The Rockford Files, S2-E1, “The Aaron Ironwood School of Success.”

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A whole lot of Rocky.

After a triumphal debut season, “The Rockford Files” kicks off its sophomore year with an action-packed thriller. There’s nothing fancy here, no romantic female lead for Jim to work with, no very special guest star, no two-parter. Instead, they double-down on the basics: appearances from Dennis, Beth, and a whole lot of Rocky. Angel Martin does not appear in this episode.

“The Aaron Ironwood School of Success” begins with Jim exiting his trailer early one morning intending to pick up Rocky so they can go meet an old family friend at the airport. But before Jim can take three steps towards the Pontiac Firebird he gets forced into the back of a waiting limousine. These hoods look like they mean serious business, but Rockford quickly outwits them, and less than 200 seconds into the new season we have our first car chase.

Jim must have wanted to inaugurate the show’s second season with a surprise, because he makes his first getaway not in the Pontiac, but in a VW bug that has been customized into a pizza delivery vehicle and happens to be making an early morning stop at the beach restaurant across the parking lot.

Jim commandeers Pizza Dan's delivery vehicle.

Jim commandeers Pizza Dan’s delivery vehicle.

My first thought is, “isn’t that funny? You never see VW bugs delivering pizzas in real life, do you? WTF?”

After making a getaway on the sands of Malibu’s beach, Jim, still in the bug and having found a spare pepperoni pizza to munch on, collects Rocky and they head off to the airport to meet their family friend from way back by the name of Aaron Ironwood (played by James Hampton hot off his role as the doomed Caretaker in “The Longest Yard”), who has done well for himself and is arriving in his own private jet.

Jim flees his pursuers in the beach parking lot.

Jim flees his pursuers in the beach parking lot.

The mobster limo gets stuck in the sand.

The mobster limo gets stuck in the sand.

Jim gets away on the sands of Malibu beach.

As Jim gets away along Malibu beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ironwood is a childhood friend of Jim’s who was looked after by the Rockfords after his own parents were tragically killed. Today (1975), Aaron Ironwood is a motivational preacher hocking a get rich quick scheme called “Dare To Win.”

It soon becomes clear that Aaron Ironwood is the kind of old family friend that gives Angel Martin a run for his money, and Rockford quickly finds himself on the wrong side of some very powerful bad men.

The gist of the “Dare To Win” program, as Ironwood lays out to a rapt audience, is this: “I’m gonna teach you how to make a million dollars…by the end of the year. And what’s it gonna cost?? Only five thousand dollars.” The audience oohs and aahs their collective approval at this last sentence.

* * *

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We hard cut to a honky-tonk bar, where Jim and his old chum are re-bonding over some arm-wrestling, shuffleboard, and “country-style” fistfighting out back. With the ice broken, Aaron asks to know what Jim really thinks about “Dare To Win.” In the kindest terms possible, Jim answers, “there’s not too much about it that doesn’t sound like a medicine show sales pitch.”

Screen shot 2013-06-03 at 11.22.43 PMOver a couple of cold ones, Aaron makes a confession of his own to Jim: Not all is well in the preaching empire. There’s been drinking, there’s been whoring, there’s even been puking, and now somehow the mob’s gotten wrapped up in it. He needs Jimmy’s help, and he’s got an offer Rockford can’t refuse. The paperwork’s already drawn up.

Beth Davenport looks over the contract and gives it her approval, whereupon Rockford signs on the dotted line.  The rest of the episode plays out with a series of double-crosses and some mob justice scenarios that belong in The Sopranos. And in the episode’s other good news, Dennis Becker passed the written part of his lieutenant’s exam and is now fifth in line for promotion.

Beth gives the contract her approval.

Beth gives the contract her approval.

I can’t testify to the status of prosperity preaching in 1975, when this episode aired. Certainly televangelists existed, but I don’t know if they were quite on the cultural radar the way they were a decade later, when (the other) Jim, Tammy Faye, Swaggart, and Oral provided the Decade of Greed (ie the 1980s) with its religious dimension.

One guesses that the 1970s were gravy years for the Aaron Ironwoods of the world, when they could roll their earnings over into personal jets and hookers well out of reach of the long arm of the law and the eye of the media.

Society as a whole would remain oblivious to the racket until Jessica Hahn revealed it all in Playboy ten years later, but the Rockford Files was on the case as early as 1975, three years before the Stones sang about it in “Far Away Eyes.”Screen shot 2013-06-03 at 10.51.31 PM

Categories: 1970s, Los Angeles, television | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Laverne, Shirley, & a Mid-Life Crisis

laverne-and-shirleyFor the first time since Alexander Haig was Secretary of State, I had the opportunity to watch an episode of “Laverne & Shirley” from the very beginning. I still remembered that distinctive theme song as if it were yesterday, but as I sat through the show’s opening credits for the first time in my adult life, the meaning of these lyrics sank in in a whole new way:

 

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. 
Schlemiel, schlimazel, Hasenpfeffer Incorporated. 
We’re gonna do it! 

Give us any chance, we’ll take it. 
Give us any rule, we’ll break it. 
We’re gonna make our dreams come true. 
Doin’ it our way. 

Nothin’s gonna turn us back now, 
Straight ahead and on the track now. 
We’re gonna make our dreams come true, 
Doin’ it our way. 

There is nothing we won’t try, 
Never heard the word impossible. 
This time there’s no stopping us. 
We’re gonna do it. 

On your mark, get set, and go now, 
Got a dream and we just know now, 
We’re gonna make our dream come true. 
And we’ll do it our way, yes our way. 
Make all our dreams come true, 
And do it our way, yes our way, 
Make all our dreams come true 
For me and you. 

Look at those words.

Once you get past ‘schlemiel, schlimazel” the theme song sounds like the sort of pep talk that people fighting a losing battle against time to attain the markers of social success give themselves before heading out to work another day on the factory line.

“We’re doing it our way, yes our way, making all our dreams come true. This time there’s no stopping us. We’re gonna do it!”

It’s a Hail Mary pass that says the more we suffer now, the greater shall be our triumph later, but only if we don’t ever stop believing.

If Laverne’s father, the pizzeria owning Frank Defazio, were around today, he’d tell his “29-year old” daughter and her best friend that the definition of stupid is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and he’d wave his rolling pin to drive home the point.

Isn’t this what the new film, “Frances Ha” is all about? Frances Ha is what happens when Laverne leaves Shirley behind or vice versa, when one partner decides to get on with her life and renege on the vow to keep dreaming the dream together forever no matter what.

Every fifth or sixth episode seemed to revolve around this plot, with Laverne and Shirley inevitably getting back together exactly as before by the end of the half-hour.

If you took Laverne and Shirley aside and said, “listen you two, what do you really want to do with your lives?” They wouldn’t have a realistic answer. Laverne and Shirley were dreamers, not schemers. All they knew was that they wanted to be part of the zeitgeist somehow.laverne shirley

Here’s where I join the party. As a kid in the Me Decade, I couldn’t much relate to working class girls from 1950s Milwaukee. I was in it for Lenny and Squiggy and, strangely, for Carmine. Sure, I enjoyed the comedy teamwork of Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, but the particular triumphs and tribulations of Upper Midwestern factory girls was beyond my purview.

That was then. Now I’m on the wrong side of 45, working a Laverne & Shirley blue-collar job myself. I used to want to be the next Rod Serling or Reuben Kincaid, or both. But after 20 years of punching the clock, I’m starting to realize that it ain’t happening, that I have a lot more in common with two working class girls from 1950s Milwaukee than I ever imagined. At this point, the only thing left for me to do is go buy a bowling ball and join the team.

Categories: 1950s, 1970s, television | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

R.I.P. Alan O’Day (1940-2013), “Undercover Angel” Singer/Songwriter

alanodayIt is with sadness that I learned of the death of musician, songwriter, and Southern California native, Alan O’Day from brain cancer this weekend.

O’Day covered a lot of ground in the music industry, from playing in garage bands in the 1950s and 60s to writing songs for television in the 1980s and 90s, but he is best known for the string of hit singles he wrote for other artists in the 1970s, and for writing and recording one particular song that made him the One-Hit Wonder of 1977.

O’Day’s songwriting credits include “The Drum,” recorded by Bobby Sherman, “Rock and Roll Heaven,” recorded by the Righteous Brothers, and perhaps his best song, “Angie Baby,” recorded and taken to No. 1 in Dec. 1974 by Helen Reddy.

However, Alan O’Day achieved his greatest level of fame when his quirky (some would say novelty) song, “Undercover Angel,” released with little fanfare in early 1977, unexpectedly shot to the top of the Billboard charts by the summer of that year.

1977 was the year I started my long relationship with music radio, and I placed extraordinary importance in the value of the weekly Top 40 countdown then, keeping careful track of which songs gained ground over the previous week and which ones lost ground. When a song reached the No. 1 position, it was a big deal, guaranteeing that both the song and its performer would be enshrined in the pantheon of immortals, not unlike the various Presidents of the United States, some of whom are regarded more highly than others, but all of whom had reached a level of paramount greatness and immortality by dint of joining the ranks of the select few who had attained the highest office in the land.

Because Alan O’Day ruled the charts at the time I started following the charts, his legacy, not to mention his one-hit wonder “Undercover Angel,” have stayed relevant to me until this very day, never fading from memory as they did for the general public. Also, O’Day spent his early childhood years in the L.A. neighborhood of Mount Washington, the same place I lived as a child when “Undercover Angel” was all over the charts.

O’Day’s songs could be described as novelty-esque, stemming from what might be called an eccentric or at least whimsical view of the world. He suffered from bronchial pneumonia for much of his childhood and had to remain indoors and alone a lot. At the same time he developed a keen interest in exotic instruments like the xylophone and ukulele and became “hooked” (in his words) on Spike Jones’ combination of music and humorous noise.

“Angie Baby” is regarded as a “serious” song, a haunting look at mental illness with a hint of stranger danger thrown into the mix, while “Undercover Angel” is pure whimsy. Yet, the two songs really describe the same basic scenario: A grey zone between fantasy and reality where a lonely person in her/his bedroom is visited by a strange apparition of the opposite gender, and life-altering drama ensues. “Angie” is the story told in a minor key, while “Angel” is the story told in a major key.

O’Day had always been a natural studio whiz, and his follow-up single to “Undercover Angel” was “Skinny Girls,” a catchy tune that Spike Jones might have written had he had access to a synthesizer and other 1980 music studio accoutrements. Unlike O’Day’s previous single, “Skinny Girls” never made it beyond the Dr. Demento show.

In the 1980’s, O’Day transitioned to television, where he co-wrote over 100 songs for the “Muppet Babies” program.

Here is a link to a 2012 Helen Reddy performance, in which Reddy calls up her friend Alan O’Day from the audience to help her with some of the lyrics to “Angie Baby.”

I’ll refrain from mentioning that if you believe in rock and roll heaven, they just gained a hell of a gadget man. Instead, if you really want to appreciate the world of Alan O’Day, look up “Skinny Girls” and give it a listen.

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Joyce Brothers (1927-2013)

In another indicator of the subtle but steady changing of the times, the death of Joyce Brothers earlier this week went by largely unnoticed.

To anyone who watched a respectable amount of television in the Seventies, Joyce Brothers was instantly recognizable as a mainstay on the game show and talk show circuits as well as a special guest star for all occasions. Everyone knew who she was, yet no one knew what she did. To borrow a phrase from current times, Joyce Brothers was famous for being famous.

Joyce Brothers in the 1950s.

Joyce Brothers in the 1950s.

Dr. Joyce Brothers was her official show biz title, and her celebrity dated back to her winning appearance on “The $64,000 Question” in the mid-1950s, when the pop success of trivia shows featuring everyday citizens testing their wit against a series of ever more challenging questions in a given subject was enough to captivate a nation of TV watchers for weeks on end (some things never change, just ask Regis Philbin).

Television was in its infancy then. Producers were still trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t. With the advent of quiz shows, certain lines were crossed on at least one occasion to create more compelling storylines. Joyce Brothers’ Wikipedia entry notes that her game show topic, boxing, was suggested to Dr. Brothers by the show’s sponsors, presumably because they thought the idea of a demure housewife taking on the subject of prizefighting would make for good television.However, despite this small bit of contestant engineering, Joyce Brothers’ winning appearance on “The $64,000 Question” was scandal-free.

Not only had Dr. Joyce Brothers been famous since the Eisenhower years, but her physical appearance had scarcely changed in the intervening decades, a fact put to good use by the producers of “Happy Days” when they featured the Joyce Brothers of 1978 playing herself in the 1950s-based sitcom. This is how I remember her.

 joycebrothershappydays

In the 80s and 90s I watched much less TV than I do today. When I returned to television in the 2000s, it never occurred to me to notice Joyce Brothers’ absence. And as another decade came and went, I would have presumed that like most figures from the Eisenhower era, she had died long ago.

I’m only one man. It’s impossible for me to monitor all news outlets all the time, but I would have thought that the passing of Dr. Joyce Brothers would be noted by at least a few of my regular sources. Yet I heard nothing. Instead, it was left for me to scour the Internet obituaries to uncover this information.

I’d imagine that Dr. Brothers led a rich, full life that extended beyond the spotlight, so there’s nothing in particular for the general public to mourn about her death. Instead, the near anonymous 2013 passing of a 20th Century TV icon serves to remind us that the world we grow up in and think of as rock solid and forever young is just another castle made of sand.

sunset

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Great interview w/Huey Lewis on Marc Maron’s podcast

I used to blame half of what was wrong with the 1980s on Huey Lewis, and the other half on Phil Collins. Huey Lewis’ music may be cheesy, but his life’s story isn’t. Great Bay Area and 1960s references here.

 

Episode 384 – Huey Lewis.

Categories: 1980s, Music, San Francisco | Leave a comment

TV Invented the Rock Star (Part 2)

(In Part I of this essay, we examined the origins of the rock star figure in Western culture, starting with Elvis and leaving off with the Beatles’ triumph on The Ed Sullivan Show.)

To be sure, America’s youth had been using jazz as liberation theology a full generation before rock music appeared. Big band music was the rock and roll of the radio era.

Just don’t say that to a Hepcat. 1940s hipsters hated the new generational preference for rock and roll with a passion. Jazz was complex, sophisticated, groove-able, while rock was crude and obvious.

And therein lies the difference between the youth music of the radio era and the youth music of the TV era. In television, the visual replaces the aural. The looks and moves of the front man replace the bandleader’s role of conductor. The punch of the drums and guitar are turned up in the mix while the harmony of the brass and woodwinds are eliminated entirely. Four guys do what two-dozen used to.

***

The rock pioneers who grew up in the pre-Elvis era talk about picking up obscure radio stations broadcasting out of the Mississippi Delta states and of being unable to ascertain whether a given artist was white or black. This miscegenation was indeed the original sin (as some saw it) that spawned rock and roll. Television eliminated the racial guesswork, and a narrower flavor of rock ensued.

TV, in fact, created the rock star right about then. Rock and roll would have gone on had there been no television, but it would have remained underground, taking place in dark, crowded clubs that violated local noise ordinances, not to mention segregation laws. But Elvis appeared on Ed Sullivan one Sunday night, the Rock Star was born, and the rest is history.

***

Elvis was an entertainer when he went on The Ed Sullivan Show, as were the Beatles. The persona of the singer/songwriter hadn’t permeated the rock and roll pantheon just yet. But things took a serendipitous turn when the Fab Four retired from the road to become dedicated studio artists.

By the early 60s, rock’s original pioneers were either dead (Buddy Holly), jailed (Chuck Berry), drafted (Elvis Presley), disgraced (Jerry Lee Lewis), or in bible college (Little Richard). The hits kept coming, but it was a producer’s game now. Record labels called the shots and musicians served as hired talent.

The intellectually curious of the early ’60s gravitated towards the folk movement. Rock and roll was high school, folk music was college. And folk had produced a star in his own right, the baby-faced Bob Dylan. Whether very directly or only somewhat directly, Dylan’s songwriting had a big influence on the Beatles, as did their introduction to weed.

Folk music and grass. In essence, the four working-class lads from Liverpoool were seduced by the college scene of the 1960s. Lennon and McCartney were like Pinto from “Animal House” in Prof. Jennings’ bathroom. “Can I buy some pot from you?”

The trend was set.

***

1967 is known as The Summer of Love, but it should really be called The Year of the Album. By then, most of the baby boomers who screamed Beatlemania into existence four school years earlier were becoming college-aged (or draftable).

***

A day in the life of The Summer of Love consisted of drawing the shades, smoking banana peels, and listening to album sides as the album’s cover is passed around and gaped at like a sacred object to be inspected for hidden truths.

In 1967, records were tailored for this very thing. Liner notes and jackets became part of the album package rather than just the packaging. Consider some of the records that came out that year: Strange Days, Surrealistic Pillow, The Velvet Underground & Nico, Are You Experienced, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Disraeli Gears, Days of Future Passed, Forever Changes, Axis: Bold As Love, Procol Harum, and The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, among others.

Rock and roll had outgrown the family room TV and entered liberated dorm space and crash pads. The album had become the highest form of artistic expression and would remain so for a very long time.

Alongside the concept album, the advent of commercial FM radio in the late ’60s, with its superor sound quality to AM, provided an ideal vehicle for this new format of album oriented rock to expand into.

Categories: 1950s, 1960s, Music, television, The Age of Television | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sydney the psychiatrist from MASH dies at 95

Sydney the psychiatrist from MASH dies at 95

Not only did I not do the math and realize that Allan Arbus was Diane Arbus’ husband, but I didn’t realize he was 95 years old. That makes him only three years younger than Col. Potter (Harry Morgan b. 1915) when he played Sydney on MASH! He seemed more like Hawkeye’s age.

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RIP Chrissy Amphlett of the Divinyls

Saddened to hear of the passing of Chrissy Amphlett at 53. She seemed like the real deal. The Divinyls, known mostly for their single, “(When I Think About You) I Touch Myself,” never quite got the recognition they deserved.
Chrissy Amphlett, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, was diagnosed with breast cancer but was unable to receive chemotherapy or radiation due to her MS.

Categories: 1980s, Music | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Rockford Redux: Link to B.B. Olshin’s Heartfelt 2012 Piece on the Rockford Files

Wow! A week after my own post on the Rockford Files, I came across this wonderful piece by someone named B.B. Olshin. It’s eerily similar to mine in some places, and much better articulated and thought out in other parts. I’m humbled to have made so many like-minded (in some cases almost word for word) observations as this 2012 article written by a philosophy professor, no less. I swear I didn’t know about it beforehand; I just discovered reddit today!

Click on the link below.

Finding Solace in The Rockford Files.

Categories: 1970s, counterculture, Los Angeles, television | Leave a comment

Don Ho – Who Is the Lolo Who Stole My Pakalolo

Who Knew Don Ho Worked Green??

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