Thursday, May 29, 2008

Earle H. Hagen : Name Unknown, Themes Familiar

Earle H. Hagen, who died three days ago at age 88, titled his autobiography "Memoirs of a Famous Composer -- Nobody Ever Heard Of." For better, but sometimes for worse, his TV theme songs have made an indelible impression on most of our ears.

On the positive side, he turned out such action themes as "I Spy" and "Mod Squad." On the indelible side, he wrote the impossibly catchy "Andy Griffith Show Theme" which he himself whistled on those opening credits. And some of us have a love-hate relationship with "The Dick Van Dyke Show" theme. Among his many others...the Frankie Laine-sung "Rango" (short-lived Tim Conway comedy, pre-Blazing Saddles), "Guns of Will Sonnett" (spoken by Walter Brennan) and the peppy Marlo Thomas theme for "That Girl."

As you'd expect, Hagen was a well-trained veteran who put in many years as a trombonist for big bands. He teamed with Richard Rogers for the jazz hit "Harlem Nocturne" in 1939 (later used on the 1984 version of "Mike Hammer"). He worked his way up to scoring film soundtracks and was Oscar-nominated, with Rogers, for his background music on Marilyn Monroe's 1960 film "Let's Make Love." He ended up making his mark in the high pressure world of TV sitcoms and adventure shows:

"It was hard work, with long hours and endless deadlines, but being able to write something one day and hear it a few days later appealed to me," he said. Aside from the famous theme songs, Hagen wrote hours and hours of incidental music that underpinned comedy and drama scenes throughout "I Spy," "Make Room for Daddy" and dozens more.

Ill Folks salutes a typical music giant nobody knows..."the guy who wrote the theme song..." And by way of tribute, here's four of Earle's most famous themes, one after the other in your download. Call it Dick Van Andy I Spy Squad...


Bruce "Utah" Phillips died on May 23rd. Born in Cleveland, he joined the Industrial Workers of America, known as "the wobblies," later joined the Army, and came to Utah to join the Catholic Worker Movement and work at the Joe Hill House. In 1968 he ran for the Senate as the candidate of the Peace and Freedom Party, getting less than one percent of the votes.
Things were tough after that: "When I hit a blacklist in Utah in 1969, I realized I had to leave Utah if I was going to make a living at all. I didn’t know anything abut this enormous folk music family spread out all over North America. All I had was an old VW bus, my guitar, $75, and a head full of songs, old- and new-made. Fortunately, at the behest of my old friend Rosalie Sorrels, I landed at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, New York."
He had an underground hit with "Moose Turd Pie." His songs about the hobo lifestyle and the rails, and his anecdotes and storytelling, made him an authentic new proponent of old traditions, but didn't elevate him too far up the crowded ladder of folkies who aimed to be the new Woody Guthrie.
A few of his songs were well-covered, including "Green Rolling Hills" (Emmylou Harris) and "Goodnight-Loving Trail" (Tom Waits) and he was beloved by a new generation of folkies in the 90's including Kate Wolf, Rosalie Sorrels and Ani DiFranco. With Ani he recorded "The Past Didn't Go Anywhere" (1996) and "Fellow Workers" (1999). He maintained a radio show, "Loafer's Glory: The Hobo Jungle of the Mind," and was an activisit in his new home town, Nevada City, California, where he helped set up the Peace and Justice Center.
Slowed down over the years...unable to play the guitar to his liking, and suffering from heart disease, Phillips retired from touring last year. Just before his death, May 14th, he wrote a letter that circulated among his friends. Addressing his "current reality," part of the message was this:
"At no time should you suspect me of complaining (kvetching); I am simply grepsing (Yiddish word for describing the condition of that reality).
"My heart, which is enlarged and very weak, can’t pump enough blood to keep my body plunging forward at its usual 100 percent. It allows me about 25 to 30 percent, which means I don’t get around very much or very easily anymore. I’m sustained (i.e., kept alive) by a medication called Milrinone, which is contained in a pump that I carry around with me in a shoulder bag. The pump, which runs 24 hours a day, moves the medication through a long tube running into an implanted Groshong catheter that in turn runs directly into my heart. I’ll be keeping this pump for the rest of my life. I also take an extraordinary number of oral medications, of which many are electrolytes.
My body is weak but my will is strong, and I keep my disposition as sunny and humorous as I’m able. It’s hard enough being disabled without being cranky as well. Though I’m eating well, my weight has gone from 175 to 155 pounds. I look like a geriatric Fred Astaire.
We manage to get out a good bit, visiting the Ananda (a local spiritual village and retreat center) flower garden up on the San Juan Ridge and occasionally going to lunch at various places around town. The bag is always with me. Believe me, none of this would be possible without my wife Joanna. She has the deepest, most loving and caring heart one could ever imagine....for now, I’m enjoying my life and can think of no good reason not to. Joanna and I both know that the chemical regimen I’m on can’t go on indefinitely. We take things a day at a time, deriving joy and solace from a solid, loving relationship..."
"...Now I can no longer travel and perform; overnight our income vanished. But all of those I had sung for, sung with, or boarded with, hearing about my condition, stepped in and rescued us. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be part of this great caring community that, for the most part, functions close to the ground at a sub-media level, a community that has always cared for its own. We will be forever grateful for your help during this hard time.
The future? I don’t know. But I have songs in a folder I’ve never paid attention to, and songs inside me waiting for me to bring them out. Through all of it, up and down, it’s the song. It’s always been the song. Love and solidarity,
Your download sample isn't a song, it's a routine, Utah the raconteur telling you about baking a moose turd pie. You also learn what a "gandy dancer" is, and you also get to hear that familiar, terrible pun about "wiring ahead..." But enjoy it for yourself...
Moose Turd Pie

Monday, May 19, 2008

U.S. Hits Blitzed into German

"You're right," Max Prendergast (alias The Joker) said to Emma Peel, "it IS a rather brutal language." He was referring to a German-language tune that he played over and over to drive her crazy. Emma was quite upset. German vocals are a bit alarming. It can't be helped. The language can be harsh, and when a German vocalist gets worked up, it can be downright frightening.
The sixteen samples here should be burned (to CD-R) and put on the shelf next to your Hogan's Heroes and Stalag 17 DVD's. It's amusing, alarming, foreboding and also funny stuff. Call it "fun with stereotypes," but don't take it too seriously. Most German singers aren't overboard at all (check the blog for an illfolks tribute to the late great Greta Keller). But this bunch? Ach du lieber! Sung in German...

1. Paranoid - you can bet this duo has glowing eyes with no pupils.
2. In the Year 2525 - who better than Germans to forecast a hideous future?
3. House of the Rising Sun - more like der Phantom of the House of the Rising Sun
4. What a Day for a Daydream - and in the night, they love the sound of shattered glass.
5. Wooly Bully - why does a German call to dance seem more like a call to march?
6. Paint it Black - very dark, and with thumping Hungarian violins!
7. Yellow Submarine - yah, take a look, in front of us is der Lusitania!
8. Sloop John B - these guys sound like they'd be more at home on the Bismarck.
9. Runaway - deep-voiced dark paranoia-noir, enough to pop Fritz Lang's good eye
10. Leader of the Pack - are they singing "Zion force a stool?" Slay me, frauleins.
11. The Witch - she'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too.
12. Lola - German vocals sound ZO decadent. Go ahead Goebbels, dress up as Dietrich.
13. Don't Ha Ha - what or who are they viciously laughing at? Gooba Gooba!
14. Son of a Preacher Man - she's more likely to want an atheist in leather boots.
15. Gloria - her name was Gloria, not a Jewish name at all, and he killed her anyway.
16. Shout - speeded up vocals with harsh cries of "Aus! Aus! Aus!" Ow!

Hit Songs Sung Horribly in German

KILL ME NOW - The Chapin Sisters

There have been precocious combos in the past...The Roches, The Moirs, The McGarrigle Sisters, the trio of Parton-Ronstadt-Harris, and more recently, The Pierce Sisters (sampled here several months ago).
Now, submitted for your chilled disapproval, The Chapin Sisters, who are no relation to Harry (musically...see below for a genetic report) and prefer a more wan, offbeat and slightly eerie brand of folk-rock.
As with The Pierce Sisters, who apparently went nowhere, the illfolks blog offers another kiss of death to unique ladies who will probably not hit the Billboard witness the prophetic chosen sample, "Kill Me Now."
Intentionally disturbed harmonizing leads to: "Don't wanna go get a rock and just stone me...Kill me now. Oh, kill me now." Like anorexic Shangri-La's, but with a more overt sense of tongue-in-chic humor, they continue... "Don't defend it. No no. Just go get a knife and please end it. Whoa whoa."
Chilly enough to catch cult? Here are...