Monday, August 10, 2015

Act 2 Episode 4 - Wordman - The Myths and the Legends

The Long Cool Summer of ’65 – Act 2 Episode 4 – Wordman - The Myths and the Legends 

When events of historical significance occur or people do extraordinary things, a legend develops from the word of mouth reports that are retold over and over, each time gaining exaggeration or losing some substance, creating a popular myth that makes it into songs, ballads, novels, movies and history text books – legends and myths that are not the same as what actually happened, and it’s important to know the difference.

Frank Ridgeway was also known as P.F. Kludge, one being his real name and the other being his pen name, but few really knew which was which and called him “Wordman,” because when he wasn’t working he was always reading a book or jotting down notes in the little notebook he kept in his hip pocket.

Image result for Eddie and the Cruisers Tom Berenger

Tom Berringer in Tony Marts as janitor Frank Ridgeway in Eddie & the Cruisers Movie

Wordman was the Tony Mart’s janitor who helped the Hawks unload their equipment and introduced Levon to Tony. A recent college graduate – Kenyon College in Ohio, he was to begin his professional career as an English Lit teacher at nearby Vineland high school on the day after Labor Day, but first he wanted to work at a rock and roll nightclub at the Jersey Shore to research his first novel that was to become “Eddie and the Cruisers,” that was eventually made into a movie.

Eddie and the Cruisers didn’t resemble Levon and the Hawks, as Ridgeway’s band was more of a composite of a number of bands that he encountered that summer when he worked as the janitor at Tony Marts.

While the Hollywood producers and director pretty much kept the script faithful to his novel, a few things were changed, including the fact that in the movie Wordman – played gave Eddie Wilson a copy of a book by Rimbaud, the radical European poet, when in the novel the inspirational book of poems is “Leaves of Grass” by America’s poet laurite Walt Whitman, who lived the last years of his life in Camden, N.J. and died there.

Unlike most of the other Tony Marts employees, Ridgeway worked days, sweeping and mopping up the closed and empty bar and sometimes going next door to the Marotta residence across the side street to do odd jobs for Tony or Mrs. Mart.

After a few weeks Ridgeway got to know the Hawks pretty well, noticing that Rick and Richard liked to party and hit on the girls, while Levon was a happy go lucky hillbilly who got along with practically everybody, and Garth was totally into the music. Robbie Robertson, the young guitarist, he noticed, was the one who paid attention to the lyrics, and Robbie came into the club during the day to play an acoustic guitar and write down song lyrics.

One day Wordman gave Robertson a copy of Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” and told him that Whitman had lived and died in Camden, a one hour drive. And by-the-way, Wordman told Robinson, the acoustic Martin guitar he was playing was made in a guitar factory just north of Philadelphia, a pretty neat place to visit.

So one slow Monday morning, while Rick and Richard and the Tony Marts All Stars prepared to play Bader’s Raiders in the Hangover League baseball game of the week, Wordman, Robertson and Garth Hudson got into Ridgeway’s car, a ’57 Chevy, and drove to Camden to visit Whitman’s grave at Harleigh Cemetery, just off the Black Horse Pike.

There they met a young girl, Patti Smith, a local student who was meditating in a yoga position, who said she often came there for inspiration, and also played guitar and was writing poetry and songs.

So she joined them in the short drive to downtown Camden where they visited Whiteman’s historic house, and took the tour, as it is recounted in Ridgeway-Kludge’s  “Eddie and the Cruisers” novel, but left out of the movie.

From there they crossed the Ben Franklyn Bridge into Pennsylvania and drove north to visit the Martin Guitar factory that is situated near the small town of Nazareth, Pa., which set the scene for the opening lines in “The Weight,” a song Robertson would write, some of which stemmed from that summer of ’65.

“I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling 'bout half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
Hey, mister, can you tell me, where a man might find a bed?
He just grinned and shook my hand, "No" was all he said.
Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me…”

While some people would endlessly analyze the song lyrics to “The Weight,” as they also tried to do with Dylan’s songs, the biblical connotations didn’t go unnoticed, and many philosophical school papers were written about the true meaning of “The Weight,” but the truth of the matter is that Robbie was referring to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where the Martin Guitar factory was located, and not the Nazareth of biblical times, as the myths and the legends and term papers suggest.

Another case in point is the meaning behind Garth’s magnificent orgasmic piece “Chest Fever,” from Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D. minor, the lyrics of which were originally credited to Robbie Robertson, but in the end, everyone recognizes Garth’s contribution to the song and as Robbie himself later admitted, he didn’t recognize the lyrics and said they were non-sense.

As one critic put it, “The lyrics were dummy word, simply designed to fill the gaps while the instrumental tracks were put down.”

“I’m not sure I know the words to ‘Chest Fever’: I’m not even sure there are words to ‘Chest Fever.’”
Robertson said that the song was a reaction to the mysticism and myth-making of the other lyrics on the album – Music from Big Pink.”

According to Robertson: "’Chest Fever’ was like here's the groove, come in a little late. Let's do the whole thing so it's like pulling back, then it gives in and kind of kicks in and goes with the groove a little bit. If you like ‘Chest Fever’ it's for God knows what reason, it's just in there somewhere, this quirky thing. But it doesn't make particularly any kind of sense in the lyrics, in the music, in the arrangement, in anything. It's kind of a hard love song, but it's a reversal on that old rock n' roll thing where they're always telling the girl, you know, he's a rebel; he'll never be any good. This time it's the other way round, people are telling him about this girl and it affects him physically. These things they're telling him move him incredibly, and he's really a victim of that.”

But they’re not nonsense, and were probably written by Rick Danko or Richard Manuel, the party guys who knew a number of young girls like the one depicted in the lyrics of “Chest Fever," and Richard is given some credit for improvising some of the words.

“I know she's a tracker, any scarlet would back her
They say she's a chooser, but I just can't refuse her
She was just there, but then she can't be here no more
And as my mind unweaves, I feel the freeze down in my knees
But just before she leaves, she receives”

The early lyrics say “She’s been down to the Dunes and she’s dealt with the goons” – the goons being the Dunes’ bouncers, who were known to keep order in the place, but later published lyrics say "She's been down in the dunes," not recognizing that the Dunes is a nightclub and not just a pile of sand, and the goons are the nightclub's bouncers.

“She's been down to the Dunes and she's dealt with the goons
Now she drinks from the bitter cup, I'm trying to get her to give it up
She was just here, I fear she can't be here no more
And as my mind unweaves, I feel the freeze down in my knees
But just before she leaves, she receives…
It's long, long when she's gone, I get weary holding on
Now I'm coldly fading fast, I don't think I'm gonna last
Very much longer. ‘She's stoned’ said the Swede, and the moon calf agreed….”

She's been down to the Dunes and she's dealt with the goons means she's been kicked out of the most routy, all night, no holds bared roadhouse in the State of New Jersey, so she must be really getting out of control, and that's where things were heading - totally out of control, though not everyone noticed it yet.

Here's some links to some different recordings of "Chest Fever" - so you can make up your own mind what it means.

More on Eddie & the Cruisers Go To Camden :

No comments:

Post a Comment