Friday, September 22, 2017

Show Notes for HMOTD 046: Are You Earth, Wind, or Fire?

0:08 Monster Lizzard Ravages East Coast! Yes, this is a lovely little piece of Les comedy. The reference to the "worst lizzard since '78" immediately made me think of the Northeast Blizzard of '78 which lives on in local lore here in Massachusetts, but is more likely referring to the "White Hurricane" that hit the Midwest a couple of weeks previous. Here's a shot of the electronic warning signs I reference later in the podcast.

3:42 "There's a man exercising in the nude again." First off, I love hearing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "Magnolia," a deep cut off the second Heartbreakers LP You're Gonna Get It! in the background here. I could see Johnny digging their country-fried sound. I'm trying to remember what other context we accused Friends of ripping off WKRP in the past; we did talk in HMOTD 032 about Friends being emblematic of '90s sitcoms having awesome apartments. The Friends Wiki will hook you up with a précis of the Ugly Naked Guy.

[Rob: I think it was the wistful staring out the window shot, a la Bailey in “For Love Or Money.”]

5:20 "We're getting close to the end of the podcast." I talked about this more in the Monday Post, but yeah, I'm really going to miss these times where we get to breathe and hang out with the cast. I have to honestly confess, I've never understood the impulse to fanfic, but after deeply analyzing the entire run of WKRP, I'm beginning to get it. When a piece of narrative fiction leaves you wanting more depth into the characters' lives, you might want to stay in that world a little longer.

8:58 "Record (sic) station": One of many flubs by me this episode. Apologies.

10:55 "Black stations wherever Johnny grew up": See, I wrote my own fanfic right here! Johnny growing up listening to Black DJs, who in the 1950s had a broad crossover appeal with white teenagers. And much as white artists co-opted Black musical styles, so too did white DJs cop the attitudes, slang, and on-air personas of Black DJs. Again, Wolfman Jack was working within a long history of racial ambiguity; the white hipster strikes again.

Black radio stations were some of the most powerful Black-owned businesses during the middle part of the 20th century, with a media reach and economic power that supported Black social, cultural, economic, and even political life during some very difficult times, in metropolises both North and South. Here's a thorough virtual exhibit that opened last year thanks to Indiana University's Archives of African American Music and Culture titled "The Golden Age of Black Radio" that seems to this museum professional to be fairly definitive.

I wonder where Johnny grew up?

13:33 Code-switching/double consciousness: As Rob says, this phenomenon is nothing new in the Black community. W.E.B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk from 1903 takes on the cultural collision of colonizer and colonized head-on. In the first chapter, "Of Our Spiritual Strivings," DuBois describes the African-American a mere forty years from emancipation struggling to see through a "veil" that cloaks his vision, a veil placed there by the force of white supremacy in America. DuBois also interestingly evokes the veil as being like a caul and bestowing upon the Black American a "second-sight," the ability to see himself through this very double consciousness, living in two worlds at once. Powerful stuff, and still directly relevant to the Black experience in America.

16:20 "Searching for old Guy Lombardo LPs and smoking dope." I have never gotten high and listened to big-band music, but now I kind of want to. Thanks, Big Guy. Also, it'd be remiss of me not to link to the most notorious intersection of drug culture and old white square culture, the heartwarming performance of Brewer & Shipley's "One Toke Over The Line" on The Lawrence Welk Show.

[Rob: And it would be remiss of me not to observe that Guy Lombardo is, or at least once was, my home city’s most famous son. London, Ontario’s own Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians are believed to have sold between 100 and 300 million records during their long career; they also headlined CBS’ New Year’s Eve gala every year from, get this, 1928 (on the radio, naturally) to 1979, two years after Guy’s death. Sometimes when I’m jogging around London I’ll run across an abandoned Guy Lombardo museum or crypt or pavilion. Should auld acquaintance be forgot, indeed...]

16:52 "Are you Earth, Wind, or Fire?" Excuse my long exegesis of the fashion choices of EWF, but I do find it legitimately fascinating. Check their LP covers from '75 and previous and you see a ton of open shirts, or otherwise sleeveless vests and bellbottoms, very post-hippie. But when you get into the late '70s and early '80s, Afrofuturism takes over in a big way. (Check their legendary live performance at the Oakland Coliseum on New Year's Eve 1981 for evidence; leather is out, lamé is in, and the band basically fights Darth Vader live on stage. It's amazing.)

I wonder if P-Funk's more overt scifi wildness was partially the impelling force here. Anyway, I wrote about EWF's aesthetic for We Are The Mutants, as mediated through their groundbreaking sponsorship deal with Panasonic boomboxes. It's a good piece, if I do say so myself; check it out.

18:08 "Billy Jack/Indian appropriation": Speaking of leather jerkins and fringe jackets, the probably hashtag-problematic-by-modern-standards '70s franchise Billy Jack brought a bowlderized version of the very real rebellion of the early-'70s American Indian Movement to the white American drive-in.

18:20 Tim and Tom routine: Oof, yeah, this routine is a bit hard to listen to in this day and age; as we've talked about on WKRP, this kind of "clueless white guy" routine (mostly done by Les on the show) sometimes veers into out-and-out stereotyping. In Reid and Dreesen’s book, Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White, we can see that Tom's impression of "soul talk" was sometimes a tough initial sell to a Black audience. But reading the rest of the routine, you can really see how Tim and Tom used their knowledge of each other's cultures to get the crowd on their side. The story definitely goes in an... er, unexpected direction.

[Rob: You can see most of the “bus stop” routine here, but not the tense denouement described in the Tim and Tom book. Really, do check out the story of their Club Harlem debut in Mike’s Google Books links above.]

20:03 Ebony and Jet: Ebony and Jet have historically been the pair of African-American publications with the biggest profile and largest economic reach. Both were founded in the same era as Black-owned radio stations, the late '40s and early '50s. Black entrepreneur John H. Johnson brought out both magazines, sensing a void in the market for a literal Black Life magazine. As we mentioned, they featured advertising with Black models and celebrity sponsors, and featured both lifestyle pieces and hard-hitting reporting on racial issues. Jet published the disturbing and graphic post-mortem photos of Emmett Till in the aftermath of his murder at the hands of white terrorists in 1955.

21:15 Tim and Tom history: Check out HMOTD 008 for our first discussion of Tim and Tom, and seriously, buy the book! It's fascinating.

21:58 Tim Reid's background: Tim Reid bounced around a lot of locations in Virginia growing up but they weren't really rural; another error of mine.

27:15 Rick and the women at Black Life magazine: Again, that sentiment could never have worked in Tim Reid's mouth; it is often the prerogative of the outsider or the jester to point out the things we can't admit to ourselves, and when that jokester has the additional shield of white privilege like Rick/Tom does here, it's devastating.

29:25 90s Black sitcoms and Black WKRP: I guess Martin does technically count as a "Black WKRP" given Martin's role as a DJ at WZUP but the show only partially took place in the workplace.

29:45 Black Life before the Black Andy shows up: This was a genius idea of Rob's.

30:48 "I uh, do look rather good, don't I?" This is one of those moments where I feel like all our detailed analysis of Herb's conflicted masculinity from HMOTD 021: Huggable Herb pays off. Herb looks good and feels good and while he's always been a bit of a peacock, you can sense the confidence that comes with a really nice suit.

33:30 Gordon Gekko/Scaramucci/Eighties Guy From Futurama: The death of The Boneitis Guy is one of the more inspired animation sequences from Futurama.

And speaking of The Mooch... I also love to get together with my paisans and pose for imaginary Sopranos DVD box covers.

34:38 T-shirts of WKRP advertisers: There are already a few out there on various custom T-shirt sites, but they are of depressingly poor quality.

36:45 Police Academy: I am not gonna lie; the Police Academy series (maybe from 1 to about 4) were prime cable viewing in my late childhood/early adolescence. Hugh Wilson is right; they are uniformly tasteless and awful and dumb but they do have a certain low-budget charm (at least the first few). And yes, if you want to go diving for WKRP guest stars, you come up with a boatload. George Gaynes, Art Metrano, Howard Hesseman's fairly big role in 2, even Colleen Camp, who we discussed a few weeks ago!

41:20 PJ Torokvei: Again, we'll link to this piece on PJ Torokvei's journey which is alternately inspiring and incredibly sad.

43:52 Ulysses: [Rob: This is Irish actress Angeline Ball (you might remember her as Imelda Quirke in The Commitments) as Molly Bloom in the 2004 film, Bloom.]

[Mike:] I might have gone with Kate Bush's interpretation of the Molly Bloom soliloquy, the title track from 1989's The Sensual World, but that's just me.

49:32 "At least in 1982 the rich still felt a duty to help the poor..." I'm not trying to engage in class treachery here, pining for the days of "philanthropists" like Carnegie and Rockefeller, I'm just observing how that patrician sense of duty and generosity has completely evaporated after the combined assault of forty years of deregulation and neoliberalism and the rise of "do as thou wilt" postmodern libertinage. There was a certain superego that once held the ultrawealthy's predatory influences at least somewhat in check, call it noblesse oblige or clueless and needy attention-seeking, but now that's gone as New Gilded Age tycoons want to turn us all into either cog-like coders or blood batteries.

50:10 "There's something in the New York Times about rich people that makes me mad every week": Behold, this week's offense against the working class and just plain decency. Warning: this piece will make you Mad Online.

51:57 Hobo King: Rob and I and some of our gaming friends have always had a soft spot for the slightly-occult undertones of the hobo lifestyle. Mysterious chalk marks, sacred kingship ceremonies... it all adds up to an Emperor Norton-like innocent, a capital-F Fool who rides the rails for the sins of America.

53:07 Sheila Morgan: The realization that this guest star was the same Sheila "Bombs Away" Morgan that the Big Guy sang a tipsy paean to back in "I Am Woman" was a wonderful moment for me.

55:15 "What kitchen is this?" Our joy at being back in Jennifer's old apartment should be apparent; I really didn't think we'd see it again and I was so authentically pleased and surprised.

56:36 Microwaves: When I started going back through old TV Guides a few years ago, I found the early-'80s issues redolent with ads for microwave ovens that keep hammering you over the head with the versatility and user-friendliness of the appliance. Yes, a lot of these ads seem to prominently feature roasted turkeys. Rob and I share a fascination for this time in American history when a new piece of technology, desperate to shoulder its way into American kitchens, tries frantically to prove its familiarity and usefulness. The one thing I remember about getting our first microwave back in I think 1985 is that the instruction/recipe book featured very prominently two preparations that became standards in our house for their ease and familiarity: hot dogs (nuked, bun and all, wrapped in paper towel) and nachos (3 minutes on the low-medium setting so the cheese didn't dry up). The microwave I think became a leftovers machine for most Americans by the end of the '80s, but the way the appliance was marketed is much more versatile.

[Rob: Well, I know I always cook my lobster tails in the microwave. "Cooking without heat!" I’m afraid this link won’t work for anybody not on a university network, but there was a cool article in the history of technology journal Technology & Culture a few years ago about the microwave as “a terrifying … eruption of the uncanny in the domestic sphere” and how we eventually learned to stop worrying and love post-industrial food.]

[Mike: It's a great article and I am very sorry if you can't read it. You didn't tell me it referenced Scanners, Rob! (Sadly no mention of Back to the Future Part II's "pizza rehydrator"; speaking of which, y'all should check out Rob on the Netflakes podcast talking BTTF2; it's a great discussion.)

Speaking of exploding heads, this reminds me of one of the central events in my favorite novel, David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, when tennis academy patriarch and creator of enslaving perfect Entertainment James O. Incandenza literally nukes and explodes his own head in his home's microwave. I get the feeling DFW was working out his own Gen-X microwave anxiety and/or impulse towards using urban legends in his work with this tableau.]

58:45 Carmen Filpi/Gurning/the Enigma: [Rob: It’s Carmen Filpi, not Filipi, my apologies. Not to be confused with Patrick Cranshaw from Best In Show and Old School (though Google Image Search does just that), Carmen Filpi got his start in minstrel shows (!), served in the Pacific during WW2, and had a film and TV career spanning fifty years. A brief list of his memorable roles includes: Homeless Guy, Elderly Guy, Bum #1, Bum #2, Bum, Old Guy, Old Man in Bar, Ancient Guy, Old Crusty Man, Wino, Stan the Bum, Old Man Withers, Old Geezer, Drunk, Jail Bum, Hobo Jack, The Bum, Panhandler, and Bus Station Bum. It sounds like I’m making fun of him, but that really is the list. Filpi’s credit for WKRP, as Percy Romanoff, seems downright dignified in comparison. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 80.]

[Mike: Wait, Percy Romanoff... is he supposed to be the heir to the Russian throne, Anastasia's son or something?? I may have been onto something calling him the Hobo King!

Also, regarding gurning, our timing on this episode was impeccable: the Egremont Crab Fair took place this very week and World Champion Gurner Ady Zivelonghi held his title as the best gurner in the world.

Body-mod-god The Enigma starred in the "first funny X-Files episode," "Humbug," about circus/carny folk, where he played circus geek "The Conundrum" opposite '90s Lollapalooza sideshow legend Jim Rose.]

1:02:50 Cheaplaffs Johnson: [Rob: I can’t say that “Six Gun Justice,” from the very uneven final season of SCTV, was ever one of my favorite bits. It’s a parody of an old Western movie serial, but my impression is that the SCTV gang were almost trying to play it straight--that is, they were more interested in accurately recreating the old serials, warts and all, than in trying to be funny. But I do love the framing sketch, “Happy Hour” with Happy Marsden, a kiddie show so bleak, low-key, and depressing as to gradually approach Scarfolk-style hauntology.]

[Mike: I can see a lot of the DNA of Three Amigos in those Six Gun Justice bits.]

1:03:50 Reaganonomics/homelessness/the mentally ill/drug abuse: I feel like we didn't even come close to doing this series of issues justice on the podcast; there's just so much to say about it, we could have easily done 70 or 80 minutes just on the social ills caused by Ronald Reagan's destruction of the social safety net. But here are the two pieces we mentioned on the podcast: the San Francisco Weekly piece on Reagonomics' impact on social programs and the homeless, and the Salon piece on Reagan and the mentally ill.

1:10:40 Intellivision/video games: Bless you, Rob, for including a clip of a George Plimpton Intellivision TV ad; like Henry on The Americans, all I ever wanted as a kid was an Intellivision. Have any of our listeners figured out what video game console that is supposed to be in this scene, by the way? The big controllers with the curly cords were used by both the Intellivision and ColecoVision consoles, as well as a bunch of lesser lights in the Second Generation of Video Game Consoles, but the size and color is wrong for all of them. [Edit: As I was pulling the screenshots, I noticed for the first time... they have little tiny hair-thin antennas! And they're connected to some kind of deck sitting on the couch! These are obviously some kind of jury-rigged prop. Weird!]

See what I mean about "gamer posture," by the way? [Rob: Is the Big Guy sitting on the floor with his back against the couch? That's perfect!] [Mike: Yep, he was being beaten by Andy - you were right - and sort of jumps/slumps down off the couch in the middle of play. The Big Guy is Sports Gamer Zero. I only wish I could've seen him throw his controller.]

1:15:45 Quarterflash/The Americans: Well, of course I tempted fate by saying Quarterflash was a one-hit wonder; back on Facebook, Mike Hernandez again schools me. But I will say that the moment I knew I'd be hooked on The Americans for its spot-on musical selection was not when they memorably used "Tusk" in the chase scene in the pilot but instead using Quarterflash in the very first scene to soundtrack Elizabeth's honeypot op in the fern bar.

1:18:30 Grace Jones: I am also super curious still about why Grace Jones got dragged like this on the show. My cursory research does show that Jones's overall aesthetic, both visually and musically, was tough for mainstream audiences to understand in the early '80s. This interview gives you a great look at an important and misunderstood artist and figure of our exact late-'70s/early-'80s WKRP period. Venus is not alone, though; Sondra Smuckles is also no fan of Ms. Jones. Raymond is careless... but not like that.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome ride once again, guys. I personally would have called the epsiode "The damn thing just blew up". I laugh out loud every time I hear Charlie deliver that line in the "Charity" episode...Incidentally, it's a pity you didn't have more time to explore Perry Cook's career as well. He had a number of appearances on TV Westerns, most notably as a "Cook"(!) in The Virginian and as "Barfly", among other roles, on Have Gun - Will Travel.