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Posts Tagged ‘author G. A. De Forest’

Institutional Knowledge Today in the Umpteenth Year of “The Knowledge Economy”: Do you want fries with that?

In civics, ideology, politics, sociology on April 12, 2015 at 11:49 pm

This item is produced (from a draft six weeks old) from the point of view of New Zealand with local circumstances in mind. Somehow, I’m sure, people in a couple of hundred other countries will be able to relate to it… The wonders of technological and economic progress.

KnowledgeWhere?6854662772_55f43de9c0_oYesterday I and an elderly friend enquired about how to get a Total Mobility Card, available to over-65s and the infirm allowing them to access taxi transport for half price. We started at his g.p. — Neither he or his receptionist knew of this arcane service that is supposed to be universal across the nation and severely affects the wellbeing of old people, but she took the trouble to phone a cab company and was told the cards were issued by the Auckland Council, and sent us there to pick up an application form. On calling at the council offices — John, aged 85, stayed in the car by necessity — while I, venturing inside, was told whom we should contact was called Auckland Transport… no luck there, so back to square one. That’s really what the difference is in these situations — whether you stumble on someone, eventually, who is willing and able to help. It used to be that, whether he gave a damn or not, a public servant would be helpful through the sheer amount of knowledge he held in his brain after years of experience in the same job or making his way (slowly) up the ladder based on long experience. This is what we call the “infrastructure” that made a society socially beneficial for its members. It was Margaret Thatcher — that despot who deformed her own country by reinforcing the class system with a vengeance — — and now celebrated as someone worth remembering via Meryl Streep — who proudly proclaimed that “There is no such thing as society.”

I couldn’t help reflecting on a time up to thirty years ago (now, as I count them) when I worked in a government department and there was more than a smattering, a large core, of staff who knew every rule and every skerrick of policy that could help a client; only they weren’t clients then, they were fellow members of the public with not even a counter separating us from them, and entitled to every resource at hand coming to them as of right as a citizen or permanent resident. The local post office — long gone everywhere around the country to the point of dismantling villages and hamlets now barely a memory — would have someone who knew where to get anything, how to help anyone or put you in direct touch with someone who could. This was called “institutional knowledge” and was held in a place of regard and some considerable importance at the time. It was the thing that would keep essential infrastructure in a society going after the nuclear holocaust had blown over and the cockroaches and Law of the Jungle were about to take over.

Now, in an era when every public asset has been privatized or corporatized, boards of governors play musical chairs from one corporation to the next — their feet never getting wet, never mind muddied by mixing with us ordinary folks — managers are “head hunted” for their ruthlessness with staff in treating them like dispensible cogs more of nuisance value than any importance. And the institutional knowledge held by societies across the globe seems to amount to automated self-service (Whatever happened to exalted “customer service”?), a one-size-fits-all approach to products, and a nice smile interchangeable across MacDonald’s, Burger King, the local pharmacy to the doctor’s surgery to our universities — and amounts to “Do you want fries with that?” In other words, not How can we help you in a meaningful way, but how can we upsize your order to collect more money for our shareholders?: and this coming from servants who are employed at the sufferance of owners and managers who can strip their weekly hours and routinely reduce them to try to eke out an existence for them and their family on less-than-living wages.

New Zealand has been headed this way since the mid 1970s under a big-business-minded conservative National Party government through its nine-year term, and was accelerated by stealth on the election of the trumpeted Third Labour Government — actually a lot like a Fifth Column of neoliberals. While the Nats invented institutionalized, permanent unemployment in this country that had previously had none — into the tens of thousands within a year and then upwards of a hundred thousand still in its first term (equivalent to seven million in the United States) — this new Labour Parliament was anything but labor, made up of lawyers, accountants and other businessmen eager to impress their cronies of the so-called Business Round Table, a coterie of laissez-faire capitalists and big investors dead set on a silent coup. First to go was the power of the unions, membership made noncompulsory and close to impotent.

And now the prospective next government, led by a hopeful Labour Party, refuses to even threaten that public assets still being sold into the hands of politicians’ cronies — privatised for the privileged and subsidised to the tune of $hundreds of millions by us taxpayers — will be taken back into public hands as soon as they are elected. I can see a time when, around the world, our only alternative future will resemble more Bastille Day 1789 than the futuristic Utopia every thinking person once hoped for. What a pity for the world, but just a fact of life, that the greedy and most powerful among us always seem to be the last to learn from history.

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RAWHIDE!

In history, television on March 27, 2015 at 12:16 am

Rawhide cattle logoToday maybe this western television series — filmed through its seven-year run (1959-66) in black and white — is best remembered for its theme song, and not even for its classic rendition by Frankie Laine but by nonsingers Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi of The Blues Brothers (1980). It seems a shameful travesty, as seen today — and I’ve been watching the entire run semi-religiously on the Turner Channel daily, sometimes twice a day for the especially good episodes — it easily holds its quality after all these years as the best western rerun, just shading Gunsmoke but utterly destroying the color extravaganzas Bonanza, High Chaparral and The Big Valley; with a nod to The Wild Wild West, very well done but as an interesting foray into a camp, period-set crime show that had more in common with The Man From Uncle, even Star Trek. The series was created by Charles Marquis “Bill” Warren, a writer who had begun in the business with MGM. Warren kept busy with television, turning out three classics among his five western series, the others being Gunsmoke and The Virginian; another not so bad was the later Iron Horse with Dale Robertson. On none of his projects did Warren stay more than one or two seasons, happy to move on to something new once his current series was established. As such, he must rate with Quinn Martin (The Untouchables, The Fugitive, The Invaders) as among the most successful independent television producers of the 1960s.

Like virtually all successful American tv series that don’t drag through repetition for a whole season, Rawhide relied on seven or eight regulars to carry the stories as genuine ensemble efforts. Eric Fleming (33 when filming started) and Eastwood (28) dominated as the trail boss and his ramrod respectively, often alternating, though the older man commanded the screen as well as the drovers. The top-billed star’s personal story is a haunting one, from a boyhood filled with vicious physical abuse from his father, to traumatic military service and facial reconstruction surgery, to early accidental death by “drowning” in a raging river (several witnesses swear he was the victim of piranha attack) filming on location in South America. Sheb Wooley as trail scout Pete Nolan was a reliable third wheel with screen presence, almost as tall as the 6ft-3-to-4 Fleming and Eastwood and fit for romantic leads, but leaving in 1962 to further his considerable country & western career — though he had been a recognisable screen face from his role as the third doomed badguy in High Noon (1952) and made most money from disc novelties like “The Purple People Eater”. Steve Raines (as Jim Quince) and Rocky Shahan (as Joe Scarlett) had started as stuntmen and background expert horsemen and wranglers, but Raines shone in an often demanding role and early on performed as central character a number of times, a convincing westerner in the Fordesque mold and a more than competent actor. Even Mushy, the young naive (slow) “cook’s louse”, played appealingly but without mushy sentiment by James Murdock, was treated as an important character, having several stories built around him. A year or so younger than Clint in real life, Murdock was handsome too and over six feet, yet another slimline hunk to ensure covering every possible combination and permutation of demographic. In keeping with the historical veracity of cattle drives held paramount for the theme of the series throughout, little Robert Cabal as “Hey Soos” (Jesus, spelt phonetically) was in charge of the remuda (corral of working horses) and added many a fine coloring of Mexican folklore and trail superstition to the atmosphere. In his eyes, packs of wolves, rogue bulls roaming solo, patent medicine pedlars and travelling entertainment shows of Gypsies were never quite what they seemed, allowing for interpretation by the supernaturally inclined — much to the taste of the drovers but the constant derision of ever tough, level-headed trail boss Gil Favor. Far less conspicuous and never featured was John Hart, a semi-regular over two early seasons but trusted with few lines though yet another who was tall with movie-star looks and not without talent: on the slow road of neglect after having been tv’s fill-in Lone Ranger for two seasons while Clayton Moore ruminated over a pay dispute with the producers, and then again every boy’s small-screen hero in the Canadian-produced Hawkeye/Last of the Mohicans.

Bewhiskered Paul Brinegar (Wishbone the cook), always good value as comedy relief in westerns — seen in the Fifties as a regular sidekick of Hugh O’Brian on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp — and whose avuncular codger appeal a sizable section of Rawhide fans swore by, was a recognised star by 1964 and he and the two established principals toured Japan, where the series was number one in the ratings. In the States it was not as overwhelmingly popular as Gunsmoke, Wagon Train and Bonanza (1959-73), ratings toppers in turn for several years and all in color years before Rawhide folded; or a number of lesser western entries for that matter. Rawhide, a mid-season entry in the New Year of 1959, was an instant top 20 hit, peaking at no.6 for 1961, but then on a slow fade in domestic popularity despite a constant year-by-year improvement in overall production standards. And in the face of the fact that it was by far the most authentic western on tv through the Sixties including other vaunted candidates such as Gunsmoke, a revelation as the first adult western in 1955 and darkly noir-stylish in its early years (running till 1975), Wagon Train (1957-64), and Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958-60) with Steve McQueen as the bounty hunter.

rawhide_original cast

Repeat guests of the suitably gritty quality of Warren Oates, Harry Dean Stanton, Lee Van Cleef, Robert Middleton, Simon Oakland, Claude Akins, R. G. Armstrong, Lola Albright, Ted De Corsia and L. Q. Jones had served the series’ long run well, along with bravura character thespians James Whitmore, Burgess Meredith, Mercedes McCambridge, Mickey Rooney, Patricia Medina, Fritz Weaver, Linda Cristal and others. Rawhide‘s production company, Revue-CBS, which in 1962 had finished with Laramie and begun the full-color, 90-minute blockbuster The Virginian/Men of Shiloh as a longrunning flagship project, by the end of 1964 was ploughing more resources into bolstering a failing series that was arguably better than ever. One episode from this period, “Canliss” directed by former sci-fi specialist Jack Arnold (It Came From Outer Space, Creature From the Black Lagoon, This Island Earth) features Dean Martin as the titular gunfighter, surrounded by up-and-coming leading lady Laura Devon and prestige character stars Michael Ansara (famous from tv as Cochise), Theodore Bikel and silent-movie veteran Ramon Novarro. The recruitment of Martin — best-selling crooner and moreover bona fide tv star with his own popular variety series having started that September — was a sure sign of status, the first “special guest star” to be featured upfront in the opening titles, though the series was to survive barely a year more till the New Year of 1966, just half a season after the decamp of Eric Fleming with Clint Eastwood left as the sole regular star.

The episode did without Rowdy altogether, Eastwood on hiatus making A Fistful of Dollars with Italian director Sergio Leone. Clint had guested in a pre-Rawhide episode of Maverick, co-starred with other popular tv series stars David Janssen (Richard Diamond, later The Fugitive) and Darren McGavin (Mike Hammer, later The Outsider) in an ill-starred remake of Lafayette Escadrille (1958) from prestigious director William Wellman, and gone on to guest star as himself in Mr Ed — a modest peak in American tv. Starting as a $600-a-week tv “star”, he had probably made it to a couple of thou by the end of the run — and received $15,000 for his first Leone outing; $50,000 for the second, For a Few Dollars More, filmed 1965; $250,000 for the third, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (’66). Eastwood called on Ted Post, a frequent director of Rawhide episodes, to handle his first independent film production, Hang ‘Em High.

Eric Fleming said, leaving after the 1964-65 series, the producers had let him go because he was costing them a million dollars a year — the same, record fee that Elizabeth Taylor had recently earned for Cleopatra, that took two years to film: good indication of Fleming’s centrality and appeal to fans of the show. For as long as he lasted, Gil Favor’s “Head ’em up! [six-beat pause] Move ’em out!” was an icon and probably the widest known feature of the series apart from its evergreen theme written by Dimitri Tiomkin. And when the show finally wound up the unforgettable personification of Favor, Eric Fleming, had just months to live.

While Charles Gray had filled in as scout Clay Forrester with charismatic performances (though on the back foot competing with scout Flint McCullough played by Robert Horton on Wagon Train) for a good while after the departure of Sheb Wooley, only for Wooley to return for a few episodes when it was almost all over, things were never the same when for the season opening of fall 1965 Rawhide recruited John Ireland (previously the gunslinger in Red River and Johnny Ringo in Gunfight at the OK Corral) and Raymond St Jacques for its final series — as fill-ins, as Wagon Train and Bonanza would try too for longevity. Ireland and St Jacques played it macho as badly drawn new characters, with the former bizarrely out of type as an obvious middle-ager nonetheless given to impulsive, foolish moves, previously the province of young Rowdy Yates — with Clint Eastwood now firmly in Sergio Leone mode as the unrelentingly grim, leaden-faced “man with no name” he would continue with in one context or another for the rest of his on-screen career.

Stripped of Hey Soos, “Mushy” Mushgrove III, and Joe Scarlett from its guts, gone were the incidental comedy and confrontations at the chuck wagon, around the camp fire and over the coffee pot that had made the series thoroughly human. Bit characters who had lent a special flavor, like “Teddy” and “Toothless”, were no more. And Wishbone, formerly blustering as lovably cantankerous mostly toward Mushy, was cast adrift as a bully flaying everyone in sight with pointless jibes. Young English supporting actor David Watson, with a full molded Beatle helmet and Peter & Gordon toffee-nosed accent, was introduced in hopes of updating the image to Mod 1965 — to no avail. As a supposed consolation, lost in tv history obscurity, a collective landmark was crossed with St Jacques joining Bill Cosby (I Spy) and Ivan Dixon (Hogan’s Heroes) as the first black actors as regulars in a tv series, all appearing in September 1965, to be followed by Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura a year later starting Star Trek.

COWBOYS IN HOLLYWOOD

In film, history on February 2, 2015 at 7:42 am
"Bronco Billy" Anderson sheet music (1914)

“Bronco Billy” Anderson sheet music (1914)

It was 1903, a time when Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid were still raiding from Devil’s Hole and Los Angeles itself not much more than a hole in the wall, that the one-reel western drama The Great Train Robbery scored a huge hit with audiences stirred by a life and time rapidly passing by. This was four years before a viable movie industry began in the United States, and a stage thespian and featured player from the short film, G. M. Anderson, formed the Essanay motion picture production company in Chicago and began his career as a cowboy on screen, namely “Bronco Billy”.

Buffalo Bill & Sitting Bull, taken 1895, the year of the first commercial film showing.

Buffalo Bill & Sitting Bull, taken 1895, the year of the first commercial film showing.

For a while, travelling “wild west” shows starring William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Sitting Bull and others outdrew western movies for paying audiences. Wyatt Earp (still spry until 1929) volunteered himself as a historical-technical consultant to filmmakers, and the real west imposed itself on screen art too by incorporating real cowboys and Indians as stuntmen doubling as actors, some of whom became proto-stars. Enterprising small outfits, ever more mobile like American and Bison, set up filming units in the wilds of California before there was a Hollywood and used the raw resources at hand (including lead actor Francis Ford, brother of future director John Ford), making probably the most authentic westerns ever. Apaches grew more popular in France, then the centre of filmmaking, than they had ever been to Americans, white or red, and Star Film of Paris set up shop in Flagstaff, Arizona. Producer-director Gaston Melies, partner and brother of Georges Melies, one of the founding fathers of narrative film, was the local honcho, later joined in North America by leading continental European companies such as Pathe-Freres, Gaumont, Nordisk and independent Solax. The wilds of Fort Lee, New Jersey, close to the big film companies in New York, remained the mecca of western filmmaking until World War I.

It wasn’t until 1915 or so that the long, lean dramatic figure of the classic cowboy eclipsed the popularity of squat, energetic Bronco Billy with his pat heroics. While the stark, dressed-all-in-black William S. Hart was the new sensation in character-driven dramas promoted in the films from Paramount, the biggest studio and film distributor in the suddenly burgeoning Hollywood, at nearby Universal City rode dour Harry Carey directed by John Ford as saddle bum “Cheyenne Harry”, and Tom Mix, with experience as a wrangler and deputy sheriff, was making steady progress at Fox, perversely portraying a cowboy with spangles and shiny spurs and riding Tony the “wonder horse”.

Tom Mix in 1925: The Jazz Age's idea of a cowboy

Tom Mix in 1925: The Jazz Age’s idea of a cowboy

Hart had earned massive fees of $150,000 and $200,000 per movie in a time of virtually no income tax; and gained such high prestige he was invited by Charles Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks to be a founding partner in United Artists (1919) before being substituted by D. W. Griffiths. Through the 1920s, though, Tom Mix set the tone by appearing in six to eight B-movies a year, said to earn $17,000 per week while filming, averaging out to a steady $7,500 a week through the years. Hoot Gibson came to emulate him at Universal, ousting the realism of the Ford-Carey films; as Fred Thomson did at FBO — Film Booking Offices, whose major shareholder was a certain Joseph P. Kennedy, lover of Gloria Swanson, before it morphed into the famous RKO studio at the beginning of talkies. These two also approached Mix’s commercial appeal, reportedly rewarded with during-filming weekly pay of $14,500 (Gibson) and $15,000 (Thomson). A last gasp try at A-movie status for westerns was pushed by MGM late in the decade through hero Tim McCoy appearing in a select few relative blockbusters with good co-stars and supporting casts.

Tom Mix retired from the screen, temporarily as it turned out, in 1930 when he was still riding high at 10th place in Quigley’s annual box-office survey, albeit through bulk product in release. Tiring of proving his credentials live in “wild west” travelling shows, he returned two years later, by which time Buck Jones and Jack Holt in B’s were the only cowboys showing up in the annual top 25 stars list. Buck continued scoring on his own up to 1935, multitudes of strictly B “stars” like Ken & Kermit Maynard, Charles Starret, Tom Tyler, Smith Ballew and Bob Steele lining up at tiny “Poverty Row” studios like Monogram, Grand National, Chesterfield and Tiffany; and aspiring Columbia and Universal. In 1930 the athleticism of Johnny Mack Brown had made a good impression in a big, realistic production of Billy the Kid at MGM, while John Wayne in his first major lead role was doomed by the failure of Fox blockbuster The Big Trail to a decade as a B-cowboy and the best part of another as a mediocre star before taken fully in hand by ace western directors John Ford and Howard Hawks.

The founding of Republic studio in 1935 would lead to singing cowboys Gene Autry and then Roy Rogers climbing to top 10 star status through appeal to undiscerning audiences unconcerned with authenticity with, again, bulk output. This trail was followed too by William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy and led to the overwhelming popularity of kids’ cowboys on tv from 1949 through the early 1950s: The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, Kit Carson, et al. It was a species John Wayne, best known on screen as gunslinger “Singing Sandy” in the mid Thirties, had only torturously escaped, handed a plum role in Stagecoach (1939) by Ford.

Henry Fonda broke through to major stardom — that top 25 published each year by the Motion Picture Herald — in 1939 and 1940 courtesy of western roles in Jesse James, Drums Along the Mohawk and The Return of Frank James, a status he couldn’t sustain in ensuing sophisticated comedies and then forestalled by war service that put him behind the eight ball. To cement his comeback he wisely chose Ford classics My Darling Clementine (1946) and Fort Apache (1948).

Gary Cooper in High Noon (1952), showing solidarity

Gary Cooper in High Noon (1952), showing solidarity

In the meantime, Gary Cooper, who’d made his name at the first death of westerns as talkies came in as laconic hero The Virginian and The Man From Wyoming, had made tentative steps to return as The Plainsman (1937) as Wild Bill Hickok and The Westerner (1940) under top directors Cecil B. DeMille and William Wyler. It was obvious the A-western was here to stay when odd-man-out Errol Flynn at Warner Bros, the studio of urban modernism, was, Tasmanian accent intact, diverted once a year from his pirate swashbucklers to depict the classic heroic westerner in an expensive and highly popular series from 1939: Dodge City, Virginia City, Santa Fe Trail, They Died With Their Boots On, San Antonio

By the end of World War II the main feature western at the Saturday matinee was such a staple that established routine stars Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea restricted themselves to the genre for the rest of their careers. McCrea made it among the runners at 23rd in 1950, while Scott (best directed by Budd Boetticher) was a fixture in the list from 1948 to 1956, top 10 the middle four years. By this time not only Gary Cooper was a regular in westerns, but James Stewart more popular than ever, re-entering the upper echelon after ten years, moreover joining his friend Coop in the top 10 for the first time (1951). While Stewart, mostly directed by Anthony Mann for Universal, got wealthy on percentage-participation deals, other Universal contractees on salary grew into big stars in westerns: Audie Murphy, Jeff Chandler, Rock Hudson.

Through the Sixties and into the Seventies, while John Wayne ruled tall in the saddle, other established stars extended their careers and broadened their appeal by going western: Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Charlton Heston, Richard Widmark; and veteran supporting actors Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Lee Van Cleef morphed into bona fide stars. B-westerns were long gone from the big screen to tv series, developing Steve McQueen (Wanted: Dead or Alive), James Garner (Maverick) and Eastwood himself (Rawhide) into superstars.

Cowboys and American Indians have fared poorly on screen over the past forty years in the era of wookies and hobbits and other differently-normal humanoids. In 1965, after a decade when classic western tales ruled television, just as two admirably realistic series in Wagon Train and Rawhide folded after ‘long’ six-to-seven-years runs, new trends began innovating on the small screen: The Wild Wild West, The Big Valley, followed by Cimarron Strip, Lancer and The Outcasts. These, providing bright spots with their own flavor, were all gone by 1969 while the more traditional Bonanza and High Chaparral limped along for another couple or three seasons, and Gunsmoke out-gunned all the odds and broke the all-time record for a 20-year run into 1975.

That year saw Posse, produced by and starring Kirk Douglas, with a quirky anti-establishment take on western politics, but was isolated and muted in its impact amid ongoing efforts by John Wayne to mythologize “The West” while failing to match his Oscar-winning True Grit (1969). The jokey, indulgent taint purveyed into a staple of the big screen through the mid Sixties had descended by then to MacKenna’s Gold, Paint Your Wagon and Support Your Local Sheriff/Gunfighter. The feel-good, romantic thrust of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid the same year as these last two and Wayne’s landmark performance was more in the blockbuster tradition of Hollywood than the western one. It was in stark contrast to Sergio Leone’s contemporaneous Once Upon a Time in the West. Burt Lancaster through the early Seventies made a number of thoughtful contributions in Lawman, Ulzana’s Raid and Valdez is Coming, exploring the underbelly of history, along with Chato’s Land (Charles Bronson) — a worthwhile echo of Paul Newman’s Hombre the decade before. These, influenced to varying degrees by the “Spaghetti westerns” of director Sergio Leone (not forgetting the atmospheric music of Ennio Morricone), failed to ignite a new tradition for long in the States, aside from Eastwood’s ongoing thematic and stylistic tributes to his Italian mentor.

Mel Brooks’Blazing Saddles ripped the shit out of every cliche contained in what, up to then, had been thought ‘classic’ westerns. And two years later even stalwart Clint seemed to take the coming of Spielberg, Lucas and their acolytes to heart and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) was the last in his series of gritty oaters, reviving his ruthless man-with-no-name character only for isolated triumphs Pale Rider and Unforgiven over the following decade or two. That year too marked what should have been a classic on-screen meeting between Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson in The Missouri Breaks, but wasn’t. Odd landmarks like Heaven’s Gate and Silverado came and went without threatening Clint’s monopoly. Only Tombstone (Kurt Russell – Val Kilmer), which put Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp in the shade, and Costner’s Dances With Wolves and Open Range made much of an impact afterwards. Cowboys met New Age, maybe sealing the lid on the genre’s coffin, in Brokeback Mountain.

Movie Star Popularity: measuring it

In celebrity, film, history on January 31, 2015 at 7:23 am

When movie stars were new as a phenomenon a hundred years or so ago, chosen by floods of movie patrons going specially to see them, fan magazines that had just started up as a way of telling romantic stories (true or false) about the public’s favorite “players” on film began trying to assess their relative popularity. Most favored across Europe were generally versatile character actors like

Asta Nielsen

Asta Nielsen

Asta Nielsen and Valdemar Psilander, both at the Nordisk studio of Denmark, ditto Ivan Mozhukhin (Mosjoukine) of Russia; and comedians Andre Deed and Max Linder of France.
Max Linder

Max Linder

Hence, art cinema. In America, stars were generally those who played similar characters every time so that winningly sweet Mabel Normand in Keystone comedies was tops, and girl-with-the-curls Mary Pickford would soon become “America’s Sweetheart” championing her country’s entry into World War I. Heroic figure Francis X. Bushman was an early male megastar, joined by bouncy man-about-town Douglas Fairbanks.

By 1913-14 Motion Picture magazine had instituted a poll of its readers, hundreds of thousands of whom replied over a period of many months to the question: “Who is your favorite motion picture star?” These early annual polls were probably the most legitimate ever measurement of actual personal popularity of a star during a particular year. But in the late 1920s and 1930s bids for a more comprehensive polling method were made by a number of movie trade publications, most prominently Quigley’s Motion Picture Herald and its closest rival, Box Office magazine, held by some commentators to be more authoritative. (I will refer to the annual MPH poll here, since its box-office surveys were underway by 1930, the first full year of talkies, so fully covering the classic period I am most interested in. The Quigley company continued its poll in some form well into the 1990s. Its successor, the Fame poll, has recently featured a supposed top 10 box-office draws of whom four I have not heard and another three or four I wouldn’t recognise in the street.) These entailed asking twelve to fifteen thousand of the twenty thousand exhibitors in the USA: “Who were the ten stars that drew most people into your theatre(s)?”

The assessed year was from 1st September through to 31st August and a star who had three to five releases in that time (say singing cowboy Gene Autry or child star Shirley Temple) had a much better chance of rating high in this supposedly “scientific” survey than a Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich or Mae West rationed to one project a year. At a time when movies were made much more often as a “vehicle” around the star’s talents, with singers and dancers prominent, this was probably still a much better indication of personal popularity than today, when special effects, art work, theme, stunt technicians and pyrotechnics are much more likely to be the real attraction for an audience than the nominal star (such special performers as Meryl Streep and Daniel Day Lewis and few others aside). Stars then were held to be largely responsible for the success or otherwise of a movie release and a Johnny Depp and any number of others who today can have four or five flops in a row to their name with few or no repercussions to their career would no longer be stars — long out of a contract at a big studio and on the skids from smaller to smaller production outfits.

The MPH through its Almanac each year published a numbered order of stars down to twenty-five (usually edited fast to a top ten by newspapers) and then unnumbered layers of stars and featured players down in the hundreds who might only attract fans in a certain part of the country or for a particular fetish — but got a vote from someone. It is hard to believe such cultivated tastes as withered upper-crust English gentleman George Arliss, specialising in biopics of Disraeli, Rothschild, Voltaire and the Duke of Wellington would enjoy a broad leverage with audiences today. Yet, he was a fixture in Hollywood for over twenty years, listed in that top 25 until 1934. Similarly, rural-style comics Will Rogers, Joe E. Brown and Bob Burns who rated even higher through the mid thirties. It must be noted that the box-office champion team of butt-ugly and aged Marie Dressler & Wallace Beery (later echoed by Marjorie Main & Percy Kilbride) lifted more hearts through the Great Depression than there have been faces lifted in the whole history of moviedom. This is a moral impossibility today, the age of deliberately superficial, skin-deep “beauty”.

The public has long lived with these skewed assessments of popularity. Deanna Durbin, Betty Hutton, Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas, who all starred as the central figures of some of the biggest box-office successes of the classic era, never climbed as high as the top 10 for any year. This, while other performers who seemed like no more than part of the ensemble cast (even part of the furniture in comparison), scored effortlessly. And in contrast to the phenomenal exceptions of Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe who were able to repeatedly (but not over-frequently) penetrate the top 10 stars list while averaging just one movie a year through their heyday decades, a quick tally of some names of all-time megastars who not once made even the top 25 is impressive: Ronald Colman, Charles Laughton, Charles Boyer, Carole Lombard, David Niven, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Lauren Bacall, Gene Kelly, Richard Widmark, Judy Holliday, Anthony Quinn.

Gene Kelly: not as dainty but more versatile than Fred Astaire.

Gene Kelly: not as dainty but more versatile than Fred Astaire.

And this in the face of some unlikely “stars” who did: the gurgling Dionne Quintuplets, Dane Clark, Barry Fitzgerald, Larry Parks, Francis the Talking Mule, Ernest Borgnine, Sandy Dennis. And more all-time performers — all major stars for a quarter century or more — struggled to make the lower rungs of said twenty-five a select few times: Edward G. Robinson (two), Barbara Stanwyck (three), Loretta Young (two), Jean Arthur (one), Katharine Hepburn (four), Olivia De Havilland (two), Henry Fonda (three), Joseph Cotten (one), Lana Turner (three), Rita Hayworth (five), Danny Kaye (one), Ava Gardner (three), Robert Mitchum (three), Audrey Hepburn (four).

In defining a star’s career, his “popularity” can be spun to suit the writer’s intention. Commentators have forever called Gary Cooper an “instant star” at age 24 when he appeared in The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926), which actually starred Ronald Colman, Cooper some way down the cast. His position was said to have been bolstered the following year in the William Wellman blockbuster Wings, placing him at a creditable 17th top male in the Quigley box-office survey; further when it was released with sound effects another two years on; still, he was third male “lead” in this aviation saga. By the time of the prestigious A Farewell to Arms (1932) from Hemingway, directed by style master Frank Borzage, Cooper was nominally top banana on screen, admittedly opposite the Oscar-winning performance of Helen Hayes and with stalwart Adolphe Menjou lending panache in strong support. Through this era Cooper’s career was boosted by voluminous press publicity detailing his affairs with a string of glamorous women from spitfire actress Lupe Velez to the Countess Di Frasso. He was enthroned by Paramount in the choice roles of the day, as an adventurer opposite Marlene Dietrich, hottest female in Hollywood (Morocco); City Streets directed by ace Rouben Mamoulian and surrounded by Sylvia Sidney and Paul Lukas; The Devil and the Deep, Charles Laughton, Cary Grant, Tallulah Bankhead; If I Had a Million, Laughton, W. C. Fields, directed by Lubitsch; and super-sophisticated Today We Live from Faulkner, surrounding Joan Crawford rivalled by Robert Young and Franchot Tone, under Howard Hawks, and Design for Living from Noel Coward via Ben Hecht, under Lubitsch again. And again Cooper was one of no less than three stars. He made no progress in his power to draw customers to theatres as reported by pollsters until 1935-36 when cast as the all-American good guy with impeccable morals and manners in The Lives of a Bengal Lancer and Mr Deeds Goes to Town. He bobbled between 9th and 11th place (including both sexes) for three years before resting for two years near the bottom of top 20. Cooper was 40 before he started his residency near the very top of polls (1941), though never overtaking Clark Gable until the latter went off to war (1943). Through the war years he was not bothered either by competition from Robert Taylor, Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda or James Stewart, all off doing service; and was still shaded in polls by Bing Crosby and Abbott & Costello, and then by Van Johnson, Ingrid Bergman and Betty Grable as a new generation ushered in. For several years in the late forties he lay 4th in overall popularity behind a combination of those stars mentioned. Then in 1949 he was overtaken by John Wayne, only for Cooper to bounce back as runner-up in 1952 and box-office champ the next year for his one and only time as el supremo. From there he dropped a couple of spots each year and made his last appearance in the top 20 in 1959, within two years of his death (of cancer). It was the era of almost interchangeable western roles between Wayne, Cooper, James Stewart and the returned Clark Gable, and even so limited a screen presence as Randolph Scott, emulating Cooper, was able to overtake his model template in Quigley’s list of the top 10 stars for the first two years of the 1950s.

In contrast to Cooper, both John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart have been used as prime examples of those actors said to have suffered long, torturous routes to superstardom. Yet, at age 41 and 42 respectively they were undoubted superstars in the public estimation backed up by box-office receipts. And it was a status gained without the preceding 15 years of ballyhooed build-up that Cooper received. Wayne had made quite an impressive showing as sole star in The Big Trail (1930) at age 22, but which unaccountably turned out a flop. He was instantly dropped by Fox, and was 31 before given another real chance at the big time. He was a success in Stagecoach (1939) but United Artists (unlike Cooper’s Paramount) had not the resources to make a star, and Wayne again was forced a step back under the shared aegis of Republic and RKO. Though funded sufficiently to star occasionally with good leading ladies like Marlene Dietrich (at her nadir), Claire Trevor and Martha Scott, it was one-off loanouts to Cecil B. DeMille for Reap the Wild Wind (1942) and to MGM for John Ford’s They Were Expendable (1945) that got him seriously noticed — and he garnered a mention at 24th (16th top male) in Quigley’s uppercrust of stars. Though this was not quite the status Cooper had reached at age 37 it was way over the odds considering the lack of external resources lent to Wayne’s career.

Like Cooper, Wayne had stayed at home for the war, making hay while a flotilla of Hollywood stars risked everything to safeguard the future of the world. Bogart, little more than a year older than Cooper and Clark Gable, was technically overage like them but might have forced his way into war service as Gable had. (Maybe not incidentally, Gable was the only one of these superstars instantly recognised by the public as such, so striking a presence on screen he featured near the top of popularity polls within a year of first appearing.) Bogart was the only one of these not to be considered for leading roles from the outset. Any number of factors might have entered this collective decision, not least his renowned uncooperativeness with bosses from the Warner brothers down, though not the obvious ones that might first come to mind: Bogart being six to eight inches shorter than Cooper and Wayne, the even more severely vertically challenged and/or pug-ugly Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney and George Raft hadn’t found this a bar to lead roles and almost instant screen stardom as similar gangster/hard-boiled characters. First on screen at 30, first noticed at 36 for his menacing Duke Mantee on stage and screen in The Petrified Forest (1936), Bogart was restricted to supporting roles in A’s or lead roles in B’s until the new year of 1941 on release of High Sierra. Nominally second billed to long-established and luscious Ida Lupino, this Raoul Walsh classic written by John Huston rode on his shoulders alone, and it was a matter of months before his similarly dominating performance in The Maltese Falcon under Huston confirmed his superstardom, cemented by Casablanca (Michael Curtiz) the next year. All in the opportunity — those turned down by Raft.

Screen Faces: The Doppelganger Effect

In art, film on December 29, 2014 at 11:20 pm

John Wayne and Robert Mitchum on the set of 'El Dorado', 1966

John Wayne and Robert Mitchum on the set of ‘El Dorado’, 1966

Back a ways when I was a little kid I was used to seeing Dean Martin on television via his weekly variety series. And he was in big screen westerns with John Wayne; and so was Robert Mitchum. Both Martin and Mitchum had what women called “bedroom eyes” in those coy times when demands of cock measurements were unheard of. (Incidentally, resisting all temptation, both stayed married to their first wives for decades.) Film reviewers described them as “heavy lidded”, referring to their deceptively casual approach to acting and lazy look of almost dropping off to sleep — again, a reference to the importance of eyes in dramatic acting; something totally irrelevant in the current 37-year-long era of special effects/CGI. (Again incidentally, for you fellow trivia lovers, seen in the same movie — Five Card Stud, 1968 — Mitchum at 6ft-1 towered over Martin, who claimed to be the same height.)

To my immature thinking, Mitchum (his vast store of varied characterisations unknown to me) was something of a standin for Martin, whom I’d noticed first. Just as, to Bob Hope, western star Randolph Scott was “a cut-rate Gary Cooper” — a physical double, but without the same appeal. Others accused Dane Clark of coopting John Garfield’s early method approach to pushy working-class toughs, though to see them in the same film (Destination Tokyo, 1943) they aren’t really much alike at all. There was the same denigrating of Kirk Douglas “wanting to be” Burt Lancaster; they appeared in seven movies together and surely only the ill-informed (to put it politely) could get them confused. But you have to laugh out loud in sympathy at Robert Mitchum’s story of getting called out in an Irish pub for being Kirk Douglas. On the other hand, though Burt Reynolds’ dark, virile looks and lithe movement might closely resemble Marlon Brando from some angles they are never compared because not remotely in the same kind of movies, never mind the gap in eras.

More and more, other likenesses occurred to me. Again, based solely on which one I’d seen first, wasn’t Buddy Hackett a stand-in for Lou Costello? Thoughtful, sensitive Joan Hackett (probably not Buddy’s sister) for simmering soap hottie Barbara Parkins? Much later as I got deeper into films, I wondered, did star-producer Burt Lancaster select and groom young Dianne Foster into a standin for Rita Hayworth, in The Kentuckian (1955), three years before he was able to work with the original item (Separate Tables, 1958)? Their shared, red-haired lissome sensuality is superficial but striking.

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, directed by Don Siegel (1971)

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, directed by Don Siegel (1971)

Today it’s an absolute exception to stumble on a major movie actor who doesn’t resemble the rest. After all, over the past twenty years or so, an Arnie Schwargenegger movie is a Sylvester Stallone movie is a Chuck Norris movie is a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie is a Steven Seagal movie is a Harrison Ford movie is a Liam Neeson movie is a Matt Damon movie is a Johnny Depp movie — and all are a subset of the original Clint Eastwood action genre. And isn’t Mark Wahlberg a poor man’s remake of handsomer Matt Damon? Frightening how the screen landscape has contracted to a microsopic point compared to the broad spectrum of screen genres there used to be.Matt_Damon_Pumped

The A-list actors still active on screen, who have something to say and are capable of interpreting it with subtlety? Daniel Day Lewis, Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Ellen Barkin, even Liam Neeson and Johnny Depp when they’re in the mood… a few others but they’re mostly dead from overdoses (uncoincidentally?) come to think of it.

New Zealand General Election: A Victory for… What?

In civics, ideology, philosophy, politics, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on September 23, 2014 at 1:07 am

There are some measurable reversals in the state of this nation. So, instead it is simpler to talk about —

A LIST OF DEFEATS:

* Democracy defeated: The winning party received 48.1% of the votes cast and has 100% of the power in what purports to be a proportional representation system. Under NZ’s one-house parliamentary system there are no checks and balances on the ruling party’s ideology, freed to pass legislation at will.

* Open and fair government defeated: The ruling party has over the past three elections bedded in two sleeping partners — single candidates in electorate seats — giving them strategic “accommodations”, which works to cement its place in untrammelled power though together the allies receive less than 1% of the vote nationally. One ally is regularly rewarded with a seat in Cabinet, his “mandate” from a total of 4,500 party votes nationwide (approximately one out of every 600 votes cast by electors).

MAXIMISING THE CHARM OFFENSIVE: maybe a Sarah Palin lookalike candidate for NZ's next election (by Spauldron)

MAXIMISING THE CHARM OFFENSIVE: maybe a Sarah Palin lookalike candidate for NZ’s next election (by Spauldron)

* Parliamentary government defeated: The election every three years has more and more become NZ’s presidential race, with media coverage of actual policies shrunk to almost zero this time. The question of who is the more photogenic candidate is at a premium. This might be fine if NZ had a president, which it now has in all but name — exercising power by casual consensus of his cronies. The issue of the challenger’s “double chin” is right up there in public debate with Joan Rivers’ enlightened comments on Obama’s ears. Though slightly the worst off in tv debates to his challenger, the encumbent undoubtedly won in the charm/smarm stakes.

Homes and work? Two issues that might have been discussed but weren't.

Homes and work? Two issues that might have been discussed but weren’t.

* People Power defeated: The Silent Majority rules in New Zealand. It is a truism that many Kiwis only under duress will admit to voting for the National Party — as in “I have a confession to make”, obviously realising they have something to feel ashamed about. It is a question how many individuals do vote for National openly and for motives other than perceived (though usually mistaken) naked self-interest. The vote of the Left Wing — usually held to be the conscience of a country — collapsed, the Labour Party receiving 24.7% of the vote, half that of their Right Wing rivals. Its mistake was apparently to put forward a cogent, well argued, academically rigorous platform of policies to address a number of increasingly urgent problems and inequities that are overripening, just begging for a backlash by the aggrieved. The “Trickle Down” theory — itself a cynical lie — continues unabated after thirty years in place so far. The Internet-Mana Party coalition, supposedly the vanguard of a legitimate left wing, was left to languish on 1.3%, irredeemably tainted by teaming up with an opportunistic internet criminal who bought it off to the tune of $3.5 million in campaign funding (only equalled by the personally wealthy Conservative Party leader), effectively ejecting a strong voice for young, poverty-stricken Maoridom out of Parliament. Ultimately symptomatic of an old British colony, it is extremely bad form to set yourself up as a judge in any field at all no matter how well informed (“experts” are absolutely taboo). So, high-profile activists such as tv actresses Lucy Lawless and Robyn Malcolm protesting against dodgy environmental practices are likely to have contributed to a reaction against what was expected to be a record Green Party vote this election, resulting in an actual decline to 10%. (This is in marked contrast to the public fawning directed at fat-cat movie producer Peter Jackson, instrumental in capping pay and conditions for local performers and accruing massive tax concessions for himself — banking another couple hundred million for him and his screenwriter-wife after every new movie.)

* Idealism defeated: This is a debatable one, since the word idealism has been a dirty one in the ruling Kiwi mythology for generations now. The Kiwi worldview comes from a combination of white Anglo Saxon pioneering stock and hunter-warrior Maori ideology. Both founding cultures are pragmatic to the ultimate, with grand gestures to selflessness today seemingly reserved for sports heroes on the rugby field and netball court. The thought that if you don’t aim for an ideal in government then you’re not likely to come anywhere near it doesn’t even occur. Politicians are known to be untrustworthy, so it is best to pick the one that is most successful at pure politics; i.e. manoeuvring, manipulatiing, spinning, twisting, evading… the whole skill set for running a country. A few years ago a 50,000-strong Maori march on Wellington (equivalent to a million in New York City) was greeted with the rejoinder from the prime minister that the other four and a half million people in the country must be on his side: a cynical rationalisation trotted out regularly now, accepted by a bulk of the population — to the point of discouraging any initiative to protest at all.

* Resistance to unbridled capitalism defeated: Public opinion surveys have for many years rejected more sales of public assets, to the degree of a 90%-plus “No”. While the wider public knows very well it is being sold down the river to those cronies of a right-wing government who can afford to invest in shares, they will not vote accordingly — resulting in inevitable crowing from the government that opponents of wholesale private enterprise would have if they really cared, and encouraging them further in their hubris to sell more. The prime minister, probably the most popular man, woman or beast in the country, has become a role model across classes and age groups — especially for the effortless way he accumulated his fortune estimated at between $50 and $80 million (it’s just vulgar to count the zeroes once you get past a certain point): by using his position as a stock broker to trade internationally in currencies and share manipulations. He’s looking forward to hosting Obama and other world leaders in a nice round of golf here in NZ, and his supporters are thrilling to the status this will bring the country — confirming his people as slobbering, salivating lickspittle pawns in the globalism game waiting for crumbs from the table.

* Environmentalism and Public Transport defeated: While billions of dollars continue to be spent annually on expanding the motorway networks of Auckland and Wellington — two very minor cities by world standards — a relatively cheaper plan for public transport languishes at barely embryonic stage, underfunded and years behind schedule. (No sooner are these “improvements” completed than the roads are filled up and gridlocked again.) The majority of NZ rivers being polluted beyond public use by agricultural runoff, farmers have been left to regulate themselves in the time-honoured fashion of laissez faire private enterprise — an approach two or so centuries out of date.

* Objections to government corruption defeated: Undisguised and unrepentant favoritism for her own husband’s export business in China resulted in just a stand-down period for a senior Cabinet Minister until after the election. Transparent obfuscation on her behalf by her government colleagues was a cause celebre in the media for a while, but have been effectively silenced for the duration. Token scalps of government members of Parliament using public funds for personal purposes have been just that — underwhelming.

* Sane judgment defeated: Reelected with a record majority is a stand-alone government that has taken six years (two terms) to balance the budget, taking the books, just, into the black — and so temporarily as an election trick of the light; that in the face of this, a week before the election, proposed tax cuts after; rejected a capital gains tax on the wealthy, which virtually every other country has; has an ongoing 20% child poverty rate with permanently hungry children in a primary-produce exporting country (the government having pointedly refused to enter a coalition against child poverty); has produced no plan to diversify exports in an era of rapidly dropping produce prices overseas; that presides over an unemployment rate as high as the United States. The proposed budget of spending put forward for the Labour Party, independently costed and steadfast under queries from the incumbent government and media commentators, was a nonissue and seemingly disregarded by the public at large — who went with no costings and baseless assurances from the government. Indeed, the prime minister received a tangible sympathy vote, one supporter saying that he’d had a “tough run” with the Pike River coal mine disaster (four years later the government still has punished none of the negligent management, let alone investigated the miners’ remains) and the Christchurch earthquake(s) — four years later still with tens of thousands of insurance disputes over destroyed homes unresolved.

Intestinal Fortitude failed: It’s difficult to imagine a situation where Kiwis get worked up about anything at all these days, apart from international rugby, netball, the America’s Cup and other bread-and-circuses distractions with a quick payoff in adrenaline and pheromones. The younger generation — and I’m talking about teens here, who used to be full of youthful support for their peers — are far more likely to fantasise about and cheer on the legend of Kiwi “heroes” of Gallipoli a century ago than spare a thought for their fellow kids who go to school hungry every day. Once upon a time, Kiwis set out on great crusades supporting each other through the Great Depression, through World War II when world civilisation itself was threatened; in the Seventies when the anti-nuclear cause burned hot and NZ took the lead. I would relate the public outlook today as much closer to the era of the 1951 Waterfront Lockout, when poor people — at least demonstrating solidarity in unions — were vilified to the point of not finding the guts to stand up for themselves, and anyone who supported or even sympathised with them (through newspapers or providing food) was penalised. Or the late Eighties and Nineties, when politicians in this country across the board — Labour and National — strove to create a chasm between rich and poor, and have succeeded to this day.

PEOPLE POWER?

In economics, ideology, morality, philosophy, politics on September 19, 2014 at 11:38 pm

I suppose my first recollection of the phrase “People Power” was around 1986 when ingoing President Corazon Aquino quoted it in raising a groundswell of support promising to free the people of The Philippines from the dynasty of the Marcos family. It seemed like a good idea, and probably still is when carried out by idealists with a real sense of selflessness and self-empowerment and in the cause of the greater good — as it was also in most cases of “The Arab Spring” of a couple of years ago, beginning in Tunisia, taking in Lybia, failing in Syria and Yemen, and culminating in Egypt — where it appeared to have succeeded according to the people’s wishes; that is, before the army took over.

Aye, and there’s the rub, said the inspired Robbie Burns. Closer to this part of the world, in Fiji, Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka took over its Parliament “at the point of a gun” in 1987. And things have never been the same since. Even the most superficial onlookers — tourists — were put off for a few years after repeated coups, setting the Islands’ economy back a millennium. The first general election here in eight years, begun a couple of days ago at the pleasure of the incumbent Generalissimo, Commodore Bainimarama, is poised at a 57 percent “pro” vote for him halfway through the count; the nearest challenging party on a little over half that. Of course, since he instituted physical coercion of political opponents by his army and police force at first opportunity, and under ongoing enforced censorship of the press, it is difficult to tell whether this result is a resounding endorsement of the Bainimarama regime or just symptomatic of a people who have had the spirit kicked out of them.

Ah! What combination do we deserve and/or will we get this time?

Ah! What combination do we deserve and/or will we get this time?

Some eighteen hours ago news came through that the referendum on Scottish independence, open to all current residents of Scotland aged 16 and above, had come down on the side of staying within the United Kingdom, the vote 55% to 45%. Leader of the Scottish nationalists, veteran politician Alex Salmond, has resigned but not before gaining almost the bulk of what he was seeking in the beginning: what should be important concessions from London made on the eve of the election to swing the vote in favor of the 307-year-old partnership, which until recent years had seen Scotland become increasingly the junior partner. Whether these promises will be kept, and/or on whose timetable now there’s no urgent need, remains to be seen. Apart from national pride — apparently never quite as strong as that of Ireland, which won a hard-fought freedom from London a century ago — from this distance it’s difficult to say whether Scotland has more than the legitimate economic gripe that also pertains to the English North, the Midlands and the West Country: in fact anywhere that the 50 million majority of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland is effectively outvoted by the 12 million of Swinging Greater London, which retains more loyalty to its status as a world stock market capital and centre of big business — like, hypothetically, the foreign policy of Mexico or Canada being ruled from Wall Street, New York City.

A little over an hour ago the polling booths opened all over New Zealand for its three-yearly general election. There is so little faith in politicians here that three years is deemed to be the ideal term of government: one year getting settled in (including allowing two months or so for negotiations with minor parties in accordance with the MMP proportional system), one year to undo the “worst” of what the previous government did and rush through its own legislative program with dead-of-night rubber-stamp votes in the unicameral Parliament, and one year effectively campaigning for the next election with tax bribes or other major tweaks that seem expedient. The hope for most people is that they will at least have a show of ousting them in relatively short order before they can do irretrievable damage: probably a forlorn hope given the way the country has gone in all-out capitalism without a working safety net over the past thirty years. The ruling conservative National Party is odds on to win a third consecutive term on the trot, leading with 45-47% in opinion polls and apparently only needing one minor party to side with it to rule again.

Seriously, should inability to recognise your own best economic interests in a simple face-to-face quiz be a disqualifier to voting, like intellectual incapacity or insanity in court? I personally know poor, poor people who are intent on voting conservative, as if the status quo hasn’t screwed them enough. Admittedly, they are in the mental health system and vote counter-intuitively — to put it politely — but that doesn’t account for the other close-to-two-million votes the right wing is set to receive. As one wise person said, “Democracy is a form of government where the people vote for want they want and the politicians give it to them good and hard.”

The Labour Party, in proposing instant action on the 285,000 NZ kids existing under the poverty line (a 20 percent rate nationally), an immediate hike in the minimum wage of two dollars per hour, concrete moves to lower the increasingly out-of-reach average price of new houses by some $100,000 to just under $400,000, introducing a moderate capital gains tax affecting rich people (no more than virtually every other country has) and a small lift in the highest income tax rate to 36% on any earnings over $150,000 p.a. — obviously also on the wealthiest earners — has apparently shrivelled the scrotes of a great many people you wouldn’t expect: maybe in moronic positive-thinking mode that “Anything Oprah can do I can do too.” Traditionally the left-wing alternative, the Labour Party has amassed an unimpressive 24-26% support according to the latest surveys, and will need at least two (and probably more) minor parties to side with it to even approach the required half of the electorate.

Labour’s only guaranteed allies are the Green Party (on 11-14% support), proposing up to a 40% tax maximum, and the Internet-Mana Party (steady on 2%), a queer mix of a poverty-driven Maori initiative funded by international copyright crim Kim Dotcom, wanted by the FBI and Interpol. The third most popular party, NZ First, invented some twenty years ago and still led by Scottish-Maori compassionate conservative Winston Peters (named after you-know-who), has 6-8%, and is, on principle, a wild card, always refusing to say who he will support until one-man-band Winston sees his main chance after the election. The new Conservative Party — speaking for the Tea Party fundamentalist christian element in ths country — out of the blue is now on a surveyed 4.9% (just that smidgeon below the 5% threshold that will qualify it for 6-7 members of Parliament), could conceivably be in a decision-making role after the election, maybe wrecking the country once and for all. Look for binding referendums on everything from smacking of kids — currently against the law but allowed by the police — to creative evolution. Compulsory smacking by parents — under pain of having kids otherwise removed by smacking social agencies — hasn’t been ruled in or out of policy.

In the end, all might depend on the weather — left wing supporters here being notoriously fragile on such things as rainy trips in the car to polling booths all of a few hundred yards away, with nothing between you and the threat of raindrops but a layer of cast iron. They can look mighty scary beating on the windshield — and then there’s the possibility of wind itself that I haven’t mentioned. To mitigate this comfort factor for this election a three-week lead-in period has been introduced, taking special votes at one’s convenience. Some 770,000 early votes were cast, so almost another two million voters (of 3,096,000 registered) will have to turn up today to make a high turnout of over 80% altogether — a tall order. With the weather forecast crummy today for most parts of the country for most of the time, things don’t look good — the truism being that only an abnormally big turnout swings against the status quo.

A friend of mine who is acting as a Labour Party volunteer today has been instructed to knock on random front doors and simply remind people to vote, however — the hope apparently being that most of those ruled by inertia will tend towards social equality, in rudimentary impulse if not in action. I guess there’s always hope. But when I was a canvasser for the left-wing Alliance twenty years ago, we had written lists of actual supporters and their addresses so we could arrange to have them transported to polling booths and vote in a good cause. Strange how times change. I have noticed elsewhere too this tendency from officialdom to encouarge random voting as if it’s a good thing to simply plunk one’s vote in a box and the extent of what can be expected from most people.

I’m afraid the overwhelming probability of my well-informed vote being cancelled out by someone in the booth next to me who has given it just a passing thought or no thought at all leaves me cold — if this is what the World Wars have come down to in winning and exercising the highest principles in a perfunctory democratic process.

Roll on 7pm, now just eight hours away. Stand by for a post script sometime in the next day or two.

Movie Review: “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” (1961)

In film on September 16, 2014 at 8:52 am

I have a confession to make. Until this afternoon I had never seen more than random snippets of Breakfast At Tiffany’s — but I have just watched the last hour and a half of it on the MGM Classic channel. I’m hoping the original novel by Truman Capote was better. I might be missing something with this one — which I keep thinking must be considered a classic for a reason — but I’ve never been a fan of glossy Blake Edwards movies, even the massively popular Peter Sellers ones (to my mind nowhere near as good as his earlier British-made comedies). This comes across like it’s trying to be a sophisticated comedy but falls way short of those in the Thirties-Forties, and even Pretty Woman, the closest I can draw as a modern equivalent.

There are several glaring shortcomings for viewers attuned to modern sensibilities, the most well-known one today probably being Mickey Rooney’s inexplicable portrayal of a Japanese tenant as a four-foot-something, conspicuously buck-toothed, four-eyed geek — presumably intended to be a comic turn but just highly embarrassing. Another is a scene where Holly describes herself as “fat as a pig” — when you can practically see her skeleton through her dress, every bit of 90 to 100 pounds hanging on her 5ft-8 frame. Yet another huge allowance has to be made for Belgian-born Audrey Hepburn, 32, playing a 20-year-old backwoods Southerner while coming across as a refined Englishwoman, as she did in all her films. George Peppard, quite a sought-after leading man in the Sixties and then not again till The A Team on tv, is Holly’s suitor. An impoverished “rider” (writer) who dresses in a conventional suit like a prep school debutant, he is supported financially by Patricia Neal as his cougar until he decides to “help” Holly to change from a self-defined wild child every bit as revolting as Daisy Clover (Natalie Wood) in that film and become herself. Buddy Ebsen is Holly’s much older ex-husband, showing up to embarrass Holly in that character’s only genuine moment in her New York City incarnation. Patricia (soon award-winning in Hud) and Buddy (seamlessly wedging this role inbetween Davy Crockett’s buddy George and The Beverly Hillbillies‘ Jed Clampett) give the best performances, in fact the only two bright spots in the whole thing as far as I could see — at least character-focused and moving, while the two central characters fail to demonstrate clear motives or even generate sympathy.

Audrey_Hepburn_Tiffany's

It was a struggle to get through what I did see, partly because so slow moving — but mainly because I found the dominant character of Holly Golightly/Lula-Mae (Audrey Hepburn) insufferable. She was selfish, shallow and a materialistic social-climber. The last straw was when she dumps her cat in a strange area of New York City, in the rain — leaving her dumped boyfriend Paul (whom she calls Fred) to look for him. Far from the “sweet bundle of neuroses” one reviewer describes her as, I would place her at least two steps worse off into the destructive manic-depressive category, with narcissistic tendencies and violent impulses. It didn’t help my perception that the character reminds me very much of a woman I’ve known — who didn’t miraculously turn herself around on the spot as Holly does at the end of the movie, but is still basically the same person in her mid fifties, still clueless about how to behave with simple consideration for others.

Enough to say that the Moon River refrain running through the film is the highlight, not Audrey’s pedestrian, unmusical, unexpressive rendition of it. By the way, West Side Story is another all-time great from 1961 (and coincidentally similarly set in The Big Apple) I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch: yet another of those examples where the music is better than the movie, as was so often the case in the Sixties, when screen composers of evocative themes were admittedly at a towering peak of quality.

SOAK THE RICH: BACK TO THE GOOD OLD DAYS

In history, ideology, morality on August 22, 2014 at 11:50 pm

There follows a sequence of nonrandom musings and ramblings, added in time, which eventually might come together to form a point in the end, or at least pose a few questions.

Not so long ago people seemed to run the world and corporations bent over backwards to serve us — or at least made a point of seeming so. This was in living memory for some of us, and I’m in my fifties. I’ve just watched a documentary about the founding of the massive Selfridge’s department store in London in March 1909 — apparently the first high-toned “shopping cathedral” where idle people were not moved on by bouncers but actively encouraged to “browse”. In New Zealand through these years of the early 20th Century before much government welfare had been introduced, the biggest employers in the country had their own health, welfare and old-age schemes for employees and their families. In the US, Independent senator for Vermont, Bernie Sanders, has just released details of a telling comparison between corporate responsibility in the good old days and irresponsibility in the rotten new days. In 1952, the last year of the Truman Democrats before the Eisenhower-Nixon administration took over, corporations paid 33% of the US tax bill; now, in an era of record corporate profits, 9%. Hearing of the depravities of Walmarts and their many, many cohorts around the world these days, inflicted on their employees it’s hard to believe we’re in the same universe. Maybe we’re not — dropped through some wormhole.

Next month, on September 20th 2014, comes the general election in New Zealand. This morning on a current affairs program the spokesmen of the Labour and Green parties were interviewed — two parties promised to ally to form a “left wing” government. In NZ the Greens are said by the media to be Far Left, and the Labour Party — no longer recognisably to the right of centre as they have been for most of the past 30 years — are said to be way to the left also. The main right wing, and ruling party, National, has up to now sided with the far-right libertarians called Act, yet the combination of the two of them have somehow produced what has always been called a centre-right government.

In the good old days things were so much simpler. Even the master of spin, Goebbels, was easy to see through if you didn’t have blinders on. Sometime between the two World Wars, income tax in that bastion of Free Enterprise, the United States, multiplied out of sight from virtually none in the 1920s to massive during the Roosevelt era when resources were poured into civil works, but even long afterwards. Through the Great Depression and World War II and beyond there was a general realisation by people that there was a great deal of luck involved in who got rich and who didn’t. In a concession to humility, the lucky who received money mostly saw it as their duty to spread it around and include people in their “good fortune”. In 1959, after seven years of Republican rule under Eisenhower, the tv and rock’n’roll star Ricky Nelson was questioned about his income, heading up towards half a million annually, and was matter-of-fact about it and the tax rate he was paying. He paid 78% tax on the first $150,000 every year, and 93% on everything over that. Britain, also still investing in its people and infrastructure in recovery from the war, was even in 1965 charging the Beatles a tax rate of 95% — and American promoters were paying them fortunes of millions of dollars in cash under the counter on every concert tour. (By the time the canny Rolling Stones reached the 1980s, with the celebrated financial acumen of Mick Jagger, without shame they had spread their tax “burden” across five different countries and ended up paying a total of less than 3% tax — just one pointer to how the world has changed.)

These days it seems to be enough for rich people to take one of two attitudes: either, like Oprah, tell everyone “Follow your passion and your inner child, think positive — If I’ve done it everyone can do it”; or to take the diva route with “Thank God I have this much talent (and God must know what he’s doing to have given it all to me. It would be questioning Him to say I don’t deserve it).” Those billionaires can be counted on one hand who have come out publicly worldwide to admit they haven’t done anything approaching deserving of their riches and they’re where they are based on vagaries of the world economy. In the Wall Street Crash of 1929 rich people went bust overnight and threw themselves out of high windows when they realised suddenly they were not God’s chosen ones,but just His moral guinea pigs. Rich people these days don’t seem to have got the same message after the so-called disaster of the 2008 share market downturn — because bailed out by the heavy taxpayers of the middle class.

The lower-income tax payers of New Zealand too, in just one instance, bailed out $1.8 billion worth of bad loans (the equivalent of more than $150 billion in the US economy) issued by a capialist mate of the government. Yet, this morning on the interview show the big question, according to the interviewer, was how the Labour Party could possibly reconcile its tax policy after the election with that of the Greens. Labour would charge an increased top tax rate of 36% on top earners on over $150,000 — whereas the Greens wanted a 40% top tax rate over roughly the same amount ($140,000). The Labour Party spokesman refused to be drawn, knowing that these days even the mention of 40% will produce a kneejerk reaction in most people these days and send them screaming from the room in horror. WHY? Why on earth is it taboo to tax rich people?

American Idol of 1959: Hottest Female Stars

In film, history, music on August 9, 2014 at 5:50 am
Connie Francis, sultry in stills, goofy in films.

Connie Francis, sultry in stills, goofy in films.

1. Marilyn Monroe — now aged 33 after a dozen years in movies, she releases her first film in two years, comedy blockbuster Some Like It Hot from Billy Wilder and co-starring Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. After time off in New York studying at The method, it’s enough to put her back at the top around the world, voted the Golden Globe by Hollywood’s international press corps as the most popular movie star internationally.

2. Brigitte Bardot — the prototypical French “sex kitten” since And God Created Woman three years ago, turning 25 this year, as well as tops in Europe for the past two years she has been scoring multiple hits across the US, Babette Goes to War being one of three this year.

3. Gina Lollobrigida — at 32 a superstar in Europe for almost a decade but hampered in the US by her contract with crazy Howard Hughes, she has recently broken out as co-star of top US male stars with international blockbusters Trapeze (with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis), Hunchback of Notre Dame (Anthony Quinn), Anna di Brooklyn/Fast and Sexy, Solomon and Sheba (Yul Brynner) and Never So Few (Frank Sinatra & Steve McQueen)

4. Connie Francis — at 20, easily the top female seller of discs across the US, scoring three gold awards this year in ‘My Happiness’, ‘Lipstick On Your Collar’ and ‘Frankie’, and the first to sell ten million discs in one year; and filming Where the Boys Are for MGM, which will make her into a top Sixties screen attraction in youth comedies

5. Doris Day — a veteran at 37, but no.1 woman (4th overall) in the US box-office list with frothy comedy Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson already out, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (with David Niven) and foggy London thriller Midnight Lace (Rex Harrison, John Gavin) upcoming.

6. Debbie Reynolds — second only to Doris Day among women in the US box-office list (5th overall), and at the peak of her career — at 27 — helped in her private life by losing singer Eddie Fisher to Liz Taylor.

7. Sophia Loren — now turning 25, has had several high-profile US film releases hoping to replicate her European success, but yet to find her niche unlike the sensation made over Brigitte.

8. Kim Novak — the first buxom blonde to overtake Marilyn Monroe at the US box-office, through Picnic (1956) and Vertigo (1958) though only briefly as it turns out.

9. Elizabeth Taylor — an MGM star since National Velvet (1944) at 12, fresh from Raintree County with Montgomery Clift and Eva Marie Saint, and Cat On a Hot Tin Roof with Paul Newman, her sole release this year is the mildly successful Suddenly Last Summer with Clift and Katharine Hepburn, poised for an Oscar and return to the box-office ten next year.

10. Sandra Dee — The blonde teen is rocketing into the official box-office top 10 movie stars in the USA as Gidget and in grown-up soap A Summer Place.

11. Lana Turner — The 39-year-old veteran — in movies 22 years — is enjoying a comeback via Peyton Place and Imitation Of Life. This sexy momma’s career is boosted out of sight by her daughter’s stabbing murder of mom’s abusive boyfriend, gangster Johnny Stompanato who has shared his charms around the upper echelons of Hollywood stars.

12. Connie Stevens — turning 21, a veteran of teen exploitation flicks Young and Dangerous and The Party Crashers and star of Warner Bros’ Hawaiian Eye on tv, still growing in drive-in appeal on the big screen.

13. Susan Hayward — just turned 40 as the year starts, winning the Oscar for I Want to Live as a woman on Death Row, she is hotness personified for the mature set too in A Woman Obsessed with younger man Stephen Boyd, helping her to make no.10 on US box-office listings.

14. Diane Varsi — starring and Oscar-nominated as Alison MacKenzie in Peyton Place (1957) at 20, she has not quite maintained her momentum with the nonetheless rivetting Compulsion this year and leaves Hollywood abruptly for reasons of survival and emotional stability.

15. Lee Remick — at 23 is on the up as a blonde sex kitten with subtlety, and slightly built, through A Face in the Crowd, The Long Hot Summer and now Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder.

16. Carroll Baker — following a sensational role as Baby Doll (1956), building with Giant and The Big Country, she is now stalling, poised for another big push in the mid Sixties with The Carpetbaggers and Harlow but too late at 35.

17. Tuesday Weld — exploited by stage parents from age three, entering a period of breakdowns and addictions in adolescence, she is now turning 16 and put into lurid sexploitation flicks (Sex Kittens Go to College, The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, Return to Peyton Place) by her
minders but despite all the odds against her manages a considerable career in the end.

18. Eva Marie Saint — Emerging from New York’s method acting school since her belated debut (at 30) as Marlon Brando’s squeeze in Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, she has been looking younger, breaking the mold as a very versatile blonde — focusing on character, so without the constant screen persona, image and star vehicles to make a superstar impact, just Hitchcock’s North By Northwest this year but making a lasting impression and preparing for Otto Preminger blockbuster Exodus releasing next year

19. Annette Funicello — The wholesome Disney star, 16, scores her first of four Top 20 hits in ‘Tall Paul’ (#7 Billboard, her career peak) and ‘First Name Initial’. Having graduated from tv’s Mickey Mouse Club, and now in her own Disney tv series, she is on the rise in movies too starting with The Shaggy Dog this year before moving on to Babes in Toyland (1961) with Tommy Sands and then her famous series of “beach movies” co-starring Frankie Avalon.

20. Hayley Mills — The new English child star, 13, has the central starring role in father John Mills’ suspenser Tiger Bay, released in the US in December. Already, she is in America filming the title role of Pollyanna for the Disney studio, to be released to acclaim the following May (1960) shortly after her 14th birthday. Her series of family Disney movies will make her the world’s no.1 child star (until she turns 20).

Honorable mention: Jayne Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren, Hope Lange, Joan Collins, Diana Dors

HERO OF THE CAVE or BOTTOMLESS PIT? — Just Askin’

In morality, philosophy, psychology/psychiatry on June 20, 2014 at 3:16 am

Having caught some of a news item this morning, apparently set in a Germanic-speaking, alpine region of Europe, I learnt enough of the pertinent facts to be able to write about it from a philosophical angle.

It seems eighteen years ago a famous caver (they’re people who climb down a cave because it’s there) in Europe discovered this spectacularly “challenging” cave that goes down a thousand metres deep with numerous twists and turns vertically and horizontally that make recovery of a body, never mind actual rescue, virtually impossible. Now this caver knew this cave and its above-the-odds risks to himself and others better than anyone alive, and decided to go down there again to its full extent — I guess because it’s still there.

According to the report, some seven hundred men (and/or women) from six different countries were recruited and persisted at the rescue attempt for two weeks at a cost of… Well, no one knows because it’s such bad taste to bring money into it when it’s being thrown down a bottomless pit in such a heroic scenario — when the sanctity of ONE human life is involved, but drawing into this circus the risk of countless other lives. If we were talking about the actions of a man who had better things to do with his time than climb down holes, in fact a man who had no such heroic yearnings at all — a lot more common, everyday circumstance numbering in the hundreds of millions around the world such as a poor man working hard to support his family who now finds himself even poorer through no fault of his own — then economists would be lining up from here to the moon and back to measure every bit of monetary loss, plus pain and suffering, plus attaching a sizable profit due his ‘rescuers’ at market rates.

Because these poor men are the exact opposite of heroes — actually, “deadbeat” being the most common term applied — loitering, indigent vagrants to be polite in officialese — they haven’t the means or unmitigated gall to buy themselves a pristine image: unlike, say, the constantly-in-debt Donald Trump, affectionately known as “The Donald”, a lovable rogue who has garnered respect, admiration and television superstardom far and wide for grinding down people less fortunate.

Now that he is rescued, does anyone have the foresight to tie a bell on this compulsive caver so he doesn’t wander off again where he’s not supposed to be? Or put him in a rubber room for the meantime until he can demonstrate he’s not going to hurt himself and put hundreds of others in jeopardy again? No, in the time-honored tradition of a world where things are run and rules are determined to the ability of the dumbest guy around, they have to effectively destroy this wonder of nature for all time by cementing it up, spoiling everyone else‘s fun and any future investigation of value by scientists.

Has this exercise been a total waste? No, once again the most humane or well-paid of us have demonstrated self-sacrifice in the cause of a thoroughly self-absorbed person. Of course, the caver can either say “Thank you” for whatever good that does, or “All this waste is not my fault because I didn’t ask to be rescued” — or probably a bit of both, showing the total lack of moral integrity humans are capable of even when they’re supposedly at their best.

Of course, this phenomenon of “Let’s all rush off to channel all available resources into one barely viable human being” calls into question mass international searches for idle adventurers that have become routine in recent times. For years commentators have questioned whether it wouldn’t be right to send these heroes a bill after they’re with the consensus so far coming down on “That wouldn’t be right.” And this while people who pay stiff taxes and exorbitant upfront charges at hospitals (not counting those with insurance) for simple attention for everyday wear-and-tear not their fault are duped by small print or fobbed off with excuses — and the billions around the world with fewer resources are told to go fly a kite.

BIGGEST DISC SELLERS IN U.S. FOR 1965

In generational/fashion, history, music on April 22, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Nineteen sixty-five was the year the Beatles relinquished a big gooey dollop of their kiddywink appeal for American tweenies to another English group, Herman’s Hermits, from Manchester. While the Beatles surrendered quite a chunk of their disc sales too compared with 1964, they moved on to more mature music and broadened their fanbase, “peaking” with Yesterday, of Elizabethan pedigree. Couldn’t get much older-style or high-falutin’ than that. The Hermits, led by 17-year-old Peter Noone of panto and Coronation Street experience, stole the Beatles’ music hall base which they wouldn’t fully reclaim until the Sgt Pepper’s album two years later.

The Rolling Stones hit the US in a big way and around the world in 1965. From left, Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger,  a stoned Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, a young, relatively humanoid Keith Richard

The Rolling Stones hit the US in a big way and around the world in 1965. From left, Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger, a stoned Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, a young, relatively humanoid Keith Richard

The Hermits’ American label, MGM, would claim no fewer than seven million-selling singles for them during 1965, most of them including their two fastest sellers, Mrs Brown (You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter) and I’m Henry VIII I Am, firmly from the English Music Hall tradition. Deputising for them delivering music hall from Manchester were Freddie & the Dreamers, and in more serious mode, from Liverpool, Gerry & the Pacemakers. Where was rock music going? Fast taking over with two striking number ones, selling multi millions around the world, were the Rolling Stones. And there were still the Dave Clark Five, adding to their string of big hits.

Subdued beneath these English groups in singles sales were the most popular American groups, the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons hardly rating outright million-sellers anymore and now joined by the Byrds, Sonny & Cher and the Lovin’ Spoonful. In fact, at the height of the British Invasion the Beatles were slow off the mark to raise an RIAA Gold Disc. But the British showed their overall influence by converting to their style not only the Byrds (supposedly inspired by Bob Dylan) but popsters Gary Lewis & the Playboys and big-voiced soloist P. J. Proby.

P. J. Proby: from Texas, endorsed in the UK by the Beatles and had talent overflowing enough to go worldwide and then some.

P. J. Proby: from Texas, endorsed in the UK by the Beatles and had talent overflowing enough to go worldwide and then some.

Businesswise, it was a strangely divided year: high selling in the New Year and early spring when Petula Clark and Roger Miller had easily their biggest-ever hits, the Temptations and Marvin Gaye their biggest of mid decade and lesser Brit acts; but turning to distinctly mediocre by June, after which hot young acts like the Byrds couldn’t sell a million with a strong tail wind of publicity and Bob Dylan and the Beatles beneath their wings. The Byrds’ Mr Tambourine Man and Turn, Turn, Turn both hit no.1 in the US for multiple weeks but failed to sell a million in a low-selling period of 1965 during generally rising sales — the first one their top seller ever at a documented 900,000 nationally.

1. A Taste Of Honey (Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass)…. reported as 4.5 million US in 16 months, supporting mega-million sales of their albums

2. Wooly Bully (Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs)….. well over 2 million

3. I Can’t Help Myself (Four Tops)…. 2,500,000

4. King Of the Road (Roger Miller)…… 2 million or more

5. Mrs Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter (Herman’s Hermits)…. sold a million US in first week

6. Downtown (Petula Clark)…. instant million-seller and eventually 3 million in US

7. My Girl (Temptations)….. eventually passing 2 million in US

8. Yesterday (Beatles)….. 1,800,000 in US

9. I’m Henry VIII I Am (Herman’s Hermits)….. over 600,000 orders in 2 days

10. I Got You Babe (Sonny & Cher)….. certified gold within two months and continuing strong to reach 3 million in next two years

We Can Work It Out (Beatles)…… 1,600,000 in US

Help! (Beatles)…. sold a million in US in one week

Satisfaction (Rolling Stones)…. a quick US million of its 4.5 million worldwide

Let’s Hang On (Four Seasons)….. est. 1,500,000 or more

I Got You (I Feel Good) (James Brown)…. a certified million in under 2 months

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (Righteous Bros)…. nearing a million in under two months

Eve Of Destruction (Barry McGuire)….. a million and a half US

Get Off Of My Cloud (Rolling Stones)….. 500,000 US in 5 days

1 – 2 – 3 (Len Barry)….. 1,500,000

Stop In the Name of Love (Supremes)….. sold a prompt million US early spring

Help Me Rhonda (Beach Boys)….. over a million in its chart run

Ticket to Ride (Beatles)….. 750,000 orders but slow to retail the million

Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat? (Herman’s Hermits)…. certified a million US in ten weeks

This Diamond Ring (Gary lewis & the Playboys)…. a million US in less than 3 months

The Birds and the Bees (Jewel Aken)….. a fast million in early spring

I Hear a Symphony (Supremes)….. over half in US of world total of more than 2 million

Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (James Brown)….. ditto US & world

Treat Her Right (Roy Head)…… 1,300,000

A Lover’s Concerto (Toys)….. certified gold in less than 3 months

Like a Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan)….. certified gold in 3 months

Hang On Sloopy (McCoys)…. certified gold in 5 months

Crying In the Chapel (Elvis Presley)….. certified gold US in summer

‘In’ Crowd (Ramsey Lewis Trio)….. gold

I Like It Like That (Dave Clark Five)….. reported million in US

Eight Days a Week (Beatles)….. took 6 months to be certified gold

Back In My Arms Again (Supremes)….. eventual million US

Over and Over (Dave Clark Five)……. million-seller US

Game Of Love (Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders)….. probable spring million-seller

Count Me In (Gary Lewis & the Playboys)…. est. million US

The Name Game (Shirley Ellis)…. fast New Year seller

Flowers On the Wall (Statler Bros)…. sold a million into 1966

Keep On Dancing (Gentrys)…. a million US subsequently

Where the Action Is (Freddie Cannon)…. pop music tv theme, went gold in tv season

I’m Into Something Good (Herman’s Hermits)…. half million or so at first, passed a million during their US tour in May six months later

Hold What You’ve Got (Joe Tex)….. took almost a year to sell the million US

I’m Telling You Now (Freddie & the Dreamers)…. no.1 US but no reported gold disc

You Were On My Mind (We Five)….. passed 600,000 two weeks into top 20 US

What’s New Pussycat? (Tom Jones)…. almost a million in US chart run

California Girls (Beach Boys)…… debated million-seller US

Catch Us if You Can (Dave Clark Five)….. label claimed a million-seller

Tired Of Waiting for You (Kinks)….. ditto

All Day and All of the Night (Kinks)….. ditto, New Year seller

Unchained Melody (Righteous Bros)….. ditto, summer seller

Ebb Tide (Righteous Bros)…. ditto, Xmas seller

Red Roses for a Blue Lady (Bert Kaempfert)….. a subsequent million

Keep Searchin’ (Del Shannon)….. eventual million sale reported

Baby I’m Yours (Barbara Lewis)….. ditto

Save Your Heart for Me (Gary lewis & the Playboys)….. close to a million

The Boy From New York City (Ad Libs)….. gold unclaimed

Silhouettes (Herman’s Hermits)….. advance of 400,000 and eventual million

Mr Tambourine Man (Byrds)….. reported 900,000 in US

Turn Turn Turn (Byrds)….. less than 900,000 in US despite 3 weeks at no.1

Ferry Cross the Mersey (Gerry & the Pacemakers)….. est. 850,000

England Swings (Roger Miller)….. reported approaching a million

The Clapping Song (Shirley Ellis)….. ditto

Everybody Loves a Clown (Gary lewis & the Playboys)…. est. over 800,000

Nowhere to Run (Martha & the Vandellas)….. est. ditto

Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey)…. est. ditto

Bye Bye Baby (Four Seasons)….. three quarters of a million or more

Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (Patti Page)…… est ditto

How Sweet It Is (Marvin Gaye)….. over 800,000 as reported by Marvin

I’m A Fool (Dino, Desi & Billy)…… reported as 800,000 US

It’s the Same Old Song (Four Tops)….. over 750,000

Positively 4th Street (Bob Dylan)….. reported as 750,000-plus

Wonderful World (Herman’s Hermits)….. probably no more than three quarters of its world million in the US

Engine Engine No.9 (Roger Miller)….. est. 750,000 or so

I Go to Pieces (Peter & Gordon)….. est. ditto

It’s Not Unusual (Tom Jones)….. est. ditto

Baby Don’t Go (Sonny & Cher)….. est. around three quarters of a million US

It Ain’t Me Babe (Turtles)….. est. ditto

Just a Little Bit Better (Herman’s Hermits)….. probably less than 750,000 in US

I’ll Be Doggone (Marvin Gaye)….. est. ditto

Ain’t That Peculiar (Marvin Gaye)….. est. ditto

Just Once in My Life (Righteous Bros)…. est. ditto

I Will (Dean Martin)…. est. ditto

Don’t Think Twice (Four Seasons)…… sold a fast half-million and continued

Laugh At Me (Sonny)…. over 700,000 US

The Last Time (Rolling Stones)….. sold less in US (est. 700,000) than in UK

Do You Wanna Dance? (Beach Boys)….. est. 700,000

People Get Ready (Impressions)…. ditto

True Love Ways (Peter & Gordon)….. est. ditto

Last Chance to Turn Around (Gene Pitney)….. est. ditto

Reelin’ and Rockin’ (Dave Clark Five)….. ditto

Do the Freddie (Freddie & the Dreamers)….. est. 650,000 US

We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place (Animals)….. est. 650,000

I’m Yours (Elvis Presley)….. 650,000 initially, gold long term

Puppet On a String (Elvis Presley)…. initially over half a million, long term gold disc US

Nothing But Heartaches (Supremes)….. est. around 600,000

Come Home (Dave Clark Five)…. ditto

Houston (Dean Martin)….. ditto

Little Girl I Once Knew (Beach Boys)….. est. 600,000 or so

But You’re Mine (Sonny & Cher)…. est. ditto

Tracks of My Tears (Smokey Robinson & the Miracles)…. est. ditto

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Animals)….. est. ditto

Mohair Sam (Charlie Rich)….. est. ditto

In the Midnight Hour (Wilson Pickett)…. est. ditto

Send Me the Pillow You Dream On (Dean Martin)….. est. ditto

Heart Of Stone (Rolling Stones)….. est. 600,000

You Were Made For Me (Freddie & the Dreamers)….. reported 600,000 in US

Girl On the Billboard (Del Reeves)….. est. ditto, c&w no.1 for many weeks

With These Hands (Tom Jones)….. probably 600,000

Willow Weep For Me (Chad & Jeremy)….. est. ditto

Before and After (Chad & Jeremy)….. est. ditto

It’s My Life (Animals)….. est. ditto

Set Me Free (Kinks)….. est. ditto

Lookin’ Through the Eyes of Love (Gene Pitney)…… est. ditto

Tell Me Why (Elvis Presley)….. just over 500,000 initially, gold long term

(Such An) Easy Question….. Estimated half a million sales or more

I’ll Be There (Gerry & the Pacemakers)….. est. half-million or so

I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail (Buck Owens)…. top c&w disc selling over a half-million

I Must Be Seeing Things (Gene Pitney)….. est. ditto

Girl Come Running (Four Seasons)…. est. ditto

Just You (Sonny & Cher)….. est. half a million

I Understand (Freddie & the Dreamers)….. reported half a million US

Blue Christmas (Elvis Presley)….. probably around a half-million this Xmas, awarded gold long term

Do the Clam (Elvis Presley)…. reported just under half-million

THE DUMBING DOWN OF US

In music, psychology/psychiatry on April 15, 2014 at 9:15 pm

This is one of those unpalatable, indigestible ideas that has stuck in my craw many times before, often when I’ve just surrendered to bedtime sometime after midnight. Too often, I just roll over and drift off to sleep too lazy to rouse myself. Finally, it grabbed me on the right side of my waking cycle — 5.30am this morning — by the throat, and wouldn’t let go. I dedicate this to one of those famous deejays of the Rock Era, who was proudest of his evident efforts to giving pop music a bad name. He gave himself a stupid name to fit: “Cousin Brucie”, turning himself into a New York celebrity in a New York minute. His credo went something like, Take a simple song, stuff in as many fatuous cliches as you can fit, and it takes on a kind of “magic.” Maybe he owed his career to an influential uncle, but he had millions of cousins among the disc-buying public making his eyes sparkle with dollar signs.

Homeless and 'displaced' refugees: more uncounted statistics

Homeless and ‘displaced’ refugees: more uncounted statistics

The next time any of us is tempted to persist ten minutes into a mindless, meathead action movie and waste another hour and a half we could be spending more profitably on, say, navel-gazing, just remember people are out there on the frontiers of human civilisation every day literally losing their lives so that we don’t have to aspire to the lowest common denominator of human thought. “Ordinary” citizens, investigative journalists, front-line activists, peacekeeping soldiers put their lives on the line every day so that we don’t have to — usually in some other “God-forsaken” part of the world — including that 14-year-old girl whom the Taliban attempted to silence by shooting her face off. Or whenever we are tempted to settle for second, third or 7,556,132,404th best (that’s the worst on the planet) in a choice of politicians, favorite celebrities, sports heroes or role models of any kind.

On the same exalted level, not that he could be accused of ever dumbing down, even Einstein was proudest of some of his lesser known discoveries — Was he the one behind Wella incorporating 68% more “bounce-back body”? Mid 20th Century pop culture being my bag, I’m here to apply the principle to pop songs. Not counting those iconic biggies never intended to be more than amusing nonentities (The Chipmunk Song, Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini…) the following list of massive, trite, totally expendable hits all sold more than four million copies in the USA alone:

It’s Now or Never (Elvis Presley) 1960

I Want to Hold Your Hand (The Beatles) 1963

Ballad of the Green Berets (Sgt Barry Sadler) 1966

Honey (Bobby Goldsboro) 1968

Dizzy (Tommy Roe) 1969

Sugar, Sugar (The Archies) 1969

In fact, these were the only songs to surpass the US four million mark during the Sixties — which should tell us something. It was a decade that supplied exquisite music aplenty, of which I submit a small sample below: all overlooked classics among the very best performances of the acts listed. Billboard ‘peaks’ are stated in those cases where the song rose high enough in our collective imagination to enter sales charts at all.

Reeling and Rocking (Fats Domino) nil, 1952

Tutti Frutti (Little Richard) #21, 1955

Too Much Monkey Business (Chuck Berry) nil, 1956

Young Blood (The Coasters) #18, 1957

The Girl Can’t Help It (Little Richard) #49, 1957

Teach Me How to Shimmy (Isley Bros) nil, 1961

Three Cool Cats (The Coasters) nil, 1962

When the Lovelight Shines (The Supremes) #23, 1963

The Warmth of the Sun (The Beach Boys) nil, 1964

Big Man in Town (The Four Seasons) #20, 1964

Goodbye My Love (The Searchers) #52, 1965

Early Morning Rain (Peter, Paul & Mary) nil, 1965

In My Life (The Beatles) nil, 1965

With These Hands (Tom Jones) #27, 1965

My Generation (The Who) #74, 1966

I’m a Boy (The Who) nil, 1966

Try a Little Tenderness (Otis Redding) #21, 1966

Bowling Green (The Everly Bros) #40, 1967

Mas Que Nada (Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66) nil, 1967

Why Do Fools Fall in Love? (The Happenings) #41, 1967

Guide For the Married Man (The Turtles) nil, 1967

Pata, Pata (Miriam Makeba) #12, 1967

To Love Somebody (The Bee Gees) #17, 1967

Twelve Thirty (The Mamas & the Papas) #20, 1967

Will You Love Me Tomorrow (The Four Seasons) #24, 1968

Workin’ On a Groovy Thing (The Fifth Dimension) #20, 1969

Fortunate Son (Creedence Clearwater Revival) nil, 1969

Oh Me, Oh My (Lulu) #22, 1970

Me About You (The Turtles) nil, 1970

Out in the Country (Three Dog Night) #15, 1970

BIGGEST SELLING DISCS OF 1963

In history, music on April 13, 2014 at 1:44 am

Ok, calm down everyone, following the deafening clamor that greeted my last post, “Biggest Disc Sellers of 1964” — and ignoring the fact that most searches that got through were actually after a site called “Biggest Dicks Fellers” — I’ve answered the call to go a year even further back. (In relaying coherently the massive amount of research I’ve done into this burning question it is necessary to publish it bit by bit, so please visit my site

  • http://www.garbonza.wordpress.com
  • to get the full story over the next day or two.)

    Here we enter the official pre-Beatle Era because most Americans didn’t know that group existed before 1964 though they’d sold an audited total of more than five million singles and e.p.s in their home country through 1963, and this from a pool of potential disc-buyers one third that of the United States at the time. They’d also had three of their singles released and promoted across the United States during the year — played on many big-city top 40 programs — but people weren’t paying proper attention at the time, thus necessitating a red-carpeted second bite at the cherry (with mostly the same discs) as ordered by his lordship the chairman of EMI in London.

    A quarter century before Nielsen-SoundScan counted sales accurately, statisticians relied on figures released by disc labels or the artists themselves. This resulted in highly exaggerated, seriously underestimated or sometimes very accurate totals of particular song’s sales, depending on the motives of the label. After the Beatles finally ‘arrived’ in the US, Capitol saw the advantage of publicizing its chosen superstar’s massive disc sales with RIAA Gold Disc auditing under parent company EMI’s policy and at the same time continuing its own domestic policy of near secrecy for its other most popular clients — the Beach Boys, Bobby Darin, the Kingston Trio, Nat King Cole, Kyu Sakamoto, and now Peter & Gordon — so as not to distract attention from the predetermined main event. If it had a mind to, this also allowed Capitol to short-change these under-promoted acts on royalties with impunity — not that I’m saying they did, but the Beach Boys for one sued their label repeatedly over the years for “missing paperwork” on sales tallies. It is acknowledged that Peter, Paul & Mary edged the Beach Boys in album sales for 1963, making up 45% of all folk music sold in the US.

    1963 was the year of the Beach Boys (and soundalikes Jan & Dean) but maybe most of all maybe Peter, Paul & Mary: From right, the lovely Mary Travers, and the professorial Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey.

    1963 was the year of the Beach Boys (and soundalikes Jan & Dean) but maybe most of all maybe Peter, Paul & Mary: From right, the lovely Mary Travers, and the professorial Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey.

    Though assessed by Billboard to be the biggest-selling act of 1963, sales of individual Beach Boys discs had proven problematic because traditionally in the US the sales of a song (one side of a vinyl disc) were always counted separately. So while the double-sided hits Surfin’ USA/Shut Down, Surfer Girl/Little Deuce Coupe and Be True to Your School/In My Room all might have sold a double-million, the question was how many sales to attribute to each song? The Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison too had the same problem of being too generous filling B-sides with top quality when customarily it had been treated as a throwaway to focus attention on the “A” and not split airplay and therefore sales. Elvis Presley had scored many double-gold sellers in his heyday (pre-1963) and at least in the case of Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel more sales were assigned to the designated B-side than the “A”. Similarly, Billboard named Little Deuce Coupe as the second biggest Beach Boys seller of the year, surprisingly ahead of its “A”, which did exceedingly well topping regional charts right across the USA (apart from New York City). Regarding the Beatles, though Capitol tended to fill their early B-sides with decidedly secondary attractions — judging from results, many of these songs missing or just making the weekly top 100 — the Liverpool group would feature a number of noted double-siders in the mid 1960s: I Feel Fine/She’s a Woman, We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper, Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby.

    The most reliable list of bestsellers in the nation for 1963 involved a nationwide conference at the end of the year sponsored by the National Disk Jockey Association that included retail disc sellers and distributors, radio station personnel and research staff from trade magazines (Billboard, Cash Box, Music Vendor) who undertook a week-by-week, month-by-month breakdown of regional and national sales from January 6th to December 16th.

    (Note: It was remarked on by commentators at the time, especially through summer following a healthy-selling spring, on how low individual songs were selling, even those expected to reach a million that fell short at “three quarters of a million” or so. The lion’s share of the blame for this was put on the new Japanese pocket transistors, which afforded a free listen to your favorite tunes hanging out at the beach without shelling out singles’ exorbitant list price of 77 cents and up. Undoubtedly a second cause was the sheer amount of competition from all quarters providing what have since become recognised as classic tunes.)

    Here follows the top ten determined by that industry working group, published by Billboard in March 1964, with accompanying figures I have been able to dig up, then carrying on down the list. Hope you find some favorites somewhere in here.

    1. Surfin’ USA (Beach Boys)….. Though peaking at no.3 in the weekly charts of Billboard and Cash Box, sold probably around two million in its ten months from release to the end of the year, and continuing

    2. End Of the World (Skeeter Davis)….. peaking no.2 in weekly charts, accumulating through the entire year from its release in January

    3. Rhythm Of the Rain (Cascades)….. selling from its late-1962 release, mounting 700,000 by its third week in the top 20 to peak at no.3

    4. He’s So Fine (Chiffons)….. the most durable no.1 of the year, on its own topping Billboard for 4 weeks

    5. Blue Velvet (Bobby Vinton)….. a million during chart run

    6. Hey Paula (Paul & Paula)…. audited early for a Gold Disc at 1,030,000 and in 9 months sold over 2 million worldwide; US est. around 1,400,000

    7. Fingertips (Part II) (Little Stevie Wonder)…. three weeks at no.1 through late summer

    8. Can’t Get Used to Losing You (Andy Williams)…. quoted at 850,000 by Williams, who must have been shortchanged

    9. My Boyfriend’s Back (Angels)…. three weeks at no.1 beginning autumn

    10. Sukiyaki (Kyu Sakamoto)…. three weeks at no.1 early summer, quoted at 930,000 most of the way through low-selling summer, nearing the end of its chart run

    * If I Had a Hammer (Trini Lopez)….. peaked no.3 in autumn, going on to well over a million US and 4.5 million globally

    * Puff (the Magic Dragon) (Peter, Paul & Mary)….. well over a million US from spring and multi-millions worldwide

    * Walk Like a Man (Four Seasons)…. 700,000 in 4 weeks after release, before hitting top 20, going on to three weeks at no.1 by early spring

    * Surf City (Jan & Dean)…. two weeks at no.1, quoted at 1,250,000

    * If You Wanna Be Happy (Jimmy Soul)….. ditto, a million-plus

    * Sugar Shack (Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs)….. a no.1 in Billboard towards the end of the year and building the biggest chart “points” tally for the year — boosted by airplay — but quoted at just a 1,200,000 total a year later

    * Walk Right In (Rooftop Singers)….. well over a million accumulated by this January topper

    * Green, Green (New Christie Minstrels)….. over a million steadily, then more than 3 million in a few years

    * From A Jack to a King (Ned Miller)…. well over a million; 2 million worldwide within 6 months (including over 750,000 UK)

    * I’m Leaving It Up to You (Dale & Grace)…. a million reported for this autumn no.1

    * It’s My Party (Lesley Gore)….. over a million

    * Blowin’ In the Wind (Peter, Paul & Mary)….. over a million

    * Easier Said Than Done (The Essex)….. massive but in a low-selling summer

    * Losing You (Brenda Lee)…. “climbing towards a million” three weeks into top 20

    * The Night Has a Thousand Eyes (Bobby Vee)…. 700,000 after 4 weeks in top 20, peaking no.3

    * Cry Baby (Garnet Mimms & the Enchanters)…. over a million

    * Be My Baby (Ronettes)…. “about one million” claimed by Phil Spector for this disputed no.1/2

    * I Will Follow Him (Little Peggy March)…. quoted at 965,000 a year later though three weeks at no.1 in spring

    * Busted (Ray Charles)…… million-seller

    * Da Doo Ron Ron (Crystals)….. one of Phil Spector’s claimed million-sellers

    * South Street (Orlons)….. over a million

    * Our Day Will Come (Ruby & the Romantics)…. no.1 but no record of a million sale claimed

    * Ruby Baby (Dion)…. probable million-seller, not confirmed

    * In Dreams (Roy Orbison)….. million-seller

    * Take These Chains From My Heart (Ray Charles)…… million-seller

    * Two Faces Have I (Lou Christie)…. a million-seller

    * Blue On Blue (Bobby Vinton)…. “almost a million” in 4 months

    * Washington Square (Village Stompers)…. reported just over the million June ’64

    * Deep Purple (April Stevens & Nino Tempo)….. no.1 for a week in late autumn, reported passing the million in 1965

    * Heat Wave (Martha & the Vandellas)….. reported over a million (of a 4.5 million singles sales total for the Motown label in 1963)

    * It’s All Right (Impressions)…. awarded gold after a year

    * So Much in Love (Tymes)….. no.1 for one week in a slow summer

    * (You’re the) Devil in Disguise (Elvis Presley)…. sold around 700,000 initially and slowly built past a million

    * Candy Girl (Four Seasons)…. sold 200,000 fast and continued to a million, peaked no.3

    * Little Deuce Coupe (Beach Boys)… assessed by Capitol as a high seller though missing top 10

    * Surfer Girl (Beach Boys)…. assessed at less than above though peaking no.5 for three weeks

    * Mean Woman Blues (Roy Orbison)…… million-seller

    * Then He Kissed Me (Crystals)….. million-seller for producer Phil Spector, peaking no.6

    * One Fine Day (Chiffons)……. million-seller, peaking no.5

    * Detroit City (Bobby Bare)…. over a million, his biggest seller

    * Be True to Your School (Beach Boys)…. reputedly a million-seller, peaked no.6

    * Mockingbird (Inez & Charlie Foxx)… peaking no.7, initially 800,000 then passing the million

    * Donna the Prima Donna (Dion)….

    * Ring Of Fire (Johnny Cash)….. a million

    * 24 Hours From Tulsa (Gene Pitney)….. confirmed million-seller

    * Call On Me (Bobby Bland)…. r&b chart winner, over a million in chart run peaking barely top 30 in the pop chart

    * 500 Miles From Home (Bobby Bare)…. another million-seller quoted for him

    * Wonderful, Wonderful (Tymes)….

    * Don’t Think Twice (It’s All Right) (Peter, Paul & Mary)….. million unconfirmed

    * He’s Sure the Boy I Love (Crystals)….. probably approaching a million

    * Mecca (Gene Pitney)…. not quite a million

    * Honolulu Lulu (Jan & Dean)…… ditto

    * Walkin’ Miracle (The Essex)…..

    * Drip Drop (Dion)……. sales going into 1964

    * Half Heaven, Half Heartache (Gene Pitney)…. unconfirmed million

    * Not Me (Orlons)…..

    * The Gypsy Cried (Lou Christie)…. a million eventually

    * If My Pillow Could Talk (Connie Francis)…. 282,000 in first week of release but slowed down short of top 20

    * Abilene (George Hamilton IV)….. short of a million

    * Quicksand (Martha & the Vandellas)…… selling into 1964

    * I Love You Because (Al Martino)… 750,000 within 6 months

    * These Arms of Mine (Otis Redding)…. reported 750,000 though barely made top 100

    * You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me (Smokey Robinson & the Miracles)….. around three quarters of a million

    * True Love Never Runs Smooth (Gene Pitney)…. something around three quarters of a million

    * Days Of Wine and Roses (Andy Williams)…. 750,000 quoted by Williams for this B-side

    * Bossa Nova Baby (Elvis Presley)…. “sales somewhat less than 700,000”

    * One Broken Heart For Sale (Elvis Presley)…. something approaching 700,000

    * Six Days On the Road (Dave Dudley)…. over 600,000 and still selling steadily after

    * Killer Joe (Rocky Fellers)….. reported at 600,000 by Filipino group

    * Follow the Boys (Connie Francis)…..

    * Blue Bayou (Roy Orbison)….. high-selling B-side

    * Little St Nick (Beach Boys)….. biggest-selling Xmas disc of 1963, accumulating a million over successive Xmases

    * Shut Down (Beach Boys)….

    * Let’s Limbo Some More (Chubby Checker)…..

    * This Little Girl (Dion)……

    * Loddy Lo (Chubby Checker)…..

    * Birdland (Chubby Checker)……..

    * Marlena (Four Seasons)…… B-side performing well

    * Ain’t That a Shame (Four Seasons)……

    * Don’t Set Me Free (Ray Charles)…….

    * 20 Miles (Chubby Checker)…….

    * Falling (Roy Orbison)….. needed international sales to take it over the million

    * In My Room (Beach Boys)…. ditto

    * Pretty Paper (Roy Orbison)….. Xmas song selling into 1964

    SPECIAL MENTION: those that sold well over a million but had their sales split into 1964

    Microsoft Word - _Student Outline #10_ - School of Rock-John LenDominique (Singing Nun)…. said to have sold almost a million by Xmas and then continued just as strong

    Louie, Louie (Kingsmen)…. approached 2 million but well into 1964, topping 3 million in the US alone by late ’67

    There I’ve Said It Again! (Bobby Vinton)….. broke the label record of 94,000 in one day

    You Don’t Own Me (Lesley Gore)…. sold mostly into 1964

    Forget Him (Bobby Rydell)….. ditto

    BIGGEST SELLING DISCS OF 1964: “IT WAS 50 YEARS AGO TODAY…”

    In history, music on April 7, 2014 at 2:09 am

    No, nothing to do with the Sgt Pepper’s album, whose 50th anniversary is still to come three years from now. Though the Beatles changed the stakes by selling just as many albums in the States as singles, individual songs (the A-side of a vinyl single) still made the biggest impact on the charts and to careers — to change to albums later in the decade.

    It was 1964 that was unquestionably the year of the Beatles — in the United States. In their homeland the Beatles had already made multiple breakthroughs right through 1963, their singles more than doubling the sales of the previous one until reaching a ceiling: from Love Me Do (116,000) to Please Please Me (310,000), From Me to You (660,000), the Twist & Shout e.p. the same, She Loves You (1,890,000) and I Want to Hold Your Hand (1,640,000). These last two would remain their biggest-ever sellers in the UK (double that of Hey Jude in 1968 after four years of steadily falling sales across the British industry). After From Me to You had ‘peaked’ for them at 21,000 North American sales, the very last was the disc that finally broke through in America with hefty saturation promotion via New York radio stations during the two weeks of the New Year 1964 holiday. The Beatles were a commercial phenomenon, the biggest thing on disc since the Chipmunks sold seven million of their Xmas song in 1958-59.

    N.B. The figures quoted in this article are the official retail totals of cross-counter sales through each disc’s chart run as far as can be determined from this distance. In Britain this is generally the single’s total up to date, unless specially re-released and publicized as such. In the States vinyl presses tended to be kept at the ready for big hits, especially for long-running performers who could promote the song all over again for seasonal occasions or on tour, and many medium to big hits turned into monumental ones over the years. (Fans couldn’t get enough of those cute Chipmunks and took their disc to 12 million over the next two Xmases.) Note also that the cost of a single in America (and Britain) in the early to mid Sixties ranged from 75 cents upwards — proportionate to relative incomes, more than $10 today. Additionally, the population of the USA — and its record-buyers — was barely more than half what it is today.

    The year before, the Beach Boys had been the biggest sellers of US singles (the Four Seasons in 1962) at around six and a half million in total (my estimate) in a low-selling year, followed by Dion, the Four Seasons, Ray Charles, and Chubby Checker fading, 5th. Surfin’ USA was ajudged the top-selling single by torturous process, out on its own but at probably well under two million, compared to 1962 which had boasted at least seven singles selling the double-million or approaching it.

    The Beatle industry’s massive assault on the USA and rest-of-the-world markets really began in fall 1963 when Capitol executives were summoned from Hollywood to London by Sir Joseph Lockwood, chairman of parent company EMI, to please explain why his trans-global corporation had made no dent at all in the States with its fluffiest product. Capitol, from its point of view, had done fine with its biggest disc sellers, Bozo the Clown in the Fifties, and now the Beach Boys. Lockwood was determined to give a hefty promotional push to this one product in the all-eggs-in-one-basket approach. Sure enough, the Beatle singles that flopped in America over the past year — Please Please Me, From Me to You, She Loves You — were about to be unloaded all over again as new product on an unsuspecting public to sell in the millions, along with such worthies as And I Love Her/If I Fell that got lost in the rush and missed the top 10 (maybe selling close to three quarters of a mill) and real dogs like My Bonnie, that never made it past the 300,000 sales mark but still through saturation airplay made the Billboard top 30 and Sie Liebe Dich (Ja, Ja, Ja) that barely made the Hot 100 — its German even less comprehensible than Liverpudlian. Suffice to say, during April 1964 it was figured that 60% of singles sold in the USA across a three-week period were Beatle ones. At the end of that month, of 14 Beatle singles listing on the charts, five of them lined up at the very top of the Billboard chart.

    The Beatles, mid 1964

    The Beatles, mid 1964

      THE BIGGEST-SELLING SINGLES OF 1964 in the U.S.A.

    alone, as accurately as I can gauge by assiduous research into a period eons before Neilson-Soundscan electronic retail recording:

    1. I Want to Hold Your Hand (Beatles)….. 3,500,000 over the US chart run and building eventually to an estimated 5,300,000; over 12 million worldwide

    2. Hello Dolly (Louis Armstrong)….. approaching 3,000,000 US through 1964

    3. She Loves You (Beatles)……. more than 2,500,000

    4. Oh Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison)…… around 2,000,000 or more

    5. I Get Around (Beach Boys)…… approaching 2,000,000 during US chart run

    6. Louie Louie (Kingsmen)…… approaching 2,000,000 but many during 1963

    7. My Guy (Mary Wells)…… more than 1,500,000

    8. Glad All Over (Dave Clark Five)….. more than 1,500,000

    9. Everybody Loves Somebody (Dean Martin)….. almost 2,000,000 running into 1965

    10. Dominique (The Singing Nun)…. more than 1,750,000 but many during 1963

    (These are the top ten for the year according to Cash Box, the best trade paper at tracking sales, closely confirmed by Billboard for the first five places and then showing increasing variance.)

      OTHER CONTENDERS & RUNNERS-UP

    :

    * Chapel Of Love (Dixie Cups)….. around 2,000,000

    * Can’t Buy Me Love (Beatles)……. record advance order of 2,100,000 but actual sales apparently didn’t approach this

    * I Feel Fine (Beatles)…. advance orders (not retail sales) of a million-plus, building to 1,600,000 but counted under 1965

    * A Hard Day’s Night (Beatles)…… RIAA Gold Disc for a million in the US awarded one month into top 20 run

    * Rag Doll (Four Seasons)….. RIAA Gold Disc awarded two months into top 20 run

    * Twist & Shout (Beatles)…… 1,250,000

    * Last Kiss (J Frank Wilson & the Cavaliers)….. a million within three months

    * You Don’t Own Me (Lesley Gore)…… more than 1,000,000 during chart run

    * Dawn (Go Away) (Four Seasons)….. over a million by internal evidence relative to others

    * Bits and Pieces (Dave Clark Five)….. Gold disc awarded by Epic label within three months

    * Please Please Me (Beatles)……. 1,185,725 in US

    * Love Me Do (Beatles)……. 1,165,200 in US

    * Dancing In The Street (Martha & the Vandellas)….. 1,000,000 in chart run

    * We’ll Sing in the Sunshine (Gale Garnett)…. posted by Billboard at 9th for the year but only documentation is more than 900,000 within three months

    * Where Did Our Love Go? (Supremes)………. 1,072,270 sale quoted by Motown contract

    * Do You Want to Know a Secret (Beatles)…… 1,000,000

    * Fun Fun Fun (Beach Boys)……. accumulating 1,000,000 in US in a few months; reported in 1995 as having sold “over 4 million”

    * Baby Love (Supremes)….. more than 1,000,000 but counted into 1965

    * Remember (Walking in the Sand) (Shangri-Las)….. “a million”

    * G.T.O. (Ronny & the Daytonas)…… “a million”

    * Walk Don’t Run ’64 (Ventures)….. “(second) gold disc”

    * My Boy Lollipop (Millie Small)…… “almost a million”

    * Little Old Lady From Pasadena (Jan & Dean)… presumed million from internal evidence

    * California Sun (Rivieras)….. “almost a million”

    * The Girl From Ipanema (Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto)….. “almost 1,000,000”

    * Dang Me (Roger Miller)…… claimed a million

    * Chug-A-Lug (Roger Miller)….. claimed a million

    * Little Honda (Hondells)…. Beach Boys in disguise, selling a million

    * Don’t Let the Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man) (Serendipity Singers)…. 800,000-plus initially

    * Baby I Need Your Lovin’ (Four Tops)….. 750,000 initially, building to a million in 1965

    * A Woman’s Love (Carla Thomas)…. barely made the weekly top 100 but sold a million in the r&b market

    * Dance Dance Dance (Beach Boys)…. at least three quarters of a million, taken over the million by record club sales

    * When I Grow Up (Beach Boys)…. as above, similarly barely top 10 in Billboard (airplay) but top 5 in sales charts

    * Ask Me/Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby (Elvis Presley)…. initially 700,000 sold, going on eventually to gold disc US

    * Kissin’ Cousins (Elvis Presley)…. quoted 700,000 sales

    * Viva Las Vegas (Elvis Presley)…. initially just under 500,000 but going on long term to a US gold disc

    * Dead Man’s Curve (Jan & Dean)…. reported 790,000 sold in US spring chart run

    * Ride the Wild Surf (Jan & Dean)…. est. three quarters of a million plus

    * Sidewalk Surfin’ (Jan & Dean)…. (reworded from the Beach Boys’ Catch A Wave), reported 700,000-plus by spring ’65 though barely top 30

      SPECIAL MENTION

    :

    * Downtown (Petula Clark)….. didn’t enter top 20 till second day of 1965 (but went on to sell 3 million in US alone)

    * You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (Righteous Bros)….. ditto the same day

      QUESTION MARKS

    :

    * House of the Rising Sun (Animals)…… no.1 but no confirmation

    * Do Wah Diddy Diddy (Manfred Mann)…… no.1 but no confirmation

    * Leader of the Pack (Shangri-Las)….. no.1 but similarly no confirmation of a million US sale (but pulled off a rare feat of placing top in all four major US charts, Billboard, Cash Box, Record World, Variety)

    * She’s Not There (Zombies)….. no.1 but no confirmation

    Martha Reeves heading the Vandellas.

    Martha Reeves heading the Vandellas.

    Once a Feminist…

    In ideology, morality, politics on March 20, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    When young and even middle-aged women today pick me up on major gaffes, examples of hopeless social ineptitude like calling a woman a girl, or holding a door open for one — that define me as a first class male chauvinist pig in the time-honored nomenclature — I just think to myself “Where were you in 1971, bitch?” — the form it often comes out as afterwards, verbalising it under my breath, as I relive the moment. (Don’t bother saying it — I’ve already taken an anger management course for it and I’m a lot better than I was. Thanks for askin’.) That year, at 15, was when I first got seriously curious about what made women tick. Of course, growing up in a household headed by a solo mother and two older sisters, I had only become used to the “Go to your room, now!” or “Stop it or I’ll break your face!” style of feminism whenever I was deemed to have stepped out of line (and no court of appeal to discuss facts) rather than the plaintive “We just want equality/okay, more than equality” approach as women present themselves today, ladylike, in public; but this calm, assertive approach is as ruthless as ever, and can seem so rational.

    Of course, only women then wrote serious polemics about what has become the abiding cross-gender study of “women’s issues” — and solely from their point of view because not only was there very little research about men to draw on but very little curiosity from women about what makes men tick. (I’m still waiting for this small level of official interest in terms of men getting seriously involved in themselves. But since it hasn’t happened by now I can only assume the strong cultural imperative from both genders that men not “wimp out” or object to their lives in any way prohibits this from ever happening: a thinly disguised version of the white feather of yesteryear sent to “cowards” who refused to sacrifice themselves or to kill on the altar of war.)

    The three biggies in feminist literature were Frenchwoman Simone de Beauvoir, New York sophisticate Betty Friedan and mod icon Germaine Greer from next door in Australia. Suffice to say, they set me on the wrong track for many years on my expectations of women and forming relationships based on any kind of reality. These women authors were arguing from their own ideals as stridently independent women, maybe representing about three percent of women in those days, tops. None of the big three were in the least photogenic or appealing in a girly way. This would wait until Gloria Steinem started appearing on magazine covers as eye candy, later joined by girlish Naomi Klein and others in somewhat glammed-up attire and displaying other sexual cues — which of course defeated the purpose and the principle in a pretty big way but made the whole phenomenon of watered-down feminism more popular.

    As a willing feminist at the time, I took their words as gospel and did not for one minute expect emancipated modern women to be: unalterably passive when it came to pursuing relationships with men (just flirting outrageously), to be silent or ambiguous when it came to any course of reciprocation, or actually claim changing their minds as a “woman’s perogative”. For many, many years I ignored the evidence of my own senses, thinking “Oh, she must be an exception.” My mother, seeing the trouble I was in, finally said, “I think you’re the kind of guy who will have good relationships [in later life].”

    Brando and Vivien Leigh playing a butterfly broken on the wheel

    Brando and Vivien Leigh imagery in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), representing female feminists’ heroic view of themselves: the butterfly oppressed by the beast

    A few years later, in my twenties, I came across The Female Woman by Ariana Stassinopoulis (Huffington), who seemed to me to be letting quite a few cats out of the bag. The sisterhood — whose hold was weakening on me by this time — and who were tired of squabbling with each other about political priorities in the war against men’s privileges — was understandably concerned about this development. The original message was unalterably diverted through magazine editor Steinem and others in influential media positions compromising and playing on market forces. This trend has continued into “modern feminism” and women role models today who parade in 8-inch heels (rightly characterised as “Fuck me” shoes by Germaine Greer all those decades ago), have their faces and bodies rearranged to suit themselves (somehow said to be men’s fault) and twerk their asses off in public with strangers are said to be making important cultural statements on the importance and value of women’s free expression today.

    Maybe they are.

    anna_nicole_weight300 The modern echo of Marilyn Monroe, or a grotesque caricature symbolic of the times?[/caption]

    1962: Sixties Music Thriving

    In history, music on March 17, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    The year 1962 was one of those “watershed” years, if that metaphor can somehow be applied to the popular music business. Five years before, at the height of the explosion of rock’n’roll, had seen posted the all-time record in vinyl disc sales. By 1959 the boom had dipped to a slump and recovery was slow. Now three years later came the long-awaited big comeback in singles and the first sizable advance in sales of albums since they’d been introduced a few years before. Popular music albums had been the poor relation of movie soundtracks, original stage cast productions and comedy albums, which quite regularly sold over a million even for comics now virtually forgotten: Allen Sherman, Bob Newhart, Shelley Berman, Dick Gregory (a controversial black humorist), Rusty Warren (she was a woman)… In pop music there had been operatic movie star Mario Lanza appearing early in the Fifties but by their end only two black crooners of “Easy Listening” music, Harry Belafonte and Johnny Mathis, stood out as reliable sellers of albums in big numbers. Elvis Presley’s first million-selling album took two or three years to get there. And it would be 1963 before the first Sixties “rock” stars made it big in albums: Peter, Paul & Mary

    From right, the lovely Mary Travers, and the professorial Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey.

    From right, the lovely Mary Travers, and the professorial Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey.

    and the Beach Boys; and in Britain, the Beatles.

    Two more black balladeers, Ray Charles and Nat King Cole, took to “country” music in ’62 though their bluesy/jazz voices could not be disguised, taking their biggest numbers I Can’t Stop Loving You and Ramblin’ Rose up to top the charts and go further to post the rare landmark of two million disc sales. The summer especially saw sales rocket, in many major cities some fifty percent or more over the previous year. For the first time, songs that barely made Billboard’s top 20 sold a million discs or close to it: Surfin’ Safari by the Beach Boys and Silver Threads and Golden Needles by the Springfields with lead singer Dusty. (Though in the face of this renewed rock impetus, “Easy Listening” for “adults” still ruled: Tony Bennett’s slow-selling I Left My Heart in San Francisco accumulating two million.) In autumn too came the biggest new white group of the rock era thus far, innovating in writing, arranging and producing their own recordings. The Four Seasons,

    The Four Seasons in 1962, of 'Sherry', 'Big Girls Don't Cry' and 'Walk Like a Man' vintage. From left: lead singer/falsetto Frankie Valli, Tommy De Vito (guitar), Bob Gaudio (songwriter/keyboards), Nick Massi (bass vocals, bass guitar)

    The Four Seasons in 1962, of ‘Sherry’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘Walk Like a Man’ vintage. From left: lead singer/falsetto Frankie Valli, Tommy De Vito (guitar), Bob Gaudio (songwriter/keyboards), Nick Massi (bass vocals, bass guitar)

    Italian-Americans from New Jersey, scored with Sherry, moving 180,000 copies the day after being played on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and climbing to a double-million seller; then Big Girls Don’t Cry, almost as big.

    In black music the balladeer group the Platters had dominated pop since 1955, recently overtaken by the Drifters in r&b/pop (Save the Last Dance for Me, Up On the Roof) and, more spectacularly, girl group the Shirelles whose standout 1962 entry was Baby It’s You, a revolution in sound and mood and dwarfing the quality of the remake the Beatles would fast turn out in tribute; accompanying it was their big number one for the year, Soldier Boy. Already, by fall, they were being eclipsed by Phil Spector group the Crystals (He’s a Rebel), to be top girl group until the arrival of Motown’s Martha (Reeves) & the Vandellas (Heat Wave) a year later, and Diana Ross & the Supremes yet a year further along.

    Martha Reeves heading the Vandellas: more talented than Diana Ross but not cozy with the boss.

    Martha Reeves heading the Vandellas: more talented than Diana Ross but not cozy with the boss.

    However, the massive seismic impact that changed the music scene overnight in the New Year of ’62 was the second coming of The Twist, as a song, but primarily a dance that took the world by storm, for the first time getting middle-aged trendies like Jackie Kennedy, Marlene Dietrich and Zsa Zsa Gabor up on the teen dance floor. The singer — and gyrater — was moca-colored Chubby Checker, in the process of overtaking Elvis this year. Uniquely topping the charts twice in two years with a song that Billboard would name the biggest of the rock era. Ensuring a bridge from the Fifties’ seminal r&b of Hank Ballard,

    Hank Ballard: too black for a superstar in 1960

    Hank Ballard: too black for a superstar in 1960

    its raucous but precise execution blaring out of millions of pocket transistors worldwide emphatically confirmed that black rock music was the model from now on.

    Elvis’s most convincing heir as white interpreter of black music was Dion (DiMucci), with more r&b feel than other Italian-American teen idols like Bobby Darin, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Fabian Forte. He was hot with Runaround Sue, The Wanderer and Ruby Baby. The following year James Brown and 13-year-old “genius” Stevie Wonder would continue to hoist black rock on high with chart-topping albums. And Sam Cooke (Chain Gang, Bring It On Home to Me)

    Sam Cooke: smooth and soulful, with an incomparable voice that made you sit up and listen.

    Sam Cooke: smooth and soulful, with an incomparable voice that made you sit up and listen.

    would stake his claim as the Prince of Soul, along with Jackie Wilson (Baby Work Out) — who with Brown would determine the most striking dance moves of Michael Jackson.

    Judge Judy & Dr Phil: Egos that know no bounds backed by unbridled power

    In ideology, morality, psychology/psychiatry, television on March 7, 2014 at 5:05 am

    One of the few benefits of age is, having picked up in middle age the gist of a few patterns in the way life works, your ability at judging character and people’s motives grows more acute. This is never better illustrated than when watching celebrities — such as tv stars Judge Judy and Dr Phil. No matter how well groomed, titivated, glossed over, edited they are to appeal to the masses, the real essence sometimes shows through.

    When Oprah Winfrey quit her daily talkshow about everyday people’s problems to concentrate on the world she knows and loves best — celebrities — she anointed “Doctor” — no, he’s only a psychologist — Phil McGraw as her heir apparent. It was the kind of done deal — he working for her tv empire — that told you what she was all about all along: wielding populist power from a position of pseudo-journalism coverage of trendy themes, handled almost solely from the woman’s point of view, and basic ignorance of many things. But he had the letters after his name so, being a simple Mississippi girl after all dependent on her “inner child” to do her thinking for her, she must have assumed he would go down as an expert with the daytime tv-watching public. And, as with all tv dynasties, relatives (Phil’s wife and at least one son) have been taken on board automatically without credentials as ready-made “experts” whether they have anything worthwhile to offer the audience or not.

    drphilEven with all the spin, poor Phil often unintentionally shows the cards he was dealt. Some of his pet sayings like “I didn’t come in on a load of turnips” and “Is stupid written here?” (pointing to his forehead) speak vividly of a kid picked on by older siblings and remembering their taunts word for word. He’s begging to be called on them, and I wait for the day when someone with presence of mind who isn’t intimidated by Phil’s defensive bluster when he’s cornered retorts: “I didn’t know it was supposed to be” or “No. Someone must have rubbed it off.” I hesitate to suggest Phil’s vast expanse of forehead was the cruelest cut of all, but this is maybe his one point of modesty. In fact he mentions it so often — even to the point of rudely comparing guests’ with his own hairline — that I can’t help thinking he believes it’s his only imperfection, though a glaring one that’s all the more embarrassing to him: as self-absorbed as any other showbiz diva.

    The result is he’s an overblown, self-aggrandising street fighter (or the Oklahoma equivalent) who somehow stumbled into academia to start what became a great “meat-hunters” career in a “carnivores’ world” as he likes to call it. He and his great buddy Donald Trump once got together on the Dr Phil show to carve up a former contestant, a young black woman who had displeased Trump by going public with her complaints against his show The Apprentice, taking slices off her turn and turn about, incessantly grilling her third degree style and talking over each other in their bloodlust to get at her. Funny that in this context one of his favorite aphorisms didn’t occur to him: “This situation needs a hero”, when he’ll invariably turn to the man in any dispute versus a woman and tell him to “Man up!” — a blatant call to chauvinism. But Phil and the Donald were disgustingly lacking in manliness that day. After many years of watching him in action, I can much more easily imagine him as organiser of local dogfights with the goal of shredding people more than he pretends to help them. Watching Dr Phil this very afternoon, he was faced by the nemesis he just cannot stand: an ultimately confident man who is also more intelligent than him (not an unusual circumstance on his show).

    This was an elderly widower who had lost his wife in a car crash not his fault, and whose daughters had been on his neck ever since for marrying a younger woman who was getting a share of his resources. A guy who looked seventy should have sought out a woman the same or an older age? The man was dead meat toward the end of the session when McGraw insisted he must apologize to his daughters (whom even their mother hadn’t liked when she was alive) for making them feel sad, and making them angry enough evidently for one of them to threaten him with a hitman. He, in all conscience couldn’t see himself doing this and honestly declined to.

    “You’re a right fighter…” came in Dr Phil with one of his favorite put-downs that would be a compliment to anyone with integrity. “You’re going to end up a lonely old man,” he added with relish, almost licking his lips in anticipation at the thought of fruition at the hopeful curse he’d just put on his ‘guest’. The man took it in equable spirit, agreeing it was a possibility. As the show ended good-ol’-boy Phil couldn’t resist one last sly dig as he leaned in and insincerely shook the man’s hand goodbye/good riddance: “You’re gonna feel like a real asshole when you get home and watch this.” Someone on Phil’s staff must be getting heartily sick of him because the epithet (though delivered off-mike) was audible and not blocked in post-production.

    judgejudyJudge Judith Sheindlin is praised for her strength by her admirers and even her detractors grant her a certain repellent straightforwardness. But this is only part of the picture, and maybe a misleading one. In the many years I have watched the show off and on (mainly off over recent years) I have seen her grant any degree of deference to just two of her thousands of ‘guests’. One was, maybe surprisingly, Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols; the other, Beatrice Arthur, famous for playing essentially the same domineering character in television’s All in the Family, Maude and The Golden Girls. On both occasions, such was the contrast to Judge Sheindlin’s normal, outright disdain, she came across as fawning in her approach to them: maybe a little taken aback in the presence of people with at least a modicum of talent to show for their millions.

    She claims to be “a truth machine”, the kind of line that might go down well with any tiny tots unlucky enough to end up surfing her channel. Insisting that she has infallible judgment in people’s veracity, for it to work properly they have to look her direct in the eye without flinching — an act of courage that shouldn’t be underestimated. If they hesitate with an answer, thinking, or look away for a moment, this is a dead giveaway of attempted deceit. She, like Phil, has outlandish overconfidence in her intelligence. When she’s challenged a simple “I’m smarter than you are on your smartest day!” is enough to leave all comers at a loss for words. At first you can’t help laughing out loud at this. But pretty soon you realise it isn’t just a courtroom tactic, and how really dangerous this is that she takes these comic lines so very seriously. It’s too much to hope for Albert Einstein to show up in the dock, but I can’t wait for Stephen Hawkings or Noam Chomsky to be placed in the stocks as her whipping boy and modestly announce who he is to the Grand Know-It-All. Maybe the best place for Judith Scheindlin is a walk-on in that Muppet sketch, the one where Kermit hails, “Call the Royal Smart Person!” Enter Judy, taking bows and totally straight-faced.

    Delivering her usual shtick, one of her common refrains is to berate a solo mother or unemployed man on welfare for sponging on her tax dollars. This by itself is deeply pathological coming from a woman who works a total of 52 days a year and receives $47 million for it. Do the arithmetic, and think what unbounded chutzpah and self-love this must take, amounting to an unrecognized diagnosis.

    To draw together my few observations, I can’t help but stick my neck out and suggest that both Phil and Judy (is it her Americans mean when they coin the word “Judyism”?) are self-revealing Republican supporters and strong proponents of the ongoing Trickle Down con job in international economics. It shows every time Phil, at the end of his diatribe, graciously offers a downtrodden guest, “I want you to have help — and I’m offering this treatment to you, from me, free of charge”, as if he’s giving it out of his own obscenely bloated paycheck. Both of these tv superstars — and many others — know very well that most of the human tragedies they see every day on their shows, year after year, wouldn’t even arise if the United States followed the United Nations human rights resolutions on health, poverty, employment and education as part of its stance on economic, cultural and social rights. Instead they make themselves feel good by trotting out piecemeal, one-at-a-time charity to people they treat as charity cases, who should be receiving these services as of right.

    DIY Rock Stars (Part 1)

    In history, music on November 11, 2013 at 6:02 am

    In the 1960s the Beatles and Monkees both hit with a formula for unbridled, all-round success, or rather stumbled on it because in the end their own abilities had not much to do with it. They were big-business success stories more than anything else, in a pattern that became more common in ensuing decades as independent artists grew rarer. Both groups were the passive objects of well-connected, highly driven managers; were the favored projects of big corporations in disc recording and television, even movies. And both groups played the game for whatever it took, going well beyond the bounds of their own good taste to ensure bigger bucks for everyone in their trans-continental organizations. The Supremes too, with much less to offer as non-songwriters and non-musicians, were hoisted as the pet superstars favored above everyone else at the Motown label. Everyone else had to do it themselves in the Sixties.

    Beach Boys wait with parents (co-signing for minors) in the outer office of the Capitol Tower, Hollywood, ready to sign with the label, May 1962: from left, Carl Wilson, 15; Brian Wilson, 19; Dave Marks, 13; Denny Wilson, 17; Murry Wilson, Audree Wilson and the Marks parents.

    Beach Boys wait with parents (co-signing for minors) in the outer office of the Capitol Tower, Hollywood, ready to sign with the label, May 1962: from left, Carl Wilson, 15; Brian Wilson, 19; Dave Marks, 13; Denny Wilson, 17; Murry Wilson, Audree Wilson and the Marks parents.

    The Beach Boys, with the Wilson brothers’ father as manager, had scored a rare coup — a minor national hit with their first recording that became a big hit locally in Los Angeles, San Diego and the rest of Southern California, and got airplay up the rest of the Pacific Coast and as far afield as Erie PA and Italy. It was six months before a major label — Capitol/EMI — took them up and they had to do it themselves all over again, this time with the classic Surfin’ Safari. This vinyl single by itself (backed with co-rocker car song 409) represented a nine-month struggle that brought survival for the group and rock music back to the airwaves after a consensus of radio stations, particularly in New York, had agreed in early 1962 to push nice, quieter, slower melodic music for “grown-ups”.

    Produced by the group and recorded at an independent studio in April, signed over to Capitol in May and issued early June, the A-side was being played two weeks before release at KMEN-San Bernardino though “put down” by radio bosses in LA itself. The virtual blacklist on rock that existed among radio stations across America, the prejudice against newcomers in LA and the overriding preference for c&w across the South, Southwest and great swaths of the Midwest, would all have to be overcome by any new act entering the rock scene and wanting to go nationwide, never mind worldwide. Capitol put no more than $5,000 into promoting the label’s first rock group into stars (one tenth of the budget they would lay out 18 months later to establish the Beatles in New York City, gateway to North America). By the end of its first month it was high on playlists in Ohio, at the independent WDON in Washington DC and WYDE-Birmingham AL.

    It would hit high on charts at “surfin'” spots on the West Coast but “early” only in one sense: early in August in San Diego, Fresno and Seattle; early September in LA; and finally rebounded back to San Francisco early in November. In time the Beach Boys’ first big hit, which bore a passing resemblance to the Chubby Checker and Coasters style of r&b, would also top in Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Dallas-Fort Worth, Buffalo, Minneapolis-St Paul and other regional centers. It sold most in New York City, breaking Capitol sales records there in rising to runner-up and over the next fifteen years surveyed as the seventh biggest- selling song in the 25 million catchment area of the major WNBC network station; and did (proportionately) almost as well in the other big music centers of the day, Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit. In September also it reached the top ten in Sydney, Australia, to register as the group’s first international winner, and in November topped the Swedish chart.

    In the meantime, 409 on its own would top-ten charts in San Bernardino-Riverside, Seattle, Denver, New Jersey, New Hampshire… and go to the very top in Charleston WV, and Dallas only in the very last week of 1962.

    The NSA and Angele Merkel

    In morality, politics, satire on November 9, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    Fresh from the files of Julian Assange come certain earth-shattering revelations of the precise content of highly secret conversations Chancellor Merkel has been engaging in over her cellphone. Unlike the selfless releasing of government secrets in bulk by Assange several years ago, the conduct of the NSA (National Security Agency) is unforgivable: spying specifically and directly on a head of state who is known to be above reproach. With Germany threatening unspecified retaliation against the United States for listening in to the private conversations of the recently re-elected beloved leader, I have been able to access just a small slice of the damning evidence against the NSA: that which is most provocative to German sensitivities. (New Zealanders will remember the bomb attack of the government of France on the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior in port in the 1980s, resulting in the death of a Greenpeace officer. This might account for the French government not being quite as vociferous in its complaints against spying by allies.) Anyway, here are just the most revealing snippets of the fruits of this nefarious activity:

    Angele: … and 400gm of sauerkraut from the delikatessen.

    Mr Merkel (The First Lady): Is that the one on the uberstrasse oder die unterstrasse?

    Angele: Oh, use your initiative, pfiffikus. Hier I am the proud leader of individual liberty and the privilege of wealthy Aryan countries in Northern Europe and my man isn’t man enough to decide was his tummy wants, never mind go one round with a Greek wrestler! If the French, Spanish and Portuguese ever get wind of this… [line clicks off] Blutig dummkopf!

    ……………….

    Hairdresser: Es Frau Merkel? Ah… I was thinking maybe more of the little-girl cut to make you more appealing internationally, maybe even innocent looking.

    Angele: Nein, nein! Es far too sissy! My people will be taking me for die supermodel instead of die ubermadchen. Just make sure you have all the latest gossip ready when I come in for my appointment.

    Hairdresser: Ja, ja… I hear and obey.

    ………….

    Spin Doctor: The anti-American liberal media around the world are on your side. Their story is that because you were raised in East Germany among the Stasi secret police you are permanently traumatised by any reminder of it, even one so oblique as phone-tapping by the NSA.

    Angele: Yes, of course we civilians never cooperated or collaborated with the Stasi. We were oppressed. But they had the good taste never to spy on us in the toilet, not like Amerikaners. Still, we were able to pick up some pretty good dirty tricks…

    Spin Doctor: No, none of that — just the violation of privacy. And some more, bitte, of “Allies don’t spy on each other. It’s a sacred, ever-lasting bond closer than any human relationship.” It will bring tears to the eyes of the Brit and French Conservatives. It would help if you say the words “Dunkirk” and “liberation of Paris”, but without mentioning The War if you can — especially the part about us being on opposite sides.

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