Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Instant Mantra

This is the image of Maya Deren that everyone remembers -- beautiful, ethereal. All the images I've been able find of her on the internet are from this time in her life -- the brilliant, beautiful avant-garde filmmaker.

There are no images of the Maya Deren I remember, but she's indelible in my memory. In this memory, she's 39 years old. and I am 16. It's 1956. It's the summer that I started to find my own Woodstock, not the Woodstock of my parents and their friends.

I met Jimmy Gavin, a Greenwich Village folksinger, who wore jeans, an open collar Oxford shirt with black T shirt under it, and a fraying tweed sport jacket, which became my model for how I wanted to look for a long time, maybe still. I started to write a short story about Jimmy once, never finished it. Here's all there is of it, at least so far:

Driving to work today, I surprised myself by remembering all the words to “Johnny Rollin’Stone” by Jimmy Gavin – at least, I remembered all the words if “Johnny Rollin’Stone” only has three stanzas. If it has a fourth, I’ve forgotten it, and if I’ve forgotten it, the chances are no one remembers it. Jimmy Gavin, a Google search confirms, has been completely forgotten. Maybe not so surprising; the first verse of “Johnny Rollin’Stone” was:

Well, I’ve worked in the town
And I’ve worked on the farm
But all the work that I ever done
Was by my strong right arm

They call me rambler
Roller through this land
It’s Johnny Rollin’Stone
Johnny Rollin’Stone
I’m a roller through the land

Well, it’s no worse than the sort of song the Limelighters recorded, or the Kingston Trio, or the Brothers Four, back in the days of the folk boom, when all those groups did what Jimmy did, which was lift verses more or less whole from songs collected by the Lomaxes or Moe Asch or Izzy Young, printed in Sing Out!, sung in the dry fountain at the center of Washington Square on Sunday morning. “Johnny Rollin’Stone” lifted the ramblin’ and gamblin’ from more or less everywhere, and the guy who works on the farm by his strong right arm from Carl Sandburg, who in turn…

It was released on Epic, and Epic was an odd label with no clear style back then, not like Chess or Atlantic or Gee. I didn’t have too many Epic records in my collection. I had “Don’t Let Go” by Roy Hamilton, which began

Hear that whistle it’s ten o’clock
Don’t let go – don’t let go
Come on baby it’s time to rock
Don’t let go – don’t let go

But it was never really time to rock for Roy Hamilton, whose throbbing tenor was more suited for songs like “Ebb Tide” and “Unchained Melody.” And I had “Bacon Fat,” by Andre Williams “Mr. Rhythm” and his New Group, which began

When I was down in, ah, Tennessee
All my friends was, ah, glad to see me
Seen some down by the railroad track
Seen some cotton pickers with their sacks on their backs
They said, hey man, we’re glad to see you back
We got a new dance called the Bacon Fat

It goes, diddly diddly dit…

It would be inaccurate to say that I’ve never thought of Jimmy from that day to this, though for someone who was, for a short time, such a powerful influence, I’ve thought of him remarkably little. After all, I was to find out from Washington Square regulars like Ben Rifkin and Happy Traum and others whom I scarcely dared approach because they wouldn’t talk to anyone who didn’t have a prewar Martin, and wasn’t adept at at least ten styles of finger picking, that one was supposed to have no respect for guys like Erik Darling who’d sold out and made hit records. Sort of like having the de rigueur no respect for Billy Collins today. And that was, of course, a few years before having no respect for a Village folksinger like Peter Tork who had sold out and Hey, hey, he was a Monkee. So what respect could one have, I guess, for a guy like Jimmy who’d sold out and hadn’t made hit records.

There was the time, 25 years ago, in the mid-70s, when worked for a furniture moving company in Greenwich Village, and went on a job on a job for a guy who turned out to be Jimmy’s manager. He had pictures on the wall of his office of a 40ish Jimmy, still trim and good-looking, a bland Johnny Cash – blander than I remembered him – still carrying a guitar, but now dressed in the black tie and dinner jacket of a Vegas supper club entertainer.

The manager was not impressed with the information that I knew Jimmy, or had once known him. He should have been. I would guess that by the mid-Seventies, Jimmy was close to being as forgotten as he is now.

The manager said something about Jimmy being big in Europe. Basically, no one wants any kind of bonding experience with his moving man, so it didn’t go farther than that.

Epic Records changed. It had British Invasion stars like Donovan and the Dave Clark Five and Jimmy Page. Later, the Clash. Culture Club, Sade, Luther Vandross, George Michael. Later still, Jessica Simpson, Good Charlotte. My good friend and former student, Scott Graves, works there now.

Jimmy changed. Jimmy in a tux, on an 8x10 glossy...that's as far I got with the story.

That same summer I met Lenny Horowitz, a painter, who I think did have something of a career in the New York art world, but I can't find him on Google now, either. He introduced me to the records of Lord Buckley.

I met Rommel Stubbs, a jazz musician, also disappeared from the kind of recognition that gets you a Google hit. Rommel took me to a party that was being given by the guy whose group he played in, Teiji Ito, and his wife, Maya Deren.

The Maya Deren I remember.

Teiji and Maya had rented a house on Rock City Road for the summer, the house that is now the Colony Café. When they reopened the Colony a few years ago, and I walked into it for the first time in over 40 years, I remembered it with the force that only a few memories hit you with,

When I walked into that room in 1956, Maya Deren was holding court. And she could. She was that powerful a person. Broad, handsome, an earth mother, dressed like a gypsy. I had never heard of her, in 1956. But I didn't need to have heard of her to be impressed.

As I walked in, she was saying -- about somebody, I have no idea who -- "He's the three middles I can't stand -- middle age, middle class and middle brow!"

And I said to myself. I'm never going to be any of those. Instant mantra. Then, and still. I met her once, and Maya Deren changed my life.


leila said...

For Immediate Release…


Cash Drummer WS Holland to Lead Band in Free Concert for Folsom Inmates

HOLLYWOOD: On January 13, 2008, forty years to the day, longtime Johnny Cash drummer, W.S. “Fluke” Holland will lead his band in a return to Folsom State Prison in Northern California to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the recording of "Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison," widely considered to be the best live album ever made.

Johnny Cash's performance on January 13, 1968, was a seminal moment in music and pop culture history. Released by Columbia records in the summer of 1968, "Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison" made a 90-week assault on the country music charts, peaking at Number 1 for three weeks in July and August.

The story was the same on the pop charts, where the album spent an incredible 122 weeks in the Top 200. In 2003, the National Recording Preservation Board chose “Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison” for its select list of recordings to be preserved for posterity in the Library of Congress.

At the 1968 Grammy Awards, Johnny Cash was named Best Male Country Music Vocalist for "Folsom Prison Blues." In 1969, he won an unprecedented five Country Music Awards, setting a record that remains unbroken to this day. But Cash's success surprised everyone. Just two months before he recorded at Folsom prison, Johnny Cash was, for all intents and purposes "finished" in the music business.

Cash's addiction to amphetamines, barbiturates and alcohol, which began in the late 1950s, had overtaken the singer by the mid-1960s. While Cash was never incarcerated in prison (a popular misconception), he was jailed several times on "drunk and disorderly" charges. In October 1965, Cash was famously arrested in El Paso, Texas, for smuggling pills across the border from Mexico.

By 1967, Johnny Cash was missing more shows than he played. The Johnny Cash Show, as his traveling act was called, was then being referred to by music insiders as "Johnny 'No Show' Cash." In October 1967, contemplating suicide, Cash claimed to have crawled inside Nickajack Cave near Chattanooga, Tennessee, only to hear God telling him to go on.

After spending the month of November 1967 undergoing rehab at his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee, the singer emerged clean and sober and recommitted to God and to his career. Less than two months later, Johnny Cash recorded at Folsom prison. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The "40th Anniversary of 'Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison'" is replete with history and coincidence. The free concert will feature several members of Cash's original group. Most notable is drummer W.S. "Fluke" Holland [a special guest vocalist will be introduced at the show!].

Mr. Holland, who joined the Cash group in 1960, kept the beat for the 1968 concert at Folsom. Mr. Holland worked behind Cash for nearly 40 years and was the only member of the band never to have been fired by “The Man In Black.”

"I'm just tickled pink about goin' back to Folsom after all these years and doin' it all over again," said Mr. Holland from his home in Jackson, Tennessee. "I think John would be tickled pink too," he added.

Coincidentally, Jonathan Holiff, son of the late Saul Holiff, Johnny Cash’s personal manager from 1960 to 1973, will produce the 40th anniversary event. Saul Holiff, a Canadian entrepreneur, started promoting Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Two in 1958. After becoming Cash's manager, it was Holiff who put his client together with June Carter on December 7, 1961.

In an interview he gave to WHN Radio's Ed Salamon in 1980, Cash recalled how the two started working together. “In late '61 we played the Big D in Dallas, Texas, and my manager, Saul Holiff, said, 'We need a girl singer on the show tonight. They want more than just you and your band.' And I said, 'Well, get one.'

He said, 'What do you think about June Carter?' I said, 'I've always been a fan of hers' and I had, you know. I loved her work. I said, 'Get her if you can.' So we booked June Carter on the Big D in Dallas and then that night my manager asked if she would work the next tour with us. So she did,” Cash said.

"I'm a big fan of the movie 'Walk The Line,' said the younger Holiff. "But the average person who goes to see a biopic, believes what they see is fact. 'Walk The Line' was a great love story, but those scenes with Johnny and June riding in the same car with Jerry Lee Lewis, traveling from gig to gig in the late 1950s, for example, never happened," Jonathan said.

The 40th anniversary event was a happy accident. After Saul Holiff's suicide in 2005, Jonathan discovered his father's secret storage locker. "My father had kept everything from his years with Johnny," said Jonathan. "In addition to hundreds of letters, photographs and Cash memorabilia of all kinds, I was shocked to discover he also kept an audio diary from 1966 right up until the time he died. Not only had he shared his most private thoughts, he recounted his experiences with Cash - as they happened. I had stumbled upon the 'inside story' of Johnny Cash," added Jonathan.

Having been estranged from his father for 20 years, Jonathan started writing about the experience. "I needed closure. My father and I never got along. And when he took his own life, he didn't leave me a note." The product of that writing is a first-person, feature-length documentary - currently in production - called "My Father and The Man In Black." It was that documentary that brought Jonathan and his film crew to Folsom prison in September of last year.

"The people at Folsom couldn't have been nicer," said Jonathan. "I was there to get footage for my documentary and, having become friends with Fluke, I just threw out the idea to the Warden about having the band come back to play for the inmates. At the time, neither one of us had any idea the 40th anniversary was just around the corner," added Jonathan.

“Johnny Cash believed in redemption and reached out to those behind bars through his music and his actions,” said Warden Matthew C. Kramer. “We are thrilled that we can honor his legacy through this concert, and invited inmates to attend as a reward for good behavior and for participation in in-prison programs to better themselves. These types of events are part of the state’s broader commitment to rehabilitation, and the belief that by preparing inmates to successfully return to society as law-abiding citizens we improve public safety.”

The event is a labor of love for all concerned. Not a single dollar of taxpayer money is being used to mount the show. Most of the production requirements are being donated or supplied "at cost" by nearly a dozen different vendors, including: the Folsom Tourism Bureau and Prison Fellowship Ministries.

Significantly, much of the staging and lighting costs are being underwritten by Prison Fellowship Ministries. PFM is the world’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. It has programs in correctional facilities in all 50 U.S. states and 110 countries worldwide.

According to PFM's Joe Avila, Executive Director for Northern California and Nevada, "We see the Johnny Cash story as a story of redemption. Johnny Cash overcame great obstacles and dedicated his life to working for his fellow man. His faith in God kept him with us long enough to make a difference in this world. And he was one of this country's strongest advocates for prison inmates."

Redemption plays a leading role in the story of this anniversary event as well as in the original recording.

AllMusic.com's Stephen Thomas Erlewine described it this way: "Part of the appeal of the record is the way Cash plays to the audience, selecting a set of songs that are all about prison, crime, murder, regret, loss, mother, God and loneliness." Knowing now what was happening in Cash's personal life right before the 1968 show, one can imagine how the singer was able to connect so effectively with the inmates that day.

The "40th Anniversary of 'Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison,'” will be filmed "live-to-tape," and "streamed" worldwide over the Internet at http://www.iClips.net on Sunday, January 13, 2008. For security reasons, the show will not be broadcast live. Please visit the website for the official start time of the broadcast.

The Internet broadcast will be produced by Nate Pariente of iClips Network, L.L.C. based in St. Louis, Missouri, and Jonathan Holiff of The Hollywood-Madison Group, based in Los Angeles. The show will be directed by Jay Blakesberg, a television director and highly regarded photographer based in San Francisco.

The producers will be shooting interviews with the band, and with at least one inmate and one retired correctional officer, who were at the show in 1968. Later, those interviews will be edited into the recording of the live show and offered for sale to television and DVD.

Twenty per cent of all net proceeds will be donated to four participating non-profit organizations, including the California Inmate Welfare Fund and VOCAL Foundation/Justice for Murder Victims.

For more information about the concert, please contact Associate Producer, Mary Langford, at (310) 956-1098.

A satellite media tour will be held on Monday, January 14th, between the hours of 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. [EST]. To book a live interview, or to downlink B-roll from the event, please contact Alison Welz at MultiVu, (800) 653-5313 Ext 3.

For more information about Folsom State Prison and/or the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, please contact Terry Thornton, Information Officer, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (916) 445-4950.

Important Links:

Prison Fellowship Ministries

VOCAL Foundation/Justice for Murder Victims

The Hollywood-Madison Group

iClips Network, L.L.C.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Folsom Tourism Bureau

Available Photographs:

W.S. "Fluke" Holland [playing drums]
Special Guest Vocalist [to be introduced at show]
Jonathan Holiff and Warden Kramer [exchanging a gift of Cash/Folsom memorabilia]
Jonathan Holiff [today]
Jonathan Holiff [age 8] with Johnny Cash [1973]
Saul Holiff and Johnny Cash [1962]
Johnny, Saul and June [1968]
Meal Room #2 @ Folsom Prison [today]
Exterior Folsom Prison [today]

Press [Attached]

“Growing up with Johnny Cash, and the father he barely knew”
Victoria Times-Colonist, September 30, 2007

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