Saturday, August 29, 2009

Getting a Mad Men Fix Through Frank Sinatra

In an attempt to help get in the right mood for Mad Men's third season return to TV, I decided to start reading Mr. S, a book about Frank Sinatra by his former assistant, George Jacobs.

Sure enough, this much thinking about Ol' Blue Eyes had me thinking about cocktails in the afternoon (which I could, technically, enjoy, since I just began a 10-week sabbatical) and all the other romanticized/stupid notions of an era gone by.

Mr. S begins in Summer 1968, when Sinatra's disintegrated marriage to the much-younger actress (and later to be married to Woody Allen) Mia Farrow gets ugly at their Bel Air estate north of Sunset Boulevard. He is disgusted by Farrow and her generation's "permissive youth culture [that is] a threat to the American Way." They eventually live separately in the house and refuse to speak to each other.

Jacobs, who obviously experienced some very behind-the-scenes moments with Sinatra, notes that "the weirdest part [about this time period] was that there was no music. Mr. S didn't play his jazz, didn't play his Puccini, and Mia didn't play her Beatles or her Moody Blues. It was truly the sounds of silence, and it was loud as hell."

Sinatra "detested hippies, detested long hair, even had his screenwriters write in jibes about them in his films." He also hated the mods, the Beatles and Stones, and the swinging London Carnaby Street scene. He didn't care how good any of the new music was, he just viewed it as one big excuse for people to take drugs.

Another sign of Sinatra's being from a different era than that of Farrow's, he always called his helper "George," although sometimes, especially in front of his gangster friends, he called him "Spook," which he claims didn't bother him.

The best thing about being Sinatra's assistant was this: "Except for Mia, hip young chicks had no interest in meeting Frank Sinatra in those days. He was off the radar of coolness. [But] my working for him ... was what was cool. It was like working at the White House. It made folks want to meet you. It gave you a mystique."

Another fun fact in the early pages of this book: Stylist Jay Sebring made house calls to cut the super-sensitive, balding Sinatra's hair. Sebring was soon to be murdered by Charles Manson's gang.

I love this Mad Men-like stuff, and can't wait to get back to this book.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Julia Child Doesn't Cut Off Her Finger in Julie & Julia

My fondest memories of the lovable master chef Julia Child were produced by Dan Ackroyd on Saturday Night Live when I was a kid in the 1970s.

So when the bloody skit in which he cuts off his finger is slapped down in the middle of the new movie Julie & Julia, it's understandably my favorite part.

But the rest of the film is excellent as well. Meryl Streep probably deserves to win the Academy Award for her portrayal of Child, wonderful voice and all. It will no doubt be her 16th nomination at the least. Amy Adams, who is beginning to compile quite an impressive resume herself, will also likely be nominated for either best actress or best supporting actress. Stanley Tucci as Julia's husband, Paul, is no slouch either.

This is the first movie about the life of a blogger, and for a while in the middle, I was thinking Amy Adam's half of the movie was unnecessary and it should have strictly been a portrayal of the life of Julia Child. But I warmed up nicely to Adams' sometimes-narcissistic blogger, who's hook was that she cooked the 524 recipes in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. This drives her boss and husband crazy at times. And curiously, in real life, Child apparently heard about this blog before her death and didn't think highly of it, which seems hypocritical and very unlike her loving and fairly racy personality.

**** out of ***** stars

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Michael Jackson and Kurt Cobain: Murdered!

Ian Halperin is the New York Times' writer who caused a minor uproar last December when he reported that Michael Jackson would be dead in six months. Jackson's official spokesperson, Dr. Tohme Tohme, called the report a "total fabrication" and that the singer was in "fine health."

"Most of the media took his word for it and the feeding frenzy came to an abrupt halt. Six months and one day later, Jackson was dead." This is detailed in the just-released book, Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson, by Halperin.

Halperin, you may recall, made his name several years back after another big-time musician died. Official investigations found that Kurt Cobain had killed himself, but Halperin had spoken with "a number of people who had known Cobain, including one of his heroin dealers and his best friend, who told me that everything was not as it appeared. They were convinced that ... he had been murdered."

Looking into what he still believed to be a conspiracy theory, the author later discovered that Kurt's wife, Courtney Love, had hired a Beverly Hills private investigator right before his death until several months later, when he abruptly quit and publicly accused Love of murdering her husband.

Back to Jackson, Halperin initially reported, at the end of 2008, that the singer had a "potentially fatal genetic condition and that he could barely walk." Further, the next photos released of Jackson showed him "being pushed in a wheelchair and wearing a surgical mask."

There's all kinds of juice for Jackson-heads in this whopper of a book (which immediately shot to number 1 on the New York Times best-seller list). His ever-changing facial features were designed to make him look like Diana Ross. After he and Ross had a falling out, he changed course to look like Diana, Princess of Wales. Jackson was indeed very much inclined to child molesting. He also had at least two long-term love affairs with other men. Etc.

For those who want a rollicking read, this (along with Halperin's personal Web site) is a real thriller.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Vietnam's Best, Brightest, and Dumbest Military Commanders

While David Halberstam was in Vietnam as a war correspondence, it was easy to hear news from the North Vietnamese leaders about peace marches and protest statements from leaders back home, but "news about their military setbacks or the means Hanoi employed in prosecuting the war was rather hard to come by."

This is the information in the famed New York Times journalist's most acclaimed book, 1972's The Best and the Brightest, that is fascinating. Unfortunately, that excerpt is from the foreword, written by Vietnamese prisoner-of-war and U.S. Senator John McCain, not Halberstam.

The bulk of Halberstam's story focuses on the foreign-policy mechanisms back home, namely the U.S. government and Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administration officials who so badly misjudged -- despite being the country's "best and brightest" -- the enemy's resolve, America's power, our South Vietnamese allies, the Soviets, the Chinese, the world, and, most of all, themselves.

There is some interesting commentary on the life of a journalist, such as how to treat coverage of JFK, who was in a position traditionally given (mostly) full respect by the White House press corps and what happens is you have fewer bylines while overseas at war (does the journalist "disappear" in reality along with those bylines?). Many of these types of questions became part of the required dialogue for decades afterwards in J-schools, newspapers, and PR firms.

So for that reason, I think Halberstam deserves some credit and respect. But as a detailer of the politics of the period, I'm less impressed than the adoring mass of critics before me. Halberstam definitely digs deep, but it's exactly that detail that bogs the book (and, hence, the story) down. The sheer amount of characters and detail becomes so confusing that I lost the ability to care for any of them and actually gave up on the book fairly early on.

I'm sure some of my readers whole-heartedly disagree. If so, please point me to a later chapter or two that I "must" read. Then I might reconsider my negative reaction to what is largely considered Halberstam's greatest work. Until then, I'm setting this book aside.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Charleton Heston, Pass Me the Matza: The Big Rewind

Nathan Rabin, an arts editor for The Onion, writes his memoir by how "music, books, films, television, and, to a much lesser extent, haikus, bumper stickers, and ... comic strips shaped and molded me."

The title may say all you need to know about this book. The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You by Pop Culture. Rabin claims to be just another member of "my generation, a lost tribe of latchkey kids raised on hip-hop and Quentin Tarantino, a demographic for whom pop culture references constitute an invaluable common cultural currency."

Pop culture for Rabin has consistently help him escape his life-long battle with depression. Each of the book's 22 chapters begins with a pop artifact that helped define that period of his life. The first chapter, for instance, is all about the Jewish rapper Matisyahu and how he relates to Rabin's own views on Judaism, which basically amounts to nothing more than celebrating Passover Seder because Charleton Heston freed the Jews from the evil Yul Brynner.

"The Passover Seder has filled me with a sense of consistency, continuity, and stability at times when my life sorely lacked all three." For Rabin, Judaism is much more about the community formed between a cultural history that includes Woody Allen, Philip Roth, and Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" than it is about the Talmud.

It's an interesting idea for a book, but it doesn't necessarily account for the fact that Rabin's life just isn't that interesting and he may well have been better suited to putting all his pop-culture references into a novel or some genre other than the memoir.

Monday, August 24, 2009

District 9 Leaves 'Em Wantin' More

The phrase, "Always leave them wanting more" usually makes sense, but the new District 9 has so many unanswered questions that it suffers.

About a third of the movie is eaten up by a wearying action sequence that would have been better spent adding some back story to the aliens or more of the political intrigue of how they were able to be contained in a Johannesburg, South Africa slum, for instance.

As it is, District 9 has a few creative elements but relies far too frequently on old tricks from movies like E.T., Transformers, Terminator, Planet of the Apes, and 28 Weeks Later. The acting if very good, the documentary elements hint at telling a great story, and the social commentary touches on how barbaric uneducated humans often are and how business usually trumps government, but the herky-jerky motion of much of the camera work makes this film tiring to watch.

And the many plot holes feel sloppy. This could have been such a great movie. But then again, one would hope the producers (including Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame) are smart enough that they're simply leaving room for what could easily be a money-making ream of sequels and prequels.

Filling in the plot by making this a movie series might someday land District 9 a higher ranking than:
*** out of ***** stars

Sunday, August 23, 2009

An Inside Look at Pittsburgh?

As a huge Pittsburgh Steelers' football fan, I was a little letdown by the lack of a single Black-and-Gold reference in 2008's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. But beyond that, this is a pretty good little indie film.

Based on a 1988 novel by Michael Chabon, who's related to a couple of good friends from my condo building, it's the coming-of-age story of Art Bechstein (played by the unknown and handsome Jon Foster). As he prepares for a finance job furnished by his mobster dad (a solid and surprisingly ungrizzled Nick Nolte), he spends his last youthful summer getting mixed up with a mysterious couple played by the always-great (and born at Scott Air Force Base, a few miles from my hometown in Illinois) Peter Sarsgaard and Sienna Miller (who gossiper Perez Hilton always refers to as Slutienna Miller). While Art starts to fall for Sienna's character, he's at least subconsciously trying to ditch his psychotic, dumb, nympho "girlfriend" Phlox, played humorously by Mena Suvari.

There may not be a lot of Pittsburgh in the movie, but there sure are a lot of twists and romantic entanglements. Worth a watch.

*** out ***** stars

Crowded House: Day 2 at Pitchfork Music Festival

As Pitchfork began to hit its stride in Day 2, it really became about the communal experience as much as the music. (I'm guessing because I wasn't there, but I did attend the first Pitchfork in 2006, with Silver Jews, Yo La Tengo, and Os Mutantes, so I'm not totally shooting in the dark.)

Perhaps that's why Francis Chung's photography highlighted lots of fandom on this day. My good friend caught plenty of people have a good time in the summer Chicago heat.

These two photos on the right are my favorites. You've got maniacal fandom in one and content overpriced-beer-buyer in the other.

Check out all his Day 2 photos here, my blog post about Day 1 here, and I'll be back soon with a Day 3 photog report.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Robert Novak, Centralia Holiday Tournament, Sports Reporting, and Me

Robert Novak died the other day. I always despised this D.C. talking bobble-head, but now that he's officially been silenced, it seems like a fitting time to mark the occasion by reading as much of his book, Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington, as humanly possible. Here are a couple of highlights from the early pages ...

I didn't really care to hear Novak's side of one of his most defining moments, the mid-2000s Valerie Plame CIA scandal. He goes on for several pages making excuses for becoming a central figure in the saga. Playing onto this drama, Novak says his close relationship with the evil Wizard of Oz Karl Rove was "built on self-interest, [which is] the rule in high-level Washington journalism, though journalists seldom are as candid about [this] as I will be throughout this book."

But I have to admit, Novak's writing is pretty snappy when he kicks into chronological autobiography mode. Perhaps I was enjoying the book because his early career paralleled my own quite a bit. He started out as a sports writer because he couldn't play any sports well himself (I was pretty good at soccer, tennis, and baseball, on the other hand). He even mentions the Centralia (Illinois) High School Holiday Tournament, which I covered for the Centralia Morning Sentinel for two years in the mid-1990s.

As a sports reporter at the University of Illinois' paper, he got his first taste of politics when he was beat out of becoming sports editor. "It taught me that politics for me was a lot like sports. I was a lot better reporting it than practicing it. I am not a person who is easy for a lot of people to like. No stirrer-up of strife is ever very popular." Again reminding me of my sometimes-toxic-to-the-locals writing in Centralia.

Novak got his first breaks working at the Omaha and Indianapolis bureaus of the Associated Press before being assigned to Washington D.C. in 1957, with the goal of breaking stories "nobody else had and explaining what was really happening behind the scenes." Political reporting, he says, "took more elbow grease and chicanery than cerebral brilliance." He got many scoops simply because he was single and hung out with lobbyists, legislative staffers, and secretaries, while many other journalists along his route were married and home in bed.

The writer goes into his formative ideology by noting how ineffective politicians are and his disdain for organized labor unions. He also discusses the differences between Washington D.C. in 1957 and now (then it had a sex zone on 9th Street, no "New York-syle posh restaurants," and a powerful men's-only hangout in the National Press Club).

Seems like a surprisingly good read if you want to figure out how the right-sided Beltway-journalist mind works. Definitely a mystery worth trying to unlock ...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Perfect World: One of Clint Eastwood's Underrated Films

I've been on a Clint Eastwood kick lately, much like I was around the time I was 16 or so and watched all the Dirty Harry movies, especially loved Escape from Alcatraz, and determined he was my favorite actor.

So I realized that A Perfect World, from 1993, was one of the few Eastwood movies I hadn't seen. It's the tale of two convicts who escape from a Texas prison in 1963. One is a real idiot and doesn't last long outside the prison walls, but the other turns out to be the complicated Robert "Butch" Haynes, played perfectly by Kevin Costner, who clearly still had his acting chops after a tremendous run of roles between 1987's The Untouchables and 1991's JFK.

In A Perfect World, Costner's Haynes doesn't seem like that bad of a person (although part of the drama is sometimes not quite knowing whether this is true). The main draw to this Eastwood-directed winner is the relationship Costner builds with the young Jehovah's Witness he kidnaps (played by T.J. Lowther, who never played in any other good movies). The two form a bond that supplies considerable drama.

The weaker part of the movie, surprisingly, is the manhunt, led by Eastwood as Texas Ranger Red Garnett. He is one of the reasons Costner's character was imprisoned in the first place, for relatively minor crimes. It turns out that both Costner and Eastwood's roles have huge soft spots underneath their hard-boiled surfaces. Much of Eastwood's soft side is coaxed out by Laura Dern, who is appointed to the manhunt by the governor's office.

Well worth watching.

***1/2 out of ***** stars

Monday, August 17, 2009

Richard Russo Finds "That Old Cape Magic"

It's always good to see someone from one of my alma maters hit it big. And in author Richard Russo's case, really big. The Pulitzer Prize novelist was teaching English at Southern Illinois University Carbondale when his first novel, Mohawk, was published in 1986, just two years before I attended that school for my freshman year of undergrad.

Sweetening the deal, Russo is originally from Gloversville, a depressed town in the southern New York Adirondack Mountains that was the proud home of where most of the world's gloves were produced before the factories shuttered and moved to Italy. My family has some houses on nearby Lake Sacandaga, and Cousin Paul knows all the stories about Gloversville and Russo's upbringing there.

But I digress. I started reading Russo's new book, That Old Cape Magic. It's about 57-year-old Jack Griffin and his wife Joy, who are planning a trip to Cape Cod, where Jack spent his summer vacations as a child, for their daughter Laura's best friend Kelsey's wedding.

The novel intertwines Jack and Joy's life with those of Jack's parents, who led miserable lives as professors in the "Mid-fucking-West" 11 months of the year. The only happy part of their years together was the one month each summer spent vacationing on the Cape.

His parents both grew up in western New York State, went to graduate school at Yale, and then went to where they could get collegiate teaching jobs in the same place, which was "a huge state university in Indiana." Both were serial adulterers before divorcing. She remarried a philosophy professor at the school named Bart and he married one of his former graduate students named Claudia.

Back in Jack and Joy's generation, Joy has sisters June and Jane and "idiot twin brothers" Jared and Jason. Also of note in the early pages is that Jack carries around his father's ashes; he, Joy, and Laura spent some time in L.A. where he worked as a screenwriter before they both got jobs at an elite New England college; and his mother seems to take out her frustration at his success by requesting that he find books and journal articles in the school library to bring to her at her assisted-living facility.

I'm not yet willing to wager that That Old Cape Magic is as classic as 1988's The Risk Pool (which is apparently being developed into a movie starring Tom Hanks), but I'll definitely get back to reading this one, which is promising Russo's usual great characters, cutting humor, and intertwined families.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rockin' Photos: Day 1 at Pitchfork Music Festival

My good friend Francis Chung went to Pitchfork in Chicago this year so I didn't have to. Actually, we attended the great indie-rock festival a few years ago and it was so hot that it made me sort of lose my thirst for multi-day summer music adventures. But like I said, I'm lucky Fran went, especially so because he's an amazing professional photographer who works for, not only the best music Web site around, but also the curators of the festival.

Fran is nice enough to let me repost his work. So I'm taking the opportunity to highlight what I think are his best photos from the event. The first of three posts in this series looks at Day 1 of Pitchfork. He had some serious access, as you can tell from the pictures of legendary Yo La Tengo (above) and David Yow, the leader of Jesus Lizard, jumping into the crowd (left).

Check out the rest of Fran's Day 1 photos here.

By the way, my favorite Yo La Tengo albums are:
1. Painful (1993)
2. President Yo La Tengo/New Wave Hot Dogs (1989)
3. May I Sing With Me (1992)

My favorite Jesus Lizard albums? Eh, who care, but great photo.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Celebrity Sighting Edition: Bald Operative James Carville

One of the great things about living in D.C. is the occasional political-figure-in-the-street sightings. Sure, I go to functions where big shots are speaking or attending. But those are never as fun as the surprise, "Hey, that was ..." in passing.

As I idled on my bicycle after work the other day in front of my office (near Union Station and Capitol Hill), what comes racing around the corner but an orange Honda Element with Democratic political operative James Carville kicking back in the passenger seat (he may not have a position in Obama's administration, but he still gets driven around by other people) gabbing on a cell phone with his feet on his friend's dashboard.

Carville helped Bill Clinton defeat George H.W. Bush in the 1992 presidential campaign. He is widely credited with inventing the term "[It's] the economy, stupid."

He continued on as a Clinton loyalist by backing Hillary Clinton in the most recent campaign. And when former loyalist Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, endorsed Barrack Obama, Carville called it "an act of betrayal. Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out [Jesus] for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic." Carville went on to support Obama after he beat Clinton in the primary. He now teaches at Tulane University in New Orleans, but must be visiting D.C. during the August doldrums.

This adds to my list of D.C. political street sightings, which includes Monica Lewinsky, John McCain, and John Kerry, among others.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dean Martin Proves He's No Austin Powers

I recently read that Dean Martin's The Silencers was similar to Austin Powers and may have influenced Michael Myers' classic comedies. I wish the article would have mentioned how bad the acting and how slow the pace was in this near-turkey.

While Martin himself can't act, he is captivating, if only because his swinging, smoking, drinking, cherished lifestyle is so decadent, old-fashioned, and carefree. There are hardly any laughs (that's not to say there aren't many badly dated one-line attempts), but one moment is funny when he turns the car radio disgustedly from a Sinatra song to his own "Everybody Loves Somebody" ("now this guy can sing"). At least he can laugh at himself.

The idea is that he plays a retired CIA-like agent named Matt Helm who gets called back into duty to stop a plot to explode a radioactive bomb over the Southwest U.S. Between stumbling from girl to girl, Martin somehow stumbles into knocking off kingpin "The Big O," who figures Russia will be blamed, the U.S. and Russia will destroy each other, and he and his hapless "silencers(?)" will take over the world.

Victor Buono plays The Big O like a poor-man's Dom DeLuise, with the same cardboard bad-guyness that he had in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. The ladies of the cast are remarkably abhorrent. Stella Stevens (pictured above with Martin) turns in some facial expressions that should be outlawed and one of the worst performances I've ever seen. Daliah Lavi as Tina, Cyd Charisse as Sarita, and Nancy Kovack as Barbara look like Winona Ryder, Salma Hayek, and Kate Winslet (in other words, great) compared to Stevens.

I've definitely got nothing against old movies (this one is from 1966), but ughh!

*1/2 out of ***** stars

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dead City Helps Patti Smith Lighten Up

The last time I reviewed one of playwright Sheila Callaghan's plays, Fever/Dream earlier this summer at D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth, I was unimpressed. I thought she was trying to make "some important statement on society" and trying really hard to get laughs that just weren't there.

I'm not trying to pick on Callaghan, I just keep happening to see her plays. And, despite the fact that it was really cool that the playwright herself left an explanatory comment on my blog, I have to admit that I have the same complaint about the Rorschach Theatre's Dead City, running at at the Davis Performing Arts Center at Georgetown.

Actually, Dead City is slightly better than Fever/Dream. It ambitiously attempts to transplant James Joyce's Ulysses from Dublin 100+ years ago to Manhattan now. The characters mirror that great novel in Samantha Blossom as the the older Internet consultant who discovers her husband may be cheating and decides to have an adventure in the city herself. Her day-long journey ends up at a wild club with young Patti Smith-obsessed poet Jewel.

While other reviews gush over Rachel Beauregard's Jewel, I was actually most amused by Wyckham Avery's Samantha B (some allusion to The Daily Show?). She really hit all the physical humor as she both goes downhill and discovers herself as the play progresses. And her gum-chewing sex scene in a dark park with a young stranger (Danny Gavigan) is brilliantly gross.

Tim Getman's Gabriel, Samantha's cheating jazz-singer husband, also has some high moments. His cheesy love song is tossed off, making it both ridiculous and undeniably lovable. His play-ending monologue about trying to start living a more wholesome life with a traditional marriage leaves the audience with a nicely unsettling hopeful and hopeless outro.

Big-eyed Valerie Fenton and versatile Grady Weatherford also do admirably funny jobs. But in the end, the lack of a cohesive or compelling plot undoes all the actors' nice individual touches.

I suspect that a lot of what I didn't like has somehow to do with Patti Smith ... Perhaps an adaptation based on Ulysses and The Ramones is something that might work for me. And it would definitely be funnier. After all, Smith always has been a drag.

**1/2 out of ***** stars

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Music Reviews in 3 Words or Less: Vol. 7

Wilco-Wilco (The Album) (2009)
Worst Wilco album
Touchstones: Less adventurous Wilco meets mellow Wilco
**** out of ***** stars

Meiko-S/T (2008)
Wimpy but touching
Touchstone: The Concretes meet Brett Dennen
***1/2 out of ***** stars

Yeah Yeah Yeahs-It's Blitz! (2009)
Acoustic half = mistake
Touchstones: The Pretenders meet synthesizers
*** out of ***** stars

Maximo Park-Quicken the Heart (2009)
Danceable, very '80s
Touchstones: Blur meets U2
*** out of ***** stars

Viva Voce-Rose City (2009)
Dramatic, never climaxing
Touchstones: Yo la Tengo meets The Raveonettes
*** out of ***** stars

Meat Puppets-Golden Lies (2000)
Buy 2009 album
Touchstones: Meat Puppets meets a lazy version of the Meat Puppets
*** out of ***** stars

Von Hayes-Evident Eyelid (2008)
Lo lo fi
Touchstones: Guided by Voices meets funny baseball reference
**1/2 out of ***** stars

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bugs Bunny Fools With Some Classic Looney Tunes Nemisises

Now that my son Jackson is almost 2, he's allowed to watch short chunks of Disney and Sesame Street. And I'm more than happy to report that he is also pretty taken with Bugs Bunny, one of my all-time faves as a kid.

So I Netflixed The Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol 1: Disc 3. Actually, I have to admit, I already watched volumes 1 and 2 just before Jackson was born, so maybe I didn't totally Netflix this one just for him.

While the disc has lots of extras, I was interested in watching the 14 shorts. Half feature Bugs, while the rest puts the spotlight on lesser characters like Pepe Le Pew, Ralph and Sam, and Marc and Pussyfoot.

There are at least four must-watches. Rent the disc just for these, if nothing else.

1.) "Bugs Gets the Boid" (pictured). This is as good as early Bugs (1942) gets. The Italian mama buzzard teaches the young and dumb Beaky Buzzard how to fly. He crashes into a clever-as-always desert bunny. They end up dancing cheek-to-cheek ("We should do this more often," Bugs deadpans), and Beaky gets hilariously embarrassed.

2.) "Haredevil Hare:" Despite the prevalence of the annoying Marvin the Martian, is undeniably one of the greatest moon landings ever.

3.) "Baton Bunny," from 1959, is the latest short in the batch, and it's from the era I probably most love. It highlights Bugs' best moves as a conductor in the pit.

4.) "Hair-Raising Hare" features Gossamer, the big orange, tennis-shoe-wearing monster, who Bugs calls a "big strong boy."

**** out of ***** stars

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hall and Oates Have Sax With Virginia Crowd

I felt like a 12-year-old again last night, reliving my first rock concert. Daryl Hall and John Oates 26 years later was certainly not as great as that 1983 H2O show in St. Louis, but it was pretty darn melodic nevertheless.

Of course Hall and Oates get a bad rap as cheesy, soft-rock-for-yacht-owner types. And there were plenty of those characters in the crowd at Wolftrap in Virginia Sunday night. (There were also plenty of big-hair 1980s non-hipsters, as witnessed by the two classy Oatesheads in the photo to the left.)

But this show wasn't about judging people. It was more about leaving your inhibitions in check and enjoying the most successful duo in rock history. Hall played acoustic guitar and keyboard and Oates played electric guitar. There were six people in the backing band, including two members from that 1983 tour, sax player Charlie DeChant and T-Bone Wolk (formerly on bass, now on lead guitar; not sure why former solist and Saturday Night Live bandleader G.E. Smith is no longer touring with H2O).

Hall and Oates are one of the few bands that could pull off a saxophone sounding so right. DeChant, in his purple suit and soft mane of hair, tore through just about every song, with particular sax highlights on opener "Maneater," a lengthy version of "One on One," and "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)."

Wolk had several nice solos. My favorite moment in any Hall and Oates song is the short guitar break in "You Make My Dreams." Wolk played it differently than G.E. Smith, but it still had that same quick crunch and was very cool. It didn't hurt that he wore a cowboy hat and looked a lot like, from our perspective in the last row of the balcony under the pavilion, Neil Young.

The highlights of the night had to be "Sara Smile," which actually brought a tear to my eye, and the final encore medley of "Kiss On My List" and "Private Eyes."

The set list and notes I scribbled on my phone:

Maneater - Serious purple sax
Family Man - Nice T-Bone solo
Out of Touch - Great sing and clap along
Say It Isn't So - Warm club feel
How Does It Feel to be Back? - Song off Voices by Oates, a nice surprise
When the Morning Comes - Snuck down front for two songs, sounded amazing
Las Vegas Turnaround - Second song in a row off Abandoned Luncheonette
How Ya Doin Babe - Didn't know this song and not sure this is its title
She's Gone - Bustin out the Philly soul
One on One - Extended and undeniable with fiesty sax
Sara Smile - Cried in first half, rocking solo by Hall and T-Bone in the second half
I Can't Go for That (No Can Do) - Sax done right

First Encore
Rich Girl - Predictably great, a modern standard
You Make My Dreams - Different break solo by T-Bone but still cool

Second Encore
Kiss on my List/Private Eyes - Perfect

**** out of ***** stars

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fantasy Football Arrives!

As I inevitably continue to get older, nothing seems nearly as routinely debaucherous as my annual sojourn to Osage Beach in the Lake of the Ozarks. It is there that I meet 11 old high-school/college buddies for one of my two Fantasy Football drafts each summer. They're all still living in the St. Louis area, while I come in from D.C. and Matt Wilson arrives from Salt Lake City.

This year's draft took place ridiculously early, as not a single preseason snap has occurred. That said, my team looks stronger on paper than recent years in this extremely competitive league. I got what looks to be a bevy of high-value picks. Agree? I was the 11th pick in the 12-team "snake draft" league.

1st round-Steve Slaton RB1
2-Frank Gore RB2
3-Phillip Rivers QB1
4-Terrell Owens WR1
5-Brandon Marshall WR2
6-DeSean Jackson WR3
7-Matt Cassell QB2
8-Chris Cooley TE1
9-John Carlson TE2
10-NY Jets D/ST1
11-Garrett Hartley K1
12-Cedric Benson RB3

Yeah, pretty sweet. But really, the whole point of this league is getting together with great friends once a year (that's Jeff Wahl and me in the photo). Sad it won't happen again for 12 months.