Tag Archives: Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be

The Lovin’ Spoonful ► Monday Musical Appreciation

The first album I ever bought with my own money was The Best of The Lovin’ Spoonful. I played the grooves right off it. I simply adored The Lovin’ Spoonful and my band, Cobwebs and Strange, even performed a few songs from it.

Every song a hit, at least with me, this LP is comprised of “Do You Believe in Magic?”, “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?”, “Butchie’s Tune”, “Jug Band Music”, “Night Owl Blues”, “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice”, “Daydream”, “Blues In The Bottle”, “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It”, “Wild About My Lovin'”, “Younger Girl”, and “Summer In The City”. Perfection!!! Every tune was a Sing-A-Long, at least with me. 

What’s of interest to me is how my youth has connected to my dotage and not just in a nostalgic way.

These days I think about The Lovin’ Spoonful a lot. There are times I am down in Coconut Grove taking pictures, or conducting interviews, when their song “Coconut Grove” starts playing unbidden in my head. Suddenly I’ve got an all-day ear worm that won’t shake loose, no matter how much Reggae I apply.

“Coconut Grove” is from their 3rd LP, “Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful.” According to Talk From The Rock Room, in an essay called ‘Bes friends’-The Lovin Spoonful-‘Hums of the Lovin Spoonful’ LP:

Keeping with the theme of mellow melodies, “Coconut Grove” trickles in again spotlighting special instrumentation such as Sebastian’s auto harp and a hand drum. According to John Sebastian this song was conceived on folk icon Fred Neil’s boat in the pre-Spoonful days. The song rides rolling waves of sound, gently rocking to and fro, the breeze of Zal’s guitar gusting beautiful accents across the reflective seas. The strength of the tune is Sebastian’s vocal melody, almost able to carry the track on its own. This song can put you right on the deck, riding straight into a sun dipping behind the horizon. Mood music at its finest.

It should be noted that Fred Neil lived on his boat just offshore of Coconut Grove at the time.

I’m jammed for time this morning, because — not coincidentally — I am currently doing a final edit on my latest story about Coconut Grove. Where do you think I got today’s ear worm?

Crank it up and D A N C E ! ! !

George Carlin, Johnny Carson, and Comedy ► Throwback Thursday

George Carlin, the man who challenged both censors and the institution of Stand Up Comedy, would have celebrated his 79th birthday today, had he not been so foolish to die in 2008. 

Carlin started his career in radio while he was still in the USAF. While it only lasted a few months, it gave him that first taste of Show Biz. Soon he teamed up with Jack Burns as a comedy duo, and the two of them went on to some success, appearing on tee vee and recording an album. After 2 years they went their separate ways. As his official biography tells us:

After splitting with Burns, Carlin spent about a year working in
nightclubs without much success and with no television exposure. In
1963, he branched out into folk clubs and coffee houses where the
audiences were more progressive, and where he could develop both styles
of material he felt capable of. He balanced mainstream material with the
more outspoken, irreverent routines that were closer to his heart. In
1963 in he found the Café au Go Go in Greenwich Village and spent the
better part of two years developing his comic style. Ironically, it was
in this folk/jazz setting that he developed the first bits which got him
on television, the ultimate establishment medium. The Indian Sergeant,
Wonderful Wino, and the Hippy Dippy Weatherman were all born during this
period. So was George and Brenda’s only daughter, Kelly.

At the time Carlin was still a straight comedian, with short hair, no facial hair, and wearing a suit and tie — a far cry from the way he looked later in his career.

However, he was already moving away from conformity. As the WikiWackyWoo tells us:

Carlin was present at Lenny Bruce‘s
arrest for obscenity. As the police began attempting to detain members
of the audience for questioning, they asked Carlin for his
identification. Telling the police he did not believe in
government-issued IDs, he was arrested and taken to jail with Bruce in
the same vehicle.[21]

Starting in the mid ’60s Carlin started to appear regularly on television. But . . .

During the late 1960’s, because of the influence television was
having on his career, Carlin’s new material grew bland and safe. The
rebellious, anti-establishment tone of some of his earlier routines had
disappeared, and increasingly he felt bored and dissatisfied with his
material and the places he was working. By 1970, his self-imposed
restrictions no longer applied; his acting and career had been put on
hold, and the country was changing. The people who had inhabited the
folk clubs and coffee houses of the early ’60s were now the
“counterculture,” a large ready-made audience which shared many of
Carlin’s out-of-step attitudes and opinions. He began to drift in their

During 1970 the irreverent tone returned to his material, he grew a
beard, and began to dress more casually. However, the “new” George
Carlin didn’t sit well with his middleclass audiences nor with nightclub
owners. A series of incidents with audiences and owners that year
culminated in his being fired from the Frontier Hotel in September for
saying “shit.” In December he worked his last “establishment” job: The
San Francisco Playboy Club. From then on, his comedic identity became
more and more associated with the counterculture.

Then came his most famous routine, Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television, which itself was subject to an obscenity trial when he was arrested in 1972 for performing it. Eventually, the case was dismissed. While the judge agreed the words were indecent, he affirmed Carlin’s First Amendment Right to say them.

Along the way Carlin took up acting, appearing in a number of movies, including the cult favourite Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Carlin died of a heart attack on June 22, 2008. Just 4 days earlier he was announced as the latest recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He was the first to given the award posthumously at a star-studded affair in November.

Back in January Antenna TV, one of a several nostalgia stations that have cropped up in the last few years, started running entire episodes of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, renamed Johnny Carson for these rebroadcasts at 11PM every night. As often as I am able — because it’s past my bedtime — I try and tune into the beginning of the show to catch who the guests are, and to watch the opening monologue. Tuesday night Carlin was Johnny’s guest and I forced myself to stay up and watch him performing a very funny routine of non sequiturs, small jokes that had no linkage.

Comedy has sure changed a lot since George Carlin started in the ’50s and he is one of the main agents of that change.

On Tuesday night, the same night he was being rerun on Carson’s show, his daughter Kelly announced at a private event that she was donating the Carlin’s archives to the newly formed National Comedy Center. According to NPR:

“Everybody’s gotta have a little place for their stuff. That’s all life is about. Trying to find a place for your stuff.” — George Carlin

It’s one of his most famous routines and, like all great comedy, contains more than a grain of truth.
he died eight years ago, the keeper of George Carlin’s “stuff” has been
his daughter, writer and performer Kelly Carlin. She says he kept
everything: Scrapbooks. Arrest records. The pink slip to his first car, a
Dodge Dart. VHS tapes.

From “handwritten notes of his actual working on comedy ideas to
his kind of OCD-esque way of making lists of things, like every routine
he ever did on a late night show,” she says. “When comedians would come
over to my house and I would say, ‘Do you want to take a glance at my
dad’s stuff?’ Their eyes would light up. I knew how to get to their
hearts immediately,” she says, laughing.

While he was alive George Carlin entered the pantheon of Great Comedians. His fame has only increased in the years since his death.

Here are a few laughs courtesy of George Carlin:

Hank Snow ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Happy Birthday to Canadian Country singer Hank Snow, the man who discovered Elvis Presley. He would be blowing out 102 candles had he not died in 1999 at the age of 85.

Clarence Eugene Snow was born “in the sleepy fishing village of Brooklyn,

Queens County, on Nova Scotia’s

beautiful South Shore, just down the tracks from Liverpool“, according to his official web site, which continues:

As a boy, Hank faced many difficulties and shortcomings. He had to face

the trauma of his parents’ divorce at just eight years old and he was

forced to stay with his grandparents. He then had to deal with an abusive

grandmother who forbid him to see his mother. He regularly sneaked out

at night and walked the railroad tracks to Liverpool where his mother

was living. Not willing to return to his grandmother, who would often

beat him for visiting his mom, he would sometimes seek shelter in Liverpool’s

railway station, now home of the Hank Snow Country Music Centre.

He learned guitar from his mother. Running away from home at 12, he worked as a cabin boy on fishing schooners out of Lunenburg and bought his first guitar with his first wages: A T. Eaton Special which set him back $5.95. While onboard the ship he listened to the radio, later imitating the Country singers he heard, especially his hero Jimmie Rodgers.

Once he was back on land Snow continued to practice and improve. The WikiWackyWoo picks up the story:

Soon, Snow was invited to perform in a minstrel show in Bridgewater
to help raise money for charity. “Someone blackened my face with black
polish and put white rings around my eyes and lips,” Snow recalls. When
his turn came in the show, he played a song called “I Went to See My Gal
Last Night.” “My debut was a big success,” Snow writes. “I even got a
standing ovation.”[2]

In March 1933, Snow wrote to Halifax radio station CHNS
asking for an audition. The rejection letter he received only made him
more determined and later that year he visited the station, was given an
audition and hired to do a Saturday evening show that was advertised as
“Clarence Snow and his Guitar.” After a few months, he adopted the name
“The Cowboy Blue Yodeler” in homage to his idol Jimmie Rodgers known as
“America’s Blue Yodeler.” Since Snow’s Saturday show had no sponsor, he
wasn’t paid for his performances, but he did manage to earn money
playing halls and clubs in towns where people had heard him on the
radio. He also played in Halifax theatres before the movies started and
performed, for $10 a week, on a CHNS musical show sponsored by a company
that manufactured a popular laxative. At the urging of the station’s
chief engineer and announcer, he adopted the name Hank because it went
well with cowboy songs and once again, influenced by Jimmie Rodgers, he
became “Hank, The Yodeling Ranger.” Snow also appeared occasionally on
the CBC’s regional network.[2]

Signed to RCA Records Canada in 1936, the radio hook-up brought him greater fame and he started touring across Canada. Eventually radio stations south of the border started playing his records and Snow moved to Nashville, where he had a growing audience. In 1950 Ernest Tubbs invited Snow to perform at the Grand Old Opry. He didn’t go over so big until he wrote his first hit song, I’m Moving On:

Even had he not discovered Elvis, Hank Snow would still be remembered today for his music. However, as the Wiki tells us:

A regular at the Grand Ole Opry, in 1954 Snow persuaded the directors to allow a young Elvis Presley to appear on stage. Snow used Presley as his opening act and introduced him to Colonel Tom Parker.
In August 1955, Snow and Parker formed the management team, Hank Snow
Attractions. This partnership signed a management contract with Presley
but before long, Snow was out and Parker had full control over the rock
singer’s career. Forty years after leaving Parker, Snow stated, “I have
worked with several managers over the years and have had respect for
them all except one. Tom Parker (he refuses to recognise the title
Colonel) was the most egotistical, obnoxious human being I’ve ever had
dealings with.”

One of my favourite jokes:

If Hank Snow married June Carter, there would be 6 inches of Snow in June.

But I digress. According to his website:

Snow sold over 70 million records in his career that spanned 78’s, 45’s,
extended 45’s, LP’s, 8-tracks, cassettes and compact discs.

Throughout his life he recorded over 100 LPs, including everything from hit
parade material to gospel, train songs, instrumentals (alone and with Chet
Atkins), tributes to Jimmie Rodgers and the Sons of the Pioneers, and
recitations of Robert Service poems. He has always kept a warm spot in his
heart for Nova Scotia, and he paid homage with his album “My Nova Scotia
Home”. He also recorded “Squid Jiggin’ Ground” in honor of the fishermen he
sailed with out of Lunenburg in his early youth.
Every August Liverpool, Nova Scotia, holds a multi-day Hank Snow Tribute. This year’s shindig will happen August 18-21 and tickets are already available. However, as Not Now Silly likes to say: It’s all in the grooves. This is why people still sing and play Hank Snow tunes:

The First Lady of Song ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Light up 99 candles because today we celebrate the birthday of the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald. 

Let’s let her official website speak for her:

Dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular
female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century.
In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million

Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She
could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an
orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington,
Count Basie and Nat King Cole, to Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and
Benny Goodman. (Or rather, some might say all the jazz greats had the
pleasure of working with Ella.)

She performed at top venues all over the world, and packed them
to the hilt. Her audiences were as diverse as her vocal range. They were
rich and poor, made up of all races, all religions and all
nationalities. In fact, many of them had just one binding factor in
common – they all loved her.

A recent remix of one of Ella’s most well known tunes proving her relevance to another generation
Biography picks up her story:

on April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia, singer Ella Fitzgerald was
the product of a common-law marriage between William Fitzgerald and
Temperance “Tempie” Williams Fitzgerald. Ella experienced a troubled
childhood that began with her parents separating shortly after her

My meager Ella Fitzgerald collection, but I have the best stuff

With her mother, Fitzgerald moved to Yonkers, New York.
They lived there with her mother’s boyfriend, Joseph De Sailva. The
family grew in 1923 with the arrival of Fitzgerald’s half-sister
Frances. Struggling financially, the young Fitzgerald helped her family
out by working as a messenger “running numbers” and acting as a lookout
for a brothel. Her first career aspiration was to become a dancer.

her mother’s death in 1932, Fitzgerald ended up moving in with an aunt.
She started skipping school. Fitzgerald was then sent to a special
reform school but didn’t stay there long. By 1934, Ella was trying to
make it on her own and living on the streets. Still harboring dreams of
becoming an entertainer, she entered an amateur contest at Harlem’s
Apollo Theater. She sang the Hoagy Carmichael
tune “Judy” as well as “The Object of My Affection,” wowing the
audience. Fitzgerald went on to win the contest’s $25 first place prize.

unexpected performance at the Apollo helped set Fitzgerald’s career in
motion. She soon met bandleader and drummer Chick Webb and eventually
joined his group as a singer. Fitzgerald recorded “Love and Kisses” with
Webb in 1935 and found herself playing regularly at one of Harlem’s
hottest clubs, the Savoy. Fitzgerald also put out her first No. 1 hit,
1938’s “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which she co-wrote. Later that year Ella
recorded her second hit, “I Found My Yellow Basket.”

When Chick Webb died in 1939, Ella Fitzgerald took over the band, renaming it Ella and Her Famous Orchestra. In 1942 she went solo staying with Decca Records, which had released the Chick Webb band recordings. The WikiWackyWoo fills in the next chapter:

With Decca’s Milt Gabler as her manager, Fitzgerald began working regularly for the jazz impresario Norman Granz and appeared regularly in his Jazz at the Philharmonic
(JATP) concerts. Her relationship with Granz was further cemented when
he became her manager, although it would be nearly a decade before he
could record her on one of his many record labels.

With the demise of the Swing era and the decline of the great touring big bands, a major change in jazz music occurred. The advent of bebop led to new developments in Fitzgerald’s vocal style, influenced by her work with Dizzy Gillespie‘s big band. It was in this period that Fitzgerald started including scat singing
as a major part of her performance repertoire. While singing with
Gillespie, Fitzgerald recalled, “I just tried to do [with my voice] what
I heard the horns in the band doing.”[14]

Her 1945 scat recording of “Flying Home” arranged by Vic Schoen would later be described by The New York Times
as “one of the most influential vocal jazz records of the
decade….Where other singers, most notably Louis Armstrong, had tried
similar improvisation, no one before Miss Fitzgerald employed the
technique with such dazzling inventiveness.”[6] Her bebop recording of “Oh, Lady Be Good!” (1947) was similarly popular and increased her reputation as one of the leading jazz vocalists.[24]

It was during this latter period of Fitzgerald’s career that she entered the pantheon of musical superstars to become the First Lady of Song.

I was lucky enough to see Ella Fitzgerald at Toronto’s Imperial Room.  I thought it would be her last tour (but I believe she did one more after this) and I thought if I didn’t see her then, I might never have the chance again.

It was my first time in the Imperial Room, even though it was not my first time wearing a tie, required at the Imperial Room. It was also very expensive. It cost $75.00 per person and, of course, I took a date. That was a pretty penny for me back then, but I could console myself that it came with dinner. The Imperial Room was a supper club.

The mediocre meal came and went and now it was time for Ella Fitzgerald. The orchestra started it’s vamp, someone introduced her, and v e r y  , v e r y , v e r y  s l o w l y Ella Fitzgerald shuffled onto the stage with an anonymous attendant on her arm.
All I could see was my $150 going down the drain in the interminable time it took her to get to center stage where the microphone stood. 
Yet, the minute she started singing, all those years fell away. While I had never seen Ella Fitzgerald in her prime, and only had recordings and movies to rely upon, I was taken all the way back as she covered all the highlights of her career, joked with the audience, and giggled like a little girl.

It was one of the most memorable musical moments of my entire life!!!

The Wiki also details her last years:

In 1985, Fitzgerald was hospitalized briefly for respiratory problems,[45] in 1986 for congestive heart failure,[46] and in 1990 for exhaustion.[47]
In March 1990 she appeared at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England
with the Count Basie Orchestra for the launch of Jazz FM, plus a gala
dinner at the Grosvenor House Hotel at which she performed.[48] In 1993, she had to have both of her legs amputated below the knee due to the effects of diabetes.[49] Her eyesight was affected as well.[6]

In 1996, tired of being in the hospital, she wished to spend her last
days at home. Confined to a wheelchair, she spent her final days in her
backyard of her Beverly Hills mansion on Whittier, with her son Ray and
12-year-old granddaughter, Alice. “I just want to smell the air, listen
to the birds and hear Alice laugh,” she reportedly said. On her last
day, she was wheeled outside one last time, and sat there for about an
hour. When she was taken back in, she looked up with a soft smile on her
face and said, “I’m ready to go now.” She died in her home on June 15,
1996 at the age of 79.[6] A few hours after her death, the Playboy Jazz Festival was launched at the Hollywood Bowl. In tribute, the marquee read: “Ella We Will Miss You.”[50] Her funeral was private,[50] and she was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

As always it’s all in the grooves. Here are some of my favourite Ella Fitzgerald recordings out of the hundreds that she has made.

Me and Garry Shandling and Patty Duke, But Mostly Me ► Unpacking The Writer

♫ ♪ ♫ Meet Cathy, who’s lived most everywhere… ♪ ♫ ♪

It’s way past due to create another Unpacking The Writer, my almost-monthly behind-the-scenes look at what’s happening here in the Not Now Silly Newsroom. But, I’m just not feeling it right now.

It’s not that I have nothing to say. It’s that I have far too much to say and — already having the basic outline of this essay in my head when I begin — wonder how much I really want to reveal.

This past week I have been incredibly out of sorts and feeling quite blue. It started when I learned that Garry Shandling, one of the greatest comedians ever, had died at the age of 66. Then came the news that Patty Duke died at 69. I’m 63. Both deaths were body blows for different reasons and I have never felt quite so mortal as I do right now.

I was such a big fan of Shandling’s, starting with his earliest appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. His skewed outlook seemed to perfectly match my own.

Then, in 1986, he created (with Alan Zweibel) “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”, one of the greatest “sitcoms” in tee vee history. I have always delighted in comedy that breaks the 4th wall. It gives me a special thrill. Groucho would occasionally turn to the camera to make remarks directly to the theater audience; Green Acres put the opening credits on laundry that Lisa Douglas was hanging up; George Burns not only talked to his audience, but had a magic tee vee on which he could keep up with continuing plot points as he talked to us; and Woody Allen dragged Marshall McLuhan into a movie line-up to excoriate the pontificating idiot standing in front of him.

“It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” not only broke the 4th wall, it destroyed it: Shandling played his nervously neurotic self, living on a tee vee set with a studio audience, but appears to live in a conventional suburb, with just the sort of goofy neighbours that inhabit every sitcom since the days when sits were first commed.

The day after learning of his death, I had to write my weekly Friday Fox Follies for PoliticusUSA. I try to inject as much humour into it as I can. Considering the overarching topic — the systematic destruction of my beloved career of Journalism at the hands of the Fox “News” Channel — it can often be an uphill battle. As I was doing last week’s final edit I realized that some of my writing — especially the things I want to stand out as humour — break the 4th wall of Journalism, if journalism is said to have any walls at all any more.

It also occurs to me that breaking the 4th wall is also the main purpose of Unpacking The Writer, this seemingly never-ending series in which I examine the entrails of my life to divine the future. At the same time I expose the entire enterprise to your prying eyes. I am aware I do this both for myself — because I will often learn things about myself I didn’t know when I started (and today is no exception) — and for your reading pleasure — if you get any pleasure out of it at all. Yet, I know from past experience that when I start to get too confessional, I begin to use the delete key liberally, holding back the most personal revelations because, after all, I’m really a coward. There’s only so much I really want to expose about myself to the world.

That’s why Patty Duke’s death hit me so hard. She was already a star when I was just a kid. Being about the same age it was easy to identify with her as identical twin cousins (how weird is that?) on The Patty Duke Show. And, she won an Academy Award. I didn’t see The Miracle Worker until years later, but it was easy to see why she won an Oscar for her performance, at the time the youngest person to have done so. In this teenager’s imagination, she seemed to have a charmed life.

However, it wasn’t until I read her book, Call Me Anna; The Autobiography of Patty Duke, did I learn of her struggle with bi-polar disorder. What an amazingly brave thing to have put out there for everyone to know.

I’ve not been nearly so brave. While Unpacking The Writer in the past, I’ve danced to the edge of talking about my own bouts of depression, but have always shied away from being explicit. Even now — as this paragraph gets pounded out and revised and heavily edited — I am keeping most of my recent self-discoveries to myself. However, I’m also aware I’m burying the lede. I’m stuffing this confession so far down this essay that only my most loyal readers will see it. Part of me hopes that most readers have given up by now.

Look at me! I am the 4th wall!

Yeah, depression. I’ve been self-diagnosing myself my entire adult life.

There was a time in my life I referred to it as anhedonia, which incidentally was the original name for the movie Annie Hall. I thought of it as anhedonia because it was so even and level as to be like Florida, sea level as far as the eye can see. However, in the end, I rejected that definition because there are things I take pleasure in, like music, beautiful brass objets d’art, books, and relationships — just to name a few.

Later I came to think of myself as manic-depressive, because there are some days that I am incredibly up and enjoying life. Then I fall back into that steady norm that I once called anhedonia. Incidentally, the term manic-depressive is no longer used. The medical community calls it bi-polar these days, the same disorder as Patty Duke.

However, I also rejected bi-polar in the end. I’ve read a fair bit about it over the years, including some case studies, and I am fully aware that my highs are not manic and my lows are not like falling into the Marianas Trench, either.

For a number of years I tried to fool myself by calling it The Blues. Not all of us are all always happy, are we? That’s how I rationalized it. Yet, I know some people that never appear to be down and some who never appear to be up. At least I had moods. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

However, I stopped all of that self-delusional rationalization after I was finally diagnosed as having Depression. There it was. A doctor said so. There was no longer any way to ignore the fact that the serotonin in my head — or the lack of uptaking thereof — affects my entire outlook. For a few years I took some meds. Actually, at the beginning, I took a lot of meds, different meds. It took a while to find one that didn’t make me crazy, which is not an exaggeration. Then we had to adjust the dosage so I didn’t sleep most of the time. But, we managed to find the right balance.

In the end I quit the drugs altogether. They wrapped my brain in a kind of cotton candy that was hard to think through and absolutely impossible to write through. Since then I have self-medicated when I have the need and the money.

That diagnosis, BTW, was a good 14 or 15 years ago. I no longer think of myself as depressed because — really? — who wants to carry that around all the time? It’s heavy, man.

Heavier still: Over the years I’ve started to think of myself as human kintsugi. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold, as opposed to how we do it here. Westerners try to restore pottery by concealing the repair.

Thinking of myself as kintsugi acknowledges that I have been broken and repaired — more than once, in fact. However, it also means that I am more fragile than I would be if I had never shattered.

There! I’ve said it. Do I feel any better for finally having been so confessional? Time will tell, but it’s a good sign that I don’t feel any worse. And, because music always makes me feel better, crank it up and D A N C E ! ! !

Del Shannon & Me ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Del Shannon in Swinging London, 1963

While, I don’t usually commemorate the death of celebrities, I will make an exception for Del Shannon, the first superstar that I ever met. He died on this day in 1990 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Del Shannon was born Charles Weedon Westover on the 2nd to last day of 1934 in Grand Rapids, less than 30 miles from where he grew up in Coopersville, Michigan. According to the WikiWackyWoo:

He learned ukulele and guitar and listened to country and western music, including Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell.
He was drafted into the Army in 1954, and while in Germany played
guitar in a band called “The Cool Flames”. When his service ended, he
returned to Battle Creek, Michigan,
and worked as a carpet salesman and as a truck driver in a furniture
factory. He found part-time work as a rhythm guitarist in singer Doug
DeMott’s group called “The Moonlight Ramblers”, working at the Hi-Lo

When DeMott was fired in 1958, Westover took over as leader and singer, giving himself the name Charlie Johnson and renaming the band into The Big Little Show Band.[2] In early 1959 he added keyboardist Max Crook, who played the Musitron (his own invention of an early synthesizer). Crook had made recordings, and he persuaded Ann Arbor disc jockey Ollie McLaughlin to hear the band. McLaughlin took the group’s demos to Harry Balk and Irving Micahnik of Talent Artists in Detroit. In July 1960, Westover and Crook signed to become recording artists and composers on the Bigtop
label. Balk suggested Westover use a new name, and they came up with
“Del Shannon”, combining Mark Shannon—a wrestling pseudonym used by a
regular at the Hi-Lo Club—with Del, derived from the Cadillac Coupe de Ville, his favorite car.[2]

Shannon’s first sessions didn’t go well until he was convinced to rewrite an earlier tune, “Little Runaway.” Recorded in January of 1961, and now featuring the Musitron along with Shannon’s trademark falsetto, “Runaway” was released less than a month later. By April it hit #1 on the Billboard chart. A follow-up second single, “Hats Off To Larry,” was also a hit, climbing to the #5 position.

From there, sadly, it was a long, slow, tapering off. Shannon recorded for several labels, but never quite reached the heights of his early career. He became an alcoholic. By the time I met him his career was on the big slide to oblivion, although he was still considered a big star in England.

It was during the summer of 1966 (or was it ’65?) that my mother had a booth at the Michigan State Fair selling everything from Greasy Kids Stuff (the real name of this joke product), to giant sunglasses, to cheap jewellery, which could be professionally engraved on the spot. Think mid-’60s Kitch & Krap™.

Because we had free passes, I went to the fairgrounds with my mother every day. Maybe she thought I was going to help out in the booth, but as soon as the State Fair opened every morning, I was gone, exploring every nook and cranny of the annual event over the next month.

Just catercorner to my mother’s booth was a minuscule amphitheater, sponsored by hometown company Chevrolet. [Anything that seems minuscule to a child, must be very small indeed.] During the first 2 weeks of the State Fair was (almost) hometown boy Del Shannon was booked on that stage, while the next 2 weeks another hometown hero performed, the up-and-comer Little Stevie Wonder.

I was too young to understand the vagaries of show biz and didn’t realize that this little gig meant Del Shannon was already on the way to obscurity, while Stevie Wonders’ was still climbing the ladder to greatness. The trajectories of their respective careers were crossing at this moment in time across this little stage. All I knew at the time was these were 2 guys whose songs I knew by heart because they came out of the radio right in my own house.

I was already a fan of Del Shannon’s so I was excited to see that he was playing several free shows a day right next door. I tried to be in the audience for almost every show, sitting at a table right up front, and cheering and clapping louder than anybody. I even took delight in something I would gag at today. During the fade-out to “Runaway” Shannon slipped in a not-so-subtle product placement:

♫ ♪ ♫ My little runaway, a run, run, run, run, runaway. See the
Yew Ess Eh in your Chevrolet. My little runaway . . . ♪ ♫ ♪

It didn’t strike me as crass at the time. I thought it was so cool that he could slip in the name of his sponsor without, literally, missing a beat. Clearly, he was a genius. I was a star struck 14-year old. 
It didn’t take Shannon long to notice me and then realize I was almost a permanent fixture at his shows. After the 2nd or 3rd day Shannon approached me after one of his shows to offer me an autograph, which I foolishly declined. That’s not why I was there. He wondered why I was there and I pointed to my mother’s booth across the aisle and told him I was a big fan.

From that day on we were great pals. He would play right at me in the audience while on that little stage and often spent time talking to me after some of his shows. We never talked about Show Biz and I wish I could tell you what we talked about, but it’s long been forgotten. It was just general chit chat that’s meaningless even as it’s being spoken. 

Looking back on it now, I get the sense that he was lonely. He had once been one of the biggest stars in Rock and Roll and now was reduced to playing on a stage smaller than most bedrooms. There were times that I was the only one who stayed through his entire 20 minute show, as people wandered in and out of the performance space looking at all the Chevrolet advertisements and full-scale models. I was just a kid, yet Del Shannon needed to bask in the warmth of my adulation. During those conversations, I cannot tell you whether he was had been drinking, but he certainly didn’t come off as drunk, something I would have recognized.

When I learned of his suicide from depression in 1990, it was like a light going out on one of the lamps lit during my youth.

►►► R.I.P. ◄◄◄

[Apologies for the quality of these 2 clips. I couldn’t find better.]

Wright Flight ► Throwback Thursday

On this day in 1903, the Wright Brothers made the first successful flight of a heavier-than-air plane powered by its own motor. And, nothing was ever the same again.

According to the WikiWackyWoo:

The U.S. Smithsonian Institution
describes the aircraft as “the first powered, heavier-than-air machine
to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard.”[2] The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale
described the 1903 flight during the 100th anniversary in 2003 as “the
first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight.”[3] The Flyer I’s date of its first flight generally marks the beginning of the “pioneer era” of aviation.

People have dreamed of flying, ever since we saw our first bird. We’ve now had 112 years of flight and airlines still lose people’s luggage.

The Wiki also tells us:

Orville Wright
Wilber Wright

The Wright brothers, Orville (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) and Wilbur (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912), were two American brothers, inventors, and aviation pioneers who are credited[1][2][3] with inventing and building the world’s first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903. From 1905 to 1907, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft.
Although not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the
Wright brothers were the first to invent aircraft controls that made
fixed-wing powered flight possible.

To quote myself from 3 years ago:

Inventors around the globe were looking for a way to control flight,
including bicycle salesmen Orville and Wilbur Wright. The idea began
with them in 1899, when Wilbur wrote to the Smithsonian Institution
asking for info on aeronautics. The brothers spent the next several
years working on their invention, realizing that they should perfect
controlled glider flight before adding an engine to their airplane.
There were many failures, but the Wright Brothers kept refining the
glider until they were able to control its flight. In 1903 they added an
engine and traveled to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, their perennial
testing ground. On December 14, Wilbur — who won a coin toss — took a
3-second flight, but the engine stalled after take-off and the
subsequent crash made repairs necessary. On December 17, 1903, this time
with Orville behind the controls, they succeeded with the “first controlled, powered, and sustained heavier than air human flight.
It doesn’t sound like much today, but Orville traveled 120 feet in 12
seconds about 10 feet above the ground, which works out to about 6.8
MPH. Exactly one photograph was taken of the historical event.

Other early attempts at flight were not nearly as successful:

FULL DISCLOSURE: The truth of the matter is that one of the reasons I take my marathon road trips is because I have an inner ear problem. Flying, in a pressurized cabin, makes me wonky. When I get off a plane I am dizzy for days, as if I just got off the wildest ride at the C.N.E., with a migraine that lasts several days. It’s a leftover symptom of the vestibular disorder I had several years ago.

Happy flying!!!

Spike Jones on the Box ► Monday Musical Appreciation

On this day in 1911 Lindley Armstrong Jones was born. He later got the nickname Spike because he was as thin as a railroad spike.

Spike Jones was, essentially, a drummer. He got his first drum kit at the age of 11 and never looked back. As a young man he played in various bands, orchestra pits and radio shows as he was coming up. As a drummer in the John Scott Trotter Orchestra, Jones can be heard playing on Bing Crosby‘s biggest hit “White Christmas.”

Bored with playing the same music night after night, Spike found some musicians who were as warped as he was and they started playing parodies of the songs of the day for their own enjoyment. Then they started recording the songs to play for their wives.

One of those recordings found its way to RCA Records, where Spike Jones and His City Slickers recorded their first single, “Der Fuhrer’s Face.” The song, written by Oliver Wallace, was skedded for a 1943 Donald Duck cartoon called, originally, “Donald Duck in Nutzi Land,” and later “Der Fuhrer’s Face. It later won an Academy Award.

However, Spike Jones’ version was released first and became a huge hit.
Jones thought this would be a flash in the pan, but the ‘Merkin public surprised him. They demanded more from Spike Jones and His City Slickers and Jones was happy to accommodate them.

As the shows became more elaborate, Jones’ impeccable timing came to the fore, with guns, whistles, and pots and pans all taking the place of percussion in some songs. He called his concerts Musical Depreciation.

It wasn’t just the hit parade that Spike Jones and His City Slickers parodied. According to the WikiWackyWoo:

Among the series of recordings in the 1940s were humorous takes on the classics such as the adaptation of Liszt‘s Liebesträume, played at a breakneck pace on unusual instruments. Others followed: Rossini‘s William Tell Overture was rendered on kitchen implements using a horse race as a backdrop, with one of the “horses” in the “race” likely to have inspired the nickname of the lone chrome yellow-painted SNJ aircraft flown by the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels
aerobatic team’s shows in the late 1940s, “Beetle Bomb”. In live shows
Spike would acknowledge the applause with complete solemnity, saying
“Thank you, music lovers.” An LP collection of twelve of these “homicides” was released by RCA (on its prestigious Red Seal label) in 1971 as Spike Jones Is Murdering the Classics. They include such tours de force as Pal-Yat-Chee (Pagliacci), sung by the Hillbilly humorists Homer and Jethro, Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours, Tchaikovsky’s None but the Lonely Heart, and Bizet’s Carmen.

The first time I ever heard a Spike Jones tune, it was on an 78 RPM platter of “My Old Flame”at Craig Portman’s house. It was one of his parents’ records. We played it dozens of times and laughred because we were just old enough to recognize the impersonation of Peter Lorre talk/singing the lyrics as the scenario became more and more macabre. [Later we used the stack of wax as Frisbees, long before the Frisbee was invented. While I’m not proud of that fact today, I’d still like to find Craig Portman, who moved to California when we were still teenagers. Google has been no help.]

Comedy music has a long and honourable history, as the Wiki also tells us:

There is a clear line of influence from the Hoosier Hot Shots, Freddie Fisher and his Schnickelfritzers and the Marx Brothers to Spike Jones — and to Stan Freberg, Gerard Hoffnung, Peter Schickele‘s P.D.Q. Bach, The Goons, Mr. Bungle, Frank Zappa, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, and “Weird Al” Yankovic. Billy Barty [who appeared with Spike Jones] appeared in Yankovic’s film UHF
and a video based on the movie. According to David Wild’s review in
Rolling Stone Magazine, Elvis Costello’s 1989 Album “Spike” was named
partly in tribute to Jones.

Syndicated radio personality Dr. Demento regularly features Jones’ music on his program of comedy and novelty tracks. Jones is mentioned in The Band‘s song, “Up on Cripple Creek“. (The song’s protagonist’s paramour states of Jones: “I can’t take the way he sings, but I love to hear him talk.”) Novelist Thomas Pynchon is an admirer and wrote the liner notes for a 1994 reissue, Spiked! (BMG Catalyst). A scene in the romantic comedy I.Q. shows a man demonstrating the sound of his new stereo to Meg Ryan‘s character by playing a record of Jones’ music.

As always, it’s about the music. Here’s a selection:

Mighty Mouse ► Throwback Thursday

On this day in 1955 Mighty Mouse Playhouse is first broadcast on tee vee.

Mighty Mouse originally appeared 1942 as cartoon shorts in movie theaters. According to the WikiWackyWoo: 

The character was originally conceived by Paul Terry.[1] Created as a parody of Superman, he first appeared in 1942 in a theatrical animated short titled The Mouse of Tomorrow. His original name was Super Mouse, but after seven films produced with that name from 1942-1943, it was changed to Mighty Mouse for 1944’s The Wreck of the Hesperus, after Paul Terry learned that another character named “Super Mouse” was to be published by Marvel Comics.

Sing along with me:

Mister Trouble never hangs around

When he hears this Mighty sound.

“Here I come to save the day”

That means that Mighty Mouse is on his way.

Yes sir, when there is a wrong to right

Mighty Mouse will join the fight.

On the sea or on the land,

He gets the situation well in hand.

In one of his first appearances on Saturday Night Live,
Andy Kaufman does the Mickey Mouse theme song.

Mighty Mouse moved from movie theaters to television in 1955, where the cartoons lived on for decades, inculcating generations of children with the theme song. Again, according to the WikiWackyWoo: 

Mighty Mouse was not extraordinarily popular in theatrical cartoons, but was still Terrytoons
most popular character. What made him a cultural icon was television.
Most of the short film studios, both live-action and animated, were in
decline by the 1950s, pressured both by the loss of film audiences to
television as well as the increased popularity (and financial benefits)
of low-budget, stylized, limited animation.
Most of the studios cashed out of the short-film production business
and began licensing or selling their back catalogs to television. Paul Terry went as far as to sell the entire Terrytoon company to CBS in 1955.[1] The network began running Mighty Mouse Playhouse in December 1955. It remained on the air for nearly twelve years (and featured The Mighty Heroes
during the final season). Mighty Mouse cartoons became a staple of
children’s television programming for a period of over thirty years,
from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Just pretend it’s Saturday morning and you are a kid again. Here’s some Mighty Mouse for you to enjoy:

I Love Lucy Premiers ► Throwback Thursday

On this date in 1951 “I Love Lucy” premiered on the CBS network. Although it went off the air in 1957, it has run virtually non-stop in syndication ever since.

One of the reasons we have all those episodes of “I Love Lucy” is because, unlike other sitcoms of the era, it was shot on 35mm film in front of a live studio audience, and edited into a half hour show for airing. It’s ground-breaking technique was eventually copied by all sitcoms, right down to having a live studio audience, as opposed to a canned laugh track. 

According to the WikiWackyWoo

Another component to filming the show came when it was decided to use
three 35 mm film cameras to simultaneously film the show. The idea had
been pioneered by Ralph Edwards on the game show Truth or Consequences, and had subsequently been used on Amos ‘n’ Andy as a way to save money, though Amos n’ Andy
did not use an audience. Edwards’s assistant Al Simon was hired by
Desilu to help perfect the new technique for the series. The process
lent itself to the Lucy production as it eliminated the problem
of requiring an audience to view and react to a scene three or four
times in order for all necessary shots to be filmed. Multiple cameras
would also allow scenes to be performed in sequence, as a play would be,
which was unusual at the time for filmed series. Retakes were rare and
dialogue mistakes were often played off for the sake of continuity.

However, if I Love Lucy didn’t feature the incomparable slapstick comedy of Lucille Ball, no amount of film would have saved it.

The Internet Movie Data Base tells us:

She entered a dramatic school in New York City, but while her classmate Bette Davis received all the raves, she was sent home; “too shy”. She found some work modeling for Hattie Carnegie‘s and, in 1933, she was chosen to be a “Goldwyn Girl” and appear in the film Roman Scandals (1933).

She was put under contract to RKO Radio Pictures and several small roles, including one in Top Hat
(1935), followed. Eventually, she received starring roles in B-pictures
and, occasionally, a good role in an A-picture, like in Stage Door (1937) or The Big Street (1942). While filming Too Many Girls (1940), she met and fell madly in love with a young Cuban actor-musician named Desi Arnaz.
Despite different personalities, lifestyles, religions and ages (he was
six years younger), he fell hard, too, and after a passionate romance,
they eloped and were married in November 1940. Lucy soon switched to
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where she got better roles in films such as Du Barry Was a Lady (1943); Best Foot Forward (1943) and the Katharine HepburnSpencer Tracy vehicle Without Love
(1945). In 1948, she took a starring role in the radio comedy “My
Favorite Husband”, in which she played the scatterbrained wife of a
Midwestern banker. In 1950, CBS came knocking with the offer of turning
it into a television series. After convincing the network brass to let
Desi play her husband and to sign over the rights to and creative
control over the series to them, work began on the most popular and
universally beloved sitcom of all time.

Laugh all over again at these famous clips, all involving food:

Join the I Love Lucy facebookery HERE.