I’ve been trying to come up with something to say about the recent passing of two legends, some way to tie them together, but I can’t. So here are two unrelated stories.
Living in Nashville means I’m even less than the usual six degrees of separation from some famous musicians, and I was reminded of that one day when I was talking to a coworker from Ireland. Her husband is a drummer, and while not technically famous he did teach the guy who played the drummer in the film The Commitments, which I’d seen way back during its initial release in 1991, when I was in Cork, Ireland. That is the best place in the world to see that film but even if you’re not in Ireland I still highly recommend it, but that’s another story. Anyway the coworker and I got onto the subject of snooker and she said her husband played snooker all the time. Since it requires a special table, one that’s not usually found in Nashville pool halls, I asked, “Where does he go to play snooker?”
“Oh, he goes to John Prine’s house,” she said casually. And I got a bit sarcastic and said, “Oh, well, we’ve all been to John Prine’s house.”
And then I immediately felt like a schmuck because she wasn’t deliberately name-dropping. And Prine, I believe, is the sort of super cool guy who never let fame go to his head and who, if we’d had the chance to meet, probably wouldn’t hesitate to invite me to his house. He was a very funny guy, too, as anyone who’s heard his songs Illegal Smile, Dear Abby, or, especially poignant after his passing, Please Don’t Bury Me, knows. And, as much as I love his music, somehow it just made John Prine even more cool to me knowing that he played snooker.
And then I was taken back to 1982 and the release of The Empire Strikes Back. Like, well, pretty much my entire generation, I was an enormous Star Wars fan, and loved Empire. And then, making it even better, MAD Magazine hit the stands with The Empire Strikes Out. And it was hilarious. More than that, though, it was a piece of Star Wars that was tangible, that I could enjoy outside the theater. This was before VCRs, even before Star Wars would be screened on cable, so the MAD Magazine parody was as close as I could get to watching Empire again and again, at least as long as I was at a friend’s house, since I couldn’t have my own copy, but that’s another story.
I couldn’t articulate it at the time but I sensed that whoever had done the artwork for The Empire Strikes Out loved Star Wars as much as I did. I also didn’t know at the time that the artist was Mort Drucker, who passed away recently, or that Drucker’s work, being so close to the mark, caused a minor kerfuffle. This is from his Wikipedia page:
When the magazine’s parody of The Empire Strikes Back was published in 1980, drawn by Drucker, the magazine received a cease and desist letter from George Lucas‘ lawyers demanding that the issue be pulled from sale, and that Mad destroy the printing plates, surrender the original art, and turn over all profits from the issue. Unbeknownst to them, George Lucas had just sent Mad an effusive letter praising the parody, and declaring, “Special Oscars should be awarded to Drucker and DeBartolo, the George Bernard Shaw and Leonardo da Vinci of comic satire.” Publisher Gaines mailed a copy of the letter to Lucas’ lawyers with a handwritten message across the top: “That’s funny, George liked it!” There was no further communication on the matter.
That’s almost as funny as the parody itself.
They may be buried but neither one will be forgotten.