This was 1969. When next Elvis returned to Vegas, he would have a fancier set and snazzier outfits for his band. Also, Ronnie Tutt had more drums. Like, a lot more drums.
See? More drums.
(Ronnie Tutt needed every single one of those tom-toms, though, because Ronnie Tutt’s job wasn’t playing drums; Ronnie Tutt’s job was helping Elvis be awesome, and so when the King demonstrated karate, Ronnie Tutt made it sound like Thor was taking a shit. Rock Nerds will note that “accenting the singer’s dance moves” was also a requisite for James Brown’s drummers, but they should further note that James Brown had, like, four drummers onstage at a time. Ronnie Tutt had to play Hound Dog way too fast AND underscore Elvis’ spin-kicks.)
(At no point did Elvis consider a multiple-drummer set-up.
“THASS SOME COMMIE BULLSHIT, MAN. GOOD LORD WANTED US T’ HAVE TWO DRUMMERS, HE WOULD’A MADE THE STAGE WIDER.”
How did you get inside a parenthetical?
“GOD MADE ADAM AN’ EVE, NOT TWO DRUMMERS AT ONCE.”
We get it.
“AH DIDN’ EVEN HAVE ONE DRUMMER WHEN AH STARTED OUT, AN’ AH DID JUS’ FINE!”
Sure, but that was a different type of music, King.
“AN’ AH HAD NOT YET MASTERED KARATE!”
“LISSEN, BOY. ONLY TWO REASONS YOU GOT MORE’N ONE DRUMMER IN YER BAND. EITHER YER A COMMUNIST, AN’ Y’THINK EVERYONE WHO WANTS A JOB IN TH’ BAND SHOULD GET ONE, OR YER ONE O’ THEM IN’ELLECTUAL TYPES THAT THINKS MUSIC SHOULDN’T SOUND GOOD.”
I agree with the second part, but don’t really understand the first one.
Okay, okay. How many backup singers?
“SHITLOAD, MAN. THINK OF A BIG NUMBER, THEN DOUBLE THAT SUMBITCH.”
Ignore the false start–Elvis would pull that shit on the band at most shows during his Vegas years–and the post-song plea for wawa. Listen to these motherfuckers. And on Rubberneckin’! The performance is far more than the song deserves! Suspicious Minds has a killer riff and memorable chorus; Hound Dog and Heartbreak Hotel are stone-cold classics; In The Ghetto has that part where it gets real loud. Rubberneckin’ is just shit.
But the TCB Band rips it several new assholes.
When men* have common purpose, mountains tremble.
* And the Sweet Inspirations and Kathy Westmoreland, the li’l lady who sings all them high notes.
“EV’RYBODY LOOK AT KATHY. SHE GONNA DO A TWIRL.
“SHOW ‘EM THEM SLACKS, KATHY WESTMORELAND!”
How the hell did you get into a footnote?
“AH AM TH’ KING.”
“SHE SINGS UP REAL HAH, MAN. DOGS GIT SQUIRRELY ‘ROUND HER.”
I can’t spend all night talking to you.
“YES, YEW CAN. YEW GOT NOTHIN’ BETTER T’ DO, AN’ AH NEED ME A NEW CHARLIE HODGE.”
What happened to the real one?
“TURNS OUT HE CANNOT FETCH A LAHZ’NGE. BOY AIN’T GOOD WITH NEW INF’RMATION. HE POPPED A VALVE OR SOMETHIN’, MAN. HIS EYEBALLS AIN’T FACING TH’ SAME WAY NO MORE.”
Terrible to hear.
“YEW GOT NO IDEA, MAN. AH TRIED PUTTIN’ RED WEST ON SCARVES AN’ WATER DUTY, BUT THAT LIPFLAPPIN’ GOPHER WANNA CHEW UP MY EAR. AH JUS’ WANT MAH SCARF! DON’ BE PUTTIN’ Y’R TWO CENTS IN, AND AH AIN’ PAYIN’ NO PENNY F’R NO THOUGHTS!”
Tough to find good help.
“SONNY COULDN’ DO IT, NEITHER! KEPT THINKIN’ AH WANTED T’ RASSLE! AH ASKED F’R A SCARF, AN’ TH’ SUMBITCH TACKLED ME DOWN TH’ DANG STEPS! AN’ USUALLY, AH LOVE RASSLIN’ WITH SONNY, BUT NOT WHEN AH WUZ IN SUCH DIRE NEED OF A SCARF. JOE ESPOSITO WUZ TH’ WORST, THOUGH.”
“BOY DON’ KNOW WHAT A SCARF IS. KEPT BRINGIN’ ME BEACH TOWELS AND BATHROOM TISSUE. ONE TIME, HE BROUGHT ME AN OVEN MITT. AH WUZ FORCED TO FIRE MAH PISTOL AT HIM TWO OR THREE TIMES.”
Billy looks like a character in a Randy Newman song.
Hey, Mrs. Donna Jean. Whatcha doing?”
“Ah’m wearin’ mah wizard robe, sugah.”
Happy New Year’s, ma’am.
“Bring mama her lime rickey.”
“Mama loves her a rickey.”
Hey, Bobby. Whatcha doing?
“Phil and Jer are telling jokes and leaving me out again.”
Ah, no. That sucks.
“And, you know: I know great jokes. There’s the one about the bees.”
We all know the one about the bees. Does anyone in your organization have any plan to get the balloons off the stage?
“Huh. I, uh play guitar and do some singing. A bit of songwriting is also expected of me. That’s my whole portfolio. I am not involved with the logistical side of it.”
“You should ask Precarious.”
Good idea. Precarious?
“No plan whatsoever.”
PRECARIOUS LEE EXITING THE SCENE NOISE
Oh, so that‘s what that sounds like.
“Not, uh, what you’re expecting. Different sound than you’d assume.”
Way different, yeah.
“It was my ringtone for a while.”
CELL PHONE NOISE
“I should take this; it might be Elvis Presley.”
That sentence is 100% true.
“HAIRY GARCIA, THIS IS ELVIS!”
“Oh, hey. Hold, please.
“Yeah, like I said: Elvis. Gimme a sec.”
Are you talking to me?
Why? That’s not how this bit goes.
“Right, but I didn’t want to be rude. Like, uh, Jer. And Phil. Mostly, I’m mad about Garcia ignoring me. Sometimes it’s nice when Phil ignores you, but it hurts when the Big Guy does it. And, uh, I didn’t wanna pass that rancorous sentiment down the line.”
How thoughtful of you. Thank you, Bobby.
“I’ll be back in two shakes of a wig’s tail.”
“Elvis? You still there?”
“AH AM HERE, AN’ SO IS GRITS!”
“AH HAVE ASSEMBLED A TEAM O’ KARATE-DOLPHINS. THIS ONE’S NAME IS GRITS.”
“Good name for a dolphin.”
“Team of what? Why?”
“TH’ KING WAS COMIN’ ON OUT TO BE YOUR HON’RABLE SECOND IN A KARATE FIGHT T’ THE DEATH WITH THAT HEWIS LEWIS FELLA. GONNA GET ALL UP ON THAT MAN THERE. AH’LL BE A SQUIRREL GETTIN’ A NUT.”
“Uh-huh. King, I gotta be honest with you: I do not pay attention to the bullshit around here in the slightest.”
“IT WUZ A STORYLINE.”
“I’m not doubting you, but I just care at the time, so I don’t remember now. Also, you know, the near-constant time travel has jumbled up all my memories. It’s like cut-up poetry up there.”
“NEVERTH’LESS, AH HAVE A PLAN TO HELP YOU REGAIN FACE. IN TH’ STREETS, WE CALL IT A GOOD NAME, BUT IN THE DOJO, IT IS CALLED FACE.”
“I’m familiar with the concept.”
“IN MAH HEART, AH AM ALWAYS IN MAH DOJO.”
“SPEAKIN’ O’ WHICH: TURNS OUT DOLPHINS AIN’T PORTABLE. LEAST NOT ON LAND, THEY AIN’T. AH WUZ THINKIN’ OF ‘EM IN TERMS O’ WATER HORSES. AH MAHT HAVE TO TURN MAH PLANE, TH’ LISA MARIE, INT’ A FLYIN’ AQUARIUM LAHK IN THAT STAR TREK WHERE SPOCK STUCK HIS PECKER INNA WHALE.”
“I think I saw that one.”
“HAIRY GARCIA, AH WILL NOW CONFIDE IN YEW: MOST O’ WHAT AH USE MAH TIME CAPE FOR IS SEEIN’ FUTURE MOVIES. BEEN T’ EV’RY BATMAN MOVIE THEY GONNA MAKE.”
“Some of ’em were all right. I didn’t like the guy who did the voice thing.”
“NAW, MAN. SOUNDED LIKE TH’ DING-DANG COOKIE MONSTER. AIN’T NO CRIMINAL SCARED O’ NO DING-DANG COOKIE MONSTER! SPENT THAT WHOLE DAMN MOVIE WANTIN’ T’ GIVE BATMAN A LAHZ’NGE! HAIRY GARCIA, WOULD YOU LIKE A LAHZ’NGE? AH C’N HAVE CHARLIE HODGE BRING YEW A LAHZ’NGE.”
“I’m all right.”
“CHARLIE HODGE GEN’RALLY BRINGS ME MAH SCARVES AN’ WATER, BUT HE COULD GET A LAHZ’NGE, TOO. WOULDN’T TAKE HIM BUT THREE OR FOUR TRIES. BOY’S DUMBER TH’N A DEAD CAMEL’S DICK. TOOK HIM A FULL YEAR T’ MASTER BRINGIN’ ME SCARVES, TH’N ANOTHER TWO T’ TEACH HIM WATER.”
“Y’know, you might want to have him tested by a specialist.”
“DOCTOR NICK HAS EXAMINED CHARLIE HODGE ON MANY OCCASIONS, SOMETIMES IN FRON’ OF ME AN’ THE BOYS.”
“GETTIN’ MAH GOOF ON.”
“Cool. Gimme a sec.”
“WE STILL NEED T’ DISCUSS TH’ DOLPHINS!”
Hey, Bobby. Whatcha and Elvis doing?
“Listen, man: you gotta make him a new friend. Let him bother Josh.”
There’s a first time for everything, the praying mantis said to his new bride, and she smiled.
The great ones have eras. Sinatra had the Teenybopper years, and the Rat Pack, and Bored, Old, Mean Frank. Madonna was a Boy Toy, and then the Material Girl, and is now Crazy Aunt. Mohammad Ali: His mama called him Clay; No Viet Cong ever called me n—-r; ALI BOOM-AH-YAY; a shaky finish.Even the bush league ones have eras. Baby Dead, Keith Dead, Brent Dead, Sad Dead. The last chapter’s always the same.
Elvis had Vegas.
The first era was Tupelo Elvis. Truck-drivin’, hip-swivelin’, mama-lovin’ Elvis with his two goober buddies on guitar and bass behind him, atop a flatbed truck at the county fair, captured in black-and white. Resetting his leg after he boogedy-shooped his way down the stage. The Elvis whose crotch was a danger to teevee audiences, possibly democracy itself. The Elvis about whom 50 million fans weren’t incorrect regarding. Tupelo Elvis still lived with his mother.
Army Elvis buried his mother. Army Elvis also met Charlie Hodge, who would thereafter procure for him both scarves and water,
Hollywood Elvis was next. Let’s play a game. I’m gonna ask you a question, and you’re not going to look it up. No googling. Follow the tenets of Without Research. Here we go:
How many movies did Elvis star in?
Wait! I didn’t give you the time frame. 1960-1969. Honorably discharged at the rank of sergeant in 1960, donned the jumpsuit and cape in 1969. How many movies did Hollywood Elvis make?
No, you’re wrong. Guess again.
Stop guessing. 27. Twenty-seven. 3^3. Two-and-a-quarter dozen. Hollywood spat out 27 Elvis movies in a decade; there aren’t 27 Godzilla movies in total. In the 60’s, Elvis movies came out on the same schedule as Marvel movies do today. All the same thing: Elvis tries real hard to deliver his lines like a big boy, and then he sings, and there’s a girl. Give him credit: the King tried, real early on, to make serious pictures. To get his teeth into a real character. To act, man. The craft, maaaaaan. Elvis made Flaming Star–he was a half-Kiowa rancher torn between love and country, or something like that–and he made Wild In The Country, which was written by Clifford Odets; nothing begs “Please take me seriously” more than letting Clifford Odets write your script.
“Oh, no,” the Audience responded. “This is not the Elvis for us. This is not our preferred Elvis. Bring back the one who sings and dances.”
Blue Hawaii was his next movie. The King saw as true and beautiful what the Audience had declared: they could never see him as anyone but himself. He was singular in their eyes. How could Elvis hide beneath a bushel? Let Tony Curtis do all the acting. Elvis must be Elvis.
Sometimes, Elvis was a stuntman. I think he was a professional water-skier once. He raced cars in at least several films. Carnivals, rodeos. All kinds of manly shit. And Elvis is always in a band so that he could serenade the girl. The rest of the run-time was taken up by rear-projectioned action scenes and light comedy.
After some years of this, the King became bored with being a movie star, and wanted to go back to being a rockyroll star. Did his ennui begin around 1967’s Clambake? I would imagine his feelings of frustration began earlier, but were crystallized upon production of Clambake. There’s no way Elvis didn’t pitch a fit upon initial receipt of the script.
“CLAMBAKE? WHAT IS THIS SHIT? JOE ESPOSITO, TELL ME AH AIN’ CRAZY!”
And then the black leather suit, the teevee special.
The mob built Las Vegas, but did not control it for that long at all. The city made too much money for the honest businessmen not to steal it from them. Big money always wins, even when the big money is pissing in jars and cosseting itself with Mormons and buying the local teevee station so it’ll play your favorite movies late at night. (That last one sounds pretty cool, actually.) If nutty Hughes could make bank in Vegas, than so could any half-bright fink with deep pockets.
Kirk Kerorkian was that fink. He built this:
FUN FACT: That’s Pauly Shore’s dad!
FACT FACT: You literally never have to stop playing baccarat.
“The baccarat, my sister, does e’er it cease?”
“Blessed one, no, it does not. The baccarat gallops on like time THE BACCARAT CANNOT BE BROKEN!”
And so on. It was at the time the largest hotel in the world, and the theme was international, because the name was the International, and so there was all variety of foreign bullshit everywhere. Henry the VIII furniture on top of rugs woven by sherpas who had become scared of heights. Tons of African masks. Lederhosen nailed to the walls of the elevators. Real classy joint. But it was not on the strip, and so needed a greater draw than the other casinos; the enticement would be the entertainment. Liberace! The Coz! Ann Margaret! (And you know Ann Margaret put on a high-energy show.) And the King.
Elvis was not the showroom’s first headliner when it opened in 1969; Colonel Parker would not allow that. His boy was the star, let someone else do the soundcheck. Booked to inaugurate the room was Barbra Streisand, whom the gentile crowds did not appreciate. The building having been shaken down, the King entered. This was to be his West Coast Graceland, his seat of power in the scorching desert beyond the mountains. This was a fine land to rule, the King thought. It is suitable for my guests, who are high-toned kind of people, and deserve luxury and comfort.
Million dollars. Twice a year, summer and the holidays. Four weeks. Two shows a night. Elvis did ’em straight through, too. The International Theater did not go dark on Mondays when the King was in residence. That first engagement in 1969? He did 57 shows in a row. Now, Elvis only did an hour and change, so perhaps we can liken each show to one of the Dead’s individual sets; thus, we can equate his contracted run to 28 Dead shows. The Grateful Dead would have openly and violently revolted had they been scheduled to perform for 28 nights in a row. At least two members would have simply stormed off somewhere around day 11.
Elvis was a working man.
It wasn’t a rock concert. Your ticket didn’t buy you a seat; it allowed you entrance to the showroom. You were assigned placement by a maitre d’, who needed to be bribed. The eight o’clock show was the dinner show. Food was served while the King sang, and displayed karate. Can you imagine such impertinence? Slurping spaghetti in his presence. While the man is singing to you about the ghetto, among other subjects. Fuckin’ disrespectful, that’s what the dinner show was.
1969 was not Elvis’ first engagement in Las Vegas. There was a misbegotten booking much earlier in his career, when he was a different man and it was a different town. He appeared at the New Frontier alongside Shecky Greene and a pared-down version of Oklahoma. The crowd was older, and had dibs on sophistication, and so sniffed at the youth. He was uncouth, that youth. That redneckery was not going down in ’56 Vegas. The Audience wanted Xavier Cugat and an end to the Missile Gap.
The reviews were poor, and the crowds unreceptive, but Elvis used his time in town to befriend Liberace.
The big stars came out for Elvis. Nowadays, big stars hang out backstage or in VIP, but big stars would sit at tables just like they people at Elvis’ shows. He’d introduce them from the stage.
“STAN’UP, CAROL CHANNING! EV’RYBODY SAY HELLO T’ DOLLY! THASS CAROL CHANNING RIGHT THERE!”
It was an event, the ’69 run. It was glamorous, and so attracted the big stars. Sinatra didn’t go, because Sinatra was an asshole, but Sammy Junior Davis was in a booth making sure the whole room saw him being present. Cary Grant, and two of the three Catwomen from the Batman teevee show, and Tom Jones. Mac Davis. There were writers, who planned on writing things, and reporters, who planned on reporting on things.
Stonewall was a month before, and the moon just two weeks. Woodstock would be several weeks after.
Whether or not Elvis founded the city of Las Vegas depends on if you put your stock in history or historicity. It is believed by some that the King erected the first city walls, or at least had Sonny and Red do it.
The first band was two pieces. Scotty Moore on guitar and Bill Black on upright bass. You could fit the whole touring group in one Cadillac. Not so much for the Vegas band:
“AH TRAVEL HEAVY!”
We see that. This is ’69, and Elvis had not quite figured out his presentation yet. The iconic jumpsuit would not appear until 1970, along with a fancier set, a new piano player, and the legendary Also Sprach Zarathrusta theme he stole from Stanley Kubrick. (You know that’s what happened. Elvis rented out the local theater so he and his slackjawed buddies could watch 2001 at three in the morning, and when the tune played he said, “THATSS GONNA BE MAH WALK-OUT MUSIC. THEM KETTLE DRUMS GONNA HERALD MAH ARRIVAL.”)
James Burton has the telecaster, and rhythm guitarist John Wilkinson is next to him. Piano player is Larry Muhoberac. Jerry Scheff on bass. You know Hard-Hitting Ronnie Tutt. Behind them is Buddy Morris and the Buddy Morris Orchestra. At stage left are the Sweet Inspirations, one of whom was Whitney Houston’s mother, and behind them–out of frame–are the Imperials. On the acoustic guitar which was never plugged in is Charlie Hodge. Charlie also snag backup, and fetched scarves and water.
It was a fine band.
This is from that opening run. It was a fine band, and Ronnie Tutt surely is due a place in the heavens of all theologies for his playing here. He was a nuclear reactor, he was a fierce attractor, he every drum at once on every single beat; it worked well. Ronnie Tutt eyed the King like a border collie. Never distracted. Keep your eye in, Ronnie Tutt. And when there was karate, it was accented.
I’m surprised Scorsese’s mother didn’t have a scene in which she cooked meatballs for Spooky Violin Lady; that’s how wasteful Martin Scorsese was with the time he had for Rolling Trucker Bob Thing. Two hours! The man had two hours–give or take–to tell the story of one of the greatest rockyroll tours of all time, or at least of 1975, and he squandered it on fooferall and squiddly-doo. Perhaps that’s what being a success is: No one will tell you to cut Sharon Stone.
MICK FUCKIN’ RONSON. At least Spooky got a couple lines, but Mick Ronson didn’t even get introduced. MICK FUCKIN’ RONSON! Allow me to catch you up, if you’re unfamiliar.
First, Mick Ronson was the best guitarist David Bowie ever played with (and I am including Stevie Ray Vaughn, thank you). This is the two of ’em, along with the rest of the Spiders, doing Moonage Daydream at the legendary Hammersmith Odeon:
Sure, TotD, that was pretty gnarly. But they were onstage. Anyone can be cool onstage. And so I shout HOW DARE YOU? and I spit on your children. Phlegmy spit, too, not just saliva. Colorful and sticky. Now your children are crying and your wife wants to fight me. Is this how you planned on the interaction going? I bet it wasn’t. Stop questioning me, goddammit.
Because, yes, Mick Ronson was also cool offstage.
(It should noted that both men are properly wielding their cutlery, which sets them apart from most of their peers. None of The Kinks knew how to use a fork. Further, it should also be noted that someone has given David Bowie a medal.)
“Mick, I love you very much.”
“Thank you, David.”
“And to prove it, I’m going to completely ghost you after this tour. Won’t hear from me for decades.”
“It’s something singers do. And movie stars. Men who get called ‘genius’ a lot, basically. We all do this to our creative collaborators.”
“I’m sure you’ll catch on with a talented artist who’s pleasant to be around and deal with financially.”
It’s Lou Reed, everybody.
(Oddly, Mick seems to have regressed vis-a-vis flatware, and his handling thereof.”
Before Bowie dumped Mick Ronson, the two of them wrote Lou Reed an album. Ever wonder why Transformer was so excellent, and all Lou’s other records so numbingly mediocre? It’s because Bowie and Ronson wrote and arranged the songs, and then Lou came in and poetried over the top of them. You really thought Lou came up with Perfect Day?
Lou Reed doesn’t know that many chords.
We may assume that Lou punched Mick Ronson in the head several times, made at least two fumbling passes at him, viciously mocked his Mormonism, and then ran to a telephone to tell Lester Bangs what a bad boy he’d just been.
(Mick Ronson was a Mormon, which I did not think was an option available to a Yorkshireman born in 1946. The North of England was unbelievably distant from Utah in 1946, but Jesus finds a way, even when He’s weird, knock-off Mormon Jesus.)
Having had his fill of psychopathic Americans, Mick Ronson then partnered up with Ian Hunter, who wrote dark, funny songs that were forever fretting about the state of rockyroll. In addition, Ian Hunter wore splendid trousers:
Splendid. And they looked like this together:
Which is splendid, too.
The two men, Ian and Mick, became fast friends and palled about doing Rock Star stuff. Writing tunes, and conspicuous anal, and getting a place in New York. (“Getting a place in New York” is a classic Rock Star move. Garcia and Bobby shared one with Clarence Clemons in the ’80’s. True story.) One evening, the Brits met Bob Dylan at the Bitter End. Due to the loudness of the crowd, and Bob Dylan’s insistence on mumbling through his nostrils, neither man understood a word. They nodded politely, lifted their eyebrows in agreement, added the occasional “Go on.” Bob talked for a while, then left.
“Fuck was all that, then?”
“Not a clue.”
The next morning, a van arrived at the pad. Ian had scored with a fox, and had not come home. Mick Ronson was by himself. The man who had driven the van to the pad knocked on the door. BAPba bap. Friendly knock, but professional. Mick Ronson is wearing only his shorts when he opens the door.
“Come on, Mick. Grab your guitar.”
“Let’s go. Please.”
Mick Ronson didn’t want to cause a fuss, so he got his guitar and asked for permission to put on his pants and put on his pants and then he got in the van. The first show was in Massachusetts, and it was cold. All Mick Ronson had was a frilly shirt and tight dungarees, so he was cold. He wondered if he should bring it up with Bob, but decided not to. After the show, the man who drove the van came for him, and said,
“We’ll be back in the van now.”
“Ah. Yeah? Ah, no. Maybe not. I’d quite prefer, if you wouldn’t mind–”
“We’ll be back in the van now, please.”
“Oh, all right.”
That night and into the next day, the man drove the van in great looping circles around New England. The radio would pick up the French stations from across the border, and then dying into Massachusetts. We are always, Mick Ronson thought to himself, dying into Massachusetts. Time came for sound check, and the van approached the venue. The show. The van again. This continues throughout November.
Mick Ronson accepts this life now; no one will speak to him for fear of joining him in the van. The per diem is left in an envelope in the van. He does not know who leaves it there. The amount varies, and occasionally is not money but a medium-sized scorpion. Mick Ronson fears Spooky Violin Lady. He has seen her bite several back-up singers’ auras off; she is surely a psychic dracula.
The second week of December, the van is driven by the man to New York City. The show is at Madison Square Garden. Mick Ronson engages in full-on psionic war with Spooky for the entire set, abetted greatly by his bold but successful choice of Double Denim:
She collapsed, spent. [NOT PICTURED]
After the drums and backline had been struck, Mick Ronson stood, waited, guitar in hand, This was when the man came by, brought him to the van. Have arrangements changed? Mick Ronson looked for the man backstage for quite a while, and then went outside and searched the streets for the van. There were many double-parked on both sides of 39th Street, but none were his van. It was getting late, and Mick Ronson was tired, and so he walked south a couple miles to the pad he shared with Ian Hunter.
He was home.
“Where ya been, son?”
“On tour wit’ Bob Dylan.”
“Were ya now?”
And that’s the story of Mick Ronson’s time in the Rolling Thunder band.
You’re right. Mick Ronson deserves more respect than that. Listen to him on Hard Rain:
The solo’s at 3:00 in, but that’s not Mick Ronson’s brilliance: check out the tiny fills and doodlings he shoots all over the rhythm section. It’s an ejaculatory style of musicianship, and it’s rather disrespectful towards poetry. The sound is Marshall Stacky and phases, and mixed far too loud; Mick Ronson’s Les Paul and Spooky Violin Women’s spooky violin were the band’s voice.
Listen to this. It’s Isis. You know the song. Put on your headphones and listen.
Mick Ronson is on the left, and Spooky is on the right, and you can go and tear down the Rockyroll Hall of Fame, because that’s it right there. That was the sound everyone else was going for. Those shaggy boys and languid girls, they got it right that tour, and on the next one–arenas down south in 1976–and then never again because Bob fired everyone in the band and never spoke to them again. Geniuses do that sort of thing. Our hero, having lived through a similar firing, recovered quickly. It also helped that–over the course of two separate tours–he and Bob had never had an actual conversation
Back to his pal Ian, and to England, where they had a Top 20 hit with Once Bitten, Twice Shy and continued having great hair and enjoying themselves. Mick Ronson also produced. Did Jack & Diane for that roustabout Mellencamp. “Feisty young man,” he would later say about the small Indianan.
Mick Ronson produced this song, and Ellen Foley gives us hope:
(AN ASIDE: There’s a whole story going on with Ellen Foley. There is intrigue and trauma and machination in that story. I say we crowdfund an Ellen Foley documentary.)
For most of the 80’s, Mick Ronson putzes around the music business. Writing, producing, playing, whatever he can add. Give the man the nod, and he’ll do his thing. Last public performance was with his mate Ian Hunter at the tribute they threw for Freddie in 1992. First gig was in Brough Village Hall; last was at Wembley Stadium. The next year, liver cancer. 46 years old.
The extended canard about Bob ripping off KISS’ makeup a semi-underage Sharon Stone deserved to be in the film; more music would have simply gotten in the way of the improv. In fact, goddammit, I think there was too much Bob Dylan AND too much music in my Bob Dylan music documentary! More extended takes of Bob trying to explain baseball to an Italian journalist, or Ramblin’ Jack singin’ Commie work songs! But whatever you do–NO MATTER WHAT–don’t show me Bob and his band playing his music. That’s not what we’re here for!
Dude, what the fuck?
I’m being contrarian.
Not on my watch, which is strapped around my cock-and-balls.
Pleasure and punctuality..
Sure. I love the semi-fictional insertions to the narrative.
And you know who else did?
AH LOVED EV’RY SECOND OF IT!
“AH’M A COP, NOW.”
This will end poorly.
“IT STARTED PRETTY DANG BAD, TOO! AH SHOT THREE PEOPLE, BUT TWO OF ‘EM WAS IN TH’ MEMPHIS MAFIA, SO IT DIN’T COUNT. AH ALSO BOTCHED A HOSTAGE SITUATION.”
“There was a hostage sitaution?”
“AH TOL’ CHARLIE HODGE T’ GO AN’ KIDNAP SOMEBODY SO AH COULD STEP IN AN’ BE TH’ HERO LIKE IN TH’ COMIC BOOK.”
How did that go?
“CHARLIE WAS BEATEN SEVERELY! HE PICKED HISSELF A REAL HOSS OF A TARGET. A STURDY WOMAN, TWO BILLS EASY. EASY TWO BILLS. THAT DUMB LI’L NUGGET JUS’ ABOUT BOUNCED OFFA HER. LOOKED LIKE A RACCOON RUNNIN’ INTO A MOOSE. LADY BARELY FELT IT, MAN.”
Normal folks got no money, and shitty connections, and this means that normal folks can only get so high. Rich people got money–or can get credit–and that draws a better class of drug dealer. Rich people can get pretty high. Elvis, though, had his own doctor and the pharmacy he went to was on Elvis Presley Boulevard. Elvis got the highest. There’s no way to be higher than Elvis here.
“HOW DARE YOU, BOY!”
I had to figure you’d show up. Hey, King.
“NOTICE MAH MEDAL!”
It’s nice. What’s it for.
“IT WAS GIVEN TO ME BY A KARATE MASTER AH BATTLED JUST OUTSIDE ELKO, NEVADA. AH DEVASTATED TH’ MAN WITH MAH KICKS AN’ OTHER VARIOUS KARATE MOVES.”
“YOU ACCUSIN’ THE KING O’ SOMETHING? YOUR ASSERTIONS WILL BE REFUSTED. STRAIGHT-UP REFUSTED. AH JUS’ MADE UP THAT WORD. ‘REFUSTED.’ THAT AIN’T NO WORD. AN’ YOU WASN’T GONNA CORRECT ME, BOY! YOU WAS GONNA SIT THERE AN’ FEEL ME BEIN’ DOMINANT!”
You’re rather aggressive this visit.
“AH RESPOND TO DISRESPECT WITH THE FEROCITY OF A LION. LOOK!”
“SEE ? LION!”
“AH REMEMBER DOIN’ THIS NUMBER. WE HAD THAT BOY UP HERE T’ GRACELAND IN ’69. HE VISITED DURIN’ THAT NEKKID FOREST PARTY UP IN NEW YORK STATE. HE LIVED RIGHT UP THE STREET. NOISE WAS DRIVIN’ HIM NUTS.”
Wow. I did not know this.
“SHOWED UP AT TH’ GATES INNA CHRYSLER TOWN & COUNTRY. THAT’S TH’ CAR OF A SERIOUS MAN. I ALLOWED HIM ENTRANCE TO MAH HOME. BOB DYLAN WAS GREETED AT TH’ DOOR BAH MAH MONKEY-NECKED, SWAMP-SMELLIN’, PICKIN’-UP-RADIO-SIGNALS-ON-HIS-FILLIN’S, LEAKY DIAPER OF A DADDY–”
“–VERNON. AH WAS PROUD O’ MAH DADDY THAT DAY, AS HE DID NOT MENTION BOB DYLAN’S OBVIOUS JEWISHNESS.”
That was polite of Vernon.
“CHARLIE HODGE LOCKED HISSELF IN A BATHROOM, AS HE FEARED THE JEW.”
“WHEN BORED, AH OFTEN CHASE CHARLIE HODGE AROUND WHILE SHOUTIN’ JEW’S COMIN’ FOR YA! THAT ALWAYS BREAKS TH’ BOYS UP, MAN!”
How did you and Bob get along?
“FAMOUSLY. HE BROUGHT WITH HIM A WELCOME GIFT. IT WAS A MASSIVE HAT. AH WORE IT, EVEN THOUGH AH’M NOT A HAT PERSON. TO HIM, AH PRESENTED A TAPE RECORDER COVERED IN PRECIOUS JEW’REY. MAINLY OPALS. THERE WAS A SHIT-LOAD O’ OPALS ON THAT SUMBITCH.”
“FO’R REASONS O’ COMPASSION AN’ INSURANCE PURPOSES, AH HAD DOCTOR NICK GIVE BOB DYLAN A FULL LOOKIN’-OVER.”
“DOC SAID IT WAS TH’ SECOND-WORST CASE HE EVER SAW.”
“TH’ REST OF TH’ VISIT IS UNKNOWN TO ME, BUT WAS APPARENTLY QUITE PRODUCTIVE! WE RECORDED A DOZEN SONGS, MAN.”
What? You’re kidding. Where are the tapes?
“THEY OUT IN CALIFORNIA. SAFEST PLACE COULD EVER BE: A THEME PARK IN WILDFIRE COUNTRY. NO WORRIES ‘BOUT THEM TAPES.
“BAM! YOU HEALED. GET ON GOIN’, FREAKY.”
Who are you talking to?”
“SHE GONNA BUS’ OUTTA THEM BRACES LIKE KING KONG BURSTIN’ HIS CHAINS IN NEW YORK, MAN. WALK, FREAKY, WALK! ELVIS SAYS YOU C’N WALK!”
“The entire situation. The, uh, appropriate term for it is unsayable with Mrs. Nixon in the room.”
“Pat received your warm wishes, and she, uh, returns them. By my side, Mrs. Nixon is. Not just in a physical sense, but morally and religiously, so forth. Man needs a good wife in this game. It’s why Booker has no shot. Americans will stand for many things, but not a bachelor. If he’s queer, well, that’s apparently fine now. I don’t care about that. But you can’t be single.”
Astute observation, sir. And we don’t say ‘queer’ any more.
“I only used that description because, again, of Mrs. Nixon’s presence. Among the company of my aides, Haldeman, Kissinger, those sorts, I use much earthier language. Erlichmann does an impression of the homosexual mannerisms that, uh, is a source of much laughter in the Oval Office. He waves his arms around, the whole deal.”
“Nixon was never any good at impressions. They never came naturally. I had to work all my life just to do a passable Jimmy Cagney. Not like those Kennedy boys. Each one of them, a Rich Little with a hundred-dollar haircut.”
Mr. President, have you been drinking?
“Of course I’ve been drinking! The chaos this fool is causing! Bad for business, bad for the country, bad for everyone. Confusion? Now, confusion is a tool. Many political strategies rely on keeping various parties to a plan in the dark, but there’s no plan here. The baboon is pissing on the radiator and laughing at the smell.”
Do you think he could salvage a political win here, sir?
“Win? No. The best he can now hope for is to not lose too badly. He promised the morons a wall, and they believed him. They’ll hold him to it. The judges mean nothing. The tax cut is forgotten. No one chanted for those things, anyway. The wall. If he cannot deliver it, then his base will turn on him.”
“JUS’ LIKE YEW TURNED ON ME, NIX!”
“AH HAVE MADE MAH RETURN, AN’ AH COME BEARIN’ A BUNCH O’ GOOBERS IN HATS.”
“Hello, King. Goobers.”
“Y’ALL DONE F’RGOT MAH BIRTHDAY, NIX! AH’M MADDER TH’N A MAN WITH RATTLESNAKE TOILET PAPER!”
“Well, uh, King: during our last visit together, you led me to believe that this universe was, I believe the term you used, semi-fictional and therefore outside time.”
“A MAN STILL WANTS A CAKE!”
“Ah. Perhaps Mrs. Nixon has some leftovers in the fridge.”
“YOU AIN’T GOTTA FEED TH’ GOOBERS!”
“Good to know, King. Excellent information. And, uh, happy birthday.”
“THASS ALL AH WANTED T’ HEAR, NIX. GOVERNMENT’S SHUT DOWN, BUT YOUR HEART AIN’T.”