Holy Crap! We’re a WordPress “Blog of the Day”!

March 26, 2007

chart-graph-up-arrow.jpgGravy Bread just made no. 73 in the WordPress top 100 “Growing Blogs” list for March 26, 2007! Thanks to all you guys and gals who’ve stopped by. A month ago, we were logging fewer than 10 reads a day. Now there have been two days this week when we had almost a thousand a day. A lot of Elvis fans seem to be enjoying my posting about showing some respect for “the King” and a lot more are enjoying the “Mega Super Mammoth MP3 Music Blog List.”

Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?

-Evan


Pee Wee King, Foster Brooks & More “Lost Louisville”

March 26, 2007

I never was really close to my father. He worked for most of the second half of the 20th century as a blue-collar tool-and-die maker at a factory in Louisville’s West End, and became a union member and later a long-time president of his local, which made me proud of him. When I became a Reagan-voting fascist yuppie Republican in the 1980s he didn’t disown me, but tried vainly to warn me about the downside of Voodoo economics and the robber-baron philosophies that led to such things as labor unions in the first place. He knew history and reality better than I did at that point. A child of the Depression, he once told me how one Christmas he was lucky to get a banana. At the time, the idea was so foreign to me that I could only respond with a nervous laugh. When he and his union went on a lengthy strike in the early ’70s, he made sure that my sister and I were sheltered from the impact. We never noticed anything wrong or missing from our comfortable post-war Baby Boom suburban existence, even though income was not coming in. He always made sure we lived in a way that he never did as a youth. At the time, we thought the way we lived was how everyone lived. We had no clue.

Dad wasn’t much of a talker at home. He seemed to use up all his oration energy for work and union business, or for the “beer joint,” as he called it.

foster-brooks.jpgThe booze reference is appropo because one of the things that helped bond us somewhat was the Foster Brooks Pro-Celebrity Golf Tournament, a Louisville institution for a quarter century, from 1970 to 1996. We’d stroll the Hurstbourne Country Club course to stargaze and enjoy some decent golf from the pros. Bob Hope was undoubtedly the biggest star we saw there, but there were lots of others such as Alex Trebek and Jose Ferrer and Dick Butkus and Bobby Knight. (A fellow tournament attendee told me he once witnessed Hope cussing out some kid for wanting an autograph. Ah, thanks for the memory).

The golf tourney eventually ended in acrimony over where the money was going, with even Brooks himself disowning the tourney. (Brooks was a local radio/TV celeb who made it big in Vegas and took his comedy drunk act to big audiences as a regular on those fab Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts that used to turn up on NBC in the ’70s).

Even though the golf tourney brought in millions for Kosair (hospital) Charities and attracted hundreds of thousands of Louisvillians and undoubtedly led to many good times, its impact seems to have receded far and fast from the consciousness of the locals.

fosterbrooks2-crop.jpgA search for “Foster Brooks Pro-Celebrity” on Google only turns up a dozen references, most of those to people selling commemoratives on Ebay. Not one photo. Zero images of the event to be found on the ‘net. They’re all molting and fading away in photo albums all over Louisville. (We never took any; maybe there’s a program stashed away somewhere at my Mom’s house). There are people who went to most or all of these and took photos. Anyone—a local golf enthusiast retiree perhaps—up to the task of putting a Foster Brooks Pro-Celebrity memorial website online?

peeweeking.gifAnother attendee of the golf event, as well as a frequent performer on the (still-going) WHAS Crusade for Children, was Pee Wee King.

(Or maybe it was local baseball legend and Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese, or maybe it was both. I know it wasn’t Pee Wee Herman. Humor me here.)

At the time, I had no idea who the man was or why I should be impressed.

For Louisvillians of the ’50s and before, King was a big deal. Operating with his “hillbilly” band between Louisville and Naspeeweegolden-cowboys.jpghville in the ’30s and ’40s, King was a radio star, Grand Ole Opry regular and innovator of something akin to western swing. King brought drums and the electric guitar to the Opry for the first time. He had many hit records and co-wrote what became the Tennessee state song, “The Tennessee Waltz.” He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of fame in 1970.

Wikipedia and the Country Music Hall of Fame have more on him.

Ironically, even though I didn’t know who King was during those golf-event years, I had unknowingly often played one of his records as a child. It was a 1955 RCA recording of “Tweedlee Dee,” a catchy, bouncy record that highlights King’s unusual instrumentation and arrangements. You can hear/download the 45 rpm record (and its flipside) at my Outer Galaxy Lounge blog.

peeweeperforming.JPGThat was my parents’ record, as it happened. Another case of “bonding” that I didn’t know about at the time.

It also serves as a souvenir reminder to me of some of the things that are now lost in Louisville: the factories where my Dad and Mom worked, the late King and Brooks, the Pro-Celebrity, my Dad.

I’m not sure where all this is leading, but somehow I wanted to convey the idea of how this city, like all cities, is a kind of a ghost town. Where new things stand, I still see the things that once stood; think about the people and places that were. Think about my Mom and aunt and uncle, who are all in the 75- to 90-age range—part of a dwindling minority of survivors who are taking the last of the memories of what was Louisville with them.

It’s kind of a privilege really, to stand between two eras, two generations: To have some sense of my parents’ world, and to know things that my own children don’t. To be able to see a multi-dimensional world, a past and a present world co-existing—if only in my mind’s eye.

What baffles me are people who don’t care to know, or to find out.

-Evan


Enough with the Elvis Trashing, Already

March 12, 2007

Billionaire entrepreneur Robert Sillerman owns the “likeness” of Elvis Presley.

He bought it from Priscilla Presley and the Elvis estate for $100 million.

And, loathe though I am to side with monolithic corporate control of what should be public-domain national treasures, part of me is rooting for Sillerman to take decisive control of the Elvis Presley “brand.”

Why?

Because the cheap debasing of Elvis has gone on long enough. And it’s not funny anymore, folks.

elvis-bubba-hotep.jpg

Yes, I laughed at the affectionate horror-comedy film Bubba Ho-tep, with Bruce Campbell essaying a poignant serio-comic portrayal of an aged Elvis. Elvis was made fun of, but the overall film was sympathetic to Elvis and to the past, and it justly criticized society’s warehousing of the elderly.

I’ve laughed at the Flying Elvi, Elvis fat jokes and drug and toilet jokes. I even had my own “Elvis sighting” (or maybe it was Conway Twitty) and joked about it with friends.

At some point, however, the parody Elvis, or the idea of the campy Elvis has overtaken the real Elvis in the minds of the public. I daresay that for most young people now, the parody Elvis is the one that first—and probably exclusively—comes to their minds.

Mind you, I’m not one of those Elvis fans who treats the man like a religion and who deny the darker sides of the King. There’s room for Elvis parody, spoof, satire or whatever in my universe.

But at some point, it became too easy, a too-cheap shot, the proverbial shooting of the fish in the barrel.

And the 30,000 Elvis impersonators with their “homages” of varying quality have not necessarily helped matters.

(Maybe 30,000 Elvis “fans” can be wrong).

elviskydiver.jpg

What has set me off is seeing the continued proliferation of these over-the-top caricatures after watching or re-watching several of the real Elvis’ televised concerts.

Have you seen the DVDs of “Elvis, That’s the Way it Is,” or of the TV specials “1968 Comeback” or “Aloha From Hawaii”? Elvis is sensational in these programs. He could do it all. Even the big-white suited Elvis doesn’t come off campy so much as cool. Yes, I said cool.

If you haven’t seen these shows, you really are missing great entertainment. In them, Elvis looms large and commands respect. His talent is awesome.

elvis-outre-hair.jpg

I had never been a “fan” per se of Elvis before, but watching these shows converted me. It also provided me a mini-cause to try to change people’s misguided perceptions about Elvis, as an artist and showman.

Watching these shows makes you realize how far the caricatures have strayed from the real Elvis.

The proverbial last straw for me was a banner atop an mp3 site, Albumbase.com, which features yet another outrageous pompadour and white-suited Elvis caricature.

Yep, that’s original.

Here in the Louisville, Ky., area alone, several business use unauthorized depictions of Elvis to sell their wares. Here’s the website of the Third Avenue Cafe, just a mile up the road from my work on Third St. Notice the outrageous caricature of Elvis dining. I’ve been to this pseudo frou-frou eatery before; they have a mannequin suited up as the white-cloak Elvis (of course) that sits at a window seat (and outside during the summer).

This local auto dealer, Jim Butner Auto Sales, uses Elvis in its slogan and features a white-suited you know who in its TV advertising. Guess it’s easier to make fun of Elvis and divert attention from the fact that your own name is But-ner.

elvis-black-elvis.jpg

Sillerman has already indicated that the gravytrain may be ending for the Elvis impersonators. Once he gets control of the brand, only “authorized” Elvi—no doubt with a hefty kickback to Sillerman—will be allowed to publicly perform.

On this I have mixed feelings. There are no doubt some impersonators who do the King justice. Most of the ones I’ve seen, though, look ridiculous and do no service to the artist’s legacy.

But, it is America, and we’re supposed to be free to imitate the famous, to do impersonations and to look stupid doing so.

elvis-comeback.jpg

And getting the Elvi clones in line won’t do much to stop the proliferation of other goofy Elvis imagery, especially on the internet.

Maybe in getting richer, Sillerman will make the world less interesting, a little less crazy, messy and wild. Corporate control tends to do that.

But I’m not going to mourn too much if one more stupid, lame, unimaginative Elvis caricature bites the dust.

-Evan