Tuesday, March 31, 2009


A week or two ago I got tagged in one of those Facebook memes--Did I mention I'm on Facebook? Doesn't seem like the type of thing I'd do, does it?--to list fifteen albums that mattered the most to me, that changed my life, blah, blah, blah. It came with the standard stuff about tagging fifteen friends and all that, which I of course didn't bother doing, but I did compile the list.

And since it was on Facebook, where terseness is the order of the day, I didn't spend much time actually talking about the music, or my relationship to it. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to say more, to explore how much music has mattered to me, both in and of itself and how it came into my life, how it changed me, why it means so much. And I realized fifteen was a ridiculously arbitrary number, so I'd want to list all the albums that are a vital part of my life.

Well, okay, not all of them. But like that list of my favorite movies you had to endure last fall, this will probably take a few days. The tone will be different, though, more openly autobiographical. In thinking about music, I realize the story behind why I was drawn to some particular sound is perhaps as interesting as the sound itself. This is, in essence, the story of my life, told as a list of albums, in roughly chronological order.

1. John Williams, Star Wars

The first album I ever bought was John Williams' score for Jaws, so I was already primed when I noticed Williams' name in the print ads for this new science fiction movie I'd never heard of. I'm not going to bother describing the impact Star Wars had on my life; I'm not even going to mention how vital the score is to the movie, and how it gives it a grandeur its often static images would otherwise lack.

I'll just talk about what the music means to me. Mom bought this album for me on a trip to Des Moines on labor day in '77. I listened to the album (two LPs!) that night, and the next day, and the day after that. It conjured up visions of the movie, of course, but soon, that faded, and what was left was the music. Particularly Princess Leia's Theme, an oasis of melancholy among all the brass-and-percussion bombast. This was the track that called me back repeatedly, that seemed to define my life in that strange, sad fall and winter, as I sat in my room and looked out the window at the bleak farmland surrounding me, dreaming of another life, a change that was surely on the way, if not today then tomorrow, or soon, maybe, maybe.

2. Bernard Herrmann, The Mysterious Film World Of Bernard Herrmann

Every record store was different, every one had its own feel. Music Land had a stoner vibe, with rolling papers and bongs for sale at the counter, and the loud, raucous Music Circuit specialized in punk and new wave, which had no interest for me at the time, but also featured a surprisingly large classical section.

The main store for me was Music Den in Merle Hay Mall. It was part of a national chain, and there were other locations in Des Moines, but the one at Merle Hay had a large soundtrack section, and in the wake of my discovery of John Williams, I continued exploring the work of other film composers. The albums were shelved in alphabetical order, strictly A to Z, with no individual titles or artists singled out, save two: There was a section devoted to James Bond scores, and a section devoted to Bernard Herrmann.

I didn't know who Herrmann was. I didn't know his work, I didn't know he had died only two years before, or that he had rerecorded a number of his scores for the London label in the early seventies. So I never thumbed through those albums, with their odd covers more appropriate for some prog rock opus.

But when the Ray Harryhausen epic Jason And The Argonauts was rereleased in the summer of '78, you damn well bet I was there. And I noticed Herrmann's name in the credits, and I kinda liked the music. So I looked through the albums at Music Den, and one of them, The Mysterious Film World Of, featured a suite from Jason, as well as two other Harryhausen epics. I bought it, brought it home and from the first clashing chords of The Mysterious Island, I realized this was something stark and primal. This wasn't pretty music or catchy music; it made me almost uncomfortable, as its odd orchestrations and insistent rhythms never cued me how to feel. This music existed in its own world, not caring whether you liked it or not. And I realized Bernard Herrmann's music was kind of like me, and I realized I was soon going to be buying every one of those albums at Music Den, and every other Herrmann composition I could find.

3. Ennio Morricone, Once Upon A Time In The West

Of course I knew Morricone's music. If you loved Clint Eastwood movies, you knew the title music from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly from numerous re-viewings on the ABC Sunday Night Movie. And I had that album, of course, and A Fistful Of Dollars, and I considered them essential.

So when I bought the soundtrack to Once Upon A Time In The West, I expected more of the same. I hadn't seen the movie, but it was another Sergio Leone western with an Ennio Morricone score. How different could it be? And in a sense, it wasn't all that different: the booming choruses, slashing guitar and ever-present whistler were all there.

But there was a deeper lyricism here, and a pitiless fatalism, and an aching sense of loss. And more: In just one cut, Man With A Harmonica, Morricone seemed to find the point where Miles Davis' post-bop fusion work, John Cage's experimentation and the Velvet Underground's heroin-fueled nihilism all came together. It was as though Morricone could hear everything, understand everything, and make it all his own. Midway through my first hearing of this album, I experienced something akin to a religious conversion: This was the greatest thing I had ever heard, and the greatest thing I ever would hear. That opinion hasn't changed: When I die, I hope they bury me with a copy of this album, because I wouldn't want to go through this world or the next without it.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Given the top-heavy, silicone-enhanced charms of your average showgirl, you'd think she'd at least be able to stay afloat. But sadly, no: Les Folies Bergere, a fixture on the Vegas Strip since 1959 and one of only two old-school revues still playing, closed for good yesterday.

Vegas without showgirls? That's like Skiles without Henderson, Allen without Rossi, Siegfried without Roy. No matter what permutations the city was going through, including its stunningly ill-advised attempt in the mid-nineties to be a family-friendly theme park mecca, it was still possible to see the ghosts of the old Las Vegas, to get a whiff of what used to be. Sam Butera and Buddy Hackett could still get gigs, and Tom Jones could still be the hottest ticket in town.

But that's back when room still existed on the Strip for the Stardust and the Sands, some of the earliest hotel/casino combos to have opened in the town, and once the height of tawdry glamour. Mob money built these places, and even in decline, even when they were run by faceless entertainment consortiums, they still had some semblance of personality.

Now Vegas is...well, not respectable, exactly, but it sure isn't what it was. There are ridiculous gimmick hotels like the New York, New York or efficiently snobby places like the Bellagio, and as long as Caesar's Palace still exists, there will remain at least a hint of the tacky spectacle of what was. But with multi-million dollar showrooms filled by the likes of Celine Dion and Elton John, to say nothing of the psuedo-artsy spectacle of whatever the latest Cirque du Soleil snoozefest may be, the era of the city's most defining symbol, the feather-bedecked showgirl, comes slowly to an end.

As it happens, the only showgirl revue still playing in Vegas is Jubilee!, which happens to be the show I dragged my reluctant wife to the day after our wedding. (Yes, I got married in Vegas. In retrospect, that may have been a mistake.) Sometime after the retelling of the Samson and Delilah story, following the dog act and the magician, even after the recreation of the sinking of the Titanic--complete with topless babes tumbling off the deck!--as a parade of showgirls strutted across the stage, dangled from the ceiling, appeared in the aisles, as the very air abounded with pulchritude, I turned to my new bride and exclaimed, "I never want to see a pair of tits again...AND I'M ON MY HONEYMOON!"

Fortunately, I recovered. Las Vegas, apparently, never will.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


I'd like to say I helped a friend move yesterday, which sounds pretty neutral, but the fact is, I helped an ex-girlfriend move, which is...some kind of violation of the Guys Code. The line of reasoning is, why do something nice for someone when you're not together anymore? Well, because I'm a nice guy, I guess...but we all know where nice guys finish.

Anyway, the point is, I'm weary to the bone and would love to stay in bed all day. Unfortunately, I have to work. Tired and short on time--around here, that can only mean one thing: Another clip job!

In this case, someone made a slide show presentation set to Neko Case's cover of the Sparks classic Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth. While we certainly appreciate all the Hot Neko photos here (I especially love her Julie London hommage), the main selling point is the song, which I love (Have I mentioned Sparks is one of my favorite bands?), and Case's performance, which is drop-dead gorgeous. Then again, she could sing anything and it would be amazing because...that voice! This song, by the way, is from her new album Middle Cyclone, which also features a cover of a Harry Nilsson song (Have I mentioned I'm a huge Harry Nilsson fan?) and a whole lot of strong originals. Oh, and it also concludes with a full half hour of frog noises because...well, why not?

Friday, March 27, 2009


What can I say? It's Friday, I'm tired and it's one of those days. I can't possibly come up with anything more entertaining than this. Should I mention the whole NSFW thing? Does it even apply to something this innocent?

Incidentally, if you actually sat through this entire move--which, of course, I have--you would discover it's even dumber than you would think. Also, not the least bit sexy, but you might have guessed that, too.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


1. Woof! Woof! Woof!

"What's that, girl? Timmy has fallen down the well?"

Woof! Woof! Woof!

"And the bank robbers are hiding out in Smuggler's Cave?"

Woof! Woof! Woof!

"And a randomly-chosen quote from Larry King's old USA Today column as the title for a post is meant to signify yet another Random Thoughts entry? Thanks, girl! I didn't know that!"

Woof! Woof! Woof!

"No, I'm sorry, we ran out of Snausages. I think there's still some Dog Chow--"

Woof! Woof! Woof!

"Next trip into the store I'll get some more--"

Woof! Woof! Woof!

"Why are you looking at me like that, girl? Why are you--Oh my God!"



2. So what's the deal with the economy? It's terrible, it's not so bad, it's worse than you think, it's getting better, no it's not...I can't wrap my head around all this. Here in my world, everything sucks, but it always has--I'm not paid enough for the work I do, health care is too expensive, I can't afford to move to a better place to live.

Of course, I'm pretty far down the socio-economic scale. Now that the rest of the world is experiencing similar problems, you'd think somebody would do something about it. Unfortunately, Team Obama seems most concerned with protecting the portfolios of hedge-fund managers. This is change?

3. Speaking of depressing things you might expect me to write about, I made a conscious decision to not offer any thoughts about the suicide last week of Nicholas Hughes, the forty-seven year old son of Sylvia Plath. The whole sad story seemed tailor-made for me--depression as an inherited trait, self-pitying artistic types, plus an opportunity to wander through my own bleak back pages, to offer up the story behind every scar on my wrist.

But that would almost seem like self-parody, and I was already dwelling in a fairly dark place when the news broke, and oddly enough, sometimes I really do have the common sense to avoid things that might make me even more depressed.

4. Is this going to be the year of the hipster kiddie movie, or what? We've already had Henry Selick's sublime Coraline, which bored mall kids even as it excited black-clad absinthe drinkers of all ages, later this year we'll see Wes Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox...and there's this.

Never mind that it's Where The Wild Things Are, already the Catcher In The Rye of moody five-year-olds everywhere. But directed by Spike Jonze (an inspired choice fully endorsed by Maurice Sendak, God bless him), scripted by Dave Eggers and featuring music by Karen O? Holy crap! This is either going to be the greatest movie in the history of everything, or a big steaming pile of Wild Thing scat. All I know is they'd better use that Arcade Fire song from the trailer in the movie itself, because the combination of it and Jonze's inspired imagery has pretty much got me more excited than I have been for any movie since...well, since Coraline.

5. I was going to say something about Sarah Palin, who has unaccountably remained on the national stage despite the wishes of decent people everywhere, but I realized that in order to do such a thing I'd have to actually read articles that would likely quote her, and I'd be confronted again by the astonishing depths of her shallowness, and well, I just woke up and my day hasn't been ruined yet so why start now and, seriously, could this sentence run any longer?

6. Random Thoughts post? Then I'm required by law (there are some amazingly draconian regulations around here) to mention the cats at some point. They're curled up beside each other on the bed, in nearly identical positions. I may have to call a penalty for excessive cuteness.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Things have been kind of dark around here lately, haven't they? Apologies for that, and a vow to lighten up, at least for now.

I know, I know. Usually when I say that, I'm being hyper-ironic, and I post a clip of an exploding head or something. Not this time. Today I'll present a scene from the best movie of all time, Singin' In The Rain. I tend to bring this movie up a lot around here, and I'm sure I will again, because it's all kinds of awesome. In fact, just talking about it makes me want to watch it again, then write about it some more, to geek out for pages and pages about how effortlessly great it is.

But no time for that. So about this clip--it's by far the least-celebrated number from the film, a total throwaway, but it still shows so much of what makes this a classic: Gene Kelly being a prick (he'll reform shortly after this, but you've gotta love that it allows its main character to be an arrogant jerk for the first fifteen minutes of running time), Debbie Reynolds being insanely adorable (and bonus geek points here, since she is after all Princess Leia's mom!), expert use of the camera, choreography that parodies jazz-age dancing while still showing great affection for the era--and well, I could go on, but let's just get on with it, shall we?

You know what? One number from this movie isn't enough. I've posted it before a long time ago, but here's Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor with a burst of absolute bliss.

And...okay, here's where this happy upbeat post turns a little dark. Not so-bleak-we'll-never-know-joy-again dark, but you'll see. In the years and decades following his work on Singin' In The Rain, Stanley Donen would direct any number of wonderful pictures--Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, The Pajama Game, Charade and the matchless Movie, Movie (still not available on DVD, and I'm going to whine about that any chance I get). One of his very best efforts was the 1967 Peter Cook/Dudley Moore vehicle Bedazzled, which to my mind is one of the greatest comedies ever made. This is a musical number from that film, but it's pretty far from the fizzy joy of Singin' In The Rain. Cook's Drimble Wedge comes off as a sort of precursor to Morrissey, and his chilling ennui set against the airy melody (composed by Moore) is perhaps a bit more resonant than its makers intended. In any event, it is expertly staged and shot by Donen, and though it's intended as a parody of then-contemporary TV pop shows, it has a strange, almost Brechtian quality Donen can claim as his own. A great scene, a great movie.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Wind howls like crazy, the WUMPWUMPWUMP rattle of the window panes the last sound I remember before...

I'm asleep. Aren't I? I'm in some kind of box, a void, a vast black nowhere, and for some reason I find myself wondering whether the cartoonist Paul Coker is still alive. There are images, suddenly--water on glass, fissures in the sky, a nondescript neighborhood suddenly viewed in negative, wiped away in a moment by a blast of light. A nuclear cloud,perhaps, or simply--

Lightning. Lightning at the window, and thunder rumbling. I must be awake now.

But then, why am I in the living room of Mom and Dad's house back in Perry? Why is the TV tuned to the old Rankin/Bass special Twas The Night Before Christmas (designed by Paul Coker!)? Why is that being broadcast now, this time of year? Outside the window the grass is green and the trees are full and lush? Why a Christmas special? Why now? And where is everybody?

Then I'm somewhere I don't know. A pile of tires burns, hippies protest the economy--No, wait. This is just a magazine article I'm reading. I'm on a couch. My beloved mutant cat Pinback is curled up on top of me, as she tended to do. "My little angel," I say to Pinback, even as I remember she's long dead, and she hisses and growls, as she tended to do. The TV is on. Some Matt Dillon movie from the eighties drones on, unwatched. The door opens. Nobody's there.

I sit up in bed. My bed, here, now, real. Right?

The farmhouse. Everything is as it once was, Dad in his recliner, Mom in her wingback chair, my brothers and sisters moving about, going on about their normal activities. I'm there, too, but as an adult, an unseen presence, a detached observer. It's nice to see the old buffet table in the dining room, the phone in its nook, the furniture scattered about in random patterns. It's good to be home.

I sit on the couch watching the old black-and-white Philco for a few minutes, the incongruity of it showing Roy Scheider in Blue Thunder not quite connecting, then notice an old Mad magazine beside me. It's a Mad Super Special, a greatest-hits issue, and I thumb through it, looking for some Don Martin cartoons. Instead, I discover page after page of the tediously unfunny feature Horrifying Cliches, illustrated by Paul Coker.

Is this supposed to mean something? Is this the Rosebud moment, when everything comes together and all these disconnected sights and sensations finally make sense? Because this is nothing--there's no revelation to be had here.

Clackclackclack. A steely rain against the window. Delmar pushes his face up against me. I pet him behind the ears and he begins to purr.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Sorry about that previous post. I realize it was more, shall we say, adult (and creepy) in content than one usually finds around here. To make up for it, here are our lovable blue friends doing what they do best!

Oh, dear God. That didn't quite work out, did it?

Saturday, March 21, 2009


"If you really want to know, I'll tell you. But you should know me by now--I'll be blunt."

Go ahead.

"Well, first...I like you. You're smart, you're funny, you're...there's a lot there I'd really like to get to know better."

I sense a "but" coming...

"But...I don't want to fuck your mind, you know?"


"I mean, just looking at you, being around you, I can tell you're very vanilla."


"It doesn't matter how many Arcade Fire albums you have or how obscure your DVD collection is, that's just...I just know, in the bedroom, you wouldn't be adventurous at all. Guy on top, girl on top, that's about as far as you'd go. Yeah, you mentioned having a thing for pleated skirts and knee socks, so you've got a Catholic schoolgirl fetish--"

In fairness, that particular fetish involves Velma from Scooby-Doo.

"--so you're into light role-playing, but I doubt that you go anywhere interesting with it."

Define interesting.

"You know what I mean. And I'm not wrong about you, am I?"

Well, again, define interesting. I don't know what you're into, but I know every woman is different, and every couple. Maybe you think you're not the type of girl who needs a lot of foreplay, but--and may I just say, this is a weird conversation to be having at an IHOP; shouldn't we be sprawled across a bed half-undressed, contemplating whether to go further?--you've never been kissed by me, touched by me, caressed by me. Maybe I'm vanilla, but I could be brand name instead of generic...and this is officially the worst metaphor I've ever devised.

"It's okay, I get your point, but honestly, vanilla doesn't interest me in any form. Foreplay, hugging, kissing, fuck that, it's great but it won't get me off."

Maybe not, but it can still be nice.

"Nice. I don't want nice. My sexuality is very important to me, and I would need a partner to get that. What I want is...I'm a submissive. I'm also a masochist. I like to be beaten, I like to be whipped, I like to be...I like to hurt. I've been spit on and pissed on, everything short of shit on, and maybe I'd even do that. I can only come when I'm dominated, but I know I'm in control, because first of all, it's my choice to participate, and second of all, if it goes too far, I have my safe word."


"You think I'm a freak, don't you?"

I have a Velma fetish, who am I to judge? But I am wondering...how it works. I mean, do you say, you know what, I feel like being pissed on today, or does he just do it?

"I can't know what's coming. He has to totally dominate me. I have to be totally under his control."

That...doesn't sound healthy. I mean...if that's your kink, fine. Go somewhere and have a little session. Some people go to analysis, you see a sadist. Fine, whatever. But in a relationship...

"Well, that's the thing. I have a regular dom, but he and I aren't...He has a girlfriend who isn't into that lifestyle, but she accepts that he is, and I have no interest in him beyond...what he can do for me. He's the only person who can make me come. I haven't been able to make it work in the context of a relationship. If it's a guy I'm dating, and he knows me and likes me, he can't give me what I need because he doesn't want to hurt me. And if I try dating a guy and telling him ahead of time I'll be seeing my dom once or twice a week, he can't handle that. I come home with gashes on my tits and my ass is black and blue and I don't want to be touched. Even though I tell them about it ahead of time, it freaks them out to see it. It's physical evidence I've been with another man, and more, that I've enjoyed it.

"And you'd be like that. You couldn't handle it either way."

No. Probably not. But I have a question.

"Like I have any secrets left."

I just wondered...do you ever think you could make a relationship work? I mean, do you honestly think you could find a guy who would do this to you, and still be boyfriend material?

"I think it's possible, sure."

I mean, if a guy gets off on beating women--

"You forget, we'd have rules."

Sure, in the context of what you do now, in a more-or-less controlled session. But with a boyfriend or husband, a guy you'd be living with, who can say the rules apply? What if he wants something and you don't? And he thinks your refusal is part of the game, and he beats you and you don't want to be beaten? He'd get off on it, and maybe he wouldn't care about your safe word. His desires may overtake whatever rules you'd set.

"It's a risk I'd take, but it's a risk I'd have to take in order to be happy."

So what you're saying is, the ability to make you come is more important than the ability to make you laugh, or to stimulate your mind. The pleasure centers in the naughty bits are more important than all the other parts of the body.

"Not more important. But as important."

But I get the feeling you'd be more impressed right now talking to a dull guy with no sense of humor if you thought he could get you off.

"Not more impressed. More excited maybe. But I want it all: A smart, funny, loving guy who knows how to...you know."

Good luck finding that.

"I'm weird, I know. I'm fucked up, but I can't change who I am. I'm sorry."

Nothing to be sorry about. But...this is it, right? We're about to go our separate ways?

"I think so."

Then what's weird is that we won't be dating. Usually the only women who latch onto me are the fucked up ones.

"That's what makes me unique."

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I saw Ben Folds in concert last night, and yeah, I could do the obvious and post a clip. And I am, but not of Folds solo. No, kids, this features the well-loved nerd rocker as sideman and arranger (also songwriter) in support of The Shat himself. Much as I tend to make fun of William Shatner (and it's not as much fun as it used to be, now that he's in on the joke), there's no irony here: this song from the album Has Been is genuinely touching, and Folds' piano work is absolutely gorgeous. This sounds like a lost Ennio Morricone track, which is about as high as praise can get around here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


It wasn't anything great, but I had a piece I had written and saved, to be tweaked and posted later...but the autosave failed, and the whole thing is gone. It was basically just me whining about...well, never mind, because if I explain, I'll end up rewriting the whole thing, and I really don't want to do that.

So you'll just have to trust me: I did have something here for your entertainment (and not a Lynda Carter clip in sight!), but the gods of the interweb interfered. Maybe next time...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Granted, this seems like a pretty lazy post: links to other, far more interesting sites. Especially lazy given yesterday's teaser about a potential new relationship. (Which, by the way, is already on the wane. Even by my standards, this seems to be some kind of record for shortest-lived non-romance. And even though you may not want details--believe me, you really don't want to know what the sticking point was here--I'll probably eventually reveal way too much.)

I'm sorry...Damned parenthetical asides keep getting longer and longer...Anyway, a few links to things I think you should know about. Let's start with this fun Inventory item from The AV Club on TV shows that underwent drastic overhauls after they'd gone on the air. It includes not only the shows any television fanatic might expect (Dark Shadows, Newhart, even Charles In Charge), but some nice obscurities (The Joey Bishop Show!) and some surprising choices (The Daily Show, which to my mind has changed more in the last two or three years than it did in the initial Craig Kilborn-to-Jon Stewart transition). Lots of good stuff, and you'll even find some Lynda Carter clips!

Sunday's New York Times ran an extraordinarily depressing but deeply necessary article by Mark Danner on...well, just read it.

Finally, from the Trailers from Hell site co-created by Joe Dante, we have Dante himself presenting the promo he cut together for the drive-in classic Candy Stripe Nurses. Though Dante didn't actually direct that particular film, his explanation of how he assembled the trailer (which, as they say, is Not Safe For Work) kind of gives an insight into how he makes movies. Though not quite an auteur--Dante has never taken a screenwriting credit, even for obviously personal films like Matinee--he has an absolutely unmistakable voice, and even though his films bear traces of his many influences, they are entirely his own. This particular item has inspired me to go through Dante's filmography, and I suspect a longer piece will be on the way.

Which may not be that exciting for those of you who don't believe The Howling is one of the greatest movies ever, but at least it's better than hearing about my love life. Isn't it?

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Veterans of this site may have developed an ability to read between the lines when my postings become infrequent. Whenever I seem distracted, whenever I have other priorities, there's usually a woman involved. Is that the case now?

The short answer is, duh. The more complicated and factual answer is, I don't want to talk about it. Yeah, I know: When I'm not proclaiming the greatness of movies nobody's seen or championing obscure music or excoriating the reigning political hierarchy via overwrought Star Wars analogies, I do tend to spend a lot of time here going on about my love life, in whatever shape it finds itself.

But maybe you don't need to know that. Or maybe you don't need to know that now. There's no girlfriend; there's a person of interest. There have been marathon conversations and shared meals and embarrassing revelations. Maybe it'll all lead somewhere and maybe it won't, but in any case, there's no point in selling the wine before its time, if you get my point.

Remember when I couldn't stop going on about the awesome greatness of Tabbatha, and how wonderful our lives were going to be together? Yeah. Heh. (Though I should point out that, even though she ripped my still-beating heart from my chest and tossed it ruthlessly into the dirt--metaphorically speaking, of course--I wouldn't take back anything I wrote about her. I still think she's great, and we're still friends.) And what about that strange spring of Katie, followed by my summer of bitterness? I may not have been smitten with her, but I at least liked her well enough, and used this space to explore and express such feelings as I had. (She and I are not still friends, for what it's worth.)

So for now, I'm just trying to be...what? Cautiously optimistic? Only, since optimism isn't something I really do, perhaps it would be best to say I'm merely cautious.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


It's the weekend, which means even if I still actually wrote stuff here, I'd probably resort to some kind of clip job, because who the hell wants to wade through labored Star Wars analogies on the weekend? Let's just kick back and, you know, have fun. Or something.

Since I think I've exhausted the reservoir of Marshall Crenshaw clips available on YouTube, I decided not to run a music clip. True, a revival of Kurt Weill's The Firebrand Of Florence recently opened in New York, which gave me ideas, but for most of you, I suspect, my Weill obsession is like my Vincente Minnelli obsession: Nobody else cares.

Instead, I thought maybe I'd write a semi-brainy intro about the economic meltdown, then show that scene from the original Godzilla in which everyone's favorite lumbering metaphor trashes Tokyo's financial district. That would have been funny, right? Right? Eh, whatever. The point is, I couldn't find the clip.

So here's a zombie being shot in the head.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Another day with no new content? Yeah, basically. I had the day off yesterday, which usually gives me time to pound out all the wordage I can, but I was busy and besides...I didn't feel like it.

Today, I'm just running late. Well, that and I still have nothing in particular to say. But hey, here's one of my all-time favorite Cheap Trick songs to provide some kind of entertainment. This is off their second album, In Color, which came out in 1977 (the same year as Star Wars!), which reminds me of two things: 1) Boy, am I old, and 2) This song is officially older than most of the women I date these days. What does that say about me?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


"So...How's the time away from the blog going?"

AAUUGGHH! Who are you? How did you get in here?

"Relax. I'm just your inner voice, here to discuss your time away from this site."

Okay, two things: What time away from the site? I just posted two days ago.

"Yeah, a perfunctory clip from Pink Lady And Jeff. Thanks."

And two--my inner voice? What kind of a hoary literary device is that?

"It's embarrassingly lame, true, but hey, I'm not the one writing this crap."

Fair enough. So, um, why are you here again?

"Just wondering when you're going to start writing again. Actual writing, not posting clips."

What about that long screed on Vincente Minnelli? That was just, what, three days ago.

"Let me rephrase that: When are you going to write about something people actually, you know, care about?"

Oh. Well. I nearly wrote a thing yesterday about the death of Jimmy Boyd. he was the kid who recorded I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.

"That's what I mean. Nobody cares."

No, no, you don't understand. What I was going to write about was his marriage to--and divorce from--actress Yvonne Craig. She was TV's Batgirl, you know. But her marriage fell apart in '62, so by the time she got the Batgirl gig she was a 30-year-old divorcee, seducing innocent young boys via the cathode ray tube. It seemed like there may have been a metaphor in there somewhere.

"Apparently not."

No. Well, that's why I didn't write it.

Oh, and George Lucas is planning a Star Wars TV series, and...but that would be like me churning out another piece on Vincente Minnelli, wouldn't it? The same stuff I always write about. Maybe that's why this site has been a little quieter lately. Maybe I've run out of things to say.

"Or maybe you just don't care."


"So are you going to resume regular postings around here anytime soon?"

I dunno. Maybe. We'll see.

"And are you going to leave off with a randomly-chosen clip, to provide some small measure of entertainment to whatever readership you still have left?"

Yeah, I thought I'd go with this early seventies Burger Chef ad. The notion of selling a fast food joint as someplace warm and inviting, a home away from home--it's kind of sweet and chilling at the same time.

"All right. Well, see you later."

Catch you on the flip-flop, good buddy.

"No CB lingo, please."


Monday, March 09, 2009


This is my first post on a work day since I made that pledge to sleep later and write less. And indeed, I did sleep later this morning, and...there's no time to write.

It's taking all my will to keep away from YouTube, to go looking for some clip from a TV variety special I could post. I'm not going to do that. I'm not, I swear.

Oh, who am I kidding? Here's Donny Osmond guest starring on 1980's truly despicable Pink Lady And Jeff. Clearly, no expense was spared when it came to the set design--small town community theater looks better than this.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Originally, and in keeping with my pledge to spend less time here researching and writing, I was only going to humorously point out that, in a routine trip to a book store earlier today, I came across a book titled Vincente Minnelli: The Art Of Entertainment, and thought it might be amusing to use it as a warning that it could result in even more pieces around here about Minnelli, surely the filmmaker I've written about the most.

But, hey, surprise, this is in fact going to turn into another long piece about Minnelli. Once I brought the book, a collection of essays edited by Joe McElhaney, home and examined its contents, I began to fear the worst. Though individual essays cover a refreshingly wide range of topics (including Two Weeks In Another Town, one of the director's most underrated efforts), too many pieces bear titles like The Ambiguities or The Pirate Isn't Just Decor or, most obviously, Queer Modernism: The Cinematic Aesthetic Of Vincente Minnelli.

In other words, he remains doomed to be treated as he so often has been: as a director of flamboyant style, with "flamboyance" intended as a code word for "homosexuality". Yes, Minnelli was known to keep company with men, though it should be pointed out that he was married (to women) four times and had two kids, both of which strongly resembled him, so he could get it up in the company of women. And as far as his obsession with aesthetics being some sort of gay signifier--when does a distinctive (and yes, flamboyant) visual style determine a person's sexuality?

I mention this in part because so many filmmakers of note have a flashy visual style--think Michael Bay or Tony Scott--but never seem to get called on it. But in Minnelli's case, he most frequently tailors his style to the material. And a careful reading of just one of his films can oproduce rather surprising results.

By sheer coincidence, I spent yesterday afternoon watching Some Came Running, Minnelli's 1958 melodrama that would probably be more accurately termed a film noir if any other director had made it. And what was interesting was how mostly straightforward most of it is--he favors long takes and relatively little camera movement. True, the decor is often used to delineate character, but that's less a sign of queer aesthetics and more the work of a meticulous filmmaker doing his job.

In fact, the director I was most reminded of when watching Some Came Running was Howard Hawks, who seldom finds his work discussed through the prism of his sexuality. But like Hawks, Minnelli in this film used the camera as unobtrusively as possible, as a recording instrument for the work of his fine cast (and let's pause for a moment to single out Dean Martin's career-best performance), as a way of telling a story.

Well, mostly. The movie does feature a number of somewhat self-conscious setpieces, most notably its famous climax. Spoiler alert for this scene if you haven't seen it, but I wanted to include it to make a point.

Many critics, even approving ones, have tended to view this sequence as Minnelli using the stylistic mannerisms of his famous musicals in service of melodrama--gaying it up, in other words--but that seems way too simplistic. Minnelli himself claimed he intended this sequence to resemble the inside of a jukebox, to be as tawdry and colorful as the characters it depicts. The jukebox aesthetic was something George Lucas famously (and quite successfully) utilized in American Graffiti, but everyone takes its visuals at face value; nobody ever speaks of Lucas' queer aesthetic.

But there's another director even more in Minnelli's thrall, I think.

That was the trailer for Mario Bava picture known in English as Blood And Black Lace, and the movie is like a playbook of Minnelli tropes, from the deep blues and canary yellows to the use of settings to define characters to the heavily symbolic mirrors and curtains. I don't know if Bava ever claimed Minnelli as an influence, but I have no doubt he was familiar with that sequence from Some Came Running, as well as the Limehouse Blues sequence from Ziegfeld Follies.

But nobody ever reduces Bava to his sexuality. He stuffed his movies with nothing but flamboyant stylistic tics, but because he worked primarily in the horror genre, nobody ever describes his work as gay. It comes down to that, doesn't it? Minnelli mostly made musicals, so his vision is gay by definition. But again, look at those scenes from Blood And Black Lace--if we're going to use aesthete as a synonym for homosexual, Bava must surely be a member of the club, and so must his followers.

I mention all this, I guess, because so many of the things that mean the most to me (like, well, many of Vincente Minnelli's films) have so long been considered "gay" while so many other things I love (like Sergio Leone's westerns) have been regarded as not only solidly hetero but downright manly. But come on! You don't have to look too closely at Leone's films before the fetishistic wardrobe choices and ritualist encounters between sweaty men take on a certain, um, subtext. In other words, you can find reservoirs of meaning anywhere you want, once you go looking. Or you can just enjoy the experience, and not worry about the significance.

On the other hand, my favorite Minnelli picture is The Pirate, and even I must admit, it's kinda gay.

Saturday, March 07, 2009


It's been--what's the word?--quiet around here lately. To be honest, I've been feeling under the weather all week, but it's not just that. I've really been stuck for things to write lately. Or more accurately, I spend too much time trying to think of things to write. I wake up an hour early every morning just to give myself time to put a piece together. But this isn't something I do for a living! Doesn't this process seem a bit extreme?

Yes. Yes, it does. Even a flyweight placeholder post--yesterday's archly-ironic celebration of Ben Murphy, for instance--took me a half-hour to forty-five minutes to research. I had to make sure the clips I chose showcased the actor at his cheesiest. All well and noble, but...seriously? Taking time to pick the right Ben Murphy clips, for God's sake! Who the hell cares?

Evidently, I do, but I'm going to have to step back, spend just a little less time here. This may mean more hastily-written, poorly-reasoned screeds, an over reliance on clip jobs (or, more accurately, a greater over reliance on clip jobs) or just plain fewer posts. I suspect the latter, but we'll see.

Um...I wish I had some clever way to end this...

Friday, March 06, 2009


It's Ben Murphy's birthday!

You know, Ben Murphy? Ubiquitous presence on seventies TV? Alias Smith And Jones? Gemini Man? The living definition of smarm? Ben Murphy!

Turns out, he has a website and everything. Because even though he seemed like just another blandly smug TV actor, indistinguishable from a Gil Gerard or a Mark Harmon, he cares about his fans. Because that's the Ben Murphy way. Also part of the Ben Murphy way? Wearing lots of denim.

So let's all pause for a second and remember a time, not so long ago, when the airwaves--the public airwaves, dammit, not this digital crap--were filled with time-killing mediocrities nobody in their right mind ever cared about. Somebody had to appear in these things, and if the part called for a lead who was blandly affable (or even affably bland), and if Marjoe Gortner was busy or Dennis Dugan had another gig, Ben Murphy would answer the call. Because he's Ben Murphy, and that's how he rolls.

Or rolled, back when he could still find work.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Well, the good news is, I didn't do any NyQuil last night. The bad news is, I've got sinus drainage like you wouldn't believe, and my night visions still seemed chemically altered: I dreamed of Humphrey Bogart stalking Gertrude Stein Most Dangerous Game-style. Does that make any sense? From what possible part of my subconscious did that arrive?

So I guess my point is, don't look for any cogent analysis of anything around here. Between the watery eyes and the runny nose and the hacked-up phlegm, it's all I can do to type. But I'm going to bring some entertainment, dammit, from one of my favorite bands, Sparks, with a song from their most recent album, Exotic Creatures Of The Deep.

Someday I'll get around to writing about just how great a band Sparks is, and why. But first, a pointless personal aside: Many years ago--so far it seems like a whole other life--I spent some time with, to use her phrase, a recovering Goth chick. At least, she said she was recovering, but she still wore black mascara and wore a The Queen Is Dead t-shirt. And, needless to say, was obsessed with Morrissey. Not to the level of her obsessions with Kate Bush, Anne Rice and The Bell Jar, but still, she had a mini-poster of The Sainted One over her bed, which was a bit of a buzzkill. We only dated for a little over a month, and ultimately my feelings for her were as ambiguous as her sexuality, but still, this song makes me think of her.

The title? Lighten Up, Morrissey.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


Here's the thing: Last night I took NyQuil for the first time in...um, what? Sorry, lost my train of thought. Might be the NyQuil. I took some last night and...wooo. Did you hear that? It's like an echo chamber in here. It's like an echo chamber in here. Did I say that? Hello? What?

Anyway, so I took some NyQuil last night--I haven't mentioned that, have I?--and everything is just, um, weeeiiirrrd. I'm crazy lightheaded, and my ears feel like somebody shoved mashed potatoes into them, and they solidified. The potatoes solidified, that is, not my ears. They're already solid. HAHAHAHAHA!

Wow. This is worse than being stuck inside an early seventies TV movie trip sequence. If my mind functioned properly, I'd say something about the release of all those secret memos from the Bush administration, including a plan (never implemented, as far as we know) to use the U.S. military as a sort of private police force within America itself, able to conduct search and seizures on anyone the Bushinistas may have determined to be "suspicious". In other words, Sith Lord Cheney sought legal ways to set up his own stormtroopers and...ah, a Star Wars analogy! Didn't I say I'd stop doing those?

I think so, but I can't quite remember. Did you know I took some NyQuil?

Monday, March 02, 2009


Typical of me, eh? I had a pretty good (if painfully abbreviated) vacation, but rather than dwell on the good, I come back here and write a lengthy piece about the one moment of melancholy during the whole trip. Why dwell on the negative? Why not accentuate the positive?

It's just what I do, I guess. A friend of mine told me yesterday that I spend too much time worrying, an echo of words spoken to me by several therapists, a string of ex-girlfriends and, well, pretty much everyone who has ever known me. If I could just overhaul my entire personality, my life would be so much better.

But, dammit, somebody's gotta be cranky and whiny. Somebody needs to complain incessantly. The world needs a guy to bust out convoluted Star Wars analogies, who can't shut up about the greatness of Meet Me In St. Louis, who is ready with an obscure Steely Dan reference at a moment's notice. And my pledge to you, dear reader, is to continue to be that guy.

Oh, and due to popular demand, I'm always willing to bring you more Lynda Carter clips!

Sunday, March 01, 2009


Rain. I stand at the window, watching it fall. It's late February, but this looks and feels like an October rain, cold, relentless and melancholy. This is my vacation.

I've been spending some time in a town I once called home, a town I still recall with great fondness, with well-stocked bookstores, a lively music scene and countless wonderful restaurants. I love this place, and I love coming back, but as the afternoon blends into my last night here and my thoughts turn to the trip home, the skies darken and the rain falls. How nice--every vacation should come complete with its own heavy-handed metaphor.

Between the weather and the fact that I've done most of what I wanted to do, I've been holed up in my room for the last two hours, watching Almost Famous on HBO. I'd only seen it once before, in the theater when originally released. It was a Monday night, and I was with my wife, because I was married then.  And it was strange that we were there, because we seldom went out during the week. It was a big deal for us if we stayed up until nine.

Why did we go to a movie that night?  Was there a reason for it?  Had we dropped off one of our cars at the shop? Did I pick her up after work, and was there a reason I would have done so? Or did we just go out because we could? Was it a date night? Did we go out to eat first? Did we talk, did we laugh, did we have fun?

How has it come to this? How can I remember the experience of seeing a movie, the time and the place, but not the real life surrounding the event? It's not like Almost Famous is a movie I even care that much about.  It's not as important to me as she was.  Right?

I'm finding a lot of that on this trip: Memories of places I went with her, things I did with her, only she's no longer there. The physical locations now exist independent of her. Trace amounts can be found, of course: in this alley we kissed in the rain, on this doorstep we argued, at this now-shuttered record store we first met. But these memories are brief, they flicker and are gone. The town is its own reality, the shops and the restaurants. I love it here, and it has nothing to do with her.

Which is good, of course, but...strange. This is a person I lived with every day for several years. We ate and bathed and slept together. We joked and we fought. I know we did these things, even if I can't quite recall them. Sometimes the whole marriage feels like something I only imagined, or something that happened to somebody else, a story told so often it takes on its own reality, a sitcom only experienced vicariously.

Yes, forgetting is necessary. No one should be defined by their past. After all, one subsequent relationship I cared about very much was derailed in part by my inability to let go of the past. And yes, maybe it's true: all that matters is to live for the moment. But who would want to live for this moment: Standing in a motel room, looking out the window in a daze?

Cars prowl the parking lot, the squish-squish of tires on wet asphalt louder than the roar of engines. This place is starting to fill up now, mostly guys, mostly alone, some couples, no families on a weeknight. So many people staying here for one night, or two, or who knows how many. Are they pilgrims on a longer journey, or is this their destination? When morning comes and they move on, will they remember their time here at all? Or will it be forgotten, like a passing, dreary rain?