Saturday, February 25, 2017

"One Meatball"

I was going to write an essay about the first Ry Cooder album and explain why I thought it was a bizarre amalgam of country blues, acid rock (straight from the Performance soundtrack) and vintage Warner Brothers movie soundtracks. The most fully realized track combining these unlikely bedfellows was a cover of the Forties hit One Meatball. Written by Lou Singer and Hy Zaret, it's a vamp blues about a Depression-era man who only has enough money to buy himself a meatball and nothing else.

While some singers put some whimsy into the tune (see below) by interpreting the song as the tale of a sad sack who didn't have enough scratch to feed himself, Cooder and producers Ted Templeman and Van Dyke Parks delivered a Depression-era horrorshow of a man who had no future or present day dreams to get him through his stripped down meal.

The version created on the Cooder album was a dirgey nightmare featuring a wash of atonal strings providing a counterpoint to Cooder's weeping bottleneck guitar. It's a haunting track showing Cooder and Parks at their greatest strengths.

In the course of researching One Meatball I discovered that just about everyone at the time covered it, from Frank Sinatra to The Andrews Sisters to Louis Armstrong to Josh White. The song's like a mood ring; everyone put a very radical take on the song, from The Andrews Sisters doing a slightly amused version to Josh White's very somber performance.

Forties Soundies version

The video above is a Forties soundie version, a Warner Bros. cartoon vibe serving just about everything but a Mel Blanc voice over. The "waitress" singing gives a fairly standard Forties vocal. It's a fun short. but far from Ry Cooder's bleak Depression dirge.

One Meatball - Candy Candido

And now for something completely different: a supper club comedy chanteuse named Candy Candido. He's so odd it's not even funny, he's just downright creepy in a twitchy David Lynch movie way. His bizarre mannerisms are the thing of weird dreams that make you wake up at 3 am and resent eating that Pastrami sandwich with cole slaw and Russian dressing right before bedtime. Ha! As a side note, I think some of the low notes sung are dubbed in by Mel Blanc (yeah, him again). File under "Unfunny and Creepy".

One Meatball - Dave Van Ronk

Every sad story has a happy ending, though, and this one is about the discovery of Dave Van Ronk. His version of One Meatball is nothing short of amazing, Ronk doing a scatting folk singer thing decades before Tom Waits. Discovering Van Ronk was like finding a $1000 dollar bill on the street. What a demon.

Van Ronk sounds like a Robert Crumb caricature of the wild man folkie screaming and scatting while banging the crap out of his acoustic guitar. He puts so much energy into the jazzabilly blues of this song, he invigorates every word with his electric energy. There's some great blues interpretation to be found in his version of One Meatball.

Ry Cooder really hit his stride with his first album, especially the creepy One Meatball, but nothing prepared me for the widely divergent interpretations of the song. This is the sort of thing that makes music so exciting. It's the singer, not the song.

Friday, February 10, 2017

I Sing The Bookcase Electric

If you follow my blog I wrote a post in September of 2015 called Paperback Criers ( ) about people heralding the rise in popularity of paperbound books. I can be a sentimental old man with the best of them, but this time I'm going to sit the parade out. I like my electronic books, damn it.

One of the great things about owning a Kindle is the way I can carry 100 books around in one slim volume. I can download an unlimited amount of books and go back and forth with them as often as I want to without grabbing them from a shelf and plowing through endless pages. They're all sitting there in my tablet side by side ready to be opened up any time. How can you hate that? And just think, no trees were cut down in the production of these books.

No torn pages! No torn off cover! Nothing yellows or smells! What's to hate?

Another feature I really like is the way I can get samples of books downloaded on my device, so I can sample everything without having to buy it blind. You can read the sample any time you feel like it and not be hampered with standing around in some bookstore.

A quick list of my eBooks currently living in my Kindle:

1. Lord of Garbage - Kim Fowley (he promised a second volume of memoirs - um, yeah the best laid plans of mice and men....)

2. Concrete Island - J.G. Ballard (you think electronic books are cold and alienating? Good, download some J.G. Ballard, then)

3. The Woman Aroused - Bruno Fischer (one of the most twisted noirs ever written; HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)

4. The Fox - D.H. Lawrence (the movie was better but still worth a read. I think it was 99 cents)

5. Redheads Die Quickly - Gil Brewer (some of the greatest noir short stories next to Lawrence Block's sleazy stuff)

6. The Flesh of the Orchid - James Hadley Chase (crime classic about an heiress who escapes from a lunatic asylum and tears men's eyes out for kicks...and that's just for starts!)

7. Eternal Troubadour: The Improbable Life of Tiny Tim - Justin Martell (a great biography on the Sixties phenomenon)

8. Every Good Boy Dies First, Iron Curtain Baby, etc. - Andy Seven (I have four books for sale and they're all fabulous punk crime novels)

SAMPLES OF BOOKS in my Kindle: Notorious Byrd Brothers (33 1/3 album series), The Mayor of MacDougal Street - Dave Van Ronk's memoirs. The Big Bite by noir demon Charles Williams and much more Gil Brewer sleaze like The Brat and Little Tramp. And I'm pretty stoked about that Ann Dvorak biography.

The prices to most of these tomes are actually lower than the average paperbound book since it costs nothing to download these babies. Ahem, my books retail at $2.99 and $3.99, depending on their volume. What are you waiting for?

My Kindle also has an unlimited music cloud library as well as tons of movies, too. All in one slim volume. talk about a home entertainment center in the palm of your hand! By the way, did I mention I have some books for sale?