On Death and Gratitude

We begin this latest post with an obituary, followed by another obituary, followed by an outrage.

Popular singer Slim Whitman is dead of heart failure in Florida at the age of 90.  He was a hugely popular American Country Music vocalist, remarkable as much for his slicked-back hair and thin mustache as his distinctive yodeling style of vocals, at a time when popular tastes ran to longer hair, rebellious rock and punk styles coupled with lyrics that were often screamed, sometimes growled, but never ever yodeled.

Slim Whitman young with guitar

He was also remarkable for selling an impressive four million records by means of television advertising.  There were times in the 1970’s and 80’s when commercials for Slim Whitman records were a regular staple of the television viewing experience, especially on less popular UHF frequency television stations during late-night and weekend programming, when audiences (and advertising rates) were generally lower.

To a generation of younger viewers, who had no direct knowledge of the early 1950’s when Whitman made his greatest mark, there was the suspicion that in fact he was an invented star marketing recordings on the basis of an “assumed” popularity which none of their own contemporaries could document or verify.

The yodeled vocals and traditionally conservative song selections seemed especially ludicrous and comical taken against the cultural background of psychedelic musical styles and the general attitude of rebellion and division that described America at that period dominated by LBJ, Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War and Watergate.

Slim Whitman middle flattering color

But Slim Whitman was neither fictional invention nor nostalgic parody.

In its obituary, the Associated Press notes that Whitman was a major star on the American and international stage at the precise moment when a young Elvis Presley was making his earliest steps into the spotlight.  For a time, the two performers shared common management under “Colonel” Tom Parker.

Whitman was also hugely popular in England at about the same time and it is his popularity as an artist that helped make American country music successful in Great Britain.  Slim Whitman’s country music style paved a path for skiffle music, which in turn  paved a path for what would eventually come to be recognized as Rock ‘n Roll.  By these lights, it is no exaggeration to say that Whitman was a predecessor to and influence on the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and most of the other musical groups that eventually took part in the so-called “British Invasion” of musical styles that washed back onto American shores in the early 1960’s.

His career saw something of a kitsch-y revival in 1996 when young film director Tim Burton seized upon his music as a plot device in his comic Sci –Fi potboiler pastiche “Mars Attacks.”  (The invading Martians are ultimately beaten when it is discovered that listening to Whitman’s yodeling makes their brains explode.)  The film’s cast included such major stars as Jack Nicholson, Annette Bening and Glenn Close, but it was the “Slim Whitman” angle everybody remembered.

Slim Whitman older color

Whitman was credited with having released at least 65 albums and the one most-promoted on TV, “All My Best,” ultimately sold no less than 4 million copies all by itself.

His version of “Rose Marie,” was a huge hit in England in 1955, staying at No. 1 on the charts for 11 weeks.

Whitman’s other hits included “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” ”Red River Valley,” ”Danny Boy” and “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.”

“The material I did was lasting material,” Whitman told an interviewer in 1991. “A lot of people thought I wasn’t doing anything, but I was in the studio. The biggest factor is the material you choose. You hunt, you cut.”

He is survived by his daughter, Sharon Beagle, and his son, Byron Whitman.

Barely 30 minutes after we posted this entry, word broke of yet another show business passing.

Actor James Gandolfini, best known for his portrayal of crime boss Tony Soprano of the HBO network series, “The Sopranos” is dead. Early reports indicate the cause of death to be a form of heart disease while the 51-year-old actor was vacationing with his family in Italy.

The final shot of Tony Soprano in
The final shot of Tony Soprano in “Made in America”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speaking to NBC News: “He was a genius,” said “Sopranos” creator David Chase. “Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that. He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes. I remember telling him many times, ‘You don’t get it. You’re like Mozart.’ There would be silence at the other end of the phone. For (wife) Deborah and (son) Michael and (daughter) Liliana this is crushing. And it’s bad for the rest of the world. He wasn’t easy sometimes. But he was my partner, he was my brother in ways I can’t explain and never will be able to explain.”

Gandolfini had appeared in numerous films before landing the role of Soprano, but it was the panic attack-stricken mob boss who would forever define him. He won critical acclaim, three Emmy Awards and three Screen Actors Guild awards for the role, which he played from 1999-2007 on the groundbreaking show.

And now, news of an apparent betrayal…

The man who founded, grew, led and has served as the public face of Men’s Warehouse has been fired.

George Zimmer in Mens Warehouse

George Zimmer, 64, has appeared in the company’s advertising since the mid-1980’s and his tagline, “You’re going to like the way you look.  I guarantee it,” has taken on the status of an iconic advertising landmark.

What makes this especially galling is that Men’s Warehouse was Zimmer’s company: he founded it, he nurtured it, he built it, and ultimately led it as Executive Chairman until this morning.  There have been precious few details released through either Mr. Zimmer or the company, but shares in the publicly-traded firm have fallen roughly 5% on this first day’s news alone.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, and this is definitely the wrongest way possible.

Zimmer pic with autograph

I guarantee it.

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