Wednesday, July 26, 2023


 Irony isn't dead. In  fact, it's a living yet intangible part of the odd vibes that abound after the disasters of the worst human assumptions being acted upon. It very much feels like some smirking ghost at the side of the road laughing at us while we scratch our heads wondering what the hell happened to our best laid plans. Occasionally, it takes decades for some ironies to become revealed, noticed, observed, as in what, I think, was some of a barely noted reversal of mainstream attitudes about the right and wrong ways of making music. In the very  early Sixties, around the time of the British Invasion , I remember all sorts of cartoons and jokes about citizens and music fans attempting to commit suicide when they were exposed to the vocals styles of Jagger, Dylan, or a good number of gruff, nasally singers in the pop world. I remember the Rolling Stones appearance on the old Hollywood Palace variety show on ABC in 1964.

Hosted by Dean Martin, who was either entirely drunk and on his fourth sheet to the wind or doing a brilliant impersonation of a stumbling sot, The Stones performed their songs for the first time to an American tv audience , an historic event enhanced by Martin's slurred insults to the British band. There was a trampoline act at mid show, I remember, a circus act that had a leotard clad family doing impressive tricks of the bouncing variety. When they were done, Martin came on stage again and announced that the elder man in the troupe was the father of the Rolling Stones and had been trying to kill himself with this trampoline act for years. That was a real gasser. Why the hate, and the answer was obvious. The Stones were reintroducing America to a native art, black music, that it had all but forgotten about and found the renditions by the Rolling Stones of classic blues and soul songs alien, offensive, immoral and dangerous.  T'werent good singing and offensive to the idea of music! It wasn't even music. 

Somewhere along the line all the stoned hippies and rebellious teens grew up, got jobs, had families, and in effect became both their parents and THE MAN , and the same gag now substitutes MOR performers like Dion, Michael Bolton, Michael McDonald, and some others for the old guard. The folks can certainly sing , sing, but the kind of music they make is antithetical to the true liberating and expressive poetry of what REAL music is . Authenticity as the criteria for judgement (an ever vague and elusive concept) has advanced over technical competence and romantically "pretty" offerings. I have had this debate on both sides over the decades, first with my parents, aunts, and uncles and school teachers defending Dylan's music and especially his singing, and through the decades, arguing with young people that boy bands, pop tunesters like Dion, and slow jam funk were criminally commercial junk that was without conviction or soul .


Barry Alfonso In Santee, “drying the cat by hand” means taking a single woman out to dinner, saying flattering things to her, picking up the check and then giving her the phone number of your brother-in-law, I understand.

Ted Burke It has been said that “drying the cat” means mispronouncing the names of jazz musicians like Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman in a Telegraph Avenue methadone clinic. “Drying the Cat By Hand” is a variation heard in the Tenderloin and up to North Beach, meaning that you announce to Amiri Baraka that Boots Randolph played better sax than Coltrane or Shorter.

Barry Alfonso I've also heard that it is a derivation of the old blues expression “shave 'em dry," meaning to cut off the head of a glass of beer with a straight razor before attacking someone in the solar plexus over a Stetson hat.

Ted Burke I've heard tell of that as well, and it makes me wonder if that is related to the practice of ordering a shot and beer and a dry towel twisted into a rat tail and snapped cruelly to the back of the drinker's bare neck by everyone in the bar named either "Earl" or "Ondine".

Barry Alfonso A lot of this has been lost and confused over the years, I suspect—a “dry cat” used to be slang for a guy with a flat top and bad dandruff. It was a custom to rub scalps like that for luck before a dice game or before rubbing spices into a jerk chicken leg, or both. It also relates to martinis and obscene gestures while sinking a putt.

Ted Burke There was the habit among dairy farmers of rubbing their bovines with mewing kittens for no real reason; "drying the cow" became "drying the cat" over time, an understandable conflation, and the implication of the phrase is that one is standing around irritating another living creature for no good reason. But since when does anyone need a good reason to irritate someone?
6 hours ago ·
Barry Alfonso That's right! Now I remember. Will Rogers did a bit about this and in fact got arrested in Tulsa for demonstrating how it was done. There's a famous photo of Junior Samples from Hee Haw "drying the cat by hand" behind Stringbean's back when he thought the cameras were off.
6 hours ago ·
Ted Burke *Absolutely! This in turn inspired Pynchon's famous opening line of his magnum opus 'The Crying of Litter Box 29". "A dry cat came screamng across the sky..."
5 hours ago ·
Barry Alfonso Right, that was a literary in-joke for many years standing. Hemingway took a swing at Frank Yerby after he wrote that Papa had been drying the cat with both hands for years...
5 hours ago ·

Ted Burke On a related note, Norman Mailer misunderstood Russell Kirk when he announced that what really wanted was a "cat dried by hand". Mailer took this to be a translation of Parsian street slang used among working girls meaning that the person who uttered the phrase was in desperate need of being buggered, but that lacked the needed ticket for admission.Mailer told Kirk that he had his ticket "right here" and demanded Kirk "give up the cat." William Buckley was amused by the whole thing and had Mailer on his TV show several times.

Barry Alfonso Well, I do remember Gore Vidal giving Buckley the hairy eyeball on TV during the '68 Democratic convention and saying, "You really are drying the cat by hand a little hard tonight, old boy" while Buckley let something slip that Al Gore was a monster on the congas at a nephew's confirmation party . Seems that the band turned out to be GWAR who suddenly became a Santana cover band. Nothing was the same from then on, though the quality of the monotony hadn't changed a bit.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Typing lesson


Some years ago, that is, many years ago when I started this blog, I had the intention of writing an annual report on the state of my sobriety as each anniversary came and went. Something like a report card, a progress report, a mild and very generalized confession of mistakes, bad ideas, bad acts and the attempts to repair whatever damage I caused by making decisions on my wants (not needs) and try to extract a lesson that might be learned from the past year's rash action. That was the idea, but when it came down to it, even though I love to write, and I love to talk and that I love to refer to myself quite a bit in the paragraphs I construct, confession isn't my game, memoirs are not my jam. In the grand scheme of things, my self referencing needs to be anchored to topics that interest me or are the absolute center of my reason to push on another day--literature, films, movies, sex, the Good Fight against Bad People, poetry, always poetry. Maybe when I get to be 73 I'll be moved to spill the beans on a life that's been interfered with by an odd combination of bad self-esteem and arrogance of the first rank. I just turned 71 yesterday, and today I am supposedly celebrating 36 years of continuous sobriety, so that gives me a couple of turns around the sun to evolve into my next form, a humble narcissist, with the product being a long and adjective choked recollection of all the small incidents that leads us up to the current period, sometime in the future, when either everything or nothing is changed.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023


 So in the nineties I was in a men's intimacy group, a number of sober guys who wanted to share personal matters, issues, confliction, and compulsions with other sober men on level much deeper and more personal than what offer

up at a standard AA meeting. So this fellow, an alcohol treatment counselor ironically, had just finished a very long monologue on his sexual hangups, with a good number of side trips  through other subjects that managed to be both greasy and banal, and when he stopped talking, the rest of us rose from our seats, chairs, the two sofas that were crammed in this studio apartment . So this fellow from South Oakland , whose apartment it happened to be, had TV set hooked up to a VHS player, and a lone, unmarked cassette laying on top of it. 

"Let's  TAKE A BREAK AND RELAX, FELLAS." So the guy from South Oakland grabbed the cassette and shoved into the video player. So then the from treatment with the curated sexual hangups looked up to the screen. So then you could nearly hear his jaw drop. Imagine a rusty creak, a loud , rasping scrape of severely oxidized metal. 

Porn stars flashed on the tv screen, wherein guys in seventies porn mustaches were putting their engorged presences anywhere the actresses would allow. Mod Squad music, cheesey fuzz- tone guitars and Farfisa fantasias, poured from the TV's tinny speaker. 

"Yeah" Mr.South Oakland muttered,"Get that, hit that, fug, this is the stuff..." The room filled  with cigar smoke and reeked of coffee left on the burner too long as both porn movies and comatose confessions of sexual impropriety filled the room.