Archive for The Way We Were

The original Hipster

Roger happened to mention “Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs Murphy’s Ovaltine?” this week, which is a great song because (1) it’s funny as hell while being utterly unrespectable in 1940s culture and (2) it sold several thousand more copies in 1975 as part of a Dr. Demento compilation album. This suggested that maybe it’s time to look at Harry the Hipster Gibson himself, born Harry Raab in the Bronx in 1915:

Yes, folks, that’s a Fellow of the Juilliard School, and the graduate school at that.

The Hipster continued to make records until 1989, like this jaunty little tune about Shirley MacLaine; tormented by congestive heart failure in 1991, he got his revenge on the failing organ by shooting it and thus himself.

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Now I want sherbet

First, the instrumental version:

Part of the New York state of mind, even though it originated outside the Tri-State Area:

An annual herald of summer for more than half a century, it is exquisitely Pavlovian, triggering salivation or shrieking — sometimes both at once. It is the textbook embodiment of an earworm: once heard, never forgotten.

It is the Mister Softee jingle, which for generations has sprung from ice cream trucks throughout the metropolitan area and beyond after first springing from the mind of Les Waas, a Philadelphia adman who died on April 19 at 94.

There are words [pdf]. I already knew this, though, and I am quite familiar with the power of a good jingle. About eleven years ago, rock-and-roll writer Dawn Eden — now Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein, theologian — was here in the Okay City, and she regaled a bunch of us locals with, yes, the Mister Softee jingle. Let the record show that we defended ourselves with a spirited rendition of the B. C. Clark jingle, which is actually four years older: 1956 versus 1960.

(Via WFMU.)

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Whammery

In the early 1960s Lonnie McIntosh, having foreshortened his last name to “Mack,” was getting regular studio work with the smallish Fraternity label in Cincinnati, and one day — specifically, 12 March 1963 — he and the group killed a few leftover minutes of studio time with some guitar vamping on the theme of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee.” He didn’t think any more about it, as he was scheduled to be part of a Troy Seals tour. And while he was out on the road, someone at Fraternity got the idea of issuing Mack’s impromptu recording on an actual 45. It promptly rose to the Top Five on both pop and R&B charts, and Mack had no idea it was even out as a single.

No fool, Mack got home and laid down enough tracks for an album, including a single called “Wham!” with the exclamation point. What no one was expecting was that Mack could also sing, although Fraternity wasn’t at all keen on one of their stars diversifying. “Why,” from that first album, didn’t come out as a single for five years, and as a B-side at that. Then again, it might have been just a hair too fierce for an A-side:

And since we haven’t heard “Wham!” yet, here it is live, with another pretty amazing guitarist: Stevie Ray Vaughan.

I’m guessing you might have heard more about Mack’s death (at 74) had it not happened on the same day as Prince’s.

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The artist forever known as amazing

In late 1977, Prince spent some astonishing percentage of his original advance from Warner Bros. — possibly over 100 percent — on studio time at the Record Plant, sessions which yielded up nine tracks for an album, prosaically titled For You. (No, not 4 U. Too early for that.) He might have ponied up for a few instruments, but he didn’t overspend on studio musicians, as the Personnel list on this album is dazzlingly simple:

Prince — all vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, Orr bass, bass synth, singing bass, Fuzz bass, Fender Rhodes electric piano, acoustic piano, Mini-Moog, Poly-Moog, Arp String Ensemble, Arp Pro Soloist, Oberheim 4-voice, clavinet, drums, syndrums, water drums, slapsticks, bongos, congas, finger cymbals, wind chimes, orchestral bells, woodblocks, brush trap, tree bell, hand claps, finger snaps.

That’s it. If nothing else, you could assume that Prince, then nineteen, knew exactly what he wanted. But then, Prince always knew exactly what he wanted, and he wasn’t above hectoring the record company to get it.

Perhaps by 2009 he was feeling the strain. He told Tavis Smiley:

It’s a hurtful place, the world, in and of itself. We don’t need to add to it. And we’re in a place now where we all need one another, and it’s going to get rougher.

“In this life,” he’d said in “Let’s Go Crazy,” the opening track to Purple Rain, “you’re on your own.”

Still:

While we mourn, we know the afterworld will be cheering his arrival for the next few eternities.

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Oh, Rochester!

This clipping was going around the Jack Benny Fan Club Facebook page this past weekend:

1939 clipping from a Hollywood trade paper reviewing a show by Eddie Anderson

It surely is a measure of something that Mr. Anderson, who had started playing Rochester on the Jack Benny program only two years before, was so totally identified with that role, despite having appeared in at least two dozen films by 1939. (Then again, he was uncredited in most of them.)

And if “Negro comic” doesn’t make your eyes roll, consider the term “sepians.”

Many years later, “Rochester” was apparently still widely believed to be a real person:

Among the most highly paid performers of his time, Anderson invested wisely and became extremely wealthy. Until the 1950s, Anderson was the highest paid African-American actor, receiving an annual salary of $100,000. In 1962, Anderson was on Ebony magazine’s list of the 100 wealthiest African-Americans. Despite this, he was so strongly identified with the “Rochester” role that many listeners of the radio program mistakenly persisted in the belief that he was Benny’s actual valet. One such listener drove Benny to distraction when he sent him a scolding letter concerning Rochester’s alleged pay, and then sent another letter to Anderson, which urged him to sue Benny. In reality, Anderson did well enough to have his own valet.

Jack Benny, for what it’s worth, was never a cheapskate; that was just part of the character he played.

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Everyman with a fightin’ side

A cousin of mine unearthed this clip after hearing about the passing of Merle Haggard. For a guy who worked awfully hard at developing his own sound, he was really good at duplicating other people’s:

More recently, “here’s one for all the ex-convicts in the house”:

Besides, he never got closer to Muskogee, Oklahoma than, oh, 19 miles or so, at least not until much, much later.

Okay, 2016. You can stop taking people away now.

Addendum: Here’s a typically thoughtful sendoff by Lisa.

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Looks like her cousin

I was never that fascinated by The Patty Duke Show, partly because I couldn’t comprehend the genetics of “identical cousins.” (This business got particularly weird in season two, when there was an episode involving a third Lane clone.) Fortunately, I adored her singing; her voice wasn’t much more than serviceable, but the producer (studio pro Jack Gold, who’d been doing this sort of thing for two decades) knew how to get the maximum out of it.

Cover art for Don't Just Stand There by Patty DukeFrom the liner notes of the Don’t Just Stand There LP:

[J]ust like everything she touches, it is pure gold. It is certain to find a huge throng of eager fans waiting to purchase it and catapault [sic] it quickly high on the nation’s best-seller lists. In addition to the title tune, it contains a wonderful selection of the great songs of the day — all eminently youthful and all hand-picked for our star of stars.

This is not the first time I’ve read a liner apparently written by someone who hadn’t heard the record. (And track four is a cover of “Danke Schoen,” which wasn’t “youthful” when Wayne Newton put it out two years before.)

“Don’t Just Stand There” topped out at a respectable #8. (I’ve written about this track before.) To promote it, she appeared on Shindig; to my surprise, she did it live.

Patty Duke indisputably achieved Far Greater Things in her life. But this is what I remember best.

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He was

Now that I think about it, it was definitely scary for Greg Lake to come up with these lines:

A bullet had found him
His blood ran as he cried
No money could save him
So he lay down and he died

Especially, you know, when he was twelve.

I doff my hat to Keith Emerson, unfortunately not saved at the tender age of seventy-one.

Addendum: Emerson’s death has been ruled a suicide.

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Free to fade away

No visuals here, just the cover art. This is track two from Jimmy Webb’s El Mirage album, turned loose on the world in 1977. Just in case someone asks “What’s your favorite George Martin production, other than Beatles material?” — and someone will — this is it. (It’s also his arrangement.)

George Martin in the studio meme: did more with 4 tracks than most do with Pro Tools

(Meme swiped from Tape Op Magazine.)

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Way back in 286

In 1988, Dell had only just retired the PC’s Limited name, and this was a bid they put in on a complete 80286-based system:

Seven hundred American dollars for a 40-meg hard drive! Then again, this was quite a deal, considering what was on offer not that long before.

Now, which was worse? Windows 2.0, or MS-DOS 4? (I suspect the answer is Yes.)

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Keep your head to the sky

And yet another of the greats ascends to the next level:

Maurice White, the founder and leader of Earth, Wind & Fire, has died at home in Los Angeles, said his brother Verdine White. He was 74.

A former session drummer, White founded Earth, Wind & Fire in the late 1960s. The group went on to sell more than 90 million albums worldwide, displaying a flashy and eclectic musical style that incorporated his influences from growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, and working at the influential Chicago music labels Chess and Okeh.

EWF was practically everywhere in the 1970s: you couldn’t avoid them if you wanted to, and why in the world would you have wanted to? I got tuned in circa 1973, with the Head to the Sky album, which still delights me today.

But White went back farther than that. From his days as a studio musician, we have here the supersized version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” as trilled by the late Billy Stewart, and on the kit off to the right, Maurice White playing like the greatest drummer ever to work out of Chicago.

Head to the Sky led off with a lovely little number called “Evil,” which was in fact a reworking of “Bad Tune,” off EWF’s very first (and eponymous!) album in 1971, the sort of thing that might make you think that this was where Sly might have gone if he could have kept his head together.

Said Verdine of his brother:

“While the world has lost another great musician and legend, our family asks that our privacy is respected as we start what will be a very difficult and life changing transition in our lives. Thank you for your prayers and well wishes.”

Amen to that.

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8080 in ’80

Back in the day, few of us could aspire to these heady heights of technology, but oh, how we dreamed:

Advertisement for IMSAI Computer System

Information Management Sciences Associates, Incorporated, founded in 1973, sort of still exists today: Fischer-Freitas, which was actually set up by two former employees to acquire IMSAI after its 1979 bankruptcy, continues to provide parts and support for these Ur-machines.

(“Optional 16-bit”? 8085, maybe?)

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Facing the no longer strange

From almost fifty years ago, or so it seems, David Bowie responds to his first American fan letter:

From just yesterday, or so it seems, David Bowie responds to the world at large:

Rest well, Starman. You have earned your place in history.

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From some other time

There were two great eras of rock and roll pseudonyms. The later one was sustained mostly by punk bands, and featured names like Johnny Rotten and Rat Scabies and Poly Styrene and a whole handful of Ramones. The earlier one probably ended with Richard Starkey, aka Ringo Starr, but it featured names like Bobby Day and Bo Diddley and Del Shannon and Frankie Ford and, perhaps the most influential, not so much in music but in sheer nomenclature, was the late Troy Shondell, born Gary Wayne Schelton in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Shondell would have only one big hit, but it was a monster:

Sourced from Shondell’s official YouTube channel, this is (mostly) the original 1961 version, cut for infinitesimal Gaye Records, then issued on Goldcrest, a regional label distributed by Liberty; when it started gaining traction, Liberty reissued it themselves and watched it spend four months on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #6. I say “mostly” because the guitar solo in the middle was clumsily overdubbed long after the fact; the record as released had a piano break and nothing more.

Shondell’s last release for Liberty was “Na-Ne-No,” a Lloyd Price cover produced by Phil Spector, no less; after it went nowhere, he decamped for Nashville, where he cut a few sides for the TRX label, of which only “Let’s Go All the Way” managed to Bubble Under the Hot 100. The money, Shondell decided, was better on the publishing side, though he’d occasionally cut a side for the hell of it. The last one I know of, from 1981, was a cover of John Sebastian’s “Lovin’ You”.

In late 1964, a band from Illinois took the name The Shon-Dels, and self-released one single before changing their name to the Ides of March. An entirely different group of Shondels assembled in Winnipeg about the same time. But neither would be quite as successful as Tommy James’ Shondells from Michigan, originally the Tornadoes (not to be confused with Joe Meek’s British instrumental group), who would not be a factor on the charts until “Hanky Panky” in 1965, by which time they’d broken up. (James went on tour to support the record, and hired a bar band to be the new Shondells.)

As for Troy Shondell himself, he toured in 2001 in a show called “The Masters of Rock and Roll,” featuring some other wonderfully named guys like Ronnie Dove and Jimmy Clanton. He died last week of complications from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, two names that aren’t so wonderful.

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Of hippos and homunculi

This song is as old as I am, but it (unlike me) never actually gets old:

She got one, too: a baby hippo named Matilda, who after the presentation went to live in the Oklahoma City Zoo, and made it to the ripe old age of 48; moving Matilda and her younger beau to Walt Disney World in Florida was apparently more than the old(ish) girl could take.

In 1960, Gayla Peevey, under the name “Jamie Horton,” cut this little ditty for a small New York label:

I don’t think she got one of those. (Peevey graduated from San Diego State, taught for several years, then ran an ad agency. She’s still around at 72.)

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Twenty-five and counting

Today, it appears, is the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web:

If the web were a person, it wouldn’t have trouble renting a car from now on: the world’s first website, Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, went online 25 years ago today. The inaugural page wasn’t truly public when it went live at CERN on December 20th, 1990 (that wouldn’t happen until August 1991), and it wasn’t much more than an explanation of how the hypertext-based project worked. However, it’s safe to say that this plain page laid the groundwork for much of the internet as you know it — even now, you probably know one or two people who still think the web is the internet.

More than one or two. I blame Microsoft, which used to call its Web browser “Internet Explorer.”

It still stuns me a little to think that I’ve had an outpost on the Web for most of its existence. But it’s true: this little site went live on the 9th of April 1996, and has had some form of update every single day since the summer of 2000. Eventually, I suppose, the world will move on to something else. Then again, so must I, and so must we all.

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Perhaps on a warmer day

When I was a bicycle-riding fool in the late 1960s, the British-made Raleigh bikes were considered at least as prestigious as the Schwinns I favored. I do not, however, remember any Schwinn advertising like this:

Raleigh Bicycle advertisement from a Greek magazine

You couldn’t run an ad like this today, anyway. For one thing, the young lady isn’t wearing a helmet.

(Via Other Whimsey.)

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Half nuts

Hitler, said the song, “has only got one ball,” and it was assumed that shrapnel — not Henry Shrapnel himself, of course, as he died in 1842 — was responsible for der Führer’s condition. Apparently not:

A German historian claims he has proof that Adolf Hitler had just one testicle, lending credence to a World War II-era song that mocked the maniacal leader’s manhood.

Professor Peter Fleischmann of Erlangen-Nuremberg University said medical records show the tyrant’s right testicle was undescended, according to The Telegraph.

The documents, from a prison exam taken in 1923, after Hitler’s failed attempt to seize power, surfaced during a 2010 auction, but were confiscated by the Bavarian government, and have only now been properly reviewed.

The prison’s physician, Dr. Josef Steiner Brin, noted that “Adolf Hitler, artist, recently writer” was “healthy and strong” but suffered from “right-side cryptorchidism,” a condition when a testicle fails to properly descend.

No confirmation is yet available for the song’s assertion that Hermann Göring “has two, but very small.”

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Make that to go

Once upon a time, the time being spring 2006, I took on one of those “Tell us about yourself” memes, and every single answer was a Frank Sinatra record.

For the Chairman’s 100th birthday, I shuffled through the archives, both mine and YouTube’s, in search of a song that nobody else will ever need to try to sing ever again. And this is the one I came up with:

Sinatra himself recorded this song six times, the latest in 1993, but this minimal live track seems to express the mood better than any of them. And if you do want to record this song, well, this is what you’re up against.

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Oldest known d14

Something else we didn’t invent in the last half-century or so:

Pieces from a mysterious board game that hasn’t been played for 1,500 years were discovered in a heavily looted 2,300-year-old tomb near Qingzhou City in China.

There, archaeologists found a 14-face die made of animal tooth, 21 rectangular game pieces with numbers painted on them and a broken tile which was once part of a game board. The tile when reconstructed was “decorated with two eyes, which are surrounded by cloud-and-thunder patterns,” wrote the archaeologists in a report published recently in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

The skeleton of possibly one of the grave robbers was also discovered in a shaft made within the tomb by looters.

A hint at the actual gameplay:

[A] poem written about 2,200 years ago by a man named Song Yu gives an idea as to what the game was like:

“Then, with bamboo dice and ivory pieces, the game of Liu Bo is begun; sides are taken; they advance together; keenly they threaten each other. Pieces are kinged, and the scoring doubled. Shouts of ‘five white!’ arise” (translation by David Hawkes).

Pictures for your examination, should you so desire.

(Via @BrowncoatPony.)

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Saved by the Bell

Original Taco Bell designThe very first Taco Bell, built in the dear, dead days of 1962, hasn’t served up anything from the mothership in nearly thirty years, and with its little corner lot in Downey worth a lot more than it used to be, corporate has decided to save Numero Uno by moving it:

Taco Bell is saving its first fast-food restaurant from the wrecking ball by relocating the iconic 400-square-foot food stand from Downey to its corporate headquarters in Irvine.

“This is arguably the most important restaurant in our company’s history,” said Taco Bell chief executive Brian Niccol. “When we heard about the chance of it being demolished, we had to step in. We owe that to our fans; we owe that to Glen Bell.”

Earlier this year, new development for the vacant Firestone Boulevard site triggered demolition plans for the nostalgic building, dubbed “Numero Uno.” An uproar in the community followed. Taco Bell remained relatively quiet, though it did encourage the #SaveTacoBell campaign on social media.

This particular design — I worked in one just like it briefly — was eventually abandoned because there was no real way to splice a drive-thru window into it.

The structure’s 45-mile overnight journey begins Thursday at 10:30 p.m. It should garner much attention as it traverses the cities of Downey, Norwalk, Cerritos, La Palma, Buena Park, Anaheim, Orange and Tustin. Throughout the four to five hour trip, Taco Bell is encouraging fans to follow the historic relocation via a live webcam.

Eventually, of course, all restaurants will be Taco Bell.

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A 4-A family

In Selective Service parlance, classification 4-A means “registrant who has completed military service.” Not that we’re going to be drafted any time soon, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t pass the current physical anyway, but we’re just a bunch of happy veterans around here.

Or were, anyway. My mother was a sailor. My father was a sailor, and he was a soldier before that. Among the five children, you’d find a soldier (me), a soldier’s wife, a sailor, and two actual civilians. We’re pretty much awash in DD Forms 214. I remember those forms well; then again, in my capacity as an Army personnel clerk, I got to type rather a lot of them, including one with my name on it. And while 75C might not have been an aspirational MOS — I went through fairly-mundane clerk-typist (71B) training, despite already being a better typist than required — I’m pretty sure I would have made a rotten 71M (chaplain’s assistant).

Usually it doesn’t occur to me that I am in fact a veteran until Veterans Day rolls around; the very word, in the back of my mind, calls forth the image of someone battered and bruised, but still pushing forward. The Middle East, my final active-duty station, wasn’t much of a war zone in those days, or if it was, nobody knew about it; the mission, or at least a major portion of it, was to keep an eye on the late, unlamented Soviet Union, not enough kilometers to our north. (We were, of course, officially a “logistics” group.) It’s not like I was routinely getting a weapon pointed at me.

Then I remember that for every man in harm’s way, there were several men — and women — behind the scenes, supporting those missions. We’d been through the same basic combat training, and we knew that should the fan be struck by fecal matter, we wouldn’t have to go to the front: the front would come to us. (I got a lot more weapons practice in those days than I’m getting now, a situation I need to correct.)

Still, I’ve never felt as though I’d earned the “hero” badge: as Emerson says, the hero is not necessarily braver, but he’s braver five minutes longer. I’ve always wondered if I had it in me to hold out for those five minutes. (My brother Paul? You damn betcha. You told him he was going to parachute into hell to assassinate Lucifer, he’d have asked for a list of minor demons to take out while he was down there.) But maybe I have more gumption than I let on: historically, it’s the trivialities that have tripped me up, while I’ve more or less breezed through the big stuff. “Courage,” said counterculture scribe Ambrose Redmoon, “is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than one’s fear.” Even if that’s just another way of putting the “ape” in “apricot,” it’s still pretty accurate.

This particular family is, physically anyway, somewhat diminished these days. But I take heart in the fact that, each in our own way, we came, we saw, and we kicked ass. It’s not something you have to be a veteran to appreciate — but it helps.

(Reposted from five years ago.)

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Expressly yours

How successful was this recruiting poster?

If the conditions sounded scary, the money was good: unskilled labor in that era was lucky to pull down a dollar a day. And, well, “pony” was pretty accurate: the average Express horse — there were about 400 — stood a mere 14.2 hands (58 inches tall). A rider would change horses about every fifteen miles.

The Pony Express ran for only a year and a half before shutting down; the completion of the transcontinental telegraph is usually blamed, though the Express had been losing money all along, and wound up its operations more than $100,000 in the hole.

And while the details on the poster are pretty much in line with the way things happened, the existence of the poster itself has been called into question by at least one historian.

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Employee number one

Al Abrams, who died last week at 74, was just a kid, and a white kid at that, when Berry Gordy Jr. hired him for the nascent Motown machine, and the circumstances are so, so Motownish:

A big fan of the R&B records of the day, Abrams pestered Gordy for a job promoting his music before Motown was even formed. Gordy said he would hire him if he could get a record on Zelman, a vanity label that pressed records for anyone who would pay them $100, played on the radio. Abrams took the challenge, taking the record to a remote by station WCHB and pestering the DJ until he relented and played it on his show. Gordy heard the record being played and made good on his word, hiring Abrams.

And WCHB, despite being a 1-kw daytimer in those days, had clout: it was the major black-owned radio outlet in metro Detroit. So Gordy wasn’t about to try to blow the kid off.

Abrams also apparently invented the slogan “The Sound of Young America,” and manufactured a bogus Dylan quote about Smokey Robinson being “America’s greatest living poet.” Even if Dylan didn’t say it, though, Abrams may well have believed it:

During a Motown tour through the Southern United States, [Nancy Abrams] said, Smokey Robinson of the Miracles came to visit Mr. Abrams at a hotel where blacks were not allowed to stay.

The hotel manager was tipped off, came to Mr. Abrams’s door and asked if a black person was in his room, Nancy Abrams recalled. He replied that it wasn’t “a black person,” it was Smokey Robinson, and both men were kicked out.

“Al went back with Smokey and stayed in the black boardinghouse,” she said. “After that, he never stayed in a hotel again.”

Abrams moved on in the late Sixties, working briefly with Motown expats Holland-Dozier-Holland, and setting up his own PR firm. He was diagnosed with cancer in September; by then, unfortunately, it was too late.

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Standing athwart time

I was as flabbergasted as anyone, I suppose, when I heard that John Tyler (1790-1862), 10th President of the United States — he was William Henry Harrison’s Vice-President, and succeeded to the office on Harrison’s death in 1841 — has two grandsons still alive today.

Still, there is always Something More Amazing. Apparently an actual motion picture of someone born in the 1700s exists:

From the YouTube description:

This scene is a part of the very first film shot produced by the Manaki Brothers. Despina, Janaki and Milton Manaki’s grandmother, was recorded weaving in one high-angle shot. For no apparent reason, the first shot made in Macedonia, in the Balkans in fact, made by these two cinematography pioneers, contains peculiar symbolics: at the moment when the grandmother Despina spins the weaving wheel, film starts rolling in our country.

The movie from 1905 is created in standard technique, without sound, in black and white and 35mm.

At the time, according to a Manaki memoir, Despina was 114 years old, making her one year younger than John Tyler.

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A little more than an advisory

By comparison, Hurricane Ike was almost gentle.

Then again, it takes something this forceful to get someone’s attention. You probably know this old joke:

A farmer is in Iowa during a flood. The river is overflowing. Water is surrounding the farmer’s home up to his front porch. As he is standing there, a boat comes up. The man in the boat says, “Jump in, and I’ll take you to safety.”

The farmer crosses his arms and says stubbornly, “Oh no thanks, I put my trust in God.” The boat goes away. The water rises to the second story. Another boat comes up. The man says to the farmer, who is now at the second floor window, “Hurry, jump in. I’ll save you.”

The farmer again says, “Oh no thanks, I put my trust in God.”

The boat goes away. Now the water is inching over the roof. As the farmer stands on the roof, a helicopter comes over, and drops a ladder. The pilot yells down to the farmer, “I’ll save you. Climb the ladder.”

The farmer yells back, “Oh no thanks, I put my trust in God.”

The helicopter goes away. The water continues to rise and sweeps the farmer off the roof into the swiftly moving water. Unfortunately, he drowns.

The farmer goes to heaven. God sees him and says, “What are you doing here?”

The farmer says, “I put my trust in you, and you let me down.”

God says, “What do you mean, let you down? I sent you two boats and a helicopter!”

You might take this as an example of By-God Iowa Stubborn; or you might consider that in nearly every natural disaster, there’s someone who won’t budge from the scene. Scaring the heck out of them with a weather forecast seems like a kindness.

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Surely it’s done by now

I mean — shouldn’t it be?

Machines get faster, but files get bigger, and it still takes forever to transfer them. The database that runs this very Web site took nearly 80 minutes to back up on Sunday evening.

Should anyone be curious, cc32e47.exe is the installation file for Netscape Communicator, which includes the Navigator browser (version 4), a newsgroup reader, AOL Instant Messenger, and various other artifacts of a long-departed civilization.

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A girl who once had a dream

Yukiko Okada — call her “Yukko” — always wanted to sing. She’d appear at any audition for anything, hoping to get a break; at sixteen, she finally broke through on one of those TV talent shows and was signed to Japan’s Sun Music Productions.

It didn’t hurt that she had That Look:

Yukiko Okada stretches out

Yukiko Okada in a swimsuit

Her first single, “First Date,” came out early in 1984; her third, “Dreaming Girl,” was enough to win her Best New Artist in the annual Japan Record Awards. It’s — well, listen for yourself:

Why, yes, it is vaguely reminiscent of Tracey Ullman’s cover of Kirsty MacColl’s “They Don’t Know.”

Sponsorship and television deals followed, and Yukko was on her way. But something, somewhere, went terribly wrong:

Okada was found with a slashed wrist in her gas-filled Tokyo apartment, crouching in a closet and crying.

And then two hours later:

[S]he committed suicide on April 8th by jumping off from the roof of the Sun Music building. She was only 18 at the time. Her suicide made headlines and sent shockwaves across Japan. To top it off, several fans of hers followed suite. It caused such a commotion that the term “Yukko Syndrome” came into being to connote follow-on [copycat] suicides. That year (1986), the suicide rate in Japan jumped to an all-time high.

In 2002, the song “Believe In You” was rescued from the vaults and given an orchestral overlay, becoming Yukko’s last single. If only she’d believed a little more in herself.

She would have been forty-eight today.

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All bent out of shape

I have to figure that this product name is, let us say, a trifle optimistic:

Maybe if it had an infinite power source. (Repeat: “maybe.”)

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All pink and curvy and everything

There’s a feature in the current Automobile (September) about the pink AMX awarded to Angela Dorian as part of her 1968 Playmate of the Year, um, booty. Dorian, a small-time actress under her real name — Victoria Vetri — got a small career boost from being PMOY, but careers in Hollywood tend to be shortish. (You have to wonder how things might be different had she taken the job of dubbing Natalie Wood’s voice in West Side Story earlier in the decade.) Still, she held onto the car until 2010, by which time it had been repainted several times and was in bad need of some TLC. Arguably, so was Vetri, who was charged with shooting her husband in the back. The attempted-murder charge filed against her was eventually reduced to attempted voluntary manslaughter; she pleaded no contest and was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Meanwhile, a chap named Mark Melvin happened upon the AMX at a lot in Venice Beach; he bought it and restored it, at a cost of somewhere over $50,000. There exists a Web site for the car, which also includes a recap of Vetri’s career and eventual undoing that was actually written by Robert Stacy McCain, its appearance a product of the miracle of cut-and-paste. The car, of course, now looks utterly wonderful; Vetri, now in her seventies, perhaps not so much.

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