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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Frankie Say Best Wishes...

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This is a story about a practical joke gone exactly far enough. Somewhere along the line, it took an erratic turn, lost its original, slightly mean-spirited mirth and morphed into something special. An anti-joke, I suppose. It's about hipness and how it's not always in the eye of the beholder. Me, what do I know from hip? At my age, when I think of hip, I think replacement--lower-case "r" and singular.

I arrive at work one day and find at my desk a framed, autographed picture of an absolutely gorgeous local businesswoman whose picture had graced the cover of a local trade rag. Athena incarnate; hair for miles. God knows what her business actually does, which was the origin of the gag in the first place. The accompanying article was apparently written using technology buzzword refrigerator magnets.

I let it stay for a week or so, playing along and having fun with the few slackjawed people who stopped by and wondered aloud how I had landed such a creature. Or landed any creature, really, given my policy of omerta where relationships are concerned, and because my cubesphere has been historically devoid of all things personal or self-congratulatory. Hell, I think at that point, my cubesphere was simply devoid of all things.

In the meantime, I set about planning a retaliation worthy of my Strategic Air Command roots. The perpetrator had been identified early on. What were his weaknesses? What were the pillars of his pride? The CIA had once gone after Castro's beard...what was the equivalent here?

It was simple. This person prides himself on knowing what is musically hip three days before the musicians have composed it. Knows when the freshness date has expired. Can tell you the BPM of a Scritti Politti song with a margin of error of +- 4.

So I scanned the thrift shops for the most dated, bizarre, embarassingly unhip records I could find. Liberace. Roger Whitaker. German polka. And the above-pictured LP by Frankie Laine. I have no idea why I picked it out of the lineup. The self-deprecating, "welcome to the club, you lounge lizards" expression, I guess.

I carpet-bombed his cube with them. And they stayed--for a long time. Even more slackjawed visitors. It confirmed a lot of suspicions--apparently the office sycophant loves Roger Whitaker and didn't get why all his LPs were now on display.

But the Frankie LP was special. It stood out somehow, and it warranted further investigation. Maybe I could take this a step further by getting a real autograph instead of the faux one that had been inked onto my picture. Surprise #1 was that Frankie Laine is 93, still kicking in San Diego, and still makes appearances. Surprise #2 was that his publicist/assistant, Mary Jo Coombs, is a sweetheart and was totally supportive in making it happen. Not only did she get it autographed, she sent tons of literature and photos as well.

So I think with this, I have officially retired from engaging in speculation or debate on what is hip and what is not. Frankie Laine, as it turns out, is as hip as it gets. His father was Al Capone's personal barber, fer Chrissakes. He had a single that topped the Brit charts for 18 weeks, a record that still stands. He crossed the color line to appear on Nat King Cole's TV show in an era when such a move was career suicide. And where did the Blues Brothers go when they were truly in a jam? "Rawhide" by Frankie Laine, baby.

Lesson learned. I spent a quarter for an album that began as a goof, but for all I know is now worth $17,000. It would serve me right.

For those who wish to dig, dig:


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