Monday, March 23, 2015

Of Mice and Music

Readers of this blog may recall that I venerate the venerable Roots Music label Arhoolie (see posts Here and There); owner/producer Chris Strachwitz has been one of my culture heroes for over 50 years. So you can imagine my delight when This Ain't No Mouse Music!, the 2013 documentary about Chris and Arhoolie Records showed up this month on Netflix. I immediately downloaded and watched the 90-minute film (loved every frame!) but postponed a repeat screening for a few days until my less-biased friend Marv Newland--who is both animator/owner of International Rocketship Animation Studio and a voting member of the Motion Picture Academy--came for a visit last weekend.

We feasted on Thai food, then settled in the TV room... with Mouse Music for our just desserts. Nor were we disappointed, rewarded instead by a host of artists ranging from Mance Lipscomb and Mississippi
Fred McDowell to the Savoy Family and Clifton Chenier, from Lydia Mendoza and Big Mama Thornton to (Mountain Bluegrass group) No Speed Limit and the Treme Brass Band--well over fifty years of what you might call Ruckus Juice and Rootin's, a rowdy musical history of Americana encompassing Blues and R&B, Cajun and Norteno, Bluegrass and German Polka, Zydeco and Jazz, recorded and issued every step of the way by Mister Chris.

Granted that most of the performances are truncated by circumstance (no cameras available when the tape decks were rolling, for example), still the joy and enthusiasm are undeniable, buttressed beautifully by artist interviews, unbuttoned reminiscences (by Ry Cooder, Santiago Jimenez, Jr., Wilson Savoy, and Whosit--sorry--an ex-drummer for Lightnin' Hopkins and Clifton Chenier), and the happily biased comments of the Man himself. A same-title 2CD set exists as well, offering a prime 38 songs and instrumentals complete--with nary a sliver of stale cheese nor disposable music mouse to be found 'round the hallowed halls of Arhoolie.

* * * * *

Among the near-dozen great Westerns starring John Wayne--which would include Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and
The Searchers, all directed by John Ford--two had Ford's sometime rival Howard Hawks at the helm: Red River and Rio Bravo. Until his late performance as Rooster Cogburn, only Rio Bravo afforded the Duke a partially comic Western role. Wayne as Sheriff John T. Chance just doesn't know what to make of "Feathers," the sassy saloon girl (the debut of gorgeous Angie Dickinson) who rides in on a stagecoach and stays on to tongue-tie and hog-tie him, every which way but loose.

What a cast Hawks assembled around them... Dean Martin (as besotted "Duke"), Ward Bond, Walter Huston (one-legged "Stumpy"), Rick Nelson (young-gun "Colorado"), John Russell, and the rest were just as stolid and stubborn, drunken and dramatic, gun-fast and gal-foolish, as Hawks had hoped for; and the resulting
blend of brashness and rio-bravado proved so potent that the aging director recycled the plot and characters twice more (El Dorado, Rio Lobo) as his own originality flagged.

Just as potent a "character" as Wayne or Martin was the mesmerizing film score composed by Dimitri Tiomkin, with Spanish guitar, Mexican trumpet, and suspenseful Latin percussion as lead instruments, regularly repeating the ominous folk tune known as "The De Guella" (supposedly dating from Santa Ana's military band marching outside the walls of the Alamo). Tiomkin's spare score must have resonated with Ennio Morricone, gleefully reinventing the "sound" of Westerns about then... (or did any influence flow the other way around?)

Anyway, the splendid Rio Bravo soundtrack, available now for the first time ever--on 2CD set Intrada Special Collections ISC 300--also made room for a couple of songs; with both Dean Martin and Rick Nelson in the cast, what's a poor composer gonna do? The guys manage to sneak in a snippet or two during their long hours barricaded in the jailhouse. The official numbers are titled "Rio Bravo" and "My Rifle, My Pony and Me," and Dino recorded them as a tie-in single (included here), but Rick actually had the best song, "Restless Wind," written by Johnny Cash but dropped from the film and available only on an early Nelson LP.

Cash's "no quarter" lyrics go in part like this:

I came in like a restless wind
On a wagon train
I'm gonna go like a July snow
Back to where I came from
Gonna leave this humdrum
It's too slow and tame

None of your business where I been
Don't ask me what I've done
Run your ranch and punch your cows
And stay behind my gun, man
Colorado's right hand
Will put you on the run...

So pay heed, pard. Here's a linchpin of Western film scores, never before available, and yours for a mere fistful of dollars.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Stall, Y'all

I've not resumed general posting here for one overriding reason: the shakes are creeping back. The level of R & R (that's Repair and Regenerate in this instance) stays high, but it seems that perfection was not in the cards after all. I'm much improved in many ways, but I've decided to wait and live with these changes before limping on.

For now, I'm walking a lot, reading more, reducing Netflix some, and reluctantly submitting to a class in Yoga for Parkinson's patients.

There is no cure. There is only resistance.