UPDATE: The signatures of Jackie and John Kennedy to Greta Garbo have been authenticated by Bonham’s appraiser extraordinaire Catherine Williamson!
Today is the 50th anniversary of the murder of our president John F. Kennedy. It’s a hard day for most of us Americans who were alive and conscious that day and perplexingly it never becomes easier to process. If anything, it has become more difficult the more we know, the less we still know. And the records have now been sealed again for another 50 years so, by that time I will be long gone and you will all be living on the moon.
I knew I wanted to say something about Kennedy today, but so many people have said so much so eloquently (please see the Errol Morris short film posted online NY TIMES) and ineloquently (all bogus TV news coverage) that I didn’t know what more I could add. So, in my lifelong grief, I turned my thoughts away from the assassination and toward an event 9 days before that terrible crime happened and changed us all forever.
It was November 13, 1963. Miss G uncharacteristically accepted a dinner invitation. Not just any dinner invite but from First Lady Jackie Kennedy. Garbo had turned down invitations to the White House before, but this time Mrs. Kennedy had assured our favorite recluse that this would be an intimate affair. Miss G was a fan, a big fan, of our President, and so the opportunity at this moment seemed right.
This is where I need to jump in and refer back to the auction where I won Greta’s records. Listed in the same auction last December with Julien’s Auctions was this beautiful periwinkle silk outfit she wore to the Kennedy dinner.
But what was not listed was the 45rpm picture sleeve of “P.T.109” by country music singer and TV host Jimmy Dean, a song detailing JFK’s war heroism. The 45 was stuck inside the box of LPS in the lot of records I won. When I first looked at the 45, I was touched that Garbo should have bought this record – like a schoolgirl – crushed out on our President. Then in flipping the picture sleeve over, I saw the label for the record store: LEARMONT RECORDS AND BOOKS in Georgetown, Washington D.C.
WOW, wait a minute – so on her trip to DC to dine at the White House, she also did a little record shopping and went home with this? Now THAT IS a schoolgirl crush!
Well, this morning, when I took the record out of the sleeve and slapped it on the little Crosley turntable to play it so I could write about it, photograph it, and share it with you, I was completely unprepared for what I saw on the spinning label. Writing. There was writing on the record label. I snapped my pix, stopped the turntable and took the record off to have a look. I got giddy just to see the inscription “To Greta Garbo” but blown away by what I found NEXT. “with love from – “ and a messy signature, but a distinct J as the first letter, and a Y slanted down at an angle at the end. And then arcing the Columbia logo, “And love: from Jackie”. With a large capital K in the middle of her name.
I was almost weak, I think I went pale, and I almost fainted. Today of all days, I should find such a treasure in my box of GG treasures? Maybe I was mistaken. I was excited enough to see that someone wrote “To Greta Garbo” on the label. But to see “And love from Jackie”…it was insane. I called out to my fella who looked at it with me, and we immediately went to the internet to look at their signatures. The angled Y at the end of the messy name was characteristic of JFK’s later signature, and the large K in Jackie’s name looks identical to hers when she signed her name “Jackie” instead of “Jacqueline”. In fact in looking at examples of their handwriting, we surmised that Jackie wrote the inscription on all of it cause the T on “To” is like Jackie’s writing, but that JFK signed his name to the inscription.
Okay — So wait — what happened? After dessert, or on her way out of the White House, or after lying down in the Lincoln bedroom after drinking too much, did Garbo ask them to autograph this 45 she picked up at Learmont’s? Or did they pull it out of their stack of records and whip out a ballpoint and slip it to her along with the walrus tooth Jack gifted her? Is this genuinely from President Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy to Greta Garbo? Of course it needs to be authenticated, but WOW. Like – HOLY SHIT WOW.
Well, while you all ponder this, I’ll tell you what I know about the evening Miss G had with The President and the First Lady.
“First Friend” Lem Billings was the unofficial party planner of the Kennedy White House. Lem and Jack had gone to prep school together and had been close friends since. Lem was gay, although at that time he was not out, if ever. But everyone who knew him, knew his orientation. Joe Kennedy had all but adopted Lem as a son, and in fact young Edward Kennedy assumed Lem was one of his older brothers. He remained a Kennedy friend for life.
Lem had been filling his BFF Jack Kennedy with tales of meeting and becoming fast friends with Miss G the previous summer on the Italian Riviera cruising on Sam Spiegel’s yacht. Lem had gone on and on about his hot new friendship with the movie siren so much that when Garbo accepted the invitation, our president decided to have a little fun with this. Greta was asked to show up early so that Jack could rope her into his prank on his buddy. The only other guests attending were Florence Mahoney, a DC socialite, and Jackie’s glamorous younger sister Lee Radziwill, who GG would later refer to as “a princess or somebody.”
And Lem, of course and the First Couple. Dinner for six. When Lem arrived, he was surprised to see Greta already there, walking into the dining room with Jackie. When Lem opened up, “Greta!” so happy to welcome her, Miss G looked at him blankly and turned to the president, “I have never seen this man before.”
Poor Lem was completely dismayed and unable to eat his meal as he tried to jog Miss G’s memory. But Greta was stone faced, “I have never met you”. She continued the prank well into the second course, all to the delight of the president. In fact, Kennedy egged it on, playing the part very seriously to Lem, wondering aloud why Lem thought he’d met her before, maybe he had her confused with someone else. Finally Greta and Kennedy let up on poor Lem and everyone had a big laugh. There is no question it was one of the most exhilerating evenings of Miss G’s life, one she often recalled as “magical”, and only came to an end when she announced, “I must go. I’m getting intoxicated.” Later when Jackie repeated the story, tickled, she added, “I think she was.”
In spite of climbing upon the Lincoln bed and kicking off her shoes, Miss G declined their sleepover invite and spent the night in a hotel. Though one thinks she regretted missing out on a possible visit in the still of the night from the Man Of The House, “ The President visited a lot of ladies at night”, she said. Wink Wink. She bragged to friends that the president had told her how he usually excused himself from dinners early, but he stayed all through this one, gladly.
She left with one gift which has been documented: from the president a cherished piece of scrimshaw, a whale’s tooth from his collection in the Oval Office. Jackie in polite mock jealousy told GG, ”He never gave ME a whale’s tooth.” But maybe Miss G was also given another gift… this 45 of “P.T. 109”. It certainly came home with her from that trip, I can’t imagine how else to explain the signatures except that they are to Greta Garbo from J and Jackie Kennedy.
The record itself is a novelty like all of Jimmy Dean’s songs. It was actually a huge hit when it came out no doubt because of Kennedy’s huge popularity. The fun part of the song is at the end when Dean refers to Kennedy as “Big Bad John” which was the title of Dean’s first big hit.
That this record was kicking around the White House doesn’t surprise me. Like Garbo, Jackie loved the twist, and brought pop records and dancing to Pennsylvania Ave. But it is just as likely that Garbo bought the record in DC in anticipation of their dinner and asked for the autograph. One thing that is endearing about Garbo is she was an unabashed fan. She even produced a clipping on Kennedy from her purse at dinner to discuss it with him.
Still high from her evening, Greta returned to NYC and quickly shot off a thank you note to the First Lady. A little over a week after her amazing dinner, our President and his wife left for Texas. Like the rest of us Miss G was devastated, but her devastation was surely deeper than my own. That intimate dinner was the very last time Lem Billings saw Kennedy, his lifelong pal. It was the very last dinner party at the Kennedy White House. Within weeks, Miss G would pen another letter to Mrs. Kennedy, of condolences, which must have been as hard to write as it was to read.
I like to think of GG, the night of her dinner with our President, tipsy, and giggling in her hotel bed, intoxicated indeed, like the scene from Ninotchka, dizzied by her very fun date. Tapping into passion. Fantasy. I like to think that for days after, she imagined a kiss in the Lincoln bedroom from a late night visit. I like to think in her fantasy – she kept herself in check, cause she did like Jackie so much. “But a kiss is alright, isn’t it” she would permit herself. ”Cause Mr. President, you intoxicated me.”
But after November 22, that dream was gone, for her, for the rest of us.
Still, this has made me smile today through my continued grief. It made me happy to know that our president played a trick on his best bud Lem Billings, with the great Greta Garbo. And that 9 days before his terrible death, our beloved president had a fun night of shenanigans, and gave a goddess the time of her life.
"I wrote the album while traveling cross-country by myself and there is this restless feeling throughout it… The sweet loneliness of solitary travel."
That Greta Garbo owned a copy of Joni’s Mitchell’s confessional solo road trip “Hejira” is so perfect that it seems like I made this up.
I have to admit this was one Joni Mitchell record of which I was fairly unfamiliar. ‘Blue’, ‘Court and Spark’, ‘Ladies Of The Canyon’, these albums live inside my cells. But somehow I missed this of her many masterpieces.
Recorded in 1976, “Hejira” is a collection of songs, indeed a fully realized concept album, of a road trip, a hijira, Mitchell took alone by car from Maine to Los Angeles.
I digress a moment to relate a story Joni told me which I am sure must have happened on this particular road trip. (And forgive me, I am surely getting details wrong, because I was no doubt only half listening to her cause the other half of me was going “Holy Shit – Joni Fucking Mitchell is telling me a personal anecdote!”)
As best I recall, Joan said she was on a journey and somehow happened to stop at a home, or a bed and breakfast, something, and two older sisters ran the place. Joni is in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in Rhode Island or New Hampshire comes to mind, as far from Hollywood and the industry as she can get. But there on the piano is a photograph of someone she knows. She can’t quite believe it. She exclaims the pretty woman’s name out loud (I am thinking it must have been —) “Barbara!” To which these two kindly old women are stunned: “You know Our Barbara??” and the other follows with, “She just married Peter Tork, you know, of The Monkees.” Yes, friends of Joni’s. And Barbara their niece. God it is hard to get away! To truly get away from Hollywood!
And that was in 1976. It would be far more difficult to truly get away on a solo hijira today with how plugged in we all are. A hijera without a GPS. A hijera not supported by Instagram to immediately update your Twitter followers, your FB friends, your Tumblr mates of what moment you seized and saw and thought. A hijera of broken pay phones, postcards, wrinkled Triple A maps, and telegrams if you’re desperate.
The entire Lp is not just songs of a woman on a solo journey, but within the woman is this pull between freedom and attachment, of doing what is expected vs. what one desires. There is a song for Amelia Earhart, literally about ‘flying solo’: "I was thinking of Amelia Earhart and addressing it from one solo pilot to another… sort of reflecting on the cost of being a woman and having something you must do." This was I believe her third or fourth record for Asylum. It was unlike the jazz albums she’d been dipping into on ‘The Hissing Of Summer Lawns’, primarily because since she wrote the songs for "Hejira’ on the road, they were written on acoustic guitar. No piano this time, unlike how her previous records in the 70s had been composed.
Consequently some of her most complex guitar tunings turned up here. And like ‘Blue’ she was again spilling her guts in a way only she could. "I suppose a lot of people could have written a lot of my other songs, but I feel the songs on Hejira could only have come from me.”
Late great bassist Jaco Pastorious is the heartbeat supporting Mitchell’s deeply personal vision throughout. Legendary Wrecking Crew and jazz drummer John Guerin supports, and fellow Canadian Neil Young contributes too.
(Joan with Jaco and Herbie Hancock in the 70s)
The connection for Garbo must have been stark and immediate when she first heard “Hejira”. This is her only Joni Mitchell record in the collection, and when you listen to it, you’d think the entire record could be dedicated to Miss G.
Interestingly, the LP cover holds the faint signature of “Reisfield”, something my daughter Tiffany clocked when we did our Dublab guest DJ podcast. Garbo fans will know this name well, it was no doubt her beloved niece, Gray Reisfield (hmm are you seeing the niece connection here?).
I like to think that on a visit to her aunt’s apartment, Gray brought her new Joni Mitchell album with her. And upon hearing it, and upon absorbing it, Miss G couldn’t bear to part with it. She’s never taken anything from anyone. But this, she must have.
“You can take my Picasso’s and Renoirs, they will be yours when I die anyway. But Gray, leave me that Joni Mitchell record. I need it. Although why she wrote a song about Amelia Earhart and not me I will never understand.”
I like to think of Miss G opening a bottle of wine, or something rich and warm, to drink on her own, in search of her own private “Blue Motel Room”. Listening to side one. Listening to side 2. Black Crow at her window, pulling her out to the street, “black as the highway leading me”.
Putting on her coat and flat shoes. Maybe she will walk. Maybe she will hitch hike. She could! How brazen, “Garbo Hitch-hikes”. What a lark! The idea tickles her and she smiles to herself as she steps outside. She could put her thumb out. The driver would never guess. What a sweet in-joke with herself. Wait, it’s too late to be out here, ALONE, even for Manhattan, it’s 4am, streets are empty in this precious enclave. She walks east toward the light.
And on this trash littered pre-dawn sidewalk, there he is. And they face off, the scrawniest of coyotes, not quite brown, not quite gray. They could be twins. ‘Right in the face on the road to Baljennie…” What is a coyote doing in Manhattan? What is Greta Garbo doing anywhere, Coyote asks. Their eyes lock, without blinking. A calm comes between them. She could stay like this forever.
Coyote is the first to break their gaze. He turns and heads on down the block alone, going far faster than it appears in his lanky trot. She can follow, or not. Coyote doesn’t care. Coyote just shows what you could…
Miss G knows there’s more on Coyote’s mind than water and garbage, and he heads toward it, until he’s out of sight. They are both defectors of the petty wars.
No regrets, Coyote.
To listen to audio clips of ‘Hejira’ and to get lyrics, credits, and guitar tunings and tablature:
"Vi" Sweden’s oldest magazine became a centenarian this past month, and Greta’s Records made the cut! Their 100th anniversary issue may well make them one of the oldest magazines in the world. Health practitioners study habits of those who live to be 100. Perhaps publishers should be studying whatever it is that Vi is doing right as magazines become extinct. One healthy habit might be this — the magazine is not online! You need to read it in print.
I was so honored that editor Tomas Fläckman asked me to contribute a piece on Greta’s record collection. He even found an early issue of Vi with Greta on the cover. Here he is proudly sharing with me the gorgeous layout.
The fella on the magazine cover is Håkan Hellström, the Keith Richards of Sweden. His quote translates akin to, “I love it when it’s too much”.
So if you know Swedish, pick up a print copy and enjoy the pictures and the text. If not, do enjoy the visuals herein! And expect a new Greta’s Records post in the next 24 hours…Greta Takes A Journey… as I uncover a record in her collection that I somehow missed and now find to be one of the most brilliant records ever made.
Thank you Miss G. Xo
Garbo on the cover of Vi, 1937, no headline, no caption, just her beautiful face!
…you can listen to the archived set as well as Tiffany Anders “Daughters Of The Sun” set right here:
I played records from Greta’s collection and we even found an interesting personal clue on one LP cover!
Have a listen! And big thank you to Mark “Frosty” McNeill @ Dublab for inviting us!
Allison Anders “Greta’s Records” Set
Chubby Checker - The Twist – Parkway (1960)
The Beatles – There’s A Place – Vee Jay (1963)
The Supremes – My World Is Empty Without You – Motown (1965)
Professor Longhair – Something On Your Mind – Alligator (1980)
Hildegard Knef – C’est Si Bon/Bel Ami/All Of Me/Wenn Wir Zwel Uns Wiedersehn – Decca (1960)
Gene Clark – No Other – Asylum (1974)
Elmo Hope - It’s A Lovely Day – Prestige (1967)
Joni Mitchell – Blue Motel Room – Asylum (1976)
Linda Ronstadt – I Never Will Marry – Asylum (1977)
Julius Wechter And The Baja Marimba Band – Flying High – A&A Records (1969)
The Beatles – Fixing A Hole – Capitol (1967)
Ringo Starr – Oh My My – Apple (1973)
Tiffany Anders “Daughters of the Sun” Set
Sharon Tandy – Daughter Of The Sun
Selda Yaz Gazeteci – Yaz – Finders Keepers
Brigette Fontaine – La Harpe Jaune Saravah
Connie Converse – Talkin’ Like You (Two Tall Mountains)
Vashti Bunyan – Pink Sugar Elephants
Dana Gillespie – Foolish Seasons – Revola
Bonnie Dobson – Winter’s Going – Revola
Dory Previn – Lady With A Braid
Michaelangelo – It’s Crying Outside
The Cake – Firefly
Evie Sands – Take Me For A Little While – A&M Records
Check out Tiffany’s tumblr on this very music:
Hey everyone! Just wanted to let you all know that my daughter Tiffany Anders and I are both guest DJing tomorrow on Dublab Radio. Our back-to-back sets will play music from our own blogs — “Greta’s Records” at 11 am (pacific time) and “Jumblequeen” (a GREAT blog on brilliant women musicians here on tumblr) at noon.
So please tune in if you can, and you can hear some of the records from this collection!
Here is the dublab site:
And check out Tiffany’s blog Jumblequeen and read about Bowie’s amazing protegee!
Were you all as thrilled as I was to see a Professor Longhair record in Greta Garbo’s collection? As much as we could think the gap between the Professor and the Film Star is wide, there are deep similarities. Both were discovered and given new names. And while Greta choose to live in anonymity but continued to travel the world for all those shrouded-in-secrecy years, Professor Longhair stayed put in New Orleans where he played loud and lived flamboyantly in public.
And both were nearing the end of their lives when this record “Crawfish Fiesta” was released in 1980. Fess died that year, and Greta would die a decade later. The record was produced by Andrew Kaslow (who also plays tenor sax on the record and contributed horn arrangements) and Bruce Iglauer for his label Alligator Records and by the man who said of him, “Professor Longhair put ‘funk’ into music, he’s the father of the stuff” — none other than Mac Rebennack aka “Dr. John”, who also plays guitar on all the tracks. And if all this weren’t pedigree enough, it was recorded at Allen Toussaint’s recording studio “SeaSaint”.
The LP opens with “Big Chief”, a classic Fess track, sampled rather oddly by Lily Allen on “Knock ‘Em Out” a few years ago. Written by Earl King in the 1960s, this song is not only sewn into the fabric of New Orleans, it is part of the thread itself. The title has to do with the Mardi Gras Indian gang groups. And while the lyrics about squaws and “fire water” today are politically incorrect, the whole notion of the Indian Nation gangs during Mardi Gras is a tribute by New Orleans blacks to the Indians who hid runaway slaves or helped them escape capture before and during the Civil War. It’s a lively tradition of the Mardi Gras celebration and this song honors that.
Fess’s version of Los Angeles’ own Big Jay McNeely’s “Something On Your Mind” kills it. I’m real proud to have directed several episodes of the TV show “Southland”. There’s generally not much music in “Southland” episodes but writer Cheo Hodari Coker (who won an NAACP Image Award for “Southland” this year) really knows and loves music — this is the guy who wrote both the book and screenplay on “Notorious B.I.G.” Southland director Chris Clulack also has a great love for Los Angeles roots music, so Cheo wrote McNeely’s original version of the song into a powerful episode “Fixing A Hole” directed by Chulack. It has a very LA lowrider feel, and of course is a cholo classic within that subculture and while not as much of an Art Laboe dedication tradition, it was on one of the early East Side Story lowrider compilation LPS. The song has been covered many times by Etta James, Gene Vincent, Freddy Fender, James Cotton and more — it’s a standard now.
Professor Longhair’s version of the song is less lowrider, more groove. And his vocal is outasite! Love you Little Sonny, but good god this “Bald Head” sings it! Whatever might be on her mind, he’s about to change it with this sweet talk. Little Sonny sings as a younger man who has hit a wall with a woman for the first time. Fess has been here waaay too many times before, and it shows in his delivery.
There are 2 funny songs on Side A about men and women driving each other nuts: ”Her Mind Is Gone” and “You’re Driving Me Crazy”. Oh and then do you want to really have some fun — “Red Beans” baby! And then just chill, and listen to the pure piano playing of the Professor on “WIllie Fugal’s Blues”.
The B Side is every bit as good as the first, with a wonderful version of ”Whole Lotta Lovin” made famous by another great New Orleans piano player Fats Domino. ” Cry To Me” is a song I could imagine Greta trying to Calypso to. The LP closes with the title track “Crawfish Fiesta” which incorporates so many melodies we have heard over the past century…you are transported far beyond the 1980s to ragtime in a few riffs here and there.
One thing I have come to see in Greta’s record collection is that her taste for world music was way ahead of her time. And while Fess was a native son, he worked with Caribbean players and was mad for Cuban mambo music. LIkewise, Greta was wild for island music. In her collection yet to be reviewed there are so very many examples of this — the Esso Trinidad Steel Band, Harry Belafonte’s first record which is hugely inspired by his parents island roots, and Calypso Carnival by The Mighty Sparrow. I can see that for her Professor Longhair brought together in one vision jazz, blues and music of the islands.
This may have been one of the last records Greta bought. Did she wake up on Fat Tuesday and put on this record while she made a stack of pancakes for herself? Did she stand in the kitchen, wondering why she wasn’t there in New Orleans? ”I should have gone…if not now, when? I could wear a costume and a mask and be anonymous. I could flash my breasts for beads, and no one would even know it was me.” This makes her laugh, “When I was younger maybe. But when I was younger I didn’t do those things. Well, I ran naked in the yard with Cecil but that was different. That was like doing yoga, not for fun like those girls in New Orleans do. But could any of them do the dance for Shiva that got us all fined?” She laughs out loud at the absurdity of those times she lived. She listens to Fess’s record and chews. ”Maybe I go. I’m too late to meet Bald Head but maybe I meet Dr. John. Maybe I make shrimp and grits for him and the band and surprise them all with my cooking. Oh silly Miss G…why on earth would you go to New Orleans to cook, you go to New Orleans to eat.”
And maybe she went. Maybe she got there just in time.
On the 44th anniversary of the last Beatles performance on a London rooftop, I thought it was fitting to delve into Garbo’s Beatles records and ask: which was the very first Beatles LP ever released in the USA? “Meet The Beatles” on Capitol Records? Or was it this one on the little but then-thriving black-owned label out of Chicago, Vee Jay, “Introducing…The Beatles”?
The Vee Jay LP was released on Janurary 10, 1964, 10 days before Capitol’s release which changed the lives of all of us who were lucky enough to be conscious in 1964. I can’t even begin to imagine how Greta Garbo came to own a copy of “Introducing…The Beatles” oh but please let us try.
Before we begin to let our minds run wild on this I think we need to understand exactly what THIS copy of THIS record is: it’s…a ‘fake’. Well, it’s nothing for The Great Garbo to have been ashamed of, I too own a fake. And if you own this record, yours is probably a fake too. And if it’s not a fake – while you don’t own Greta’s copy, you have a goldmine!
Because Vee Jay’s “Introducing…The Beatles”, stereo, is one of the most counterfeited records in the history of vinyl. For that reason, many record detectives were abuzz upon seeing the photo of the lot I won of Greta’s records where this LP was pictured, wondering if this could be the holy grail.
My friend Bill Bartell was the first to alert me to the possible treasure I might have come to own. Like most people, I had no idea. I have a copy of this record which I got as a teenager, almost a decade after it’s release. It’s thrashed, the record sleeve is taped, cause I played it to death and took it everywhere my life took me since, according to my own handwritten note on the record sleeve, my stepfather bought it for me in 1972.
Bill gave me a few guidelines on detecting a fake or original: if the back had been blank, or if it had ads for other Vee Jay Records on it, I could have been looking at a $10,000 record. But as you can see, that was not the case. Also, to be an original the front cover needed to show a shadow casting from George Harrison. And this cover does not have that.
There are sooo many details to check to see if your copy of this record is valuable and I include a link below to a really good site which Bill sent to me. Also there is also a You Tube video which gives a tutorial posted below on how to detect if your record is a gem or a fake. And also if you can lay your hands on a copy of Bruce Spizer’s book “The Beatles Records On Vee Jay” buy it!
(This image below is the original very valuable pressing of the record. Note George’s shadow on the far right edge of the album cover.)
So even though “Introducing…The Beatles” was released in 1964, I’m going to take a wild guess that Greta came by this a few years later. Why? Well because as far as I can tell from my research, and many people know more than me on this, the counterfeiting of this record really began to take place massively in the late 60s.
And another reason I would guess she bought it in the late 60s is because Garbo doesn’t own any other Beatles titles between this one and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band”. Nowadays of course, this wouldn’t mean a thing’; maybe your first Beatles record was “Rubber Soul”, or “Abbey Road”, cause the catalogue is all in the past so there is no continuity to your purchase. But if you bought “Introducing…The Beatles” first in 1964 and “Sgt. Pepper’s” in 1967, you most likely would have bought some of The Beatles’ records in between. Most likely.
(Here is the vintage homemade record box which hold Greta’s records, and the battered but cherished Beatles LP record box which holds all my Beatles albums).
With this logic, I’m thinking Greta bought “Sgt. Pepper’s” as her first Beatles record, then at some time later worked her way back to this one to educate herself on the band. Realizing the vast difference in the Fab Four’s music in just 3 years, maybe she preferred the pyschedelic direction. “I’d love to turn you onnnnnnnnn…” she might have sung dreamily.
Also, her “Sgt. Pepper’s” record is well played (is that smudge her fingerprint?? We shall examine in a later post!), and so is “Magical Mystery Tour”. But unlike my copy, Garbo’s “Introducing…The Beatles” while not in the shrink wrap didn’t take too many turns on turns on her Collaro. The cover and the record itself are therefore in really great condition. And I know purists might disagree, but to my unpure ears, the record sounds terrific! (And I know some people are concerned with me playing these records on the Crosley, but I am only giving these LPS of Garbo’s one complete spin on this Spinnerette.)
(Another dead giveaway of a fake - the label should read “stereo” somewhere, and the two lines on the label “Introducing the Beatles” and “The Beatles” should not be separated by the spindle hole)
“Introducing…The Beatles” really takes me back blissfully in a way few records can. I remember at age 9, being at Meyer’s Pharmacy on South 29th Street in Ashland, Kentucky and seeing both of The Beatles first LPs side by side on the record rack. Damn I wish I had an Iphone then to Instagram that! But you can picture it, yeah? AND how I wish I had bought the Vee Jay LP that day. But “Meet The Beatles” was just looked waaaaay cooler. It had that amazing photo by Robert Freeman and the striking mod black and blue artwork, and — they all looked really CUTE! The Vee Jay record is pretty homely in every way, dingy, lacking energy. And knowing how good they all looked over the years, truly, it’s hard to even imagine what went wrong in this photograph by the otherwise brilliant Angus McBean. But clearly, everything did.
(“Meet The Beatles”: better artwork, cuter Beatles!)
And yet, the songs on “Introducing…The Beatles” are some of my very favorite Beatles songs. It’s opens with a weirdly clipped intro of Paul counting down on “I Saw Her Standing There”…apparently the guy mastering the tracks for Vee Jee thought this was just studio chatter and cut out Paul saying, “1-2-3—“ and the track awkwardly comes in with a clipped, “Fa—-“ and then the song begins. Since we are all so used to hearing this correctly mastered by EMI and Capitol over the years, this Vee Jay LP is off to a bad start with this big gaffaw. But once you’re into the song, and how can you not be – it’s wonderful in every way.
Most of the songs on the Vee Jay record were released by Capitol in 1965 on “The Early Beatles”. LP “Ask Me Why” is a song I fell in love with when I finally got my hands on “The Early Beatles” when it first came out. But my two favorites, “Misery” and “There’s A Place” are missing from that album.
“There’s a Place” is one of my very favorite Beatles songs ever, in my top 5 for certain. I also own it on a 45 on the Tollie label — a gift from my friend Hunter Lea. I have to imagine this song which pleases and comforts me so much would perfectly fit Garbo’s state of mind too. Like her, I too was/am a daydreamer. I can never understand boredom. When you can always imagine something, how can you be bored? I have been very intolerant of boredom in others, I just don’t understand needing something outside of your own brain to occupy you.
Garbo it seems was the same. As a child she daydreamed in school, and then would put her dreams into action by directing the other children in play. (I can relate!) And in these 50 years she was gone from Hollywood, it appears she did not suffer from boredom one bit.
(Greta in 1966, if these people would have left her alone, maybe she would have made it to the record store to buy “Revolver” as her first Beatles LP! I could see her often being in the mood for “Tomorrow Never Knows”!)
In the song “There’s A Place”, of course penned by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, the lyrics tell the story of a guy with a broken heart, but he knows where to find solace:
is a place
Where I can go
When I feel low
When I feel blue
And it’s my mind
And there’s no time
When I’m alone”
I don’t think more can be said. This is Greta. Fake copy or not, I can’t imagine this song not speaking directly to her as it does me.
To learn more about counterfeit “Introducing…The Beatles” LPS check out these two links:
A really wonderful bio on Vee Jay, the most successful black-owned record label before Motown:
And for a tutorial on whether your copy of this record is gold or phoney:
And for your listening and viewing pleasure to entice you to seriously go buy this record. The fake was good enough for me and for Miss G. You can also buy CDs or digital copies of The Beatles “Please Please Me” which includes all of the Vee Jay tracks at your favorite record store or online site.
“So oder so ist das Leben”…such is life. I can imagine Greta saying this with a sigh, can’t you?
As it turns out, even though I didn’t win the international records lot in the auction, a few managed to find their way into the rock and pop records lot I did win. Lucky me! Well I had never heard a single song by actress/writer/painter/chanteuse Hildegard Knef until I pulled this LP “So Oder So Ist Das Leben” from Greta’s Garbo’s private collection. And now…I have fallen in love.
First, let us just meditate on the artwork on the album cover…it’s absolutely gorgeous.
Hildegard Knef, there is simply too much to tell about her — incredible life, which she wrote about in her autobiography “The Gift Horse”. She epitomizes “Survivor” in every way: she survived a Russian P.O.W. camp (by dressing in male drag) in Germany as a young girl, she survived creepy passes made at her by the likes of Josef Goebbels and David O. Selznick, she survived crazy career ups and downs in the movie business, in the theater business, in the music business. Like Garbo, Knef was a breast cancer survivor. Unlike Garbo, Knef talked about it, openly. One of the first famous people to ever do so. Unlike Garbo, who went away, Knef just kept coming back. As late as 1993, at the age of 68 she recorded an industrial dance version of her 1960s hit “Von Nun An Ging’s Bergab” with post punk Kraut rockers Engel Wider Willen (which is AMAZING by the way — I include a link below).
In 1947, 21 year old German beauty, Knef was lured to the US by Selznick following the buzz around her performance as a concentration camp survivor returning home after the war in “The Murders Are Among Us” made in East Berlin. But Selznick was interested in what other talents the young beauty might have, and she was not interested in showing those to him. He also wanted her to change her name and claim to be Austrian rather than German. Knef said ‘nein’ and went back to Berlin.
In 1950 she starred in a German film “The Sinner” in which she showed some bare breast, and the Catholic Church went into a furor protesting the audacity. Knef, just 24 years old. boldly defended the scene in the film saying, “I can’t understand the tumult — five years after Auschwitz!”
Ironically it was while in Germany, not tinsel town, that Knef won her roles in Hollywood films “The Snows Of Kilimanjaro” with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, and Anatole Litvak’s “Decision Before Dawn” with Oskar Werner and she worked like mad for several years in the early 1950s.
Then she was lured back to US shores by another American, who did NOT likely make a pass at her — Cole Porter. After hearing her sing on camera in “The Snows Of Kilimanjaro” Porter felt Knef was just perfect for the lead role in a musical he was writing based on a classic film with one of the world’s greatest stars in the role she was known for most: ”Ninotchka” with Herself.
“Silk Stockings” opened on Broadway Feb 25, 1955 at The Imperial Theater, Manhattan, a massive hit, and Knef was instantly referred to as “The New Garbo”. Did Greta go see the play during it’s run, incognito?
Well, Garbo historians would know, but I don’t. I do know that former Garbo rival (imagined or real) Marlene Dietrich was there opening night to pose for photos backstage with young Knef, who was now second only to Dietrich as the most popular German star. The connection to Garbo of this moment is pretty loaded.
Even though “Silk Stockings” and Knef in it were hugely successful, when it came time to make a movie of the Cole Porter musical, Knef was out and Cyd Charisse was in. Knef was Germany bound again. And for this — we are ever so lucky and grateful cause in 1963, Hildegard Knef found her voice, literally, and gave it to the rest of the world.
“So Oder So Ist Das Leben” is Hildegard Knef’s first LP which she recorded in 1963 released by Decca. The title track is her signature song, and her dusky voice and smokey vocal delivery, as well as her nonchalant but empowered performance of the song, and all of her songs hereafter make her one of the world’s most interesting singers. Ella Fitzgerald said of Knef that she was ”the greatest singer in the world without a voice”. I know exactly what she means now.
The tracking on this LP takes getting used to because each track has 3-4 songs within it. And some times Knef sings in as many as 3 languages per track. They are also assigned meters as it were: Foxtrott- Potpourri or Slowfox Potpourri.
This record from Greta’s collection was played and both the record and the cover are in perfect condition, protected in the plastic sleeve it came in stamped in gold “Royal Sound Stereo” . It’s definitely not a US pressing because of this plastic sleeve, the color of the label, and the feel of the record sleeve itself. (Well and I guess the gold letters on the plastic reading “Auch Mono Abspeilbar” kinda nails it as a German pressing!)So either Greta bought this in Europe, or it was gifted to her.
My favorite track on Side 1 is track 2. It opens with “Ich Bin Von Kopf Bis Fuß Auf Liebe Eingestellt” which is a dreamy ballad, followed by a gorgeous moody melody “Illusionen”. For the launch of Knef’s first LP someone had the very good sense to shoot little films (scopitones perhaps?) of all of Knef’s tracks in stunning black and white, in bizarrely cool settings. Please do yourself a favor and check some of these out posted here.
Side 2 opens with cheery French standard “C’est Si Bon” followed by “Bel Ami” and “All of Me” and ending with “We Damsals in Paris”.
Knef’s signature song “So Oder So Ist Das Leben” comes in on track 2 side 2. Knef was not the first to record this song. In 1934 actress and chanteuse Brigette Horney (the daughter of psychoanalyst pioneer Karen Horney) had a hit with it, and no doubt this was a song Garbo was very familiar with. This is a bluesy vocal with a directness to it — and a worldly acceptance of ‘the way it crumbles, cookie-wise”. I could imagine Greta absolutely loving this song.
I like to picture Garbo, singing along with Knef in her own husky voice…standing in her bathroom over the basin, slathering on her Erno Laszlo skin care products which she used on her face from her Hollywood days till the day she died…in fact, some bottles still holding a rosy lotion were auctioned off for more than these 50 records! I like to picture her smoothing night cream into her famous face, and singing Knef’s song into the mirror. And I know what she is thinking, “This Hildegard girl is astonishing. She told Hollywood to take a hike and went home to become a chanteuse. That takes real guts.”
And later that week, I can picture, can’t you? Herself singing “So Oder So Ist Das Leben” for her small group of close friends, as she was said to do from time to time. (She apparently loved chansons and bluesy ballads.) Herself singing and wondering to herself, “Could I too go home and become a chanteuse?” And the act of asking the question was enough, as it always is when we consider, “What else could I be?” It’s not required that you act on it, just that you consider it.
I like to think that Garbo slipped in undetected into that audience of “Silk Stockings” opening night, and was on Hildegard Knef’s side from the very start. Buzzing to friends about what a talent Knef was. I like to think that she looked something like this while she waited in her seat for the brave young German actress to take the stage.