Exiled to the front steps. My wife is hosting the monthy hen party, the “Bunco” game where the ladies chat and nosh and drink wine and eventually get down to playing a game whose rules escape me. Dice are involved. Since the inside of the house is loud and the backyard is full, I’m out front, trying to stay away. Man, I’m pasted. Spent the whole day cleaning the house for the party, then made the invitations, took the kid to dinner – hey, WHERE’S MY PATRIARCHY?
Just kidding. But I am beat. It was one thing after the other day, between buzz.mn and the column, and when I filed my last at 4 I did clean and dust and polish for a while. Tried to nap; the phone interrupted twice. Ah well. Got up, had a cup of coffee, did the Hewitt show, then took (G)Nat to Dairy Queen:
(That's an iPhone photo, incidentally.)
This is the one in our neighborhood. A bit messier, but it has outdoor seating where you can watch the world go past. So does the suburban one, but it’s, well, suburban, and the world just sits there. No slam on the burbs – as you know, that’s not my, my what? My bag? My gig? My thing? Whatever. But the suburban location has no pedestrian traffic, and it’s on a frontage road between a gas station and a furrier’s, so there’s not a lot to see.
Inside, the same retro photos on the wall:
The bag had an ad for some secret project DQ had been hiding for 70 years, and advised us to go to dqcentral.com for the full story. So I did. Interesting. It takes a while, but eventually you too will learn to keep your anthropomorphic soft-serve cone from falling to its death.
After we finished we drove around the lake listening to the end of Beethoven’s 7th with the windows down. My child admonished me for this, noting how I didn’t like it when other people did that, but I corrected her: this is Beethoven. It has to be played like this, with the windows down. None dare object to Beethoven.
“Well, that’s sort of your opinion,” she said. I said she was right and turned it down.
“No turn it up! But put up the windows.”
That’s my girl.
Inside now, and absolutely falling asleep. Aaand I have two columns to write tonight. Well, let’s get to the ever-handy scanned items to conclude this week’s parade of Old Pieces of Paper. From a comic book:
There’s a pitch you don’t see often. And what do you get for your work?
Cook with Crisco! Because the lard works in mysterious ways. Speaking of fistfuls of white cooking glop: here are some lids from some Spry cans. I don’t know why I bought these; they were 75 cents, and old, and I have a strange affinity for Spry ever since I put the adventures of Aunt Jenny and Calvin, her husband, in the first Gallery of Regrettable Food.
The first one shows what the tops of Spry lids used to look like:
And sometimes they looked like this. Crisp, illustrated vignettes of the virtues of Spry.
Spry! It’s digestible.
Speaking of Aunt Jenny – aw, jeez, do I have that site anywhere? No – took it off the Gallery years ago, but given my massive indexed storage system I should be able to find it in a trice . . . shoot. Lost it. Lost it forever.
Just kidding! Archive Disk #4b Sept. 22 2002.
Aunt Jenny always struck me as someone in the mold of the nice manless lady who ran the Hooterville Hotel – certainly more country, but more sensible than that nattering old hen Ma Clampett. Which brings us to this:
To modern eyes, it’s like something from a parallel universe. It’s like watching people extol the virtues of heroin while they slide the needle in their veins. I love this ad more than you can imagine. It’s just so wrong. And it gets better. Watch the expression on Nancy Culp’s face when she takes that second hit:
It’s almost impossible nowadays to imagine a time when half of everyone smelled like smokers, isn’t it?
Don’t worry, they pushed wholesome stuff as well:
Anyway. Where was I? Right: nowhere. Picking up on yesterday, though, there was something I didn’t have the time to note, and it has to do with “Singin’ in the Rain.” It took me a few years to learn this, and you might already know or not care or wonder why it matters, but: many of the songs in the movie were old tunes from the 20s and 30s. Below you’ll find some examples.
You Are My Lucky Star” is a great little tune, and there’s something about this recording I can’t quite describe, but it sounds like the 20s turning into the 30s. None too soon; it was recorded in ’35. But decades never end with a Nine – they spill over, go underground, retreat to the margins before their influence finally evaporates. I think we respond more easily to the music of the thirties than the twenties; the latter is eternally tied to black and white cartoons with barnyard creatures moving back and forth in endlessly looping actions. The singers are all spo-de-oh-dee types declaiming college tunes through a megaphone, and everyone’s a fargin’ tenor. (It would be interesting to note the average pitch of the most popular singers of the century.)
Now the real meat. The end of “Singin’ in the Rain” begins and ends with “Broadway Melody,” a 20s tune recorded by everyone. Here’s Ben Selvin’s version from 1929, carefully enunciated with rolled Rs and the usual tuba rhythm based on the site of Paul Whiteman’s buttocks going up the stairs. As you can tell by the end, the drummer was pretty close to the mike. CRASH!
Cheerful enough. Bouncy and forgettable. But the version in “Singin’ in the Rain” is a product of a different culture – louder, brighter, stronger, more cosmopolitan. The movie itself is about movies, and joyously presumes that celebrities are grinning manques who’ll put on an act for the camera and the public, but who are also decent folk just like us, really. (But better.) Part of the charm of the clip below is Kelly’s perfect combination of falsehood and sincerity – every moment gently mocks itself, but it’s also genuine. Know what I mean? No? Okay, watch this.
No, not yet. Two more things: if Gene Kelly had been born in any other country, he would not have been Gene Kelly. He might have been a fine dancer and a cheerful chap, but he wouldn’t have been Gene Kelly. The guy radiates such a quintessential American spirit he ought to be on money. Two: the distance between this version and the one above is 23 years, or the same distance between us and Miami Vice. For us, the distance is small – across the street, down the block. When you’re talking about 1929 and 1952, it’s a chasm ten miles wide.
Here we all stood at the middle of the 20th century, looking back to the tunes the audience had perhaps sung when they were kids. But this isn’t nostalgia. Oh, if you'd like a challenge, try to improve on his gestures. Try to tap your hat or indicate a smile with more grace and subtlety. Warning: such a thing cannot be done.