Tuesday, March 3, 2009

THE AMERICAN DREAM: TO RUN AWAY FROM HOME & JOIN THE ROCK 'N' ROLL CARNIVAL

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I dropped out of high school
It bored me to death
They taught me a dress code
And lost my respect
~ Nils Lofgren
‘The Sun Hasn’t Set On This Boy Yet’

It’s the coolest Rock music album cover ever produced. That’s just my opinion, of course, but here at ‘Stephen T. McCarthy’s STUFFS’, Stephen T. McCarthy is the king. I’m Stephen T. McCarthy, and it’s good to be the king!

I was yakkin’ with The Great L.C. (he of the 8,000 CDs) at work the other day when he asked me if the photograph I use on my Blogs was a deliberate attempt to mimic the album cover of NILS LOFGREN’s 1975 eponymous solo release. The honest answer is “No.” It was not a “deliberate” attempt because I still recall vividly the day that photograph was taken and I know that Nils Lofgren was not hanging around in my mind.

It was 1983, I was 23 years old, and I had traveled to New York City for the first time to visit my California friend, Eric, who was studying art there. It was a misty morning and we took the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty. I still have a neat photo of Miss Liberty’s silhouette just beginning to emerge from the fog as we got near the little island where she stands torch in hand.

I had taken the bottle of Jack Daniels with me specifically because I had planned to arrange the elements for a photograph that I could see in my mind. And I’m happy to report that the end result was just what I had envisioned. So, there was nothing spontaneous about the picture; I carefully set it up, having Eric stand in for me until I got just the layout I wanted, then we switched places and Eric snapped the shutter. After polishing off my pre-breakfast Jack Daniels (I always did hate to eat anything on an unprepared stomach), I left the empty bottle inside Miss Liberty’s belly. Now she and I both had that J.D. Belly Burn.



If I had been consciously aping the “NILS LOFGREN” album cover, I would remember that today. But as I told The Great L.C., it is almost certain that I was subconsciously recreating the cover. I no longer remember when or how I first heard of Nils Lofgren but I became a fan of his band GRIN. Writing a letter to a girl I liked at the time, on a whim, I included a line from the Nils/Grin song ‘Beggar’s Day’: “I've lost control of my darker side.” I don’t know why I tossed that into the letter (perhaps the song was playing while I was writing), but next I heard from her, she was very concerned about me. Ha!

By 1978 or ’79, I was listening to the first Nils Lofgren solo effort a lot. And starting to drink a lot, too. That was the beginning of my 'League Of Soul Crusaders' boozin’ years. That was also an era of pretentious Prog Rock, talentless Punk Rock and vapid Disco dance monotony. “NILS LOFGREN," released in 1975, contained short, catchy, straightforward Rock tunes, with just the basics: drums, bass, Nils’ sizzling but tasteful guitar, and a little piano added for texture and flavoring. Solid stuffs with memorable melodies that still sound good to my ears.

Maybe even better than the music itself was that album cover. It showed a large carnival painting on canvas advertising a display of the world’s largest (as in “fattest”) man. “Mountain of Flesh” the sign reads, and “World’s Largest Human” – seven hundred and forty something pounds. The carnival advertisement is awash in bright colors and I’m guessing the theme was developed from a lyric in the 10th song ‘ROCK AND ROLL CROOK’: “I’m playing hard for songs I take / I ain’t no sideshow fake.”

But what really stamps the album cover as a true classic is the appearance of Nils Lofgren standing front and center before the sign with his punky Rock ‘N’ Roll attitude showing. Nils is wearing some outrageous rock star accessories like scarves, a concha belt and a brightly colored solar system tie-dyed T-shirt that mirrors the loud painting behind him. But over the hippie T-shirt is a mean and flapping black leather jacket. Nils winks at the camera while he’s swilling booze straight outta the bottle. The cool punk.



While listening to the cat rock out, I used to stare at that album cover, thinking how utterly boss Nils looked and tellin’ myself: Dude, you GOTTA get yerself a black leather jacket!

Well, before long, I did, and I essentially lived in that jacket for many years. It went wherever I did: it prowled the Los Angeles streets with me; it went into bars and restaurants with me; it tried to pick up chicks with me; it got drunk and suffered hellacious hangovers with me; it went to New York with me (yes, that’s it in the Statue of Liberty photo!); it traveled all over America with me, and it went to jail in Mexico – but I finally located it and bailed it out after it had endured a long, sleepless night. I put it in a closet long ago, because I was no longer the black leather jacket type. But it was only a couple of years ago that I was finally able to part with it. I donated it to a Goodwill store here in Phoenix so someone younger could play Nils Lofgren for awhile.

My mind is a bit quirky, and one notable quirk is how it discerns and gravitates toward patterns. My brain seems to always be processing life and automatically seeking out the apparent and the hidden patterns in things. Have you never noticed how often I alliterate? I only occasionally do it by design. If I’m writing a word that starts with “W”, my brain will unconsciously seek out adjectives and verbs starting with “W” to surround it with. Next thing I know, I’ve got Double-Youz up the Yin-Yang and the writing comes off sounding “affectatious” (iz dat a word?) Anyway, I end up looking like some bozo tryin’ to get cute. Plenty of times I’ve rewritten sentences solely to “unalliterate” them.

Knowing how my mind works [sic], it’s really a given that my Statue of Liberty photograph was unconsciously inspired by the “NILS LOFGREN” album cover. (My mind was simply recreating that "pattern.") And since that is one of my favorite photos ever taken of me, I have Nils to thank for it. I’d own that self-titled Nils Lofgren solo debut recording even if I didn’t like the music therein – that’s how much I dig the cover.

I told you all that just to say this: I’m now overcome with curiosity about what booze Nils is guzzling in that photo. It looks to me like a bottle of brandy; maybe even Courvoisier – a brand of cognac. Don’t ask me why, but like the hoodlum in ‘Dirty Harry’, “I GOTS to know!”

So, I went to the Nils Lofgren website but I didn’t see a way to e-mail him. Upon further exploration, I discovered that he has a MySpace page which allows other MySpace folks to leave messages. So, after all these years, I’ve finally decided I’m going to create a MySpace account, and I’ll be doing so for one reason and one reason only: to try to contact Nils Lofgren and hopefully get the name O’da drink he’z drinkin’ on his album cover.

After that, I’m going to track down my old black leather jacket and return to New York City and retake that picture 26 years later. This time, with the RIGHT bottle of booze.

I’ll have to get a new photographer for the sequel, however, because Eric’s unavailable. Perhaps Yoey O’Dogherty, my old buddy and professional photographer from Playboy magazine, can shoot it. You see, Eric’s still in a Mexican jail. Nobody bailed out his sorry butt. Serves him right for stealin’ my black leather jacket. How'z his art now? - the cold yet uncool (black leather jacketless) punk!

~ Stephen T. McCarthy
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2 comments:

arlee bird said...

That's a great post! Can't understand why nobody (hey's that's a Nils song isn't it, at least he was on it) ever commented on it.
You have gone up another notch in my estimation since you are a Nils fan. Ever since he took up with Neil Young and then recorded on that first Crazy Horse album I started taking notice. That first Grin album with Outlaw was a classic in my eyes. I still have my old Nils LPs but I need a phono cartridge before I can listen to them. I should probably just replace them on CD.
I think I've already mentioned my attraction for alliteration in a previous comment.
thanks for leading me to the background of the story of the picture.
Lee

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Hey, thanks, rLEE-b!
Glad ya digged it, Buddy.

The album I'm waiting for is the live Nils set "Night After Night." I used to listen to that one quite a bit. Someday some knucklehead is going to wise up and release it on compact disc and some other knucklehead (namely "Me") is gonna fork over whatever amount of Federal Reserve Notes they're asking for it.

~ Stephen
<"As a dog returns to his own vomit,
so a fool repeats his folly."
~ Proverbs 26:11>