“Deep down, Robert Mitchum is a wanderer, and he probably would have got to Trinidad anyway, but actually it was Hollywood that sent him there “on location” for two feature films to Port of Spain, a colorful and sunlit place where people have come from many corners of the earth, mingling accents and spilling out their hearts in a unique musical idiom called Calypso” (back-sleeve liner notes from Robert Mitchum’s album “Calypso – is like so…”)

At some point during a film shoot in Trinidad – a soak up involving music, rum, brawling with sailors and a tour of Tobago night spots with Jack Lemmon – the walking noirism that was Robert Mitchum managed to slip character and imbibe enough calypso to keep him technicolor all the way home. The subsequent release of his own calypso LP was a tropical left turn for Hollywood’s dope-dealing lead-man and on-screen psychotic. Read the rest of this entry »



“If 1,000 years from now, archaeologists happen to dig beneath the sands of Guadalupe, I hope they will not rush into print with the amazing news that Egyptian civilization, far from being confined to the valley of the Nile, extended all the way to the Pacific coast of North America.” The Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille, 1959.

If epics come in pints then DeMille’s original 1923 ‘Ten Commandments’ is the full keg.

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Catfish Collins (top right) after James Brown and in the tenure of Parliament-Funkadelic, 1972.

“Catfish would always say ‘When I go, I don’t want anybody preaching or saying a prayer over me and crying, just celebrate my life the way I celebrated my life, having fun and bringing the joy. I want to have a live band, comedians, dancers, singers, poets and people that don’t get a chance to be heard or seen on stage. I want to be roasted, toasted and people drinking and having a good time in my name, no other name but The Catfish.’” (Bootsy Collins’ email on the passing of his brother ‘Catfish’)

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ComeTogether Join the Party

“Timothy Leary for Governor of California. Come Together…Join The Party!” Leary’s Governor campaign poster, 1969.

Last week the New York Public Library released hundreds of previously unpublished documents from Harvard professor turned LSD guru Timothy Leary. The 335-box trove includes Leary’s grand scheme of thoughts in the form of letters, essays, illustrations, tapes – and a pair of sneakers and Nintendo glove. But if you don’t have time to visit New York and thumb through reams of archived illumination from the author of The Periodic Table of Energy, I can suggest an alternative.

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Their first murder. To Francis. Weegee 1946 © Weegee

“For ten years straight, the New York-based tabloid news photographer slept days and took pictures at night of violent crime and murders, fires, car accidents; he captured the denizens of Skid Row and the Bowery, as well as regular New Yorkers living (and all too often dying) in his hometown… Weegee called it his “Rembrandt light” as he caught the human protagonists in the white glare of his photo flash, the scene otherwise enveloped in darkness” (Mark Svetov, Originally Published in Noir City Sentinel)

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John Lydon (Tony Mott)

John Lydon by Tony Mott. “Getting the lighting right for that was bloody difficult, especially with the punks surging – it was difficult to be in the right place, but I got it”.

“When they brought my first photo they paid me $20 or something ridiculous. And then the band’s Manager told me my name was on the door. I didn’t really know what that meant. I thought he meant my name was literally on a door. So I kept paying for about a month until he caught me and said ‘What are you doing!? Your name is on the door!’ I was green in those days…”

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Teddy Boys, 1976. © Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum Photos

“Cinemas, dance halls and other places of entertainment in South east London are closing their doors to youths in ‘Edwardian’ suits because of gang hooliganism…The ban, which week by week is becoming more generally applied, is believed by the police to be one of the main reasons for the extension of the area in which fights with knuckle dusters, coshes, and similar weapons between bands of teenagers can now be anticipated…In cinemas, seats have been slashed with razors and had dozens of meat skewers stuck into them” (The Daily Mail announces the birth of Teds, 27.4.54)

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Getting the jazz. The “Degenerate Music” exhibition of the “Reich Music Festival”, Düsseldorf, 1938 © Ullstein Bild

“Strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit – so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc – as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl – so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.” (Step 5 in Nazifing Jazz, as recalled in Josef Skvorecky’s ‘Bass Saxophone’)

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‘Miracle Mike’ with stand-in rooster head, 1945. Mike toured sideshows for 18 months after surviving a decapitation. Bob Landry, Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

I’ve been getting a bit high-brow at The Barrelhouse lately, so here’s a story about a chicken with no head. As LIFE Magazine explained it, in 1945 Mrs. L.A. Olson, wife of a Colorado farmer, “decided to have chicken for dinner. Mrs. Olson took Mike to the chopping block and axed off his head”. The axe failed to cleanly clip the brain, instead creating a super-bird that refused to die.

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Willie and his comrades. Andrew Sweeney, Girl, Lonely, Willie and friends shooting the movie “Without a uniform.” Volgograd, 1988. From the archive of Villi.

With anti-establishment act Pussy Riot now performing from a cage, it’s interesting to see how their own antics have carried on one particular Soviet tradition. And despite Putin’s best attempts to muscle in on the music scene – witness his moving rendition of Blueberry Hill – the KGB crooner might have his work cut out for him.

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