Monday, January 31, 2022

Gilbert O’Sullivan’s First Big US Hit Was About A Guy Who Wanted to Kill Himself


A pleasing, bouncy melody paired with total downer lyrics — as songfacts.com put it, "One of the most depressing songs ever written, Alone Again (Naturally) tells a rather sad tale of a lonely, suicidal man being left at the altar and then telling the listener about the death of his parents".


 


Swell. Thanks, Gilbert.

However I do like the song and never switch stations when it comes on, and the lyrics are well-written and creative but difficult to focus on. Just let the pleasant melody and flow of the song wash over you and don’t listen too closely. 

Despite that oddity, in 1971 the song hit #1 in the US and stayed there for six weeks — a pretty long run as these things go — and ended up the second most popular song of the entire year behind American Pie by Don McLean.

It has since been recorded by over 100 artists and used in many movies, although O’Sullivan goes to great lengths to protect the integrity of the song by not allowing it to be used in commercials or karaoke due to the serious nature of the subject matter.

Many surmised that the song was autobiographical, but he says “Everyone wants to know if it's an autobiographical song, based on my father's early death. Well, the fact of the matter is, I didn't know my father very well, and he wasn't a good father anyway. He didn't treat my mother very well.” 

The first verse and chorus:

In a little while from now
If I'm not feeling any less sorrow 
I promise myself to treat myself and visit a nearby tower
And climbing to the top will throw myself off
In an effort to make it it clear to who-
ever what it's like when you're shattered

Left standing in the lurch at a church
Where people are saying, My God, that’s tough she stood him up
No point in us remaining
We may as well go home
As I did on my own
Alone again, naturally

The story actually gets a little worse from there, as he recounts the death of his father and how it left his mother lonely. I’ll spare you the details, although again, one of the saving graces of this song is the quality of the writing, which verges on poetry at times.

Musically it goes into a nice bridge at 1:30 followed by a classical guitar solo about 45 seconds long, repeating the melody of the verse and chorus. While most songs use a similar format, in this song that little break from the lyrics is welcome indeed.

One interesting fact about this song is that a court case in 1992 set the legal standard going forward for sampling other people’s work, requiring permission to use samples of songs.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Another Good Reason to Watch Old Movies


One night last week I happened upon a movie I’d never heard of on TCM called Boys Night Out with James Garner, Tony Randall, and Kim Novak.

As I watched the first couple of scenes I immediately recognized this guy — but couldn’t figure out from where. In the movie he looked just like this, suit and all.



Looked up the movie, found a name Howard Morris, clicked on it. 

Bingo — that’s Ernest T Bass from the Andy Griffith Show. Of course! A raucous, troublemaking hillbilly, that guy was. A very memorable character, too.



Looks a little different from the guy above in the suit!

Morris, as it turns out, was already a star in the 50s on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows and a master of improvisation and physical comedy. He is remembered especially for this classic scene, “This is Your Story” (a send-up of “This is Your Life”).



A Shakespearian actor, he also voiced many cartoon voices starting in the 60s, including Beetle Bailey, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Magilla Gorilla, Atom Ant, and many more. 

As for the movie Boys Night Out, it was a typical early 60s Hollywood comedy with big stars and lots of silly situations and obvious dialogue. Not awful, not great. The four lead male characters are friends who get together every Thursday night for — you guessed it, boys night out — and suddenly decide they need an apartment to facilitate affairs. Kim Novak is a student doing sociology research and through a coincidence ends up taking a “housekeeper” gig for them to facilitate doing research into the “adolescent fantasies of the adult suburban male”. Hilarity ensues. Worth watching for Garner and Novak, mainly. 


Thursday, January 27, 2022

The Name Stan Getz May Be Vaguely Familiar

 

. . . but I guarantee you’ve heard him playing his saxophone, many times. 

“Desafinado” was a pop hit in 1962 and launched the bossa nova sound in the U.S — it’s the first tune on this classic must-have jazz album by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd (guitarist), “Jazz Samba”.



Byrd introduced Getz to Brazilian music, and the backstory behind recording “Jazz Samba” is fascinating — a lot of practice and experimenting was required.

Byrd was introduced to Brazilian music by Felix Grant, a friend and radio host who had contacts in Brazil in the late 1950s, and who was well-known there by 1960 due to the efforts of Brazilian radio broadcaster Paulo Santos. Following a spring 1961 diplomatic tour of South America (including Brazil) for the State Department, Byrd returned home and met with Stan Getz at the Showboat Lounge. Byrd invited Getz back to his home to listen to some bossa nova recordings by João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim which he had brought back. Getz liked what he heard and the two decided that they wanted to make an album of the songs. The task of creating an authentic sound, however, proved much more challenging than either had anticipated.

Getz convinced Creed Taylor at Verve Records to produce the album. Taylor and Byrd assembled a group of musicians they knew. These early sessions did not turn out to either man's liking, so Byrd gathered a group of musicians that had been to Brazil with him previously and practiced with them in Washington, D.C. until he felt they were ready to record. The group included his brother Gene ("Joe") Byrd, as well as Keter Betts, Bill Reichenbach and Buddy Deppenschmidt. Reichenbach and Deppenschmidt were drummers, and the combination made it easier to achieve samba rhythm. Finally the group was deemed ready and Getz and Taylor arrived in Washington, D.C. on February 13, 1962. They recorded in a building adjacent to All Souls Unitarian Church because of the building's excellent acoustics.

“Jazz Samba” was released in 1962 and spent 70 weeks on the Billboard pop chart, hitting #1 in March 1963.

Getz went on to record “The Girl from Ipanema” on his 1963 album “Getz/Gilberto” with Joao and Astrud Gilberto, who shared the vocals. 

This is the album that really exploded, selling two million copies in 1964. 

Here’s a live version featuring just the female lead singer from the hit single, Astrud Gilberto along with Getz.


 

Prior to recording this song for the album, she had never sung professionally. 

This is the full “Getz/Gilberto” album, chock full of highly listenable and melodic music.



It was a natural fit, the marriage of these styles, and still sounds fresh and timeless today, about as timeless as music can be. 

I highly recommend both albums, obviously. 

But Getz was a tremendous sax player well before his foray into Brazilian music — check out his version of the beautiful jazz standard “Misty”.





Wednesday, January 26, 2022

36 Years Ago Today: Bears Win Super Bowl XX

 

46-10 and it wasn’t even that close. 

New England went up 3-0 on the first possession but then had to watch as the Bears scored 44 straight points, with the unbelievably dominant defense sacking the QB 7 times and forcing 6 turnovers while holding them to 7 yards rushing. 

After the Patriots finally scored a meaningless TD in the 4th quarter to make it 44-10, the Bears scored the final points of the game — on defense, of course — with a safety. 



Savage beatings don’t come any worse than this, and the Chicago area has never seen a party quite like the one they had that night. 

If you’re not from around here, you cannot fully comprehend just how viscerally connected this community is to the Bears. 

It goes far deeper than sports, it’s more of a cultural and tribal identity, and that ‘85 team captured the imagination and attention of the entire area like nothing I’ve ever seen. You had to live here and soak in it to really understand and appreciate it. 

They were perfectly positioned to become exactly what they became that year, with a HOF legend from when they were bad in Walter Payton, and a rookie who became a national media sensation in William “The Fridge” Perry, but the vast bulk and real strength of the team was 3-5 year veterans who were in their prime, drafted and developed internally, like Dan Hampton, Richard Dent, Jim McMahon, Jimbo Covert, Willie Gault, and many many more. 

The key to this team was the D line, so big, fast, and athletic that they consistently put incredible pressure on the QB without blitzing — which of course created all kinds of turnovers and general chaos for the other team’s offense. It was like a jailbreak on every snap, and the opponent’s panic was palpable. The defense only allowed 100+ yards rushing 3 times all year, and none in the playoffs, gave up the fewest rushing yards, attempts, and TDs in the league, forced 54 turnovers (6 times with 5+), scored 5 touchdowns and 3 safeties, and outscored the opponent in at least 2-3 games that season. 

The season stat line is here.

It was an incredible thing to watch, and Bears games all season were a complete party atmosphere.


 

Full game (2:13)




This team was built by GM Jim Finks who built dynasties the best way by drafting for D-line and O-line strength up the middle on both sides of the ball, in the CFL (Calgary in the 60s), the NFL (Minnesota in the 70s, Chicago in the 80s, New Orleans in the late 80s). As a result of his philosophy, everywhere he went his teams were solid for years and years after he took control, but somehow he is largely forgotten now. 


Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Forming the Great Lakes

 

Did you know that inconceivably large salt mines exist underneath Lake Michigan and Lake Huron containing trillions of tons of salt?

Neither did I.

Learn about that and more:  “The Creation of the Great Lakes”



Related, from 2008 on my old Wordpress site: “From the Shores of Ancient Lake Chicago”. Did you know there are multiple Continental Divides in the U.S., and one of them runs through the Chicago area, delineating the boundary between runoff that ends up in the Great Lakes and runoff that ends up in the Mississippi River? It runs right through Oak Park, Illinois, where I lived in for over 10 years — never once did I hear about that while living there.



Sunday, January 23, 2022

This Week in 1998: Ted Kaczynski aka “The Unabomber” Pleads Guilty


The basic details via history.com:

Born in 1942, Kaczynski attended Harvard University and received a PhD in mathematics from the University of Michigan. He worked as an assistant mathematics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, but abruptly quit in 1969. In the early 1970s, Kaczynski began living as a recluse in western Montana, in a 10-by-12 foot cabin without heat, electricity or running water. From this isolated location, he began the bombing campaign that would kill three people and injure more than 20 others.

Harvard, when getting into that school still meant something. PhD in Math from Michigan. Assistant Math Professor at Berkeley. All by age 27. 

Then he chucked it all and moved to a 10x12 cabin in Montana with no heat, electricity or plumbing.

Where did the “Unabomber” name come from?

The primary targets were universities, but he also placed a bomb on an American Airlines flight in 1979 and sent one to the home of the president of United Airlines in 1980. After federal investigators set up the UNABOM Task Force (the name came from the words “university and airline bombing”), the media dubbed the culprit the “Unabomber.”

His manifesto makes for some interesting reading, especially when one considers (a) he possessed a brilliant, technical, analytical mind, and (b) he wrote it in 1995, well before the Internet and technology were big factors in the lives of “regular people”.

Wikipedia summarizes it as follows.

The manifesto argues against accepting individual technological advancements as purely positive without accounting for their overall effect, which includes the fall of small-scale living, and the rise of uninhabitable cities. While originally regarded as a thoughtful critique of modern society, with roots in the work of academic authors such as Jacques Ellul, Desmond Morris, and Martin Seligman, Kaczynski's 1996 trial polarised public opinion around the essay, as his court-appointed lawyers tried to justify their insanity defense around characterizing the manifesto as the work of a madman, and the prosecution lawyers rested their case on it being produced by a lucid mind. […] 

At 35,000 words, Industrial Society and Its Future lays very detailed blame on technology for destroying human-scale communities. Kaczynski contends that the Industrial Revolution harmed the human race by developing into a sociopolitical order that subjugates human needs beneath its own. This system, he wrote, destroys nature and suppresses individual freedom. In short, humans adapt to machines rather than vice versa, resulting in a society hostile to human potential.

Kaczynski indicts technological progress with the destruction of small human communities and rise of uninhabitable cities controlled by an unaccountable state. He contends that this relentless technological progress will not dissipate on its own because individual technological advancements are seen as good despite the sum effects of this progress. Kaczynski describes modern society as defending this order against dissent, in which individuals are adjusted to fit the system and those outside it are seen as bad. This tendency, he says, gives rise to expansive police powers, mind-numbing mass media, and indiscriminate promotion of drugs. He criticizes both big government and big business as the ineluctable result of industrialization, and holds scientists and "technophiles" responsible for recklessly pursuing power through technological advancements.

Destruction of small human communities … rise of unihabitable cities controlled by an unaccountable state … expansive police powers, mind-numbing mass media, indiscriminate promotion of drugs … recklessly pursuing power through technological advancements … 

Crazy or no, that is a big list of prescient observations of the world around him, from 1995, well before the rise of the Internet and social media. And he actually started writing it in 1971, 24 years prior. 

The full text of the manifesto, called “Industrial Society and Its Future” is here

Informed opinions are better than the other kind, and I would encourage all to read it for yourself, and keep separate in your mind the essay itself from the deeds he justified with it.

A prison psychiatrist diagnosed him paranoid schizophrenic, and I won’t question that, but nevertheless it appears Kaczynski was onto something many years before the rest of us. Dismiss it at your own peril.


Thursday, January 20, 2022

I’m Here For You: Official IBA List of Cocktails

 

Did you know there was such a thing, an “official” list of cocktails? 

I sure didn’t, but then, someone’s got to make one I guess.

All these years, I’ve been using my old standby “Mr Boston Official Bartender’s and Party Guide” like some kind of rube from the Old Country.

Turns out there’s an International Bartenders Association, and they keep an official list of cocktails plus instructions on how to make them and the history behind them, divided into three categories: “Unforgettable”, “Contemporary”, and “New Era”.

The rest is up to you. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Random Photos and Artworks, Recently Stumbled Across


A picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s … 4,000 words I guess.


(1) Famous Photo of Famous NFL game: 1958 NFL Championship Giants vs. Colts



(2) Mickey Mantle Baseball Card, 1960



(3) Barcelona at Night



(4) The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man, Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel, 1615




Tuesday, January 18, 2022

How Did West Virginia Split From Virginia?

 

A topic I’ve never explored or heard much about … start with this History Matters video.



So the Civil War split them apart forever — but as one might suspect, the story is far more complicated than that. 

The seeds for splitting these areas apart had long been sown, culturally and geographically, since the western region of Virginia was settled by different peoples — many of whom migrated from Pennsylvania and other Northern states and included German and Protestant Scotch-Irish ancestry — and the geography and terrain was very rugged and hilly and not conducive to large farms with lots of slaves. 

One look at a relief map shows the differing geography clearly:



The pro-Union government of this new place they called “West Virginia” was headquartered in Wheeling and led by a man named Francis Pierpont.  

Much of the territory on either side of the current border between the two states was split between pro-Confederate and pro-Union sentiment — but through military occupation by Union troops and some voting shenanigans and some political maneuvering by the pro-Union “government” in Wheeling, all of the disputed territory was absorbed into the new state of West Virginia, added as a Union state in 1863. 

There’s a lot more history to read up on if you’re so motivated, just start with the links above and start digging. 

I’ve driven that stretch of Interstate 81 through the Shenandoah Valley and it’s beautiful and remote with the Allegheny Mountains to the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the East. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

54 Years Ago, Vince Lombardi Coaches His Last Game for the Green Bay Packers

 

A Super Bowl Win over the Oakland Raiders, 33-14 (1/14/1968)



Their third NFL title in a row (1965-67) and fifth in seven seasons from 1961-67 with a 9-1 record in those playoffs, with the only loss in 1960 followed by 9 straight wins. 

He coached just 9 years total for the Packers (1959-67) and won 98 games in that span (including playoffs) while losing just 30 — and this was back when they only played 14 games (just 12 games until the ‘61 season). That is a LOT of winning packed into a short time span.

The classic Sports Illustrated cover above tells a story about the extremely close relationship between Lombardi and his players; he drove them hard but they knew it was all about making them better and striving for excellence, and for that they loved him like a father.

It’s probably not a coincidence that a great number of his players became very successful in their post-football lives as business owners.

Sadly, Lombardi only lived another two years, coaching one final season for the Washington Redskins in 1969 before dying of lung cancer in September 1970. He was just 57 years old.

Image found at the great Twitter account @KevG163.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Mike Rowe Still Does a Great Podcast

 

Mike Rowe with Jay Leno in a teaser from a recent “Thats the Way I Heard It” episode.



Leno is right about humility and and I applaud his disdain for people who overuse “I” when “we” is usually more appropriate and shows better leadership. 

Previous posts about the podcast here and here


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Twenty Minutes to Cover 500 Years


A couple of entertaining and very information-dense videos about the British Empire from the History Matters channel …


Early British Empire 1497 - 1783



Late British Empire 1783 - 1997



Probably worth watching again, or rewinding during important parts, to fully absorb it all.


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Congratulations to the Georgia Bulldogs on Winning the National College Football Playoff


“You kicked out butt in the fourth quarter ... God bless you.”

Yes they did, Coach Saban, scoring 20 unanswered in the 4th, including an 80 yard pick six to go up 15 with 0:54 remaining. 

At this point, with the outcome no longer in doubt, Georgia QB Stetson Bennett — a former walk-on who ran the scout team in preparation for the 2018 title game — was overcome with tears of joy on the sidelines. 

The first half was very low scoring, just 9-6 Alabama (all field goals) — but both teams found their offensive firepower in the second half, especially after Georgia blocked a field goal with just over 3 minutes remaining in the 3rd. Next play, 67 yard run to the 13, then a few plays later, the first touchdown of the game.

Full game highlights — skip ahead to around 3:30 for the bulk of the action.





Monday, January 10, 2022

Tom T Hall, “The Year Clayton Delaney Died” (live)

 



It’s a true srory about a young man he knew as a young boy, who was a touring musician but got sick and died very young, just 19 or 20 years old.  

Young Tom idolized this guy, and when he later became a songwriter, it took him 2 years to make himself sit down and pay tribute in the best way he knew.

He tells the story towards the end of this interview.



More parts of this interview at the WSM YouTube page.

Another good interview at CMT.com with the backstory behind several of his famous story songs.

Friday, January 07, 2022

Reading Up on the Ricardos

 

Anyone who ever watched I Love Lucy — and that’s a lot of us — should probably sit themselves down and watch “Being the Ricardos”.

Two new factoids that got my attention:

  1. Stores used to stay open late on Monday nights, but switched to Thursdays because so many people stayed home to watch I Love Lucy.
  2. The show drew 60,000,000 viewers in a country of 150 million (40 percent of the entire population).

The history is important and you will probably learn some things about Lucy and Ricky Ricardo as people, about their rocky and complicated relationship, about the show and how it worked behind the scenes, about the times they lived in, and about how revolutionary that show was due mainly to the live performance genius of Lucy and to the business savvy of Desi.

Everyone already knows that Lucille Ball was one-of-a-kind — but Desi Arnaz was no slouch either, a funny, charismatic, and talented natural leader who by his late teens was already an established musician playing in Xavier Cugat’s band in Miami and then with his own Desi Arnaz Orchestra in the late 30s in the New York City clubs, where he introduced conga line dancing. He starred in his first movie in 1939 at just 22 years old. 

Not bad for a guy who had to flee to America at age 16 with his family — formerly wealthy and socially and politically powerful — who lost everything after the Batista-led Cuban Revolution of 1933. He had to start over, with nothing, in a new country with a foreign culture and language, after growing up in the lap of luxury. 

The seeds for I Love Lucy were formed from a combination of two driving forces:  (a) CBS wanted to make a TV version of Lucy’s popular radio show of the late 1940s, “My Favorite Husband”, and (b) a vaudeville show that Lucy and Desi launched together on the road in 1950 using the same radio show team of writers, which was wildly popular and proved to the network that the audience was ready for and could believe in the two of them as a couple (CBS had wanted her radio co-star as her TV husband but she insisted on Desi to keep them together more, as her family life while growing up had been less than ideal, raised by her grandfather after her father died young and her mother essentially abandoned the kids). 

They formed their revolutionary company Desilu Productions in 1950 to produce the vaudeville show, but they really set the bar high when they (a) produced the TV show to keep creative control and (b) introduced using three cameras all the time, (c) using film instead of just broadcasting live locally (and then in kinescope to the rest of the country) which (d) enabled them to show the same quality broadcast to the entire country and (e) monetize future reruns in syndication for decades. Oh, and (f) they did all this from a true movie-style soundstage with a live audience — Lucy needed the live audience to be at her best and they knew that — which had never been done before. 

All of that, first time ever, by anyone. Desi made it all happen via excellent negotiating skills, a relentless can-do attitude, and sheer force of will as a natural leader.

The company completely flipped the structure of how TV shows worked, forever. Desilu went on to produce The Untouchables, Mission: Impossible, Star Trek, and other shows.

One thing became clear from my reading up on all this history: Desi Arnaz was a creative and business genius who really should have gotten far more credit as a real force in Hollywood. I suspect if he seemed a little less  Cuban, that might have been different.

Monday, January 03, 2022

97 Years Ago Today, Benito Mussolini Declares Himself Dictator and Nobody Stops Him


The details from history.com:

Similar to Adolf Hitler, Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini did not become the dictator of a totalitarian regime overnight. For several years, he and his allies worked more or less within the confines of the Italian constitution to accrue power, eroding democratic institutions until the moment came for them to be done away with entirely. It is generally agreed that that moment came in speech Mussolini gave to the Italian parliament on January 3, 1925, in which he asserted his right to supreme power and effectively became the dictator of Italy.

Mussolini had been a schoolteacher and an avowed socialist, but after World War I he became a leader of the nascent Fascist movement. Like much of Europe, Italy was rife with social turmoil in the wake of the war, with paramilitary groups and street gangs frequently clashing over their competing visions for the new political order. A close confidant of Mussolini formed a Fascist paramilitary group, known as the Blackshirts or squadristi, as Mussolini led the political party, and they found that government fears of a communist revolution allowed them to operate without state intervention. By 1921, Mussolini had been elected to parliament as the leader of the growing National Fascist Party.

Revolutions happen over the course of many years, slowly and almost imperceptibly, until such time as the movement has acquired and consolidated enough power — through sheer force of will, intimidation, physical violence, chaos in the streets, hiding behind government bogeymen that the people are instructed to worry about while the real threat grows unimpeded, and whatever else is needed — to just take over one day and dare anyone to stop them.

Gradually, then suddenly. This is true whether the movement is about individual liberty as in the American Revolution, or about class division (“equality”) as in the French, or about Fascism in Italy in the post-WWI years with the rise of Mussolini. 

I have always been one of those “it can’t happen here, we value liberty, and have laws and and judges and courts to protect it” kind of people, but the last 5-10 years I’ve started to evolve on that position. 

Gradually, then suddenly.