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If the humanism that makes civilization civilized is to be preserved into the
new century, it will need advocates. These advocates will need a memory, and
part of that memory will need to be of an age in which they were not yet alive.

— Clive James, “Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts.”

My friend, Roy, was telling me all about his favorite radio station, WFMT and its celebrated “The Midnight Special” program where folk and satire and oddball antics collide. It used to be more common to find eccentric shows on the radio dial. Thanks to YouTube, if you know where to go, you can still find a lot of treasures. And, of course, you can still tune in to WFMT and listen to “The Midnight Special”  archives whenever you want or check the “The Midnight Special” site for a station that carries the syndicated show.

Here are just three personalities from yesteryear that Roy mentioned to me in relation to his adventures in late night radio. There are plenty more but I thought it interesting to focus on these three as a set given that I did not find them through trial and error but from a real human being. These are entertainers you would have found on the radio in the ’50s to ’60s: Flanders & Swann, Anna Russell and Tom Lehrer. What do they share in common? Well, Roy loves them and that’s really a good place to start. Given what I know about Roy and my initial sampling, all three of these acts have a wry sense of humor and love of musical whimsy.

Flanders & Swann – “The Hippopotamus Song”  This is one of the songs that Flanders &  Swann are best known for. You can hear a theater crowd roaring with laughter. Very cool. Very vaudevillian.

Anna Russell – “The Ring of the Nibelungs”  If you like Victor Borge’s antics, then you’ll love Anna Russell. She’ll bring classical music down to Earth for you.

Tom Lehrer – “The Elements Song”  This may be your lucky day, or night, if you’re new to this song. It is a major hipster find that keeps being covered by new artists.

You start to think about it, these entertainers, perhaps more obscure for some audiences, will bring to mind other entertainers from that time period, Victor Borge, The Smothers Brothers, Woody Allen, and then other entertainers up to the present, They Might Be Giants, Flight of the Conchords, Sarah Silverman. It’s all just a matter of keeping an eye out for new talent, new to you. One of the most asked questions by casual observers is a very direct and honest question, “How do you find out about all this stuff?” It’s not a question to dismiss by any means! The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind: Just ask, search around, pan for gold, if you will. Not so long ago, one of the most respected ways of stumbling upon something cool and new was to go look in the bins at your local record shop. You know, with the passion for vinyl unabated, specialty shops are still there for you to explore.

Remember the movie, “High Fidelty,” about a record shop owner, played winningly by John Cusack, and his staff who were walking encyclopedias of pop culture? All very pre-internet. You were sort of at the mercy of the hipster geeks who seemed to have hoarded all the information. A small price to pay in retrospect. Either they took pity on you, actually liked you, or cast you out as soon as they set eyes on you.

Remember Jack Black in that movie? He was the ultimate gatekeeper of cool. If he didn’t think you could handle it, or should handle it, out you went.

Pretend Jack Black decided you were okay and recommended to you Flanders & Swann, Anna Russell and Tom Lehrer.

This is all part of a grand continuum. It’s a particular mindset: folky, lefty, offbeat. A way of life. So many interconnections. Until next time, chin up, and don’t forget the patron saint of lowkey deadpan humor…

Mr. Bob Newhart. Don’t ever forget Bob.


Filed under Comedy, Culture, Entertainment, Humor, Jokes, pop culture, Radio, Vinyl Records

Conversations Not Meant To Be Heard — And Yet They Are

My WordPress brother, Will Bailey, of NailsBails, inspired me to rant a bit on the subject of human noise pollution. Now, I won’t even get into leaf blowers, that’s a whole universe unto itself. Oh, that reminds me, there’s an awesome movie starring Tim Robbins who plays a guy at war with all the car alarms that go off near his apartment in New York City. It is oh so aptly entitled, “Noise.” He moves to the suburbs and then has to deal with leaf blowers. Needless to say, he doesn’t handle any of it well. I’m not saying I’m on the verge of becoming unhinged over my pet peeve but a peeve is a peeve and so here goes.

I live in a vibrant neighborhood, I suppose. Lots of stuff going on and that leads to a number of random human interaction about this and about that. Why, I ask, can’t these conversations be held at a normal speaking volume. No, these conversations, the ones my ears helplessly pick up while I’m trying to engage in something I consider significant (blogging!) or just passively doing something marginal (blogging?), are quite distracting and annoying.

Here’s a classic pet peeve: The endless farewells. My neighbors are like caught in midstep, immobilized by supposedly interesting conversation. It seems like they’re just about to go but they’re not going anywhere. They won’t budge. This is always true about any group that has just finished meeting. It’s the meeting after the meeting and it occurs just as everyone appears to have said their final goodbyes. Why do this? Could it get any worse? Well, sure, anything can get worse. What is worse are the unwanted conversations blasting into one’s home coming from just down the street. There are two main types. One is the party people roaming around after last call. Sure, they’re very happy and life is grand but do I have to hear about it when, instead, I’d much rather be…sleeping?

The other one on my mind: Contractors involved in some project of great significance…to them! The lead contractor usually is quite proud of himself and feels compelled to describe the project in all its glorious details repeatedly ad nauseam. Again, I ask, why do this? I don’t care if something is really going to be a devil to complete and it will require certain attributes and resources to get the job not only done but done right. It’s painful to hear. It doesn’t require listening. It just streams right into my poor innocent bystander ears. Maybe it would be tolerable if it lasted for only a little while but, no, this is marathon blathering.

Alright, I feel better, at least for now. It’s only temporary. I will still cringe at the sound of unexpected laughter. You’d think anyone would welcome unexpected laughter. But, no, it’s not always welcome, especially coming from an overzealous contractor, with unlimited energy, all set to explain to anyone within earshot what he’s about to do, what he’s already done, what he had for lunch, what he plans to have for lunch, and so on.

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Jokes, Rants