Sunday, February 19, 2012

45s: Get to your soul

"I'm Gonna Make You Mine," by Lou Christie
Written by Tony Romeo

I have made a life-long study of 45 RPM records, and I can say this was my first favorite song, way back at the dawn of my conscious awareness around 1971. It's appropriate, I suppose, in that main man Luigi Sacco owned the Number One song on the day I was born (Lou celebrated his birthday a day earlier). Though "I'm Gonna Make You Mine" is undoubtedly a piece of pure bubblegum, I make no apologies for my affection. Lou had a multi-octave voice that deserved better than the pure pop songs that filled his career, and anyway, bubblegum was in part aimed at kids, and that's what I was, a little kid at that, though I daresay a weird one, digging on Neil Diamond and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road courtesy of my parents when I didn't have Christie's Buddha singles spinning on my plastic red-white-and-blue record player.

Years passed. The 45 my parents passed down to me--or owned and let me play into scratchy incomprehension--vanished in the mists of time and many moves. But while at an outlet store in Michigan City, Indiana, an outlet store in the shadow of a power plant that undoubtedly damaged my chromosomes, I found a Best of Buddha Records cassette for about two bucks. Buried on one side: "I'm Gonna Make You Mine." I admit, until that time (say, 1996ish), I wasn't sure the song actually existed.

Though a fairly big hit, the song doesn't show up much on oldies radio, and at any rate in those pre-blog days I spent my musical moments occupied with the hipster bands of the day, your Dinosaur, Jr.'s and Breeders and Fugazis, forgetting that Lou Christie and his falsetto glory had ever existed. Yet I bought the cassette based entirely for "I'm Gonna Make You Mine." Back at the shack I popped it into the cassette player--I was the last American to own a cassette player, they exist only in African taxis and on remote Pacific Islands now--anyway, at home I popped the tape in, having not heard the song in twenty years easy. Did I remember all the words? No. Did I remember ninety percent of them and all the chorus? Yes. Did I try to sing along with Lou's high-high-high notes? I'm no fool.

The song has that jingle-esque chorus you needed for hitdom back then. It bops along, too, and adds a kind of weird bridge that infects me with the urge to clap. Not that this kind of lyricism deserves it:

I'll be a hard driving pushy kind of individual
Knockin' night and day at your door
You'll have to turn me away like an
Indestructable bore

Anyway, I've listened to the song seven times now, wanting to hate it, and I've failed. Rock on, Lou Christie!

"I'm Gonna Make You Mine" was more or less the last starburst of Christie's big-time career. He had spent a lot of the Sixties in Successville (population, Him), charting the very falsetto "Two Faces Have I" as early as 1963. People liked high voices then, for Frankie Valli ruled the American part of earth that year; and Christie actually took heat for seeming to ride on Valli's gravy train. Plugging on despite the haters, Christie scored a gigantic 1966 hit with "Lightning Strikes," an awesome little two-and-a-half minutes punctuated by deal-sealing shouts of Stop! by his backup singers. His follow-up, "Rhapsody in the Rain," was blatantly about fucking in a car, and mentioning sex earned him the usual bans by Sixties radio.

Christie faded in the Seventies, at least from the charts. But like countless others he paid the bills appearing on the oldies circuit. The likes of John Lennon and Madonna idolized and/or thanked him, and I can believe that, no B.S., because he had a unique sound, whatever his modest contributions to the topular of the popular.

Video, Video: One of two videos Lou did for the song. Note uber-groovy fringed vest over hirstute man-chest, and those adorable backup singers. They have all of one move, but they keep it in sync. Also the person dancing at the far left for seemingly no reason. Part of the entourage? Or just someone who wandered into the shoot after the continental breakfast? Speaking of that, I especially like it that they just threw the video together poolside at a hotel. The other promo clip has Lou belting out the song at a junkyard. It makes absolutely no sense.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Epics Made Easy: Njal's Saga, Chapter 5

Previously: Having faithfully served King Harald—and serviced Queen Gunnhild—Icelandic adventurer Hrut sets off after Soti, the man who stole his inheritance. In his company is secret policeman Ulf the Unwashed, the J. Edgar Hoover of medieval Norway.

The story: On the way south, Hrut’s fleet runs afoul of Atli Arnvidarson, an infamous pirate guilty of murder, robbery, and—the rogue—withholding tribute. Sensing easy booty, Atli issues the order to close in. After a brief parlay, Atli chucks a spear at Hrut’s ship, and the battle is joined! Alas, Atli’s bitten off more salted cod than he can chew. Ulf the Unwashed, “laying about him with sword and spear,” clears the deck of all comers. Meanwhile, Hrut kills one of Atli’s champions with a single blow. Impressed but obviously in the know, Ulf says: “That was a heavy blow, Hrut; you have much to thank Queen Gunnhild for.” Employing the kind of visionary powers we’ll see throughout the Saga, Hrut retorts, “I have the feeling that these will be your last words.” Ulf the Unwashed becomes Ulf the Unlucky when Atli sends a spear through him.

Prelims over, it’s Hrut vs. Atli for all the spoils. Atli splits Hrut’s shield in half. But then a stone hits his hand! The pirate drops his sword and Hrut chops off his leg. Ain’t but a flesh wound, either—Hrut puts an end to the knave with the next blow. Booty seizing begins.
Offstage, Soti uses the piratical distraction to return to Norway. A snitch betrays him to Gunnhild. Her son captures the inheritance-stealer and hangs him. Come autumn, Hrut returns and gives a third of the booty to the king; and, grateful for Gunnhild’s help, and now pretty loaded anyway, he splits his inheritance with her.

Next time: Hrut has marital problems, and his johnsson is to blame.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Rewriting the public domain

For years, I've tried and failed to read certain Great Books. Despite a much-indulged interest in modernist fiction I cannot slog beyond the page-thirty mark of Bloch's The Death of Virgil. The Last of the Mohicans has bored me at least once per decade since age 15. When it comes to Dracula's epistolary style, it's Bram Stoker 11, Me 0.

The ebook possibilities have led me to look again at rewriting public domain works in a style that's actually readable, perhaps even enjoyable, for contemporary readers. Those of a certain age remember the pop revisions of The Bible that hit the shelves in the Seventies. Same idea.

Though I mentioned well-known works above, and will return to that idea in another post, the main purpose of the rewrite project would be to revive second-tier or obscure public domain works. These novels offer stories or characters of interest to contemporary readers. Alas, the literary conventions of their times drain the modern reader's joy in the story, if not his/her will to live. But... if one could "translate" the outdated prose or difficult style into a form accessible to the modern-day reader, these mostly forgotten works might rebound back into the public consciousness, at least that miniscule part of the public conscientiousness concerned with reading. Curiosity seekers and masochists might even seek out the original.

By way of an example, let me propose a commercial revisiting of Cornelius Mathews' Behemoth: A Legend of the Mound Builders, a 19th-Century let's-kill-the-monster tale that may have provided a grain of inspiration for a famous white whale. Our revisited version would keep the basic plot and characters. Even the dialogue could remain, though from the little I've read, I'm not certain Behemoth has dialogue.

But the rewriter could take some poetic license. Adding accurate archaeological details regarding the Mound Builder culture, for example. Maybe throw in background info and psychological detail on the characters. Add new conflicts and even better characters. Better pacing. Humor or horror or whatever other entertainment value might be appropriate.

A frontier epic about the destruction of a Native American legend/monster, (re-)done right, can find an audience. It's like Dances with Wolves meets Call of Cthulhu!

I recognize that such alterations offend purists, and that I may even run afoul of some violent local chapter of the Cornelius Mathews Society. But Behemoth is not going to make a comeback on its own. Nor is it a classic. Nor is it a minor work by a major 19th Century author, though Mathews did enjoy fame in his own day as a writer and critic, and perhaps most of all as a persistent advocate of a homegrown American literature. Nor is it terribly readable in its original form.

I can change the readability piece, however. By so doing I'd also resurrect Mathews, if only to the members of an as-yet-unformed reading subculture that will occasionally invest $1.49 in reinterprations of obscure public domain texts. Would Cornelius mind? Possibly. A lot of authors consider every word they right pure gold.

Then again, he's not getting a lot of attention. Surely a flawed notoriety (however small) beats a noble obscurity.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Rough Draft: Grandmothers and hockey

From the Blackhawks book in progress.

Grandmothers want you around more than your parents do. My folks weren’t going to chase me into a blizzard. But they made it clear that being outside on any weather short of a rain of toads trumped sitting in front of TV. Willie Bea, by contrast, wanted company. Granny was a fairly active sixtysomething, mind you. Not an unspent overachiever running marathons, but humankind could’ve reached Mars by harnessing the energy she spent washing clothes, cleaning dishes, cooking up homemade divinity, and sewing buttons. Still, it was winter. In those days, when sixty was the old sixty and orthopedics had not yet advanced enough to save Bobby Orr’s knees, slipping on the ice had enormous consequences. Better to stay inside.

I’m not sure Willie Bea liked watching sports. But she did watch them, all the way into her eighties, and I don’t think she was just trying to keep me happy. She ranged far beyond the NHL on NBC. The Harlem Globetrotters, tape delays of Frazier or Ali or Foreman licking some alleged challenger, whatever the Norwegians were doing with skis that week on Wide World of Sports—if she had switched the laundry and no one had thrown a button, she was there, and with rigid posture, at least until she dozed off.

Willie Bea must’ve considered pro basketball her favorite. I say that because hoops actually got her excited enough to stay awake. At times she even raised her shrill granny voice—in a tone that reminded everyone of her Beverly Hillbillies namesake, or a pterodactyl—to tell someone to “get it, get it” or “ruuuuun.” Once a game she would see Moses Malone or the like and say in awed tones, “Now that’s a big man.” Someone told me a possibly apocryphal story that Granny had played basketball as a girl. Since some girls’ leagues played a nine-on-nine game in the Twenties, I imagine you could roster a skinny five-footer and be okay. It must’ve been hard to pull off a crossover dribble in billowy pantaloons.