Monday, November 23, 2009

But she just couldn't stay, she had to break away...

A few weeks ago, the fine folks at W. W. Norton & Co. (my second favorite Norton-named business--I certainly was a devotee of their lit anthology textbooks in high school and college) sent me a copy of Tony Fletcher's new tome, All Hopped Up and Ready to Go: Music from the Streets of New York 1927-77. I finished it this morning and was pleased to find it an immensely satisfying survey of the major popular music scenes and figures of mid-20th century NYC. Fletcher's wide scope takes us on a seamless Five Boroughs-wide journey from the jazz age and its swing, bebop, and Latin/"Mambo Kings" offshoots; to the Village folkies; to the vocal harmony & Alan Freed '50s; to the '60s as it evolved from Brill Building pop to hippie rock and all beats in between; to the early dance clubs and discotheques; to the glam and punk periods; straight through to the Boogie-Down beginnings of hip-hop--all culminating in that pivotal year when two sevens clashed.

Any one of these topics could be (and in many cases, already is) the subject of its own book. Fletcher's mission, deftly accomplished, is to show the connections and continuity between each scene, and to never lose sight of the only-in-New-Yorkiness of them all. I only wish he'd had the space to delve into each period in an even deeper manner than he already did--as in, cover some of the more obscure figures in addition to the famous folks. [However, had he packed in any more detail I might have needed a magnifying glass to pore over all the minuscule-fonted fine print, as I'll probably have to start doing soon with Ugly Things! My great buddy Flipped Out got me the latest issue of it yesterday, but meanwhile I've barely made it through half the previous one--when will Mike Stax ever slow down and let me catch up?] In the introduction Fletcher himself laments all that had to be left out in the editing process, including his original concept of examining the whole of New York City music from the 19th century to our own burgeoning one. But he promises a wealth of supplemental material on his own site,, as well as a second book in this vein. Looking forward to it!

One minor copy-editing quibble though--the fortified wine that fortified (and ossified) many a Bowery bum is spelled Night Train, not Nitrane!!!

Normally I have a tendency to skip ahead and read the back matter of a book before starting the actual text--I guess I like to get the little extras out of the way before fully delving into the meat of the matter. For some reason though, I read this book straight through, with no advance peeks at the addenda...well, except to gaze at the cool shot of the Rascals at the Phone Booth printed on page 412. Imagine my utter shock when, upon completing the final chapter, I saw this sentence in the Acknowledgments:

I came across far too many archival Web sites to mention, but I would be remiss not to make note of the site "It's all the streets you crossed not so long ago," named for a Velvet Underground lyric and which collects "tales of New York City rock & roll landmarks, most of 'em long gone."

Whoa! Other than a long-ago interview in the New York Times (still one of the first things that comes up if you Google my whole name), this is my first appearance in a legit publication. Of all the better-written-and-designed, more comprehensive, and more well-connected sites that are surely out there, a professional writer singles mine out. I am touched beyond belief and I'm so glad he found it useful. It remains to be seen whether I can transmogrify his back-patting into action--i.e., get my lazy arse in gear and write my next proper entry!!! But this just might be the jolt of motivation I need...

And as if that humbling bit of praise weren't enough, the book also led me to a rather flabbergasting discovery. In his discussion on Janis Ian, Fletcher mentions a mature-beyond-her-years song she wrote at 13 entitled "Hair of Spun Gold." Intrigued by its feminist message and having never heard it before, I looked it up on youtube. But instead of Janis' version, I came across one by an obscure British '60s folkie named Deena Webster. That's my first name, and there aren't too many chicks with that name in showbiz, let alone with this spelling and active in the '60s--so pardon me for wanting to cue the Twilight Zone theme here. This Deena isn't a punk rocker though--she sounds quite a bit like Joan Baez, or, as my Pops affectionately called her, Joan Bare-ass! Good song too.