Mel Blanc and Bugs Bunny Vs. Death

Last weekend Boyfriend and I watched In a World, a film about a female voice artist trying to get work in an industry that functions like a boys’ club. It’s a very familiar narrative, where the underdog beats all the odds to win. (Oh, boo. I gave it away.) But it was funny and refreshing, and it was a story that needed to be told. The field of voice overs is dominated by men to the extent that it has become acceptable for otherwise respectable commentators to say completely unreasonable and vicious things about women’s voices. (Read Amanda Hess’ article about it on Slate.)

Anyway, one of the funniest parts of the film is when Lake Bell, the writer, director, and lead actor, takes one of Obi-Wan’s most famous lines from Star Wars IV – “These are not the droids you’re looking for” – and, in the middle of a very serious conversation, says it in a Russian accent.

“Thees ees not the droid you are loo-king for.”

Because in Soviet Russia droid look for you.

Because in Soviet Russia droid look for YOU!! (Image source) (Thank you Yakov Smirnoff)

As it turns out, Star Wars and Russian accents are among Boyfriend’s favourite things. So for the rest of the evening, he responded to everything I said with some variation of this line. Literally.

Is this where we validate our parking? “Thees ees not the droid you are loo-king for.”

Hey, do you want to try that new Laotian restaurant for dinner? “Thaat ees not the droid you are loo-king for.”

Here, your phone was in my bag. “Thees ees the droid I was loo-king for.” (Ok, in this case it was true, but whatever.)

At my fifth or sixth attempt to engage him in a conversation about voice artists, he momentarily reverted to his regular speaking voice, for this:

“Did you know Mel Blanc was in a coma for fourteen days before he started responding to doctors in the voice of Bugs Bunny?”

What’s that? You don’t know who Mel Blanc is? Oh, but you do. Believe me, you do. Mel Blanc is the voice of Bugs Bunny. And Daffy Duck. And Yosemite Sam and Tweety Bird and Porky Pig. And Foghorn Leghorn and Sylvester the Cat and Speedy Gonzales and Marvin the Martian and Barney Rubble. So yeah, you know Mel Blanc.

What a lot of people probably don’t know is that in 1961 Mel Blanc was in a car accident on the famous Dead Man’s Curve on Sunset Boulevard in LA. A young kid in a big car was speeding down the other side and collided head-on with Blanc’s car, which folded up like a neat little work of origami. Blanc ended up in hospital with multiple fractures, and in a coma from which he had a very, very slim chance of emerging alive. Cameramen and newspaper reporters camped out at the hospital. The Honolulu Herald actually went ahead and posted an obituary. (It was dessthth…picable. It’s also not the only time this kind of thing has happened.)

For fourteen days Blanc’s family talked to him, hoping he could hear them, hoping something within him would stir. For fourteen days his doctors tried to revive him, but to no avail. Eventually, the hope started to wane as his doctors found themselves out of all the options they had gathered from years of training and experience.

Until one morning when his doctor walked into the room and up to Blanc’s bed and asked, “Bugs Bunny, how are you doing today?”

Without opening his eyes, without moving a finger, but also without skipping a beat, Mel Blanc responded:

“Eh… What’s up, Doc?”

And how.

Indeed. (Image source)

Now, everyone knows it’s next to impossible to get the better of Bugs Bunny, but sufferin’ succotash, if I had been the doctor in question, I most certainly would have passed out from the shock. (Actually, I probably would have come really close to pooping my pants from having freaked the hell out, but I don’t want to say that. Please. I’m a lady.) Fortunately, I was not the doctor in question, Louis Conway was. Dr. Conway continued addressing questions to the various characters Blanc had brought to life with his voice and each time, Blanc replied with the character’ punchline.

“Tweety, are you there?”

“I thought I thaw a puddy tat.”

Shortly after, Mel Blanc regained consciousness, recovered fully, and returned to doing what he did best – giving voices to hundreds of characters – until a few years before his death in 1989. The city of Los Angeles reacted to his accident by restructuring the curves along Sunset Boulevard, so that Dead Man’s Curve was a little less deadly. And though there is absolutely no proof for this, I’m pretty certain that for as long as it took for him to fully recover from the accident, there was a voice in Mel Blanc’s head that kept saying this:

Now I’d stay and continue this post, but you see, I’m not one that has to keep talkin’. Some fellas just have to keep their mouths flappin’, but not me! I was brought up right, my Pa used to tell me “shut up” and I’d shut up! I wouldn’t say nothin’!

So for today, that’s all, folks!

Want to know more? Go here. And here. And watch this.

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Margaret Thatcher and the Rise of French Electronic Pop

A couple of weeks ago a bit of a phenomenon took place on television, by the name of Stephest Colbchella ‘013. For those of you who’ve been living under a rock (no judgement – I was a grad student for six years, so I know what that’s like), the story in a nutshell is as follows: Stephen Colbert invited Daft Punk to his show, but they cancelled at the very last minute, because they decided they’d rather be on MTV. Never one to let it go, Colbert went ahead and put up a show Daft Punk probably wouldn’t even have dreamed of. I loved every moment of it.

What I’m not very pleased with is the aftermath. On the show, Stephen Colbert used one of Daft Punk‘s songs called ‘Get Lucky’. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Daft Punk, but I’m no musical snob either. (Ok, so there was that one time I pulled my six-year-old niece away from a cartoon show so she could listen to a small part of a Rachmaninoff symphony. But whatever, she liked it.) I was willing to endure the not-particularly-thought-provoking lyrics of Get Lucky for a while, especially because Stephen Colbert was dancing to it with the likes of Hugh Laurie, Jeff Bridges, and Bryan Cranston. But as it happens, Boyfriend has since caught the song like an ear infection in a swimming pool full of toddlers. For the two weeks since the show aired, he’s been singing it without a break. He sings it while he does the laundry. He sings it while he enthusiastically explores the wild and fascinating world of the Internet. While he showers. Even while he brushes his teeth.

Oh, Sweety, no. You're NOT getting lucky anytime until you stop singing that song. Forever.

Oh, Sweety. No one’s getting lucky until you stop singing that song.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot I’ll do for love. For two whole weeks I said nothing. But last night when I found myself humming the song, I knew a line had been crossed. This was way further than I was willing to go not only for love, but for anything. So I decided to put an end to it.

“But why?” Boyfriend feigned hurt. He does that pretty well.

“Because… because it’s annoying.”

“But you ought to like French electronic pop. I mean, you wrote an entire chapter of your dissertation on Margaret Thatcher.”

“Eh?! What’s Margaret Thatcher got to do with anything?”

Boyfriend’s eyes lit up from having spotted an opportunity. He straightened up, and assumed his speech-making pose. (Really. He has a speech-making pose.)

“Did you know that electronic pop rose to prominence in Europe as a direct result of Margaret Thatcher’s crackdown on house music in the UK?”

Ok, so I knew about Thatcher’s crackdown on house music, but I have to admit I hadn’t made a connection between that and the rise of electronic pop in the rest of Europe.

For the uninitiated, house music is a kind of electronic dance music that originated in Chicago in the 1980s, apparently in a nightclub called The Warehouse (thus the term house music). It shot to popularity and soon traveled to other cities like New York and London. However, the 1980s in London were – how should I put it – a bit of a difficult time. You see, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.

Thatcher’s economic policies are lauded by many (although not without opposition) as having pulled Britain back from the brink of complete economic ruination. There was another side to Thatcher, though – one that manifested in her political policy and social attitude, and made her a passionately hated figure among certain groups. (Remember this?) Thatcher’s economic policies, while they may have lifted Britain out of the abyss in the long run, left scores of people without jobs in the short term, and hurt those who already felt marginalized by the rigid class structure of British society. And it didn’t help that Thatcher herself repeatedly made speeches or comments that highlighted her apathy to their plight.

One of the things to emerge out of this situation was that large numbers of disgruntled people – unemployed youth, immigrants, artists – started expressing themselves through the creation and proliferation of culture. Underground art movements, radical cinema collectives (My dissertation! My dissertation!), and alternative music scenes dotted the landscape of the inner cities in London and beyond. Every now and then Thatcher cracked down on these, and one of the unfortunate victims of her policies was house music.

Why house music? Because on a few occasions the genre had been used as a tool of mouthing resistance against government oppression. So in a trademark move, said government cracked down on it with a vengeance that seemed almost personal. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 allowed the police to crackdown on people listening to “repetitive beats” without a license. The party line was that it was for the public’s own protection, because places where such music was played were also venues for rampant drug use and unprotected sex. Mama knows what’s good for you, darling, Someday, when you’re all grown up, you’ll want to thank her, but it’ll be too late.

Anyhow, after this crackdown, a whole bunch of musicians and promoters moved to the friendlier climes of continental Europe, especially France. To quote a certain Mark Knopfler, “There ain’t no work on Maggie’s farm, Gotta headaway down the autobahn.” (Why Aye Man, 2002)

House music/electronic pop became an instant hit in France, and spawned more of its kind. Continues, in fact, to spawn more of its kind. Which is cool as a political statement, I guess. You know, given how it may not be the best thing for the evolution and forward movement of music as a whole. Just saying.

All right. All right. I'll stop beating up on electronic pop now.

All right. All right. I’ll stop beating up on electronic pop now. Image source.

Convention dictates that I include a song by Daft Punk at the end of this post. My dislike for electronic pop dictates I do anything but. So let’s go with the middle ground, yeah?

If you have to do Daft Punk, do it like this!

Want to know more? Go here. And here.

Song of the 8888 Revolution in Burma

Huffington Post with my Friday morning cereal. Boyfriend was running in and out of the bathroom, rushing to get to work. You see, Boyfriend really likes the idea of getting into work at 9AM… as a concept. What he doesn’t like all that much is waking up before 8:30 AM. So I stay out of his way on weekday mornings. I sit at my desk, eat my granola, and read the news. Or read the Huffington Post, depending on my mood.

I saw an article on the 25th anniversary of the 8888 (or Four Eight) Revolution in Myanmar (then Burma), and started reading it. (I got distracted for a little bit, of course – right next to the article was a link to a video in which a decapitated snake bites itself. Incidentally, this is why I love the Huffington Post. HOW can you not watch a video of a decapitated snake biting itself? It’s like the Universe tells you it’s fucking with you, then actually goes ahead and fucks with you, and then laughs in your face.)

Oh, you think the Universe is fucking with you? Yeah, that's cute.

Oh, you think the Universe is fucking with you?! Yeah, that’s cute.

Anyway, I digress. I read the article on the 25th anniversary of 8888, and as Boyfriend shuffled in the various drawers of the dresser, trying to find the right belt, I said, “Oh, it’s been 25 years since the student’s revolution in Burma.”

And just for a few seconds, Boyfriend stopped shuffling.

“Did you know the song that marked the 8888 revolution is set to the tune of Dust in the Wind?”

I didn’t know, but I looked it up.

For the uninitiated, on August 8, 1988 (hence 8888), scores of Burmese citizens – a majority of whom were students – came out on the streets to protest General Ne Win’s harmful and completely arbitrary policies, and to demand the restoration of democracy.

And like every revolution, this too needed a song.

Kabar-makyay-bu (We won’t be satisfied until the end of the world) was written by Naing Myanmar, a Burmese composer, and set to the tune of Dust in the Wind. The song became an anthem for the 3000 people the Burmese Tatmadaw murdered, and for the millions who continued fighting for their country, for democracy, and for a better life.

I only found one recording of Kabar-makyay-bu on YouTube. Never again will I be able to listen to Dust in the Wind without thinking of it.

“Same old song
Just a drop of water in an endless sea.
All we do
Crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see.”

Dust in the Wind, Kansas, 1977.

Want to know more? Go here. And here. You could also listen to this.