Friday, December 31, 2010


The darkness is always there, always visible. I know myself well enough to know it will never go away, not completely.

Still, there is light and warmth, more than I've known for so long. There is Janie, the woman I've been looking for without even realizing it, so full of love and acceptance. There is wonderful Isabella, the greatest dog in the history of dogs. And, as always, there is my beloved little malcontent, my heart and soul, my psychokitty Delmar.

There are great friends and nodding acquaintances, there is music and movies and long drives on lazy days. There is a sense that I've found something like my place in the world, and there is a feeling of contentment.

So what am I doing New Year's Eve? Probably not much, but whatever it is, I'll be doing it with the knowledge that I'm loved, and that I can love back.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I originally wanted to post this commercial break from ABC's 1976 Saturday morning cartoon lineup as an excuse to go on about the second ad here, for the long-forgotten (and little-missed) cereal Grins And Smiles And Giggles And Laughs, possibly the most misbegotten breakfast food of all time.  Seriously--"the cereal that smiles back at you"?  Happy little faces piled in your bowl, waiting to be eaten?  And, if the commercial is to be believed, vomited up by some large-brained supercomputer?  What a wonder that this thing didn't go over!

Possibly even more disturbing, if only as a comment on the state of the nation in the year of the Bicentennial, is the McDonald's ad.  Everybody wants to go out for a morning meal, but only Ronald seems to know that McDonald's is now serving breakfast.  Most baffled of all is Mayor McCheese himself...but wait!  Mayor McCheese presumably runs McDonaldland.  How can he be unaware of this seemingly momentous change in restaurant policy?  Did he not sign off on it?  Was it drafted by others?  A secret cabal, perhaps, working in shadows to ensure that things would go the correct way?  Was Mayor McCheese even duly elected, or did he merely assume the position when McDonaldland's previous ruler was forced to resign in disgrace, perhaps fearing impeachment? 

Not that I spent any time thinking about any of this when these ads originally aired.  I wasn't that cynical as a kid.  Still, I remember all these things, so they obviously had an impact on me, though I dearly wish they hadn't.  There must have been plenty of time spent on weekends back in '76 when eleven-year-old me was outside playing with the dog or having adventures or...I dunno, something.  But any such memories are lost.  But puking computers and badly-costumed politicians ruling fast food empires...that stuff's with me to death.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


The day grew short, as winter days will. It was late in the afternoon when my brother John realized he needed to do some last minute shopping, so I rode along as he drove into Perry and headed for Gibson's Discount Store, the only place open so late on Christmas Eve. He found what he was looking for, and bought himself a present as well--Simon And Garfunkle's Greatest Hits on 8-track, which he listened to on the way home.

It was nearly dark when we got back to the farm, the sky turning ever darker shades of blue. Mom had turned on both the yard light and porch light, which we didn't really need to find our way, but the gesture was appreciated. John immediately vanished to his room, as my oldest brother Keith had already spent the day in his, and my sister Julie was in the kitchen talking to Mom, who made last-minute preparations for the next day's feast. Dad and I were the only ones in the living room, numbly sitting in front of the television, watching without interest the typically awful animated specials run endlessly in syndication, killing time until dinner was served.

After eating, there was some wrapping to be done--I was used mostly to tear off pieces of tape, while Mom and Julie did most of the real work--and then...well, and then, I just couldn't wait to go to bed.  I was all of ten, too old for Santa Claus, but not too old to enact the comforting ritual of snuggling in the darkness, anticipating all the wonders the next morning would bring.  I could hear voices downstairs, and the TV, and the hum of our fuel oil stove.  My family was here, and the next day was Christmas.  For the moment, at least, all was right with the world.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


You know, there are so many reasons to slog on the truly dreadful-sounding Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, it almost seems unnecessary to list them.  You can start with the fact that it recently endured its fourth injury of a cast member, continue with the practice of charging full ticket prices for preview performances of a show that is nowhere near completion (its creators cheerily admit that they STILL don't have a final act), continue by pointing out that its songwriters, Bono and The Edge (who, incidentally, continue to call themselves Bono and The Edge, a fact which calls their very intelligence into question), are touring with U2 and are thus unavailable to provide the new material a preview period might demand, and of course, there's no overlooking the fact that it's called Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, the stupidest title of anything in recorded history.

The greatest venom would have to be reserved for the show's director and co-writer, Julie Taymor (or, as she's apparently contractually required to be called, "visionary director Julie Taymor").  While it is undeniably true that the producers of this thing deserve some of the blame for indulging her too long--the budget is still listed at sixty-five million, though that was the official count on opening night, and numerous revisions (and hospital stays) have no doubt driven the costs up considerably since then--it is Taymor's inability to see the show as anything other than a monument to her own hubris that is so infuriating.  Whatever fans may want or expect from a Spider-Man musical (and I'm not sure many of them would want one in the first place, but whatever), that is not want Taymor intends to give them.  She apparently is determined to use the character as a jumping-off point for a fantasia on Greek mythology, pop culture and whatever else pops into her head.  Such basic concepts as "story" or "characterization" or even "entertainment" seem foreign to her.

Which is all well and good, and I'm not at all opposed to Taymor's ambition (except when, you know, it could cost the life of a cast member), but, boy, is it misplaced.  She's not making some semi-avant garde piece to be seen by the season's subscribers at BAM this time out, she's making a fucking Broadway musical about a superhero.  Given that, yes, she does have an obligation to meet an audience's basic expectations.  She could exceed those expectations, go beyond them, yes, but only if she shows any understanding of what people like about the character in the first place. 

But we're talking about the director of Across the Universe here, so...

Saturday, December 18, 2010


I had a long piece in mind about director Blake Edwards, who died this week at the age of 88.  Basically, I intended to state my deeply-held belief that A Shot In The Dark is one of the best comedies ever made, that Days Of Wine And Roses, Experiment In Terror, Wild Rovers and That's Life are damn good movies, that Darling Lili is crushingly underrated...and that almost everything else Edwards ever did (and he was nothing if not prolific) was incredibly problematic.  But there are serious gaps in my viewings of Edwards' films (I've never actually sat through Breakfast At Tiffany's, mostly because as soon as Mickey Rooney's buck-toothed Japanese caricature appears, I bail), and the whole thing never quite came together and...

Then yesterday came the news of the death of Captain Beefheart, and again, it seemed like I should have something to say about one of the most important musicians of the twentieth century, but I was busy last night, and the computer was acting screwy again, didn't happen.

Then...hey!  This morning I wake up and discover Neil Patrick Harris and Eric Braeden are having a feud on Twitter, and suddenly life is good.  Apparently Braeden was set to do a cameo on How I Met Your Mother, then bailed, prompting Harris to call him a D-bag.  Braeden offered some mildly caustic rejoinders, Harris half-ass apologized...and that's about it, really.

But it's Neil Patrick Harris and Eric Braeden, people!  Dr. Horrible vs The Actor Formerly Known As Hans Gudegast!  The cool, funny guy with the beautiful singing voice for whom geeks everywhere have a (metaphorical and strictly hetero, thank you) boner is squabbling with that guy from The Young And the Restless who used to play that Nazi on The Rat Patrol who kind of became the only sympathetic character on that show, because who could blame him for wanting to kill a dick like Christopher George?

So it's not really a big deal, and not really worth writing about, especially when I couldn't bother to summon any thoughts on Blake Edwards, but it amused me.

Monday, December 13, 2010


The other night I dreamed I stood in a buffet line at some small town community center.  I accompanied Mom, and it was somehow understood that when we got through the line and sat down, we had important but unspecified matters to discuss.  The line was slow, and food kept piling up on my plate.  Mashed potatoes and dressing, a high pile of tuna casserole, a grilled cheese sandwich, comfort food staples of my childhood.  I wondered what Mom and I would talk about, but I was also distracted by the dessert table, which featured brownies and chocolate chip cookies and all manner of cakes--

--Then, suddenly, I woke up.  And, in those few moments of altered perception experienced between the dream state and the real world, I did not find myself wondering what Mom and I needed to discuss.   All I could think was, I didn't get to eat.

Which means...well, it could mean any number of things, but for now I'm going to use it as a metaphor for this site.  It started out as a way to grieve Mom's loss, but it quickly turned into whatever the hell it is now, a forum for me to rage or observe or purge whatever feelings I had at the moment.  For awhile there, I needed this space, the compulsion to write every day was overpowering.  And invigorating.

Lately, though, that urge to fill space is no longer there.  My life has undergone some major changes, and I find that I am--for lack of a better word--content.  There are still any number of free-floating anxieties, but they no longer overwhelm.  As I look back at so much of what has been written here over the past four and a half years, it seemed to reflect my quest to find a place in the world, to somehow belong somewhere.

And I think I've accomplished that, more or less.  So what is there to write about?  Lots of things, of course--but specifically, what to write about here?  Is this site even necessary anymore?  I honestly don't know.  I still love writing, on those increasingly rare occasions when my ability and my interest combine to produce good work.  I enjoy it, but  no longer feel the need to do it.

So--again--what does this mean?  I'm not shutting this down, I'm not signing off.  I'm honestly trying to figure out what this space needs to be, how it can keep me interested, what it will become.  I would like to post more frequently, but I would need to find a reason to do that, and so far, I'm too busy doing other things.  But soon enough, I'll be back here doing whatever the hell I do.

Say, what DO I do around here, anyway?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Let us say there is a political party determined to preserve tax breaks for the super-wealthy at the expense of benefits for the nation's most desperate, wretched souls--hard to believe, I know, but let's pretend--and if such a nakedly rapacious force existed, it shouldn't be difficult for anyone with even a bit of imagination and a mere trace of rhetorical skill to depict them as, you know, kind of villainous.

Or they could do what President Obama has done, and make a deal with them.  He gave them everything they wanted and more, and all they had to do in return was promise to extend unemployment benefits for barely more than a year.  So the downtrodden will continue to eke out a miserable existence, and the obscenely wealthy are free to fill up their swimming pools with gold coins and dive right in, Scrooge McDuck-style, and even the faintest glimmer of "hope" and "change" fades a little more, a faint memory of a promise we once naively believed, or tried to believe. 

Sunday, December 05, 2010


So I had this thing I was working on here, and it's not like i was that far into it or anything, just a couple paragraphs, but still.  The point is, I managed to start cranking out something halfway decent at a pretty good clip, when suddenly--


--my computer froze.  Which it's been doing a lot lately, and it's getting pretty damned--oh, look, let's not get into that.  The point is, Blogger is supposed to autosave these things, but when I returned, it was gone.  Gone!  As though my thoughts had never stirred, as though...well, again, it really wasn't that big a deal.  Just kind of annoying, really.  Hardly worth mentioning.

You know what?  Let's just pretend this whole thing never happened.  Instead, enjoy this...the most disturbing thing you'll ever see.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


I remember the details of individual moments surrounding my father's death--the foggy morning, the flashing lights of the police cars and ambulance, already lined up at Mom and Dad's apartment building before I even arrived, the dread coiled in the pit of my stomach as I called various siblings to tell them the news--but I can't recall the bigger picture, the larger context.

What did I do that night, or the next day, or the day after that?  What was on TV, what music played on the radio, what did I eat, how did I feel?  These are the kinds of things I can recall without even trying.  I can conjure vividly not only the superficial details from when my mom and my brother died, but the continuity surrounding those events.  I can still replay in my mind tiny details of the days before and after, the life I led that was disrupted by these awful circumstances, and the time spent after trying to make sense of that which makes no sense: Conversations ignored, music half heard, minutes dragging on and on, as though time itself had stopped.  And the better parts of those events, time spent with family and friends, memories shared and laughter erupting at unexpected times. 

In other words, these are things that happened to me.  I remember; I was there.  Dad's passing seems more like a dream, arrived at without beginning or end, viewed like a movie but not actually experienced, certainly not felt.  Maybe I was simply in shock from the first Big death of my adult life, or maybe I was unmoved because Dad's condition had deteriorated long before he died, or...

Or maybe there are no reasons.  Details that have been forgotten can't be simply remembered.  There's nothing to do, except to carry on every day with the odd, faintly disturbing feeling that a milestone in my life remains unmarked, and to perpetually wonder what that means.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The memory just appeared fully-formed.  The other night, while talking on the phone with my brother John, I mentioned how hearing certain songs could trigger a very specific memory, even if that memory was unconnected to anything else. 

For instance, I could very specifically remember hearing the Bee Gees' Too Much Heaven while we drove lazily along in his '76 Chevette, just before we reached a certain hill along Highway 141. 

"And that's all you remember?" John asked.

Well yeah, I answered, then corrected myself: No.  It was overcast, it was a Sunday, we'd left home a little later than we usually would have.  We didn't have a movie we were going to see, we were just going to hit the record stores in the malls.  I remember I was fired up to buy the soundtrack to Taxi Driver...

I stopped.  John paused for a second, then asked, "And you remember all this why?"

I didn't have an answer.  I still don't.  For whatever reason, the past is becoming more vivid to me every day.  Memories are becoming more distinct.  Maybe I've become unstuck in time, like Billy Pilgrim, or maybe I'm just learning to appreciate all the little things that made me who I am. 

In any event, I'm wondering if such things are going to become the focus of this site, as much as this site has any focus.  Guess we'll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Just taking a moment to be by myself, to reflect and be grateful.

I've only mentioned her in passing, but I seem to be spending all my time with Janie.  She's here pretty much non-stop, and though she hasn't formally moved in, she's always here in spirit.

It's odd because on paper, this all seems wrong.  She doesn't like The Simpsons, for crying out loud.  And she can only name three Beatles!  And for God's sake, she watches reruns of Little House On The Prarie--not ironically, either, because I don't even think it's possible to watch that show ironically.  She just, you know, likes it.

Which probably tells you something about her personality--she's a genuinely nice person.  Good, kind-hearted, warm.  She's supportive of me no matter what I do, and she's there for me because...well, because she loves me.  And, whatever else has been going on in my life for God knows how long, I haven't been in a mutually loving relationship, and, to quote the sage poets Peaches & Herb (or, alternately, Chuck Mangione), it feels so good.

So whenever posting is light around here, it's because, good times or bad, I'm busy living my life.

Friday, November 05, 2010


Originally I was going to structure this as one of my increasingly-rare Random Thoughts posts, complete with a fake Larry King quote for a title and everything.  I thought it would be a good catchall way to mention a few things in passing, like the death of writer Monica Johnson (who co-wrote most of Albert Brooks' films and contributed scripts to the best sitcom of all time, The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and the results of Tuesday's election.  But the more I thought about those election results, particularly here in newly-Red State Iowa, the more depressed I got, and that's the kind of thing I'm trying to get away from, in my writing and my life.

Besides, there's something much more important to talk about.  Like this Spider-Man musical.

The mounting disaster known as Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark is nicely detailed here, but the brief version is: Thanks to an incredibly drawn-out conceptual period imposed by "visionary" director Julie Taymor, who is apparently uninterested in such niceties as telling a story or keeping actors safe, this seemingly foolproof money-spender is burning through millions of dollars a week even as its opening date keeps getting pushed back.  It was supposed to open in a few days (hell, it was originally supposed to open last February, but whatever), but apparently Taymor and the show's composers, U2's Bono and The Edge, haven't even figured out how to integrate the songs into the thing yet, which would seem to be Priority One for a musical, but again, whatever.

Now I could use this story as a pretext to indulge my irrational hatred for Bono and The Edge.  It's nothing compared to my seething contempt for Jason Mraz or Marc Fucking Cohn, but aside from the fact that one's a pretentious, self-important douchebag and the other one has been recycling the same damned riff for decades now, there's the sad fact of guys in their fifties calling themselves Bono and The Edge.  Face it, guys, even Johnny Cougar is a less embarrassing rock star name.

And I could point out that whatever alleged innovations Taymor has in mind seem wildly misplaced, because really, who gives a sweet shit?  It's a Spider-man musical; get the Flying By Foy guys to figure out how to make him climb walls, write a stirring power ballad that includes the phrase "with great power comes great responsibility," market the whole thing to families and comic book geeks and call it a day. 

But what really pisses me off about this show is the title: Turn Off The Dark?  What does that even mean?  And why should anybody care?  I mean, yeah, Marvel Comics manages some hilariously overwrought titles on their own, but this is just ridiculous.  It's the kind of would-be poetic nonsense you'd expect from some cheap poseur who desperately wants you to think he's much deeper than he is.

But again, it's co-written by Bono, so I guess it's appropriate after all.

Monday, November 01, 2010


You know what's really sad about this?

This ad campaign ran back in '79, and yet my brother and I will still find ourselves occasionally, and for no reason whatsoever, saying, "Dave Parker's turning 7 Up!"  When we say this, and other things like it, to each other, it kind of makes sense--a shared ironic take on a bit of ephemera from the past.

But the thing is, we'll say it to other people, too, fully realizing that they won't have the slightest idea what we're talking about.  After all, most people don't remember what their lives were like over thirty years ago, much less  commercial that served only to fill in gaps between TV shows.  Some of us, unfortunately, do remember, because, well, this was the only life we had at the time.

Actually, what's even more depressing is, I only stumbled across this ad because it came up as a sidebar recommendation while I was looking for this:

Had no life then, have no life now. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I forget sometimes.  To me, it's Sunday morning, and I have to leave for work before long.  But to the rest of the world, it's still Saturday night.  The bars have all closed, but the traffic still flows, a steady stream of cars making their way down my street as I walk my dog.

The faces can't be seen as they speed by in darkness, but I know them.  Some are young and some are old, most are male, black, white, Latino, all of them chasing the promise of the night, hoping that one more drink, one more bar, one more visit to wherever they're going, one more anything will be the magic bullet, the elusive and indescribable something that will make everything better, at least for the moment and maybe beyond.

There's an appeal to it, maybe, and I almost feel like jumping in one of these cars as it passes, to go where it will take me, to live in a moment utterly unconcerned with the future, to live, however briefly, in a world in which consequences are never considered.

But no car, no drink, no nothing could ever take me to such a place.  I'm always thinking ahead, I'm always aware of the fallout to my actions, I'm never able to just relax and enjoy the moment for whatever it is.  Sure, the Saturday night crowd sometimes only find happiness in superficial ways, and it may be fleeting, but at least it's there.  They know a bliss not attainable to me, not quite, not really.  What am I missing, and how can I find it?

Isabella pulls at her leash.  She's caught a scent of something and means to follow it.  She turns to me, wondering why I simply stand, why I don't run with her to track down her prey.  She tilts her head as she regards me, one ear flopping inside out, her nose quivering.

Oh, I think as I bend down to hug her.  This is what happiness feels like.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Thanks to a link provided by The Huffington Post (the only news source you'll ever need if you're vaguely liberal and kind of shallow), I found myself at People magazine's website, where I learned that Jenny McCarthy is determined to be totally honest with her new boyfriend.

Honest?  As in, "It will be creepy to watch my plasticized face and tits stay firm and unyielding even as the rest of my body inevitably decays"?  Or, "My theories about autism have more in common with the writings of Joe Mengele than reporters for infotainment-related websites are quite willing to admit"?  Because, yeah, if she was willing to come right out and say either of those things, she'd deserve credit for honesty, if nothing else.

But no, it's all about the little things, according to Jenny: "If he wants Chinese food and I don't, I say it."

Ah.  Thanks for the insight, which is the sort of profundity one might expect from somebody who is, as near as I can tell, still famous primarily for an MTV dating show from a decade-and-a-half ago.  But really, I'm not here to bash McCarthy so much as note that her new Chinese-food-loving boyfriend, Jason Toohey is, according to People's breathlessly bland prose, a "Las Vegas-based pirate performer." 

I'd make a joke about that, except a) a joke would be redundant and b) Toohey will almost certainly parlay his brief semi-fame as a guy who is fucking a has-been publicity whore into some sort of career, a reality show, a book deal, something.

Once Toohey inevitably dumps her, McCarthy will make more sad faces--to the extent that her plastic surgery allows her to register any emotion at all--and People will be there to write about it, The Huffington Post will link to it.

And yeah, I'll probably click on the link.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Things happen, life continues.  Milestones and mundane things.  Lennon's birthday, passings of well-loved public figures.  No comments appearing in this space. 

Don't know what to say.  I don't have an iPhone or a laptop or any kind of mobile device that would allow me to post thoughts here when inspiration strikes.  I still just have my clunky old home computer, and I find myself spending less time in front of it than I used to.

Why?  Well, probably because much of my time is focused on Janie.  I should be writing about her, or composing odes to the transformative powers of love, or some damned thing, but when I'm with her, I'm happy just to be with her, and when I'm not with her...well, I'm just kind of here.

Not that, you know, this space will remain a void forever.  I've been struck into silence before, and I always come back.  Sooner or later the Associated Press will run yet another brain-dead interview with Pete Wentz, and I'll go on and on about it at needless length. 

Because, hey, that's what I do.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Again, it's been awhile--hasn't it?--since new content appeared in this space.  Heaven knows, it's not like there's been a shortage of things to discuss.  There were, for instance, the deaths of the brilliant film editor Sally Menke, the great director Arthur Penn, astonishingly prolific TV genius Stephen J. Cannell (who created everything from the legitimately great The Rockford Files and Wiseguy to guilty pleasure favorites like Hardcastle And McCormick, as well as the entirely forgotten Broken Badges, and for those of you who never had the pleasure of hearing my mom go on and on about the transcendent stupidity of that last one, I pity you), not to mention Tony Fucking Curtis.  There's the nation's stunned disbelief that Christine O'Donnell can even remember to breathe, much less be nominated to high office.  There was a health scare involving my beloved puppy Isabella, who apparently has epilepsy.  Oh, and there's Janie, the current (and hopefully future) love of my life.

I really intend to go on and on about here sometime, especially since women I've barely dated or merely slept with have received more space here than seems necessary.  But for now, let me just say she is probably the main reason there have been fewer postings here lately.  With her, I'm finally learning to--what's the word?--relax.  I'm finding some measure of calm and, if I may, contentment.  And I'm finding that much of my writing in the past was fueled by melancholy, or anger, or feelings other than joy.  Not always, of course, but often enough.

So if I'm entering some sort of mellow phase here, the obvious challenge to my writing life is to figure out how to balance happiness--and by happiness I mean the lack of crippling depression--with creativity.  I'm not used to feeling more good than bad, and who knows how long the feeling will last, but for now it's a whole new journey.  Hopefully, I'll file reports along the way.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Even classic rock stations don't play The Cars' You Might Think as often as they used to, and that's good.  Not for aesthetic reasons, but because as soon as I hear the very eighties keyboard riff that kicks it off, I'm immediately transported to the day room of the psych ward at University Hospitals in Iowa City, where I half-glimpsed the video for the song in one of my few forays out to mingle with my fellow inmates.

I couldn't even tell you when this was, exactly.  '85, I remember, probably late summer or early fall.  You Might Think was no longer a new song, it had been released much earlier, probably around the time of my first suicide attempt.  Evidently it was still popular enough to see airplay on MTV, because it is the only concrete memory I have of my time there. 

Oh, there are other memories, but they've become so vague.  There was a cute girl who actually tried to talk to me a few times, though I was too messed up to respond, but I don't remember her name, or what she looked like, or anything about her, really.  There was a brooding Sean Penn-in-Bad Boys type, who seemed to have been there awhile.  There was my assigned counselor, most likely a grad student, who was so fucking earnest I found myself making  stuff up just to get more sympathy from her.

And there were windows, which offered views of not much, but beyond the trees and institutional buildings of the immediate area there was much more out there, I just knew it.  I didn't know Iowa City, had never been there, but as Mom drove me to the hospital I caught glimpses of restaurants and book stores and record stores, and I thought if I could just move into one of those, if I could stay there and never leave, I wouldn't have to be making this trip.  My life would be magically better somehow, somehow.

Those windows were temptations, a possible exit, a way out.  And if instead I cut myself on the glass, if I bled and died, well, hey, that would have been okay, too.  I didn't want to be there, in the hospital or in my skin, or anywhere, really.

I was utterly, unbearably miserable, and yet when I heard You Might Think on the radio the other day, I found myself overwhelmed with nostalgia for a time I barely remember.  It seemed at the time that life was a constant downward drift, misery endured only to be ultimately, blessedly ended.  But now it seems my lost years were some sort of necessary crucible, forming me into the whatever-it-is I'd become.  I didn't know it then, but a future awaited, experiences wonderful and terrible, and very soon I'd learn to live.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Uh, yeah, new content is becoming increasingly rare around here, innit?  I'm hoping that will change here soon--I have ideas!  Honest!--but first, for regular readers (both of you!), a bit of an explanation for the silence.

First of all, there's Janie, who really deserves to be mentioned in more than passing, but for now I'll just say that when there's a sweet, warm presence sharing time with you, it makes it harder to excuse slipping away to a keyboard to tap out a few hundred words on whatever the hell it is I usually write about.  So there's that.

Also, beloved puppy Isabella is suffering from a not entirely diagnosed medical condition.  She's mostly fine (and adorable, of course), but trying to get to the bottom of it will involve spending money I don't really have, which brings on financial stress, which is already triggering something vaguely resembling depression, an old friend I'd hoped to never again encounter, but there you go.

Anyway, posting will presumably resume on a more regular basis at some unspecified point in the future.  Or, you know, not.  That's about as solid a promise as can be made right now, and hey, you can hold me to it.  Or, again, not.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


You don't think I enjoy this sort of thing, do you?  You don't think I have nothing better to do than monitor the Associated Press' entertainment news wire, waiting for goofy stories that are easily mocked?  Don't I have better things to do?  Don't I have a life?

To answer these questions: No, kind of, sadly, no and...I'm sorry, what was the question?

Anyway, the Pulitzer=chasing scribes at the AP have done it again, this time with a story imaginatively headlined Rockers Kansas Carry on, Play With College Groups.  (I have no idea why the good folks at the AP failed to capitalize "on" but there it is.)  And it is indeed about Kansas, regarded by decent people everywhere as one of the worst bands ever, and their pathetic attempt to stay down with the kids by playing with college orchestras. 

There's a Noble Cause at the heart of all this--the concerts raise money for the schools' music programs--which is all well and good, but who gives a sweet shit?  I mean, this is Kansas.  The highlight of their miserable existence was Carry On, Wayward Son, which--I've mentioned this before, right?--is simply the worst song of the rock era.  I realize it has plenty of heavy-duty competition, what with the entire songbooks of Journey and Panic! At The Disco and whatnot, but between the idiotic lyrics, preening vocals, cheeseball keyboards and THE worst guitar solo ever recorded, its crown will likely remain in place forever and ever.

Anyway, now they're back.  Well, not so much back as still around, and willing to pander to anyone who will play their music.  And the Associated Press, which didn't spend a whole lot of time getting to the bottom of that whole Weapons Of Mass Destruction thing, did assign a reporter to cover this story. 

Who says journalism is dead?

Monday, September 20, 2010


Randy Quaid Arrested For Squatting In Old Home reads the somewhat inelegantly phrased headline Reuters has chosen for this story, and viewers who know Quaid primarily as Cousin Eddie, his character from the National lampoon's Vacation series, would be forgiven for assuming Quaid was squatting to take a dump.

But no, he and his wife were arrested for squatting like hobos in a bad thirties social realist play, living in a house they no longer own, claiming they belong there despite all evidence to the contrary.  It's the latest in a string of bizarre incidents involving Quaid, who seems to be working to erase all memories of the great actor he used to be.  He was the sad, sad heart of Hal Ashby's magnificent The Last Detail, a member of Peter Bogdanovich's stock company back when that meant something, and a welcome player in such cult favorites as The Long Riders, Quick Change and The Ice Harvest.  

Unfortunately, his dickish real-life behavior and apparent readiness to accept any script he's offered (Balls Out?  Seriously?) threaten to infect his career like a virus, making his very presence a cause for groaning, and retroactively making even his best previous work seem lesser in stature.  He's turning into latter-day Dennis Hopper, only at least Hopper's history of self-immolation was spectacular, whereas Quaid's is just kind of pathetic.

Still, The Last Detail--man, that's a great movie.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I've saluted the excellent entertainment reporting from the gutsy journalists of the Associated Press before, but somehow, they always manage to top themselves.  Sure the obits they ran over the weekend for the great filmmaker Claude Chabrol and wonderful character actor Kevin McCarthy were short and seemingly uninformed, in their brevity almost dismissive of each man's considerable accomplishments.

But yesterday they came through like champs, taking the time to let us know the really important stuff.  First, they broke the story that John Mayer has shut down his Twitter account--well, not so much his Twitter account as an account set up exclusively to promote his new album, which has apparently run its course, commercially--and then came the really big news, a breathless interview with fast-fading reality TV star Spencer Pratt, who spoke excitedly about a possible reunion with his soon-to-be-ex, pop culture footnote Heidi Montag, after they were both detained in Costa Rica for possession of firearms and...oh hell, you know what?  I just read the story, and I can't remember the details.

Well, of course I can't, because who gives a sweet shit about Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag?  The Hills was precisely the type of show destined to be forgotten as soon as it left the air, and while it's perfectly understandable that Pratt and Montag may have a hard time dealing with their sudden, crushing drop to obscurity, it is wholly inexplicable that a supposedly respectable news gathering organization like the AP would do anything to prolong their moment in the sun.  Just because a chucklehead like Pratt calls a news conference doesn't mean you need to cover it, folks.

Besides, the AP needs to get back to covering real news: What's Pete Wentz up to these days?

Saturday, September 11, 2010


What the world would come to call 9/11 happened, as nearly everyone remembers, on a Tuesday.  I can recall that day, that evening, the next morning as everyone else can, as a continuous loop of time spent trying to make sense of something that seemed utterly incomprehensible.  But it's funny--I don't remember how the rest of the day after played out, or the day after that, or the day after.

I mean, I lived in the D.C. area, so the next few days were certainly infused with an increased sense of paranoia, a feeling that the other shoe could drop anytime.  But that feeling lingered for months, especially with the anthrax scare that followed so soon after.  But the actual specifics of the days that followed The Day That Changed, I can't recall those at all.

My memory is gone, until the following Sunday.  My wife and I were newcomers to the area, had in fact only lived there a little over three months when the attacks occurred.  But we had carved out our little place in the world, and certain rituals had evolved.  And one of those rituals involved me rising much earlier than her, and carrying out some of the day-to day necessities of life.  I'd do laundry while she still slept.  Or wash dishes.

Or shop for groceries.  Heading out to the market on those dark, slightly chilly mornings of early autumn meant choosing between the Food Lion a few blocks away, or the Safeway just down the street.  Food Lion had more varieties of frozen pizza--always an important consideration!--and the prices were slightly cheaper, but Safeway had the advantage of being closer.  I'd usually alternate.  On the morning of September 16th, I chose Safeway.

Not many people out that early, and the aisles were piled with merchandise waiting to be stocked.  I shopped according to the usual script, picking up the same items I always picked up, and one I only occasionally bought: The Sunday Washington Post.

The tired-looking woman at the register scanned the items, and the clerk bagged them.  He was the same guy who usually worked there on Sunday mornings, a doughy, shapeless middle-aged guy with thinning white hair.  He looked like he might have come from a fairly rough-and-tumble background, but he was always unfailingly polite and talkative.

This morning, though, he paused briefly to examine the cover of The Post, which inevitably featured a photo of the rubble that had once been the Twin Towers.  "3000 people," he said softly, as though to himself.  "3000 people.  Christ.  In America.  We..."  He shook his head, as if snapping out of a dream, and rolled the paper and placed it in a bag.  His eyes glistened as they peered into mine, as if searching for answers he'd never find.  "How could that happen?"

I just shrugged, and said something non-committal.  I took my bags and headed to the car, where I sat for several minutes, crying so hard it seemed the tears would never stop.

Friday, September 10, 2010


According to the calender, it's been--zoinks!--two weeks or so since any kind of new content appeared in this space.  There are reasons for this, the most prominent among them being named Janey, who is occupying a lot of my time, and about whom I'll no doubt be writing in the future.  Then there are various little hiccups involving Blogger, which sometimes makes even attempting to post here a pain in the ass, and the slowness of my computer,, I don't even wanna get started on that.

And then there's the other reason I haven't been doing much here, the real reason, which is that I seem to be having a paralyzing bout of writer's block.  It's happened a few times since I started this site, but the feeling this time is different.  I can't even get words down without growing disgusted with the tone and wiping them all away.  There have been aborted posts here that I deleted in draft phase, consisting of no more than a paragraph or two, which is all the further I could get before I deleted them from memory.  More than likely, they will never be missed, but who knows?  Writing doesn't seem to agree with me now.

But, you know, that's just for now.  Presumably this will pass, and I'll be back to...whatever the hell it is I do around here.  And if this site still has any readers at all, my sincere thanks for sticking with it, even when nothing is going on.   I'll try to make it more interesting soon.  Honest!

Monday, August 30, 2010


The passing of writer Jackson Gillis at the age of 93 could be viewed, if one were prone to overwrought metaphors, as symbolic of the death of a whole era of television.

His list of credits is astonishing.  He wrote for more prestigious shows like Perry Mason and Columbo, but he also contributed scripts to Lost In Space, Longstreet and, for God's sake, Jason Of Star Command.  He penned many episodes of the old George Reeves Superman series, as well as a script for its snarky modern update, Lois & Clark.  In a way, he was TV history.

But now, it seems, ancient history.  Though Gillis occasionally landed regular gigs on particular shows--he was a story editor on Perry Mason--he mostly made his living as a freelancer.  Until sometime in the eighties, most programs depended on freelance writers for scripts, particularly one-hour dramas.  (Sitcoms were more likely to be written in-house, but even then, most of them would routinely feature a few episodes per season written by outsiders.)  Then as now, the vast majority of programming was formulaic--cop shows, medical shows, lawyer shows, westerns.  The regular characters were pretty much set in stone, unchanging from episode to episode, there only to drive this week's storyline. 

That's where somebody like Gillis came in.  Unlike some of the more densely-packed series of today, when even the relentlessly disposable likes of CSI: Miami comes complete with a ton of backstory to its characters, it didn't really matter to a freelancer if they weren't up on the show's bible.  If Gillis sold a spec script to Barnaby Jones, but producer Quinn Martin was short on storylines for Cannon that season, eh, no problem, it was easily retooled.

If Gillis could devise an airtight plot, producers were interested--that's what their shows were about.  It was the story that kept a viewer hooked.  Nowadays, almost every TV drama is primarily character-driven--not just the good ones, like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, but shows like House and the Law & Order franchise, which spend way too much time on the ongoing personal lives of not very interesting characters, and give short shrift to the stories they presumably mean to tell.  Almost all of these shows are scripted by staff writers, and then filtered through the sensibilities of whatever powerful writer-producer is in charge.

Which is fine, for shows where it makes sense.  The Sopranos and Deadwood, or to go back farther, Wiseguy and Homicide: Life On The Streets, were mostly written by a small staff who knew the characters intimately, and produced some of the best dramas ever.  But when the same approach is taken to what should be fun junk food, something's wrong.  A program like Criminal Minds has pretensions it hasn't earned, and its undernourished storylines, buried under a mountain of character details, are grindingly predictable.

Which is why producers use to wisely depend on Jackson Gillis.  If nothing else, he knew how to tell a story.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Noel Murray's A Very Special Episode series at The AV Club has been indispensable from the get-go, but the latest installment, on the history and influence of MASH, is less interesting for the article itself than the response of its readers.

Murray's article has generated over 400 comments as I write this, and the big surprise is how obviously familiar with the show the readership of The AV Club appears to be.  Though it is popular with people of all ages (hey, I'm a regular!), the site is geared largely to people in the early twenties to late thirties demographic.  Many of its readers would not even have been born when MASH was in production.  They would have to come to it through syndication, or DVD.  And evidently it struck a chord in many people.  Which is a surprise to me, because this show is a prime example of a once-revered program that simply doesn't hold up..

When it originally aired, MASH was regarded as an example of "Quality Television", one of the few bastions of quality writing and acting to be found in the vast Wasteland of primetime TV.  But it was always a bit of a mongrel, aspiring to innovation while remaining thoroughly conventional, straining for pathos while relying on punchlines.

Early in its run, it tried for a looser, more free-form vibe, somewhat akin to the Robert Altman film that inspired it.  But the show's developer, Larry Gelbart, while a certified comedy genius (and I'd like to take this moment to heap mountains of praise on his script for Stanley Donen's Movie Movie, one of the greatest comedies of the seventies), had the instincts of a Catskills tummler, always ready with a snappy quip or pun.  Thus the show always felt self-consciously written, which tended to clash with its more serious war-is-hell attitude.  The best early episodes have the feel of a more acerbic Sgt. Bilko, only not as good.

Because Bilko, after all, had no particular pretense to realism--it was shot in front of a studio audience.  MASH was shot one camera-style, on locations or on relatively detailed sets, and seemed to be striving for...what?  Authenticity?  No, that can't be right--the very seventies hairstyles of most of the actors undermine any such notions.  And the performances were anything but subtle, with the actors braying the dialogue as if trying to project to the back rows.

In a way, MASH most closely resembled the work of Gelbart's old writer's room cohort from the Sid Caesar days, Neil Simon.  His plays--wildly popular in the seventies, almost completely forgotten now--were similarly machine-tooled for laughs and pathos, with the comedic and dramatic beats arriving at exactly the expected times.  It could be effective, but it was inorganic by nature.  Gelbart's jokes were funnier than Simon's, but his show felt similarly forced--characters were constantly having dramatic revelations that would be completely forgotten about by the next episode.

Of course, that was the convention of the time.  TV shows in the seventies lacked the continuity of even the least distinguished shows today.  There were no continuing storylines or callbacks to previous incidents.  Every episode was self-contained.  Or at least, that's what many TV historians claim.  But it's not entirely true.

For instance, there was episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show where perpetually wisecracking loser Murray risks everything--his marriage, his job, his happiness--by openly declaring his crush on Mary, his co-worker.  She's flattered and embarrassed, doesn't know how to deal with it, and the whole episode is kind of squirmy and uncomfortable.  And, in true seventies sitcom fashion, after that installment, it's never spoken of again.  BUT...if you saw that episode, you could never look at Murray and Mary, sitting side-by-side at their work desks, the same way again.  It was a character revelation that continued to resonate and didn't need to be stressed.

On the other hand, MASH would have its characters have some sort of epiphany just because it made for a nice dramatic storyline.  They'd remember a childhood trauma, or become obsessed with death, or have a crisis of faith--the type of thing that, in anything resembling the real world, would pretty much define your very existence--then have a little speech at the end of the episode (perfect for an Emmy highlight reel) and be ready for next week's episode.  Nothing ever resonated, nothing ever mattered.

After Gelbart's departure, MASH became much, much worse, limping along year after year in a neverending loop of static camera set-ups, mechanical wisecracks and high school play-level dramatics.  The last three or four seasons--with the actors visibly much older, and situations often repeated from earlier episodes--were and are actually painful to watch.  Yet the show's acclaim seemed to grow exponentially.  Why?

Seventies TV was much maligned at the time, and still is now, sometimes unfairly.  The best shows of the era--just off the top of my head, Mary Tyler Moore, Columbo, The Rockford Files, WKRP In Cincinnati--stand up to even the very best of what's being done now.  But yeah, there was a lot of crap, and in particular, there were a lot of shows essentially designed to be nothing but time-killers.  And as sometimes happens, in a sea of mediocrity, something that aspires to better things stands out.  In concept and execution, MASH wasn't really significantly better than anything else, but it claimed to be, and once upon a time, good intentions really were enough.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


So I made an offhand comment on my Facebook page last night suggesting that anyone who uses the word "chillax" deserves to be taken out and shot.  A number of friends responded with what I'm going to hope was mock indignation, and I offered a half-assed apology, and that was that.  Still, as close as I've come to being involved in one of those exciting internet dust-ups the kids seem so fond of these days.

But it also got me thinking--if use of meaningless slang terms could be punishable by death, what other Draconian laws would be enacted if I were in charge of things?  Obviously, Marc Cohn and Jason Mraz would be subjected to slow, exquisite punishment--they'd be forced to listen to their own music.  Other grave offenses would include use of Ke$ha songs as ring tones, wearing flip-flops to work and of course, cleaning your gutters at 5 AM.  (That last one would only apply to my neighbors.)

But I wouldn't be wholly despotic.  Many would benefit from my rule.  Joe Dante, Brad Bird and Paul Thomas Anderson would be given unlimited funding to make whatever the hell movies they want.  Donald Fagen and Walter Becker would be hustled into a recording studio on a regular basis, thus assuring new Steely Dan albums would appear more frequently than every decade or so.  (There would, however, be a bylaw mandating Becker play every bass and guitar part himself, and forbidding him from ever singing.)  TV would be full of however many shows Jay Tarses wants to create.  Best of all, a team of scientists would work around the clock trying to figure out how to bring Kurt Vonnegut back to life, because I can't stand living in a world without him.  Also, though polygamy would be illegal for the general public, it would certainly be allowed for me, thus freeing me up to marry Lauren Graham, Thora Birch and Neko Case simultaneously.  (They'd all be cool with it, I'm sure.)

Cracks would eventually appear.  I'd become hated, my regime despised.  An underground resistance would materialize, and Walking In Memphis would become a song of defiance.  Jason Mraz, his dead eyes betraying the emotional scars of someone who has spent years in a dungeon listening to an endless loop of I'm Yours, would appear in the palace (I'd have a palace, right?) with vengeance on his mind, and not even my personal bodyguard--Kurt Russell, of course--would be able to stop him.  It would be a thuddingly obvious twist ending, like a bad M. Night Shyamalan movie.

Of course, there'd be none of those in my personal world, either.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Presumably his spiritual heirs have been too busy protesting gay marriage and spreading lies about Islam to note the death of James J. Kilpatrick at the age of 89.

A long-time spokesman for the lunatic right, he spent the forties and fifties toiling at various newspapers in the segregated south.  When the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Brown vs. The Board Of education, Kilpatrick thrust himself onto the national stage, becoming a go-to spokesman for segregation.  As late as 1963, when it must have been obvious to Kilpatrick that the tides of time and common sense were turning against him, he submitted an article to The Saturday Evening Post arguing that, in his words, "the Negro race, as a race, is in fact an inferior race."

That piece never ran, but the fact that a blandly mainstream publication like The Post even considered it proves that the hijacking of the media by right-wing extremists is nothing new.  Indeed, Kilpatrick parlayed his noxious celebrity into a sweet gig on 60 Minutes, on which he and the supposedly liberal Shana Alexander indulged in pointlessly argumentative back and forth of the exact kind so favored by news networks today.

60 Minutes producer Don Hewett would no doubt have claimed that he used Kilpatrick as a way of proving that his show had no agenda, that it aired all points of view.  But do all points of view need to be aired on a network forum, especially when those views are hateful and ill-informed?  Kilpatrick's run on CBS was an inspiration for CNN's Crossfire, which gave Pat Buchanan a forum for launching his hateful bile, which led, inevitably, to Fox News--ideology presented as fact.

And we are living with the results of all this.  When the views of hate-minded lunatics are given the patina of legitimacy by the mainstream press, they become part of the mainstream debate, and open hatred of other religions and races is made acceptable.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


1) Another Larry King quote, another Random Thoughts post.  This particular Larry utterance comes from an interview he did with Harper's Bazaar, focusing on The Great Man's fashion sense.  Because after all, when I think of all things cool and stylish, I think of Larry King.

2) I live in Iowa, so there's no way to avoid it: Floods.  The rain has seemed almost endless since the spring, and the ground has been saturated the whole time.  At its most benign, water is seeping into people's basements because where else can it go?  The ground can't hold anymore.

At its most malignant, of course, water leaps the banks of rivers, cascading down streets, wiping out homes and businesses, short-circuiting power grids and poisoning water supplies.  These are replays of actions that happened all over the midwest only two years ago, and which devastated most of Iowa fifteen years before that. 

Flooding happens, of course, but not generally on this scale, not this often.  The floods of '93 were a supposedly once-in-a-lifetime happening, but it seems the unthinkable is becoming routine.  And humans will react as they always do, by gritting their teeth, soldiering on and refusing to admit that nature is in charge.

3) Any TV news show that includes regular comments from a right-wing pundit--which is to say, any TV news show--will feature the right-winger saying something along the lines of, "Oh, it's so offensive that people think Tea Partiers are a bunch of racists.  That's offensive!  That's reverse racism!"

At which point, the host of Generic News Show will back off, perhaps feebly suggesting that there may be some people sympathetic to the Tea Party cause who are perhaps a bit less than racially sensitive, and the right-winger will say something like, "What are you, the NAACP?" and everyone will laugh. 

Because, yes, darn it, the Tea Party types are totally NOT racist.  Oh, sure, they'll refer to Obama as the "coon-mander in chief" and yeah, they might email each other hilarious doctored photos of the president eating watermelon or rolling dice, and they might glower at the number of interracial couples around them and mutter, "Time was, you could lynch a boy for doing that to a white woman"--but they're not racist!

And in case you're wondering, yes, I've encountered all these things in person.

4) Geez, this has been a pretty depressing post so far.  So let's talk about something cheerful and upbeat.  Specifically--Beagles!  More to the point, let's talk about Bella, who consistently brightens my day with the near-maniacal exuberance she brings to something as simple as jumping up on a chair.  Between her insane leaping, desire for attention and endless energy--not to mention the fact that her antics often reduce me to helpless laughter--it's like living with a furry, four-legged Jerry Lewis.  (Which presumably casts me in the Dean Martin role.  I'd better learn how to sing.)

So I was walking Bella the other morning, and she caught a scent of something or other, as she often does, but her reaction to this particular odor was unusually intense--it caused her to rear up on her hind legs.  And then--she just started trotting along on her hind legs, as if it was the most natural thing in the world!  She stopped, eventually, turned and and looked at me, as if seeking approval.  Or more like, she was saying, "See?  Here's another cute thing I can do!  Is there no limit to how adorable I can be?  Could you possibly love me any more?"

And no, of course, I couldn't.  I couldn't imagine how it would be possible to love anyone or anything more than I love Bella.

5) But then there's poor Delmar.  He nuzzles Bella occasionally, and tries to show some sort of affection for her, but he just can't.  If I had any other cat in the world, it would probably have bonded with Bella by now, and they'd curl up together in the recliner, or at least peaceably co-exist, each in their own little world. 

But any other cat wouldn't be Del, my furry little malcontent, a black-and-white bundle of neuroses.  I couldn't love him any more than I do, either, but he'd never believe me if I told him that.

6) This post was originally going to be all about the new CGI/live-action Bugs Bunny film that the soulless suits at Warner Bros. intend to put into production.  But when I tried to actually say something about it, I found myself speechless.  Some ideas are so transparently awful, they can't even be properly mocked.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


It doesn't happen much anymore.  In a way, that makes it worse: Something is seen on TV, something is read somewhere, a joke is heard, and I think, "I'll have to tell Mom about that."

What follows is even more terrible, as that minor blip in my brain is immediately followed by another, that says, "No, you can't.  She's dead."  Simple as that.  No sobbing moment of remembrance, no flood of grief, just a calm, sober reminder.

That is, I guess, the way of the world.  People die.  We grieve, then move on.  It's a process we all must endure in order to continue to make our way in the world.  If we continued to mourn, if we spent every waking moment missing the people we loved, we'd never be able to function.  We would spend all our lives in darkened rooms, weeping uncontrollably.

But sometimes that very process of moving on is itself the source of despair.  For me, that usually comes a few moments later.  "I have to tell Mom about that," "Oh, right, she's dead," followed by the realization that I had just casually dismissed the passing of one of the most important people in my life, as indifferently as if I'd noticed it was a rerun of a favorite show, or the computer was running slow, or the neighbor's dog was barking.  I'd treated a major turning point in my life as a minor nuisance.  How dare I?  How dare I?

And then, at last, comes the flood of grief, and with it, the oddly comforting realization that I haven't moved on, and never will, that as long as I continue to grieve, her memory is still honored, and she still lives in my heart.

Monday, August 09, 2010


Without question, the death of actress Patricia Neal is occasion for sadness, due in no small part to the impression that she was never fully allowed to give us as much as she might have.  True, she was cut down by a stroke in the prime of her life, which robbed her of some productive time, but let's face it: How many great roles did she really get on screen?  HudThe Subject Was Roses.  You could throw in The Day The Earth Stood Still, probably her most famous film, but it doesn't require her to do much heavy lifting in the performance department.  Then again, maybe it didn't need to: She managed to convey great intelligence even when just standing there, and that, combined with a certain remote quality she projected, made her endlessly fascinating to watch.  Even when the movies weren't worthy of her, she was still there, and that was enough.

Neal's death is the latest in a terrible run of recent deaths of people who had a lot to do with some of the best or most influential movies ever made.  They weren't actors, they weren't famous to the general public, but their work mattered.

Take Robert Boyle, for instance.  The term "production designer" sounds more industrial than creative, but Boyle's magnificent collaborations on some of Alfred Hitchcock's most iconic films marked him as a true artist.  Consider James Mason's weird house situated somewhere atop Mt. Rushmore in North By Northwest, or the ironic facade of a welcoming small town in Shadow Of A Doubt.  Consider, too, his work with other great directors: For Joe Dante's Explorers, Boyle had to design an alien spacecraft that would be convincingly otherworldly and effectively ominous, all while still seeming reminiscent of something from a fifties sci-fi cheapie.  Lord knows how he pulled it off, but he certainly did.

Suso Checchi D'Amico worked as a screenwriter with many of the best Italian filmmakers--Francesco Rosi, Michelangelo Antonioni, Vittorio DeSica.  Her most frequent collaborator was Luchino Visconti, with whom she wrote several films, including The Leopard.  She wrote a lot of lesser films, too, of course, as a working writer must, but even if her voice is not the dominant one in the great films she worked on, it is still in the mix.

Nobody would ever confuse the films Tom Mankiewicz wrote with The Leopard, but the fact remains that one of those movies--Superman or Superman II, or one of the lesser Bonds like Diamonds Are Forever or Live And Let Die--are always being watched somewhere.  They're the work of a competent journeyman, and nothing to be sneezed at.  The fact that they are so popular means they have meaning to people on some level.

That's what unites all the people on this list.  The size and quality of their contributions may vary, but they've all been part of our dreamworlds as lived on screen, and for that, they can't be thanked enough.

Sunday, August 01, 2010


Thing is, as I'll be dog-sitting for a week or so, my attention will be elsewhere.  Writing is easy enough, but staying focused...yeah, probably not.

For instance, I thought I'd simply write about the current canine situation.  The dog being sat is Brody, Tabbatha's rat terrier, whose unfailing awesomeness I've gone on about before.  But the first few times he was here, I had no dog of my own.

But now Bella is here, and her pack-dog mentality initially required her to prove her dominance over poor Brody, which she did by humping him constantly.  The image of a spayed female riding a neutured male is like something from Female Trouble-era John Waters, but eventually Brody started fighting back, and the result has been endless good-natured roughhousing.  (At least, I think it's good-natured.)  They wrestle endlessly, then pause, heading to the kitchen to lap up some water, then BOOM, right back to it.  So it's basically like this classic scene from John Carpenter's They Live:

See, but this is where my attention wanders.  I'm ostensibly writing about the dogs, but I can't let that clip pass without commenting on the greatness of John Carpenter.  This scene was fairly notorious back in '88, when They Live was released, as almost comically pointless, an excuse to let the movie's star, pro wrestler Roddy Piper, do his thing.

But taking the scene on its own terms, it's a small masterpiece of staging, with Carpenter's casually elegant wide-screen framing and precise editing a textbook example of how to block and shoot an action scene, an example more of today's directors, with their addiction to shaky-cams and whiplash editing, would be wise to study.  Less is always more.

All well and good, but then the other thing is, I also can't let a mention of They Live pass without mentioning the fact that it remains one of the few mainstream American movies to even acknowledge class divisions in this country.  This goofy, lowbrow sci-fi epic about alien invasion is also a bracing portrait of a world in which the human race has been enslaved by capitalism run wild, one vast, ecumenical system...well, let's let Ned Beatty explain, in this terrifying speech from 1976's Network, brilliantly crafted by Paddy Chayefsky.

But here again, my attention wanders.  I post this scene because I think it makes an important point, but watching it, I mostly focus on Beatty's perfectly modulated performance.  This is his only scene in the whole film, and like a high-priced hitman, he just comes in, totally nails it, then leaves.

And why not?  Beatty is one of those actors incapable of giving a bad performance, which gets me to thinking about other actors who are always great, which...but what does any of this have to do with the dogs? 

Nothing, I'm afraid, which is why posting will likely be light this week.  When rasslin' puppies are nearby, it's hard to focus on anything else.

Friday, July 30, 2010


How did this happen, America?  We have been lazy, we have been indifferent, we have failed to pay attention.  And during this time, there have been forces, pernicious forces within our own borders, that have managed to do what bin Laden himself couldn't do: They've given Marc Cohn the highest-charting album of his career.

Did we learn nothing from the nineties?  Though his debut album charted modestly back in '91, its debut single, the truly awful Walking In Memphis, acted like a bland, piano-driven pod placed under the nation's collective bed, and the next morning we woke up to a world that just wasn't quite the same.

Oh, we still went to doctor's offices, sat in line waiting for driver's licenses and shopped at mid-price retail chains.  But suddenly all these unexciting yet essentially painless activities were constantly accompanied by a piano bar keyboard riff and a nondescript voice straining to sound scruffy and world-weary.  Incredibly trite lyrics--referencing Elvis, W.C. Handy and Al Green, which conjure Memphis about as evocatively as mentioning the Empire State Building and Central Park when discussing New York--filled the air, and as much as we tried to ignore the problem, it never went away.  Walking In Memphis was exactly the sort of personality-free song that would continue to be played in public areas for years and years.

As dreadful as a Michael Buble or a Jason Mraz might be, they've at least tied up the kind of "light listening" music services favored by restaurants and reception areas, and it was easy to become complacent, to think, "Well, at least we won't have to worry about hearing that Walking In Memphis guy anymore."  But we were wrong to think that, very, very wrong.  Despite having been shot in the head in 2005--bullets killed John Lennon, but they only made Marc Cohn stronger!--it seems he can't be stopped.  His new covers album, Listening Booth: 1970 (and, by the way, is there anything less creative than an album of cover songs?), drags Van Morrison and Alex Chilton down to his level, but far more ominously, it features a version of Bread's Make It With You.  Imagine the horror: an already lugubrious, desperately uninteresting David Gates ballad as run through the Marc Cohn blanderizer.  It would be formless aural mass, a musical version of The Nothing from The Neverending Story, sweeping away all memories of joy, or pain, or any human emotion whatsoever.

It happened before, America.  We survived it once, but we were stronger then.  Will we be able to survive it again?

Monday, July 26, 2010


According to today's New York Times, the marketeers at Screenvision announced plans last week to upgrade the "preshow experience" in movie theaters that subscribe to their service.  The preshow, for those of you dwelling in blissful ignorance, consists of banner ads, mindless trivia challenges, various interstitials and grotesquely overproduced PSAs, like those National Guard ads featuring Kid Rock and Three Doors Down.  (At least, I think it was Three Doors Down.  Either them or Nickelback.  Some shitty band or other.  Like I would know; those ads were so bad they'd inevitably make me flee to the lobby until they were over.)

I doubt there's a filmgoer on the planet who actually enjoys sitting through these things, but Screenvision believes negative reactions from audiences can be turned around by throwing even more shit onscreen before the movie starts.  Their new "advertainment" block--and incidentally, every time someone uses the word "advertainment", an angel is cast into hell--will consist of sponsored Nascar footage, video clips of Timbaland apparently just hanging out and talking to us and a so-far-unspecified use of Paula Abdul.

You can understand why the folks at Screenvision spend their time dreaming up nonsense like this--it's their job, after all.  And they allegedly have the numbers to prove it: The Times cites a Nielsen study claiming in-theater advertising was one of the few aspects of the ad world to show growth in 2009.

That's presumably due to the fact that theater owners are faced with dwindling attendance a smaller slice of the box-office take, thanks to increasingly outrageous demands from distributors.  But what the numbers don't take into account is how many potential filmgoers actually stay away precisely because of the preshow spectacle. 

Even if you only get to the theater ten minutes before showtime, you're still bombarded with ads that whole time, followed by an endless onslaught of trailers.  By the time the movie itself starts, you've already spent a full half-hour or so sitting in the dark watching images on a screen, and exhaustion has set in.  If there's a movie I'm on the fence about seeing, I usually decide to wait for the DVD, mostly because the moviegoing experience is so actively unpleasant these days, and I'm sure I'm not alone.

People know when they are being treated like chimps in a Skinner box, and they resent it.  All the advertainment in the world can't change that.

Friday, July 23, 2010


1) Another Random Thoughts post, another Larry King quote, only this one is entirely made up.  (Seriously, would YOU want to spend any more time than necessary browsing the USA Today archives, looking for relevant King-isms?)  I'm imagining Larry barking this line at his clinically-depressed wife, her entire body trembling as she shuffles off to fulfill yet another of Larry's demands, as he languishes by the pool, his tiny Speedos held in place by suspenders.

Right.  Let's move along, shall we, and never envision this scenario again...

2) Long-time readers (Are there any of you out there?  Hello?) may remember when this space was largely devoted to my misadventures in the dating world.  Whether it involved one-off encounters with would-be actors and hardcore masochists or enraptured odes to long-term relationships that died on the vine, I willingly spilled my guts here.

Hasn't been much of that lately, has there?  While I'd like to say it's because I've decided to keep my private life private, the sad fact is, there is no private life.  I had a particularly bad date a month or two ago, but aside from the former meth-head aspect, it wasn't interesting enough to recount here. 

Beyond that, upkeep on the house (which mostly consists of pulling crap out of the gutters and mowing the lawn, like, once a week) and playtime with the puppy keep me occupied.  Other than messy physical desires, I'm not missing being in a relationship at all.  But hey, that's what hookers are for!

3) Kidding about the hookers.  That was obvious, right?  Because you never know.  People have a bad tendency to key into the literal meaning of words without understanding tone and intent, and...*sighs*  This could turn into a lengthy screed about Obama and Fox News, you know.  And bear in mind, whenever talk turns to politics around here, Star Wars metaphors will be deployed, and no one wants that.  Though that reminds me...

4) ...I've been having a lot of Star Wars-based dreams lately.  You might think, "Well yeah, what's unusual about that, you go on about it all the time," but the thing is, I don't, really.  Sure, I like Star Wars, but I wouldn't say I'm really into it.  I've never read any of the zillions of tie-in novels or comic books, for instance.  And even back in '77, the double-LP soundtrack for the original (which was NOT then called A New Hope, thank you very much) came with a cool poster of the rebels attacking the Death Star...but I never even put it up on my wall.  I had posters from the '76 King Kong, and don't even ask me about my obsession at the age of 10 with Planet Of The Apes, but by the time I turned 12, the notion of displaying a poster from a movie I liked just seemed kind of geeky.  Just because I saw it five times that summer (no small feat when you live on a farm and the only theater in Iowa playing it was over an hour's drive away, which means convincing everyone in your family to take you at least once) doesn't mean that it changed my life or anything.  By that fall, I'd moved on to other obsessions.  When The Empire Strikes Back came out, I was barely interested in seeing it.

Of course, once I did see it...

5) Who am I kidding?  Ladies and germs, the greatest fucking piece of music ever written:

6) Finally, as all these posts end, with a critter update: Neurotic cats and exuberant puppies really don't mix.  But when they do, the results are very entertaining. 

Monday, July 19, 2010


Had a video clip I intended to paste in here, so I went to YouTube to find it.  The home page popped up, with a little sidebar promo for Katy Perry: The YouTube Interview, during which "Lisa Nova will ask Katy your questions."

Wait a second.  I could have submitted questions for Katy Perry?  Dear God, why was I not told?  My life now is incomplete.  A minor, soon-to-be-forgotten celebrity might have acknowledged my existence by answering a question submitted by me.  Me!  Just an average fella, rubbing elbows, via question-asking surrogate Lisa Nova, with an artist whose work I've long avoided.

Yet my opportunity passed.  My question for Katy--"Why have I heard of you, exactly?"--will remain forever unanswered.  An almost unbearable melancholy descends, and I weep silently.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Silly interweb dust-ups are a dime a dozen, and this one is so ridiculously trivial it's barely worth going into--and why should I bother, since Dennis Cozzalio does such a fine job of breaking it down?--but in brief, New York film critic David Edelstein wrote a mildly negative review of Christopher Nolan's new film Inception, and a lot of fanboys are pissed off.

The back story is, Edelstein was one of the first major critics to pan Nolan's The Dark Knight two years ago, and since many comic book fans were convinced that movie would somehow legitimize their geekiest obsessions, they felt as though they had been personally attacked.  And though most of them haven't seen Inception yet--it opens tomorrow--they still feel some sort of gratitude to Nolan, as though he validated their lives.

Which is just kind of pathetic, and many of Nolan's defenders are doing him no favors (the word they're tossing around most frequently to describe Inception is "Kubrickian", which is utterly senseless on many levels), but the thing is, I kind of understand their enthusiasm.  Whatever else can be said about The Dark Knight, it remains one of the few big blockbusters in recent movie history to be any good at all.  It was well-written (if a bit self-important), mostly well-directed and perfectly cast down to the smallest roles.  It understood what it wanted to be, and set out to do it.

That wouldn't seem like such a big deal, but dear God, have you tried going to a movie lately?  Expectations couldn't be high, from either audiences or the filmmakers themselves, for a remake of a thirty-year-old sword and sorcery epic (Clash Of The Titans) or an adaptation of a mostly forgotten TV show (The A-Team) or a disposable romantic comedy (Knight And Day), yet time and again, audiences are expected to sit through things that fail to display even a baseline competence. 

Most people aren't looking for life-altering experiences when they go out for a night at the movies, but they expect to be entertained.  Inception may not reinvent the wheel, but it doesn't look like a thousand other movies, and it's understandable that audiences may have unreasonable expectations for it.  In the middle of a drought, even a single drop of rain refreshes.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


It's odd, in a way, that I have no desire to use this space to explore my feelings about the life and art of Harvey Pekar, who died yesterday at the age of 70.  Odd because I probably wouldn't be writing if I hadn't picked up an issue of American Splendor back in '84, and realized...

No.  I'll stop now.  Even though this space is relentlessly personal, even though I try to be honest about everything that passes through my life--something I learned from Pekar--I just don't feel like sharing my feelings right now.  A decent obit can be found here, and a good appreciation of the man's life and work can be found here.  Then pick up some of the American Splendor anthologies and a copy of Our Cancer Year.

And then go on and live the rest of your life, because it's what Harvey would want you to do.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Even though I've been in a surprisingly good mood lately, I started out this morning working on a piece intended for this site that was another of my occasional sojourns into fiction writing, a story of a misunderstanding between a married couple that started to spin into some darker areas than I intended, and I wound up abandoning it, at least for now.

So I went out and did stuff instead, and now that I've returned, it seems the weekend is winding down.  What better way to prepare for the coming drudgery of the working week than to relax and have a few laughs?  Here are a few of the things that make me laugh the most.

I'm not a big fan of the movie Ghostbusters; I saw it on its opening weekend in 1984, found it moderately amusing, have never felt the need to revisit it. does feature one of the best one-liners in movie history, perfectly set-up, growing plausibly out of the situation at hand and expertly delivered by Bill Murray, truly a comedic god among men.

Sure, his presence in a movie now is often cringe-inducing (and his new one, Little Fockers, looks truly unbearable), but there was a time when Ben Stiller was not just funny, but downright inspired.  Any number of clips from The Ben Stiller Show could prove my point, but we'll let Tito Gallegos stand as a perfect example.

That brief snippet of American Pie at the end of that segment segues nicely to this.  I could pick any Weird Al bit at random, and in fact, this particular number isn't even all that funny, more like a snarky telling of the actual storyline of The Phantom Menace ("some ships exploded and some pilots fried") than a full-blown parody.  I'm just including it because I love the damned thing so much, and you have no idea how often I find myself singing this one.  No, seriously--you have no idea.

Finally, Mike and the Bots offer a thorough take-down of a terrifying social engineering short from the 1950s.  Is Mystery Science Theater 3000 the greatest thing in the history of the world?  Yes.  Yes, it is.

Friday, July 09, 2010


Milos Forman's 1981 film adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime is remembered these days, if it is thought of at all, for James Cagney's final big screen performance, for Randy Newman's beautiful score and for Elizabeth McGovern's nudity.  It was an expensive, lavishly mounted production, but largely miscalculated, with overcast English settings failing to convince as early-twentieth century New York, a dull performance by Howard Rollins in a key part, and good actors (Brad Dourif, Mary Steenburgen, Donald O'Connor, Kenneth McMillin) given too little time to make an impression.  Individual scenes are lovely, and Newman's music gives it a sense of melancholy it might otherwise lack, but one can't help but imagine while watching it what the film's original director, Robert Altman, would have brought to it.

So why am I bringing it up at all?  I stumbled across the original teaser trailer for it on YouTube, and...well, just take a look.

Consider what we are shown on screen: Raucous parties, dancing, shootings, explosions, savage beatings, passionate embraces.  But what do we hear?  Soft music, and a cool, detached narration, describing not so much the film as the era in which its set.  It's a distinct tone this trailer has, and in its chilly reserve it is truer to the spirit of Doctorow's novel than the film itself.

That's the thing: this is an advertisement undeniably unique to this particular movie.  Clearly, if Ragtime had been produced today (not that it's possible to imagine anyone funding such an expensive white elephant now), the trailer would play up the action-oriented elements (and possibly the sex), and every explosion would be presented in teeth-rattling THX sound.  There'd be some onscreen crawl, shock cuts--it would make this particular movie look like every other movie.

And some generic source music borrowed from a hundred other trailers.  That would be a necessity, though, since the final score for the film probably wouldn't be completed yet.  That's one of the most amazing thing about this preview: Like most trailers of the era, the music featured is actually used in the movie itself.  This was a teaser, likely released to theaters a few months in advance of the picture's release, yet the movie was already substantially completed, with its musical score already in place.  In the case of Ragtime, there was almost certainly still a lot of fine-tuning going on in the editing room--the final cut still feels incomplete--but it wasn't still being tweaked by CGI monkeys mere days before release, like almost everything made these days, major studio pictures and indies alike. 

Ragtime isn't a great movie, but this trailer gives you every reason to believe it might be.  It's a sad reminder of the days when movies were sold individually, on their own merits, instead of generic product.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


If you've ever lived in a medium-sized town, big enough to have its own paper but which only publishes once a week, you've probably seen a headline in that very paper detailing the semi-lavish wedding of some city official or other, like the comptroller, and it's presented as if it's some big deal, like this is somebody you should know, instead of the guy whose office you walk past when you go down to pay the water bill.

You might say Jonathon Schaech is the small town comptroller of celebrities.  His only legit claim to fame is as the second lead in That Thing You Do!, a good movie that is let down by a surfeit of blandly likeable, utterly indistinguishable leads.  Basically, the only way to describe Schaech is as "The guy from That Thing You Do! that didn't have Liv Tyler as his girlfriend," and even then, the response may be, "Oh, you mean Steve Zahn?" and you'd have to say, "No, the other guy."

Anyway, the point is, Schaech got married recently, a fact that many entertainment-based websites apparently found notable enough to report.  This is the state of celebrity journalism: If you've ever been in front of a camera at any point in your life, you're somehow inherently interesting.

Sunday, July 04, 2010


In honor of the Fourth of July, a celebration of the work of a great American artist, Sam Peckinpah.  This is an odd, sweet little musical number that appears out of nowhere in his oddball 1970 near-masterpiece The Ballad Of Cable Hogue.  I say "near-masterpiece" because it is a mostly beautiful, deeply moving film for the most part, but it has some amazingly misjudged sequences that unfortunately undercut the elegiac tone Peckinpah was clearly going for.  You can see some of that at the end of this sequence, with the goofy sped-up slapstick that looks like something off of Gilligan's Island.

Though in this case, that particular sequence involves naked Stella Stevens, and...Who am I trying to kid?  Peckinpah is one of my absolute heroes, but let's be honest: the only reason I'm posting this is because of the sweet, sweet Stella footage.  What can I say?  Seeing her on the big screen forever altered my eight-year-old self. Never before had I performed the flag salute, or let my bombs burst in midair, or felt my oceans white with foam.  Dear God, how I longed to explore her purple mountain majesties, as well as her fruited plain. And...well, I'll just stop now.  Except to note that the sight of the Mississippi-born Stevens in all her glory makes me truly want to say, "God Bless America!"

Friday, July 02, 2010


We'd seen the movie he wanted to see (The Last Airbender), and he'd accompanied me as I went shopping for things I needed.  Now Paul figured it was his turn again: "I'm thirsty.  Can't we go get something to drink?"

"How about ice cream?" I suggested.

"No.  I'm thirsty.  Drink.  Pop.  I'll even call it soda, if it makes you happy."

"Why not ice cream?"

"Thirsty.  Meesa no want ice cream."

"'Meesa?'  Are you turning into Jar-Jar?"

"Only when meesa thirsty.  And meesa no want ice cream."

"Well, what about me?" I asked with mock indignity.  "What about what I want?"

"That doesn't sound like something you'd say.  That sounds like something a selfish person would say."

"Maybe I'm selfish."

He looked at me with one of his patented "get real" expressions.

"What?" I asked.  "I can be selfish."

"No you can't."

"How do you know?"

He rolled his eyes.  "Look at all the stuff you do for me.  You're always buying me stuff, taking me places.  It's never about what you want.  You never even think of yourself."

I laughed.  "That's what every girl I've ever dated said to me, right before they dumped me."

He laughed, too, then stopped.  "Wait.  Those are all good things.  Why would they dump you if you're a good person?"

"Well, it's, 'These are all the good things about you, and I really care about you, but I just don't feel that way about you.'  Then they'll say, 'But we can still be friends.'"

"Did my mom say all that to you?"

"More or less."

"But you're still friends with her."

"Yeah, well.  I'm still friends with you, too."

"That's because you're a good person.  Even my mom knows that."  He paused.  "Even if she did rip out your heart."

I laughed, and we kept driving around.