Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Beep Beep" - The Playmates, 1958 (Top 40)

While riding in my Cadillac,

What to my surprise.
A little Nash Rambler was following me -
About one third my size.
The guy must�'ve wanted to pass me up
As he kept on tooting his horn. Beep! Beep!
I�ll show him that a Cadillac
Is not a car to scorn.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
His horn went beep beep beep!

I pushed my foot down to the floor
To give the guy the shake.
But the little Nash Rambler stayed right behind;
He still had on his brake.
He must have thought his car had more guts
As he kept on tooting his horn.
I�ll show him that a Cadillac
Is not a car to scorn.
Beep! Beep!
His horn went beep beep!

My car went into passing gear
And we took off with gust.
Soon we were doing ninety -
Must�ve left him in the dust.
When I peeked in the mirror of my car,
I couldn�t believe my eyes:
The little Nash Rambler was right behind -
I think that guy could fly.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
His horn went beep beep beep.

Now we�re doing a hundred and ten -
This certainly was a race.
For a Rambler to pass a Caddy
Would be a big disgrace.
The guy must'�ve wanted to pass me up
As he kept on tooting his horn.
I�ll show him that a Cadillac
Is not a car to scorn.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
His horn went beep beep!

Now we�re doing a hundred and twenty -
As fast as I could go.
The Rambler pulled along side of me
As if we were going slow.
The fellow rolled down his window
And yelled for me to hear,
�Hey, Buddy, how can I get this car
Out of second gear?!

In 1952, three students from the University of Connecticut took their comedy show on the road. Within four years, they shed the name "The Nitwits" and transformed themselves into a musical group called "The Playmates". On July 9, 1958, they scored their first big hit with "Beep Beep". Their surprise novelty hit rocketed to #4 on the Billboard Top 40 and became a regular spin on the Dr. Dimento Show. It sold over 1 million copies and went gold. Just as their hit was an innovative novelty, so was the subject matter. "Beep Beep", the song's official title, is subtitled "The Little Nash Rambler".

In the 1950's, the Nash-Kelvinator company realized it needed to be more competitive in the automotive industry, and it's president insisted that the next car to roll off the assembly line had to be innovative - different from the other manufacturers' offerings. The result was The Rambler. Originally named the Diplomat (but changed after Nash learned that Dodge had already reserved that name), Ramblers were designed to be smaller than contemporary vehicles while still able to seat five people comfortably, and while this song may have eventually faded into history, the Rambler's did not: Nash Ramblers revolutionized the modern auto industry - they were the first modern American compact cars.

Nash Ramblers rolled onto the market in the model year 1950 and gave Ford, Chevy, and Plymouth a run for their money. For the Nash-Kelvinator company, the strategy was efficiency. In 1950, the Rambler was a new car, but it cost significantly less than others in its class. Of course, there was no "compact car" class at the time, so it was considered as one in the category of the competitor's "economy" models. The efficiency strategy was a huge success for Nash. Because of their smaller size, Nash could save on assembly materials, and they could pass that savings along to their customers. An added benefit to the smaller body size was that the car used less fuel than it's hulking competition, and so it was more economical to drive.

The introduction of the style couldn't have come at a better time: Americans had been exposed to European mini cars during news coverage of WWII, but Americans already knew that "economy" doesn't always mean "quality". The Nash company wanted to make sure that their new vehicle wasn't perceived to be a "cheap little car", so when it was released, Nash only offered the car as an upscale sedan that they called the "Landau" edition. To help with image (and subsequently sales) the Rambler came very well equipped. Ramblers had a 100 inch wheelbase and the 178 cubic inch (2.8 L) flathead Straight-6 cylinder 82 hp engine was already respected in the automotive industry. The options weren't bad, either. Coming standard on the Rambler were: whitewall tires, full wheel covers, an electric clock, and even a push-button AM radio, which was way more than the standard options being offered by the competition. Nash's Rambler changed not only the concept behind 2-door coup design, but also that of the sedan, convertible, and family wagon, which came later in the Rambler years.

And of course as far as the song is concerned, Rambler vs. Cadillac is a great David & Goliath story. Although not specified in the song, at the time of the Rambler's introduction the Coup deVille was the most powerful and most popular of the GM Cadillac line. Of course, the Caddy was much more expensive, and it had a 330 cubic inch v8 engine...which was nothing to scorn...but scorn the little v-6 Rambler did...and it kept right on going, it's compact design ideas traveling well into the 21st century.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"El Fusilado" - Chumbawamba, 2008 (a capella)

Listen close to this crooked mouth

For my story I will tell–o
Lived in Mexico by the name of Wenseslao Moguel–o
Left my home in Santiago
The heart of the city of Merida
Served with my brothers and sisters all
For the army of Pancho Villa

Stand me straight against the nearest wall
Line up your bravest soldiers oh
Ten good shots I’ll take them all
They call me El Fusilado

The Federales captured me
Bound up my arms with wire
Officer came he says “Take your aim –
Steady your guns and fire!”
Bullet holes all across my chest
Ripped up my shirt and my body–o
Heart beat on through the silenced guns
To the rhythm of life inside me–o

Stand me straight against the nearest wall

Line up your bravest soldiers oh
Ten good shots I’ll take them all
They call me El Fusilado

Fell to the ground the officer came
One last shot to the head–o
Heard through the pain as he walked away
And left me there for dead–o
All went quiet so I crawled away
I wasn’t giving up to the glory
Ten good shots I took them all
And lived to tell my story

The last two songs have been kinda sad, so I thought I'd pick things up a least tempo-wise. This song by Chumbawamba is particularly interesting from a musical standpoint because it's one of those songs that's upbeat and peppy and really gets you boppin' along, but it's really about a subject that's much darker than the mood it creates...although once you learn the story, whether or not this lighter mood is appropriate or not becomes a matter of perspective. This is a true story about a man named Wenseslao Moguel, who's name is famous for being on the many lists as being one of the Top 10 Most Amazing Execution Survival Stories.

In the early 1900's, Mexico was under the autocratic rule of Porfirio Diaz, who had held the Mexican presidency continuously since 1876. However, despite his re-elections, Diaz's regime was becoming more and more unpopular because of his political policy continuity and his repressive acts against the Mexican people. As a result, early in the 20th century, Francisco Madero Gonzalez, a wealthy politician, became the centerpiece of a movement to oppose any further re-election of Porfirio Diaz, having previously attempted to win elections with either himself as a candidate or a candidate of his choosing. None of these attempts to win the government were successful, yet he continued his opposition of Diaz. By 1910, Madero's political activities had gathered enough momentum and enough followers to disrupt the current status quo, and what followed after would go down in the history books as the Mexican Revolution, also known as the Mexican War of Independence.

From the Mexican state of Durango came one of the most famous leaders of the Mexican Revolution, José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, aka Francisco "Pancho" Villa. Villa and his Villistas joined the Modero movement against Diaz, and in 1911 led the attack on Ciudad Juarez, which overthrew Diaz and put Madero into the presidency. Villa was appointed to the position of military chief commander; however, he and his commanding officer were now at odds with each other, and during an incident involving a horse, Villa was charged with insubordination - a charge for which execution was the penalty to be paid. Villa escaped to the United States and did not return until after the assassination of President Madero, and the presidency fell to Victoriano Huerta .

Pancho Villa returned to Mexico to confront the Huerta dictatorship. It is here that our song person enters our story. Wenseslao Moguel was a soldier under the command of Pancho Villa who was captured on March 18, 1915 by the Federales, which is the term given to Mexican Government troops, particularly those in Huerta's Federal Army from 1910-1920. Wenseslao was branded a traitor and sentenced as such - to die via fusillade (firing squad).

During the Mexican Revolution, firing squad was the preferred means of execution. The squad was comprised of 9 soldiers who would all fire their weapons at the same time. The 10th shooter, an officer, was to aim at one of the prisoner's vital organs and deliver the "coup de grace" - the kill shot that would ensure the death of the prisoner. Wenseslao was just such a prisoner. The Federales soldiers took up their positions to execute Wenseslao, and each one fired, including the officer delivering the "coup de grace", which was to be aimed at Wenseslao's head. Since the rifles were at point-blank range from the victim, after firing at Wenseslao the soldiers did not check to see whether or not he was still alive or not. They assumed he was dead, but they couldn't have been more wrong.

Wenseslao was, in fact, shot in the face, chest, and in the head, but they did not kill him. He lay waiting for everyone to leave and then presumably crawled to safety. Though horribly disfigured, Wenseslao Moguel became legendary for his survival after sharing his story on the radio with Robert L. Ripley, founder of Ripley's Believe It Or Not. The show aired on NBC and CBS during the 1930's. After his radio interviews, Wenseslao Moguel also made appearances at Ripley's Odditorium in Cleveland, Ohio, and traveled the country with the Ripley's Museum. He became famously known as "El Fusilado" - the executed one.

~information from:

**"El Fusilado" by Chumbawamba from the 2008 album "The Boy Bands Have Won"**

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"River On Fire" - Adam Again, 1992 (alternative)

What would you say if you knew what I was thinking?
Maybe you do, but you know not to dig too deep
What if i knew what you needed for sure?
I've seen in your eyes you need more, much more
And I could be happy, and you could be miserable
I'll grab a metaphor out of the air
The Cuyahoga River on fire
What can you say? The impossible happens
What can you settle for?
What can you live without?
I remember the night I first darkened your door
And I swore that I loved you
My heart was pure
You could be happy, and I could be miserable
My open window, a dream in the dark
My fingers, your face
A spark, a trace
I know a lot about the history of Cleveland, Ohio
Disasters that have happened there
Like the Cuyahoga River on fire

Even though this is more of a love song bearing only a couple references to an actual historic event, mushy ballad or not, it did exactly what the title of this blog says - it remembers, or rather, causes someone else to remember or to become intrigued about its lyrics and learn something academic. I first this song when I was a kid, and this was the first time I'd heard anything about the Cuyahoga River catching on fire, and since this river was right in my back yard, I trotted myself up to the library to find out more.

It would be one thing if we could say that the Cuyahoga River fire was a freak accident, we learned from it, and it never happened again. However, it didn't happen just once - it happened in 1868, 1883, 1887, 1912, 1922, 1936, 1941, 1948, 1952, and 1969. And when they say that the river caught on fire all those times, it doesn't mean that many vessels had to be put out or that there were many fires along its banks. When they say that the river caught fire, they mean the actual river, itself, went up in blazes causing $1.5 million in 1952 alone. The last fire on June 22, 1969 lasted 30 minutes, and even though it only caused $50,000 in damages (mainly from damage to overpassing railroad bridges), it was enough to create national awareness to the environmental problems in Ohio, and "sparked" a national movement to improve water pollution control activities, including the creation of both the Federal and Ohio Environmental Protection Agencies.

The 100 mile Cuyahoga is also one of the main watersheds in NE Ohio, collecting waste and runoff water of an area of 813 square miles, and from as far south as Akron.The City of Cleveland was founded at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River when General Moses Cleveland of the Connecticut Land Company surveyed the company's holdings. The city became the capital of the Connecticut Western Reserve, being the obvious choice once the founders saw how much the area was fit for commerce. Cleveland, of course, is located on the shores of Lake Erie, which is also connected to the other four Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway. At the time of the city's birth, the Cuyahoga was a popular waterway for American Indians and fur traders and was well-known for it's many trading posts along its course, which were the first forms of commerce and industry along the river. However, this is considered to also be a key factor in its demise. The Cuyahoga meanders too much and is too unpredictable for long-distance travel, however moving goods a short distance was still possible, and as the City of Cleveland continued to grow, more and more businesses and factories began springing up on its banks to take advantage of the river's water in one way or another.

As the City of Cleveland continued to grow, it attract more commerce along the river and along the shores of Lake Erie, into which the river empties. While Lake Erie is the source of the city's drinking water, Cleveland also became known for its pollution. In the early 1800s, there were very few governmental controls to limit how businesses functioned within the environment. More businesses attracted more people, who built more cities and towns around them. Continued population grown in the area continued to spur not only the release of factory waste products into the river, but added to that were increased urban runoff, non-point pollution, and later combined sewer overflows. As a result of the pouring in of contaminants, the Cuyahoga soon developed a layer of film on its surface, and this is what would burn whenever ignited.

On August 1, 1969, Time magazine reported: "Some River! Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows. 'Anyone who falls into the Cuyahoga does not drown' Cleveland's citizens joke grimly. 'He decays'. . . The Federal Water Pollution Control Administration dryly notes: 'The lower Cuyahoga has no visible signs of life, not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms that usually thrive on wastes.' It is also -- literally -- a fire hazard." And, in fact, they were correct on more than one account. At this time, the entire length of the river that flowed between Akron and Cleveland was nearly completely devoid of fish and other aquatic life, and as was observed by a Kent State University symposium, the sledge on the surface of the water could be seen for miles and miles, with oil traveling in slicks sometimes several inches thick.

Since the 1970s, water quality has greatly improved. The mouth of the river used to be a swampy marshland, where water would slow down as it reached the lake. This would cause the drainage to back up and cause more pollution problems up river. As a result, the mouth of the Cuyahoga was moved about 4,000 feet from it's original marshy mouth and a man-made mouth was created. The Army Corps of Engineers maintains the depth of the river mouth by dredging, it to a depth of 27 feet. In addition, the banks have been straightened and turning basins widened, which help keep the water moving. Of course, the best improvement came in the form of the Clean Water Act and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. While the river and the subsequent lake issues are still being addressed, life has returned to and the waters are once again safe to enjoy recreationally.

"River On Fire" - Adam Again, alternative (1992)

~information from:

Friday, March 26, 2010

"Grapevine Fires" - Death Cab For Cutie, 2009 (indie)

When the wind picked up the fire spread
And the grapevines seemed left for dead
And the Northern sky looked like the end of days
The end of days

The wake-up call to a rented room
Sounded like an alarm of impending doom
To warn us it's only a matter of time
Before we all burn

Before we all burn
Before we all burn
Before we all burn

We bought some wine and some paper cups
Near your daughters school when we picked her up
And drove to a cemetery on a hill
On a hill

And we watched the plumes paint the sky gray
But she laughed and danced through the field of graves
And there I knew it would be alright
That everything would be alright

Would be alright
Would be alright
Would be alright

And the news reports on the radio
Said it was getting worse
As the ocean air fanned the flames
But I couldn't think
Of anywhere I would have rather been
To watch it all burn away

To burn away

And the firemen worked in double shifts
With prayers for rain on their lips
And they knew it was only a matter of time.
Peaking at #21 on the Billboard Top Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart in March of 2009 was DCFC's soulful first-hand account of the events that ravaged the West Coast just two years prior to the song's release. Beginning October 20, 2007 a series of wildfires began burning across southern California. Seventeen fires raged hot and high enough to even be seen from space. In a state of emergency, California burned from Santa Barbara to the US-Mexico border. Thirty-two hundred homes and structures were destroyed as were 522,000 acres of land and forest. The fires left nine people dead and 85 injured, which included 61 firefighters.

California has always had a "fire season" just as Florida has "hurricane season" and the Great Plains states have "tornado season". However, the fires that ravage California today burn much hotter than in previous years due to many reasons, including increased population. The 2007 blazes were due in part to a severe drought that SoCal was experiencing that year. Adding insult to injury were the hot, dry Santa Ana winds that blow across the state in late fall and early winter. This phenomenon is destructive enough to be described by one reporter as "the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse".

The Santa Ana winds are named after the Santa Ana Canyon. These vicious winds blow out across Southern California from the desert. While they form when the desert is cold, the winds are so hot and dry that as they blast across the landscape drying up vegetation. Once a fire starts, the wind fans the flames across the area and at the same time create more dry matter for the fires to consume. The winds during the fires of 2007 were clocked at speeds reaching 60mph and a total of 23 fires were counted. It is believed that the ignition of these fires began with power lines downed by the Santa Ana Winds.

Just as hurricanes and tropical storms have names, so do the fires of the west coast. The "Witch Creek" fire of 2007 was the largest fire in California history. Firefighters feared that the two largest fires burning in San Diego county would merge into and cause more damage than the Cedar fires of 2003 (280,000 acres). While these two largest fires did not merge as feared, they still each caused more damage individually.

Hundreds of thousands of regional residents were alerted to evacuate the area via Reverse 911, though the system was no match for the heat and flames, themselves, which drove many from their homes before they could be warned. Within two days of the emergency, over 500,000 residents were facing mandatory evacuation orders from 360,000 homes in San Diego county alone. All in all, over 900,000 people were displaced during the event, which was the largest evacuation in California history. The event was followed by frequent blackouts during which Mexico supplemented the area with electricity. As smoke filled the cities, concentrations of particulate matter, which are particles in the air that are small enough to embed themselves in lung tissue and perhaps even enter the bloodstream, reached unhealthy levels making the air unbreathable.
Finally, by November 6, 2007 the fires were brought under control with the help of 2400 National Guard Troops deployed with 17,000 waiting in reserve and 100 National Guard Medical personnel. The DoD provided 12 fire engines and six crews from the Navy's Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 85 were assigned to the Witch Creek fire. Marine Corps Air Station Miramar provided firefighting ground and air vehicles and personnel as well as a 7,000 gallon air tanker.