Round the Dial
Thursday 18 September @ 12:24:53
by Tom Hallett
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I’d slur the words on purpose or I’d miss a word. I’d try to smile, but the nervous twitch in my face kept the smile from coming. Sweat would be pouring out of me just after 10 minutes. As soon as the show was over, I’d burst into the dressing room in a rage, stomp my guitar or smash a hole in a door with my fist, striking out at something—anything. Then, alone in my room with the beer and amphetamines, I’d pace the floor all night, trying to outwalk and outlast whatever demon was snapping at my heels.”
—Johnny Cash, on his early ‘60s speed addiction
SONG OF THE WEEK: “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”
Ya know, about a week or so ago, I’d just sent RTD off to the editors when I heard that singer/songwriter/rocker Warren Zevon had passed away. I remember trying to digest the information that the first artist I’d ever seen play at First Avenue, the first rock and roll artist my now 14-year-old son had sung along with in perfect harmony (“Aaa-oooo, werewolves of London...”) when he was a baby, and the first guy I’d ever heard warble out songs about dismemberment, stalking and suicide in a socially-acceptable format (FM radio—if ya can call that socially acceptable) was gone forever. Man, I thought that was gonna be the worst news I’d have to deal with all week. Well, as we all know by now, that was just the beginning.
After a couple of really weird nights spent tossing and turning, racked by a truly horrific case of insomnia, the big guns went off. I turned on the TV last Friday morning at around 2 a.m. and heard the news that Johnny Cash had died. A couple sleepless hours later, I turned it back on to hear that actor John Ritter had passed away. I’d agree that death really does come in threes, except I still wasn’t quite over the loss of actor Charles Bronson a few weeks earlier. I know, I know. I’m getting older, so too are my heroes and role models. That’s life. I’m sorry so much has happened that a write-up on Warren Zevon seems like ancient history this week; I’m sorry I didn’t write more about him when he was still around; I’m sorry that John Ritter was finally moving past his “Three’s Company” silly status and into some decent movie roles when he bit the dust; I’m sorry Johnny went without me seeing him play live just one more time. But most of all, I’m sorry that the likelihood of anyone filling any of their shoes is almost nil. Sure, there are some talented young singers, songwriters and actors out there. I won’t deny that. But the chances of them rising up through the muck and mire that the entertainment industry has become and reaching legendary status is on the other side of nil. That’s what’s really sad.
So rather than go over the bios of those dearly departed icons, I think I’ll just leave ya’ll this week with short lists of my favorite works from each of them, along with a brief aside about each one. I know they’re all in a better place (I only have to look out my window to know that), and with the ones they love, and that the only ones who are really hurting or suffering over their losses are those of us left behind. So here we go, kids, RTD’s all-in-one offering of respect to those high princes of entertainment we’ve lost over the past couple weeks. Dig in!
1) “The Twilight Zone,” 1961: In an episode entitled “Two,” Bronson (fresh from changing his name from Charles Buchinski) plays “The Man,” a raggedy soldier who’s apparently the last surviving male returning to a nameless, faceless city after the last battle in the last war of all time. He searches the city for food and gear, and ends up finding what seems to be the last surviving female (“The Woman”) on Earth. After some very interesting social interaction (he shaves, she longs for a dress, he breaks a shop window to get it for her, they both point guns at each other), the two walk off into the sunset, a new Adam and Eve for a new world. Delicious!
2) “Mr. Majestyk,” 1974: Bronson plays a returning Vietnam vet who tries to forget the hell he’s just barely escaped in the jungles by growing watermelons out in the sticks of rural America. Unfortunately, local mafia bosses want his land and his workers, so Mr. Majestyk is forced to kick ass and take names um...never. Literally a killer flick.
3)“Death Wish,” 1974: Everybody knows the story of vigilante man Lee Kersey, so I won’t go into the full details here. The reason it struck me so forcefully is that I was 10 years old when I saw it in all its gory glory on the big screen—not exactly “Old Yeller,” which was probably the movie I’d seen the weekend before “Death Wish,” but it was a mighty big wake-up call for a kid who’d spent his entire life in towns with populations of less than a couple thousand people. Absolutely required viewing.
1) Warren’s songs were not only entertaining, fun and about as twisted as an early EC comic book, but also informative and educational. I mean, how many other rock’n’ rollers were hollerin’ about soldiers of fortune who fought in the Congo war (as Warren did in 1978’s “Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner”) back in the ‘70s? “Veracruz” delves into the story of the Zapatistas and “Woodrow Wilson’s guns...,” and “Lawyers, Guns, And Money” could be the life story of most of the guys I knew in early ‘80s Miami. Listen to Warren, kids, he’ll teach ya more than your history classes ever will!
2) “Play It All Night Long,” 1980: Already tired of hearing audiences yell out moronic requests for “Freebird” just three short years after Ronnie Van Zandt and the gang died in a plane crash, Warren penned this little ditty which should be played at every concert where some idiot bellows out that request. My favorite line: “Sweet Home Alabama, play that dead band’s song/Turn those speakers up full blast/Play it all night long...”
3) The 1987 album, Sentimental Hygiene, holds a special place in my heart, not only for the awesome title (which caused Tulip Sweet alum Tom Siler to barrel into paroxysms of uncontrollable laughter a week or so ago), but because it’s chock full of killer post-detox songs from WZ and a shitload of kickass guests, including R.E.M., Neil Young, Bob Dylan and George Clinton. Top picks: “Even A Dog Can Shake Hands,” a vitriolic blast at the music biz, the hilarious boxing sendup, “Boom Boom Mancini,” and the funked-up grooves of “Leave My Monkey Alone,” a wonderful later addition to the man’s catalog. His latest album, The Wind, is now available and is the definitive goodbye to his family and friends. I couldn’t say it any better than he does with this cozy collection of originals and a mind-blowing cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” of which drummer Jim Keltner (who played on the original) said, “I’ve only cried during the recording of two songs in my entire career—Dylan’s original and now Warren’s version of ‘Heaven’s Door.’” Awe-inspiring work.
1) “A Boy Named Sue.” For those of you out there who know my actual first name (Thomas is my middle name, and the one I’ve used since the day I graduated from high school), you know why this song means so much to me. I’d still like to get my daddy down in the mud, the blood and the beer and bite off a piece of his ear. This one goes out to all of us whose parents made really, really, really bad decisions in the ‘60s.
2) “Man In Black.” There’s never been a better, less wanky tune written as a plea for peace, love and understanding, at least on this side of the pond. In a different time and place, Lennon and Cash coulda made some mighty powerful music together. Still, I’ll take this one over any hippie-dippie, idealistic, over-played FM radio tripe, man. For the ones whose bad trips left them cold...
3) “I See A Darkness.” This cover of a Bonnie “Prince” Billy tune would be hard to screw up, considering that the words are like—more powerful than most religious literature—but Johnny sings it with a conviction and an inner peace that belies the—er—darkness of those lyrics. One you need in your heart, ga-ron-teed.
1) His dad, Tex Ritter, wrote probably the best song EVER for dead heroes, “Hillbilly Heaven,” in which he lamented losing the folks who inspired him back in the day: Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, etc., and figured that someday he’d be joinin’ ‘em all. Well, if it’s real, he’s there, and Johnny Cash just joined the band. I wonder what the cover is at that roadhouse in the sky?
2) As the gay supermarket manager who befriends the little boy and his mother in “Slingblade,” John Ritter managed to undo some of the damage he did to the gay rights movement when he played dorky Jack Tripper, a wolfish lout who masqueraded as a gay man in order to beat the lease requirements at his apartment building and live with two single females. He never did get laid, and the series ended up hiring Don Knotts, who I love, so all’s well that ends well, I guess.
3) I just feel kinda bad for John, considering that dying the same day as an icon like Johnny Cash takes the spotlight off of a feller just a little bit. So I’m including him on this list, and I hope at the very least that his cause of death (sudden heart attack) makes more men his age (early 50s) get check-ups more often. If it can happen to a Hollywood movie/TV actor who had full medical coverage, it can happen to any of us, guys. Thanks for the memories, John, and may you rest in peace along with all the rest of the greats who were taken from us this month.
That’s it for me this week, folks. Tune in again for CD reviews, music news and more of your favorite rantin’ and ravin’. Until next time—make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see listed in this column, or you’d just like to add your two cents to my above lists, send replies to: TMygunn777@aol.com.