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.
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:
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.
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:
This rare document from IWM’s collections shows the moment the First World War ended. The artillery activity it illustrates was recorded on the American front near the River Moselle, one minute before and one minute after the Armistice. #Remembrance2018 https://t.co/tRa8uGjHxk
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
To those of you in the NY area … If you take the NJ Transit train to Newark, and keep your eyes peeled when the train goes outside, you will see the transmitter shack of the old WMCA radio. It still has the “WMCA” sign on top. Its in the middle of NOWHERE, with nothing but reeds around it. Brave was the transmitter tech who had to go in there … no telling what animals he’d find in there trying to get warm.
And here’s that shack:
Once a Top 40 powerhouse, WMCA now runs a Christian format. And no, not from there.
Pornography certainly existed online in the 1980s, but most of us didn’t even have a pornograph. We did, however, have bulletin-board systems and near-infinite patience, which is how I scored this particular 8-bit “photo” about thirty years ago. (Don’t even think of trying that phone number.)
I have one other picture in this, um, series. Its focus is, shall we say, similar.
Aretha Franklin’s electrifying debut for Atlantic, I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You), pulled off a couple of amazing feats. First, it opened with a version of Otis Redding’s “Respect” that wasn’t so much a cover at it was a usurpation: from that day forward, hardly anyone ever again would refer to it as anything but an Aretha original.
On a hunch, I pulled up Otis on YouTube, and sure enough, most of the discussion was about Aretha.
It’s a legitimately great record that Otis had here; it’s just that Aretha’s was just that much greater.
Aretha Franklin’s electrifying debut for Atlantic, I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You), pulled off a couple of amazing feats. First, it opened with a version of Otis Redding’s “Respect” that wasn’t so much a cover at it was a usurpation: from that day forward, hardly anyone ever again would refer to it as anything but an Aretha original. Second, it made almost everyone forget that it was, technically, her eleventh album: she’d done ten LPs for Columbia, the undisputed giant of American labels, all of which had gone mostly unnoticed.
From The Steve Allen Show, 1964; Aretha had charted with that old standard (at #37) in 1961, and that was still her biggest hit three years later. Columbia wasn’t sure what to do with this singer they’d signed, and let her contract lapse; Jerry Wexler took her to Muscle Shoals and got the hell out of her way. The rest, as they say, is history.
And here, on “Border Song,” Aretha nearly does to Elton John what she did to Otis.
But maybe this statistic says everything that needs to be said. Aretha won the inaugural Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 1968, for “Respect.” She won again in 1969.
And the next four years. Natalie Cole finally won one in 1976, the first year Aretha wasn’t nominated.
We are honored to have been alive when Aretha was in her prime, and centuries from now, people will envy us for having been so fortunate.
I remember there were wall-phones in every room. I bet now dorms don’t bother with that and expect students to have cell phones. And I had a “calling card” (remember those? They were like a portable long-distance plan where you could call from any phone that did long distance, and it would be charged to you) so I could call my parents. (I think once or twice, when I didn’t have the card handy and it was an emergency, I called collect — probably something else today’s kids don’t know about — but I understood that was an emergency thing because of the expense.
I was insane enough to order my very own single-party line for my dorm room, which cost a fair sum of cash during an era when minimum wage, about the most a student could reasonably expect in those days, was a buck-thirty. (And yes, I remember the number.)
RUBEN SANO was 19 when he quit the group to work on his car. He had just saved up enough money to buy a 53 Nash and four gallons of gray primer. His girl friend said she would leave him forever if he didn’t quit playing in the band and fix up his car so they could go to the drive-in and make out. There was already 11 other guys in the band so when he quit nobody missed him except for his car when they had to go to rehearsal or play for a battle of the bands at the American Legion Post in Chino.
Ruben & the Jets, of course, was 100 percent doo-wop, Zappa being a legendary doo-wop fiend. (The latter-day Penguins’ “Memories of El Monte,” a deadly-serious nostalgia piece from 1963, was produced and co-written by Zappa.) Brother Paul, once a member of an aggregation called Eddie Chevy and the Carburetor Kids, honed his doo-wop skills on Ruben & the Jets, especially on the closer, “Later That Night.”
There exists, somewhere in a box on the premises, a two-track mixdown (from a four-track master) of brother Paul trying to duplicate this organ riff on the family instrument. He was only partly successful, but you wouldn’t argue with his enthusiasm, inasmuch as he was only 18 and still weighed what he did as a high-school offensive lineman.
My father hated smooth. He liked plain talk and despised euphemism and manipulation, especially among salesmen. He’d fire car salesmen working under him if he caught them lying or even shading the truth to make a sale. “A man that will lie to a customer will lie to you,” he’d say. He looked at every deal brought to him for approval that the buyer didn’t have the credit for as a failed sale and wouldn’t approve them. “Bad for the buyer and worse for the business,” he’d say. “If you let a man buy what he can’t afford on credit, you’re going to be taking the car back and making an enemy. We’re here to get cars off the lot, not see them come back after repossession. A man who can’t make his car payments is a man who can’t maintain his car. A salesman who’s so smooth he’s selling people cars bigger than they can afford is a salesman who’s taking a kickback from the repo man.”
This paragraph ought to be on permanent display at Yahoo! Answers, which is just crammed full of subprime buyers in deep doo-doo.
I remember hearing this on the radio in 1964 and wondering how the hell Pete Drake got those noises out of a steel guitar. It went something like this:
You play the notes on the guitar and it goes through the amplifier. I have a driver system so that you disconnect the speakers and the sound goes through the driver into a plastic tube. You put the tube in the side of your mouth then form the words with your mouth as you play them. You don’t actually say a word: The guitar is your vocal cords, and your mouth is the amplifier. It’s amplified by a microphone.
I admit, it wasn’t as much fun to watch on TV, where the secrets were given away, but the song, written by Buddy Killen and made into a hit by the Anita Kerr Singers under the pseudonym “The Little Dippers” circa 1959, does stay with you, as the title says: forever.
Drake, who died in 1988, had a gold record on his wall from exactly this tune.
Whatever Cleisthenes and the gang actually practiced, it wasn’t based on a social contract as we’d understand it. As you probably remember from your high school Social Studies class, the Greeks were world-class chauvinists. Aristotle famously ranked women just below slaves on the rationality scale, and the word “barbarian” simply meant “not-Greek.” You probably couldn’t play a pickup softball game with the total number of Athenian “voters.” But it didn’t matter, because Athens was so small that Demosthenes himself could come over to your house and personally demagogue you. Socrates, too, for that matter (he fought at Potidaea). Athens’s organizing myth, then, was “democracy” in the football hooligan sense — you voluntarily joined up, but mostly just to have a row with the wankers. Needless to say, this doesn’t work in anyplace bigger than a Greek polis. (The early Roman Republic worked the same way, and yes, I’m aware that I just called Romulus and Remus the original soccer yobs).
Do they even teach Social Studies anymore? The last Civics class I remember hearing about was apparently abandoned about the time the Republicans came up with something they teasingly called the Contract with America; however contractual it might have been, it was seriously lacking in enforcement mechanisms.
[S]ometimes on summer evenings, you could play a little with “atmospheric skip” and get stations from farther away than you normally would. It was like dxing on a radio, but with a television)
(And for that matter: do kids today even know what dxing is? It was a thing my dad taught me about and it was kind of fun in that geeky way — “Oh, hey, I’m picking up St. Louis!”)
And St. Louis was one of the first places you’d get, assuming you lived somewhere east of the Rockies; in the middle of the dial, in the middle of the country, KMOX had 1120 kHz all to itself after dark, one notch above the station pairs on opposite coasts. (Example: KGO San Francisco and WGY Schenectady, New York, both running full time on 810 kHz, though KGO’s signal is slightly directional at night to protect WGY.) This clear-channel stuff was important to us in South Carolina, which had only two 50,000-watt signals, both way the heck up around Greenville and — wait for it — operating with that much juice only in the daytime. Down on the coast, our hardy Top 40 perennials ran 5,000 watts daytime, 1,000 watts night (WTMA) or 1,000 watts daytime, 250 watts night (then WQSN). We eagerly hunted down stuff like the Big Ape (WAPE Jacksonville, a mere 25,000 watts at night but so close by we could sometimes pick it up in the daytime. I remember once or twice managing to snag their competition, WPDQ, only 5,000 watts but still only a state and a fraction away.
I discovered Nashville early: they had two blowtorch AMs, WSM, then and now home of the Grand Ole Opry, and WLAC, now news-talk but back then a serious R&B outlet, anchored in the evenings by the legendary John R. (I regret to say I never made it to Ernie’s Record Mart in Nashville, a major John R. sponsor.) After you’d heard all the big boys, it became something of a game to try to locate low-powered rivals to said big boys. I think my single greatest night of DX was the night I got an amazingly clean signal from the amazingly weak WKWK (Wheeling’s Krazy, Wacky Kilocycles), 1,000 watts day, 250 watts night, not even a patch on the mighty WWVA just up the dial, but competitive just the same.
Jack Benny, signing off his radio show on 30 May 1943:
Today Valley Forge and Bull Run and Gettysburg and Château Thierry come marching out of the past and we see them clearly again … because marching at their side are the men of Bataan and Pearl Harbor and Corregidor and Wake.
Someday time will erase the pain of the memory of Bataan and Pearl Harbor as it once erased the pain of Verdun. But tonight the gold stars are too new and bright, the wounds in our hearts too fresh and the pain too sharp to forget. And thus Memorial Day becomes more than a roll call of our honored dead and a roll call more of the living. And the living must step forth and answer and they must say … “all these men from 1776 to 1943 — they died for me. So let me work and let me buy the bonds, and let me — with the helping hand of God — make the sacrifice that tells the soul of each one of these men, “You did not die in vain.”
My older readers will know that my dad was President of Exxon from the early 70’s (a few weeks before the Arab oil embargo) until the late 1980’s. In that job he never had to do analyst calls, but he did about 15 annual shareholders meetings. I don’t know how they run today but in those days any shareholder with a question or a rant could line up and fire away. Every person with a legitimate beef, every vocal person who hated oil companies and were pissed off about oil prices, every conspiracy theorist convinced Exxon was secretly formulating chemtrail material or whatever, and every outright crazy would buy one share of stock and show up to have their moment on stage. My dad probably fantasized about how awesome it would be to just get asked dry financial questions about cash flow. And through all the nuts and crazy questions and outright accusations that he was the most evil person on the planet, dad kept his cool and never once lost it.
If you asked him about it, he likely would not have talked about it. Dad — who grew up dirt poor with polio in rural Depression Iowa — was from that generation that really did not talk about their personal adversity much and certainly did not compete for victim status. He probably would just have joked that the loonies at the shareholder meeting were nothing compared to Congress. My favorite story was that Scoop Jackson once called him to testify in the Senate twice in 6 months or so. The first time, just before the embargo, he was trying to save the Alaska pipeline project and Jackson accused Exxon of being greedy and trying to produce more oil than was needed. The second time was just after the embargo, and Jackson accused Exxon of being greedy and hiding oil offshore in tankers to make sure the world had less oil than it needed.
Good old Scoop. Remember when he was the sane Democrat?
Through all of this, the only time I ever saw him really mad was when Johnny Carson made a joke about killing the president of Exxon (he asked his audience to raise their hands if they thought they would actually get convicted for killing the president of Exxon) and over the next several days our family received hundreds of death threats. These had to be treated fairly credibly at the time because terrorists were frequently attacking, kidnapping, and bombing oil company executives and their families. We had friends whose housekeeper’s hand was blown off by a letter bomb, and I was not able to travel outside of the country for many years for fear of kidnapping. (For Firefly fans, if you remember the scene of Mal always cutting his apples because he feared bombs in them from a old war experience, you might recognize how, to this day, I still open packages slowly and carefully.)
And that was during the Age of Carson, a largely apolitical comedian — yet the nitwits spun their way out of the woodwork with frightening speed. Today, no thanks to the current corps of synthetically edgy talkers and their reinforcement from the echo chambers of social media, there is no longer any such thing as a rhetorical question; it’s always a cry for a rally.
The American Kennel Club recognizes about 200 sort-of-different dog breeds. (The Belgian sheepdog and its sort-of-distant cousins, the Malinois and the Tervuren, are three separate breeds in AKC reckoning; in Belgium, they’re three varieties of the same dog.) There are lots of other breeds that have yet to receive AKC attention. And there are breeds that will never be seen again, by AKC or anyone else:
Are any current breeds marked for extinction? Surely not deliberately so; but, say, the otterhound — pretty much nobody hunts otters anymore — is fairly unemployable.
Archaeologists near the Swiss city of Basel are trying to definitively establish if mysterious shafts discovered at Switzerland’s extensive Augusta Raurica site in 2013 could have been ancient refrigerators.
The Romans used shafts like the four-metre deep examples at Augusta Raurica — some 20 kilometres from Basel — as cool stores during summer.
The shafts were filled with snow and ice during winter and then covered with straw to keep the space cool well into the summer months. This then allowed for everything from cheese to wine — and even oysters — to be preserved during warm weather.
Two previous attempts produced reasonable cool, but not what you’d call cold. This time:
Now, however, researchers plan to use methods developed by the so-called “nevaters” or ice-makers on the Spanish island of Majorca. This will see [Peter-Andrew] Schwarz and his team placing 20–30-centimetre-thick layers of snow into the shaft. These individual layers will then be compacted down with a straw cover placed on top of each one.
“With this method, people in Majorca could keep food cool in summer before the arrival of electric fridges,” Schwarz told regional daily Basler Zeitung in 2017.
Which, of course, doesn’t prove these particular shafts were bad mothers actually used for refrigeration, but there’s a lot to be said for proof of concept.
And Dave Schuler cracks: “What amused me about this story is that, if they had been found in the UK, they’d still have been in use.”
Because I have to, this scene from season three of Night Court, a wondrous juxtaposition of pathos and punchlines, with John Larroquette and the late Harry Anderson:
You may remember that Harry Stone got his judgeship by accident: the outgoing mayor of New York made a crapton of appointments on his last day in office, and Harry was the only nominee for judge who was actually at home when the phone call came. You tell me life isn’t like that.