Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Who in the World Is Bill Rieflin?

In my morning paper every day there's a list of people celebrating birthdays that day, and I usually check it out to see if there's anyone I wish to note here on OPC. This morning, among the list of celebrants is included the following: "Rock musician Bill Rieflin (R.E.M.) is 48."

Now I am a longtime fan of R.E.M. I have every one of their albums up through and including Reveal, which wasn't very good. I wrote the article on R.E.M. for the 2004 Rolling Stone Album Guide. And I have no idea who Bill Rieflin is.

It turns out that Rieflin, who once played drums for Ministry, was the drummer in the Minus 5, a sort of ad hoc group featuring Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, who has been an adjunct member of R.E.M. for some time now. Ever since Bill Berry's aneurysm back in 1997, R.E.M. has been without a permanent drummer, so Rieflin was invited to play drums on the band's 2004 tour, backing Around the Sun. Apparently, he plays drums on all the tracks on the new R.E.M. record, Accelerate, which I haven't heard in its entirety. At the same time, he is clearly not an offiicial member of the band, of which there are three.

Happy birthday, Bill.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Chuck Eddy Raps Back

I took Chuck Eddy to task for calling "The Night Chicago Died" rap quite a while ago, and he has now responded, belatedly but good-naturedly. Here's Chuck's defense:

The rap part of "The Night Chicago Died" is the INTRO, dude: "Daddy was a cop/On the East Side of Chicago/Back in the U.S.A./Back in the bad old days." Go back and listen again; you'll see what I mean.

As for "Walk This Way," Run DMC covered that song because Rick Rubin read a Village Voice review of Done With Mirrors I'd written in which I called "Walk This Way" rap. 22 years ago! You can look it up. (I called "Lord of the Thighs" rap, too, but nobody ever covered that one.)

The "Night Chicago Died" intro isn't really sung, and it's not spoken-word, so I guess you would have to call it proto-rap. Here, you be the judge:

Thanks, Chuck!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Remaking the Word "Remake"

When Casey Kasem calls something a remake, he means something very specific and something that's probably not what you or I would think of when we use the word "remake." He means a new version of a song that has already appeared once in another version in the Top Forty.

For example, on American Top Forty from September 30, 1978, Casey mentioned that the week's countdown included five remakes, two of which were from the soundtrack to the film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Aerosmith's "Come Together" and Earth, Wind and Fire's "Got to Get You Into My Life." But he didn't include Robin Gibb's dreadful cover of "Oh, Darling," which is a remake by most people's standards. Shoot, it's a remake by anyone's standards but Casey's.

You may have noticed that the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely soundtrack thus placed three hits in the Top Forty at once. All three songs made it to the Top Twenty-Five, in fact, but the soundtrack record was considered an enormous flop. It shipped enough copies to reach the Top Five on the album charts, but most of the double LPs were returned. I'm pretty sure I've never even seen a copy.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Department of Embarrassment

As you know, I pride myself on only delivering material to the OPC readership that they are likely to be heretofore unfamiliar with. When I posted that item about Peter Lorre and Conrad Veidt being an absolute killer team in doubles Ping Pong, I thought surely here was something that none of my readers would know.

Boy, is my face red. Within hours of my posting that item, a new contributor with the handle 11 cents responded with this picture:

Get a load of those clamdiggers on Conrad Veidt! Nice legs, Connie! That drawing comes from the companion Web site for the biography from which I am drawing all these marvelous Peter Lorre items. The book is called The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre, by Stephen Youngkin, and the site includes many, many photos that aren't printed in the book. If you like Peter Lorre at all - and who doesn't? - it is well worth a bit of your time.

At least I can still pride myself on having the most knowledgeable readership of any modern-culture blog on the Internet.

Hollywood Shuffle

I don't like to simply pick up items that I've found on other blogs and reuse them here; I feel like you, the OPC reader, deserve fresh material. (I guarantee you no one else has that Conrad Veidt/Peter Lorre/Ping Pong item.) But I felt compelled to present this little piece of video that I found on Mark Evanier's invaluable blog News From Me, just because there's no way that Ricky Jay could actually be doing this:

Friday, September 26, 2008

Three Facts About Peter Lorre

Shortly after the 1931 movie M came out, in which Peter Lorre played a child murderer (someone who murders children, that is; he was full grown at the time), a high-society dame came up to him at a reception in Berlin and kept pestering and pestering Lorre about how wonderful his performance was. "Did it really please you so much, madam?" Lorre finally said. "Well, then, send me your daughter in the morning."

Lorre and Cabinet of Dr. Caligari star Conrad Veidt made an unbeatable team at doubles Ping Pong. (No, I am not making that up.)

What do Peter Lorre and Edith Piaf have in common? They were both named after birds. "Piaf" means "sparrow" in French, and "lorre" means "parrot" in German.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sitting Around With His Thumb up His Butt

Roger Ebert, as you probably know, has lost the capacity to speak as part of his struggle with cancer of the salivary gland. The true loss to us the moviegoing public is not that thumb show, which had been pretty played out for some time now, but Ebert's DVD commentaries. I just listened to his track for Casablanca, and it's more or less like sitting down with the most knowledgeable movie fan you know and having him explain, in a friendly and accessible way, everything that's going on as part of the filmmaking process.

Ebert's commentary for Casablanca isn't even as good as his work on Citizen Kane. Ebert has seen and explicated Kane so many times that you get the feeling he just sat down, with no preparation at all, and just chatted his way through the technical and political machinations that produced the movie. He barely stops for breath, he is so overloaded with material.

Casablanca isn't at that level; there are a couple of points where he goes silent for a moment then launches into a discursion on something unrelated to what's happening onscreen, like the laughable notion that Casablanca is "a perfect movie," as if it were a geometric proof rather than a piece of artistry. These are the time when the commentary producer is feeding him questions. Since Michael Curtiz lends himself less to notions of camera placement and special effects and whatnot than Orson Welles, some of this stuff eventually becomes necessary. Ebert is quite good, though, at explaining why the performances of Humphrey Bogart and (especially) Ingrid Bergman are so effective (and why Paul Henreid is such a stiff).

Those are the only two Ebert commentaries I've listened to; the others on his dossier are Dark City (which is sooo not my kind of movie), Floating Weeds (by the Japanese director Ozu), Crumb (which I saw in the theater and enjoyed) and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (for which Ebert wrote the screenplay). Since he won't be doing any more, I may have to track them down. Even Dark City.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tiptop Tapping

Out on the byways of America today I saw a license plate holder that read COURT REPORTERS ALWAYS GET THE LAST WORD.

I wonder how many of those they sold.

Paid tha Cost to Be tha Boss

Bruce Springsteen, erstwhile member of the Jersey Shore rock groups the Castiles, Earth, Child, Steel Mill, and Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, turns 59 today. Here's a partial list of artists who have paid an early birthday tribute to Springsteen by covering one of his songs:

Solomon Burke, "Ain't Got You"
The Band, "Atlantic City"
Maria McKee, "Backstreets"
10,000 Maniacs, "Because the Night"
Roger Daltrey, "Born to Run"
Elvis Costello, "Brilliant Disguise"
Warren Zevon, "Cadillac Ranch"
Mary Chapin Carpenter, "Dancing in the Dark"
The Smithereens, "Downbound Train"
Robin Williams, "Fire"
Air Supply, "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)"
Pearl Jam, "Growin' Up"
Johnny Cash, "Highway Patrolman"
Joe Cocker, "Human Touch"
Mike Love, "Hungry Heart"
Frank Black, "I'm Going Down"
Tori Amos, "I'm on Fire"
David Bowie, "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City"
Los Lobos, "Johnny 99"
Steve Earle, "Nebraska"
Jerry Lee Lewis, "Pink Cadillac"
Aimee Mann and Michael Penn, "Reason to Believe"
Deana Carter, "State Trooper"
Elliott Murphy, "Stolen Car"
Ray Coniff, "Streets of Philadelphia"
Cowboy Junkies, "Thunder Road"
Travis Tritt, "Tougher Than the Rest"
Ani DiFranco, "Used Cars"

Plus, of course, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, the Pointers Sisters, and too many others to count.

Thanks to Matt and Lori for help in researching this post

Monday, September 22, 2008

Old Coot

Walter Brennan died exactly 24 years ago (well, 24 years ago yesterday, but you'll excuse me). Besides being the winner of three Best Supporting Actor Oscars (for Come and Get It, The Westerner, and Kentucky, none of which I've seen), Brennan is also the progenitor of the greatest spoken-word record in the rock era.

I speak of course of "Old Rivers," Brennan's tribute to his farm's hired hand and his mule, which went to Number Five in 1962. (Despite the fact that Brennan was known for his work in Westerns, he was actually from Swampscott, Massachusetts.) One of the most marvelous effects of this piece comes in the chorus, which goes:

One of these days
I'm gonna climb that mountain
Walk up there among them clouds
Where the cotton's high
And the corn's a-growin'
And there ain't no fields to plow.

Although Old Rivers is presented as the epitome of a hardworkin' man, Brennan provides a little clue as to his underlying attitudes when he reads the chorus; each time, he pauses for a little stammer on the word "fields," as if he wants to say another word that begins with F but immediately thinks the better of it.

I believe this is the same reason Roger Daltrey stutters on the line "Why don't you all f-f-f-fade away" in the Who's "My Generation." (I suspect, in fact, that the whole stuttering trope was introduced simply for that one effect.) But the Who didn't have anything on Walter Brennan.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Under the Covers

Quick, who had a Top Forty hit covering a Who song? Nope, not Tina Turner; a studio group from Philadelphia called the Assembled Multitude went to Number Sixteen in 1970 with "Overture from Tommy (A Rock Opera)." Tom Sellers, the mastermind behind the group, was only 21 or so (his biographical data is hard to come by) at the time he was arranging instrumental versions of not just his only hit but the Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" and "Ohio." I'm probably forgetting something, but that may be the only Who cover to reach the Top Forty. (Limp Bizkit's cover of "Behind Blue Eyes" reached Number Twenty-Four on the Billboard Top 40 Mainstream in 2004, which you can count if you want.)

Now, who had a hit with a cover of a Sly and the Family Stone song? Here's where we turn to Ike and Tina, who went to Number Thirty-Four in August 1970 with their version of "I Want to Take You Higher," credited actually to Ike & Tina Turner & the Ikettes. Sly's original was on the charts for three weeks in early spring of 1970, two months before Ike and Tina crashed the party.

There may be other Sly Stone covers in the Top Forty, but I can't think of them right now. I've been really busy lately.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Dunn on Deck

I feel like I need to record this for posterity: I was at the Rockies-Diamondbacks game tonight, and I noticed that when Arizona's galoot of a slugger, Adam Dunn, is on deck, he stands about as close to the plate as is possible without getting hit by a swinging bat. You can't see this kind of thing on TV, only at the ballpark, and I thought you would like to know.

Most players, when they're in the on-deck circle, don't stand in the actual circle but they do stay back toward the fence, or at least on the dirt warning track that encircles the field. But Dunn, who looks as if Will Ferrell is playing him in a movie, makes a point of standing on the grass cutout that encircles the infield. As you can see in the picture below, the grass is fairly narrow at Coors Field, leaving Dunn maybe a dozen feet from the hitter. If he reached out his bat, and the batter reached out his bat from the batter's box, they could touch bats, although that would look totally dorky.

In this game, Dunn was batting behind Conor Jackson, a righthanded hitter, and the Diamondbacks' dugout was on the third-base side, so Dunn was set up perfectly to stand as close as he wanted. It would break several laws of physics for Jackson to be able to foul off a ball that would have hit Dunn, but if Arizona had been on the first-base side, or if Dunn had been following a lefty, it could have been lethal.

I don't know why he does it: He doesn't seem to look at the pitcher any more intently than anyone else, so I can't understand what advantage he would gain. He's too much of a goofball to seek out little advantages like that anyway. Then again, Dunn did homer tonight, so maybe it's working for him.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Love Potion Nos. Nine and Ten

Up until maybe a year ago, I'd had always heard the last verse of the Clovers' 1959 hit "Love Potion Number Nine" thusly:

I didn't know if it was day or night
I started kissin' everything in sight
But when I kissed a cop down on Thirty-Fourth and Vine
He broke my little bottle of Love Potion Number Nine

But recently on the oldies station, I've been hearing a version that goes:

I didn't know if it was day or night
I started kissin' everything in sight
I had so much fun that I'm goin' back again
I wonder what happens with Love Potion Number Ten

Other than that changed verse, it sounds exactly like the other version. The song has been recorded by many groups, so I thought it was possible that the "love potion number ten" version was by someone else, but apparently it's also the Clovers. According to someone calling himself Doctor Music, Number Nine was the 45 version, and Number Ten was the LP version.

That answers one question, but it also invites many others. Why would Leiber and Stoller put different versions of a song on the LP and the 45? Was anyone really buying LPs in 1959? Apparently, the Clovers first cut the Nine version, which was released as a single. When this was a hit, they went to make an album, also called Love Potion Number Nine, but with new lyrics on the title track.

Why? I have no idea. I guess Leiber and Stoller liked the new verse better.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Betty

Lauren Bacall, the Scarlett Johansson of the 1940s*, turns 84 today. She's been widowed for more than 50 years now. She met Humphrey Bogart on the set of To Have and Have Not when she was only 19 (he was 44) and, at five foot eight and a quarter inches tall, just a smidge taller than Bogie. Because of that, she spends most of the movie with her head slightly dipped, looking out at him through the top of her eyes - it's a very seductive pose. Someone once said (I can't remember who, but it was probably Howard Hawks) that Bogart fell in love with Bacall's character in the movie, so she had to be that character for the rest of their married life.

I love the fact that everyone calls Bacall "Betty" (she was born Betty Joan Perske) - Johnny Carson used to call her that every time she was on his show, and Juliette Binoche called her "Betty" at the Oscars a few years ago. These aren't even her close friends, I'm guessing. It's just that everyone recognizes "Lauren Bacall" as nothing but a stage name. She also gave the Rat Pack its name (she was briefly engaged to Sinatra after Bogie's death). That's more than you can say about a lot of people.

* I promise you I thought of this comparison last week while watching To Have and Have Not, and I didn't remember until today that Rich Cohen had called Bill Murray our Humphrey Bogart.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Here in My Car

The 1971 movie Two-Lane Blacktop is James Taylor's only screen-acting performance, and it's not hard to see why: He's a poor actor. After many of his line readings, even those sitting at home watching the DVD will be tempted to call out, "Cut! Let's try that one again."

The role is well-crafted for him, though: the steely-eyed, taciturn driver of a 1955 Chevy, who only speaks if it's absolutely necessary. Mostly he just glares through the windshield, or halumphs around, stooped, lean, excessively tall, elbows slightly bent: At six-foot-three, he's built exactly like Shaggy (the detective, not the reggae singer). And when he does use it, though, that voice is something else, like burnished teak.

It doesn't really matter, because Two-Lane Blacktop is mostly about the American vistas. These low-budget movies, filming on the road, captured America better than any stdio output could. Would a set designer really notice the rack of empty glass bottles next to the Coke machine, or the cylinder of cheap sunglasses for sale in a truck stop? If you want to know what these United States looked like back in 1971, here's the movie for you.

Even in the cruddy, sensationalist trailer, you get a little sense of that:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008

David Foster Wallace has taken his own life at the age of 46. I never met or spoke with him, although he wrote for Rolling Stone while I was an editor there. His work for our 9/11 issue inspired such editorial passion that it ended up being indirectly responsible for a precisely kicked dent in a cubicle right outside my office, which is probably still there. He also write a brilliant piece from the campaign trail on John McCain early in 2000, shortly before I arrived at the magazine, which won a National Magazine Award.

His fiction was brilliant, but his reported pieces were what I really enjoyed, going to the Illinois State Fair or telling tales of being a highly ranked young tennis player. Most of all, his work vibrated with the joy of writing, which makes it all the more shocking that he would have decided he didn't want to live anymore.

Wallace grew up in central Illinois, and he never tried to pretend he hadn't. I loved that about him, too.


I understand that British people tend to construe their plural nouns as plural, even when they sound singular, so that they would say, "The Who are embarking on another farewell tour," whereas an American speaker would more likely say, "The Who is embarking on another farewell tour."

So what are we to make of the first two lines of the chorus to Elvis Costello's "Oliver's Army"? To wit:

Oliver's army is here to stay
Oliver's army are on their way

Is there some subtle distinction between the two subjects that I am not grasping? Or is ol' Declan just having a bit of a larf on us?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Quote for the Day

Joshua Rifkin, kazoo player for the Even Dozen Jug Band, an early-Sixties group that also featured David Grisman, John Sebastian and Maria Muldaur:

"It's a very heady thing when you're nineteen. We had all these expectations of great success, fame and fortune. We were going to conquer the world. I might say in parentheses that none of us had really paid much attention to these reports coming from Britain about something called the Beatles. Jug band music was supposed to be the next great thing. So it was a marvelous summer."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tiptop Tap

Watching This Is Spinal Tap again, I was struck by how much better Michael McKean was than the other members of the troupe. The other guys are funny, too, but Christopher Guest was trying so hard for dimness he ended up being thickly impassive, although he does look an awful lot like Joe Lynn Turner of Rainbow. Harry Shearer didn't have all that much to do, and he struggled for consistency with his British accent, an odd failing for someone who makes his living doing voiceover work.

But David St. Hubbins, he was the real deal. He's not bright, but there's enough going on behind his eyes that you can see how he could have created a modestly successful, third-tier rock band. He is so strikingly alive that you think he's doing a note-perfect imitation of some minor star, but I can't think who it could possibly be. It's just David St. Hubbins. All those years of working with Squiggy really paid off.

Ed Begley Jr., of course, was grand as well, albeit in a nonspeaking part.

Modern-Day Chicago: The Dead Do Not Vote but Merely Endorse

A Chicago political activist named Ken Swanborn died the other day, and his family put a paid notice into the Chicago Tribune that closed with the following request:

"In lieu of flowers, please vote Democratic."

Makes sense to me, but the Tribune decided it was "discriminatory or offensive," although apparently not both, and cut the line from Swanborn's paid obit. Talk about discriminatory or offensive! Fortunately, these shenanigans have only resulted in more pub for Swanborn's last request.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

One Final Word

Before I leave the topic of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, there were two more things I wanted to say here. First of all, when I said that omitting song titles kept people from properly using the book as an album guide, that's not just limited to little-known artists or one-hit wonders. The 1983 essay on George Harrison is fairly lengthy but doesn't include a single song title. If you pick up the book thinking you want to buy the George Harrison LP with "What Is Life" or "Crackerbox Palace" on it, you're out of luck, cuz. The only thing that can guide you toward which Harrison album you want is Marsh's own critical evaluation.

The other thing is, for all my cavils, I love this book, and have loved and re-read it for a long time. When I was younger, I used to read about the critical favorites that I had never heard before and hope that I could someday be able to hear their music. What could the Holy Modal Rounders possibly sound like? Or the Residents? Or the Bonzo Dog Band? You couldn't listen to a lot of new music with the book, obviously, but you could be exposed to it an another fashion, and get enthusiastic about hearing it, and that's really valuable.

Plus, Dave Marsh loves the Stylistics, and is put off by the Doors, and for that he deserves our respect.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Question of the Day

So when Phil Spector put out A Christmas Gift for You back in 1963, was it free? If it wasn't, shouldn't it have been called A Christmas Gift for You to Buy and Give to Somebody Else?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

You'll Never Find Another Bud Like Mine

Although it had used the catchphrase "When You Say Bud, You've Said It All" before then, Budweiser introduced its jingle "When You Say Bud" back in 1970. The tune was written by a gentleman named Steve Karmen, who got his start playing sax for Bobby Darin. He also wrote "At Beneficial (toot! toot!), You're Good for More."

The Bud theme song was most notably done by Lou Rawls, who became so closely identified with it that one of his albums was called When You've Heard Lou, You've Heard It All. But oddly enough, in 1972, someone changed up the lyrics to "When You Say Bud" (the songwriting is credited to a couple of country songwriters named Jerry Foster and Bill Rice, in addition to Karmen), and Sonny and Cher made a record of it. Somehow, "When You Say Love" managed to squeak its way onto the charts, peaking at Number 35. It would be the last Top Forty hit for Sonny and Cher.

Lou Rawls did it much better, especially in his hometown (and mine):

Friday, September 5, 2008

Guiding Light

My comment on the shifting nature of the critical evaluations in the Rolling Stone Record Guide elicited not just a comment here from Scraps but a post on his own blog, which I heartily recommend that you all read. Scraps points out that it's mostly just Dave Marsh who's out of touch.

Marsh's book The Heart of Rock and Soul is pretty interesting, a compendium of what Dave thinks are the 1001 greatest singles of all time. But it comes across pretty clearly that Marsh loves roots-oriented, blues-based, straight-ahead rock & roll (he's written biographies of the Who and Bruce Springsteen) as well as classic R&B (he had "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" rated as the best song of all time). One thing he clearly doesn't like is any sort of intellectual or progressive form of rock. Forget Television: Marsh can't find room for any singles from Neil Young or David Bowie on his list of 1001. He's got two Crowded House singles on there, but no "Young Americans." (He also inexplicably lists Peter Gabriel's limp "Don't Give Up," on which he teams with Kate Bush to see who can be more pretentious. The winner: anyone who never heard this song.)

As for Marsh's work on the RS Guide, I mostly agree with Scraps, although I should point out that in the 1983 edition, they list the records chronologically, rather than alphabetically, as they did in 1979. My biggest complaint, though, is the number of artists for whom not a single song title is offered, making the book somewhat useless as a reader's guide. The Con-Funk-Shun [sic] entry, for example, reads simply "Boogie by the pound," which is utterly meaningless. By far the most important information to impart about Con Funk Shun (the band's actual name) is that they cut the big hit "Ffun" in 1978. If you didn't already know that, what is to be gained by knowing they made "boogie by the pound"? If you don't know that, what is to be gained by knowing they made "boogie by the pound"?

If a record guide is going to be good for anything, it ought to remind people what songs they might know by which artists. But Marsh can't be bothered to tell you that Larry Graham did "One in a Million You," or that Styx did "Lady" (or anything else), or that Al Wilson did "Show and Tell." As much as I have always enjoyed reading the RS Guide, that just drives me batty.

I've never met Dave Marsh, although we did sort of work together once: About 15 years ago I proofread his book Louie Louie: The History and Mythology of the World's Most Famous Rock 'n' Roll Song. It's customary to include the little people who perform such tasks as proofreading in a book's acknowledgments, but you won't find my name anywhere in that book. That's OK, though; they paid me. Given the choice, I'd much rather have the money than the recognition.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Got Me Hopin' You'll Page Me Right Now

Beyonce Knowles-Z turns twenty-seven today. Despite being one of the most famous women in the world, Beyonce is still a bit underrated, I think. It's not just that she's been responsible for a lengthy string of hit singles, first with Destiny's Child and then on her own, but so many have them have been devastatingly good: "Survivor," "Crazy in Love," "Irreplaceable," etc. I have heard people question just how much she's been involved with these records, but she gets a co-writing and co-producing credit on all three of those songs I just mentioned. She's also managed to have a thriving acting career, and she's totally bootylicious. What's not to like?

Having said that, I think Beyonce is in some sense responsible for inadvertantly crippling Austin Powers in Goldmember. There were some great scenes in that movie, struggling to turn themselves into a decent film, but there was just too much fighting for your attention: Austin, Dr. Evil, Goldmember, Foxxy, Fat Bastard, Mini-Me, Fred Savage as the Mole, Seth Green as Scott Evil, Michael Caine, the star-laden intro, the interlude with Austin and Evil back at prep school... That's probably too much for one movie as it is.

But one other major problem was that Austin took a curiously hands-off attitude toward Beyonce, which was weird considering his uber-horndog persona in the first film. Austin's libido is a major part of his character, but it was totally softened here - I suspect because Beyonce was, at the time it was shot, a 19-year-old with a penchant for talking up her Christianity. That, plus there just wasn't any room for hanky-panky. (Plus there was that great gag about the Japanese subtitles, which was ruined by having Beyonce explain each and every joke, stomping out any possible humor, although I certainly don't blame her for that.)

It's too bad. Beyonce is way sexier than Heather Graham ever dreamed of being.

Loaded Up and Chewin'

In what may or may not be a tribute to the late Jerry Reed, one of the Encore channels is airing the original Smokey and the Bandit, featuring Sally Field's first bid for Oscar after her televised triumph in Sybil. I think the key to Burt Reynolds' appeal was the fact that he was always chewing gum: It gave him an air of casual disdain that is most likable.

Movies stars don't really chew gum anymore. They ought to give it a shot.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What's on Television?

One thing that fascinates me is the way that critical attitudes change over time. I own three editions of the Rolling Stone Record Guide - from 1983, 1992 and 2004 (there was a fourth, from 1979, which I don't have, but I think most of the material remained unchanged in the 1983 edition). Occasionally, I will flip through all three to see what critics from those very different eras thought of an artist.

Take Television, a band that, in most of my rock-crit-reading experience, people drool over. The irreplaceable Rob Sheffield, in the latest RS Guide, gave Television's debut album, Marquee Moon, five stars, and their follow-up, Adventure, four. Twelve years earlier, Mark Coleman had given those same two records those same two grades.

But in 1983, or possibly in 1979, when those records were still new (they came out in 1977 and 1978), Dave Marsh had a totally different take. He gave them both two stars. Here's Marsh's entire review of the band's career:

Somewhat mysteriously, Television was the most widely touted band to emerge from the New York new wave. But Marquee Moon showed the group as the exclusive project of guitarist Tom Verlaine, an interesting Jerry Garcia-influenced guitarist who lacked melodic ideas or any emotional sensibility. After releasing a similar LP (Adventure) in 1978, the group broke up, with Verlaine recording two records on his own.

Yes, he did say "guitarist" twice in the space of nine words, and he did have Verlaine "recording two records." Most of this, though, I think is Marsh being reactionary toward what he would regard as a betrayal of the heart of rock and soul; in the same book, someone named Brian Cullman gives both of Verlaine's solo albums four stars.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

When You're Dead, You're Dead

Jerry Reed, onetime costar of the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, dead at the age of 71. Reed rose to stardom as a Nashville songwriter and session guitar player, noted for his distinctive finger-picking style called "the Claw." He also wrote "That's All You Gotta Do," which was the B-side to Brenda Lee's 1960 Number One smash "I'm Sorry," and probably made Jerry a sizable chunk of change.

In the 1970s, Reed became a pop star, hitting the Top Ten twice in 1971 with "Amos Moses" and "When You're Hot, You're Hot," which also went to Number One on the country charts. He was such a massive, recognizable celeb that he made a guest appearance in Scooby-Doo. Billy Bob Thornton has said that the only real measures of cultural significance in America are hosting Saturday Night Live and appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone, but a Scooby-Doo guest shot must be a close third, alongside being animated on The Simpsons.

Reed also became Burt Reynolds' sidekick in the late 1970s, appearing in each installment of the Smokey and the Bandit trilogy as well as such Reynolds vehicles as W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings and Gator. In his later years, Reed cut an album and toured with a group called Old Dogs, which consisted of Jerry, Mel Tillis, Waylon Jennings, and Bobby Bare.

Political Comment of the Day

It's a shame that the questions over the birth of Sarah Palin's fifth child seem to have been set aside for the moment. Many politicians have had to take paternity tests, but Palin would have been the first one ever to take a maternity test.

Monday, September 1, 2008

You've Got a Lot of Nerve

The other day, I picked up a copy of Michael Gray's Song and Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan, a book that I had read many years ago. This one was a first edition, and I was surprised to readon the jacket copy that Gray was only 25 years old when he wrote it. He seems like such a fuddy-duddy, but reading the book with that in mind, I now see evidence of his youth: He seems determined to hate on everyone who doesn't measure up to being Dylan, which means everyone who isn't Blake or Browning or John Donne (or, of course, Zimmy). Any non-Dylan personnel from the world of popular music rate a sneer.

So he slags the Beatles ("The process whereby their work functioned engaged no individual consciousness: it was 'dealing in the known and the cheap'...") and Leonard Cohen ("often paddles in the maudlin"). He derides some of the greatest American songwriters of the pre-rock 20th century, writing, "He has chosen a medium we are unused to taking seriously: an inseparable mixture of music and words - and we grew up finding this a cheap and trivial formula. Thank you, ... Gershwin and Porter." He lumps together "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and My Fair Lady as suited solely for teenyboppers.

I was twenty-five once, and I probably thought it would make the case for my heroes' genius if I simultaneously asserted that their counterparts were all jackanapes and chowderheads. I also probably had never heard "Miss Otis Regrets." I hope in later editions Gray made emendations indicating that a world exists in which both Bob Dylan and Cole Porter can be geniuses.