DON’T SHOOT, IT’S ONLY ME

FrednGinger1

“Don’t Shoot , It’s Only Me” is the title of a  hardback book  of Bob Hope musings  on comedy and history , published in 1990. My father and mother were never gulled by celebrity nor were they remotely materialistic, but they lived through the dawn of the cinema and were every bit in thrall to its charms and romance as anyone else of their generation growing up before World War Two.

They never had enough money to be ostentatious for that matter. They valued education, books, humour  and culture though. The book is   probably partly -written by ghostwriter Mel Shavelson,  who was one of Hope’s joke -writers  but it  is autographed by Bob Hope himself, with a dedication on  the flyleaf , “To Joseph and Mary”…. not the “Holy Family” Joseph and Mary, I hasten to add. This  particular book was presented by the comedian himself to my similarly named mother and father when they met the world- famous comedian  in Hollywood some years before his death at the ripe  good age of one hundred years .At the time , my brother -in-law’s sister  kept tabs on the great man’s legendary “Joke Morgue ” files  and swung an invite for my mother and father who were visiting in California. The function was also attended by the  once-upon -a-time great dancing partner of  dance maestro Fred Astaire , one Ginger Rogers  whom my mother and father also subsequently met. Ginger , unfortunately, after a lifetime of seemingly effortlessly  , glamorously  floating in Fred’s shadow  in some classic films, was at that moment  earthbound and wheelchair -braced as the result of a stroke. I’m sure my old dad, never short of a quip or two himself, enjoyed a little light badinage with the comic veteran in those few  moments they crossed lives. For these reasons  the book has great sentimental value for me, as it combines both family history and a moment when the ordinary day- to- day world combines with that other world of fantasy and make-believe.

People like Hope , Astaire and Ginger  pass over from the silver screen to the real world in some curious  and anomalous ways. You may also like to know that there is an  oddly and artistically constructed , eccentrically  intertwined  building in Prague  nicknamed “the Fred and Ginger”,  in their honour.

There are times when the ordinary day -to- day world of our  workaday existences  bleed into that other more rarified world of the glamour that feeds it and somehow exists outside of it. Let me explain a little . When I was a child  I would watch Bob Hope and Bing Crosby comedy films on television , read books and listen to music that seemed to come from some planet beyond the humble world of the the seventeen inch screen Pam television  in the corner of my mother and father’s living room .That was as big as all that black and white  other-worldliness  ever got .

Back then , both Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, although in reality  entering their elder years, were  still icons of music and cinema and were also the stars of long-running Hollywood comedy films and hit records at a time  when being a music or film star really meant something . Anything that came from America was such a Big Deal in a world where to most of us , a hamburger was something only seen in the cinema.We certainly would not have known what a burrito or an enchilada was, never mind a take-away pizza. Those words were very foreign. We lived in a very different world where take-away food was “fish and chips”. Anything that was American was from very far away and was therefore exotic. Before the Beatles, Fred Astaire danced with Ginger Rogers{ He’s right there on the cover of their ground-breaking  “Sgt. Pepper’s” album   along with Dylan Thomas and the rest},  Bob Hope cavorted with Bing Crosby across the world in a series of films with titles like “Road to Rio”. We never thought about their political leanings back then and how their politics leaned towards the conservative .They seemed beyond politics anyway . Different beasts from the rest of us mere humans.

It is only on very rare occasions that my own life has crossed into this other exotic place .One other time was when I was roadie for the band ,The Moody Blues, one evening at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester during Autumn 1973 . That gig came about quite accidentally . I was a Fine Art student in Manchester at the time and while walking through the union bar was asked if I wanted to make a tenner that evening . At that time ten pounds would have been a reasonable four weeks rent money so I grabbed the opportunity without question. Further elaboration was almost unnecessary but it appeared that all that was required was to give the  band’s roadies extra support at the evening gig.At the time , the Moody Blues had been a major psychedelic  rock group with a series of hit albums and hit singles  in their wake. They’d evolved from the band who had the huge number one  hit with a cover of Bessie Banks ‘ stunning  “Go Now”. I don’t think she was best pleased at them stealing her thunder in 1963. She recorded it the week after JFK was murdered in Dallas …but it was the Moodies who had the huge hit.In the wake of the American Beatles invasion, post Kennedy, anything from this side of the Atlantic was suddenly exotic too. It was like a social distraction; an aural  balm  and diversion for a nation in post traumatic shock.

Ten years later….. and  I thought the”Moodies” were a bit twee by then ,of course.They were a little too neat.There were no jagged edges of interest.  Some of their records were okay  but their music was becoming a bit too airy -fairy and predictable ..Lined up against the spikiness of the more political  San Francisco bands like Jefferson Airplane or the laid- back graininess of J.J. Cale, Bob Marley  and the art school knowingness of Roxy Music and Bowie..It was getting too respectable by far . Within three years , punk rock would have upended that applecart and consigned these “{k}Nights in White Satin” to the bottom of some Topographic Ocean. or to some Days of Future Past..That didn’t matter of course. There was that tenner and a free Backstage Pass/Access all areas name tag to  the bowels of the famous Free Trade Hall. This was the place where  Bob Dylan’s “Traitor”…”I don’t Believe You ” { famous Albert Hall bootleg } had  actually been recorded. I had to see all that, hadn’t  I?

Of course the reality of being a roadie for any kind of rock band is more prosaic than the fantasy.The fantasy might involve sharing stories and exotic wines and substances behind the scenes with your musical heroes; rubbing up against some of that fairy-dust that was usually only contained inside the television box or cinema screen .The reality was that little unthought -out  fact of unloading several huge trucks laden with  of tons of gear  and then re-loading it back into the  same vehicles at the end of the gig ….when you really want to get to bed….. The reality  was a succession of huge wardrobe- sized cabinets to be wrestled into submission and rolled through endless corridors to be assembled on stage . There were  massive Genie Lighting rigs and Marshall amps aplenty . As for the band , we hardly saw them at all. If they even deigned to acknowledge us lowly worker bees helping to make them look and  sound like fabulists , I never saw it. They basically ran onstage , did their gig for the screaming fans and left us to tidy up after them.It’s not unlike looking after children , really. Anyway, I rambled around during the concert feeling very important with my “Access All Areas” special pass while the girls bought posters and mementoes in their droves. I collected my tenner some time in the early morning hours and schlepped back to my flat….

A few Sunday mornings ago  , the other” PK”…not my alter -ego ,” PK”, came on the phone. We were both recovering from a blazing Doctor Feelgood gig at the Empire in Belfast the night before. Well…I was was a little blurred around the edges, anyway ; still…a little “delicate” . “Keep the end of November free” ,he chuckled conspiratorially. “We’re on the guest list at the Robert Plant , Ulster  Hall concert”. He’d managed to blag special passes for us and the wives through  one of  Mr Plant’s very generous bandmates  . I hadn’t  seen Robert Plant since he played the Ulster Hall in 1971 when they first played “Stairway to Heaven”  at the height of the Troubles. That period in Northern Ireland was to prove the most volatile , with more killings and bombings than at any other time.Something like three people were being killed daily during that period and i was living and working in the middle of it. Any major band that made the effort to play Belfast was much appreciated.  Mr Plant  was then  fronting this huge band called Led Zeppelin that time around but has since chased his own muse through a succession of new  musical worlds. My daughter saw him in Cork a few years ago  and was still mightily impressed.

This could all prove to be a tale for another time, though. When reality and fantasy combine once again …Maybe I’ll get a photo or some memento  to leave for my own daughters  too….PK managed to get a closeup with the beautiful  Emmylou Harris last year, so anything’s possible, eh?

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