Monday, December 4, 2017

Vital Viewing (Regional Cadence Edition)

Jim Nabors 1930-2017

Between 1870 and 1920, eleven million Americans moved from rural areas (villages or hamlets surrounded by countryside) to urban areas (cities surrounded by villages or hamlets, i.e., suburbs.) Additionally, the twenty-five million immigrants who arrived on these shores chose to settle in cities, so that by 1920 more Americans lived in urban than rural areas for the first time in US history. Now, this majority living in cities didn't necessarily forget about those few that had remained behind. Indeed, they took great interest in them. Or rather, they took great amusement in them. An amusement stoked by various forms of pop culture, from comic strips (Li'l Abner, Snuffy Smith), radio (Lum and Abner, Fibber McGee and Molly) movies (Ma and Pa Kettle, No Time for Sergeants), animated cartoons (Foghorn Leghorn), and, especially, television. So much television, I'm not even going to put it in parenthesis: The Real McCoys, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Hee Haw, The Andy Griffith Show, and Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. It was last two TV shows that plutonium-fueled Jim Nabors' pop bottle rocket-ascent into stardom.

As a comic actor, Nabors' range was pretty narrow. He could only play one character, and it wasn't all that original of a character. The simple-minded but good-hearted country bumpkin had been a comic trope since Artemas Ward, who had a great influence on Mark Twain and is sometimes described as the first standup comic. Ward (real name, Charles Farrar Browne) died is 1867, but his basic shtick, a mixture of bad grammar and wide-eyed boondocks innocence, lived on in, among others, Abner Yokum, and even early Andy Griffith, the man who gave Nabors his big break. Griffith's original claim to fame was a best-selling comedy record titled "What It Was, Was Football", and then the TV, stage, and movie version of No Time For Sergeants, in which he portrayed a Gomer Pyle-like character. More recently, on the otherwise sophisticated Cheers, Woody Harrelson did a Midwestern variation of the same comedy stereotype. However, with all dues respect to Griffith and Harrelson and anyone else with same vacant look and/or dumb smile on their face, Nabors was just plumb funnier. As Nancy Walker did with the Jewish mother, Danny DeVito with the tyrannical boss, Goldie Hawn with the dumb blond, and, to show you I keep up with the times, Jim Parsons with the high I.Q. geek, Nabors took a commonplace comedy persona and made it his own.

Especially on The Andy Griffith Show where I found him slightly funnier than when he played Gomer on his own series. Don't get me wrong. I thought he was great as a Marine (because he was so inept as a Marine), but being the protagonist instead of a secondary character meant that the TV audience occasionally had to relate to his, and sure wouldn't relate (whether they should or not) to someone who was a complete moron. So Gomer's I.Q. was raised a notch as he became a more well-rounded person. All that was to the good, because it gave the sitcom new avenues to explore during its five years on the air, if not quite as many belly laughs. No such requirement for the Griffith Show, where Nabors could be so hilariously over-the-top he even forced Don Knotts to take on the unaccustomed role of straight man in their scenes together.

After Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C went off the air (at his own instigation) Nabors hosted a variety show that did almost as well in the ratings, was always in the Top 30, yet was canceled after only two years. Why? Well, remember that old story from childhood about the country mouse visiting the city mouse and the former deciding he should hightail it back home because of a cat? Well, that cat was nowhere as menacing as the emerging art of network demographics. It was no longer how many people were watching a show that mattered to advertisers but also their spending habits. People with disposal income willing to try new products weren't watching such otherwise highly-rated shows as The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, Mayberry RFD, Hee Haw, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and The Jim Nabors Hour in large enough numbers, and was systematically taken off the schedule in what's become known as the Rural Purge. Or, as Pat Buttram, Mr. Haney on Green Acres, put it: "It was the year CBS canceled everything with a tree—including Lassie."

So what was with all these people with disposable incomes willing to try new products anyway? They they lose all interest in what was going on in the sticks. I don't think so, but the television's depiction of comings and goings of rural types had become dated, even anachronistic, by the 1970s. Terms such as country bumpkin, hillbilly, hick, hayseed, clodhopper, rube, and yokel, all gave way to a new term, redneck. The city slickers were still very interested, but just that they saw such a person less as a charming innocent and more willfully ignorant menace...

 ...and not all that amusing.

So what happened to Nabors after the Purge? Throughout the 1970s he was still a presence on talk shows and other people's variety shows. He appeared on The Love Boat. He and Ruth Buzzi had their own Sid and Marty Croft Saturday morning show for a while, called The Lost Saucer,  where they played robots in an out-of-control time machine. In the 1980s, Nabors appeared in a couple of Burt Reynolds movies. There was an Andy Griffith Show reunion movie where he played Gomer one final time. And then that was kind of it. I think the entire 1990s went by without me ever catching him on television, though he did do live performances for a while. As for his personal life, a friendship with Rock Hudson came to an end after the latter became spooked about a joke making the rounds ("Did you hear Rock Hudson married Jim Nabors and changed his name to Rock Pyle?") Nabors did end up marrying his longtime partner Stan Caldwaller earlier in this decade once it was legal to do so in the state of Oregon. That was the last time Nabors was in the news, I believe.

Here's Jim Nabors at this best:

Well, that's about it--Oh, wait, I almost forgot. Earlier I told you Nabors had a narrow range. I meant as an actor, as he could only play one character, but as an entertainer, it's a different story.  Jim Nabors could sing. 


Not bad for a country bumpkin. Surprise, surprise, surprise!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich

At one time or another, I was an admirer of all of these gentlemen.

Oh, God, who's next?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Plymouth Rocks!

Ah, yes, another Thanksgiving is almost upon us. I suppose we all know the origins of the holiday by now. I mean, we Americans know the origins. However, as this is the Internet, I know citizens of other countries occasionally takes a gander at this blog, and they may need an explanation. To recap, in 1620 a group of Puritans at odds with the Church of England in their home country set sail on a ship called The Mayflower to North America, or as it was sometimes referred to at the time, the New World. After an arduous two-month journey, they landed in what is now Massachusetts and established a modest little colony named Plymouth, after the town back home from which the Mayflower had set sail. Dry land notwithstanding, things got even more arduous for the people who would come to be known as Pilgrims.  Disease, food shortages, and a harsh winter took its toll. Of the 102 Puritans who had set sail on the Mayflower, only about half were still alive a year later. Gradually, things did improve for the survivors. They met a group of indigenous North Americans, or Indians, who lived nearby and agreed to help them out by showing them how best to farm the soil. After a successful fall harvest, the Plymouth colonists decided to hold a celebratory feast, inviting the Indians to join them. The more, the merrier, as they say.

Then there was the day after the First Thanksgiving. That's when a phalanx of musket-toting paleface Pilgrims marched into the Indian village, knocked loudly on the first wigwam they came to, and barked, "OK, Tonto, it's Manifest Destiny time! We got a nice reservation all decked out for you. If you don't like the accommodations, take your complaints to the 7th Cavalry!"

Well, I might be telescoping events a wee bit.

Here's some Thanksgiving imagery, along with some history here and there, to mull over as you chow down on your stuffing and mashed potatoes.

 Let's start with Norman Rockwell's Freedom from Want. Though the painting (or illustration) debuted in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post in March of 1942, it's come to be associated with Thanksgiving. This is Rockwell at his most photographic. At his most detailed. For instance, in the middle-right of the picture, note how what looks to be a gelatin of some sort in magnified through a glass of water. Rockwell may have made things even more challenging for himself by having white dinnerware placed on a white tablecloth, along with white curtains in the background. So much white that in the hands of a lesser artist the picture could have become so much spilled milk. However, Rockwell was not a lesser but a greater artist (or illustrator), and so each and every object is clearly delineated. And there are some non-white objects to offer a bit of contrast, too, such as that fellow looking at us in the lower-right hand corner (hey, pal, didn't anybody ever tell you it's not nice to stare?) OK, so the artwork is technically kick-ass, but how about the message it conveys? Is perhaps Rockwell idealizing the holiday a bit too much? Well, that's something for each and every one of you to decide on your own, depending on your own experiences on Turkey Day. I mean, I've been to Thanksgiving dinners where something like the above scene more or less played out. And remember, it's a single moment in time, not the entire day. Anything that might have occurred afterwards, from a family argument, to some drunken behavior,  to people showing impatience as they wait to get into the bathroom, to a whipped cream-covered pumpkin pie becoming embedded in the carpet, to the dog snapping at a kid who yanked too hard on the his left ear, well, you can paint those pictures yourself if you want. I only have one quibble with what's arguably Rockwell's most famous work of art. I don't know what the availability of steroids were in the 1940s, but, given the size of that turkey, you'd think that woman would be straining a bit more than she is with that platter. Furthermore, she's holding it at kind of an awkward angle. Wouldn't it be much easier if she held it right in front of her as she placed it on the table? But I guess she can't because that idiot to the left of her won't get out of the way.

There's no evidence Pilgrims actually dressed this way, but someone dreamed up the look in the late 19th-early 20th century, and it's been with us ever since.

There's even less evidence that pilgrims dressed like this (TCM fans, that's Jean Arthur on the left.)

Man, look at the size of that ship! It sure takes up a good swath of the ocean. Those pilgrims should have made it to the New World in no time at all!

Ready-to-serve Thanksgiving.

As Thanksgiving made its way into the 20th century, the iconic Pilgrim began to realize he had to compete for the public's attention  (art by the once-popular illustrator J.C. Leyendecker. Don't know if he played the game or not.)

That should feed a lot of munchkins.

The Pilgrims furniture arrives.

Nothing goes with turkey like oatmeal (or whatever the heck it is.)

I hope for that woman on the left's sake that this is Plymouth and not Salem.

This Puritan descendant turned out not to be very puritanical at all.

Fowl play: a Partridge on a turkey shoot.

Plymouth Rock. The Pilgrims in their diaries, journals, and correspondence say nothing about coming across a big rock upon arriving in the New World. That's not to say it wasn't there, but just that the Pilgrims didn't think anything of it. It wasn't until 121 years later that a Plymouth civic leader decided that the rock was of great historical significance (i.e., a tourist attraction.)

More fowl play. Is Woodstock a cannibal?

Take a moment to give thanks the next time you walk into a movie theater.

 "Still crazy after all these years..."

(As much as I would like it to be, that's not my joke. Paul Simon actually sang that while hosting Saturday Night Live back in November, 1976.)


 I can't look either.

Another Thanksgiving tradition.

You always know the parade is winding down when this fellow shows up. Which brings up another point. Whatever the holiday's historical origins, these days Thanksgiving is basically the Christmas season's opening act.

Historical fact: in the final years of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the second-to-last, thinking an early start to the Christmas shopping season might improve retail sales. A hue and cry went up from holiday traditionalists, college athletic directors who now had to rearrange the football schedule, and Republicans hoping to exploit the votes of the first two groups. After about three years, and by joint resolution of Congress which the now-chastened President signed into law, Thanksgiving was returned to the last Thursday of November. Thus the sanctity of the holiday was preserved. For a while, anyway. In the past ten years, I've worked at both Macy's and Target, and in each store Christmas decorations started going up the day after Halloween. FDR was just a bit before his time, that's all.

Well, that's all I got, and so, in parting, I'd just like to say...

 ...Happy Thanksgiving, and hats off to all of you!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Vital Viewing (Shag Edition)

Whoopi Goldberg was born on this day in 1955. Apparently earlier this year she performed a one-woman show and/or stand-up routine at the Palladium in London. She discusses it here with BBC talk show host Graham Norton (that's Keanu Reeves to her right):

I don't know if this one-woman show is going to be playing here in the States anytime soon, but if it does and it's anything like the above clip, it looks to be highly entertaining (though it might be a good idea to leave the kids at home.)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

In Memoriam: Fats Domino 1928-2017


"Well, I wouldn't say that I started it (rock 'n' roll), but I don't remember anyone else before me playing that kind of stuff."

Domino was born and raised in--where else?--New Orleans.

Domino started playing pianos in bars when he was about 14 (apparently he wasn't carded.) He was a little older than that when he was hired to play piano for the Solid Senders. It was the leader of that band, Billy Diamond who gave the young Antoine (he was of French-Creole descent) his nickname "Fats" after piano players Fats Waller and Fats Pichon. And, yeah, Domino had a hearty appetite, so that had something to do with it, too.

Domino came to the attention of trumpeter-turned-record producer Dave Bartholomew, who signed him to the Imperial label. Together the two men wrote, and Domino sang and played the piano on, a 1949 recording called...

..."The Fat Man". Domino also supplied the "wah wahs".  

Domino, with Bartholomew's help, had a string of hits throughout the 1950s.

"Ain't That a Shame". Domino's first Top 10 hit,in 1955. Note the actual record had the WRONG title!

"Blueberry Hill", written in 1940, had previously been recorded by the Sammy Kaye Orchestra, Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller, Gene Autry (!), Jimmy Dorsey, and Louis Armstrong, but it became (most likely) forever identified with Domino, starting in 1956, when it went all the way to #2. It was his biggest hit.

"I'm Walkin'", 1957.

You may be curious about the quote at the top of this post. What does Domino mean he doesn't remember anyone recording that kind of stuff before him? What is he, a raving egomaniac? I doubt it. When he says people didn't play it before him, I think he was talking about folks, particularly white folks, like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, who hit the charts about the same time he did. The fact people WERE recording that kind of stuff before him. 10, 20, even 30 years before Domino. That's absurd, you say? Rock 'n' roll didn't come along until the 1950s. Well, yeah, if you're talking about rock 'n' roll LABLED rock 'n' roll. But listen to pre-World War II jazz sometimes, before Charlie Parker got his hands on it. Artists such as Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway recorded music that doesn't sound all that different from 1950s rock 'n' roll. Or listen to jazz's kid brother swing. White artists such as Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman (the Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis of their era)--well, if you had played one of their numbers at a 1959 sock hop, I'm not sure any of the teens dancing in the high school gym would have noticed the difference. Most of all, listen to a sub-genre of swing called boogie-woogie (as well as the closely related jump blues, and the more countrified honky-tonk) Many of the artists and songs are obscure now, but I'm sure you've been exposed to at least two boogie-woogie songs in a rather unusual place: animated cartoons. Ever see the one Tom and Jerry short where the feline dresses up in a zoot suit and sings "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?"  Tell me that song (originally recorded by Louis Jordan) doesn't sound a lot like 1950s rock. Or maybe Walt Disney is more to your liking. Watch Dumbo sometimes. The racial stereotyping is unfortunate, I'll admit, but when Jim Crow and his pals (actually white jazzman Cliff Edwards a.k.a. Ukulele Ike) performs "When I See an Elephant Fly" , it rocks!

So why does most everyone think that rock 'n' roll started in the 1950s? Well, after World War II, swing, boogie woogie, whatever you call it, fell out of favor. Jazz, in the form of bebop, became intellectualized (whether performers such as Parker saw themselves as intellectuals or not.) As a now Depression-free and war-free America became a much more mellow place, so did its listening habits. Artists such as Doris Day, Patti Page, Perry Como, and Johnny Mathis ruled the airways. I personally don't have a problem with their kind of music (which is now almost extinct) but had I been a teenager in the 1950s, I probably would have found it boring, as did many teens at the time. So when the new/old music now called rock 'n' roll came along, kids found it new and exciting, and THAT'S what I think Domino meant. 

Of course, in the coming decades, music would become even more novel and exciting, even revolutionary, probably too revolutionary for the likes of Fats Domino, who fell out of favor. He nonetheless earned a living on the nostalgia circuit, and, as I understand it, continued to keep fans satisfied.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Vital Viewing (Oceania Edition)

In the comment section of a recent post on the late Tom Petty, someone complained that I was ignoring the Southern Hemisphere and the influence thereof. I at first thought this a bit unfair as I had explicitly pointed out that Petty had grown up in Florida. Then I realized the commentator meant the Earth's southern hemisphere. Well, I guess I'm guilty as charged, but first let me give you some mitigating details. I was born in the Northern Hemisphere, grew up in the Northern Hemisphere, and still live in the Northern Hemisphere. What do I know about what's below the equator, other than that it's hot? Trying to figure out exactly what was the beef of the person who left the comment, I saw that he hailed from Australia. It's funny. I've never been there, but it's my impression that Australia is so thoroughly Westernized, it's more like a suburb of the North, which its citizens may or may not take as a compliment. I do know the continent/island/country has made frequent and arguably significant contributions to popular culture. So in the interest of Multiculturalism, Diversity, Equality, World Peace, and anything else that might make a Trump supporter retch, I offer the following sampling:

I realize there are many other, more recent, examples, but these are what immediately came to mind.

Now, if you'll excuse me, mate, I'm going to go out and grab myself a bite to eat.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

In Memoriam: Tom Petty 1950-2017

“Music is probably the one real magic I have encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things.”

Petty grew up in Gainesville, in Northern Florida

"That's what kicked off my love of music. And I'd never thought much about rock 'n' roll until that moment." What  kicked off Petty's love of music? And who the hell is the hotshot with the shades? Read on.

Petty had an uncle who owned a film developing business. When the above motion picture was being shot in the nearby town of Ocala, that uncle got a job on the set, and invited his 11-year old nephew to meet the film's star (incidentally, I've seen this movie, and while it's no classic, it's a cut above the average Presley flick.)

Petty seems to have had several bands in the early '70s, the most notable of which was Mudcrutch. That's lead guitarist Mike Campbell to Petty's left... association that would outlive the band after its one and only single failed to chart.

Undaunted, Petty and Campbell, along with bassist Ron Blair, drummer Stan Lynch and keyboardist Benmont Tench formed a new band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Petty sung lead, and also played the guitar.

The band's first single "Breakdown" was a Top 40 hit in 1976.

In 1979, the band released their third album Damn the Torpedoes, which quickly went platinum, and made it all the way to #2  on Billboard's album chart (Pink Floyd's monster hit album, The Wall, was  #1) It's kind of forgotten now, but at the time the Heartbreakers were thought to be a "new wave" band with a southern-tinged punk sound. Later on in the 1980s, the band was lumped with such "heartland rock" acts as Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar Mellencamp, and Bob Segar, though Petty felt he was a bit different from them, believing his band to be a bit more idiosyncratic, and so he was. The sound, probably due to Petty's wonderfully nasal singing style, was unique and always instantly identifiable.


"Here Comes My Girl"

"Don't Do Me Like That"

"The Waiting" from the 1981 album Hard Promises.

In 1986 Petty and another wonderfully nasal-voiced singer went on tour together. The Heartbreakers played backup for Dylan, probably his best backup band since...

...these guys.

In addition to touring together, Dylan and Petty were members, along with George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne of the short-lived but fondly-remembered supergroup The Traveling Wilburys.

With all this going on, Petty also found time for a solo album (produced by Campbell), which yielded several more classics.

"I Won't Back Down"

"Free Fallin"

Petty also did a bit of acting. He voiced Luann's no-good boyfriend (and later no-good husband) Elroy "Lucky" Kleinschmidt on King of the Hill (note what the show's patriarch Hank is holding in his hands--it was literally a shotgun wedding!)

From rags to riches.

Fortunately for the rest of us, Petty made his fortune through his music.


Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There's not some trick involved with it. It's pure and it's real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things.
Read more at:
Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There's not some trick involved with it. It's pure and it's real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things.
Read more at: