Turning Jerry Lewis Loose

Many of those who lament the abrupt, unexpected end of Jerry Lewis’ involvement with the Labor Day telethon for Muscular Dystrophy may not be aware that had already severely cut down on his face-time on the show in recent years. He’d start the show, actively host until midnight or 1 a.m., then disappear until morning. He’d then do a few big chunks of the next day, then get his third or fourth wind for the manic last hour of tallying and singing the traditional “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

His spirit was kept alive throughout the show via video clips of scenes from some of his great movies, such as the bigwig-phonecall bit from The Bellboy, plus highlights from long-ago telethons. But continuity was lacking. Overnight sections began to include entire 90-minute sets by Country & Western singers, or several hours of music videos.
I once wrote a column for the New Haven Advocate about how Lewis was overdue in picking a successor, hoping that this was not a question of ego, since the famously hardworking host could easily keel over one day while inserting a pint glass in his mouth or tossing a walking stick in the air or reciting the Radio Announcer’s Memory Trick (to name three of his stellar live routines). I despaired that the pool of potential successors was getting thin indeed-if Martin Short, for example, wasn’t groomed for the gig soon, it’d be too late.

I wrote that essay something like 15 years ago. Since that time, Lewis has had heart procedures, an addiction to steroids, unexpected surges in popularity which had him overworked year-round. Some of his staunchest sidekicks—Ed McMahon, Charlie Callas—have passed away.
The best and worst coverage about Lewis (still publicly mysterious and unexplained) split from the telethon came from the Associated Press. The low blow was this headline: “Jerry Lewis admits Muscular Dystrophy Association helped fuel his fame, but remains mum on departure.” The story itself doesn’t phrase it as demeaningly. In any case, Jerry Lewis came to the MDA having already achieved international stardom on a level few comedians since Charlie Chaplin have achieved. His old movies continue to inspire remakes—most recently a Broadway musical version of The Nutty Professor. He was a founder of the Rat Pack.As a director, Jerry Lewis conceived new ways to be efficient behind the camera, pioneering the use of the video monitor. His live tours were sold-out sensations whenever he chose to do them. The insinuation that he’d be washed up had he not hosted a telethon seems untenable.
Yet an AP story today by Oskar Garcia got exactly the right celebrity to quote about the appalling lack of Lewis this year: Late Show bandleader Paul Shaffer, whose 2009 autobiography We’ll Be Here For the Rest of Our Lives devoted a chapter and more to his cheerful obsession with the comic, whose mannerisms inspired some of his Late Show lingo.
In his book, Shaffer talks about watching the telethon with his pal Harry Shearer. It’s reminiscent of how a lot of people watch the Oscars, or a football game—all the delight, dishing, suspense, surprise.

Shaffer’s not alone. I’ve been a Jerry Lewis telethon junkie for over 20 years, taping long tracts of the show, switching channels to stations who ran tape-delay versions of the otherwise live show, in order to revisit unbelievable moments, comparing notes with friends for days afterwards.

We watched the telethon solely for Jerry Lewis and his cronies. For the old-school sensibility he’d miraculously sustained for decades, for the smarm and the sass and the scandalous remarks. I fondly recall ad-libs so bigoted or offensive that my jaw dropped. I also marveled at how deftly Jerry Lewis could still interact with young improv comedians and even with musicians. This was such a grand show—Catskills grand, Zero Mostel grand, Mark Twain grand, Dickens grand—that 20 hours could hardly contain Jerry Lewis at his best.
Now he gets a rest, and I get to go out to watch road races and browse book fairs on Labor Day without worrying that I’m missing some memorable Jerry Lewis outburst. I just hope nobody else gets Muscular Dystrophy from now on, because it just won’t be the same.

Rock Gods #192: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

By Artie Capshaw

The Fairy Maps’ set got rained out last week—and they were indoors!

So they went outside where it was dry and finished up.

A roofing anomaly at the Roaring Brook Restaurant/gay bar meant that pockets of water had seeped into the ceiling. A torrent was unleashed when bassist Dot Mass jogged a few celing tiles during the band’s sex anthem “Upswing.”

It’s actually more complicated than that, with old pipes and bad insulation also involved. The Fairy Maps are not to blame, the Roaring Brook was quick to tell them. But at the time, it couldn’t have seemed more simple and direct: thrust and wash.

Fortunately for all involved, the seemingly endless stream of yuck which poured from above took the form of a thin drool that didn’t threaten any of the electrical equipment. The band, who were initially dazed but rapidly regained control of their faculties (except their noses—Phew! The stink!) were able to unplug and move their gear before much of a puddle formed.

It was drummer T-Stop who yelled “Bring it outside!” Dot and others thought he simply wanted to pack up and leave early. But when he didn’t stop pounding his trap, they got the idea. “No sound check,” Dot relates regarding the impromptu sidewalk set which lasted another seven songs. “But we knew we were in tune.”

And out of the deluge.

Listening to…

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Mirror Traffic. All the contextualized reviews I’ve read about whether this album does/doesn’t hearken back to Malkmus’ hallowed old band, or relate to that band’s recent reunion, have been enlightening. But personally, I’ve been out of touch with his work for years and can’t comment on its arc. What is abundantly clear is that this album lies squarely in the area where it should, considering the age and experience of its creator. It’s not too raw (that would seem lazy), not too slick (that would seem out of touch), not too derivative, not too “experimental.” It acknowledges where Malkmus came from—his own old band and even older influences—while finding new areas for exploration.

This is still background music for me; hasn’t quite exploded out of the box. But I appreciate its intelligence, its consistency, its self-aware Malmusness.

Saucers, Saucerers, Saucerest

The Saucers were one of the platters on which the vibrant New Haven music scene of the ‘70s rested. They return to the city’s Ninth Square tonight, Sept. 3 (at Cafe Nine) for a night which also explains what the members have been up to lately.

By the time I moved to New Haven in the mid-1980s, The Saucers were ancient history. They’d released some singles around the turn of that decade, but then founder Craig Bell formed the Bell System.

Lightning has struck several of Craig Bell’s music projects. He was the bassist for the legendary Cleveland proto-punk band Rocket From the Tombs, which begat both Pere Ubu and The Dead Boys. An even earlier band, Mirrors, from 1971, still maintains a cult following in Ohio and beyond.

A crucial chapter of the Bell chronicles occurred here in New Haven. Moving here for a job with the railroad, the New York-born, Ohio-raised Craig Bell not only kept active in bands; he started a label. Gustav Records was responsible for the most enduring vinyl document of the late-‘70s New Haven local music scene: the compilation album It Happened… But Nobody Noticed.

Bell has regrouped (restacked?) The Saucers, featuring three founding members: himself and two Malcolms (Malcolm Doak and Malcolm Marsden). Other members over the years included later Miracle Legion frontman and singular singer/songwriter Mark Mulcahy (on drums, though he made his debut as a vocalist on the Saucers single A Certain Kind of Shy), Katherine Cormack (aka Katherine Blossom, who booked bands at Toad’s in the 1980s and ‘90s) and Seth Tiven of Dumptruck fame.

According to this bio, The Saucers’ first public gig was opening for The Survivors, the Stratford-based band who’ve also reunited recently and who coincidentally played Café Nine just a couple of weeks ago.

From the photos above, I’m guessing that Kerry Miller, another icon of the ’70s New Haven scene, will be drumming tonight. Kerry’s local band, Peacock Flounders, is also on the bill, along with Craig Bell’s contemporary act The Down-Fi and Malcolm Marsden solo.

Sonic sorcerers all.

Rock Gods #191: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

By Artie Capshaw

The Glugggs do things with a rainstick that have to seen to be believed. But only if you’re over 18.

The trio, whose name’s an anagram of all their initials, is barely out of high school themselves, and they sure know what the college crowd wants: Funky bass, heavy metal drums, rangy vocals and simulated sex.

We glugged a few drafts with The Glugggs and learned that they’re an honorary local band who may hail from the grander regional circuit but who crash at a friend’s house here in town for weeks at a time. We can only imagine what goes on in that house.

The Gym Wipes and Revolution Bucket at The Bullfinch, upping this month’s punk ratio and assuring that the club will have to mop the floor… Centerpull and Teflon Lubricating at Hamilton’s, but the Glugggs are so much sexier… MegaRoll Bio and The Degradable Band at D’ollaire’s, doing the nostalgia-tour clean-sweep…

Listening to…

Veronica Falls, Bad Feeling.

I wish all ‘60s music could be turned inside out so they sound like this. All the base ingredients of classic pop have been reprioritized for modern minds so that the beats are in your face, the harmonies are somewhere in the middle, and the lead vocals, while prominent, sound like they’re being thought rather than yelped. Bravo, production team! And kudos too to the director of the song’s video, Philippa Bloomfield, who understood that there was an outdoor vibe to be mined from a studio-conscious track which many would stage in more confined spaces.

Veronica Falls’ full-blown debut album is due out three weeks from now, on the Slumberland label. Great things are expected.

Ardeur Cover Edition

Hit List
By Laurell K. Hamilton (2011, Berkley Books)
Read one Laurell K. Hamilton novel and you might be cowed by all the rules, all the dues, the characters have to contend with. Big supernatural interspecies pecking order here. Instinctive behavior includes not only knowing who to bloodthirstily devour for maximum spiritual fulfillment (as if the victims came with nutritional printed on them like in supermarkets) but also who to revere and protect.
These are fantasy books where one of the fantasies is a balanced, orderly universe. Even the world’s horrors are balanced and orderly. Vile demons and bloodsuckers and werewolves all have counterparts in law enforcement with fine-tuned intuitions and a more-than-professional desire to take these evildoers down.
Once you’ve experienced a few Hamilton tomes, you realize how easy it is to overlook all the laws of conduct if you choose. The books are rich with detail of all kinds. They’re also told in a saucy, cynical first-person voice. You buy in avidly.
If the sci-fi explanations still bog you down, you can always delight in the equally controlled, vivid, soulful and spiritually resuscitating sex scenes.
The ardeur is Laurell K. Hamilton’s greatest invention. It’s sex as the ultimate act of discourse, civilized or otherwise. It’s physical gratification, psychological mindmelding and fuel station stop all at once.
For Hamilton’s heroine Anita Blake, certified maverick Vampire Hunter and multi-powered supernatural misfit, the sex scenes aren’t calm respites between the action scenes, as they are for James Bond. They’re the highest level of action scene.
Wherever the ardeur comes in an Anita Blake adventure, it’s the climax.
And that’s the crux of the latest book:
I hugged my knees to my chest. “I’d gotten used to the extra healing that I get with the metaphysics. I thought the super healing was because of the lycanthropy and the vampire marks. I didn’t realize it was tied this much to the ardeur.”
“And that bothers you?” he said.
I nodded. “Yeah.”
“Why?” he asked.
“I can go days without feeding the ardeur now. I was so happy and it was going to make being a U.S. Marshal so much easier, but now I know the price of not feeding. When I’m hunting bad guys I need the extra healing, so that means I still have to feed regularly. Do you know how hard that is on an active warrant of execution out of state?”