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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Print the Legend - La Muerte de Fred Gomez Carrasco

"Nothing less than a re-interpertation of one of the great Greek myths."* ~ Bob Dylan on La Muerte de Fred Gomez Carrasco

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."  Maxwell Scott in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Our Host: I told Steve Earle the subject of this week's show. He put down his coffee cup and said, "I gotta tell you something 'bout a guy named Fred Gomez Carrasco. He took people hostage at the Huntsville Prison in Texas. It ended in a bloody massacre."

Actually, let me let Steve tell you about it.

Steve Earle: Well Bob, I do have a favorite robber or desperado by the name of Fred Gomez Carrasco, and there are a 150 corridos that I know of like 10 of which were released on the day that he was killed, which was like in 1969 or '70. He broke out of Huntsville Prison in Texas with three other guys. They made a huge Trojan Horse out of cafeteria tables. And they negotiated for hours. Big stand-off. And they tried to roll the thing out and to get into a van that was waiting for them. The Texas Rangers knocked it down with fire hoses and killed him and all of the hostages.


The next day there were like three different corridos already on the air in San Antonio when I was growing up.

Our Host: Steve sent me this song all about Fred Gomez Carrasco. A one act sacramental drama, the song. Nothing less than a re-interpertation of one of the great Greek myths.
"La Muerte de Fred Gomez Carrasco" 
El sabado 3 de agosto
del año 74
en la prision del estado
mataron a Fred Carrasco
lo acribillaron a tiros
en compañia de otros 4

On a Saturday, August 3rd
in the year `74
at the State Prison
they killed Fred Carrasco.
Riddled him with bullets
in the company of four others.
The first impulse is to write that the loathsome Fred Carrasco was an unlikely hero to be featured in any ballad, but that's coming from an Anglo, middle-aged perspective of the ought-years, and God knows, middle-aged Anglos of any year have enough of their own unlikely heroes of song, including Pretty Boy Floyd and Jesse James among others. Not a coincidence that Mr. D. also featured both of those desperados on the Cops & Robbers show, nor his notation that La Muerte de Fred Gomez Carrasco was a one act sacramental drama - not something meant as truth.  Meant for legend, as were Poor Jesse James and Pretty Boy Floyd

On the hot barrio streets of San Antonio in the mid-70s, with not much going on in your life except despair, the story of one of your own going down in a blaze of glory, spitting defiance to the end, probably sounded pretty good.

Print the legend.
Un año tenia en la carcel
sentenciado de por vida
tenia planeado fugarse
frente de la policia
queria enseñarles 'quel hombre
que miedo no les tenia

Sentenced to life,
after a year in jail
he planned his escape
wanting to show that he was a man
and that he had no fear.
As befits the re-telling of a myth, Steve Earle gets almost all the facts wrong in the space of less than a minute. Carrasco was no robber, but a stone-cold drug-dealing killer who had been imprisoned in 1974 with a life sentence after a shoot-out with a dozen San Antonio plainclothes officers. Among other crimes, Carrasco had been charged with armed robbery, auto theft, possession of heroin, and assault with intent to murder during a criminal career that stretched over 25 years. He was also rumored to have killed over 50 people.

Carrasco listed his occupation on arrest reports as "farmer and laborer."
Se hizo de 13 rehenes
para proteger su vida
pidio chalecos de malla
y casco a pruebas de balas
tambien un carro blindado
para lograr su escapada

They took 13 hostages
to protect their lives.
Demanded bulletproof helmets and vests,
even an armored car
to achieve their escape!
On July 24, 19 and 74, when Steve Earle would have been 19 years old, not 15 or 16, the longest prison siege in U.S. history began. Along with two compadres, Carrasco took eleven prison workers and four other inmates hostage.

Over the next several days the convicts made demands for tailored suits, dress shoes, toothpaste, and cologne. Having apparently satisfied their sartorial needs, they also demanded walkie-talkies, bulletproof helmets and an armored getaway car. With the approval of the Texas Governor an armored car was rolled into the prison courtyard.  Carrasco claimed that they were planning to flee to Cuba, noting he preferred to take his chances of being shot by Castro rather than remain in Texas.  Some stories have it that Carrasco was deliberately stalling for time with his increasingly weird demands in the hopes that his drug gang would come to rescue him.
Diez dias duró negociando
pidiendo su libertad
si no cumplen lo que pido
muy pronto les va a pesar
de a uno por uno a los 13
voy a empezar a matar

Negotiations lasted for 10 days.
He demanded freedom
"If you do not give me what I ask,
you will regret it.
I will kill the 13 one-by-one."
But after an 11-day standoff, the convicts tried a break-out to the armored car, using a makeshift mobile shield not built of cafeteria tables, as Earle said, but of blackboards on wheels covered with legal books.  On reporting the shoot-out a Texas reporter, apparently thinking it all just great Mexican fun, dubbed the escape shield  the “Trojan Taco,” possibly forgetting to mention that besides the legal volumes, the "taco's" shielding consisted of live hostages.

The Texas Rangers did indeed blast the Trojan Taco with a fire hose, but did not then go on to kill all the convicts and their hostages.  That was the rumor on the streets of San Antonio, that in order to get to Carrasco the Rangers had deliberately fired through the bodies of their hostages, killing two in the process.  However, an autopsy showed that Carrasco himself had shot one of the hostages, his accomplice another.  Both women, and I'll note their names here, as songs seldom get written about the victims.  Elizabeth Beseda, 57, a prison school teacher, and Judy Standley, 43, a librarian, both brave people who had volunteered to accompany their kidnapers into the armored car, which led to their deaths. Like a scorpion on fire, Carrasco lashed out at the closest living thing he could find when he knew he was going to die. He then committed suicide with his own gun.
Vuela vuela palomita
parate en aquel peñasco
anda avisa a San Antonio
que mataron a Carrasco
en la prision del estado
en compañia de otros 4

Fly little bird, fly
Fly away from this rock
Go to San Antonio
and tell of how they killed Carrasco
at the State Prison
in the company of four others.
Whether 150 songs were written about Fred Gomez Carraco as Steve Earle claims, I don't know.  But he is right that in as little as 24 hours, corridos about his death were appearing on San Antonio Spanish language radio stations and even in juke boxes around the city, as improbable as it seems that they could be written, recorded, and printed that quickly.

As Mr. D. has noted in another context, songs often act as cultural memes, especially in societies that don't have access to more usual ways of distributing news, and can spread like wildfire when needed. Corridos are like a good news story: the date and place of the event, characters' names, and quotations. "On an afternoon of March in the year of '48, the plague of blond rats began stealing without hesitation," goes one famous song, El Corrido de Mazapil which details the sufferings of Mexicans at the hands of "blond rats" during the Mexican- American War.

La Muerte de Fred Gomez Carrasco was written by Salome Gutierrez, a well-known figure in the San Antonio music scene: BMI Award Recipient, owner of the Del Bravo Record Shop in San Antonio since 19 and 67, songwriter, publisher, owner of the DLB label and who recorded and released La Muerte de Fred Gomez Carrasco literally the morning after.  The author of over 1,000 corridos, Gutierrez' wife woke him up at 2 a.m. to tell him of Carrasco's death.  He immediately wrote a corrido, taped it, and rushed it down to local station KEDA, which aired the corrido later that morning.

And some 35-odd years later La Muerte de Fred Gomez Carrasco would air again, on Theme Time Radio Hour. And now you know its story.

Print the legend.
Prision de Consdil mentada
guardianes y policias
aunque quisieran negarlo
no olvidaran el mal rato
que les daria ese gallito
llamado Gomez Carrasco
The prison officials, guards, and police
although they wanted to forget it
could not deny the hard time
that fighting cock Gomez Carrasco
had given them!
* Thanks to the keen-eared Dreamtime fan who pointed out in the comments that in the context of the "Trojan Taco," Mr. D. was more likely saying "Greek" than "great."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cops & Robbers Highlights

"Here at Theme Time Radio Hour we don't have time to give you all the facts, but we like to think that we can point you in the right direction to find them." ~ Bob Dylan

A fun, fact- and music-filled episode this week, in what's turned into what may arguably the best season of TTRH. Some trivia highlights from Cops & Robbers...


For the third time this season, TTRH abandoned the Ellen Barkin "Night in the Big City" intro, replacing it with...

Whenever the laws of any state are broken, a duly authorized organization swings into action.

It may be the called the State Police, State Troopers, Militia, the Rangers, or the Highway Patrol.

These are the stories of the men whose training, skill, and courage, have enforced and preserved our state laws.

You might need to be from my and Mr. D's generations to recognize that as the classic opening to the syndicated television series from the `50s, Highway Patrol, starring Broderick Crawford. But any American over the age of 40 can probably remember Crawford bellowing "10-4" into his microphone. The story goes that the California Highway Patrol, annoyed by the publicity the Los Angeles Police Department was getting thanks to Dragnet, sent their publicist to Hollywood to get the CHP its own show. Jack Webb was interested, but was tied up with another project, and a syndicator, ZIV Productions, picked up the show instead.

Highway Patrol was one of the most popular syndicated series of the era, a hit for ZIV Productions, which also brought Sea Hunt, Bat Masterson, and Ripcord to the small screen. Again, if you're of a certain age, you probably rushed home from school to catch all those shows on the tube.

You poor kids today don't know what you're missing.

The Way Homer

Our Host: "I saw the oddest thing today. I was driving over to the Abernathy Building, and in the other lane was a woman. And while she was driving, she was also knitting! A policeman pulled up next to her, and she rolled down her window, and the policeman yelled, 'Pull over!'

She said, 'No, I'm knitting some socks.'"

...[and after playing Willie Walker's Dupree Blues]

Our Host: "... you're just getting that joke. That's what we call a 'way homer.' That means you get it on the way home... Where was I?"

Ricky Jay on Titanic Thompson

Our Host: "I ran into Ricky Jay. I asked him about his favorite con man. You're not going to believe this story."

Ricky Jay: "One of my favorite confidence men was Titanic Thompson - Alvin Clarence Thomas - he was a remarkable athlete..."

Jay goes on to relate one of the most famous stories about the colorful Titanic Thompson, master of the prop bet. Thompson was said to be the model for the Damon Runyon character, Sky Masterson, flawed hero of Guys and Dolls.

Thompson also liked to take promising and still-unknown golfers under his wing, teaming up with the young ringers to relieve opponents of their money. Among his apprentices was Ray Floyd, who Thompson once matched against a Tex-Mex kid from Dallas no one had ever heard of. That kid was Lee Trevino, who ended taking Thompson for $9,000.

The Line Up

Sticking with the crime and punishment theme, the closing credits were modified to the following...


You've been listening to Theme Time Radio Hour with Your Host, Commissioner Bob Dylan.

It's produced by Lieutenant Eddie Gordetsky.

And the Associate Producer is Sargent Nina Washington.

Continuity is courtesy Patrolman "Eats" Martin.

And the editor is Damien Rodriguez (undercover).

Supervising editor and the Officer of the Day is Rod Macomber.

The CSI Team is Diane Lapson, Bernie Bernstein, and additional research by our Usual Gang of Suspects.

Our Court Librarian is Robert Bower.

And Assignment Coordinator is Debbie Sweeney.

Special Thanks to The Brave Men and Women including Randy Ezratty, Coco Shinomiya, Samson's Diner, and Lee Abrams.

The Fred Gomez Carrasco corrido was courtesy of Chris Strachwitz and The Arhoolie Foundation. Check them out at Arhooloe Foundation dot org.

Studio Engineer is Tex Carbone.

This is recorded in Studio B of the historic Abernathy Building in the center of the crime scene. It's a Gray Water Park Production in association with Big Red Tree.

This is your announcer - always on the straight and narrow - Pierre Mancini, speaking.


Associate Producer Nina apparently either married (or divorced), as her last name changed from Fitzgerald to Washington in this episode. On the other hand, a detective might find it suspicious that Nina Fitzgerald-Washington is the third associate producer of TTRH, none of them seeming to last more than a season, and even her expanded name shares a common, ah, theme with her predecessors, Sonny Webster and Ben Rollins.

We leave it as an exercise for the criminologists among Dreamtime's readership.

"Pierre" also gives a special shout-out to Chris Strachwitz and The Arhoolie Foundation for providing TTRH with La Muerte De Fred Gomez Carrasco. Located on the Web at the Arhoolie Foundation was established in 1995 "for the purpose of helping to document, present, and disseminate authentic traditional and regional vernacular music." Chris Strachwitz is the foundation's current President.

Fred Gomez Carrasco seems a fairly rare recording, written by a Salome Gutierrez and released by Los Socios De San Antonio as a 45 on the DLB label, probably in 19 and 74, as Carrasco's attempted breakout from the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville took place in late July of `74.

For me La Muerte De Fred Gomez Carrasco was the highlight of a great TTRH episode. Those interested in other recordings from Los Socios De San Antonio can find a discography at the Arhoolie Foundation.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Snooks Eaglin: 1937-2009

via The New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Snooks Eaglin, the idiosyncratic New Orleans rhythm & blues guitarist with fleet-fingered dexterity and a boundless repertoire, died Wednesday afternoon. He was 72.

"He was the most New Orleans of all the New Orleans acts that are still living," said Mid-City Lanes owner John Blancher.

Even in a city and musical community known for eccentric characters, Mr. Eaglin stood out. Extremely private, he lived with his family in St. Rose. For many years, he refused to perform on Friday nights, reportedly because of religious reasons.

The digits on Mr. Eaglin's right hand flailed at seemingly impossible angles as he finger-picked and strummed a guitar's strings. A set by the so-called "Human Jukebox" could range from Beethoven's "Fur Elise" to Bad Company's "Ready for Love."
Full article is here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Bullet Dodged

via The Washington Post

Sirius XM Radio Avoids Bankruptcy

Tuesday, February 17, 2009; 9:34 AM

Liberty Media has agreed to loan Sirius XM Radio $530 million to help save the satellite radio provider from bankruptcy.

Liberty Media, which owns DirecTV, and Sirius said in a news release that the loan will go to paying $175 million in debt that comes due for Sirius today. The remainder of funds will be used to pay other debts coming due in May and at the end of the year, and for general working capital to run the satellite radio business.

In exchange, Liberty will receive 40 percent of Sirius's common stock and get seats on Sirius's board of directors. Liberty Chairman John Malone and chief executive Greg Maffei are expected to take those seats. Liberty Media, based in Englewood, Colo., owns several television media entities including QVC and Discovery.

"We are excited to be investing in SIRIUS XM. We have been impressed with the company, its operations and management team," Maffei said in a release. "SIRIUS XM's ability to grow subscribers and revenue in a difficult financial and auto market is indicative of how listeners view this as a 'must have' service."

Full article is here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Future of Theme Time Radio Hour and A Modest Proposal

According to yesterday's New York Times, Sirius XM Radio is preparing for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. No surprise to those who follow the Theme Time Radio Hour News & Views column or our DylanTweets.

What that means for the remaining episodes of Season 3 or a Season 4 of TTRH is unclear, and will probably remain unclear for some time. From what I've read, it's a probable "good news/bad news" scenario.

The Good News is that it's unlikely that SIRIUS XM would just flip the switch to "off" if they file for bankruptcy. As the Times reports, they're preparing for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which, in theory, could allow the company to reorganize and continue in some form. However, the "in theory" part is an important caveat. See "Fly in the Ointment" below.

The Bad News part is that its likely that the bankruptcy would cause SIRIUS XM to cancel or attempt to renegotiate its contracts with "high-priced talent" (to quote the Times) such as the odious Mr. Stern, Martha Stewart, and, although he isn't named, Mr. D.

If so, that might affect the remaining shows of Season 3 (I'm guessing that there are still between 8 and 11 episodes to go, counting today's "Happy" show), and would certainly impact any Season 4. I would assume that the continuation of Season 3 will depend on the shows that have already been delivered to XM, and the contracted payment schedule.

There's one more fly in the ointment, which you'll see if you review the various news reports. Echostar, the TV satellite company, has been buying up SIRIUS XM debt. The exact reasons why they're doing it are unknown. Echostar may see satellite radio as a complement to their other offerings. The company may want SIRIUS XM's most desirable assets, which are the satellites and related equipment. In any case, a threat of bankruptcy could trigger Echostar to force an immediate takeover of SIRIUS XM or, if the bankruptcy goes through, Echostar could petition the courts to allow it to take over the company. What that would mean is again unclear, but would probably be the end of SIRIUS XM as it exists today.

The Future?

I've been thinking about this for the past month or so, after it became pretty obvious that the End Days were upon SIRIUS XM Radio, and the future for TTRH continuing on satellite is cloudy.

This is just blue-skyin' of course. While I know enough to know that it's technically feasible, I'm not sure the whole royalty system - especially with all the ongoing controversy around royalty payments for music played on internet radio - would make it economically worthwhile or even possible.

Here's my idea. Gray Water Park Productions/Big Red Tree create a subscription-based TTRH site, and move the show over to the Web if SIRIUS XM goes down and the contract is voided.

Subscribers worldwide get to hear a streaming new TTRH 24 x 7 each Wednesday - similar to the old XMX - plus have 24 x 7 streaming access to archives of the older shows.

The site charges a subscription fee - somewhere around $2.99 to 7.99 per month - for access to the site. Maybe they take advertising too, similar to the page that XM/Cadillac put up (and which is still there, btw).

With your subscription you get the shows, plus member bennies... forums, maybe stories behind the shows, like Dreamtime (I'm not angling or anything, Mr. D :lol: ), maybe a virtual walkthough thru Studio B. Maybe Mr. D. really reading your emails on the show. Stuff like that. The imagination runs wild... An iPhone app that streams TTRH!! ...streaming video of Our Host Live from Studio B!!!! :roll:

Now, one of the bennies is that people worldwide get easy access to the show, and all the shows, as opposed to now, where you have to jump through hoops to listen to the show at its scheduled broadcast times or wait for the torrents/mp3s to show up.

The whole torrent/mp3/streaming over at dylanradio thing is a conundrum, of course. I'll note that I'm internet friends with most of the people who do that work. Whether their continuing efforts would have a significant financial impact on a streaming TTRH radio show, I dunno. And, if so, if they were politely asked to stop so the show could go on, would they? And you know that whoever stopped, boots would continue to show up, 'cause that's the nature of these digital days.

Would most people subscribe to a TTRH stream or would they want to download the shows to CD/mp3 player? Would they want both? Me, that's what I would want. I've been a XM internet subscriber since 2006, but I also "illegally download" the shows, because I want a permanent record.

Again, I'll say I dunno, and I'm not interested in the debate about the legalities/ethics. I just want my TTRH to go on... at least as long as Our Host wants to do it.

Bottom line is that big changes are coming to SIRIUS XM, and my advice is to enjoy the TTRH we have while we still have it. I think it won't be long till we're telling newbies, "Boy you should have been around when Mr. D. was broadcasting every Wednesday. Sure you can still download the shows, but it's not the same."

Monday, February 09, 2009

Blossom Dearie: 1926-2009

A little over a year ago, we featured the lady with the wonderful name and voice in a Blossom and Jack episode of the Dreamtime podcast.

You never know what's going to spark audience reaction. Certainly I wasn't expecting the number of emails I received after releasing that show. But a lot of people loved Blossom Dearie, and a lot of people were concerned about her well-being, as by 2007 she seemed to have completely disappeared from the scene.

As is noted in her New York Times obituary, Blossom went into retirement after her long-time watering hole, Danny's Skylight Room, closed its doors in 2006. Her personal record label, Daffodill, shut up shop, as did her web site. I had some fragmentary reports that she had moved to Woodstock, another anonymous comment that she was still in Greenwich Village, but preferred her privacy and not to pursue my inquiries further. And I didn't.

As her obit also alludes too, Blossom did not suffer fools gladly and had a reputation among her friends as being a bit, ah, difficult, and among others as being downright divaish. This probably startled many who expected a personality to match the baby-doll voice. Here's a long, but rewarding, especially if you're a Blossom Dearie fan, article about "The Blossom Experience" originally posted in a Yahoo group and reproduced in this blog post. Bill Reed's post on the subject is also recommended for the compleat Blossom fan. I also recommend a tour of YouTube, and especially of this video from circa 1985, which Mr. Reed also posted, but for his own reasons has embedding disabled.

The Blossom Experience
By Joel E. Siegel

In the early '80s, I produced a concert series at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. called "Great American Songwriters." The idea was to match up first-class jazz and cabaret performers with GAS composers or, in rare cases, special themes. The series ran for three and a half years in a lovely 197-seat auditorium with a superb Steinway piano. Many of the programs were taped by and subsequently broadcast on National Public Radio.

Overall, there were about 30 concerts spread over three years. Here's a sample of the programs: Jackie and Roy doing concerts of Stephen Sondheim, Alec Wilder and a collection of songs they introduced; Pinky Winters and Lou Levy doing Johnny Mandel; Carol Sloane doing Rodgers and Hart; Charles DeForest doing Harry Warren; Ethabelle doing Harold Arlen and John Latouche; Sheila Jordan doing songs by jazz musicians; Buddy Barnes doing Cole Porter; Shirley Horn doing Duke Ellington and Curtis Lewis' "The Garden of the Blues Suite"; Mark Murphy doing Dorothy Fields; Julie Wilson doing Arlen and Kurt Weill, Sandra King making her American debut with a Vernon Duke program. Well, you get the idea. Others in the series included Chris Connor, Margaret Whiting, Carol Fredette, Ronny Whyte, Rose Murphy, Dardanelle, Bob Dorough, Dave Frishberg and many more. (Apologies to anyone I forgot to mention. My box of materials with the full list of performers is stored in my attic.)

Obviously, this was a perfect venue for Our Blossom. My negotiations with her were rather complicated. From the outset, she rejected the idea of preparing a special program as all of the others did. ("I'm a Great American Songwriter myself," she informed me.) I decided to bend the rules because Blossom is special and I knew she would draw a full house. So I gave her carte blanche to do whatever she wanted. I told her that traditionally we had a celebration dinner at a restaurant in Chinatown after the 4 p.m. concerts, to which a handful of people associated with the series were invited-Jennifer, my helpful and charming young intern-assistant from the Corcoran, Mr. and Mrs. Blackwell, several patrons of the series, etc. Blossom told me that her brother Walter and his wife would be coming from Winchester, Virginia, and asked that they be invited to dinner and that a driver be assigned to them. The Blackwells graciously volunteered provide them with transportation.

On Saturday, I picked Blossom up at Union Station and drove her to her hotel, a comfortable place just across the bridge from Georgetown. She was tired so I left her to rest after checking her in. The next morning, I was awakened at 8 a.m. by a call from her. She said that she needed to rehearse and had to find a place with a piano. This struck me as rather odd since she was performing solo and doing songs she had performed hundreds, probably thousands of times before-"I'm Shadowing You", "My New Celebrity Is You" etc. I told her that I had a piano, albeit not a very good one, and would be happy to drive into D.C. from Arlington, Virginia, and bring her to my place. She said she needed to have breakfast first, and would call me as soon as she was finished. I couldn't fall back to sleep, so I awaited her call.

9 a.m. 10 a.m. 11 a.m. 12 p.m. No call. Finally, I began phoning her, but got no response. 1 p.m. 2 p.m. I'm getting nervous because we have a 3 p.m. sound check. Finally, she called me at 2:30. I told her that I was worried that something had happened to her. She sternly said, "I told you that I was going for breakfast." "But that was more than 6 hours ago," I pointed out. "Oh," she said, "They were very slow." End of explanation.

I hurriedly picked her up and took her to the Corcoran. I had told her in advance that NPR was taping the shows and outlined the terms of their contract with the artists. When we arrived at the Gallery, she saw the sound truck, turned to me and imperiously said "It is not permitted." When I inquired WHAT was not permitted, she replied the taping of her show. This was the first time I had been informed of this stricture. An angry NPR sound crew, working overtime on Sunday, was turned away.

We entered the auditorium where the obliging Jennifer was setting things up. Nothing this young woman did satisfied Blossom. The lights were too bright. The lights were too dim. The piano had to be moved numerous times. Instead of requesting changes politely, Blossom kept snapping at the flustered young women in the most insulting manner. Embarrassed by her behavior, I drew Blossom aside and quietly said "You know, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar." She looked at me blankly and replied "I don't know what that means."

Finally, we managed to set things up to Blossom's apparent satisfaction. Just before we were to open the doors, she walked out into the seating area, called me over and asked "Where are all the flowers?" Totally disgruntled by her, I replied "I didn't bring them, Blossom. Did you?"

The audience enters-a packed house with standees-and I introduce Blossom. She takes elaborate bows, then notices a woman standing by the entrance door holding a baby. Blossom points to her and asks "Is that a baby?" The woman indicates that it is. "Does it cry?" Blossom inquires. The woman says "He's asleep. If he wakes up and cries, I'll take him outside. That's why I'm standing by the door." Blossom repeats her earlier mantra "It is not permitted" and the woman and her baby are banished. This behavior does not endear her to the audience.

Blossom performs the first half of her program. Not one of her shining hours. She hits a number of keyboard clunkers. (Maybe she was right about needing to rehearse.) Just before the intermission, she spots Felix Grant, the famous Washington jazz disc jockey, in the audience. She comes to the front of the stage, introduces him and makes a little speech. "I have never performed in the nation's capital before, and for years Felix has been trying to arrange a concert for me here. I guess this must be a pretty big day for you, right Felix?" On that modest note, she retired to the dressing room.

During the intermission, Shirley Horn, who was in the audience and had known Blossom since her New York debut with Miles Davis at the Village Vanguard, popped backstage to say hello. Shirley returned a few minutes later with a puzzled look on her face. I asked whether Blossom was acting strangely. Shirley nodded her head and said, metaphorically, "I think she's gone inside, locked the door and now she can't get out."

The second set unfolded without incident, apart from a few pianistic clangers.

Afterwards, Blossom briefly received her audience. Two gay men, who were regulars at the series, told her how much they enjoyed her, and made a point of saying that they had attended her PREVIOUS D.C. appearance at a gay-owned supper club called the Way Off Broadway, where Barbara Cook, Anita' O'Day. Helen Humes and others had also worked. (Blossom had revised history so that the venerable Corcoran, which she must have perceived as a more reputable venue, was now the site of her "official" Washington debut.) She pretended that she didn't know what they were referring to.

Concert is over. Time for dinner. The Blackwells escort Blossom's brother and wife to the restaurant. We close the auditorium, and I start to drive Blossom to the same location. Only she doesn't want to go there. "I want to see the monuments," she insists. "But everyone's waiting for us," I reply. "I'm not hungry," she pouts. "I want to see the monuments." I give her an abbreviated tour of Tourist Washington and take her to Hunan Gourmet where everyone has grown restless waiting for her.

Arriving at the large round table I reserved that seated 10 people, Blossom complained that she didn't like the chair that was left for her. She made everybody stand up and forced them to exchange seats to suit her. Then she announced to the starving gathering that she was not hungry. Helpfully, I suggested that we could just have drinks and snacks.

"No snacks!" she commanded.

We ordered drinks and, despite her instructions, some appetizers. Before the order arrived, she announced that she was leaving and asked if someone would hail her a cab. In a moment worthy of a Lubitsch comedy, every man at the table leapt up to escort her to the street and get rid of her. I can't recall whether or not her nice relatives remained with us, but I think they did. (Bill Blackwell probably can probably clarify this.) As soon as she was gone, we trashed her roundly before ravenously consuming a huge meal. Subsequently, I learned that Blossom had taken that cab to Charlie's, a jazz club in Georgetown, to see if she could secure a future gig. Had she bothered to inform us of her intention, we could have convened at Charlie's rather than in Chinatown.

To this day, I have yet to solve the mystery of her six-hour breakfast.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

February 3, 1959

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After Karl Erik, at Expecting Rain. ER has a special February 3, 1959 section today, in memory of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, and the pilot of that fateful flight, Roger Peterson.