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Richard Metzger: The time I met Dean Martin
12.28.2012
09:03 am

Topics:
Heroes

Tags:
Dean Martin


 

There is a humorous recipe for “Martin Burgers” that Dean Martin came up with (grill some ground beef, pour a shot of bourbon, done!) that was posted by Letters of Note that reminded me of my own encounter with the legendary entertainer. It also involves hamburgers. And bourbon. It’s one of my favorite stories to tell. Gather ‘round, children…

This event took place in, I think, 1992, when I was 26 years old. I’d recently read Nick Tosches’ excellent biography of Martin, Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, and I was on a Dean Martin “kick” that culminated in me having a professional photo house make me a 6 ft. by 6 ft. photo mural of the above Dean Martin album cover (which Boing Boing’s Mark Fraunenfelder once described in Wired. I still have it, but it’s not hanging up).

I was absolutely fascinated by Dean Martin, the very definition of the devil-may-care roué who truly wasn’t impressed by anything or anyone. Beauty? He had more women than he knew what to do with. Fame? Come on. Money? Please! Dino didn’t care if you were the President of the United States, some hot piece of ass or the head of the Las Vegas Mafia. The man, to paraphrase the Super Furry Animals, simply did not give a fuck. Weltschmerz as an art form! Ennui deluxe! I reckon Dean Martin must’ve been the coolest man ever to live.

Janet Charlton, the Star magazine gossip columnist, seen frequently on Access Hollywood,  ET and similar shows back then, told me that Dean Martin—who was generally thought to be a complete recluse, sitting home drunk in an armchair watching movie westerns, basically—did in fact dine out nearly every night at the Hamburger Hamlet (an upscale LA burger chain) on Doheny Drive in Beverly Hills.

A few weeks after she told me this, Mike and Roni, two pals of mine from New York, arrived on my doorstep unannounced. They seemed quite amused by my gigantic Dean Martin album cover and when I told them that he was a regular at the Doheny Drive Hamburger Hamlet, we all three enthusiastically agreed that this was where we’d dine that evening. And we brought a camera.

I generally like the Hamburger Hamlet chain, but the one in Beverly Hills has got to be THE restaurant in LA with the oldest clientele, hands down. It’s the sort of place where grandparents take their grandchildren out to eat and the grandchildren are in their seventies. I’m talking OLD. Palm Springs old. Miami Beach old. A few of the faces seemed extremely familiar from sixties television, character actors who might have been on The Beverly Hillbillies, Bonanza or Green Acres, but who I could not place exactly due to the passing of years. What made walking into this place seem even more surreal is that it is merely a block away from all the rock clubs on the Sunset Strip.

So we get there and valet the car. I asked the maître d’, who must’ve been all of 19, if we could be seated near Dean Martin’s table. He took the money I put into his hand and looked at me like I was an idiot. Not a stalker mind you, but a complete idiot. “Oookay,” he whistled dismissively and rolled his eyes.

Martin was not there, he told us, but they did expect him. So we sat in the lobby and we waited. And waited. And waited. After looking at the grub the waiters were serving up, we decided he wasn’t going to show up and split to grab a steak at Dan Tana’s. As the valet handed me my car keys I asked him, “We heard that Dean Martin eats here all the time. When is a good day to see him?” He replied “Mr Martin? Oh, his chauffeur just phoned ahead, he’ll be here any minute.”

I tossed my keys back to him and we returned inside and were seated in the back section of the restaurant. Within a few minutes, the sultan of suave, secret agent Matt Helm, the roast-master general hisself, Dean Martin stumbled in, completely shit-faced. His eyes were bloodshot red and he looked old and he looked drunk. Very drunk. It was probably a very good thing that he could afford to employ a full-time driver, let’s just say…

As soon as he took his seat, the waiter slammed down several shots of bourbon and two beers in front of him. Dino downed two shots immediately and two more were placed in front of him in a flash.

We made our move before they brought his food out. Roni got her camera ready and asked politely, “Mr. Martin, can I get a picture of you with these guys? They’re big fans of yours!”

He looked at us like “Yeah, right” and replied quietly “Most of my fans these days are old broads.”

I told him about my giant 6 ft. mural of his album cover and that I was born and raised in Wheeling, WV, just across the Ohio River from Martin’s hometown of Steubenville, OH. He softened a bit and said “I remember Wheeling, WV. I used to swim there and mess around and hang out there when I was a boy.” (No matter how slowly I ask you to imagine this sentence being said, you’re going to make it faster in your mind than he spoke it. Pause after each word as if there is a period… or a wheeze).

Today Steubenville has dozens of things named after Dean Martin (they also hold a yearly Dean Martin festival). I asked him when was the last time he’d visited his hometown and he just snickered.

“Do you mind if we get a picture?” Roni asked again.

“I don’t think they allow that here,” he demurred, trying to avoid it.

“Who’s gonna stop us? Let’s just do it,” she replied.

Martin shook his head and exhaled with undisguised annoyance, parted his lips and clicked on a a very fake smile. Through his gritted teeth he said “Go ahead, I don’t give a shit.” Something about his manner let Mike and I know that he meant NOW, so we squatted beside his chair.

After the flash went off, his smile vanished, he looked down at his drink and completely ignored us. We knew this was our cue to leave and we took it. Outside his limo was waiting. It sported a vanity plate reading “DRUNKY.”

The story doesn’t end there: Two weeks later I get a package of two big prints of the photo and several smaller ones from Roni. I laughed my ass off, DELIGHTED at seeing this memento of our loopy encounter with Dino. I left them out on the kitchen counter and every time I walked past them I grinned and marveled at the fact that a photo existed with Dean Martin and ME in it.

Then the phone rang. It was Roni asking had I gotten the package. I was looking down at the picture when she asked me: “Did you notice that his…”

No, I hadn’t noticed it, but I did then: His pants had been unfastened and un-zipped old man-style so his gut could hang out and the camera had caught this!

The photo I had been admiring all day became a million times better before my very eyes.

But the story doesn’t end there, either: At the time, I was in the middle of writing a script with Kramer (he of Bongwater and Shimmy-Disc fame) and I gave him one of the larger prints, which he hung in his Noise New Jersey studio. Around this time, he and Penn Jillette had formed a band called Captain Howdy and they were doing a bit of recording. Apparently Penn asked Kramer who the old guy in the photo was, but he refused to believe it when told that it was Dean Martin. Eventually he relented, and the Captain Howdy song “Dino’s Head” was apparently inspired in part by the below photo (and Penn getting to use Dean Martin’s “special” German shower head when Penn & Teller were performing in Las Vegas, as is explained in the song).
 

Click on photo to view larger image.
 

 

It doesn’t end there, either. Last month, HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher used the Dino photo in a bit comparing JFK to Reagan, as seen below

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Brother Theodore, one of David Letterman’s all-time most memorable guests, lectures us on ‘Foodism’
12.24.2012
10:03 am

Topics:
Heroes

Tags:
David Letterman
Brother Theodore

image
 
[We’re flying our freak flag at half mast this week and relaxing a tiny bit over the holidays, so here’s one of my favorite posts from the DM archives]

“My name, as you may have guessed, is Theodore. I come from a strange stock. The members of my family were mostly epileptics, vegetarians, stutterers, triplets, nailbiters. But we’ve always been happy.”—Brother Theodore

I’m not sure this story qualifies as an actual anecdote or just a meandering way of introducing an amazing YouTube clip, but here goes nuthin’...

As a lad growing up in Wheeling, WV in the 1970s, at approximately the age of twelve, I decided that I was no longer going to eat the food I was being served by my parents. In a home where greasy pan-fried hamburgers (or “Steakums”) were the typical main course and Kraft macaroni and cheese substituted for the “vegetable group,” I simply wanted to eat healthier. My parents were not very happy about this this demand—for that is what it was—and it seemed really insulting to them, but what could they do? The severity of my new diet must have really taken them by surprise. I became, pretty much a Fruitatarian, or a raw foodist, years before this was common. What influenced my twelve-year-old mind to do something like this was an obscure book I found in the local library with the distinctly unappetizing title, Mucusless Diet Healing System by Dr. Arnold Ehret.

I won’t go into the details of the diet, which extols the value of avoiding “mucus” and “pus” in your food—sounds like an admirable goal, right?—but suffice to say that while Dr Ehret’s work still has many followers—he’s thought of as the founder of Naturopathy—many diet experts consider him a total quack. But I am not here to debate the merits of his ideas, pro or con, merely to offer some brief context before I send you off to read this short essay, The Definitive Cure of Chronic Constipation.

Okay? You got that? At the very least skim it. The language he uses is quite distinctive isn’t it? The total disgust he expresses about the workings of the digestive system is almost Nietzschean in its peculiar character. This absolutist tone must’ve contributed greatly to my pre-teen interest in the diet.

Now flash-forward to the late 1990s, New York City. I had become friends with the then 91-year-old Theodore Gottlieb, better-known as the infamous dark comedian Brother Theodore, a big influence on monologists Eric Bogosian, Lydia Lunch and Spaulding Gray, who had been performing his totally insane one-man show at the tiny 13th Street Theater in Greenwich Village for ages and was a frequent guest on David Letterman’s late night talkshow during the 1980s.

At his age, it was not much of an exaggeration to say that Theodore had “been around forever.” He was delivering lines like “The only thing that keeps me alive is the hope of dying young” long before I was born. What was a great gag when he was, say, 50 years old, and then to STILL be delivering a line like that at the age of 93, as he did on my UK television series, Disinformation, well that existential tension is what made his nonagenarian performances so incredibly spell-binding.
 

 
His show was in the form of a stern lecture. It was nearly impossible to tell if this was an act you were seeing or if he was utterly batshit crazy, a berserk “genius” impervious to laughter as long as an audience bought tickets. The props were a chair, a table, a chalk board and a stryrofoam cup. There was a single spotlight. If you were anywhere near the stage in that little theater he could totally scare the shit out of you. Of course, whenever I brought friends, I took them right down the front!

It was an act, I can assure you. Theodore in real life was a mellow old bohemian guy who lived several lives in his 94 years. He’d been in Dachau (his release had been secured by Albert Einstein, his mother’s adulterous lover) and he’d also been on Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and most famously on Late Night with David Letterman (Theodore, along with Harvey Pekar, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and Captain Beefheart, was one of the most memorable and emblematic oddball Letterman guests of his early era).  He was in The Burbs playing Tom Hank’s great uncle and was the voice of “Gollum” in The Hobbit cartoon. He had a cameo in Orson Welles’ The Stranger. He was even in a porno movie, an X-rated parody of Jaws called Gums (Theo plays the boat captain, in a thankfully non-balling role. The former concentration camp prisoner is also seen, rather inexplicably, wearing a Nazi SS uniform for most of the film). In his nineties he was dating a woman in her mid-forties. He rode a bike around New York City until he was well into his eighties. Theodore was an old Beatnik, that’s the way I saw him. I think that’s largely the way he saw himself.

And talk about a weird way to make a living! He really wasn’t anything like his crazed monk act in real life, though. And let me tell you, when you are in your thirties and have a friend who is in their nineties… you learn things about life. Not all of them good, either. 94 years is a long time to live. Too long, if you ask me. I’m quite sure he felt that way, too.

Theodore apparently had great difficulty memorizing lines, even his own material and so he only really ever did two major monologues—he’d switch off between them when he felt like it—for over 40 years. One was called “Foodism”—we’ll get to this one in a minute—and the other was called “Quadrupidism” where he’d extol the virtues of human beings getting down on all fours (everything went to hell when our ancestors stood up according to his theories).
 

 
One day I was visiting Theodore at his apartment and I was looking at his sparse book shelf. On it sat The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, Baudelaire’s Les Fleur du Mal, an Edgar Alan Poe anthology, The Portable Nietzsche, some St Augustine, and… ta da… The Mucusless Diet Healing System by Dr Arnold Ehret. I remarked to him that I myself was a pre-teen adherent to Arnold Ehret’s unconventional ideas about diet and he replied that it was the inspiration for his “Foodism” monologue.  “I merely exaggerated his writings. Just slightly. That was all it took!”

My jaw hit the ground. He’d managed to craft one of the most brilliant comic monologues of all time based on Ehret’s zany diet-sprach. I was awestruck at how amazing this revelation really was. I mean… how creative!!!

You read that essay about constipation, right? Promise me? Now go watch this extended excerpt from the “Foodism” lecture performed on Late Night with David Letterman in the mid-80s.
 

 
More Brother Theodore after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Lester Chambers’ Time Has Come Today: How Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian is helping a music legend get back

alexis_ohanian_lester_chambers
 
Earlier this year, Lester Chambers posted a photo on his Facebook page that went viral. It showed the septuagenarian singer holding up a statement that explained how the record business had ripped him off for 5 decades:

I AM the former Lead Singer of a 60’s BAND. I performed before thousands at Atlanta Pop 2, Miami Pop, Newport Pop, Atlantic Pop. I did NOT squander my money on drugs or a fancy home. I went from 1967-1994 before I saw my first Royalty Check.

The Music Giants I recorded with only paid me for 7 of my Albums.

I have NEVER seen a penny in Royalties from my other 10 Albums I recorded. Our Hit Song was licensed to over 100 Films, T.V. & Commercials WITHOUT our permission. One Major TV Network used our song for a national Commercial and my payment was $625. dollars. I am now 72, trying to live on $1200 a month. Sweet Relief, a music charity is taking donations for me.

Only the 1% of Artist can afford to sue.

I AM THE 99%

Like nearly everyone else I was moved by Lester’s plight and posted his picture on Dangerous Minds. Co-founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian was also moved by Lester’s photo, but he was inspired to do something even more positive about it - to help Lester record a new album.

Alexis contacted Dangerous Minds and explained how he ‘wanted to reach out to tell you about a new project we’ve been working on together.’ I wrote back, asking for more information, and Alexis kindly obliged.
 
lester_chambers_99_percent
 
Paul Gallagher: When and how did you first hear about Lester Chambers’ problems?

Alexis Ohanian: I heard about it when that photo he posted made the #1 spot of r/Music.

Paul Gallagher: What did this inspire you to do? Why?

Alexis Ohanian: At the time, not much. We were planning and running other campaigns for breadpig like this one for the novel Trial of the Clone as well as keeping up the heat on DC to fight for internet freedom, which included an awesome bus tour across the heartland. Things calmed down a bit this fall and we reassessed our ‘wishlist’ and tried reaching out to Lester. I want to make the world suck less and I’ve tried to help promote all the awesome people (like Lester) who are doing the inspirational work the internet is so perfect for sharing. It’s one thing to talk about how important internet freedom is to all Americans, it’s another thing to actually show it. He’d been robbed and I thought there was a chance the internet public could make it right.

Paul Gallagher: What happened?

Alexis Ohanian: Kat (who works with me) and I reached out and we were on a conference call with Lester and his son within a day or two. They were incredibly hospitable and opened their home and lives to me and my video crew for a day of shooting with only the promise that we’d do our best to help them make a successful kickstarter.

Paul Gallagher: How important has the internet been in all of this? Why?

Alexis Ohanian: Extremely. The internet is an incredible network that cuts out the middle man by connecting supply with demand—in this case, artists with their fans. In the worst cases, these middlemen, the record labels, have abused artists like Lester, but this new technology is forcing labels (and there are good ones!) to work for their artists and settle for a much smaller (more reasonable) percentage since artists have more and more options every day to find an audience. Look at the hundreds of musicians on kickstarter alone who get funded for rather esoteric albums that never would’ve gotten in the door of a traditional record label. For instance, I love living in a world where a Daft Punk tribute via New Orleans brass band gets $20,000 to make their art. That only happens in a world with the open internet.

Paul Gallagher: What’s happening with Lester now? What’s your involvement?

Alexis Ohanian: We just released his two Christmas tracks (early!) to all of his backers and he and his son are getting things in order to go into the studio to record this album! I’m just helping drive awareness while the kickstarter campaign is still running. This is all Lester—at last, he’ll have an album that’s all his.

Paul Gallagher: What can we do?

Alexis Ohanian: If you can afford to, contributing to his campaign is the best thing you can do for Lester, but even if you can’t, you have power in your network—please spread the word! Every upvote, tweet, and like counts.

For more information on ‘Lester’s Time Has Come Today by Lester Chambers and Alexis Ohanian’ check here.

Check here for Lester’s Facebook page and here for Alexis Ohanian’s website.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds:

The Legendary Lester Chambers and the Reality of the Music Business for the 99%
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Watch the five best cult British movies you’ve (probably) never seen - selected by Julian Upton
12.15.2012
07:10 am

Topics:
Movies

Tags:


 
Picture this. Someone’s got a gun to your head, and you’ve got to recite great British bands. The second you stop, you’re dead… Well, it’d be an awkward way to go about your life, but I daresay you could still enjoy a surprisingly long innings. Now imagine it was films. Cripes! “Ummm, Brief Encounter, Withnail and I, The Life of Brian, Performance, The Wicker Man… ummm…4 Weddings and a…” BANG!

Don’t get me wrong, the Brits have made many good flicks, but they feel so over-familiar that you can find yourself suspecting that they constitute a fig-leaf covering a peculiar national nudity…

Enter Julian Upton and his terrific new book Offbeat, a guide to the predominantly uncharted terrain of great cult British cinema, with sparkling reviews of over a hundred lost classics, along with other interviews and essays documenting the highs and lows of the British film industry “from the buoyant leap in film production in the late fifties to the dying embers of popular domestic cinema in the early eighties.”

Months in advance of the worldwide paperback release, one hundred copies only were released yesterday by Headpress, in a beautiful fully illustrated, hardcover, heavy paper edition, with head and tail bands, plus a ribbon (!) available right here and here only for the special price of £22.50 (which is like $33-and-a-tiny-tiny-tiny-bit, plus a couple of dollars US postage). And Mr Upton has been good enough to personally compile and introduce - exclusively for Dangerous Minds - five of the best cult British movies you’ve (probably) never seen. Plus, you can watch them all here, one after the other over the course of your weekend, or at least until some lawyer somewhere gets them taken the fuck down

1. Cash On Demand (Quentin Lawrence. 1961)
 

 

“This taut little thriller about a stuffy bank manager, Fordyce, hoodwinked into helping to rob his own bank on Christmas Eve is perhaps the ne plus ultra of the 60s British B Movie. The premise is ingenious, the pacing drumskin-tight and the performances from Peter Cushing (as the angular, priggish Fordyce) and Andre Morell (as his louche, villainous tormentor) first rate. Imagine a well-mannered Dog Day Afternoon without guns or loosened clothing. But Cash On Demand is no less tense, gripping and enjoyable. It’s just that the English prefer their bank heists to have rather less shouting and carrying on.”

 
2. Night of the Eagle (Sidney Hayers. 1962)
 

 

“Often compared to — but too often overshadowed by — Jacques Tourneur’s 1957 similarly-titled British classic Night of the Demon, this is a minor masterpiece in its own right. A heady tale of horror set on a university campus, Night of the Eagle sees supernatural skeptic Professor Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) shocked to discover that his own wife is a fervent practitioner of the occult arts. Eagle moves at a faster clip than most British films of the period but it doesn’t stint on atmosphere, building effectively to a crescendo of terror as Taylor finds himself embroiled in a modern-day nightmare of sorcery and witchcraft.”

 
3. The Reckoning (Jack Gold. 1969)
 

 

“Released a couple of years after The Reckoning, Get Carter trod the same path and ultimately stole its thunder. But The Reckoning is arguably the better film. Much more than just a brutal revenge drama, it astutely juxtaposes the violent honor of the provincial slums with the aggressive backstabbing of the business world. Its anti-hero Michael Marler (Nicol Williamson) is a northern thug-made-good-down-south, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots, and when he discovers his dying father has been worked over by a couple of hoods back home, he hotfoots it to Liverpool to administer some justice. Williamson gives a powerhouse performance, and The Reckoning is as deep (and, occasionally, as funny) as it is tough.”

 
4. The Lovers! (1972)
 

 

“The ubiquitous 1970s big-screen sitcom spin-off was not noted for its cinematic style or wit, but there were a few examples of the genre that stood out: Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ The Likely Lads (1976) and Porridge (1979), and Jack Rosenthal’s The Lovers! (1972). But where the former are still staples of the Christmas TV schedules, The Lovers!, based on a Granada sitcom starring Richard Beckinsale and Paula Wilcox (in their first major roles), sadly never gets an airing. This is a pity as this film version is laugh-out-loud funny and stands up a lot better than many a British sex comedy of the era, accurately capturing a post-sixties’ mood of frustration where provincial men were continually scuppered in their efforts to locate any actual evidence of ‘the permissive society’.”

 
5. The Black Panther (Ian Merrick. 1977)
 

 

“This harrowing dramatization of the life and crimes of armed-robber-turned-murderer Donald Neilson — who became known as the Black Panther and was finally captured following the kidnap-murder of teenager Lesley Whittle in the Midlands in 1975 — was roundly dismissed as exploitation upon its release. But in fact it is a sober and measured reconstruction of the events in question, with admirable attention to detail and a striking central performance by Donald Sumpter as Neilson. In its exploration of an unhinged, loner psyche, it also works as something of a British companion piece to Taxi Driver. Definitely ripe for reappraisal.”

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Discussion
Johnny Rotten plays his own records on Capital Radio, 1977

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Recorded at a moment in time when the young Mr. Rotten was routinely getting his head kicked in by skinheads and hassled by the police, this is probably my single favorite bit of punk rock audio ephemera (actually, it’s a tie with the infamous Slits college radio interview, but that’s another blog post…).

What am I talking about? A guest appearance by Johnny Rotten on the Capital Radio program of deep-voiced DJ Tommy Vance. Rotten/Lydon was invited to play records from his own collection and talk about them. He comes across as whip-smart, honest and refreshingly free from much—if any—social programming and religious brainwashing. He discusses the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McClaren (he calls him the fifth member of the band), being educated in a Catholic school he despised and his passionate love of music. There’s no put-on here or any hint of the deliberate obnoxiousness of later years.

Where did you go to school?

[sighs] This poxy Roman Catholic thing. All they done was teach me religion. Didn’t give a damn about your education though. That’s not important is it? Just as long as you go out being a priest.

Which you haven’t become.

Well no. That kind of forcing ideas on you like when you don’t want to know is bound to get the opposite reaction. They don’t let you work it out for yourselves. They tell you you should like it. And that’s why I hate schools. You’re not given a choice. It’s not free.

It’s an inevitable question, and a corny question, but can you think of any better system of educating people?

No I can’t [laugh], I just know that one’s not right. I wouldn’t dare, it’s out of my depth, I have nothing to do with that side of things. I haven’t been to university and studied all the right attitudes, so I don’t know. No I haven’t.

[fades in Doctor Alimantado - ‘Born For A Purpose ‘]

This is it, ‘Born For A Purpose’, right? Now this record, just after I got my brains kicked out, I went home and I played it and there’s a verse which goes, ‘If you have no reason for living, don’t determine my life’. Because the same thing happened to him. He got run over because he was a dread. Very true.

The music he plays is a revelation.  Can, some rare soul, Tim Buckley, Peter Hammill (he accuses Bowie of copping the Van Der Graaf Generator front man’s moves), Captain Beefheart (he plays “The Blimp”!), Nico, John Cale and of course, lots of reggae. When Rotten plays the dub b-side by Culture (the track with the lopping bass, barking dogs, crying babies and blaring car horns) you can hear the blueprint for the PiL sound that would come along just a few months later.

It must be said that for a 20-year-old he’s got astonishingly good taste in music and for that time period? Please! This really is an incredible thing to listen to. For the musical education alone, it’s great, but listening to the thoughts of this controversial, brilliant young man at the height of powers is a sublime pleasure.

It even contains the radio commercials from the broadcast. This has been making the rounds for years, but this version is clean and in real stereo, the best I’ve ever heard.

A transcript of the interview and a track listing can be found here.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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