Iron And Sand

Margaret Thatcher and Annette Funicello both died today.

During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Margaret Thatcher — the Iron Lady — was a titanic figure in Great Britain and the modern world.  She put backbone into the British Conservative Party, rolled back some of the socialist initiatives of the ’50s and ’60s, and was an outspoken advocate of capitalism and individual liberties.  She refused to give up the Falkland Islands to Argentina and fought a war instead, was a staunch ally to the United States under Ronald Reagan, and was a strong anti-Communist voice in the world.  Thatcher was the first woman to serve as Great Britain’s Prime Minister, and she led the Conservative Party for 15 years, from 1975 to 1990.  Years from now, Thatcher is likely to be recognized as one of the most significant historical figures of the 20th century.

Annette Funicello, on the other hand, was not a significant historical figure.  Instead, her impact was largely cultural.  She was one of the original Mouseketeers and, for those of us not quite old enough to remember The Mickey Mouse Club, she was the star, with Frankie Avalon, of a series of ridiculous “beach movies” that always seemed to be on TV when I was a kid.  Funicello was the voice of calm common sense and reason in a make-believe world where teenaged girls worried endlessly about whether to give their boyfriends a chaste kiss, motorcycle gangs were comedic relief, and a guy named Moondoggie and a cast of swimsuit-wearing teens might break into wild beachfront dancing at any moment.

Margaret Thatcher and Annette Funicello probably didn’t have a lot in common — yet each had her own, special impact on the world.  Each sported a hairdo that looked like hardened cotton candy and probably could break your nose.  Each left this mortal coil on April 8, 2013, and each will be missed.

Why Can’t Life Be Like Beach Blanket Bingo?

It was a long, grueling day at the office today.  As I walked to my car afterward, the sun hanging low in the sky, I noticed a bunch of swimsuit-wearing young people throw down blankets and start twisting furiously, while Frankie and Annette gave each other a split-second, soulless, sexless kiss, a chorus sang of “lads” and “lassies,” a girl wasted a perfectly good ice cream cone on a “fresh” guy’s mug, and a dude named Moondoggy wore a curious hat.

Well, okay, that didn’t happen — but wouldn’t it be something if just once life were like Beach Blanket Bingo?

Obscure Bands And Great Songs: The Trashmen And Surfin’ Bird

In the early ’60s, before the British invasion, American popular music was wide open.  You had Elvis and Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chubby Checker, Connie Francis and Lesley Gore.  You had girl groups and boy groups and novelty songs.  And, emanating from somewhere deep in the American psyche, you had this odd, guitar and drum-oriented sound called surf music.  The surf sound started on the West Coast and rolled east until it reached Minnesota, of all places, and produced the classic 1963 hit Surfin’ Bird.  (And then, unfortunately, surf music was bastardized and stigmatized for decades by the limp tunes of the Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon beach movies, only to be revived by the awesome, crushing sounds of Dick Dale — but that is another story.)

Surfin’ Bird was recorded by The Trashmen, a band that started in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  It was The Trashmen’s only real hit, but what a hit it was!  It probably had the most insultingly stupid lyrics ever heard on a piece of American popular music, incessantly repeating “the bird is the word” until switching to “papa oom mow mow” mid-song.  (It must have driven parents nuts to hear the inane lyrics blasted from a cheap 45 record player, which undoubtedly was part of the song’s attraction.)  The singer was some improbably gravelly voiced guy who sounded like he was having an awfully good time singing nonsense.  And the backing was just loud ashcan drums, with barely perceptible guitar, pounding out a quick-step beat that made you want to move and dance.

Surfin’ Bird is one of those songs that, once heard, is never forgotten.  Every so often it resurfaces, so that its silliness can reach another generation of the young at heart.  And the video below, where the song was badly lip-synced on some Dick Clark-hosted music show, is classic in its own right.