CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE STUMBLED INTO "THE SHALLOW ZONE." WATCH OUT FOR THE ROCKS. SOME OF THEM ARE SHARP.
If you're looking for a blog with meaningful content on the important issues of the day, you've come to the wrong place. This is the shallows, my friend. Nothing but shallowness as far as the eye can see. Let someone else make sense of things. I like it here.

About Me

My photo

I love my grown children, miss all the dogs I ever had, and I cry at the drop of a hat, I believe in true love, destiny, fairness, and compassion. If I could be anywhere right now, it would be the ocean. My favorite city is New York, but I am always longing for London and craving more time in Copenhagen. I'm drawn to desolate places, deserted buildings, and unknown byways. I don't care how society perceives me as long as my gut tells me that what I'm doing is right. I am interested in paranormal things, spiritual things, historical things, and things that glow at night. I like to drink, I smoke when I write, I can't stand small talk, and despite my quick temper, I would rather kiss than fight. I'm selfish with my writing time, a spendthrift with my love. My heart has been broken so many times that it's held together with super glue and duct tape. The upside is that, next time, I won't be tempted to give away what I no longer have to give. But I will let you buy me a Pink Squirrel.
MY SHALLOW MISSION STATEMENT

MY SHALLOW MISSION STATEMENT

MY SHALLOW MISSION STATEMENT
Not that there's any weight to it...
IN A WORLD FILLED WITH COMPLEX POLITICAL ISSUES, SOCIAL INEQUALITY, AND FINANCIAL UNCERTAINTY, I CONSIDER IT MY GIFT TO YOU, MY READER, TO OFFER THIS SHALLOW LITTLE HAVEN, WHERE NOTHING IS TOO SHALLOW, TOO INSIGNIFICANT, OR TOO RIDICULOUS TO JUSTIFY OUR ATTENTION. IN OTHER WORDS, IF IT'S NOT IMPORTANT....SO WHAT? NEITHER WAS MARILYN MONROE'S BRA SIZE. AND THAT STILL SELLS MAGAZINES, DOESN'T IT?
VIDEO OF THE MONTH

Thursday, December 27, 2012

R.I.P. FONTELLA BASS



You may have already heard that American R & B artist Fontella Bass, best known for her 1965 chart-topping hit "Rescue Me", died last night at the age of 71 from complications following a heart attack. I've always loved Fontella Bass, and "Rescue Me" is a song I've covered in many of my bands. A lot of artists have covered it. It's one of the great kickass R & B songs of all time. Bass was born and raised in St. Louis, and her strong gospel background and powerful voice should have made her a stand-out, but instead it caused a lot of people to mistake her voice for Aretha Franklin's. To this day, I know people who thought that Aretha Franklin was the one singing "Rescue Me" whenever it came on the radio. But that confusion notwithstanding, Bass continued to record and perform until the early 70s when, following a lackluster reception of her album "To Be Free", she retired from music to concentrate on raising her family. In 1990, on New Year's Day, Bass was in New York when she was surprised to hear her recording of "Rescue Me" featured on an American Express commercial. It came at a "low point" in her life, Bass recalled, and it was hearing the song she co-wrote and recorded being used without her permission that gave her the impetus she needed to break out of her emotional slump. She spent the next three years working out a settlement with American Express and the ad agency that produced the commercial before finally being awarded $50,000 in punitive damages in 1993. Bass's health had already been compromised by a series of strokes over the last several years when she was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack three weeks ago. She will be buried in St. Louis, the city in which she spent most of her life, and where, a few years ago, she was inducted into the St. Louis Hall of Fame.


I'm dedicating this week's video selection to Fontella Bass. Hope you give them a listen. Skol!

REGRETTABLE EDIBLES


Okay, it's snowing and cold and I'm sick of filling out the forms I've been filling out all morning. I'm also starving and trying not to eat. So, naturally, it's time to write a post on the worst foods ever while listening to BBC World News radio. Ready? Let's dig in....


SPOTTED DICK

Weighing in at approximately 526 calories, this classic little yuckfest is for some reason hugely popular in Great Britian, Canada, and Germany. Which is interesting since I first sampled it in Denmark. And if you love a good heaping spoonful of raisin-laden suet pudding laced with custard, it's not bad. On the other hand, if you're just trying it because you want to say you ate some "spotted dick" and don't know what the hell it is, it can lead to aa lifelong fear of eating anything with a name sometimes used to identify most men's favorite appendage. Someone told me that the name is actually a reference to another, similar dish made with plums known as "spotted dog." Not exactly edifying. But whatever. Any way you slice it (and you can slice it because it's that thick), spotted dick is without question one of the worst things that ever found its way into my mouth. You can make your own spotted dick (why you would want to, I can't imagine) or you can just buy it in a can and save yourself the price of raisins, powdered sugar, and eggs. Just remember: food with names that conjure up images of body parts...any body parts...is almost never ever anything but bad.


HERRING PATE

Yet another horrible food to which I was first exposed in Denmark. Now don't get me wrong. I love Denmark. I have family there. And I've eaten some very good things while visiting, including flaeskesteg, which is an open sandwich made with roast pork and red cabbage on dark bread. Extremely tasty. I wish that I was eating one right now. But herring pate is another matter entirely. At least for those of us who prefer our Saltines slathered with peanut butter rather than mushed-up fish. But peanut butter is hard to come by in Denmark (my daughter-in-law takes a couple jars home with her every time she visits here in the U.S.) and so when little Danish children come home from school at night they're forced to snack on herring pate while they do their homework. They've become used to it. But this is the same country that gave us "The Little Mermaid", so it sort of makes sense. Although, despite the fact that peanut butter is in short supply over there, store shelves are brimming with jars of Nutella. And if I, personally, were a Dane faced with a choice between herring pate and Nutella, I'd opt for the nut spread. But who am I to judge? All I know is that when I tried herring pate, I was just glad that Denmark also happens to be famous for Carlsberg beer, a cold bottle of which I sucked down immediately to keep myself from gagging. Ah...memories.


JELL-O SALAD

Why do people keep making these damned things? That's all I want to know. I mean, has anyone who's ever eaten a serving of Jell-O salad actually smacked their lips afterward and announced, "Man, oh, man, that was scrumptious!"? I tend to doubt it. Hell, just the sight of one of these culinary non-delights is enough to trigger my gag reflex. But for some reason people keep making them. Sometimes they even put whipped cream on top, as though spreading Cool Whip over a wriggling tower of green Jell-O filled with chunks of fruit and/or vegetables could alter the fact that this is one of the most disgusting foods to ever find its way to a dinner table. Maybe it all just comes down to a sense of tradition. Like putting miniature marshmallows in the green bean casserole you serve at Thanksgiving. No one really wants miniature marshmallows mixed in with their green beans, but over the years they've just come to expect it. Same thing with Jell-O salad. No one really wants it, but if every grandmother in the world stopped making it, it would seem...well...odd. So we put up with it. But it's still one of the worst foods that ever came out of a 1950s cookbook.


CREAMED CHIPPED BEEF ON TOAST

I once read somewhere that, when Humphrey Bogart was dying of lung cancer, he kept asking his wife Lauren Bacall for creamed chipped beef on toast. Apparently, it was one of his favorite meals, but even though he craved it, he was too sick to actually eat it, which, according to the story I read, was very distressing for Lauren Bacall, who had to stand there and watch as driblets of creamed chipped beef ran down her husband's chin. Why am I telling you this? Because I'm a sadist, obviously. But also because it's just one more reason that the very sight of creamed chipped beef is enough to make me bury my face in a bowl of Jell-O salad. This has to be one of the worst things to ever show up on a dinner plate. Granted, there are a lot of people who consider it a "comfort food" and treasure the wrinkled piece of notebook paper on which their sainted mum wrote down the family recipe for it back in 1965. But those people are living in a delusional world where their sense of nostalgia has somehow managed to make it seem okay to mix pieces of chopped beef with milk and then spread the resulting culinary cesspool over a slice of toast. You don't have to be Kosher to know that beef and milk were never meant to occupy the same spot on your tongue at the exact same time. It's not just an insult to your palate, it's an insult to cows everywhere. And I, for one, happen to like cows. So, do your favorite bovine a favor and just say "no" the next time someone offers you a plate of creamed chipped beef on toast.


CLAMATO JUICE

Do I even have to go into detail on this one? It's reconstituted frozen tomato juice mixed with clam broth, for God's sake. That pretty much says it all. Even if you like clams (which I don't), how could you possibly take pleasure in gulping down this fishy concoction? Unless, of course, it's laced with vodka. Even then, knowing that you're drinking something made of tomatoes and liquid squeezed out of a clam should be enough to kill your buzz. But someone must like it because they're still making it. And I still consider it one of the worst "foods" to ever cast its shadow over the dining section of my memory banks.


CHICKEN NECKS, FRIED OR BOILED

I like chicken. I like it baked, roasted, fried, sauteed, and even in salad form (as long as there's not too much mayonnaise). Chicken is an amazing, wonderful, versatile food that has served humankind well for centuries. But there are some parts of a chicken that weren't meant to be eaten by human beings, and I want to go on record as saying that a chicken's neck is one of them. Okay, sure, if you're starving, I suppose it makes sense. But if you're not, why the hell would you even want to? But once again it's a moot question. I grew up with a grandfather who loved eating chicken necks...boiled, no less. Actually, my grandfather ate a lot of things I found disgusting, like dandelion greens and cold baked bean sandwiches, but I never dared to voice my feelings on the matter because he was black, and my grandmother told me that his taste in food came from his upbringing. So I grew up believing that all black people like to eat boiled chicken necks. It was only much later that I discovered the errant nature of my belief. All these years later, I can't think of any black people I know who swear by boiled chicken necks. But I digress (as usual). The point is, chicken necks, whether boiled or deep-fried (as in the photo above), are disgusting. In fact, if you happen to be one of those over-zealous, self-righteous vegetarians who think the world would be a better place if everyone would just stop eating meat, your best bet is to offer all the meat-eaters you know a serving of chicken necks. One bite of meat from the spiny neck bone of a chicken will have them begging you for a bowl of brown rice. I guarantee it. Just be sure to leave the bathroom door open in case they feel the need to vomit first.


TUNA WIGGLE

Why? Number One: It's creamed. Number Two: It's called "tuna wiggle." Need I say more? This is just one more "comfort food" that needs to be banished from the face of the earth. Even if the tuna doesn't actually wiggle, the name still sticks in your head as the stuff is going down your throat, creating a visual to which no one should ever, ever be subjected to while eating. Be smart. Eat your tuna fresh or out of a can. Save the cream for your coffee.


SPAGHETTI AND HOT DOGS

In the picture above, someone has taken the time and effort o actually thread the spaghetti through the boiled hot dogs in what they no doubt consider a fanciful, fun conglomeration of two of America's favorite foods. What could be wrong with that? Plenty, damn it. Hot dogs may be a classic part of American cuisine, but once you know what's in most of them, it's almost impossible to eat one unless it just happens to be that perfect summer day and the hot dog has just come off the grill and you've had enough Molsens to numb you to the fact that you are ingesting beef or pork offals wrapped in a transluscent skin. And spaghetti? Well, let's just say that there's a reason grocery stores sell jars of Ragu. Some things are simply not meant to be eaten together (see "Creamed Chipped Beef On Toast above). My own encounter with this ill-conceived regrettable edible came years ago, when I was visiting a friend who had made it for her son, who usually refused to eat anything, but for some reason, was always more than happy to chow down on boiled hot dogs mingling with strands of naked spaghetti. I tried to eat it, but I was having such a hard time pretending that I wasn't disgusted that my friend took pity on me and handed me a bottle of Worcestershire sauce. "Worcestershire sauce makes everything taste better," she insisted. It was a lie. Not only that, but now whenever I see a bottle of Worcestershire Sauce, I can't help thinking of hot dogs and spaghetti.

So, there you have it. My list of "regrettable edibles". I'm sure you have your own. But if nothing else, I'm a little less hungry than I was when I started this post. Now if it would just stop snowing. Thank God for beer. Skol!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

HAVE YOURSELF A WEIRD LITTLE CHRISTMAS


I guess it's just the years and years of conditioning, but since Christmas is less than a week away now, I feel compelled to write something about in for this blog. I already wrote a post on my three favorite movie Scrooges for my other blog, Nocturne In G Major (which you should read...if only as an early Christmas gift to me), but for this one, it seems that something a little more frivolous (i.e. shallow) is in order. After all, if there's one major holiday that brings out the shallow in people, it's Christmas. My friend, Lissa just spent four hours online trying to find the perfect set of blue lights to drape over an old rocking horse that she wants to set up on her roof. Four hours! Granted, it's not as though if she could have those hours back, she could better serve the world by pinning down that elusive cure for cancer or anything. I mean, she's an Ed Tech. But still.

Anyway, the point is, for all of the higher concepts like joy and peace that are supposed to be the underlying theme of Christmas, far too many of us spend the season in the pursuit of high-profile shallowness. But what might be seen as a sad commentary on society is a good thing for this blog, devoted as it is to the shallowness (albeit in varying degrees) that dwells within us all. So what better way to honor that reality than to dedicate this post to some of the weirdest Christmas performances of all time? I don't even know where to start. Then again, maybe I do. So, have yourself a weird little Christmas and scroll on...


I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who's seen this video who has wondered exactly why someone decided that it was a good idea to pair David Bowie with Bing Crosby for the purpose of singing a Christmas carol. But, clearly, someone did. In fact, according to my cursory research (this is a shallow blog, remember), it all came about because the producers of what turned out to be Bing Crosby's final TV Christmas special (it was taped in September, 1977, and Crosby died of a heart attack a month later, which, technically, actually makes it a posthumous TV Christmas special) thought that adding Bowie to the mix would give ol' Bing a little edge, something that he'd been lacking since...well...since those "On The Road" movies he made with Bob Hope back in the 30s and 40s. Trouble was, Bowie wasn't interested, feeling that the song just wasn't "right for him." So the producers of the show did a little tweaking and came up with the idea of having Bowie sing an original song called "Peace On Earth", written especially for the event by Buz Kohan, Ian Fraser, and Larry Grossman, in counterpoint as Crosby crooned "Little Drummer Boy." It was an idea that shouldn't have worked, but it did. Bowie reportedly loved it from the moment it was broached to him and immediately jumped on the holiday bandwagon, a decision that not only resulted in one of the weirdest Christmas duets ever, but the most successful. Over thirty years later, the song is still selling and is always in heavy rotation on radio Christmas playlists. Interesting to note, though, that at the time the duet was recorded, Bowie had just come out with his dark hit, "Heroes", which, as an added incentive to appear on the special, the producers agreed to air as well. Ah, the art ofcompromise. I just can't help wondering if Bing even knew who the hell David Bowie was.


As though a Christmas special featuring the former Ziggy Stardust and a former big band singer wasn't weird enough, just one year later, in 1978, the people who make the things we see on TV decided that what the world needed was a Christmas special centered around Star Wars, which, of course, at the time, was the most talked-about movie in the entire civilized world. But why wouldn't they? If people were willing to buy Darth Vader bubble bath and Han Solo Halloween masks, why wouldn't they be just as willing to sit through one of the most ill-conceived and horribly-executed TV specials of all time? And "horribly-executed" is being kind. The show was so terrible and so maligned by critics that CBS only aired it once, before sending it to a galaxy far far away forever and ever more. How they managed to convince Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fish to take part in this thing is anyone's guess, but the real question is what did they do to George Lucas to make him write such a terrible screenplay? It's a cringefest from start to finish, with the majority of screen time going to Chewbacca (played by Peter Mayhew, of course) who is upset because his son, Lumpy (yes, Lumpy) has had the head torn off his Bantha doll by stormtroopers in the middle of the Wookies' "Life Day" celebration, which is, apparently, the biggest holiday of the year on the Wookie home planet. Naturally, Chewie wants to set things right, and does, eventually, with the help of his Star Wars friends, but not before they squeeze in a few song and dance numbers, one of which features, Bea Arthur (yes, Bea Arthur), who plays the owner of the Mos Eisley Cantina (you know...the one where we first see Han Solo in the real Star Wars movie?) And did I mention that Lucas not only wrote the screenplay for this piece of Christmas cheese, but directed it as well? Clearly, everyone involved in this thing was either high or just very, very tired. Or maybe they were just hoping to sell a lot of Bantha dolls.


As weird as the previous two Christmas performances were...and remain...they can't hold a candle to the 2011 collaboration of The Flaming Lips, Yoko Ono, and The Plastic Ono Band on last year's "Atlas Eets Christmas" album. Missed it? You're lucky. But I'm here to wrong that right. How and why it happened is anyone's guess, as always, and it's probabaly a question I should stop asking. Maybe The Flaming Lips are Beatles fans. Maybe they're even Yoko Ono fans. Hell, I'm both, but I'd have to have imbibed a whole lot of rum and eggnog to listen to this album all the way through. Yoko sings and makes her usual high-pitched noises, The Flaming Lips play Christmas-ish music with a heavy emphasis on bells, and the result is pretty much some of the worst Christmas music of all time. Is this what Yoko really wanted to do when she and John Lennon recorded the 70s classic "So This Is Christmas"? If it was, it's a damned good thing he didn't listen. Because if this is Christmas, I'm going to start celebrating Kwaanza early. (But I still love Yoko.)

Well, Shallow-ites, there you have it...some of the weirdest Christmas performances ever. I know that I've left out a lot, but, frankly, even I can only endure so much shallowness at one time. Maybe, if I actually do get a few rum and eggnogs in me, I'll be back to dole out more Christmas pain. But until then...well...as always...Skol!

Friday, November 30, 2012

IT'S A WEIRD, WEIRD WORLD TOP FIVE STORY PICKS


Yes, I know it's been a while since I've posted anything, shallow or otherwise, here. And while there are a number of reasons for the lapse, I won't waste your time going into them. Not to mention that my arm hurts, and if I spend too much time at the keyboard, it will most likely begin to hurt worse. But because I am committed to the pursuit and presentation of shallowness, in all its myriad forms and incarnations, I feel compelled to give you, my beloved shallow-ites, something in return for your patience. So, to that effect, please allow me to present the following top five pick list (remember those?) of my favorite "weird news" stories from my vast and too-long ignored archives. Ready? Let's get weird...

NAKED MAN ATTACK AT TAMPA BAY 7-ELEVEN


MAYBE THE POOR GUY JUST WANTED A TWINKIE?

What is it with Florida and strange occurances? This past summer it was cannibalistic psuedo zombies on bath salts and LSD eating people's faces in Miami. This week it's homely naked men attacking unsupecting clerks at a 7-Eleven in Tampa Bay. No matter how you slice it, it's just plain weird...not to mention really gross. According to the article in The Tampa Bay Times, the naked perpertrator was a 30-year-old man called Abraham Luna, who burst into the store in the early morning hours and began shoving and punching the male clerk in an attack the paper called "unprovoked." Fortunately, Luna was arrested shortly after the incident, but not before he led police on a high speed, headlights-out chase into oncoming traffic on U.S. Route 19. The victim, whose name was not released, told the cops that it was Luna's first visit to the store. Chances seem pretty good that it will also be his last. To check out the raw video footage, go here.

THE BULLET STOPPED HERE


DOUBLE D BREAST IMPLANTS: SEXY AND LIFE-SAVING

An otherwise tragic incident took a titillating twist (emphasis on the first syllable) in July, 2010, when a man identified as Jaimie Parades entered a dental office and opened fire on his wife, who worked there. Parades' wife was killed in the attack, but another office employee, Lydia Carranza, escaped the same fate when one of Parades' bullets missed her heart and other vital organs by millimetres and lodged inside one of her size-D breast implants. "She's just one lucky woman," surgeon Dr Ashkan Ghavami told the Los Angeles Times. "Had she not had the implant, she might not be alive today."

Carranza, a mother of two and grandmother of three, recieved the implants several years ago to increase her breast size from a B-cup to a D-cup. Asked about the incident, she said that she didn't have time to think or be frightened. "I saw the gun pointed at me," she told reporters, "and then I felt wet in my chest area. I thought I was going to die." Although I have never been a fan of breast implants (I've never needed them, and even if I did, I subscribe to the "take it or leave it" school of thought when it comes to body image), considering the facts of this particular situation, it seems that they do have their advantages. In Lydia Carrenza's case, it's probably a good thing that she opted for a D-cup. No telling what would have happened if she'd settled for a C.

TIRED OF BEING POSSESSED? CALL 1-800-EXORCIST


GOOD THING MILAN ISN'T KNOWN FOR ITS PEA SOUP

The Roman Catholic church has always been a little fudgy when it comes to the concept of demonic possession, on one hand admitting that it might be possible, and on the other, maintaining a strictly controlled and somewhat secretive policy when it comes to church-sanctioned excorcisms, but now it seems that the church has decided to go public with its stance on demons and what to do about them...at least in Milan. According to Monsignor Angelo Mascheroni, head exorcist for the Milan diocese since 1995, the demonically possessed of that city can now call a recently instituted hotline to schedule emergency exorcisms. Mascheroni said that the hotline was set up in response to the increasing number of exorcisms being performed in Milan over the past 15 years. With switchboard operators manning the hotline Monday through Friday, from 2:30 pm to 5 pm, and a team of 12 priests on call, Mascheroni hopes to alleviate the suffering of those dealing with the apparent demonic scourge infesting Italy's second largest city. That doesn't mean the monsignor is totally sold on the idea of demonic possession. On the contrary, Mascheroni claims that most so-called "possessions" can actually be attributed to wayward teen-agers whose parents have become exasperated and turn to the church for help. The most important role of the diocese is "listening and caring," he told a reporter from The Independant this week. "In reality, it's not a demon. But when they're 18 years old, young people don't want to be told what to do." Hmmmm. Linda Blair's character in The Exorcist was only 12. Then again, that was only a movie.

FROM DREAM DERRIERE TO BUTT OF JOKES


IS KIM KARDASHIAN BEHIND THIS?

Thought we were done with weird implant stories? Think again. Earlier this week, an undentified woman posted pictures of her botched butt job on WorldStarHipHop.com in what she claimed was an effort to show people the dangers of plastic surgery. Seems that, following her surgery, the woman's implant turned out to be so loose that she could manipulate it with her hands, making her ass look as though it's a storage space for two car headlights. Dr. Philip Craft, a plastic surgeon not associated with the woman's surgery, told The New York Daily News that the problem is that the woman chose an implant too large for her body size. “That implant appears to be among the largest available for implantation. It’s just huge,” he said. “It’s way too big for her body.” He added that her doctor should never have agreed to use such large implants, and that even if the implant is removed, the stretched skin will sag and look misshapen. "She should opt for a smaller implant," he advised. So far, there's no word on what the owner of the botched buttocks intends to do in order to rectify the situation, but on the positive side, if she ever happens to be in a dental office when a crazed gunman bursts in and shoots her in the backside, she'll probably survive.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE


AT LEAST THEY WEREN'T RUNNING WITH SCISSORS

Residents of Staten Island, New York were a little surprised this week by the sight of a zebra and a white Shetland pony cavorting down a busy main street. Being New Yorkers, of course, most of them just took the odd sight in stride. It made for a great video, though, especially when the owner of the animals, Giovanni Shirripa finally managed to catch up to them and put their "rampage" to an end. Shirripa told reporters that the waywayrd pair had been part of a petting zoo for an Octoberfest celebration earlier this year. "I was cleaning out their stalls, and they escaped," he said. The wilding was no doubt a moment of much-needed fun in the zebra and pony's otherwise humdrum existance, to which they returned shortly after Shirripa captured them. The health department is currently investigating the matter. And although I have no idea what zebras and ponies have to do with Octoberfest (I thought it was all about beer and tubas) Staten Island residents should just be grateful that elephants are too large to be part of a petting zoo. To see the fleet-footed mavericks in action, go here.

Okay, well, that's it for this post. Hope you enjoyed it. My arm still hurts. But if I've brought even a glimmer of a smile to someone's face, it's...almost worth it. Skol!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

SAYING GOOD-BYE TO A FRIEND


A good friend of mine died last week. There's no other way to say it, no way to make it sound less drastic or terrible or sad. She was the ex-sister-in-law of another good friend, but even though she had long since divorced that other friend's brother, they were still so close that they referred to one another as "sister." I wish I could Mmention her name, but I know she wouldn't like that, being the private sort of person that she was. But I can tell you some things about her. She was fifty two, she was blonde and pretty and smart, and she was a top notch hairdresser. She was obsessively neat when it came to folding her clothes and organizing her jewelry, she had a strong liking for Vanilla Coke, and she loved cats. Adored them, really. Her house was filled with their likenesses, and even her jewelry and some of her clothing bore feline images.

Obviously, t fifty two, she was much too young to die...but everyone says that about the people they lose, whatever the manner of their death. Still, as deaths go, hers was particularly tragic. It happened as the result of a car crash, one which occurred less than a mile from her house, just after midnight, as she and her boyfriend were returning home from a bonfire gathering at a neighbor's house down the road. The last time I saw her was a little over a week before, when she and her boyfriend stopped by my house whilst running errands. It was a random, unexpected visit, and I was busy with something that seems very unimportant now, but on the day she stopped by, it seemed important enough to keep me distracted during most of her visit. Despite the desultory nature of our conversation, as she was leaving, she paused in the kitchen doorway and said, "Give me a hug good-bye." Which I did....not knowing, of course, that it would be the last time I would ever hug her, much less see her physically in this world.

Anyone who has ever lost another person they loved already knows, without me needing remind them, that the hardest part comes not when that person dies, but afterwards, when the shock has finally started to wear off, and as it does, it becomes starkly apparent that life is...well...just going to go on. Charles de Galle, the late former president of France, once made the wry observation that "cemeteries are filled with indispensible people." I suppose that's true. At least in so much as people are only ever truly indispensible as long as they happen to be alive. After that, those who considered them indispensible somehow manage to find other people to replace them or to find other ways of accomplishing what the absent person can no longer accomplish for them. But, of course, with all due respect to the late Charles de Gaulle, when a loved one dies, it's not their indispensibility that we mourn, it's the fact that they have left a hole, however imperfectly shaped, or oddly formed, or inexplicably endearing. That...and the cold, frustrating discovery that people we love can die, and no matter how much we believe otherwise, our own lives will proceed without them. That's what I'm struggling with at the moment. The awareness that a beloved friend is no longer present in this world, but I am, and the sky is still blue, birds still chirp, the refrigerator is still keeping food cold, and the sadness I feel hasn't stopped me from thinking about how much I need to buy a new pair of boots for the winter. It doesn't seem fair, or right, and yet, that's the way it is, and always has been, and always will be. And the most I can do, in the face of such seeming unfairness, is write this post in which I can't even mention my friend's name. But I can tell you one more thing about her. I don't think she would mind. On that last day on which I saw her, she was feeling very proud because she was wearing a pair of denim overalls that she had owned since 1973...and she could still fit into them.


Skol!

Friday, September 7, 2012

FOAM RUBBER BECOMES THEM: THE MAD GENUIS OF THE MUPPETS AND THE MAN BEHIND THEM



MUPPETEER JERRY NELSON WITH ALTER EGO COUNT VON COUNT

Sesame Street lost one of its most iconic voices last week when veteran Muppeteer Jerry Nelson died at his home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts at the age of 78. Nelson had been a member of the Sesame Street family for 40 years and was the voice behind several of the show's recurring characters, most famously Count von Count, the Dracula-inspired Muppet with a thick Transylvanian accent and a thirst for numbers that equaled Count Dracula's thirst for blood. Although the show will continue (its 42nd season begins this fall), Nelson's death marks the end of an era, at least for me. Count von Count was one of my daughter's favorite characters on the show, which she, like millions of other children, watched every day, sometimes twice a day, from the time she was a toddler until well after kindergarten. And like many other parents whose children were committed viewers of the show, I often watched it along with her, taking equal pleasure in the funny, savvy, well-written dialogue that masqueraded as entertainment while teaching pre-school viewers the basics of math, language, and social awareness.


JIM HENSON WITH SOME OF HIS FAVORITE MUPPET CHARACTERS

But of course, as wonderful and innovative as Sesame Street was...and is...it's not the only place where Muppets congregate on a regular basis. Long before Sesame Street was first broadcast on PBS in November of 1969, Muppets had already made a name for themselves on TV. In the mid-1950s, Mississippi native Jim Henson embarked on what was to be a lifelong career as a master puppeteer when he was asked to develop a show featuring puppets for WRC-TV in Baltimore. A few months earlier, Henson had graduated fromn the University of Maryland with a degree in home economics, not because he aspired to become a chef or an interior designer, but because home economics was part of the university's applied arts department, and Henson's interest in puppetry had prompted him to enroll in the crafts and textiles courses offered within the department. Even as a college student, Henson had very definite ideas about the way he wanted his puppets to move and speak. He wanted them to have "life and sensitivity", and to accomplish that, he began creating puppets out of foam rubber, which he covered with textile, and using rods to manipulate their arms instead of the strings which are used on traditional wooden marionettes. Henson's first Muppet prototypes debuted on WRC-TV on a daily five minute program called Sam And Friends, which featured an early version of one of Henson's most famous and beloved Muppet characters...Kermit The Frog.


MUPPET CAST OF "SAM AND FRIENDS", FEATURING AN EARLY INCARNATION OF KERMIT THE FROG

Still, it wasn't easy being green, even back then, for the young puppeteer from Mississippi. He soon became disenchanted with the limitations of his new show. His newfound financial success aside, Henson felt smothered as an artist, and so, leaving Sam and his Muppet friends behind, Henson took off for Europe on an impomptru sabbatical to decide whether he really wanted to pursue a career in puppetry. Fortunately, for the Muppet lovers of the world, while in Europe, Henson was exposed to an entirely new level of puppeteering, one in which puppetry had evolved from simple entertainment to a true art form. Inspired by his European counterparts, Henson returned to the United States, married his college sweetheart, Jane Nebel, and began pursuing his dream of making his Muppets something more than just characters on a children's television show. For most of the 60s, Henson earned his paychecks making guest appearances on talk and variety shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show, on which he and his Muppets shared a bill with the Rolling Stones (their appearance following an introduction by Sullivan in which he referred to them as "Jim Newsom and his Puppets). There were TV commercials as well, one of which, for the Washington DC-based Wilkins Coffee company, treated viewers to a much darker side of the Muppets than we're used to seeing these days. Even Oscar the Grouch would probably have been appalled by the seven second spot which features a hapless Muppet being blown to bits by cannon fire after declaring that he has never heard of Wilkins Coffee. "We tried to sell things by making people laugh," Henson said, in defense of the inter-Muppet violence. The gambit worked. The commercial was so popular that it was syndicated and reshot for local coffee companies all across the country. Later, the same format was used for commercials touting Kraml Milk.


With the success of the coffee commercials, Henson's Muppets had finally found their own unique voice, and in 1963, that collective voice reached a new crescendo when Henson hired writer Jerry Juhl and puppeteer Frank Oz to replace his wife, Jane, who, until that time, had worked alongside him as a co-founder of Muppets, Inc., but now wanted to retire from Muppeteering to focus on raising the couple's five children. Henson often said that it was Juhl and Oz who were responsible for giving the Muppets the humor and personality that set them apart from other "puppets." In the mid-sixties, the Muppets had their first breakout character with "Rowlf", the piano playing dog, who became a semi-regular on The Jimmy Dean Show. Rowlf's appearances garnered a whole new audience for Henson's work, and he was so grateful for the exposure that he offered Dean a 40 percent share in his production company. But Dean declined the offer, telling Henson that he was the one who deserved to benefit from his own hard work. In 1966, Henson turned his attention to making a short film called Time Piece, which was nominated for an Oscar (of the non-Grouch kind), and in 1969, Muppets Inc. released a TV movie for NBC called The Cube. That same year, Henson met the woman who would allow him the opportunity to take his foam rubber characters to yet another level of fame and, in the process, make "Muppets" a household name.


ROWLF THE DOG, THE FIRST MUPPET "BREAKOUT CHARACTER", AT HIS PIANO

In 1969, Joan Ganz Cooney was more well known for producing television documentaries on America's disadvantaged than she was for her work on behalf of children's education. But having graduated from the University of Arizona in 1961 with a degree in education, that issue was still very close to her heart. According to Cooney, she was at a cocktail party in New York one night when, in the midst of a conversation with a colleague, she realized that in order to truly make an impact in elevating the lives of the disadvantaged, she needed to focus on children. Shortly afterward, The Children's Television Workshop was born, with Sesame Street as its inaugural effort. Cooney had wanted to include the Muppets from the outset, and was thrilled when Henson agreed to participate, but an initial test screening in Philadelphia, in which the Muppet characters appeared in separate segments from those which featured human cast members, was not well recieved. The show was quickly revamped to incorporate the Muppets into the rest of the show, and with that, the show took off, becoming the most successful and influential children's television show in history and earning an unprecedented forty-two Emmys along the way.


THE MUPPETS THAT MADE SESAME STREET "THE" STREET IN CHILDREN'S TELEVISION

The success of Sesame Street catapulted the Muppets and their creator into a heretofore untapped realm of possibilities. Although always reluctant to take credit for the success of the show, Henson and his Muppets were, as far as Cooney and the media were concerned, the heart and soul of Sesame Street. From the beginning, Henson, Juhl, and Oz were determined to write on two levels, one for children, and one for adults, because studies had shown that children learned more effectively educational programming when watching it with an adult. Thus, many of Sesame Street's best sketches include coy references to adult-themed TV shows and movies, such as Mad Men and even Old Spice commercials. In fact, a sketch featuring perennial Muppet favorite Grover, in which the shaggy blue monster voiced by Frank Oz parodies Old Spice spokesman Isaiah Mustfaa while proclaiming the importance of knowing the meaning of the word "on", recently went viral, adding yet another feather to the already feather-laden cap adorning the collective head of Muppets Inc. and the Children's Television Workshop.


Following his success on Sesame Street, Henson was once again concerned that his work had become pigeonholed. Anxious to move on to new ventures, he launched The Muppet Show, which, in turn, served as the basis for a series of successful movies starring the characters from the show. There were other movies as well, such as The Dark Crystal and Tale Of Sand, which had nothing to do with the original Muppets and were designed to appeal to a more adult audience. It seemed that Henson had finally forged a track in both worlds, and was, by all accounts, happy with what he had achieved. That made it all the more tragic when, on the night of May 15, 1990, while visiting his daughter and son-in-law in North Carolina, the visionary puppeteer complained of flu-like symptoms, and shortly afterward, announced that he was having trouble breathing. His wife Jane, from whom he was separated, came to the house and sat with him, after which, concerned that his illness was serious, she urged him to check into a hospital. Henson did so, and was quickly admitted and put on a respirator, which failed to prevent him from suffering two heart attacks within 20 hours after being admitted. Henson died the next day, on May 16, 1990, at the age of 53, from organ failure resulting from Streptococcus pyogenes, the virus responsible for causing bacterial infections. Henson's death was a huge shock not only to his family and colleagues, but to the public who had grown up with the Muppet characters he had created. Following his death, two public memorial services were held, one in New York City and one in London. At both services, the Muppets were in attendance, at least by proxy, as the men and women who voiced them sang a medley of Henson's favorite Muppet-based songs in the voices of their characters. The services culminated with a performance of "Just One Person", the initial verse sung solo by Richard Hunt, who voiced Scooter on the Muppet Show. It was, according to Life Magazine, "an epic and almost unbearably moving event."


JIM HENSON AND FRANK OZ AT THE CONTROLS WITH KERMIT AND MISS PIGGY

As Sesame Street enters its 42nd season this fall, its Muppet cast will no doubt continue to enthrall and educate its pre-school audience. Jim Henson's legacy is clearly one that will live on despite the fact that the man behind the funny, quirky, iconic foam rubber-based characters has been dead now for twenty-two years. But perhaps, even as wide-eyed pre-schoolers watching the show revel in the comedic antics of Elmo, the Cookie Monster, and Big Bird, it would be nice for their parents to mention, if only off-handedly, that the Muppet characters they love are more than just puppets created to entertain and teach them. They are, at their core, the symbol of what it means to have a dream and what can happen when the person who has a dream refuses to give up until that dream becomes a reality.

That's it for this post. Skol! xoxoxxoxoxoxoxoxo

Monday, August 6, 2012

LOOK FOR HIM IN THAT ULTRA-DELUXE APARTMENT IN THE SKY: TV ICON SHERMAN HEMSLEY DEAD AT 74


It is with a sense of shallow (and yet sincere) sadness that I dedicate this brief post to an iconic face of 1970s American television who passed away recently...very quietly...and yet leaving in his wake a huge pop culture hole that isn't likely to be filled any time soon. I'm talking about Sherman Hemsley, better known, perhaps, as "George Jefferson", the one-time (black) thorn in Archie Bunker's side who, through his good business sense and sheer determination of will managed to move himself, his family (wife Louise and son Lionel), and his maid (yes...Florence!) "on up" out of Queens and into "that deluxe apartment in the sky" on the East Side of Manhattan (although the opening sequence of the show was actually filmed in Santa Monica, California).


SHERMAN HEMSELY...AKA "GEORGE JEFFERSON"

The Jeffersons, which began as a spin-off of All In The Family, ran on CBS from 1975 until 1985, and has the distinction of having been the longest running television series with a predominantly black cast in the history of American television, (Sorry, Good Times and Cosby!) Although at times controversial (George Jefferson used the terms "honky" and "nigger" during the course of the series), the show's eleven season run is a testimonial to its popularity with mainstream TV audiences, who, I assume, identified with Goerge and "Weezy" Jefferson not because they were black so much as because they were ordinary people who had managed to make good despite their humble beginnings. Plus George was sort of the Simon Cowwell of his day, never shirking from saying exactly what was on his mind, no matter where he was, or who the unfortunate recipient of his honesty might be.


HEMSLEY WITH LONG SUFFERING TV WIFE ISABEL SANFORD

Of course, Hemsley did play other roles besides the snarky and ill-tempered George Jefferson. Born in South Philly in 1938, and raised by his single mother (he didn't meet his father until he was 14), Hemsley dropped out of high school to join the air force, in which he served for four years. After being discharged from his military duties in the late 1960s, Hemsley left Philly for New York, where he labored as a postal worker by day whilst attending the Academy of Dramatic Arts at night. Hemsley's hard work and commitment to his chosen craft paid off. In 1971, whilst performing on Broadway in the musical Purlie, Hemsley received a call from TV producer Norman Lear, who wanted Hemsley to play the role of "George Jefferson" in his new sitcom...All In The Family. Although initially reluctant to leave Broadway, Hemsley eventually made the shift to television, a move which brought him fame and a new level of wealth, but which also, unfortunately, typecast him for the remainder of his career. Following the cancellation of The Jeffersons in 1985, Hemsley's work consisted mainly of appearances on TV shows like Amen and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, although a series of popular commercials for The Gap, in 2000, which reunited Hemsley with former TV wife Isabel Sanford, brought the pair a fresh burst of nostalgic appreciation. Hemsley was also a singer, performing an original song, "Dark Eyes", from his album "Dance", on Soul Train in 1992. In recent years, however, Hemsley, who never married and had no children, had been living in El Paso, Texas, where he had become something of a recluse, granting only one interview (video) since the demise of The Jeffersons, to The Archive of American Television, in 2003. In the interview, Hemsley said that playing George Jefferson "was hard for me", but that "he was the character. I had to do it."


Hemsley strutting large in "Purlie" on Broadway in 1972

Sherman Hemsley died of apparent natural causes at his home in El Paso on July 24. He was 74.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

ETHAN RUSSELL: "THE CIVILISED EYE OF AN UNCIVILISED ART FORM" GETS INTERACTIVE



ETHAN RUSSELL: CLASSIC ROCK'S CLASSIC PHOTOGRAPHER

Okay, so in case you're not up on the latest selection of interactive rock and roll photography books making headlines this week, "An American Story: It's Your History. Help Write It", the interactive photography compilation featuring the work of famed rock photographer Ethan Russell is now available for iPad, iPhone, Nook, and all Kindle devices. And in case you don't happen to have any of the aforementioned products with which to view the "iconic" images captured by Russell in his fifty-year plus career as a rock photographer, you can glimpse a sample of what awaits readers by visiting this link. Before you do, though, I thought it might be interesting to revisit some of the rock and roll moments that served as the basis for the book's fascinating imagery. Because there are some incredible moments behind the photographs that make up this noteworthy collection by the only photographer to have shot album covers for the three bands that comprise what is, essentially, the holy trinity of classic rock and roll bands...namely, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who.


JOHN LENNON AND YOKO ONO, WEYBRIDGE, ENGLAND, 1968: "JOHN CALLED ME UP ONE DAY," RUSSELL SAYS, AND THE REST IS PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY

Born in Mount Kisco, New York on November 26, 1945 and raised in Manhattan and San Franciso, Ethan Russell became interested in photography at an early age, but didn't pursue it professionally until he graduated from college and relocated to England. After settling into a flat "decorated with psychedelic posters" in London, he embarked briefly on a writing career whilst working part time as a photographer in a home for autistic children. In 1968, when he was 23, Russell was introduced to Mick Jagger, who, after seeing Russell's work, invited the "lanky Californian" to accompany the Rolling Stones on tour. From 1968 to 1972, Russell served as the main photographer for the band, a position which allowed him to capture images of the band members during some of their most intimate moments. Russell's photograph of Brian Jones, draped over a statue of Christopher Robin (one of the characters in A.A. Milne's "Winnie The Pooh" ) as he brandished a gun was published shortly before the musician's death in 1969, creating a minor maelstrom for Jones, who had already reaped his share of bad press for a number of other, equally ill-considered displays of bad taste, including the donning of a Nazi uniform in which he posed for photographs taken by his then girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg. Even so, Russell's photographs of the Stones during that period in their career, some of which have never been published before now, are considered to be some of the most compelling images of the band ever committed to film. But the highlight of Russell's association with the Rolling Stones is probably the photograph which adorns the cover of their 1969 album, "Through The Past Darkly (Big Hits, Vol. 2)", which the photographer dedicated to Brian Jones, who had been found dead in his pool earlier that year. Russell's photographs were also used on the cover of "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The Rolling Stones In Concert", which was recorded during the Stones' 1969 tour.


RUSSELL DEDICATED THE COVER PHOTOGRAPH TO THE RECENTLY DECEASED BRIAN JONES

1969 was also the year that Russell met the Beatles for the first time. The band members were already familiar with his work through his association with the Stones, but it was the their road manager Neil Aspinsall who first approached the photographer, inviting him to Twickenham Studios where the band were recording tracks for "Let It Be", which would turn out to be their final album. Russell's individual photographic portraits of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, which adorn the album's cover, have become an important part of the band's mythology, seen by some as a symbol of the increasing personal and artistic distance between the four band members during the making of the album. Especially since, uuntil that time, the Beatles had always appeared as a unit on their album covers. Russell was present as well when the Beatles performed as a band for the final time on the roof of Apple studios, the only photographer allowed access to the band during that historic event. The resulting photographs capture heretofore unseen nuances of the occasion, most of which were never accessible to the public prior to the release of Russell's interactive book. Looking back on the experience for the benefit of his readers, Russell says that it's hard to believe that he was the sole chronicler of the Beatles' farewell performance. "If I had done it today," he says, "I'd have 15 assistants and 50 cameras. And it was me with no assistant and two cameras."


THE BEATLES FINAL PERFORMANCE ATOP THE ROOF OF APPLE STUDIOS IN 1969

Russell's relationship with The Who began when he traveled with the band when they went on tour in England in 1971. According to Russell, he was a passenger in a car driven by Who guitarist Pete Townsend, with whom he had been discussing ideas for the cover of the band's upcoming "Who's Next" album. As they drove past the English countryside ("at about 120 miles an hour", Russell recalls) he spotted "shapes" in a field and suggested that they stop to take some photographs for possible use on the album cover. "Everybody turns around and we walk out onto this slag," Russell recalls in his book. "I look up after a minute and Pete's pissed on it. I started taking picture. The others couldn't piss, so we filled old cans with water and dumped it on the thing. I took maybe 14 pictures. Today, I'd take about 400. It was nothing like today. No art directors. No stylists. No nothing. It was off to the record company in two days." The photograph of Pete Townsend and company pissing (and pretending to piss) on the unidentified stone structure became one of the most famous album covers in rock and roll, garnering praise not only from rock fans, but from the members of The Who as well. Pete Townsend has described Russell as "the civilised eye of an uncivilised art form---rock and roll." The positive reception Russell recieved for the photograph led to further work with the band in 1973, when his photographs were used on the cover of "Quadrophenia". In 1988, Russell's work was featured once again by the band, on the cover of the 1988 "Who's Better, Who's Best" compilation album.


WHO'S NEXT: THE STAINS WERE MOSTLY WATER, BUT THE PHOTOGRAPH WAS GOLD

Of course, Russell's career as rock and roll's premier photographer wasn't confined to shooting album covers for The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and The Who. He shot three album covers for country rock star Linda Ronstadt, one of which, for her 1976 album "Hasten Down The Wind" features the singer on the beach outside her house in Malibu with a horse and rider sillohuetted in the background. "She was self-conscious about her new level of wealth," Russell recalls. "Still, she earned it. She could sing like an angel, or the girl you were dying to date." As he prepared to take the photograph that would eventually be used for the cover of "Hasten Down The Wind", Russell says, Ronstadt got nervous and said "Don't shoot. You'll scare the horse." Luckily for Linda Ronstadt fans, it was too late. Russell had already taken the shot.


THE ALBUM COVER FOR "HASTEN DOWN THE WIND" CAUGHT RONSTADT ON THE FAST TRACK

Another rock star whose image was captured by Russell's ready camera was Jim Morrison, the controversial and unapologetically eccentric lead singer for The Doors. Russell says that he "didn't really get" Morrison's energy at the time, finding some of his interactions with the media "a little petulant", but admits that he has more appreciation for him now. "Jim Morrison didn’t leap off the page for me when I saw him at London’s Roundhouse in 1968," Russell says. "...for whatever reason that night, I didn’t get it." Looking back now, though, the photographer thinks that it might have been that "Morrison was a "little out of step with the 60s...he took the longer view...if your words live after you, I think it's fair to say that you have succeeded in life." Words...and photographs. And when it comes to photographs, Russell's portfolio boasts more than a few candidates for pop culture longevity.


JIM MORRISON: RUSSELL SAYS HE DIDN'T REALLY "GET HIS ENERGY" AT THE TIME

One of Russell's most famous photographs, in which a surly-looking Keith Richards is shown standing beside a poster emblazoned with the words "Patience Please. A Drug-Free America Comes First" as he and the rest of the band waited to be allowed into the United States after having been detained in Canada due to concerns about the Stones' drug use, has been touted by some as the defining image of the Stones guitarist. But it is another, less well-known known image of Richards that the photographer himself believes captures the true essence of the man behind "Satisfaction" and "Gimme Shelter."


"PATIENCE PLEASE": THE PHOTOGRAPH MANY CONSIDER THE BEST IN ROCK AND ROLL

The "Patience Please" photograph shows an image of Keith "in wolf's clothing--or sheep's clothing. really", Russell says. Instead, it is a photograph he took of Richards in 1969 that he considers to be the best he ever took of the Rolling Stone. "...Keith Richards is this picture right here," he says. "That's Keith Richards. We're in the basement room at Stephen Stills' house. You're just so close to Keith. Everything about the picture works for me. It's the intimacy and the fact he's so engaged with the music and that tiny Fender amp, and a drink at 11:00 in the morning."


"REALLY KEITH": KEITH RICHARDS AT STEPHEN STILLS' HOUSE IN 1969

"An American Story. It's Your History. Help Write It" contains over 250 previously unpublished photographs of rock and roll's elite, as well as concert footage, a recording of Richard Nixon's "Silent Majority" speech, and Bruce Springsteen's "Point Blank." In keeping with the book's title, readers are invited to visit Russell's blog to add their own stories and experiences and comments. But for those who love rock and roll, the book is more than just an opportunity to look at previously unseen photographs and reminisce about the artists whose "iconic" images have been captured by Russell over the years. In her foreword to the book, Roseanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash, whose photographs are also featured, sums up the importance of "American Story" with the following lines: "An ambitious, startling, game-changing book about (Ethan’s) life and our times. It is a work writ breathtakingly large, assembled with an enormous heart and an intellect to equal it; meticulous, personal and universal. It is a venture utterly new but so evolved it feels like it has always existed.”


ETHAN RUSSELL AND ROSEANNE CASH: ONE MORE IMAGE IN THE EVER EVOLVING "AMERICAN STORY" THAT IS THE HISTORY OF ROCK AND ROLL

Friday, July 13, 2012

BRB...



Ready to go? I am. That is, for the next couple of weeks, I'll be taking a short vacation from this blog as well as from my other one, Nocturne In G Major. But don't get all weepy on me. I'll be back. In the meantime, you can catch up on all your other reading. Like that dog-eared old copy of Anna Karanina you never finished. (Spoiler alert: It ends tragically.) Or you could always reorganize your closet. Hell, you could even go on your own vacation, somewhere far from the madding crowd, which, every now and then, is a place that we all need to be. Whatever you end up doing in the interim, have fun. Just don't forget me!


GRETA GARBO AS "ANNA KARANINA"

See you on the other side. Skol! xoxoxxoxoxxoxoxo

Thursday, July 12, 2012

FIVE BEST GIRL BANDS OF ALL TIME




The Bangles

I can't count the times some guy has said to me, whilst listening to The Bangles, something along the lines of, "They can't be playing their own instruments." Uh...why? 'Cause they're girls? Stupid assumptions aside, rest assured that Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson, her sister, Debbi, and Michael Steele were providing the licks on guitars, drums, and bass on all of those great 1980s tunes like "Going Down To Liverpool" and "Manic Monday." Starting out as "The Bangs", the original line-up of Hoffs, the Petersons, and Annette Zilinskas on bass released one single, "The Real World", before legal issues forced them to change their name to "The Bangles", at which point Zilinskas left the band and was replaced by Steele, who had previously replaced Jackie Fox, the original bassist for The Runaways. After the release of "All Over The Place", in 1984, the newly reconstituted line-up took off, garnering new fans, mainly young women (natch!) who had no doubt that the Bangles were really playing their own instruments. Unfortunately, friction started to develop among the band members when the press began to single out Hoffs as "the lead singer", harping on her movie star looks and MTV charisma, and ignoring the strong, Beatlesesque harmonies that had always been the band's strong suit. Following the release of their biggest hit, "Eternal Flame", which Hoffs recorded whilst naked (citing Olivia Newton John's contention that she always got her best out of a song when she sang it sans apparel), the band fell apart, with Hoffs focusing on her solo career and Vicki Peterson joining the Go-Go's (from whom Belinda Carlisle and Charlotte Caffey had just departed) on tour. The girls reunited in 1998 to record songs for the new Austin Powers movie soundtrack, but hopes of a lasting reunion were short-lived. Shortly afterward, Steele went on her way for good and was replaced by Abby Travis. The Bangles last went on tour in 2011, in support of their "Sweetheart of The Sun" album.


Lush

Okay, so there are two guys in the band. It was still all about Meriel Barham on vocals and Emma Anderson on guitar. Although the girls considered themselves "punk refugees", the media insisted on tagging them with the annoying "shoegazing" label, despite songs like "Ladykillers" and "Single Girl", and the fact that Perry Farrell, frontman for Jane's Addiction, personally requested Lush as the opening band for Jane's Addiction's Porno For Pyros tour. But even though the band enjoyed a cult status almost from its inception, it is probably best known for the song "Ladykillers", which Barham allegedly wrote about Anthony Kiekis, frontman for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, after he hit on her in an LA bar in front of his girlfriend. Although she never actually mentions Kiekis in the lyrics, the accompanying video features a male actor who can only be described as...well...a dead ringer for the singer, leaving no doubt who the "ladykiller" is supposed to be. On stage, in their mini-skirts and high-heels, their guitars slung low over their hips, Barham and Anderson look like throwbacks to the "new wave" era, but Barham's smoky alto and take-no-prisoners, Cockney-tinged delivery is pure post-punk. The band looked to have strong staying power on the music scene until drummer Chris Acland hung himself in his parents' house in 1996, after which the remaining line-up soldiered on with a substitute drummer for a couple of sad years until finally disbanding for good in 1998.


The Runaways

As good as it was, The Runaways movie that came out a couple of years ago starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning as Joan Jett and Cherie Curry, respectively, didn't even come close to scratching the surface of what this all-girl band from the mid-70s was all about. With Lita Ford on lead guitar, Joan Jett on rhythm guitar, Jackie Fox on bass, Sandy West on drums, and a corset-wearing Cherie Currie on lead vocals, the Runaways forged an indelible place in the annals of rock and roll the moment they first took the stage and performed what was to become their best-known single, Cherry Bomb. The band lasted only a few years, of course, and while Jett and Ford would reap even greater success as solo artists, West would end up dying at a tragically early age, and Curie would become most famous for the nervous break-down which resulted from pressues brought on by the band's sudden fame and her own out-of-control drug use, the impact The Runaways had on popular music can't be denied. Girls weren't supposed to be rock and roll stars. They were supposed to be...well...groupies. But the girls in this band had other ideas. And for that we owe them a great big thank you. And how do we thank them? Listen to this...and pass it on to your daughters.


Fanny

David Bowie called them one of "the finest rock and roll bands of their time". Guitar Magazine declared lead guitar player June Millington the hottest female guitarist in the industry. Which makes it all the more tragic that June, her sister Jean (bass and vocals), Alice de Bruher (drums), and Nicky Barclay (keyboards and vocals), who were, without question, one of the best rock and roll bands of the 70s (male or female), have never received anything close to the recognition they deserve from either the music industry or th fans who support it. Sadly, that has a lot to do with the fact that the band recieved almost zero support from Warner Brothers Records when they were plugging away on tour back in the day, despite the fact that they were the first all-female band to sign with a major record label. But none of that diminishes their greatness or the staying power of their music, which they also wrote themselves, and which can still be heard and appreciated on tracks like this one...and this one as well.


The Donnas

They were all born in 1979. They started out playing under the name "The Electrocutes" in their hometown of Palo Alto, California. And like The Ramones, the band they claim first inspired them to pick up instruments and play, they all took the same name, although, in their case, the name they shared was the first name "Donna", which they tagged, respectively, with the first letter of their real last names, so that fans could tell them apart. Although The Donnas have always enjoyed a strong cult following, many of whom refer to themselves as "Donnaholics", and have been a staple on alternative radio since first signing with Lookout! Records in the mid-90s before shifting to Atlantic Records and then to their own label, Purple Feather Records in 2007, The Donnas are one of those bands that not everyone has necessarily heard. But it only takes a quick listen to a song like "Who Invited You" or "Fall Behind Me" to know what The Donnas are all about. And what's that? Kick-ass rock and roll...with no punches pulled...and no apologies for being girls who know how to play their own instruments.

GO-GOS DISCLAIMER


Geez'm crow! This post has been up for less than 24 hours, and I've already heard from people who want to know why I didn't include The Go-Gos in the list. Well, okay...for starters, it's a list of my personal picks for the five best girl bands of all time. I love the Go-Gos (especially that kooky Kathy Valentine), and God knows how many young women they inspired to grab guitars, learn a few basic chords, and start their own bands with the hope of becoming rich and famous and meeting cute guys in English pop bands (ala Jane Weidlin and Terry Hall, lead singer for Fun Boy Three and The Specials). But, crucify me if you will, I just don't consider them one of my five best girl bands. If it were a list of...say...my picks for the ten best girl bands of all time, they'd definitely be on it, probably right between L-7 and The Breeders. But such as it is, this is what I got. Thanks for asking.

That's it for now. Catch you on the downbeat. Skol! xoxxoxoxxooxoxoxo

SUZE ROTOLO DEAD AT 67


In this week's saddest rock and roll news, Suze Rotolo, erstwhile girlfriend and muse of Bob Dylan, died earlier today at the age of 67 from lung cancer. Rotolo is probably best known for lending her heavily-coated presence to the photograph which adorns the cover of 1963's "The Free-Wheelin' Bob Dylan" album. After meeting in Greenwich Village (her lifelong home) in 1961 when Rotolo was 17, the besotted couple moved into a flat together and spent the next three years trying to withstand the gossip and outside pressures which, ultimately (along with Dylan's fascination with Joan Baez) drove them apart. Among several songs on the "Free-wheelin'" album allegedly inspired by Dylan's relationship with Rotolo was "Don't Think Twice", which he claims to have written after she left him to spend three months in Italy, a move Rotolo has said that her mother encouraged to get her away from the musician.


Describing his first sighting of Rotolo in his memoir "Chronicles, Part I", Dylan wrote ""Right from the start I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She was the most erotic thing I’d ever seen. She was fair skinned and golden haired, full-blood Italian. The air was suddenly filled with banana leaves. We started talking and my head started to spin. Cupid’s arrow had whistled past my ears before, but this time it hit me in the heart and the weight of it dragged me overboard... Meeting her was like stepping into the tales of 1001 Arabian Nights. She had a smile that could light up a street full of people and was extremely lively, had a kind of voluptuousness-- a Rodin sculpture come to life."


More recently, in her own memoir, Rotolo summed up her split with the rock and roll bard by saying "Bob was charismatic: he was a beacon, a lighthouse, he was also a black hole. He required committed backup and protection I was unable to provide consistently, probably because I needed them myself. I could no longer cope with all the pressure, gossip, truth and lies that living with Bob entailed. I was unable to find solid ground. I was on quicksand and very vulnerable."


Rotolo is survived by her husband, Italian film editor, Enzo Bartoccioli, and a son Lucas, who performs as a guitarist in New York.

Skol! xoxxoxoxxoxoxoxoxoxo

FIVE GREATEST SONGS BY THE ROLLING STONES



Okay, well, in case you've been living under a stationary (i.e. non-rolling) stone the past few weeks, we've reached the all-important moment in pop culture in which the English rock and roll band known as The Rolling Stones are celebrating fifty years of musical, if not spiritual, togetherness. And you know what that means, don't you? Right...gold star! It's time for me to post my top five picks for the all-time best Rolling Stones songs. Before we get started, though, I feel compelled to point out that I know that, on reading it, there's bound to be someone who takes issue with my choices. But if you happen to be one of those people, please just keep in mind that, when it comes to making song lists, the process is by its very nature totally subjective. So instead of railing against my choices, just make your own list. Or just get drunk. Hell, that's what Keith would do. Anyway...enough talking...let's play some music. Here we go...


Under My Thumb. From 1966's Aftermath album. Feminists must have cringed when they heard Mick sing lyrics like "Under my thumb a squirmy dog who's just had her day...", but, for rock and roll chicks like me, it was just par for the course when it came to the Rolling Stones's "nose-thumbing" attitude toward prevailing social conventions. I used to sing this song with one of my early bands, and although I transposed the lyrics to say "boy" instead of "girl" (at my guitarist's urging), I would have been just as comfortable singing the original words. After all, when Mick and Keith wrote this song, they were only saying what a million other people in screwed up relationships were already thinking. Boy or girl, who doesn't want their lover to be "under (their) thumb"? It's not about male chauvanism, it's about emotion. And emotion is what the Stones have always been best at singing about. And, correct me if I'm wrong (as I so often am) but I believe this is the first major hit by the Stones on which resident meglomaniac and future drowning victim Brian Jones is featured playing the marimba instead of rhythm guitar. Another interesting sidenote (especially for feminists) is that Camille Paglia, French feminist author of a slew of books on the role of women in history and in pop culture, was derided by more mainstream feminists after she declared her admiration for the song. So....what's not to like? If someone, somewhere, is offended, then the Rolling Stones have done their job...and given the world a kick-ass song in the process.


Satisfaction. From 1965's Out Of Our Heads album (U.S.) and released as a single in the UK that same year. I couldn't show my face among Stones fans if I didn't include this song on this list. But its inclusion is not gratuitous. Apart from Keith's famous insistance that he came up with the melody in his sleep and, upon waking, hurriedly recorded it on a tape deck he kept at his bedside, this is the song for which the band is probably best known, even by those people who couldn't care less about who and what the Rolling Stones really are. A scathing condemnation of commercialism and (possibly) sexual frustration (although why Mick Jagger or Keith Richards would be feeling sexually frustrated at that point in their joint music career is anyone's guess), this song still resonates as strongly with the current generations as it did with the one of which the early Stones were a part. And for my money...it always will.


19th Nervous Breakdown. From 1966's Aftermath album. Shoot me if you don't agree, but as far as I'm concerned, this is the song in which the Stones really came into their own lyrics-wise. Mick told one interviewer that he came up with the title of the song first, and then wrote the lyrics around it. And apart from Keith's driving guitar licks and that little "Bo Diddley" tribute by Brian Jones in the middle, it's the lyrics that make this tune. "Your father's still perfecting ways of making sealing wax" pretty much says it all about the scorn with which the baby boomer generation viewed their parents' desperate allegience to the status quo. A rough and tumble, chaotic mess from beginning to end, this Stones song always makes me want to stop whatever I'm doing and say "to hell" with society and all of its pretensions. That was the case the first time I heard it...and it hasn't changed. Kudos, guys.


Gimme Shelter. From 1969's Let It Bleed album. Personally, I don't give a flying f-word if Keith Richards came up with the idea for this song on a rainy day in London on which he had begun to suspect that Mick was sleeping with his drug-addled and highly over-rated girlfriend Anita Pallenberg. The song totally transcends the inter-band issues wreaking havoc among the members of the Stones in 1969 during the recording of Let it Bleed, which I consider, arguably, their greatest album next to 1972's Exile On Main Street. I mean, think about it. You've got Keith hammering out one of his best guitar solos ever, a soul choir back-up thing going on in the background, and Mick screeching out anguished lyrics that could be about anything from personal trauma to political upheaval around the world. For me, this song exemplifies what the Stones have always really been about: pure emotion, angst, and the ever-present threat of darkness at the edge of town...yours, mine, anybody's. Bottom line, if this was the only song I had ever heard by the Rolling Stones, I would, without a moment's hesitation, drop to my knees and kiss the stage that Keith Richards had just thrown up on. And liked it.


Sympathy For The Devil. From 1968's Beggar's Banquet album. Ever had an orgasm? If the answer is "yes", then you know what I mean when I say that this song is like the Stones' "Big O" gift to the world. Were the Stones really secret followers of satanism? Highly doubt it. But they were genuises when it came to capturing the dark side of the zeitgest of the times in which they lived and played, and this song is their crowning achievement in that vein. Backed by a voodoo percussion beat and a whole lot of ethereal "woo-hoos", Mick references every screwed up political theme from the crucifixion of Jesus Christ to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and doing so, not only shows off the musical intensity that makes the Stones great, but reminds us of what sort of world in which we, the listeners, are really living in. Originally conceived by Mick as a folky sort of tune, the song came really came into its own after Keith insisted on more percussion, turning it into a sort of quasi-samba meets rock and roll affair. And, just for the record, this was not the song the Stones were playing when Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by an overzealous Hell's Angel at the Rolling Stones concert at the Altamount Speedway in 1969. The soundtrack for that nasty bit of business was "Under My Thumb."

So...that's it. What else can I say? Except...if I hadn't limited this list to five songs, I'd be writing all day. But I have other things to do. Too bad. I'd rather be writing about the Stones. Skol! xoxxoxoxooxoxxoxxo