Tuesday, 2 November 2010

More Pulp Fiction - Bongos And Big Blues

Yes, ‘Bongo Bum’...jazz, sex, fame, glory...what we all dream of surely? It’s 1966 and publishers Brandon House are still mining that rich vein of bongo-mad Beats, jazz and sleaze. That back cover...the irresistible allure of a scantily clad siren, legs wrapped around the bongos...the red...suggestive of the once plush but now grubby velvet curtains draped around some Hollywood dive circa ’66 where, perhaps, a businessman sucking a cigar runs fat fingers covered in rocks over the thighs of a girl you wouldn’t take home to meet the parents, whilst a tired combo plays a lame version of ‘Night Train’, ideally seen through cigarette smog and barely heard above the din of punters but no...the place is dying...they need a hot new folk-rock combo like The Creeps which our hero Curt, the bongo bum, is about to join on page 72. When asked by the female manager if he has any questions he replies: “No jazz?”
   “No jazz. It isn't as commercial. An appeal to the kids is far more profitable and the chances of instant success are infinitely greater.”
   “I have some good ideas for the clothes you’ll wear”, she continues.
   “Like what?” Curt says, ‘warily’.
   “How do creeps dress? I think like...well, beatniks. Sloppy. I want you all to wear ragged-sleeved orange sweatshirts with Beethoven pictures on the front. White jeans. And sneakers.” And so, thanks to this documentation of youth culture, we have some inkling of the kind of thing beatniks may have worn in California circa ’66...Beethoven sweatshirts? Well, if Bach could be used for incidental music in ‘Jazz On A Summer’s Day’ perhaps the classical connection isn’t so crazy. Fame and fortune may beckon for Curt, but something tells me it won't bring him happiness. Geis packs 45 chapters into this 190-page novel. I like to think it’s a reference to the RPM rate of a single.

Being a sucker for jazz-related pulps I was pleased to find 'The Big Blues'. Written in '58, this is a UK edition from '63. The type is ridiculously small (something like 7pt?), and bizarrely it’s in bold for the titles of tunes played, names of clubs (but not always), and such words as ‘money’ and 'bigamist', along with others. Along with thinking all readers had amazing eyesight I think the printers lost the plot somewhere. Coincidentally, there’s a place called The Bongo Club. He plays Trad standards such as 'St Louis Blues' and 'Darktown Strutters' Ball', which disappointed me slightly. I was hoping he’d be a modernist who gets into fights with moldy figs when he’s not balling cool chicks and sticking a needle in his arm. Oh well, you can’t have everything. Since things don't end well for the hero, the author feels compelled to point out in the intro that he offers no excuse for the behaviour of the 'jazzman'. The common question, he says, is 'Why do all jazz musicians live such weird lives and keep so remote from reality?' Why indeed. It’s sometimes easy to forget that jazz players were considered ‘weird’ long before the music became more abstract. If more players today lived weird lives and had remote relationships with reality perhaps Jazz would be in better shape.

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