Milk Does a Body Good (Pass It On).

So, you’re a German engineer, and one day, in your cubicle, you think to yourself, “You know what? I’d really like to be chopped up and eaten alive.” Fair enough, right? But it’s 1989, and the idea probably dies there. At most, maybe one brave night, you go to a bar, buy someone a drink, talk Deutschland football, crack a few jokes, and when the moment is ripe, tell them about that wacky idea that came to you at your cubicle. But, sadly, the law of probability says, there probably are no fellow voraphiles in Dusseldorf; and so, you walk away, humming Morrissey, slightly disappointed that you haven’t been (and probably never will be) splayed on a kitchen counter.

It’s 2001 now, and you’re reminiscing: “You know what? I’d still really like to be chopped up and eaten alive.” You post it on a yahoo message board, and lo and behold, days later, someone named Armin Meiwes responds, and all of a sudden, you’ve officially been chopped and screwed.

Why do I tell you this? First, because I’m a generous person, and I couldn’t possibly keep this crowning moment in the history of Western Civilization to myself. Second, ’cause the only reason I know of it was ’cause of the internet itself (and the weird logic of links that took me there: Jonathan Demme -> Silence of the Lambs -> Cannibalism -> etc). And third, a larger point: out of all the havoc that the internet has wreaked world-wide, historians will one day agree that its most sinister role was as an enabler. Enabler of weird motherfucking fetishes (search ‘crushophiles,’ if you’re brave); or in my case, enabler of the most banal kind of televisual nostalgia.

If I had a quarter for every day, I’ve sat in my carrel, a word document open somewhere on my laptop, and thought something along the lines of, “Man, remember that ad for… My Buddy, Energizer Batteries, the Information Super Highway, Legos, Eggos etc.,” I’d have an eternity’s worth of laundry money.

The latest digression: The other day, I thought to myself, “Man, remember those ads with the line, ‘Milk does a body good’?”, before youtubing “Milk does a body good.” And there it was: a commercial that formed a large part of the background noise of my childhood, and evidence that milk will age you (dude is nineteen?) prematurely.

On the one hand, aw man, I remember that ad. On the other, who gives a shit? Which is the question I’m asking myself about this post, four hundred some words in.

— Thumbu Sammy


The Return of Doo Doo Brown

For good reason no one ever called me big poppa, but truth be told, back in ’91, I, too, was reading Word Up, cutting out and hanging pictures on my wall, and obsessively taping shit off the radio (I came up with my own emcee name too; don’t ask). That year in particular there were two stand-out tracks that deejays from the D spun in the off hours of radio, and I spent long nights trying to preserve them onto TDKs. The first, which I actually did manage to dub, was Eerk & Jerk’s “Eerk & Jerk” (with its mind-blowing use of a Robocop sample). The second, 2 Hyped Brothers and a Dog’s “Doo Doo Brown” (above), I was never so lucky with.

Now, a lot of folks remember the second “Doo Doo Brown,” the raunchy booty-dropper by Luke of 2 Live Crew-infamy. And for good reason too. Apparently, that track started the third wave of Miami Bass (“Who Let the Dogs Out,” “Tootsee Roll,” were all just reincarnations of Doo Doo). Not that I cared. All I knew was that Uncle Luke’s beat used to throw me into convulsions.

1-900-976-Dudu The first “Doo Doo Brown,” on the other hand, was a long-winded, unstructured Bmore club track, plagued by a radio emcee who thought he could rock the mic. And yet, I was obsessed with it. Partly, ’cause the track was so elusive (time and again, it’d play in the car, when I couldn’t tape it, and no one at my middle school seemed to know it). And partly ’cause a song with that title seemed like it came out of my eleven-year-old mind.

So imagine my surprise when I caught the ad for Tyler Perry’s latest sitcom Meet the Browns dropping “Doo Doo,” and discovered it’s now the basis of a nation-wide dance competition. If I had the moves I had back then, that contest would already be over.

— Thumbu Sammy

‘City as might have been’: Sitcoms and the 80s

We ain't going to the town / We're going to the city

If sitcom title sequences in the 70s marked an era of urban verisimilitude, then the 80s ushered in the age of the suburban fantasy. Think about it: Family Ties was set in a Columbus suburb; Growing Pains in Long Island; even Who’s the Boss exiled Tony Danza and onscreen daughter Alyssa Milano from Brooklyn to waspier pastures in Connecticut (a premise replicated in the straight-to-syndication series Charles in Charge). But even the few shows that were set in the city were inflected by a suburban consciousness: no longer were there any neighborhoods, or project housing, or public transportation, or, you know, people of color on the small screen; just downtown thoroughfares, skyscrapers, and landmarks. The sitcom city in the 80s was fit to be printed on a postcard, which, come to think of it, seems to reflect the larger role that urban life played in the imagination of upwardly-mobile (post-white flight) America at the time. It was a trip down to the financial district for work, or the baseball stadium for a Saturday outing, not a place where anyone actually seemed to live (even if the characters of these shows apparently did).*

1. Manhattan – Head of the Class (1986-91)

Head of the Class actually had one of the better title sequences of the era. Its theme was a ballsy, cinematic instrumental and came out ‘classical’ before it ‘rocked you’ with some harmonized keytars. Set in Monroe High School in Manhattan, and starring WKRP in Cincinnatti star Howard Hesseman, the Head of the Class opening was a sharp contrast to Welcome Back, Kotter‘s poetic scenes of Brooklyn. Instead, we open with New York’s familiar icons: the Chrysler and Empire State buildings, the Statue of Liberty, the famous yellow cabs, and sexy pedestrians. It’s Hollywood’s version of NYC, not the ‘hood life of, say, All in the Family. Still, to its credit, the show did reflect the shifting racial dynamics of the city since the Kotter days; braniac Indian, Jawaharlal Chodhury and the late addition of Jasper Kwong all signaled a New York transforming after the post-65 migrations from the Third World. Not that you could tell from the lily-white streets teach walked through.

2. Chicago – Perfect Strangers (1986-93)

The Chicago of Perfect Strangers has to be the antithesis of the Chicago of Good Times; the latter’s theme of survival, its ironic lyrical inversions, its gritty shots of the Cabrini-Green projects, give way to the former’s Reaganite fantasies of upward class mobility. Lines of communal inclusion (“Ain’t we lucky we got ’em”) are now replaced with individual exception (“It’s my life and my dream / and nothing’s gonna stop me now”), and the gospel choir is replaced with what sounds like Naked Eyes’ drum machine. There’s a lot going on in this sequence – first, the narrative of travel from small town to big city is twinned with the immigrant narrative of Old world to Western metropole (Cousin Larry’s drive from Wisconsin to Chicago / Balki “Borat” Bartokamous’s transcontinental schlep from “Meypos” to the US by steamer). Perfect Strangers is also the second show on this list that features the emblematic Statue of Liberty; no surprise, then, that creator Dale McRaven says he was inspired to write the show during the renewed patriotism after the ’84 olympics. And no surprise either, that Balki and Larry’s American dreams involved bagging one blonde wife, a piece, by the series’ end. That sort of luck calls for a dance of joy.

3. San Francisco – Full House (1987-95)

As the AIDS epidemic destroyed the lives of tens of thousands in San Francisco alone, and Reagan turned a homophobic eye, Jeff Franklin decided to celebrate non-traditional structures of the home by creating what is, probably, the most saccharine show that ever aired on television. There was nothing remotely regional about Full House, aside from the opening credits, and the reference to Bob Saget’s news job at ‘Wake Up, San Francisco.’ We have John Stamos at least partially to thank for this theme song. (Was I the only one who felt borderline queasy every time Stamos said, ‘have mercy’? Or when Coulier ‘’?)

4. Boston – Cheers (1982-93)

Was Cheers’ opening sequence the greatest of the 80s? It’s certainly up there. An exterior shot of the Bull & Finch pub in Beacon Hill, Boston transforms into a sepia-toned montage of lithographs from a century of hard drinking. Gary Portnoy’s theme was, and still is, the perfect jingle for alcoholism I’ve ever heard: “Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.” The shot at 0:49 (“We Win!”) remains deeply ambiguous – Did the Allies just win? Did the Sox beat the Yanks? Did Bostonians just vote on the Big Dig? – whatever it was, it seems like it was worth a toast. Nevertheless, aside from that opening shot, Boston has no real presence in this theme.

I can draw contrasts all day between the opening credits of 70s and 80s sitcoms, and fault the latter for its unreal representations of urban life, but that’s not really my point. The 80s ushered in a deeply suburban sensibility to the sitcom, and the cities of these shows were represented from the vantage point of those suburbs – they were white, picturesque, sanitized, and totally unbelievable. They represented neoliberal desires of urban spaces, never once venturing over into the Southside or the Boroughs, where the world didn’t look so perfect, and a whole lot of shit needed rearranging.

Next week: the 90s and the invasion of the yuppies.

*The Cosby Show was firmly rooted in a Brooklyn brownstone, and the show constantly referenced its setting, but the yearly changes to the opening credits sort of threw it out of contention for this list.

– Thumbu Sammy

Over the Bay Bridge with Taxi on the mind

I want to be... big. A couple nights ago, me, Macedo, and his friend Jane, were splitting lanes up the Bay Bridge from San Francisco to Oakland, when, for no apparent reason, he started to sing the Magnum P.I. theme. It took a minute to figure out what he was singing (it’s never easy to decipher vocal versions of an instrumental, and Macedo made it extra difficult by opening his cover on the middle-eight). Not long after, Macedo took on a few requests and we started to toss out suggestions for a definitive list of the greatest TV theme songs.

My early vote went to Good times, and I’m still not convinced that there was ever a better example of how moving irony can be as those lyrics. No one else could remember it though, so it was abandoned. There were some mutterings about the theme from Night Court, and an extended cover of the A-team theme; but what we did finally agree on was that the theme for Taxi was probably the best of the late 70s, if not ever. Macedo whistled the intro, before singing a rendition of the Fender Rhodes part that made my soul whimper.

The skinny about that theme song: Its real title is “Angela,” composed and performed by the jazz-fusion keyboardist Bob James off his 1978 album Touchdown (his band included heavyweights Ron Carter on bass, and genius of the hi-hat, Idris Muhammad, on drums). Heads will recognize him from James’ legendary track “Nautilus” off the album One (1974), which everyone, from Eric B. and Rakim to Run DMC to Jeru the Damaja have sampled from.

For what it’s worth, I can’t think of a theme song from the last decade, and certainly not for a sitcom, that was either as sensitive or complex (three movements in 45 seconds) as Taxi‘s. The 70s were a golden-era (Mash, The Jeffersons, Welcome back, Kotter, All in the family), and even the 80s held it down (Cheers, Family ties, The Cosby show), but the 90s ushered in a generation of theme songs that were maybe punchy and recognizable, but ultimately just soulless jingles. All I can honestly remember, a decade removed, is that fart of a slap bass solo on Seinfeld, and that awful Rembrandts’ Friends theme. Was there anything these past nine years that could possibly compare to this:

– Thumbu Sammy