Freddy Cole, RIP

For reasons we cannot explain we’ve long been fascinated by the famous people who were overshadowed by an even more famous people. Our two brothers have certain talents we do not possess, but not to the extent we ever felt overshadowed, so that can’t explain our affinity for all those less-famous siblings.
Bob Crosby’s Bobcats was a popular and top-notch if slightly outdated dixieland jazz band during the swing era, but he was never as famous as his brother Bing. Dom DiMaggio was an outstanding pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, but his brother Joe won championships with the New York Yankees and was by far the bigger star. Warren “Baby” Dodds is regarded as the first great jazz drummer, but he was always called “Baby” because his older brother Johnny is regarded as the first great jazz clarinetist. Here in Kansas you’ll see roads and buildings named for Milton Eisenhower, well regarded as president of Kansas State University and two other institutions of higher learning, but his brother Dwight was President of the United States. Liza Minelli and Betty Hutton and June Carter all had sisters who were so talented it’s a shame they’re largely overlooked.
We were reminded of this by an obituary in the Washington Post for Freddy Cole, who died Saturday at the age of 88. You’ve probably never heard of him, but he was a terrific jazz and soul and standards singer and pianist, and he was very popular in some unlikely foreign markets and managed to live comfortably off his talents over many decades, even though he never achieved the fame of older brother Nat “King” Cole.
Nat “King” Cole was one of the all the time greats, especially with his jazz trio but also with all the heavily-arranged pop stuff that made him rich, but his younger brother was pretty damn good. At first the younger brother was satisfied that his all-state status playing high school basketball surpassed what his brother had done on the athletic fields, but after an injury he decided to go with his musical talent. Freddy Cole was 12 years younger than Nat Cole, and by the time he started his musical career the older brother was the first black man to host a national television show and one of the most popular singers in the world, which didn’t do the younger brother much good.
Freddy Cole had a gorgeous voice and smooth piano patter similar to his older brother, but he mostly resisted the club owners and record producers who wanted him to cover the songs and imitate the style of Nat’s records. He had a bluesier sound than his brother, informed by a dozen years of musical trends trending toward to soul music, and it kept him steadily employed at fancy nightclubs and dives and honky-tonks. Along the way he had some regional hits, and was briefly a big deal in Brazil. When he turned 60, decades after his brother’s premature death, he started to get some recognition, racking up major label deals and several grammy nominations.
Freddy Cole left us on Saturday with an impressive body of work, even if you’ve never heard of him, and we think Nat “King” Cole would have been proud of his kid brother.

— Bud Norman

Our Very Reluctant Reflections on a Current Presidential Topic

Once upon a more polite time in American politics we would never have considered writing a word about a president’s penis, but in the age of President Donald Trump it’s yet another one of those many unprecedented topics one can’t quite avoid. Trump’s appendage first made its debut in the political conversation during the ’16 Republican primaries, when he assured his supporters that “I guarantee you there’s no problem, I guarantee,” and now it’s back in the news with a pornographic video performer and director’s far less flattering assessment.
The best-selling non-fiction book in America at the moment is journalism legend Bob Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House,” which depicts an administration full of people worried that the chief executive is dangerously unfit for office, but we expect that next week’s chart-topper will be by a pornographic video performer and director called Stormy Daniels. Recently released by the courts from a $130,000 non-disclosure contract to not talk about an alleged tryst with Trump back when his youngest son by his third wife was 4-months-old, Daniels has a “tell-all” book coming out that will surely be far more lucrative, and the most salacious parts have already leaked out, and what she says will probably offend Trump more than anything in that Woodward book.
Ever since the editor of the once-fashonable and still-well-remembered but long-defunct Spy Magazine in New York City wrote that then local celebrity Trump was a “short-fingered vulgarian” the current president has been famously touchy about the size of his hands, which is why his penis came up in the news in the first place. Late in the death throes of his ill-fated presidential candidacy Florida Sen. Marco Rubio decided to give Trump’s undeniably successful insult comic shtick a try, and poked at that button he knew Trump had about his hand size, and very subtly suggested that Trump had other insecurities as well. Rubio was widely denounced in most corners for getting down to Trump’s gutter level, however, and Trump’s guarantees on a Republican presidential debate stage that there was no problem down there brought roars of approval from his mostly male die-hard supporters.
At the time we thought it more even embarrassing than the era of President Bill Clinton and its unavoidable fellatio jokes about a naive intern, but the latest developments are worse yet. We suppose there’s an chance that Trump didn’t cheat on third wife a few months after the birth of his fifth child with a pornographic video performer and a Playboy centerfold model, and paid them both six-figure amounts not to say so because he’s just that kind of stand-up guy who wants to protect his wife, but other tawdry scenarios seem more likely. Which makes the porn star’s assessment of Trump’s penis more plausible, which Trump will surely find more infuriating than anything that Pulitzer Prize-winning Wood might claim.
Given that this is the age of President Donald Trump, after all, we’ll just go ahead and write out that a porn star called Stormy Daniels is now alleging that the presidential penis is “smaller than average” but “not freakishly small,” and resembles a certain mushroom-shaped character in a popular video game, along with other details which have since gone viral. This is all on the public record where you’re bound to run into it sooner or later, but we apologize if you saw it here first.
To be fair to Trump, we concede that Daniels is a pornographic video performer, and thus probably has an unrealistic idea of what constitutes an average penis size, and that perhaps she’s lying about what she calls the “least impressive sex I’ve ever had,” and that in fact Trump is the most well-endowed and selfless lover he’s ever experienced/.” At this point we’re inclined to believe she’s been in a position to know, however, and with great anxiety we await Trump’s reassurances about the presidential package.
Worst yet, all of this tawdry nonsense seems dangerously tied up with the rest of it. On issues ranging from international trade to longstanding military alliances to the currently swelling national deficit Trump has promised that only his uniquely endowed alpha maleness can rescue the country from his the nefarious plots of critics, but at this point we’re more inclined to believe a pornographic video performer and director that Trump isn’t all he claims to be. If Daniel’s descriptions of the presidential junk are at all accurate they might also exacerbate the current frostiness between the president and his First Lady, which is another one of those unavoidable stories these days.
In the meantime Trump’s Supreme Court nomination is stalled by credible charges of attempted rape, the “Russia thing” racks up ever-closer-to-Trump guilty pleas and cooperating witnesses, the president keeps feuding with his Attorney General, yet the economy seems to keep humming along. We don’t expect that in the end the president’s penis will have much to do with it one way or the other, but in this weird day and age it will likely play some part. For now all those snarky late-night television comics are having great fun with it, however, and we can’t say we  blame them.

— Bud Norman

You May Already Be a Weiner

There are more important things going on in the world, especially if you’re fortunate enough to live somewhere other than New York City, but there’s simply no resisting the temptation to write about a sex scandal involving someone named Anthony Weiner. All the good double entendres have been used by this point, but Weiner is such an absurd fellow that that we feel obliged to add a few more snickers to the ridicule that is once again being heaped on him.
As even the most determinedly apolitical people already know, Weiner is the former New York congressman who was forced to resign from office after it was revealed that he had been sending lewd photographs of underwear-clad nether regions to various young women. Modern American society being what it is Weiner was widely forgiven and quickly forgotten after offering a profuse public apology and a promise to refrain from such behavior in the future, and modern New York City society being what it is Weiner decided to run for mayor. So forgiving and forgetful is the city that Weiner was actually leading in all the polls on Tuesday, but the Big Apple’s patience might finally be running after revelations of even more lewd photos and salacious messages sent long after Weiner’s public apologies and promises.
Weiner was joined at a hastily arranged press conference by his semi-famous-in-her-own-right wife, a former aide to Hillary Clinton whose patience for male misbehavior is apparently as boundless as her past employer’s, but his renewed apologies and promises ran into predictable difficulties. The brilliant Mark Steyn dropped in on the conference, and quotes Weiner saying “This was something in front of us that we knew might come up” and “I’m not going to get into a back and forth,” both of which surely had the assembled press corps chuckling even more than they do at the mention of Weiner’s name. A New York politician can apparently be seen as a pervert without suffering any political harm, but even in the big city it is hard to overcome being seen as ridiculous.
There aren’t many old-fashioned prudes left in New York City, but there are plenty of newfangled ones who object to Weiner’s behavior on feminist and other fashionable grounds. The New York Times quotes the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, which seems to still exist there, as declaring that Weiner is “clearly and compellingly unfit for office.” Even by the degraded standards of our national politics taking pictures of one’s private parts and sharing them with strangers is odd behavior, and even the most dedicated Democrats who are inclined to overlook it will be reluctant to give up the right to look down on the next Republican caught up in some more understandable sex scandal. Moral and political considerations aside, there’s also something unsettlingly narcissistic about Weiner’s hobby that suggests he’d be a troublesome mayor.
The current mayor has established a precedent that the office carries the power to dictate all sorts of the citizenry’s behavior, from how much salt a diner can put on his French fries to the size of his soda pop, so surely the citizenry can expect better behavior of a mayor. There are many reasons that Weiner shouldn’t hold a position of public responsibility, most having to do with his bossy brand of liberalism, but his strange hobby should be enough to convince even a New Yorker.

— Bud Norman