Martha Wainwright performs “I Am a Diamond”: An Unofficial Slideshow About Cassie Chadwick

Martha Wainwright performs “I Am a Diamond”: An Unofficial Slideshow About Cassie Chadwick

This is Martha’s performance of “I Am a Diamond,” a song by her late mother–Kate McGarrigle, and two aunts, Anna and Jane. This recording is actually from Sing Me the Songs that Say I Love You, which is a recording (available on CD and DVD) of a memorial concert for Kate. Her brother Rufus takes second lead, singing in a remarkably high register. The sisters apparently wrote the song for an intended musical about the life of Cassie Chadwick, which unfortunately was never produced. Originally born as Elizabeth Bigley in Eastwood, Ontario in 1857, she seems to have been involved in check fraud while still an adolescent and then followed her sister Alice down to Cleveland Ohilo in 1875. Here she  assumed the first of a series of alternate identities, as Madame Lydia Devere, a clairvoyant, which she seems to have financed with fraudulent bank loans. After a brief marriage to Dr. Wallace Springsteen in 1882 (he filed for divorce after being confronted with her bad debts), she set her self up as Madame Marie LaRose, another clairvoyant, meeting her next husband, John Scott, who she married in 1883, but only after getting him to sign a prenuptial agreement. She filed for divorce in 1887, citing adultery (seemingly her own).

Between 1889-93 she served four years in prison for forgery at the Toledo penitentiary, and then returned to Cleveland where, under the name of Mrs. Cassie Hoover, she set up a brothel on the west side of the city. At this place of business, she met her fourt husband, wealthy widower Dr. Leroy Chadwick, whose patients included many of the cities elite, some of whom had elaborate mansions on Euclid Avenue, also known as Cleveland’s “Millionare’s Row.”  After marrying him in 1897, she asked a lawyer friend of her husband to take her to the home of Andrew Carnegie (one of the richest men in America at the time) , where she apparently checked (or pretended to check) the credentials of her housekeeper. When she came back she “accidentally” dropped a paper, which the lawyer took up; he was rather taken aback to see that it was a promoisssary note for $2,000,000 with Andrew Carnegie’s signature. After swearing the lawyer to secrecy, she “revealed” she was Carnegie’s illegitimate child, who showered huge amounts of money on her. The lawyer gallantly arranged for a safety deposit box for this promissary note, which was apparently one of many.

As secrets will, this one leaked out and Ohio banks began to offer her their services, which she availed herself of, securing some $20,000,000 in loans over the next eight years. She correctly guessed that no one would ask Carnegie for fear of offending him, and the interest rates on the loans was so usorious that the bankeers were hesitant to admit to granting them. For eight years, Cassie enjoyed the high life, buying diamond necklaces, thirty closets of clothes, and a gold organ, earning the nickname of “Queen of Cleveland.”  Af the end of 1904 it all came crashing down when one of the bankers finally called a loan in; Dr. Chadwick filed for divorce and left for a European tour; and Citizen’s National Bank of Oberlin was forced into bankruptcy. She was sentenced to fourteen years in prison and a substantial fine, but died after serving less than two years, in October 1907. (The above is basically and abreviated version of her Wikipedia page).  I hope the background is useful in making sense of the slideshow, if not necessarily of her character, although the McGarrigles’ lovely song offers an intriguing and sympathetic perspective upon it, further enhanced by Martha’s evocative vocals.

Rufus Wainwright’s “Little Sister”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Rufus Wainwright’s “Little Sister”: An Unofficial Slideshow

“Little Sister” is Rufus in high classical mode, with very symmetrical violin figures. This makes sense, as I am fairly sure that the song is–at least in part–about the relationship between Wolfgang Mozart and his sister, Marie (aka “Nannerl”). She was actually four and a half years older than he was, and he first became interested in music watching his father Leopold tutor her. She too was a musical prodigy (esp. on the harpsichord), and she too toured the courts of Europe with her father and brother. Occasionally, she even seems to have gotten top billing. Unfortunately, she got older, was forbidden by her father to marry the relatively impoverished man she loved, and forced to marry a rich old guy. She also wrote music, which her brother praised, although virtually none of it has survived. There’s even a French movie about her (which I haven’t seen yet). I bring this up, simply because some of the song’s lines actually make much better sense if you see them as being about Wolfgang and Nannerl.

Of course, it is also about Rufus and Martha (although I couldn’t find any pictures of them sitting at the piano together). I was particularly struck by the “have no shame” line, a line that Martha herself seems to be recalling when she describes her growing up (I imagine it was pretty hard to compete with Rufus for people’s attention). Anyway, I wanted to put this up in part to announce my new Unofficial: Martha Wainwright page

In any event, I hope people enjoy the slideshow, and I’m looking forward to seeing Rufus again at Belly Up in Solana Beach on May 24th (my first chance to see Rufus perform in a club!).

Angel City’s “Ivory Stairs”: An Unofficial Tribute to the new Legacy Museum

Angel City’s “Ivory Stairs”: An Unofficial Tribute to the new Legacy Museum

This slideshow is really the product of two different recent occurences. The first was the murder of  21 year-old Ebony Groves, 23 year-old Akilah DaSilva, 29 year-old Taurean C. Sanderlin, and 20 year-old Joe R. Perez. None of them were criminals. All were promising young people of potential, all killed by a relatively young white male with an AR-15. More probably would have been killed had not James Shaw Jr. acted heroically and grabbed the assault rife’s barrell with his hand and wrestled it away from the murderer. In mind, at any rate, it connected with other painful events, such as the shooting of 22 year-old Stephon Clark in Sacramento for holding a cell phone, or the killing of Walter Scott (which–highly unusually–resulted in a conviction for the officer involved). The other event that prompted me to make this slideshow was the opening of The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration in Downtown Montgomery, Alabama, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also in Montgomery. While I can’t say I ever had any desire to visit Montgomery before, I sort of do now. For some reason, I respond even more deeply to works of art than pictures on the news (it was only after making this, in fact, that I finally donated to the fund James Shaw Jr. had set up for the victims of the Waffle House Tragedy (There’s a link in the post below this one, if you are interested). The music is from Australian hard rock band Angel City, a track from their minor classic 1980 album Dark Room. I realize that the song is almost certainly about the difficulties of making it as a rock band in the music business, but it fits the general theme of the cultural and institional difficulities darker skinned people often have achieving success in America.

Cross My Heart: A Slideshow About Phil Ochs

Cross My Heart: A Slideshow About Phil Ochs

Today is the fifty-second anniversary of Phil Ochs’ death, and I thought I would repost this, which I have previously posted on the “50 Phil Ochs Fans Can’t Be Wrong” Facebook Group.  This slideshow is more or less a capsule biography of Phil’s life, set to live recording (I think from Montreal) of him singing “Cross My Heart,” a song that encapsulates the contradictions in Phil’s life, contradictions that ultimately led him to take his own life, contradictions that ultimately reflect those that the America still faces. This is in some sense a calling card for a larger project, essentially a two man stage show designed for a small theater, in which one actor (who would need to be a talented high tenor as well as a better than competent guitar player) would play Phil, and the other would the playing various people in his life, starting with his college roommate Jim Glover, a brief appearance as Bob Dylan, Phil’s second manager Arthur Gorson, Phil’s third manager (and brother) Michael Ochs, and Yippee Jerry Rubin. In the second half he would need to be an FBI agent, a prosecutor, Phil’s friend Andy Wickham, and Phil’s protege Sammy Walker. About half would be Phil’s songs, and about half would be dialogue drawn from Phil published and unpublished writers and papers, biographies about him, and his FBI file. I realized from the start that there will be many legal hurdles and permissions to secure, but I have bought theatrical performance rights for a single production run to Marc Eliot’s Death of a Rebel: A Biography of Phil Ochs, which the script draws heavily upon and am currently negotiating for performance rights to about fourteen songs. I hope to be talking to a potential director this week, and at least least get some hints about the audition process as I will need two strong actors, one of whom will also have to be a gifted singer and guitar player, and the other comfortable with quick changes of fairly varied characters. I realize that I will lose money on the project, which I am trying to keep small scale (only about ten performances in a very small theater, probably in North Hollywood or Pasadena). Nevertheless, it feels like something I need to at least try to do, simply because Phil’s songs and story touched me so deeply (I did see him once, but I will save story that for another post).

Anyway, the real reason for this post is the video below, which I compiled last June, when I first conceived of this play project, drawing on internet photographs and a few which I scanned from Eliot’s and Schumacher‘s biographies of him. It seems an appropriate memorial on this aniversary of his passing.

Rufus Wainwright’s WW III: An Unofficial Slideshow

Rufus Wainwright’s WW III: An Unofficial Slideshow

This is a real change of pace, but it’s kind of an unusual song for Rufus, one that I suspect he wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself. Written with Guy Chambers, “WW III” was intended to be a pop song, although the subject of global apocalypse is an unusual choice for someone interested in pop success. It actually appears on the second disc of the deluxe edition of Rufus’ “Best of” album. Since I pretty much had all of Rufus’ major lp releases, I never really bothered to listen to “Best of” collection and–in fact–only heard this song for the first time a few weeks ago. I was immediately struck by its beautiful piano line and the remarkable criss-crossing, building harmonies of the conclusion. The subject was also arresting, in that Rufus doesn’t usually write songs with such an overt political meaning (“Going to a Town” would be the exception). Granted, there is a romantic layer, but the song comes across as about 70% geopolitical. In the YouTube comments to the original video, I can see some people found the lyrics rather awkward (e.g. “Don’t bore us / Get to the chorus”), but I actually see them as an astute expression of the limits audience’s can impose on pop stars; people who want catchy hooks, not bleak ruminations about coming disaster. It is, of course, very Rufus-like to express all of these complexities and contradictions in a pop song, and a breathtakingly beautiful one at that. Hope you like it.

U Know Your Reichs (Nirvana Cover)

U Know Your Reichs (Nirvana Cover)

Originally posted, in somewhat different form, on the The Daily Kos back in May, and on Facebook last Thursday. This seemed an appropriate followup to the last diary I posted, which also touches on the subject of Holocaust denial (actually, it’s better than this slideshow, so if you have to choose, you should watch the Eva Kor video below, which I had nothing to do with).

This is the first slideshow I made this year, probably around the end of April or the beginning of May. I’ve done about sixty since this one. I haven’t really pushed it, in part because I thought it really didn’t come across as well with the two versions of the songs I ended up having to use. Originally, it was set to the Nirvana’s “You Know Your Right” and Liza Minnelli’s “Heiraten” from Cabaret, but neither were available for use (often, you can use songs as long as you are willing to cede all monies generated from YouTube ads to the copyright holders–but sometimes this is forbidden). To replace the Liza Minnelli song, I have used Zarah Leander‘s “Adieu” (a Swedish singer who was a popular in Europe in the thirties). She was actually strongly anti-Nazi, and had a hit with “I skuggan av en stovel” (“In the shadow of the boot”) which was an anti-fascist song written by her husband.

If you noted the rather obvious pun in the title to this diary, you probably know where this is heading. Essentially, the slideshow was inspired by the confluence of two things: watching Andre Singer’s Night Will Fall, a powerful documentary incorporating many reels of long forgotten footage that British soldiers shot when they were liberating the concentration camps in the western part of Germany. As someone in the film says, the footage conveys the utter despair of people in the camps more powerfully than anything else I have seen (admittedly, I have not watched Shoah). Even the relatively inexperienced military cameramen who are interviewed—sixty years later—are still visibly traumatized by the experience of witnessing and recording such a spectacle.

Even more obviously, of course, the title refers to Nirvana’s last studio recording, “You Know You’re Right.” Recorded just a month before Kurt Cobain’s suicide by shotgun, I have always found it a powerful and memorable song, even if I didn’t always understand the lyrics. Recently, I have come to understand how perfectly Cobain’s song captured the thoughts and feelings of someone of verge of suicide. The guilt and shame, the overwhelming desire to escape (“I will crawl away from here”), to not hurt anyone else (“You won’t be afraid of fear”), an overpowering sense of inevitability (“I always knew it would come to this”), the utter mental agony (for a long time I thought he was saying, “Ay-ay-ay-ay”; what he is actually repeating is “Pai-ai-ai-ain”), along with rage (tinged by Cobain’s characteristic sarcasm) that invites everyone who ever called him a no talent loser to self-righteously pat themselves on the back at having gotten him so right (suicide also being an act characteristic of a “loser”), but also to pull back in sudden revulsion at their own self-congratulatory glee at another human being’s intolerable suffering. It’s so brilliant that it hurts, which could also be said of Singer’s film.

All apologies to Nirvana fans who may feel that my slideshow has fundamentally misinterpreted what was obviously a intensely personal song. I have taken the most intimate act imaginable—that of taking one’s own life—and re-contextualized it as a deeply impersonal one: genocide (for how could we do such terrible things to our fellow human beings if we truly saw them as people with their own hopes, dreams, loves, and fears?). I realize, of course, that it is always deeply personal to the victims of genocide, as well as to their family, relations, and friends. For copyright reasons, I have used a cover version of the song by Grubby Paws (the NC in the title means “Nirvana Cover”). It’s actually an excellent cover, but still not quite as powerful as the original version.

Pepper the Cat: An Unofficial Slideshow/Video Set to Joe Walsh’s Funk #49 and Funk #50

Pepper the Cat: An Unofficial Slideshow/Video Set to Joe Walsh’s Funk #49 and Funk #50

The idea for this slideshow dates back to Catcon near the begining of August. While there, in addition to getting my picture taken with Pudge, and taking lots of photos of cat stuff, I also went to a couple of talks. One of them, by Paul Koudounaris on “Cats of L.A.” included a good deal of information about Pepper the Cat, the first feline movie star who made over a 100 films (mostly shorts) for Mack Sennett studios in the teens and early twenties. She apparently appeared with some of the major stars of the day, including Charlie Chaplin, Ben Turpin, and Mabel Normand, but many of the her early shorts have been lost. As near as I can tell, only a couple are available: The Little Hero, available in a Dutch version on YouTube, and Down on the Farm, a short film (43 minutes) from 1920 that is include on Volume 1 of the Mack SennetI Collection, available on Blue-Ray. I believe a couple more of her films are going to be on Volume 2 which, with a bit of added research, I hope will give me enough material for another short film about her, which I will probably again set to a Joe Walsh song. She was apparently discovered when she crawled out from under the floorboards during filming and the director–who perhaps knew star quality when he saw it–ordered them to keep rolling. Pepper had her screen test, and rest is (little known) cinema history. Although this slideshow has a couple of laughs (they are Mack Sennett comedies, after all), its main purpose is informational. However, the unbelievable guitar work by Joe and his band keep things popping (Funk #49 is from the Guitar Center Sessions; Funk #50 is from Analog Man).

Chelsea Hotel #2: An Unofficial Slideshow

Chelsea Hotel #2: An Unofficial Slideshow

Listening to Rufus Wainwright’s interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel #2” was a kind of revelatory experience. While I had heard the song before, it suddenly seemed to have a remarkable emotional depth where all sort of insights lurked. Although I had heard it before a few times (mostly Cohen’s version, I think), I had not heard it with his introduction in which he explains how he came to write the song about what seems to have been a fairly brief encounter with Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel in New York (uploaded by rhino49 in 2008). As Rufus’ live version also includes a brief introduction from Cohen in which he praises the yonger singer’s performance, it seemed obvious that what I needed to do was stitch Cohen’s introduction to the live audio of Rufus’ performance, with a few pictures of other celebrities who stayed there (yes, that is Joni Mitchell, and–in other photo–Rufus, although long after the events narrated in the song) while keeping the focus on Leonard and Janis. In some ways, although I didn’t plan it that way, this is a logical followup to the “Leftover Wine: Little Girl Blue” slideshow I did last week, while the joining of a revealing live introduction to a different version of the song being introduced echoes what I did earlier on “Bluebirds Fly.”  Anyway I promised something accessible and moving after last week’s “As an unperfect actor” (which has actually gotten a more positive response than I expected), so I hope this achieves that. I hope you think so too.

 

 

Texas Trilogy 2: Austin’s Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper” Reimagined as Social Satire

Texas Trilogy 2: Austin’s Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper” Reimagined as Social Satire

The Butthole Surfer’s “Pepper” was a song I liked virtually from the first time I heard it, although it always had a distinctly personal feel, naming people and places that the band was presumably directly acquainted with. The chorus always seemed to have statewide and perhaps even universal application in the way it called into question all of our flattering self-conceptions, because–as the song says–“you never know just how you’ll look through other people’s eyes.” Last month I realized that you could take the song’s verses and appy them to more statewide problems, from health, to deregulation and public safety, to gun deaths, to the environment, to oil, and to the Texas Railroad Commission (which “regulates” the oil industry with considerable help from heavily [in]vested interests). l’m not sure anyone who hasn’t lived in Texas for several years will really “get” this slideshow, and even among those who have I have a feeling many will be offended by it, not because anything in the slideshow is false, but because one doesn’t talk about such things in Texas, at least not in public. If I was a “true” Texan I’m sure I would know this and act appropriately, but I’m not anymore and probably never was, at least not really.  So consider it a highly idiosyncratic take on the state from a highly eccentric Californian (and therefore to be dismissed). I don’t really expect to get a large number of views, but you never know and–after all–everything’s bigger in Texas.