April 7, 2015

What Stan Freberg Meant To Me

It's horrible to learn that Stan Freberg has passed away. If you do not know who Stan Freberg was, I kinda feel sorry for you. You have, up to this point, missed something great and rare, the chance to commune with brilliance and laugh at the same time. On the other hand, I'm also envious, because you have the incredible opportunity to discover and fall in love with his work.

I no longer have this opportunity. I became aware of Stan Freberg as a teen-ager, around 1988, and it became a personal mission to experience as much of his genius as possible. I have many heroes and role models, and Stan is right up there at the top.

How brilliant was he? George S. Kaufman once said "Satire is what closes on Saturday night," meaning that the topical nature of satire almost guarantees diminishing returns as time goes by. I find a lot of the old episodes of Saturday Night Live unwatchable for this very reason. Jimmy Carter jokes, anyone? How about that Leona Helmsley? Who? Exactly.

Stan Freberg pulled off the rare feat of making satire that stands the test of time. He did this by skewering bad ideas that just won't go away. He trashed greed and commercialism. He slayed censorship. He eviscerated war. In this way, he created the most timeless body of satirical work ever produced. One hundred years from now, someone will hear "Elderly Man River" and understand, maybe for the first time, why censorship is rotten. More importantly, that person will laugh while understanding why censorship is rotten.

Stan hated rock'n' roll and parodied it with a vengeance. I love rock'n'roll, and Elvis Presley was one of my first heroes, but the first time I heard Stan's total destruction of "Heartbreak Hotel," I clearly remember the uncontrollable laughter, the tears streaming down my face, the breathless insanity of the moment. Too much echo!

What I really want to say about Stan Freberg is that he came into my life at just the right time. Through his comedy, He helped me understand the power of individuality at a time when I was supposed to be mastering the art of conforming. He showed me the possibility for the coexistence of intelligence and silliness. He also showed me, in his subversive way, how the real world functions, dysfunction and all. Most importantly, he made me laugh when life made me want to cry. He was one of a kind, and he will be missed.

Here are just a few of my favorite Freberg records: