Monday, November 23, 2015

Harpo Plays! ► Monday Musical Appreciation

He never said a word in the movies, but Harpo Marx never had a problem getting his point across. At a time when Talkies were all the rage, Harpo remained gloriously mute.

Adolph Marx -- he later changed his name to Arthur  -- was born on this day in 1888, the 2nd oldest of the 5 Marx Brothers. With his older brother Chico (Leonard) and his younger brother Groucho (Julius), The Marx Brothers became one of the greatest comedy teams of all time. [Gummo never appeared with his brothers on film and Zeppo left after the first five.]

Much to Groucho's regret, because he was considered the "smart one," Harpo was a member in good standing of The Algonquin Round Table, an exclusive club that included such notables as Robert Benchley, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross (The New Yorker editor), Robert E. Sherwood, Alexander Woollcott, Tallulah Bankhead, and Noel Coward.

However, it's not Harpo's mime shtick or his intelligence Not Now Silly wants to commemorate today; it's his harp playing, for which he got his nickname. According to the WikiWackyWoo:
Harpo gained his stage name during a card game at the Orpheum Theatre in Galesburg, Illinois. The dealer (Art Fisher) called him "Harpo" because he played the harp.[5][6] He learned how to hold it properly from a picture of an angel playing a harp that he saw in a five-and-dime. No one in town knew how to play the harp, so Harpo tuned it as best he could, starting with one basic note and tuning it from there. Three years later he found out he had tuned it incorrectly, but he could not have tuned it properly; if he had, the strings would have broken each night. Harpo's method placed much less tension on the strings.[citation needed] Although he played this way for the rest of his life, he did try to learn how to play correctly, and he spent considerable money hiring the best teachers. They spent their time listening to him, fascinated by the way he played.[6]
Here are some of Harpo's greatest musical performances:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Gettysburg Address ► Throwback Thursday

On this day in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, considered one of the greatest speeches ever given in English.

A mere 271 words, the Gettysburg Address followed the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery by Edward Everett. That speech must have exhausted the crowd. It lasted more than 2 hours and contained more than 13,600 words.

Lincoln's short speech lasted only a few minutes, but has gone down in history as one of the greatest of his career.

As the WikiWackyWoo explains, Lincoln was under the weather at the time:
During the train trip from Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg on November 18, Lincoln remarked to John Hay that he felt weak. On the morning of November 19, Lincoln mentioned to John Nicolay that he was dizzy. In the railroad car the President rode with his secretary, John G. Nicolay, his assistant secretary, John Hay, the three members of his Cabinet who accompanied him, William Seward, John Usher and Montgomery Blair, several foreign officials and others. Hay noted that during the speech Lincoln's face had 'a ghastly color' and that he was 'sad, mournful, almost haggard.' After the speech, when Lincoln boarded the 6:30 pm train for Washington, D.C., he was feverish and weak, with a severe headache. A protracted illness followed, which included a vesicular rash and was diagnosed as a mild case of smallpox. It thus seems highly likely that Lincoln was in the prodromal period of smallpox when he delivered the Gettysburg address.[10]
The Hay version of the speech
Yet, there's no agreed upon text of the speech:
Despite the historical significance of Lincoln's speech, modern scholars disagree as to its exact wording, and contemporary transcriptions published in newspaper accounts of the event and even handwritten copies by Lincoln himself differ in their wording, punctuation, and structure.[16][17] Of these versions, the Bliss version, written well after the speech as a favor for a friend, is viewed by many as the standard text.[18] Its text differs, however, from the written versions prepared by Lincoln before and after his speech. It is the only version to which Lincoln affixed his signature, and the last he is known to have written.[18]
Here is the text that every grade school child memorized:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dan Penn ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Celebrating a birthday today is Dan Penn, a name almost unknown, but the writer of some of the greatest Soul tunes ever recorded.

Born Wallace Daniel Pennington according to his official biography he was:
 A native of Vernon, Alabama, Penn moved to the Florence/Muscle Shoals area while still a teenager and assumed the role of lead vocalist in a local group calling itself the Mark V Combo. When asked what kind of music they played, Penn replies, “R&B, man. There was no such thing as rock. That was somethin’ you picked up and throwed.” He laughs. “Or threw.” It was around this time that he penned his first chart record, Conway Twitty's “Is a Bluebird Blue”. During the early ’60s, Penn began working with Rick Hall at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, first as a songwriter, and then as an artist under the names Lonnie Ray, Danny Lee, and finally Dan Penn. 
The WikiWackyWoo picks up the story:
In early 1966, Penn moved to Memphis, began writing for Press Publishing Company, and worked with Chips Moman at his American Studios.[5] Their intense and short-lived partnership produced some of the best known and most enduring songs of the genre. Their first collaboration, the enduring classic "The Dark End of the Street", was first a hit for James Carr and has since been recorded by many others. A few months later, during the legendary recording sessions that saw Jerry Wexler introduce Aretha Franklin to FAME Studios and her first major success, the pair wrote "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" in the studio for her, which went to #37 in Billboard in 1967. In early 1967 Penn produced "The Letter" for The Box Tops. He and long-time friend and collaborator Spooner Oldham also wrote a number of hits for the band, including "Cry Like a Baby", another song which has been covered many times.[6]
As always, it's all about then music. Here are just some of the many hit tunes penned by Penn:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Interview With District 2's Ken Russell

Ken Russell, potential Commissioner-elect for District 2
while the Veterans' Day commemoration gathers to march
I originally met potential Commissioner-elect Ken Russell way back when -- during Soilgate -- when I called out of the blue to interview him.

We met at a local coffee shop just as it appeared his battle with [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff was finished. It was an epic battle over the toxic soil in Merrie Christmas Park and, in the end, the residents got the kind of toxic soil remediation they felt their children deserved.

While it appeared as if Merrie Christmas Park would be re-mediated properly, I was surprised when he moved on to his next concern, which was all the other toxic parks in the city. Russell was genuinely concerned that those residents might not have enough clout, or enough money, to hire a lawyer like he and his neighbours had. That's when I knew Ken was about far more than his own property values. He had a Social Justice bone.

He wasn't doing it for effect. At the time Russell had no intention to run for office, but the fight over toxic soil made him feel that he could do better than the current Commissioner. And, the secrecy in
which [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff went behind the backs of the residents, breaking several laws about proper notification for a Brownfield Site -- not to mention when he lied to this reporter that it had never been so designated -- told Russell there must be a better way to conduct city business on behalf of constituents.

It's a sign!!!
The Veterans' Day Parade marched right past this.
When he later declared he was running for District 2 Commissioner, Russell made transparency one of the cornerstones of his platform.

In one of the craziest election finishes in Miami history, Ken is engaged in a runoff election with wife of term-limited Teresa Sarnoff. However, with Sarnoff withdrawing from the race, the city lawyer says the runoff will still be held, but that votes for Teresa Sarnoff won't count. Yet, Democracy dictates that the votes count and Ken maintains that he's still in it to win it. He wants a clear mandate, so he's still campaigning for every vote on November 17th.

Russell agreed to a sit down interview and suggested we meet in West Grove after the Veterans' Day commemoration. As I drove down I couldn't help but wonder if he had chosen the perfect photo op for a politician, or whether it was simply to accommodate me. I requested an interview, but told him it had to be on Wednesday because that was the only day I had free. I left it up to him to choose the time.

That we met in Coconut Grove for this interview seems appropriate because that's where he received his highest support, with a nearly 20% turnout. It's also the area I've been researching extensively since 2006. Watching Russell work the crowd was nothing like watching a politician work a crowd. There were enough hugs, kisses, handshakes, and genuine warmth in both directions, that it was obvious that Russell is already well-liked by this part of his potential constituency.

Russell surprised me by sitting in the grass his suit for this interview.
NNS: You're making up for a politician that was reviled in this district. How are you planning to overcome that?

KEN RUSSELL: It's true that part of the reason I got involved was seeing how my Commissioner operated and seeing how I felt things could be done better. The day he's out of office, the day I get into office, that's the first step and it's really not that hard. A new tone, a new communication, a new conversation with the neighbours.

I'm already being told, and I'm not even in there, that this already feels different than it has for the last 9 years. So, the first step is to be open and even that, at the very least, wasn't done to my understanding. And, that comes easy for me.

NNS: Especially in this neighbourhood of West Grove, the people here kinda felt burned by promises made years ago that were never fulfilled. Yet, you were able to overcome that to get a 20% turnout at the polls that went overwhelmingly to you. How are you going to keep that bridge open to the community?

KR: The community's going to keep that bridge open. At this point, I owe so much to this area that I don't even have a choice of closing the door. It's too important. It's been vocalized and it's been publicized well enough where my heart is, that I couldn't turn back if I wanted to, and I wouldn't. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the support of the West Grove and, despite advice I received early on, I could see that there was a community here with a lot to lose, that would turn up at the polls if they felt they had an advocate.

NNS: And, you're going to be that advocate?

KR: Absolutely. I'll be the best that I can.

NNS: One of the things I did during the elections is I did door knocks with you in various neighbourhoods. Where do you think your biggest support was coming from overall?

KR: I knocked [on] over 2,000 doors during the 10 month period, all the from the South Grove to the West Grove to Morningside. It was very difficult to knock doors in Brickell and downtown, but we found other ways to reach the community there. The largest support was from the Grove as a whole, all parts of the Grove together. There was nearly a two-to-one margin in my favor at almost every major precinct in the area.

NNS: Do you have any job you want to do on Day One?

KR: Day One is learning for me because I don't pretend to have all the answers, especially within process. I have the intention of what I'd like to accomplish and, as you can see here today, just the conversation, the conversation that we're having even today with folks, is part of the first step; is part of that first step of giving them a trust [and] a feeling of comfort that their Commissioner is going to be open with them.

NNS: Is there any big project you've got in mind? Something you want to try to do while in office.

KR: Yeah, I would like to see something good come of the Trolley garage. I'd like to see that building serve the community. And, I've heard a lot of good ideas, but not in a formal setting to where I could say what should be done with it, but it's a symbol of how this part of town's been treated and, I think, in the same symbolic gesture should be converted into something that builds up the community.
With that Ken Russell was off to a meeting at Miami City Hall, where the learning curve for a new potential Commissioner-elect is steep.

For further reading please see: Soilgate, Trolleygate, [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, and the Anybody But Teresa facebookery, where so many of these issues intertwine.

The Expoding Whale ► Throwback Thursday

It hardly seems like 45 years ago, but November 12, 1970 was a whale of a day.

It happens all the time: a dead whale washes up on shore, threatening to stink up the joint unless something is done. But what?

When a a sperm whale washed up on the beach at Florence, Oregon, the authorities sprung into action. As the WikiWackyWoo explains, they left it up to rank amateurs:
All Oregon beaches are under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department,[3] but in 1970, Oregon beaches were technically classified as state highways, so responsibility for disposing of the carcass fell upon the Oregon Highway Division (now known as the Oregon Department of Transportation, or ODOT).[4] After consulting with officials from the United States Navy, they decided that it would be best to remove the whale the same way as they would remove a boulder. They thought burying the whale would be ineffective as it would soon be uncovered, and believed dynamite would disintegrate the whale into pieces small enough for scavengers to clear up.

Thus, half a ton of dynamite was applied to the carcass. The engineer in charge of the operation, George Thornton, stated—on camera, in an interview with Portland newsman Paul Linnman—that he wasn't exactly sure how much dynamite would be needed. (Thornton later explained that he was chosen to remove the whale because the district engineer, Dale Allen, had gone hunting).[5][6]

As it happened, there was an expert on the scene, but no one listened:
Coincidentally, a military veteran from Springfield with explosives training, Walter Umenhofer, was at the scene scoping a potential manufacturing site for his employer.[1] Umenhofer later told The Springfield News reporter Ben Raymond Lode that he had warned Thornton that the amount of dynamite he was using was very wrong—when he first heard that 20 cases were being used he was in disbelief. He had known that 20 cases of dynamite was far too much dynamite to be used. Instead of 20 cases they needed 20 sticks of dynamite. Umenhofer said Thornton was not interested in the advice. In an odd coincidence, Umenhofer's brand-new Oldsmobile was flattened by a chunk of falling blubber after the blast. He told Lode he had just bought the Ninety-Eight Regency at Dunham Oldsmobile in Eugene, during the "Get a Whale of a Deal" promotion.[1]
You can't make this shit up, even tho' some people accuse Wikipedia of doing so.

Meanwhile, exploding whales are not that uncommon. Watch:

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Song So Great They Named It Twice ► Monday Musical Appreciation

When I was going to Coffey Junior High School, in Detroit, a prized piece of ephemera was a mimeographed sheet of paper with what was purported to be the real, DIRTY, lyrics to Louie, Louie, released on this day in 1963.

I had one passed to me by a classmate. Where he got it from, I don't know. Of course, it had to be hidden from teachers and parents, so it was folded in eighths and kept tucked away until it was needed.

That's why it was so dog-eared by the time I finally lost it, after loaning the sheet to someone who never returned it. It didn't matter. By then I had memorized the dirty lyrics and can recite them to this very day.

Who knows how many of those mimeographed sheets were in circulation? By the time I lost mine, it had been read by dozens of young boys who guffawed over the juvenile humour. We were astounded by what The Kingsmen had gotten away with, right under the nose of the record industry, and everybody!

When I read the great book by Dave Marsh, Louie Louie; The History and Mythology of the World's Most Famous Rock 'n Roll Song; Including the Full Details of Its Torture and Persecution at the Hands of the Kingsmen, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, and a Cast of Millions; and Introducing for the First Time Anywhere, the Actual Dirty Lyrics, I was gratified to see that the dirty lyrics he reproduced were the exact same dirty lyrics I had in my possession for a while.

Of course, the joke was on us. The lyrics weren't really dirty, just totally undecipherable. However, now Louie, Louise is one of the most recognizable and covered songs in all of Rock and Roll. As the WikiWackyWoo tells us:
"Louie Louie" has been recognized by organizations and publications worldwide for its influence on the history of rock and roll. A partial list (see "Recognition and rankings" table below) includes the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, National Public Radio, VH1, Rolling Stone, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Recording Industry Association of America. In addition to new versions appearing regularly on YouTube and elsewhere, other major examples of the song's legacy include the unsuccessful attempt in 1985 to make it the state song of Washington, the celebration of International Louie Louie Day every year on April 11, the annual Louie Louie Parade in Philadelphia from 1985 to 1989, the LouieFest in Tacoma from 2003 to 2012, and the ongoing annual Louie Louie Parade and Festival in Peoria.
The most amazing thing about Louie, Looue is that the FBI spent untold dollars, and wasted much time, researching the lyrics to decide whether the song was a Communist plot to destroy the minds of youth, or sumptin'. The FBI web site says:
In 1963, a rock group named the Kingsmen recorded the song “Louie, Louie.” The popularity of the song and difficulty in discerning the lyrics led some people to suspect the song was obscene. The FBI was asked to investigate whether or not those involved with the song violated laws against the interstate transportation of obscene material. The limited investigation lasted from February to May 1964 and discovered no evidence of obscenity.
CLICK HERE to read the actual FBI file in PDF form.

The Kingsmen's tune was actually a cover of a Richard Berry song, written as a Jamaican ballad in 1955, which he released as a B side to a single in 1957. It became popular on the west coast, especially the Pacific Northwest, where The Kingsmen hailed from. They heard it, recorded it, and the rest is history. Nothing was ever the same again.

IRONY ALERT: When Dave March published his book, copyright infringement prevented him from passing along the real, actual lyrics to Louie, Louie, something easily found on the innertubes today.

I queried Der Google and here are the actual lyrics of Louie, Louie.

The Kingsmen

Louie Louie, oh no
Sayin' we gotta go,
yeah yeah, yeah yeah yeah
Said Louie Louie, oh baby
Said we gotta go

A fine little girl, she waits for me
Catch a ship across the sea
Sail that ship about, all alone
Never know if I make it home

Louie Louie, oh no no no
Sayin' we gotta go, oh no
Said Louie Louie, oh baby
Said we gotta go

Three nights and days I sail the sea
Think of girl, all constantly
On that ship I dream she's there
I smell the rose in her hair

Louie Louie, oh no
Sayin' we gotta go,
yeah yeah, yeah yeah yeah
Said Louie Louie, oh baby
Said we gotta go

Okay, let's give it to 'em, right now!

See, see Jamaica, the moon above
It won't be long, me see me love
Take her in my arms again
I'll tell her I'll never leave again

Louie Louie, oh no
Sayin' we gotta go,
yeah yeah, yeah yeah yeah
Said Louie Louie, oh baby
Said we gotta go
I said we gotta go now
Let's take this on outta here
Let's go!

Proving the song is as mild as milk, even Paul Revere and the Raiders covered it.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Nat Turner Sentenced To Be Hanged ► Throwback Thursday

Benjamin Phipps, a local farmer, accidentally
discovers Nat Turner almost 2 months after the revolt
On this day in 1831, Nat Turner was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged as leader of the slave revolt of two months earlier.

Turner believed his revolt was ordained by God. According to History:
He was born on the Virginia plantation of Benjamin Turner, who allowed him to be instructed in reading, writing, and religion. Sold three times in his childhood and hired out to John Travis (1820s), he became a fiery preacher and leader of African-American slaves on Benjamin Turner’s plantation and in his Southampton County neighbourhood, claiming that he was chosen by God to lead them from bondage.

Believing in signs and hearing divine voices, Turner was convinced by an eclipse of the Sun (1831) that the time to rise up had come, and he enlisted the help of four other slaves in the area. An insurrection was planned, aborted, and rescheduled for August 21,1831, when he and six other slaves killed the Travis family, managed to secure arms and horses, and enlisted about 75 other slaves in a disorganized insurrection that resulted in the murder of 51 white people.

Afterwards, Turner hid nearby successfully for six weeks until his discovery, conviction, and hanging at Jerusalem, Virginia, along with 16 of his followers. 
Racist cartoon depicting the revolt
If Nat Turner thought his revolt would lead to freedom for slaves, he was sadly mistaken. In fact, as the WikiWackyWoo tell us, it got worse for all Black folk, Free Black and slave alike.
In total, the state executed 56 blacks suspected of having been involved in the uprising. But in the hysteria of aroused fears and anger in the days after the revolt, white militias and mobs killed an estimated 200 blacks, many of whom had nothing to do with the rebellion.[32]

The fear caused by Nat Turner's insurrection and the concerns raised in the emancipation debates that followed resulted in politicians and writers responding by defining slavery as a "positive good".[34] Such authors included Thomas Roderick Dew, a William and Mary College professor who published a pamphlet in 1832 opposing emancipation on economic and other grounds.[35]

Fears of uprisings polarized moderates and slave owners across the South. Municipalities across the region instituted repressive policies against blacks. Rights were taken away from those who were free. The freedoms of all black people in Virginia were tightly curtailed. Socially, the uprising discouraged whites' questioning the slave system from the perspective that such discussion might encourage similar slave revolts. Manumissions had decreased by 1810. The shift away from tobacco had made owning slaves in the Upper South an excess to the planters' needs, so they started to hire out slaves. With the ending of the international slave trade, the invention of the cotton gin, and opening up of new territories in the Deep South, suddenly there was a growing market for the trading of slaves. Over the next decades, more than a million slaves would be transported to the Deep South in a forced migration as a result of the domestic slave trade.
Nat Turner was hanged on November 11, 1831, just 6 days after he was tried, convicted, and sentenced.

Monday, November 2, 2015

k.d. lang ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Celebrating a birthday today is k.d. lang, born Kathryn Dawn Lang in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 

Canadians have been enjoying k.d. lang since 1983, when she was performing what she called Cow Punk Music, which was really a combination of Country, Rockabilly, and Rock and Roll, all delivered with a unique attitude. Watch:

At the time she maintained she was the reincarnation of Patsy Cline and even called her back up band the Reclines. They put out three LPs together: A Truly Western Experience, Angel with a Lariat, and Absolute Torch and Twang, all of which were well received by both Country and Rock and Roll fans.

However, she was still considered an underground artist. As the WikiWackyWoo explains:
Lang first earned international recognition in 1988 when she performed, as "The Alberta Rose", at the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.[10] 

Lang's career received a huge boost when Roy Orbison chose her to record a duet of his standard, "Crying, " a collaboration that won them the Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals in 1989. The song was used in the Jon Cryer film Hiding Out released in 1987. Due to the success of the song, Lang received the Entertainer of the Year award from the Canadian Country Music Association. Lang would win the same award for the next three years, in addition to two Female Vocalist of the Year awards in 1988 and 1989. 

After that, there was no holding her back. Canadians have to share this gigantic talent with the rest of the world. But, we're used to that.

Here's just some more examples of k.d. lang's incomparable talent, starting with her cover of another Canadian tune, Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah: