Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dick Clark Dead at 82 ABC best video with links



I was probably from the last generation of kids to watch American Bandstand. On a Saturday morning, I’d be at my grandma Mac’s house, watching cartoons. The earliest morning show came on at about 7:30 a.m. and was 90 minutes long – The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show on CBS. From there, I would manually switch channels over the three major networks and catch stuff like Superfriends, Jabber Jaw, Scooby Doo.

At 11:30 a.m. I would see people dancing on TV, the huge train track-like letters appeared on the screen and I heard Barry Manilow’s jumpin’ voice singing about going “hoppin’ today in Philadelphia way.” (Actually, the show had long left its Philly roots and moved to Los Angeles by the time I saw it.) The music signaled that the cartoons were over, but that was okay. I got to see these grown up looking people disco dancing.

I remember watching the Sylvers perform “Boogie Fever.” This was in the ‘70s, an excellent decade to be a kid in, and I saw other neat shows of the era at Grandma’s house – The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and Donny and Marie, for example.

In the early ‘80s, I saw Kim Carnes lip sync “Bette Davis Eyes”, minutes after having talked to Dick Clark about how she’d received a friendly letter from Ms. Davis. I had Grandma come out of the kitchen where she was baking cookies to watch Rick Springfield sang “Jessie’s Girl.”

“Noah?” she said, surprised to see Dr. Noah Drake from General Hospital (one of her stories) as a rock n’ roller.

Grandma would say, “Vickie and David (my mom and uncle) used to watch the Dick Clark Show. He’s been on for years.” I wondered what the show was like with the Doo Wop groups, old dances like the Stroll and the Twist, all that excitement over a show in black and white. But American Bandstand adapted to my childhood and I figured my kids would watch it and people would be buying 45 records forever.

I had no idea that Mtv, tape cassettes, compact discs and all that came after would render Bandstand passé. No more enjoying the music, just from watching people dance to it on TV. No more excitement over lip syncing singers and Clark – surrounded by teens, a microphone in his hand, Colgate smile as he held up the act’s latest album. No more of my favorite Bandstand feature – “rate a record.”

As a more cynical adult, I saw Clark act like a jerk in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine. In the same film NRA spokesman Charlton Hesston looked a little more flawed, human and less like Moses. It was the same cut-the-celebrity-down-to-size technique Moore had used back in Roger and Me, keeping the camera rolling as old Newlywed Game host Bob Eubanks told tasteless, bigoted jokes about Jewish people and AIDS.

(Sigh.) Sometimes I wish we could just let it be – the old celebrities held up to their illusionary public faces. At the same time I wish all the tweeting and morning talk show gabbing about some Hollywood hunk proposing to his do-gooder live-in would sink like a ship tapping an iceberg.

I remember when it was so cool that the host of American Bandstand also hosted $20,000 Pyramid. I remember innuendo being funny. Host Bob Eubanks: “Who was the last person to catch you making whoopee?” (I wasn’t sure what sex was, but the TV dropped hints.) I remember when staying up late on Friday nights to watch Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show was cool. Heck, just seeing Starsky and Hutch make a cameo on Charlie’s Angels was waaay cool.

At one time, New Year’s Rock n’ Eve was the coolest -- hot celebrities, a huge party. Not obligatory. Not more of the same. No way! To see John Schneider (the Dukes of Hazzard’s Bo Duke) co-hosting with Marie Osmond – that was cutting edge! Mega-celebrity, party all night long coolness.

Sure my tastes were bubblegum. Sure, I wasn’t listening to Velvet Underground in jr. high as I would in college. But isn’t that …………a beautiful thing? The same day Clark died, it came over the news that Levon Helm, drummer and lead singer of that phenomenal roots rock band, The Band, died. The Band is where my musical taste went later. Music From Big Pink is, in my estimation, one of the greatest albums ever.

Now, that really crosses back over my parents’ generation and back to my grandparents. In the middle of Vietnam War protests, riots, assassinations, acid flavored and classical music infused rock, a rootsy rag-tag mess of musicians, steeped in rockabilly and Dylan -- so aware of the here and now -- would revive the southern gospel, country and folk like my people had heard 30 years earlier among the oil drilled fields, wooden churches and dustbowl farms of the Depression.

The Band must have been on Bandstand in their late 60s or early 70s heyday. All I remember is Tom Wopat (Luke Duke on The Dukes of Hazzard) on the main floor chatting with Dick Clark, then doing a cover of “Up on Cripple Creek” on some Saturday morning in the early ‘80s.

In his final years, Helm, his voice coarsened by throat cancer, recorded a brilliant roots album, Dirt Farmer, which took the music further back – over the woodsheds, humble prayers and farm fields of time. Levon Helm on The Midnight Special singing "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Grandma’s people fought for the South in the Civil War. Grandpa’s grandparents were Yankees. Sleep with the angles, all.

RIP, Levon Helm.

Dick Clark, we’ll miss you.

Grandma, I miss you every day.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Woody, relevant at 100

My wife, Maria, and her brother ________, saw the Del McCoury Band perform with the New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Wichita’s Orpheum last night. I was unable to go, which sucks. Spectacular show, I was told. McCoury has performed with Pete Seeger.

If that wasn’t a sign I should write about the folk troubadour, maybe this clenched it. My reporter friend, P.J., who chronicles agriculture in Kansas, told me about a down and out farmer whose barn, equipment and several animals were destroyed in a fire. Hot wind and drought has left his property “looking like the 1930s,” she said.

The Dust Bowl.

This weekend in Okemah, Okla., the townspeople have been celebrating the centennial of native son Woody Guthrie. I wasn’t going to write about Guthrie’s 100th birthday because I don’t want to become known as the guy who always writes about dead people. But hell…last year, I acknowledged Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday on this blog. (Still with us, thank God.) How do I pay tribute to Dylan without recognizing Guthrie?

Woody Guthrie matters in the 21st century.

When following the news reports about union busting in Wisconsin and other Midwestern states, I thought about Guthrie’s songs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kknr-advKkgHe spoke up for working man whose rights were being trampled on by the privileged class. Along his travels, Guthrie talked to thousands of migrant workers in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and who migrated west to a false Promised Land in California.

Today, Guthrie would feel solidarity with the people of the Occupy movement in their protests against social and economic inequality. He would feel compassion for the immigrants from south of the border, being exploited by business owners and vilified by nativist demagogues.

In his song, Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos), Guthrie wrote about a 1948 plane crash in California that killed four Americans and 28 migrant workers being deported back to Mexico. The local newspaper identified the Mexican workers, not by individual names, but by the blanket word, “deportees.” Today, we use the dehumanizing term, “illegals.” Back then it was “deportees.”

Guthrie sounds strangely current. Economic disparity in America is worse than it has been in the past 70 years and the eliminationist party is trying to dismantle every safeguard FDR and his team put in place to prevent another Depression. They want to bring the country back to the eat-the-poor conditions that existed in Dickensian England.

A couple of years ago, before he was fired into obscurity for being too conservative for Fox “News”, Glen Beck was ranting about Guthrie, calling him a communist. (This wasn’t considered a bad thing in the 1930s. However, while Guthrie agreed with many of the party's views and wrote a column for the Daily Worker, he never joined the Communist party.)

Naturally, Beck with his pseudo-populist diatribes that really only serve the rich and powerful, would not get a guy like Guthrie. That folk song we all learned in grade school, This Land is Your Land, is, according to Beck “Maoist.”

I hear freedom in its lyrics. Guthrie wrote the song in protest against God Bless America, a radio hit popularized by the biggest female pop star of the day, Kate Smith. I can see where Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin was coming from when he composed the song. He wanted to pay tribute to the nation that had afforded him freedom and opportunity. But I also see Guthrie’s view. Berlin’s song is jingoistic and perpetuates the myth of a divine American exceptionalism. God Bless America magnifies patriotism. This Land is Your Land is about freedom.

This Land is Your Land  (its melody adapted from a Carter Family song, When When the World's on Fire, which itself was adapted from a Baptist hymn) is most likely the first Guthrie song you ever learned, something you probably sang in music class, while playing with tambourines and triangles. Of course, you’re not going to be singing about lynchings, anti-union massacres and protests against the death penalty when you’re in first grade. It’s like learning the Beatles’ All You Need is Love before turning on to Happiness is a Warm Gun. You have to drink milk before moving on to meat.

But This Land is Your Land is a bridge that can lead you there. In his protest songs, Guthrie was speaking for America’s disaffected, for the rights of all our country’s people to enjoy the blessings of freedom. The song celebrated inclusivity – something Guthrie knew. He was born and raised around Creek Indian land in Oklahoma. He worked with – and was influenced by -- African American musicians like Leadbelly. While living in New York’s Coney Island in the 1940s, he was inspired by his Jewish mother-in-law, Aliza Greenblatt to write Hanukah songs. Clearly, Guthrie valued pluralism and social justice, terms considered dirty words by right wingers. But 50 years from now, Glen Beck won’t even be a footnote to our history while Guthrie, like Dylan, the Beatles, Louis Armstrong, Hank Williams…will still be remembered as an important artist.

True artistry challenges the status quo, society’s convention. The social issues Guthrie addressed weren’t invented by Karl Marx. They have been a part of human condition ever since man’s inhumanity to man began. Injustice exists today as surely as it did in the Depression and in an America split into fragmentations and living in apathy where people living in poverty are concerned, we could use a voice like Guthrie’s.

He’s still relevant.

                                 Cool soul version of This Land is Your Land.

                                Dropkick Murphys put music to lyrics Guthrie wrote.

                                 Oklahoma Depression era outlaw, folk hero.

                                 Here is a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6kuvBnNNUs

                                 My favorite Woody Guthrie song.