Good Question

Looking through an old notebook recently, I found this comment from a local high school teacher, dated August 5, 2002: “One of my 9th grade students said to me the other day, ‘I’ve always wondered — is the United States a country?'”

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The Times that Try Men’s Bones

Into The Great Debate, his 2014 book about Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, Yuval Levin stuffed a lot of fascinating history, politics, and philosophy. At the beginning of his Conclusion, Levin also tells the bizarre story of what happened to both men after they died (Burke in 1797, Paine in 1809).

Burke worried that if the French revolutionaries and their followers came across the English Channel and took charge in Britain, “they would exhume his body from its resting place to make an example of their staunch opponent.” Because of this, he wanted to be buried in an unmarked grave, apart from where his son and wife would end up, but his descendants ignored his wishes.

Paine, on the other hand, feared that his enemies, upset by his writings against religion, might also come after his body. Feeling they might “be deterred only by the sanctity of a Christian cemetery,” he petitioned the Quakers, asking if they would “admit a person to be buried in their burying ground who does not belong to their Society.” If not, he said, he’d like to be laid to rest on his farm in New Rochelle, NY. Which is what happened, after the Quakers said no thanks.

Ten years later, ironically, Paine’s body was dug up, secretly – not by his enemies but by an English radical who wanted to return it overseas to serve as the centerpiece of “a glorious memorial to his hero. But Paine’s antimonarchical views had not been forgotten in Britain, and the government refused to permit a monument…. Worse yet, Paine’s remains were eventually lost. Their final disposition remains unknown to this day.”

The findagrave.com site adds to the story, reporting that one theory claims Paine’s body was lost in transit. Another says that the grave robber, finding no one interested in his proposed memorial, kept the Paine remains in a trunk in his attic, and after his death his son started auctioning it off in various bits and pieces. “A minister in England claims he has Paine’s skull and right hand; an English woman insists she has his jawbone. Others claim to have buttons constructed from the bones. The Thomas Paine Museum states it has the brain stem buried in a secret location on the property.”

A March, 2001 article in The New York Times also mentions the hidden brain stem, and adds that “In 1987, a Sydney [Australia] businessmen claimed that he had purchased Paine’s skull while on vacation in London.”

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The Hole Story

A MetaFilter post yesterday pointed readers to the Royal Albert Hall’s website, and its announcement that recently found documents showed officials there had not been pleased when the Beatles’s classic song A Day in the Life implied that the hall was full of holes. An outraged letter written in May 1967 to the group’s manager Brian Epstein, signed by chief executive Ernest O’Follipar, helped clear things up when readers realized a) that it was April 1st, and b) the letters in ‘O’Follipar’ sorted themselves into ‘April Fool.’

The MeFi discussion about “how many holes it takes” reminded me of the sight gag from the Sea of Holes in the 1968 cartoon adventure Yellow Submarine, when Ringo discovers he has “a hole in me pocket.” Reading more about the making of the movie, I found this remarkable story about the voice actors impersonating the Beatles:

“One of the quartet, Peter Batten, has completely disappeared. Director George Dunning had overheard Batten talking in a Liverpudlian accent in a London pub. He cast him on the spot as George Harrison, although Batten had never acted before. Towards the end of the production, Batten was in bed with one of the young women on the production team when the military police burst in and arrested him for desertion. He has not been seen or heard of since.”

According to the Wikipedia, from then on the actor pretending to be Ringo had to pretend to be George as well.

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My New Favorite Question

YouTube guessed I might be interested in a 1983 Stan Getz/Chet Baker concert filmed in Stockholm – which I was, since Getz is one of my favorite saxophone players. I like Baker, too, except for his singing, which drives me up the proverbial wall. (I especially love the records Baker made in the 1950s with another one of my favorite saxophone players: Gerry Mulligan. It’s hard to believe cool jazz ever got cooler than this.)

My favorite moment of the broadcast, though, came outside the theater. Before the music started, an interviewer cornered Getz and asked a string of mundane questions, while Stan watched him intently, looking like a man constantly trying to remember to stay civil. The first question – “Here we are. Do you know where we are?” – seemed especially gratuitous, until I realized the interviewer was trying to joke with Getz about them being in ‘Gamla Stan,’ Stockholm’s ‘old town.’

The interview took place in English, with Swedish subtitles, and included near its beginning a question about Getz’s first trip to Sweden in 1950. The man asked it this way: “And where did you came?”

In Swedish, it’s “Och var var du då?”

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What’s in a Name?

I just finishing reading Heather Cox Richardson’s To Make Men Free (2014), a history of the Republican Party that goes in “seemingly endless circles,” whose policies “in the first decade of the new century” yet again have led to “the abandonment by the party of its founding principles, the precipitation of an economic crash, and a transfer of power to the Democrats.”

In chapter four, Richardson brings up Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist who assassinated President William McKinley in early September 1901, opening the door for Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt to move into the White House. Czolgosz, she explains, is pronounced “Cho-goss.” (Other people, online, say it sounds more like “Chol-gosh.”)

Interestingly, the Wikipedia says that when Leon’s father emigrated to the U.S., most likely in the 1860s, from what is now Belarus, his last name was Zholhus. He ‘Americanized’ it to Czolgosz.

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I Guess You Could Say That

Aquarium Drunkard yesterday pointed readers at “I’m Gonna Booglarize You, Baby,” a 1972 Captain Beefheart song from Germany posted on YouTube in the ‘Comedy’ category. (Speaking of comedy, it’s funny to watch Captain B. in Germany and learn that this was him attempting to be ‘normal,’ in order to sell more records. All four songs from that TV date can be seen here.)

I didn’t pay much attention to Beefheart back in ’72 – he didn’t make a lot of sense to me in those days, and I suspected that many people only pretended to like his music in order to seem ‘hip.’ In any case, I was interested to read the Wikipedia entry for The Spotlight Kid, the album that the Captain (aka Don Van Vliet) was touring Europe to promote at the time.

I’ve been so clueless about this stuff that I’ve never realized that Zoot Horn Rollo (aka Bill Harkleroad) was a guitar player. My favorite part of the entry, mentioning how terribly Beefheart treated his Magic Band, notes that “the worst of this was directed toward Harkleroad. In his autobiography Harkleroad recalled being thrown into a dumpster, an act he interpreted as having metaphorical intent.” [my emphasis]

Yeah, getting trashed is pretty metaphorical, all right.

p.s. Apparently there’s only one copy of Rollo’s 1998 autobiography, Lunar Notes, in a library in the entire state of Maine. No surprise – it’s at the University of Maine/Machias, where the music department is headed by someone even more hip than Captain Beefheart, my musical hero Professor Gene Nichols.

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Mind Bending

Having some trouble lately deciding which of my thousands of records – remember them, before CDs? – to listen to, I’ve started pulling albums at random off the shelves, then working my way down the alphabet. Which means that one day last week I listened to, in order: Free, the Freedom Sounds (led by trombonist Wayne Henderson), Fresh Air (the group’s self-titled record from 1973, not the radio show), Dean Friedman, and Kinky Friedman, stopping for the afternoon before I got to Donnie Fritts and Lefty Frizzell.

Two days later (starting one to the right of Nick Drake) I got Dreams, Les Dudek, The Dudes, Dave Dudley, and Urszula Dudziak. A few days ago I pulled out the soundtrack for To Sir With Love (between Peter Tosh and Tower of Power) and got sidetracked without going any further. It’s a pretty quick listen – three of the tracks are the same title song sung by Lulu, three other musical excerpts are less than a minute long, and four more less than two minutes each. And yes, it’s pretty sappy, but I had much less trouble being sappy in 1967. (I also liked the movie back then.)

Track #4, Off and Running, turned out to be an actual song by The Mindbenders, a group I usually enjoyed, even though I don’t seem to have any of their records. Which made me think, as one often does these days about 60s rock musicians, “Whatever happened to Wayne Fontana? Is he even still alive?”

After a little investigating (thanks mostly to the Wikipedia), I discovered these 10 interesting things:

1) Lulu’s title song, co-written by her manager’s husband, not only was a smash hit, but turned out to be the #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 for the entire year. It was #1 for more than a month, following The Letter by the Box Tops and preceding Incense and Peppermints, by the Strawberry Alarm Clock. (I would go put on the latter album right now, except – if you can believe this – I’ve actually listened to it recently.)
2) To Sir With Love, remarkably, is the only record in history that hit #1 in the U.S. while never making the charts at all in England.
3) Wayne Fontana (real name Glyn Geoffrey Ellis) is still alive, age 68 these days. He picked his stage name, some say, in homage to Elvis Presley’s long-time drummer D. J. Fontana.
4) Together Elvis and D.J. made over 450 (!) recordings, including Hound Dog, All Shook Up, Love Me Tender, Heartbreak Hotel, and Jailhouse Rock.
5) Others say Fontana picked his name from his record company – coincidently, the label that released the To Sir With Love soundtrack. It started in the 1950s in Europe as a subsidiary of the Dutch record label Philips, and in the early 1960s became a subsidiary of Mercury Records in the U.S. (A Fontana history.)
6) The Mindbenders (great name, by the way) picked their name because of a 1964 brainwashing movie I’d never heard of before.
7) By the time To Sir With Love was recorded, Wayne Fontana wasn’t even in The Mindbenders any more. Two years earlier, deciding to go solo, he’d left the band he created as his backing group.
8) In 2005, when Fontana (the man, not the label) was trying to fight off bankruptcy, and bailiffs came to his house, he set one of their cars on fire, with a bailiff seated inside it.
9) Summonsed to court on subsequent charges, Fontana came “dressed as Lady Justice, complete with a sword, scales, crown, cape and dark glasses, and claiming ‘justice is blind.’”
10) Wayne/Glyn later moved to Spain but, upon coming back to Manchester to perform at an oldies show in March 2011, was led off in handcuffs by the police before going onstage, because of failure to appear in court concerning an unpaid speeding ticket. It later was determined that the reason Fontana hadn’t paid the ticket was because no one ever had issued it to him, and his record (no, not that kind of record) was cleared.

(The only thing that could make that last story better is if the police, asked for comment, said, “Um, um, um, um, um, um.”)

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