Saturday, November 19, 2011

Shaking Intensified

It was with great pleasure, and a certain swell of pride, that I recieved the first copies of a new self-published anthology drawn from the online journal Shaking Like a Mountain (now called Shaking Online, with an expanded editorial focus), edited by co-conspirators Vito Grippi and my pal Wayne Cresser, containing 17 fiction and non-fiction pieces, all built around a connection to popular music serving as a central conceit. Of course it's filled with some evocative writing, and (yeah, baby) it includes one of my own, originally entitled "Bo Diddley: He Used a Cobra Snake for a Necktie, 1928-2008", from June,2008, reprinted below. As the editors themselve suggest, a near perfect stocking stuffer, available here.

A Tribute to Bo Diddley
by Scott Duhamel

Somewhere in the ever-holy Tower of Song the residents shuffle up the winding staircase (handrails gleaming, carved from ancient ivory) to the bone-shaking, perpetually hypnotic, and pure rhythm Bo Diddley Beat. Bo, like Little Richard, like Chuck Berry, helped erect the sturdy bridge between the swamp of jazz, blues, country and gospel that lead to rollicking sea of rock and roll, Bo, as himself, is the undeniable architect of one of rock’s bulwarks--the otherworldly hip-shaking, chunka-chunka in-yer-head cadence of rock and roll. Bo, without the glammy, sweaty immediacy of Little Richard, who probably performed his way out of the womb, or the sharp, calculated story tunes and radio showy guitar hooks of Chuck Berry, offered up a different sort of regal showmanship.

Bo stood stage center like a conductor, hips akimbo, tasty hat, square eyeglasses, boxy guitar, oozing a quiet confidence while unleashing his snaky tremolo and laying down his first person eurhythmics. While Sun Ra readily informed his audiences and collaborators that he been transported to space and thus transformed, Bo might well have been a true time-traveler, clad in his own version of a space suit, his vast array of tailsmanic guitars his means of teleportation, mixing and matching the rumbling backbeat he lifted from the train yards of Chicago with ancient African tribal chants and the rat-a-tat-tat of a western gunslinger’s discharge, seemingly deprived of his earthly just desserts (money and fame), but actually here with other interstellar purposes: help create rock and roll, jumpstart the Rolling Stones, and lay down a mystical, eternal syncopation that will forever hold its sway.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hitch’s Children

(Reprinted from Pop Eye)

One of my all time gurus, John Cale, once put it succinctly in song: “Fear is a man’s best friend.” Peeps in general (old school peeps, new school peeps, outta school peeps, probably even pre-school peeps ), all dig a good scare, always seem to be peeping around the darker corners of pop cult and their own upstairs windows trying to suss out yet another dose of temporary terror, attempting to churn up some innate fear-inducing chills and thrills, whether it be the ol’ pop- and-fresh in-yer-face shudder and shrink, or laying down the connected tracks for a psychological roller coaster ride, whether it be through literature, through the movies, or by splashing ketchup around the fake arrow sticky out of their pointy heads when they parade around in costumes on Halloweenie Day. (Myself, I don’t go hog-wild over Halloween because of those very costumes and the attendant behavior of those clad in them—they make me very, very nervous, but that’s a story for another day.)

Movies have long provided the safe distance into which one can thrust oneself directly into the realm of psychological, physical, or supernatural fear, and, by theory at least, be protected by the very distancing effects of the medium itself. Whatever route they take or genre they inhabit—whether it be the blood-and-entrails type, the slow-burn-to-insanity number, the have-some-paranoia side dish, or the occult special---movies have a special way of going bump in the dark and allowing for a certain release of tension, even if it’s simply the slow roll of the end credits. Of course the hypersensitive need not apply, and even the occasional regular Joe finds himself suddenly disoriented when a latent film image or a particularly piquant plot structure just keeps intruding upon his or her waking life. The catharsis that’s supposed to be part of the movie-movie deal ain’t always exactly delivered appropriately, particularly with the jaded-before-their-time, seen-it-all, oversaturated, highly desensitized contempo audiences.

The cinematic masters of the thriller-diller, the chop-‘em-up, the anxiety-arouser, the old fashioned spook fest, are indeed legion, ever expanding, and always keeping the creaking door open for any savvy art house director or pulpy filmmaker to step in for a one-timer, and try their hand in entering the ongoing (and perpetual) big screen fear fest. Names get bandied about, names like Polanski, Lewton, Lynch, Raimi, Carpenter, Argento, De Palma, Browning, Whale, Murnau, Romero, Cronenberg, and a whole passel of too-many-to-recount newbies, yet one truly stands above the rest: Alfred Hitchcock.

Hitch is the guy, the king of the fear swing, the cinematic svengali who continually wielded assorted degrees of voyeurism and sadism along with a blanket of Kafkaesque determination, bookending that filmic stew with ever eroding nerve endings and narrative uncertainty, all under the spell heavy duty moral implications, all in the glorious name of both art and commerce. Hitch was one filmmaker who, again and again, achieved a meaningful symbiosis between image, editing, camera movement, plot, character, tone and theme, and did most of it in the name of suspense. Much has been written about the films of Hitchcock, his sublime techniques, and his ability to layer a box office hit with overriding questions of guilt and morality. Hitchcock, with the possible exception of his late effort Frenzy (1972), didn’t do gore, didn’t do guts, and steadfastly refrained from all things Grand Guignol.

It was all about the power of suggestion, about the lights and shadows of both the visual palate and, yep, the soul. The ultimate Hitch film, as far as the fear factor goes is 1960’s Psycho. Not enough space allowed to re-sing its many virtues: taut, virtuosic, spine-tingling, exquisitely crafted, suggestive, lurid, flamingly Freudian, plus the cast, the score, the cinematography, the shower sequence. Years later, many would argue that Psycho, because it unleashed the first semblance of unimaginable but almost gleefully delivered overt violence--that knife against that bare skin under that deluge of sprayed water capped off by the black and white image of a splash of blood circling down the drain-- despite its indefensible stamp of artistry, set the dynamics of a whole brave and bold new cinema of unease. Hitch, what has thy wrought?