Friday, August 31, 2007


For those of you wondering why I didn't post anything yesterday--yes, regular readers, I'm talking to both of you--it's simple: I slept.

I felt vaguely crappy all day Wednesday, and I spent pretty much all of Thursday sleeping. I woke up long enough to eat, buy toilet paper and kitty litter (God, my life is exciting!) and...go back to sleep.

So my thoughts are, as Billie Burke once said, a bit muddled.

First, a clarification. Though I mentioned Delmar sitting on my lap as I wrote my last post, I should point out, color scheme aside, he's nothing like the sweet, benevolent and talented kitty in the cartoon I embedded in that post. This is more like Del:

But what of Monika?

Well, it's my opinion that if everybody on the planet spent just ten minutes hanging out with her, the world would be a better place. Even people who hate cats would probably have to admit Monika is rather endearing. Even when she's in pet me-pet me-pet me mode, she can break down all resistance. If smashing her head repeatedly against the small of your back doesn't work, she'll climb on the back of your chair and arch her body over your head, her (upside-down) face slowly filling your field of vision. Adorable!

In fact, if one were to construct a sort of Adorability Scale, Monika would probably be off the charts. First of all, she's a fuzzy gray cat, and is there anything more adorable than a fuzzy gray cat? No, there's not. You could argue that kittens are just naturally more adorable than adult cats--but I swear Monika's face hasn't changed a bit since kittenhood, and yes, she was the most adorable kitten in the world.

(Incidentally, also ranking high on the Adorability Scale: German Shepherd puppies and Lauren Graham's face when she crinkles her nose. Least adorable things? A tie between syphillitic genitalia and the ambience at any TGIFriday's.)

Since this seems to have become cat-centric, have I mentioned that kitty Midnight doesn't live here anymore? It's not fallout from my breakup with Tabbatha (And is breakup too dramatic a word? We just stopped seeing each other. It's not like there were fights or anything. We still talk.), I just asked her, since she finally got a place of her own, if she'd take him back, since I just didn't have room for three cats.

I miss him, though. So as a tribute to Midnight, here's Christopher Lee as a character named... Midnight. It comes from from the ready-made cult item The Return Of Captain Invincible, and even though it features Lee and Alan Arkin, two of my all-time favorite actors, it's mostly no great shakes. Mostly. On the other hand, when Chris Lee is singing a Richard O'Brien song(!) and briefly busts out his famed Yosemite Sam impression...what's not to love?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Delmar, who is himself a black and white cat, sits on my lap as I watch this. Since he is missing most of his tail, he can't quite relate, but I like to think he enjoyed this anyway.

Chuck Jones' reputation among hard-core animation fans has taken a bit of a beating in recent years. One of the chief complaints is that he took characters with already-established personas--Daffy Duck, particularly--and molded them to his own purposes, changing Daffy from a crazy but upbeat character to a world-class neurotic. (Speaking as a world-class neurotic myself, I don't see the problem.)

There is also the charge of excessive cuteness, a self-consciously "artsy" quality, something this particular cartoon does nothing to dispel. On the other hand, it really is cute. Downright adorable, as a matter of fact. I want to give it a big hug, but instead, I'll settle for chuckling warmly as I skritch Delmar's chin. A perfect way to start a day, now that I think of it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


In a way, you could feel sorry for Our Beloved President.

His old method, the only one he knows, just isn't working anymore: If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes accepted as truth. Suddenly people realize they're being lied to, and they don't like it. What's a po' boy to do?

Well, obviously: You start tossing old friends and advisors to the wolves. (Yeah, I know, Rove and Gonzales both claim they decided on their own to retire. And I, um, believe them.) Sad thing is, it'll probably work.

Give Democrats credit for continuing to press on with the investigation into the firing of those U.S. attorneys, but what will they do now, given that the likely target of the investigation, Rove, is already gone?

After all, if they continue the inquiry, following the blame to its likely source, it will almost certainly lead straight to Cheney, if not Bush himself. And if there is evidence of wrongdoing at the highest levels, surely congress would have no choice but to introduce impeachment proceedings, right?

Ah, but top Democrats have made it clear they have no interest in such matters. Chris Dodd, who continues to delude himself that he has a shot at the presidency, has come right out and said that talk of impeachment would be a distraction during the nomination process.

There you have it: Democrats are perfectly willing to elevate their own self-interest over the needs of justice. God Bless America.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Of course, Alfredo Gonzales was allowed to resign rather than be fired.

He was, after all, "a man of integrity, decency and principle."

At least, according to Our Beloved President.

We're all sure history will judge your comments fairly, Mr. President. (I picture "History" as vaguely resembling the late actor John Fiedler, and as he judges the president's assesment of his snivelling sycophant--sorry, I meant "trusted team player"--he alternates hysterical laughter with sad, resigned sighs.)

Adios, Douchebag, and please take Cheney with you next time, 'kay?

Sunday, August 26, 2007


An older-model sedan in the parking lot, with a familiar bumper sticker: WHY IS THERE ALWAYS MONEY FOR WAR BUT NOT FOR EDUCATION?

I'm no fan of bumper sticker wisdom, but I'll grant you this is--hey, wait. What does the sticker next to it say? VOTE DEMOCRATIC. FOR A CHANGE.

Okay, now you're just trying to piss me off. I want to go into the store, find the owner of this car and thump this person repeatedly on the head.

Does anybody really believe this crap? How little attention were people like this paying to the build-up to Iraq? The Democrats were more than willing to bend to every one of Our Beloved President's demands, have been personally responsible for diverting funds earmarked for education towards the war effort and have continued to hand the Bushinistas unprecedented power. Now they want to stand around and whine? Now they want a change? If they had ever been any kind of opposition party, we wouldn't be in this mess.

They're the majority in congress, and nothing has changed. So if they take the presidency, can anyone really believe things will just somehow be better? Because it's not going to happen. Not in this lifetime.


If only I could just go buy muffins without the real world intruding.


An older dad, a grandfather, maybe an uncle, with gray, thinning hair, calling his three male charges--the oldest was maybe eight--over to ask which DVD they should buy. The kids had already seen the old man's first pick, Jason And The Argonauts, but weren't familiar with his backup choices, The Thief Of Bagdad or 20,ooo Leagues Under the Sea.

So summing up: These kids were familiar with Ray Harryhausen, but were about to get an education in early Michael Powell or Richard Fleischer. Young cinephiles in the making.

Which does my heart good, especially since my own enthusiasm seems to be waning. This coming fall and winter season sees a number of new films by some of my favorite directors--Brian DePalma, Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Benton, Noah Baumbach, The Coen Brothers, Todd Haynes, Tim Burton, David Cronenberg.

And yet, I'm not really excited by the prospect of most of these.

Partly, it's that the films themselves don't necesarily sound that great. Though I long to be pleasantly surprised, Benton's Feast Of Love and Cronenberg's Eastern Promises sound kind of blah, the Coens' No Country For Old Men seems like the kind of thing they should have outgrown, and DePalma's documentary-style take on the Iraq war, Redacted, and Haynes' Bob Dylan bio I'm Not There are the kind of ambitious, semi-experimental projects that have the potential to be absolutely dreadful.

Partly, too, it's the knowledge that about half of these pictures may not even make it to Des Moines, and if they do, it will frankly be a chore to see them. They'll either be playing at the local arthouse, noted for its dim picture and soupy sound, or worse, will be at one of the googleplexes. A screening at a commercial theater is proceeded by a half hour or so of ads and previews, after which any belief in the art of cinema (or joy of life in general) has been killed. Honestly, if I have to sit through that trailer for Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium one more time, I'm slitting my fucking wrists.

The messiness of day-to-day existence gets in the way, too. I used to live for and through movies and music, and though they haven't lost all meaning to me--how many times in this space do I go on about Vincente Minnelli or Richard Thompson?--they don't mean, can't mean, what they once did. Too many other things compete for my time, attention and energy, necessary things like job searches and dates.

(Dating...Man, I thought I thought I was done with that. No that I'm back into that scene, it usually means going out to a movie with someone you don't know too well, so you let her pick and she chooses some godawful romantic comedy with the likes of Kate Hudson or Mandy Moore, and before hand there's THAT FUCKING TRAILER FOR MR. MAGORIUM'S WONDER EMPORIUM, and, Jeebus no, she says she thinks it looks "kinda cute" and you wonder how you can even stand to look at someone who would say such a thing, even though you know you'll probably wind up sleeping with her anyway...)

On the other hand, I just finished my umpteenth viewing of Joe Dante's Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and I still feel the same slightly demented high Dante's movies always give me. If only one of these new films gives me some of the same pleasure, it could result in a crazy joy that can last for days.

Or, hopefully, a lifetime.


I'm actually in a pretty good mood. On a trip to the library yesterday, I discovered they were selling off tons o' stuff, including something called The Encyclopedia Of Stanley Kubrick (which, based on a quick perusal, seems not only factually reliable but downright authoritative) and CDs including Rodney Crowell's The Houston Kid and Marti Jones' Any Kind Of Lie. All of this for only a buck each!

I was familiar with Jones' late eighties album Used Guitars, but I admit I think of her mostly as the husband of--and here's how my thought process works--Don Dixon, who produced a lot of great albums for REM and The Smithereens...but to me, Dixon is best known as the co-writer of one of my favorite songs, Marshall Crenshaw's (Calling Out For Love At) Crying Time, which reminded me I have a couple of live Crenshaw DVDs I hadn't watched in awhile, which resulted in a Marshall-riffic evening of viewing and listening.

I don't know how to upload video onto the computer, or else you'd be watching the whole concerts right now. (You'd also get a lot of Steve Earle, Peter Sellers and about a million clips from Vincente Minnelli pictures.) But here's a clip I found of The Man Himself covering Buddy Holly's Cryin' Waitin' Hopin':

I love how he just casually fires off that awesome, Marshall-tastic guitar solo in the middle of the song, and yes, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe were onstage. Crenshaw was a guest on MTV's New Years Eve countdown party one year, which featured a Rockpile reunion. There was a time when MTV didn't suck, apparently.

Here's the very funny video for Yo La Tengo's Tom Courtenay, featuring a hilarious cameo from A Very Special Guest:

My mom told me when I was an infant I watched the Hullabaloo knock-off Where The Action Is, shaking my head and keeping time to the music. In which case, I would have seen The Left Banke doing this lovely, aching, unbelievably depressing song, one frequently covered in concert by Mr. Crenshaw:

Crenshaw has actually recorded covers of both of the songs Bobby Fuller lip-synched on yet another goofy sixties music show, Shivaree. Choreography!

And here's the real deal again, with one of his very best, albeit poorly shot and recorded. Hopefully, some day I'll find my own Cynical Girl, but until then, I've got Marshall Crenshaw to inspire me:

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Here's a preview for a heavily-hyped new "prestige" movie coming out for the holidays. Ignoring the usual annoying mannerisms of modern trailers--that annoying "whoosh" with every other cut, the amped-up sound effects, the fact that it's edited so that it looks like every other movie being advertised these days--try to focus, if you can, on the actual content:

Now here's a trailer for an exploitation favorite from 1973:

That's right--they're the same damn movie!

The ad for American Gangster spends a lot of time laying out the number of Oscar-winning talents involved, and tries to suggest it's somehow "about" something--Race? Poverty? Justice?

Black Caesar, on the other hand, has no pretensions, but possesses a down-and-dirty immediacy a big-budget Hollywood movie couldn't touch. Writer-director Larry Cohen clearly shot this on the fly in real New York locations, without bothering to get permits, so the street scenes have a vibrancy you couldn't possibly get with carefully rehearsed extras.

Obviously, I haven't seen American Gangster, and it may well be perfectly good. (Or, more likely, just okay.) My guess is, it will be remembered as yet another example of Hollywood timidity, huge amounts of money and talent spent redoing something that was already done perfectly well, and getting it all wrong.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Oh, that president.

The Decider continues to display a stunning ignorance of (or perhaps contempt for) history and common sense, as evidenced by his speech yesterday before a group of veterans. Though the Bushinistas used to go out of their way to avoid comparing Iraq and Vietnam, they've apparently decided to run the other way, using Vietnam as an example of why we can't leave Iraq right away.

"Then as now, people argued that the real problem was America's presence, and if we would just withdraw, the killing would end," Our Beloved President boldly declared. "The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be."

Where the hell to start?

First of all, no one--no one--is claiming if America withdraws, the killing magically stops. Team Bush's stunning series of missteps in Iraq have helped create a nice little hell on earth, ramping up ancient tensions and rivalries while simultaneously creating new ones, while also providing a verdant breeding ground for terrorists. No, Mr. President, the killing won't end--you've seen to that.

In fact, he has almost certainly given birth to what he aluded to in his speech--a new Khmer Rouge.

His misunderstanding of what happened in Vietnam is reprehensible and inexcusable, though understandable, given that Henry Kissinger, architect of Nixon's Vietnam policy, is one of Bush's closest advisors, and is always willing to rewrite history in his favor.

It was Kissinger's passive-aggressive strategy towards Vietnam--drawing down troop levels while escalating secret bombing campaigns (Merry Christmas, Cambodia!)--that created the very vacuum in Southest Asia in which Pol Pot thrived. Innocent people were going to die, either by Kissinger's napalm or Pol Pot's machete, but make no mistake, the U.S. was responsible either way.

And so in Iraq. The U.S. can stay or get out, but it doesn't matter. People will still die, and all will remember who gave birth to this situation.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I sleep for ten or twelve hours straight, or I get no sleep at all. My mind wanders, and when it settles in one place for very long, it is somewhere dark and forboding. I have no desire to do anything, and nothing gives me any kind of pleasure.

Sounds like I'm depressed, eh?

Assuming that putting a .45 in my mouth and pulling the trigger isn't an option (since, after all, a shotgun would be so much more effective...joke. JOKE!), what do I do about this?

Therapy? Uh, yeah, I suppose I could...but you know, I was in therapy when my marriage ended, so that didn't help much. And I was in therapy again later, and I tended to use it as a crutch. I'm not against it, it just hasn't worked for me.

Meds? Boy, oh boy. Done that, too, and I never want to go back. You can be on varying doses of varying meds before they find the mix that actually works for you--assuming they find it. The thing is, the meds screw with your head so much you can lose all perception of reality, can think you're doing fine when your moods are actually swinging like Sinatra on meth. But the doctors prescribing this shit don't necessarily see that, they only know what you tell them, but your psyche's been so mixed up, you don't even know what's real.

So what to do?

Easy. I'll just let it happen. Like Fabian and Tab Hunter, I'll Ride The Wild Surf and see where the Big Wave takes me. Maybe I'll drown, maybe I'll land in paradise, maybe I'll just be exhilirated and grateful for surviving. Life's an adventure and all that crap, right?

(Incidentally, I went with a Fabian/Tab Hunter/Ride The Wild Surf reference because I figured the Robert "Wingnut" Weaver riff I used originally was too obscure. Also, I substituted that "Sinatra on meth" line for my original "moods swinging like the Gashouse Gorillas" for the same reason. Hell, even the title of this post is utterly pointless if you don't read Funky Winkerbean and/or The Comics Curmudgeon...but I went with it anyway.)

For now, I suffer. Things turn around, though. They always do. I know this, intellectually, but my soul is less certain, peering at the horizon, saying, "I dunno, man, I dunno..." My soul sounds a lot like Harvey Pekar, my intellect sounds like Marcus Welby, so instead I listen to my heart, which sounds kind of like my mom, and which is telling me to hug my cats.

Monika squirms and Delmar bites me, but it's a start.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Woke up this morning about 3 AM, threw some clothes in the washer and went for a walk.

I've lived in this neighborhood for--holy crap!--four years now. I've walked these streets many times, usually around this time of day, when no one else is about, or even awake. Today my walk is nearly silent, save for the splat-splat-splat of old raindrops blown from leaves, and a brief snatch of music as I pass a basement apartment. (Apparently Johnny Cougar wants a lover that won't drive him crazy.)

A few months ago, walks like these had the feeling of nostalgia in the making, as I was confident I would soon be moving away from this neighborhood, into a new apartment and a new life with Tabbatha. Now, of course, I realize that won't be happening, and I won't be leaving on my own anytime soon, either, as my current financial situation prevents me from looking for a new place.

So now, I've come to resent this area, with its beautifully restored Victorian houses and crumbling Depression-era apartment buildings. I find myself even hating this very walk, this little ritual from which I once took great comfort. Every step leads to stasis, inertia, entropy.

Damn, I sound depressing.

By grand literary tradition, essays involving one's thoughts while on a quiet, contemplative walk are supposed to have some sort of point, even if the point is that there is no point. But this was no journey to the inner recesses of my psyche, just a way to kill time until I could throw my clothes in the dryer, after which I flipped channels and was horrified to discover a local station shows reruns of Gimme A Break at five in the morning.

Which led to the realization that TV in the early eighties was far worse than remembered, but that isn't much of a revelation.

Monday, August 20, 2007


She said, "You're just so negative all the time. Life is meant to be enjoyed, but you can't do that, you stress too much, and about such stupid things. You know everything will work out eventually, and if it doesn't, oh well, deal with it then. But you make problems for yourself. Even the way you walk, the way you carry yourself, your shoulders all slumped, your head down. You don't...You don't seem happy."

I could interject, point out some things I've noticed about her. But I don't. It's not the time for that. So I nod. She's right, after all.

Is this attitude of mine what killed the relationship? And the one before, and the one before that? And all the ones snuffed out before they had a chance to breathe, and all the ones yet to come?

This one was different. At least, it was supposed to be. I loved her so much, her and her kid, and I tried so hard to make it work, to curb my anger and negativity. I wanted to care less about myself and more about us, the larger whole, and my new attitude was rewarding, exhilirating even, at least to me.

Maybe I should have told her that. Maybe I should have made it more clear what she meant to me. Maybe I didn't do enough, or maybe I tried too hard...

"I care about you," she said, "but I just don't feel about you the way that I should. I...I'm not sure I ever did."

...and maybe it didn't matter at all.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Just a quick note to mark the passing of Michael Deaver, one of the sleaziest guys in the Reagan administration.

Deaver was Reagan's public image guy, responsible for dreaming up all those photo ops designed to make the president look like vaguely God-like, or at least as God-like as a guy in early stages of Alzheimer's could be. Deaver set a beloved GOP precedent by peddling his influence to whatever corporations would pay him most, and when he was brought up on charges for it, claimed alcoholism prevented him from remembering details, a trick still being used.

Godspeed on your journey to the infinite, Mr. Deaver! The hallowed halls of D.C. are still covered with the viscous traces of your slime!


Today is Paul's birthday party. I'm not invited.

I'm not specifically disinvited, but Tabbatha has moved on, what with a new boyfriend and all, and since I have to work today, I wouldn't be able to be there, and...

It's over.

I thought I had found a relationship that worked, but no. Since Paul and I had become such good buddies, Tabbatha said I could still hang out with him sometimes, but how likely is that? If she has someone new, and if it's serious, shouldn't this guy be the New Dad figure? I had my time, and it's gone...


This is really depressing, and I don't want to write about it now. (Or ever, possibly.) So here to say it better than me are The Beatles, with one of McCartney's very best. And no, there are no visuals with this clip. Just dig the words, and dig my mood:

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Twenty-five years ago yesterday saw the production of the first batch of compact discs. Ah, technology!

It wasn't until much later that the shiny, shiny discs began to have an impact. I stubbornly refused to join the CD revolution, even as it became harder and harder to find vinyl LPs. But when it was announced that The Carl Stalling Project would not even be issued on vinyl, I broke down. I actually bought the CD the day it came out, then bought the player a few days later, a mid-range Yamaha.

The second disc I ever bought was Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out The Lights, a replacement for my LP, which I had played so much it was starting to deteriorate. Then, let's see, I immediately bought Stratas Sings Weill, Abbey Road, The Legendary Westerns Of Ennio Morricone and Donald Fagen's The Nightfly. Clearly, my tastes haven't changed much.

Now, of course, after supplanting LPs, the dominant form of recorded music for so much of the twentieth century, CDs themselves are becoming an obsolete technology. Irony's a bitch, isn't it?

Friday, August 17, 2007


Two items from the world of showbiz which suggest people in the entertainment world have very little connection to reality:

1) They're making a prequel to Smokin' Aces.

If you responded, "That's silly, they can't make a prequel to a movie that never existed," you would not only be forgiven, you would be patted on the head and told, "Exactly."

And yet, though it vanished from the public consciousness the moment it was appeared, and provided entertainment to absolutely no one, there was a movie (briefly) released earlier this year entitled Smokin' Aces, yet another Tarantino knock-off showcasing a boatload of B-list Hollywood hepsters (Ryan Reynolds, Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck).

Nobody cared then, nobody cares now, and yet they're making a prequel because--fuck, who knows? Because we're all so curious to know what happened prior to the incidents we didn't give a rat's ass about in the first place?

Bad enough Hollywood keeps remaking movies that don't need to be remade. (They're threatening a remake of Bullitt!) Now they're making follow-ups to their own sorry-ass originals. (I use the word "originals" very loosely here.)

Somebody make it stop.

2) Steven Seagal claims the FBI ruined his career.

Yes, the puffy, balding has-been says an FBI investigation into his ties with slimy private investigator Anthony Pellicano--an investigation begun five years ago--somehow damaged his reputation. The question, of course, is, What reputation?

This is Steven Fucking Seagal. He was a kind of minor star for awhile, in the late eighties an early nineties, but his reputation was based entirely on his ability to beat guys up onscreen. Like a lot of action stars, Seagal's box office dimmed as his brand of bone-crunching entertainment fell out of fashion. (Jeff Speakman, we hardly knew ye.)

In Seagal's case, he was pretty much washed up by the mid-nineties. The indignity of straight-to-DVD releases was pretty much his lot min life well before the FBI started its investigation of Pellicano, who, incidentally, had ties to dozens of folks in the entertainment world, none of whom have accused the federal government of ruining their careers. By throwing a public hissy fit (albeit a hissy fit that's heavier and slower-moving than it used to be), Seagal only reminds everyone of why they got sick of him in the first place: He's a dick.

Still, maybe by getting his name in the press again, he'll give himself enough "heat" to be considered for a bit part in that long-awaited Smokin' Aces prequel. We can only hope.


The great jazz drummer Max Roach, one of the last living inventors of hard bop, has died at 83. He played with all the great innovators of the bebop era, he played solo, he wrote and performed classical compositions, he wrote music for the theater and modern dance.

He played.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Every weekday WHO-TV showed reruns of Emergency! (cleverly titled Emergency One! for syndication purposes), and it was on every day through the summer, it's episodic format making it easy to dip in and out, watching a little at a time, then leaving.

This particular day was gray and unnaturally still, tornado weather as Mom called it, so I stayed inside, plopped down and watched an episode from the beginning, the one in which series regular Bobby Troup's character, Dr. Early, undergoes surgery and the sight of his fur-covered chest makes him look disturbingly like a cousin of the yeti. Halfway through, the local station cut in with a news bulletin.

Tornado warning, I thought, but no: "We interrupt this program to report that entertainer Elvis Presley has died at his home in Memphis..."

That, of course, was thirty years ago today. Presley's significance had shrunk so much during his lifetime, he had made himself so utterly irrelevant, that my reaction was probably typical of twelve-year-olds everywhere: "Isn't he that guy from all those awful movies they show on Valour Theater?"

In death, of course, his legend would be reborn, though even then, they never get it right, casting him as either some sort of harmless, campy icon or as a tragic figure of near-Shakesearean proportions.

Nothing he did was campy. The movies and lame recordings (clooected on the cruel but accurate bootleg compilation album Elvis' Greatest Shit) which sapped his spirit, the endless touring which drained his strength, all done at the insistence of Andreas "Tom Parker" van Kuijk, none of this was camp, it was simply bad. The white jumpsuits, the Jungle Room, those hideous porcelain monkeys--well, that simply reflected Presley's personal tastes, which were appalling, but not unexpected for a white trash kid who suddenly became famous beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Hideous, sure, but not campy--it wasn't intentionally bad.

And as for tragic--well, maybe, but not according to the accepted template, which says Elvis burned brightly for a brief period, got drafted, then did nothing worthwhile until his '68 comeback, then slid back into drugs, lethargy and death.

Nonsense. Some of the best music he ever did came after his army stint. Much of it was buried, two or three good cuts on otherwise indifferent albums, but his first two post-army singles, His Latest Flame (Marie's The Name) and Little Sister, are pure genius, absolutely essential stuff.

(Allow me to geek out for a moment here. Little Sister is driven largely by the awesome guitar of Scotty Moore, who had been with Presley since the very beginning, largely defining his sound, and who is thus one of the architects of modern music. Later, Elvis hooked up with James Burton, my personal pick for Greatest Rock Guitarist Ever. I could spend all day going on about Burton, but if nothing else, the fact that he hired the guy shows that, however bad Elvis' taste in clothing and decor, when it came to music he knew what he was doing.)

He always made good music, and even in the seventies, still released some consistently fine albums. (They're almost impossible to find in their original forms these days, but I'm 10,000 Years Old and Moody Blue are all killer.) Yes, the movies, touring, and various edicts from Colonel van Kuijk took a lot out of him, but he kept making music, some of it awful but much of it very good. Is this a tragedy, or just a guy who never recaptured his early greatness? In which case, why don't we describe Paul McCartney as a tragic figure?

Here's Elvis Presely at his best, playing quite fine lead (earlier in this segment, he swiped Scotty Moore's guitar) and singing the shit out of Trying To Get To You. Damn, that guy could sing:

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


In the immortal words of Crow T. Robot, it's a good storm, but not A Perfect Storm. Nonetheless, so many uncontrollable forces batter my psyche--money woes, car problems, health issues, job suckage and, oh yeah, that whole relationship going south thing--and a major depressive episode seems to be peering over the horizon.

The result? I'm dumbstruck, functioning but not living, barely able to feel, much less think. And writing involves thinking, unless you're David Brooks. So, yes, another placeholder post, more clips. I know, I know, I'm relying way too much on these things. But it's either a clip job or no new post, and I'm sure both of my regular readers would be devastated by the silence.

And today is All Depressing Music Day!

Let's start with the Patron Saints of Depressing Music, Richard and Linda Thompson, with a song of heartstopping beauty and sadness:

Two by Loudon Wainwright, one very funny but very, very bitter:

...and one aching with sorrow:

Alan Vega and Martin Rev: One of my all time favorite bands, Suicide:

And of course, you can't have depressing music without some Kurt Weill. Here's Ashley Putnam performing Somehow I Never Could Believe, from Weill's opera Street Scene. The lyrics, incidentally, are by Langston Hughes:

John Lennon never recovered from losing his mother at an early age, and was haunted by the fact that whatever happened to him after, for the rest of his life, he could never share it with her. He fell deeply in love with Yoko Ono, of course, but even then, his love, his life felt somehow incomplete. So he wrote a song to his mother--whose name, of course, was Julia. Sing along with this, quite possibly my favorite song in the world. I'd sing, too, but I'm too busy choking back tears:

Monday, August 13, 2007


Honestly, I'm kind of bummed about Merv Griffin's death.

His talk show, which ran for decades, had long since outlived its usefulness, and towards the end, Merv became self-consciously ironic, knowing his brand of entertainment was coming to an end. I prefer to think of Merv in his seventies mode, a master of unintentional cheese, who once opened his show by singing Piano Man. I was nine or ten, it was the first time I'd ever heard the song, and I was both mesmerized and terrified.

No clips of that, but apparently Merv's taste in music improved in later years. Here he is introducing Oingo Boingo, followed by an interview with Danny Elfman--who seems to be on the verge of biting off Merv's chubby face:

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Random fun from today's New York Times:

1) The big applause lines the Republican candidates deployed at the Straw Poll make me ashamed to be from Iowa. (Actually, the concept of a "straw poll" makes me ashamed to be from Iowa, but...)

Mitt Romney (who won the damn thing...Did I mention my embarrassment over being from Iowa?) got cheers for claiming, "If there has ever been a time that needed change in Washington, it is now."

Forgetting the tortured syntax of that sentence, hasn't your party been in charge most of the time? Weren't the Republicans happily towing the Bush line as recently as a year ago?

More depressing is this, from Colorado's Tom Tancredo, after pledging to deport anyone in this country illegally: "They call us who believe in the rule of law xenophobes and racists."

They sure do, Tom, because you are. Also, you forgot "hypocrites".

2) William Safire is still writing his "On Language" column. When Apocalypse comes, this thing will outlast the cockroaches.

3) How The "Good War" In Afghanistan Turned Bad is a lengthy piece by reporters David Rohde and David Sanger, neatly summarized by its sub-headline: At key moments in the war, the Bush administration diverted scarce resources to Iraq.

Um, this is news? Coming soon in The Times: Weapons Of Mass Destruction: Were We Duped?

4)Brief piece on the significance of various versions of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, notable only for telling me something I didn't know: The latest version, The Invasion, opening this week, doesn't even have pods.

Okay, Hollywood, now I'm pissed. If you're doing Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, you have pods--thus the term "pod people". it's poetic, it's metaphoric, it's the only reason for doing the umpty-umpth remake of a movie that was perfect the first time. If you don't even get that, you'll never get the rest.

5) According to Woody Allen's touching piece on Ingmar Bergman, everyone's favorite dour Swede liked to kick back and relax by watching James Bond movies. I'm guessing he found particular comfort in Roger Moore's efforts, which surely reinforced Bergman's belief that there is no just and loving God.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


One of the things I've noticed, reading back through my archives, is that this space used to be so much more personal, used to be so specific about what was going on in my life.

My focus seems to have shifted, or maybe I simply have no focus. It's almost as though something is going on in my life, some sort of earth-shattering change, something I can't quite identify.

Certainly, I've always tried to be starightforward and specific here; if something is going on in my life, good or bad, I share. God knows, I'm nothing if not honest. So what's the deal, what's the explanation for my recent moodiness, why am I so bummed so much of the time? How can I convey a sense of desolation, perhaps in waltz time?

Well, if I ever figure out why I'm so sad so often, you'll certainly read about it here. It's not like me to offer cryptic clues, to dance around a subject I don't feel like exploring in depth, something I'm just not ready to talk about. No sir, not my style at all.

Friday, August 10, 2007


What the hell are they thinking? Warner Bros. is planning a remake of Enter The Dragon.

Not Bruce Lee's best movie, Enter The Dragon was, nevertheless, the movie that made him a worldwide superstar, that cast him into legend. It's iconic--in geek terms, this is like remaking Citizen Kane.

Not, the studio insists, that this will be a direct remake. This will be an updating, a reimagining, if you will, of the 1973 classic, in contemporary terms. Director Kurt Sutter imagines this as a noirish exploration of a secret world, as a federal agent investigates the world of secret martial arts fight clubs. Sounds more like a remake of Jean-Claude Van Damme's Bloodsport, but hey, fine, let Sutter make his crappy movie...but why call it a remake of Enter The Dragon?

I don't know what's more offensive, the notion of remaking Dragon in the first place, or the fact that, in doing so, they intend to toss out everything that made it what it was? Is Hollywood really this at a loss for original ideas? Are studios this craven? Do they think audiences are that stupid?

Do these questions even need to be answered?


Holy Crap, Tom Laughlin turns seventy-six today.

I guess that should be Tom "Billy Jack" Laughlin, since he did all he could to blur the distinction between himself, the actor-writer-director-philosopher-saint, and Billy Jack, two-fisted pacifist.

Billy Jack--the movie, not the character--was one of those weird things that could only have become popular during the seventies, a hilariously unbalanced combination of hippy-dippy philosophical musings and typical drive-in action. Undoubtedly sincere, Billy Jack often resembles a bad home movie showcasing Laughlin's wife Delores Taylor and their talentless children, some community theater rejects, plus the occasional professional (Kenneth Tobey, Howard Hesseman in his "Don Sturdy" period). Though Laughlin presumably meant the film as a "statement", the only reason it's known today is as an object of mockery, for its clumsy technique, for Laughlin's hilariously self-indulgent performance, for Taylor's monotone delivery, and, oh yes, for the theme music. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Coven:

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Since one of my all-time favorite TV shows is the pulpy old Hanna-Barbera cartoon Jonny Quest, I'm naturally disgusted by the fact that some Hollywood producer wants to turn this into a movie.

Suckage is guaranteed here. While I've often imagined how cool it would be to have a generously-budgeted Quest feature directed by Brad Bird (a huge fan, as The Incredibles proves) or Bruce Timm, the bad news regarding the new Quest is that it will be live action.

Which pretty much dooms it right there.

What everyone remembers about Jonny Quest--aside from its awesomely cool Hoyt Curtin theme music--is its distinctive look, courtesy of comic book artist Doug Wildey. The character designs were simple yet effectively stylized, moving through a moody landscape of deep oranges and brilliant greens. The animation was limited, but it sure looked good.

There's no way to pull off that level of stylization in live action. Well, you could, but not in a potential kiddie franchise feature. The studio won't be hiring some auteur to bring a "vision" to the screen--they'll hire a hack to knock it out quickly and efficiently.

More than that, they'll get the tone wrong. Jonny Quest was a weird combination of Doc Savage pulp adventures and James Bond-styled spy thrillers, full of sneering Asian villains (Dr. Zin!) and hostile but easily frightened "natives" (whether South American or African) whose main purpose was to shriek "AAIIEE!" Obviously, you can't do this kind of old-school adventure anymore (even Bond himself dwells in the real world these days, and I shudder to think about the new Indiana Jones movie), so whatever this new movie will be (I'm thinking somewhere between Spy Kids and Agent Cody Banks), it won't be Jonny Quest.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Everything at work needed to be ship-shape, because we had visiting royalty: Our own senator Tom Harkin was stopping by for a press conference. True, other stuff had to be shunted around because Harkin's people were rather vague about the time of his arrival, but hey, it's a hospital--it's not like there are more important things to do.

Harkin's time at Mercy was brief--there wasn't even time for a scheduled tour of Pediatrics; gravely ill children were thus deprived of an opportunity to be used as cheap props--and in his wake, a question lingered: Why the hell was he even there?

After all, on the day of his visit, the senate was voting to authorize Bush's outrageously unconstitutional domestic spying plan. Harkin is a vocal opponent of the president, but when it came time to cast an important vote, he simply didn't bother showing up.

Not that his vote would have mattered, since 16 Quislings--sorry, I meant Democrats--in the Senate and 41 (!) in the House voted to back Our Beloved President.

(One of those 41 was Leonard Boswell, an Iowa Democrat who fought a particularly brutal reelection campaign, but who, when the chips are down, will apparently just give in and piss on the constitution. I voted for Boswell in the last election, somewhat against my better judgement, but I won't do so again.)

Forgive me if I missed something, but when the Democrats made big gains last November, weren't they promising change?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Okay, this is a must. You are required by Federal Law (I think it got added sometime during the Carter years) to buy Season Two of The The Muppet Show, just out today on DVD.

Was this show The Greatest Thing In The History Of The World? Let's look at the evidence. On the second season alone, you had this hilarious appearance from Steve Martin:

John Cleese made an unforgettable appearance:

And--oh, look!--it's my favorite actor of all time Peter Sellers:

This season also had great appearances from Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Don Knotts and many more. Plus Teresa Brewer, singing "Music, Music, Music", and thus answering a question my siblings and I always had: What was that song our dad was always whistling?

Oh, also on this set, you'll get this little number. If it doesn't make you cry, then you're not worth knowing:

So summing up: Yes, The Muppet Show was The Greatest Thing Ever.

Monday, August 06, 2007


Steely-eyed and vaguely disconnected. Depressed, but not quite. Just sort of here, my life a placeholder, painting by numbers, connecting the dots.

I'm in a bad mood, is my point, but I'm not sure why.

Anyway, don't feel much like writing, so here's yet another clip, Janis Siegel singing a wrenching little number that may or may not reflect the reasons for my current mood.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


The New York Times published several letters today in response to a piece pointing out how outrageously high doctors' incomes are in the U.S. compared to the rest of the world, and suggesting this might have something to do with high medical bills and huge insurance premiums.

The responses, mostly, are what you'd expect: We've earned it.

It may seem like a big leap to go from that to the bridge collapse in Minneapolis, but it's not, really.

Unfettered avarice and ostentatious displays of wealth are nothing new, and certainly not a uniquely American trait. Roman emperors and French kings may have erected lavish monuments to themselves, but at the same time they built roads and sewer systems, creating and maintaining a workable infrastructure.

In this country, at this time, wealth is prized above all, and it's not to share. The Bushinista's jawdropping tax cuts to favor the wealthy are the most obvious examples of this, but not asll the blame can be laid at their feet. Ever since Jimmy Carter was thrown out of office for daring to suggest we would all need to sacrifice a little for the good of the country, we as a nation have decided we owe nothing. Any politician can score easy points against a rival by saying they want only to tax and spend.

But to survive, you have to spend, and where will a nation get the money if not through taxes? How else can roads and bridges be maintained, or adequate armor be provided for our soldiers? Where will this money come from if we all have the attitude that we must make more and more, and never give any of it away?

Friday, August 03, 2007


The Omaha World-Herald is a horrible right-wing rag, a paper that would seem to confirm the darkest impressions east-coast elitists have of Flyover Land as a hotbed of rock-ribbed conservatism and barely-coded racism.

However, it is a bit of a rarity in these times: it's an independently published newspaper. Lacking the deep pockets of a national chain, it still has the resources to fill its staff with "lifestyle" columnists. It has music critics, film critics, even a scribe assigned to the local bar scene. None of their work is particularly distinguished, but it's competent, and at least it's there.

My hometown paper, The Des Moines Register, a former liberal firebrand reduced to giving free hand jobs to Big Business, is owned by Gannett. While God knows that's not a name associated with quality, it would seem to suggest The Register has some sort of solid financial backing.

But it doesn't. Budgets have been slashed left and right, and nowhere is this more obvious than the paper's arts coverage. A year or two ago, The Register dumped its film critic, Jeffrey Bruner, and more recently, lost its music critic, Kyle Munson. Both of these guys wrote reasonably well about their assigned topics, and more importantly, brought some local flavor to their reviews.

Des Moines isn't really a cultural wasteland, but it's hard for any local art or cultural scene to flourish without some sort of help from the local press. These days, The Register cobbles together its arts coverage by parroting press releases and running wire stories, thus assuring that regional artists, musicians and theater groups receive either no attention or only the attention they themselves are able to drum up. There is nobody there to champion their work. In some ways, this is worse than an actively hostile environment; this is absolute indifference.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


It's been a depressing week, what with Bergman and Antonioni dying, and Tom Snyder, too, and the bridge collapse in Minneapolis and...well, I'm needing something joyful, something happy.

So here it is, the Bonzos live in '69. Unbelievably awesome stuff. I feel better already:

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


You don't have to be familiar with Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura to suspect this goofy American trailer isn't an accurate reflection of the film:

This is a bizarre attempt to literalize Antonioni's abstractions, to make it look like he'd made some sort of simple-minded melodrama instead of an exploration of ennui.

I'm posting this trailer instead of actually, I don't know, writing something about Antonioni's death because his loss, like that of Ingmar Bergman, helps bring to an end a great period of filmmaking, when the concept of Cinema-As-Art exploded into a worldwide conscience, when anything seemed possible. A Heroic Age of filmmaking, and filmgoing, long gone, and now, finally, dead.