This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2021
Ever since I retired I no longer have to get up early to get to the office and solve the problems of the world. I can sleep in and start my day whenever I darn well please.
Well, that’s the theory anyway.
The reality is considerably different. I know that I’m retired. My coffee maker knows that I’m retired. The world knows that I’m retired.
My body does not know I’m retired. Or at least it is pretending to not know.
No matter what time I crawl into bed my internal alarm clock pries open my eyes at about 5 AM. Try as I might to roll over and sleep until later it just doesn’t work. Once my eyes pop open at 5 AM I am up.
There is not a lot for me to do at 5 AM. No stores are open – not even Starbucks. The sun isn’t even up yet. So, I end up watching TV while I’m getting dressed. And there is not much of a selection at that hour even with 200 channels. That means that while I am struggling to figure out how socks work I am tuning into “The Cowboy Channel.”
At 5 AM I am treated to ancient reruns of “The Roy Rogers Show – Starring Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys!” It’s his show so he gets top billing. Second billing goes to his horse, Trigger. After the horse comes Roy’s wife “Dale Evans – Queen of the West.” She may be the Queen, but Roy’s horse gets better placement in the credits. She must not have had a very good agent that she lost out to a horse for all those years.
Poor Dale lost out on another thing too. Roy (Real name: Leonard) had his horse named “Trigger” and a dog called “Bullet” – all rough and tough. Real macho for the “King of the Cowboys” even though dressed like a member of the Village People. Dale on the other hand, even though she is a Queen, has to ride around on a horse named “Buttermilk.”
“Buttermilk?” What kind of a name is that for a horse? I’ll bet that if she had had a dog it would have been called “Cottage Cheese” or something equally non-threatening.
That whole show was a collection of weird stuff and anachronisms. On one hand it was your classic western shoot-em-up with posses and outlaws. Their town (Mineral City) had wooden sidewalks and hitching posts. Everyone wore gunbelts and rode horses – except for one guy who drove around town in a Post-World War Two Jeep. I never could figure out that bit of business. In the confusing Old West setting of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans where did their “Comedic Sidekick”, Pat Brady, get his gasoline? His Jeep always seemed to be possessed by evil automotive demons, driving off on its own.
Was it a Cowboy show or was it a Sci-Fi Western? Nothing made sense to me. I’ve been watching that show for years, since I was a kid, and I always found it to be one of the most confusing things on television. Even the Three Stooges made more sense to me. I’m hoping that there is a lost episode that might show up one morning where we might get to see Buttermilk kick Trigger’s Palomino butt.
L to R – Dale Evans, Trigger, Roy Rogers
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I TOOK MYSELF ON A LITTLE FACT FINDING MISSION the other day. It was inspired by seeing a picture of the actress Tuesday Weld. Most men my age remember her from the TV show, “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” She played the gorgeous blonde Thalia Menninger. After she left the show nobody cared about it any longer.
My research topic had little to do with the lovely Thalia, but more to do with Tuesday – and Wednesday and Thursday, etc.
OVER THE YEARS I HAVE SEEN A LOT OF COMEDIANS. Most of them ranged from dismal to really good. There was a different level for those above “Really Good.” Those were the “Classics,” the “Geniuses, “and the “Made me laugh out loud.” There aren’t too many that made it into that last group. One who did make me laugh out loud every time was a Comedian I’ll bet you never heard of. If you are under 40 years of age I’d put money on it.
The person I’m talking about was a Spanish ventriloquist named Wenceslao Moreno. He performed under the stage name of Señor Wences.
I DO IT BECAUSE I LIKE IT. I do it because most other people like it. I do it because it is fun.
I do it because I can.
I confuse people.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I used to be part of an Improvisational Comedy group in San Francisco. The eight of us (AKA the “Improv Alternative” and later as “Anchovi Daiquiri”) worked in nightclubs, theaters, street fairs, and any place that would let us through the door. We would do a two hour show made up entirely from audience suggestions.
This morning (a few days before Valentine’s Day) I was stumbling into St. Arbucks for a transfusion with a little Half-n-Half when I saw a poster advertising a weekend concert. Whoever put it up was careless and posted it sideways on the bulletin board. The concert featured a singer doing a Frank Sinatra Tribute Show.
That singer is a performer whose Show Business career is firmly rooted in “The Law of Diminishing Returns.”
I HAVE BEEN SURVEYING THE WORLD OF PERFORMANCE ART.
It’s not hard to do –just look in your local newspaper for listings under “Live Entertainment and whenever you see something that boasts only one person doing the show, you’ve found it. But beware and tread carefully.
Most of the “Performance Art” solo performers that I’ve met over the years have been solo because nobody else in their right mind would get on a stage with them. Would YOU want to share the stage with a guy smearing ice cream all over his body? Not unless you brought the chocolate syrup and a spoon. But that would also call for a very low passable sense of culinary hygiene.
IS THIS THE FUTURE? ARE THESE THE THOMAS EDISONS OF TOMORROW?
I was flipping through the 237,812 channels on our TV the other day. There I found much to be ignored. I suppose that someone, somewhere, on some combination of medications might find some of these channels entertaining or informative. Me? I really have my doubts that “Ancient Aliens” built everything from the Pyramids of Giza up to and including the Astrodome.
But I did find one program that was both fascinating and appalling at the same time (Other than the Evening News). It was something called “Battlebots” or “Robot Wars,” or something like that.
Throwback Thursday from September 2015 –”Downwind Of Upstage Is No Place To Be”
THERE IS A GOOD REASON my wife, the lovely and unfailingly perceptive, Dawn, calls my trips to St. Arbucks, along with, “The Usual Suspects,” my “Play Group.” I admit that there are some days when the maturity level drops below Pre-School closing in on Pre-Natal.
For several days now the main topic of conversation among the group has centered on the television western series, “Gunsmoke.” This show hasn’t been on the air since 1975. Why this has become important enough to warrant two days of conversation is unknown.
I understand the lure of nostalgia – the being able to share common memories with contemporaries who are now getting along in years. What I can’t understand is why it has become necessary to dramatize scenes from the show – right there in the corner of the coffee joint. It mystifies me and I think it scares some of the staff and other customers.
The conversation seemed to center around one character on the show: “Chester Good” – portrayed by Dennis Weaver, a mediocre actor at best.
“Chester” was the Deputy to Marshall Matt Dillon, played by James Arness and irrelevant to this discussion.
The character of “Chester” was disabled on the show. His character was gunned down in an early episode and for the rest of his time on the show he ran around with one leg, unbending, and stiff as a pool cue.
Week after week he would scuttle around, getting in over his head with the local bad guys. He would then run, after a fashion – stiff leg swinging out like the line on a weed eater, and yelling, “Mr. Dillon, Mr. Dillon, come quick.” Not exactly a showcase for Mr. Weaver’s acting chops, but it paid the bills.
How all of this was remembered by The Usual Suspects in 2015 is where things got dicey.
After describing “Chester” and his “mobility issues” it was determined by one Suspect that more was needed to illustrate his point (Whatever it was). He also thought that it would help if he performed Chester’s lines, but his recollection veered a bit from reality.
The Suspect hauled himself out of his chair and began to stiff-leg it across the floor. Then his dialogue came out, loud enough to reach the back row at the Hollywood Bowl.
“Holy Sh**, Mr. Dillon. Come quick. Holy Sh**!
It was at this point that I tried to hide under a table. I’m positive that “Chester” never said that on network television – ever.
This breach of nostalgia etiquette had the other Suspects trying to force him back in his chair.
“Sit down! You’re going to get us all thrown out of here!”
I peeked around and all of the baristas and other coffee drinkers looked like prairie dogs – alert with eyes wide open, wondering what was happening. Was the big guy with the bad leg going Postal? Was he a threat or merely nuts?
The answer to that particular question was: All of the above. But I’m not being judgmental.
Now, all of this could be written off as a quirky, one-time event, like Ross Perot or World War Two, except that there was an encore performance the next day.
When I arrived on the scene this “Faux Chester” was already wound up like a Joy Buzzer and moments later he was off and running, albeit with a significant limp. I was still near the door, so I just sidled over toward the recycling bin and pretended to be checking that things were being sorted properly.
If this was going to be a daily performance, I told him, he was going to have to join the Actors’ Equity labor union. It was either that or he was going to be hauled off for a 72 hour observation at the Bubble Factory. Personally, I’m voting for the 72 hour gig.
Most days at St. Arbucks are quiet, contemplative even, but this week it was more like being trapped inside bad Community Theater.
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Throwback Thursday from July 2015 – “But Wait! There’s More
But Wait! There’s More!
I WAS SITTING AT THE KITCHEN TABLE the other morning, minding my own business and eating some grapes, when I turned on the TV and came in halfway through an Infomercial.
The format is always the same – one guy and one gal acting as if their conversation is completely ad libbed. Sure it is. These mini-dramas are scripted out by a team of advertising copy writers who try so hard to be creative. They fail every time. Most of the time these actors sound like they are just coming out from under heavy anesthesia.
I immediately recognized the guy part of the infomercial pair. That is his picture up top. I’m sure he came to Hollywood with the dream of being the next Spencer Tracy or Vin Diesel. Instead he has landed the plum role of “The Guy” in about 47 different infomercials over the years.
So much for Art.
In most of his infomercial gigs he portrays a guy who is mildly stupid and needs to be enlightened by “The Gal” about the earthshaking benefits of whatever trashy product they are selling. I can’t believe he is really that dense. If he was that thick between the ears he would never have survived so long. He would have been distracted by a shiny object and wandered out into traffic or died horribly in his own apartment because he ignored the warning to, “Don’t try this at home!”
He must be a better actor than I’m giving him credit for – or he has an off-screen helper who keeps him fed and away from potentially dangerous home appliances. I’m not sure.
My point being –
This poorly acted and written infomercial that I chanced to bump into while eating grapes, on July 16, 2015, was showcasing the ease, importance and beauty of Outdoor Christmas Lighting so I could turn our home from simply being a boring “baby poop yellow” into a neighborhood shocking light show that would scare the neighbor’s dogs and probably be visible from space.
This infomercial went a bit farther than most by having “unpaid testimonials from satisfied customers.”
They showed the exterior of a house that looked as if it was being invaded by Smallpox pustules that could crawl around over your siding at will. It was spooky.
When they interviewed a woman who claimed to be the home owner she seemed not only overjoyed, but seriously overdosed. Lord knows what she was seeing. She sang the praises of the lighting gizmo that did this to her house, exclaiming how much she enjoyed having strangers come down her street and drive slowly past her home. In most neighborhoods that kind of activity would generate phone calls to the Police.
To me it all looked like a prelude to a drive-by shooting.
OK, so this was just another infomercial for yet another product that I neither want, need or would take as a gift. I didn’t stop eating my grapes and I didn’t dial the toll free number at the bottom of my screen.
But wait! There’s more!
As I sat there watching this thing, that only needed Tap Dancing Zombies to make it worse, the one and only pertinent fact finally wormed its way to the surface of my consciousness:
It was July 16th for cryin’ out loud!
Why were these Morons of Marketing running this infomercial in the middle of Summer? It is 86 degrees outside, I’m wearing a Hawaiian Shirt and the dog next door is trying not to die from heat prostration.
Who in their right mind would be buying Christmas lights on July 16th?
Maybe the actor playing “The Guy?” He seems to be downright enthusiastic about the whole idea of turning his home into an eyesore. But, then again, he is getting paid to do this gig.
Now, this may seem callous, but here goes.
I hope that this actor’s parents are deceased. I say that because I hate to think that they would be watching this infomercial and have to endure the anguish of realizing that they paid a bloody fortune to send their boy to the Yale Drama School for four years and this infomercial is, very likely, the peak of his career. If they weren’t already deceased, seeing this infomercial might be enough to warrant the removal of any sharp objects from their home.
Their home – the one WITHOUT the friggin’ ugly Christmas lights infecting the neighborhood.
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WE HAD THE OSCARS ON THE TV A FEW WEEKS AGO. I didn’t say that we actually watched it, just that we had it on the Tube. Of all the films nominated for an award I think we had seen…One. And I didn’t care for it all that much.
It is Springtime and we are hard into the Award Shows Season as well. Various Organizations and Industries are stumbling over themselves to put on a show of overwhelming Self-Congratulations. Heavy-Duty exercises are being done to facilitate better the patting of one’s own back.
WHO KNOWS WHAT TOMORROW BRINGS? Not me, that’s for sure. Given the state of the world today there are few things that can be regarded as certain. Not many, but there are a few. I bumped into one of those sure things last night.
My wife, the lovely and cinematically tasteful, Dawn, and I are big fans of the Movies. Dawn’s taste is better and covers a wider spectrum than mine so she roots around and uncovers some real gems. Last night she found a truffle of a film that is going to be on our short list of “Movies to be seen ASAP.”
AH, THE THEATER. A place where magic can happen. A place where the Muses join to bring light, sound, and poetry together.
Unfortunately, it is also a place where disasters can happen. A place where the gremlins join to bring darkness, silence, and confusion together. When that takes place you can send audiences away into the night feeling lost, numb, and regretting the cost of both dinner and tickets.
THERE ARE INVENTORS, CREATORS, AND INNOVATORS and then there was Bill Veeck.
If you are a baseball fan, a REAL baseball fan, you already know about Bill Veeck. Even if you are just a casual fan of The Game you are aware of his influence of the game.
The ivy on the walls of Chicago’s Wrigley Field? Thank Bill Veeck. That was his idea. He was always coming up with something. Honestly however, not all of his ideas were successful or appreciated.
Veeck would tell the story that in the early 1940s, when he was part owner of the minor league Milwaukee Brewers; he installed a portable screen that raised the height of the outfield wall. When the opposing team was at bat the screen would go up – and it was lowered when the Brewers were at bat. That lasted all of one day before the league banned it.
‘ You broke my heart ’cause I couldn’t dance
You didn’t even want me around
And now I’m back to let you know
I can really shake ’em down!’ (Berry Gordy)
Roma uno die non est condita.
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
It takes time to found a mighty Empire that will conquer all the known world.
So, from the founding of Rome (let’s say 753BC) to the final defeat of Carthage it was all of 600 years.
It is therefore somewhat remarkable it took Berry Gordy less than a decade from the founding of Motown in 1959 to establish an Empire that colonised the hearts and souls of music fans from Addis Abbaba to Zanzibar and Zagreb!
An $800 loan from his family became a multi, multi million dollar record company which would record songs that will last as long as we have Spirits that need lifting, hearts that need stirring (or consolation) and hips that just gotta move.
First, get yourself a base that you own.
Let’s show our ambition and call this base, ‘Hitsville USA’.
A Studio come Clubhouse where your singers and musicians can find competition and camaraderie 24 hours a day (acording to legend the local beat cop thought 2648 West Grand Drive Boulevard must be an all hours drinking den given the numbers of shady looking characters turning up at all hours of the day and night).
Next get yourself a live and play in the Basement group of musicians with Jazz chops who can fashion a wholly new sound – which is not jazz, not old school R&B, Blues or Rock n’ Roll.
Let’s call them The Funk Brothers and let’s have one of them, James Jamerson on Bass, be a fully fledged genius who will add grace and depth to every recording he ever plays on.
Let’s have a slogan calling that sound, ‘The Sound of Young America’ and let’s make so many great records that the slogan will became an every day reality on the airwaves and the charts.
And, we don’t mean, in still highly segregated America, the Black Music Charts .
No, no, no.
We mean the Pop Music charts.
Where the real money is to be made.
Open for Business and cast a cool appraising eye on all the would be stars who beat a path to your door.
This kid Smokey Robinson’s a Keeper – he’s got a notebook with hundreds of songs and he can sing ’em like a bird and work the Recording Desk too!
Not that I can’t write and produce myself.
You ever heard, ‘Reet Petite’ or, ‘Lonely Teardrops’?
Big Hits but Berry didn’t get the money!
Not going to happen again!
So, in 1960, New Frontier!, we get our first hit.
Barrett Strong with, ‘Money’ (bunch of English guys in Hamburg called The Beatles will learn a lot playing that one!).
Then Smokey comes up with, ‘Shop Around’ and by the end of the year we got a Million Seller!
Here comes 1961 and we get ourselves our first Pop Number One!
The Marvellettes, ‘Please Mr Postman’.
I got my eyes and ears on that Brian Holland – there’s a lot more hits where that came from!
Early ’62 I figure we need to find a song like, ‘Twist and Shout’ that will have all the White Kids, all the Black Kids and everybody who ain’t tied to a chair out on the floor and running down to the record store to lay down their cash.
Let’s call it, ‘Do You Love Me’.
I thought it might suit The Temptations but maybe they just sing too well for this one (I got big plans for them later).
Probably the best dancers of anyone who ever came through these doors!
Come to think of it Billy Gordon got a, ‘Wake the Dead and get ’em up Dancin” Voice if I ever heard one!
Next time they come through I’m gonna sit down at the piano and teach them the song one evening and record it the next day.
Gonna tell James to drive this one like a runaway train.
None of his fancy jazz licks – nail that backbeat to the Basement floor!
Of course, when Benny Benjamin is behind the Drums, the record is going to sound immense.
Maybe I’ll start with a spoken intro and then let The Funk Brothers explode and tell Billy I don’t want him to be able to sing this song a second time ’cause I want him to tear his throats to shreds the first time!
Ok – let’s go!
Now, if that ain’t shaking ’em down I don’t know what is!
The Funk Brothers never let up and Billy Gordon’s lead vocal comes at you like a tidal wave.
Hubert Johnson, Billy Higgs, Joe Billingslea and Sylvester Potts make up a chorus that has an irresitble goofball charm. The trilling guitar comes from Huey Davis.
When I’ve managed to master some skill which has previously eluded me (and there’s a lot of them!) I just can’t stop myself singing, ‘I’ m back and I can really shake ’em down – Watch me now!’.
I love the corny spoken introduction, the false ending, the references to the Mashed Potato and The Twist and the bullfrog, ‘Um, Bom, Bom, Bom, brrrmm’ backing vocals.
Of course Berry got his hit!
Top 5 in every Chart and well over a Million copies sold.
They say it was the fastest selling single in the history of Motown.
Malheureusement, it was the pinnacle of The Contours career though they did make a handful of other excellent recordings.
They were simply too low down in the pecking order of Motown Vocal Groups.
And, when you consider they were up against the likes of The Four Tops and The Tempatations that is hardly to be wondered at.
There’s almost always been a version of the group out there driving a crowd crazy with, ‘Do You Love Me’.
And, by some mysterious alignment of the heavens, in 1987 the song gained a wholly unexpected new lease of life through being featured in the world wide hit film. ‘Dirty Dancing’ (even if they did, disgracefully, chop off the ending!).
One of the versions of The Contours got to go on a world tour and enjoy the big time once again.
Not so, for poor Billy Gordon.
For Billy died in poverty after spending time in prison (bizarrely with one time colleague Joe Billingslea being a Corrections Officer in the Prison!).
So it goes. So it goes.
Yet, every day someone, somewhere, has their life lit up by hearing Billy intone:
‘You broke my heart ’cause I couldn’t dance
You didn’t even want me around
And now I’m back to let you know
I can really shake ’em down!‘
And then, if they’ve got any blood in their veins they’ll go stone crazy for the next two and a half minutes.
Watch me Now!
Dedicated to :
Billy Gordon (RIP)
Sylvester Potts (RIP)
Hubert Johnson (RIP)
Huey Davis (RIP)
James Jamerson (RIP)
Benny Benjamin (RIP)
Britain’s Ace Records has two excellent complications documenting The Contours recorded legacy.
ELVIS HAS LEFT THE FOOD CHAIN! I have to admit that was the nastiest and most snarky comment I heard tossed around on the 16th, the 40th anniversary of Elvis shuffling off his mortal coil.
In a way that seemed to me to be more of a celebration of that event rather than a commemoration the TCM Channel ran 24 hours of nonstop Elvis movies. That is not an easy thing to deal with. I think looking up at the sun on acid while eating ghost peppers would be less difficult.
According to the IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) Elvis made 31 movies, BUT the people at TV Guide say that he cranked out 34. How there can be that much of a discrepancy is beyond me. Of course, a lot of things are beyond me, i.e. MTV that doesn’t play any music.
When that happens the dogs howl, babies cry and milk goes bad on the “Best if used by…” date. And I usually end up with my neck in a wringer.
What triggered my lobes into action was a feeling, a nostalgia, perhaps. I got an email from a local theater group that is holding auditions for their next production. I have no interest in that particular play, but it hit a responsive chord in my heart.
This story was created as a performance piece. I presented it a number of times over the years.
It is longer than my usual posts.
I hope you enjoy it.
WHEN SYLVIE SANG the men at the bar would stop and turn on their stools to listen. The bartender would dry his hands, move to the end of the bar and light up a cigarette. The waitresses would huddle by the wall and hug their trays. And the drunken man who cried softly to himself in the corner by the door would lift his eyes and rub his hands together underneath an invisible spigot.
When Sylvie sang, the room was locked in glass and still – as still as a new widow hearing that first long silence.
In the spotlight the smoke was frozen.
“When Sunny gets blue, her eyes get gray and cloudy.”
When Sylvie sang she never really heard the music or thought about the words. She was far away in a small town by a riverbank, holding onto someone she loved. She only heard his voice, felt his heat, and the nightclub disappeared.
When Sylvie sang she wasn’t there and the people she sang for knew that because she took them with her.
“What would they say if we up and ran away from the roaring crowd?”
But the song always has to end and when the music stopped the men at the bar would turn again and start to laugh and talk. The waitresses would rush to cover their thirsty stations and the drunken man would close his eyes again and descend inside himself. Sylvie would go out into the alley and smoke until the next set called her back.
A FEW DAYS AGO I got into a discussion with an acquaintance about what it is like doing a play in “The Round.”
Theater in the Round is where the stage and the actors are completely surrounded by the audience. There is no formal stage separation with the audience sitting “out there” beyond the footlights. Such an arrangement can create problems for both the performers and the audience members.
I’M A FAN OF JIMMY BUFFETT. I’m not a fan to the point of calling myself a “Parrothead” which is similar to avid fans of the Grateful Dead calling themselves “Deadheads.” No, I’m not a “Parrothead.” I don’t hitchhike around the country to attend Buffett concerts and I don’t have any Buffett tattoos. I can’t afford the ticket prices and I’m too old to start siring kids named “Cheeseburger” or “Margaritaville.”
I guess I’m more of a “Parakeet” than a “Parrothead.”
I just like his music and I admire him because as a man of 70 he can still take his show on tour without the need for a fulltime medical staff.
John Kraft is a writer living and working in Terre Haute, Indiana. He moved to the Midwest after 25 years in California where he worked as an actor, comedian, voice-over actor, as well as a writer. He now enjoys a saner pace of life with his wife, Dawn, who tries to keep him from embarrassing himself in public.
Perhaps I should explain the title of this blog: Down the Hall on Your Left.
My name is John. People are always asking where they can find "The John." My answer is: "Down the Hall on Your Left."