Monday, April 30, 2007

House of Wax

My wife recently bought me a newfangled turntable that plugs into your computer and transforms your LP records into WAV or MP3 files, which can then be dumped into your iTunes. I hadn't had a working turntable in six or eight years, but I did still have a crate full of vinyl in the basement that I have been lugging around, consisting mostly of records that I liked but not so much that I was going to go out and buy the CD version of the album. (The last new vinyl record I bought, by the way, was Bob Mould's Workbook; the first CD I ever bought was the Cure's Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. I made a note of that, because I thought it would one day be significant.)

So there are a fair amount of forgotten gems in there, such as Art Garfunkel's Breakaway, which I had since supplanted with a greatest-hits package on CD, but that meant I have been living all these years without "Waters of March," which is a real shame. Garfunkel himself put Breakaway on his ballot when Rolling Stone magazine held the balloting for its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (I forget the exact placement, but it was around No. 29); as OPC reader RS pointed out to me at the time, at least he picked the right Garfunkel solo album -- how embarrassing it would have been had he listed Fate for Breakfast!

I have also, on the other hand, been reminded of the built-in obsolescence of wax records. The ultra-high-tech (at least compared to any previous turntable I have owned) setup comes complete with a flyweight tone arm that fairly floats over the grooves, but my copy of Breakaway has an almost imperceptible warp (right in the middle of the ethereal "Disney Girls") that ruined several of the songs. But even in this, the 21st century, with an entirely digital environment, the old tricks still obtain: I solved that warp problem by putting a penny on the needle cartridge. Et voila: "Disney Girls"!

Apostrophe Catastrophe

While we're on the subject of poorly punctuated song titles, the most difficult title to properly punctuate is Annie Lennox's semihit from 1995, on her album Medusa. styles it No More "I Love You's" in its track listing, but "No More I Love You's" in its text. cops out similarly, calling it No More "I Love You's" in its track listing, but dropping that first quotation mark in the album review, opting for "No More I Love You's."

Now, clearly, you can't just drop a quotation mark in the middle of a song title just because you decided to put the whole thing into quotes. That's cheating. A reference to this song in the middle of prose should be styled "No More 'I Love You's,' " if we can trust the track-listing version to be right.

But it's not. Annie isn't promising not to say "I love you's," unless she's from the Bronx, which she isn't. She's promising that she will no longer say "I love you," singular. So ideally, what we should have here is "No More 'I Love You' 's," I think. A double apostrophe!

I still don't really know what the original style is, since I don't have this album. If anyone out there does have a copy and can tell me how Annie herself punctuates the title, please send it in. But I do know the song's not even that good, certainly not worth all these grammatical gymnastics.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The OPC Recipe Club: Smoked Salmon and Pasta

Smoked salmon is always a little hard to work with, since it's so light and flaky (not to mention expensive), but it's also so good. Here's how I like to fix it:

Get a half pint of cream, light or heavy doesn't really matter, and pour it into a saucepan. Put a shot of lemon juice in there as well, and some dill, enough to make it look dilly. Heat up the cream a little, then put about a cup of frozen peas in there, more if you like peas, less if you don't, although they do add some nice color to the proceedings, and they keep you from having to make another vegetable.

Let me add parenthetically here, although I am loath to put an entire paragraph in parentheses, that in most recipes, for most ingredients, the amounts don't matter. For some things, like if you're making rice and have to add enough water for the proper amount to be absorbed, yes, be careful with how much you add, but for the most part, add however much you want of whatever ingredient it is. If you like red bell pepper, put in a whole bunch of it. It doesn't matter. For this recipe, you can put in six peas, or you can put in 160 peas. It's all up to you. You don't even have to make the recipe at all. It's no skin off my nose.

Heat the cream-pea mixture on kind of a medium low; you don't want it to boil, but you want to make sure the peas get cooked through. While it's warming, chop up some smoked salmon, the kind that comes in a plastic shrink-wrapped pack on a sheet of cardboard. Chop it up into as small as you can get the pieces. It's better that way. Then throw all of it in the pot with the cream and the peas and the dill, and let it warm up for a couple of minutes. The salmon doesn't need to cook at all.

Meanwhile, you should have been cooking some spaghetti. Put some spaghetti on every plate, ladle some salmon cream sauce on top of it, set out some parmesan cheese, make some garlic bread, and hey, you got yourself a dinner.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


Unfortunately, the first portion of this sequence is cut off, so I have to set it up for you: It's Mr. Show's morning show, with all women in the audience, including special guests the Womyn's Feminist Collective. Everyone is promised a makeover, which doesn't go over too well with the womyn, then Bob and David start putting on a male strip show, and the womyn rush the stage, which leaves Bob and David in the state of dishevelment you see here, then the whole thing turns into A Hard Day's Night:

Friday, April 27, 2007

Country Grammar

Is Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry" the most confusingly punctuated song title of all time? The way it's officially styled seems like an aphorism: if you don't have a woman, you will have no need to cry (which is an attitude that most of us fellas can identify with). But the "woman" here is actually an appositive, the person to whom the imperative statement is being addressed. It needs to be "No, Woman, No Cry."

If you want us to understand your patois, Bob, the least you could do is punctuate it properly. It seems like this, as happens with most things in life, is a lesson that he learned too late.

OPC's Continuing Coverage of the Upcoming NFL Draft, and Fats Domino

You may have heard, for example on last night's SportsCenter, that Fats Domino was plucked from the floodwaters of Katrina by JaMarcus Russell, who was at the time the quarterback for the LSU Tigers and is now poised to be the first overall pick in this weekend's NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders. This is more or less true, but it's not quite the wacky coincidence that it would seem on first blush: Fats' granddaughter was dating Russell at the time.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Guy on Brawny Paper Towels Dies

Sad news from Salinas:

Danny Cunningham, a key figure on what may have been the greatest high school basketball team in the history of Monterey County, died of injuries suffered in a car accident Monday in the gold country town of Ione, where he worked as a tree surgeon.

Cunningham, whose rugged looks caught the attention of Hollywood, appeared in a few Budweiser commercials and was on the cover of Brawny paper towels for several years.

His dying words were: "Mr. Clean lives on."

Let Me Up (I've Had Enough)

About a year ago, when Bruce Springsteen came to town, one of the local radio stations had a clever idea: to take a day or so to play the Boss's entire catalog, in random order. This worked out pretty well, since Springsteen has been notoriously stingy with his official releases, which means there wasn't a whole lot of obscure or subpar material to work around, and a whole lot of truly excellent music. I'm not sure what they did when they got to "Mary, Queen of Arkansas": Maybe they just pretended it was the first song they played and told all the subsequent DJs to forget about it. I'm sure they thought of some excuse.

They even played that simmering live version of Jimmy Cliff's "Trapped" that appeared on the USA for Africa album. It turned out to be a lot of fun, and it must have done pretty well with Old Man Arbitron, because they tried the same stunt again . . . when Tom Petty came to town.


If you thought the front end of Long After Dark was kind of dismal, wait till you hear the filler. Anyway, they have not tried this little ratings grabber again.

I Fought the Law and I Won

A 26-year-old man tried to get on a plane in Little Rock this morning with a loaded Glock in his carry-on bag, and another clip of ammo as well. The airport was shut down immediately and the man faces arrest on charges of attempted terrorism while the FBI searches through the numbers on his cellphone to see who he might have contacted in the past few days....

No, wait! It was the son of a prominent Republican, so he surely meant no harm by anything. He was fined a hundred bucks, and they all had dinner at Elaine's.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lady of Spain

I see where Pedro Almodovar thinks that the only real inconsistency between the looks of Penelope Cruz and her Oscar-nominated role in his 2006 film Volver is the size of her behind -- Almodovar thinks a woman of her station, a spunky working-class mother in contemporary Spain, ought to have a more substantial caboose. One other difference is that there is no woman in the world who holds the job held by Ms. Cruz at the beginning of this movie, where she appears to be cleaning up the corridors of the Madrid airport, who actually looks like Ms. Cruz.

I am not sure in what direction the arrow of causality runs in this particular case, whether women who look like Penelope Cruz don't have to clean airports, or women who clean airports never end up looking like Penelope Cruz, but the rule is ironclad. No one that hot has ever mopped up the floors of O'Hare.

David Halberstam, 1934-2007

David Halberstam was a brilliant reporter, of course, the author of the vitally important history of the Vietnam War The Best and the Brightest, but he was also an illustration of what I think is an important principle about journalism that most people don't reckon with: Journalism is composed of two related but distinct skills, reporting (and within reporting there is not only the collection of facts but the selection of the most telling of the facts once they have been collected) and writing, and there are very few journalists who are excellent at both. Of the two, it is far more important to have superior reporting skills, because if you don't have anything to say, it won't much matter how well you say it.

That's why Halberstam, who was an A-plus reporter but a C-minus writer, could still come off as a top-level journalist. The Powers That Be, his somewhat ungainly epic on the development of the Washington Post, Time magazine, CBS News, and the Los Angeles Times, had more run-on sentences in each of its paragraphs than this blog has had in its entire history, and I go out of my way to write the longest possible sentences I can until they collapse of their own weight; the difference is that I know when one tips into the realm of the run-on sentence, and Halberstam clearly did not.

To be fair, I skipped over the chapters of the book on the Los Angeles Times, because who cares about the Los Angeles Times? Maybe those chapters were more briskly written.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Katie Holmes Has Changed

I present to you a landmark video in the career of one Bob Dylan, the clip accompanying "Things Have Changed," his contribution to Curtis Hanson's 2000 film Wonder Boys, featuring the Bard of Hibbing himself alongside members of that feature film's cast. There are three truly notable things about this video:

1. You get to see Bob and Katie Holmes make goo-goo eyes at each other.

2. As near as I can ascertain, this was Dylan's final appearance in public cleanshaven, before the appearance of the pencil-thin mustache that has scarred so many of his fans. Remember, it was on Oscar Night, the evening that Bob won an Academy Award for this very song, that said facial hair was unleashed on an unsuspecting American public for the first time.

3. Right at the very end of the video, in a moment of rock-star quotidian behavior to rival the sequence in No Doubt's video for "Sunday Morning" when Gwen Stefani changes her shoes, Bob Dylan takes a bite out of a sandwich. The moment is even more rich than that, though, since Dylan has long seemed so otherworldly (to me, at least) that I have at times doubted his corporeal presence. Does this man eat? drive? bowl? have cable TV? I could never be quite sure, but here we have irrefutable evidence: Bob Dylan will eat a sandwich.

The Evil of the New York Yankees Obeys No Earthly Laws

From The Politico:
According to a study last July by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, Republican fans prefer the Yankees over the Mets by a greater proportion than do Democrats. When asked who they would want to win a subway World Series, 62 percent of Republican respondents chose the Yankees, while only 29 percent chose the Mets.

The numbers were more evenly divided among Democrats: 44 percent would choose the Yankees in a subway series, and 41 percent said they would want the Mets to win. (Fifteen percent didn't know or wouldn't say; Red Sox fans, perhaps?)

Nonetheless, Matt Cerrone, founder of the lively, believes that the Mets have an undeniable Democratic mien. "The Mets tend to have more blue-collar sensibilities, and Democrats tend to be more the working-class party," Cerrone said. "Mets are more fun-loving, lighthearted, … more like liberal progressive thinking."


After the Rolling Stones came out with Aftermath in 1966, Ringo Starr suggested that the next Beatles album be called After Geography.

Sadly, they settled on Revolver instead.

OPC's Coverage of the NFL Draft and Corinne Bailey Rae

JaMarcus Russell, a massive, strong-armed quarterback out of LSU, is potentially the top overall pick by the Oakland Raiders in this weekend's NFL draft. Russell has been frequently likened to onetime Viking and current Dolphin Daunte Culpepper, another enormous QB with a strong arm. Russell has not, for some reason, been compared to the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger, who is of roughly the same size and physical skills.

Russell actually reminds me of Corinne Bailey Rae, the diminutive British singer who surged onto the Adult Alternative charts over the past year. Rae, or Bailey Rae, or whatever she's supposed to be called on second reference (what is it with the British people with two last names? Why isn't Sacha Baron Cohen's last name "Cohen," or at least "Baron-Cohen"?) has been frequently compared to Billie Holiday, although despite a little crack in her voice and a certain girlishness, she doesn't sound all that much like Holiday (see? We Americans know a surname when we see one) to me. The answer to this mystery, I think, can be found if you look at that picture of La Bailey Rae up there at above right. Madeleine Peyroux, now she sounds like Billie Holiday.

Who would I compare Corinne Bailey Rae to? Her first single sounded so much like "I'm Like a Bird" it should have been called "Girl, Put Your Nelly Furtado Records On." But she's not Portuguese-Canadian enough for that.

Monday, April 23, 2007

From the Police Scanner

Did you hear there was a fire at the clock factory? Secondhand smoke was everywhere.

Somewhere Near Salinas

Kris Kristofferson got the idea for "Me and Bobby McGee" after watching the 1954 movie La Strada, about a circus strongman and the female sidekick he purchases from her mother and their travels around the countryside, though they land nowhere near New Orleans or even Baton Rouge. When Jerry Lee Lewis took Kristofferson's song to the top of the C&W charts in 1972, it become the only Number One country hit in history to be based on a Fellini film.

Consumer Warning

One of my favorite things to do when I go to a record store is to rummage through the compilation racks, looking for collections of old singles that would otherwise never have made it into the CD era. This is how I am still able to enjoy Jigsaw's "Sky High," even unto this very day. But there is a very strong danger in this habit: There are unscrupulous people who put together compilations of old songs, but rather than actually spending the money to buy the rights to the original recordings, they get the artists to make re-recordings. As someone without a very deep record collection who wants to stock up on old half-forgotten hits, I enjoy unearthing a worthwhile CD for $3.99, but even that's too much to pay for Mark Lindsey's retake of "Arizona."

I've been burned by this scam twice now. The first was for K-Tel's Country Drinking Songs, which was okay because I don't think I could tell the difference between the original "Wine Me Up" by Faron Young and the re-recording. But then I got Prime Cuts' Greatest Hits From the '70s, which is just awful. No matter how hard they try, Sweet is never going to cut a version of "Ballroom Blitz" that approaches the original. And I wonder just who it is on "Baby Blue," since a quorum of Badfinger has been dead for 30 years or so. (Even sadder is that James Brown is included on this set, meaning he was willing to go in and re-record "Sex Machine" for what couldn't have been more than a couple hundred dollars.)

Just a friendly warning: As the Kingston Trio said on "M.T.A.," Citizens, hear me out! This could happen to you!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Lives of Us

One of the real benefits of the movie The Lives of Others is its portrait of life in East Germany in the mid-1980s. You mostly think of the former Soviet bloc as composed almost entirely of peasants and apparatchiks, but this film is concerned with the cool Communists, a successful playwright and his actress girlfriend (who I think is supposed to be beautiful, but with appropriate lowering of standards for Communist-bloc womanhood), who live in a decent enough but modest walkup apartment, apparently of about four rooms, across the hall from a terrified peasant-type woman; at least that place has a little color, having been built before the war, as opposed to the highrise their token spymaster lives in, which looks like someone didn't decide until the last minute whether this was going to be an apartment building or offices for accounting staff. This apparatchik enjoys a dinner in his flat consisting of a bowl of white stuff flavored with what looks like ketchup, squirted from a toothpaste-style tube. No wonder the wall fell.

The Lives of Others reminded me at times of Brokeback Mountain, which among its many other virtues depicted in precise socioeconomic detail the habits and homemaking of Wyoming's working class. I think I counted four successive homes for Ennis Del Mar and his family, each of them incrementally nicer than the last but none of which were exactly palatial. I remember thinking what a big deal it must have been for them to move from the glorified shack out in the fields to that place in town over the laundromat. Such subtle gradations of class are rarely present in the movies at such downtrodden levels. Even Jack Twist, the more successful of the ill-starred pair, landed in a middle-class home in Texas that was still small enough so that the living-room TV could be seen from the dining-room table. But maybe in Texas, that's a feature.

The Lives of Others is also useful as an illustration of what happens when the interests of the reigning political party and the government itself are one and the same. Just in case, you know, you were wondering what that might look like.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Famous Last Words

The best last line of any song? For my money, it's from the same song whose middle eight contributed the melody to Leo Sayer's "When I Need You": "Famous Blue Raincoat," by Leonard Cohen. (This is also the song that my son Mark, who was six at the time, asked me to turn off because it was going to give him nightmares.) In case you've forgotten, that final line is:

"Sincerely, L. Cohen."

Friday, April 20, 2007


If you're like me, and in many respects I certainly hope you are not, you have noticed that pretty much everything done by hardcore rap artists had already been covered by country singers of the mid-1960s. Half of Johnny Cash's oeuvre is more or less gangsta, the half not devoted to the Lord, culminating in his song "Cocaine Blues," in which he not only partakes of the title substance and shoots his woman down, but manages to call her an Imus-worthy epithet as well. And while many contemporary hip-hoppers have seen the inside of a prison, I am not aware of any that had the stones to actually record a live album there.

But for my money, the most gangsta single of the 1960s is Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried," which hits nearly every base of the hip-hop metier: big ups to his moms, a papa who went missing very early on, an incorrigible demeanor that lands the narrator in prison as a teenager. And just look at that album cover; it may be hard to see the little photo at the top, so just pull out your copy at home, because I know everyone reading this owns this album, or should. The Hag was 31 when that picture was taken, and making some assumptions about the reproductive habits of Okies making a new life for themselves in Bakersfield, we would expect his mama to have been no more than 25 when he was born. So the woman in that picture ought to be in her mid-fifties, yet she looks to be at least 70. No doubt about it: Raising Merle Haggard can take a lot out of a woman.

OPC's Coverage of the NHL Playoffs

How many songs can you think of that deal with betting on hockey games? I can come up with only one: Joni Mitchell's "Raised on Robbery," in which "He was sitting in the lounge of the Empire Hotel/He was drinking for diversion/He was thinking for himself/A little money riding on the Maple Leafs."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Research Project

A couple of decades ago, in one of his annual Baseball Abstracts, Bill James wrote that if a rookie baseball player comes up from the minor leagues and has a big season at the age of 25 or 26, you shouldn't expect that player to then become a superstar; the true future superstars are already in the league by the age of 21 or 22. I was reminded of this rule of thumb when I saw the front page of this past Sunday's New York Times Arts & Leisure section, featuring a big unsmiling photograph of a Canadian singer looking for all the world like a poor man's Cat Power. The woman pictured goes by the single name of Feist, like Donovan or Pebbles or Buckethead. (That's Feist at right, though that's not the picture that was in the Times.) The article appended to this photo claims that Feist's new record (which I have not heard, nor have I heard any previous Feist output) "should transform her from the darling of the indie-rock circuit to a full-fledged star." It also notes, without a trace of ominousness, that Feist is 31, which seems a bit long in the tooth for a pop musician to become a star.

Or is it? I have always thought that James' maxim was as appropriate for rock stars as it was for Willie Mays. Let's take a look at when some of the greats of popular music have hit it big, with an eye toward what the future might hold for Feist.

To be totally unfair to Feist, we'll check out the first ten names on Rolling Stone's Immortals list, purportedly the greatest rock icons of all time, and note how old they were when they had their first Top Ten hit. Here we go:

* The Beatles: Ringo Starr was 23, John Lennon was 23, Paul McCartney was 21 and George Harrison was 20 when "I Want to Hold Your Hand" went to Number One in December 1963.
* Bob Dylan was 24 when "Like a Rolling Stone" went to Number Two in 1965.
* Elvis Presley
was 21 when "Don't Be Cruel" went to Number One in 1956.
* The Rolling Stones: Mick Jagger was 21, Keith Richards was 20, Brian Jones was 22, Bill Wyman (born William Perks, it says here) was 28, and Charlie Watts was 23 when "Time Is on My Side" went to Number Six in November 1964.
* Chuck Berry was 28 when "Maybellene" went to Number Five in 1955.
* Jimi Hendrix never had a Top Ten single, but he was 25 when Are You Experienced went to Number Five on the album charts.
* James Brown was 23 when "Please Please Please" went to Number Five on the R&B charts in 1956.
* Little Richard was 20 when "Long Tall Sally" went to Number Six in 1956.
* Aretha Franklin was 25 when "Baby I Love You" went to Number Four in 1967.
* Ray Charles
was 24 when "Blackjack" went to Number Eight on the R&B charts in 1955.

So of these great artists, only Chuck Berry, who probably deserves some sort of Jackie Robinson exemption, and the least important member of the Rolling Stones failed to make a big dent on the charts by the time they were 25. Surely not even Jon Pareles expects Feist to be the new Aretha Franklin, but this little exercise does show, I think, that if you're going to be a huge star, that talent is likely to evince itself pretty early on.

I will also note that the guys in Panic! at the Disco are all like nineteen.

Honey, Don't!

OPC reader GF writes in to inform all the fans of Bobby Goldsboro out there -- and they are legion, if legion means "few and far between" -- of a radio interview Mr. Goldsboro conducted with Michael Shelley of WFMU radio, which can be found online here.

GF further notes that Goldsboro's Number One smash "Honey," which was discussed at nauseating length earlier in the annals of this blog, was prominently featured in the 2005 Neil Jordan film Breakfast on Pluto. No one here at OPC headquarters has seen Breakfast on Pluto aside from its trailer, but we are fully prepared to analyze it when we get around to our post on the worst movie titles of all time.

Thanks, GF!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Silent All These Years

Now that we have some semblance of a professional blog going here, I want to revisit my first-ever post, on Tori Amos and "Year of the Cat," since I have actually figured out how to embed the video now, plus it's always fun to talk about "Year of the Cat." Watching this again, I noticed how Tori (I get to call her by her first name cuz she's a girl) almost looks like she's in a silent movie, enveloped in an iris, clad in all black and white. She doesn't even speak throughout the whole thing, although she certainly isn't silent.

Al Stewart, on the other hand, remains a total melvin.


It amazes me that Shirley Ellis spends half of "The Name Game" explaining the rules of her rhyming schemes. Did she really think we wouldn't get it after an example or two?

True Grit

On this morning's "Theme Time Radio Hour," on the topic of Spring Cleaning, Bob said, "The number one cause of damage to hardwood floors is grit, and I don't mean America's newspaper."

I can so see little Bobby Zimmerman reading Boy's Life back in Hibbing in 1953, thinking, "Maybe I can make some money to buy Mose Allison records by selling Grit."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Vile Legacy of John Stamos

At the checkout counter of the public library today, securing some books for my sons, I happened to see a DVD boxed set for the third season of Full House. As if that weren't disturbing enough, there was a reserve slip stuck inside the box, indicating that someone had put in a special request for this copy of the third season of Full House. It would be one thing, I suppose, to pick up a DVD of Full House on impulse, maybe because you had just seen the Olsen twins in a copy of US Weekly and you saw the box on a shelf and wanted to remind yourself what they looked like when they were four, but this was evidence that someone had plotted to obtain a copy of the third season of Full House. They planned this in advance, going out of their way to watch Full House.

My question is: how much extra time do you have to have on your hands such that you will make arrangements to acquire the DVD of the entire third season of Full House? And how much critical imagination do you have to lack? Goodness knows, I have wasted far too much time in my life, but at least I have not sunk to this.

Man, sometimes people really depress me.

The Cream of Every Famous Band

Rumor has it that in a show with Rosanne Cash last Friday night at the Rubin Museum in New York, Elvis Costello did a cover of "76 Trombones" from The Music Man. This, if true, is totally hot.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Time Will Come When You Add Up the Numbers

A while back, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to interview Bob Pollard, the genius behind Guided by Voices, who told me that he wrote the brilliant "Motor Away," from the album Alien Lanes, after hearing how much money Bob Seger had made from selling "Like a Rock" to Chevy trucks. I suppose I should say something here about artistic integrity, blah blah blah, Neil Young ain't singing for Pepsi, but you know what? Bob Pollard isn't exactly rich, I'm guessing, and the sad fact is that the intersection of artistic achievement and monetary reward isn't all that substantial. I wish Bob would find a way to make more money from his music, because he deserves it, and because Budweiser isn't getting any cheaper.

I remember that famous story about the Rolling Stones going to visit Chess Studios in Chicago and discovering Muddy Waters painting the ceiling, because somebody had to do it and Chess Records wasn't rolling the dough at that point. I hope Muddy found a better way to turn a few bucks before his career was over, whether that was singing for Pepsi, singing for Coke, or doing private parties for David Geffen. B.B. King has been doing a lot of ads the past few years, and good for him. He's got it coming to him. Bob Odenkirk's great too, and doing TV ads might seem like a comedown after the brilliance of "Manson," but who's going to begrudge him those beer commercials? Those residuals from the Mr. Show DVD aren't as lucrative as you might think.

And even if Pollard wrote it with a car company in mind, "Motor Away" is freaking awesome, sounding like a fully loaded Cadillac going down the highway at 85 mph, just reaching the point when the engine starts to shudder and bang against the inside of the hood. If this song had actually shown up over and over and over again in a Lincoln-Mercury commercial, everyone's life would be better.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


There's a certain type of movie that you go to just to see how it ends. The advertising promotes the premise of it, piquing your interest enough so that you want to see how the problem that has been thrown at you gets resolved, or to find out what Rosebud means. One such film is Robert Schwentke's Flightplan, starring Jodie Foster as a woman who, as I'm sure you know if you've seen any marketing materials for this movie at all, somehow manages to lose her daughter in the middle of a transatlantic flight. (Although it's a flight from Germany to New York, everyone on the plane is American, all the passengers and crew, except for a handful of Arabs. I don't think there was a single German on board.)

So you watch this movie to find out, OK, what happened to the little girl? No right-thinking moviegoer would tell you, because that would spoil the ending, and the studio is clearly banking on this kind of reticence to spill the beans. If you think about it, they don't even really have to come up with an entirely plausible scenario for the girl's disappearance, because people who've already seen it will be reluctant to tell you what happens. Even if it's no good. I watched Vanilla Sky all the way through to its preposterous ending, but I'm still not going to tell you what happens at the end, because that would be unsporting of me.

The upshot is that Flightplan has a pretty nifty first half, with Foster becoming increasingly panicked about her little girl, and the crew and other passengers being at first sympathetic and then suspicious of her, but as soon as the reason for the daughter's disappearance is hinted at, then revealed to Foster, it's a total letdown. I won't say anything more than it's the most ludicrously complicated extortion scheme in history. But I will say that if you want to watch this flim, don't pay much attention to the plot.

You Can't Tell the Players Even With a Scorecard

If you watched the Dodgers and the Padres this evening, you may have noticed that, while all the Dodgers wore No. 42 on their jerseys, none of them wore their names. The Dodgers' home unis don't sport names on the back, so they all wore exactly the same shirt, give or take a size or two. Good thing I know what Jeff Kent looks like.

Friday, April 13, 2007


The greatest single employment of a word in an American pop song is surely Carly Simon's use of the word "apricot" in "You're So Vain": "Your hat strategically dipped below one eye/Your scarf it was apricot." Never has a single world so quickly defined its subject; the song could have ended right there, and we'd have gotten the point. "Apricot" is as pungent and distinctive a word as "gavotte," with which it is rhymed, but apricot has the virtue of being immediately understandable, whereas most people probably still don't know what "gavotte" means, and think they are mishearing that lyric.

It's not just that Carly is singing about a man who would wear a scarf that is the color apricot --which is some kind of mixture of salmon and orange, I guess, although I haven't seen the inside of a lot of apricots lately -- but that the gentleman in question would describe said scarf as being apricot. If I had a scarf that was apricot, and someone asked me what color it was, I'd probably say, "I dunno, some kind of mixture of salmon and orange." This scarf was certainly bought from some ultra-chic boutique on Madison Avenue, and cost upwards of three figures, no doubt. Even back in 1972, you couldn't get an apricot scarf for any fifteen dollars.

In an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show from that same era, Gavin MacLeod at one point sports a bright yellow scarf tied around his neck (not at the WJM offices, of course; this was at a party he and Marie hosted at the house), completely oblivious to the fact that it made him look like the gayest thing ever. This points up the narrow line being walked by Ms. Simon's protagionist: a yellow scarf will look absolutely ridiculous, while an apricot scarf while ensure that your horse will naturally win at Saratoga.


I don't have anything further to say about the whole Don Imus contretemps -- heaven knows there's been too much said already. But has anyone else has Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" going through their head these past few days?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Last Thing You Will Ever Want to Hear About Vic Tayback

To bring this whole Vic Tayback thing full circle, David Letterman once presented on a Late Night new products routine a Vic Tayback drinking glass, similar to the glasses featuring stewardesses and other assorted youthful, toothsome females that were sold prominently at finer Spencer's Gifts stores throughout the late '70s. The idea was that you could fill one of those glasses with ice and the comely lass's clothes would disappear; in Letterman's version, the glass featured Tayback -- in his knottiest role as diner owner Mel Sharpels -- and when you filled it with a cold beverage, his greasy T-shirt and other clothing would vanish (a strategically placed frying pan covered his grotty bits, thankfully, although since this is Vic Tayback we're talking about, pretty much his entire body is a grotty bit).

I would give ten bucks for one of those glasses now.

Worldwide Pants

It's traditional in the blogosphere to have periodic PayPal fundraisers, and when we ever get around to having one here, we will ask people to contribute to a very worthy cause: to buy Manny Ramirez a pair of pants that fits him.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

So What Was "Masked and Anonymous" Really About?

Speaking of Masked and Anonymous, as terrible as it is -- and it's plenty terrible -- it's worth noting that it's a long way from the bottom of the Dylan filmic barrel, not when we still have Renaldo and Clara (unseen by me) and Hearts of Fire (unseen by anyone, near as I can tell, although the soundtrack LP, seen at right, was apparently released in England) to kick around. The highlight -- in the DVD, anyway -- comes in the bonus material, when the various actors are asked what they think all this foofaraw was actually about; Val Kilmer responds, "I think it's based on the teachings of Donovan."

Still, one scene has stuck with me, when Jeff Bridges, playing a famous magazine journalist, scores what he thinks is an important interview with Jack Fate, played by Dylan and based on Dylan and much like you'd expect Dylan to be if he'd been a political prisoner for several years. Despite the fact that Jack Fate is submitting to the interview to promote some sort of benefit concert, Bridges' first question is: "So what were the Sixties really about?" (That's a paraphrase, although probably a pretty close one, and there ain't no way I'm watching the whole thing again just to get that quote right.)

Dylan wrote the script himself, you know, along with future Borat director Larry Charles, under the names Sergei Petrov and Rene Fontaine, respectively. So it's fairly safe to assume that he actually has been assaulted with questions like that right from the get-go of an interview. And it really does sound like something some butt-headed self-important journalist would ask Bob Dylan. I wonder, are there other sequences that reflect Dylan's interactions with us mere mortals? Hmm, maybe this is worth seeing again.

In Defense of the Worst Song Ever

Last year a columnist declared that Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey,” a number one hit for five weeks in the spring of 1968 – dethroning Otis Redding’s immortal “Dock of the Bay” -- was the worst song ever. Actually it was worse than that; it was capitalized: Worst Song Ever. Not too many people leapt up in protest, as it’s been a long time since anyone took “Honey” seriously. The 1992 Rolling Stone Record Guide declared, “Even soap operas seldom stoop so low as did Goldsboro’s massive 1968 hit ‘Honey.’” (The most recent edition of that publication, from 2004, mercifully omitted the Goldsboro entry.)

In case you’ve forgotten, or had it erased from your memory Eternal Sunshine-style, “Honey” is the tale of a young woman who plants a tree, gets a puppy, watches the late show, then -- seemingly out of nowhere -- dies. It’s sung in a rueful but hardly heartbroken tenor by Goldsboro, who also hit big with the egregiously sappy “Watching Scotty Grow.” “Honey” bridges the gap between the dead-teenager songs of the early 1960s --- “Teen Angel,” “Last Kiss,” etc. – and the wimp-rock fare that would blow up in the 1970s with Bread and Lobo. Spanning two genres that everyone hates is no way to write a classic song.

Yet the song is really kind of brilliant, a subtle examination of a topic too raw and painful for even the tumultuous days of 1968. Honey’s death, in the song’s third verse, comes so weirdly out of left field – “one day while I wasn't home, while she was there and all alone, the angels came” – that it makes most people throw up their hands, if not their lunch. “Even in 1968, what kind of jerk wouldn't be at his wife's bedside as she died?,” wrote CNN’s Todd Leopold.

The song’s earlier stanzas, so uneventful on first listen, provide clues to the answer to that question, although they don’t really make sense until you know how the story is going to end. In the first verse, the narrator tells how he would commonly arrive home from work to find Honey “sittin' there cryin' over some sad and silly late, late show.” That’s not so alarming, but things get worse in the second verse. “I came home unexpectedly,” the narrator says, “and found her crying needlessly in middle of the day.” Now it’s not just a late show that can set her off, but nothing at all. How often, one wonders, did Honey spend her days weeping?

The narrator then foreshadows the end, saying, “It was in the early spring when flowers bloom and robins sing, she went away.” (Note who is controlling the action in that line.) After the chorus, the angels arrive in the next verse. Now it is strange, as Todd Leopold has noticed, that the end comes “one day while I wasn’t home.” Honey’s death doesn’t happen in a hospital, like in Love Story, or out on a highway, like in “Last Kiss.” If she was ill, it came up all of a sudden, and if it was an accident, it must have involved pruning shears.

And the narrator doesn’t seem especially surprised by her death. He’s saddened, to be sure, but it seems inevitable rather than shocking. How does a young person die suddenly, at home, in such a way that doesn’t take her loved ones by surprise?

Once you start to think about what may have caused the end of Honey, earlier lines take on a weird resonance. In the song’s most famous line, Honey is described as “kinda dumb and kinda smart” – is she bipolar? She then wrecks her husband’s car, but he shrugs it off with a “what the heck” – has he learned not to overreact to Honey’s foibles? The chorus repeatedly promises Honey, up in heaven now, “I’m being good.” Does the narrator hold himself responsible for Honey’s death?

As far as I can tell, no one divined any subtext to Honey’s story back in 1968 – or now, for that matter. Certainly, nobody expected a twee little pop song with a melody borrowed from Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” to confront a serious topic like chronic depression.

I’m not saying it’s a great song or anything, although it is on my iPod. Goldsboro’s smiling-through-the-tears delivery can easily be construed as simple blandness, and maybe that’s all he was capable of. I have no doubt, though, that songwriter Bobby Russell (who died in 1992, so we can’t ask him) had more in mind than puppy love and sudden death. And I have this crazy notion that some of the people who made “Honey” a Number One hit may have understood that. Rest in peace, Honey.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"Where's Junior, Mate?"

As you probably know, Motown legend Jr. "Shotgun" Walker contributed the screeching alto-sax solo to Foreigner's 1981 hit "Urgent." You may not know that although there is a sax riff that continues throughout the song, Jr. wanted no part of that -- he came in, played his solo, and blew, letting some other chumley play sax on the rest of the tune. One suspects that Jr. was out of the studio, onto the sidewalk, and into a bar down the street with a frosty cold Schlitz in his hand before the boys in Foreigner had even finished playing the song.

Monday, April 9, 2007

OPC News

If there's one word that can sum up the OPC experience, that word would be "community." We have built something akin to a small village here, with a strong exchange of viewpoints not unlike the classic New England town hall.

Still, I fear that some people are reluctant to voice strong opinions on the more controversial topics dealt with here, such as Vic Tayback. So I am throwing open the comments section to allow anonymous commenting. Have at it, fellas.

Glorious Benefit

A few years back, while I was having dinner with Dave Chappelle, he asked me what I thought of Da Ali G Show. I said I didn't think it was all that funny, in part because it put me in the position of feeling sorry for people like Newt Gingrich, people I really didn't want to feel sorry for. Chappelle agreed with me. He didn't get the show and didn't understand what was so funny about it.

I have a feeling Chappelle liked Borat -- the 2006 film by Larry Charles, continuing the triumphant roll he began with Masked and Anonymous -- more than that, because there's a lot more lunatic humor in it that doesn't come at anyone's expense. But what made Borat a cause celebre, of course, were the scenes poking fun at ordinary Americans, which actually make up a minor part of the film. I also suspect that these scenes were more staged than most people are aware of, but that's another story.

Take the sequence where Borat attends a formal dinner party somewhere in the Southern part of the U.S. It's fine, really, when he misinterprets one guest's self-description of "retired" as "retard." Handing the hostess a plastic bag of his own poop, though, probably made everyone in the room a wee bit suspicious, so that when a black prostitute in a halter top shows up just before dessert, one suspects that the outraged reaction isn't because of racism or classism but simply because the other guests realize they have been played for chumps.

I wasn't laughing or disgusted with these people by the end of the scene; I felt sorry for them. They didn't do anything but be nice to this odd, foul character in their midst. And even if you think these people deserved a bit of comeuppance, being mean to people you think deserve it is still being mean, which is rarely funny. Candid Camera always had the decency to trot out Allen Funt at the end of a gag, letting the victim off the hook. What we really needed at the end of this sequence was for Borat to stand up and announce, "Hey, it's me, British TV personality Sacha Baron Cohen! And look, over there, it's Masked and Anonymous director Larry Charles!"

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Rockin' Mel

Two of the absolute giants of American popular music, James Brown and Bruce Springsteen, both wrote and recorded songs that employed the phrase "The Big Payback." Neither one of them, sadly enough, thought to rhyme that phrase with "Vic Tayback."

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Manson's Underfoot

So here it is folks, the greatest piece of sketch comedy I have ever seen. This comes from The Ben Stiller Show in 1992, although Stiller himself is nowhere in sight, and is a pitch-perfect rendition of a family situation comedy circa 1959, except for one major difference. Note especially Andy Dick's Harvard-accented farmer.

Any Way You Want It

Out here in Denver, we have an "album rock" radio station, and a "classic rock" radio station. What's the difference? I'm glad you asked. The "album rock" station never plays Journey, while the "classic rock" station does play Journey. Lots of Journey.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Blasting Off

Quick, which was the first British band to have a No. 1 record on the American charts? If I told you it was the coolest song ever, now would you know it?

Of course, it's "Telstar" by the Tornadoes, beating out the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by one year. The sound of the rocket taking off at the beginning and end of the song is allegedly the tape of a toilet flushing, played backwards.

Rock Rule No. 14

Songs with extended na-na's in them are generally excellent, though verging on schlocky.

Cases in point:
"Land of a Thousand Dances"
"Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye"
"Hey Jude"
"Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’"

Thursday, April 5, 2007

We're All 42 Now

To follow up on my previous post, the Dodgers have now announced that every member of their team will now wear No. 42 on April 15.

Also, everyone on the Dodgers will get hugged by Pee Wee Reese, and anyone who makes it to third base will be required to try to steal home.

Spring of 42

Ken Griffey Jr. of the Reds has asked (and received) permission from Major League Baseball to wear the No. 42, which has otherwise been retired from baseball in honor of Jackie Robinson, for one game on April 15, saying, "If he didn't achieve or didn't overcome the racial tension, would I be wearing this uniform?"

In the kind of sensible, respectful move of which there are far too few in MLB, the commissioner's office then suggested that other players also wear 42 on the 15th, which is the 60th anniversary of Robinson's major league debut. The Rockies' setup man LaTroy Hawkins has stepped up to the plate, so to speak, and will also wear 42 although, as he says, "I don't feel worthy, actually," and he's not just talking about his woeful pitching.

Mariano Rivera of the Yankees is, I believe, the last player still wearing 42 regularly, having been grandfathered in when the number was originally retired ten years ago. It would be nice if Derek Jeter insisted on wearing 42 on April 15, Rivera refused, they got into a fight and both landed on the 60-day disabled list, and the Yankees ended up in last place. After all, one of the things Jackie Robinson was emblematic of was beating the Yankees.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Ding! Ding! Ding!

John Mayer's Curtis Mayfield-inspired "Waiting for the World to Change" is his best hit yet, in large part because he's learned the virtues of returning to his tonics, but also for that wacky guitar-glockenspiel duel. In isolation, the glockenspiel sounds like it ought to be the wimpiest, most effete rock instrument there is, yet it shows up most prominently on records by people who weren't effete at all, like Buddy Holly (who I think actually used a celesta) and the Born to Run-era Bruce Springsteen.

Who am I missing? I know there must have been someone who tinkled the glock and came off sounding like Richard Simmons.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

It's a Late Night World/It's a World That We Can Share

After recent posts on Larry "Bud" Melman and Brother Theodore, I thought I'd conclude my Late Night trilogy by discussing why that incarnation of Letterman's show seems so much better than what he's doing now. It was certainly stranger than what he's doing now, with regular visits from the above-named gentlemen and the indescribable Captain Haggerty and oddities like a dentist reviewing Quest for Fire. He used to feud with Chris Elliott; now he feuds with Oprah. It's not surprising which is more popular, but it's obvious to me which is more entertaining.

I could rattle off a dozen great, skewed gags from the Late Night days, including the Joe Theismann pencil sharpener (with his perpendicularly broken leg forming the spinning handle) and Dave's simple comment regarding smoking: "Sure, good health's important, but so is looking cool." I still have the T-shirt my brother gave me that reads "Don't Make Me Violate My Parole," ripped off from a Letterman gag.

The difference between Late Night and The Late Show, I believe, is the size of the studio. Seriously. The Ed Sullivan Theater holds three times as many people as the old NBC studio. and much of the time Dave seems primarily interested in getting a response from them. Thus we get recurring and re-recurring bits like that guy from the Hello Deli or the mercifully now-retired collapsible drinking cup, designed to strike a chord with the tourists in from Overland Park, Kansas. Back in the day, Dave told Newsweek his goal was to "pierce that flat screen every night." Now he seems to want to induce rhythmic clapping in the studio audience, preferably by employing the Rockettes.

I'm not saying The Late Show is bad, because it's certainly quality television, and there's no shame in falling short of the Late Night standards. Dave hasn't been able to match it, but hardly anyone else has either.

Fats Digs a Pony

I know this for a fact: Fats Domino's favorite Beatles album is Let It Be.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Pictures of You

You know, maybe all those women in hockey jerseys are just trying to look like Robert Smith.

OPC Kwik-Kwiz

If, like me, you love Alfred Hitchcock's 1946 movie Notorious, you probably think there's only one thing he could have done to improve it: Get Duran Duran to do the title song.

Ha! Ha! Just a little joke there. But there sure have been a lot of bands that have named songs after Hitchcock movies. See if you can name the song titles/movie titles from the following artists:

The Beastie Boys
Terry Stafford
The Band
The English Beat
The Sonics
Extra credit: Old 97s

Sunday, April 1, 2007

A "Prairie Home Companion" Companion

As I was watching Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep starring as gospelish singing sisters in A Prairie Home Companion, I got to wondering if Tomlin couldn't have had Streep's career had she wanted it. They're actually a decade apart in age, and Tomlin had her first (and only) Oscar nomination before Streep even made a picture, but if anything, Lily's early start should have given her a leg up, since the Seventies were something of a better time for women's roles than anything that has come since.

Streep has the somewhat juicier part in Prairie, since she plays both Lindsay Lohan's mother and Garrison Keillor's ex, but Tomlin makes the stronger impression, all edgy and sardonic and Midwestern (she's actually from Detroit, which probably helps). And Holy Jesus, was Lily ever good in Nashville, beaming at her deaf children, frustrated with her marriage to Ned Beatty (but who wouldn't be), and somehow surviving her heartbreaking dalliance with Keith Carradine. Between those two pictures, though, there are a whole lot of empty spaces, and I know she was on Broadway and doing All of Me with Steve Martin and making a whole bunch of "Magic School Bus" cartoons, but there could have been so much more. She could have been Meryl Streep.

Prairie and Nashville are both Altman, of course, so maybe he had something to do with her performances in both. I mean, all I ever hear about Lindsay Lohan is that she's in rehab or drunk or something, but she is wonderful here, gawky and adolescent and comfortable as part of the ensemble yet enough of a star not to get blown away by Meryl and Lily. To the end, Altman knew what he was doing (and I'm going to forgive him for including the Kevin Kline character, a woefully out of place detective with the crushingly awful name of Guy Noir).