Archive for The Way We Were

All the sentiment you could want

About a week and a half after the musicians’ strike of 1942-44 drew to a close, Doris Day sang “Sentimental Journey” in front of Les Brown and his Band of Renown; that spring, Columbia put it out on a 78, and it made Number One on whatever charts existed in those days. It’s appropriate that we play it here:

Incidentally, when Doris got her own radio show on CBS in 1952, Brown was her bandleader.

I’m sure there were at least some guys of a certain age who didn’t crush on Doris Day, but I never met any of them.

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Never forgotten

The bones, we had. But there was more:

The unmarked grave of Joseph Merrick — who is better known as the Elephant Man — has been traced after nearly 130 years, it has been claimed.

Merrick had a skeletal and soft tissue deformity which saw him as a freak show attraction, then a medical curiosity.

His skeleton has been preserved at the Royal London Hospital since his death. But author Jo Vigor-Mungovin says she has now discovered Merrick’s soft tissue was buried in the City of London Cemetery after he died in 1890.

No, they didn’t dig him up. But:

Mrs Vigor-Mungovin, who has written a biography of Merrick, said a story about his soft tissue being buried had not been followed up due to the number of graveyards in use at the time.

“I was asked about this and off-hand I said ‘It probably went to the same place as the [Jack the] Ripper victims’, as they died in the same locality. Then I went home and really thought about it and started looking at the records of the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium near Epping Forest, where two Ripper victims are buried.

“I decided to search in an eight-week window around the time of his death and there, on page two, was Joseph Merrick.”

The actual plot has been located:

Initially, the area was narrowed down to a communal memorial garden, but Mrs Vigor-Mungovin said a specific plot had now been identified.

“The authorities said a small plaque could be made to mark the spot, which would be lovely. Hopefully, we can soon get a memorial in his hometown of Leicester.”

Good. Merrick deserves to be remembered; most people with severe deformities are trotted up and down the stage and then utterly forgotten.


Direly straitlaced

Equating today’s humorless scolds — “Democracy dies in dorkness” — to the Puritans of old might be emotionally satisfying in some small way, but history insists otherwise:

The great Reformers were all very special snowflakes, but the Puritans were the special-est snowflakes History has ever produced. They focused entirely on the inner experience. Get your being right, they held, and whatever you say and do will automatically be right. That they were history’s first ideological murderers goes without saying, and truly excellent killers they were, too — ever heard of the Pequot Indian tribe? No? There’s a reason for that. “Thus the lord was pleased to smite our Enemies in the hinder Parts, and to give us their Land for an Inheritance.

It’s tempting to say “and here we are!,” and indeed it’s commonplace in Our Thing to refer to the dour scolds who rule us as Puritans. They’re not, though, because Puritanism never had mass appeal. Equating “membership in the Elect” with “worldly success” is great if you’re one of the successful, but as the vast majority of people aren’t successful, The Elect are a small, elite club. Which Calvin et al to their … credit, I guess? … were ok with, but once the revolutionary fervor passed away with the first generation of fanatics, Puritanism was unsustainable. In Massachusetts, for example, they were hanging witches in 1693; by 1698 Cotton Mather was being openly mocked, and by 1700 everyone was pretending that the whole sordid business never happened.

It took the Puritans about seven decades to piss away all their social capital. The last time the world turned Really Damn Stupid was 1968: Congress decided that the currency of the United States would henceforth be backed by sheer inertia; an insufficiently-anonymous asshole shot Dr King in Memphis; there was a battle, and its name was Tet, and it was offensive; and people rioted in the streets of Europe because there were no salt mines to which to exile them. If our current level of stupidity is going to subside by, say, 2038, it might be worth hanging around after all. God knows there’ll be no shortage of common scolds to mock.

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Over at Harry’s place

This has been going on at the Truman Library tonight:

Dozens of middle school students will perform original and historical speeches Monday at the Truman Library and Museum — a Midwest regional event that’s part of the Ford’s Theatre National Oratory Fellowship.

“An Evening of Oratory” will be 6:30-8:30 p.m. Monday at the library, including more than 25 middle school students from Independence, Fort Osage and Raytown schools, as well as Wichita, Kansas who will perform in front of a public audience and a representative from Ford’s Theatre. A scheduling conflict will prevent students from Omaha, Nebraska from making the trip to participate.

Students from Bridger Middle School in Independence have been participating in this for several years, but this is the first time it includes students from other Midwest schools. Speeches will last about two minutes. An additional 25 students from Bridger will give speeches at a later event Wednesday evening.

Now, who do I know who attends Bridger?

Yep. Grandson Gunner, just turned twelve, is doing one of those speeches. And it makes sense that he should be the family member to take part in this thing, inasmuch as he’s now a fairly experienced thespian, having appeared in several local community-theatre productions. I am properly awed.

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Basses for comparison

In nineteen ought eight, Cadillac won the prestigious Dewar Trophy, and arguably deserved to be called the Standard of the World:

[T]hree Model Ks were selected from stock at the Anglo-American Motor-car Company, Cadillac’s London agent. On Saturday, February 29, the three were driven 25 miles to the Brooklands Circuit, opened only a year before, where they did 10 laps of this oval, another 30 miles.

After resting under [Royal Automotive Club] lock and key, on March 2, 1908, the three Cadillacs were disassembled, each car reduced to a heap of 721 parts. Then R.A.C. officials scrambled everything into a pile of 2163 pieces. What’s more, they chose 89 of these to swap with replacements selected from the dealership’s parts supplies.

The resulting heap was categorized into three appropriate piles, from which three Model Ks were reassembled. These three “harlequin cars” were fired up on Thursday morning, March 12, and began lapping Brooklands.

By 2 p.m. on Friday, March 13, 1908, the trio had completed 500 miles. After this, one of them was locked away until the June 1908 R.A.C. Reliability Run, at which it earned a class trophy. And, of course, Cadillac deserved the 1908 Dewar Trophy for this impressive display of parts interchangeability.

It’s been many years since anyone thought of Cadillac as being a world leader in anything, but interchangeable parts are still a thing. Behold Daryl Hall, John Oates, and Diana Ross:

(Via Miss Cellania.)

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For the tiny houses of the Fifties

Methinks this is just too much appliance for this meager amount of space:

But apparently this combination has never gone completely out of style:

Looks like it would fit in the space one might devote to a dishwasher. Then again, I don’t own a dishwasher.

(Via Carolyne Mas.)

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The Empress’ new clothes

An advertisement for “Spanish lambswool invisible petticoats,” from 1806:

Mrs. Robertshaw begs leave to inform those ladies that found their invisible petticoats shrunk last winter that she has a kind so much improved that she will warrant them never to shrink even in the commonest wash, at the same time will be found equally as soft, pliant and warm. Everybody that has tried them allows them to be a much pleasanter article than ever before invented, being so very elastic [a word merely meaning at the time having some stretch or give] and of so beautiful a white, and, like all these comforts will add quite as little to size as her patent lambs’ wool so much approved of last winter. Likewise invisibles and stays all in one; well adapted to ladies that are confined; also under waist coats and drawers of the same description.

Of course, what makes these garments “invisible” is the fact that they’re worn between the body and the dress, hence unseen; no H. G. Wells-style trickery here. Interestingly, advertisements of this sort disappeared, so to speak, after 1816:

The year 1816 is known as the Year Without a Summer (also the Poverty Year and Eighteen Hundred and Froze To Death) because of severe climate abnormalities that caused average global temperatures to decrease by 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F). This resulted in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere.

Evidence suggests that the anomaly was predominantly a volcanic winter event caused by the massive 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). This eruption was the largest eruption in at least 1,300 years (after the extreme weather events of 535–536), and perhaps exacerbated by the 1814 eruption of Mayon in the Philippines.

We may perhaps assume that the tendency of women to wear less when it gets warmer goes back at least two hundred years.


They come and they go

This is fascinating on several levels:

The one that shakes me up is Vijayanagar, with half a bmillion souls in 1500 and essentially nobody in 1566, a consequence of the Battle to Talikota, in which the Vijayanagara Empire was routed, and subsequently burned, by the Deccan Sultanates.

(Via Coyote Blog.)

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Go, you bacon fat, go

There was a time when fat was actually valuable:

WWII poster to support the Fat Salvage effort

The American Fat Salvage Committee was created to urge housewives to save all the excess fat rendered from cooking and donate it to the army to produce explosives. As explained to Minnie Mouse and Pluto in one wartime video, fats are used to make glycerin, and glycerin is used to make things blow up.

One pound of fat supposedly contained enough glycerin to make about a pound of explosives. Patriotism aside, many American housewives were not enticed. Only about half donated their excess cooking fats. Saturated fats were of little health concern at the time and cooking grease was hard to come by, especially once rations were imposed.

And schlepping a pound of grease across town to the collection point probably wasn’t all that much fun.

Still, the program started out with high hopes:

Mass-produced butter and lard were not readily available in stores, vegetable oils were expensive, and everything only became pricier during the war. At the start of the fat salvage program, a study found that almost three-quarters of households saved cooking fats for reuse (Southerners were the biggest fat savers). Doctors and dieticians at the time were more concerned with vitamin deficiencies caused by wartime diets than the consumption of excess fat or salt. Collecting the fat after frying up some bacon or roasting some beef was a practical and economical way to run a household. And there was a lot of leftover fat because Americans ate a lot of meat.

Until rationing kicked in, and they didn’t eat so much.

The product made from all this glycerin was propane-1,2,3-triyl trinitrate, but you know it better as:

Nitroglycerin is a dense, colorless, oily, explosive liquid most commonly produced by nitrating glycerol with white fuming nitric acid under conditions appropriate to the formation of the nitric acid ester. Chemically, the substance is an organic nitrate compound rather than a nitro compound, yet the traditional name is often retained. Invented in 1847, nitroglycerin has been used as an active ingredient in the manufacture of explosives, mostly dynamite, and as such it is employed in the construction, demolition, and mining industries. Since the 1880s, it has been used by the military as an active ingredient, and a gelatinizer for nitrocellulose, in some solid propellants, such as cordite and ballistite.

Far as I know, this is the only song that mentions the stuff:

Explosive, indeed.

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The man and the munition

From the previous post:

Sandbox tree fruit looks like little pumpkins, but once they dry into seed capsules, they become ticking time bombs. When fully mature, they explode with a loud bang and fling their hard, flattened seeds at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour and distances of over 60 feet. The shrapnel can seriously injure any person or animal in its path.

“Shrapnel” is such a great word, it deserves some exposition of its own:

Lieutenant General Henry Shrapnel (1761–1842) was a British Army officer whose name has entered the English language as the inventor of the shrapnel shell.

In 1784, while a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, he perfected, with his own resources, an invention of what he called “spherical case” ammunition: a hollow cannonball filled with lead shot that burst in mid-air. He successfully demonstrated this in 1787 at Gibraltar. He intended the device as an anti-personnel weapon. In 1803, the British Army adopted a similar but elongated explosive shell which immediately acquired the inventor’s name. It has lent the term shrapnel to fragmentation from artillery shells and fragmentation in general ever since, long after it was replaced by high explosive rounds. Until the end of World War I, the shells were still manufactured according to his original principles.

The Crown awarded him £1200 a year for life, some of which he actually was paid. (This equals about £82,000 today.)

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Slowly walking away

I lost track of the Walker Brothers after about 1976, following their reunion album No Regrets, which wasn’t even released in the States, a weird sort of irony given the fact that the Walkers, apart from not being brothers and not being named Walker, were based in Los Angeles but made a far bigger splash in the UK; for the most part, Mercury Records was content to let us fools think they were a British Invasion act. (Fontana, a Mercury subsidiary in those days, put out a 1967 compilation album called England’s Greatest Hits, which actually contained a Walker Brothers track.)

“No Regrets,” the song, was a late-Sixties Tom Rush number that Scott Walker imbued with enough pathos to support both Charles Aznavour and George Jones. Its failure to get traction in America is a tragedy.

The Walkers — Scott Engel, Gary Leeds and John Maus, although John had adopted the Walker surname on his own before joining up — were at least given decent material. The orchestral wash of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David ballad “Make It Easy On Yourself,” with Scott’s vocals riding across the top, was good enough to buy the track some chart action, maybe even good enough to make you forget that Jerry Butler had recorded it earlier.

The second Big Hit was a cover of a Frankie Valli solo track that went nowhere. Given the same sort of orchestral sweetening as before, plus my favorite non-Hal Blaine drum part ever, it simply had to be a hit:

Number thirteen on the Billboard Hot 100. They’d never see that chart again. All three of them recorded solo material, though only Scott had much success; John died in 2011, and Scott died last week.

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The undisputed King

Did Dick Dale ever get tired of playing “Misirlou”? From this session, recorded when he was 71, I’m guessing he didn’t:

Dale said that he had to keep touring just to afford his medical bills, which is a shame, but it never seemed to affect his playing.

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And his famous ashtray

Eleven minutes of the man who played drums on more of the records on your shelf than you possibly imagined:

If Hal Blaine had done only the one record, the Ronettes’ ineffable “Be My Baby,” he’d still be revered today.

And right about now, God is asking “Would you show Me how you did that triplet thing?”

(Title from the Beach Boys’ pseudo-live cover of “Barbara Ann.”)

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And all that jazz

From sixty years ago, a prime example of Ken Nordine’s Word Jazz, spoken words that can be danced to:

And from even before that, he narrated this wild desert tale:

Nordine died this week, just short of his 99th birthday.


Long before 4K

But not at all before JFK:

Said Miss Cellania:

From 1961. My parents held out for many years afterward, because they believed they already had a remote control — at least until the kids left home and stopped switching channels for them.

The brand — RCA Victor — isn’t mentioned until near the end, although you might have guessed from the reference to channel 4, which in those days was more often than not an NBC station, and RCA owned NBC back then. Perhaps more to the point, though, is a blatant case of Not Invented Here syndrome: Eugene Polley (1915-2012) built the first TV remote control in 1955 — for rival Zenith.

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A nice big L

PAMS Productions of Dallas, Texas, sang these jingles for Radio London — and for one Top 40 station in seemingly every radio market in the US:

I grew up on these things on WTMA, Charleston, South Carolina.

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Ways to be found

At least a hundred:

This track was on Quincy Jones’ 1981 album The Dude; as was Q’s wont, he brought in talented friends, and James Ingram qualified on both counts. “One Hundred Ways” won the 1982 Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance.

Ingram was all over Q’s productions: the two of them teamed up to write “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” for Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, which you most certainly have. Jones, Ingram, reliable R&B songwriter Rod Temperton, and burry-voiced Michael McDonald collaborated on this little religious number:

This song has somehow grown on me since its 1983 release.

Alas, James Ingram is no longer with us: brain cancer got him, a few weeks before his 67th birthday. Yah B there for him, we pray.

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It came on like a wrecking ball

And you can imagine the results:

Who knew Officer Judy (also played by Bob Einstein), from the old Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, would end up like this?

Bless you, Super Dave. (And also your brother Albert.)

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She was just here

In 2001, Nancy Wilson sat for one of those semi-wondrous CBS News Sunday Morning interviews with Charles Osgood:

Back in 2016, I said:

In the summer of 1964, the peak of the British Invasion, there was still a place on the American charts for non-white non-English non-boys, and into that place, as smoothly as could be, slid Nancy Wilson, who made it to #11 with “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am.” It was a jazzier piece than its florid arrangement might have let you think; “I wish I were an artist,” she sings, and you think, “Oh, honey, you don’t have to worry about that.”

Nancy Wilson at 6541 Hollywood Blvd.

Nancy Wilson at the piano

Nancy Wilson strikes no pose at all

Her last album, recorded in 2006 under the auspices of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh, was called Turned to Blue. This was the last track:

Fare thee well, sweet lady.

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Terrors of Colorado Boulevard

Francis W. Porretto has apparently been thumbing through the old 45s once more, and briefly he settled on the genre of Car Songs, which was dominated by exactly two acts:

Car and Driving songs: The Beach Boys had hits with “Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” and “My 409,” while Jan and Dean scored with “Dead Man’s Curve.”

I thought at first that I should make a fuss, what with the song about the Little Old Lady being properly a Jan and Dean title — but this perhaps would have been unfair, inasmuch as while the J&D single (Liberty 55704, if you’re keeping score) had crested at Number Three, the Beach Boys did a creditable live version of the song on their late-summer concert LP, which topped the album charts.

Both organizations also put out versions of “Little Deuce Coupe,” which song has provided me with sexual euphemisms (“She’s ported and relieved and she’s stroked and bored”) and a glossary of Californisms (“I got the pink slip, daddy” is “What’s more, it’s paid for“).

But “Little Old Lady” introduced a twist on the California milieu: while anyone who grew up within the broadcast range of Los Angeles stations understood the reference to Pasadena, that leaves only the rest of the world to puzzle over it. The Italians, for one, were not having any of that:

Italian 45 sleeve for Old Ladies Seldom Power Shift

None of this quite explains Pontiac Grand Prix owners Patience Proper and Prudence Prim, members of the Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association, which outros with Jan’s “Go, granny, go” refrain.

Oh, and on Beach Boys’ Party! there’s a cover of the Regents’ “Barbara Ann.” Which Beach Boy sings lead? None of them. That’s Dean Torrance (of Jan and) up front. Now how often is a hit song sung by someone who’s not actually a member of the group? At least once more.

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Take a break from shopping

And while you’re at it, have a Coke:

Coca-Cola advertisement 1962

The Coca-Cola Company ran a number of ads along these lines in the early 1960s. The ladies are lovely, because it was required in those days. Perhaps more to the point, you too could look sort of like this: across the top is a note to the effect that all three outfits came from Vogue Patterns.

Of course, today no one is getting that meager quantity of Coke; a Small at your nearest food court is about twice as big.

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I hope the place is packed

Too many old soldiers just fade away in the distance, forgotten by the rest of the world.

Funeral announcement for the late Stanley Stoltz

Rest well, sir.

(With thanks to Laura Ledford.)

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One of our finer pickers

It’s a measure of something that roughly half the online tributes to the late, great Roy Clark will toss in a reference to Charles Aznavour’s “Hier encore,” known to us Statesiders as “Yesterday, When I Was Young,” somehow a #19 pop hit for Roy in 1969. But Aznavour’s been gone himself for only six weeks or so, and the word “overkill” keeps flashing in front of my eyes. So we’ll move up a year or so, to Roy’s 1970 album I Never Picked Cotton — and what kind of cotton-picking title, as Brian Davis might say, is that? — and a couple of singles, neither of which were pop hits. (The higher-charting of the two stopped at #90.)

Both of those tunes were irresistibly jaunty, enough to pull your mind away from that Aznavourian wallow.

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With the closing of Camelot

One of several questions for which Francis W. Porretto has not heard a satisfactory answer, which I took on in 2003:

It was 1963 and Camelot was still in full swing. JFK had stared the Soviets in the eye, and they blinked; Jackie had remade fashion in her own image; a comedian named Vaughn Meader who did a note-perfect Kennedy impression sold zillions of copies of an LP called The First Family and was readying Volume 2; and all, we thought, was right with the world.

Then came November and that terrible day in Dallas and nothing was ever going to be the same. The national funny bone disappeared, with no sign it might ever be tickled again. A week passed, and Lenny Bruce was booked into a theatre on the Lower East Side, and the audience was more than usually anxious: what would he say? How can he say anything at a time like this?

And Lenny Bruce came out and stared at the audience. He unscrewed the mike and walked away from the spotlight. He stared at the audience, paced up and down the stage, and stared at the audience again. And what he said was this:

“Vaughn Meader is screwed.

Which, as it turned out, was true:

His non-Kennedy album for Verve Records, Have Some Nuts!!!, came out to minimal attention in early 1964. A similar follow-up If The Shoe Fits… was released in late 1964, and included sketches on almost everything except the Kennedys, but sales were meager at best. Meader’s income evaporated, new-found friends and associates stopped calling, and by 1965 Meader was virtually broke. Sinking into depression, he became addicted to alcohol and drugs, and was forced to take whatever work he could find.

He reunited with Earle Doud in 1971 for an album called The Second Coming, a comedic look at what life would be like for Jesus if he had returned to earth around the time of Jesus Christ Superstar, but airplay and sales were virtually nonexistent… Eventually, Meader resumed a career in bluegrass and country music, becoming a popular local performer in his native Maine.

Vaughn Meader died in 2004 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 68.

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The sound of peace

It didn’t last forever, or even for very long, but at the time, it seemed to be the best thing that ever could have happened:

A hundred years later, it would be well to remember how things can change in a matter of minutes.

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And not a single taco was tucked

Or trucked, if that be your preference. Either way, Severian has an historical nugget for you:

You can’t study the history of anything for too long before you conclude that the real driver of man’s fate isn’t God, or the forces of production, or class conflict, or the clash of ideologies — it’s vapid, hubristic Dunning-Kruger cases getting bored.

Take the Mexican War. It was obvious to everyone, certainly including the Mexicans, that the United States was going to attack Mexico. James K. Polk practically ran on it in 1844, and by 1846 everything was ready. The fact that this was naked aggression, and that the supposed casus belli — the strip of Texas between the Brazos and the Rio Grande — is obvious bullshit to anyone who’s ever been there, didn’t even register. Everyone wanted to throw some weight around, and Mexico — just then getting over one of its periodic revolutions — was convenient.

Then came a deflection of mass:

Until David Wilmot added his famous Proviso. He tacked it onto an appropriations bill, the sneaky bastard, so that in order to get their splendid little war, everyone had to put their cards on the table. The Mexican War was a war for slavery; the vote on the Proviso made it obvious to even the dimmest-witted. After all, the vote was taken just three months into the war — American troops were barely arriving in the theater, much less actually winning on the battlefield. The fact that nobody cared — that Congress got out of the Proviso with procedural shenanigans — showed just how badly inertia had already set in. Events were going to take their course.

Wilmot’s Last Stand, as it were, came in 1848, when an attempt was made to attach the language of the Proviso to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. It didn’t happen. And what’s the relevance today, anyway?

Over the next two years, everyone will have to put their cards on the table for everyone to see. It should be momentous … but it’ll pass unremarked. Congress will do what it does with procedural shenanigans; Trump will do what he does by executive order, and nothing will get done. We voted for things to continue as they are … and they will, God help us. The political theater will be train-wreckily entertaining, but nothing of consequence will happen in the legislature.

We should be paying the estates of Messrs. Dunning and Kruger royalties, I think.

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Everybody said it was a shame

It’s a traditional, albeit hazardous, food of southern Appalachia:

The leaves and stems of very young plants can both be eaten, but must be cooked, usually boiled three times in fresh water each time. The leaves have a taste similar to spinach; the stems taste similar to asparagus. To prepare stems, harvest young stalks prior to chambered pith formation, carefully peel the purple skin away, then chop the stalk up and fry in meal like okra. Traditionally, poke leaves are boiled, drained, boiled again, then fatback is added and cooked some more to add flavor. Poisonings occur from failure to drain the water from the leaves at least once. Preferably they should be boiled, drained, and water replaced two or more times.

Still, you’re not eating this stuff unless that’s all you can get. Tony Joe White told us so:

Recorded in 1968, “Polk Salad Annie” took the better part of a year to catch on: it topped out at #8 in 1969. Singers began combing through White’s catalogue for possible covers, and arguably Brook Benton had the greatest success:

And I’m not quite sure which is weirder: the fact that White wrote a song called “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies,” or that he got Waylon Jennings to sing with him on it.

And Tony Joe White hung in there until the age of seventy-five. I’m guessing that a childhood diet of pokeweed was not at all a factor.

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Peggy Sue got buried

This is no time to rave on:

Peggy Sue Gerron, the inspiration for Buddy Holly’s 1957 hit song, has died in Lubbock, Texas, aged 78.

While she was the focus of the single, Peggy Sue was in fact in a relationship with Buddy Holly’s band mate in The Crickets, Jerry Allison. She and Allison would marry in 1958, inspiring Holly’s song, “Peggy Sue Got Married,” released after Holly was killed in a plane crash in 1959.

Gerron died at the University Medical Center in Lubbock early on Monday.

Oh, here’s the part of the story that nobody knows:

Following her divorce from Jerry Allison, Peggy Sue went to Pasadena Junior College in Pasadena, California, and became a dental assistant. She then married again and had two children, a girl and a boy, and spent the majority of her life caring for her family.

Balancing home with career, she helped her new husband establish a very successful plumbing business and even became the first licensed woman plumber in California. When the San Francisco earthquake hit in 1989, her plumbing company volunteered the cameras, some of the first ones to be used in plumbing in that area, to check for blockages to go into collapsed areas to look for trapped people.

Fare thee well, lovely lady.

Addendum: About an hour after I’d finished this, Fark had the story with the same headline. No, they didn’t swipe it from me, or I from them.

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It looks like Snow

Another Brian J. discovery:

So WSIE played this song called “Poetry Man,” and I thought, hey, it’s like she’s singing to me!

So I researched it, and, as you might already know, Phoebe Snow’s song is not new at all. It’s from 1974. Which means it’s newer than I am, but not by much.

I snagged it when it was new. It struck me as odd that it came out on Leon Russell’s label, but Snow, it turns out, was signed by Russell’s then-partner Denny Cordell. Still, it was a great album, the sort of album you could start with a Sam Cooke cover and make it sound almost deserved.

Snow suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 2010, and died the next year, barely sixty.

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Teenaged and British

[I’d been wanting to do this story for some time, and I figured the best time for it was a Friday, for, um, obvious reasons.]

How big was Helen Shapiro? About five foot two. More to the point, in 1961, when she was fourteen, she recorded a song called “Don’t Treat Me Like a Child,” which she sang in an amazingly grown-up voice. It made #3 on the UK charts, and was followed by two #1s and a #2.

How big was Helen Shapiro? The Beatles opened for her in 1963. She recorded for UK Columbia, an EMI label, which meant that in the States, Capitol Records got the first shot at releasing her records. They put out all four of those tracks, though they went nowhere in a hurry. (Well, “Walkin’ Back to Happiness,” the third single, showed up for one week in Billboard at #100.) Capitol’s US branch dropped her from the roster, though the Canadian office continued to release Shapiro’s material. (I note purely in passing that Capitol passed on the Beatles’ first singles.)

That Number Two track was “Tell Me What He Said,” a Jeff Barry tune that started life as a Ginny Arnell B-side in 1960; the Playmates (“Beep Beep”) covered it in 1961, with the obligatory gender-flip. Both versions were arranged in typical US Top 40 styles, in the hopes of getting them on the radio; both acts were at different stages of their careers, the Playmates having had four Top 40 hits up to that point, but Arnell, going solo after a couple of flop singles with Gene Pitney (as “Jamie and Jane”), was still a couple of years away from finally cracking the chart with a song you dare not play on the radio anymore.

Meanwhile, Norrie Paramor, Shapiro’s producer, gave her a not-even-slightly-teenage sound:

Paramor was contemplating a Shapiro album from Nashville, of all places, and began hitting up EMI composers for material — including, yes, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who turned out a number called “Misery.” Paramor turned it down, though Kenny Lynch, who’d been on that tour with Helen and the Beatles, decided to cut it himself.

Teen sensations, alas, seldom remain so. Helen Shapiro disappeared from the charts, resurfacing now and then with a song from a stage musical or a jazz number. Her last new track, from 1984, was an Allen Toussaint song:

It was 2002 when she finally retired from show biz; she was still only 56.

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