Cold Fury

Harshing your mellow since 9/01

The Gunny is gone

Probably the most well-known, revered, and yes, beloved USMC Gunnery Sergeant in history.

R. Lee Ermey, a former Marine Corps drill instructor known to millions of moviegoers as the sadistic Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” died Sunday morning, according to his longtime manager. He was 74.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Bill Rogin said Ermey had died due to complications from pneumonia.

A Kansas native, Ermey enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1961 at age 17. He served for 11 years, including 14 months in Vietnam, before he was discharged in 1972. He served as a technical adviser in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic, “Apocalypse Now,” in which he also had a small role as a helicopter pilot.

But Ermey didn’t get his big break until eight years later, in Kubrick’s own take on Vietnam. He was originally supposed to be a technical adviser, but Kubrick offered him the role of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman after seeing a demo tape of Ermey railing at extras while tennis balls flew at him.

Kubrick told Rolling Stone that 50 percent of Ermey’s dialogue in the film was his own.

“In the course of hiring the marine recruits, we interviewed hundreds of guys. We lined them all up and did an improvisation of the first meeting with the drill instructor. They didn’t know what he was going to say, and we could see how they reacted. Lee came up with, I don’t know, 150 pages of insults,” Kubrick said.

An outspoken conservative, Ermey spoke to Fox News in 2016 about being “blackballed” from Hollywood over his political views.

“I’ve had a very fruitful career. I’ve done over 70 feature films,” he said. “I’ve done over 200 episodes of [Outdoor Channel series ‘GunnyTime’]… and then [Hollywood] found out that I’m a conservative.”

Actually, he corrected, “I’m an Independent, but I said something bad about the president. I had something unsavory to say about the president’s administration, and even though I did vote for him the first time around, I was blackballed.”

Ermey, who was an NRA board member, said at the time that his association with the organization and his disapproval of President Obama cost him acting jobs.

“Do you realize I have not done a movie in five to six years? Why? Because I was totally blackballed by the…liberals in Hollywood,” he alleged. “They can destroy you. They’re hateful people [who] don’t just not like you, they want to take away your livelihood…that’s why I live up in the desert on a dirt road…I don’t have to put up with their crap.”

Yeah, well, that’s a large and entirely honorable club you’re in there, Sergeant. It’s a lead-pipe cinch that your legacy will outlive and outshine theirs by oh, say, a millenia or so. At least.

Unforgettable as his Full Metal Jacket turn surely was, this all-too-brief classic is one of my very favorite Ermey appearances:




Give ’em hell, Gunny.

If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven’s scenes,
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines.

R Lee Ermey’s place in Heaven’s honor guard is assured. Stand at ease, Marine; rest, even, and smoke ’em if you got ’em. Nobody would dare say a word to you if you did.

Update! Details from Aesop:

Ermey was the living embodiment of every drill instructor actual Marines had, and probably the only one every never-Marine knew. After 11 years service in the Marine Corps, including service in Vietnam, and a stint as an actual drill instructor at MCRD San Diego (with the Thundering Third Recruit Training Battalion – Oohrah!), Ermey was medically discharged due to injuries received in the service, and was an American ex-pat living in the Philippines when he nabbed a bit part in Apocalypse Now. Then an indy movie came to town in 1977, looking for tech advisors and extras in a movie about Marines in Vietnam being shot there, with P.I. doubling very adequately for recently-fallen-to-communists Vietnam.

Barely five years out of the Marines at the time, Ermey was one of those hired as a tech advisor and extra, but the guy they’d cast as the lead drill instructor for the film was a Hispanic with an accent so heavy he was hard to understand easily, and Ermey was crushing his bit part in the gig, so he was hurriedly bumped up to leading character, and the other guy shunted aside.

Boys In Company C was the breakout role that brought Ermey from P.I. to Hollywood, and he never looked back. A small role in Purple Heartssolidified Ermey as the go-to guy when a picture needed a guy harder than woodpecker lips to bring the quintessential Marine sergeant to life on the screen.

And then Stanley Kubrick hired Ermey to be a tech advisor, but quickly re-thought his choice and he too decided to cast Ermey himself as exactly the guy he was looking for to be Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in the otherwise atrocious Full Metal Jacket, and the directing maestro had the great good sense to turn Ermey loose on camera, and let him ad lib whole sections of the movie’s boot camp scenes, comprising the entire first half (the actual coherent part) of the film.

He had parts in over 60 movies and dozens of TV shows, playing everything from Dr. House’s father on that eponymous show, to the voice of the Sarge leading the Green Army men in the Toy Story flicks, and hosting Mail Call and Lock N’ Load cable TV shows as himself for History Channel. 

In between, he was a ceaseless advocate and military booster, which work induced the Commandant of the Marine Corps to authorize an official honorary promotion to Gunnery Sergeant for Ermey in 2002, the sort of the thing the Marines ordinarily simply do not do. But when you’re that exceptional, you can even get meritoriously promoted after being discharged.

If you served in the Marines, you knew a gunny like the Gunny, or had one for your D.I., and because of his work in entertainment, he will live long after the last Marine he ever served with passes on to Fiddler’s Green.

And as he would have told anyone, the Corps did pretty good by him, turning a juvenile delinquent into a leader of men, and finally a cultural icon for the ages.

Forty years lived in a life formed from the mold of eleven years’ active service proves the literal truth of the phrase, 
Once A Marine, Always A Marine.

True, dat. I never was in the military myself; I let my dad talk me out of going into the Navy at nineteen, a road not taken that I think back on and wonder about from time to time still. But I have enough family and close friends who were in to be able to easily recognize a former Marine whenever I see one. For whatever reason, the Corps imbues almost all of its young recruits with a steel that time never seems able to melt or weaken, no matter how long (or briefly) they may wind up serving.

I won’t offer the words “Semper Fi” in tribute to Ermey; I ain’t qualified, no matter good my intentions might be. But I hereby doff my cap just the same, in respect to Ermey and to every Marine.

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All apologies

Sorry for abandoning my post here all this week, folks, but it’s been a busy one for me—tragically, including the death of the only son of one of my closest lifelong friends in a horrible car accident. Funeral is tomorrow, and it just ain’t the sort of thing anybody looks forward to. Max was a good and decent kid; he’d been through some of the usual teenage travails—as well as some that were maybe NOT quite so usual—but he had finally gotten himself back on the right track again, and was doing well over the last several months. My friend and his wife are devastated, as one would expect; having dealt myself with the sudden untimely death of someone I loved more than the world, I can say with some authority that this isn’t the kind of thing anybody ever really gets over. It’s completely heartbreaking, is what it is.

Fare thee well, Max. You’ll be mourned and missed by all who knew you. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Onwards.

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Aw, man

Sure do hate to hear this.

Rock legend Tom Petty died of an accidental overdose, his family said in a Facebook post Friday evening.

Dana Petty, his wife, and Adria, his daughter, released the autopsy report from the coroner’s office that said the Petty suffered an overdose that was caused by a variety of medications.

The official report confirmed that Petty had fentanyl and oxycodone in his system.

Well, crap. In his defense, Petty had a fractured hip, a bum knee, and some chronic back problems too, if I remember right. So his self-medicating is at least understandable on some level. But I still hate to hear it, and I could wish his family had kept this information private. I’m not even sure just why, honestly; far be it from me to wax all judgmental over anyone’s choice of intoxicants, to be sure. But I do hate to see his memory tarnished in any way, as I’m sure it will be for some. His legacy surely won’t, thankfully, and his loss remains a huge one.

This sucks too:

Dolores O’Riordan’s boyfriend is speaking out for the first time since The Cranberries singer was found dead in London on Monday. She was 46.

Musician Olé Koretsky, who was dating O’Riordan for two years before she died, shared a message about the Irish singer’s death on his band’s website.

“My friend, partner, and the love of my life is gone. My heart is broken and it is beyond repair,” Koretsky wrote. “Dolores is beautiful. Her art is beautiful. Her family is beautiful. The energy she continues to radiate is undeniable.

“I am lost. I miss her so much. I will continue to stumble around this planet for some time knowing well there’s no real place for me here now,” the D.A.R.K. musician added.

My heart aches for you, buddy, and that is the plain truth. Suddenly losing the love of your life most definitely leaves a big ol’ hole, an unfillable one in fact. I won’t lie and say you’ll get over it in time; trust me, you won’t. But I hope you can hang in there long enough to realize the importance of being grateful for what you had rather than bitter over what you lost, and for the pain of that loss to subside from a constant sharp, agonizing knife in the heart into a dull but at least bearable ache.

Despite my failure to note her passing in the immediate wake of it on the ol’ hogwallow here, I LOVED (well, still love) the Cranberries, which might be surprising to some of y’all. Dolores O’Riordan was indeed a lovely lass, a comely wee Irish sprite with spunk and spirit enough for three or four, and gifted with a fantastic voice to boot. Her singing style was unique, always instantly recognizable and beguiling. This would have to be one of my favorites; the lyrics are great, as are the melody and vocal harmonies. They could have run the closing vamp about ten more times around and it would have been just fine with me. An entirely beautiful song, that’s what it is, near-magical and captivating from start to finish.




RIP, Dolores, and fare thee well, wherever your spirit has gone a-roaming.

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Martin Luther King

Yeah, I know, I’m a day late on this. But it’s worth the wait; some truths can’t be repeated often enough.

Was he a great man? He showed great courage, commitment to his cause, insistence on nonviolence, strong political and leadership skills, patriotism, and became a highly eloquent spokesman for civil rights. “I Have a Dream” is one of the great speeches in the English language. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” more than equals any Thoreau or Gandhi writings, and is not something that today’s civil rights leaders, such as they are, could match, nor could the typical graduate of almost any university in the world today. (The letter’s pacing, erudition, and, above all, the surgical preciseness with which it takes down opposing arguments bring to mind General Sherman’s letter to the Mayor of Atlanta.) King’s life made a difference to millions of people. The answer, therefore, to this paragraph’s question is yes, he was a great man.

That said, serious problems exist with some of the narrative spun about King, in particular, and the civil rights struggle, in general. Part of the problem, of course, is that King died young, enabling others, as with the two Kennedy brothers, to fill in the rest of the story and use it to further certain political agendas. King died short of his fortieth birthday; had he lived longer, presumably he would have evolved and, possibly, become a very different man than he was when he died–we will never know. What we do know is that the Democratic Party and their “progressive” media and education machines have rewritten the history of the civil rights struggle. This was driven home to me some years ago while visiting a college campus. The students assumed King was a Democrat, and the segregationists confronting the peaceful marchers, and using fire hoses, snarling police dogs, and truncheons, and wearing white hoods were Republicans. They assume a Republican killed King–today’s college kids probably believe the Tea Party had him killed. That the exact opposite is true, shocks many. King came from a staunchly Republican family–his father, a prominent leader in his own right–openly endorsed Richard Nixon against JFK in the 1960 presidential election. The Democrats had a one-party lock on the South. The party of slave owners and secessionists, had become the party of Jim Crow, school segregation, anti-miscegenation laws, poll taxes, and on and on.

Many Americans, not to mention foreigners, do not realize not only that the Republican party was formed in opposition to slavery and that Lincoln was a Republican, but that the famous Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, whose rulings dismantled the legal basis for segregation and put serious limitations on the power of police, was a former Republican Governor of California. It was, furthermore, war hero and Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who sent troops to Arkansas to enforce court-ordered desegregation at Little Rock Central High School. Congressional Republicans were the main supporters of civil rights legislation; their votes ensured passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, over the opposition of a significant bloc of Democrats–let us also not forget that Congressional Democrats for years blocked Republican efforts to pass federal anti-lynching legislation. All this, of course, is history, but an important chunk of American history that is being lost, distorted, or otherwise flushed down the memory sewer–along with the fact that anti-leftist J. Edgar Hoover proved the most formidable foe of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), an organization founded and staffed by Democrats, such as long-time Democratic Senator Robert Byrd.

I’ll honor fair use for once and let you click over for the rest. For my own part, I’ll profess my long-standing irritation with the “yes, he was a flawed man” disclaimer almost always trotted out when discussing King, both from the Right and Left, albeit with different motivations. I mean, come ON, people! A “flawed man”? Seriously? Would you maybe care to try naming me one who wasn’t? OF COURSE he was a flawed man, ferchrissakes! I can’t think of anyone besides King for whom it’s ever even brought into play. Beyond that, I’ll heartily endorse everything Dip says above, most especially this:

In sum, he was a great man with a great vision. His successors, many of them frauds of the first rank, largely have not been faithful to that vision of liberty and color-blindness, and we all have suffered for it.

Don’t see how anybody can argue with that.

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Keely Smith!

No Fauxcahontas, she, but a bona-fide part-Cherokee Southern lass. One part this, one part that, and all pure-tee dynamite as far as I’m concerned.

In the course of the show, I mention that my friend Monique Fauteux sang with Charles Trenet, and I credit him as the writer of “La Mer” (famous in English as Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea”) and “Boum!” (memorably deployed by Bond’s nemesis in Skyfall). But this week’s Song of the Week is another Trenet song, a lovely ballad. It’s celebrating its 75th anniversary, and it has an additional significance, in English, as the signature song of Keely Smith, who left us just before Christmas.

Keely died just shy of ninety in Palm Springs, where for many years she was the town’s Honorary Mayor and discharged that role with great distinction. Part Cherokee, part Irish, and all southern, she went to the Surf Club in Virginia Beach one night to catch Louis Prima and his band. For some reason, she showed up in a bathing suit, and the doorman wouldn’t let her in until she’d rustled up some clothes.

Yowza. Just…yowza. Onwards.

Once dressed, she was offered a singing job by Prima. They married and became one of the greatest double-acts of all time. In the Fifties, their records – “That Old Black Magic”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” – weren’t big smashes in the Hit Parade sense, but they’ve endured over the decades, and their combination of gleeful zaniness and brilliant musicality is unique. They were both comic and cool, which is tricky to pull off. If you first encountered Louis and Keely on disc, the visual shtick can seem a bit limiting – Prima goofing around while the missus, in a persona he created for her and controlled very tightly, looks on stoney-faced and bored. But they were a phenomenon in Las Vegas, and one of the acts that, two-thirds of a century ago, helped build the town.

One of the others, Frank Sinatra, liked to turn up at the Sahara late at night after his own shows and catch the duo. He loved Prima for the laughs, and he loved Keely, period.

As well he might have; I always thought she was pretty hot stuff myself. In fact, I have a dim recollection of having done a post on her somewhere way back in the distant, gauzy past of this here hogwallow, although there’s a pretty good chance of its having been lost along with a lot of other stuff when I made the switch to the WordPress platform.

The chemistry was so good that the ol’ test-tube started overheating and Frank asked Keely to marry him. She turned him down because she found all the Rat Pack slang he liked to use a little raunchy for her tastes – words like “bird” (for penis), “charlies” (breasts), “mother” (half a word). “I’m not a prude,” she said, “but I knew I couldn’t raise my kids around that.” So instead she married Sinatra’s lieutenant at Reprise, Jimmy Bowen, the inventive producer who in the Sixties gave Frank and Dean their big hits and then in the Eighties moved to Nashville and did the same for Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire.

As to her deal-breaking objection to Frank’s lingo, I think of that whenever I play Keely’s splendid trot through “South of the Border”, with its cheery sign-off to the band: “Olé, you muthas.”

A prude she most certainly was NOT, or so it would seem: I’ve heard plenty of torrid old stories about her and Prima being a swinging couple in more than just the old Rat Pack/hipster sense, including some pretty appalling ones about how Prima really got the nickname “The Lip” which had nothing whatever to do with playing the trumpet. Well, not the kind made out of brass, anyway.

Be all that as it may, they’ve long been favorites of mine, and I had no idea she’d died. So if I’m saddened by her passing, I’m also glad Steyn memorialized her in this piece. She surely deserves the recognition; I should’ve guessed he’d be a fan too. She wasn’t what anybody would consider rock and roll, I guess, aside from a certain sexual adventurism that even then was far more common among show biz types than ordinary folks ever imagined. She’s gonna make one hell of an addition to Heaven’s Hell Of A Band just the same, and rock and roll be damned anyhow. Rest in peace, Keely, and well done.




Here’s a bonus, because you can’t hardly talk about the Prima band without also doffing the cap to the purely incredible Sam Butera on saxomaphone. Or you shouldn’t, anyway.

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You know they got one hell of a band

A heartfelt RIP for Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens, a truly great and underappreciated band. I knew Pat just a little bit; he’d been to see my band a time or two, and we ran in some of the same circles when I lived in NYC. A very sweet guy, unassuming and diffident almost to the point of shyness; a fantastic singer and songwriter, with an instantly recognizable style that was all his own, in both roles.

First time I met him, in a bar down on Bleeker Street he played regularly early in his career, he approached me, complimented me on a show we had just done at Tramp’s with Little Richard, and…I said thanks and pretty much blew him off. He had on big goofy glasses and a ratty old overcoat, and I really didn’t know who the hell he was. My friend and roomie Lisa was tending bar; she knew him fairly well, and she came over and asked me, “Oh, so you met Pat, eh?” I said, “Pat? Pat who…? OH SHIT!” and ran over to apologize to him, declaring myself a huge Smithereens fan, which was nothing but the truth. He was completely gracious about my arrogant faux pas (I admit I thought I was pretty hot shit back then, although the world has seen fit to educate me a little more, umm, completely since), and we ended up having a good laugh about it, bless his heart. May you rest easy, buddy, till we meet again.


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RIP

Farewell to the great Malcolm Young, the heart, soul, and backbone of one of my all-time favorite bands, AC/DC. His legacy is nothing short of staggering, whether you like the band or not. I’ve been listening to them since the mid-70s, back when being a fan of theirs meant you had NO chance of ever getting a date—this was the disco era, and women just HATED them back then, as odd as that seems now.

I’ve always maintained that they were one of the greatest pure rock bands ever; they somehow tapped into an unalloyed strain of the real deal, and mined it for nigh on forty years. You always knew an AC/DC song the minute you heard it; they never varied the format much, never went “jazz” or prog or whatever, just kept cranking out those three or four chords and that pounding beat with seemingly limitless inventiveness and enthusiasm. And that fierce, single-minded dedication made them one of the most successful bands in history.

I saw them live a few times over the years, from the Highway To Hell tour just before Bon Scott died to the Black Ice tour a few years ago, and I won’t forget any of those shows. Sure, on the Black Ice tour they had maybe lost a step or two; Angus didn’t seem to bob his head quite as wildly as he once did, although he did still manage to roam the stage with the same old vim and vigor. He had definitely lost some hair somewhere along the way, I can say that much. But who among us hasn’t? It was still a fantastic show, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The obit linked above is a good one, from an unlikely-seeming source:

So, what do you notice? Up front and hard to miss is Angus Young, the diminutive dynamo of a lead guitarist, wearing the sweat-soaked remains of a velvet schoolboy uniform, duck-walking and thrashing his head like the lightning-strike victim on the cover of “Powerage.” Nearby, prancing bare-chested, is the lewd and mischievous lead singer, Bon Scott. (He’ll be dead by the end of the decade.) But, if you can take your eyes off these two showmen for a moment, you might find your gaze drifting to the left of the drum riser, where a pugnacious long-haired kid (he looks like he’s still in high school), wearing jeans and a white T-shirt, is strumming his Gretsch guitar and shaking his leg in time to the driving beat. His name is Malcolm Young, and you could be forgiven for seeing him as just another part of the backing band, but he is in fact the mastermind of the whole operation, at once its visionary and its taskmaster. He is the soul of the band, its leader on and off the stage.

The interplay of Malcolm’s and Angus’s guitars is the essence of AC/DC’s sound. You can hear it if you listen closely to almost any of their songs. A favorite of mine is “Overdose,” from “Let There Be Rock,” released in 1977. The song opens with a series of arpeggios played on a single guitar, almost like a warm-up exercise. (It’s uncharacteristic of the band to have left such a rough intro in the final edit.) Drums soon arrive, adding some structure, followed by a thrumming bass line, and then the second guitar, with a striking, unforgettable riff. The other guitar shifts to playing open chords before finally locking in on the riff with the first. Lars Ulrich, of Metallica, singled the song out earlier this year, noting that AC/DC almost never performs “Overdose” live. Thus, it’s hard to know which brother plays which part of that intro. One thing’s for sure, though: the song, like the band, wouldn’t work with only one of them.

Nope, not a chance. Here’s Malcolm himself, discussing the Back In Black album:

About three or four weeks before Bon’s death [in February 1980], Angus and I had started putting some ideas together, and Bon had sat in playing the drums. Some of those ideas ended up on Back In Black. Then Bon died, and we didn’t know whether we wanted to carry on. The record company was pressuring us to make a decision. Brian [Johnson] was recommended to us, and it felt right.

But when Brian joined, the music papers were full of this Bon versus Brian debate, and Brian had a tough old time. I don’t think Brian let it get to him. He comes from a traditional working-class background – his old man was in the pit, and he’s a tough old nut to crack. At the end of the day, Brian had the balls to get up there, and he was the only guy we found who could sing loud enough to be heard over the racket the rest of us were making. He was always going to be our man, whether we liked it or not.

So, looking back on it, an awful lot of sweat went into the making of Back In Black. Hells Bells was one of the key songs. It reminded us of Bon and I think a lot of our older fans still see it as a tribute to him. That one, the title track and Shoot To Thrill are still in the live show, and I think they’ve joined some of the early songs as timeless AC/DC. Whatever it was, we were doing it right, because it was the most successful album we’d made at the time.

I remember back in the aftermath of Scott’s death having many long, serious discussions over just what the hell they were going to do—would they somehow find a substitute? Would they just hang it up? How the hell do you replace somebody as unique both in voice and onstage persona as Bon Scott, anyway? It seemed unlikely in the extreme that they could hope to carry on as before, and the general consensus was that, like it or not, they’d pretty much be forced to fold.

Instead, they found Brian Johnson, and went on to do some of their finest work with him, in my opinion. Which diminishes Scott not a whit, mind. There was a change, surely, but they somehow stayed the same too; they remained AC/DC, recognizably so, and kept on mining that rich vein of purest no-frills rock and roll, just as direct and uncompromised as before. It was remarkable. In fact, it struck many of us at the time as damned near miraculous.

I remember when I first heard Have A Drink On Me from Back In Black (which remains one of my favorite songs) thinking just how ballsy it was to have a lynchpin, totally unique singer drink himself to death, and then immediately come out with a song like that. It was damned audacious, or so it seemed to me. But then, audacity was always one of their most endearing traits—that, and the expression of that audacity via their unswerving, relentless dedication to remaining true to their chosen style—and one can easily imagine Scott looking on from whatever afterlife there might be and having himself a good laugh over it.

If there was ever a demonstration of the old admonishment to “dance with what brung ya,” it would have to be AC/DC. And the dance was to a tune called by Malcolm Young, from the wings of a stage dominated by his brother and both Scott and Johnson. He was an unsung giant who forged one of the most successful bands in rock and roll history, and directed its path from beginning to end without fanfare or much in the way of recognition from most. I wouldn’t quite call him humble; his hilarious dismissal of Robert Plant (“A blond feller. Bit of a poser”) argues pretty convincingly against that. But he possessed a certain capacity for self-effacement just the same. Either way, may God grant him peace and respite.

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“What’s the connection between Puccini, Neville Chamberlain and David Bowie?”

Why, Fats Domino, of course.

Like his fellow protean rockers (Chuck) Berry and Bill Haley, Antoine Dominique Domino Jr was way too old to be a teen idol. Born the youngest of eight children in a Louisiana Creole family in 1928, he had three-and-a-half grades of education and then went to work for the local iceman. At the age of ten, a jazz-mad brother-in-law taught him to play the piano, and by fourteen he was pounding the ivories in local bars. The bandleader Billy Diamond nicknamed Antoine “Fats”, partly because of Fats Waller (composer of our Song of the Week #115, “Ain’t Misbehavin'”) and partly because he ate a lot, so it seemed to be the general direction in which he was trending.

The most consequential meeting of his professional life occurred in 1949, when he was introduced to the A&R manager of Imperial Records. Dave Bartholomew was almost a decade older than Fats, a trumpeter and tuba player who had worked with the Jimmie Lunceford band (of which, as longtime readers will know, I’m a great admirer). Like many of the founding figures in rock’n’roll, he knew how to jump, jive, wail and swing – which it is not altogether clear the second-, third- and fourth-generation rockers do. Bartholomew and Domino took an old New Orleans tune from the Twenties, Drive ‘Em Down Hall’s “Junker Blues” and rewrote the lyrics. The original text, as its title suggests, was all about drugs:

Some say I use a needle
And some say I sniff cocaine
That’s the best damn feeling
That I’ve ever seen…

Etc. In Bartholomew and Domino’s hands, the Junker became “The Fat Man”:

They call me The Fat Man
‘Cause I weigh two hundred pound
All the girls they love me
‘Cause I know my way around…

One notes that 200lbs is positively svelte these days, but Fats was only 5’5″. “The Fat Man” sold a million, and was, to its creators’ way of thinking, just a good rhythm’n’blues song. Subsequently, to the many rockologists of the late 20th century, it would be regarded as one of the first rock’n’roll records. The transformation of “Junker” to “Fat Man” was, consciously or not, extremely shrewd: same good-time energy, Fats’ distinctive rhythm, but out with all the needles and snorting, in with a genial, affable persona of potentially huge crossover appeal. Domino on piano with the Bartholomew band – guitar, bass, drums, saxes – was a defining sound of the early rock years. For a Fat Man, Domino did a lot of walking – “Walking to New Orleans”, “I Want to Walk You Home”, “When I’m Walking (Let Me Walk)” and, of course, “I’m Walkin'” – an irresistible slab of energy that always reminds me of the late Roger Scott, a terrific disc-jockey on Montreal’s CFOX and then London’s Capital Radio, who loved that record and was the guy who introduced me to it. “I’m Walkin’,” “Ain’t That a Shame”, “Blue Monday” and most of the other Fats hits were written by Domino and Bartholomew.

But the biggest hit of all was not – and, indeed, Dave Bartholomew objected strongly to Fats even recording it.

It’s another completely brilliant Steyn music post. Which by now means I shouldn’t even need to suggest that you read it all.

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RIP, BSA

Aesop knows Full Convergence when he sees it. And he knows what’s behind it, too.

Surrendering completely to the hopelessly polluted cultural tides, the Boy Scouts of America announced they will start letting girls into the organization next year.

Of course this is an asinine, self-destructive, and completely wrong move for the organization, but it’s just another proof that it needs to crawl under the porch and die.

First is was the atheists pushing back against reverence, then it was the gay Scouts and NAMBLA would-be scoutmasters pounding out any notion of a scout being “morally straight”.

Both of those are a problem for a post-Christian society run by the most toxic iteration of secular humanism, and now we can add feminism to the list of afflictions.

Because a large swath of bitter, ugly, misandrists is perpetually offended at the idea of boys being boys, and growing up to become men. “We can’t be having any of that.” they say with an upturned nose, and a chip the size of Gibraltar on their shoulder. In a way, it was inevitable, as fathers have been relentlessly pushed out of the home by one-sided divorce courts where due process goes to die, aided and abetted by no-fault divorce, and most boys are lucky if they even know their own father, let alone have one around to go to a scout troop meeting or outdoor adventure.

We can’t let boys be boys, and we certainly can’t have them hiking, running, building muscles and healthy bodies, climbing rocks, shooting bows and rifles, and slingshots, learning responsibility, self-reliance, masculine strength, personal and physical courage, whether on a swim across a lake, or learning to save lives at the pool or when someone is injured, or learning how to do 87 different things to such a degree that most Eagle Scouts should probably be given a college associate’s degree on the spot. They’ll get all self-assured, they’ll tussle, they’ll skin their knees, break some bones, get dirt on the carpet, and generally become the men that women of today still long for (in vain, mostly) if the ratings for Mad Men and Daniel Craig’s rebooting of 007 back to Connery levels were any indication. The sisterhood won’t allow that, for it swims upstream against the currents of the depraved culture, and one glimpse of it undoes hour of tedious lectures on diversity and metrosexuality, while making the buckets of Ritalin and Prozac and Paxil heaped into and hurled at normal, healthy school-age boys a total waste of money.

We have a society of harpy man-hating women, and pussified metrosexual males, that go pale at the thought of raising boys who’d climb mountains, sail around the world solo, join the military and kill people and break things, find buried treasure, hunt pirates, or go to the moon. Only women and people of color should do that, because they’re better than the rich white old male patriarchy that carved the greatest nation on earth out of harsh wilderness with two hands, a strong back, a sharp mind, and guts. Oh, and while we’re at it, stop singing the praises of your mother country. It triggers the snowflakes.

Society now wants boys to shut up, check their privilege, wallow in their race guilt, genuflect to defective dystopian savages, and go sit on the couch in their footie pajamas sipping cocoa. Not bring groceries to a widow and her kids, or mow an old woman’s lawn, or – God forbid! – go to church or synagogue and read a Bible.

We can’t have them building things, building strength, building their minds, building their confidence, and learning to Be Prepared. O hell no! They need to learn to depend on government, and its endless soul-sapping bureaucracy, to let it be the same fount of plenty it is for millions of welfare moms married to the government in fatherless homes, once a rarity, but now, the near-universal norm across all races and every level of economic status.

And the same things that have pussified the rest of society will now become the norm in the troops, as they have in the military, and business, and school, and churches, and in short order, only the pussified priggish beta males will be left there, along with the militant recruiting LGBTEIEIO contingent, and in a few short years, everything the girls who wanted into the Boy Scouts to find will have been driven out of it, by the herds of clueless feral shitting and scratching-up-everything hens that they are, like their mothers before them were.

The men will leave, and the boys, forced into a game where they can’t win, will quickly lose interest, and quit in droves. And so, a once-proud and honorable organization, that had raised millions of exceptional scouts into Star, Life, and Eagle Scouts, and millions more boys into simply decent, confident, and competent men, will fade into obscurity and irrelevance. Which, after all, was the whole point of the exercise driving all the pressure on them in the first place. Mission Accomplished, ye shitweasels of cultural decay, you’ve felled another oak, and rotted another pillar of society.

Ah, but all is not lost. After the final Moslem victory over us, the harpies will be subjugated, LGBTTSTVTPXQ39 will be mouldering in mass graves, the Commie Left will be cowed and its media propaganda arm silenced, and the rest of us will be forced to toughen up a great deal if we’re to manage any sort of effective resistance at all. The BSA won’t be a part of that, alas. But I’d bet a good many troopers from the Old Scouts will.

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Fond farewell

RIP to the late, great Jerry Pournelle. If you haven’t read The Mote In God’s Eye or Lucifer’s Hammer, you ain’t no sci-fi fan. But the good news here is that Vox Day has declared it Jerry Pournelle Week, and has been kind enough to make Volume One of Pournelle’s classic sci-fi anthology, There Will Be War, available for free here. The blurb for it ought to tell you all you need to know:

Created by the bestselling SF novelist Jerry Pournelle, THERE WILL BE WAR is a landmark science fiction anthology series that combines top-notch military science fiction with factual essays by various generals and military experts on everything from High Frontier and the Strategic Defense Initiative to the aftermath of the Vietnam War. It features some of the greatest military science fiction ever published, such Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” in Volume I and Joel Rosenberg’s “Cincinnatus” in Volume II. Many science fiction greats were featured in the original nine-volume series, which ran from 1982 to 1990, including Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Gordon Dickson, Poul Anderson, John Brunner, Gregory Benford, Robert Silverberg, Harry Turtledove, and Ben Bova.

Snap ’em up while you can, folks.

Update! Pournelle’s last Chaos Manor post:

Back from DragonCon with both a cold and the flu. Was supposed to go to the Mars Society meeting in Irvine, but I didn’t feel up to it and would have been a burden on Larry who generously offer to drive me. I suspected that would be sure exposure to this ConCrud and since he escaped it he doesn’t need it. But mostly I didn’t feel up to it. I’m still in pajamas. I type horribly as well. But that’s the way it goes. I did read all the mail and sort out a pile that needs answering.

The news is full of the Dreamers. The Constitution says the President must take care to see that the laws are faithfully enforced. Mr. Trump didn’t want to deport the “Dreamers”, particularly those who have integrated into the society, but the law gives him no leeway, and the Presidential Order Obama signed giving them amnesty is unconstitutional. He solved that dilemma by giving it back to Congress who created it. We’ll now see what happens.

I can solve part of the problem. Any volunteer of any age who serves 7 years overseas in Army or Marines gets a Green Card and an application to apply for Citizenship along with his honorable discharge. The Citizenship application and test need not be very difficult and I would expect all who applied to pass it. The swearing should be public and conducted by an officer of rank Colonel or above.

As to girls, we can think of something similar or suitable; they need not join the combat arms. Surgical Assistant comes instantly to mind.

Their parents are a more difficult problem, and it will take ingenuity to find a path that does not offend the legal immigrants who obeyed the law.

More later I’m experiencing a wave of nausea.

Smart, on point, and perfectly lucid and logical, right to the end. He’ll be sorely missed.

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Elvis Week wrap-up

Amazing.

Well, if you pick up almost any Elvis Greatest Hits compilation, you’ll find:

Love Me Tender, love me sweet
Never let me go
You have made my life complete
And I love you so…

Words and music by Vera Matson and Elvis Presley.

So who wrote what?

Answer: Neither of the above.

The tune for “Love Me Tender” was by Geo. R. Poulton.

Geo. R. who?

So who re-wrote “Aura Lee”? Step forward, Ken Darby. He was born in Nebraska in 1909, so he was no rock’n’roller, but a talented mainstay of the music world. A fine choral arranger, he had a group called the Ken Darby Singers, who backed Judy Garland in a studio album of the Wizard of Oz songs in 1940, and two years later sang with Bing Crosby on the original single of “White Christmas”. On the radio, he provided the music for “Fibber McGee and Molly”, in which capacity he performed a version of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”, his first point of contact with those two great cultural contributions from the Troy area. He was Marilyn Monroe’s vocal coach on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and there are certainly worse ways of passing your time than getting up in the morning and going to work to spend the day teaching Marilyn how to sing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”. And by the time he was done he had three Oscars on his shelf, for scoring The King and IPorgy and Bess and Camelot.

The Reno Brothers project was just another day at the office for Ken Darby. Told that they needed a Civil War song for the picture, Darby picked out five ballads from the early 1860s and played them for Elvis. “Aura Lea” was the third or fourth. “This is the one,” said the singer. So Darby set about turning “Aura Lea” into “Love Me Tender”, and did it very expertly. Unlike Mr Fosdick, he imposed a song form on the tune – nothing too obtrusive, just that two-thirds echo of the title: “Love Me Tender, love me sweet”… “Love Me Tender, love me true”…

Love me Tender, love me long
Take me to your heart
For it’s there that I belong
And we’ll never part…

All that “love me” repetition could get a bit boring, except that they alternate between the low notes of Poulton’s verse (“Love Me Tender, love me long”) and then the high notes (“Aura Lea, Aura Lea”) of the chorus (“Love Me Tender, love me dear”), which gives a real ache and intensity to the reprises. It’s very deftly organized. And I doubt that Ken Darby thought it was anything more than just a solid professional job that served the needs of the picture.

Elvis’ manager, Colonel Parker, looked on it a little differently. His boy was a raucous rock’n’roller, but this movie song was going to be his first mainstream love ballad, and Parker thought that would be a big deal with the public, and potentially very lucrative. “Aura Lea” was out of copyright, so they didn’t have to pay Poulton and Fosdick anything …or even mention them. And, if nobody knew who wrote the song, why couldn’t Elvis have written it? So, when they heard Ken Darby had rewritten “Aura Lea” into “Love Me Tender”, the Colonel and the Aberbach brothers, who ran the Presley music publishing operation Hill & Range, politely informed Mr Darby that they’d be publishing the song and that in addition Elvis would be getting a credit as co-author.

Darby didn’t mind, because 50 per cent of an Elvis record still works out better than 100 per cent of a Ken Darby Singers record. But there was a problem. American songwriters have two copyright collection agencies, Ascap and BMI, the latter of which was founded in opposition to the former’s monopoly. Broadly speaking, Ascap had the Broadway and Hollywood writers, and BMI had the country & western and rhythm’n’blues guys. Elvis had been signed up as a member of BMI, whereas Darby, being a motion picture composer, was Ascap. And in those days it was not permitted for an Ascap writer and a BMI writer to share credit on the same song. So Darby risked losing his 50 per cent of “Love Me Tender” to a non-writing writer who’d contributed precisely 0 per cent to “Love Me Tender”.

Happiness lies/Right under your eyes, as they sing in “Back in Your Own Backyard”, and so it proved for Ken Darby. He signed up Mrs Darby – Vera Matson – as a member of BMI, and gave her his 50 per cent of the song.

It’s remarkable, it really is; Steyn is like a walking encyclopedia on this stuff, and every time I read another of his music pieces I stand in slackjawed awe of his voluminous store of knowledge. And remember how I said the other day that when it came to his music, Elvis was far from the hapless, clueless rube some still believe him to have been, and always knew exactly what he was doing and where he wanted to go? Further confirmation:

(Darby) was impressed by the way Presley took charge in the studio: “Elvis has the most terrific ear of anyone I have ever met,” he said. “He does not read music, but he does not need to. All I had to do was play the song for him once, and he made it his own! He has perfect judgment of what is right for him.” “What is right for him” turned out to be something the wailing Elvis of “Heartbreak Hotel” had never done before on record.

In Elvis’s own mind, what was “right for him” stretched far beyond the boundaries of rock and roll. His reach may have exceeded his grasp here and there, but for the most part he was tremendously successful at expanding those boundaries artistically, whether his audience was willing to follow him on his journey or not. Contrary to what some have said over the years, it was less his eclecticism that did him in, I believe; more blame for that could be placed at the foot of all those empty, witless movie songs he sang so disinterestedly, if you ask me. He was insulted by them and contemptuous of them…and rightly so. They were beneath him, and he was diminished by them, in more ways than just one.

In any event, read all of this one too; Dennis Hopper (!) even puts in an appearance, if you can believe it. Good as he is on politics and the Muslim threat and such-like, Steyn is as good a music writer as I know of. He could write a lengthy treatise on a soda-pop jingle and make it fascinating, I’d bet.

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The King is dead; you know the rest

I was hoping Steyn might have something to say about the King on Elvis Day, but didn’t really expect it. Imagine my surprise to find that, as The Man himself says:

Forty years ago today – August 16th 1977 – Elvis Aron Presley passed …into a stunningly successful new phase of his career. All this week at SteynOnline, we’re marking the anniversary, starting with my look at the early days and the man who invented Elvis.

Wow. Okay, now I’m REALLY excited; I didn’t figure Mark’s taste inclined in the direction of Elvis, not for a moment. So let’s just take a gander at that first installment here, shall we?

Rock’n’roll may be the most aggressively corporate branch of showbusiness ever invented but it’s still obsessed with being “raw” and “authentic” and “countercultural”. That’s where Sam Phillips comes in: he represents rock’s BC era – Before Corporate -before Elvis said goodbye to Sam’s Sun Records, in Memphis, and headed for RCA and Hollywood and Vegas. But back in 1954 it was Sam who told Elvis to sing the country song (“Blue Moon Of Kentucky”) kinda bluesy and the blues song (“That’s All Right”) kinda country, and, as Elvis was a polite 19-year old who obliged his elders, somewhere in the crisscross something clicked.

It’s the Phillips tracks that redeem Elvis for everything that came afterward. It’s “Mystery Train” and “That’s All Right” that the pop-culture historians are thinking of when they write about the rock’n’roll “revolution”. “The Ancien Régime fell in 1789 and once again a century and a half later,” declared Herbert London in Closing The Circle: A Cultural History Of The Rock Revolution. “Rock Around The Clock” is the most successful call to arms produced by the revolution, the one kids tore up movie seats over. But its composer, Jimmy DeKnight, wrote it as a fox trot, and its lyricist, Max Freedman, whose last hit had been for the Andrews Sisters, originally wanted to call it “Dance Around The Clock”. And Freedman was born in 1890. When he was a rebellious teenager, the big hits were “The Merry Widow Waltz”, Kipling’s “Road To Mandalay”, and “When A Fellow’s On The Level With A Girl That’s On The Square”. He may not have been exactly Ancien Régime, but he was certainly pretty ancien. And the regime itself – in the shape of RCA, Columbia, etc – proved far wilier survivors than Louis XVI.

That’s why Phillips’ moment is central to rock’s sense of itself, and why critics still insist that Elvis’s The Sun Sessions is the all-time greatest album. As Robert Hilburn put it, on the Sun set “you hear rock being born” – not to Tin Pan Alley hacks and big-time corporations, but in a one-story brick studio where a kid walked in off the street. Just as real revolutionaries watch the Revolution Day tank parade from the presidential palace and reminisce about the days when they were peasants with pitchforks, so fellows who spend eight months in a studio remixing a couple of tracks fondly reminisce about the days when Ike Turner’s amplifier fell off the car roof on the way to the studio and Sam Phillips stuffed the punctured speaker cone with paper and accidentally created a “wall of sound”. The Sun motto was “We Record Anything, Anytime, Anywhere” – including the men’s room, where the toilet served as the studio’s echo chamber. The conventional line on Phillips is that he’s the guy who encouraged Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison to “experiment”. “I’d try things I knew I couldn’t do,” Carl Perkins remembered, “and then have to work my way out of it. I’d say, ‘Mr Phillips, that’s terrible.’ He’d say, ‘That’s original.'”

The Sun Sessions, of course, didn’t actually become an album until much later; Elvis’s early Sun recordings were singles, which was the coin of the musical realm back in those days. A quibble, I know. But still.

And another: I actually DO remember where I was when I heard the news. But more important, maybe, I remember my initial response: no Elvis fan back then, I was more of a 70s hard rock kid, and AC/DC, KISS, Deep Purple, and Ted Nugent were more my metier. My reaction? “Elvis? Hey, didn’t he die a while back?”

I still have great affection for those 70s icons, but my appreciation for Elvis flowered when I first started digging into rockabilly, and has only grown since. If you have any interest at all in the true King of rock and roll, you really needed to grab yourself copies of Peter Guralnick’s two wonderful books on Elvis. I liked ’em so much I actually attended a lecture by Guralnick in Atlanta when I lived there, and hung around afterwards to have them autographed. Together they amount to THE definitive Elvis biography, and they’re extremely well-written, too.

But back to Phillips, a true eccentric genius without whom etc.

He knew Elvis before he was Elvis, before he was a star and then a parody. He knew Elvis when he was an 18-year old who parked his Ford pick-up outside the studio on Union Avenue and said he wanted to record a song for his momma’s birthday: “My Happiness”, a big hit for the Ink Spots. The teenage Elvis liked the Ink Spots, and Eddie Fisher. He wanted to sing like Dean Martin.

Elvis’s career after Phillips is regarded by rock critics as a ghastly sellout to commercialism and conformity, though there’s nothing obviously commercial or conformist about a ragbag like “Old Shep”, “Rock-A-Hula Baby”, “Peace In The Valley”, “No Room To Rhumba In A Sports Car”, plus adaptations of “O Sole Mio” and “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic”. Justin Timberlake’s minders would be unlikely to recommend any of ’em. Elvis had an extraordinary range – two octaves and a third – but not a consistent voice. He was a chameleon but unfocused, and when he wasn’t doing Dino he could sound like Al Jolson, Mahalia Jackson or an Irish tenor. The wacky eclecticism is the real Elvis. The “raw”, “authentic” Sun Sessions Elvis is the manufactured product. “I encouraged him to be real raw,” said Phillips, “because if he was artificial he wouldn’t be able to keep it up.” Au contraire: it was being raw he couldn’t keep up.

What Elvis wanted to be, and what he envisioned himself as from the beginning, was a singer of the Great American Songbook entire. He never had any wish to pigeonhole himself as merely a rock and roll singer, and the larger-than-life Rock Star persona he pioneered ended up being a trap, his ensnarement therein a large part of his eventual undoing. It wasn’t so much that he was unfocused as it was that he was determined to be bigger artistically than his fans would ever allow; he wished not to rule one small world in the musical universe, but to sample whole galaxies. The irony is that his success in that expansive endeavor is exactly what many critics would end up slamming him for.

Elvis was as serious and determined about his music as it’s possible to be, until his fame overran the music and got the better of him. The image of him that many people harbor—that of an ignorant country boy who really didn’t have a clue what he was doing and was weak-willed and self-indulgent enough to allow himself to be manipulated by nefarious handlers—could not have been further from the truth. Elvis knew from the start exactly where he wanted to go musically, and he allowed no one to deflect him from his chosen destination. That he ended up derailed and in the ditch anyway was not because of any lack of vision; it was that the vision was simply too big for any one man, even one as talented as Elvis surely was, to hold onto for very long.

Sam Phillips, a man nurturing a mighty vision himself, put the car in gear and showed Elvis how to steer. But as Phillips himself would later say, it was always Elvis in the driver’s seat.

If any of this interests you at all, my “The Power Of Elvis” trilogy of posts from years back (2002? SERIOUSLY?!?) can be accessed via the Greatest Hits page link above. Thinking about it now, I probably ought to do at least one Sam Phillips post sometime too; the man had a hand in the careers of more great artists than most people probably realize, and was very nearly as influential as Elvis himself was.

Update! Okay, okay, I just gotta include one of my favorite Elvis stories, an excerpt from The Power Of Elvis Part the Second:

When it came to the music, there is ample evidence that Elvis knew just what he was doing, and the music was the one thing he always refused to compromise on. This never really changed throughout his career – musically, Elvis was never anything but completely in charge, and if his vision faltered in the later years, well, it just points up how incredible his work was early on. Even as a kid of 19 or 20, working in the studio with seasoned pros from New York, LA, and Nashville, Elvis ran the show, no ifs, ands, or buts. When he recorded “Hound Dog” the day after the Allen show, he insisted on doing take after take, and the song evolved throughout from the bluesy grind of Big Mama Thornton’s version into the rollicking, savage romp we all know now. A tired and somewhat exasperated Steve Sholes (producer on the session) said after the twenty-sixth take that he thought they had it, but Elvis once again insisted that they keep rolling tape. They stopped after thirty-one. The one that ended up being released was number twenty-eight.

Seems like everybody has something to say about Elvis Presley these days; love him or hate him, acknowledge his gifts and his contribution to American popular music or consider him a low-order con artist, there really is only one voice in the whole cacophony of opinion about Elvis that really counts, as Peter Guralnick says at the end of his incredible Elvis bio. And that voice is the one that leaps off the old Sun .45’s, full of vitality and eagerness and fresh, wild exuberance, the one that started a musical revolution the likes of which the world has never seen before, and never will again.

And now that I look back, damned if Part Three isn’t the post on Sam Phillips I said I really ought to get around to doing someday. It’s somewhat of a relief to find that in fact I already did it…and somewhat alarming that I had forgotten I did it. No, I’m not going to make my usual Alzheimer’s joke here. I’m finding that shit a whole lot less funny these days than I used to, folks, and that’s the sad, sorry truth.

Updated update! Okay, okay, OKAY awreddy, I feel I just gotta include this too. Another of my personal faves. Especially that falling-down-the-stairs rat-a-tat-tat from drummer DJ Fontana that closes out the song. I don’t have the foggiest whose idea that was or how it came about it, but it’s dang cool. When you think about it, it’s really the only way to end the thing, and couldn’t be more perfect.




You go, Elvis; you ain’t forgotten quite yet, and hopefully never will be. Bassist Bill Black is of course long gone; I believe DJ Fontana is still kicking around out there somewhere, but guitarist Scotty Moore, bless his flinty old heart, only passed away last summer himself. So we’ll throw in a Rest In Peace for him too.

Update to the updated update! Steyn’s second installment is all about Rock-A-Hula Baby—admittedly never a song I could muster much enthusiasm for—and its co-writer Ben Weisman, “the man who’d written more Elvis songs than anybody else” (57 of ’em!). Even though the song is a dud as far as I’m concerned, the article is full of Steyn’s usual fascinating backstage backstories, and as such is definitely worth a look anyway. How he manages to have such voluminous knowledge of this stuff and keep it seemingly at his fingertips is a constant source of wonder to me.

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Wichita whineman?

Steyn writes another of his brilliant music posts, this time on the passing of Glenn Campbell. I was never a big fan of his, frankly. But I can still hear a good many of his songs in my head—sometimes to my great chagrin and annoyance. But the one Steyn digs into would have to be one of his best, and is one I actually do like:

In October 1968, Campbell called Jimmy Webb and said he’d really appreciate another song that was like “Phoenix” – “something about a town”. With the cockiness of youth, Jimmy told Glen that the Rand McNally phase of his career was over. Campbell persevered: Okay, if not a town, how about “something geographical”?

It was the first time Webb had been asked to write a song to order, for a particular performer – and in this case his very favorite performer. As usual, they wanted it that day, so Webb pottered around:

I had been driving around northern Oklahoma, an area that’s real flat and remote – almost surreal in its boundless horizons and infinite distances. I’d seen a lineman up on a telephone pole, talking on the phone. It was such a curiosity to see a human being perched up there.

Imagine trying to pitch that to a publisher or producer: “It’s a song about this guy who works for the utilities company…” But Webb meant it:

I am a lineman for the county
And I drive the main road
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload…

He saw the poetry in the isolation:

This exquisite aesthetic balance of all these telephone poles just decreasing in size as they got further and further away from the viewer – that being me – and as I passed him, he began to diminish in size. The country is so flat, it was like this one quick snapshot of this guy rigged up on a pole with this telephone in his hand. And this song came about, really, from wondering what that was like, what it would be like to be working up on a telephone pole and what would you be talking about? Was he talking to his girlfriend? Probably just doing one of those checks where they called up and said, ‘Mile marker 46,’ you know. ‘Everything’s working so far.’

But nobody needs a song about “Mile marker 46”. Whether or not the lineman was thinking about his girlfriend, Jimmy Webb certainly was: Her name was Susan Horton, the homecoming queen at Colton High School. But she married a schoolteacher called John, and Jimmy wrote “Wichita Lineman”, “Up, Up and Away”, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and even “MacArthur Park” all about his lost love in hopes of staunching the wound.

At the time Webb was living in the former Philippines consulate, just above Hollywood and La Brea, in Los Angeles. This being California in the Sixties, he was digging the communal vibe and had thirty or so housemates coming and going. The night before, as yet another jolly jape during the endless party, the communards had decided to turn Webb’s baby grand a most un-piano-like color. So he found himself having to compose a new song for Glen Campbell on a green piano whose paint was still wet. To the old question “Which comes first – the words or the music?”, the answer in this case seems to be: A fresh lick of paint. 

Steyn goes on from there with his usual insightful analysis, but eventually comes to a bit that kind of…well…uhhh…

Jimmy Webb manages the transition far more economically – three lines of job talk (“that stretch down south won’t ever stand the strain”), and then:

And I need you more than want you…

And the modulation makes it seem the most natural transition in the world. He continues:

And I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line…

In his fine book on songwriting, Tunesmith, Jimmy Webb writes:

It is dreadful the way the same mistakes are perpetuated over and over again in songwriting, particularly the same careless false rhymes (identities) – ‘time’ with ‘mine,’ for example, ‘self’ with ‘else,’ ‘girl’ with ‘world…

Wait a minute, ‘time’ with ‘mine’? What about “want you for all time” with “still on the line”? Longtime readers will know I loathe impure rhymes, but I can sometimes, reluctantly, live with them buried in a verse or peripheral couplet or separated out in a quatrain. But this one (“time”/”line”) comes right at the climax, and is an undeniable blemish on one of the most original songs ever written.

A “blemish”? It’s the most beautifully poignant and compelling passage in the whole damned song, and to hell with any “false rhyme” nitpicking. But then again, I maybe say that as shouldn’t, to quote Sam Gamgee: I’ve written plenty of songs myself, and I never once bothered myself about false rhymes, although I was certainly aware of them. In truth, false rhymes have gotten me out of jams and cleared out bottlenecks plenty of times, and I’ve been pretty shameless about using ’em when I needed ’em.

Not that I’m anywhere remotely near the tunesmith Webb is, of course, and would never presume to present myself as such. But his angst over the false rhyme seems a bit unnecessary to me just the same; pop song lyrics aren’t serious poetry, or aren’t really supposed to be, although in the hands of a master like Webb they can certainly achieve some lofty heights indeed.

But how much, in the end, does such arcane minutiae really matter? People love Webb’s words, and remember them; I have, for my whole life. Steyn inadvertently highlights the problem:

Long ago on TV, I once had the honor of being asked to sing this song, and had no real idea of what I would do when I got to the false rhyme, but, when I did, it stuck in my throat and I found myself going back to the first verse:

And I need you more than want you
I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

– which isn’t the way anyone would write it, but I’ve always loved that “I hear you singin’ in the wire/I can hear you through the whine” passage.

Hate to say it and all, but…I don’t, or not shoehorned into that spot, anyway. Steyn’s improvised alteration is little more to my ear than pure butchery of the most wonderful part of the original song, and all fussy fretting over false rhymes be damned. “And I need you more than want you/And I want you for all time” go together like beans and cornbread; the one is indivisible from the other, and to alter them is to diminish them, no matter what comes after. Be the rhyme false or not, some things just work. Steyn’s version…doesn’t. Not for me anyway, not by a long yard.

Wichita Lineman is one of those damned near perfect songs just as it is. I can’t say I’d ever care to hear anyone but Glenn Campbell performing it, either. The combination of the song and the artist is just…well, perfect. That’s a damned rare thing, and to get bothered to even a slight degree over as footling a complaint as false rhymes ain’t ever going to be something I’m interested in doing. Might just as well try to piss over a ten-foot statue whilst standing on the ground in a strong wind, seems to me.

Be all that as it may, it’s another great Steyn music post, and you’ll want to read it all. And: Rest in peace, Glenn. You brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people over a lot of years, and that damned sure ain’t nothing.

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Fare thee well

Whaaaa…? Weaponsman, gone?

I’m sorry to have to tell you all that my brother Kevin O’Brien, host of this blog, passed away peacefully this morning at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

We are planning a celebration of Kevin’s life for all of his friends some time in early to mid-June, here in Seacoast NH. I will have details in a couple of days. All those who knew and loved Kevin, including all Weaponsman readers, are welcome, but we will need an RSVP. Again, I will make details available to those who write to hognosecommunity@comcast.net. This is not restricted to personal friends of Kevin, but space will be limited, and we will not be able to fit everyone. It will be a great opportunity to share memories of Kevin.

We will be looking for stories and pictures of Kevin! Please send to the email address.

I expect that some time after the celebration, I will be shutting down the blog. No one other than Kevin could do it justice.

Well, damn. I’ve quoted him plenty here, and it was always a privilege to do so. Read the linked post for more on this remarkable man; they simply ain’t making ’em like him anymore, to all our detriment.

Rest easy, Kevin. Bless you, and Godspeed; may you be in Heaven an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. You will assuredly be missed, by more of us than you might ever have guessed. It ain’t like there’s so many of the good guys out there that we can afford to be losing any right now, y’know? His commentary was always informed, and well thought-out and put-together, and…well.

Damn. I’ll close with one of his pithiest quotes: “TRUMP. Make Artillery Great Again.” No, it ain’t precisely what you might think. But it still works just the same, in so many toothsome ways.

(Via WRSA and Aesop)

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Mr Warmth

I’ve been casting about for days trying to pull together what I wanted to say about the passing of the great Don Rickles, and found that ye olde Raconteur had me covered all along.

Today, dozens of surviving network censors, and political correctness gurus on hundreds of college campuses heave a tremendous sigh of relief at the news that Mr. Warmth, Don Rickles, impresario of machinegun put downs, has finally shuffled off his mortal coil, as a result of kidney failure. Which means that he died just as full of piss and vinegar as he lived.

Unfortunately for them, he’d already burned PC crapola to the ground, right up to the very end, and remained razor sharp probably up to and including his final words. He regularly guested on late night talk shows with the likes of Carson, Leno, Letterman, Conan, Kimmel, Fallon, and Ferguson, well into his late 80s, and generally took them out at the knees at the slightest provocation, without any appreciable loss of skill from the height of his prime.

Bouncing between movie gigs and stand-up, he caught the eye of Frank Sinatra,

(“Mister Sinatra, I love you, and you’re a legendary musical talent…as you’ve told me many times. But I just want you to know, from the bottom of my heart,…I never cared for your songs.”) and thus began a lifelong friendship, leading to Rickles’ eventual status as unofficial Court Jester to the Rat Pack.

As a condition of appearing at President Reagan’s Second Inaugural Ball, Sinatra required that Rickles appear as well.

The President acquiesced, Washington DC winced, and Rickles killed it that night.

I watched an old 70’s Carson show featuring Rickles the other night, and he killed it then too—he was first up, and he killed it from the Big Chair, then moved over to the sofa with Ed and went right on killing it from there. Everybody knows by now that he was known among his close associates and family as a warm, generous, and truly sweet man, just the opposite of his onstage persona. Be that as it may, the man was funny; his slams and attacks were almost eye-wateringly ruthless, and his full-auto delivery was indicative of a rapid-fire wit that never jammed, slowed, or faltered. He was truly unique, and I for one will surely miss him.

I’d embed all the YouTube vids if I could, but the Reagan inaugural is indeed a classic, and his benediction to Ron and Nancy at the end is a thing of real beauty. Enjoy. And rest in peace, Don. We shan’t see your like again, more’s the pity.



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Announcement!

I have been remiss in so far failing to mention the great Kim DuToit’s tragic loss, and his subsequent and very welcome return to blogging after a long hiatus. My sincerest sympathy to him, and my heartiest welcome back to the scrap too. For those of you who haven’t been around that long, Kim is an old and valued comrade-in-arms and friend of this blog, and though I wouldn’t wish the circumstances on anyone, I’m very glad to see him back up and running again. It ought to go without saying that into the blogroll and bookmarks he immediately shall go, and if past form is any indication, you’ll be seeing plenty of excerpting and linkage from here on out.

Kim was always a damned fine writer; I flattered myself to think that we were cut from the same mold, twin brothers from different mothers, as it were. He writes in the same blunt, no punches pulled, and occasionally harsh and consistently profane style that I do, and our views on things were about as congruent as it’s possible to be for people who were born and raised half a world apart. He’s as good a tech writer on guns as we have; his old blog focused heavily on not just gun rights, but on hands-on reviews of old, rare, and oddball pieces you simply wouldn’t see mentioned anywhere else. It was an education, is what it was, from a most erudite and passionate teacher, on a most worthy subject.

Kim’s fundraiser page is here, so although my mentioning it is kinda belated, if you got a spare nickel you can toss to a most deserving guy, by all means do so.

Glad to have you back, my friend, and nothing but best wishes to you from here. May your beloved wife rest easy, and smile on you from her eternal home until you’re united once again.

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Progress!

John Glenn is dead, and Buzz Aldrin ain’t feeling so good himself.

The other day I chanced to hear my old National Review colleague John Derbyshire talking about Glenn’s fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who was taken ill while visiting Antarctica and evacuated to New Zealand. John’s comments on Aldrin and his comrades apply also to Glenn:

Soon they will all be gone: the last participants in the human race’s most astonishing, most audacious, most wonderfully inspirational adventure to date.

Gone with them will be the memory of a U.S.A. that could accomplish such marvels, in those last years of heroic national vigor, before we turned our energies to guilt and rancor and divisive social crusades, and to persuading ourselves and each other that in the human sphere, everything is equal to everything else.

The Wright brothers’ first flight was in 1903. Fifty-nine years later, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, and seven years after that Buzz Aldrin became the first man to play “Fly Me To The Moon” on the moon (thanks to the portable cassette recorder he took with him).

We are now another half-century on, a half-century devoid of giant leaps and even small steps. When my book After America came out, I was booked on “Fox & Friends” to talk it over with Brian Kilmeade. Sitting next to Brian on the couch waiting to get going, I listened to Steve Doocy link to an item on the space shuttle Enterprise beginning its journey to whichever museum it’s wound up at. Steve called it “historic”, and, as I remarked to Brian, pity the nation whose greatness becomes “historic”.

John Glenn must surely have wondered, as all the astronauts weathered into geezers, how a great nation grew so impoverished in spirit.

Our heroes are old and stooped and wizened, but they are the only giants we have. Today, when we talk about Americans boldly going where no man has gone before, we mean the ladies’ bathroom. Progress.

How we grew so impoverished, in spirit as well as other ways, is simple: Progressivism. It sucked the juice out of everything it touched, beginning with Progressivists themselves, as grim and desiccated a bunch of killjoys as you’ll ever see anywhere. But the good news is, they were only able to stap our vitals because we allowed them to; as Steyn himself always says, decline is a choice. And this time around America chose differently. Hopefully, we’re all done with that nonsense now, at least for a while.

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Cuba libre?

So I figure they might have Obama under suicide watch after the death of his brother-in-arms and bosom chum, the murderous, vile despot Castro. I will admit this, though: I don’t think Ogabe’s move to re-establish some sort of relations with Cuba was an entirely bad thing, really. I wasn’t totally happy about it, naturally; there probably was a right way to go about it, but if so, it’s certain Obama would never have found find it…because he wouldn’t have been looking. Given his own hard-Left beliefs, his interest was always going to lean more towards propping the Castro regime up rather than pressuring it to abandon its disastrous proven-failure ideology.

All that said, good riddance to one of the most evil Leftist dictators ever to blight a nation. I won’t speculate on how likely it is that the Cuban people will soon throw off the chains of socialism for good—we have way too much work at the same task ahead of us ourselves, and we’ve been dragged nowhere near as far down that bleak road as they—but I wish them every success just the same.

Burn in Hell, Fidel.

Sickening update! Think I’m exaggerating when I say the Democrat Socialists are ideological compatriots of Castro? Even a tiny bit? Think again, bub.

In many ways, after 1959, the oppressed the world over joined Castro’s cause of fighting for freedom & liberation-he changed the world. RIP pic.twitter.com/ReOLnMCxE7
Rev Jesse Jackson

“Rosalynn and I share our sympathies with the Castro family and the Cuban people on the death of Fidel Castro. We remember fondly our visits with him in Cuba and his love of his country. We wish the Cuban citizens peace and prosperity in the years ahead.”
Jimmy Carter

“We extend our condolences to the Cuban people today as they mourn the passing of Fidel Castro. Over more than half a century, he played an outsized role in their lives, and he influenced the direction of regional, even global affairs.

As our two countries continue to move forward on the process of normalization — restoring the economic, diplomatic and cultural ties severed by a troubled past — we do so in a spirit of friendship and with an earnest desire not to ignore history but to write a new and better future for our two peoples.”
John Kerry

“It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President.

“Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.

“While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante”.

“I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.

“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”
Canadian idiot Justin Trudeau

Every last one of these loathsome scoundrels should be ashamed of themselves. But there’s a refreshing antidote to this nauseating hagiography and suck-uppery, and it’s right here.

(Via OregonMuse)

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Eulogy for Bobby Vee

Nobody writes about this sort of thing better than Mark Steyn.

“Peggy Sue” is where Bobby Vee came in. “The day the music died” is the day that Bobby Vee was born, professionally speaking. In the early hours of February 3rd 1959, the four-seater Beechcraft Bonanza flying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper to a gig in Moorhead, Minnesota crashed in a cornfield near Clear Lake, Iowa. Later that day, in Moorhead, the promoters got the news and decided to go ahead with the event, appealing on the radio for any local talent to pitch in as last-minute substitutes for the deceased. A 15-year-old schoolboy calling himself Bobby Vee (short for Velline) and a handful of pals serving as a back-up band volunteered their services. On their way to the venue – the National Guard Armory – they stopped off at J C Penney to buy matching black trousers, woolen ties and sleeveless sweaters.

And so was born Bobby Vee & the… Well, the what? The emcee asked the name of the band, and Bobby looked back at the boys silhouetted by the stage spots and replied, “The Shadows.” It was a great night, notwithstanding the grim circumstances. The following morning the surviving members of the Buddy Holly/Big Bopper tour party left for Sioux City, but without paying Bobby.

For a while, Bobby’s pianist was another young Minnesota musician going under the unconvincing stage name of “Elston Gunnn”. Mr Gunnn subsequently adopted the more enduring persona of “Bob Dylan”. But he still plays “Suzie Baby”, as he did in affectionate tribute to Bobby Vee – “the most beautiful person I’ve ever been on stage with” – in St Paul’s a couple of years back.

No Dylan fan, I, I have to admit. In fact, no Vee fan either, or not particularly. But man, what a great story. Read on for the rest of it; it’s truly good stuff.

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A terrible loss

Words fail me at the news of the great Steven den Beste’s death. I’ll content myself with echoing Bill:

In the beginning, the towering figures of the Blogosphere were Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, Charles Johnson, and, perhaps the greatest of the long-form bloggers, Steven Den Beste.

Daily Pundit owes equal credit to Instapundit and the U.S.S. Clueless for its very existence, as both provided primary inspiration for my own comparatively paltry efforts. And though Steven and I fell out and parted ways some years ago, I will miss him terribly.

The Blogosphere has lost some great ones over the years. Steven was one of the greatest.

Thank you so much for everything, Steven. Rest now.

Amen. Just…well, that’s all. For those of you who weren’t around back in those early post 9/11 days (and how quaint that sounds to me now, as if something unforgettable happened that day), den Beste made the case for the West’s proactive self-defense against the hateful savagery of Islam better than just about anybody.

He made the same mistake most of us did back then: assuming that there was something the Moslem world would find irresistibly attractive about Western-style freedom and democracy, something that would pipe them inexorably away from a hideous 7th century barbarism and bring them into the light of modernity.

He was wrong about that; so were we all. The Moslem world preferred to double down on murderous revanchism and the dark, primitive savagery that is the core of their misanthropic pseudo-religion; they turned out to be not just uninterested in any sort of enlightened moderation of their ass-backwards death cult, but actively hostile to it.

Which does not at all indicate any sort of delusion or ignorance on his part, I think. Rather, it speaks to a very human optimism and hopefulness, a granting of the benefit of the doubt that the Moslem world turned out to be unworthy of.

His arguments were always impeccably constructed; his writing was beautifully lucid and engaging. The flaw at their core was the Moslem world’s, not his. In the end, he hoped for more from them than they could live up to. There are exceptions to that, of course, and we can only wish those pitiful few well and hope for the best for them, and try to support and encourage them as and when we can.

In the end, Steven’s writing stands on its own. The Moslem inability to live up to his ambition and hope for them is their failure, not his; it detracts from his stellar work not one whit. One of Bill’s readers has graciously archived the old USS Clueless site here, and if you aren’t one of us old OG farts, you really ought to set aside some time and go dig in. It’s a deep well indeed, and well worth your attention, although there’s way more there than just what we used to call warblogging. It’s a crystal-clear snapshot of a moment in time before we really knew just what kind of darkness we were doomed to struggle against, and as such is enlightening in more ways than I can begin to explain.

Rest easy, Steven. You won’t be forgotten.

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OG to the bone

So when I read and excerpted Fred’s post on the most recent #BlackLiesMurder rioting last week, I was reminded of someone I admittedly hadn’t thought about in a while: Acidman. You CF lifers will probably recall him; Rob Smith, his name was. He was a fantastic writer, one whose penchant for pulling no punches and just coming right and saying things that needed to be said a hotheaded loudmouth like myself could only envy. Fearless, the guy was. This was the post that brought him back to mind, and quite the little controversy it triggered at the time too, back in February 2004. Which surprised exactly no one, least of all Acidman himself.

I am becoming more comfortable with the word “nigger” since the 1960s. I had compassion for an oppressed people back then. But I watched them shit all over every opportunity handed to them for the last 40 years, and you know what we have now? Not a minority absorbed into our society. We just have a bunch of niggers running wild.

You can face the truth or you can run from it, but whatever the choice, it won’t change a damned thing. 49% of our prison population is black. Black wimmen have a 70% illegitimate birth rate. Only one in three black men (who AREN’T in prison) has a goddam job.

No people can continue down that track and ever hope to succeed in this country. That’s a fact, and I don’t give a shit what Maxine Waters and Jesse Jackson have to say about it. I’ve seen too many other people do it.

I saw the Vietnamese refugees arrive here after the war. Half of them couldn’t speak English, but they found jobs, saved their money, worked hard and made the American Dream come alive for them. Their children were all STAR students and now they have teachers, engineers, artists and businessmen rising from their ranks. They accomplished that task in ONE GENERATION and I know damn well that these people started with nothing.

I am sick and tired of listening to the niggers whine. You’ve had 300 years to make a go of life in this country, and you’ve fucked up every chance ever handed to you. Got-Dam! Don’t call me a racist. ADMIT THE GODDAM FACTS.

I heard a lot of old, racist red-necks say when I was a boy, “You can take the nigger out of the jungle, but you’ll never get the jungle out of the nigger.”

I hated hearing such talk when I was young. But I believe that they were right, after watching history for the past 40 years of my life. Nobody who ever lived in this world EVER had as much gelt handed to them by the government as “African Americans” have and nobody has EVER pissed away their opportunities so badly. That’s a fact.

Besides, how many “African Americans” ever saw Africa in their fucking lives, anyway? You don’t like it here? Go back to Africa. Live with no health care, corrupt dictators, rampant AIDS and nothing but a tin roof over your head. Give up your welfare checks, your VCRs and the “racist” society that you live in now. Go back to Africa, thumb your nose at me and tell how much better life is in “the homeland.”

I wish you fuckers would. The Democrats would have a heart attack, because you all vote like drones for them, but this country would be better off without you. If the truth hurts, so be it. I just call it like I see it.

Until you people change your attitude and learn to be CIVIL among yourselves, just shut the fuck up. Be a nigger if you want to, but don’t criticize me for calling you one when you act that way.

Reality is a bitch, isn’t it?

Well, yes. Yes, it is. And all the things Rob complains about above—habitual criminality and incarceration, illegitimacy, and chronic unemployment rates, along with the entitlement/dependent mentality—have only gotten worse in the years since. He predicted earlier in that post that he’d “never live long enough to see such honesty from ANY goddam politician alive today,” and he was right; he died in 2006, thereby blessedly missing out on the Obama era of “racial healing” and the murder of cops by BLM snipers. But his followup post hinted at the depths, wisdom, and raw soul that one might have missed if all they knew of him was that first one excerpted above:

When I went out for football, my daddy told me that I was a “natural” and that I could excel on the field. But he also told me that I was too weak, too slow and too small to play the position I wanted to play. He was correct. I started for four years on championship teams.

“Rob, the only way you’ll make it out there is to play smarter, work harder and be tougher than the bigger guys. You’ve got to want it more than they do. If you can’t do that, then your ass will ride the bench forever. You are not blessed with the physical ability to play the game as well as other people can. You have to outsmart them.”

As someone once said on this blog, I had to learn to play “above my weight.”

If my son were black, I would give him a similar speech. I would tell him that life ain’t fair and life ain’t easy. If it were, then any asshole could do it. But assholes don’t succeed. Hard workers do. And when you start out playing against a stacked deck, the LAST THING you do is make matters worse for yourself by acting like some fucking moron at the drop of a hat.

Why don’t so-called “black leaders” give the same kind of advice today? Yeah, son. Life is going to be tougher for you than it is for the rich white boy down the street. But don’t bitch about that fact. Become determined to overcome the odds, work harder, be smarter and want it more than he does. You’re never a loser unless you decide to be one. You can win if you believe that you are a winner. That’s your choice to make.

I hate NBA basketball. I see too many thugs and hoodlums on the court showing their asses like monkeys for me to tolerate the game. But these pricks are the role models for young black men today. Fuck sportsmanship. Fuck controlling your temper. Fuck the fans. Fuck the game. Hoo-ray for you.

I don’t like Tiger Woods, either, but not for the same reasons. Tiger is just so got-dam good that he has unbalanced the world of professional golf. When he is on the beam, no one else on the face of the planet can compete with him. I would like to see a more level playing field instead of one golfer standing head and shoulders above the rest.

But I’ll give Tiger credit for one thing. He ALWAYS comports himself as a gentleman, he plays by the rules and you NEVER see him nigger-up and do something ghetto-like in either his personal or professional life. Do you think that, just maybe, he heard a speech from his father a long time ago a lot like the one my father gave me? “Yeah, son, you can do it. But it’s an uphill climb. You have to try harder, work longer and want it more than the other guys do. But you can do it.”

Why isn’t that philosophy preached to blacks in this country today? Why can’t someone stand up and tell them to stop walking around with their hands out, begging for something for nothing, and learn to walk with their heads held high?

Never mind. We do have people giving such speeches and they are roundly condemned by the black community. Clarence Thomas is a perfect example. That man came from Pinpoint, Georgia and made his way to the Supreme Court of the United States. Now THAT is an uphill climb. I know Pinpoint and I know what opportunities Clarence had to start with. He learned to play above his weight.

Anybody can do it. You just have to want it badly enough. Too many people don’t.

And I brook no excuses for the crime, the unwanted babies and the crack-alley ghetto-behavior of far too many blacks. That’s not a racist comment. It’s goddam realism, and if you can’t handle the truth, go to work for the government. You’ll fit in just fine there.

I know the truth when I see it. Don’t piss down my back and tell me that it’s raining.

Lament his choice of words, his I-don’t-give-a-shitness, his just plain in-your-face, balls-out rudeness, all you like: anybody care to attempt to deny the essential truth in everything he just said there? Anybody?

Because if you do, you got a long, tough row to hoe, bub.

Now as it happens, if you look in the sidebar on Rob’s blog, you’ll see a blogroll link to this site in there. While I regret to say that we never met face to face, Rob and I were blog-buds for a good long while, and exchanged e-mails pretty regularly. I commented at his place, he commented at this one; he was a real character, an outrageous wildass that anybody who grew up in the South of old would recognize even from a great distance.

And as I said, the man could lay some words down. Reading those two old posts got me to digging through his archives (and profoundest thanks to whoever it is maintaining the site), and I found all kinds of worthwhile stuff there. Such as this:

I KNOW that anyone bound and determined to play guitar can do it, because my college roommate did. When he started out, he couldn’t even tune the piece of crap Yamaha he had, but he shopped up quickly to a fine Epiphone that he still owns to this day. He couldn’t tune that one either, at first, but it sounded a lot better out of tune than the Yamaha did. He knew basic chords and if I showed him a lick or a run, he would retire to his room and do it over and over and over again until he had it. On many occasions, I listened to his diligent practice as long as I could stand it, then kicked open his door, snatched the guitar from his hands, tuned it, and gave it back. “Yeah, that’s better now,” he said, picking and grinning.

Of course, one night I listened to him playing the same thing over and over and over again out of tune and I snapped. I kicked open his door, snatched the guitar from his hands, and beat the living shit out of him with it until he lay dead in a bloody pulp on the floor. Then, I hauled the corpse off threw it in the woods outside Noble, Georgia, where it has not been found to this day, but may be found tomorrow if they dig deep enough around the creamtorium.

Okay, I didn’t ACTUALLY do that, but I thought about it more than once. Today, my old roommate is an accomplished musician who has electronic devices with which to tune an instrument. He does well.

I started playing semi-professionally in 1974 on River Street in Savannah. My brother and I formed a folk duo and sang exquisite harmonies together. We weren’t half-bad and took our act to Athens when we attended the University of Georgia together for two years. Making music beat flipping hamburgers, and we actually supported ourselves fairly well playing the motel bars during that time. I left journalism school in 1976 and became an advertising copywriter. My brother stayed, went to law school, and became a maggot.

I was starving to death writing, so I went back to River Street, auditioned for a job as a solo entertainer and launched a five-year career as a one-man barroom band. I didn’t intend it initially, but I had more fun, made more money and met a much better variety of people in the bars than I did writing copy, so I quit my REAL job and pursued music full-time. It was one hell of a ride. Looking back now, through the filter of time and my current miserable condition, I believe those were the best days of my life. I know I must have been unhappy a time or two, but I can’t recall a single instance now. I remember keeping vampire hours, running through women the way Sherman went through Georgia and generally not giving a damn if the sun came up in the morning. It was a time of irresponsible, glorious bliss and I wish I could go back and live it all over again. Of course, I would require my young body back again to make it worthwhile.

From that, one might easily see why I would get along so famously with Rob. We understood each other; lots of common ground in those paragraphs. Especially the bit where he refers to lawyers as maggots.

Those of you who have been around the blogs awhile might remember some liberal asshole or other’s sniffy reference years ago to America—the real one, not the twisted, dysfunctional parody of it to be found in the coastal cities—as “Jesusland.” If so, you’ll like this:

The bowel-plugged yankee whinebuckets who tear their hair and scream about the ignorance in Jesusland don’t know what they’re talking about. Those prick-fiddles have a lot more in common with the French than they do the people of Middle America. They claim to be “intellectual” when they don’t have a lick of common sense. They claim to be “compassionate” when they spew hatred at anyone who disagrees with them. They claim to worship “diversity” when they scorn anyone who thinks differently than they do. They claim to be “tolerant,” which is a cosmic joke.

I may live in “Jesusland,” but it sure as hell beats that “Bizzaro World” those deluded fucknuggets inhabit. I’ll tell you an honest truth. You’d have to scour Jesusland far and wide to find a fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist preacher more sanctimonious and intolerant than a northeastern liberal. And the preacher is one hell of a lot more honest about his beliefs, because he doesn’t try to pretend to be something he’s not, unlike a liberal.

We like to keep things simple. We like God, guts and guns. (Pickup trucks, good dogs, pretty wimmen and some of the best cooking on the planet aid in our struggle against the oppressive forces that other people see closing in on our country when we don’t. We’re more concerned with killing fire ants than we are with Global Warming. After all, we have hot weather ALL THE TIME down South.) Yeah, we are a quaint, provincial bunch.

Just a note from Jesusland, where I live, and where I am happy in my blissful ignorance of important issues.

As perfect a little “fuck you” to douchebags richly deserving of it as you’re ever gonna find, right? Rob saw fit, in his generous, open-hearted way, to cast a few pearls before the swine in his next post:

Wisdom from Jesusland:

*Don’t name a pig you plan to eat.

*Country fences need to be horse high, pig tight, and bull strong.

*Life is not about how fast you run, or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.

*Keep skunks, lawyers and bankers at a distance.

*Words that soak into your ears are whispered, not yelled.

*Meanness don’t happen overnight.

*Never lay an angry hand on a kid or an animal, it just ain’t helpful.

*Don’t sell your mule to buy a plow.

*Two can live as cheap as one if one don’t eat.

*Don’t corner something meaner than you are.

*It don’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.

*You can’t unsay a cruel thing.

When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.

*The best sermons are lived, not preached.

*Most of the stuff people worry about never happens.

Yeah. We sure are ignorant in Jesusland.

Sure ’nuff. This one was pretty prescient, and underscores a highly acute knowledge of liberal tactics for its era:

I don’t like double-standards.

I also don’t like a lot of words in the English language. Take “penis,” for example. That’s about the most obscene-sounding word I ever heard. It’s even worse than “ointment.” I LIKE Roscoe, but I don’t claim to have a “penis.” Penis sounds like some kind of intestinal parasite you pick up in a Third World country because you didn’t boil the water before you drank it.

How about “vagina” or “clitoris?” Those words sound like medical conditions where the doctor calls the family in to inform them that the patient has less than 24 hours to live. “The vagina has spread and we can’t stop it. Plus, a case of clitoris has set in, also. I’m afraid that our most powerful antibiotics won’t do any good.”

Got-dam!

Try “cock.” Yes, if you want to see my cock, I’ll show it to you. It hangs right between my legs where a “penis” is supposed to be. But I don’t have a penis. I have a cock.

I don’t want to see your “vagina” or your “clitoris.” Let me see your pussy and let me play with The Man in the Boat. We can make beautiful music together as long as we get our language straight.

Words. If you want to detect a true liar and a con-artist right away, just check the language. That’s how “gender” came to mean sex, a “woman’s right to choose” came to mean abortion and “moderate Rebublican” came to mean a fucking RINO. Dishonesty made stone.

And all you people who de-linked me can kiss my Cracker ass. As Jack Nicholson said in A Few Good Men: “You don’t want the truth! You can’t handle the truth!”

A lot of people can’t.

They sure can’t. Hell, a lot of people are opposed to the truth, frightened by it, despise it, and are so intent on seeing it supplanted by their bong-stoked dorm-room counterfeits of serious thought that they’d just as soon see some of us imprisoned or hung by the neck until dead to prevent its ever being spoken out loud.

Rob Smith’s caustic, brilliant, penetrating prose was the best refutation of those self-righteous fuck-knuckles that I can imagine. I sure miss him, and I’ll for damned sure raise a glass tonight in honor of his cherished memory. All the above excerpts stand as prime examples of the basic rule that no matter how things might change, they still stay the same; Truth, it turns out, really is Eternal. I’d be willing to bet that in Heaven right now, the angels are standing slack-jawed and wide-eyed in horror and disgust at whatever Rob is saying to them, not knowing whether to throw rocks or head for the hills…and God His Own Self is having a good, long belly laugh over it all. Rest easy, my friend, wherever you might be. You might be gone, but you damned sure won’t ever be forgotten.

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A sad day

Heartfelt sympathy to our good friend Chris Muir on the loss of his dad. So sorry, Chris; when your dad goes, you can’t help but feel a little adrift and lost, and I don’t care who you are or how strong or tough you might be. Best wishes to you and the rest of your family, my friend. As I’ve said for years: don’t allow yourself to be embittered by what you lost. Instead, be grateful for what you had. Difficult as that is at times, it’s really the only way.

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Death of a curmudgeon

A brilliant and occasionally amusing one, but still: a curmudgeon.

Francis Crick was the most important biologist of the 20th century. Like Darwin, he changed the way we think of ourselves. First, with Watson, he came up with one of the few scientific blueprints known to the general public – the double-helix structure of DNA (though he left it to Mrs Crick, usually a painter of nudes, to create the model). Later, with Sydney Brenner, he unraveled the universal genetic code. Today, Crick’s legacy includes all the thorniest questions of our time – genetic fingerprinting, stem-cell research, pre-screening for hereditary diseases, the “gay gene” and all the other “genes of the week”… In Britain, they’re arguing about a national DNA database; on the Continent, anti-globalists are protesting genetically modified crops; in America, it was traces of, um, DNA on Monica’s blue dress that obliged Bill Clinton to change his story. If you’re really determined, you can still just about ignore DNA – the OJ jury did – but, increasingly, it’s the currency of the age. Crick called his home in Cambridge the Golden Helix, and it truly was golden – not so much for him personally but for the biotechnology industry, something of a contradiction in terms half-a-century ago but now a 30-bil-a-year bonanza.

“We were lucky with DNA,” he said. “Like America, it was just waiting to be discovered.” But Crick was an unlikely Columbus. The son of a boot factory owner, he grew up in the English Midlands, dabbling in the usual scientific experiments of small boys – blowing up bottles, etc – but never really progressing beyond. Indeed, as a scientist, he wasn’t one for conducting experiments. What he did was think, and even then it took him a while to think out what he ought to be thinking about. His studies were interrupted by the war, which he spent developing mines at the British Admiralty’s research laboratory. Afterwards, already 30 and at a loose end, he mulled over what he wanted to do and decided his main interests were the “big picture” questions, the ones arising from his rejection of God, the ones that seemed beyond the power of science. Crick reckoned that the “mystery of life” could be easily understood if you just cleared away all the mysticism we’ve chosen to surround it with.

That’s the difference between Darwin and Crick. Evolution, whatever offence it gives, by definition emphasizes how far man has come from his tree-swinging forebears. DNA, by contrast, seems reductive. Man and chimp share 98.5 per cent of their genetic code, which would be no surprise to Darwin. But we also share 75 per cent of our genetic make-up with the pumpkin. The pumpkin is just a big ridged orange lump lying on the ground all day, like a fat retiree on the beach in Florida. But other than that he has no discernible human characteristics until your kid carves them into him.

It’s Steyn, so naturally he goes from jack o’ lanterns to Cole Porter to Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire to space aliens seeding the galaxy—effortlessly and entertainingly, no less. And naturally, you’ll want to read all of it.

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Steyn memorializes Fred

Shoulda guessed he’d have known him personally, if not all that well.

Rest in peace, Fred Thompson. He was a great American who lived a richer life than most of either his fellow senators or fellow actors. It was always fun when you’d stumble across him grilling someone on TV in that distinctive Tennessee drawl and it took you a moment to figure out whether it was a movie or a Congressional hearing. It happened to me a couple of months back when I came across the hugely enjoyable No Way Outwith Kevin Costner, Sean Young, Gene Hackman…and there’s Senator Thompson doing his shtick as director of the CIA. He would have made a very good CIA director. He succeeded at everything he did – law, acting, politics – until he decided to run for president. He would have been a very fine president, too, but he was not, in 2007, the best campaigner, which is a loss to America and to the world.

Amen to that. “A sharp mind in a sharp suit” indeed.

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"America is at that awkward stage. It's too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards." – Claire Wolfe, 101 Things to Do 'Til the Revolution

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