How to Talk Mac Rebennack’s Oola-Ma-Walla-Malla Argot

 

Here’s a brief glossary of perhaps unfamiliar words and phrases from Mac Rebennack’s autobiography Under a Hoodoo Moon.


ax a musician’s instrument, derived from Mafia lingo, according to Rebennack

B drinkers – uncool bar customers

belly rub – a dance

bomolatchee –  a huge reefer, e.g. a Rasta spliff.

bonnaroo – cool, great, swell

boost, booster – to shoplift; a shoplifter

Chang Moi rocks  – a type of heroin

companfonkilation  – merging two songs and pulsing them with syncopation

Of all the songs on the album, the one that probably gave me the greatest kick was “Litanie des Saints,” my compafonkification of two pieces of music, Louis Gottschalk’s classical “‘Bamboula, Danse des Negres” and the chants I heard at various gris-gris churches over the years.

 

decks of gage – stacks of rolled up joints

desitively – positively, absolutely

dope sick – needing a fix

When we started working on the record, Wayne told me, “I can’t work no more like this.  I’m dope sick.  I need some serious money.”

down-goings – a play on “what’s going down” but in the sense of the process of sinking into further trouble

dry hump – a dance

ear bead – a blind man locating someone’s bodily presence

Ray [Charles] got an ear bead on him [and] knocked Charley on his ass.

Fess – Professor Longhair

Professor Longhair

fessee – the argot of professor Longhair (see propedeller, propelacter, e.g.)

festoon – Professor Longhair’s term for fun

flusturations – incidents that frustrate and fluster

One of the flusturations of this job was that when I delivered something I thought was good, many times Johnny didn’t put it out.

FonkLiterally, “a syncopation on or around a beat.”

 Fonky, fonked– a derivation of funky, but more emphatic, more positive, having the positive vibe associated with fonk.

In the bat of an eye, I’m out on the fonky streets of Fort Worth, smelling rawhide and cowpies, headed for the airport and blue skies.

This approach fonked up the more abstract northern jazz sound.

funksterators – funk creators, musicians that play funk

forever-and-one-year – a long prison sentence

frolic presto – to play music fast

Come on, boys.  Let’s frolic presto.

funky – the music of funk, cool, but less emphatic than fonky.  Rebennack uses both spellings, but fonky seems richer then funk.

get a sick off  –  score narcotics to counteract withdrawal

He needed to get his sick off.  His habit was an oil burner.

goofer dust – a hoodoo concoction

a combination of dirt from a graveyard, gunpowder, and grease from [church] bells; if you throw it into somebody’s eyes, it’ll blind them, and throwing it behind them while they’re walking will put a curse on them.

gris-gris – New Orleans styled voodoo, magic

hang paper – forge checks

hipped – turned on to new information

He hipped him to the fine points of hustling gigs.

in need of a little brain salad surgery – needing to get high

jingle jungle – the business of writing jingles for advertisements

junk-a-dope-a-nals – any intoxicatingy pharmaceutical ending in “nal”

A lot of them went for goofballs: Nembutal, Seconal, tuinal, phenobarbital.  The nals we used to call them – the junk-a-dope-a-nals.

lushing – drinking, doping

making cake – earning money

marble-lized – immortalized

“I think I marble-lized you.” Rebennack to Queen Julia Jackson after dropping her name in a song.

marygeranium– of or relating to marijuana

The truth was, I think my mother unconsciously dug reefer, or at least enjoyed the idea of a marygeranium high.

methodonian – an addict who has transitioned from heroin to methadone

ministrations – technical applications

We were all loaded and Rose was screaming and the doctor was doing his ministrations and it looked like the child was just about to come out when the doctor turned to us, real annoyed, and said, “Man, y’all can’t be smoking and doing all that shit in here, Get out!”

mootahs – reefers

muscle – bouncers

They had their own muscle working in the clubs or out on the street.

oaks and herbs – splendid, irie, as the Jamaicans say

And the second one said, “Everything’s oaks and herbs” – which means everything’s cool because they had smoked lots of herbs.

ofays – white people

The source of their bigotry seemed to be that the West Bank ofays were scared that black guys would take off with their women.

 

one-to-too-long-a-time –  any prison sentence

Now he’s in Angloa Penitentiary doing one to too long a time.

oola-ma-walla-malla language – specialized argot created by cats to confuse squares

‘plexed out – seriously frustrated by

They were truly down characters and kept me from getting ‘plexed out behind all the changes.

pluck – booze

He was a garbage head, a cat who would drink cheap pluck, smoke a bag of reefer, pop all the pills he could pop, then chase it all down with a shot of dope.

propedeller, propelacter – a drum pedal

“John, that ain’t what I want you to play on your foot propedeller.”

John said, “Whaaat?”

Fess said, “You know, I want you to propel the groove with your foot propelacter.”

rum-dums – winos, sots

One night a couple of rum-dums got into a fight and started throwing cans of corn and tomato juice around and busted up the store, making a hell of a gumbo in the process.”

shucker – a pretender

My voice was low and froggy; Shine had a husky voice, too, but was a real singer, not a shucker like me.

slotted – transitioned into a niche

I slotted into a different musical groove.

spew – a drum fadeout

stone – solid, set in stone, unalterable

There was a whole language and lifestyle that went along with being a stone dope fiend.

Leonard just didn’t have the stupidity to become a dope fiend or a weed or pill head; he was never anything but a stone character.

Cutting the album [Gumbo] was a stone kick from first to last.

tighten – to pay back owed money

Tomming – being an Uncle Tom

tragic magic  – heoin addiction

trashers – rock stars who wreck hotel rooms or ballrooms

traumatical – traumatic

All of this was very traumatical for me.  I’ve seen friends’ throats slit, my partner on the morgue table, kids getting turned out – it’s all very heavy, and a lot of it was stuff I’d forgotten until just recently when I went through rehab.

tricknology, tricknologists – the act of conning, fooling someone; con men, scam artists

 

 

 

 

Dr. John’s Dr. Johnston, Mad Props for the Malaprops

 

 

Polonius:  What do you read, my lord?

 Hamlet: Words, words, words.

 

Samuel Johnston in 1755-ish published the first ever dictionary in English.  He accomplished this Herculean feat single-handedly.

Imagine, idle reader, the enormity of the project.  How would you go about collecting words and defining them with no dictionary to consult? Would you start with aardvark and work your way alphabetically to zygote or start with verbs, assembling the gamut, so to speak, from states of being to acts of doing, and once you’d worked your way from is to zapped, would you then turn to the vast realm of nouns?

I ain’t know cause my mind be blown.

In 1994 with the help of a writer named Jack Rummel, Dr. John (nee Mac Rebennack) published an autobiography entitled Under a Hoodoo Moon.

Like Samuel Johnson, Dr. John, who just now died June 6, was a lover of locutions.  Like James Joyce, Mac, the Dr. (also known as the Nite Tripper) found the English language inadequate for his needs.

“So weenybeenyveenyteeny.”   James Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake

“Posilutely honorifficatedly medicatedly doctoratedly yours thank you.  Dr. John, from the liner notes of Desitively Bonneroo.

Sam Johnson was an eccentric. Obsessive, compulsive.   Before crossing the threshold of door, he’d go through a series of ritualistic gesticulations and when walking down the street feel compelled to touch every single post he passed.

Mac Rebennack was also an eccentric and was no stranger to wild gyratin-i-ficatin’,  as he might put it.

I’m now reading Under a Hoodoo Moon, and it occurs to me that I could honor these two doctor heroes of mine by doing a little lexicography myself, i.e., by compiling a Dr. John dictionary, a handy go-to reference when you run across a term like junk-a-dope-a-nals  or marygeranium.

The project is underway, and of course, I’ll publish it here, free of charge, despite Dr. Johnson’s oft-quoted observation: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”

But, as Dr. John says, “You can’t shut the fonk up.  No, the fonk got a mind of its own.

Caricature of Samuel Johnson and James Boswell. — Image by © Lebrecht Authors/Lebrecht Music & Arts/Corbis

The Lighter Side of the Apocalypse

Crumbling civilizations and apocalyptic doom are all the rage.  I should know. They’ve been my shtick for the 8 years I’ve been publishing blogs.  As I decline into the vale of years, what could be more natural than to project my own serotonin-starved vision of bleakness onto the world at large, to float like a dark cloud above the carnival, to cast a shadow on the festivities?

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees –
Those dying generations – at their song . . .

I suspect that this tendency of the aged to proclaim hell-n-handbaskets is a biological imperative as old as agriculture.  Remember the Greek myth of the Golden Age? Grandmama’s tales of the good ol’ days back on the farm?  How the Coca-Colas of your youth tasted so much better hissing from the fountain with a dollop of cheery juice?  [I suspect that Great Grandmama’s was even more pleasurable packing that eponymous ( i.e., not-so-secret) ingredient].

[cue Abner Jay]

As my aging body slouches towards dissolution, the world fast forwards beyond my capabilities and understanding.  As I carefully negotiate the crowds, pedestrians rush past staring into boxes the size of cigarette packs, manipulating buttons with their thumbs.

Honk honk!

Pouring pollution from their tail pipes, vehicles the size of city states shimmer like mirages in the gridlock.  Tinted windows obscure whoever inside has jacked up Jay-Z so loud that the bass lines sound like King Kong pounding on war drums.

Back home, my television offers more channels that I have the strength and/or attention span to cycle through: kung fu movies, costume jewelry emporiums, forty-year-old quiz shows, twenty-year-old football games, infomercials on ab-crushers, propagandists posing as news anchors.

Not to mention the kids these days, tattooed and pierced, playing the exotic dancer on Instagram, fantasizing about vampires, ending every statement with an interrogative lilt, sounding all alike whether they hail from Harlan, Kentucky or Exeter, New Hampshire.

An electorate with the attention span of a muscle spasm.

Well, if biologically I’m in decline, then the world must be in decline.  Some corporate evil force is somehow manipulating us!

***

Back in my g-g-generation’s swaggering youth, we shrugged off atomic annihilation the way we did parking tickets.  Wisely, we didn’t fret over scenarios of nuclear winters and genetic mutations because it was more fun (and made more sense} to devote our springtimes engaging in the lovedance beneath batik bedspreads in hippie vans, dormitories, and/or seedy apartments.  The future existed as merely an abstraction.

In the immortal words of the Tams: Be young, be foolish, but be happy.

All too imminent horrowshow scenarios (e.g., getting drafted and sent to Nam) relegated more speculative disasters to paranoia’s hinterlands.  Our elders – as I do now – articulated the Roman analogies, only targeted the bacchanalia of Woodstock rather than the Trimalchio’s Banquet of conspicuous excess that characterizes Late Empire capitalism (my favorite whipping child).

Despite their self-decorations, today’s youth strike me as more concerned about our planet and future generations than we proliferates.  They wisely love their planet and understand the delicate balances that sustain existence.  They fear not the sudden nuclear explosion (which may be naive given proliferation) but the gradual erosion of resources and climate change.

I say bravo! Live for today as you think ahead,  mindfully turning down the AC before you climb the stairs with your lover. Tune out the hyperbolic curmudgeons (like me) and cultivate your gardens.

Be young, be wise, but be happy.  And save the planet!  Vote!

Goodnight, Dr. John, May Flights of Brass Bands Blow Thee to Thy Rest

 

dr john keeper

Okay, Mac Rebennack’s dead, which means so is Dr. John, which means no more gumbo music, no more funkificated word coinages, no more “mos’ scociouses,” no more “desitively bonnaroos.”

Unique is too weak a word.  Dig this from his Nite Tripper days:

Although Dr. John put on great shows right up until recently (I’ve seen him three times over the last twenty years), I think his best album is 1974’s Desitively Bonnaroo.  Music critic Nick Deriso: “Even today, there’s really no roadmap for the crazy-eyed co-mingling of R&B, jazz, island beats, blues, boogie funk and hoodoo whackadoo splashed across this LP, recorded alongside fellow New Orleans legends Allen Toussaint and the Meters more than 35 years ago.”

I still got the copy I copped from a sidewalk record sale in ’76.  Take a peek at the musicians, if you’re interested, while you listen to a snippet of the title song.

The first time I saw Dr. John live was at an outdoor street festival, again in Columbia, and I’ll never forget his entrance, sporting canary yellow socks, bopping his cane on the sidewalk, strut-dancing his way up the piano to play and croak and banter.

After Katrina, my friends Jake, Keith, and my late wife Judy Birdsong saw him at the Newberry Opera house.  You could see Katrina had taken a toll, and he kept saying throughout the show, “They put me on psych meds.”  That was back in his way-over-weight days, and he occasionally got up from the piano and do these gyrations that didn’t quite qualify as a dance.

In 2013, I saw him for the last time at the Leaf Festival where he played the guitar. He had started out as a guitarist until he got a finger shot in a scuffle and turned to the piano.

dr on guitar

photo by Wesley Moore

Given his hanging out in smokey bars and strip clubs since his teens, his three-decade heroin addiction, his doing some time in prison, I doubt that Mac would ever dream he’d make it to 77, a lucky number.  At any rate, he follows Professor Longhair, Earl King, and James Booker, whom Dr. John once described as “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.”

So long, old friend. Gonna miss your music, gonna miss your rap.

jb_tragedy

James Booker

 

“Call of the Wild” Meets “The Man with the Golden Arm”

Okay, Lefty.  What about this one?  There’s this German shepherd named Rolf working at LAX sniffing out dope, but the thing is, he starts to like the smell of the herb, wonders what it tastes like, and finally, one day loses his Teutonic dog discipline and tears into a bag of Acapulco Gold, wolfs the whole bag, starts seeing shit like black light bunny rabbits melting.

He’s instantaneously hooked. There’s nothing anybody can do.  They try everything: behavior modification, treats, punishments, but after that first taste, he’s long gone, addicted, unemployable, eventually let go, gets adopted, but busts out his backyard, his nose huffing, guiding him outside the city limits south to Flores where he spends every waking moment trying to cop.

The cat – I mean dog – has a world-class nose.  Can sniff dope out extraordinaire.  Becomes a pot pickpocket, gets the shit beat out of him a couple of times, but it’s worth it – he’s got to have it.  Loses weight, hair, looks scabby, his will-to-live vacates.  He considers throwing himself in front of a bus but then [cue violins] runs across a wino puking in a back alley, and in puke Rolf sees the face of Jesus. He eats the vomit, and after licking his chops, his mouth opens, and the words “Oh my God” come out loud and clear.

Rolf gets straight, spends the rest of his life talking to users, who think they’re hallucinating when a dog starts telling them what they already know deep down inside, but he assures them they’re not hallucinating, and a few of them follow in his pawsteps, so to speak, accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, slip out of the chains of their addiction.

Getting people off drugs translates into some pretty powerful enemies.  One day a pusher named Roberto offs him, but Rolf goes to heaven, is the very first dog allowed in because dogs are basically amoral, no matter how much they seem to love you.  I realize this idea is unpopular, but it’s true.

I thought so.  Not believable.  Religious people won’t understand eating the vomit is communion, holy. I get it.  No hard feelings.

Well, the only other thing I got is even more unbelievable.  This reality TV star and professional wrestling promoter, who has a vocabulary of about 10,000 words, decides to run for president to drum up business for his brand.  The vulgarian is ridiculous, sports a platinum-dyed comb-over Teddy Boy do and tips the scales at 320. He has no intention of actually winning; it’s merely a publicity stunt, like I said, to hype his brand.  But the thing is that he kills his Republican competitors in the debates, mocking them to their faces.  It’s like, well, like professional wrestling: over the top, crass, stupid, the Red State Special. Even after he brags about his history of grabbing pussies, Evangelicals claim that God has sent him to save the nation.  He ends up winning the nomination, the presidency. Like I say, the talking Jesus dog is more believable.