Friday, September 30, 2011

Doo Wop. Umm, Maybe Next Time

I grew up in New England, which was largely what you might call a white bread area. In the sixth grade (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) I met a black person for the first time, a classmate named Harry. That's pretty much how life went for me until I joined the Army.

In my teens (Beverly, Massachusetts) my friends and I listened to rock and roll on the radio and began to be exposed to music by black artists. At first the Boston area stations played almost entirely songs by white artists. When blacks had hits on the R&B charts the songs were covered by white artists such as Pat Boone and Georgia Gibbs, whom I consider the King and Queen of Cover Artists, based entirely on the number of black artists' songs they jumped on.

In 1955 the flood gates opened when the Platters became the first black artists to reach number one on the pop charts, which they accomplished with The Great Pretender.

As a result, some popular R&B singers such as Big Joe Turner, Clyde McPhatter, and Ivory Joe Hunter began to be heard on stations that were previously devoted pretty much to whites, the exceptions being singers of ballads and blues, such as Nat King Cole, and suddenly the charts really showed a mixture of black and white. Fats Domino, Little Richard, The Coasters, The Platters, and others often reached the top of the pop charts, not only with rock and roll but with slower music as well, and we white teenagers not only liked it, we liked it a *lot* more than white cover versions.

Here it must be noted that things were very different on the music charts in those days. It was not unusual for there to be two or three versions of the same song in the top twenty. Occasionally this was simply due to several white artists or groups recording the same songs, but often it was a matter of white artists covering tunes by black artists.

I think the reason we preferred the the black artists is that the white artists didn't know what the Hell they were singing about. If you'd like to hear a classic example, listen to Long Tall Sally by Little Richard and then listen to it by Pat Boone. Another? Listen to Shake, Rattle and Roll by Big Joe Turner and then by Bill Haley & His Comets.

There's no getting around it: the white versions fail in two respects. First there's the style of the playing and singing, with black artists displaying emotion and excitement. Second there's the bowdlerization of the lyrics. Consider, for example, Little Richard's

Long tall Sally, she's built for speed.
She got everything that Uncle John needs.

And now Pat Boone's

Long tall Sally's got a lot on the ball
And nobody cares if she's long and tall.

Similarly, there is Big Joe Turner's

Way you wear those dresses, the sun comes shinin' through.
Way you wear those dresses, the sun comes shinin' through.
I can't believe my eyes, all that mess belongs to you.

And Bill Haley's

Wearin' those dresses your hair done up so nice;
Wearin' those dresses your hair done up so nice;
You look so warm but your heart is cold as ice.

My absolute favorite comment on a "cover" situation involved the song Earth Angel, recorded by both The Penguins (black) and The Crew Cuts (white). I'd love to attribute the quote, but I don't remember who wrote it and I can't find it on google. It went something like this:

On the pop charts the Crew Cuts version reached number three and the Penguins version reached number eight. On the R&B charts the Penguins reached number one and the Crew Cuts were nowhere in sight.
I didn't want to clutter up this post with images of videos, or even with links, so I'll leave it to those of you who are interested to search YouTube for the songs and artists. You'll find everything mentioned here.

Well, I intended to write about doowop, but you can see what happened. Doowop will be next up.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Everything's Easy When You Know How

I take it as a given that the thing humans do least well is communicate. Nowhere is this more evident than when one person who knows how to do something but is not an expert wants to explain, without props, to someone who is a complete novice how to do it.

My first piece of advice to the novice is if the teacher says - nay, insists - "It's easy," then you must say immediately that your mother is dying, your manslaughter trial begins in twenty minutes, or that you have recently contracted a loathsome social disease. Say anything that will allow you to make your escape.

Throughout my adult life, the topic regarding which I have been most frequently - that is to say, always - victimized is cooking. Not one peson has ever tried to explain to me how to make a particular dish without saying "It's easy."

Unhappily, they clandestinely share a dictionary with uncommon definitions for common words, and once they begin their cooking explanations it becomes obvious that their version of "easy" means "So complex that several days into the preparation of this dish you will eat the raw ingredients with your bare hands in order to stave off starvation."

One evening each week, or as close to that schedule as we can manage, I visit my old junk mail friend, Bobby, previously mentioned in this blog. Our arrangement is that we alternate cooking responsibilities. Bobby can cook. I, on the other hand, . . . .

Given my limitations, the variety of meals that I cook for us is limited, and it recently occurred to me that it *is* the twenty-first century after all and perhaps Google really is my friend. I began a search for "easy meals."

This is the absolute truth: I clicked on the first results link and at that site I clicked on a "100 Easy Dinners" link. I then clicked on the link to the first dinner title that caught my interest: Chicken Marsala.

Keep in mind that to me, "easy" means "Start a stove burner and dump everything on top of it." I'd even include putting the food into a pot or a pan first. OK? Now, forget the process, just look at the list of ingredients:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Essence, recipe follows
2 (6 to 8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in halves and pounded thin
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
3 cups sliced mushrooms (cremini, oyster, shiitake)
3/4 cup Marsala
1 cup chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped chives, for garnish

Recipe for "Essence" (required above)

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Now here is a list of the above ingredients which I do *not* have on hand:

all-purpose flour
boneless, skinless chicken breasts
olive oil
sliced mushrooms
chicken stock
freshly ground black pepper
chopped chives
garlic powder
onion powder
dried leaf oregano
dried thyme

And a list of the ingredients that I *do* have on hand is:

black pepper
cayenne pepper

Now one *expects* to have to buy the chicken, and perhaps one or two ingredients, but you see what I mean, right?

Perhaps I should mention that I *do* have a tablespoon too. No, don't be so cynical. I also have a measuring cup.

Which of you will volunteer to contact the usage panels of the various Webster's dictionaries, the American Heritage dictionaries, the Oxford English Dictionary, and numerous others, in order to inform them that they omitted a definition of the word "easy?"

I threw the word "bachelors" into my search and things look more promising. One conclusion reached in short order, however, is that if credit is given for a recipe and that credit goes to a woman, I'll just move along, thank you very much, 'preciate it, my mother is dying, I gotta go. When it comes to "easy" we don't speak the same language.

As an aside, the *best* single instruction regarding a recipe that I ever heard was at a back yard party in Maryland. The hostess and another woman, both thirtyish, were talking about the recipe for something the hostess had prepared. The latter was reciting ingredients and when she got to vanilla extract, the guest asked "How much?"

"Oh, 'bout a mouthful."