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Day Is Done

A sad day indeed.  Yesterday marked the passing of two key figures in the popular milieu.  Both within a few miles of each other off the 210 freeway, both apparent suicides.  In the words of Ariel Marcus Rosenberg – “Life in L.A. is so lonely.”

First up, contemporary American artist Mike Kelley (b. 1954).  Kelley’s work involved found objects, textile banners, drawings, assemblage, collage, performance and video.  He often worked collaboratively and had done projects with artists Paul McCarthy, Tony Oursler and John Miller.

Mike Kelley

Much can be read about Mike on the internet.  Especially now.  Coming out of Cal Arts in the seventies, he was a student of John Baldessari.  His images and assemblages plumbed the deepest chasms of his psyche and libido. The thing about Mike’s work is that I identified with it so strongly.  I saw ALOT of myself in him – his childhood traumas, extreme sensitivity, and breadth of interest.  The humor – the likes of which only could have come from deep pain.

More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid & The Wages Of Sin (1987, Stuffed fabric toys and afghans on canvas with dried corn; wax candles on wood and metal base) Whitney Museum Of American Art

I met Kelley once.   It was in 1995, when I was living in the Los Angeles area.  I was visiting my grandmother in Venice one evening and noticed in a local weekly that Mike was giving a lecture at an Architecture school in Long Beach.  Jumping on the freeway and heading down, I made it in for the beginning of his talk, which was primarily focused around Repressed Memory Syndrome – something I was interested in, and was under the impression he was in therapy for at the time.  He had recently completed the Half-a-Man series.

He described growing up in post-war suburban Detroit.  As you might imagine, Mike was not your average Wayne, Michigan teen.  His father chastised him harshly concerning this matter, insisting he “act more normal” – meaning engage in more male group activities, namely sports.  In response, he took up Crochet and knitting – spending hours in his room making afghans and sock monkeys, simply to spite his father.  These activities informed his later work.

Animal Self (l) and Friend Of The Animals (r) 1987, glued felt

Afterward, I approached him, and he sat down with me for a bit.  We discussed Trauma Search Therapy, building models of public schools we had attended from memory in an effort to exorcise repressed emotional scars, and felt church banners. I have a collection of original signed Corita Kent prints, and this interested him a great deal.  His last installation, Day is Done (2005), a funhouse-like multimedia installation including automated furniture, films of dream-like ceremonies inspired by high school year book photos of pageants, sports matches and theater productions was described as a pioneering example of “clusterfuck aesthetics,” the tendency towards overloaded multimedia environments in contemporary art.

It is just so sad to have lost another dear soul, and keen observer.  More Love Hours Than Can EVER Be Repaid.  So long, Mike.  The things of this world no longer concern you.

Don Cornelius

I grew up watching Don Cornelius hold court every Saturday Morning (after Schoolhouse Rock) on the Black Is Beautiful televised phenomena that was Soul Train.  Don was the epitome of cool, collected class.  He was youth and maturity all in one.  And then there were the Sistas.  At the age of five I went Black – and NEVER went back.

We may never know why Don chose to depart this world at his own hand.  I believe his true nature was not unlike his stage persona.. all movements, actions and decisions were totally together.  The man was in control – to the end.  God bless him, and Godspeed.

So to you Mike and Don I say this…Love, Peace, and SSSSOOOUUULLLL!

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Class Act

Anyone still under the illusion that that other guy is “The Hardest Working Man In Show Business” quite apparently has never met, or perhaps is unfamiliar with the fascinating career of Robert Lrod Dorough, Bob to his friends.  And the man has many friends.  He can best be identified by Gen X’ers as the hip and familiar twangy voice on beloved original numbers like “Conjunction Junction”, “My Hero, Zero”, and “Three Is A Magic Number” – as intrinsic to our Saturday mornings growing up in the seventies and eighties as sugary breakfast cereals and the din of quarreling parents headed for divorce.

Dorough & Coleman in St. Louis

 

I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Bob again recently on the occasion of his performance here in St. Louis, two sets of selections from the Fran Landesman songbook.  Bob is hard to miss when entering a room – though diminutive in physical size, he is striking in all black with his silver hair pulled neatly into a pony tail.  But it is his Spirit that really leaves an impression.  He literally illuminates the space he occupies with his knowing smile and easy laughter.  Folks naturally gather around him – not to hover as starstruck fans, but simply to bask in his warm character and share a bit of conversation, which he quite apparently enjoys.  The man is generous with his time.  And I found this  refreshing, considering his far reaching impact on the pantheon of Jazz and songwriting specifically, and popular culture generally.  The trappings of his own “significance” seem to be beautifully lost on Bob as he moves about, chatting and mixing with any and all whom honestly approach him.  He is, as his Gaelic ancestors might say, “Anam Cara” – a soul friend.  We had met briefly five years prior (amazingly, he remembered the details of that encounter) and I was immediately made to feel as one.  He is one of the great joys of modern music.  A true force of nature, standard bearer of the concept of  “heart and soul” – hipster saint (though rounding the bend on ninety, he still kicks it like he’s twenty five) and all around righteous teacher.  He’s like some kind of giant smile that rose with the sun eighty-some years ago and stayed up there in the sky, shining down for all to see.  A living treasure.

Dorough was born in Arkansas and grew up in Texas.  He played in an Army band during World War II, then went to North Texas State University, where he majored in composition and minored in piano.  He moved to New York City around 1950 and was playing piano in a Times Square tap dance studio when he was introduced to the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, who had temporarily left boxing and was putting together a song and dance revue.  Dorough was hired and later became the show’s music director; the revue traveled to various U.S. cities and then to Europe.

Dorough left Robinson in Paris and lived there from 1954 to 1955, recording with singer Blossom Dearie during that time.  He returned to the United States and moved to Los Angeles, where he played various gigs, including a job between sets by comedian Lenny Bruce.  Dorough released his first album, Devil May Care, in 1956.  It contained a version of  “Yardbird Suite” with lyrics by Dorough over the famous Charlie Parker song.

Trumpeter Miles Davis liked the album, so when Columbia asked Davis to record a Christmas song in 1962, Davis turned to Dorough for lyrics and singing duties. The result was a downbeat tune called “Blue Xmas,” released on Columbia’s Jingle Bell Jazz compilation.  During that session Dorough recorded another song for Davis, “Nothing Like You,” which appeared a few years later at the end of the Sorcerer album, making Dorough one of the few musicians with a vocal performance on a Miles Davis record.

“Comin’ Home Baby”, written by Dorough and bassist friend Ben Tucker, was a Top 40 hit for Mel Tormé in 1962, and earned Tormé two Grammy nominations.

Dorough had a producing partnership for many years with Stu Scharf, and were best known for producing two albums for the folk/jug band Spanky and Our Gang, adding jazz-influenced arrangements to their sound.

Through Tucker, Dorough was approached in the early 1970s by advertiser David McCall and asked to put multiplication tables to music. The result was “Three Is a Magic Number”, the first song for what would become ABC Network’s Schoolhouse Rock!.  Dorough remained with the show from 1973-1985. (Wikipedia)

Bob has always been known as a “musician’s musician” and his influence on acts both disparate and obscure, as well as mainstream, cannot be underestimated.  Reference Elliot Smith’s haunting version of “Figure Eight” for a decent example, or perhaps even more surprising, Captain Beefheart’s outré 1969 masterpiece Trout Mask Replica.

The story goes, that during an extremely fervent brainstorming period prior to it’s conception, Beefheart was constantly absorbing stimuli that would later be resourced and recycled into his magnum opus.  One weekend he paid a visit to his friend and occasional bassist Gary “Magic” Marker in Venice, CA.  Gary was then a fairly in demand Jazz session player, and had sat in with most of the greats of the era – he had been responsible for personally introducing Beefheart to Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Ornette Coleman, among others.  Apparently, Gary was listening to Jazz Canto Vol. 1 (Pacific Jazz, 1957), an album featuring Dorough on a number of key tracks, when Beefheart (Don to his mom) entered.  The mashup of beatnik poetry and cool jazz on the long player caused Don to go, in a word, ape shit.  It ultimately ended up becoming a key influence on the TMR codex.  But then again so did Negro country blues field recordings, Steve Reich, and sea shanties.  So there you go.

When I asked Bob if he was at all familiar with Don Van Vliet, he drew a blank.  But when I drew the connection between Van Vliet and Captain Beefheart, he responded with “Yeah, I do remember now.  Interesting stuff.  Never met him, though…is he still doing his thing?”  I informed him that Don had passed away two years earlier from the effects of Multiple Sclerosis.  “Hmm…yeah.  Sad.” he said.

Jazz Bistro, St. Louis, 15 January 2012

Like any nascent photographer, I am learning never to leave home without my camera, and the evening of 15 January was no different.  I slung my Canon on and headed out to the Jazz Bistro with a clear intention of meeting and photographing Dorough, a living legend, in action.  As I pulled into the parking lot and took a space, my heart jumped a bit, and I had a brief sense of self consciousness come over me concerning walking into the club with a camera.  I quickly shook it off, and entered.  The host informed me that they had had me on the list for the early show, but that it wouldn’t be an issue as attendance had not been what they had expected.  In fact, they we’re inviting people who had bought tickets for the early set to stay for the second.  I was then escorted to my table – which was directly in front of Bob’s piano, at the foot of the band riser.  I felt like a rock star.

After settling in and checking my camera adjustments, I noticed Bob.  He had been wandering around chatting with friends and fans, but now had taken a seat alone at a quiet table near the stage with a cup of coffee.  I mustered enough courage to walk over and sit down on the stage next to his chair.

Me: “Hello, Bob.  Would you object to being photographed by me this evening?”

Dorough: (Taking my hand and shaking it) “Not at all.  What did you say your name was, again?”

Me: (after introducing myself properly) “Bob, I won’t be using a flash unit tonight, I don’t want to disturb you while your playing – I’ll be using the ambient light in here.”

Dorough: “A purist.  I can dig that.  Say, we’ve met before haven’t we?”

We collectively determined that we had met five years previous when he was in town for Jorge Martinez’s 75th Birthday Bash, and I had attended the performance with my friend Clement – an acquaintance of his drummer from way back.  Bob has ties to the River City that go all the way back to his friendship with American Lyricist Fran Landesman and her husband Jay.  He cut his teeth in their fabled music theatre in St. Louis’s old Gaslight Square – The Crystal Palace.  We agreed to talk again after the show.

After the second set, when most of the people began to thin out, I had a few more moments with Bob.  I mentioned Jazz Canto, Vol. 1 – “How do you know about all this stuff, man?” he said, “I’ve been told Dylan does ‘Dog’ (a Dorough track on the album) when he plays out.”  I then produced a copy of The Portable Flower Factory, a rare seven inch recording of Dorough doing cover versions of rock hits that originally came in Scholastic magazine.  Few exist.  “I haven’t seen one of these in a LONG time.”  He then graciously signed it.

I stuck around for a bit longer and was introduced to some of Bob’s old St. Louis friends, and eventually was asked to be the official photographer of the evening, of sorts.  I ended up taking a number of group pictures of Bob and his inner circle – some of which I was able to use.  I mentioned to Bob on my way out how good it had been to see him again, and how well he appeared to be doing.  Earlier his guitar player told me that he had been quite sick the day before, and that he had been nursing him with herbal tea and natural remedies.  In spite of this, Bob insisted on doing both sets the next night – he did admit to me after the show that in retrospect the second set had kind of taken it out of him, he needed to rest.  “Michael, life’s been good to me.  I have been very fortunate.  Very lucky.” he told me.

As the show was ending, and Bob was leaving the stage, Master of Ceremonies Jorge Martinez stated that it was unlikely that Bob would return to St. Louis again, as the crowds were small and it would not likely be cost effective for a return engagement.  “The man is just TOO HIP.” was his summation.  He continued:  “Leonard Feather (renown Jazz critic) said that people like Bob will never be widely known, as they are so unique.  They occupy a special cadre, and are appreciated – adored even – by a small, and extremely hip audience.  Consider yourselves part of that group.  A very fortunate few.”

~ Michael Sean Coleman

Happy Birthday Don

Today would have been the 71st birthday of one Don Van Vliet, affectionately referenced as Captain Beefheart by most of the general populous.  Don quite simply is an incalculable inspiration to me personally, and it seems most appropriate that we launch the site on this, the day of his birth.

Happy Birthday, Don.

Welcome

Welcome to COLEMANonculture.  Today, as the site is launched, let us reflect on some  January 15 milestones:

Births:

Observances: