The Writings, Ruminations, and Rustications of Thurston Kelp
It’s a not particularly well guarded secret that for about ten years starting in 1994 I supplemented my income by writing an approximately regular music column for the Cape Codder in Orleans, MA, using the pseudonym Thurston Kelp (my first choice for a pseudonym was actually “R. Nalton Thruppy”, but the Codder passed on that idea.) I’ve always enjoyed not only passing along recommendations to friends about things I think they’d enjoy, but also savaging the hard, probably deeply felt work of others when I feel it’s added up to something that’s exceptionally hard to enjoy, which is hard to get away with in a small town- thus, the pseudonym.
The Cape Codder was nice, or perhaps strangely deluded, enough to give me a fairly long leash, so I got to write not just about music, but about all kinds of things, frequently with a humorous bent, and I’ve always wondered if some small portions might stand the test of time; until the recent pandy I of course never bothered with it, but now I suddenly seem to have ample time- hurrah! The arrival of ample free time alone might not have turned the trick, though, if I hadn’t recently been so amused by a book my ex, the nonetheless still marvelous Mrs. K, gave me years ago that featured a large collection of funny and delightful book reviews by the British novelist Nick Hornby (who also wrote “High Fidelity”) called “Ten Years in the Tub”, which I very much recommend. So, thanks, Nick, for the inadvertent nudge, and also thanks to my colleagues and editors at the Cape Codder, including Melora North, Joe Burns, and especially Laura Collins Hughes.
I wrote hundreds of these, but a lot of it is no longer relevant, and in many cases of questionable interest in the first place, but there’s occasional good bits; this first installment (warning: if no one complains, I may do more of these) includes brushes with Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins at the old Sun studio in Memphis, a comparison of Texas to France, and some thoughts on Lord Buckley, among other things.
From Kelp1, January ’04
Alright, this won’t take long.
It’s four in the morning , which is my usual time for creating these little masterpieces/grinding out my idiot column; unfortunately for all of us , I mistakenly got up before noon (i.e. in the actual morning itself) today, which of course has made me Quite Grumpy . I long ago determined that I am simply not the kind of guy that needs to be conscious a moment earlier than necessary: I believe that it is to everyone’s advantage to make sure that the world is well broken in by far more competent and perky early morning types than I prior to my arrival and subsequent hasty departure.
People rarely take issue with this approach; the ones who do are primarily those who have never beheld my foggy glare on those rare occasions when I prepare to “greet the day” in the A.M.. My wife , the infuriatingly appealing Mrs. Kelp, has often suggested that I “get the hell back to bed” because I’m “scaring the dogs” and she’d like to “kill” me.
I might also add that it is my opinion that there is no point in anyone being awake in the month of January, which is a horrible month which should be shot. The only people who could possibly like
January are skiers and other winter sports enthusiasts , who are clearly too stupid to live. I’m only going to say this once: freezing snow and ice are God’s way of telling us to give up and stay the hell indoors until it’s safe out again, sometime in April; that’s why, in His compassion, He gave us cable.
And about this whole Nancy Kerrigan thing – people who think skating is a ton of fun should have their legs broken: the folks who are bugged with Tanya are the same bunch of whiners who failed to back running star/innovator Rosie Ruiz in her hour of need some years ago – they’re just jealous ‘cause they didn’t have the idea first.
Permit me to recommend Texas in March (a song title if ever there was one! -can you forget “April in Paris”? “Moonlight in Vermont”? “Autumn in Philly”?) and here’s why:
- Permit me to recommend Texas in March (a song title if ever there was one! -can you forget “April in Paris”? “Moonlight in Vermont”? “Autumn in Philly”?) and here’s why:
- It’s also very big and should be easy to find.
- It looks just like France. (My wife, the scintillating Mrs. Kelp, and I were recently in France and so can both testify that Texas and France are virtually identical except get this! -there’s hardly any French guys in Texas! The other difference is that all over Houston and Austin they have these billboards for vasectomy reversals which I don’t recall seeing in France, although I carelessly never got around to learning the French phrase for “vasectomy reversal” so they were probably all over the place and I just didn’t notice. Still, I’m kind of surprised that Texas would have gotten so far in to the whole vasectomy craze back in the Reagan era that there is now big money in reversing some of those decisions under the current democratic regime. (So much for political commentary.)
- It’s way cheaper than France . (Of course, it’s not an actual foreign country like France is.)
- It’s not an actual foreign country like France is.
- You can go to Memphis on the way . Memphis, being the home of rockabilly, Stax, and W.C. Handy, is pretty irresistible to most music buffs; we also had absolutely the best barbecue sandwich I’ve ever had in my life at a place called the Little Pigs. But the experience par excellence that really stunned us was bumping into Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis at the original Sun studio, a place I’d always been dying to see in large part because of the seminal recordings they made there, they and their cohorts Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, literally a host of others, and, oh yeah -that Elvis guy. And speaking of Elvis, damned if his original drummer and bass player, D.J. Fontana and Scotty Moore, aren’t there as well, backing up Carl singing “Blue Suede Shoes”.
So I’m already feeling like I just ran in to Michelangelo whilest hanging around at the Sistine Chapel when Jerry Lee rolls up. Now, I saw the great man park, and I must tell you that I will never forget it . First of all, it was good to see that Jerry Lee was driving his own gigantic car, and in general looking a great deal more healthy than I have seen him in a very long time . Gone was the gaunt, frail look of the last few years, replaced by absolutely the best looking 1994 version of the Killer you could possibly imagine, slickly got up in a gray striped suit and matching vest.
A more meticulous approach had already been signaled by the killer’s genteel parking style, which completely took me by surprise. I would’ve figured Jerry Lee to be the kind of guy who would just roar into a parking space, callously smashing any lesser vehicles ignorant enough to infringe on his general plan out of the way and down the hill into the requisite Hollywood ball of flame, but it wasn’t like that at all.
Here was one of the south’s most famous hellions, the guy who married his thirteen year old cousin and damn near tried to shoot Elvis! -doing the most careful, considerate job of parking I’ve just about ever seen . Back and forth went the killer, more and more gingerly, about six or seven -no, why build it up? It was exactly six times. On the very last one he just went forward exactly straight for about two and a half inches for no particular reason . It was the best parking I’ve ever seen, or ever hope to see.
Turns out Carl and Jerry Lee were down there to shoot a video for Time/Life, so they interviewed them too, so I got to see Jerry Lee, who had already left Elvis out of his list of the world’s greatest singers (the guys who made it were himself, Hank Williams, Al Jolsen, and Jimmy Rodgers), respond graciously as ever to the question, “What did you think was the greatest thing about Elvis Presley?” with “His manager.”
It was a perfect day.
Anyway, getting back to what I was saying in my last column (which there is virtually no chance of anyone remembering due to the tremendous amount of elapsed time since caused in turn by yours truly’s utter lack of discipline and increasing friskiness with deadlines in general), another reason Texas and France seem virtually identical is this- 7.) both countries feature tree-balls!
I feel I need hardly add here that no one would be happier than I if I knew the correct scientific word for what my bride and traveling companion (the lovely, usually well-informed Mrs. Kelp) and I ignorantly term “treeballs”, and that I feel safe in predicting that the real word for them is noticeably more dignified than the unfortunate replacement word which we now feel forced to employ, “tree-ball”.
However, it must also be admitted that while the word itself may seem ungainly, it is uncannily descriptive of that certain unique form of nature known to my wife and myself only as, well, y’know, “treeballs”. That’s exactly what they look like- little balls of green leaves and sticks that seem to get caught in the trees in Texas and France –does anyone out there know what I’m taking about? What do you call those things? If it turns out they’re tumbleweeds, that’ll be great because that would mean they have tumbleweeds in France!
O.K., I know there must be plenty of folks out there who are annoyed about the heat, and as you know, where there is a minor (or major) annoyance, I will always be there to fan the flames, usually by claiming that whatever it is is somehow worse for me than for anyone else. In this case the reason life is so much worse here at Kelp Manor is that our giant black dog’s “wife” down the street is in heat this week and (please don’t think of me as unromantic but) I could just kill him.
For those of you who have not been through this particular brand of torture let me explain. First of all, we are talking about a very large dog here, about the size of the Uncatena, which you oldsters may recall as the smallest ferry that used to run between Wood’s Hole and Nantucket for the Steamship Authority.
Then add to his bronto-like size a tragic, all-consuming friendliness which we endure stoically even when he is regular and not being driven wild by the feminine charms of whatever canine strumpet is going through hormonal horrors that week (he is, by the way, technically a retriever, though yet another friend -imagine me having two!- pointed out that in practice he’s really much more of a dispatcher). You just haven’t lived until you’ve been really hot and hungover and there’s a lathered up, drooling cur the size of Thompson’s Clam Bar sitting on your chest. You remember last issue when I said that singer David Wilcox had exceeded the reasonable limits of affability? Imagine a gigantic, wet, furry, drunk David Wilcox at the Christmas party and you’ll be in the ballpark.
Then imagine the things such a creature would do to get to another creature, of his own species yet, who actually wanted to hang around with him and that it’s your job to prevent said union and you’ll have some idea of how things have been going around here. All this is further complicated by the fact that we had innocently named our dog “Hitler” (an old family name on my wife’s side), an embarrassing name to have to be calling at three o’clock in the morning in your neighbor’s yard when your big idiot dog has escaped yet again, dragging the front door (not the screen door, mind you, but the oak one) behind him (which at least makes him easy to follow). The fact that our neighbors are Jehovah’s Witnesses in no way enhances the whole experience.
“Hipsters, flipsters, and finger-poppin’ daddies! Knock me your lobes!”
So sayeth the Reverend of Irreverence, His Hipness, His Double-Hip Ebullientness, Lord Buckley, (who also described himself as the Man with the Multiple Minds and the Magical Mouth) in his version of Marc Antony’s funeral oration from “Julius Caesar”, which he attributed to the legendary playwright Willie the Shakes. Buckley was one of the wildest, most eccentric figures of the fifties, an obscure legend but a legend nonetheless as evidenced by the healthy turn-out last Tuesday for Frank Speiser’s affectionate recreation of his act in “Are You There? -a Hip History Lesson” currently being presented in association with the Wellfleet Harbor Actor’s Theater every Monday and Tuesday in August at the Duck Creek Tavern in Wellfleet.
Buckley was fascinating for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that he was almost completely impossible to categorize. Half hip comic, half maniacal history teacher/revisionist, Lord Buckley sang his routines as much as spoke them, always with a spirit and energy that was overpowering. Ahead of his time as always, he was trying to tell the beat generation about flower power (among other things), which really wasn’t all that fashionable during the Eisenhower years.
Here’s a Buckley anecdote: Apparently, he was a great favorite of gangster Al Capone, whom you may remember Robert Stack being particularly obnoxious to in the sixties. On several occasions, Capone booked the entertainer to perform for him at private functions, and at one point, Buckley felt the need to cook up something special for his admiring employer. As the guests filed in, the comic relieved the ladies of their expensive fur coats, put them all in a big pile, and set them on fire. Now, that’s entertainment! Legend has it that Capone loved it.
For the most part, the touch in “Are You There?” is just right. The evening starts with Mr. Speiser, the tuxedoed star (not to mention writer and perpetrator) of this evening’s divertissement, graciously welcoming us and showing us to our seats, altogether appropriate in light of our subjects glittering and far-flung reputation as a wonderful host (sometimes in the nude -I applaud Mr. Speiser’s restraint in this regard) of wild parties at his “mattress farm” in Las Vegas and at his tiny Crackerbox Palace (later memorialized in a George Harrison song) apartment in L.A., where he was once visited by Greer Garson. (He was also involved in the same early LSD experiments as -get this- Cary Grant! What a world!)
At the beginning of the night (and interspersed throughout) we are treated to some absolutely wonderful bebop jazz singing in the Eddie Jefferson/Lambert, Hendricks and Ross style by one Giacomo Gates and his trio. Mr. Gates sang warmly and inventively in a remarkably rich tone; his performance alone would be well worth the price of a ticket, though I must add (or, in this case, subtract) that I would’ve much preferred a stand-up bass to the electric model, especially the Steinberger, which really shouldn’t be used by anyone who’s not on “The Jetsons” (you’d have to be a magician to swing on one of those babies). Still, they picked great tunes, and Giacomo sang my wife, the usually quite respectable Mrs. Kelp, into an all-out tizzy.
Then Mr. Speiser comes out and sets the scene, which turns out to be a Lincoln’s Birthday celebration at Henry Miller’s house in the late fifties (a setting that turns out to be more colorful than consequential); he then assumes the persona of His Royal Hipness Himself explaining that the theater is the same as a church and that his church is the Church of the Living Swing. Then we’re off and running with a bebop version of the Gettysburg Address, then into a short digression about his great indebtedness to Black culture:
“I came by the language in association with the beauty of the American Beauty Negro, (who) has a fantastic sense of renewal that will take any old and revered movement and swing it right up to the pounce of the now…In growing up against the granite walls of stupidity they have dug out their well of humor to such a point that it has turned into a spring. Many, many times they had to laugh at things that weren’t funny, and as a consequence they wound up with very, very deep, sparkling, humorous wells of beauty…”
And then into a story about a party thrown for Mahatma Gandhi where everyone flipped their wigs to such an extent “they had to get some wigtappers to come out and tap everybody’s wigs back on”. This is wild, jubilant stuff, and it can’t be easy to come on cold and replicate the crazed stream of consciousness of the original performances. Mr. Speiser ascended to the desired energy level somewhat gradually, but by the second half he was Fully There (or at least we were -you know how we get when we’re drinking and bebopping) for wonderful routines on “the Sub-conscious Mind and the Car”, the afore-mentioned Willie the Shake, and (the highlight) Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca (“the Gasser”!), capped with an ending sweet as honey.
Oh Wellfleet Drive-in! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…
There used to be five drive-ins on the cape, but I always liked the Wellfleet one the best. It’s not really a matter of opinion nowadays, as it’s the only one still in business; so if you adhere (as I do) to the tenant that a drive-in that exists is superior to a drive-in that doesn’t, then the Wellfleet Drive-in has very little serious competition on cape.
If you dig the Big Screen, you can’t beat the drive-in, which looms up majestically against the night sky and is probably twice as big as any other screen on cape, making it just perfect for epics and action flicks with plenty of mayhem; animated films look great there too. It’s a beautiful thing to see a big old bus crash or air liner explosion out in the fresh air the way God intended. Plus, I really think the best way to watch a lot of the current cinema is to treat any stray stretches of dialog as signals to start talking amongst yourselves until the inevitable arrival of the next bombing or killing -nowadays the style is to talk along with the actors, which isn’t yet universally accepted at your hoity-toity indoor theaters.
Besides, think of all the things you can fit in your car to enhance your viewing pleasure! Done properly, it’s like bringing your house to the movies!
And if you haven’t been to the drive-in this year, there’s big news: i.e. a big upgrade on the sound system, which you can now dial up in stereo on your FM radio and it sounds GREAT! (Or at least it does if you have a good sounding FM radio.) This represents a change in philosophy on my part, as years ago I swore my allegiance to the little speakers you get to hang on your car window at the cool drive-ins, which had the added advantage of making a delightful snapping/clunking noise when I’d mistakenly drive off with them still attached at the end of a particularly exhausting show.
The whole drive-in experience is such a tantalizing mixture of privacy and sociability (of course I should point out that neither the Wellfleet Drive-in nor the publishers of this periodical would wish to encourage any acts requiring privacy -or, for that matter, sociability- on the grounds of the theater, which are, of course, sacred). And it should be said that they have an excellent security staff at the drive in to prevent exactly such outbursts. On the other hand, if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. I keep expecting to get a suspicious glare from the girl behind the counter as I wobble away with my fifth large cup of ice, but it never happens, and it’s a beautiful thing. (Of course in situations like these I always hire a designated driver to follow behind in a second vehicle, the better to shovel myself and my love goddess Mrs. Kelp into safely for the long drive home apres le cinema. Remember, don’t drive when sociable!)
There I was, gracefully not writing my column, not even really all that annoyed at anything, when I discovered the existence of the (then-impending, now thankfully just another bitter regret) “Fall For Orleans” weekend.
I’ll come right to the point: it’s a dumb name for a weekend.
The whole idea of naming weekends is dumb, but even if it was a really good idea, “Fall For Orleans” would still stand out as a particularly dumb name for one.
It just doesn’t have the zip of any of the great local names for brief periods of time from the past, such as Eastham’s “Windmill Weekend” or Harwich’s “Cranberry whatever-it-was”, and I feel strongly that the person that named it that should be sent to labor camp over the bridge somewhere or should at least not be allowed to name things any more. They should hear a discouraging word and soon.
Some of you may recall (though I doubt it) that I spent most of my last missive whining on about how much I hated the designation “Fall for Orleans” and how whoever had the idea should be strung up immediately and on and on as usual. Of course I offered not a single constructive alternative suggestion (though I have since -well after the fact, of course- come up with the almost equally brilliant “Ottumn On Orleans”); I was much more interested in victimizing whatever hapless, civic-minded individual had gone to the trouble of inventing the term.
Gosh, was I surprised to discover that the originator of said catchy slogan was none other than my wife’s (the exceptionally hard-working, dependable, always right there when you need her Mrs. Kelp’s) boss down at the plastics factory. On further review I have decided that I actually liked the whole gist of the campaign quite a bit, once I truly understood it and had time to appreciate all of the many subtleties and nuances involved therein. I don’t know what made me fly off the handle like that. Any person who could come up with an excellent idea like that is clearly more than qualified to own his own plastics company, and probably manufactures really excellent plastic items.
While we’re on the subject of personal catastrophes, I’d like to say that Kelp Manor has never been cleaner, shinier, and less fragrant than it is this week following the visit of my parents, the highly regarded Buddy “Hey Rah” Kelp Sr. and wife Froony. The elder Kelps may be getting on in years, but they seem only to have sharpened Froony’s cobra-like sense of smell, a capacity which strikes terror in the hearts of all good pet bearing families like ourselves. It was wonderful to see them, but it’s probably lucky that we only schedule these collisions once every five years or so as they are particularly hard on my lovely bride, who so dislikes having to hide (not to mention tranquilize) most of the cats and some of the larger, more unruly canines in the basement during these family frolics.