"I ain't greedy, baby..."
...all I want is all you got."
|The Buzzcocks, ca. 1978|
I only get sleepless nightsThose breakneck changes in the second and fourth lines kill me every time: he's alone and miserable, awake and self-pitying, and the turmoil in his head and heart is best told, and hopefully left behind, via slashing guitars. Even an era intent on destroying the past tells old stories.
Alone here in my half-empty bed
For you things, seem to turn out right
I wish they'd only happen to me instead
In thinking of my successive tutors, I am concerned less with the queer dissonances they introduced into my young life than with the essential stability and completeness of that life. I witness with pleasure the supreme achievement of memory, which is the masterly use it makes of innate harmonies when gathering to its fold the suspended and wandering tonalities of the past. I like to imagine, in consummation and resolution of those jangling chords, something as enduring, in retrospect, as the long table that on summer birthdays and namedays used to be laid for afternoon chocolate out of doors, in an alley of birches, limes and maples at its debouchment on the smooth-sanded space of the garden proper that separated the park and the house. I see the tablecloth and the faces of seated people sharing in the animation of light and shade beneath a moving, a fabulous foliage, exaggerated, no doubt, by the same faculty of impassioned commemoration, of ceaseless return, that makes me always approach that banquet table from the outside, from the depth of the park—not from the house—as if the mind, in order to go pack thither, had to do so with the silent steps of a prodigal, faint with excitement. Through a tremulous prism, 1 distinguish the features of relatives and familiars, mute lips serenely moving in forgotten speech. I see the steam of the chocolate and the plates of blueberry tarts. I note the small helicopter of a revolving samara that gently descends upon the tablecloth, and, lying across the table, an adolescent girl’s bare arm indolently extended as far as it will go, with its turquoise-veined underside turned up to the ﬂaky sunlight, the palm open in lazy expectancy of something—perhaps the nutcracker. In the place where my current tutor sits, there is a changeful image, a succession of fade-ins and fade-outs; the pulsation of my thought mingles with that of the leaf shadows and turns Ordo into Max and Max into Lenski and Lenski into the schoolmaster, and the whole array of trembling transformations is repeated. And then, suddenly, just when the colors and outlines settle at last to their various duties—smiling, frivolous duties—some knob is touched and a torrent of sounds comes to life: voices speaking all together, a walnut cracked, the click of a nutcracker carelessly passed, thirty human hearts drowning mine with their regular beats, sough and sigh of a thousand trees, the local concord of loud summer birds, and, beyond the river, behind the rhythmic trees, the confused and enthusiastic hullabaloo of bathing young villagers, like a background of wild applause.
Because of a certain churlish attitude and a deep-seated distaste for elites and the effete, I have myself sometimes been described as a punk. This would be endlessly amusing to those hard guys back on the block. But however vicarious my experiences, the punk sensibility (as I deﬁne it) is at the heart of what I care about in American culture, not least of all in rock and roll.
For me, the punk sensibility in its original form offered something better and deeper than a way to walk and talk, or an excuse for petty crime and amateur nihilism. Punk in its ﬁfties sense could never be merely music or merely fashion. The pose implied a set of standards, a code of behavior, founded on friendship, carried out as a matter of principle. This sensibility runs through American folklore from the mythic (if not actual) Billy the Kid to what once were known as antiheroes—Cagney and Bogart, later Dean and Brando. That sort of punkitude reached its greatest glory with Elvis Presley, who could bring teenage women to the edge of orgasm while dedicating songs to his mother. The punk code is simple, direct street philosophy: loyalty and self-respect are its highest values, the camaraderie between friends the only society it recognizes.
I mourn the prostitution of true punks by performers for whom public vomiting is a rebellious act of stagecraft, but that’s not what really disturbs me. It's the idea of the dilution of that concept as another symptom of rock’s loss of moral force. That’s not to say that the Ramones and the Sex Pistols are immoral—though they’re deﬁnitely a little mixed up. But what these performers and their fans (not to mention their promoters) mistake for rebellion—the honest stand—is too often merely marketable outrage....
A few years ago Esquire called me the last man in American who believed that rock could save the world. I responded that I was, instead, the last who believed that rock could destroy the world. But I never expected to see my prediction conﬁrmed so soon.
If you frequent the honky tonks, you may very well have run across the music of Sleepy LaBeef. For a number of years he worked the area around Atlanta. Before that it was Port Huron or Kansas or the circuit of NCO service clubs where there is three or four hundred dollars to be made for a night's work and a string of bookings to be lined up— if you go over. When I first met him in the spring of 1977, Sleepy LaBeef had been working Alan's Fifth Wheel Lounge, about an hour north of Boston, for nearly three months on a pretty regular basis. There he had been laying down the original rockabilly sounds of Sun six nights a week, five sets a night, to an appreciative audience of truckers, regulars, factory workers off the late—night shift, and just plain Sleepy LaBeef fans who may have caught him on talk-master Larry Glick’s two A.M. phone-in broadcasts from the truckstop....
How in the world, the question naturally arises, did a six-foot six, 265- pound, basso profundo, first-generation rockabilly from Arkansas ever end up at Alan's Truckstop in the northeast backwater of Amesbury, Massachusetts?
In many ways Sleepy is as great a performer as I've ever seen, and when you see the way that people respond to his music, you wonder why, and if, rockabilly ever went away. Sleepy has a theory on that ("I didn't ever see it change. The people were still digging it, and the musicians liked playing it, but the big companies figured it was a fad and they took it away from the kids"), but in any case it is no exercise in nostalgia for the people who have come out to see Sleepy LaBeef at Alan's Fifth Wheel or the Hillbilly Ranch; they couldn't care less that it was Iohn Lee Hooker who originated ’In the Mood’ or Scotty Moore whose licks Sleepy duplicates note for note on ’Milkcow Blues Boogie.’ Sleepy’s records may not do him justice, but Sleepy knows how good he can be.As I worked on Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America's Garage Band, I clung to these inspiring, moving words of LaBeef's—I think I'd still be doing it tomorrow, if there wasn't any money in it at all. That's just the way I feel. Indeed, LaBeef's comments could've been my book's subtitle. I owe a great debt to Guralnick, for this profile which I could only have hoped to emulate in my long, sprawling book, and for the hours of pleasure that his work has given me over the decades.
"I never sold out," he can say with pride. "Nobody owns me. I know I'm good. I wouldn't be honest if I didn't tell you that. I've been around long enough to know that if I get the breaks I can still make it—Charlie Rich was older than me when he finally did. And if I don't get the breaks—wel1, when I started in this business I didn't even know you could make a dime out of it. And I think I'd still be doing it tomorrow, if there wasn't any money in it at all. That's just the way I feel."
|LaBeef, center, in Houston, Texas, ca. 1957|
|Erik Jensen as Lester Bangs|
Her words bother me because in part they are accurate. There is a perception that Fenway and Wrigley are more special than Tiger Stadium. I have struggled to understand it. Is it because those parks are in better neighborhoods? Or because their fans are more educated or affluent, more worldly? Or because they’re based in Boston and Chicago, cities with grand literary traditions and writers who celebrate them? Or is it just because neither team has won a world championship since Hollywood began making talking movies and some ﬁnd that romantic?Three years ago, I visited the site of old Tiger Stadium, a park I regrettably never attended. To be nostalgic means to have a deep desire for a homecoming, of sorts—difficult to do when that place is gone for good. Reading Stanton's words somehow brought me back home to a place I'd never been.
Our ballpark feels like Detroit. It carries no airs. It’s blue-collar and industrial. When you enter through the gates, you come in beneath corrugated doors that have been rolled up on tracks, like at a warehouse delivery dock. You’re greeted by cement and steel, strong, riveted girders that thrust upward and serve a purpose, holding the deck above in place. There are no architectural ﬂourishes: no cornices, no fancy tile Work, no aesthetic touches. This stadium shows its secrets—pipes, wires, girders, and all. It’s plain and simple, no scent of pretentiousness. It doesn’t yearn to be something it is not.
Krause may sense my irritation because her Words take on a conciliatory tone.
“I feel like I couldn’t help Tiger Stadium,” she says. “But if Fenway can be preserved, at least part of that era can go on.”