June 16, 1980 The Blues Brothers

Dan Ackroyd tells a story about long days of rehearsals on the SNL set. An exhausted John Belushi would wander off and let himself into the house of a friend or a stranger, scrounging around for food before falling asleep in the house, unable to be found for the next day’s work. These outings were the inspiration for the SNL horror-spoof sketch “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave”.

Dan Aykroyd developed his musical talents during the late fifties and early sixties at an Ottowa club called Le Hibou, (French for ‘the owl’).  “I actually jammed behind Muddy Waters”, he once said.  “S. P. Leary left the drum kit one night, and Muddy said ‘anybody out there play drums?  I don’t have a drummer.’ And I walked on stage and we started, I don’t know, Little Red Rooster, something. He said ‘keep that beat going, you make Muddy feel good.’

Eric Idle of Monty Python once guest hosted, for Saturday Night Live.  Idle paid the greatest tribute to Aykroyd’s comedic talent, saying he was “the only member of the SNL cast capable of being a Python”.

John Belushi joined The Second City comedy troupe in 1971, playing off-Broadway in “National Lampoon’s Lemmings”. He played The National Lampoon Radio Hour from 1973 to 1975, a half-hour comedy program syndicated on over 600 stations.

Belushi appeared from 1973 to 1975 on The National Lampoon Radio Hour, along with future SNL regulars Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. A number of their radio segments went on to become SNL sketches in the show’s first couple seasons.SNL-original-castDan Ackroyd tells a story about long days of rehearsals on the SNL set. An exhausted John Belushi would wander off and let himself into the house of a friend or a stranger, scrounging around for food before falling asleep in the house, unable to be found for the next day’s work. These outings were the inspiration for the SNL horror-spoof sketch “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave”.

Lead vocalist “Joliet Jake” Blues (John Belushi) and harmonica player/backing vocalist Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) had their musical debut on January 17, 1976 in a comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live. “The Blues Brothers” appeared twice more on SNL sketches, both in 1978, before releasing their first album that same year: Briefcase Full of Blues.the-blues-brothers-57e6837c76b1dThe Blues Brothers film premiered in Chicago on this day in 1980, four days before general release. Set in the windy city and sprawling across the Midwest, the musical/comedy film tells the story of a paroled convict and his brother, and their mission to save the Catholic orphanage in which they were raised from foreclosure. The Blues Brothers’ “Mission from God” needs to raise $5,000 to pay the orphanage’s property tax bill. To do so, the pair sets out to reignite their old R&B band, pursued by the police and wrecking 103 cars along the way, a world record for that time.

While filming one of the night scenes, Belushi disappeared and couldn’t be found. Looking around, Dan Ackroyd found a single house with the lights on and knocked on the door. Before he could ask, the homeowner smiled and said “You’re here for John Belushi, aren’t you?” The man told his visitor that Belushi had entered the house, asked if he could have a glass of milk and a sandwich, and crashed on their couch.

To some, John Belushi may have been a real-life Thing that Wouldn’t Leave. To Dan Ackroyd, the man would always be “America’s Guest”.

John Belushi died in his hotel room on March 5, 1982 of a “Speedball”, a combined injection of heroin and cocaine. The cause of death was originally ruled accidental overdose, but Catherine Evelyn Smith was extradited and tried on first degree murder charges after her National Enquirer interview, in which she admitted giving Belushi the shot. A plea bargain reduced the charge to involuntary manslaughter.  She served fifteen months in prison.

Belushi’s wife Judith arranged for a traditional Orthodox Christian funeral in which he was interred, twice. The first was in Abel’s Hill Cemetery in the Chilmark section of Martha’s Vineyard.  A classic New England slate tombstone complete with skull and crossbones, marks the location. The inscription reads, “I may be gone but Rock and Roll lives on.”belushi-funeral-service“Fans” repeatedly felt the need to desecrate the grave.  The body was removed at Mrs. Belushi’s request and reburied in an undisclosed location.  An unmarked tombstone in an undisclosed location marks the final burial location, where the man can at last rest in peace.

John Belushi is remembered on the family marker at his mother’s grave at Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois. The stone reads, “HE GAVE US LAUGHTER”.

May 9, 1914 Mother’s Day

In 1872, American poet and author Julia Ward Howe proposed that the second of June be set aside each year, as a “Mother’s Day for Peace”.  While Howe’s effort proved unsuccessful, the modern conception of Mother’s Day was established 36 years later, by Anna Jarvis.

CybeleThe earliest discernible Mother’s day dates back to 1200-700BC and descending from the Phrygian rituals of modern day Turkey and Armenia. “Cybele” was the great Phrygian goddess of nature, mother of the Gods, of humanity, and of all the beasts of the natural world, her cult spreading throughout Eastern Greece with colonists from Asia Minor.

Much of ancient Greece looked to the Minoan Goddess Rhea, daughter of the Earth Goddess Gaia and the Sky God Uranus, mother of the Gods of Olympus.

Over time the two became closely associated with the Roman Magna Mater, each developing her own cult following and worshiped through the period of the Roman Empire.

In ancient Rome, women partook of a festival, strictly forbidden to Roman men. So strict was this line of demarcation that only women were permitted even to know the name of the deity. For everyone else she was simply the “Good Goddess”. The Bona Dea.

Mothering-Sunday_ss_458703388In the sixteenth century, it became popular for Protestants and Catholics alike to return to their “mother church” whether that be the church of their own baptism, the local parish church, or the nearest cathedral. Anyone who did so was said to have gone “a-mothering”. Domestic servants were given the day off and this “Mothering Sunday”, the 4th Sunday in Lent, was often the only time when whole families could get together. Children would gather wild flowers along the way, to give to their own mothers or to leave in the church. Over time the day became more secular, but the tradition of gift giving continued.

Julia Ward Howe, the American poet and author best known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, wrote an impassioned “Appeal to womanhood” in 1870, a pacifist reaction to the bloodshed of the Civil War, and the Franco-Prussian War.Julia-Ward-howe-2015-1030x623Two years later, Howe proposed that the second of June be set aside each year, as a “Mother’s Day for Peace”.  While Julia Ward Howe’s effort proved unsuccessful, the modern conception of Mother’s Day was established 36 years later, by Anna Jarvis.

Ann Maria Reeves JarvisAnn Maria Reeves Jarvis was a social activist in mid-19th century western Virginia. Pregnant with her sixth child in 1858, she and other women formed “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs”, to combat the health and sanitary conditions leading at that time to catastrophic levels of infant mortality.  Jarvis herself gave birth between eleven and thirteen times in a seventeen year period.

Only four lived to adulthood.

Jarvis had no patience for the sectional differences that led the nation to Civil War, or which led her own locality to secede and form the state of West Virginia in order to rejoin the Union. Jarvis refused to support a measure to divide the Methodist church into northern and southern branches. She would help Union and Confederate soldier alike if she could. It was she alone who offered a prayer when others refused for Thornsbury Bailey Brown, the first Union soldier killed in the vicinity.

Anna JarvisFollowing Jarvis’ death in 1905, her daughter Anna conceived of Mother’s Day as a way to honor her legacy and to pay respect for the sacrifices made by all mothers, on behalf of their children.

Obtaining financial backing from Philadelphia department store owner John Wanamaker, Anna Jarvis organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia. That same day, thousands attended the first Mother’s Day event at Wanamaker’s store in Philadelphia.

Anna Jarvis resolved that Mother’s Day be added to the national calendar and a massive letter writing campaign, ensued. On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure declaring the second Sunday of May, to be Mother’s Day.

Anna Jarvis believed Mother’s Day to be a time of personal celebration, a time when families would gather to love and honor their mother.

She’d worked with the floral industry in the early days, to help raise the profile of Mother’s Day. By 1920, Jarvis had come to resent what she saw as the commercialization of the day. Greeting cards seemed a pale substitute for the hand written personal notes she’d envisioned.anna-jarvis-was-sorry-she-ever-invented-mothers-d-2-27089-1431107892-11_dblbig

Jarvis protested at a Philadelphia candy maker’s convention in 1923, deriding confectioners, florists and even charities as “profiteers”. Carnations had by this time become symbolic of Mother’s Day.  Jarvis resented that they were being sold at fundraisers. She protested at a meeting of the American War Mothers in 1925 where women were selling carnations, and got herself arrested for disturbing the peace.

Soon she was launching an endless series of lawsuits against those she felt had used the “Mother’s Day” name in vain.

During the last years of her life, Anna Jarvis lobbied the government to take her creation off of the calendar, gathering signatures door-to-door to get the holiday rescinded. The effort was obviously unsuccessful.  The mother of the modern Mother’s Day died broke and childless in a sanitarium in 1948, her personal fortune squandered on legal fees.

Today, some variation of Mother’s Day is observed from the Arab world to the United Kingdom. In the United States, Mother’s Day is one of the most commercially successful days of the year for flower and greeting card sales, and the biggest day of the year for long-distance telephone calls. Church attendance is the third highest of the year, behind only Christmas and Easter. Many churchgoers celebrate the day with carnations: colored if the mother is still living and white if she has passed on.Screen-Shot-2014-03-19-at-11.32.55This story is dedicated to two of the most beautiful women in my life.  Ginny Long, thanks Mom, for not throttling me all those times you could have.  And most especially, for all those times when you SHOULD have.  Sheryl Kozens Long, thanks for 25 great years.  Rest in peace, sugar.  I wish you didn’t have to leave us, quite so soon.

March 9, 1914 Chef Boy-Ar-Dee

From catering the wedding reception of a President to feeding millions of GIs in World War 2, the most familiar face on your supermarket shelf was no figment of an ad-exec’s imagination.

He’s one of the most familiar faces on the supermarket shelf, right up there with Aunt Jemima and the Pillsbury Doughboy. That smiling, grandfatherly face with the red bandana and the tall chef’s hat. Like those other two a fictional character, the product of some brand development meeting, produced by the art department and focus-grouped by panels of consumers. As the story goes, the face behind the spaghetti and meatballs is the amalgamation of three names, the men behind the company:  Boyd, Art and Dennis.

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Only in this case, Boyd, Art & Dennis are the fictional characters.  The face you remember pulling out from your old Dukes of Hazard lunchbox was quite real, I assure you. I’ve been best buddies with one of his relatives, for nigh on fifty years.

Some 25 million legal immigrants passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924, among them Ettore Boiardi, Born in Piacenza, Italy, in 1897.  By age 11, Boiardi was assistant chef at “La Croce Bianca“.  The boy moved to Paris and then to London, honing his restaurant skills along the way.  He arrived at Ellis Island on this day in 1914, age 16 and following his brothers Mario and Paolo to the kitchen of the Plaza Hotel in New York.

ChefboyardeepicThe Plaza Hotel menu was heavy on the French in those days and Ettore began to add some Italian. A little pasta, a nice tomato sauce.  Before long, he was promoted to head chef.

According to his New York Times obituary, Boiardi was so talented that President Woodrow Wilson chose the man to cater the reception for his marriage to his second wife Edith, in 1915.

After World War 1, Boiardi supervised a homecoming dinner at the White House, for 2,000 returning soldiers.

Boiardi’s spaghetti sauce was famous by this time.  Ettore and his wife Helen opened a restaurant in Cleveland in 1926, Il Giardino d’Italia (The Garden of Italy), patrons often leaving with recipes for his sauces and samples, packed in cleaned milk bottles. It wasn’t long from there before the two were giving cooking classes and selling sauce, in milk jugs.

c0fe58bf08775b6d7bc79e7c0940259c-mainMaurice and Eva Weiner were patrons of the restaurant, and owners of a self-service grocery store chain. The couple helped develop large-scale canning operations. Before long Ettore and Mario bought farm acreage in Milton Pennsylvania, to raise tomatoes. In 1928, they changed the name on the label, making it easier for a tongue-tied non-Italian consumer, to pronounce.  Calling himself “Hector” for the same reason, Ettore said “Everyone is proud of his own family name, but sacrifices are necessary for progress.”

Meanwhile back in New York, Paolo (now calling himself “Paul”), made the acquaintance of one John Hartford, President of A&P Supermarkets. The Chef Boy-Ar-Dee company, was on the way.

he-was-awarded-the-gold-star-for-his-civilian-service-during-world-war-two-1502824369During the Great Depression, Hector would tout the benefits of pasta, praising the stuff as an affordable, hot and nutritious meal for the whole family.

World War II saw canning operations ramped up to 24/7 with the farm producing 20,000 tons of tomatoes at peak production and adding its own mushrooms, to the annual crop. The company employed 5,000 people producing a quarter-million cans, a day.  Troops overseas couldn’t get enough of the stuff.  For his contribution to the war effort, Hector Boiardi was honored with the Gold Star for Excellence, by the War Department.

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Such rapid growth is never without problems, particularly for a family business. Hector sold the company to American Home Foods in 1946, for the reported sum of $5.96 million.

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Boiardi family meeting, hat tip FoxNews.com

Boiardi stayed on as company spokesman and consultant until 1978.  Forty years later, Advertising Age executive Barbara Lippert named the 1966 Young & Rubicam “Hooray for Beefaroni” ad patterned after the Running of the Bulls, as the the inspiration for Prince Spaghetti’s “Anthony” series and the famous “Hilltop” ad for Coca Cola.

One of the great “rags to riches” stories of our age, Hector Boiardi continued to develop new products until his death in 1987, amassing an estimated net worth of $60 million dollars.  He is survived by his wife of 64 years and the couple’s one son, Mario.  His face may be found smiling back from your grocery store shelf, to this day.

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April 6, 1933 New Beer’s Eve

For every wound, a balm.
For every sorrow, cheer. 
For every storm, a calm.
For every thirst, a beer. – Irish toast, author unknown

Given the right combination of sugars, almost any cereal will undergo simple fermentation, due to the presence of wild yeasts in the air.  It seems likely that our cave-dwelling ancestors experienced their first beer, as the result of this process.

Starch dusted stones were found with the remains of doum-palm and chamomile in the 18,000-year old Wadi Kubbaniya in upper Egypt.  While it’s difficult to confirm, University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern suspects, “it’s very likely they were making beer there”.

Chemical analysis of pottery shards date the earliest barley beer to 3400BC, in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.beer-ingredients (1)Tacitus scorned the bitter brew of Germanic barbarians.  Wine seemed better suited to the sensibilities of the Roman palate.  Nevertheless, letters from Roman cavalry commanders of the Roman Britain period, c. 97-103 AD, include requests for more “cerevisia“, for the legionaries.

In North and South America, native peoples brewed fermented beverages from local ingredients including agave sap, the first spring tips of the spruce tree, and maize.

Pilgrims left the Netherlands city of Leiden in 1620, hoping not for the frozen, rocky soil of New England, but for rich farmland and a congenial climate in the New World.   Lookouts spotted the wind-swept shores of Cape Cod on November 9, 1620 and may have kept going, had there been enough beer.  One Mayflower passenger wrote in his diary: “We could not now take time for further search… our victuals being much spent, especially our beer…download-67Prior to the drum roaster’s invention in 1817, malt was typically dried over wood, charcoal or straw fires, leaving a smoky quality which would seem foreign to the modern beer drinker.  William Harrison wrote in his “Description of England” in 1577, “For the wood-dried malt, when it is brewed, beside that the drink is higher of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of him that is not used thereto, because of the smoke“.

Smoky flavor didn’t trouble the true beer aficionado of the age.  When the Meux Brewery casks let go in 1814 spilling nearly 400,000 gallons onto the street, hundreds of Britons hurried to scoop the stuff up in pots and pans.  Some lapped it right up off of the street, doggy-style.2926-london-beer-flood1 (1)1,389 were trampled to death and another 1,300 injured in a stampede for the suds, when someone thought the beer had run out at the coronation of Czar Nicholas II, in 1896.download-66The 18th amendment, better known as “prohibition”, went into effect at midnight, January 16, 1920. For thirteen years it was illegal to import, export, transport or sell liquor, wine or beer in the United States.

Portable stills went on sale within a week and organized smuggling was quick to follow. California grape growers increased acreage by over 700% over the first five years, selling dry blocks of grapes as “bricks of rhine” or “blocks of port”. The mayor of New York City sent instructions on wine making, to his constituents.

Smuggling operations became widespread as cars were souped up to outrun “the law”. This would lead in time to competitive car racing, beginning first on the streets and back roads and later moving to dedicated race tracks.  It’s why we have NASCAR, today.williams-vs-byron-replacements100-2020-recap-upscaled-image-x4-1584470318Organized crime became vastly more powerful due to the influx of enormous sums of cash.  The corruption of public officials was a national scandal.

Gaining convictions for breaking a law that everyone hated became increasingly difficult. There were over 7,000 prohibition related arrests in New York alone between 1921 and 1923.  Only 27 resulted in convictions.download-65Finally, even John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a lifelong teetotaler who contributed $350,000 to the Anti-Saloon League, had to announce his support for repeal.

It’s difficult to compare rates of alcohol consumption before and during prohibition.  If death by cirrhosis of the liver is any indication, alcohol consumption never decreased by more than 10 to 20 per cent.

FDR signed the Cullen–Harrison Act into law on March 22, 1933, commenting “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”  The law went effect on April 7, allowing Americans to buy, sell and drink beer containing up to 3.2% alcohol.

A team of draft horses hauled a wagon up Pennsylvania Avenue, delivering a case of beer to the White House – the first public appearance of the Budweiser Clydesdales.fd3cb0f1f05a3b17a69799cd32a01bcb (1)“Dry” leaders tried to prohibit consumption of alcohol on military bases in 1941, but military authorities claimed it was good for morale. Brewers were required to allocate 15% of total annual production to be used by the armed forces. So essential were beer manufacturers to the war effort, that teamsters were ordered to end a labor strike against Minneapolis breweries.  Near the end of WWII, the army made plans to operate recaptured French breweries, to ensure adequate supplies for the troops.

18 states continued prohibition at the state level after the national repeal, the last state finally dropping it in 1966. Almost 2/3rds of all states adopted some form of local option, enabling residents of political subdivisions to vote for or against local prohibition.  Some counties remain dry to this day.  Ironically, Lynchburg County, Tennessee, home to the Jack Daniel distillery, is one such dry county.

Beer toastThe night before Roosevelt’s law went into effect, April 6, 1933, beer lovers lined up at the doors of their favorite watering holes, waiting for their first legal beer in thirteen years.

A million and a half barrels of the stuff were consumed the following day, a date remembered to this day, as “National Beer Day”.

So it is that, from that day to this, we celebrate April 6 as “New Beer’s Eve”.  Sláinte.

For every wound, a balm.
For every sorrow, cheer. 
For every storm, a calm.
For every thirst, a beer. – Irish toast, author unknown

April 1, 1957 The Fabulous Swiss Spaghetti Tree

In Poland, “Prima Aprilis” is so strong that the anti-Turkish alliance with Leopold I, signed on April 1, 1683, was backdated to March 31.

April Fools. The ancient Roman festival of Hilaria, held on March 25, may be a precursor. The Medieval Feast of Fools, held December 28, is still a day on which pranks are played in Spanish-speaking countries.2019_CKS_17294_0141_001(william_james_webbe_chanticleer_and_the_fox)

In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, “March 32” of 1392 is the day the wily fox tricked the vain cock Chanticleer. The fox appealed to the rooster’s vanity and insisted he would love to hear the cock crow, just as his amazing father had. Standing on tiptoe with neck outstretched and eyes closed, the rooster obliged.  with unfortunate, if not unpredictable results.

april-fishIn 1582, France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian moving New Year to January 1 as specified by the Council of Trent of 1563. Those who didn’t get the news and continued to celebrate New Year in late March/April 1, quickly became the butt of jokes and hoaxes.

Paper fish were placed on their backs, as these “poisson d’avril” (April fish) were said to symbolize the young, naive, easily caught fish of Spring.

The Flemish children of Belgium lock their parents or teachers out, letting them in only if they promise to bring treats that evening or the next day.

In 1539, Flemish poet Eduard de Dene wrote of a nobleman who sent his servants on fool’s errands on April 1.

b59b43022c5e5078d8b3c860306b989fIn Scotland, April Fools’ Day is traditionally called Hunt-the-Gowk Day. Although it’s fallen into disuse, a “gowk” is a cuckoo or a foolish person. The prank consists of asking someone to deliver a sealed message requesting some sort of help. The message reads “Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile”. On reading the message, the recipient will explain that to help, he’ll first need to contact another person, sending the victim to another person with the same message.

In Poland, “Prima Aprilis” is so strong that the anti-Turkish alliance with Leopold I, signed on April 1, 1683, was backdated to March 31.

festival-of-foolsAnimals were kept at the Tower of London since the 13th century, when Emperor Frederic II sent three leopards to King Henry III. In later years, elephants, lions, even a polar bear were added to the collection, the polar bear trained to catch fish in the Thames.

In 1686, John Aubrey referred to the holiday as “Fooles holy day”, the first British reference.

On April 1, 1698, citizens were invited to the Tower of London to see the “Washing of the Lions” in the tower moat. Quite a few were sucked in. The April 2 edition of Dawks’ News-Letter reported that “Yesterday being the first of April, several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed.” The “annual ceremony of washing the lions,” lasted throughout the 18th & 19th centuries, always held on April 1st.

The prank became quite elaborate by the mid-nineteenth century. Tickets were printed and distributed for the event, specifying that attendees be “Admitted only at the White Gate”, and that “It is requested that no Gratuities will be given to the Wardens on any account.”washing-of-the-lions-ticketIn “Reminiscences of an Old Bohemian”, Gustave Strauss laments his complicity in the hoax in 1848. “These wretched conspirators”, as Straus called his accomplices, “had a great number of order-cards printed, admitting “bearer and friends” to the White Tower, on the 1st day of April, to witness…the famous grand annual ceremony of washing the lions”.

Pandemonium broke out when hundreds showed up, only to realize they’d been pranked. “In the midst of the turmoil” Strauss wrote, “some one spotted me to whom I had given an order of admission, and he would have set the whole mob upon me. Knowing of old that discretion is, as a rule, the better part of valour…I had to skedaddle, and keep dark for a time, until the affair had blown over a little”.lefthandedwhopperIn 1957, (you can guess the date), the BBC reported the delightful news that mild winter weather had virtually eradicated the dread spaghetti weevil of Switzerland, and that Swiss farmers were now happily anticipating a bumper crop of spaghetti. Footage showed smiling Swiss, happily picking spaghetti from the trees.spagtree (1)An embarrassingly large number of viewers were fooled, calling BBC offices asking how to grow their own spaghetti tree. Callers were told to “Place a piece of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce, and hope for the best.”

Warby-Barker-Canine-Sunglasses-April-FoolsThe Warby Parker Company website describes a company mission of “offer[ing] designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses”.

On April 1, 2012, Warby Parker released a new line of eyeglasses for dogs, appropriately called “Warby Barker”.

For only $95, your hipster pooch could be sporting the latest styles in canine eyeware, in irresistible dog treat shades like “Gravy Burst” and “Dusty Bacon.” There was a monocle option too, for those partial to that Prussian Field Marshall look.

Anyone falling for the gag, got an “April Fools!” message on the on-line shopping cart.

Two days ago, Burger King announced the introduction of a new, Whopper flavored mouthwash, for those who just can’t get enough of a good thing. I know it’s true because I read it on-line, but it should be mentioned here. There is no “White Gate” at the Tower of London. Never was.

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March 22, 1958 Keep the Change

For the media, the business model depends on renting an audience to a sponsor.  Nothing sells like “controversy” and they were going to squeeze this one, for all it was worth.  Even if they were the ones who started it, in the first place. 

Randall Hank Williams was born May 26, 1949 in Shreveport, Louisiana, son of the country singer/songwriter, Hiram King “Hank” Williams.

The elder Williams has been described as “One of the most significant and influential American singers and songwriters of the 20th century”.  Impressive for a man who could neither read nor notate music and died, never having reached the age of 30.

hank-williams-sr-and-jr_thumbDad called the younger Williams “Bocephus” after the ventriloquist’s dummy used by Grand Ole Opry comedian Rod Brasfield.

Hank Williams climbed into the back seat of his powder blue Cadillac on New Years’ Day, 1953.  College student Charles Carr was at the wheel.

A lifelong victim of drug and alcohol abuse, the singer/songwriter was Liquored up as usual and abusing morphine, the pair heading west from a hotel room in West Virginia, to a concert venue in Ohio.

Carr became concerned when things got quiet back there – too quiet – and pulled over at 5:30 in the morning.  Hank Williams was pronounced dead, a short time later.  He was 29.  All  police found in that Cadillac, were empty beer cans and handwritten, unfinished song lyrics.

For little Bocephus, the apple didn’t fall far from the musical tree.  The younger Williams was raised by his mother Audrey, who encouraged the boy to copy his father’s dress and musical style. “Hank Williams Jr.” made his stage debut in Swainsboro Georgia on March 22, 1958.   He was eight years old.

Some of the top musicians, singers and songwriters of the era came to visit the family: Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, Earl Scruggs, and Jerry Lee Lewis, to name a few.  Each taught Bocephus a little of their favorite instruments, and musical styles.

BocephusWilliams was nearly killed in 1975, while climbing Ajax Peak in Montana. The snow collapsed beneath him, plunging him near-500 feet to the rocks below. There were multiple skull and facial fractures. Williams required several reconstructive surgeries, and had to learn to talk, and sing, all over again. The signature look of beard, sunglasses and cowboy hat have all become part of his brand, but it all began to hide the dreadful scars of that mountain climbing accident.

Bocephus’ work in the 1960s and ’70s earned him a string of country music hits, but he wanted to be more than just a “Hank Williams impersonator”.

A prodigiously talented musician in his own right, Williams’ repertoire includes guitar, bass guitar, upright bass, steel guitar, banjo, dobro, piano, keyboards, harmonica, fiddle, and drums.

The country music establishment was slow to accept the new sound, but Hank Williams Jr. would not be denied. Sometimes recording and releasing two albums a year, Williams released 21 albums between 1979 and 1990, all certified “gold” by the Recording Industry Association of America. There were 44 Top Ten singles on the Billboard Country charts, including 10 No. 1 singles over the course of his career.

“Directed by John Goodhue, the music video for the song features artists such as George Jones driving a riding mower; Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings playing poker; Little Jimmy Dickens and Paul Williams carrying a keg of beer; Cheech and Chong stumbling out of a smoke-filled limousine; William Lee Golden (of The Oak Ridge Boys) hitchhiking; Duane Allen (The Oak Ridge Boys) as a chauffer; and George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers entertaining other celebrities like Mel Tillis, Kris Kristofferson, Grandpa Jones, Porter Wagoner, Jim Varney, at Hank Jr.’s “party pad out in the woods.” At the end of the video, a ghostly Cadillac flies into the night sky, referencing the fact that his father, Hank Williams, Sr., died while riding in a Cadillac”. – H/T Wikipedia

In 1982, Bocephus had nine albums on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, all at the same time.

For decades, every sports fan knew.  When “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” came over the television, it was time for Monday night Football.

In an October 2011 interview with Fox News’ “Fox & Friends”, Williams described a June golf match between then-President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner as “one of the biggest political mistakes ever”. Asked to explain, Williams said, “Come on. That’d be like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu … in the shape this country is in?”

The media outrage machine cranked and sputtered to life.  First Amendment be damned, such language would not do.  First to go was the distinction, between metaphor and literal fact.  ESPN pulled the song three days later.  It was the first Monday night game, of the season.

Williams himself described the analogy as “…extreme – but it was to make a point…I was simply trying to explain how stupid it seemed to me – how ludicrous that pairing was. They’re polar opposites, and it made no sense. They don’t see eye-to-eye and never will.

Hank Williams Jr.No matter. ESPN announced that Williams and his song would be pulled from future broadcasts.  ABC and the National Football League, were quick to pile on.

For the media, the business model depends on renting an audience to a sponsor.  Nothing sells like “controversy” and they were going to squeeze this one, for all it was worth.  Even if they were the ones who started it, in the first place.

There would be a heartfelt apology, but no matter.  The “Cancel Culture’ or whatever you want to call it, had done its work.

“I have always been very passionate about politics and sports, and this time it got the best or worst of me. The thought of the leaders of both parties jukin’ and high fivin’ on a golf course, while so many families are struggling to get by, simply made me boil over and make a dumb statement. I am very sorry if it offended anyone. I would like to thank all my supporters. This was not written by some publicist.”- Hank Williams, Jr.

When it was over, Hank Williams, Jr. had the last word.  Bocephus responded with a song of his own, criticizing President Obama, ESPN and Fox & Friends.  He called it, “Keep the Change”.

Over the next two days, the song was downloaded more than 180,000 times.

In the song lyrics, Bocephus and all his rowdy friends were “Outta there”.  Outta there, but not for good.  The song was quietly re-instated, in 2017.

March 17, 432 Saint Patrick

Today we know him as “Patrick” but his birth name was Maewyn Succat in his native Brythonic. 

“Celtic languages are traditionally thought to have originated in central Europe and spread across vast areas of Europe, being gradually replaced by Germanic, Romance, or Slavic languages in most areas. The Continental Celtic languages, such as Gaulish, Hispano-Celtic, and Lepontic, are all now long extinct.” – Oxfordbibliographies.com

download - 2020-03-17T203213.007Today, the “insular” Celtic languages are all that’s left, relegated to two sub-groups:  the Goidelic (or Gaelic) spoken by Irish and Scots speakers and once on the Isle of Man, and the Brythonic or Brittonic once spoken in Wales, Brittany and Cornwall.

Today we know him as “Patrick” but his birth name was Maewyn Succat in his native Brythonic.  His father was Calpornius,  a Deacon of the Church and an officer in the Roman Army.  As a boy, Maewyn Succat had little time for religion.

He was a late fifth-century Roman teenager living in Great Britain when he was kidnapped by pirates at the age of 16, and brought to Ireland.  There he found religion during six years as a slave, tending sheep and hogs in county Antrim.  He would escape in time to rejoin his family before traveling to France, to join a Monastery.  In twelve years he returned to the shores of Ireland,  this time as a Bishop, with the blessing of the Pope.

There he came to be known as Patricius in the Latin (“nobleman”) or Pádraig (Gaelic), a simple priest ministering to Irish Christians and converting the pagan, to Christianity.  In time, “Patrick” would go on to become Bishop of all Ireland, and one of its primary Patron Saints.

Saint PatrickInterestingly, Patrick is listed among the 10,000 or so Roman Catholic Saints though it seems he never was actually canonized, by a pope.

Saint Patrick’s Day is observed on March 17, the date generally agreed to be the date of his enslavement in 432 and his death in 460.

The date is celebrated in Ireland as both a liturgical and non-liturgical holiday, where in some diocese it is both a solemnity and a holy day of obligation. Outside of Ireland, the day has become a general celebration of all things Irish.

The legend that St. Patrick banished the snakes likely springs from his work converting the pagans of his day, many of whom wore snake tattoos on their arms. This idea is supported by a Gallic coin of the time, which carries on its face the Druidic snake.

Be that as it may, Ireland has no snakes today, a trait it has in common with Antarctica, New Zealand, Iceland, and Greenland.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAnother legend involves a walking stick of ash, which Patrick carried with him wherever he went. He would thrust this stick into the ground wherever he would preach. At a place now known as Aspatria, (ash of Patrick), the message took so long to get through to the people that the stick took root.

The shamrock which came to symbolize the day was seen as sacred by many in pre-MedievalMonkChristian Ireland, with its green color evoking rebirth and eternal life.

The three leaves symbolize the “triple goddess” of ancient Ireland. Patrick is said to have taught the Irish about the Holy Trinity, using the three leaves of the shamrock to illustrate the Christian teaching of three persons in one God:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Most of the rest of Europe would suffer barbarian invasion from the fifth century onward, plunging into what are known today as “The Dark Ages”.  Almost alone, cloistered monks in the monasteries of Ireland, spiritual descendants of St. Patrick, acted as repository for Christian civilization, at a time when such advancement was almost extinguished elsewhere.

It’s been said of this period that the Irish saved civilization. Who knows.  They may have done just that. On this day it’s said that everyone’s Irish.  Here in the US some some 33 million really are according to census data, nearly seven times the population of Ireland itself.

So here we are.  A parade dating back to 1737 here in Boston is canceled, as we all hide from the Wu Flu.   So lift a glass to Saint Patrick, though the streets be empty and the bars be closed.  “May your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head be always strong. And may you be in heaven, half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead”  Sláinte.l_irish-pub-signs-slainte-metal

March 12, 1894 A Marketing Blunder for the Ages

Early focus group results were favorable, but for a minority of 10 to 12 percent. Angry and alienated at the very thought of a “new Coke”, these people insisted they’d stop drinking Coke products, altogether.  The way things turned out, the company should’ve listened to this group a little more carefully.

By the Colonial era, Europeans had long believed that natural mineral waters held medicinal qualities, and favored the beverages over often polluted common drinking water.  British chemist Joseph Priestley invented a means of carbonating water in 1772.  Jacob Schweppe’s Geneva, Switzerland company was bottling the stuff by the 1780s. The first soda water manufacturer in the US was Yale University chemist Benjamin Silliman in 1807, though it was Joseph Hawkins of Baltimore who secured the first US patent in 1809.

PembertonAt first sold for their therapeutic value, consumers increasingly bought carbonated beverages for refreshment.

By the time of the Civil War, “soft drinks” were flavored with ginger, vanilla, fruits, roots, herbs, and countless other flavorings. The first cola drink appeared in 1881.

In 1865, Confederate Cavalry officer John Stith Pemberton was wounded by a saber slash across the chest at the Battle of Columbus, Georgia. Like many wounded veterans, Pemberton became addicted to the morphine given him to control the pain.  Unlike many wounded veterans, he possessed the means to do something about it.

A chemist in civil life, Pemberton experimented with painkillers to take the place of opiates, landing in 1886 on a combination of the coca plant and kola nut. Vicksburg, Mississippi pharmacist Joseph Biedenharn installed bottling equipment in the back of his soda fountain, selling the first bottles of Coca Cola on March 12, 1894.

coca-cola-bottle-historyThe most famous rivalry in the soft drink business began in the 1930s, when Pepsi offered a 12oz bottle for the same 5¢ as Coca Cola’s six ounces.

The Coca Cola Company’s flagship brand had a 60% share by the end of WWII, but that declined to less than 24% by the early 1980s, most of the difference lost to Pepsi and their “Pepsi challenge” blind taste test promotions of the late ’70s.

1221499-coke_vs_pepsiBy the ’80s, market analysts believed that aging baby boomers were likely to switch to diet drinks and any growth in the full calorie segment was going to come from younger consumers, who preferred the sweeter taste of Pepsi.

Roberto Goizueta came to Coca Cola Company as CEO in 1980, saying that there would be “no sacred cows” among their products.  He meant it. Before long, the company launched the top secret “Project Kansas”, to test and perfect the flavor for a new version of Coke. The company’s marketing department fanned out, holding taste tests, surveys, and focus groups.

Early results were favorable, the newer, sweeter mixture overwhelmingly beating both Pepsi and Coke itself. Most tasters said they would buy the product, but a minority of 10 to 12 percent were angry and alienated at the very thought of it. This small percentage was adamant. These people would stop drinking Coke products altogether.  So determined were they that this small splinter group often swayed other members of their focus groups.

The way things turned out, the company should have listened to this group a little more carefully.

Redhead woman holding soda refreshment with angry face, negative sign showing dislike with thumbs down, rejection conceptOn an April Friday in 1985, Coke let the media know that a major announcement was coming the following Tuesday. Coca Cola officials spent a busy weekend preparing for the re-launch, while Pepsi Executives announced a company-wide holiday, taking out a full page ad in the New York Times, crowing that “Pepsi had Won the Cola Wars”.

Skepticism was high on the day of the Big Announcement. Reporters were fed questions by Pepsi officials, and Goizueta fumbled the ball, refusing to state the reason for the change. He certainly wasn’t going to give Pepsi any credit for their performance in taste tests and his explanation hardly met the standards for “the Real Thing’.  “[It’s] smoother”, he said, “uh, uh, rounder yet, uh, yet bolder…a more harmonious flavor”.

Yeah.  That’s the ticket.

Goz, Keough
Coca-Cola CEO Roberto Goizueta, left; New Coke, center; and President Don Keough, right. Source: Bettmann, via Getty Images, H/T Bloomberg News

The backlash was ferocious, closely tracking results from those earlier focus groups.  Atlanta based Coca Cola’s southern customers described the change as another surrender to the “Yankees”.  More than 400,000 calls and letters came into company headquarters, including one addressed to “Chief Dodo, The Coca-Cola Company”.  Another letter asked for Goizueta’s autograph, since the signature of “one of the dumbest executives in American business history” would surely become a valuable collector’s item. One psychiatrist hired by Coke to listen in on phone calls, told executives some people sounded as if they were discussing the death of a family member.

Newcoke_maxheadroomNot even Max Headroom and his stuttering “C-c-c-catch the wave!” could save the company.

Ads for “New Coke” were booed at the Houston Astrodome while Pepsi ran ads in which a smiling first-time Pepsi drinker exclaimed “Now I know why Coke did it!”

Even Fidel Castro weighed in, calling the change a sign of capitalist decadence.

Company President Donald Keough realized it was over on a visit to the Mediterranean Principality of Monaco.   Coming to the diner’s table, the small restaurant owner proudly proclaimed that he had “the real thing, it’s a real Coke,” offering Keough’s party a bottle of the old stuff.

images (62)So it was that, in 1985, Coca Cola announced they’d bring back the 91-year old formula.  One reporter asked Keough if the whole thing had been a publicity stunt. Keough’s answer should be taught in business schools the world over, if it isn’t already. “We’re not that dumb,” he said, “and we’re not that smart”.

 

February 29, 1504 Leap Year

According to mathematicians, the method of losing three leap days out of every 400 ought to hold us for about 10,000 years. By that time we’ll have to add a day, somewhere.

Let me know how that works out, would you?

From its earliest inception, the Roman calendar tracked the cycles of the moon.  At least it tried to. The method fell out of phase with the change of seasons and days were randomly added or subtracted in order to compensate. Political campaigns and military conflicts were won or lost, based on the confusion. Things had to change.

In 46BC, Julius Caesar hired Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes to help straighten things out. The astronomer calculated that a proper year was 365¼ days, more accurately tracking the solar and not the lunar year.  Ol’ Sosigenes was pretty close.  The actual time the earth takes to revolve around the sun is 365.242199 days.1024px-Museo_del_Teatro_Romano_de_Caesaraugusta.43The second month had 30 days back then, when Caesar renamed his birth month from Quintilis to “Julius”, in honor of himself.  Rank hath its privileges.  To this day, it’s why we have “July”.  Not to be outdone, Caesar’s successor Caesar Augustus changed Sextilis to Augustus and, you got it, today we have August. The only thing was, that Augustus had only 29 days to Julius’ 31, and we can’t have that.

You see this coming, right?

Augustus swiped two days from the month of the Roman festival of purification.  Februarius mensis wouldn’t even miss them.

Adding a day to every fourth February solved the calendar problem, sort of, but not quite. Pope Gregory XIII and his astronomers attempted to fine tune the situation in 1582. No year divisible by 100 would be a leap year, unless that year is also divisible by 400. Ergo, 1600 and 2000 were leap years, but 1700, 1800 and 1900, were not. According to mathematicians, this method of losing three leap days out of every 400 ought to hold us for about 10,000 years. By that time we’ll have to add a day, somewhere.

Let me know how that works out, would you?Leap Year1There is an old legend that St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick back in the 5th century, that women had to wait too long for beaus to “pop the question”. Other versions of the story date back before English Law recognized the Gregorian calendar, meaning that the extra day had no legal status.  Be that as it may, it is customary in many places for a woman to propose marriage on the 29th of February.  According to legend, one old Scottish law of 1288 would fine the man who turned down such a proposal.

In June 1503, Christopher Columbus was on his fourth voyage to the west when his two caravels became stranded, in Jamaica.  Relations with the natives were cordial at first but, after six months, the newcomers had worn out their welcome.  Desperately needing food and provisions, Columbus consulted the Ephemeris of the German astronomer Regiomontanus, where he learned that a lunar eclipse was expected on February 29.

Gathering the native chiefs that evening, Columbus explained that God was about to punish the indigenous people by painting the moon red. The eclipse occurred on schedule to the dismay of the natives, who were eager to promise anything to get the moon back.5a83a64e-9525-4d8c-acab-e92e6a35ba8d-columus_eclipse“With great howling and lamentation” wrote Columbus’ son Ferdinand, “they came running from every direction to the ships, laden with provisions, praying the Admiral to intercede by all means with God on their behalf; that he might not visit his wrath upon them”.

The explorer retired to his cabin, to “pray”.  Timing the eclipse with his hourglass, Columbus emerged after 48 minutes to announce.  All was forgiven.  God had pardoned the People.

188 years later, to the day.  February 29, 1692.  The first witchcraft warrants went out from a place called Salem Village, calling for the arrest of two social outcasts named Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne, and the West Indian slave woman, Tituba.

February 27, 1992 Young Tom

The youngest golfer ever to play in one of the majors (the Masters, US & British Opens and the PGA Championship), was the appropriately named “Young” Tom Morris, Jr., a Scot who played in the 1865 British Open at 14 years and four months.

On this day in 1992, 16-year-old Tiger Woods became the youngest PGA golfer in 35 years, going on to become the first $100 million man on the Professional Tour.

article-2537121-1A8B0ADF00000578-386_470x741
“Young Tom” Morris

The youngest in thirty-five years that is, but not the youngest ever.  Andy Zhang made the US Open in 2012 at the ripe old age of fourteen years, six months, but even he wasn’t the youngest.

The youngest golfer ever to play in one of the majors (the Masters, US & British Opens and the PGA Championship), was the appropriately named “Young” Tom Morris, Jr., a Scot who played in the 1865 British Open at 14 years and four months.

Morris withdrew from that year’s tournament, at about the time General Lee met General Grant at a place called Appomattox.  Young Tom went on to win the British Open three years later, winning the equivalent of $12 for the feat. Ironically, the victory came at the expense of his father “Old” Tom Morris, Greens Keeper and club pro at the famous ‘Old Course’ at St. Andrews.

Young Tom followed that first Open Championship in 1868 with three more:  in 1869, 1870 and 1872. His record stands to this day, the only player ever to win four consecutive Open Golf Championships.   (There was no championship in 1871).

The 18th Green of the Old Course at St. Andrews has changed little, since 1891.

Young Tom went on to win three more Open tournaments, the first of only two teenagers in history to win any of the majors.  In 1864, Young Tom attended a tournament with his father at the King James VI Golf Club.  With days to go before his 13th birthday, he was too young to compete in either the professional or amateur sections.  Local organizers set up a two-man tournament between himself and a local youth champion.  A large gallery followed the two young golf stars throughout their match.  Those who did so were rewarded by seeing young Tom win the match, with a score sufficient to have won the professional tournament.a-golf-match-involving-willie-park-old-tom-morris-and-young-tom-morris-g3b8fhThe Father/Son team tee’d off in match against the brothers Willie and Mungo Park on September 11, 1875. With two holes to go, Young Tom received a telegram with upsetting news. His wife Margaret had gone into a difficult labor. The Morrises finished those last two holes winning the match, and hurried home by ship across the Firth of Forth and up the coast. Too late. Tom Morris Jr. got home to find that his young wife and newborn baby, had both died in childbirth.

Weeks later, Young Tom played a marathon tournament in wretched weather, leaving him in a weakened state and bleeding from his lungs. He died at the “Home of Golf” and place of his birth, St. Andrews, a short twenty-four years before.  It was Christmas day.

In 2016, the historical drama “Tommy’s Honour” opened the 2016 Edinburgh International Film Festival, based on “Tommy’s Honor:  The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son” by Kevin Cook, one of five books voted 2007 “Book of the Year”, by Sports Illustrated.

Journalist and film critic Ross Miller wrote in The National newspaper of Scotland, calling the film “emotional, inspiring and deeply heartfelt.  You don’t have to be a golf fan” Miller wrote, ” to be taken in by this engrossing, quietly passionate film that not only brings something new to the sports biopic table but also serves as a poignant, often heartbreaking portrait of paternal love and pursuing your passion with everything you have.