Music...affects me merely as an arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds --Vladimir Nabokov PALE SMOKE â€œA Memoir by Vladimir Nabokovâ€? They all came out to Montreux, shaggy drug dunderheads all, rendering my adopted hotel home a discommodious farrago. The band in question was something called "The Deep Purple," which I assumed was a gang of British homosexualists who prided themselves on the depths of their passive intercourse. It turns out they were a rock band (More like ROCK BOTTOM! I loathe equally Sgt. Pepper, Sgt. Schultz, and Sargent Shriver!). Our misadventure began when I was in the middle of a typically vivid dream of synesthesia. My wife Vera elbowed me into common consciousness. The acrid smell of pyrolysis filled our room. Mrs. N. rang the dipsomaniac night porter to confirm that the casino on the lake was on fire and not our hotel. "Monsieur Plouffe, our room smells like burning hippies. Might there be anything you could do to ameliorate the situation?" "Madame Nabokov, I shall see to it personally," lied the lush who, upon hanging up the telephone, returned to the object of his only passion. Apparently, a perverted pyromaniac had set the casino ablaze during a granite recital, or "rock concert." (O ungrateful children, I thought you liked "hot" music?) Thankfully, no one was hurt (though later I would come close to regretting that fact). The fire brigade routed the blaze, and all was well but... The Ashers of The Azure had planned to record a suite or "album" chez casino. Serendipitously, another "monster pop" group, The Gathering Mosses of Transvestism, loaned their Purple coevals a 1
mobile recording truck, a modern invention every bit as evil as Dr. Oppenheimer's. Thanks to the miracle of science, amplified sewage can now be preserved anywhere, not just in the confines of poshlust preservation known as the "studio." THE PURPLE MEN COMETH The recording truck roared menacingly at dawn and parked itself; completely blocking the Palace’s Porte-cochère during Breakfast. Soon, miles of wire and cables were running through our hotel like eviscerated electronic sweetbreads. "Pardonner notre apparence, but…DEEP PURPLE has chosen OUR hotel to record their album!" said the young porter in reverential tones as if Borges had honored our hotel to complete his Labyrynths. He then proclaimed, "This is the heaviest band in the world!" I was expecting a drove of porcine, morbidly obese minstrels to come waddling through the lobby, so I was surprised when a flock of emaciated beards emerged; dressed as Renaissance men at a cattle auction. In their hands, they clutched the rectangular cases that housed their weapons of aural assault. The Violet Vulgarians ignited their cigars of "weed, " and I instantly became a proponent of Agent Orange. (The hotel would be saturated with sweet acridity for the duration of their stay.) "‘Eres the loo? Gotta squirt!" said one of the animals from the entourage. The obsequious Porter pointed the way. "Watch me Strat, wontcha?" (How dare they name an electrical guitar after Stradivarius?) The starstruck porter faithfully stood sentry. Another hairball asked, "Got downers? Need ta crash." So Dionysian! So ostrobogulous! So louche! So de la boue! So ripe. So unlaundered. So confusing: their appeal? 2
There was one jelly-bellied member of the entourage; an older man whom I presumed to be the business manager, as he was counting cash in his hands. His name was Phil Ardor or perhaps Phil Adler. He was dispensing per diems to the band. He wagged his finger, then commanded, “No horse for you ‘till the album’s cut!” I imagined the farcical scenario of the entire band going for a pony ride in the Alps, celebrating a job well done! AFTERNOON William F. Buckley was visiting Geneva on business (that had nothing at all to do with Swiss banking secrecy, I assure you). Mr. Buckley surprised me with a visit in the middle of this melée. I occasionally contribute to his magazine and am paid promptly and handsomely, so I met him in the empty dining room for a drink. I tried not to stare too long at his rolling toad eyes and askew toupée, which no longer matches his greying side hair. Although I, of course, oppose the Soviets for the tumult they caused my family, I am not very interested in swallowing political turkeys, be it the left wing or the right wing. I AM in favor of business. I am in favor of concluding it as quickly as possible. I spied my watch, however, the ex-CIA man inhaled deeply, and I could tell he was about to wax peripatetic. "Ahn-ee-way Vlawd, given your opposition to Soviet ex-pawnshun, The National Review could use an ahh-ti-cul..." Frankly, I could not understand much of what Mr. Buckley was saying. He sounded like an Englishman who had just been hit with a needle of Thorazine. (Ironically, a former student of mine claimed he could not understand MY accent during my lectures! Later, he wrote an extra thick book about eating doo during World War II somewhere under the rainbow, so I am told.) 3
As we talked, The Purple’s henchmen made a racket testing the sound equipment in the ballroom. A distorted C note droned interminably. “That reminds of the tale of two street violinists…” Mr. Buckley said, lowering his head so that his chin disappeared into a curtain of skin. “One of them was playing a beautiful Bach sonata and the other was a crazed hobo droning and scratching on a single note. The hobo explained, ‘Ah, but he is searching for his note whereas I have found mine!’” "That's really key, Bill. Well, have your magazine send my agent the particulars, and I'll get started." Mr. Buckley's pupils were now rotating clock and counter clockwise like that other creature on educational TV, The Cookie Monster. "Vlawd, you always say you think in pictures. Does your agent send you cartoons of our editorial guidelines, perhaps? "Oh witty witty, Bill. Goodness, It's 2:30, I need to go luffa Vera's skin irritation!" I said, lying and smiling. I then escaped both the Deep Purple and the thinning hair. EVENING By 8:00 in the evening, the band was sufficiently chemically accelerated to commence proper noise. Horrid feedback clapped like a thunderstorm. “Check one. Check one,” said a voice, endlessly. Every inane detail of conversation was amplified and shared with the entire hotel. (The noise amplifier: another evil invention created by some villain named “Marshall Stack.”) "Jon Lord" (of darkness?) would play an eternal E on his organ, and then the "Ritchie Blackheart" would painstakingly twist his tuning knob, always missing the intonation. Whereas the entire Viennese symphony might take two minutes tops to acquire sufficient harmony, for The Purple Poltroons, tuning up was a 454
minute ordeal. In my nightmares, I can hear the amplified portamento of the guitar approaching E. "Stop! Stop!" I yell, but I am powerless. --And all of this to perform an amplified nursery rhyme that went: G, Bb, C, G, Bb, C#, C (Repeat 24 bars) The Black Velvet Crypt Keepers were recording "Smoke on the Water." I surmised this because they must have chanted the phrase at least 500 times in the antelucan hours. The song was a hymnal to the recent casino pyre. The band would "lay down" a few bars, then immediately play everything back. (Perhaps a certain narcosis causes existential panic: the compulsion to confirm one’s existence obsessively?) The tape recorder made comic seal squeals every time the tape was reversed. Low British logorrhea would follow. "More verb on the eye 'at." "John's organ is leaking." (May I suggest a portable Water Closet?) "Eye think it needs more fairy doost" and other incomprehensible suggestions were debated; followed by another tortuous round of G, Bb, C, G, Bb, C#, C. Vera is blessed with the ability to wear earplugs and snoozes like an infant. I find those knobs irritate my ears, and so I am cursed. I try to close my lids. I see the darkness, but The Even Deeper Purple intrudes. "Me Strat's outta tune again, but you just can't beat that tone!" I was fantasizing of beating more than just a tone by this point. G, Bb, C, G, Bb, C#, C ad infinitum. G, Bb, C, G, Bb, C#, C ad nauseam. G, Bb, C, G, Bb, C#, C––I cursed, ad hominem.
Into the night, they sang: "Frank Zappa and the Mothers/ Were at the best place in town/ But some stupid with a flare gun/ Burned the place to the ground." Some stupid? Using stupid as a noun does make the band sound rather stupid! (To cope with this clumsy phrase, I started to imagine that stupid is actually a surname. Perhaps this Stupid comes from a long lineage of Stupids? Sally Stupid; Phillip Stupid; Henry and Lotta Stupid; perhaps the assassin Gavrilo Stupid, who fired his flare gun and started a stupid World War?) Purple's lyrics were so deep, they were merely an inch tall in China. MORNING Daytime being The Purple's midnight, by 9 A.M. they retired to their hotel suites to "ball," in their pernicious parlance. (Unsportsmanlike fouls that they are; a ball exists only to be hit!) A gaggle of nymphets queued the hallways, clad in thermonuclear hot pants that revealed the crescents of their nates. While my poor Humbert could only dream of such opportunity, these fawns offered themselves freely to The Reamers of the Purple Pipe despite their mirrorexploding ugliness; despite their raw rumps becrusted with hot filth; despite their bearded bulldog faces––incredibly, against all odds and in defiance of nature's instinct that prevents us from interspecies copulation these torrid teens dripped with the anticipation of offering themselves on an altar made of "Rock." By the time Vera was contemplating her scrambled eggs, The Purple Plungers were feasting on cherry pies. By afternoon, the only sound they produced was snoring, mercifully unamplified yet oddly unrecorded by their "mobile" for all posterity. ("The Best of Deep Purple in Deep Sleep, Volume II!”) I detected the onset of madness and phoned a friend and inquired, though we hated to make a fuss if we could stay at his 6
chalet until The Purple Racket had decamped. Thankfully, our accommodation was gratis, and our company was appreciated as long as I threw a few "zingers" at dinner and related some chuckly anecdotes over coffee. Remember, I am a refugee artist who once had to compose novels in my bathroom, so frugality to the point of parsimony is wired into my autonomic system. (The hotel staff has long learned to retract their Pound seeking palms when M. Nabokov is present.) You, the reasonable reader, might inquire: does not civilization allow for a redress of grievances in the form of a complaint? It most certainly does! This faithful scribe shall relate his diplomatic initiatives with the hotel management: "Monsieur X, I wish to complain about the volume of noise, especially at such an unreasonable hour?" "Well, if Monsieur Nabokov and the other permanent residents wish to pay more per month to book the ballroom, I'm quite certain an accommodation could be made!" And that was the end of that! Upon our return, despite the absence of Deepness and the erasure of all Purple hues, I exhibited symptoms of being PISST ("Post Illness Symptoms of Suppressed Trauma"). After collecting a butterfly, my needle no longer gently nipped its thorax; rather, I found myself mutilating it with teracidal rage. Do doctors have similar post-traumatic flashbacks? The thought made me quail at the prospect of facing an irritated surgeon's scalpel. (Perhaps for too long, in retrospect!) Sometimes when Vera is "vera vera bad" and wishes to punish me, she plays a Compact Cassette of Smoke on the Water while waving a Purple cape like a bullfighter. My synesthesia percolates and, much like that sinister treatment in Mr. Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, the song reanimates and lodges in my cranium for two 7
terrible weeks. Smoke on the water, a fire inâ€Ś my brain! It made me wish to take that "Stupid's" flare gun and put it to my temple. The last words I ever wrote may have been: "...thinking away oneself a melting sensation," but I can guarantee what the last sounds melting my mind will be: G, Bb, C, G, Bb, C# C. Not the Bard's sonnets but rather "smoke on the water, a fire in the sky." will incantate. The song will be trapped in my brain, welded there by heavy metal amplification. It may even post-decease me. Light traces of G, Bb, and C will dance about the coffin, mocking me. EPILOGUE Some years later I opened the Morning Tribune, and while inseminating my cafĂŠ with Carnation Instant Creem, I read with mischievous schadenfreude that The Deep Seamen of All Things Purple had apparently been kidnapped in Jakarta and forced to perform in bondage. When the band's flunky complained, he was unceremoniously tossed down the hotel elevator shaft. I usually detest repressive regimes and loathe brute tactics, but two cheers for totalitarianism? Revenge: a dish served with a petit beurre and ersatz cafĂŠ au lait! I have lived in the Palace Hotel since 1961. I live here because it simplifies postal matters and perfect poached eggs are cooked for me each morning. I categorically deny that I live in Switzerland to play peek-a-boo with American tax authorities. I love America! I love America just as I do Vera's pudendum: I love it so much I never go there anymore. Oh, sometimes one does feel inequity in being a writer. An author's royalties are dispensed unevenly, yet taxed per annum. Furthermore, I must deal with flakes like Lolita publisher Maurice Girodias, whose royalty payments are hardly tax-efficient. (Then again, there is nothing efficient about M. Girodias. The act of 8
licking a stamp would require him an hour’s contemplation over cigarettes and wine.) DR. BLOCH Aside from crypto-banking and coo coo clocks, Switzerland is a Mecca of plastic surgery. It is not unusual to see guests at tea bandaged like the incredible invisible man. I am acquainted with a Dr. Bloch––head surgeon of the Geneva private clinic. After three martinis, he betrays his clients’ confidences to Vera and me, regaling us with tales of rock stars' collapsed proboscises. The bassist from The Purple Crypt happened to be one of his patients and confessed to Dr. Bloch, somewhat proudly, that he had personally consumed one million dollars worth of cocaine. To paraphrase dear Oscar, to lose half a million dollars up one’s nose is a tragedy; to lose another half million seems like mere carelessness. Dr. Bloch also boasted that Rose Mary Woods, President Nixon's secretary, raved about another patient: an elderly benefactor who was seeking an ambassadorship. "You should see him; he looks completely rejuvenated! I'll bet he gets those shots in Switzerland although that's not all they do there." Miss Woods was referring to Dr. Bloch's practice of the Voronoff Xeno-Transplantation: the grafting of monkey testicles into men. An incision is made in the male coin-purse; communion-sized wafers of sliced monkey essence are then sutured to the original editions. Follow-up shots of concentrated man and monkey are injected. (How dreary political show business is!) The enterprising Dr. Bloch makes bank on both your comings and going: when your decline becomes inevitable, Herr Doktor will out your brief candle discreetly. 3 injections and a plastic bag, I hear. Alas, the would-be Ambassador's White House interview was illfated. He was discovered behind a desk in the Oval Office, pants down, flinging his dung with simian abandon. 9
It took five Secret Service men to extricate the spastic missing link from the White House. An ambulance crew and straightjacket were requested. After the ordeal, one of the agents was heard whispering: “Messiest job since ’63!” A NOVEL IDEA (Note to self: idea for novel entitled "The Voronoff Transplant." A Russian émigré, who happens to be named Voronoff, meets in Berlin a "Dr. Bloch" type. Through a comedy of errors, Bloch is sent to a concentration camp while Voronoff escapes to America with Bloch's reputation. Voronoff is, of course, a fraud; not even the genuine fraud Dr. Voronoff––and doesn't know what he's doing, but is nonetheless showered with praise and money with the help of a southern border-radio huckster. All Voronoff has to do is appear dignified and speak Russian––Must erase all trace of allusion to my brother “Sergey the Better”! Perhaps, Bloch is a blackmailed homophile and Voronoff meets an 11-year-old Mexican girl with much intrigue? Does Voronoff tire of dealing with hucksters and gullible fools, or does he learn to embrace it? Another hall of identity-mirrored funhouse! Must include a big Mama shrew type…) IN AND OUT OF THE HOSPITAL, 1977 During my apostasis, a synthetic enkephalin was introduced into my IV. The thorn in my lion's foot was instantly gone! The muse called, and I wrote on an index card DYING IS FUN! I had always associated psychotropics with idiocy and possible mental retardation (remember, this is 1977); however, in the mind of the capable author, ideas were lucid and came gushing out! A stack of index cards was soon filled. It truly inspired the Dickens out of me. I outlined a tale of an ill man who conjures the ability to erase parts of himself at will, and a roly-poly blob of a man, not at all based on Purple's manager, and his young plaything, who bares a passing 10
resemblance to Hot Pants #9 from the hotel––a subject which I have no prurient interest in, save literary. (And to think that these drugs were wasted on electric stringed barbarians and duogenarian dullards!) My emphatic denials of saucy salaciousness will disappoint the acolytes of a certain mad Doctor Freud: a big nose buffoon who sticks his proboscis in the slop of speculation much to the delight of philistine bookchat typists who write the way they love, DIRTY! Furthermore…[Editor Alfred Applesauce III comments: Mr. Nabokov here expends several pages on his standard objections to Freudian interpretations of his work. He re-states that "Lewis Carroll liked little girls, I do not,” and that his novels are "mere puzzles." Similar protestations appear in works such as: Speak Memory; Strong Opinions; multiple prefaces and every single interview he ever participated in. For the sake of brevity, the avoidance of repetition, and some regrettable Ad Hominem stereotypes that a sober Nabokov would have surely expunged, we have deleted this diatribe save this last sentence:] METHINKS I DOTH NOT PROTEST ENOUGH! You, dear reader, shall never read this unfinished novel, as I have instructed my loyal wife Vera and my not at all ne'er-do-well son to extricate it from the vault and burn it. Ironically, Deep Purple's album "Burn" will never be burned, and the radio waves will usher Smoke on the Water to the galaxies and beyond infinity, the universe being not without a sense of comic jest. Cimitere de Clarens may hold me six feet under, but even deeper shall be all hues Purple: Eternally vulgar and louder than a trillion butterflies sighing. G, Bb, C, G, Bb, C# C 11
G, Bb, C, G, Bb, C# C G, Bb, C, G, Bb, C# C X
! ––V.N. 1972, 77 Montreux
DID NABOKOV MEET DEEP PURPLE? We all came out to Montreux /On the Lake Geneva shore To make records with a mobile /We didn't have much time Frank Zappa and the Mothers /Were at the best place around But some stupid with a flare gun /Burned the place to the ground Smoke on the water, fire in the sky --Deep Purple Well, they could have met! The author Vladimir Nabokov didn't just hate Rock and Roll. He hated all music. The neurologist Oliver Sachs speculated that Nabokov had Congenital Amusia. We’ve all heard the term “infectious riff,” but in Nabokov’s case, it could have been literal. We've all been there. A catchy tune is fun the first 100 times. Then, like a priapism, too much of a good thing turns bad. (Warning. Consult with your doctor if you cannot get "Smoke on the Water" or Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" out of your head for longer than four days! You may be suffering from Media Saturation Syndrome, a rare but serious…) Next thing you know, you're waving the white flag like General Manuel Noriega (who apparently surrendered after the U.S. Army blared AC/DC's You Shook Me All Night Long for 48 hours). Deep Purple was planning to record at the Montreux Casino that burned down. Nabokov lived at the Palace Hotel. According to the Palace Hotel website, Deep Purple apparently slept there during the recording of "Machine Head." In reality, Deep Purple recorded the album at an empty theater, and not the hotel. Nonetheless, Harry Bawels (channeling Lester Bangs) makes great speculative fun out of this prospective culture clash. 13
I can't fault Harry too much for his wrong prediction in the Creem Magazine article. "Smoke on the Water" was a hit in 1973, a time when AM Radio still ruled. Superstardom beckoned. Then came the usual management and personnel disasters for the band: they changed singers. Then Blackmore quit. Then came the Jakarta disaster. Then the replacement guitarist O.D.â€™d. Frank Zappa said the song made him "sad" because it was associated with a negative event. I suspect Mr. Zappa was sadder that his name was heard on the radio more than his music. Deep Purple's "Machine Head" really did influence Heavy Metal (more so than Led Zeppelin). Even thrash sounds like Purple at 45 RPM! -M.L.R.
“CREEM MAGAZINE” continued Sure, classical influences can always risk slipping into pretentiousness. When Jon Lord's Purple Mach-1 played with the London Symphony Orchestra (always a bad sign), we thought he'd gone the way of Oscar Wilde! But THIS Purple gets it just right. Hitchcock said that drama is life with all of the boring bits taken out. On Machine Head, Purple gives you short, compact and tasty restoration licks that compliment that jungle beat that the preachers all warned us about. What's more "authentic"? A European who admits he's descended from pale, pasty composers or Mick Jagger? (who slavishly imitates R&B singer Don Covay, who was descended from slaves). On the other hand, The Jefferson Airplane's Papa John "Screech" may be authentic, but his extended violin solos alert the crowd that it's an "authentic" time for a bathroom break. Northside (Europe). Southside (Africa). It's all good! As Buddy Rich says: "Just sit down and play some fuckin' music!" Mind you, Deep Purple is not completely bereft of blues (that honor goes to King Crimson: The FBI could dust Bob Fripp's guitar for blues and come back completely negative!) Consider the riff from "Smoke on the Water." It is…"A four-note blues scale melody in G, harmonized in parallel fourths" or so someone who can actually read music tells me. Blues scale melody…perhaps, but as the black grandma in the Vinyl Touch Fabric Softener ad says, "Oooh child, how'd you get it so white?" No phrasing. No bending. This is robot rock for machine heads. Face it, Whitey, you're from the Ice People and you look like a dork when dance. Embrace it. Crank up the 8 Track and bob your head in the car. Oh, did I mention that "Smoke on the Water" is the 16
greatest white rock & roll riff ever? Yeesh, I almost forgot. Talk about burying the lede! Along with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple has set the paradigm for Heavy Metal. They will often be imitated but seldom surpassed! BLIND ITEM: In Montreux, did EYE SPY a famous author, whose books are full of little girls, leering at Deep Purple's groopies in the hotel lobby? I guess in Russia, "hot pants" are puffy, down-filled trousers that leave everything to the imagination. PREDICTION FOR 1972. MOST LIKELY TO O.D.: Ginger Baker. I've been saying this for three years, and I've shot craps. I'm beginning to think the old crank must have vampire blood and will outlive us all. He sure is nasty as one. Our editor assigns us an interview with him whenever we've been naughty. Harry Bawels, January 1972
Rock band Deep Purple record an album in a Swiss hotel and drive Vladimir Nabokov crazy. Plus a Lester Bangs Creem Magazine parody. Witty fi...
Published on May 22, 2018
Rock band Deep Purple record an album in a Swiss hotel and drive Vladimir Nabokov crazy. Plus a Lester Bangs Creem Magazine parody. Witty fi...