Monday, December 31, 2007

A Couple of Notes

More "Odd Couple" blogging: Digging further into the Season 2 DVD, I found that the series reached its formidable plateau in episode six, "Murray the Fink." That's the one where Felix and Oscar end up in night court, and Felix puts Oscar on the stand and offers a ringing condemnation of Oscar's character, culminating in "J'accuse! Madison!"

What elevates that scene from exemplary situation comedy to a kind of genius is that Tony Randall pronounces the "Madison" in the same French accent as the "J'accuse." I wonder if that was Randall's idea; I like to think it was.

In a subsequent episode, Felix and Oscar both appear on a talk show hosted by David Steinberg, who apparently had the free rein to ask non-celebrities to appear with him. Steinberg's hair deserves a post of its own: it covers one ear but not the other, and his monobrow goes unplucked.

When I was in college I knew a couple of guys who did impressions of David Steinberg. The archetypal phrase to use to imitate to adenoidal Torontonian, as "Judy, Judy, Judy" is used for Cary Grant, is thus: "This is what I would do. I would boot." Just say those simple sentences, and you'll have the best David Steinberg imitation in town.

The Secretariat of Football Teams

We here at OPC were happy to see the New England Patriots complete their perfect regular season on Saturday night. We consider it a privilege to partake in history-making sports greatness as long as it does not include any team from the Bronx.

Among their other achievements, the Patriots won their division by a rollicking nine games, which is no mean feat over a sixteen-game season. Near as I can tell, this is an NFL record. Even the great 1985 Bears won their division by only seven games.

By comparison, the Patriots' hometown counterparts the Boston Red Sox haven't won their league or division by as many as nine games since 1946.

Headlines on "Slate" That Didn't Come Close to Getting Us to Read the Article

"Finally, a Movie That Gets Gardening Right."

Saturday, December 29, 2007

OPC's Best Movies of 2007

One of the themes of "One Poor Correspondent" has been the way in which contemporary culture has been unshackled from its temporal limits and is now available to us regardless of when the work itself was produced. Pretty much every major movie ever made is now available to you whenever you want to see it. And this doesn't just extend into the past but into the future as well. I would like to see 2007's I'm Not There, but there is no need for me to see it in 2007; I can just wait five months and rent the DVD.

It's similar with music. It used to be that you'd have to go select whatever record you wanted to listen to, which was often something new, and older records often got pushed to the back of your collection. Now, with most of them set on shuffle, your iPod is as likely to cough up Len Barry's "1-2-3," from 1965, as it is Feist's "1 2 3 4," from this year. Or mine is, anyway.

So the best movie of 2007 is probably Notorious or McCabe & Mrs. Miller or something like that. They are certainly as much a part of my 2007 reality as any movies made and released this year.

The bottom line is, I didn't see enough movies that came out this year to produce a Top Ten of New 2007 Films. Let's see, there was:

Ocean's 13
The Darjeeling Limited (plus The Hotel Chevalier)
The Lives of Others
Once (and I can't wait for the sequel, just to see what it will be called: Once Again? Once More With Feeling? Twice?)
La Vie en Rose
Alvin and the Chipmunks
National Treasure: Book of Secrets

That's about seven and a half, and the last one wasn't good enough to be on a Top Ten list anyway. So I'll be able to come out with my Top Ten New Movies of 2007 probably in about 18 months or so.

A World Without Pity

In his song "Human Touch," Bruce Springsteen sings, "Do you think what I'm askin''s too much?" You know, if you write a sentence with a double apostrophe, that's a pretty good clue that it's too awkward for its own good. Why not just make it "Do you think that I'm askin' too much?"?

No wonder that album stiffed.

OPC Presents: Where Are They Now

Eddie Edwards was the best ski jumper in England in the mid-1980s, although that's not much of a claim since England doesn't really have any mountains; he was the 55th-ranked ski jumper in the world.

Still, that was enough to get him into the 1988 Winter Olympics at Calgary. He finished last in both the 70 meter and 90 meter jumps, but became a folk hero just for his efforts, and earned the nickname "Eddie the Eagle." At the closing ceremonies, the IOC president said "At this Games some competitors have won gold, some have broken records and one has even flown like an eagle." According to Wikipedia, that was the first time an individual competitor had ever been referenced at the closing ceremonies.

After the Calgary games, the IOC passed a rule tightening the requirements for people to enter events. It would no longer do to simply be the best in your country at an event. There would be no more Eddie the Eagles.

* * * *

I have been skiing the past few days in Winter Park, Colorado, and when I dropped my son off at snowboarding lessons this morning I noticed an instructor whose name tag read "Eddy Edwards, London, England." I said to him, "Are you the same person as the ski jumper Eddy Edwards?"

"I sure am," he said.

So there you have it. Where is Eddy Edwards now? He's a ski instructor in Winter Park, Colorado.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

You're Gettin' Even While I'm Gettin' Odd

I got the second season of "The Odd Couple" on DVD for Christmas this year, and it's been really terrific to watch. As I mentioned earlier, this was when they switched it over from filming it to videotaping it in front of a live audience, and no series has ever been as energized by that decision as this one. In his book Tony and Me, Jack Klugman talks about how, as theater veterans, he and Randall thought they'd both perform better in front of an audience, and he was certainly right.

The first episode of the season -- "Natural Childbirth," a story about Oscar's niece-by-marriage coming to New York to deliver a baby -- still feels tentative, but in the second show, "Felix's Wife's Boyfriend," Tony Randall finds that sweet spot between heartfelt character work and broad, crowd-pleasing farce, and the series has finally found its footing. Even when the writing is less than outstanding, Randall and Klugman, from that moment on, are just ridiculously good.

Plus, I've been watching the DVD on this very computer I use to post to OPC, and I have been astounded by the resolution. I have never before seen so clearly Jack Klugman's toupee.

And the Christmas Spirit Escapes Like a Thief in the Night

Over in Bethlehem, not the one in Pennsylvania but the real Bethlehem, as soon as the Christmas holiday ended, people went back to having badwill toward men. The headline says it all: "Priests Brawl at Bethlehem Birthplace of Jesus." Apparently, Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests differed over how to most appropriately clean the site of Jesus' birth, and those differences didn't find resolution until "bearded and robed priests laid into each other with fists, brooms and iron rods."

Maybe while they were swinging those brooms, they got some cleaning done.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Let's Twist Again

Is it just me, or is Dire Straits' "Twisting by the Pool" pretty much the exact same song as Elton John's "Your Sister Can't Twist (but She Can Rock and Roll)"? Right down to the Danny and the Juniors-style vocal chording? Maybe there's some template out there for twisting songs that everyone has to follow.

Burnin' Love

Merry Christmas to all. While you're telling scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago, enjoy this Yule log:

Monday, December 24, 2007

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was first performed by Judy Garland in the 1944 movie Meet Me in St. Louis, Vincent Minnelli's musical tribute to history's only Browns-Cardinals World Series, which took place that year. As it was first written, the song was extremely dark: It opened up "Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last/Next year we may all be living in the past." Garland asked the writer, Hugh Martin, to make it a little less dystopian, but Garland's version, which was a hit for Christmas 1944, still reflected the realities of a nation at war: "Someday soon we all will be together/If the fates allow/Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow."

Frank Sinatra wanted to record "Have Yourself" for his 1957 album A Jolly Christmas, and he asked Martin to jolly up the song even further. So the lines about muddling through became "Through the years we all will be together/If the fates allow/Hang a shining star upon the highest bough." The Chairman also changed Judy's "Next year all our troubles will be out of sight" to "From now on our troubles will be out of sight."

James Taylor recorded the version using the second set of lyrics, the ones Garland used in Meet Me in St. Louis, when he cut the song in 2001. Shortly thereafter, September 11 cast the nation into a somber mood, and Taylor's reading took on a resonance of its own.

No matter what state you find yourself in, whether your Christmas will be mostly merry or mostly little, all of us here at OPC hope you have yourself a merry little Christmas now. Right now!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Birthday to the Little Angel Clown Who... That Cried

Andy Dick turns 42 today. Andy, as you probably know, is one of the greatest sketch comedians of our day, first on the much-missed "Ben Stiller Show," then on his own MTV show. The extended centerpiece of the premiere of that MTV series, a mock autobiography called "The Little Angel Clown Who... That Cried," is one of the most brilliant comedic pieces I've ever seen.

Of course, no one much respects sketch comedy, which is most often seen as a gateway to a sitcom or second-rate movies, unless you're on "Saturday Night Live," or even sometimes then. Andy was great on "NewsRadio," but I don't think he's really cut out to have a whole sitcom built around him. What he needs is another "Ben Stiller Show," but he's not going to get it.

The other day I posted a Legends of Springsteen sketch starring Janeane Garofalo; Andy Dick did one, too, and it's maybe even funnier than Janeane's. One of the fun things to do with this one is to try to place the setting given Andy's accent; I'm guessing Galesburg, Illinois.

Merry Christmas From Opera Boy

OPC reader GAK writes in to notify us that Josh Groban's Noel has set a new record by staying at Number One on the album charts for four weeks, the longest stretch for any Christmas album in history, beating out Elvis' Christmas Album, from 1957. Noel is also now the best-selling album of the entire year.

The moral of the story is: Grandma doesn't have iTunes.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Savoir Faire

Labelle's "Lady Marmalade" was a Number One hit early in 1975, popularizing the phrase "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?," which the song repeats ad nauseam. The line, written by Bob Crewe (of Four Seasons fame) and Kenny Nolan (of "I Like Dreamin'" fame), translates from the French as "Would you like to sleep with me tonight?," fitting with the song's theme of prostitution. The song specifically takes place in New Orleans, and Labelle's version of the song was produced by the New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint.

The "voulez-vous" line is a little odd, though, given that "vous" is the more respectful version of the French terms for "you." Surely such a request need not take place on that level of diplomatic formality. It turns out the line was originally used in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire - also set, of course, in New Orleans - by Blanche DuBois, who might have just been using fake French to sound more sophisticated.

But a truncated version of the "voulez-vous" line appears in a song much closer to the provenance of "Lady Marmalade": Steely Dan's "Pearl of the Quarter," from their 1973 album Countdown to Ecstasy. That song - once again, set specifically in New Orleans - has Pearl in the French Quarter "singing voulez, voulez, voulez-vous." Did Crewe and Nolan hear that before they wrote "Lady Marmalade"? Could be.

At Last, the World Finds a Need for Carnie Wilson

Some guys in England have bult a boat that is powered by human fat. Putting their money where their blubber is, the owner underwent liposuction to help power the thing, along with two volunteers; they produced 10 liters of fat, or about two and a half gallons American.

That doesn't seem like very much, does it? It's enough to move the boat only 15 kilometers, or about nine miles American. Clearly, they need to get John Popper involved.

Born in the U.S.A.

Back in the day, I referenced a piece of business from "The Ben Stiller Show" in which the always wonderful Janeane Garofalo played a nine-and-a-half-months-pregnant waitress whose baby was delivered by none other than Mr. E Street Shuffle himself. It wasn't on YouTube at the time, but it is now.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Eno Already

Brian Eno was born Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno. How many people do you know whose surname is only the eighth-longest word in their entire name?

Speaking of Eno, the title of his 1974 album is Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy), named after a Chinese opera called Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy. The almost-title track, though, is called "Taking Tiger Mountain." I wouldn't want anyone to get these things confused.

Bad News for Parents Hoping to Rear White Trash

Hot on the heels of the announcement that Britney Spears' 16-year-old sister, Jamie Lynn, is pregnant comes word that the parenting book by the Spears gals' mom is being put on hiatus. Pop Culture Mom: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World, by Lynne Spears, had been scheduled to come out next Mother's Day, which totally makes a sense, because there are a lot of mothers in that family.

The book was reported to have "a lot of faith elements in it." Given that Lynne Spears' more successful daughter married a guy with a pregnant girlfriend then shaved her head, one presumes that it had "a lot of cocktail-mixing elements in it," as well.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ooh-wee! You're Comin' With Me!

Tired of the grind of touring, Jim Messina had retired from Poco and was working as a producer for Columbia Records in 1972. One of his first assignments was with a singer-songwriter named Kenny Loggins, who at the time was writing songs for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Messina had a grand time working with Loggins on his first album, singing along on the songs. They decided to ask Columbia if they could cut an album together as a duo; Columbia agreed as long as Messina was willing to go back on the road. Messina said yes; Columbia said, fine, go make your duo album. Loggins and Messina said, "We already did - it's called Kenny Loggins With Jim Messina Sittin' In."

The above story comes to you courtesy of Casey Kasem, whose old American Top 40s are being rerun in their entirety on the XM Radio station The 70s on 7. (Casey used this tale as an introduction to the Loggins and Messina hit "My Music," which reached the Top Twenty towards the end of 1973 and was, sadly, their last Top Forty hit; I would be remiss not to tell you that Bryan Adams played guitar on it.) You can't imagine what a boon this is to bloggers who traffic in '70s music trivia.

Notes on Grooming

According to the new book The Dirt on Clean, by Katherine Ashenburg, 40 percent of French men and 25 percent of French women do not change their underwear every day. One supposes that any unpleasant odors arising from such a state of affairs would be swamped by the stench of Gauloises.

I have also recently seen it noted that 55 percent of American women dye their hair. This, I'll have you know, is my natural color.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Dan Fogelberg, 1951-2007

Dan Fogelberg, soft-folkie troubadour who somehow managed to avoid the taint of '70s "wimp rock" that destroyed such performers as Lobo, dead at the age of 56. Fogelberg first gained fame as half the progenitors, along with flautist Tim Weisberg, of the classic '70s jazz-rock album Twin Sons of Different Mothers, which always seemed to be in the possession of someone's cooler older brother - along with Kansas' Point of Know Return - although no one was ever actually observed listening to it. From that point, Fogelberg sacrificed whatever cachet he had for a series of thoughtful, quasi-easy listening hits that showed little in the way of originality, like "Longer," a reworking of Bread's "If," and "Same Old Lang Syne," a mash-up of Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" and Harry Chapin's "Taxi."

OPC must admit it still tears up a bit at "Leader of the Band," though.

Fogelberg's dying words were: "Stephen Bishop lives on."

Conservative Moral Values

From today's New York Sun:

An alleged physical attack on a Princeton University student who is leading a movement to instill conservative moral values among undergraduates is rattling the campus here.

A politics major from Texas who is a junior, Francisco Nava, said he was physically attacked Friday, beaten, and rendered unconscious by two black-clad men about two miles from campus, he told the student newspaper, the Daily Princetonian, in an interview.

From an update to today's New York Sun:

A student at Princeton University who said he was beaten unconscious by two black-clad assailants Friday has said that he fabricated the assault, and that he sent e-mail death threats to himself, three other Princeton students, and a prominent conservative professor at Princeton, Robert George, police said today.

No charges have been filed against the student, Francisco Nava, pending further investigation, a spokesman for the Princeton Township Police said.

In an interview, Mr. George earlier described Mr. Nava's wounds as "severe," doubting that they could have been self-inflicted.

Over the weekend, Mr. Nava's jaw was badly swollen, his face was covered with cuts and abrasions, and the inside of his mouth was bleeding, Mr. George said after visiting Mr. Nava in the emergency room.

The Bio of Seville

My reference to "Witch Doctor" in the previous post resulted in a reader asserting that his copy of that single credits the Chipmunks with performing on it. So in order to clear up that confusion, and while I gather my thoughts about the death of Dan Fogelberg, I'd like to take a look back at the career of David Seville, with and without the Chipmunks, to clarify what exactly went on back then.

Seville (whose government name was Ross Bagdasarian) had had some success as an actor and songwriter before the Chipmunk era began. He was the cousin of the playwright William Saroyan, and appeared in the Broadway version of Saroyan's "The Time of Your Life." (He also had a bit part as a piano player in Rear Window.) While the show was on tour in 1939, Seville (then just 20 years old) and Saroyan wrote a song together called "Come On-a My House," which turned into a huge hit for Rosemary Clooney in 1951.

Seville was messing around with a tape recorder in 1958 when he came up with the technique of singing very slowly, then playing the tape back at hyperspeed to create a vocal that was extremely high-pitched but proceeded at a normal pace. This was how he created "Witch Doctor," which, remember, featured Seville's normal voice on the verses but had the squeaky-voiced witch doctor sing the chorus. It was credited solely to David Seville; there was no mention of a chipmunk anywhere.

But "Witch Doctor" was huge, going to Number One (it even went to Number One on the R&B charts) in the spring of 1958 (in the new movie, Seville's house number - prominently displayed in several shots - is 1958), so Seville came up with the concept of the Chipmunks, cut their famous Christmas song, and they were off to the races. (Simon, by the way, was named after the father of future record-company honcho Lenny Waronker.) The Chipmunks phenomenon has lasted, as we've seen, unto this very day.

In 1960, when Seville was making the Chipmunks' second album, Sing Again With the Chipmunks, he re-recorded "Witch Doctor," this time crediting it to Alvin and the Chipmunks. This version of "Witch Doctor" was released as a single - probably the same single the commenter later owned - but it failed to reach the Top Forty. (I haven't been able to find out if it charted at all.) The Chipminks did have five other Top Forty singles after "The Chipmunks Song," including "The Alvin Twist," and their signature record also squeaked into the Top Forty two more times.

Ross Bagdasarian died in 1972, at the age of 53, but his son carried on the Chipmunks tradition as they successfully moved into Saturday morning cartoonland. Bagdasarian Jr. doesn't have anything to do with the new Chipmunks film, though, other than presumably pocketing a ton of the old do-re-mi.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Walla Walla Bing Bang

As if to prove what I was saying the other day about her being criminally underused, here comes Tim Hill's film Alvin and the Chipmunks, in which the great Jane Lynch is fourth-billed but appears in literally ONE SCENE. To be fair, the voices of the chipmunks themselves are billed lower but have much more screen time, as it were. The human with the second-biggest amount of screen time is David Cross. I wonder if he ever thought, when he was on the razor-sharp cutting edge of comedy in Mr. Show, he'd be starring in a kids' movie opposite CGI rodents. Cross plays the villain here, a record-company weasel, and appears to be born to the part.

The movie does take some liberties with the Chipmunks' story: The group follows up "The Chipmunks Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" with "Witch Doctor" as their second single, when in reality "Witch Doctor" was a solo joint from David Seville, the genius behind the Chipmunks music, and preceded "The Chipmunks Song." No actual Chipmunks sang on "Witch Doctor."

Ace in the Hole

Whilst listening to the radio yesterday I stumbled across, improbably enough, Ace Frehley's "New York Groove," which I remembered as a boot-stomping anthem. (It was the only hit from the four separate solo albums released by the members of Kiss in 1978, going as high as Number 13 on the Billboard charts.) But instead it was wan and feeble, almost laughable.

Now I'm scared to go back and listen to "Shock Me." Don't tell me that's pathetic, too!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Story Fantastic

I first got the idea to launch something like OPC last Christmastide, when I discovered that "Hardrock, Coco and Joe" was available online, and I wished I had an outlet to share it with the entire world. Now I do.

Since then, I have found out that "Hardrock" was created back in 1956, specifically for the Chicagoland kiddie-TV market, which I came to inhabit about a decade later. The animator was a gentleman named Wah Ming Chang; the song was written by Stuart Hamblen, who mostly wrote Christian music and once had a radio show called "The Cowboy Church of the Air."

"Hardrock" aired throughout the Christmas season on the morning kids' programs on WGN-TV, such as "Garfield Goose" and "The Ray Rayner Show," and although those shows have disappeared, the Three Little Dwarfs will never die. Ladies and gentlemen, "Hardrock, Coco and Joe":

Friday, December 14, 2007

Class of 2008

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2008 has been announced, and I don't want to be the one who has to tell Bob Dylan that Wanda Jackson was passed over once again. The performers deemed more worthy than Ms. Jackson are:

Madonna Meh. "Crazy for You" may be the greatest sock-hop-closing song ever, and you can't deny that she's as famous as they get, and it is certainly a Hall of Fame. But this recognition seems more predicated on her videos, attitude, and formidable marketing skills than on her music. People who are more knowledgeable than me about these things may disagree, but I am just not feeling "Causing a Commotion" as a Hall-worthy achievement. Baseball equivalent: Pete Rose

Leonard Cohen I've written an awful lot about Leonard lately, so I don't need to reiterate that here. He's not exactly what I would call rock & roll, but he is a genius, and that counts for something. It would be fun to see Madonna sing "The Stranger Song" at the evening-closing jam on induction night. Baseball equivalent: Kid Nichols

John Cougar Mellencamp Heartland rock isn't exactly what the Hall of Fame usually goes for, but Mellencamp's had an awfully long career with hits that just keep on comin'. Plus, as the "Crumblin' Down" video proved, he's extremely limber. Baseball equivalent: Al Kaline

The Ventures I don't really follow these things, but I don't get what differentiates the Ventures from Dick Dale or the Surfaris. They may very well be qualified; I just don't know. They did have a Top Ten hit with the "Hawaii Five-O" theme as late as 1969. And if you get them confused with the Vogues, you also give them credit for "Five O'Clock World." Baseball equivalent: Bill Mazeroski

The Dave Clark Five Now these guys I do have an opinion on: No. If every single British Invasion band gets in, it really cheapens the honor, doesn't it? And what exactly does the DC5 have going for them? Were their singles more distinctive or memorable than those of Johnny Rivers? Did they have more hits than Johnny Rivers? Then why summon them before Johnny Rivers? Baseball equivalent: Jesse Haines

Gamble and Huff It's hard to argue with guys who have a whole sound named after them. They're certainly more deserving than their proteges the O'Jays, who made it in 2005. One hopes this will pave the way for the Stylistics. Baseball equivalent: Earl Weaver

Little Walter Again, I know very little about him, even less than I do about L'il Wally, who is a completely different guy. As such, I will defer to my betters. Baseball equivalent: Judy Johnson

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Now You Know the Rest of the Tory

Friend of OPC Eric Herman filed the following dispatch for the Chicago Sun-Times today, marveling at the fact that bowtied baseball fan George F. Will, a longtime scourge of those would be soft on crime, has found it in his heart to ask for lenience on behalf of criminal Conrad Black. Perhaps the fact that Black once paid Will $25,000 a year for doing basically nothing had something to do with it.

Ike Turner, 1931-2007

Ike Turner, rock and roll pioneer and dedicated wife beater, dead at the age of 76. He thought his real name was Izear Turner Jr., until very late in life when, applying for a passport, he discovered that he had been christened Ike Wister Turner. When Phil Spector recruited Ike and Tina Turner to perform on "River Deep-Mountain High," which the erstwhile Tycoon of Teen was sure would be his greatest production ever, he instructed Ike to stay away from the studio, while he worked with Tina for six weeks on the vocals. (Glen Campbell, by the way, played guitar on the track.)

That photo above was taken during the "River Deep" sessions by none other than Dennis Hopper, a friend of Spector's whose Hollywood career had fallen on hard times at the moment. Hopper was getting into photography (this was a few years before he would direct Easy Rider), and Spector asked him to shoot the photos for the single's sleeve. That famous shot of Ike at the organ and Tina washing clothes was actually taken in the entryway of Hopper's own home.

Spector might have been better off letting Ike into the studio, since the song was a dud, climbing no higher than No. 88 on the Billboard charts. Ike was a brilliant pianist, guitarist and producer, having been the driving force behind what's come to be called the first rock & roll record, "Rocket 88." Although it was performed by Ike's band, the Kings of Rhythm, and written by Ike himself, for reasons that remain unclear to me, it was credited to Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats (with songwriting credited to Brenston), a band that never actually existed. That's Ike's pumping piano figure supporting Brenston, who was the sax player and sometime vocalist for the Kings of Rhythm.

Ike is of course best known for the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, the band he led for over a decade, and for beating the crap out of Tina, who eventually left him with 36 cents in her pocket. Ever classy, Tina released the following through a member of her camp: "She has not had any contact with him in 35 years. No further comment will be made."

Lithuanians and Letts Do It

Like all people who enjoy good music, I am a big fan of the songs of Cole Porter, although that fandom wasn't enough to get me into the theater to see Irwin Winkler's 2004 biopic De-Lovely, with Kevin Kline as Peru's finest. (For one thing, Kline is more than 20 years older than Ashley Judd, who plays Porter's wife, Linda, but the real Linda Porter was eight years older than Cole.) One nice thing about the film, though, was that Winkler got current pop singers to cover old Porter classics, like Elvis Costello (who had earlier cut Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine") covering "Let's Misbehave."

My favorite among these tunes is Canadian spitfire Alanis Morissette working herself into a fervor over "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)," alternatively titled "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love." Her frenzied rendition really stands in contrast to the one Louis Armstrong recorded in 1957, a slow, droll reading that went on for nearly nine minutes. Here's Alanis:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Meanwhile, the Other Candidates Have Scheduled Trips to Meridian, Mississippi, in Hopes of Securing the All-Important Oil Can Boyd Endorsement

Luis Tiant has announced that after turning his back completely away from home plate, he is throwing his support in the upcoming presidential race to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Night" of a Thousand Stars

I generally eat my lunch around the same time that the Chiller channel has been showing old episodes of "Night Gallery," and while I enjoy stories with a twist -- it's hard to watch a "Night Gallery" entry without sticking around for the ending -- I have also been trying to figure out why this show is, in so many ways, crummy. Rod Serling hosts and wrote many of the episodes, just as with "The Twilight Zone," and the casts are the same collection of veteran actors whose network series had been cancelled four years earlier.

But whereas I remember "Twilight Zone" as being taut and tension-filled, the "Night Gallery" eps I've seen feel bloated and stretched out, like they're just trying to pack enough dialog in to stumble toward the 30-minute mark. Part of that is because in syndication, the original hour-long shows - which featured two or three stories - have been cut to 30 minutes, and some of them had to be padded out. There's also some really cheesy early-Seventies facial hair, like the sideburns on Vincent Price or the sad, squirmy little mustache on sad, old Laurence Harvey - ten years from his triumph in The Manchurian Candidate and less than two years (in the other direction) from his death by stomach cancer - in "The Caterpillar." (Bill Bixby, the thinking man's Michael Landon, sidesteps this fate by appearing cleanshaven, although he doesn't forsake his trademark dork glasses.)

Adding to the degradation, "Night Gallery" was packaged in syndication with episodes of "The Sixth Sense," starring the terminally boring Gary Collins, before his stint hosting "Hour Magazine" and after his years as a wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns, as a parapsycholgy investigator. Rod Serling himself taped intros for those shows, trying to make them look like "Night Gallery" episodes, in exchange for, as far as I can determine, a whole lot of cash.

And also, I suspect, to make those "Night Gallery" shows look a little better by comparison.

Great Moments in Diplomacy

The Bush Administration has announced it has appointed James K. Glassman as the new undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. This is the same position that was handed as a sinecure to former Bush henchwoman Karen Hughes, whose foray into spreading democracy was highlighted by her assuring an Egyptian audience, "I go as an official of the United States government, but I'm also a mom, a working mom." Because, you know, those people will be way more accepting of Abu Ghraib if they know there's somebody's mom behind it.

Glassman has heretofore been primarily a pundit with a record of making spectacularly bad predictions. In what remains, by far, my most shining moment as a journalist, I interviewed Jon Stewart for Rolling Stone back in 2003, and James K. Glassman's name came up:

JS: What about the guy who wrote Dow 36,000. Is he allowed to talk to people still?

OPC: James K. Glassman. He still writes a column for the Washington Post.

JS: So can a doctor come on and go, "You don't need your heart," and they still go to him as your expert? It's insane. There's no accountability for this stuff.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Summers' Discontent

It may seem odd that less than half of Andy Summers' memoir, One Train Later, concerns his time with the Police, but Summers had a pretty interesting ride before then as a sort of auxiliary member of the British invasion, playing with an apparently popular R&B cover band for many years before joining its psychedelic offshoot Dahlian's Chariot, the prog band Soft Machine, and a latter-day version of the Animals Somewhere in there, he was well-connected enough to sell one of his guitars to Eric Clapton. By the early 1970s, though, he was reduced, for several years, to making a living by giving guitar lessons in Los Angeles.

After surviving all of that, it might seem all sunshine and rainbows to be in one of the world's biggest bands, but Summers grumbles his way through most of the Police's seven years together, although, granted, spending that much time with Sting would make anyone cranky. They have to tour too much, the fans are always harassing them, the cops are always harassing them, they have to go back on tour, all those hotel rooms seem the same, etc. Oh, and Sting is insufferable, but who reading this blog didn't already know that?

Summers himself doesn't come across too well, either. (Stewart Copeland seems OK, though.) After one tour wraps up in Asia, rather than going home to his wife and baby, Summers tacks on a three-week vacation for himself through India. (They divorced shortly thereafter.) He talks of partying with John Belushi, and the book includes a photo of Belushi, taken by Summers, on vacation in Bali, but Belushi's death -- which took place right in the shank of the Police's career -- goes unmentioned. Some friend.

Sadly enough, the book ends with the demise of the Police in 1983, so Summers doesn't cover his stint as the bandleader on Dennis Miller's syndicated talk show. I almost said "Dennis Miller's short-lived syndicated talk show," but that would have been redundant. Summers was nimble enough to quit the show before it got cancelled, which as a personal achievement ranks right up there with "So Lonely."

OPC Cooking Class

Last night for dinner I made maple-balsamic-glazed pork medallions, and I got to wondering what was in the balsamic vinegar to give it that piquant flavor, so I checked the label. It turns out the only ingredient is "balsamic vinegar," plus some sulfites. So that's that.

Hey! Wait! I got a real complaint. Vinegar isn't even a naturally occurring substance, much less balsamic vinegar. My box of Oreos can't get away with claiming the contents within are made of "black cookies" and "creme [sic] filling." So how come balsamic vinegar can get away with that?

It turns out that balsamic is made from white grape juice, which is boiled down to half the original volume, then fermented and aged in a series of wooden casks. Traditionally, seven different woods are used in the aging process; none of them, curiously enough, is balsa wood. Also, warns Wikipedia, "Several mass-produced, less expensive varieties may not be aged in wood at all, being nothing more than ordinary wine vinegar with coloring and added sugar." How am I supposed to know if this is what I'm getting, when the labels don't list the ingredients?

Apparently, balsamic vinegar skates through the same loophole that allows beer, wine and other liquors to refrain from listing their ingredients, on the grounds that "beer" or "wine" or whatever is an ingredient in itself. Perhaps it has something to do with the fermenting process being akin to the creation of an entirely new substance; I do not know. If I find out, I will tell you.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Let's Sing Another Song, Boys

A little over a year ago we went to a movie theater here in suburban Denver to see Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, a concert film cum interview centered on the works of Leonard Cohen, and it was terrific. Its terrificness aside, the showing drew a total of one other couple - this was on a weekend night - and half of them were asleep by the time the lights came up. As much as I'm glad they screened it, I can't help wondering what a programmer for a multiplex in McMansion-strewn Highlands Ranch, Colorado, was thinking.

This was before OPC was unleashed upon the world, so I wasn't able to blog about it then, but I recently watched the DVD version, so I can now, and I can say that the film isn't quite as good as I initially thought. Rufus Wainwright delivers an appealingly sleazy rendition of "Everybody Knows," but it's awfully distracting to see him keeping his eyes aimed toward the floor after every line, reading the lyrics. (Rufus also does the necessarily sleazy "Chelsea Hotel, No. 2" and the not-sleazy-at-all "Hallelujah.") And while it's great to hear Leonard himself talking about the real woman named Suzanne who served him tea and oranges that came all the way from China, Nick Cave offers up a horrible recitation of that song.

Most of the songs, though, are great -- it's Leonard Cohen, so how could they not be? I'm Your Man still gets the OPC Seal of Approval. Here's Rufus (without Chaka Khan, sorry) from the movie doing "Everybody Knows":

Friday, December 7, 2007

"Back Door Santa" Goes Unmentioned Again

FYI, an outfit called Edison Research (I hear it's a big syndicate from back east) has polled Americans on their most loved and hated Christmas songs. "The Christmas Shoes" has apparently not seeped into the nation's consciousness as of yet, and if I have anything to say about it, it won't. Here's the list:

1. Nat King Cole, "The Christmas Song"
2. Bing Crosby, "White Christmas"
3. Johnny Mathis, "Do You Hear What I Hear"
4. Burl Ives, "A Holly Jolly Christmas"
5. Harry Simeone Chorale, "Little Drummer Boy"

1. Singing Dogs, "Jingle Bells"
2. Cartman, "O Holy Night"
3. Elmo & Patsy, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer"
4. Jackson 5, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"
5. Barbra Streisand, "Jingle Bells"

FWIW, I rarely hear that Jackson 5 number, since it's been so overwhelmingly superceded by the Springsteen version. And I've never heard Cartman's song; I can't say that I want to.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

You Must Be Joking, Son; Where Did You Get Those Shoes?

The other day I mentioned a Christmas song getting a fair amount of airplay called "The Christmas Shoes," by Bob Carlisle, the Kenny G of country music, who had earlier supplied the world with "Butterfly Kisses." "The Christmas Shoes" is the worst Christmas song ever written, and I don't care how many times you've heard "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer"; "The Christmas Shoes" is worse.

In case you haven't heard the song (and bully for you if you haven't), the synopsis is that the narrator is in a store Christmas shopping when he sees an unkempt little boy trying to buy a pair of shoes; the boy is apparently short of fundage but tells the clerk that he wants them for his ailing mother, who is potentially going to "meet [] Jesus" that night. Seriously. The narrator, of course, shells out the extra bux to pay for the shoes, then ruminates over how "God had sent that little boy to remind me/What Christmas is all about."


First of all, if God would like to show me the real meaning of Christmas, I'd rather He not do it by killing off the mother of a small child, thank You very much. Not that I'm trying to be any sort of hero, but if that's what it would take, I'd rather not know the meaning of Christmas. Second of all, at the end of the day, this kid's going to have a mother who's properly shod, but she's still going to be dead. Not exactly a sentiment to invoke the spirit of Jolly Old St. Nick, is it?

Even if you take the song at face value, it makes no sense. If this kid's mother is in danger of having Christmas in heaven, she's probably bedridden by now, right? So what good is a pair of shoes gonna do her? Have you ever tried to lie in bed, under the covers, with shoes on? It's not all that comfortable. Not to mention the fact that it's really risky to buy shoes without ever having tried them on.

If Bob Carlisle wanted to do something nice for the boy's mom, he should have told him to buy a tiara. Let's be proactive here, Bob: The kid needs guidance.

But there is a bright side to all this. If the boy's mother really does "meet Jesus" on Christmas Eve, she'll be able to wish Him a happy birthday.

I Stayed Up All Night Playing Poker With Tarot Cards. I Got a Full House and Four People Died.

Steven Wright turns 52 today. I like to think of Steven Wright as the purist comic, a total ascetic; his affectless monotone strips the jokes down to their essence, leaving everything to the craft of the humorist, where the exact choice and placement of every single word works to create the joke. He must labor for days on each line, the way Leonard Cohen works on his songs, to ensure that the jokes will work even given that dry non-delivery.

And then you realize that it's not that the delivery has been removed from the equation, but that it's integral part of the act, functioning as part of the character Wright has developed, a man who has perceived, correctly, that the world is a befuddling place calling for equal parts outrage and catatonia. A world where you can see a hitchhiker carrying a sign that reads "Heaven," and that you have no choice but to hit him. As Jon Langford put it, the devil doesn't care if you're a fish or you're a stick.

Here's Steven Wright from 20 years ago:

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Dancing, Pig

In her review of the new biography of Rudolf Nureyev in this week's New York Times Book Review, Toni Bentley takes the author, Julie Kavanagh, to task for giving short shrift to Nureyev's supposedly epochal 1978 appearance on The Muppet Show.

I don't know. I like the Muppets as much as the next guy, but I am not feeling this. You be the judge:

A Handful of Dust

Here I thought Ben Harper was singing "Dance with me to the colors of the dust." That didn't make a whole lot of sense, but what the heck, it's kind of poetic. Then today, for the first time, I heard him singing, "Dance with me to the colors of the dusk."

OK, that makes sense. But I'm not sure it's any better than dust.

Hall Monitor

In the course of playing a Wanda Jackson record on his radio show this morning, Bob Dylan paused to complain that Ms. Jackson was, inexplicably, not a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. While not passing judgment on the righteousness of his specific concern, I will say that this is exactly what the R&R Hall of Fame needs: controversy, especially at the highest levels of musical discourse. And you don't get any higher than Dylan.

There have been instances of people like Chubby Checker and Eddie Money whining about their own omission from Cleveland, but it's easy to dismiss such self-aggrandizement. But when icons start complaining about who isn't in, that can only focus interest on who has made it and who hasn't, and let's face it, most people don't have the first clue, aside from the obvious choices. (Lloyd Price, yes; Brook Benton, no. The Lovin' Spoonful, yes; Cheap Trick, no.)

What the Rock Hall needs is for ordinary fans to care about who's in and who's not. I sense that the Hall doesn't want to make a big deal out of its omissions, for fear of coming across as snubbing people, but hey, if you want to have honorees, you've gotta have dishonorees as well. If Wanda Jackson becomes the Phil Rizzuto of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, that would be a great thing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

In the Middle

One of the many fascinating things about Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" is the way it seems to be the middle passage of a story, suggesting both a beginning and an ending although without anything really happening during the song, but still being, well, fascinating. We know the joker and the thief have both landed somewhere that they'd like to find a way out of; they also know they've been through that, and that this is not their fate. As the hour is getting late, two riders approach. What next? I don't know. I wonder if Dylan knows. Probably not.

I was reminded of "All Along the Watchtower" while watching The Hotel Chevalier, Wes Anderson's new short film, which is being shown prior to screenings of The Darjeeling Limited. This two-hander follows Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman as they meet in a hotel in Paris; although Schwartzman plays the same character in Darjeeling, the two stories aren't all that closely connected. You would miss a couple of jokes in Darjeeling if you hadn't seen Hotel, but Hotel can stand, magnificently, on its own.

The two characters don't explain how they - either collectively or individually - got to where they are, and there is little hint of where they're going. Some unseemliness is hinted at, especially in the unexplained bruises on Natalie Portman's body, but they remain tantalizingly unexplained. There was more exposition in Bob Seger's similarly themed "We've Got Tonight." Yet The Hotel Chevalier throws enough hints in both directions, forwards and backwards, to suggest an entire world of possibilities based on a 13-minute short.

It's hard enough to write a story that is complete and compelling. I can't imagine constructing the middle of a story that leaves you wondering for hours, but that's what Anderson has done here. And Dylan too, of course.

Monday, December 3, 2007


You know that live version of "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band? Of course you do: It is inescapable this time of year. That version - in particular the phrasing of the chorus and the title - is ripped off from the Jackson 5's version on their 1970 album The Jackson 5 Christmas Album.

Birthday Wishes to My Huckleberry Friend

Andy Williams, whom I have been accused of liking, celebrates his birthday today. He sometimes claims to be 77, but he's really 80. Williams now mostly appears at his own Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri. It's a huge place, with a stage that's wider than a mile. Actually, "Moon River" was never really a hit for Andy, but it became his theme song after he sang it at the 1962 Oscars, where it won Best Song. (Audrey Hepburn sings it on the Breakfast at Tiffany's soundtrack.)

Andy stayed on the pop charts as late as 1971, when his theme from another movie, Love Story, hit Number Nine. Through the 1970s, he was also known for his lavish, family-oriented Christmas specials, which took on a bitter tinge in 1976 when Claudine Longet, whom Williams had recently divorced, was arrested for the murder of her lover, skier Spider Sabich. I am pretty sure that Claudine had continued to appear with Andy on his Christmas specials right up until then, which must have been the ultimate good news/bad news day for Williams: "Honey, I'm having an affair, but don't worry! I've killed him!"

I'm sure you'll be hearing Andy's "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" incessantly this holiday season. It sure beats "The Christmas Shoes," anyway.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Robert Craig Knievel Jr., 1938-2007

Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel has made that great bus-jump to heaven, dying last week at his home in Clearwater, Florida. He was 69. In addition to having one of the most oddly spelled first names in America, Knievel was known for jumping his motorcycle over anything people would lay in front of him, and for breaking his pelvis while doing so. Knievel's daredeviltry eventually elevated him to the highest plateau of 1970s American culture: He got his own pinball machine.

The signal event of Knievel's career was his plan to jump over the Snake River canyon in 1974. I say "plan" rather than the jump itself because this thing received the kind of hype associated with the last episode of Seinfeld or Google's IPO. Knievel was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the entire country waited to watch him attempt to leap over not just a river but a substantial chasm of land as well.

The jump itself, on the other hand, was a disaster. The Snake River canyon, located in Idaho near Knievel's home in Butte, Montana, was too wide to be jumped on a motorcycle, so Evel undertook to clear it in a special rocket-fueled sled, the X1 Skycycle, designed by NASA. Well, pardon me, but jumping a canyon in a rocket is much different from jumping it on a motorcycle; why not just use a Piper Cub? Or why not just choose a river that was jumpable on a regular motorcycle? We've got plenty of those here in the U.S. of A.

At any rate, even in his rocket, Evel couldn't jump the Snake River canyon; his parachute deployed too soon (funny, he never needed a parachute when he was doing regular motorcycle jumps) and he crash-landed on the far bank of the Snake River. The whole thing ended up as a big joke, and the demand for Knievel to do his normal motorcycle thing started to slack off; after prematurely announcing his retirement several times, Knievel made his last jump in 1981 at the age of 42. In the end, he had found success but then tried to do too much, forcing him to change his way of succeeding, then failed anyway. Sounds like half the people I know.

There are two films that chronicle Knievel's career: 1977's Viva Knievel!, starring Evel as himself (plus Gene Kelly, Lauren Hutton, Red Buttons, and Leslie Nielsen), and 1971's Evel Knievel, with George Hamilton in the title role. I honestly don't know which one to recommend. You're probably better off sticking with the pinball machine.