It's easy to dismiss Three Dog Night. They produced lots of hits, not one of which is considered cool by a single species of plant or animal. They had bad hair and no hip appeal and their biggest hit was about a frog. To put it as bluntly as possible, admitting to being a fan of "The Night" is the perfect way to be written off by all sentient life forms as a complete fucking loser.
So what, we say. We likes us some Three Dog Night, and we're not afraid to say so. Their performance of "Mama Told Me Not to Come," Randy Newman's sly reimaging of Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man" from the point of view of Mr. Jones himself, is better than the version by the Animals, and even tops the one by Tom Jones and the Stereophonics! "And that cigarette you're smoking/'Bout scared me half to death/Open up the window, sucker/Let me catch my breath" sing the Doggers, and you feel their panic--you really do!
And what can we say about "The Road to Shamballa"? "I can tell my brother/by the flowers in his eyes" they sing, and you want to warn them: "He's not your brother... He's Charles Manson!" Still, their singing is so perky and innocent... like that bullfrog named Jeremiah they famously go on about in "Joy to the World", the official soundtrack of our eighth grade year, who always had some mighty fine wine.
Look, we're not some total idiot. "One" is dreck, "Black and White" is drecker, and "The Family of Man" might be a good song if they threw out everything but the organ riff and the cowbell. "Old Fashioned Love Song" is just the sort of thing you'd expect from that evil albino midget Paul Williams, who gave the world the "Love Boat Theme." "Celebrate" is frightening, and should probably be subjected to a cordon sanitaire for the good of mankind, but it's not half as scary as "Eli's Coming," which is proof, as if any were needed, that Laura Nyro, not Altamont or the Vietnam War, was the most terrible thing to happen during the 1960s.
In fact, come to think of it, we guess we don't like TDN very much. They had the batting average of a utility shortstop who whiffs far more than he singles, and they never hit a home run. Still, you have to give them props for hitting middle America right in the old wallet. With 21 Billboard Top 40 hits and 13 (count 'em) gold records to their name, they laughed their way past the sneerers right to the bank. Shit, we wish we had their money. We would use it to form a think tank to come up with biodegradable uses for Paul Williams.
Is there anything more infuriating than the group abuse of sartorial freedom?
There is much confusion amongst people without advanced philosophy degrees about the morality of pubic hair. Such people are ignorant of the complex ethical questions surrounding the question of whether or not to prune one's public garden, with the result that they often take their cues on this issue from the people in adult films.
This monograph will attempt to elucidate some of the basic philosophical positions on crotch forestry staked out by deep thinkers from Plato to Pablo Cruise. Let us start with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. While he never addressed the issue of pubic hair head on, he did write to Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach (whose public beard was reputed to be as long as the one on his face) to say, "I wanted a Brazilian, but it was so expensive. So I opted for the Bolivian. It's only half the price, because it's landlocked."
Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach
Jean Paul Sartre viewed the issue of pubic beardage through the prism of his godless existentialism. He held that every man confronts a valueless void, and that whether one trims one's "area le privats" or not is a question of personal responsibility. "No one can shave your pubic hair for you," he famously said in his essay, "Beard and Counterbeard".
For his part, Sartre's fellow existentialist Albert Camus began his famous essay "The Myth of Hairlessness" by saying, "There is but one serious philosophical problem, and we need grab it now by the short hairs."
Arthur Schopenhauer held that shaving down there is a good way for males to make their organs look bigger. He did not groom his own pubic area, however, saying, "I've already got a whopper." Plato, who was thought to be an incredibly ugly man, took the position that pubic hair is but a pale imitation of the Platonic ideal of pubic hair. You can draw from this any conclusion that you wish.
Finally, Karl Marx thought that pubic hair was exploited, and hoped dearly to see it rise up in revolt in his lifetime. This did not happen, and Marx died a very bitter man.
Hegel had a bad habit of referring to his private parts as "the Hegel Schlegel"
In 420 BCE the Stoic philosopher Xanthippe discovered that the only time he felt good was when he was listening to Orleans' Waking and Dreaming. Xanthippe promptly abandoned philosophy to form Ancient Greece's only Orleans cover band.
Orleans wasn't well known to music fans of the pre-Christian era. In fact, how Xanthippe came by a copy of Waking and Dreaming remains a mystery. It's possible he was sent a pre-pre-pre-release copy of the album by legendary Asylum Records A&R man (and Epicurean philosopher) Chuck Plotkin, although this would have been difficult since Plotkin did not yet exist. There is also conjecture, unverifiable of course, that the Oracle of Delphi hipped him to a copy.
In any event, Xanthippe's cover band, Xance With Me, were a great hit. This can be partly accounted for by the fact that the music coming out of Athens at that time wasn't much to write home about. Most of it was produced by blind old men blowing into the mouths of live snakes to the accompaniment of naked boys banging their dicks against gourds. The sound produced was often compared to a Mick Jagger solo album, and most people only paid to see the spectacle.
Many philosophers wrote positively about Xance With Me. These included Monimus, Onesicritus, Crates, Moby, Hipparchia, Metrosexualcles, Menippus, Mendemus, and Steve of Nuacritis, who said "Still the One is philosophy with a beat." Only the Cynics remained cynical. Diogenes of Sinope took an unexpectedly utilitarian stance on the band, saying, "They stink, but they're reducing the incidence of naked boys suffering from gourd dick."
Socrates also remained a doubter. "It's hard to know anything," he said, "but I know I prefer the Pina Colada Song."
from left, Mendacious, Philo of Crete, Xanthippe, Don "Murky Pete" Phillips of Houston, Pyxxles
We stopped by Melody Records on Connecticut Avenue last night to buy Bob Dylan's Self-Portrait. This was probably a stupid thing to do, given that upon its release in 1970 the whole world joined in damning Self-Portrait as (variously) (1) a biblical abomination, (2) a shameless ripoff and moneygrab, (3) a cynical joke, (4) proof that marriage and fatherhood had turned Dylan into a happy idiot, (5) a deliberate attempt on Dylan's part to make people stop calling him a "prophet" by foisting off on them a double album's worth of unmitigated MOR swill, or (6) a colossal and transgressive shuck along the lines of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Greil Marcus, as bootlicking a Dylanophile as there ever was, began his review of Self-Portraitwith the legendary words, "What is this shit?" Which is why we bought it, we guess. We figured it was about time we answered Greil's question for ourselves. Say what you will, it's not easy to create a work of art that creates such confusion and demoralization amongst the people it's intended to please. Before GG Allin was America's Most Hated there was Self-Portrait. It was premeditated futility in 33 rpm.
Odd thing: we kind of like it. No we don't. Shit, we don't know. It's bizarre: a Frankenstein's monster of twisted covers, schlocky originals, and the occasional live recording from Dylan's famous cream suit performance at 1969's Isle of Wight festival, and we doubt we'll ever be able to listen to it without skipping over about half (er, make that three-quarters) of its tracks. And there are lots of tracks. Dylan--who has at times hinted that the album was a fuck you to the "spokesman of a generation" crowd and that he knew full well the songs on it were subpar--once explained its double album status by saying, "I mean, if you're gonna put a lot of crap on it, you might as well load it up!"
This isn't an album, it's a day pass to Surrealville, and guaranteed to bring out the clueless Mr. Jones in all of us. It's as if Dylan's saying, "You and I made fun of the unturned-on straight in "Ballad of a Thin Man". Now it's your turn. Something's happening but you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Hippie?
You've got to hand it to Bobby D. He couldn't have come up with a better title in a million years. This is me, it says. A fucked-up mess.
It says something about the American political system, or perhaps democracy in general, that we have never, not once in our whole life, ever voted for anybody. Or maybe that says more about us, that we find the idea of voting for somebody about as attractive as the idea of handling poisonous snakes. We've voted against certain people, which entailed pulling the lever for their opponent, but please believe us when we tell you we did it out of genuine fear, and while holding our nose.
We've been reading about Diogenes of Sinope, and we find his general philosophical attitude to politics, and other human beings in general, refreshing. His advice to those who asked him how they could improve the world was, "Hang yourself!" You'll notice he didn't tell them, as some idiots here do, that voting isn't just a right, it's an obligation. Puhlease. We're supposed to believe that we're morally obligated to pick between flavors of scum? It seems to us that we're morally obligated to do the opposite. It's said that Diogenes visited the Oracle of Delphi, whose message to him was "Deface the currency." Here in America, the political currency defaces itself, and what you're left with is generally a choice between no-nothing demagogery (see your average Tea Partier) and odious expediency (see every Democrat elected in the last 50 years).
So no, we won't be voting next week. We'll leave that up to our fellow citizens, who are capable of shooting themselves in the dick with no help from us. Do we sound contemptuous? We should. We live in a country where even the most casual perusal of a newspaper should suffice to convince that lunatics have taken permanent control of the asylum. We should know, we're one of them. Take our word for it: we're doing America a favor by not voting. We only wish everybody else would do as much.
Is proof that even a blind pig occasionally picks up a dumb blonde whose panties are stuffed full of 100 dollar bills. Robert Christgau once said of the Dubious Brothers, "You can lead a Doobie to the studio, but you can't make him think." We would say the same for the Grateful Dead, but Workingman's Dead, shit, it works. Hell, they should have called it Thinkingman's Dead. It's not a monument to sheer inoffensiveness like American Beauty, not a testimony to the aesthetic compromises that come with catering to the sparkle-eyed whims of acid heads like Anthem to the Sun, not just plain stupid ("Eyes of the World" anyone?) like Wake of the Flood. Jerry and the Boys, for one brief and shining moment, actually play like they have testicles, and not tie-dyed ones either. "New Speedway Boogie" is a shambolic elegy to that death of the hippie dream that was Altamont, where the Dead ran and hid and who could blame them? "Well I don't know but I've been told, that in the heat of the sun a man died of cold" sings Jerry in that quavering nonentity of a voice of his, and you can almost--for the Dead may well be the least angry band in the history of rock--hear a note of reproach. "Dire Wolf" has Jerry playing steel guitar and begging a 600-pound wolf to spare his life; "Cumberland Blues" is as great a song about the perils of work as ever we've heard. The drums in "Easy Wind" have actual bite, and when Pigpen--who would die shortly thereafter from the complications of alcoholism--sings "I been chipping them rocks from dawn till doom/While my rider hide my bottle in the other room" you believe him. As for "High Time", it's the most depressing song about having a quote-unquote good time since Bob Dylan's "Goin' to Acapulco." Only "Uncle John's Band"--where the boys fall back on the "Attics of My Life"-type pastoralism of American Beauty, ruins the mood. Of course, Deadheads love "Uncle John's Band", can't get enough of it. Which just goes to show you that it's not your mortal enemies you have to worry about, but your chuckleheaded friends. They'll tell you "Drums'n'Space" is a good idea, applaud your every last move, and turn you into the punchline of a joke involving magic mushrooms and hackysack. Stay out of the parking lot, people.
Reminds us why we love to read biographies: for the secondary characters. Sure, the Wittgenstein clan--brilliant, mad, irascible, suicidal--makes for great reading. But what we really dig are the cameos. There's the famed piano teacher Theodore Leschetizky, the "octogenarian erotomaniac" whose entire response to one hopeful student, who auditioned for Leschetizky by playing a Beethoven piano sonata, was, "Goodbye! We shall never meet again at the piano. A man who could play that with such bad feeling would murder his own mother."
Then there was Franz Schania, the father of Paul Wittgenstein's mistress Hilde. Of him Waugh writes cryptically, "After the First World War, in which Herr Schania got his head stuck between a cannon and a rock face at the battle of Isonzo, he became a dedicated socialist and suffered severe depression." Huh? We've spent hours trying to visualize poor Herr Schania with his head pressed between a cannon and a rock face, but to no avail. We can understand, however, how a flat head might lead to a darkening of one's worldview.
One of the more welcome pieces of information we've picked up from Waugh's book is that nobody, and we mean nobody, seems to have understood a word of what Ludwig Wittgenstein was saying. We've tried to read his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, but it gives us a headache. Even Wittgenstein himself despaired of explaining it to people, although some claimed to have understood it after hearing him talk about it, only to lose this priceless knowledge immediately upon leaving his company. His philosophy was a kind of intuitive fog that dissipated only when he himself was in the room. The music of the Grateful Dead has a similar effect on us.
Another thing everybody seems to agree on is that Ludwig was a strange character. The first time Paul Wittgenstein's friend Marga Deneke encountered him, he was wearing a "greasy oil-stained uniform" and carrying a clarinet in a sock. Sort of like Herbie Mann, only clothed. His myriad eccentricities might possibly be explained by the fact that Ludwig's father, Karl Wittgenstein, liked to pick his children up by the ears, an exercise that might, like getting one's face pressed between a cannon and a rock face, also lead to a darkening of the worldview.
First there was Herbie Mann. Who by choosing to slather his hairy self with motor oil for his own album cover managed to put the whole world off its dinner. We'd prayed his was an indiscretion without imitators until we discovered the album below by Herb "Tijuana Ass" Alpert. What is it with white jazzbos named Herbie? At least Herb A. spared us the body hair. But seriously, did he have to entitle the album in question, Blow Your Own Horn? No more than Herbie had to call his Push Push.
"Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?" Karen Carpenter, "Close to You"
“There are still things in this world that are unimaginable.” Ludwig Wittgenstein
The same year that the Danube, swollen with the rains of a particularly virulent spring, overflowed its banks and flooded the low-lying meadows, a horse bit off the ring finger of the right hand of the nine-year-old Karen Carpenter. The future singer-drummer-hunger artist, who was then living in New Haven, Connecticut, insisted that her father shoot the horse, but he refused. In revenge, Carpenter (March 2, 1950 – February 4, 1983) took a pair of tin snips and cut off the ring finger of her left hand, explaining coolly, as the blood flowed and her mother shrieked, that she "valued symmetry above all other aesthetic values."
The Carpenters, the band that Karen would later form with her piano prodigy brother Richard, moved 100 million units. By contrast, it’s estimated that only 60 million people were killed in World War II. The winter before Karen Carpenter lost both her ring fingers she renounced Catholicism, having come to suspect that the Christ figure, lounging on his vulgar cross, was a hero only to the types of people who would have gladly helped to drive the nails in.
“When I think about it,” said Adolf Hitler, “I realize that I am extraordinarily humane.” Karen Carpenter had a lovely singing voice, a lovely face, and a brother who would later in life abuse Quaaludes, which is something President Richard M. Nixon couldn’t have foreseen when he called the Carpenters “Young America at its best.”
Karen inherited her father's funereal cast of mind. "When in doubt as to the true purpose of life," he always told her, "follow a hearse." This is a bit of wisdom she failed to pass on to the general public in any of the Carpenter’s five television specials, or their short-lived TV series for that matter. Karen’s own funeral was held on February 8, 1983, a Tuesday. She was laid out in an open white coffin and wore a pink dress, then transported to her final resting place in the world-famous Forest Lawn Cemetery in Cypress, California.
Vienna, that cold soup of a city that reflects the fractured light of dreary Austria like a cracked monocle! Hitler might have starved there. Instead he went on to become a superstar, although not the one that Karen sings about in what may be the Carpenters’ finest song, their cover of Leon Russell's“Superstar.”
The Carpenters wouldn’t have gone where they went without big-name benefactors. Burt Bacharach loved them. Herb Alpert, he of the Tijuana Brass and President of A&M Records, loved them. And yet they fell. When asked why everything ultimately went so terribly wrong, Richard Carpenter said, “The land and the sea and the sky and the mountains are all in league against the group that plays adult contemporary.”
The Carpenters’ first real hit was “Close to You.” It’s a fine piece of music. We’ve sung along to it a million times. Their song “Goodbye to Love” is very sad. "No ever cared if I should live or die," Karen sang. And yet it also has two, count ‘em, great fuzz guitar solos in it, which is something you might not expect. Expect the unexpected! This is true of the Carpenters, just as it is true that many people find Richard Wagner’s music unacceptably gelatinous.
Is anything true? One may be excused for having doubts. Karen sang, "You're not really here. It's just the radio." For his part, Miles Davis called Karen Carpenter “the funkiest motherfuckin’ drummer I ever saw.”
Karen Carpenter found living painful. When we saw her play live in the midseventies, she rode onto stage on a Harley Davidson. Of the women of Vienna Maria Hornor Lansdale wrote, “Their feet are pretty, with well-arched insteps, altogether unlike the Bavarian goose-foot, or the elephant pad of the Prussian.” We will bet you that Karen Carpenter’s feet were pretty, with well-arched insteps. Unfortunately when she looked in the mirror, she saw elephant pads.
Karen Carpenter spent her final days at her parents’ home in Downey, California. The night before she went into cardiac arrest and died, Karen got out of bed and wandered into the backyard. She stared up at the stars, and there came unbidden into her mind the phrase “silvery fruit.” Is it possible, she wondered, that she was one of them? It was possible. She was taking ten times her prescribed dose of thyroid medication, on top of 90 to 100 laxatives per day. She wished there was a drum set around. When she finally returned to her four-poster bed with its stuffed animals and abandoned herself to sleep, the last mortal sleep she would ever have, she dreamed of Paul Wittgenstein.