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Robert Altman Week

Wednesday
Jan062010

In Which We Try To Please So Many People

The Most Beautiful Feeling

by JAMIE BECK

The photo shoot originated from the hats themselves - they are courtesy of Dallas-based hat designer Cassandra MacGregor. From there and after our model Sade came on board the concept evolved quickly into a cross section of the life of a Harlem Jazz singer, inspired by Billie Holiday. Billie's music is emotionally charged and echoes the struggles she faced in her professional and personal life. She achieved fame but was never treated the same as white singers who otherwise were her equals in both talent and drive. Our photo story pays homage to Billie Holiday while heightening the glamour in a way that may not have been as accessible more than half a century ago.

The following interview with Billie was conducted by Mike Wallace in November of 1956 for the radio. Hats are by Cassandra MacGregor. The model is Sade of ORB Models. Styling is by Meagan Camp. Makeup by Susie Sobol. Hair by Marcel Dagenais. Photography Assistant is Tiffany Arement.

BILLIE HOLIDAY: I heard a record by Louis Armstrong as we call him Pops it was called West End Blues and there was a lady who would call and she has a little fast house, sporting house. I used to run errands for her. He would sing, "Awida, awidawida!" I wondered why why he didn't sing more words, but I wanted his feeling. He had the most beautiful feeling. So I wanted his feeling, and I wanted Bessie's volume. She had a big loud sound.

MIKE WALLACE: And you got them both. There seems to be a real companionship, Lady, among the greats in the jazz world. It doesn't seem to be as competitive a field as some others. In some other fields, when you get up there it's kind of cutthroat. In the jazz field the jazz greats seem to love one another and work with one another.

You mean like Dizzy and Eubie and myself and Ellen, we are all good together? Well I guess we all suffered and we all had it, so when we get there, we appreciate it. That's the way I feel about it.

I imagine that's so. Were you a great friend of the late Art Tatum, the great jazz pianist who died just a few days ago?

Oh, yes. He loved my mother so much and Mom loved him. Whenever he would come to New York or was around he would always stop with us. Let me tell you a funny story. Him and Bernie Hanighen - he wrote songs - got in a little tiff one morning in front of Jimmie's Chicken Shack in Harlem. I don't know if I should tell this story or not, Bernie will probably shoot me. Art kept saying, "Bernie leave me alone, leave me alone, I don't want to hit you." He couldn't even tell where Bernie was, all turned about his sense of direction. Bernie was behind him, and when he went to kick him, he kicked him in the back. I knew Art very well. He was my dear friend. He's a doll.

Speaking of Art Tatum, do you have any idea how old he was when he died?

I don't know, but I don't think Art could have been any more than 56, 54 years old.

Was he that old?

He was in his fifties.

Because the question I was going to ask is, why do so many jazz greats seems to die so early?

Mike, the only way I can answer that question is that we try to live one hundred days in one day and we try to please so many people and we try...like myself I want to bend this note and bend that note, and sing this way and sing that way, and get all the feeling, and eat all the good foods and travel all over in one day, and you can't do it. I think that's why.

There was one spot in your book that I think revealed a little bit of you. It didn't seem to me that you liked to live that way that much anymore. You wrote, "You've got to have something to eat and a little love in your life. Everything I am and everything I want out of life goes smack back to that." When did you discover that and what does that mean?

We all have to eat and we all have to sleep, and I was hungry so long. Now that I do know how to eat and sleep and I have traveled...ask me that question again. I can answer it better than that.

As I read, and as you started to answer, I discovered what you said a little earlier was right. You like to take life by the fullest and live it while you've got it. As you suggested, that's why some jazz performers die young because they do. They get a little to eat and a little to love. Life is to use, is the way that you see it.

You must have love. All I had was my Mom. I never had brothers or sisters or cousins or uncles or people like that. All we had was one preacher and he would come every Sunday. And Mom would say, "Come on, eat all you like Reverend So and So!" I can't even think of his name. In those days I did have a cousin. I have a cousin Charlotte and a cousin Dorothy. The children had to wait. He would bring his wife and his whole family sometimes, and we'd wait and we'd wind up with the gravy. One Sunday I made a boo-boo and said, "Mama, you know there's no more in the pot!"

You've mentioned some of your good friends who are musicians. But I know a couple of friends of yours who aren't musicians. I'd like to know how you got to know them and what it is about Tallulah Bankhead, and Charles Laughton, and Orson Welles.

I know them because they was brave enough to come up and holler when they was starting jazz. At that time most people were afraid to come holler, and those who did, it was one of those things. "Just one of those things...."

How long ago was that?

I'm not telling my age now. When I started I was only about fourteen. I'll never forget the night I met Mr. Laughton. He came in, and I had no idea he was a movie actor. He was looking for his valet. That's how he got wandering around up there.

Up in Harlem?

Yeah. I think his name was Georgie. "Just lookin' for Georgie now..." I said, "He's asking about Billie Holiday?" "He's looking for Georgie." I said, "Who's that man?" That's how we got acquainted. Afterwards he always came and see me. He's been very kind. And Ms. Bankhead, I think she's the end. I love her.

When you mention people like Ethel Barrymore, Tallulah Bankhead, is it the fact that you're all performers? Is that what you have in common?

They're not performers, they're actresses, artists. I wouldn't put myself in the same room.

You wouldn't put yourself in the same room with them? You've worked as hard, you've thought as much about it. You've developed a style, a technique. Why not? Why don't you feel that you have the same quality, why are you not such an artiste as them?

Maybe I am in my little way. My god, they make me cry. They make me happy. I don't know if I've ever done that to people, really.

I think you do. You know, one of the most remarkable things about jazz performers is that white or colored, you're way ahead of the rest of us when it comes to desegregation. I heard a story about you this afternoon from a good friend of yours by the name of Leonard Feather.

He is my boy, I love him.

Leonard told me about the time, Leonard and Bob Bach, when you sang at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston.

Up on the roof, ha ha.

And there was still a policy of no colored singers being with a white organization. Tell me that story.

I'd rather not. It was a drag. It was a drag for Helen too. Because she's a sweet kid. They said I couldn't sit on the bandstand. Which I didn't want to do. I never did. Harvey had a rule that we're supposed to sit on the bandstand. Except for Tony, who was in the band, no one else was up there. I said, "I feel like a fool sitting up here." They sat me up there 10, 15 minutes before I sang. I didn't like it. I was sneaking off, I had business in the ladies room or somewhere. Poor Helen, she'd have to sit there. We finally got the Ritz Carlton - that was a big, good deal for me because I didn't have to sit. She was sweet about the whole deal. She's a wonderful girl. She said, "I don't see here why if I can sit here, Lady can't sit here." I said, "I don't want to sit, you remember us." It was one of those things. After a while it worked out very nicely.

Why is it that the color thing has not ever really been as important to musicians as it is to some of the rest of us?

The only answer I can give to that is I guess we all we get a chance to meet more people, and bigger people. Like I met Roosevelt's son. How did I meet him? He came from society. And I knew enough to go say, "Hello, you're Roosevelt's son." He's not going to say, "Get away from my table." He's going to say hello. I think we have more of an opportunity to meet people as they are. They're nice people, they're going to show us around. That's why musicians and actors and artists can sort of straighten all that deal out. And if you get up and sing and dance or make a speech - and if they like it - everybody gets to be one happy family. That's the only way I explain it.

As a former preacher how does your husband react to some of your more torrid blues songs?

He tells me how to sing, and what to sing. It's just getting terrible.

Jamie Beck is a contributor to This Recording. She is a photographer living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about vintage cameras. She tumbls here. Hats are by Cassandra MacGregor. The model is Sade of ORB Models. Styling is by Meagan Camp. Makeup by Susie Sobol. Hair by Marcel Dagenais. Photography Assistant is Tiffany Arement.

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"The Very Thought of You" - Billie Holiday (mp3)

"Long Gone Blues" - Billie Holiday (mp3)

"All of Me" - Billie Holiday (mp3)

 

Tuesday
Jan052010

In Which We Revisit John Lennon's Doggerel

The Daily Howl

by MOLLY LAMBERT

John Lennon wrote poetry. More specifically he wrote doggerel. I think doggerel is pretty underrated as far as art forms go. If somebody published the poems Tess and I have co-authored on IM over the years they'd make a mint. Well, maybe not a mint but they're worth at least the paper they weren't printed on. Lennon was a genius with words. The neighboring Liverpool poetry scene fomented the notion of pop poetry.

If you hear any early interviews with the Beatles it's clear that all four are hilarious. John in particular had a keenly absurd sense of humor that translated extremely well to radio. He could be caustically funny, influencing the confrontational interview style of Bob Dylan. He was a polymath, always writing poems and drawing pictures while also making music.

Lennon started writing and drawing early in life, with encouragement from his Uncle George, and created his own comic strip in his school book, which he called "The Daily Howl". It contained drawings (frequently of crippled people) and satirical writings, often with a play on words. Lennon wrote a weather report saying, "Tomorrow will be Muggy, followed by Tuggy, Wuggy and Thuggy."

Lennon was adept at free association and improvisation in his linguistic explorations, which can be seen in both his prose writing and a portion of his lyrics. Use of puns, near-homonyms, bizarre imagery, disconnected narrative threads and references, creative misspellings, and abrupt, unresolved conclusions.

In many ways its style is similar to books written by Spike Milligan or the spoken nonsense of Stanley Unwin.

Some poems from Lennon's two published collections of poetry, A Spaniard In The Works and In His Own Write and a posthumous volume of pictures and such, Skywriting By Word Of Mouth.

ABOUT THE AWFUL

I was bored on the 9th of Octover 1940 when, I believe, the Nasties were still booming us led by Madalf Heatlump (Who had only one). Anyway, they didn't get me. I attended to varicous schools in Liddypol. And still didn't pass-much to my Aunties supplies. As a memebr of the most publified Beatles me and (P, G, and R's) records might seem funnier to some of you than this book, but as far as I'm conceived this correction of short writty is the most wonderfoul larf I've ever ready.
God help and breed you all.

GOOD DOG NIGEL

Arf, Arf, he goes, a merry sight
Our little hairy friend
Arf, Arf, upon the lampost bright
Arfing round the bend.
Nice dog! Goo boy,
Waggie tail and beg,
Clever Nigel, jump for joy
Because we are putting you to sleep at three of the clock, Nigel.

A SURPRISE FOR LITTLE BOBBY

It was little Bobby's birthmark today and he got a surprise. His very fist was lopped off, (The War) and he got a birthday hook!
All his life Bobby had wanted his very own hook; and now on his 39th birthday his pwayers had been answered. The only trouble was they had send him a left hook and ebry dobby knows that it was Bobby's right fist that was missing as it were.
What to do was not thee only problem: Anyway he jopped off his lest hand and it fitted like a glove. Maybe next year he will get a right hook, who knows?

THE NATIONAL HEALTH COW

I strolled into a farmyard
When no-one was about
Treading past the troubles
I raised my head to shout.

'Come out the Cow with glasses,'
I called and rolled my eye.
It ambled up toward me,
I milked it with a sigh.

'You're just in time' the cow said,
Its eyes were all aglaze,
'I'm feeling like an elephant,
I aren't been milked for days.'

'Why is this? ' I asked it,
Tugging at its throttles.
'I don't know why, perhaps it's 'cause
MY milk comes out in bottles.'

'That's handy for the government,'
I thought, and in a tick
The cow fell dead all sudden
(I'd smashed it with a brick).

THE MOLDY MOLDY MAN

I'm a moldy moldy man
I'm moldy thru and thru
I'm a moldy moldy man
You would not think it true
I'm moldy til my eyeballs
I'm moldy til my toe
I will not dance I shyballs
I'm such a humble Joe.

THE FAT BUDGIE

I have a little budgie
He is my very pal
I take him walks in Britain
I hope I always shall.

I call my budgie Jeffrey
My grandads name's the same
I call him after grandad
Who had a feathered brain.

Some people don't like budgies
The little yellow brats
They eat them up for breakfast
Or give them to their cats.

My uncle ate a budgie
It was so fat and fair.
I cried and called him Ronnie
He didn't seem to care

Although his name was Arthur
It didn't mean a thing.
He went into a petshop
And ate up everything.

The doctors looked inside him,
To see what they could do,
But he had been too greedy
He died just like a zoo.

My Jeffrey chirps and twitters
When I walk into the room,
I make him scrambled egg on toast
And feed him with a spoon.

He sings like other budgies
But only when in trim
But most of all on Sunday
Thats when I plug him in.

He flies about the room sometimes
And sits upon my bed
And if he's really happy
He does it on my head.

He's on a diet now you know
From eating far too much
They say if he gets fatter
He'll have to wear a crutch.

It would be funny wouldn't it
A budgie on a stick
Imagine all the people
Laughing till they're sick.

So that's my budgie Jeffrey
Fat and yellow too
I love him more than daddie
And I'm only thirty two.

I SAT BELONELY

I sat belonely down a tree,
humbled fat and small.
A little lady sing to me
I couldn't see at all.

I'm looking up and at the sky,
to find such wonderous voice.
Puzzly, puzzle, wonder why,
I hear but I have no choice.

'Speak up, come forth, you ravel me',
I potty menthol shout.
'I know you hiddy by this tree'.
But still she won't come out.

Such sofly singing lulled me sleep,
an hour or two or so
I wakeny slow and took a peep
and still no lady show.

Then suddy on a little twig
I thought I see a sight,
A tiny little tiny pig,
that sing with all it's might 'I thought you were a lady',
I giggle, - well I may,
To my surprise the lady,
got up - and flew away.

AN ALPHABET

A is for Parrot which we can plainly see
B is for glasses which we can plainly see
C is for plastic which we can plainly see
D is for Doris
E is for binoculars I'll get in five
F is for Ethel who lives next door
G is for orange because we love to eat when we can get them because they come from abroad
H is for England and (Heather)
I is for monkey we see in the tree
J is for parrot which we can plainly see
K is for shoetop we wear to the ball
L is for Land because brown
K is for Venezula where the oranges come from
N is for Brazil near Venezuela (very near)
O is for football which we kick about a bit
T is for Tommy who won the war
Q is a garden which we can plainly see
R is for intestines which hurt when we dance
S is for pancake or whole-wheat bread
U is for Ethel who lives on the hill
P is arab and her sister will
V is for me
W is for lighter which never lights
X is for easter--have one yourself
Y is a crooked letter and you can't straighten it
Z is for Apple which we can plainly see

This is my story both humble and true
Take it to pieces and mend it with glue

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Monday
Jan042010

In Which You Receive Some Missives For The Missuses

Emails From Your Boyfriend The Beatle

by TESS LYNCH

On Thu, Nov 19, 2009 at 8:45 PM, John Lennon<hrtbreakhotel@gmail.com> wrote:

Hey Babe.

I've bought a military jacket. I thought that you would find that quite amusing.

 I'm writing to let you know, besides that I've bought a military jacket: I've decided to stay in my bathtub for a fortnight; now, now. I know. But I've a feeling that if I don't (stay in my bathtub for a fortnight), these awful wars will never end. It's dawned on me that a bathtub isn't quite so terrible a situation, especially not when compared with large-scale human suffering, so I've decided to fill the bathtub with river water from the Hudson. I've been carrying it up in buckets for a week now, leisurely. I heard of a boy who drank a teaspoon of water from the River Hudson and he became quite a maniac, really. Any interest in the tub idea? Could get ahold of some pharmaceuticals and make it quite fun!

Love,

John

On Thu, Nov 18, 2009 at 7:43 AM, Paul McCartney<thecuteone@gmail.com> wrote:

My Kitten,

First off: I'm sorry we had a row. It was a drag. And, you know, when I say it was a drag, I mean it was a terrible drag.A stone drag. I'm sorry, moonbeam. Look! I've writ you a poem!

Heloise, Hannah, and Joan
They can never dethrone
You, I'm blue, boo hoo.
Take me back! Heart attack!
Getting our love back on track --

Aw, love, it's rubbish. Even John won't speak to me. And he's usually quite a help with my poems. Look, perhaps you can stop by after work? Might you still have access to any pharmaceuticals? Even some shoe polish, distilled. That should jump-start things a bit, creatively. I'll stop scrumping that barkeep! I'll be true!

Yours Forever, Holding Your Hand,

Paul

On Thu, Nov 19, 2009 at 5:02 PM, Ringo Starr<snarkystarkey@gmail.com> wrote:

Hey, Missus Octopus,

Ringo here. I'm not sure your phone is working. I've sent you quite a few SMS texts? Ringo, from the bar? 

I was the one who was sipping a mai tai, slaying you with my wit?

Please,

Ringo

On Thu, Nov 17, 2009 at 2:00 AM, George Harrison<DharmaAndGeorge@gmail.com> wrote:

[silence]

[guitar solo]

hello love.

I've eaten six bags of jelly babies, shipped from the UK. I've still got one bag in the pantry, if you'd like to join me after yoga.

[silence]

[guitar solo]

love,

george

On Thu, Nov 20, 2009 at 7:43 AM, Paul McCartney <thecuteone@gmail.com> wrote:

Hello, Bird,

Do you like when I call you that? I've had a thought, lover. What do you think of this!: I'm going to re-write the lyrics "Michelle, my belle" as "Michelle, my bird." Or maybe "Michelle, ma bird," if I do go in that direction after all. But what rhymes with bird? Word? "These two things are go-together words." Oh, well, stumped again!

Love Forever,

Paul

On Thu, Nov 20, 2009 at 8:45 PM, John Lennon <hrtbreakhotel@gmail.com> wrote:

Hey Babe. 

I've gotten out of the bathtub. I didn't feel I was suffering at all, really. I kept refilling it when I caught chill -- I couldn't help it. I'm terrible at suffering. In order to improve, I'm going to try putting the bath on a barge, and then filling the barge with garbage and orphans, and sinking it into the River Hudson. After a dunk or two, I'll surely be a maniac, unable to fill my greedy mouth with candies. Are you coming along, my woman? I wish our human's skin was interwoven, like that peasant's basket from which we sampled the fruits of Jamaica.

Love,

John

On Thu, Nov 20, 2009 at 5:02 PM, Ringo Starr <snarkystarkey@gmail.com> wrote:

Well, hello, Missus Octopus!

Just a quick query as to why you have not responded to my emails and the SMS text messages I sent to your mobile? Feeling self-conscious (I'll admit it! Even I, a Beatle, sometimes feel just wee) about the last time we spoke, I thought I'd extend an olive oil branch in your direction. 

Please,

Ringo

On Thu, Nov 19, 2009 at 2:00 AM, George Harrison <DharmaAndGeorge@gmail.com> wrote:

[silence]

[guitar solo]

[burp]

excuse me.

today's lunch: almonds, apricots, prayer bread, and a chunky bar.

i'm curious what you had. it's a shame we have to eat at all, with all the starving children in third world countries.

what are the second world countries?

[guitar solo]

[silence]

love,

george

On Thu, Nov 21, 2009 at 7:43 AM, Paul McCartney <thecuteone@gmail.com> wrote:

Allo Allo Allo!

I know it's your birthday in a few weeks, and I've decided that instead of getting you things like diamonds and furs, all that wanky money stuff, I'd write you a poem. Poems are precious, like love, and ideas!

You are fun, and your love
is a lot of fun
And you say lots of fun things
(you know you do you know you do you know you do)
And of this ever-better world of which we speak of
Makes you want to say "Hi"

I've got a call in to John about the wrap-up bit. Hope you don't mind if he collaborates with me. It's my heart it's from. Don't forget who has the dimples, princess -- me. 

Love,

Paul

On Thu, Nov 21, 2009 at 6:45 PM, John Lennon <hrtbreakhotel@gmail.com> wrote:

Hey Babe.

They have Wifi on this barge. Can you imagine? There is literally no place in New York where I can suffer adequately. I've asked around, and it seems my only option -- the only way possible to peacefully protest the human tragedies of the world today -- is to wrap myself in sandpaper and roll about on the president's lawn whilst naked. Oh dear. I hope I'm not allergic to sandpaper. I think I might be allergic to contact paper.

The invitation still stands. I promise it will be texturally interesting.

Love,

John

On Thu, Nov 21, 2009 at 4:02 PM, Ringo Starr <snarkystarkey@gmail.com> wrote:

Hewoooo? Missus Owctopuwss?

Did you get the smoke signals I sent to your house? It's latitude 34.07, longitude -118.31...right? Could you read the special message I sent you? Don't tell the trees the secret things I said!

Please, please!!

Ringo

On Thu, Nov 20, 2009 at 2:04 AM, George Harrison <DharmaAndGeorge@gmail.com> wrote:

[silence]

[sitar solo]

i've just discovered a new instrument. ravi showed me. it's like a guitar, but it makes me sound much more intelligent. check it out:

[sitar solo]

[silence]

see you at yoga tonight.

love, 

george

Tess Lynch is an actress and writer living in Los Angeles. She tumbls here. You can see her on TV right now in a Crest ad you might have caught during the Law & Order marathon this weekend.

Enjoy More of Those Four Headstrong Gentlemen on This Recording

Almie Rose on Revolver...

Eleanor Morrow on John Lennon and Bob Dylan...

Durga Chew-Bose on Rubber Soul...

It's so hard to be Paul McCartney...

The rest of our days with John and Yoko.