This genius, totally spot-on Neil Young parody, “Old Maid (Southern California Brings Me Down”) hails from the 1970s The National Lampoon Radio Hour (and was subsequently released on the Grammy-nominated Good-bye Pop album in 1975). You could probably play this for Neil Young himself and he’d have a hazy recollection of recording it!
I live in Los Angeles and believe me when I tell you that I had not heard a single peep about that new Jesus movie—Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s Son of God—because, well, they don’t really market religious films here. In a city festooned with billboards for every damned offering large or small, good or bad that the industrial entertainment complex has in store for us, I think they figured that religious films aren’t for we West Coast heathens; that it’s a waste of money even bothering trying to, er, convert us, even for a big budget picture like Son of God. I can’t imagine Fox spent too much money marketing the film in NYC, either.
Nope, I only heard about this religious blockbuster after the fact, when all of the rightwing blogs like NewsMax, Breitbart and WorldNutDaily were crowing about how Jesus nearly kicked Liam Neeson’s ass in the box office boffo sweepstakes over the weekend. Go Jesus! (Is there anything, and I do mean anything, more pathetic than “rooting” for a movie, let alone pulling for the founder of Christianity to beat the crap out of a formulaic Hollywood action flick? Nothing, right?)
All this goofiness caused me to recall the cheerfully blasphemous “Son-O’-God Comics” that ran in a few 1970s issues of National Lampoon magazine.
In the Lampoon version of the New Testament’s central figure, “Benny Davis” a nerdy failure-to-launch boychick still living with his parents in Brooklyn, says the name “JESUS CHRIST!” (but not in vain) and transforms (ala Captain Marvel) into a muscular WASP super-hero version of Jesus with a six-pack, cape and halo, ready to do battle with Catholicism, Islam, the Scarlet Woman of Babylon, the Antichrist and even Bob Dylan.
The occasionally recurring strip was written by Sean Kelly (who would go on to become the founding editor of Heavy Metal magazine) and Michel Choquette, and (mostly) drawn by well-known comics artist Neal Adams, a “Silver Age” illustrator who worked on Batman for DC and a gazillion other comics.
I would be remiss in my duties writing on this topic without at least quickly mentioning how underrated National Lampoon is in terms of that magazine’s amazing and ground-breaking art-direction. If you consider that the 20th century will be looked upon as the golden era of the printed page, to my mind, the Lampoon’s Design Director, Michael Gross and Art Director David Kaestle created the most creatively free-wheeling and conversely the most detail-oriented magazine design on the planet. What they brought to America’s premiere countercultural humor magazine was an exacting eye for authenticity. If you were going to parody or satirize popular culture, it needed to actually LOOK LIKE the things you were referring to, or the joke would be lost. That was more or less a new idea at the time. In my opinion, the four years that Gross and Kaestle worked on National Lampoon is THE high point of art direction for a monthly print publication. Everyone always points to the the George Lois-era Esquire as the pinnacle of graphic design in magazines—and it’s great stuff, don’t get me wrong—but the Lampoon was even better, had more nuance and yet Gross and Kaestle’s work rarely gets the credit it deserves.
You can find out everything you always wanted to know about “Son-O’-God Comics” at Dial B for Blog.
Actually this isn’t a parody so much as it’s satire. National Lampoon editor Tony Hendra used actual quotes from John Lennon’s infamous 1970 Rolling Stone interview with Jann Wenner (later published as Lennon Remembers) for this hysterical bit.
At the time of Lennon’s Rolling Stone sitting he was undergoing Primal Scream therapy with Dr. Arthur Janov and he really let it rip, shitting on his own fans, Mick Jagger, Paul and Linda McCartney and several others. All Hendra did was handpick the best parts and arrange them into lyrics. Still as funny today as when it was released on the classic Radio Dinner LP in 1972.
Hendra (who played Spinal Tap’s manager) does the boffo Lennon impersonation here, razzing the former Beatle’s very public bitching and moaning. The music’s by Chris Cerf and that’s Melissa Manchester making a cameo appearance as Yoko at the very end.
Although its, uh, cultural cachet, I suppose, has fallen in recent decades, a doofy poem called “The Desiderata of Happiness” used to be something that you’d see on the walls of doctor’s and dentist’s offices, at your grandmother’s or great aunt’s houses, or maybe in the very home you grew up in, during the late 60s and 70s. (At one point hippies even adopted it).
You don’t see it so often today, but it’s still around. Now that you’ve had your attention called to it, the next time you see it (normally as a varnished wall plaque) you’ll remember this post (and wince).
You are a child of the universe,
No less than the trees and the stars;
You have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
“The Desiderata of Happiness” was written in 1906 by a lawyer named Max Erhmann, but it was unknown during his lifetime. Its slow burn to popularity began in the 1950s when a Baltimore pastor printed it up in some church materials. The prose poem’s advice to be humble, live a clean and moral life and to respect even thick people seems simplistic even by Forrest Gump or Sarah Palin standards, but for whatever reason this poem struck a chord with the public. (You can read more about its history at Wikipedia).
In 1971, a “groovy” American radio talkshow host by the name of Les Crane (once married to Gilligan’s Island‘s Tina Louise and considered by some to be the original “shock jock”) narrated a spoken word/musical version of the poem (avec gospel choir), that reached #8 in the Billboard charts and won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Performance of the Year. It was on the British pop charts for 14 months.
The following year, a wonderful parody version titled “Deteriorata” was created by the National Lampoon’s Michael O’Donoghue, Tony Hendra and Christopher Guest and released as a single (and on the classic Radio Dinner album). Melissa Manchester sang on the record. The humorously ponderous reading was handled by Norman Rose, a popular announcer of the day whose voice is also heard in Woody Allen’s Love & Death.
Years later, Les Crane was asked about “Desiderata” and said “I can’t listen to it now without gagging,” adding that he preferred the Lampoon’s piss-take. Eventually the parody became better-known than the original hit record due to frequent spins on the Dr. Demento radio show. Below is the original version, Les Crane version:
“Deteriorata,” The National Lampoon parody:
An excellent version of “Deteriorata” closes the new theatrical show Sketches from The National Lampoon that opened last weekend in Los Angeles. Produced by Lampoon founder Matty Simmons, with a winning cast—including our good friend the incomparable Jesse Merlin who gets to read “Deteriorata”—at the Hayworth Theatre on Wilshire Blvd.
Happy Birthday John Belushi, who would have been 62 today. Born in 1949, Belushi’s big break came in 1971 when he joined The Second City comedy troupe in Chicago. Cast alongside Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest in National Lampoon’s Lemmings (which Richard Metzger wrote a great article on last year), Belushi’s natural comic talents shone. He moved to New York, with his girlfriend Judy Jacklin, and became a regular on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, working with such future Saturday Night Live performers Gilda Radner and Bill Murray. The rest we know.
It’ll be SNL and The Blues Brothers that Belushi will be remembered for best, and watching clips of his TV or film work now, only re-enforces what is so sad about his early demise.
I love His Bobness as much as the next guy or gal but instead of picking one of his revered classics to share today I couldn’t resist putting up this hilarious and spot-on parody by National Lampoon from back in the early 70’s which without a doubt has pissed off many an earnest fan the world over ever since. Enjoy !
Bonus: One of the finest Dylan covers ever, The 13th Floor Elevators doing It’s All Over Now Baby Blue