Monday, May 27, 2024

Bob Fosse in his Prime


I know very little about dancing but there are certain dancers that I immediately and instinctively like. Fred Astaire for his smoothness and grace, Gene Kelly for his explosive athleticism, James Cagney for his compact power, these are the main three that come to mind.

I’ve seen Bob Fosse as subject of the movie “All That Jazz”, about a dance legend turned choreographer, but had never him do any actual dancing in his prime. 

Then I stumbled across this song and dance video from the 1953 movie “The Affairs of Dobie Gillis “ with Bob Fosse, Debbie Reynolds, Bobby Van, and Barbara Ruick. Keep your eye on Fosse, in the sweater with white socks.

The whole clip is just fun to watch but Fosse is on another level here, so explosive and athletic, similar in my mind to Gene Kelly but with a smaller frame and (to me it seems) more movement in his extremities. 

He just moves differently than everyone other dancer, ever. Truly one of a kind.

He moved pretty quickly after that into choreography on Broadway, and his list of awards is pretty extensive:

He transitioned into directing and choreographing musical works including the stage musicals winning Tony Awards for The Pajama Game (1954), Damn Yankees (1955), Redhead (1959), Little Me (1963), Sweet Charity (1966), Pippin (1972), Dancin' (1978), and Big Deal (1986). He also worked on Bells Are Ringing (1956), New Girl in Town (1958), How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961), and Chicago (1975).

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Bridge Types Explained


Bridges have always fascinated me …

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Today in 1843: First Large Oregon Trail Migration


In 1841 the wagon train was around 70 people, and in 1842 around 100, but in 1843 as a result of “encouragement” (maybe propaganda is more accurate) by the government and other hucksters the wagon train was 1,000 strong plus 5,000 oxen and cattle.

The Oregon Territory was not even technically part of the U.S. yet — this did not happen until 1846 when Britain just handed it over for free, essentially — but over the preceeding 30 years fur trappers and traders, missionaries, and other pioneers had established a trail from Missouri.

The Oregon Trail was laid by fur traders and trappers from about 1811 to 1840 and was initially only passable on foot or horseback. By 1836, when the first migrant wagon train was organized in Independence, Missouri, a wagon trail had been cleared to Fort Hall, Idaho. Wagon trails were cleared increasingly farther west and eventually reached the Willamette Valley in Oregon, at which point what came to be called the Oregon Trail was complete, even as almost annual improvements were made in the form of bridges, cutoffs, ferries, and roads, which made the trip faster and safer. From various starting points in Iowa, Missouri, or Nebraska Territory, the routes converged along the lower Platte River Valley near Fort Kearny, Nebraska Territory. They led to fertile farmlands west of the Rocky Mountains. From the early to mid-1830s (and particularly through the years 1846–1869) the Oregon Trail and its many offshoots were used by about 400,000 settlers, farmers, miners, ranchers, and business owners and their families to get to the area known as Oregon and its surrounding counterparts. The eastern half of the trail was also used by travelers on the California Trail (from 1843), Mormon Trail (from 1847), and Bozeman Trail (from 1863) before turning off to their separate destinations. Use of the trail declined after the first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, making the trip west substantially faster, cheaper, and safer.

It was 2,170 miles long. They rode on horseback or in covered wagons, and many died along the way from drownings during river crossings, disease, injuries, Indian attacks, and more.

A map:

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

“Louie Louie” and How the FBI Took Over a Year to Decide the Lyrics Were Indecipherable


In 1963 the Kingsmen released their version of Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie” — and hoo boy did people lose their mind over what they thought were dirty lyrics.

Letters were written, investigative task forces created, all because of this silly and indecipherable 2:48 of fun, recorded in a single take at a cost of $50.

Never once in my life have I understood any of it, but hey, it’s catchy and fun. 

Dirty? Well, some people thought so, and one guy wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy about it. So of course the FBI spent 15 months digging into it:

Over the course of the next two years, the FBI gathered many versions of the putative lyrics to Louie Louie. They interviewed the man who wrote the song and officials of the record label that released the Kingsmen’s smash-hit single. They turned the record over to the audio experts in the FBI laboratory, who played and re-played “Louie Louie” at 78 rpm, 45 rpm, 33 1/3 rpm and even slower speeds in an effort to determine whether it was pornographic and, therefore, whether its sale was a violation of the federal Interstate Transportation of Obscene Material law.

Finally to everyone’s relief on May 17, 1965 they announced their dramatic conclusion: the lyrics were “unintelligible at any speed”.

Good to know.

The original by Richard Berry was recorded in 1957 in a totally different tempo and style with a Carribean, almost “ska” style:

I like his version a lot better.

The story behind his songwriter royalties is pretty incredible:

The song has been recorded over 1,000 times. However, Berry received little financial reward for its success for many years, having sold the copyright for $750 in 1959 to pay for his wedding. Berry said in 1993 "Everybody sold their songs in those days. I never was bitter with the record companies. They provided a vehicle for five young black dudes to make a record."

But then 30 years after he wrote it …

In the mid-1980s, Berry was living on welfare at his mother's house in South Central Los Angeles. Drinks company California Cooler wanted to use "Louie Louie" in a commercial, but discovered it needed Berry's signature to use the song. The company asked the Artists Rights Society to locate him, and a lawyer visited Berry. The lawyer mentioned the possibility of Berry's taking action to gain the rights to his song. The publishers settled out of court, making Berry a millionaire.

The Professor of Rock weighs in:

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

This Week in 330 AD: Constantinople Dedicated


May 11, 330 AD … nearly 1700 Years Ago

A “second Rome” essentially — a replacement for it, in reality. 

Keep this date in mind next time you call something “old”.

Constantinople is named after Constantine I who should be more widely recognized as the first Emperor to convert to Christianity and use his power to spread the relatively new religion throughout the Roman Empire

And hoo boy is that history complicated — feel free to read about it in detail above — but here is a summary from that page:

Constantine reigned during the 4th century CE and is known for attempting to Christianize the Roman Empire. He made the persecution of Christians illegal by signing the Edict of Milan in 313 and helped spread the religion by bankrolling church-building projects, commissioning new copies of the Bible, and summoning councils of theologians to hammer out the religion’s doctrinal kinks.

The Edict of Milan mandated religious tolerance via legal rights — seems that this too should be more well-known than it is:

... granted all persons freedom to worship whatever deity they pleased, assured Christians of legal rights (including the right to organize churches), and directed the prompt return to Christians of confiscated property.

“Granted all persons freedom to worship watever deity they pleased”. This is full-on frredom of religion, 1446 years prior to 1776, when it seemed like a revolutionary idea mainly because for several hundred years the entire world had been unable to avoid killing each other over religion, not because nobody ever thought of it before. 

It goes on to say this ponderous bit: “Previous edicts of toleration had been as short-lived as the regimes that sanctioned them, but this time the edict effectively established religious toleration.” 

“This time”? Why did it work better this time? We are left to surmise that it was because of Constantine’s own conversion and strong leadership, although he died in 337, just 7 years later. Of course the Roman Empire fell in 476, so all of this “freedom” silliness died off with it, ushering in the Dark Ages and Vikings and Crusades and nearly endless war and plunder for over a thousand years.

A good video about Constantine I:

Monday, May 13, 2024

Two Songs about Going Back Home


But With Polar Opposite Meanings

While listening to a Spotify 60s Country playlist last week — an undertaking that I can recommend without reservation — the theme of going back home surfaced in two different songs, with two completely different takes on that idea.

“Homecoming” by Tom T. Hall tells the tale of his own distant relationship with his widower father.

I’ve been gone so many years
I didn’t realize you had a phone

He pops in unannounced, has to explain what his musician life is like to a father who does not understand it at all, apologizes for missing his mother’s funeral, and then has to leave for a gig later that night. 

The whole experience is short, awkward, and unsatisfying. It’s clear that he cannnot wait to get out of there.

Contrast that with “Back Home Again” in which John Denver writes a more romanticized version of the ways one might enjoy coming back home.

There’s a fire softly burning
Supper’s on the stove
It’s the light in your eyes
that makes him warm.

Monday, May 06, 2024

Genius DIY


So simple — how did I never think of this?!

Friday, May 03, 2024

Final Goodbyes


Background here.

I’m not sure how the details matter a whole lot now, because he’s gone and what difference does any of it make? 

But just to note them for the future….

He’s been very ill for several weeks and we’ve been blessed and amazed that he hung on as long as he did.

He became reclusive — very odd for him, as a social and friendly cat — and completely stopped eating for two weeks or more. 

Then suddenly one Sunday he was revenous, and for a week or ten days continued to eat regularly, although not much. Mostly broth and gravy in the food, since he had difficulty and pain while chewing.

Then last Thursday he became very reclusive again and would not eat or drink. 

Then very early on Saturday morning he started bleeding out from his mouth, and this time it would not stop, and I knew this was going to be the end for him. I tried, we tried, to comfort him in his hour of need, just to be with him and allow him to pass peacefully as possible. It was not as peaceful as one would like.

He passed away at 6AM Saturday morning. We took his body outside on the deck while the birds were chirping. He always loved to watch the birds.

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

May 1, 1926: Ford Institutes 5-Day 40-Hour Work Week


Henry Ford revolutionized the manufacturing process with assembly lines in large production plants using interchangeable parts,, and he also revolutionized the entire working world with a 100% increase in pay and the 5-day work week:

Henry Ford’s Detroit-based automobile company had broken ground in its labor policies before. In early 1914, against a backdrop of widespread unemployment and increasing labor unrest, Ford announced that it would pay its male factory workers a minimum wage of $5 per eight-hour day, upped from a previous rate of $2.34 for nine hours (the policy was adopted for female workers in 1916). The news shocked many in the industry—at the time, $5 per day was nearly double what the average auto worker made—but turned out to be a stroke of brilliance, immediately boosting productivity along the assembly line and building a sense of company loyalty and pride among Ford’s workers.

Henry Ford said of the decision: “It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either ‘lost time’ or a class privilege.” At Ford’s own admission, however, the five-day workweek was also instituted in order to increase productivity: Though workers’ time on the job had decreased, they were expected to expend more effort while they were there. Manufacturers all over the country, and the world, soon followed Ford’s lead, and the Monday-to-Friday workweek became standard practice.

Click photo for Wikipedia entry
So prior to 1914, the assembly line workers worked 9 hours a day, 6 days a week, a total of 54 hours, for $2.34 per day, or $14.04 per week. 

By mid-1926 this had changed to 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, a total of 40 hours, for $5 per day, or $25 per week.

The business saw increased productivity with the new 5-day 40-hour work week, yes — but a capitalist mutli-millionaire invented the entire concept of leisure time on weekends for working men.

This is a point not to be diminished.  

Later, after another ugly world war and as the concept of the 5-day work week took hold throughout the American economy and then the world, the consumer economy had a chance to take off in the 1950s, and so it did.