arr. Bob Thurston: You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

In 1942, Glenn Miller was at the height of popularity on the American music scene.  It was the year following the attack on Pearl Harbor that fully engaged the United States into World War II.  Miller was compelled by civic duty to enlist in the Army with the goal of forming a band to promote morale and patriotism within the US military as well as around the world.

The Navy actually turned him down first.

And look where that got them...
Between his success as a civilian and as an Army bandsman, Miller assembled what can be considered by some to be the best conglomeration of musicians for any given musical period.  He developed a unique sound, using enough familiar textures to capture his audience, but then changing subtle things to make it truly the "Glenn Miller sound".

You may notice today's Listening Friday is not actually a Glenn Miller tune.

Glenn Miller tragically perished in 1944.  He was flying from the UK to France when his plane was lost.  The official story claims that his flight fell victim to an errant drop of explosive ordinance by a flight that was returning from a canceled attack.  Another story claims that the plane was destroyed as a result of friendly fire.  In 1997, a German tabloid published a story that Miller had in fact arrived safely in Paris, but died from a heart attack the following day in a French brothel.

In 1997, I stood at the Glenn Miller memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

You must understand, he is a personal hero of mine.  From my earliest forays into the world of trombone, Miller has been a companion. He was first introduced to me when my father decided that if I were to play trombone I ought to listen to an actual trombone player.  When I stood in Arlington on that hot summer day and contemplated the destructive gossip that had befallen my musical role model...  It hurt.

It was perhaps the first time in my life where I had experienced the possibility that a hero was less than heroic. It was a highly unpleasant experience. Now, much of the sordid tale has been debunked and many other conspiracies have blossomed in the fertile soil of doubt, but most agree that it was in fact false and that Miller met his ends in a tailspin into the ocean.  But that feeling is still carried with me.

So, in a Madsen-esque transfer of epic proportions, I shall now build you two transfer-bridges from Glenn Miller to the Grinch and back again. First of all, Glenn Miller's goal of transforming the military music machine did not die with him in 1944. As the Air Force was born, so was the Air Force band and eventually, carrying on the mantle of military jazz, the Airmen of Note.  There is also an authorized "Glenn Miller Band" that is civilian-led, but that's a story for another time.

The Airmen of Note continue to play his charts as well as many of their own, including our listening for today.  "Your a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" was originally written by Dr. Seuss with music supplied by Albert Hague.  Thurl Ravenscroft provided the remarkable bass voice that made the song a hit.  But Bob Thurston himself (a product of the Florida State College of Music) arranged his own version for the Airmen of Note as the chief composer-arranger for the group.

The bass trombone solo that opens the piece (and continues throughout) is performed by a gentleman named Dudley Hinote, another FSU grad and also the Flight Chief for the Note. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with bass trombone, it's essentially what happens when you mix a flamethrower that runs on testosterone with a regular trombone.

I call it, "The Apocalypse in Bb"
So, the bass trombone is the tenor trombone's more aggressive, alcoholic big brother. Chief Master Sergeant Hinote offers a commanding presence on the horn, really defining his version of the Grinch, making Thurston's arrangement on par with the original for sure.

So without Glenn Miller, we wouldn't have the Airmen of Note or Bob Thurston's arrangement or Dudley Hinote's wicked bass bone solo.  Transfer #1: complete.  Now for #2, let's go back to the hero thing. The problem with having real heroes (and I mean real as in the sense that we're not talking about Superman or some dumbass Pokemon thing or whatever you stupid kids watch these days) is that they are in fact real. Humans are completely flawed creatures. We have the capability to learn from the mistakes of other humans around us, but quite often inexplicably fail to do so. Many times quite deliberately! We cave to temptation, we are lazy, we are sometimes too industrious, there's avarice and oppression and just generally being a not great person in general.

Humans tend to make lousy heroes.

But the problem comes because I think somewhere in the creation of these human supermen and superwomen, we forget that they are in fact fallible. We project upon them the antithesis of all our insecurities and shortfalls. We cast them in light that shines of invincibility. And it just can't hold up. There's no shortage of examples in history of heroic individuals cracking under the pressure. Seeking quiet respite and release at the hands of less than reputable folk. And they invariably get caught and we all get swept up in the frenzy, because nothing sells soap better than Bob Johnson, family man and local hero being caught with his pants down at the neighbor's house.

Florida Man to the rescue!

It's reflected in our TV, our media, our society.  We look to reality TV to provide us a template for how we should conduct ourselves within our microcosms.  The problem is, these heroes (or antiheroes) aren't really human anymore. They've been invented by TV producers and the like to create a superficial entity that generates enough mass appeal to, again, sell soap.

Or ducks or something.  I can't fathom this, people actually watch this crap?!
When I think back to that day the seed of doubt was planted in my young mind, and I stood at that small block of marble on the ground in Virginia, fighting back tears, it still hurts as bad now as it did then. Despite knowing that the idiot German who wrote that article was essentially disproven to oblivion and that Miller most likely met his death at the hands of a simple accident, it still hurts for some reason.  And I don't have an explanation.

But today, I think of the Grinch and those goofy little Who-people. I think of how his jealousy and anger brought him to bring down what he actually wished he possessed himself. And that in the end, the little Who-villites really were good heroes, because their Christmas celebration didn't have anything to do with presents or lights or trees or any of that crap. It was just well and good enough that they were together. But they also aren't real.

To look in the face of complete destruction and devastation and to pick up and keep moving.  That's what being a hero is all about.  I will remember my hero, Major Glenn Miller of the Army Air Force, as sacrificing his life as a civilian to support his country and ultimately giving his life because he felt the music he loved was important enough to risk it all.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

See you on Christmas for a very special Listening Friday edition!  No homework!  School's out forever!


Since it's the USAF, you can download the mp3 for free!  Here's a link to their site.