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February 13, 2006


Hee Haw is Schoolhouse Rock for hillbillies
I try to resist writing about my family. I do wish to avoid besmirching the good name of our chillen by association with my shenanigans. Nonetheless, let me tell you about my godson. I hope to justify this as a public issue. You'll see.

Anyway, my thug godson just turned two. When last I saw him a few days ago, I took some vintage Hee Haw videos for his Ma's benefit. I knew she'd be interested in 1969 Jerry Lee Lewis. His sex appeal was summarized to me thusly: He's sensitive - but he's mean.

But the boy won't be much interested in Hee Haw. He's into Thomas the Tank Engine, so I was tolerating it. Then he lost interest and wandered off after Ma and Auntie.

My turn, then. We went straight to the hardcore hit known to insiders as "Hee Haw Episode 9." This would have been from their first season, at which point they were a prime time CBS network show. Especially, this episode contains prime 1969 live performances from Jerry Lee Lewis. Best I can tell, this was his first such prominent network exposure for Jerry Lee in some years.

But here's the point: The boy was totally fascinated with it. Thinking through it, other than a few of the musical performances, very little on the show lasts more than one minute. I could imagine some adults growing weary of some of the classic repetitive elements of the show, but exactly that's going to be to the plus with young children. "Gloom, despair and agony on me" is funny even to a not quite yet two year old. I'm proud to report helping instruct him in moaning along. Whoooa!

But he was fascinated by even the solid musical performances. He's getting a prime performance of "Whole Lotta Shakin" which you can understand. However, he was just as interested in staring raptly at Loretta Lynn singing Shel Silverstein's custom written latest hit, "Hey Loretta, I love you more than my Irish Setter."

Boy's transfixed by this pretty solidly, and much more than by any Thomas. Pretty soon we're adding new vocabulary, words like "Buck" and "Roy." He also knows "Ray" after watching Ray Charles playing "Crying Time" on the show along with the composer, Buck Owens. Of course, he also learned to say "Jerry Lee."

I am personally determined that he will grow up knowing the blessed name of Dave Akeman. I'm pleased to report that before his second birthday, the boy can say "Stringbean." Poor dude had the roughest job on the show. As the Scarecrow of Kornfield County, he had to try to scare off the bad jokes. Tough job, there- especially with that crow constantly screaming in his ear.

Anyhow, it came to me at some point that I'd consider Hee Haw valid educational content. It's like Schoolhouse Rock for hilljacks.

Now, granted Schoolhouse Rock had more precise historical lessons about the American Revolution and such, whereas Hee Haw was more given to the approximate history of the Grandpa Jones series "About 200 Years Ago." In one episode, for example, Grandpa Jones explained the colonists' confusion about the arriving British troops in their pretty coats and powdered wigs. They weren't quite sure whether they were supposed to fight them, or take them out to dinner.

However, Hee Haw has it ALL over Schoolhouse Rock in the critical area of music. They had vintage performances of the cream of a couple of generations of country, including repeat guest Johnny Cash among many others.

But screw that, consider just the regular cast members. For starters, I'd be real glad to have the boy grow up watching Roy Clark play guitar. That'll be setting a fairly high bar there.

The unstated because unnecessary thing about the show, the caliber of musicians justified and provided the main meat of the show. Yeah, the Southern philosopher gets blown up in animated smoke. "Uh, oh!" said the thug.

But they had no less than Roy Acuff as a regular cast member for some years. Awesome talent lineup there. Oh, and Stringbean was one of the main big early members of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys. It took Earl Scruggs to replace him.

Thug'll eventually get to learn about the US Constitution and such. Obviously those kind of history lessons are pretty important.

On the other hand, so is art and culture. In my way of looking at things, it'll be more rewarding and significant for him to know about the work of Jerry Lee Lewis or Ray Charles than, say, a politician such as Jimmy Carter.

Now, Hee Haw might perhaps have run out of steam by the end of the original productions in 1992. But boy howdy, look at some of the earlier shows, and it's a pretty densely encoded set of important cultural artifacts. It's prime educational video, in bright shiny little child friendly chunks. It'll sure as hell do him a lot more good than MTV.

Plus, it's got dancing pigs.

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posted by Al at 2/13/2006 11:26:00 AM

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