Duane Eddy : Drive South (A road movie in 5 Songs)

‘Drive South’ starring Henry Fonda as Charlie

and Jean Arthur as Anna

Music by Duane Eddy

Minnesota 1938

Scene 1 – Introducing Anna

Anna looked out at the Minnesota night sky.

A distant moon illuminated swarms of ghostly moths fluttering by her window.

Snow and ice all around. And, the Cold … the Cold.

No matter how thick the blankets you sheltered under you were always cold in Minnesota in Winter.

A Winter which seemed to reign all through the year.

How many stars were there above Lutsen?

Thousands upon thousands. And, she had wished upon every one.

Every one.

Wishing that one day, soon, she would be looking at those same stars somewhere far away where the days and nights were warm.

With someone who would take good care of her and call her Anna not Anni-Frid.

Like Papa and the boys always did. Papa was already planning a marriage for her to a local farmer, a widower, who came of ‘good Norwegian stock’.

Anna. The name she called herself. The name she would take with her out into the world beyond the fences of the farm.

South. Like the birds to live, to thrive, she would have to head South.

South.

Scene 2 : Introducing Charlie

Charlie came from the South.

Georgia.

Now you could blink your eyes twice and miss all there was to see in Alapaha.

But it was home. The air smelled sweet and the peaches were so fine – straight off the tree.

And, if it wasn’t for that trouble he’d got into with the local Sheriff on account of a misunderstanding about the ownership of a truck he won, fair and square, in a card game with one of the Faulkner boys he would be there still.

Instead, he had to high tail it out of there without a backward glance. Better that than a long spell behind bars or be baked to death on the chain gang.

Sure, he didn’t know how he would pay the next time he needed gas. But, with a grin, he thought somehow he would find a way. He always did.

He knew the dirt roads and trails round here better than anyone. Forty miles of bad road and he would be long gone.

All they would ever catch of him would be the dust he left behind!

Scene 3 : Love and flight

Now, Charlie was thousands of miles away from the Southern sun in Minnesota. Still, there wasn’t a car or a tractor ever made that Charlie couldn’t make run even if everyone else had given up on it.

And, there was always work in farming country for a man who could save the struggling farmer the price of a new machine by resurrecting an old one.

Word got around. And so did Charlie. Farm to farm making those machines last one more harvest.

Charlie thought The Olsens worked harder than Georgia mules. And it seemed they were about as talkative too.

They were head down and close mouthed from sun up to sun down.

Though Charlie liked to talk he’d come to understand that these Norwegian folks spoke only when it was strictly necessary.

Only Anna spoke as if talk was a pleasure. When they got a chance to talk before the shadow of Mr Olsen or one of his five hulking sons intervened.

But, you can say a lot in a very few words. A lot.

Old Mr Olsen near cracked a smile Charlie got his old John Deere running again. Come in boy and wash up and let us share supper with you.

Anna is a fine cook – we will miss her food when she leaves us to become Mrs Nordstam come spring.

And, as he came into the house there was Anna haloed in the half light .

And, that was that. He couldn’t, wouldn’t, let her become another man’s wife.

He knew from the look in Anna’s eyes that she had been waiting for him just as much as he must have been waiting for her.

Some things don’t need words. A look is more than enough.

He told Mr Olsen he’d come back in the morning.

And he did. At three. Before anyone was awake.

Apart from Anna. He knew she would be awake. And waiting.

They had to walk a long ways in the still moonlight to where he had parked the truck.

They didn’t speak but they both knew that they were bound together now and that the road ahead, however bumpy, would be one they traveled together.

So, as the truck pulled away heading South their faces were shining bright as any star and their hearts were on fire.

Charlie said they would find a preacher once they crossed the state line.

And they drove South. South.

Under the canopy of heaven.

Scene 4 – Odyssey of love

Together in the truck and the truck stops they found they were as close as two people can be.

As the ribbon of the road unfurled they told each other the stories of their childhood and their secret dreams.

They would never forget the changing light and the charging of their hearts as they headed South.

The names of the towns they passed through or where they stayed when Charlie was working became hallowed beads on their love’s rosary.

Redwing, Bemidji, Grand Rapids, Aitkin, Brainerd, Little Falls, St Cloud, Elk River, La Crosse, Potosi, Dubuque, Lomax, Kampsville, Granite City, Cairo, Columbus, Tiptonville, Golddust, Locke, Memphis.

Of course, there were times the truck broke down and days when they thought they’d never see another dollar.

Charlie got in a fight a time or two and Anna longed for the days when they would have a home to call their own. A home where they could have a family.

In the meantime they kept moving.

Scene 5 – A home of their own

Kept moving. ‘Til the day they found Bell Buckle or Bell Buckle found them and they claimed each other.

Turned out Bell Buckle was in sore need of a first class mechanic and a woman with a smile as bright as the Southern sun.

Under the Southern sun two become three, then four and finally five.

And, they were never really cold again.

Note :

Duanne Eddy with his trusty Gretsch 6120 made some of the defining instrumentals of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Every home should have his Greatest Hits securely shelved.

I intend to write much more about Duanne when, ‘Peter Gunn’ features on The Jukebox later.

Laurel and Hardy – The Deep Wisdom of Folly!

Sometimes it seems the world is so full of war, pestilence and strife that no amount of lamentation can ever be sufficient. Daily, we near drown in a deluge of news pouring out outrage after outrage – with each man made or natural disaster confirming that power and greed and corruptible seed seem to be all that there is.

I suppose I could accept that this world is condemned and lay back listening to the hoot owl’s despairing elegy for a fallen world. Instead, today at least, despite or because of being somewhat more than in the middle of life I’m taking the other path through the thorny wood – the path illuminated by the gentle light of humour.

My guides on this path are the blessed shades of the greatest comedic partnership in the history of entertainment: Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

I’ll be very surprised if just the mention of their names or a glance at the image above hasn’t already altered your mood for the better and got all the myriad muscles involved in producing a smile toned up and ready for action.

And, just to confirm the mood here’s their instantly recognisable theme tune, ‘The Dance Of The Cuckoos’ written by the heroically hardworking in house composer at Hal Roach Studios, Marvin Hatley.

Laurel and Hardy were innocents abroad in this wicked world. Not an innocence born of ignorance of the world but rather the innocence of guileless uncorrupted souls who glided through this vale of tears mildly baffled by the energy invested in the ambition fuelled grandiose plans and schemes that the rest of us consider so essential to our lives.

Stan and Ollie survived being surrounded by a society that thought them nothing but fools because between them they had something more precious than gold – a natural charm and dignity which survived every catastrophe unscathed. This was founded on the simple love they had for each other leading them to offer everyone they met goodwill and friendship. Every Laurel and Hardy film is a testament to how sweet the human spirit can be.

They were masters of physical comedy who unashamedly used every music hall and pantomime device available to them to draw us into their comic universe. They were obviously fortunate in the natural comic contrast in their relative body shapes – in some countries they are simply referred to as, ‘The Fat One and the Thin One’. In addition their virtuoso use of the direct look to the camera, the clownish falls, the tie-twiddling, the word gulping crying and their trademark hats and hairstyles gave them a powerful screen presence that was built to inspire affection and to last.

The musical numbers threaded through their career showcased Oliver Hardy’s modestly sweet tones, Stan’s artless harmonising and the balletic charm of their dancing. Let’s listen to them below with the delightful, ‘On The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine’ from the 1937 film, ‘Way Out West’. The song was published in 1913 by Harry Carroll and Ballard MacDonald and amazingly became a UK number 2 record, selling more than half a million copies, in 1975.

Now doesn’t that make you feel better about the world?

Sometimes, when struggling to find a moment of calm and clarity in the hubub around and within me I like to close my eyes and rehearse favourite Laurel and Hardy lines in my head:

‘I’m not as dumb as you look’

‘You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be led’

‘Why don’t you do something to help me?’

‘Tell me that plan again’

‘I’m Mr Hardy, and this is my friend, Mr Laurel’

‘We certainly do!’

Never forgetting the immortal – ‘Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!’

I don’t know whether that counts as a mantra or an exercise in mindfulness but it sure works for me!

In the recent, ‘Let The Mystery Be’ post here on The Jukebox I noted that the golden record sent into deep space aboard the Voyager spacecraft included Blind Willie Johnson’s, ‘Dark Was The Night’. Blind Willie’s record would let all know that the human race was prey to existential angst but had the strength to express that terror through redemptive art.

Reflecting on the achievement of Laurel and Hardy I believe that we should ensure any further Voyager should include, also from ‘Way Out West’, their wondrously uplifting performance of, ‘At The Ball That’s All’.

Due to the maddening vagaries of commerce and youtube the only way I can feature the video clip is to have it accompanied by a soundtrack not from the original film but by the latin rock group Santana. So I suggest you watch the clip below with the sound turned off and delight in their affecting dancing and go to the main youtube site for the full experience.

I think we can say with absolute confidence that any life form who found this would have to conclude that the inhabitants of Planet Earth must be a very fine race and that they should be visited as soon as possible to see more of that wonderful duo – Laurel and Hardy.

Commence to Dancing!

Moments, Moments, Immortal Moments

Sometimes it might take just a single beat of your heart. A lightning strike seared into your memory: something really crucial has happened and whatever happens from now on it will be in the shadow of this! Maybe it’s the first time alone together when she called you by your name and it felt like a new christening. Or the time your toddling son folded his hand into yours without thinking as he looked for stability and security on the road ahead.

Sometimes it might take years; the slowly dawning realisation, (like a photograph emerging from the darkroom) that it was that moment, that event, which seemed so trivial at the time, where a new course was set that’s led you to your current harbour.

Moments, moments, moments. Our lives in our imaginations and memories are never a complete coherent narrative but rather a silvery chain of moments: some cherished and celebrated some sharply etched with pain and sorrow. Some where we have the starring role in the drama others where we are strictly extras in the shadows at the edge of the stage.

The older we get the more we learn that some of those moments have become our own immortal moments: the moments we will return to again and again, voluntarily or necessarily as we try to make some sense of our frequently clogged and chaotic lives.

And, when we shuffle through these moments we will find many have been supplied by our encounters with the music, films and books that have become part of the imaginative and emotional furniture of our lives. Snatches of lyrics and melodies from favourite songs that you find yourself unexpectedly singing; scenes from films that seem to be always spooling somewhere deep in the consciousness now spotlit in front the mind’s eye, lines of poetry read decades ago that suddenly swoosh to the surface, seemingly unbidden, in response to some secret trigger.

I remember the exact moment, as a teenager, when I idly picked up a dusty book in a rundown junk shop and read these lines:

‘ Thou mastering me God!
Giver of breath and bread;
World’s strand, sway of the sea
Lord of living and dead;
Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,
And after it unmade, what with dread,
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.’

The opening lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ epochal poem, ‘The Wreck Of The Deutschland’. Rooted to the spot I read the further twenty or so stanzas with my head and heart ablaze. I was aware of taking in only a fraction of the meaning and technique of the poem but I was absolutely sure that this was poetry of the highest order and that sounding its depths would be the work of a lifetime. I had made an emotional and spiritual connection that could never be undone and Poetry with that capital P was now a territory open for me, necessary for me, to explore. Strangely enough this was also the moment when I also glimpsed a future in which I might write poetry myself.

Similar thrilling encounters with literature, music and film now form a personal rosary of treasure in my life. I want to share just two more with you here today (I think I sense a series coming on!).

Marlon Brando and Eve Marie Saint as Terry and Edie in a duet scene from, ‘On The Waterfront’ from 1954 in pristine monochrome with wonderful cinematography by Boris Kaufman. This scene played with such truthfulness, tenderness and delicacy by both actors struck me very forcefully at the moment when first viewed and it has continued to bloom in my memory and imagination. If asked to give testimony for Marlon Brando as the greatest film actor of his time I would, of course, cite his thrilling physical presence and ability to dominate and take possession of the screen with special reference to, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ but it is this scene that would win the argument for me. Brando here hits a peak of American naturalistic acting using the method techniques he had learned but without being imprisoned by them.

In this scene with humour, pathos and dignity and without a shred of affectation or disrespect he incarnates Terry as a living, breathing man who wins our sympathy, as fellow human strugglers, trying stumblingly to articulate our feelings both to ourselves and to those we love and those we yearn to love us. Watch the way his body language evolves through the scene as he realises Edie is intrigued by him and interested in him for himself. The way he picks up, plays with and finally wears her dropped glove (seemingly improvised) should be required viewing in every drama school.

Astonishingly, this was Eve Marie Saint’s film debut. The camera obviously loved her at first sight. As Edie she is a luminous quiet presence whose watchful stillness, intelligence and sensitivity makes it inevitable that Terry will fall for her and fall hard. She understatedly lets Edie’s dawning love for Terry emerge as something as natural as drawing breath. She believably illuminates Edie as a young woman with steel in her character as well as beauty and charm. Acting with Brando, even for someone with her accomplished background on stage, must have been an intimidating challenge but there can be no doubt that Eve Marie Saint matched and balanced him through every frame of celluloid on show here.

At some heartbreaking level we understand that these fleeting moments of intimacy shared in this scene by characters afflicted by doubt and bruised souls will be moments they will both need to recall in the painfully tempestuous times ahead. Maybe it’s an eternal truth as Dylan wrote that, ‘Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain’. Few scenes in cinema history bring out the truth of this statement with more clarity.

Mink Deville, led by Willy Deville a pompadoured and preening singer (finger on the eyebrow and left hand on the hip!) who showed himself throughout a roller coaster personal and professional life to be a supreme rhythm and blues and soul song stylist. He had rasp and romance, swagger and sensitivity as well as presence and power in his vocal arsenal. I recall the moment of seeing him for the first time on the British flagship chart music programme, ‘Top Of The Pops’ in 1977 and jumping out of my chair to applaud this performance of the signature tune of his early career, ‘Spanish Stroll’.

Willy added sass, instrumental colour and wasted seventies urban elegance to the magic and mystery of doo-wop and Brill Building vocal group harmonies to create a wonderful record that creates its own bright shining world every time you hear it. His wonderfully liquid self regarding, shooting cuffs vocal is all strutting Latin braggadocio anchored in his assured rhythmic poise. Special praise is due to the mellifluous backing vocalists who wonderfully evoke the steam heat of a New York night on a tenement stoop as they support Willy’s imperious lead role.

I love the ringing tones of the guitars, the Spanish flourishes, the proto rap intervention by bassist Ruben Siguenza, the tempo changes and the dreamlike woozy character of the whole song. Most of all, most of all, I love and keep returning to the moment when Willy sings the line:

‘Make a paper boat, light it and send it, send it out now.’

Especially those last three words. Anyone who can make the heart leap with three simple words is an artist to cherish and revere. I’ll write a full tribute to this great late lamented talent in due course but in the meantime trawl Youtube for a series of magnificent vocal performances and load up your shopping cart with his albums. You won’t regret it.

Adios Amigo, adios.

Moments, moments, Immortal moments.

Footnote: Sadly since this post was written and published Lauren Bacall died. I dedicate this post to the memory of wonderful actress and hell of a broad who created more than her fair share of Immortal Moments.