Liner Notes for Peter Stampfel/ Dook of the Beatniks
By 1957, a spirit of rebellion, often referred to as non-conformism, was rising throughout the US. Jean Shepherd was a radio personality who railed against what he called creeping meatballism, as decent a phrase as any to describe the prevailing attitude of the 1950s. Shepherd was one of many who had a powerful compulsion to put on the straights, or as he put it, strike a blow against creeping meatballism. His method of attack was to ask his listeners to go to their local bookstore--an odd place to launch such an attack, when you think about it--and ask for a non-existent book, I, Libertine, by Frederick R. Ewing. Thousands of his listeners did, so many that the book was listed in The New York Times Book Review as ‘soon to be released’. An editor at Ballantine Books, recognizing an opportunity, contracted my favorite science fiction writer of the 50s, Theodore Sturgeon, to ghost a book with that title. A doctored photo of Jean Shepherd as Frederick R. Ewing, wearing ahead-of-their-time granny glasses, was featured on the back cover. Written as an 18th-century picaresque novel, the book was issued only as a paperback, and featured on its cover a period gentleman ogling a woman with a modestly plunging neckline (this was the 50s) and a choice line from the book: “Gadzooks,” quoth I, “but there’s a saucy bawd!” It was actually a very enjoyable book. As a writer, Sturgeon, who back in the 50s owned a customized pickup truck as well as a 12-string guitar, could do no wrong. My point is that “beatnik” became a catch-all label for something that was to complex and nuanced to be described so simply. As an example, when I moved to New York City in late 1959, I got a job packing foreign car parts in the shipping department off Hoffman Motors, and one day my girl friend came to meet me after work. The other guys there had decided I was a beatnik, and my girlfriend Marlene, who had long, straight hair, used no makeup, and wore a Navy surplus peacoat, was obviously a “beat chick”. The next day I was approached, singly, by several of the guys at work, who asked to sleep with my girl friend, because, they explained, I was a beatnik, and she was a beat chick, and beatniks let their friends sleep with their beat chicks, and weren’t they my friends?_Ay yi yi.
Pass That Peace Pipe/ by Roger Edens, Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane
This wonderful song was a hit in 1947/48 and I never forgot it, although everyone else did. Note Mark’s cool I-don’t-need-to-know-the-stinking-chords guitar part.
Roger Edens, Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane
Antonia wrote the words in 1967, but we couldn’t think up appropriate music for them. Over the years, a couple people tried, but no one nailed it. In the early 90s, They Might Be Giants had a label that released ten five-song CDs by different musicians, and they asked me to do one. I thought I had probably learned enough at that point to write proper music. It took me about five minutes. Hell of a good song.
Bamma Lamma/ Peter Stampfel
I had a dream. In the dream it was 1961, and Little Richard had not quit rock and roll. In fact, he was openly living with Tennessee Williams, and they were collaborating on songs. It was a good dream. So in this dream, I’m listening to their latest album. Two or three of the songs knock me out. The other songs are all good, but not at that level. But when I woke up, the only one I could remember was a B-title, which I confused with an actual Little Richard song, “Shout Bamalama.“ I soon realized it was a new song, and quickly wrote down the words. When I catch a dream song, I seldom remember more than a single line or phrase, but I always know what the song is about, and they hardly ever take more than ten minutes to write.
Take a Message to Omie/ Sam Shepard
Sam wrote this around 1969, when he’d only been playing guitar a short time. He’s not too crazy about it, but I think it’s brilliant and perfect.
Once Upon a Long, Long Time Ago/ Peter Stampfel
I got the basic idea for this song—that the Good Old Days were terrible—in the 70s, but it took almost 20 years and a number of false starts to pull it off.
Bad Karma/ Peter Stampfel and Antonia
In 1968, the Rounders had a gig at the Family Dog opening for Pink Floyd. We had just opened for Ike and Tina Turner in LA. What a roll we were on. Driving up, we picked up a couple of hitchhikers who were twelve or thirteen. They proceeded to go on about local prices, quality, and availability of pot, as a way of presenting their hippie credentials. I had just heard that middle-school kids were shooting up in study halls in Detroit, and was beginning to realize drugs were not the panacea I had assumed them to be. Like many others, I had been making the distinction between “good” drugs (pot and hallucinogens) and “bad” drugs (heroin, speed, downers, alcohol, tobacco). But I instinctively knew that drugs for twelve and thirteen year old kids was a bad idea. Years later, I learned that the brain at that age is still developing, and is particularly susceptible to drugs. It is more easily addicted, which is why many young smokers find it hard to quit after just a few cigarettes. After we dropped the kids off, we talked about this, and decided that something must be done about the situation. Somehow, we decided the appropriate action was getting some Jack Daniel’s for the gig. The locals were outraged at our imbibing the evil alcohol, and stomped around the club tirading that the Rounders had bad karma! Bad karma! So Antonia and I wrote the words when we got back to LA. The music, however, was cliché boogie format. In the 90s I re-did the music. The words held up fine, though.
New Keep a Knockin/ old words Little Richard, new words Peter. New music bridge, Peter. Little Richard, revised by Peter Stampfel
I went on the prowl for good two-chord songs in the early oughties, and I noticed that Little Richard’s “Keep a Knockin’” qualified. I recently heard the gospel song that Little Richard based it on WAMU’s Sunday Dick Spottswood show, which I listen to on the internet every week. I made up the new words while watching New Year’s fireworks in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. I turned one of the original verses into the chorus.
Holy Terror/ Peter Stampfel
Another dream song. In this one Nick (Hickory) Hill was showing me this a gospel song called “Holy Terror,” which was simultaneously the wackest and the most amazing gospel song I had ever heard. When I woke up, the only line I could remember was “Holy terror gonna blow you up for Jesus.” I tried writing more words in this vein, but they didn’t work the way they did in the dream. Dream song words are often untenable. The only way I could make it work was to write the rest of the words as straight as I could. Beyond the Bb in the key of G trick, I made this a three-part song. Most standard 20th century songs have an A part and a B part, with the usual format being AABA. But I like songs with a C part. My wife Betsy and I saw the musical Rent when it came to Broadway. Something I really hated about it was a subplot involving a singer-songwriter with AIDS, who was trying to write a last great song before his death, which was expected in about six months. Wow, I thought, that’s powerful. So during his last dying six months, he works and works on this song. Finally it’s ready. I was dying to hear it, as it were. Unfortunately, it turned out to be this bland piece of hackwork. I was outraged. But the idea - write each song as if it were your last chance - stuck with me. Soon, I started writing a lot of three-part songs, because I love three-part songs. But I quickly realized that making each song three parts was boring, and an occasional lapse into the simple, dumb, and cheesy makes for a greater totality of Art in the long run. And that’s what we’re all here for.
Thanks to Bob Christgau for help in the final editing. New York, November 2008