[Dixielandjazz] Bob Helm in _Common Soldiers_

Dan Augustine ds.augustine@mail.utexas.edu
Wed, 28 Aug 2002 16:04:10 -0500

     Here's a couple paragraphs on Bob Helm from _Common Soldiers_ by 
Janet Richards:

p. 304-5: "By 1953 we had become intimate with Bob and Kay Helm, and 
a little later so did Weldon [Kees] and Ann.
     "Bob and Turk were both very great musicians, and I sometimes 
think that a talent so great makes the life of the artist endowed 
with it a little like that of those worker ants, whose whole lives 
are spent carrying for long distances pieces of leaves of gigantic 
size, under which they stagger crazily yet ever persist till they 
reach the nest, and then they hasten out for more.  At any rate, I 
know for sure that very gifted musicians are simply not like ordinary 
folk with your plain ordinary ear.  Musicians hear everything.  In a 
group playing together they hear everybody, all the time, while 
performing themselves.  I will never think otherwise but that this is 
an incredible feat, and musicians do it day after day as the normal 
course of events.
     "Nor are musicians less remarkable in that part of their lives 
not involving music.  They are eccentric, crotchetty, temperamental, 
high-strung.  They get high on music and cannot come down.  They 
don't want to come down.  When Bob got home from working at night Kay 
said it took him between three and six hours to unwind enough to go 
to sleep.  But he was an extreme case.
     "Bob never ceased fighting against the one essential fact of 
practicing your art as a musician, namely that you must practice it 
not alone but with others, and if you feel you have failed to achieve 
what you had been ready to achieve on any particular night of 
playing, because the others have not been ready to go with you, you 
are as shaken as a painter is when his painting has failed.  But 
painters normally have only themselves to blame and have a better 
balance of success and failure than do very demanding musicians, like 
Bob, who must partly depend on others.  Six times out of ten he would 
come home with shattered nerves and a burden of hellish anger.  Kay 
would bear the brunt, but she did not do so meekly, having a quick, 
restless Irish temper of her own."

p. 307: Bob Helm and Weldon wrote songs together: Bob the music and 
Weldon the lyrics.  They decided to do a production called 'The 
Poets' Follies', including the songs performed by a band led by Bob 
Helm."  "The band was marvelous, crashingly loud, following the 
tradition begun by Lu Watters.  They played, among other things, 
Helm-Kees songs--'Newton the Neuro from New Rochelle,' 'She's Just 
Perfect for Me,' 'Culture Vulture Lucy from Telegraph Hill,' and 
'Mary Alice Queen of the Drums.'  Bob, who is a good if unwilling 
singer, did not sing because the Keesian comments were hardly 
singable.  Certainly not sure-fire sensations as Bob's rendition of 
'Peoria,' which he was called upon to do almost every blessed night 
in the Murphy band.
     "Bob was a devastating cartoonist, if primitive.  After a really 
frustrating night, he would begin cartooning about three a.m. and 
continue past dawn.  His cartoons were always funny; but they were so 
savage even Weldon was awed by them.  He had easily two dozen 
cartoons of himself singing 'Peoria.'"

**  Dan Augustine     Austin, Texas     ds.augustine@mail.utexas.edu  **
**    "I am sitting in the smallest room in the house.  I have your   **
**     review in front of me.  Soon it will be behind me."            **
**       -- Max Reger (1873-1916) to a music critic                   **