Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Those Tasty Swedes, One Sauve Italian, and a Galaxy of Prizes

First off, a big welcome to the big Mac himself, David McIntire, now a registered reader. As I'm sure you all know, David is real, unlike various fictional Big Macs. (My favorite of these was Mac Tonight, who managed to turn a bizarre congenital deformity of the head into a short-lived career shilling for the Big Mac Supper Club. Say what you like, he was a star.)

On rereading the last entry, I realize I had not paid Abba much in the way of compliments, and all the while I was having fun with their lyrics. They were, in my opinion, very good pop writers and arrangers. Tasteful, yes, tasty Winslow, tasty. I find it kind of amusing that they are thought of primarily as a very up, happy band, but the last third or so of their career was chock full 'o' depressing lyrics about dissolving relationships, crappy dating scenes, depression, messy divorce settlements, etc. And very much inspired by real life. How the hell did they keep working together during that time? Just like the Ramones. (Mark that one on your calendar: the one and probably only time you'll hear someone suggest "Abba: just like the Ramones".) You know, long-term bad blood over relationships. OK, so with the Ramones it was over a non-band member, not within the band, but...they still went years and years playing gigs and not talking to each other. Jeez.

I was realizing the other day, once again, how much of my memory is taken up by tidbits of inane commercials from my youth. Sometimes it surfaces with no warning and no apparent provocation. Chrissy and I and the baby were driving somewhere and suddenly it came into my head: "Ham...and cheese. Everyday it's ham....and cheese." Now that's obscure and not particularly memorable, but there it was. No jingle attached to it. Jingles are fiendishly effective pnemonic devices, which might explain why I can still spout off about various L.A. area car dealerships. ("Dial, Dial, Dial Chevrolet, two blocks off the Santy Anna freeway, one one nine eight oh east Firestone, Dial Chevrolet." Yes, I know it used to be called something else- can't recall what, Hyam knows- and that the jingle was courtesy of Les Paul and Mary Ford. Or: "If you think you'd like a hand in buying a Chevy today, come on down to discount land, Cormier Chevrolet [cue corny heartworming- er, warming- harmonica]". Sometimes it was simply an astonishingly poetic turn of phrase: "A beautiful place to lease or buy your beautiful car...Bob Spreen Cadillac...Where the freeways meet in Downey." It didn't have a jingle, but it had a kind of magical swirly harp "Calgon-take-me-away" music behind it; and it was uttered as though to help you picture the distant and wondrous land of Downey. Think about this for a minute: it was the place where the freeways meet. I mean....wow! That's a big deal! That's like, super crossroads or something. Over the mountains of the moon, if you search for an El Dorado.

(A side note: I'd originally thought about naming the "Driving Life" trilogy, from "Tales Of Today...", "Where The Freeways Meet In Downey". As happens to me fairly often, I decided to go with something less specific, but it still comes into my head every time I hear one of those pieces.)

It was a discussion about lame commercials of the '70s which led Splatt Winger, host of KXLU's "Brain Cookies", to dub me "The Hans the Woodcrafter of the guitar". We were at X=Art, a short-lived but truly fun and memorable club, and I don't recall how the subject of commercials came up. We went through various classics, like the dancing musical "Cup-o-Soup" commercial, and the switch to the nauseatingly conformist "I'm a Pepper" from the more likeable, underachieving "Dr. Pepper, So Misunderstood...". There were the commercials that led to careers, like the bank commercial that brought both the Carpenters and Paul Williams to prominence through "We've Only Just Begun"...Or another bank commercial that rocketed Sandy Duncan to short-lived fame, or Rodney-Allen Rippey ("I can't, I got...unh..."). There was the Coke commercial that led to the "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" hit. And then somehow I brought up Hans the Woodcrafter, and Splatt let out a hollering "Yes! Yes!" of recognition. We ran through our memories and checked them against each other, for the delivery, the dialogue ("Carnuba and monton!", "Look at that shine!", etc.), and whether or not Hans was played by Bo Svennson (we decided we thought he was). Why we were so excited about this is pretty near impossible to explain, but we were. This is the kind of thing where, if you get it, you get it, and if you don't, you take a step back or two back and excuse yourself. In retrospect it doesn't seem very rational. But then I've only been accused of that on rare occasions.

But anyway, Splatt said, "Well, that's it. Dude- you ARE Hans. From this day on, you are the Hans the Woodcrafter of the guitar, the only guitarist with both carnuba and monton." There was no point in arguing, I'd been dubbed.

The other night, once again for no reason I can recall, another product of the advertising arts invaded my thoughts; a mythical fella named Aldo Cella. He was this short guy with a mustache, looked like Dennis Franz or my brother Jeff, all decked out in a white suit and a white hat, with various beautiful women pawing at him saying "Aldo...Aldo!"etc., like he's the first guy to figure out what to do with a clit. A total "Seven Beauties" takeoff. He makes his way to a bottle of Cella wine, opens it, and to the camera, he smiles, looks up through the caresses of his laidy- er, lady friends, and says, "Chill a Cella!" Very heavy on the Guido, when the guy was probably from Pasadena. Hadn't thought about this in years, but...there it was again. Meanwhile there's always things in my immediate environment that won't stay in my head five minutes. Gives me a feeling of dread, truth be told; alzheimer's runs in the family. But I can push back the fear and cover it up, along with all sorts of other things, with babbling inanities that make me laugh:"Aldo...Aldo!!! Aldo!!"

In the far distant time of my first decade, I can recall the wonders of cheap commercials on the cheapest of the local L.A. stations, channel 13. They had a giveaway contest called "KCOP's Galaxy Of Prizes", and the commercial involved a large poster, and zooming in at various speeds on various parts of it. The opening had the wonderful bad sound of a worn-out 8mm school film: "You can WIN!!!" (A warbly fanfare sounds.) "Fabulous PrrEYE-zezzz!!!" (More warbly fanfare.) "With KCOP's Galaxy of Prizes-zez-zezez......" Meanwhile, the camera is twisted side to side and zoomed in and out from the promo poster, until at the end, someone spins the poster very quickly in front of the camera. Imagine the worst possible version of what I'm describing and you'll probably have a pretty good idea of what it looked like. Now the commercial went on to show fuzzy close-up shots of little print ads for their various advertisers. "Spend a night on the Riviera...convertible sofa that is!" "Win a fabulous mink stole!" [breathy woman's voice:] "From Mannis furs...". etc. The Riviera folks had their own commercials, as did several of the Galaxy of Prizes sponsors. Chrissy eventually learned to understand the absurdity of me saying, out of
nowhere "I spent a night on the Riviera- convertible SOFA, that is!" She will sometimes say this to me out of nowhere too. And I like it.

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