Saturday Odds & Sods: Top Of The Pops

Swing Landscape by Stuart Davis.

Swing Landscape by Stuart Davis.

It’s time for the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day parade later today. This year’s route is so long that it should be renamed the Uptown/Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day. We’re fleeing to our friends Greg and Christy’s annual shindig, which puts the bang in shebang or some such shit. And I know the parade isn’t happening on the day itself. This is New Orleans, we do things our own way. Y’all should know that by now. There will, however, be drinking involved. We’re not that bloody different: walk me out in the Tullamore morning dew…

The big local story is that the Fifth Circuit has lifted an injunction against removing the white surpremacist monuments. They’ll be gone pecans soon enough. The erstwhile Gret Stet Fuhrer has been relatively silent this time around. He’s too busy fluffing Trump on Twitter to get worked up about it. For now. I guess that makes him a fluffer nutter. I hereby apologize to others out there who love marshmallow fluff, which recently celebrated a somewhat sticky centennial.

This week’s theme songs qualify as benign earworms. My mind keeps drifting back in their direction, which is why I’m taking you to the top, top, Top of the Pops.

We’re going in reverse chronological order with the 1991 Smithereens tune first. The video was filmed in Atlantic City. I looked for Chalky White but didn’t see him.

This week we’re back in same title, different song territory with the Kinks who were the band that most influenced the Reens. I’ve always preferred this loose live version of Top of the Pops to the more buttoned down studio track:

Now that I’ve rocked your world, it’s time to insert the break. This post grew like Cat’s Claw vines on an abandoned shotgun double so one is in order. See you on the other side.

There weren’t any pop charts in the 1840’s but if there had been, the song mentioned in the next segment might have been number one with a bullet. With a bullet? A bullet. End of Flo and Eddie era Zappa joke. Obscure enough? I would hope so.

Get Off The Track was a rousing 19th Century anti-slavery protest song. It was made famous by the Hutchinson Family Singers who are the subject of a fine article by Tom Maxwell at Longreads.com. Since I’m trying to stay on  track, I should post the song first:

Now that we’ve ridden the rails together, here’s how Maxwell begins his piece:

On March 18, 1845, the Hutchinson Family Singers were huddled in a Manhattan boarding house, afraid for their lives. As 19th Century rock stars, they didn’t fear the next night’s sellout crowd, but rather the threat of a mob. For the first time, the group had decided to include their most fierce anti-slavery song into a public program, and the response was swift. Local Democratic and Whig papers issued dire warnings and suggested possible violence. It was rumored that dozens of demonstrators had bought tickets and were coming armed with “brickbats and other missiles.”

“Even our most warm and enthusiastic friends among the abolitionists took alarm,” remembered Abby Hutchinson, and “begged that we might omit the song, as they did not wish to see us get killed.”

It wasn’t that most people didn’t know the Hutchinsons were abolitionists. The problem was that slavery (as well as its parent, racism) was an American tradition, and performers who wished to be popular did not bring their opposition onto the stage. Five of our first seven presidents, after all, were slaveholders.

The song that would be performed the next night, “Get Off the Track!,” was unambiguous about the direction our young country was headed. It grafted an original antislavery lyric onto the borrowed melody of a racist tune, and the result was not just a hit, but a newfound popularity for the abolitionist movement. It’s not too much to say that the Hutchinson Family Singers helped invent pop stardom and punk rock; they subverted tired old tradition, turning it into successful new expression.

If you ask me, they were pretty darn respectable looking punks. In fact, they sound more like the Partridge Family than the Sex Pistols but in their way, the Hutchinsons were revolutionaries. I knew precious little about them before reading Maxwell’s article and I highly recommend it. Yea, verily. Now where did I put my Hutchinson Family Singers lunch box?

Let’s move from the historically sublime to the intentionally ridiculous.

Letterman Speaks: Before Dave’s retirement from the late night wars, this would have been a non-sensical segment title but he’s been relatively silent since taking his act off-stage. Now Letterman is back. He’s grown a long white beard but his tongue remains as sharp and acerbic as ever. He gave an interview to New York Magazine’s David Marchese wherein he let his hair down so to speak.

I halfway expected Dave to pretend to be either Rip van Winkle or Santa but mercifully he’s the same old irascible Letterman. Unsurprisingly, he’s fixated on the man I call the Insult Comedian and he calls Trumpy. Here are a few highlights from this epic interview:

On interviewing Trump before he ran for president: “He was a joke of a wealthy guy. We didn’t take him seriously. He’d sit down, and I would just start making fun of him. He never had any retort. He was big and doughy, and you could beat him up. He seemed to have a good time, and the audience loved it, and that was Donald Trump.”

On Trump’s outrageous statements: “I’m tired of people being bewildered about everything he says: ‘I can’t believe he said that.’ We gotta stop that and instead figure out ways to protect ourselves from him. We know he’s crazy. We gotta take care of ourselves here now.”

On Steve Bannon: “Bannon looks like a guy who goes to lunch, gets drunk, and comes back to the office: ‘Steve, could you have just one drink?’ ‘Fuck you.’ How is a white supremacist the chief adviser to our president? Did anybody look that up?”

Bannon is a slob. Imagine a black dude dressing like that to work in the White House. The GOP Church Ladies would be baying for his head. Instead, I’m baying for it.

Now that we’ve renewed our acquaintance with David Letterman, it’s time for me to tell a story from the dark recesses of my past.

When Lou Met Tom Hayden: I really should have told this story after Hayden’s death last October at the age of 76. I was too fixated on the Presidential election, which is a fixation that was fixed by the biggest political upset of my lifetime. I now know how Republicans felt in 1948: the difference is that Truman was sane and Trump is barking mad.

The meeting between my Republican father and Tom Hayden took place at the wedding of a mutual friend some time in the late 1970’s. I don’t exactly recall how Hayden and Lou had a mutual friend in Los Angeles but they did. I suspect Greek cousinage was somehow involved. In any event, they met, they talked, and they got along.

I was across the room when I noticed who my father was chatting up. Like me, Lou would talk to anyone, even a legendary anti-war activist known for traveling to Hanoi during the war. Hayden was married to Jane Fonda in those days but  she wasn’t there, a detail I would not have forgotten, Hell, even Lou knew who Jane Fonda was and he hadn’t been to the movies since the time he sat through Mary Poppins twice in a day to placate a child. Me. At least it wasn’t The Sound of Music, now that would have been traumatic.

I joined Lou and Tom Hayden. My father introduced him as Tom and gave me a capsule summary of their conversation, which involved basketball and their mutual friend the late Congressman Leo Ryan. Leo was the Democratic Congressman who was the only one with the guts to investigate Jonestown. My father played racquetball with Leo, which was one reason he was asked to intervene with him by our former parish priest Steven Katsaris. He was the one who baptized me and even if it didn’t take, he was an important figure in my early life. Steven’s daughter Maria was a member of Jim Jones’ inner circle. She was one of those who literally drank the Kool-Aid. So it goes.

Leo Ryan was a lovely man, which was an opinion that Tom Hayden and Lou shared. After a bit more chit-chat, Tom excused himself. Lou smiled and looked at me: “Nice fellow.”

I laughed nervously and said “Do you know who that was?”

“A nice young man that I had a pleasant conversation with.” he said with a shrug.

“Agreed. But he’s also Tom Hayden of the Chicago 8. You know, the anti-war activist who’s married to Jane Fonda. Some of your friends call her Hanoi Jane.”

“Really? That was *the* Tom Hayden. He’s still a nice fellow. Any friend of Leo Ryan’s is a friend of mine.”

It was hard to argue that point. Leo Ryan has always been one of my heroes. He knew Jim Jones was a drug addled fanatic but some of his constituents were in harm’s way and he was determined to help them and their families. Leo thought of himself as a public servant first and a politician second: helping people was what he did. I didn’t spend very much time with him but I recall him saying: “There’s no point to being in Congress if you’re not there to help people. Otherwise,  you might as well be a used car salesman.” If only Speaker Ryan had the same credo. I bet Leo knew how insurance worked…

Even in the Seventies, Leo Ryan was a throwback Irish pol in the best sense of the word. We need more people like him and Lou’s friend Tom Hayden, who went on to become a very effective California State Senator, in public life in 2017.

Let’s shift gears and bring back a regular feature I haven’t, uh, featured in a few weeks. When it comes to feuding rock star siblings, the Davies brothers had nothing on the Gallaghers.

Documentary Of The Week: Oasis was the most popular band in the UK in the 1990’s. They really touched a nerve with their fans, both at home and abroad. The band was led by brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher. They’re working class lads whose rough edges endeared them to many rock fans but not to one another: they spent their musical partnership at war. Holy creative tension, Batman.

Oasis: Supersonic is a 2016 documentary about the band. It’s a brutally frank film that pulls no punches about the feuding Gallagher brothers who are barely on speaking terms nowadays. Charismatic front man and lead singer Liam is the older brother but remains something of an arrested adolescent. I put that too nicely: he’s a dick. Lead guitar player and songwriter Noel is a more complicated chap. I get the impression that he got tired of being a dick and decided to grow up. His brother never did. They remind me a bit of the pugilist brothers in David O. Russell’s brilliant 2010 film, The Fighter.

The film features backstage footage and home movies galore. Unlike some rockumentaries, it isn’t stingy with the music. I enjoyed everything about Oasis: Supersonic except for the ending, which was something of a letdown. That was probably inevitable: the Oasis story is messier than a seven-year-old boys’ bedroom and it ain’t over yet.

Oasis: Supersonic is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. I give it 3 stars, an Adrastos Grade of B, and a rocking Ebertian thumbs up.

In lieu of the trailer, here are two-count ’em-two Oasis tunes:

Let’s set the dial on the wayback machine to 1971 with the eponymous debut album of one of my favorite live bands ever.

Saturday Classic: Lowell George and Roy Estrada met each other while playing in the Mothers of Invention. They added keyboard wizard Billy Payne and drummer Richie Hayward and the result was magic.

That’s it for this week. I’ll give Noel and Liam Gallagher the last word or is that bird?

 

 

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