Thursday, December 23, 2021

Joan Didion felt the 1960s

I wrote this review of the most interesting nuggets in Joan Didion’s book of essays, The White Album, a few months ago and never published it (you should see my long draft list of material intended for publication here). Now seems like a fitting time to release it. RIP Joan Didion, who has died at age 87.

In 1968, author Joan Didion was evaluated at a Santa Monica psych ward as losing touch with reality, when in fact she was suffering from vertigo and nausea. This was shortly before she was named Los Angles Times “Woman of the Year.” While not mentally ill, she does indeed have gripping insights into the time period of 1966 to 1971, while living in Hollywood.

She describes sitting in the studio with The Doors as one of the most boring scenes imaginable, with unresolved conversations and faraway eyes all around. 

Didion talked to Huey Newton, the famed Black Panther who was shot and could barely talk his way into Kaiser Hospital, of which he was in the enrolled members program. The rage of being Black in America was apparent during this time in the 1960s, as it has been ever since Black people set foot on this land.

When she got the news, while sitting poolside in Beverly Hills, about the Manson murder of Sharon Tate and friends, Didion said the misinformation coming out was intense and she remembers that nobody was surprised because there had been jitters and tension throughout L.A. that 1969 summer.

She interviewed the Manson Family’s Linda Kasabian in her women’s prison after the murders and they never discussed the case, always leaning more towards the prisoner’s high-school romances, her concerns for her children, and her dream to open a restaurant/pet shop.

Many of the rest of the essays cover other California oddities, like the aura of the governor’s mansion, the Getty Museum, and the Caltrans L.A Operations Center.

Didion closes the book as she leaves Malibu in 1978, when the regular fires and floods nearly consumed the family’s house. It seems like a good way to end the story of California in the 1960s era. Although that era seems to live on, in many ways, with perhaps growing intensity.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Yacht rock - a way of life - gets its own bible

Comedian Fred Armisen leads off the must-have tome, The Yacht Rock Book: The Oral History of the Soft, Smooth Sounds of the 70s and 80s, by the prolific Greg Prato, with a foreword that claims “the feeling I get from hearing punk is similar to hearing yacht rock. It has a kind of aggressiveness to it because it’s so delicate.” Walter Egan probably more accurately notes that yacht rock grew out of a “more melodic version of The Beatles.”

Some of the interesting nuggets from the book include:

  • Captain and Tennille got their start as back-up touring musicians for the Beach Boys.
  • As if the connection to yacht rock for The Beach Boys wasn’t clear enough already, Beach Boy Bruce Johnston actually wrote “I Write the Songs” for Barry Manilow.
  • Quincy Jones began to bring some of the yacht rock production values and sound over to R & B. George Benson’s album Give Me the Night was yacht-soul and many of the same players on it went on to play on Michael Jackson’s Thriller. So it could be said Thriller is yacht adjacent.
  • The guys that started out backing up Linda Ronstadt realized they had something good and went on to form the Eagles.
  • The reason yacht rock is so melodic, with great instrumentation and harmonies, is that many of the same musicians played on many of the sessions. For instance, the Toto guys played a lot of the music on Thriller.
  • Michael McDonald and Don Henley made appearances on Christopher Cross’s monumental 1979 self-titled debut.
  • Many of those interviewed in the book agree that “What a Fool Believes” by The Doobie Brothers is the defining song of the genre.
  • Timothy B. Schmit was not only bassist for the Eagles, he was a great session player and sang on the classic Steely Dan albums Aja, Pretzel Logic, and The Royal Scam.
  • The fashion shifted from beards and bellbottoms in the 1970s to a Miami Vice look in the MTV '80s. Take a look at Hall and Oates on the cover of Voices for exhibit #1 of the latter.
  • The minute John Oates got out of high school, in 1966, is when he started growing a mustache.
  • Daryl Dragon - the Captain of Captain and Tennille - is a constant star of the book, and he admits at one point that he wore his famous hat because he was going bald and couldn’t grow the customary long hair of rockers in the 1970s. He also talks about how he mostly hated doing the duo’s hit variety TV show and had to learn over time how to be a performer like that, even though audiences loved his quiet persona.
  • Orleans singer Lance Hoppen pretty accurately notes that the Studio 54 disco era was the height of rock n’rolls waves of debauchery, with a cocaine epidemic that many people didn’t make it out of. The big record company bonuses of the time helped fund the debauchery.
  • On the other hand, Air Supply and others like Tennille, were one of those massive groups during that time that, for them, a wild night might have been having a bottle of wine.
  • Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees once supposedly said that if any pop song can't be finished writing in 15 minutes, then work on it should cease.
  • Ambrosia’s hits like “You’re the Only Woman,” “How Much I Feel,” and “Biggest Part of Me” resulted from playing a standing run of shows at a lesbian bar.
  • Christopher Cross wrote “Ride Like the Wind” on acid and what he sings in the middle came to him while his band jammed on Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five.”
  • Cross wrote the theme from Arthur with Burt Bacharach at the legend’s mansion.
  • The book declares Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” the national anthem of yacht rock. Holmes tells the story of how he was pondering what would happen if he answered a personal ad in The Village Voice, which led to the lyrics for the song.
  • Billy Joel almost didn’t put “Just the Way You Are” on The Stranger because it was too mellow and they wanted to be a rock band. But then Linda Ronstadt walked into the studio, heard it, and convinced them they had to include it.
  • One time a bunch of superstar musicians were hanging out and Brian Wilson gave them all parts to play for a makeshift jam. But Iggy Pop had to leave because he thought the dude was too crazy. Let’s say that again: Iggy Pop through Brian Wilson was too crazy!
  • David Bowie’s stylist told Hall and Oates he would immortalize them on their 1975 self-titled glam-looking release. And Oates says it is indeed the only album cover of theirs that people ever talk about.
  • Bob Seger helped out by pitching in “Heartache Tonight” when Glenn Frey had a bit of writer’s block during the making of The Long Run, in 1980, a time when yacht rock was about to slide out of fashion.
  • Videos were part of the death knell for yacht rock. A few camera-ready faces, like Daryl Hall's, translated to the new format, but singer/songwriters like Ruprt Holmes and Christopher Cross were not a good fit for MTV and the likes of the Buggles.
  • The term “yacht rock” began its slow explosion into the national consciousness when a comedy video series about the genre became one of the first viral campaigns the year YouTube launched in 2005 and Jimmy Fallon also started playing clips on his late-night show.
  • Some of the belief in why yacht rock can have a revival, and a genre like grunge might not, is that people can go out, drink, dance, and have fun to the music, no matter how old they are.
  • Cross, one of the seemingly most soft of the soft yacht rockers actually grew up playing with Texas buddies like ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughn. He apparently can play a mean lead electric guitar.
  • Tenille sang backup on Pink Floyd’s The Wall - talk about a bridge out of and away from yacht rock!
  • Captain and Tenille finally got divorced in 2014 because Daryl Dragon in not nearly as sociable as her.
  • Many artists carry on the tradition, including some bands I love like Mac DeMarco, LCD Soundsystem, Lemon Twigs, Kendrick Lamar, and John Mayer, and some that I like a little like Tame Impala and Bruno Mars. Plus comedians love the genre, especially Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, Bill Hader, and Fred Armisen.
  • Oates despises the terms “blue-eyed soul” because it’s racist and inaccurate and “yacht rock” because it makes absolutely no sense. Hard to argue with an innovative master like him.
Most of the other artists interviewed in this oral history agree that they, unlike Oates, like the term yacht rock. I think it definitely describes a type of 1970s-80s well-produced rock abounding with hooks. There are probably around 100 songs that fit the tag and also are melodically undeniably great pop. I think Hall and Oates have dozens of great songs, but probably only a dozen or so hit the connection to yacht rock. But that still may make them the greatest yacht rockers of all.

Sail on, sailors, with this 5 out of 5 star essential book.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

TV Snide: November 2021

TV show of the month: Squid Games (Netflix): This is a classic show. It has it all: humor, drama, deep character story points, and a good bit of bloodshed. But it really is an epic story of a chauffeur who falls hard on his luck and faces the ultimate tests of his bodily and emotional strength. It is so ultimately watchable that I put it amongst the greats Mad Men, Lost, and Breaking Bad. 5 out of 5 stars

Novel of the month: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I can’t get enough of this author, and even though I’ve now devoured her three latest novels, luckily I still have her first four to go. I’m not sure which is my favorite, but this one is a heartbreaking tale of the many many forms true love can take, following film legend Hugo through her career and marriages and the deep dark secrets she reveals only at the very end, through the eyes of a young journalist whom she trusts. 5 out of 5 stars

Graphic novel of the month: Saga Vols. 1-2: This is a rollicking space opera with two forbidden lovers, a ram-looking man and a winged woman, battling for survival against a parade of wildly imaginative bad guys. It’s like way better superheroes and villians, but not appropriate for kids. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Movie of the month: On the Basis of Sex (Sling TV/Showtime): Felicity Jones is stunningly great in this telling of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s historic win of a tax case aimed to stop the discrimination of a man, oddly enough, from caregiving duties to his mother. Her efforts to work at a law firm, any law firm, are detailed along the way with the full support of her husband, played by the exceedingly handsome (before accusations of abusive behavior surfaced) Armie Hammer. A very emotional and underrated rollercoaster ride. 5 out of 5 stars

King Richard (HBO Max): The story of Venus and Serena Williams is about as inspiring as any story could be. This is partially their story but it’s mainly their dad’s, played perfectly by Will Smith. This was a role he was meant to play and he would deserve best actor if he gets it in a few months. I love tennis with all my heart, but even if I didn’t, I don’t see how this couldn’t be a great flick, with rags in Compton to riches across the world. 4.5 out of 5 stars

1917 (Sling TV/Showtime): This movie would probably be a 20-page story in writing, but the slow-mission to get word to the British front, past German dangers all along the way, through the eyes of a couple of regular soldiers, really puts the viewer into World War I. It’s a spellbinding Oscar nominee. 4.5 out of 5 stars

2021 Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame (HBO Max): There are some epic performances that are great to see at least on TV in another year with extremely limited live music options. Foo Fighters inducted by Paul McCartney (and performing "Get Back" together) is the undeniably highlight, but the Go-Gos induction by Drew Barrymore and performance is incredible. Carol Kane (and Taylor Swift's accompanying performance) and LL Cool J's performances and inductions are well worth seeing. Todd Rungren's shunning of the Hall (despite still being inducted) is also pretty hilarious and awkward. 4 out of 5 stars

Val (Amazon Prime): If Renaissance man Val Kilmer had never done anything but play Jim Morrison in The Doors, he’d still be one of my favorite actors. Throw in Top Gun and his Mark Twain work and it puts a cherry on top. He’s a weird guy who has now lost most of his ability to speak, so it’s a sad and weird documentary, but well worth watching if you’re intrigued by Val. 4 out of 5 stars

Children of the Corn (Sling TV): Always one of my favorite horror films, its religious creepiness stands the test of time even if it’s very-80s-ness makes it hardly scary. The music, as in the best horror flicks of the decade, helps make it scarier. And Malachi and Isaac are unforgettable and iconic movie bad kids. 4 out of 5 stars

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This is a strange romantic story of a girl from Mexico City going to a mining ghost town mansion to retrieve an acquaintance who has married and begun to act strangely. The family she married into is indeed strange. Very strange. And dangerous enough that the two girls may never make it back to Mexico City, or even ever out of the mushroomy, moldy dankness of the mansion. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Things I learned about Dinosaur Jr. in The Big Takeover’s recent cover story

Jack Rabid does one of his typically great interviews in The Big Takeover #88 with one of my definite top 10 favorite bands of all time. Here are some highlights of the Dinosaur Jr. conversation:

  • Drummer Murph says they were so bad live in their early days, on the tour for their first album, that people would regularly boo them. Hard to believe based on all the shows I’ve seen of the band.
  • Leader J. Mascis says he ran sound for two shows in his life, and they were Nirvana and My Bloody Valentine. Pretty good resume item!
  • Kurt Cobain asked J. to join Nirvana. It obviously didn’t happen for whatever reason.
  • J. claims he’s not very good at figuring out how to play other people’s songs, despite having some of the great indie-rock covers such as The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” and Peter Frampton’s “Show Me the Way.”
  • Even still, no real answer emerges as to why Dino broke up the first time. In between the two band's stints, though, J. and Murph went to a Sebadoh show where Lou yelled from the stage at them as they simply tried to attend. It seems the reason for their breakup in the Green Mind era was for reasons that will always mostly remain a mystery.
  • They played a Craig Ferguson show as their first time back on national TV and they claim to have completely messed up the performance.
  • One of bassist Lou Barlow’s stipulations when they got back together was the he be allowed to bring his kid and wife, Kath, on tour.

And those are the nuggets. Luckily, Murph attended the interview because J. doesn’t say much in it.

Friday, November 5, 2021

TV Snide: For October 2021

TV Show of the Month: Only Murders in the Building (Hulu): I have a major soft spot for all things Steve Martin and Martin Short. Which made this show a can’t miss. Add the weird and compelling Selena Gomez and this is one of the great TV 3-person gangs. They produce a podcast to investigate a murder in their New York high rise. It twists and turns over the 10 episodes so much that it’s nearly impossible to explain, but the humor and suspense make this definitely one of the best shows of the year. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Novel of the month: James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes is the hefty first book in a series about the colonization of space. Holden is the “good” Skywalker-like sci-fi pilot and Miller is the Han Solo-like pulp detective. The two of them and their ideas about how to save the universe play off each other all the way until the explosive ending. It’s a space soap opera that is worth the investment if you have the 600 pages worth of time. At some point, I may venture into the second book. 4 out of 5 stars

Concert/Event of the Month: Trevor Noah at the Capital One Center in Washington D.C.: This was a surprise gift the night before my birthday and it was nice to see and attend a large indoor event. Noah riffed for about 90 minutes with his best pieces on how white people dance to the words instead of the beat, white people are great swimmers, and lots of social commentary. There were two decent opening acts as well. 4 out of 5 stars

Movie of the Month: The Lodge (Hulu): Theis 2019 slow-mover of a creepy religious flick, both haunting and suspenseful. Two kids go off to an isolated Colorado house with the dad and stepmother. Very bad vibes prevail. Alicia Silverstone and Rily Keough are both excellently not-quite-right and make this a nice addition to the modern horror cannon. 3.5 out of 5

Silicon Valley - Season 2 (HBO Max): The tech gang stays funny and bro-y in this season as they continue to barely keep their entity intact, a lot like the kids over at the real-life Facebook these days. 4 out of 5 stars

America’s Sweethearts (Sling TV): John Cusack is one of my favorite actors, but this team up with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Julia Roberts stretches the bounds of worthiness. They all do as well as they can with what they’ve got, and that includes Billy Crystal and Christopher Walken too, but the story of Hollywood players trying to get former star couple Cusack and Zeta-Jones back together is mostly silly. Hank Azaria is another favorite of mine, from The Simpsons and Brockmire, but he’s lucky this turn as a Latin lover didn’t abruptly end his career. This hasn’t stood up well, and garners 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, October 4, 2021

TV Snide: For September 2021

Movie of the Month: Woodstock ‘99 (HBO Max): Part of the (big) problem was that organizers were obsessed with not letting crowds break down fences to get in, as had happened at both previous Woodstock festivals, so they located it on an abandoned air-force base, not ironically either. The lineup was another main cause of trouble. Suffering a hangover from the good glory days of Nirvana, awful stuff like Korn, Kid Rock, and Limp Bizcuit aggravated an angry mob of white boys swamping around in sewage because of the abyssmyl water and sanitation situation. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Concert of the Month: Hall and Oates/Squeeze at Merriweather Post Pavilion: My first time seeing Squeeze and they broke out about six of their 10 or so great songs. The sound was crisp and clear. Here’s the set list. The headliners continue to alter a lot of their songs to be a little jammier, which I don’t like as much as when they play them straight. The first two times I saw them, they were immaculate. The last two, just really good. How can you complain about a mega-hit set list that throws some deep tracks from War Babies and Bigger Than Both of Us in right before ending with I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do), Rich Girl, Kiss On My List, Private Eyes, and You Make My Dreams. Here’s that set list. 4 out of 5 stars

The Hardy Boys - Season 1 (Hulu): An enjoyable romp of a twist and turn mystery that has beloved Frank and Joe Hardy searching for answers to their mother’s death, navigating a strange new family life in Bridgeport, and battling all kinds of bad guys, with the tall man being a favorite of the series. The complicated story line pays off for those who pay close attention and it will be interesting to see what the show runners come up with for Season 2. The spirit of the books, which I devoured as an early teen, is captured well. 4 out of 5 stars

A Walk in the Woods (Amazon Prime): This 2015 take on Bill Bryson’s classic book is perfectly cast, with Robert Redford as the crusty old Bryson, needing to shake up life a bit. His wife won’t let him hike the Appalachian Trail alone, so he hears from an old friend, classically played by Nick Nolte, who goes along with him, rekindling their once-soured relationship along the way. It’s a minor yet touching and funny buddy movie. 4 out of 5 stars

Graphic Novel of the Month: The Beauty (Vols. 1 and 2): This is a story about what would happen if people started catching a disease that made them beautiful. The first book is gripping but I started to lose interest as the story introduced a bunch of new characters in the second issue, without any real good sense yet of knowing how they fit in. Great premise helps earn it a 3 out of 5 star rating.

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (Hulu): Despite a few humorous moments, this is mostly an awful version of one of Adam Sandler’s worse offerings. The spy plot just doesn’t work with the middle-aged ladies’ stories. 1.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Pixies were obviously great, but they happened to hit at just the wrong time

One strong theory for why the Pixies didn’t exactly catch on fire during the time of their short-lived initial existence is that music and listeners were in a funk during that time period - the hair-metal-at-its-end late 80s into the very early 90s.

In this classic Puncture Magazine interview with leader Black Francis, one of the articles in Now Is the Time to Invent!: Reports from the Indie-Rock Revolution, 1986-2000, he claims the band’s music derives from listening to so many regular rock records, which they did a lot more than actually playing their own instruments.

The surly Francis doesn’t appear to like a lot of things, including most rock journalists (other than Lester Bangs and the British press) and Sting, with his rock-star-helping-to-save-the-Amazon persona.

Things he does like include the thought of making a documentary about the sea monkeys in the Great Salt Lake and Neil Young, although he doesn’t have a lot of Young’s albums.

Other nuggets from the interview:

  • Kim Deal apparently used to be named Kim Murphy in the early days of the band.
  • Eraserhead is Francis’s favorite movie and he prefers comics to books for reading.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

TV Snide: For August 2021

TV of the Month: The White Lotus - Season 1 (HBO Max): nobody has ever gotten into the mind of a beach resort as well as this show. Steve Zahn, Connie Britton, and Molly Shannon are the biggest names of a powerful ensemble that digs into the class warfare that happens when the layers of the onion are peeled at a Hawaii resort. Jennifer Coolidge of Mrs. Stifler American Pie fame needs to be guaranteed a bunch of awards as the loony, spacey older single woman, and Murray Bartlett plays the best hotel manager since John Cleese in Fawlty Towers, and is even clearly inspired by the master comic Cleese. It’s like an Agatha Christie novel if she included hilariousness and shocking sex in her oeuvre. 5 out of 5 stars

Novel of the Month (tie): Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid: In any other month, this would be atop the pop-culture list by a mile. But this was an extraordinary pop-culture month. Reid’s follow up to her legendary Daisy Jones and the Six is likely her masterpiece. It centers on the biggest party of the year in Nina Riva’s cliff-side mansion but, in doing so, unveils the story of the Riva family through generations. Mick Riva is the centerpiece as the Frank Sinatra-like figure who has commitment issues with his wife June and their children. The kids - Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kat - are all surfers who make their way to the end of the story the best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt. 5 out of 5 stars 

Novel of the Month (tie): The Final Girls by Riley Sager: This is the first of three horror-thriller books already out from someone who has already vaulted near the top of my favorite authors. A true page-turner that would make for the best film of the genre in years, it twists and turns through multiple mass killings, all of which have one thing in common: a lone survivor. The premise is perfect and the sociological commentary of our modern obsession with the news cycle and niche communities of people obsessed by some of those news stories and the characters involved is truly scary in real life, as it is in this fiction. I can’t wait to read Sager’s next two thrillers. 5 out of 5 stars

Outer Banks - Season 2 (Netflix): This heart-pounding young-adult-aimed show keeps satisfying as one of the best things on these days. The lower-class Pogues continue their quest to get back the gold that’s rightfully theirs, but the rich folks keep foiling them at every turn. The biggest cliffhanger yet leaves us waiting (probably for at least a year) at the end of the season’s final episode. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Bridge and Tunnel - Season 1 (Epix on Sling TV): Edward Burns was one of my favorite indie rom-com actors and directors in the 1990s. He's back now as the dad in this story of kids home from college in Long Island and trying to figure out what's next in life, possibly in nearby NYC. 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, August 13, 2021

TV Snide: For July 2021

Novel of the Month: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain: Billy Lynn is on a victory tour for two weeks with his Bravo Company, which has won a major and treacherous battle in Iraq. Most of the gripping tale centers on the gang’s visit to a Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving, where they negotiate tricky deals with stadium employees, fans, a cheerleader named Faison, and a Jerry Jones-like Cowboys’ owner, who is seeking the rights to their story to option as a movie with Hillary Swank. I’d been wanting to read this for a while and glad I did (it's also a 2016 movie). 4.5 out of 5 stars

TV of the Month: McCartney 321 (Hulu): This series is an extended conversation between Sir Paul and music producer Rick Rubin and it sheds still more light on why McCartney is truly to pop music master, who I can't imagine will ever be topped in terms of one human being so perfect (as well as so darn cool) at musicial creation. 5 out of 5 stars 

Never Have I Ever - Season 1 (Netflix): This coming-of-age story of Davi, an Indian-American girl in the Valley, is really cute and touching, and good for middle schoolers as well. Highlights of the season include the Model U.N. conference that ends up in drunkenness and a proposal for one country using nukes against another, the finale that leaves us in big anticipation for Season 2, and, of course, the narration by my favorite athlete of all time, John McEnroe (who I’ve oddly been dreaming about lately as a character from my childhood hometown of Edwardsville). 4 out of 5 stars

I Am Greta (Hulu): The impressive tale of 15-year-old Greta Thunberg’s quest to get world leaders to take notice and do something … anything, about climate change. The cameras follow her from starting out with simple one-person strikes in Stockholm to a rough boat ride all the way to New York, all the time battling her Asperger’s condition and the malaise of leaders and the public. But her messages touchingly begin to take hold. 4 out of 5 stars

Space Jam: A New Legacy (HBO Max): A big loud mashup of every pop-culture character under the sun, this is pretty entertaining but I can’t say it’s actually all that funny or even all that creative, but worth a couple hours with the kids. 3 of of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Little Richard was the rock pioneer and his hits remain classic

Little Richard, the self-proclaimed “architect of rock’s roll,” died just over a year ago, back on May 9, 2020. I recently re-revisited his story by reading great obituaries in Classic Rock Magazine and Mojo Magazine, and here are some of the things to know about LR:

  • Tutti Fruity, Good Golly Miss Molly, Lucille, Rip It Up, Keep A Knockin’, and Send Me Some Lovin’ are absolutely must-own party rockers for anyone’s collection.
  • Tutti Frutti’s original lyrics were “Tutti fruity/good booty/If it’s tight, it’s alright/if it’s greasy, makes it easy,” which were a visually too racy and had to be changed.
  • His real name was Richard Wayne Penniman.
  • All the biggest stars covered his songs, and Elvis even declared, in 1969, that Little Richard was the greatest.
  • He always felt more like a girl and was picked on heavily for it throughout his childhood.
  • His route to superstardom was routed through the carnival circuit, where he performed in drag, even still wearing a velvet gown when he later started performing with his new stage name of Little Richard.
  • His famous thin moustache was actually drawn on with pencil to cover a scar on his lip.
  • He always said he taught Paul McCartney everything he knew. Long Tall Sally was the first song young Paul ever sang in public, and, of course, Richard taught him Paul’s patented “wooooooo.”
  • Some scary incidents at the height of his career while touring Australia with Gene Vincent caused him to retire prematurely and focus on God and gospel music.
  • He was eventually swayed back to rock and twice played with The Beatles opening for him.
  • He presided over the marriages of Cindi Lauper and also Stevie Van Zandt.
  • When Jeff Tweedy met him after his show, LR said, “Wasn’t I wonderful?”

Monday, July 12, 2021

TV Snide: For June 2021

Graphic Novel of the Month: Criminal: Vol. 1, Coward: Ed Brubaker is my favorite graphic novelist that I’ve discovered this year. This is noir crime in which the antihero tries to save his girlfriend and her daughter and tries to get away with multiple scams. He’s not very good at any of it and the blood sprayed around is epic, but somehow there’s still a likable heart to the whole thing. Looking forward to reading more of this series. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Movie of the Month: Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade (Pay Per View): Somehow I never saw this, the third installment of the Indy films. With a focus on Harrison Ford’s relationship with his father, played by Sean Connery, you really can’t go wrong. The laughs and the thrills are a mile a minute, as bumbling Nazis fall rapidly by the waysides. None of these movies will ever beat the original, Raiders of the Lost Ark, but this comes as close as can be expected, with a nice added touch of medieval lore thrown in for good measure. 4.5 out of 5 stars 

Thelma and Louise (Sling TV): When Brad Pitt is the fourth or fifth best thing in a movie, you know you’ve you a good one. With the music of the Eagles leading them on a deadly girls road trip across the Southwest U.S., Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis kick some serious butt in the fight against idiot males. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Produced by George Martin (SlingTV): The story of the Beatles and the swinging 60s told through the eyes of a kid who got thrown into the role of head of Parlophone Records and really didn’t know much else but classical music is great. Martin's unique perspective was a cherry on the top (and maybe more) of the Fab Four’s cannon. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Weekend at Bernie’s (Hulu): Andrew McCarthy slums it with this nobody cast in what is actually a classic physical comedy from 1989 that I had somehow never seen. The goofiness is nonstop but it’s endearing and pretty funny. 4 out of 5 stars

All of Me (Sling TV): Steve Martin was my hero after The Jerk, his many Saturday Night Live guest appearances, his standup albums, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, and The Man With Two Brains, but I never saw many of his other movies. This one is as silly and ridiculous as it gets, but Martin and Lily Tomlin have great chemistry (they better, Tomlin dies and goes into his now almost-bipolar body). 4 out of 5 stars

Lethal Weapon (Sling TV): Long before Mel Gibson was outed as an anti-Semite, he was tough guy cop Riggs, a guy with a potential death wish after his wife dies. Gibson and Danny Glover get roughed up along the way to exterminating Gary Busey and his band of heroin kingpins in some fun action-adventure. 4 out of 5 stars

Friends: The Reunion (HBO Max): Considering I’ve only seen a dozen or so episodes of this show, you may wonder why I watched this. I don’t know the answer to that, but it strikes me that this is about like the show itself: relatively mindless drivel yet still compelling because of its ridiculously likable cast and perceived voices of a generation (although who would ever take Friends over Seinfeld, it probably goes without saying). 3 out of 5 stars

Friday, June 25, 2021

A clarion call for women in rock

Puncture was a great music magazine in the 1990s and some of its former editors have released an impressive compilation titled Now Is the Time to Invent: Reports from the Indie-Rock Revolution, 1986-2000. I highly recommend it, and one of the best pieces I've read so far from the early part of the book is Terri Sutton’s essay from 1988. 

Here are my favorite nuggets of insight from it:

  • The author used to be in love with Paul Westerberg of The Replacements, partly because he seemed so normal and attainable, but mainly because there weren’t many female idols and mentors and she saw herself in him.
  • Even at the few women-owned record labels at the time, their rosters were all male. “On part, women finding women singers annoying can be traced to culturally-induced self-hatred and insecurity.”
  • Sutton offers a litany of common-sense ways to get girl rockers more exposure, and all of the tactics (like finding the right fanzines to read and asking record store clerks which females are putting out great music) have come a very long way since this article was published. Cool to see at least some areas where the human race has evolved!


Saturday, June 5, 2021

Best Magazine Reads: Robert Pollard of GBV in The Big Takeover

Now that Magnet Magazine seems to have finally been laid to rest, the best source for finding the best music is easily The Big Takeover. It recently had a massive two-part interview with my hero Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices. Here are some nuggets from part two, which had magazine staffers asking questions they’ve always wanted to ask the rock legend.

  • Pollard has released around 2,400 songs.
  • He was mostly into arena rock in the 1970s and didn’t become “enlightened” until late in the decade when he discovered bands like Wire and Devo.
  • Among his favorite record stores in the U.S., Pollard mentions St. Louis’s “the Euclid stores” and Planet Score.
  • Basketball was the favorite for the three-sport star.
  • His experience as a teacher translated to the stage in that he has to maintain energy and keep the kids in the audience excited and attentive for long periods of time.
  • He says he's too shy to ever do a solo acoustic guitar tour. He also notes that he was once the only guitarist in the band, in the 80s, which is interesting because he’s only been the singer on stage since the 90s.
  • He writes his songs and does his art collages in the dining room of his house.
  • Pollard’s favorite cover of one of his songs is Glen Campbell’s version of “Hold On Hope,” a tune Pollard says he didn’t even like much until Campbell changed his mind about it.
  • He became quickly disenchanted with his brush with a major label (TVT), which wouldn’t let him use his own art on the covers (he hated the art on those covers), forced his vocals to always be pitch perfect, and even told him (at 40 years old) to write songs about summer, cars, and girls.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Why The Beatles still matter

The last section of essays in the fabulous Read the Beatles collection, released in 2006 and edited by June Skinner Sawyers, is all about trying to answer the question of why the band lives on as strong as ever.

There are many viewpoints expressed. Music journalist Toure offers the perspective that, having been born a year after the Beatles’ dissolving, he didn’t get to live through their soap-opera-like existence but still eventually found the story of the Beatles so crazy that it helped him dig deep into understanding the band’s brilliance.

Tom Piazza is a writer from the Southern U.S. who says the Beatles burst on the scene as a fun antidote to the grim imagery of the sparkling Kennedy being replaced by earlier-era-like LBJ and that image stuck with them even as they morphed throughout the horrific days of Vietnam. He says they also brought the old sounds of jazz and R&B and blues into their music and helped America discover itself.

Biographer of Enlightenment writers Paul Mariani views the Beatles as cartoon editions of the likes of Hobbes and Bacon and Locke, but still every bit as worthy and exceptional as all of them.

Greg Kot, who once taught me in a rock journalism course and is famed for his writing at the Chicago Tribune and his musings on the Sound Opinions podcast, makes the case that the Beatles touched on so many genres and types of music - in ways nobody else could ever replicate - that their legend and style is impossible to equal. He notes that most bands opt for replicating the likes of the Velvet Underground and new wave bands, whose music tends not to venture too far afield from one song to the next.   

Jazz writer Ashley Kahn recalls how John Lennon said nothing changed by the end of the 60s era (he was then 30 and everybody just had long hair) but what hasn’t changed is the simple idealism throughout the band’s songs that remain something humanity should hope to achieve some day.

Colin Hall is the custodian of “Mendips,” the house on Menlove Avenue in Liverpool where John lived from ages 5 to 23. He tells stories visitors have told him over the years and movingly writes about what the house is like and the meaning it brings to Beatles fans.

Musician Steve Earle compiles the 10 most important Beatles songs and defies anyone to look at the list before ever trying to compare Oasis with the Beatles. It’s probably the weakest essay in the collection and even mentioning Oasis in the same breath cheapens it considerably.

Music journalist Anthony DeCurtis talks about his personal meetings with Yoko Ono (whom he has erotic dreams about), George Harrison (who asks him how Paul McCartney is doing), and Paul (who walks around New York with the writer after 9/11 in a bit of a personal quest by the Beatle to keep the city alive during some dark days).

Poet Wyn Cooper writes about how the Beatles forced him out of living in his small world to want to go out into experiencing a larger world.

TV Snide: For May 2021

TV Show of the Month: Breaking Bad - Season 4 (Netflix): Like all seasons of this show so far, it’s flawless. Hank and Gus are cornering Walt and Jesse at every turn. The episodes in which Jesse and Gus visit the cartel in Mexico and the finale when Gus visits the old cartel boss in the nursing home are TV all-time classics. 5 out of 5 stars

True Detective - Season 1 (HBO Now): Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson turn in perfect performances as Louisiana detectives hunting down the answers to a series of sadistic missing and dead person crimes. The show leaves behind a series of harrowing images and the tension and cameraderie between the two stars kept me on edge throughout. 5 out of 5 stars

Magazine Article of the Month: “Mysterious Suicide Cluster,” by D.T. Max in The New Yorker: a fascinating character study of Brandon Grossheim, who is accused in a civil case of talking numerous acquaintances at Missouri’s Truman State University into killing themselves. This is what magazine writing is supposed to be. 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Brady Bunch - Season 1 (Hulu): Not quite as great as later seasons, but this group had the formula pretty much perfect from the get go. Little kids Bobby and Cindy really shine, especially when they lose Tiger the dog and when Kitty Karry All the doll goes missing. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Outer Banks (Netflix): I wanted to watch this when it came out because I know the Outer Banks in North Carolina so well, but I think I didn’t hear great things about the show. And while it certainly isn’t much like OBX the actual place (and not filmed there and not including any OBX names or geographical landmarks), the coming-of-age story about the kids from the wrong side of the tracks battling the creepy rich kids is done really well. You can’t help but fall for the poor-kid Pogues in this young-adult mashup of Scooby Doo, Ozark, and Friday Night Lights. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Movie of the Month: The Jesus Rolls ((Showtime): John Turturro is of course mesmerizing in this sequel to the perfect Big Lebowski, but this one misses Jeff Bridges and much of the bowling storyline in exchange for a buddy-getting-out-of-prison road adventure with Bobby Cannavale. Still funny, but dark and weird too. 3.5 out of 5 stars

PEN15 - Season 1 (Hulu): The performances by thirty-somethings Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle as goofy schoolgirl besties are brilliant and many scenes are great additions to the classic TV comedy canon, but there are slow parts to deal with as well. Worth watching for a trip back to the awkward days of early high school. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Palm Springs (Hulu): I just can’t find the appeal in Andy Samberg. It’s not like I dislike him. He’s ok. But just ok. Kind of the same with his costar Cristin Miloti. This movie is throwaway junk - about the two stars getting stuck in a time loop where they can’t escape each other and maybe don’t want to - in the form of a less-good Adam Sandler ripoff that is also not so bad to sit back and enjoy. The best part is the Hall and Oates ending. 2.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Great Magazine Reads: How Let It Be really finished off The Beatles

Classic Rock Magazine digs deep into history, and the cover story for Issue 276 puts all of the The Beatles’ final album, Let It Be (even though it was recorded before Abbey Road), into perspective. Here are some of the doozy need-to-knows:

  • John Lennon was at the height of his heroin addiction and the others didn’t know how to help him.
  • John wanted little to no production from George Martin, hoping for a raw recording of the band jamming in the studio, which is what happened to a degree, not that one can tell in the Phil Spector-produced version of the album.
  • John suggested replacing George Harrison with Eric Clapton at one point. And the two of them were probably the chummiest of the four during the sessions!
  • Nobody even introduced George Martin and Yoko Ono to each other.
  • Being constantly filmed at early-morning sessions didn’t help anything either.
  • Midway through, they made Billy Preston an honorable member of the band and everything calmed down. They hit their old stride and made great songs with Preston, like “Get Back.”
  • “Two of Us” is about Paul and Linda McCartney but it can be interpreted as about Paul and John.
  • “I’ve Got a Feeling” is probably the last genuine collaboration between Paul and John.
  • The band didn’t bother to help produce the album, for the first time since Please Please Me.
  • George Martin and Paul really disliked Spector’s production, agreeing he made The Beatles try to sound like other bands instead of themselves.
My take: I definitely love the album Let It Be, but it’s because of the songwriting, not because of Spector’s production.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

TV Snide: For April 2021

Movie of the month - Hemingway (PBS): The contradictions of Ernest Hemingway - one of my very favorite writers - bring out the drama in this Ken Burns three-parter. He lived such a full life and Burns concludes basically that it was a series of concussions, mixed with alcoholism and mental illness, that caused Hemingway to finally kill himself in 1961. I’m so glad Burns finally produced this emotional piece and I hope there are more author documentaries ahead, F. Scott Fitzgerald, for one, whom I’m surprised was mentioned so little in this one. 5 out of 5 stars

Irresistible (HBO Max): This is like the Jon Stewart extended Daily Show episode we’ve been missing since he left late night. Steve Carrell is excellent as the D.C. political operative leading the pouring of money into a small-town Wisconsin mayoral race. Lots of twists and laughs about how messed up our democratic system is. 5 out of 5 stars

National Lampoon’s Vacation (HBO Max): Ah, the beauties of having a 13-year-old son means you get to revisit the crass movies of your own youth. Take Chevy Chase and company in the ultimate family road trip movie. It’s got some offensive and somewhat racist parts, but overall it remains side-splittingly funny. Cousin Eddie, Aunt Edna, Sparkie, this one has it all. Run to watch it again. 5 out of 5 stars

Dirty Harry (HBO Max): When I was a kid, I loved Clint Eastwood so much. Times have changed, and this is not a movie to show your kids - the ones who are now the age I was when I watched this. From an adult perspective, I don’t like how this groundbreaking shoot-'em-up helped start a gun-crazed culture war. But at the same time, this is a "just a movie," and a damn good “do you feel lucky, punk” one. The dark but cinematographic shots of San Francisco amidst a serial killer scare is the perfect balance for Eastwood’s brilliant bad-but-effective cop. 4.5 out of 5 stars 

TV show of the month: Silicon Valley - Season 1 (HBO Max): This ensemble comedy may be all you really need to know about this area outside San Francisco. For anyone who hasn’t been at the center of the tech industry, actors Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Josh Brener, Kumail Nanjiani, and Zach Woods give us insight into that world and their endearing characters will surely stand the test of time better than about 98 percent of today's startups. Hopefully I get back to Season 2 before the next major technological shift. 4 out of 5 stars

The Righteous Gemstones - Season 1 (HBO Max): Led by the masterful patriarch John Goodman, this ensemble cast gives us a look at what life must be like - albeit taking it to ridiculous and hilarious heights - to be mega-church leaders. I especially like the performances of Danny McBride as the oldest and seediest son, Edi Patterson as wacko sister Judy, and Walton Goggins as Baby Billy, a low-budget pastor stereotype. The gang needs to cover up all kinds of misdeeds. 4 out of 5 stars

The Lady Vanishes (Amazon Prime): Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood have great chemistry as they fight their way on a train through spies and foreign soldiers in this movie that captured Hollywood and enticed it to get Director Alfred Hitchcock to move there from England. It was the start of something beautiful and it makes this one worth enjoying. 4 out of 5 stars

Dumb and Dumber (Sling TV): I wanted to re-watch this Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels classic again because the ski scenes took place at Copper Mountain in Colorado, where my family spent part of the pandemic winter. It’s every bit as dumb as I remembered, but still a lot of fun. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Residue (Netflix): Good footage around Washington D.C. propels this slow burn of a film, as the mean streets of the District contrast with the ways it is constantly being gentrified. A lot of the scenes take place on streets I bike all the time, like the fierce beating the protagonist gives to a white man who tries to avoid him just north of Howard University alongside the 5th Street reservoir. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Kong Vs. Godzilla (HBO Max): There’s zero plot, I guess as it should be, but the graphic cinematography alone makes it worth watching. And the epic fights of course too. 3.5 out 5 stars

Book of the month: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam explores some of the everyday nuances that would happen if the world was up against its last days. This doesn’t feel like an apocalyptic novel, which is probably its greatest asset. 3 out of 5 stars

The Arrest by Jonathan Lethem: A former L.A. screenwriter and a Hollywood mogul meet up again in Maine after all electronics and guns and cars stop working. The author of The Fortress of Solitude offers another sometimes-enjoyable but mostly uselessly meandering yarn. 2.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Best Magazine Reads: Esquire remembers the making of “We Are the World”

In its Summer 2020 issue, Esquire offered an oral history of the night in January 1985 when “We Are the World," was recorded at the A&M Studio after the American Music Awards ended. Here are some interesting nuggets from the article:
  • The song was written by Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson.
  • It was an exhausting time for all these mega stars to make it to the recording. Ritchie was hosting and performing at the AMAs that night, Bruce Springsteen wrapped up his Born in the U.S.A tour the night before, and Billy Joel had just flown in from New York with fiancĂ©e Christy Brinkley.
  • Madonna was probably the biggest U.S star not invited.
  • Prince was invited but wasn’t getting along with Jackson so he didn’t show. Huey Lewis apparently got his solo vocal line.
  • Daryl Hall says it was so weird not having any assistants there to help and having to figure out how to line up like a middle-school chorus after producer Quincy Jones had taught people their individual parts. Hall claims to have nailed his lines and left relatively early while others had to stick around to redo their takes.
  • They played the demo version over the speakers in the studio and it was the first time many in the room had heard it. Many didn’t like it. Cyndi Lauper thought it sounded like a Pepsi commercial. But they were all going to do it no matter what.
  • Jackson told Hall in the bathroom that he was sorry for stealing “I Can’t Go For That” for “Billie Jean.” Hall laughed and said he hadn’t noticed.
  • Jackson’s nose apparently kept falling off a bit that night.
  • Bob Dylan was nervous about his solo vocal, which arguably became one of the coolest parts of the song.
  • Everyone gave Springsteen ample applause after he did his part. It sounds like he was kind of the king for the night, alongside Jones, Jackson, Ritchey, and Ray Charles.
  • All those invited were finally finished a little after 8 the next morning.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Charleston, South Carolina photo essay: A solid pandemic spring break choice

Charleston is a beautiful city on the coast of South Carolina that I had never visited. It's got beautiful architecture, is walkable and bikable, has great restaurants (see my accompanying article), and great Atlantic beaches nearby. It's claims to fame are that it's the state's largest city and was a major port in the slave-trading business.

There's fresh fish to eat on just about every street in the bustling downtown area.

The architecture makes it a must to walk or bike (we also took a fun carriage tour with the highly recommended Palmetto Carriage Works) up and down just about every street. You can't catch the beauty of buildings like this "half" house in a car.

Our second AirBnB of the week was on Mount Pleasant, across the famed suspension bridge from downtown, and featured a French-language poster of Hitchcock's North By Northwest above the master bed. And Rico, of course, always right at home anywhere.

The trees and my favorite Spanish Moss are a constant wonder.

Our carriage tour, headed towards the old Catholic church. There is a little history for just about all religions in Charleston.

It didn't take much research to find an expansive skate park under a loop of interstates north of downtown.

The beaches of Mount Pleasant and Sullivan's Island are can't miss, and we were somehow able to splash all afternoon in the surf on a balmy March day.

Again, with the Spanish Moss and bikes.

Huriyali, a funky coffee and smoothie bowl place north of downtown, ended up being our go-to breakfast stop. My favorite was the chocolate acai bowl.

Wandering around the campus of the College of Charleston is a must.

Same with the beautiful Hampton Park, north of downtown and best with a bicycle.

There are historic graveyards across the city, including this one at the Circular Congregational Church off Meeting Street.

Sullivan's Island.

Biking past several more of the city's churches with gorgeous steeples.

More biking out around the shore of Mount Pleasant.

And around the downtown, here at famed Rainbow Row, down near the southern tip of the city. Downtown Charleston is shaped a bit like Manhattan, and we were able to bike from our first AirBnB down the west side along the water, where we spied a porpoise, along to the Battery at the southern tip.

We didn't take a ghost tour, but I bet it would be fun to see the creepy insides of the old Charleston prison.

More biking down a long boardwalk and dog park on Mount Pleasant.

And probably the best dinner spot we hit: Slightly North of Broad in downtown Charleston.

Dining delights in the seaside foodie paradise of Charleston, South Carolina

If you want to go on vacation to eat, look no further than Charleston, South Carolina.

Knowing our Pandemic Spring Break 2021 could likely be mostly carry out and eating in parks or on the beaches, we were pleasantly surprised when we were able to eat comfortably for most meals on comfortably socially distanced restaurant patios in the beautiful spring weather.

See my copious and messy notes to the right from research about where and what to eat in the city. We tried to stay mostly on this plan for our five days in Charleston, but threw in a couple of unexpected surprises along the way.

Our first three nights were in downtown, and night 1 we hit Slightly North of Broad to take care of our requirement of a shrimp and grits meal. This is a must restaurant, as we sat at one of the outside tables with a yacht rock guitarist performing within earshot just inside the door. The Charleston crab soup had to make due until we could later find some she-crab soup, and it ended up probably being the best soup of the trip.

The next morning we deviated from the plan because of a coffee and smoothie bowl place within family biking distance from our AirBnB, which was located down the street from the military university The Citadel. Huriyali was so good and funky that we ate there on days 2, 4, and 5. Speaking of family, most days we filled up with two big meals and ate leftovers the rest of the time, to minimize time the kids had to sit at restaurants and to minimize our exposure to the pandemic. Day 2 was one such day, as we grabbed lunch/dinner to go from the much-hyped Hymen’s Seafood. The place was way busier than we would have risked dining at, with lines down the block, so it was nice to take it back to our place. The she-crab soup, peel-and-eat shrimp, and Wadamalaw delight (fried green tomatoes and grits) were all very good, albeit more of a touristy good than a true foodie good.

Day 3 also took us off script with a gem of a find near our place in north downtown and off the tourist track. We left the kids at home and ordered pizza for them while we went to Xiao Bao Biscuit, a hipster place in an old gas station with ample seating out front. The Japanese cabbage pancakes and spicy Thai beef were mouth watering and the fried rice peanut and caramel pork dumplings were the superstar, leaving a minty numbing of the mouth that I don’t recall ever experiencing before.

Day 4 brought about our move to a different AirBnB over in Mount Pleasant, across the bridge from downtown in an area near the beach. After a full day lounging and splashing at the beautiful, wide Sullivan’s Island beach, we headed again off script to a place recommended by friends, Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ. It looked and smelled like something for the college spring break crowd. But we easily secured a table outside away from the masses (why would so many people eat inside on a perfect day amid a pandemic?) and proceeded to devour can’t-miss bar food. Get the wings with Alabama white sauce (vinegar based) and nachos. I also had one of the best frozen drinks ever - a Vietnamese coffee loaded with Tullamore Dew whiskey.

Day 5 was for exploring Mount Pleasant by bike, which is a bit of a harrowing thing to do. Most of the shops and restaurants are along a car corridor with 30 mph signs posted and cars in reality flying 55. That said, we did navigate by bike and some of the detours are much better with a bike in hand. We hit Vintage Coffee Cafe, which is connected to a pizza place called Coastal Crust and had the best avocado toast I’ve ever tried. Granted, I don’t eat that selection much, but it was very tasty, as were the Belgian waffles. Despite also not being on my list, Shem’s Creek Crab House looked like a better option for an early dinner, especially since it was a little off the main roads and had outdoor seating along the water. The peel-and-eat shrimp, raw oysters, and she-crab soup were all good.

And of course we stopped by for our last Huriyali on the way out of town for our 8-hour drive back home to Takoma Park, Md., which, incidentally, could use its own Huriyali.