Monday, November 23, 2009

Doo Wop

Attended an Ultimate Doo Wop show at Merrillville’s Star Plaza Saturday evening with Toni, Dave, and Angie thanks to four free tickets from producer par excellence Henry Farag. He really knows how to put on a good show. After three snappy songs by his a capello group Stormy Weather, Henry assumed the role of master of ceremonies, introducing groups from the Fifties and Sixties, including the Clovers (“Love Potion No. 9”), Gary’s own Spaniels, at least what’s left of them after the death of Pookie Hudson (“Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite”), Kathy Young (“A Thousand Stars”), Johnnie and Joe (“Over the Mountain, Cross the Sea”), Eugene Pitt and the Jive Five (“My True Story”), a “Super Girl Group” made up of members of the Exciters (“Tell Me”) and the Cookies (“Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad About My Baby”), and headliners Terry Johnson and the Flamingoes (“I Only Have Eyes for You,” “Lovers Never Say Goodbye”). Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners (“Since I Don’t Have You”) were a late cancellation. The back-up band, the Flat Cats, was great, especially the saxophone player. Most people in the audience were in their Sixties, and some were sporting canes or walkers, so there wasn’t any dancing in the aisles.

Eight years ago, I published Henry Farag’s splendid autobiography “The Signal” as a special “Steel Shavings” (volume 32) and each chapter is named for a doo wop classic – such as “Oh, What a Night,” “Could This be Magic?”, “Come Go With Me,” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “Get a Job,” “Let the Good Times Roll,” and so forth. I followed the same format in my Editor’s Note, introducing paragraphs with such song titles as “Book of Love,” “What’d I Say,” “Speedo,” and “A Million to One.” At a previous show Henry had Dion headlining, and we went out for dinner first with Ron and Nancy Cohen and student Shannon Pontney’s parents Audrey and Bill.

On Gaard Logan’s recommendation I picked up a first novel by Chinese-American Jamie Ford entitled “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.” Set in wartime Seattle, it is kind of a Romeo and Juliet romance of schoolmates Henry Lee and Keiko Okabe, who are the only nonwhites at a private school (they have to work in the cafeteria and after school to pay for their respective scholarships). Henry’s father hates the Japanese for invading his homeland and has Henry wear a button declaring, “I am Chinese.” Both he and Keiko consider themselves American. An African-American street musician named Sheldon teaches Henry to say, “How are you today, beautiful” in Japanese (“Oai deke te ureshii desu”), but when he tries it out, she doesn’t understand him because she only speaks English. Keiko (my late sister-in-law Maureen had a beloved shih-tzu dog named Keiko) and her family eventually are sent to an internment camp in Idaho. The inspiration for the novel came from when the Panama Hotel was renovated during the Eighties and in the basement were trunks containing the possessions left behind by 37 families, including (for the purposes of the novel) the Okabes. At the end of the book the two lovers find each other 40 years later. Each has lost a spouse to illness. She says to him, “Oai deke te,” and he replies, “Ureshii desu.” There’s much mention of the Forties West Coast jazz scene, and introducing the book is this quote from a Duke Ellington song: “My poor heart is sentimental/ Not made of wood/ I got it bad and that ain’t good.”

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