Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Daily Buzzkills: Funeral Friday

Congratulations on making it to the end of another week! Unfortunately, these people didn't. Light a candle for Funeral Friday.

Proving that “protest music” doesn’t always have to sound like a riot, Peter, Paul And Mary created some of the most indelible songs of the ’60s folk revival without ever wielding anything heavier than an allegory. Of course, not everyone in that movement was quick to embrace them, mostly due to the way it came together: Glamorous blonde amateur singer Mary Travers caught the eye of Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, and he stuck her directly in the middle of Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey in hopes of creating a folk act that could rival The Kingston Trio. It worked, but the group also drew criticism from some of the movement’s more contentious members for its smooth, commercially appealing sound—and especially for translating Bob Dylan’s songs like “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’” into something even squares could get behind.

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But to dismiss Peter Paul And Mary as the lighter side of the ’60s would discount the impact and importance of its crossover appeal, which provided an entry point for everyone to discover people like Pete Seeger, whose songs “If I Had A Hammer” and “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” became two of the most recognized tunes of the era thanks to their version. And the group didn’t just sing about peace: They worked for it, famously singing at the 1963 March On Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (whom they also stood with in Selma), and becoming deeply involved in the Vietnam War protest, often showing up at demonstrations and “teach-ins” to perform for free. That’s not to say they didn’t make a little money: Their self-titled debut stayed in the Top 10 albums for nearly a year, and the week of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, they had three albums at the top of the charts. And while “Puff The Magic Dragon” still finds itself dogged by urban legends that it’s an extended metaphor for smoking marijuana (something the group has strenuously denied, then jokingly denied, then wearily denied), it’s become one of the most enduring songs of the 20th century, covered dozens of times over, adapted into storybooks and cartoons, and revived all over again whenever a young child hears it for the first time. Considering how many of their songs are more or less standards now, it’s actually sort of odd that the group only scored a single No. 1 hit, with a cover of John Denver’s “Leaving On A Jet Plane.” But while that song hung on strong in the tidal waves of electric guitar that soon came crashing down—acknowledged in their self-deprecating hit “I Dig Rock ‘N’ Roll Music”—Peter, Paul And Mary ended with the decade that they’d helped to edify, parting ways in 1970.

In many post-mortem biographies about the group and the movement they symbolized, much has been made of Travers’ sex appeal, and its role in making folk music palatable to a mass audience. As Positively Fourth Street author David Hadju put it, “[Travers] had a kind of sexual confidence combined with intelligence, edginess and social consciousness—a potent combination.” Indeed, without Travers as a focal point, combined with the prettified veneer (though undeniably palpable urgency) her high harmonies brought to Peter, Paul And Mary’s songs, it’s hard to imagine audiences en masse paying attention to what was ostensibly a beatnik phenomenon like they did—and in that way, Travers helped steer the course of not only a still-influential musical movement, but a social one as well. And while the end of the ’60s took Peter, Paul And Mary with it, it needed only one good cause to reunite: After getting together to protest nuclear power in 1978, the trio continued to tour and record sporadically up until very recently, when Travers’ health increasingly became an issue. She was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004 (later receiving a bone marrow transplant) and underwent two back surgeries, causing several show cancellations on various tours. Her last performance with the group was in 2007; she died this week at the age of 72, leaving Peter and Paul to once more soldier on alone.

There were 8 million stories in the naked city, and the TV series Naked City (adapted from the film of the same name) covered as many of them as it could. The gritty police drama combined a filmed-on-location, noirish vision of New York’s detectives and the criminals they pursued with warmth and occasional flashes of humor, a formula that would later become the hallmark of modern procedurals like Law And Order and Homicide. The show initially failed as a half-hour series in 1958, but it was revived in 1960 as an hour-long show, and while the focus was still on standalone cases, the new Naked City replaced characters held over from the film with a single protagonist: the sensitive, deliberate Detective Adam Flint, whose sympathetic sleuthing was the show’s one constant. Flint was brought to life by Paul Burke, an actor who had previously starred as the titular veterinarian in Noah’s Ark, and whose TV crime-fighting work included roles on Dragnet and Five Fingers.

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Over three years and nearly 100 episodes, Burke kept the streets of New York safe, earning two Emmy nominations for his trouble. After the show ended its run in 1963, Burke landed another lead on the short-lived Air Force drama 12 O’Clock High, where he met his second wife, Lyn Peters. (An interesting side note: Burke had three children with his first wife, and from them came six grandchildren—one of whom is Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat.) Burke remained a familiar face on TV throughout the ’80s, turning in requisite cameos on ’70s shows like Charlie’s Angels, Hawaii Five-O, The Love Boat, and T.J. Hooker, and then settling into recurring roles on Magnum P.I. and Dynasty, where he appeared in 25 episodes as the corrupt, murderous Congressman Neal McVane.

Ironically, it was accusations of real-life corruption that eventually ended Burke’s career: In 1990, he was accused of racketeering for asking his childhood friend, New Orleans D.A. Harry F. Connick—father of Harry Connick, Jr.—to return gambling records that had been seized during a raid on another of Burke’s friends, bookie Walton Aucoin. Though he was eventually acquitted on both that charge and another for lying to a grand jury, Burke never really recovered from the bad publicity surrounding the case. (As he told the Associated Press in 1992, “I couldn’t get a job, so I said the hell with it.”) He spent the last nearly 20 years living out his retirement in Palm Springs. He died this week at the age of 83 after suffering from both leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

While not an artist, per se, Melvin Simon’s impact on pop culture is undeniable: As the foremost developer of the suburban behemoth known as the shopping mall, he helped give rise to “mall culture”—that teenager terrarium where instantly disposable music, movies, slang, and fashion fads are bred and then fed back to them, not to mention all the punk rebellion and anti-corporate agitprop that rails against it. A poor son of a Bronx tailor who slowly clawed his way up into the real estate business, Simon peppered the landscape with his giant shopping centers after the success of his first strip mall in Bloomington, and expanded outwards a half-dozen properties at a time until eventually his Simon Property Group came to own 387 properties worldwide—the largest number of malls in the world. (According to the New York Times, his empire currently comprises 244 million square feet, generating more than 2.8 billion shopping visits and $60 billion in sales per year in the U.S. alone.) Two of his biggest accomplishments—the Mall of America and the vertical shopping center that replaced the old Gimbels in Manhattan—are more than just stores; they’re landmarks.

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In addition to shaping our modern landscape, developing the business model that all mall operators now follow, and homogenizing our culture, Simon’s other big innovations included adding movie theaters to shopping centers, which influenced an entire generation of raunchy comedies and slashers targeted at the same kids looking for a cheap diversion in between sucking down Orange Juliuses and shoplifting from Chess King. Simon even briefly got into the film business himself, most famously investing in 1982’s Porky’s—a film tailor-made for the rambunctious, teenaged crowds flooding his creations. (While not as profitable, other Simon-produced films like When A Stranger Calls, My Bodyguard, and The Stunt Man still enjoy a healthy following.) He also put his money in sports and civic pride, purchasing the troubled Indiana Pacers in 1983 just as they were considering a desperate move to Sacramento; as with almost everything Simon touched, the team quickly turned itself around and became ridiculously profitable. Simon died this week at the age of 82. His funeral was attended by basketball stars Reggie Miller and (former Pacers coach) Larry Bird, as well as President Bill Clinton, who eulogized Simon as “one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met.”

Have a super weekend!

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