Friday, October 31, 2008

Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts

Doug Clark Program - Front Cover
Several weeks ago I mentioned seeing the Doug Clark's Hot Nuts van and trailer on a Friday afternoon on I-440 outside Raleigh. The sight brought back memories, which I recounted. My nephew then commented that he had seen them when he was at Hampton-Sydney in the 90's, about 30 years after I did, wisely providing no details. My little sister emailed saying she too had seen them as an undergrad not long after I did. (If Kevin can handle that revelation I suppose I can too.) 
Today, while looking for something else, I ran across the program I bought the night I saw them, either in the late fall of 1965 or early spring '66. I had forgotten all about it. It was written by John Clark, Jr., he of the fancy talkin', who by last accounts is still touring with the band. It cost $1.15 if you had it mailed; probably cost me a buck. I suppose it is a collectors item now; but to me, priceless.
Given that my mentioning the Hot Nuts generated a number of Google referrals to my blog, I have scanned the entire Souvenir Program, all 16 pages, and posted it on my Flickr account for others to enjoy. (Click on "all sizes" to make the pages readable.)
I also found a three-part documentary about the band on YouTube; you can get started here. May not be suitable for ...
Party On.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."

Those of you who know me well may have been puzzled from time to time by my lack of comment about our issues-of-the-day. This blog has been mainly personal, almost entirely apolitical. Almost.

I have had my reasons, not the least of which has been a desire not to needlessly offend my main readers, friends and family. I remember vividly the negativity of the 60's and 70's. It was almost impossible not to be trapped on one side or the other. Middle of the road meant incoming from all directions. It is not much better today. I generally would rather focus my attention on things we might have in common, those that might bring us together. Any fool can dwell on differences, stir up a fuss. Our public political discourse is divisive and crude enough; I did not want to descend into that maelstrom. I can be as nasty and vicious as the next guy; but why bother? Life is short, let's make it as pleasant as we can for everyone.

However, this does not mean I do not have values and standards. This does not mean I am not paying attention. This does not mean I have not been saddened, disappointed and angered - often beyond words - that my country, this land of my ancestors for over 300 years, has been so poorly served during most of my lifetime by its political and business leaders. This does not mean that I am not pissed off.

Despite historic changes I have witnessed that have improved the lives of minorities and women, and secured some measure of acceptance for those in our society who choose to be different, we have failed time and time again to act in accordance with our professed values, to act in our own best interest. This failure is so widespread I could begin anywhere, but it is so deep I do so reluctantly.

I will not outlive the damage to my country, and by extension to me and my family, done during the last eight years by this current administration. That many in this country are finally beginning to wake up to this reality is heartening, but just a bit late. One does seem to be able to fool a large number of people much of the time. But maybe not forever.

What set off this mini diatribe was a seemingly innocuous article on page two in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. (Yes, I subscribe to the WSJ.) The headline that caught my eye proclaimed, "Wealth Gap Is Focus Even As It Shrinks." The lead refers to the Joe-the-Plumber inspired focus on "spreading the wealth in America."

The author, Robert Frank, summed it up nicely,
Over the past week, the McCain campaign attacked Sen. Obama as "the wealth spreader" for his now-famous remark to "Joe the Plumber" that, "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." Sen. McCain also likened his Democratic rival's tax plan to socialism, because it would raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 and lower taxes, or keep them level, for the middle class.
The purpose of his article was to note that recessions and stock market declines, like the one we are in now, generally reduce the gap between the rich and poor. The evidence presented was "Share of total income, including capital gains, that accrues to the top 1%", over almost the last 100 years. The graph they used is below.

Income inequality

Ignoring for the time being the complexity of this issue - try this Wikipedia entry for a starter if you like - I was struck by the author's emphasis on the true-enough small declines during the recession years and the overall movement of the line itself. The graph clearly indicates that, reversing the general pattern over the first half of the last century where the percentage of income for the top 1% dropped and then held for about 30 years at about 10%, since about 1980 the percentage has more than doubled, now approaching 25%.

The author concluded with,
The fall in inequality is unlikely to last. Immediately after the 1990 and 2000 recessions, wealth and income shares of the top 1% resumed their upward march. The share of income held by the top 1% rebounded after the 2001 downturn to 22.8% in 2006 -- the highest level since 1928.

When the stock markets return, so will inequality.

If one needs an example of not seeing the forest for the trees...

Clearly someone or something has been for the last quarter century "spreading" our nation's wealth into fewer and fewer pockets. If one believes that this is natural and good, a normal result of capitalism, then let them cheer and drink a toast to Karl Marx who at least agreed that this is a norm of capitalism.

But if one suspects a governmental role in the movement of this graph, as I do, one must be struck by the relationship between the headline, "Wealth Gap....Shrinks," the long-standing and deep support for small laissez-faire government, and low-tax political candidates by the WSJ, and the reality of the graph itself. Maybe this is how to sell papers to the well-to-do.

Let me spell it out. Growing income inequality is a bad thing. A strong middle class is a good thing, as is the opportunity to move upward. Government policy that redistributes wealth into fewer and fewer pockets is a bad thing, a policy developed during the Reagan years and polished by the current administration.

For a political candidate to liken his opponent's tax plan to "socialism" - a stretch at best - and accuse him of being a "wealth spreader" and ignore the reality that his political party has presided over a massive redistribution of wealth into the pockets of the rich is simply too much to ignore. Does he not know? Does he not care? Is there anything he will not say if he thinks it might make him president?

I stand by my previous post.

Monday, October 06, 2008

My October Weekend

The first week in October usually brings the first seriously crisp fall air, those wonderful deep blue October-in-Virginia skies, turning leaves, and for me, memories. This weekend provided new variations on that theme.
It was a road trip weekend. Friday afternoon we drove to Raleigh to hear the Allman Brothers Band with Phil Lesh and Friends at the Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion. Phil and his friends brought back wonderful memories with honorable versions of China Cat Sunflower, The Wheel, and clouded my eyes with I Know You Rider. ABB again played with power and sweetness that version of southern rock they practically invented down in Macon. As they have for almost four decades, Butch and Jaimoe kept the pace. As much as I wanted to hear Duane, Dickie, and Berry front and center, as I did July 19, 1970 at Love Valley, I must admit that Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks and Oteil Burbridge carry on the tradition admirably. And Gregg, after so many miles, sounds just the same.
Saturday morning came early as we flew to Milwaukee for the early afternoon wedding of Sarah, one of my wife's sorority sisters. Anita was the advisor almost 10 years ago when the chapter at Beloit College was formed. Sarah was among those first sisters. The wedding was picture perfect, like the weather, with just the right number of cute and/or crying small children to keep it real. The reception and dinner featured cake cutting, heartfelt and on-key embarrassing speeches by the Best Man and Maid of Honor, dancing to multi-generational music, and most importantly, an open bar. The high point for me was seeing several of the sisters I remember so fondly from my years in Wisconsin. They continue to blossom; that generation is in good hands.
Sunday was spent retracing our route, albeit flying through Detroit rather than Cleveland. We arrived before dusk, happy to have made the trip, happy to be home. But this is not what I really want to write about.
While driving in Raleigh towards the concert Friday afternoon we passed a van pulling a trailer. As soon as I saw what was written on the side of the trailer I started waving at the occupants of the van. Given the four lanes of rush hour traffic I doubt the members of Doug Clark's Hot Nuts saw me. My wife managed to snap a picture with my iPhone before traffic separated us.
Doug Clark's Hot Nuts
Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts, as they were known before Doug died in 2002, were part of my undergraduate experience. Their albums were a dorm staple in the mid-60's. We all knew the lyrics to their songs, almost a requirement to become a sophomore. By today's standards the lyrics would scarcely raise an eyebrow. But back then, they were dirty!
Yes, shocked readers, as an impressionable young man I listened to records with dirty words and suggestive lyrics. Have you heard of Moms Mabley or Rusty Warren? Bet you know Redd Foxx. Sophisticated recorded humor (Sahl, Bruce, and Nichols and May) was over our heads. Brother Dave Gardner and Shelley Berman were past us too, though we didn't know it. Anyway that was the spoken word; the Hot Nuts sang!
Gross 102, 1963
Formed in Chapel Hill in the mid '50's, Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts were legendary by the time I went away to school in fall 1964. They took their name from their signature song, Hot Nuts. Greatest hits include Bang Bang Lou Lou, Barnacle Bill, Two Old Maids, He's Got the Whole World by the BallsDing-a-Ling, Limericks, and the favorite, Baby Let Me Bang Your Box. They had their own label, Gross. Are you getting the picture? And there were rumors of performances where they wore nothing but see-through raincoats or fur-covered jock straps. No fraternity on the east coast was worth its greek letters unless they had hosted the Hot Nuts at least once. Students loved them. Think Animal House. Did I mention they were black?
These masters of the double entendre and the dirty limerick were not as well loved by school officials and up-holders of local community standards. White southern civic leaders, ministers, and law enforcement officials of 1950's and 60's were not all that pleased that their sons (and especially daughters) were being so entertained by black men. The city of Richmond, Virginia banned them outright. While turning a blind eye is a southern speciality, Doug Clark and his band frequently found themselves on the wrong side of that thin line. So it was the night I heard them.
It was 1965, Danville Virginia. The show was to be at the Rathskeller, a hotel basement beer and dance club frequented by college students. Dates were procured, plans were made. That night the place was packed, standing room only. The atmosphere was electric, the beer flowing. Sure we were mostly underage (legal age was 21) but remember that blind eye. Finally the band hit the stage for their usual first set, what we generally call today Beach Music. We danced. But it was the second set, the Hot Nuts Show, we were waiting for. We were not alone.
During opening lines "Nuts, Hot Nuts, You Get Um from the Peanut Man", what we had all been waiting for, commotion started in every direction. Blue uniformed Danville police appeared at every exit. A police officer in full regalia, light bouncing off brass and chrome, took the stage, the microphone, and declared the show over. He told us to go home. We did. Although I do not know what happened to the band, I suspect they packed up and were escorted to the city limits.
Given that this was during the middle of a most violent period during the civil rights movement and that Danville police had brutally suppressed demonstrations only two years earlier, we should not have been all that surprised. And if the city fathers thought that their sons and daughters would learn a lesson about community values and who was in charge I suspect they would be surprised at what we took away from their lesson.
It is 43 years later; we are in charge now. Last Friday evening Doug Clark's Hot Nuts were on their way to another gig. Students two generations removed from those days will drink beer, get a bit rowdy, and try to come up with their own words to some old tunes. No police are waiting for them. There is a scholarship at UNC-CH in Doug Clark's memory. That is what rushed through my head on I-440 Friday night and put a big smile on my face. Isn't life grand.