Saturday Odds & Sods: They All Laughed

Mondrian

Painting by Piet Mondrian.

It’s been a wet May thus far in New Orleans. Jazz Fest was a muddy mess. The day we went turned out to be the driest of the second weekend. I wonder if the Mud Brothers returned to slip and slide in the slop?

In other news, the Formosan termite swarms returned to town. It’s a spectacular sight but not if you’re caught out in it. It’s like the locust scene in The Good Earth but doesn’t last very long. Somehow Adrastos World Headquarters was spared the worst. I have a theory about that:

Actually, I should give credit where it’s really due:

Enough Termite talk. Time to bug out and move on to this week’s theme song. They All Laughed was written by the brothers Gershwin for the 1937 Astaire-Rogers movie musical Shall We Dance. It became one of Fred’s signature tunes. My favorite Astaire version is a 1953 small group jazz version with the great Oscar Peterson on piano:

Next up on the Gershwin hit parade are Ella and Louis with Oscar Peterson on piano. Detect a pattern? It’s followed by a swinging big band version from Der Bingle:

Finally, it would be unforgivable if I didn’t let Fred and Ginger dance in an art deco nightclub for you this Saturday morning:

Now that we’ve all laughed, it’s time for the break. See you on the other side.

Since we’re having a wee chortle, cackle, and/or snicker together let’s start with some  Presidential humor:

Take My First Lady, Please: In honor of last Saturday’s nerd prom, the WaPo’s Dan Zak produced a sampler of POTUS-ian humor. It purports to present the best joke told by every Oval One. I’m not sure I agree with all the Zakian selections but they’re not bad at all.

Here’s my list of the five funniest Presidents:

  1. Lincoln
  2. Kennedy
  3. Obama
  4. Reagan
  5. FDR

Please note that there are no insult comedians on the list. Thus far none has been elected and we hope to keep it that way.

Time for a list of the *least* funny Oval Ones:

  1. Carter
  2. Nixon
  3. Hoover
  4. Jefferson
  5. Jackson

It’s rather hard to discern humor amongst the less well-known 19th Century Oval Ones. We know that Van Buren was witty, Chet Arthur had ridiculous facial hair and Millard Fillmore had a silly name. The latter *is* the only President to have inspired a comic strip, Mallard Fillmore, so that’s something for a guy who ran as a Know Nothing after leaving office. I know nothing about whether or not Pierce or Buchanan were funny. I know they were bad jokes as President.

Discussing Presidential humor made me hungrier than Will Taft at a smorgasbord. Let’s move on to an article about the hype surrounding the farm to table movement and its quest for locally sourced foodstuffs. It poses the eternal question: How local is it?

Farm To Fable is the first installment of a remarkable four part series by Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reiley. It turns out that definition of what’s local is subject to interpretation:

There’s no consensus [as to what local food means.] On its website, Whole Foods says, “Well, mostly we like to leave it up to our stores. Generally though, we try to use state lines.” Publix defines local as products that come from the six states within which the stores are located (Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and North and South Carolina), whereas Safeway has described it as food from within an 8-hour drive. The federal 2008 Farm Bill defined it as a food that is marketed less than 400 miles from its origin; the federal Agricultural Act of 2014 did not provide a definition.

If a market or restaurant is making “local” claims, ask the manager or chef precisely what that means. Caveat emptor: Eating locally means eating seasonally, which frequently means relying on a more limited repertoire. “Americans want farm-to-table local, but they want the grocery store experience,” says Emily Rankin, who supplies restaurants with farm food via her company Local Roots. “Those two things don’t match.”

The other parts of the series deal with restaurants, farmer’s markets, and case studies of Tampa eateries that make false or inaccurate claims about the freshness of their vittles.

Ms. Reiley’s piece is Pulitzer worthy. It’s fresh and lively unlike some of the stale food she encountered. If y’all didn’t lose your appetite after consuming that piece, next up is an article about a grisly phenomenon: dark tourism.

The Draw Of Death Row is a superb piece in the Texas Observer by Robyn Ross:

The three syringes lie in a row, lined up neatly on a somber black background. Displayed with a saline drip bag and looping IV catheter, the vials are oversized, as though designed for the chubby hands of a child playing a macabre game of doctor. Below each is a typed card explaining its purpose in the December 1982 death of Charlie Brooks, Jr., the first person in the United States executed by lethal injection:

“Used to administer Sodium Thiopental which sedated the inmate.

Used to administer Pancuronium Bromide which collapsed the inmate’s diaphragm and lungs.

Used to administer Potassium Chloride which caused the inmate’s heart to stop.”

To their right is a pair of hair clippers used for shaving inmates’ heads before electrocution as well as a sponge that was soaked in salt water to conduct electricity. The last thing to touch dozens of men’s shaven skulls, the sponge sits on a plastic riser, its face pale and pockmarked like the surface of a distant moon. A second sponge is in a baggie on a shelf a few steps away in the Texas Prison Museum’s vault. The objects sit there matter of factly, their subtle presentation belying the roles they’ve played in execution, Texas history and making Huntsville — with its five prisons and the headquarters for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) — shorthand for the death penalty all over the world. it’s difficult to believe that the very sponge used in the death chamber is now on display in a one-story building just off interstate 45.

“Well, where else would it be?” curator of collections Sandy Rogers asks rhetorically.

I don’t get the  appeal of tourism noir. Then again, I’m not into voyeurism either. The for profit post-Katrina disaster bus tours gave me the creeps as well. I have a hard time getting pleasure from another’s suffering. I must admit that I enjoyed touring Alcatraz since it rocks and is obviously not for the birdman…

The mere thought of old sparky or the gas chamber makes me want to turn yellow like Rocky Sullivan at the end of Angels With Dirty Faces:

Speaking of dark, you may have noticed that I like dark and gritty movies. I can even pinpoint where it all began: with Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader’s Taxi Driver.

Taxi Driver at 40: I saw Taxi Driver when it came out and it was a life-changing experience. Not really but it *did* change how I viewed the movies as well as  giving me a lifelong relationship with the films of Martin Scorsese. He’s known in our house as Mahty. I hope that doesn’t make me a smahty pants…

The Tribeca Film Festival recently had a panel celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Taxi Driver. I cannot imagine why. Robert DeNiro took a break from making lousy movies to join Mahty, writer Paul Schrader, producer Michael Phillips, and co-stars Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd and Harvey Keitel. Vulture’s Josh Grossberg was there to cover the festivities.

One of my favorite bits in the discussion is how Scorsese was able to convince the great Bernard Hermann of Citizen Kane and Hitchcock movie fame to compose the score:

Jones: I just want to talk a little bit about Bernard Hermann and this incredible score. You said that when you approached him for the first time, he said, “I hear brass.”

Scorsese: I met him through Brian De Palma again. He was doing the score for his film Obsession.

Jones: Which Paul also wrote.

Scorsese: And so I got his phone number, and I was in Amsterdam but giving him a call in London, and I said, “I’d like you to take a look at this script. It’s a film called Taxi Driver,” and he said, “I don’t do films about cabbies.” But then he said, “Okay, meet me in London,” and so we met. And he read the script and he said he liked the fact the character used peach brandy in the cereal. [Imitating Hermann’s gruff voice]: “So that’s interesting. That’s interesting.” Michael, you know him, you made the deal, right?

Phillips: He was impossible to wrangle. I remember he kept quitting the film. He arrived at the airport. He had been in self-exile in England for a decade, came back and went straight to the return counter to buy a ticket to have him brought back, and then on the recording stage, there was a gooseneck lamp that he kept hitting with his baton, but he blamed the lamp and he quit and threw his baton into the orchestra. But we recorded for two days and he died at the end of the second day, that evening. And I remember the first time you had to change one of his cues on the dubbing stage, you were a little scared. We were all scared of Bernie and that’s the truth.

Scorsese: I spent some time with him in London, and we talked about the scores he did for Welles and Hitchcock, even the Sinbad films, and so we became friendly with him. But he did tell me that he saw it all, he heard it all in brass, very strong. And the way I envisioned the film and I had drawn all the pictures, if you remember, because we were under so much pressure, was I imagined it to a Van Morrison “T.B. Sheets,” a kind of bluesy creeping through the streets at night kind of thing.

Schrader: I was very surprised when I first heard this thing about Bernard Hermann because Marty was a needle-drop addict and all ofMean Streets had all been needle drops, and so I figured that’s what we’d do on Taxi Driver. You know, all these needle drops. And then one day he says, “What do you think of Bernard Hermann?” I was flabbergasted. It was inspiration.

That passage could be called When Bernie Met Marty. Make sure you read the rest of the piece. It’s a gas even if Jumpin’ Jack Flash didn’t show up…

Now I have New York on my mind. Let’s drop the needle on a song that rhymes New York in June with Gershwin tune:

Despite the theme song this post has been Adrastos noir,  so let’s lighten things up with a story about a baseball legend or is it a myth?

Pee Wee’s Big Embrace: It’s no secret that I’m fascinated with Jackie Robinson. It’s also no secret that I’m a huge fan of sportswriter Joe Posnanski whose work has been featured several times in this, uh, feature. These two non-covert interests collide in a piece Joe wrote about the Jackie-Pee Wee Reese on-field embrace story memorialized in this statue:

robinson_statue1-615x345

It was once commonplace to believe the Reese publicly embraced Robinson at a ballpark story. In recent years, it has been treated as a myth; most recently in Ken Burns’ fine film about Jackie. Both Joe Pos and I come down somewhere in between. As fas as I’m concerned, it’s more important that the Kentucky born and bred Harold Reese supported Jackie’s quest and eventually befriended him than if this specific story is true. Joe Pos has the details. 

I don’t know about you but I’d rather be nicknamed Harry than Pee Wee if my name was Harold. I know he was short but jeez, Pee Wee. Now that I think of it, Rold might work for me. I’m known to be a fan of rock and rold music, after all…

We discussed Presidential humor earlier. Let’s move on to a documentary about a President who’s at or near the top of lists of the handsomest Oval Ones. It’s time to get American Experienced.

Documentary Of The Week: I’ve written about the Garfield assassination in this space before. That was before I heard about Candace Millard’s book, Destiny Of The Republic, which inspired the  outstanding PBS film,  Murder Of A President. I recently procured a copy of her tome and it’s next on my reading list after I finish Doug Brinkley’s fine biography of Walter Cronkite. That will be a considerable relief to Dr. A since I’ve been doing my Cronkite imitation a bit too much for her taste. That’s just the way it is, y’all. It’s time for a brief musical interlude from Dr. A’s homey:

Where was I? The American Experience film about Garfield’s slow motion death. It’s outstanding. It’s a tragedy as well; with decent medical care that *was* available at the time, he would have survived. President Garfield’s doctor scoffed at Lister’s theory about germs. Who me? Wash my hands? Clean his wounds? No way.

The good news is that Murder Of A President is on YouTube:

I give this terrific documentary 4 stars, an Adrastos Grade of A- and a Ebertian thumbs up. Way up as Siskel was wont to say. I’ve never been quire sure where…

Saturday Classic: I ordinarily prefer not to use YouTube playlists in this segment. But rules are made to be broken. And I’m about to go on about crawfish, so I have no choice but to feature the Gret Stet’s own Zachary Richard’s Snake Bite Love. This 1992 album was Zach’s attempt to crash the mainstream. It didn’t work out as planned but it’s a great record. More importantly, it features his ode to the joys of Crawfish consumption:

That’s it for this week. We’re off to the Crawfish Mambo at UNO later today. It’s an all you can eat berled Crawfish extravaganza. It features a bunch of teams competing for best berl in show including one led by my Spank co-Captain Chris Summa. We’re going to eat too much and drink a lot of beer. That Summas up my day nicely. My friend and fellow horrid punster James Karst will be competing in a crawfish eating contest. I hope the venue change from the French Quarter to the Lakefront will benefit him. There’s actually a how-to video from Mudbug Master Karst at the Zombie-Picayune. Go Teams Summa and Karst.

That’s enough inside NOLA baseball. Time to get outta here. I like to change-up on the closing meme picture. This week I’m featuring a journalistic super hero instead of a bat-villain. And that’s the way it is, Saturday May 5th, 2016, this is a Walter Cronkite meme picture:

Cronkite meme

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