Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How Phyllis Diller and Scott McKenzie Saved My Childhood

I don't mean to diss my mother, but when I was little, in her worst moments she could be grim, tense and angry.

That's true of most of us, of course, but I never had the constitutional fortitude to handle grim, tense and angry.

Which is why I'm so grateful to Phyllis Diller and Scott McKenzie.

Diller, the comedian, and McKenzie, famous for that '60s hippy song "If You're Going to San Francisco" were unwitting counterweights that got me through bad days when I was little.

Diller, who died this week at age 95,  was the wild, wacky mother that would replace mine when my own ma would get into a bad mood. Diller was unpredictable, had that cackle and look on her face that told you she was up to something.

A 1961 Time magazine review of Diller best captured why I found her so appealing:

"Onstage comes something that, by its own description, looks like a sack of doorknobs. With hair dyed by Alcoa, pipe-cleaner limbs and kneeds just missing one another when the feet are wide apart, this is not Princess Volupine. It is Phyllis Diller, the poor man's Auntie Mame......one of the few women funny and tough enough to belt out a 'standup' act of one-line gags."

I was intrigued as a five year old by Diller's fictional husband Fang, who was so bad, so out of control, so low life that we would have gotten along famously.

The obits all note that Diller was also a wonderful, warm lady, a great cook, great pianist and all around great person, who treated everyone well. The zany stand up comedian was just one of her roles, but it was the one that helped me the most.

Here's a clip of Diller's fantasticness (and yes I know that's not a real word)

Scott McKenzie, who died at 73, this week, is famous for that one San Francisco song. Yes, it was about the Summer of Love and all that jazz back then. But as a five year old, the song sounded like a soothing lullaby.

McKenzie sang softly that if I went to San Francisco, "you're gonna meet some gentle people there."

I had no idea where or what San Francisco was, but when my mother was on the warpath, I wanted to get to San Francisco, fast.
Here's the song, as a reminder of how it goes:
When I listen to the song as an adult, my cynical side calls the tune a bit sanctimonious, a little too reverant of the era it embraces. But the other side of me hears the lullaby that I understood the song to be when I hadn't even made it to kindergarten yet.

So, Phyllis, with your life of the party sensibility and Scott, with your gentleness, thank you for making things a bit better for me as a toddler, and RIP.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Matt for these 2 beautiful tributes.