Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ranking the Armstrongs

Dear Friends,

   Here's something unusual. I'm going explain what this month's Hard Taco song is about.  
   In 1997, I decided to write a rock opera about George Armstrong Custer, the storied U.S. cavalry commander who died alongside all his men at the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn. The ethically murky American Indian Wars seemed like a good backdrop for a musical, and General Custer made for a great lead character because he was brash and grandiose and tragic. As I read more about Custer's life, however, I was much more fascinated by his second-in-command, Major Marcus Reno. While Custer was charging into battle at Little Bighorn, Reno was leading a disorganized retreat from a skirmish a few miles away. Afterwards, he was a convenient scapegoat for a public that adored Custer and could not believe the U.S. Army had lost a major battle to the native tribes. Custer's widow, Libbie, and his biographer, Frederick Whittaker, made careers out of aggrandizing Custer's memory, and they were among the loudest voices decrying Reno as a coward.
   Three years after the Battle of Little Bighorn, Major Reno requested a court of inquiry into his own conduct during the battle, hoping to clear his name of these allegations. Although he was not officially found guilty of dereliction of duty, he was never acquitted in the public eye, and died penniless a few years later.
   This month's Hard Taco song, "Where Were You," tells a fictionalized account of the aforementioned trial, in which Libbie Custer and Frederick Whittaker stand as Reno's accusers. After this song languished on the most distant of back burners for 16 years, recording it is a major accomplishment for me. Even though I never got around to writing any other Custer songs, I think this one makes for a pretty good stand-alone mini-rock opera. Let me know what you think.
   In the meantime, enjoy this Celebrity Surname Smackdown, in which I rank famous people based on how true they are to their surnames (or in Custer's case, their middle names.)


Rank by arm strength:
Billy Joe Armstrong - Impressive. Sometimes, he stands perfectly still and only moves his arms.
Lance Armstrong - Plenty of leg strength, but I'm sure the systemic effects of the erythropoietin benefit his upper limbs, too.
Louis Armstrong - Spent 24 hours a day holding either a trumpet or a very large joint.
George Armstrong Custer - Had enlisted men trim his glorious moustache for him.
Neil Armstrong - A flag that weighs 5 pounds on earth only weighs 0.8 pounds on the moon. Loser.

Rank by youth:
Angus Young - Age 58.
Neil Young - Age 67.
Henny Youngman - Age 107.
Cy Young - Age 146.
Brigham Young - Age 212.

Rank by baldness:
William Baldwin - No baldness.
Alec Baldwin - No baldness whatsoever.
Stephen Baldwin - Zero baldness. Seriously, these guys all have great hair.
Tammy Baldwin - None, unless you count her fists, which are balled in the war against sexual assault in the military!

Rank by wealth:
50 Cent - Got rich. Did not die tryin'.
Tyra Banks - Gets a nickel every time someone buys a copy of the 1996 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
George Banks - Thanks to Mary Poppins, he got his old job back with a promotion!
Elizabeth Banks - So far she's doing okay, but the star of "Zach and Miri Make a Porno" and "The Hunger Games" will eventually be forced to decide between those two fates.
Lionel Richie - No hits since 1986 + two divorces + inconveniently extravagant daughter.
Joe Buck - Rumor has it that he's just living play-to-play.
Guy Ritchie - During one particularly doomed relationship, he donated his savings to the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles.
Eddie Money - Shouldn't have bought that second ticket to paradise.

Rank by smallness:
Stuart Little - 0'2" tall.
Martin Short - 5'7" tall.
Tiny Tim - 6'1" tall.

Rank by who is from the furthest West:
Adam West - Born in Walla Walla. Very west.
Kanye West - Born in Atlanta. Not very west.
Mae West - Born in Brooklyn.  Only considered the west if you live in Queens.
Oliver North - Born in San Antonio. Even if his last name was West, it would still be wrong.

Rank by who knows how to party hardy:
Laura Ingalls Wilder - Threw the best little house party on the prairie.
Gene Wilder - Two words: tunnel scene. And that's right after sniffing a poppy and singing the line, "Anything you want, do it."
Oscar Wilde - When I heard he spent time in jail for "gross indecency," I thought this guy was an animal! But then I learned the sad truth about his conviction... he was not actually in jail, but in gaol.

Rank by who is stiller?
Ben Stiller - Not at all still. Constantly moving, actually.
Jerry Stiller - As of press time, still not still. I'll keep you posted.

With warmest regards,