OK

I post a weekly diary of historical notes, arts & science items, foreign news (often receiving little notice in the US) and whimsical pieces from the outside world that I often feature in "Cheers & Jeers". For example .....

FATHER-SON? - film star Robert Redford and TV star Trevor Donovan (90210).

   

OK, you've been warned - here is this week's tomfoolery material that I posted.

ART NOTES - stylistic approaches to introspective subjects at rest or play, in an exhibition entitled Elegant Repose is at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Montana closing this coming Sunday, July 7th.

AS WE MARK the 150th ANNIVERSARY of the Battle of Gettysburg - at that same time, a battle was waged in Vickburg, Mississippi - of which the historian Bruce Catton wrote:

Gettysburg ruined a Confederate offensive and demonstrated that the great triumph on Northern soil it had to win (if it was to gain recognition abroad) could not be won.

But Vicksburg broke the Confederacy into halves, gave the Mississippi Valley to the Union and inflicted a wound that would ultimately prove to be mortal.

Losing at Gettysburg, the Confederates had lost more than they could well afford to lose .... at Vicksburg, they lost what they could not afford at all.

FRIDAY's CHILD is Tiger the Cat - a Wisconsin kitteh who went missing during a building fire ..... but whose family was alerted by a Cats Anonymous volunteer.

BRAIN TEASER - try this Quiz of the Week's News from the BBC.

QUOTE for today from the intrepid Digby from one of the daughters of the Colorado man who created father-daughter purity balls - now the focus of a new documentary ....

"I've just always known that I wanted to be a wife and a mother; I would hate to go off and spend thousands of dollars on an education that I wouldn't use".

SATURDAY's CHILD is Theo the Klepto Cat - an English kitteh whose family posts items he has on Facebook, to see if neighbors are missing anything.

BECAUSE YOURS TRULY has 1/4 Albanian ancestry, I was delighted to see that the longtime, urbane mayor of its capital city - who encouraged painting of its drab Communist-era buildings in bright colors - has now become the country's president. And one other thing I really like about Edi Rama is .... his first name.

THEATRE NOTES - the famed 1964 Roald Dahl children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is now a London musical, directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes.

SIGN of the TIMES - while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has long been known for always getting its man: a recently launched class-action lawsuit over sexual harassment suggests the Mounties may not quite 'get' .... its female employees.

SEPARATED at BIRTH - TV star David Duchovny and CNN host Jake Tapper.

   

......and finally, for a song of the week ............... while he was never a big hit outside his native England: the singer Ian Dury became a much-loved figure there and - at the very least - a cult figure elsewhere during the late 1970’s. Although he rose to fame during the punk rock era – and he was respected by its pioneers in the UK – his music never quite fit the label. It was an amalgam of disco music - then on the rise - plus 50’s rock, English music hall (vaudeville) plus Cockney-inspired humorous characters. Add to that his irascible character with a physical handicap, and you have someone that became a hero to many fans in England.

Born in northwest London in 1942, Ian Dury's parents separated when he was five. He
contracted a case of polio after – he believed – a turn in a swimming pool in 1949 (in the midst of a polio epidemic). He persevered (after a two-year stint in hospital, with a paralyzed left arm and leg), studied art (eventually teaching painting at a college) and – for a time – was an illustrator for the London Sunday Times.

Ian Dury formed his first band at the age of 28, which was quite uncommon. He took the name of a street in northwest London (Kilburn High Road) and fashioned the band name Kilburn and the High Roads from it. Their sound was definitely 1950's rock, and they found a niche in the pub rock scene for a few years ... enough for Dury to quit his day job in 1973. A role model of his was the US musician Gene Vincent (of Be-Bop-A-Lula fame) – not only for his 50’s rock sound, but that Vincent also had a handicap (having a limp from two automobile accidents). The band did have one album release but their music scene was declining, and the group disbanded in 1976.

As noted by the All-Music Guide’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine - once Kilburn disbanded, conventional wisdom would have suggested that - at age 33 - Dury was "far too old to become a pop star ......... but conventional wisdom never played much of a role in Dury's career", anyway. Interestingly, the seeds of his own band came backstage at one of the last Kilburns shows, when Dury was introduced to songwriter/guitarist Chaz Jankel and told him to f-off .... but the two eventually spoke and decided to form a band.

This became Ian Dury and the Blockheads - and their timing was auspicious: the advent of the Punk/New Wave era gave new bands a chance to be heard (even with a thirty-three year old singer) and his tentative edging into disco music was also timely. Add to that being signed by the quirky label Stiff Records - and the Blockheads' debut album New Boots and Panties stayed on the UK charts for two years, achieving platinum status eventually. Popular songs such as "Blockheads", What a Waste and "Wake Up and Make Love with Me" were supplemented by Sweet Gene Vincent - a tribute song to his hero.

His best-known song is one whose title has outlived its song association .... today, any life of excess is referred to as Sex and Drugs and Rock And Roll - whose riff came from a Charlie Haden bass solo on the 1960 song Ramblin' by Ornette Coleman. More rock-and-roll than most of the Blockheads' early material, it was released just as an Ian Dury solo tune (with Chaz Jankel backing him up).

As noted, Ian Dury was a unique character. Many who worked with cited his off-putting, sometime morose personality around new people. And many of his songs featured Cockney-inspired characters (Billericay Dickie, Clever Trevor, Plaistow Patricia) .... even though he did not grow-up with the dialect (he said his mother spoke “near-BBC” English). Although you had to listen carefully to hear it in his music, he was influenced by R&B and jazz, with Charles Mingus a particular influence. He referred to the Steely Dan 1977 album "Aja" as one that "lifts your heart up".

The Blockheads had two other (non-album) hit singles, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3 - and in Britain today you will see newspaper headlines that reference the latter title. But their follow-up album was more dance-music laden and did not sell all that well, leading Chaz Jankel to leave, being replaced by former Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson (who, sadly, is in poor health today). Eventually the Blockheads split, and his 1981 album Lord Upminster had other musicians and producers.

During the 1980's and beyond, Ian Dury spent much of his time acting, appearing in the film The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Sylvester Stallone's Judge Dredd and the Roman Polanski movie "Pirates". He also began to write jingles for British commercials. In 1989, he wrote the musical "Apples" with Mickey Gallagher, and he never regretted turning down an offer to write the libretto for the musical "Cats"  - even though had he accepted he would have become a millionaire - because as he put it, "I hate Andrew Lloyd Webber - I can't stand his music".

Ian Dury did reunite with The Blockheads for various shows, and in 1998 they even recorded a new studio album - which came two years after Dury was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. He managed to deal with it for a few years, but finally announced it when it spread to his liver in 1998. He became a spokesman for dealing with the disease and toured throughout 1999 (often on behalf of UNICEF), receiving a Classic Songwriters lifetime award from Britain's Q magazine. Once divorced (and later a widower) he married his long-time girlfriend at that time, and a few months later in February, 2000 performed at the London Palladium - although he was noticeably weak.

Ian Dury died in March, 2000 - six weeks short of his fifty-eighth birthday. His funeral was well-attended, with musicians such as Robbie Williams and Nick Lowe, and even the UK cabinet secretary Marjorie (Mo) Mowlam in attendance.  

While his performing career wasn't measured in decades: he did leave behind a legacy in the UK. A musical (set in 1979) based upon his song Reasons to be Cheerful was written by by Paul Sirett, the documentary film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll - with Dury portrayed by Andy Serkis, who described him as "obnoxious; he slagged everybody off" - was released in 2010, and a biography was written by Will Burch in 2011. Chaz Jankel leads a version of The Blockheads today (with three other classic lineup members) who perform in the UK. And so more than a dozen years after his death: it's too soon to write the final chapter on Ian Dury.

Perhaps his most misunderstood song was one that he wrote for the United Nations in 1981, as part of its International Year of Disable Persons campaign. Ian Dury was intrigued (due to his bout with polio) but was reluctant to write songs about disability (considering the requests were often patronizing) and instead decided to write a satirical song.

Spasticus Autisticus then suffered the same fate as Randy Newman's "Short People" - as many people misunderstood the satire (especially the reference to "I'm Spartacus") - and the BBC, along with other radio stations, denied it airplay (though Dury received no complaints from the handicapped community itself).

Time has helped improve the song's reputation and just over thirty years later: it was performed in London at the opening ceremonies of the Paralympic Games in 2012. And below you can hear why.

Hello to you out there in normal land
You may not comprehend my tale or understand
As I crawl past your window give me lucky looks
You can be my body but you'll never read my books

So place your hard-earned peanuts in my tin
And thank the Creator you're not in the state I'm in
So long have I been languished on the shelf
I must give all proceedings to myself

I'm Spasticus, I'm Spasticus
I'm Spasticus Autisticus
I'm Spasticus, I'm Spasticus
I'm Spasticus Autisticus
I'm Spasticus, I'm Spasticus
I'm Spasticus Autisticus

Originally posted to DKOMA on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 08:37 AM PDT.

Also republished by Shamrock American Kossacks.

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