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Public Issues, Personal Problems

The big story in the news these days is the congressional Democrats’ determination to thoroughly investigate every aspect of President Donald Trump’s campaign and transition team and inauguration committee and subsequent administration and the various businesses he still wholly owns, and Trump’s determination to thwart them at every turn. Alas, at the moment we’re too darned tired to keep up with all the sordid details.
Most weeks of the year we obsessively follow these sorts of things, and have plenty to say about it, but today and for the rest of the week there’s the Gridiron Show. The Gridiron Show is the local media’s annual satirical song-and-dance-and sketch revue to raise money for journalism scholarships, and for the past 25 years we’ve written and acted in a few of the sketches. We have no interest in raising money for journalism scholarships, and in fact consider it contributing to the delinquency of a minor, but we usually get some laughs that are almost worth the effort. None of our offbeat and discordantly dryly witty bits ever involves singing or dancing, as nobody wants to hear or see us doing that, but after so many years we’ve nonetheless found the rehearsal schedule exhausting.
You’re probably more enviously preoccupied, dear reader, so we can easily forgive you if you’re not fully apprised of all the damning charges and countercharges that flinging around the news these days. Even so we don’t want you to warn away from participating in any local amateur theatrics that might welcome you, as you’ll likely make friends and get some much-needed laughs along the way, yet we encourage you to keep watching the news. This looming Constitutional showdown between the damned Democrats and that awful Trump seems one of those important public issues that require time out from even the busiest personal lives, so we’ll try to get back to that on this damnably busy Thursday.
At worst, we figure we’ll get a good satirical sketch out of it if we do the Gridiron Show next year.

— Bud Norman

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The Modern Age of the Smack-down Easter Bunny

Monday’s news was mostly dull, with the stock markets mixed and the Democrats holding off on impeachment but promising some downright colonoscopy-level investigations of President Donald Trump, but there was that viral video of the Easter Bunny smacking some guy around the sidewalk outside a night club. If you’re among the rare people who haven’t see yet it we recommend you take a look, as it’s really something to see.
The brawl took place on Easter Sunday in Florida, the nation’s leading supplier of weird stories and viral videos. Like most viral videos there’s no telling how it started or ended, and the south Florida news media doesn’t seem to have come up with any more details, but we can speculate.
The video begins with some guy scuffling with some woman outside the nightclub, and although she seemed to be getting the best of it some guy in an Easter Bunny costume — we assume it’s a guy — came chivalrously to her defense. With a crowd of onlookers and video-takers cheering, and the woman taking a chokehold on her combatant, the rather buff Easter Bunny raining down a series of blows. The fellow is taking quite a beating, with one onlooker shouting “Beat his ass, Easter Bunny,” and another commenting that “Easter Bunny’s got it goin’ on,” when a nearby law enforcement officer shows up to separate the three. The video ends with the man sitting on the sidewalk, the officer trying to calm the woman, the Easter Bunny thumping his chest, and the crowd still cheering.
Florida’s newspapers and television stations were once famous for getting the story, but so far they haven’t identified the fellow in the bunny outfit, or discovered if any charges were brought against either the man or the woman. The officer might have decided that both the man and the woman started what looked to be a fair fight, and the Easter Bunny was only doing his civic duty, that no one was likely bring charges, so best to just send everyone home and skip the paperwork. It might not even have been the weirdest thing that happened on his beat that night, just the only thing that was videotaped and went viral.
Even so, we found it a fascinating, almost high art example of  what the high-brow movie critics call cinema verite. Aside from the surreal comedy of the Easter Bunny laying some smack down on a sidewalk to the amusement of passersby, we found an all to real slice of contemporary American life. Our politics and popular music and comic book movies are all about the crowd-pleasing smack down these days, with no plausible beginnings and no satisfactory endings, and there’s no reason the Easter Bunny shouldn’t get in on the fun.

— Bud Norman

Celebrities, Populists, and Celebrity Populists

Ukraine has apparently elected a populist celebrity with no previous political experience as its president, and we hope it works out better for them than it has for Italy, Guatemala, Peru, Liberia, Pakistan, the United States of America, and the other countries that have recently made similar choices.
The Ukrainian president-elect is Volodymyr Zelensky, a 41-year-old comedian best known for his starring role on the hit Ukrainian sitcom “Servant of the People,” about a comedian who somehow becomes president of Ukraine. We eagerly anticipate the English-dubbed version showing up on Netflix, as it’s apparently a compelling show. From what we can tell by the press accounts Zelensky’s character is constantly doing battle with the country’s entrenched and corrupt establishment, and although he doesn’t necessarily win he at least gets some humorous insults in, and according to a prominent Ukrainian political observer quoted in The Washington Post “People are voting for the plot of the show.”
None of the western press reports about the election say much about Zelennsky’s opponent, who might well have been just as awful as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the last American election, but it still strikes us as a fanciful choice. Zelensky will likely get some zingers in during his time in office, and his fans will surely love it, but recent experience indicates that only does so much good for a country.
Italy elected comedian Beppe Grillo as its leader, and although he’s gotten a lot of laughs the country is still the same corruption-ridden economic basket case it’s been for the past 100 years or so. Previously the Italians had elected multi-billionaire media mogul and crusading populist Silvio Berlusconi, but his several terms were frequently interrupted by indictments and convictions on various corruption charges, which majorities of the Italian people didn’t mind given his crusading anti-corruption populism.
In 2015 Guatemala elected anti-corruption comedian Jimmy Morales, who had also starred in a hit comedy about a comedian becoming president, but the country remained so violent and impoverished that a troublesome segment of its population is currently seeking aslyum in the United States. Liberia elected a popular soccer star, Pakistan elected a cricket star who’d become a national hero by leading the country to its only world championship, but neither has proved nearly so successful in playing the more complicated game of governance.
Once upon a time in America we could have rolled our eyes at such Third World craziness, but in the age of President Donald Trump’s we have no standing to sneer. Trump was elected by an electoral majority without any previous political experience partly because of his much-bragged about yet frequently-bankrupt business career, partly because he’d portrayed a tough-talking take-charge “you’re fired” businessman on the reality show “The Apprentice,” partly because he promised to use that experience to “drain the swamp,” and mostly because he had the good fortune to be running against “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, who was arguably almost as corrupt.
Despite his political inexperience Trump has kept the American economy chugging along the same slow upward trajectory it was on when he elected, and during the two years his party controlled both chambers of Congress he won a budget-busting tax bill and installed a couple of conservative Supreme Court justices that any old establishment Republican would have championed, but mostly his fans love him for the zingers he gets in.
The people in the red “Make America Great Again” ball caps find Trump’s current hit reality show downright hilarious, but we admit we just don’t get it. They loved it when Trump mocked a reporter’s degenerative muscle disease, but it reminded of us how the kids at our elementary school laughed at the playground bullies’ mocking of the handicapped students, and they thought it funny that Trump called his Democratic nemesis Rep. Adam Schiff “Little Adam Shitt” in a “tweet,” but we thought it juvenile and vulgar and far beneath the dignity of the American presidency. A friend of our complains that the stuffily literal media took Trump seriously when he hilariously requested the Russian government to hack Clinton’s e-mails, and Trump himself has won laughs from his rally crowds by recalling how he said that during a raucous campaign rally where everyone was laughing and in on the joke, but in fact he said it at a somber press conference, where reporters pressed him to verify that he wasn’t joking, and the Mueller report makes clear that the Russian government didn’t get Trump’s sense of humor and attempted to hack the Clinton e-mails that same day.
Call us old-fashioned, but we preferred the more sly and subtle and profanity-free wits of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. These days much of America is so contemptuous of its fellow citizens on the opposite side of the political divide that it will happily settle for even the most puerile zingers, though, and hold out little hold that our differences can be reconciled through civil and reason debate. Apparently much of the rest of the Third and second and First Worlds have reached the same desultory state.
Here’s hoping it works out better for Ukraine than it has elsewhere. Zelensky is reportedly pro-NATO and anti-Russian, which is more than we can say for Trump, so we wish him the best of luck with that. Besides, for all we know the other candidate was arguably even more awful.
Even so, and at the risk of being called old-fashioned, we think there’s still something to be said for seasoned public servants making serious and fact-based arguments in a civil and reasoned debate. Maybe someone should make a show about that, but it probably wouldn’t get big ratings.

— Bud Norman

A Church Burns Down, and Perhaps Rebuilds

The fire that did “colossal damage” to Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral dominated the news on Monday, and although we were disheartened by the tragedy we took some hope in that fact that at least respectful attention was being paid. The Notre Dame Cathedral was one of those glorious relics of western civilization and the Christian faith that for so long sustained it, and it’s good to see people still care about that.
The fire destroyed all the wood in the guts of the more-than-700-year-old building, including the iconic spire that topped its masterpiece architecture, but its stone base is reportedly still intact, and French President Emmanuel Macron has said that “I tell you solemnly tonight: We will rebuild this cathedral.” He added that “Notre Dame of Paris is our history. The epicenter of our lives. It’s the many books, the paintings, those that belong to all French men and French women, and even those who’ve never come.” We found his words encouraging, but they couldn’t quite convince us that the modern world can ever fully restore anything to the glory of the old world.
The Notre Dame Cathedral was built by the fervently Christian France of the 14th Century to the glory of God, and the secularized French people of the 21st Century will rebuild it as a tourist attraction and a monument to the glory of France. The modern world has some very amazing gizmos, and can perform astounding acts of engineering, but it can’t make up for that soulful difference.
There are many aesthetic theories to explain the ironic and rigorously logical and up-to-date appeal of modern architecture, but they cannot persuade us to abandon our preference for the older buildings. That’s true here in Wichita, where they’ve lately been building very fashionable structures, but the best of it is still the old County Courthouse and the Carnegie Library and the fabulous old City Hall and Scottish Rite Temple by the great Proudfoot and Bird and the rest of the stone structures that might survive a fire, and it’s true pretty much everywhere we go. Our only brief European travels have been in Ireland and Great Britain, but the old stuff was better there, too, and everyone we know who’s more widely travelled abroad went in search of the old rather than new.
There are also cases to be made for the modern books and paintings and the rest of the culture that Macron is rightly concerned with, and the modern world has also wrought such new art forms as cinema and “internet memes,” but even the most enthusiastic critics acknowledge a certain soullessness. Modernity has largely abandoned the very concept of the soul, and is too enlightened to imbue its art with that sense of awe at what mankind could hope to derive from God’s truth and beauty that those primitive Christians once had.
Most of the coverage focused on the loss of a historic Gothic architecture masterpiece in the heart of Paris, but it was also occasionally mentioned that it was a house of worship that burned down Holy Week. Any old place where people have gathered to worship is God is sanctified as far as we’re concerned, and we reckon its loss is a loss to humanity.
In Mark Twain’s brilliantly scathing travelogue “Innocents Abroad” he describes a group of American tourists marveling at the beautiful cathedrals of Europe, and posits a strong argument that the congregants would have done better to upgrade all the dilapidated homes that surrounded their church. We’re member of a protestant denomination at the opposite side of the low-church-high-church side of Christianity from Catholicism, a group which actually prides itself on its very plain buildings that never cost of any its members needed home repairs, so we’re sympathetic to Twain’s atheistic argument, but we wish he could have appreciated the beauty of a church.
Our dwindling congregation over in the rough Delano district has a very attractive Depression-era brick-and-stone castle-looking building, but lately has been meeting in the newly-built annex where we’re seated closer together, and there’s another Church of Christ down south in Peck next door to a hippie friend of ours that’s a gorgeously humble Norman Rockwell white clapboard and looks like a imminent tinderbox given the aging electrical system it probably has. There’s a brown clapboard Foursquare Apostolic Church down the street that might or might not still holding services, so far as we can tell as we pass by, and there’s something quite beautiful about it despite the fading paint.
Despite our low church Protestant upbringing, we’ve always felt a sense of awe at the truth and beauty inside some of those Catholic and Episcopal and Greek Orthodox churches that mere humans built to glorify God. The Cathedral of the Plains up in Victoria, Kansas, and war and church hero Father Kapaun’s old St. John Nupemucene in Pilsen Kansas, and the St. Joseph Catholic Church just around the corner from the West Douglas Church of Christ all inspire the awe of our primitive Christian souls. We’re told that the Notre Dame Cathedral was even more beautiful, so it’s hard to comprehend the loss.
We feel the same respectful feelings for synagogues, mosques, temples, and anywhere else people meet to find God, rather than what’s merely modern, and we mourn anytime they are destroyed. The blaze at Notre Dame was reportedly just one of those things that sometimes happen to 700-year-old buildings, unlike the arson of madmen who routinely burn down synagogues and mosques and temples and the churches where black Christians worship, or even the most just wars that have destroyed countless houses of worship, so we’ll take some comfort in that.
The stone structure of the Cathedral of Notre Dame has reportedly survived, so with the help of the government and its dwindling congregation the church might yet be rebuilt. The hellfire of modernity has pretty much gutted the wooden frame of the church universal, but it also has a rock-solid foundation, so during this Holy Week we hold out hope for a renaissance.

— Bud Norman

Politics is Down-Sewer From the Culture

On a slow news weekend The Washington Post tends to feature stories about contemporary popular culture, and they always make us feel old and out of touch. The paper’s weekly update about Saturday Night Live’s opening sketch mentioned someone named Tekashi 6ix9ine, along with actress Lori Loughlin, whose name we learned only after she was arrested in that big deal college admissions scandal, and lawyer Michael Avanatti, who of course is best known for representing pornographic video performer Stormy Daniels, whom we’d never heard of until she broke her nondisclosure agreement with President Donald Trump.
Judging by the Post’s extensive coverage, we’re apparently the only people in America who don’t watch “Game of Thrones,” and despite our lifelong literary bent it had not previously occurred to us wonder where’s the great millennial novel. The contemporary popular culture questions on “Jeopardy!” almost always stump us, and we can’t converse much with the under-40 set about anything but politics, sports, and the weather.
Our mostly disgruntled younger friends assure us that we’re not missing out on much, and based on our occasional and brief encounters with the contemporary popular culture we tend to believe them. We looked into this Tekashi 6ix9ine fellow — apparently that last name is pronounced “six-nine,” but spelled according to modern educational standards — and we’re told by Wikipedia that “His musical career has been marked by an aggressive style of rapping, while his controversial public persona is characterized by his distinctive rainbow-colored hair, excessive tattoos, public feuds with fellow celebrities, and legal issues.” Given all the great Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee and Hank Williams and Duke Ellington and Ramones records and other great American music in our extensive collection, we saw no reason to look any further.
Although we took a sociological interest in the big college admissions scandal we didn’t bother to investigate Loughlin’s work, as she’s apparently mostly starred in sit-coms and cable channel movies we’e never heard of. For reasons solely related to our political punditry we checked out a couple of Stormy Daniels’ performances, and you can go right ahead and call us old-fashioned, but all we can say is that she’s no Hyapatia Lee. People seem to like “Game of Thrones,” which we’re told features a lot of nudity and violence, but we’re not about to pay cable bills to see that when there’s so much of it for free on the internet. As for the awaited great millennial novel, we’d advise to the youngsters to read such timeless classics as “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” and “The Things That are Caesar’s.”
Although the current popular culture doesn’t provide any refuge from the current politics, we suppose we should be paying more attention. Cultural conservatives have long said that “politics is downstream from culture,” and way back in in the ’72 Pat Buchanan was rightly observing that President Richard Nixon had won the election but lost the culture to the dirty hippies, and the downward trend seems to continue. We fear to see where it might go next, but probably out to take a look through our slightly opened fingers. Something eerily parallel does seem to be going on.
The current President of the United States was previously a star of one of those wretched reality shows, and much like that 6ix9ine fellow he has an aggressive stye of rapping and a flamboyantly weird hairstyle and a weird way of spelling words, and although he doesn’t have any tattoos we’re aware of his controversial public persona is clearly characterized by feuds with fellow celebrities and legal issues. We’d also note that Trump is the main reason Stormy Daniels is now a household, with countless husbands and horny high school students nervously erasing their search engine history. Except for the soft-core porno photos of the First Lady that are just a few clicks away on the internet the Trump presidency the Trump presidency has been blessedly free of nudity, but the president does seem to relish violence, and a lot of the more high-brow critics are claiming that “Game of Thrones” is a metaphor for our times. Nobody seems to read books anymore, and that notably includes the President of the United States, so even if the great millennial novel does appear it probably won’t make much difference.
That’s just the sorry state of the political right, too, and we shudder to think about what the political left that has been cheering on the decline of American culture since at least the ’60s might wind up nominating. We’ll keep listening to Bing Crosby’s crooning and watching Frank Capra’s sappy cinematic tributes to small-town Americana, and hope for a comeback of the more dignified American style of politics it fostered.

— Bud Norman

Marilynn Smith, RIP

As avid fans of all the sports that men and women play, and regular readers of the obituary columns, we couldn’t help noticing the passing of Marilynn Smith at the age of 89. Although you might not have ever heard of her, she was a far better golfer than you’re likely to ever be, one of the barrier-crashing pioneers of women sports, and a fellow Wichitan as well, so we mourn her passing.
While growing up in Wichita, where local sports culture has long celebrated and cultivated the athletic talents of both of its boys and girls, Smith became known as the most fearsome pitcher in an otherwise all-boy Little League. By the time she was 12 she had an ambition to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals, then the closest Major League franchise to Wichita, but after a bad game she was forced to switch sports.
“I had taken off my mitt, thrown it against the wall and said a four-letter word beginning with ‘S’,” she recalled to the hometown paper back in 2006. “My mother marched me right into the lavatory and washed my mouth out with Lifebuoy soap, and my dad said they had better take me to Wichita Country Club and teach me a more ladylike sport.”
Smith didn’t immediately take to the sport of golf, as she considered it too sissified, but she had a knack for it. After a short while her father gave her a bicycle as a reward for playing the front nine in less than 40 strokes, and she then pedaled her way to enough lessons to win three state titles before she went off to the University of Kansas. KU didn’t have a women’s golf team back then, and despite its lucrative basketball business the sports department declined to pay for her travel to the collegiate championships, but in ’49 her dad drove her to the tournament and she won first place, a national championship which KU still probably brags about.
After that Smith turned pro, which turned out surprisingly well for her. There was no organized professional women’s golf at the time, just the occasional prize money tournament and stakes matches, but by the summer of 1950 Smith and a dozen of the other top women golfers joined together for the inaugural tournament of the Ladies Professional Golf Association right here in Wichita.
The first several seasons of the LPGA tour were dominated by Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who had previously been the best woman basketball player and track-and-field competitor and baseball pitcher and all-around greatest female athlete on the planet, and is still the most barrier-breaking sportswoman of them all, but Smith got her licks in. She won 21 times on the tour, shot a then-record 66 on a tough course, and in 1973 she became the first woman to do televised commentary on a men’s professional golf tournament. Way back in ’50 she was making $5,000 a year from the Spalding sporting goods company, those 21 tournament wins and numerous top-five finishes also paid off pretty well by the standards of the day, and she had a founder’s stake in in theLPGA, and was the longtime commissioner of it during its formative years, and it’s still a  worth-watching and very prosperous sports league.
Smith somehow made a pretty good living for herself from the sissified game of golf for 89 years, most of it right here in surprisingly pleasant Wichita, and we’re glad she did. These days all sorts of interesting women are making a living and a cultural mark in American sports, and our homegirl Marilynn Smith surely had something to do with that.

— Bud Norman

Someone Called Lil Nas X, Some Familiar but Dangerous Old Town Roads, and the Crossroads of America on a Sleepless Weekend

After a long and mostly sleepless and stomach flu-afflicted weekend, which entailed an early-morning trip down to Oklahoma for the funeral of a beloved family member and a caffeine-fueled late afternoon drive back up I-35, and a near-wreck with some idiot who blew past a stop sign at ten miles an hour over the speed limit on the way home from the worship service we’d somehow made it to at the West Douglas Church of Christ, and then a much-needed nap and a couple of much-needed beers at Kirby’s Beer Store, we tried to catch up with the rest of the news. There was some cold comfort, at least, in finding that the rest of the world seems to have its own troubles.
One story that caught our eye was about some some rapper called Lil Nas X being removed from Billboard Magazine’s list of top-100 country-and-western top-sellers, where it had debuted in the 19th spot a few weeks ago and begun climbing up the chart. We’d previously never heard of Lil Nas X nor his his country-and-western song “Old Town Road,” but for various reasons we found it interesting nonetheless.
For the past half-century or so Billboard Magazine has been the definitive source of the weekly top 100 charts for American music and all its various branches, with all the authority of the Dow Industrial Average or the Bureau of Economic Analysis on the state of the broader economy, and for many years of our life we paid even more rapt attention to Billboard’s findings. The magazine has apparently dropped “Old Town Road” from its country-and-western charts because it’s insufficiently country-and-western, too, and as lifelong fans of country-and-western and all the other branches of the glorious tree of America’s music that all grabbed our attention. These days the debate about the culture is as dreary as the one about the economy, with the left talking all sorts of “cultural appropriation” nonsense about the interracial and cross-cultural pollinations that have made American culture in general and American music in particular so rich, and the right seemingly suddenly intent on making American great again with its own racialist agenda, and somehow some rapper called Lil Nas X and his “Old Town Road” is caught up in that.
We’re old and grew up in Kansas with all the kinfolk down in Oklahoma, so we also grew up with Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams and Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys and Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and Buck Owens’ Buckaroos and Merle Haggard and his Strangers playing on the 8-track or AM radio, and thus have some pretty fixed ideas about what constitutes country-and-western music. We followed the internet links to hear (and watch) Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” and although it doesn’t meet our strict standards we wouldn’t kick it off the country-and-western charts. The recording has some bucolic lyrics and some banjo licks “sampled” from previous recording, the video features some old west imagery from some violent cowboy shoot-’em-up video game, and it’s as least as country-and-western as anything we find on the radio on two drives between Wichita and Oklahoma City on Saturday, or any of the godawful bumper music that New York City-born-and-bred Sean Hannity uses on the right-wing talk radio show where he’s constantly apologizing to his heartland audience for the New York-City-born and bred President Donald Trump.
“Country-and-western” is a vague enough term to encompass everything from Jimmie Rodgers’ primitivism to the string-laden elegance of Patsy Cline, “rock ‘n’ roll” ranges from the soft rock of Simon and Garfunkel to the hard rock of The Ramones, “jazz” stretches from Louis Armstrong to John Coltrane and beyond, and even the best of “it’s a black thing” “rhythm and blues” and “soul” and “hip hop” involve some talented white boys and European instruments and musical techniques who complicate the leftist racial narratives about that great stuff. Country-and-western is considered a white boy thing, but Rodgers and Williams and Wills and Monroe and Owens and Haggard always freely acknowledged everything they learned from their black friends, and we’ve found that if you want to fully enjoy the best of America’s great music you should set all of the left’s and right’s racial politics aside.
The definitions of “country-and-western” and “rock ‘n’ roll” and “jazz” and “hip hop” and the rest of American music gloriously diverse genres have mostly been defined by whatever the self-identified fans of those of genres have liked, and until recently they’ve done a pretty good job of it. Lil Nas X “Old Town” isn’t a great a recording by any of American music’s historic standards, but we’ve heard worse, and we hate to see it kicked off this week’s Billboard “country-and-western” charts, even if it’s still faring well on the “rhythm and blues” chart, which these days is the magazines old-fashioned way of saying “hip hop.” Billboard has always judged sales of “country-and-western” and “rhythm and blues” based on what the self-indentified “country and western” and “rhythm and blues” stores were selling, and although that’s harder to gauge in a time when all the kids are downloading their music off the internet it does seem that Lil Nas X was fairly popular with the country-and-western audience.
We rather like it that these young whippersnapper country-and-western fans are willing to embrace someone so obviously black he’s called Lil Nas X, and that black urban culture is culturally appropriating banjo licks and cowboy imagery, but we hope they all learn there’s better cross-cultural stuff on both sides of that divide, and start learning from that.
Meanwhile we notice that former Vice President and current Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden once again stands credibly accused of touchy creepiness toward women, and given the Democratic party’s currently strict standards that should be a problem for the him and the Democrats. We also notice that the leader of the erstwhile family values Republican party is President Donald “Grab ’em by the pussy” Trump, and that it doesn’t seem to be a problem for him or the Republicans. There’s also talk of Trump shutting down the border with Mexico, his ongoing trade wars and growing trade deficits with almost everyone else, most of the rest of the Democratic presidential field is so far to the crazy left that Biden’s creepiness toward women doesn’t seem so bad, and the economic and political news is almost as bad as what else is on the radio.
Even so, we’ll try to get a good night’s sleep and face another April Fools’ Day with help from the music and history of better times.

— Bud Norman

Sayonara, Sweet Miata

Today is Opening Day for another season of major league baseball, the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball team is heading to the Big Apple for the semifinals of the National Invitational Tournament, except for the Kansas wind the weather’s lately been good, and there’s probably other news afoot we should paying attention to. Even so, the big story here at the home office on Wednesday was our bittersweet farewell to a beloved Mazda Miata.
We bought the thing brand new way back in ’96, shortly after a devastating divorce, and boy was it a sweet ride. It had the elegant lines and quick acceleration and easy-shifting and road-hugging handling of a classic British roadster, but it also started up every time we turned the key, which is more than we can say for that stunningly gorgeous ’64 Sunbeam Alpine that preceded it. For most of the year we could put the top down, which could be easily done during a stoplight, and even a daily drive to our nearby downtown office felt exactly like what we imagined driving would be like when we were pedaling around in a very cool toy car our Dad bought when we were in kindergarten.
The car took us on a memorable trip to Las Vegas with our pal Michael Carmody, brought our late pal Balleau home from Albuquerque after he’d recuperated from an injury there, and there was another memorable trip to Minnesota with our pal Lori Fletcher for the wedding of a couple of mutual friends. There were countless trips up I-35 to Kansas City and trips down I-35 to Oklahoma City and San Antonio to visit the folks, and on a hot sunny day it was the perfect car for the scenic and curvy drive up U.S. 77 through the gorgeous Flint Hills of Kansas, well as countless more drives around town for both business and pleasure, and for the first 20 years and 150,000 miles or so it was blissfully trouble-free.
Even the best of us eventually get old and dilapidated, though, and after 21 years and 160,000 miles or so our beloved Miata proved troublesome. The “check engine” light would occasionally remind us that the catalytic converter had died, even though that didn’t at all affect the car’s performance, and did very little to affect the climate, and apparently there’s some regulation that President Donald Trump hasn’t yet deregulated that prevents a mechanic from disconnecting that damned sensor. There was a slow oil leak, too, but after so many years and miles we figured it was more inexpensive to occasionally pour in some lubricant than to have that fixed. Some idiot put a gash in the front driver’s side and sped away while we were having a beer at The Vagabond over in Delano, and we idiotically put another smaller gash in the rear of the driver’s side and damaged a roller arm in the process, but by that point we’d downgraded our insurance policy and figured that the repairs would exceed the value of even the sweetest ride with 21 years and more than 160,000 miles on it.
Around that same time our beloved Dad serendipitously decided that he’d grown too old to drive, and he generously gave us his beloved Chrysler Sebring. It’s bigger and bulkier than what we’re used to, and it has four seats and one of those old folks’ automatic transmissions, but the top comes down at the push of a button on warm Kansas day, and it’s also a pretty sweet ride.
For the past two years the Miata had been sitting in our garage and gathering dust and dirt from the Kansas winds, but earlier this week our pal Phil Burress “messaged” us on the internet that he’d heard we had a Miata we wanted to get rid of. We duly warned him about him the years and miles and other problems with our once-sweet ride, but he wanted to take a look anyway, as his son is rapidly approaching driver’s age and shares our fetish for classic roadsters.
After a cursory look our old pal Phil agreed to take it off our hands, and we’re glad that he did, and we hope that even after so many years and miles it will work out for him. Phil’s a top-notch guy and a first-rate bass player for several folkie and bluegrass bands around town, and he’s happily married to our aforementioned pal Lori Fletcher, who’s a damned good country singer, and their son, hilariously named Fletcher, is a prodigiously talented bluegrass fiddler and a classic example of Kansas boyhood.
After re-charging the battery and airing up the tires and filing up the crankcase with oil Phil was able to take a drive to nearby Park City with the top down on a warm but windy Kansas day, and you should have seen the excited look on Fletcher’s face as they pulled out the driveway, so we hope they’ll be able to get that Miata back in fighting shape for a few more years and a few more miles. Fletcher is a handsome and charming young fellow, and when you combine that with his musical gifts and a classic and fully-restored roadster all the chicks will probably dig him in his high school years. If he derives even half the enjoyment we derived from that old Miata, and we get to park the Sebring in the garage during the coming hail storms, we’ll call it a darned good deal.

– Bud Norman

Gary Shreck, RIP

The news today is full of consequential stories, as always, but for now none of it seems nearly so important to us as the death of a guy you’ve probably never heard of named Gary Shreck. He was a scholar with a first-rate intellect and an excellent sense of humor, much beloved by his family and the people of Edmond, Oklahoma, but we’re sure he’d want us to emphasize that he was first and foremost an adherent of the Christian faith.
Gary Shreck was one of those straitlaced and monogamous and teetotaling sorts of Christians, but in case you’re put off by that sort of thing you should know that he had an excellent sense of humor about it. He liked to tell the story about the time one of his young children was having teething pains, and a doctor prescribed rubbing whisky on the gums, so he drove to the next town and awkwardly and embarrassingly made his first and only visit to to a liquor store to purchase the elixir. He shared other stories about his piety, including his awkward and embarrassing honeymoon with the only woman he ever loved, but they were always more self-effacing than self-aggrandizing.
Such stories were always humbling for us, as we have to admit that we’ve too often entered a local liquor store to purchase a six-pack of Coors, and have been known to lean on the bar of a disreputable dive or two. As aspiring Christians we console ourselves with the knowledge that Jesus would also hang out with the tax collectors and Roman soldiers and outright whores and other characters considered disreputable by the pious Jews, and that He once changed water into wine to accommodate a proper wedding party. Even in the lowest joints people tend to aspire to higher ground, however, and whenever the subject of religion comes up we always try to put in a pitch for the Christian faith.
In most cases our secular friends are put off by that sort of thing, as they associate Christianity with the stern and anti-intellectual and humorless and judgmental sorts of Christians they’ve endured, It’s hard to argue with that, as we know exactly what they’re talking about, and can well understand why they wouldn’t want to be like those people. We could never offer ourselves as a compelling counter-example, but we could always cite our Mom and Dad and our cousin Claudette Dills and her husband “Cotton’-Pickin'” Dills, and the sweet and always smiling constantly reveling in God’s blessings and never casting-the-first-stone Gary Shreck as better exemplars of the Christian faith.
God blessed Gary Shreck to marry our excellent cousin Paulette Patten and start a family of wonderful children and grandchildren, and we were blessed to serve as the nine-years-old ring-bearers at their wedding. He became a professor at the under-rated Oklahoma Christian University, where one of his students at our under-rated West Douglas Church of Christ still well remembers him as an excellent man, and we’ll always remember him as one of the very best people that God ever blessed us to know, and he always reveled in God’s  blessings and dutifully endured whatever tribulations He chose to  bring to even His most faithful servants . In his final years on earth Gary Shreck suffered severely from Alzheimer’s disease, but he had his good days and bad days, and we happily recall that on his golden wedding anniversary God granted him one of those good days, when he laughed at our joke that we’d done such a good job as his ring-bearers that his marriage had lasted a full fifty years.
We wish you all best the best in coping with the rest of the day’s news, and hope that God has blessed you with someone like Gary Shreck to help lead you through it.

— Bud Norman

Dick Dale, “King of the Surf Guitar,” RIP

Dick Dale has reportedly died at the age of 81, and unless you’re a true aficionado of rock ‘n’ roll music you might not realize what a big deal that is. The undisputed “King of the Surf Guitar” only had a few hits and a couple of brief moments of mass popularity during his long career, but between his innate talent and very weird personality he had a far more significant influence on the evolution of American music.
For one thing, Dale was the creator and master of rock ‘n’ roll’s ultra-cool surf genre, which yielded some of the 20th century’s best music. Surf music was also the link between the twangy and bucolic and ultra-cool rockabilly style and the distorted and urban and acid-soaked ultra-cool psychedelic rock that followed shortly afterwards, and Dale’s aggressively percussive and extremely loud guitar playing showed the way. Dale also played an important part in the technological development of the electric guitar and amplifier, which of course played an important part in the musical development of rock ‘n’ roll, and he exemplified the weird sort of rugged individualism that makes rock ‘n’ roll so ultra-cool.
Although he was born as Richard Monsour in frigid Boston in the depths of the Great Depression, Dales family moved to southern California in the booming ’50s, where he became an avid surfer and rockabilly guitar player. All that surfing resulted in a buff surfer’s physique, and he started playing those fleet-fingered rockabilly riffs with a noticeable muscularity, trying to express the exhilaration of riding the waves and shooting the pipes toward a sunny California beach. He played it VERY LOUd, too, courtesy of his friendships with legendary electric guitar luthier Leo Fender, who had previously used western swing legend Eldon Shamblin of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys fame as a guinea pig for his latest musical inventions.
By the late ’50s southern California’s avid surfers were packing the Rendezvous Ballroom in Newport Beach to hear Dale musically recreating their best rides on the waves at deafening volume on the very first Fender Stratocaster. By the early early ’60s pretty much every band in culturally influential southern California was playing surf music, producing such classics as The Chantay’s “Pipeline” and The Surfari’s “Wipeout” and The Markett’s “Surfer Stomp,” not to mention all those Beach Boys records the baby boomer’s still so dearly love, and Dale’s classic “Miserlou” and “Let’s Go Trippin'” and “Swinging’ and Surfin'” were among the genre’s nationwide hits. Dale even got to appear in some of the then-popular “beach movies” with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello and shapely bikini-clad girls and shirtless boys with surfer physiques. Then The Beatles came along and the popularity of surf rock and beach movies waned, but the influence of Dale and the style he’d created lingered.
To our ears The Chantay’s “Pipeline” is the precursor of all that great electric piano playing Ray Manzarek did for The Doors, the preeminent Los Angeles rock band of the late ’60s and early ’70s. The Beach Boy’s experimental “Pet Sounds” album pushed even The Beatles in a new direction. As the “King the Surf Guitar,” Dale had an even more outsized influence. One of the many weird things about Dale was that he was left-handed and thus learned to play the guitar upside down, which was one reason he became a mentor to the equally left-handed and upside down guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who is widely if incorrectly considered the most badass rock ‘n’ roll guitarist of them all, and such formidable players as Stevie Ray Vaughan also acknowledged his influence. Dale was the first guitarist known for literally shredding his extra-gauge guitar strings, and every rock ‘n’ roller who considers himself a “shredder” is an acolyte whether they know it or not.
Dale kept playing and wowing audiences through the lean years, including a memorable concert at Wichita’s Cotillion Ballroom in the ’80s. We were the music critics for the local newspaper at the time, and had the good fortune to interview him, although it wasn’t so much an interview as just letting him talk. He said he’d quit surfing as a result of a foot infection caused by the pollution on California’s beaches, but that he was snowboarding in Colorado instead, and he raved about the latest guitar technology, and had good and bad things to say about the latest music, and overall he struck us as quite a character.
He put on a memorable show at the Cotillion, and we remember walking out in the soaked and limb-strewn parking lot to see that there’d been a severe thunderstorm we’d not noticed because of how VERY LOUD and ultra-cool the performance had been. A while after that Dale had another fifteen minutes of fame when Quentin Tarantino used “Miserlou” to start off his big movie hit “Pulp Fiction,” and after that Dale kept playing VERY LOUD in ballrooms across the country to pay his mounting medical bills. He no longer had the buff surfer’s physique at that point, but by all accounts was still shredding the extra-gauge strings on his state-of-the-art Fender guitar. We’re not likely to hear the likes of Dick Dale again, but we look forward to hearing faint echos from the music of generations yet to come.

— Bud Norman