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.
I’ve been thinking a lot about 1999 lately, I’m not sure why. Something about that moment in time resonates with our current one.
In 99 we thought it was end of an era, the first move to a new century any of us under 100 had experienced, and the first into a new millennium in many a generation. But of course there was no big sudden change — the exciting chaos we’d been expecting never materialized, and we woke up on the first day of the “new era” a day older but the same as ever.
The real new era — for Americans at least — arrived a year, nine months, and ten days later. In some ways I feel like this country has never fully processed the trauma of 9/11. We had always felt invulnerable before that — we had lost in Vietnam, but that happened far away. You can trace a direct if somewhat blurry line between the wave of paranoia and finger-pointing that followed to our current hate-filled political condition. In that sense, the terrorists won.
Again, I’m not sure why I feel like we’re on the cusp of something similar. I’m no psychic or pundit. It would be nice to think some kind of positive change is the offing, though there’s little reason to think so. But hope springs eternal.
Anyway… you need to live your life one day at a time, don’t you? Tonight I will not be partying like it’s 1999. Back then I was in Seattle with some friends. We ate special brownies and watched fireworks while waiting for the great blackout to never happen. At one point I remember AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top if You Wanna Rock’n’Roll” came blasting over the hill and I decided that it was the greatest song ever written. Later my friends wanted to go to bed but I was all amped up and wandered the neighborhood looking for parties to crash. I think I found a few but the whole thing is pretty vague. At some point I ambled back to Sky Command, my friend James’s redoubt at the top of Queen Anne Hill, and fell into a deep and I think peaceful slumber.
Tonight my beloved and I will be supping on a five-course tasting menu at the Carter House’s restaurant in Eureka, then ambling slowly to our room at the Inn. May even make it to midnight, who knows.
While we’re on the subject of 1999, here’s a song from that year that popped into my head for some reason. It’s a good one. Happy New Year, everybody!
I can’t say I feel terribly inspired to do a year-end wrap-up here. It was kind of a boring year; not a bad one, on a personal level, but one lacking in what we generally think of as Events.
We did get to see Courtney Barnett at the Fox in Oakland earlier this month, on a trip that included my first visit to the Chase Center for a Warriors game. (A loss to the Spurs, unfortunately, but a fairly exciting game.) There were also several nice dinners with friends, and on the whole I can say that a good time was had.
But for the nonce I’ve decided to take Courtney’s advice and, rather than looking back, make a list of things to look forward to in 2022.
I wrote one of these for another blog recently, and with the holidays upon us and the new year just around the corner, this seems like a good time to check in and share updates on some of the ongoing obsessions.1When writing that just now I accidentally typed in “upsessions,” which I rather like. It sounds like one of those Rasta inversions, e.g. “overstanding” vs. “understanding.” I may make use of it in the future.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Van Morrison lately, for reasons having to do more with the alphabet than anything else. (I’ve also been listening to Monty Python, Morcheeba, and the Monkees.) The early stuff is so beautiful that it’s hard to believe he’s turned into this cranky geezer who writes songs about Facebook and “who owns the media.” My official policy is that I am not going to let Old Van ruin Young Van for me. I’m not sure about Middle-Aged Van; it seems like there’s some good stuff there, but there’s a mountain of material to sift through and at the moment a lack of will to tackle it.
The pile of unread books has shrunk a bit, thanks partly to a newfound willingness to abandon disappointing ones. David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue wasn’t doing it for me, so into the neighborhood free library it went. Likewise Michael Moorcock’s Cornelius Quartet, a gigantic tome that came highly recommended but turned out to be clichéd Seventies nonsense. (I rarely trade things in at the bookstore anymore; at this age I feel like haggling over two or three dollars is beneath me. Sometimes a book will go into a cafe with me but not leave, and I always feel like I’m getting away with something.) The major obstacles still remaining are three large biographies — one each of William S. Burroughs, Albert Einstein, and Werner Herzog — and gigantic books of stories by J.G. Ballard, Harlan Ellison, and H.P. Lovecraft.
I haven’t written much in the last couple years about my beloved Golden State Warriors, for whom this has been a period of adjustment. From the lofty heights of going to the NBA Finals five straight years and winning three titles, they tumbled to a dismal 15-50 record in the 2019-20 season, devastated by a series of defections and injuries. Last season was better, with My Personal Savior Stephen Curry again playing at an all-world level, but they became the first victims of the NBA’s new “play-in” format and barely missed the playoffs. This year things gave been going almost alarmingly well. Bolstered by the development of young players, some canny free-agent acquisitions, and Steph somehow finding a new level to his otherworldly game (including vastly improved defense), the W’s are tied for the best record in the NBA. And one of these days, probably sometime around Christmas, Klay Thompson will return from a two-year injury exile. If he’s in good form — and he’s been looking strong in practices and scrimmages — the league is in trouble.
And finally, as long as we’re here, do you want to hear the same song being covered by David Bowie and Rowlf the Dog? Of course you do.
Somehow or other I mostly missed Blur when they were happening. My first Blur album was their fifth, the self-titled one that came out in 1997. It was only later that I went back and explored their earlier stuff, and some of it fell through the cracks… like this one from 1995’s The Great Escape.
What a smashing number. I particularly like the unconventional structure, the way what appears to be the chorus — “there must be more to life/than stereotypes” — shifts into a chorus-within-the-chorus, the “all your life you’re dreaming” part, and then back. I listened to this song at least once every day this week, and I’m not tired of it yet.
As fate would have it, we were walking down St. Charles Street in New Orleans on Thursday when I happened to glance in a shop window and saw on the TV screen that Dr. John had died.
I actually met the Night Tripper back in the early ’00s, when I was working at the Lake Merritt Hotel in Oakland. Yoshi’s Jazz Club often put their guests up at the Lake Merritt , which was a funky old art-deco place well-suited to musicians and other degenerates. The Dr. spent about a week there. He was very nice and frail-looking even then.
The day after his passing a second line was organized — if that’s the word — starting at Kermit’s Mother-in-Law Lounge in the Treme. It was there that I saw this sign:
That’s a reference to a song from Dr. John’s 2012 album Locked Down, which coincidentally I had listened to earlier in the day. It’s a good one.
And it’s true, of course. There will never be another like him.