With New Year's Day, 2001,
we leave behind the Twentieth Century and enter the Twenty First.
We enter an era full of at least as much promise as the one
we enjoyed back in the early 1900's, when Teddy Roosevelt was
President and such new-fangled concoctions as the automobile
and the record player seemed to promise a whole new way of living.
And more than a couple of fellas had this crazy idea they could
get a heavier than air vehicle to fly under its own power.
As I write, the Internet, believe it or not, is still very much
in its infancy. This recent revolution will continue to evolve,
and within ten years it is quite possible that TV and the Web
will no longer exist as separate entities. The recent cracking
of the genetic code is far more significant, however. We are
entering an age that will see, eventually, the eradication of
almost every disease known to us. I could say a word or two
about Virtual Reality, but you'll find out soon enough . . .
At any rate, an extraordinary era to be alive in, albeit a bit
frightening. We may be entering a bit of a recession as I write,
but we will recover soon enough. The promise of the Future is
more exciting than I can ever remember the Future as being -
in short, it's a sort of fun time to be alive!
It's a time to look forward, and I trust we all are, yet I confess
I shall miss the 20th Century. I shall miss that wonderful piece
of time that gave us Beatles, Roosevelts, Sinatras, Kennedys,
Barbies, Mustangs, Frankensteins (celluloid, anyway), etc. etc.
They all belong to the past now - and so as we look to a future
unthinkable to our forbears, let us take a moment to remember
all that we leave behind . . .
Farewell, then, to strolling through the park in your Sunday
Best to the Bandstand, to hear a rousing Marching Band as you
dine on a sumptuous picnic. Farewell to live performances and
even actual recordings by John Philip Sousa himself! Farewell
to travelling road show versions of "Babes in Toyland",
and many, many others. Farewell to Queen Victoria and Mark Twain,
passing as the new century is born. Farewell to a strange plethora
of conflicting emotions - we read in horror of the sinking of
the Titanic, then at the outbreak of Total War in Europe, we
vote again for Wilson since he kept us out of the War, and yet
in a year or so are signing up in record numbers to go and fight
to "keep the world safe for Democracy".
And of course, that World War was the war that would end all
Then, farewell to dancing the Charleston till you drop, wondering
if your parents will ever get used to your girlfriend's bobbed
hairdo. Farewell to the magic of the Silent Flicks, Fairbanks
as Zorro, as Robin Hood, as a hundred other heroic archetypes,
doing his own stunts, and building the most fabulous sets right
there on Santa Monica Boulevard. Farewell to Charlie Chaplin
as Everyman, getting the last laugh on every bully that ever
swaggered into our lives. Farewell to another Everyman, Harold
Lloyd, a normal guy getting pulled into the most extraordinary
dilemmas. (And, yes, a personal farewell to evenings in the
early seventies sneaking onto the late great Mr. Lloyd's estate,
to wander in the dark and marvel at this abandoned Xanadu - long
gone, alas.) Farewell to yet a third everyman, perhaps the greatest
of them all - the old Stone Face himself, Buster Keaton. Farewell
as well to Lucky Lindy, Henry Ford, and Albert Einstein.
Naturally, an especially fond
farewell to the golden age of Radio. I was too young by half
to experience it, but spent long hours as a wee thing listening
at least to the immortal Lionel Barrymore's "Christmas Carol",
and thus to some small extent understand how cool it must have
been. Ah, to lay upon the floor, the voices and sound effects
creating an entire world, to close one's eyes and picture it
all - well, I had the experience years later than should have
been possible, and yet you can, as well. Anyone can - there
are thousands of available recordings of the old shows, and the
magic still resides within them, waiting only for you to play
them, close your eyes, and create the rest.
I think perhaps that the transition
from radio to TV is alarmingly similar to the revolution that
occurred when Music Video hit in the early 80's.
Sorry, got sidetracked there.
Where was I? Oh yes, Radio!
Farewell, Charlie, Mortimer
and Edgar. Farewell, "Lights Out" and all the rest
of you wonderful Horror Shows. Farewell to the Lone Ranger and
Burns & Allen and so many other comfortable voices that made
us feel a wee bit less impoverished in those dark mid-thirties.
On that note, farewell to the
first issue of Action Comics, with that strangely attired Superman
fellow on the cover, as well as that issue of Detective Comics
a year later that sported an even more strangely attired "Bat
Man" on its cover. Then, as the War hit, farewell to the
many Super Heroes come lately that emerged to fight the Axis:
Captain America & Bucky, Aquaman, the Human Torch (this
is way before Stan Lee & Jack Kirby even thought
about the Fantastic Four), the Sub-Mariner, etc. Farewell as
well to "the SHADOW knows", and Flash Gordon, and Buck
Rogers, and Tarzan and the Phantom.
Blam! The War Years hit! Farewell to Zoot Suits with their
reet pleats, to BG and GM and Woody and Cab, Der Bingle and of
course The Voice. Farewell to Carmen Miranda, and "Coming
in on a Wing and a Prayer". Farewell to the Marx Brothers,
Stan & Ollie, & Bud & Lou.
Farewell to Bop and bongos,
coffee houses and goatees, Calypso and Kingston, banana boats
and Tom Dooley, and some crazy new thing called Rock & Roll.
Farewell, Elvis, Buddy, Ritchie, an especially fond farewell
to Alan Freed, blacklisted and ruined before his time. Farewell
Clancy Brothers, Newport Folk Festival, Burl Ives, and that whole
crazy Kennedy era vibe, when the world was young and everybody
sang folk songs.
Yes, and a fond farewell to
the Singing Nun.
Moving on, farewell to Hanging
Ten, Dragging and Cruising, farewell to Beatle Cuts and Ghost
A Go Go Midnight Rock & Roll jamborees at the local theater.
Farewell to the Boss Thirty, the Polaroid Swinger, Solo Suzuki,
Kyu Sakamoto, most of the Wilson Brothers, Bobby Fuller, and
Farewell to Rodgers and Hammerstein,
Lerner and Lowe, Mancini, Percy Faith, Nelson Riddle, farewell
to D W Griffith, Chaplin, Buster, Clara Bow, John Wayne, Marilyn,
Selznick, Thalberg and Mayer, farewell to Technicolor as well.
Farewell to Normalcy, the New Deal, the New Frontier, the Great
Society, the Silent Majority. Farewell to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig,
Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Joltin' Joe.
Farewell to the Pulps, the Big Little Books, ten cent comics,
the Saturday Evening Post, the Lone Ranger, Zorro, the Green
Hornet, and the Shadow.
For the younger set, farewell to Light Shows, Glitter, Disco,
Punk, New Wave, and Raves (well, actually, perhaps Raves are
with us still).
For the Eternally Young, farewell
to Captain Kangaroo, Howdy Doody, Engineer Bill, Hobo Kelly,
Bob the Beachcomber, Chiller Theatre, Seymour, Winchell Mahoney,
Soupy Sales, and Shari Lewis. (I realize a couple of these folks
are still with us - it's the era I mourn.)
Goodbye, Vincent Price, Boris, Bela, Lon (both of you), etc.
Goodbye to the kindly uncle, Walt Disney, and the wicked one
- Alfred Hitchcock.
We entered this century Proud and Fearless, a Progressive in
the White House and the knowledge that there was nothing
that could not be fixed with an American invention.
We flexed our muscles, were a bit sobered by the Titanic thing,
then rather floored by the Great War and the subsequent Influenza
breakout, which tragically seemed to afflict the strongest, youngest
and healthiest the most.
We rode the crazy Wall Street line to the top, danced in speakeasies
and flocked to the Movies in droves. Radio stepped in to keep
us at home nights, and then a little thing called Sound hit the
The Depression hit, but so did Serials, Comic Books, Radio Stars,
and MGM's most glorious era. Not to mention Bing Crosby and
the wonderful Sweet Bands.
And you know it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that
Swing. Without the Big Band era one wonders how the nightmarish
days of World War II could have been endured.
We discovered Suburbs, Drive Ins, we emerged from the nightmare
of the forties to realize it truly was the American Century.
Big cars, prosperity, Cinerama, and Elvis - then Sputnik scares
the wits out of us.
Then there's JFK - the promise, the exuberance, and the Tragedy.
We've touched on the rest in this and previous columns, I think
- it's recent enough history at any rate.
Besides, I've now got a whole new century to regale you all with
tales of the Distant Past! This should be fun, so let's tip
our hats a final time - oh wait, hats went out around 1961, didn't
they? Pity. At any rate, we salute the past, that special past
we lived in, and look forward to an even more interesting future.
Don't worry, I'll be there with you.
And so, until next month . . .