The Mrs. and I are back from vacation, sort of—we’re spending a couple of days at our normal weekday routines before going away again for the weekend, then entertaining some family members at our place for a couple of days next week. (What this means to you is that posts on this blog are going to continue to be scarce until the middle of next week.)
Our vacation this year was in Door County, Wisconsin—if you remember that Wisconsin is shaped like your hand, palm facing you, your thumb is the Door Peninsula, which separates Green Bay (the body of water) from Lake Michigan. It is sometimes called the Midwest’s answer to Cape Cod, and it’s certainly got the same sort of vibe, although the people are Midwestern nice instead of New England flinty. Except for some of the ones from Illinois, who want to vacation at the same pace they live during the rest of the year, which is to say fast and loud.
We spent a week at a resort without Internet access (and without reliable hot water, as it turned out), and the TV got only seven channels. None of them were CNN, ESPN, or the Weather Channel, which are a basic requirement for a place to call itself civilized. Thus, to an info junkie such as I, the place qualified as a desert island, if not a distant planet. That’s fine for a while, but not for a week. As for trying to get minimally up-to-date by watching the network affiliates up there, they reminded me vividly yet again why the average American knows so little about so much.
The biggest things you miss when you’re out of touch like this are often the obituaries. Unless the deceased are of transcendant international import, obituaries tend to be a one-day story, and on vacation, it’s easy to be out of the info loop for a full day. Sure enough, during the week we were gone, word came of the deaths of six notable people—and we didn’t hear about any of them until we got home. (To keep this a Top 5, we’ll consider the first two names a single entry, 1 and 1A.)
Film directors Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman. These two nonagenarians did not make movies for multiplexes. Most people at least know Bergman was a director, and maybe that his movies were very depressing (not entirely true), and possibly that in one of them, a character plays chess with Death Himself. People know far less about Antonioni, but in a Netflix world, there’s really no excuse for ignorance about either one. A quick spin through the obits indicates that good places to start getting educated would be with Antonioni’s Blowup and La Notte and Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (the one with the chess match) and Cries and Whispers.
Football coach Bill Walsh. Before Walsh and his San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s, running backs ran for short yardage on first and second down, then on third down, quarterbacks threw to wide receivers to make whatever yardage was left over. Walsh’s fabled “West Coast offense,” in which teams might pass on any down or distance to either receivers or backs, gave birth to the pass-happy pro game of today. The NFL’s staggering popularity owes a lot to Walsh’s innovations, which jacked up the action of the game and made it more fun for casual fans to watch.
TV sportscaster Bill Flemming. Although he was a longtime commentator on ABC’s Wide World of Sports and covered 11 Olympics, Bill Flemming will always mean college football to me. In the 1960s and 70s, before the proliferation of game broadcasts and highlight shows made it possible to see almost everything almost live, he hosted a Sunday-morning show featuring the highlights of the previous day’s biggest college games. It became an essential part of autumn’s routine, must-see TV after reading the Sunday paper and before watching the NFL game.
TV host Tom Snyder. If you watched TV in the 70s, you either saw Snyder, or saw Dan Aykroyd imitating Snyder. Other people imitated him, too—one fine night in college, a bunch of us killed an evening in the TV studio producing a Snyder parody, starring a classmate who did a dead-on impersonation of him, for no reason other than we wanted to do it. That no one in authority seemed to care if we used thousands of dollars’ worth of university facilities for our own private amusement seems almost miraculous now.
Songwriter Ron Miller. This is one you probably missed even if you were home all week. Miller was a staff songwriter at Motown in the 1960s and 1970s, and is responsible for some of Motown’s most indelible hits, including Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life,” “Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday,” “Heaven Help Us All,” and the magical “Someday at Christmas.” He also wrote “Touch Me in the Morning” for Diana Ross. (Because we do not wish to speak ill of the dead, we shan’t mention that he wrote Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been to Me.”) The Motown blog Fullundie put up a nice tribute immediately following Miller’s death, with these tunes and others he wrote.
Since Fullundie has taken care of the Ron Miller tunes, it’s left to me to post some other appropriate track. As soon as I got the idea for this post, there was really only one choice—a college-radio fave that may have been on the air about the time we made our Snyder parody.