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Hipsters, Flipsters
&
Finger Poppin’ Daddies!


THIS YEAR'S FESTIVE TOP TEN...

 

by C. P. Lee



Another year of blood. Another year of pain. Another year of futile, unimaginable horror – Still, enough about me – What’s my top ten for this last year? What could be listed? I’ve looked around and can’t seem to find much that I actually acquired.

 

That’s nonsense of course, I got lots – It’s just that I’m not sure which best tickles my fancy, turned me on, or rung my bell any more than any other particular item. Then there are abstract thoughts, emotions and experiences. Crikey!
 

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Hipsters, Flipsters and Finger Poppin Daddies

 

Let’s start with Handsome Harry The Hipster Gibson – a cat so wigged out that even Dizzy Gillespie said he had trouble understanding him. Only ever having known him through a handful of obscure recordings – Who Put The Benzedrine In Mrs Murphy’s Ovaltine? And, Stop That Dancing Up There! being two notable favourites, it was a gas to be given a DVD documentary about the man. Directed by Harry’s granddaughter it features archive footage plus interviews with Harry who committed suicide in 1990 aged 75. Until I watched the documentary I’d assumed that he’d passed away in the Sixties and it was an education to fill in the gaps and learn more about the life of one of the wackiest characters in modern music.

 

 

 

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Hipsters, Flipsters and Finger Poppin Daddies

 

The biggest and the bestest thing to happen this year was the wedding of our son Tom to his betrothed, Alys. And as if that wasn’t enough – it took place in Prague - which just happens to be our favourite city in the universe. It was August, there was beer, there was a Bluegrass band (and I sang with them!) ... T and A got married in the 16th century town hall opposite the house where John Dee lived when he was alchemist to King Stephen of Bohemia. It was magickal in every sense of the word. Time now for my first Bob Dylan entry, and it’s a double header – It’s!

 

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Hipsters, Flipsters and Finger Poppin Daddies

 

My introduction to the film came through the soundtrack album. It was at once both intriguing and somewhat perplexing. What the hell was Dixie doing on there? My Back Pages in Japanese as the opener? Then it all fell into place. It was a masterstroke on Dylan’s (or Larry Charles’) part to use cover versions to delineate Jack Fate’s career. It was refreshing for me too to listen to these radically different versions of classic songs. When I discovered that Sertab (One More Cup of Coffee) was this year’s Eurovision Song Contest winner, I was even more baffled by it all, but delighted as well. When me and Pam been in Turkey we’d fallen in love with the music scene there, particularly a guy called Tarkan who is Sertab’s mentor. I’ve got a few Dylan cover albums by a whole assortment of people, but this one is by far the best – Probably because it’s got Dylan on there as well! So the soundtrack can be judged a success. What was to come next was a revelation.

 

 

 

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Hipsters, Flipsters and Finger Poppin Daddies

 

Masked & Anonymous is, in my opinion, a good film. It’s certainly not the turkey that the American media want us to believe, and the reason that they have a down on the movie has more to do with the current political climate than anything to do with Dylan’s artistic integrity or lack of artistic clarity. It’s a film that sets out to present a view of present day America and that view is not a pretty one. It might or might not be an erroneous view, I don’t care either way. What I do care about is that Dylan actually does have a point of view and has chosen to express it through the medium of film. For years people have agonised over the meaning of his words, now they’re being offered meaning in spades and it’s all too much for them to take. Brilliant Bob!

 

 

 

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Hipsters, Flipsters and Finger Poppin Daddies

 

 

 

And sticking with Dylan and analyses of his work in particular – what a year for books about the maestro – Ricks, et al, burst out of their studies with a plethora of books aimed at die-hard Dylanites and neophytes alike. My own particular favourite is Mike Marqusee’s Chimes of Freedom, an intriguing look at the evolution of Dylan’s ouvre in the 1960s, from ‘Folkie’ to ‘Protest’ to ‘Poet’. Marqusee approaches the subject from a Left-wing perspective and provides a fascinating look at American domestic politics and the turmoil of the sixties and Dylan’s association with all these influences through a lens of radicalism tinted with humanistic idealism. A good read.

 

 

 

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Hipsters, Flipsters and Finger Poppin Daddies

 

Pirates of the Caribbean – Who amongst us could resist having their buckle swashed? As a kid I was a sucker for action movies, especially historical action movies, and in particular – Pirate movies – Captain Blood, Blackbeard, Last of the Buccaneers, oh for a life on the Spanish Main and a bottle of rum! Sixteen men on a dead man’s chest! What was that all about? Anyway, whoever had the brilliant idea of putting Johnny Depp into the role of Jack Sparrow, pirate extraordinaire, deserves an Oscar. Played to the hilt as a stoned, immaculate rogue, Depp looks and acts just like a present day Rock star. In fact, in interviews he explained how he’d based his character on Keith Richards. No surprise then that Richards has accepted a cameo role in Pirates 2, as Depp/Sparrow’s on-screen father. Role on the sequel me hearties!!

 

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Hipsters, Flipsters and Finger Poppin Daddies

 

I’d never been to Greece before this year and a visit to a record shop whilst staying in Kos revived my interest in a form of music that’s sometimes colloquially known as ‘The Greek Blues’, or Rembetika. In 1919 Greece and Turkey fought a bitter war that resulted in the mass expulsion of one and a half million Greek speaking Turkish Christians from their homes. They fled to Athens and its environs. Virtually overnight the population doubled. They brought with them a form of music that was particularly suited to the underworld of Piraeus, a music that was fuelled by hashish and sanctified by suffering. Adopted by the Greek born ‘Mangas’ or gangster underworld, Rembetika became a huge sensation through the medium of 78rpm discs.

Rembetika singers such as Markos Vamvakaris and Stellakis Perpiniadis went from total poverty to undreamed of wealth with songs such as, The Junky’s Complaint, which has lyrics that go –

From the time I started to smoke the dose
The world has turned its back on me and I don’t know what to do
From sniffing it up I went onto the needle
And my body slowly began to melt
Nothing is left for me to do in this world
Because the drugs have left me to die in the street.

The music, hardly surprisingly, has a curious dreamlike quality even at a fast tempo, it’s half Arabic, half western, and usually performed on the bouzouki, a stringed instrument a bit like an elongated mandolin. By the 1930s the Greek authorities became alarmed at the popularity of Rembetika and it was outlawed. Musicians devised ‘sawn-off’ versions of bouzoukis that could be carried under coats and produced at safe houses when music was demanded. As a genre it literally went underground, being confined to cellars and caves.
 

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Where Dead Voices Gather

I was slightly late coming to Nick Tosches’ masterly account of the career and times of Minstrel Show singer, Emmett Miller. Miller was a blackface yodeler whose style directly influenced Jimmie Rodgers (who also started out in blackface) and Hank Williams. He was the first artist to record Lovesick Blues in 1925. Reading this book and then re-listening to ‘Love & Theft’ added even more texture to the sonic tapestry that is Dylan’s musical patchwork quilt of an album.

   

The links between Eric Lott’s original study of blackface minstrelsy, Love & Theft, Tosches’ examination of Miller and minstrelsy in this volume, and Dylan’s inclusion of the Oscar Vogel character in Masked & Anonymous are intriguing to say the least. Occasionally Tosches’ writing style, it’s full of “it behooves me dear reader” verbosity, irritated me, but the sheer amount of information he packs in about the racial cross-fertilisation of American popular music in the 19th and early 20th centuries makes it all worth while.
 

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The most consistently popular show on American TV from 1950 to 1960 was Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life, a quiz show where his ability to ad-lib while interviewing the contestants clearly demonstrated what a comic genius he was. Here’s an example – Groucho to female contestant – “And how many children do you have?”
 

The woman answered, “Eleven Groucho.”
 

“Eleven children! How come you got so many?”
 

“I guess I love my husband a lot!” 


To which, Groucho replied – “Well I like cigars a lot, but I take them out of my mouth every once in a while!” 

And on another show, a priest said he’d like to thank Groucho for all the pleasure he’d brought into people’s lives. Groucho looked at him for a moment and then said – “And I’m not going to thank you for all the pleasure you’ve taken out of people’s lives.” 

The programme was never shown in Britain, but over the years it became my kind of Holy Grail, due to the fact that I’d developed an obsession with the Marx Brothers and all their works. You could just about see their movies and you could read the books, but You Bet Your Life remained that obscure object of desire. I got so genned up on it that I could hold knowledgeable conversations with Americans about the duck and the secret word and who were the most famous contestants, all without ever having seen a single episode, and then one day I flew into New York … 

The first thing I did when I checked into my hotel was switch on the TV and my mind was well and truly blown because right there on screen in front of me was a re-run of You Bet Your Life! To say that I was in pig heaven would be a serious understatement.

Decades later I get an email from PSB in Philly. Had I seen this DVD? It’s called You Bet Your Life – The Missing Episodes? He figured correctly that the reason I would be very interested indeed was because one of the contestants featured on disc one, chapter five, and originally broadcast in August 1956 was a certain Lord Buckley. 

I got my set for Christmas and it’s a gas – Groucho is caustic, witty, sharp and brilliant. The other guests include a bizarre politician from Louisiana, Dudley Leblanc, Gary Cooper’s mother-in-law, a bevy of 50s pin-up girls, comedian Ernie Kovacs and a tree surgeon! It’s both fascinating and very relaxing watching TV shows from nearly fifty years ago, and then of course – there’s …
 

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He enters from stage right accompanying an archetypical Californian housewife who’s been plucked from the audience to share the slot. Buckley truly deserves the soubriquet ‘Lord’ –  

His bearing is impeccably imposing, his suit and tie as sharp as the ends of his upturned moustache.
 

He’s introduced as ‘RM Buckley’ and it’s not long before Groucho twigs that he probably has another monicker – The Lord fills him in and then proceeds to rap in Hip talk, to which a baffled Groucho responds by saying to the audience – “I know I heard a few of you laughing out there. If any of you know what he’s talking about would you mind telling me!” 

Throughout his five or six minutes on screen, Buckley answers Groucho’s questions politely, gives a demonstration of Hip Semantics with his “Hipsters, Flipsters” speech and wins $500. Exit stage right. 

Considering there’s so little of Buckley around on video, plus the fact that he’s with Groucho Marx, this DVD set is the biggest gas of the far goneasphere = I LOVE it!!

 
 
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