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Murder, Inc.

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The soundtrack to the Twentieth Century Fox movie “Murder Inc.” with performances by the great Sarah Vaughan.   This one on the Canadian American Records label.     Notable too for being Peter Falk’s first film.

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Killing me softly

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SARAH VAUGHAN  MURDER INC. (ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK)  CANADIAN AMERICAN

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Storyville

A nice illustrated cover by Ben Shahn (1898-1969). “Chicago Style Jazz” on Columbia.

Art, as I saw it one day when I helped hang a National Academy show while I was a student there, was about cows. In those days, early in the twenties, there were many cow paintings. More than that, the cows always stood knee-deep in purple shadows. For the life of me I never learned to see purple where there was no purple — and I detested cows. I was frankly distressed at the prospects for me as an artist.

But there came a time when I stopped painting, stopped in order to evaluate all these doubts. If I couldn’t see purple where there was no purple–I wouldn’t use it. If I didn’t like cows, I wouldn’t paint them. What then was I to paint? Slowly I found that I must paint those things that were meaningful to me–that I could honestly paint in the shapes and colors I felt belonged to them. What shall I paint? Stories.Ben Shahn

Ben Shahn was an artist who spoke to the world. A man of uncompromising beliefs, he became the most popular artist of his age – his work was on the cover of Time as well as in the Museum of Modern Art.

Shahn came to prominence in the 1930s with “The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti,” a politically pointed series about the Italian anarchists who many believed were framed for murder. He went on to paint murals and take photographs for the government during the New Deal, and to become a successful painter and commercial artist.

In 1956-57, Ben Shahn was the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University (poetry was broadly defined as “all poetic expression in language, music, or the fine arts.”) During that time he gave a series of lectures, later collected and published by Harvard University Press. The Shape of Content has been in print and widely read since its publication in 1957. In fact, many people come into contact with Shahn’s writing before they are aware of his art.

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Sweet and lovely

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From the movie Candy from the book and screenplay by Terry Southern.   Candy was played by Ewa Aulin who was a 16-year-old Miss Sweden when she began her career in exploitation cinema, starting with prolific erotic aesthete Tinto Brass’ Deadly Sweet (1967), followed by her breakthrough role as the teen temptress in Giulio Questi’s Death Laid An Egg alongside European mega-stars Gina Lollabrigida and Jean-Louis Trinignant (a role she would re-imagine for The Double (1971).   Aulin was unleashed on American audiences with the movie adaptation of Terry Southern’s psychedelic Candy in 1968, where she floated through the muddled incestuous subplot with an endearing naivete. 1972-73 were Aulin’s banner years in terms of onscreen skin, appearing in a few of the better Decamerotics, including My Pleasure is Your Pleasure and Vittorio De Sisti’s Fiorina the Cow, but her piece de resistance – whose steamy lesbian sequence was cut out for American release – was Joe D’Amato’s Death Smiles on A Murderer (1972). In 2002, the German TV doco Ewa Aulin – Die Zeit mit mir als Candy was assembled in tribute to this Swedish nymphette, whose career was brief but momentous.

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The Queen of Drag

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Ray Bourbon was a pioneering drag comedian, friend of Mae West and an early independent recording artist.   Ray was a deliberately enigmatic pop cult figure who may, or may not, have had a sex change operation in 1956.   Ray’s comedy was, at once, highbrow and lowbrow, overtly Gay and covertly subversive. Despite his influence on Gays, he remained vague about his own sexuality.

Throughout the 50’s and 60’s Bourbon entertained at hundreds of clubs throughout the US and released dozens of albums, certainly the most prolific female impersonator to have done the latter. Despite his knack for publicity (such as faking a sex change in 1956), by the late 1960’s Bourbon had fallen on hard times. In 1968 while traveling through Texas with trailer containing over 70 dogs, his car burst into flames and he was forced to lodge the animals with kennel keeper A. D. Blount. He eventually found work at the Jewel Box Revue in Kansas City, but by then Blount had sold the dogs to a research facility since Bourbon was unable to pay for their keep. Bourbon hired two young men ­ ­to work Blount over, but they panicked and killed the kennel-keeper. The men and Bourbon were all convicted as murder conspirators; as the mastermind, the 78 year old Bourbon was given a 99 year sentence. He died a short time later, on January 19, 1971 in the Howard County Texas prison.

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The Tornados

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The Tornados were produced by Joe Meek the legendary British producer and technical innovator behind the band’s hits “Telstar” and “Have I the Right.”   Meeks has become a cult figure since his death in 1967.   It was only six years between his first chart success and his suicide at the age of 38.   It’s no exaggeration to say that Joe Meek’s short life was stranger than fiction. He was a tone-deaf songwriter, a spiritualist convinced that he had foretold Buddy Holly’s death, and a hopelessly inept businessman who was conned out of his “Telstar” royalties. Like his contemporary Joe Orton he was gay, and like Orton he came to a violent and untimely end. Unlike Orton, however, Meek was a murderer instead of a murder victim – he shot his landlady Mrs Shenton before turning the shotgun on himself.

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