Sometimes it seems the world is so full of war, pestilence and strife that no amount of lamentation can ever be sufficient.
Daily, we near drown in a deluge of news pouring out outrage after outrage – with each man made or natural disaster confirming that power and greed and corruptible seed seem to be all that there is.
I suppose I could accept that this world is condemned and lay back listening to the hoot owl’s despairing elegy for a fallen world. Instead, today at least, despite or because of being somewhat more than in the middle of life I’m taking the other path through the thorny wood – the path illuminated by the gentle light of humour.
My guides on this path are the blessed shades of the greatest comedic partnership in the history of entertainment: Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
I’ll be very surprised if just the mention of their names or a glance at the image above hasn’t already altered your mood for the better and got all the myriad muscles involved in producing a smile toned up and ready for action.
And, just to confirm the mood here’s their instantly recognisable theme tune, ‘The Dance Of The Cuckoos’ written by the heroically hardworking in house composer at Hal Roach Studios, Marvin Hatley.
Laurel and Hardy were innocents abroad in this wicked world. Not an innocence born of ignorance of the world but rather the innocence of guileless uncorrupted souls who glided through this vale of tears mildly baffled by the energy invested in the ambition fuelled grandiose plans and schemes that the rest of us consider so essential to our lives.
Stan and Ollie survived being surrounded by a society that thought them nothing but fools because between them they had something more precious than gold – a natural charm and dignity which survived every catastrophe unscathed.
This was founded on the simple love they had for each other leading them to offer everyone they met goodwill and friendship. Every Laurel and Hardy film is a testament to how sweet the human spirit can be.
They were masters of physical comedy who unashamedly used every music hall and pantomime device available to them to draw us into their comic universe.
They were obviously fortunate in the natural comic contrast in their relative body shapes – in some countries they are simply referred to as, ‘The Fat One and the Thin One’.
In addition their virtuoso use of the direct look to the camera, the clownish falls, the tie-twiddling, the word gulping crying and their trademark hats and hairstyles gave them a powerful screen presence that was built to inspire affection and to last.
The musical numbers threaded through their career showcased Oliver Hardy’s modestly sweet tones, Stan’s artless harmonising and the balletic charm of their dancing.
Let’s listen to them below with the delightful, ‘On The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine’ from the 1937 film, ‘Way Out West’. The song was published in 1913 by Harry Carroll and Ballard MacDonald and amazingly became a UK number 2 record, selling more than half a million copies, in 1975.
Now doesn’t that make you feel better about the world?
Sometimes, when struggling to find a moment of calm and clarity in the hubub around and within me I like to close my eyes and rehearse favourite Laurel and Hardy lines in my head:
‘I’m not as dumb as you look’
‘You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be led’
‘Why don’t you do something to help me?’
‘Tell me that plan again’
‘I’m Mr Hardy, and this is my friend, Mr Laurel’
‘We certainly do!’
Never forgetting the immortal – ‘Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!’
I don’t know whether that counts as a mantra or an exercise in mindfulness but it sure works for me!
In the recent, ‘Let The Mystery Be’ post here on The Jukebox I noted that the golden record sent into deep space aboard the Voyager spacecraft included Blind Willie Johnson’s, ‘Dark Was The Night’.
Blind Willie’s record would let all know that the human race was prey to existential angst but had the strength to express that terror through redemptive art.
Reflecting on the achievement of Laurel and Hardy I believe that we should ensure any further Voyager should include, also from ‘Way Out West’, their wondrously uplifting performance of, ‘At The Ball That’s All’.
Due to the maddening vagaries of commerce and youtube the only way I can feature the video clip is to have it accompanied by a soundtrack not from the original film but by the latin rock group Santana.
So I suggest you watch the clip below with the sound turned off and delight in their affecting dancing and go to the main youtube site for the full experience.
I think we can say with absolute confidence that any life form who found this would have to conclude that the inhabitants of Planet Earth must be a very fine race and that they should be visited as soon as possible to see more of that wonderful duo – Laurel and Hardy.
Commence to Dancing!