Hello, how are you? It’s good to be here. I’m Cliff Yablon, but some of you may already know me from Bob Kincaid’s show as Reverbo, Critic-At-Large. No, that’s not an old photo of me. That’s President Rufus T. Firefly from Duck Soup, who when asked by the Ambassador of Sylvania if war could be prevented, remarked “It’s too late. I’ve already paid a month’s rent on the battlefield.” The humor there is a bit tempered by the fact that the previous president of our own country basically did just that and worse in Iraq. As leader of the bankrupt nation of Freedonia, Firefly also reduced workers’ hours by shortening their lunch breaks, something George Jr. and his handlers were no doubt considering.
In Horse Feathers, Groucho sings “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It.” Sound familiar?
So is everything just an endless movie or is this real life? Anymore, it’s hard to tell. As Twain once said, “Sometimes I wonder if the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.”
But, back to my intro. As much fun as I have listening to Bob, and emailing and calling his show for two years, why not see if this works in print, and hopefully adds to the already high level of thoughtful and entertaining discourse. In short, I’ve been invited to be a columnist on the HORN blog. My literary arena is not that of journalism, but of commentary and satire, and I hope you come along, too. Sound like fun? I’ll say. As Critic-At-Large, just about everything is fair game, and while I try to do my homework, what I may sometimes lack in the erudition department I believe I can make up for in the comedy sector. Somewhere I remember reading someone a lot smarter than I who suggested that arguably every human act is shaped in some form by politics, that in fact, our entire lives and the choices we make have some political framework. As Richard K. Morgan said in Altered Carbon, “The personal is political.” There. I’ve just given us a pass to go anywhere we want.
Anyway, the airheads and fools of the world deserve all the ridicule intelligent people can dish out, and most of them ask for it. And those who promote reason, dignity and honor deserve our praise.
So what do we mean by comedy? It’s subjective, to be sure, but for me the best kind demonstrates consistency. One way to find out it is to apply a simple test to an idea, event, or even a word, and ask yourself, does this at least stay as funny, if not actually get funnier, the more you think about it? Here’s a concept: hindquarters. Does that meet the funny test? See what I mean?
Try the test with this headline: Spotlight on South Carolina. Or this idea: Embracing your inner moron. Passes with flying colors, I think. High jinks and monkeyshines await.
Let’s talk more about me. I like, not necessarily in this order: Kurt Vonnegut, The Onion, Dr. Strangelove, Claudia Cardinale, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Salvador Dali, surf instrumentals, and private-eye jazz themes from late 50s television. As a matter of fact, I wish there was a way to have that Mancini-styled crime jazz playing in the background every time I spoke. I like vegetables and fruits but I have made peace with carrots: I don’t like them, and that’s that. I think in italics. I’m in love with those gorgeous French astro-physicists from the Go-Go 60s – you know the ones – and I have finally discovered my spiritual community. I realized I’m a Humanist. I don’t suffer for any gods and they don’t suffer for me. Most of us have our hands full dealing with our own lives, not to mention other human beings, and the last thing we need is to throw some supernatural creatures into the mix. I dig Joe Biden; that guy is one smooth V.P. And I can summarize Arlen Spector’s political career in four words: single brain cell theory.
I grew up in the East, then spent most of my life in Colorado, presently live in the South (my astrological sign is the possum), and will soon head north again to Maryland. At one time I thought I was a conservative Republican, but the only way to describe what happened to that party is madness. I share the ideals of progressives, whatever their stripe, and my appreciation of art and culture transcends party lines. My search for a Nelson Rockefeller Pez dispenser goes on. (That vice-presidential Pez series? Impossible to find a complete set.)
I’m fine with capitalism, I just don’t appreciate the reckless kind. When you put profits over people you’ve stepped over the line, and even the shitbrains ought to grasp that. Democracy doesn’t work everywhere–you wonder how well it’s still working here– so I don’t condone dropping it on people, unsolicited, from 10,000 feet. I hate those who conflate patriotism with loyalty, the truth is never a matter of opinion, and I dislike bamboozlery of any kind. There’s another one. Try saying the word bamboozle without grinning.
Are you still with me? This is what happens all too often. Some of you know exactly how this works. One thought leads to another and before you know it, you’ve been on the air with Bob for half an hour. I also realize this will be tough sledding if the pessimism level stays too high, but though I’ve been politically aware since the 60s, never before have I been so cognizant and awed– and infuriated– by the power of the forces against us, and how readily our elected officials will whore for them. It is definitively clear to me there is a vibrant third party in american politics– the Corporate Party– that’s enjoyed great success by sponsoring the two other parties that actually appear on our ballots. With few exceptions, the United States Senate is basically a club of fat, dysfunctional aristocrats. That’s dismaying; there’s no doubt about it. These people are supposed to be working for us.
A friend of mine once remarked that the world as we knew it ended on December 31, 1969, and it’s hard to dispute that. It’s 2010, folks, and we’re still arguing about the same things – the economy, poverty, the environment, education, taxes, energy, security, et al. Isn’t it about time we figured out the role of government and got it rollin’ for everybody? We can’t just set things on cruise control anymore; that’s long gone. Is anyone going to step up and actually fix anything while I’m still around? It’s still the People against the Establishment. With apologies to the Ramones, Southern Culture on the Skids, and surf music’s Third Wave, you can argue rock ‘n’ roll basically had it’s last hurrah at Woodstock and then Altamont. The passionate idealism and alternative directions of the 60s and the voices who championed that collapsed in apathy or were silenced by assassination. Meanwhile, Honeywell released the first under $10,000 16-bit mini-computer, the H316 (designed for the kitchen, no less), the middle class was peaking, and The New Frontier culminated that summer when three Americans actually made it to the freaking moon, and the Commies couldn’t even make a decent car. The 1960s was the ultimate manifestation of the United States.
I haven’t forgotten about Vietnam and never can. Though I didn’t serve in it, that would have been my war. For many of us, The Great Society was far from great. To be sure, the 60s, like today, was a time of unbelievable extremes, but nevertheless – and unlike now – we were poised to realize and flourish in our incredible potential. About all we can do now is put up signs on each coast that say “Closed For Repairs.” I think it could take a generation – possibly less if certain people either pitch in and help or sit down and shut up – but so far there’s no evidence of that happening anytime soon. And whatever the outcome, it will never be the same here again.
At any rate, some say it was essentially over forty-one years ago, that the whole thing came to an end on the last day of 1969 just like the final twenty second crescendo of the Beatles’ A Day In The Life. That we were right there– as close as we’ve ever come– in the midst of a glorious, triumphant run. Instead of the floor pie-eating Homer Simpson we had the trim, space-age Jetsons, and Martha and The Vandellas asked, “Are we ready for a brand new beat?” It felt like we were on the verge of something we’ve never quite re-captured. Has it really been all downhill from there? Or have we always existed, as Joe Bageant says, inside an elaborately constructed hologram of America, our values and feelings– in fact, our decisions– already selected and programmed for us? Then we are not only faced with taking back our government and our country, but our minds. When I visualize again the all-too-recent image of that smirking weasel we got for eight years at the beginning of the 21st century it’s hard not to be nostalgic for a brighter time.
Well, we might have come close, but darkness returned with Nixon, Watergate, and then more madness with Reagan, Iran-Contra, the Bushes, the Second Great Depression – we all know what happened. (Vonnegut was always on to it, too. At the end of his 1982 novel Deadeye Dick, he wrote: “You want to know something? We are still in the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages—they haven’t ended yet.”) It’s tempting to speculate how different things would have been had both Kennedys lived to serve their terms. But they didn’t. And as much as I think the 1960s was the most creative, energetic and intense decade in which to grow up, the fact is, that’s my generation and we didn’t get it done either.
Our moon adventure reminded me of that scene in Vacation, when the Griswolds visit the Grand Canyon on their way to Wally World. Chevy looks over the rim at that breathtaking vista for all of five seconds and announces “Well, we’re outta here.” Hell, all we had was a cup of coffee up there, and then it was “Buzz? Neil. Where are you? All right, I see you. Listen Buzz, Houston really wants you to stop jumping around out there now, and get back to the ship, okay? We gotta go.” What happened to the moon bases? Where are those futuristic helium-filled pants I ordered forty-five years ago? We let our future become hijacked, plain and simple. Instead of Tomorrowland, we ended up with Greedyland, our hands still grimy with oil and the earth still pockmarked with bomb craters, and all but a connected few of us broke and disillusioned. Or downright crazy. And deadly. Look out for the Angry White American With A Gun. He’s polluted with right-wing hate, he’s armed and activated, and he may be coming to a town near you. Or, flying into one, as happened in our latest domestic attack on February 18, by the terrorist Andrew Stack III.
I know Bob Kincaid and the HORN community gets it. It’s clear Bob and his listeners understand that we really are all downstream, that the actions of people and nature are undeniably connected. And so he and the network keep pushing ahead–pressing on–heading on, but what we do is up to us. Blatantly, our adversaries refuse to get it, and the worst of them have the arrogance to believe they not only live upstream, but that it’s their stream to piss in. With the mass media awash in deranged idiots, and Fox sticking a mic and a camera into the face of every nutcase around, it’s seems like a bozo explosion everywhere you turn. At times you’d think we were back in the 14th century. The only way you can tell it’s not is because those new high-def plasma TVs make the brain-damaged Michele Bachmann seem so lifelike.
Groucho was almost so surreal at times that the other actors often didn’t get his jokes. Some readers may not always get mine. I know Homer doesn’t. He claims he does, though. “I get jokes…I get stuff.” Yeah. Homer Simpson, Atomic Dad. The icon for our time. In any case, while I’ve read and listened to many, most of my thoughts and words are mine. Whether you write by nature or profession, the key is, through a combination of invention and synthesis, to find your own voice and then hope it’s a perceptive and engaging one. And always be open to constructive criticism. By the way, if anyone’s nodded off next to you, please tell them I’m sure my pieces won’t all be this long, but I wanted my opening night to be a strong one.
That about does it for now. I better save some copy for my next installments if this ends up working out. What have I forgotten? The most important part. The HORN could be on the cusp of breaking out right now. This may be their time. I think the internet is an excellent vehicle for progressive radio; that’s where broadcasting is headed and where there’s room to establish new and alternative markets. The HORN was out front on that and has been chugging along for a while now, building an impressive foundation and reputation. The landscape has changed and this network could be in position to really make something happen. With enough support we can increase our efforts, magnify our message, and be a leading liberal voice into the next phase of exposure and attention.
I’m pleased to be associated with everyone on the HORN and glad for the opportunity to contribute to the cause. Hopefully I’ve opened up an entertaining and stimulating dialog and a range of topics. Your thoughts, comments and feedback are welcomed and appreciated. That’s the idea.