Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here.

 
You can find Ian's main website at
ianwhitcomb.com
 

Letter from Lotusland

August 2015

 

       In the old days—almost the good old days—I used to write lots about the doings of the last month. They piled up and were packaged into a hefty book called “Letters from Lotusland", which I hope you all have shelved in your libraries. Since the stroke I’ve lived such routine days it’s hardly been worth setting down the details. In brief: I rise around 7am, following vivid dreams in which I’m singing superbly at various festivals, and then go to the Cal Tech pool where I struggle at breast stroke as old folk pass me by.

       For some reason—unknown to doctors-- I’m chipper and ready to take on the world in the evening just before bed; but in the day time I’m in a fog of grogginess and depression till about 5pm.Nothing seems worth doing except laying on my bed reading Somerset Maugham. But on evenings when I can sing and play—as at Cantalini’s-- and lead community singing, I’m soaring like the skylark of song. Last night Regina and I dined at our local favorite place, “Pizza of Venice”, right here in Altadena. Everything hand-made and the salad ingredients all fresh from the local farmer’s market. My pal and fellow musician Fred Sokolow was playing guitar outside, performing approved classics by Gershwin and Carmichael.

       Then I approached to spoil the atmosphere by asking Fred to accompany me on a British Alley number from 1941, the year I was born. At least it was a song of my time so I wasn’t being consciously retro. “Down Forget-me-not Lane” has an easy beat, as if one was out on a ramble, passing gossiping streams, pursued by birds singing catchy tunes like this one. On the cover are a happy couple hiking towards a little village tucked into a hollow protected by hills from a hostile and misunderstanding world not far off. The song tells us that down the lane there’s always a table well laid and you’re welcome to a chair. There’s also no “high brow etiquette”. I imagine you just tuck in and wipe the gravy off your finished plate with a crust of bread if you like.

       As we performed I thought it delightfully strange to be spreading this artless, reassuring message around the land of threatening hip-hop, high security alerts, and objectionable battle flags of old Dixie. But I was pleased to see happy, intrigued faces looking up from pizzas—and, quietly in the background, Regina conducting me, keeping me from getting carried away, over-doing it and rushing the beat.

       The lane in the song was in a faraway place of contentment, like the land conjured up from the magic tree in the children’s books. I had dreamed of such a spot since childhood when I first heard the gulp-provoking swoop and slide of the steel guitar and the cheerful plunk of the ukulele pouring from Tannoy speakers hanging in trees lining the little lake by our seaside home. I was transported to a paradise that I have been trying to find ever since. Later I discovered that this was the sound of Hhhhawaii; pictures showed me a beach where boys of splendid build rode creamy waves, encouraged by well-upholstered girls with long tresses and abbreviated dresses. I had to respond to this series of sirens, started by the bullhorns at that 1946 lake.

       In the autumn of 1965 I found myself winging my way to paradise island. ABC television was sending cast and crew to Honolulu for “Shindig In Hawaii” and I was a special guest star, together with Donna Loren, Bobby Sherman and Len (“One Two Three”) Barry.

       So here was I in paradise by the beach at Waikiki and yet I neither saw nor tasted anything that was lovely or forbidden fruit. There were high-rise hotels and gasoline smells and we were billeted at motels like any on the mainland. Where were the little grass shacks and bevies of hula girls swaying to ukuleles and steel guitars? I roomed with Len Barry, a rotund figure who could not be allowed shirtless on the beach lest he upset viewers at home. Instead he lip-synched in a park and later grunted R&B phrases as he lay prone on his bed, annoying me no end. Then he borrowed $30 off me, which he has not repaid after 50 years.

       I was not required to go shirtless; I wore my Carnaby St. mod clothes as I stood amidships on a fake Spanish galleon mouthing to a playback of a new song I’d written called “Rolling Home with Georgeanne”, the girl being Cher’s younger sister. The words tell how I’m alone with her in her mansion drinking champagne and foxtrotting to Bob Dylan.

One night we were taped in a sylvan setting as we sat at a big table and tried to eat poi. I sat next to Glen Campbell. When it came my turn I ragged it up at a piano as natives in loincloths stuck flaming torches down their throats. Quite spectacular. (See it all on You Tube) At the farewell party at a Honolulu hotel a famous native band presented us with a three-tiered cake. In the honored tradition, the leader, followed by his men, grabbed hunks and proceeded to hurl them at us. Soon it degenerated into an ugly food fight. I shall never forget the look of hatred on the face of the famous leader. Perhaps he was remembering the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy by white mainlanders in the 1890s.  I had read up on this sorry history and so I snuck out of the battle.

        I went out to the legendary bay to admire the surfers. I cautiously dipped in the ocean. I had to test it once—but I was feeling rotten. The reason was because my mouth was playing up.

       Something wrong with the teeth, so bad that I kept throwing up, privately, of course. By this time I had become friendly with the “Shindig” musical director Ray Pohlman; he and his wife Barbara had become my surrogate uncle and aunt. They took me to a local dentist who poked about in my mouth for a short time and then concluded I had trench mouth. He was part Japanese, gave me some pills and said I’d contracted trench mouth from too much “kissy kissy”.

       Back in Hollywood I saw a dubious dentist on the Boulevard

who operated under a big neon sign. He fiddled about in my mouth, humming “Alice Blue Gown”, and then demanded cash. This good old Ray Pohlman came in with after my distress call. My teeth felt no better.

       Finally, in the winter of 1965, I returned home to London, where, in Harley Street, a hive of fancy doctors, a dentist in morning frock coat and wing collar, calmly informed me I was a simple case of wisdom teeth. “Typical for young men like yourself. We’ll remove them in a jiffy. You know, I can tell past present and future after a quick look inside. You have a decent future if you play your cards right. Good luck and good sailing to you. Tell my nurse to put it on your mother’s account as usual”

       No wonder I felt safe back in England.

                    

Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here.

 
You can find Ian's main website at
ianwhitcomb.com