Monday, July 20, 2009

And that's the way it was...

We’re losing some mighty big names this year, and yet another icon has left the building, this time the penultimate newscaster of all-time, Walter Cronkite.  It wasn’t unexpected, since Walter had been in ill-health for quite some time, and he passed away Friday at age 92.  "Big Mouth" Cronkite (as A. Bunker called him) was ALL we ever watched in our house for evening news when I was a kid—hell, I didn’t know David Brinkley, John Chancellor and Frank Reynolds even existed until probably around the ’76 political conventions. The "Most Trusted Man In America" was the one we always turned to for the big news stories and events, and he was there for a huge chunk of American history during his tenure at CBS—the Kennedy and M.L. King assassinations, the moon shot (see below), Apollo 13, Watergate/Nixon’s resignation, the deaths of Elvis and John Lennon, and was even part of American history by literally changing the course of the Vietnam war with his commentary about it being un-winnable.

His delivery style was authoritative yet reassuring (oh, how I wish he’d still been broadcasting when 9/11 happened), and without a trace of all the smarm and hype-and-tease phoniness that pass for TV news now—the man actually gave us the freakin’ news.  Of course, this was long before this current age of ratings-driven bilge (nightly Anna Nicole Smith/Michael Jackson post-death updates, "where’s Caylee/Natalee?", Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, et al) in which these jaded TMZ hacks are now considered credible "news journalists".  All of which makes Cronkite’s passing even sadder to me, when you realize how long ago he retired, which even prompted the Jefferson Starship to pose the burning question, "Whatcha gonna do about Walter Cronkite?" in the infamous "Stairway To Cleveland".  This is not to say it’s been all downhill since 1981—Tom Brokaw and the late Peter Jennings were splendid nightly news anchors in their own right for many years—but TV news has de-evolved into such a sleazy tabloid medium over the last 25 years or so, to the point where it’s practically unwatchable now.  And that’s the way it is, regrettably…

Walter was also an extremely intelligent man—I think he would’ve made one helluva President if he ever chose to run.  In fact, Independent candidate John Anderson actually contemplated tabbing Cronkite as his running mate in 1980.  WC was also very well-rounded, and he could fluently discuss foreign policy, the space program, or the stock market just as easily as he could talk about football.  One area he did need to brush up on a bit was Rock ‘N’ Roll, considering the following he uttered on October 21, 1977:  "Three members of the Rock group Lin-yerd Skin-yerd were killed yesterday…"  Walter’s is one celebrity voice I’m able to mimic fairly well, too, with my personal favorite bit being from a Public Service Announcement he did back in my radio days about how the thought of your kids doing drugs "ought ta scare ya to death!"  A little trivia for you:  Walter Cronkite’s first broadcasting gig was right here in Kansas City at KCMO radio in 1936, where he basically was the entire news and sports department.  He also met his wife via that same gig.  He may well also be St. Joseph, Missouri’s most famous citizen this side of Jesse James and Joseph Robidoux (whom the town was named after).

S’long, Uncle Walter—ya done good…

Well, that ain’t quite the way things went down 40 years ago today, but you get the idea.  I had just turned five when the "Eagle" landed on the moon, and I have very vague memories of that day, as my family was at my older brother’s Boy Scout camp near Osceola, Missouri when Neil Armstrong took his one small step for man.  We didn’t get to see it happen live on TV, but I do remember everyone around the Scout camp just buzzing about it.  It would’ve been interesting to experience that excitement if I’d been a few years older when I could’ve understood what a monumental feat this truly was.  I also remember wondering why you couldn’t see the spacecraft orbiting the moon while looking through binoculars!  More trivia to impress your friends with:  Our boys at Tranquility Base even managed to discover a mineral there which was later named after Neal Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins—Armalcolite—I even got that one right while watching "Jeopardy!" once…

The timing of this little nostalgia trip back to the Age of Aquarius is perfect, since I’m currently reading From Beautiful Downtown Burbank-A Critical History of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, 1968-73 by Hal Erickson.  When I was a kid, there was a major power struggle in our household over control of the living room TV on Monday nights, as my older sister Renee (a liberal) always wanted to watch "Laugh-In", while my conservative parents (particularly my father) were more partial to "Gunsmoke" and/or "The Lucy Show", so guess who usually won that battle.  Me, I really didn’t care—I couldn’t wait for "Monday Night Football" to come on after all those network offerings.  I was too young to get what was going on with "Laugh-In" anyway when it originally aired, and it wasn’t until the summer of 1984 that I re-discovered the show via late-night reruns on Chicago’s WGN and fell in love with it.  "Laugh-In" was purely a late ‘60s/early ‘70s phenomenon, and couldn’t possibly be pulled off today, nor would you want to.

Some of the jokes and gags they did on the show were as old as the hills, yet were still so very funny, and the show introduced a slew of pop culture phrases into the American lexicon, like the Funk & Wagnall thing, "you bet your sweet bippy", "sock it to me", "flying fickle finger of fate" and "very interrrrresting", among many others, not to mention a slew of unforgettable characters like Arte Johnson’s Tyrone F. Horneigh (that’s pronounced horn-EYE) and Wolfgang the Nazi, Ruth Buzzi’s Gladys Ormphby and Lily Tomlin’s Edith Ann and Ernestine the phone operator.  The show also made stars out of the likes of Goldie Hawn, JoAnne Worley, Alan Sues, Henry Gibson, Gary Owens, Judy Carne as well as Dan Rowan and Dick Martin themselves, who had flown under the radar as a nightclub act before "Laugh-In" became a hit.  The pacing of the show was so rapid-fire that it required concentrated viewing to absorb the whole enchilada, which no doubt influenced that which followed it, like MTV and even "Family Guy" today.  And contrary to popular belief, "Laugh-In" did not have a so-called "liberal agenda"—just like the "Family Guy" crew, Rowan & Martin & Co. were equal-opportunity bashers who thought nothing of lampooning the Kennedys or LBJ just as easily as Dickie Nixon.  Hell, they even managed to get conservatives like John Wayne (and the Big Dick himself) to appear on the show.  And if that ain't enough, where else could you have seen the late Dinah Shore sporting fetish gear?  Not making this up, kids—watch the February 8, 1971 episode if you don't believe me!

There are only two DVD sets with original "Laugh-In" episodes on the market so far, each containing six episodes from various seasons of the show’s run (Dinah Shore's on Vol. 2, btw), and I wish to hell they’d get around to doing season-by-season DVD releases of this veritable time capsule of American pop culture, especially during this current wave of ‘60s nostalgia.

And get ready for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock next month, too…

Regular readers to my blog know that I’m not much of a fan of golf on TV, but every once in a while, I’ll find myself interested in a televised golf tournament, and such was the case yesterday, as K.C.’s own Tom Watson came literally within 12 inches of winning the British Open at age 59, which would’ve been a record for advanced age in a PGA major tournament.  No doubt, most folks were expecting to see another TW in contention for the title, but Tiger Woods didn’t even make the cut (which was a big story in and of itself) and sadly, this will instead go down as one of the bigger choke jobs in sports history.  Watson only needed to make a four-foot put that even yours has sunk many times in those pressure-packed moments on the links at the Cool Crest mini-golf course—and he didn’t even have a moving windmill in his way like I did!  Anyway, I found myself rooting for Watson all the same, even though he’s not the nicest person in the world when the TV cameras are off—he was rather surly and rude to our front desk people at my former workplace about ten years ago when he came to pick up some x-ray films on two different occasions.  Watson did set a record, anyway, by jumping some 1,300 places in the current world golfer rankings back up to 105th place.

And, no, they weren’t saying "Looooouuuu!"  Was tickled to death to read how L.A. Galaxy fans have turned on their imported "hero" David Beckham upon his return to their team over the weekend.  So nice of him to drop by, right in the middle of their season, and I loved the sign that one fan held up which read, "Go home, fraud!"  He’s not really a fraud—no doubt he’s a world-class athlete, but the way Major League Soccer has prostituted itself around to land him just to sell tickets is a joke, and he hasn’t even come close to upgrading outdoor soccer’s stature or prominence the way Pele did in the ‘70s—it’s still a "niche" sport in America, and probably always will be.  Not that I feel sorry for Becks or anything, but he’s actually better off playing in Europe where the caliber of play is so much better.  Beckham playing in MLS is akin to Albert Pujols playing on some AA minor league club.

I was finally able to add the Black Oak Arkansas Raunch ‘N’ Roll Live re-issue double-CD set to my collection, and I’m quite pleased with it.  The original album released on Atco Records in early 1973 only contained seven tracks (all quite "dandy", you might say) and this 2007 Rhino collection fleshes things out considerably, as it features both December, 1972 concerts from Portland and Seattle in their entirety from which the original LP was culled.  The new CD is totally worth it just for Jim "Dandy" Mangrum’s meandering-but-lovable between-song raps alone, but it also makes me wonder why so many of these tracks didn’t make the cut on the original LP, especially "Fever In My Mind" and "Uncle Lijiah".  We also get Tommy Aldridge’s maniacal drum solo during "Up" in its entirety, having been whittled down from eight minutes to five on the original album.  Drum solos are normally an exercise in the interminable, but TA’s usually manage to hold one’s interest throughout. True, there are a few flubs and feedback and some of the vocals are lost in the mix here and there on some of the tracks they didn’t use in ’73, but there was enough good stuff here to make a double-live album if they wanted to.  "Hot And Nasty", indeed!

I hope that’s how you spell a Bronx cheer, anyway!  The weather in K.C. these past few days has been nothing short of phe-fucking-nominal!  I’m talking highs in the upper ‘70s and lows in the ‘50s when it’s normally 95 and miserable this time of year.  The rest of this week appears to be unseasonably cool as well.  Tell me again how this Global Warming thing works…

"Owner Of A Lonely Heart"—YES (1984)  "You’ve got to want to succeed."  It always sounds to me like Jon Anderson sings "You’ve got to work to succeed," which also fits.

Total silliness here, but wouldn’t the Barefoot Contessa an "Shoeless" Joe Jackson have made a lovely couple?

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