Back in 1970-71, my brother and I lived in a little apartment in Capitola, California. We didn’t have a phone, and of course, this was long before the days of cell phones. So no one could call us, and if we wanted to make a call, we walked down the street to a motel that had a pay phone in its parking lot.
Now, Robin and I have several phones. There’s her phone, and my phone. She has a couple of work phones. We have two phones we don’t use (one we have never used).
Thursday, my phone quit charging. Friday, I took it to the shop and was told the charging mechanics inside were broken, and that I’d need a replacement, which was covered by the insurance our son always convinces us to get. Friday night, I did a web chat, after which I was told a new phone (not exact, but equivalent) would be on its way that day, with an ETA of Monday.
Within half an hour, I got an email telling me my replacement phone was on backorder, and there would be a 3-7 day delay before they sent my phone.
So, no phone. I have a tablet, and I have that leftover from the dinosaur era, a big-ass desktop computer (on which I am typing this post). But no phone. No text messages while I am out and about. No camera for quick pix. No Google Maps telling me where to go, step by step.
On February 17 of 1967, three bands started a three-night stand at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. February 17 was a month after the Human Be-In, and came just a few months before the “Summer of Love”.
Opening was the Canned Heat Blues Band, later shortened to Canned Heat. They were a couple of months from recording what would be their first album release. They appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in the summer, and at Woodstock two years later. The band’s “classic” lineup was 4/5 full when they played the Fillmore (a new drummer arrived late in the year). Here they are at Monterey Pop:
Next up was The Mothers, who I believe by that point had changed their name to The Mothers of Invention. Their first album, Freak Out!, came out in the summer of 1966. From the start, they were different from pretty much anything you’d heard before. It’s hard to hear the Mothers now, after decades of experiencing Frank Zappa ... his later work colors his beginnings. But he certainly seemed to come out of nowhere at the time. Listen to the first track from their first album, “Hungry Freaks, Daddy”.
The headline act was starting their second week at the Fillmore, having headlined the week before (Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker filled out the bill). The Blues Project were an East Coast band with two albums under their belts ... although it wasn’t apparent in February of ‘67, they were falling apart ... they, too, played Monterey, but one key member, the legendary Al Kooper, had already left the band. (Kooper deserves a post of his own, or you can read one of his memoirs ... he is Rock and Roll Royalty if for no other reason than that he played organ on “Like a Rolling Stone”.)
I’m not sure what people would make of The Blues Project now. Their recorded legacy is quite slim. The debut, Live at the Cafe Au Go Go, had only one original song alongside covers by everyone from Muddy Waters to Chuck Berry to Donovan. The follow-up, Projections, was their best, with Kooper and others contributing songs. But after Kooper left, a third album was rushed out that included outtakes, live tracks, and studio tracks with audience overdubs.
Here is perhaps their most famous track, “Flute Thing”, at Monterey (Kooper wrote it, but he’s not with the band ... he was in Monterey, though, you can see him at the end of this video, at 9:53):
If I made a list now that included Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Frank Zappa and the Mothers, Canned Heat, and The Blues Project, I’d guess The Blues Project would be the least well-known. But they headlined over those other acts for a week and a half at the Fillmore.
Here’s the poster for the show, done by Wes Wilson:
It’s time to get over my belief that I don’t care for the Coen Brothers. I keep telling myself this, because I don’t think The Big Lebowski is the greatest film ever made, because I didn’t like Miller’s Crossing, because ... hell, I forget all the reasons. But Hail, Caesar! is the fifth movie by the brothers that I’ve given at least an 8/10 rating. So clearly I like a lot of their work.
I don’t know why Hail, Caesar! appealed to me, for it had some of the same things I usually complain about with the Coens. They preen over the notion that they know more than we do, and too often their movies turn into “spot the reference”. But there was some real love for movies here, almost resembling joy, and when that occurs, I’m glad the writer/directors are smart. Unless you have seen as many movies as the Coens, you won’t come close to getting every reference here, but I think you can enjoy the movie even if you don’t spot a single one.
Because Hail, Caesar! takes place at a movie studio, there is a legitimate reason for showing different kinds of movies being made. The dance number, “No Dames!”, is a particular delight, with Channing Tatum showing off his dance moves in a role that “resembles” Gene Kelly. (There is a lot of “resembling” going on ... Tilda Swinton plays twin columnists that are some odd combination of Hedda Hopper, Ann Landers, and Dear Abby, Scarlett Johansson “is” Esther Williams, and George Clooney is ... well, he’s a blend of too many to count, Charlton Heston is probably closest.) The plot is less important than it seems. Manohla Dargis gets it right when she says the film “at times brings to mind one of those old plot-free film revues that featured a grab bag of studio talent performing in strung-together musical, comic, and dramatic scenes.”
Just in case you’re missing the kitchen sink, they also toss in a bunch of screenwriters who turn to Communism (the film takes place in the early-50s). They brag about how they sneak lefty propaganda into their films, and their mentor is “Professor Marcuse” who “is” Herbert Marcuse. At the beginning of the movie, Clooney is in costume for a film, Hail, Caesar!, that looks a lot like Ben-Hur. He is kidnapped by the writers, and later returns to the studio, where he shoots the final scene of the Hail, Caesar! in the movie Hail, Caesar! At which point you realize Clooney has been wearing his Roman costume the whole movie.
Hail, Caesar! is amiable and moves along with ease. I have yet to see a Coens film that matched Fargo, but Hail, Caesar! is one of their better ones. Oh, and it’s Oscar nomination is for Production Design.