“If you’re going to do paranormal stuff like the Ark of the covenant, mystical, magical subjects then Sword and Sorcery is probably the next step for you. Like Conan the Barbarian.” Lindsey did not know about Conan then, it was 1978.
Dear Mr. Helm,
I’m writing a retrospective about the early days of the Star Wars Expanded Universe and I was hoping that you might be willing to speak to your experiences during that time.
You wrote the Star Wars newspaper strip for a time. I was curious as to how you were approached and who offered you the writing assignment. You also mentioned in a post on your site that George Lucas incorporated ideas and characters from your stories into the Star Wars sequel. Can you elaborate as to which characters from the films first appeared in the newspaper strip?
Also, are you aware of the rumor on the internet that “Russ Helm” is a pseudonym for Archie Goodwin, who later wrote the strip under his own name? This rumor persists on several sites even though it has been refuted. Have you heard this rumor and do you have any thoughts as to how or why it may have come about?
I’m sorry to impose on your time. If this is not a subject you feel inclined to discuss, I understand. It’s just that I’ve been going through so many old magazines for scraps of information that it would be nice to hear anything firsthand.
My name was and still is Buddy Helm. I was a drummer since the age of eight. But now I was using my legal name as a writer. I was approached by my neighbor in Sherman Oaks, California. She was a songwriter and was working at Motown in Hollywood in the art department. I was in and out of the building because I was in the music business, pitching songs, and doing sessions as a drummer. I had a long great career as a drummer in the south and then in LA. Lindsey asked me, “I have an offer for a job in a small film company; LucasFilm. Should I take it?” I told her immediately, “Don’t ever pass up an opportunity to gain power.” I had to insist that my writer’s group bring in women writers, and Lindsey joined us. She helped critique my novels and children’s stories and was a great asset to many writers, including Stewart Stern, writer of ‘Rebel without a Cause’ and other great movies. She took the job at Lucasfilm, and asked me to write the Star Wars comic strips which I did for a couple of years, just after the first movie was hitting big and they were finishing up post production on the second movie. First of all we were all ensconced in trailers in a parking lot across the street from the Universal Black Tower which was an ominous presence and hinted at some affront between George and Universal’s deal with him. He was thumbing his nose at them. Eventually we moved into the ‘Egg Company’ which was a beautiful vintage brick building adjacent that had actually been an egg company decades earlier. There was no sign advertising that it was Lucasfilm. The building was two story with skylights and a large central office production area. The place was always humming. Lindsey was overseeing a lot of spin off product, and the building was geared for work. There film editors were working right along the office workers. Everyone was focused on this huge phenomenon that had exploded and needed to be put in order. The dailies came back from England and we could see the next movie taking shape. Lindsey arranged for me to screen the first Star Wars movie so that I could pick up subtle story ideas. I got to sit in the screening room at one of the big film lots and recline with a lot of other folks. Everyone waited for me while I took my time, and then spoke into the intercom. “Okay. Roll it.” That was fun. I was instructed that I could not write about the Force. That was a big disappointment. George had copyrighted The Force. I had fun creating characters like Dr. Spinofski, an absent minded genius who created an orbiting ring modulator that could change the weather on a planet. Since I was living a parallel life at night as a drummer, I incorporated in-jokes that only the hip and cool people in LA underground would get: such as a ‘Ring Modulator’ was actually a new musical invention on the first music Moog synthesizer. The music scene was intense, punk music was making it’s pretense known even though the conservative entertainment industry did not like it or even understand it. A world famous DJ on KROQ was playing the Sex Pistols and getting death threats. He showcased all the new punk music acts on his late night radio show, “Rodney on the Rock”. He became “Rodno’ a chameleon like character who saved his planet from invading stormtroopers who were using ‘Pacifog’ to incapacitate the populace on Rodno’s home planet. This reflected the actual Russian occupation of Afganistan at the same time, and their use of poison gas to kill thousands of Afgan resistors. Rodney and Rodno shared some characteristics. They were diminutive, somewhat shy and had a top knot of pointy hair, only Rodno’s was actually more like antennae, or a rooster’s head crown. His skin swirls changed as he grew more wise. This character ended up on the bridge of a star cruiser where Luke is showing off his new metallic hand in the later movie. When someone saw that I had created a character called Dr. Spinofski, they protested. They didn’t want jokes and puns in the strip that went over their heads. They were very conservative and were protecting an image that they had created themselves. If anyone came into the building wearing punk clothes, they were thrown out. I don’t think George would have minded. He would hang out in the high tech kitchen with Steven Spielberg and make angel food cake or cookies. They were working on another project at the same time. “What do you do for me?” George asked holding a warm toll house, “I write the comic strips.” He grinned. “Good. Good.” He was a pasha and having a great time. I tried to slump so as not to be taller than the king. He thought I was a little wierd but likable. I had funny ideas. Lindsey handed me a script. “Read this. Give us coverage. And don’t tell anyone about it.” I did. It was ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark” I gave them my report and they came back to me. “Liked your breakdown. What would be the sequel if we did this one?”…..to be continued.
Mr. Helm, I am producing a documentary about (famous Atlanta drum teacher) Jack Bell and his (drum) teacher Harold Firestone. I understand you were taught by Allean (Harold’s sister). I was curious if you felt you could contribute to the film. I would be honored indeed. Specifically, I’m looking for any historical pictures, films, and other memorabilia in conjunction with the story of the successes you’ve had in the music industry and how your roots in Elkhart under the Firestone ‘system’ contributed to that.
I look forward to hearing from you
I still use Allean Trafford’s rhythm techniques in my playing, in my teaching the drums, and most profoundly in the evolution of rhythmic healing tools of the human psyche, the physical body and also affecting the world at large. I hear her voice when I am teaching rudiments to the kids, but also when I am coaxing people into a healing laid back groove anchored in a solid steady downbeat at forty beats a minute. I acquired the ability to maintain that meditative tempo needed for an extremely long therapy session from Allen’s calm teaching of tempo combined with rhythm structure. I received understanding of tempo from Allean and her metronome. My chest was covered with drumming medals from orchestra, marching band and joyous drum corps that made the summers worthwhile, when my family relocated to the Deep South in 1963. There were no symphonies. The drumming teachers could not keep up with my reading of the advanced percussion books taught by Ailleen and her brother. I was on my own in terms of being taught drumming. This is where the most important gifts from the Firestone techniques served me well. I had an open mind. I learned from everybody. And there was a lot to learn. Understanding “feel” was the greatest mystery. Transitioning from a technically proficient drummer to a drummer that can get the girls to dance and the jazz musicians to improvise, took a great deal letting go of what had seemed the correct way to play. I had to learn how to be late to the metronome. I had to Lay It Back. But I also had a good foundation in the rudiments too; Opening and closing rudiments in the traditional way contributed to the rhythmic tempo reductions in healing drum therapies. But more importantly I had a sense of myself as a good drummer. This mattered when I came up against resistance from people, even drummers, who did not want to take the drum to the next level of healing and spiritual grooves. I was good enough to push forward because Ailleen gave me a self image that stood up to the harshest of criticism from old schoolers who did not want to see rudimental drumming change, reactionaries who insisted that drumming be elitist, anarchists who wanted to bash and create havoc, and conservatives wanting to use the drum for political ends. They all needed to use the drum to heal but were afraid to see the addition of the healing drum shaman into the community of drumming in the United States.
Tribute to Ailleen Trafford, “excerpt from “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm ©2115 buddyhelm.com
I was almost ten years old. The coolest kid in school played the drums. I needed to do that. She sat me down at a drum set. My mother sat of to the side and watched.
“Play a three beat. Boom Chack Chack, Boom Chack Chack.” She said, “And I’ll play the piano and try to through you off. You Stay steady.”
She had a calm manner. Large woman in my eyes, but nice. She played the piano and I sat at the huge drum set. Bass drum on one, snare on two and three, repeat….She got up and approached my mother.
“OK. He can be a drummer.”
I fulfilled a gift certificate for a drumming session that was a gift from the son to the father who was elderly but game for a drumming. They were charming and intent, my favorite kind of drummer. They had absolutely no sense of rhythm. Now this may seem cruel to say: that’s why I said it. Most drum teachers feel that way with certain people who are interested in drumming. We have all been disenfranchised from our natural sense of rhythm. Call it rhythmic dislocation if you want a term. Heard it here first. Most people are coming to the drum to get adjusted, not necessarily to become good drummers. Although that is a good thing too. When people who “don’t have a sense of rhythm” ask to be taught to drum I love it. I get to learn something about human beings. About me. Look at our sense of rhythm as part of our guidance system; it is a survival tool. It can get knocked out of alignment by trauma, shock, fear, anger, injury, stress, illness, mysterious things that go bump in the dark part of our mind. But our sense of rhythm can save us too. Quicker than the mind if it has to. It takes buddha patience to stay laid back at 40 beats a minute. Downbeat on one and three, edge note on two and four. Going on for ten twenty, thirty, forty minutes. No other notes, but making it feel safe and laid back, forgiving when they strayed, and going with them if need be, but all the while coaxing them toward the groove. They get it for a moment then lose it. I must stay steady for them to find their way back; back from confusion. Their mind distracting them from their basic essence. Slowly the steady groove becomes familiar to them through the body. They reattach to their body and settle into trusting their own sense of rhythm. They smile.
“Anyone with a good car does not need to be justified.” is a quote spoken by the Flannery O’Conner character, Hazel Motes, in her novel, “Wise Blood” adapted to film by John Huston and starring Brad Doref as the returning veteran to rural southern Georgia to become a car roof evangelist of his new spiritual invention; “Church without Christ.” When I first saw this movie in 1979. It shook me up for unexplainable reasons until I saw the location credits; it was shot in Macon, Georgia, not long after our ubiquitous band, Bethlehem Asylum had recorded two albums for Capricorn records in that remote strange hamlet two hours below Atlanta. There were strange psychic parallels from the obsessive compulsive ambivalence with Southern religion all the way to the Ford Fairlane driven by Hazel in the movie to our light blue Fairlane sedan that carried us from Coconut Grove up to the backwoods of that southern Georgia nexus of soul where Otis Redding, The Allman Brothers, Little Richard, and James Brown all got their start. The movie and the novel explore the southern extremes of religiosity, racism, bigotry, street theater, and the unique phenomenon that Flannery O’Conner called “Southern Grotesque”. What unsettled me was the parallel that we had as a band to that strange southern rhapsody. I identified too well with the Hazel Motes character, I suppose. Danny was probably the evangelistic huckster played by Ned Beaty. The snide street wise blind preacher played by Harry Dean Stanton could have been our jazz brahmin hustler, Christian. Jim our psychedelic redneck is closest to Sabbath the unhinged daughter of the blind preacher, and Charlie no doubt would be the part played by Dan Shor; the simple minded country boy who knew things without knowing them; who felt things. Tthe one with Wise Blood. The DVD I got out of the Santa Monica library has a wonderful recording of Flannery O’conner speaking about writing and it is worth the effort to decipher her sweet melodic southern accent to enjoy her mellifluous sense of humor and candor which was recorded in 1959. It is the only recording of her voice.