Friday, November 30, 2007

Go, Hippie

While I was watching Robert Altman's 1971 movie McCabe & Mrs. Miller (again), I was struck by how many chords of Americana this film covered: gambling, sex, drugs, entrepreneurship, Manifest Destiny, violence, shady lawyers, the little guy being stomped on by big business -- even though it was shot outside Vancouver. At the same time, McCabe seems totally reflective of the time it was made, a time when people set out to make great movies that told the entire story of America in a neat two hours. Maybe it's because of Julie Christie's frizzy curls, or maybe it's just because that's when Altman was at his peak, and Altman's films are so distinctive that they are capable of defining an entire era, like Seinfeld defined the mid-Nineties or Elvis defined the mid-Fifties.

But even McCabe doesn't capture those times as well as a full-page picture of Michelle Phillips and her then-boyfriend Jack Nicholson, strolling together down some Hollywood boulevard in the evening twilight, taken in that same magical year of 1971 and appearing in the current issue of Vanity Fair. It's not just the copious, unashamed armpit hair that Michelle is sporting, or the navy sleeveless dress that seems designed for maximal axillary exposure. It's that Michelle has carted all that copious, unashamed armpit hair to some kind of formal Hollywood shindig -- Nicholson is wearing what passed for a tuxedo back then, with black tie, black shirt, black jacket and blue jeans, and there's an older gentleman seen behind Nicholson in more traditional formalwear. It was a time -- the first time -- that women could unshave their armpits and still be received at the highest reaches of American culture.

This was the moment when the hippies not only stormed the gates of America but were invited in and offered a seat at the table. The yin-yang distinction between flower children and the Establishment had been chopped down, carded into wool, and knitted into a macrame sweater vest. Let a thousand underarms bloom.

Somewhere Nancy Kulp Is Smiling

Obviously, I think "One Poor Correspondent" is a pretty good idea for a blog. But I have to admit it's not nearly as good an idea as Men Who Look Like Old Lesbians.

When You're Not, You're Not

Boomerang this morning aired an episode of "The New Scooby-Doo Movies" featuring, as the special guest star, the very special Jerry Reed. (Reed is apparently close enough to the gang that he can recognize Velma by her voice alone.) Other guests on this series, which originally aired in 1972 and 1973, included such luminaries as Sandy Duncan, Davy Jones, Dick Van Dyke and Mama Cass Elliot.

Man, the kids of the early 1970s sure had eclectic tastes.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Quiet, You

Following in the footsteps of OPC, Slate's Jody Rosen pays tribute today to the late Kevin DuBrow of Quiet Riot. Rosen writes, "Other, better bands—Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi—would ride the tide to superstardom, but Quiet Riot got there first, when 'Cum On Feel' propelled the band's third album, Metal Health, to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200, for one week exactly, in November of '83."

Which brings up the question: What? Def Leppard's Pyromania was released in January of 1983 and went to - oh, excuse me, it was just Number Two on the Billboard album charts. (It would have gone to Number One if not for a little thing called Thriller.) "Photograph," released in the spring of that year, climbed the charts a good six months before "Cum On Feel the Noize," peaking at Number Twelve. Except for the narrow distinction between a Number One and a Number Two album, no matter what Quiet Riot did, Def Leppard got there first.

And, really, if you think it's self-evident that the band you're writing about isn't as good as Motley Crue, they probably aren't worth much of a tribute.

Somewhere Roy White Sheds a Tear

According to the New York Daily News, Mitt Romney has recognized the true locus of evil in our society: “I have to tell you that like most Americans, we love our sports teams and we hate the Yankees,” quoth the Mittster. I believe that is now the most unequivocal statement that Romney has made in his entire campaign.

My chances of voting for Romney have now risen from zero percent to ... OK, it's still zero.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

One Singular Sensation

I used to think that the Jefferson Airplane was the first band to use a singular name - as opposed to plurals like the Chords, the Crickets, the Comets or the Brothers Four - but now I see that the Lovin' Spoonful may have got there first. Both bands were formed in 1965, but Jefferson Airplane Takes Off wasn't released until August of 1966, by which time the Spoonmen had already had four Top Ten hits. Unless I'm overlooking someone - and more than likely I am - I think we have to give them the nod.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Trouble Waiting to Happen

In case you haven't noticed, I have been reading I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon, Crystal Zevon's oral biography of her late ex-husband. Zevon had asked her to do this, to show a full portrait of him, the ugly parts and all, and there were plenty of ugly parts: moody, drunken, manic-depressive, fully capable of slugging his wife in the throes of his alcoholism. Despite all of that, Zevon amassed an impressive number of people who were both fans and friends, although as Jackson Browne says in the book, he had a falling out with pretty much every single one of them. This number includes Stephen King, both Everly Brothers, Carl Hiaasen, David Letterman, even that treacly Mitch Albom.

The very young Zevon cut his teeth as the keysman and musical director for the Everlys in the early 1970s, and it was Phil Everly who suggested that he write a song called "Werewolves of London," after seeing the 1935 film Werewolf of London. Everly, for some unknown reason, thought the song should set off a dance craze, which is why there are lyrics about "I saw Lon Chaney walking with the queen/Doing the werewolves of London/I saw Lon Chaney Jr. walking with the queen/Doing the werewolves of London." Neither Lon Chaney was actually in Werewolf of London, but Lon Chaney Sr. was from out here in Colorado Springs. I always thought he was British; didn't you?

One of the real strengths of the book is that it gives a great perspective on Zevon's financial situation. His career was not untypical for a rock star: showing early promise in the hardscrabble years, finally a hit record ("Werewolves" went to Number 21 in 1978), followed by a brief period of stardom, then records released to diminishing returns, and finally grinding out a living on the road. (Zevon took to touring solo in the 1980s and 1990s, in large part because it was so much cheaper than paying a band. At one point, he toured with a band called the Odds, which opened the shows then appeared on Zevon's set as his backing band. Brilliant!) Although he had a house in Santa Barbara for a while (with a guesthouse he used as a studio), Zevon spent most of his career living in a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood. At one point, he moved to Philadelphia and lived in a girlfriend's apartment there; she apparently threatened to sue over the book's publication, because she is referred to throughout only as "the DJ." I wouldn't be surprised if she wasn't even from Philadelphia, that they changed her hometown to disguise her identity.

The biggest drawback of the book is that it doesn't mention the 1989-90 New Year's Eve show that Zevon played in Chicago, which, although the music was quite good, didn't even start until 11:45, which is hardly enough time to pump up a New Year's crowd before the ball drops. I did manage to steal a poster on the way out, though.

The Guy Who Invented Gatorade, 1927-2007

Dr. Robert Cade, the inventor of Gatorade who was first immortalized in a Beatles song, then by Keith Jackson, has died at the age of 80. Dr. Cade was prodded to invent the great-tasting urine-colored beverage after being asked by Dwayne Douglas, a former football coach at the University of Florida, "Doctor, why don't football players wee-wee after a game?" Cade later said, "That question changed our lives"; it is believed to be the most significant question in world history that has ever contained the word "wee-wee."

The poster yclept Guapo at Baseball Primer got off the best line about this. Sez Guapo: "Relatives of the bereaved will sneak up behind the priest and dump a bucket of the deceased's ashes over his head as the final seconds of the funeral tick down."

Power Couple

Did you know Warren Zevon dated Eleanor Mondale? It was brief, but long enough for him to meet Walter. I wonder if Mr. Bad Example knew that he was carrying on with the ex-wife of Keith Van Horne, massive offensive tackle for the World Champion 1985 Chicago Bears, who has to be a foot taller than Zevon and outweigh him by a good 100 pounds, although I guess it doesn't matter now.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cum On Feel the Rigor Mortis

Kevin Dubrow, lead howler for the 1980s hair-metal band Quiet Riot, found dead at his home in Las Vegas at the age of 52. No word yet on whether he was wearing his wig at the time.

Quiet Riot fluked its way into a couple of hits in 1983 and 1984 by covering some exceptionally tuneful songs originally recorded by the British band Slade, but by 1986, the hits had stopped coming and DuBrow found himself fired from the band he had founded. In the manner of heavy metal bands since time immemorial, several reunion albums and tours were to follow in the ensuing decades.

Quiet Riot was ranked No. 100 on VH1's list of the 100 greatest artists of hard rock. They finished behind Rainbow! Ouch!

We Were Just Us and of Course You Were You

At the instigation of OPC reader JHB, who felt like I had only scratched the surface of the New Dylan phenomenon in my item on Steve Forbert, I went nosing around to see if there was any sort of canonical list of New Dylans extant. (JHB suggests that OPC fave Al Stewart was a New Dylan, but I think he was more of a new Ian Anderson.)

I have found an article from a publication called Tension, written by a gentleman named Paul Most, which lists the following New Dylans, many of which I hit on my first go-round:

1. Steve Forbert
2. Tracy Chapman
3. Beck
4. Steve Goodman
5. Jakob Dylan
6. John Prine
7. Bruce Springsteen
8. Donovan
9. Billy Bragg
10. Bob Dylan (no, I'm not kidding)

Looking over this list, I think Springsteen really killed off the idea of there being any such thing as a New Dylan. Any performer who would even approach the significance of a Bob Dylan would have to be, by definition, exciting and new, as they used to say about the Love Boat, and not a rehash of someone else. In other words, for someone to attain some semblance of Dylan-ness, they have to end up not being a lot like Dylan after all. (In that sense, Beck is kind of a good comp.)

There's also a promotion on pushing a list of selections from "New and Old 'New Dylans.'" Apparently, in the mind of the editors, if you write and sing your own songs, have a somewhat atonal voice, and/or aim for something above basic literacy in your lyrics, you're a New Dylan. Check out this list:

* Bright Eyes (OK)
* Jack Johnson (No)
* Elliott Smith (More of a new John Lennon, but whatever)
* Jackie Greene ( :-P, and even more points off for making me resort to emoticons; anyone who would write a song at this point boasting about how he was "going to dance with the devil," and mean it, doesn't even deserve to listen to Bob Dylan)
* Mason Jennings (don't know him)
* Grant Lee Phillips (OK, maybe)
* Willy Mason (Don't know him)
* Ben Harper (Definitely not)
* Steve Forbert (Yup)
* Bruce Springsteen (Yup)
* Amos Lee (He's different from Ben Lee, right?)
* Patti Smith (Huh?)
* Elliott Murphy (The parodic New Dylan)
* Mott the Hoople (Aren't they the new Bowie?)
* Dan Bern (He's nuts, right?)
* Loudon Wainwright III (Yup)
* Pete Yorn (Maybe)
* Iron & Wine (Never heard them)
* Tom Petty (No)
* Peter Case (The New Dylan-in-Law)
* Ani DiFranco (OK, I can go with that)
* Steve Earle (Maybe)
* Josh Ritter (Don't know him)
* Joe Henry (I guess)

Well, that's kind of a motley list, isn't it. I mean, Tom Petty? But if you take one thing away from it, let it be this: Jackie Greene is bad.

Not Worth Considering

For Your Consideration is, sadly enough, the weakest of the string of improvisational movies made by Chrstopher Guest, which appears now to have peaked with Best in Show, the highlight of which was that Parker Posey underwent actual orthodontia as part of establishing her character. Consideration underscores the fact that all of these films have focused on an odd corner of show business, but by shining its light on something dreadfuly familiar -- the Miramax-style quality film designed to earn Oscar's notice -- it brings out the fact that the film-within-a-film is so bad that it's never believable for a second: A World War II-era movie on Jews in Valdosta, Georgia, the daughter of whom brings her lesbian partner home? And the son of whom is so badly cast that looks like he's pushing 40 despite the fact that he's still living at home? For these movies to work, you have to enter the world the create, but Consideration kept pushing me away.

And while Guest has always poked fun at his characters, here he's downright mean to them. And again, in not believable ways: Are we really supposed to buy that a chat-show host would track down someone who was not nominated for an Academy Award in a coffee shop the morning of the announcement?

Of course, none of that would matter if the film was actually funny. It's not.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I Just Wasn't Made for These Times

Bruce Springsteen's new record, Magic, includes a tribute to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds entitled "Girls in Their Summer Clothes." The last album I recall as having a Pet Sounds tribute was R.E.M.'s Up (with "At My Most Beautiful"), which was also the album that signaled their terminal slide into irrelevance. Here's hoping the Boss fares better.

The only band I can think of that survived their Pet Sounds tribute was the Beatles, with "Here, There and Everywhere" on Revolver, and look what happened to them: Half of the band is now dead.

Extra Points

Back in 1976, the Super Bowl champion Steelers were favored over the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game by 24 points, heretofore the greatest point spread in NFL history. Tonight, the New England Patriots are favored over the Philadelphia Eagles by that same margin of 24 points. That's how good the Patriots are -- they make an average team (the Eagles are 5-5) look like a first-year expansion club.

The Steelers, by the way, covered, winning that game 42-0.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Blogrolling in Our Time

You may have noticed that, in our unending quest to make OPC the most valuable choice for your blog-reading dollar, we have now added a blogroll to the site, consisting either of sites run by my friends, sites I enjoy reading myself, or, most happily, both. I invite you to spend a little time at those sites and let me know what you think of them.

Of particular note on that list is the online archives of the radio show proprietated by my friend Gaylord Fields on WFMU, which now features an instant pop-up that allows you to listen to his eclectic hukilau without having to download it, then open up RealAudio or anything. One click does it all. If you haven't heard Gaylord's show, his taste is similar to mine -- lots of bright shiny well-produced pop songs, which shouldn't be confused with popular songs, although he did play America's "Daisy Jane" a few weeks back. If you want to hear a Temptations song sung in Danish, Gaylord is your man.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hi, Bob

There's a passage in Crystal Zevon's wonderful oral history I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon describing the day that Bob Dylan dropped into the studio while Zevon and a quorum of R.E.M. were working on Sentimental Hygiene. Dylan had simply shown up one day with Jakob in tow, unannounced, uninvited, but who's not going to let Dylan in the door? The R.E.M. guys reacted more or less the way I would react. Zevon's manager at the time, Andy Slater, tells the story:

"I walk into the control booth, and Dylan is sitting there with a kid. I go into the tracking room, and I walk up to each of the guys in R.E.M. and say, 'Hey. how're you doing?' They say, 'Did you see Dylan out there? You freaking out?' I said, 'No, I'm not freaking out. Are you freaking out?' 'Yeah, I'm freaking out.' So I go to the next guy, 'So what's Dylan doing here?' 'I don't know, but he's sitting right there. I'm freaking out.'"

Dylan ended up playing harmonica on "The Factory." Zevon, clever boy that he was, did think to ask him if he had any new songs he wasn't using, but Dylan didn't. "Actually, he said as little as possible," Zevon later wrote, "but he was nice to me." I'd settle for that.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


"Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful." -- Buddha (no, not the guy from Ace of Base, the real Siddhartha Gautama)

You may have noticed the Sitemeter logo pop up on this blog earlier this week. I had been reluctant to install a hit counter here, because having days pass without any hits at all just seemed too depressing, but I finally decided to go ahead and do it, expecting that I'd be getting one or two visitors a day. But since I got the meter up and running on Tuesday morning, I'm closing in now on 100 visitors to OPC, for which I am very grateful.

So let me wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and say thank you to everyone who drops by here. It's nice to know I'm not just wasting my time with this site -- I'm wasting your time! Ha! Ha!

Seriously, though, I appreciate each and every one of you who has chosen to spend your entertainment time at "One Poor Correspondent." I hope you learned a little, or at least didn't get sick.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Little Rock

The other day on VH1 Classic I saw some very old footage of the guys from AC/DC cavorting around what looked like London; if I had to guess, I'd say it was from about 1978, given that Angus Young was wearing only skintight cutoff denim shorts. There was really only a brief period when men would wear things like that, but then again Angus's wardrobe choices have always been idiosyncratic.

But the shorts weren't what struck me about Angus Young -- it was the short. He was significantly smaller than the other guys in the band, who didn't appear to be all that large to begin with. I looked around on the Internet and found that Angus stands five foot two. That's wee! No wonder he wears little-kid clothes.

So, with the invaluable assistance of the Web site Celebrity Heights, I have compiled the following list of musicians and singers who are not, shall we say, big. I listed all those gentlemen I found who were under five foot eight (just barely eliminating people like Ryan Adams at 5'8, Lou Reed at 5'8, and Keith Richards at 5'8 and a half) and whom I was interested in for one reason or another. I didn't list, for example, all of the Small Faces, who actually had to change their name was then five-foot-ten Rod Stewart came aboard. And may I say that this list is much longer than I expected:

Bryan Adams: 5'7 and a half
Jon Anderson: 5'5
Marc Anthony: 5'6 Jennifer Lopez is five foot five.
Billie Joe Armstrong: 5'7
James Blunt: 5'7
Big Boi: 5'6 The name is ironic, you know.
Bono: 5'6 and a half When I see footage of him onstage, he always seems to be built like a tight end. It must be the boots.
James Brown: 5'6
David Cassidy: 5'6 and a half
Phil Collins: 5'6
Rivers Cuomo: 5'6 and a half
D’Angelo: 5'6
Roger Daltrey: 5'6
Glenn Danzig: 5'4
Chris DeBurgh: 5'6
Rick Derringer: 5'4 Hoochie koo, indeed.
Bruce Dickinson: 5'6 These heavy metal singers are little, aren't they? See also...
Ronnie James Dio: 5'4 I'm not sure I trust this one. Dio may not be over five feet.
Fats Domino: 5'4
Bob Dylan: 5'7
Jose Feliciano: 5'5
Flava Flav: 5'6
Flea: 5'6
Peter Frampton: 5'7 and a half
Gordon Gano: 5'4
Lou Gramm: 5'6
Kirk Hammett: 5'7 and a half
Adam Horovitz: 5'6 King Ad Rock. To quote John Lennon, "Above us, Ione Skye."
Billy Joel: 5'5
Elton John: 5'7 and a half Put together, the Piano Men total eleven feet plus half an inch.
Davy Jones: 5'3 Was once a jockey. I'm not kidding.
Howard Jones: 5'7 and a half
Quincy Jones: 5'6 and a half
Cee-Lo: 5'6 and a half
Nils Lofgren: 5'3 That's really little for a guy who's never been known of as little.
Joel Madden: 5'7 I thought they were identical twins, but apparently Benji is a few inches taller.
John Cougar Mellencamp: 5'7 and a half
Moby: 5'7 and a quarter
Larry Mullen Jr: 5'7 Bigger than Bono, at least.
Willie Nelson: 5'6
John Oates: 5'4 and a half
Prince: 5'2
Tommy Ramone: 5'5 Joey, meanwhile, was six foot six.
Trent Reznor: 5'7
Ja Rule: 5'6 and a quarter
Leo Sayer: 5'4
Neil Sedaka: 5'5
Tommy Shaw: 5'5 and a half
Paul Simon: 5'2
Frank Sinatra: 5'7 and a half
Sisqo: 5'4
Phil Spector: 5'5
Billy Squier: 5'6 Who would have guessed? He looks positively lanky on the video for "The Stroke."
Ringo Starr: 5'6
Lars Ulrich: 5'5 and a half
Steven Van Zandt: 5'7 Hence, Little Steven.
Eddie Vedder: 5'7
Pete Wentz: 5'6 and a half
Andy Williams: 5'6 and a half Love him to death, of course.
Paul Williams: 5'2
Bill Wyman: 5'6 I think these guys growing up in postwar England suffered from poor nutrition.
Thom Yorke: 5'5.5

Little Richard, by the way, is five foot ten.

Brothers in Arms

You've probably heard the famous story of how the Everly Brothers broke up mid-concert at a 1973 show at California's Knott's Berry Farm, but what I didn't know about that until very recently (i.e., last night) was that the break-up was a bit wind-aided. Phil and Don were thoroughly sick of each other long before that final snap, and indeed had already decided to break up the act, but they had a contract for that three-night stand at Knott's Berry Farm that they had to fulfill.

Don showed up for the final show drunk, and stumbled through lyrics and harmonies for about five songs before Phil had had enough. He smashed his guitar on the stage and walked off, saying only, "I quit." (Playing such a Spinal Tap-ish venue couldn't have helped matters.) But if he hadn't quit that night, they were planning to quit on each other the next day.

Quote of the Day

"I didn't want to write for pay. I wanted to be paid for what I write." -- Leonard Cohen

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Vanity Err

Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity would guess that I was pretty psyched to get the special Vanity Fair supplement Movies Rock, which came polybagged with the December issue of Vanity Fair, the cover of which showcases Julia Roberts' eyeballs. Unfortunately, it's kind of a dud. The best things in there are the items that were obviously leftovers from the main magazine, like James Kaplan's profile of songwriting genius Jimmy Van Heusen, who is not really known for his movie work and clearly did not rock, but he sure was in tight with Mr. Sinatra.

The material conceived specifically for this issue, on the other hand, tends to be sloppy and self-indulgent. Perhaps I have an eye for these things, having spent many years overseeing magazine fact-checking departments, but I can see the moments where some fact-checker came in at 11:30 on a closing night and said, "We have to change this," and a bleary-eyed editor did literally the least he could do to accommodate the fix. For example, in the magazine's list of the 50 greatest rock soundtracks of all time, No. 14 is Easy Rider, whose entry begins "He-e-ere's [Ed. note: Wha? Is that supposed to be a Jack Nicholson reference? But didn't he do that in The Shining, like ten years later?] the first film ever to license individual songs rather than use a traditional score," and here you can see where the fact-checker looked at the entry for The Graduate, which is literally on the previous page of the magazine and whose soundtrack, you know, licensed individual songs rather than using a traditional score two years earlier, and said, "Uh-oh," so in the Easy Rider entry directly after what I quoted above is added parenthetically "(or one of them, anyway)."

This attitude extends to the piece by Movies Rock editor in chief Mitch Glazer, on an upcoming concert film on the Rolling Stones directed by Martin Scorsese. The second sentence of this story reads "It's February 2006, 36 years since the last, best Stones film, the Maysles brothers' masterful Gimme Shelter..." Last? Even if you only count theatrically released Stones films, there's Hal Ashby's Let's Spend the Night Together from 1981 and At the Max from 1991, and then there's a bunch of other stuff that I'm not sure ever made it to theatres, like the Voodoo Lounge concert movie.

That kind of stuff just irritates me to no end. There's no excuse for not getting these things right. And face it, VF, if your little supplement irritates me, who ought to be your target audience (except that my disposable income is probably not high enough to please your advertisers), who's it going to please?

I Don't Ask for All That Much; I Just Want Someone to Care

Steve Forbert was, I believe, the last of the New Dylans, or at least the last until Conor Oberst came along, following in the footsteps of Donovan, Loudon Wainwright III, Elliott Murphy, John Prine, Bruce Springsteen, and I'm sure I'm missing a few others. (If you don't see the footsteps of some of those guys, it's because that was when Springsteen was carrying them.) Unlike the other new Dylans, whose provenance was centered on their lyrics and who tended to sound a lot like The Times They Are a-Changin', Forbert had that rollicking, updated Blonde on Blonde thing going on, with piano and organ fills and sound bursting from the seams.

I was thinking about Steve Forbert after I posted that video of Steely Dan lip-syncing "My Old School," because Little Stevie Orbit made a video of his own for his hit "Romeo's Tune" in the waning days of the 1970s, and it is most pointedly not lip-synced. Forbert and his band perform the tune live, and it's a crackerjack enough unit to improve on the studio-version single. I like to think that CBS suggested that Forbert mime the lyrics, and he said, "Shoot, let's just play the dadgum song live!" (Forbert, like Rob Sheffield's hero Oil Can Boyd, is from Meridian, Mississippi, which is why I have him talking here as if he were Bobby Bowden.)

Forbert hasn't had any more Top Forty hits since "Romeo's Tune" went to Number Eleven in 1980, but he still is out there touring, making records, and keeping a blog, although he hasn't updated it since July, making it no threat to OPC. I liked this take on the Breeders: "Kim Deal is forever as American as French's mustard. The sound she and her twin sister, Kelly, make together is a kind of drug. [Ed. note: Kelley (sic) more than Kim.] 1993's The Last Splash was quite possibly the best rock-'n'-roll record of the nineties."

Here's Stevie Forbert meeting me in the middle of the day:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Dick Wilson, 1916-2007

Dick Wilson, who portrayed the over-fussy, hypocritical grocery-store manager Mr. Whipple in a series of more than 500 commercials for Charmin toilet paper from 1964 to 1985, has died at the age of 91. No word on the cause of death, although Mr. Wilson's casket has been described as squeezably soft.

Here's a vintage Charmin commercial in which Dick Wilson burrows into the barely concealed depravity of the Whipple character: the grocer is so obsessed with the toilet paper that he has not only measured its circumference but committed it to memory. Creepy.

OPC Presents Celebrity Pigskin Picks

In tonight's Monday Night Football tilt between the Tennessee Titans and the Denver Broncos, George "Goober" Lindsey favors the Titans by the final score of 23-18.

Sound and Vision

From "Boogie On, Reggae Woman":

I'd like to see both of us
Fall deeply in love - yeah
I'd like to see you in the raw
Under the stars above

Yeah, I bet you would, Stevie.

Now, this is certainly a new low for OPC, making jokes at the expense of blind people, but let it be known that Stevie Wonder was not above using his sightlessness to have a spot of fun with the sighted. When he was still a Motown wunderkind, Stevie used to ask the secretaries at the studios to describe the color and pattern of Mr. Gordy's tie, so that when Stevie ran into him he could tell him how much he liked his tie, in great detail.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sucking in the Seventies

We took advantage of a rare good deal offered by a major league sports fanchise last night, attending the Nuggets-Knicks game on Family Night, when we were able to purhase four tickets, four pizzas, four soft drinks and four $10 ESPNZone certificates for $59. When you consider that a pizza and a soft drink by themselves are worth ten dollars -- scratch that: the pizza and soft drink were worth maybe $3.50, but they cost ten dollars. Still, it was a relative bargain.

It was also Super 70s Night, which wasn't heavily advertised before the game, else I might have worn my Styx Paradise Theater concert T-shirt. This was marked mostly by playing "Boogie Shoes" and several selections from Off the Wall during the timeouts.

Also, the following:

* Coming into the arena parking lot, fans were subject to a half-hour-long gas line.

* Rather than the customary pregame Bible study class, the players celebrated a guitar Mass.

* The first 10,000 fans entering the arena received a free copy of Erica Jong's Fear of Flying.

* The national anthem was sung by the Starland Vocal Band.

* Pregame lineups were read over the PA by Don Cornelius.

* All black players wore Afros; all white players parted their hair in the middle and feathered it. Every player was required to play with a wide plastic comb tucked into his back pocket.

* There was a special halftime appearance by Dickie Goodman.

* All players were required to do a line before the game, and another at halftime.

* The Player of the Game, as chosen by the announcers, got to make a special appearance on Fantasy Island.

* If the Nuggets reached 110 points, all fans received a free Pillsbury Space Food stick.

Blog News

For a while there, I had goofed up a setting that was blocking and saving comments on this wonderful blog of ours. No comments were lost; they were just being archived until I got around to approving them.

I have now fixed the settings so that comments are appearing again, and all submitted comments have been published, and even responded to. My apologies, and thanks again to all of my commenters.

Friday, November 16, 2007

New York's All Right If You Like Saxophones

Hearing the saxophone solo at the end of Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" today, I was struck by how similar it was to the saxophone that played at the end of Saturday Night Live back in the 1970s, the one that would start at the end of the last sketch and continue until the host came back onstage after the promo for Marriott's Essex House, a breath of fresh air on Central Park. That saxophone is the official sound of New York City late-night wistfulness circa 1976.

Taxi, for some reason, opted for flute and electric piano, but that show had saxophone written all over it.

Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?

Once again, I have managed to fast-talk my way into persuading the editors of the august journal Bookforum into printing my musings, in this most recent case about the early history of the great American city of New Orleans. New Orleans is perhaps the only city in the United States where, if you were dropped by parachute into any one part of town, you'd immediately know what city you were in -- because of the architecture, the food, the music, the humidity. The book under review, Ned Sublette's The World That Made New Orleans, helps explain why that happened.

My favroite fact from this book is that among the first groups of emigrants to the Crescent City (nobody who lived there ever called it the Big Easy until that movie came out) were “160 prostitutes and 96 teenaged débauchées,” rounded up and deported from France. Would that I could spend one more day as a teenaged débauchée on the streets of New Orleans.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Undeniably Great Songs That I Am, Regrettably, Sick Of

"Satisfaction," the Rolling Stones: The brute simplicity of its riff is part of its genius, but that gets wearing once you've heard the song a thousand times.

Van Morrison: I have all of Moondance loaded on my iPod, save the title song.

"I Got You (I Feel Good),"
James Brown: For a while there, every third commercial was using this song. Now they have switched over to...

"Love Train,"
the O'Jays.

"Should I Stay or Should I Go,"
the Clash: The same basic problem as "Satisfaction," and my sons put it on every CD they burn, so I can't escape it.

On the other hand, I have listened to "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" eleventy-bazillion times apiece, and I still hear something new in them every single time.


cash advance

I am a little disappointed by this. I was hoping to get at least a post-grad ranking; perhaps I have made too many mentions of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

What this blog needs is more uses of the word "megacephalic."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Day I Go Back to Annandale

This video of Steely Dan's "My Old School" is, I believe, from a 1973 episode of American Bandstand, and serves as a good introduction to what used to be conventional in terms of lip-syncing. The Dan brought along, in addition to the core five-man band of that time, a three-person phalanx of background singers, but not a horn section, even though "My Old School" has a pretty extensive horn part, including one passage where the horns take the lead. If they weren't going to bring anyone to fake-play the trumpet, why wouldn't they just get Becker to pretend to sing the backup parts? Somebody had to pay all those background singers!

Dick Clark's henchmen put Fagen and Becker upfront, obviously, because they were the leaders of the band, but it's strange to see the piano out front like that, with the bass player right behind him, especially since Becker evinces no interest in miming the song, and stands there like a gypsy queen in a fairy tale, plucking his bass every once in a while and looking most bored.

It's also a little jarring to see these guys when they were so young; they've been curdled yet sophisticated for so long that you never think of them as being a day under 40.

Let Me Be the First to Wish You...

A radio station out here ("Denver's Lite [sic] Rock") switches over to all Christmas music, all the time, come the holiday season every year. This year, that holiday season began on Monday, November 12th.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Game No. 163

A while back I made an offhanded comment that the game between the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies on October 1st to decide the National League Wild Card was the greatest baseball game ever played. That was the kind of outrageous, provocative statement bloggers have to make to bring readers in, but I don't think I was that far off. In fact, I may have been right.

It was a winner-take-all game; one team was moving on, and the other was going home. The odd thing is that most of the games on the shortlist for greatest game ever aren't winner-take-all games: you've got Game Six of the 1975 World Series, Game Six of the 1986 NLCS between the Astros and Mets, Game Six of that selfsame World Series, between the Red Sox and Mets. One team had its back up against the wall in those games, but the other had some breathing room. That wasn't the case for the Rockies and Padres. It was the case for one of the other candidates, Game Seven of the 1960 World Series between the Pirates and Yankees.

Of course, this was merely a play-in game for the Wild Card, rather than a World Series or League Championship Series game, so that works against No. 163. On the other hand, the Rockies and Padres may well have been the best teams in the National League, as they each had won 89 games at that point, same as the Phillies in a weaker division, and one fewer than the Diamondbacks, who had won a fluky 90 games despite being outscored by 20 runs on the season.

That brings us to the game. Jake Peavy, who will probably win the NL Cy Young later this week, started for the Padres, facing the journeyman Josh Fogg. The Rocks drew first blood on Peavy, with three early runs, but the Padres came back with five of their own, four on a grand slam by Adrian Gonzalez, who struck me as the only hitter on the Padres worth fearing. Down 5-3, the Rockies chipped away with single runs in the third, fifth and sixth to retake the lead.

With one out in the seventh, Garrett Atkins hit a home run over the leftfield wall, with the ball bouncing off a seat in the front row and caroming directly back onto the field. The umpires stupidly called it a double, and the Rockies didn't score in the inning. The score remained 6-5, until the following inning, when with two outs and a man on first, the Padres' Brian Giles hit a catchable liner to deep left field, which the Rockies' MVP candidate, Matt Holliday, misplayed by taking a step forward before going back on the ball. It went for a double, and the Padres had tied the score. Had the umpires called Atkins' homer correctly, the Rockies would still have been winning.

The game went to extra innings at that point, and both teams struggled to score until the top of the 13th, when the Padres' Scott Hairston belted a two-run homer. The Rockies bullpen had gone eight innings up to that point and allowed only that one run on Giles' misplayed liner. Down 8-6, the Rockies then had to face Trevor Hoffman, the majors' all-time saves leader, in the bottom of the 13th. Hoffman had blown a save the previous Saturday in a game that would have given the Padres the Wild Card and eliminated the Rockies. Now he had a chance at redemption.

Kaz Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki greeted Hoffman with bookend doubles, and the Rockies were within one. Holliday was up next, with a chance to erase his misplay from the eighth inning. On the very first pitch, he nearly ended the game with a drive that almost went over the right-field wall; it bounded off the fence for a triple, and the game was tied. Holliday was now the potential winning run. Hoffman intentionally walked Todd Helton, bringing up Jamey Carroll, a light-hitting infielder who had pinch-run for Atkins after his luckless double. With runners on first and third and still no one out, Carroll drilled the first pitch -- every ball hit this inning was drilled -- to Giles in right field, who caught it on a line (he probably wouldn't have if the situation hadn't called for him playing very shallow) and fired the ball to the plate, where it arrived a quarter-second ahead of Matt Holliday.

I doubt if anyone really knows at this point if Holliday touched home plate, even Matt himself, who was knocked a bit silly in the midst of the play. What matters is that he was called safe as he lay in the dirt, dazed and bleeding, and the Rockies had won the game, 9-8.

So let's add it all up. The game had five lead changes, two screaming controversies -- both of which had a direct effect on the outcome -- and a superstar nearly costing his team the game, only to redeem himself by being the key figure in the winning rally, which took place in the bottom of the 13th inning against a probable Hall of Famer. Said superstar ended the game passed out in the dirt near home plate.

Looking back on that game, it was as great as I originally thought. But looking at the other games, I can't say it was better than, for instance, that 1986 Mets-Astros game, which featured the Mets scoring three in the ninth to tie it, both teams scoring in the 14th, and the Mets scoring three more in the 16th only to have the Astros come back with two in the bottom. But why do we need to anoint one game greater than the others anyway? They were all great. I love baseball.

Monday, November 12, 2007

More Wes

In that series of AT&T commericals I can't seem to stop writing about, there's one featuring a salesman who puts on a pair of amber aviator sunglasses and noise-cancelling headphones. The actor's name is Michael Maggart, and you can also see him in Rushmore, as the concierge at the hotel where Bill Murray's character goes after being bounced by his wife.

But he's not really an actor; he's a high school math teacher. The opening scene of Rushmore, wherein Max dreams of solving the hardest geometry problem in the world, was shot in Maggart's classroom.

The Old, Weird Canada

Neil Young turns 62 today. Is he the greatest Canadian rock star ever? His primary competition may be Alberta's own Joni Mitchell, who turned 64 last week on the same day we were celebrating Johnny Rivers' birthday, but Neil's got her beat on career value by now and it ain't even close. As much as I love Leonard Cohen, he's not even really a rock star. Barenaked Ladies work better as a novelty act than as a band you have to take seriously. I suppose you have to send a respectful nod in the direction of Robbie Robertson; Glass Tiger doesn't even enter the conversation. (The Five Man Electrical Band was Canadian: who even knew?)

But you do have to account for that lengthy fallow period in the '80s when Neil was putting out bizarre, ignored record after bizarre, ignored record, the rock & roll equivalent of when George Scott hit .171 with three homers while playing first base for the 1968 Red Sox. The first of these was 1982's Trans, which everybody hates now, but was a fairly substantial hit then, reaching Number 19 on Billboard's album chart. He released a single called "Little Thing Called Love," which I am unfamiliar with but went to Number 71 on the Billboard Hot 100, and then "Sample and Hold," which everyone remembers but did not chart.

Even though Trans is considered the opening salvo in Young's weirdage, it was far bigger than the somewhat more conventional records that followed: the rockabilly Everybody's Rockin', recorded with the Shocking Pinks in 1983; the country Old Ways, from 1985; the synth-rock Landing on Water, from 1986. It was after Everybody's Rockin', I think, that David Geffen sued Neil for making un-Neil-like records. He supposedly went back to his old style with Life, recorded with Crazy Horse in 1987, but nobody ever heard anything from it, either. Of all the albums from this period, Life had the lowest peak chart position at Number 75 (actually, it tied with Old Ways).

Young finally produced another hit in 1989 with "This Note's for You," from the album of the same name. It was actually a doo-woppy kind of album, and I'm no Neil Young scholar, but I am not aware of him pursuing doo-wop at any earlier point of his career. If the album hadn't produced a hit, it would have been just another batch of Geffen-suing weirdness.

I think the lesson here is that you shouldn't stop doing something just because David Geffen doesn't like it.

No Answer

The latest sportscaster cliche to drive me absolutely bananas is the penchant to describe any string of points scored by an NFL team as "unanswered," e.g., "The Rams scored 34 unanswered points on the Saints from the first to the fourth quarter." But of course, the Saints did answer those points, with 22 points of their own!

You can't know if points are unanswered until the game is actually over. In the meantime, Al Michaels and Joe Buck and all the rest, the word you're looking for is consecutive or straight.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Norman Mailer, 1923-2007

Norman Mailer, the boozy, brawling lion of American letters, died Saturday at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He was five foot eight.

Perhaps the highlight of my copy editing career came when Rolling Stone ran three massive excerpts from Mailer's 1991 novel Harlot's Ghost. I noticed that a character who had been called "Freddie" was called "Freddy" several pages later. Mailer never thanked me for catching this error, but at least he never stabbed me with a penknife, either.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Hey, Hit the Highway

On John Cougar's first-ever hit, from 1979, the Hoosier poet mewls about how he needs "a lover that won't drive me crazy." Nee Mellencamp even further clarifies that that obscure object of desire would be "some girl," so we're definitely talking about a human here. You know what that means, Johnny? You need a lover WHO won't drive you crazy!

That kind of slipshod grammar would never fly here at OPC.

Dog Bites Alpo

Crawling across my computer screen yesterday was a headline reading: "Mickey Rourke Arrested for DUI." This belongs on the list of perennially unsurprising headlines along with:

"Cheney Remains Mum on Role in U.S. Attorney Scandal, Torture Decisions, Government in General"

"New Roxette Single Trite, Inexpressive"

"Hillary Clinton Does Something Trivial but Mockable"

"Yankees Sign Aging, Overpriced Player; 'This Won't Win the Series for Us,' Says Cashman"

"JM J. Bullock: Still Looking for Work"

Thursday, November 8, 2007

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mr. Wes Anderson

I recently re-watched the Wes Anderson movie The Royal Tenenbaums -- not, as you're probably thinking, on account of those commercials I wrote about a while back (the actor I mentioned, Larry Pine, is on display here as well, as the unctuous talk-show host Peter Bradley, a knockoff of Charlie Rose, although he's only in two scenes, one of which is a fleeting glimpse of him feeling up Gwyneth Paltrow in her wild-oats montage; the young man who plays the "I'm TEXTing... Mom" student, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, is also here as a bellhop, albeit in a very brief appearance; on the DVD commentary, Anderson pauses to mention what a good actor he is and what a shame it was that they didn't give him more to do, which, no kidding, Wes, the guy is onscreen for like five seconds and if you hadn't pointed him out [he has frizzy hair here as opposed to his AT&T buzzcut], I never would have noticed him) but because my family had recently seen a stage version of E.L. Konigsburg's young-adult novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and I was reminded of Anderson's comment on the director's track of the Royal Tenenbaums DVD of how the brief passage near the beginning of the movie showing Margot and Richie Tenenbaum running away to a museum was inspired by From the Mixed-Up et cetera, in which two kids from Connecticut run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

On a second viewing, I was struck by how much of the film comes across like a young-adult novel (which seems like a misnomer, as those books are generally read by something like 10- to 13-year-olds, who aren't anywhere close to adults). From the Kandy-Kolored design to the slightly askew version of New York City, the movie takes the format of a young-adult book -- literally, since each new section is introduced with a page from a book called, naturally, The Royal Tenenbaums. As I read it, the film basically takes a Y-A premise -- a family of three overachieving teens, with an entrepreneur, a playwright and a tennis ace -- and watches what happens to them as they peak too soon and settle into their miserable 30s. It's the kind of metaphor Anderson was living for a while, wearing suits that were a size and a half too small for him, although he seems to have outgrown that now. (Get it?) He's also helped along by a stellar cast of the quality Woody Allen used to be able to assemble; even Luke Wilson isn't half bad, although he kind of cheats a little by spending most of the movie in a stupor, hidden behind a headband, shades and a full beard.

The irony, though, is that it's jam-packed with suicide, drug addiction, incest, smoking, lesbianism, and plenty other old-adult motifs. There's even some racism, in that hilarious scene where Gene Hackman calls Danny Glover "Coltrane." Given co-writer Owen Wilson's recent troubles, perhaps it's no surprise that the Wilson-Anderson team thinks young-adult themes can live on only in art. And sometimes not even then.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Old Rivers

Johnny Rivers, one of the more underrated talents in the history of rock music, becomes eligible for Social Security today. John Ramistella was born in New York City on this date in 1942 but soon moved to Baton Rouge, where he grew up listening to Fats Domino and other titans of Louisiana music. He then moved to Los Angeles, seeking work as a songwriter and session musician alongside his friend and fellow Louisianan James Burton, and wound up as the headline singer when a brand-new club opened up on the Sunset Strip called the Whisky a Go Go.

Rivers was so popular at the Whisky that his manager, Lou Adler, decided to release a live album of his work there in 1964, a canny and unorthodox decision that deserves a lot more notice than it gets. James Brown released his Live at the Apollo in 1963, and Stevie Wonder's "Fingertips Pt. 2" was a live record in the summer of that same year, so maybe that had something to do with it, but putting those songs out on a live record infused them with a tremendous amount of energy. "Memphis," his first hit, still sounds fresh to me; I'm surprised that more pop acts didn't try putting out live records around that time. His best single, the unstoppable "Secret Agent Man" -- Rivers devised the sinuous opening guitar lick (the song was co-written by P.F. Sloan of "Eve of Destruction" fame) -- wasn't cut live, but they made it sound like it was.

After starting his own label, Soul City, Rivers the A&R man discovered Jimmy Webb (or at least claimed he did) and the Fifth Dimension. But what's most remarkable about Johnny Rivers are those early singles, where his vocal and the live sound make them wholly his own, even though they're mostly not just covers but covers of familiar hits. Here's Johnny (introduced by Judy Garland!) singing "Secret Agent Man" on Hollywood Palace:

Thomas Dawes, 1943-2007

Thomas Dawes, genius behind the mid-Sixties band the Cyrkle, dead at the age of 64. The Cyrkle was discovered by Beatles manager Brian Epstein, which is how the legend got started that John Lennon came up with their idiosyncratically spelled name, and how the Cyrkle came to open for the Beatles on their final tour in 1966. While one of the band members served a brief stint in the Coast Guard, Dawes played bass for Simon and Garfunkel on one of their tours, which is how Paul Simon came to offer them "Red Rubber Ball," which went to Number Two on the Billboard charts in the summer of 1966. (The Cyrkle supposedly later turned down Simon's offer of "59th Street Bridge Song.")

According to the obituary in my newspaper, "Red Rubber Ball" was the only hit for the Cyrkle, which is why, when it comes to obscure pop acts or long-term game-show guests, please, please, please, folks, turn to OPC first for your information before you go to the AP. "Turn Down Day" went to Number 16 in the fall of 1966, a song written by the team of Dave Blume and Jack Keller, about whom I know very little except that Blume also wrote the score for the Don Knotts film The Shakiest Gun in the West.

Dawes, who was the Cyrkle's bassist and co-lead singer, had written neither of the band's hits, but when they began to dissolve shortly after their second hit, he embarked on a career as a commercial jingle writer. He wrote "Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz," "Coke Is It," and several other tunes that were inescapable in the '70s and '80s. The Cyrkle did have one brief reunion for the occasion of -- I kid you not -- Hands Across America.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Taking Their Bouzouki and Going Home

It is with a heavy heart that I report that the Decemberists have been forced to cancel the remainder of their U.S. tour, which would have capitalized on their breakthrough record, The Crane Wife, as it wended through New York City, Los Angeles, and other significant American cities. Or maybe they weren't forced; it seems curious to me that the reasoning behind the cancellation is an unnamed illness suffered by an unnamed band member, and while the band members are certainly entitled to their privacy, well, it's just odd.

We here at OPC do appreciate the willingness of the Decemberists to dress up to have their picture taken, although the photo of them in Rolling Stone last year, clad in jockey wear, made keyswoman Jenny Conlee look, tragically, retarded. The Crane Wife, though, remains one of the most tiptop albums out there at this point, and with his grad-school lyrics, careful enunciation, and faux-New England accent (he's actually from Montana), songwriter and frontman Colin Meloy manages to sounds more than any other vocalist in pop music as if he's wearing glasses.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Let's Work

The other day on the radio I heard a song featuring the unmistakable vocals of Mick Jagger, but with a band that sounded far too loose to be the Rolling Stones, and sure enough, it was "Too Many Cooks," a Jagger solo joint from the early 1970s, produced in full "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" mode by none other than John Lennon. This horn-laden, swamp-thick R&B number was released, for the first time anywhere, on Jagger's recent solo best-of, bringing up the question, where has this tune been?

The song was cut in West Los Angeles, with a recording date given as either November 1973 or May 1974, during Lennon's extended Lost Weekend in Hollywood. I think it's great that two of the biggest stars in music would sit down in the studio and cut a record -- featuring a scorching vocal -- with a big-name band (Jim Keltner played drums, Bobby Keys played sax, Al Kooper played keyboards, etc.), yet have no plans to release it. (By the way, it amuses me to no end that among Lennon's drinking buddies during the Lost Weekend, alongside people like Harry Nilsson and Keith Moon, was none other than the Monkees' Micky Dolenz.)

On a videotape I have called "25 x 5: The Continuing Aventures of the Rolling Stones," Mick and Keith bicker over who abandoned the band for a solo project first. Mick put out his first solo album, She's the Boss, in 1985, which greatly irritated Keith, who always demanded fierce and total loyalty to the band. (After Mick Taylor, whom Keith didn't even like, quit the Stones, Keith thundered, "No one should leave this band except in a pine box," despite the fact that he and Mick had just fired Brian Jones a few years earlier, although in Brian's case, the pine box was not long in coming.) Mick countered that Keith had done his solo thing first with the New Barbarians, a short-lived band that formed to play a court-ordered charity concert in Toronto in 1979 after a Richards' drug bust and included Ronnie Wood and a few other Stones' hangers-on for a subsequent tour. But there was clear acrimony there.

I wonder if that's why "Too Many Cooks" never saw the light of day. Jagger had license to sing and make recordings but whether because of loyalty or outright fear, he didn't want to offend Keith by actually putting out a record.

If you haven't heard the song, here's a non-video video of it:

Great Moments in Coinage

John Adams, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson written in 1819, described the famous pamphlet Common Sense by Tom Paine as "poor, ignorant, malicious," and ultimately "crapulous."

No, I am not kidding.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Something Stupid

In last week's (sorry, I've been out of town) New York Times Book Review, whilst reviewing Pattie Boyd's memoir, Wonderful Tonight, Stephanie Zacharek brings up the old chestnut of how Frank Sinatra called George Harrison's "Something" the greatest love song of all time. (That's what Zacharek says; the way I heard it is that Frank called it the greatest love song of the past 50 years.) The only way I can rationally deal with this assertion is to assume that Frank was having a bit of a laugh on us. I certainly wouldn't include "Something" as one of the fifty greatest love songs of the last 50 years, and I love the Beatles, whereas Sinatra always considered rock & roll at best a mild irritant.

"Something"? The tune is lovely, and the opening line is pretty striking, but Harrison stole that from James Taylor's "Something in the Way She Moves." And after a while, the lyrics go straight downhill: "You're asking me will my love grow/I don't know, I don't know/You stick around now, it may show/I don't know, I don't know." Is this supposed to be the declaration of a great romance? If it is, could the singer at least act like he hopes maybe his love will grow?

When Sinatra performed this number, he didn't exactly treat it with the reverence one would accord to the greatest love song of whatever period we want it to be from. For one, he would attribute it to Lennon and McCartney, which some people would probably just ascribe to Frank being Frank, but Sinatra had tremendous respect and solid working relationships with many great writers, and not just writers from the past. (He recorded a whole album's full of songs by Rod McKuen, and his hit "There Used to Be a Ballpark" was written by "Sesame Street" scribe Joe Raposo.) If Sinatra really did admire "Something," he would have bothered to find out who wrote it.

Singing it, he would Sinatra-ize the lyrics: I've heard him sing "You stick around, Jack, it may show," coming down hard on the "Jack" like he was Jon Lovitz. That has got to be a put-on.

And finally, come on. Sinatra sang a lot of great love songs: "Night and Day," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," "I've Got a Crush on You," "Anything Goes"... OK, "Anything Goes" isn't a love song, but it's wonderfully kicky, isn't it? I'm barely scracthing the surface here; I suspect that Frank Sinatra recorded a hundred songs that were better love songs than "Something."

And that Frank knew it.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

I Remember California

Highlights of my visit to Southern California this week:

* In-n-Out Burger really is that good. We went the other night at 8:30, and the line for the drive-through was out to the street. And it was totally worth it. I can't imagine why McDonald's or Wendy's can't make a cheesburger half as good as an In-n-Out Burger. I've only had one so far this week, but I have in the past made trips to SoCal where I ate an In-n-Out Burger every single day.

* California is the only place I know of where they refer to the highways with the definite article followed by the number of the road, e.g., the 405. In Chicago, for example, you could say "I-94," or "the Dan Ryan," but never "the 94." But it's surprisingly easy, and even a little bit fun, to say "the 101."

* There's not that much drama in the LBC.