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Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Zero Factor ► Throwback Thursday

William Henry Harrison (1773 – 1841) was the
first president to run afoul of The Zero Factor.
The Zero Factor is a spooky superstition which insisted that all Presidents elected in a year ending in zero -- which happens every 20 years -- will die in office. The Zero Factor was blamed for an uninterrupted chain of presidential deaths that didn't end until President Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980.

The first inkling I had concerning Presidential Deaths and the Zero Factor was back in grade school when I had to do an essay on William Henry Harrison, a presidential name drawn from a hat.

William Henry Harrison was the 9th president, elected in 1840 running on the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too." Tippecanoe was his nickname and referred to his military victory in the Battle of Tippecanoe, when his troops repulsed a Native American confederacy that was opposed to the illegal European aliens' continued expansion west. As the Wiki puts it simply, "The defeat was a setback for Tecumseh's confederacy from which it never fully recovered."

Harrison was the oldest president until Ronald Reagan and the first to die in office, a mere 32 days after taking the oath. He was his own worst enemy. As we learn from the WikiWackyWoo:
He took the oath of office on March 4, 1841, a cold and wet day.[62] He wore neither an overcoat nor hat, rode on horseback to the ceremony rather than in the closed carriage that had been offered him, and delivered the longest inaugural address in American history.[62] At 8,445 words, it took him nearly two hours to read, although his friend and fellow Whig Daniel Webster had edited it for length. Harrison then rode through the streets in the inaugural parade,[63] and that evening attended three inaugural balls,[64] including one at Carusi's Saloon entitled the "Tippecanoe" ball, which at a price of US$10 per person (equal to $229 today) attracted 1000 guests.
Three weeks later he caught a cold, which developed into pneumonia and pleurisy. He died on April 4, 1841, the first victim of the Zero Factor, which also became known as Curse of Tippecanoe, blamed on a curse that Tecumseh was supposed to have uttered before his death during the War of 1812.

The next victim of The Zero Factor was Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. We all know what happened to him.

James A. Garfield was elected POTUS in 1880 and assassinated by deranged office seeker Charles J. Guiteau in 1881. Garfield might have lived had he been shot just a few years later when all doctors accepted the practices of Joseph Lister concerning infection. Again from the Wiki:
According to some historians and medical experts, Garfield might have survived his wounds had the doctors attending him had at their disposal today's medical research, techniques, and equipment.[187] Standard medical practice at the time dictated that priority be given to locating the path of the bullet. Several of his doctors inserted their unsterilized fingers into the wound to probe for the bullet, a common practice in the 1880s.[187] Historians agree that massive infection was a significant factor in President Garfield's demise.[187] Biographer Peskin stated that medical malpractice did not contribute to Garfield's death; the inevitable infection and blood poisoning that would ensue from a deep bullet wound resulted in damage to multiple organs and spinal bone fragmentation.[188] Rutkow, a professor of surgery at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, has argued that starvation also played a role. Rutkow suggests that "Garfield had such a nonlethal wound. In today's world, he would have gone home in a matter of two or three days."[187]
Next up? That would be President William McKinley, elected in 1900 and assassinated by a crazed anarchist Leon Czolgosz in Buffalo, New York on September 6, 1901. It happened inside the Temple of Music during the Pan-American Exposition. On the 14th he died of the gangrene that had infected his body. The Zero Factor takes another life.

Twenty years later it was Warren Harding's turn to run up against The Zero Factor. Elected in 1920, he died on August 2, 1923, of a cerebral hemorrhage in San Francisco while on a swing through the west.

Also dying of a cerebral hemorrhage was the next victim of The Zero Factor, our longest-serving president, Franklin Roosevelt. Originally elected in 1932, Roosevelt was re-elected for an unprecedented (and no longer possible) 3rd term in 1940. Re-elected again in 1944, during World War II, Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. His last words were reportedly, "I have a terrific pain in the back of my head."

John F. Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States and the last to be assassinated.

The next president to be elected in a year ending in Zero was Ronald Reagan. When, on March 30, 1981, John Hinckley, Jr., slipped out of a crowd at the Washington Hilton and attempted to assassinate him, I was convinced it was The Zero Factor at work again. However, Reagan survived his wounds and eventually went back to work.

It wasn't until years later the public learned how close to death Reagan had been and how much the assassination attempt took out of him.

In 2000 George W. Bush was elected president and, except for starting wars against countries that didn't attack the United States, there were no incidents even remotely resembling The Zero Factor.

In 2000 Arianne R. Cohen of The Harvard Crimson wrote of George W. Bush and The Zero Factor:
According to legend, our new president has an extremely high chance of dying while in office--an 87.5 percent chance, in fact, based on the seven of eight eligible presidents who have died by the legend. Many voters--45 percent, to be exact--would probably find this statistic to be the only positive thing about Election 2000, although I personally would prefer to have a president too incompetent to do damage in office over one who voted against the Clean Water Act (our new Vice President-elect Richard B. Cheney). However, a legend's a legend, and a legend doesn't care about personal opinions.

[...]The only other president to die in office was President Zachary Taylor, elected in 1848. However, President Taylor allegedly spent July 4, 1850, eating cherries and milk at a ceremony at the Washington Monument. He got sick from the heat and died five days later, the second president to die in office. Frankly, he should have known better--that cherries and milk combination is always a killer.
What's amusing about this curious slice of history is how for more than a century this silly superstition was considered to have been a Native curse against the White interlopers. Guilt much?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Richard Berry ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Further Reading:

A Song So Great
They Named It Twice
When the final history of Garage Rock is written, today's date will be remembered as an important milestone. On this day in 1935 the great Richard Berry was born. Twenty years later Berry would write Louie Louie, one of the most influential and recorded songs in Rock and Roll history.

Berry was born in Louisiana, but moved to L.A. with his family when he was a baby. From all reports he had a difficult childhood; having injured his hip, he was forced to use crutches until he was six. However, he picked up his love of music at a camp for handicapped kids, where he learned how to play the ukulele.

He learned his vocal chops practicing in the hallways of Jefferson High School. Soon he was "singing and playing in local doo-wop groups, recording with a number of them including The Penguins, The Cadets and the Chimes, the Crowns, the Five Hearts, the Hunters, the Rams, the Whips, and the Dreamers, an otherwise all-female quartet from Fremont High.[5] He then joined The Flairs (who also recorded as the Debonaires and the Flamingoes) in 1953," as the Wiki tells us.

After leaving The Flairs Berry hooked up with Rick Rillera and the Rhythm Rockers, described as a Latin & R&B band. That's when he got the notion to write Louis Louis. As the Wiki explains:
Richard Berry was inspired to write the song in 1955 after listening to and performing the song "El Loco Cha Cha" with Ricky Rillera and the Rhythm Rockers. The tune was written originally as "Amarren Al Loco" ("Tie up the crazy guy") by Cuban bandleader Rosendo Ruiz Jr. – also known as Rosendo Ruiz Quevedo – but became best known in the "El Loco Cha Cha" arrangement by RenĂ© Touzet which included a rhythmic ten-note "1-2-3 1–2 1-2-3 1–2" riff.[3] 

Touzet performed the tune regularly in Los Angeles clubs in the 1950s. In Berry's mind, the words "Louie Louie" superimposed themselves over the bass riff. Lyrically, the first person perspective of the song was influenced by "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)", which is sung from the perspective of a customer talking to a bartender (Berry's bartender's name is Louie).[4] Berry cited Chuck Berry's "Havana Moon" and his exposure to Latin American music for the song's speech pattern and references to Jamaica.[5]
Crank it up and D A N C E ! ! !

Louie Louie might have remained in obscurity as the B-side to "You Are My Sunshine" by Richard Berry and the Pharaohs, on Flip Records, had it not been discovered by Tacoma singer "Rockin' Robin Roberts" who recorded his cover version in 1960, using his band The Wailers [no relation], aka the Fabulous Wailers. It includes the ad lib "Let's give it to 'em, RIGHT NOW!!" and, while it was a local hit, it sank without a trace when re-released for the national market.

In 1963 a Portland, Oregon band named The Kingsmen decided to make it their second single, after "Peter Gunn Rock." The tune was arranged by bandmember Jack Ely. Again, Wiki knows all:
The Kingsmen's lead singer Jack Ely based his version on the recording by Rockin' Robin Roberts with the Fabulous Wailers, unintentionally introducing a change in the rhythm as he did. "I showed the others how to play it with a 1–2–3, 1–2, 1–2–3 beat instead of the 1–2–3–4, 1–2, 1–2–3–4 beat that is on the (Wailers) record", recalled Ely. The night before their recording session, the band played a 90-minute version of the song during a gig at a local teen club.

[...]The Kingsmen transformed Berry's easy-going ballad into a raucous romp, complete with a twangy guitar, occasional background chatter, and nearly unintelligible lyrics by Ely.[18] A guitar break is triggered by the shout, "Okay, let's give it to 'em right now!", which first appeared in the Wailers version,[19] as did the entire guitar break (although, in the Wailers version, a few notes differ, and the entire band played the break). Critic Dave Marsh suggests it is this moment that gives the recording greatness: "[Ely] went for it so avidly you'd have thought he'd spotted the jugular of a lifelong enemy, so crudely that, at that instant, Ely sounds like Donald Duck on helium. And it's that faintly ridiculous air that makes the Kingsmen's record the classic that it is, especially since it's followed by a guitar solo that's just as wacky."[20]

The Kingsmen's cover of Louie Louie probably would have been a hit in any case, but the persistent, and widely believed, rumours that the lyrics were dirty probably didn't hurt. Even the FBI was fooled, launching an expensive investigation into The Kingmen, the record company, and the radio stations that played it. I tell that story in A Song So Great They Named It Twice, which was based on my reading of Dave Marsh's wonderful book with the unwieldy title: 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.

Incidentally, despite there being THOUSANDS of cover versions of his tune, Berry didn't make a penny off of them. He sold the rights to Louie Louie in 1959 for $750 to pay for his wedding. Luckily, he eventually did start to realize a fairly good chuck of change later:
In the mid eighties Berry was living on welfare at his mother's house in South Central L.A.. Drinks company California Cooler wanted to use "Louie Louie" in a commercial, but discovered they needed Berry's signature to use it. They asked the Artists' Rights society to locate him, and a lawyer visited Berry. The lawyer mentioned the possibility of Berry taking action to gain the rights to his song. The publishers settled out of court, making Berry a millionaire.[8]

Garage Bands around the world celebrate today as International Louie Louis Day.

Okay, let's give it to 'em 12
times right now! Me gotta go!