So, sometimes you just gotta have some jazz in your music library. Because jazz.
But sometimes you start a 365-day music-writing project, and you listen to some of your jazz, and it’s great jazz, but then you realize, Huell Howser is dead, and you just have to write about it.
Happens to the best of us, really.
Yeah, yeah: Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um is his greatest work outside of the Charlie Brown Christmas album, which I will be “reviewing” later this year during the week of Christmas 2013.
But in the meantime, while I listen to Mingus Ah Um for the purposes of this post, I would like to write a few words about Huell Howser.
Huell passed away 9 days ago today. If you’ve never heard of him, you’re not alone. But he’s a legend in both California and Tennessee.
Howser moved himself and his accent to California 32 years ago. He is best known for being something of a California folk legend with his human-interest stories. Howser is unique in this day and age because he was excited about… well, just about everything.
His most popular show, “California’s Gold,” aired for 18 seasons on California PBS stations, from 1994 until last year, totaling more than 400 episodes. Each episode featured Howser visiting a new town in California, and more specifically, one of that town’s notable “touristy” spots.
For the first time on One Record Per Day, a video:
If you only watch… let’s say, what, 10 seconds?, of that video, start it around 4:30.
Watching that, I’m having difficulty drawing any comparisons to Huell. He’s truly unique.
The most similar figure I know of is Dr. Steve Brule, a fictional character played by John C. Reilly and created by anti-comedy heroes Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. Brule is a bumbling and ironic imbelice, something of a spiritual and satirical version of Howser. Great for a cheap laugh, but shows that there aren’t any public figures like that these days, because I don’t know that people take public television as seriously anymore.
There’s no one to my knowledge that focused in on a particular state like Howser did. I can’t speak for any state but my own, but there is certainly no one like him here in Florida.
I myself did a series of human-interest stories in the early 2000s as a correspondent for the Hernando County edition of the Tampa Bay Times. Of note, I wrote about a 4 year old female gymnast, a guy who ran a model train emporium, a moderately successful high school-aged bowler who recently bowled a 300, and a high school golfer. In essence, I know how difficult “human-interest” pieces can be because most of them are soul-crushingly boring.
But Huell made them fun. In modern terms, he was truly ‘stoked’ on just about everything.
One of his notable catchphrases was “That’s amazing!” In his distinctive southern drawl, “That’s amazing!” became “That’s amaaaaaaayyyyzing!”
In no uncertain terms: I am envious of Huell Howser. He wasn’t a critic. He wasn’t a cynic. He wasn’t sardonic, or sarcastic. He accepted things as they were: at face value.
He was, and outside of Mr. Rogers and Bill Nye, probably the most genuine TV figure I’ve ever known.
At first glance, it’s easy to not take a character like Huell Howser seriously, considering the time period in which we live, where anyone has a voice, but the overall tone of the voices on the internet is negative, biting, and immensely critical.
It’s refreshing to see Howser in all his adorable naiveté. Some may be put off by the appearance of his total ignorance.
But if you dig just a tiny bit deeper, with immense clarity you will see that Huell was one of a kind. He will truly be missed.
Supposing I should get back to addresing Mr. Mingus: the horn section on Mingus Ah Um is on point. But nothing will top Charlie Brown Christmas. Sorry, “Pussy Cat Dues” – “Christmastime Is Here” is a STANDARD.
Standout tracks: “Better Git It In Your Soul,” “Boogie Stop Shuffle” and “Jelly Roll
Weakest track: “Fable of Faubus”
RIYL: Jazz, NPR, talk radio. Dave Brubeck Quartet, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk.