|Hearing that Rather resigned is like reading an obit for the puppeteer who jerked around Topo Gigio; it brings back distant memories that don’t seem terribly relevant. I know, I know, Rather had great influence, inasmuch as there are people who still sidle up to the network news for the small ration of compressed ham loaf masquerading as a 12-course banquet. I stopped watching the network news when we left DC. Inside the Beltway, it was required watching, because it felt like closed-circuit information for the Inner Party regulars. Once you’re out of the loop, though, you wonder why anyone watched it. You get national news with the usual slant, a piece on the economy that always seemed to come from some place in Ohio where workers are Increasingly Concerned, a smattering of international news which always seemed to conclude with some meteorological anomaly in Europe, then a four-minute thumbsucker on granny drugs capped off with a gauzy tale of a sick girl, her horse, and the Community That Came Together to Help. Promo for the local news.
The local news was worse, since nothing much happens in Minneapolis. At least in DC you got the full measure of horror every day. (I once considered patenting a suit that contained fine white powder in its seams so you could leave your own chalk outline when you fell. Saved time for all concerned.) So I got out of the habit, and never missed it.
I expect the death of network news saddens those who viewed the Evening News as a pillar of the day. To people of my age, people in their 40s, the passing has the same impact as reading that Captain Kangaroo died. Sad but inevitable, and nothing you'd specifically miss tomorrow. The News was a venerable symbol of childhood’s World of Authority, like Life magazine and those boring but somehow important “White Paper” documentaries on TV. The news was handed down, not passed around. The news was bestowed, not shared.
The news wasn’t out there 24-7, swirling around, waiting for you to open a window; it came in predictable intervals in varying portions. The radio news in the morning came at eight, brought to us by Northwest Orient (gonnngggg) Airlines; nothing happened in the world for the rest of the day. Paul Harvey summed up the general pith of the global gist at noon, but he rarely broke news. (He will, nevertheless, outlast them all. Because he's radio.) The paper came at four. It was a careful, measured thing, having had all day to think about matters. Then came the evening news: black and white, bare sets, Authority Men in grey suits with black glasses and the sober look of judges who had left the robe at home for a day. Nothing happened for the rest of the night; the ten o’clock news managed to squeeze the entire world through the tiny aperture of All Things Fargo. The world, in general, kept its distance – thanks to Cronkite and the AP wire.
In this context, a Special Bulletin would make you soil your drawers. They didn’t break in for anything. When you heard the words “We interrupt this program,” the best you could hope for was an assassination.
The news was like oil – pumped from select locations, refined by a few big companies. Now it’s water – plentiful, ubiquitous, available in dozens of forms. Bottled, tap, precipitation, dew, spittle, you name it. Oh, but are we really better informed?
Speaking of old radio ads: Ernie Garven, the composer of the Hamm’s Beer Jingle, died the other day. (The author of the commercial, Donald Grawert - who also did the NW Orient gonnng ad - died last summer.) Who had a more lasting effect, Garven or Rather? Not important effect, but lasting effect. Everyone of a certain age remembers the Hamm's Jingle. Rather is most closely identified with something a nutcase said while kicking him in the ribcage. Anyway, a nifty piece on Hamm’s history and what it meant to our self-image can be found here at the Rake magazine.
Incidentally, this is why I am not a magazine editor: I would have put that damn bear on the cover, not Eric Utne. No disrespect intended to Eric, but cartoon bears move beer, they can move magazines. Balding editors do not move magazines as well as cartoon bears, in my book.
Also recently dead: Pete Jolly, a pianist whose work I’ve never intentionally heard. By which I mean I never put on a Pete Jolly record, poured a Cutty Sark, lit a Silva Thin, and sat back to enjoy the groove. But he was a sideman and session player on the themes for “Manni,” “Get Smart,” “MASH,” etc. The reason his name leaped out from the fine print of the obit page was the cover art of his Columbia records, which I never forgot. They were drawn by Jim Flora. Who? Simple: Absolute pure high-octane nightmare fuel, friends. Yes, that's a mainstream record cover. Flora did a Jolly cover, as well as some other stuff I must have seen over at a relative’s house as a small child. The style has spooked the hell out of me ever since – but someone at Fantagraphics sent me a review copy of a collection of Flora’s work, and it’s fascinating stuff. Manic and unnerving and scary and leeringly ugly, but also quite cheerful in an odd way. (Scroll down.)
The pasty-wanker outreach program has reached its zenith: the rest of the world has responded to the apologies, with the usual graciousness you might expect. My, my: language, people. I like the Screech impersonator waving the Communist flag – it’s an instant test for how you view humanity. Is he:
1. A youthful idealist, or
2. A delusional twit who can easily reassure himself that no one really died under Communism, because it was never really put into practice in the pure sense, and anyway, what about Pinochet, huh? HUH? Okay, then.
Finally, since Jonah over at the Corner enjoyed yesterday’s little shout-out, as the kids say when communicating expressions of respect to their peeps, I present this to gladden the day of his mathmatically inclined Corner comrade and Lucite enthusiast. (It’s a British radio ID from the 80s, if you care.) Ta!
More? From the same old BBC site, that famous American voice, Petula Clark, shilling for Coke. (Yes, I know. She's not. Private joke. Humor me.) And then there's this, more audio flotsam from a lost world: a frozen fish advert. Just because. (Findus is still around, but they've been borged into the Unilever collective. ) Okay, I'll stop now. After this. And this.