Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mae West In My Ear

What a way to wake up. Mae West in my ear, inviting me to "Come up and see me sometime when I don't have anything on but the radio." No, it was no dream of a senile old coot. Nor was Mizz West literally in my ear. She wouldn't fit. Too big in all the right places. Her voice, however, was quite literally, audibly purring in my left ear at 5:30 AM.

How could this happen, you ask? Do you really want to know? I have a hearing aid that has a thing in it called a t-coil. In my Bettie Page corner, repository of thrift store electronics, home of the vintage Hammond Organ and Zenith Radio is a little black box hooked to wires running all over the house. These wires
"broadcast" whatever sound source is plugged into the box right into my ear.
Unfortunately much better known in Europe than here, the "induction loop system" is a great help to the hearing impaired. Many public buildings are looped and the wearer of a t-coil equipped hearing aid just pushes a button and what's being said is brought clearly and up close right into his or her ear. Someday, when the rockers have all lost their hearing, loops will become standard in public places as well as homes where they are a great help for talking on the phone and TV listening.

When I go to bed, I go to the Yesterday USA site, which runs old radio shows 24/7, plug it into the loop amplifier box and go to sleep listening to Jack Benny, Phil Harris, Gunsmoke, Amos 'n' Andy or whatever they are running. And that's how Mae West got into my ear. I don't know if it was that infamous Edgar Bergen show where she invited Charlie McCarthy to come over and play in her woodpile. I think it was an interview with Rudy Vallee, reminiscing about shows he did. Anyway, there she was, giving me quite a start. Quite a thing for an old guy to wake up to.

By the way, most antique radios, my big old Zenith included, are worth lots less than you think if you are planning to retire by selling grandad's old Philco. I might get 50 bucks or so for it if I could find somebody that wanted it. The exception is the rare, unusual models like the Zenith table model seen on the "Walton's" TV show or the Emerson radio from the 30s, known to collectors as the "Mae West" radio. They go for several thousand. Why do they call it the Mae West model? Use your imagination.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Horn Blows at Midnight

I have finally seen it, the 1945 Jack Benny film that he used as a running gag for decades. It's funny. It's silly. I laughed a lot. I suppose it's funnier to me because of my memory of Benny going on about what a bomb it was. Anyway, a thousand thanks to Turner Classics channel for running it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Clif's Calliope

Crazy things deejays get into. The price of stardom

Date: January, early '90s. Temp:low 20s.

This town's annual Winterfest. We borrowed the calliope from the Grand Rapids Museum. It's mounted on a pickup truck. The pipes are blown by a gasoline engine powered air compressor. I'd play for a few minutes, then go into the building to warm up. I think I tried playing with gloves on and it didn't sound all that bad, calliope music being what it is. Oh, the price you pay for being a star.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Ethnic comedy, Yiddish Dialect

Many years ago I played the Spike Jones recording of "The Tennessee Waltz" on my deejay show in Flint, Michigan. It featured a wildly exaggerated, stereotypical Yiddish Dialect by Sarah Berner, whose list of radio, film, TV and record credits is one of the longest I've seen. I thought it was hilarious, and so did all those who made it a best seller. I got a long letter from a very offended listener who wanted me to apologize and break the record. Did Berner ever wish she had not made the record?

Mickey Katz, who worked with Spike Jones on "Cocktails for Two" specialized in broken Yiddish-English material. And Fannie Brice used a pretty heavy dialect in her early recordings.

Listening to some old Jack Benny shows with Artie Auerbach's "Mr. Kitzel" character, I wonder if some listeners were offended at the time or they are now if they hear the old shows. Would that character play today? How about Mrs. Nussbaum? Not likely.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I leave that to philosophers, sociologists and commentators.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Old Age Test: Berlin and Greenwood

You know you're old when you ask a guy in his 50s if he knows anything about Irving Berlin and Kate Smith and he says they are dead people that his grandparents talk about. You know it's time to call the undertaker when you read that Lee Greenwood wrote "the greatest patriotic song of the century." I read someplace that Greenwood said God Bless America is too old fashioned and the new generation needed a song they can relate to. What sends me into a major depression is that he's probably right.