Sunday, February 24, 2013

Quips and Quotations

What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca-Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca-Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca-Cola, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
--Andy Warhol


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Wheels of Fortune

Way back in 1985, I was looking for a new car. Or, rather, a new used car. I wanted a different car than the one I was already driving and that was beginning to fall apart faster than I could get it fixed. I had three criteria for the new used car I wanted. First, that it cost under $5000. Second, that it was in decent condition. Now, I'm no mechanic, so how would I recognize this decency? Well, it couldn't be too dirty under the hood, and there should be a minimum of rust. As neither guarantees against indecency, this brings us to the third criteria: the car should be no more than five years old. None of this criteria was iron clad. I could break my own contract with myself, and almost did.

It happened when I was looking through the classifieds and saw a 1977 Cadillac for sale in "good condition for only $2000." Good is certainly better than decent. True, it would be older than 1980. Three years older, but that would be at a savings of $1000 a year, or so I rationalized. What was really driving me to drive a Caddy was that at the time I was a big Bruce Springsteen fan, and "Cadillac Ranch" was my favorite song off The River album. Had the Boss sung about a Ford Pinto, I'm sure I would have wanted that. I decided to look into the ad. I called the number and found out the guy who was selling it lived in Gates Mills.

Gates Mills?

To those of you unfamiliar with Northeast Ohio, Gates Mills is a suburb of Cleveland. But it's very different from other Cleveland suburbs such as Parma, Lyndhurst, Shaker Heights, or Lakewood. Gates Mills is where all the rich Clevelanders live: the movers and shakers, CEOs, captains of industry, jet setters, high society types, and downtown parking lot owners. And now some tycoon had a $2000, instead of $5000, Cadillac waiting just for me. Maybe he was the head of some new foundation that provided used cars to needy Bruce Springsteen fans.

Getting to Gates Mills on the northeastern edge of Cuyahoga County from North Royalton on the southwestern border, where I was living at the time, wasn't all that easy. I borrowed my mother's 1979 Bonneville (I didn't trust my junker to make the trip) and took I-77 to I-something else to I-whatever until I got to Mayfield Heights and just took a regular road into the village. That's what Gates Mills is, a village. The places nearby where other rich folks live, Hunting Valley and Chagrin Falls, are villages, too, whereas Parma and Shaker Heights are considered "municipalities". The rich may want to create, develop, invest in, and control the municipalities, but they just as soon live in villages themselves.

I soon found myself on this long country road. Except unlike other long country roads, there were no corn, wheat, or barley fields. Nor were there any woods. There were just acres and acres of lawn. You know, what you mow. And mowed it was. I've seen more weeds at Disney World. It must have taken a whole fleet of Toros to keep Gates Mills free of dandelions. Every 20 yards or so I'd see a long driveway that seemingly led to nowhere, the houses were that far from the road. I would have mistaken them for side streets if not for the mailboxes in front. Finally, after a turn here and there, I came to the right address. Not that I could stop my car. In fact, I put my foot on the gas, as there was now no place to go but up.

 Not many people know this about Greater Cleveland, including many Greater Clevelanders themselves, but it's located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. It's hard to see those foothills when you have machine shops, fast-food joints, tract housing, and shopping plazas in every possible spot. However, thanks to strict zoning laws, Gates Mills was free of all that, and I found myself driving up a small mountain. This little part of Cuyahoga County would have indeed looked like the Appalachians of popular imagination, if only hillbillies drove Toros.

About half-way up the summit I came to a garage, of all things. An older type garage where you had to pull the doors open rather than roll them up. I peered into a window. There was a car inside, but it was too dark to see what kind of condition it was in, or if it was even the car I had come to see. I got back into the Bonneville and continued my ascension.

I eventually came to a very big house. I hesitate to call it a mansion, simply because it had no Doric columns. In movies and TV, mansions always have Doric columns. This house didn't look anything like what the Clampetts or Blake Carrington lived in. It looked sort of looked like the house on Eight is Enough. Just imagine the house on Eight is Enough with 50 extra windows. And I only got to see it from the front. Whoever owned it had money. Now, I can't say for sure if the owner was a millionaire. At the very least, though, that person was a nine-hundred thousand and nine-hundred ninety-nineaire.

A middle-aged man as well-trimmed as his lawn and wearing a green sports shirt and white pants stepped out from behind a topiary and greeted me:

"Hello! Are you here to look at the car?"

"Um, yeah."

"Well, it's in the garage. Can we take your car down?"

So we both hopped in my mother's Bonneville, and drove half-way down the well-manicured Appalachian foothill to the garage to get a good look at the 1977 Cadillac, which, according to the owner, they didn't make like that any more. It was also as good as new, and in mint condition. I always imagined millionaires mainly reading The Wall Street Journal, but this fellow had the Trading Times down pat.

We arrived at our destination. We got out of the car, and the millionaire opened up the garage, turned on a light, and proudly let me examine the mint condition, good as new 1977 Cadillac which they didn't make like that anymore.

It had recently been painted in a god-awful light-blue, the shade you might find in a cell block. But that in itself was no big deal if it was other wise good as new. I took a close look and saw a wrinkle here, a fold there, a bubble somewhere else, along with bumps, lumps, and crumpled bits of metal all over the place. This guy had tried to hide the rust by painting over it!

I'd seen enough. I was too polite to tell him this made my own rust bucket back in North Royalton look like it had just come right off the assembly line, without even a fresh coat of cell block paint. So I drove him back to his huge, humble abode, and told him I'd think about it. I did in fact think about it, but probably not in the way he would have preferred.

Painting over the rust. Sheesh!

I had been looking for a new set of wheels for a while, so it's not like I hadn't come across this kind of thing before. If it had been some guy with unruly sideburns and an unkempt mustache wearing a checkered sports coat and striped pants at a used car lot across the street from an adult book store in a run down neighborhood who had tried to pull a stunt like that, I would have understood.

But a millionaire in Gates Mills?

He must have made all his money in junk bonds.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Actor Bela Lugosi as Jesus Christ in a 1909 Passion play.
In 1931, Lugosi would play yet another character who rose from the grave. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

In Memoriam: Patty Andrews 1918-2013

Singer. Sang lead in 1940s girl group, The Andrews Sisters. "  "Bei Mir Bistu Shein". "Shortenin' Bread" "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)" "Pistol Packin' Mama" (with Bing Crosby.) "Shoo Shoo Baby". "Straighten Up and Fly Right." "Don't Fence Me In (with Bing Crosby.) "Rum and Coca-Cola". "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive (with--you guessed it--Bing Crosby.) "Near You." "I Can Dream, Can't I?" "Daddy"

 "There were just three girls in the family. LaVerne had a very low voice. Maxene's was kind of high, and I was between. It was like God had given us voices to fit our parts."

--1971 interview.

“When our fans used to see one of us, they’d always ask, ‘Where are your sisters?’ Every time we got an award, it was just one award for the three of us...We’re not glued together.” 

--1974 New York Times interview. By this time, Patty was a solo act. Unfortunately for her, she wasn't remotely as popular a single as she had been when part of a trio.

And so...

That's Maxine on the left, LaVerne on the right. Sorry, Patty, but whose individuality hasn't taken a beating every now and then?

 Especially when playing backup.

Now, let's look at the product these three ladies were trying to sell:

"I was listening to Benny Goodman and to all the bands...I was into the feel, so that would go into my own musical ability. I was into swing. I loved the brass section."

--Patty Andrews

"Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"

"Bei Mir Bistu Shein"

"Shoo Shoo Baby"

"Straighten Up and Fly Right"

"Rum and Coca-Cola" Get a designated driver before listening to this song.

Two with Bing:

"Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive"


"Pistol-Packing Mama" Not endorsed by the NRA.

Back to just the girls:


"Chattanooga Choo Choo"


"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" With Shemp Howard!

The Andrews Sisters were once considered hip. Or, rather, hep. This is, after all, the Swing Era we're talking about.

Swing was a form of music that originated in the African-American community in the early part of the 20th century. White artists took the music into the mainstream, where it was at first met with suspicion and disapproval by adults but with much enthusiasm by their teenaged sons and daughters. New clothing styles, dance moves, and slang formed around this music and it soon became part of a larger youth culture. This new culture so terrified some people--especially with a war going on--that it led to civil unrest.



Sound familiar?

For all the noise it caused, the Swing Era quietly ended not too long after the much noisier World War II came to a close. The Andrews Sisters, meanwhile, had their own internal wars going on:

"We had been together nearly all our lives...Then in one year our dream world ended. Our mother died and then our father. All three of us were upset, and we were at each other's throats all the time."

--Patty Andrews, in 1971.

The girls split up in 1951, sued each other, and Maxine attempted suicide. Not much accentuating the positive there.

Eventually the sisters resolved their differences, and reunited in 1956, deciding to try their hand at rock and roll. That's not as absurd as it sounds. Go listen to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" again. You got rhythm and you got blues. Does it really sound all that different from what Little Richard or Chuck Berry were doing a decade and a half later? I haven't listened  to any of the Andrews rock and roll songs--indeed, I can't find them online--but after hearing their '40s stuff, I can't see why they they couldn't just fit right in.

But they didn't.

For reasons social scientists still haven't quite figured out, rock and roll proved to be a greater shock to the system than even  ragtime, jazz, or swing--all controversial in their day--had been. Adults who had grown up listening to at least one of those blues-based, sexualized genres forgot all that--or maybe remembered it all too well--when it came to their own children. Elvis was censored, then drafted, and DJ Alan Freed--who coined the phrase "rock and roll"--was hounded by the law and the people who make the laws, Congress. One way kids rebelled against this assault on their favorite music (which lyrically wasn't even about rebellion at the time) was to build a wall between rock and all that had come before it. These teenagers came to see any music made prior to 1955, as old-fashioned, for squares. Including the Andrews Sisters. Especially the Andrews Sisters.

Nevertheless, the sisters soldiered on, even if they no longer performed in WAC uniforms. Here they are, their last appearance together, on The Dean Martin Show in the mid-'60s. Well into middle-age by this time, their voices have dropped a few registers, and they no longer sing at that jitterbugging quick pace (though they may have slowed down to accommodate the more laid-back Dino.) Still, they seem not to be taking themselves too seriously, always part of their appeal.

LaVerne died of cancer in 1967.

Patty and Maxine performed as a duo for a couple of years, then split up. They briefly reunited in the mid-1970s, then split up again, and sued each other again. They were estranged for the rest of their lives.

The sisters did manage to put aside their differences for one final public appearance. In 1987, the girl act received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame:

Patty on the left, Maxine on the right.

Maxine died in 1995

No one stays young forever. No one lives forever. But if it's any consolation, one, or three, may be rediscovered by the young:


You don't hang up on the Andrews Sisters.