Monday, October 27, 2014

Cosmetic Carnage

Everyday when I wake up, I go look into the bathroom mirror and say, "Hello dad." I no longer, however, stand and stare wondering, "what the hell happened," because I've come to embrace the situation at hand. I just ain't young no more. Believe me, I understand wanting to maintain a youthful appearance for as long as possible and I'm not opposed to a nip or tuck here and there. In full disclosure, I had excess fat surgically removed from my eyelids not too many years ago. It wasn't for vanity's sake because it had become a vision problem, unlike my freaking out about my hair falling out in my teens before undergoing a botched transplant that I've regretted ever since. So, I get it. Anything that can make you feel better about yourself and give you a more positive outlook on life is a good thing. But just as morbid obesity has become epidemic among the poor, the wealthy have been hit with an outbreak of obsessive and extreme cosmetic surgery.

The latest celebrity victim is Renee Zellweger, whose transformation from an apple-cheeked beauty into a homogeneous contestant on American Idol dominated last week's news- even above ISIS and Ebola. But at least she still looks like an inhabitant of this planet, unlike some of the other freaks and geeks out there. Let's take Bruce Jenner for example. How does one of the finest athletes in the world transform himself from an Olympic decathlon champion into Mrs. Doubtfire? And Pamela Anderson has been watching that bay for a little too long. The examples are everywhere. Some of the grotesqueries are Melanie Griffith, Meg Ryan, Mickey Roarke, Kenny Rogers, Barry Manilow, and Donatello Versace for the fashion set. Also, everyone on the Bravo Network, including the Real Housewives of Everywhere. Have you seen this thing? If Pamela Anderson was the innovator of bubble breasts, the Real Housewives have taken it to a higher plane. They have huge balloons implanted in their breasts that look so tight they might explode at any minute, sending the poor Housewife flying around the room in a zig-zag pattern. So many women have emulated them that, within the culture, the same Double-D dirigibles have become commonplace. You can see them at the grocery store- or Walmart, if I ever went there. If women believe that this is what men want, I'll clue you in on something- men don't care. Big and small, they love 'em all. For once, I'd like to see a small-breasted woman featured as the Playboy centerfold.

And can we discuss butts for a second? I saw Iggy Azalea on Saturday Night Live, and came to the conclusion that it's no longer the size of your voice that counts, it's the size of your ass. When did America go ass crazy? Between Iggy, Nicki Minaj, and J-Lo, they have enough rump to start their own parliament. (That's an Oliver Cromwell reference, by the way). So, suddenly women across the country are getting butt implants so they can Twerk properly in the club. I'll bet Sir Mixalot never imagined that his "I Like Big Butts" song would become a national surgical obsession. There's no part of the human body that someone hasn't thought of accessorizing with an implant. I saw one dude that had implants put in his biceps and pectorals so he could look ripped without all that heavy lifting. He stated that next, he wanted to "do his wings." I think before you have surgery, you should have to know the name of the muscle that you're having implanted. There have currently been so many botched cosmetic surgeries that a whole new medical field has opened up devoted to the correction of the macabre results. Americans have become as addicted to surgery as someone hooked on crack.

If Michael Jackson was the king of facial demolition, Joan Rivers was the queen of reconstructive surgery. She had her face lifted so many times they had to slip in a new body underneath. Of course, it's not polite to kick the dead when they're down, so let's discuss Courtney Love instead. Or Suzanne Somers, who at age sixty-seven, looks more like ninety-seven. I've never understood why women subject themselves to pancake make-up, stiffened hair, and spiked heels that make them look like unbalanced ballerinas. Since men are mostly oblivious to these things, I've surmised that they do it for each other. I've never met a woman in high-heels at a party that didn't complain about her feet hurting or want to sit down. You look perfectly fine to us menfolk barefooted. Not as in "barefoot and pregnant," but you know what I mean. We just don't want you to have to toe-dance all the time. It's not easy growing old in a youth obsessed culture, but once you're finished trying to impress others and face aging with dignity, a whole new world of "don't give a damn" opens. Ultimately, a beautiful face is not as meaningful as a beautiful soul. And there's no way to implant one of those.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Manic In Manhattan

While going through an old box of stuff, I came across a program I had saved from the Fillmore East dated Dec. 19, 1969. The Byrds were headlining that night, supported by Keith Emerson and the Nice, and the San Francisco horn band, the Sons of Champlin. As an added attraction, the immortal Dion DiMucci appeared to perform his latest hit, "Abraham, Martin, and John." That collectible brought back a lot of memories, mostly bad. When I was twenty, I dropped out of college and moved to New York City. I was chasing the flimsiest of music offers from someone I barely knew. A high school acquaintance had graduated Yale as a poetry major and gotten a job in an apprentice program for Columbia Records. He had shown some of his work to the legendary talent scout and record producer John Hammond, Sr., who encouraged him to find a collaborator to help transform his poetry into songs. I suppose I was the only musician he knew. When "Tom" called, he mentioned the names of several friends we shared in common and asked me to come to New York with the understanding that I would eventually have a chance to audition for CBS. He said I could live rent-free in his apartment and only needed to contribute my share of grocery money. After calling a few people and asking if this guy was for real, I packed my guitar and a suitcase and flew to Manhattan.

As soon as I arrived, the problems began. I took a cab to the address I was given only to find a short-order grill there. The cabbie had to inform me that my friend lived above the restaurant. When I lugged my gear up four flights and found the apartment, the couch I was promised was already occupied by one of Tom's college buddies who was waiting for renovations to be completed on his own place. I was asked if I minded sleeping on the floor for a little while. No sooner had I caught my breath than Tom sat cross-legged on the floor with a stack of papers in front of him and asked if he could play my guitar. Nobody played my guitar. After I had reluctantly handed it over, it took no longer than two minutes for me to realize that he had no musical ability whatsoever. He was the kind of guy who had to look at his left hand when he changed chords, and his poetry consisted mainly of abstractions that only he understood. I thought briefly of returning to the airport and booking the first flight out, but I'd already told my friends I was going and didn't want it to appear that I had turned tail and run. I knew that if anything was to be accomplished, we would have to start from scratch, and while I was lying on the floor using my leather jacket as a pillow, I wondered what in the world I had  gotten myself into now.

The two former Yalies awoke at 7am and were off to pursue their careers. They were razor-cut preppies in a hippie age and looked at me as if I were some scraggly-haired curiosity from the hinterlands. The movie "Midnight Cowboy" had only been recently released and I hit 72nd Street feeling like Joe Buck come to the big city. Look out New York, here I am! But while I was eating breakfast in the downstairs grill, people began running down the street away from what was known as Needle Park. There had been a shooting that sent the residents into a panic. Within three weeks, I felt more like Ratso Rizzo, wandering the streets aimlessly and mumbling to myself, just to have the chance to speak. Tom and I had grown to dislike each other so much that I would deliver a melody to his cubicle in the morning, and he would write poems to fit during the workday. The problem was, his lyrics were mainly about some phantom girlfriend that I never saw and nothing else in the known world to which I could relate. Our hostility grew so bitter that he asked me to leave. I had never been kicked out of anywhere. I found a single room in a decaying brownstone on W. 82nd St. with a single sink that looked like it had been clogged since Prohibition and a bathroom down the hall shared by ten tenants. My rent was eleven dollars a week and I still had to call home for financial help. The street was a magnet for hookers, junkies, and transients, but since I wore a frayed P-coat from Navy surplus, and a battered wide-brimmed fedora, I blended right in. After several tortuous months, we finally came up with a number of songs sufficient for an audition.

I stood with my guitar beside the desk of John Hammond and he was all shining teeth and silver hair, cut into a tall flattop. Just the knowledge that he had discovered Bob Dylan would have been intimidating enough, but since my Dad was a fan of swing music, I also knew that Hammond had discovered Billie Holiday and put together the Benny Goodman Band. Now he was sitting a foot away, staring up at me. I began to play an up-tempo song featuring some of Tom's metaphorical lyrics, but I couldn't look him in the eye. When I had finished, Hammond proclaimed with a big smile on his face, "My, we have a singer here." He was impressed that I had once recorded for Sun Records and arranged for a full demo session in the CBS Studios. I arrived early on the appointed day only to find a Vegas-like lounge singer in the studio while his slick manager was addressing Hammond as "baby" in the control room. After apologizing for the delay, Hammond told me to go ahead and set up. I put my chord charts and lyric sheets on a music stand and went down the hallway to ease my severe cottonmouth with a drink of water. When I returned, the lounge singer was gone, but so was all my music. Hammond sent the engineer racing after the pair while assuring me that he was certain this was some mistake. But when the out-of-breath engineer reappeared and told us he had shouted at the pair from the street but they jumped into a cab and sped off, it was obvious they had stolen all of my notes. Frozen with dread, I somehow managed to record the songs from memory. Ultimately, nothing came of the entire eight-month-long project. Hammond told me that because of a shakeup in the top brass at Columbia, "I no longer know where I'm at in this company." After I had quietly returned to Tennessee, my former host informed me that Hammond had said, "A lot of people have stuck around a lot longer than he did." Two years later, John Hammond signed Bruce Springsteen to Columbia Records. Still and all, I'm the only artist in recorded history to have been produced by both Sam Phillips and John Hammond. It ain't bragging if it's true.