David Bruce: 250 Music Anecdotes — Alcohol


• Sam Andrew played guitar in the bands Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Kozmic Blues, both of which backed up vocalist Janis Joplin. He remembers that a critic once wrote, “Janis Joplin has true melisma in her singing.” She looked up the word “melisma” and discovered that it was a technique used in much Gospel and choir music. According to the online Free Dictionary, melisma is “A passage of several notes sung to one syllable of text, as in Gregorian chant.” Mr. Andrew remembers, “After she had learned what it meant, Janis didn’t stop saying the word ‘melisma’ for a week. That’s the way she was about praise. She couldn’t get enough of it.” Not everyone enjoyed her singing. Early in her career, the police showed up as she was rehearsing with Big Brother because they had received a report about a screaming woman. Of course, some of Janis’ life was wild and crazy; after all, she died of an accidental heroin overdose and alcohol. She was often photographed with a bottle of Southern Comfort in her hand, and she frequently mentioned the brand in interviews. She told the New York Times Magazine, “I had the chick in my manager’s office photostat every god*amn clipping that ever had me mentioning Southern Comfort, and I sent them to the company, and they sent me a whole lotta money. How could anybody in their right mind want me for their image? Oh, man, that was the best hustle I ever pulled — can you imagine getting paid for passing out for two years?” In addition to giving Janis money, the company gave her a lynx coat. Janis also told the New York Times Magazine, “Man, I’d rather have ten years of superhypermost than live to be seventy sitting in some godd*mn chair watching TV.”

• One winter while Walter Damrosch was conducting at the Metropolitan Opera, he and his family stayed at the Cambridge Hotel on Fifth Avenue, where their waiter, Roberto, taught them about hospitality and wine. For example, he criticized a host who had ordered only one bottle of wine. Roberto said, “There are five of them, and he orders the dinner. Then I show him the wine card. He orders onebottle — one bottle for five! I fool him. I open another bottle. I shame him into behaving like a gentleman!” Later, after a performance in which Lillian Nordica had sung a fine performance of Elsa in Wagner’s Lohengrin, Mr. Damrosch gave a late supper party. His daughter Gretchen was supposed to be asleep in bed, but she stayed awake and counted the popping of corks. She remembered, “There were eight people, and so far only one cork had popped. Bing, a second one. Good. Was two for eight better than one for five? Bang, and a third bottle was opened. I lay back greatly relieved, and relaxed. I must tell Roberto at breakfast. Nothing wrong with my father!”

• Glen Campbell has many souvenirs from his long career in show business, including many photographs of himself with many notabilities. He also has a souvenir from his drinking days. He had given up drinking, but during a relapse he was stopped for driving drunk — and for a hit-and-run accident. He then proceeded to knee a police officer in the thigh. As a result, he spent 10 days in jail while wearing pink underwear. Glen’s wife, Kim, says, “Sheriff Joe Arpaeo from Phoenix, Arizona, is famous for making all the inmates wear pink underwear, and I have a pair signed by the sheriff. Glen straightened up after that.” Glen agrees: “Yep. I finally got broke from sucking eggs, as they say.”

• As a young woman, Courtney Love, who was later the lead singer of Hole, wanted to marry fellow musician Rozz Rezabek, and she occasionally proposed to him. One night, they were sitting in a train boxcar and drinking champagne, and again she proposed to him. The two, however, found out that they were not alone. They had woken up a wino who grumbled, “Oh, go ahead. Marry her.”

• Composer Arthur Sullivan enjoyed drinking. In fact, one day he was so inebriated that he found it difficult to tell his house from the other houses on his street. Therefore, he kicked the metal shoe scraper on each top step he came to. Eventually, he murmured, “E flat,” then went to his door and let himself in.

• CBGB’s is well known as a venue for early performances by such bands as the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Blondie. People under age 18 could get in to hear the bands, but their hands were stamped “Nobooze foyouz.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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