Thursday, May 31, 2007

Clara's Whereabouts Remain Unknown

After The Andy Griffith Show and its various permutations ended, Frances Bavier retired from acting and moved to this house in Siler City, North Carolina, apparently under the impression that if she worked really hard at it, she would never have to leave Mayberry. No, I am not making this up. That's really the house.

It's too bad Miss Bavier never took a break from the role of Aunt Bee, allowing another actress to step in. If she had, the headline in People magazine could have been "Spelling Bee."

Fear the Purple

I caught a few minutes of the Northwestern women's softball team playing in the women's World Series today, and was delighted to see that many of the girls were wearing copious amounts of eyeliner. Just because you're playing a dusty, dirty sport doesn't mean you can't look your best! Some of the girls even opted for the eyeblack/eyeliner double play, which is probably further than I would have been willing to go.

UPDATE: NU's women beat Arizona State, 2-0, and will play again Friday evening. After the national championship in women's lacrosse last week, this is a good time to be a female athlete at Northwestern. Lisa Ishikawa lives!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Good Afternoon, and Good Luck: Making a DVD with George Clooney, Part Two

{Ed. note: If you have not already done so, please read the introduction to this series here, and the first installment here.]

Finding the right balance for a DVD commentary is a matter of both chemistry and mechanics. Director Robert Altman has been re-recoding comments for some of his classic films from the Seventies, including M*A*S*H, Nashville and McCabe and Mrs. Miller. While they are, for the most part, invaluable, for some reason Altman solos on his commentary for M*A*S*H, leaving several five-minute stretches of silence. Leaning too far the other way, American Splendor’s DVD features the movie’s two directors and two stars, alongside Harvey Pekar, whose life the movie is based on, and his wife, for a total of six in the booth. The opportunity for participation becomes so thin that when Pekar’s cell phone rings, he actually takes the call.

Interaction among the commenters is key. The circular studio at New Wave is set up to allow the participants to face each other, to facilitate good conversation. “We built that room from scratch for commentaries,” Lerner says. “In a screening room, everyone’s to your left or right, and you don’t have the same interaction.” Keeping the speakers separated doesn’t seem to work very well. For the Meet the Parents commentary, Ben Stiller and director Jay Roach were in Los Angeles while costar Robert De Niro watched a simultaneously screened version of the film back home in New York. De Niro, who is not exactly Chris Tucker to being with, stubbornly refuses to interact with his colleagues, volunteering almost no information of his own and answering Roach’s pointed questions with little more than grunts. Roach calls it an “anti-commentary.”

“It was so hard to get Bob to talk,” Roach says. “It got to the point that Ben and I were asking questions, like, ‘Bob, didn’t you do theater at one point?’ It was so lame. He’d say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I did some.’ I don’t know what he was doing, but I pictured him taking a nap, or reading the paper. Finally, during the end credits, he goes off on this story about the deer in the corral for The Deer Hunter, and it runs through most of the end credits.”

In De Niro’s defense, it can be hard to come up with fresh material. On the DVD for the first Austin Powers, Mike Myers explicates the craft of comedy. During the scene where a freshly unfrozen Austin urinates for a good two minutes, Myers explains his theory of comedy torture, how if you stretch a joke out far enough, it passes from funny to unfunny, then back to funny again out of sheer brazenness. That track was laid down at a studio in Las Vegas in 1997, when DVDs were still in their infancy and Myers and director Jay Roach thought they were speaking to a tiny audience of comedy geeks.

But by the third film, they’re mostly just talking about how great it was to work with Katie Couric. Roach says it’s not series fatigue but literal fatigue that caused that. “Because the DVD comes out so quickly these days, they really drive you to do them during your post-production period,” Roach says. “And we never get to sleep during the post-production period. We were so beat.” He dreams of rejuvenating the Austin Powers commentaries, perhaps on a box set of all three, with Myers recording a track as Dr. Evil.

Myers didn’t just star in the Austin Powers movies but wrote them as well. Clooney, for his part, has no interest in commenting on films he’s merely acted in; he’s conspicuous by his absence, for example, on Ocean’s Eleven, for which Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Andy Garcia cut a track. “I could see it if a filmmaker wanted me to come in and make jokes or keep it fun,” Clooney says. “But when it comes to filmmaking commentary, I leave it to the filmmaker.”

Some of the best commentaries, however, have come from people who weren’t responsible for making the film, and therefore have the latitude to wander all over the map in their comments. The gold standard remains Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church -- their friendship clearly evident throughout -- trading insults and impossibly baroque allusions over Sideways. “It’s almost like a duel,” says Church, “who can come up with the thing that will make the other guy laugh really hard.” People have even suspected the performance was scripted, but Church claims to have gone in cold and produced his references to Windham Hill and Wallace Beery off the dome. “If you ever spent any time around Paul and I, you’d know that scripts are not required,” Church says.

He says they went into it bleary-eyed, at 10:00 one morning long after the film’s release, fueled solely by coffee and Red Bull. The commentary made such an impression on Giamatti that for a long time afterward, he would leave voice mails for Church laughing over the latter’s description of his character as resembling the Underwood Deviled Ham guy.

The capper, though, was Church referring to costar Virginia Madsen as “bejugged.” “I got to that comment before Paul did,” Church claims. “I don’t know if his descriptive would have been ‘bejugged’; he probably would have gone for something a little more diplomatic.” And was Madsen upset when she heard the comment? “Nah, she actually laughed,” Church says. “She was like, ‘I didn’t think you had even noticed.’”

Officially Pronounced Dead

While loading my vinyl copy of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely into my iTunes, I noticed that on the back cover, whilst the other three Beatles are facing the camera, Paul McCartney has his back turned. Gosh, I hope this doesn't mean he died during the recording of this album and was replaced by an exact double.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

California Tumbles Into the Sea

In The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, published in 2004, my buddy Rob Sheffield at one point notes that "no other band's music has been so identified with one particular drug," the band in question being Steely Dan and the drug in question being cocaine. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am the last person who should be passing judgment on such a subject, and far be it from me to challenge Rob on a question of cultural import; this is the man who found the psychic connection between Frank Sinatra and Jay-Z. But that comment struck me as a little off. The protagonist in Steely Dan's best song, "Kid Charlemagne," is manufacturing some kind of acid, is he not?

What I most identify Steely Dan's music with is Los Angeles: Every time I'm in Hollywood, which isn't often enough, I find myself thinking, You must be joking, son, where did you get those shoes? Of course, everyone in L.A., especially in the entertainment industry, comes from somewhere else, and most of those come, like Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, from the outer boroughs. (Actually, while Becker is from Queens, Fagen was born in Passaic, New Jersey [although that "Is there gas in the cah? Yes, there's gas in the caahhh!" just screams Belt Parkway to me (and as novelist and bon vivant Toure once told me, by way of explaining why he placed Kanye West's apartment in Hoboken overlooking something he called "the Jersey River," "Jersey's just another borough anyway" [and I certainly hope Toure is a reader of this blog, if for no other reason than I can then refer to him as OPC reader T.])]) It's hard to toodle-oo down the Sunset Strip without pretending to see Becker and Fagen skulking about, wandering into Book Soup to pretend to read some William Burroughs in the process of hitting on some unawares young thang just in from Nebraska.

Anyway, the band I most identify with cocaine is Fleetwood Mac, at least that part of Fleetwood Mac that is contained within Stevie Nicks' rectum.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Hall of Fame

Last night, I was watching an episode of M*A*S*H, something I haven't done in quite a long time, an episode that I would place around 1980, given that Winchester was already on but B.J. had not yet grown that loathesome, anachronistic mustache. B.J. was to the cast of M*A*S*H what LaTroy Hawkins and his 7.27 ERA have been to the Rockies bullpen.

The episode was the customary late-period M*A*S*H combo of sanctimony and bad puns, although it was thankfully free of the de rigueur "war is bad" subplot; this one had a "Winchester is bad" subplot. The most interesting thing about the show was a very brief appearance by the wonderful actor Philip Baker Hall. Hall is possibly best known at this time for his appearance as Bookman the library cop in a terrific episode of Seinfeld, but he's also been a go-to guy for director Paul Thomas Anderson and starred in Robert Altman's amazing one-man Nixon movie, Secret Honor. I'm sure at the time he was glad to have the work, but really, an actor this good should get to do more than ask for Hawkeye's signature on a clipboard. He would have been a way better Colonel Potter than Harry Morgan was.

I'm sure you've all seen this before, but Jesus Cristo, the man is funny: Here's Philip Baker Hall accusing "joy boy" Jerry Seinfeld of "makin' the scene."

Charles Nelson Reilly, 1931-2007

Charles Nelson Reilly was so zany... his final request was that in lieu of flowers, his mourners should send blank.

His dying words were: "Rip Taylor lives on."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Good Afternoon, and Good Luck: Making a DVD with George Clooney, Part One

{Ed. note: Please, if you have not done so, begin with the introduction to this post here. Thank you.}

The parking lot at New Wave Entertainment, housed in a nondescript mustard-colored one-story in Burbank, California, is nearly empty on a hot October Saturday afternoon. Drip by drop, some very important people show up: the head of Warner Independent Pictures, his chief publicist, New Wave’s head of DVD production. They’re all here because of the man who arrives in a black Jaguar sedan, right on time at 2:00: George Clooney has arrived to record the DVD commentary track for his new movie, Good Night and Good Luck, to be released to theaters the following week. The handful of technicians and studio executives have to give up some weekend time because Clooney has been at his day job – acting in Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German – all week. This is his nominal day off. Acting in and directing movies, is, for Clooney, the easy part: “I’m more comfortable with making them than I am with talking about them,” he says.

After reviewing some TV spots for Good Night, the black-and-white story of newsman Edward R. Murrow and his crusade against red-baiting senator Joe McCarthy, Clooney and his producer/co-writer Grant Heslov settle into a tiny windowless studio with a couple of publicists and producer Jeffrey Lerner. There is a round table with four flat-screen monitors arrayed in the center, with headphones and microphones splayed around. The only other furniture in the room is a low-slung green couch in one corner and a table full of water bottles, soft drinks, fruit and cheese in another. It looks more like a radio studio than anything vaguely cinematic.

Lerner asks if Clooney would like the lights cranked low. “Yeah,” he cracks. “It makes me look younger.”

Commentary tracks have become not just a key marketing point but another chance for directors, screenwriters, and actors to explain their work. Just about every DVD released these days has some sort of commentary, although there are a handful of meganames that won’t record them, with Steven Spielberg being the biggest. “I'm not interested in taking a needle and popping every balloon and exposing every mystery of my technique, my craft, my intentions in every scene,” Spielberg has said. “I have never listened to another director’s commentary.”

Although some directors come into these things with sheafs of notes under their arms, Clooney freely admits he has not prepared for this session at all. He’s been living this movie for months now, including a screening the night before. Just in case, Lerner has provided two pages of talking points on the movie and the real history behind it, but Clooney and Heslov toss them aside as they prepare to record their track. They’re already heavy into their banter before the movie even starts; when Angie the engineer’s voice pipes into the studio, interrupting Clooney, he quickly shoots back, “She’s so fired – oops, she could hear me.” A grainy image, itself suggestive of the early days of TV, starts rolling, and peering into the monitors, Clooney and Heslov are off.

Clooney is a veteran at this. He recorded a commentary track for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, the first movie he directed, as well as for Unscripted, a series he produced for HBO. Although Lerner feeds him questions, Clooney has no trouble finding his own points to make. He describes the mechanics of making an elevator look like it's stopping on three different floors on a single-story soundstage and recalls memories of watching his father, a Cincinnati anchorman, from the floor of the news studio. Heslov is more tentative, and for a while doesn’t intrude on Clooney’s monologue, but Clooney is as natural a leader of men as Danny Ocean. He treats Heslov more like a friend and sidekick than a producer – after all, they’ve known each other more than twenty years and arrived together in Clooney’s Jaguar. “You gonna talk,” Clooney asks at one point, “or are you just gonna watch the movie?”

Twenty minutes in, as David Strathairn turns to face the camera, carrying all of Murrow’s gravitas on his lined face, an urgent voice comes in through the headphones. “I’m very sorry to interrupt,” says Angie the engineer from the sound room. The picture on the monitors freezes, with Strathairn looking even more pensive than usual. “But you guys’ food is here.”

The Sad Vagaries of the Magazine Business

I apologize to those of my readers who work in the magazine business and are familiar with its byways, but in order to explain the origins of my next post, I wanted to let people know how it came about, and why it's appearing here in OPC for the first time anywhere. A little while ago I proposed to Rolling Stone magazine, a biweekly published out of New York City, that they should let me write a story about the behind-the-scenes making of a DVD commentary. They, most pleasantly, agreed, and after a great deal of negotiating and failed phone calls, George Clooney's people allowed me to sit in with him as he recorded a commentary track for a film he had directed and was starring in that was just about to come out to no little buzz, buzz being, along with dollars, the prime currency of Hollywood: Good Night, and Good Luck.

So I spent a day out in Burbank and passed a most delightful afternoon with Mr. Clooney, which I wrote about for my pal Larry Smith's Web site here. I came back to Colorado, talked to a few other people with special experience regarding DVD commentaries, and wrote a very nice little story for this magazine. In fact, I thought (and still do think) that it was the best story I'd ever written. I had great material not just from George (although I didn't call him George to his face) but people like Austin Powers director Jay Roach, and erstwhile Wings star Thomas Haden Church, who is now knocking them dead in Spider-Man 3 and who recorded a shockingly hilarious track for his Oscar-nommed role in the movie Sideways.

And then, Rolling Stone killed the story. It wasn't that they didn't like it; they just never really found a place to use it before the DVD of GN,&GL came out, and once it did come out, my story was irredeemably stale. I was quite disappointed, but that's life in the big leagues, and I did get paid for the article. Plus I got to spend an afternoon with George Clooney, sandwiched around lunch at In-n-Out Burger and dinner on the Sunset Strip, and received a phone message from Thomas Haden Church that is still on my answering machine to this day.

But the biggest winner in this whole episode is you, the OPC reader, who now gets to read -- at no additional cost! -- about my adventures in the world of DVD commentaries. Installment No. 1 will follow shortly.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better

I always wonder about singers who allow notably better singers to appear on records with them. I suppose it's one thing when Steve Winwood, who is considered a top-notch vocalist by many people, gets Chaka Khan to come in at the end of "Higher Love, but Chaka really cleans Stevie's clock on that one. Or when Usher tacked a Ludacris rap onto the end of "Yeah"; everybody I knew would just listen to that song waiting for Ludacris to get rolling.

But what was Eddie Murphy thinking when, at the conclusion of his wan hit "Party All the Time," he lets his producer, the one and only Rick James, come in and show everyone what a real singer sounds like? If you were wondering whether Eddie could hold his own, Rick James puts any doubts to rest.

Reversing the sequence, some thin-voiced singer from the now-forgotten Primitive Radio Gods used a B.B. King sample from "How Blue Can You Get?" on their sole hit, "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand" (and shouldn't that have been "With a Quarter in My Hand"?), and for a while King's powerhouse blues vocal contrasted nicely with the PRG singer's introspective rap. But at the end of the song, the PRG guy tries to imitate B.B.'s "Been downhearted, babe," and just sounds silly.

Primitive Radio Gods' latest album, 2006's Sweet Venus, was released only as an MP3. Let this be a lesson to you, kids: Don't try to show up B.B. King.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Great Composers Do Not Imitate, They Steal

Did you guys realize the piano figure that drives Len's glorious 1999 hit "Steal My Sunshine" was stolen from the middle eight of the Andrea True Connection's 1976 "More More More"?

Silent but Deadly

Much has been made of the fact that, in creating perhaps the film world's most famous stunt, Buster Keaton allowed a wall to fall on him in Steamboat Bill, Jr. without the benefit of rehearsing the trick. He went out there, measured off the distance, then stood in front of a house whose entire front section collapsed over him, with the cameras rolling. They got one take, just like the famous shot of the tidal wave of nuclear waste in the Radioactive Man movie.

But that's not so odd to me. What's odd is that Keaton used a full-weight wall, one that would have crushed him if he had missed his mark. This entire sequence of the movie, with a cyclone literally ripping the town apart, clearly relies on many lightweight, breakaway buildings being torn from their moors and scattered to the winds. So why not use one of those for the building falling on Buster? I don't know; maybe the added heft gave it a little bounce when it hit the ground around him.

In case you're wondering what I'm talking about, here's some of the cyclone sequence from Steamboat Bill, Jr. (I don't believe this music is original to the film.) The canonical house drop happens at about 2:15.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

OPC's Coverage of 'American Idol'

Somebody who isn't Bob Dylan won the American Idol competition last night. I would rather eat bees than watch American Idol, so if you want to find out who did win, you would be advised to look elsewhere.

And the Tributes Are Already Pouring in

OPC fave Lindsay Lohan sports a Dylan T-shirt in honor of the Bard's B-day.

Birthday Wishes

The corks are popping all over Hibbing, Minnesota, this morning, as the town's favorite son turns 66 years old today. When I was in college, I thought the coolest thing in the world would be if we could get Bobby to sit in on one of our poker games. Here he is taking on the fabulous Ricky Jay and some flooz, and getting the best of both of them.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Stinky Cheeseheads

The idea behind Pee Your Pants for the Brewers is simple: You pledge that if the long-suffering Milwaukee Brewers make the playoffs, and it certainly looks like they will, you will soil your khakis in celebration. (Note especially the little graphic with a Jim Gantner-era Brewer sporting a telltale crotch stain.) Now, I have not spent a great deal of time in Wisconsin, but the impression I have gotten is that streets from Whitefish Bay to Oconomowoc fairly flow with slightly used Leinenkugel's, particularly after one of those Friday night fish fries.

So I'm sure Milwaukeeans are forever looking for an excuse to not just refrain from finding a commode but to refrain from even finding their own fly after yet another marathon bout with a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon. And since the stench of stale urine is not likely to float much farther west than Iowa, OPC heartily endorses this activity. Wisconsinites, let it go.


OK, one more story about the Rolling Stones: As most of you know, once upon a time there were six Rolling Stones (or Rollin' Stones, as they were called then). Brian Jones and pianist Ian Stewart (seen at left, with the band's vocalist) had been playing with some blues bands when they decided to start their own group, and asked Mick and Keith to join up, then Bill, then finally Charlie, whom the others had been recruiting for some time. Just before they were to make their first-ever appearance on British television, manager Andrew Oldham had new suits with velvet collars sent over for the boys to try on. One problem: He sent only five suits.

At that point, Brian had to explain to poor Stu why there were only five: You don't need one, mate, because you're out of the band. That is cold-blooded.

The punchline is, Stu was asked to stay with the band, doing not just his old duties on the ivories but acting as their roadie and tour manager as well. He just wasn't in the band. Stu did get the last laugh, though, remaining an unofficial Rolling Stone for far longer than Andrew Loog Oldham, touring with them through 1982 and playing on albums as late as 1983's Undercover before dying of a heart attack in 1985.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


If this blog had any sort of sizable readership, I'm sure I would have gotten several notes from people complaining that I was denigrating the talents of Feist when I scoffed at her chances for superstardom, especially from my hypothetical Canadian contingent. But that's not the case at all; I made no claims regarding her musical abilities, since, as I said, I had never heard any of La Feist's music.

But I have now, in the course of buying tickets for an upcoming Feist show here in Colorado, at which I hope to bury the hatchet on this one-sided, mostly nonexistent feud we've been having. Feist's Web site plays snippets of her tunes incessantly, so any interested parties are invited to dial that puppy up.

For my money, she sounds like a Melanie for the 21st century. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is left up to the devices of the reader.

Monday, May 21, 2007

From My Personal Point of View

Frank Guida, the creator of the Norfolk sound, died last Saturday at the age of 84. Now, I was never aware that there was a Norfolk sound, but I was aware that Jimmy Soul's Number One hit "If You Want to Be Happy," from 1963, which Guida wrote and produced, was an excellent song. I realize that the Tidewater area has been one of the most fertile sources of hip-hop in the past decade or so, with the Timbaland-Missy Elliott nexus operating out of there. Funny how certain areas of the country always seem to be hotbeds for music of even disparate genres, like the way Minneapolis produced Dylan (sort of) and Prince and the Replacements and Husker Du.

I can hear that Norfolk sound surviving a little further down the Atlantic coast in the beach music of the later 1960s. In fact, Guida's dying words were: "The O'Kaysions live on."

You Better Think

For years and years, I heard Green Day's "Basket Case" as:
I went to a shrink
To analyze my think
But that's not how it goes at all. It's actually:
I went to a shrink
To analyze my dreams

My way is lots better, isn't it? It rhymes, for one thing, which is always good. And having a shrink analyze your dreams is kind of expected and unsurprising, not a very fresh turn of phrase. Plus, that use of "think" as a noun has a certain Green Day grottiness to it.

Billie Joe, feel free to use that.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Who Sell Out?

On another blog that I ordinarily enjoy reading, Lawyers, Guns & Money, a guest blogger has written a diatribe against Elvis Costello, whining that Old Declan has sold out by doing a commercial for Lexus. As Milhous said, "It used to be about the music, man."

And as Bart replied, "Slag off." This blogger goes on to allow that for certain artists at certain points in their career, it might be OK to sell your music for TV commercials, but for people like Elvis Costello and the White Stripes (!), it's totally uncool. Do you think he or she has any idea how much money Elvis Costello has made in his career? I bet it's far less than ordinarily assumed. He has never had any hits in the common use of that term, has never been a huge draw on the concert circuit, has never even had his songs covered by a lot of more-popular artists, as great as some of those songs may be. God knows, he deserves to be rich by now for the incredible body of work he has produced, but I'm sure he's not. Plus he's trailing a couple of divorces after himself by now. If Elvis can figure out a way to bring in a few bucks for his work, good on him.

More importantly, though, where does anyone get off telling someone else how to live their life? Someone you don't know at all, whom you've never done anything for in your life but who you claim to be a fan of? That is what is totally uncool.

This blogger also opines that now whenever he or she hears the Shins' "New Slang," he or she thinks of McDonald's, which only suggests to me that he or she is watching far too much television, because I've never heard any TV commercials with the Shins' music in them.

And again, I'm sure he or she has no idea how much money the Shins make, but I'll bet "not much" sums up the situation nicely. While the Shins are serving as this blogger's source of vicarious cool, they themselves are serving as four guys who live in shabby apartments in Portland, Oregon. They're at that stage of life where their girlfriends are becoming wives, their wives are becoming mothers, and a little extra money wouldn't hurt. Does that make them sellouts in the eyes of a blogger? Well, boo frickin' hoo.

I can remember hearing Rhett Miller's voice on a commercial for Kodak, thinking, "That's great, Rhett deserves some real money for all the fantastic work he's done with the Old 97's, and I hope he brings home a fortune from that ad." Plus, it was nice hearing Rhett on the TV. So what could possibly be wrong with that?

I think that if maybe this blogger had already done everything he or she could to support Elvis Costello's career, gone to every show in his or her town, bought every album (including Goodbye Cruel World, which I find highly dubious), then maybe, just maybe, he or she could make the case that Elvis was letting down his fans by being in a car commercial. But if that isn't the case... shut yer piehole.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Accidents Will Happen

Although I had heard the song many times, I never really caught onto the opening lines of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "That Smell" until the other day:

Whiskey bottle
Brand new car
Oak tree, you're in my way

That's funny, and reminiscent of Humbert Humbert's description of his own mother's untimely demise: "(picnic, lightning)."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

You Walked In to the Party

There was already a male singer harmonizing with Carly Simon on the choruses as she recorded "You're So Vain" that night in London in 1972, before Mick Jagger dropped by the studio. But once Jagger started singing too, Harry Nilsson realized he was a third wheel and gracefully bowed out.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Knock on Wood

My favorite kind of impression is the one that takes on a relatively minor celebrity, one that you wouldn't ordinarily think worth impersonating, and brings out such specific and recognizable traits that you can't help laughing in recognition. The gold standard was performed by the wonderful Janeane Garofalo on The Ben Stiller Show's Woody Allen's Bride of Frankenstein. Stiller himself essayed Sydney Pollack in that sketch, well enough that you would say, "Hey, that's Sydney Pollack," even if you didn't think beforehand that you'd necessarily recognize someone doing a Sydney Pollack imitation. But Janeane captured Juliette Lewis with mannerisms that you never knew Juliette Lewis ever had, and as a result was not just exactly like Juliette Lewis but hilarious in the bargain.

Another one on in this realm is Mike Myers' Ronnie Wood as done on the Saturday Night Live sketch "The Ron Wood Show." Who would think Ron Wood would be worth imitating? Mike Myers, apparently, whose Woody carried around an oversized martini glass and an omnipresent cigarette holder and didn't talk so much as cackle.

But Wood has always been a bit of a clown, even back before he joined the Rolling Stones. Apparently all he has to offer to the band is his bonhomie and appropriate hair, because he doesn't add much in the way of musical value. He played a mean pedal steel on "Far Away Eyes," which anyone who was at my bachelor party heard on the jukebox twenty times in a row, but after that, bupkis.

Although Wood did much to patch up the warring factions in the Stones, even going so far as being willing to befriend Bill Wyman, which probably takes some doing, he never quite broke into Mick Jagger's heart. George Thorogood and the Destroyers opened for the Stones on a couple of their early-Eighties tours, and rumor has it that Georgie Boy was instructed to be ready to step in at any moment should a freebase-addled Woody be unable to play some night. At that point, Mick wanted to fire Wood outright, one hopes as much for his musical pointlessness as for anything else.

But one thing you have to give Wood credit for: He stole his second wife from the clutches of the Egyptian-born playboy Dodi Fayed, who would go on to date another blond British flooz. Those two both died in a car crash in Paris in August 1997, which kind of turns the story into a downer, but still, score one for Woody.

Talk to Me About That One Big Break

OPC reader ECB sends along this story from today's Times, ostensibly about Bono's battle with the co-op board of the San Remo, a luxury high-rise on Manhattan's fabulous Central Park West. But the biggest news is buried deeper in the story: Billy "The Stroke" Squier somehow managed to squirrel away enough cash from his limited run of hits to buy an apartment -- with a fireplace! -- in the San Remo.

I bet the guys in Tommy Tutone sure are feeling jealous today.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bad Comic Update

I always thought Tony Rosato was horribly unfunny when he was on SCTV, and took at as an emblem of just how far Saturday Night Live had fallen in the early 1980s when he was enlisted to join the cast of that august show (along with the equally unentertaining SCTV alumna Robin Duke) rather than one of its A-listers, like Eugene Levy or Andrea Martin.

But geez, that's hardly a reason to send throw the guy in prison for two years without even a trial. (By the way, the fact that the writer of that article could say "Industry buzz pegged him as the next John Belushi" indicates that he or she never saw Rosato perform. Industry buzz never even pegged Tony Rosato as the next Jim Belushi.) What does Canada think it is, George Bush's America?

(Thanks to Mark Evanier's invaluable blog for tipping OPC off to this story.)

More Adventures in Orthography

Whilst transferring my vinyl copy of Art Garfunkel's Breakaway to my iTunes, as I wrote about here, I noticed that although the album is clearly called Breakaway, the would-be title track is styled, both on the back cover and on the sticker in the center of the wax, as "Break Away."

Gee, thanks, guys. I guess the logic is that the album title is the noun, but the song title refers to the verb form.

This is not nearly as bad, of course, as the British band the Rolling Stones, who on their 1972 album Exile on Main St. had a song styled "Hip Shake" on the sleeve but "Shake Your Hips" on the sticker, and another one called "Black Angel" on the sleeve but "Sweet Black Angel" on the sticker. Oh, and the album title is "Exile on Main St" on the front cover, but Exile on Main Street on the spine, but that's probably only of interest to copy editors.

Those guys must have been on drugs. Good record, though.

Monday, May 14, 2007

OPC Reviews the 'New York Times' Book Review

The Times Book Review was a bit less self-absorbed this week, although the usually redoubtable Michael Kinsley spends the first half -- actually, I think it's a bit more than the first half -- of his review of Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great reviewing not the book but Hitchens himself, and not just reviewing Hitchens but speculating about what Hitchens might do next, when we already know what he did next: He wrote a book about religion. Stehpanie Zacharek takes the opposite tack in her review of S.E. Hinton's Some of Tim's Stories. Obviously totally uninterested in the book under review, she completely abandons it two thirds of the way through to go back and talk about Hinton's earlier works, which is, of course, just what she had done in the first third of the review as well.

Carrying the banner of reviewers writing about themselves is Jodi Kantor, who gets to review Rebecca Mead's wedding-industry overview One Perfect Day apparently on the basis of having got married four years ago (guess how I know) and having never stopped talking about it since. We learn not just that Ms. Kantor's wedding was "pretty great" and "on the tasteful side," but also that the subsequent marriage appended thereto has been successful as well -- they even make homemade ice cream together! Isn't that cute?

Well, I believe in this and it's been tested by research: People who brag about the state of their marriage in print are 85 percent more likely to end up divorced than people who don't.

Dear Mr. Dork

You may have heard about that ball that Toronto Blue Jays centerfielder Vernon Wells signed for a hcekler in Cleveland last week. Well, signed isn't the right word; he wrote a whole derogatory but good-natured missive on it: "Dear Mr. Dork, Here is your ball! Can you please tell me what gas station you work at so I can come and yell at you when you're working. Please sit down, shut up and enjoy the game. From your favorite centerfielder, Vernon Wells."

That sounded like an awful lot to fit on one ball, making me wonder if Vernon did things like inscribe the Lord's Prayer on a grain of rice in his spare time. But now I have photographic evidence that he simply has neat handwriting, and way more patience than me.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Call Security

A while back I had a networking guy out to the house, to try to see if we could get our wireless internet in the downstairs office to synch up with the computer upstairs without falling apart for days at a time once a week or so. He plugged away at the modem for about a half an hour, then proudly told me that he had been able to give me greatly increased security, installing a password on my wireless hookup that would prevent anyone from pirating my signal as they walked past the house, which was supposed to benefit me somehow or another, although I was never quite clear how.

Well, I asked him, does the upstairs computer work any better? Nah, he said. There wasn't really anything he could do about that.

I understand that computer guys do security because they can do security, and if they could get wireless signals to transmit and be received in the manner they were intended, they'd do that too, but they can't, so hey, let's install a new password here. What boggled my mind was that this guy expected me to be happy that he was keeping other people from stealing my wireless feed, as though I had been wasting a lot of time fending off derelicts who had been wandering from house to house, pausing only to make posts to Slashdot when the signal became strong enough.

Now, any of you who have been to my house (and really, you're all welcome to stop by) know that I live in an almost archetypal suburban setting, with almost no interruption by modern urban distractions, although we've got plenty of our own. Bums with laptops is quite literally the least of my problems.

Birthday Wishes

Please join me and all of us here at OPC in wishing a happy birthday to Jack Nawrocki, who is eleven years old today.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Quote of the Day

"Altamont, it could only happen to the Stones, man. Let's face it. It wouldn't happen to the Bee Gees." -- Keith Richards

I know I should stop writing about the Rolling Stones, but when I looked into that whole Richard/Richards thing, I picked up a copy of Stephen Davis' Old Gods Almost Dead, which is just chock-full of wonderful tidbits. Like:

* In a Tinker-Evers kind of feud, Bill Wyman stopped talking to Keith in 1970, and didn't say another word to him until 1981. I wonder if Keith ever noticed.

* One of Keith's doper running mates throughout the 1960s and 1970s, a guy named Stash de Rola, was the son of the creepy painter Balthus.

* Not just one guy but four people died at Altamont. One drowned in a ditch, two were killed in a car wreck, and one was stomped to death by the Hell's Angels.

* Brian Jones was an excellent swimmer.

It's Oh So Filthy

While researching the conversation that's taking place here, I spent about a half hour this morning studying the back cover of Beggar's Banquet, trying to see if Keith Richards had signed his own name in the graffiti (which is microscopic on CD). Mick and Keith wrote most if not all of that graffiti, as I'm sure you know, in the bathroom of a car repair shop in a Mexican part of Los Angeles. (All I could find was something reading "Keef," which isn't very helpful.)

Now by this point you are probably asking yourself, what does this have to do with Bjork? Spike Jonze's video for the elfin Icelandic belter's "It's Oh So Quiet" commences with a scene in the bathroom of an auto-parts store in a scrubby, Hispanic-looking part of Los Angeles! Coincidence? I think not! It's homage!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

All This Science, I Don't Understand

It was never my intention to provide you, the dedicated reader, with material you were already familiar with here at OPC, so I apologize to anyone who has already seen this rather notorious clip. But I present it anyway because I have always had my own questions about it, deep, disturbing questions, beginning with the question of whether Bill Shatner could actually have been serious about this. It is so heartrendingly awful that you think he must be putting us on, and heaven knows Shatner doesn't take himself all that seriously. On the other hand, I don't think he's a good enough actor to pull that off.

Then again, I can't imagine why Bernie Taupin would participate in the desecration of his own song. So, go figure. Here, from the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards, is William Shatner's Brechtian declamation of Elton John's "Rocket Man."

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Tara Browne, He Lived on the Outskirts of Town

Back in the early days of Swinging London, in 1965 and 1966, there lived a young gentleman with the decidedly unmasculine name of Tara Browne. He was an heir to the Guinness brewing fortune and about as happenin' as a bloke could be in those days, a friend to both Beatles and Stones, a giver of legendary parties and a taker of legendary drugs. On December 17, 1966, driving down a busy London street while in the throes of a trip -- idiot -- Tara ran a red light and was killed instantly. His model girlfriend, riding alongside him, was unhurt, but proceeded to rectify that by hooking up with doomed, abusive Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones. Tara Browne was 21.

John Lennon wrote about Browne's car accident in a sort of roundabout way in "A Day in the Life": "He blew his mind out in a car/He didn't notice that the light had changed." But none of that is what really interests me about Tara Browne. There's nothing unusual about a wealthy young feller going out cattin' around with a young model -- except Tara left behind a wife and two small children, and I mean left behind in that they survived him, although he had also obviously left them behind by the time he was 21 years old.

Married, havin' babies, runnin' off, all before he could vote. Does that sound like one of the grooviest dudes in London to you? It's like he was from West Virginia or something.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Research Project, Part Two

After I posted about how nearly all the biggest names in rock history had dented the charts at the age of 25 or younger, there was a terrific comment by mjn comparing that performance to that of mathematicians, who also tended to make their mark at a fairly young age. If you haven't read that comment, go ahead and check it out now. I'll still be here when you get back.

But what mjn was talking about was not the rookie seasons for these mathematicians but their peak years, their Yaz '67 moments. Bill James also talked about baseball players' peaks, which he pegged as occurring between the ages of 26 and 30. When do rock & roll performers peak? Let's take a look.

To determine when an act reaches its peak, we will use their highest-ranking album in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the Top 500 Albums of All Time, and try to figure their age on the day the album came out. When we get to ten different artists on that list (i.e., we won't rate Sgt. Pepper's Lonely and Revolver), we'll stop and call it a day. Confusing? It shouldn't be. Here we go:

The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely (came out June 1967): John Lennon was 26, Paul McCartney was 24, Ringo Starr was 26, and George Harrison was 24.

The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds (came out March 1966): Brian Wilson was 23, Dennis Wilson was 21, Carl Wilson was 19 (can that be right? That would make him 14 when their first single came out), Mike Love was 25, and Al Jardine was 23.

Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited (came out August 1965): Zimmy was 24.

The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main St. (came out May 1972): Mick Jagger was 28, Keith Richards was 28, Charlie Watts was 30, Mick Taylor was 24, Bill Wyman was an old man of 35.

Marvin Gaye, What's Going On (came out May 1971): Marvin was 32. God, what a mess he was.

The Clash, London Calling (came out December 1979): Joe Strummer was 27, Mick Jones was 24, Paul Simonon was 23, Topper Headon was 24.

Elvis Presley, The Sun Sessions (recorded in 1954-55, came out in 1976): Elvis was 19 and 20 when these sides were cut, but past 40 before they were released in album form. Let's call this one 19-20.

Velvet Underground and Nico, Velvet Underground and Nico (came out January 1967): Lou Reed was 24, John Cale was 26, Sterling Morrison was 24, Moe Tucker was 21, Nico was ageless in that decadent German manner -- okay, she was 28.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced? (came out 1967): Jimi was 25, and I'm not much interested in how old the other guys were.

Nirvana, Nevermind (came out September 1991): Kurt Cobain was 24, Krist Novoselic was 26, and Dave Grohl was 22.

[Ed. note: I left out Miles' Kind of Blue, since it's a jazz album and I'm not measuring jazz performers here.]

I have to say, even I am surprised by the youthfulness of this list. If not for the Rolling Stones' rhythm section (and I had Exile on Main St. at No. 1 or No. 2 on my ballot, but now I would probably rate Let It Bleed, on which everyone was three years younger, as the best Stones record) and the somewhat flukish Marvin Gaye, every single act on this list would have reached its artistic zenith at the age of 28 or younger -- many of them much younger. Even if I extended the list it would be hard to find someone who was even in their late 20s: Springsteen put out Born to Run at the age of 25, Van Morrison put out Astral Weeks at the age of 22, Michael Jackson put out Thriller at the age of 23, Stevie Wonder put out Innervisions at the age of 23.

Feist, remember, is 31.

Give Me Lots of Hair, Long, Beautiful Hair

And I wake up in the mornin'
With my hair down in my eyes and she says "Hi"

Those are the opening lines to O.C. Smith's Grammy-winning 1969 hit song "Little Green Apples." Now, pardon me for being crass, but Mr. Smith doesn't look to me like he ever had to worry about his hair falling in his eyes. Roger Miller, who originally did this song, I can see his hair falling in his eyes, or even Bobby Russell, who wrote both this one and "Honey," but not O.C. Smith.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Carroll, I Know

I wonder if the Carroll County in Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" -- "And Brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billie Joe/Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show" -- is the same Carroll County that appears in Porter Wagoner's 1968 smash "The Carroll County Accident." Probably not, since even if both those artists had real Carroll counties in mind, I count at least seven Carroll counties throught the American South, but it's kind of fun to think that there's a central fictionalized locale where all the great country songs of the 1960s took place.

Quote of the Day

"The filmmakers that influenced me the most, I don't know their names. Because I would go see a film and hate it, and I would say, 'I gotta remember to never do anything like that.'" - Robert Altman, seen at left with his Prairie Home Companion star Lindsay Lohan

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Looking for Richard

In the comments a few days ago, someone asked me to look into the orthography of Keith Richards changing his name to Richard and then back again to Richards. Granting that I don't know what "orthography" means, I am not one to back down from a challenge.

The name switch sounds at first blush utterly pointless; "Richard" is not any easier to remember or simpler to pronounce than "Richards" is. It shouldn't come as any surprise that this ploy was hatched by Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who was only 19 when he came up with this one, just after the band's first single (a cover of a Chuck Berry song called "Come On") came out in England in the summer of 1963. The stated reason was that it echoed the name of the British Elvis, Cliff Richard (Little Richard would have made more sense). This seems lame even by the standards of Andrew Loog Oldham, and is believed to be the last time the Rolling Stones ever attempted to connect themselves with Cliff Richard.

It is a somewhat open question as to when Keith changed his surname back to his father's. The August 19, 1971, issue of Rolling Stone magazine proudly boasts of its interview with "Keith Richard." My copy of Exile on Main St., which was released on May 12, 1972, clearly lists among its credits the guitar work and songwriting of one Keith Richards. Maybe Andrew Loog Oldham thought he would benefit from the association with Mary Richards. I haven't been able to narrow down the date any further than that. Perhaps at some point, deep in the South of France, Keith took a look at his passport and said to himself, "Wot? Who changed my name?"

OPC's Review of the 'New York Times Book Review'

Here are a few of the lead sentences to reviews found in this morning's New York Times Book Review:

* "It's a familiar exchange: I step up to the counter at a convenience store and order my daily ration of Camel cigarettes, which I have been smoking since the Reagan administration and, as it happens, as I type this."

* "It's odd the books people get asked to review. Take this one, a carefree history of our long love affair with drinking. I have no training as a historian, just some slight experience on both sides of bars."

* "A few years back, when my son was in college, he had to mail a letter."

* "Until I received the assignment to review Everett True's Nirvana, I hadn't listened to the band much in recent years."

That's when I gave up, tossed the section aside, and went back to working on the crossword puzzle in the magazine. I am greatly interested in the band Nirvana, and fairly interested in Everett True's book on them, but it is impossible to understate my interest in the amount of time Benjamin Kunkel (who wrote that last quoted sentence) has spent listening to Nirvana. (Hey, Kunkel: They're still great.) Wait, maybe you can understate it, because I am even less interested in the circumstances under which he received an assignment to write about Everett True's Nirvana for the New York Times Book Review. (Tom Carson, who is a true pro, by contrast manages to make it through a review of the new Warren Zevon book without writing about himself at all.)

At least with Dave Barry, who wrote the third sentence quoted up there, I was reading the review because I was more interested in Dave Barry than in the book under review, so I suppose he's entitled to write about himself. But Benjamin Kunkel? Robert R. Harris? Jonathan Miles? I couldn't give a rip about any of those guys, and if Sam Tanenhaus continues to let them write about themselves rather than the books of the moment, I won't give much of a rip about the New York Times Book Review either.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Quote of the Day

"The South is the only place in America where you can get decent food." -- Mick Jagger

Friday, May 4, 2007

Of Very Low Character

This morning my iPod coughed up R.E.M.'s "Get Up," from the album Green. Thirteen letters for artist, song title and album title.

That sounded pretty impressive, but then I thought of a song that would get the job done in a mere seven characters: "40" from the U2 album War. That one's not on my iPod, though.

Blog News

We got a lot of letters here at OPC, or at least we like to pretend we do. Mostly they're along the lines of "Where do you get off busting on a true artist like Tom Petty?" and "I write way better than you, why can't I get my own blog?" and, most chillingly, "What r u wearing?"

Here's one from a Mr. Peter Yarrow of New York City:

"One Poor Correspondent" is the best thing that has happened to me since the day I got out of prison. Is there some simple way I can tell my friends about it?

Whoops, that was actually supposed to be Name Withheld by Request. Oh well, too late now. Well, Mr. Request, this is your lucky day, because OPC now comes with a special feature allowing you to email posts to Paul, Mary, and whomever else you'd like to clue in. Just click on the little envelope with the arrow at the bottom of each post, and OPC will do the rest. And the best thing is, this feature is retroactive, so you can dig into our archives and send off that post on "The Name Game" that made such a deep impression on all of you.

Thanks, NWR!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

You're So Very Mary, Mary

To follow up on my earlier post about the deglamorized world of Seventies sitcoms, does it seems odd to anyone else that Mary Richards didn't have an on-air role (sporadic appearances aside)? Mary Tyler Moore had been one of the most fabulous housewives to ever wear Capri pants when she costarred on The Dick Van Dyke Show in the early Sixties (in which the star similarly took an off-camera role in television production). Let loose on her own, she downshifted from accessorizing and occasionally appearing on national TV in New York to a behind-the-scenes post on local TV in Minneapolis. Ten years later, Maggie Seaver of Growing Pains would stumble into an on-air reporting gig, but the gorgeous Mary remained an associate producer, earning less money than a secretary.

In Minneapolis, no less, although that's certainly better than the dreary apartment in Indianapolis the gals from One Day at a Time suffered through. Producer Allan Burns has explained that they chose Minneapolis because they wanted a lot of indoor sets to foster conversational scenes, so they opted for a setting where the weather wasn't good. In any event, Mary ended up living in a $130-a-month room on the second floor of a house, sleeping on a foldout bed and tucking her pillow away behind the door of an armoire each morning.

An on-air role never seems to have been considered for Mary. The show seems to suggest, through the buffoonish Ted Baxter, that on-air talent is somewhat evanescent and that the real talent behind the WJM news team was the bearlike Lou Grant and the bald Murray Slaughter. Given the choice between joining either group, and even given the occasional appearances of Gordy the weatherman, Mary appears to have made the right decision. What this says for the relationship between the producers of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the actors therein, I could not tell you.


I haven't had much time for posting lately, so I'll just throw this out there: "Free Bird" is the American "Stairway to Heaven." Discuss.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Good Times and Happy Days

The Bunkers’ first floor consisted of a living room, with one end set up as a dining room, and a kitchen. There was no front hall, no family room, not even a bathroom; Archie flushed upstairs. The living room was furnished with two chairs, one of them wooden and uncomfortable-looking, and a couch. The dining room had a round wooden table and chairs. The kitchen had nothing.

But the Bunkers enjoyed far from the shabbiest living conditions on the sitcoms of the 1970s, even disregarding the tent those surgeons in Korea lived in. The Kotters lived in a one-room apartment the next borough over from the Bunkers, with a closet that was helpfully but unnecessarily labeled; Mary Tyler Moore lived in a one-room apartment in Minneapolis. (Her upstairs neighbor didn’t even have a door.) Alice Hyatt let her son have the bedroom in the one-bedroom apartment they shared in Phoenix; Alice slept on the couch. Laverne and Shirley shared a one-bedroom “garden” (i.e., basement) apartment in Milwaukee. Jack, Chrissy and Janet all shared a two-bedroom apartment, but at least they had the promise of sensual hijinks. Across town, Fred Sanford and his son lived in a junkyard in the L.A. ghetto of Watts, which may or may not have been more attractive than the high-rise housing project the Evans family of Chicago called home. Across town from them, Bob Hartley -- a doctor! -- lived in a two-bedroom apartment of his own.

These shows may not have dealt directly with economic issues on a regular basis, and they weren’t trying to achieve some sort of kitchen-sink realism. No one would confuse the four twentysomethings who made up the Sweathogs with actual high school kids. But there was a determined deglamorization at work, or at least a nonglamorization. In the Nineties, the dramatic series NYPD Blue was acclaimed for its dank naturalism, but its set at least had arty slats of light coming in through the windows. The detectives room of the Twelfth Precinct, by contrast, where Barney Miller’s men worked, didn’t even have windows.

Was there something about the 1970s that caused people to want to watch sitcom characters in grimy settings? The credit sequences for Welcome Back, Kotter made Brooklyn look like East Berlin, albeit an East Berlin coated with graffiti. Or did TV executives just not realize how much more palatable it would be to see sparkling, spacious homes? After The Cosby Show debuted in 1984, every sitcom turned into The Jeffersons, a largely urban fantasy of movin' on up. The change, it seems to me, was not for the better.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Tom Poston, 1921-2007

You probably know that he married Suzanne Pleshette when he was 80 years old. You probably didn't know that, like me, he was allergic to onions. You probably didn't care that he appeared on The Match Game. Tom Poston, dead at the age of 85.

His dying words were: "Bill Daily lives on."

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and It Stayed Down

Like my brother before me, I took a rebel stand
He was just eighteen, proud and brave
When a Yankee laid him in his grave
I swear by the blood below my feet
You can't raise a Kane back up when he's in defeat

Maybe I'm missing something, but isn't Virgil saying that his family can't fight back when they've been knocked down? That they're a bunch of quitters?