Monthly Archives: November 2010

Song: “Rock Around the Clock”


Rock Around the Clock certainly wasn't the first rock and roll record. But after it was used in the credits of The Blackboard Jungle, it launched the movement. Uploaded by

Here are two minutes and eight seconds that forever changed the music world. It’s sometimes said that “Rock Around the Clock” was the first rock and roll record, but it really wasn’t. Songs that basically fit the understood rhythms of rock were recorded as early as the mid 1940s. But there’s no question that when Bill Haley and His Comets released this record in 1954, kids were ready to, well, rock and roll.

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Today, artists can take days, months even, to record a song. But Bill Haley, even with a Decca recording contract, had only a couple of hours to record both sides of his new single. (Sammy Davis, Jr. had the studio next.) “Rock Around the Clock” was completed in two takes. It made a minor dent on the charts, and disappeared.

But wait! The next year (1955), the opening credits of the film The Blackboard Jungle used the song, and it became a huge hit. It became the first rock and roll song to make it to number one, where it stayed for eight weeks. Hollywood tried to cash in by featuring Haley and the boys in two movies: Rock Around the Clock (1956) and Don’t Knock the Rock (1957). Don’t look for those films on this list…ever.

By the way, I’d like to hear the B-side to this record. It’s called “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town).” Sounds interesting, don’t you think?

Travel: San Antonio River Walk


What began as a project to control flooding in downtown San Antonio has turned into one of the nation's most fascinating pedestrian destinations. Uploaded by

San Antonio is too large to be a “well-kept secret.” And yet, it has that feel. Ask people about it, and they’ll know the Alamo, maybe. The San Antonio Spurs, possibly. But people who like to eat, drink, and live well know one thing about San Antonio: its wonderful River Walk.

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It features dozens of restaurants, offering everything from barbecue to Southwestern to catfish. Lots of hotels, from the budget variety to the five-star. Interesting attractions, unique shopping, dazzling nightlife, all along the picturesque San Antonio River. There’s a mall (of course), theaters, museums, and it literally is a “walk” — most of these attractions are along a couple of sidewalks one level down from street level.

River Walk has its origins in a flood control plan conceived in the 1920s to protect the downtown area. A bypass channel for the river was originally going to be paved over, but the San Antonio Conservation Society and prominent local architect Robert Hugman had a better idea: Turn the river into a center for local commerce. Downtown San Antonio wasn’t especially safe at that time, and some thought the idea foolish. Time has shown that Hugman was a visionary, and the River Walk has been lengthened several times because of its popularity with businesses.

Many festivals are held along the river, so if you’d like to take one in, consider going to Fiesta in April, Restaurant Week in August, or JazzS’Alive in September. But really, there’s always something happening on the River Walk. It’s San Antonio’s festival that never stops.

Music: Johnny Mercer

As a businessman, he co-founded Capitol Records. As a singer, he had a number of hits. But his real strength was songwriting, particularly lyrics, at which he's one of the music industry's all-time best. Uploaded by

This Georgia boy brought a Southern sensibility to popular music in the 1930s-1960s, and became a noted singer as well. Primarily he was a lyricist, writing words for such composers as Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Henry Mancini and, occasionally, himself.

Mercer first made his mark among the Tin Pan Alley songwriters of New York, but soon realized the future was writing music for films, causing him to move to Hollywood. His songs were recorded by Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and many other prominent singers of that era.

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A partial list of the songs Mercer contributed to the “Great American Songbook” include:

“Goody Goody” (1936) * “I’m an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande” (1936) * “Hooray for Hollywood” (1937) * “Too Marvelous for Words” (1937) * “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” (1938) * “Jeepers Creepers” (1938) * “And the Angels Sing” (1939) * “Fools Rush In” (1940) * “Blues in the Night” (1941) * “I Remember You” (1941) * “Tangerine” (1941) * “This Time the Dream’s On Me” (1941) * “That Old Black Magic” (1942) * “Skylark” (1942) * “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” (1943) * “Dream” (1943) * “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive” (1944) * “Laura” (1945) * “Come Rain or Come Shine” (1946) * “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (Academy Award, 1946) * “Autumn Leaves” (1947) * “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” (Academy Award, 1951) * “Glow Worm” (1952) * “Something’s Gotta Give” (1954) * “Moon River” (Academy Award, 1964) * “Days of Wine and Roses” (Academy Award, 1964) * “I Wanna Be Around” (1964) * “Summer Wind” (1965)

As if songwriting weren’t enough, Mercer had a successful recording career, and sang with several big bands. And he was a co-founder of Capitol Records. He was nominated for 19 Academy Awards, and won four. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971, and the organization presents an annual songwriting award in his name.

Book: The Sound and the Fury


When published in 1929, The Sound and the Fury wasn't a commercial success. But as Faulkner's fame and popularity grew, people came to appreciate it more. Uploaded by

In The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (Great American Things, September 30, 2010) returns to his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, where he shows the final destruction of the Old South through the dissolution of the once-prominent Compson family.

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It’s a challenging book to read, told as it is in four sections and four points of view. The first section is narrated by the mentally handicapped Benjy Compson, and uses stream of consciousness that’s difficult to follow. The next section is told by Quentin Compson, a depressed Harvard student who’s tormented by his sister’s promiscuity and ends up committing suicide. The third section is also narrated by a Compson brother, this time Jason. It’s mostly linear and is therefore more easily understood. The last section employs a third-person, universal point of view.

The Sound and the Fury wasn’t a commercial success when published in 1929, but as Faulkner became better known, readers found this book. It’s a significant reason he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. Modern Library ranked it as the sixth best novel of the twentieth century.  As for the title, it’s derived from a soliloquy by Macbeth: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Americana: Black Friday


People start scouring the Internet in early November to learn who has the best deals. Then they forgo sleep and queue up with hundreds of like-minded bargain hunters. Uploaded by

If you’re old enough, and I have to admit I am, you can remember when the Christmas shopping season began on the day after Thanksgiving. Until that day, Christmas music wasn’t played, retail stores weren’t decorated, and nobody got up before dawn to go shopping. Over time, retailers got greedier – and I hate to use that language, but I calls ’em as I sees ’em – and shopping moved earlier and earlier in the year. But the day everyone pointed to – and they still do – is the day after Thanksgiving, which became known as Black Friday.

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While that term sounds strangely ominous, its origin is said to be that this is the busiest shopping day of the year, hence the day stores get “in the black.” It’s as good an explanation as any. Stores began opening at 6 a.m., then 5 a.m., and now some are opening at midnight. In fact, as popular as this day has become for bargain hunters, it may eventually disappear, since the greediest retailers are now staying open on Thanksgiving Day. Their greed is disgusting, and if I were the King of All Things, I’d have them lose millions when people stayed away.

In the meantime, shoppers begin scouring the Internet early in November to get an idea of the deals they can expect on Black Friday. Maybe a 50-inch HDTV for $995. Or a laptop computer for $249. They’ll line up waiting for the doors to open, and there will be a story or two about someone being trampled by crazed crowds. But the trend is for retailers to put their deals online, which may make the prices available to more people, and alleviate this crowd. Whether that trend takes hold or not, Black Friday will continue to mean once-a-year prices that some won’t be able to resist.

Food: Pumpkin Pie


Pumpkin is native to North America, so it's only natural that pumpkin pie is the official dessert of Thanksgiving - probably Christmas, too. Uploaded by

It’s the official dessert of Thanksgiving. You could say the same for Christmas. And while we may not think of it at other seasons of the year, it’s good any time.

Pumpkin pie is a natural for this list, since pumpkins are native to America. There are lots of recipes for pumpkin pie, ranging from the simplest (pour pumpkin pie filling in a pre-made pie shell) to Martha Stewart-like complex. One famous chef who knows her desserts is Paula Deen, so let’s take a look at her recipe for pumpkin pie, courtesy of the Food Network:

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  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups canned pumpkin, mashed
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg plus 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, optional
  • 1 piece pre-made pie dough
  • Whipped cream, for topping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place 1 piece of pre-made pie dough down into a (9-inch) pie pan and press down along the bottom and all sides. Pinch and crimp the edges together to make a pretty pattern. Put the pie shell back into the freezer for 1 hour to firm up. Fit a piece of aluminum foil to cover the inside of the shell completely. Fill the shell up to the edges with pie weights or dried beans (about 2 pounds) and place it in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, remove the foil and pie weights and bake for another 10 minutes or until the crust is dried out and beginning to color.

For the filling, in a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese with a hand mixer. Add the pumpkin and beat until combined. Add the sugar and salt, and beat until combined. Add the eggs mixed with the yolks, half-and-half, and melted butter, and beat until combined. Finally, add the vanilla, cinnamon, and ginger, if using, and beat until incorporated.

Pour the filling into the warm prepared pie crust and bake for 50 minutes, or until the center is set. Place the pie on a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Cut into slices and top each piece with a generous amount of whipped cream.

I couldn’t find a video of Paula making her pumpkin pie, so here’s a completely different pumpkin pie video:

Sports: Ted Williams


Ted Williams was possibly the greatest hitter in baseball history. Yet he sacrificed five seasons to serve his country as a Naval aviator in World War II and the Korean War. Uploaded by

Many baseball people consider Ted Williams the best pure hitter in baseball history. I’m certainly willing to go along with that suggestion. The 2011 campaign will mark the 70th anniversary of his .406 season, the last time any major leaguer’s batting average has topped .400. He won the triple crown twice, in 1941 and 1947. And he was American League MVP twice – in 1946 and 1949. Can anyone explain how a player who wins the triple crown can not be named MVP?


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Williams seemed to understand before most hitters the importance of bat speed. He used a lighter bat than most of his contemporaries, the better to generate power. That helped him lead the league in homers and RBIs four times. And yet his batting eye was so keen that he also led the league in walks in eight seasons.

As dominant as Williams was, there’s no telling what his career statistics might have been had World War II and the Korean War interfered. Williams served as a fighter pilot in both wars, causing him to miss three prime seasons in the 1940s, and two more in the 1950s. Still he finished in the 500-homer club and had a career batting average of .344.

Beyond his baseball career, Williams was also a noted sport fisherman, and was inducted into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame. Still, it’s his proficiency hitting a baseball that we’ll always remember. Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski said of “The Splendid Splinter”: “He studied hitting the way a broker studies the stock market, and could spot at a glance mistakes that others couldn’t see in a week.”

Singer: Loretta Lynn


She's had 11 number one hits, every major award a country singer can win, and a place in the Country Music and Grammy Awards halls of fame. Not bad for a coal miner's daughter. Uploaded by

Imagine growing up in a place called Butcher Holler, being married at age 13, having four children by the age of 19, and then deciding to pursue a music career. That’s an unusual background for success, but it gave Loretta Lynn, the coal miner’s daughter, an authenticity and an ambition that being born to money could never have provided.

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Lynn looked to Patsy Cline (Great American Things, November 16, 2009) as a mentor, and indeed named one of her children Patsy in the legend’s honor. Ironically, Lynn assumed Cline’s place as the leading lady of country music after Cline’s untimely death. Most of Lynn’s early successes were honky-tonk songs, and she had a string of hits in the 60s. In her career, she’s had 47 songs make the top 20 on the Country chart, with an amazing 11 make it all the way to number 1. She also had a dozen top 10 duets with Conway Twitty, the first five of which were also number one hits.

She’s won so many awards it’s not possible to list them here. Among the  highlights: CMA Vocalist of the Year (3x), CMA Entertainer of the Year (1972), Academy of Country Music Awards Top Female Vocalist (4x) and its Entertainer of the Year (1975), the Grammy Awards Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, CMT’s 40 Greatest Women of Country Music (no. 3), and Kennedy Center Honors (2003).

Film: This Is Spinal Tap


I'm sure that some parts of the movie were scripted, but the vast majority was improvised by the actors. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Rob Reiner got writing credit. Uploaded by

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the great David St. Hubbins, the amazing Nigel Tufnel, and the wonderful Derek Smalls appeared together in one film showcasing their groundbreaking band, Spinal Tap? And what if legendary director Marty DiBergi filmed a documentary to preserve the band’s journey for posterity? Well, it actually happened, and the resulting film became This Is Spinal Tap.

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The movie was “written” by actors Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Christopher Guest along with director Rob Reiner — a basic storyline had been constructed, but much of the dialogue was improvised. During the film, we get to hear some of Spinal Tap’s greatest hits, including “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight,” “Big Bottom,” and “Stonehenge.” McKean, Shearer, and Guest played their own instruments and had perfect over-the-top British accents.

The parody was so well executed that several people came up to Rob Reiner after viewing the film and said they loved the film, but why didn’t he choose a more popular band for his documentary? Among the honors This Is Spinal Tap has earned are the number 29 spot on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Laughs. New York Times film critic Janet Maslin wrote, “It stays so wickedly close to the subject that it is very nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.”

TV Show: The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show

Burns and Allen appeared together in vaudeville, movies, 675 radio programs, and 291 TV episodes. It's a wonder they had any ideas left. Uploaded by

George Burns and Gracie Allen were husband and wife who worked together in vaudeville, movies, radio, and finally, TV. Imagine, they did 675 episodes on radio, it’s a wonder they had any ideas left when they were one of the first radio programs to make the transition to television. (They did 291 TV shows in eight seasons!)

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The show was based on two constants: Gracie as a ditzy housewife, and George breaking the “fourth wall” and speaking directly to the audience, commenting on the action. The comedy emanated from Gracie’s off-kilter view of the world, and the mayhem that always ensued. One great running gag was the “hats in the closet.” A man would come in the Burns’ home, his hat would be put in the closet, and he’d be so eager to leave by the time Gracie got in his head that he’d forget his hat – and wouldn’t  dare go back for it lest Gracie start up again.

I realize that many who’ll read this have never had the opportunity to see this show. It’s been on the air from time to time, but the best I can tell, it’s not on now. The first two seasons (broadcast live) are now in the public domain, though, and you can catch full episodes on YouTube. Here’s one:

Kid Stuff: Play-Doh


Between 1955 and 2005, more than TWO BILLION cans of Play-Doh were sold. The Toy Industry named it to the Century of Toys list honoring the most important toys of the 20th century. Uploaded by

This eternal kid’s substance, this staple of second grades and day care centers, wasn’t created as a toy. It began its existence as: a wallpaper cleaner. Now, I don’t know exactly how a group of Cincinnati schoolchildren decided to play with wallpaper compound, but they did. And they liked it. They liked it a lot. So the Kutol Company of Cincinnati thought, Hmmm. And Play-Doh was born.

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In the scenario above, Play-Doh existed for over a decade before what became its primary reason for being was discovered. The owner’s son took the compound to an educational convention, where Woodward & Lothrop decided to carry it. Then Macy’s of New York followed. And Marshall Field’s of Chicago. And success was just a matter of time.

While there are some additions to the compound to make it more kid-friendly, its main ingredients are water, salt, and wheat flour. It’s clearly a successful formula – more than two billion cans of the stuff were sold between 1955 and 2005. And the Toy Industry Association named Play-Doh  to its Century of Toys list. I’m telling you, that’s got to be the most impressive wallpaper cleaner of all time…

Album: “Pet Sounds”


Mojo magazine named Pet Sounds its number one album of all time. It's number two on Rolling Stone's list. Yet it had only three singles, none of which reached #1. Uploaded by

If you only need to know one thing about this, the 11th studio album released by the Beach Boys (Great American Things, May 16, 2009), it’s all in one statement made by George Martin, legendary producer of the Beatles. He said, “Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn’t have happened… Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.” And yet, Brian Wilson was motivated to make this album because he was so impressed by The Beatles’ Rubber Soul.

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Mojo magazine named it the number one album of all time. Rolling Stone was a little more reserved – it made it number two. (Sergeant Pepper was number one, so it looks like George Martin did his job.) You’d think an album so universally praised would be chock full of hits. But there were only three singles released on the album: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (reached number 8), “Sloop John B” (number 3), and “God Only Knows” (number 39).

So many influential musicians have praised Pet Sounds so lavishly, their words should conclude this tribute. Elton John: “It is a timeless and amazing recording of incredible genius and beauty.” Paul McCartney: “It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. I love the album so much. I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard that album.” Eric Clapton: I consider Pet Sounds to be one of the greatest pop LPs to ever be released. It encompasses everything that’s ever knocked me out and rolled it all into one.”

Actor: Gregory Peck


Gregory Peck received four Best Actor nominations during his first five years in films. But it wasn't until almost twenty years later that he won -- for To Kill a Mockingbird. Uploaded by

Sometimes one role can capsulize an actor’s career, regardless of how many excellent films he makes. For Gregory Peck, that part was Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (Great American Things, May 21, 2009). Here, Peck’s integrity was on full display, and he endowed Finch with a strength of character few other actors could have accomplished. The role earned Peck his Academy Award for Best Actor.

Uploaded to Flickr by sailtheship.

Of course, he had a long and excellent film career which began in 1944 and concluded in 1993. Among his most memorable films:

The Keys of the Kingdom (1944 – Nomination) … Spellbound (1945)… The Yearling (1946 – Nomination) … Duel in the Sun (1946)… Gentleman’s Agreement (1947 – Nomination)… Twelve O’Clock High (1949 – Nomination)… The Gunfighter (1950)… The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952)… Roman Holiday (1953)… Moby Dick (1956)… The Guns of Navarone (1961)… Cape Fear (1962)… To Kill a Mockingbird (1962 – Academy Award)… MacArthur (1977)… and The Boys from Brazil (1978).

Among the many honors Peck earned were the Presidential Medal of Freedom (awarded by Lyndon Johnson), the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, the Motion Picture Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and the AFI Life Achievement Award.

Person: Dave Barry


You just look at Dave Barry, and you say, This is a funny guy. This isn't the face of a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. But he is. It is. Whatever. Uploaded by

Dave Barry is one funny guy. Okay, I suppose that’s like saying broccoli is one green vegetable. Still, he’s funny when he writes, he’s funny when he talks, and forgive me, he even looks funny. Not weird funny, but ha-ha funny. You look at him, and you know you’re not seeing the face of a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist.

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Whoops! Yes you are. Or you would. Or whatever tense I was using. Which leads me to my favorite Dave Barry alter ego, Mr. Language Person. If I can find one (and if it’s legal wink-wink), I’m going to link to one of the Mr. Language Person columns. Dave was syndicated out of the Miami Herald for 25 years, but he retired from the weekly grind in 2004. We can point to that date, and to the date when Bill Watterston stopped producing Calvin and Hobbes (Great American Things, October 8, 2009) as the beginning of the end for America’s newspaper industry.

If you’ve read Dave’s columns or books, you don’t need me to tell you what a funny guy he is. But if you should not know his work, I’ve found an Ask Mr. Language Person column for you. You can then go to your local bookstore and purchase one of his books. Or visit the Miami Herald website, where you can also see some more of his work. Thanks, Dave Barry, for helping us all not to take ourselves so seriously.

Food: Best Hamburgers (1)


Where can you find America's best hamburger? There are as many opinions as there are hamburger lovers. But these five restaurants are a start. Uploaded by

As much as I’d like to, I can’t get to every restaurant in the country and make this evaluation myself. But if you go to other countries in the world and ask them what’s the quintessential American food, chances are they’ll say, “Hamburger.” So here’s the first installment of The Best Burger Restaurants in America, with comments by the reviewers. (These are not in order of quality or preference.)

Rouge, Philadelphia

“This 12-ounce hunk of well-seasoned beef comes with nutty Gruyère, caramelized onions, and a haystack of pommes frites. (Rouge is) a bona-fide Parisian café whose signature dish has become that perfectly proportioned combo of juicy beef, cheese, and bun.” Selected by

Rouge Restaurant, uploaded by

Kincaid’s Hamburgers, Fort Worth
“Place your order at the counter for a half-pound, lean-but-juicy grilled chuck burger with all the traditional fixings, plus bacon or chili if you desire. Once your name is called, make sure you use two hands to eat your massive burger.” Selected by

Kincaid's Hamburgers. Uploaded by

Dyer’s Burger, Memphis
“Grease is the word at Dyer’s Burger, a Memphis institution since 1912. The pounded-thin, all-beef patties at this café are dunked in a cast-iron skillet of boiling hot vegetable oil. The meat turns crunchy as the fry cook flips it onto a squishy Wonder Bread bun. Selected by

Dyer's Burger. Uploaded by

Le Tub, Hollywood, Florida

“The Sirloin Burger… is magnificent. It’s slowly seared on an indoor grill, crusty on the outside, juicy inside, always perfectly cooked. At eight to ten ounces, it’s ideal big-burger size, and it’s shaped like a pincushion, with sloping sides, which means you get a nice gradient of doneness.” Selected by

Le Tub. Uploaded by

Bill’s Hamburgers, Amory, Mississippi
The burgers at Bill’s are unbelievably tasty, beefy, and rich with grease flavor. The mustard, onion, beef, and bun combination is heaven. Cheese is unnecessary, though available and tomato and lettuce are nowhere to be found. If you really need ketchup or mayo, Amy hides packets behind the counter.”
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Bill's Hamburgers. Uploaded by

Song: “I Walk the Line”


Recorded on the legendary Sun Records label, "I Walk the Line" became Johnny Cash's first number one hit. It stayed on the charts for 43 weeks. Uploaded by

Seems like you can almost hear a train in the rhythm of many of Johnny Cash’s (Great American Things, June 6, 2009) songs. That distinctive sound is one of the elements that makes “I Walk the Line” memorable. That, along with simple but heartfelt lyrics and that unmistakable Johnny Cash voice.

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One of the distinctive things about the song is that, going against convention, “I Walk the Line” doesn’t build to a conclusion. In fact, the last verse is sung an octave lower than the first verse. People asked Johnny why he hummed before each verse. The song changes keys several times, and he said “I hum to get my pitch.”

The song was released on the famous Sun label. It was Johnny Cash’s first number one country hit, and made it to number 17 on the pop chart. “Because you’re mine,” he sings, “I walk the line.” Johnny, what did you mean by that? “I was newly married at the time, and I suppose I was laying out my pledge of devotion.” I guess he did, with a song that stayed on the chart for 43 weeks, and earned the number 30 spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Travel: Small Towns (2)


Small towns aren't without their problems, but they typically don't include high crime, pollution, gangs, and other blights on modern city life. Uploaded by

A year ago, I featured some of America’s best small towns as Great American Things. Even then, I realized that there were so many worthy of inclusion, that post would be the first of several to come. Here is number two. As I said then, “People who’ve grown up in cities, or who’ve become accustomed to city living, think small towns are a thing of the past. But they’re very much real, and very relevant, today.”

Here are some more of America’s greatest small towns:

Cayucos, California

A beach town halfway between L.A. and San Francisco, Cayucos has the mountains on one side and the surf on the other. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Cayucos, CA. Uploaded by

Wallace, Idaho

Although most of the silver mining towns in the panhandle of Idaho are deserted, Wallace remains vibrant and beautiful in its mountain setting.

Wallace, ID. Uploaded by

Rockland, Maine

You don’t have to come for the North Atlantic Blues Festival in July, or the Maine Lobster Festival in August. But don’t you want to?

Rockland, ME. Uploaded by

Whitefish, Montana

Come to ski at Whitefish Mountain Resort, or to enjoy the lakes and rivers that make this town in the Northern Rockies a sportsman’s paradise.

Whitefish, MT. Uploaded by

Port Royal, South Carolina

This lowcountry town has a remodeled historic district and a boardwalk along the Beaufort River. It evokes the hospitality of the Old South while being revitalized for the 21st century.

Port Royal, SC. Uploaded by

Vevay, Indiana

Here’s a town that’s turned being small into a virtue. And yet, it has a rich wine culture and a casino. (By the way, it’s pronounced VEE-vee.)

Vevay, IN. Uploaded by

Doylestown, Pennsylvania

Long a favorite retreat of the well-to-do of New York and Philadelphia, Doylestown has rebuilt itself into a center for history and art.

Doylestown, PA. Uploaded by

Americana: The U.S. Army

From the Continental Army through World War II to Afghanistan, the U.S. Army has defended our freedom with courage and honor. Uploaded by

Clinton L. Chalkley joined the U.S. Army in 1942 and, following a miserable Atlantic crossing on a troop carrier, attained the rank of Master Sergeant during World War II. He served in the Army Antiaircraft Artillery in North Africa before moving with his regiment to Sicily, Corsica, and eventually, Paris. Likewise, my father-in-law, William West, was a radio operator in the Army, and also served in the European theater.

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Fortunately for them, for us, and our families, our fathers came home. Many of The Greatest Generation (Great American Things, May 24, 2009) made the ultimate sacrifice, dying on foreign soil so that we could remain free. Since the Continental Army was created in 1775, an untold number of soldiers in the U.S. Army have died preserving our security and protecting the peace.

As of 2009, the combined strength of the regular Army, the Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve is just over 1.1 million men and women. They’re serving in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and in dozens of other locations at home and abroad. They stand with pride, and dignity, and resolve. They serve unselfishly and with genuine honor. We are humbled by, and often unworthy of, their dedication.

Americana: USA TODAY

USA TODAY has been published since 1982. During that time it has given us more charts, graphs, snippets, and snapshots than any other publication. Uploaded to Flickr by antitezo.

Want a lot of news? USA TODAY has it. Want easy-to-read news? Turn to USA TODAY. Want charts and graphs, lists and snippets? USA TODAY practically invented the info snapshot. Want local news? Come on, USA TODAY can’t have everything.

Uploaded to Flickr by Darien Chin.

The paper, which made its debut in 1982, now has a circulation of 1.8 million. Typically it has four sections: News (blue), Money (green), Sports (red), and Life (purple). While a number of local papers have borrowed some of USA TODAY’s style, it’s still unlike any other paper, different in focus, content, and appearance.

If you’re from Richmond, VA and you’re doing business in Richmond, CA, USA Today feels like a little bit of home, which is ironic since chances are it mentions Richmond only on the weather page. The paper, despite its reputation for only giving news highlights, does a surprisingly good job of covering certain areas, including movies and sports. In the publishing world, it does a better job of having “something for everyone” than just about any other newspaper. That’s not a bad reputation to have.

Book/Film: The Grapes of Wrath

The novel was published in 1939, and earned John Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. The movie followed the next year, and earned 7 Academy Award nominations. Uploaded by john

The Grapes of Wrath is the moving story of the Joad family, Okies forced from their farms due to the crop failures brought on by the Dust Bowl. Tom and the family make the pilgrimage to what they’ve been led to believe is the promised land — California. But when they arrive, they find that there are too many migrants, and too few jobs.

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Published in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath earned John Steinbeck (Great American Things,  October 24, 2009) the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1940. That’s the year the film version debuted, directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. As often happens in adaptations, the movie had a slightly happier ending than the book. Part of that can be attributed to the natural inclination of film producers to want audiences to leave happy; part is likely due to the fact that Ford and executive producer Darryl F. Zanuck were more politically conservative than Steinbeck.

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won two. The American Film Institute’s original “100 Years…100 Movies” named it the number 21 film of all time. As for the book, Modern Library honored it as the tenth-best novel of the 20th century.