Friday, October 30, 2009


In honor of Halloween--and also because I've been watching a lot of Chuck Jones pictures lately--here's one of the best horror-themed cartoons ever made. I've always loved this, but in recent years, it's become even more meaningful to me. I mean: Has there ever been a better depiction of what it's like to live with an easily-frightened black-and-white cat?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


1) You know the drill: A pointless Larry King quote, another Random Thoughts post. And if you don't know the drill, you must be new here. Welcome! And also, how the hell did you get here? It's not like I've been doing anything to increase traffic around these parts. Are you sure you're in the right place? Would you like something to eat? I've got some potato chip crumbs around here somewhere...

2) Hey, anybody remember the bright, shiny promise of Obama's presidency? How it was going to be so, you know, different and all? How he was going to close Gitmo, get us the hell out of Iraq and by God make sure the health care system in this country was overhauled?

Yeah. I'm sorry, but fuzzy words and half-hearted efforts really won't cut it. Particularly galling is his pitiful efforts to make some sort of dent in the insurance industry's death grip on American health care. He waffled on support for a public option--presumably he was checking to see what way the wind blew--and let a band of right-wing lunatics set the terms of the debate. At no point did he lead forcefully, or even act like he particularly gave a rat's ass. With the economy still tanking and more and more people realizing the limits of their insurance coverage, there has never been a better time to pass real, significant reform. And Obama is just kind of letting the moment pass.

Not that any of this is unexpected, but still...sad.

3) Joel and Ethan Coen's A Serious Man has yet to open in my personal neck of the woods, and I'm still waiting. It's easily one of my most anticipated films of the year, and yet, I don't necessarily expect it to be my favorite. Last year's offering from the Coens, Burn After Reading, was one of the year's best, but almost by default: How much competition did it have, really? Movie-wise, pickins have been mighty slim lately.

But this year...holy crap! Just off the top of my head, Coraline, Up, In The Loop, Moon, Inglourious Basterds, Ponyo, Lorna's Silence, The Informant! and Where The Wild Things Are--a fine list by any standards. Quite honestly, A Serious Man would have a long way to go to match any of those.

Then again, with the Coens, I've learned never to trust my initial reaction. It took me three viewings to finally appreciate The Big Lebowski.

4) Rapacious, money-grubbing rock manager Dee Anthony has died at the age of 83. Every single obit IDs him as the guy who broke Peter Frampton in the United States, but presumably not wishing to speak ill of the dead, they tiptoe around what he actually did to Frampton's career.

Yes, the record-breaking success of Frampton Comes Alive was engineered by Anthony, but that very success led him to view Frampton as he viewed all the artists in his stable: as commodities. Anthony didn't care about Frampton as an artist or human being, he only cared about how much money his pretty boy Trilby could generate. So there was a rushed follow-up to Frampton Comes Alive, the laughable I'm In You, an album so dismal Frampton himself hated it. (It did, however, inspire the title of Frank Zappa's I Have Been In You, so there's that.)

Even more notoriously, Anthony teamed up with another noted seventies schlockmeister, Robert Stigwood, and together they teamed their biggest clients, Frampton and The Bee Gees, in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a movie so bad I'm surprised I haven't spent more time writing about it here. More than just a terrible, terrible piece of celluloid, it was also a notorious flop, damaging the careers of pretty much everyone involved with it: Director Michael Schultz would never again get an A-list gig, Stigwood never achieved the moguldom he clearly desired, the Bee Gees' incredible Saturday Night Fever success was revealed as a mere fluke.

But the worst fallout came down on Frampton. He was never more than a journeyman rocker, but the massive, and somewhat questionably achieved, success of Frampton Comes Alive made him suspect in the eyes of most critics, and with his commercial prospects crumbling, he had no support system. Anthony put him back on the road, playing to smaller and smaller crowds, a former Sun God revealed as nothing more than a man. And when money stopped rolling in, Anthony dumped Frampton without a second thought, having used him for all he could get.

But none of the obits quite explain all that.

5) I meant to post this yesterday, but this was my actual reaction to the Yankees heading for the World Series:

Sadly, this is pretty much my reaction to any good news.

6) Finally, the cats: Monika's been an ongoing source of concern lately. She's sixteen, and had been going strong, but all of a sudden she became scrawny, slow-moving and very, very frail, as if finally showing her age. She has, at this point, lived longer than any cat I've ever known, so I prepared myself for the inevitable, as she just kind of sat around and looked out of it.

Delmar apparently sensed that, too, since he's been strutting around like King Shit, acting about as assertive as a furry little bundle of neuroses possibly can. He's been downright confident lately, secure about his place in the world.

Well, watch out, Del: Instant Karma's gonna get you. As he walked through the living room this morning, Monika, perched on a chair, reached down and bitch-slapped him. He looked from side to side, as if he couldn't figure out what just happened. Monika hopped down from the chair, sat in front of him and just stared. Del backed away slowly at first, then beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen.

So, in other words, it's business as usual around here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


True, even in this day and age dessicated, dead-eyed Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester inexplicably considers herself a singer, and there are always the various Disney Channel/Nickelodeon tweener stars, who release singles and albums at a furious rate, whether they have any musical talent or not. For the most part, though, these ill-advised attempts at a second career don't actually interrupt the shows themselves.

As opposed to the seventies, when a broad-based audience might unsuspectingly tune into an action/adventure show, only to be confronted with the terrifying spectacle of its lead character breaking out into song. It happened on Wonder Woman, Starsky And Hutch, The Dukes Of Hazard...and okay, it never actually happened on Buck Rogers, but we did have to watch Gil Gerard dancing, which was arguably worse. Oh, and it occurred repeatedly on The Bionic Woman, and my poor twelve-year-old psyche was permanently shattered by enduring such horror:

OK, "permanently shattered" may be a bit of an overstatement. In fact, I have no memory of even seeing this, even though I was a regular watched The Bionic Woman. I can only assume I chose to block it out so the pain couldn't hurt me. In any event, I stumbled across this while looking for something else (Joey Heatherton clips, if you must know), and it made me laugh. Think they made that flag big enough?

Friday, October 23, 2009


Again, it's been quiet around here all week posting-wise, but that's partly because the only things that kinda made me feel like writing were the passings of famous people (producer Daniel Melnick, composer Vic Mizzy, actor Joseph Wiseman--Dr No his own bad self!--and, now, Soupy Sales), and it tends to seem sometimes like this entire site is devoted to death and sadness, so I just kind of left it all alone.

Instead, a semi-amusing observation: this morning, while preparing turkey sandwiches to take to work, I noticed my box o' sandwich bags actually had a diagram on the back explaining how to seal the bag. Now these are just cheapo, generic bags, lacking even the complexity of your advanced Ziploc technology. These are the kind of bags that have a flap you fold under and, uh...that's it, really. I'm not the most technologically advanced guy, and I tend to have to be shown how something works repeatedly before I understand it, but still: There's a flap, you fold it, you're done. Anybody could figure that out. It's instinctual, like a cat using a litter box. But someone at Hy-Vee corporate HQ decided we needed to be shown how to work it.

For some reason, that makes me happy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Believe me, I cried repeatedly during Spike Jonez's adaptation of Maurice Sendak's beloved children's classic Where The Wild Things Are, so often I couldn't even count the number of times. But I can pinpoint exactly when I knew it was going to be a rough ride, emotionally: At the very beginning, when I realized Jonez had given the story's young protagonist, Max, a sister, who looked to be about five years older than him. A sister that age increases your feeling of isolation when you're a kid, the sense that you have no peers in your own family. I know this, of course, from experience. At that point I knew this movie, which is a journey into the emotional landscape of a little boy, was inevitably going to be a journey into my own head as well.

So it may be a little difficult to offer any kind of objective assessment of this film. It gets so much right, emotionally and otherwise, that any flaws it may possess fall away. (If flaws it has. Honestly, it seemed pretty much pitch-perfect to me.) But clearly Where The Wild Things Are deserves a spot at or near the top of any list of the greatest films ever made about childhood. It is being marketed (at least to some extent) as a kid's movie, and that's true, but it's a movie for all the kids who don't quite fit in, who spend most of their time living in their own worlds. It explores those worlds, what they are like and how they came to be. It remembers exactly what it was like to be eight or nine and feel like the only person in the world who has ever been so insanely happy or miserably sad, how the world is full of mysteries that must be explored, how scary it can be to feel things when all of your emotions are as raw as your skin.

Oh, and it has monsters, because little boys instinctively love monsters, and any fantasy world they conjured when inevitably include some. And these monsters all reflect some part of Max, including the parts he can't quite understand. They are loving and warm and angry and ignored and terrifying and mysterious and sweet and kind. They make him their king, then later admit he was never really a king, at just the same time Max realizes it as well. So he must leave them and return to his own world, where he isn't a king, but a little boy with a mother who loves him very much.

And I'm crying right now because I'm thinking of the final scene, but also an earlier sequence where Max comes across his mother, fearful of losing her job, and tries his best to cheer her up. She ask him to tell a story, and he does, and she dutifully transcribes it, preserving this moment in his life, in their lives, in a scene that is as perfect a depiction of love as the movies have ever given us, and which of course inevitably reminded me of my mom, who gave me endless reams of Big Chief tablets, encouraging me to fill them with whatever I might imagine, who appreciated me for what I was no matter what and holy crap, see what I mean? I can't evaluate this movie because it intersects too closely with everything I've ever been.

I can't even discuss the beautifully understated visual style Jonez brings to the film, because its enchanting images of a forest playland reminded me so much of the row of evergreens I used to run and hide in whenever my emotions got out of hand, and I'll just start rambling about my past again, or how the only other movie that so perfectly captures the outsized emotions of childhood is Meet Me In St. Louis, because then I'll go off on another Vincente Minnelli tangent.

So let me just say this: See this movie.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Oh, I've been meaning to write. I've had things to say about the Roman Polanski affair, about my favorite non-animated film of the year so far (The Informant!), about NBC's inexplicable decision to name Jon Bon Jovi as "Artist In Residence," whatever the hell that means. And the cats have been seriously messing with my mind lately, and I thought I could use this space to try to figure out why.

But I haven't done any of that, and in fact my presence here has been increasingly sporadic. Eh, what can I say? The usual mix of anxiety and depression, plus a lot of other stuff that I just don't want to get into. (Two words: Bad dates.)

So by way of entertainment, here's a Spike Jonez-directed Beastie Boys video, three minutes and change of pure genius. (Have I mentioned that period in the nineties when Ill Communication was pretty much the soundtrack of my life as I wrote in a white-hot fury I'd never known before? Have I mentioned I really miss those days?) Jonez's film of Where The Wild Things Are opens today, of course, and I can't wait. Hell, maybe it'll even inspire me to write something.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


It comes out of nowhere, as it always does.

This time it happened while clicking on an entry at The New York Times website. When it appeared, it carried a banner ad for a performance by the Lipazzaner Stallions at Madison Square Garden. And I fell back.

I can't even remember how old I was, but let's say I was in high school. The Lipizzan Stallions were a regular attraction on the local stadium circuit, showing up at least once a year at Vet's Auditorium in Des Moines or Hilton in Ames. The commercials heralding these appearances were ubiquitous, and rather cheesy, as corny and easily-mocked as ads for Holiday On Ice or some such. Once, while the whole family sat around the TV, I made some snotty comment, something along the lines of, "Who would ever want to see that?"

"Oh, but they're so beautiful," Mom replied. "I remember reading about them when I was little, and I've always wanted to see them in person."

I didn't respond. I couldn't respond. What could be said? The commercial ended, the program resumed. It was never discussed again.

Just a moment in time, lost, forgotten. Except I could never quite forget it. It stayed, it lingered, all the rest of my life. For one moment, my mother had shown a part of herself I had never sen before, a part I could never have guessed existed. It made her more complicated, more human. And I had mocked it, unintentionally, sure, but still, I had hurt her on some level, and I could never bring myself to apologize.

Instead, I did what most people do: I hid it away and pretended it never happened. It worked at the time, and it still does, mostly. After all, how often in the course of my day-to-day existence am I going to encounter a reference to the Lipizzan Stallions? It almost never happens. Almost.

Then when it does, it's always unexpected, and I can never prepare. But really, what could I do to shield myself from a thirty-year-old memory, something most people would have long forgotten? But I can't forget, and I shouldn't: Sometimes I feel my memory of Mom is slipping away, but then this or something like it pops into my head, a chance to recall how human she was, a small, defining trait that seemed so unlike her, a reminder of how much I will always miss her.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Swear to God, I have no intention of turning this space into an endless, tedious recitation of the previous night's dreams. But...

So I dreamed I was watching Jay Leno's new show (which right away suggests this is something more closely resembling a nightmare), and he had a whole panel-ful of guests. There was some anonymous black guy who never said anything and received no camera time, Billy Bob Thornton and Dan Aykroyd. Thornton rambled on and on, making some psuedo-philosophical point in a rather belligerent manner, then kind of ran out of steam, and sat in awkward silence. Aykroyd brought up a bullet-ridden death scene Thornton had in a recent movie, and asked what gauge wire he used to set off the squibs. Thornton started raving incoherently, and as he did so, began frothing at the mouth, great waterfalls of some chalky white substance cascading from his mouth with every word spoken.

Aykroyd tried to stifle his laughter, but Leno, Anonymous Black Guy and the studio audience roared with laughter. Finally, as Thornton realized what was going on, he smiled, reached into his jacket and produced the bottle of Mylanta he kept gulping during commercial breaks. Aykroyd announced, for viewers at home "and the olfactorily-challenged here in the studio," that one of tonights guests reeked of cheap booze, "but decorum prevents me from saying which one." Thornton began laughing so hard he pissed his pants, and Aykroyd and Anonymous Black Guy dragged him off stage.

At which point, sadly, Leno was left with nothing to do but mug for the camera and launch into a pretaped comedy bit. Such a prospect was so horrifying, I had no choice but to wake up.

Is this what my life has come to? My dreams involve Billy Bob Thornton peeing his pants in front of Jay Leno? What the hell is wrong with me?

Friday, October 02, 2009


Wow, posting has been even more sporadic than expected. Apologies, and I'll try to do better, but honestly, things are kind of wacky around here, and it's going to be awhile before any kind of normalcy settles in, so wait and see, I guess. Not that it matters, since a helpful article in a recent Des Moines Register article explained some easy tips for blogging--keep it short, and never write about personal matters--that I violate routinely, so maybe I'm doing this wrong. (But probably not. Don't all authors, web-based or otherwise, mostly write about themselves? Then again, if you've ever read The Register, you'll quickly realize no one on staff knows jack about writing.)

Anyway, the point is...well, there is no point, I just wanted to put up some new content. And for me, that usually involves a clip job, and when resorting to such things, who better to showcase than Noted Cult Rocker Marshall Crenshaw, from back when he still had a full set of hair. So here's everyone's favorite erstwhile Beatlemania star with a cover of Soldier Of Love. Oh, and Fun Fact about this song: If you use selected lines from this--"surrender to me," for instance--while arguing with your wife and/or girlfriend, you will only make the situation worse. It's true!