Supporting the Supporting
Doris Day died his week. Shuffled off after 97 years, bloody good innings really. I was never a fan; I was a bit too young and didn’t really get the campy shtick although I can see how it appealed. Of course in the dominant paradigm of the time she was the sweet virginal girl next door as opposed to say Marilyn Monroe [almost typed Manson then!!]. I read this week in the NY Times in an opinion piece that she was more subversive than that. Apparently again in the parlance of the time she was the whore playing the Madonna subtly playing a whore. Who knew?
Anyway if you like perky cowgirls with guns and nice love ballads you know where to go.
Not many of the golden age of Hollywood players left now, they are all well into their 80s if not 90s or buried in grandeur in a Hollywood lawn cemetery with their agent on their left and their accountant on their right.
But you know a lot of the fun was not with the A list. It was the bit players, the character actors, and those people who popped up in movies and TV shows who were not the stars but were integral to the entertainment. This year we have already lost Katherine Helmond who played the matriarch role in both Who’s The Boss and Soap [look them up if I have lost you]. This week we lost Peggy Lipton, the ice queen blonde from the original Mod Squad who had deserved comebacks with David Lynch’s Twin Peaks both times around. One of those 70s American actresses who were cool, blonde, leggy and faintly hippy I am sure she was a roll model for actresses like Bridget Fonda and Claire Danes, hell while Cate has much better acting chops there is a bit of Peggy Lipton in our own Cate Blanchett.
Also this week Tim Conway who specialized in playing bumbling disaster prone stuffups in classic 70s shows like McHale’s Navy and the Carol Burnett Show had his last pratfall. I am not a big fan of slapstick comedy but this guy was so nice and gormless you couldn’t not like him.
I would also like to mention Larry Jenkins, who I must admit I didn’t know until I did some research for this blog, also passed away earlier this year. Larry Jenkins played one of the parking attendants who took the red Ferrari, owned by Cameron's dad for a bit of a spin in the classic teen movie Ferris Bueller’s Day off. Not a big role but a critical one and boy he made the most of it. Thanks to all of them.
I must have a bit of thing for supporting things because I also had a think about how this principle of an invaluable but background assistance is vital for the production of a piece of collaborative art to succeed. In this case I was thinking about the use of handclaps and the cowbell in the rock and roll genre. Some of my favourite songs feature handclaps or cowbells.
There is a list down below of my faves but Blaze pointed out that his favourite song with clapping in it is The Clapping Song. I pointed out to him that a song called the Clapping Song could hardly be using clapping as a supporting feature but in fact would seem to see clapping as the central point of the whole frigging thing. He did not seem to see the distinction.
Handclaps have been a part of music since we were all cavemen. And yet it still kind of amazes me how difficult it is for a room full of people to clap on the same beat. A few weeks ago at the Bowie Celebration concert the audience was invited to clap along to a couple of tunes. Even with a drummer and a stage full of musicians to look at and listen to clapping the beat, there were still people half a beat out. Admittedly being Brisbane and being a Bowie Celebration the crowd was overwhelmingly over 50 and Caucasian.
Is it true? Do white people have no sense of rhythm? I don’t know but it must be kind of funny to watch for the professionals up on stage. The show was great by the way. It was fascinating to watch the four vocalists handle the different stages of Bowie’s career and accordingly feature different aspects of his voice. The band was as polished as you would expect although the sound mix was occasionally muddy which is surprising given you would expect a concert hall to have great sound.
Cowbells have been around for a long while too. Cowbells had a golden age in the 70s. They worked so well with so many genres that were peaking in the 70s like funk and of course heavy rock as per Hendrix, Led Zep and the Rolling Stones.
There are many great cowbell songs from the golden age of rock but the Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper [subject of a hilarious pisstake on the USA comedy show Saturday Night Live starring Will Ferrell back in 2000. It’s on YouTube and it is comic gold] is the pinnacle. It’s kind of hard to describe just what the cowbell brings in terms of sound. I mean, yes it makes a bell sound of course but maybe it’s the fact that it doesn’t jangle or ring, more a mid tone kind of tonk with a short sustain that makes it work for rock and roll.
There are of course other incidental percussion instruments that pop up all the time. I also like the percussion instrument that makes that sort of sound like you spine is shivering that you hear in horror movie soundtracks and Santana songs. Gongs are OK too, triangles not so much, tambourines give nervous lead singers something to do with their hands and the Beach Boys Brian Wilson’s genius reinvigorated sleigh bells but for rocking, cowbells are best.
Six great clapping songs
We will Rock You –Queen
My Best Friend’s Girl – The Cars
Lets Go – The Cars
Take the Money and Run – Steve Miller Band
Get It On – T Rex
Jack and Diane – John Cougar Mellencamp
Five great cowbell songs other than BOC’s Reaper
Honky Tonk Woman – the Rolling Stones
Low Rider – War
Play That Funky Music – White Cherry
Dance the Night Away – Van Halen
You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet - BTO