Thursday, August 17

Don't mention the war!

My roommate and I hosted a German girl for a few days this week. She was visiting a friend of Sarah Jo's and gamely camped out in our living room in between visits to the Bass Pro Shop, New Orleans and the local Waffle House. Kat was very cool, fascinating to listen to, and I wish I could've gotten to talk more with her. She was so cool, in fact, that my awkwardness was all the more funny in comparison.

Yesterday evening we were sitting around the dining room table talking. Somehow the topic turned to Americans' perception of European women as not shaving their legs. "Oh no!" she exclaimed. "That's not true! Some older women, perhaps, but most younger people do. See!" she said, offering her own legs as proof. We wondered how the custom came into general practice, and I mused that it was probably during World War II, when there was a nylon shortage. American women shaved their legs and drew lines down the back to fake the look of nylon stockings. Halfway though my explanation, I thought, "Oh no! Don't mention the war!" and remembered the most popular episode of the BBC's most popular sitcom: Fawlty Towers "The Germans."

Basil Fawlty, played to perfection by John Cleese, warns everyone at the inn not to mention "the war" when he hears that a party of Germans will be coming to stay. After a head injury (my memory is fuzzy on just how he got hurt—was it a falling moose head?), Basil escapes the hospital with a head bandage that makes him look even crazier than usual. He then proceeds to break his own instructions, mentioning the war at every opportunity and upsetting his guests greatly. When they ask him to stop dwelling on it, he politely reminds them that they started it. “We did not start it,” protests the German. “Yes you did, you invaded Poland,” Basil replies. He ultimately winds up goose-stepping around the dining room, finger held to his nose and long legs flailing, in the funniest impersonation of Hitler on televsion.

All this flashed through my mind while I sat at the dining room table with Kat. "Augh! The one thing you shouldn't mention to a German, and you brought it up!" I thought. The conversation moved on, and nothing else eventful happened. Was it awkward? Yes. Was it funny? Oh, yeah.

Wednesday, August 9

Friends? I'll give you friends!

The Wonder Years is the first TV show ever to make me consider piracy. I grew up watching it with my family from beginning to end, and it holds a fond place in my heart today. I even remember watching the second episode in Clio, Alabama—my parents crying from laughing so hard at Coach Cutlip attempting to explain the facts of life to his gym class. The fans have been waiting, but Fox has yet to release The Wonder Years on DVD, and—as this article reveals—it won’t be coming out any time soon. This is due to complications with copyrights the extensive soundtrack is bound to produce.

Realistically, we can’t expect the episodes as we saw them on TV to be released on DVD without some music substitutions, but for those of us who remember songs tied directly with scenes from the show, this isn’t a satisfying solution. The Denver Post article refers to a scene my brother and I distinctly remember: Kevin climbs a tree outside Winnie’s window to look in on her after she’s been in an accident, while Bob Seger sings “We’ve Got Tonight.” Would this scene be the same without him crooning “I know it’s late/I know you’re weary/I know you’re plans don’t include me”? Certainly not! Or the summer party when it dawns on Kevin that the reason Winnie’s been acting strangely is that her parents are on the verge of splitting apart. “Are you going to Scarborough Fair?” Simon & Garfunkel softly ask, and Daniel Stern narrates, “That summer Winnie Cooper struggled to keep her head above water.” And what would The Wonder Years be without its unofficial theme song, “When A Man Loves a Woman”?

Then there are the moments that stick out in your memory, but you don’t know who was singing the song. When this happens, I turn to The Wonder Years Music Guide, as detailed a report as any OCD fan could ask for. When I think of waiting years for patched up set of episodes with replaced music, I recall a quote from Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility: "Perhaps Margaret is right. Piracy is our only option."

EDIT 1: Edited for accuracy! 8/10
EDIT 2: Watch the ending of "The Accident" on YouTube.

Tuesday, August 1

And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore

Last night I finished reading a fascinating book about Gilbert and Sullivan, whose comic operas were all the rage in the late 19th century. William S. Gilbert wrote the libretto and Arthur Sullivan composed the music for over a dozen operettas. The best known are The Mikado, H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance, from which my blog title comes. I've loved Gilbert and Sullivan since I first saw a performance of Pirates at USM as a kid, so it was very interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at life in Victorian England, particularly the business of entertaining. Gilbert's sharp wit and Sullivan's rousing scores complimented each other so well.

In 1878 Sullivan’s airs were heard everywhere, and Gilbert’s jokes were repeated like Napoleon Dynamite quotes. One of the best known comes from Captain Corcoran of the Pinafore:

CAPT. Bad language or abuse,
I never, never use,
Whatever the emergency;
Though "Bother it" I may
Occasionally say,
I never use a big, big D—
ALL. What, never?
CAPT. No, never!
ALL. What, never?
CAPT. Hardly ever!
ALL. Hardly ever swears a big, big D—
Then give three cheers, and one cheer more,
For the well-bred Captain of the Pinafore!

Gilbert & Sullivan and Their Victorian World says that “What, never?” “Hardly ever!” was repeated so much that the editor of a paper in which it appeared about a dozen times in a single issue roared at his writers that he never wanted to see that joke in print again. “What, never?” they replied. “Hardly ever,” he answered helplessly. You can hear a sample of the song at the Gilbert & Sullivan Archive.

If you get a chance to see a G&S performance, don't miss it! Meanwhile, here is a self-portrait Gilbert—who was known for his volatile temper and verbal barbs—made as a gift for a child. Each confession is signed "W.S. Gilbert."

I hate my fellow-man.
Everybody is an ass.
I am an overbearing beast.
I loathe everybody.
I love to bully.
I am an ill-tempered prig, & I glory in it.
Confound everything.
I like pinching little babies.