Martynized In Gotham; Unexpurgated Ramblings..
Martynized In Gotham; Unexpurgated Ramblings on John Martyn
As the sky turns from black to morphine blue and the homeless shiver in their double-box suites for two, I peer through my livingroom windows hanging high in the sky above the Hudson River where I can see from Harlem to the tip of Manhattan. And right there, between the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the King Kong building, down in old Greenwich Village, is where I first saw the Great One three decades ago, and where I last saw him in June of ‘98.
As the lights start a-poppin’ on in Gotham, and with John pumping his sweet, sweet madness in my headphoned ears, a profound sense of sadness invades and saturates my world, ushering me to the brink of Existential Depression, as my thoughts turn to JM who is easily, hands down, no contest, the most underrated, and who I now feel is also the most Taken-For-Granted musician here on this “The Third Mudball from the Sun.”
The other night, after the week’s edition of the paper was closed and on it’s way to print, a few of my friends from the paper and I went early morning carousing and ended up in a jazz joint where we talked about, what else, music. Our Managing Editor was asking everyone: “If you were going to the moon tomorrow and could only take 20 cd’s with you, which 20 would you take? I was at the end of the circle and had time to think about this most serious question. The answers covered the full expanse of musical artistry, from classical to rock, folk, and jazz. When he asked me I know he wasn’t ready for the rant that followed and that brings me to writing this.
For the sake of brevity I will summarize: “It would be tempting, seeing how I’d be on the moon, to do as my fellow drunks at this table and take 20 different artists, but I would stick with the Great Ones.”
“And,” said Mr. Managing Editor.
“Yes, I’d definitely take And.”
“Glenn, what are you talking about?”
“The Great Ones. First, for Sunday mornings I’d take Beethoven’s 5th and 9th–on one cd, Coltrane, of course, probably A Love Supreme, or Giant Steps or Ole’ Coltrane along with a compilation of tough & tender ballads by big Ben (Webster) for Sunday afternoons, and then some live Jimi for the evening. That would take care of Sunday.“
What about the rest of the week?
“To fill the craters Monday through Saturday I’d take my favorite 16 John Martyn cd’s.”
The entire group gave me a collective “Who?”
“A God,” I said, “a God, who like Athena must have burst from the head of Zeus, fully grown and ready to ramble, talking in echo-plex tongues,” and I got louder, “I’m talking the Great Scot of rock’n’roll,” I stood up like a fool and raised my glass, “John Martyn is an emotional nuclear explosion, when he unzips and explodes the windows of my mind blow out, my tiny earthbound soul catches fire and burns like the forests of Southern California fanned by the 70 mph Santa Ana winds–whooosh–my past, present and future bubbles up, blisters, and melts, and make no mistake, John Martyn is at the center of the musical universe, he’s a Great One, a fuckin’ God,” and I finished with a toast, “to John Martyn, a singer, songwriter, guitar player extraordinaire, who has done his own thing and who has blown the roof off, peeled the paint off the walls for thirty years in relative anonymity (here in the usa) and who has lasted while you’d need an army of centerpeed toes to count the shooting stars, Grammy winners, and banal musicians who were caught in the light and had no more to offer–gone, forgotten, dried up.”
As we clinked glass our Managing Editor said,
“Glenn, you do have health insurance?”
To end the night, or bring on the morning, we retired to my apartment where we had a “John Fest.” The highlight was watching the “In Visions” video the BBC did many years ago (which–much to my delight–a friend sent me last year) in which John, alone on stage, does his wha-wha, echoplex, fuck me thing. Needless to say, there are six more new JM fans today. But I ramble and weave and must get back in line.
It’s not the underrated dilemma that causes me pain these days, I mean look, John has been blessed to be able to do the thing he does, rambling around the globe for the past thirty years singing and playing his ass off. What more can a person ask from life? It’s the Taken-For-Granted thing that has me spinning in free-fall as I listen to John (on Live at Bristol) whip up the mojo and reinvent “Couldn’t Love You More.” I say this because of late, as I talk with and email the faithful, visit the various JM web-sites, message boards and such, I pick up more and more of this, “Well, what has he done differently of late,” “What,” they whine, they pule, “what, more live takes of Never Let Me Go, John Wayne, Couldn’t Love You More, Big Muff,” and I love hearing different versions of his songs, to me they never sound the same, how could they, when does John ever do the same song twice exactly the same–we’re not talking Milli Vanilli here–and while this is going on John’s music is really starting to sell, at least here in NYC, and I’m confused, (and so are the people at Tower Records where John’s music can be found, simultaneously, in the rock, jazz and folk sections of their stores) I’m not sure if maybe I’m not a little over the edge where John is concerned, but this is where I’m at, where I come from, and I hope I don’t offend any of your .com visitors, but let me ask one question: “What have any of these dissatisfied .com’ers (and there are only a few) ever done artistically that could be considered even in the same universe as JM…..nothing, zero, zilch, nada. For me, saying that Live at Bristol is just more of the same (as one JM web-site noted) would be like Billy Graham or the Pope saying, ‘You know, I’m getting tired of Genesis, same old shit!!!’ or listening to Trane doing his splendiferous soprano thing on a live cut of Spiritual and saying, ahhh, boring, or how about Leonard Bernstein complaining, “What, Beethoven again,” and please believe me, I don’t exempt myself from this blasphemous bullshit, either. I’ve had my spells, so this isn’t a put down as much as it is a wake up call: love it while you got it. You know, if I could burn as brightly–for just a short time–as John has all these years, I’d dig my own ditch and jump in.
The Early Show
So much of this is rapped up in the last time I saw John, caught the early and late shows here in NYC, that I think I should explain. You and many .com’ers saw John in 1998 and know he looked terrible. Not just huge. The brother was bloated, I mean he was fuckin’ pickled (and I, too, have a swelled and scarred facsimile of a liver that belches and floats in my bod from years of abuse so on a soap-box I do not stand).
Well John came out on stage and after I took in the sight and said to myself, Shit, shook my head and mumbled, ummm, ummm, ummm, and I couldn’t help thinking it may be the last time I see the Great One. Tears sprang from my eyes, rolled down my shirt. Then, as quickly as I cried, John broke into God’s Song and immediately I was gone, riding the Martyn Express. (Randy Newman must get sick, throw up when he hears how the song could and should be sung). I’ve heard from several people in Europe who say John’s looking better in this new millennium. Can I get an Amen!!!
At the end of the first show the crowd went unbots (ohn’bots), crazoul, absolutely out of their minds wild. For an encore he did Strange Fruit. By the time he finished “Strange Fruit” there wasn’t (as they say) “a dry eye in the house,” and if there was I would’ve shot the unfortunate social maladroit, zombified void of a droid and put it out of its misery.
Intermission Between Shows or A Dear John Letter
John, JM, my Man, we gotta talk. Dig this shit. Last year, a friend of mine in Surrey sent me t-shirt from the Glasgow Walker Tour. Very nice shirt. I wear it proudly. People often ask “who is John Martyn.” I tell them to “fuck off.” Anyway, on the back are listed all the tour stops and dates. Then again, last year, I saw your tour stops on this web-site. And now I see more tour dates and stops. You know where I’m going here, right? No stop in the usa. Look, I understand, the usa can be a drag, but man, give us a break, cut us some slack, our collective tongues are hanging out for a live show—Man, we’re strung out, hooked, kicking, got the shakes, we’re dying out here. John, at least play New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. I know, the middle of this country is really weird. I never go there if I can help it. Hey, can we make a deal. If nothing else, and I know this is selfish, but play L.A.—cause, I’ll be living in Southern California soon. No really, John, you got sooooooooo many fans here in the states. Come on, I have to beg don’t I, come on over, fuckin’ please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Late Show
Like cigarettes to a chain smoker, cheeseburgers and fries to Sister Chubby, Las Vegas to the habitual gambler, grapes to the wino, words to the writer, heroin to a junkie; John Martyn was all that and more to the faithful who came out for the second show.
While a summer rain drenched tourists and the uninformed passer’s by, inside the cozy, sedated, inebriated club on 4th and Mercer, JM howled, and stormed, he sent a typhoon through the joint and poured his gut wrenching, well worn, been around the block a few hundred times, soulified Scottish blues up and down the aisles, up and down the tingly spines of the soaking wet loyal patrons in attendance. The second show, for whatever reason, was filled with lots of guitar, John, all night long, laying heavily into the echo, wha-wha, sustained feedback held somewhere between his left hand and Jupiter, Jimi style, filling The Bottom Line with wave after wave of pure Martynized energy.
The 90 minute set went by in a flash, an acid trip, a heart beat, a good piece of ass. John and the boys whipped through much of the Church album, threw in a few oldies, and did a rendition of Rock, Salt and Nails that damn near knocked me off my chair. Even the Gen-X “nothing impresses me” dolled up chick sitting to my left, who didn’t tap a toe, swivel a hip or give up one hoot or howl stood up and at glass breaking decibels screamed, “MORE, MORE, MOOOORRRRRREEEE,” when the Musical Highlander, after brandishing his six-string sword for 90 minutes, left the stage—and left little Ms. Gen-X in Love.
Then to wrap things up, or, as it turned out, to mop things up, John ended with a slow, rather moist, sticky, humid, hot & steamy, torture rack, lock the windows bar the doors turn on the gas, killer version of Glory Box. You know, you’ve all seen it (except those of you in the usa), John’s body was there in front of us, his mouth and lips hugging the mike while his spirit left the stage to touch one and all and the first time he sang, “Give me a reason to love you,” little Ms. Gen-X began wiggling, chirping, screeching, ohhhhing and ahhhhhing, the thunder, the lust and lasciviousness of Martyn finally washing up on her primeval shore, her Victoria’s Secret panties sufficiently moist, and then again, “Give me a reason to want to wanna be your man,” and those panties were now soaked through and through, her thighs a-washed in honey crystal madness, and Lord, after seeing a puddle on the floor I will forever more think of her as little Ms. Gen-XXX.
After the two shows, I stood outside the Bottom Line with a couple of friends trying to cool off, come down. We were rapping about the shows, smoking, goofing when I turned around to go back inside the Bottom Line to use the head and bumped into John. Both of us were on the other side of slightly drunk and I just said, “Hey, John,” he looked up, smiled, I extended my hand and as we shook paws I finished my well crafted, gracious thought that definitely points to where my gene pool sits on the social ladder, “You’re the fuckin’ greatest, Johnny, the mother-fuckin’ greatest,” and as he kept that little boy smile on his face, he cocked his head to the side like the RCA dog, looked at me a second time and simply said, “Thank you, Lad, thank you much.”
About Glenn Frantz
Glenn was born in Brooklyn, New York USA on April 2, 1949. His mother died when he was 13 years old and his teen years were in the ’60’s when he got into drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll, and also some college! Glenn had some dark times but beat the drugs and joined Synanon, a therupeutic community, in 1977, out in California.
He was a Mets fan, loved hockey, loved music and loved John Martyn ‘s music since becoming a fan in 1970. He also loved reading and writing, all kinds of art and Rumi poems. Many of Glenn’s short stories and poems have been published and he had recently written a book. Glenn had Christmas lights up in his apartment all year long….one of life’s great characters and a truly compassionate man.
Glenn died in Encinitas, California on July 1, 2003 aged 54 years. A great loss to his friends and family and the world at large.