My Pop Life #169 : The Magic Hand – Stephen J. Kalinich

The Magic Hand   –   Stephen J. Kalinich

I met Stevie in the summer of 2006 in Brighton.  The band were rehearsing in Scream, just off the Lewes Road for a series of summer gigs we were booked for, including headlining Herne Bay in Kent at their summer festival.  Paul Adsett, a local Beach Boys aficionado, promoter and regular at our gigs around town, suddenly turned up with a gentle affirmative presence whom he introduced as Stevie, a performance poet and lyricist who had written lyrics for two Dennis Wilson songs in 1968, Little Bird and Be Still, both of which turned up on the Friends LP.  We were blessed with his presence and he was, of course treated like royalty, (at least in our poor imaginations!) but all he wanted to do was sit and listen to a few numbers.  We played Friends (My Pop Life #5) and Heroes & Villains (My Pop Life #111) and Little Bird, which we’d just learned.  No pressure !

Little Bird is a really interesting song.  Stevie and Dennis Wilson were siting around in the sunshine when the song appeared as a meditation on the simple wisdom of nature and eternity (how it began…), and the bliss of a sunny California afternoon.  The arrangement, by Brian Wilson, is one of the Beach Boys’ finest moments in my view.   Trumpets, cello and the always-interesting backing vocals make the song a jewel and a favourite of fans.  We didn’t do it full justice but it didn’t matter.  Stevie was thrilled to hear it.   A few days later a small cavalcade of vehicles left Brighton to drive to Herne Bay, and Stevie travelled with me in the Jeep, up the M23, right onto the M25 and along the M20 to the North Kent coast.  He told me of his early life in Binghampton, upstate New York before he’d moved to California in the mid-sixties and fallen in with the hippy crowd in Los Angeles, and particularly The Beach Boys circle.  He spoke with love of Dennis and Brian, well, all of them to be honest, (and he still does) and of his other friends Alan Boyd, Tracy Landecker, Carol, actors Stacy Keach and Rod Steiger, who’d died in 2002.  Stevie was honest, gracious, funny and warm, and I responded with a few racy anecdotes of my own.  You know, the one about Sigourney Weaver, that kind of stuff.

Charlotte, Adrian, Stephen Wrigley, Stevie, me, Rory, Dom, Glen, Theseus

In Herne Bay we set up and sound-checked and awaited our gig time.  A picture records the moment just before Stevie passed me his mobile saying “Ralph – a call for you“.  I took the phone and said hello.  “This is Brian Wilson” said an unmistakable voice “How are you?”  Stunned, I looked at Stevie who was smiling at me.  “I’m great Brian” I said, “I’m just about to go onstage and sing loads of your songs!”   I couldn’t believe it.  “Well don’t forget to play California Girls !” he said, “that’s the best one!“.  “We’re playing it first “I replied before saying goodbye and handing the phone back to Stevie.  This moment has naturally gone down in my personal history as A MOMENT.  It was magic, simple, loving.

The gig was fine, and Stevie joined us onstage to sing Little Bird.  Did he do a poem as well?  I cannot recall.  He will remember.  His memory is excellent.  I have to write things down otherwise they’re gone.  Marijuana apparently.  Anyway, I still have the setlist.  We didn’t open with Cali Girls…

Aug 26th Herne Bay

1st half

You’re Welcome                                                        Db

Heroes and Villains                                              Db

I Can Hear Music                                                   D

Catch A Wave                                                                     Eb

Surfer Girl                                                                           D

All Summer Long                                                  B

You Still Believe In Me                             B

Waiting For The Day                     E

Here Today                                         A

God Only Knows                                                    A

Pet Sounds                                                                           Bb

Caroline, No                                                                                    G

Friends                                                                                             D

And Your Dream Comes True                                          C

Then I Kissed Her                                                  C

Little Bird                                                Gm/F

In My Room                                                                                    B

Don’t Worry Baby                                                                                E

Long Promised Road                                                                C

Surf’s Up                                                                              

**interval**

Stevie at Carol’s place in Malibu, 2011

Aug 26th Herne Bay   2nd half

Sloop John B                                                              Ab

Sail On Sailor                                                                      G

Our Sweet Love                                                                          G/E

The Little Girl I Once Knew                                                           B/F#

Break Away                                                                         C

You’re So Good To Me                                          F

Shut Down                                                    C

Little Deuce Coupe                                                     G

Little Honda                                                                                 C

Surfin’ Safari                                                                                             A

I Get Around                                                                                       G

Dance Dance Dance                                                            A

Surfin USA                                                                D

California Girls                                                                  B

Wouldn’t It Be Nice                                                                      E

Do It Again                                                                                                D

Darlin’                                                                                              A

Help Me Rhonda                                                            C

Good Vibrations                                                  

*

Fun Fun Fun                                                                        D

Barbara Ann           ?                                                          ?                     

Love and Mercy                                                    

I cannot believe we actually played that many songs.  We didn’t do Barbara Ann I don’t think because we all dislike it quite a lot, which is unfair, but there you are.   But vocally we were on point I seem to remember 😉 and the audience were enthusiastic, sang along and danced.   The next day we’d made the front page of the Herne Bay Observer.

The following day Stevie came round to our house to meet Jenny.  As Jenny came down the staircase to say hi, I may have said something foolish like : “This is Stevie, he’s a poet.”  This was the open sesame to the world of Stevie.  My friend Eamonn has seen him in action, and so have I, and he is a force of nature when he performs one of his poems.  Stevie opened his arms and there and then began The Magic Hand :

Poems can never make adequate explanations

For man and his many hesitations, and his constant deviation from what is real…

They love me through wooden eyes, the tree of love in one heart lies,

The bough brushes gently along the ground, for waiting souls long to touch it

We sat on the stairs and watched and listened.  I guess The Magic Hand is god, or love.   The poems moves through death, growth, evolution, love.  When Stevie finished Jenny had tears in her eyes.  It was outstanding.  We all had a cup of tea and everything was all right.

We have The Hand of Fatima in our kitchen for protection, an old mid-eastern tradition.   Later Stevie and I watched my film New Year’s Day and he cried sitting on my sofa.  Bonded in saltwater, we have been firm friends ever since.  I guess we just passed our tenth anniversary.  I have seen Stevie many times since that  August, he came back to Brighton the following year and performed in Brighton Festival with ace guitarist Richard Durrant with The Galactic Symphonies before touring the UK, a spoken-word installation with film, slides, music and poetry.  Whenever I’m in California I look him up and we take tea.

We go straight to the point whenever we see each other.  No small talk.  It’s like an affliction, a lack of social nicety that we both suffer from (such that when people have forgotten my name, their first guess is usually Frank !) but which works when we are together.  We solve the problems of the universe.  Stevie is the best company in the world.

He talks of Dennis, who died in 1983,  often and with great feeling.  When Dennis’ fantastic solo LP Pacific Ocean Blue (1977) was finally released on CD in 2008 it contained – along with Stevie’s song Rainbows – the unreleased and oft-bootlegged LP Bambu as an extra which has another Kalinich/Wilson collaboration on it :  Love Remember Me.   Dennis voice is full of soul on these records.  What a talent.  In 2008 The Galactic Symphonies was also released containing The Magic Hand (with music by Durrant), and other works such as Bring In All The Poets and The Tale Of Man.

2011 came with another new album for Stevie called California Feeling and many of the Brighton Beach Boys played and collaborated on this record – Glen Richardson, Charlotte Glasson and Stephen Wrigley are all present, along with other dear members of the Beach Boys extended family such as Carnie and Wendy Wilson (from Wilson Phillips) singing Little Bird and The Honeys singing the title track.  By now Stevie had signed a new deal with archival boutique record label Light In The Attic who re-released the legendary album which Stevie made in 1968 with Brian Wilson, a spoken word with accompaniment dreamscape called A World Of Peace Must Come.   The first manifestation of The Magic Hand comes from this beautiful record a real slice of late 1960s spiritual hope.

So yes, Stevie is the original beat poet.  Consistent, spiritual, artistic and clear, with a vision which has remained at the forefront of his negotiations with the world, a sensitive puzzled curiosity which sees through the bullshit and the commerce and what is cool and goes always to the heart of the matter.  It draws people in wherever he goes, and I feel constantly proud to know him.  He affects people.  He can be naive and annoying sure, but so can I.  So can you.   So many stories.  He knows everyone in Los Angeles.  Not all for this post.  This is like an introduction.  For example,  Stevie is now a part of the Brighton music scene, having written and recorded songs with both Paul Steel (My Pop Life #1) and Cold Crow’s Dead.   But meanwhile he is still friends with Brian Wilson, they meet and walk on the beach occasionally.  Stevie has repeated the phone trick to me on various occasions when we’re together.  The conversation is always pleasingly random and surreal.

Stevie wrote a song with Brian called A Friend Like You which is on 2004 LP Gettin’ In Over My Head, and features Paul McCartney  After The Beach Boys Stevie was a writer with Jobete Music during the 80s, working with Randy Crawford, Odyssey and Mary Wilson, and his most recent collaborations have been with Nashville producer and player Jon Tiven. Recently he’s taken up painting and one of his works will grace the cover of the new album.

I think the person I am most pleased to have met via Stevie is his friend Alan Boyd.  My friend Alan Boyd I should say.  Mentioned at small length in My Pop Life #111.   Producer of California Feeling, Beach Boys & Brother Records archivist, film-maker, engineer, singer and compiler of many recent out-take LPs such as Hawthorne, CA and famously, finally after a wait of some 35 years, SMILE for which he and engineer Mark Linett won well-deserved Grammies in 2011.  I think Alan and I are quite similar – we like cats, Stevie, Harry Nilsson, Laurel & Hardy and 1920s pop music.  The steps used in the 1928 short The Music Box are just around the corner from Alan’s place in Silverlake.

‘The Music Box’ Laurel & Hardy  1932   Silverlake, Los Angeles

And Alan is a great musician in his own right, having released a harmonic pop album called Channel Surfing in 2004.  Most of my Los Angeles memories of the last ten years involve Eamonn Walker of course (see My Pop Life #104 ) and time spent hanging out with Stevie, Alan and Tracy, who is a writer, singer in the band Walker Brigade and authority on the legendary 60s girl group The Shangri Las.  Good people.  No, Suzy and Tony and Gwen, I’m not forgetting you !!

Most recently Alan wrote to me to ask if I wanted to contribute a track to the newest Kalinich album “Be Still : The Works Of Stephen J. Kalinich” with the corollary that it had to be delivered within seven days because the producer Al Gomes wanted to enter the resulting LP into the spoken word category of The Grammys this year.   Of course I said yes, and so did Jenny.  A few days later we were in my buddy Tony Gerber‘s office in Gowanus, a heavy curtain draped across the room to dampen the sound, speaking our chosen poems into a high-def microphone.  I did two takes of Bring In All The Poets and ran to the dentists and Jenny did The Tale Of Man three times.     The sound files were delivered, polished and produced and a CD was delivered to me here in Brooklyn this week – what a thrill. Stacy Keach has three pieces, Rose Weaver has two and Alan Boyd with Tracy Landecker, Lisa Haley, James Michael Tyler (another friend), Samaire Armstong and Al Gomes with Connie Watrous all have one each.  As do I and Jenny.  And Stevie contributes his signature piece The Magic Hand (not the version below) and an unheard out-take from A World Of Peace Must Come with Brian Wilson of ‘Be Still‘ itself.  What a thrill.  I listened to it.  Each song, each poem, is a work of art in its own right, except that mine, well.  I immediately wished I’d had the chance to do another take.  Always.  This is the artist’s way.  No, it’s all true.  As Leonardo Da Vinci once said – a work of art is never finished, merely abandoned.  It sounds abandoned to me, but who am I to judge?  What do I know?  Less and less and less I’m sure.  My brain is shrinking.  Dwindling.  This is a good thing.  It was way too big.  Big brains don’t make happiness or peace, quite the opposite. Our big brains are stopping us from empathising with each other, with animals, with ourselves.   So what do I know?  Right now, from my friend Stevie, and from my wife Jenny, I know that all that matters is kindness.  I want it to be how I live from this point onward.  The rest is sound and fury, money and doubt, self-esteem and anxiety.  Kindness.  Love.  Kindness.

Be still and know you are.

from A World Of Peace Must Come :  The Magic Hand

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My Pop Life #112 : The Night – Franki Valli & The Four Seasons

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The Night   –   Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

…you know you’re gonna lose more than you found…

Mid-May 1975, the green fields of East Sussex.   I am three weeks away from my A-level exams at Lewes Priory School, some 25 miles away, which I have spent two years studying for.   My choices are English Literature, Geography and Economics.   Geography is my favourite subject, so much so that I have taken an extra O-Level in the Lower Sixth in Geology and passed with grade 1.

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geological cross-section of Lyme Regis bay

There is a possibility of taking a Geography Degree somewhere or other – or even a Geology Degree.  But the prospect, once I’d had a little think about prospects, of a lifetime working for the oil and gas industry did sway me away from that wonderful subject.  I love maps very much, especially the ones that go underground and show the rock layers.  Fascinating.  But that would be where it stopped.

Featured imageEnglish Literature was an easy choice and kind of non-negotiable – I’d enjoyed books since I could read and devoured them voraciously.  At this point I was well past A Clockwork Orange, 1984 and Brave New World and onto reading Dostoyevsky and Mervyn Peake.  The set texts were, if I can remember them : Anthony & Cleopatra (“Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch of the ranged empire fall…“), Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale which is brilliant, Tess Of The D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (swoon), Dubliners by James Joyce, Saint Joan by Bernard Shaw (?) hmmmm and some poetry.  Yeats?  Eliot ?  Cannae remember captain.  

My third A-Level was Economics.  Weird choice?  I’d been told that if I wanted to study Law at the LSE (and I did) that I would have to take Economics A-Level.   Seemed fair enough.   We had one good teacher on macro Economics called Mr Dennis, which was all about GDP, Interest Rates, unemployment and Monetary Policy, Keynes etc.   And we had one bad teacher whose name strangely escapes me on microeconomics (supply and demand, pricing, business) who ran a VG shop in Chailey and constantly referred to it to illustrate what he was talking about in a particularly tedious way.  He also prefaced most of his sentences with the non-word “Em”.  “Em, just open your books on, em, page 43…”   Andy Holmes and I became needlessly obsessed with this vocal tic and started to log the regularity of its use.  To enumerate its tally.  Em.  We would place a small mark in a rough book with each spasm. one, two three, four, then a line across for five.  Then you could see at a glance how many Ems there had been in a double period Economics lesson.  Sometimes they would come in a flurry and we could scarcely keep up.  It was proper work.  What this meant though, was that we didn’t really hear any of the words in-between each Em and the next.  And fun though it had been, suddenly there we were in May 1975 and a few short weeks away from the examination which would determine whether we would be champs or chumps in life.

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It’s called Revision. It means going over your notes from the previous two years and making sure you remember pertinent details, concepts, definitions.  My notes were a series of totals.  38 Ems.  54 Ems. And yes, 71 Ems.   I badly needed to read an Economics Textbook, so I found one in the Library and started to read – and take notes.   Not so much Revision as simply panic-cramming two years of Em Economics into two months of seriously undiluted brain workout.  No music, no gigs, no getting stoned or drunk.   EXAMS.  Like entering a tunnel where the parallel lines converge to a point on a dark horizon.

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Of course the radio was always on downstairs and always tuned to Radio One.  Tony Blackburn, Paul Burnett, Johnnie Walker.  And creeping up the charts was a strange beguiling song called “The Night” by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons which started with a sinister bassline, is joined by a thin organ & tambourine combo, the drums kick in and a very odd semi-whispered vocal warns

Beware of his promise. Believe what I say…”

at which point the song actually starts with a rush of vocal harmony and tuba/baritone sax…

..Before I go forever..be sure of what you say…

And then we’re off !  What an amazing single this is.   Adopted by the Northern Soul possee for its dancefloor pulse and sensational vocal shapes, it was released on Jobete, the Motown label, for whom it was recorded in 1972, then withdrawn after a handful of promo copies were handed out.  Some of these found their way to England and the underground soul scene.  (For a previous example of the high-tempo rhythm and passionate vocals of Northern Soul see My Pop Life #17.)

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Frankie Valli, Nick Massi, Tommy De Vito, Bob Gaudio

The Four Seasons had been hugely successful since the early 60s, the first white act to sign with the Vee-Jay label with hits like Walk Like A ManRag Doll and Sherry, and the originals of Bye Bye Baby (see My Pop Life #11), and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, covered memorably by the great Andy Williams.   Frankie Valli the Italian boy from the Jersey ‘hood has had an astonishing career lasting over 55 years and counting.  Not to mention his band mate Bob Gaudio who co-wrote this song.   They were the East Coast Beach Boys, best-selling pop vocal harmony sweetness incarnate – brilliantly celebrated and exposed in the hit show Jersey Boys, now a film. That’s all for another post – here it is suffice to say that the Four Seasons’ years at Motown (from 1970-74) were a commercial disaster zone for the band, and this single was only re-released due to pressure from Northern Soul DJs in the 70s, according to legend, or perhaps because they’d had a pop-disco resurgence on Warners with Who Loves You and Oh What A Night, and Franki Valli had scored with My Eyes Adored You, also recorded at Motown.  The Northern Soul DJs certainly adopted the song and played it, helping to lift The Night to number 7 in the charts in May 1975.

It was around this time that my mother started to slide.  Again.  She had been unstable since the first breakdown in 1964 in Selmeston.  Diagnosed by a variety of doctors and psychiatrists as schizophrenic, manic depressive, suffering a nervous breakdown or affective disorder, and treated either in or out of hospital with every drug ever invented, many of which were tested on patients such as my mum, she had begun to self-diagnose by this point and pick her tablets from the giant selection in the kitchen cupboard with care.  It made her unreasonable, violent, depressed, miserable, lonely, vulnerable and a terrible bully all at once.  We didn’t tiptoe around her either, we took her on and dealt with each day as it came along.   It was a volatile household.   Who’s isn’t ??   It was a challenge that I became increasingly good at handling.  But at some cost, as I would discover much later in life.  During these years – the 1970s – the visits to hospital weren’t so long and devastating, the hospital was called Amberstone which had a slightly more relaxed regime, no ECT for example, and every so often there would be a crisis at home and Mum would be admitted, or admit herself.   We were old enough to hold the fort, or at least I certainly was.  A 17 year old young adult, I would make sure that there was food, that the milkman was paid and we had enough coal to heat the place.  But by 1975 I had a younger sister from Mum’s second marriage to John Daignault, which had since collapsed.   Rebecca was born in April 1973 and was thus just 2 years old when Mum announced one morning while I was revising Economics upstairs in my bedroom (Paul and Andrew were at school) that she was going into hospital.  An ambulance was called.  My brother’s girlfriend Janice came round to take Rebecca.    I packed a small bag for Mum with a nightie, underwear, slippers, tobacco, papers, matches, and some clothes, toothbrush and deodorant.  A small towel.  A flannel.  She didn’t look so good.  I was pretty numb.  Then the doorbell rang and there was the ambulance.  We hugged and she left with her bag.   I went back upstairs and was gripped suddenly by a huge and excruciating pain spasm inside the middle of my body.  I lay down.  It got worse.  Like a vice grip around my core, being held by a giant iron hand that wouldn’t let go.   I had never felt anything like it before,  it was so intense that all I could do was curl up on the bed and moan gently.  The parallel lines heading directly into the dark tunnel.   Listen for the break at 2.35 in The Night for a musical evocation of this moment.  It would not relent and I could not move.  Frozen.  Some four hours later it finally started to abate and I could unwind and stretch gingerly out.  At some point after that Paul and Andrew came home and I told them that Mum had gone to Amberstone for a bit.   We all knew the drill by then.  No tears, no drama.  We just got on with it.  Thank god for Janice !  And thinking about it since, that must have been some kind of cramp that gripped me that afternoon.  An immediate psychic emotional reaction by my muscles.  All I could think about was WHY NOW?  I’ve got exams coming up!!  I can’t afford to fuck them up.  I think I then immediately boxed my heart away and tightened the great padlock over my chest so that I couldn’t feel anything that would undermine or dissolve me and went back to the Economics book.

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mid-seventies Franki Valli 

Two weeks later I started the A-Level exam run.  Six exams in all I seem to recall.  Mum came out of Amberstone after about a month.  Later that summer I found out (in Budapest: see My Pop Life #70) that I’d scored an A in Geography and two Bs in English and Economics.   I had my place at the LSE.

But the night begins to turn your head around…

I wouldn’t begin to unlock the cage and truly unbox my heart for almost another forty years.