Saturday, April 08, 2006

Come for the Irony, Stay for the Music

Tonight, our opening instalment of what will become a regular feature: Live-blogging Lawrence Welk (note: MS Word does not recognize “blog” or “blogging” as words. Get with the times, M$! The revolution will be computerized, man!). Note that I’m watching on whatever PBS affiliate they get in Kingston. I notice it’s not the same as whatever one they got in London, so your mileage may vary.

7:00: Look, it’s Mary-Lou Metzger! Metzker? Whatever. I really like the format they’ve adopted this season, wherein she briefly introduces the show at the start of the hour and stays out of your face until the last ten minutes, at which point she interviews a dead/dying member of the Welk cast. And she doesn’t show you any photos of her old cats! I really hated the old format, where they’d get a random cast member to host the show and interrupt every couple of songs with updates from their lives (“After trying her hand at a business degree, my daughter, Amber-Lynne, found that college life just wasn’t for her.”). They could be more stringent when it came to giving info about the specific episode, however. Sometimes she’ll give you the date, other times you’re on your own. Letting us know when the show was originally broadcast shouldn’t be too strenuous an activity, and I love the context it gives you. When Lawrence says something like, “certain elements of society would do well to keep their mouths shut with regards to the American government’s actions abroad”, you just know that Nixon’s in office. It makes the show cooler.

Also, Mrs. (Ms?) Metzger is hot.

7:02: Show opens with the whole cast singing a decent song. That ain’t bad. Usually the opening numbers are hokey or crappy in some other way; this one, I could actually listen to a second time.

7:05: Tonight’s special guest, Roger Williams, plays “Autumn Leaves”. I notice this season that they’ve been showing a few “special guest” episodes. I can recall Henry Mancini, Pat Boone and Jack Benny. It ain’t bad.

Anyway, Autumn Leaves gets worse every time I hear it. At first, I thought it was kinda cool, if a bit slow. The more I think about it, it sure takes itself pretty seriously for a song about… what, leaves? I feel like a fool for not immediately realizing that it’s as schmaltzy as crap like Moon River, and the various themes from Romeo and Juliet, Dr. Zhivago and Love Story (the three of which all sound like the same song, if you ask me).

PS: Why do these special guests, aside from Pat Boone and Jack Benny (obviously), never speak? Mancini was cool a few months ago, but I would have loved to have heard from him.

7:09: Guy and Ralna go up. This time, they’re singing an original song of theirs. It is awful and out of place and really demonstrates why this old man music is much better than anything that has been made in the past 30+ years. Seriously, anyone care about these guys? Anyone? I find a 3rd of the songs are great, a 3rd are “meh”, and the last third are utter crap. Guy and Ralna invariably end up in the last category every single time. I often wonder if these guys (along with the blonde, John Denver clone with the weird, weird hair) have been included against Lawrence’s better judgement as a way to attract the youthful viewers.

7:17: Bobby and Random Dance Partner No. 297 show up and do that one song. It’s probably called “Love Will Keep Us Together”, but I don’t really know that. You know, I kinda like this song. It’s one of those songs I’m embarrassed to like, like “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree”. But if people can shamelessly enjoy Dancing with Celebrities, I think I can like two cheesy songs.

Note that I think Bobby is a robot of some kind. His ability to smile and face the camera throughout his whole routine is uncanny. And aside from the fact that I could care less about a dance number, I do have to say that he’s pretty good at it, and it is neat that he choreographs the whole thing himself.

7:23: Ken Deal-o does his schtick. I find he does a lot of novelty songs. Maybe that’s cause he can’t actually sing, and Lawrence doesn’t want to saddle him with anything too tough. Tonight it’s a song about keeping a smiling face in the rain, but it could just as well have been about candy or the county fair.

7:27: Mary Lou Metzger shows up in the present day to tell us what’s coming up. Since she often announces the *very next* song we’re about to watch, I’m convinced they only put this update in to remind elderly viewers that it’s actually 2006 and not the mid-60s.

And, yes, cheap shot at the elderly, I know, but I give you permission to make fun of me once I’m in my 80s. Just as I would give you permission to make all the Jew jokes you wanted, were I actually Jewish.

7:30: Joe Feeney is up. Like Guy and Ralna, his songs fall into the “awful garbage” category. It opens up with some gay guy doing a few bars on an organ, followed by Feeney singing an Irish song or something. He makes “Around the World” unlistenable, for heaven’s sake! That’s a great song! Anyway, I doubt most people could stand his stuff 30-40 years ago, let alone today. Laura Zimmer’s a lot like this, too.

That said, I kinda like the guy. In spite of the fact that I hate what he does, I do have to say that he is talented and really sticks to his guns. He must truly appreciate old songs like that to make a living off of them, and that’s cool. He’s also probably been dead for 20 years.

7:35: Hank Cuesta does “Sunny Side of the Street”. On clarinet, naturally. My mom says he’s Canadian. Who knows? Anyway, he’s one of the better ones, and he’s good here. The problem I find is that even though this song’s catchy, it’s still pretty lifeless. I’ve never heard an arrangement of it before that I’d ever want to listen to a second time.

7:40: Arthur Duncan does his weekly tap dance. I know a whole bunch of performers do weekly bits, but there’s something about Duncan where it seems like he’s just going through the numbers more than most. I guess, as a layman, I can’t tell the difference from one tap routine to the next. I’m also not completely sold on him actually doing it. I know the singers are lip-synching, so I’m still a bit wary about him.

In introducing him, Lawrence once called him “a credit to his race”. By far, that was the funniest moment in Lawrence Welk Show history (note: Duncan is the only Black guy on the show).

7:44: Three of the ladies show up and do some singing. This show seems to have a stable full of random women to cobble together for any given number, and this time we get that red-head, the brunette with the cheekbones, and Mary Lou Metzger. It’s interesting in that they’re kinda walking around the stage and showing the audience, so you can get a better idea of how the studio is laid out. Also, they’re clearly, *clearly* lip-synching. I don’t know if people back in the day figured this out, but it’s plain as day to me right now.

These women are also totally fuckable, although I suspect they’re die-hard Republicans (current-day DVD releases include such classics as “How Great Thou Art,” “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands,” “Find Us Faithful,” “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” “My Tribute,” and “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You” – Sounds like a Tennessee Ernie Ford fan’s wet dream!). And though Jeff Greene would have fucked them even if they wore Bush masks, I think I’d have to decline.

7:47: George Cates comes out for the big closing number. This guy kicks ass. From my understanding, he’s the one who arranges half this shit, and he seems to be doing all the legwork as far as conducting is concerned (which begs the question: Just what does Lawrence *do* on his show?). Anyway, this guy just sweats confidence. You know when he takes that baton in his hand, you’re in for a fucking treat. Particularly, his “The Man I Love” was really fucking good and I wish I had a recording of it.

He’s real good at picking the right moment for the horns to interject. Take a listen to his Kumalau (or however you spell that). It shouldn’t be hard, considering I’ve seen them play it *at least* three times. They had “All the Way” a few weeks back (with that maybe-gay guy on the piano) which was a real barn-burner. Anyway, tonight was not as memorable, but whatcha gonna do?

7:50: That’s it! Mary Lou comes back to the present day to interview one of the women from the stables, and I’m outta there. I did stick around for them to mention that the episode was broadcast in April, 1977, though. Again, I love this new format because I can just tune out the minute she shows up and I won’t miss any music.

Anyway, that’s that. I do have a few closing comments, though:

- Why do they release those contemporary Lawrence Welk specials on DVD, and not actual episodes? They’re always overproduced garbage, too, like… Lawrence Welk Salutes America or a bunch of hymns or something. First, none of the episodes were like this (well, okay, maybe one or two). On the balance, you never had a huge hour-long concentration on topics like this. What makes them think that the audience wants that now? If you actually desperately need to release a DVD of material produced in the present day, just load it up with a bunch of old standards without the patriotic/religious crap.

- Release old episodes on DVD, damn you! Obviously, with the show spanning from, what, ’55 to ’83, you can’t do every one (they started to show the 80s one the other day and, yes, they are garbage), but you could get a selection of a few good bits. It’s too bad this show isn’t remotely popular with the crowd who use the Internet, since I’d then be able to download bootlegs of the best of the evening’s songs.

Anyway, that’s that. Sit tight until next week’s instalment.


PS: I didn’t actually live blog this. I wrote it after the fact.


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