Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Holy Vinyl, Batman!

When I set up the song sequence for this blogging year last October, I had no idea there was another Batman movie in the works. Well, there’s always another Batman film on the way, but I had no specific understanding that one would be breaking box-office records at the time I scheduled my week of posts on the mid-1960s TV phenomenon. I could have changed the schedule, but I spent hours in October getting it just right, and I don’t want to mess it up. So . . .

When five-year-old caithiseach toddled off to Our Little Saints Kindergarten in September of 1965, there was a huge change in store for him, apart from the beginning of an education that has not really ever stopped:

Batman hit the small screen.

Before that time, I had received hand-me-down comic books, probably from my cousin Bob, and so I was well-versed in what Archie and Richie Rich looked like, even if I still had to ask for help in figuring out what was scrawled in the word balloons. But somehow I was prevented from leafing through comics featuring Batman, so he was a mystery to me. Then came the TV show.

Batman was the first, but unfortunately not the last, TV show to capture my complete attention. I never missed an episode. That perfect record was not hard to accomplish, because I didn’t go anywhere in the evenings, but there you have it—I never forgot to watch Batman. That show was the first, and unfortunately the last, family institution that centered around my TV tastes. On Sundays, my mom’s friend Kathryn came over to watch Gunsmoke and Lawrence Welk with my parents, which was a colossal downer, but on Batman night, whichever night that was, Uncle Tom came over, and I sat down about a foot in front of the Zenith console and soaked up the delights of everyone’s favorite TV crime-fighter.

During the fight scenes, which didn’t strike my parents as too violent for me to watch, each physical blow came with a cartoon representation of that punch: Biff! Pow! Crash! At first, I didn’t know those words, so Uncle Tom came to my aid and read the screen to me. Soon enough, I learned to read the words, but I didn’t let on, because it was fun to have Uncle Tom read them.
I think there was Batman merchandise available, and I’m sure I wanted any that existed. If I got any of it, I didn’t get much. What I did get, of course, was the vinyl. Twice.

Today I’ll talk about my second copy of the song, because it was the Neal Hefti original theme to the TV series (RCA Victor 8755). More specifics on the song in a moment, but I want to relate this record to my kindergarten experience.

Our school seems to have been a private enterprise. There was no public kindergarten in Merrillville, Indiana when I turned five, but if there had been, my mom would have sent me to Our Little Saints anyway. The people who ran it leased the basement of the Turkey Creek Pharmacy, so it looked as if we had school in an oversized family basement, with exposed rafters, cinderblock walls and a cement floor for décor.

I learned a lot there. I learned that nuthatches walk upside-down on the trunks of trees in search of food. I learned a lot about the Native Americans of Indiana. I ate my first pomegranate in that class. And one day, I tuned out Mrs. Ballinger completely, because I was reliving the Batman episode of the previous evening. It had been an amazing one, with this guy named the Joker as the villain of the week, concocting a diabolical scheme to mess up things in Gotham City, only to be foiled by Batman and Robin.

Suddenly, I realized that Mrs. Ballinger probably had not seen the episode, so she would know nothing at all about the Joker. There she was, going wah-wah-wah like Charlie Brown’s teacher, talking about something that was not nearly as interesting as Batman, and so I cut to the chase.

I raised my hand, she stopped talking and called on me, and I said, “The Joker has green hair.”

I appreciate the stunned look on her face more now that I have spent some years teaching. At the time, I found it a bit confusing, then it dawned on me, ever so slowly, that I had committed a faux pas. She didn’t really want the Joker to become part of that particular lesson. Oh, well.

She and my mom had a far-too-boisterous chuckle over that one.

Despite that event, once I got the 45 of the Batman theme, she let me bring it in for nap time. As had been the case when I brought in the bouncy “Why Wait” by Pérez Prado and His Orchestra, the kids sat up and clapped along instead of sleeping. I didn’t get asked to bring in a third song that year. With twenty kids and 40 weeks of school, I don’t think there was a conspiracy to silence me.

The original theme to the TV show, “Batman Theme” by Neal Hefti, was only a minor hit, reaching #35 in a 4-week Top 40 run that began on 3/5/1966. It was a big caithiseach hit, though, in the two incarnations that wound up in my collection. More on the second version Saturday.

Uncle Tom didn’t get this 45 for me. His specialty was bulk cutouts, and this song was my third specific purchase of a 45. My parents took me to downtown Gary, and I bought it at a record store there. It took me two tries to get the Neal Hefti version, but I worked it all out eventually.

I will discuss the song and its composer more on Saturday. For now, put a couple of cookies on a napkin, get a glass of milk, darken the room, and listen to Neal Hefti’s “Batman Theme.” If you get an urge to sit up and clap your hands instead of taking your fifteen-minute nap, go for it. See you Saturday!

Neal Hefti, Batman Theme

1 comment:

jb said...

In my kindergarten class, Batman items were banned from "show and tell" because so many of us brought them in.

It occurs to me that "Batman" was a near-perfect cross-generational TV show. Kids like us could watch it and take it seriously; older siblings and adults could watch it for the campy humor. Sounds like there may never be a DVD release, though--Fox owns the show, but Time Warner owns the characters, and the two entities hate each other like Batman hates the Penguin.