Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Sorry if that last post was too depressing. Let's consider happier things. Like the magic--Foxy magic!--of Susan Anton.

Really, I'm sorry about this. Even when watched ironically--the only possible way to view it, I should think--it's impossible to sit through this whole thing. Me, I lasted a little over a minute, realized it wouldn't get any better and bailed. And yet I still present it to you!

The important thing is, it's not Lynda Carter.


I scheduled a colonoscopy for the first of December. I'm nervous.

The concern isn't whether they find something fatal. I don't exactly welcome death, but I'm not really afraid of it. No, my real fear is, they find something treatable. But the treatment's expensive. And though I have insurance, it likely won't cover everything, especially if any extensive time away from work is needed.

Silly, in a way, to worry about such things. After all, I haven't had the procedure yet. Nothing has been found, nothing can be known until it happens. No cause for concern.

Oh, except, the cost for insurance is expected to go up 5% next year. Assuming I receive the expected crummy 2 or 3% raise, I'll essentially receive a salary cut. Unless I opt for a lower-priced insurance program, which would reduce my level of coverage just when I possibly need it the most.

Plus, let's see, the landlord raised my rent, car insurance is due, I owe my sister for about a hundred missed car payments. And the economy, of course, is not exactly robust, so it's a lousy time to ponder one's financial future.

Especially when those finances may literally be tied up in matters of life and death. I mean, if they discover something...What then? What if I literally can't afford treatment? Do I wait for my body to fail? Do I endure the pain because what else can I do? Do I slit my wrists before it all becomes unbearable? Or do I go ahead with the treatment knowing there's no way in hell I can pay for it, and deal with the consequences later? And what would those consequences be?

Again, silly to worry about this. I haven't even had the procedure yet, and it'll be two months until I do. There's no reason to assume bad news, no reason to expect the worst. Hey, it's not like my mom and dad both had colon cancer.


Monday, September 29, 2008


You've no doubt already seen this, but a refresher just in case.

Much of the discussion of this has focused on the moment 24 seconds into this clip, when Sarah Palin, John McCain's running mate and potentially next President Of The United States, stumbles over the word "caricature".

Clearly everything she says in this interview is prescripted. When asked a follow-up question, she merely repeats what she already said, or babbles incoherently. But when she fumbles over that one word, it becomes obvious: She can't remember her lines. Somebody dealt the Manchurian Candidate the wrong card, misprogrammed the Stepford Candidate.

Yes, it certainly looks that way...but really? Palin was chosen by the Republican Machine, and as much as I despise them and everything they stand for, they know what they're doing. The questions asked were to be expected, the followups should have been anticipated. Her handlers should have run her through this scenario a thousand times before the actual interview. She should have been ready.

There's got to to be some reason behind this pitiful performance. My theory is, the Sith Lords are trying to make expectations so low, if Palin is even halfway competent during her debate with Joe Biden, the usual pundits will proclaim it a victory and momentum will be restored.

I mean, there's got to be something at work here, right? She can't be as incompetent as she seems, can she? No one would foolishly hand this person power, would they?

Saturday, September 27, 2008


It's weird--isn't it?--to now live in a world without Paul Newman.

He was so many things--race car driver, committed liberal, philanthropist and, by all accounts, as fine a human being as you could imagine. But he was, first and always, a By God Natural Born Movie Star. A blessing and a curse.

The blessing was--well, hell, who wouldn't want to be Paul Newman? Drop-dead handsome, effortlessly charismatic, awesomely cool, and, oh yeah, an absolutely wonderful actor. You want some primo Newman? Start with Robert Benton's pretty much perfect Nobody's Fool or George Roy Hill's Slap Shot (for my money, one of the best American comedies ever made, gaspingly funny but at the same time gratifyingly realistic, and surprisingly dark) or James Ivory's spare, unsentimental Mr. & Mrs Bridge, in which Newman co-starred with his wife, Joanne Woodward. He's a gifted, grizzled farceur in Slap Shot and nearly minimalist in the other two, but warmly human, even heartbreaking in all three.

The curse of Newman's stardom was, how can you be a character actor in a leading man's body? Too often, Newman didn't even try. True, he first became a star during the last dying days of the old studio system, and may not have had his pick of roles. In that first flush of stardom, he made Big Movies from Big Plays and Big Novels, things like Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Exodus, destined to be kitsch from the get-go. But even as his career progressed, he continued working with determinedly middle-brow director Martin Ritt, and hired TV hacks like Stuart Rosenberg and Jack Smight to helm his star vehicles. Sometimes these could be entertaining--Smight's Harper is enjoyable, though a bastardization of the great Ross MacDonald book its based on, and everyone loves Rosenberg's Cool Hand Luke.

Still. During the mid-to-late sixties, Newman's contemporaries redefined world cinema as he coasted to easy paychecks. While Clint Eastwood forged his image as a world-class icon through his milestone work with Sergio Leone, while Warren Beatty produced and starred in Bonnie And Clyde, Newman inexplicably chose to appear in The Secret War Of Harry Frigg. He seemed to be willing himself to irrelevance.

Then came Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Sure, it's unbearably arch when you watch it today, but it helped reestablish Newman's rightful place as a Movie Star. His presence, his chemistry with co-star Robert Redford were the whole movie. And people flocked in huge numbers just to bask in that presence, as they would to see him in The Sting and Absence Of Malice and The Verdict.

Those were pretty good movies, not great but certainly watchable, and immeasurably enhanced by Newman's fine work in them. Yet at times it could seem as though his--here's that word again--presence could alter the very DNA of a movie, turn it into something other than whatever it was intended to be. The Verdict, creaking so hard in its desperation to be considered Serious Art, turns into a star vehicle simply because Paul Newman is at its center. No way we can really be fooled into believing he's a desperate loser.

That's a trick he just couldn't pull off. No matter how fine his performances, you could seldom fully believe in his characters because you could never quite forget you were watching a star. But really, is that such a bad thing?


I swing over to the intersection of Ingersoll and Martin Luther King on my way to work, just two blocks out of my way. I slide my Mediacom bill into the drop box, hop in the car, turn around and head for the stoplight. For some reason, my eyes blip over to Medically Yours across the street.

It's always there. I see it nearly every day. See it, but don't notice it. This time, for just a moment, it digs in.

Medically Yours sells used and refurbished health care equipment--beds, respirators, canes. And walkers, which is what Mom was looking for when we stopped in there in the spring of '05.

We celebrated her birthday by going to a movie (Woody Allen's Melinda And Melinda) and out to eat (strangely, I can't recall where), and we stopped at PetCo to buy food for her beloved dog Rufus. But it was slow going with her old walker, which had no place for her to set her purse as she moved along. I told her about Medically Yours, I didn't know what they had or what their prices were like, but it might be a place to get an upgrade.

So we went, and she found a nice newer-style walker, with a basket for her purse and a shelf which could double as a bench if she needed to sit down. She seemed happy with her purchase, and thanked me for recommending the store to her.

That was in April. She had less than a year to live. That summer, she'd get sick and they'd find the cancer and...


Don't think of this. Not now, not ever. Still. I can't not drive past this store; it's in my neighborhood. If I looked at it every day, really looked at it, I'd be seized by unending moments of sorrow, much like the one I'm fighting right now, sneaking up on my in the early morning hours when I'm not prepared to fight it away.

Everything in the world can have powerful associations with people who are no longer here. We all walked down the same streets, breathed the same air, felt the same warm sun. But the world still exists even after they're gone. Not every waking moment can be spent mourning.

So these connections to the past get put somewhere out of sight, in a drawer or behind a curtain, shut away, shut away, never to trouble conscious thoughts. But inevitably, the drawer pops open or the curtain flutters and drops to the ground, and there it is, there it is, the reality that can't be denied. And the compulsion to stare is overwhelming: Remember this place! Remember this moment! Remember this person, gone forever!

The light is green. I turn off Ingersoll onto King, glimpsing Medically Yours one more time in the rearview mirror as I head off to the rest of my day, whatever it may bring.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Last time I had a particularly dull, mundane dream, I used it as an excuse to post a Lynda Carter clip. That won't be happening this time, I assure you--Seriously, it won't! Put down those knives!--but I'm troubled by how amazingly uninteresting my subconscious mind appears to be.

I had yesterday off, so after waking ridiculously early as always and messing around for awhile, I treated myself to a nice nap. A good sleep, way into dream state, when WUMP! I'm suddenly awakened by the sound of Monika tipping over a speaker.

When a dream is suddenly interrupted, it's easier to recall. And in this case, I dreamed of Space Cowboys.

Yes, Space Cowboys, the watchable but utterly unremarkable Clint Eastwood picture from 2000. Even as a rabid Eastwood fan, I can't make any kind of case for that one, nor can I explain why, given complete freedom to roam where it will, the theater of my mind chose to play it back. Instead of visualizing sights unseen and worlds unimagined, I close my eyes and sit through a routine star vehicle.

True, my dream version of Space Cowboys was marginally more interesting than the real thing--instead of learning to pilot a space shuttle, Eastwood spent a lot of time alternately yelling and crying whenever he'd talk about his inability to maintain a relationship. Which, yes, sounds a lot like what I do. So perhaps this dream was really about myself?

Maybe, but why did I use this particular movie as the jumping-off point? If I'm going to use lesser Clint Eastwood movies as some sort of therapy, couldn't I have dreamed about The Eiger Sanction? Mountain climbing! Guns! Tiny dogs! The metaphorical possibilities are endless.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


The Disney Studio had some sort of confab hoo-ha yesterday, whoring themselves to theater owners and the media in a desperate search for love and acceptance.

Admittedly, of all the big movie studios, Disney is the least likely to strive for any kind of innovation or diversity in their output--which, considering the pathetic current state of the film industry, is really saying something--but even given this, their announced lineup, presumably intended to build enthusiasm, comes off as a roll call of the damned. When one of the least depressing-sounding movies is another damned Nicolas Cage vehicle, your descent into the Underground is complete.

That movie with Cage would, I'm afraid, be National Treasure 3, the latest in a joyless series much-loved by audiences apparently never exposed to real entertainment. Still, it's better than the announcement of another Pirates Of the Caribbean craptacular, which was also on the agenda. In fact, Johnny Depp appeared in person, eagerly promoting not only his long-unawaited return as Captain Jack Sparrow but also his inexplicably willing participation in two other forthcoming projects from the Mouse House.

One of those will be a turn as The Mad Hatter in an adaptation of Alice In Wonderland directed by Tim Burton. There was a time when a new effort from Burton was a cause for celebration, but Planet Of The Apes, Big Fish and the absolutely dreadful Charlie And The Chocolate Factory pretty much put the kibosh on that line of thinking. Though I loved his last film, Sweeney Todd, the announcement that Alice will be made using the lazy computer-assisted tool of motion capture technology mutes any kind of enthusiasm for this. I predict yet another movie resembling every other movie out there.

Depp's other project--and, wow, this just sounds unconscionable--is playing Tonto in a new version of The Lone Ranger. Hard to figure out what's worse here--a white guy playing an American Indian (hey, maybe soon we'll get a Martin Luther King biopic starring Anthony Hopkins!) or the fact that someone thinks it's a good idea to make a new Lone Ranger movie. Remember when they tried that back in '81? Of course you don't! Nobody went to see it, because it was a terrible idea. And worse--this one will be produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, of National Treasure and Pirates Of The Caribbean fame. Apparently, Disney believes a misguided concept can only be enhanced by lots of explosions, frantic editing and a bombastic soundtrack.

Aside from threatening to turn Depp into another actor you never want to see again, the studio also trumpeted these bad ideas: a sequel to Cars, a mo-capped remake of A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey (Mo-cap+Jim Carrey+Scrooge=A perfect storm of suck), a family comedy with Robin Williams and John Travolta (no, wait, that's a perfect storm of suck), a romantic dramedy with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds (probably slightly more endurable than the other movies listed here, but still enough to make me want to kill myself) and, well, the list goes on.

Mind you, these are the movies Disney is excited about. Makes you wonder about the stuff they'll try to bury.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I felt a weird twinge of sadness when I stumbled across this.

The ABC Friday Night Movie was kind of a big deal in the late seventies, likely to include anything from the original pilots for The Love Boat and Fantasy Island to tame horror pictures like It Happened At Lakewood Manor and Curse of The Black Widow to low-rent disaster epics like this one. But they were all original, heavily promoted and presented with pride.

Look at those opening graphics. This was an Event, or, as the narration proclaims,a World Premiere Motion Picture. There was no irony at work here. The executives responsible for putting things like this on the air surely harbored no illusions that they were making art, but at least they were trying for something watchable, something to appeal to a wide audience. Kids might enjoy a movie like Death Of Ocean View Park because it featured stuff blowing up, and older audiences might enjoy seeing old favorites like Mike Connors and Martin Landau.

Most network TV from this era was awful, true. But it's hard not to feel a bit of affection for a time when everyone watched the same thing at the same time, when the Big Three networks seemed to actually care about their viewers, and peddled their wares, however dubious, as if they actually believed in the product.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


You could be almost anywhere--a mall, say, or a restaurant, or a doctor's office--innocently minding your own business, when all of a sudden, there it is, forcing its way into your ears and consciousness, hanging out with you for the rest of the day. You didn't ask for it, but suddenly you're forced to share time with everyone's favorite semi-forgotten hirsute Canadian, Dan Hill.

Sometimes When We Touch came out in '77, and I've been hating it ever since. Not for its almost comically rote seventies singer-songwriter arrangement, which is almost endearing, and only partially for Hill's sensitive guy crooning, which makes James Taylor sound like Screamin' Jay Hawkins.

No, I hate this mostly for the lyrics. Let's explore them in depth, shall we?

You ask me if I love you and I choke on my reply
I'd rather hurt you honestly than mislead you with a lie

Um, okay, we have problems right out of the gate. I'm no relationship expert, but if you ask your spouse or significant other if he loves you and he chokes on his reply, you're in trouble. After all, it's pretty much a simple yes or no question. And really, depending how far into the relationship you are, it shouldn't even have to be asked. I mean, if it started out as a simple friends-with-benefits, no-strings-attached deal and somehow got out of hand, well, maybe I can understand, although if the rules shifted, it should have been discussed sooner in the game. But if it's some kind of long term, committed relationship and this clown can't even straight out say he loves you, run. Run fast!

But I'm sorry, Dan. You were saying?

And who am I to judge you on what you say or do?
I'm only just beginning to see the real you

Who indeed are you to judge, jackhole? And what are you judging, anyway? What horrible transgressions has Imaginary Girlfriend committed? Whatever they might have been, they surely pale in comparison to the crime of writing a weepy, covertly misogynistic ballad that inexplicably gets trotted out as a wedding song THIRTY YEARS LATER despite its wildly inappropriate lyrics.

Again, Dan, forgive my interruption, especially as you were just getting to the chorus.

And sometimes when we touch, the honesty's too much
and I have to close my eyes and hide
I wanna hold you to I die
'till we both break down and cry
I want to hold you 'till the fear in me subsides

Oh, for the love of--Okay, first of all, close your eyes and hide? I realize this was the seventies and all, but even Alan Alda and Phil Donahue would scornfully tell you to stop being a pussy. And you have to hold Imaginary Girlfriend until the fear in you subsides? So she's forced to be your security blanket? How nice of you to allow her to be your enabler.

Romance and all its strategy leaves me battling with my pride
But through the insecurity, some tenderness survives
I'm just another writer, still trapped within my truths
A hesitant prize fighter, still trapped within my youth

What are you, Hemingway? A writer and a fighter? Plus a wizardly conjurerer of half-baked, incomprehensible metaphors!

We get the chorus again, then--shudder--this:

At times I'd like to break you and drive you to your knees
At times I'd like to break through and hold you endlessly
At times I understand you and I know how hard you've tried
I've watched while love commands you and I've watched love pass you by
At times I think we're drifters, still searching for a friend
A brother or a sister, then the passion flares again

And sometimes when we touch, et cetera

I'm not even going to bring up the whole unbelievably icky business of comparing your lover to your sister (Is that what you were doing, Dan? Seriously, your metaphors suck!), to focus on your whole patronizing attitude. This poor, poor damaged woman! Fortunately, the Dan-mesiter has some time for her, even though all he can do is whine endlessly about how this relationship effects him, without even a moment's thought for her feelings. Even when he's holding her ('till the fear in him subsides, don't cha know?), all he can think about is whether or not this is good for him, is he happy, is this okay?

Yeah, granted, my relationships tend to fizzle out in the end. But Great Googly Moogly, when I'm in one I damn sure commit. I'm there because I care about that person, and if she asks if I love her, I don't "choke on my reply." I say yes, and mean it. That's how a relationship works, if you're actually in love. If there's doubt, fine, but honestly admit it. Don't sit there seesawing back and forth, offering nauseatingly pseudopoetic blather.

Don't, in other words, be a schmuck.

Incidentally (and some of you may be suspecting this is the real reason for this entire post, but you're wrong, I tell you. Wrong!), as lame as Hill's original version of this song was, it's hard to believe it could get any worse. But if you dared to think that, you failed to reckon with the unstoppable force of sub-mediocrity that is...LYNDA CARTER.

Oh sure, you can make fun. (My favorite part is her decidedly less than passionate, out-of-breath-and-about-two-beats-behind-the-orchestra pronunciation of the word "passion", as in "BUT THEN the passion FLAARRES AGIIINNNN!") Still, give her credit. At least she leaves out that stupid writer/boxer metaphor. Be grateful for small favors.

Monday, September 22, 2008


1) Once again, a Random Thoughts column is titled with an obscure reference to Larry King's USA Today column. Well, not so much the column as the man himself. And not so much the man as his TV sitcom incarnation, McLean Stevenson, with a line from the theme song for the much-mocked series Hello, Larry .

In any event, we're starting things off with me explaining and half-heartedly justifying a willfully obscure title. Never a good sign.

2) No new posts appeared here over the weekend, and that felt kind of nice. I keep saying this over and over: Maybe I should spend less time here. It sometimes feels as though it takes me away from more valuable pursuits, and since I've recently become increasingly clip-dependent, it seems I may be running out of things to say. More likely, I'm only thinking that way because it's 3 AM and I really should be sleeping.

3) One thing that's certain, this space has become far less political in recent months. Of course, one reason I haven't said much about the current financial mess is that it's too depressing to consider at length. Consider Our Beloved President's proposed 700 billion dollar bailout to the nation's wealthiest institutions. This is essentially a meaningless transfer of numbers--the country is so far in debt, there is no real money to hand over. But if the bill is ultimately paid, it will break the backs of U.S. taxpayers, and the already shaky middle-class will simply disappear.

Of course, if no bailout occurs, and banks, lending companies and investment firms continue to collapse, and the world's economy fails, combined with the inevitable exhaustion of the planet's fossil fuel supply--well, hey, that future predicted by the Mad Max movies will arrive much sooner than expected.

4) It was the Big Adios to Yankee Stadium last night, the pointless end to a perfect ballpark. Greed, of course, is the reason--the beloved old stadium didn't have enough skyboxes for the wealthy few to lord it over true fans. This is the reason people don't care as much about baseball as they used to.

My memory of the stadium is from a Friday night game in '94: The Bronx bathed in the golden light of a fading early June day, the city lights twinkling in the distance as the night descended with such grace it happened without notice.

The Yankees faced off against the Royals, represented by much-despised ex-Met Vince Coleman, booed by the crowd every time he'd step up to the plate. Beer and hot dogs were consumed, and even though the Yankees lost that night, they were on their way to another killer season, if only the baseball strike hadn't intervened.

After the game, I rode back to Queens with my friends Janelle and Kevin. I didn't stay long at Janelle's apartment--really, just long enough to say goodbye and admire once again the spectacular view of the Queensboro Bridge from her window--and they didn't even walk me to the subway station. I took a weirdly deserted train into Grand Central, and got back to my hotel in time to watch the Knicks face off against the Bulls in the Finals, and finally defeat them.

That was my last perfect trip to New York. A return trip in '96 was rather abbreviated due to lack of funds and, frankly, interest. The Giulianification of the city had officially begun, and the subterranean music shops, funky book stores and affordable boutiques where I'd spent so many happy hours had already started their slow fade. I walked the streets in search of something that no longer existed, and in my final moments there, descending into the nondescript hell of Penn Station, I realized I no longer cared if I ever came back.

5) Wow. That took a turn for the depressing. Does that happen too often here? Do I spend too much time wallowing in sadness? I'm not trying to be Captain Bringdown. Just my nature, I guess, but I can do happy. Honest. For instance...

6) Anybody up for a Lynda Carter clip? No?

Fine. At least I tried, dammit.

Friday, September 19, 2008


You know, I'm not one of those people who automatically hate the idea of remaking old movies. Sure, they're almost always bad, but once in awhile, an adept filmmaker can find some modern resonance in something from the past, as David Cronenberg did with The Fly and John Carpenter did so memorably with The Thing. I wasn't a huge fan of Jonathan Demme's redo of The Manchurian Candidate, but I understand why he did it, and it seems even more chilling in the age of Sarah Palin.

But now comes the news that The Hills star Audrina Patridge will be appearing in a remake of the '83 slasher epic The House On Sorority Row. Let me rephrase that: The vapid co-star of one of the most useless reality shows in TV history will be given a chance to "act" in a reworking of a movie that was itself one of the most instantly forgettable entries in the early eighties slasher movie craze, not a terribly distinguished genre to begin with.

Obviously, remaking this crummy movie hardly qualifies as violating the memory of a beloved classic. The question is, given the threadbare premise--a bunch of sorority babes are being murdered one by one--why even call it a remake? Why not just make an original movie based on this same incredibly tired idea? Or is there actually a rule now that every movie has to be a remake of something?

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Let's get this out of the way: At the end of this post, you will be confronted once again by the vapidly fixed grin, bulging breasts and mediocre singing voice of Lynda Carter.

Yes, this sort of thing threatens to drive away whatever readership I actually have here. I could just point out that this clip only recently entered rotation on YouTube, and it serves as a hilarious reminder of what passed for mainstream entertainment back in the late seventies and early eighties. Of the many, many samples of Carter's questionable talents posted here, this may actually be the worst.

But you, kind reader, deserve a better explanation.

In the interest of self-justification, let this be noted: right now my life is so desperately, sadly uninteresting that last night I dreamed about doing laundry. Okay? Pathetic enough for you? The whole dream consisted of me sitting on a park bench talking to a dog (!) when suddenly I realized, "Omigod, I've got laundry to do!" And indeed, I rushed home and LAUNDERED CLOTHES.

When even your dreams are overpoweringly mundane (Did I mention I had to gather up change to do the laundry? Even though I had a washer and dryer in the basement of the ranch-style house I apparently owned in this dream? So I bought a house and installed equipment I had to pay to use? MY LIFE IS A HOLLOW LIE!), it's simply human nature to turn to something comforting, something familiar.

Or, in my case, to turn to something horrible and easily mocked, so that I can, at least momentarily, feel superior to something. However badly things are going, I enter my dwelling at the end of every workday secure in the knowledge that at least I've never dressed up in a fringe-bedecked outfit and pranced around to a horrible, horrible Glenn Frey composition. So on an extremely generous moral relativism scale, I'm a better person than Lynda Carter.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Even though I'm always whining about having no money, I of course sprang to see alt-country icon Neko Case last night--heck, she was performing right in my neighborhood.

I had a great time, despite the fact that the venue offered only the crappiest beer available (Bud, Bud Lite or Corona--not even Heineken, much less Guinness), or the idiots pulling out their cellphones every five minutes, or the somewhat disorienting fact that half the men in the audience looked like insurance salesmen and the other half looked like runners-up in a Moby lookalike contest, all shaved heads, soul patches and hipster eyewear. (Not me, of course--my shaved head, facial hair and glasses are a representation of my individuality. Right? Right?)

Case's songs tend to be relentlessly dark, but despite this, and despite her awesomely beautiful voice, I found myself at an emotional distance for much of the show. I enjoyed it, but remained curiously unmoved.

Then this, a cover of a much-loved Harry Nilsson song,

and maybe it was the thought not only of Nilsson, but another fallen hero, John Lennon, who produced the original version, or more likely these lyrics--When you're older/And full of cancer/It doesn't matter now/Come on get happy/'Cause nothing lasts forever/But I will always love you--that couldn't help but make me think of Mom, and conjure a sudden, unexpected vision of her listening to this song, which would surely have made her cry...maybe it was all these things that made me unleash my own flood of tears.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Big deal Special Edition issues of two Vincente Minnelli pictures arrive on DVD today. You think I'm not going to write about them?

Thing is, though, neither one--An American In Paris or Gigi--rank among my favorites.

I've always had a love/hate relationship with An American In Paris. The love, of course, comes from the final ballet sequence, 18 minutes of absolute perfection, a swirl of gorgeous design, precise movement and glorious color, all captured by Minnelli's swooning, swooping camera and masterful editing rhythms. I'm not going to get all Cahiers du Cinema here and claim that if you don't love this sequence, you can't truly love the art of film...but it's true.

Unfortunately, there's the rest of the movie. Many of the problems can be traced to Alan Jay Lerner's awful script. Gene Kelly plays--wait for it--an American in Paris, a GI who decided to stay after WWII. He's a frustrated artist whose only pleasure in life seems to come from his friendships with a cranky misanthrope played by Minnelli mainstay Oscar Levant and a cabaret performer played by charisma vacuum Georges Guetary.

Things really fall apart once the plot kicks in. Kelly meets a wealthy divorcee played by Nina Foch, who promises to advance his career if he will...well, as near as I can tell, if he will become her personal boy toy. They don't put it that way, of course--this is a Hollywood movie from 1951--but it's kinda sorta implied, but the movie won't quite own up to it.

Worse, Guetary confesses to Kelly his love for a "war orphan" he helped out financially, who is now blossoming into an attractive young woman. Attractive, yes--she's played by Leslie Caron--but if we follow the movie's timeline, still definitely underage, and the notion of Guetary's bland, middle-aged libertine macking on this tender young thing...Ugh. Again, the movie refuses to even acknowledge the dicey morality at play here.

Then, of course, Kelly falls for Caron. Our hero, then: Willing to whore himself out to advance his career, even as he's stealing away his best friend's jailbait girlfriend. Which would be great if the movie at any time called our protagonist out on his rampant douchebaggery. But it doesn't; in fact, it goes out of its way to show Kelly as an almost insufferably nice guy, planting kisses on old ladies and dancing with children. There's a huge disconnect between what Minnelli and Lerner want us to believe and what the evidence of their own story is showing us.

Even all that might not matter if the movie was better. But though it received great acclaim at the time (it was thought to be unusually "serious" for a musical, whatever that means), it doesn't hold up well at all. I'm a huge fan of Gene Kelly, but his incessant grin wears a little thin after awhile, and his showboating efforts to show what a great fella he is (did I mention dancing with children?) make you wish he'd go strangle a kitten or something, just to give him some sort of human failings. And Kelly's pretty much the whole show, cast-wise: Caron's a great dancer but she's given almost nothing else to do, Guetary is a non-entity and Levant...is an acquired taste.

Minnelli does very little to help matters, staging most of the song-and-dance numbers in cramped areas and shooting them indifferently. (There are exceptions, of course. Thank God for DVD technology, allowing us to skip to the good stuff right away.) Also, for a movie intended to be a tribute to the George Gershwin songbook, it makes some odd song choices. By Strauss and Tra-La-La may not be the worst things Gershwin ever wrote (after all, he churned out songs for an El Brendel movie), but they sure aren't the best, either. So many great songs aren't here--imagine if Kelly had a regret-filled solo to How Long Has This Been Going On?, and imagine how Minnelli might have filmed it, or Caron dancing to Someone To Watch Over Me. But if you're imagining that, you're already showing more verve than the filmmakers.

As for Gigi, well, it's chic, frou-frou whateverness has never been my sort of thing. The again, heartwarming family nostalgia isn't my cup of tea, either, but Minnelli's Meet Me In St. Louis is one of my favorite movies ever. And I acknowledge Gigi is well-made, expertly staged and shot, handsomely designed, tonally perfect--I just don't care much for it. Maybe Maurice Chevalier in full "Honh honh honh" mode just puts me off.

Regardless, will I be running out and buying these today? Um, let's just say I budgeted the money for them weeks ago...

Monday, September 15, 2008


She spoke to me with the familiarity of shared intimacy, reminiscing about our time together, and I knew she must have been the love of my life. I didn't recognize her, though, or the restaurant we found ourselves in, or the view outside the huge window beside us. This must be a dream, then.

"But there's no point in looking back, is there? There was good and there was bad and...Still. If only things had been..." She lapsed into silence, then broke it by launching into a trivial anecdote for the benefit of the other people suddenly at our table. Family? Hers, apparently. I didn't recognize them, either.

They seemed to be fond of me, though, laughing at my jokes with more than mere politeness, occasionally asking what happened between us, we seemed like such a good thing, what went wrong? She shook her head at these times, and I couldn't answer because I didn't know.

Food was served, and outside the window the sun shone and rain beat down. I looked at my watch and though it was blank, I said it was getting late, I needed to go. All at the table said their farewells, I passed through the crowded restaurant and was surprised to see my car--a turquoise Buick Electra--sitting alone in the parking lot.

Something creaked behind me, and a voice said, "Um--?"

I turned. It was her, of course. "I just wanted to say..." she began, and suddenly I woke up, tossing in my bed, attempting to recall her, what she looked like, who she was.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I'm not even going to pretend to be in anything other than fanboy mode here.

First, the latest trailer:

A few thoughts:


2) No, seriously, it does. Apparently, Quantum Of Solace looks to expand on the admirably realized tone of Casino Royale. No stinting on the action, or the spy guy stuff we expect from James Bond (and Mathieu Amalric gives every indication he will make a supremely hissable villain), while still giving us real drama, keeping the heroics grounded to recognizable emotions, with Daniel Craig offering the most vulnerable--the most human--Bond since George Lazenby.

3) Which is great and all, but is that what we want from James Bond? Or more accurately, is that all we want from Bond? Yeah, my all-time favorite Bond picture is On Her Majesty's Secret Service--aka The One With The Incredibly Depressing Ending--and other favorites include From Russia With Love and For Your Eyes Only, comparable to Casino Royale (and, presumably, Quantum Of Solace) in that they are relatively stripped-down affairs, more interested in straightforward storytelling than indulging in spectacle for its own sake.

But a steady diet of that could grow old. Sometimes you want a Bond villain who has improbably built a massive fortress inside a volcano or has constructed a space station with no one noticing. Sometimes you want a silent henchman with a razorblade hat or teeth ground like knives. Sometimes you want hot babes named Plenty O'Toole or Holly Goodhead, plots that make no sense and plenty of big, dumb set pieces. Those are part of the World Of Bond, too.

As great a Bond as Daniel Craig has already shown himself to be, he doesn't seem like a good fit for the outrageously larger-than-life scenarios many of us associate with the character. He might simply be too good an actor to be the prop this sort of thing requires. Roger Moore, certainly a less skilled performer, could walk through something as amazingly stupid as Moonraker with just the right level of cheek; he knew it was ridiculous, too, but he played it just broad enough, never quite letting the whole shebang tip over into camp.

4) Then again, there's no reason to expect the current holders of the Bond franchise have any intention of doing it up old school. You'd have to go back to 1989's License To Kill for the last effort fully produced by members of the Old Guard (producer Albert Broccoli, writer Richard Maibaum, director John Glen). The only key member of the Guard utilized in the last two decades of Bondage has been production designer Peter Lamont, and even he's MIA for Quantum.

These are essentially a new series of movies, informed by classic Bond but not necessarily beholden to it. Maybe that's the only commercially viable way to do it anymore--and aside from the absolutely dismal Die Another Day, I've enjoyed all the recent Bonds a great deal--but I still can't help but think if contemporary audiences were served up something as gloriously foolish as You Only Live Twice, they'd swoon with delight.

5) Still, it's worth saying again: That trailer looks pretty damned sweet. You'd better believe I'll be there on opening night. Heck, I'll even spring for popcorn.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Even I'm sick of my whiny self-justification whenever I resort to a clip job here. It's always something like, "Hey, I just slept almost ten hours straight, which is odd because I barely slept five hours the previous two nights, and my whole system is out of whack and my foot is throbbing this morning but I have to go to work so there's no time to actually write anything so here's a clip."

Heh. (Koff) Um, this is one of those instances.

Anyway, let me share my affection for this 1975 7-Up commercial, which has been lodged in my brain for decades now. It was created through a mix of styles, but for the most part, it's an early attempt at computer-based animation, but unlike most of what's ground out now, this is wildly imaginative, with neon-bold colors instead of the dull literalism you see in most of today's CGI.

Friday, September 12, 2008


This didn't start out as a clip job. Honest.

Though I thought briefly of saying something about last-night's much-hyped ABC interview with Sarah Palin, just attempting to read the transcript shot my already-high blood pressure to potentially terminal levels.

So I was going to offer some more musings on 9/11--Delmar in his kitten stage was going to serve as a metaphor for the nation--when I got distracted by an article in the Arts section of today's New York Times in which several of the paper's music critics pick their favorite Leonard Bernstein recordings in celebration of the 90th anniversary of his birth.

Huh? Wait! It's Bernstein's birthday? This calls for a clip! Well, actually, no, his birthday was back in August--The Times is merely celebrating the anniversary of the year of his birth. Or something.

Whatever. The point is, the article inspired me to go searching for some Bernstein clips to post, and what a trove of riches! There are great performances of him conducting Mahler--truly a match made in Heaven--and an entire concert staging of Candide. (I tried to find a live performance clip of Alan Titus singing A Simple Song from Mass--the footage exists somewhere because I saw it long ago--but that search proved fruitless.) I finally decided to post a lovely version of one of Bernstein's greatest compositions, the evergreen Chichester Psalms, then realized this was far more appropriate: the classic opening number from one of my favorite movies, On The Town, which I remember watching in those strange, terrible days following 9/11. A greater celebration of New York City would be impossible to find, as this clip presents the wonderful town at its post-war zenith, the most fantastic place on earth. To some of us, of course, it still is.

The song, one of the few remaining in the movie from the original Broadway score, isn't one of Bernstein's best, but it's still pretty damned good, and the incomparable trio of Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin and Gene Kelly (who co-directed...and watch out, because I'm sensing the potential for next week to be Gene Kelly Week around here) look like they're having a ball. Hopefully, you will, too.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The commemorative 9/11 tone is muted this year, don't you think? Sure, Obama and McCain are taking a self-consciously solemn break from campaigning to mark the day, the Matt Lauers and Diane Sawyers of the world still make the same fatuous comments about America's "loss of innocence" and there are the usual op-ed pieces.

Most Americans, though, seem to have gotten on with their lives. Despite Rudy Giuliani's increasingly pathetic attempts to inject it into the campaign, even the Republicans aren't really running on the "war on terror" ticket. The day that supposedly changed everything, that was used as a justification for everything from the war in Iraq to the gradual erosion of civil liberties, seems little more than a footnote now.

Seven years ago, that seemed impossible. I was married then, living in a northern suburb of D.C., and the days following the attacks remain a blur of quiet anxiety. People with dark skin and vaguely foreign names festooned their vehicles and houses with American flags to prove they were solid citizens. Ominous warnings about unchecked bags boomed from the PA systems of Metro stations, as patrons eyed each other suspiciously. A beefy, middle-aged checkout clerk at a Safeway started blubbering as he bagged my groceries: "3000 people! Gone like that."

Every beautiful blue sky conjured memories of the beautiful blue sky that morning, and people grew closer as they shared the same fears, even as they grew more distrustful for the very same reason. Surely this was only the beginning. When would the other shoe drop? Then the anthrax attacks started through the mail, and it seemed as if nothing was safe, as if the world itself had started to unravel.

But it didn't, really. Time went on. In the year following 9/11, my marriage fell apart, followed by an abrupt return to the midwest. I found myself unemployed and with no fixed address. My oldest brother was killed in a freak accident. Day-to-day struggles took precedence over the big picture. The messy business of life took over.

Most likely, some version of that scenario happened to all of us. Yeah, it was a terrible thing, but unless we knew someone directly involved, it faded into the past, a vague memory, just another thing that happened to someone else.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


See, this is where it all pays off. Checking the AP every morning for truly inane showbiz stories usually gets me nowhere, but once in awhile, magic happens. This headline says it all:


No, seriously, that headline says it all. There is absolutely no reason to read the story after that. It merely details the fact that John Oates did in fact visit his old school. Oh, well, it does clarify that he visited it as a "celebrity" instead of applying for a janitorial position, as one might assume considering the current status of Hall & Oates' career. (Are Hall & Oates even still together? Does anybody care?)

We also learned that Oates inspired the kids at the school by offering himself up as "living proof that you can go to North Penn High School and still go somewhere after that." If your definition of "going somewhere" involves being the swarthy, modestly talented second banana to an alarmingly-coiffed blonde prettyboy, then yes, Oates' words will stir your heart. Sure, back in the day, every high school student had that ambition, but these days, what with the fax machines and hula-hoops and whatnot, kids just don't see that as a career goal anymore, and I think we can all agree society is poorer for it.

Also, Oates sang a few numbers. The AP fails to report whether the assembled students pelted him with rocks and garbage.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Only during the summer could this happen, staying up late on a weeknight to watch a late movie. Dad went to bed half an hour ago, and as the local newscaster introduces the sports segment, Mom follows suit, shuffling into the big bedroom just off the living room. She pulls the door shut behind her but leaves it slightly ajar. "Enjoy the movie, Honey," she says as she vanishes.

Most of the lights are out, the older siblings are upstairs in their rooms, presumably sleeping. The cats and dogs are all outside. It feels so weird to be alone.

Mom said it was okay to leave the front door open to let some cool air in, and June bugs thump against the screen door at regular intervals. Outside, it's cooling off, but still warm enough inside to need the fan going, which leads to a dilemma. The volume on the TV can't be turned up too loud since Mom and Dad are sleeping in the next room, but it needs to be loud enough to hear over the fan. The initial solution is to sit as close to the old black-and-white Philco as possible and hope for the best, but the davenport looks more inviting. Off goes the fan, just in time to settle in and get comfortable.

Russ Van Dyke concludes the newscast in his stentorian tones, then throws it over to The CBS Late Movie. Why do they always show the best movies late at night? The Doberman Gang or Night Of The Lepus or The Black Scorpion.

Something about that kaleidoscopic opening is comforting and troubling at the same time. Comforting because it leads into a great movie, troubling because...why? Is it the music? Is the music just a little bit sad?

Ah, but no time to think about that now. Strange doings are under way in Mexico, and all the evidence is pointing to giant scorpions. Giant scorpions overturning trains and stinging guys and...

But first another commercial, then another. They come more frequently late at night, always announced by the same burst of music.

It's funny, as the movie goes along, there are even more commercial breaks, and as it gets later, the commercials get stranger and stranger. At first they're the same commercials that air during prime time, Chuck Wagon dog food and the Ti-D-Bol man, but as the night stretches on, they turn into endless repeats of the same ad for Maaco Auto Detailing and sleazy R-rated horror movies and drive-in comedies, and these ads seems weirdly disturbing yet somehow liberating, visions from an adult world slightly less refined yet more interesting than a world populated by the blandly smiling pitchmen familiar from regular TV.

Somehow these commercials become a kind of ritual unto themselves, maybe even more interesting than the movie--even though they've trapped the scorpion in a soccer stadium and are blasting away at it with tanks, and geez, how cool is that?--and when it's all over, the Late Movie theme plays one more time.

KCCI signs off the air, reminding us that portions of their broadcast day have been mechanically reproduced. Then the Star-Spangled Banner, then snow. Even as the TV is shut off, the Late Movie theme somehow lingers and yes, it seems so unbearably sad, so final, as though mourning the coming end of summer and the start of fifth grade. But that's silly, it's just music, and music shouldn't make a person feel sad, or reflect on how quickly this year is going by, or how strange it seems to be ten.

Monday, September 08, 2008


Lacking anything better to write about, I scrolled through the Entertainment News from Reuters and the AP, hoping to find some kind of show biz ephemera ripe for mocking.

"A-ha!" I thought as I read a story on Donny and Marie Osmond booking an extended run at the Flamingo Hotel in Vegas. "Donny and Marie's campy variety special from the seventies will be a swell excuse for a cheap clip job. I'll post some hideous production number, make some snotty comments and be done with it."

But wait! Bad as their show was, it wasn't the worst example of seventies variety shows. Why not something from The Brady Bunch Hour or The Paul Lynde Halloween Special or--dare I dream?--Hal Linden's Big Apple. Maybe something from Presenting Susan Anton or Fred Silverman's incredibly misguided The Big Show. Cheesewise, the possibilities seemed limitless!

Oh, YouTube, how you disappoint me! The clips I most wanted to share simply weren't available. Sure, I could go with yet another Lynda Carter clip, but I'd be faced with armed insurrection from much of my readership. And yeah, I briefly thought about bringing you a touching little number from Lindsay Wagner's 1977 special, but honestly, the pain was too much even for me.

Instead, here's a terrifyingly non-ironic seventies ad, full of singin', dancin' and existential miasma. The very premise--Life is good? Dreams come true? At K-Mart?--will take you through all five stages of grief in one minute flat. Enjoy. Or don't. Whichever works for you.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


Paul said he'd never ridden a train before, so I took him up for a ride on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, a local excursion train made up of vintage passenger cars pulled by a steam engine. The town of Boone makes a big deal of this attraction, holding an annual festival called Pufferbilly Days (and I pray to God I will never again use the words "Pufferbilly Days" for any reason), a town-wide celebration highlighted by a parade.

I thought that would be fun for a nine-year-old, and mostly we had a great time, but the parade itself Paul greeted mostly with indifference. Understandable, really, since even the participants seemed indifferent: one of the floats was being pulled by a pickup driven by a guy talking on his cellphone.

Let me say that again. The guy was part of the parade, a public display, and he couldn't be bothered to stop talking on his cellphone for maybe half an hour.

Cellphones are not in and of themselves evil, but their use and frequent misuse is a manifestation of a larger societal trend spreading like a cancer since the self-actualization movement of the '70s: The Cult Of Me.

Consider the practice of customizing the ringtone of your cell: What purpose does it serve? A ring is a ring, or should be. By customizing it, we are encouraged to allow our ringtone to express something about us. But express what? The fact that you're an indulgent, self-obsessed asshole, determined to insert your personal tastes into areas where they're inappropriate? If I'm in a grocery store, and a cellphone rings to the opening riff of Crazy Train and the call is answered by some blow-dried yuppie dressed in his business casual best, what the hell am I supposed to think? That he's "edgy" for listening to Ozzy? That his tastes are depressingly mainstream? That someone planted the pod under his bed last night, and the invasion is coming along on schedule?

Of course, customized ringtones are just one way we express our so-called individuality. Our clothes, our hairstyles, our modes of transporation all contribute. And that's another can of worms! I work in a hospital, and during the summer doctors and nurses routinely show up for work wearing flip-flops.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but as a consumer I would really appreciate it if highly-paid service providers would have enough respect for me to dress in what was once considered a professional manner. Jurors still tend to judge criminal defendants on what they wear, yet we don't extend the same expectations to people we entrust with our very lives. I'm by no means a social conservative, and I'm not pining for a return to the Ward Cleaver days, but can we not all agree there are times when flip-flops are inappropriate? If a doctor is this casual in his choice of footwear, will be equally casual--or lazy--in his work?

Cellphones and flip-flops may seem like minor annoyances (and I realize the tone of this piece is veering wildly into Andy Rooney/"You kids get off my lawn!" territory), but phone conversations used to be something you held in the privacy of your own home, not a spectacle to be foisted on other patrons of a store or theater. Similarly, flip-flops might be worn at a beach or while lazing around the house, but respect for other people demanded that you wear something a little more presentable when going out. Now, who cares? Who cares about other people? Our own gratification is all we care about.

Let me close with another anecdote from this weekend: Friday night I got a call from an ex-kinda-sorta-girlfriend. She was having problems of some sort with her current relationship and wanted to come over. I told her no, and explained that Paul was staying with me for the night so we could get an early start on everything we had planned for Saturday. She started going off on me about...well, everything, really, and I told her I didn't think this was an appropriate conversation for me to be having in front of a little kid.

She seemed to have no idea what I meant, and really, who can blame her? She's twenty-eight, and so has essentially come of age in the era of the cellphone. To her, there's no such thing as inappropriate, no moral absolutes, nothing beyond what she wants at the moment, and everything else be damned.

Saturday, September 06, 2008


Big plans today--well, relatively speaking--so I've got to get right down to having fun here pretty soon. But I thought I'd take the time to share this, because I've been listening to a lot of Harry Nilsson lately, and this clip is a lot of fun. Of course, I could go on about how Nilsson eventually blew out his beautiful voice from heavy drinking, or how his creative spirit seemed crushed by the murder of his good friend John Lennon, or his mercilessly early death at the age of fifty-two.

But hey, I won't mention that because it's too depressing. Let's remember Harry at his best.

Friday, September 05, 2008


We'd gotten through Mom's visitation, and her funeral was the next day. My brother John figured he'd stay the night at my place even as his family headed for a motel. He'd brought his sleeping bag along, knowing in advance he'd be crashing on the floor.

It wasn't that late when we got back to Des Moines, or maybe it just didn't seem late to us, but all the restaurants in the neighborhood were closed, and we dined on cheap hot dogs from Quik Trip. Back at my apartment, we talked for awhile about everything but the obvious, then he went to bed. I laid in the darkness for awhile, my radio tuned low to classical music, punctuated by the pitterpat sounds of Delmar's feet, his claws not retracted as he made his nightly rounds.

The next morning we watched the Best Of The Electric Company DVD I'd just bought two weeks before, when everything still seemed right with the world. We talked some more, still not really speaking of Mom. But we had a timetable, and needed to get ready. Since my apartment is so small, privacy is impossible, so John went for a walk while I took a bath. (When he returned, he pointed out how many attractive women he'd seen in my neighborhood. "Why aren't you dating any of them?" he asked.) When it was John's turn to shower, I headed down to the (thankfully empty) laundry room in the basement, notebook in hand, to try to write down whatever the hell I was going to say at the funeral.

This was a given; despite a dread of public speaking, I had to make some kind of speech at the service. I would never forgive myself if I didn't. Thoughts had bubbled and dissolved in my head throughout this long, miserable weekend, and I had no idea what to say.

The notebook intimidated me, page after page of blank, indifferent lines not caring whether I filled them or not. I hadn't put pen to paper for several years, a punishing case of writer's block I simply ignored by not trying. But this situation demanded something, so I just scribbled without thinking, scratched some stuff out, ripped out a page or two, scribbled more and shrugged. It would have to do.

John and I ate Chinese food for lunch, the conversation still staying light, full of jokes, still avoiding emotion. I remember nothing of the drive up to Perry, or the preliminaries, and even the service itself is mostly a blur. At the minister's prompting, I stood up and said whatever I had to say, my body trembling with nerves and sorrow, but my soul finding some comfort in the sheer number of faces assembled.

I closed by looking at my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, telling them I loved them all. Even as the words tumbled out, I knew something had shifted. Mom was the hub around which we all circled, the force that kept us all together and aware of each other's comings and goings. Without her, the center was gone, and we all knew it.

After the service came another meet and greet, an opportunity to talk to old friends not seen for years, and finally some tears were shed. Then it was over, then my bothers and sisters and assorted members of their families regrouped to Mom's house. Much sorting and dividing and hauling out awaited us, but that was for another time.

Still, Mom had one dog and numerous cats, and they all needed homes. John had already said he'd take the dog, Rufus, and Scully, one of the cats. Everyone had already assumed I'd take Monika, despite my lack of space, and of course, I said yes. My sister Julie already had numerous cats at her place, but agreed to take sullen litter mates Nora and Noying. My nephew Shawn surprisingly stepped forward to take poor little Chloe, the least-loved of Mom's cats. "She'd have wanted me to," he shrugged.

Then that was it, the day was over, and everyone returned to their regularly scheduled lives. Julie left first, then my brother Mike and sister Ann. John's family had already left in a separate vehicle, and it was up to him and his son Matthew to load the rambunctious force of nature known as Rufus into their car. Shawn carried Chloe out to his pickup with surprising tenderness, waved and was gone. John and I continued to talk for awhile, but he had a long drive ahead of him and took off.

I watched them all go into the steely February evening, everyone in their own direction, all with separate destinations. I went back into the house and scooped up poor, baffled Monika, removing her from the only home she'd ever known. "It'll be okay, Kiddo," I whispered as she stared at me silently from behind the metal bars of her carrier. "You're starting a new life."

Thursday, September 04, 2008


Home sick from work today because...well, you probably don't want any details, so I'll just say three little words: Explosive bowel movements. So in between the projectile pooping and the intermittent napping (oh, sweet, sweet sleep!), not a whole lot of desire to write anything.

But I will note that Sarah Palin's much-hyped speech pretty much confirmed what I suggested yesterday, that she is essentially the second coming of Bush, a lightweight who says the things she's told to say by her evil overlords. (According to The New York Times, much of her speech was written out phonetically on her Teleprompter!) It's obvious the GOP is trying to ignore McCain and groom Palin as their latest Useful Idiot...and sadly, it just might work.

I also wanted to note the passing of the great animator and director Bill Melendez at the fine age of 91. He worked at the Disney studio in the forties (including time spent on Dumbo, one of my all-time favorites), then landed at Warners, where he did some astonishing work for director Bob Clampett. After time spent at UPA and the indie wilderness, he teamed up with producer Lee Mendelson to adapt Charles Schultz's seminal comic strip Peanuts for television. That first special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, is one of the finest things ever done for the small screen, aching in its melancholy, overwhelming in its joy. For this scene alone, with its understated spiritual message, simple staging and wonderful use of silence, Melendez must be considered one the greatest directors in animation history.

For me, it's back to sleepytime (I seem to be pooped out--literally--at the moment) and then an attempt to actually eat. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a better day, health-wise. If not, you'll get to enjoy all the unpleasant details.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


I promise I'm not going to spend much time here talking about Sarah Palin. Honest. I'm not going to say a word about her pregnant seventeen-year-old daughter, and how the Republican establishment has declared family "off limits" even though you know damn well if Obama even knew a pregnant seventee-year-old, you'd be hearing about it in attack ads from here to November.

But, as I said, I'm not going to mention that, any more than I'm going to mention Palin's comment that she's proud of her daughter for "choosing" to have her baby. Funny how, though Palin is militantly anti-choice, by using the word "choice" it sounds as though she would have allowed someone in her own family the very option she would deny others. If Palin's family weren't off limits, I'd suggest that is an even more blatant example of the cronyism we've been enduring throughout the Bush years and the very thing John McCain claims to be running against.

Ah, McCain, that straight-talker, that truth-teller, that firebrand! How hollow are his promises, how thin his maverick reputation? By almost all accounts, he wanted mush-mouthed ex-Democrat Joe Lieberman as his VP, but the Neocon Fortress ruling the Republicans threatened to turn against McCain, so he followed their script and did exactly as he was told. (I'm trying not to make my usual Annakin Skywalker/Senator Palpatine analogy here, but it's hard to resist, so...very...hard.) The absurd praise a virtual non-entity like Palin has received from the likes of William Kristol tells you everything you need to know: She's their girl, the price McCain must pay for their support.

If he wasn't willing to buck the system and make his own choice when it came to selecting the first member of his administration, what other compromises will he make, what other decisions will he hand off to his masters, how many more boots will he lick? For someone who makes so much of his time spent as a POW, it sure looks as though McCain is allowing himself to be a captive all over again.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Weird how things work sometimes.

The other day, running late, I happened to post a performance clip of Emmylou Harris, and noted the presence of Rodney Crowell in her backing band. Today, lounging around in the local Barnes & Noble, I discovered Crowell has a new album out--something I didn't know when I mentioned him the other day. Is this fate? I wondered as I bought it.

There's been no time to give the album, the wonderfully titled Sex & Gasoline anything more than a cursory listen, but as with pretty much everything the Crowell's ever done, it's a model of songwriting craft. I thought I knew the basics of the man's career--hung out with Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Steve Earle, married (and later divorced) Rosanne Cash, was one of the best-selling artists in Nashville history for a run in the eighties--but as I read various bios online, I discovered something I didn't know: Crowell was discovered by Jerry Reed, who heard him singing in a club and immediately signed him to his own publishing company.

After reading this, I clicked to The New York Times' homepage, and read this headline: Singer-Actor Jerry Reed Dies At 71.

Again, weird.

Generally not a mainstream country music fan, I thought I knew all I needed to know about Reed: Wrote some songs and did some session work for Elvis Presley, had a bunch of novelty hits, made a lot of crappy movies with Burt Reynolds. But learning of his death at almost exactly the same time I learned of his connection with Crowell's career, I found myself wanting to know more. When I found this pretty much perfect performance of what is surely one of the greatest songs ever written, featuring Reed's wonderfully casual vocals and absolutely awesome guitar (it takes a lot to upstage Chet Atkins!), I actually felt chills down my spine. Maybe you will, too.

Monday, September 01, 2008


Thanks to a crazy work schedule and an overall lack of interest, I'm breaking with tradition this year: I'm not watching Jerry Lewis' Labor Day Telethon.

Lately--by which I mean the last twenty-five years or so--I've watched the telethon ironically, as a last bastion of old-school showbiz, a B-list Friar's Club gathering at which the nominally-talented continually praised each other for their genius and overwhelming love of humanity.

In the more innocent days of my childhood, I didn't so much watch the telethon as endure it. The damned thing was always on every year in my household, though I don't remember anyone ever actually paying attention to it, and I certainly can't imagine anyone being entertained by it. The local affiliates that carried it--the so-called "Love Network"--ran full-page ads in TV Guide encouraging us to "Stay up with Jerry and watch the stars come out", boasting a lineup including the likes of Frank Sinatra and Bill Cosby, but it frequently turned out that the Big Guns only appeared in pre-taped homily-filled testimonials instead of, you know, showing up onstage and performing.

So most of the heavy lifting, entertainment-wise, came from Jerry himself. Lewis was utterly despised by everyone in my family, so it's weird that the telethon was always tuned in, but there he was every year, berating his production staff as anti-Semites even as he casually indulged in the most cringe-inducing ethnic humor imaginable. In full Buddy Love mode, Jerry might tell jokes and occasionally, God help us, sing, but mostly he'd just ramble on, sometimes about the poor schmucks stricken with muscular dystrophy (though treating them as mere props to showcase his humility) but more often about whatever the hell was bugging him at that particular minute. It was like watching Krusty The Clown on a two-day bender.

The telethon no longer has quite the same train wreck appeal it once had. Sure, Jerry usually pulls off some jaw-dropping acts of insensitivity every time out, but he's absent for much of the proceedings--napping, presumably--and lately he's come off more as a doddering old man than a volatile monster. And as dull as the whole thing has always been, lately it has become excruciating, with faceless co-hosts (who exactly is Jann Carl?) and an endless parade of bland ambassadors from huge corporations doling out oversized novelty checks to the cause.

On the other hand, it's still the only place outside of Branson where you'll actually see Tony Orlando get a standing ovation.