No…not the Steely Dan album…the needless and ridiculous attention paid to the upcoming wedding between some inbred heir to the British royal fortunes and a young woman, apparently lacking self-respect such that she wants to become a member of that dysfunctional family and open her loins often enough so that other little Windsors come trotting out nine months later.

Frankly I find any American fascination with any royalty anywhere very disturbing and …yes…un-American. Don’t we take pride any more in the fact that we were the first people to overthrow the tyranny of Colonialism and Monarchy?

One of the earliest memories any of us have is celebrating the Fourth of July with sparklers and picnics and parades and all the red white and blue one can imagine.

When we are a little older we learn why this fun holiday was created. We got rid of a nasty old king and began electing our rulers. (never mind the fact our collective wisdom has often been found wanting during those elections.)

Once we are in school and learning about not only our past but the past of other geographical areas, we encounter a series of monarchs from William The Conqueror to Julius Caesar, to all the French Louis chain (No…not Louie Louie…coincidentally by The Kingsmen)

Of course in church we learned of the ancient Hebrew kings like Saul, David and Solomon. And such an honorable lot they were, with their murderous ways, accumulation of riches, adultery and willingness to bisect babies. Sort of the predecessors to our Tea Party today.

Now being king…or queen for that matter…isn’t always a bed of roses. Julius Caesar? Murdered by trusted associates. Mary, Queen of Scots? Executed for treason. Tsar Nicholas II? Murdered along with his family.Franz Ferdinand? Assassinated for politics (but not for crappy music).

This is the history I was faced with growing up. So the patently obvious message was that monarchs were bad for your health and theirs.

But there was one area where monarchs and royalty were perfectly acceptable…and that was music. Benny Goodman was crowned the King of Swing in the thirties and sophisticates had Duke Ellington as an adjunct to martinis and romance.

Count Basie and his orchestra ruled on many levels. Backing up Frank Sinatra (who thought of himself as a potentate) resulted in memorable recordings and live performances. Appearing out of nowhere in Blazing Saddles lent that movie some class which it otherwise lacked, funny as hell or not.

Of course one should not forget Billie Holliday because “Lady Day” could sure as hell sing the blues.

But the 1950’s saw a new royalty emerge, a new sound that was at once democratic and aristocratic. Rock and Roll begat THE KING…one Elvis Aron Presley. Elvis brought an egalitarian tone to his throne, having risen from a truck driver from Tupelo, Mississippi to become the young man every pre-teen boy wanted to be, every teen and pre-teen girl simply wanted, and every father of said girls wished to see on a Wanted Poster.

Elvis soon spawned progeny like The Kingsmen, whose “Louie Louie” became the subject of an FBI investigation into its supposedly dirty lyrics. Not long after came Gene Chandler proclaiming himself The Duke of Earl and you know, “Nothing can stop the Duke of Earl”.

But alas, even this neo-royalty could have its downside. As Rock and Roll advanced, a variation termed heavy metal was born, epitomized by groups such as Black Sabbath. That band’s frontman was Ozzy Osbourne who became known as “The Prince of Darkness” When contacted and asked for his response to this fact Ozzy said this, “*^%&$*^%&&+#@+*&#@”, though I did paraphrase.

Detroit offered numerous pretenders to the throne but produced only one Queen of Soul, the inimitable Aretha Franklin. Somewhat later Motown also offered up someone claiming to be the King of Pop but he was dethroned for his childish behavior.

The western agricultural province of Minni Sota, home of the Minni Vikings, thank you Myron Cope, had it’s own royal ruler, Prince, though he often seemed very ambivalent about that title. He symbollically yielded it for a time but reclaimed it so he could party like it was 1999.

Today we have the co-rulers The Kings of Leon. Whether they are the figurative descendents of William and Mary or the Chicago Cubs College of Coaches matters not. I couldn’t locate the kingdom of Leon on any map and know of no one who has visited there or is unfortunate enough to be a native subject therein.

Not that American royalty has been confined to the realm of popular music. Sports has its share of titled folk, especially baseball. Old time Yankee Earl Combs comes to mind.

The 1950’s gave us Duke Snider and Elroy Face, the Baron of The Bullpen. Later we had Giants pitcher John “Count” Montefusco. Today we have Prince (not much of a )Fielder.

But if there is one American royal who best represents our national ideal that one can rise from the lowest upbringing to achieve fame and riches it is the son of a Baltimore saloon keeper whose ascendency can be traced to the combination of talent,  hard work and impeccable timing. That person, of course, is none other than George Herman “Babe” Ruth, the once and forever SULTAN OF SWAT.

The Babe was the consummate royal (no, not in Kansas City). He was as profligate as Henry VIII, as prepossessing as Queen Victoria and as humble as …well who ever heard of a humble royal?

p.s. Thanks to Reg Henry for inspiration.

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  • Toadsly  On April 20, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    Hey, great post, Umoc 193.

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