Friday, February 26, 2010

Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear: Deceased Artiste Jim Harmon

Back when my dad was trying to convey to me the vibrant and important nature of what is now called “the Golden Age of Radio,” there were only a few scattered rebroadcasts of Thirties and Forties shows in the NYC area. But there was Jim Harmon’s terrific 1967 book The Great Radio Heroes. Harmon died last week at 77, so I want to note his passing, and also salute his subsequent tomes, all of which opened up the world of nostalgia culture for those of us born after the Kennedy presidency.

They included The Great Movie Comedians (1970), The Great Movie Serials (1973), and one my dad particularly enjoyed, as it had images of the decoder badges, giveaway rings, and ice-cream lids with movie-star mugs on ’em, Jim Harmon’s Nostalgia Catalogue (1973). Harmon also contributed to the awesome (but not comic-filled, which pissed me off as a kid) history of comics All in Color for a Dime and edited the Marvel ripoff of Famous Monsters, called Monsters of the Movies.

Harmon’s bio notes that he was a pulpsmith in the Fifties and Sixties, which must’ve meant that he was writing when the pulps were dying out and being replaced by the digest-sized sci-fi, western, and crime mags (Ellery Queen, we bless you). He is pictured to the right at a screening of Donald Glut's films in 1962 with Bob Burns and the awesome "Rat Pfink" himself, Mr. Ron Haydock! Harmon is the middle.

One of Harmon's colleagues has put up a nice segment from his appearance on a panel at the Friends of Old Time Radio convention in Newark, N.J. last fall. I heard the audio of this talk on the utterly indispensable “Golden Age of Radio” program that originates on WBAI-FM in NYC on Sunday nights, but can be heard around the world via streaming on the Net. The show is hosted by Max Schmid, who is as invaluable for me as a radio historian in my middle-age as Harmon was when I was a kid. We need to celebrate these gentlemen while they’re around, since the “theater of the mind” that old-time radio represented needs to be kept alive.

Sassy sophistication: Deceased Artiste Sir John Dankworth

Catching up to another, vastly different, musical death, I should definitely salute Sir John Dankworth, British jazz legend, composer, and big-band leader. Dankworth had a very accomplished career in jazz, having worked with icons from Ellington and Parker to Herbie Hancock and my personal favorite-named musician Zoot Sims. He is best known to American audiences, though, for his work as arranger and bandleader for his wife, Dame Cleo Laine, and for his terrific Sixties movie soundtracks.

His music created moods and punctuated action in kitchen sink classics, timeless character studies, and truly camp creations. The titles include Darling, Morgan!, and Modesty Blaise, but two of the finest films he scored were Joseph Losey’s perfect Pinter visualizations, The Servant (1963) and Accident.

The trailer for The Servant shows off Dankworth’s score:

But let’s backtrack to Dankworth’s jazz career before going back to his scores. First, a 78 of a song called “Marmaduke”:

Then, a terrific tune called “African Waltz” that Dizzy Gillespie later had a hit with (with the same Dankworth arrangement):

A sample of the five-decade long collaboration between Dankworth and Laine, the song “Woman Talk”:

And, since I can’t resist, back to scores. A TV theme that we never heard over here, the music for the original 1961 Avengers before the female agents hit the scene, and it was simply Patrick Macnee and another guy, Ian Hendry:

The Modesty Blaise theme, highlighting the drum break. Great stuff:

A bossa nova number from the score for Fathom, largly known as “that Raquel Welch bikini movie”:

A TV theme from Britain, for Tomorrow’s World in 1978:

Definitely my personal favorite Dankworth score, as it is burnt into my brain from repeated viewings of the film as a teen. The jaunty yet resolute horns heard in the finest (my opinion) kitchen sink/"angry young man" film of the early Sixties, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning:

And just ’cause I can, you can hear the Dankworth score for the Sammy Davis-Peter Lawford hip-detective vehicle Salt and Pepper here in the trailer for the film, but you really need to see this scene wherein Sammy rocks the fuck out in Swinging Sixties London. I note on the Funhouse quite often that it doesn’t matter how long Sammy’s been dead, the dude can still kick my ass with some hitherto unknown all-out performance, and here’s another one:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A “Psycho” passes: Deceased Artiste Bingo Gazingo

I can’t quite calculate the amount of brilliantly twisted entertainers (or just downright eccentrics) that I became acquainted with through the legendary Manhattan access show Beyond Vaudeville (which later transformed into Oddville on MTV). The series featured some major stars of long ago, but perhaps the greatest revelations were the performers who were genuinely off the map in terms of what they did — I am not alone in my continued love for a man named “Tray man” (unfortunately no clips of his amazing act have reached YouTube), who sported a tray (in fact a variety of different nicely-colored trays) atop his dome and then sorta… well, he sorta walked around. As a friend of mine explained it to me when we saw him do his act live, “if he spun the tray or danced around, Ed, now that might be considered a talent…”

I won’t say that the now-departed Bingo Gazingo was akin to (the also departed) Tray man — Bingo was a poet/singer/wildman who pretty much knew that his audience expected him to be over the top. And that he was, providing a crazed version of Beat poetry that he deemed song lyrics, to the extent that he performed with various musicians who tried to “flesh out” his tunes. Here is a 1997 New York Times article, in which Bingo is on the verge of “discovery,” as the Oddville folks had him on their pilot for the MTV series.

The Times piece reveals his real name (Murray Wachs) and some background: he worked for BMI as a song-logger (listening for BMI songs on the radio) and then had a longstanding berth at the U.S. Post Office. Once he retired from the post office, he devoted himself to his poems/lyrics and would appear around NYC at open mic nights. He became a cult figure and a regular fixture at the Bowery Poetry Club on Monday evenings. Very sadly, he was hit by a cab traveling to the Bowery Poetry Club and died in late 2009, but his death didn’t reach the attention of those of us who had been blown away by his maniacal art until New Years Day of this year. No category can contain him, least of all the fabricated label “Outsider Music” which oddly mixes the primitive (Shags, Hasil Adkins) with the musical sophisticate (Captain Beefheart). Like so many true primitives, he was sui generis, and so the time has come to celebrate the special man who wanted to be known as Bingo Gazingo!

First, Bingo performing at the Astor Place station on my subway line, the 6. He’s singing his masterpiece “JLo.” He wrote many tributes to contemporary pop performers. I don’t think anyone has summed up her sex appeal with the kind of perception that Bingo did, as with “You smell like a kosher deli/I want to put a baby in your belly”:

Another ode to a contemporary mainstream musician, this time Kenny G. Bingo is backed here by the band My Robot Friend, who gives his maniacal lyrics a high-tech sheen. Again, who can argue with “I can relax and take my Ex-Lax… we can reach our climax with Kenny G.”?

More Kraftwerk Gazingo, as Bingo sings” You’re out of the Computer,” again with My Robot Friend:

Perhaps the craziest clip of Bingo to be found on the Net is this slice of him performing at an atmospherically lit Halloween show in Bushwick, Brooklyn. This show took place in Halloween of last year (yes, folks, he’s 85 here!!!), and his performance consists of a medley of his “greatest hits,” including a new song about Beyonce and Jay-Z that was news to me:

There is no other way to close any discussion of Bingo than to spotlight his chef d’oeuvre, his own “Howl”-like anthem of the disturbed mind, “Psycho.”:

The photos of Bingo used above come from the Life Just Bounces blog

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lost movies and photomontage: two more great blogs

Any regular reader of this blog knows that I do it for no money whatsoever, but merely to spread the good word about the finest in high art, low trash, and other essentials. On the menu bar to the right I have a list of other sites and blogs that offer terrific content, but I think that perhaps only one of the bloggers actually is making money from what he’s doing on his blog (and that money comes from a nice side mail order business, and not the blog proper). These days, I seem to be discovering like-minded bloggers a few times a month, and have come to the very evident conclusion that the Internet is an unending series of trees falling in the forest. My advice is... just listen for the sound.

Sometimes another blogger approaches me, as happened when San Francisco artist Peter Combe wrote praising the full episode about New Yorker Films that I had put up on YouTube (btw, folks, it has been announced that New Yorker is coming back to life as of this writing). Peter does the blog A Tale of a Few Cities. He is a movie fan who posts arthouse-movie joke images in among the many fascinating images of l’art moderne.

And, since I like to move from art to trash and back again, I have to spotlight a blog that is absolutely chockfull of good things and represents of good deal of work by its blog-meisters. It’s called Temple of Schlock, and is a wonderful labor of love that sprang out of a zine started in 1987 by Syracuse residents Paul DeCirce and Chris Poggiali. Those gentlemen now run a blog with that name that incorporates a pretty sizeable collection of newspaper clippings, press booklets, posters (featured in the “One Sheet of the Week” entries), movie collectibles, and even View Master reels.

Here’s an example of the Temple-keepers’ newspaper clipping collection, including an ad for the “porn” re-release of Myra Breckenridge touting the participation of “Angel” Farrah Fawcett and a porn-ish promo ad for the Roman Polanski film What? (known over here as Forbidden Dreams or Diary of Forbidden Dreams). The blog also includes exploitation profiles, like this one about the marvelous Claudia Jennings.

The Schlock blog is very content-intensive, and two features are personal favorites of mine. The first is the “This Week on 42nd St.” entries, which gives us a list of what played on the Deuce on certain dates in certain years, for instance 1978 and 1985.

The most important entries DeCirce and Poggiali write, however, are the “Endangered List” blogposts about movies that they have information on, but which have never been released on VHS or DVD. They’ve written up dozens of these films, which include such unfindable rarities as the Romain Gary film Birds in Peru and an amazing-sounding (in so many ways) Rich Little vehicle in which Nixon and Agnew are seen as a kind of Laurel and Hardy for the Seventies. The film was produced by Tom Smothers, and directed by Bob “Super Dave”/“Officer Judy” Einstein. Its title? Another Nice Mess.

And what can be said about a blog that poses as many interesting questions about lost movies as it answers about surviving ones? In the case of the “endangered” films the bloggers ask us outright for more information on the films’ whereabouts, but in the case of some items, it’s time to just scratch one’s head and wonder. What in the holy hell was the midnight movie “event” entitled The Beatles Meet Star Trek? We’d all love to know.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Why I'm not rushing to see the latest "Scorsese picture"

“I have to wonder whether or not young people who have grown up on digitally engineered effects and DTS soundtracks can actually find the patience required to watch a film by Bresson or, for that matter, an Ozu or an Antonioni. In a way, it seems impossible: it’s as though they’re from different worlds….”

“Once Elvis Costello said that whenever he’s writing a song he asks himself: is it as tough as Hank Williams? Meaning: is it as ruthlessly pared down, as direct, as unflinching in its gaze at aspects of life I might feel more comfortable ignoring? Young filmmakers might ask themselves: is it as tough as Bresson?”
--Martin Scorsese, on filmmaker Robert Bresson

I was a child of the Seventies, so Martin Scorsese’s best films are works I can never shake, and would never want to. His masterpieces from the Seventies and Eighties are some of the best American films ever made, and even his big, wildly miscalculated coke-fueled messes from that period (think New York, New York) are fascinating to me. I have committed his older work to memory, but have absolutely no desire to rewatch anything he’s made in the last decade after I’ve seen it once. What exactly happened to the kinetic stylist who made character-driven films, the finest American filmmaker of his generation?

Well, perhaps he’s just not making films “as tough as Bresson” anymore, or perhaps it all comes down to his having said several years ago that it rankled him when he was considered merely a “New York filmmaker” — he wanted to be considered a “Hollywood filmmaker.” He also said in an interview with Bob Costas that he envied Steven Spielberg for the way that Spielberg was able to direct crowds, a la David Lean. The fact that Scorsese’s strong suit has never been and never will be pageantry, and the bigger and more Hollywoood-like that his films have become the less soul they’ve had, has apparently escaped the man himself.

Scorsese is one of the most devoted film fans in the filmmaking community, and a god in the preservationist world. He has often noted his utter adoration of the Golden Age directors who worked under the studio system, and are hard to get a handle on in terms of a visual style or an “identity” (as opposed to stylists like Ray and Fuller, whose personality is emblazoned in every frame of their work): brilliant craftsmen like Hawks and Wyler who made great movies in every genre and worked smoothly with the biggest stars of the Thirties and Forties. And who, of course, lost major ground and fumbled around in the Sixties (excepting the terrific The Collector), the era when Scorsese’s generation was beginning to forge a new approach to filmmaking. The traditional studio system, it seemed, was entirely dead and has remained so. But not so Scorsese’s desire to make that kind of film.

Thus, he’s chosen to make a string of extremely long, epic-themed films with Leonardo Caprio, an actor of limited means who was a superior child and teen performer, but has demonstrated a far weaker presence as an adult lead (thus his constant scowling, to approximate an adult demeanor). This phenomenon started with The Gangs of New York, where slight Leo was supposed to be the physical equal of the scenery-chewing Daniel Day Lewis, and is now continuing with Shutter Island, where Leo will once again do a “Bahston” (please, Mr. Scorsese, stop it please with the bad Boston accents already!). What seems to be going on here is that Scorsese views DiCaprio as a kind of Rock Hudson for the 21st century, an actor who couldn’t ever hack it in grittier films, but has a certain type of “glamour” — and more importantly, who had studio heads interested in him post-Titanic, although the success of that film was a convergence of elements and not specifically due to his presence. What DiCaprio seemed to represent was a performer who could get the movie financed and also, at the hands of a Douglas Sirk-like filmmaker, become a really interesting screen presence, despite his lack of range as a performer and the fact that his idyllic good looks limit his ability to play earthy characters.

Well, it hasn’t worked. The DiCaprio-Scorsese as Hudson-Sirk experiment that has gone on for three films and continues with the current Shutter Island is one that does not seem to have stirred a major interest in most viewers, but it has continued unabated. Each time De Niro worked with Scorsese in their shared heyday, there was a buzz of expectation from fans and in the press (this was quelled by the workmanlike and unnecessary remake of Cape Fear). Perhaps the nicest remark I’ve heard from movie-mad friends when discussing this constant casting by Scorsese of the Baby-Faced One in his films has been, “well, he was okay in The Aviator, he really tried in that one.” Yes, he tried, but the film was a giant, overblown biopic that got stuck on a Hughes court case that just wasn’t interesting. The scenes in which Leo was naked in the screening room were welcome in that they were strange and downright odd for a Hollywood biopic, but they also required an actor who didn’t look as if he was wearing fake facial hair while writhing around the room.

The obvious change in Scorsese’s style seems to have come from the fact that he was in personal transition throughout the period when his best films were made, and now that he’s a comfortable icon of cinema, he is making films that are sheer craft — technical experiments that have far more in common with David Lean than they do with his onetime mentor John Cassavetes. Casssavetes famously chided Scorsese on having made the (actually pretty great) Boxcar Bertha for Roger Corman, telling him to stop making “crap” and do something he really cared about. One can’t imagine what Cassavetes would’ve made of The Departed, a bloated adaptation of a tight, nothing-budgeted Hong Kong cop thriller that finally got Scorsese the Oscar he deserved for the rough-edged, uneven-but-yet-curiously-perfect films like Raging Bull. The craft pleases the eye, but the brain and emotions are not engaged. The “Leo era” has not been an interesting one for fans of Scorsese’s work.

Admittedly, the Scorsese style of the Seventies was already starting to become self-citation in the Nineties: in the brilliantly cast (supporting roles only) but wildly uneven Bringing Out the Dead, one wasn’t sure if the film was taking place in the Seventies or the Nineties, as he attempted to update his Taxi Driver style sans the energy, devotion, and drive (and chemical stimulants?) of that era. (As for the stimulants being a part of the TD process, this has gone into common lore, and was the premise for the plot of the only good episode of the cartoon series American Dad). In Casino, he offered a smoother, more stylized version of the Goodfellas approach; this was unfortunate, as the splendid Goodfellas was already a work that seemed to be intent on sanding off the rough edges that made Mean Streets such an eternally rewatchable work about a low-ranking mob member (the exquisite use of pop music from the Sixties that began in Who’s That Knocking At My Door? reaches heights of dazzling brilliance in Goodfellas — and then tapers off to become the umpteenth use of “Gimme Shelter” in The Departed). We can count our blessings that the Dino project, the proposed Scorsese adaptation of Nick Tosches' immaculately detailed Dean Martin bio, was never produced, as it in turn would’ve been a “cleaner,” smoother version of Casino (like a Russian doll version of the same film, slightly transformed with each larger-sized version….).

However, even though Terrence Rafferty this week in the New York Times remarked that the last decade has been the “liveliest, most varied, and most consistently inventive stretch” of Scorsese’s work since the Seventies, I’d make the argument that the very bumpy Nineties was the most varied era for Scorsese in recent memory, as the last two films of his that had a genuine emotional “kick” were the ones that seemed the most uncharacteristic and atypical, The Age of Innocence (1993) and Kundun (1997). Both were films I thought would be odd exercises for him, but both had small emotions at their core and were absorbing and brilliant as a result. Who would’ve thought that the story of the search for the Dalai Lama would’ve been the last truly involving film made by the filmmaker who made such cornerstones of gritty, challenging NYC cinema as Taxi Driver and King of Comedy?

But there haven’t just been fiction films, there have been documentaries. And yes, they have been very long. Scorsese’s love of cinema and rock music is unparalleled, but oddly, each time you watch his documentaries, you feel overwhelmed by duration, yet only in A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies did it seem like he opened a doorway to invite viewers to actually experience the works he was praising for themselves. His study of Italian cinema, Il Mio Viaggio in Italia, is a hermetically sealed work that offers Cliff Notes-like plot synopses of each Italian film which tend to make the viewer feel as if he or she has taken in the whole film — they don’t inspire the inclination to view the complete film that just seeing a significant scene or two would produce (American viewers feel that if they know the plot, they’ve seen the movie already, or read the book).

His Dylan documentary was a project he inherited and didn’t do the interviews for — thus it was the polar opposite of his work on The Last Waltz or his wonderful film about his parents, Italianamerican, which can be seen here. Also, Dylan and/or his people clearly approved of the squeaky-clean image given of him in the film — thus it seemed as if (scenes of Greenwich Village from underground films aside — that was the old Scorsese!) he was making a record company-sponsored portrait of Bob that was really, really long (and Todd Haynes reached the core of the artist in a shorter time with a “fiction” film). His Stones concert docu, Shine a Light? I won’t kid, it’s the one Scorsese film I haven’t yet seen, and am not racing to catch it on the home screen.

I reflect on all this because the latest “Scorsese picture,” Shutter Island, looks to be a dedicated exercise in style with some beautiful craft (there will NEVER be a bad-looking film by him) but no emotional drive. The visual effects showcased in the trailer exhibit that Mr. S has watched a bunch of “J-“ and “K-horror” (Japanese and Korean) films lately, and wanted to try out some new visual tricks. That kind of mega-budgeted recreation of lower-budgeted Asian action fare has the feel of Quentin Tarantino, not the man who clearly (among many) influenced Tarantino with his own lean, spare, and haunting work. Unlike Scorsese’s personal work, which really needed to be viewed in a theater, Shutter Island will most likely be more overwhelming and eye-catching on a TV screen.

The Rafferty piece in the Times went along the lines of nearly everything written about Scorsese in the mainstream press (to wit, the Leonardo films have been “bold and exciting”). His best filmmaking work is indeed indelible, his work as a preservationist and a champion of the great films and filmmakers is unassailable. He is an incredibly valuable individual for film fans in so many ways. Thus, journalists and mainstream critics will not honestly reflect on how the films he has made have become less and less (and less) interesting in the last decade. To do so would be to not be able to interview him, not be able to hang with him, or simply to greet him at movie-industry parties (he does seem like a nice guy, and certainly a helluva conversation partner). This means that movies that are “al dente” (to quote Raging Bull on the subject of cooking, “it defeats its own purpose!!!”) and lack an emotional core are hailed as being in the same league as films that were angst-ridden masterworks.

I will continue to see his work, of course, as I hope he will somehow offer us a personal work at some point in the future. The model of countless “senior” European and Asian directors, as well as Funhouse god Robert Altman, seems to be the only way to proceed as a filmmaker grows older (unless, of course, the filmmaker started out as a crowd-pleaser, in the Spielberg fashion). In a phrase: “small movies.” Films based on character and plot, little films made on lower budgets, funded outside the established Hollywood studios. Films that are “as tough as Bresson.”


And since, like “Marty,” we all love to watch movies, below are remembrances of the filmmaker when his films were smaller. Interestingly, there are NO interviews with the intense, fast-talking, bearded Scorsese on YouTube (it can’t be that they don’t exist, I have a few on VHS — does no one else have them, or were they taken down?). There was absolutely nothing like the intense pace that Scorsese used to think and talk at. Here, for example, is a rare audio interview from 1975

UPDATE: Somehow when I was writing this, I forgot that *I* put up a slice of Scorsese during his amazing "beard era." Here he is discussing Jerry Lewis in a French documentary:

The unforgettable beginning of Mean Streets:

Who needs a documentary about the senior-aged band when you have this?

The trajectory of Taxi Driver as recounted by Scorsese; mentions of Hitchcock, Godard, and Fassbinder:

The beginning of the De Niro-Pesci team. They had quite a way with comedy team-style dialogue (and where the hell has Joe been in the past decade?):

Very strong, extremely personal cinema:

The details are the picture: check out the gentleman on screen right mimicking Rupert’s every move:

Jerry lets loose, and the result is a sublimely uncomfortable sequence:

A memorably small, dark paranoid comedy:

The film that was the closing of the “golden era,” along with Goodfellas. The one he was born to direct, the uneven but visceral and powerful and VERY brilliant Last Temptation of Christ:

The 2000-year-old man said you could learn a lot of new words from Scorsese’s films. Here’s one:

And in closing, from the days when Scorsese's films excited us all incredibly. Note that, even though the video was made by the time that he had shaved off his beard, the pics used are all of him from the bearded period. The album version of the song is even more maniacal, as John S. Hall inserts the word "fuck" in every sentence:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

J.D. Salinger. Jerry Lewis. "Catch" the excitement!

Now that J.D. Salinger has gone to that big Author’s Retreat in the sky, much has been made about whether his stories will ever be adapted for the movies. Not much mention has been made, however, of the fact that his son was a very busy actor at one point, and in fact played Captain America in a B-budget feature directed by straight-to-vid vet Albert Pyun. The pic costarred Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty, and Darren McGavin and, yes, Cap was played by Matt Salinger.

But what about his dad’s books? (You thought I forgot, didntcha?) The obits mention that Leonardo DiCaprio was interested in playing Holden Caulfield (hey, maybe Martin Scorsese can now buy it for him and they can make a fifth pic together). But the key name to be mentioned here is… Jerry Lewis. Jerry goes on in his autobiography, In Person (or was it The Total Filmmaker?) about how much he wanted to make The Catcher in the Rye into a movie starring himself as Holden. In the Joyce Maynard tell-all book about her affair with the notoriously press-shy author (you can say anything you want about Thomas Pynchon, but the guy has definitely been a far more productive and interesting hype-evader), Maynard quotes Salinger as having told her in the Seventies that “Jerry Lewis tried to years to get his hands on the part of Holden.” Jerry was 25 when the book came out, but he was most likely over 35 or (if the overtures to Salinger did continue until the Seventies) over 45 when he was trying to obtain the film rights to the book.

The mind fairly boggles about what a Catcher movie directed by and starring Jerry would have been like. I for one wouldn’t mind seeing him play Holden at 84. “You lousy, goddam phonyyyyyyy”….

"Perverb"-ially speaking: Hal Willner's tribute to Tuli Kupferberg

In a previous post, I detailed the joys of seeing two live tribute shows masterminded by producer extraordinaire Hal Willner. Willner has crafted a number of “songbook” shows for composers over the past decade, and has staged the majority of them for free (that’s right, no cash, no ticket) at various venues in NYC. The latest in the series had a high ticket price, but its purpose — to help legendary poet/mother-Fug Tuli Kupferberg pay for his outsized medical expenses — was certainly noble. And, in the process, Willner staged another marathon program that included a sublime mix of musical legends and “unknowns” that are supremely talented.

The show was held on January 22nd at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn (ooh… artsy!), and lasted a full three and a half hours without an intermission. The roster ran the gamut from stripped-down folk ensembles to sonic experimenters (or, as they would’ve been called a few years back, “reverb motherfuckers”). Willner’s propensity to dig deeply into the catalogue of the person he’s saluting proved eye-opening here, as the Fugs were certainly musical innovators, but hearing their music recited and played by people possessing gorgeous voices (and playing their instruments to perfection) lent a whole new dimension to the work done by Tuli, Ed Sanders, Ken Weaver, and the other band members four decades ago. Willner also “mixes it up,” so that a number of the unknown (to me) commodities — including White Magic, Jolie Holland, and Flutterbox — distinguished themselves quite beautifully in between old vets like Philip Glass and a sonic-noise combo of Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, John Zorn, and Sarth Calhoun playing his laptop.

All in all, the show was a terrific revue-style (or is that variety show-like?) procession of top-notch talent paying tribute to Tuli’s work (a good account of the proceedings can be found on the my friend Carle's Station Sign blog). It’s hard to pick standouts, but one of the nicer surprises of the evening was former Del Fuego and current kid-entertainer Dan Zanes addressing the issue at hand, by performing the Fugs’ “River of Shit” (what a nice tune for the kiddies!) as a tribute to America’s rotten-as-fuck healthcare system. Zanes certainly tapped into the Fugs’ raw energy, but I’m sure that Old Man Kupferberg would’ve surely enjoyed “the ladies of Karen Black” (as they were called, Kembra Pfahler being the only recognizable figure) performing “Slum Goddesss of the Lower East Side” naked, clad only in their trademark primary-colored bodypaint (Tuli was never above a bit of carnal indulgence, as will be indicated below). The Fugs themselves performed twice, which gave one a bit of a nice chill up the spine, as NYC poetry legend Ed Sanders is still in fine voice (at the age of 70) and the group blazed on such fine vintage numbers as the psychedelic spoof “Crystal Liaison” and the theme song for this particular Willner show, Tuli’s terse, brilliant summation of Western Civilization in a few minutes, the anthemic “Nothing.”

The ensemble that seemed to capture the true anarchy found on the Fugs’ Sixties records was led by John S. Hall and Dogbowl of King Missile — I’d love to i.d. the other musicians, but the only downside of Willner’s mind-roastingly wonderful what-will-come-next? show-construction is that acts are announced once and once only (so if you miss the performer’s name, that’s essentially it, just enjoy their voice or playing). Hall and co. did high-energy versions of “Defeated” and “The Ten Commandments” with minimal instrumentation and copious amounts of histrionics. They reminded us all of how really strange and unusual the Fugs were in their day (and our own — do you think performers as un-photogenic and grubby, and brilliant, as Ed and Tuli could ever get on the pool of tedious mediocrity that is American Idol?).

Willner’s shows are truly unique events. At points they seem mildly disorganized, but the short-lived disorganization seems to stem from the fact that the backstage area is literally teeming with talented folks, and Willner seemingly wants to keep the show going all night – I still have a strong memory of performers on stage during his Neil Young tribute at Prospect Park getting the neck-cut “we gotta end the show” gesture, after three hours of great entertainment had been presented, and Hal apparently had even more wonderfully obscure Young tunes lined up.

So who is this Tuli fellow that the folks packed into St. Ann’s were cheering? You can check out his biography here, but suffice it to say that he’s (along with bandmate Sanders) one of the remaining Beat-poet pioneers and a consummate “commie” troublemaker. The Fugs are legends who can be sampled at various places on the Net, including their official site. For Manhattanites, it’s been our pleasure to see Tuli on Manhattan Neighborhood Network, the public-access organization that airs the Funhouse, for three decades now as host/producer of “Revolting News.” When YouTube became the most immediate mode of communication, Tuli wisely moved in on that too, and has posted a few hundred clips to YT and Daily Motion. Recently he suffered two strokes and is now blind and essentially housebound and in need of constant care. The “Nothing” benefit was held to raise money for his care, and wound up drawing attention to what a prolific guy he’s been over the past five decades, which was no surprise to those who’ve even sporadically followed his multi-media output.

A few clips have been posted from the show, including Jeffrey Lewis performing Tuli’s “And,” backed by the multi-instrumentalist, Holy Modal Rounder founder, and all-around joyful-noisemaker Peter Stampfel and his daughter:

Also from the Willner show, Gary Lucas performing a composition for Tuli:

To get a feel for what the Fugs did, here is a golden clip of them performing their psychedelic parody song (this written back in 1968), “Crystal Liaison” on Swedish TV:

Tuli’s clips on YouTube and Daily Motion are truly moving, because here is a gent who is now 86 and not at all healthy, but is totally with it mentally. He will not stop entertaining and enlightening us with his knowledge, his poetry, his aphorisms, and gags. Here he reads a poem from the early 1950s, “Snow Job”:

I highly recommend the clips uploaded by former Manhattan access host/producer Coca Crystal. Tuli guested on her show several times, and the clips can be found on YT. He does a version of the Calypso song ”Everybody Loves Saturday Night”. And here is a terrific version of an anti-nuke song done by Tuli as part of the “the Revolting Theater”:

Tuli has also been posting “Daily Perverbs” on YT, offering us quick jokes and silly puns. You gotta love the guy:

Another perverb:

And a final sample (there are literally dozens of these quickies on YouTube, check ’em out):

Guesting on Coca again, doing the “parasong” “No Business Like War Business”

Tuli’s updating of Woody Guthrie’s classic, with a slightly more realistic tint, “This Land is Their Land.” This “parasong” was performed at the benefit by Penny Arcade, who couldn’t quite sing it on-key, but who cares?

And finally, Tuli peforming a song he claims is his favorite of the ones he has composed, “When I Was a Young Man”:

Tuli has a way with finales — he provided a closing video for the “Nothing” benefit that found him urging us all to have fun on the way home. “It may be later than you think!” The clip above also offers a very nice closer for this tribute to an exceptional poet and, yes, troublemaker: “What are ya gonna do about it? Don’t just sit there!”