I think, because I sometimes write about Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead and Codfish On Top, people assume I’m an old rocker. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s over for me. I just don’t get excited by that backbeat anymore. Sometimes I still put on my all-time favorite rock album – Quadrophenia – but I never get through more than a couple of cuts.
I just don’t feel the rage. It’s not that I don’t still relate to Jimmy, the protagonist of The Who’s great rock opera. That double LP and that movie just nailed the essential emotion of my early life – a buried, raging, primal scream spread over layers of confusion, and fried eggs that made me sick in the morning. I will always be grateful to Roger Daltrey for Love, Reign O’er Me and actually recording, for the first time, what that primal scream sounded like. I remember all too vividly how it felt to be young – but now, I tend to prefer a little joy in my life. Like Anita O’Day!
Everyone who knows about Anita please raise their hands. After all, it’s not like she’s not one of the immortals. She’s often notched just below Ella Fitzgerald on the jazz singer hit parade because of her amazing technical mastery of scat singing, but she wasn’t so chummy with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. And someone once described her as having “a raspy little voice.” Ella got more respect. Anita herself said her big early influence was the Forties comedienne Martha Raye. How can you say things like and expect to displace Ella as Frank Sinatra’s consort on the pop singer’s Olympus? But, you know, I don’t usually sit by my speakers worrying about someone’s vocal quality or pointing out the cool way they hit that trill just before A flat. (I can just hear my Patrushka saying, ‘You do too!’)
Anita for me is one of the great purveyors of musical joy and delight. She the man, so to speak. When I’m feelin a little low, I can depend on the Forties Anita to get me smiling again.
Here she is in 1941 with Gene Krupa’s band singing a bit of her first big hit, Let Me Off Uptown.
You can get it at Itunes for 99 cents.
And here she is twenty years later at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. The Fifties Anita. Wow! And that hat!
Anita O’Day – Tea for Two
If you want to see her today, don’t look in the graveyard, because she’s in the studio working. In fact she put out a CD last year to celebrate her 86th birthday. (It’s not very good, really – but amazing she had the chutzpah.)
Anita’s been creeping up on me for the last week or so. I keep going back to her music for infusions of joy and high spirits and delight. I think I’m going to add her to my personal pantheon of great chick singers: Janis Joplin, Maxine Sullivan, Billie Holiday, Lesley Gore (just kidding – but the kid had her moments). Each one had a completely unique and divinely inspired spirit.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just remembered I still like The Beatles. Oh, and The Cure. And Brian Wilson. And Dusty Springfield (how could I have forgotten Dusty – she belongs in that pantheon too). And Neil Young. And The Kinks. And The Pretenders. And Lesley Gore. Even Codfish On Top. Hey – I’ve got to go rock out.