Keep It Dark

1. I often like things that conventional wisdom says I should not, especially when it comes to my musical tastes. Case in point: everybody knows that Donald Fagen is the voice of Steely Dan, as all of their best-known and most-popular songs have featured his nasal, sardonic vocal stylings. But . . . back when Steely Dan first got started, they actually had another vocalist, named David Palmer, who took leads on a couple of songs from their 1972 debut album, Can’t Buy A Thrill, including deep cut radio favorite “Dirty Work.” Some people are aware of that fact, but not many. Even more obscurely, though, Steely Dan’s original drummer, a fellow named Jim Hodder, sang lead vocals on one song on Can’t Buy a Thrill called “Midnight Cruiser,” and also took the lead on the Dan’s long lost (or suppressed) debut single, “Dallas.” Few people have ever heard either of these songs . . . but I love them both, dearly. (“Dallas” was actually covered by Poco some years later, but nobody heard that version, either). Jim Hodder was the first of the original members of Steely Dan to get the boot from the band, and was also the first to die: he drowned in his swimming pool in 1990. Here are his two vocal spotlights, just because they deserve to be heard and remembered as important parts of the Steely Dan canon, even if you’re not supposed to think that:

Midnight Cruiser

Dallas

2. I just learned last week that intense singer-guitarist-songwriter Zoogz Rift passed away in March 2011. I guess he was so obscure that he didn’t make the obituary pages of any of the newspapers, magazines or websites that I was actively reading at that point. When I discovered that he’d flown away from this mortal coil, I went online to see what his long-time collaborator Richie Hass (an amazing percussionist) was up to. Last I’d heard, Richie was playing with the amazing Saccharine Trust, one of the few early SST Records bands still functioning deep into the 21st Century. Sadly, I then learned that Richie Hass had died of cancer in 2008, even more obscure (apparently) than Zoogz Rift was, since it took me even longer to learn of his passing. Sigh. Rift and Hass were great players, though, and they created a very impressive body of work together, cut from a Frank Zappa/Captain Beefheart sort of mold, only much more offensive, much of the time. If you haven’t heard Zoogz Rift and Richie Hass (and I’m thinking that includes 99.44% of those of you who are reading this post), here are three of my favorite songs from them, with fair warning given right up front that they contain very strong language and are not recommended for the faint of heart or weak of constitution. The first song is from the album Water (1987), while the other two are from Island of Living Puke (1986). See? I told you so . . .

I’ll Rip Your Brains Out

The Mo-Fo’s Are After Me

Shiver Me Timbers

A Message to Garcia (Up Close and Personal)

Elbert Hubbard’s A Message to Garcia (1901) is an incredibly meaningful document in the lives of generations of United States Naval Academy graduates (like me), as it has long been used as an early and important part of the Plebe Summer training curriculum. It’s fundamental message? When you are a given a job to do, you just go and you get the job done. End of story.

Seems pretty obvious on some plane, but the language of the piece — not to mention the crucible within which most Naval Academy alumni first encountered it — leaves it looming large in our collective subconsciousness. In fact, there are few insults that sting as much as having a fellow member of the august Naval Academy community look you in the eye and say “message to Garcia” when you’re whining about not being able to get something done. It’s a powerful piece that resonates.

A couple of days ago, I was going through the database of rare books and documents contained in the Salisbury House Library, working to pull some records for an Iowa history project we’re working on. There was a long section in the database citing “Hubbard, Elbert” as the author of a variety of periodicals, books, or the initiator of various pieces of correspondence, including a hand-made Christmas Card sent to Carl and Edith Weeks, who built Salisbury House.

It took a few seconds for the proper neurons to close, and for me to realize that this was actually the author of A Message to Garcia. So I scrolled back up into the database, and discovered that we have five rare copies of early versions of this formative masterwork here at Salisbury House, along with scores of other tomes by its author. Hubbard was an accomplished man, until tragically being killed (with his wife) in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. Carl Weeks admired him and his writing, and maintained correspondence with him for some period of time, and after his passing, continued what appeared to be an affectionate relationship with his son, Elbert Hubbard II, who provided Carl with some of his father’s original manuscripts.

Needless to say, it was a real treat for me to be able to grab a key out of my file cabinet, walk up a flight of stairs, and put my hands on some of these rare, early editions of A Message to Garcia, including a reproduction of the original hand-written manuscript provided to Carl Weeks by Elbert II. I reproduce some images below for those who have also been moved by the power of these words over the years. Enjoy!

Front cover of the 1901 edition; Fra Elbertus was a Hubbard pseudonym.

Front-page of the 1901 edition. Hubbard’s Roycrofters printed high-quality, limited edition books with exquisite designs and bindings.

First page of text of the 1901 edition. Much nicer looking than the smudged mimeograph version I first encountered in 1982!

A personalized manuscript portfolio provided to Carl Week by Elbert Hubbard II.

Cover page of the manuscript portfolio.

Certification of authenticity signed by Elbert Hubbard II.

First page of Hubbard’s hand-written manuscript of “A Message to Garcia.”

Last page of Hubbard’s hand-written manuscript.