Friday, January 22, 2016

Show Notes for HMOTD 021: Huggable Herb

0:00 "The Tarleks": Rheostatics! We are all richer for having heard them this morning. Sorry, slipped into a Gord Downie-on-Live Between Us impression there ("I was raised on TV/Like so many of you I see around me...").

Seriously, though, the year this American lived in Toronto (1998-1999), Rheostatics were EVERYWHERE. It might have been the continuing appropriateness of their 1996 single "Bad Time to Be Poor" to the social program budget cuts of the late-90s Mike Harris regime in Ontario (also quoted by Downie on the Tragically Hip's Live Between Us during "Nautical Disaster"). But yeah, much like Sloan and the Hip, Rheostatics are one of those Canadian bands that don't have a big following south of the border, which I will never understand, but me, I'm just a huge fan. Check out the always-game Frank Bonner reprising his signature role for the band in the video for "The Tarleks." He's definitely looking in 2004 more and more like the Bert Parks of 1980. And the song and video's concept of Herb as an avuncular emotionally-aware guru... well, that just might pay dividends by the end of these podcast notes.

Thus concludes our An American Looks at Late-90s Ontario Politics/Canadian Music Corner.

Edit: No, wait, I'm not done with the CanCon! I highly recommend Have Not Been the Same, a fantastic look at the Canadian rock scene from the 80s into the 90s. I know a lot of you Canadians lived through this, but for me, it was eye-opening.

10:40 Miss America: Dig those LYRICS! Much like the Star-Spangled Banner (Francis Scott Key) and the WKRP opening theme, hearing the Miss America song past its opening refrain is a trip. In this case, it's a deep, icky delve into 1950s-style American patriarchy... there's no subtext! Absolutely none! Still, you may hate the message, but you've got to love that voice.

11:50 The Tortellis: That Tortellis reference was probably solely because of an earlier discussion on Facebook about Frasier and spinoffs. Quoth Rob: "Frasier?!? Frasier's not even the best Cheers spinoff, is it?"

12:42 Abe Simpson watching Super Bowl III: I want to thank Friend of the Podcast Leah Biel for letting us know on Twitter this past Saturday about the NFL Network's rebroadcast of Super Bowl I (a.k.a., "the AFL/NFL Championship Game"). In fact, they're rebroadcasting it tonight (Friday, January 22) the RIGHT way, this time without interjections from modern commentators. Please watch, because otherwise this Super Bowl thing might not make it!

13:25 Party Line: Here's Bert Parks on the Game Show Wiki.

13:50 The history of television: I feel like that might be a good side-podcast for Rob to do. Call it "Channel Ocho: The Secret History of Television"! Or maybe "Invisible" History, because "Invisible" is the new "Secret."

14:40 "He even looks like Herb!" The resemblance is uncanny!

16:10 Bert Parks' firing from Miss America: Parks was replaced by Ron Ely for a year and then "Hour Magazine" mainstay Gary Collins. So the Miss America producers tried to go for crispy-haired hunks in the aftermath of firing Parks. If they'd only had HMOTD 016: Muy Dinero to listen to in the early 80s to know that era of 70s hunks was over!

21:45 "...throw away the polyester and start wearing organic blends." Friend of the Podcast Brent Oliver sent us this link a while back to a Frank Bonner syndication promo out of Seattle's KXLY; sadly, we had to cut a bit out of this week's episode about the massive cognitive dissonance of seeing Bonner do Herb shtick in what looks suspiciously like a fine Hollywood cashmere sweater.

24:09 Malcolm in the Middle: Oh man, just having the audio for this scene and hearing Bryan Cranston's roller-disco-related intensity makes me think of one of those Malcolm in the Middle/Breaking Bad mashups.

24:57 TV Dads: We're certainly not the first to notice the change in sitcom dads over the past 60 years. The evolution from hyper-competent TV dad to buffoon dad is well-trod ground.

28:10 Workplace sitcoms vs. Family sitcoms: One thing that the TV Guide project has shown me is how many of the shows I watched growing up were workplace sitcoms. The family sitcoms that played in first run in the 1980s didn't really grab me! Sure, I watched Cosby like everyone else in America, but after school in syndication it was always Barney Miller, Taxi, and WKRP! These were not families!

31:10 "You taste like a burger." Enjoy this Paul Rudd supercut from Wet Hot American Summer. *tsks loudly, slumps to pick up garbage off the ground*

34:18 "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Hey, this episode is bookended by Herb singing! And it's important to the episode, because it's the evolution of Herb from singing trashy Rod Stewart to sensitive Billy Joel!

40:25 Sneaky Snooper: There's comedy, there's high comedy, and there's the quintessential entertainment value of the Sneaky Snooper.

45:35 "Sometimes I just like to... be with a woman, without pulling anything!" This to me was the key line of dialogue in both of these episodes. Herb is relieved he doesn't need to perform to his usual level of outsized predatory masculinity, and he desperately desires the emotional support and care that a platonic relationship with a woman can provide. I mean, he could try to get that from his guy friends, but yeah, one step at a time in 1980.

Patriarchy, folks. It's the worst. (Let's think about this when we get to Free to Be... You and Me below and how its message got lost in... ta-da, the reactionary Reagan 1980s.)

51:20 MTM: The Wikipedia page for WKRP in Cincinnati says, "Like many other MTM productions, the humor came more from running gags based on the known predilections and quirks of each character, rather than from outlandish plots or racy situations," with a [citation needed], so if y'all need a citation, you are welcome to use HMOTD 021.

53:30 Free to Be... You and Me: A few of these songs (especially the Rosey Grier one that we use as the outro bumper to this segment) are just burned into my memory, and hit that "grown man weeping in front of his computer" button in my brain. I don't remember having the Free to Be... You and Me record but I definitely heard a bunch of the songs growing up. The Wikipedia entry says they were played in schools in the late 70s and early 80s (sometimes in filmstrip form!!!), so that's a possibility.

Of course, I heard that Ronald Reagan had all copies of the LP in public schools burned in 1983 and replaced with posters of Arnold Schwarzenegger mocking fat kids for not being able to do a single pull-up. This childhood memory might be conflated and manufactured, though.

59:15 Wine at my wedding: Coincidentally, this episode dropped on my 9th wedding anniversary. Happy anniversary, Jenny! Here. Bag o' wine. *hands you a bag in the manner of Herb Tarlek*

1:00:05 "Battle Creek Michigan, Les?" Hey, speaking of my lovely wife, she got THIS book last year and it is so awesome! If you love old comic book ads, this guy found the original plastic tchotchkes and put them alongside the original ads! Also, I finally got MST3K into the podcast, guys!

1:05:15 Gay Coding on TV: If you want a sampling of Paul Lynde's Hollywood Squares gay jokes, check out this section of his Wikipedia page. Yeah, we can be and are a little nostalgic about the "necessity" of camp and gay coding on TV, but the story of the end of Lynde's life... really pretty sad.

1:06:10 Billy Joel: C'mon Rob, I ask you: you're trying to tell me THIS MAN is a doofus?

For additional Joel-iana in the vein of "genius or doofus... or both?" please read Chuck Klosterman's original Joel piece for The New York Times (and order Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs on Amazon, I mean, come on) or this more recent piece ranking Billy Joel's 50 best songs with a preface that, I think, nails the paradoxes and contradictions of Billy Joel's oeuvre.

Also, apparently the correct pronunciation is "Close-terman", with a long O, not "Claw-sterman." Sorry, Chuck.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

HMOTD 021: Huggable Herb

Father, son, husband, wearer of polyester: such is the enigma of Herbert R. Tarlek, Jr. Rob & Mike go deep into Herb's psyche with the help of two WKRP episodes: "Herb's Dad" and "Put Up or Shut Up."

(Full show notes appear at Hold My Order, Terrible Dresser two days after each episode is released. All audio clips are the properties of their owners/creators and appear in this work of comment and critique under fair use provisions of copyright law.)

Check out this episode!

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Herb Show

A few podcasts ago, the consecutive WKRP episodes "Baseball" and "Bad Risk" offered us an opportunity to gain some deeper insights into the psychology of Les Nessman. And this week, with "Herb's Dad" and "Put Up or Shut Up," we give Herb Tarlek similar treatment.

Treatment, analysis... we've certainly gotten a lot of mileage out of taking the internal lives of the characters of this zany late-70s sitcom extremely seriously. But isn't this precisely the era of sitcoms that offered a cavalcade of wacky characters and then actually started investigating why these folks are all so uniquely cracked? (One of MTM's flagship programs, The Bob Newhart Show, even featured a main character who was a psychiatrist, for goodness's sake).

And as the deeper attention to characters' histories and personalities spread across the TV landscape, so did the idea that individual characters might have an arc, might evolve, might change, might... become better people. (Which inevitably leads to a change from "situation" comedies and into serialized comedies, which is another conversation altogether and sadly one which we had to clip from this week's episode for time.) But the moment that the sitcom moves from the 1950s suburban family home where everything is perfect and gleaming, to the 1970s urban workplace where everything is complicated and dingy, the personal and family lives of the workplace sitcom's characters become prime fodder for plot material.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that in "Herb's Dad," we see where Herb came from, and in "Put Up or Shut Up," we see a hint of where he might be evolving to. We might even be a little too easy on Herb sometimes (after all, he's spent the last season and a half being an antagonist more often than not), but in this week's podcast, we hope we take a fair-minded look at both Herb's flaws and his positive traits and consider where they all come from.

It's 70+ minutes of Herb Tarlek, coming Wednesday, January 20!

*All credit to first season guest host Jeff Wikstrom for the title of this blog post.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Pull the Other One: HMOTD on Stitcher!

Here Johnny Fever shows off some of 1978's wide variety of podcasting services.

Remember back in the first season of Hold My Order, Terrible Dresser? We tantalizingly promised that we'd soon be "on iTunes and... the other one?" Well, those of you with "the other one" phones, rejoice! We are now on Stitcher!

I don't own an Android, so navigating the wild 'n' woolly lawless frontier of Android listening is sadly beyond me, but I am told that the Stitcher app will hook you up if you do own an Android phone.

Editing on HMOTD 021 "Herb's Dad/Put Up or Shut Up" proceeds apace this week; watch this space next Monday for a quite likely Herb-centric Monday post.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Show Notes for HMOTD 020: I Want You to Be a Golf Pro

0:44 "It's like the every-other-decade theory, right?" From the classic Dazed and Confused of course, as Marissa Ribisi muses on how much the 70s sucked and how great the 80s are likely to be. Irony overload!

3:15 St. Jerome: Growing up Catholic and then becoming a medievalist means that there are certain (literally) iconic images that are burned into your brain, and Jerome in his study is one of the big ones, especially for a medievalist, given that Jerome gave birth to a thousand years of exegesis with his literally authoritative Vulgate Latin version of the Bible. My favorite version of the Jerome in his study image is, probably no surprise to those who know me, Albrecht Dürer's.

4:02, 7:10 "Well, first of all, she's black." Listener and friend of the podcast Mandy Leetch posits that this joke is an old joke by 1979 and probably springs from the early Mad Men-era/Madison Avenue Lenny Bruce-adjunct-hipster early 60s. Good call, I think: cursory Googling seems to indicate that it's been told in a few contexts, including the idea of a NASA astronaut coming back from space after having seen the face of God, and this bit from the autobiography of Fred Wesley, a musician for James Brown.

5:50 "Ooooo!" I let out two Nessmanesque "ooooo"s in this episode. Tsk.

7:30 "I guess I sort of agree with Spinoza and Einstein." Here's some quick primers on Einstein (Albert)'s religious views, on Spinoza's God, and Paramahansa Yogananda on his meeting with Gandhi in 1936, fascinating stuff there (let's keep Yogananda, Indian spirituality and its historical interaction with the West in mind when we hit the golf portion of these Notes). You need Wikipedia to be able to go out on a date with Bailey Quarters and hang in there, fellas. Sadly, there was no Wikipedia in 1979.

9:55 Vacation Bible School: I love how Rob just has all these arcana of the American evangelical experience at the tips of his fingers.

12:50 Son of Sam: Here's some stuff on David Berkowitz's confession and revelation that the neighbor's dog was possessed by an "ancient demon." The clip is from Spike Lee's Summer of Sam; definitely not a essential Lee joint, in my opinion, but it's evocative of its time and place. Yes, that is John Turturro as Harvey the dog.

14:40: "Ooooo!" Second "ooooo." Damn you, Les.

14:47 "Big hitter, the lama. Long." All right. This is a long note. So a few weeks back I happened to find a book at my local occult bookstore, Seven Stars, about the foundation and history of the Esalen Institute, which we've referenced in earlier blog posts. This book, Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, was a fantastic, detailed, and thoroughly engaging story of the birth of the human potential movement in the hot tubs of Big Sur. I highly recommend picking it up. Anyway, in the process of reading this book, I became acquainted with Esalen co-founder Michael Murphy and his journey to the East to seek knowledge... and to become a golf pro. No joke! Murphy has written books, both fictional and non-fictional, about the intersection of Eastern philosophy/spirituality and that possibly most white, Western, and Cartesian of physical disciplines, golf. On the fiction side, Golf in the Kingdom (now a major motion picture) in 1971 introduced us to Shivas Irons, the Scottish golf pro who just so happens to be a mystical guru. (This trope of the mystically-attuned golfer probably found its pop culture apotheosis with Caddyshack's Ty Webb and his Zen exhortations to "be the ball" and in Carl Spackler's round of 18 caddying for the Dalai Lama.) On the non-fiction side, if you've ever said that an athlete is "in the Zone," congratulations, you are using Murphy's own terminology, which has its roots in his 1978 (!!!) The Psychic Side of Sports, co-written with psychic researcher Rhea White. So in the late 70s, the idea of golf being a meditative practice with mystical overtones was definitely... A Thing.

22:30 Oh, God! I think one of the reasons why Oh, God!, the original, stuck with me over the years is how uncanny it is. The miracles that George Burns springs on poor John Denver: voices over the radio, rain in his car, a 27th floor (27 = 33, three trinities!) of an office building with only fifteen floors, the implication from this clip about how Jerry's mind would be utterly destroyed if he saw God in his unfiltered form... that speaks to the Weirdness and uncannyness of direct divine contact. Rob's riff on a Gnostic version of Oh, God! gets my mind spinning and gets me thinking about the obvious Cathar conspiracy at the center of all of film history.

25:12 "Ooooo!" Sorry, correction, three "ooooo"s. *shakes fist at Les*

26:06, 30:58, 34:42 Terence McKenna: All these clips in the bicameral mind segment of the podcast are of Terence McKenna speaking about Jaynes's theories with a fair bit of incredulity, not because they go too far, but as you'll see as we get into hallucinogens in the third clip, because they arguably don't go far enough. I miss the Weird Druggy Cyberpunk 1990s, with that lovely Venn overlap of McKenna, Art Bell, and Grant Morrison. Timewave Zero forever, no sleep 'til 2012!

27:25 Hypnopompic hallucinations: Hypnopompic hallucinations are tied in with the slower reaction time of "sleep inertia," which we've probably all experienced, but knowing what we know about Johnny's brain chemistry and reaction times, it makes sense he'd be sensitive to extranormal intrusions on waking.

28:12 Julian Jaynes and Bicameralism: Here's a Wikipedia summary of the idea. And I know Rob and I come down fairly hard in thinking this has no basis in scientific thought, but have you read the stories that have popped up the past few years about the perception of color in the ancient world? Intriguing stuff.

31:40 Schizophrenia and shamanism: Here's McKenna on schizophrenic shamanism, a Washington Post article on West African shamanism aiding Westerners experiencing schizophrenia, and of course Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

37:05 Tim Reid's script: Tim Reid also came up with the story for Season 3 episode "Nothing to Fear But..." which was about a robbery at the station and co-wrote Season 4's "Circumstantial Evidence," in which Venus is personally framed for a robbery. The intersection of African-American life and the presumption of criminal guilt, big issues that are obviously on Tim Reid's mind. Depressing how little things have changed.

41:15 "I don't play hits, I make 'em." I love that retort from Venus. We've not gone deep into radio formatting and de facto airwave segregation much on the podcast yet, but from my youth, this issue was pretty evident. For instance, ever read about the awful racial politics of MTV's pre-Michael Jackson Thriller years? Interesting stuff, especially the revelation that Rick James, today a punchline, was on the vanguard of fighting for black representation on MTV.

[Rob: Something that got cut from the podcast for time: the cold open of "Family Affair" has Johnny playing a song and making a big point of naming the song and artist, and even riffing on the title a little bit. It's called "Lie To Me," by The Durocs. Neither Mike or I remembered them, but they seem to have been a pork-themed New Wave duo who released just one album in 1979. (A duroc is a breed of pig "known for its keen ears and large genitalia.") Plus there's a Durocs poster on the door of the booth, in this episode and a few others later this season (it shows the hindquarters of a pig). Somebody at WKRP was going to the mat for the band, though I'm not sure how much good it did. They can't all be "Heart of Glass."

Whoa, Wikipedia has a lot more on at least one of the guys behind The Durocs: he made promotional videos for MTV in the 1980s, released a live pig in the Capitol Record building, recorded with everybody, and played "Fluke Starbucker" in the Star Wars parody Hardware Wars. I'm guessing Friend of the Podcast Dan Miles (check out his music podcast) already knew all about them.]

45:20 "I'm sure that Egg is a very nice person..." You can't knock Egg over.

49:40 Herb is on crutches. My mistake: Frank Bonner was actually out parasailing, not hang-gliding. Also, yet another disaster that Les is responsible for/gets to describe humorously after the fact.

55:20 Olympic Boycotts: The Summer Olympics in 1980, and the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. That Simpsons episode, "Lisa's First Word," is just classic. "We should point out that many of the other women represent countries that don't have swimming pools." "Boohoo! You're breakin' my heart."

57:25 Chemicals! Hear that music in the background of the CHEMICALS commercial? That's the Monday Night Football theme, also known as "Heavy Action." I knew that without looking it up, by the way. Cast your mind back to 1998, in the infancy of the World Wide Web. Yours truly was a "New Media Assistant" at New England Sports Network, writing West Coast baseball game summaries at 2 am and programming our AOL pages (not, actual dial-up AOL). Anyway, since this was the early days of mp3 files (SO OLD GUYS), and we all obviously loved the unabashed old-school NFL Films-style bombast of the Monday Night Football theme, the day we found "Heavy Action.mp3," it became a bullpen in-joke to play the opening notes any time something epic or worthwhile or awesome or football-related happened in the office.

59:25 Red Dye #2. A Soviet study, can you believe that? Was this some kind of KGB plot to destabilize the American snack industry and thus American consumer morale? Was the idea it was "red" dye that caused cancer some kind of Kremlin in-joke? Man, I am really going full Nessman this week.

1:01:55: "You don't remember it, neither does Stephen King." I always love a good Stephen King cocaine joke. Speaking of Stephen King cocaine jokes, here is the classic trailer to Maximum Overdrive.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

HMOTD 020: I Want You to Be a Golf Pro

Mike and Rob hear a voice from beyond, solve racism, and discuss technicolor poop, along with the WKRP in Cincinnati episodes "God Talks to Johnny" and "A Family Affair."

(Full show notes appear at Hold My Order, Terrible Dresser two days after each episode is released. All audio clips are the properties of their owners/creators and appear in this work of comment and critique under fair use provisions of copyright law.)

Check out this episode!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Living in the Eighties, I have to push, I have to struggle

Happy New Year! This week's pair of episodes – "God Talks to Johnny" and "A Family Affair" – mark our transition from WKRP episodes aired in the 1970s to those aired in the 1980s. "God Talks to Johnny" was the New Year's Eve episode in 1979, and "A Family Affair" aired in the first week of 1980.

As we mentioned in an earlier podcast, decades don't really start on the stroke of midnight. Even the very concept of organizing cultural movements by decades is essentially arbitrary and ultimately somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like our discussion of generations a few weeks ago, you can definitely hairsplit these things down to an unmanageable degree.

And yet here we are, having spoken again and again about how 1979 was a hinge year (btw, Noah Hawley, we'd love to have you on the podcast, call us), when major events that set up what we now consider "the Eighties" took place. We talk about some of these events this week: the dual crises in Iran and Afghanistan, the subsequent U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and the very slow decline of the moral authority and popularity of Jimmy Carter (a lot of people don't realize that both the Crisis of Confidence speech and Carter's initial handling of the Iran hostage crisis prior to the disastrous Operation Eagle Claw led to some of his highest poll numbers in the last quarter of 1979 and first quarter of 1980) are leading us into what we now recognize and look back on as the Reagan era.

It's fitting that an episode about a modern-day prophet in the person of Johnny Fever is our last 1970s episode; the mysticism and weirdness of the 70s is about to get subsumed under a crushing wave of reactionary conformity. The signposts and turning points of the 1980 election are laid out for us now. All we have to do is wait.