You have no idea how deep this week's Friday "Listen" rabbit hole turned out to be.
It’s 11:09 PM; since there’s no school tomorrow, daughter has three friends over for a sleepover. They just came upstairs to make popcorn, which made the dog interested in things; once he realized no MEAT would be forthcoming, he went to the back door, waited until it opened, then hopped down the stairs. He has a way of going down sideways. Works for him. He’s been full of vim all day. Blog about my decline, will you? Hah.
Today I was guiding the guest to my Startribune.com video interview to the studio, and as usual, the guest commented on the building. Most people know it; few have been inside. I gave a quick description of its history, and made a mental note to put some files on my iPad: pictures from the Strib’s house magazine describing the glories of the new building. When I got home I looked for the scans, and came across something I’d been meaning to post. One of those sites I’ll get around to.
Yes: Clifford D. Simek, famous sci-fi writer, was a Strib editor.
Okay, set all that aside, but remember it.
Say this aloud, please: CLIFFORD D. SIMEK.
Thank you. Okay. Next:
I hadn’t thought about Van Cliburn in a week, and even then I didn’t give him much thought. There was a passing reference to him in an old radio show I heard last week, and at the time I'd wondered if we have any comparable figures today - classical musicians whose names are well-known enough to be slipped into a mid-afternoon housewife-oriented radio serial without explanation. (If we had such things.) Van Cliburn, Jascha Heifetz, Stokowski, Lennie. Household names for the middle-class, people you should know about if you wanted to be Well Rounded.
No, there aren’t any.
When I heard Van CliburnI wondered if he’d done the Tonight Show; that would be the perfect Middlebrow Moment, with Johnny's cool G-rated Playboy-After-Dark vibe bringing the young spark of genius unto the homes and bedrooms of America. Googled; he had. For some reason it made me think of Ed Herlihy, who I recall as having the tagline “And little old me, little Ed Herlihy.” Why did I know that? He was the Tonight Show’s announcer for a while. Probably heard him on old radio shows. Google: ah! He was the Ed-McMahon-type in “King of Comedy,” where he used that trademark phrase. Also in “Zelig,” “Radio Days,” and so on. A spokesman for Kraft Cheese. I love this:
Herlihy's role as Kraft spokesman lasted nearly 40 years, his voice becoming as familiar as a next-door neighbor's. From his New York Times obituary: "He liked to recall a summer day in Times Square when he helped a blind man to cross at 44th Street. He took the man's arm, and the man said it was a beautiful day. "Yes," Herlihy replied, "this is the kind of day the Lord made for the good guys." The blind man replied: "I know you. You're the cheese man on TV."
The next day I’m researching the 1958 Lebanon Crisis, and come across a newsreel:
It's like Ed is trying to make contact from beyond the grave.
Okay, set all that aside, but remember it. Deep breath.
It's the Friday feature devoted to old radio show sounds, dedicated to music cues, peculiar moments, actors, and the forgotten history of a bygone medium. I've been doing music cues from "The Couple Next Door" for a few weeks, using the show as a springboard for discovering other elements of pre-1967 culture. Why? Well. Why not.
In July 1958, Lebanon was threatened by a civil war between Maronite Christians and Muslims. Tensions with Egypt had escalated earlier in 1956 when pro-western President Camille Chamoun, a Christian, did not break diplomatic relations with the Western powers that attacked Egypt during the Suez Crisis, angering Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. These tensions were further increased when Chamoun showed closeness to the Baghdad Pact.
What was that, you ask? Something that seems quite unlikely these days:
The Baghdad Pact was formed in 1955 by Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. It was dissolved in 1979.
Hmm. 1979. Wonder why.
Lebanese Muslims pushed the government to join the newly created United Arab Republic, while the Christians wanted to keep Lebanon aligned with Western powers. A Muslim rebellion that was allegedly supplied with arms by the UAR through Syria caused President Chamoun to complain to the United Nations Security Council. The United Nations sent a group of inspectors that reported that it didn't find any evidence of significant intervention from the UAR.
The more things change, and so on. Now, let’s give it a real splash of Cold War fear:
The Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, threatened to use nuclear weapons in the event of an American intervention. The toppling of a pro-Western government in Iraq's 14 July Revolution, along with the internal instability, caused President Chamoun to call for United States assistance.
It was a coup; some military officials overthrew the Royal Family, and by “overthrew” I mean they killed them. The US did intervene in Lebanon, and the USSR did not send nukes.
That's your context for this week’s crop of Couple Next Door music cues, which has nothing to do with the Couple Next Door, starring - altogether now, we’ve been at this for a month - Peg Lynch and Alan Bunce. This is about the library music, the soundtrack of the idealized mid-century domestic experience.
But before one episode began. . . the open mike captures the announcer talking to the booth:
Lebanon was very bad.
Middle-east war concerns, international tension, Christians vs. Muslims, revolution afoot.
Pause. And now, some light domestic comedy!
In other words, you know the way things are now? It was like that, then. The more things change. Et Cetera.
Okay, set all that aside, but remember it. Deep breath.
On to the music. These are very short.
Dad’s late! Where can he be? Well, this requires some music to indicate the passage of time. Get out the cue sheet . . . ah. Comic Time Passing:
More of that happy harried housewife music:
Comic travails of a masculine sort are best described with French horns:
The orchestration on this one - the bright glistening strings - is positively Mahlerian:
Now, something that will confirm to you that I have a mind incapable of forgetting the most inconsequential detail. I file my taxes at the last possible moment because I keep forgetting that it’s getting close to April 15, but I remember a music cue I heard twenty fargin’ years ago.
From "The Couple Next Door," a nice little piece of psuedo-Prokoviev-Peter-and-the-Wolf stuff. Listen to the end. The very end. Those five descending notes. I sat up when I heard that, and smiled.
Those five notes.
Here’s something I snipped from a DC Public Radio broadcast of X Minus One in 1992, using a digitizer the size of a deck of cards. This was like people taking photographs of the TV in 1965. I’ve had these clips in a folder that migrated across two decades of Macs, and I run into them once or twice a year when plowing through the buried files. The clips are marked haveadrink.wav and throwback.wav; the latter because the character says “he’s a throwback to the 20th century,” and the former because the throwback character says “ahhh, have a drink.”
Those five notes.
Because the internet is amazing, I found the script by typing in “x minus 1 throwback twentieth century.” It’s the ep “How-2,” broadcast in 1956, about a man who buys a useful robot. Now I have the complete X Minus One on my hard drive, so I could find the clip and get a better copy.
It’s the same five notes. The composer liked that motif.
Whoever he was.
I have to know who he was.
According to this site, here are some of the names on the CBS EZ Cue Library:
Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, Jerome Moross, Ernest Gold, Fred Steiner, Richard Shores, Wilbur Hatch, Leonard Rosenman, William Lava, Robert Drasnin, Nathan Van Cleave, Lyn Murray, and Lucien Moraweck, Rene Garriguenc
Interesting: two of those guys, Goldsmith and Steiner, ended up writing for Star Trek. William Lava I remember from childhood cartoons - as Bill Lava. He had a strange style you could pick up right away, and it would tell you “this one of those later cartoons that might not be as good.” But he also wrote one of my favorite themes from the 60s:
Wait until :15. You can hear the music from Road Runner cartoons in there, can’t you?
Anyway: that five-note sequence will identify the composer, I’m sure of it. He probably did a TV show, and I’ll bet it’s in there.
Oh, but there’s more. While I was scrubbing through the X Minus One episode, I thought: no. It can’t be.
Oh, but it was. Here's an HQ version of that X Minus One clip.
Here's that psuedo-classical clip from last week, with Alan Bunce as the husband of "The Couple Next Door."
And here's the credits for the X-Minus One episode.
This is the point at which I just stop and go downstairs and pour a drink and have a cigar and just give it all a rest. It doesn't mean a thing. But somehow it's fun. It just is.
Hey, you like this stuff? There's that little donate button over there. Just a thought. See you around in all the usual places - easily accessed by the amazing Row of Buttons below. Sorry there's no update - this thing took me a while tonight.
I really should be doing other things, but nothing gives me more enjoyment than this. Nothing. I'm not sure what that says, but I don't mind.