Sunday, September 20, 2009

Youtube and Cultural Memory....

Looking for "gunfighter ballads" I might have forgotten I went over to Youtube to see if there was a video for "The Ballad of Paladin," the theme song to the 1950s-1960s TV western series Have Gun, Will Travel. And, off course there was.

There should be (and quite possibly is already) a name for the Youtube effect in which one thing leads to another, spirals out of control, and before you know it, you're older.

Go on and click on that link to the video of "The Ballad of Paladin." Look to the right and at the list of related videos and how can you NOT click on the opening of Rawhide? Now, how can you resist looking at the opening of The Rifleman? And now you've clicked on the intro to Gunsmoke, haven't you? And Gunsmoke makes you click on the intro to Cheyenne, a series you didn't realize you remembered until the music kicked in.

And as a repository for the theme songs to all the TV westerns of the 1950s and 1960s Youtube has become this instantly accessible repository for that odd sort of affective cultural memory that television theme songs inhabit.

If it hasn't been named then let me suggest we call it the "Youtube spiral."

Cheyenne led to Colt 45 which led to Johnny Yuma which led to Bat Masterson which led to Jim Bowie which led to Shotgun Slade which led to Tombstone Territory and there, at the very end of the spiral, I found Tate.

Tate was a Western television series starring David McLean that aired on the NBC television network from June 8, 1960 until September 14, 1960. It was a summer replacement series as a part of the Kraft Summer Theater, and did not catch on as a regular series.

As soon as I saw the video I instantly remembered the series with a feeling that's hard to describe. It was like forgetting you speak an obscure foreign language until someone mutters a phrase in passing and the memory of it, it's grammar and vocabulary, suddenly come flooding in.

When the series aired I would have been six years old. I'm sure it was never shown in syndication, but 1960 would have been the very center of the golden age of TV westerns and I remember being a fan of all of them. Like every other kid of the era I practiced my fast draw, could "fan" a six-shooter and fire my Winchester air rifle with the best of them.

These memories have to have been what inspired me some years back to buy an Italian-made replica of an 1870s Colt .45 single action revolver. It's my favorite gun to shoot, especially at an outdoor range. I've even learned to "fan" it -- hold the trigger down after the first shot and sweep the palm of your other hand over the hammer of the gun. It hurts like hell by the way, but the thrill is worth it.

But back to Tate....

Like Shane and Paladin, Tate had one name -- a tradition carried on by their 20th Century counterparts, contemporary "guitarslingers" like Prince, Slash, etc. Unlike other TV leading men, Tate had lost the use of his left arm during the Civil War. Afterward, he roamed the West as a bounty hunter/fast gun trying to earn enough money to get his damaged arm surgically repaired. Yes, even in the late-19th Century the lack of national health care often had tragic results.

Tate dressed in black leather with his left arm covered with black leather and slung with a glove on the end. I think it's that I remember; seeing a handicapped figure in a starring role was unusual for TV of the time. it's reasonable to suggest that Tate paved the way for later shows with handicapped lead characters like Ironside and Longstreet.

I've wonder if the character of Tate wasn't informed in some manner by the handicapped WWII veteran, John J. Macreedy, played by Spencer Tracy in the 1955 film, Bad Day At Black Rock. Like Tate, Macreedy faces down the bad guy with just one arm (Tracy keeps his left hand in his pocket the entire film). This fight scene with Earnest Borgnine seems lifted from any one of a thousand classic westerns. Notice how Lee Marvin looks on from a nearby table.

Though short-lived, the series featured a long list of guest stars, including Julie Adams, Chris Alcaide, James Coburn, Robert Culp, Jock Gaynor, Martin Landau, Leonard Nimoy, Warren Oates, and Robert Redford. One episode was even directed by famed actress/director Ida Lupino.

In 2008, The entire 13-episode series was released on DVD by Timeless Media Group, something made possible I suspect because the series is in the public domain. Copyrights that never expire would mean the permanent banishment of who knows how many films and series like this.

One last note.... At the time of the series its star David McLean was already well known as the Marlboro Man, one of the most famous advertising campaigns in advertising history. It would also be one of the most ironic and infamous since McLean himself died of lung cancer in 1995.


Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say how much I enjoy your posts both on Expecting Rain and here-- the arguments and jokes and opinions too.

I'm new to Dylan's work and there is a lot of silliness out there that has to be navigated to find all the good stuff. I appreciate your clarity and balanced conviction. Very helpful. Really works for this philosophy prof.

Just read the posts on whether it's worth it to go out and find the vinyl of some albums. Informative and funny. Man, can't beat that.

I'm MMD on ER. I don't post often.

Just thought you'd like to know your efforts were being appreciated.

Stan Denski said...