Monday, August 10, 2009

Unsung Heroes: Nordine, Feiffer & Rose

One day when I told my Mom I wanted to be an artist when I grew up she said "Why? Artists only get famous after they're dead!"

This past weekend while rifling through my record collection (Yes, I still own records and from time to time play them on my "stereo system!") I came across an old album by Ken Nordine and played it.

I was flooded with memories of sipping wine at my pad in the late 50's and listening to this master of "Word Jazz" And then it struck me. Too many artists never receive the acclaim they deserve. Mom was wrong!

It simply is not fair that the Michael Jackson's of this world are lauded with halos, wreathes and adulation when others like Ken Nordine (How Are Things In Your Town?" 1957-60) slide by relatively unnoticed! I mean a bunch of "monsters" or "zombies" suggestively gyrating to Thriller doesn't thrill me much! (sorry I do like Michael honest but give me a break!). But Nordine is a prophet, a trail blazer and the incredible pathos, dark humor, satire and tragedy in his poetry encapsulates the transition from a pre-1950's conformist mentality to one of real free thought. His poems, come to life backed up by Jazz riffs, solid bass runs and masterful sound effects. How could he have escaped America sans superstar power? (Just saw his records for sale on E-Bay!) Of course, you will need a "turntable" to play them! What is a turntable you ask?

Another is cartoonist Jules Feiffer (See his book Sick, Sick, Sick 1957-60). Not only is he a master cartoonist, but the themes and messages of each delves deeply into the "hung-up" American Psyche, of a generation before the Sexual Revolution of the 60's; it is a satirical exploration of America's preoccupation with fitting in and the phobia over daring to be "different". Relatively speaking, he too has prematurely died by the wayside!

A third prophet is perhaps the least known, Biff Rose (See his record A Thorn in Mrs. Roses Side 1968). His song "Gentle People" is just that, sweet and gentle and poetic. He has a helluva voice too, one you won't soon forget.

The point of this I suppose is that for each Superstar, there are nine others who are just as good, and maybe even better that fall into the thorny bushes of obscurity. Thus is the world of the Muse. Maybe you too could name three unknowns who should'a been knowns. Let the world know and maybe together we can resurecct them from the dead?

All these three artistically capture that bitter, sweet, frightening transition from an innocent and conformist society before the 50's and 60's into one of social revolution and self knowledge, in a way we can almost laugh at, like a Sick Joke, sort of. It just hit me: this was the era of Mad Magazine!! What, Me Worry?

1 comment:

#167 Dad said...

I'll check this guy out on You Tube. You're right. There's a heckuva a lot of luck involved with fame. A couple of hours in a karioki bar proves it. Then again, was Michael Jackson lucky? Can a basket case be considered lucky?
Oh well, that's my two cents...