November 22, 1963, evening, and Lenny Bruce is on stage at a New York City night club. He stands silently for a moment, and then he says: “Boy, is Vaughn Meader fucked.”
At least that’s what Joe Queenan claims in his book Closing Time: A Memoir. Whether it’s true is kind of irrelevant. It’s certainly something Lenny Bruce would have said, and it’s the kind of thing that only he would have said on that particular night. Bruce was an irreverent comedian, after all. It’s not like he wasn’t going to go on that night just because Kennedy had been assassinated that morning. But what’s this Vaughn Meader business? Who is he and why did Kennedy’s murder result in Meader’s fuckage?
Vaughn Meader may not have been the first comedian to impersonate a president, but he was the first to hit the big time doing it. In 1962 he released The First Family, a comedy record revolving at 33 and a third around Meader’s Kennedy impersonation. The album was a huge hit, selling 7.5 million copies and taking home an Album of the Year Grammy. Meader was everywhere after that–magazine covers, variety shows, club dates. Within a year, he released The First Family Volume Two, which also sold respectably. In short Vaughn Meader was to John Kennedy as Alec Baldwin is to Donald Trump.
So November 22, 1963 marked not just the end of Camelot, but the beginning of the end of Meader’s career. Album number three, 1964’s Have Some Nuts!!!, was the comedian’s first attempt at a Kennedy-free act. Neither critics nor buyers cared.
It’s not a bad album, but comedy records don’t age well. Like a can of nuts, pop culture references grow stale, as do styles of comedy. This record still deserves a place in my stacks, though, for one very good reason, and that reason is neither Kennedy nor Meader.
I’m all about that Jack Davis album cover.
I’ll buy any album bearing a Jack Davis sleeve, from the truly great to the truly awful. He’s my Roger Dean, my Frank Frazetta, my Hipgnosis. I won’t stop until I own every Jack Davis album cover, and even then I probably won’t stop because who knows? Maybe there’s one more out there that nobody knows about. Davis may be gone (he died in 2016 at age 91), but my Quixotic quest remains very much alive. I shall conquer you, Jack Davis discography!
You can get your own Jack Davis (or Vaughn Meader) collection started with a copy of Have Some Nuts!!! for 2-5 bucks. Happy hunting.
Categories: From the Stacks