Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrlll is feeling THE SPIRIT OF 76. She writes:

Another month down, and another month down, and another one bites the dust. And by this time next Friday, another birthday as well. 75 was startling enough; 76 is just ridiculous. I keep thinking of trombones for some reason. And, as it happens, this year my birthday falls on Yom Kippur. Nothing more festive than a 25-hour Fast of Atonement. Oh well. I undoubtedly have more things to atone for than the required number of candles on my cake. And I’m planning one heckuva “Break the Fast” Party.

If you live long enough, you will experience darn near everything, including YOU – a nice Jewish senior who has never broken a law even when you were a stupid Leftist – being called a fascist by the President of the United States. Dayum. Didn’t see THAT comin’.

A little bit of age-related history: I started standup comedy in my mid-30’s, quite an advanced age, and my peers in the Minneapolis clubs were almost all men ten years or more younger than I was. It’s sad and sobering to realize how many of them are no longer with us. In Memoriam I will list them for people who followed the Twin Cities’ scene: Louie Anderson, Scott Hansen, Gary Johnson, Wild Bill Bauer, Chris Raine, and Sean Blackburn who did comedy as a sideline but was also an angelic folk singer. Rest in peace, fellas, a metric ton of talent there (just Louie and Scott alone – j/k) and I think of one of you almost every day. Life is not as fun without you.

I especially miss Wild Bill. His like won’t be seen again, one of a rare few who could make Joe Vass laugh out loud. Bill was not for every taste. A Vietnam vet who had met one of his wives in a mental hospital stay, he was actually a conservative politically, but he didn’t talk politics in his act. He wasn’t exactly dirty, he just pushed every envelope to the breaking point. (“When I die, I plan to be partially cremated…”) His signature piece was a long description of his Uncle Arnie’s unfortunate 2nd place showing in a Regional Russian Roulette Contest and the subsequent funeral. (“Remember, they’re playing for over five hundred dollars!”) A genius bit.

One time when I was headlining and emceeing at Dudley Riggs, Bill was on before me and I was waiting in the downstairs green room. He was supposed to do 20 minutes. Mostly, there was stunned silence upstairs, which was somewhat worrying. At the 40-minute mark, I just came out, grabbed the mic and said, “Thanks, Bill, Wild Bill Bauer ladies and gentlemen!” Later he said to me, “Sorry, Susan, I know I went over my time, but they HATED me and I decided to PUNISH them.” YOU try getting laughs when your audience has PTSD from the previous comic. Unlike most insecure comics, Bill was never “laugh-dependent”!

One of my favorite birthdays ever was my 64th – twelve years ago now! — when a dear, generous friend hosted a party for me in her lovely home with the theme, “Will ya still need me, will ya still feed me when I’m 64?” I laugh now to think that both the young lads from Liverpool and I thought that “64” was a pretty advanced, almost unimaginably old age. And, yes, in answer to the Beatles’ question, I AM still feeding Joe/Max several times a day, and have been for 56 years. Not even to mention snacks.

In keeping with my traditional “Boomer” competence level with all things technological, I had “burned” a compilation CD with age-related songs for the party’s background music. Another selection was “Old Friends” by Paul Simon with the great lyric, “How terribly strange to be 70.” Strange, indeed. I call those people “children”! They were in 7th grade when we graduated! Paul himself, of course, awesome singer and songwriter, is now a tiny little 80-year-old man.

I found the birthday party CD in a dusty pile the other day and played it again on my ancient boom box which I doubt you can even buy nowadays. Ah, the mystery of technology and its shelf life. One day in about 1982, musician and music lover Max/Joe had seen an article about the latest, greatest coming thing – CDs!! He came home all excited from work and told me that this was going to replace all our vinyl and tapes and they would last forever and not even scratch! To which I said, “You’re planning to REPLACE all our records? Including the very first two I bought with my babysitting money – The Kingston Trio and Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads?? Over my dead body!”

We ponied up $600 for that first CD Player with the fancy feature where you could load up six CDs at a time. Suh-weet! Then we raced to the music store. They had – literally! – five pop CD’s on offer that were not classical. FIVE! None of which replaced any of our ancient vinyl favorites. And six months later, except for retro record stores, vinyl was GONE. Every birthday, Christmas, Chanukah, and Arbor Day, we gifted each other with CDs. Eventually, every song ever recorded was put on CD, some in boxed sets.

They were at that time housed in anti-theft packaging that was pointless to gift-wrap because it was totally obvious what it was. It was also almost impossible to break into, consisting of several layers of hard plastic and tough vinyl. True story: attempting to open one with a variety of power tools, scissors, chef’s knives and teeth, Joe once broke off a flying shard that hit him in the eye and sent him to the Emergency Room. Don’t worry, save your prayers for the midterms, that was maybe 35 years ago and he’s almost all better now.

Anyway, another track on the birthday CD was by Waylon and Willie, and I am happy to report that I did NOT let my baby grow up to be a cowboy. Then there was the late great John Prine, who I have mentioned in the past, was the first major act I was privileged to open for at the Carlton Celebrity Room in Bloomington. He was exactly as down-to-earth as you would expect. The track I chose could not be more applicable to the political climate today: “And I could have me a million more friends – and all I’d have to lose is my point of view.”

Actually, I DO have “a million friends,” give or take, but I probably could have had a million more dollars if I hadn’t become a conservative. When you look at what passes for comediennes – Amy Schumer, Kathy Griffin, Chelsea Handler? – not one of whom has ever been funny even by accident and yet are rich as all get out, you have to figure the fix is in. Oh well. It’s only money. Without Joe’s taking care of the money, I probably would have just invested it all with Bernie Madoff anyway.

And the CD ended with the classic Jimmy Buffett track “Growing Older But Not Up” (“My metabolic rate is pleasantly stuck / Let the winds of time blow over my head / I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead”.) Amen, brother.

I have seen Jimmy three times in concert, once at Red Rocks in Colorado. He is a gracious and hard-working performer. At Red Rocks, the amazing Aaron Neville opened for him and Jimmy thought the raucous “parrot-head” audience was not being as attentive as they should have been. He came out and shamed and silenced the crowd under threat that he would not come out for his set! I’ve never seen such a thing before or since. By contrast, when I opened for Andy Williams at the Carlton, I heard the Carlton manager tell the wait staff, “Mr. Williams doesn’t allow pushing drinks during his act; so really hustle them during the girl comic.”

Watching television recently, we saw a discussion with Toby Keith on how inspired he was by his golfing buddy and friend Clint Eastwood still producing, directing and acting in movies in his 90’s. He was working on The Mule at the time. Toby wondered aloud how he managed to stay so youthful and engaged with life. And Clint said, “I try to do something every day. I just don’t let the old man in.”

Toby went home and wrote the song (“Don’t Let The Old Man In”) and sent it to Clint. I will quote just a few verses of it with a big shout-out to artist Toby Keith whom I like every bit as much as Clint Eastwood (and hope I didn’t need permission to quote a few lines):

And I knew all of my life
That someday it would end
Get up and go outside
Don’t let the old man in

Many moons I have lived
My body’s weathered and worn
Ask yourself how old would you be
If you didn’t know the day you were born

Try to love on your wife
And stay close to your friends
Toast each sundown with wine
Don’t let the old man in

When he rides up on his horse
And you feel that cold bitter wind
Look out your window and smile
Don’t let the old man in

Or the old lady either, for that matter. So on we go to 77, triggering memories of 77 Sunset Strip and Kookie, Lend Me your Comb! Every day is an opportunity to be kind, to learn something, to brighten someone’s day or make a Leftist cry. To make another #$%@# meal for your husband. And, even at this age, every day is an adventure. Especially when you can throw your back out just sneezing or picking up a sock.

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