Darlings, Little Dougie suggested I review the new book by Our Mutual Friend (a lovely Charles Dickens novel I also heartily recommend to those of you desperate enough to read books. How well I remember Charlie reading it to me by candlelight, installment by installment, as he wrote it, after long sessions of Barnaby Rudging my brains out! That man was Oliver Twisted. He had Great Sexpectations. In fact... What? I haven't even used Hard Times yet. Oh, all right!), Ken Levine, as he has been so kind about our books. I had two small problems with this plan:
1. It's about life in Los Angeles for a teenager in the 1960s. I was - ah - past my teen years by the 1960s, and spent those years in Europe and Los Angeles starring in high-class movies like Edgar Allen Poe's The Premature Climax, Torah, Torah Torah (It's the story of Moses with divine Steve Reeves as My Deliverer), It Sounds Like Music, and Fiddler on a Hot Tin Roof. The number of proms and sock-hops I attended in the '60s is in the low single-digits. (Though NOT "Zero".)
2. It would require me to read an entire book, and I'm lucky to read an entire sentence. Focusing my eyes enough to read more than one, easily-recognized word at a time, like, say "Vodka" or "Gin" for completely random examples, is more than I can manage most days. Little Dougie types up these blog entries for me from my semi-live (the jury is still out on my latest autopsy - I have them regularly, like check-ups, which will save time then the times comes) dictation.
Now Little Dougie is a mere three and a half months younger than Little Kenny - Face it, they're both VERY old, old men - and also grew up in Southern California, and Dougie reads books all the time, for reasons that utterly elude me, so I suggested he read Ken's pamphlet and review it here himself. So Here's Little Dougie, taking over this column, for today ONLY!
Hi. "Little Dougie" here. I did read Ken Levine's new memoir, The Me Generation... By Me: Growing Up in the '60s, which makes me a luckier person than those of you who have not read it, except for those of you whom will eventually read it, as you are the luckiest of all, since you still have the treat of its first-read ahead. Sadly, you can never read anything for the first time twice.
Last year, like all literate Americans, I read Ken's book of travel pieces, Where the Hell Am I?, which is also the title of chapter 42 of my book, Tallulah's first memoir, My Lush Life, thus demonstrating that great minds think alike even when severely disoriented. It was a collection of very funny, snarky, irreverent, jokey observations made during trips to various locales, running between two and six pages each, essentially blog pieces assembled, albeit, very funny and entertaining blog pieces.
Having read many of the chapters of The Me Generation in advance in Ken's popular blog, By Ken Levine, I expected his new book again to be a series of thematically-unified separate essays on various events, aspects, and stuff related to being an LA Tennybopper in the 1960s. However, Ken's new book is much more than that. This time out the individual essays are pieces of a greater whole. Much as Ray Bradbury's linked short stories when assembled makes a novel of The Martian Chronicles, so do Ken's essays add up to a narrative of coming of age, though not one likely to be confused with Catcher in the Rye. It's much, much funnier for one thing. And as for Bradbury, well, Ken's Woodland Hills in the 1960s is even more believably alien than Bradbury's Mars.
|I eargerly await the sequel: "Trips I Have Not Survived!|
(And not-coincidentally, Where the Hell Am I? is still available, and is still highly entertaining. At 2 to 6 pages each, the essays are perfect bathroom-break reading, and I keep my copy in the "Bathroom Literature" stack outside the bathroom door for grabbing-on-the-way-in. Ken's book is so much fun, you'll pray for constipation.)
|After 130 pages, you'll get permanent agoraphobia and never leave your house again or your money back! |
(Offer not valid in Georgia or Alaska.)
Ken's new book has two basic audiences: People who also grew up in those days revisiting their youths, for whom it is The Me Generation... By Me, and people who weren't around then, for whom it is a guided tour of an alien culture on an alien planet in a parallel universe: "The Past," people for whom it is The Them Generation, By Another One A Them! (In his brilliant play I Hate Hamlet, Paul Rudnick has a TV producer say: "Wow, people who aren't me. What a concept!") Since I belong solidly in the first category, I must remark on it from that perspective. For how good it is as a guide to those who never knew those days, you must look elsewhere. But from either perspective, the jokes are friggin' funny.
Ken covers his own life from the assassination of JFK on November 22, 1963 (Or, if you're a hardcore TV sci-fi geek who isn't all that into "history and stuff," The Day Doctor Who Debuted, November 23, 1963), until Midnight, December 31, 1969, which Ken pinpoints as his "End of the Sixties," though, as we were all pedantically informed and informed back on January 31, 1999, "The decades don't change until 2001!" "Yeah, yeah. Eat me, Pythagoras!"
Ken is 13 as the book begins and 19 at its close, so it is truly a chronicle of puberty and sexual coming-of-age, with jokes, lots of jokes, funny jokes. The youthful protagonist is laughing away blue-balls for 300 pages.
Which brings me to my own point-of-view as a reader: learning what it was like to grow up when I did near where I did, only straight.
Man. I thought we had it bad, what with homophobia and being offically culturally invisible and all, but after reading Ken's hilarious account of growing up breeder, I would not trade.
For instance: I don't recall ever having blue balls, or wet dreams either. I'm not saying I never came home from a date hornier than when I left, but not often, and not for long. Gay guys got laid. Right off. At puberty. With each other. When you don't have to play The Relationship Game to get laid, you get laid much, much more easily, and often. (I maintain that the REAL root cause of homophobia in straight men is unconscious jealousy of the ease with which gay guys can get laid.)
Also, I was in the Drama Department in high school. Guys, you straight guys out there, I'm talking to YOU! You wanna get laid in high school? Get into the Drama Department. Appear in the plays or work on the crews. Trust me. Never mind your dopey jock sports. Come to the Drama Department if you're serious about wanting sex. 50% to 80% of the "actresses" in high school are "Free Spirits" who believe in having sex without waiting for a diamond ring, or the Lunch Bell.
AND THE GUYS ARE ALL GAY!
You have NO competition for the girls! (And the gay guys will blow you secretly, backstage, when there are no girls available. Tell no one. By which I mean, tell everyone.)
The book is a guided tour of that bygone era from a very specific point-of-view, so you get a lot more on The Lloyd Thaxton Show than on war strategy or sociology or heavy drama, not that those weighty topics are wholly missing, not by a long shot. But you know, speaking as someone who was 13 in 1963 and 19 in 1969 also, The Lloyd Thaxton Show was a daily part of our lives, as much as The Mickey Mouse Club and The Soupy Sales Show had been before it, and chronicles of The Lloyd Thaxton Show are rare.
I admit to being brought up short when Ken criticized Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In as "the unfunniest sketch comedy show ever." Back in my day, sonny boy, that was heresy. But you know, I've got a few Laugh-Ins sitting round on DVD. Let's take a look.
|That's my boss, mentor, friend, and ticket-of-entree to the Laugh-In set, Dick Whittington, at the top of the ladder in 1968. Glad to say, he's still alive. I was present in the room when this picture was taken.|
|The one, the only Gary Owens, Ken's friend, boss, mentor and ticket-of-entree to the Laugh-In set. Gary is also known to friends and fans as "Garish." There is NO ONE else like Garish! Glad to say he's still alive also.|
|"Was that a chicken joke?" |
(No, it wasn't. No one ever dared tell a chicken joke around her for some reason. Look, I love JoAnne, who has been exceedingly nice to me my whole life, but she can be a tad over-powering. Just saying.)
|"Say 'Goodnight, Dick'." |
"That reminds me of a dick my aunt once sucked."
Schlatter: "And we're off the air!"
Ah, this is a hell of a fun party with lots of funny folks who are enjoyable to spend time with and all but... these comedy sketches are lousy: obvious, ancient, overly-inoffensive, and broader than The Mouth of the Amazon River. There's more cutting-edge political satire and hilarious wit stuffed into a single Pat Paulson editorial on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in that era than on the whole of Laugh-In's run put together. (Mind you, a trip through the Smothers Brothers' DVDs reveals that their big, guest-star-driven comedy sketches are pretty grizzly affairs also, sub-Carol Burnett Show work. It is the Pat Paulson solo pieces that not only still hold up, but still hit it out of the park.)
With Laugh-In, Ken and I share a weird coincidental similarity (one of several), we were both allowed at ages 18 and 19 to hang on the Laugh-In set, over on Stage 4 at NBC in Burbank in 1968 and '69, Ken via his radio mentor, Gary Owens, me via my radio mentor, "Sweet Dick" Whittington. We must have been in some of the same rooms at the same time, but never met. Well, when Jack Benny or Ethel Merman or Nancy Sinatra or Lena Horn or Sonny & Cher or Kate Smith or Sammy Davis Jr or Douglas Fairbanks Jr, or even just JoAnne Worley may appear at any moment, and Alan Sues won't leave, who's going to notice that other 19 year old, also soaking it all in? Not me. Not Ken. However, I was not present when Ken's "Greatest Goldie Hawn Story Ever" event happened. I won't spoil it here, but the tale lives up to its title. I can't top that one.
I was hugely amused by Ken's tale of being intimidated when his high school team had to play at Manuel Arts High School, and when, having scored an unlikely win over these black athletic giants, the team's coach advised the players to skip changing or showering, just get on the bus and get away now, fast! MOVE! My dad, as wimpy a skinny, white science-nerd guy as ever lived, graduated from Manuel Arts High School. His tales of it were less exciting. (Of course, he went there a generation earlier, and my dad's tales of ANYTHING were less exciting. My dad made World War II sound dull. My dad thought mathematics was fun! As a raconteur my dad was beaten out by tapioca pudding that has gone off.)
Ken takes us back to so much: the Beatlemania of the Beatles' first visit to America in 1964. (Ken's "inside information" sends him on a hilarious wild goose chase); the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, in which, we now know, civilization and humanity really did tremble on the brink of extinction, subject to a madman's whim; KFWB vs KHJ for the rock 'n' Roll teenage listeners. Ken was a KHJ-er, I was a dye hard KFWB-er, thanks largely to Lohman & Barkley, with KRLA as my backup solely because of the geniuses that were The Credibility Gap. (Harry Shearer, Richard L. Bebe, David L. Landers and Michael McKean, so no one that ever went anywhere or did anything or is any kind of comic genius ner nothin'.)
Ken tells of a miserable two weeks he spent staying with his grandparents in Hemet, the most-boring place on earth. Argh! Two weeks? You pussy, Levine! I lived in Hemet for 8 YEARS! I do not fear death; I've already done my time in Purgatory.
In praising the professionalism of long-time KTTV 1950s and '60s stalwart Bill Welsh, Ken asks "How do you ask Gypsy Boots what his next project is with a straight face?" As it happens I worked a number of times with the garrulous, friendly, sweet, hot-in-his-day (LONG ago!), truly insane Gypsy Boots. Here's how you asked Gypsy Boots what his next project was with a straight face. You put the camera on Gypsy alone. Then it didn't matter if you had a straight face or not. (Gypsy wouldn't have cared. As long as you were pointing a microphone and/or a camera at him, you were His Best Friend.) You'd say: "Tell us about your next project, Gypsy." Then you could go to lunch or take a nap or read a book or start a new country or say "Uh-huh" occasionally or tour Lichtenstein or marry, have children, grow old and die peacefully surrounded by your scores of apple-cheeked grandchildren or do anything you liked. Gypsy, without any further prompting from you whatsoever, would then speak at five times the rate at which humans can hear until you one day pried the microphone from his cold dead hands. And it didn't matter if he had no "next project," or even a current one, one would pour out of his mouth like water over Niagara Falls. Slooooowly he turns...
This may be a first in a '60s memoir, but Ken claims "not" to have been at Woodstock. Yeah, sure. I wasn't there either, Ken. [Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink] Kids, by which I mean everyone under 55, when a Baby Boomer tells you he or she was not at Woodstock, they're bullshitting you. It's a scientifically-established fact that everyone born between 1945 and 1955 was at Woodstock. Some of us were even there more than once. (Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey stuff. Don't ask.)
I'm working at a small disadvantage here in trying to convince you that Ken's narrative of searching for sex and a professional direction through girlfriend after girlfriend and teenage job after teenage job is a highly entertaining, consistently make-laughing-noises-with-your-voice funny, once in a while even moving story. (He assures us he has changed a few names. I'm assuming one of the changed names is for the high school girl he repeatedly tells us had had sex with her own brother.) It's known that Ken has gone on record a few times in praise of my own meager efforts. Oh Look; here's what I mean.
|How did the back cover of my own soon-(Honest! Really soon now!)-to-be-published book Tallyho, Tallulah! get in here? Oh please, boys, all that praise! You're making me blush. Stop! Stop now or I'm leaving! Oh, ya got me, you scamps.|
Ah... Hmm... Uh... Oh, yes, the proof-reading! Yes, it really needed another pass under a good solid proof-reader. Here and there were italicized words where the accompanying punctuation mark wasn't italicized. "The musical Annie!" as opposed to "The Musical Annie!" There were occasional italicized words that were missing the spaces before or after them: "What theHell are you talking about?" or "Go fuckyourself, Miss Grundy!"
And then, on page 279 we find this excuse for a sentence: "Like most kids of my generation, the Three Stooges were gods." Now, unless Ken means to tell us that most Baby Boomers were gods, which frankly, I doubt on every level, that sentence is missing two words, and should say: "Like most kids of my generation, I thought the Three Stooges were gods." How DARE they try to sell such half-assed proof-reading to the American book-reading public for money? I demand a public investigation, indictments, arrests, free booze.
There! See? I was mean and hyper-critical just like I would be with anyone's work. As it happens, I was a professional proof-reader at The Hollywood Reporter about three decades ago. It gets in your blood. Also, I spent about half the summer straining my eyes to try and rid the published edition of Tallyho, Tallulah! of all such similar typos and oversights. They become hard to miss once you are not looking for them. (As long as you are looking for them, they are God-damned elusive.) I'm sorry.
As regards The Three Stooges. Ken brings them up in the context of driving Moe Howard to a radio interview in his own (Ken's, that is) car. OK, when I was 9 years old, I loved The Three Stooges. We got them on TV in Los Angeles in those days on a one-hour show nightly (running 4 shorts each broadcast, or was it 2?), hosted by Don Lamond, a mildly smarmy announcer personality who had the bonifides to host The Three Stooges because he was Larry Fine's son-in-law. Yup, pretty cool. His children had Stoogeblood.
But my admiration for The Three Stooges did not survive puberty. Really. I have not watched one of their shorts in 40 years. My love for Laurel & Hardy is as great today as it was when I was 5. My adoration of Abbott & Costello, though reduced from what it was as a boy, nonetheless remains embedded in me. My worship of The Marx Brothers (who are the ones who replaced the Stooges in my heart), WC Fields and Buster Keaton only grow greater with the passing of years. The Stooges have bored me since Puberty.
Also, around the time puberty hit, I saw the Three Stooges perform live onstage - without sound effects! In the early 1960s, without sound effects, The Three Stooges were just three old, old men hitting each other pointlessly. It was not remotely funny. My love of them really was not up to the strain of surviving that.
On the other hand, if in 1969 I had driven Moe Howard in my own car, and he had sat in the front seat and called me "Boychick", I most certainly would have been jazzed out of my head. In 1974, Adela Rogers St. John rode in the front seat of my car as I drove her to a radio interview. She was witty, erudite, friendly, and had known everyone of importance in the 20th Century, from Louis B. Mayer to Richard Nixon, personally. ("The morning Watergate broke, I got on the phone to Nixon. I said to him, 'Dick, you have to get in front of this. Tell the whole truth now!") She didn't call me "boychick," but she did invite me to eat lunch with her afterwards in her home, cooked and served by her cook. ("You're sitting in Clark Gable's favorite chair. That's where he sat whenever he was here.")
But, cool as she was, Adela was no Moe Howard. Not once had she ever poked Betty Davis in the eyes, nor had she ever even smacked Eleanor Roosevelt over the head with a sledge hammer that makes a "Boing!" sound effect. (The Secret Service really frowns rather strictly on throwing slapstick gags at the First Family anyway. Those spoil sports have no sense of humor at all.)
I did drive John Cassevettes in my car to a radio interview once, but he sat in the back, and barely spoke to me. And frankly, the less conversation there was, the less likely I was to say "I saw your film Husbands last week. That was the most pretentious, boring, self-indulgent piece of narcissistic crap I have ever sat through. Might you refund my money, please?" which he might have taken offense to. (About five years ago, my brother introduced me to Larry Hagman. I mentioned to him that I had seen the comedy Son of Blob, aka Beware The Blob, which he had directed. Larry immediately said: "Do you want your money back? 'Cause I'll write ya a check right now." I turned Larry down. It's a funny movie. I liked it. But if Cassevettes had offered me my money back on Husbands, I'd have taken it.)
You, however, will not want your money back from "He" for buying The Me Generation... By Me. Unless you're a humorless lout yourself, in which case, that's on you.
The beat goes on. Oh yes, the beat goes on...
[You can purchase The ME Generation... By ME here.]
|Ken Levine and Tallulah Morehead at a literary conference.|