Friday, November 28, 2008


We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner for ten. Old traditions held strong, including the preparation of more than enough food and trimmings to last through the weekend. The Maryland recipe for Skipjack Oyster Dressing was a huge hit, even among the doubters. I don't recall my family's recipe being quite as sweet, but I didn't mind. The recipe called for diced apples to add tartness. I didn't use them; perhaps that was the difference.

One of our guests asked about the term, "skipjack." Skipjacks, the state boat of Maryland, are shallow-draft, sailing vessels developed on the Chesapeake Bay for harvesting oysters. They are the last working boats under sail in the United States, according to the Maryland State Archives. There's also a brief entry about them on Wikipedia, including a list of active boats.

I first saw them in the early '50s. At that time, there were about 100 working the Chesapeake. Only 33 remain.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

From our house to your house . . .

Happy Thanksgiving

Postcards from our family archives dated 1910-12

Monday, November 24, 2008

Old Bay Ranger

All of us have heard the story about the courage it took for the first troglodyte to slurp into a raw oyster. In all seriousness, I must give the guy credit, if reason was a part of his consciousness. The presentation hasn't changed much over time, so the aversion persists; however, some of us have courageously overcome it. I suppose growing up near the food source has made a difference.

For those who remember the Chesapeake Bay as a great seafood factory, oysters were a plentiful, essential food. My family enjoyed them in a variety of ways, but my favorites were always fried oysters and oyster stuffing. In Maryland, the oyster stuffing was reserved for Thanksgiving Dinner.

In 1976, I left the Chesapeake in a driving January snowstorm and, some years later, married into a family with other Thanksgiving traditions. It has been a losing battle ever since, with sage dressing gracing our holiday table for the past 27 years. This year will be marked by a bit of a concession as we will have guests, and there will be dressing options, including oysters. I could veer my thoughts toward the question, "Is it stuffing or dressing?" or "Is it essential to stuff in order to call it stuffing?", but I will not. Instead, I need to select a recipe as, unfortunately, my mother's is long lost.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture's Seafood Marketing Program has come to my rescue with this recipe. Anyone care to try my oyster stuffing?

Of course, I'll update you on the results following the big day.

Menu for U.S.S. Kentucky's Thanksgiving Day 1907 courtesy of the Navy Department Library, Washington. Here's more of their holiday menu collection. We're going to eat almost as good as the ship; no cigars and cigarettes this year.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Johnny Mercer Birthday Celebration - Day Seven

This is the last day of our week-long celebration of the birthday of Johnny Mercer - November 19, 1909.

This week, I have provided you with some details about Mercer's life, his contribution to American popular music, and best of all, several examples of his words and music. In addition, for those interested in learning more about him, I listed several sources in a variety of formats. There's plenty more to know. If you do pick up a book or check out a website, you'll find that Mercer was both the source of the idea and a founding member of Capitol Records. You'll also read that he was extraordinarily generous. You'll also find out that, almost throughout his life, the fame and fortune came at great personal cost. That seems to be the rule. Still, Mercer's gap-toothed smile and performance talent brought pleasure to millions of Americans during the mid-century. That's how I have chosen to present him, and this video shows the lyricist and performer at his best, delivering a sermon we all need to hear:

It has now been more than a generation since Mercer's death in 1976. He may be gone, but that mountain of music and the ideas he left behind are very much alive and well. Today, we're going to focus on the people - the singers - and organizations that keep that Mercer legacy alive. You could say this information is an extension of the references I cited earlier, but the focus is more on appreciation than learning.


Margaret Whiting (Long associated with Mercer as a performer and family friend, she is probably the most significant individual promoter of Mercer's music.) Linked album has 24 selections, about half of them by Mercer.

Frank Sinatra

Nancy Wilson (Ginger Mercer gave family friend, Barry Manilow, several of Johnny's unfinished poems to be set to music. This album was the final product.)

Mel Torme (extensive recordings from the Mercer catalog, but no single album)

Sylvia Syms

Nancy LaMott
(outstanding interpretation; her untimely death was a great loss to the music world))

Susannah McCorkle

Diana Krall
(extensive recordings from the catalog, but - very sadly - no single album)

Bobby Darin
(a landmark album recorded with Mercer; it's a classic)

Maxine Sullivan (simply swinging jazz from a great vocalist)
Shari Lynn

Jenny Ferris


The Johnny Mercer Educational Archives I mentioned this site earlier. Just about everything you want to know will be here.

The Johnny Mercer Special Collection, Georgia State University This university in downtown Atlanta houses most of Mercer's personal papers and memorabilia. They also maintain a well-done exhibit room on "the bard from Savannah."

The Johnny Mercer Foundation

Friends of Johnny Mercer

Songwriters Hall of Fame Mercer was a co-founder of this organization in 1969

Well, my friends, that is about it for my Mercer celebration this year. I hope to be in Savannah next year at this time, so that should answer any questions about why I didn't wait for his centennial to do a splurge. I'd like to end with another big hit:

If you go to Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah to see his grave, you'll find a song title used as his epitaph. Very fitting, as the song was also a landmark in music in 1939. So here is Benny Goodman and his Orchestra with vocal by Martha Tilton, and Ziggy Elman on trumpet with Elman and Mercer's, And the Angels Sing.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Johnny Mercer Birthday Celebration - Day Six

Today's entry is a simple one. It consists of my three favorite Mercer songs: Midnight Sun, Early Autumn, and Laura. Many, many artists have covered them over the last half century. Lately, they've been revived by the new crop of jazz and pop vocalists - you'll hear more about that tomorrow - who have recently discovered the timelessness of the Great American Songbook.

Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke wrote Midnight Sun in 1954 as an instrumental and had a big hit with it. The story goes that Mercer heard the tune on the freeway heading to his office. By the time he got there, he had the lyric. I think Ella Fitgerald "owns" this song, but Tony Bennett does a great job with it, too.

Your lips were like a red and ruby chalice
Warmer than the summer night
The clouds were like an alabaster palace
Rising to a snowy height
Each star its own aurora borealis
Suddenly you held me tight
I could see the midnight sun.

Early Autumn was composed in 1949 by Ralph Burns and Woody Herman. Herman had an immediate instrumental hit. Jo Stafford followed a few years later with this superb interpretation:

When an early autumn walks the land and chills the breeze
And touches with her hand the summer trees,
Perhaps you'll understand what memories I own.
There's a dance pavilion in the rain all shuttered down,
A winding lane all russet brown
A frosty window pane shows me a town grown lonely.

In 1944, the film, Laura, appeared with a theme song composed by David Raksin. The next year Mercer added the haunting lyrics. Here is Dick Haymes doing the vocal track to a visual tribute to Gene Tierney, who played Laura Hunt in the film:

Laura is the face in the misty lights,
Footsteps that you hear down the hall.
The laugh that floats on a summer night
That you can never quite recall.

And you see Laura on the train that is passing through,
Those eyes how familiar they seem.
She gave your very first kiss to you
That was Laura but she's only a dream.

Simply beautiful work. More tomorrow.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Johnny Mercer Birthday Celebration - Day Five

In seven entries this week, you have an opportunity to learn about lyricist Johnny Mercer and listen to his music. If you're curious to learn even more about him, this is your day. Yes, it's reference day at Old Tybee Ranger.

Minimal immersion in Mercer requires three books, one website, and one audio disk.

The Books:

A good starting point is, Johnny Mercer: The Life, Times and Song Lyrics of Our Huckleberry Friend. It was collected and edited by television producer Bob Bach and Ginger Mercer, Johnny's widow. There's nothing scholarly about it. It is simply a nostalgic look at Mercer's career through photos, letters, notes, sheet music covers, lyrics, and tributes. Photos are always worth their thousand words, and the book gives readers the chance to study the lyrics to almost 100 Mercer songs. One highlight is the publication of the texts of four Christmas greeting cards. In two of them, Johnny worked his lyrical magic using all the surnames on his card list. The book concludes with incomplete lists of his published songs and motion picture contributions.

Philip Furia takes a more scholarly approach to Mercer in his book, Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer. This book is a well-balanced treatment of a life characterized by great success as well as trouble and torment. It is well known that Mercer could be not only a gentleman and generous friend, when sober, but also a vicious drunk who frequently sent roses to his victims the day after his verbal assaults. But Furia is at his best analyzing the process of songwriting, devoting many pages to a single song, and detailing the origin and evolution of the lyric. If you want to skip the nostalgia and go straight to reading a very good biography, Furia has written your book.

Gene Lees is a music biographer, lyricist and jazz historian who knew Mercer late in his career. He brings more of a Hollywood insider perspective to the Mercer story, and does so with an entertaining, informal style. If this is what you look for in a biography, then Portrait of Johnny: The Life and Times of John Herndon Mercer is your book. The book doesn't have Furia's tight organization, but it is full of personal recollections and opinions from scores of close friends and associates. The high point for me is the author's extensive use of direct quotes from Mercer's unpublished autobiography. On the other hand, Lees gives his readers almost too much detail on Ginger Mercer as the terror in her family's life. Some readers may say the book is more of a layman's psychoanalysis than a true biography. Regardless, it provides a nice balance to Furia's book, in spite of the duplication.

The Website:

If you want to use the internet as a source of information on Johnny Mercer, there is no better site than the Johnny Mercer Educational Archives. The home page may look a bit plain, but don't let that fool you; the links open windows to hundreds of pages of media.

The Audio CD:

You can find scores of audio CDs featuring the songwriting and singing talent of Johnny Mercer. For me there is one essential CD and an "honorable mention." The essential is An Evening With Johnny Mercer, the 92nd Street Y Lyrics and Lyricists program Mercer did in 1971. I think it's a great hour to spend with the man and his music.

The "honorable mention" is Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Johnny Mercer Songbook. Fitzgerald's brilliant eight-album Songbook Series was recorded between 1956 and 1964, at the height of her vocal quality. The Mercer tribute is included here because of her near-perfect diction. He was the only lyricist honored in the Songbook Series.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Johnny Mercer Birthday Celebration - Day Four

Over three decades Mercer wrote the lyrics to hundreds of songs, collaborating with the country's top music writers, including Harold Arlen, Bernie Hannigan, Hoagy Carmichael, Harry Warren, Gene DePaul, Henry Mancini, Jerome Kern, Rube Bloom, and Matty Malneck. In 1971, Mercer appeared in what he called a "parlor evening" performance as part of the 92nd Street Y's Lyrics and Lyricists Series. At the end of the program, Mercer delivered an unforgetable medley of his "bread and butter" songs. I'd say most songwriters and performers would be pleased to have five songs in such a list. Mercer had twenty-nine. Regardless of your age and interest in popular music, you may be surprized at how many of these songs you recognize:

Lazybones (1933), music by Hoagy Carmichael

Goody, Goody (1936), music by Marty Malneck

Too Marvelous For Words (1937), music by Richard A. Whiting

Jeepers Creepers (1938), music by Harry Warren

Satin Doll (1958), written with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn

You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby (1938), music by Harry Warren

That Old Black Magic (1943), music by Harold Arlen

Accentuate the Positive (1944) music by Harold Arlen

Fools Rush In (1940), music by Rube Bloom

I Remember You (1942), music by Victor Schertzinger

Day In - Day Out (1939), music by Rube Bloom

Dearly Beloved (1942), music by Jerome Kern

Come Rain or Come Shine (1946), music by Harold Arlen

Tangerine (1942), music by Victor Schertzinger

Hooray For Hollywood (1938), music by Richard A. Whiting

Laura (1945), music by David Raksin

Dream (1944), words and music by Johnny Mercer

On the Atcheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe (1946, Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song), music by Harry Warren

Something's Gotta Give (1954), words and music by Johnny Mercer

One For My Baby (1943), music by Harold Arlen

In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening (1951, Academy Award for Best Music, Oroginal Song), music by Hoagy Carmichael

Skylark (1941), music by Hoagy Carmichael

Autumn Leaves (1950), music by Joseph Kosma

I Wanna Be Around (1962), words and music by Johnny Mercer and Sadie Vimmerstedt

Blues in the Night (1941), music by Harold Arlen

Charade (1963), music by Henry Mancini

Summer Wind (1965), music by Henry Mayer

Moon River (1961, Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song), music by Henry Mancini

Days of Wine and Roses (1962, Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song), music by Henry Mancini

That's plenty of "bread and butter" on one man's plate, but we need to keep in mind that he had seven more songs nominated for an Academy Award that never made it into the medley. What a talent.

In 1942, the Academcy Award for Best Song went to Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein for The Last Time I Saw Paris. A "loser" that year was Mercer and Arlen's Blues in the Night - as was Chattanooga Choo Choo. All the Mercer sources like to recount the story that Hammerstein sent word to him that he had been "robbed." Hammerstein was correct. Today, the song is recognized as a landmark in the Great American Songbook. Here is Mercer with Jo Stafford and the Pied Pipers, and Blues in the Night:

Tune in tomorrow for more of the Mercer story.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Johnny Mercer Birthday Celebration - Day Three

Today marks the 99th anniversary of the birth of Johnny Mercer. The Old Tybee Ranger is celebrating this big event in American music history with a week-long celebration. This is the third installment.

Happy Birthday, Johnny!

Mercer went on to great fame after I'm An Old Cowhand. He may have struggled through a few flop movies, but he learned the ins and outs of Hollywood, and continued writing poetry to music. Movies, records, and radio brought his folksy, common sense, "free and easy, that's my style" personality into homes across America and made him everybody's next door neighbor. Mercer could be serious with a lyric, but he was equally capable of making us laugh at our selves and our circumstances. Here are two outstanding examples:

I'd say almost every American can hum the title line of Hooray for Hollywood, but it's the rest of lyric that really sparkles. Here is Doris Day's interpretation, one that Mercer apparently said was the best ever. If you don't want to miss any words, the lyric is below.

Hooray For Hollywood

words by Johnny Mercer
music by Richard A. Whiting

Hooray for Hollywood!
That screwy bally hooey Hollywood,
Where any office boy or young mechanic
Can be a panic,
With just a good looking pan,
And any bar maid
Can be a star maid,
If she dances with or without a fan,

Hooray for Hollywood!
Where you're terrific if you are even good,
Where anyone at all from Shirley Temple
To Aimee Semple
Is equally understood,
Go out and try your luck,
You might be Donald Duck!
Hooray for Hollywood!

Hooray for Hollywood!
That phoney super Coney Hollywood,
They come from Chilicothes and Paducahs
With their bazookas
To get their names up in lights,
All armed with photos from local rotos,
With their hair in ribbons and legs in tights,

Hooray for Hollywood!
You may be homely in your neighborhood,
But if you think that you can be an actor,
See Mister Factor,
He'd make a monkey look good.
Within a half an hour,
You'll look like Tyrone Power!
Hooray for Hollywood!

If you were a soldier in World War II, you probably knew every word of G. I. Jive. You know Mercer had fun writing it; his word play was at its best. Sadly, most people will never hear this song. Here is the master singing his own words and music:

Now that's entertainment!

G.I. Jive

words and music by Johnny Mercer

This is the G.I. Jive,
Man alive.
It starts with the bugler
Blowin' reveille over your head
When you arrive.
Jack, that's the G.I. Jive
Root-tie-tee toot
Jump in your suit
Make a salute (Voot!)
After you wash and dress,
More or less,
You go get your breakfast
In a beautiful cafe they call the mess.
Jack, when you convalesce,
Out of your seat
Into the street,
Make with the feet (Reet!)

If you're a P.V.T. your duty
Is to salute the L.I.E.U.T.;
But if you brush the L.I.E.U.T.,
The M.P. makes you K.P. on the Q.T.
This is the G.I. Jive
Man alive,
They give you a private tank
That features a little device called fluid drive.
Jack, after you revive,
Chuck all your junk,
Back in the trunk
Fall on your bunk (Clunk!)
Soon you're countin' Jeeps,
But before you count to five,
Seems you're right back diggin' that
G.I. Jive!

Leaves me speechless. More tomorrow

Monday, November 17, 2008

Johnny Mercer Birthday Celebration - Day Two

We're celebrating the birthday of Savannah's Johnny Mercer this week. This is the second of seven installments.

That chorus girl was Ginger Meehan. They married in 1931 after Johnny secured a staff job writing lyrics. The following year, his persistent work paid off when he partnered with Hoagy Carmichael, already well-known for his sensational song, Stardust. After several months, the collaboration produced Lazybones, Mercer's first hit song. It was full of black dialect and all the stereotypical perceptions of the day. Here's Carmichael, a folksy singer in his own right, putting his special style to work in an equally stereotypical vignette:


words and music by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael

Lazybones, Sleepin' in the sun,
How you "spec" to get your day's work done?
Never get your day's work done,
Sleepin; in the noonday sun.

Lazybones, sleepin' in the shade,
How you "spec" to get your corn meal made?
Never get your corn meal made
Sleepin' in the evenin' shade.

When 'taters need sprayin',
I bet you keep prayin'
The bugs fall off of the vine
And when you go fishin'
I bet you keep wishin'
The fish won't grab at your line.

Lazybones, loafin' through the day,
How you 'spec' to make a dime that way?
Never make a dime that way
(Well looky hear,)
He never heared a word I say!

The New York music industry was in transition - thanks, in part, to the film industry - and Mercer's prospects there cooled. He made a trip to Hollywood and met his old friend, Bing Crosby, who had already made the transition to the West. By 1935, Mercer was in Hollywood struggling a bit until Crosby sang a Mercer song in one of his films. That song was I'm An Old Cowhand. Here's the Crooner with the song:

I'm An Old Cowhand

words and music by Johnny Mercer

I'm and old cowhand
From the Rio Grande,
But my legs ain't bowed
And my cheeks ain't tanned.
I'm a cowboy who never saw a cow,
Never roped a steer 'cause I don't know how,
And I sure ain't fixin' to start in now.
Yippy I O Ki Ay,
Yippy I O Ki Ay.

. . .

And I learned to ride
'Fore I learned to stand,
I'm a ridin' fool who is up to date,
I know ev'ry trail in the Lone Star State,
'Cause I ride the range in a Ford V-Eight

. . .

And I come to town
Just to hear the band,
I know all the songs that the cowboys know,
'Bout the big corral where the doagies go,
'Cause I learned them all on the radio.

. . .

Where the West is wild
'Round the borderland,
Where the buffalo roam around the Zoo,
And the Indians make you a rug or two,
And the old Bar X is a Bar B Q.
Yippy I O Ki Ay,
Yippy I O Ki Ay.

I think Mercer came into perfect form with this one. It made him famous - with a little help from his pal - and in great demand. More tomorrow.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Johnny Mercer Birthday Celebration - Day One

This Tuesday, November 18, marks the 99th anniversary of the birth of John Herndon (Johnny) Mercer (1909-1976) . For fans of the Great American Songbook, this is a significant event. Every day this week, I'll be posting something about this sentimental gentleman from Georgia who became one of America's greatest folk poets. (Photo/book link)

Born into wealth in Savannah, he often recounted how his Aunt Hattie hummed to him in his crib and "he hummed right back at her." It was the beginning of a career that would produce more than 1000 published songs and a major chapter in the history of American music in the twentieth century.

In Mercer's Savannah's, a rich Southern culture blended with a diverse and exciting port city. He spent his childhood fascinated by sounds and rhythms drifting from the black churches around town. He was thrilled by the chance to slip away from his mother's watchful eye and visit the black business district on West Broad Street - now MLK Boulevard - where he listened to race records. The family's summer home on the Vernon River, about ten miles south of town, immersed him in the natural world of Georgia's tidal creeks and salt marshes. In his teen years, he loved hearing the dance and jazz bands every summer at the famous Tybrisa Pavilion - lost to fire in 1967 - on Tybee Island. A musical career began to enter his mind.

When the family business failed in the late '20s, any hope of attending college dimmed, and Johnny shipped off to New York to become a Broadway performer. The demand for singers was weak, but he began tinkering with lyric writing when he wasn't singing or working odd jobs. Here is his first published song, complete with Gerard Butler pics for the women:

Lyrics are meant to be heard, but it's not always easy to appreciate them without the poetry on the page, so here is a sample of that early genius as work:

Out of Breath (1930)

lyrics by Johnny Mercer
music by Everette Miller

Mine's a hopeless case,
But there's one saving grace,
Anyone would feel as I do;
Out of breath and scared to death of you.
Love was first divined,
Then explored and defined,
Still the old sensation is new;
Out of breath and scared to death of you.
It takes all the strength that I can call to my command,
To hold your hand.
I would speak at length
About the love that should be made,
But I'm afraid.
Hercules and such
Never bothered me much,
All you have to do is say "Boo!"
Out of breath and scared to death of you.

Yes, it's pretty simple, comic stuff, but it had flashes of wordplay and bouncy rhythm. It was perfect for the Garrick Gaieties revue of 1930. One of the chorus girls left Johnny out of breath as well. That story and more tomorrow.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Life Force

The average date of the first frost at our home has come and gone without the freeze. I like that. When I was in college in suburban Washington, there was one good thing about the advent of freezing weather: Winter Break in Miami or the Keys. Now that I'm retired and puttering with a container garden, cold weather tells me that I'm about to lose some "close friends" unless they are potted and moved to the Florida Room. The tropicals, USDA Zone 9 through 11, are already inside, but most of the annuals will only see the Spring sun through the seeds they drop.

The annuals that remain outside, in spite of dry, gangly stems and withered leaves, are producing one or two blooms or fruits that would rival those of any mid-summer day. They are indeed being true to Dylan Thomas's plea to "rage, rage against the dying of the light."

On the other hand, the foundation plants - evergreens - don't seem to mind the changing weather, as they are on another cycle. We can enjoy the brilliant crimson pyracantha and the varieties of blossoms and leaf textures from our wonderful Encore azaleas - they bloom three times a year. The camellia buds are already an inch long and showing hints of color. They seem on track for an early February bloom. Maybe that's a sign of a mild winter, and a hot sun in Tampa instead of the Everglades.

Today, all of my garden paraphernalia sits ready for the coming cycle. The seed catalogs arrive in January. My wife will choose the color palate for the flowers. I will select the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, bush beans, and lettuce. The average last day of frost at my home will be March 24. Virtually everything will be in containers. It will be wonderful.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Death of Journalism

The death of mainstream journalism in the United States, given its sad performance during the recent election, has been a hot topic lately. One voice of reason on the subject has been Victor Davis Hanson, but I'll leave it to you to link to his articles. On the other hand, I could not let the day pass without bringing this risible example (Time Marches On, 11-11-2008) to your attention, courtesy of William Katz. It comes to us from no less than TIME Magazine. I grew up with TIME in the 1950s. It is near impossible for me to believe that this can pass for writing at the national level. Enjoy, and do share with your writer friends.

One of today's journalists gathers just the facts.

Veterans Day

From the time I could hold a paint brush - probably 1951 - I was doing my part to honor veterans. A week before the holiday, Dad and I went to the local cemetery to paint markers, and install Old Glory in each, on the graves of veterans of the Great War who had been member of my dad's lodge. The lodge had a seventy year history in my small town; there were scores of holders to paint. My instructions were simple: paint carefully, leave no spatters, paint EVERY marker. The worst offense, by far, was missing a marker, but Dad made sure that didn't happen.

On Veterans Day proper, there was a brief service from atop a small memorial building. At its conclusion, the crowds descended from the hilltop cemetery to either watch or march in what seemed like an endless parade down Main Street. It was straight out of a Norman Rockwell illustration: flags, bands, fire trucks, politicians, the ladies' auxiliary, the soldiers. A most impressive event.

Ninety years ago, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918, World War I - the Great War - came to an end with the signing of the Armistice Treaty by the Allied forces and Germany. For the next 34 years, Armistice Day honored the service of veterans of that war. In 1954, Armistice Day became Veterans Day and its scope was expanded to honor all American veterans.

I am not a veteran. I'll never experience how military service shapes a person inside. But I know the cost of freedom is not free. Every veteran has paid a price that enables us to enjoy life in this bountiful nation. I offer up to all of them my sincerest admiration and thanks on this day.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Share-Our-Wealth Society - A Reprise?

Why weep or slumber America
Land of brave and true
With castles and clothing and food for all
All belongs to you

Ev'ry man a king ev'ry man a king
For you can be a millionaire
But there's something belonging to others
There's enough for all people to share
When it's sunny June and December too
Or in the winter time or spring
They'll be peace without end
Ev'ry neighbor a friend
With ev'ry man a king

--words by Huey Long, The Kingfish

few weeks ago, I began thinking about the curious parallels between our President-elect Obama and The Kingfish. It's been more than 75 years since The Kingfish roared to prominence in Lousiana politics. I'd say he's never mentioned in high school history classes these days, and only an afterthought in college. But he is significant, in terms of his political strategy, charisma, and social philosophy given the near-flawless Obama campaign. Henry P. Wickham, Jr. in this American Thinker article, discusses the point in a most thought provoking way. None of us can predict the future, but we have no excuse for not shaping potential outcomes based on learning from the past. Perhaps that is why even President Franklin Roosevelt came to fear The Kingfish and his Share-Our-Wealth Society.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Old Tybee Ranger Predicts

So the word is that Obama is a poor finisher, always polling four to six percent more than the actual vote. I don't think that matters tomorrow. Barack Obama will become our President-elect in a close election. Come January, Obama and his leadership on Capitol Hill, may begin a dedicated move toward socialism, a failed economic philosphy that will lead the nation down the road to serfdom. On the other hand, he campaigned as a centrist, and could very well govern as one. Regardless, we will have four years to form an opinion before casting another presidential vote.

The one certainty in all of this is that the the nation and national conscience will endure through the political change. But this new politics and national introspection may lead the United States to embark on its own kind of cultural focus and revival much like that of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918 -1933. Please understand that it is a loose parallel. I have no expectation whatsoever that the experience will devolve into national socialism, as in Nazi. Quite the opposite, I see it as a recovery of the innovative spirit we seem to have lost over the past ten to twenty years.

And so I'll put politics aside until 2008 - maybe 2012. I'm not going to let the outcome of tomorrow's election affect my world. Instead, I'll look forward to the cultural evolution. I'll also pour a glass of ice cold gin and, as I often do, look into history. My baby and I will darken the room, find some comfortable chairs at a small table, and listen to this:

The girls, the cars, the clubs, the hot jazz, the dancing. I can envision some couple at the Berlin Cabaret in 1930 thinking about the States and its Roaring Twenties and American jazz, enjoying it all, with no thought to the political future. Unlike them, I can watch the culture unfold knowing that it rests on two centuries of constitutional law and republican principles. Endurance is on my side, left, right, and center. We are really blessed by God with the privilege of choosing our leaders. Let us look forward and enjoy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Studs Terkel

With the passing of Studs Terkel this past Friday, the nation lost perhaps its greatest observer of the experiences of ordinary Americans in the twentieth century. In college, Division Street: America (1966) was my introduction to his witty, vibrant style of oral history. In the mid-'70s, I read Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970) on my own. As much as I enjoyed those books, over the next thirty years I came to realize he was at his best beyond the printed word. After all, the man pulled experiences out of people through conversation, a technique meant to be heard and seen. Seeing and hearing Studs was a treat. He had what I would call the Chicago delivery: entertaining, animated, flamboyant, sharp, and gritty, with a good cigar and a top shelf martini. He had all the markings of a working man who had "arrived" but wanted a bit more. And out of that reach came a body of work documenting the lives of thousands of men and women, great and small, being "America."

If you want to see and hear more, check out any of the the interviews on Youtube. Here's a taste of the man in action at 95:

Godspeed, Studs. My next martini - coming up after this post - is for you.