Statue of a Naked Lady with a Clock where Her Stomach Ought to Be
The Dr Frank Weakly Reader for 12.20.2019
Welcome, friends, to another Dr Frank Weakly Reader, that thing I do where I index my own internet in hopes of being able to find it some time in the future, now that the whole system of archiving and retrieval has more or less completely broken down. For this purpose, a simple link list would suffice, but of course I have to go and turn it into this sort of elaborate “newsletter” type thing, notable chiefly for the fact that very, very few people ever actually read it. Well, never mind. I’m used to a small audience, and I have made my web presence searchable, that’s the main point.
Anyhow, Christmas is imminent, so here’s a big Merry Christmas from me — set it aside and save it for the day.
— Statue of a naked lady with a clock where her stomach ought to be: that’s the “five golden rings” line from Allan Sherman’s parody version (in this performance) of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”:
I think about Allan Sherman a lot around Christmas time.
It’s only partly because of this partcular song, which was a fixture of Christmases growing up, and continued to be a fixture through my adolescent years via the reliably consistent Doctor Demento program, and into the present day where listening to Allan Sherman records has continued as a sort of holiday tradition in my house. (My wife is a Hare Krishna, that is, a Hindu, and weird ad hoc traditions like listening to Jewish comedian song parodists on scratchy old records in conjunction with the celebration of Puritans in Plymouth and the birth of Christ was something that needed to be introduced gently. She took to it like a champ, though. Hare Krishnas are great like that.)
But beyond that one song, Allan Sherman loomed rather large in my childhood tout court, throughout the year. My parents didn’t have a lot of interesting records but they did have My Son the Nut (which copy I still have) and of course “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” was quite a familiar touch-stone for us as it was for just about anyone alive in the 60s-70s. My dad used to sing it to the kids, strumming his Spanish guitar (the same one I destroyed a few years later when I started experimenting with rock and roll.) For a good stretch there, in fact, I thought my dad and Allan Sherman were one and the same; they had the same glasses and the same guitar, after all — I just figured he must have lost some weight since doing the record jacket photo shoot. (Way to go, Dad, I thought, probably.) I was slightly disappointed to learn that my dad wasn’t the guy on the records, but I got over it, as one does.
It is rather curious how the parodists of the “folk movement” (such as Sherman and the Smothers Brothers) had so much more impact, in my little world, than the stuff they were parodying. And this was also the case, to a degree, or at least for a time, in the greater world. To judge from this piece by old Warner Brothers honcho Stan Cornyn, it was Peter, Paul, and Mary and their unholy sidekick Allan that finally pushed Warner Bros. Records into profitability in 1962 — and during the couple of years following, Allan Sherman had as much success as a recording artist as anyone could dream of. Millions of units. Truckloads of cash. Hosting the Tonight Show. A Grammy. A second home in Malibu. International fame. All for sticking some one-liners into familiar, public domain tunes and shallowly exploiting the exigent copyright-free folk-singer trope and playing it for laughs.
For a brief time, he was a genuine celebrity. And he fit right in, even with the swinging world of the British Invasion that was to transfigure the record business permanently against his interests and fortunes and those of recording artists like him. Here he is with Herman’s Hermits on Fanfare:
It’s good to know he had some good times, in view of what was to follow. (Foreshadowing.)
In his prime and at its best, it could be very, very fine stuff indeed, e.g., “You Went the Wrong Way Old King Louis”:
I used to to sing this in that under-my-breath muttering-to-myself way I had, running the elementary school gantlet and being hassled by mean guys (two things which may not be all that unrelated.) As I’ve explained elsewhere, I did the same thing with punk rock songs when I discovered them, with pretty much the same result. I find something that doesn’t work, I stick with it:
Another curious thing (getting back to Allan Sherman) is how the songs always worked despite the fact that I almost never had any inkling of the original being parodied. The people laughing at that Louis XVI song in the audience knew “You Came a Long Way from St Louis” presumably but I sure didn’t and it didn’t diminish my appreciation at all. Now that I do know it, it’s still the original that seems strange (though I acknowledge that it’s great.)
This happens regularly with Weird Al songs and it’s just one of those things.
Anyway, here’s the moral of the story, and I warn you: it gets dark. From that same article by Stan Cornyn:
After soaring, Sherman’s career un-soared, starting down hill in 1965. But those first two or three years, Allan Sherman later got summed up by Joe Smith as “he was The Moment. Even more than Peter, Paul & Mary, at that time, Allan Sherman was The Moment. You’re The Moment for a very short time; then you’re not The Moment anymore.”
By 1966, Warners dropped Sherman from its artist roster. Poor sales did it. 1966 also revealed real downs in Sherman’s own behavior. He ate and drank heavily. His Broadway musical failed. He tried to sing “well.” His wife sued for divorce and child custody. As Lou Busch recalled, “If ever I saw success ruin a guy, it was Allan. He blew the wife, the kids, and eventually, the money, too. He got difficult.”
Sherman began living on unemployment benefits again, staying in the Motion Picture Home in Calabasas, California. Feeling the hurt, Joe Smith in 1973 offered Sherman $5000 in advance for an album of golf routines.
76 Saul Cohens in the country club,
And a hundred and ten nice men named Levine!
And there’s more than a thousand Finks
Who parade around the links —
It’s a sight that really must be seen!
On November 20, 1973, WBR engineer Rudy Hill got a call. Sherman wanted a copy of what he’d recorded so far. Rudy took a copy up to Allen’s house in West L.A.
There, as Sherman began to eat some cabbage soup, he suffered a massive heart attack, caved to the floor, his head hitting with a clunk. Rudy Hill, alone with him, called the doctor. Hill tried giving Sherman mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, till Sherman regurgitated in Hill’s mouth. Paramedics came and began pumping Sherman’s heart. Twenty minutes. Then one of them said, “Let him go.”
“It was so cold,” Hill remembered. “I’d never seen anything so cold. I felt that I was in this other world. But there he was, that fat, obese man who’d made so many people happy, lying there on a cold floor.”
Allan Sherman died in West Hollywood in November, 1973, at age 49.
That’s a mere ten years after “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” reached #2. The man who had it all blew it all and crashed spectacularly yet banally within the decade. A broken man and his cabbage soup, a sad, sad story.
We all like to think that we’d be the exception to the self-destructive rule, that we’d react rationally and sensibly to the good fortune of becoming undeservedly rich and famous all of a sudden and that everything would turn out great. But some of the most sensible people I’ve known have gone off the rails in precisely that Allan Sherman way, in response to far less money and prominence. It doesn’t take much.
So have yourself a merry merry Christmas. Have yourself a good time. But remember Allan Sherman while you’re drinking down your wine. You can’t put your arm around fame and fortune, even in modest amounts: don’t try. Just grab your Hare Krishna, your pets, your kids, and your friends, if you got ’em, play them some silly songs, eat some food with them, give them some presents, and be thankful for them, and for the fact that you got to make any records at all. And that they didn’t destroy you.
Merry Christmas to you all.
And now, on to the weak that was.
— Mtx forever ornaments are in and lookin’ good.
— My Alcatraz: (From FB “memories”.)I was fishing for compliments on this controversial record and got some bites.
— Our man Klode:
Give the gift of sounds:
And here’s….. Lazarus!
Important message from Sounds Radical Dept. of Disturbing Advertising: “This was the last time we were allowed to see Uncle Eddie … Up with MTX! Down with pants!”
— Our Man Will:
plus: Match Game!
— Our friend Jonathan London looking good in LA.
— Great Moments in Promotional Items: Lewis still has his Revenge Is Sweet fly-swatter — not a whole lot of those have survived intact, that I’ve seen. Lali still has her 1991 MTX calendar (which, as Larry pointed out, seems to work just was well for 2019, so there’s ca. eleven more days left in the old machine till the next time when the stars are right.)
— Song for Odin: ’twas the Mr T Experience doing “Itching Powder in the Sleeping Bags” at Gilman Street in Berkeley in May 1995.
(Song for Odin™ program note: as far as I know I’ve only skipped one Wodnesdæg in the “series” so far since it began, because it fell on Christmas eve last year. Next week’s Wednesday, as one might have predicted, is on Christmas day, so there’ll be no Song for Odin next week, nor on the following Wednesday which falls on New Years Day. But we’ll be back on Jan. 8, I’m pretty sure. Happy, er, holidays.)
— …and finally: your Friday morning “Sackcloth and Ashes,” from Sean Besaw on Soundcloud.
Some tunes just work. As this is not on YouTube, I can’t add it to my YouTube covers playlist obviously, but if you’d like to hear other such covers found on the internet you can follow that link and find some.
DR FRANKING THE NIGHT AWAY
— My night at the Kon-Tiki: maybe you noticed, but didn’t show up to, my show at the Kon-Tiki in Oakland last night (Thurs.) I’d never been there before, though I’d seen it from the outside and always said to myself, “self, that looks like a fun place to go, if you ever leave the house again.” Well, all it took was a paid gig to make it happen. Leaving the house, I mean. And it was a pretty good time.
Angel couldn’t make it (some unforeseen celestial emergency) so it was just a conventional rock and roll show without the expected Angel & Robot bits (which I’d been looking forward to) but it all turned out okay.
The Satan Sisters’ guitar broke, so they used mine. I don’t have many opportunites to hear that guitar from the audience perspective, amplified and through a PA. Boy did it sound great. Thanks, Jason Ingrodi. You make a mean guitar.
Anyway, Satan Sisters: nice gals, and they put on quite a memorable show, with costumes as you can see and lots of props and such. The Hinky Dinks did mostly Christmas songs and were dead great at it.
I was in the middle, played nine songs, the usual sort of set. I usually try to pull out an old one I’ve never or rarely done before, just kind of “covering” my own song as a stunt, and this time at the Kon-Tiki it was: “When I Lost You.” It worked, I think.
I have to say, I was pretty skeptical about playing in front of a bar audience who didn’t know me from Adam, mostly. I usually get a big “assist” from the fact that the crowd already knows the songs, and even when they don’t know them they know the kind of songs I write and are — mostly — positively disposed towards them. I don’t have much in the way of flashy showmanship in my “act.” It’s just a guy standing there strumming a guitar and “singing,” mumbling a self-deprecating introduction every third song or so. It seemed to me there was quite a high probability that I would go over like the proverbial lead zeppelin.
In fact, though, I should have had more faith in the songs because just standing there singing them turned out to be enough. As always (and I know you’ll take this the right way, being my people): “Hitler” was my secret weapon. I don’t often play that song for people who don’t already know it and take the punchlines for granted. There were actual guffaws. There’s life in the old guy yet. And by “old guy” I mean me, I suppose.
Anyway, Marisa was there and delivered her Christmas card:
So that was the final show of 2019, and that’s how it went. You should have been there. I’m sure you’re all kicking yourselves now.
— Five years ago in Seattle I did a show with a back-up band of “locals” at a little club called the Kraken during a book tour and it left some traces.
[a] photo with Erin (“me & Dr Frank. Fuck you”);
[b] Margaux and me, 1997 vs. 2014;
— How to get your guitar on airplanes, comprehensive instructions in one photo.
— For God’s sake, stop wadding things down… psycho-linguistics, bowdlerization, and my 1970s childhood in this post.
— Sackcloth and Ashes: via Maragret Michele, the weirdest promotional concept for trying to sell blankets I’ve ever seen.
—Monkees Derangement Syndrome: Someone somewhere linked to my essay on the subject, so, you know, any excuse to re-up.
Still valid, and the fact that even just a few years later the Monkees have (surprise!) already convincingly outlasted the Kid Rock stuff referenced at the link within is further support for the argument.
A guy on twitter pointed me to Joe Carducci, who wrote a book about rock and roll called Rock and the Pop Narcotic and who, I gather, takes the opposite sort of position. The book, he said, seeks “to separate rock from pop through exploring the processes that create each. Where your article seeks to align the Beatles and the Monkees, his book’s arguments would seek to separate those.”
I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, but I’m pretty sure my reaction would still be the same: there’s pop music that isn’t rock, and rock music that isn’t pop, but overall it’s all show-biz anyway and it doesn’t really matter. But who knows. I could be wrong. (Though I’m not.)
And on this subject, sort of, I suppose I should mention this rather interesting dissection of the sand-poundingly stupid “rockism” vs. “poptimism” contest among rock critics over the past decade. (And yes, that was a thing and it’s every bit as dumb as it sounds.) While I am clearly a “rockist” (OK boomer) I am, as you can tell from the above, in favor of pop music and in fact usually see no meaningful distinction. It’s all popular music — and it’s increasingly irrelevant culturally anyway, which is why there are so few paid rock critics left to argue over who’s a “poptimist” and accuse each other of “rockism” and so forth. However, I know nothing of the music these bozos are talking about (the popular music of the past couple of decades.) Because I don’t… care. I just don’t care. I only hear contemporary music in Ubers these days, and it’s always awful.
The interesting bit to me is how rock criticism, in its unwitting death-throes, managed to ideologize and politicize itself along the same lines as everything else got ideologized and politicized after the internet began to eat culture, art, and itself, turning everything one may once have liked or been interested in into an embarrassing, dumbed down, pedestrian Manichaean cliché. In this sense they were, it seems, slightly ahead of the bleak curve. I don’t know which side is anti-nomian and which is “nomian” here per se but it’s basically that familiar Lord of the Flies twitter dynamic of everyone accusing everyone else of being a racist 24/7. It happens literally everywhere. It happened in the “fiber community,” why wouldn’t it happen with music criticism? Well, it did.
My advice is, look away. Like what you like. The liking process has no meaning beyond itself. Thin Lizzy forever.
— Dept. of bons mots:
Still true, but moreso.
OTHER PEOPLE’S MUSIC
— “I reckon it ruins the strings…”: on the occasion of Keith Richard(s)’s birthday, a note he wrote to a fan who inquired about guitar sounds. He’s my mom’s age.
—Good morning world: Allan Sherman — “When I’m in the Mood for Love (You’re in the Mood for Herring)”; BellRays — “All I Wanna Do Is Shag for Christmas”; Bill Cosby — “Merry Christmas, Mama”
— ..and finally, kids dancing to Chicago’s “Make Me Smile” on American bandstand in 1970, with an ad featuring a pre-Partridge Susan Dey. The past was better.
— …and finally:
IN THE NEWS
— Roy Loney died.
Here’s a thing I wrote about the Flamin’ Groovies album Teenage Head.
It is often compared favorably to the contemporaneously-released Sticky Fingers. And there is a sense in which it is indeed an unsung American Sticky Fingers. Part of the glory of the Rolling Stones of that era was the melding of various strands of American music pastiche into a surprisingly coherent sort of redefinition of rock and roll for the then-new era. Teenage Head does this as well, and is much more direct, down-to-earth, no-nonsense and “organic,” sans platform shoes, Uncle Sam top hats, private jets, hipster slumming, and glitter capes.
RIP, Roy. You did great things.
— Anna Karina: she died as well, and I posted the customary picture:
— +1 to this twitter thread: “I wish people had the same level of outrage over people wrongfully convicted, or sentenced to shamefully long periods of incarceration, or being tortured, that they do someone undeserving getting a pardon.”
— Santx: I suppose I agree with Joe Rogan that this could well be some kind of “troll” akin to the OK sign thing and the “free bleeding movement” — though most likely it is just simple click-bait. But the “gender-fuck” Santa Claus may well be an idea whose time has come and I wouldn’t be at all surprised. I don’t particularly care, knock yourselves out (with both the individual exhibitionism and the corporate virtue signaling) — at least “Santx” is funny.
And that’ll wrap it up for the Weakly Reader for this week, but for those who’ve made it this far down the page, here’s a candy cane… Merry Christmas.
See you next weak.