The ad for the Volkswagen Passat featuring a little Darth Vader was my favorite Super Bowl commercial this year:
The little Darth Vader is played by six-year-old Max Page, a young actor with a congenital heart defect and a pacemaker. He has never seen any of the Star Wars movies, but maybe he pulled it off so well because he looks a little like Mark Hamill.
Chimesfreedom continues its celebration of today’s Super Bowl battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers with a song about the home of the Packers: “Wisconsin” by Bon Iver.
Although Bon Iver’s “Wisconsin” is a recollection of events that happened in Wisconsin, the song is more universal. The narrator is singing about a lost love and his memories of their time in Wisconsin.
Bon Iver is the recording name taken by Justin Vernon, and “Wisconsin” is a hidden track on Bon Iver’s 2007 album, For Emma, Forever Ago. Most of the album was written by Justin Vernon during a time of seclusion in a Wisconsin cabin. Following a break up with his former band, an illness, and the end of a relationship, Vernon moved from North Carolina to his childhood state of Wisconsin to live alone in his father’s cabin for almost four months. Out of his pain, he created the album.
You’re up on the bar and your shaking With every grimy word Who will love Whats love when you’ve hurt You wonder as you see the snow kissed the curb Love is loves return
That was Wisconsin that was yesterday Now I have nothing that I can keep Cause every place I go I take another place with me Love is loves critique
Vernon took the name Bon Iver from an episode of Northern Exposure where residents of Cicely, Alaska emerged from their homes after the first snow to wish each other “bon hiver” — French for “good winter.”
Have a good Super Bowl Sunday and be safe. Bon hiver.
Bonus Cheerier Songs: If you would like a “happier” song set in Wisconsin, here is the opening to Laverne & Shirley.
As you prepare for a day of watching commercials occasionally interrupted by a football game played by the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, Chimesfreedom considers songs inspired by the states in the big game. An upcoming post will address the state of the Packers, but this post considers the hometown of the Steelers: Woody Guthrie’s “Pittsburgh Town,” recorded by Pete Seeger.
Like some other songs sung by Guthrie and Seeger, “Pittsburgh Town” takes on the big corporate interests. For Pittsburgh, at the time, that meant attacking the steel industry: “What did Jones & Laughlin steal now Pittsburgh?” But the song ends by defiantly proclaiming the workers are organizing and joining the Congress of Industrial Organizations (a precursor to the AFL-CIO).
All I do is cough and choke in Pittsburgh All I do is cough and choke in Pittsburgh All I do is cough and choke From the iron filings and the sulphur smoke In Pittsburgh, Lord God, Pittsburgh
From the Allegheny to the Ohio, in Pittsburgh Allegheny to the Ohio Allegheny to the Ohio They’re joining up in the C.I.O. Pittsburgh, Lord God, Pittsburgh
According to Ed Cray’s Ramblin’ Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie, most of the lyrics to the song were improvised when Guthrie was performing for Jones & Laughlin employees after Guthrie had just seen the workers’ poor living conditions. Guthrie may not have been in too good of a mood, having just spent the night in hotel infested with cockroaches.
Bonus Cheerier Songs: Yeah, the song is depressing, and maybe I’m mad my team did not make the Super Bowl. If you would like a “happier” song, here is Charlie Daniels “In America” (“Go and lay your hand on a Pittsburgh Steelers fan / and I think you’re finally gonna understand”).
On February 4, 1961, Lenny Bruce performed before a full house at a midnight show at Carnegie Hall. Outside that cold night, a blizzard was blowing through the city, and there was also something powerful going on inside.
The Carnegie Hall Performance
Although Lenny Bruce’s career had been slowly building, the performance at Carnegie Hall launched him further into a career of breaking comedy and language barriers that would bring fame, legal troubles, and ultimately his death on August 3, 1966.
Below is the beginning of his performance at Carnegie Hall.
Persecution and Death
Before the end of the year, Lenny Bruce was arrested in San Francisco for obscenity for one of his performances. Although he was acquitted in that case, police officers in other cities began monitoring him more closely.
Here is part 2 (and you may continue listening to the concert on YouTube):
The close scrutiny led to other similar arrests and arrests for drug possession. In 1964 after a performance in New York, Bruce was again charged with obscenity. This time, he was sentenced to four months in a workhouse.
While out on bail during the appeals in 1966, he died of an accidental overdose. Phil Spector said it was an “overdose of police.”
Five years after Lenny Bruce’s death, a similar story would be repeated. Another star would face an indecency conviction, dying while the appeal was pending from an apparent death by drugs: Jim Morrison, who died in exile in Paris on July 3, 1971.
It would be almost 50 years after Bruce’s death before New York Gov. George Pataki pardoned Bruce in 2003.
Lenny Bruce’s Influence
Lenny Bruce influenced many performers who came after him. Richard Pryor said, “Lenny changed my life,” noting that “[i]t was him who said comedy wasn’t about telling jokes – it was about telling the truth.”
George Carlin has often discussed how Lenny Bruce was his hero. One may see the Bruce connection to Carlin’s famous “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bruce also has been mentioned in a number of songs, including R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” and Bob Dylan’s “Lenny Bruce” from his Shot of Love album:
They said that he was sick ’cause he didn’t play by the rules He just showed the wise men of his day to be nothing more than fools They stamped him and they labeled him like they do with pants and shirts He fought a war on a battlefield where every victory hurts Lenny Bruce was bad, he was the brother that you never had.
A bio-pic about Lenny Bruce was made in 1974 starring Dustin Hoffman, who gives an excellent performance. Lenny, which was directed by Bob Fosse and was based on a Broadway play by Julian Barry, appears to be out of print on DVD, but you may watch it streaming on Netflix.
Although Lenny leaves out some background about Bruce’s tragic life, the movie is a good introduction to Bruce. And Hoffman presents what Bruce’s “shocking” performances were like.
It amazes me that Lenny Bruce was constantly harassed and faced prison for using words we hear all the time today. But I still remember seeing the Dustin Hoffman movie when I was a kid when we first got cable in our house.
I had never heard anyone speak like that. My education on movie profanity would continue with Al Pacino’s performance in Dog Day Afternoon. But Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Lenny Bruce was quite eye-opening. Many of Bruce’s intelligent points about censorship have stayed with me throughout my life. So, thank you Lenny and Dustin (and Richard Pryor and George Carlin).
Bonus Website: The Official Lenny Bruce website, approved by his daughter, also sponsors a link to donate to Lenny’s House, a non-profit charity for women recovering from drug and alcohol abuse.
Bonus Quote and Movie Reference : One of the Lenny Bruce quotes on the website is: “Satire is tragedy plus time. You give it enough time, the public, the reviewers, will allow you to satirize it which is rather ridiculous, when you think about it.” In one of Woody Allen’s best movies, Crimes and Misdemeanors, a character played by Alan Alda says, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” Allen was a supporter of Bruce and even signed a petition on Bruce’s behalf after an arrest, so I wonder if the line was inspired by Bruce?
What do you think about Lenny Bruce and his influence? Leave a comment.
For the start of Black History Month, Craig Ferguson welcomed philosopher Dr. Cornel West on The Late Late Show. I happened to have the show on, and as it progressed, I wondered, “Am I really seeing this intelligent conversation on a late night talk show?”
Besides musical guest George Clinton, the only guest on the show was Dr. West. Ferguson began by noting that just for that night, the show would proceed without some of its sillier elements, like his usual robot sidekick, Geoff Peterson (who is actually more of a commentary on late night sidekicks). Ferguson and Dr. West discussed various topics including race, music, Huckleberry Finn, slavery, and U.S. citizenship. It was an intelligent conversation about important issues with a little humor thrown in for good measure. And I probably learned more from it than any of the arguments and debates featured on most cable news channels. Linda Holmes at NPR also wrote about this “extraordinary conversation.”
A clip from the interview with Dr. West on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson is here:
Did you see the show? What did you think? Leave a comment.