Unfortunate Coincidences

I know I mentioned synchronicity a coupla weeks ago, but this is more unfortunate type: after admitting I had been watching Hee Haw, i spent a week, off and on, trying to quantify why. and now I find that Buck Owens has passed away. So time to stop massaging and start messaging. Here’s that piece:

So why, one might ask, am I subjecting myself to Hee Haw? That’s a good, a really good question.

Country music was a very large part of my childhood, through no choice of my own. It was inescapable, a constant presence. I recall having a radio that allowed me, as I drifted off to sleep, to pull in rock radio stations from Corpus Christi and later, San Antonio. But in the home of my parents and grandparents, country music radio was always on.

Country music should not be dismissed out of hand, as I had tendency to do in my youth. Sturgeon’s Law – that 95% of everything is crap – certainly holds, but there is much there to like. Hell, even in my staunchest anti-country days I still held Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin close to my heart, along with Marty Robbins gunslinger classics like El Paso and Running Gun. Time-Life put out some discs of “Country Gold” that I tracked down, buying the years germane to my youth, and as the song says, Bob Wills is still the King. Porter Waggoner did some incredibly dark stuff. The list goes on.

In 1970-71 – in a year marked by the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison – my family moved closer to Houston, where Hell got cranked up a notch, as the UHF station Channel 39 played nothing but country music programs all Saturday evening. The memory is mainly of pompadours and sequins – I wasn’t really watching, I was reading or writing. The whole situation was made much more tolerable by the Austin station that played two horror movies in a row after the late news, under the names Shock and Aftershock (using Black Sabbath’s eponymous song as a theme!) long after everyone else had gone to bed.

So it is no surprise that Hee Haw was a staple in my household. Conceived as a countrified alternative to Rowen & Martin’s Laugh-In, Hee Haw wore that influence rather transparently, though with a devotion to music that was sadly lacking in its NBC inspiration. Hee Haw was more of a variety show than Laugh-In, and it proved to be a powerful mixture; the show ran successfully on CBS for several years, until it was purged during a move to gentrify CBS’ programming. Undaunted, it survived many, many years in syndication.

Watching the premiere episode on Time-Life DVD was an interesting experience; there was the usual bittersweet connection with my younger self, who saw this for the first time while we were still living in south Texas. My older, more cynical self notes that the first musical interlude ever for Hee Haw – besides the theme song – was Johnny B. Goode, complete with go-go dancing, not what one would consider terribly country – but as I mentioned before, Buck Owens rocks. So does Roy Clark, though in a totally different way.

As the two hosts of Hee Haw, Owens and Clark prove absolutely the best, most canny choices; they were accomplished entertainers even before this stage of their career. For instance, there is a section of the show called “Pickin’ and Grinnin'”, which features the two um, pickin’ and grinnin’. Clark on banjo, Owens on guitar, their arms and fingers flashing across their instruments, and pausing every so often to hit us with a bad joke. Like Laugh-In, Hee Haw was the second coming of vaudeville, and most of these jokes were old during that venue; to their credit, though, Owens and Clark sell the whole thing, and look like they find the jokes genuinely funny. That’s acting.

So… much of the material could be found in dog-eared paperbacks in the Humor section of any school library, but there are bits that approach true sublimity. Archie Campbell’s barber sketches – which, as he is credited as a writer, I assume he wrote himself – have a lot of fun with the English language. There’s a continuing bit with an Antebellum Southern gentleman in white linen suit and panama hat, stepping through his front door and saying something that sounds profound but is actually ridiculous, like “The only difference between an intelligent man and a fool is that the intelligent man is a lot smarter.” – and is immediately smacked in the head with a rubber chicken. Though not in and of itself funny, the true humor comes in the resulting rearrangement of wig and hat. Visual humor – describing it never works.

Another continuing piece, “The Culhanes”, is a small masterpiece of absurdity, a soap opera composed of four Hee Haw regulars sitting on a couch and dead-panning their lines directly into the camera.

There are two song-based continuing bits that any denizen of the south of a certain age can belt out letter-perfect; for lack of any other name, these would be called “Where, O Where Are You Tonight?” and “Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me”. To my dismay, though the former is on display in great numbers in this premiere episode, the latter was apparently a later addition.

The music was a mixed bag, with Owens and Clarke turning in the strongest performances; Charlie Pride (making his national TV debut) sang two Hank Williams songs well, and Loretta Lynn, sadly, does only one forgettable song. Sheb Wooley’s in there, doing a parody of “Hello Wall”, and I find the youth-bait duo The Hagers’ “Gamblin’ Man” once again stuck in my head, just as it was way back when. Grandpa Jones does a song about liking banjo music, and it is great – Jones is another entertainer I had underestimated.

So that’s why I was watching Hee Haw. Ball’s in your court, Spiro.

And back to me in the present tense saying, rest in peace, Buck – you done good.

Zen and the Couch Potato: No Real Difference

I just had an unfortunate five-day weekend in which I did absolutely nothing, and rejoiced in the doing. Oh, I did some grocery shopping, and some reading, and got some levels in City of Heroes. But not much which could be regarded, in the main, as worthwhile. Why unfortunate, you may ask, outside the fact that I did not use that time to write the great American novel? Mainly, I was not paid for that time off. Next paycheck will be small, blue, and gasping for air.

Alone in the house, I set my surround system back up (disrupted by wifely reconstruction of the living room arrangement as “I’m so tired of this I could scream!”) and watched all three of the Matrix movies way too loud. A lot of the music on QPCR comes from these movies, and it was interesting to once more hear that in its original context. Oh, and I finally watched Serenity.

You shouldn’t be surprised it took me this long; it just hit the pre-viewed disc racks. I never got into Firefly because, at the time, I was working Friday evenings. I managed to get in a couple of episodes before it was cancelled, one of which caused me to go, hm, interesting, and another which made me go meh. Serenity, though, I really enjoyed; Joss Whedon did an excellent job of filling the newbs in on what was going on in the universe, and I really have to take my hat off to all the FX houses that worked on the digital scenes – spaceships in the cold void are not so hard, making them look real in an atmosphere – that’s tricky, and they did it very, very well.

That, and I drool uncontrollably whenever I see Gina Torres. Sigh…

I also watched the premiere episode of Hee Haw. Because I could. And because Buck Owens rocks. But that… is a rumination for another time.

I Tell You This

The Great Outdoor Fight may very well be this generation’s Iliad.

Absolutely no one asked for this, but here it is anyway. I mentioned earlier that synchronicity is one of the few things that makes life worth living… so what are the other things?


1. Absurdly bad movies.

2. Gazangas

3. General Tso’s Chicken.

4. …

I’m still workin’ on it.

Splenetic 101

I wrote this last week – then, having gotten that load off my chest, I decided to let it just sit on my hard drive, where it would not crank up ennui a notch or two. Then I was awakened at 4:00 am this morning with the sure knowledge that what had been bugging me a bit lately was the onset of a combination of a sinus infection and an infected tooth. SO screw you all, you’re getting the whole spiteful thing:

Everybody knows that Mondays suck. They suck out loud. They suck more than the Queen of Suckland during the High Feast of Saint Suck, to put it in Harry Knowles terms. Yet I suppose it took working full-time in an office once more to really prove to me how much that is true – to give a quantitative overview, to put it in academic terms.

But what I had somehow managed to forget – since, let’s face it, the basic Mondays Suck paradigm is now written into our genetic code, like don’t pick up snakes or jumping off cliffs is not a good idea– what I had managed to forget was that each and every one has its own character – each one manages to suck in a fiercely individual way, and like the wily opponent it is, each Monday seeks to outflank me and take me by surprise.

Working in an office with an off-kilter schedule has not helped, either. We are generally closed on Wednesdays, with the intriguing effect that Tuesday becomes an odd mixture of Monday, Part Two and False Friday. And Thursday becomes Second Monday. One day a month we work a half-Wednesday and a half-Saturday, creating strange, hellish vistas in which Monday has somehow become extended, because these truncated weeklets themselves have become longer. Case in point: next week, when I will be sitting in that office for five days in a row. Anywhere, this is the norm; here, it is horrible, seemingly unending drudgery.

You might think I hate this job. I suppose you are right, though on balance, there are certainly jobs I have hated more. It has enabled me to hone my skills as a clockwatcher. And as far as increasing my endurance for misery goes, well, no one has yet offered me an hourly wage for holding my hand over an open flame, but this comes close. At best, it forces me to be open and social; I had a nasty little flirtation with agoraphobia last year, because my last gig allowed me to become so insular.

As I sit here – deliberately ignoring some tedium disguised as paperwork – well, okay, a stack of bills to be triaged and sent out, so that I may become the most Beloved Man in America. Give it two days for delivery, then let the angry phone calls begin. I feel fine letting two-thirds of that stack fester over the weekend, since already, at 4:15 on a Friday afternoon, it has been a week to inspire shooting rampages. And keep in mind, I got my Wednesday off.

Not helping things – feel free to click away if this is becoming tedious – I have once more received a phone call from the dinner theater I quit last summer – almost a year ago – omigawd, we need an actor tomorrow night, omigawd you’re the only one who can save us aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

I hate these shows, I hate that particular medium (“interactive murder mystery” – pfagh!), I hate this. Three good reasons why I quit. Yet somehow these crises continue to develop, and I continue to get the Help Me Obi Wan entreaties, calling me away when I have company from out of town, or on my wife’s birthday, for God’s sake (four good reasons). The only reason I continue to come to these people’s rescue – besides being cursed with conscience – is they’ve started throwing a ridiculous amount of money at me for pulling their fat out of the fire.
But this has not raised my spirits one bit. In fact, it dropped my spirits in the dirt and proceeded to grind them underfoot. Oh, good. Two jobs I hate.

My son’s eighth birthday is this weekend (so of course I got the call. I should schedule open-heart surgery, just to see if I get the call). I was supposed to go straight from the office to his birthday party – well, his party with his schoolmates – so naturally the emergency calls have come hard and fast. There wouldn’t have been any cake or pizza left by the time I got there, anyway.

Oooh, I’m a bitter little pill. Time to go over to Cute Overload and zen out.

Back to the present. If there is one thing the throbbing swollen mass of my face has allowed me to do, it is to bypass my usual censors and actually glare at people who have insisted on parading their idiocy before my little window today.

One gleam of positiveness, before I take more antibiotics and painkillers: I have already told you of the wonder that is Achewood and The Great Outdoor Fight, whose motto is “Three Days, Three Acres, Three Thousand Men”. Now, I have often said that one of the few things that makes life worth living is Synchronicity, so how cool is it that my friend Chris Holland is pimping a movie called The Outdoorsmen, whose slogan is “10 Men, 15 Events, 32 Cases of Beer”. Coincidence… or hellish design? You can find out easily, since the first six minutes of the movie are available online. I also insist you watch “Big Fat Corporate Hollywood” because it made me laugh.