Maybe if they’d brought in an *actual* spotwelding torch…

So I finally managed to slip the credit card out of Shoemom’s sight long enough to purchase the Bob & Ray movie. (On the principle of making hay while the sun shines I also bought the Not Always Right book, and am loving it, but that’s another post).

At any rate, yes, the B&R movie. An Award-Winning Film.… all twenty minutes of it. Plus a lengthy written insert by Keith Olbermann, video intro by Jeffrey Lyons, a Mary Backstayge episode set to a picture montage and — inexplicably, esp. given that the rights to all of their own TV series eps combined would probably have been less expensive — three Carson-era Tonight Show appearances.

Well.

[harrumphs slightly]

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I really should’ve known better. You know the interview avoidance technique described in this post? The post I wrote? Buy this movie for a live-action demo.

I was off in my initial impression; the filmmakers don’t want to crack their artistic code, they think it’s really cool that they haven’t. You can tell, because the first five-ten minutes — showcasing the duo ‘relaxing’ before an afternoon’s taping — are shot in that peculiarly Sixties art-house style, the one where the more random the conversation gets the more incredibly cool it must be. In this case: not so much.

Which would not be even as awkward as it is had Olbermann not recounted, in his excellent essay, being treated to a fine display of backstage charm not much later at WOR (Ray, on correct nautical terminology: "Don’t want to have them step on some whale ship. We can’t say that on the radio…").
And there are other indications in the current subject that they know exactly what they’re doing; notably a certain funny half-smile Bob gives the camera at one point, that’s mirrored in several of the still pics. Also Ray’s restless dark eyes, noticeably too sophisticated for a podgy middle-aged face. After awhile the viewer starts following them as the last best clue to why anybody thought this film worth creating…

Meaning that what we have here is a documentary whose major theme is that the subjects really didn’t care about being in this documentary. Lovely.

It gets better once they settle down to work — a couple on-the-fly promos, one Matt Neffer episode recreated from a script, and a rework of the Komodo Dragon sketch — inasmuch as the camera goes from unwanted to utterly unimportant, and the indifference becomes part of the show.
It still resembles nothing so much as a documentary I once saw on twins who’d created their own language. Worlds conjured up literally off a few muttered cues and the degree of slyness in a grin. There’s one really incredible sequence in which their producer (the guy whose mustache is bothering them in the YouTube clip) throws a bunch of non sequitur sounds into their scripted taping, and they’re just effortlessly caught up and twirled into the vortex.

…all of which, it must be said, essentially boils down onscreen to ‘two guys who happen to be very, very good at making each other laugh.’ You think we could get a bit of the larger picture over here, please? Creative, historic, what they had for lunch that day, whatever? Olbermann’s essay would’ve been a lot more effective as an interview cut into the film, along with any others they could round up.

The special features don’t help a lot. Some of the pics are cute, especially the oldest ones. Of the (undated) Tonight Show clips, one is the Slow Talkers of America, one is an obscure-but-deserving tale of a legendary pizza flipper… and in the third Ray looks distressingly ill, not to say a bit too realistically out-of-it. Major ‘the hell?’ factor happening here. Didn’t any family members check this thing out prior to release? For that matter, where are the family members? If they got Jeffrey Lyons, they could probably have pried Chris Elliott or his daughter Abby off the SNL lot.

Ah well. Reminders of imminent mortality excepted, not a bad waste of an hour. Definitely a waste of at least fifteen of the thirty bucks, but that’s OK, I’d probably have just blown it on Starbucks’ punkin scones anyway. Now, I get the scones and complete indifference from a couple comic geniuses. It works out.
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Bob & Ray Present: Link Larkin, Small-Town Cop

Yep, it’s transcript time again. In this outing, circa summer 1949, our intrepid duo is taking one of their rare early stabs at creating an ongoing serial.

Most of their elaborately specific takeoffs — The Gathering Dusk, Tippy the Wonder Dog, Elmer W. Litzinger: Spy — came on the scene much later, and were in fact written for them, by a Mad Magazine alumnus named Tom Koch. Left to themselves within a genre, B&R tended simply to pick out the tones and turns of phrase they liked, creating random odes tosurreality like Matt Neffer: Boy Spotwelder and Mr. Trace, Keener Than Most Persons.

Or, for that matter, our current subject…
 

Surreal silliness commences under the cut…

“I’m not gonna read that. You read that.”

The science of meta-marketing – the kind of knowingly ironic ad that sells by acknowledging its own absurdity – wasn’t anywhere close to being invented in 1948. Back then, your sponsors gave you copy, and you read it. As solemnly as possible, because no matter how pompous they might be they were still your financial backers…

…and then, as you might have guessed, there were Bob & Ray. Quick, amused, instinctively subversive – a bad combination for commercial pitchmen at the best of times.
Listening to the old Boston shows now, it’s amazing that they got away with what they did. Instead of coming in with a glowing plug for Mission Bell Wine in the middle of their jingle, for instance, Ray would insert a deadpan promo for his next news broadcast (‘…coming up at one-thirty. Thank you.’). Or he and Bob would get into a heated fight over who’d just missed the cue. Sometimes they’d just take over singing the jingle entirely. In tango tempo.

Surprisingly – at least, according to Bob Elliott in later years – nobody seemed to mind this kind of tomfoolery. Not even when they turned a ‘simple phone call’ to get a trial TV set into a series of skits featuring spectacularly un-helpful ‘special operators’. During a stint with a floorwax sponsor that asked them to urge customers to make a side-by-side test on their own floors, Bob once enquired mid-pitch, "Uh..if we’re so sure they’ll think [sponsor’s wax] is better, why should they bother doing the test?"

Even the occasional objection was turned to account. When a railroad company tried writing ‘Do Not Ad-Lib’ on their copy, Bob dutifully pointed it out to Ray on-air. Ray was dutifully hurt. ‘Well, what the hey [sic]? There’s always the bus, you know what I mean?’

By the next episode, the commercial has been recorded beforehand. By another announcer.

In the autumn of ’48, a new patsy signed on – the West Peabody Speedway. Stock car racing – Saturday afternoon, dollar admission – was ‘America’s newest thrill sensation!’ and the boys made great play with copy describing the ‘pulse-pounding action’. (‘I just wanna say, I was out there last night, and my pulse is awful sore.’) 

Then, one afternoon, inspiration struck on the grand – and slighly Frebergian – scale. The result is transcribed below, picking up just after the commercial proper. To get the full flavour, note that the lines are being ad-libbed on the fly, but the performance is totally deadpan.   

Picturing an American flag waving in the background might also help…

Wondering where the lions are

Kitteh has finally collapsed on the bed behind me, having tried for a good  ten minutes to figure out how to work the keyboard. As near as I can make out, this is the message she wanted to send: mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmMMMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmm [crash browser].

If I don’t update for a while, send help.

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Meanwhile. Bob & Ray biography – or at least, expansion of my article to include deeper motivations, and broader perspectives. Definitely beats markdown credits on the Points to Ponder scale. Not least because more plausible; as noted previously many of the Goulding family at least are on Facebook, and belong to a Bob & Ray fan group.

I am something hesitant about going on and finding out about the Elliott family, because it’s all a bit scarily plausible, to be honest. They seem like nice people, and I have a policy about pestering nice people. This policy has been under serious refinement over the last few weeks checking in on my own Facebook account, in which I have rec’d no less than three Friend requests from ‘lonely’ African men (plus one woman) and one from a Ponzi scheme. I do have a legitimate article to back me up, at least, but not much more.

Besides…given the research I did end up doing, I’m not completely sure whether I even should. As I’ve mentioned before, their genius has a weirdly impenetrable intimacy, rather like those twins who develop a private language. With very rare exceptions, when cornered by the media their modus operandi was to talk to each other, instead.

If the interviewer went along with it (as did Roger Ebert, interestingly) he was treated to a private, if wholly impersonal, performance; if he persisted in trying to actually interview them… they would simply continue the routine. Only more so. One poor sap from the Los Angeles Times, having sat through twenty minutes of such responses as "Gee, I wonder how they get those windows clean [on the highrise opposite]?" was driven to inform them that they were the absolute dullest celebrities he’d ever encountered. "Yeah, a lot of people tell us that," Ray responded calmly. "Can’t imagine why."

Somehow, I am not totally shocked and amazed that for many years after Ray’s death in 1990, Bob Elliott refused all interviews.

So I’m driven to the same conclusion I was before Facebook: much as I’d love to, trying to pry into this setup just feels wrong – like I’m not only intruding but spoiling the performance somehow. They were the exact same Average Americans they were spoofing, save for the self-awareness, and as a survival mechanism they turned it into part of the gag…

…either that, or to them, it was really just as simple as making each other laugh.

Frustrating as either option is, they compel respect.

It’s been a rough week. Have a Bob & Ray transcript.

This would have been an even rougher week, but I have a boss who can make the fine distinction between problems I caused but could not have foreseen. This is a rare and precious skill among managers, and I am thinking of sending him flowers.

Meanwhile, I’ve been sitting here (’cause frankly I do not feel at all like walking around) trying to work out the best approach to my Random Weird Occurence post, and ending up feeling like this is probably a bad time generally. So the heck with it all. This is B&R from 1949, still in Boston, and still getting paid to spill their stream-of-consciousness all over the airwaves and hope comedy resulted…

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Bob: (smooth announcer voice): And now, the Life & Loves of Linda Lov-

Ray: HOLD IT! HOLD EVERYTHING!!  …Jellybean, Bob?

[Pause to make sure that Bob gets all the ‘purple ones’, which – as per running gag – Ray dislikes]

Bob (resuming with mouth full): Mrr rife an ruvs of Rinra Ruvvy…

Ray: WAIT! I GOT A PURPLE ONE!! I’M GONNA DIE LIKE A RAT!!! AUUGGH!!!

Bob (announcer voice, not missing a beat): Ray Goulding, who thinks he is Napoleon, and Bob Elliott, who today thinks he is King Henry the Eighth…

Ray: No, you’re a footpad, remember?

Bob: Oh yeah. OK…Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding are sitting in their private eye office, looking over some private eyes that have been sent in to them…[as private eye] Hey, this is a nice one, don’tcha think?

Ray: Yeah, that’s a good eye there. (aside) Say, is that Ken Wilson [organist] or is that my heartbeat?

Bob: I believe that’s the Tell-Tale Heart.

Ray: Y’know, we should do something classical like that. Something with class. [pretends to call to the cast standing round the studio] Any o’youse guys got anything good we could do back there?

Ray (as castmember): I got somethin’ here called The Raven!

Bob (another castmember): "Quoth the Raven," hey?

Ray: Yup. "Nevermore", quoth the Raven, hey.

Bob: Nevermore? So how we gonna do it, then?

Ray: Oh…well, we can quoth it just this once.

Bob: Okay. (resumes announcer voice) Bob and Ray, who are sitting in their office quoting ravens, look out through their dust-covered window. Ray, blowing a particle of dust away from the corner of the pane…

Ray (aside): Hey, there ain’t no glass in here. The air is dirty.

Bob: …makes a startling discovery.

Ray: It’s dark out.

Bob: It must be night, by George.

Ray: It must be night by anyone.

Bob: Should we go in search of the missing footpad?

Ray: We might as well go now, while we’ve got the courage. (aside) You want some more before we go?

Bob (Peter Lorre voice): Come along. Follow me down this corridor…

Bob (his own voice): Say, it’s mighty dark down here; I don’t like the looks of this. In fact, I can’t see anything to not like the looks of.  [Ray is muttering something]  The music is so loud I can’t hear a word you’re saying!

Ray (breathlessly intense): No no, that’s what we need, the music, it’s saving everything. But look, straight ahead there – up ahead. It’s a glimmer of light!

Bob (catching the mood): Yes! Light! As if someone were shining a flashlight, straight at us!

Bill Green (pianist, in background): Hellllllooooooo!

Ray: I think we’re in a deep cave, and we’re walking to China!

Bill: Hellllllooooooo!

Bob: If we only had a filter microphone! It would be more realistic!

Ray: I know it! I’m – I’m afraid we’re going to come out into – a new world! A world that – that –

Bill: Hellllllooooooo!

Bob: A world we can’t even imagine right now!

Ray: It’ll be different from anything we’ve ever known in all our life!

Bob (announcer voice)Yes! That’s tomorrow: A New World! Like nothing we’ve ever imagined…peanut butter.

[Organ music up and out]

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…no, I have absolutely no idea what peanut butter had to do with anything.

Bob & Ray linkage of the week

Getting this out of my system early this week, as I’ve got other stuff to worry about (as in, Oh God I Just Posted All The Fiction Now What?!)

Anyhow, this isn’t so much new! and exciting! as housekeeping – I’ve had these YouTube clips on Favourite for ages, but somehow’ve never gotten around to linking them here. Which is odd, because they really do deserve it. Besides showcasing B&R at their most personable, it’s also a fun little window into the David Letterman phenomenon circa… I’m not sure, really, except it must be the very early stages. There’s some background whooping and hollering that suggests Chris Elliott has been newly installed under the seats.

Part One involves intros and a typically unique take on shilling the latest project (the flick in question is Author, Author!, and yes, it’s a comedy):

Part Two showcases a couple of skits from their prime (you can tell, because the second opens with a decidedly, albeit good-naturedly, un-PC flourish):

Obligatory Bob & Ray reference of the week

Just thought I’d note down an interesting article (yes, as distinct from the other seventeen thousand or so I’ve found. Sheesh) from a Cape Cod local, reprinted as a blog post. Does a really nice job of putting the duo’s artistic legacy into perspective – I was particularly charmed by the notion of George Carlin obsessively buying up every recording he could find – besides elaborating a bit further on the new DVD.

It also contains a mini-interview with Bob himself, including a poignant admission that dealing with his partner’s death was ‘really difficult’. Apparently Ray was on dialysis for a decade or so prior, but ‘never complained’ and the act continued on without missing a beat for seven-eight of those years. Yikes. I don’t know whether to applaud or be completely horrified.

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