Monday, August 3, 2015

Oh, Fooey!

Dave Grohl, leader and founder of the band known as Foo Fighters, was born just a couple of months before I was graduated from high school, so it's not surprising that most of the records I like were recorded before he was born, and I can't really count myself a fan of his music for purely generational reasons.

And he's doing fine without my support, so it's all good.

But I have to respect him for giving the nod to one of my favorite comic strips when he named his band.  Smokey Stover was an amazingly witty newspaper comic from 1935 to 1973, drawn and hilariously written by Bill Holman.  You may have noticed that the death or retirement of many cartoonists hardly makes a difference.  There is still a Dennis The Menace every day, even though his creator Hank Ketcham is long gone (and was estranged from his real-life son Dennis until his death) and Hi and Lois are still in the paper, although their creators Dik Browne (deceased) and Mort Walker (retired) are no longer part of it.

By the way, Lois Flagston is Beetle Bailey's sister, a fact that I work into almost every conversation I ever have, according to Peggy.

But the point is that Smokey Stover was so utterly original and unique that no one even attempted to keep it going when Holman retired in 1973.  But it's still a part of our culture, here 42 years later.

Smokey Stover's real name was Smokestack Stover, and he was a firefighter, serving as what the strip called a "Foo Fighter" in what they called the "Foo Department."  It follows, then, that he rolled around in a two-wheeled "Foomobile" as he responded to blazes with his Chief, Cash U. Nutt.

Smokey and Chief Nutt
Holman peppered the strip with tiny pictures of sight gags and outrageous puns, and that is of course why I love it as I do.  It was not uncommon to see a little picture of a crowd forming near a goofy-looking guy, captioned "Hanging around the village square." For those of us who believe there is no such thing as a bad pun, this was heaven.

On walls in offices and houses and the firehouse, readers saw signs reading "NOTARY SOJAC," and the meaning of this was never explained, making it a mystery that rivals the ongoing popularity of Ronald Reagan as something I can't figure. Another phrase seen often: "1506 Nix Nix."

Polly wants a cracker!  Get it?
You may have heard the old terms SNAFU and FUBAR, especially if you were in the Army or knew anyone who was.  These are acronyms for "Situation Normal, All Fouled Up" (yeah, let's use "fouled" instead of the real word) and "Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition (again, "fouled" is a nice euphemism.)  It's not known whether soldiers had time and inclination to coin these expressions to fit into the Smokey world of nutty naughtiness, but it's something I would like for Mr Grohl to address in a song someday.

Here's a classic Smokey from 1938:

We took a French word "dada" (meaning "hobbyhorse") for the name of an artistic and culture movement early in the 20th Century that turned conventional art upside down by using nonsense, travesty, and incongruity.  There was no finer example of Dadaism in American culture than Smokey Stover, and now you know what Dave Grohl and I have in common, besides each of us having heads full of long lustrous locks (I used to.)

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