Bring Out Your Dead, 2/19/2023

When Jerry Lee Lewis died last year, I wrote that “he was the last survivor of that first generation of rock stars.” But I was not aware at the time that Huey “Piano” Smith was still alive. Huey passed this week at the age of 89 — surprisingly young, considering that his big hits were in the mid-1950s. But he got started early, playing clubs and making records at the age of 15.

He was not quite as famous (or as infamous) as the Killer, and I’m not 100% sure that his music technically qualifies as rock’n’roll; it hews pretty close to New Orleans funk rhythms. But for that reason it is absolutely timeless and still sounds great today. I’m partial to “Rockin’ Pneumonia & The Boogie Woogie Flu,” but for our purposes here, let’s go with this lip-synced performance of “Don’t You Just Know It” from 1958. That’s Huey on the left.

Also on the Reaper’s list this week: Raquel Welch née Tejada. We don’t generally think of Raqual as Latina but she was; her father’s name Armando Carlos Tejada Urquizo. Most of us probably also think we saw her naked, but apparently she never appeared nude in any photographs or movies. Playboy pursued her for many years, and she did eventually appear in its pages — in a bikini bottom with one arm tastefully covering her breasts. “She declined to do complete nudity, and I yielded gracefully,” said Hugh Hefner, probably lying; I’ll bet Raquel left a lot of money on the table in that deal, and good for her.


Bring Out Your Dead, 2/12/2023

Sunday seems like the best day for this feature, but is also the laziest day of the week. Today I am going to resolve this tension by the doing the minimum amount of work that allows me to post something, so I can feel better about myself while wasting four hours watching a stupid football game.

Burt Bacharach died this week and my initial reaction was, well, he’s a legend and all, but that’s not really my area. Then I was reminded that he (and his partner Hal David) had written “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” which is probably the first song I remember hearing as a wee, wee lad. I had no idea it was from Butch Cassidy then (or for many years), and even now I can’t put much of a context to this song, or even say definitively whether I really like it or not. It’s beyond that, among the deepest-seeded imprints that I could never shake off even if I wanted to.

Also reaching the end of the road1this month: the Boeing 747, which debuted in 1968, right around the same time as “Raindrops.” Back then traveling by airplane was something people actually enjoyed doing; in a eulogy of sorts for the 747, The New York Times says:

The four-engine airplane was much larger than any other and could fit hundreds of people in rows with up to 10 seats across. The upper deck, reachable by a spiral staircase, hosted a luxurious lounge. American Airlines had a piano bar installed in the main cabin.

Nowadays such luxuries are reserved for the private jets of billionaires; the rest of us are happy for a seat that reclines three inches. The 747 won’t go away for awhile, as there are many still in service, especially in Japan. But the last one left the factory at the end of January, so the end is in sight.


A Foggy Day

So here we are again at the shortest day of the year — “The Return of Light,” as the Tao Te Ching calls it, because tomorrow will be slightly longer, and the day after a little longer still, until at last spring arrives in all its glory.

Yesterday there was a 6.4 earthquake that shook Humboldt County around pretty good but left our house mercifully intact, though without power until late in the day. Today is foggy and gray, as good a day as any to note the passing last week of Angelo Badalamenti, composer extraordinaire.

Angelo lived 85 years and did a lot of stuff, but most of us know him from his work with David Lynch. Says the NYT:

His best-known work was the “Twin Peaks” theme, recognizable from its first three ominous, otherworldly notes. He won the 1990 Grammy for best instrumental pop performance for the number, which was, according to the Allmusic website, “dark, cloying and obsessive — and one of the best scores ever written for television.”

In 2015, a Billboard writer described the theme as “gorgeous and gentle one second, eerie and unsettling the next.” It was, according to Rolling Stone, the “most influential soundtrack in TV history.”

But for today, his 1998 collaboration with David Bowie seems like the right thing to listen to.


I’ll be honest, I’m not 100% sure it was a good idea to turn the Gershwins’ gossamer bauble into a gothic cathedral of sound. But if we posit that it was, certainly Dave and Angelo did a fantastic job. In their version the sun doesn’t come bursting through the clouds; we glimpse it briefly behind a layer of relatively thin fog, and then it’s gone. We know it’s there, and have the idea we’ll see it again, but who knows when?

Even so… hope springs eternal.

Bring Out Your Dead, 11/13/22

Gallagher went to the Big Casino in the Sky this week. That’s Leo Gallagher, originator of the watermelon-smashing schtick, not his brother Ron, who sometimes peddled a version thereof.

I had always thought that the multiple Gallaghers were something the two brothers cooked up together, so Gallagher could be two places, earning two appearance fees, at the same time. (Technically you could call either one “Gallagher” and be telling the truth.) But the NYT says otherwise:

In the early 1990s, when his younger brother Ron lost his job as a bulldozer salesman, Mr. Gallagher helped him out by allowing Ron, who bore some resemblance to him, to perform a facsimile of his act. Ron Gallagher added touches like smashing a lobster with a hammer and was soon performing in small venues.

After a few years, Ron Gallagher began billing himself as Gallagher II (sometimes Gallagher Too or Gallagher Two). Leo Gallagher had not agreed to this billing and was concerned that it was misleading, so in 1999 he sued to stop his brother from performing under that name. The suit, filed in federal court in Michigan, claimed that Ron had “violated Gallagher’s right of publicity and trademark rights.”

An injunction was granted prohibiting Ron Gallagher from performing any act that impersonated his brother. The judge ordered him not to perform with “a sledgehammer or other similar device to pulverize watermelons, fruits, food or other items of any kind.”

I don’t know why this kind of showbiz minutiae fascinates me so much, but it does. As does this further detail from the obit:


Bring Out Your Dead, 11/5/22

When Jerry Lee Lewis finally died last week, after a false alarm that prompted a rare retraction from TMZ, it marked the end of an era. According to my calculations he was the last survivor of that first generation of rock stars. As a group they lived surprisingly long — Chuck Berry and Fats Domino lasted until 2017, Little Richard made it all the way to 2020 — but if any are left now, I can’t think of who.

The Killer was the object of much censure, not undeserved, for many misdeeds including marrying his 13-year-old cousin. But partly because of that he became, perhaps more than anyone else, the model of what we think of as a rock star: a true wildman whose high-octane stage energy mirrored a tumultuous personal life. I mean, look at this guy; he was a force of fucking nature.


Another notable recent passing in the music world was that of Toshi Ichiyanagi, who I must admit I had never heard of before reading his obituary. Here are the first few paragraphs:

Toshi Ichiyanagi, an avant-garde pianist and composer whose works mixed international influences, made unusual use of musicians and instruments, and combined music with other media, died on Oct. 7 in Tokyo. He was 89.


The Princess of Puréed Peas vs. the Most Famous Baby Penis in the World

Last week one Ann Turner Cook passed away at the age of 95. You probably don’t recognize the name, but you might have seen this drawing of her as a baby:

Most likely in a context like this:

Says the NYT:

Ms. Cook was the bona fide Gerber baby, the winner of a nationwide contest in 1928 that has since seen her portrait reproduced on billions of jars of baby food and other items sold round the world.

In 1990, The New York Times described the sketch, by the artist Dorothy Hope Smith, as being “among the world’s most recognizable corporate logos.”

As a baby, Ms. Cook was in very much the right place at the right time. As an adult, however, fearing ridicule for her long-running role as a princess of puréed peas, she did not disclose her identity for decades.

Ms. Cook, who received no royalties for the use of her image, profited from it by precisely $5,000 over some 90 years. That sum — a settlement she accepted from Gerber in 1951 — let her make the down payment on her first home.