Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Humor! Back to Familiar Territory--and Remembering MRS MILLER!---Journal for Monday

"Why so serious?"  

My apologies to those who found my essay on pop culture humorless. (Nov. 28).  I have to admit that I have some old favorites, more dubious than ANYTHING I have disparaged so far...and never wish to hurt others by criticizing theirs...  and especially to my good friend in Maine....

And Joni---I'm sorry....this is just a temporary lapse of taste..but so much fun...  And I hope the Civic Opera will let me in next Wednesday...

Muster your courage and prepare yourself for one of the strangest and funniest popular novelty performers of the '60's:  Mrs. Miller.

But first, as an introduction to this blast from my musical past, a few words about humor and serious writing...

I have enjoyed the many uses of humor I've seen from fellow bloggers, on what are essentially serious sites. 
Sophisticated Lunacy has good humor in the very marrow of his bones, and makes me laugh effortlessly.  Torqopia included a clever political cartoon this weekend, and frequently links to interesting and lighthearted videos. The Oscar Completist reviews films with wit and style. 

I was recently recommended to check out a blog entitled "Why the Chicken Crossed the Road".  Lissa, the author, takes mundane observations from life and riffs on them to hilarious effect: for instance, why do people try to open a door after five people tell them it's locked? or why do some folks keep pressing the elevator buttons she already pressed? 

Lissa's blog has inspired me to re-visit my roots in humor and satire, which I sometimes neglect in my attempts to make serious sense out of a mixed-up world.  It's scary to try to reinvent yourself, and the sometimes anxious and discouraging process doesn't always lend itself to humor.  However, going forward,  I'm going to try to spice things up with a strategy that has always worked for me....  Time to start laughing a little more, and uncovering laughs for others. 

--For example: some questions just beg for an answer:  Why do drive-through ATM's have Braille printed on them?  And why do hot dogs come in packages of eight, while hot dog buns have only six per bag?  And why can't you stop laughing, once you get started, in church?

--Puns--now there's an underappreciated form of humor, likely to produce a groan instead of a laugh...  except perhaps from the "clever" person who thought them up.  Like, "Don't shoot Venus De Milo...she's unarmed!".  Or, the reply the fruit vendor gave when his daughter threatened to run away to get married:  "No, you cantalope!"


--There is awfully good humor on the airwaves if you can find it. I want to recommend a great radio show for those who can't get enough of the world's news:  "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" on NPR.  A panel of comics skewers newsmakers and events weekly....Shout if you've heard of it or are a regular listener.

--Which brings me to Our Feature Presentation:  Does anyone remember a singer from the '60's named Mrs. Miller?

    .....Mrs. Miller was an American singer who gained some fame in the 1960s for her out-of-tune versions of songs such as "Moon River", "Monday, Monday", "A Lover's Concerto", and "Downtown". She sang in an untrained, Mermanesque, vibrato-laden voice. According to Irving Wallace, David Wallechinsky, and Amy Wallace in The Book of Lists 2, her voice was compared to the sound of "roaches scurrying across a trash can lid." [1]
Miller's rendition of Downtown sounds like a karaoke version as she sings over a professional instrumental section. She briefly breaks into giggling and several times apparently forgets the lyrics. Nevertheless, her Downtown single reached the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1966, peaking at #82.

Check out her awesome hit....if you dare..a cover of Petula Clark's "Downtown"...  Why did I love her so much?  and still do, in my own way?  As a kid, her voice was just funny in a cartoonish sort of way, and the laughs came from the gut.  Later I  appreciated the effect she had on my friends as I introduced her recordings to them.....and noticed their giving in to laughter too.  And finally, she's simply the real thing...unadorned...sincerely trying to entertain, and playing along with the joke (yes, folks, that is her real singing voice)...she is what we all expected Susan Boyle to sound like.....

I hope you had a few minutes of fun here...  as I return to working on my very sad short story...and awaiting the West Point Speech on Afghanistan ...and learn more about the gay rights case of Perry vs. Schwarzenegger...and  oh, never mind...


  1. Hmmm ... Well ... Mrs. Miller is no Petula Clark. (I still get chills listening to Pet's Downtown and the feeling of anticipation and excitement that help you shake off the doldrums.) On the other hand, you can't argue with Mrs. M's heart and soul. It's that impassioned I'm-doing-the-best-I-can fervor, which we love so much when a basset hound howls and suddently finds its scent. Mostly instinct, not much talent, flawed and definitely lovable. Now ... back to Petula. I have a sudden desire for more of the British Invasion of the 60s.

  2. You can't go wrong with the topic of Humor! Thanks for the shout out and for the great comments on Lissa's blog. That was really very kind of you. I'm glad it inspired this post because you needed to step back from serious reflection for a minute and laugh. Hell, we all do! As for Mrs. Miller, I never heard of her before, but after watching a few clips of her on YouTube, I'm a big fan! She's so funny and reminds me of my dear mother trying to warble "Your Cheating Heart" on the home Karaoke machine as the rest of us push pillows into our ears. In one clip with Jimmy Durante he put his hand on her shoulder, looks her straight in the eye and tells her "You've never sounded better." Priceless. Thanks for the intro to Mrs. Miller! I will try to do likewise and spread the word! Great post!

  3. It never fails....once you hear Mrs. Miller...you can't NOT find something amusing to say about her. Mark, thank you for putting up with her as long as you have. And Tom, I am so glad you have jumped on the bandwagon..it's an awfully fun place to be. I'll send you some new pillows.