Saturday Odds & Sods: Kid Charlemagne

Charlemagne Crossing The Alps by Paul Delaroche.

It’s rally day in Tulsa for the Impeached Insult Comedian and his delusional supporters. After months of believing in the pandemic, he’s changed his mind, but his lawyers are still making attendees sign a disease waiver. That’s a wise idea because they’re cramming people in that arena like MAGA sardines. What could possibly go wrong?The term clusterfuck was created for moments like this. O is for Oklahoma and Oy, just oy.

This week’s theme song was written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen for Steely Dan’s 1976 album Royal Scam. The studio original features a brilliant guitar solo by jazz man Larry Carlton.

We have two versions of Kid Charlemagne for your listening pleasure: the Royal Scam original and a live version by the Dukes of September a combo that Fagen formed with Boz Scaggs and ex-Danman Michael McDonald.

Now that we’ve gotten (gone?) along with Kid Charlemagne, let’s move along to the break.

Before kicking our second act into high gear, three Tulsa tunes:

I feel terrible for Tulsans today. Isn’t it bad enough being the hometown of Oral Roberts? At least Trump didn’t hold the rally on Juneteenth as originally planned. The last thing the world needs is a second Tulsa riot.

We begin our second act in earnest with a piece that provides an alternate history of country music

Bigotry & Banjos: There’s a fascinating article by Elamin Abdelmahmoud in Rolling Stone that takes a revisionist but unsurprising look at country music’s racist history. Black artists such as Lesley Riddle were present at the genre’s creation but haven’t gotten enough credit. Their time has come.

How is it possible that a manufactured story comes to pass as established common knowledge? Rhiannon Giddens has been trying to expose the lie for years. Through her music, through her writing, through her speaking — by any means necessary.

Giddens has made a career of resurrecting. She’s a brilliant and acclaimed musician, and she’s also a historian of Americana. Her music — both as a solo artist and as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops — skillfully weaves black experiences, history, and roots and Americana music. That includes infusing her songs with slave narratives and difficult histories. In 2017, she received the illustrious MacArthur Foundation grant, the one sometimes called the “genius grant.”

“The idea of what country music is has been carefully constructed to seem like it was always white,” she says. I ask her why people don’t know the history of country music. This is not her first rodeo: She’s got this answer down to a science. “White supremacy,” she tells me. “There is no other way to put it: It was constructed by numerous people as part of the white-supremacy movement.”

Abdelmahmoud presents a compelling alternative narrative that’s a must-read for anyone interested in American musical history.

The last word of the segment goes to Rhiannon Giddens

Uh oh, I just overlooked Lesley Riddle myself. Time to correct that omission:

We continue with a bizarre story of a Halloween party that went awry.

Blackface Backlash: Tom Toles is the WaPo’s political cartoonist. He’s one of the best in the business. He’s also known for his OTT annual Halloween party. In 2018, a white guest showed up in blackface, which resulted in a lingering controversy. Marc Fisher and Sydney Trent have the details at the WaPo.

Okay, kiddies. This may not be Romper Room but it’s still story time.

Tales Of Kid Charlemagne: It has long been my favorite Steely Dan song. It’s given me a couple stories on which I’ve dined out for years. Not that anyone has actually treated me. It’s just an expression of speech and I’m into expressive speech, ya dig.

Our first story took place not long after the song hit the airwaves. It involved a Mondegreen aka a misheard lyric. Joe was a high school friend of mine. He was a proud Italo-American. One day he said to me, “I used to like Steely Dan before they used an ethnic slur in that Charlemagne song.”

Me: “Ethnic slur? What ethnic slur?”

Joe: “That line about Dago freaks. It’s offensive.”

Me: “Dude, it’s Day-Glo freaks.”

He refused to believe me until I showed him the lyrics. Then he relented.

Our second Kid Charlemagne tale took place in New Orleans some thirty years later. It occurred on my friend and OG NOLA blogger Ashley Morris’ front porch.

We were drinking beer and listening to Royal Scam. When Kid Charlemagne came on, we discussed its elliptical lyrics. We discovered that it contained both of our favorite Steely Dan lyrics: “Is there gas in the car? Yes, there’s gas in the car.”

An odd choice, but we were odd guys.

We sang the line together far too many times. Ashley’s wife Hanna arrived home as we harmonized, shook her head in mock disgust and said, “Not you too?”

We sang at her in reply: “Is there gas in the car? Yes, there’s gas in the car.”

Talk about incorrigible.

There are many Kid Charlemagne origin stories out there. One of them is that the drug dealer written about in it was the same guy Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey, and Don Henley wrote about in Life In The Fast Lane. That’s why Joe Walsh gets the last word of our second act:

We begin our third act with our favorite stolen feature.

Separated At Birth: Herriman biographer and parade route book signer Michael Tisserand strikes again with a pairing of John Bolton and silent movie actor Chester Conklin.

I guess this qualifies as SAB in two tweets or is that two reels?

The Weekly Galbraith: In this picture, Ken Galbraith has Hugh Grant style floppy hair.

I’m not sure what the world’s tallest economist thought of the musical Hair but who among us doesn’t love the Cowsills?

The Movie List: Dr. A and I watched Jaws the other night, I hadn’t seen it in at least 20-25 years. This time it resonated because of the struggle between Roy Scheider’s police chief character and Murray Hamilton as the Mayor of Amity. The former wants to close the beach for safety reasons, the latter wants the tourist dollars to keep flowing in. Sound familiar? Come on down, Tony Fauci and Donald Trump.

I posted a Spielberg movie list five years ago so this is something of a cheat. I needed a pretext to write about Jaws, which is 46 years old. Cue shark music:

My Top Ten Favorite Steven Spielberg Movies:

  1.   Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
  2.   Jaws
  3.   Schindler’s List
  4.   E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
  5.   Saving Private Ryan
  6.   Catch Me If You Can
  7.   Munich
  8.   Minority Report
  9.   Raiders Of The Lost Ark
  10.   Bridge Of Spies  

I made one change to the earlier list: bumping A.I. Artificial Intelligence out of the #10 spot in favor of Bridge Of Spies. Other list worthy movies include Lincoln and Badlands. Spielberg has made a whole lotta movies that I love. I feel a song coming on:

Tweet Of The Week: This was a week for toppling statues and belated recognition that some venerable brand names were racist. My favorite reaction to the demise of Aunt Jemima came from black conservative columnist Robert George:

When could I ever resist a pun with or without syrup?

It’s time to take a look at how the Swinging Sixties were seen in the late Nineties.

Saturday GIF Horse: Austin Powers, baby. Nuff said.

I should apologize for that color overload, but I don’t feel like it. Besides, it’s Austin Powers, baby. Nuff said.

Weekly Vintage Videos: I used American Roulette from Robbie Robertson’s eponymous 1987 album as the title of my latest 13th Ward Rambler column for the Bayou Brief. There wasn’t a video made for that tune but here are the ones for Somewhere Down The Lazy River and Showdown At Big Sky.

Let’s close things out with some music; make that more music.

Saturday Classic: Athenae featured Nina Simone in a Not Everything Sucks post earlier this week. I, too, am a fan of the High Priestess of Soul. This 1972 live album features Simone’s takes on two George Harrison songs: My Sweet Lord and Isn’t It A Pity.

That’s it for this week. The last word goes to Leonardo DiCaprio and a flock of Pan Am stewardesses from Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can:

5 thoughts on “Saturday Odds & Sods: Kid Charlemagne

      1. I forgot that version of the story. Fagen has told several different tales through the years.

  1. I love Steely Dan, but my favorite Dan song is either “My Old School” or “Deacon Blues.” Skunk Baxter’s slide guitar solo on “My Old School” is one for the ages.

    Also, proud as hell to say that Rhiannon Giddens comes from right here in Greensboro.

    1. Two of my faves as well. I don’t have any funny stories about them.

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