Just make sure I'm around when you've finally got something to say.--Toad the Wet Sprocket

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

An Early African American Piano Player's Unique and Mysterious Way To Stardom

In L.A. in the early 1940s, John Redd dreamed of making it big as a piano player, but L.A. was highly segregated at the time and the most popular clubs wouldn't hire black musicians.  He did notice, however, that they were hiring Indian singers and musicians.  People were fascinated by the far east and saw it as exotic and exciting and couldn't get enough of it.

This gave John the idea to take the swami stereotype and use it to his advantage. He'd already tried getting work as an Hispanic using the name Juan Rolando with a small bit of success because at the time Mexican music was hot right then, so it was easier to get work if you were Hispanic.  But this promised to be even more successful.  With the help of his wife Disney illustrator Beryl DeBeeson,
he put on makeup and wore a turban and suddenly Korla Pandit was born. They made up the past that said he was from New Delhi and parents were a father who was a Brahmin priest and a mother who was a French opera singer.  He then went to England to study music and then immigrated to America to go to the University of Chicago to study the organ.

He hit the clubs with this act. This was a very risky venture as at best he could be banned from playing the clubs if caught and at worst he could be lynched.  He played exotic compositions on a Hammond organ and it works. He would add tangos, cha-chas, and other music from the 1940s and 1950s as well as the occasional classical piece.  He would play the piano with his right hand and the Hammond with his left-hand, a novelty at the time.  Not once did he speak during his act. He just played and looked out at the audience with his trademark hypnotic gaze.  Soon, he becomes the most popular gig in town.

To pull this off he must be Korla Pandit twenty-four hours a day and only a few trusted friends and family members knew the truth.  He got a gig in 1948 playing the "eerie background music for the revival of radio's occult adventure series 'Chandu the Magician'".  Over the next three decades he recorded over two dozen albums and he had his own TV show beginning in 1949.   "Adventures in Music", where he was TV's first "talking head" without actually speaking but talking through his music. In 1953 during a contract dispute, he was replaced with Liberace.  At the height of his early 1950s fame, he was a guest of honor at the Tournament of Roses Parade and was friends with the likes of Bob Hope and Errol Flynn.

He appeared in Tim Burton's movie Ed Wood playing himself.  He lived this way until his death in 1998. Then three years later a friend writes an article that records the truth. There were those who criticized him for deceiving them by taking on the identity of another minority. But many others said his actions were justifiable considering the discrimination he faced at the time.  He is considered the Godfather of Exotica music nonetheless.

Here are some words of wisdom from Korla Pandit himself (thanks to http://www.korlapandit.com)
In India we believe that music never dies, but ever materializes into beautiful forms.
Music is the Golden Union of East and West.
In the midst of a crowd, keep the independence of your solitude.
Love and respect yourself, and be aware of yourself. Then we can begin to visualize the state we are seeking and feel the reality of it. Then relax, and it will come to pass. Let go, let God, and you can be changed.
You are a mind with a body, not a body with a mind.
This is not, necessarily, the only planet we have ever lived on.
Recently scientists have said there ís something faster than the speed of light, possibly It is thought.
I do not like to use labels, because labels become liable.
Love holds the Universe together.
Permanency in music is the ultimate in love.
Music may not save your soul, but it will cause your soul to be worth saving.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Doggie Suicide Bridge

By 2005 in Dunbarton, Scotland, the town had been plagued by a mystery for more than fifty years. Sometimes when dogs crossed Overtoun Bridge they leaped off it occasionally with deadly results. Even when the dog had jumped once he would jump again if given the chance.  In the early 1900s, a castle overlooking the bridge was home to an aristocratic couple Baron John Overtoun and his wife Grace who were very much in love with each other. When John fell ill and died, Grace spent her remaining years walking back and forth across the bridge until her death in 1931.  

In the 1950's dogs suddenly started leaping off of the bridge and people said they could see the ghost of Lady Overton on the bridge. It was said that she wanted the dog's owners to be as miserable as she was.  

Further talk of the paranormal was increased when in 1994 a man threw his two-week old son over the bridge because he believed that he was the Anti-Christ and his son was Satan and they were responsible for the Gulf War and were going to destroy the world with a virus and by killing both of them he was saving the world. He tried to follow his son but his wife had stopped him. It was believed that there was some magnetic force or supernatural reason for this bridge to be causing so much death.  

In 2005, scientist David Sands was enlisted by the Scottish Society of the Prevention and Cruelty to Animals to get to the bottom of this mystery.   He read old newspaper accounts and notices that they all have one thing in common: they are all long-nosed breeds such as pointers, collies, or retrievers.  These dogs all have a more superior sense of smell.  He believed they were being lured off the bridge by some scent.  When he looked under the bridge he found squirrels, rabbits, and other common animals, but nothing capable of luring a dog off the bridge.  Then he stumbles across a burrow of mink which have a strong odor that would be irresistible to dogs and they would have been unable to control themselves and therefore would have jumped off the bridge to get to it.  

To prevent further incidents the town has put up signs on the bridge warning owners to keep dogs on a leash. Since then there have been no more leaps over the bridge.  Though people still question whether there is a supernatural aspect to the bridge.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Fiercest Warrior in Japan Is a Woman

In the 12th Century Japan, around 1180, the Genpei War was a rather brutal affair with two factions of the same family the aristocratic clan, the Kyoto-based Taira and the country-based Minamoto clan. The Minamoto clan wanted to give the samurai the right to own land.  For three hundred years the samurai has been fighting for the Emperor but have not been allowed to own land. The Taira had a puppet Emperor on the throne that they controlled.

Tomoe Gozen was born in the same home as Lord Kiso no Yoshinaka (or Minamoto no Yoshinaka). Her father was a samurai and her mother was a wet nurse. Back then women trained to fight defensively in order to protect the home. Tomoe was such a good fighter that she was allowed to train offensively as well.

The three rules of the samurai are to serve, to slaughter, and to die well. She was trained to use a bow and arrow and a naginata, a polearm with a curved blade at the end. She became an expert in both.   It is not clear whether she was Yoshinaka's concubine or his wife, but he was so impressed with her skill that he made her his leading commander (ippo no taisho).

She excelled during battles against the Taira including the Battle of Yogotagawara in 1181 where she collected the heads of seven of the enemies.  Or the Battle of Tonimiyama where she led 1,000 men to victory in 1183. In 1184 she led 300 against a mighty 6,000 and was one of five to survive.  Tomoe and Yoshinaka are the ones to take Kyoto where the Emperor and nobles fled. The last battle in 1184 of Awazu, was against Minamoto no Yoritomo Yoshinaka's cousin who was battling him for control of the country.  There were five of them left in the battle and Yoshinaka tells Tomoe to leave the field of battle but she first seeks out the best Tiara samurai and takes his head just to show her honor and loyalty.  Yoshinaka was fatally wounded in the battle and asked Tomoe to leave him to die alone. Some say because he did not want to die in front of a woman and lose honor.

At the battle of Dan no ura the Tiara would be thoroughly defeated and with the months ahead they would be hunted down and killed.  In 1192 Minamoto Yoritomo would be declared the first shogun of Japan which would last for the next seven hundred years.  The Genpei Wars are represented in Japan's flag with the red representing the Taira and the white representing the Minamoto.  Many movies have been made about this war and it is highly celebrated.

What happened to Tomoe? No one really knows for sure. Some say she became the concubine of one of Yoritomo's henchmen and gave birth to strongman Asahina Saburo Yoshide. Some say she became a Buddhist nun. Others that she became a peasant hiding from Yoritomo.  It is also said that she got revenge by killing Yoshinaka's attackers and taking his head so no one could defile it and walk into the sea. I believe that she lived on as he asked her to which is why we know this story in the first place.

The Heike Monogatari was written some time after the Genpei Wars ended. This is considered a great epic poem in Japan like the Iliad is to Greece. In it, Tomoe is mentioned.  In Helen McCullough's The Tale of the Heike she describes Tomoe is in this way from the text:
Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.
Tomoe was an incredible woman not just for her time, but at any time. She exemplifies the qualities of loyalty, honor, and bravery that we all aspire to have.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Real Snow White

In the German town of Lohr am Main there back in the 18th century there lived a princess named Maria Sophie Margaretha Catharina von und zu Erthal whose father, Philipp Christoph, married Claudia Elizabeth after the death of her mother and it is said that her step-mother preferred her children from her previous marriage over Maria Sophie.  Maira Sophia was said to have been the nicest princess around who helped others, was an "angel of mercy and kindness", and "charitable toward the poor and suffering". Her husband gave her a mirror that was red with gold engraved glass ovals upon which are some words "Amour Propre" or self-love. Claudia Elizabeth was obsessed with her image and was always looking into the mirror.  The mirror was of such high quality that it was said to "speak the truth".

Claudia Elizabeth was so jealous of Maria that she forced her from the castle. It is not known what happened to her. However, in the region, there were men who worked in the mines.  The men who worked there were all small, likely due to malnutrion and the work they did in low mines. They were often referred to as dwarves.

What about the poisoned apple? The Lohr region is known for their apple orchards. There are also black cherries (Atropa belladonna) that can induce an anesthetic effect that mimics rigor mortis.  Also, in the area, there would have been glass works that could have been capable of making a glass coffin.  

We know this due to the years of research that was done and finally completed in 1986 by a German pharmacist and "fable researcher",  Karlheinz Bartels who believed there was more to the story of the mirror and a connection to the Grimm fairytale.  So, it seems that there really was a Snow White. But how much of the Grimm's or Disney tale is real is up to you to decide.  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

21st Century Brothels In the USA

In Nevada, there are twelve counties where prostitution is legal. However, the brothels can be found not in the cities, but in the rural areas.  It costs $76 for a license and the sheriff makes you fill out a detailed application that will determine whether or not you get a license. On it, it asks where your tattoos and piercings are, all violations of the law including traffic violations and whether you owe child support. If you owe child support or have an outstanding warrant or ticket you didn't pay, you won't get a license.

Dennis Hof, or Daddy D, is the owner of seven brothels including the Moonlite Bunny Ranch. It costs $500 just to apply to work in one of his brothels and he has 500 women working for him.  If you do get the chance to work at one of his brothels you are an independent contractor. You pay for room and board plus $330 a month in medical checkups and they take half your pay for taxes.  The women set their own prices and are allowed to refuse any customer or a sexual act with no questions asked. They also have webcam services where they can make additional money off of. Security monitors who come in and clients behaving badly are quickly removed. So this is a safer environment than the streets. But it's also more expensive. And when times are slow you may break even or even lose money.

Caressa is the top earner. She is 40 and in 2015 she earned 200,000 and was named Bunny of the year.  Eight years ago she went to school to become a surgical tech but couldn't find work so she went back to the brothel to work.  She does so well because she has repeat customers. She works by appointment only, while the other girls take what comes in the door or what they can lure in by webcam.  $500 will get you a basic party package, but most spend between $150-$300.

But things have been getting slower at the brothels due to the internet and politicians are looking for ways to make prostitution illegal again. George Flint the last brothel lobbyist, who retired in 2015 said that the Nevada Brothel Owners Association political contributions had plunged from $100,000 to $20,000. New politicians weren't taking his calls and old ones were starting to turn away from him. But don't expect the brothels to give up so easily.  Hof had an HBO series called "Cathouse" based on the lives of the girls of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch and he is offering to match the debt payments of those women paying off student loans.

For a few of these girls, it works for them. But most seem to try it and leave because they can't seem to make money off of it. It's just too cost prohibitive to do it.  It is, however, a safe place environment to work in.  There are security and a comfortable room set up to do business in.   You do not have to worry about a pimp, though some might argue that the brothel owner is a pimp in a way in that he is taking a big share of your profits.  He or she is, however, not going to beat you up or make you do something you do not want to do.  How much longer will prostitution be legal in the United States?   It doesn't look like it could last too much longer, but who knows things change all the time.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

More Than a Princess

I grew up with her as Princess Leia Organa who kicked ass from one end of the galaxy to the other. But that wasn't my only favorite role that she had. I loved her as Besty Faye Sharon when she shows up in the movie Soapdish for the first time and Elizabeth Shue tells her "Hi. Uh, I'm Lori Craven and...I'm and actress." and then Fisher responds with "An actress! Really! How Nice for you! I'm Betsy Faye Sharon and I'm a bitch. Now get out of here."  And of course as Marie when Harry Met Sally and gave off this classic line to describe to Sally a woman Harry's seeing: Thin, pretty, big tits. Your basic nightmare.

But she was more than an actress to me. She was an inspiration and a role model. Carrie Fisher was manic depressive and I am too, though for me that is hard to admit to. The stigma is still there. The crazy label I got from childhood when I had dysthymia, a form of chronic depression that I had for twelve years right before I became manic depressive, still burns. So I tend to tell no one unless they are to become close friends that I am manic depressive because I don't want to deal with the label and all that entails. But Carrie Fisher didn't care about that. She told the world and said damn the consequences. She did this at a time when the stigma was even more hurtful. She probably wouldn't consider it a brave act, but I do. Because people judge you on these things.

She helped her mother, Debbie Reynolds (who died days after Carrie) raise money for her charity the Thalians which was founded by Reynolds and others in 1955 to promote awareness and treatment of mental health issues.

Anyways. I think she was happy in being in London when she died. It was one of her favorite places to be. "I feel in love with London while I was at school there and have never fallen out. I love their being as bound up in their history as they are, preserving their buildings instead of razing them to the ground to make way for another big beige building with lots of windows to throw yourself from. I love its accents, its exchange rates, its idiosyncratic friendly behavior, its museums, its parks you need keys for, and its colas without ice. If I can forgive a place for not making ice a priority as part of their lifestyle, that's true love." (The Princess Diarist p 67).

I will remember a woman who was fearless even when she was afraid. A woman took like by the horns and rode it for all that it was worth. Someone who never let anyone stop her or keep her down. Something more than a Princess or a General. A hero.