A Majority of One

You be tMajcovresizedhe jury. You be the judge.

All hell breaks loose in a small Georgia town when religion clashes with the Constitution over book censorship in the school classroom.

Not all religious fanatics come from the Middle East. America has its own, home-grown variety.

 Loved this book…riveting and surprising. A strong insight into what our society could become if we continue to label one another. Robert Lamb’s best novel yet. A must read!” ~Lydia Taylor, Amazon review

 

Who wrote that?

Songwriters

I’m convinced that songwriters are the Rodney Dangerfields of popular music. Name any popular hit song of the last 50 years and ask your friends who wrote it. The most likely response will be, “Duh?” Like Dangerfield, the late king of one-liners (“I went to the fights and a hockey game broke out”), songwriters get no respect.

Why? Beats me. People just seem to pay no attention to who wrote something, no matter what it is.

Scout’s honor: as he cut my hair, my barber, a news junkie, used to tell me all about this or that story he had just read in the local newspaper. Often it was one I had written. My byline was on it. In bold type. He never made the connection – even when I said, “Yeah, I wrote that.” He’d go right on telling me the story, my story! I never called him on it. After all, he was wielding scissors and I was unarmed. But he’s no longer my barber, and poetic justice has allowed me to forget his name.

But what is it with bylines anyhow? Even I, a former newspaperman, overlook them at times. The other night, I was reading a story in National Geographic that was so good that, halfway in, I went back to the first page to see who had written it. No wonder I liked it; the author was Garrison Keillor.

But I have strayed from the subject of songwriters, which has been nibbling at my subconscious lately every time I find myself admiring some particularly good lyrics.Here, for instance, in a 1937 recording of “I Must Have That Man,”* by the one and only Billie Holiday, is a couplet, one of a string, that even Shakespeare might have envied:

Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields

”I need that person much worse ‘n just bad;
I’m half alive and it’s drivin’ me mad.
He’s only human: if he’s to be had,
I must have that man
.”

Who wrote the song?

Jimmy McHugh, a songwriter who was a legend in his own time (July 10, 1894 – May 23, 1969). He’s been dead for nearly half a century, but if you have ever lamented the lack of eloquence to say to your Significant Other “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” or “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me,” you can thank Mrs. McHugh’s son Jimmy for putting your tongue-tied feelings into immortal words and even setting them to music.

For three decades, from the 1920s to the 1950s, McHugh, working with a variety of fellow tunesmiths – not least the equally talented Dorothy Fields – turned out hit after hit. One of them, as infectiously hummable today as it was back then, even helped Americans shed the Great Depression blues, urging them to grab a coat and hat, leave their worries on the doorstep, and start life anew “On The Sunny Side of the Street.”

No, my musical tastes aren’t mired in the past. But they aren’t exactly au courant either. Somehow I can’t persuade myself that what dominates the Top 40 airwaves these days is music. It strikes me as theatre, socio-political theatre – hostility and crudity chanted monotonously to the beat of jungle drums, hinting at violence just a hip-hop away. Hey, where are the likes of Leiber and Stoller when we really need them?

Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Who?

Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, a songwriting team from the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll whose songs, like those of McHugh, have been playing somewhere in the world for half a century and bid fair to keep going for another 50 years.

Never heard of Leiber and Stoller? Think “Jailhouse Rock.”

“Everybody in the whole cell block was dancing to the jailhouse rock.”

Think “Love Potion #9.”

“She bent down and turned around and gave me a wink.
She said I’m gonna mix it up right here in the sink.
It smelled like turpentine and looked like India ink.
I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink.”

Think “D.W. Washburn.”

“If you don’t get out of that gutter before the next big rain, D.W. Washburn, you’re gonna wash right down the drain.”

Truth is, the team of Leiber and Stoller was a virtual hit-making machine throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Even today, you can hardly surf the radio dial for a minute without landing on one of their songs, be it “Stand By Me” or “Poison Ivy” or “I’m A Woman” or “Searchin’” or “Charlie Brown,” or “Hound Dog” or “Kansas City” or “Little Egypt” or “Fools Fall In Love” or “Youngblood” or “There Goes My Baby” or “Yakety Yak,” or the sublime ”Spanish Harlem,” a tune that fused rock ‘n’ roll with intricate poetry, violin and cello strings, and came out sounding perfectly lovely:

”There is a rose in Spanish Harlem, a red rose up in Spanish Harlem. It is a special one, it’s never seen the sun, it only comes out when the moon is on the run and all the stars are gleaming. It’s growing in the street, right up through the concrete, but soft and sweet and dreaming.”

If you think I’m suggesting here that they just don’t write them like that anymore, guess again. Really good songwriters continue to pour out the hit tunes that make up the soundtrack of our lives. But the really great ones, the Cole Porters, the Johnny Mercers, the Irvin Berlins, the Gibbs brothers, the Harold Arlens — the ones who turned out whole songbooks of their own musical genius, are now fewer and fewer. How many songwriters now alive can hope to match the feat of Indiana’s Hoagy Carmichael, who wrote four of America’s most-often-recorded songs of all time (“Stardust,” “Heart and Soul,” “The Nearness of You,” and “Georgia On My Mind”)?

But, thank goodness, the music never stops. After Leiber and Stoller came the Beatles, with gems like “Yesterday,” “Lady Madonna,” and “Eleanor Rigby.” Then came Elton John (and Bernie Taupin) with “Bennie and the Jets” and “Honky Cat;” Carole King with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” not to mention the other songs on her fabulous album titled “Tapestry;” Don Henley (of the Eagles) with “Desperado,” “Heartache Tonight,” and ”One of These Nights.”

Close behind them came Billy Joel, the Everyman of popular music, with hits like “An Innocent Man,” “Just the Way You Are,” “New York State of Mind,” and “Keeping the Faith” – a verse of which, come to think of it, gives me the perfect exit lines:

“You can get just so much from a good thing. You can linger too long in your dreams.
Say goodbye to the Oldies but goodies ’cause the good ole days weren’t always good
and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”

 

P.S. In case you missed it, this article was written by Robert Lamb.

*Holiday recorded the song with a team of famous musicians: Benny Goodman on clarinet; Lester Young, tenor sax; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Teddy Wilson, piano, Give a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKjXFuWgEU4

                                                             ###
  • Images: All of the images appeared for used in this story were originally promotional/fair use.
  • I wrote this essay last June and it appeared then on likethedew.com.

Beach Walk

I walk my pit bull ‘Dro (short for Pedro), on or near the beach nearly every morning. We usually access the beach at an inn whose parking lot, full these days, is to me something of an amusement park, what with all the bumper/window stickers and out-of-state license plates to be seen there: New York, Tennessee, Dro-DroMaryland, Ontario, Virginia, Texas, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina.

One Maryland license plate was especially evocative; it said simply RIPTREV. Love to know the story behind that one.

But most of the stickers were ones you’ve seen many times before: Ask Me About My Grandkids; I’d Rather Be Fishing; Hang Up And Drive!

Some were pugnacious: If Yo’ Heart Ain’t in Dixie, Git Your Ass Out; Keep Honking, I’m Reloading; My Kid Can Beat Up Your Honor Student.

Others were downright mean: Who Cares About Your Stick Figure Family?

Some aim for wit: My Other Car Is A Rolls; Jesus Saves — At First Federal; Be Nice To America Or We’ll Bring Democracy To Your Country; Your Village Called – Their Idiot Is Missing; Ask Me About My Grandog. ‘Dro liked that last one.

Still other stickers aim for wit but get only halfway there: Going 60 In The Left Lane With My Left Blinker On: Deal With It!

But I saw one this morning, on a North Carolina car, that was wholly witless. It said: Non-Judgment Day Is Near.

Lord, I hope not! The whole idea of a people who do not exercise judgment is frightening.

I know, I know. The original idea, one of the cardinal tenets of Political Correctness, was to curb or eliminate the judgmental in us. But somewhere between conception and implementation, judgment itself got fixed in the cross-hairs of social disapproval. Happens a lot with Political Correctness.

Anyhow, “judgment,” says the dictionary, is the evaluation of evidence to make a decision. It’s the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.

“Judgmental” means having or displaying an extremely critical point of view.

Very different, eh?

Same with the uproar from time to time over so-called hateful speech. We might be right to disapprove of it — I say “might be” because the language both pro and con can get pretty hateful, can’t it?

But squelch it?

No.

Punish it?

A thousand times no.

Hateful or not, freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment, and free speech is much more important to a free society than are bruised sensibilities. The French philosopher Voltaire nailed the problem nicely: “I might not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Now if only I can get all that on a bumper sticker.

I asked ‘Dro if he thought it were possible, but he gave me a decidedly judgmental look and pointed, I swear it, to a bumper sticker that said: Wag More, Bark Less.

Never let it be said that I can’t take a hint from a pit bull, judgmental or otherwise.

We hurried on through the parking lot and soon were on the beach.

Dear S.C. Education Lottery:

I bought one of your $5 scratch-off cards the other day. It exclaimed in big, bold type: “Win Up To $100,000!” Alas, scratched clean, the card showed no such possible prize. The most I could have won was $1,000. I find this puzzling and unfair. It is in fact false advertising.

Printed on the back of the card (enclosed) is this: “TOP PRIZE ODDS: 1 in 480,000.” But I submit that my odds on this card were “None in 480,000.” In short, I paid for a chance to win the top prize when actually I was given no chance whatever to win the top prize.

No? Then ask yourself: Would people buy Powerball lottery tickets in the hope of winning, say, $10 million if in fact there was no $10 million to win? Or if their ticket was null and void from the start? I think not.

So let me tell you your odds of getting $5 from me again: None in 48 quadrillion to the tenth power.

Have a good day. ~Bob Lamb

The Queen Wants What!!!

Let me see if I’ve got this right: The Queen wants Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, to lower her hem lines. They’re too short, sayeth the English monarch.

Royal Limbs

I like the Queen. Got nothing against her. But take a look at this photo (right) of Kate, snapped as the wind in Calgary, Canada, lifted the hem of her dress. Is that not as pretty a pair of legs as you’ve seen in a month of Sundays? Never mind that the wind almost flashed a royal tush — I guarantee you that this photo won more friends for the Crown than a million-dollar PR campaign could have.

Some of the stories, which were all over the Internet yesterday, even said that Queen Elizabeth had “ordered” Kate to wear longer dresses and skirts.

If true, all I can say is: Lighten up, Liz. There is such a thing as being a royal pain, you know.

Hey, you don’t hear her husband,  your grandson William, complaining, do you?

Bet not.

Your Highness “ordered” her to lower her hems?

No wonder you Brits lost the Colonies.

Jeez!

‘Your call is very important to us. . .’

I woke up this morning with a great idea (drum roll, please): we as a nation should abandon Imagevoice mail! It is the most vexing invention that ever came down the pike and has probably caused more ulcers than surprise phone calls from the IRS.

Why voice mail was not smothered in its crib ranks right up there with the mystery of why we ever let Texas into the Union. True, America has never met a bad idea that millions of its citizens didn’t embrace at once. Take the national mania for tattoos— but let’s leave that for another day; voice mail is easily the more harmful social affliction.

Is there anybody here whose milk of human kindness hasn’t curdled and re-curdled at hearing for the umpteenth time in half an hour’s wait, “All our agents are still busy. Your call is very important  to us. Please wait for the next available agent”?

Who among us has not turned the air blue with curses and shouted into the receiver, “If my call is so #^&*()+%  important to you, why don’t you hire more agents to answer your phones?”

Hire more agents? Provide REAL customer service? What a great idea! But why do we the frustrated customers have to do all the thinking for corporate America? Which of our beloved captains of industry, in the first place, thought it would be a good idea to install a communications system that put all of telephoning America on hold? And isn’t that, right there, the proximate cause of high rates in both unemployment and valium addiction?

Certainly it is. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask you:

-Did or did not voicemail put thousands of real live people out of work?

-Did or did not Corporate America hire enough agents to answer the phones when at some time in the next century Customer America finally gets to speak to a real live person?

-Was it or was it not cruel and barbarous treatment to devise a recorded list of options none of which was the reason you called in the first place?

-Was it or was it not with malice aforethought  that the voice-mail people selected the worst music ever recorded to play for you while you waited (and waited, and waited)?

I rest my case — and I call for a conviction that can be appealed only through voice mail.

Anatomy of a novel

I wrote my latest novel, A Majority of One, to explore the influence of religion in our society, a Imageconstitutional democracy. To do this, I set up a clash between church and state, a clash of the kind that shows up in news headlines again and again, year after year, propelled nearly always  by misguided albeit sincere religious fervor. Oddly, we easily recognize religious zealotry in other parts of the world, like the Middle East, but are blind to its influence in our own culture. The idea for this story came to me years ago when I was the editor/publisher of a weekly newspaper and lived for five years in a small Southern town. At a party one night, the hostess, thirtyish wife of a popular local businessman, cornered me in her kitchen to tell me of her religious fervor. After exclaiming at length how much she loved Jesus, she segued into her fear of Satan, which struck me as much stronger than her love of Christ. The devil was after her soImageul night and day, she said, and she lived in perpetual fear that he would somehow capture it and take it off to Hell. I believed then and I believe now that the woman, who appeared completely normal, was actually under a self-induced spell smacking of lunacy. I also knew, while cornered in that kitchen years ago, that one day I would write a novel about that kind of religious zeal. A Majority of One is that novel.

Previous Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 657 other followers