Sunday, August 31, 2008


Running really, really late this morning (I hate working weekends), but as always, I felt I should post something. So enjoy this performance from 1977: Emmylou Harris singing the Townes Van Zandt classic Pancho And Lefty. That's Van Zandt's old compadre Rodney Crowell on guitar and backing vocals, with Albert Lee on lead guitar. Oh, and it's only fair to mention, as with pretty much every song Van Zandt ever wrote, this is incredibly depressing. But in a good way!

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Some bleak amusement can be found when the press describes "John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential candidate," as if McCain had anything to do with the choosing. The hapless McCain is not canny enough to have named a woman as his veep at the exact moment Democrats were lamenting Barack Obama's refusal to allow Hillary Clinton on the ticket, or to unveil Palin in the immediate afterglow of Obama's speech at the DNC.

No, McCain in this instance as all others is subservient to his masters, Karl Rove and the shadowy cabal that truly run the United States. Palin is obviously underqualified to be president--a gig she'd likely inherit; given McCain's age and rage issues, even Republican insiders don't expect him to be able to complete two full terms as commander-in-chief--but experience and competence are hardly issues here. McCain and Palin would be as Bush is, mere lapdogs, whimpering Annakins to Rove and Cheney's Palpatine.

Ah yes, Cheney. You don't expect him to go away, do you? If McCain is elected, rest assured, he will be there, his power consolidated. If the Democrats blow the best shot they will likely have at the White House, there will be nothing to stop the neocon machine from making over the country in its own image. The overturn of Roe v. Wade will be the obvious starting point, but whatever shreds of the Constitution remain in place will be summarily burned, more and more power will accrue to the hands of the outrageously wealthy few, and America as it has always been known will cease to exist.

Assusming, of course, Obama loses. His defeat is by no means assured, but the selection of Joe Biden as his running mate was a serious misstep--Biden is, let's face it, kind of a dick--although Obama's supporters have faced the choice with a glazed stoicism, feigning enthusiasm even as visions of the Titanic, the Hindenburg and Dukakis in a tank flash through their minds.

Whatever an Obama loss would mean to the party faithful, there would be another group even more devastated, though nobody talks about it much. Obama and his campaign seldom mention the race issue, but we're all aware of it, even if we pretend otherwise. If the first African-American candidate with a real shot at the presidency loses to the cranky, obscenely rich white guy, a clear message will be sent to a considerable portion of the population: You don't matter, you have never mattered, you never will matter. There is the only the ruling class, and those beneath it.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Yeah, I could write about the Democratic Hoo-Ha in Denver, or Vladimir Putin's surprisingly credible claim that the Russia-Georgia conflict was manipulated in the U.S. press to benefit John McCain, or even the Yankees' surprise win against the much-reviled Red Sox.

Or I could post a cheesy clip of Mamie Van Doren displaying her assets.

Van Doren briefly dated (or, as the press at the time so elegantly phrased it, "escorted") Henry Kissinger in the seventies. I had a number of cheap gags lined up and ready to go (He did to her what he did to Cambodia! He tried to show her his realpolitik! She reassured him that detente can happen to any man! He staged a coup in her Chile!), but fortunately my sense of integrity prevents me from stooping so low.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


A friend of mine at work, Julian, is from Mexico, so English is his second language. You'd never know it, for the most part, since he's able to deploy puns and other forms of wordplay like he's been doing it all his life, but once in awhile he's tripped up by an unfamiliar word. Specifically, the word "geeky," which I used to describe our mutual Star Wars obsession.

I tried to define it, which led to a larger discussion among our coworkers, but I'm not sure we quite nailed it on the head to Julian's satisfaction. "So how is a geek different from a nerd?" he asked, and we couldn't really put it into words.

That whole conversation stayed with me for awhile, as I pondered the different contexts in which we deploy the term "geek." It's not a flattering term; after all, it comes from carny lingo. And even carnies probably managed to nail the occasional backwoods slut, whereas geeks in the modern parlance tend to be seen as social outcasts, if not downright asexual.

Yet many fringe-dwellers don't mind deploying the term to describe themselves. There are self-proclaimed Star Wars geeks and Tolkien geeks and comic book geeks and computer geeks. It gets trotted out to describe anyone with a more than casual knowledge of almost any subject: music geek, theater geek film, geek.

But do you ever heard of a sports geek? Sports fans, sure, even super fans or, in extreme cases, fanatics. But geeks? Nah, come on, this is sports, buddy, this is manly stuff, not some sissy boy dragons-and-princesses crap.

Really, though, is there any difference between the Red Sox fan claiming they would have won the '75 World Series if only Bill Lee hadn't tossed that space ball in Game Seven and Star Wars fans debating whether Greedo spoke Rodese or Huttese? They both exist on the same level of obsession, and carry the same level of passion. The danger, in both cases, is that this obsession, this passion, can become too intense, carry with it a level of I'm-right-you're-wrong certainty that makes civil discussion impossible, resulting in either the barely veiled xenophobia common to sports radio or flame wars on web sites.

There's nothing wrong with digging deeper into subjects of interest. Hey, that's what this whole site is about. (As those of you who've endured numerous Richard Thompson clips or endless posts about Vincente Minnelli know all too well.) Sometimes people become so obsessed with something, they want to claim it as their very own, and will tolerate no dissenting opinions. I love me some Star Wars and Godzilla and Chuck Jones cartoons, and these things enhance my existence, and help make me what I am. But they're not all I am.

Okay, except for the Chuck Jones cartoons. Say anything bad about Feed The Kitty and you're my enemy forever.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Good news! Michael Bolton and Nicollette Sheridan have called off their engagement!

For those of you asking, "Who and Who?", well, you have no idea how lucky you are. The rest of us, all too aware of the charisma-free personalties and questionable talents of this formerly loving couple, can rest easy, knowing that a permanent mating has been avoided.

Because when two titanic non-entities are joined as one...Well, I have no idea what happens in the real world, but according to the Laws Of Physics as defined by Marvel Comics, the universe would have threatened to collapse on itself. Sure, Reed Richards could have devised some plan to save us, but he's a fictional character, and the threat of the Bolton/Sheridan union was all too real.

But before you rest too easy, True Believers, know this: Charlie Sheen 's wife is pregnant! Beware!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I've been thinking about this song, Matthew Sweet's incandescent power pop classic Girlfriend, a lot lately.

No particular reason; sometimes a song sticks in your head for awhile and refuses to leave. But it got me to thinking why I love this song so much.

The lyrics are barely even rudimentary; it's tuneful, it's got hooks up the yin-yang, but Sweet doesn't really develop the melody much. In structure, it's basically four minutes of the same thing over and over again.

But on this particular song, Sweet had a secret weapon: The brilliant guitarist Robert Quine. His snarling guitar lines temper Sweet's airiness, but more than that, they're unpredictable. It's like Quine is a great jazz soloist, taking the song as a starting point and going off in his own direction. The tension between the darker places he seeks out and Sweet's gentler, early-Beatles melody make what would have been just another pretty pop song into something vital and alive.

Maybe every great pop recording needs an extra ingredient, a dash of something unexpected. Without it, you get Paul McCartney's solo career.

This is a sadly typical number from The Artist Formerly Known As The Cute One. It's not bad, exactly. It's just kind of there, blandly inoffensive, like a painting in a dentist's waiting room. McCartney, obviously, once had a hand in some of the greatest music of the twentieth century. He wrote a fair number of my favorite Beatles songs--I'm Looking Through You; For No One; Back In The U.S.S.R.--on his own, without any collaboration from John Lennon.

Still, even without any direct input from Lennon, his influence could still be felt. With the other Beatles around, McCartney knew he had to deliver; he could still be insipid (Martha My Dear) but he couldn't afford to be lazy. He knew his writing had to impress his bandmates. Once they departed, laziness became the order of the day, every song just good enough, melodic but not interesting, the lyrics trite, the arrangements logy.

Of course, it's possible to go too far in the other direction.

That was Bonnie Tyler singing, of course, but we shouldn't really blame her. No, we should heap scorn instead on Jim Steinman, the song's author and arranger, and architect of some of the most godawful overwrought schlock of the rock era. Total Eclipse Of The Heart is typical Steinman--it introduces a number of melodies without bothering to develop any of them, the arrangement is so bombastic Phil Spector would wince and the lyrics...Oh, the lyrics! The song's very title gives you a good idea of Steinman's ability to concoct clever-sounding metaphors that make absolutely no sense. Whereas McCartney consistently does too little, Steinman can be counted on to do too much.

So what's a perfect pop song? Maybe all it takes is a catchy melody, lyrics that are simple but just a bit more profound than they seem, and the sense to end in just under three minutes. Add in Pete Townshend's chiming guitar, John Entwistle's furious bass riffs, Keith Moon's explosive drums and Roger Daltrey's peerless vocals. It's a crime Townshend has sold his songs as commercial jingles and TV theme songs, that he and Daltrey continue to tour even though half of the band is dead, that even by the late sixties sluggishness and grand pretensions had begun to infect Townshend's muse.

But nothing will ever diminish the perfection of this.


Last week, I mentioned in passing how I'd seen the Mickey Rooney/Buddy Hackett vehicle Everything's Ducky, but had never seen Jean-Luc Godard's Band Of Outsiders. That particular title was chosen totally at random; there's plenty of Godard I've never viewed--hell, I haven't seen Contempt, for crying out loud.

Anyway, so I was at the local Yuppie Mall the other day killing time before a movie, and happened into a music/DVD emporium, browsing through the used DVDs. As always, millions of public domain eyesores, lots of unloved recent releases--and a copy of Band Of Outsiders. A quality copy, mind you, the Criterion release from a couple years back. For five bucks! Holy catfish!

Weird, huh? It's almost as if--I don't know--something I mentioned wishing to experience suddenly became available to me. Will it happen again? Can lightning strike twice? Dunno, but I would simply point out I've also never dated Thora Birch.

I'll let you know how it works out.

Monday, August 25, 2008


This post started out being about seeing Vicky Christina Barcelona this weekend (it's very, very good, and I really want to write something about Woody Allen very soon), and how I was struck by the unusually large number of vanity logos we had to sit through at the top of the film. Not only did we get the MGM lion and The Weinstein Company logo, we got a tag for something called MediaPro. Then, once the movie proper started--the usual Allen white-on-black credits--not only did the Weinsteins and MediaPro take additional credit, but so did seemingly every international financier who put any money into this: A Gravier Production in association with Antena 3 Films & Antena 3 TV of a Dumaine Production.

Having to sit through credits like that--which makes you feel like you're watching a business deal, not a work of art--got me to thinking about how old school international producers like Dino DeLaurentis and Carlo Ponti no doubt cobbled together financing for their pricey continental epics from a consortium of shady international investors, but back in the day, it never occurred to anyone to give screen credit to moneymen. It just said "Dino DeLaurentis presents" and that was it.

So doing the minimal amount of research necessary to write about DeLaurentis and Ponti--which is to say, looking them up at the IMDb--I was delighted to discover that, in between producing masterpieces for Jean-Luc Godard and Michelangelo Antonioni, Ponti had produced the sleazy Italian slasher picture Torso, the TV commercials for which produced many a sleepless night for me.

The best part of this spot for me isn't the half-hearted attempt to link this grindhouse epic to Doctor Zhivago but the way the voice-over guy doesn't even try to sound ominous, almost cheerfully chiming out, "Torso!" over and over again. Sure, this ad promises carnage, but weirdly chipper carnage. With a pedigree!

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I found a used copy of the movie Cutter's Way for only three bucks yesterday! That's the one with Jeff Bridges playing an L.A. slacker who becomes embroiled in some shady going-on, which only become worse when he turns to his unstable 'Nam-vet buddy for help.

Yes, if you're a Big Lebowski fan, you'll realize this is one of the movies that inspired Joel and Ethan Coen to make their giddy masterpiece. Cutter's Way is a very different movie, of course--for one thing, it's relentlessly grim--but thematically, it's surprisingly similar, and both films are immeasurably aided by great central performances from Jeff Bridges.

Is Bridges the most underrated actor of the last thirty years? He's started getting late career love lately, prompted in no small part by Lebowski's legions of fans, but he's still not regarded with the same sense of awe critics still inexplicably award the likes of Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino.

I must say, the prevailing attitude that those two represent some untouched level of greatness in American acting baffles me. Take DeNiro, for instance. Yeah, I'll give you Taxi Driver. That goes without saying. But among his other celebrated collaborations with Martin Scorsese, only New York, New York and The King Of Comedy strike me as truly exemplary work. Mean Streets is carried by Harvey Keitel's fine performance, with DeNiro offering mostly a series of tiresome Method acting exercises in place of a fully rounded character. Yeah, he's good in Raging Bull, but with no shading to his characterization, his technically excellent performance becomes grating. His work in other Scorsese films are a joke--Casino is a pretty good movie, but the whole conception of his character is that he's a Jew working for a bunch of Italian mobsters, and DeNiro is about as Jewish as cannoli.

DeNiro's non-Scorsese movies mostly fail to impress. He did great work for Bernardo Bertolucci (1900) and Sergio Leone (Once Upon A Time In America), but that was all in the seventies and early eighties. After that, there's almost nothing in his filmography worth taking seriously. Awakenings? The Fan? Flawless? Did America's Greatest Actor bother reading these scripts? Did he think collaborations with the likes of Tony Scott and Joel Schumacher would lead to good work? Is this a body or work to be regarded with any sort of reverence? (I haven't even mentioned Showtime or, God help us, Meet The Fockers. Those are as bad as movies get.)

Pacino's career followed a very similar arc. Sure, you've got to give it up for The Godfather pictures and Dog Day Afternoon. I'm a big admirer of his early efforts The Panic In Needle Park and Scarecrow, and one of the few people who really likes William Friedkin's Cruising, and Pacino's work in all of those is fearlessly committed. He's turned into a bit of a ham in recent years, which is fine when he finds a proper vehicle for his over-the-top tendencies (Scarface or The Devil's Advocate), but good luck to anyone forced to sit through Scent Of A Woman or City Hall. Unlike DeNiro, Pacino could still do good work in worthy projects throughout the eighties and nineties--Glengarry Glen Ross, Donnie Brasco, The Insider. But lately it's been nothing but a steady stream of embarrassments--Two For The Money, 88 Minutes and of all things, Gigli.

The point is, despite their reputations, DeNiro and Pacino have done surprisingly little of substance. Compare their body of work to what Jeff Bridges has done--there is no comparison. Bridges' first major role was in Peter Bogdanovich's tonally perfect The Last Picture Show, and he followed it up working with no less than John Huston in Fat City (an infinitely better boxing picture than Raging Bull, by the way). He never landed a truly iconic part like Travis Bickle or Michael Corleone, but he spent the seventies doing great work in some pretty good movies--The Last American Hero, Bad Company, Thunderbolt And Lightfoot, Hearts Of The West and Stay Hungry. Right there, he had a better body of work than DeNiro or Pacino have managed in their whole careers.

But unlike them, he didn't start getting lazy in the eighties and nineties. He continued seeking out fine roles in good movies like Starman, Tucker, American Heart, The Fisher King and of course, Cutter's Way and The Big Lebowski. Yeah, he made some bad stuff along the way, but those were mostly misfires, not reference=standard losers like Meet The Fockers or Gigli.

It's worth noting that Jeff Bridges' upcoming movie The Open Road is a character-based drama. Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino have a collaboration set for release, Righteous Kill, about cops chasing a serial killer. Bridges continues to look for opportunities to act, whereas DeNiro and Pacino decided to team up and say, Why bother?

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Back in the days when this site tended to post more angry leftist screeds, I'm sure I would have had something to say about Barack Obama's pick of consummate Washington insider Joe Biden to be his running mate. I probably would have made some comment about how Obama's promise of change rings hollow when he deliberately yolks himself to a business-as-usual political pro, and I'd have figured out some way to take potshots at John McCain while I was at it.

Ah, for the good old days. Lately, since I've found myself living in my own head so much, most of the latest political brouhahas pass by here unnoticed, and not much missed. Let's face it, this country is pretty much royally screwed, and though obviously I prefer Obama to McCain, no substantial change will be forthcoming either way. The slow dismantling of the Constitution under the Bushinistas has irrevocably altered the very foundation of the United States, and neither Obama nor McCain show any true awareness of just how far we've gone wrong. Surely the only rational response to such madness is indifference.

Anyway, yeah, that's the type of sleen-venting that used to go on all the time around here. Now I spend more time whining about personal problems, decrying the state of popular culture and posting music clips. Like, uh, this one.

I wanted to showcase Steely Dan's The Royal Scam, which would have displayed at least a passing thematic reference to the above, but I couldn't find a good clip. But here's a great live version of one of my favorites (though honestly, when it comes to The Dan, I could pretty much read off the track listings for any given album and claim at least half of them as favorites), Home At Last. A classic, to be sure, but in this performance, largely a showcase for Walter Becker's unbelievably fluid, utterly gorgeous guitar work. Oh, and when did Donald Fagen turn into Martin Landau?

Friday, August 22, 2008


Running way too late to right a coherent post, but I did want to note that I was torn from a deep, restful sleep this morning not by an alarm clock but by Monika, who shoved her face right up to mine and started meowing incessantly.

The thing is, she's never done this before. Ever. If you read this past Sunday's post, you may recall that when Monika acts in some uncharacteristic manner, dire consequences can result. I'll be wary all day, looking for signs, expecting the worst.

Still, I suppose if one must have a personal Harbinger Of Doom, it might as well be fuzzy, gray and adorable.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Here is the TV spot for the new horror film Mirrors, which opened this past weekend and will be instantly forgotten by anyone who saw it.

Pretty boilerplate in every respect, every "shock" cut and weird noise coming exactly when you expect them. And more, this commercial is targeted to the type of audience that would go see a movie like this; it ran mostly on MTV and other channels thought by ad buyers to appeal to a youthful audience.

And they turned out, but will anyone remember the movie? Or more to the point, will anyone remember this ad? Will it still be remembered decades later, as so many children of the seventies remember the dread that filled them every time this spot came on screen?

Or this one. When the mostly black screen appeared during a commercial break for some bland seventies TV fare, and that voice-over comes on, so barely controlled, as if the announcer was on the verge of hysteria ("something...almost beyond comprehension"), there was a feeling that the world had gone slightly off its tracks, as the comforting, familiar presence of Sonny & Cher cracked open to reveal something too terrible to show, too terrible to imagine.

Or consider this.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown
was strictly drive-in fare, so this ad wouldn't have been shown during prime-time. No, this would have come on later at night, during the local movie, when the lights are mostly down and everyone else had gone to bed, and there you are watching The Doberman Gang or some such, and the announcer starts reciting this litany of the dead, and suddenly that guy in the hood appears in a doorway, and out of the corner of your eye you see a shadow flicker, and your heart jumps and you turn, but hey, it's just a junebug circling around the porchlight. Nothing to worry about, no reason for your hands to be trembling as you lean back on the couch, but then you hear this thumping out on the porch, then a flash of lightning and the power goes off just for a second...

No, I don't think that ad for Mirrors has that kind of impact.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


1) Another Random Thoughts post here, and as always, the process of naming these pieces is an act of pure caprice. My original thought was to riff on the title of the old Herb Alpert album Whipped Cream And Other Delights (Why? I have no idea...), but instead I wind up referencing a Morey Amsterdam vehicle from 1966.

The fact that I even know about Morey Amsterdam movies from the sixties kind of disturbs me. I haven't actually seen Don't Worry, We'll Think Of A Title, but I have seen the Mickey Rooney/Buddy Hackett classic Everything's Ducky. And yet I've never seen Band Of Outsiders. For that matter, I've read Pamela Des Barre's I'm With The Band, but never so much as cracked open a copy of One Hundred Years Of Solitude. I've got to work on my priorities.

2) You may have noticed it was quiet here yesterday. Paul and I spent the day together, and after a healthy donut-based breakfast, we visited the state capitol, hit the library, then watched Independence Day on cable. (Ordinarily, I'd go on and on about how unbelievably stupid that movie is--even Paul, who just turned nine, asked, "If the aliens knocked out all our satellites and cable TV, why do the telephones still work?"--but if I even started, we'd be here all day.) Then we went outside and fought invisible aliens until his mom came and picked him up. (We tried to ambush her when she arrived, but she saw us. Though our sneaking-up skills need work, it was still a good plan.)

The point is, I had a good time yesterday--kind of a rarity around here, I know--and the thought of writing never even occurred to me. I'm not going to make the claim that I'll be posting here less frequently because every time I say that, I crank out more stuff than usual. Let's just say, the thought has crossed my mind. I've been thinking a lot lately about the very act of writing, the hows and whys of what I do, and it's something I want to explore in greater detail.

Some day. Not now.

3) Speaking of Paul and mindless alien-bashing entertainment, we also saw The Clone Wars this weekend. Nothing more to say about it, just fulfilling my gratuitous Star Wars reference obligation.

4) Since, in the immortal words of Kid Rock, nothin' seems as strange as when those leaves begin to change, the end of summer means the end of my self-imposed hiatus from the dating scene. Not that I have prospects lined up or anything, but I'll probably start actively searching for some kind of female companionship one of these days. If it follows the usual pattern, expect overwrought starry-eyed blathering followed by plenty of bitter whining in this space soon.

5) If I ever quote Kid Rock again, or acknowledge his existence in any way, please kill me.

6) The death of the great, hugely influential film critic Manny Farber at the age of 91 serves to highlight the mediocrity of what passes for criticism these days. Farber had two things going for him that are unheard of these days: He had an insatiable curiosity about (and boundless knowledge of) the bigger world beyond movies, and he could write. And when I say he could write, I mean he could do more than string words together; he had a distinctive, idiosyncratic prose style, and was worth reading even if you weren't a Howard Hawks partisan.

If you plow through the reviews of the "critics" featured at, say, Rotten Tomatoes, you'll realize most of them write for various fan-based websites, and the only thing they really know about is movies, and even then, movies of the eighties and nineties. (Any critic who thinks of John Hughes as an important auteur is not someone worth reading.) They have no desire or intention to explore beyond the surface, to back up their questionable opinions (The Dark Knight is better than The Godfather II!) in any meaningful way. But even the critics for actual newspapers are a mostly undistinguished lot, their work revealing not only a shocking lack of knowledge of film history and aesthetics but a general lack of anything interesting to say.

7) Despite that earlier Star Wars mention, I've not noted anything about the cats, haven't prattled on about Vincente Minnelli, not posted a clip of Richard Thompson or Marshall Crenshaw. But I did want to say something about Lynda Carter--

Wait! Where are you going?

Monday, August 18, 2008


This is how my mind works: I can remember sitting around with my brother watching New Year's Rockin' Eve just to make fun of it. I remember this commercial coming on, seeing the cameo from Popeye, and thinking how sad it was that a cartoon character could degrade himself this way.

But I can't remember the year! Was it the year John Schneider served as our evening's genial host, or the year the Kids Are People, Too guy did the honors? Was this the same year Debbie Harry blew the lip synch during Blondie's number? Did this originally air in '79, at the height of the Iranian hostage crisis, or was it a year later, with Popeye's cameo meant to tie in with the then-current Robin Williams movie?

Man, you'd think I'd be able to conjure that one right up, what with my mind being cluttered with the most useless bits of ephemera imaginable. On the other hand, it's nice to know there are some bits of trivia so inconsequential, even I can't remember them.

If only I could forget this jingle! But I can't, and you won't either, as you enjoy (hah!) the singin' and dancin' charms of David Naughton as he goes on and on and on for a full minute, thirty seconds more than any commercial should ever last, ever. As is always the case when I post something like this, please accept my apologies.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


They're less brutal now, less frequent, but the memories still come at night, when I'm most helpless, least able to resist them. The delivery system for this particular memory comes in the fuzzy gray form of Monika, innocently hopping up beside me in bed, brushing against me, nestling against me, just like she did that night.

That Friday night, which seemed like any other. About once a month or so, I'd spend much of my weekend at Mom's. I wish I could say it was because she was living with cancer and every moment seemed precious, but in fact I'd been doing it since before her diagnosis. It was just a nice, relaxing way to spend a weekend. Friday night would be spent hanging out and talking, Saturday we'd usually order a pizza and riff on some bad movie we'd rented.

I'd worked later than expected this particular Friday, and by the time I got to her house, the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics was already underway. Mom was in full sarcasm mode, making fun of the goofy outfits worn by the athletes during the Parade Of Nations, and trying to figure out why the whole spectacle was accompanied by nonstop disco music. She reheated the chicken and dressing she'd fixed for me earlier, we watched TV a little longer and then she went to bed.

I stayed up awhile, flipping channels, then reading. Finally I turned the TV to one of the digital music stations and laid down on the couch, ready to sleep. Monika hopped up beside me, as she usually did when I was there. Of Mom's four cats, only Monika showed the slightest affection for me.

Her usual pattern would be to demand attention until she got bored, then leave. She and I had enacted this ritual many, many times. This time, though, she lingered, draping herself across my legs. Even when I rolled over, she only readjusted herself and stayed.

Mom stumbled to the bathroom. Monika hopped down and followed her, then returned to me, her face in mine. Mom headed back to the bedroom, Monika watching, perched on my chest. I fell asleep.

I woke abruptly to the sound of Mom staggering through yet again, another trip to the bathroom. This was unusual. And again, Monika followed her, then hopped back up with me when the door closed. As Mom returned to the bedroom, I asked her if she was okay and she said yes, she just felt a little sick, nothing to worry about, then swinging shut her bedroom door. Monika paced back and forth on my chest, and when I turned over on my side, she burrowed beneath me.

Mom seemed oddly distracted the next morning, not quite focused, not quite there. I had to make a run to the bank, and when I got back, she seemed even more remote. We watched some of The Electric Company DVD I'd brought with me, and started the lame Gil Gerard Buck Rogers movie as something to make fun of, but about ten minutes in she said she really didn't feel like watching and asked me to leave.

She deteriorated rapidly from there, and the following Thursday, she died. In retrospect, of course, I should have known, but in truth, I had no inkling of what was to come that Friday night. It looked to be just another weekend. Mom was her usual self that evening, and though all the multiple trips to the bathroom seemed odd, I had no idea if this was particularly unusual or simply standard procedure for someone with cancer.

I didn't know...but did Monika? The way she kept coming back to me, not merely seeking attention as usual, but something more. Did she sense a change coming? Did she know the only world she'd ever known was coming to an end? Did she need someone to comfort her on this night of mounting dread? Or did she mean to comfort me, knowing I'd need it soon enough?

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Again, an obit, but no tears, really. Jerry Wexler was 91, after all, and God knows, he lived an amazing life.

Where to begin documenting Wexler's astonishing achievments? As a reporter for Billboard he coined the term "rhythm and blues" to describe the type of music he loved, and would soon help create. As co-head of Atlantic Records from 1953 to 1975, he did it all: Wexler produced seminal sides from Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett and many, many more; he signed Aretha Frankin, encouraging her to find her own voice; he signed great songwriters and producers like Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, whose series of string-drenched recordings showcasing The Drifters virtually invented soul music; he helped found the Muscle Souls Rhythm Section, and created one of the most distinctive sounds in music history; he convinced The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin to form their own labels as subsidiaries of Atlantic, where they'd make the greatest music of their careers; he worked with everyone from Bob Dylan to the B-52s to Willie Nelson to Dr. John.

He thrived on music as the rest of us mortals live on oxygen, and the soundscape of the twentieth century is simply inconceivable without him. However, if I had to name my favorite of all of Wexler's accomplishments, there's no question: Dusty In Memphis.

Accounts vary as to whether Dusty Springfield first contacted Wexler or the other way around. Certainly the British thrush was seeking some kind of street cred, and Wexler without question loved her voice. In any event, not to downplay Springfield's awesome work or that of the album's co-producers, Arif Mardin (who provided the drop-dead gorgeous string arrangements) and Tom Dowd (who provided the astonishingly clear sound, as he did for so many Atlantic recordings), Dusty In Memphis is very much Wexler's album. He selected much of the material (lots of songs by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, plus two contributions from then-unknown Randy Newman), and he saw the album as an integrated whole, not so much a vehicle for Springfield but an opportunity to use her beautiful, distinctive voice as another instrument, the most prominent part of an aural landscape but not its sole purpose for existence.

Listen to this cut, No Easy Way Down, and how that organ intro from Bobby Emmons leads to Reggie Young's guitar, which leads to Mardin's strings kicking in such a fraction of a second before Springfield's vocals. No one of these elements is more important than the other. It's not so much a great song as a great recording, one of the finest ever made, and that was the genius of Jerry Wexler.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Seeing as I spent the day with Paul yesterday, and he wanted to see it, we went to The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor. Not the type of thing I'd ordinarily spring for, but it made for a surprisingly fun cinematic house of mirrors.

Yes, this latest entry in The Mummy franchise is, like its predecessors, a rather obvious Indiana Jones knock-off. But why stop there? There are shameless cribs from everything from Zhang Yimou's Hero to Sam Raimi's Army Of Darkness to Ishiro Honda's Ghidorah The Three-Headed Monster to that ultra-cool Yeti episode of Jonny Quest.

Mostly, though, the movie attempts to evoke some of the spirit of Ray Harryhausen's monster matinee classics (there are sword-wielding skeletons, for God's sake), and while it doesn't succeed--the clunky CGI is no match for Harryhausen's beautifully hand-crafted stop-motion animation--watching it, I realized the new film's director, Rob Cohen, is the big-budget equivalent of Gordon Hessler.

Hessler directed Harryhausen's The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, and while that movie, like most Harryhausen pictures, basically consisted of killing time in between monster attacks, it was notably dreary in its expository scenes. Hessler's clumsy stylistic tics--handheld camera, lazy zooms--were all wrong for an Arabian Nights fantasy, and he'd let sequences heavy with dialogue run on and on, even as he lost track of the story. Prior to Golden Voyage, Hessler had made some enjoyably lurid horror entries for Amicus and AIP (Scream And Scream Again is particularly good), but he mostly didn't even rise to the level of competent craftsman--much of his work is genuinely poor, and he finally made the move to episodic TV, where directors serve mostly as traffic cops, getting the work done in an already-set house style.

And yet, when I was ten years old, I was not sitting in the theater critiquing the choice of lenses in The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad. I patiently awaited the next monster, and was rewarded every time. Sure, I knew this wasn't as good as The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad or Jason And The Argonauts (for one thing, no sword-wielding skeletons!), but I enjoyed it.

So it is with The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor. Paul, who is eight (nine as of this coming Saturday), couldn't have cared less about Rob Cohen's maladroit staging of sight gags, or that his notion of directing scenes with lots of dialogue apparently consists of turning on the cameras and hoping for the best, or that his action sequences have no sense of drive or rhythm. Sure, he probably knew this wasn't as good as many, many other movies he's seen, but as he said to me halfway through, "This has a lot of fight scenes."

And sometimes, in the waning days of summer, when you just want to shut your mind off and relax, that's enough.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Ubiquitous character actor and occasional playwright George Furth has died at the age of 75.

As an actor, he found great success. Not stardom, but he had small and large parts in everything from Love, American Style and Honey West to Blazing Saddles and Shampoo, and improbably became a member of Hal Needham's repertory company. (Hope he was paid well for lending his considerable comic talent to Megaforce.) Clearly, casting directors loved him.

As a writer, his work is more problematic. Despite well-intentioned (but mostly and, frankly, justifiably forgotten) efforts like Twigs and Precious Sons, he'll forever be known as the guy who wrote the book to Stephen Sondheim's Company, and the fact that it is known by Sondheim's name tells you everything you need to know about Furth's contribution.

My ex-wife and I attempted to direct a community theater production of Company many years ago, and one of my main memories of settling down to the task was grappling with how deeply uninteresting Furth's script was. True, it's a play about fundamentally shallow people, but must the writing be shallow as well? The book sections are just kind of there, blatantly serving as cues for Sondheim's wonderful score. Yeah, that's true of many musicals, but Company aspires to something more. Clearly intended as Serious Art, it can never be a perfectly integrated whole; as long as it remains tied to Furth's script, it will always remain a flawed near-masterpiece.

Here's an excerpt from the 2006 revival of Company, Sondheim's mordant lyrics and melancholy music perfectly capturing the ambiguities of human relationships in a way Furth's book never does.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I take the usual route to my brother's house this Friday night, I-80 west until it splits off to 680, a lonely, less-traveled stretch, the road snaking through uneven, grass-covered hills. With the windows rolled down, the roar of tires on asphalt is nearly deafening, but in this stretch I hear something even louder.


The early evening whir of cicadas, a regular reminder of summer's end, but one I hadn't heard or simply hadn't noticed for so long. A sound from a childhood spent in the country, calling me now to come home. I pull into a rest stop, shut off the engine, close my eyes.

And fall back.

Sometimes it's too hot to do anything, so the evening will be spent sitting in front of a fan, reruns of Hawaii Five-O or Barnaby Jones providing pleasantly bland background noise for a rereading of several past issues of Sgt. Rock. Sometimes there's a movie worth watching, or something else to do.

Most nights, though, are like this. Wolf down supper, then bound through the screen door, down the three front steps, leaping over the fissures in the sidewalk to the widened area at the end of the lane. There, boots scraping lazy circles in the dirt, it's time to decide what to do for the rest of the evening. Climb in the old abandoned combine that doubles as a tank or leap around on the hay rack/pirate ship?

Before a decision can be made, a pause. What's that noise?


But that can't be! Not yet! The cicadas don't start up until August. By then, it's accepted that summer is coming to an end, the Greene County Fair will come along, followed by the State Fair, followed--sigh--by school starting up again.

All that, though, comes later. It's still July! It's too early to be reminded of homework and earlier bedtimes and responsibilities. It's still early enough to believe summer is an endless loop, a perfect time that will never end. Or it should be, or was--


--until now.

There's not a choice, then, between the tank and the pirate ship. Not this evening, or the next, or the next after that. Now it must be both, as well as the drainage ditch down the road that leads to Nazi headquarters and the tall grass in the pasture for hiding in wait until outlaws pass, and the creek at the bottom of the hill and the row of evergreens behind the barn and the corncob pile and the old junk cars.

Everything! Everything that's fun must now be experienced in a crazy rush, one last idyll for my childhood, a defiance of the cicadas and the calender and the days that end too soon, a rage to live while there's still time.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Gone for only two and a half days, and it's a buzzkill pile-up in my absence. Russia invading Georgia was inevitable at some point, but with Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili appealing to his pals in the West to give him a hand, this could turn into the conflict that ratchets up U.S./Russian tensions to Cold War levels. Only this time, maybe we'll get to use guns!

There were deaths, of course. Producer Bernie Brillstein, who had a hand in everything from The Muppet Movie to The Larry Sanders Show, passed away at 77, esteemed comedian Bernie Mac died at 50--50!--and Isaac Hayes at 65.

About that last one--I admit to not being a huge admirer of Hayes. Or, more accurately, of the guy who wrote and produced Hold On, I'm Comin' and When Something Is Wrong With My Baby, I'm a huge fan, but the cartoonish Black Moses Of Soul persona he adapted later didn't do a whole lot for me, and can we come right out and admit that, camp value aside, Theme From Shaft is worthless? (Compare it to two near-simultaneous blaxploitation soundtracks, Curtis Mayfield's classic Superfly and Marvin Gaye's astonishing Trouble Man; it isn't even close to their league.) Still, he had that killer part in Escape From New York, which will continue to kick ass for all eternity.

Outside of the wider world, it looks to be kind of a busy week for me. No promises one way or another, but posting around here may be a bit erratic. This past weekend was an attempt to find calm before the storm, a journey to find peace and quiet in, of all places, Nebraska. So in closing, when life becomes overwhelming, we should all look to one of Nebraska's native sons, the great James Coburn, to remember how it's done.

Friday, August 08, 2008


I'll be gone for a couple of days, taking some much-needed time away. So just a brief post today.

No mention of the fact that the first Prisoner in Gitmo the U.S. has actually brought to trial was a lowly driver for Bin Laden who had nothing to do with anything, and even the jerry-rigged legal system devised by Cheney's minions couldn't convict him of any serious charges.

No mention of the desperation move of the New York Jets signing Brett Favre, and how it conjures visions of the Washington Wizards giving Michael Jordan everything he wanted, and we all know how well that turned out.

No mention of Quentin Tarantino's latest opus, or how the filmmaker who once claimed he took so long between projects because he wanted to be remembered as a great artist is planning a redo of an Italian knock-off of The Dirty Dozen.

No, not a word on these topics, nor anything about my non-existent love life, nothing about the cats, nothing depressing or joyous, shallow or profound. Just a farewell for now, and see you next week.

Oh, and also some Roger Miller, because why the hell not?

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Don't worry. No clips of Lynda Carter today. Just traces of her memory, and Hal Linden's and Bea Arthur's.

Memories, that is, of the variety specials they hosted in the late seventies or early eighties, and the wonderment that they were allowed to do so. Did anybody enjoy these shows? Lynda Carter's Celebration was one of the highest-rated programs of the 1980-81 TV season, so people definitely watched. But why?

It's hard to remember now, but the dawn of the eighties was very different from its twilight days. Cable TV was much less common, and most channels consisted of bad prints of old movies and reruns of old sitcoms that had already played for years in syndication. ESPN existed, but in a crude form, and MTV didn't go on air until late in '81, and HBO's original programming was a joke. VCRs still weren't that common, and most people who owned them still hadn't figured out how to program them to record, and the most easily found videotapes were again movies everybody had already seen.

In other words, the broadcast networks still ruled. So if you were, let us say, in junior high or high school, stuck on a farm with zero other options and you wanted entertainment, you turned to the TV. And found absolutely nothing.

I'll drop the second person voice here and make it clear: I found nothing. Nothing even remotely designed to capture the attention or imagination of a young person. Oh yeah, sure, there were youth-targeted sitcoms and the occasional "relevant" TV movie--anybody else have fond memories of The Survival Of Dana?--but these were clearly made by older men, or worse, by corporations. They'd toss us a bone and hope we were happy. Sure, there was Saturday Night Live, but by 1980 it had reached the lowest imaginable ebb, and when it started booking musical acts along the lines of Desmond Child And Rouge, it was almost like watching...well, it might as well have been a Lynda Carter special.

And so was born my fascination with those weird variety shows. They were so far removed from my taste, from the tastes of anyone I knew, they seemed almost avant-garde. Consider Bea Arthur's special: Guest stars included Rock Hudson and Wayland Flowers and Madame, which would seem to make it the gayest show imaginable. But it was at pains to deny that, to deny any sensibility whatsoever. It was just sort of there, a transmission from a world in which sexuality, individuality, wit and imagination had ceased to exist, or perhaps never existed.

Or to put it another way: Why the hell was Rock Hudson singing? Why was Hal Linden wandering the streets of New York, bursting into show tunes at the drop of a hat? Why was Lynda Carter--God help us--dancing? Who thought any of this was a good idea? Why was it on the air, and who was expected to watch it?

Someone did. They must have; the networks kept churning these things out. Where did those viewers go? Who serves the entertainment needs of the millions who willingly sat through Hal Linden's Big Apple, and possibly even enjoyed it? As much as I mock, I was, after all, one of them, and I still miss the time when TV could be so innocent, so lacking in irony, so deeply, unintentionally strange.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Fair warning: I'm going to repost a clip I've used before (probably over a year ago), and yes, it features Lynda Carter.

No, no, it's okay. Let me explain.

My brother John and I always had a great fondness for terrible music, movies and TV shows. We (ironically) loved Rod Stewart's Blondes Have More Fun album, a stunning collection of sloppy playing, indifferent singing, lazy production and terrible, terrible songs. We'd paid money to see Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Starcrash and Message From Space, and naturally owned the Sgt. Pepper soundtrack--we'd hang up the enclosed poster of the be-jumpsuited Bee Gees and Peter Frampton every time we'd give it a spin. We'd scan the TV Guide listings, hoping against hope for a Granville Van Dusen TV movie or a particularly awful-sounding busted pilot. We even looked forward to the day Up With People would tour locally, just so we could add Bad Theater to our list.

We'd seen it all. We thought.

I can't recall why John and I were lazing around the living room on the night of May 11th, 1981. Mom and Dad weren't home, or at least weren't in the house, which seems rather odd--Dad never went out. So John and I had the house to ourselves, but we had no particular plans. The TV sat unwatched in the background, tuned to its default setting in the Cronkite era, the local CBS affiliate. A syndicated rerun of MASH aired, then the first offering of the network's prime time evening schedule: Lynda Carter's Celebration.

It was just on. John and I had no intention of watching this. TV variety shows could be bad, yes, but it was a routine level of badness, and we were immune to this sort of thing. Once you've seen the horror of Pink Lady And Jeff, how bad could this be?

Still, it was there, and eventually our attention drifted to the TV. We watched, first with indifference, then with a mounting sense of dread, until finally--

--something so mind-warpingly awful it forced us to reconsider everything we'd ever known. We thought we knew the essence of suckitude--Morgan Fairchild in a Brian Clemens-scripted knockoff of The Avengers, Ambrosia hosting The Midnight Special, Neil Diamond and Laurence Olivier acting side-by-side. Hell, we'd sat through The Star Wars Holiday Special with only a moderate level of pain.

But this--this fried brain cells and provoked tears, lingered in our memories through the decades, always there, always willing to make its presence known, a malignant tumor on the surface of all joy and goodness. This was reference-standard bad, and the pain could never go away.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Sometimes--lately, most of the time--I proceed through my life with a sense that the best is over. Another breakup with another woman, a better job I never get, a nicer home I can't afford--fine. This is it. The rest of my life, spent in a small apartment in the company of cats. Kind of depressing, but it's the life I've made.

A few days ago, I tried reconnecting with someone I knew was bad for me, but I wanted to feel her, touch her, hold her again, if only briefly, if only to remind myself what it feels like. It didn't go well--surprise, surprise!--and I was reminded why I had sworn off the dating scene, at least temporarily. It isn't worth the...I was going to say "pain", but that suggests I'm still capable of being hurt, and lately that doesn't even seem possible anymore.

I wasn't angry or sad or upset at bedtime last night, just numb, as always. I turned on a Hogan's Heroes marathon and zoned out, and as often happens when Bob Crane is on my TV screen, drowsiness arrived, followed by the blessed relief of sleep.

Many hours later, as I drifted slowly awake, I became aware of a close presence around my face, a slight weight on my body. I didn't move, but I opened my eyes, and in the TV's flickering glow I saw Delmar curled up on the pillow beside me, his left front leg draped across my shoulder and neck.

Delmar, the bitter malcontent! Delmar, the psychokitty! Delmar, who growls and hisses and so often seems incapable of showing affection. Delmar, this wiry, cranky little cat held me as I slept.

Does he do this all the time? Is he only capable of kindness when he knows I won't respond? Is he embarrassed or confused by any displays of emotion, and can only let his feelings for me be known while I'm in another state?

Eyes shut tight, television light reflected in his spiky black fur, he wheezed his odd little snore, and I felt such an overpowering sense of love. For Delmar, of course, but not just for him. For everything, really. Life isn't about what we accomplish or who we are. The joy of living is contained in small, perfect moments, and it turns out I've been blessed with more than a few. Maybe--just maybe--it really is a wonderful life.

Monday, August 04, 2008


A typically rushed entry this morning built around YET ANOTHER clip from a Lynda Carter variety special--no, I don't know why, either--but when I hit the publish button--Nothing happened. It wouldn't post. In fact, even though Blogger proclaims all drafts will be automatically saved, this one wasn't. POOF, gone, into the aether.

Perhaps someone at Blogger is as sick of these damned clips as the rest of you.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Slept in, running late, gotta get to work. Why, I almost didn't have time to find this clip. If you're like me, your personal vision of Hell prominently features Lynda Carter and Kenny Rogers.

Not only are you going to have this stupid song going through your head all day, when you close your eyes to sleep, the vision of Kenny's sweater will haunt your dreams.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


The weekend again, that magical time when my stats go down and I get lazy. In other words, another clip job. But hey, it'll be cheerful and happy--we're highlighting some Kurt Weill songs! Okay, maybe not cheerful and happy so much as sad and depressing, but whatever.

First up, Teresa Stratas with Youkali.

Next, the vocal group The Persuasions (originally signed to Frank Zappa's label!) with a stunning version of Oh Heavenly Salvation. You might mistake the lyrics as hopeful and inspirational, but since they were written by Bertolt Brecht, they were intended ironically. Joy was never possible in Brecht's world. But thanks to Weill's music, there could be beauty.

And we'll close with another tango, Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper with a depressing little number from The Threepenny Opera.

Friday, August 01, 2008


The most amusing aspect of the Associated Press story reporting that Charles Durning has received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame doesn't stem from the notion that the burly, much-beloved character actor (known in many circles as "that guy who isn't Brian Dennehy") somehow fits the definition of a star.

It's not the fact that Durning proudly proclaimed, "I never thought this would happen...I was hoping this would happen in my lifetime and it did," as though this was the greatest thing that could happen to any actor, a distinguished award previously bestowed to the esteemed likes of Chad Everett, Jamie Farr and Jan Murray.

No, the funniest aspect of the AP's report would have to be this sentence: "A who's who of actors joined Durning at the ceremony, including Ed Begley, Jr., Jon Voight, Angie Dickinson, Joe Mantegna, Gary Sinise, Elliot Gould, Lee Purcell and Doris Roberts."

Wow! That's some glittering assemblage of mega-watt star power, all right. I'm surprised Voight could take time away from writing crazy right-wing op-ed pieces to show up, but his presence, like that of Dickinson and Gould, might have been a big deal if this was 1972. And honestly--Lee Purcell? I'm fairly well-versed in Hollywood arcana, and even to me, she's pretty much a non-entity--her most notable credit is co-starring in the endearingly stupid Charles Bronson vehicle Mr. Majestyk.

I'm in no way attempting to disparage Durning, who has turned in yeoman work for such great filmmakers as Brian DePalma and Sidney Lumet, and hey, the guy played Doc Hopper in The Muppet Movie, so he's automatically aces in my book. It's just that this whole silly ceremony seems to have extended far beyond its shelf life, a remnant of an era when the notion of stardom carried a certain cachet. Now it's just a hollow ritual, enacted by ghosts of the past and breathlessly reported as news by the AP, as if nothing else in the world mattered.