Sunday, October 9, 2011

Que Sharia Sharia

Here we are for post # 10.
It's been a hectic year, but if you're enjoying the pieces, hey, we'll keep on with it! Welcome, all, and let's get started.

Remembering When

A young and determined JFK.
 As people we mark time and events, but we also go back to revisit those events. It seems to me, though, that we've been doing this revisiting for quite some time - decades, now, if we stop to consider it - which leads one to suppose that this is the pattern we've set for ourselves...endless revisitation.
It's not really fair to say that this is a recent phenomenon. Americans have always looked backward in recollection, from our wars to such eras as the jazz age and Depression, and certainly mileposts like our Centennial, and so forth. It's just that now we've locked ourselves into these mileposts, and we've got the entire vibrant, turbulent latter half of the 20th Century as fuel for our tributes.

With the debut of TV's Happy Days on January 15th, 1974, nostalgia was entrenched, codified and bathed in a warm, comforting glow. There had previously been nods to the '50s such as the popularity of the vocal group Sha Na Na and a very successful LP series of artists of the era called Oldies But Goodies, but nothing had the broad, durable appeal of Happy Days (and at least one of its spin-offs, Laverne and Shirley).
In the '80s, landlocked in pinstriped yuppiedom where an energized neo-conservative political base and ascendent evangelical movement held growing sway, we discovered a yen for the counterculture and its restless worldview, and so lovingly donned tie-dye and festooned ourselves and our stuff with peace symbols, then it was on to the flared-leg '70s revival of the '90s...
The Aughts perhaps trawled the '80s and found them too awful to contemplate, but here in 2011 we're back in the groove, with a misty-eyed deluxe reissue of Nirvana's Nevermind. As we perhaps have nothing else to say, maybe we'll just continue to look backward.
Think about where we are - 2011 - and subtract that magic number of years, 50, and what do you get? Only the beginnings of our modern, anxious, fractured, crazy-quilt world. Let's take a look at early 1961.
On January 3rd, President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, and two weeks later gave his final State of the Union Address, wherein he gravely warned of a growing "military-industrial complex." Three days later JFK was sworn in, and one of his first acts was the establishment of the Peace Corps.
In one six-day period in April we witnessed the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, Yuri Gagarin's entry in space, and the launch of the Bay of Pigs operation! In May, the first Freedom Riders assembled to prepare to head southward, and while Alan Shepherd became the first American in space courtesy of the Mercury program, Kennedy told a joint session of Congress "...we choose to go to the moon."
We round out this glance with the beginnings, in August, of the Berlin Wall. Now there's some grist for the commemorations, specials and the like, eh? Much hay is made about the Boomers' obsessively fixating on these events, but I think we've all picked up the habit.
I recently chanced upon a review of Simon Reynolds' prescient Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past, and agree in large part with him, that Pop does recycle, sometimes as synthesis yet often as a shopping-cart grab of styles, textures and images. One thing's for sure: ever-greater chunks of the past are being digitized and disseminated with every passing second, and their availability is increasing dramatically. Soon, perhaps, we won't speak of "anniversaries" or timelines, because we'll be neck-deep in them, each passage or date somehow registered before another takes its place (Pearl Harbor turns 70 this year. Don't forget to send a card).

Nostalgia, or whatever it is, is a cottage industry, an easy puff piece for the nightly news, and for better or worse it's where we find ourselves.


Lustig in later years.
 A Stilled Voice, A Powerful Book
A young Czech named Arnost Lustig had survived three concentration camps, including Auschwitz, when he slipped from Nazi clutches during transport to Dachau. Amazingly, he returned to Prague to participate in the final Czech push against the Nazis.
He remained in Prague, writing, until the upheavals of 1968 led to a search for a home abroad. He arrived in the US in 1970 and remained there teaching and writing until his return to Prague in 2003. His February 2011 death, while broadly mourned, released him from a five-year struggle with lung cancer, though his books survive, and still bear eloquent witness to what he saw. The last of these, Lovely Green Eyes (2004) is a story that recounts one 21-day period in the Third Reich's latter days, when the shadow of death hung over Eastern Europe and the terrible sounds of Soviet fire punctuated the bitter, frozen cold.

Hanka Kaudersova is a girl of 15 who finds herself in Auschwitz, and being neither too young nor too old has some chance at survival. She toils at the Frauenkonzentrationslager as both laborer and assistant to a doctor there, yet when a recruiter comes to assemble a new group of prostitutes for a facility known simply as Feldbordell 232 Ost she volunteers for the inspection, and despite being Jewish is able to bluff her way into the ranks of the selected. 
Hanka's tale apparently won't be one of easy decisions or proud virtue, or sniffy judgements pronounced in hindsight over the mantle of the ensuing years. The guards at this new facility pass their time by organizing brutal dogfights (with the winner escorted out the gates to be savaged in turn by wolves), and the regression and debauchery of the camps is mirrored in this capricious bloodlust. Lustig will introduce several characters as studies in inward blackness, of souls so given over to naked might that they're no longer soldiers, men with qualms or convictions. These men, appearing at the facility like frozen animals, have had ample time to reflect upon such Nazi ideologies as blood purity and Lebensraum (expansion, particularly through conquest) and, with no equalizing or civilizing influences anywhere nearby, give these ideas and impulses brutal free rein.
The women fall into nicknames, and Hanka becomes "Skinny." She is subdued and muted amongst her companions, and even more so when in the company of a soldier. She and the others are "...a bottle into which they emptied themselves," and ever subject to being tripped up by the sly question of a bored visitor. Her family, dead or dying, are present at each act, in remembrance yet also in judgement, and Lustig periodically inserts the daily roster of visiting soldiers' names into the narrative as reminder of the horror of Hanka's days.

Lustig creates his first study of a visitor though Hauptmann Hentschel, and incredibly he gives us a living, breathing German, a man of distinction and breeding who's seen murderous frozen chaos yet who sinks, once sated, into reveries of nature's beauty, of the world's startling moments of tranquility. What's begun for him as a brothel visit, a businesslike operation dappled with bemusement, a trace of condescension and the fading assurance of his station becomes something else: stirrings, remembrances and a clutch of elusive longings that are prodded from him by this withdrawn, yet somehow fascinating girl.
She is no longer "Skinny"...she has been re-christened "Lovely Green Eyes."
We then move forward in time to a peacetime Prague, where Hanka is settling a bit into a new life, then it's back to the snow and a new customer, a member of a mobile group tasked with hunting down partisans. Sarazin chills the blood, as he himself has gone so far beyond the pale and come out as something decidely inhuman. "While I hate, I am," he observes while casually cracking open a window to sight in a wolf. He is an agent of death, and furthermore, death dispensed often with no reason. He relates to Hanka the particular mass killing that, in the midst of even his revulsion, completed his transformation. He's swept away, rapturous, proclaiming his comrades as "...wild beasts with unclouded conscience, monsters filled with jubilation." For him beauty arrives most cleanly as violent death, and is "...beyond morality," a great and lustful conflagration.

Back in Prague again she makes the acquaintance of a young rabbi, to whom she puts the question Is it a sin to want to survive? This question takes on a new complexity as the rabbi feverishly contemplates it. He's dazed, numbed, a hairsbreadth away from losing sight of any trace of God. Hanka senses the rabbi's crisis, yet their conversations continue, with "Aushwitz-Birkenau" cropping up in a verbal jolt. The rabbi, glazed with near-madness, can soon only repeat the name. He "...was [perhaps] praying. He had to pray for 15 year-olds who claimed to be 18. For a God who kept silent. He conceived a prayer which as yet had no text." Could he and Hanka be only part of "...a soul in a dead body, a shipwreck with a few scattered survivors [?]"
We proceed through Part Four as with the previous three, with passages of exposition passing by like the peacetime daydreams of the yet-living (which is exactly what they are), and studded with brief snippets of matter-of-fact horror. The effect is one, appropriately, of displacement. In this sense perhaps the narrative is perhaps somewhat disjointed, but we're not here for narrative, for something ordered or hewing to reason. Reason, of course, has long since fled these survivors.
One last look back into the facility remains, and Sarazin is back as well, and it's into his flask that Hanka secretes a small amount of furtively obtained Zyklon-B. Then there are no more soldiers, and she and those of her companions who remain - Long-Legs, Smartie, Maria from Posnan and a few others -  face an evacuation fraught with risks. In the end Hanka is able to move forward with the needs and daily preoccupations of the next chunk of life she's been give, yet her innermost being remains a labyrinth, an insoluble forest of energy and emptiness, of simple happiness and guilt, of the pleasure of a new day and the blunted dreams of her youngest years.

The Shoah created not just a vast body of non-fiction accounts and analyses, but a substantial number of literary works as well, including Elie Wiesel's Night, Edward Lewis Wallant's The Pawnbroker, Art Spiegelman's Maus, and another book about a young girl thrown into madness, Livia E. Batton Jackson's Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust (1980), to name just a very few.
These books aren't easy reading, nor should they be. They help us remember, though, and give us the beauty of prose even in the midst of stories of grief and atrocity.

Your Daughter is One
Alvarado and Johnson as Pamela and Nicky.
There's a lot to be said for a movie that's made with little money but that manages - through a strong screenplay and gifted cast - to produce an end result that's something special. One such film, from the days when story meant everything, is 1980's Times Square.
City Commissioner David Pearl (Peter Coffield) is on a crusade to clean up the storied, though squalid intersection. He's a well-meaning pubic servant and a well-meaning dad, but his daughter (a charismatic Trini Alvarado) is chafing under his attitudes. After a letter to DJ Johnny LaGuardia (the absurdly prolific Tim Curry) in which she complains of her stifling situation, LaGuardia responds on-air that she must "...learn to nurture that seed" which is her unique nature. This won't do, and daddy soon bundles the girl off to a neurological hospital for "tests," where she's placed with a feisty roommate - a girl who's been written off as incorrigible - Nicky Merotta (a dead-on-the-mark Robin Johnson).
Meanwhile, Johnny's taken to criticizing Pearl's campaign as simple hostility, and as Pamela is more and more taken with her new pal, Nicky engineers a dizzying breakout for the two in a stolen ambulance. Pamela considers her new home, a squat near the docks. It's dirty and cold, but it's freedom. Nicky seals the deal with a blood pact, and swears Pammy to one thing: if she's ever desperate, backed into a corner, lost...simply "...scream my name!..." The two trade screams, echoing over the cavernous warehouse, and something is born in both of them.
Johnny's getting their story in bits and pieces, and reaches out. "Tune in to me," he says, "because I'm tuning in to you." There follows a critique of the hospital and the forces that so sought to clamp down on the girls, and the jock caps this by spinning Suzi Quatro's blistering "Rock Hard."
The song is a great tune on a great soundtrack, one that impeccably captures a pre-gentrification NYC in all its funky glory. It was 1980, and all this brash young music hadn't yet been pinned down - hadn't had its power diluted. We hear the Ramones, XTC, Patti Smith, and Roxy Music, as well as forgotten gems like David Johansen's "Flowers in the City." Nicky dreams of being a musician, and performs the hooky "Damn Dog," co-written by Jacob Brackman (who did the film's screenplay with Alan Moyle) and Billy Mernit. Mernit plays one of the Blondells, a small-time group playing a bar where Pamela works, and he and Brackman also wrote "Your Daughter is One," a shot across the bow that the runaways perform when they finally show up at the WJAD studios.
Yet the soundtrack album that appeared was a double, in part so that producer Robert Stigwood could insert numbers like a Robin Gibb/Marcy Levy duet, the better to maybe land a hit record like Saturday Night Fever had generated. Stigwood's involvement is one reason that the movie's been criticized as being choppy, with some continuity and cohesion issues. Nevertheless, the film's music does augment the story wonderfully, and have held up well in the bargain.

The characters are drawn ever closer, with Pearl frantic about his daughter's disappearance, for which he holds LaGuardia greatly responsible. For the girls' part, cleaning windows at stoplights and Nicky's three-card monte hustle have given way to dropping televisions for rooftops, a stunt which "Pammy" soon tires of. And even as Johnny watches with glee, uttering things like "Let it be passionate, or not at all," she feels her needs diverging from Nicky's. Things won't end that easily, though...the two have established a bond, and nothing will be emotionally messy or risky enough to sever it.

Robin Johnson was a 15 year-old Brooklynite when she was approached for a part in the film, an approach she initially blew off. Trini Alvarado was just 13, the daughter of Flamenco artists Sylvia and Domingo Alvarado. Director Moyle, with cinematographer James A. Contner was still largely an unknown quantity, yet he got through the red tape and usual hassles and got the movie made (it's unthinkable that it could get made today, with shooting culminating as it did in a live musical performance with Nicky and the Blondells playing from atop two Times Square theatre marquees).
I watched the movie again on my old VHS copy (it came out on DVD in 2000), and the image quality, sound and general feel were all pretty bad. I was pleased, though, and the story still held its magnetic appeal. Watching it on a 31 year-old tape was the best way to see the brash New York of old.

It felt pure, perfect. It was right.

Aerosmith in Transition

Crespo and Tyler grace the cover of Hit Parader while touring Rock.
 In 1982 Aerosmith were teetering at the brink of dissolution.
After over a decade of building a name and a reputation as a ferocious, gifted and prolific unit their darker side had made things unmanageable, the fights nearly irreconcilable. Everything from copious recreational habits (limited not only to "Toxic Twins" Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, as band bio "Walk This Way" clearly relates) to spousal bickering was pointing to a breakdown.

The story of this rift goes back to Summer '79, as the band were working on their sixth album, Night in the Ruts. Joe Perry had had enough and left, thereafter to form The Joe Perry Project (where he'd produce "Let the Music Do the Talking," a song brought into the Aerosmith fold years later), and a session gutiarist named Jimmy Crespo was brought in as a replacement. Crespo (and a couple of other fellows) contributed to the recording, yet a search still went out for a marquee name to come in as new lead guitarist. 
Crespo had two weeks to finish work on Ruts and learn the band's catalogue before a tour was to commence. The tour was a travesty, made impossible by Tyler's out-of-control behavior, and by January 1980 was all but over.
This brings us to '82, and a new album being written and arranged. One of the early tracks was "Lightning Strikes," written by Richie Supa (who'd been one of the uncredited musicians on Ruts), and it's notable for being laid down by Brad Whitford before Whitford, like Perry, left the band (to go solo with Ted Nugent bassist Derek St. Holmes). This left Tyler, Kramer, Hamilton and Crespo in need of a rhythm guitarist, and solo artist Rick Dufay was hastily recruited.

What's this thing sound lke, then?
Opener "Jailbait" comes out of the gate, guns blazing. If there's any doubt about this lineup, the goal is clearly to dispel it immediately. Tyler's vocals are a surgical airstrike, and Kramer's drums emerge from the mix with his usual authoritative presence and power. Next up, a slow synth opening yields to the barnstorming rhythmic groove of "Lightning Strikes." The boys play this one out bit by bit, escalating the tension until thr track settles into its hook again and again, propelled relentlessly by Kramer and supplemented by a hot Crespo solo. (The rhythm guitar was Whitford's lone contribution to the record, and he's ignominiously listed among the "additional musicians").
A gargantuan riff anchors "Bitch's Brew," a midtempo workout with seamless ensemble playing. Again, the band's instincts and sense of dynamics come to the fore: the arrangement is solid, with an effortless bridge before heading back to the main theme. "Bolivian Ragamuffin" is a trifle, with Tyler tossing off doggerel lyrics, but still features loads of tempo-shifting bombast. In the Flawless Instincts Dept., few bands at this time could match Aerosmith, and here we sample their tastes courtesy of "Cry Me a River." While not quite a standard, the song was a #9 hit for the sultry Julie London in 1956. Tyler gives the song its plaintive due, then cranes raw-throatedly upward and the number becomes something else entirely. In a career that saw the band make several impeccable choices of songs to cover, this one is brilliant.
Next, the portmanteau "Prelude to Joanie"/"Joanie's Butterfly" is a surprise in an album of surprises. Tyler reads a small bit of fantasy poetry through a vocal treatment (it's a very atmospheric intro, to be sure) before the song's bright intro, moving nimbly from acoustic to electric. It's a piece marked by a complexity of lyric, arrangement and execution, and is as strong a recording as the band ever made. The title track, "Rock in a Hard Place (Cheshire Cat)" is a steamroller wall of sound, one more barrage of guitars hammering home. Whitford and Perry aside, "Jig is Up" demonstrates that the core of Tyler, Kramer and Hamilton can apparently dash off riffs at will, and pretenders be warned.
A little harp opens up closer "Push Comes to Shove," one last dose of Tyler's keening wail. We hear a barroom piano at fade, and the bluesy, boozy tune sidles on home.

This wasn't just a formidable rock record, it's made the better by the quality across its entire length. Dufay, and especially Crespo made contributions of energy and arrangement (with Crespo holding a co-writing credit for six of the tracks), and broke loose - if only for one record - the logjam that might've shut down Aerosmith for good. The pair's work, in the studio then on the road in '83 and '84 apparently couldn't shake the original nucleus of the band, because upon Perry and Whitford's reppearance in 1984, setting the stage for the "comeback" album Done With Mirrors, the two were shown the door.
Even though it's been perceived as a stopgap, a time-marker until the "real" band got itself back together, Rock in a Hard Place stands up to anything in the band's catalogue, and is a substantial capstone to the early years. As such, it still holds a special mystique, and deserves a place in any serious collection.


Salad days.
 The American Car Magazine
Yes, we have arrived at the 70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor, but here's another entry for the year 1941: the arrival of the first magazine for auto enthusiasts.
As Pat Ganahl related in a 2010 piece for HOT ROD Deluxe, a man named Jack Peters first published Throttle in January, 1941. Peters was a member of the Western Timing Association, one of several such groups that sprung up in southern California in the late '30s. The most prominent of these was the Southern California Timing Association, and the WTA and SCTA organized the many groups in the region and provided impetus toward the continuation of hobby rodding, racing and the beginning and growth of car-related magazines. Ganahl notes that while stapled programs and bulletins and so forth, most with ads for local dealers, existed back in the '20s and '30s, it was Throttle that really got the ball rolling, which is all the more striking when we learn that the shock of December 7th quickly killed the magazine. There'd be no energy or precious resources expended for something so frivolous as auto racing.

Robert E. Petersen was a 22 year-old who loved the growing hobby, and his pasteup efforts resulted in the debut of HOT ROD in January, 1948. He built his title quickly, and debuted Motor Trend in 1949. These he followed with Honk! in 1953 (renamed Car Craft the following year). The latter was a smaller size magazine, about 6" x 8", and was created in response to Quinn Publications' smaller title, Hop Up.
Not to be outdone, Quinn debuted Rod & Custom, and soon both it and Car Craft were full-size offerings. Many other titles followed, and publishers in the midwest and northeast got in on the action, producing cash-ins like Motorsport, Best Hot Rods, Rodding and Re-Styling and Rods Illustrated, with varying degrees of quality and coverage.
More thoughtful brands joined the pack, including Hearst Publications' Car & Driver in 1955, and AutoWeek in 1958, from Crain Communications in Detroit. (In a lightning bolt of inspiration, Robert Petersen launched Guns & Ammo in 1958, and realized that branching out meant nothing but gold).

The 1970s onward saw continued sales with a wide range of magazines, covering everything from factory stock to chrome-rimmed customs, and there was never a shortage of daily drivers and restored classics to fill glossy pages. The idle daydreams and fevered plans of car lovers were stroked by a steady stream of appealing sheet metal.
Petersen died in 2007 at 80, yet the industry he largely helped create lives on. In the mid-'90s, D. Claeys Bahrenburg won a bididng war to take over the Petersen holdings, and he approached the task with gusto. (The group, after a few more transactions, now resides under the Source Interlink umbrella, joined by such things as Lowrider, Stereophile, Popular Hot Rodding, Military Modelling and Soap Opera Digest).

Car publishing happened during a wonderful window of opportunity, with several factors falling into place. During the Postwar era, production was back up on Detroit's assembly lines. Americans had increased purchasing power, and sought out these new cars fervently. This in turn left plenty of stock for the used-car lots, or to be given as hand-me-downs. Where the earliest gearheads had little more that Model Ts to chop, power up and customize, suddenly there was a seemingly endless supply of coupes, sedans and wagons to modify and fill with cheap, powerful gasoline. This, in combination with a widening larger culture, such as the group of WWII bomber crews who formed the initial cadre of Hells' Angels, allowed for a great expansion in personal expression and gave rise to a truly American pastime.
Indeed, these were the years of the further popularity of lake-bed racing, but also of the birth of quarter-mile and NASCAR racing as well.
The magazines are a great window into trends in the automotive world, and a few examples from the last 20 years include the rebirth of great interest in '60s musclecars, the "factory stock" movement, which did away with buyer add-ons such as custom parts in favor of clean lines, and the advent of the "rat rod," a stripped-down project car, sometimes appearing in primer, that's not afraid of rust or imperfections and only measured in performance.
As far as trends go, then '90s ushered in a post-feminist age (to all appearances) that's given us a revival of roller derby, burlesque, and greatly stylized takes on rockabilly, pin-up and tattoo culture.
Pretty young things were always a staple of car mags, either appearing at shows or events, giving out trophies or simply being on hand to add a bit of crumpet to the shoot. Accordingly, for the 60th Anniversary of HOT ROD we got the aforementioned HOT ROD Deluxe, launched in 2008.
The title is a feast of all things past, and in the sections "Roddin' at Random," "Lost & Found," "Then & Now" the reader can load up on all sorts of interesting stuff. Cars are rescued, projects begun, and there's plenty of pics of old car shows, meets, drags, etc. The best aspect may be the vintage tech material, with hands-on info about old parts and building. Yes, the girls are there as well, resplendent in minis and heels and throwback hairstyles.

These magazines aren't going anywhere: they are prime examples that in this day and age, niche marketing is not only exploding, but hasn't even really reached the sales numbers it's capable of.
Nick Licata publishes Rodder's Journal out in Orange Grove, California, a title that's so lovingly shot and painstakingly produced that it's damn near the Dupont Registry for gearheads. So a salute is in order here, to the confluence of two industries geared toward commodities that are first and foremost meant to be consumed and replaced.
As the one has chronicled the other, we've been left with a lasting record of speed, of endeavor...of dreams.

Riley in action.
Life and Times: The Boondocks
Aaron McGruder was a student at the University of Maryland when he created a bitingly satirical comic strip called "The Boondocks" in 1996. He was able to interest The Source in the strip, placing it there the following year, then it was on to syndication (and controversy) in '99.
It wasn't until November, 2005 that it was able to be adapted for television, though, and it took the wise-ass upstart Adult Swim to provide a slot for the TV version.
McGruder has no interest in sugar-coating his storytelling or subject matter, preferring instead to let his characters lead their lives, and this approach has led to criticism from not only the culture at large but the black community and leadership as well. Calling things as you see them ruffles feathers, and doing it with satire simply stirs the pot. All of this is to say that the show (now in production for its fourth season) is bracingly original, and often delivers the unusual and the unexpected, while still telling the story of one extended family.

The family centers around Huey Freeman, the wise-beyond-his-years boy who, with younger brother Riley are taken from inner-city Chicago to live with Robert Freeman, "Granddad," in the suburbs...effectively placing them away from city life and out into the hinterlands, the "boondocks." The city meant proximity to strong black-power resources and energy to the scowling Huey, but to Riley it meant the glamor and cred of hip-hop life. Now, the brothers must search for those elements in their new milieu, if they're to be found there at all. The stage is thus set for misadventure and mischief, but also for a consideration of themes and attitudes among the black experience in modern-day America, and here McGruder shines.
The supporting cast offers up plenty of story possibilities, and includes Tom and Sara DuBois, a mixed couple whose daughter Jazmine has many thoughtful conversations with Huey under a spreading oak, and Uncle Ruckus, a character that McGruder uses to explore the extremely complex aspects of black self-image, color consciousness and inner conflict. He's an elderly man given to spouting great platitudes about the wisdom, cleverness and general superiority of the white man, and is in his element when dressing down someone for their failings or aspirations.
Granddad offers a guiding hand, yet is all too prone to the lure of everything from dating services to the possibility of a quick lawsuit. Riley is given to dreams of grandeur and "hardness," and gets into plenty of scrapes, and even Huey makes the occasional misstep, even though he's easily the most grounded of the lot. The point here isn't easily pigeonholed characterization.
The show has addressed several events of recent years, always with a point of view and a delivery marked by intuitive wit. In Season 1, "The Trial of R. Kelly" found DuBois in the position of defending the singer, a position met with approval by many of the show's residents, including Riley. Huey's coutroom protests go unheeded, and the episode ends with Kelly jubilantly freed. In Season 2, Thomas's cousin Jericho shows up, family in tow, to effectively take over the Freeman abode in "Invasion of the Katrinians." The newcomers soon wear out their welcome, and their complete lack of interest in contributing to the family till are depicted, as is Granddad and the boys' growing anger.
In Season 3, both the 2009 flu epidemic and the ill-fated free-chicken promotion at KFC are lampooned to great effect in "The Fried Chicken Flu" (originally "Kentucky Fried Flu").
Perhaps the most stinging episode arrived in Season 1, with "The Return of the King," in which Huey muses that MLK was indeed shot in 1968 but survived, falling into a coma which he remains in for 32 years. What might happen upon his awakening? His sensibilities are held up to scorn in the modern age, and at a near-vacant book signing (no one wants to hear about forgiveness in the post-9/11 landscape, so he's become almost irrelevent), he meets Huey and Robert, who he knows from the old days of the struggle.
Yet as he and Huey grow as friends, King is left to look around at the current state of black popular culture, and his disgust explodes during an address he's giving, where he's surrounded by good-timing young blacks who have no use for the old man.
McGruder also transforms Robert's story of a supposed ancestor, "Catcher" Freeman, as Granddad once again relates the tale, more than likely with embellishment, and yet again to the fact-checking scowl of Huey and bored stupor of Riley. Yet in "Wingmen," Robert returns to Chicago with the boys for the funeral of his rival Moe, and we get a look at a younger man, a black WWII pilot with stories and daring feats.
Rappers come in for extremely nuanced treatment, in the persons of Thugnificent and Gangstalicious. The two serve as platforms for storylines dealing with the hip-hop lifestyle, from its influence to its charged atmosphere and even homophobia.
The show has been a critical success despite its periodic brushes with controversy, and received an NAACP Image Award and a Peabody. McGruder's work is proof that satire is possibly the best vehicle for critique, and his characters continue to resonate.

So there it is. Be good. Get out in the snow, if you have any. Have a drink. I'll see you soon.

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