Saturday, September 7, 2013

Even Angels Crash And Burn

Once upon a time Andy Warhol adopted the idea of creating a studio star system for his Factory, and among his new stars was a drag queen triumvirate: the exotic and funny Holly Woodlawn, multi-talented rebel Jackie Curtis, and a mysterious, quiet beauty named Candy Darling.

Candy was the most haunting of the three because she looked like a modern Carole Lombard and spoke in a measured Jackie Kennedy whisper. She was more beautiful than Edie Sedgewick or most of the scenester girls in New York, and unlike most drag queens wasn't even terribly sexual. She was primarily asexual and her biggest passion was to be worshiped from afar.

Her live-in boyfriend/companion Jeremiah Newton produced the documentary "Beautiful Darling" and appears through most of the film, not only because he was Candy's confidant but also because he was the recipient of Candy's personal articles from her mother who didn't wish to keep them after her death.

A few photos of the young James Slattery (future Candy) are shown and it's pretty obvious he was good looking even as a boy. Raised in a working-class conservative home that had no sympathy for homosexuality, Slattery briefly took cosmetology classes to perfect his drag look. A role in a an off-Broadway show written by Jackie Curtis caught the eye of Taylor Mead, which brought Andy Warhol's attention, and the rest is history.

Sandwiched in between archival footage are passages from Candy's diaries, ineffectively read by Chloe Sevigny as they are read too expressively. A real Candy voice would be completely deadpan, no matter what her feelings called for. Candy's deadpan humor was just as lethal as her looks.

Beautiful Darling could have also benefited from more film footage from her Warhol pictures, of which there wasn't enough, and the footage of her from the Santa Claus slasher pic "Silent Night Deadly Night" would have been nice, too. While I liked the documentary I didn't think it really went in deeply enough, other than the surprising dirt on his working relationship with Tennessee Williams during the production of his play "Small Craft Warnings".

The film ends with a wretched cover of Lou Reed's "Candy Says", a song as beautiful and haunting as its subject. But any Candy Darling doc is better than none at all, and if there's an immortal blonde as haunting as Candy its' the equally under- documented Veronica Lake. Some blondes just can't catch a break.

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If the lush piano introduction to Quicksilver Messenger Service's "Shady Grove" took your breath away then you've just heard the genius of Nicky Hopkins.
If the hard severity of the piano driving The Rolling Stones' "We Love You" gave you the chills and followed up the jail door clang brilliantly You've just heard the genius of Nicky Hopkins.
If the elegant tinkling of piano floating above the thrashing of a Who record, eg. "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere" or "A Legal Matter" you've just heard the genius of Nicky Hopkins.

Unimpeachably the most criminally overlooked genius of iconic Sixties and Seventies rock records is mild-mannered keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, who not only played on countless classic records, some credited and just as many without credit (especially The Kinks and Rolling Stones). To say he was a musician of merit on par with Eric Clapton, Keith Moon, or a Mick Jagger would not be an exaggeration. In fact, by virtue of the fact that he created all his arrangements himself and set the mood for a sweeping variety of musical moods is remarkable. It could even be said that many of the songs he played on would never have turned out as effectively had it not been for his amazing piano parts.

Julian Dawson's bio "And On Piano, Nicky Hopkins" is an exhaustive task as it goes into exhausting detail about Hopkins beginnings playing with Screaming Lord Sutch and Cyril Davies, the Davies connection opening up doors with what would become the biggest rock stars of the next fifteen years. His book is indispensable not just about his subject but for anyone who's interested at all in the British rock explosion of the Sixties.

The cover to this book is very telling: Hopkins on stage with a popular dynamic group sitting in a very dark corner of the stage but virtually unseen. It sets the tone for the whole book.

To read just a few of the recordings he played on is staggering: the clanging jail doors of "Jailhouse Rock" and quaintly melodic accompaniment to the raunchy "All Shook Up" with The Jeff Beck Group (Beck comes off as a painful prima donna, too); the lovely childlike lines that open "She's A Rainbow", the spidery blues lines on "Sympathy For The Devil"; the creepy barroom intro to The Kinks' "Death Of A Clown"; the chilly upper register tinkling of The Beatles' "Birthday" and Jackie Lomax's "Sour Milk Sea", and that's just his English work in brief.

Ray Davies also comes off as a Dickensian villain repeatedly using Hopkins for classic Kinks albums like "Village Green Preservation Society" and "Something Else" with no credit given on the liners but somehow justifying it by saying, "A session player is hired as a worker and doesn't qualify for an album credit". Um yeah, Ray, but this guy wasn't given piano parts - he wrote all his own parts, big difference. That's total genius.

A visit to San Francisco gave Hopkins a major boost in his rep by bands begging him to play with them, resulting in him leaving his mark on immortal SF albums like The Steve Miller Band, Jefferson Airplane's classic "Volunteers" and a residency with Quicksilver Messenger Service. Some even claim his presence elevated Quicksilver who needed a melodic base to counterbalance their previously incessant jamming.

Hopkins unfortunately hit the skids touring with The Rolling Stones on their notorious "Cocksucker Blues" tour where he bought the whole Elegantly Wasted aesthetic and began drinking heavily and developing a heroin habit, not unlike the kind Bobby Keys also fell for in his bio. (By the way, The Stones tried hooking a young Ry Cooder into their satanic dope circus and he very promptly blew them off, claiming The Glimmer Twins to be "sinister and reptilian". Hah!)

Hopkins later cleaned up his habit and embraced Scientology as well as played on Beatles solo albums, and also like Bobby Keys was the victim of many bad scenes with the not so saintly Yoko Ono. Hopkins' biggest clients towards the end of his career included his piano performance on Joe Cocker's schmaltz classic "You Are So Beautiful", touring with Leo Sayer and even a stint with Julio Iglesias (!). And you thought you resume was killer.

Julian Dawson should be applauded for taking such an exhaustive subject as Hopkins especially in light of the fact that his subject was a man who was so ubiquitous in rock and yet unheralded, ridiculously so. Thirty years on, the myopic Rock & Rock Hall of Fame still has not awarded this great man a spot in their not-so-hallowed halls.

Details in the Hopkins biography I didn't know:
1. Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane of The Small Faces played on Bill Wyman's track "In Another Land" on the Satanic Majesties Request album.
2. Clem Cattini played substitute drums for The Kinks and The Who when Mick Avory and Keith Moon fell ill.
3. John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin composed and conducted the string arrangement on The Rolling Stones' "She's A Rainbow".

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