Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Spooky But Catchy

Is that time of year, Halloween.  Which means we sing our favorite Halloween songs.  It's not even close for mine:



Though I think if you took a poll, this one would win going away:


May The Mouse Be With You or To Disney And Beyond

Disney has purchased Lucasfilm for over $4 billion.  There was a time Lucas thought he'd be making edgy, independent films, but I guess there are other things in life.  Or is he finally going to start that phase of his life?

This is a huge deal because it means they're going to take Star Wars out of carbonite and get it going again.  In fact, Star Wars VII will be out in 2015.  Star Wars is, of course, as lucrative a film franchise as exists, but the last three, while huge moneymakers, haven't exactly burnished the brand.  Still, I'm an optimist.  You've got a whole galaxy to work with, and a willing audience.  (Well, willing enough--I mean no matter what the film will make more than John Carter.)

What I hope (but probably won't happen) is they'll move the story into the future--the era of the final trilogy that Lucas used to talk about but never really planned to make.  It's after the rebels have defeated the empire ("hey, they just blew up the latest Death Star along with the Emperor, we've still got millions of ship and people" "Nope, they won, it's over") and have to deal with new problems.  Much better than the past, where we know how things have to turn out--that was one of the drags on I, II and III.

I wouldn't mind completely new chracters taking over.  On the other hand, I wonder if they can pull a Star Trek and use the characters we know and love--Luke, Han, Leia--and have them played by new actors.

Whatever they do, the key is still story (and not special effects, George).  Hey, Pixar is part of the Disney world.  Have them work on it.  Just no Buzz Lightyear.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Farm Buys The Farm

Dwight Schrute of The Office was going to be spun off into his own series, The Farm.  It would concentrate on Dwight's life as a beet farmer running a bed and breakfast while dealing with his eccentric family.  In fact, the first episode has already been shot and was to be run as a back-door pilot on The Office.  However, even before it's been shown, NBC has passed, according to a tweet from Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight.

Earlier this year, Wilson said of the show:

It could be really cool because it would be on his farm, which would be a bed and breakfast, and it would have a crazy menagerie of characters. It would be even more far out and weirder than The Office... it's a good idea.

Exactly.  I like Wilson as Dwight, but his character is good because he's not the center of the show, but rather an antagonist with bizarre beliefs who does weird things. Putting that character at the center of a show would be too much, which probably means they'd have to water him down and surround him with nuttier people. That's not a show I want to see.  Meanwhile, Wilson is talented enough that I'm sure he'll land another series.

Anyway, now that NBC has a hole in their schedule, how about some new Community?

10-50-90.

Over at the AV club they've made a bit of a stir with their top 50 films of the 90s. I'm not going to go over them all, but let's look at the list in general.  Overall a lot of worthy contenders, even if they, inevitably, miss many of my favorites (like, say, There's Something About Mary),  A decent mix of commercial and art films.  I think they should have stuck with English-language films since foreign films opens up too many choices yet they only make token appearances.

Some choices seem more based on name--like Eyes Wide Shut--than actual quality.  And Carlito's Way, where did that come from?  There's also way too much Coen Brothers--one film (The Big Lebowski) would have been enough.

Let's look at the top ten:

10.  Being John Malkovich.
9.  Rushmore
8.  Unforgiven
7.  Reservoir Dogs
6.  Out Of Sight
5.  Chungking Express
4.  Dazed And Confused
3.  Toy Story 2
2.  Pulp Fiction
1.  Goodfellas

Being John Malkovich deserves a spot, even if they sort of wimped out on the ending.

Rushmore I like but have always found overrated.  Probably wouldn't make my top fifty.

Unforgiven I don't like at all.  I would have hoped its reputation would have dropped by now.

The 90s was the decade of Tarantino, so Reservoir Dogs fits fine here.  I'm only surprised there was no room in the top fifty for Jackie Brown, which has only grown in stature since its release.

Out of Sight was sort of a comeback film for Steven Soderbergh, and it may be his best.  (The Limey also makes the list, deservedly.)

Chungking Express  is a lot of fun, though it's odd it's the lone foreign film in the top ten.

Dazed And Confused does a great job capturing an era, but I don't think it's top ten material.

I'm tired of people placing Toy Story 2 above the original.  Sure, it was very sentimental, but the first invented that world and is still the best film Pixar has ever presented.

The only trouble with Pulp Fiction at #2 is it deserves a higher ranking.

Hard to complain about Goodfellas on the list.  It's been over two decades and Scorsese's hasn't come close to it since.

Monday, October 29, 2012

DA DOA

On October 29th, 1971, guitarist Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident.  He was ony 24.  Who knows how much more he would have done.




Toby Or Not Toby

I just watched The Girl, the HBO movie about the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren.  They made two films together, The Birds and Marnie, while Hitch made advances behind the scenes that Tippi rebuffed.

The film isn't much, but I liked Toby Jones as Hitchcock.  I thought he had the voice and attitude down (as much as possible within the script).  With Sienna Miller, however, I never felt I was watching Tippi Hedren, just Sienna Miller.

I bring this up because Anthony Hopkins will soon be featured in the title role of a theatrical release called Hitchcock.  This film goes back one year and is about the filming of Psycho.  I don't think Hopkins has the voice.  In the trailer, I'm hearing Hopkins, not Hitchcock.  I realize he's an actor, not an impressionist, as anyone who's seen him play Nixon or Picasso know, but still, Hitchcock was such a distinctive public figure that it's distracting.  I'm guessing since Hopkins is a major actor and Toby Jones isn't, his movie will be getting all the attention.

This has happened before.  I wasn't especially impressed with Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role of Capote (though he's usually a fine actor), but he was so clearly "acting" that he won the Academy Award.  Meanwhile, Toby Jones was much more convincing as Truman Capote in Infamous, a film that covered the same ground, but no one paid any attention.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

View Askew

Roger Ebert gives the new Tom Hanks movie, Cloud Atlas, four out of four stars.  Heres how he opens his review:

Even as I was watching "Cloud Atlas" the first time, I knew I would need to see it again. Now that I've seen it the second time, I know I'd like to see it a third time — but I no longer believe repeated viewings will solve anything. To borrow Churchill's description of Russia, "it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." It fascinates in the moment. It's getting from one moment to the next that is tricky.

Huh?  I saw Cloud Atlas over the weekend, never having read the book, and enjoyed it, but didn't feel the need for another viewing any time soon--certainly not for a better understanding.

The movie is over two and a half hours, and involves six separate stories set in six separate eras, with the same set of actors in each.  Every story looks back in some way at the previous story.  While this is a little confusing at first, once you get your bearings, it's not hard to follow.  So the movie may be complex, but it's not confusing.

True, there's some new-agey wisdom about how everything is connected, and the film bravely takes a stand against slavery, big oil, human trafficking and murdering children, but that sort of stuff is best ignored on the first and all subsequent viewings. So Roger can go back as many times as he wants, I don't know how much more he'll get out of it.

Dark Park

I've been watching 666 Park Avenue, mostly because it features the wonderful Terry O'Quinn. The show has a weird concept, sort of a weekly Rosemary's Baby.

O'Quinn plays Gavin Doran, owner of the Drake building, located in New York at the titular address (sort of).  It's a residence where all sorts of strange things seem to be happening.  In the pilot, he hires young couple Henry and Jane to manage the building, but he's clearly got ulterior motives.

Jane is a perky thing who snoops around and discovers how strange the building and its residents are.  She also has vivid dreams of horrible things that happen there.  Henry, meanwhile, has political ambitions, which Gavin encourages.  In general, Jane and Henry become good friends of upscale Gavin and his wife, Olivia, played by Vanessa Williams.

Meanwhile, each episode features other residents ensnared in Gavin's web.  He gives them special gifts or powers but at a high price, often death.  It's pretty clear Gavin is the devil, or at least an agent of evil.  It's not entirely clear why he's cultivating Henry, though it seems likely he wants to exploit him for potential political power. (Which makes you wonder why bother when Gavin has so much magical power himself.)

A little more is revealed each week, though how they can keep it up I'm not sure. Either the main story comes out or it doesn't.  Perhaps the show will settle into a reverse Fantasy Island, with new characters each week learning deadly lessons about their dreams coming true. O'Quinn is good playing the bad guy (as he showed in the final season of Lost), but unless things pick up, I'm checking out.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Shaken, In Stir

It's one of the weirdest stories of the year

Six scientists and a government official were sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter by an Italian court on Monday for failing to give adequate warning of an earthquake that killed more than 300 people in L'Aquila in 2009.

The seven, all members of a body called the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, were accused of negligence and malpractice in evaluating the danger and keeping the central city informed of the risks.


Perhaps I'm missing something, but isn't this insane?  Scientists try their best to figure the future, but they (as yet) can never be sure about earthquakes.  I don't see how they can be held responsible in any way, much less criminally, if they did the best they reasonably could.  (For that matter, government officials pass programs trying to make life better--if they fail, you vote them out, you don't jail them.)

It does lead to certain intriguing possibilities.  Can I sue my local meteorologist if get hit by lightning in a storm that wasn't supposed to happen?  How about charging tarot card readers and other clairvoyants for not warning us about 9/11?

Spoiler

At the end of this week's Parks And Recreation, just when we though the main couple would be apart, Ben appeared out of nowhere and asked Leslie for her hand.  She was thrilled, of course, and accepted.  This was a big moment that none of the fans were waiting for.  Well, not me, anyway.

On other sitcoms--say, Cheers or The Office--when the main couple finally get together, it's a big event.  But on P&R, who cares?  Leslie is a caricature of a human being, and so any marriage to her seems disastrous.   For that matter, she and Ben, with their love of government, never generated any sparks.  Not having them married at least keeps them somewhat interesting, since the show often seems to be  about a bunch of separate characters doing their own separate routines.  In fact, as much as I like Adam Scott, removing him from the show entirely would be better than tying him closer to Leslie.  He went off to Washington for a few episodes with April, and those two had better chemistry.

When the show started, it took a while to find its way, mostly because of no-chemistry romances between Leslie and Mark as well as Ann and Andy.  Surprisingly, they've had a bunch of couplings since then that have worked, including April with Andy and Ron with several others.  But the whole Leslie and Ben (Beslie?) has been a drag on the show from the start, and having them enjoy the bonds of matrimony (even if it's "difficult" when Ben always away) makes the show considerably less appealing.  And please let there not be too many episodes about planning the wedding.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Still Is

I do believe Don Was (born David Weiss) of Was (Not Was) turns 60 today.



Merchant Sells It

Happy birthday, Natalie Merchant, former lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs--a band with a name more misleading than Violent Femmes. Here's some evidence:





Thursday, October 25, 2012

Progress Report

The new TV season is in full swing, but I'm still catching up.  Or maybe I've given up.  There are a lot of new shows to sample, but I just don't have the time or energy.

In drama, I've maybe given Vegas, Elementary and Last Resort ten minutes each.  I wasn't hooked so I moved on.  Perhaps if I hear good things about them I'll give them a second chance, but not now  I've also been watching Revolution regularly, but I'm still not sure about it.  It didn't take Lost this long to click in.

For comedy, I've sampled Go On, The New Normal, Ben And Kate and The Mindy Project, but none caught my fancy.  I suppose it's easier to get back into a sitcom since the investment is less, and with many comedies it takes half a season for producers to figure out what works anyway, but I better hear some good things about these shows if they expect a second chance.  Oddly, the one new comedy I've seen regularly is The Neighbors, which critics despise--I've seen it mostly because it's in a time slot between two shows I do watch.

So Satisfied

Happy birthday, Jon Anderson.  His distinctive voice sang lead on all those Yes albums. He also wrote a lot of their songs, such as...






Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Genre Trouble

The best-reviewed new TV show this season is probably Nashville, created by Callie Khouri, screenwriter of Thelma & Louise.  I checked out the first two episodes and it's not bad.

Set in the world of country music, the basic story is pretty simple.  There's Rayna James (Connie Britton), an aging superstar who's still very talented but not selling so well, and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), a talented star whose music is a bit more shallow.  They don't like each other but want what the other has--Rayna has respectability and Juliette has popularity.  Rayna's latest album isn't selling and the record company puts pressure on her to tour--as an opener--with Juliette, but she won't even consider it.

But that's just the nucleus.  There are tons of complications.  For instance, Rayna has a powerful dad whom she hates.  Her sister is on her father's side.  Her husband has been failing in business and her dad gets him to run for mayor even though she supports the other candidate.  Then there's her lead guitar player and former lover, Deacon. He's also a songwriter though she doesn't record his songs.  Meanwhile, Juliette, who worships Deacon, wants to steal him away for her tour, and be his lover.  She also wants them to write song together.

There's also Juliette's mom, who's a drug user demanding money from her estranged daughter.  Then there's Deacon's niece, Scarlett, who's stuck in a love triangle of her own and also seems to be a pretty good songwriter.

There are just a couple problems for me.  First, this is soap opera, and I don't really like the genre that much.  I'm sure Nashville wants to be another Dallas or Dynasty, but I never watched them.  The other problem is I don't particularly like country music, and there's a lot of it on the show.  Sometimes they say it's good, sometimes they say it's bad, but it all sounds the same to me. The ads have tried to sell it by saying you don't have to like country to like Nashville, but it sure helps.  The songs aren't terrible, but the only one I really liked so far was a bluesy number (not so country) that Scarlett sang.

I suppose I'll check it out again, but, as well done as it is, I don't think I'll be in for the long run.

Why, Man?

Is it Bill Wyman's birthday already?  Wyman was, of course, the Rolling Stone's bass man. He left the group twenty years ago, but he'll forever be a Stone.  Rumors are he enjoyed more groupies than the rest of the band put together.  It's always the quiet ones.





Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dangers And Rewards

Most pitches don't become pilots.  Most pilots don't become shows.  Most shows flop.  So when you have a hit on TV you've got something special.  You need to nurture it, not upset its delicate balance. Sure, you've got to find your sea legs, see what works and doesn't, but major changes are just asking for trouble.

On the other hand, if you keep things the same year after year, eventually the audience will drift away.  So you try to make changes, but nothing too upsetting.  A show that's done that right is The Big Bang Theory.  It started with four guys and a gal, and has slowly introduced new people to keep the characters' various relationships moving forward.  But that's a comedy, and comedies (these days) have a serial aspect, but mostly feature stand-alone episodes.  Dramas are trickier.

Which brings me to my point.  There are two shows I watch that have surprised me in how willing they are to change the basic plot.  (Spoilers ahead.)

The most obvious, I guess, is Once Upon A Time.  In the first season, the big question was when and how will the curse be lifted.  One might have guessed they'd save that moment for the last episode ever. Instead, they dealt with it rather quickly in the season one finale.  Now that the show's returned, they're all over the place.  Characters have complete knowledge of who they are and were.  Some characters from Storybrooke have been thrown back into what's left of fairy tale land.  Some are trying to get to fairy tale land while others are trying to get out.  And they still have flashbacks along with two concurrent storylines in different realms.  Plus they keep introducing new characters, which sort of figures since they can pretty much take anyone from all literature.  (They've got so many characters they're willing to kill some off.)

Actually, the show's a bit of a mess, but it's a fascinating one.  The story keeps widening out, and you don't really know where it'll be going in the future. But OUAT always was sort of a mess.  I'm much more surprised by Homeland.

Homeland is sort of the opposite of OUAT.  The latter was critically reviled but became a surprise hit.  Homeland is a critical favorite but doesn't get the greatest numbers.  It's also a taut, realistic thriller, not a fantasy that's all over the place.  But that didn't stop it from changing on a dime this season--twice in the first four episodes, in fact.

The first season was all about CIA agent Carrie Mathison tracking Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody, whom she suspected was a terrorist.  It was one extended cat-and-mouse game, except it wasn't always clear who was the cat and who was the mouse.  The season ended, somewhat frustratingly, with Brody pulling back from being a suicide bomber and Carrie getting ECT to deal with her mental problems.

So this season, Carrie gets pulled back into the CIA and we're figuring she'll eventually have to catch on to Brody again. Except who knows how long it will take. Not very. In the second episode, colleague Saul Berenson discovers what they couldn't figure out in all season one--the Brody, in fact, is working for the terrorists.  This is the kind of revelation that you figure might take almost all season, but Homeland wants to move to uncharted territory.

So in episode three Carrie finally gets to know she read the situation right.  But that still didn't prepare us for episode four.  She's brought back in to help surveil Brody.  This is something we understand, and it looks like the season will be a repeat of season one, with a different perspective.

So Carrie goes in to meet with Brody to see if she can force him to run to his contacts.  However, she thinks she's been made and what does she do?  Disobeying orders, she confronts Brody and at the and of the episode, he's arrested by authorities.  It's a cathartic moment, something we've been waiting for since the series started, but where does it leave us?  We were all ready for a season of more cat and mouse, but the producers didn't want us to be comfortable.  Which is a good thing, I guess, but where are they going next?  And how do they know we'll follow?

Brill Thrill

Happy birthday, Ellie Greenwich. One of the great songwriters of the Brill Building era, she left us a few years ago, but her songs will never die.









And where would Stripes be without her?




Monday, October 22, 2012

Big Night

We'll have the final presidential debate tonight.  The Washington Post suggests it'll be pivotal, but I doubt it.  First, the candidates have created strong impressions from the first two debates that likely won't change short of some sort of meltdown.  Second, this debate is about foreign policy, which is simply not as pressing as domestic issues right now.

As the race comes down to these final days, I only hope the polls stay close.  For a while there it looked like it might be an easy victory for Obama, and it brought back memories of how boring it was four years ago when election night was over before it began.  I just want some excitement.

We'll likely have a pretty good idea who'll win when the eastern states come in--Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio (not to mention New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Michigan). But at least before then both sides can hope. And who knows, it could even be a late-night race that comes down to Colorado and Nevada.

Beached

Queen of the beach.  1960s.  Southern California.

Did you just think of a short, dark, Italian girl?  Someone must have, because Annette Funicello played that role in a series of Beach Party films. Before that, she'd been the biggest Mouseketeer of all.  And today she turns 70!  Happy Birthday, Annette!





Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bunyan Won One

First the Tigers get into the World Series.  Now the Wolverines beat the Spartans 12-10.  As you may know, this is a huge rivalry, and the Spartans had won the last four years.  Since the beginning of the Bo era, the Spartans had never even taken two in a row before.

It was a hard-fought game.  Too hard-fought, really--Michigan was favored by ten, and in any case Wolverine fans hate counting on last-second field goals--but then, this was State's whole season.

It's turning into quite a sports year.  If the Tigers can play anything like they did against the Yankees, they'll be champs for the first time since '84.  Michigan will not be national champs--no one in the Big Ten will--but they have a reasonable shot at the conference.

By the way, now that the Big Ten's split in two, it looks like Michigan could play OSU at the end of the season, win or lose, and then face them again to see who's champ.  Sorry, that's just stupid.

Let's Go With Them

Happy birthday, Norman Wright.  He's the one with the high voice in the Del Vikings.  They had three hits, all in 1957.  The rest was oldies shows, but it was enough. In fact, just their fist hit was enough.





Saturday, October 20, 2012

Baiting

I don't have much to say about Tuesday's debate.  Or is it the less said the better?

I generally don't watch these things since I find them pointless and frustrating.  And nothing is sillier than the town hall format. Why do we it?  To see the two candidates stalk each other?  The only place town hall style works is where everyone who's voting can fit inside a town hall. (It's not real town hall anyway, since Candy Crowley and her crew decided which questions to use--they might as well write them.)

Anyway, here's much of what I heard.

Q:  Mr. President, you did A.  Why did you do A?
A:  Who, me?  No, I did not-A.
or
A:  You must be confusing me with someone else who did that.  It was the Republicans/President Bush/bad luck.

(I do give him credit for saying the low gas prices he inherited were due to a weak economy. If that's true, could you tank things just a bit for us, enough to get gas below 3 dollars a gallon?)

Meanwhile, here's how Romney reponded a lot of the time.

Q:  We don't know what you'll do, but it sounds pretty conservative and scary.
A:  Where'd you get the impression I'm a conservative?  I've got a lot of government programs planned (that I can't go into now) that'll take care of your problem, many of them pretty much the same as President Obama's, except that his programs ruined everything.

Is it that candidates can't take any blame or admit to what they really believe, especially in a close race?  Exactly.  So why have debates?

For A Song

Suburgatory is one of those shows I watch as much due to location as anything else.  It's on right before Modern Family (and right after The Middle) so if I'm home I'll check it out.

Anyway, it had its second season debut last week and something strange happened.  Lead character Tessa came back from a summer stay in Manhattan with her grandmother, where she learned about her mother, who'd abandoned her.  In particular, mom was a singer.  So Tessa decides to perform a song mom wrote in the local follies.

At the end of the episode, she gets up on stage and sings the song. It's the show's theme song.  It's kind of freaky to have a character acknowledge the theme.  It's almost like admitting you're on a TV show.  Imagine Captain Kirk humming the Star Trek theme as he beams down to a planet, or Norm saying he wants to be where everybody knows his name.

There are only two other examples of something similar that I can think of off the top of my head.  First, Ricky Ricardo sings the I Love Lucy song on his show: Then, and this is a bit of a cheat, in the movie version of M*A*S*H, there's a big scene where the Painless Pole thinks he's going to take his life, and they sing the theme song, "Suicide Is Painless."

(The story behind the latter is fascinating.  Director Robert Altman knew he needed a song for the scene and professional Johnny Mandel wrote the tune, but Altman wanted a really crappy, pseudo-Dylanesque lyric, so had his teenage son write it.  The tune (not the words) was kept on as the theme of the hit TV show, and his son got paid every time it played, so he ended up making more than ten times what his father got paid for the movie.)

Friday, October 19, 2012

World Series Bound And Picking Up Steam

Congratulations to American League champs the Detroit Tigers!

For a team I didn't think would even make the playoffs, they disposed of the Yankees--probably the best team in the AL--without much fuss. It wasn't just four straight wins--the Yankees were never even in the lead.  New York scored only two runs in the last three game, and the finale was an 8-1 blowout.  Okay, the Yanks weren't at full strength, but they had plenty of depth and should have at least made the series close.

So it's on to the World Series.  If the Tigers keep this up I think they can take on anyone.  They'll either face the Giants--2010 champs--or the Cardinals--2011 champs.  I hope it's the Giants.  They're probably the better team, but there's a long history of playing the Cardinals and it'd be nice to try something new.

The Bad News Is The Good News

Today was supposed to be the return of Community.   It was scheduled for Friday nights at 8:30, a graveyard slot where it would presumably play out its 13 episodes and then go away forever.  Still, a little Community is better than none.

But a few weeks ago NBC decided to hold off on the Friday death march.  Instead, it's holding back on new Community (as well as Whitney as if anyone cares), ready to use it for mid-season replacement.  While this mean no Community for a while--and while this is still probably its last season--at least it offers hope that NBC thinks it can be featured on a good night like Monday or Wednesday.  Maybe it'll get passable numbers (they don't ask for a lot at NBC) and be picked up for another season.

So keep it up Greendale.  Be seeing you soon.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Serific

Let me recommend Simon Garfield's Just My Type: A Book About Fonts. Before the computer age, practically no one but printers cared, or even thought about, typefaces.  Now everyone is an expert.  With so many fonts at our fingertips we're quite aware that the look and layout of letters not only is about readability, but mood.

The book has chapters on how many fonts were created, and goes into the sometimes odd lives of the printers and designers who created them.  Garfield, as you might expect, helpfully uses each font he mentions as he mentions it, whether it's Courier, Helvetica, Verdana or much lesser knwon names.  He not only discusses the history, but also the aesthetics, and the fashion, of various typefaces, from an opening chapter on the desire to destroy comic sans, to later pieces on optima, sabon and so many others.  (My template for this blog has limited fonts so I can't show you these three.)

If you find the subject interesting, you probably couldn't find a better book. But even if you think the concept itself is dry as dust, you might want to check it out.  There's more to the story than you'd imagine.

Surrific

Happy birthday, Laura Nyro.  When you consider the diverse and amazing songs she wrote--"Wedding Bell Blues," "Stoned Soul Picnic," "Eli's Coming," "Stoney End" and so many others--some written when she was a teenager, it almost seems a miracle.  Her writing style seemed to be a mix of the early rock and roll with an edge of jazz, and even when she wrote about dark themes, there was a joyousness to everything she touched.

She wasn't a bad performer either.  Made the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame this year, and it's about time.






Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Turtle Tucker

Happy birthday, Jim Tucker.  He was rhythm guitarist for the Turtles in their early days.  Apparently he left the band--and the music business--because he couldn't get over being insulted by John Lennon.  Hey, Jim, that's just how John is.

He should have stuck around.  He was certainly better looking than the lead singers.



Here's another version of the same song. Or really the same version done on another show:

Star Producer

I just read Scott Eyman's Lion Of Hollywood: The Life And Legend Of Louis B. Mayer.  It's a lengthy book, but then, Mayer ruled over Hollywood for a long time.  He was born in 1884 in Russia (most of the moguls of the studio years were Russian Jews). His family emigrated to Canada where he grew up, earning a living collecting scrap metal.

As a young man he moved to Massachusetts, got married and in 1907 opened a movie theatre.  He was a natural showman and soon was running a chain.  He helped form Metro Pictures and like many other big exhibitors, moved into production.  By the late 1910s, he was running a studio in Los Angeles.  In 1924, Marcus Loew, who owned the Loew's theatres, merged Metro Pictures and Goldwyn Pictures.  The money men like Loew were in New York and someone was needed to watch over things in the West. Mayer was chosen and MGM was created.

It was a symbiotic relationship.  A bunch of not-that-big movie people got together and suddenly they had actors, a big lot, theatres and, best of all, a great administrator to bring it all together.  Mayer soon added boy wonder Irving Thalberg to oversee production and MGM became the biggest studio of all.  The Big Parade, made in 1925, was the biggest hit of the silent era, and the studio was off to the races.  They created more and bigger stars than anyplace else--John Gilbert, Greta Garbo, Lon Chaney, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Marie Dressler, Johnny Weissmuller, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Greer Garson and many others.  They also made the transition to sound smoothly.  For that matter, during the Depression, while other studio were losing money and even going bankrupt, MGM showed a solid profit every year. For the next two decades, it would dominate Hollywood. Mayer's philosophy was simple--create and develop stars in properties people wanted to see, sparing no expense (as long as producers decided what to spend, not directors or anyone else).

Mayer wanted MGM to stand for class--a middle class version of class, I suppose--and you can see it in the sets and costumes.  Warner Brothers had a lot more grit and mayhem, while Paramount gave its directors and clowns much more freedom  Mayer would have none of it.  Above all, he believed in wholesomeness, not realism.  As he put it, we all go to the bathroom, but there's a reason we lock the door.  Characters should be noble, patriotic and reverent.  Even poor people should live in clean, well-lit, nicely furnished homes.  And if a woman was awoken in the middle of the night for plot reasons, she should still look like she just spent an afternoon at the salon.

The MGM system had powerful unit heads who declared what a movie would look like, generally before the director was assigned.  And after it was shot, the editors took over.  Every step of the way it was closely shepherded by producers.  If something wasn't working, scenes would be rewritten and reshot until they got it right.  This led to tremendous success, but also a certain uniformity and even stodginess that often makes the heart sink when you see the MGM logo attached to an old film (though, at the time, audiences couldn't get enough).

Short, stocky and homely, Mayer was the unquestioned king of Hollywood.  A father figure at MGM, he knew how to deal with people, especially talent--often by sweet-talking them, and if they refused his offers, threatening to destroy them.  He was also an intimate of the powerful, including Presidents.  However, he was still just an employee of Loew's, Inc. and when Nick Schenck took over after Marcus Loew died in 1927, the two had an antagonistic relationship.  Meanwhile, just below, Thalberg kept demanding more money and power until he was practically the equal of Mayer.

Thalberg had a heart attack in 1932 and much of his worked was farmed out to other producers.  When he died in 1936, only 37 years old, MGM kept chugging along, making as much money as ever.  And Mayer and Schenck kept fighting as well.

The studio did well during World War II and there seemed no end in sight, but after the war, the world had changed.  Americans had seen a lot of death, and the make-believe world of MGM seemed more false and old-fashioned than ever.  But Mayer had trouble accepting the new styles.  Furthermore, MGM's old stars were aging, and it had trouble developing and sustaining new ones. For the first time, in 1947, the studio lost money.

Other changes were afoot.  The government was investigating Hollywood for communist influence, and Hollywood was running scared.  In 1948, the Supreme Court broke up the studios' vertical integration and so began the process of selling off theatres.  Actors won greater freedom in their contracts and at other studios started demanding percentages of the gross.  Then there was television, which threatened to destroy the entire industry, and certainly broke America of its weekly film habit.

Mayer was getting old and the studio, looking for a new Thalberg, hired Dore Schary, who'd started as a screenwriter, to serve under Mayer--"under," except that he'd often go straight to Schenck to get things done.  Schary wasn't much for wholesomeness, and didn't really love the spectacles that were MGM's specialty, preferring message pictures and film noir.  Mayer and Schary rarely fought overtly, but Mayer knew he was being undercut and by 1951 told the money people in New York it was him or Schary.  They chose Schary.  What choice did they have?--Schary wasn't one-tenth the movie man Mayer was, but he represented the future while Mayer was the past.

Maybe it's just as well, since the studio system that Mayer had created was dying.  Mayer himself kept busy with minor projects, but he was a broken man.  He died in 1957.

Mayer is often caricatured as a monstrous philistine--in fact, most of those caricatures of old studio bosses were originally based on Mayer.  But though he had his flaws, he loved movies and MGM made plenty of good ones when he was in charge.  Some of the criticisms are true, though.  His favorite films were the Andy Hardy series, and it's easy to understand why.  Not only were they full of the wholesomeness and middle-American values Mayer cherished, they were also cheap to shoot and made a ton of dough.  In later years, he'd compare them favorably to Lubitsch's Ninotchka, made at MGM at the same time, which cost a lot more and didn't gross as much.  Lubitsch was a major director who'd recently left Paramount and signed a two-picture deal at MGM.  He was given his freedom and not only made Ninotchka, but The Shop Around The Corner.  I'd trade all the Andy Hardy films for the former, and just about any decade of MGM's output for the latter.  But that's not how Mayer saw things, and good or bad, it's his vision that's reflected in hundreds and hundreds of movies.

There is one great thing Mayer did I haven't mentioned.  He often worked on hunches, and in 1939 took songwriter Arthur Freed and put him in charge of musicals.  The Freed unit, essentially operating as a studio within a studio, turned into one of the glories of Hollywood, releasing classics such as Singin' In The Rain and The Band Wagon. For that alone, I don't know how any movie lover can have hard feelings about Mayer.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Give 'Em Their Props

With another election upon us, Californians get a whole bushel of propositions to vote for. We've all been sent huge pamphlets which, considering how they're ignored, are the biggest waste of paper this side of new phonebooks.

Let's go over some highlights:

Prop 30 is a "temporary" tax because the state needs more for education.  But don't worry, only rich people will have to pay it--except for the sales tax increase. As always, my response to the state is show you're serious about doing something on runaway spending--say, ten straight years of actual cuts--and then maybe I'll trust you enough to discuss tax increases.

Prop 33 is about auto insurance rates.  It allows companies to increase or decrease rates based on drivers' histories. I want a free market in insurance, but why do I feel allowing rate changes will mostly mean things go up?

Prop 34 repeals the death penalty, which sounds okay to me, but they've also added a bit about an extra $100 million to investigate cases.  Was that necessary?

Prop 35 expands the definitions of human trafficking and increases the penalties. This smells like the kind of proposition where demagoguery rules. "What, you don't care about human trafficking?" It's not my impression that human traffickers were getting off too easy, or the definition wasn't wide enough.

Prop 37 is the most interesting, and scariest.  It would require labeling of genetically modified foods.  Proponents say they're just spreading information, but really they're spreading fear.  There's no scientific reason to treat genetically modified foods differently from the foods we're used to (many of which were genetically modified many years ago). These labels aren't there to inform, they're there to scare. Apparently, special interests have made enough exceptions so that the bills wouldn't even work for its express purpose, but for me, it's the express purpose I don't like.

Prop 38 is for those who don't think the Prop 30 tax hike is enough.  It's allegedly to fund education and early childhood programs, even though many such programs are already failures--and not because they're underfunded--and the government is already spending too much in general. (For instance, the government just re-upped on high-speed rail, which is costing billions more than expected and will probably never make money.  But that's a bad program.  They also spend too much on good programs.) Under this prop, almost everyone's income tax will be raised. Californians are not undertaxed. Everyone pays some, and by the time you hit $48,000 a year, you're paying 9.3%.  But apparently that's not enough. Even if the state deserved more money, all this would do is increase the exodus from California.

There's also County Measure B, which will require porn actors to wear condoms, created by people with too much time on their hands.

There are other major Propositions--I'm told 32 is a big deal--but just those above are enough to make me just want to say no.

Do You Remember?

Happy birthday, Bob Mould, lead singer and songwriter of Husker Du.  They never got the commercial success they deserved (if you think punk bands--or whatever they were--deserved commercial success), but they were quite influential--their sound can be heard in bands like Nirvana and Green Day.  And their music still sounds pretty good, too.








Monday, October 15, 2012

Path Math

With Romney now leading in an average of national polls, some have asked me why I still expect the President to be reelected.  Obviously things can change, but let's say any change is a coin flip (some say it isn't--that undecideds trend to the challenger--but that remains to be seen) and let's assume the polls are correct and the numbers will remain the same over the next several weeks.

Let me draw your attention to 2004.  President Bush won that election with a 2.4% edge in the popular vote, bigger than Romney's edge over Obama.  Yet he barely took the electoral college, 286 to 251 (with one faithless elector going to John Edwards). Ohio was the state that put him over the top, with a lead of less than 120,000 votes out of 5.6 million.  In other words, Republicans don't have much room for error, and certain states pretty much have to go their way or they can't win.

It's true the College numbers have changed slightly in Republican's favor since the census, but much of that is counteracted by New Mexico, which Bush won but is now solidly in the Democrat's column.

So it's not the national polls, it's the state polls.  The big swing states become must-wins for Romney.  Yes, he's got an excellent chance of taking Florida and North Carolina, but Virginia is on the edge and he's losing Ohio.  It's just about impossible for Romney to lose Virginia and Ohio and take the Presidency.  What if he only loses Ohio?  It's still highly unlikely. That would mean he'd have to run the board of every other close state, including Nevada, Colorado, New Hampshire and Iowa.

What about the possibility of Romney winning a surprise state, such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan or Pennsylvania?  It's true, any one of those states (especially Pennsylvania) could make up for the loss of Ohio, but really, if the polls are far off enough that Romney takes one or more of these, then it's pretty much a sign that Ohio will go for Romney.

Which is why I keep my eye on Ohio. As long as the signs there point to Obama, they also point to another four years.

Jim Walewander's Favorite

Happy 50th, Joe Genaro, aka Joe Jack Talcum, member of The Dead Milkmen.  Very few punkish bands were as much fun.





Sunday, October 14, 2012

Citizens United

I just got a letter from Public Citizen with an enclosed petition I'm supposed to send to my Senators demanding single payer health care.  There's even a pre-addressed envelope (though the stamp isn't pre-paid so that's the end of that).

Apparently, I should support single payer because the lack of it is killing 45,000 Americans a year.  They don't say where they get this number (it's from a Harvard study that compares the insured and uninsured) but why would they lie?  They also promise single payer isn't socialized medicine, that under it everything will cost less and be more efficient, that getting rid of profits will not effect the quality of care, and a bunch of other good things.

Oh, they're also asking me for a contribution (and since they're a non-profit group that's okay).

They note it may seem odd to be going for single payer after that huge fight we just went through over health insurance.  I'll tell you what, Public Citizen--since we both agree Obamacare is a bad idea, let's get rid of that first. When it's dead and buried, I'll be glad to have an open debate over what to do next.

Cry For A Shadow

Happy birthday, Cliff Richard.  In America, outside a few minor hits in the 70s, especially "Devil Woman," he means nothing, but in England he's as big as Elvis. (He's not as good as Elvis, so I gotta go with America on this one.)

The guy first charted in the 1950s and is still selling over there.  So let's listen to a few of his #1 hits so Americans can go "huh?" (Actually, millions know the first song as the theme of the Cliff-loving British series The Young Ones.):






Saturday, October 13, 2012

Peace Out

So it's Nobel Prize time.  The science awards are almost always well-deserved.  Lately, the literature prize has been as political as it's been aesthetic.  But for a long time, the Peace Prize has been a joke.  Still, that didn't prepare me for yesterday's punchline.

Do they really think giving it to the EU adds lustre to the award? Whether or not you support the actions of the organization, it's a stretch to claim it's instrumental in supporting peace.  Would Europe fall into another World War without it? Explain how, please. Is it that the EU is such a super-bureaucracy that it prevents anything from being done, war or otherwise?

Of course, it's even funnier considering the crises that the EU faces (or ignores) at present, which sometimes even boil up into violence.  But I guess the Norwegian Nobel Committee has become its own bureaucracy, and so prefers hanging medals on other bureaucracies.

Great Art

Happy birthday, Art Tatum.  He was one of the most brilliant pianists jazz has ever known.  (Sometimes a think maybe a little too brilliant.)





Friday, October 12, 2012

Go Get 'Em

The great debate was settled last night--the Tigers are better than the Athletics.

It was a little rough along the way, I'll admit.  Sure, the Tigers took the first two at home, but they were close games.  Even though the odds were in their favor, the A's had proved themselves as a come-from-behind team.

So onto Oakland where the Athletics shut out the Tigers in game three.  Okay, it can happen, all Detroit needs is one more win.  But then came the fourth game, where the Tigers should have put them away.  They were leading 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth and somehow Oakland won 4-3.  It was your classic choke.  And if Detroit lost game five, the whole series would be a choke.

So it came down to game five, with Oakland enjoying home advantage.  Most fans figured we'd have to win with our pitching, since the Tiger's bats had been fairly lackluster (though to be fair to the A's, their stellar defense had kept them in the game more than once).

Luckily, the best pitcher in baseball was available.  So what happened?  Justin Verlander showed his mastery, pitching a shutout.  Meanwhile, Oakland's defense fell apart and the Tigers won easily, 6-0.

So, one down, two to go.  As I write this, next up could be the Orioles or the Yankees.  They've been having a wild series that'll go down to the wire as well.  Good.  It'll give the Tigers a chance to rest.

It's Pat

Happy birthday Pat DiNizio, lead songwriter and singer of the Smithereens. They were never huge, but they maintained an audience.

They only had one song that even made the top forty:



But they had plenty of other good numbers:






Thursday, October 11, 2012

Music Of The Sphere

Let's say happy birthday (yesterday, but he was never on the beat) to the guy with one of the most distinctive piano styles in all jazz, Thelonious Monk.  It's not all about hitting the right notes--you gotta hit the wrong ones every now and then.





JR

It's the birthday of Jerome Robbins, probably the greatest director-choreographer Broadway has ever known.  Stephen Sondheim called him the only genius he ever met.  He must have been, considering Robbins was, by most accounts, a nasty character, so why else would anyone work with him?  A famous story has him berating his cast, who say nothing as he slowly backs up and falls into the pit.

Broadway shows of his day weren't taped or filmed, but he revived many of his greatest numbers in the Tony-winning Jerome Robbins' Broadway:



Broadway was only half his career.  He spent just as much time at the ballet.



Some of his work survives in Hollywood versions.  For instance, he came out to Hollywood to stage the numbers he'd originally choreographed in The King And I.  He was asked to direct West Side Story, but took so long rehearsing the dancers he was fired halfway through the production. Luckily, the completed film still carries much of his work. (Enough that he shared an Oscar for direction.)


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Double Day

It's October 10 (10/10) which means it's time to put up two songs with the same title:





(I remember having to explain to a friend that this wasn't just a random girl chosen from the audience, it was an actress.)

A Really Big Shoe

I just caught this week's Homeland.  I don't know if I'll be covering the show each week, but this episode, "Beirut Is Back," the second of the season, shows they're willing to go full blast.

One of the big questions in dramatic serials is how long must viewers wait for the other shoe to drop?  We know what's going on, but when will the characters find out?  When will Tony discover Livia wants him dead, when will Skyler discover Walt cooks meth, etc. Sometimes they never do.  The trickiest dramatic irony, I'd say, isn't when a character is in trouble but doesn't know, but when a lead character is justified but doesn't know. Letting viewers dangle too long can become painful.

Yet that's what Homeland did.  Yes, it gave Carrie Mathison her victories, but the biggest of all eluded her--she suspected Sergeant Brody was a terrorist, but couldn't prove it.  (This is one of the reasons many viewers felt it was a copout when Brody pulled back from killing the Vice President.)   Her supposed failure helped destroy her career at the CIA, but also, as we learned in a monologue from this week's show, destroyed her confidence in herself.

The main action of the episode deals with Carrie, back doing what she needs to do, aiding the CIA (hard to see her getting back as a regular employee since not only was she suffering from mental problems, but also lied about it).  She gets back with an old contact who gives her big information--the woman knows when and where terrorist mastermind Abu Nazir will be.  Trouble is the CIA doesn't know if it's good intel or a trap.  Ultimately, Saul has to trust Carrie, even though he knows how crazy she can be.

At this point, we watch from the Situation Room as the drama unfolds.  Kidnaping is impossible, so they'll have to shoot Nazir.  Homeland then manages to have it both ways--Carrie's faith in her contact is justified since Nazir shows up, but Brody (whom the clueless Veep has invited to watch) warns Nazir with a secret Mayday text, and he gets away.

For most shows, that would be enough.  Soon after, Saul and Carrie pick up the contact who has asked for the $5 million reward and a trip to Detroit where she has relatives.  (Detroit has a large Arab population.  As for the $5 million, I wonder what she'll get?  Her info was good, it's not her fault Brody screwed up the mission.) But before she can leave her home crazy Carrie insists she rummage through her husband's papers (he's Nazir's contact), almost getting killed in the process.

This'll have to lead to something, but I doubt many guessed how quickly it would pay off.  The papers don't show much, but the sack they're carried in contains a flash drive with the video Brody made meant to be shown after his suicide bombing.  It was easy to imagine any discoveries about Brody could wait well into the season, but that's not how they decided to play it.

So for the viewer, Carrie's action are finally justified--not to us, but in the eyes of the authorities.  Yes, only Saul know right now, but (unless he's some sort of double agent) he'll have to share this information.  Presumably, Carrie will find out soon as well.  And the show will go in a new direction.  But the main thing is the biggest shoe has dropped.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Fey Way

I had no plans to read Tina Fey's Bossypants but I saw it in the library so I checked it out.  It's pretty much what you've heard--a funny, breezy tour of her life. I can certainly see why it became a bestseller.

I don't have too much to say about it other than I suppose what makes it interesting--beyond the jokes (which I'm not discounting---without them there is no book)--is that while Fey is writing about being a powerful women, she's doing it from a post-feminist stance.  Not that she isn't a feminist, but rather she came up in an era where it wasn't shocking for women to want to have a career and be a boss.  Sure, there was plenty of old thinking around, often from older people, but her attitude was and is mostly to ignore it and work around it if possible.  She also recognizes that while women can do just about anything a man can, there are still differences between the sexes--in fact, her show, 30 Rock, often plays off certain gender stereotypes (though the show is so much about getting laughs that it's hard to pinpoint a specific point of view).

She writes about her days in Second City and SNL, where comedy troupes had twice as many men as women. The reason given was if you had too many females, there wouldn't be enough for them to do--it protects the women who have made it from competition.  But, as Fey points out, we're the ones writing the material.  There are as many parts for women as we decide.  It's just tradition that deems most characters to be guys, while the gals are often in supporting or stereotypical roles (wife, girlfriend, secretary, nurse, hooker, etc.) Shouldn't casts be based on talent, not sex?  It brought me back to the days I ran a troupe in college.  We had the same ratio--generally, about six men and three women.  Even back then I wondered if that made sense, though it was true most of the sketches we did (including those by me) had more male roles than female.  I seem to recall coming to the conclusion it was okay to have more men than women simply because more tried out.  Ironically, when you look at the regulars on 30 Rock, I count five men and two women.  I guess you have to pick your battles.  And Tina is making more than anyone else on the show--that's a real battle worth winning.


Race Matters

One thing I left out in yesterday's observations on travel.  Why do airport terminals always have CNN on?  With sound, too. If it was just CC I could ignore it and read my book.  In the nearby bars they have sports on since they need to please the clientele.  Who is the airport pleasing?

Anyway, they announced new polls which had Romney catching up or even passing Obama after the debate (though for reasons I don't have time to get into, I'd still say Obama has the edge).  So after weeks of complaining the polls were unfair, conservatives have finally gotten their wish.  They also claim the mainstream media is in the bag for Obama.  Most in the media may vote for him, but I bet this is what they wanted.

In fact, I bet they're thrilled Obama looks vulnerable.  The story was getting tired and there was still a month to go.  It needed a plot twist.  I bet the media hope it'll go down to the wire.  Okay, maybe they're secretly hoping Obama wins, but they want it to be exciting along the way.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Fight Or Flight

Back from a recent trip.  A few notes on flying (or trying to):

1)  Let's change the name of the Department of Homeland Security.  It's not too late.  It'll cost a little for new logos and seals, but it's worth it.  We're not Germany, we're America.  It's not about a spcific plot of land so much as a concept of freedom.

2)  Just because I'm required to hand over my driver's license to a government official at the security check does not give them the right to refer to me by my first name.  Even if they think it makes the whole interaction more folksy, it's "Mr. LAGuy," thank you very much.

3)  The whole security process is dehumanizing, but I think the worst part is having to parade around the airport in your socks.  I find it more degrading than a lengthy patdown.

4)  If someone is contentedly sitting in your seat when you get there, they have to be removed from the plane.  Not for the inconvenience they've caused, but because they've proved they're simply too stupid to be flying.  Can't we detect that before they board?

5)  Here's a good business to have: the last gas station before the car rental. Any price is better than returning a car not filled up.

One, Two, Three, Four!

Happy birthday, Johnny Ramone (ne John William Cummings).  Johnny died about eight years ago, a couple years after Joey and Dee Dee. Hard to believe the three main Ramones are all gone.

While they were around, they created an indelible sound, and no one was more instrumental, literally, than Johnny and his guitar.  His fast, downstroke chords would destroy most players' wrists after a couple songs, but he kept it up for years.  He also was the taskmaster who kept the band in fighting trim (which they didn't always appreciate).








Sunday, October 07, 2012

Essential Ingredient

Happy birthday to Tony Silvester, one of the members of The Main Ingredient, a popular R&B group of the 70s (which included Cuba Gooding, Sr.)

Their biggest hit by far came in 1972:



Their other biggest hit was in 1974:

RR

Happy birthday, Ralph Rainger.  He died in a 1942 plane crash, but not before he'd written a bunch of hit songs, including, by chance, tunes that became the theme songs for Jack Benny and Bob Hope:




Saturday, October 06, 2012

Leftover Vanity Plates Of The Month

On a Lexus (as usual):  WUT I DO.  Here's what you did.  You bought an expensive care and them put a dumb vanity plate on it.

SKY VIN.  The first part I get, but the second part?  Something about wine?

SUMMRP. A sum of some sort? Or urination in the hot months?

JVSRT.  This means nothing to me, but I just figured I'd put up one of these.  There are actually plenty like this--personal, unknowable, but put out there for all the world to see.

Chicken Dinner

I was driving through the Valley when I noticed a sign outside a party store: "A Millionaire Was Made Here."  Underneath was the logo for the California Lottery.

I suppose they put that sign up to convince more people to come in and buy lottery tickets.  The next millionaire could be you, and so on.  That's the appeal of the lottery in general, but they're making it specific here.  It got me thinking, however, that this may be the wrong appeal.  I bet more lottery fans will say to themselves "There's already been one Millionaire winner here.  There's no way there'll be another."*

So I'm guessing that sign actually discourages business.  Maybe a better sign would be "no millionaires here yet, so we must be due."

*The reasoning is flawed, but the conclusion is correct.

Friday, October 05, 2012

A Pompatus Day

Steve Miller turns 69 today.  In the late 60s, he and his band were a respected blues-rock outfit with more than a touch of psychedelia.  Then in the early 70s they turned more poppy and took off commercially.

The song that broke them went to #1 in 1973:



In the mid-70s Miller had a series of hits.





He never was as popular in the 80s, except for one song that turned out to be his biggest hit of all:


Big Loss

Let's say goodbye to "Big Jim" Sullivan, one of the top session guitarists in Britain. He can be heard on literally thousands of recordings, including:







Thursday, October 04, 2012

That's Debatable

A quick note on the first Presidential debate. Following a long tradition, I didn't watch it.  If anything important was said, it'll be repeated.

Anyway, from what I could glean, it was a win for Romney.  So that's that.

Queen King

Carole King tells a great story in her memoir, A Natural Woman, about hanging out with John Lennon in 1976 in New York.  The last time she'd seen him was 1965 when the Beatles were touring America, and he'd been very rude. She asked him about that and he admitted he'd been so intimidated by the songs she'd written with Gerry Goffin that he was afraid of saying something stupid, so just made a smart remark instead.

It's true, there were no better songwriters working in the pop world in the early 60s.  The Beatles sure knew it--they performed Goffin/King hits every night in their formative years.  The team wrote such titles as "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Chains," "The Loco-Motion," "One Fine Day" and "Up On The Roof." King tells how she came to be a hit songwriter and a lot more in her memoir.

It's that "a lot more" that I have to warn about.  The movie Grace Of My Heart is about a Carole King-like songwriter who as a young woman in the early 60s writes pop songs for other artists, loses her husband, moves to California in the mid-60s and then records her first solo album as the decade is ending.  It's a decent film, but I love the first half about the Brill Building era so much I was sorry to move on.  Carole King's career was still interesting after the British Invasion, but it's the early chapters I liked best.

She was born Carol Klein in 1942 to a Jewish family in New York.  A smart girl, she skipped a couple grades in school and seemed to skip ahead everywhere else, establishing a career when most are still wondering what to do with their life.  She grew up loving music, but was especially moved by the power of rock and roll and R&B. She started writing her own songs and by fifteen was composing and recording professionally.  At sixteen, she met Gerry Goffin, the boy of her dreams. He became her collaborator--she wasn't much at lyrics--and they married when she was seventeen.  By the time she was eighteen, she had a daughter and a #1 hit single.

From 1960 till the Beatles took over the charts and more performers started writing their own songs because it made them more "authentic," Goffin and King wrote hits like those listed above for numerous acts.  Carole created the arrangements and often played and sang on the tracks, while Gerry would be the official producer.  They had another daughter and moved out to the suburbs of New Jersey.

Post-British Invasion, they spent more time in California, where the action was (and where they'd eventually live), and continued writing hits, such as "Pleasant Valley Sunday" for the Monkees and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" for Aretha Franklin (note the lyrics are by Goffin).

But the times were a-changin'.  Gerry not only wanted to write more sophisticated songs, he wanted to experiment with the new freedoms the 60s offered--particularly the drugs and sex. He also had mental issues to deal with.  In 1968, they split up.

She kept writing, sometimes with lyricist Toni Stern, sometimes doing her own words.  She was convinced by producer Lou Adler to become a recording artist, even though she didn't want to do promotion. In 1971, she released Tapestry, which became one of the biggest albums of all time.

Her sound now is more personal, less pop.  While I find a lot of stuff from the singer-songwriter era a bit dreary, the songs here, like "It's Too Late" and "I Feel The Earth Move," are good enough to overcome any objections.

She continued releasing albums through the 70s that were successful by any commercial standard except those created by Tapestry.  Her music is still pretty good, but I find it less and less interesting, and thus found the book less and less interesting.  And when you realize we're not even halfway over when she starts recording Tapestry (she's seventy now and was still in her twenties then), the book can become a bit of a slog at times.

Of course, it's not all music with Carole.  She wants to talk about her life, and the later chapters more often deal with things like her relationships with men (including a very abusive one) and moving out to the country--not really why I checked it out.

Still, Carole King comes across as a very sweet, thoughtful woman you'd like to know.  She's also supremely talented, but we all knew that before we picked up the book.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Bible Bumper

I saw an intriguing bumper sticker the other day:

Lives Changed by JESUS Prove the Bible is True

This isn't just a profession of belief, it's an explanation for it.

While I admire the effort, I have to say as an argument it falls short.

(Check out other "Christian Witness Bumper Stickers.")

web page hit counter