Sunday, May 29, 2011


I've got a co-worker who still has a rotary phone, who has no idea what a debit card is, who grumbles whenever the radio in the stockroom is tuned to a station that plays a lot of eighties stuff like Bon Jovi or The Thompson Twins because he can't stand that "new" music.  He'd probably be happy to have any of the items advertised in this commercial.

But really, who wouldn't want that couch?  And it comes with a free portable TV!  There's no technology you have to master with these things--with that TV, you could take it anywhere.  You'd plug it in, flip the on switch and there it was.  Maybe you had to play around with the rabbit ears to get reception, but you didn't need a decoder box, your house didn't need to be wired, you didn't need a router or a wifi card or a minutes plan or anything back in those days.  Life was good.

Even the pitchman in this ad is straightforward: Here's the merchandise, here's what it does, this is how you get it.  No irony, no flashy graphics, just a simple, effective spiel.  You'd never see such a thing these days.  But why not?  It works.  (Again, I really want that couch, hideous seventies burnt-umber color and all.) 

Obviously, we'll never go back to a pre-digital world.  But I've noticed that some of the people most likely to mock how we looked and acted back in those days are people who were around then.  Have they forgotten their own past?  Have they forgotten how much better-built merchandise was, and how well it all worked?  Have they forgotten how happy we were with what we once had?

Monday, May 23, 2011


Pop cultural history seemed already to have forgotten Joseph Brooks.  His most famous achievement, the lugubrious pop song You Light Up My Life, was a massive hit back in 1977, winning an Oscar and a Grammy, but it quickly became a thing to be mocked, then, soon enough, ignored--even radio stations that regularly program "the biggest hits of the seventies" usually leave it off their playlists, though it was the top-charting song of its year.

The odd thing about Brooks, though, was that he kept doing things, whether anyone wanted him to or not.  He'd become a millionaire cranking out commercial jingles, and he used his money to fund a number of vanity projects.  He wrote and directed the movie You Light Up My Life, designed as a showcase for his songwriting, and it was a modest hit, largely due to the popularity of the title song.  But it was enough to convince him he was an auteur--he followed it with If Ever I See You Again, a drippy romance about a successful pop songwriter forcing his way back into the life of his ex--Brooks starred, despite having zero screen presence and a vaguely reptilian appearance--and Headin' For Broadway, about a group of hopeful kids willing to do whatever it takes to find stardom.

These were movies nobody could possibly want to see, and predictably, they flopped.  Somehow, Brooks kept working.  A few years ago, he became something of a laughing stock with his Broadway musical In My Life, a misguided semi-romantic trifle which he wrote, scored, produced and directed.  Stage musicals are usually collaborative affairs, but Brooks refused any kind of assistance for his terrible show--he would do exactly what he wanted, and he wasn't going to let anyone tell him no.

Not that he would have listened.  The word "no" clearly meant nothing to Brooks, who was due to stand trial for sexual assault on over a dozen women he had lured to his Upper West Side apartment with promises of some kind of work in some unspecified project.  He posted ads online and held private auditions.  When the naive young hopefuls appeared at his door, he offered to show them his Oscar, he poured them wine, asked them to perform a scene he'd devised.  Then he raped them.

Even in the New York tabloids, Brooks' unfolding legal saga was never front page news.  He just wasn't big enough, famous enough.  No matter how hard he tried, how much money he made, he was always a show-biz also-ran.  He killed himself over the weekend, a miserable end to a worthless existence, and The Post and The Daily News both buried the story in the back pages.  Nobody cared about his fucking Oscar.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


What are you going to do, get all weepy about Louis Prima and Keely Smith?  Or Buddy Hackett, or Johnny Carson, or even The Beatles, for God's sake?  It was just a place where people did some stuff, a piece of a past that can never be recovered.

It's not like it's real history we're talking about here, only show-biz history.  But it's long been part of the peculiar nature of Las Vegas that it preserves its past in amber, or at least an amber-colored (but heavily watered-down) drink.  How else to explain the continued existence of The Sahara Hotel & Casino, which still sat at the north end of the strip like an aging madame, full of stories about the nearly-forgotten greats she used to escort?  (And she'll always refer to her gentlemen friends as escorts, not johns.  What the hell do you think she was, some two-bit hooker?)  The former "Jewel Of The Desert" shut down yesterday, but it had been closing bit by bit through the years, serving as some sort of reminder of the past in a town that barely has a present.

For the pleasures offered by Las Vegas are, by design, fleeting.  Times change, people move on, no one remembers.  Really, why should they?  Oh, so the Sahara was for many years the home base for Jerry Lewis' Labor Day telethon?  That's nice, but so what?

After all, Lewis himself is retiring from that institution after this year.  Though he has yet to find a cure for Muscular Dystrophy, there is no question that Lewis' time in the spotlight is due to end.  He was once as big as anyone, and he and Dean Martin could pack 'em in like nobody's business, but to watch him continue year after year, unwilling and unable to change with the times, diminishing his own reputation every time he referred to the likes of Jann Carl as a "marvelous" talent, abandoned by the few relevant celebrity friends he still has...well, it was a sad, sad spectacle, like watching the suckers being chased out of the Sahara on its closing day, all of them wanting one more chance to play their lousy dollar slots.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


1.  This title, of course, comes from T.S. Eliot.  That is, it originated with Eliot, but for me, it comes from the old National Lampoon parody The Love Song Of J. Edgar Hoover, which served as my dramatic reading in a freshman speech class.  After I finished, the teacher asked me if I'd even heard of Eliot.  Since all I really knew were the few lines from The Hollow Men referenced in Apocalypse Now--sadly, I had no idea what the Lampoon piece was parodying--I said no.  My teacher was disappointed.

It was at that moment that I came to believe, as I still believe to this day, that I'm not nearly as smart as I want to be.

2.  The two paragraphs above repeatedly featured the words "I" or "me"--twelve, counting variations.  One of the reasons posting around here has become less frequent is because I'm trying to make this space less relentlessly self-centered.  Many posts in the past were devoted to painfully detailed retellings of awful (and, far less often, joyous) occurrences in my life.  All well and good when there is some larger point to be drawn, some fondly-recalled universal moment we've all shared, or even when there's some catharsis to be had by exorcising old demons.  Sometimes, though, I resorted to just offering tediously detailed descriptions of bad dates, things that weren't even interesting as I experienced them.

So, you know, sorry about that.

3.  All well and good, but hey, today's my birthday, so I get to be a little self-indulgent, right?  Problem is, I've got nothing to say.  I'm forty-six today, well past the halfway mark--presumably, at least; yeah, you never know how long you'll live, but neither of my parents lived to see eighty, so the odds aren't exactly in my favor--and past the point of taking stock but not to the point of looking back.

My life is still unfolding, in other words.  I was in my forties when I decided to become a homeowner, and in the last year alone I've acquired an actual, permanent girlfriend and a small flock of critters.  I still have no idea how to do basic things around the house--thank God Janie knows how to set a mousetrap!--but there's time to learn.

But not all the time in the world.  There is a definite sense that, even as it unfolds, life is still winding down.  I'm aware that my body can no longer do certain things I used to take for granted, and I'm more aware than ever that everything I see and know could be gone tomorrow.  These aren't bad things, really--they just make me appreciate what I've got.

4.  Obligatory Moment Of Delmar: I love all my cats very much, and will go to my grave insisting the late and much-missed Scotchie was the best cat ever, but there's no question that my beloved little ball of rage Del is my favorite cat in this world or any other.  He's been by to rub against me repeatedly as I've been writing, and at one point reared up on his hind legs to begin chewing on my elbow.  Sure, he has dozens of psychoses, but more than anything else, he's fiercely devoted to me.  Plus, he's adorable!

Though not, it must be said, as adorable as the beagle, who has also been over to say hi repeatedly as I've been writing.  Four-legged creatures love me!

5.  The first time I wrote a birthday post it was a fairly dismal day, spent buying tires or some such.  The pattern repeated from then on, assuming I took note of the day at all.  This year...I dunno.  Why bother complaining?  I'm alive, I'm happy.  Life is good.

Saturday, May 07, 2011


There's no point in arguing that Yvette Vickers was an underrated actress, that she deserved better than Attack Of The 5o Foot Woman and the similar Z pictures associated with her name.  Sadly, there's not even any use in commenting on her achingly carnal beauty.

Because now, when she's remembered, it will be as that ancient pin-up queen whose mummified remains were found by a neighbor.  So she's officially a freak now, a has-been who never quite was, and the ghoulish circumstances of her death are all anyone will ever talk or care about.  The fascinating life she led--she was discovered by Billy Wilder, Russ Meyer shot her Playboy spread, she was a fringe player on the Hollywood scene for years--will be forgotten.

Still.  At her peak, studio execs treated her as just another blonde in a town full of them, and audiences failed to make her the star she should have been.  But now, at last, people will remember her.  As befits a mummy, she has become immortal.

Monday, May 02, 2011


Yeah, of course I remember life in suburban D.C. in those awful days and months following 9/11, that horrible feeling of looking up, looking around, squinting into the beautiful blue sky, waiting for the next attack. 

Not that we had to wait long, because the attack came from within.  Osama Bin Laden and his associates surely knew that the attacks on the Twin Towers, Pentagon and wherever the fourth plane was supposed to hit were only the first step.  Sure enough, paranoia on a massive scale erupted, and we as a nation were all too willing to surrender our civil liberties, to support a baseless war, to do whatever in the name of...what?

What was the goal?  Was it to get Bin Laden?  Because if it was, why the hell were we in Iraq?  Why did we do half of what we did?  Why...Ah, forget it.  It's four AM, I need to get ready for work and Osama Bin Laden has been stopped at last.  Yes, we know he was more a figurehead than anything else, and we know his associates are still out there, plotting revenge.

There'll be a sequel, in other words.  But at least, for now, the story has an ending.

Sunday, May 01, 2011


I've been rereading Mark Harris' mostly-exemplary book Pictures At A Revolution, which examines the genesis and cultural impact of the five movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar at the 1968 awards.  Harris' point is that two of those movies, Bonnie And Clyde and The Graduate, represented what was about to come, the New Hollywood of the seventies and early eighties, while two of the others, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner and Doctor Dolittle, represented the staid Old Hollywood that looked increasingly clueless as social and aesthetic changes swept the nation.  (The fifth nominated picture, In The Heat Of The Night, was kind of somewhere in between, and as a well-crafted, well-intentioned but essentially dull enterprise, it's the type of Oscar bait that still shows up every year.)

Reading the book now, the most interesting section by far is director Stanley Kramer's experiences schlepping Guess Who's Coming To Dinner through the studio pipeline.  This is a movie that, in its pro-interracial marriage premise, seemed daring in the development stages, but by the time it was released, felt instantly dated.  The civil rights era had gone a long way to change America's views of race.

Hadn't it?  By Kramer's stated intent, he wanted "the black bridegroom to be so exceptional that if anyone objected to him, it could only be due to racial prejudice."  Harris wryly points out how far Kramer would go to make this character exceptional: he wasn't just successful in his field, "but an Ivy League-educated potential Nobel laureate who worked for the United Nations on worldwide health missions."

Uh, you can probably see where I'm going with this, right?  There are, Lord knows, plenty of reasons to rue Barack Obama's presidency, from a cabinet full of Wall Street insiders to his seeming inability to hold to a simple policy position.  But to suggest that he's somehow not entitled to the office, that he's just not smart enough, that he didn't deserve his Ivy League education...well, to paraphrase Stanley Kramer, those objections could only be due to racial prejudice.

The obvious offender would be Donald Trump, whose increasingly offensive string of claims about Obama reveal much more about his need to be constantly talked about than anything else.  Trump almost certainly doesn't believe this shit, but he knows if he says it, the media will cover it.

And they do, every word of it.  Trump is not the problem, any more than Sarah Palin or Sean Hannity or any other far right nutjob.  The problem is the way the story is inevitably framed by the media overlords.  They present Trump's blatherings as if they represent some sort of coherent point of view, as if there's some validity to them.  There is none, of course.  Even the most ideologically rigid exec at Fox News knows how smart Obama is--after all, they used to claim he was some sort of elitist snob, out of touch with every Johnny Lunchpail and Sally Housecoat in this great nation.  Yet they bring on experts to "debate" Trump's claims, when they know very well there's nothing to be debated.  The man is lying.  Call him on it and move on.  Ignore the motherfucker, deny him the attention he so nakedly craves, and he'll go away.

No mainstream reporters are quite willing to come right out and say the obvious: If Trump's remarks are racist, then his sudden popularity among Republicans must say reveal much about the party's rabidly anti-Obama stance.  But they're not quite willing to say that.  Until they do, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner will continue to seem weirdly relevant.  Which seems impossible, of course, but there's a lot of things going on these days that shouldn't be happening, but somehow are.