It’s been a long week in New Orleans. It’s been wet, steamy, and crimey. Is that a word? The spell-checker wanted to change it to criminy. The local media have been in full freak out mode over a mugging/beatdown in the Quarter, which means we’ve had to see the video of the attack 444 times. They caught the muggers who appear to be Katrina kids left to their own devices after the storm. It’s a sad story all the way around. Criminy.
This week’s featured image is a photograph of the spectacular Babylon set built for D.W. Griffith’s 1916 epic Intolerance, which I mentioned the other day in my post about racist vandalism in Mississippi. The statues and other adornments were made of plaster and executed by artisans imported from Italy. Team Trump would want to deport them instead of celebrating their artistry. Unfortunately, the set was torn down but its glory is preserved in pictures and on film.
This week’s theme song was written by Chuck Berry. It’s a tune of many names. It’s also known as C’est La Vie or the Teenage Wedding Song. Berry’s original version turned up in Pulp Fiction as the soundtrack for the dancing scene between the two Ts: Travolta and Thurman.
Next up are two spirited renditions. The first comes from Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. I stumbled into it whilst mocking the anti-Beatle diatribe of the Other Bill Wyman in this space not long ago. I had to, uh, Get Back at him.
The second version was requested of Bruce Springsteen at a 2013 show. It’s fun to watch the E Street Band work through it. Call it inside rock and roll:
Now that we’ve seen Uma dance and Bruce wing it, let’s go to the break. See you on the other side.
I told a friend in advance what this week’s theme song would be. He reminded me that Emmylou Harris cut You Never Can Tell back when Rodney Crowell was one of her sidemen. Bad me. C’est la vie.
We begin this section of the weekly festivities with a smidgen (dollop?) of politics.
Bitter Tea From The Tillerson: Ineffectual Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is sick and tired of being sick and tired. To his credit, he has developed a genuine loathing for Slumlord Jared and the punk ass White House staffers who are making his life hell. Team Politico has the details.
Now I have a yen for a nice cuppa tea. I’m bitter that I’m drinking coffee instead. That was a fib: I’m a coffee guy all the way. That’s life in the age of alternative facts.
It’s time to set the dial on the Wayback Machine to the Watergate era in what Rick Perlstein dubbed Nixonland.
Watergate Junkie Fix: Frank Rich has written a great cover story for New York Magazine wherein he reminds us, among other things, that Republican politicians weren’t as courageous during Watergate as today’s CW would have you believe.
For all the cover-ups, the efforts to stifle the press, and the stoking of his pugilistic base, Nixon failed to save himself. That his demise was not primarily a consequence of the Democrats’ control of Congress is due to the fact that some of his most reliable and powerful allies in both chambers were Democrats. Even as Nixon’s race-baiting “southern strategy” was hastening the realignment of the GOP as a new home for conservative southern Democrats (like the Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond, who had defected to the Republicans in 1964), most in Congress had yet to transition, as typified by the segregationist Mississippi senators James Eastland and John Stennis, both Democrats and firm Nixon supporters. Even Sam Ervin, the North Carolina Democrat who presided over the 1973 Watergate hearings, was a segregationist and Vietnam War hawk who, as the historian Rick Perlstein has pointed out, was “one of the most loyal votes for Nixon in the Senate” and had initially declared that it was “simply inconceivable that Nixon might have been involved” in the White House horrors.
A related misperception that some present-day liberals tend to retrofit to 1973 has it that the Washington Republican leadership of that time included ballsy, principled moderates who would speak truth to their gangster president as the pathetic Trump lackeys Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan will not. If only. A few Republican senators did ask tough questions during the Watergate hearings — Howard Baker and Lowell Weicker, famously — but it took even them a year after the Watergate break-in to find their voices, and they were not in the leadership. Then, as now, so-called Establishment Republicans were more likely to gripe about Nixon in private or in not-for-attribution conversations with reporters. In public, they usually cowered, sparing the president their harshest criticism and cordoning him off from impeachable offenses out of fear of him and his base. The Republican minority leader in the House, the Arizona congressman John Rhodes, found his mail running three to one against Nixon until he talked about a possible presidential resignation; then the count flipped to eight to one in Nixon’s favor.
Additionally, they owed Nixon. He had been raising money for GOP candidates since 1952. General/President Eisenhower was above such things. Nixon was a party loyalist and those pols owed him. Owed seems to be the word of the day. Criminy.
Tricky Dick was in a much stronger position politically than Trump. In 1972, Nixon got 61% of the vote and even walloped George McGovern in his home state. In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote and got walloped in his home state. These factors indicate that Trump’s congressional supporters will ditch him faster than Tricky’s backers. The Watergate analogy is not on the Insult Comedian’s side.
As I have done here at First Draft and other precincts of the internet, Frank Rich urges patience. A presidency is not unmade in a day.
Let’s move on to a tastier topic, The Great British Bake Off/Baking Show.
Dampfnudel is a German steamed dumpling. It was assigned to the amateur bakers as a technical challenge in the Bread episode of season-7 of the aforementioned teevee show. It was a wickedly difficult assignment from the bad boy of British bread bakers, Paul Hollywood. I realize I sound like I’m speaking in tongues to those of you who haven’t watched this charming BBC cookery show. One cure for that is *my* assignment: an insightful piece about the show by Melanie McFarland at Salon.
The Bake Off is an unlikely phenomenon in the UK. Unlike many reality shows, it features nice people who focus on baking, not fighting. The current judges perfectly reflect the British class system. The aforementioned Paul Hollywood is a burly Yorkshireman with a working class accent. In contrast, Mary Berry is a London-based grand dame with a posh accent. The combination is irresistible but the band has broken up. The show is leaving the BBC and Hollywood is the only host moving with it. It’s hard, but not impossible, to imagine it being as good. Stay tuned.
Anyway, enough from me on the gentle pleasures of The Bake Off as I insist on calling it, check it out for yourself. The final BBC season is currently airing on PBS and some past seasons are streaming on Netflix. It’s woody good fun. To paraphrase Clemenza in The Godfather: leave the gun, take the Dampfnudel.
Let’s stay on the subject of food and a topic dear to my heart: diner culture. The classic New York City diner (many owned by Greek-Americans) is becoming an endangered species.
The New York Diner Apocalypse: Grub Street’s Adam Platt has written a great story on the decline and fall of the New York diner. Like most Greek-Americans, if you shake my family tree, restaurant people fall out. Members of the first generation of my extended family *used* to own and operate diners and other eateries. Their children were less inclined to take on such an arduous family business. That’s one reason for the decline and fall of the New York diner, the other is-you guessed it-hipster gentrification.
My favorite part of Platt’s piece is his description of the wake for the waiter at *his* favorite diner:
When Louie died, many of the regulars at Joe’s were so shaken that they traveled out to the wake to pay their respects. When they arrived at the funeral home in Queens, the restaurant’s staff — short-order cooks, waitresses with their beehive hairdos — were sitting before the open casket dressed in all black. They had solemn looks on their faces, but as their familiar customers filed in, the mood in the room brightened. “They began to whisper to each other. ‘There goes Mr. Whiskey Down, Two Sides of Bacon’; ‘There’s Mrs. Scrambled Eggs, Bagel-Toasted’; ‘There’s Mr. BLT No Mayo,’ ” one of the devoted regulars who made the trip recalls. “Joe’s was a funny kind of dysfunctional family. I felt so safe there. I couldn’t have had a better time dining at Le Pavillon.”
It’s time for me to stop my Gibbonesque gibbering on the decline and fall of the New York diner. Hell, even Rome fell to the barbarians. Unfortunately, the diners are succumbing to hipster gentrification, something I know all about: the Bywater neighborhood in New Orleans could be called Brooklyn South. You know what they say:
Enough of this wistful shit. I don’t know about you but I need some knock about comic relief.
Saturday GIF: This week I’m featuring two silent comedy gems from two masters of the form: Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
We begin with Chaplin’s potato dance. I’m not sure if a Greek diner was involved but it’s certainly possible.
Now that we’ve had our carbs, watch Buster avoid the cops.
It reminds me of all the cartoons showing Theresa May punching herself in the face. Bad Maybot.
Saturday Classic: Peter Tosh was one of the original Wailers. As the band became more and more Marley-centric, Tosh struck out on his own. He recorded a series of classic solo albums before being murdered in 1987. 1983’s Mama Africa is my go to Tosh album. Enjoy.
That’s it for this week. Since I banged on about the Great British Bake Off, I’ll give its judges and hosts the last bat word.