Wednesday, December 20, 2017

It's Christmas Time Again, Part 4

Looks like we've fallen hopelessly behind with our look at this year's tracks, so I've accepted the fact that this enjoyable exercise will continue until well after Christmas Day. Hey, that's OK. It's kind of fun to be able to stretch the Christmas season past its ordinary limits. Ready to get back to work? Well, I am . . . so here we go!

Track 12
One Christmas Catalog Too Many, Captain Sensible (1984)

The lyrics to this song don't make a whole lot of sense, and I don't suppose it's a track many people have ever heard. It's got a catchy enough beat and a tuneful melody, I guess, and it's probably worth including on that basis alone. But there's another reason I chose this song for this year's mix and that  has to do with another song by the artist who made this one. This track and the other are by a guy named Raymond Ian Jones, a British singer/songwriter better known as Captain Sensible. He was one of the co-founders of the punk group The Damned, which was among the first group of British punk bands to catch on back in the late 1970s. Sensible has also enjoyed a moderately successful solo career before, during and after his his work with The Damned. I can recall hearing his version of "Jet Boy, Jet Girl" back in the day, and his cover version of the song "Happy Talk" from South Pacific made it all the way to #1 on the British charts in 1982. But I first became acquainted with Captain Sensible as the guy who wrote a pop song about one of my favorite characters in Washington political history -- one of the genuine heroes of the Watergate scandal, the inimitable Martha Mitchell.

I was just finishing the 6th grade when a group of agents from the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) were arrested in Washington's Watergate Hotel as they tried to bug the offices of the Chairman of the Democratic Party on behalf of Republican Richard Nixon in June of 1972. Nixon was running for re-election that year and he desperately wanted to not only win but win big. Knowing that a very large portion of the electorate opposed both him and his policies, Nixon and his henchmen decided that their best shot was to rig the Democratic contest to ensure that the opposition party nominated its weakest challenger, Senator George McGovern, and then paint him as a crazy kook far outside of the American mainstream. And they succeeded. The bugging of the Watergate was just one small piece of an elaborate scheme that included manufacturing fake news, interfering with Democratic rallies and events, raising millions in illegal campaign contributions, and even breaking into the psychiatrist's office of a well-known Nixon opponent. By Election Day, the Nixon team managed to secure exactly what Nixon had wanted -- a landslide election victory. They had also managed to keep the arrest of the Watergate burglars from becoming a major story. But once Nixon was sworn in for his second term, the story started to capture the nation's attention, due in no small part to the outspoken and colorful Martha Mitchell.
Martha and John Mitchell, c. 1973

Martha was already a major public figure as the Watergate story took off, for she was the wife of John Mitchell, former attorney general and the manager of Nixon's re-election campaign. In fact, Martha herself was one of the original founders of CREEP. During most of Nixon's first term she was a stalwart defender of the President. She had a high profile and her sharp tongue was frequently unleashed against the liberals and hippies whose criticism of her husband and the President led her to suggest they be "torn limb from limb." However, one of the men arrested for the break-in was a man named James McCord, a former CIA agent who had also worked for a time as a security guard for Martha and her daughter. Unlike many other observers, Martha realized almost at once that the Watergate break-in was a Nixon operation and with one of the chief architects of the operation and cover-up living under her same roof she had access to more information than most about what was going on. To her credit, she did what she could to set things right.

It wasn't easy. Following the arrest of the burglars, CREEP sent several thugs to detain her against her will in a California hotel. When one of them discovered Martha on the phone with the UPI's Helen Thomas, he grabbed the receiver out of Martha's hand and ripped the phone from the wall. Several others threw her onto the bed and held her down while she was forcibly sedated. Then the Nixon people put out the word:  Martha was crazy; she was an alcoholic; she was delusional. Yet Martha persisted, decrying the administration's illegal activities and calling on Nixon to resign.

Martha with Merv Griffin
Eventually, the various official investigations revealed that Martha's reports were anything but crazy. She and former White House counsel John Dean are now widely recognized as the true whistleblowers of Watergate. Tragically, Martha died of cancer less than two years after Nixon's resignation. At her sparsely attended funeral someone sent a large collection of flowers that spelled out the words "Martha Was Right." While her good sense and courage fail to receive the respect they are due, her name is now invoked as the name of a unique psychological condition. The Martha Mitchell effect describes a situation where someone has made claims so preposterous on their face that the reporter is diagnosed as delusional, only the claims are later determined to be accurate.

So why the long diatribe about Watergate in what's supposed to be a humble little Christmas music blog? I don't know, I've long been taken by Martha Mitchell's story as the unlikely hero of the Watergate scandal, and my hat's off to Captain Sensible who appears to have felt similarly some 33 years ago when he wrote and recorded "Martha the Mouth." Of course, more than a few observers are drawing parallels between the current administration and the Nixon White House. Both appear to be under fire, both appear to have engaged in treacherous and illegal activities, and both seem to have trouble telling the truth. Today, as then, we need a colorful and brutally honest character to step into the ring and tell it like it is. 

Hear an interesting take on Martha's story by the late comedian and social activist Dick Gregory.

Listen to "Martha," the first episode from the excellent podcast about Watergate called "Slow Burn"

Check out "Get Off that Phone, Martha," by Gene Burns

Listen to "The Ballad of Mrs. Martha Mitchell," by Gary Paris

Track 11
I'm Christmas Day, The Three Stooges (1955)

Back when I was growing up, it seemed like The Three Stooges were always on TV. They were particularly popular on the lower-budget UHF stations, where they had a certain allure for pre-adolescent boys (to whom Moe's swagger and violent tendencies were appealing) and older men (who likely appreciated the bygone era their black and white reels conjured up). I never liked the Stooges myself. Not these Stooges, at least. (I was partial to the ones who played with Iggy.) I recoiled instinctively every time the sadistic Moe belittled Larry, or poked his finger's in Curly's eyes. But I clearly recall pretending that I liked them in front of certain of my friends. It seemed like the cool thing to do -- better, certainly, than having them think of me as soft or effete. I suppose I felt a little of that same feeling this year when I opted to include their shabby little excerpt on this year's mix. I probably deserve a quick poke in the eye for that. And maybe the Hugh Hefner clip, as well. Ouch!

If you are a fan of the Three Stooges, you may enjoy this bit by Billy West, the comedian, voice actor and former radio personality:

Listen to "The Three Stooges Record the 12 Days of Christmas," by Billy West

Track 10
Melt Our Way Out, The Rosebuds (2012)
This is, without question, my favorite track on this year's CD. It comes from the 2012 album Christmas Tree Island, a wonderful collection of original holiday tunes by the indie rock band The Rosebuds. The group is based in Raleigh, North Carolina and consists of musicians Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp. They're a prolific duo with a unique and very tasty sound not to mention a fun sense of humor and what appears to be a strong commitment to basic Christmas sensibilities. I strongly recommend checking out Christmas Tree Island in its entirety, and the rest of their catalog, too, but the track I used and "Christmas in New York" are truly outstanding. Listen to them below and support the band with a purchase, if you can.

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