Sunday, March 6, 2011

What will become of the mother-of-the-bride?

 I will go to bed  October 7, 2011 the Mother-of-the-Bride- to-be, and I will wake up the next  morning  about to become a cultural anomaly. Between  the time I  slip out from layers of crisp sheets on Emily and Ryan’s wedding day,   to the time I slip  back under them ( I expect no less than twenty hours later) I will add yet  another chapeau to my hat rack of kinships.  I will don the millinery of a MOTHER-IN-LAW.  A Pill Box, I suppose, by  society’s expectation.
If  you’re my age, the word incites an ear-jerk reaction, right to the sound of  “mother-in-law” being crooned  in  a deep  baritone  and then echoed  in a slightly higher range,. That's the way Ernie K-Doe performed it with  back-up singer  Benny Spellman in 1961.  In May of that year “Mother-in-law” spent one week topping the Billboard magazine Hot 100 List – slipping  in between  a week  or so of Ricky Nelson’s “Travelin’ Man ”  and Del Shannon’s  month-long  reign with  "Runaway".  Yet,  just a  few  days  on the charts was all  the“Mother-in-law-ing” it took for my generation to transmute the  image of  mommies- of- the-wedded  from mother hens  to clay pigeons.
How could they not become the immediate target of cultural derision after these cynical superlatives  - sung with gospel fervor  -  aired throughout America?
The worst person I know  (Mother-In-Law Mother-In-Law)
She worries me so  (Mother-In-Law Mother-In-Law)
If she leaves us alone we would have a happy home
Sent from down below (Mother-In-Law Mother-In-Law)

Out and out name calling ("Satan should be her name") starts the second stanza, which may have been the groove that raised Dick Clark's eyebrow . The squeaky clean Sixties King of Pop refused to play the tune on American Bandstand when the song came out in ’61.
But I can't put all the blame on Ernie. He only sang the words. New Orleans music legend Allen Toussaint penned the hateful  lyrics. Musician, composer, and producer, this icon has collaborated with everyone from Bonnie Raitt to The Rolling Stones, Lee Dorsey, The Pointer Sisters and Glen Campbell. But, apparently Toussiant has never been in cahoots with the mother of a wife – or a wife - for that matter. (for there are no references in career biographies to him ever being married).
Not so with Ernie – who was the marrying kind twice, according to record. Not much is said about his first marriage. But, after a decade or two of down and out years, he met Antoinette Fox, a K-Doe fan who managed a bar in New Orleans,where he spent time. She got K-Doe back onstage and, in 1996, down the aisle. By then the couple had reopened a rundown club as the Ernie K-Doe Mother-in-Law Lounge, and it quickly caught on with K-Doe’s fans, especially when he began performing.  As an added flourish, K-Doe’s new mother-in -law would appear onstage while he sang his signature song.
Pretty nice of the song’s incendiary namesake, wouldn’t you say?