Our household has spent several nights watching compilations of the “best” of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, courtesy of Netflix and the E channel. Some things struck me as, well, funny. Verrry funny. I was always a fan of their show, and was sorely disappointed when it was cancelled for pissing off the censors. Then again, a whole lot of things struck me as sad, and I am sure that some of these pissed off the censors as well.
These were the kind of compilations in which Tommy and Dick Smothers give you a scripted studio introduction to what you are about to see (with dates and guest list) and then after the show’s “best of”, come back and give us a trip down memory lane for the two of them regarding what one has just watched.
The last and final disc included Jackie “Moms” Maibley, Don Rickles and the second appearance on the Comedy Hour by Pete Seeger. Now before I go on, I have to say that I grew up on Pete Seeger music from the Weavers forward (I too, am an “old folkie”). It never fails to astonish me when I watch him – this reed-thin, tall man with ruddy cheeks, who can throw back his head and sing like there is no tomorrow, and how he can get any – ANY – group of strangers to suddenly be a family bursting out, full throttle, in song, throwing their heads back and singing for a better tomorrow. These voices and faces still echo through the corridors of time and in my heart and mind.
However, it was this last show, from March 3 1968 (as I recall) that Pete cleverly got around the censors (who had consistently vetoed the singing of Waist Deep In The Big Muddy), and under cover of a medley of songs about war, there he was, alone onstage, belting out the lyrics and furiously strumming his guitar! I gave a standing ovation on my bed. The censors must have been furious. I say, screw them. I said it then and I say it now – screw the censors.
For those who don’t know this song or about this song, as Seeger himself tells it, one day back in the Vietnam era, he opened his newspaper and saw a photo of some soldiers walking waist high through some swirling muddy river in the Mekong Delta, and the song just lit up his brain. It is about a platoon who start out following the orders of their Lieutenant who presses them on into the river, first knee deep, (“and the damn fool says to press on”), then waist deep (“and the damn fool says to press on”) and finally up to the neck (“and the damn fool says to press on”), until, finally, all they see of the damn fool is his helmet floating amongst the rapids, and the second in command orders the platoon to turn around and go back. Hooray for Pete, Tommy and Dick!!!
In retrospect, later as I was falling asleep, and all along whilst watching the compiled shows from Season 2 of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, they would tell us the date(s) of the show, etc. And you know what? There was nothing which was really outdated (oh, perhaps the clothing and some hairstyles a wee bit). I could have been watching these shows today in real time. In fact, sometimes I felt that I WAS watching in the here and now. I was lost in time and space.
And that is the damnable pity of it – from the first compiled show from 1967 – over four decades ago – the bits and the news and the quips about ‘Nam and other government absurdities and hypocrisies might as well have been about our world now. Sometimes I sat with my jaw dropping down on my chest as I had to jiggle my head to realize that I was not time-traveling, but watching ‘the past’. Then another side of me said “oh yeah, PROVE it!”
Oh, and I would propose that, even though dearly departed, we start a Pat Paulsen For President campaign all over again. He could STILL do a better job than the bozo’s who have been offered as presidential material (including the incumbent).
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was finally cancelled because “they refused to deliver their tapes by the deadline for the Censors to correct them and redact what they found offensive”. There you have it, not even cancelled for saying the 7 words you can’t say on TV!
Where are we today, at the end of 2011? We are still, and have ever been, Waist Deep In The Big Muddy…and the damn fools say to press on. It seems the Empire has us right where it wants us – but they have forgotten the helmet floating downriver without a wearer. So, Empire, beware. We will not remain in the Big Muddy forever, the resistance has begun and very soon now, you will find yourselves neck deep. Too bad for you.
PS: May they all, Pete, Tommy and Dick, live LONG and continue to bring their gifts to our world.