Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Randy Scouse Git" - The Monkees (1968)

This is one of those songs that sometimes nag at your memory. You can almost hear it but not quite. I was trolling through the You Tube garden and ran across a title I didn’t recognize; which is this record. That was weird, because I remember the song completely. Just never stored the title I suppose.

The real reason I probably remember this song is because of the backstory to it; which involved The Beatles, who had thrown a party welcoming the Monkees to London in May 1967. This was the same time frame as the Mick Jagger/Keith Richards “Redlands” bust. I remember the news saying stuff like “but the American pop group The Monkees have stayed out of trouble while in London.”
Micky Dolnez came up with the title while watching the BBC show Til Death Do Us Part”; which was the precursor to our American series “All In the Family.” In this show the main character was a guy named  Alf Garnett who spent much of the shows insulting his son-in-law from Liverpool and calling him a “scouse”; which is is kind of a nasty term. Anyway, it made an impression on Dolnez; enough that he wrote his first song about it. That’s some powerful TV!

The Beatles threw a party at the Speakeasy; a popular London nightclub of the day. The song is really about the people at the party. From the opening line of “She’s a wonderful lady, but she’s mine…” it alludes to the people they met that night. The “wonderful lady” is Mama Cass Elliot; while “the four kings of EMI” are The Beatles themselves. The “disc  girl” is Samantha Juste, who later became Micky Dlonez’ wife. It’s interesting to note that this is kind of the same way in which Don McClean wrote “American Pie” about 4 years later.

This song was never released as a single; only on the album. The Monkees; as was the practice with most groups at the time; released several singles which were not on the LP’s; like “D.W. Washburn”, which was a favorite of mine.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dallas - The Day the Music Died

I was only 9 in November of 1963, and I saw the world in shades of black and white. Just like this photograph of President and Mrs. Kennedy. This still gives many of my early childhood memories a distant, sepia like feel, almost as if I were watching them, rather than being an actual participant. But that was all about to end on this Friday afternoon in late November.

I was in third grade, and a big supporter of President Kennedy. I participated in the President's Science Program, and even the Physical Fitness Program, at Public School 255 in Brooklyn, where I lived. I also had a picture of the President that had been sent to me by the White House. The space program alone was enough to capture the minds, and hearts, of every kid in the nation. It seemed that there was nothing beyond our reach. And then came Dallas.

My 3rd grade perception of Dallas was all tied up in the fact that it was in Texas. The Texas that I imagined was made up of dirt Main Streets, with raised wooden sidewalks, where everyone wore a gun on their hips. My perception of the world was about to grow larger.

My class had been visiting the Museum of the City of New York in Manhattan. We left the museum shortly before 2PM that afternoon to head back to Brooklyn. Whatever we had seen in the Museum that day is a complete blank to me now.

Stepping onto the bus I noticed that the bus driver was listening intently to his transistor radio. You could feel the tension in his body as he strained to hear the radio over the sound of 35 yelling 9 year old boys and girls. At some point I recall the teacher conferring with the bus driver and then turning to the class, all of whom were by this time seated and quiet. She spoke with an earnest quality, one that I had never before seen in my dealings with adults, as she said, "Class, the President has been shot in Dallas, Texas. We don't know yet whether he is going to live." The rest of the ride back to Brooklyn was uneventful, as 9 year olds we were not fully cognizant of the more serious implications involved in the assassination, beyond the fact that it was of historical importance.

About 10 minutes into the trip the driver spoke with the teacher, who informed us that President Kennedy was indeed dead. We were also informed that a "lone nut" had done it.

Arriving back at school I remember being released to go home. It was right about 3 o'clock when we got there, so everyone was getting out of the building when we arrived. We would not return to school until after the following Monday, November 25th, when the President was buried.

I remember walking home from school that day and thinking that I was living through history. This was like Lincoln! This was something I would someday be telling my kids about. And I have...

Since this was a Friday, Uncle "I" would be coming over, as was his usual custom. We spent the the night in front of the TV, first watching the arrival of Air Force One at Bethesda Air Force base, outside of Washington, with Jackie Kennedy still in her blood smeared clothes stepping off the rear of the plane with Robert Kennedy, the President's brother.

The funeral would occupy the next four days, as tens of thousands of Americans poured into Washington to pass the President's casket as it lay in State in the Capitol beneath the Rotunda. Millions more watched on TV. I remember getting up several times during the night and turning the TV on, only to be confronted by the same image on each station. The casket laying on the bier, surrounded by one member of each of the Armed Forces posted at the corners of the casket, with rifles. I'm writing this now with no photo in front of me. Even at the distance of 47 years the memory of it is still crystal clear.

My family would not see John Kennedy's grave until about 6 weeks after the assassination. There were still crowds and a line to see the grave, which was nothing like it is today. This photo shows the grave at the time of our visit in January 1964. The President's son, Patrick, who had been stillborn that August, is interred to the right in the photo. The gravesite today is a concrete monument, which leaves you feeling disconnected, both from the man, and the events of his life and death. When I was there, the earth was still freshly turned, and the only thing separating the people from their fallen leader was a white picket fence.

Friday, November 21, 2014

"Jerky Turkey" - A Tex Avery Cartoon (1945)

In this cartoon from 1945 the Pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock to found a colony. There are many sight gags to enjoy taken in the context of the times. For instance, some of the Pilgrims are standing in line waiting for their cigarette rations. The war was not over yet and tobacco was still one of the rationed items.

When one of the Pilgrims does decide to go hunting for a turkey, he gets outwitted by the bird and ends up eating at Joes Diner. The turkey comes along as the two have mended their feud. The proprietor is a bear who ends up eating both of them for his holiday. The bird and the Pilgrim wind up inside his stomach, complaining about their fate, and wondering what they have to be thankful for.

A lot of the jokes in this cartoon are reflective of the home front in America during the war. Rationing and the black market are two of the main topics in this cartoon. The bird is a caricature of comedian Jimmy Durante.

Directed by Tex Avery, this cartoon was written by Heck Allen, and scored by Scott Bradley. The animation was done by the team of Preston Blair, Ed Love and Ray Abrams, while the voices were done by using radio actors such as Harry Lang, who was known for his work on the “Cisco Kid”, and Leone LeDoux, who actually made his mark in cartoons doing baby cries. This is a fun cartoon for children of all ages. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Under the Weather

I'm under the weather again; or still; not sure which is the more correct application. I was looking around for some old posts to rest of the week with, and I came up with an interesting surprise. I always get sick this time of year.

Apparently, in this post from 2010, all I could do was snap a picture of the clouds in the sky and write the following 3 sentences;

I'm feeling a bit under the weather today. So I'm taking the day off to finish a good book. Talk at you all tomorrow.

Well, it's 4 years later and once again I am just finishing a book for next Monday; as always; and I've got another one to start about an exhibit in Coney Island in 1905 for the following week. So I guess it's just a case of the same old thing, just a different year. Hope everyone is warm and well fed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Laugh or Cry - Spinoza or The Monkees

I posted a video on Sunday of the Monkees doing “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” I posted it along with Carole King’s demo recording of the song from 1966. I got 700 hits in the first 24 hours. I had to check my counter and make sure it wasn’t counting any spam hits. It wasn’t. 68% of the hits came from Facebook, while the rest came from, well, everywhere.

Now this was a surprise. I posted it Sunday only as a place holder, and because it had the word Sunday in it. I never expected more than 25 hits at best. I average about 200 a day; with most coming from people googling different things. At this point I have a couple of thousand posts out there, so people bump into my site all the time; just not 700 per day.

This got me thinking about what topics were the most popular. Here is a sampling of what I found just by looking at one typical week from June 2011.

Conrad Shuman – 1095 hits.

Einstein and Spinoza –  812 hits.

“Shifty’s War” – 8,842 hits.

Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire” – 683 hits.

“Pictures of Matchstick Men” by Staus Quo -432 hits.

Wendell  Berry’s “Manifesto” – 1,041 hits.

Remember, those totals are for over 3 years. Compare those totals to the Monkees getting 700 hits in 24 hours on a silly little blog like mine, and you will understand why I say I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

For the benefit of those who may not have read it before, here is Wendell Berry’s powerful poem “Manifesto.” I hope it gets a couple of dozen hits.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Name the States

I read the news today; oh boy; and it said that half of college students couldn't name the states or place them in the right location on a blank map of the US. I wasn’t surprised and decided to show off my superior skills at geography. I have; after all; been around the world a few times, so this should be a snap. Wrong.

The best way to take this test is not the way I did; which was to fill in the blanks. You’d be better served if you listed the states in alphabetical order first; and counted them to make sure you didn’t miss one or two; then match the names to the locations on the map. I wish I had.

Check this out and see how you do. I did better than the college crowd; scoring a whopping 78% or so. I got 11 wrong! I’m embarrassed; I’m ashamed. I wish I’d made that list first.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Removers" by Andrew Meredith (2014)

They tell me not to pick a book by its cover; but I keep on doing it anyway. Maybe I've just been lucky, but it seems to work out well for me. The first time it happened was when I read “Moby Dick”; the giant tail on the cover, flailing in the sea and swamping the small whaleboat, promised all kinds of excitement within. And the book delivered beautifully, so I've been doing it that way ever since. I was 11 at the time.

Now this is no Moby Dick; let’s get that straight right from the start. But it has a compelling quality to it which reveals itself as you find yourself turning the next page eagerly. It is the story of the a young man who was cheated out of a portion of his adolescence by his parent’s failed marriage; and it is also the story of how he allowed that loss to rob him of the ability to live and love for many years afterward.

After his father is fired from the university where he teaches; for “inappropriate” behavior with a female student; his marriage to the author’s mother crumbles. No one ever divulges the details of just what his father did; was it a physical relationship, or just becoming too familiar with someone? Or was it what today would be deemed as an “emotional” affair? Silence reigns supreme in his home. No questions are asked and no explanations offered.

Silence never really accomplished much in the way of resolving things; and so it goes with Andrew’s life. He is living among the ashes of what was once a secure home; his mother and father along with his sister were an average family until this one event rocked their world, crumbling its foundation. You have to wonder; as the author does; how solid that foundation was to begin with, and why neither parent seemed capable of even attempting to deal with the problem?

As his father finally settles into a job as a “remover”; someone who removes the body and takes it to the funeral home for final preparations; his son follows suit. As he learns the craft of cremation he draws analogies between his life and the work he performs. He finds that he has shut himself off from all emotions, building a wall which will never reach its full height. No wall could ever be high enough to keep his emotions from spilling out; nor could it ever be high enough to let other emotions in.

After trial and error; coupled with some heartbreak and a trip to the west coast; he finds himself back in the Philadelphia area where he was raised, living with his mother at the age of 27. As he continues to grow he learns about his ability to get beyond that wall and let things flow in and out. He finds answers to the unasked questions which have troubled him; and his father; for so many years.

This is a quickly read and yet deeply written book. The author had to dig deep to write this, and as such it is well worth the read. His conclusion is somewhat like my own; that in the final analysis we all carry our own water. And, as such, we need to be careful not to waste any by either splashing it on others; or using too much of it in an attempt to rinse ourselves of the past. But either way, that bucket of water is ours alone to carry.