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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Episode 46 - The Girl Can't Help It

"...Here's a song from a movie called, "The Girl Can't Help It." In that movie you can see technicolor footage of Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran, and many other fabulous performers. But it's not just a music movie. It's very funny, stars Tom Ewell and Jayne Mansfield and was directed by Frank Tashlin. Frank directed Bugs Bunny cartoons in the `40s, and directed movies by Bob Hope, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in the `50s. His films had an amazing full-color, animated quality, even when they were starring real actors. And "The Girl Can't Help It" is one of his best. This song is sung by Edmond O'Brien in the movie, and it's all about whiling away the hours in the "Gray Bar Hotel"... I mean prison.

"You'll hear a siren on this record. It's not really a siren, it's Jayne Mansfield screaming. You have to see the movie to understand. Performed by Ray Anthony who was married to another sexpot, Mamie Van Doren. Here's Ray... "Rock Around the Rock Pile." - Bob Dylan, "Classic Rock," Theme Time Radio Hour

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If you decide - as I did - that you need to know exactly why Jayne Mansfield is screaming like a siren on "Rock Around the Rock Pile," your best bet is probably the three-DVD set, Jayne Mansfield Collection, that includes "The Girl Can't Help It," and the equally funny Frank Tashlin-directed movie, "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" The third movie of the set, "The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw," isn't anywhere near the quality of the other two, but two out of three ain't bad, especially since with a little judicious shopping, you can pick up the Jayne Mansfield Collection for around $35 bucks. You'll probably find, as I did, that it's still money well-spent just for the first two movies.

Released on the 1st of December, 19 and 56, "The Girl Can't Help It" has a plot that goes all the way back to Damon Runyon: Mobster has knockout no-talent girlfriend who he's determined to make a star. Mobster muscles unwilling citizen with show biz connections into making it happen. In the course of events, knockout girlfriend and unwilling citizen fall for each other and hilarity ensues.

Heck, give that story to any half-decent writer, and you'd get at least a half-decent movie in return. But, "The Girl Can't Help It" is something else. Part of it is Frank Tashlin's direction. As Dylan mentions, Tashlin came out out of the animation biz, and he loves sight gags above all things. There is one scene with men reacting to Mansfield walking down a city street in all her pneumatic glory that is just one cartoon shtick after another - melting ice, shattering eyeglasses, and a bit that is tame by today's standards but one that will make you wonder how it got by the 1956 censors. A milkman holding a very phallic bottle gazes on as Mansfield sways by, and the bottle erupts in a pure milk orgasm.

Another piece of the puzzle is the music. Some people might hold out for 1955's "Blackboard Jungle" as the first rock-and-roll movie, since it had the first airing of Rock Around the Clock, although you can make the argument that since it only featured a rock song, it wasn't really a rock movie. "Rock Around the Clock" the movie is a better contender, shot in January of 1956 and released just two months later to capitalize on Bill Haley and the Comets blockbuster single. While not a very good movie, "Rock Around the Clock" did have The Platters, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, and, of course, Bill Haley and the Comets doing the title song three different times... although never in a complete performance.

But, you can make the case for "The Girl Can't Help It," released about nine months after "Rock Around the Clock," as the first good rock-and-roll movie. It had a plot loosely - very loosely - based around the music business, plus a strong cast. And, as Mr. D. noted, the movie had a crew of "fabulous performers," including Fats Domino, Little Richard, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps (pre-Tommy Facenda by about a year), The Platters, who seemed to show up in all rock movies of that era, and Gene Cochran. With rock-and-roll still in its infancy, the film also had a few strange selections, such as Teddy Randazzo and the Three Chuckles. To add a touch of class, Abbey Lincoln, the great jazz stylist, also makes an appearance, plus a Theme Time sweetheart, Julie London, who shows up in a dream sequence singing Cry Me a River.

It's a funny movie, and a good movie, and a movie with good music. Annnnnnnnnnd it's got Jayne Mansfield.

In the strange male world where some of us are Superman guys and others are Batman guys, and some of us are Mary Ann guys and others are Ginger guys, I'm in the minority when it comes to blonde bombshells, being more of a Jayne Mansfield guy instead of a Marilyn Monroe guy. I've got nothing against Monroe, but I kind of like the idea of Jayne Mansfield a bit better. Monroe is - I dunno - unattainable when I think about her. You'd figure her to end up with ol' Joltin' Joe DiMaggio or Arthur Miller or JFK, but not with an average schlub like me. Mansfield is more like the girl next door, given that you knew a girl next door who fit into a 40D cup.

And like the old Avis commercials, Mansfield, always running second to Monroe, tried harder, sometimes too hard, and because that drive often got her into trouble, she seems more human to me than the iconic Monroe.

Born with the plain-Jane name of Vera Jane Palmer in 1933, Mansfied seemed to have only one thing on her mind from age 7 on - to become a star. By age 17 she was married and already had several beauty queen titles under her belt... titles that included "Miss Photoflash," "Miss Magnesium Lamp" and "Miss Fire Prevention Week." Mansfield once said the only title she ever turned down was Miss Roquefort Cheese, because it "just didn't sound right."

Following in the steps of Monroe, Mansfield was the Playmate of the Month in February 19 and 55 at age 21, and would go on to appear in Playboy more than 30 more times. Unlike Monroe, whose first Playboy nude pictures were unauthorized, Mansfield happily posed for the Playboy spread.

Mansfield had a few bit parts in various movies during the early `50s, but her career didn't pick up traction until her Broadway role as sex siren Rita Marlowe in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Wearing only a towel, Mansfield would rise to answer a telephone each night, flaunting as much of herself as she could get away with without closing down the show. Although it was her breasts that garnered most of the attention, Mansfield was also a better-than-average comedienne and received the 1956 Theatre World Award for her work in the play.

That gave her enough street cred to come back to Hollywood and get the role of Jerri Jordan in "The Girl Can't Help It," the voluptuous tone-deaf girlfriend of a retired mobster who just wants to be a stay-at-home wife and mother. While her comic talents weren't put to as much use as they were in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Mansfield does more more than a good job as Jordan, especially when playing against Tom Ewell.

And what's with her making like a siren? To paraphrase Our Host, you'll have to go see the movie.

Mansfield would go on to reprise her Rita Marlow role in the 1957 movie version of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? another movie directed by Frank Tashlin, and probably Mansfield's best picture. But by the early `60s, her movie career was essentially over, at least in big budget films. By 1962 Marilyn Monroe had died, making herself an ageless legend in the process. Mansfield would go on for another five years, her looks coarsening, losing her audience as the public taste for big-bosomed platinum blondes withered. In an uncharacteristically savage - or honest - moment, moptop Paul McCartney called Mansfield an "old bag" during a 1965 Playboy interview of the Beatles, claiming that while he had never met her, she was "a clot."

PAUL: "Yeah, Some of those American girls have been great."
JOHN: "Like Joan Baez."
PAUL: "Joan Baez is good, yeah, very good."
JOHN: "She's the only one I like."
GEORGE: "And Jayne Mansfield. PLAYBOY made her."
PAUL: "She's a bit different, isn't she? Different."
RINGO: "She's soft."
GEORGE: "Soft and warm."
PAUL: "Actually, she's a clot."
RINGO: "...says Paul, the god of the Beatles."
PAUL: "I didn't mean it, Beatle People! Actually, I haven't even met her. But you won't print that anyway, of course, because PLAYBOY is very pro-Mansfield. They think she's a rave. But she really is an old bag." - Playboy interview of the Beatles, 1965

Paul may have been having a bit of a tweak of his mate, John Lennon, as Lennon reportedly spent an evening canoodling with Mansfield during the Beatles first U.S. tour in 1964. How that happened is lost to history: various reports have it that McCartney mentioned that the one film star he wanted to meet in Hollywood was Jayne Mansfield. Other reports say that it was Lennon. More likely is the story that the never publicity-shy Mansfield set up the meeting. Derek Taylor, the Beatles’ press officer claimed, "...I got a phone call from the actress Jayne Mansfield, who wanted to meet the Beatles and be photographed with them. She hassled me and she very badly wanted to meet them, at her place, then our place, at any place. I told her that we had a ‘no photographs with celebrities’ rule, and that I had already turned down even my own friends. She was most annoyed."

Annoyed but not defeated, Mansfield somehow ended up at the Whiskey a Go Go at the same time as at least two of the Beatles, John and George. Some reports have her necking with John at the Whiskey, others with the two in a tight embrace during a limo ride to the club. George Harrison would later report, "... John and I were sitting either side of her and she had her hands on our legs, by our groins – at least she did on mine." George would later get annoyed at an obtrusive photographer, and throw a glass of water, missing the paparazzi, but soaking the third of the fabulous M's - Mamie Van Doren, who just happened to be passing by.

In later years, Sir Paul apparently mellowed on Mansfield a bit, citing "The Girl Can't Help It" as one of the Beatles favorite movies, to the point where the Fab Four took time off from a recording session in order to catch the movie on T.V.

It wasn't Mansfield's only brush with rock gods. In 19 and 65 Jimi Hendrix played bass and lead guitar for Mansfield on two songs: a ballad called As The Clouds Drift By, and a B-side titled Suey, which included the memorable lyric, "he makes my liver quiver." According to Hendrix historian Steven Roby, the Jayne/Jimi summit took place because they had the same manager.

As I noted earlier, by 1962 Mansfield's movie career was essentially over, although she'd appear in over a dozen more flicks - most low-budget - until her death. But even with her movie career on the rocks, Mansfield still commanded an audience, and big bucks for live appearances. With husband and ex-body builder Mickey Hargitay in tow, Mansfield headlined at the Dunes in Las Vegas in an act called The House of Love, picking up a cool $35,000 a week for her efforts. The act proved such a hit that 20th-Century Fox Records came calling and recorded the show for an album called Jayne Mansfield Busts Up Las Vegas, in 1962.

[The House of Love excerpt - Jayne Mansfield and company]

Probably the best thing about Mansfield's House of Love show is that it perfectly captures a moment in time - a B-level Las Vegas lounge act of the `60s. It's not very good: you can imagine Mansfield flouncing around stage surrounded by a chorus line of bodybuilders and exchanging one-liners with what sounds like the world's worst female impersonator, Arthur Blake, who apparently got most of his laughs by appearing in drag. But hell, in Vegas in the `60s the show probably played like a dream to the rubes in town for the faucet convention. Not a big enough fish to get comped in for a Sinatra or Martin and Lewis show? Not to worry, bubbie. We can get you ringside seats to The House of Love at the Dunes and you can spend the night staring at Jayne Mansfield's knockers.

Mansfield essentially spent the remainder of her life working clubs, still commanding serious money: between $8,000 and $25,000 a week. She'd release one more album too, a novelty thing called Jayne Mansfield: Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky & Me, on which she recited Shakespeare's sonnets and works by various other poets: including Robert Herrick's appropriate Upon the Nipples of Julia's Breast.

[Upon the Nipples of Julia's Breast - Jayne Mansfield]

Possibly the most memorable thing about Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky & Me is the album cover, which illustrates one of the eerie things about Mansfield as she entered her 30s and neared the end of her life. There are dozens of photos of Mansfield where it's obvious she's still a good-looking woman, in fact, still close to the knock-out who posed nude for Playboy at age 21. But there are also dozens of photos taken around the same period where she looks - in the memorable words of Sir Paul, like an "old bag." It's hard to believe that either Mansfield or her publicist would let the cover for Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky & Me out on the street: except for the fact that her breasts are just barely covered by a fur stole, the blowzy Mansfield looks like a guy in drag doing a bad Carol Channing imitation.

I mentioned earlier that most guys can be separated into either Mary Ann or Ginger guys: the two lasses from Gilligan's Island. If you're a Lovey Howell guy, you're way too weird for me. In 19 and 64, Mansfield was actually offered the role of Ginger Grant. She turned the part down, publicly claiming that Ginger embodied the stereotype she was trying to leave behind, which is a little hard to believe since Mansfield was happily playing that stereotype each night in her stage act. It's more likely that the "stereotype" which annoyed Mansfield was the fact that Ginger was obviously based on Marilyn Monroe, and the idea of playing a Monroe clone on a TV sit-com was too much for Mansfield to stomach. The role was given to Tina Louise, an unprepossessing actress who did a a journeyman Marilyn Monroe during the show's run. It's one of those forks in history where you wonder what the outcome would have been. Louise wasn't a particularly inspired actress who had no comic talent at all. She reportedly hated the role, later claiming that she had been sucked in by her agent who had told her the show would be centered around her. One would think that since the series wasn't called Ginger's Isle, Louise might have gotten a clue, but who knows? Mansfield had enough talent - aside from her native assets - and enough competitiveness to have made the part her own, and maybe the show would have become Ginger's Isle by its second season. We'll never know.

By the way, in the Big Scheme of things, I'm a Mary Ann guy. But I would have been a Ginger guy if Mansfield had played the role.

That winds up tonight's show. I'm going to take a pass on talking about Mansfield's death by car accident, except to note that the Rumor That Will Not Die - that she was decapitated in the accident - is false. There's more to the story, and some exceptionally ugly photographs, available on the Web if your curiosity gets the better of you. Me, I'd recommend you follow my lead, and take a pass. Ditto on her rumored affair with JFK, which seems to have one person as its source... and he may just have been pissed about Mansfield's dogs peeing on him.

It may have been true. It may not. But, as the poet says, it was another country, and the wench is dead.

The Dreamtime team is taking the month of December off from a podcasting standpoint. We'll see you again at the beginning of the New Year. However you celebrate the holidays, Curly, Bear, Jailbat, Joyride and her shyster boyfriend, Jailbreak, and me, Your Host, all wish you a happy and comfortable one. Thanks for your email, your comments and feedback, and making it a good and fun 2007 for Dreamtime. And, if you're in a gift-buying mood, remember to start your Amazon shopping at the Dreamtime store (that's right here!): Your purchases help to pay for cat food and Jailbait's bail.

See you soon, gang.

Sources/Further reading/listening: The bed music opening and closing the show is a spooky version of Que Sera Sera, performed by Pink Martini, and can be found on their album Sympathique. Most of the information on Jayne Mansfield came from her Wikipedia entry. The Beatles and Mansfield encounter is documented at the Mersey Beat site. What information there is on the Web about the Mansfield/Hendrix connection can be found through Google. Industrious searchers can find much of Jayne Mansfield music and/or poetry readings in digital form on the Web.


You've been listening to the Dreamtime podcast – occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour. Dreamtime is researched and written by Fred Bals and is a Not Associated With production. As the name says, we're not associated with XM Radio, Bob Dylan, or much of anything else.
Some of the music on Dreamtime is provided via the Podsafe Music Network. Check it out at

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The Dreamtime top cats are Curly Lasagna and Shaggy Bear. Our announcers are the notorious honky-tonkin' sisters, Jailbait and Joyride.

Until next time, dream well.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Theme Time Radio Hour art

Found via William Gibson's blog, I've fallen in love with the, which will compose a - sometimes unexpected - collage of images based on a word or phrase. Above, "Theme Time Radio Hour," almost pretty enough to replace the Dreamtime logo. If you need a productivity-buster time waster, try a selection of themes, including Drinking, Smoking, and Weather.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Teddy Grace w/ Mal Hallett & His Orchestra

A Happy Thanksgiving to our U.S. audience from the Dreamtime team - Jailbait, Curly, Bear and Your Host. Jailbait is preparing our gobbler even as I write, and the Top Cats and I are trying to stay out of her way, and thus are hiding out in the studio.

Although not connected to TTRH, I thought the above clip might be of interest. It features Teddy Grace, a white woman "of privilege," as they say in the South, who sang white-boy swing and, at her best, black-girl blues, and led a life that ended in a California nursing home, where she was known by her fourth, final and sadly appropriate name - Stella Hurt. The 9-minute clip may be a little tough to get through, unless you're an aficionado of obscure big band one-reelers, but you can also catch Grace's individual segments here and here.

If you like TTRH, you'll love Issue 58 of The Oxford American magazine - their 2007 music edition - where you can learn more about the life and times of Teddy Grace through Derek Jenkins' excellent article in that issue. Jenkins is the person who uploaded Grace's video clips, and maintains a personal blog here.

The magazine also contains equally interesting articles on the great Thelonious Monk, as well as an exhaustive account of the making of Blonde on Blonde in Nashville, Tennesse. TTRH aficionados will note familiar names in the credits on page 145, including Diane Lapson and Robert Bowers.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Edie Adams for Muriel Cigars

Hang in there if the smoke is getting to you, this is the last video tied to the "Smoking" episode.

The great Ernie Kovacs married actress and singer Edie Adams on September 12, 1954 in Mexico City. From all reports, Adams was smitten with Kovacs, and remained his #1 fan even after his death. Adams once said about Kovacs, "He treated me like a little girl, and I loved it - Women's Lib be damned!".

Although Kovacs' hassles with the IRS and Adams subsequent work to pay off his debt are well-known, I hadn't heard the story Dylan relates about her allergies to cigar smoke. But if true, it must have been tough on Adams given that Kovacs was a cigar smoker at the level of a George Burns or Desi Arnaz. In any case, Adams was the pitch-lady for Muriel cigars both before and well after Kovacs' death, and her trademark, "Why don't you pick one up and smoke it sometime?" modeled after the signature Mae West line, became a buzz phrase in the U.S. I can remember intoning it myself while on the playground.

Here's Adams in triplicate selling that ceegar which could be had in those days for just a thin dime.

The Flintstones for Winston Cigarettes

Fred and Barney flog cigarettes, possibly providing the reason why the Bedrock civilization died out.

It should be pointed out that even in the depths of `60s Madison Avenue greed and lack of concern for public safety that this commercial wasn't deliberately targeted to the kiddie krowd, although I'm sure if Winston hooked a few kidlets in, they weren't weeping. The original early 1960s version of The Flintstones was a prime-time animated series, and the episodes -if not exactly high-brow - were as much written for adults as they were for kids.

Winston would discontinue its sponsorship of the series in 1963, after Wilma became pregnant with Pebbles, and the healthier Welch's Grape Juice would take over as primary sponsor.

Reefer Man - Cab Calloway

The original, as performed by Cab Calloway. From the 1933 movie International House, when marijuana was still legal in the U.S., incidentally.

Joe and Rose Lee Maphis - Don't Make Love in a Buggy

As Mr. D. says in the "Smoking" episode, there's lots of good video of Joe Maphis working that double-neck Mosrite, happily some of it on YouTube. Here's one with Joe and wife Rose Lee. As a commenter says, a silly song, but worth watching.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Episode 45 - Back Where I Come From: The Roots of Theme Time Radio Hour

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. - Ecclesiastes

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All things have a past, a history. All trees have roots. All rivers have a source.

There is nothing new under the sun.

It's night time in the Big City. In a loft apartment, a young man rummages through a shelf of old audio tapes. He stops, re-reads a label. He doesn't know the title on the box, but he definitely recognizes at least one performer's name.

"Can I listen to this?" Bob Dylan asks.

Sixty-six years before the first episode of Theme Time Radio Hour, when radio was just radio and the word satellite was only used by astronomers, there was another series that was organized around themes. A fifteen minute radio program that aired three days a week - Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays - at 10:30 p.m., and ran from September 1940 through January 1941. The show, titled Back Where I Come From, was written by Alan Lomax, directed by Nicholas Ray, who would later go on to direct Rebel Without a Cause, and featured Woody Guthrie.

[Back Where I Come From excerpt]

In the summer of 1940 Alan Lomax began work on one of his long-time pet dreams, a folk music series for prime time network radio. Lomax would act as the writer and long-distance producer for Back Where I Come From from his Washington, D.C. home base, while his pal Nick Ray would be the on-scene New York City director.

To give the series the creative foundation it needed to be more than just another hillbilly radio show, Lomax came up with the idea to have each of the programs dedicated around a theme - trains, marriage, animals - and would include skits and dramatic readings as well as songs on that night's subject. The theme idea probably came from the all-night singing contests that Guthrie, Lomax and other invited folksingers delighted in, where the group would challenge each other to name as many songs as they could on a given subject. During one six-hour evening, Lomax recalled, he and Guthrie came up with over 200 songs about animals and stopped singing only after neighbors threatened to call the police.

The pilot of Back Where I Come From aired on August 19, 1940 on the Forecast series; a try-out incubator for new CBS radio shows. The first episode was hosted by Clifton "Kip" Fadiman, a New York literati - writer, editor, and critic - who was already well-known to radio audiences as the host of the popular Information Please quiz show, which he would moderate for 17 years. Joining Fadiman were Willie Johnson and the Golden Gate Quartet, Josh White, Burl Ives, actor Len Doyle, and Woody Guthrie.

Just like the first episode of Theme Time Radio Hour sixty-six years later, the theme of the first episode of Back Where I Come From would be... the weather.

That first 30-minute show was, charitably speaking, a bit uneven. Whatever his skills as a music historian, Lomax was a ham-fisted writer, at least as it came to radio dialog. With the exception of Guthrie's relaxed, entertaining segment on the Dust Bowl and the Golden Gate Quartet's closing gospel sermon-in-miniature about Noah and the Flood, which sounded as if it were being delivered direct from a Baptist Church, most of the show was leaden and artificial. It was all very "merry" and "jolly" Lomax would later write sarcastically, and had little of the authentic voice of America he wanted.

Typical of the pseudo-folksiness in the first episode was a lengthy segment starring Len Doyle, sometimes described as a "cornpone comedian" in accounts about the pilot. In reality the cornpone was being supplied by Lomax, and Doyle was actually a journeyman character actor who would later move on to the popular Mr. District Attorney crime drama that same year, and stay with that show for a 12-year run. Doyle was probably relieved to find a better gig than "The Natural-born Expert" role he had been saddled with on Back Where I Come From. "The Natural-born Expert" was a particularly irritating "done-everything and knows-it-all" character, delivering his pronouncements in a W.C. Fields-like voice, and was apparently conceived by Lomax as a foil for Guthrie, who dryly interrupts Doyle's "Now, you take me-" blustering with, "Brother, I wouldn't take you to a Sunday dance."

Happily, there are genuine nuggets in the show too, especially its major production number, intermingling Woody's So Long, It's Been Good to Know You with dramatic vignettes illustrating people's response to the Great Dust Storm of 1935.

[So Long, It's Been Good to Know You - Woody Guthrie and cast]

The pilot of Back Where I Come From was generally regarded as a success by CBS execs., who took the unusual step of moving ahead with the series even though the show had been unable to secure a sponsor. We might take a moment to reflect on this: Here's an experimental show on folk music, hosted by a New York intellectual, with a cast of relatively unknown black and white artists, some of whose politics is a bit Red, and all sharing the stage on a equal footing. The show can't find a sponsor... and the network decides to put it on the air anyway. Somehow you can't imagine that happening today.

In any case, Woody, who had been paid $83 for doing the pilot, found himself an overnight radio sensation thanks to Back Where I Come From. In close order Guthrie was invited to sing on a CBS talent show and offered three hundred dollars to write and perform a ballad about Wild Bill Hickok for a new NBC radio series. But both offers were topped by the Model Tobacco Company, who wanted Guthrie as host for its weekly show on CBS, Pipe Smoking Time. Pipe Smoking Time offered $200 a week, and with an agreement that Woody could keep his role on Back Where I Come From, which paid $150 a week, Guthrie's income had gone from problematic to healthy in a matter of days.

But not without problems. Back Where I Come From began as a regular program in late September 1940, and by the end of the month Woody Sez - Guthrie's popular column for the U.S. Communist Party's newspaper The Daily Worker - was discontinued without explanation. A spokesperson for the Party said it had been done by mutual agreement. Guthrie later claimed he had been fired for being "too wild." The truth might have been that the Daily Worker wasn't happy about having a people's columnist who was also going to flog tobacco for a capitalist boss.

Or maybe Woody was feeling overstretched and guilty. Certainly he started acting as the gadfly on Back Where I Come From, where he had much more influence than the tightly controlled Pipe Smoking Time. Less than a month after the series start, Guthrie was threatening to quit over what he felt was Nicholas Ray's obstructionist attitude towards Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly. Ray wasn't enthusiastic about Leadbelly's appearances on the show, feeling that his thick accent was incomprehensible to a white audience. Worse, Leadbelly was functionally illiterate, meaning that he couldn't read the lines scripted for him. Woody didn't care; he wanted his friend to have a regular role on the show. And if he didn't, then neither would Woody. Lomax arranged a long-distance compromise, and show regular Josh White ended up reciting Leadbelly's spoken lines, while Leadbelly himself continued to sing his songs.

But still in conflict with Ray about almost every facet of the show, Guthrie quit in late October, eventually missing a few episodes before Lomax again stepped in as mediator between the two. Guthrie would return and eventually take on a larger role in Back Where I Come From, narrating several shows, including what would become Nicholas Ray's favorite, a December 6th episode on the 13th Amendment.

In the interim, Pipe Smoking Time with Your Host Woody Guthrie had begun its run in November of 1940, and Woody found that the Model Tobacco Company was a much harsher boss than Lomax and Ray. Guthrie was almost immediately sickened by the compromises he was forced to make - including singing a rewritten version of So Long as the show theme - and by the end of the year he had had enough of radio. In early January 1941 Woody sent off an "I Quit!" letter to Nick Ray. He may have done the same with Pipe Smoking Time's producers. The record is unclear about whether he was fired, quit, or simply walked away from the program after only seven episodes. In any case, he was gone, "lit out again," as he would write to Lomax.
"Money sometimes takes on the appearance of a something that's used to put monkeys in your head." - Woody Guthrie
Typically, Woody Guthrie would bounce between a desire for commercial success and then do his best to sabotage his own chances whenever success seemed within his grasp. By February 1941, he was writing an apologetic letter to Nicholas Ray from California, asking for his old job on Back Where I Come From. But the show - still without a sponsor - had been canceled by CBS, and that was that.

Fast-forward some 20-odd years later, and Bob Dylan is visiting Alan Lomax's loft on West 3rd Street in New York City, where as Dylan would relate, "I spent many nights... listening to and meeting all kinds of folk music people which I never would have come in contact with." One of those "folk music people" Dylan would meet would be Carla Rotolo, Lomax's personal assistant, who would go on to introduce him to her younger sister Suze. Both Rotolo and Lomax's daughter, Anna, remember Dylan as a regular visitor to the apartment, spending much of his time digging his way through Lomax's extensive music collection, which almost certainly contained recordings of the Back Where I Come From program. You can imagine the 20-year-old pausing as he studied a label for a radio show that aired the year before he was born and starred his hero, live, and at the height of his powers.

"Can I listen to this?" Bob Dylan asks.

Fast-forward another 40-odd years, and now we're in the realm of pure fantasy, but imagine: We're still in New York City, in a large room in Greenwich Village, four or five people talking. Jeff Rosen is almost certainly there. Maybe Eddie Gorodetsky. Maybe one or two others of the small trusted cadre.

"Well, we know what sort of music we want to play," someone says. "But we need something to tie it all together, I dunno, some sort of-"

Bob Dylan, who doesn't do meetings well, is bored, staring out the window, thinking of the old days in this city, thinking of the apartment he used to visit on a cold, snowy New York day like this.

"- a theme," someone interrupts. "Exactly."

And the Man Who Never Forgets Anything Connected to Music swings his cowboy boots off the table, clears his throat and says, "Ya got it. We're gonna do a theme radio show. Things like 'Marriage,' 'Trains,' 'Animals.' All songs connected to that theme."

Thinking 40-odd years back, Bob Dylan laughs. "And the first show has got to be about the weather," he says.

Sources and Further Reading/Listening: Dreamtime wants to thank the reader/listener who sent us an email that set us on the trail of Back Where I Come From and who prefers, as the saying goes, to remain anonymous. But you know who you are, and this episode is dedicated to you with my thanks.

Woody Guthrie's involvement with the Back Where I Come From and Pipe Smoking Time radio shows during 1940-41 is noted in both Joe Klein's Woody Guthrie: A Life, and Ed Cray's Ramblin' Man. Although neither biography has a particularly detailed description of that four-month period, with the two together I was able to piece together what I think is an accurate time-line.

Bob Dylan's meeting Carla Rotolo and his frequent visits to Alan Lomax's apartment are well-chronicled in several places including, if you'll forgive the pun, Dylan's own Chronicles: Volume One. Anna Lomax's recollection of Dylan's visits to the apartment are from Howard Sounes' Down the Highway.

I was pleased to find that the pilot "Weather" show of Back Where I Come From is in wide circulation among collectors, and is available as a torrent on the Web in a number of locations, including Readers may also be interested in this transcription of Guthrie's So Long segment from that show.

Although only one man can tell us whether the idea for TTRH was born from Back Where I Come From, consider whether all this can be chalked up to coincidence. Both shows' pilots were on "The Weather," and both shows have had episodes on marriage, trains, and animals. Bob Dylan was a frequent visitor to Alan Lomax's apartment as well as being a major fan of Woody Guthrie, and was known to immerse himself in Lomax's music collection whenever he had the opportunity. All that makes the possibility shift from "likely" to "near-certainty," in my opinion. I'm a poker player, and I would happily shove my entire stack into the pot on that much circumstantial evidence.

Back Where I Come From timeline

August (19) 1940 - Pilot from "Forecast" series for BWICF.

August 1940 - Guthrie signs BWICF series contract for $150 per week. Model Tobacco offers him hosting job on NBC's Pipe Smoking Time starting in November 1940 at around $200 per week. Offers includes agreement that Woody can continue gig with BWICF.

(Late) September, 1940 - BWICF begins airing for 15 minutes at 10:30 p.m. on MWF evenings on CBS. Show is unsponsored.

September 1940 - Woody's Daily Worker Woody Sez column ends without explanation. CWP spokesperson says "mutual agreement." Woody would later claim he was fired because he was "too wild" for the Party.

September/October? 1940 - Woody in conflict with Ray over Leadbelly and threatens to walk off show. Lomax provides compromise.

Late October 1940 - Guthrie quits BWICF because of continuing conflicts with Ray.

Nov (1) 1940 - Lomax letter writes to Woody to get "his side of story" on conflicts with Ray, and offers to again act as mediator between them. Guthrie returns to BWICF after missing at least one show and becomes narrator for many of the following shows.

Nov( 25) 1940 Pipe Smoking Time program with Woody as host begins.

Dec (6) 1940 - Woody narrates BWICF episode on the anniversary of 13th Amendment's ratification. Ray later recalls it as BWICF "at its very best."

Jan (1) 1941 - Most of cast from BWICF plays fund raiser at Will Geer's house.

Early Jan 1941 - Woody sends notice to Ray at BWICF and quits/is fired from PST radio show. He and the family return to California.

February 1941 - Woody writes to Ray asking for his BWICF job back; Ray replies that show has been canceled.


You've been listening to the Dreamtime podcast – occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour. Dreamtime is researched and written by Fred Bals and is a Not Associated With production. As the name says, we're not associated with XM Radio, Bob Dylan, or much of anything else.

Some of the music on Dreamtime is provided via the Podsafe Music Network. Check it out at

Remember that the Dreamtime team loves to get email. You can write us at

The Dreamtime top cats are Curly Lasagna and Shaggy Bear. Our announcers are the notorious honky-tonkin' sisters, Jailbait and Joyride.

Until next time, dream well.

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Reflections on Porter Wagoner

"Listener Greg G." writes one helluva an article on the late, great Porter Wagoner over at WFMU's Beware of the Blog, which includes a photo gallery of Wagoner's themed album covers (to your left, the cover for Wagoner's "murder" album, The Cold Hard Facts of Life), and various mp3s from different stages of Wagoner's career.

Highly recommended, as is Wagoner's biography, A Satisfied Mind: The Country Music Life of Porter Wagoner. The book is indeed out-of-print, but can still be ordered from Amazon and other venues.

...Other bummers on [Confessions of a Broken Man] include Hank Williams' Men With Broken Hearts, How Far Down Can I Go, and Skid Row Joe, a downbeat recitation that wound up as a Top Ten hit despite its relentlessly depressing story line. Amazingly, the shockingly seedy cover photo won the Grammy Award for Best Album Cover Photography for art director Robert M. Jones and photographer Les Leverett. Always in search of a cheap thrill, when I found myself in Nashville recently I could not resist perching myself on the steps of the Ryman in a hammy effort to recreate the cover photo for this LP. Rather than dressing like a thirsty panhandler, however, I posed in a WFMU t-shirt for a contribution to the station's Flickr page, where they've got a section comprised of photos showing listeners sporting their 'FMU duds. The photo was taken on October 7th, about 10 days before Porter checked into the hospital.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy - Pete Seeger

Written by Seeger in 1967, when the U.S. was about neck-deep in Vietnam, the song was censored by CBS when Seeger first performed it on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in September, 1967, but the network reversed itself, and Seeger would ultimately perform Waist Deep on the show in February 1968.

Seeger noted in May 1983,

Now the Smothers Brothers did a clever thing. They took their argument to the newspapers and they got lots of free publicity. They said, "CBS censors our best jokes, they censored Seeger's best song. It ain't fair." Finally in the month of January, 1968, the word came from New York, "O.K., O.K., you can sing the song if you want."

On 48 hours' notice I flew out to California, taped the song, and this time 7 million people saw it and even got some extra newspaper publicity. Only one station, I think, in Detroit, scissored the last verse out of the tape.

Did the song do any good? No one can prove a damned thing. It took tens of millions of people speaking out, before the Vietnam War was over. A defeat for the Pentagon, but a victory for the American people.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Top Cat Redux

Although the debate about whether the music for Theme's Time closing credits was the theme from Top Cat or not has largely abated, I've always wondered where that jazzy acoustic piano version came from.

Thanks to a purchase through the Dreamtime store, now I know. The song was probably taken from a 1996 CD, later re-issued in 2002, and available in the U.S. as an import at Amazon, Tunes from The Toons: The Best of Hanna-Barbera. The CD is also available at Amazon U.K. and

If you follow the link(s) and scroll down a bit to Track #4, which is listed as Top Cat (Underscore) on the U.S. page, and play the clip, you'll find that it is indeed the music from TTRH's closing theme.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Head to Toe mp3 Downloads From Amazon

I'm going to start trying something new, and rather than links to albums that an episode's song appears on, I'm going to start linking to available mp3 downloads at Amazon, which run on average from $0.89 to $0.99 each.

Starting us off is this week's Head to Toe episode, where I was fairly successful in locating 9 8 of the 14 songs Our Host played. A couple of caveats: These may not be the same cuts as the ones played on Theme Time - if you're looking for a specific cut - for example, the Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms cut is by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys rather than the Monroe Brothers - preview it first to ensure you're getting what you want. Second, I get a percentage of each sale; think of it as Dreamtime being your own personal NPR. But, if you don't like that idea, just make note of the link and go back to Amazon at another time.

Head to Toes - November 2007

  1. Going to a Go-Go - The Miracles*

  2. Dry Bones - The Delta Rhythm Boys

  3. I've Got You Under My Skin - Louis Prima & Keely Smith

  4. Fist City - Loretta Lynn

  5. Finger Poppin' Time - Hank Ballard & The Midnighters

  6. Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms - Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys

  7. She's Scattered Everywhere - Archibald

  8. Brain Cloudy Blues - Bob Wills

  9. Waist Deep in the Big Muddy - Pete Seeger
* You ask, what does Going to a Go-Go have to do with Head to Toes, Fred? And the answer is, absolutely nothing. But somehow between the time I looked up The Miracles' From Head to Toes (which isn't available as an Amazon mp3) and wrote the blog posting, gremlins had convinced me that one was just like the other. It finally occurred to me several days later that it seemed like a strange track for a Head to Toes theme, and indeed, GtaG-G was not played on the Head to Toes episode. I leave it up for historical purposes. And who knows? Maybe somebody out there has been looking for Going to a Go-Go.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Theme Time Christmas

There's just 48 days left of the holiday shopping season, and what to get that Theme Time Radio Hour fanatic in your household?

Dreamtime has come up with some, ahem, themed gift ideas for the most discerning fan tastes, and for anything from champagne to beer budgets. Anybody could think of the Baseball episode on CD, or gifting that special person with a subscription to XM Radio, but only at Dreamtime will you find these.

1. An iPod Retro Radio

A retro radio show deserves retro listeners, and what better way to show your head is in the past, no matter where your body may be, than with an iPod disguised as a vintage portable radio?

Go haunt a few flea markets or thrift shops, or maybe you'll find one squirreled away in the family closet. Bring your iPod along for sizing purposes until you find that perfect radio. Take the radio apart, gut it out, drop some foam in, route the cables.

Go show off.

Price: The cost of one vintage portable radio and your time and effort. Full instructions are here.

2. The Theme Time Radio Hour Poster

XM and/or may eventually release a print edition of this Jaime Hernandez poster illustrating vignettes from the Big City, but if you don't want to wait, the 2 x 1 1/2'- foot 72 dpi image is available here.

Download the puppy, save it to some portable media like a CD or thumb drive and hie yourself off to your friendly neighborhood print shop. If you don't have one you already patronize, Kinkos (now owned by FedEx) is an option in most of the U.S. But any print shop willing to do a one-off poster will work.

Price: Kinkos in-store poster printing prices begin at $30. I used a heavy-duty poster stock that brought the price up to $55. Backing and framing will run you extra.

3. The Outlaw Blues Hat

Any TTRH wannabee-DJ is going to be looking good come Christmas morn wearing this hat inspired by the custom Outlaw Blues model Mr. D. sported on the 2004 Newsweek cover and during a 60 Minutes interview. And we have it direct from Tex Carbone that Our Host has worn it more than once in Studio B.

"As is the original, the 'Outlaw Blues" is made of specially dyed 'Silver Belly' 100% Fur Felt, with a lanky ''moonshiner' styled and shaped crown, and wide brim, which we then sidewindered on both sides in a 'West Texas' style fender fold..."

Price: $430 from Baron Hats.

4. A 6-Pack of Select Beer

If your gift recipient is like ol' Hank from the Drinking episode and likes a beer with a single throw switch, go empty out a cardboard 6-pack and refill it with a selection that could include Irish Red, Murphy's Stout, Newcastle Brown Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Stella Artois, and Beck's. Or you could simply hop over to the Gift Specialists and order that Special Someone A Big Fat 6-Pack of California micro-brewed beer.

Price: From $20-$30 dollars

5. Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton

Our Host recommended this one back in the Tears episode. The perfect gift for that family reader - or relative with gender issues - on your gift list.

Billy Tipton was ajazz pianist who played in clubs throughout the Midwest for nearly 50 years. Upon Tipton's death it was discovered that the five-times-married father to three boys was biologically female. More info can be found at the author's site, which includes recordings of Tipton's music and voice.

Price: Paperback- $11.90 at

6. Samson's Diner

If money is no object, Dreamtime has the perfect gift selection for you. Buy a diner and rename it Samson's. Imagine the look of delight on your hubby's (or hubbette's) face when they walk outside on a snowy Christmas morning and find this baby in the driveway!

So where do you find a diner for sale, you ask? No prob, answers Dreamtime. Just hop on over to the American Diner museum where you'll find listings for everything from the Sunrise Diner in Jim Thorpe, PA ($42,000) to the Gateway Diner (pictured above) in the Netherlands (105,000 Euros or B.O.) Learn how to make the world's strongest cup of coffee, and not only is this destined to be the best Christmas Gift Ever, but it will also become a revenue stream! Who could ask for more?

Price: From $6,000 to $113,00 or more depending on condition and location. Moving expenses and coffee extra.

7. People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs 1913-1938

Know someone who has a yen to play Theme Time deejay, but who just can't seem to settle on a theme? Buy them this 3-CD box set, and they'll have a disastrous radio show nearly ready to go. Add some trivia on the Titanic and Johnstown Flood, a poetry reading of Lord Byron's The Destruction of Sennacherib, maybe an email from The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, stir well and voila! Instant Theme Time.

Price: CD Box set - $46.99. Selections as mp3 downloads - $0.99 ea. From Amazon.

8. 2008 Hybrid Cadillac Escalade

Because we can't say it any better, here's the blurb from Automobile Magazine:

"Attention hip-hop stars, professional athletes, and fat-wallet extroverts of all stripes: The new Cadillac Escalade is here. And to go along with your diamond-studded earth shoes, the Cadillac Escalade will go hybrid in the 2008 model year, along with the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon. GM claims a 25 percent increase in fuel economy."

Estimated Price: $54,875 - $57,430

9. Figgy (or Figi) Pudding

However you want to spell it, it spells Christmas according to Our Host! But who has the time to make one from scratch like Bob? Dreamtime stepped into the breach and found a pre-made Figi for the well-meaning but time-challenged.

According to the description at the appropriately named, it's "spice-laden, loaded with raisins, and deliciously drenched in brandy. It's so good that wassailers made a song of it… and, though this pudding has no figs in it, it lives up to the tribute! Add the included Brandy Butter Hard Sauce for ultimate Figi goodness. Avail. Oct. 15th thru April."

Price: 2 lb. Figi Pudding $29.99


XM Deep Tracks Temporarily Off Air at AOL Radio

June 2008 UPDATE: In March 2008, XM Radio and America Online announced that they were ending their relationship "by mutual agreement," and that after April 30, 2008 the XM Radio channels on AOL Radio would no longer be available. It is no longer possible to listen to Theme Time Radio Hour through AOL Radio. - fhb

January, 2008 UPDATE
: XM Deep Tracks is now back on AOL Radio, and the link below or this one...

will take you there - fhb

Expecting Rain reports that AOL Radio has removed the XM Deep Tracks (home of TTRH) station from its free service "for the holidays," with the service expected to resume in January 2008.

Disappointing for non-U.S. listeners who have few other options to listen to the show.

I've re-directed the AOL Radio link in the right column over to this post. If you want to give it a try on the off-chance that Deep Tracks returns earlier, the link is...