Monday, May 15, 2006

Making Drinks For Nigel: Real Life's a Scream

Calum Marsh

Screamin' Jay Hawkins - Real Life (1983)

I moved into my first house in Ottawa last August, just a few weeks before the start of my second year at Carleton University. I had spent the previous year in the school's residence, but I decided to spent that summer at home with my family in a small town that was a few hours away from anything of interest. Four months without anything to do got me anxious to return to The Big City, so after a little nagging I convinced my parents to move me in a little earlier than planned. The few weeks I spent in Ottawa in August were peculiar; I'd moved much earlier than my schoolmates, so although my location now allowed me to do pretty much anything I wanted to, I still remained bored a few weeks longer because I had nobody to do anything with. My University compatriots wouldn't return for a little while, but College students, whose school year is slightly longer than ours, were already back.

Jen, a friend of mine from high school, was starting her first year at Algonquin College, which happened to be reasonably close to my new house. Delighted to have company, I called her up and arranged to head over. The College kids were getting settled, which means they were drinking heavily, and the campus had quickly become one nonstop party zone. The dormatory area is designed as one very large diamond, with the rooms and hallways forming four straight lines which connect at the ends and which leave a sizable whole in the centre - a hole peppered with picnic tables and recently-planted trees, which had become the spot to socialize (and, by extention, drink).

I spent the evening wandering about the inner-diamond, chatting with the friendly students and getting free drinks. I was wearing my favourite outfit of the season, which was the cause of much talk that night: a thin tie circa 1984 (courtesy of my father's wardrobe), a tiny grey blazer, brown Converse All-Stars, and, on that particular evening, a small grey fedora, which I had swiped from someone's residence room. The disoriented chatting and irresponsible drunkeness caused me to lose track of time, and when it finally occured to me that I ought to go home and sleep I realized I'd missed the last bus home. It would surely take hours to walk, but I was drunk and had my iPod, so I decided to give it a go.

Screamin' Jay Hawkins scored the trip. Stumbling home in the wee hours of the night, intoxicated but not incapacitated, humming along to his incredible tunes; I felt like the king of the world. Screamin' Jay Hawkins has an odd way about him, crafting songs that seem to craft worlds: we're hurdled into an strange but cool land of late-night cafes and mysterious nobodies shot in black and white and oozing with intriuge. This is lost on most, but for some - myself included, it's irresistably appealing. Like Tom Waits, Screamin' Jay Hawkins is an artist who not only sings about 24-hour weirdos, he sings to them. You can't help but feel cool.

You might not be familiar with the name Screamin' Jay Hawkins (if that is indeed his real name), but I imagine you know his music. Remember that scene in Hocus Pocus when Bette Midler sings 'I Put A Spell On You' to a group of people in order to, um, put a spell on them? You may have thought that was a Creedence Clearwater Revival tune, but it isn't - well, actually, it is, but theirs isn't the original. Yes, the original was penned and recorded in 1956 by none other than Screamin' Jay Hawkins, an African-American musician who became notorious for his utterly bizarre stage performances and, well, his screamin'.

After his brief spell (ha) of fame in the late 1950s, Screamin' Jay Hawkins pretty much disappeared from the spotlight. He recorded several full length albums through the sixties and seventies, but, try as he might, Hawkins was unable to repeat the success of his debut single. To this day, Hawkins's fame revolves entirely around that one song: in the 1980s, it was featured on the soundtrack of and played a rather large part in Jim Jarmusch's cult film Stranger Than Paradise; through the 80s and on, the song was covered by everyone from Nick Cave to Marilyn Manson (and Creedance, as I previously mentioned, whose version is perhaps the most widely known); and most recently, the song was used in a Pringles commercial, again reviving the song's popularity.

It's unfortunate that Screamin' Jay Hawkins's fame is limited to the success of one runaway hit - though, in all fairness, that song is excellent - because he's a talented musician with a fairly solid discography that is mysteriously lacking attention and acclaim. Real Life, a collection of rerecorded singles and some new material released in the early eighties is probably Screamin' Jay's most interesting record. Though it doesn't quite reach the ecstatic heights of 'I Put A Spell On You', it's a solid album that ranks among the best of the decade. It's dissapointing that such wildly imaginative and intriguing music has gone completely overlooked for so long, and I hope that someday soon his music - this album in particular - is rediscovered and appreciated in the way it certainly should be. And come on, just look at that album art. Now picture it plastered on the cover of a 12" record. Now who needs a drink?

Best Heard With: Black Russian
After seeing The Big Lebowski for the first time in high school, I really wanted to try a White Russian. And who didn't? It quickly became my favorite drink. But last year in residence, I was time and time again faced with one little problem: nobody has any milk. I can hardly blame them. We all had a meal plan and ate our breakfast in the cafeteria, so spending five dollars on milk we'd never use was hardly an expense we wanted to take on. So what's a borderline alcoholic to do? Make Black Russians, of course! You see, nine times out of ten I'd have added the liquor and was just waiting on the milk, and so was left with just the booze in my glass - little did I know, however, that a White Russian sans lait is another drink altogether, and it's much cooler than its creamy counterpart. The Black Russian - that is, Vodka and Kaluha over ice - is without a doubt the coolest drink you'll ever have. "Hey, what are you drinking?" "Fucking Black Russian - and yes, it's just as hardcore as it sounds". Pour 1 1/2 oz of Absolut vodka (for flavour, use Absolut Vanilla) and 1 1/2 oz of Kahlua over ice in a rocks glass. Stir and look awesome.

Screamin' Jay Hawkins - I Put A Spell On You
Marilyn Manson - I Put A Spell On You
Nina Simone - I Put A Spell On You
Creedence Clearwater Revival - I Put A Spell On You
Roxy Music - I Put A Spell On You

Screamin' Jay Hawkins - Real Life

Comments on "Making Drinks For Nigel: Real Life's a Scream"


Blogger Geoff Trainor said ... (16/5/06 3:06 am) : 

He also has a name on the X-Files soundtrack, Songs In The Key Of X. If I remember correctly, it is quite amusing. I probably remember incorrectly.


Anonymous lucienne said ... (16/5/06 12:07 pm) : 

Many thanks for all these renditions. It’s a marvelous song.

Another, exotic version I like by Egyptian singer /
Trans-Global Underground collaborator,
Natacha Atlas
: I Put a Spell on You.mp3


Anonymous Plasticsun said ... (16/5/06 4:41 pm) : 

Arthur Brown (another one hit wonder - "Fire") does a great over the top version on his first album.


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