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‘Dad & Dave’ were the Aussies’ Ma and Pa Kettle

There has been a great deal written over the centuries about how the idea of a story almost always breaks down into one of seven great plots.

Those are overcoming the monster, rags to riches, voyage and return, rebirth, the quest, tragedy and comedy. If you make it broad enough, almost every story fits into one of those categories. Even a teenage slob comedy where a bunch of kids are trying to lose their virginity. Hey, it’s a quest.

Of course, after a while almost all of the various plots get done to death. The two that seem to fascinate audiences the most — particularly the young male demographic Hollywood seems to love so much — are overcoming the monster and the quest. But as I said earlier, when the particular quest is nothing more than getting laid, it’s tough to have too good a movie.

I’m not sure there has ever been a more interesting age for film than the 1940s, the last decade before television took center stage and destroyed movie attendance. It was pretty much the last decade when nearly all films were made for people of all ages. Sure, there were movies just for kids, but there were none that would have been rated, R, X or NC-17.

Not everything, of course, was “Gone With the Wind” or “Casablanca.”

There were plenty of what were known as “B” movies that were shot quickly with second-string actors, and if Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride never won Oscars for their roles in the Ma and Pa Kettle films, they certainly made plenty of people laugh.

These films were part of an interesting little genre, in which city people were able to laugh at the simple country folks and country people laughed at the city fish out of water in the country.

The Kettles were the subject of 10 films between 1949 and 1957, and if you think they don’t make movies like that anymore, remember the dozen or so “Ernest” movies starring Jim Varney in the 1990s.

It isn’t just an American thing, either. A few weeks ago I wrote about Australian singer Eric Bogle and his song, “The Waltzing Matilda Waltz.”

One of the later verses, in which he bemoans the immorality of young Australians ends with what what I thought was the line, “We’ve come a long way since Diamond Day.”

The actual verse went like this:

“Saturday night outside a King’s Cross hotel, There stands our future and it’s halfway to hell. Kids with hard drugs and young bodies to sell, hey Australia, what progress we’ve made. We’ve come a long way since Dad and Dave.”

I had never heard of Dad and Dave, but when I Googled “Dad and Dave,” I found out it referred to a pretty large chunk of Australian entertainment. There were films — movies like “Dad and Dave Come to Town” (1938) — and a radio series that ran from 1932-52. Oh, and there were plenty of jokes in that special Aussie vein.

Here’s one:

Dad and Dave are walking in the bush when they come upon a dingo crouched over licking its testicles.

Dad smiles and says, “I’ve always wanted to do that.”

Dave is taken a bit aback. “I don’t know, Dad. Those dingoes can be pretty vicious. You’d probably better pet it for a while before you try.”

Great plots?

Heck, comedy is always a great plot, whether it’s Woody Allen, Ma and Pa Kettle or just Dad and Dave.

 

 

posted by Mike in Americana,Australia,Comedy,writing and have No Comments

Future may look grim, but not necessarily

If you know me, you know I have been thinking a lot about Australia recently.

I have fallen in love with the songs of Eric Bogle, who is probably the best folk singer who isn’t that well known in this country, and one of his songs — a criticism of what has happened in his country in recent decades — could easily be adapted to the U.S.

“Well, once jolly swagmen went humping their swags and stuffed jolly jumbucks down in their tucker bags. These days, jolly junkies go on house-breaking jags and steal to buy the poison they need while the swaggie, he just wanted a feed.

“And who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me? Hey Banjo, this country’s not what it used to be. We’ve changed all your words, and re-written your score and it’s ‘Waltzing Matilda’ no more.”

Banjo was Banjo Paterson, who wrote “Waltzing Matilda” and several other epic Australian poems, and just as he might not recognize 21st century Aussies, I’m pretty sure our Founding Fathers wouldn’t recognize us anymore.

I’m not talking about the government, either. Fully 224 years after the Constitution was written, I have a hunch our founders might be surprised and more than a little amused at how much we’re still letting 18th century thought run a 21st century country.

No, I think it’s Americans that they wouldn’t recognize, and I’m not talking about ethnicity either.

We have become a people who seem to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Compared to our ancestors, we are fat, lazy and stupid. We have apparently decided that anything we’re allowed to do is something we should do, no matter how destructive it is, either to ourselves or to our country.

More from Bogle’s song that fits our country too:

“Saturday night outside a King’s Cross hotel, there stands our future, and it’s halfway to hell. Kids with hard drugs and young bodies to sell, Hey Australia, what progress we’ve made! We’ve come a long way, since Diamond day.”

Our biggest problem is that we have lost our religion, and I’m not talking about God or any supernatural being. Until about 30 years ago, people in both parties, both liberal and conservative, shared what we could call a civic religion. They might not agree on the scope of what government should do, but they believed that government — the civic marketplace — was important.

They believed that government mattered, and when functioning properly, could make things better.

But about 30 years ago, the Radical Right started attacking the very idea of government. They distorted Ronald Reagan’s comment about government not being the solution to economic stagflation, and they started quoting him as saying something he never said:

“Government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.”

As the Radical Right gained more and more control of the Republican Party, all of a sudden there were folks on one side of the equation who didn’t want government to do anything at all. Even national defense. Many of our “defense personnel” overseas now are what we used to call mercenaries.

And as much as it would be easy to blame the right, we all have to share some of the blame. We started celebrating mediocrity, and we lost the distinction between famous and infamous. Why do we even know who the “Octomom” is? Why do we tolerate misfits like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan? It’s certainly not talent. If you’ve ever heard Spears sing live without lip-syncing, it’s easy to see that she just has an average voice.

We put so much emphasis on what we wanted, not what was right or wrong.

We have tens of millions of children living in single-parent homes, even though it has been proven that growing up without a father is the absolute leading indicator for violent criminals. I’m certainly not criticizing folks who aren’t single parents by choice, but why on earth did we decide it was acceptable for women to make a rational decision to have a child and raise it alone?

Our culture is worse than trashy? Go to a movie theater and pick a film at random to see. The chances are pretty good you’ll leave the theater feeling slimy.

Television is even worse.

We don’t use our culture to uplift people or to set good examples anymore. It’s all about money.

If this sounds pessimistic, it’s actually not. I have great hope for the generation of young adults currently in their 20s and early 30s. I have great hope that people like my own children and other kids I know like Sean and Kelsey Curran — my best friend’s kids — will demand better. And when people with leadership abilities demand better, eventually things get better.

That said, I think it’s time for my generation and the one that’s slightly older — the folks who are pretty much running things now — to step aside. We are so much a part of the problem that we cannot be part of the solution. And until we do step aside, America is never going to stop debating the ’60s.

This used to be a helluva good country, and it can be again. But the people who want that have to demand it. They have to tell the Harry Reids and the Mitch McConnells, the Rush Limbaughs and the Keith Olbermanns, to get the hell out of the way so they can start fixing things.

A little more from Bogle:

“And who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me? This country could still be what we want it to be. Perhaps one day soon, the dream will be restored and we’ll go Waltzing Matilda once more.”

I’m sure you get the point.

 

posted by Mike in American Dream,Future,history,Politics,Ranting and have No Comments

Aussie Bogle has lots to say in his wonderful songs

I have been accused by several of my friends of being stuck in the past when it comes to my taste in music.

Well, yes and no. I would be the first to admit that I’m not keyed into the modern pop scene. I did buy a current CD last summer after hearing Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” again and again on the radio in Texas, and I bought the “Songs for Japan” collection for earthquake benefit on iTunes a few months ago. But no, I’m not really into the modern pop scene all that much.

That isn’t to say I haven’t been discovering a great deal of new music — at least new to me — lately. I have a ton of French music on my iPod, from troubadours Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour to rockers Johnny Hallyday and Eddy Mitchell. I’ve got Italian songbird Laura Pausini and German crooner Herbert Groenemeyer, and in the last week or so I have started loading up on Australian music.

I don’t know exactly how that got going. I watched “Gallipoli” and I heard about Eric Bogle’s song, “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” and I started looking for more music.

Eric Bogle

What I discovered is that Bogle, who will be 67 years old this fall, could easily be called the Australian Harry Chapin.

Many people won’t remember Harry, who died in an automobile accident in 1981 at the age of 38, but he wrote dozens of beautiful story-songs and actually had one chart-topper in the mid ’70s with “Cat’s in the Cradle.”

Bogle was born in Scotland and emigrated to Australia in his twenties. Many of his songs are ones I could easily picture Chapin singing, beautiful story songs and songs with plenty of humor as well. “And the Band Played …” is his best known song, but songs like “The Aussie BBQ Song” and “I Hate Wogs” are funny enough to make me laugh out loud.

Still, it’s his story songs that really stay with me, just as it was Chapin’s story songs like “A Better Place to Be” and “Sniper” that have been a part of my life for nearly 40 years.

I don’t know if I have another 40 years to enjoy Bogle’s music, but I certainly do enjoy it now.

The guy has heart — and soul.

 

posted by Mike in Australia,Happiness,Music and have Comment (1)

The saddest death of all must be dying alone

“Summer smilin’ on the city, another lovely day in Sydney …”

During the five years that I worked as a newspaper columnist, I wrote more than 700 columns. The one I wrote for publication on Sept. 17, 1998, wasn’t the best column I ever did and it wasn’t the worst, but it is one that stuck with me.

An elderly woman living alone in Chino Hills, Calif., had died in her apartment in the middle of March. She apparently died sitting on the sofa and watching television in her living room.Her body wasn’t found until late May, more than two months later.

By then, her body had, well, sort of melted into the carpeting.

She didn’t have any friends and she had never had children. The only reason she was found in late May was that her ex-husband — who was living in Colorado — had sent her two alimony checks that had not been cashed. He called the local police and asked that they send someone to check on her.

It cost her estate more than $6,000 to clean the room, to get the smell of death out. The carpet couldn’t be saved.

Mick

I was 48 years old when I wrote that column, a lot younger than I am now. But I remember it very well, and there were few stories that touched me on a more visceral level. Maybe it’s because I remembered a prediction my best friend Mick had made way back in the early ’80s. He suggested that I might end up old and alone, living in a Skid Row hotel after losing a leg to diabetes.

This guy was your friend?

You have to understand the relationship. At any rate, I could picture myself in that situation, even though I have never had diabetes. I lived alone for most of the 12 years between my two marriages, and while I was much younger, I certainly could have found myself in a situation where I was unable to get help if I needed it.

But I had friends and family as close as the end of a telephone line. I can only imagine what it would be like to have a problem and not have anyone to call who knew me or cared whether I lived or died.

The quote at the beginning of this piece is from a wonderful song by Aussie singer Eric Bogle, “A Reason for It All,” about a Sydney woman named Clare Campbell who died in her apartment and wasn’t discovered for months. Bogle tells the story, and John Munroe sings in counterpoint that we shouldn’t feel responsible when something like this happens.

“That’s how it is, don’t look for a reason for it all.”

It’s strange for us to realize that a person dying old and alone, feeling frightened and abandoned by the world, was once a small child who looked at the world in wonder and saw a bright future ahead.

Just as few people see themselves as villains, it’s almost impossible to visualize a child thinking that someday she will die alone.

Our world has become so cold and callous to the suffering of others, and I would imagine that there are far more people singing Munroe’s words – “Lonely old people aren’t my concern, from dust we come and to dust we return” — than taking Bogle’s point of view, that there must be something we can do for the lost and lonely souls among us.

We are not born just so we can die. That might be the most powerful line in Bogle’s song, and that’s the one that stays with me.

Thirteen years ago, when I wrote the column about the Chino Hills woman, this is how I completed it:

“I can’t get her out of my mind — wondering what she was thinking just before she died, or if she knew no one would miss her enough to wonder where she was.

“I don’t know if there are good ways to die, but it’s difficult to think of a worse one.”

 

posted by Mike in Family,Friends,Ranting and have Comment (1)
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