June 2011 Archives
In 1976, my brother, three and a half years older than me, purchased a Jethro Tull greatest-hits collection with the curious title M.U. — The Best of Jethro Tull. (I’ve since learned that “M.U.” is Brit-speak for “Musicians’ Union,” but it still doesn’t make sense as a title.) Back then, albums often came with bonus mini-poster inserts, and my brother covered the walls of his room with them: the oblique Egyptian-pyramid images that accompanied Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the Eagles’ hairy-gothic band portrait from Hotel California, the collage poster from the Beatles’ White Album...
But the Tull album, the one the least consequential musically to our family, offered the poster that remains lodged in my brain: a “Last Supper”-style image of the band’s second and third lineups reunited over drinks and coffee at a banquet table:
As is the way of childhood, when the days seem to stretch out forever, I spent hours, ages, contemplating the strange creatures in this photograph: their ostentatious finery*, their prodigious facial hair, their palpable merriment; they were my own Sendak Wild Things. (Ian Anderson, in the center, seems to be roaring more than laughing.) They were also magnificently named: one was called Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, another Barriemore Barlow. For some reason, I was most obsessed with bassist Glenn Cornick, the bespectacled fellow second from right in the crocheted hat, glasses, and floral-print shirt.
I puzzled over these creatures, wondering if, should they ever have come upon me, they would have beaten me up or welcomed me into their band; it could have gone either way. Now, when I regard this image, I love the weighted-down heaviness of it—the dark brick, the dark fabrics, the straw-covered chianti bottles, the gauche flower arrangements. There’s something wondrous in all the baroque ugliness, and I can see how a child, any child with this image tacked to a familiar wall in his home, could get lost in it. I should add that this Tull poster remains intact, on the very closet door where my brother put it up in ’76; my mother still hasn’t taken it down. And I am still taken in by it.
* When I was still a regular contributor to GQ, I suggested to its editor, Jim Nelson, that the magazine restage this photograph as a fashion shoot, using models in clothing that evoked the clothing that the Tull members wear here. I figure that Paul Smith alone must have the duds to match these pretty closely. But Jim didn’t go for it.
Because I am working on a book about the 1970s in America, and because I was a child in the 1970s in America, my research occasionally takes a turn for the emotional-primordial. Stumbling upon a certain informational tidbit doesn’t merely jog the memory but all five senses, too—as if a pump-mist of retro atmosphere has suddenly been pump-misted into the room.
I had hazy memories of a prepubescent pop duo, boys, who made the rounds of TV one summer with their chipper songs, one of which was a paean to Amy Carter, the First Daughter. My research on Jimmy Carter’s presidency led me to discover this pop duo’s long-forgotten name, the Keane Brothers. Upon learning this, I naturally did the Google/YouTube thing and found this particularly beguiling TV ad for the Keanes (courtesy of the Museum of Classic Chicago Television). The sultry female voice-over seems at odds with the teenybop product being pitched but is very much in keeping with the humid languor that fell over 1977. Also interesting to note that tween fashion has cycled ’round completely—this is exactly how my son and his friends look and dress today.
It turns out that 13-year-old Tom (piano) and 12-year-old John (drums) Keane had their own short-lived CBS variety program that year, a summer fill-in show. That, and their corresponding promotional appearances, must be what I remember. The YouTube clips of the Keane Brothers evoke a side of the 1970s that historians who were adults in that period never capture: the summery poptimism, goofy as it appeared. The seventies were not all darkness and malaise and Nixonian villainy. For me, these clips bring back that patina of sweat everyone had at all times back then—not a desperate salesman’s flop-sweat but the lightly worn consequence of activity, man-made fibers, and the matted, moppy hairstyles we all had. I feel the phantom patina on me now. I think J.J. Abrams was feeling it when he made Super 8.
Here is a clip of the Keane Brothers from their CBS program that, at around 2:26, shows them performing the Amy Carter song, “Amy (Show the World You’re There).” (You must first endure a tedious intrusion by a frizz-haired grown-up impressionist, though it does offer an intriguing glimpse of the vestigial vaudevillian ethos that still held sway in variety TV back then.)