Count me among the multitudes who didn’t know Mitch Miller was still alive. May he rest in peace, wherever that may be. Like many people of the roughly Sally-and-Bobby-Draper generation, I remember the bouncing ball on “Sing Along With Mitch,” although we never sang along. Mitch and the Gang blur together with all those ’60s-era variety shows — the King Family, et al., all of which would be blown out of the water by the glorious subversiveness of “Laugh-In” and the Smothers Brothers. I loved all of it — well, not Lawrence Welk or “Hee Haw” — and sometimes I think about why.
It was the music, of course. The Smothers Brothers taught me “John Henry,” Mitch Miller “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and the King Family…can’t remember. If nothing else, they taught me that there’s no way that much yellow hair could run in one family. Although, now that I think about it, my grandmother taught me that.
Me: Isn’t it amazing that they’re all blonde?
Nana: Not when you get it out of a bottle, it isn’t.
Seriously, though, who is teaching American folk music to kids anymore? Maybe these songs were chosen precisely because they’re in the public domain, but it doesn’t change the fact they’re great songs. John Philip Sousa fretted that the rise of the phonograph would make piano playing and family singalongs in the parlor obsolete, and it took a while, but he was right. I can no more imagine the three of us harmonizing on “Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley” than I can see us forming an act and playing Vegas. For one thing, I don’t know the words. Kate, on the other hand, doesn’t know the song even exists.
Her choir’s concert last year included numbers by Leonard Cohen and Coldplay.
The best Miller obit I could find is the one linked above; like all good obituaries, it doesn’t skimp on the shadows:
He had to threaten to fire (Rosemary) Clooney before she would record the gimmicky, fast-paced song, which he insisted she sing with a fake Armenian accent. But within weeks of its release, “Come On-a My House” was one of the biggest-selling records in the country and went on to sell more than a million copies.
…Although he became a legendary A&R man, Miller’s musical tastes weren’t in sync with the changing times as rock ‘n’ roll took control of the airwaves.
Miller reportedly turned down Elvis Presley in 1955, telling Presley’s manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, that Presley was asking for too much money. And he told Buddy Holly’s manager that he wasn’t interested in Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day,” which went on to become a hit.
Simply put, Miller didn’t like rock ‘n’ roll, which he referred to as “musical illiteracy.” Time did not alter his opinion.
Maybe he thought he could wring another hit out of the public-domain songbook. There’s a danger in never looking forward.
So. Phyllis Schlafly was in town a couple weeks ago, dragging her dessicated bones to a fundraiser for some tool in Oakland County. The local Fox affiliate covered a protest afterward; evidently she said something obnoxious. I know, I know, dog bites man. I was more interested in the coverage, which was so glib and pro-forma — I believe the word “controversial” was in the copy about nine million times — and mispronounced Schlafly’s name throughout (Shaff-lee) that I didn’t pay attention to the muddy recording of her remarks:
One of the things Obama’s been doing is deliberately trying to increase the percentage of our population that is dependent on government for your living. For example, do you know what was the second biggest demographic group that voted for Obama? Obviously the blacks were the biggest demographic…
“The blacks.” Huh. Where is she still able to get her hair done like this? That’s what I’d like to know.
My alma mater is the No. 2 party school in the U.S. Well, it’s a rebuilding year, obviously.
Life imitates “The Wire,” Detroit division: Drug dealers work out of senior homes.
Finally, Jon Stewart and his new facial hair tackled Chelsea Clinton’s wedding last night, and said everything that needed to be said. Never have five photographs and a non-news event generated so much bullshit. Until the next time, of course.
UPDATE: Coozledad plunked this in comments, but it deserves better:
There really were two Americas all along, weren’t there?