Category Archives: Music

Chuck Berry’s Promised Land

Matt Powell

Photo by Jean-Marie Périer, 1964


Chuck Berry was a walking contradiction. An inquisitive and highly intelligent student, born into a stable middle class family, who found himself incarcerated at 19 after an armed robbery spree with a broken pistol. A black man in his thirties in Jim Crow America who found a way to speak directly, successfully, to white teenagers. A cynic with an unyielding optimism. A sensitive, introspective man with a chip on his shoulder the size of a Coupe de Ville. A bitter man with a sly and relentless sense of humor. A loner and eternal outsider, who was at times the most beloved musician in America. A self-professed lover of performing live, who often seemed to consider his audience little more than a necessary annoyance. A consummate craftsman, who seldom bothered to rehearse or even tune. His only number one record, his worst song.

He saw the highest highs and the lowest lows of the American experience – from Bandstand to Lompoc, the colored window to the Kennedy Center – and he performed at times as brilliantly and as badly as an artist can. Through it all, he did everything on his terms.

Chuck Berry was the embodiment of America, and one of its greatest chroniclers and creators. Yes, he helped create rock ‘n’ roll and heavily influenced the Beatles and Rolling Stones and everyone after. But Chuck Berry’s genius is not tied to his chosen genre nor dependant on the successes of later British bands. His genius is independent, wholly American, self-contained, and has only solidified with time.

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Magic Mindy: Kids Place Live, and the New Age of Children’s Radio Humor

“If something is really important, keep it in your underpants.” -Mindy Thomas, aka Absolutely Mindy, on Kids Place Live, Sirius XM

With all of the hyper-political parody and cunning satire currently churning through every jaded channel of irate idiot boxes and addled adult podcasts, perhaps its time to take a moment to appreciate a very different kind of humor that has been quietly, but quickly reshaping the way that many American kids and their families laugh, learn, and listen to the world around them.

Mindy Thomas, aka Absolutely Mindy, starring in the Recess Monkey video, “Flap Jacks”

Meet Mindy Thomas, the magnetic maestro behind Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live programming and the utterly enchanting spirit of early morning mayhem. As Absolutely Mindy, she helms the largely under-recognized Backseat Breakfast Club morning show on Sirius Channel 78.

The satellite radio industry has raised its fair share of eyebrows in recent years, with subscription fees, corporate mergers, and complex debates about markets and musical rights all tied to a medium that once represented the technological equivalent of free public speech. Now that the dust has settled somewhat, a number of exciting new outlets for all sorts of humor have arisen on a variety of satellite channels.

Among the most innovative and enjoyable of these forums is Kids Place Live, a channel devoted to family-friendly, G-rated kids programming that continues to surprise and delight with its frequently clever and often hilarious cast of affable characters and personalities.


More importantly, Kids Place Live has almost single-handedly inspired an explosion of diverse, dynamic children’s entertainment that rips through established genres and conventions with astonishing force.  In fact, Kids Place Live has brought safe, fun, and rewarding radio back to children in ways that other interests, from Disney to NPR, could never quite muster. Not since the fabled days of The Lone Ranger, Little Orphan Annie, and Let’s Pretend has kids’ radio been so fun, loud, and different.

Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players perform one of the many musical curtains used in the Absolutely Mindy Show

Mindy Thomas, Sirius’ perky princess of screwiness, is a revelation of light-hearted, pixie-dusted glee and her affable address to both kids and adults is laced with a beaming, witty joy that captures both the thrilling wonder and the insistent anarchy of childhood.

Billed on the Sirius website as  “a carousel of non-stop nuttiness,” Mindy’s Backseat Breakfast Club has inspired a newly imagined community of young listeners and bemused parents nationwide. Beginning at 7 am, carloads of freshly caffeinated drivers and briskly brushed offspring tune in to Mindy, sharing those last precious minutes of freedom and frolic before harsh institutional realities come crashing down with the dreaded school drop-off or deadlocked morning commute.

Not all parents are fans, and that’s just fine, but there is no denying Mindy’s intimate understanding of what makes children smile. More often than not, she takes her kooky cues from kids’ own tastes and preferences. Potty humor and “Grosser than Gross” routines are common, but so are lengthy interviews with musicians, poets, and artists. Among her audience favorites are the outrageous “Birthday Missions” announced each morning in tandem with the Mission:Impossible theme and the “Breakfast Blasts Newscasts” featuring hilarious but relevant commentary from NPR’s Guy Raz. Frequent guest appearances by her own kids, tall tales about her mobile home loving parents, and outrageous tales of the misadventures of devoted hubby, Absolutely Mister, are all loaded with mirth and mayhem. To balance out the bedlam, the Absolutely Mindy Show also features its fair share of routine “healthy lifestyle” advice done up in wacky wrapping. These include Kira Willey’s “Seatbelt Yoga Breaks” and the always astute book reviews by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author of the early readers’ Lunchlady graphic novel series.

Most importantly, though, Mindy and her media celebrate one primary theme: the  limitless fun of Play. Calling on all listeners to mess around with everyday life as imaginatively and enthusiastically as possible, Absolutely Mindy constantly celebrates the multitude of benefits, inventions, and discoveries that arise from enjoying the world around us. She urges callers of all ages and listeners of every region to try new things, share wild adventures, and, even more frequently, admit to embarrassing fears, failures, and mistakes that may somehow limit their fun. Many of the most amusing stories from excited callers are accompanied by a background of adult groans, chuckles, and gasps.  Of course, similar themes of fun and frantic comedy run through the shows hosted by Mindy’s collaborators, including Jack Forman’s Monkey House and Kenny Curtis’ neurotic menagerie, the Animal Farm. In fact, Lorenzo the haphephobic llama has become something of a super-star equal to Bugs Bunny, Sponge Bob, or Rainbow Dash in the eyes of my own children and their friends.


Music itself has changed thanks to Mindy and her maniacal crew. Screwball songs like Mike Phirman’s hilarious “Who Makes the Breakfast?”,  Joe McDermott’s “Kitty Fight,” and Andrew & Polly’s ridiculously catchy “Grapes” are now as familiar and famous among the playgroup set as Katy Perry hits or Disney tunes.

Mike Phirman’s “Who Makes the Breakfast?”

Joe McDermott’s frantic “Kitty Fight” anthem

Andrew & Polly’s infectious “Grapes”

Sure, Frozen‘s “Let it Go!” and Vanilla Ice’s tepid Teenage Turtle anthem are constantly reiterated to the delight of gazillions of kid listeners, but so are charming tracks like Kristin Andreassen’s little known marvel, “Crayola Doesn’t Make a Color for Your Eyes” and Chris Rice’s “Billy Joe MacGuffrey.” Longtime star of the children’s charts, Laurie Berkner has hosted her own Kids Place Live feature as have the Aussie imports, the Wiggles. Dozens of wonderful new bands, acts, and comedians have found broad and eager new audiences through Kids Place Live’s lollapalooza of songs, games, and skits including the popular Story Pirates, who ‘steal” the concepts for their zany plays from submissions by child listeners. Among the most engaging musical offerings are bands like Lunch Money, The Pop Ups, Mista Cookie Jar, Jazzy Ash, and Joanie Leeds. Most importantly for my own family, though, Absolutely Mindy’s marvelous mixture of the eclectic and the iconic brought us all in touch with the remarkably fresh and environmentally empowering, Grammy-winning songs of the Okee Dokee Brothers, a goofy Bluegrass comedy duo whose rich folksy anthems have forever sealed our family’s commitment to getting outside and explore the natural wonders of the nation.

Kristin Andreassen’s “Crayola Doesn’t Make a Color For Your Eyes”

Chris Rice’s full length epic, “Billy Joe McGuffrey”

The Okee Dokee Brothers’ river anthem, “Can You Canoe?”

The Okee Dokee Brothers’ revisit an American classic, “Haul Away Joe”

The Okee Dokee Brothers’ “Walking with Spring”

Mindy’s circus of sound, speech, and song on Kids Place Live might not delight every parent with its raucous address. The Backseat Breakfast Club will not speak to those adults who are too entwined within the sour spin machine of Bill Maher/Jamie Oliver/Stephen Colbert/Jon Stewart, or whatever splendorous smarm Andy Cohen and Jimmy Fallon hover over at the moment.  What it does do, however, is keep us interested in the endless potential of childhood fun, wonder, and happiness. When so much contemporary comedy is as factional, contentious, and combative as can be, the Absolutely Mindy Show is alive with mischievous innocence and family-focused frenzy. Now, that’s magic well worth keeping in your underpants!

50 Ways to Play!: Selected Sex Positive Responses to the Agony and Ignomy of “Torture Porn” Romance

Somewhere amidst all of the Superbowl spectacle, Valentine’s spooning, St Patrick’s Day carousing, Passover reflection, V-Day agitation, and Lenten abstention, a strange and somewhat sleazy new trend reached its zenith, crested, and then settled down to a steady, new buzz within our national pysche. This slightly awkward, insistently uncomfortable climax was, of course, the highly engorged premiere, ritual critical circumcision, and premature box office depletion of Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Hollywood adaptation of the opening rounds of E.L James’ titillating trilogy of triage, 50 Shades of Grey.


Though the film opened to sold-out shows on that raciest of all holiday weekends, The Guardian has more or less summed up its econo-sexual stamina down the stretch: “Dramatic plunges from its opening weekend – -73% in the US (one of the largest falls on record) and -57% overseas – suggest that it has already exhausted its core audience, the EL James faithful, let alone any casuals pulled in by the furor… Prospects-wise, Fifty Shades is no Avatar, which did a game-changing six consecutive $100+ overseas weekends – this is strict box-office wham-bam-thank-you-sir.” In short, Fifty Shades will probably come to signify the most high profile case in a very familiar syndrome that plagues America’s reactions to the uses of explicit sexuality and erotica in entertainments of all sorts.

The fact that 50 Shades – a sadomasochistic fantasy rooted in the “therapeutic” cruelty of an enigmatic, aloof tycoon and his sweet, little ingenue-cum-whipping post – has commanded such attention in all of its forms is fascinating, sensational, and like most such phenomena, a little bit sad.

Now, please don’t grab the ball-gag yet. It’s not that I disapprove of anything as exciting as a randy trilogy of explicit sexcapades that has somehow infiltrated the shelves of every major warehouse store, supermarket, airport stationer, and nightstand in the nation. Quite to the contrary, as Leslie Bennetts observes in her Entertainment Weekly feature on the 50 Shades phenomenon, “None of us will ever know how many orgasms Fifty Shades of Grey has inspired, or how much marital boredom it’s enlivened with vaginal balls and riding crops, but its impact is incalculable far beyond the bedroom.”  Far be it from me to poo-poo anything that has so vehemently and profitably fueled the free world’s sex drive. Again, Bennetts provides us with some startling numbers: “Since the first volume of E L James’ S&M trilogy was published in 2011, the books have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide and been translated into 52 languages. From the Bible to the Harry Potter series, only a handful of books have ever racked up such numbers, and no previous work of pornography has captured the erotic imagination of so many women.”

There has been more than enough curmudgeonly commentary, critique, and conflict revolving around both James’ pseudo-Sado-fiction and Taylor-Johnson’s darkly lit film. Quite honestly, the segments I read from James’ work do their job as adequately as any other artifact of arousal probably should. If you push the right narrative buttons involving suggestion, anticipation, and seduction, in nearly any order, the usual explosive results are pretty much inevitable. Or as as EW’s Lisa Schwartzbaum observes, “James may not be much of a prose stylist, but she can write an effectively dirty, hot, easy-to-read, complicated-to-accessorize sex scene when she puts her mind to it. James throws in descriptions of bondage, submission, foreplay, cosmic orgasms, private helicopters, and fine white wine. And minus the boring bits about private helicopters and tedious wine -sipping, it’s all tatty, arousing fun.” I also admit that I have not yet seen the now largely panned film adaptation, though I will probably give it a go eons after its original shock have faded through Sisyphean runs on late night cable.

I have no qualm or quarrel with the book that launched a tsunami of coital clashes, or the movie that looks like it does its best to somehow make romance out of punishing, joyless, sexual violence. No, my gripe has nothing to do with 50 Shades‘ explicitness, triteness, or brutality, though I generally prefer more actual pleasure in my private reading and personal media consumption. I am more disappointed in the simple fact that every authorized rendition of the dirty dalliances of Mr. Grey and Ms. Steele seems to lack any iota of (intentional) humor, joy, or playfulness. With all of that role play, kinky couture, and so very many scandalous props and toys, shouldn’t there be at least one non-literal gag to enjoy? Wouldn’t some part of James’ great teasing Trilogy of Tight-Knottedness celebrate the incredibly transgressive, inscrutable, unstoppable FUN of sexual experiment and erotic excitement?

Where are the farcical phallic jokes? The sloppy puns? The slippery entendres and sassy pillow talks? Where, for heaven’s sake, is the great comedy of busy bodies falling across each other in exciting ridiculous ways?  We don’t really seem to mind what’s missing either. Instead of getting hot and bothered by great sex between good people, readers and audiences are more entranced by a stiff (groaning pun intended) and icy erotic aesthetic that might be best classified as “Brain Dead Sexy.” Where is the sex farce and satyr play? Where are the May Day mummers and hot-blooded courtesans? Couldn’t Anastasia find better, more vibrant, and more virile company at Ridgemont High and wouldn’t Sob Sister Christian find riskier business during a quick power lunch at Porky’s?  More importantly, wouldn’t we all?

For the time being, 50 Shades of Grey has brought sexually intimate fiction, erotically charged art, and “pervy” non-normative forms of sexual activity and exploration into the mainstream. If there is any greater “good” that could arise from Mr. Grey’s holsters, harnesses, and harangues, it is probably the widespread lessening of our national provincialism, righteous rigidity, and pervasive hypocrisy concerning the role that sexual pleasure, erotic performance, and perverse fetishes may have in our culture and our lives. But shouldn’t humor play a leading part in that voluptuous victory of good clean vice over venal virtue? Don’t we need the aggression and anarchy of comedy to satisfy our healthy sexual hungers? Whither wag our winsome willies and why do we seem to prefer them when they are locked away in Castle Greyskull or grimly sheathed in Steele? Wouldn’t it be more fun for everyone involved to just share the warmth of some good old fashioned American cherry, apple, or banana cream pie?

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Happy Birthday, T.S. Eliot!

T.S. Eliot 1888-1965

T.S. Eliot 1888-1965

Poet T.S. Eliot was born in Saint Louis 125 years ago today. He professed that  “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” His genius for making that immediate connection with readers earned him great success.

Complex, dense poetry doesn’t often garner widespread public popularity, but  The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Wasteland certainly did.

In addition to his weighty works, he wrote some light children’s verses. The poems that made up his Old Possum’s book of Practical Cats were the basis for the musical Cats.

Here is a recording of Eliot (aka “Old Possum”) reciting an excerpt from that work:

While Eliot was fond of cats, four years ago it came to light––through the unpublished poem below––that he had a certain good-natured contempt for cows.


Of all the beasts that God allows
In England’s green and pleasant land,
I most of all dislike the Cows:
Their ways I do not understand.
It puzzles me why they should stare
At me, who am so innocent;
Their stupid gaze is hard to bear —
It’s positively truculent.
I’m very inconspicuous
And scarlet ties I never wear;
I’m not a London Transport Bus,
And yet at me they always stare.
You may reply, to fear a Cow
Is Cowardice the rustic scorns;
But still your reason must allow
That I am weak, and she has horns.
But most I am afraid when walking
With country dames in brogues and tweeds,
Who will persist in hearty talking
And stopping to discuss the breeds.
To country people Cows are mild,
And flee from any stick they throw;
But I’m a timid town bred child,
And all the cattle seem to know.
But when in fields alone I stroll,
Oh then in vain their horns are tossed,
In vain their bloodshot eyes they roll —
Of me they shall not make their boast.
Beyond the hedge or five-barred gate,
My sober wishes never stray;
In vain their prongs may lie in wait,
For I can always run away!
Or I can take sanctuary
In friendly oak or apple tree.

©The Estate of T. S. Eliot

Wendy Davis: Humorous responses in a time of passionate political debate

Tracy Wuster

Over the past few weeks here in Austin, Texas, the issue of women’s health and abortion restrictions has been front and center, becoming a national story with the dramatic filibuster of SB5 by Wendy Davis (along with Kirk Watson, Judith Zaffrini, Leticia Van De Putte, Sylvester Turner, and others).  Thousands of protesters filled the capital building, hundreds of thousands of people watched online (while CNN discussed blueberry muffins), and Wendy Davis became a national celebrity.  Witnessing these events from both inside the capital and online, I was struck by the intense passion on both sides of the issue and by the ways in which humor might both express and relieve the tension that passionate political debate creates.

wendy davis filibuster cartoon comic


I understand that the issue of abortion is sensitive, so I will stick with the humorous responses to the issue.  What struck me, as an observer, was the swift creation of humorous memes, the jokes on twitter, and the use of humor within the filibuster itself.

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Going to town on Yankee Doodle


Independence Day posed a question:

Q.) What does a poetry blogger give an internet audience who has everything?

A.) Thirty stanzas of Yankee Doodle, of course!

Below, (courtesy of “The Oxford Book of American Light Verse” 1979) is a fairly complete version of this old satirical ditty. Other stanzas, along with the song’s history, have been lost to the ravages of time. Scholars continue to dispute Yankee Doodle’s origins. The catchy tune is thought to be derived from an old folk song. The stanzas below are traceable as far back as the Seven Year’s War.

Yankee Doodle was sung by the British to mock the Americans, who then appropriated it and rewrote the lyrics in the spirit of turnabout. The rest is history . . . .
Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Yankee Doodle

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it “macaroni.”

     Chorus: (between stanzas)
     Yankee Doodle keep it up,
     Yankee Doodle dandy,
     Mind the music and the step,
     And with the girls be handy.

Father and I went down to camp,
Along with Captain Gooding,
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty pudding.

And there we saw a thousand men
As rich as Squire David,
And what they wasted every day,
I wish it could be saved.

The ‘lasses they eat it every day,
Would keep a house a winter;
They have so much, that I’ll be bound,
They eat it when they’ve mind to.

And there I see a swamping gun
Large as a log of maple,
Upon a deuced little cart,
A load for father’s cattle.

And every time they shoot it off,
It takes a horn of powder,
and makes a noise like father’s gun,
Only a nation louder.

I went as nigh to one myself
As Siah’s underpinning;
And father went as nigh again,
I thought the deuce was in  him.

Cousin Simon grew so bold,
I thought he would have cocked it;
It scared me so I shrinked it off
And hung by father’s pocket.

And Captain Davis had a gun,
He kind of clapt his hand on’t
And stuck a crooked stabbing iron
Upon the little end on’t

And there I see a pumpkin shell
As big as mother’s basin,
And every time they touched it off
They scampered like the nation.

I see a little barrel too,
The heads were made of leather;
They knocked on it with little clubs
And called the folks together.

And there was Captain Washington,
And gentle folks about him;
They say he’s grown so ‘tarnal proud
He will not ride without em’.

He got him on his meeting clothes,
Upon a slapping stallion;
He sat the world along in rows,
In hundreds and in millions.

The flaming ribbons in his hat,
They looked so tearing fine, ah!
I wanted dreadfully to get
To give to my Jemima.

I see another snarl of men
A digging graves they told me,
So ‘tarnal long, so ‘tarnal deep,
They ‘tended they should hold me.

It scared me so, I hooked it off,
Nor stopped, as I remember,
Nor turned about till I got home,
Locked up in mother’s chamber.

Older Stanzas-

Brother Ephraim sold his cow
And bought him a commission,
And then he went to Canada
To fight for the nation.

But when Ephraim he came home
He proved and arrant coward,
He wouldn’t fight the Frenchmen there
For fear of being devoured.

Sheep’s head and vinegar,
Buttermilk and tansy,
Boston is a Yankee town––
Sing Hey Doodle Dandy.

First we’ll take a pinch of snuff,
And then a drink of water,
And then we’ll say, “How do you do” ––
And that’s a Yankee’s supper.

Aminadab is just come home,
His eyes all greased with bacon,
And all the news that he could tell
Is Cape Breton is taken.

Stand up, Johnathan
Figure in they neighbor;
Vathen, stand a little off
And make the some some wider.

Christmas is a coming, boys,
We’ll go to Mother Chase’s.
And there we’ll get some sugar dram
sweetened with molasses.

Heigh ho for our Cape Cod,
Heigh ho Nantasket,
Do not let the Boston wags
Feed your oyster basket.

Pumpkin pie is very good.
And so is apple lantern,
Had you been whipped as oft as I
You’d not have been so wanton.

Uncle is a Yankee man,
In faith, he pays us all off,
And he as got a fiddle
As big as Daddy’s hog trough.

Seth’s mother went to Lynn
To by a pair of breeches,
The first time Vathen put them on
He tore out all the stitches.

Dolly Bushel let a fart.
Jenny Jones she found it,
Ambrose carried it to mill
Where Doctor Warren ground it.

Our Jemimah’s lost her mare
And can’t tell where to find her,
But she’ll come trotting by and by
And bring her tail behind her.

Two and two may go to bed,
Two and two together;
And if there is not room enough,
Lie one atop the other.


The source of all humor is not laughter, but sorrow. ~ Mark Twain

101183_c81f9951063b278f944877dcc531a961_largeIt has not been a week of laughter. The terrorist bombings in Boston last week were a troubling reminder that we live in a changed and tragic world; a world changed long enough ago we were almost getting comfortable. There have been other attacks and even more horrific tragedies in recent years, but this was a man-made explosion in the heart of an American icon and that carries with it a certain kind of pain and frustration.

The Patriot’s Day holiday in Massachusetts represents everything positive about a civilized society. Patriot’s Day is the biggest day of the year in Boston. Its origins are in tribute to the great American Revolutionary fighters and thinkers whose blood spilled upon those very same streets centuries ago, but it is mainly an excuse to drink during a weekday and watch other, more sober, people run. This itself is noble. What better way to celebrate humanity and freedom than to take a pause from work, bend a few social norms, and host a sporting event that is a testament to the human spirit, individualistic accomplishment, and the coming together of all cultures, from all corners of the globe, to compete in a non-adversarial quest using nothing extracurricular to the human body other than shorts and a pair of shoes? The genius of a marathon is that anyone can do it – you don’t have to run quickly, or run at all. You don’t even have to finish. Performances are timed, yes, but runners truly compete against only themselves. It is whatever the runner wishes to make of it. It is a mission of personal fulfillment that also happens to be witnessed by and shared with the world. For anyone to want to disrupt such a triumph with death and devastation is a painful reminder of the lowest in humanity – oppression, fanaticism, ignorance, and tyranny.

It is true that Boston has had its share of Puritan repression and racial dysfunction. But one thing quintessentially Bostonian is that Boston rejects tyranny. That is essentially its existence. Boston pride is a special breed.

When I lived in Boston I discovered harmony in the past and present coexisting; in the profound poetry of the reflection of Trinity Church in the glass exterior of the John Hancock Tower in Copley Square, mere feet from last week’s explosions. I learned that there are indeed bars where everybody knows your name and that, as my boss at the pizzeria made clear, it would be rude to not bring a pizza from the neighborhood joint where I worked for the bartender at the neighborhood joint where I drank. My boss was happy, the bartender was happy, and I was certainly happy; drinks on the house. There’s a certain cyclical poetic profoundness in that as well.

This is a humor blog and my monthly entries are about humor in music. It has been difficult to enjoy either since last Monday but in Boston you don’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself. You show your reverence for the fallen of the past – be it centuries ago or just a few days – by showing your pride for the present.

So here are five funny songs about one tough and beautiful town:

Banned in Boston – Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs

I’m proud to say that my best friends are Boston’s biggest freaks

Boston is known for its bizarre and antiquated “blue laws” (it only became legal to sell liquor on Sundays as recently as 2004 and it is still illegal to harass pigeons). This phrase dates back to the city’s puritanical roots when literary works deemed “objectionable” were forbidden. Sam the Sham was a turban-wearing, Hearse-driving, Mexican-American rock ‘n’ roll singer from Texas named Domingo Zamudio who added his name alongside the likes of Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, William Burroughs and The Everly Brothers as being a little too “weird and bearded, baby, wild and wooly” for Beantown. Now let me get up on this doctored up thunder ticket.

Boston Beans – Peggy Lee

They have Cambridge and Harvard and MIT, they didn’t have any beans for me

The “Beantown” nickname dates back to the slave trade era when the city was infused with an inordinate amount of molasses from the West Indies, which was used to sweeten a then-popular baked bean dish. Imagine Peggy Lee’s surprise to find out no one really eats Boston baked beans in Boston. They have “plenty of fish, Chinese food if that’s your dish,” but, alas, no molasses baked beans.

Dirty Water – The Standells

Frustrated women have to be in by 12:00 (ah, that’s a shame)

The Standells were from Los Angeles, not Boston. But the city’s reputation in the 1960’s for college co-ed curfews and water pollution was enough to inspire one of the coolest and most influential garage rock anthems ever waxed. It remains a staple at local sporting events.

Government Center  – The Modern Lovers

Make those secretaries feel better, when they put the stamps on the ledgers

An ode to the monotony of bureaucratic government workers’ daily doldrums. But it’s nothing a little rock ‘n’ roll can’t fix. Recorded in 1972, this proto-punk track was left off The Modern Lovers’ original eponymous 1976 release.

M.T.A. – The Kingston Trio

He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston

This colorful tale is like a musical T map – name checking Kendall Square, Jamaica Plain, Chelsea, and Roxbury – detailing the adventures of Charlie, a rider stuck on the Boston subway system unable to pay the “exit fare” increase implemented after he started his ride. Never mind that his wife could hand him the requisite extra cash instead of a sandwich at the Scollay Square (now Government Center) station each day. The song was composed in 1949 as part of a political campaign and shares a melody with the train tragedy folk classic, “Wreck of the Old 97.”  The Kingston Trio recorded the definitive version in 1959. More than half a century later, Charlie’s fate is still unlearned.

(c) 2013, Matt Powell

Roller Skating in a Buffalo Herd

He’s a nut. But he’s the most talented nut I’ve ever known. – Minnie Pearl


Roger Miller had no off switch.  In a career that took him from the dive bars of Lower Broad to the Broadway stage – amassing 11 Grammy Awards, a Tony, and his rightful place in the Country Music Hall of Fame (1995) and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1973) – he was one of those live wires directly tapped in to the pulsating energy that holds the universe together, burning white hot bright and all too brief.  When asked, those who knew him universally remember his relentless spontaneity, genius and humor.

There is nothing spontaneous about Erick, Oklahoma. The topography surrounding Erick is broad and green and endless. It stretches out for miles in every direction without relief or intermission. This was the environment where the boisterous, explosive genius spent his formative years picking cotton on his family’s farm and escaping into his overly active imagination.

What I’d do is sit around and get warm by crawling inside myself and make up stuff… I was one of those kids that never had much to say and when I did it was wrong. I always wanted attention, always was reaching and grabbing for attention.

Miller first began composing songs on the three-mile walks to his one-room country schoolhouse.  His older cousin married a local boy named Shelby who gave Miller his first guitar and, with it, his first taste of a life outside of Oklahoma. Shelby became better known as Sheb Wooley, most notably for his 1958 novelty record “The Purple People Eater” as well as dozens of film and television roles as a western character actor, including Rawhide and a memorable performance playing notorious murderer Frank Miller’s brother Ben in High Noon.

After a stint in the Army, Miller made his way to Nashville where he worked as a bellhop at the Andrew Jackson Hotel and toured as a harmony singer with Ray Price’s Cherokee Cowboys to make ends meet. He was signed to a publishing deal and in 1958 several of his songs became hits with other artists. Ray Price took “Invitation to the Blues” to #3, Ernest Tubb hit with “Half A Mind,” Faron Young cut “That’s the Way I Feel” and Jim Reeves gave Miller his first #1 record with “Billy Bayou” all in that same year.

Miller was well on his way. But he longed to be a recording artist himself, and he blew through his songwriting draw most nights at Toostie’s Orchid Lounge.

The famed honky tonk in downtown Nashville is today a soulless shell of its former self. Tootsie’s was once ground zero for Continue reading →

Happy Birthday Lawrence Welk!

Tracy Wuster

My grandma, Louise, babysat for Lawrence Welk‘s kids when she was a girl.  She lived across from Elitch Gardens, where my great-grandmother ran the roller coaster and my great-grandpa worked in the greenhouses.  Growing up, we often watched the Lawrence Welk show with grandma.

I remember laughing a lot at the show–for both the intentional humor and the unintentional.  Welk’s persona and corny jokes always made grandma laugh.  Such as:

How many of Lawrence Welk’s critics does it take to change a light bulb?

– They don’t know how to change a light bulb, but they’ll find something wrong with how his Musical Family does it


Welk continues to maintain popularity, and his fan pages are examples of humorous web design in themselves. The music and costumes were often hilarious, often unintentionally so.

Which leads to some obvious and welcome parody:

Feel free to post your own Welk pieces and humor.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to America: The Wit of The Beatles

Bodie Plecas


The Beatles were a real good thing for music, because they were funny at the same time – Randy Newman


A hard and rough port town, which offered many dead-ends and few opportunities for upward mobility, Liverpool had humor as the balm that could ease the often crushing burden of reality that was its daily milieu.

Its locals were, and are, famous for their Scouser wit – often delivered in deadpan style; it is sharp and often biting. Verbal jousting is an art form, and generally good-natured. On its dark side, Scouser wit can be a weapon intended to do damage. An overwhelmingly Irish town in the middle of the last century, the locals had some ancestral history with humor.

Even their name for themselves – Liverpudlians – is the Scouser’s inverted joke in which the pool becomes a puddle.

Why does the River Mersey run through Liverpool? Because it doesn’t want to get mugged.

In this puddle fermented with wit, where one was required to have a sharp sense of humor and judged by its quality, were born the Beatles – as individuals and a band. And like the thematic spine that runs through any good story, Scouser wit was the spine of their career – it affected every aspect of their existence as a band, to the point of being responsible for their initial success until their songwriting caught up.

John Lennon’s humor was often underpinned by the dark nature that was part of his personality. Separated from his father, left to live with his aunt by his mother, who subsequently died in a tragic accident, left by the beloved uncle who died unexpectedly, he used humor to cover the pain of abandonment by those he loved. He used it to turn his inner rage on an outside world he felt had betrayed him. Early in school that humor took increasingly sharp turns towards the surreal, and often cruel, in poems, stories, and illustrated magazines he created to communicate with the world outside.

Tragedy struck Paul McCartney as well when he lost his mother in his early teens. Always a people pleaser on the surface, his sense of humor could also be sharp and biting, but was more often obscured under layers of protection. He also came from a large, boisterous, and close knit extended family in which humor, good-natured for the most part, was the currency of affection.

Like his older friend, George Harrison came from a family that was affectionate, loud and immersed in jokes and cut-ups. Falsely referred to as the quiet Beatle, he was a talker, and his wit took a dry, sarcastic tone.

The Reeperbahn, the seedy red-light district of Hamburg where the Beatles had several lengthy stays playing at loud and often dangerous clubs, backing strippers or playing between their sets, was the anvil on which the band was hammered into what was arguably the best live band of Northern England at the time. The lubricant that greased their way through this maze of dangers and endurance was humor.

John, Paul and George quickly found their shared sense of humor helped the intense bond they shared grow. They riffed off of each other like veteran comedians, often finishing each other’s jokes and jabs. Entertaining the jaded and uninterested thugs and blue-collar workers that came to drink at the Kaiserkeller, The Top Ten Club and Star Club, took more than music – it took jokes. Lennon trotted out his well-worn cripple routine, or ridiculed the crowd with Nazi jokes and Hitler imitations. Once amphetamines entered their world, the jokes took on a manic persona and wearing a toilet seat around your head while playing in your underwear was just another tool in their entertainment chest.

It was those personalities, imbued with their unique bond and sense of comic surreality that helped Brian Epstein see their potential. But pushing them on every record label in England came to nothing for the aspiring manager with the passionate belief in his charges. His last hope was George Martin, who headed the poor relative record label Parlophone.

Martin first had success with Beyond the Fringe, a comedic stage review featuring Dudley MoorePeter Cooke and Jonathan Miller. Those records are considered a key linchpin in the ascendance of satiric humor in Britain.

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