Oh, Mr. McLaughlin, you make me so nostalgic for my teenage years. Believe it or not, there was a time when it was pretty easy to tell fake news from the real stuff. Real news, you found in the daily papers and on the evening news. Walter Cronkite was the grey eminence that everyone trusted. The New York Times was the paper of record. If it was on the news, you knew it was more or less true. If it wasn’t, these mainstream sources usually, eventually figured out what the truth was. Those were the days of the Pentagon Papers, Woodward and Bernstein, and investigative journalism.
The fake news is what you found in the tabloids in the supermarket checkout line. The Weekly World News was my favorite. You could always count on the Weekly World News for the latest on Bat Boy, aliens partying with Billy Carter and Elvis spotted working at a gas station in Kalamazoo. In college, we would buy a copy of the WWN and a case of beer and take turns reading the stories aloud to each other. Fun times.
Harvey McLaughlin is a piano professor working roadhouses in his native Texas. He’s probably clocked hundreds of houses playing juke joints on Saturday night and church revivals on Sunday morning. In other words, Harvey knows how to put together a song and tell a good yarn. We’ve got some of our usual suspects here. “Bigfootsville” is a place only some of us will visit, and that fella at pump number three, “Must’ve Been Elvis”. Aliens are having a good time in Roswell and there’s always a chance to see the Fiji Mermaid when the sideshow comes to town.
Not all of the songs are inspired by old tabloid stories. “Last Call at the Dixie Pig” and “The Great Hihmoga Hotel Fire of 1893” are story songs that call to mind Little Feat and Randy Newman. Lots of folks write songs about Halloween, but I really like “November 1st”. “I think I kissed a Wolfman or musta been Power Ranger or something like that. … Lost my wallet and my keys and most of all my dignity.” The problem with going wild is you wake up in reality the next day.
Harvey even remembers the big promises and brutal disappointments foisted on young comic book readers. Those tantalizing ads in the back of the magazine promising amazing things for just a buck and a stamp. I remember waiting those 6 to 8 weeks for the Amazing Sea Monkeys to arrive. Oh, memories of misspent allowances.
Tabloid news isn’t as much fun these days. The Weekly World News is gone and a lot of the stories we had fun with now appear on cable channels. Thanks for bringing a smile to my face, Mr. McLaughlin.