My Parents’ Record Collection

[Submitted to NPR’s All Songs Considered on June 28, 2012]

Born in 1968, I have fond memories of media-based technology.  My first television was a console model–the kind with no remote that took half a minute to warm up and which, when turned off, condensed the picture on the tube to a tiny dot which lingered and then winked out.  Dad had a cassette recorder, the condenser microphone of which got liberal use.  We would record things from the TV by setting the recorder near the speaker and trying very hard to be quiet.  I remember having my own copies of things like the theme from The Mickey Mouse Club, music from Captain Kangaroo, and others. 
Then one day Dad played Spike Jones’ "Cocktails For Two."  I had to have it!  Dad recorded it onto a cassette tape which I am sure I wore out.  I got to the point where I could mimic all of the "hic"s and "glurg"s in the song myself.  Dad had pulled the record from which that tantalizing song came out of a cupboard. I had to see what other treasures existed within!  There was a little bit of everything; Beatles, Elvis, Enoch Light, Tom Lehrer.  Just looking at the covers was fun!  They were works of art all by themselves!

And then one day this cover caught my eye.  I don’t know if it was the pretty lady in the cocktail dress or the fact that she was holding a dead chicken; the fat, bald guy standing on the pedestal playing a guitar or the fact that he was barefoot; or the biggest (what looked like) sausage I had ever seen hanging from a tray being supported by a stone statue of a naked baby.  But I had to know what was on this record!

The album was 1962’s "Allan Sherman’s mother presents: My Son, The Folk Singer".  The melodies of some of the songs were familiar.  I recognized "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic" in "The Ballad of Harry Lewis" and "Greensleeves" in "Sir Greenbaum’s Madrigal," but the lyrics were different.  Many of them were outright funny to me in my pre-pubescent state.  "My Zelda found her big romance, when I broke the zipper in my pants," sounded dirty (though I didn’t know why).  Regardless, it made me giggle.  Listening to Sherman say "Oh boy…" over and over in the midst of a comical string of pop culture references recorded almost 30 years before Billy Joel’s "We Didn’t Start The Fire" had me in fits.  And listening to the back-and-forth between Sherman and Christine Nelson in "Sarah Jackman" (Frére Jaques) was voyeuristic, like picking up on the party line at our camp and putting your hand over the mouthpiece.  But most of the material was over my head and only "funny" because the audience on the album was laughing.

This was my first taste of Borscht Belt humor, though I obviously didn’t know that’s what it was called at the time.  Not being Jewish, I didn’t understand most of the cultural references; not that I would at that age anyhow.  I have spent my life subconsciously tracking them all down.  My research is not overt, but every so often I will hear one and my brain will say, "Ah!  So THAT’S what ‘B’nai B’rith’ means!" or "THAT’S who David Susskind was!"

Judging by the reaction of the audience on the album, if nothing else, Sherman is hilarious without working blue.  I spent many hours listening, re-listening, and singing along to that record.  There are some references to which I am still not hip.  In this day of Wikipedia it would be trivial for me to track down each and every one about which I have question.  But there’s no romance in that.  My subconscious research continues.  Though I do wish someone would explain why the line "Stein with an ‘e-i’ and Styne with a ‘y’" is funny…

Joke Bombs

When I was in college we had Showtime on the campus cable network.  They ran the Aspen Comedy Festival one year.  There was this one comedian who did a routine he called stand-up for both hemispheres of the brain.  He’d do traditional stand-up at one microphone, but there was another microphone on the stage and he would walk over to it at any time and say something that had nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of his monologue.  One of these out-of-left-field comments was, "Don’t you find it ironic that on Lincoln’s birthday the stores have a white sale?"  There were a few chuckles, but it clearly went over the heads of most of the audience.  He looked out and assured them, "some of these will hit you later, and that’s OK."

I call these "joke bombs."  They drop, but don’t always go off right away.  I have experienced many of them.  Some of them only have a few seconds of delay.  Some take days to go off.  I just had one go off after many YEARS and thought I’d share.

The bathroom down the hall from my office has a lone urinal which I have determined that not every user flushes after having used it.  The reason for this is that it is quite old and has no visible water trap, said trap being in the pipe below the urinal.  Traps exist to keep sewer gas from emanating from toilets and urinals.  But if you don’t flush, then what gets trapped is, well, urine.  And it smells.  So rather than stand there and do my business having to breathe in the odiferous vestiges of someone ELSE’S business, I will typically make a pre-emptive flush as I walk up to the urinal. 

This morning I did so thinking of TV’s "Ally McBeal," in which one of the characters frequently states that he "likes a fresh bowl."  (He has his favorite toilet rigged with a remote so he can flush it while on approach.)  Not having much else to think about while standing there I recalled the character’s name: John Cage.  Then I remembered his partner’s name: Richard Fish.  Then I remembered the name of their law firm, which stuck in my mind because the series uses a lot of aerial establishing shots zooming in on the Boston building in which the fictional office is purported to exist and one day while re-watching the series a couple of years ago I actually found it on Google Earth.  I marked it with the name of the Law Firm: "Cage & Fish"

Cage & Fish.

Cage And Fish

Cage An’ Fish

CageAn Fish

Cajun Fish!!!!!!


Really?  Apparently. 

All those years, and I never "got" that until just now.

Oh, and I, too, like a fresh bowl.

In Sync With Your Music

This came to me today via email. It made me literally “LOL”, so I’m passing it on:


You are on a crowded bus when you suddenly realize you need to fart.

The music is really loud, so you time your farts with the beat.

You let go about 5 strong and loud ones back to back.

After a couple of songs, you start to feel better as you approach your stop.

As you are leaving the bus, people are really staring you down; and that’s when you remember…

You’ve been listening to your iPod.