Monday, July 29, 2019

How to Speak Hip (1959)

by G. Jack Urso

Front cover
How to Speak Hip is a satirical comedy album first released in 1959 on Mercury Records, and then rereleased in 1969 and 2009. Comedians Del Close and John Brent play, respectively, the unnamed “Instructor” and the “Hipster” Geets Romo. Both Close and Brent were part of Chicago’s famed Second City Comedy Troup, which may explain why the album was reportedly a favorite of Second City and SNL alumnus John Belushi. 

Following the publication of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in 1957, the Beat Generation was ripe for satirization by 1959. Yet, while poking fun at the pop cultural phenomenon, as many other satires did, How to Speak Hip, slowly turns the table on its square audience by poking fun at the very same people who derided the Beats.   

The dialogue between the Instructor and the Hipster begins as a faux foreign language learning record, complete with starting tones, and morphs into an interview between a Square and a Beat. The first track featured here (and the second track on the album), is “Basic Hip.” Here the word in question is “Dig,” as when one says, “I dig that” as an indication of approval. However, the word itself and the context of its use can have a myriad pf meanings and shades and while this track pokes fun at its use. This track actually provides a spot-on overview on how the word was actually used at the time, and should be appreciated by any linguistic anthropologist investigating the era.
The next two pieces (tracks 8 and 9 on the album), “Cool” and “Uncool” explore in minute detail the essence of Beat hipsterdom being cool. The Instructor points out to Geets that the rules for social inclusion among the Beats is as rigid as “Square” society and no more evident in what it means to be cool or, obversely, uncool. Geets points out, however, that if you break Beat social conventions all one faces is ridicule, whereas the Squares “put you away.”  As with the word “dig,” being “cool” has different meanings depending on its use. By way of analogy, Geets uses a story on how to maintains one’s cool and avoid the cops while high and satisfying the munchies with raspberry Jell-O.

“Uncool” is defined by Geets mainly, and solely, within the context of scoring drugs, or not scoring drugs, or talking about how you just scored drugs and from whom.

Back cover
As a comedy album from two Second City performers, who were also part of the Beat Generation to some extent, “How to Speak Hip” succeeds on many levels. First, we can see the trail of humor that influenced the first generation of Saturday Night Live’s Not Ready for Prime Time players. It also pokes fun at both sides of generation gap while at the same time providing pretty accurate definitions of hipster slang. While “cool” and “dig” may be antiquated relics of youth slang, one can easily find analogs with any generation. Phat, word, lit, tope, Gucci, any many more for which I have no idea what they mean, would all find a home with our friend Geets on “How to Speak Hip.”  

Note: All clips hosted on the Aeolus 13 Umbra Prime YouTube channel.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Why I Am a Teacher

by G. Jack Urso

Occasionally, I have transcendent experiences that remind me why I am a teacher.

I hosed down my lawn mower last week and this week it wouldn't start. Did I get water in the gas line? In the gas tank? I look in the manual. I read a line that says check the oil.

Wait, this thing requires oil? I don't ever recall putting oil in it. I see a can of two-stroke small engine oil in the garage, but did I get that for the gas-powered snow blower I got rid of six years ago? I'm not sure.

Whatever. I fill the oil tank up, and the gas tank, but it still won't start.

It must need a new spark plug. I see the tag on the handlebar from when I bought it  2010. I've had it for nine years and never changed the spark plug. I don't want to think about the last time I put in oil.

OK, let's start with a new spark plug. My buddy Steve says that's real simple.

Famous. Last. Words.

I can't get the damn thing off. I go online. One website suggests spraying it with a lot of WD-40 and use a spark plug wrench.

There's something actually called a spark plug wrench? This thing is so complicated that it needs its own special wrench?

I run up to Pep Boys and tell them I need a spark plug wrench.

The clerk says, "Certainly sir. What size?"


I go home and measure it  5/8 in.

I go back and buy a 5/8 in. spark plug wrench. I go home.

It's too small. I measure it again. It says 5/8s. WTF!

This time, I go to Home Depot instead (Home Depot and Pepboys are both about a mile from my house, so it's not a long trip) but cannot find a spark plug wrench. I ask the clerk and he points me back to the aisle I just spent ten minutes in looking for one. I still can't find it.

Frustrated, I go home and jump online. Home Depot does in fact carry a cheap three-size combo spark plug wrench and AT THE STORE I WAS JUST AT! So, I order one and an hour later it's ready to pick up.

I pick it up, go home and, after wrestling trying to get the frickin' wrenches free from being stuck one inside the other, I pop it on the old spark plug and it comes off.

Then I go back to Pepboys and get the right spark plug.

I get home, put on the spark plug, and the lawn mower starts right up! Success! I begin mowing immediately, but it is spitting out a LOT of oil. I must have put in too much (way too much I discover).

I get a pan to drain the oil in. Start it up . . . still sputters. I drain some more oil out but begin spilling it onto the grass because I'm a bit anxious to get this done. I did this several times until the engine stopped spitting out oil.

I get back to mowing. It’s a hot day. The engine is hot. There's oil that has been spit out on the lawn by the engine in addition to me spilling it when draining. After I start mowing, I notice that the grass is smoking. I think I'm setting my lawn on fire. I hose the lawn down.

I finish mowing. I have the world's smallest lawn and it usually takes me about fifteen minutes to mow. Today, however, it has taken me about five hours. I am covered in blood, sweat, tears, water, oil, gas, and grass. It took me three visits to Pepboys and two to Home Depot to get the correct size spark plug wrench and spark plug. I ruined my new Docksiders. I almost set the lawn on fire. 

And that's why I am a teacher.


Thursday, July 4, 2019

You Don't Have to Live Like a Refugee

by G. Jack Urso

Images from the 2019 American refugee/immigrant crisis I set to Tom Petty’s "Refugee," from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel. 

Refugee, by Tom Petty
We got somethin', we both know it, we don't talk too much about it
Ain't no real big secret, all the same, somehow we get around it
Listen, it don't really matter to me baby
You believe what you want to believe, you see

You don't have to live like a refugee
(Don't have to live like a refugee)

Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some
Tell me why you want to lay there, revel in your abandon
Honey, it don't make no difference to me, baby
Everybody's had to fight to be free, you see

You don't have to live like a refugee
(Don't have to live like a refugee)
No baby you don't have to live like a refugee
(Don't have to live like a refugee)

Baby we ain't the first
I'm sure a lot of other lovers been burned
Right now this seems real to you, but it's
One of those things you gotta feel to be true

Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some
Who knows maybe you were kidnapped, tied up
Taken away and held for ransom
Honey, it don't really matter to me, baby
Everybody's had to fight to be free, you see

Don't have to live like a refugee
(Don't have to live like a refugee)
No you don't have to live like a refugee
(Don't have to live like a refugee)
You don't have to live like a refugee
(Don't have to live like a refugee)