Monday, January 5, 2009

Charles Mingus - "The Clown" from the Album The Clown

Charles Mingus The Clown Original LP cover
Having recently sailed through that time of the year when the voice of the late great Jean Shepherd is most frequently heard, I thought a post regarding Shepherd's NEXT-most famous contribution to the world outside of late-night radio might be in order.

Those who've only been exposed to Shepherd through the perennial Christmas classic that is A Christmas Story will probably be surprised at the unrelenting darkness of the humor that makes up "The Clown," but Shepherd, going back to his brilliant improvisational radio shows at WOR New York, had always had a large melancholy streak--and sometimes the streak turned blacker.

As early as 1951, before he even got to WOR, Shep had said of the nostalgia he wove in his emerging, nascent radio shows: "Childhood seems good in retrospect because we were not yet aware of the basic truth: that we're all losers, that we're destined to die and death is a defeat."

Shepherd famously thought much of A Christmas Story to be as sappy as those pink bunny ear slippers, and he lost arguments with director Bob Clark over whether he should be allowed to inject darker nuance into the yuletide movie script.

Later, after the unaltered Story started to become the cable-channel perennial, Shepherd was given the creative sayso he'd wanted the first time around, and delivered A Summer Story, which beyond a lifeless peformance from Charles Grodin as the Old Man, was plagued by a bleak storyline, and ironically--or not--had none of the nostalgic magic we tend to associate with Shepherd.

Charles Mingus The Clown Alternate CD coverMingus himself fought depression, and perhaps in that battle thought of the sardonic anecdote that is told about Grimaldi; at any rate, he would revisit the Clown motif with the tune "Don't Be Afraid, the Clown's Afraid Too," from 1971's Let My Children Hear Music.

But back to 1957: Mingus--who had frequently sought to blend spoken word with complex jazz--had developed a loose-knit storyline about a clown who only makes the big time after shooting himself dead in front of an audience. The hipster world of New York night people that Shepherd created in his radio monologues and Mingus' hard bop jazz world had some little intersection: Shepherd wrote a column on jazz for Audio Magazine, and frequently emceed important jazz shows in Gotham during the late '50's.

At some point Shepherd was invited by Mingus into his sessions, and during rehearsals, he honed Mingus' rough idea into the tragicomedy we have here, this waltz-driven monologue, these bleak musings over the bouncy slide trombone, this treatise from two immensely talented yet often unsatisfied men on the seemingly endless appetite for schadenfreude displayed by human beings.

Charles Mingus The Clown - 4 - The Clown.mp3

This file was removed February 20, 2009. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File under: Bigger than Dubuque

1 comment:

Dennis Leroy Kangalee said...

Thanks for this post. Huge fan of Both Mingus and Shepherd -- they have influenced my life and work tremendously...It is very affirmative to see other souls out there with such a passion for this wonderfully rare recording!

Keep storming the barricades.