"Dean was the American spirit at it's truest: Fuck Vietnam, fuck politics, fuck morality, fuck culture and fuck the counterculture, fuck it all. We were here for but a breath; Twice around the fountain and into the grave: Fuck it."
Biographies are fun to read, at least better than watching that "Biography" thing on A&E - They started out with Caesar and Napoleon and now they're down to the people who played the Ropers on "Three's Company". And you thought the Suzanne Sommers episode was pushin' it. My Dad says he saw the show they did about Dean Martin, but no way could it have been as good as Nick Tosches' "Dino: Living High In The Dirty Business Of Dreams" - It's my FAVORITE book!
You all know about Dean Martin, The Internationally Notorious Prankster And Party Person who teamed up with Jerry Lewis, hung out in the Rat Pack with Frank Sinatra and those other assholes, sold a zillion records, starred in a million movies and his had own TV show. But none of that has anything to do with what makes "Dino" such a great book. Yeah, everybody thinks Jerry Lewis is The Greatest (Right? Right? Aw, C'mon!), but that Vegas casino scene - Creepsville! But Those Who Do Not Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It (At least the part about hearing that goddam "Those Who Do Not Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It" line over and over again) and if American culture in 2003 gives you that "Huh? Where am I? How did I get here? Who are you people?" feeling "Dino" is as good a place to start as any.
Not that "Dino" isn't worth reading for all the Dean Martin stuff - Martin was a pretty cool guy by Show Biz standards and Nick Tosches is such a great writer he could take the life of Justin Timberlake and make a good book out of it. Better yet, Nick - Just take his life. Do the punk a favor. Take his life before he realizes what a mistake it was to break up with Alyssa Milano! Tosches was a writer for CREEM magazine in the seventies which means that now I'm obliged to talk about Lester Bangs for half an hour. . . Oh, look! "The Fifth Wheel" is coming on! Oh, I kid Lester because he's dead and in no position to do anything for me professionally and - I know this sounds mean - any guy who would write a short story based on Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" (He laughs at all of her jokes, his love she doesn't need to coax, yeah, you get the picture - Cause Stewart already painted it for ya) should have the good sense to bury it under a big pile of freshman year notebooks and Playboy's in the shed behind his parent's house. Which is probably where Lester would be residing today if he was still alive.
But Tosches Rules The Waves with "Dino" Supreme! With this book Tosches brings the Twentieth Century together in one 572 page package, tracing popular culture to the one point at which everything and everyone converged - Dean Martin! In the future people will read this book and wonder "Is it true? Was there truly such a person as Dean Martin?" Tosches has wound up reality so tightly with this book that once you've read it you may feel the need to reread it every few months or so before it all begins to . . . unravel.
First of all, Dean Martin was Italian and, if you don't think that's a big deal, you must be Sicilian. I learned a couple of very interesting Italian things from "Dino." Like, right here - I can't believe I never heard of this before - "Lontananza", that's the Italian word for the distance a guy keeps from other guys cause other guys . . . Well, what fuckin' good are they? Who the hell needs em? "The sum of Dino's instinct had to do with the old ways, those ways that were like a wall, ways that kept the world lontano , as the mafiosi would say: distant, safe, and wisely at bay."
Dean embodied (Hold on, I gotta change to the damn Italics font again) Lontananza. As a rising crooner, Dean became known for pitching his corny love ballads toward the MEN in the crowd. He was too good looking to have to do anything to get the women into the act, so he got the guys on his side by delivering songs like "Oh, Marie" and "Peg O' My Heart" with a cool blooded wise guy attitude of "Can ya believe the dumb shit women fall for? Christ!" Once he became a star Dean didn't even pretend to care, telling audiences things like "I hate guys that sing serious," and singing half a song before cutting off with "No point in sing the whole thing, you might not buy the record.
Lontananza is a big deal because today in 2003 we are up to our eyebrows in the stuff. People called "Seinfeld" a show about "nothing" because our language didn't have a word for what it was about. Well, maybe the rappers do, but who gives a shit. What "Seinfeld" was really about was Lontananza. George's fiancee dies and they go over to the diner for coffee cause . . . What else do they ever do? You would have never called "M*A*S*H" a show about "nothing" because it's set in an Army hospital during a war but it's got Lontananza like nobody's business. Hawkeye and Trapper John making their silly jokes while up to their elbows in dying GI intestines, totally Lontananza!
I learnt another good Italian word from this book - Menefreghismo, the quality of a Menefreghista - "one who simply did not give a fuck"!
Now, I'm just a dumb ass Cajun with enough Irish and Arab in me to render me utterly useless to polite society, but I gather that a Menefreghista is a guy with lontananza, that wall between himself and the world being the result of his not giving a fuck. Or is his not giving a fuck a result of that wall between himself and the world? Which came first - the Menefreghista or the lontananza? Who gives a fuck? I ain't changin' the fuckin' font for this shit no more!
Dean Martin was the ultimate Menefreghista. "One wondered, watching Dean," a critic wrote "whether he cared whether his show went over or not." Yeah, who gives a fuck about these silly ass songs and this crappy show in this slimeball nightclub? How else could a guy as cool as Dean be in the same act as a doof like Jerry Lewis? "Yeah, go right ahead and come into the club dressed up as a waiter and spill a tray full of drinks right in the middle of my goddam song - I could give a rat's ass what you do."
And now here we are in a world absolutely infested with Menefrighistas, millions and millions and millions of people who simply do not give a fuck. In fact, today it's the people who do care about things that are viewed as the troublemakers. What could be more uncool than being concerned about anything in the newspaper? Hell, just bothering to read the damn newspaper is enough to make you a Model Citizen. Read it? Just buy it and you qualify to be Governor or Senator.
Lontananza . . . menefreghismo . . . Great stuff, wide open spaces of new this and that to sit around thinking about instead of actually doing anything, but take it from The Wise Old Wise Ass - You ain't Dean Martin, kid. Damn right you wouldn't want nobody hanging around after a few decades of being surrounded by thugs, killers, con artists, musicians, comedians, movie stars - The Friggin' Scum Of The Earth. Anybody else - All this "aloof", "distant", "jaded" "ironic" business is a loada tripe. Somebody wants to talk to you - You just talk to em and be damn nice about it. People want you to come over and hang out for a little while - You take a shower, brush your teeth, and be sure to show up with a six pack or a pineapple upsidedown cake. Who the hell are ypu to pull that Greta Garbo foolishness? See, what nobody's bothered to tell you kids is that . . . Cue up the music . . . once you turn away from other people you ain't never makin' it back, you just go right on sailin' down de lazy river and the farther you get the stranger people look and you don't ever wanna know how you look to them. Dig Howard Hughes with his fifty seven inch toenails, Michael Jackson with . . . I dunno, I ain't seen The Enquirer this week, John Saleeby injecting molten candy corn into the throbbing vein in the side of his head and handing out pieces of paper with "SALEEBY IS TOPS" written on them to the little black kids in the parking lot . . . Nobody wants to talk to nobody like that! Nobody!
"It's great. I wake up every morning. Massive bowel movement. The Mexican Maid makes me some breakfast. Down to the club here. At least nine holes. A nice lunch. Go home, sit by the TV. The Mexican Maid makes me a nice dinner. A few drinks, Go to bed. Wake up the next morning. Another massive bowel movement. Beautiful. This is my life."
- Dean Martin
Once more around the fountain and I'm outta here . . .
John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines Schmuck.com, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer now than he was when you met him earlier. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org