Tag Archives: pop culture

Dick Clark and Levon Helm

Standard

Two very different men died recently. Dick Clark and Levon Helm were almost opposites. One epitomized pop culture’s star making machinery, the other a pop culture which avoided the star making machinery. Both are important, and have left an indelible mark on our culture.

Dick Clark, at first glance, seems trivial and unimportant. Just a talking head introducing the latest teen idols. A pleasant voice, face, and demeanor calculated to not offend, unless of course you found that very inoffensiveness offensive. But this isn’t fair. Dick Clark cared about popular music. At a time when rock n’ roll was being derided by Frank Sinatra as a vile aphrodisiac Dick Clark showed that this new music wasn’t about crime and immorality, or at least, it didn’t have to be. Dick Clark saw that if teenage music was to survive it had to change, lest it be driven underground where it might just fade away into oblivion. He also loved rhythm and blues, and although he is remembered for Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Vee and other vanilla squishy soft rockers, he also contributed to the success of Sam Cooke, Smokie Robinson and the Miracles, Chubby Checker, and other black artists. If Dick Clark had been as conservative as some believe, he would have allowed rock n’ roll and r & b to die, leaving us with the rat pack. I think Dick Clark wanted to be hip, but he just couldn’t make it work. That actually added to his charm. He remained the upbeat dj with the perfect teeth, perpetually young until his death. His message was simple. Pop music is good clean fun. He was never taken seriously by anyone, and that is the way he liked it. You couldn’t really knock him because he had no pretensions. He knew he was just a familiar face introducing us to the imaginary world of pop music. That is the key thing to understand about Dick Clark, American Bandstand, and Rockin’ New Years Eve, it is all a show. It is a pop music version of Disneyland. None of it is serious. It is selling us the modern American myth of malt shops, drive-in’s, fast cars, and a sweet innocence. None of it was real and almost no one was fooled. Of course not all of it was imaginary. Teenagers had the opportunity on American Bandstand to watch teenagers just like themselves dancing to the same songs they listened to. You could root for the song you wanted to see make it to number one. It provided a shared experience which really doesn’t have a contemporary equivalent. Pop music today tends to be fragmented, and the whole idea is to celebrate decadence and irony. Innocence? It never really existed except in the imaginary universe of places like American Bandstand. It is true that by today’s standards Dick Clark seems bland, but his blandness made a revolutionary new trend in music acceptable to the parents, and the moguls of the music industry. Because of that, the way was prepared for the arrival of the Beatles and everything that followed. For that, we owe Dick Clark a debt.

Levon Helm has a very different story. Levon is the real deal. He was a musician and songwriter who lived to create. He was the drummer for the Band, for which he sang songs which feel as though they had always been there. ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’, ‘Rag Mama Rag’ and ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ are timeless pieces of Americana. He didn’t care about commercial success. He wasn’t looking to be famous. He was the Everyman. He sang for all the nameless men who populated the American landscape from it’s very inception. You can hear Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Jesse James, Mark Twain, and James Dean in his voice. He managed to achieve that universality, that anonymous timeless quality that Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson aspired to but whose vivid personalities prevented. Levon Helm is a ghost. He was totally devoted to the music and evoking the spirit of America with his work. Levon Helm wanted to blend into the background and be remembered by other musicians. He could care less about anything more than that. He will be missed because the honest ones come along infrequently. Most artists are swayed by the star making machinery, and it affects their artistry, Levon Helm stayed true to his muse.

We need both kinds of men. We need people like Levon Helm to keep us honest and remind us of what true artistry is about, and we need people like Dick Clark to prevent good music from fading into obscurity. For any of us to hear the good stuff we must endure the superficial and realize that nothing gets heard if it isn’t promoted. Dick Clark was the master at promotion, at letting you know about music. His taste was mainstream, but he still managed to put some major talents on the map. Some artists kid themselves that they don’t need to play the game, but a certain amount of that is required if you want to make a difference, and help steer the course of popular music.

The Mysterious Scott Walker

Standard

Scott Walker is probably one of the most influential singers of his generation, although he isn’t well known in the US. He belonged to a group called the Walker Brothers in the sixties, although his name was actually Noel Scott Engel. None of the members of the group were actually named Walker. John Maus and Gary Leeds were the other ‘Walker’ brothers. He had played in other bands, and started out in his teens as a protege of Eddie Fisher, modeling himself after other teen idols. But unlike other teen idols who may have resembled Elvis physically, but couldn’t sing anything like him, Scott actually had, and still has, a superb voice. In fact, one of the most remarkable voices in pop music history. David Bowie has been influenced greatly by Scott Walker. The Walker Brothers began in LA in 1964, but achieved their greatest success in England where they rivaled the Beatles in popularity. They had their first big hit with ‘ Make It Easy On Yourself’, and then achieved their greatest hit with the spooky, evocative hit ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’. The video is also excellent for this song, Scott Walker, bearing a slight resemblance to Warren Beatty, smirks into the camera and conveys an enigmatic personality. But Scott Walker wasn’t made out for stardom. and the group broke up in 1967.  He hated dealing with all of the things that come with stardom. He cared about good music, and became a fan of Jacques Brel, and focused his attention on creating carefully crafted ballads which almost no one ever heard until the recent interest in Scott Walker engendered by the cult documentary, 31st century man. His voice has a haunting quality, full of mystery and drama. Check him out on youTube, you will develop an obsession with him, if you haven’t already. He kept experimenting with different forms, playing with techno, and strange soundscapes which defy description. His singing became more like a poetic recitation, the songs weren’t really songs any longer but avant garde compositions. Strange, but compelling stuff. I have included two songs from youTube, the excellent ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ and ‘Jesse’ from what I believe is his last album from a few years ago. This is my introduction to a repost of a more poetic treatment of Scott Walker I posted a few weeks ago. It captures the enigma that is Scott Walker.

Where Scott Walker doth dwell there may be spiders, I can’t tell. Although he has sung of it, in his deathly tones, many times I confess. I cannot tell the lamppost from the lie, the fractured fairy tale from the putrid meat in the cellar. Scott Walker beckons to me from too great a depth, I cannot fathom it. His longing, his longing,,,,I must go to sleep, it is getting late. Scott Walker grew up on a ranch, no!, ’twas in the heart of New York City, ah, no it is told he had a different name, but why bother? He is the night, he is the promise, he lifts his blood stained hands before the altar. Why? Why must this man force his way into my brain? His objectives are obscure, hammering softly the same refrain, you have a swanky suit, a very swanky suit. But it shall not save me.

He is old. He is young, this man of no certain hour. Where doth dwell this teenage idol, this mildewed tower? He lives in a forgotten magazine, songs you can’t quite hear, no matter how much you increase the volume. He doth dwell on abandoned staircases within forgotten movie sets. He knows the ancient whores gazing out the window beside the rotting wharf, cigarette dangling out of a grease stained mouth. Don’t ask this seraph to explain his evocation, for this is not his path. It is his to slam the freshly butchered lamb with mallets till he’s said…..it…..all. Such is the way of this mysterious man, whose weirding way is but by chance. Where Scott Walker doth dwell there may be a knowledge unprepared, wrapped in fading newsprint, like a fish.

The Sun will never shine again as Scott pulls the azure garment close, and cries. The Sun will never shine again as Scott makes the ancient sign, and hopes. Gazing steadily with his youthful smirk, Scott Walker knows just how it works, stealth and guile, mirrors and smoke. Where Scott Walker doth dwell.

On a personal note for those of you that don’t follow my other blog, russell5087.wordpress.com, I reported in my latest post that I have finally landed a job. I haven’t had one since early January, and this one is only until October, but could become permanent if I do really well. I am very happy this happened given that I couldn’t pay rent this month, and will be late with it in April. I also have completed my Flash animation for Stock Photo Woman Fantasy, except for music. It is so long, including about 65 different photo collages. I might try to do it as a slide show instead, and find a music video you could listen to while watching my video. I still need to write the story for the next installment and do a couple of collages as just photos. I am very happy the animation is basically done. You will see it tomorrow or the next day. I am also very happy that my cataracts will be removed, probably in April. So things are looking up for me. I hope you are inspired to listen to more Scott Walker, he is worth getting into.


Moon Girl

Standard

Image

Moon Girl was a Golden Age comic from the forties. It has become a bit of a cult classic. It began as an adventure comic, then morphed into more of a romance, then finally with Moon Girl #5 it morphed into a horror comic, setting the trend which became EC’s trademark genre. It was published by EC Comics, and has since fallen into public domain. Don’t you just love those little blue hot pants with the crescent moon on the side? In 2010 she re-emerged as a comiXology series. But it is the classic Moon Girl that I want to blog about.  Her basic premise is actually quite lame. A moon rock gives her superhuman powers, and her real name? Claire Lune of course! It is unclear who created her. but it may have been Maxwell Gaines the founder of EC Comics. She made her debut shortly before his death in a boating accident. The better known, Bill Gaines, his son, inherited EC Comics, and also helped found Mad Magazine.

She was roughly modeled after Wonder Woman. Gardner Fox, who normally wrote for DC Comics, was her primary writer. Her primary artist was Sheldon Moldoff, who also had worked for DC. She was a princess from Samarkand, and would never marry a man who could not defeat her in battle. She served as a powerful role model for girls who had a bit of a gothic side. This is primarily because of her last comic, “The Corpse With Will Power” which paved the way for EC’s horror comics. Her primary nemesis was Satana depicted below.

Image

Where Scott Walker doth dwell

Standard

Where Scott Walker doth dwell there may be spiders, I can’t tell. Although he has sung of it, in his deathly tones, many times I confess. I cannot tell the lamppost from the lie, the fractured fairy tale from the putrid meat in the cellar. Scott Walker beckons to me from too great a depth, I cannot fathom it. His longing, his longing,,,,I must go to sleep, it is getting late. Scott Walker grew up on a ranch, no!, ’twas in the heart of New York City, ah, no it is told he had a different name, but why bother? He is the night, he is the promise, he lifts his blood stained hands before the altar. Why? Why must this man force his way into my brain? His objectives are obscure, hammering softly the same refrain, you have a swanky suit, a very swanky suit. But it shall not save me.

He is old. He is young, this man of no certain hour. Where doth dwell this teenage idol, this mildewed tower? He lives in a forgotten magazine, songs you can’t quite hear, no matter how much you increase the volume. He doth dwell on abandoned staircases within forgotten movie sets. He knows the ancient whores gazing out the window beside the rotting wharf, cigarette dangling out of a grease stained mouth. Don’t ask this seraph to explain his evocation, for this is not his path. It is his to slam the freshly butchered lamb with mallets till he’s said…..it…..all. Such is the way of this mysterious man, whose weirding way is but by chance. Where Scott Walker doth dwell there may be a knowledge unprepared, wrapped in fading newsprint, like a fish.

The Sun will never shine again as Scott pulls the azure garment close, and cries. The Sun will never shine again as Scott makes the ancient sign, and hopes. Gazing steadily with his youthful smirk, Scott Walker knows just how it works, stealth and guile, mirrors and smoke. Where Scott Walker doth dwell.