Monday, January 25, 2010

YAKKIN' WITH ROCK STARS NILS 'N' NORMAN

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It was probably in 1990 or 1991. I was driving to the U.C.L.A. campus – where I worked at the time – and I had some oldies station dialed in on my car radio. The disc jockey played the Norman Greenbaum hit ‘SPIRIT IN THE SKY’, which had gone to #3 on the Billboard Pop music charts in 1970. ‘Spirit In The Sky’ is my all-time favorite Rock song. I was crazy about it in ’70 when it was getting played once an hour on KHJ Los Angeles, and I’m no less crazy about it today. My family is under explicit orders to play it at my wake, whenever that time comes that I “Bite The Avocado”.

Back in 2002, my Ma, my Brother, and I were competing with each other in a Baseball Pick-‘Em contest that came down to the World Series. It was the Anaheim Angels versus the San Francisco Giants, and although I desperately wanted the Angels to win the Series, I had selected the Giants because I feared they would top my team of choice. But just before the first pitch of Game One, the Angels did a little tribute to deceased Angel’s owner Gene Autry, and the tribute included the playing of Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit In The Sky’ over the stadium’s sound system. When I heard that on the radio, I nearly got choked up and immediately phoned my Ma and officially changed my pick from the Giants to the Angels. I thought: There’s no way the Angels are going to lose this series after THAT! It was a good move on my part because the Angels did indeed triumph in a 7-game Series. Three cheers for ‘Spirit In The Sky’ and the Rally Monkey!
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Well, after the DJ played ‘Spirit In The Sky’ on the radio that day in ’90 or ’91, he made the statement that it was a female who had played that distinctive guitar riff and solo on ‘Spirit.’ This really surprised me, and quite frankly, I was more than a little skeptical. I actually did some research trying to confirm the DJ’s statement; I remember going to the library and to a book store, but I was unable to prove or disprove what the DJ had said. (Don’t forget, this was before the Internet, when libraries and book stores were the best research resources.)

In maybe 2004 or Aught Five, I discovered a way to contact Norman Greenbaum through the Worldwide Web, and so I sent him a brief e-mail, telling him what the DJ had said all those years earlier, and I asked him whether or not there was any truth to it.

Norman responded to me immediately, and he obviously had a great personality to go along with his great hit song. I no longer have a copy of my initial e-mail, so I can’t post it below. But I opened my question with some sort of statement about a person being awakened from the dead, or being reincarnated – something along those lines. I can’t remember what I said now, but it somehow coincided with my inquiry. I am posting below Norman’s response to my question. The first couple of sentences won’t make much sense because he was replying to what I’d said about coming back from the dead, but the rest of his humorous letter speaks for itself. Enjoy the words of a real character (and I mean “character” in a real good way) . . .

Thanks for writing.

Yeah, I don't want them waking me up either. Start all over again? Maybe.

I don't know how all these rumors get started, except I can probably figure this one out a little.

There was a girl in one of my former bands, Dr. West's Medicine Show, to be specific. She sang and played rhythm guitar. On Spirit In The Sky, I played the fuzz guitar and Russell DaShiell played lead. No girl. Just The Stovall Sisters singing in the back. The drummer didn't sing. I did.

These DJ's should get off "the weed". Facts ain't fiction. Then again, I am dead, living in Ohio or running a Harley shop in Vegas and am seen quite often in Sturgess or Paris. And on and on. Like I live in Montana and raise Bison or coach high school football, in Kansas or Florida, am also an attorney or is it an accountant? I sling burgers at a diner and there's a girl in every town I've never been to that have screwed me.

That about poops me out for this E mail. Hope I helped you.
I sound pissed, but I'm not.

Regards,
Norman Greenbaum

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Well, since this Blog is on the subject of Rock ‘N’ Roll these days, let’s move from the greatest Rock song to Rock’s greatest album cover . . .

You’ll recall that last March I posted a Blog Bit titled ‘THE AMERICAN DREAM: TO RUN AWAY FROM HOME & JOIN THE ROCK 'N' ROLL CARNIVAL.’ In that Bit, I mentioned how I believed the photo that I arranged for my buddy Eric to take of me at the Statue Of Liberty in 1983 was subconsciously inspired by the album cover of Nils Lofgren’s first solo LP.
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Well, shortly after posting that Blog Bit, I set up a MySpace account solely to contact Mr. Lofgren and ask him what liquor he was drinking straight from the bottle in that classic photo on the ‘Nils Lofgren’ album cover. I never wanted a MySpace account for myself, but it was the only way I could find to reach Nils. (I have since deleted the account.)

I had to ask and reask the question several times because it seems Nils has an associate oversee his MySpace account, and Nils himself doesn’t actually spend much time on it. Here’s the message I sent him on September 12, 2009:

Dear Mr. Lofgren ~
I think that your self-titled debut solo record has the greatest album cover in Rock 'N' Roll history. It's so cool that I believe I unconsciously copied it when I had a friend take a picture of me at the Statue Of Liberty during my first trip to New York in 1983.

I have often wondered what booze it was that you were drinking straight outta the bottle in that photo. It looks to me like it might have been a bottle of Brandy or Cognac. Courvoisier maybe? Can you remember? I’m just curious... and have been for decades.

Love yer music, sir. Thanks for the many hours of musical enjoyment your records have given me.

~ Stephen T. "Lonesome Dogg" McCarthy

After months and months of waiting, I finally did receive an answer directly from Nils Lofgren on December 7, 2009. Here’s what he had to say:

Dear Stephen,
It's a bottle of Grand Marnier I'm drinking from on the "Fat Man" album cover. The great photographer Ed Caraeff (not sure of spelling) was expecting me at his Hollywood hills home for an early, 10 AM photo shoot. Although I have always respected and liked Ed, I'm not a fan of photo shoots so I brought along the bottle of Grand Marnier for medicinal purposes. We had no specific plan but when I showed up in that outfit, the colors brought to mind his antique circus canvas in his backyard and we went from there, getting what we felt was a memorable cover shot. Hope this helps.

best - Nils

In case you were wondering, Nils did indeed spell the photographer’s name correctly. And I’d like to add that his punctuation is quite good for a guy who dropped out of high school to join the Rock ‘N’ Roll Carnival. I replied to his answer with this:

12/7/2009:
Dear Mr. Lofgren ~
I thank you most sincerely for replying to my question. Yes, it took awhile before your answer came, but I can imagine how busy an artist such as yourself must be. The answer, however, WAS VERY MUCH WORTH THE WAIT! So, again, my sincere gratitude for the response. I have been a fan of your music since my teenage years, and have enjoyed both the solo material and the earlier Grin music.

Also, in closing, I want to tell you that in all truthfulness, I think that "Fat Man" cover (as you referred to it) is unquestionably the greatest Rock 'N' Roll album cover ever produced! Sometimes spontaneous creativity produces magic, eh? And by the way, I understand about "medicinal purposes" perfectly well. Been there, done that . . . more than once. ;o)

Thanks for sharing your God-given gifts with us, and I wish you continued success in your music career. …

Sincerely,
~ "Lonesome Dogg" Stephen

Nils was drinking Grand Marnier for “medicinal purposes”? Hokey-Smoke! When it came to “hair of the dog” hangover remedies, the boys and I had to be content with the cheapest, lowest kinds of bad beer, like Schaefer (“The Schaefer Club”), or maybe occasionally a Bloody Mary at Jolly Jacks, or one of those ninety-nine cent Margaritas at Azteca Mexican restaurant (“The 99 Cent Club”). Grand Marnier for medicinal purposes? Now THAT’S living!

Ahhh, yes, Grand Marnier – the most diabolically dangerous alcoholic concoction ever concocted. A liqueur of 80 proof (for my teetotalling readers, that means it has a 40% alcohol content). It’s made in France of Cognac and the essence of wild, tropical oranges. Pour it over ice and it quickly chills to a mellowed perfection. And then you sip it slowly, savoring the sweet, unearthly, oxymoronic chilled warm glow that slips over your tongue and slides softly down your throat, caressing your mind, body and spirit. It’s like drinking liquid sunshine, all golden warm and happily chilled. But Grand Marnier on ice is so damned delicious that it’s inevitable you will forget that this is 80 proof stuffs you’re drinking . . .

. . . and then comes the moment when you realize that the documentary you’ve been watching on television isn’t making any sense to you at all, and you feel all warm, joyful, and sleepy, and you decide it’s time to go to bed. But you can’t go there because you can’t stand up. It takes you literally fifteen minutes to get upright and walk 40 feet to your bed because for every three steps you take forward you take two steps in reverse or to one side or the other. And we won’t even discuss the unhappiness that’s going to be in your head come tomorrow morning.

Uhm . . . not that I’m speaking here from firsthand experience or anything like that. I’m merely speculating on what I imagine Grand Marnier has the potential to do to a person who unwittingly drinks too much of that pure, delicious nectar of evil.

The BAD NEWS about Grand Marnier is that it was inspired by the devil with the intent of entrapping and stealing souls. It is a diabolically-devised delicious adult drink; only the devil could come up with something equally perfect and detrimental. So good it’s bad! The GOOD NEWS about Grand Mariner is that only Rock stars can afford it. Otherwise we’d all go to hell.
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[Grand Marnier: Devil’s Drink;
Photo by Stephen T. McCarthy]

Well, now that we’ve discussed Rock music’s greatest song and its greatest album cover, let me suggest that y’all visit Norman Greenbaum’s website. His ‘Fan’s Drool’ section, where he responds to dumb questions and statements from his fans is really a hoot. I kid you not, this guy is AT LEAST as much a Mensa-donkey as I am. Very funny stuffs!

Ukulelely Yours,

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

Links:

SpiritInTheSky.Com

Norman’s ‘Fan’s Drool’

The American Dream: To Run Away From Home & Join The Rock 'N' Roll Carnival [Photo Gallery]

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t Amazon.com, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.
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4 comments:

arlee bird said...

This is amazing. I came back rather late from a Administration Council meeting at my church (how do I end up getting involved in these things?) and it's 11 PM and I still haven't done my post for Tuesday. Well due to the nature of the story, I linked to your site and while doing so realized that you had posted this current bit which I had missed earlier due to all kinds of activities today. I didn't realize you were going to do this Grand Marnier thing today and had no idea until after I got to the end of my story. You'll just have to look at my post to see what I mean and how weird it is -- or maybe not.

Anyway, this is a great post--loved it. But something else really weird. Russell Dashiell, that wonderful guitar player, was a member of one on my favorite groups of the late 60s, the virtually unknown and sadly discarded group CROWFOOT. I still have the vinyl album. A few years back, thanks to the internet, I was trying to find out about CROWFOOT and discovered about Dashiell's famous guitar solo. I believe Dashiell has a web site as well and has released some solo albums. Just an interesting coincidence. More ways that our interests coincide. Always loved "Spirit in the Sky".

Keep em coming -- some great Stuffs
Lee

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

rLEE-b ~
Just read it and left you a comment there. That was A-1 stuffs you wrote. And you know what? I'll bet sardines and endamame nuts would go great with Grand Marnier.

Ha! Yeee! Just kidding.

Crowfoot, eh? Don't think I ever heard of 'em. But yer guitarboy did go on to contribute a classic component to a classic tune.

Glad ya dug this Blog Bit, Brother. Thanks!

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

Judy Harper said...

Have you ever had Grand Marnier in a Margarita? Talk about good! You're one of the first people I've met that tracks down trivia answers. Very interesting. I'm a contempary jazz person, as well as the big swing bands, 50' & 60's. Though I do like "KISS" with their first guitarist. Not so much after he left. Though after my daughter became a teenager, I could be found watching MTV and toe tapping to some of those songs.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

J3!
I've heard of those fancy Margaritas made with Grand Marnier but I've never tried one. Generally, anything more expensive than Mad Dog 20/20 was out of my price range. But it does sound great. Maybe I'll go to Abuelos for an early dinner today and try one of them fancy Margaritas made with GM. Abuelos is my favorite Mexican restaurant here in Peenix, Airheadzona. Thanks for the suggestion!

I'm more of an Old School Jazzman myself. The contemporary stuffs doesn't have enough heart and soul for me. It's kinda like Chinese food: ten minutes after hearing it I'm hungry again. I need more stick-to-the-ribs Jazz. But, yeah, the Big Swing Bands were GREAT! Now that's serious music. Goodman, Basie, Ellington, Miller - LOVE that stuffs!

But you listened to KISS? KISS?! Sheesh, not even I was a Kiss fan in my teenaged years. You're supposed to be my Mom, MOM! What kind of an example is THAT to be setting for your first-born son?! KISS?! "Turn that racket down!"
;o)

~ "Lonesome Dogg" McMe