music friday: talking heads, 9/16/78

On this date in 1978, we saw Talking Heads at the old Boarding House. This site includes an ad for the month when Talking Heads played there, and it’s interesting to see the kinds of acts that were featured.

There was Bill Kirchenbauer, a comedian/actor who the ad notes was “Tony Roletti from America 2-Night”. The Boarding House had many comedians ... Steve Martin recorded several albums there.

Next came The Randy Meisner Group (“of the Eagles”). I can’t quite make out the name of the opening act, but I think it was Caroline Peyton. If so, she was a member of a popular band in Bloomington, Indiana, when I lived there in 1971-2, named the Screaming Gypsy Bandits. I saw them open for The Mahavishnu Orchestra back then.

Right after Meisner, Brown and Coffey headlined (“Back from Europe”), once again with Peyton opening. I have to be honest, I have no idea who Brown and Coffey were.

At the end of the month, Carl Perkins showed up for three shows (“Blue Suede Shoes”, the ad informed us). The ad also notes “Comedians DOWNSTAIRS every show night”.

On the 15th and 16th of Seprember, 1978, Talking Heads topped the bill. I can’t find any information about who opened, but we saw Bobby Slayton there more than once ... this might have been one of those times. Talking Heads were touring behind their second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food, and the show was broadcast live on KSAN. Many bootlegs have appeared over the years. Here is the setlist, with links to YouTube audio of the songs when available:

The Big Country” “Warning Sign”

The Book I Read

“Stay Hungry”

Artists Only

The Girls Want to Be with the Girls

The Good Thing

Love-> Building on Fire

Electricity

Found a Job

New Feeling” “Pulled Up

Psycho Killer

Encore:

Take Me to the River

“I’m Not in Love”

Encore 2:

No Compassion


film fatales #17: suffragette (sarah gavron, 2015)

Abi Morgan created the excellent BBC series The Hour, so her presence as screenwriter for Suffragette got my attention. (She also created last year’s series River, which we just started. And, to be complete, Suffragette was also recommended by a friend, so it could be part of the “By Request” series.) This is my first chance to see Sarah Gavron’s work.

Suffragette is based on real events, and for the most part, it overcomes that handicap ... Gavron and Morgan want to tell the story of the suffrage battle in Great Britain, but they are also making a movie, and so the history and didacticism isn’t too overwhelming. The film looks dreary, which is as it should be ... even the best parts of England at the time were grimy, and Suffragette does a good job of adding a class perspective to its feminist core. Many of the main characters are working-class ... Carey Mulligan plays a fictional woman working in a laundry, and the home she has with her husband and son is tiny.

Much is made of the real-life Emmeline Pankhurst, who founded the Women’s Social and Political Union. Pankhurst and the WSPU believed in “deeds, not words”, practicing vandalism, running hunger strikes in jails. Pankhurst is an important part of the real story, and here she is played by Meryl Streep, who thankfully only has one short scene. Despite the hugeness of the topic, Suffragette takes a fairly compact approach, focusing more on the fictional characters than the historic ones. More of Streep would have changed the balance of the movie. Instead, we get a movie about an epic period in history, but a movie that itself is not an epic.

There is little to complain about with Suffragette, which is part of the problem. It is fascinating, even startling, to see the actions of the WPSU, but while the film doesn’t shy away from those actions, it is more a personal story of one suffragette in particular (as can be seen by the incessant use of close-ups, especially of Mulligan). Suffragette isn’t quite stately, but artistically it breaks no new ground, when the subject matter might be better served by some of the near-anarchic tactics of the suffragettes. It’s a well-made movie that we can enjoy with the hindsight of history, but there was precious little enjoyment for the women at the time.

Still, Mulligan is good, the basic story involves us, and if the film is too respectable, a movie can have worse faults than that. 7/10.

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)


music friday: ralph j. gleason and me

I just finished reading Music in the Air: The Selected Writings of Ralph J. Gleason. Gleason was a big part of my life, starting sometime in the 60s and going until his premature death in 1975. His television series, Jazz Casual, which ran throughout the 60s, was produced at the San Francisco NET (now PBS) outlet, and while I wasn’t a big jazz fan, the show, and its host, was hard to miss, especially in the Bay Area. Along with the countless things Gleason wrote for various magazines, he had a regular column in the San Francisco Chronicle, from before I was born until he died. We subscribed to The Chronicle for most of my life, and especially once Gleason started covering the local rock scene, I never missed a column. I remember getting as a birthday present a book by Gleason, The Jefferson Airplane and the San Francisco Sound, which was a mishmash of recycled columns and interviews with each member of the Airplane. Gleason was already in his 50s when that book came out, and it was always clear that he wasn’t the same age as the musicians in that world, but his presence was strong in the Bay Area rock scene, and his writing was never condescending ... he didn’t write from above like the jazz expert he was. With Jann Wenner, he co-founded Rolling Stone, which at first seemed like a local paper. Again, Gleason’s regular columns in RS were mandatory reading at my house.

For all of these reasons, I looked forward to this anthology of Gleason’s writings, edited by his son, Toby. And it doesn’t disappoint. The range of Gleason’s work is evident by looking at the four sections into which the book is divided: “Jazz and Blues”, “Folk, Rock, and Pop”, “Comedy”, and “Politics and Culture”. That last section is almost superfluous, given how often politics and culture are part of most things Gleason wrote. The jazz section is most informative to me, especially his pieces on Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. And I was happily surprised to find many passages still exist in my memory, like the time Duke Ellington gave Nixon four kisses, “One for each cheek”. Or the moment in his essay on Hank Williams where Gleason refers to San Pablo Avenue as “possibly the longest main street in the world”. I’ve always remembered that line, without always remembering where it came from, so it was fun to see it was yet another way Gleason was part of my life. (Since 1987, I’ve lived less than half-a-mile from San Pablo Ave.)

Gleason was so much a part of my life in those years that I was surprised when a friend, Peter Richardson, in a review of this book, wrote he “didn’t know anything about the Ralph J. Gleason cult until I began researching my 2009 book on Ramparts magazine.” Pete, like myself, is a Bay Area guy (as he says on his blog, he was “Bred and buttered in the East Bay”), and I’m only a bit older than he is, plus he knows the local culture as well as anyone. (Suffice to say that at this point, he knows more than I do about all this stuff.) I suppose some of this is age-related ... I don’t expect my kids to know all about Ralph Gleason, or even to know who he was. (When I was directing American Studies senior theses at Cal, a student came to my office one day ... I think she said I’d been recommended as someone who might be able to help ... I no longer recall the exact family relationship, but she was, if memory serves, one of Ralph Gleason’s grandchildren, and she decided to write about him because she realized she knew very little about this man who was both famous and a family member.)

Music in the Air includes many examples of Gleason’s liner notes for albums. (The list of such notes is endless ... a highlight in the book is the notes for Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, Davis having a long-time relationship with Gleason. To this day, I remember Davis’ contribution to a large obituary section in Rolling Stone on Gleason’s death, a section featuring numerous heartfelt comments. Davis was brief and to the point, and for that reason, unforgettable: “Give me back my friend.”)

Here is the Jazz Casual featuring John Coltrane:

Postscript: After finishing Music in the Air, I happened on an interview with author Jack Hamilton, who has a new book, Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imaginary. Book looks quite interesting, but what caught my eye in the interview was this:

Pitchfork: Ralph J. Gleason, who co-founded Rolling Stone, comes up a lot in the book. The quotes you utilize are blindsiding—endless “other”-ing, almost no self-examination. My favorite is when he writes about the “magic rhythmic power” of Santana’s rhythm section, presuming they could only be accessible to people with a direct line to Latin America’s “savannahs and inland plains.” Your respond: “The 'magic rhythmic power' that Gleason extolled was provided by Michael Shrieve and bass player Douglas Rauch, both of the savannahs and inland plains of San Francisco.”

Hamilton: [laughs] Yeah. I realized at the time I was coming down fairly hard on Gleason. I definitely don’t feel like I unfairly demonized him or anything. He was an elder figure who had come to rock as a longstanding jazz critic, and who in those early years was a really influential voice because he had that prestige. He was really seen as a critical authority on music. That Santana material is from Rolling Stone; he also wrote a lot [about rock] in the [San Francisco]Chronicle.

Another essay that he published in The American Scholar in 1967 was called “Like a Rolling Stone.” It’s this interesting, bizarre intellectual and artistic manifesto on rock music—in 1967, when this is a fairly early concept, the idea that rock is art. The amount that race figures into it, these quotes where he’s trumpeting white creativity over what he sees as black music selling out. One thing that came up a lot while I was writing the book was that notion of selling out, whether or not a black musician is making music that’s “black” enough. No one’s ever said that Dylan or the Beatles aren’t white enough.

The “Like a Rolling Stone” essay can be found in Music in the Air.


by request: star trek beyond (justin lin, 2016)

I asked my wife if she’d like to go to the theater to see Don’t Breathe, and her response was that I hadn’t even taken her to see the new Star Trek movie yet. So off we went to see a movie I would likely never see on my own.

Of course, one of the best things about having a request line is precisely that I’ll see movies outside of my comfort zone. In this case, that is a poor choice of words, for Star Trek Beyond is in the comfort zone of its audience before it is anything else. I am neither a fan nor a hater ... I never watched any of the various series beyond a scattered episode here or there, and have only seen a couple of Star Trek movies. I’ve always been a little jealous of the fans who have such a deep catalog to revisit, but nonetheless I’ve never become a fan.

Still, it’s impossible to have lived through the entire Star Trek run without being aware the basics, which is why even for a non-fan, Star Trek Beyond is comforting. As far as I could tell, the characters are the same characters they have always been, and the dialogue reflects this. Bones and Spock spar verbally, and spar some more, the crew is diverse without being particularly deep (the big deal here is when we find out Sulu is gay, but it is such an innocuous reveal that you might miss it if you weren’t looking for it). There’s action, and dialogue that passes for snappy. Hardcore fans can probably list the various ways this movie is different from the others, but I doubt there’s too much to say about that topic. In this, they are rather like James Bond movies ... some are better than others, but they all follow a template.

The people in the theater seemed happy enough, laughing at the familiar dialogue, clapping at the end of the movie. Perhaps they were moved. There was a brief shot near the end of a photo of the original actors, and it was a clear attempt to bring a tear or two to the eyes of the fans. Me, my favorite parts came when they somehow managed to work Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys into the mix. Simon Pegg not only played Scotty (“played Scotty” being sufficient to explain everything about the character), but co-wrote the script, and I’ll be damned if I can see any of Pegg in the finished product. I can say that I’d rather re-watch Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz than return to ST: Beyond.

So file Star Trek Beyond under “Not for Steven” and leave it at that. 6/10.


stranger things, season one

This Netflix series comes from The Duffer Brothers, whose previous work I haven’t seen. In fact, I’m not familiar with too many of the people connected to the show, including the many child actors who play prominent roles. Cara Buono, who featured in a season of Mad Men, has a fairly minor role, and Matthew Modine’s character is important even though he doesn’t make too many appearances. Yet Stranger Things feels quite familiar nonetheless, despite the title suggesting otherwise, because it wears its influences on its sleeves, in plain sight. The series, which takes place in a Midwestern town in the 1980s, borrows from Spielberg’s suburban movies and plays homage to many other movie and TV artifacts of that era. Someone even made a half-hour video noting what they claim is every single reference in the entire season:

Appropriately, the one actor who is easily recognizable is Winona Ryder, who in the 80s starred in films like Beetlejuice and Heathers. Ryder was a point of contention in our house ... while my wife and I are both fans of the actor, she thought Ryder was unconvincing as a mom on the edge after her son disappears. I felt that Ryder’s quirky performance fit the character, and it is the kind of role that invites awards, for what that’s worth.

Like the best Spielberg movies with kids, Stranger Things does a wonderful job of presenting life from a kid’s perspective. There is no condescension, just an acceptance that kids see things their own way. The kids are far from perfect ... their silly squabbles are there for all to see ... but their loyalty is there, as well. It’s not just the kids whose perspective we get ... Winona Ryder’s mom, creeping into near madness, has her own definite way of seeing, and it is among the strongest parts of the show (my wife would probably not agree). My favorite part of the entire series is the Ouija-board she makes out of lights that she puts on her wall. You see, she is convinced her missing son is somehow inside her walls, trying to communicate with her:

Stranger Things is full of ominous paranoia and a hearty nostalgia for the period it recreates. It has its ups and down, but then, I never expect cheesy sci-fi horror to be perfect ... I just expect it to be fun. Stranger Things is fun.


zazie dans le métro (louis malle, 1960)

I am not up to date on my Louis Malle. I saw a couple of his art-house successes without actually remembering them. When I was a kid, I saw Viva Maria! at the local theater. And I am a big fan of Atlantic City, especially Burt Lancaster, speaking one of my all-time favorite movie lines: “The Atlantic Ocean was something, then. Yes, you should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days.”

Zazie dans le métro is very much of a piece with other French New Wave movies of the time, and serves as a good reminder that Malle was a part of that movement, albeit more peripheral than central. This is certainly his most New Wave-ish film, at least within my limited knowledge of his work. The location shooting in Paris, the jump cuts and generally carefree tone, the use of actors who, to me at least, were lesser known (most notably young Catherine Demongeot in the title role), all give Zazie an off-the-cuff feel. Even Philippe Noiret, who eventually became known worldwide, was at the beginning of his career in this movie.

The film’s tone marks it off from what an American version might look like. Zazie is an eleven-year-old girl spending a weekend in Paris with her uncle, and she wastes no time getting into trouble. It’s a time-honored tradition on sitcoms to focus on a young rapscallion who is full of life but ultimately lovable, but Zazie is pretty much a brat, more like Junior the Mean Widdle Kid than Arnold from The Facts of Life. She may not be intentionally harmful, but she is aware beyond her years of what grownups want to do with her, and she’s not having it. She’s the perfect character for the New Wave style, anarchic, and the action is filmed like a cartoon rather than a realistic movie. She’s The Road Runner, and everyone else is The Coyote.

The film runs out of steam eventually, even though it’s only 93 minutes, but Demongeot is admittedly irresistible ... more than once, she reminded me of my grandson. Remarkably, it is not on the TSPDT Top 1000 list. 8/10.


music friday: jovana babovic, dig me out

I’ve read maybe half-a-dozen books in the 33 1/3 series, short volumes about individual albums. There was Nicholas Rombes on the first album by the Ramones, Gina Arnold on Exile in Guyville, and perhaps the best, Douglas Wolk on James Brown Live at the Apollo. Each author takes a different approach, which seems to be encouraged ... there’s no real template I can see. A lot of time is spent placing the works in their cultural context. Arnold does a track-by-track comparison of the Liz Phair album and Exile on Main St., but that’s not the main thing in general.

Jovana Babovic is an historian with a clear love for Sleater-Kinney. She goes far afield from a track-by-track approach ... in fact, she never comes close. Instead, she places riot grrrl within the history of rock and roll music, shows how the women who created the music in that genre were battling against long-held prejudices against women in rock, and then explains how Sleater-Kinney grew out of that milieu, tying them specifically to the Pacific Northwest. She shows how the band drew power from that community, but also how they couldn’t be confined to those roots.

She talks about the making of Dig Me Out, which took eight days during a miserable snow storm, pointing out that they were able to create the album under those conditions because they were prepared (this reminded me of Rombes noting that The Ramones were able to make their first album so cheaply because they rehearsed before they ever hit the studio). Once S-K hit the road, touring behind the album, they confronted the condescending sexism of the sound guys, who never understood that these women knew what they were doing. And a key moment in the book comes when S-K are opening for the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and a fan of the headliners is giving Corin some shit. “We just want to say that we’re not here to fuck the band; we are the band.”

One question I have had through the close to 20 years I’ve been a fan of Sleater-Kinney is why they have so many middle-aged guys among their admirers. I once wrote, “Sleater-Kinney are a 21st-century version of classic rock. Their most obvious roots are in punk via riot grrrl, but the less obvious roots are reflected in the bands they cover in concert: Creedence, Bruce Springsteen, Jefferson Airplane, Richard Thompson, even Danzig. The Woods sounded like Blue Cheer meets Led Zep; drummer Janet Weiss plays like a cross of Keith Moon and John Bonham.” Their music reflects the tastes of a lot of middle-aged men. What Babovic reminds us, again and again, is that the music is made by women, and that while these women want to reach out to the largest audience possible, they will never do this at the expense of their demand that what women do in rock music is not just relevant, but crucial. (Babovic quotes Weiss about those middle-aged men: "We always joked that Corin had these intellectual 50-year-old men who wore glasses and looked like college professors. ... She really had a type -- these guys always stood on her side and they were Corin's special, intellectual fans.")

I don’t know which of their eight albums is my favorite ... probably Dig Me Out or The Woods. But I remember in the earlier days, when a question often arose, are you a Call the Doctor person or a Dig Me Out person? It was never close, in my book ... most obviously, Dig Me Out is when Janet Weiss joined the band, and “my” Sleater-Kinney always includes Janet. I can say that I very much enjoyed revisiting the album through the lens of Jovana Babovic.

Here are my favorite tracks from Dig Me Out:

Dig Me Out”. The video, from 2015, has everything that is great about a Sleater-Kinney concert. Corin’s unstoppable vocals, Carrie dripping charisma and playing her idiosyncratic guitar lines, Janet Fucking Weiss of the Great Drummer Hair showing why she is the best.

One More Hour”. Perhaps the most heartbreaking song in their catalog, and in the running for best breakup song ever. Oh, you’ve got the darkest eyes.

Turn It On”. The video is from CBGB’s in 1997, a show written about in the book.”On top of that, there were rats everywhere.... ‘It was just gross and just-don’t-touch-anything,’ Tucker said. ‘But it was also a very rock ‘n’ roll club.’”

Words and Guitar”. As much a statement of purpose as “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” from the previous album. The email list for S-K fans I was on was named after this song. “Take take the noise in my head, C'mon and turn turn it up, I wanna turn turn you on, I play it all i play it all, I play it words + guitar!”

Little Babies”. I’ve never been quite sure what this song is about, but it is their greatest sing-along. “Dum dum dee dee dee dum dum dee dum do, All the little babies go oh oh i want to.” I could add that Janet is great on this one, but I could say that for every song they recorded once she joined the band.

Not What You Want”. Like the Stones’ “Rip This Joint”, this is S-K blasting through a song at breakneck speed ... as Corin sings, “80, 95, maybe more!” As such, my favorite S-K blitz song, at least until a couple of years later, when Janet had her greatest moment in “Youth Decay”. (That song has my favorite Sleater-Kinney lyric ever, one that could be my motto: “I’m all about a forked tongue and a dirty house.”) The video is from Portland, 2006 ... after that show, they took off for a decade.

Bonus: here’s the last time we saw them do “Youth Decay” live, San Francisco, 2015:


hope's a burden or it sets you free

A friend of mine turns 51 today. She’s not a big fan of public exposure on the internet, so she’ll remain nameless here, but pretty much everyone reading this knows who I mean.

We met more than 20 years ago ... we can never remember exactly when it was, but at this point, we can at least say “more than 20 years” and know we’re being accurate. We were in grad school together, we taught together, for one year we were about the only ones of our buddies still teaching at Cal. My wife and I took her to see our hometown where we grew up, met, and got married. Later, we stayed with her parents and she showed us some of the things she remembered from her childhood.

I wasn’t looking for a best friend ... I’m one of the lucky people whose wife of 43+ years is also my best friend ... but there has never been anything second-rate about my friendship with the birthday girl, she has always been there for me, as I hope I have been for her.

Due partly to unforeseen circumstances, she’s moving out of the Bay Area temporarily, the first time she has done this since we met. She is, in fact, driving to her new home today, on her birthday, with her beloved partner of many years. They take care of each other ... it’s a great thing to see ... this new experience will likely be very good for them both.

I have to admit, though ... I already miss her. Her birthday especially reminds me of the past ... between she and her partner and me and my wife, we always made sure to spend a night together on our birthdays, four times a year.

If there is a cultural artifact that bonds us, it might be Sleater-Kinney. Together we’ve seen them fourteen times since 1998. I find myself listening to S-K, thinking of her, trying to pick just the right song to include here. But most of their goodbye songs (and they have some great ones) feel final, and are filled with the problems that led to goodbye. My friend and I have never had those kind of problems, so as much as I’d like to post something like “Good Things” (“Why do good things never wanna stay, Some things you lose some things you give away”) or “One More Hour” (“I know it’s so hard for you to say goodbye”), the totality of those songs is much darker than how I feel. Yesterday, I sent her an email with a link to the following video, which I hope was the right choice as they travel to the desert. “There are no cities, no cities to love. It's not the city, it's the weather we love! ... It's not the weather, it's the people we love!”

And one more: the last song we saw Sleater-Kinney perform (so far), May 3, 2015:

My whole life looks like a picture of a sunny day.


the night of

Great television series can be found everywhere these days, including some surprising places like Lifetime and USA, not to mention all of the streaming possibilities. Still, when HBO offers a prestige mini-series event, it gets our attention. HBO still represents quality for most people. So The Night Of has a lot going for it from the start, and it must be said, for the most part, it delivers on its promise. The first of eight episodes is as good as TV gets, and if the rest of the series can’t live up to that introduction, it’s still plenty good. The story of a Pakistani-American college student who is the prime suspect in a brutal murder case, The Night Of casts a wide net as it examines the effects of institutions on people, not just victims but the people working within those institutions.

That first episode takes us through a long night where college student Nasir “Naz” Khan (Riz Ahmed) meets a girl, has some wild times, wakes up to find she has been murdered, rather accidentally gets arrested, and spends time waiting in a police station before he is finally locked up. The dread is overwhelming ... it’s almost guaranteed they can’t keep this up for eight episodes, and they don’t, but at least the audience gets to breathe. Ahmed is the best thing about the series ... somehow, using only his eyes and the way he walks, he shows us Naz as a scared kid who gradually, in his time in jail, becomes harder. It is the most subtle kind of acting, and needs to be seen to be believed. John Turturro, perhaps the biggest name here, is fine in a role originally intended for James Gandolfini ... his defining visual characteristic is his eczema. There are a few other names I recognized in the cast, most notably the always great Micheal K. Williams, along with Jeannie Berlin, Glenne Headly, and Williams’ old Wire buddy J.D. Williams.

Richard Price and Steven Zaillian are trying to do at least two things here, a character study and a procedural. The procedural is what makes us wonder what will happen next, and of course, the inevitable whodunnit angle keeps our attention. There is no reason why these two can’t coexist, that we can learn about how the process affects the people it swallows while also learning what happened on the night of. But in the final episode, the procedural took over, and not for the better. Bill Camp plays a retiring cop, Dennis Box, who identifies a suspect on the first night (Naz) and doesn’t look at anyone else because the initial evidence is good, and, one assumes, he wants to go home with his new golf clubs. They needed to establish this about Box with more clarity, though, because in the final episode, feeling uncertain about the case, he finally applies his strong detective skills to the case, becoming convinced Naz was innocent. If Box was as good as he seems, he would have done this work sometime during Episode Two, but that wouldn’t make much of a mini-series. Meanwhile, several characters throughout the series act like morons, not because they are stupid but because it allows for an eight-episode mini-series. So Naz gets himself in a predicament, but he makes it infinitely worse by pocketing a bloody knife that turns out to be the murder weapon. One of his attorneys, who seems as bright as any other lawyer, kisses Naz in front of a jail camera ... dumb ... and later smuggles drugs to Naz in her vagina. The only reason she turns stupid is so Turturro, who has just sat at the defendant’s table the entire trial, can give the closing argument (he does fine, the speech is fine, but it’s like a movie about horse racing ... the ending is always great because horse races are exciting, and this works because closing arguments always work).

When you spend seven episodes with something as good as The Night Of, you won’t want to have stupid things turning up in the last episode just to make the mystery more entertaining. Zaillian and Price work hard to elevate The Night Of above the usual crime drama, then turn it into something far more ordinary at the end. It’s a shame, because much of that last episode is equal to what came before. The result is a series where the first episode was an A+, the next six episodes were A/A-, but the last episode fluctuated between A and C.


al collins, grasshopper pie, and me

I want to call Al “Jazzbo” Collins a local legend, except “local” is hard to define. His long radio career included extended stays in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and many smaller areas, most in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Besides radio, he was briefly a host for The Tonight Show when they were looking for a new person (they eventually decided on Jack Paar). He had a morning TV show in San Francisco in the early-60s. He even cut a few records, hip fairy tales they were called:

His radio shows, no matter the station, were always broadcast from “The Purple Grotto”, several floors underground. His theme song was “Blues in Hoss Flat” by Count Basie:

Starting in 1959, he was on KSFO in San Francisco. They (and he) played my parents’ kind of music, and hey, I was only six. It wasn’t exactly a “normal” show:

His shtick with the Mexican banditos from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, well, I don’t know how it started. But if you were a guest on his show, you had to get “majuberized”, which meant you had to recite the quote from the movie. (Later in his career, he had a call-in talk show, and people would call solely to get majuberized.)

Then he added that morning TV show, and it was a joy, even for a tyke. Memories are tricky things, but among the stuff he did, I can remember this little toy where you put a coin in it and a little hand came out and grabbed the coin and pulled it inside. Jazzbo loved crepes, and he was always having a chef making crepes on live TV.

Eventually in, I think it was the late-70s, he ended up with that call-in talk show. The channel, KGO, had nothing but talk shows, and reached all along the West Coast at night. Once in awhile, someone would call in berating Jazzbo for not talking about politics, but he would kindly explain that his show was a little different.

It is here where we finally get to the grasshopper pie. As always, Jazzbo loved to talk about his favorite foods, and he frequently spoke of how much he loved grasshopper pie. He’d talk about the recipe ... you started with grasshoppers ... I can’t really remember it very well, and I had never heard of grasshopper pie, but he got my attention as I drove home from the factory after midnight.

Eventually, I figured out that the pie was based on a cocktail my mom used to make called “grasshoppers”. I thought for a long time that grasshoppers were fairly traditional ... I mean, my mom made pitchers at home ... but apparently it’s one of those remnants of post-war American culture, and they went out of fashion. I haven’t had a grasshopper since I was old enough to drink legally (admittedly, I don’t go to bars just looking for the cocktail). But once, 30+ years ago, I was on a jury, and the city paid for our lunch. We went to some fancy restaurant in Oakland, and on the dessert menu was Grasshopper Pie. I had to order it, see what it tasted like, and yum!

Here is a video showing how to make “real” grasshopper pie:

And here’s a bartender making a cocktail:

My mom made hers in a blender.

So now you know my personal history with grasshopper pie. It turns out there’s a restaurant in Oakland that has grasshopper pie on the dessert menu, so my wife and I went there for dinner. The restaurant is called Homeroom, and they pretty much only serve macaroni and cheese. We both got the “classic mac”, and it was delicious (also v.good microwaved the next day ... the servings are huge, you can’t finish one). Then I ordered grasshopper pie for dessert:

grasshopper pie

It was yummy yummy. It wasn’t “real” grasshopper pie, and I knew in advance ... in place of crème de menthe and crème de cacao, they used chocolate mint ice cream, and apparently, this is standard nowadays. It tasted like a really good Baskin-Robbins cake. The taste was like a real grasshopper if it didn’t have alcohol.

Of course, I had to tell our waitress all of this. I wasn’t surprised she knew nothing of the cocktail, but I admit I felt very old when she said she had never heard of crème de menthe. Even my wife, whose parents didn’t drink like mine, had crème de menthe on the shelf when she was a kid, to pour on ice cream.

Anyway, I’m satisfied now. I hope Jazzbo heard about it in the Purple Grotto.

Here’s a link to an article about the cocktail:

It’s Not Easy Being Green: The Weird History of The Grasshopper