Forward, together

Several years ago, I heard Dick Cavett on TV reminiscing about a dancing class he took in the early 1950s.  He said that the teacher had told them that “There is a man in public life whom I would call a ‘motor moron.’  That man is Senator Nixon of California.”  Cavett went on to talk about how widely Richard Nixon’s physical awkwardness was remarked on during his career. I can’t find that clip anywhere online, but here’s a blog post of Cavett’s about Nixon.  Here’s a clip of him telling a shorter version of the story from that post.

What brings this to mind are this morning’s newspapers, several of which feature a quote from the State of the Union Address  President Obama delivered to Congress last night.  Evidently Mr O said “We will move forward together or not at all.”  Another video clip I wish I could find would be one of Richard Nixon intoning his 1968 campaign slogan, “Let us move forward together.”  When Nixon begins, his arms are outstretched in front of him, his hands together.  As he says “Let us move forward,” he jerks his arms backward.   As he says, “together,” he flings his arms wide.   Nixon also famously said in his fourth debate with John Kennedy in 1960 that “This country cannot stand pat.”  Considering that Nixon’s wife was named Pat, this was an unfortunate choice of words.  I’ve heard it said that he once used this expression while gesturing in the direction of Pat Nixon;  I don’t know if that”s true, though it isn’t hard to imagine him doing it.

Great Moments in the History of the US Vice Presidency

Vice President Nelson Rockefeller greets US Senators, 1976

Say what you will about the men who have served as Vice President of the United States, they’ve been a lively bunch.  Just look at how incumbent Joseph Biden behaved at the single most important ceremonial occasion of his term in office so far, yesterday’s signing of the health-care reform measure:

Biden was only doing his bit to continue a fine tradition.  Biden’s immediate predecessor, that Dick Cheney, during his time in office not only responded to questions from a senior senator by telling him to “go f*ck” himself, but also shot a man in the face.  Cheney’s adventures in gunplay recall Vice President Aaron Burr, who in 1804  shot and killed former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
Other Vice Presidents have also done their bit to amuse the Republic.  For example, Andrew Johnson was drunk when he was inaugurated as vice president in 1865.  Perhaps more disturbingly, Spiro Agnew was apparently sober when he publicly referred to a prominent Japanese-American as a “fat Jap” and when he explained his refusal to visit the Watts section of Los Angeles by saying that “When you’ve seen one city slum, you’ve seen them all.”   J. Danforth Quayle sometimes seemed to be on a mission to make life easy for standup comics; how else can one explain remarks such as “It’s time for the human race to enter the solar system”; “I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy – but that could change”; “I love California, I practically grew up in Phoenix”*; “If you give a person a fish, they’ll fish for a day. But if you train a person to fish, they’ll fish for a lifetime”; and “It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.”
Not all vice presidents have been merely ridiculous.  Some have combined ridiculousness with signs of true dignity.  Richard Mentor Johnson, no relation to Andrew, served as vice president from 1837-1841, when Martin Van Buren was US president.  Richard Johnson’s great qualification for public office was his claim to have fired the bullet that killed the Shawnee chief Tecumseh at the battle of Tippecanoe.    The slogan “Rumpsey-Dumpsey, Rumpsey-Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecums-ee” gave more credit for a single lucky shot than any marksman had received since Paris planted an arrow in Achilles’ heel.
So much for the ridiculous part of Johnson’s life.  His personal life was where the dignity crept in.  In the words of the US Senate’s official history:
Johnson was reelected to a full Senate term in 1822 but in 1828 lost his reelection bid because Kentucky Democrats feared that controversy over his domestic life would jeopardize Jackson’s chances in the national election. Johnson never married. Family tradition recounts that he ended an early romance, vowing revenge for his mother’s interference, after Jemima Johnson pronounced his intended bride unworthy of the family. He later lived openly with Julia Chinn, a mulatto slave raised by his mother and inherited from his father, until her death from cholera in 1833. Johnson freely acknowledged the relationship, as well as the two daughters born to the union, and entrusted Julia with full authority over his business affairs during his absences from Blue Spring Farm.
This relationship was not without cost for Johnson.  To quote the official Senate history again, this time with reference to the reaction presidential candidate Martin Van Buren met when he chose Johnson as his running mate:
Van Buren’s ally Albert Balch had previously warned Jackson that “I do not think from what I hear daily that the nomination of Johnson for the Vice Presidency will be popular in any of the slave holding states except Ky. on account of his former domestic relations,” and a Van Buren correspondent later predicted that “Col. Johnson’s . . .  weight would absolutely sink the whole party in Virginia.” Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice John Catron warned Jackson that Johnson was “not only positively unpopular in Tennessee . . .  but affirmatively odious” and begged the president “to assure our friends that the humblest of us do not believe that a lucky random shot, even if it did hit Tecumseh, qualifies a man for the Vice Presidency.” He predicted that “the very moment Col. J. is announced, the newspapers will open upon him with facts, that he had endeavored often to force his daughters into society, that the mother in her life time, and they now, rode in carriages, and claimed equality.”
Van Buren’s friend may have been right about Virginia; that state’s electors refused to vote for Johnson, throwing the 1836 vice presidential election into the Senate.
*Phoenix, Arizona, that is

Non-Virtual WABAC Machine

For the next time somebody calls “no do-overs.”

This WayBackMachine may be easier to operate.

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger turned 90 in May; his birthday party, an intimate little gathering of 18,000 of his closest personal friends, was released on DVD this month, leading to some publicity.  Here are a few videos in his honor.

If You Love Your Uncle Sam (Bring ’em Home.)  Sadly, this Vietnam-era song is not just for nostalgia; here‘s an updated version.  

Wimoweh, with the Weavers

What Did You Learn in School Today?


Solidarity Forever

Eight years of one day

tomwaitsEight years ago today some Tom Waits songs started running through my head.  “Yesterday is Here” seemed very timely; “today’s grey skies, tomorrow is tears,/ you’ll have to wait til yesterday is here.”  That song is on the album Frank’s Wild Years; several times in those days I set my CD player to play two cuts from Frank’s Wild Years, “Yesterday is Here” and “Cold Cold Ground.” 

Another Waits tune that seemed to fit the day very well was “The Fall of Troy” from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack.  It’s about a boy who watched helplessly while his brother Troy was shot to death in a robbery.  The whole song is full of extremely apt lines.   “It’s hard to say grace and to sit in the place,/ of someone missing at the table./ Mom’s hair’s sprayed tight and her face in her hands/ Watching TV for answers to me/ After all, she’s only human/ and she’ll have to find her own way home.” 

“The Fall of Troy” would usually get me crying, back then.  If crying felt good, I’d turn to Heartattack and Vine and listen to “Jersey Girl.”  That would get me sobbing.  Waits said that before he wrote that song he never thought he’d use “sha-la-la” in lyrics; eight years and one day ago, I never thought “sha-la-la” would elicit tears from me.

“Ain’t She Sweet”

From 1995’s The Beatles Anthology DVD: George Harrison plays the ukulele, Paul McCartney sings, Ringo Starr keeps time. 

You’ll not see nothing

Ever since cymast posted a video of Melanie’s “Candles in the Rain,” this somewhat similar song has been running through my head.  So I decided to let it run out here.

Comics With Problems




Thanks to BoingBoing for linking to this online repository of unusual comic books.

Patrick McGoohan, RIP


Fans of 60s TV shows aimed at people who want to feel smart will join me in mourning the death of Patrick McGoohan, star of The Prisoner.

Unlikely Comic Book Characters

Some time ago, LeFalcon posted a picture of a comic book cover featuring supervillain “Paste Pot Pete.”  Unfortunately this image is no longer available.  Here’s another:

Paste Pot Pete teams up with the Wizard

Paste Pot Pete teams up with the Wizard

After the jump, some other, equally unlikely, comic book characters.