Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Real Little Eddy #6 News and Music from the Dark Side

The Washington Post reported in it's Wednesday, 10/10 online edition, that private security guards had killed two Christian Iraqi women who were driving home from work when their automobile had the misfortune of getting too close to a convoy the security men were guarding.

These weren't employees of the notorious Blackwater, although obviously they spring from the same trigger happy pigsty. From the Washington Post story, “Tuesday's shooting involved Unity Resources Group, a Dubai-based company founded by an Australian and registered in Singapore. The firm was employed by RTI International, a nonprofit organization that does governance work in Iraq on a contract for the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to David Snider, a USAID spokesman in Washington.”

What is happening to this country when we allow what amounts to hired mercenaries license to freely gun down innocent civilians going about their business in a country that was “liberated” by and is supposedly under the protection of U. S. and coalition armed forces? And let us drink a toast to George W. Bush whose daily pronouncements like “the United States does not torture” is turning LBJ’s famous “credibility gap” into a chasm of immeasurable dimensions. And to Albert Gore, who on Friday co-won the Nobel Peace Prize, seven years after being robbed of the presidency by Supreme Court fiat. Think about it for a moment. What would America be like now if Gore’s honest win of the popular vote hadn’t been overturned by that so-called august body? No war in Iraq. An honest attempt by the president to attempt to curb the excesses which are fueling global warming. And a continuation of Clinton’s policies of fiscal responsibility which had created surpluses, not the staggering debt the so-called fiscally responsible Republicans have mounted.

If you think little Eddy is critical of the White House’s war in Iraq listen to the words of one who knows, Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the former top military commander in Iraq. Addressing an audience of journalists who cover the military, Sanchez said the armed force's mission to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein was flawed from the start. National leaders, said Sanchez, "have unquestionably been derelict in the performance of their duty. In my profession, these types of leaders would immediately be relieved or court-martialed." Eric Rosenberg’s Hearst News Service account of the talk may be found here:

Is there any point where we, the American people, will stand up and rail against what is daily going so dreadfully wrong? Both in Iraq, and here at home. At what point will the American people say “enough is enough?” Dare we wait until the elections of 2008? And my other question, when we have the instigators of this travesty unmasked will we have enough dunce caps to go around? And I wonder if Kellog Brown & Root would be interested in building an American style Tiger Cage for a White House full of losers?
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Speaking of guns mowing down civilians, there was yet another school shooting this past week, this one in an elite high school in Cleveland, Ohio and it calls attention yet again to our trigger happy, gun toting society, and the relative ease in which these weapons of personal destruction may be obtained. Dr. Kevorkian who assisted desperate people in ending their misery was sent sent to prison for his trouble. But there seems to be no penalty assessed to the sellers of these weapons which can so easily be turned on teachers or classmates, not to mention neighbors. And this school incident followed a weekend in which a newly hired 20 year old sheriff’s deputy in Crandon, Wisconsin killed six of his high school mates and injured a seventh after he failed to obtain a reconciliation with his ex-girlfriend, and was called a “dirty pig” by the others. Upon reflection to us the label seems appropriate. The man was said to have later taken his own life after being confronted by a SWAT team. Have you ever noticed, some days it just doesn’t pay to go out of your house?
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This week's edition of little Eddy's Blog is dedicated to the Darth Vader of the music industry, Cary Sherman. Call up his page in Wikipedia. Except for listing the man's educational achievements the page is BLANK. Which is as it should be. The man is the public spokesperson, ie stooge, for the major record labels. Whether the music industry's penchant for the prosecution (let that read persecution) of the lovers of its products is attributable to Sherman, or if it is from the collective creative minds of the businessmen who lead the companies who exploit music and the musicians who create music, is beside the point. Mister Sherman, as head of the Recording Industry Association of America gets either the credit or the blame for the policy, depending upon your point of view.

The British band Radiohead is dropping commercial distribution of its music, preferring to offer it’s music online to their fans, and letting them set their own price, whatever it is worth to them. See story here: The article also cites Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails as already declaring his band a free agent, and offering tracks of its music which fans can download and mix for themselves. Will the rest of the industry fall in line? Yet another article reporting on the defection of bands is here:

The music industry portends that it is the victim, but in truth their product has been notoriously overpriced for years. CD's have been going for from $14 to $16, whereas you can buy a DVD of a Hollywood movie for as little as $17. I'm sorry, the value of eight songs, no matter how good, does not compare with that of a full length Hollywood movie. And once people discovered that the technology to perfectly duplicate cd's was freely available to all who owned computers there was no way they were going to continue being led by the nose by the music industry's poor excuse for businessmen. Albums of music used to be things of value back when music was issued on 10” and 12” lps. Artists offered elaborate printed material to accompany their vinyl disks, the enclosed materials featured song lyrics, photographic albums of the artists, and other material of value. And prices for the albums were well under ten dollars. But when the album was shrunk to the size of a cd, the record companies got lazy and quit offering value. The only value in their fuzzy little business minds being the value to the sellers of the cd’s jacked up price.

The music industry has a long history of composers and musicians being screwed by businessmen, going all the way back to W. C. Handy and St. Louis Blues. We would express our hope for the success and well being of the courageous artists who are freeing themselves from continued commercial exploitation, and if you are a fan of their work we would urge you to support them with your business. Meantime, a juror in the infamous Capitol Records vs. Thomas trial which ended up awarding the plaintiffs a record $222,000 judgment discussed the verdict. He said two of the jurors, including the Funeral Home Director wanted to assign the maximum penalty of $150,000 per song, while two others wanted to go for the minimum ($750 a song). The $222,000 for making available 24 songs on Kazaa was a compromise he said. Some compromise we say. Also from the article, “Thomas and her attorney have announced they're appealing the verdict, in part to contest a jury instruction that said Thomas could be found liable solely for sharing the music over the Kazaa file-sharing network, "regardless of whether actual distribution has been shown."”

If there is truly any justice left in American Jurisprudence the appeals court will overturn that horrendous verdict. There is no justice in a verdict which assesses that amount of money without even a shred of proof as to actual harm having been done to plaintiffs. And the fact of human nature being what it is, the file sharers of the world aren't about to quake in fear, thereby giving up their “wicked ways.” They are pretty sure to continue on with their file sharing in direct defiance of the commercial music industry, as all good citizens should do in the face of such irrational persecution. (My thanks to Dwight Silverman and his TechBlog column in for all of the above links.)

The N.Y. Times had a story on 10/10 about college students who are banding together to fight the off the wall penalties being extracted by R.I.A.A. A Brown student name Zachary McCune who ended up paying $3000 himself to the R.I.A.A. co-founded the Brown chapter of an organization called Students For a Free Culture, a national organization which is springing up on campuses all across the nation. We salute them and wish them all the luck in the world.

The death knell for the record industry surely became deafening last Wednesday when the venerable Madonna announced that she was the latest to circumvent the record labels and turn her management and the rights to distribute her studio albums and merchandise over to a concert promoting venue in Los Angeles called Live Nation.
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Uncle Pan alert: a brand new story, Clicking Away, and two previously published stories, “It’s Just Not Fair! and Twelve Minus Six Equals . . . ? have been added to:
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I thought it would be fun this week to spend some time accentuating the positive by reminiscing about my very favorite medium of yesteryear, radio. What a great potential that medium had, with its ability to use words and sounds to create instantaneous pictures in your head that were far more immediate and vivid than anything television or motion picture images are able to do. That is because your own imagination rules. Radio had it’s striking moments, and I remember hearing more than a few of them as I was growing up.

One of the very first ones I really listened to happened when I was around seven. It was president Franklin Delano Roosevelt talking to the nation during what was probably the first of his many “fireside chats,” this one about his order closing the banks to allow them to get their houses in order before panicked runs on them shut them down for good. Roosevelt had a true orator’s voice, and his words rang out loud and clear: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” His vibrant tone steadied the nation, and the banks were able to reopen later after the government established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation which helped stabilize the banking system.

Certainly one of the stunning pronouncements to come out of the ether and into the living room of our house at 1805 Fairview St., Houston, Texas, was the announcement on December 11, 1936 of Edward's abdication of the throne of England to marry the woman he loved, who happened to be a divorced American woman named Wallis Warfield Simpson. I was ten years old at the time and I’ll never forget that gravely voice with the stiff upper lip accent talking about forsaking his hereditary rights to England’s throne for the woman he loved. And what exactly would make the would-be king give up the throne of England for a woman caused me to wonder about just what qualities miss W.W. Simpson possessed that other women of the times did not. Or perhaps it was just a better fit. The BBC timeline of their courtship and subsequent marriage may be found here:

Another high point in the history of serious radio was the narrative of the Hindenburg disaster as it unfolded in Lakehurst N.J. at 7 pm on May 6th, 1937 . As the mighty airship was landing at its docking station flames suddenly engulfed the gigantic balloon. Herbert Morrison's recorded, on-the-scene, eyewitness radio report from the landing field remains one of radio’s most vivid moments, and the phrase “Oh the humanity” has remained the signature comment of the event. An amalgamation of newsreel footage of the happening along with Mr. Morrison’s radio coverage is here:

As we related in our blog #3, the most expressive exposition of the power of the medium of radio was demonstrated on October 30, 1938 by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater on the Air’s Halloween Special, an adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds broadcast on CBS. Ironically Welles was said to have used Mr. Morrison’s Hindenburg disaster account as an example of the style he wanted his actors to use in the news accounts describing the invasion. Welles’ had changed the setting of the drama from England to Grover’s Mills, New Jersey. During the first half hour of the hour long drama the invasion was presented as a series of news bulletins interrupting the radio performance of a hotel orchestra, and the news bulletins had an air of authenticity as they continually interrupted the program of sedate music. The Wikipedia report including ramifications in its aftermath can be found here:

Radio created some strange phenomonon, such as a ventriloquist whom radio listeners could not see, and a mind reader who held a nation’s attention for a time by doing feats of what was purported to be mind reading, though listeners could only hear the proceedings and had to take the mind reader’s word for the ultimate success of his mind reading attempts. The mind reader was named Dunninger. His Wikipedia page is here:

However, in order not to err on the side of seriousness, I should point out two wonderful bits of radio which could have existed only in a medium which would depend solely on the individual imagination. Jack Benny’s mythical underground moat which led to his buried treasure was one such bit. Sounds of water as a boat was rowed to traverse the moat, and the forbidden, eerie, unearthly sounds of primeval creatures created a picture in your mind where a later visual depiction attempt to show the moat on television simply fell flat. And then there was Fibber McGee’s famous closet, which most every week he would forget and open the door to by mistake and many minutes later objects were still falling floor wise. Ever reminding us of the untidy cl0sets in our own lives. The Wikipedia report on both phenomenon follows: “None of the show's running gags was as memorable or enduring as The Closet --- McGee's frequently opening and cacophonous closet, bric-a-brac clattering down and out and, often enough, over McGee's or Molly's heads. "I gotta get that closet cleaned out one of these days" was the usual McGee observation once the racket subsided.

“Like many such trademarks, the clattering closet began as a one-time stunt --- with Molly the burial victim. But The Closet was developed carefully, not being overused (it rarely appeared in more than two consecutive installments, though it never disappeared for the same length, either, at the height of its identification, and it rarely collapsed at exactly the same time from show to show), and it became the best-known running sound gag in American radio's classic period. Jack Benny's basement vault alarm ran a distant second. Both of these classic sound effects were predominantly performed by Virgil Rhymer, a West Coast Hollywood based NBC staff Sound Effects performer/creator.

“Exactly what tumbled out of McGee's closet each time was never clear (except to the sound-effects man), but what signaled the end of the avalanche was always the same sound: a clear, tiny, household hand bell and McGee's inevitable postmortem. Naturally, "one of these days" never arrived. A good thing, too, in one famous instance: when burglars tied up McGee, he informed them cannily that the family valuables were in The Closet. Naturally, the burglars took the bait. And, naturally, they were buried in the inevitable avalanche, long enough for the police to come and cuff them and stuff them.”

Robin Burns, who was also called Bob Burns, was a humorist from Arkansas who used a rustic homemade novelty instrument fashioned from stove pipes and a whiskey funnel which he call a Bazooka. World War II GIs nicknamed their handheld antitank rocket launchers Bazookas after its physical similarity to Burns' instrument. Functioning like a crude trombone, the musical bazooka had a narrow range and less-than-dulcet tone, but this was intentional, since Burns used the instrument as a prop while telling his comic hillbilly stories and jokes. The Wikipedia page on Burns contains an NBC reunion photo which also includes, Burns, Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen, Rudy Vallee, and Joe “Wanna buy a duck?” Penner.

And then there were the great feuds of radio. A major radio feud of the thirties was between the bandleader Ben Bernie (of Yowsa, yowsa fame) and then newspaper and radio gossip columnist Walter Winchell (“Hello, Mr. & Mrs North America and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press. Flash!) Wikipedia’s report: and it’s report on Walter Winchell (who is also credited with inventing the gossip column) is here:

And of course there was Edgar Bergen, the ventriloquist who radio listeners could not see but who warmed the hearts of uncounted Americans with his Charlie McCarthy characterization. From Wikipedia: “The popularity of a ventriloquist on radio, when one could see neither the dummies nor his skill, surprised and puzzled many critics, then and now. However, it was Bergen's skill as an entertainer and vocal performer, and especially his characterization of Charlie, that carried the show over. Luckily, many of the shows have survived and are available for audiences today to experience the phenomenon firsthand.” His full Wikipedia page is here:

This line given to Mae West in a sketch on the show broadcast December 12, 1937, resulted in her 15-year ban from broadcasting. "Charles, I remember our date and have the splinters to prove it."

No report on the famous feuds of radio would be complete with some words describing Edgar Bergen or rather his alter ego, Charlie McCarthy’s long running feud with that symbol of public inebriation, Mr. W. C. Fields. Charlie's feud with W. C. Fields was a regular feature of the show. I here reprint a few wisecracks from Edgar Bergen's Wikipedia listing.

W.C. Fields: "Well, Charlie McCarthy, the woodpecker's pinup boy."

W.C. Fields: "I love children. I can remember when, with my own little unsteady legs, I toddled from room to room."
Charlie: "When was that? Last night?"

W.C. Fields: "Quiet, Wormwood, or I'll whittle you down to a coathanger."

W.C. Fields: "Tell me, Charles, is it true that your father was a gate-leg table?"
Charlie: "If it is, your father was under it."

W.C. Fields: "Why, you stunted spruce, I'll throw a japanese beetle on you."
Charlie: "Why, you barfly you, I'll stick a wick in your mouth, and use you for an alcohol lamp!"

Charlie : "Pink elephants take aspirin to get rid of W. C. Fields."

W.C. Fields: "Step out of the sun Charles. You may come unglued.
Charlie: "Mind if I stand in the shade of your Nose?"

It was said that at W.C. Fields’ last appearance with Charlie McCarthy, the very ill Mr. Fields was forced to perform behind a curtain so that the live audience wouldn’t see him.

Jack Benny and Fred Allen were the two most notable feud mongers of the times. Fred Allen’s insults would fly staccato with the rapidity of a sub machine gun only to be met with sighs and groans from Benny who was the reigning master of the sigh and the groan. From Wikipedia: “Good friends in real life, Fred Allen and Jack Benny hatched a running gag in 1937, after child violinist Stewart Canin's very credible performance on the Allen show inspired Allen to deliver a wisecrack about "a certain alleged violinist" should hide in shame over his poor playing. Benny responded in kind, and they were off and running. The back-and-forth got good enough notice that the two went with it for over a decade, doing it so well that many fans of both shows believed the two really were blood enemies.” More Wikipedia:

“They toned the gag down after 1941, though they kept it going often enough as the years continued. The biggest climactic event of the feud was broadcast on Allen's show May 26, 1946. In a sketch called "King for a Day," satirizing big-money game shows, Benny pretended to be a contestant named Myron Proudfoot on Allen's new quiz show.
Allen: Tomorrow night, in your ermine robe, you will be whisked by bicycle to Orange, New Jersey, where you will be the judge in a chicken-cleaning contest.
Benny (rapturously): I'm KING for a Day!
[Allen proceeds to have Benny's clothes pressed:]
Allen: Upon our stage we have a Hoffman pressing machine.
Benny: Now wait a minute! Wait a minute!
Allen: An expert, operating the Hoffman pressing machine, will press your trousers.
Benny: NOW WAIT A MINUTE!!! (total audience hysteria laughter, as Benny's pants are literally removed).
Allen: Quiet, king!
Benny: Allen, this is a frame--- (starts laughing himself) Where are my pants?
Allen: Keep your shirt on, king.
Benny: You BET I'll keep my shirt on!
Allen: We're a little late, folks! Tune in next week---
Benny: Come on, Allen, where are my pants!
Allen: Benny, for 15 years I've been waiting to see you here like this!
Benny: Allen, you haven't seen the END of me!
Allen: It won't be long NOW!

In Benny's eventual co-memoir (his daughter added her own recollections and published it after his death), he revealed that the feud may have begun spontaneously, following the Stewart Canin incident, but that it went over big enough with listeners "that we decided to hold a summit meeting with my two writers and Allen's five writers and plan the strategy of our feud. It was all cold and calculated and the sky was the limit. Or rather, the mud was the limit." One little noted characteristic of the feud, the visiting one always got the better lines. The Allen-Benny feud was the longest-playing, best-remembered dialogue running gag in classic radio history.

Allen’s radio career was done in by the coming of television in the late 1940’s. He summed up the new medium as follows: "Television is a triumph of equipment over people," Allen observed, "and the minds that control it are so small that you could put them in the navel of a flea and still have enough room beside them for the heart of a network vice president."
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Ah, radio. How could we have possibly gotten along all of these years without it?

The Real Little Eddy

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