Daily Archives: September 23, 2006


Nixon and Satchelmouth’s stash:

The previous blog entry on Willie Nelson’s bust reminded Malcolm of a twice-heard tale. Humphrey Lyttelton, in his BBC radio programme, The Best of Jazz, some years ago, may have been its first audition. The pianist, Tommy Flanagan, is often cited as the source of the story, sometimes “as told to Miles Davis”. It has the smack of an urban folk-myth, but it’s worth the re-telling. Since all parties are now safely defunct, no great harm is done.

In July 1959, Vice-President Richard Nixon went to Moscow. This was during one of the “thaws” in the Cold War, when an American National Exhibit was in Moscow. During this event the famous “kitchen debate” occurred between Nixon and Khrushchev.

On the stop-over in Paris, Nixon and his entourage encountered Louis Armstrong and his Band in the V.I.P. lounge at Orly. Armstrong’s European tour had wound up at l’Olympia; and he was now on a US State Department-sponsored Mission to Moscow. Nixon, allegedly, went somewhat giggly in the presence of the great Louis, and begged to be allowed to help. Armstrong graciously handed Nixon his instrument case, which Nixon proudly carried off the aircraft, and through the Soviet customs. Thus was Satchmo’s stash safely delivered under diplomatic cover.

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Pavo cristatus and a crusty pavement:

Malcolm, as the header says, was begat in M.J. O’Neill’s, Suffolk Street, Dublin: just off College Green, and one of the finest lemonade dispensaries and closest to Trinity College’s Front Gate. When Malcolm frequented this hostelry, the founding father was still to be seen presiding: it should not be confused with the Mitchells & Butlers use of a similar name to provide ersatz-craic for the English high street. All of which has a passing bearing on the next paragraph.

The difference between Oxbridge and TCD, between O’Neill’s and O’Neills, then and now, is cultural, linguistic, attitudinal and £25 single on Aer Lingus. The change in attitude is that between limestone (smooth, polished and flakey) and Dublin mountains granite (rough around the edges, and hard as nails). About 40-odd years ago, some bright sparks thought the grassy Squares of Trinity would be upgraded and up-classed by adding peacocks. This briefly meant a larding of peafowl crap on the already-greasy cobbles. The night was rent by spine-chilling screams (and not only from the birds). Furthermore, peacocks’ trailing feathers are not improved by persistent Dublin drizzle (which in those days was well grimed with coal smoke). The peafowl problem solved itself: one by one they escaped into College Green or Nassau Street, and were dispatched under the wheels of Dublin’s green double-deckers. As far as Malcolm knows, the experiment was never repeated.

Yesterday’s peacockery was on the letters page of The Guardian. A correspondent managed to make connections between possession of drugs, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Greg Dyke, bans on smoking, old age, global warming, Parisians … outside the Deux Maggots, and all of this — phew! — in just over 500 words. Malcolm, who has something of an ability to force abstruse connections, is definitely impressed. He is even more impressed, deeply envious indeed, that such a diatribe (fuelled by something stronger than tea, he assumes) was awarded a prime position across the core of the page. And the author? “David Hockney, London”.

Hockney’s hat was hung on the peg of Willie Nelson’s being charged, on 18th September, for having a pound and a half of hash and a couple of ounces of magic mushrooms on his tour bus (which, at least, makes one passing link with the second paragraph above). Now, ladeez and gennelmen, you may have heard that Queen Anne is dead! And the cover of Nelson’s 2005 album Countryman might have been a clue. So this bust came as no great surprise. The surprise might have been that the bus was searched and found totally, absolutely, squeaky clean.

In their different ways, people like Hockney (and let’s add Jon Snow, of the sock-it-to’em “And now over to Kylie Minogue in Bangkok”, last Tuesday) occupy rôles as human peacocks: they exist mainly to brighten up our less-talented and less-colourful lives, as they display or call in the night. Malcolm reserves more sympathy for Nelson. He is not only the endless and untiring country singer. Since December 2004, he also is one of five partners and the “face” of — wait for it — Biowillie fuel. This is a replacement for diesel made from vegetable oils (and allows Nelson to make a political point about the Iraq war), and sold across seven state from South Carolina to California. There is a NYTimes article which a relevance here:

How far does [Nelson] think biodiesel can go?

“It could get as big as we can grow fuel or find different things to make fuel from, such as chicken fat, beef fat, add that along to soybeans, vegetable oils, peanuts, safflower, sunflower,” Mr. Nelson said.

O.K.. What about hemp?

“Hemp is a very good one,” he replied, not missing a beat. “In fact, several years ago, a friend of mine named Gatewood Galbraith was running for governor of Kentucky and we campaigned all over the state of Kentucky in a Cadillac operating on hemp oil. He was trying to get it legalized in the state of Kentucky and, of course, he lost, but the cannabis thing in fuel is a very real thing.”

The biodiesel is an obvious and practical application of what Nelson has preached since he founded Farm Aid back in 1985. He was also to-the-fore in promoting assistance for the victims of Katrina last year: which adds irony to injury in this possession case.

The peacock, it should be remembered, is also a butterfly. Nelson is no peacock or butterfly: the wheel that is used to break him may yet discover he is solid granite.

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