History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Friday, December 23, 2016

Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park" a multi-layered gem

I got introduced to "MacArthur Park" thanks to big band jazz. The song was a gold mine for arrangers of big band jazz music. Its multi-tiered melody lent itself to such treatment. Remember, it's a cantata. Its extended length went against the grain of the kind of music that found its home on radio.
How good is the song? Consider the number of performers who have done "covers." Those performers have come from disparate fields. I consider the song as reflecting rare genius and inspiration. The complex melody is at the opposite of the spectrum from the three-chord template, not that there's anything wrong with a good three-chord song. Anyone can think up a three-chord song and make it reasonably appealing. Fine.
But the wellspring for a melody like "MacArthur Park" comes from an inscrutable and mysterious place in the soul.
There's no science for composing such a melody. An irreverent soul might suggest "drugs." I suspect it's myth that drugs have much or anything to do with creating good music. Creating good music comes from a sense of craftsmanship and from the discipline that accompanies mastering something. Still, there's no scientific way to put the words and music together like in "MacArthur Park."
Is it inspiration? Is that the wellspring? John Lennon might talk about the inspiration behind a certain song, but I would suggest it was more of an idea, something where there was no real investment of emotion. Emotion isn't the key to being successful at anything, though it's fashionable to suggest it is. Was Jimmy Webb really broken up by a dissolved relationship when he wrote "MacArthur Park?" Or did he just conceive of a song that explored the wreckage of a broken relationship, in the abstract and with no real fixation on himself?
I guess I'm presenting this as a rhetorical question. Emotions cloud your judgment. Writing a successful song requires a sober sense of focus - incredible focus - that taps the craft or skillset of songwriting. Songwriters have fun later on talking about all the "inspiration." Such talk builds fascination with a song. Much can be balderdash.
 
An instrumental made its mark
My first exposure to "MacArthur Park" came through Maynard Ferguson and his big band. Ferguson's incredibly sharp recording under the guidance of the superior British studio system, mesmerized a generation of high school jazz band students. (Jazz band was more often called stage band back then, as "jazz" seemed edgy for parents' tastes.)
Wow! Maynard showed his characteristic high-note mastery. The arrangement was incredibly tight. Some fine improvisation was featured. Maynard's version vaulted his comeback that put his music in the mainstream of current tastes. Those British music minds had things all figured out.
Previous to this album, Maynard did a series of understated, rather esoteric jazz-oriented albums. Maynard had a "down" period with his "chops" too. With his album "M.F. Horn" that included "MacArthur Park," Maynard took a significant new step that guaranteed his long-term popularity with the young jazz (or stage) band folks.
Of course, the primary tributes to this song should focus on the lyrics as much as the melody. Webb composed the song in the summer and fall of 1967. In a fateful move, he brought his new cantata piece to the group "The Association" which turned it down. The Association had a chance to be associated permanently with an iconic piece, a ground-breaking "concept" piece that went so far beyond the standard three-minute song template.
 
"Lost love" supplies the grist
The cover story for the song's lyrics was Webb's breakup with significant other Susie Horton. Horton would marry Robert Ronstadt, cousin of Linda Ronstadt.
Webb and his transitory lover would socialize at MacArthur Park, a real place. Indeed, Webb would tell us that everything in the song was real.
The material was not, as they'd refer in '60s parlance, "psychedelic." The "cake left out in the rain" was genuine imagery, Webb would tell us.
The two lovers occasionally met for lunch at this park in Los Angeles. He incorporates the "old men playing checkers by the trees."
Believe it or not, Webb wrote two smash songs as the fallout from a deteriorated romance. In addition to "MacArthur Park," we got "By the Time I Get to Phoenix." Yes, Webb may have been devastated by the unraveling of the amorous tie, but he'd take his two hit songs over any chance to re-kindle the embers, I'm convinced! So much for love conquering all. A songwriter has to pull teeth just to get a fraction of the success that those two songs represented. It's the pinnacle, it's reaching the summit of Everest. True love can be put on hold, Kemosabe.
Music producer Bones Howe helped lay the foundation for "MacArthur Park." He produced recordings for The Association. Guys my age have a vivid memory of Association songs like "Cherish" and "Windy," once heard in constant rotation on KDWB Radio in Minnesota. Our deejay was "Tac" Hammer, remember y'all.? Howe thought up a challenge for Webb, to write and compose a classically structured song with several movements that could be played on the radio.
Webb wrote a song that begins as a poem about love, then moves into a lover's lament. There are four sections or movements. It's no surprise that bandleader Stan Kenton eventually seized on this song. He very self-consciously promoted sophistication. Kenton had a flute featured on melody at the start. Maybe Kenton was just trying to keep up with his old bandmember Maynard Ferguson. Those bands truly ate up "MacArthur Park."
 
Giving the original its due
But us young jazz fans erred if we didn't pay attention to the original version with those lyrics. I very belatedly began studying the latter. The Association rejected the song because of its length, complex structure and unorthodox lyrics. The length issue was very real then.
The door opened for Richard Harris to make his pop music debut. The recording was done in December of 1967 in Hollywood. Instrumental overdubs followed. The song was put on Harris' album "A Tramp Shining." The song did well considering the length issue.
Webb gave us a true musical backdrop for the '60s, a hyper-alive decade but one with the horrible cloud of the Viet Nam war. Webb gave us "Up-Up and Away." I wonder how Webb felt when the Association rejected "MacArthur Park." You know what? Successful music composers understand rejection better than anyone. They must master patience and resilience.
Richard Harris was primarily an actor. But this worked for bringing across "MacArthur Park" as genuine, as he essentially "read" the lyrics with a sense of drama. He did the recording soon after starring in the movie "Camelot." He'd go on to play "Professor Dumbledore" in the first two "Harry Potter" movies.
It has been said that Harris brought a kind of theatrical dignity to "MacArthur Park" and other songs. We learn that "MacArthur Park" has been covered by 150 to 200 artists. What a testament to the artistry. Donna Summer recorded a disco version in 1978 that climbed to No. 1. Disco could be a vehicle for compelling art just like any other music genre.
Trivia: Webb's original lyrics mention that the "cake" was "laced with hashish." Oh no. Legalities ensured that wouldn't fly.
 
Here's a toast to brass
Maynard Ferguson rode the gravy train of this song through the whole concluding chapter of his brassy career. Sometimes it was brassy to a fault. But oh well, his fans loved the ten-minute jazz instrumental of "MacArthur Park" on the 1993 release "The Essential Maynard Ferguson." His original cover of the song came out in 1970.
Surely you remember that Weird Al Yankovic parody of the song that told the story of Jurassic Park. A dinosaur ate a lawyer in the movie, we were reminded in the lyrics, which showed that "dinosaurs weren't all bad."
I write topical songs and I doubt that I could ever write a meaningful song about love or love lost. I have no romantic background with the opposite sex. Oh, I'm not gay either. I would have to write about love in the abstract. I'd risk trotting out stereotypes just as stale as the old "Hollywood kiss."
Maybe someday I'll say "spring was never waiting for us, girl."
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Don Cheadle's "Miles Ahead" (2015) needs more joy

(image from Roger Ebert site)
I discovered jazz because of Maynard Ferguson. I fit the profile of the typical "M.F." fan in the 1970s. We were always told he was a jazz artist. Jazz wasn't exactly the thing that attracted us to his playing. Because we continually heard about jazz, we thought we ought to check out the genre. We heard about Miles Davis, a trumpet player like Ferguson.
The trumpet is an odd instrument. There is a fine line between tasteful, powerful trumpet playing and a chafing effect. Davis owes many of his record sales to Ferguson. The youth who discovered Ferguson and other bandleaders in the 1970s began sifting through record bins and finding some fascination with Davis.
I must be brutally honest here. Go ahead and call me clueless. I have no natural inclination to listen to Davis. All that cool and bebop jazz sits out there fat and content in its pure artistry. I won't say there isn't a level of sophistication. But I'm relying on the judgment of others. None of that stuff gets me excited. I spent money on some of those vinyl records because the music intelligentsia was wowed by those artists.
I took a course in jazz at St. Cloud State University. It was not a course in which we would perform. It was a classroom study of the genre. I appreciated getting this knowledge. I learned things I didn't know before. It did not open the door for me truly liking to play a lot of the cool and bebop material. I listened to it out of a duty to try to understand. All us young, corduroy-wearing trumpet players (mostly male, let's admit) were lifted to ecstacy by Maynard and his band. We needed to admit to ourselves that it wasn't the jazz that attracted us. It was the full, powerful brassy sound of these bands, bands that often did covers of popular music.
Maynard did an arrangement of "MacArthur Park" that would elevate this fascinating man to the stratosphere of popularity, at least with that corduroy-wearing demographic. It ensured his place in the pantheon of bandleaders. Yes, those rowdy mobs at Ferguson concerts went crazy cheering for the improvisation by bari sax player Bruce Johnstone. Johnstone was a skinny man who looked like he might be challenged holding up that big bari instrument. All his solos sounded the same to me. We cheered because we were in the mood to cheer. We wouldn't have spent a nominal amount of money to hear Johnstone if he were top-billed. He and a couple bandmates finally left M.F. to form a group called "New York Mary." I suckered for buying their album. I'm not aware of them making any noise after that. Most often with those M.F. guys, you'll find when researching them today that the M.F. part of their background seems to define them. It was as if the M.F. band was a euphoric high that couldn't be replicated.
 
Mad for Maynard, interested in Miles
I emphasize Ferguson in this post because his flock was steered in the direction of appreciating the jazz artists whose work did not tend to induce wild ovations. We're talking Miles. You could impress your friends by saying you were into Miles Davis. You were "hip."
I watched the movie "Miles Ahead" (2015) which gives us a glimpse of Davis' life.
I hate to just repeat myself, but again I'll write as I did about the movie "Pollock" about the modern art guy, Jackson Pollock. I always have to verify the spelling of his name to make sure I don't spell it like it's a "Polack joke." Remember them? They were big in the 1960s but have disappeared. My main point about the movie "Pollock" was that it gave us the Hollywood stereotype of a brilliant artist who had all sorts of dysfunctional aspects with his personality and lifestyle. These artists are self-destructive as they appear on the screen.
There is a danger here. Young people can view these profiles, as with Hunter Thompson, and think the dysfunctional traits are part of being brilliant. These guys all had to be serious students of their craft before gaining fame. Fame itself can do bad things to people. They have their run and then they can slide downward, having acquired vices and perhaps getting jaded by having to deal with the business interests of their fields. So, they can seem rather pathetic.
We learn nothing in the movie about Pollock about how he developed under Thomas Hart Benton. I recall it only being mentioned once. Miles Davis studied at the Julliard School. He must have been a serious student for a time. The movie suggests he just picked up a trumpet and started playing some magical notes. As if his genius just sprang from the ether when he wasn't sniffing coke.
Hollywood worries that a movie can hurtle into boredom if the serious aspects of these guys get attention. Instead, Hollywood asserts "let's have a movie about Miles Davis that springs right out of the world of Starsky and Hutch." That's the primary point I wish to make about "Miles Ahead," the contemporary movie about Davis starring Don Cheadle.
A reviewer said "we know this isn't going to be a by-the-numbers History Channel book report." Well yes, we don't expect the real biographical approach, but then what license is acceptable? Do we really need to see Davis as sort of a lowlife willing to impulsively deck a journalist at his door? Don't you think a man this famous had to develop some gentlemanly traits, to at least be expedient some of the time? Young people who decide to behave in the edgy manner will have doors slammed on them. I almost wonder if the Davis movie conforms to a certain stereotype about African-Americans.
I watched this movie mainly out of a sense of obligation. I wanted to be pleasantly surprised. I remember being steered toward cool and bebop when I was in my early 20s. I heard Dizzy Gillespie at the St. Cloud State auditorium now named for Kimberly Ritsche. I thought it was terrible. Gillespie had zero physical command of his trumpet on that night. I guess St. Cloud wasn't big-time enough for him to conserve his "chops" for. It was painful watching him as he showed his trademark puffing out of his cheeks. He misstated where he was and had to be corrected by someone shouting from the audience. We laughed. But I found the night to be a chore for me being there. Most audience members, I'd assert, were puzzled about why we should consider this stuff brilliant. We were coaxed to think it was brilliant. It's that intelligentsia at work.
Many guys my age discovered this esoteric field of music because we attended Ferguson and Buddy Rich concerts. We drifted to see if we might develop a like enthusiasm for the cool and bebop jazz of the '50s. We applauded politely. But our heart was in the slickly disciplined music of the touring big bands. Buddy Rich leading his band on "Norwegian Wood." Woody Herman with "Superstar." Count Basie was the real deal too. Miles Davis? Maybe his music could be appreciated on a level that I couldn't reach. His music in the '50s was a departure from the plain vanilla pop music of the time, like it was a refuge. I don't need that today.
 
Trying to sound like Miles
I too am a trumpet player. I feel I could jam a Harmon mute into my instrument and sound rather like Davis myself. Just give me a real good rhythm section behind me. Del Sarlette and I have joked about how anyone could sound like Miles if we could only step out in front of a great rhythm section. We realize this is simplistic and rather absurd, but. . .
Davis had a grasp of music at a high level, his bio tells us, but the movie is all Starsky and Hutch. There is nothing noble about the lifestyle we see in the movie. We all thought "Undercover Brother" was cool and funny. We remember all the "blaxploitation" stuff. Understand mutha?
The movie "Miles Ahead" is dark and depressing.
 
We simply needed more joy
Music is defined by the joy it gives us. Certainly this movie needed an infusion of unfettered joy. At the very end we get a little, not enough. If Miles was truly a spectacular artist as he was presented, I'd like to learn more about his development and how he reached the pinnacle. It didn't "just happen." Ditto with Jackson Pollock. Miles wasn't some wandering fool.
People have their peccadilloes. Hollywood must think we're preoccupied with them. How about another movie to tell us more about Davis' sheer artistry? For that matter, how about a movie about Maynard Ferguson. "Scream a Little Scream with Me" (LOL). Maynard had his ups, his downs, "exiles" that took him to India and Great Britain (to escape tax problems?) and a triumphant comeback starting in1970. Let's have a toast. And that's no Polack joke.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

MACA girls turn on jets in second half to beat BOLD

Tigers 65, BOLD 49
MACA strode onto the gym floor at Olivia to face the Warriors of BOLD. The Tigers were facing the talented Makenna Steffel and her mates. We used balance to get the advantage. That advantage was revealed in a 65-49 final score with MACA the victor. It was a Friday (12/9) West Central Conference affair.
Maddie Carrington supplied thrills with three makes from beyond the three-point arc. Indeed, long-range shots gave important fuel to overcome Steffel's productive night: 26 points. Riley Decker succeeded twice from three-point land, and Malory Anderson had one three-point make.
The real story of this game was the orange and black really turning on the jets in the second half. We actually trailed at halftime, 28-20, but poured it on in the second half to outscore the stunned Warriors 45-21. Wow!
Correy Hickman and Malory Anderson each put in 13 points to lead the MACA offense. Carrington's 3's built her point output to eleven. Riley Decker scored eight points followed by three Tigers each with six: Liz Dietz, Jenna Howden and Carly Wohlers. Karly Fehr polishes off the list with two points.
Steffel's 26 points made her the only double-digit scorer for the host Warriors. Emily Gass put in seven points, and Makayla Snow and Brenna Weis each put in five points. Then we have Morgan Schmitz with four points and Abby Sigurdson with two. Gass made the only BOLD three-pointer.
 
Boys: Tigers 80, Minnewaska 74 (OT)
The Tigers took the court with extra resolve for the second half on Thursday, Dec. 8, at Minnewaska Area. We trailed the Lakers at halftime, 40-32. But in the second half we roared to the tune of outscoring the Lakers 35-27. Do a little math and you realize we have a tie score at the end of regulation. Overtime!
That fresh resolve of the Tigers carried into the OT extension. We outscored the host Lakers 13-7 in overtime to prevail in our season opener, 80-74. What a thriller to start things off! It seemed that our second half defense was a key factor spelling success.
Lukus Manska and Jacob Zosel were the MACA pacesetters in scoring. Manska's point total was 23 while Zosel put in 20. The list continues with Camden Arndt (13), Tate Nelson (11), Tim Travis (9) and Connor Koeberrnick (4). A major weapon for Morris Area Chokio Alberta was three-pointers. Here it was Manska leading the charge with three, edging Nelson and Zosel who each made two.
Jake Peters set the scoring pace for 'Waska with 14 points. Right on his heels were Dennis VanDyke and Matt Gruber each with 13. Jackson Johnsrud put in eleven points. Then came Colin Richards (7), Jack Blevins (5), Garrett Jensen (5), Jaeger Jergenson (4) and Ryan Christianson (2). Six different Lakers each made one 3-point shot: VanDyke, Richards, Blevins, Gruber, Jensen and Peters.
 
Girls hockey: Crookston 7, MBA 3
The Morris Benson Area Storm girls put the puck in the net once in each of the three periods vs. Crookston. The first period goal was good for getting a 1-0 lead by the end of the period. But Crookston surged in the second period to put in five goals to take charge. Crookston had a 2-1 advantage in the third period to come away with a 7-3 win.
It was Libby Pendill scoring the goal that gave us the 1-0 lead. That goal came at 14:21 of the first period. Whitney Demarais and Megan Kirkeide supplied assists. Kaitlyn Thingeistad started the Crookston second period onslaught. Ali Hutter scored the second Crookston goal, then came Jayden Altrich with the third. MBA's Hallie Watzke answered, assisted by Nicole Berens and Kirkeide.
Macy Strem and Catherine Tiedemann seized the momentum back for Crookston. That momentum continued into the third period that saw Maddie Nicholis score twice. The third MBA goal was scored by Taryn Picht at 1:22 assisted by Hallie Watzke.
Abbey Hoffman was the MBA goalie and she had 15 saves. Braelee Jobe worked in goal for Crookston and she had 33 saves.
 
Wrestling: ACGC 44, MAHACA 32
Ethan Lebrija supplied encouragement at the lightest weight slot, getting Kelvin Ponce's shoulders pinned to the mat in 3:25. But ACGC would end up with most of the highlights on the night as they handed our Tigers a 44-32 defeat. The action was on Thursday, Dec. 8, at home.
Austin Berlinger was on the losing end of a fall outcome at 113 pounds, time of 3:42 vs. Hayden Stranmann. Dalton Rose at 120 pounds got Skye Powers' shoulders pinned to the mat in 3:35. Ben Travis was the forfeit winner at 126. Gideon Joos was on the short end of a 15-11 decision against Dylan Studemann. Jacob Boots lost by technical fall, 19-2, to Aaron Lang.
Jared Rohloff won by a 12-4 major decision over Levi Lund. Chase Metzger prevailed by a 13-5 major decision over John Rasmussen. Brady Cardwell lost by fall to Shane Whitcomb in :51. Matt McNeill came on strong at 170 pounds to pin Reagan Toedter in :37. Dakota Luepke lost by fall to Cullen Lewis in 3:37.
Bain Laine lost by fall to C.J. Toedter in :33. Gage Wevley got pinned by Tanner Berghuis in 5:08. We dropped the 285-pounds weight slot by forfeit to Brody Maresch.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, December 9, 2016

"Back to the '50s" with Ted Kluszewski and his arms

(Image from "When it was a Game")
Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson were the players I associated with the Cincinnati Reds when I first became a fan of baseball. There was a pitcher named Jim Maloney. Chico Ruiz had a famous steal of home that according to legend precipitated the famous Phillies choke of 1964. A book was inspired by that.
Had I been born ten years earlier, I most surely would have become interested in the Cincinnati ballplayer named Ted Kluszewski. Yes, the last name is rather a challenge to spell. He deserves to be remembered better than he is. Maybe the confounding spelling of his last name was an impediment. We learn that he was the first player to appear in a game with his name misspelled! He had a backwards "z" and an "x" instead of the second "k". Some mischief, maybe.
I was marginally aware of this slugger named Kluszewski until doing some research. I had been aware of him because of one trait. That trait was based on his appearance. I remember seeing photos of the guy with bare arms. Considering his specialty as a long-ball guy, he must have had appreciable muscles. Oh yes he did. So he came off in those photos as rather like a professional wrestler.
What was behind that? Turns out the motivation was not cosmetic. Soon after he joined the Reds in 1947, he cut off the sleeves of his uniform, an act not exactly approved by the front office. He did this because he felt the tight sleeves constricted his large biceps and shoulders and interfered with his swing. "Klu's" reputation as rather a "he-man" grew.
Leo Durocher was asked to name five of the strongest players in baseball. He complied but neglected to cite "Big Klu." When informed of this, Leo said "Kluszewski? I'm talking about human beings."
 
An N.L. standout in the '50s
Mention of Big Klu prompts nostalgia about the 1950s. He became quite the symbol. He was named to the National League All-Star roster from 1953 through 1956. He was a career .298 batter with 279 home runs and 1,028 RBIs in 1,718 games. The mid-1950s saw Kluszewski produce home run totals of 40, 49, 47 and 35. Most Killebrew-like. His RBI harvest was a tremendous 141 in 1954.
He is distinguished from our Killebrew by his ability to hit for an impressive average. He hit over .300 seven times while wearing the red of Cincinnati. He was in the top ten in average in each of those mid-'50s years. Fielding? Big Klu led N.L. first basemen in fielding percentage five straight years: 1951-55.
So why isn't he in the Hall of fame? The bugaboo of injuries started taking a toll. Longevity is an important factor in Hall consideration, maybe too big a factor IMHO. I'm smarting over Tony Oliva not being in the Hall. Oiiva could have redeemed himself by doing better in post-season games.
Kluszewski
had his uniform number 18 retired by the Reds in 1998. He bounced around a little after leaving the Reds. He went to Pittsburgh. Then came a more significant chapter with the American League's Chicago White Sox when the Sox were impressing. The White Sox in fact won a rare pennant for them, in 1959. They faced the Los Angeles Dodgers who were in their still-new surroundings of L.A. (from Brooklyn). Game 1 of the Series saw Kluszewski hit two home runs and drive in five in an 11-0 win over the Dodgers. But the Dodgers won the Series. Kluszewski hit .391 with three home runs and ten RBIs in the Series.
Automobile mogul Jim Moran offered a free car to any White Sox player who hit a home run in that Series. Kluszewski got three original 1960 Ford Falcons!
(SABR image)
 
Getting Angels going with a bang
The slugger wasn't yet through having impact. I was not aware until researching that he was no small part of the 1961 Los Angels Angels story - the first year of that A.L. franchise. I thought I was quite well-versed on that team - I have even written a song about it, inspired by player Albie Pearson: "Albie Pearson Got It Done." But I didn't know until recently that Kluszewski had a role worth noting. While his season-long productivity was not impactful, Big Klu was sensational in the season opener on April 11. The Angels were playing on the road at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. He socked two home runs off Milt Pappas as the Angels won 7-2. He would finish the season with 15 home runs and 39 RBIs in 107 games.
He finally retired, having left a mark on the game that really seemed Hall of Fame-worthy. He went into coaching where his work was well-received. Heart problems caught up to him. He underwent emergency bypass surgery in 1986 and survived for two more years. He left us too soon at age 63. His famous 15-inch biceps survive on baseball card images, endearing him to us all. He is often cited as one of the most underappreciated players of the post-World War II era. You might say he was the original "Big Red Machine," the name that would be coined in the '70s: the Pete Rose/Joe Morgan era.
"Klu" is locked within the Eisenhower era in our memories. He was part of the great wave of post-WWII players, celebrating normalcy in world affairs. The boys were back! The war was a factor in Kluszewski choosing baseball over football. The Reds did their springtime training in Indiana because big league teams were forbidden to train in the South. Klu was in the neighborhood and he was invited to take some swings at batting practice. Remember the scene where "Roy Hobbs" got his first chance to impress in the movie "The Natural?" Remember how the fictional Hobbs launched rockets into the deep outfield seats? This is exactly what happened when Kuszewski got his chance. Observers were wide-eyed just like Wilford Brimley. Balls sailed over an embankment nearly 400 feet away. Klu was offered a $15,000 contract, a lot of money then, and he accepted.
 
Bring on the bare arms
Once getting established in Cincinnati, Klu opted for his "fashion statement" that would become famous, with the cut-off sleeves. This is the image that got my attention and prompted some song lyrics I recently penned about the big guy. Will I have the song recorded? I'm not sure. I have written much poetry and lyrics in a topical vein. We'll see.
My song is called "Ted Kluszewski Arms." The song structure is AABAABA with "B" standing for bridge, for you neophytes. I'm pleased to share the lyrics here:
  
"Ted Kluszewski Arms"
by Brian Williams
  
I could lift an anvil
With Ted Kluszewski arms
I could do it at will
With Ted Kluszewski arms
He could hit the baseball
Oh so very far
Must have been those Ted Kluszewski arms
  
There in Cincinnati
Playing with the Reds
Swinging for the fences
He could knock 'em dead
He had bulging biceps
So to get his edge
Ted Kluszewski kept his team ahead
  
BRIDGE:
He was on the charge
In his sleeveless shirt
We can still remember his worth
 
Such determination
Always swinging hard
Skin was in the foreground
On his baseball card
Not a Hall of Famer
Still he was a star
Just consider Ted Kluszewski's arms
  
He was in the limelight
Long before Pete Rose
Long before Joe Morgan
Helped to run that show
In the days when players
Didn't make much dough
Ted Kluszewski made his roster glow
  
(repeat bridge)
  
I could make a million
With Ted Kluszewski arms
I could eat my spinach
For Ted Kluszewski arms
Did he get his body
Working on a farm?
We felt awe at Ted Kluszewski arms
  
We'd go far with Ted Kluszewski arms
  
© 2016 Brian R. Williams

Monday, December 5, 2016

Movie "All the Way" (2016) shows LBJ's good side

America in a time of consensus? That's what we had in 1964, comparatively speaking. Lyndon Johnson was serving a partial term due to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Somehow the tremendous glamour of the Camelot presidency spilled over to the successor. JFK gave way to Johnson, a man who had hardly been a cheerleader for JFK prior to 1960. Such is the nature of politics: unlikely alliances. Geographic alliances.
We see the underbelly of politics in the movie "All The Way." It parallels the wonderful movie "Lincoln" in this regard. I watched both "Lincoln" and "All the Way" on DVD thanks to our Morris MN Public Library. I wrote about "Lincoln" as a movie that wasn't likely to get young people very interested. It might be deemed boring as it plodded from one scene to the next as the political dealmakers simply hashed things over. I complimented the movie on authenticity with its dimly-lit conditions (no electricity yet).
Lincoln kept the Union together. Lyndon Johnson orchestrated major civil rights inroads. Educated, proper people really had no problem with that. Thus I never sensed any overriding controversy with it, although my perception would have been different in the Deep South. Remember when Jerry Lewis caused a stir when he joked that he "waited to use the bathroom (and flush) on the plane until we were over Mississippi?"
Today there appears to be major pushback against progressive civil rights ideals. In 1964 there was general agreement that we had to move forward. It's amazing how much momentum LBJ mounted to crush the Republicans and their ideologically pure nominee, Barry Goldwater. I was never revulsed by Goldwater, not the way I'm revulsed by many of the modern-day conservative crusaders. Goldwater went on to become an elder statesman with a sense of humor.
Today's conservatives just have their knives sharpened. We're waiting for the worm to turn now, naturally. The Republicans now own everything that happens to America. No excuses for them. We must hope things go fine. If they don't, the door will be opened for progressives to come in and soothe, no matter how much ranting we hear on Fox News and its echo chambers in the media: what David Frum calls the "conservative entertainment complex." Frum stated openly he'd vote for Hillary Clinton. He seems to have had a low profile since the election.

Bryan Cranston in his prime
"All the Way" is a very well-made movie. It's a fine vehicle for Bryan Cranston who is having his "run" as the most celebrated movie actor, riding the coattails of "Breaking Bad." He's following the tradition of Wilford Brimley ("The Natural"), Brian Dennehy ("First Blood") and William Macy ("Fargo"). Congrats to these guys who found their perfect vehicle and then rode the gravy train. Remember the drink that Dennehy ordered in the bar scene of "First Blood?" It was "wild turkey." What a dated scene: people sitting around, talking and consuming alcohol. Today you cannot drive a car if you have been imbibing.
Roy Scheider had a nice acting run with his primary vehicle being "Jaws" of course. He was Bruce Willis before Willis came along and made the explosions even bigger. But I had problems watching him after the movie "Marathon Man" for reasons I won't explain here. Maybe you know.
Yes, "All the Way" is a most crisply executed movie. It commands your attention. It makes the civil rights heroes look like the icons they were. There is an air of triumph. The movie for its entertainment components deserves a high grade, and certainly it reflects historical accuracy. Let's take a look deeper, though. If you grew up in the 1960s you know it was no bed or roses - anything but.
 
A brief scene speaks volumes
IMHO the most striking scene in the movie is brief and may come and go in the minds of many. But that brief deliberation about the Gulf of Tonkin was ominous. LBJ is briefed about this notorious non-crisis. Ambiguity covers it all. Were U.S. interests assaulted? We're not sure. But LBJ fears being assailed by Goldwater and the political right if he is not seen as decisive. We speculate that LBJ is especially fearful because on the domestic front, he was surely pursuing left of center goals. So he was vulnerable.
Chris Matthews of MSNBC once commented that the Viet Nam war was the price we paid for moving forward on the domestic front with progressive principles. We got the Great Society, an unlikely outcome from a politician like LBJ who was from the South: Texas.
We might speculate that the '60s were simply different times: people in the know, who were really sensitive to the needs of America, were convinced something had to be done about extreme poverty and extreme racism. Johnson rammed through programs. But he was wary of the wrath from the kind of right wing hand-wringing that originated from the U.S. South, exemplified by George Wallace.
So LBJ felt he had to show assertiveness in foreign policy, as a means of trying to appease the right wing. And we paid with something like 60,000 lives lost in a sinkhole. And there was Johnson, such a powerful man who had all the political instincts, having to answer for it all. The Viet Nam war ran him instead of him running the Viet Nam war. So he was in an untenable position for the 1968 election and he bowed out.
I cannot forgive Johnson for the Viet Nam war. No matter how Cranston plied his acting talent to portray an important man, I cannot ultimately develop any sympathy for the man, who Matthews said, upon completion of the presidency, "went back to Texas and smoked himself to death."
The Viet Nam war was a specter that absolutely tainted the growing-up years of boomer males. It affected their whole course of life. It lasted so long, I expected it to last forever as a hovering sort of bad spirit. Our ultimate departure was a pathetic disaster: people clinging to helicopters which were taking off from the tops of buildings, helicopters pushed into the water off ships to make more room for refugees, partners of the U.S. effort left behind to the mercy of victorious forces. Such were the scenes ultimately bequeathed to us by the LBJ years.
Cranston projects a concerned look in the movie when he gets the dope on the Gulf of Tonkin. It seems almost like he's distracted by an uncomfortable topic, as he's working on his big domestic agenda. He seems to get talked into the assumption that something was up and we'd have to retaliate. But there is no extended curiosity to untangle the facts. The alleged Gulf of Tonkin incident did not in fact happen. The discussion in the movie comes off as fleeting and transitory. The scriptwriter did this deliberately I'm sure, to project the reckless manner in which the U.S. dove into the disastrous involvement in one of the world's least significant countries.
 
Arriving at an assessment
The passage of time often softens our view of otherwise uncomfortable things. Time heals all wounds? Shall we accept Cranston's masterful portrayal of Johnson as a brilliant political tactician and pragmatic soul? Shall we now see LBJ as more dynamic than what we thought we saw on our TV screens in the '60s? He sure didn't look dynamic. He looked like a man who smoked too much. He rode JFK's coattails into his heyday as a politician. He picked Hubert Humphrey from our Minnesota as his vice president.
Bradley Whitford does a masterful job playing the clearly liberal Humphrey in "All the Way." I loved that scene of him and LBJ in the "water car." It will stick with me. Humphrey might be a prime hero in U.S. history had he become assertive about leaving Viet Nam. He did not. He narrowly lost the 1968 election. We got civil rights for sure but wasn't that inevitable? Jim Crow had to go.
Civil rights principles appear to be hanging by a thread today. We might even regress. I'm scared by the Trump presidency. It may be an existential threat to the U.S. In which case, we may never see any movies about it. We may not have come "all the way" after all.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com