An American Abroad

Trump: Ya Got Trouble

Not long after the video of the Gilbert & Sullivan parody I wrote about Kim Davis hit the interwebs, I was again contacted by Richard Kraft. This time, he offered me a commission to write a parody about Donald Trump set to a song in The Music Man by Meredith Wilson.

In the original musical, the song is sung by Harold Hill, a charismatic con man who goes from town to town selling musical instruments. Since every product must assuage an anxiety, he cleverly ginned up concern among the parents of the American midwest that their sons were being corrupted by the game of pool. Once that anxiety hit a fever pitch, Harold Hill came up with the solution: the formation of a boys’ band that would get American youth out of the pool halls and into the wholesome activity of playing in a brass band.

The parallels to Trump and his attempts to foment anxiety about immigrants and ISIS were perfect. Once I began writing, the words just fell into place. Here is the result. Enjoy!

Bucket Lists Trivialize Travel

There isn’t anything uniquely awful about this article that pushed me over the edge into rant mode. In fact, by avoiding the hackneyed and cliched term “bucket list” in favor of the hackneyed and cliched term “trips of a lifetime,” it actually got some points from me. Well, a tenth of a point anyway.

Per CNN and TripAdvisor, here are the places that the American media conglomerate thinks I must see and things I must do — the trips “you spend your whole life dreaming about”:

1. See the Northern Lights
2. Sleep in an Overwater Bungalow
3. Admire the Sunset Over Santorini
4. Trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
5. Explore the Galapagos Islands
6. Visit Italy’s Alfami Coast
7. Photograph the ‘Big Five’ on Safari
8. Take the Ultimate Road Trip [on Route 66]
9. Set Foot on Antarctica
10. Ride the Trans-Siberian Railway

I read this list with mounting annoyance and then jumped on Twitter to write “#YABBLE: Yet Another Bullshit Bucket List Exercise.” I’d finally snapped.

I’m not a travel snob. I’m not put out by the destinations listed by CNN, even though I weary of seeing the same locales flogged over and over in travel articles and blog posts. I’d like to go to all of them. Of course, I’d also like to go to Flint (Michigan), Swansea (Wales), the Wotje Atoll (Marshall Islands), or any one of ten thousand other unsung places I could point to on a map at random, but that’s beside the point.

No, what burns my bacon is the superficiality of the verbs: see, sleep, admire, visit, set foot on, photograph, ride, etc. These are actions that demand next to nothing from the traveler. OK, I saw, slept, admired and photographed. Check, check, check, and check. Now on to the next must-do. If you could instantly teleport yourself to those destinations, you could knock off nine of those ten checklist items in an afternoon. You’d have stamps in your passport, photos in your camera, and destinations to name-drop, but little else. Certainly you wouldn’t have understanding.

Elvis Costello put it this way: “They say that travel broadens the mind til you can’t your head out of doors.” I’ve met people like that, people a mile wide and an inch deep, folks for whom travel is about completing a checklist or competing for passport stamps. The phrase “bucket list,” from an insipid movie of the same name, illustrates perfectly the grim determination such people bring to their peregrinations. No one cares that the phrase refers to death, not life.

Kim Davis’s Song

Earlier this month, I was sitting on the sofa reading news accounts of the Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis, who refused to do her job and issue marriage licenses to people in her county. She was opposed to same-sex marriage, of course, but to be “fair,” she stopped issuing all marriage licenses whatsoever. She wound up in jail for a few days for violating an order of the US District Court and was then released to a hero’s welcome by those people who support her stand.

I was incredulous. Everything about Kim Davis cried out for parody. In fact, she parodies herself. I thought she was behaving like a martinet. That word got me thinking about Gilbert & Sullivan. I’ve acted and/or sang in several of their operettas. Many of their plots were about people who loved each other but who couldn’t marry because of social disapproval. And I remembered The Major-General’s Song from HMS Pinafore. The Kim Davis lyrics then almost wrote themselves.

The lyrics came to the attention of Richard Kraft, a man deeply experienced in the uses of music in film. He directed this video of the song and cast the talented Rena Strober as Kim. As of today, it has been viewed over 250,000 times across three platforms (Facebook, Funny or Die, and YouTube). Enjoy!