Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Brushes with Celebrity: Various Turkish

Purchase "Zaman Zaman"  - Fikret Kizilok
Purchase "Ele Gune Karsi " - MFO
Purchase "Sikidim" - Tarkan

Celebrity is somewhat relative: you probably wouldn't recognize the following as celebrities, but they are all big names over here. To help make this relevant to you/this blog, I would need to define my "scope". If you have a Turkish historical perspective, you will immediately relate. Otherwise ... you'll likely draw a blank. However, I'll hope that this wont distract from the enjoyment value of the music. Turkish or not, these guys arent at all bad, and I have brushed them all, as explained below. (You might skip the Zeki Muren clip - except that it is quite a stage(d) show. The others are fairly accessible to Western ears).

Back when I was young and un-encumbered with family, I spent many a night playing guitar/singing. I couldn't do it no longer - that lifestyle no longer fits. Some of the friends I played with have gone on to become local stars and I am left with a couple of related memories. Some have gone on to the great beyond.
Fikret Kizilok passed away at a very young age and I coudn't tell you why. Here one day, gone the next. Besides being a seminal musician, I remember him as a great cook. I''ve got a dedicated/signed 33 1/3 RPM that must be worth something - and a handful of memories. I played informally with him and then, when we married, our familes got together from time to time outside the music scene.

I'll mostly steer clear of the time that Zeki Muren felt me up. (I suppose that this is one that some would gladly add to their curricula vitae). (Note: This can't be your kind of music - except that it is a classic of its type!)

Instead, I'll move on to the gents that placed me in that position. They are now the doyennes of Turkish pop. When I was single, I naturally found it easier to "hang out", and among those I hung out with were a group now known as MFO. Although I can't claim to having ever "appeared" with them, back in the 80s I regularly sat around with them and played guitar with F. I guess at one point I did play the same stage as one of their sidemen back in ... must have been '81.

I also recall a time at the airport back in the late 80s where we were in the passport line right behind Tarkan, who was on the verge of (actually international) fame. My wife remarked to my son, "Look! Tarkan!", and the celebrity turned around to receive my son's comment to his face: "I don't like that man". Ah, well -the brush paints both ways.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Brush With Celebrity: Jackie Leven

Hmmmm, confess to have been taken back a bit by this weeks topic, sleb brushing never having been part of my M.O., even, and I did, had I wanted it so to be. No, I know nobody of note and, give or take the odd meet 'n' greet and autographed output at gigs, none would ever acknowledge me a 2nd time. (OK, Dave Pegg, of Fairport Convention came up to me in Selfridges, Birmingham, accusing me of having been to school with him, which, as he is at least a decade older than me, hit a sensitive......) My stance was more at one with John Peel, radio DJ par excellence, who felt that a personal knowledge of his enthusiasms would assuredly hinder his pleasure, as their feet would be of inevitable clay. And usually were. Or are.

But this guy somehow made me feel different, made me feel I knew him, made me feel responsible, made me care. Have I mentioned him before?

Late to the game, my first knowledge of him was in 1993 or 4, I forget which. It was my first Glastonbury, and I was feeling quietly smug, as a mid 30s middle class professional, returning to a festival, near 20 years on from my last experience. With my then wife we were experiencing a belated rebirth to the joy of music, on hold since the orthodoxy of our careers and parenthood, but, this time, with 4 and 6 year olds in tow. As we put up our tent, Radio Glastonbury played this, and I was smitten. Not because of the song, though I knew it a good one, more the voice, and, it's true, the accent. As a 2nd generation scot, in lifelong english exile, I felt, and still do, the genetic memory of a lore more northern to my own.

I never had picked up on his earlier post-punk existence, latterly glad I hadn't, the drama of his subsequent years adding to the mystique

Over the years I gathered bits and bobs of his output, with, upon my divorce, this song becoming my avatar, an indulgence of some probable conceit, still never getting to see the man live. Finally, about 15 years ago my moment came. Jackie Leven was playing the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham. Sure, I expected more than the 20 odd in the audience, but, as the hours passed, became even more in thrall of this bear of a man, not only a reservoir of great songs, but of better stories. Over the next few years I caught him several times, eventually daring to approach him, getting the odd scrawl on a CD, finding him to be as pleased as I to be engaged in conversation. I guess the point is that he was as reliant on his audience as they were upon him, with a mutual respect, or at least, an acceptance that each required the other. I have no idea whether he ever recognised me, it didn't matter, but this was a man whose act depended and relied upon the interplay with an audience who understood that fact.I was shocked when he suddenly died. I miss him. I never knew him, but I miss him. Here he is, in conversation, in an interview. 

And here he is, alone, with guitar, and his always miked up tapping foot:

I have deliberately strayed from an account of his history and output, hoping these mere snippets may encourage you to delve for yourselves. Please do, but start here. Buy good and buy plenty.

Brush With Celebrity: Jean Shepherd

[purchase a book by Jean Shepherd]
[purchase some recordings by Jean Shepherd]

The inspiration for this theme was a bit that David Letterman used to do when he was on NBC, and his show was stranger (and Dave was nastier) than when he moved to CBS and the earlier timeslot. He called it “Brush With Greatness,” and they would have audience members discuss encounters that they had with celebrities, usually ending with a “writer’s embellishment,” that took the mostly prosaic events to some weirder place. For example—this brief story about selling Ted Koppel classical records, embellished to end with a heavy metal jam with the newsman.

My subject today, Jean Shepherd, would have, I think, appreciated the concept of the writer’s embellishment. Shepherd, who passed away in 1999, was hysterically funny, but he was really more of a humorist than a comedian. He was a raconteur who made his name telling stories on the radio. He was an author, TV personality and worked in movies. There is, if you look online, a pretty large cult of Shepherd lovers who maintain websites devoted to his work, and books have been written about him. If, though, he is remembered broadly today, it is as the writer and narrator of the movie A Christmas Story, which I have to admit, I didn’t really like.  The video above is an early version of the story that later became the movie.

Shepherd’s life story is shrouded by mystery and obfuscation, so although there are many sources for information about him, it probably pays to take much of it with maybe a whole shaker of salt. For example, his obituary in the New York Times, noted that he was “believed to be at least 70.” The obituary, strangely, ends with a statement from a “friend and business advisor” that Shepherd had no survivors, followed by a quote from Shepherd’s living son Randall, mentioning that Shepherd also had a living daughter. He may or may not have been considered for the job hosting the Tonight Show after Steve Allen, but instead the job went to Jack Paar. He might have been the model for the radio host in Kerouac’s On The Road. And he occasionally made public statements that were confounding. He was a man with a huge ego, who seemed to resent the fact that perceived lesser talents were more appreciated by the public. Donald Fagen has written about his conflicted feelings about Shepherd.   If this has piqued your interest about him, and I hope it has, just start Googling.

For 31 years, from 1966-1996, Jean Shepherd performed at Princeton, typically during Reunions, as a fundraiser for WPRB. As a freshman from the New York area, I was aware of Shepherd, was not really knowledgeable about his work. I guess that I considered him more of interest to my parents’ generation. But as second semester started to come to a close in 1979, people at the station started to get excited about “Shep’s” annual appearance. I was planning to stay for Reunions to perform (among other things) with the marching band, so I agreed to help out with the show, which, I was guaranteed, would be amazing.

If anything, it was better than that. Playing to a packed house of about 1,000 in Alexander Hall, in the heat, Shepherd spoke, for about 2 hours without a break, without notes. He told a long, involved story, with digression piled upon digression, before tying up neatly. And, did I mention that it was funny? Not only “ha ha” funny, but poignant, clever and thoughtful. The story was certainly based on things that happened to him, but were embellished just enough to make them amusing. It was really mindblowing.

After the show, we walked over to Holder Hall, and into our basement studio for pizza and beer (sorry, FCC), and conversation with an open mic. Shep, which I now called him, was friendly, interesting and engaging to the staff and people who called in. This was repeated at the end of my sophomore year (where I moved closer to the mic), and again, my junior year, where as program director, I was one of the discussion leaders.

By this time, it was clear to me that Shep had a photographic memory, which explained how he could deliver his shows so perfectly. He remembered my name each year and asked me about the Mets (he was an avid White Sox fan), despite the fact that I was probably one of hundreds of people he met while performing.

As a senior member of the WPRB staff who also had a car, I was tasked to take Shep to his hotel after the show and studio session (so, I didn’t drink that much beer. Really.) If you are familiar with Route 1 near Princeton, you know that it is lined with hotels of various quality, and back in 1981, it was the same, if somewhat sparser. There are nice chain hotels, and independent motels of various reputability. If the place I was supposed to drop Shep off with actually charged by the hour, I wouldn’t have been surprised. He looked at the place, looked at me, and shook his head, saying, in his sonorous voice, that he wouldn’t stay there. Instead, I drove him north on Route 1, to a nicer hotel near Newark Airport. I never heard that he sent the station a bill.

Now, if this was the old Letterman show, I’d tell you that Shep also paid for a room for me, and the next morning, the two of us flew to Vegas for a weekend of fun and excessive drinking. But it isn’t. Instead, I shook his hand and drove back to Princeton, to finish Reunions, for a weekend of fun and excessive drinking.