I’m still wrestling with Victoria Johnson’s Heartland TV*, but I was most intrigued by (maybe the same as “bored with,” paradoxically, which may be as the author intended) her fascinating(/dull) chapter about Lawrence Welk as avatar of Midwestern Squareness. I’m no Welkian (although I watched many an episode alongside my Bubbe during the ’70s), but I do think that the following assessment of his resistance to innovation is overstated, if not untrue: “He is also seen, in the 1960s and 1970s, as the only musical series star to counter the medium’s ‘current kick of exalting teenage beat music and the weirdos who play it'” (79; the internal quote is from a 1970 newspaper review by Pete Rahn of Welk’s “Red, White, and Blue Special”).
Submitted for your enjoyment: LW’s fantastic bass singer Larry Hooper teams up with Kenny Trimble and the LW Orchestra to tackle a brand-new rock’n’roll song that tore up the charts in 1963. As you can tell, Hooper and Trimble double-down on the “weirdo” cred — the former as a fast-scattin’ beatnik, the latter as a what-the-fuck twin of Joe Besser’s Stinky. Welk wasn’t the only music head who recognized how cool Mr. Bass Man was — the alt-folk/psychedelic/weirdo cult band The Holy Modal Rounders covered it after Larry W did (retitling it as “Mr. Spaceman”).
Who’s the square now? Dig it, daddy-o, and decide for yourself:
Lawrence Welk & Co, “Mr. Bass Man”
More of LW “not chasing the teen demo” with his version of “Hey, Jude”:
… and here’s Larry Hooper the Hipster again in 1962’s cover of the Orlons’ smash “White Watusi” (uh, sorry, I guess it’s called “Wah Watusi.” My mistake):
… like LW says, let’s “Rock Around the Clock” …
… and a real mind-blower: Larry goes hippie, circa 1969 (in which LW “flips his bippy”):
* There’s lots of stuff I’m not sure about in Heartland TV. The chapter on MTM shows as “Heartland” irked me, more than once: as a there-the-first-time viewer, I’m not sure I really associated the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” with the “Midwest” or a regionally specific “Heartland,” but rather a near-fictional “not New York” — a place where there was still lots of snow and a cityscape, but not so many African Americans (other than Gordy, of course). In fact, I’d argue that there was a lot more continuity between the “Dick Van Dyke Show” (and Mary’s white-bread New Rochelle) and “TMTMS” — including a thick vein of Yiddishkeit that ran through both shows (unsurprisingly — to me, anyway — MTM’s creative team of James L. Brooks, Alan Burns, Stan Daniels and Ed. Weinberger are all East-coast Jews. And, of course: “Rhoda”). And as for MTM locating its shows (and their sensibilities) in the Heartland — well, what about “Paul Sands in Friends and Lovers” (NYC), “Rhoda” (NYC, duh), “The White Shadow”(LA — although I guess you could argue that the lead was a “Heartlander” who played for the Bulls), “Tony Randall Show” (Philly), “Phyllis” (the character was a SF native who returns to her coastal home), “Lou Grant” (LA again), etc. I guess I’m also grappling with the distinction between “Heartland,” “Rural,” and “Southern” — at one point Johnson suggests a claim for Jimmy Carter as a “Heartlander” (in a reference to the “emergence of Jimmy Carter as ‘small-town virtued …'” 113), for instance — and the theme of anti-urban agrarianism that runs through the 20th Century starting with “I’ll Take My Stand” which lurks behind a lot of “Heartland-y” programming. Was “Heartland” a re-location program for nonurban shows when “Southern” became too racially charged a geographical setting (in the post-Civil Rights era)? By bet is so …