WILL EVERYONE HERE/KINDLY STAND UP AND CHEER

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In 1968, I became infected with a bug. No, not a social disease, smartass. It wasn’t a flu, or a virus, or a bacteria, although some consider it a plague. It was campaign politics.

I had watched eight years earlier as a young, vigorous Irish Catholic senator from Boston had run for, and ultimately won the presidency. It had piqued my interest in such things, no doubt fueled by the fact that I was a part-Irish Catholic kid, who had been born in Boston, and my mother (an Italian Catholic who grew up in Boston) was for him.

I found out during this time that she had actually met Kennedy when he ran for congress; this, coupled with the fact that she had briefly dated Chuck Conners in college (The Rifleman was one of my favorite TV shows), pretty much solidified my opinion that my mother was goddamn cool.

My father, another Bostonian who had a nodding acquaintance with Lutheranism, was for Nixon. This wasn’t the Watergate Nixon; this was the Nixon who had been Vice President to Ike, a pretty well liked President and former winner of The War, so my father’s lapse in judgment was excusable. His parents were (probably) Republicans as well. His father had been raised in a Catholic orphanage which had beaten all of that out of his system. His mother was a rather more devote protestant who once told me that electing Kennedy would mean having the Pope run America. Again, being a part-Italian Catholic, it seemed to me that that would be just fine. I only learned about Pius XII later.

My first blush with political theater would turn into an intense attraction for the drama, fervor and foolishness of campaigns for political office. For me, politics was a roller coaster ride. Between the Kennedy assassination, Johnson announcing his intention not to run again (which he did on my 17th birthday), politics was a constant on the evening news every day, and we only had 3 network channels; this was before Fox (yes, it was a magical time).

The big push for me came in high school. My favorite teacher was politically active; he had our local state senator, Steny Hoyer, come to our class and talk about the political process. This would have been less strange if it had been civics class instead of algebra, but Hoyer was an interesting speaker and only a few years older than us. He was later elected to congress and became, and still is, the Minority Whip.

I got semi-involved in political appearances for Joe Tydings, whom I knew nothing about, except he championed a bill for no-knock entry and wrote an article about gun control published in Playboy magazine. Tydings lost re-election in ’70 when eastern shore conservatives turned out to vote for Republican J. Glenn Beall Jr., with a campaign slogan of “Playboy Joe must go!”. Republicans always come up with the clever names and sayings; too bad they don’t spend some of that creativity on fixing problems.

I joined the nascent Young Democrats club at school, and then it was election time. The main contenders were in the presidential race: Hubert H. Humprey, Johnson’s VP versus the comeback kid Richard Nixon (later to become the go-away kid). This alone would have been enough to get things going, but there was more. In addition to the presidential election, Maryland was voting for a congressman. Hervey Machen, running for his third term, would also go down to defeat along with Humphrey. Machen lost to the Republican Larry Hogan. Hogan is notable for being the only Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to vote for the impeachment of Nixon in 1974. His son is the current governor of Maryland (remind me to tell you a funny story about me and his son sometime).

Part of the attraction of campaigns was the stuff: posters, signs, big and small, buttons. I still like Humphrey’s campaign button:

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Humphrey’s campaign song was a re-write of Step To The Rear (Let A Winner Lead the Way) from the Broadway musical How Now, Dow Jones. Catchy tune, you can find it on line if you look (and care).

Nixon’s button said “Nixon’s the One”. He was one, all right. His theme was the Song of the Volga Boatmen, or something.

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Humphrey and Nixon were competing (sorta) with George Wallace, who got just under ten million votes (over 13% of the total) and earned 46 electoral votes (it was the last time a 3rd party candidate for president won any state; Wallace won 5). His supporters were…special. I recall we were handing out election material at a traffic stop and I offered some to some folks in a pick-up truck. The driver had a big smile on his face and said with an accent from waaay further south than Maryland “We’re for Wallace!” (he pronounced it “Wow-lace”). I pivoted to the congressional campaign, to which he smilingly replied “We’re for Wowlace!”. I thanked him and they drove on to the cross-burning, or wherever they were headed.

Waking up the morning after election day with both my candidates having lost, was sobering. Only a year later, Playboy Joe was no longer in the Senate and making scads of money in a law firm rather than crumbs of money in the US government. We still had a Democratic congress, but I personally felt lost. Being only 17, I had no concept of how much politics had changed with that election. The South, which had been a Democratic stronghold, shifted to the right, some say because of Johnson’s 1964 Civil Rights Act. It was the beginning of what we have here and now.

Over the years I had less to do with campaigning, altho I followed elections and political news. I recall the morning after Regan was elected I was in line at a store (probably a liquor store, and, yes, they are open early in the a.m.). The fellow ahead of me asked the clerk what she thought about the election. She grimaced a little and said she was fearful that Regan might start a war. “Well”, the guy replied, “maybe a little war is what we need to get this country back on track.” We both just stared at him as he gathered up his Red, White & Blue beer and Slim Jims and walked out. History tells us we did manage to live thru the Regan years, altho I don’t recall them as the magical time some conservatives remember.

Now another Disruptor is in the White House, after a campaign like none I’ve ever seen. This one, unlike Regan, has no experience running a government of any size, and seems to have skin so thin it cannot be measured by modern scientific instruments. I’m sure we’ll get thru it.

Sure, the next person (woman?) in office will spend their first 100 days fixing what this clown fucked up. And probably rebuilding the parts of the White House that were either Rococo’d to death, or burned down by the mob. But we’ll survive this; if there’s any entity that’s Too Big To Fail, it’s US.
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“HELP ME MAKE IT THRU THIS SONG”

Some of you know that I do a bardic performance on one of the last days of War Week at Pennsic (if you don’t know what those 3 things are, stop reading and go Google something). I say I, meaning I and my beautiful wife, who’s waaay more talented than I (wow, 4 “I”‘s in one sentence; I am self-absorbed. Ooh, 5!). The performance is not a traditional bardic where everyone performs something, neither is it a traditional performance of SCAdian songs. You won’t hear “Born on the Listfield” from me, not the least because I don’t know it and it’s not put down in writing and I’d have to listen to it more times than I’d care to (which would be more than once) to learn it. Sorry, don’t like the song, hope we can still be friends, blahblahblah.

What I do perform are songs with my own lyrics set to other people’s music. It’s a form of filk, where popular songs are given modified lyrics (think Weird Al Yankovic). There is another kind of filk where the words are completely different from the original. This is a very period practice; new lyrics published and noted “To the Tune of Lord Whositz Bransle”. It allowed folks to sing along with a new words to a known tune. They called them “broadsides”; we refer to them as “copyright infringement”.

Another kind of filk borrows heavily on the original lyrics to make the song more funny, sad, poignant, etc. (again, Weird Al). I could explain how taking well-known lyrics and making them do different things heightens the impact, but it’s really just easier for us lazy folks (less to write).

Any filk is difficult to do well. You can quickly become trite, maudlin, or, worst of all, boring. There are certain rules that I try to follow, both before and after I’ve written something:

RULE #1 — if you can’t pull off a moving, wistful, sad or nostalgic lyric, one that makes knights cry before they’re drunk, go for comedy. All mine, at least the ones I’d perform publicly, are comedy.

RULE #2 — you have to use songs people know. I’ve done filks to great songs, only to realize that no one I know remembers or ever knew the song. I did a filk to an ELO hit from the mid 80’s called “Calling America”, but almost no one knows it. This one actually violated Rules #1 & #2; it flailed widely between hokey lines like “kingdom of golden light” and lines that translated as “meh”. And nobody knows it. “Calling Atlantia” = Total Fail.

RULE #3 — don’t steal other people’s work. Okay, since filk is by definition taking others tunes, this might seem odd. The issue isn’t changing someone else’s words and using their music, it’s profiting from them. Unrecorded performance is generally okay, but recording filks or performing them and charging admission, without permission, is theft. It’s also wrong and grounds for legal action, which leads me to a corollary:

RULE #3A — don’t fuck with Disney. Seriously, Disney owns a shit-ton of songs and music and defends their copyright — vigorously. Those bastards have legions of lawyers; like Roman legions. They will black-helicopter legal SWAT commandos down on your ass and you’ll end up paying for lost revenue, defamation, and the gas for the chopper.

Given my natural personality (some would say “jocular”; some, “jovial”, others, “asshole”), I stay away from mournful tunes. As I said, pretty much all my stuff is humorous, or at least attempts to be. Following Rule #2 is tougher. Being “of an age”, I know and love songs that many don’t know (I mean come on: I saw the Beatles live in concert). Songs that I know well enough to filk often were made hits by bands nobody’s heard of.

Recently, I premiered a filk to Elvis Presley’s “Little Sister”, called “Little Mistress”. I introduced it by saying, “this one’s based on an Elvis song”. Someone in the audience said, “Elvis who?”. Fuckin’ millennials.

I’ve also had the reverse experience. I did a number several years ago to Foster the People’s “Pumped-Up Kicks”. It was received well, but I was told afterwards that a lot of folks had to go find the original ’cause they didn’t know it. Fuckin’ Gen X’ers.

I have a file of failed filks, based on songs nobody knows that will never hear the light of day. They don’t work, and a lot of the humor is lost without everyone knowing the tune, especially since much of the funny is in changing the lyrics just a little, like my version of Puddle of Mud’s hit, “She Fuckin’ Banished Me”.

But…
If I’m going to put this much thought and effort into these gems, ya’ll are going to have to meet me partway. I’m old and, while not exactly set in my ways, I am most familiar with the music from the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s (I’ve heard about music from the early 80’s, but as a result of the celebration of my first divorce, I have no memory of anything from that era. If any of ya’ll know of my whereabouts from ’79 to ’84, let me know. Just to keep my records straight). While I have, as mentioned, filked more current music, you should have a passing familiarity with the music of my youth, since, with the exception of my versions of “Bust A Move” and “MIB’s”, I don’t do rap. I also don’t twerk, but that’s dance and a different post.

All that being said, I humbly suggest that, for full enjoyment of my little ditties (get that musical reference? No? My point.), you need to become familiar with the hits of following, given in no particular order, except for the first two:
Elvis Presley
The Beatles
(Seriously, if you don’t know these two, you are a music barbarian and should be appropriately ashamed. They’re online; go and be amazed)
Gordon Lightfoot
Harry Chapin
Kenny Rogers
Johnny Cash
Willie Nelson
Tom Petty
The Eagles
various Country/Western performers (Toby Keith, Kristofferson, and Tom T. Hall)
Foghat (that’s an in-joke you’re excused from getting [but I can totally see “Slow Ride” becoming Cooper’s “Lakeside”])

In closing, support our filking bards, expand your musical acquaintances (’cause good music really didn’t just begin when you were 10, nor stop when you hit 25), and while you’re up, get me another beer. Please.

So, there’s this…

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A blog. By me. Wouldn’t have expected it, and my friends will be even more surprised.

It’s all Laura’s fault, of course. Any odd, out-of-character thing I do usually is, as she has this unrelenting belief in my ability to be entertaining and informative. I can only strive to live up to her expectations.

So, I’ll post periodically on…stuff. Stuff will be about my interests, hobbies, and things I find that just need to discussed. Comments will be on, at least until someone earns everyone a time out. You can send me a private message at truclentbastard@gmail.com.

I’ll caution ya’ll up front: I spent much of my wayward youth in jail. Twenty-six years, done in 8-hour increments, 4-5 days a week. It gave me a particular, weird, don’t-bend-over-for-the-soap, outlook on things, and a pretty eloquent potty-mouth. You fuckers have been warned.