Friday, April 30, 2010

Oh Well...

Great. I just figure out how to use the cool widget thingy (that's a technical term) for LaLa, and then I read today that they are shutting down for good on May 31.

Guess I'll have to look for other options. I think there are some.

American Top 40 Flashback - "Reunited," Peaches and Herb

For the last 4 years that I worked in downtown Sacramento, I rode the bus to and from work every day. The office I worked for participated in a rideshare incentive program, and by saving my points for six months I could cash them in for an gift card worth $100. For a long, long time, I had my eye on a Rhino Records 6-CD collection of great 1970s soul tunes. And believe me, the 1970s was a great era for soul tunes. The list of artists who flourished in those years is almost staggering - The Chi-Lites, The Spinners, The Stylistics, The Delfonics, Bill Withers, Earth Wind & Fire, The O'Jays, Tower of Power, War, Al Green, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Kool & the Gang...the list just goes on and on.

Right before I left, I cashed in the last of my points, and finally bought the damn thing. And it was one of the best purchases I ever made. This song takes the collection right up to the end, and it was a great way to go out. "Reunited," by Peaches and Herb. The #1 song this week in 1979, and one of the great soul classics of its day.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Perchance to Dream

This is an open letter to whoever is in charge of my dreams.

Enough already.

So far this week, I've had both the "entering finals week at Cal and haven't attended a class all quarter" dream, and the "only waiter working at Chuck's Steak House, the restaurant is full, and the cook won't put the dinners up" dream.

About all that's left is the "working at McDonald's all by myself, three buses pull into the parking lot, and we're out of pickles" dream.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Don't take my word for it; have a listen.

The Avett Brothers at The Crest

When it comes to Avett Brothers fandom, I'm strictly a newbie. Less than a year ago, I'd never heard of them. A friend at work recommended them as someone I might like, so I checked out a few tunes on YouTube, and liked what I heard. Bought their 2009 album, "I And Love And You," and thought it was great - ranked it #2 on my list of 2009 favorites. Recently bought an older EP, "The Gleam II," but barely had a chance to listen to it, caught in the midst of my Drive-By Truckers obsession.

Heading into last night's show, I was expecting to be entertained, but I'm not sure I expected to be blown away like I was. It was an amazing show from start to finish - one filled with humor, energy, passion, and great music. And it wasn't as if we were familiar with the songs - only 5 of the 19 they played were from the new album, but it was obvious that most of the crowd knew them all.

And who knew that Sacramento, California was such a hotbed of Avett mania? Sure, we're only talking about a theater that probably holds less than 2000 people. On the same night, The Eagles played at Arco Arena, in front of what was probably close to 17,000 patrons. I'm sure it was a great show, but I'm just as sure (and mind you, I am an Eagles fan) that Glenn Frey and Don Henley never had as much energy on their best days in the 1970s as the Avetts do today. As it turns out, the Avetts do have a Sacramento connection (an uncle), and one of the highlights of the show was an anecdote about a show many years ago in Fair Oaks (for those of you unfamiliar with the Sacramento region, Fair Oaks is a suburb of the capital city, and just happens to be where I spent my formative years) where there were more chickens in the audience than there were paying customers. Now, that may only make sense to someone who's been to Fair Oaks, but it was an example of the bond that the band had with its audience.

It's fair to say that nothing on "I And Love And You," good as it was, prepared me for the energy demonstrated by the brothers and their band in concert. There's plenty of live clips on YouTube to check out if one so desires (including quite a few of last night's show, just enter "Avett Brothers Sacramento" in the search bar), but even having seen Springsteen as often as I have, I'm not sure I've ever seen performers maintain a sustained energy level for as long as the Avetts did last night.

I'm lucky to have seen two shows as great as DBT and the Avetts in the past month, and they both reminded me of the importance that music holds in my life. I don't play an instrument, though I suppose it's never to late to try, but my music collection is huge (probably vast by the standards of most normal people), and put simply, I can't imagine a life without music. On a day when things look their darkest, the redeeming power of a musical artist like The Avett Brothers is a wonderful thing. Sitting there last night, listening to the sincerity and the humor that are such key components in the songs of the Avetts, seeing the bond they have with their audience, and seeing the passion that their audience has for their work...well, for those moments, everything was right with the world.

A joyful noise is probably the best way to put it - beautiful vocals (even when almost screaming, they were able to maintain perfect harmony, conjuring up visions of the Everly Brothers), a bass that thundered so loud it shook the very core of your being, a banjo that, even when slightly out of tune (and, as was noted, it is damn near impossible to keep a banjo in tune, especially the way that Scott Avett plays it), terrific acoustic guitar, and even a cello, which is not something you normally hear in a band, unless it's playing in tuxedos.

Great stuff. Hope they come around again someday.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Frampton Comes Alive (again)

Even though I was never a big fan (I think I was one of the three people in the U.S. who didn't buy "Frampton Comes Alive"), Peter Frampton always struck me as a likable guy, even during that awkward period when he accidentally became a superstar and didn't quite know what to do about it.

I also know he went through some rough times and came out the other side stronger for it, and he continues to play today, the same likable guy he always was. More power to him, I say.

Having said all that, I have to admit that I found the following ad copy for his new album pretty hilarious:

Peter Frampton's Thank You Mr. Churchill Out Now!
Following his Grammy Award-winning instrumental album, 2006's Fingerprints, Peter Frampton returns with Thank You Mr. Churchill. The 11-song set, co-produced and co-engineered by Frampton, features the legendary guitarist at his most incisive lyrically as he tackles the battles that wage within us and the outside forces that rage around us. His searing guitar work flows over every song, setting the mood.

"At his most incisive lyrically?" Does that mean more profound than "Do You Feel Like We Do" and "Show Me the Way?"

"...the battles that wage within us and the outside forces that rage around us?" I mean, come on...really?

But hey, I hope the album does well, and wish him all the success in the world.

Friday, April 23, 2010

"She Looks So Good, Oh She Looks So Fine"

A great, great post by Steven Rubio on Patti Smith's version of "Gloria." I wish I had written it.

Every so often, one of the blogs I read regularly will feature a post on "the ten songs that changed my life" or "the ten books that affected me most deeply" or something else like that. I've always thought to myself, "gosh, yeah...I love music and I love books and I love movies, but can I really say that a song or a book or a movie has changed my life?"

But one thing I can say for certain is that "Gloria" by Patti Smith changed the way I looked at music, and how I listened to music. I remember very clearly the first time I heard the song - when she performed it on "Saturday Night Live" in the spring of 1976 (I was a sophomore in high school) - and remember how exciting, how vital it sounded, and how exciting, how vital she sounded.

Steven's post captures all of that perfectly.

Now Playing: The Avett Brothers

Featured this week in the "Now Playing" box, over to the right, is "I And Love And You" by The Avett Brothers.

It's one of the best albums released in 2009, and I'll be seeing them on Tuesday night, so be sure to check it out.

American Top 40 Flashback - "Kiss On My List"

The posting has been light this week, because...well, it's been one of those weeks at work.

I've always had a bit of a soft spot in my heart for Daryl Hall & John Oates, and still own several of their albums. "Kiss on My List" is my favorite song of theirs, and the album from which it came, "Voices," was their best album. It got released in 1980, but I didn't buy it until the Spring of 1981, when I was a junior at UC Berkeley. At the time, it sounded nothing at all like the rest of the records that were in heavy rotation on my turntable - a group that included Bruce Springsteen's "The River," The Clash's "London Calling," X's "Los Angeles," and The English Beat's "I Just Can't Stop It." But I liked it almost as much, and it holds up well today.

"Kiss on My List" - the #1 song, this week in 1981.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Songs I Love By Artists I Don't Really Like That Much

"Champagne Supernova," Oasis.

Who knows - I may never think of another one, so I'm not going to create a tag for this. But this one certainly fits the bill.

Stormy Day

In the foreground, R5 Records on Broadway (formerly Tower Records). In the background, the Tower Theater. Above it all, a rather ominous looking cloud.

Monday, April 19, 2010

TLRHB on "The Sting"

Read it now, before it's too late. Larry Aydlette has a way of disappearing very quickly!


I had literally nothing to do with it, but thanks to the work of Debra and son #2, the gardens for 2010 are planted.

Last year the tomatoes had a bad year, so with new beds we're hoping for improvement. If everything goes according to plan, we'll even have stripey tomatoes.

Also a variety of peppers, swiss chard, and some other stuff that I'm sure is good for us.

"Heart of Gold" : A Triumph For Neil Young and Jonathan Demme

It’s easy to write a review of a movie like Jonathan Demme’s “Heart of Gold,” a concert film of Neil Young’s 2-night performance at the Ryman Auditorium in 2005. If you’re a Neil Young fan, the movie is essential viewing. If you’re not a Neil Young fan, then this probably won’t convince you to become one, but it’s a good place to start trying.

It was at these shows that Young performed the world premiere of “Prairie Wind,” which in all likelihood was his best album of the recently-finished decade. As any Neil Young fan knows, there are really two Neil Youngs – the punk Godfather who makes loud, electric albums with Crazy Horse, and the softer, perhaps kinder Neil Young, who records mostly acoustic tunes with a band that at times shifts in personnel, but that has been remarkably stable for the past three (now almost four) decades. Both Neils have created albums that stand as milestones of rock history –“Tonight’s the Night,” “Ragged Glory,” and “Sleeps With Angels” in the former category; “Comes A Time” and “Harvest Moon” in the latter. Sometimes, in such classics as “After the Gold Rush,” “Rust Never Sleeps,” and “Freedom,” you get a little taste of both Neils.

In “Heart of Gold,” you see and hear the softer Neil, which is appropriate given the venue, but also appropriate because the movie is clearly intended be a summing up of what has been in the past as much as a renewal of what is still to come. In a sense, Young has become the “Old Man” that he sang about nearly forty years ago, but as this music proves, there is still a lot of life in the old codger yet. He and the band obviously treated these shows as a special occasion; everyone is dressed up in their finest Nashville threads, and Young is uncharacteristically talkative (I saw him play with Crazy Horse in 1996, and I don’t think he said two words the entire evening). The performances are beautifully rendered, and the sound quality is absolutely amazing.

Demme, who directed “Stop Making Sense” with Talking Heads in 1984, approaches the material a bit differently here. Unlike the previous film, “Heart of Gold” leads off with a series of short interviews, filmed while Neil and the members of the band are driving to the auditorium. It provides the viewer with a sense of the history between Young and these musicians, and it also sets up an emotional payoff that enhances the whole viewing experience.

And, suffice to say, the music is glorious. It has inspired me to give “Prairie Wind” another listen – I remember admiring it a great deal upon its release, but setting it aside shortly afterward. But watching Neil talk about these songs, and the band perform them exquisitely, lends them a life that goes well beyond what I originally heard on the CD. And seeing Emmylou Harris in a backup role, sometimes on guitar but mostly just providing background vocals (along with, among others, Pegi Young, Neil’s wife) brings with it an enormous emotional impact.

In fact, there are three huge emotional payoffs in the film. One occurs right before Neil sings “Comes A Time,” and talks about recording the song with Nicolette Larson, who died well before her time. The second comes when he plays a song using one of Hank Williams’ old guitars, and the third comes during “Harvest Moon,” when he makes eye contact with Pegi as he sings the following verse:

Because I'm still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I'm still in love with you
On this harvest moon.

It’s a wonderful moment, and a triumphant one as well.

By now, you’ve probably figured out that I am a Neil Young fan. And if you’re like me, by all means you need to see “Heart of Gold.” You won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Kick-Ass" : Morally Reprehensible, or Irresistably Likable?

"Shall I have feelings, or should I pretend to be cool? Will I seem hopelessly square if I find “Kick-Ass” morally reprehensible and will I appear to have missed the point? Let's say you're a big fan of the original comic book, and you think the movie does it justice. You know what? You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in."

So begins Roger Ebert's review of Kick-Ass. Strong words, no doubt about it. Mick LaSalle, film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, begins his review as follows:

"Kick-Ass" lives up to the promise of its title, but it's better than its title, too. It's not an innocuous comedy. It doesn't talk down to audiences. It brings together several popular strains of contemporary moviemaking and combines them into one big, shameless, audacious, compulsively watchable, irresistibly likable piece of pure entertainment.

We are talking about the same movie, right?

Let me start by saying that there is indeed something reprehensible surrounding this movie, and that is the way it has been promoted as a Judd Apatow-type comedy with young wanna-be superheroes. Whoever goes to see this movie should know two things - this may be the most violent movie of its type since "Kill Bill Vol. 1," and it is not a movie for children below their teen years. Literally nothing in the trailers prepares the viewer for the level of violence in "Kick-Ass" - so if you have young kids who like comic books and think that this movie might be a fun outing, go see something else instead.

Personally, I don't find the movie "morally reprehensible," but Ebert's viewpoint is worth discussing. Frankly, I think he's being disingenuous, particularly given (as others have pointed out before me) his high praise for "Kill Bill." Indeed, there is a difference - Uma Thurman's character is an adult, while the character who no doubt has caused the controversy over "Kick-Ass" is an 11-year old girl, one who just happens to be a foul-mouthed, expert killer. Where I have a problem with Ebert's review is when he says, "you inhabit a world I am so very not interested in." To that, I say bullshit, and would add, be careful, Roger. If you're going to claim the moral high ground, then you'd better be damn sure that you've been consistent with this viewpoint over the course of your career.

But enough of that. What did I think of the movie?

Well, for one thing, it was definitely not anything like I expected. I'd seen the trailers, but I hadn't read any of the reviews, except the part where Ebert called it morally reprehensible (or to be fair, perhaps he was just suggesting that it might be so). There are a lot of scenes in the movie that almost made me jump - and to be honest, they weren't the ones with "Hit Girl." They were the ones with Kick-Ass himself, when he learns in the most painful ways possible that being a superhero is not all it is cracked up to be.

The young actors are all good, but the real star from an acting standpoint is Nicolas Cage. There was a time when Cage was tabbed to play Superman, and I remember thinking at the time how absurd that was. But seeing him in this movie, essentially playing Batman under a different name, made me realize that he is an actor of such rare talent that he can pull off just about anything. Also of note is Mark Strong, who I first remember seeing in the BBC-produced, Kate Beckinsale version of "Emma" (talk about being a universe away!). Strong seems well on his way to becoming a professional villain, having played that role in "Sherlock Holmes," in this movie, and the soon-to-be-released "Robin Hood."

So what do I think? Overall, I liked it. It's a comic book. And it doesn't really break much new ground in that genre; in fact, the relationship between the Cage character and his daughter reminded me a lot of the relationship between Batman and the young (female) Robin in Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns," and that was almost 25 years ago, for crying out loud!

In the end, "Kick-Ass" does many things well, but the studio should be condemned for pretending that it is something that it's not.


Front yard view.

"Angels and Fuselage"

I posted this on my Facebook page, but the performance is great enough that I think I'll put it here as well. Consider it part of my ongoing (and expanding) obsession with all things Drive-By Truckers.

In "Angels and Fuselage," from their album "Southern Rock Opera," Patterson Hood imagines what might have been going through the minds of the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd in those fateful moments as the plane was going down. It's an extraordinary song.

I also love this clip for what it shows about the band - Brad Morgan patiently smoking a cigarette as he waits to bring the beat in; Patterson Hood drinking a beer; Mike Cooley and Shonna Tucker taking hits from a bottle of Jack Daniels...but hey, this was obviously the last song of what was probably a long concert, so who's to complain? I will say that there was a lot less drinking going on at the show I saw a little over a week ago - aside from water, the only alcohol consumed onstage was a glass of wine by Shonna Tucker, during the encore.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Life of A Cat so hard.

More on "The Fine Print"

Another song definitely worth listening to (see "Now Playing" to the right) on "The Fine Print" is DBT's cover version of Warren Zevon's "Play It All Night Long." As anyone who knows me well knows, Zevon has always been one of my favorites. This song is probably one of his better known, and is a tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd, a band that obviously means a lot to the Truckers. This is a great version, and near the end, the band manages to work in a snippet of another Zevon song, "Ain't That Pretty At All."

Friday, April 16, 2010

Good Grief

You can always count on the California State Assembly to distinguish itself in unusual ways, but this one is worthy of note (from Greg Lucas):

Also approved was Assembly Concurrent Resolution 46, a resolution by Assemblywoman Lori Saldana, a San Diego Democrat, commending the Girl Scouts on their 98th anniversary, which occurred more than one month ago on March 12.

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, a Pasadena Democrat, allowed as to how his district had the highest percentage of girls who start as Daisy Scouts – the rung below Brownies – and commended Saldana for recognizing the Girl Scouts’ “98 years of great service to our country.”

Assemblyman Joel Anderson, a La Mesa Republican, regretfully voiced his opposition:

“Many of us would like to support the Girl Scouts and think that it’s a great organization but many of us would like have (the resolution) amended to strike all the sexual orientation language.”

All the sexual orientation language in Saldana’s 15-paragraph, non-binding resolution can be found in the seventh paragraph:

“The Girl Scouts is an organization with a proud history of inclusion and acceptance, and has historically promoted diversity in its membership by accepting all girls and women, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, economic background, national origin, disability, or medical condition.”

Republicans sought a roll call vote. The resolution was approved by the 80-member body on a vote of 42 to 4.


American Top 40 Flashback - "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"

"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," Roberta Flack.

As I've written before, I really had no use at all for this song when it was first released in 1972. It probably had something to do with my being an ornery 6th grader, and it probably had something to do with the fact that it was my mom's favorite song. I mean, come on - what self respecting 6th grade boy would like his mom's favorite song?

With time, I came around, and now I'd call this a pop masterpiece.

And while Flack's performance is wonderful, it's just a great song, period. I also love Johnny Cash's cover version, which appears on "American IV: The Man Came Around." It doesn't sound much like this at all, but it's just as good.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New Blog Feature: "Now Playing"

One of these days, I'm actually going to figure out all of the capabilities of this here blog. But for now, baby steps are the order of the day.

Today's new feature, over there on the right, is the "Now Playing" box, courtesy of Lala. In it, I will feature a current object of obsession, which right now would be the Drive-By Truckers. Less than six months ago, I had never heard of the band, which is to my own discredit. Now, they are threatening to become my favorite band. I just saw them during my trip to Chicago, and suspect that more concerts are in the future.

On tap right now is their album "The Fine Print," which is billed as a "collection of rarities and oddities, 2003-2008." It's all great stuff, but in particular I want to highlight two cover versions: Tom T. Hall's "Mama Bake A Pie (Daddy Kill A Chicken)," and Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone."


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Two Golfers

As much I don't want to get sucked into the psychodrama surrounding the world's best golfer, it's impossible for me not to comment on the striking contrast between these two articles:

SI's Alan Shipnuck, on what he calls Phil's greatest victory, and how it was fueled by his love for his wife.

The London Daily Mail, claiming in an article that Elin Nordegren is planning to divorce Tiger, based on her distaste for the Nike commercial that aired during Masters weekend.

There's really no way to tell how accurate that last article is, but assuming for the sake of argument that it is, my reaction is somewhere between bemused disbelief and "WTF? Everything that's happened up to this point, and you're leaving him because of a TV commercial?

The sooner we can all get past this story, the better.

One More Masterpiece

"The Child's Bath," by Mary Cassatt.

Back in the days when we played Masterpiece on a regular basis, we had a different name for this one: "Fat Foot." We weren't terribly respectful to our elders.

The Masterpiece Paintings

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Random Notes on Wynton Marsalis

As previously mentioned, Wynton Marsalis was the keynote speaker during Sunday's General Session of the conference that I've just attended. Attending conferences is part of the job I've had for the last six years, and after a couple of days of reflection, there's little doubt in my mind that his speech was the best conference speech I've heard in those six years (before this, I probably would have said Sidney Poitier, with Daniel Pink being a close second). Speech doesn't really do justice to what Marsalis did - it was a rich tapestry, into which he wove American history, the history of jazz, strong comments about today's popular culture, and well-thought out arguments about what should constitute a meaningful public education in this day and age.

I don't usually take notes during these, but there were so many memorable passages that in this case I did. Some of these are fragments; consider this a little experiment to see if it is possible to take those fragments and, as Marsalis did, weave them into something with meaning.

- characterized today as a "cultural bubonic plague" (reference to reality TV)

- the Constitution was a "sterling example of improvisation"

- "the freedom to choose your life and living"

- "once you let freedom loose, there's no telling where it will lead

- likened Jefferson, Madison and Adams to Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk; the founding fathers "spoke the language of swing - an individual and collective responsibility"

- we must recognize the value of an artistic heritage; "how can one measure the value of an 'Amazing Grace' or a 'Yankee Doodle Dandy?'"

- likened Ralph Waldo Emerson to Monk

- "Edgar Allan Poe sang the blues before the blues was ever born"

- "No two armies on earth ever had better fight songs" [talking about the Civil War]

- With band, demonstrates the direct line between the Battle Hymn of the Republic and the Mickey Mouse Theme (chills)

- "The American artist is caught between 3 masters: the critical expert validated by hundreds of years of European tradition, the church, and the court of fickle public opinion"

- "Walt Whitman's crime? Telling us who we are"

- on the blues: "Those purporting to save souls were denying the benefits of what was coming from our souls"

- great story about Alan Freed meeting Big Al Sears (Ellington band) in college, how became lifelong friendship

- Louis Armstrong played trumpet on Jimmie Rodgers "Blue Yodel # 9" [I did not know that!]

- "we want to embrace one another but we don't know how"

- "the answer is a culturally substantive education...the point of education is not to beat anyone...we need to be educated in who we are..."

- "when you don't consider the song of yourself you become lost"

- "if you don't know where you've been, you might just end up where you started"

Hopefully, that does it some small measure of justice.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Last Night in Chicago

Dinner at Rosebud, which was wonderful. The way I feel right now, I may never eat again.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Apparently there is one thing that you can take to the bank - if I am in Chicago during the Masters, Phil Mickelson is going to be the winner (last time that happened was '06, and here I was).

Today was the first day I was able to watch any of the tournament, and that was only for just over an hour. When I began watching, Phil was on the 10th hole, and when I had to leave, he was heading for the 15th tee. But in that hour, there was a lot of dramatic golf - from Tiger's ups and downs, and Anthony Kim's stirring back nine run, to Phil's usual match of brilliance and head-scratching failure (specifically, I'm thinking of 13). But when he is on, he is nearly impossible to beat - and with Tiger at less than 100%, the green jacket shouldn't come as a surprise.

The happiest person on the planet right now is PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem, who now knows - with Phil's victory, and Tiger's proclamation that he's not taking any weeks off between now and the U.S. Open - that the two best draws on the tour are primed for a showdown the likes of which hasn't been seen since the days of Nicklaus and Watson.

I'll go out on a short limb here, and say that Tiger will win both the U.S. and British Opens - with Phil contending in both. But whatever happens, it should be fun.

Theaters (Or If You Prefer, Theatres)

Nice Way To Start A Sunday

At the conference I am attending, Wynton Marsalis was the morning's keynote speaker. I'll be writing more about his address, but suffice to say that it was amazing - incorporating American history, Jazz history, music history, and a host of other topics - all interspersed throughout with music.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Nation's Biggest McDonalds

Also taken during a cab ride. It's hard to get a feel for the scale, but you can trust me when I tell you that it's really f*cking big.

And remember, no McDonalds jokes, since I worked there for four years in the late 1970s.


Not bad, considering I took it during a cab ride.

Saturday Night in Chicago

"Endgame," by Samuel Beckett, at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, starring William Petersen.

The one-act play is bleak, and open to many interpretations, as was made clear in the "study discussion" which took place after the performance.

From Wikipedia, the synopsis:

The protagonist of the play is Hamm, an aged master who is blind and not able to stand up, and his servant Clov, who cannot sit down. They exist in a location by the sea, although the dialogue suggests that there is nothing left outside—no sea, no sun, no clouds. The two characters, mutually dependent, have been fighting for years and continue to do so as the play progresses. Clov always wants to leave but never seems to be able. Also present are Hamm's legless parents Nagg and Nell, who live in rubbish bins downstage and initially request food or argue inanely.

The cast was uniformly good, and it was very interesting to see Petersen "up close and personal," after having seen him only on the silver and small screens.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

My Favorite Painting

"Nighthawks," Edward Hopper.

At the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Art Institute of Chicago

I may have mentioned this before, but when I was 11, I got a Parker Brothers game called "Masterpiece" for Christmas. The goal of the game was to acquire paintings, which each player would bid on - and only after acquiring one would you find out how much it was worth. All of my family enjoyed playing it, and I still have it at home today.

What I didn't know then was that all of the paintings in the game were from the Art Institute of Chicago. So when I visit the Institute (this was my second time), in a way it feels like time travel back to my childhood.


I'll be in Chicago through next Tuesday, attending a conference and various related events. It's a work trip, but I was pretty successful in carving out some interesting things to do in the evenings. Tonight, the stop was the Art Institute of Chicago, the home of my all-time favorite painting (and many other great ones. Tomorrow night, I'll be seeing the Drive-By Truckers in concert with a friend and colleague, and on Saturday night, three of us who are here for the trip will be seeing Samuel Beckett's "Endgame" at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, starring (among others) William Petersen.

Quote of the Day

"If you have a lap child, please make sure that child is on your lap."


I'm always somewhere between bemused and horrified at the way that some people treat their small children at airports.

For instance, sitting across from me right at this moment are two young mothers, each with a toddler in the 1-2 year old range. Both of them are acting up, because what they really want to do right now is push their strollers around like a couple of little madmen. That would be the bemused part.

The horrified part is that both of the mothers seem to be under the illusion that the way to get their boys to quiet down is a combination of squeezing and talking at them with a stern voice. Predictably, this is having the exact opposite effect of what they intended.

The really bad news is that I'm pretty sure they're on my flight, a non-stop to Chicago. The good news is that they will likely be allowed on the plane before everyone else, which will allow me (with my "A" boarding pass) to choose my seat strategically.

Such is the life of the traveler, I suppose.

UPDATE: Another tip - trying to stuff the bottle into the boy's mouth? That isn't going to work either.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A Stain on the Profile in Courage Award

I've been doing a slow burn ever since I read that the 2010 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is being awarded to the members of the 2009 California legislative leadership - Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Senate Republican Leader Dave Cogdill, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, and Assembly Minority Leader Mike Villines. To quote the official announcement:

“Faced with the most difficult choices and a budget crisis of unprecedented magnitude, these legislative leaders had the courage to negotiate a compromise that they felt was in the public’s best interest,” said Caroline Kennedy, President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. “They did so knowing they would suffer the wrath of their constituents, powerful interest groups, and their own party members. The members of the Profile in Courage Award Committee chose to herald this story of political courage and bi-partisan compromise with the hope that it will inspire other elected officials facing similar challenges to stand up with courage, to cross party lines, and to do whatever is necessary to better serve the public interest.”

If I hadn't read those words - if I hadn't actually seen the press release on the Web site of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, I would have thought the above words were a bad joke, an Onion parody gone wrong. Let's not mince words here - to call the California legislative leadership "courageous" for what they accomplished during the budget negotiations in 2009 is akin to calling Captain Edward Smith of the Titanic courageous for the decision to run all speed ahead through the iceberg field.

Simply put, there is nothing at all courageous about what those "leaders" "accomplished" in cobbling together an unrealistic and dishonest "compromise" budget in 2009. I'd quote further from the press release, but I can't bring myself to copy the words. Suffice to say that whoever made this decision knows little to nothing about what is really happening in California right now.

It's a shameful stain on the award, and if any of the recipients have an ounce of integrity, they'll politely decline the award.

Don't hold your breath.

Monday, April 05, 2010

A Late Career Triumph for Loudon Wainwright

I don't mean to imply that he's anywhere near the end of his career, and even though I've listened to just one disc of the two-disc, 30-song collection "High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project," there seems little doubt that this is one of the milestones - if not the milestone - of his career.

I'll have a lot more to say about this album, but for now I just wanted to share the song that's been embedded in my mind for the past 48 hours. In this performance, Loudon's son Rufus performs the vocal; on the album, Loudon turns in an even stronger performance. Even with that, this is a keeper.

Birthday IV

People with whom I share a birthday.


Agnetha, ABBA
Bette Davis, Actor
Melvyn Douglas, Actor
Frank Gorshin, Actor/Impressionist
Thomas Hobbes, Philosopher
Nikita Khrushchev, Communist
Michael Moriarty, Actor
Gregory Peck, Actor
Colin Powell, General and Secretary of State
Stan Ridgway, Musician
Spencer Tracy, Actor

For those of you not familiar with Stan Ridgway:

Birthday III

Of course, no birthday decorations would be complete without a blowup walker.

And yes, I do have the cover of "Born to Run" framed and hanging on my wall.

Birthday II

The entrance to my office, upon my arrival at work today.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Birthday I

Warning: in about 3 hours, it will be my 50th birthday. Brace yourself for lots of self-indulgent birthday-type posts. Yeah, I know you're thinking: self-indulgent...that will be different HOW?

Trust'll be able to tell the difference.

Happy Easter!

An azalea in our courtyard, before a very un-Springlike storm hits.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Netflix Catchup

We’ve seen some good ones recently, and as usual I’ve fallen behind in my capsule reviews.

Adaptation. For the first three-quarters of the movie, I’d say this was my favorite Charlie Kaufman film. The last quarter, which goes from the unusual to the truly surreal, brought it down just a notch. But that first three-quarters? Absolutely amazing stuff. What an inventive mind Kaufman has – this certainly has to be the most unusual adaptation of a book that I’ve ever seen. I suppose Kaufman’s tactic of turning the movie into an account of his struggles in adapting the book (“The Orchid Thief,” by Susan Orlean) could be viewed as self-reverential, but given how awkward and uncomfortable he paints himself (as played by Nicolas Cage, he’s almost as nervous and twitchy as William H. Macy in “Fargo”), that argument is easily deflected. Cage is great as the Kaufmans, Meryl Streep is as good as ever as Orlean, but for me the real star of the show was Chris Cooper as the odd but endearing John Laroche. Cooper’s Oscar was well-deserved; he immerses himself in the role so deeply that after a while, you forget that you’re even watching Chris Cooper.

Good Night, and Good Luck. Needless to say, there was a lot of substance behind the style, but the movie was as much a stylistic triumph as it was one of substance. George Clooney appears to have learned a lot during his collaborations with Steven Soderbergh, and throughout the movie he makes great use of the black-and-white cinematography, particularly when showing the smoke rising from the omnipresent cigarettes.

Clooney is to be congratulated for tackling the subject matter, which should be familiar to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the politics of the 1950s. The movie depicts a time when network television news really mattered, and the newsmen (and yes, at that time and for long afterward, they were all men) viewed their role as being an integral part of a healthy, functioning republic. And what is truly scary is that when watching the stock footage of Joseph McCarthy, one is left thinking that in comparison to the blowhards in office today, he was actually pretty subtle in the way he went about his dirty business.

The movie is also a triumph of ensemble acting – David Strathairn, who is only good in everything that he’s in, is the obvious lead; but strong performances are also turned in by actors who are accustomed to playing leads, including George Clooney and Robert Downey, Jr. Of the large supporting cast, of note is Frank Langella, an absolute pillar of authority as CBS boss Joseph Paley.

Children of Men. Clive Owen is one of those actors who just seems to crackle with intensity in every role that he plays. I still remember the online BMW short films he starred in during the mid-1990s, in a role as a driver for hire who would take on just about anything. He didn’t have a lot of dialogue in those films; after all, the star of them was the car – but you could tell he had a presence. As his career progressed, even in small roles – for instance, as a tortured assassin in the first “Bourne” movie – he was great. His big breakthrough was in “Closer,” where he just obliterated Jude Law; made it seem that Law was barely in the movie.

In “Children of Men,” Owen is again great but doesn’t overshadow the plot, which depicts a harrowing story about a time in the not-so-distant future when human beings have lost the ability to procreate. Needless to say,this has caused what one might refer to as a rip in the social fabric. Owen’s character, a cynical, burned out man, is called upon to be a reluctant “hero” when a pregnant woman is revealed. Again, needless to say, everyone wants her, and not particularly for noble reasons. Even the ostensible “good guys,” a group of rebels led by Julianne Moore and Chiwetel Ejiofor (who also seems to be good in just about everything he is in), aren’t very good.

There are a lot of parallels between the world that director Alfonso Cuaron creates in “Children of Men” (And holy cow! Hard to believe he directed a Harry Potter movie!) with the world that Ridley Scott created in “Blade Runner,” and like the earlier film, Cuaron’s ends on an ambiguously optimistic note. You think things might get better, but you’re just not sure.

Atonement. Joe Wright is fast on his way to becoming the modern equivalent of Merchant/Ivory, and I mean that as a compliment. His “Pride and Prejudice” was wonderful, as good a 2-hour movie that could be made from the book, and even his least successful film, “The Soloist,” was elegant and affecting. “Atonement” is also a success – though I haven’t read the book, I was familiar enough with the story and the plot devices to appreciate the way that Wright brought things to life. The critical scenes where the fate of the major characters are decided are crackling with tension, even though at the time they are happening there is no particular thing happening that would cause one to be tense. But you just know, as the younger sister is seeing things from a different point of view, that her view is going to change lives, and result in tragedy.

Keira Knightley is very good, but the real relevation here is James McEvoy. Nothing of him that I saw in “Wanted” prepared me for what he had to offer here.

Crazy for Crying, Crazy for Trying

"The Crazies" is a wickedly effective horror movie, one that combines the best elements of two time-honored genres - the zombie film, and the "the government will do anything it can to save its ass, including dispense with a bunch of its citizens" film. Actually, I'm not sure if that last one is a genre, but you get the idea.

You can summarize the plot in a short paragraph - the good folks of a small town in Iowa begin acting crazy - really, really crazy - and get this overwhelming desire to kill their friends and loved ones, in some really creative and disgusting ways. It turns out that something in the water is causing all of this mania, and of course it was the government's fault. So as the government is wont to do in such situations, they send in the troops, to put a lid on things. Just one problem - this brew is a little too combustible to keep contained.

Throughout the film, we follow our hero and heroine, the town's sheriff and doctor (who also happen to be the best looking couple in town), as they try against all odds (and crazies) to find their way out of town. Nail-biting doesn't quite cover it - on several occasions, I was reduced to peeking through my hands, because I wasn't sure if I really wanted to see what might happen. However, having said that, the film really does - with a couple of notable exceptions - go out of its way to avoid showing the gore.

The acting is good; in particular I want to single out Timothy Olyphant, as the sheriff. I'd read good things about his appearances in "Deadwood" and now "Justified," but let me tell you, this guy is the real deal. From the moment he appears on the screen, he just commands it. If he doesn't become a huge, huge star, then there is no justice in the world.

"The Crazies" - definitely worth your time.

Friday, April 02, 2010

American Top 40 Flashback - "Dock of the Bay"

One of the great ones: "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay," Otis Redding, the #1 song this week in 1968.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

"The Scarecrow"

Michael Connelly mines familiar territory in "The Scarecrow," but does it in such a way that you never feel as if you're suffering from deja vu.

Much like "The Poet," "Scarecrow" features newspaper reporter Jack McEvoy hot on the trail of a serial killer, with the assistance of FBI agent Rachel Walling. But a lot has changed in the 15 years since the earlier case - Jack is still a newspaper reporter, but one who has just been laid off in the last round of cutbacks at the Los Angeles Times. Rachel, after suffering the equivalent of Siberian exile after her exploits with Jack in "The Poet," is back in favor (sort of) and in Los Angeles after her subsequent exploits with Harry Bosch, detailed in "The Narrows," "Echo Park," and "The Overlook." Bosch is never mentioned by name in this book, but there are some subtle references to Rachel's relationship with Harry that won't go unnoticed by long-time Connelly readers.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book is the way Connelly details the decline of print newspapers, most specifically The Times, where he himself worked as a crime reporter in the days before he became a best-selling novelist. His point of view is clear - there's no question that Connelly sympathizes with the McEvoys of the world, those experienced, time-hardened reporters being forced out in favor of younger, cheaper writers without the ability to dig below the most superficial elements of a story.

That so many years have passed since "The Poet" is also made clear by the nature of the killer (and I'm not giving anything away here; the killer's identity is made apparent very early on). He's an expert in internet technology, and because of that mastery manages to always be one step ahead of his pursuers. Only with each other's help do McEvoy and Walling stand any chance, and despite the passage of years, working together again rekindles the old flame - and makes Rachel realize that Jack was always the one, and that it was never going to work out with Harry Bosch.

As with all Connelly books, there is tension throughout, and a strong, solid story. I definitely recommend "The Scarecrow" to fans of the thriller and detective genres.

Hot Tub!

There's not a lot you can say about a movie like "Hot Tub Time Machine." The only thing that really matters is whether it's funny, and I'm happy to say that HTTM passes that test with flying colors.

As for the plot, all you really need to know is this: "Back to the Future" meets "The Hangover." To delve into any more detail than that would be pointless, and probably spoil some of the best laughs. In an homage to the former, it's even got Crispin Glover, in a running gag about a bellman who either will or won't lose his arm during the course of the movie. It may be the most tasteless joke in the entire movie, but that's not likely to keep you from laughing.

John Cusack is good, and Craig Robinson from "The Office" is even better, but the real star is Rob Corddry as Lou, the somewhat unlikable loser who wants more than anyone else to have a "re-do" on the past.

"Hot Tub Time Machine" certainly won't go down in the annals of cinema as a great achievement. But it does achieve what it set out to do - and how many movies can, at the end of the day, say that?