Saturday, February 24, 2007
Anecdote # 404
The Birth Of The Rhino
in 1979 I had finished touring the world with david bowie
and was comfortably esconsced in the madness of cwazy wabbit.
making funny music with friends
when the call came to fly to Blonay, Switzerland
to repair some live guitar tracks from the bowie tour.
david had a large comfortable swiss house on the hillside
just up from Lake Geneva.
we were repairing tracks in the same lake geneva studio
that so famously begat "Smoke On The Water"
when frank zappa played there and the place burned down.
now it was a concrete bunker where david, eno, tony visconti,
(and I) had made the lodger the year before.
the tape operator Eugene looked so familiar.
finally someone asked him about it and he replied,
"well, Charlie Chaplin was my father".
"oh", we said.
the Chaplin mansion Manoir de Ban in Corsier
was just miles away from david bowie's house.
eugene invited david, david's assistant coco, and me
to join him for dinner with his mother at the mansion.
charlie chaplin's widow Oona was a beautiful woman.
that kind of older woman beauty that only comes
with wealth and pamperment.
oona was the mother of actress/dancer geraldine chaplin.
oona's own mother was there as well
but old enough to be silent.
while david and oona held courtly conversation
over dinner I was walking on air.
in charlie chaplin's house.
not everyone appreciates the full extent of his genius.
few people realize he wrote the music
for many of his films.
and he wrote it on the grand piano
in the room where we were sitting.
after dinner eugene escorted us down to the wine cellar,
now converted into a film archive of charlie's work.
a large stone floor lined with shelves of film cans.
eugene picked out a film and we went back upstairs
where he erected a home movie screen
right there in the living room.
oona and her mother sat on the sofa.
the movie was The King In New York from 1957.
the plot: because of a revolution in his country
King Shadhov (chaplin) comes to New York City
where he befriends a young boy born of
communist parents who is full of rhetoric.
the boy eventually softens the King's views.
the young boy/actor was chaplin's son Michael.
when the movie ended and the lights turned up,
oona and her mother sat crying on the sofa.
that's understandable, I thought, they missed charlie.
but back at the bowie bungalow david enlightened me.
michael, a favorite of his father, had later in life
turned politically and otherwise against charlie
and had embarrassed him by writing a tell-all book
called "I Smoked Pot On My Father's Lawn".
charlie never spoke to michael again
and this is what oona and her mother were crying over.
that night I went to bed on the third floor
of david's house, just down the hall from a wardrobe
hanger full of his old ziggy stardust costumes.
needless to say, I couldn't sleep.
I had just had dinner with david bowie
and charlie chaplin's widow at chaplin's mansion.
I had no guitar in my room
so i began to practice memorizing music.
this was something I'd been trying lately,
trying to write a song in my head without an instrument.
the song I came up with was lone rhino.
I could hear it like it was a real record playing.
and I kept playing it over and over
in my mind to remember it.
I took notes about specific phrases
(I'm a lone rhinoceros)
and production ideas (must have a snorting guitar sound)
I knew it was a metaphor for a lonely person,
trapped in life who perhaps felt like
the last of his kind.
like charlie chaplin may have felt.
I had the youthful audacity
to imagine it would be sung by ringo starr!*
I wrote it for his voice and range.
that melancholy ringo english voice.
it wasn't until a few weeks later back at home
that I finally worked out the chords,
completed the words, invented a suitable guitar snort,
and had the lone rhino.
*ringo was one of my earliest heroes. a sensational drummer.
(I was a drummer at the time)
no one else could have propelled the beatles in the same way.
his drumming had such presence and taste.
and I liked his voice.