When my column stopped running over a year ago, I swore I would never write another one unless it was really, really important to me. Well, this topic is really, really important to me because Mr. Whitekeys is retiring after this summer’s run of the Whale Fat Follies and it breaks my heart. Where the heck am I supposed to bring my summer visitors now to have them publicly mocked?
To start at the beginning – there was a place back in the day called Spenard. While an area known as Spenard still exists and is doing its best to be middle class, the real Spenard would have crawled into a hole in embarrassment if you’d ever said it aspired to that level. What Spenard aspired to be, and what for a brief and glorious period it was, was a place full of massage parlors that offered happy endings and bars that promised that, one way or another, you weren’t leaving with any of that money you earned on the Slope.
And then came a Pied Piper. His name was Mr. Whitekeys. He played in a bar in Spenard called the Fly by Night Club. He sought to bring entertainment, laughter and a bit of class to Spenard. While he may have succeeded in bringing entertainment and laughter, the truth is that no one ever accused him of bringing class. His impressive placement of objects on stage that no one ever actually expected to see together created a space of wondrous cacophony and color and… oh, let’s face it, it was an hysterical blending of who knows what that created an ambience of what only can be called classy sleaze.
Over the course of the past thirty some years or so, Whitekeys has brought Spam out of our closets and into the public sphere. He gave us permission to place it proudly on our Pilot Bread. Hawaii may be number one in Spam consumption but no one in Hawaii ever celebrates that. Here in Alaska, thanks to Whitekeys, we celebrate our number two status with pride and glory because he has taken away the shame of still eating canned meat created during World War II while living in a state where fresh meat on the hoof is all around us.
If you were an Alaskan politician over that same span of years, you didn’t really matter until you were publicly mocked in song and dance at the Whale Fat Follies, Springtime in Spenard, or Christmas in Spenard. Until Whitekeys sang your name while his varied cohorts, dressed vaguely like you, danced like fools to the music, you were not a real Alaskan politician.
This year seems to be seeing the ending of a lot of Sixties things. Mick Jagger, for cripes sake, had heart surgery. Jane Fonda is 81. Paul McCartney looks like everyone’s favorite grandfather just before senility hits. And now Whitekeys is going to pass into Alaska history and become just another iconic institution from our frontier years that we remember fondly – you know, like politicians with integrity and juice that has been touched by actual fruit. How will we survive without the sounds of that classic song ringing in our ears, “Every time someone does something dumb, an Alaskan does something dumber.”?
Back in the day, Spenard was not a place you really wanted to go at night – or during the day for that matter. But when the Whale Fat Follies were there, it suddenly didn’t seem so scary. Ok, it was just as scary but if you jumped in your car after the show and locked the doors, you were pretty sure of getting home safely. Whitekeys swears he only ever lost a few dozen people at most after his shows in Spenard. Now the Follies have gone uptown – or downtown, I still find it all confusing since we have such a small town. He operates out of the Hard Rock Café. That’s a step up for him or a step down for them – you decide.
But either way, I’m going to miss him and his cohorts. When he puts those harmonicas up to his lips at the end of his show and blows the William Tell Overture while pictures of Alaska play on the screen behind him, I always feel a chill up my spine. That’s the sound I want to hear when I die. It’s the sound I want played at whatever crazy remembrance is held for me. So no matter where you go, Whitekeys, or what you’re doing at that time, if I go before you, I’ll be listening from above – or below, as the case may be – and I’ll want to hear that wailing.