Being Obscene But Not Heard

Things I think about while thinking about totally different things.

Last week I heard the sad news of the passing of bass jazz impresario Dan Pliskow. Dan was a fixture in the Detroit jazz scene since the 1950’s and has backed up some of the great jazz artists of his time.

My son, Daniel Einheuser makes his living playing the bass.  Dan Pliskow was one of his teachers. He also taught Kate Derringer who is making waves playing bass in the all girl metal band Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.  Kate’s mom Nancy Nall Derringer gave a shout out to Dan Pliskow in her blog.  She repeated a story Dan told about playing in the house band at the Detroit Playboy Club.

He had a chance to replace Paul Chambers in a tour, but couldn’t — he had four kids at home. So he played in the Playboy Club house band and on the Soupy Sales show, here and there, cobbling together a living a gig at a time. We watched the Elaine Stritch documentary a few months ago, and caught a glimpse of him in her stage band when she played at the Detroit Music Hall.

That made me think about Myra Wolfgang. Ms. Wolfgang was an “in your face” labor organizer for the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union. I have memories of her acerbic sound bites on the local news when I was much younger.  In her book “The Labor Origins of the Next Women’s Movement”  Dorthy Sue Cobble recourt Ms Wolfgang work in organizing the “Bunnies” at the Detroit Playboy Club.

She also brought Hugh Hefner to the bargaining table to talk about the work conditions of Playboy Bunnies at his Detroit Club. HERE eventually won a national contract covering all the Playboy Clubs by 1969, but Detroit was the first to go union. In these initial bargaining sessions in 1964, Wolfgang and her negotiating team debated with Hefner over the exact length in inches of the Bunny suit, that is, how much of the food server’s body would be covered. They proposed creating company rules for customers not just for Bunnies — rules such as “look but do not touch.”

Her best line in describing the Playboy management, “they want their employees to be obscene but not heard”.

One of the things my son Dan Einheuser took to heart from Dan Pliskow was the importance of scales and arpeggios. These are the sometimes monotonous exercises in which the notes of a cord are played over and over up and down the neck of the guitar until they are committed to memory.   When he was about 10 or 11 I saw him watching television with the guitar on his lap.  It wasn’t plugged into the amp but he was playing the scales over and over while he watched his show.  I remember saying to myself at the time -“don’t get in the way of that”.

If you ask Dan today about learning to play the bass he will tell you “Scales are to a bass student what ‘wax on – wax off’ is to the Karate Kid.

Go gently on your journey, Dan Pliskow. You have touched the future.