Gordon Hauptfleisch (1954-2013): An Appreciation

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Having spent some of his earliest years just a mile down the road from where the Beach Boys grew up, the late Gordon Hauptfleish had a special way of capturing California’s flaxen past, always describing it with real force and wisdom. In fact, one of the last things he ever wrote for us perfectly frames this stirring gift.

gordon-hauptfleischExploring Robert Landau’s new book Rock ‘n’ Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip in February — just two months before Gordon would tragically succumb at 59 to what had become a series of a health issues in recent years — I’d argue Hauptfleisch was at the peak of his powers.

Few could enunciate the sun-flecked aura of those times, the very real fission of rock and culture, quite like Hauptfleisch.

Since he’d begun filing the occasional missive for Something Else! Reviews in May of 2012, Gordon had only reviewed six books for us, but each piece illustrated the care and passion of a smart man, a giving person, a true proselytizer on the transformative powers of music. He made me believe in everything that once made rock important — and, more personally, in everything that made writing about it worthwhile.

From Pete Townshend to Heart to Carole King to (of course) the Beach Boys, Gordon brought a fan’s focus, but also a scholar’s attention to detail.

I’d argue, and strenuously, that his greatest contributions over this too-short period, however, were the times when he joined in our group discussions on music — including a series of sharp, memorable contributions to the SER series devoted to Desert Island Discs and, more recently, to Almost Hits. These talks, which would number more than 20, gave us a chance to experience Gordon’s wit and wisdom in more informal, and often more engaging ways. I’ll never forget the way he began an entry on Pet Sounds, simply quoting “Caroline, No” — in all of its shattering reminiscence: “It’s so sad to watch a sweet thing die.”

Throughout, Gordon would expertly interweave these elements of memorable biographical insight, and that only made his work seem more heartfelt, more direct. He noted, for instance, that the first album he’d ever owned, The Beach Boys Concert, was actually recorded in Santa Monica, where Hauptfleisch was born. He, quite hilariously, described himself as “a Keds-gazing gloomy gus” in what would ultimately become his final piece for SER, an examination of the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” on February 26, 2012. Earlier, Hauptfleisch allowed us a peek into his youthful stint as a record-shop employee — oh, to be a customer at his location of Musicland and Sam Goody’s, beginning in 1975 — when he recalled playing Endless Summer for the first time over a store’s speaker system.

He died on Friday, having argued here on behalf of Harry Nilsson, and Chuck Berry, Tom Waits and the Who — memorably enunciating his problem with Live at Leeds in the most personal of terms: “The raw immediacy of this album signifies that it’s ‘meant to be played loud.’ That’s a given. But in my case it was also seemingly meant to emanate from a crappy eight-track tape, bought at a swap meet or from the trunk of stranger’s car much like, say, my friend’s ’65 Impala with its tape-eating eight-track player — or from my scratchy used copy of the simply-packaged LP, which for some reason lent itself to the previous owner’s scribbles and math problems.”

Gordon will be deeply, deeply missed — by everyone here at Something Else!, of course, but also those who he touched during stints at Blogcritics (beginning in 2005), at San Diego Technical Books (from 1995-2003), at Borders and Waldenbooks (from 1982-1995), during those music clerk days, at Cal State-Fullerton (where Hauptfleisch graduated with honors in history and English) and at Chatsworth Senior High.

Here are a few of my favorite moments from Gordon Hauptfleisch’s tenure with us at Something Else! Reviews. Click through the headlines for more …

BOOKS: ‘KICKING AND DREAMING: A STORY OF HEART, SOUL AND ROCK AND ROLL’ (2012): Kicking and Dreaming is not a tell-all or warts-and-all confessional. But it does dutifully and candidly chronicle some escapades via the sex and drugs seemingly pervasive to rock and roll — and they do name names — with the Wilsons’ own drug use rated by Nancy at three on a scale of ten, “with ten being Keith Richards.” As for other artists on a human decency level, it pays to be a class act with potential biographers (take a bow John Paul Jones and Joni Mitchell), while those lacking the social graces should especially take heed of peers mentally kicking ass and taking names. (You can change your name, John Cougar, but you can’t hide).

DESERT ISLAND DISCS: CHRISTMAS SONGS: I’m probably the only one in the world to call the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Full Measure” a Christmas song, but with lyrics like ‘I heard them say it at Christmas, now I can say it too — the feeling of giving, it’s as good as I’m getting from you,’ it gets to the heart of giving and love while a certain holiday warmth in vocals and melody can make you believe in the Christmastime magic that can set you free. It’s like egg nog for the soul.

ALMOST HITS: ‘WATERLOO SUNSET’ (1967): Though I seem to remember Top 40 radio in Los Angeles playing it a decent number of times — even during this time when the Kinks were banned from touring the U.S. for reasons best left hazy — the ultimate fact that it didn’t chart in the U.S. was curiouser to me, who was in grade school at the time. But what did I know? I could be a bit of a Keds-gazing gloomy gus — I even liked Pet Sounds! — who readily responded to “Sunset’s” scene-setting evocation: “Dirty old river, must you keep rolling, flowing into the night; people so busy, makes me feel dizzy; taxi light shines so bright.”

DESERT ISLAND DISCS: RECORDS TO CHILL BY: Gordon, of course, made the Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’ his No. 1 pick, beginning with a devastating line from Brian Wilson — “It’s so sad to watch a sweet thing die”: From start to finish, this classic cohesively tracks the trajectory of love and relationships spiraling downward from romance to ruin. You know, for when you want to relive that universal experience.

BOOKS: ‘WHO I AM: A MEMOIR’ (2012): There’s a methodology to the seeming madness surrounding Pete Townshend that comes out in this warts-and-all memoir, rife with insights and asides. The mercurial rock legend, though not always admittedly consistent in his thoughts as they relate to his deeds — and intensely human for these complexities — takes brutally candid and confessional pains in chronicling his personal life, including his early years with a dysfunctional family and abusive grandmother, and tying them into his artistic and spiritual goals.

DESERT ISLAND DISCS: ORIGINAL MOVIE SOUNDTRACKS: In writing about 1983’s ‘One from the Heart’ by Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle, Gordon said — The movie title aptly sums up a sumptuous and striking achievement in which Tom Waits’ gravelly gravitas is affectingly offset by Crystal Gayle’s torchy and pristine crooning. The rich execution plays out beautifully in solo or duet — voices entwined or traded off — whether in songs of affecting poignancy or touched up here and there with some of Waits’ bluesy barfly renderings.

BOOKS: ‘PLEASE PLEASE ME’ (2012): As the Seattle-based Alex Hendler chronicles the episodes and incidents — some familiar to any fan, some that might catch you unawares and wary — he subtly embellishes them with conceivable and feasible renderings. Offering a seamless re-imagining of the proceedings, personalities, and interactions of the principals at hand (including Epstein and Martin), the author may confirm what we pretty much already know, but we never seem to get tired of hearing or reading about the smart Beatle (“Sorry Girls, He’s Married!”), the cute one, the quiet Beatle, and the funny one.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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