I will never forget the first time I dug the great swinger, James Dean. Conte Candoli and I were splitting a gig marquee-style at a jumpin' joint in Hollywood called Jazz City. A lot of professional cats used to fall in the place: Benjamin Alexander, real great cat from Dragnet, Sweet Peggy Lee, Stan Kenton, amongst the others made the scene. I was pushing a new sound in humor. They all had big eyes and ears to pick up on this lick that consisted of translating Poe, Shakespeare, Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, and some of the miracles of the life of Christ into the semantics of a modern language called "The Hip," which I, after much research, found to have a full vocabulary, and one that was a seven-ply gasser if a cat really wanted to blow.
Now the night was cool and crazy, not too many cats digging the scene but the ones who were there were real tight to the attention. I'd just finished blowing "Three Miracles from the Life of Christ" in hip when the waitress sounded me that James Dean was on the scene and had invited me to his table. I think he was in the middle of The Rebel. Now the vonce grapevine had been swinging for quite some time about what a great cat he was, and how strong and cool he was coming on. I swung over to the booth just by the juke box where five young quick-looking cats and two chicks were playing it cool. A big cat with glasses and motorcycle shoulders stood up and made the introductions. We all sat down. But with the blowing crash of the jazz I couldn't dig the names, so I was not hip to which one of the group was the star. So I played it cool and cased them looking for that Hollywood type of cinerama-head, but none of them made that category. This young, handsome cat with the glasses, hot rod jacket, no tie, and a one-day beard, I finally dug was "The Dean." and I said to myself, "Let me dig this solid cat and see what jumps in that wig of his that's causing all the flip on the vine."
He asked me if I'd been digging Shakespeare for a long time to pick up on this lick. I said, "Yes." He then said he'd like to blow a little Shakespeare straight someday and I said that would be a gasser.
He continued by telling me that He appreciated my underlining sincerity and humility in the translation of the life of Our Saviour and added that he had my recording of the miracles. Said it was one of his favorites. I thanked him for his kindness. He went on to say that this was solid, as the young cats and kitties of our country could use all the spiritual help they could get. He said that the young cats, it seemed to him, were looking for some kind of a cop-out in the face of the bad jazz of the Atomic Age. That too many of them were taking the attitude "So what? We may all flip out at any moment. Why not have a ball before the blast?" He went on to say that in his opinion the cats and chicks of the Atomic Age were by far the brightest, strongest and most intelligent of all the generations. He felt that the message of Christ brought to them in their own language of the hip, should do a lot to swing them over to the power of love. I said I thought it was very profound of him to dig the scene that way. He went on to say that he was making some long speeches tonight and he hoped he wasn't staying onstage too long. I said, "Blow, man. I consider it a privilege to listen to you."
At that time I excused myself and returned to the stage immediately dedicating my next epigram, an incident in the life of Mahatma Gandhi translated in Hip, called "The All-Solid Mahatma." I blew that and four more pieces for him and returned to the table. He thanked me for the dedication and said that he dug Gandhi the most. He then informed me that in his humble opinion in some respects the Mahatma was like the return of The Man to the people. That he, like Christ, had put forth all his efforts for the benefit of his people. I said it was a solid thought and beautiful, too. He returned by saying there were few people one could discuss things of this nature with and remain cool about it.
The young cat next to him who was introduced to me as his manager sounded him on the fact that he had an early call and the time to cut was now. Jimmy rose at once. He apologized for having to split so early, but that we'd chat again as he would return soon.
I never saw James Dean again but I'll never forget him.
from the single, James Dean's (Message to the Teenagers / Speak for Yourself, John, Hip Records, 1956.
Included on Lord Buckley Live: The Tales of Lord Buckley, Shambhala Lion Editions, 1991
Transcribed by EARL RIVERS