Edie Sedgwick: Maid Of Constant Sorrow

Edie Sedgwick, Bob Dylan And Andy Warhol

by

R.E. Prindle

 

Chapter 1

Some Enchanted Evening

 

Edie and Andy

Texts:

A movie:  Factory Girl

Sedgwick, John: In My Blood: Six Generations Of Madness And Desire In An American Family, Harper Perennial, 2007

Stein, Jean: Edie: An American Biography, Pimlico, First Published 1992, 2006 Paperback edition

www.warholstars.com A comprehensive Andy Warhol site.

The sixties was a period of broken lives.  It was the heyday of the users and the used.  It was as Donovan aptly put it: The Season Of The Witch.  It was a period when all the hounds of hell were loosed.  It may be a cliche but it was both the best and worst of times.  It was during this period that Edie Sedgwick came of age.  Edie’s tragedy was that she was used rather than a user.   She was the cat’s paw of two of the greatest users of the period, Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan.  It cost her her everything including her life.

Edie was one of the Sedgwicks of Massachusetts and they were old line Americans.  If the Sedgwicks missed the Mayflower they were trolling in its wake.  Therein lay part of Edie’s charm for the two immigrant lads, Bob and Andy.   While from Massachusetts the Sedgwicks had a notable presence in New York City and Long Island.  One might say they were venerable.  J.P. Marquand who married into the family wrote his novel ‘The Late George Apley’ about them.

In Massachusetts the Sedgwick family was famous for their burial plot known as the Sedgwick Pie.  As their legend is intimately connected with the Pie it might be proper to dwell on the Pie for its flavor.  The founder of the family back then just after the first Thanksgiving was a gentleman named Theodore Sedgwick.  He was a dynast by nature.  Hence, he bought a section of the Stockbridge cemetery and had himself buried in the very middle.  Subsequent Sedgwick burials were laid feet first toward the Patriarch in round rows emanating outward like the wedges of a pie, thus the name Sedgwick Pie.  It was said that on judgment day when reveille was blown the Sedgwicks would all arise facing the founder, Theodore.  Pretty story.

Over the centuries following Theodore’s death the Sedgwicks continued to prosper there always being enough money to maintain their position.  There also arose the fantastic legend of the Sedgwick Curse, as indicated by John Sedgwick’s subtitle.  The idea was that the Sedgwicks were a weak stock and that there was an abnormal amount of madness and suicide in the family.  Considering the extent of the family I think this was a romanticized vision of themselves.  Not that there wasn’t a sort of madness and a few suicides but hardly more than in any several hundred member family over a few centuries.  Nevertheless in Edie’s generation this fatalistic notion took firm hold.   It’s almost as if the generation rose to embrace the notion.  Her biographers speak of it in awe as though the Curse of the Pharaohs had morphed into the Curse of the Sedgwicks.  Jean Stein, the author of Edie, seems entranced with it and even John Sedgwick, Edie’s younger cousin,  in his memoir seems possessed by it.  Feels he’s got it.   Slim chance for being true in my estimation.

For an inconsequential girl Edie’s life has been well examined.  There are actually several books written about or featuring her while the legacy of movies she appeared in and movies about her is fairly extensive.  Most of the early information on her life here is abstracted from Jean Stein’s biography.  Stein, herself, is accused of writing the biography in a fit of sour grapes because Warhol wouldn’t make her one of his superstars.  No matter, it is an exceptional book of its kind.

‘Edie’ is presented as an oral biography in the voice of many participants.  However as all the voices are pretty uniform it would seem as though the editor, George Plimption, is pervasively evident.  George Plimpton, otherwise a nobody, began his career as a celebrity in the sixties and the seventies by becoming a professional old line American, nearly the last of a vanishing breed.

He clowned around by trying out for various professional sports teams then writing books about the experience.  Thus he became the American Man Of Letters touted on his website and a well known celebrity who could actually measure his press releases in inches.  He and Stein put together an excellent more than readable book in their biography of Edie Sedgwick.

Edie was the daughter of Francis Sedgwick of Long Island, NY, he otherwise being known as Fuzzy.  The family left New York for Santa Barbara, California just before Edie was born so she knew nothing of New York or the East Coast.  In California she led what would seem to thave been an idyllic life.  The family lived on a 3000 acre ranch which was exhanged after oil was found on it for a much larger ranch and finally an 18,000 acre ranch where she spent her teens.  This was a functioning cattle ranch with ranch hands and the whole works.

The Sedgwicks did not attend either public or private schools being rather schooled by private teachers along with a few neighbor children.  Thus unfamiliar with the world she may have had a very diffiuclt time adjusting to real life people.  She probably did not have time to do so before she was thrown into the boiling cauldron of New York City.  Francis, or Fuzzy, was a difficult father; his children blamed him for their shortcomings while Edie said he had sexual relations with her.  She then was, or believed herself, mentally unbalanced by the time she arrived at Radcliffe to begin college.

She may very well have been unbalanced but where I grew up I didn’t know anyone who didn’t have mental problems, parents or children, and by the time of high school graduation I was literally a basket case, nearly immobile.  Yet, so far as I know, everyone got on with their lives including myself.  Seems to me everyone has to work themselves out of that hole as best they can.

Of course, drugs were becoming a definite problem by the time Edie showed up in Cambridge in the early sixties.  It one reads Raymond Chandler novels, for instance, drugs were a problem in the thirties and forties and further reading will show that they had been a problem for decades.  Most narcotics became regulated in 1910 in the US, still, new pharmaceuticals were being developed constantly and some of them including the psychedelics were not covered by narcotics laws at the time.

The first wonder drug I heard of was Miltown about 1950.  I was too young to understand but Miltown was the Valium of its time, a panacea for all forms of stress, the stressed and housewives began to line up for prescriptions.  By 1960 the list of users must have been stupendous.

Along with the barbituate downers came the uppers.  First Bennies and then amphetamines.  My first knowledge of the pervasiveness of drugs was 1956 when I wrote a high school essay on LSD.  Of course glue sniffing was endemic in high school.   Then in 1958 in the Navy was the first time I saw people ingesting bennies and heard of peyote, mescaline and the actual use of LSD.  By the early sixties I knew a lot of people who were smoking pot and popping pills but I was never a user myself.  I watched drugs put a lot of people over the edge.  In most cases they weren’t aware that they were freefalling.

So, an unsettled socially naive Edie moved into a fast, loose society in Cambridge.  While I can’t see much in her from the pictures apparently she was a sensation live, possibly influenced by her seemingly casual attitude toward sex.  I don’t know about on the East Coast but on the West Coast girls were either more circumspect or I was out of it.

Edie was picked up by a homosexual crowd and attended many fetes in that milieu.  At the same time the other folk scene, that of Boston was burgeoning with Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band, Eric Von Schmidt and Mel Lyman being the standouts.  Dylan came up to Boston at this time to meet them where, I believe, he first became acquainted with Bobby Neuwirth who was hanging out around the art and folk scene.  Certainly Edie would have come to Neuwirth’s attention at this time.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he  and Dylan discussed the ‘hot chick’ from a distance at that time.

At some time Edie became erratic enough in her parents’ eyes that they decided to commit her to an insane asylum called Silverhill near Boston.  This to me seems very extreme.  Apart from Edie’s not doing things as they saw fit I can’t find anything in her behavior to have her committed.  I mean, I’ve seen some pretty zany behavior and after drugs really got rolling in about ’67 half the population could have been put away with the other half waiting in line.

At some point you have to let your kid go while parents always have to take responsibility for their behavior at least for the first few years after they’ve left the nest until they work through those parental childhood traumas.  The Sedgwicks had the money so as long as the offspring weren’t financially out of control they at least deserved their allowance.  Edie was what would have been described as an airhead.

But then I’m sure that with the asylum experience the cure is worse than the disease.  Edie was repeatedly given electro-shock ‘therapy.’   Electro-shock ranks right up there with the pre-frontal lobotomy as the most bizarre psychiatric treatments.  Talk about Hitler and the Nazi doctors!  If the Nazis had practiced frontal lobotomies and electro-shock you can imagine the Liberal howling from the West.  It would have made the flap over Eugenics a mere whimper.

I can’t imagine what electro-shock does to the mind and nervous system.  When I was four I was playing with an open socket.  When I connected the jolt was such I lost consciousness.  Fortunately I was repelled being thrown completely across the kitchen floor where I became alert again after a few seconds but still buzzing.  Plus, I remember it as though yesterday.  Imagine being strapped down and having those volts sent coursing through your existence.  My god!  For what purpose?  That’s going to change your psychology?  It doesn’t, so why they kept at it is beyond me.

Since Edie wasn’t insane when she checked in the good doctors of Silverhill checked her out as sane.  Somewhere along the way she met some guy named Chuck Wein who believed himself to be an impresario of some sort who was going to take Edie to New York and make a star of some sort of her.  Toward the end of 1964 then Edie and Chuck showed up in Manhattan.

Edie moved in with her grandmother on the Upper East Side.  Good address.  Enviable.  She had come into an inheritance of 80,000 dollars which she proceeded to squander in six months.  In 2010 dollars that might be the equivalent of from 300,000 to 500,000 dollars.  One had to have a careless disregard for money.

In 1964 the sixties had started moving, approaching maximum velocity.  The Beatles had splashed down in January of ’64 followed by the Rolling Stones, Animals, Dave Clark Five and a host of others including Freddie And The Dreamers which was the beginning of the hip explosion as rock and roll morphed into folk rock.  It doesn’t matter who was the first with folk rock it was inevitable.  The electric bass and guitars along with better and more powerful amplifiers ever evolving  there was no other way to go.  I mean, Duane Eddy and Eddie Cochran were proto-heavy metal.  And they were exciting bands.  The music had been loosening up for several years.  Tequila by The Champs was fairly revolutionary in its day.  But then the recording companies and artists put a lot of effort into trying to astonish us with new styles and forms and frequently did, every week.  Mule Skinner Blues by the Fendermen, a folk song  was done in a folk rock style long before Bob Dylan went electric and set us all on our ear.  That song has probably never been surpassed.  Besides by 1964 the whole folk thing was passe and worn out, boring, apparently the word probably hadn’t reached Peter Seeger and that bunch in New york yet.

Each day was a new adventure where you had no idea what you would see or hear.  Andy Warhol’s soup can is a case in point.  The arrival of the Lovin’ Spoonful in Edie’s big year of ’65 was a revelation.  As far as I’m concerned, the most influential band of the era.  If Yanovsky hadn’t given up his dealer there’s no telling how far they could have gone.  From there everything accelerated to super sonic speed.  There was even a group called the Super Sonics.  Songs like Telestar.  Men even walked on the moon.  So, while the external world was racing with the moon the internal, personal world ran along at the same slow pace unable to keep up with developments.  No one knew what was going on except in their small mental space.  Thus, even while Dylan and Warhol were succeeding spectacularly in their own spheres life was racing past them making them passe while there was no way they could keep up.

In that atmosphere Edie arrived in New York City and spent her money.  And then the money was gone.  As ’65 progresseed her parents became disenchanted with her life style so they cut her allowance way back, and then, off.  But that’s getting ahead of our story.  What Chuck Wein’s plan was for turning Edie into some sort of star or celebrity isn’t clear.  She did get some modeling jobs for magazines, probably because of her name, but they were put off by her drug intake and her corresponding erratic behavior.

 

Bobby Neuwirth

Then Bobby Neuwirth, the legend goes, noticed she was in town.  by this time Neuwirth was playing Robin to Dylan’s Batman, his sidekick in other words, and he notified Dylan that ‘there was a hot new girl in town.’  In the movie Factory Girl, sometime in ’65  Neuwirth showed up at the Factory and said:  Come with me.  Someone wants to meet you.’  Edie leaves with this total stranger, who cons her into paying the fare, escorts her back stage at a Dylan performance to be introduced to the Star with whom she is dazzled.

That’s one version.  According to Jean Stein in Edie in December of ’64 Neuwirth invited her down from the Upper East Side to the Mafia club, Kettle of Fish, to meet the folk singer himself.   Edie had arrived in NYC driving a big grey Mercedes.  Her flipped out driver crashed the car so she was using a limousine service to get about.  Accordingly her limousine pulled up in front of the Kettle of Fish, Edie got out of the car, entered the bar and contact was made.  The history of her life over the next eighteen months, the Dance of Death, began.

Dylan, then, laid claim to the dazzling girl before Andy Warhol.  Edie met Andy at the film producer Lester Persky’s a few weeks later at a party in January of ’65.  Dylan and his entourage were heterosexual while Warhol, Persky and that crowd were homosexuals.  Thus Edie began to fulfill her destiny as a pawn in Dylan’s and Warhol’s games.

Chapter 2

Never Felt More Like Singin’ The Blues

 

Dylan In Polka Dots

Who were these guys Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol and what interest could they take in this uninteresting and rather dull girl.  Interestingly both men considered themselves revolutionists.  Dylan forwarded the Jewish and Underman revolutions while Warhol spearheaded the homosexual and doubled up on the Underman.  Both men came from immigrant backgrounds.  Dylan from Jewish immigrants and Warhol from Ruthenians.  Dylan was originally Robert Zimmerman and Andy Andrew Warhola.  Dylan grew up in small town Hibbing, Minnesota, Warhol in the ‘melting pot’ of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Both developed monster grudges against American society.

At the end of ’64 both men were on the way to being of the most influential people of the second half of the twentieth century.

Dylan at twenty had come to New york with the ambition of becoming a folk singer.  Even though a not easily appreciated singer he was as close to an instantaneous success as it is possible to be.  Arriving at the beginning of 1961, at the close of ’64 when he met Edie he was an international sensation, a prolific and successful song writer.

Strangely his success was built on resentment and hatred.  The dominant characteristic of his songwriting was a rancorous bitter putting down of his society and associates.  He fairly spews hatred in such songs as Hattie Carroll, Like A Rolling Stone and Positively Fourth Street to name only a few of his diatribes.  His most prolific period would revolve around his desire for Edie Sedgwick and his detestation for his rival for her affections, Andy Warhol.

Dylan had a fixation on destroying the happiness of women.  At the time he began his pursuit of Edie he had sequestered his future wife, Sara Lownds, who he would marry in November of ’65 and who he had purloined from another man.  At the same time he was carrying on long time affairs with his first New York girl friend, Suze Rotolo and his fellow folk singer, Joan Baez.  Why this need to injure the happiness of women?

Of course I’ve read most of the important works on Dylan if not all and many of secondary importance.  Using that background, I’m going to concentrate on the movie Dylan wrote and starred in, Masked And Anonymous.  This is a very autobiographical movie showing a Dylan who had progressed little from his heyday of the mid-sixties.  Dylan believes that the journey is more important than the result so that in the various episodes he gives little symbolical vignettes of his life journey leading up to a contrived ending.  Many of the most important eipisodes and people are represented.  The promoter in the film, for instance, can be recognized as his manager Albert Grossman; the sidekick is Bobby Neuwirth etc.  I’m not going to review the movie here but Dylan gives us some insight into when and how his world went wrong.

In the movie when Jack Fate’s, Dylan’s movie alter-ego, father, who is the dictator of  ‘this god-forsaken country’, lies dieing, Fate revisits him on his death bed.  In fact that is where the ‘path’ of the movie actually leads.  Fate reminisces about his relation with father and mother.  To put it succinctly let me quote the lyrics of an old song, Freight Train Blues.  Dylan would rewrite the lyrics to this song and claim it as his own:

I was born in Dixie

In a boomer’s shack,

Just a half a mile

From the railroad tracks.

 

My daddy was a fireman

And my mama dear,

She was the only daughter

Of an engineer.

 

She could spend the money

And that ain’t no joke,

It’s a shame the way

She kept a good man broke.

Well, Jack Fate’s daddy wasn’t much better and the movie couple had an unhappy marriage which probably reflects Dylan’s view of his own parents.  As to his mother she just found Jack in the way and wished she never had him because it interfered with her happiness.  I suspect that more or less sums up Dylan’s relationship with his mother.  One can’t say for sure but I suspect that when his mother conveyed this attitude to the young Dylan it just shattered his mind and from that day forth he was one lost soul on the lost highway with the freight train blues.  Now, it is impossible to avenge oneself on one’s mother directly as mother’s are sacred as the vessel of your life.  Dylan never tried, even escorting his mother as a date to major events.  You can take it out on yourself by becoming a derelict yourself which Dylan did thereby punishing your mother or you can take it out on surrogate women.  Dylan did both.  He himself was and has been a heavy drug user and a heavy drinker.  He ruined the lives of several women including Rotolo, Baez and Edie; then, after making Sara a wife and mother, most importantly a mother,  he completely shattered her life as his mother had his.  That may have satisfied him, then again, maybe not.  Since then he has been wandering aimlessly as a ‘modern troubadour.’  Ramblin’ Jack Fate.

The period of the sixties was Dylan’s time of most intense reaction.   After that he waxed and waned but Andy Warhol was focused on an unwavering need for vengeance.  He knew how to use people to obtain his goals without actually exposing himself.  He arrived in New York in 1950 as a graphic artist where he too was an instantaneous success.  He made his mark in shoe ads where his drawing, usually described as ‘fey’, but displaying real genius at the same time, brought the customers to Miller Shoes for whom he drew.

During the fifties he was a very highly paid commercial artist designing everything from his shoe ads to stationery to book and record covers.  Usually very nice but not infrequently letting his sexual proclivities shine through.  He was alwa;ys pushing the homosexual agenda preferring to associate his work with writers or musicians from either the Undermen or those writing on those themes.

About 1960 he decided to tackle the fine arts with the purpose of detroying them.  He entered the world of painters at the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art.  He had always been a sort of pop artist with his shoe ads so he was an incrdible success as a pop artist when he painted Campbell’s soup cans.  With the soup cans he effected one of the most instantaneous and successful revolutions or transitions from one style to another, ever.  I don’t think it would be out of line to say the sixties were born in that moment.  If there is one single symbol that characterizes the sixties, for me at least, it is Andy’s soup cans.  Tomato soup can.  It enraged and energized so many people.  It has been an inspiration for me.

I can’t remember when I first saw it but I was simply stunned.  Perhaps in the pages of Time Magazine.    I don’t know whether the copying of a soup can is art but as I mused about it I came to the conclusion that the can was a sort of urban landscape.  It was something one gazed at frequently while grocery shopping, so I said, what difference did it make whether one copied a mountain or curling wave or a soup can.  I suppose the difference is that a soup can can only be done once before the joke is stale.

My favorite image of the soup can was a poster in which a soup can had a gaping hole from being blasted with a .45 automatic.  That sort of settled the arguement for me but that was as late as 1968.  Andy went on attempting to outrage us by painting duplicates of Brillo boxes and such like, Heinz Bean cans, but that fell flat.  The joke had been made, there was only one Campbell soup image.

Painting all those soup cans, he did all the varieties, must have been a tedious way to while away the time.  Then he discovered silk screening.  What a good idea.  Warhol, the child of industrial processes. I can only imagine that he thought Henry Ford and his assembly line turning out identical copies of cars was the ideal expression of art.  After all you can make a million cars, same model and make, but in painting a picture, prior to Warhol, they all had been one offs and then you needed another idea.  In that period of rapid change an idea became obsolete immediately.  Coming up with new ideas was a tough business.  Warhol could turn out an idea like the Presleys like Henry Ford turned out cars.  Wow!  Man!  The future of art had arrived.

 

Gerard Malanga

Perhaps he thought up silk screening or perhaps the idea was suggested to him by his assistant, Gerard Malanga.  Malanga thinks that’s the way it was.  At the time he was hired Malanga was already an accomplished silk screener.  Malanga was the beginning of Warhol’s actual use, consumption and discarding of people.  One might say Malanga was exploited.

Malanga took a job with Andy at the minimum wage above which Andy never raised him.  Malanga insists that he was essentially a collaborator of Warhol’s.  I am inclined to agree with him.  In the first place Andy never drew his own pictures.  He essentially had no ideas.  He had his screens made up from photos of others he found attractive.  His famous flower screen was from a purloined photo.  HIs Elvis paintings, posters actually, were traced from a promotional still.  To me that strengthens Malanga’s claim.  The screens were mechanically produced and screening is a mechanical act.  Both Malanga and Warhol manipulated the screens together.  There are films showing them doing it.

Between the two of them they produced fifty Presley images in an afternoon.  For a show at LA’s Ferus Gallery Andy shipped them a two

Malanga and Dylan

hundred foot roll of Presleys and told them to cut up the roll as they saw fit.  Collaboration was just Andy’s way.  Hence one has single, double, triple, quadruple and octuple Presleys.  I saw one display where there were twenty or more strung out for a couple hundred feet in one immense string.   Enough Elvis Presleys to go around the world three or four times were produced.  (That’s a joke, son.)

It is a good image although Andy never asked Presley or his studio for permission to use it and as far as I know never gave them a dime.  He just appropriated the image.  I can’t imagine how Andy kept the Colonel cool.  He didn’t keep the flower lady cool, once she recognized her image she sued him.  Of course, she took her image from God but God didn’t sue her.

 

Warhol and Malanga

Now, all this silk screening takes up a bit of space, these Presleys kept getting bigger and bigger, life size and then some.  Some were twenty-five feet by twenty-five.  So Andy outgrew his home facility leaving it to seek much bigger spaces.  If one thinks about it all this is very daring.  There was no artist in New York even approaching the concept.  Finally he rented an entire floor of a building on 47th Street that became known as the Factory.  Dylan would characterize it as Desolation Row.  When Edie made her appearance there in March of ’65 it was at that Factory.  There were subsequent and even larger ones.

This is where Dylan and Warhol stood at the beginning of 1965 when Edie became a pawn in their game.  Why did they want her?  As noted, the two were immigrants or the sons of immigrants so they knew the discomforts of being strangers in a strange land.  They knew the sense of inferiority among the ‘natives.’   They knew what being outsiders was especially as Dylan was a Jew and Warhol a homosexual.

Edie Sedgwick was a symbol of that envy and desire.  In a way she was the acme of the old line American and she was accessible.  She probably could have been half ugly and it wouldn’t have made much difference.

 

Malanga and Edie

From, say, 1870 to 1940 there was native America and there was immigrant America and they were separate but equal size.  While intelligent immigrants never had it rough there was still resentment and outright hatred for Anglo-America.  All this anti-America stuff comes from the immigrants or at least was fostered by them.   With those of the Undermen, those of low IQ, the hatret was worse.  WWII gave the immigrants a feeling of equality.  They fought too.  By 1950 they were superior in numbers assaulting every Anglo tradition and trashing it while doing their best to lower Anglos.  Of course, the Anglos were too stupid to see it or unwilling to acknowledge it.  After all, this was the magic ‘melting pot’ in which all resentments disappeared.  Americans had discovered the solution to world problems.  Both Dylan and Warhol shared in this resentment.

Thus when this female symhol of the old Anglo aristocracy appeared who they held responsible for their humilaition, whether they acknowledged it or not, they wanted to possess her, humiliate and destroy her.  Dylan today would deny it while Warhol’s excuse at the time was ‘How do you stop someone from doing what they want to do?’  Well, Andy, at least you don’t hand them the revolver cocked and loaded.  That Edie was humiliated and destroyed by her association with the two is proof enough of their intent.

The problem is to piece together the  events of that year and a half over ’65 and ’66 from less than adequate documentation.  I think I can produce a reasonable facsimle.

 

Chaps. 3, 4 and 5 are posted

Chaps. 6, 7 and 8 are posted

Chaps. 9, 10, 11 and 12 are posted

 

 

 

 

 

Exhuming Bob 23b

Of a & b.

Bob, Andy, Edie

And Like A Rolling Stone

by

R.E. Prindle

The System Of Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether

All the fags and dykes they boogien’ together

Leather freaks dressed in all kinds of leather

The greatest of the sadists and the masochists too

Screamin’  please hit me and I’ll hit you.

The FBI dancin’ with the junkies

All the straights are swingin with the funkies

Cross the floor and up the wall

Freakin’ at the Freakers ball,

y’all

Freakin’ at the Freakers ball.

–Shel Silverstein

Oh no!  Must be the season of the witch.

–Donovan

 

Don't Look Back, Something Might Be Gaining On Ya

     It may be true that the answer was blowin’ in the wind but, if so, as Donovan said:  You might as well try to catch the wind and nobody did.  Nobody even had a clue as the inmates poured out their cells and seized the asylum.  Even then it wasn’t so easy to tell the nuts from the Docs.

     His parents brought a seventeen year old to the asylum to be cured of homosexual tendencies.  The psychiatrists had an astonishing method for a cure.  Strapping the kid to the torture rack they fixed a couple of electrodes to his body and sent some serious voltage coursing the through his existence rearranging a few brain cells on the way.  As his body arched when the juice hit him one is reminded of the prisoner on death row when the steel cap was lowered on his shaved skull.  As maximum voltage coursed through his body he too convulsed but when the skull cap was removed the temperature of his blood in his brain was 212 degrees.  They’d boiled him to death.

     The kids temperature didn’t rise that high but they still managed to scramble his brain.  His memory was so blotted he got lost trying to walk around his own block.  The cure was worse than the disease.  The cure was in fact, no cure as he remained a homosexual.  And they call that medicine.

     As soon as the kids eyes uncrossed he picked up a guitar and began to wail.  Then he formed a band and began to formulate what he would call Metal Machine Music.  He hooked up with Doctor Filth who ran an asylum called The Factory that he filled with mental cases.  Unlike the psychiatrists Dr. Filth intended to create mental cases.

     The kid picked up a whip, donned his leathers and began to boogie.  Those leather freaks.  Uncomfortable in their own skins they wear the flayed skins of cows, a feminine skin not their own.  A guitar and a spike all anyone needed.  Jamming his spike in his arm the kid flew from the asylum Factory out to the Cuckoo’s Nest in Keseyland.

     Now known as the Velvet Underground, the kid, going by the personal of Lou Reed landed in a disused bowling alley where he and hisHigh Voltage Lou three bandmates gave a concert.  there were perhaps a hundred fifty people in the audience of which a hundred had been let in free by one of the promoters.  Imagine a promoter opening the back door for free.

     The audience in the bleachers stepped up to the ceiling where the top row required them to stoop to seat themselves edged into their seats.  Keep your eye on the right top corner, that’s where the action will be.  This was the first concert the promoters had done.  The band stood on the floor two thirds of the way down the alleys.  The spotlight was on their right directed across the group rather than down on them.  I thought it was an interesting effect.  The Cuckoo’s Nest had never seen anyhthing like this.  A girl drummer had what appeared to be a single snare drum with a mallet underslung so it hammered the bottom of the snare while she banged away at the top with the sticks.  Not exactly a beat more like a steady unvarying rumble, an effect almost as interesting as the lights.  The two guitars and the bass of the leather clad crew began to hammer out the sound which was just like what became Metal Machine Music although more articulated.  Not exactly as continuous am MMM but close.

     Then the singer began to chant something about heroin.  This wasn’t The Factory this was the Cuckoo’s Nest.  A disquieting murmur underscored the machine music.  Then some local agitators had a guy stand up to shout out incitements to a riot.    The light guy got uneasy.  The Velvets twitched, a note of panic came into Reed’s voice.  Without so much as a change of tone he incorporated ‘Turn off the light’ into the lyric as the crowd began to think of rushing the Velvets and they gave every indication of bolting.

     Turn off the lights, hell.  I knew who the agitators must be so I swung the light from the Velvets across the crowd to the right corner where I picked up the agitators.  I left the spot on them steadily.  Their anonymity stripped from them the crowd recognized them and quieted down.  The Velvets hadn’t missed a beat but they did get a little wobbly.

     I quickly picked out the ‘mastermind’ , who was who I thought he was and his stooge who had been loaded up with something.  With the spot on him he thought he was the star continuing to orate as Reed intoned on while the band chugged along like an assembly line gone berserk.

     The ‘mastermind’ now ordered me to turn the light off him.  The noise was too loud for him to hear me laughing.  At last he got his stooge to sit down and the light swung back to the Velvet Underground and they continued their chaunt to the glories of heroin as though nothing had happened.  Nothing had, just a variation on the show down on Desolation Row.  They left the Cuckoo’s Nest finding their way back to the Factory and Dr. Filth.

     Back home in The Factory the fags and dikes were cracking their whips, blowing their whistles and banging their gongs while the necrophiliacs were looking for dead ones.

     As we left them in part a, Dr. Filth had been castigated by the Man Of The Hour over the air for all to hear if not recognize in his musical rants, Like A Rolling Stone and Positively 4th Street.

     I’m not prepared to say it’s so but others have suggested that a few lines in Desolation Row refer to the Factory and Andy Warhol.  As Desolation Row was recorded on August 4th a few days after Stone and Street it is quite possible ill feeling lingered and found expression in Dylan’s lines.

     The lyrics are purposely written in obscure language meant to imitate poetry and mystify.  Without a key one can speculate all day ending up where you began.  Dylan does give us a clue as to his imagery in Chronicles where he says Pound and Elliot were fighting it out in the Captains’s tower.  The Captain’s Tower refers to Dylan’s brain  and the discussion of the two poets.

     There is a very large discussion of this stuff on the internet if anyone wants to go through it.  Anyway the lines thought to refer to Warhol are these.

     Dr. Filth, he keeps his world

Locked inside his leather cup

But all his sexless patients

They’re trying to blow it up.

 

Now, his nurse, some local loser,

She’s in charge of the cyanide hole

She also keeps the cards that read

“Have mercy on his soul.”

 

They all play on the pennywhistle

You can hear them blow

If you hang your head out far enough

From Desolation Row.

Contemporary Bob

     I think most commonly people take Dr. Filth to refer to Freud.  Multiple meanings are possible while the cast of characters in Row appear to be well known historical figures or characters from literature.  At the same time, as Warhol points out, the songs of this period are personal protests so the figures can stand in for people Dylan knows.   He changed their faces and gave them brand new names.

     On the other hand Dr. Filth could refer to Warhol whose reputation was suffering by mid-’65.  The society people had begun to avoid the Factory leaving Andy only the derelicts.

     As I said I can’t find anything totally convincing to pin Dr. Filth on Warhol but the next verse isn’t applicable to Freud and the verse after depending on how you interpet pennywhistle and blow might apply to the Factoryites.

     And then there are these lines:

Now, at midnight all the agents

And the supernatural crew

Come out and round up everyone

That knows more than they do.

Then they take them to the Factory…

     Like I say, it’s up to you.  What is clear is that there was serious competition between Dylan and Warhol and that Sedgwick was a bone of contention.

     As the late fall and summer progressed then, Dylan worked hard to draw Edie from Warhol.  This made Andy very, very jealous and he turned from Edie spurning her from him ‘with his foot.’  There is a possibility that in some weird homosexual way Warhol loved Edie.  According to the movie Factory Girl Warhol took her home to meet his mom.  It might mean that that was an actual declaration of love and that he considered her his girl.

     By this time Edie was broke having gone thorugh her inheritance whnile even having her stipend from her parents suspended because of her association with Warhol and the Factory crowd.  ‘In her prime when she dressed so fine’  she refused to use taxis having a white limo waiting at the curb for her use.   Now that she could no longer afford one Dylan rented a black one for her use.  Thus when she rode around town in Dylan’s limo she would be known as Dylan’s kept woman.  This would also have been a direct insult to Warhol who was penniless in comparison being unable even to pay Sedgwick for her roles in his films or even, her rent.  Thus as the Dylan figure in Factory Girl tells her:  You’re just one of Warhol’s props.

      Now, Dylan in his first English tour had Donn Pennebaker do a film verite that would be released in 1967 as Dont Look Back.  Dylan and his entourage who all had parts in the film just like the Factory crew did in  Warhol’s would have been talking up the film thus actually becoming direct competitiors of Warhol.  As an enticement to Edie Albert Grossman threatened to become her manager while promises were made to her that she would be Dylan’s co-star in a planned movie and even be paid for her services.  Remember she was stone broke at this time being desperately in need af an adequate income.  Rather than being Dylan’s girl friend she was passed to his gofer, stooge, right hand man, Bobby Neuwirth who became her possessor while she was living at the Chelsea.

     That November of ’65 Dylan married Sara Lowndes.  According to Bob Spitz in his biography Dylan met Lowndes in 1963 installing her in Grossman’s apartment where he ‘lived’ with her which I suppose means visited her from time to time as among his other duties he was living with Suze Rotolo and heavy with Joan Baez.

     Dylan attempted to keep his marriage secret, it was publicly revealed in April of ’66 but Warhol got word of it in December spitefully revealing the news to Edie.  The news was devastating to Edie who was nurturing her fantasies of being Dylan’s woman and future co-star.  Apparently at that time she was told that any movie role was in some very distant future.  At any rate with her relationship with Andy broken Dylan no longer had any use for her.   She was just a pawn in his game.

     Perhaps in competition or emulation of Dylan’s recording career Warhol decided he wanted to manage a band thus recruiting the

Nico, Andy And The Velvets

Velvet Underground.  To assist the Velvets he picked up on Nico who had just arrived from Europe.  As fate would have it Dylan had already had a fling with her during his 1962 visit to England when he worte I’ll Keep It With Mine for her.  Warhol now insisted she front the Velvet Underground, thus the Velvets first LP with Nico and the famous Banana cover.

     Apparently forgetting Edie Dylan renewed his acquaintance with Nico showing up with songs to give her.  Lou Reed of the Velvets is a great admirer of Dylan but I don’t believe any of his songs made it to the record.  In any event Nico was gone by the time of the second Velvets LP.  Possibly as part of the Dylan-Warhol feud.

     Dylan wasn’t finished with Edie yet nor was Warhol finished with Dylan.

     In the Spring of ’66 Dylan recorded his ultimate record Blonde On Blonde.  the songs of personal protest as Warhol pointed out revolved around this period.  There are two songs that are pointedly about Edie Sedgwick- Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat and Just Like A Woman while other references seem to be scattered about.  The two songs were unnecessarily cruel.

     In the Spring of ’66 Warhol began a film titled The Bob Dylan Story.  This was a derogatory depiction of the Folk Singer that Warhol thought better of releasing.  Giving Dylan’s reaction to Factory Girl, Warhol’s pockets weren’t deep enough to take Dylan on who by ’67 when the film first could have been released Dylan was worth millions while warhol was still essentially penniless.

     Anent the Bob Dylan Story I quote from the web site http://www.warholstars.org/ :

     Sterling Morrison speaking:

     “Dylan was always around, giving Nico songs.  there was one film Andy [Warhol] made with Paul Caruso called The Bob Dylan Story.  I don’t think Andy has ever shown it.  It was hysterical.  they got Marlowe Dupont to play Al Grossman.  Paul Caruso not only looks like Bob Dylan but as a super caricature he makes even Hendrix look pale by comparison.  This was around 1966 when the film was made and his hair was way out here.  When he was walking down the street you had to step out of his way.  On the eve of filming, Paul had a change of heart and got his hair cut off- close to his head and he must have removed about a foot so everyone was upset about that.  then Dylan had his accident and that’s why the film was never shown.”

     Although sterling Morrison suggested that the Bob Dylan film was never shown because of Dylan’s motorcycle accident, the accident occured at the end of July 1966 and Susan Pile was filmed for the movie in October 1966.

Susan Pile speaking:

     “Andy filmed The Bob Dylan Story, starring Paul Caruso…Ingrid Superstar and I were folkrock groupies who rushed in (to the studio), attacked his body and taped him to the motorcycle…  Paul Morrisey suggested all of Paul Caruso’s lines be from songs, but Andy, knowing it was a good idea (this is a direct relay from Paul Morrissey) vetoes….My one line (which I wasn’t supposed to say; I was to remain mutely sinister) was:  “You’re just like P.F. Sloane and all the rest- you want to become famous so you can get rid of those pimples.”  (accompanied by quick slaps to P. Caruso’s acne-remnanted cheeks)…

     The psychology is clear but noteworthy is the taping of Dylan to his ‘Chrome horse.’   When Dylan had his bike accident the rear wheel locked throwing him over the handle bars.  Thus taping him to the bike would prevent that.  Now, the animosity between the two was real and deep.  It may have seemed to Dylan that he had trumped Warhol.  While Warhol may have passively taken the humiliation it is also quite likely he would have retaliated.  The wheel locking would seem to indicate someone tampering with the bike.  Either Warhol had the bike tampered with and was gloating over Dylan here in his movie or else it is a cruel joke.   Whether Warhol was responsible for the bike accident or not he was certainly gleeful about it as evidenced here.  If the bike was tampered with then someone wanted to see him paralyzed.

     Thus matters stood at the end of ’66.  In 1971 Edie Sedgwick in circumstance of total degradation, shamefully abandoned by her parents and both Dylan and Warhol who both disclaimed any responsiblity died.

     In closing I quote Andy Warhol from his Philosophy Of  Andy Warhol From A To B:

Handy Andy

     “(Edie) drifted away from us after she started seeing a singer-musician who can only be described as the Definitive Pop Star- possibly of all time- who was then first gaining recognition on both sides of the Atlantic as the thinking man’s Elvis Presley.  I missed having her around, but I told myself that it was probably a good thing that he was taking care of her now, because maybe he knew how to do it better than we had.

     Snide, very snide.

There’s gonna be a Freaker’s Ball, tonight at the Freaker’s Hall

Ya know you’re invited one and all.

 

https://idynamo.wordpress.com/2010/07/01/exhuming-bob-xxvi-bob-and-edie-sooner-or-later-everyone-must-know/ 

 

 

    

  

A Review

Famous Groupies Of The Sixties Series

Faithfull: An Autobiography

by

Marianne Faithfull

marianne_faithfull

Marianne Faithfull

 

Review by R.E. Prindle

Season Of The Witch

 

All night, all day, Marianne

Down by the seaside sifting sand.

Even little children love Marianne,

Down by the seaside sifting sand.

-Terry Gilkyson And The Easy Riders

     Technically Marianne Faithfull wasn’t a groupie.  Her early years resembled one but in her later years she was sought after as a conquest by men of the groupie mentality.  I’m sure as everyone knows Marianne Faithfull began her career as a very successful pop singer.  Produced originally by Andrew Loog Oldham she was among the first of the new breed of Rock singers, as opposed to Rock n’ Roll.  She belongs to the new rather than the old school.

     Her first song was As Tears Go By.  Single and album were very successful, more or less establishing her reputation for all time- or at least until the generation passes away.

     My first knowledge of  Marianne Faithful was when the strains of As Tears Go By wafted into my study window.  They continued to waft all day long for weeks.  The girl in the apartment next door was fixated on the song.  A little fat girl.    So after the 7000th rendition  of As Tears Go By I had my first nervous breakdown.  Marianne Faithfull was a sour taste.

    

mick-jagger-picture-1

Mick Jagger

 Then as far as I’m concerned she dropped out of the pop scene.

     Her auto was first published in 1994, I just read the paperback the other day so the book is probably old hat to most of you but as I didn’t find any real reviews on the internet I decided to give it a try.  I don’t see any reason to do the whole book so I’ll concentrate on the three Bob Dylan incidents, aspects of her relationship with Mick Jagger and Donald Cammell and his movie, Performance.  The book is highly readable and entertaining until after her divorce form Jagger about two thirds of the way through the book when she falls into a drug stupor.  At that point it is necessary to avoid falling into Marianne’s own depression.  Too late for her to get over it now.

     Her career began when she was selected for her looks by Andrew Loog Oldham, producer of the Stones, who saw her at a party.  Asked if she could sing she said yes.  Next, there she was behind a microphone lisping As Tears Go By.  Thus she was an established big pop singer when she first met Dylan and later came under the thumb of Mick Jagger.  She brought something to the table, she didn’t come empty handed.  She was an equal.  To be treated as an appendage enraged her probably contributing to her drug addiction

     She met Dylan during his ’65 tour.  You can see her sitting in the corner in the movie Don’t Look Back.  She has some trenchant comments to make of the various prticipants in the Savoy Hotel debacle.  She’s very intelligent.  She was a young girl at the time, Dylan being five years older.  She was in awe of Dylan who she considered the hippest god on the planet.donovan05

     Dylan is supposed to be a master seducer.  It wasn’t that Marianne wasn’t ready and willing, she was.  In her mocking portrayal of the scene Dylan rather than complimenting her beauty and talent made an attempt to overawe she who was already overawed with his own wizardry.  In the process the seduction fell through.  Mazrianne skipped merrily away.

     Now, this is a girl who a year or two younger , while on tour with a review including Roy Orbison responded to him when he knocked on her door and said:  Hi.  I’m Roy Orbison.  I’m in room 602.  And Marianne skipped on down the hall.  How could Dylan have missed? 

     Later in the book, the year was 1979 when Dylan was going though his Jesus years, while Marianne had entered clinical depression doing heroin and sitting on her wall like Humpty-Dumpty all day, every day, Dylan arrived for another tour.   His dealer was a friend of Marianne’s and he asked if she knew where Marianne was.  Oh yes.  Demelza, the heroin dealer got Marianne to come over.  Dylan and Marianne’s second verse was worse than the first.  By this time depressed, enraged and seeking vengeance against the men in her life Marianne was far from compliant.  She had recently released Broken English, I’ve never heard the record so I can’t comment on the lyrics, so she mocked the Wise One by asking him if he understood her lyrics.  He couldn’t explain hers any better than she could his.  A little drip on the name of Bob, a little triumph for Marianne.  Dylan went away unfulfilled again.

     Oop, there is a third meeting.  Marianne now beyond depression walking down railway ties none of us will ever be able to see.   She overdosed on heroin, staggered and fell breaking her jaw.  Complications arose requiring serious surgery.  Pins were put in her jaw along with some contraption to hold the two parts together that apparently went

Keith Richards

Keith Richards

through her cheek sticking out like a water spigot.  Had to sleep on one side.

     While Dylan was playing in Boston she presented herself backstage in this grotesque appearance.  Too weird for Dylan.  Three strikes and he was out.  Never spoke to him again, she says.  (To 1994 when the book went to press.

     After the first meeting Marianne hooked up with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones for whom we have to thank for As Tears Go By.

     In late 1966 the great Donovan included a song on Sunshine Superman called Season Of The Witch.  The song epitomized the era.  At the time the song made little sense to me but in reading Faithfull it all began to fall into place.  While the sixties were terrific they were also horrific.  Today the horrific impressions dominate my mind.  All standards, all morality disintegrated before our eyes.  It was the end of the world as it dissolved into stange and perplexing LSD fantasy.  Hell, I never even took LSD and I think I know the feeling perfectly.  I’m still getting flashbacks.

     Nothing was real, it was all an illusion.  You could turn yourself inside out right before everyone’s eyes and get no reaction.  Hey, everyone was living through their own movie.  Marianne captures this feeling perfectly in 300 pages but so did Donovan in three verses:

When I look out my window

Many sights to see.

When I look in my window

So many different people to be

That it’s strange, so strange,

Must be the season of the witch,

Must be the season of the witch.

     Marianne’s succession of people to be began in childhood.  She as well as all these musicians, singers and dancers came from humble backgrounds with low expectations  but grand hopes and dreams.  Picked for the size of her bust to be a rock star, piles of money were thrown at her.  Inevitably dissociation occurred as the possiblity to be anyone appeared possible only to be held back by that humble past of low expectations.  how to behave in these new circumstances, not so easy, not so easy.

The rabbits are running in the ditch

Beatniks are out to make it rich.

Sang Donovan.  Standards and barriers were down, libertines crawled out of the woodwork nd there stood Mick and Keith, two libertine beatniks who could actually wallow in money.

     Mick took a fancy to Marianne and moved her in.  Married in heart if not in law, but she was to lose her independence.   There was Swinging London or the tail end of it and swinging is what Mick and Marianne did.  However Marianne did not come to Mick as a nameless groupie.  She was a somebody that the fans admired and wanted to get close to also.  Marianne Faithfull, all in capitals.  All that was submerged into the personality of Mick Jagger.  At first her own money was coming in allowing her independence but as her catalog grew old her money had to come from Mick.  Her lost independence  made it impossible to function as a wife and expect a joint account where she didn’t have to ask for money, it was hers by right.  A conflict and contest arose.

When I look over my shoulder

What do you think I see?

Some other cat looking over

His shoulder at me.

And he’s strange, sure he’s strange.

Oh no, must be the season of the witch.

     And the witching got serious.  All kinds of users, abusers and losers followed the libertines out of the woodwork, masters of manipulation they knew how to easily hypnotize whacked out marijuana smokers, cokeheads and general druggies to get them to do various things, sex things, criminal acts, whatever to gratify their evil schemes.  People did things they never thought they would do and fortunately some or a lot them couldn’t remember doing them.  Such a character was waiting in the ether to snare Mick and Marianne.  The movies, ah, the movies, what a way to snare unwary souls.  Everyone wants to be a movie star.

     Donald Cammell, one such, had his nose to the wind and the wind brought the sexual antics of Mick and Marianne wafting his way.  Truly, it was the season of  the witch.

     Cammell had a novie he wanted to make;  Mick and Marianne and assorted friends were just the libertines to bring Performance to life.  Oh no, oh no, must be, must be the season of the witch.

     According to Marianne, Cammell replicated the sex scene the set had had as though he had been there. Uncanny?  Maybe or maybe it was such a far out thing participants talked and word got around and Cammell’s imagination was inflamed.

     According to Marianne the filming brought disaster into  the actor’s lives.  Cammell, the manipulator escaped, of course, as his kind always does.  The pleasure was all his, you may be sure.

     The filmwas a turning point in the relationship of Marianne and Mick.  Perhaps the film stirred memories of when she had been The  Marianne Faithfull, since submergeed into Mick’s identity.  She had been unable to adjust to the new circumstances.  Pentulantly she just walked away.  Immersed in drugs the downslide slow and pleasant became precipitous until she could be found sitting on her wall of the bombed out building not rebuilt as yet.

     Could it be that the remaining wall of that Marianne Faithfull of low expectations was bombed out by the force of a success undreamt of in her pleasant teenage dreaming?  Was that the fascination that kept her glued to the wall in pleasant heroin dreams?  Would Humpty Dumpty fall into the abyss or not?

     This was now the seventies.  Hard realities existed on every side.  It was’t fun anymore either.  The actual season of the witch had passed over.  This was hell.

     After Marianne left Mick drugs are the topic of her converstation.  What is more boring than a junkie talking drugs.  Shoot up and shut up.  Who wants to hear?

     But she did regain her identity,  she had shed Marianne of the little m and was Marianne Faithfull again.  Men sought her out.  Producers came around again, there was still money in that drug wracked carcassof Marianne.

When she walks along the shore,

People pause to greet,

While little birds fly round her,

Little fish come to her feet…Marianne.

     Somehow from that drug drenched state Marianne was able to cobble together enough strength and concentration to begin doing a Mick and Keith.  Maybe her time had not been wasted by the proximity to Mick and Keith.  While still with Mick she had written Siser Morphine, later recorded by the Stones.  She got no writing credit because of old contractual problems with discarded agents but she did receive a third of the royalities which were considerable. 

     And now she began to string words together to make songs.  The stuff was nothing I would ever listen to.  I mean, choice lyrics like ‘Every time I see your dick I imagine her cunt in my bed.’  Maybe that’s  why Dylan couldn’t understand the lyics.  I’m not going to try.  It worked for Marianne though.  Today she’s proudly known as the Edith Piaf of her generation.  I’m happy for her that things worked out for her after a fashion.  Her smile still photographs well but I’m not going to buy her records, CDs, whatever they’re called nowadays.  Time has gone by and I can’t get As Tears Go By out of my head. I’ll carry that tune to my grave.

All night, all day, Marianne,

Down by the seaside sifting sand.

Even little children love Marianne,

Down by the seaside sifting sand.

    

    

 

BobDylanSmileyBuzz

Bob Dylan

 

A Review

You Really Turn Me On

Rock Odyssey

by

Ian Whitcomb

Review by R.E. Prindle

Whitcomb, Ian: Rock Odyssey, 1973

     I don’t suppose too many people today remember Ian Whitcomb.  He surfaced in 1965 with his hit song

Young Ian

Young Ian

‘You Really Turn Me On.  In 1965 I was a very old twenty-seven but getting younger every day.  I saw Whitcomb once while visiting my wife’s relatives.  Her young cousin was watching the Lloyd Thaxton show out of LA.  I’d never heard of Lloyd Thaxton either but according to the cousin he was the hottest thing on TV.  If I remember correctly the Kinks had just sung Dedicated Follower Of Fashion that I thought was very OK.  The Ian came on and did his breathy falsetto androgynous song:  You Really Turn Me On.  At one point after suggestively fondling the microphone stand he shot down out of sight like a tower from the World Trade Center resurfacing moments later.  Pretty startling stuff at a time when nearly every new group was an actual mind blower- The Rolling Stones, Animals, Dave Clark Five and this was just the beginning.  More and even stranger and stronger stuff was to follow quickly only to begin a slow fizzle even as it peaked ending in the Rap and stuff that passes for music today.  A very old Bob Dylan trying to bring light into the heart of his growing darkness.  After the startling sixties came the sedentary seventies.  But then Whitcomb disappeared like his fall from the microphone stand and I never saw or heard of him again.  A true one hit wonder.

     Years later I came across his LP Under A Ragtime Moon.  Then I knew why he had disappeared.  He was into that English music hall stuff.  But then, I didn’t mind that.  He sounded quite a bit like one of my personal favorites The Bonzo Dog Doo Wah Band.  Of course they didn’t really get that far with that stuff either.  You have to be a member of the cult to really dig it.  In order to like the Bonzos you have to have a fairly eccentric side to your musical taste.  A little out of the mainstream which  is where I preferred to live my life.  I thought the Bonzos were wonderful, still do.  But I was pretty much all alone out there.  I liked and like, Neil Innes and the late great Viv Stanshall, two of the Bonzo stalwarts.  ‘Legs’ Larry Smith.  Ragtime Moon lacked the modern rock foundation the Bonzos infused into their music but to this day I couldn’t tell you whose version of Jollity Farm I’m familiar with.  Anyway I have a soft spot for this sort of thing so over the years I’ve played a side of the Bonzos fairly often and dusted off my copy of Ragtime Moon occasionally.

     You Really Turn Me On always stuck in my mind, great song.  Kinda struck my lost chord and made it gong into the distance.  If you’re only going to have one hit you might as well make it a good one.  And then for some reason, I don’t know, I googled Whitcomb and saw that he’d written a few books, including this autobiographical sketch cum pop history so, as it was cheap on alibris, I sent for a copy.  I was delighted with the volume as I read it through.  As biographies go this is one of the better ones, right up there with Wolfman Jack’s not to mention that of that phony Jean-Jacques Rousseau although I stop short at Casanova.  Casanova is one hard one to top.  As a history of the period it is more balanced and beats the hell out of that crap from the Boys Of ’64.

     Ian took offense at being a one hit wonder; he really wanted to be up there with, say, Jim Morrison of the Doors, Mick Jagger, people of that ilk.  I have to believe that stories Ian tells are true although some are stunningly improbable but then those things can and do happen that way, you know.  It’s all in how you see what goes on around you.  Toward the end of the book he’s pondering on where he went wrong, he’s sunk into a fair depression over this, he flees from his apartment in his pajamas one early morning to take a stool in a coffee shop.  That’s depression.  But, let Ian tell it in his own inimitable fashion.  As improbable as it may seem he took a stool next to Jim Morrison who recognized him first.

     When ‘Light My Fire’ had reached number one, Jim had gone out and bought a skintight leather outfit.  At the Copper Skillet, it wasn’t so skintight anymore.

     “How do you do it?”  I asked.

     “I never dug Jerry And The Pacemakers.  How do I do what?”

     I wanted to kick myself for bringing up my obsession with pop success, but I plowed on:  “How do you stay intellectual and still be a hit with the kids, the masses?”

     “You could have done it.  You were into the theater of the absurd.  I saw you on ‘Shindig’ and ‘Lloyd Thaxton’ goofing off and telling the audience that rock n’ roll was a big joke.  That the whole of existence is a big bad joke.  You were too comic.  Tragedy’s the thing.  Western civilization is ending and we don’t even need an earthquake; we’re performing crumble music for the final dance of death and you know what?  Truth lies beyond the grave. I’ll pick up the tab.”

     I couldn’t have put it better.  Ian’s problem was that he was working from a different ethic.  He didn’t understand that the singer and the song was the show, the whole show.  Nothing else was needed. We were only there to see the singer sing his song.  It’s nice to know that Jim and I were watching the same Thaxton show together.  If I hadn’t seen Ian on Thaxton I wouldn’t have been as impressed because on that show singer and song were a single projection.

     Due to the wonders of the internet I was recently able to catch several versions of Ian’s song but not the Thaxton one.  One had him and a half dozen other guys charging around a series of pianos.  Completely missed the point of the singer and his song.  Not even good entertainment.  Ian considered himself an entertainer bacause of a childhood encounter with a music hall comic named O. Stoppit.  Fateful encounter.  Because of it Ian wanted to be a comic, ended up a singer and as Morrison noted the two were too dissimilar to work.

     Ian was probably headed for depression from the age of five or six or so as he came to terms with bombed out London in ’46 or ’47.  His biographical sketch is a wonderful tale of a seemingly cheerful man’s descent into a deep depression.  By book’s end Ian is nearly out of his mind.

     He quotes a psychoanalyst for his definition of depression:

     It was the great Serbian psychoanalyst Josef Vilya who concluded that chronic depression is the result of a head on collision between dream and reality.  The patient dreams of becoming King but goes on to become a member of the tax paying public.

     That’s probably what Morrison meant by tragedy.  Life always fails to meet our expectations so that humanity responds by assuming at least a low grade depression that makes comedy an adjunct to tragedy.  Thus in the Greek theatre  there was a terrifically depressive tragic trilogy followed by some comic relief.  The burlesque of an Aristophanes.

     Ian’s problem was as Morrison noted that he saw the absurdity of the human condition but was too jokey about it.  Absurdity is a serious thing and has to be so treated.  O. Stoppit taught Ian a silliness unmixed with tragedy.  A tragedy in itself.  When silliness such as You Really Turn Me On met the tragedy of a one hit wonder Ian began his descent into depression as Vilya suggested.

     I’ve never been depressed myself, never had the blues, but I have visited the lower depths as a tourist so I have some notion of what Ian’s talking about.  Dirty Harry in drag.  I just never got off the bus that’s all, except once, to walk through Haight-Ashbury where I saw first hand how horrible true depression could be.  Boy, did Ian find out about that.  Good thing he never found his Debbie.

     In his narrative combining grim humor with his developing depression Ian gets off some rippers.  I had a good many uproarious belly floppers.  Try these few lines.  Two good ones in succession.  You do have to have the same sense of humor.  The North and South are those of England.

     These frightening stories of Southern travelers stranded in woebegone depressed cities and suffering under the rough natives.  For example a well known Shakespearean actor, having missed the last train out of Crewe, knocked on the door of a hotel.  “Er, do you have special terms for actors?” the traveler asked.  “Yes- and here’s one:  Fuck off!” 

     And if they weren’t being aggressive, the Northerners were acting daft.  One heard of a Lancashire lad down in London demanding another helping of dressed crab (in the shell):  “Give us another of them pies- and don’t make the crust so hard.”

     Of course Ian can’t do that on every page but laughs are liberally sprinkled throughout the underlying depression.

     Ian’s book opens with his youthful encounter with O. Stoppit and ends with another unifying his theme nicely.

     In between Ian enters the world of rock almost serendipitously with his one hit song:  You Really Turn Me On.  After that his story is a search for a sequel that he can never find but which he pursues somewhat as Alice down the rabbit hole.  He loved his one brush with fame so much that the clash between his cherished hopes of finding his sequel and the grim reality of not being able plunges him deeper and deeper into depression.  Personally I would have gone out and found a songwriter.  There were thousands in LA.

     However his odyssey, as he calls it, Brave Ulysses ne Ian, led him through the heart and soul of the Golden Age of Rock And Roll from the Beach Boys and Beatles and Rolling Stones through Morrison and the Doors, Procol Harum, Cream, Pink Floyd, Donovan, you know, like that.  After that crescendo followed the diminuendo ending in Rap and the current rather laughable music scene.

     Ian has encounters with the aforementioned Morrison, Mick Jagger and others.  His observations of the social scene are trenchant.  He makes an acute observation do in place of a couple hundred pages of twaddle a la Todd Gitlin and Greil Marcus.

     Along the way he sprinkles the little known odd fact:

     Procol Harum is Latin for ‘beyond these things.’  Have no idea what that has to do with Procol Harum’s music.

     …the name Pink Floyd was taken from a record by two Georgia bluesmen named Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.  Amaze your friends with that one.

     And in conversation with Bobby Vee he confirmed a question about Bob Dylan that I needed confirming:

     The afternoon I taped “Hollywood A Go Go” a syndicated TV rock n’ roll show that’s allegedly seen as far away as Rhodesia and Finland.  The set was sparse- cameras, lights and a few rostrums.  The empty spaces were filled with boys and girls who danced or gazed.  All the acts had to lip synch their records.  Chubby Checker (the Twist King) was on the set and, when he heard my record he pronounced it “bitching!”  Bobby Vee was a special guest and looked every inch a star in his sheeny silk suit.  He really had his hand movements and head turns down to an art.  We chatted during a break and I brought up the subject of Bob Dylan and my concern about him.  To my amazement, Vee told me that Dylan- before he got into the folk kick and when he was plain Bobby Zimmerman back in Minnesota- had played a few gigs with Vee’s band- as pianist!  Vee said Dylan was very good, in the Jerry Lee Lewis sytle, but he could only play in C.  He said he knew a lot about country music, too.  As it was hard to find pianos at their gigs Dylan didn’t play with Vee very long.  But as he has fond memories of him and said he was really well versed in current rock n’ roll at the time of their meeting.  He had the impression that Dylan was very hip to whatever was happening.  ;I wondered if the young Zimmerman had ever been a Bill Haley fan.

     So, that would confirm that Dylan did play with Vee in the summer of ’59 after his graduation.

     The book is a great read, a very good book, as Ian struggles and fails to find success.  In a fit of depression he returns to the seaside pier on which he had seen O. Stoppit.  An old poster is hanging that he secures then finding his model’s address he visits him to present him with the poster.  O. Stoppit tells him bluntly to stop living in the past.  A fine thing to tell a historian but Mr. Stoppit was apparently a blunt, unfeeling brute.  Also well past the sunny side of life.

     Has Ian ever adjusted to his being a one hit wonder?  I’m afraid not.  It still rankles.  As late as December 1997 in an essay written for American Heritage Magazine Ian quotes a letter from fan Arlene:

Dear Mr. Whitcomb:

     I have watched you several times now and I want to say that sure you have talent and you’re magnetic, but why, oh, why, do you screw it all up by horsing around, being coy, by camping, as if you’re embarrassed by show business?  You could be great if you found your potential and saw it through, but that would take guts.  Instead you mince, and treat it all as big joke.  Come on now!

     Well, that was the same thing Morrison told him thirty years earlier; the vaccination didn’t take then either.

     I think Ian entered his depression early in life, as many of us do.   Then one has to face it.  Some become phony chipper optimists in their attempt to overcome the conflict between expectations and reality.  Some become goofs and jokers.  Something I fought for years.  Some like Ian become silly.  The most extreme type of this I ever saw was Red Skelton the ‘great’ clown who was painful for me to watch.  In fact I couldn’t do it.  I saw too much of myself in him and ended up hating the bastard.

     If Ian wants that second hit and more he has to master his silliness.  Weld the singer and the song like greats like Jagger and Morrison.  Be to some extent what his fans want.  A good sense of humor on songs done with respect for the song, himself and his audience.  Scratch Red Skelton.  People want to love Ian, just as Ian wants to be loved, but as the saying goes, he won’t let ’em.  I’m not criticizing or demeaning, I know where that’s at too.  I am recommending the course of action however.  I, Arlene, Jim of blessed memory and others want a sort of closure that has been left hanging.

     The book is a great one through Ian’s struggles to come to terms with his times, himself and the future.

 

Ian Later On

Ian Later On