searching, searching deeply into her soul, for her own registry of this moment. The impact of this momentous eye popping, jaw dropping of “fate in your face” moment.

I stood as her attention slowly shifted in my direction, and then to me, I imagined that the light flash kiss of a lifetime was a moment away that I would soon fling myself upon her bosom and mercy, for now and for the rest of my trembling life.

I steeled my self for her imminent ecstatic recognition, my collapse and complete surrender to her and her Arlettic ways, her eyes swept across my latitude, my geography, my place in time, my whole in the whole of the universe and registered… no thing, no one, nothing. As if my heaving chest and love flushed, thunder struck face was empty space. She registered nada, nada nada. 

My friend just off my elbow, who had witnessed the whole thing said matter of factly “Her names Arleta, she’s sixteen” and then “she didn’t even see ya”

What I learned that day was that this particular friend had a way of loudly and UN necessarily belaboring the painfully obvious.

The Vision of Arleta was beyond learning it was just an “is was” or “was is” of the most extraordinary, exciting and lasting, power and inspiration.

The next New York girl that made a strong and lasting impression on me was one that I had also never seen before but got my attention by swacking me smack dab in the eye before raining a torrent of fisticuffs down upon (or rather across) upon me in a mano a mano toe to toe nose to nose, knee to knee belly to belly “watch me beat up this boy battle” that seemingly was born for no other reason than that. Apparently, she saw it to her advantage to demonstrate her ability to “beat up a boy” and scrawny me looked like a most likely candidate… This was a battle that I certainly could not win, however I did manage to avoid humiliating myself for the next sixty years by standing my ground and taking it (rather than running away in tears) until an adult stepped in and sent us each back to our own corner buildings.

Of course my right hand comentater man found it necessary to say loudly and repeat repeatedly “Boy, did you see that? That girl sure can fight” and “Man, a girl was beatin’ you up in front of all those people!”

Continues…

 

 

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Continued..Book. 1 Favorite Singers and Rockaway Days

January 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Book. 1 Favorite Singers and Rockaway Days

We lived in a “court” a collection of summer bungalows gathered around a concrete “court yard” maybe there were four or five bungalows on each side, with one or two across at the end.

Just outside and to the left was a movie theater, just outside and to the right was a custard and French fry stand, The French fries came in a little pointy bottomed Dixie cup and they were the real salty greasy greats. The custard was beyond language. Among the neighbors were a couple who were war refugees from Hungry. He was the ‘super” (a New York term for the superintendent. A representative of the land lord or management company, whose job is to fix any problems or breakdowns in the building or court) and she was a housewife. They had a little boy named Adam, who’s head looked a little misshapen, but who seemed nice otherwise.

Alas, his parents decided to make friends with me so Adam would have someone to play with. I swear to you I don’t know how I got “the come to me sign” tattooed across my forehead, but it is there. You may not be able to see it, but anyone who is dinged, danged, damaged, desperate or dub-doodled, sees it as clear as red flashing neon, and the message says..”come to me..I’ve got the cure, I’ve got the answer, that’s for sure!”

Dear Lord Amighty, You above all know how grateful I am for my unearned and undeserved gifts, but..but..but..but..

So I was encouraged to play with Adam and as I was/am a nice, sensitive, well-mannered boy, I was encouraged to come/go back again. One day pretty soon, Adam is insisting that I come up stairs with him because there is something that he has to show me up there..as we pass the bathroom he pushes me in, slams and locks the door, and produces a friggin’ butcher knife  at least three feet long. (yes, yes, its like a pre-ja vu,) The boy is making the most horrible faces, speaking hysterically in some gutteral eastern European language, and indicating that he is about to stab me to death.

Between my own hysteri-ac-s I’m thinking “Mother, I please don’t ever make me go play with someone just to nice ever again,” I’m squeeking and yodeling at the top of my voice for his Mother’s help, while wondering if she may be part of the deal and busy readying the roasting pan. In my wonder thunks, I’m thinking “if you grown ups know he’s crazy why did you take your eyes off of us, am I sacrificed so you can pretend he’s ok? (Can you do that? think, wonder, yodel and screech all at once? It makes for a noisy noggin, I can tell you.)

Finally his mother responded to my caterwauling and came to the locked bathroom door. After God’s own eternity she was able to de-escalate him, open the door and get the knife. She wanted me to.stay and play some more but God bless her and him, I could not. I was out of there, I fled for my flerking life. When his father came home he came over to our bungalow to apologize and to give me a shiny penny to come back and play again tomorrow, but ah, dear God, I would not. I was sorry for him and for them, but good God awmighty.

At that time the song “Enjoy Your Self It’s Later Than You Think” was a big hit. That’s when it first occurred to me that songs could have real meaning. My earliest favorite female singers were Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Edith Piaf and Teresa Brewer. I think that you know about the emotion with the first three, but an additional reason is of course, phrasing, phrasing and phrasing. With Teresa Brewer, it was her spunk I loved her recording of “Music Music Music” (Put another Nickel in, in the Nickelodeon). It just jumps for joy. Later on I also loved “This Ol House” by Rosemary Clooney (and while we’re on records, “Blue Velvet” by Mr. Benedetto doing the once and for all rendition, of that once and for all song and Ella Fitzgerald singing “A Tisket A Tasket” a masterpiece)

In those Rockaway days, Gale and I each had our own very favorite song. The grownups made a big deal out of that, I guess they were reinforcing in us what we reinforced for them, the idea that songs are important. Gale’s song was “Dinah” It started out.. “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, someone’s in the kitchen I know, oh oh oh , Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah strumming on the old Banjo” and then it went

 “Fe Fi Fiddle de I oh, Fe Fi Fiddle de I oh oh oh oh , Fe Fi Fiddle de I oooh, Strummin’ on the old Banjo” .

And then It went “Dinah won’t you blow, Dinah won’t you blow, Dinah won’t you blow your horn.. or.. ..orn Dinah won’t you blow, Dinah won’t you blow, Dinah won’t you blow your horn.. or.. ..orn”

The song tangled up my poor noggin, there were so many sections that I didn’t know which went where and what went next,..But I loved my sister Gale. And I wanted to love her song too..

I just didn’t understand what the heck was goin’ on when we were singing it.. On the other hand, I had a favorite song that took about four seconds to sing before I’d got swept away and lost completely “Down by the station early in the morning, see the little puffer bellies all in a row” after “all in a row” I always found my self singing “Aluetta shantee alouetta” and then (even now) saying “Huh”? And starting all over again.

I listened to the music on the radio with great interest, I loved the singing and I loved the songs. They really touched me. I was interested in how I felt listening to them. “There’s A Small Hotel”, “The Tennesee Waltz”, “Three Coins In The Fountain” Even though I had not yet had the experiences being described or referenced, I was able to imagine my self in a same similar situation and be empathetic. And man, the harmonies in “Three Coins In The Fountain” were down right magical.

I remember being in a marshy sand dunes area at maybe Jones Beach, with Mud and Lea (and Lea’s boyfriend “Slope”) and Gale. It was fall. The car was parked and the top was down and although we were out walking around, the radio was on. Frankie Laine was singing “I Go Where The Wild Goose Goes” The power of the singing, the song and the imagery, eliciting an involuntary “wow” from me.

Incidently, for years I associated Frankie Laine with that record and related songs (like Rawhide) but Gale and I recently came across a CD of his Greatest Hits and we couldn’t stop listening. He did some really great work before (and after) being pigeonholed with “Wild Goose and Rawhide.” Listening to him sing through his catalog on that CD, One could make a really really good case for Frankie Laine being a White Rhythm and Blues or Rock And Roll singer.

Again, his phrasing is just beautiful. I recently saw his old hipster self singing “That’s My Desire” (a great tune) At ninety odd, on PBS, and then heard shortly after that he had passed away, God Bless Frankie Laine, he was the real McCoy.

The Rock and Roll singers that were my influences and favorites were Frankie Lymon, pre-army Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Johnny Maestro (of the Crests, (“16 Candles” says it all,). Paul Anka, Jackie Wilson, Bobby Rydell, Ray Peterson, Ray Charles and most of all Ben E. King. Every one of them with a great and expressive voice but ultimately, masters of phrasing.

The Rock and Roll Girls (I have learned an awful lot from female singers, particularly in the area of dynamics and..yep, phrasing) Lavern Baker, Arlene Smith of the Chantels, (after “16 Candles”, “Maybe” says the rest). Timi Yuro, Connie Francis, Brenda Lee, The Shirells, Dusty Springfield and The Ronettes.

As I’ve noted earlier, down in the Islands we had an awful lot of Southern Gospel and Country and Western, and some of those singers were important influences for me. Gene Autry, Hank Williams, Jim Reeves and Marty Robbins (El Paso is a Masterpiece) and the Great Patsy Cline.

In addition, we had Calypsonians who were second to none in their Vocal technique and presentation. The Mighty Sparrow (still going strong) Lord Melody, Lord Kitchner and The Duke Of Iron every one a great phraser. Out of Puerto Rico there was the incomparable Ishmael Rivera, singer with El Magnificante, Cortijo Y Su Combo, The Trio Los Panchos (The greatest harmonies ever), and Lucho Gatica singing “El Camino Verde”,.

Now, having listed all of these favorites, I have to say that I learned more about singing from my own dear Fadder dear than anyone else. As a teenager I often found myself (for one reason or another) “on the road” with him. We traveled together on and off for years, drinking and singing..”It’s all in the phrasing Fidel, it’s all in the phrasing” (My father called me “Fidel the F##king bomb thrower from the islands” well..because,)  he also said that my Mother had named me “Scott” after her army pilot “boyfriend” who had crashed his bomber into the Empire State Building, and she shoulda let him name me Claude like he wanted to.)

When he realized that he had sired another singer. he immediately auditioned me on one word and one word alone, “lemme hear you sing it Fidel, just lemme hear you sing it, cause I’ll know in a second if you can sing, jus lemme hear you sing it! Sing the word.. love”.  The interesting thing was, with that particular word, I didn’t care what any body said, I knew with all the confidence in the world that I could sing and express love vocally.

Fortunately he agreed and we got busy singing every kind of song under the sun including every Irish tune ever written or imagined… There were many a nerve-racking midnight performance (the first one especially) for women in sentimental settings when he would say, “Ah, Fidel, sing Danny Boy for me Fidel, sing Danny Boy for me”

One of the proudest moments of my life, was the first time I sang it through for him. Opening the song with just the right phrasing and dynamics, coming up to and hitting those high notes just right, hanging there just long enough and singing it through ever so tenderly and beautifully with just enough hope just enough cry.., just the way he had sung it for me. Yep..this singing is a good thing, an I like it…