from the "Penicillin-Resistant Nostalgia" Dept.

2009
May
18

Strunk, Not Stunk

The dead skunk in the middle of the road near Wendell Ranch has not yet been cleaned up… and it is still NOT stinking to high heaven. But it did remind me of a bit of long-forgotten mental free association.

Jud Strunk in the middle of the road.
Jud Strunk in the middle of the road.
Jud Strunk in the middle of the road.
Stinkin’ to high heaven.

Now, who, you may ask, is Jud Strunk? He was a briefly-almost-popular singer/comic in the 1970s, just a few years before the Dead Skunk song came out, and he did NOT stink to high heaven either. He just was spectacularly unspectacular.

After settling in Farmington, Maine in the ’60s, he wrote and sang mostly-humorous country-folk songs, but his biggest close-to-a-hit was atypical of his style (as so often happens), a diabetes-inducingly-sweetly-sentimental song called “A Daisy A Day” (linked webpage automatically plays Jud Strunk’s original recording – you have been warned).

Based partly on the success of that song (which, in a cassette taken aboard Apollo 17, was the first pop recording played on the moon), he was inexplicably recruited as a regular on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”, possibly as a response to the success of the Country Clone of Laugh-In, “Hee Haw”. (What do you prefer? Watching bad jokes told by Hillbilly stereotypes or Hippie stereotypes?) If he was supposed to replace Henry Gibson’s deadpan innocence, the producers got it wrong, and he was especially out of place as an unexcitable “Sports Reporter” on the Laugh-In News segment, previously done by Alan Seus in his most flamingly gay personna. As is often the case with new cast members added for the final season, some people blamed him for the demise of Laugh-In (which had already lost half of its most popular performers and had added 6 other regulars that season).

Still, he persevered, and his second most popular recording was the unsubtly double-entendre “The Biggest Parakeets in Town”, which was popular on the Dr. Demento Radio Show, and when I did my college radio station’s “Sunday Night Demento Clone” show (every college station had one in those days) I enjoyed playing “Dead Skunk” and Jud Strunk back to back.

He quit show business soon after (after hearing my segue? I hope not!) and returned to Maine to restore antique airplanes. But in 1981, at the age of only 45, he suffered a heart attack while flying one of his planes and crashed. A bad way to die for Jud, even worse for his passenger. And I really hope the plane didn’t crash in the middle of a road. That would stink to high heaven.

AND NOW A WORD FROM SOMEBODY WHO MAY HAVE NEVER HEARD OF ME...
2009
Feb
1

Award-Winning Accountant

wendelloscar-200x257It’s awards season, so I’ve been using this here picture as my avatar at Twitter, which, appropriately enough, has gotten a rather twittery reaction.

I was asked “Is that a REAL OSCAR?” Yes it is, and that should be Oscar TMAMPAS, since The Academy (which I think is also TMAMPAS) is rather anal-retentive (and otherwise assholish) about protecting its meager intellectual property.

“Is that YOUR Oscar, and if not, whose is it?” Well, it was technically the property of the company that physically made the awards way back around 1980, as one of a few extra units they held onto each year to make available as replacements in case a properly awarded Oscar is stolen (and not recovered within a reasonable amount of time) or damaged (I’ve heard that difficult Hollywood divorces can result in big awards getting run over by bigger SUVs). And no, The Academy will not allow you to get a replacement if yours is confiscated as evidence because the real-life CSI found blood traces on it.

Anyway, I was an employee of that trophy-making company – actually of the parent company which would buy troubled small manufacturers of interesting stuff and either rebuild them into prosperity or shut them down – I did Payables Accounting for 3 manufacturers of very different things, including the trophies and potting soil. So I paid bills for purchases of valuable and non-valuable metals as well as truckloads of Peat, Bark, Perlite and Vermiculite. (I love the word Vermiculite, and the related term Vermiculture… I should have made myself a career in Vermiculture… but I digress) And at one Christmas party a Vice President In Charge of I Never Figured Out What got one Oscar TMAMPAS out of the very secure vault between the plating vat and a big bin full of Bark (yes, the diverse divisions shared factory space) and allowed the happy workers in the front offices to be photographed with it. The final picture, which was poorly lit and made me regret not getting a haircut the week before, is one of my more coveted possessions that is currently in a storage locker in Burbank (which is an even longer story than this one).

Also in that storage locker is a genuine, never-awarded Golden Globe award and the story behind that is (I hope) even more interesting. As I said, the parent company bought and sold small manufacturing businesses (I went to work weeks after they had sold off Flexible Flyer sleds) and the layout of the offices changed accordingly. An effort to squeeze in one more company resulted in the instillation of a wall that took away more than half of the front reception area. As a result, the largest decorative item in the reception area, a trophy case containing samples of many of the company’s custom awards (but NOT the Oscar TMAMPAS) had to go, and that same Vice President made an executive decision to distribute the trophies around the office as decorations in various employees’ cubicles. Did you know there was an Arthur Murray Award? Its design, based on A.M.’s logo of two abstract dancing figures in silverplate was rather beautiful, (since downgraded to an engraving on an acrylic arch) but that was not the one I wanted. Apparently, I was the only person in the office who recognized the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globe. I asked for ‘the one with the globe on top’, got it, and used it as a paperweight for several months until I found a better job elsewhere and when I packed up my desk, the paperweight went with me. I felt so naughty, but other trophy case outcasts had already been broken, discarded or taken by the cleaning crew before that and nobody really cared.

Since then, I have actually had the opportunity to write about the Golden Globes for MSNBC.com where I mentioned nothing of my own award (for obvious reasons – in fact, why am I fessing up to it now?)

By the way, the trophy division’s output was not just Oscars and other exclusive designs. If you got a bowling trophy with a little figure of three pins skewed at different angles sometime in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it was probably molded at the same place the Oscar TMAMPAS was. Their catalog of figures for local trophy shops to throw together included a number of barnyard animals, including a sawed-off back half of a horse (when you’re giving somebody a trophy for being a horse’s ass) and the same pig that was on the “Silver Sow Award” which was the coveted possession of “WKRP’s” Les Nessman. At the time, I was still writing jokes for radio disc jockeys in my spare time (after my spectacularly unspectacular brief career on the radio), and one of them offered me a free pass to a radio convention being held in L.A. (a production company with 12 employees got 20 passes with its convention floor booth). I put 2 and 2 and 2 and a couple more out of right field together and came up with a small scale money-making idea. I got a dozen of the pig figures mounted onto marble stands and sold them at the convention as “Official Silver Sow Awards”. Several friends in the business said I should’ve had more made, but none of them were willing to buy one themselves, so I kept my initial order low… and sold 8 of the 12. At least two of the remaining Silver Sows are among my less coveted possessions in that storage locker today.

And to answer one more question, in my accounting position I had access to some but not all of the information as to what they are made of, and based on what I knew in 1980, if you sent one to Cash4Gold, you wouldn’t get all that much.

2008
Dec
13

Hall & Oates & Dozy Dotes

Lovers of cable news and rock oldies came together recently when Jon “I’m the one you’re supposed to take seriously” Stewart featured Daryl Hall and John “where’s the mustache” Oates to sing a little ditty about the breakup of another pop culture duo, Sean Hannity and Alan “a mustache would do his face some good too” Colmes…

Of course, those of us who actually lived through the ’70s know that was a parody lyric attached to Hall & Oates’ ‘Philly Soul’ song classic “She’s Gone”. Thanks to my involvement with a college radio station that was getting promotional records from the major labels before it even went on the air, I got to hear “She’s Gone” the first time it was released (and bombed) in 1974. A couple years later, when H&O changed labels and started having hit records, of course the old label re-released “She’s Gone” (because in the record biz in the ’70s, nothing was ever really gone) and the song got some of the recognition it deserved. I say “some” because after all the subsequent years and Hall & Oates records, I still believe it’s just about the best thing they ever recorded. And the image of the duo singing it for Alan Colmes will not take that away from me.

Another awesome thing about “She’s Gone” for me is the original pre-MTV promotional video the guys made for the song. I’m not sure if this was for the first release or some kind of old-label obligation for them, but it is the single most entertaining example of an unenthusiastic, phoning-it-in, semi-lip-syncing (Hall doesn’t even bother with some of his vocals) performance in the history of Rock & Roll, especially considering some of the goofball performances they did in later videos. Of course, somebody uploaded it to You Tube (I recommend watching it all or at least clicking ahead to 2:45 where Oates dresses up in a “penguin tuxedo” to play guitar)…

But my second-or-third favorite H&O song was “Out of Touch”, the lead single from their 1984 let’s-get-more-edgy album “Big Bam Boom”. Now, this was during the time when that most horrific of technological devices, the telephone answering machine, was in common use. And I, in a vain attempt to relive my past radio glories, was making ‘creative’ outgoing messages for the machine. Most of you who are old enough remember how most of these 30-second-or longer amateur productions, intended to make the experience of ‘talking to a machine’ more pleasant, actually did the opposite. But those few messages that actually were entertaining usually resulted in some of your friends passing on your home phone number to people you don’t know and you getting dozens, or hundreds (if you were in L.A. or another Major Metro) of ‘hang-up’ calls on your machine. I got that dubious honor once, when I ‘sang’ (with my voice, that is always in quotes) a custom lyric to the tune of “Out of Touch” while the song’s intro played in the background:

You’re out of luck
I’m out to play
I don’t know enough to come in out of the rain

I’m out to lunch
I’m out of style
But I’ll call you back in just a little while

Talk to my phone
When you hear the tone…

I realized that I currently have recording capabilities far superior to what I had access to 24 years ago (yet still not enough to make my voice sound halfway decent – how DOES Britney do it?) so I re-recorded that audio oddity.
[audio:Out to Lunch.mp3]

This is my first attempt to embed an audio player in this blog, so it may or may not work (and may or may not even appear).Here’s a direct download of the mp3 for the truly masochistic among you.

2008
Dec
7

This is the Columbia Blechman System

A while back, ├╝ber-blogger Wil Wheaton posted the ‘classic’ CBS Special intro (with a title that helps prove my previous point about the overuse and trivialization of thefword1, but I digress). Actually, several YouTubers had uploaded that 5-6 seconds of Pavlovian nostalgia (how many people have trouble accepting “A Charlie Brown Christmas” without it at the beginning?), but TAFKAWesleyCrusher (who triggers the Media Memory Response himself) didn’t even pick the one that looks least like a bad VHS tape.

As I twittered at the time, those were the days when SPECIAL meant SPECIAL and CBS meant Green Acres, Hawaii Five-O and Bugs Bunny/Road Runner on Saturday Morning.

While rummaging around the neighborhood of that clip, I discovered this one-minute treasure made for the Big Eye network circa 1966 by the iconic commercial artist R.O. Blechman.*

If you’re not familiar with Blechman’s work, SHAME ON YOU. As the video above showed, he’s the absolute master of making squiggly lines show exactly what you want (and that ain’t easy). His advertising work helped sell an obsolete stomach medicine and introduced us to Designer Water, but we can forgive him for that since he also did things like the clip above and The Soldier’s Tale<img src="/img/comm.gif” /> built around the musical piece of the same name by Igor Stravinsky (Clips: 1 2 3 4).

I considered it a semi-honor to have some of my articles at MSNBC.com accompanied by illustrations by somebody who copied Blechman’s style (Apologies to F.Birchman, but look at these examples: 1 2 3 4*). I’m still not sure if they just stopped using illustrations or got cold feet when The Huffington Post started using the real Blechman.

And R.O. is still going strong at the age of 78 with a a new children’s book about an urbanized fly<img src="/img/comm.gif” />. But then, he was drawing as if he had the old-man-shakes in his 30s…

* You’ll notice that way back in the ’60s, that damn Liberal Media was declaring war on Christmas with a “Seasons Greetings” message in which the only semi-Christmas-like image was a Charlie-Brownish looking tree.

** I should be using that last illustration – All About Me Productions – for my .Me address, but I’d have to lose most of the character’s hair

2008
Sep
2

Elevating the Discourse

Here is why Allen Funt’s Candid Camera from the 1950s-60s was head-and-shoulders classier than any other hidden camera stunt show in the history of TV (well, this and the hiring of Durwood Kirby as a co-host). Ladies and gentlemen, the definitive Conformity Test…