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Whump-pa-pum | The Bleat.

Summer ended as it usually does: drinks and meat with friends, the drive home in the dusk lamenting the return to school and work, the nip in the air, the sense of dim acceptance of the ruminative season ahead, and the discovery of a forgotten, completed novel. You know how it goes. This novel was banged out in 1996, and once it’s improved and desuckified, it fits into the series, too. So I should have four ready to roll by spring. A series rolled out in ebook form on Amazon, spaced every four months. A year of novels. Instant catalog.

I’m sorry, five novels: “Falling Up the Stairs” fits into the sequence, too. All I need now is a title to hold them all together.

Prime job this weekend: the lawn. We have some dead spots. The trees, the shade, the stony ground – there are vast swatches of the Hill that defy growth. Last year I had TruGreen come in, and they guaranteed growth. Let’s just say I didn’t renew with TruGreen this year. So: fall seeding! Went to Home Depot on a cool but sunny day, bought the requisites, and picked up – on a lark – some sod for a bare patch. There was a woman loading sod into her car.

“It’s like giant dirt Tootsie Rolls!” I said. She laughed. So I pushed the moment, and ruined it: “They make such nice carpets in the hallway, but they always turn brown after a week.”

I got a look. Okay, whatever. Went home, laid the sod. It probably won’t work, but at least I prepped the area for drastic seeding next spring. The Hill was the real challenge, and I spent all of Sunday afternoon raking it up, scouring the ground, listening to old radio shows, seeding, dumping dirt, sprinkling. I have hopes. High hopes. Whoops, there goes another rubber tree plant.

I should note I hate that song. I became aware of it later, with its Kennedy connotations, and could not possibly figure out why a rubber tree plant should go anywhere, let alone why I should think “whoops.” The original:

And the 1960 Sinatra contribution for Bad-Back Jack: (a fresh No-Prize to the first Bleatnik who identifies the source of that phrase)

Anyway. Let’s see if it works. I put down enough seed to make a desert bloom – but even then I worried. Too much seed? Not enough? Too much water? Not enough?

Why can’t the land just figure this out for itself?

I saw a video the other day of some young fellow ranting with great passion against the American Lawn, which of course symbolized everything wrong with America. It’s unnatural! It’s false! It’s wrong! I feel bad for people who expend so much emotional and psychological energy on other people’s lawns. I don’t expect mine to be lush and perfect; just want it to be Green. Is that still okay?

Busy weekend all around: mother-in-law’s here, so they painted my daughter’s room. Blue. Or “Ba-loo,” as we say, simply because that was the pronunciation of the word by an unctuous voice-over artist on a Winnie-The-Pooh game she had as a kid, and while she doesn’t remember it, I do. It’s also the name of the bear in the “Jungle Book,” of course. I had no idea as a kid that the voice was done by Phil Harris – or rather, the name on the album sleeve meant nothing. Had no idea who the Mouth of the South was, of course, but parents would. An adult could plug Harris’ person into “Bare Necessities” in a way a kid couldn’t. Phil was the breezy bandmaster on the Benny show, and then the star of his own show with Alice Faye. Both are rare examples of old radio comedies that still work.

Louis Prima was the ape, and while he never had a big radio run, the voice would have been familiar. Let’s see, Jungle Book was what, ’67? So we’re 20 years and change past the heyday. Make it 25. So it’s like kids today hearing voice-overs from artists best known in 1986. But as I’ve said before: from here to ’86, it’s a stroll. From ‘67 to ‘41: a leap over the Grand Canyon. So much changed. Color media, TV, polyester, vodka, Playboy, rockets.

The thing is: I grew up unaware that Harris did “The Thing” before Danny Kaye. As a kid I loved the single. Phil sings it the way he sings everything: straight ahead and bright, straight ahead with all the brass he has:

The Danny Kaye version has a nice modulation; I’ll give it that. The ending’s better. As much as I love Phil Harris, it’s probably the best version of them all. It’s HERE.

A blues version? Yes. It lacks the whump-de-whump, but it’s so smooth and swank I don’t mind.

Is there a flying saucer version that uses the sped-up falsetto popular in mid-60s novelty records, unable to reconcile the melody with the minor key arrangement? There is!

To be fair, Harris rereleased the song in ’59 with a sped-up novelty voice that said “pum-pe-pum.”

What was in the box? No one knows, but it was later moved to a briefcase in “Pulp Fiction.”

(By the way, just to show that the pre-war / war and post-war eras are sometimes closer together culturally than I suggest: Phil Harris’ writer on his show was Dick Chevillat, head writer for “Green Acres.” It makes sense – “Green Acres” could have easily been an old radio show, since it consisted of stock characters standing in one place having set-piece conversations based on the characters’ attributes. Old radio was like that: here comes the Conniver! Here comes the Comical Gangster! Here comes the Jew! Here comes the Italian! Here comes the busybody! Here comes the drunk! And then there’d be a bit.

The Comical Gangster, by the way, was either played by, or based on the vocal mannerisms of, Sheldon Leonard. Who did . . . well, you know. The talent of old radio was a tidal force; made it inland to the 60s before it went out for good. I’d guess the intersection of the two mediums is something about .0005% of the population knows. And why should they? It doesn’t matter. Except, perhaps, that it’s interesting. When I was growing up, radio was three things: music, the boring farm report (hogs and barrows standing steady) and Paul Harvey. Its history as a narrative medium was unknown. If you became aware of it later, you could conclude from the discussion that the entirety of pre-rock radio consisted of “The Shadow” and “War of the Worlds.”

Oh: a connection. One of the old radio shows I listened to while I raked and seeded was a “Whistler,” a few moments of which you hear in “Chinatown” when Jake is driving around LA. The show had a police detective named “William Conrad,” played by . . . William Conrad. But then I listened to a “Suspense” – a show that ran from the 40s to the 60s – and I stopped when they listed the cast, leaned on my rake, and smiled. The female character was played, and played very well, by a woman who would be forgotten by everyone for 56 years. Until.

Updates this week will be spotty. Lots of behind-the-scenes work, including a long-threatened project that just needs to be done. And I’m elbow-deep in the novel. Big deal on Tuesday: I’m moving desks at work. Again. This may be the best. But that’s tomorrow’s Bleat. Have a grand day!

 

47 Responses to Whump-pa-pum

  1. ExGeeEye says:

    As a resident of a Portable Suburb, or Manufactured Housing Community– aw heck, its a trailer park– I have the distinct pleasure of being able to mow my WHOLE LAWN in under ten minutes.

    Of course, the normal-living-room-sized patch of green is subject to the same troubles as any other Fescue Farm: bare spots, weeds of various kinds, dandelion attacks and so on. Given the size and cost of most remedies, I have in recent years held myself content if the sward was mostly green, but the weeds have grown so much as to take “first” place in the list of plant types, and the yard looks less like a lawn and more like a collection of leafy….things.

    I may spray in the spring. Or not.

  2. Lileks
    I saw a video the other day of some young fellow ranting with great passion against the American Lawn, which of course symbolized everything wrong with America. It’s unnatural! It’s false! It’s wrong!

    Well, as an American, the reason I want to have a nice, verdant, so-dark-green-it’s-almost-black lawn, is because, I can.

    Our lawn was immaculate. Until we had children, and time became a precious commodity. Had a lawn service for a few years just so I could keep up with it, and still have time to actually *do things* with the family. Now we have a simple green lawn. That still takes me 2 hours to mow, front and back, upper yard, and lower yard. I miss my lawn service. It’s been a brutal recession.

    We painted the 10 year old’s room a sky blue last month. For the previous 10 years it had been a warm, bright yellow. Perfect for a little girl. Sadly, she has let us know she’s not a little girl any more.

  3. Philip Scott Thomas says:

    “Green Acres” could have easily been an old radio show

    “Green Acres” was an old radio show. Eddie Albert’s character was played by the darn-near-ubiquitous Gale Gordon. It wasn’t very good or very funny. There’s still a few episodes haunting the internet here and there.

  4. Poagao says:

    My first thought for “whump de dump” was “severed head”. My second thought was “Oh, he must have never seen Se7en.”

  5. Cory says:

    Actually what was in the box was originally in a suitcase in Kiss Me Deadly in 1955 but Ralph Meeker had it moved to the box and then it was moved to the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.
    By that time it had lost much of its original pum-pe-pum (perhaps half-life decay)

  6. GardenStater says:

    When I read “Whump-pa-pum,” I thought perhaps OGH had solved the Mystery of the Midnight Hammer.

  7. stinkybisquit says:

    http://www.archive.org/details/OtrGranbysGreenAcres
    Something I rarely say: nowhere as good as the tv show.
    Especially the earlier show, where Oliver is prophetically inundated with ridiculous government regulations.

  8. PersonFromPorlock says:

    Well, my lawn’s green but that’s because it’s basically a hayfield with pretensions: It doesn’t repay close examination and it’ll never be a proper place for cucumber sandwiches.

    Your land, incidentally, has figured it out for itself. It likes bare spots.

  9. Bob Lipton says:

    That’s a MacGuffin in the box.

    Bob

  10. ExGeeEye says:

    mmmm….Egg MacGuffin…with a hot cuppa coughie…

  11. mikec says:

    Ah Phil Harris – when I saw that name I knew I remembered it from somewhere – then you mentioned Benny. Of course! Benny’s hard drinking band leader. I’m been meaning to look up & listen to his shows that he did by himself – also the shows that the ‘kid’ tenor Dennis (LNU?) did.

    As to shows on the the radio, I am (I think) just a tad younger than James, but in the south, I can remember ‘Chicken Man’ in the the mornings and CBS Mystery Radio Theater about once or twice a week in the evenings. I did hear The Whistler’ and ‘The Shadow’ as a kid, but only because I checked the tapes of them out of the library…

  12. stinkybisquit says:

    The comic timing between Harris and Elliot Lewis as Remley on the Harris/ Faye show was impeccable.

  13. Velociman says:

    “Bad-Back Jack” was a phrase used by one of the characters in Ellroy’s American Tabloid. Kemper Boyd? Maybe Pete Bondurant but I believe it was Boyd.

  14. DrBear says:

    Of course, I was beaten to the Granby’s references…

    Is that an old Red Owl on today’s Bleat header? I remember a store in Appleton (WI not MN) that looked just like that, with the Owl where Reddy’s heddy is.

  15. Mxymaster says:

    The Mpls Pentalogy! (Like Davies’s Salterton Trilogy.)

  16. Ron Moses says:

    > A series rolled out in ebook form on Amazon

    Any hope for us Luddites? As much as I would love to read the books, I’d rather, you know, read books.

  17. hpoulter says:

    Severed head? As Lileks pointed out in an old Diner, there is a severed head sound effect in Symphonie Fantastique, but it sounds more like “diddle-ump Dump”.

    4:36 here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myyGO37R9Qw

  18. hpoulter says:

    Phil was a band leader, not a comedian, until he was trained by Benny. In his early shows, he had little to say, and they tried out various characters on him, including as a menacing bully (which is also one of the characters Benny tried out for Don Wilson at first) until they found his natural fit – cornball southern boozehound and jive talker. His real name, let it never be forgotten – Wonga Philip Harris.

  19. Erin says:

    Garden Stater–check out OGH’s Twitter feed–mystery solved and we can all breathe a little easier now! But then again, I’m kind of sorry that it’s over….

  20. Tracy says:

    “Why can’t the land just figure this out for itself?”

    Well, I think it has – it’s telling you it doesn’t want to be lawn.

  21. DerKase says:

    Minneapolis Trilogy.
    Like Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker Trilogy, it has five books.

    I always associate whump-pa-pum with that horrible Little Drummer Boy, but needs another pum, Thank Crom the Bleat was not about that.

    Enjoyed the video in yesterday’s Bleat, which I didn’t read until today. Classic Lileks reportage.

  22. wiredog says:

    Lawns full of green grass are fine, in their place. That place is not the American Southwest. I visit Dad in Utah and marvel at the green lawns, watered for an hour a day. Then I read about declining water tables. Then someone complains that their fascist (or possibly communist) HOA in St. George insists on xeriscaping.

    Here in NoVa green lawns are easy.

    Interesting piece by Chris Hitchens at Slate on 9/11:
    http://www.slate.com/id/2303013/

  23. gemartini says:

    Seed sacks, old radio, voice mannerisms, farm report. Brought back memories of the morning livestock report on KFGO radio by Norbert Miller. Now, there was a voice.

  24. Al Federber says:

    The song “High Hopes” is indeed hateable. It’s not as bad as “If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked a Cake”, but close.

    No TV for me until about 1957, so I got in on the tail-end of real radio. I’m grateful for that.

  25. The Bare Necessities was a perfect fit for Phil Harris style in “Jungle Book”.

    IIRC Harris spent so much time being funny on Jack Benny that someone else actually had to do the band leader work.

  26. Sam L. says:

    Ah, yes, Chickenman. And Amazon Ace, Heard those on KFI in LA in the early ’80s, Also Lohman & Barkley’s Light Of My Life episodes.

    One day in Tucson, I heard a “farm report” talking about owls and snakes: “cutters and canners up 5 cents”.

  27. hpoulter says:

    @bgbear – YRC. Mahlon Merrick had to take over as orchestra leader, although they still pretended it was Phil. At the same time, the band morphed from a hot swing band to a generic radio show “orchestra”.

  28. swschrad says:

    title to hold them all together: all together now, old downtown Minneapolis fiends; A Whale Of A Drink! for a whale of a drunk.

    the Red Owl warehouses weren’t as big as that store diagram. I immediately knew it was an Owl by the light standard.

    I have a car full of 2x4s and insulation this morning… I should build a fine plush office… at the office. probably get it ready for vinyl wallpaper and thick plush carpet just in time to get my knee routed, and be out a week.

  29. rivlax says:

    One of by dad’s old jokes: Did you know that Alice Faye had a brother named Art? [pum-pe-pum, ching!]

  30. Chas C-Q says:

    Do y’all “Chickenman” aficionados also remember “The Secret Adventures of the Tooth Fairy” (also by Dick Orkin)? I heard the later one in first run first. When I finally got to Chickenman on a classic rock station in the ’80s, I thought it sounded kind’a familiar …

  31. If I had to choose, I’d listen to the abysmal High Hopes for an entire day before I’d consider one rendition of the execrable Come On-a My House.

    Regarding Phil Harris, as I recall in addition to The Jungle Book, his career also had a resurgence of sorts on American Sportsman, wherein each week he and Curt Gowdy set about decimating the North American mallard and buck population.

    And Green Acres, viewed correctly, was pure 60′s surrealism (which I enjoyed on many levels) ably graced by Eva Gabor strolling the grounds in filmy nightgowns (which I LOVED on a very basic level).

  32. There was also an immigration of writers from the Burns and Allen Show to Green Acres. It explains how Eva Gabor as Lisa Douglas became a Hungarian Gracie (she wasn’t too silly in the first few shows, just out of place).

  33. Philip Scott Thomas says:

    Did you know that Alice Faye had a brother named Art?

    I’m quite embarrassed to say that it took a full twenty minutes for me to get that one.

  34. PersonFromPorlock says:

    A pig-Latin pun? The mind oggles-bay.

  35. JohnW says:

    “…and with Raol Feldheiser on the Mammoth Dental Organ.”

  36. Chas C-Q says:

    JohnW: :-D

    Orkin is one of those unmistakeable voices. I remember hearing him in lots of ads before I had any idea who he was. In the last few years he did spots for an employment agency, including one wherein he is a businessman who is devastated that his office manager (“Mom”) is leaving for a cruise with some guy she’d just met. ;-)

  37. shesnailie says:

    _@_v – whump-pa-pum sounds like the sound effect for this pleasant little bedtime story

  38. swschrad says:

    @ChasC-Q, John W: Orkin has been a staple of the radio biz since the 60s, when ChickenMan originally aired.

    @rivlax, Philip Scott Thomas: I don’t get it. art faye? I don’t get it.

    “faye-art,” hail, boah, now Ah get that. gots to git me some uh that Hillbilly Handfishin, all y’awls.

  39. Michael says:

    I don’t know if you remember this, but you once talked about the an early 1990′s cartoon show called “TailSpin” on the Diner back when it was still on the radio. The show featured Baloo the Bear as a cargo pilot and had a real 1930′s-40′s feel to it. According to IMDB Disney originally wanted Phil Harris to do Baloo’s voice, but when he proved to be too infirm they went with an actor named Ed Gilbert. Supposedly he listened to Phil’s old records over and over to get voice right. I think he did a pretty good job.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Qb-ctszQPY&feature=related

  40. fizzbin says:

    Ha, The Thing! I haven’t thought about that in a coons age. When I asked my dear mama what it was, she paused the martini half way to her lips and said “use your imagination”. Wrong thing to say, for even at that tender age I was a right bast*rd, as the Saxons would say.

    I first made acquaintance with Chicken Man (HE’S EVERYWHERE, HE’S EVERYWHERE!!) in the summer of ’68 (Ohoooo, what a ride) whilst lying in a wet paddy flavored with a savory blend of human and water buffalo poop. We could not keep up with the Man because we were…rather busy that summer, heh. I understand a complete CD set is available from the owner, but the price is unacceptable, IMO.

    Too bad the Mystery Hammerer has been found out. Life needs mysteries. ‘Course, JFK was killed by a lone gunman AND by multiple gunmen, so there is hope.

  41. RWH says:

    I like a lot of the big band stuff…including all the “Mickey Mouse/Rippling Rhythm” stuff. I like all the Pop/Lounge stuff from the 50′s. I spent a number of years early on working in the “Beautiful Music” business at a couple different radio stations. But there was slice of musical history in the late 40s where there was some really awful material making the charts…High Hopes…The “Hut Sut” Song…”How much is that Doggy in the Window”…”Doin’ What Comes Naturally”…I’m my own Grandpa…Too Fat Polka…”A” You’re Adorable…Ole Buttermilk Sky…Peter Cottontail.
    By 1951 things seemed to stabilize.

  42. Cory says:

    Chickenman started on Super CFL here in Chicago c. 1966-7.
    Pretty much a spoof of Batman, which would make it a spoof of a spoof.
    WCFL and WLS were the two big rock mothhus here in the Midwest in the mid 1960′s. Where you went to hear the boss jocks play stacks of wax from the racks. They did have some boss jocks (led by Uncle Lar, aka Superjock, who did both stations at one time or another)
    Ironically CFL- was a big union station- Chicago Federation of Labor.
    LS came out of Sears and was originally a farm station- World’s Largest Store.

  43. CaliforniaJeff says:

    Here Bill Buchanan goes to the trouble of changing the lyrics just to get a flying saucer in the song, and then doesn’t use the Alvin-the-Chipmunk voice for an alien, but rather for a friend of his, his wife, and St. fargin’ Peter.

    Why is there a flying saucer in this version, then, if he’s not going to give the falsetto voice to the Little Green Man?

    Does the mere presence of a UFO cause people, on Earth and in Heaven, to break out in helium-sucking exclamation?

    It just doesn’t make any sense.

  44. Ross says:

    I heard a snippet of an orkin show that aired in NE that I wish I could’ve hear all of–this episode was about the main character ending up w/a dead whale in his parlor, causing the local minister to investigate his intentions toward it. Very funny.
    James: sounds like the dame who gave you the look is one of those people who laugh at greeting cards w/cute puppies on them, but stare blankly at a real joke. They make me tired…
    Poagao says:
    My first thought for “whump de dump” was “severed head”. My second thought was “Oh, he must have never seen Se7en.”
    “I will show you the life of the mind! I WILL SHOW YOU THE LIFE OF THE MIIIIND!!!”

  45. Sam L. says:

    I listened some to WLS when Dick Biondi was on it. Being far away, could only get it at night.

  46. ALS says:

    Here’s something that ties a neat little bow:
    Eva Gabor from Green Acres and Phil Harris lent their voices to the Disney movie ‘The Aristocats.’
    Ms. Gabor as ‘Duchess’ and Mr. Harris as, ahem, ‘Abraham de Lacy Giuseppe Casey Thomas O’Malley.’
    One of my favorites. :)

  47. RobinGoodfellow says:

    Why is autumn always the “ruminative season”? New year, I guess–sure, January first is the start of the calendar year, but as a kid the day after Labor Day was always the start of the year for me. Still summer, though–growing up in Florida meant that the nip in the air was still a ways off. There was the sound of wind blowing through those dry autumn leaves before they left the trees. And the smell of freshly mown late summer grass. That takes me back–I can almost feel the shoulder pads and helmet. Autumn is still a time for looking forward and looking backward.

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