Tuesday, December 15, 2015

My Lunch With John McDonnell

That's my old friend John McDonnell. We met on a Jimmy Carter campaign stop at Dulles Airport in 1976, I think. I was shooting for the Reston Times, the first job I got out of college, and I kept hearing about this kid at our Leesburg counterpart, The Loudon Times- Mirror. "He's great- wait'll you see his stuff." Then I meet him at the airport and he WAS a kid. Sixteen, maybe. And a big kid. I thought, this is John McDonnell?

Indeed it was. He showed me some of his work later that week, exquisite 16X20 B&W prints, perfectly toned, on Agfa paper. Really rich prints, the kind I had been trained to make in art school and here's this kid (did I say sixteen? He may have been fifteen) making better prints than I did.

After that we became friends and one day John was hired by the Washington Post and I was still shooting pompous realtors for the Reston Times. It was a real blow. I knew then I had to move on. And that was good. Actually, it was the very thing I needed.

Over the years we kept in touch and our careers diverged. I stayed a freelancer and had, if I do say so myself, a way better career than I probably deserved, but that's a different story.

John has thrived at the Post and continues to astound his audience, lately with his incredible Nationals' coverage.

We talked about the emergence of the cell phone as a viable photographic tool. We talked about former colleagues. We caught up on the future of photography (bleak) and the world in general (same).

The best thing about was, we had a great time! Two guys having lunch.

John's FaceBook link: https://www.facebook.com/john.mcdonnell.90?fref=ts

Friday, September 12, 2014

R. I. P. Cosimo Matassa (April 13, 1926 – September 11, 2014)

© 2014 Breton Littlehales
Cosimo, the improbable man with the improbable name.

Dubbed "Coz" by most of the musicians he knew, which was virtually all the musicians there were in New Orleans between 1945 and last year, Mr. Matassa was responsible for recording and engineering pretty much every single record to come out of New Orleans during the golden age of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues.

Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Guitar Slim, the early Specialty Little Richard, the Neville Brothers, including Aaron's hit "Tell It Like It Is", and Art's "Mardi Gras Mambo" were all recorded at Cosimo's studios.

Mr. Matassa claims he was just trying to make a living. His father owned an appliance store and let his son set up his first recording studio in the back room there. That was in 1945. It was the kind of studio that would record neighborhood kids eager to sing into a microphone and then book Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino at night.

Mr. Matassa seemed to enjoy the occasional reminiscence. How did he like Professor Longhair? He didn't.

"I didn't see what the fuss was all about. He was a real pain in the studio. Had a hard time getting through a song."

Guitar Slim?

"Slim was a character, no doubt about it," said Mr. Matassa. He liked Guitar Slim. "But that was a hell of a session. Two day session. Second day, Slim's all business. 'I won't let you down, Coz.' You can hear Ray Charles yell at the end, he's so relieved."

Who does he miss the most?

"Earl Palmer. No question. He was my best friend."

He tried managing a few times, worked with Chuck Carbo until he got pneumonia, started Dover records which had two immediate hits, "Barefootin'" by Robert Parker and "Tell It Like It Is" by Aaron Neville.

It was the success of the records that did him in. "Money was going out, but nothing was coming in. Everyone owed me money and I couldn't get it, and meanwhile we're pressing all the records and the pressing guys want their money now."

He auctioned a lot of equipment and helped Allen Toussaint set up Sea- Saint Studios.

Then he left the business.

Or sort of. If you're Cosimo Matassa and you live in New Orleans and you're a legend, you never really leave the business. He had an office upstairs at the grocery store in the Quarter, and was usually pleased to see fans as long as he wasn't busy or tired.

He played himself last year in an episode of Treme, teamed with his old friend and collaborator Dave Bartholomew, sitting in a studio, listening to a dismal playback. It's a light moment between old pals and, much like the sequence in the same series with Fats Domino, a little bit of a treasure now.

According to the Times Picayune, he had been in ill health. A couple of strokes, and a lessening of quality of life.

Then again, what a life. Cosimo Matassa preserved some of the greatest music ever played on this planet. He was there at the beginning of a musical art form and the quality of his work provided the perfect canvas for that art.

So I won't see you by the grocery store next time, Mr. Matassa. But I'll know you're there. And everywhere else in the city where everything that ever happened is still happening. Right now. All the time.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Healthcare Rant, part II

I went to the Affordable Healthcare site, which directed me to the Maryland AHC site.

I found the round- up of plans offered to be indecipherable so I went to Ehealth.com, where the summation is far more user friendly.

I chose a plan- $4000.00 deductible, affordable co- pay. It cost $387.00 per month, but after I factored in my tiny income, it's costing me less than $200 per month.

So I signed up.

As of 1 January 2014 I have health insurance for the first time in five years.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Me, Me, and Me- the Healthcare Rant

I don't like writing about myself. You may think, from the writings here, that I do, but I don't. I'm a private person. I don't even have a Face Book account anymore.

But I'm going to make a startling and very personal admission: I don't have any healthcare insurance.

And I haven't had any for the last five years.

Luckily, I haven't had any accidents. Knock on wood, as they say. I'm almost reluctant to say this, but my health is pretty good. I have untreated Type II diabetes and I remain about 50 pounds overweight, but aside from that I'm good.

But the diabetes and weight are time bombs. I know that one day they'll go off and I'll be screwed.

I've gone onto websites offering health coverage and applied to several carriers for the kind of insurance that has a $10,000- $50,000 deductible, but I was always turned down because of the diabetes. The pre- existing condition clause.

I can't get my diabetes medication without going to my doctor for a check- up and that would cost over $400.00, including the mandatory blood tests. And it's very difficult to think of myself as being worth $400, when I could spend it on someone else who really needs the money or what it can buy.

All of which brings us to Obamacare, or the Affordable Healthcare Act.

I had such high hopes. No pre- existing conditions, income based, affordable, keep your current physician, etc. I couldn't wait.

Now all I read about is the disastrous roll out. And that you can't get on it anyway. And that it's incomprehensible.

At first I thought this was all Republican sour grapes. It's not giving anything away to point out that the country has been divided politically since the current president was elected, but I had put that down to the old problem of racism in this country. Which, of course, remains rampant, whether you think it does or not. If you think that it's not, ask one of your black friends and I'm sure they will be happy to straighten you out.

As it turns out, the rollout is a disaster.

I'm no closer to healthcare than I was when I lost it five years ago. It was a great policy, by the way. I went for check- ups and wellness visits as often as I could.

I actually felt like a real grown-up for awhile there.

So, why is it a disaster? Why couldn't the government have hired the best and the brightest to handle the Health Care Act and the roll out?

I think I know the reason. Somehow,  in this age of information, we no longer know who the experts are, or even why we need experts. Instead of the most competent people guiding us though these incredibly complex matters, we have hired, or voted in, the most mediocre people.

Because we no longer appreciate the nuances of true expertise, we can't even tell the difference between excellence and mediocrity. in fact, I will go so far as to say that Americans are suspicious of intelligent people, and feel threatened by them.

Stupid people are running this country deep into the ground.

And how could they not? Most of the vast personal fortunes in this country that are not digitally based, such as Bill Gates, are inherited. And these heirs, although very good looking, like, say, Mitt Romney, have all the intelligence of inbred canines. They're like newts.

The spirit which created the fortune in the first place is gone, having been subsumed by private schools and Ivy League educations (which can be bought, in case you didn't know that), where the heirs cavort with each other in eating clubs set aside for these inbred morons.

Meanwhile I can't afford to have my diabetes treated, and I'll probably have to hack my leg off myself eventually, maybe with my fine Swiss Army knife (those things are amazing!), since I won't be able to afford to go to a doctor.

Luckily, unlike buying decent healthcare, it's not that hard or expensive to get some some heroin, so I'll at least be pain free when I do it.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Happy 100th, Mr. Morganfield

Mr. Muckle or Happy Birthday, Bill Fields!

From "My Little Chickadee": Mae West and W. C. Fields
Whenever I read something biographical about W. C. Fields, he is always referred to as Bill. I can imagine him at a card table with his pals like Gene Fowler and Dave Chasen, mumbling into his deck and all his pals calling him Bill. Like only the most inside of the insiders would call him Bill. The same people who called Gary Cooper "Coop" or Hitchcock "Hitch".

But then, I've heard him called Bill on radio shows from the '40's, where he shared the microphone with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Don Ameche calls him Bill. As do all the others. (Wait- what others- it's just Edgar Bergen. But such was the power of radio in the 1940's.)  After awhile, it's jarring when someone calls him W. C. Too slick, too agent-y.

Bill Fields, a remarkably gifted man, was born January 29th 1880 and died on Xmas Day, 1946. He drank to excess, to the point where it not only threatened his ability to do his job,  but also to the brink of death and beyond.

Towards the end, clearly showing the effects of alcohol.
He had a remarkable relationship with alcohol and was very high- functioning. But he was pretty much drunk during most of his waking hours. Considering that he authored most of his films, under ridiculous pseudonyms, this is quite an achievement.

He was born into abject poverty, much like Chaplin, whom Fields admired but distrusted ("He's a goddamn ballet dancer!"). The story of his childhood was so painful that he seldom told it.

By the time he was in his mid- twenties, he was arguably the best juggler in the world. He was a star of the Zeigfeld Follies, an international headliner, second only to Will Rogers. In those days, performers could use the same act over and over, seldom changing it at all from night to night. Fields was different. He was constantly perfecting techniques, juggling difficult objects with seeming indifference.

In the movies when he juggles, the audiences feign indifference or even disgust. This is the cruel beauty of the W. C. Fields world: nothing, not even the world's greatest juggler is extraordinary to this bunch.

Here he recreates his Zeigfeld's routine in this clip from "The Old Fashioned Way."

He worked out a pool table act with a crooked cue stick that he controlled perfectly. Eventually he started making films.  "Pool Sharks", from 1915, shows a lean, mustachioed Fields, the vaudevillian in the process of transforming into the movie comedian.

Bill Fields probably got away with more "outside" stuff than any comedian/ writer/ director of the times, and those times, in particular, were full of c/w/d's, from Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Laurel, to lesser knowns like Charlie Chase and Harry Langdon.  Certainly he had the more bizarre sense of humor.

There is this scene, this amazing scene- no- the most amazing scene in all his films- no- the comic tour de force of all his movies that features Mr. Muckle the blind man, from the comic masterpiece "It's a Gift":

Such was W. C. Fields' gift. To me, Mr. Muckle the blind man has an invincibility second only to Superman. The intensity of his destruction is equalled only by Fields' utter helplessness in the face of the unstoppable force of Mr. Muckle the blind man.

This is an incredible comic premise, ahead of its time, whatever that means, in that we are urged to suspend our sympathies toward the handicapped, the innocent, the meek that will inherit, etc. and guard ourselves against the apparently unstoppable forces of a blind coot with a cane and an ineffectual hearing aid. Can I even say blind coot without engendering offense?

It doesn't matter, because I don't have to say anything. W. C. Fields already said it.

Originally I had hoped to have this ready by January 29th, Bill Fields' birthday in 1880, but events overtook me and I wasn't able to finish it in time. Thus the discrepancy.

I went to my very first W. C. Fields movie with my grandfather, a man so serious that his own daughter could describe him as dour.  But he wasn't, not really, because he roared throughout the movie. Maybe I didn't appreciate the nuanced, jaundiced view of life in the way that he did, or that I do now, but I remember laughing along with him at all the same places, so I must have gotten some of it. 

The gift of genius, Bill Fields. Thanks.