So I was watching Charles Owen’s quintet jam at LACMA on Friday–they were really cooking–and Marlon Brando’s gardener was dancing up a storm, a crazy expressive beatnik gonzo dance, all in his own world. Some hipster is filming him and trying not to look like he was filming him which made him really look like he was filming him and you couldn’t help but stare, like he was the lamest spy ever. It made the lady archaeologist mad. Made her really mad. She wanted to hit him, that hipster. She wanted to punch him in the face. It’s an odd thing, a mad archeologist. Somehow anger and archaeology don’t seem to go together. Simmering, maybe, or grudges even, but wanting to punch some goofball hipster in the face, I dunno. But it reminded me of George Zucco. George Zucco? She’d never heard of him. I explained how there was a movie called the Feathered Serpent in which George Zucco played a mad archaeologist. There was, too, and it was a perfectly lousy movie, except the villain was a mad archaeologist. A very limited genre. A jazz critic pal of mine on hand seemed to know everything about George Zucco. Weird how that happens, but he did. All his roles, even as a grave robber. He’d played an excellent grave robber, that George Zucco. Not many do. Chevy Chase would play a terrible grave robber. As would Richard Burton. I mentioned neither, so not to ruin my pal’s spiel. (If a guy’s playing a hand, I let him play it. I’m no kibitzer.) By now all the archaeologist’s rage had dissipated, the goofball hipster unpunched. Which was good. It would have ruined a perfectly splendid afternoon. We retired for drinks and babble, talking about Marlon Brando’s gardener again, and what a wonderful, wonderful town this is.
[Pardon this one, but I’m posting it as an online letter of reference.].
“At Charlie O’s, it’s a bebop house, let’s face it. But when Brick Wahl comes in, he wants the real deal, so I open up for him. I won’t hold back! Whenever Brick Wahl’s around, I have to play no holds barred. He’ll say, ‘Oh I sure like that, man.’ He was a drummer, you know that? He’s the real deal. He’s not a jive dude, you get him in a conversation, no bullshit about him at all. I tried to thank him for giving me a pretty nice write-up, tried to pay for his wife’s dinner and buy his beer — he got PISSED! I never made that mistake again. He was just doin’ his gig.”
Charles Owens to L.A. Times writer Greg Burk, July 2011..
I heard that my brother was on the radio giggling. I didn’t hear it myself–I can hear him giggle anytime, little private giggling sessions, laughing and laughing as only brothers can laugh and laugh. But tonight he was–is, actually,as I write this–on the radio, he and Alan Hambra, giggling and chuckling and thoroughly bechortling themselves. You can do that on college stations, giggle and bechortle yourself. Bechortle yourself silly even.*
But you can’t giggle on KCRW. You can’t even think about it. Not Henry Rollins, not nobody.Though there was a time before the lighter, friendlier Henry that giggling wasn’t even conceivable. He was like one of those mean, gnarly L.A. rappers that took names and kicked ass and shot people. Now he’s more like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Happy. But still giggle free. If you have wine and cheese fundraisers like KCRW then you are required to chill since no one in Santa Monica is funny. So by chill I mean rich white people chill which the rest of us would call boring but what do we know? And I never even use the word chill unless I’m making a jello salad, but when you talk KCRW-speak you gotta say chill. It’s chill or be chilled.
But on KXLU you can giggle. A little irony helps, but giggling is encouraged. Which is a good thing. Giggling on the radio is a positive life reinforcement. It’s like kayaking or volunteering at the neighborhood youth center or dancing with a mailman. It’s like petting a wiggling puppy or waving to the little towhead in the stroller. It’s like watching tight jeans walk away, slowly, with just the hint of a swish. A good thing.
Not on jazz stations, though. No giggling at all. No one has giggled in jazz since Ella Fitzgerald, unless they are way stoned or posing for album covers. And sometimes Ella doth giggle a little too much. Like maybe she wasn’t giggling inside.
OK. One time me and the legendary artist George Herms were at Charlie O’s. I can’t remember who was on but they were hip. Way hip. And Charlie O’s was hip, jazz hip. And the two hippest cats in the room–we were that night, so hip–were sitting in front of the stage a couple feet from Charles Owens or Chuck Manning or somebody which was hipper than living fuck, I mean it was so happening. Two hip cats digging the sounds. People watched us. Waited to see if we applauded first. We were that hip. You ever been that hip? I’m not that hip anymore, but George sure was, and still is, and I was, and how. Hip.
Then we started giggling. Laughing and chuckling and, thoroughly bechortled, we giggled. Couldn’t help ourselves. The very air in there was laughing gas and the music was so alive and on that we, well, giggled. Giggled and giggled, giggling and giggling.
Then it happened…..Someone hushed us. Loudly. An angry shushing. Shush!!! And we froze, looked sheepish, and giggled.
Sometimes a man, even a hip man, just has to giggle. I suppose if you’re a Prussian you don’t giggle. You hold it in and it forces its way out in excessive boot heel clicks or the rearward song of the pumpernickel. But not a couple good ol’ American boys. No, we just did what a man has to do.
* And you can make up words like bechortle if you are a writer and don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks.