Blogging from deep down beneath the Greater L. A. hipsterpolitan region….

I’m a writer, but there are zillions of writers, perhaps you’ve noticed. This here is a bunch of my stuff. I hope you dig it. There’s an index here. (And a much shorter selected index here.)

My email is brickjazz@yahoo.com. My phone is 323-420-7410. I do a lot of short writing on Facebook, and really short writing on Twitter. I’m all over the goddamn internet and all over this goddamn town.

Famous Morris

Maybe one or two of you remember Famous Morris, the worst Horror Movie host (or monster movie host, in the parlance of the time) I have ever seen. KCOP’s answer to KTLA’s brilliant Seymour (who tragically died in 1975), Famous Morris was so unrelentingly awful he made even Elvira seem almost sorta kinda funny, almost. And that is bad. Of course me and my buddies never missed him. There’s something fascinating in the appallingly bad.

This was 1975, and Famous Morris was played by Don Sherman, journeyman comic from Vegas to Atlantic City. And if as a horror movie host he was a disaster, he was a pretty funny guy doing stand up. Not subtle at all, that wasn’t his style, but old school one after another jokes. Genuine Catskills. There’s a street in Acapulco so narrow, he said, that he saw a woman get out of both sides of a taxi cab at the same time. Audience cracked up. He was in a couple Barney Millers, a couple Monkees, a Fernwood Tonite even. Hell, he wrote gags for Joey Bishop. But I didn’t know that at the time. In fact I knew nothing about Don Sherman at all till I discovered his name years later while writing for the LA Weekly. A talent agent sent me a list of acts. Don Sherman was on there, “popularly known as Famous Morris”. There was his picture. Famous Morris? Really? I’d been telling Famous Morris stories for years and had no idea who he actually was. It was some kind of revelation. I told everyone. They stared. He was a horror movie host, I said. They stared. He was soooo bad. They still stared. I changed the subject. We all have our little obsessions, odd secret little things. Famous Morris was one of mine.

Horror movie hosts all had their schticks, though generally on the same couple themes. Some zany guy in a spooky outfit cracking wise, or the Vampira/Moona Lisa/Elvira types, slinky black dresses barely concealing some serious chestage. But Don Sherman’s act was novel, a whole new schtick. You see Famous–he went by Famous–was a talent agent. He wore a talent agent’s get up–vest, hat, cigar–and had a beat up office. His assistant–Hermie, I think–was a guy in a tattered gorilla suit. There was another little guy who’d schlep around in various costumes. His clients included Frankenstein–What was that Frankie, grrrrrrrrrrr? Who knows from grrrrrrrrrr? What are you, meshuga? And Dracula–What was that Drackie? You’re gonna suck my blood? My blood? What are you, meshuga? And the Wolf Man–what was that, Wolfie? You need a shave? And quit with the howling! What are you, meshuga? The Invisible Man was also a client–What was that Invisy? I can’t see you! You’ll save them money on wardrobe? What are you, meshuga?

It was like something out of Broadway Danny Rose.

In between these bits he showed the worst movies, Mexican vampire flicks that consisted of an hour of talking, followed by ten minutes of a guy in a bat suit. KCOP seemed to have an unlimited supply of Mexican vampire movies. Even the stacked and décolleté to the navel ladies in them couldn’t keep our adolescent interest. Especially as they, like everyone else in the cast, would never shut up, and their Spanish was apparently unrelated to the random sentences subtitled at the bottom of the screen. Then came El Vampiro, some excitement, a stake, and that was it. There’d be cheap ass commercials for used car lots and the Magog Brothers carpet warehouse–Ralph Williams and Wilson’s House of Suede and Eddie of Zachary All didn’t bother with Famous Morris. Then there’d be a last unfunny scene with Famous. I remember Frankie and Wolfie tussling during the credits. Frankie! Wolfie! Please watch the furniture! What are you, meshuga?

But now it gets interesting. In a fascinating (to classic horror fans, anyway) interview with scarymovieologist James Fetters on TerrorDaves.com (The Real Horror Hosts of Southern California), there is this bombshell: “Sylvester Stallone… he loved Famous Morris! That’s how Famous (Don Sherman) got the part of Andy the Bartender in all of the Rocky films.” Wow. Sylvester Stallone was a fan. Loved his Famous Morris. He’d just starred in Lords of Flatbush, which probably didn’t make him much money, and I seem to remember him being tackled by Jack Lemmon in Prisoner of Second Avenue. But apparently Sly was spending a lot of Saturday nights at home, watching the Mexican vampire movies on Channel 13. Famous Morris would come on at the break and you can imagine Stallone on a beat up couch with a can of beer and a bag of BBQ potato chips, yukking it up at Frankie and Wolfie and Hermy the gorilla. Maybe it reminded him of Roland and The Cool Ghoul back in Philly. Though how I don’t know. Anyway, one Saturday night–we must have been bored teenagers in 1975, watching Famous Morris and rolling our eyes–he was showing the Flying Serpent. Perhaps you’ve seen it. This was high art by KCOP standards. George Zucco as a mad archeologist who dug up the Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, and was using it to kill his enemies. I can’t remember why, but he was a mad archaeologist. (I know two archaeologists, neither are mad, though both have quick tempers.) Anyway, there were the usual commercials–used cars, wholesale carpets, dunking birds–and then it’s Famous. He’s behind his desk with his big cigar, and there’s a pet rock on his desk. Yes, a pet rock. They were one of those things that Americans would adorn their homes with in the mid seventies, like chia pets and dunking birds. Pet rocks, for a scary few minutes, were all the rage. They weren’t real rocks. They were plastic. (We have real rocks in our house but they are not pets. They are décor.) But Famous, hip to prevailing trends, had an actual pet rock and is talking to it. What was that Rocky? I didn’t hear you. The camera focuses on the pet rock. It sits there. Ya gotta speak up, Rocky. Now just what is it you do? The camera goes back to the pet rock. It sits there. Come on now Rocky. You can’t just sit there like a rock. What are you, meshuga? Me and my buddies watched, appalled. In Hollywood, though, Stallone thinks Rocky. Rocky? Yeah, Rocky.

Alas, KCOP put Famous Morris out of his misery soon after. Even the worst station in Los Angeles had standards. Invisy? A pet rock? Stallone didn’t like that, Famous being out of work. And before you know it lightning strikes and Don Sherman is cast in Rocky. Andy the bartender. He’s good at it. The movie is like the biggest thing ever. Famous actually gets famous, a little. Going from that sad little set at Channel 13 to the Academy Awards. Somebody up there liked him.

Of course, everyone thinks that the title Rocky came from Rocky Graziano. From Paul Newman in Somebody Up There Likes Me. It’s obvious. It makes sense. But no one knows about Famous Morris–I found three listings in a Google search–and no one remembers his pet rock, Rocky. But I do. I just never connected it with the Academy Award winning Best Picture of 1975. And the sequels that weren’t.

Meshuga, no?

Well yeah, it is. I mean it was Rocky Graziano that gave the flick its name. I know that. But if there really are an infinite number multiple universes and any possible outcome can come true in any one of them, then Rocky was named after the stupidest joke I ever saw on television.

Famous Morris

Famous Morris

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Anti-Pope

A buddy posted he just landed in Avignon, France. I commented:

Say hey to the Anti-Pope for me. Well, they don’t have anti-popes anymore. So say hey to the Anti-Pope impersonator. I read a book about Avignon in the days of the Anti-Popes, come to think of it. Swinging place. Wild. Like Hollywood in the twenties. When they call it the High Medieval period, they weren’t kidding.

Then it occurred to me I’d just done a stand up routine on 14th century papal schisms. Which would not go over in the Catskills. I’ll stick to jazz criticism. Not that the audience for that is much bigger. To think I could have been a doctor. No wait…my mom was Irish. She said be a writer.

(And yes, medieval scholars, I know it is antipope (antipapa). But antipope is too much like poloponies. So we’ll stick with the hyphen.)

Clement VII, or what was left of him after blasphemous French Revolutionaries got ahold of him. He eventually took up extortion and simony--selling parishes and bishoprics to the highest bidder--to maintain his anti-papal lifestyle. You do what you gotta do.

Clement VII, or what was left of him after blasphemous French Revolutionaries got ahold of him. He eventually took up extortion and simony–selling parishes and bishoprics to the highest bidder–to maintain his anti-papal lifestyle. Ya do what ya gotta do.

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Hard up

So a couple months ago I get a call from lady at a survey center. $200 for participants. First a couple questions. Are you male? Uh, yeah. Between the age of 45 and 60? Yes. Take a testosterone supplement? No. Thank you for your participation!

Great.

Today I get a call from a lady at a survey center.  Again it’s $200 for participants. First a couple questions. Are you male? Yes. Are you between the ages of 45 and 60? Yes. Are you having erectile dysfunction? No. Thank you for your participation!

Damn.

The moral of the story is if you’re hard up don’t say you’re hard up. Bend the truth a little. Droop it even. And if a lady calls from a survey center and asks if I’m underendowed, you bet I am baby. For $200 bucks you can call me Tiny.

Two hundred bucks is two hundred bucks.

Two hundred bucks is two hundred bucks.

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Orange moon

Summer nights in L.A. just aren’t the same without a bright orange moon. I see that sad, wan little thing overhead now and I remember when I was a kid and looking up, wheezing, and seeing the prettiest orange moon you ever saw. Suns were gorgeous, too, though spookier, a deep orange, almost crimson….your eyes would sting and tear up and you’d think wow, what a groovy orange…maybe that’s not such a good thing. A goldfish upside down in the bowl bloatin’, the Captain said, nailing it. There were no mountains during a Stage 3 Smog Alert, and sometimes not even hills. Just thick brown air. Come dusk the whole sky to the west was on fire and the sun, huge, slipped into the sea. Darkness descended and with it that orange moon again, hanging there, lovely. We drank Bud talls and passed ragweed reefer and it hurt drawing it in and the moon became even more vivid, more orange, more beautiful. Someone called her a goddess once.  We’d gaze up and pray to her for a santa ana. Please, oh Moon Goddess, deliver us. Sometimes it worked, bringing clean desert air that would scour the city clean. Mountains magically appeared. Blue sky. We’d go up to Mulholland Drive and the city spread as far as the eye could see, and there was Catalina, there were the Simi Hills, there was distant Orange County. But sometimes the desert winds brought fire. Sirens and a pall of smoke.  Cinders would rain down silently, you could hold out your hand and a tiny little carbonized flake of a house would settle in your palm and then vanish. The very air smelled charred, your clothes, your furniture, your hair (we had lots of hair then) all stank of smoke, and the moon on those nights was an angry goddess, crimson, warning of death and destruction and the end of the world. Distant sirens would send us to the television where every channel was breathlessly reporting the progress of the flames. Sometimes you could see them yourself, brilliant red lines that stitched along the side of the mountains. We’d watch with smarting eyes. The whole world stank of smoke. Come dawn, the sun appeared over the mountains again, angry orange, menacing, not good. Sunsets were gorgeous. The moon hung orange and perfect again. We’d drink our Budweiser by her light. As we cruised the freeways those summer nights, windows down, music blaring, shouting over the din, she raced along with us, a guardian angel. We’d stop. She’d stop. We’d go, she’d follow. The orange moon watched over us, beautiful and eerie. She wasn’t really orange, someone said, that’s the smog. No, someone else said, inhaling deeply, she’s a goddess. He coughed and the car filled with cheap weed smoke that blew out of the windows and into the poison air. I wonder about our lungs, sometimes.

Sunset

Here’s a orange sun over an L.A. Beach. I couldn’t find an orange moon. Maybe the film corroded or the lenses melted or the photographers asphyxiated.

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All blue

Some rare perfection between Svalbard and Greenland. All that blue with just a hint of ice on the horizon. One color, a tad darker below the white line, a tad lighter above. But Russian eyes see blue–синий–below and sky blue–голубо́й–above. Pronounced seenee (sort of) and gahlooboy, accent on the first and last syllables, respectively. Of the two, only синий is blue. Голубо́й is not blue. Just like purple, to our eyes, is not a purplish blue, it’s just purple (though to Russians purple is just a shade of голубо́й). And as голубо́й isn’t a kind of синий, a Russian might describe this photo as a contrast in colors. Not us. We see all blue. Miles and Miles of it.

Between Svalbard and Greenland.

Between Svalbard and Greenland. No idea who took the photo.

 

 

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Penguins

A great shot of a colony of king penguins on South Georgia Island, deep in the South Atlantic. The sleek lines of the adults and the rich brown down of the juveniles give this the look of an abstract painting. Only the large rounded rock near the center of the picture breaks up the illusion.

A colony of King Penguins on South Georgia Island (photo Tony Beck)

A colony of king penguins on South Georgia Island
(photo by Tony Beck)

 

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Central Avenue Jazz Festival, 2007

Sometimes I’ll go to my Hotmail’s search window, drop in a word and see what comes up. If I like it I post it. Beats having to write anything new. Today I typed Elvis and found this:

Faves for me were walking into Phil Ranelin’s set. Intense stuff. I could go on and on about that one (and will when I write this up.) His band was the first thing I saw there and I knew right off that this was gonna be two solid days of the real shit. The Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars were also terrific that day, especially that “Mama Vieja” number….the salsa got the crowd really moving. What an amazing band and Smitty Smith especially was shredding. Arthur Blythe was good too, especially after having to follow Jose Rizo’s crew…but I had a date with an angel and had to split. Too bad I missed Ernie Andrews earlier. The next day I caught the end of the CJS Quintet..and man did (the other) Smitty Smith’s trumpet cut through that humid air. But bassist Skipper Franklin’s ‘s set really blew my mind. Especially his eponymous (I didn’t even know I could spell that) tune….man, his was laying down a mantra on his ax and all the players were like dancing around it on their horns. It was amazing. Bluesman Roy Gaines was good…loud, man. That Chicago sound stuff I guess kicked off the whole big volume ethos that all the rock bands picked up on and ruined my hearing as a youth (though the sex and drugs more than made up for it). And his duckwalk was great. Trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos set was wild, especially that “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” (was that the tune?) when the drummer and bassist locked into a killer groove. Incredible. And alto Charles McPherson, wow. I actually spent the set behind the stage, checking out his son Chuck McPherson’s drumming. I love his drumming.
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Then there was walking through the crowd with James Janisse and all the people coming up like he’s the Mayor or Thelonious Monk or the Pope or something. I actually got free shit just by standing next to him. And I was gonna pay. They need to get him back on the radio, man. If only for the payola.
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And then another story, from the same festival:
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A few years ago I was backstage at the Central Avenue Jazz Festival hanging with the promoter, Michael Dolphin. A Japanese reporter for some reason could not understand the name of saxophonist George Harper.  He’d gotten all the other players’ names right, but the name George Harper threw him. Dolphin would say George Harper and the reporter would ask “Hoppa?” Dolphin would say no, Harper, George Harper. “Hoppa?” No, Harper. “Hoppa?” Afraid that this might go on for hours, I stepped in. It’s Harper, I said, as in Harper Valley PTA. “Oh! Hoppa! Hoppa Valley PTA! H-a-r-p-e-r, Hoppa. Thank you!” Michael Dolphin looked at me, disgusted.  I shrugged and said it’s a white thing, you wouldn’t understand. He told me to shut up.
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(The only Elvis mention, incidentally, was something about Elvis Costello being dull at the Playboy Jazz Festival so we went back into the air conditioned press room and drank ice cold beer on Hef’s tab.)
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