Thursday, 31 December 2009

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 43

Gingers57Chevy
(F/FL)


Pismotality; a 'coined' word, by/for You... NOW.

I enjoy your and Clarks bantering and explainations... I 'feel' so much of it personally, as I was there in my time too.

'In the Still Of The Night' ~ And 'Blue Moon'; will always be embedded in my memories, as times that I spent in NAM. To this day, I am in contact (again) with my 'Still Of The Night' Partner, and beg Him to sing 'Blue Moon', every chance I get! We re-met, after 32 years...

Other than that; 'Unchained Melody' does just as well...
Sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.......

My Parents were Foster Parents; and aided many unwed Mothers. Going on to care for the offspring until proper Adoptions were arranged, so I can also, feel and remember the heart ache and break, of many of these Young Ladies.... Most were by choice, as it was a two way decission between She and her Fella.

I myself, am one of the fortunates that my parents 'Hand Picked' Me... And, Fortunate, I was to have loving Parents that carried on with the process, of having Hearts big enough, to care for others beyond the call of duty.

I enjoy your disection of ideals, and the re-placement of wrond ideas.. (IF; any of what I said, makes sense!!)
Thanks, for the Memories~
Ginger
Always, the Romantic, at Heart.....

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 42

pismotality
(42/M/London, England)


Clarke,

I've decided not to worry for the moment about starting, stopping or whatever. This is whatever it is, and will end whenever it ends. All I know is that the satisfactions of writing these posts and responding to yours are pretty considerable, akin to my "real" writing, and the immediacy (can't save and refine it) is definitely an antidote to my normal writing process. For the moment I've got the time to pursue it (even though the full size keyboard for this web TV won't be on sale till sometime later this month - maybe even this stabbing urgently at tiny letters is part of the process).

I think you're spot on with the "empty promise at best" bit - and maybe both sides know it. Someone said (poss. Marsh yet again) that the plea in Goffin-King's Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow - "Tell me now and I won't ask again" - is the girl wilfully deceiving herself: she knows there's only heartbreak ahead "when the night meets the morning sun" but still needs the formulaic reassurance at that moment – he owes her that, at least, if she's doing this for him.

The play I'm currently writing (or not writing, given that I'm doing this) is for the Soho Theatre in London, and a few months ago they had a production that moved me deeply: set in a home for expectant unmarried teenage mothers in 60s England, it showed them listening to girl groups and sending up the sentiments (eg mockingly echoing, with gestures, the Shangri-Las' portentous "Cause that can never...happen...AGAIN!") but at the same time needing, and half-believing, those dreams, despite the transparent fact they'd been let down by boys. Maybe believing in two contradictory things at once, a la Alice in wonderland, is a deep human need, and dooowop sums it up.

What you were saying about the light made me think of American Graffiti and the way the move from night into day, especially tor the Richard Dreyfuss character, is also a stripping of illusions: you can't go on living forever in that indeterminate, protective dimness, even if your name Is Blanche Dubois. And of course AG is about that post High School test of affections you were talking about.

I can see there's so much more I want to say (but the right words won't - ) and I've barely responded to, or conveyed my enjoyment of, your piece, let alone my response to the performance itself, but I'll take a break there to ensure this instalment will fit. No flipping - unless it's the Marcels' Blue Moon (Goodbye to Love).


The play, Be My Baby by actress and playwright Amanda Whittington, is still regularly revived and now taught as a school text; her website will direct you towards explanatory notes and a facebook page so that those involved in productions of the play can also help each other.

In what was for me the most touching scene, the girls are obliged to work in the laundry when Chapel of Love comes on the radio, gradually uniting them in a kind of happy frenzy: a girl stirring the boiling sheets with a pair of wooden pincers improvises a microphone; a (dry) sheet is wrapped around another girl and they all proceed to act out the lyrics with whatever comes to hand and celebrate the instant bride.

As well as being great fun it has a dramatic point because it shows how these girls from different social background actually have the same things in common, the same hopes and dreams, underneath, and it took the music to break down the protective barriers we'd seen earlier in the play.

If I'm not mistaken (and I could be, because I can't find my copy of the book), it was said of George Goldner that he had the emotional sensibility of a thirteen year old girl, and that when he first heard Chapel of Love he repeatedly thumped the table in his insistence that this was a massive hit. Maybe he cried, too, at the vision of eternal happiness ("never be lonely anymore") therein limned; I'd like to think so. But until I can relocate Ken Emerson's great book about the Brill Building, Always Magic in the Air, I can't be sure.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 41


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)


I was foolhardy enough to take on Gloria, and have come out unscathed, thankfully. Who in his right mind would try to explain something of such grandeur?

One would think I should have learned a lesson in all this. You hit the target once; thank your lucky stars, close up the kit, and go home.

Ever a glutton for punishment I will proceed, coerced internally by the desire to communicate and possibly illuminate heretofore dark recesses of our collective sensibility.

The Five Satins. In The Still Of The Night. I can hear the groans now.

Why has this song attained the number one position on New York Oldies Sation WCBS FM, out of all the voted favorites, year after year? Answer really is quite simple. Magic. Two syllables. Big explanation.

Enter the teenage domain, circa mid to late fifties. A new culture emerges, with dungarees (not jeans), ponytails, "hops", frenetic DJ patter, shoo bop a loop on your radio as you drive to school in your customized hot rod, and the birth of Teenage Love. Parents thought that a contradiction in terms. If you were teenage, how could you love? If they only knew!

If you were lucky enough to find the right, daring, partner, you might find yourself driving your car deep into a brush, wooded area, far from prying eyes of others, and the police. Roll down the windows, move to the back seat, and let the magic begin. Moonlight, wind rustling the trees, the scent of nature in the air. Welcome, you have arrived at our destination, you are now In The Still Of The Night.

Is there anything more pleasurable than being with someone you are overpoweringly attracted to, and have that response returned in kind? Shoo doo, shoo dooby doo, in the still of the night, I held you, held you tight...cos I love you so, promise I'll never, let you go, in the still of the night. (An empty promise, at best.)

Remember that night in May? The stars were bright up a-bo-aa-aa-ove. I hope, dun dun, and I pray, dun, dun, to keep your precious love.

Well, before, the li-i-i-i-ght, promise I'll never let go of you tight, in the still of the night.

The words are simple, the arrangement and performance so sublime, replete with honking, almost, but not quite off key, sax bridge. There is a message in two parts. The actual event, of being with your lover in a private romantic place, and the remembrance of that eventful (hopefully) night under the stars.

I remember that night in May. May! School is just about over, and the restless summer is about to begin. The junior and senior prom where this song played, year after year, captured a moment in time so perfectly for so many of us.

Well, before the light. ..as we all know, morning must come, in spite of our wishes. Light representing not just the end of the night, but the awareness that this magical moment might not endure the harsh scrutiny of life after high school. In spite of it being almost unearthly in the early hours of a May morning, the ominous pangs of reality are lingering, just outside our current level of consciousness. Boy and girl, almost man and woman, mind dancing and showing an exchange of caress, kiss and force. Moving pleasurably toward an inevitable conclusion, but taking seemingly hours to get there.

Harmony of the most divine order, shared intimately by two, at their prime physical time of life, with intense affection being the bond that will make this a lasting memory.

In the still of the night is not just a physical place. It's a spiritual place, where the hush before the morning's light is captured and shared with your love. It's a very guilty pleasure. One that may never be repeated. A magic moment, reflected perfectly by an awkward sax break, simple, unpolished lyrics, and an almost amateurish performance. Teenage Love in a teenage world. Our parents just never had a clue, or else they never would have allowed that song to be playing in their daughter’s room after midnight.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 40

pismotality
(42/M/London, England)


I want to add a memory of a novel that seems integral to an understanding of Gloria and, through that archetypal song, the genre as a whole. (Mighty big claims, Stranger...)

The book is The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary, which I read and reread as a teenager. An artist painting a mural of Adam and Eve is trying to explain the concept of imagination to his protege; he links it to Humanity's need to pick up the pieces and get on with things after the Fall, that all we need is just that - imagination. The boy doesn't get it, so the artist takes an example from his own life: he went out with a girl and everything was fine; then they had an argument and suddenly they're two devils hissing smoke at each other, making all kinds of allegations about personal hygiene and other stuff - which, the artist tells his listener, was all true.
But he eventually decides to make it up, gives her some flowers, and suddenly she's calling him an angel again. Nothing has changed, but that newfound ability to see through, or beyond, what's there in some way ennobles (or "embiggens," as they say in The Simpsons) both sides and allows the possibility of the relationship growing.
As a teacher I frequently have to do King Lear - not the most fun Shakespeare text. But I'm always moved by the moment he remeets the daughter whose life he's practically ruined. He tells her she has cause to hate him; she replies, "no cause, no cause."
Like the artist bit, it's not true, and yet saying it, and trying to believe it, seems a whole lot better than letting Daddy have it good, crown or no crown.

Now, I'm not saying Gloria is precisely like that, and obviously there are dangers in dreams not attached (however insecurely) to at least some semblance of reality, but the wish to believe in a better world, in the possibility of a love untainted by all the complex selfishnesses that dog us - think of that strangely chaste-seeming embrace of Fred Parris's in In the Still of the Night, a "precious" love he has to "pray" to keep [I typed in "pay" on first go!] - all that seems a good thing, even if those thoughts in undiluted form are invariably dashed on the rocks of adulthood.

This is getting too complicated, even for me, so I'll try to sum up what I think I'm saying, though I have a sneaking suspicion I've expressed this before - a sign this dialogue is finally drawing to its natural end? Anyway, here goes:

Gloria, like so many doowop songs, is ridiculous and touching at the same time. Ridiculous, because the singer, to judge from the sound of his voice (and GRR888888! performance, as Brian would say) is loading so much in the way of hopes and dreams onto this girl there's bound to be some industrial-strength disappointment somewhere along the way, even in the unlikely event of their getting together.

But it's touching, of course it's touching, because it's also about that profound need we all have to reach out to another living being and to feel that we might be – to quote View from the Bridge out of context again - wholly known. With the doowop singer, it's as though he's taken those cringe-making love letters the rest of us hide away and scattered them in the street for the world to gawp at. It might be ill-advised, but it's also an act of courage, risking public mockery at such self-exposure (it's no accident that so many songs, including the one I take my handle from, are couched as letters), but trusting that people will understand and feel the same. Wholly known.

A final thought, and this has the feeling (subject to your response) of a larger ending. I chose “pismotality" because there was already a 'Tony" on Yahoo. The word is Vernon Green's own coining in that parallel adolescent universe where the tenderest emotions are exposed to the light. You won't find it in any dictionary – not that I've looked.

But, damn it, shouldn't that word exist?

Tony

aka "pismotality"


Here is the relevant clip from a 1997 National Theatre production of King Lear with Ian Holm and Victoria Hamilton as Cordelia; the image above shows her at the moment of uttering those words.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 39


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)


Clarke,

I read your Gloria piece again while listening to the Cadillacs. It really is a wonderful, precise piece of writing; I found myself listening to that extended "meee" with more pained enjoyment than ever. Again, you're so lucky that this was the soundtrack to your youth, there to enhance each experience rather than something you had to seek out. I went to a rock'n'roll club as a teenager but it was all in the frantic, jitterbugging mode favoured by the Brits, and no doowop ballads. Much the same in London now, sadly.

Anyway, as a sort of appendix to what we've been discussing about Gloria, I've now found the reference to the original song in the book by Gribin and Schiff I referred to. Because of the distinction I made (don't know if you agree yet) between Gloria as the ultimate expression of aching teen sensibility and GT as adult, it’s worth quoting the lyrics in full:

Gloria, it's not Marie, it's Gloria
It's not Cherie, it's Gloria
She's in your every dream

You like to play the game of kiss and runaway
But now you find it's not that way
Somehow you changed it seems

Wasn't Madeleine your first love
It was just hello goodbye
Wasn't Caroline your last love
It's a shame you made her cry

What a fool you are
You gave your heart to Gloria
You're not so smart cause Gloria
Is not in love with you

(Leon Renne, 1946)

The authors say "Whether the borrowing was accidental or purposeful will never be truly known," but the fact that Esther Navarro's name didn't appear on the first pressing of the Cadillacs' version (she was their manager) suggests she did. But the differences - and apparently the melodies are different, too - are fascinating. It's not first person, so you don't get a direct route to his subjective experience of his anguish, and it's hardly first love and all that wonder and innocence we've been talking about - more like poetic justice: as Bob Dylan, that poet (arguably) outside our remit (unquestionably) might put it: "How does it feel?"

That memory of the live performance of Gloria seems more appropriate here, where he gets what he deserves: not malign fate but karma. Gloria Mk.1 reads like a song aimed at adults, and because we're not privy to the guy's inner emotions, we can't feel the sympathy in GT, because we've got no idea how he responds to this blow (unless there's an even more obscure answer song waiting to be unearthed).

But it helps to show what a great piece of work Esther Navarro's conscious or unconscious borrowing of elements led to. As you say, even the title puts the emotions on a par with religious fervour and suggests the purity of that longing: Marie and Cherie are not his cast-offs but girls who did not awaken in him that divine longing.

Put that way, the word sounds camp (as in: "Too too divine, Dahling !") but I mean precisely that: that the wish to make contact, the ability to perceive beauty, maybe where others don't, in another, probably equally flawed, individual is a triumph of that imaginative power we all have that links us to some higher power, whatever you want to call it, or at least brings out our potential to be better than our workaday selves (I'm a long-lapsed Catholic, people, so I'm not particularly selling anything here).

The flip side of the coin, of course, is raging hormones and erector sets and hey, maybe this girl would be incredibly pretty to any pair of teenage male eyes straining at their sockets (“Va va VOOM!" is, I believe, your singularly infelicitous American term) and it's also about the naive belief that someone else will be the quick-fix solution to all your problems as opposed to bringing a whole new set of their own ... but there still seems something noble going on in that longing.

(I'm almost done here but will switch to a new post to avoid having to cut for length. Back after these important messages...)


"... suggests she did" puzzles me as I reread it. Suggests she did what? Know that the borrowing was deliberate? In the Matt the Cat interview cited a few posts ago Earl Carroll, perhaps diplomatically, says that she was "She was a business lady, lovely lady. She was a lady, number one, but she was a business lady and she knew the business." He praises her professionalism in knowing exactly what her artists needed: Cholly Atkins, introduced to them by Navarro, "took us under his wing" - and there is a reference in Nowhere to Run to the young Ben E King's heart thumping as he watched the Cadillacs' dance routines up close.

The relevant bit from my review of a Mills Brothers CD, The Anthology (1931-1968):


Of particular note, if you are interested in their effect on later vocal groups, is the song Gloria, a distant relative of the doo wop standard (associated with the Cadillacs); but without the abject pain and idealisation in the reworking (this early Gloria is cheating on, rather than spurning, the lovelorn adolescent). This is, I believe, the second recording of the song (the original was by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers).

But according to wikipedia there were two other recordings of Goria Mk. 1, one recorded the same year as Johnny Moore's Three Blazers (featuring Charles Brown) by Ray Anthony (above), and one recorded the previous year, 1945, by ex-Ellingtonian Herb Jeffries as part of the Buddy Baker Sextet.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 38

pismotality
(42/M/London, England)


Clarke,

I didn't intend to write so much - I suppose I'm still in the process of discovering how much I need to say, though I think that having disgorged such a gargantuan chunk the worst may be over ... I was also lucky enough to have a free, sunny (and silent) morning to get those impacted thoughts out uninterrupted rather than losing focus over some longer, more disjointed period.

So doing that was right for me but please don't feel there's any urgency about the speed (or length, come to that) of your reply as a result. Knowing that there is someone reading this, that I'm not flinging my words into a void (unless I press the wrong button) is the most important thing. You most of all, of course, as my fellow conspirator but also our invisible audience (whom I thank if they lasted the course with my three-parter. No skimming!)

What really extended it was I wasn't just rehashing stuff I'd written down at the time of the play but suddenly seeing more clearly why that play was the way it was through the enhanced sense of the music which has come from this happy struggle of trying to articulate my responses during our conversation. So not just our different backgrounds: two separate ways within me of coming to an understanding of the music (a four way conversation if you include our vocal audience!).

On the Gloria front, I can see that I haven't even gotten on to the fact that it appeared in a different guise some years earlier, sung by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers (presumably not the Drifters guy ... Brian, can you help?) and covered by the Mills Brothers.


I think there's a grey area about whether it's the same song - vaguely remember reading about about Esther Navarro's name being whipped on, or off, the credits for reissues of the Cadillacs' version, but I'll need to dig out my Doowop: Forgotten Third ... book to check. Think they've got lyrics too. (Has anyone reading, possibly a native Picksburgher, heard either of these Gloria Mark Ones? Is it the same tune?) When I've checked the lyrics, it'll be interesting to see if they have the same teen sensibility - suspect not, but can't remember. Anyway, need to rest from my labours awhile...

Re Golden Teardrops: The Movie - or 30 minute radio play, anyway. It wasn't produced in the end. A BBC producer asked for rewrites on spec, which I did and learnt a lot from - especially when pruning - but no development money changed hands. Still, it proved a good calling card, so no harm done, though I also learnt the wisdom of Doowop Collection Theft Victim Lou Reed's dictum: "First thing you learn is that you always got to wait." So no tape. But email me your address and I'll be happy to send you a copy of the script. You've helped me to understand it myself so it's the least I can do.


I then added a postscript which I'm too ashamed to reproduce here, in effect touting for doo wop tape compilations in return for my play. I say "ashamed" because I can't now remember which items I may have received as gifts around this time and which ones had been sent specifically in order to get a copy of the play. I certainly sent one to Clarke, who was very complimentary about it; I kept intending to send a copy to Alexandra, aka alex_lowlands, who features later, and was very helpful when I was researching the song Stand By Me, but I never did. To her, and other readers such as Pam, who sent me a wonderful CD compilation, I thank you very much and I regret my behaviour.

I hope to put a link to a copy of the script soon - subject to finding the relevant disc. The only recording which was made of the play is too rough (believe me) for any other ears, but now that I'm aware of the magic of compressed files, and inspired by a British comic who's been putting material directly online rather than wait for a yea or nay from the BBC, I hope to arrange a new recording very soon. Watch this space - if, at this late stage, you can awake your faith.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 37

clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)


Tony, Now I know how the guy who opened Pandora's Box felt. LOL! Seriously, I need a little time to digest your latest post, and pose a proper response. You obviously have given this subject much thought, prior to my coincidental subject matter parallelity. You said a lot, and I want to respond with something more than just an off the cuff retort/response. I would love to hear your radio play. Do you have a recording of it?

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 36

pismotality
(42/M/London, England)


(continued)

The girl in the play, who becomes the woman the singer marries, is only referred to as Gloria," a fact which regally pisses her (. ..off, as we say in UK) - decades on, he still can't see the reality of her, just as he can't accept he's on the skids in his career.

As you know from earlier postings, I'm fascinated by the collision of past and present, and I kept thinking: what is it like to be singing those songs, especially the Gloria-type yearning ones, forty years on? Assuming you're not just the musical equivalent of a cab for hire, presumably part of you buys into the myth: the audience's need for the comfort of illusion is no greater than your own. And there is, as I've said re Dion and the Spaniels live, a dignity and a grace about sharing those needs, those vulnerabilities, with an audience, if you can see them for what they are. Brit playwright Dennis Potter (Pennies from Heaven) said you should look back at your past with "tender contempt," but stressed the importance of both parts.

But what if you're too caught up in those dreams - the grown man, as it were, still singing Gloria without that sense of distance? So I decided to make my lead character a fantasist who desperately needs those songs as a retreat from understanding life in the here and now, not a way of integrating the man and the boy.

Some details I took from the chapter on Ben E King in [Gerri Hirshey’s] Nowhere to Run, but King seems to me a very grounded individual: I saw him, reunited with the Drifters in the early 80s (pre the moderate resurgence of fame with the reissue of Stand by Me), and while the late Johnny Moore and the others were comporting themselves like so many manic starfish, projecting like crazy throughout, King sort of hugged himself as he quietly, naturally, sang his hits: "Hey, I can't be that person anymore," he seemed to be saying, "but this is as much as I remember. I'm not gonna embroider or patch it up, but what I tell you will be true for me now. If I made it any bigger, I couldn't feel it, so what would be the point?" And it worked; I remember the sense of him giving himself as a real person that night.

But that play was also a variant on my attempt to do the impossible earlier on this board, ie to pin down in words the experience of listening to Golden Teardrops and the mystery (to me) of its coming into being. Without any attempt to reflect the little I knew of the Flamingos as people (ie virtually zilch) I imagined the guy hurting his wife by some thoughtless remark, seeing her tears welling up, and being torn at that moment between the wish to comfort her - and the idea that is suddenly welling up, insistent, inside him. The idea wins; he assembles the guys - the stairwell they used to practise as kids - and Golden Teardrops bubbles joyfully into being: "We got together on a key and just - floated." They rush on to the prearranged session, he comes back late that night with an acetate of the song, exuberant, thinking she'll understand, be dazzled by the sheer beauty of this guilt-framed apology ... and she's gone.

There's not much else to say, except that the enormity of what he's done to her hits him at the end, as he hears GT properly for the first time. It’s about selfishness as well as love, two sides of him. A lifetime away from that first fine "Gloria" ...

Tony

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 35


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)


This is not, at all, to put Gloria down: we all forget (perhaps it's an act of kindness) the gale force of those adolescent pangs until the trigger of records like this one.

The full meaning of it came to me when I saw, about four nights running, the great New Jersey acappella group 14 Karat Soul perform it in Glasgow c.1983: the bass, "Briz" (?) loomed as the lead sang, one last time, of his yearnings, intoning over him those doomy notes that spelled out just one thing: You're alone, Bub; get used to it. The bass was reality, just as he often takes over on "baser" group sides (Pookie for the dreams; Gerald for the down'n'dirty), and his notes here were a death knell for the lead's tattered vision of togetherness ("Maybe she'll want me... "), a bell to toll him back to his sole self, alone in the less than tender night.

Briz was singing right into his face, with a sort of evil glee: maybe this message from the Reality Zone had to be given, but he was certainly enjoying the task, and the "teenage" lead was not much liking it, protesting his love and need to the end (similarly, is that last "Gloria!" on the Cadillacs' version - can't remember if same for Passions' - about acceptance of the situation, or a refusal to give up hope?).

This collision of dreams and reality, with that particular performance and image of the bass singer quashing all hope, were very much in my mind as I shaped my play which took Golden Teardrops as a title, and the distinction I've made in this posting (ie inc. Pt. 1) between Gloria and GT comes, I can see, from the way I employed the songs there. As a teenager, the protagonist does exactly the same as in Kat ... newly accepted into a group, he sees a girl walk by and launches into Gloria: "It wasn't her name but it was her."

Do you now see why I'm impelled, at least for the moment, to go on with this correspondence? Because there is so much of it - correspondence in our writing, that is. Which suggests we're trying in our different ways to work the same things out, and that in turn makes it likely that as we're connecting then others, whether content to look over our shoulders or join in, are too.

This is a bit of a digression from what I was going to expand upon in the play, but in a way this dialogue is a mirror of the doowop process: the initial, half-formed idea (vague thoughts of composing a song); the need to be inspired to greater heights by someone else (the group); the need for a wider connection, touching other lives (records and performing).

Maybe if I could carry a tune I wouldn't need to do all this but, as you say, the member of the audience has a role to play, whether it's bringing their rapt attention to the concert hall or - but this is the same thing, really, isn't it? It's saying to those groups: We really listen. And we care. Going back to 14 Karat Soul, maybe nobody else apart from the other group members noticed the night that the lead really tore into Annie had a Baby during that residency in Glasgow, making it a cry of anguish that far surpassed Hank Ballard's version, when I eventually heard it.

But I was there. I did.

(continues)


Go to the start of this blog for a brand new post about 14 Karat Soul and a mysterious onstage gesture. Image from Beaudaddy's vocal group site.

IMPORTANT: Beaudaddy's site links to what had been the official site for the later incarnation of the group, which includes the wording 14ksoul and dot and com. This was legit (I've opened it in the past) but recently I have received several anti-virus warnings when trying to open it. So don't do it.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 34

pismotality
(42/M/London, England)


Clarke,

You excelled yourself on that one. Really lovely, and saying exactly what that feeling is when we hear any version of that song. Yes, this is the Long Goodbye (to be followed by the Big Sleep?) but don't blame me - you will keep insisting on writing about things that strike a chord in me, and I have all this reading and listening and love for the music bubbling up inside me that has never found a place to go. As Beatrice says in View from the Bridge (rather different context, admittedly), "Whatever happens, we all done it." Including our readers for encouraging us. So you can't pin this one on me! Not exclusively, anyway.

Yesterday I missed the writing recommended as a daily limbering up by Julia Cameron for the first time in six weeks. But I realise that these are, in effect, my Morning Pages for the moment: I can't think of anything I want to put down on paper (or up on screen) more strongly than this right now. And I have to trust that other stuff (like the play) is simmering away and that this is part of the process. (Denial? Me?) I certainly do have an ache to be read/heard right now, and the act of playwriting is delayed gratification, bigtime. (Only exceeded by Development Hell in Hollywood ...)

So ... Gloria. Yes, it's the only one l’d personally consider putting up there with GT. It feels more of an archetype, and the many recordings (Vito's a treat as yet denied to me) suggest that as a song, as a blueprint, it's more successful than Teardrops. (Or is it just that other groups realised you can't improve perfection? Even the Flamingos didn't remake it like they did lots of others...)

For me GT, as a performance, a recording, is more personally moving, and feels more "adult" – the knowledge of love and loss, the accepting of responsibility for the great hurt done, despite the attempts at self-exoneration: "I never realised... never knew.. ."

Obviously it's pointless to play winners and losers with two great songs; they're about different things. Gloria is the fiery passion of youthful longing captured to perfection (and yes, that includes a generous side order of self-pity, as you say); in Golden Teardrops, to use Nabokov's phrase about his later writing, "the fire of youth mingles with the ice of experience.... Whatever age Sollie McElroy was, he'd learnt: the chilly realisation that life is about causing pain - not deliberately, but the result is the same- and that happiness, love, isn't hanging around forever, so grab onto it for dear life, even though the odds are it'll go anyway, and you learn that for a moment but you keep forgetting it and putting yourself first and messing up again.

The teenager pining for Gloria has all that to come - oh, his pain is real enough to him, but the man would give anything to change places, to be back at the point where the unattainable idea had not transformed itself into that ugly mirror of his own shortcomings. Or he thinks he would. He can't, now, remember the full taste of that pain, evisceratingly real at the time.

(continues on separate posting)


Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, The Right to Write and other publications in the same vein (extracts here) can be useful in stimulating creativity, although her big idea is very simple: like a tap running clear, three sides of free writing first thing in the morning before selfconsciousness kicks in can get petty anxieties and other creativity-clogging thoughts out of your system - in her words, "minimise the censor" - increasing the possibility of genuine creativity later in the day. It's not a quick-fix solution but I've found it useful when I've adhered to it. Especially useful when you're trying to work out just what it is you want to write about. There's a religious or spiritual element underlying her approach but Ms. Cameron ingeniously invites you to see the word "God" as an acronym for "Good Orderly Direction."

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 33


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)


[...] familiarity of someone you know, and still love, yet she, having moved on to someone else, still has a lingering affection, which she can't hide from you, and communicates freely. A momentary, fleeting, kiss, perhaps the last you and she will ever have, is being made even more significant, by the Passions singing in glorious, fully realized dynamic harmony.

Doesn't matter what her name is. She really is Gloria at that moment. And she's not in love with you.


I deeply regret to say that I have lost the printout I once had of the first page of this piece, a detailed description of the Cadillacs' recording of Gloria. If anyone can help, I'll be most grateful. I've included what remains as the piece is referred to in several subsequent posts.


A reminder that the Matt the Cat interviews referred to earlier include Earl "Speedo" Carroll; he discusses Gloria and you hear part of a new recording of the song.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 32


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)


Just a quick note for everyone who has read Tony's post on Golden Teardrops. I am playing that tune tonight during my broadcast starting at ten p.m. Eastern time, if you want to hear for yourself what all the "shouting" Is about. Sans guitars!


Clarke very kindly sent me a CD of the show so I was able to share the experience, albeit at one remove. When I listen to the overdubbed Golden Teardrops now, incidentally, the guitar seems more intrusive, as I have become used to the 1953 version which has been used on every CD compilation I've come across - but the situation is perhaps complicated by the fact that I only have the overdubbed version on an elderly vinyl album rather than a scrubbed-up digital copy. Spoilt by Rhino, am I reacting to the strumming or the surface noise?

On balance, I suspect the guitar doesn't really serve any useful purpose other than providing a bit of unnecessary underlining of
the original instrumental backing which had been so careful not to overwhelm this loveliest of all vocal arrangements that it's almost felt rather than heard; in Marv Goldberg's highly recommended Flamingos article (I bow before that man's industry), Sollie McElroy is quoted as saying: "If you listen to the background, there is very little music. It was almost a capella."

Whether adding that reinforcement can be artistically justified, the context of sending a 45 out into a crowded market in 1961, hoping (I presume) for a crossover hit perhaps meant that it was the right decision commercially - and whatever you feel about the overdub, if it meant more people got to hear the record, maybe that wasn't altogether a bad thing.

Having talked about it so much, perhaps now is th
e time (that guitarist apart) to namecheck those musicians who contributed by stealth (is that what's meant by negative capablility?) to the original Chance label classic (above). A a pdf file of a 1999 edition of Stop-Time, published by the Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College, Chicago, has a feature on the Chance label by (who else?) Robert Pruter and Robert L. Campbell. The relevant passage is as follows:

An August 1953 recording session brought the Flamingos into the studio again with the Red Holloway band (including Al Smith on bass, Horace Palm on piano, Al Duncan on drums,an unidentified trumpeter, and the ever reliable Mac Easton on baritone sax). The best of the four titles recorded at the session was "Golden Teardrops." The beauty of this song is marvelously enhanced by the intricate harmonizing,especially the way the voices are dramatically split in the intro and the close. McElroy's impassioned vocalizing helps immeasurably in in giving "Golden Teardrops" its reputation as a legendary masterpiece.


And finally, from the Marv Goldberg article already cited, Sollie McElroy's full acount of recording Golden Teardrops:


"We had a gentleman by the name of Bunky Redding who wrote the song, but we added a little bit here and there. [Bunkie Redding was a friend of the group; actually, he and Johnny Carter wrote the song.] We started rehearsing that song at my mother's apartment on 46th and Langley. I never will forget it. We rehearsed and we rehearsed. And we changed it and changed it and we were trying to get a beginning. And we began to put the song together like a puzzle. It took us about three months to do that song. Then we finally got it. If you listen to the background, there is very little music. It was almost a cappella. You could hear the notes, the blending of the voices. We rehearsed a long time on that song. In fact we were almost ready to give it up. We couldn't get it like we wanted to. And Johnny started bringing in that tenor and it started fitting in. And so when we felt like we were comfortable with it, we recorded it. We never sang it in public [before it was recorded]. Once we got it together, we went to the studio and recorded it. We never did pre-sing our songs to see how the audience would accept it. We rehearsed it and went to the studio."

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 31

pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Barbara Ann,

Thanks for your post. Maybe the time was about being young enough to half believe in the sentiments - it seems better to have faith in the purity of love and longing than not, even though we also need an armour against the world. Though there were some raunchy songs among the idealising, remember! Maybe this is a question for Clarke as my memories are in a different key ...

My apologies to you and other readers for the compressed (ie no paragraphs) nature of my last posting, on Golden Teardrops. I had to cut it to fit, so sorry no breathing space.

I also had to cut my suggestion that other people have a go at writing about a particular record, whether it's a few lines or paragraph-guzzling effort like the Golden Teardrops one, but I'd love to read anything like that, just focusing in on one song and saying whatever. If it's an all-time fave, thoughts should just come bubbling to the surface ... Tony


When posting originally, space was really was at a premium; layout went by the board in order to have more room in which to cram deathless insights. Because I, for one, didn't know how long each post was when I started, quite often I would be obliged to cut before the message would be accepted. Not nice to have to think like an editor when you just wanted to write more.

As that doesn't apply here, I've rearranged some longer posts by myself, and occasionally Clarke, in paragraph form, in order to make them more digestible onscreen, but I've tried to err on the side of caution. The posts can still be seen in their original form if you click the sendspace link in this blog's introduction which will take you to a pdf file of printouts - and maybe, shorn of extra notes, that's the best way to read them and feel the momentum (these posts are the product of less than two weeks).

Spelling and punctuation are such personal things that I have left them untouched except in rare cases where I judged that an error might have proven distracting for the reader. If any contributor reading this wishes to reedit their posts, please let me know. There is an email address if you click on my profile.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 30


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Clarke,

Sparked off by what you were saying about difficult records, I want to take one and play about with its significance for me.

Dave Marsh is a great model: a thousand mini-essays in The Heart and Soul of Rock'n'RolI, no set pattern: three lines about a 45 or two pages; a wholly personal memory or a discussion of the recording date - no rules: it's whatever you want to say about a record, the only idea being it'll make people want to search it out - the whole point of this notice board, after all. Cause the record isn't just the record; it's you - your memories – the group then and now: "Cohesive," as Jake (or Zeke) said.

And the song I want to talk about is ... Golden Teardrops. My major doowop thrill.

Odd as it may seem, it wasn't that accessible to me when I first heard it. On a poor quality oldies compilation, c.1978, with muddy sound and a dubbed on guitar (Veejay version). Adjoining tracks, like Sonny Knight's Confidential or the Spaniels' Baby It's You, seemed far better: I got the point. But this - this was Ink Spots territory, wasn't it? That guitar. The Harptones' I Almost lost my mind, also on the LP, that was emotion; the Flamingos seemed out of reach, unfocused, somehow. I couldn't take the whole thing in on one listen.

And if all this seems odd to Americans, remember I had a very limited frame of reference: doowop was the brightness of Frankie Lymon or (dare I say it?) the Diamonds' version of Little Darling. And it's what you were saying, Clarke, about not getting a record on first hearing.

I don't particularly recall a moment of piercing clarity. But at some point the elements made sense - tremulous falsetto, out-of-tune-sounding yet absolutely right lead, odd lyrics (why "a cottage by the sea"?) and above all that sense at the beginning that we're being ushered into a holy place, cavernous and echoing as a great cathedral, and then drawn together in a moment of collective stillness, as though calmly taking stock of the sadness in things (Iacrimae rerum, appropriately enough: "the tears in things") before there's a collective sigh - at what life is?- and Sollie McElroy comes up to testify or confess: "Swear to God I'll stray no more ..."

But it's too late: although at one point he addresses the lost love directly - "Darling, put away your tears," – the burden (and howl) of the song is about regret: all he can do is try to take in fully the time he hurt her enough to make her cry: the time, now gone, when he mattered to someone, and the knowledge bearing down upon him that he's going to be carrying that memory to the grave and beyond: "Until the end of time, And throughout eternity - " Golden Teardrops. Cried, by her, for him. And the rest of the group, or congregation, seem to grab him there - we're almost at the end of the song now - try to hold him in that moment when he feels the enormity of what he's done. Maybe the wisdom will last. Who knows? But the sad, sweet pain - he was once loved - undoubtedly will, if the falsetto that weaves in and out of the reiteration of that painful vision of her tears at the end is anything to go by.

I've said before that doowop lyrics don't matter that much: a peg for emotions. They'd be trite enough here if read on their own (Ditto Danny Boy.) But they give the group a clarity of focus that inspires them to a height they never quite attained on any other song, for me. If any of you reading this haven't heard Golden Teardrops, download a file, buy a CD (Rhino), do something. It is, quite simply, the loveliest and the saddest of all doowop records. In his autobiography Chaplin talks of the day music entered his soul, or words to that effect . Golden Teardrops, like Danny Boy, seeped into me on some unknown date. But I never tire of it and always hear it afresh; for me it holds the whole mystery of doowop: it's religious, it's secular, it's... beyond words, actually.

So much for stopping... but I've needed to say all this for years.

Tony


This can also be found near at the start of the blog as a taster for the Doo Wop Dialog[ue] posts; click on that version, posted under the song's title, for all manner of diversions and discoveries which came to me as I wrote, thought and surfed for images. See also post 32 of the Dialog[ue] for a comparison of the original and overdubbed versions.


SPOILER ALERT: the original wins. Who could have seen that coming, eh?

As so often, the image above has been borrowed from Unca Marvy.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 29

barbara15146
(F/Pittsburgh, PA)


Tony and Clarke, The dialogue you've been engaged in, over the past few days, was most fascinating, and very entertaining. You have managed to conjure up sweet memories of my youth. The music of the times had such a major impact emotionally on my teenage years. A time that seemed pure and innocent, but was it really???

Barbara Ann



The late Barbara Ann Yatsko, aka Circe, was co-founder of Steve's Kewl Doo Wop Shop in 1999 and founder of its replacement, the Doo Wop Cafe, in 2001. You can find a fuller history here. Barbara Ann died on May 17th, 2006.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 28

clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)


Tony,

I don't think those are your final thoughts. Glad for the question mark there. I am pleased others seem to respond favorably to our exchanges.

The world of music is an art form unto itself, with so many twists and turns, nooks and crannies, and while never an artist myself, I have recognized that my role is that of a responsive audience attendee. I do not possess the talent to actually make music, but that does not render me incapable of understanding it. I know the distance one must go to appreciate most ambitious works of art, whether it be a painting, symphony or written word. The harder one must try to access the work, the more rewarding the understanding achieved. When I don't immediately enjoy a song, for example, I give it another listen later. I am amazed at how many songs do not hit me on first listen, that have gone on to become profoundly memorable. The strange thing Is, I can listen to a song and not enjoy it, yet realize there is something of value there. With proper attention, later, it can come to me bringing with it something really worthwhile.

Example: You are Irish. James Joyce. I really couldn't just hop in and "enjoy" his writing. There's so much going on, I have to take a deep breath, and step back a little. The same could be said for appreciation of some of the harder-tinged rhythm and blues offerings from local stops like Detroit, or places in the south. The Falcons, for example are not smooth, except maybe on Goddess of Angels and You're So Fine, but their other work is of value, if you go "the extra mile" to access it. Nathanial Mayer and the Twilights are not a group that jump right off the radio at you, except for Village of Love. Their work is worth the effort to explore.

Some of the highly regarded groups do have the luxury of being immediately accessible to lots of people. Moonglows, Flamingos, Dells, and other Chicago groups seemed to have jukebox appeal right out of the box. This does not diminish their worth in the slightest, but it does not make it of higher quality.

The dialogue we have is a little like that. Maybe it takes a little effort to find out what's going on, but ultimately it may open a window for someone to see a glimpse of something of value.

Thank you Tony, for sharing with us, your thoughts from London. And to any board readers who may have shared in our "revelations", please do not hesitate to post your own. We are listening.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 27

pismotality
(42/M/London, England)


Clarke,

I've really enjoyed this business of our bouncing ideas off each other. This thread feels like it's drawing to a close - I need to get down to the serious business of annoying our returned friend Korrie with trivia and redirect my energies to the play I've been avoiding - but I want to reflect a little on what has been a pleasurable experience, especially for someone who has only been on the net for a month. (So glad I alighted on Steve's kewl site and not somewhere else.) And just as other people seem to have got something from our discussion, maybe this attempt to articulate what I've got from the internet/this dialogue may ring a few (mission?) bells.

The biggest thing is that, satisfying as putting all those thoughts into words over our series of postings has been, I wouldn't have been prompted to develop those ideas without your response - ie, just throwing them onto the net, hoping that someone might notice. So even though a lot has come out about our different life experiences, this has been a genuinely interactive experience. Some people bitch about Paul McCartney's revision of history, apparently trying to appropriate credit for songs they'd prefer to think sprang fully formed from John Lennon's unconscious. From working closely with another writer in the past (on our separate projects) I know how integral someone's comment or suggestion or example can be to one's own work. Not that I'm comparing us to the Beatles, but you brought out the best in me because of your own willingness to go the extra mile. And kind comments both here and in my personal mail suggest other people enjoyed that process and felt part of it.

Which brings me to my next point: that despite qualms about its not being appropriate for this forum, or too exclusively between us, actually it is public and appropriately so. When Doug V. said of one of your postings that it wasn't written to him but it felt like it was, that hit the nail on the head. For me, this is the conversation I'd always wanted to have about doowop but never had a partner and an audience to bring out in me. For me the audience is important: personally revealing as our exchanges have, to some extent, been it wouldn't have felt right for me on email, but it still needed the one to one of our dialogue in order to bring out something that has been meaningful for others too. It's the paradox I find as a writer: the more personal you are, the more you can give to others, if honestly exploring your own feelings as opposed to just displaying yourself. I have a writerly vanity (or, more charitably, sense of self worth) and the knowledge that more than one person might be reading this is part of what impels me to type all this in despite the discomfort of a keyboard like a GI Joe accessory, but it’s also the stimulus of seeing you going for it, no holds barred, and wanting to respond in kind. It seems to me that this odd mix of the public and private and the immediacy of contact (you type it up and it's out there, giving a momentum a newspaper correspondence could never have) is unique to the internet, so this has been a wonderful introduction for me. Credit, too, of course, to Steve for creating a supportive environment for everyone and to "Picksburgh's Own" for keeping postings fizzing along. We haven't spoken much, Brian, but I reallv apreciate vour incredible enthusiasm - and knowledge at only sev - sorry, EIGHTEEN.

This seems to be acquiring the air of a farewell address. I'm not going anywhere, but I will be striving to cut down for the reasons indicated. I just wanted to acknowledge formally that this has been an enriching experience for me, and to thank you, Clarke, and our faithful readers. I know I'll never fully unravel the mystery of a song like Golden Teardrops (who would want to?) but it's been fun trying; and thank you for encouraging me, by example, to write at the top of my voice.

Tony

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 26


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)


Ah yes: "Dan got happy and he started raving - jerked out his razor but he wasn't shaving." I go way back with Carl Perkins, loving those economic guitar solos (possibly because I could hear George Harrison in them - Beatles were of course Numero Uno in my early years, listening to the records my elder brothers bought, our father's disapproval bonding us further). Can anything be simpler, neater than the solo in Movie Magg? And (maybe unlike doowop) a sense of writing more directly from experience. There's also a very strange Perkins track, Her Love Rubbed off on Me, done when he was drunk (according to biog Go Cat Go) that is confusing but conveys the sense of real, unedited experience - and a lot of songs were originally improvised in the tonks, book says. I think it was Ringo who said that when Carl sings you believe him.

And those Sun sides, like Elvis Scotty and Bill, are so basic, seeming to bubble up out of the joy of being young, feeling that strength and power for the first time: Elvis' whoop on Mystery Train. So sad it didn't last in either case: CP's Columbia sides seem like imitations of himself, like MGM mishandling Laurel and Hardy, and nothing - nothing - in the Presley cannon is the equal of that spontaneous outpouring. (Not that there isn't some cornball stuff on those early sides: I don't care if the sun don't shine ...)

With Carl Perkins (as I also feel about the voice of Louis Armstrong - incidentally he started off singing in a vocal group as a kid) it's a voice that's known to me: like Ringo, I trust it. Like a friend or family member. And the fact that Blue Suede Shoes is still infectious when other records have dulled ... What I've avoided saying is I'm not omnivorous when it comes to rockabilly. Too much else seems like a pale echo (though others in England lap it up). But Elvis and CarI - well, it's not a bad choice, is it? And linking it to doowop, there is a kind of purity of heart about some of Carl's stuff, as well as the raunchier, hellraising Dixie fried ... analogous to the uptempo doowop with the leering bass voice: Sixty Minute Man or Gerald Gregory's invitation on the Spaniels' Housecleaning. Devil or Angel? We've got both in us...

Tony (Ok Steve, click on PRINT...)

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 25


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)


Tony,

Sorry, can't close this out without mentioning the "country cousin” of doo wop, namely Rockabilly. It's the missing part of the equation of fifties music equals cosmic bliss. The farm boys in the south and midwest weren't going to be left behind. So grab your guitars, buy a drum kit, and let's rock!

The rural equivalent of urban inspired doo wop, rockabilly tore a swath up and down the hinterlands like wildfire. Thousands of small labels emerged for one or perhaps two releases, which were subsequently scooped by by roving hordes of Europeans decades later and now valued in the stratosphere. The ethereal quality of doo wop was counterparted by a raging frenzy of pumping piano, "teenage" lyrics, and frenetic energy laden guitar riffs.

The genetic mutant that this music was (part country, part rhythm and blues) spewed forth the ultimate teenage idol. Elvis, king of the teenage universe, bar none. An explosion like none before, (only to be duplicated a few years later by you know who, Liverpool's finest) he personified everything cool at the time, only to be outshined for a brief moment by a film renegade named Dean. Put James Dean and Elvis together, and you have the penultimate fifties persona on the male side. Marylyn Monroe ruled the distaff side of the coin. Add hot rod cars, late night drag races in remote (and not so remote) locales and voila, instant legendary esteem forever. Moonlit nights by the Lake (every town has one) with motors revving in the wee hours, alongside discarded beer bottles, and other ubiquitous "teenage" contraband, littered the physical landscape.

On the interior, emotional landscape, both doo wop and rockabilly were musical cheerleaders pushing the boundaries of acceptable social and personal behavior to the limits. Or beyond the limits to the parents of some of the "juvinile delinquents." How much influence did the music have on the actions of young people then? How much influence did the young people have on the music then? No matter the answer. We all know what has evolved from that reckless, turbulent but highly romantic scene.

Tracing popular music history back to this turning point gives us insight into the reference points the Baby Boomers of today maintain. With such a rich tapestry of personal history, who could blame them for turning away from what is on the current musical pedestal for idolization. Backstreet Boys? Ho-hum. Madonna, no thank you, I don't think so. Rap? Are you kidding? Can you blame them?


I have recently (January 2010) been rereading, or rather reskimming, David Toop's Rap Attack # 3, which links the growth of doo wop and rap; I may write about this later. 


Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 24

kewlsteve
(55/M/San Diego, Ca.)


Maybe it is, Tony. Maybe it is.:-)


After this considerable passage of time I think I can safely say that it wasn't.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 23

pismotality
(42/M/London, England)


Thanks for these words of encouragement. The only thing that bothers me is I keep being prompted to add more when I'm meant to be working on a play. But as the central character is a security guard who's a doowop fanatic, maybe I need to trust this is all relevant as well as being displacement activity...Tony

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 22

kewl_steve
(55/M/San Diego, Ca.)


Not only that, Brian. I'm printing it as it goes along. This is too good not to.
:-)

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 21

bdbopper
(18/M/Lawrenceville, GA)


Clrke &All:
IMHO, here, but I believe 'dis is perfect material for 'dis board. For everybody here, 'dis is 'da music of our youth (even mine). I think we should be able to reminisce about our experiences with 'da music at anytime anyone wants to. 'Dis is 'da closest thing to actually being alive during 'da 50's-60's era, for me. I've done plenty of reading about it. However, I love hearing 'da first-hand experiences. It's not like a writer reasearched 'da topics of 'da 50's lifestyle - I'm actually hearing a first hand account of how it reallly was like!
LET'S KEEP 'DIS CONVERSATION GOING AS LONG AS IT CAN!!! :)

In Harmony
From 'Da Bop Shop,
Brian “Picksburgh's BD Bopper”


BD Bopper is Brian Donegan, whose remarkable story can be found here. More recently, as described in this interview, he founded the Can-Do Conservatives of America, "a group of conservatives, who are handicapped or are friends, family, and/or supporters of the handicapped" whose website can be found here. He explains in the interview why his own experience has made him particularly opposed to the Omnibus Healthcare bill. You can hear Brian telling his own story in the first Can-Do podcast, downloadable here.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 20


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Clarke,

I'm also enjoying this and am prompted by your message to add a little more. Thinking about memories and the kind of double exposure you're talking about (40s songs with all those associations heard in the 50s) makes me think of the now multilayered experience of hearing groups today: songs predating their youth, sung in their youth, now sung in the dignity/poignancy/slow decay (select according to today's mood) of late middle age.

I'm thinking of two live experiences, one on record, one I was lucky enough to witness. First is the Dion and Belmonts' 70s reunion album: when Dion sings "some things that happened for the first time... " and you hear the audience's palpable joy at that moment, acknowledging the collision of time zones: it's then AND now, and if Dion's still alive then that part of themselves hasn't wholly died (...and what a great love song that is, incidentally...)

The other experience is seeing the Spaniels in London 1992. I’m of Irish descent and can't remember when I first heard Danny Boy but have always loved the directness of that song. Pookie Hudson introduced it as a song they sang in the locker room at High School in 1952 (or whenever). Great acapella rendition, true both to the Spaniels' style and the song - not all the acts that night sang like it still meant something - and for me something incredibly moving that 40 years on, there they were - or the same nucleus, anyway - and it couldn't be the same, could it? Not 15 any more. But it still felt real and vital and connected: "That which we are we are,' as the aging Ulysses says.

So seeing doowop singers, if you want to get pretentious about it, and I'm in pretty deep already, in their autumn years singing those same songs of idealised love puts us in touch with our own mortality and the needs and desires still in us - almost like Pookie or Dion is the priest in this religious ceremony, bestowing a blessing on us and making us whole, past and present in one ...

I think I'm done. I hope readers other than yourself will be indulgent and realise this comes out of the great love we all share for this timeless music.


As mentioned in Post 10 of this series, that 1992 concert was not well attended. And I was sitting needlessly way, way back in the first half, which didn't help. But my impression was that it was only
Bobby Lewis who was warming up the crowd, albeit by relying on Big Joe Turner covers in order to save his big hit till the end. Johnnie Allan either didn't connect with the crowd or wasn't given time.

But the Spaniels were a class act from the git-go, intimidating as Gerald may have looked with the eyepatch. They came on to Baby It's You (of course), which took me back to my Springboard International album, which featured the remake of Baby It's You as well as Golden Teardrops.

From reading the Spaniels' biography, I think that the group then would have been the original members who had been given this late chance to perform again; the book was basically saying that a later set of Spaniels were technically better but the first ones around Pookie had got there by instinct. Must have been odd, however, as the book describes them listening to the old records in order to relearn, or at least be reminded of, what had once come naturally. (As so often, find
details of line ups and much else in one of Marv Goldberg's R&B notebooks, based on interviews with Pookie himself.)

Whatever, it worked; and I was aware that, as others have said, Pookie is not a showman as some are, but he does - or, as I must now say, did - the most important thing of all: singing as though he is still feeling and exploring the song right at that moment. Which goes all the way back to that tentative definition I offered in Post 1 of this dialog[ue].

Download former XM deejay Matt the Cat's interview with Pookie Hudson
here; you can also find interviews with other doo wop and R&B greats. The interview is well worth a listen; Matt is an intelligent, informed, as well as an enthusiastic, host; Pookie is gracious; callers mostly pay tribute.

I didn't realise that he had been getting at least some payment for Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight since 1978, and that laws had changed at some point so that performers on a recording now get something, no matter how miniscule, each time a recording is aired. Appropriate enough when you think of how much the performance is part of a record's success (apparently Richard Rodgers hated the Marcels' recording of
Blue Moon, although I don't know whether he spurned the resulting royalties).

Matt also made the point that small record companies were often up against it in terms of when they would be paid by distributors, so that delayed (or no) monies could be about a little indie struggling for survival - to which, I admit, one obvious riposte might be: "Tell it to Carl Perkins." Anyway, I don't know whether such thoughts were a factor, but the Spaniels' biography does record that Pookie, for his own sake, made it up with Vee Jay's Vivian Carter before she died.

To return to that concert: a Dionless
Belmonts also performed, although they seemed to be doing a lot of Dion solo numbers, on the grounds that they had performed them during that reunion gig noted above. They were agreeable enough, although I don't remember the performance in detail, apart from the disturbing fact that one Belmont was now stone bald: suddenly it ain't the fifties no more.

The Spaniels were the best act of the evening but the headliners were the Teenagers with Lewis Lymon in their number. I can't remember whether the female lead was Pearl McKinnon or a later replacement, but I do remember the brightness of delivery becoming a little tiring by the end, and the oddness of the references to the departed Frankie: his mischievousness was mentioned, not his death.

To which the response might reasonably be: Well, what did you expect them to do? And from what I've read of the Teenagers, they deserved to make some money and I hope they did; it was a polished act which delivered what the audience wanted.

But what it comes down to, I suppose, is that a Teenagers without Frankie is like - well, a Spaniels without Pookie.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 19

clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)


Tony,

The verse from Thomas Hardy is perfect. I think the doo wop mentality and the sense of spirituality has been around a long, long, time. But it was never articulated so profoundly for the common man ... I can imagine the communication between privileged concert-goers in Vienna seeing Mozart perform. Lead East, Europe in the "real" old days.

Seriously, the feeling two lovers must have felt when sitting next to each other, perhaps holding hands, listening to romantic strains of a concert orchestra, must have been akin to what doo wop evoked for us. It's the quality of communication, and the sharing of something special that creates the bond.

There are those still among us, who lived through the highly romantic forties. Songs like Where or When, Again, A Tree in the Meadow were versions of songs made popular a decade or more earlier. The forties produced a heightened sense of romance coupled with the danger of annihilation (World War II) which forged premature relationships to blossom, due to time constraints of soldiers.

Romance and sophistication went hand in hand in the elegant forties, and some of that spilled over into the doo wop era. The sensibilities that allowed the awkward and the raw, to emerge as acceptable, if true of heart, successful commercial entities was truly what the fifties allowed. So we have the Moonglows Secret Love next to Rosie and the Originals Angel Baby on the jukebox. Sublime to almost ridiculous, with both garnering respect, because of where the music was coming from, in both cases, the heart and soul.

I am very pleased we were able to have this communication, begging the indulgence of others who might think this a bit off base for a board of this nature.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 18

plsmotality
(42/M/London, England)


Thanks Steve. And it's good to know that this dialogue is being shared by others in the group - Tony

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 17


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)


Clarke,

In response to your main posting the words of Thomas Hardy seem right (hey, I'm an English teacher, people - these things are forced upon me!):

Childlike, I danced in a dream;
Blessings emblazoned that day;
Everything glowed with a gleam -
But we were looking away!

(...or as Ral Donner, following in Hardy's footsteps, put it, You don't know what you got...)

Your description of the dances and afterwards is amazing - really powerfully evocative. I went to a Jesuit-run school in Glasgow and at the dance, c.1975, get this: the hired deejay was told not to play any slow tracks - smooching or "snogging" not allowed – there was even suspicion (and I’m not talking Terry Stafford) if you were in a darkened corner.

Maybe this explains my love of ballads: a past I never had but wanted to have. How lucky you are to be able to link the music and experience so intimately - the brasher sounds of early 70s disco was often the backdrop to my teenage romance, though I do recall Eddie Holman’s Hey There Lonely Girl the night, thrust into each other's arms by friends who had seen our timidity at a party, this school dance girl and I first kissed. (OK, not doowop but the sensibility is the same. And now, 25 years later, I'm compiling a doowop tape for the same girl, having recently got back in touch ...) But doowop for me has often been a solitary pleasure and that's why I really value the opportunity to share thoughts in this forum.

Tony


Eddie Holman's
website, including a video of his singing Lonely Girl in front of a hugely appreciative audience. He has a new gospel album entitled Love Story, and judging from the samples his remarkable voice is as good as ever. The photo, taken from that site, is captioned: "Eddie at Virtue Recording Studios, Philadelphia, PA. where This Can't Be True, Hey There Lonely Girl and many more of his legendary songs were recorded."

There are lots of links to Thomas Hardy poems on the net; here's one which provides quite a wide selection including The Self-Unseeing. Along with Tennessee Williams' plays, discovering Hardy's poetry was my major thrill at university. You could even argue that he was a kind of doo wop lyricist before his time, as an idealised, unattainable woman often features in his verse, as elusive as the being celebrated in The Wind by the Diablos or - a record I've been listening to a lot lately - the Kool Gents' When I Call On You.

And just as both of those great records (I think) hint at the spectral nature of the woman, the object of Hardy's best poetry is, indeed, unattainable by virtue of being dead; to cut a long story short, the death of his first wife, whom he had neglected, sparked a remorse-fuelled run of poems about her (Poems of 1912-1913), widely regarded as being among his very best. I'd recommend them all, but try The Voice.

I never finished that doo wop tape. It may never even have progressed beyond a few songs scribbled on a piece of paper.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 16

pismotality
(42/M/London, England)


That is a big relief. I saw BB but couldn't remember that ... think Kit postdates my memory - maybe they got from same source though presumably a doowop cliché anyway? Tony

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 15

clarkedavis 9/21/00
(M/Dover, New Jersey)


Tony, there is a mistake in the first paragraph of my previous post. I got my plays mixed up. The Pet Clark play was not the one that contained the streetcorner group launching into Gloria. Instead it was a play called Kit and the Kats, which I also saw on Broadway. Somehow I mixed the two up. I think both plays were big in London as well. Cheers!


The play was in fact Kat and the Kings, which I caught when it was revived in 2003 at the Tricycle Theatre in London. I have to say that I was disappointed, although the rest of the audience (and the cast) seemed to be having a great time; me, I slouched off at the interval. Maybe it's because of the weight of my expectations: I was hoping for some ideal doo wop musical, which this certainly wasn't - and the pastiche numbers (not acapella) didn't sound all that authentic to my ears.

But also this was not about the American experience of streetcorner singing; it was set in fifties South Africa. Ample scope there, you'd think, for exploring prejudice as well, but the relentlessly upbeat nature of the show - at least in the production and the half of the performance that I saw - didn't seem to leave much room for it. I feel mean-spirited for saying so, but it felt like an hysterical party into which I, Scroogelike, had stumbled by chance, and where I didn't fit.


I avoid all productions of Grease for a similar reason; the sight of a middle-aged man standing up in the stalls all through a performance of that much-loved entertainment and repeatedly yelling the word "travesty" decorated by a string of expletives would, I accept, mar the enjoyment of those who have elected to be present, in the full knowledge of what is about to transpire.

At least one reviewer shares something of my reservations about Kat - although, in fairness to the show, Terri Paddock, who saw the same revival as me as well as an earlier production, talks here about a second half "which builds and builds to a euphoric crescendo."

But what really pains me is the thought of what might have been. I can't remember the source - possibly Jay Warner's book? - but I'm sure I remember reading (unless it was all publicity flim-flam) that a musical intended as an African American companion piece or retort to Grease was in the planning stages. I even seem to remember the line selling the projected show: "Before Grease there was Conkalene."

And just who was being mooted to star in this extravaganza? Only an exciting young New Jersey act garnering a lot of plaudits in America and Europe called ... 14 Karat Soul.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 14

clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)


Tony, the source you couldn't identify where there is a group on the corner who sees a girl walk by and jumps into an acapella rendering of Gloria when she passes is the beginning of a play called Blood Brothers. Pet Clark starred in it on Broadway, and it was extremely fine.

Regarding the idealized versus the actual in that era. Having lived through some of it (the later part), I can only say that it was only in retrospect that one could recognize that it was indeed a fleeting moment in time. At the time, it was as if each of us had all the time in the world, and there were infinite "girls next door" with pony tails and warm lips.

The record hops, or dances at the local High School Auditoriums were amazing Friday and Saturday night events. They actually turned the lights way down low, if not virtually off, in order to give the right atmosphere for the lovers/dancers. Teachers rarely acted as more than shadowy chaperones just there to keep an eye out. And it wouldn't be unusual to actually walk up to a girl, say hi, ask her to dance, and have an instant new girlfriend! Compared to today, isn't this an amazing description of a high school dance? The DJs were local radio personalities, and if a record was number one on the charts, you might hear it four times that night. This was a very peaceful scene usually without any fighting, except once in a while, two guys would be after the same girl, and something would break out after the dance.

And speaking of after the dance, well, legends are made of those nights. Autumn nights under the stars, parked at the beach with the moon shining down with your favorite girl sitting beside you in the middle of the car seat, because bucket seats were just not in vogue then. Doo Wop tunes swimming around in your head, all excited because your girl had her hand on your leg the past ten minutes you were driving. A moment frozen forever when you managed to actually kiss your dream girl. A trip to the moon, by simply brushing your lips against those of another. Back to the music......There's a moon out tonight...sounded like it never sounded before when circumstances such as those framed its playing on your favorite AM radio station. Forget about limited bandwidth, and static. The music jumped out of the speakers anyway, and became a living entity attaching itself to your brain for the rest of your life.

Special music for special times? You bet. A Golden Era of Rock n' Roll? You bet. But not when you were living it at the time. It was just another weekend night out having a good time. Who knew how very special those days and nights would become as the world would change and romance would diminish on those terms. Of course, romance did not die, just changed form, reflected by a culture that was more self-oriented, and weighted toward individual success as a barometer of attraction.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 13

kewl_steve
(55/M/San Diego, Ca.)


I agree with you Doug. It was nicely written. I'm enjoying the dialog both Clarke and Tony have going here.
:-)

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 12

shboom1943
(57/M/Ashtabula, Ohio)


[to Clarke]

In reference to your comments to our friend Tony
I might have used different words but I could not of said it better, certainly not with the feeling you did. That wasn't written to me but I read it like it was. Thank you my friend
Doug V.

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 11

pamelas22
(F/Connecticut)


Wait & Flamingo fans, I too was at that show on Staten Island at the Lane Theatre. It was my first and only time to see the Flamingos and was truly an unforgettable experience. At first. I thought that it would be a Las Vegas type show because they opened with Besame Mucho complete with straw hats. I soon realized that they were setting a mood before each song. On many of the songs, Zeke talked before the song setting a very romantic mood. I recall that the group stayed on after its alloted time to entertain the audience. I wish I had waited for the crowd surrounding Zeke to thin out so that I could have expressed my appreciation of the Flamingos and their music. ......Pam

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 10


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)


Walt,

Your message reminded me of hearing one of the Carey cousins (can't remember which) being interviewed on an oldies station when the Flamingos came to London around 1990 (I BITTERLY regret not going). He was asked by the DJ why he thought the music had stood up so long and I remember one key word in his reply: “cohesive." Which seems a good word to apply to the Flamingos themselves – their longevity, their amazing consistency.

It was very moving to read you description of that night - wish I'd been there - and I hope lots of people share their thoughts about, memories of, this greatest of all groups in this thread. Incidentally, I know that London gig was videoed but I've no idea where to obtain it.

Tony


After I originally posted this on the Doo Wop Shop board a reader very kindly sent me a video of that show, which was actually in 1991. It is currently available in the UK on DVD under the title London Rock'n'Roll Stage Show 1991 - not to be confused with the oft-issued 1972 London rock'n'roll show with Chuck Berry and Little Richard etc. You can obtain it from several places but I have used
Raucous Records in the past for doo wop CDs and found them reliable; the link will take you to a complete songlist for the DVD, although the Flamingos only sing three songs: I Only Have Eyes For You, I'll Be Home, and, with some playful choreography, Nobody Loves Me Like You, penned by Sam Cooke.

The DJ referred to was Randall Lee Rose, an American who at that time was presenting a doo wop show on the London AM station Capital Gold, called Randall Lee Rose's (as opposed to Kewl Steve's) Doo Wop Shop - yes, amazing as it sounds, for a while there was regular access to doo wop in the UK in those days before internet radio was widespread. He compiled a CD of that title for Ace Records which is still available and it could certainly be recommended as a starting point for a doo wop collection with the emphasis on the fun, poppier side, rather than R&B-slanted "deep doo wop," as I think I've seen Robert Pruter term it.

Assuming the DVD is the same as the video, there are actually some clips of one or more of the Flamingos being interviewed by Randall in the Capital Gold studios, although the particular part of the discussion referred to in the post either wasn't videoed or didn't make the edit. I might be misremembering, because it was a long time ago, but my feeling at the time was that Jake Carey (to judge from my memory of the timbre of his voice) was quite passionately trying to explain the music's longevity, and its importance to him, and Randall's response was something like: "Wow, that's deep," which suggested either he wasn't really getting what Jake was saying, or he didn't want to explore it further in what was meant to be a short segment to promote the concert - or maybe, quite understandably, he was just stunned, overwhelmed to meet those legends of vocal harmony.

Anyway, Randall Lee Rose has been a champion of doo wop in this country so maybe the best thing to say is that my subjective impression of that moment in the interview helped trigger my radio play about a composite doo wop star, because it suggested a possibly unbridgeable gulf between the person making the music, with everything it has cost and meant to bring it into being, all the wholly personal associations, and the fan - even a professional and dedicated fan, like a deejay - who can't see it in quite the same way.

I also think the moment, and that magical word, "cohesive," stuck with me because it was reassuring, and moving, that a performer of about four decades' standing at the time still seemed so genuinely enthused about what he was doing, and hadn't resigned himself to being a kind of well-paid musical labourer in the nostalgia field; by way of contrast, I had seen a cabaret-hardened Drifters briefly reunited with Ben E King in the early eighties (discussed in a later post) and the difference between the two attitudes onstage was evident.

In case anyone from the UK is reading this and remembers those Capitol Gold shows, I tried to see what I could find about RLR's subsequent career. As far as I can tell, he was recently on a station called Big L presenting a fifties-themed show, but it's not clear whether he's still part of it or will ever be returning, to judge from the posts from fans on an increasingly plaintive
messageboard. It appears that his Big L is show had originally gone under the title of The Doo Wop Shop, like his Capitol Gold show, which sadly suggests that whatever the pockets of enthusiasm for doo wop in the UK there isn't a big enough audience to keep advertisers happy. He also does voiceover work and you can find a fairly full biog here.

There was also a 1992 Wembley show sponsored by Capitol Gold, which I did attend, and which featured the Spaniels, the Belmonts (sans Dion) and the Teenagers (with Lewis Lymon); I'll write more about this at a future date, but sadly it was sparsely attended, which didn't help atmospherewise, and I presume that was the end for what had apparently been a conscious attempt to revive Alan Freed-style package shows, complete with house band.