Saturday Odds & Sods: Is That All There Is?

Self Portrait After The Spanish Flu by Edvard Munch.

My sleep pattern remains wacked out. This lifelong night person has become a morning writer. I’ve even awakened before Dr. A a few times and fed the cat. Both she and PD were disoriented. Such is life during the pandemic.

I decided to use one of Edvard Munch’s lesser known works as this week’s featured image. It’s a reminder than one can survive even the worst pandemic. It also explains why he was such a Gloomy Gus. Of course, he was Norwegian; it goes with the territory.

This week’s theme song was written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller in 1968. They shopped it around before finding the perfect singer: Peggy Lee. I’ll have more about Miss Peggy Lee and our theme song after the jump.

We have two versions of Is That All There Is? for your listening pleasure: the Peggy Lee original and a swell cover by the woman whose name I cannot stop saying, Chaka Khan. It’s a mantra in my family and it should be in yours. Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan.

Our next musical pairing involves a title that’s similar to Miss Peggy Lee’s last hit. To add to the needless complexity of this post, they’re different tunes.

You say this, I say that. Let’s call the whole thing off.

Now that we’ve questioned everything, let’s take a dubious leap of faith and jump to the break

Question marks are everywhere today. Up next is a weird tune inspired by a weird incident involving Dan Rather. It rocks like crazy, which is not weird.

Sick of my questionable taste? I promise to stop after this one:

We begin our second act with the aforementioned story about Peggy Lee and Lieber and Stoller. I hope you don’t think I was stolling for time…

The Peggy Lee Centennial: My late mother was a big Peggy Lee fan. She was wont to tell the story of why the singer changed her name from Norma Egstrom. That’s a fine name for a Norwegian farmer’s daughter but a piss poor one for a chanteuse. Mom identified with the Pegster because she too was a Norwegian farmer’s daughter.

Mom got excited every time she heard that Peggy Lee would be singing on some teevee variety show. At that age, I was more interested in the comedians, but I knew that Peggy/Norma was special. She was a broad in the best sense of the word.

There were plans for a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in honor of the 100th anniversary of Peggy Lee’s birth on May 26th. It was, of course, social distanced out of existence. In lieu of that much-deserved honor, I’m linking to a swell piece in the Guardian by Kevin EG Perry about how Peggy/Norma came to record Is That All There Is?

In September 1968, songwriting titans Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were on the hunt for a singer for their curious new composition Is That All There Is? The song was something of a departure for the writers of Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock. It had been inspired by Thomas Mann’s 1896 short story Disillusionment, which deals with what Leiber called “the existential hole that sits in the centre of our souls”. The fatalistic spoken-word verses describe the narrator watching their house burn down, losing their first love, and even facing death, “that final disappointment”, with sanguine grace.

The pair felt the song needed an actress to sell it so offered it to Marlene Dietrich and Barbra Streisand before thinking of Peggy Lee. After catching her show at the Copacabana in New York, they handed Lee a demo. She called them the moment she listened to it. “I will kill you if you give this song to anyone but me,” she said. “This is my song. This is the story of my life.”

Miss Peggy Lee did not kill Lieber and Stoller. The rest is history. Let’s keep on dancing…

The last word of the segment goes to Norma/Peggy Egstrom/Lee with her other signature song:

Dig those studly male dancers and cheesy special effects. I wonder if Don Draper had anything to do with them.

Mad Men Revisited: The outstanding teevee critic, Matt Zoller Seitz, re-watched Mad Men during the pandemic and found that it resonates. It’s why the show is a classic.  One could even call it a lockdown classic.

Zoller Seitz also links to the Vulture Mad Men recap collection. I suppose I should do likewise and link to my own Mad Men oeuvre.  I’m currently re-watching the hard-boiled cop show Bosch. There are some similarities between Harry Bosch and Don Draper, but the latter was a snappier dresser.

In other recap news, I’m considering recapping the upcoming Perry Mason series on HBO. Doing so would make the late, great Della Street happy. She still runs the show even from the urn containing her ashes on the mantle. And who among us wouldn’t fear the wrath of the Queen of Dirty Looks? Paul Drake is indifferent to the idea. He tries to be as cool and unflappable as his namesake.

We begin our third act with more wit and wisdom from the world’s tallest dead economist.

The Weekly Galbraith: Ken Galbraith didn’t live to see  2016 and the endless scandals and misadventures of the Trump regime but this quote seems eerily prescient.

After pondering the frequency, John Kenneth, let’s move on to our favorite stolen feature.

Separated At Birth: Last week, we had the beasts, Senator Aqua Buddha and the Unabomber. This week, we have the beauties, Jessica Chastain and Bryce Dallas Howard

I’m glad Bryce has better hair than her father, Opie Cunningham.

While we’re on the subject of redheads, here’s Neko Case bringing in a Red Tide:

Let’s pay a brief trip to Disambiguation City:

I’m glad we avoided being swept away by the red tide. Who wants a wet movie list?

Classic Movie List: Director Raoul Walsh was one of the main beneficiaries of the studio system. He made a series of classic films at Warner Brothers, then never made anything as good after 1950. So it goes.

My Top Ten Favorite Raoul Walsh Movies:

  1.  The Roaring Twenties
  2.  White Heat
  3.  Gentleman Jim
  4.  The Strawberry Blonde
  5.  The Man I Love
  6.  They Died With Their Boots On
  7.  High Sierra
  8.  They Drive By Night
  9.  Objective Burma
  10.  Pursued

Walsh was a film industry pioneer who played John Wilkes Booth in The Birth Of A Nation:

Sic Semper Tyrannis, Motherfucker.

Saturday GIF Horse: I’m taking this segment title literally this week.

As a child, I loved watching Bowery Boys movies every Saturday morning: they put the boob in the boob tube. Even then I knew it was lowbrow humor, but I still found the zany antics of Slip Mahoney, Satch Jones, and their merry band of miscreants irresistible. I developed my love of malaprops from watching Slip mangle the language.

I’ve even taken to watching their movies Saturday mornings on TCM. Dr. A rolls her eyes but admits than they’re more intellectually stimulating than The Three Stooges Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

It’s time for a bonus GIF in which Moe, Curly, and Larry go all pedagogical on our asses:

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

Weekly Vintage Music Video: One of the coolest musical stories of the 1990’s was Tony Bennett’s comeback. It was fueled by the swing revival and a renewed interest in his music by younger listeners.  Nobody swings harder than Anthony Dominick Benedetto, especially in glorious black and white.

Saturday Classic: I rarely post greatest hits collections in this space. I’m making an exception in this instance because it’s the Peggy Lee centennial. That Norma Egstrom sure could sing, y’all.

That’s it for this week. The last word goes to Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall of Dead End Kids/East End Kids/Bowery Boys fame.

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