Mark Steyn’s Passing Parade, 2013 Edition
HH: Beginning 2013 in fine fashion with Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. You can read all of Mark’s stuff at www.steynonline.com. Happy New Year, Mark.
MS: Hey, Happy New Year to you, too, Hugh.
HH: I could be dreary and look back at the horrible collapse of the House Republicans over the last couple of weeks, but since it’s the first show of 2013, I’d like to run through some of the notables who left this Earth this year with you, and just get an occasional Steynian comment on them if I might.
MS: Okay, but if you just want to, if you do want to worry about the collapse of the House Republicans, don’t worry about that, because we’ll have a chance to do that again in six or seven weeks time, or whatever that is.
HH: Oh, I hope that’s not true. All right, number one. Richard Adler, songwriter of Damn Yankees and others, any bells for you?
MS: Oh, I love Richard Adler. His great show stopper from Damn Yankees, You’ve Got To Have Heart, which I had the great pleasure of doing on television in a kind of old-style lineup with Liza Minnelli and the ballerina, Natalia Makarova, and all kinds of other people, including Richard Adler himself a few years ago. It’s one of those kind of great Broadway, peppy, it’s one of the last great pep up Broadway songs. And somebody said to me that my book, After America, should have actually ended in the final page of the book with a CD jacket with my version of You’ve Got To Have Heart in it. Richard Adler, he wrote two big hits – the Pajama Game and Damn Yankees with a fellow called Jerry Ross. And Jerry Ross died at the age of 29 from a very rare illness. And Richard Adler flew back from wherever he was, I think he was in St. Louis, and the first thing that happened was he was met at the airport, and he was handed a copy of, I think it was that day’s New York Post, which said Richard Adler dead rather than Jerry Ross. And in a sense, he kind of understood the implication behind the headline, that having lost his partner, that would, those glory days of Pajama Game and Damn Yankees would never come again in the same way, you know, if you think about Richard Rodgers after Oscar Hammerstein, or Ira Gershwin after George Gershwin’s death. But he kept going, and he did lots of other things. If you remember that famous version of Happy Birthday to You that Marilyn Monroe sang to Jack Kennedy…
HH: Oh, yes.
MS: Happy Birthday, Mr. President…that was Richard Adler who produced that show and rehearsed Marilyn through it.
HH: Oh, okay. Next, Neil Armstrong.
MS: Well, again, Neil Armstrong, I mean, it seems like slightly going from the sublime to the ridiculous. I would say, I would put it this way. I think, and again, I hate to keep tying everything back to my book, but I have a little riff on this in my book. I think Neil Armstrong, in that sense, embodies the peak of American achievement.
MS: I find it, you look at Jack Kennedy saying to American science put a man on the Moon by the end of this decade, and that’s unequivocal. It’s not saying put an unmanned drone up there, put some R2D2 type thing to wander around the crater for a bit. Put a man on the Moon with an American flag. And American did it. And I don’t think you’d even get zoning approval to put a flag on the Moon within a decade these days. So he represents, I think he represents the peak of American achievement, and we have been in a kind of sclerosis ever since. It was a peak of human achievement, really.
HH: I’m going to pick my obits here based upon the tie in to After America. Latitia Baldridge.
MS: I’m going to pass on that one, because unless I’m very mistaken, I’m going to have to stumble through the index. But I don’t believe she’s in there.
HH: Okay, how about Dick Clark?
MS: Oh, Dick, you know, I love, I mean, apart from the fact that really until the last couple of years, he looked more or less unchanged since 1954. I love, because show business is full of people who have their moment, and they don’t understand it’s their moment, and then they wind up broke and living in some crummy public housing, and they die all forgotten. And Dick Clark, I always love people, in the same way with Merv Griffin, show business front men who are also great businessmen, so they understand that when the public is no longer so interested in seeing them introduce pop groups on TV every week, that they’ve established some huge corporate enterprise that will go on and go on. And Dick Clark was terrific at that.
HH: You know, I would have loved to see my next nominee for your obituary. If you had written about Phyllis Diller, that would have been worth reading. Did you ever write about Phyllis Diller?
MS: No, but I saw Phyllis Diller once, and had, I mean, people can, if you talk to anybody under a certain age, they can’t sort of grapple with quite what the premise of her persona is these days, a kind of woman doing jokes about how unattractive she is and all the rest of it. But I, at the time of Grease, John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller did a terrific duet version of You’re The One That I Want, which was John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John’s big song from Grease. And as the decades go by, I’ve come to the, I’ve come around to preferring Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller’s cover version of it.
HH: George McGovern left us this year.
MS: Yeah, again, well in a sense, he’s the anti-Dick Clark.
MS: A guy who never really gave a thought to building a big corporate enterprise until he left politics, and tried to do the sort of Bob Newhart thing and run a bed and breakfast in New England, and had had no idea until he tried, attempted to do that, of how the state ensnares you and drags your business down, buries you in paperwork, and buries you in the Bureau of Compliance, and the Department of Regulation. And McGovern was a man who, his couple of year trying to run a bed and breakfast actually outweigh his entire life in politics, because he learned more. If he’d had that two year experience first, he would have been an entirely different politician.
HH: Russell Means.
HH: Russell Means of the American Indian movement.
MS: That’s another one who’s not in the afterward.
HH: Is Leroy Neiman in the index?
MS: No, I’m trying to pull the index up online here, because I’m on a remote at the moment, and I can’t find that. So I’ll pass on that one, too.
HH: Well, I certainly hope that Donna Summer is in the index.
MS: Oh, I loved Donna Summer, and in fact, a couple of weeks ago, when you played my disco version of Marshmallow World, we do the intro, we use In The Bleak Midwinter as a sort of verse for that. And I said to Kevin Amos, my arranger, I said the best intro to a disco record ever is Donna Summer’s to Last Dance.
MS: And I said so just lift that, and that’s fine. And we did, because that is. She made the best disco records. And then we stole the end from her duet with Barbra Streisand of No More Tears/Enough Is Enough. So one way or another, I basically have to salute Donna Summer, because I stole all her greatest hits for one record.
HH: I have three left. Novelist Gore Vidal.
MS: Gore Vidal, I though, was an old fraud who was impossible to take seriously. He famously went on television in Britain to denounce various conspiracies about the secret services in Britain covering up all kinds of things. But instead of calling them MI5 and MI6, he called them M15 and M16, which are not intelligence services, but are actually motorways or interstates, as you’d say here. So the entire nation, because he was passing himself off as this great kind of sophisticated man who understood the real truth that the newspapers weren’t telling us, but when you confuse the intelligence service with an obscure interstate highway, you’re kind of giving away the fact that you’re just skating on very thin intellectual ice there. And he did that for a long time, but it caught up with him at the end.
HH: Penultimate farewell from Mark Steyn, James Q. Wilson.
HH: James Q. Wilson, great public intellectual. Didn’t you read Commentary throughout your 80s and 90s?
MS: Oh, yeah yeah. No, that’s right. I thought you said James T. Wilson. I was thinking Francis Scott Key. James Q. Wilson. No, absolutely a great man, one of the most important conservative intellectuals, and I would say this, too, that he embodies the advantage that American conservatism had in the last forty years or so, in that it had a huge intellectual heft behind it. And I think in that sense, what we worry about, you know, people get fussy about this in some ways, but the advantage we have that the left was all about power. The left was all about power. They didn’t care about their own intellectual tradition or anything. We were rooted, the American right was rooted in an intellectual vigor that James Q. Wilson embodied at its height.
HH: And 30 seconds for our friend, Andrew Breitbart.
MS: Well, Andrew Breitbart is how you take the Wilsonian intellectual heft and kick it out there for the masses. He accepted almost all the basic premises of Wilson, but he also understood that if you’re not framing it in contemporary cultural terms, the culture is going to squash politics every time.
HH: The passing parade with Mark Steyn, 2013 edition. Thank you, Mark.
End of interview.