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Posts Tagged ‘Frank Zappa

Going out gracefully…

Twenty-four more valedictions at Buzzfeed’s “The Last Words Of 25 Famous Dead Writers.”  And many more parting shots– like Oscar Wilde’s “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go”– at Wikiquote’s Famous Last Words.

As we rehearse our final scenes, we might spare a tuneful thought for trumpeter, bandleader, and composer Miles Dewey Davis III; he died on this date in 1991.  Davis was a pioneer of a number of jazz forms– bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, and jazz fusion, among others– but was perhaps even more influential for the musicians he launched in his bands (an extraordinary roster that includes Bill Evans, Gerry Mulligan, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Elvin Jones, and Jack DeJohnette) and for the bands and musicians he influenced (and equally amazing list that includes Lalo Schifrin, Tangerine Dream, King Crimson, Steely Dan, Frank Zappa, Duane Allman, Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, Lydia Lunch, Jerry Garcia, and Prince).

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Ex post facto salvation…

Candy Barr (July 6, 1935 – December 30, 2005) was an American stripper, burlesque exotic dancer, actress in one pornographic movie, and model in men’s magazines of the mid-20th century.

Born Juanita Dale Slusher in Edna, Texas, the youngest of five children, at age 16, she appeared in one of the first [full length] pornographic movies, Smart Alec (1951). Later, Barr established herself in burlesque and striptease with her trademark costume—cowboy hat, pasties, scant panties, a pair of pearl handled cap six-shooters in a holster strapped low on her shapely hips, and cowboy boots. Married three times, and widowed once when she shot her second husband, she was also involved with Jack Ruby and Mickey Cohen. Later in her life, she was honored by Texas Monthly as one history’s “perfect Texans,” and was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Exotic World Burlesque Museum.

Ms. Barr shares another distinction with the likes of Groucho Marx, Truman Capote, Frank Zappa, and rapper Eazy-E: they were all posthumously baptized into the Mormon Church.

Some time in 1842, the prophet Joseph Smith introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints a temple ceremony called Baptism for the Dead, followed shortly by a full complement of salvific ordinances-by-proxy for dead ancestors, which he justified again in 1844:

A man may act as proxy for his own relatives; the ordinances of the Gospel which were laid out before the foundations of the world have thus been fulfilled by them, and we may be baptized for those whom we have much friendship for.
Joseph Smith on May 12, 1844
History of the Church, 6:365–66

But the original spirit of the ordinances seems to have given way to a general enthusiasm for conversion, and members of the Church began trying to ‘redeem’ everyone they could identify.  Some members took a shortcut and performed proxy baptisms and other ordinances for any name they could find– which meant that a lot of famous people got baptized. Indeed, it appears that some time in the early 1990’s there was a fad, or at least a hobby, of finding famous people to baptize.

Famous Dead Mormons is both a tribute to the practice and a catalogue of celebrity souls– like Candy’s– saved after the fact.

As we wonder if this amounts to an E Ticket to the Rapture, we might wish a patriotic birthday to George M. Cohan; he was born on this date in 1878.  A playwright, songwriter, dancer, actor, theater owner, and producer, Cohan is best remembered as the composer and lyricist of songs including “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag” (which may explain why some sources strain to locate his birthday tomorrow– on July 4).  Cohan is not believed to be a baptized Mormon.

source: Library of Congress

A young Mother…

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The March 27, 1963 edition of The Steve Allen Show featured a 22-year-old musician playing the bicycle…  an inventive young man named Frank Zappa.

(Parts 2, 3, and 4 linked to the right on the YouTube page)

As we remark that the young Frank actually looks a little like today’s most famous singing cyclist, David Byrne, we might recall that it was on this date in 1962 that Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You” reached the top of Billboard‘s Hot 100.  Arguing that “there’s only two kinds of music as far as I’m concerned: good and bad,” Charles had overcome his label’s reservations (“you’ll alienate your fans”) and recorded Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music; “I Can’t Stop Loving You” was the first single from the album.  It held the #1 spot on the singles chart for five weeks (the biggest pop hit of Charles’s monumental career); Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music went on to become the best-selling album of the year.  Speaking just before Charles’ death in 2004, his friend and collaborator Willie Nelson said that “The Genius” “did more for country music than any other living human being.”

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Just let me hear some of that rock and roll music…

… and not just any old way you choose it, but selected and explicated by that master of American music– both classical and popular– Leonard Bernstein:

Inside Pop – The Rock Revolution is a CBS News special, broadcast in April 1967. The show was hosted by Leonard Bernstein and is probably one of the first examples of pop music being examined as a “serious” art form. The film features many scenes shot in Los Angeles in late 1966, including interviews with Frank Zappa and Graham Nash, as well as the now-legendary Brian Wilson solo performance of “Surf’s Up.”

As we tap our toes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1859 that Paul Morphy, an American chess prodigy who became the world’s leading  grandmaster, just returned from a competitive tour of Europe, gave up the game.  Morphy was so dominant that he’d taken to spotting his opponents– other masters and grand masters– a pawn and a move, or playing blindfolded… or both.  After reviewing his games, Bobby Fischer considered Morphy so talented as to be “able to beat any player of any era if given time to study modern theory and ideas.”  And Marcel Duchamp, who abandoned art to become a chess expert, found inspiration in Morphy’s open style and opportunistic strategy in crafting his theory of the endgame…  which means that Morphy was indirectly a contributor to Duchamp’s friends and collaborators Samuel Beckett (whose Endgame is rooted in Duchamp’s thinking) and John Cage (with whom, in 1968, Duchamp played at a concert entitled “Reunion;” music was produced by a series of photoelectric cells underneath the chessboard).

Morphy’s retirement from chess (an amateur’s game in those days) came the day after he was hailed by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes as “the World Chess Champion” at a banquet in Morphy’s honor attended by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Louis Agassiz, Boston mayor Frederic W. Lincoln, Jr., Harvard president James Walker, and other luminaries.  Morphy attempted then to start a law practice, but was side-tracked by the outbreak of the Civil War.  Still, with the resources of a family fortune, he lived comfortably in New Orleans until his death in 1884 in the ancestral mansion– the site today of Brennan’s Restaurant (at which, your correspondent suspects, several readers have breakfasted).

Morphy at the board (source)

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