Ry Update and the Sveta Maric Award
Sorry it’s been so long since my last post; I’ll explain when it’s easier for me to type. But please stay tuned, because I’ve had several exchanges with Ry, and I want to tell you about them, which I will do very soon.
In the meantime, would you allow me to burden you with a piece I did many years ago on one of my little adventures of which Ry was a part, something he reminded me of when we spoke last week. I’m going to serialize it into three chapters, and I would appreciate any feedback you feel like giving me. Thanks.
The Sveta Mariĉ Award
by Allan P. Ross
Part One of Three Parts
A wannabe collaborator with me on a screenplay about Jimmie Rodgers, America’s Singing Brakeman from 1927 to 1933, called last night to ask me to partner with him on another project and, also, to recommend him for an editing job he was trying to get on his local newspaper.
The guy, an old friend, had turned out to be a non starter on the Rodgers script, failing to write a single line of dialog in six months, and though I still love him I have no intention of trying to co-create with him again. On the other request, I felt funny recommending him for a job I didn’t know if he could do.
I sidestepped the writing project, saying I was polishing a script for the next six months, and tried tapping my way through the recommendation for the editing job. But he was persistent, so I told him, “You know, you did win the ‘Sveta Mariĉ (pronounced Svay-tah Mah-reetz) Award.’ You should tell the newspaper that.”
He was silent a moment. “What’s the ‘Sveta Mariĉ Award?” he finally asked.
“What does it matter?” I said. “An award’s an award. Nobody ever really cares what it’s for.”
“Yeah,” he said, “you’re probably right. But just in case they ask me, what’s it for?”
“Well,” I said, “the whole title, I mean the long-copy version, which I don’t think anybody has actually ever–”
“What’s the award, bubba?” he insisted. My friend lives in the South, and though he is not a Southerner by birth, he’s absorbed much of the vocabulary.
I sighed. “It’s called ‘The Sveta Mariĉ Award for Non-Cooperation in Pursuit of a Common Goal,'” I said, running the words together as best I could. “But don’t be too quick to put it down. You won against some real heavyweights: Ariel Sharon, who insisted on praying at the Temple Mount during a big Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire and Chuck Knoblach, the Yankee’s banana-fingered infielder.”
“I don’t think I want that award. Who’s Sveta Mariĉ, anyway?” asked my friend, let’s call him George. “And are you gonna recommend me or not?”
I tried to tap again. “Actually, George, it’s not ‘Mah-REEZ,’ with a ‘z,’ it’s more like–”
“I know where you live, bubba,” he said.
I heaved a theatrical sigh. Don’t you hate it when people ask you to lie for them?
In 1969, when I still lived in Hollywood and idolized Henry Mancini for the film scores he wrote, I hustled a job doing some cues for a little documentary called Bisbee, Arizona. It was a modest 16mm film about what happens to a one-company mining town when the company closes the mine.
The producer was either Churchill Films or Encyclopedia Britannica Films, I don’t remember which, and the budget was small. But there was one thing about the project that was very attractive to an unknown film score composer on the make: the ethnic mix of the mineworkers was equal parts Cornish, Serbian and Mexican-American, and the producer wanted the music to reflect that.
I saw possibilities for a film score with “character,” maybe something kind of Paul Simon-y, as I look back on it. I began rounding up the elements, i.e., the musicians, I would need.
These included a stand-up bassist, a mariachi trumpet player, Ry Cooder, to play specialty guitars and tipple (a sort of cross between a guitar and a mandolin), and an accordion player, but not just any kind of an accordion player, a button accordion player.
A button accordion is just like a regular accordion, except instead of a keyboard along the right side it has buttons, and they seem to be more percussive than keys. Maybe that’s just the kind of music people play on button accordions, or the kind of people who play button accordions, I don’t know. But I did know this was to be no “Lady of Spain”-er; I wanted the real South Slav deal. I wanted a squeeze-box player who could march his countrymen into battle, like the Highland Scots pipers of yore, but could still play a polka.
With these instrumentalists I’d be able to cover three musical traditions: Welsh epic ballad, Serbian line dance and Norteño Mejicano folk. Only the button accordionist could be a problem locating, and that, probably, a small one. This is Hollywood, after all.
I asked a friend in a folkdance troupe if he could help me. He didn’t hesitate a second.
“Sveta Marič,” he said, leaning on the final consonant, something between a “tz” sound and a lisp, “there is no one else. We’ll go there, to the club where he plays, Wednesday night. It’s kolo night,” he said. A kolo is a generic Yugoslavian line dance.
Came Wednesday night and Stuart and I went to the club, a corny, pleasant Yugoslavian restaurant in the San Fernando Valley. We got in, but I think only because they already knew Stewart. If ever there was an émigré “social club,” as the Italians call it, this was it. I don’t think I heard a word of English other than what Stew uttered, for the first ten minutes I was there. Fortunately, you don’t need any other language than music’s own in order to understand it. The squeezebox player was pure fire.