The Explanation
(for those who require one)

And, of course, that is what all of this is -- all of this: the one song, ever changing, ever reincarnated, that speaks somehow from and to and for that which is ineffable within us and without us, that is both prayer and deliverance, folly and wisdom, that inspires us to dance or smile or simply to go on, senselessly, incomprehensibly, beatifically, in the face of mortality and the truth that our lives are more ill-writ, ill-rhymed and fleeting than any song, except perhaps those songs -- that song, endlesly reincarnated -- born of that truth, be it the moon and June of that truth, or the wordless blue moan, or the rotgut or the elegant poetry of it. That nameless black-hulled ship of Ulysses, that long black train, that Terraplane, that mystery train, that Rocket '88', that Buick 6 -- same journey, same miracle, same end and endlessness."
-- Nick Tosches, Where Dead Voices Gather

Annals of Public Performance #20

Photobucket
Jerry Lewis blows his own horn during a performance at the Olympia in Paris
on April 16, 1971

11 comments :

MichaelRyerson said...

I guess I'll never understand the French.

justjack said...

Just a little over a decade after Miles and Trane stood on the same stage. And people say that we haven't progressed!

Max Allan Collins said...

And I'll never understand Americans who don't get Jerry Lewis.

Tom Sutpen said...

I'm with Signor Collins on this one.

At one time Americans were culturally brainwashed to dismiss Jerry Lewis, despite all that he had accomplished as a comedian and a filmmaker. I guess part of it was the apparent dichotomy between the zeal he inspired among certain French intellectuals in the 1960s . . . they embraced him as they had embraced no outsider since Josephine Baker (or Adolf Hitler) . . . and the allegedly "lowbrow" nature of his art (a dichotomy only apparent to recidivist American middlebrows). But that doesn't truly explain it.

I can't fathom why it still obtains over here and why a relative few almost resist seeing Lewis for the genius that he is.

I hope, once he passes, this will change . . . but I won't hold my breath waiting for it.

Max Allan Collins said...

One more time....

Martin and Lewis were the comedy Beatles. They introduced anarchy into the most stuffy of decades. They were loved. Beloved. Their live comedy on the Colgate Show rivals anything Sid Caesar or SNL in its heyday accomplished. Their nightclub performances are legend.

Several of the Martin & Lewis movies are near comedy classics -- ARTISTS AND MODELS and HOLLYWOOD OR BUST coming to mind (Frank Tashlin).

Lewis starred, directed and co-wrote some of the best comedy features of the late '50s and early '60s, in particular THE BELL BOY, THE LADIES' MAN and THE NUTTY PROFESSOR.

He invented video assist, a tool second only to cameras and microphones in making film since, well, since he invented it.

He is an egocentric who is very likely a manic depressive. If we are to hold that against artists, I would have few CDs or DVDs in my house and most museums would have empty walls.

Tom's discussion of middlebrow dismissal of Lewis because of anti-France feelings says it all, so I won't add to it.

Trader said...

I would go along with MichaelRyerson: I don't get the fascination of the French people for some American actors/performers.

Not that I don't like Lewis but...

Fred said...

Lewis once said it takes a real genius to be able to act like a complete fool. Count me as a fan and admirer.

MichaelRyerson said...

Gee, I don't feel brainwashed. I also don't feel compelled to get into a pissing contest about Lewis specifically nor genius generally, nor about my taste or my ability to appreciate a given artist. I've enjoyed Lewis (and Martin&Lewis) most of my life and I even appreciated his flashes of genius when they've been on display (sorry but the bulk of his work falls somewhat short of genius) but the French take it to an entirely different level. Yes, I think Lewis is a gifted entertainer, frequently approaches the sublime, is clearly egocentric (not too unusual among powerful and influential celebrities) and probably not an easy person to be around. But I spent my formative years in and around show business and have known many such personalities. Lewis' idiosyncrasies have never had much of an influence on my enjoyement of his art. I think Picasso was a prick and Rembrant was a shitty moneymanager. Gosh, I hope the poor, besotted middle class can catch up with us. The list goes on.

Vanwall said...

Actually, he was a rather quiet fella when I met him over our will-call counter some years ago. He was there for some bits for his boat, he was the kind of guy who would do his own chores, I guess. I did have the pleasure of paging "Rubert Pupkin to will-call!" when I saw him on his way in - the counter guys said he smiled a little.

Max Allan Collins said...

No intent to bully anyone into liking Lewis, as if that could be done. Just to understand his contribution and pay him respect, rather than shake your head and say, "Those crazee Frenchies!" There are plenty of artists deemed great that leave me cold, but I usually get why they have their reputations.

Lewis, I think, is possibly the last of the great 20th century film comics (a case can be made for Woody Allen). He belongs in a small elite group that includes Buster Keaton, Chaplin, W.C. Fields, and the Marx Brothers. Probably Bob Hope, too, though that requires forgiving him for a lot in the late '50s and beyond. Most members of this hall of fame have a limited number of masterworks -- the Marx Brothers trail off after (maybe during) DAY AT THE RACES. Fields has maybe half a dozen. Keaton and Chaplin's post-silents period is disaster for the former and a less-than-prolific output for the latter, lapsing into near silence. Lewis with his "kid" persona is a case in point -- he outgrew it and ran smack into the later '60s, an era that was unfriendly to him in every imaginable way. Hope became an embarrassment when his smart-alec would-be romeo became an aging establishment figure. But everybody on that list has half a dozen or so works that will last, and make people laugh when all of us are long gone. Ironically, Hope probably has the longest list of truly funny pictures, including most of the ROAD pictures.

Finally, the French recognition of Lewis is wildly overstated. A cliche in itself. They merely understood that he belonged in the pantheon I listed above.

Peter Yezukevich said...

Jerry Langford rules.