From Shorpy

 

 

Even if you don’t care a whit, or give a tinker’s damn, or lend so much as a fig for the little radio library-music cues I present on Friday, you will be amused - if not completely confused - by the excerpt from a late 1940s game show. I’ve listened to it ten times and I still don’t know what they were thinking of.

For the rest of the month I’m going to say “I don’t give a tinker’s whit” or a “tinker’s fig” and watch people’s expression; I think most people would understand. It’s the “tinker” part that clues them in. No one knows what it means in a literal sense, but if there’s an expression of uncaring that involves a tinker, the second word doesn’t matter, if it’s monosyllabic and has a short vowel. I don’t give a tinker’s spit! I feel you, bro.

It’s Friday! but the rituals are sundered, mostly; no piano. No pizza. You ask what could possibly upend the world and make one question whether anything can be counted upon, and the answer is:

THE MIDDLE-SCHOOL PLAY.

Daughter is a Milk Maid in a charming French village, where a young woman named Belle walks around with a book bemoaning the lack of action, the settled habits, the lingering effects of feudalism on individual initiative, and the class system that will one day erupt in bloody, mindless revenge, creating the modern terror-state and forever shaking the authority of the Church. Oh, not the state; they swapped one king for a thousand petty princes and called them bureaucrats. If only she could go someplace where books are valued and an extremely rich man who owned lots of books could be converted from his bestial state!

Yes, it’s “Beauty and the Beast,” which is a fine story with some great songs. We saw it on opening night, Wednesday, hearts in our throats: don’t trip! Dance in sequence! But all was well; in fact it was remarkable. If you remember a middle-school play as something with simple painted scenery and bad costumes and bad over-acting, you remember mine. But times have changed, and now there’s an industry that will license the play and rent the costumes and sell the magic roses ($5) everyone is encouraged to wave at the end to revive the Beast. The costumes were remarkable, the performances never made you wince, the songs and dances were carried off with brio and evident delight, and one of the singers - oddly enough, not Belle - had an range and crystalline clarity that made you think she must be studying opera. (She is.)

The main actors were miked. In my day we had to yell.

There was only one hitch: the Beast’s transformation back into human form was accomplished by surrounding him with the Greek-chorus-style actors, who covered him with a sheet while he stripped off his beast-features. When he emerged, Belle was astonished! at the transformation, but the audience couldn’t help notice he still had the nose. One of the actors - Cogsworth, I believe - came on stage, faced the audience, and made fluttering gestures around his nose, laughing. Nice recovery.

Yes, we’re hitting that wonderful stage where you find out what these kids can do.

Where you realize how much of the future will be the equivalent of sitting in the dark, watching and hoping, lump in your throat.

Friday’s the last day. A cast party at school afterwards, which I suspect will be a roiling stew of emotions high and low. The triumph; the end; the crushes; the high point of camaraderie and its bittersweet diminution.

For me, Friday is sixteen flavors of hell, one long application of aluminum foil to the fillings. I think I will decline to blog, as I have a column, a profile, and a video interview on the state’s tax debate.

All of which will probably be lame.

‘Cause, I got lame in the last three years. Or so a tweet said today. There are moods when something like this lances right through one’s already micron-thin skin, because IT’S TRUE OH GOD THEY’RE ON TO ME. I don’t know what people expect, really. I offer diversions. A few of them are for sale, inasmuch as they are folded into a larger commercial enterprise - a newspaper, a magazine - or sold as a little book that isn’t a complete waste of $4.00. I don’t think it was a blog reader who wrote that, because I’m pretty happy with lileks.com as an ongoing exercise in diverse diversion.

I do know that some people come for X and want more, and others come for Y and are frustrated when there’s X and sometimes W, and the people who are really interested in W don’t know that I do W.

I was redoing the main index page again, because it’s time, and I was trying to figure out if there’s any definite theme, any overriding idea. Commercial archeology, sure. to use a fancy-pants word for “scanning old ads.” Trying to tease meaning out of all these attempts to make you buy something, be it cigarettes or a movie ticket. If I was smart I would try to get a grant for all this, and trade on my venerable pioneer status: dadgummit, I invented retro on the internet.

Really? Hmm. Really, you think that?

Well, sonny, t’waren’t no one else in the wooly frontier days what was usin’ a camcorder and a screen-capture card in a NuBus slot of a Mac to shoot old pamphlets and ads and give ‘em a drop shadow. You know how we did drop shadows back then? Wasn’t no fancy pho-to-shop, no sir. You took the image and you blurred the livin’ hell out of it and then you dropped a copy on top of it, see, and moved it up and to the left. Hand-made drop shadows.

Maybe a grant to discuss the Early Days.

More likely, a request for an interview from someone who got a grant to study the Early Days. Ah well. I did four sites that had an impact: The Gallery of Regrettable Food, the Gobbler, Art Frahm, and Interior Desecrators. That’ll do, pig. The other day I found some ancient bookmarks - a link list from 2001 or so. I clicked on every one. All but two were dead.

So at least I’m still here. Considering changing the name of the site to “Ozymandias’ Shins.”

Okay, enough morosity, let’s get to the clips. I have to admit: I don’t know how anyone interested in pop culture can fail to be interested in these snippets of music from way-bygone radio. It’s not so much the music itself - although occasionally it has surprises, as you’ll see - it’s what you can read into it. What you can reconstruct with imagination. The kitchens and cars where it was heard; the unknown composers; the never-known musicians; the conventions that are still familiar but never used anymore, except sarcastically.

Just about everything I pass along to you is something I just learned. You should learn something every day, and yes, realizing that there was a standard musical template for suggesting an urban street scene that had roots in Gershwin is knowledge. It’s all knowledge. I just specialize in the inapplicable type whose merits are inconsequential.

<maximus posture> ARE YOU NOT DIVERTED? </maximus posture> Okay then.

But I have strayed from the main point. Which was: my daughter was so beautiful up on stage, and sang so sweetly. Everything else grumbling along in my life matters too, but on the other hand: not really.

 

   

   

 

   
   

 

You will be repaid at the end of this with one of the oddest and most uncomfortable moments in game show history.

More lost music from the soundtrack of the lost medium of narrative radio. Why? Oh, who cares why. Except there has to be some preservation of this stuff, and while there are sites devoted to collecting it, I’ll be damned if I can find anyone who actually puts it up.

These are all short. These are all cliches meant to be links, nothing more, transitional pieces. What’s always remarkable is the amount of mood they manage to pack into seven seconds.

From X Minus One: this is the type of music they used in “amusing” science fiction stories. I’ll bet kids hated the funny ones. They weren’t that funny, for one thing. They didn’t have cool stuff like serious rocket stories.

 

 

 

This episode concerned a casino on Mars - yeah, I know. They transplanted Earth culture whole to Mars in those days, including accents and archetypes. This is what they used for Sleaze - a drinking joint with loose women and possibly jazz and therefore reefer addicts in the back, saying Daddy-O. Even on Mars there would be men who said Daddy-O and peroxide slatterns who cleaved to them. Before the sitar and the jangly guitar, this is what they used to indicate moral turpitude.

 

 

 

Back to the domestic tales, the happy music, the light stuff they dropped into “The Couple Next Door.” This is odd: happy-go-lucky bumpkin music that veers dark at the end. What did the composer envision this would transition into?

 

 

 

I wish I had a better version of this - usual sprightly music-by-the-yard, and then it lays on this great deep chord. You could write a dissertation about that chord. It's not rare in radio / TV soundtracks, and it's certainly more meaningful to its culture than 12-tone row from an academic serial-music composer. Lush comfort and anticipatory anxiety.

 

 

 

 

Two cuts from the “City Traffic” disk of music cues. There appear to be 100s of variants on this - tempo, key, “horns,” busy-city-dweller strings - and not one of them is exactly the same.

 

 

 

And another:

 

 

 

Now let’s go to something that popped up in “Indictment,” a wannabe Dragnet that had a short run. They used library music all over the place, and one piece - a transition from an slightly comic urban environment made me sit up, Well, not sit up. Perk up.

 

 

 

It’s the ending. Play it again. That descending figure at the end. I knew that. DAMMIT, I knew that, but where? The only thing that came to mind was the marvelous industrial music on “Music for TV Dinners,” and hello:

 

 

 

Annnnd together (it's a little loud' sorry)

 

 

 

The composer for the sprightly “TV Dinners” tune was Eric Winstone. Here’s the whole thing.

 

 

 

It all goes back to Gershwin, to “An American in Paris,” I suppose. Did Winstone write the CBS Library music? Doubtful. He worked in the UK, it seems. But I’m just conducting in the dark here; for all I know, that was a standard piece of musical boilerplate, swiped from Holst’s Mercury.

 

Finally: from “Double or Nothing,” a rather astonishingly moment of radio. First of all, consider the backstory for the contestant. Then listen to her morbid joke. Then listen to what she says, and how the host smothers what she’s saying, and whether this was intended, and if so whether they could get away with it because it was a “daytime audience.” I cannot imagine the censors signing off on this; I can’t imagine they didn’t prescreen her story. So: Anna, the POW Waitress.

 

 

There’s a new entry in Listen, if you like. See you around the usual places - and as ever, thank you for your patronage. Friday! Let's have a weekend.

 

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
     
 
   
 
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