Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tony Hillerman RIP

I'm going to have to stop writing eulogies. This is getting ridiculous. Here we go:

Tony Hillerman was an American writer. He wrote mysteries set in the American Southwest that involved Native Americans and their spiritual beliefs. Lots of people liked his stuff and he sold millions of books. I never read anything he wrote even though a couple of people have told me I should. He died Sunday at the age of 83 of pulmonary failure.

I hate to sell him short but, while immensely popular, Cormac McCarthy he wasn't. Or so I'm told. Plus, I'm sick of this blog being a litany of dead cultural personalities and their life stories. Sorry, Tony. Maybe I'll get around to you some day.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Levi Stubbs RIP

R&B wonder and frontman for The Four Tops Levi Stubbs died today at age 72 from several complications arising from cancer he was diagnosed with in 1995. The Four Tops and The Temptations pretty much defined the male side of the Motown sound in the 1960's, and Stubb's has the distinction of being the first defined "lead vocalist" in an R&B group. They couldn't have picked a better one.

Edie Adams RIP

Groucho Marx once said of Edie Adams, “There are some things Edie won’t do, but nothing she can’t do.”

For an actress, singer and comedienne who could count playing the foil to comedian Ernie Kovacs on his TV show, spending twenty years as the spokeswoman for Muriel Cigars, starring most memorably in film in Billy Wilder’s Oscar Award winning picture The Apartment, winning a Tony Award for her portrayal of Daisy Mae in Broadway’s adaptation of Lil’ Abner, and numerous nominations for and winning of other awards among her achievements I’d say Groucho hit the nail on the head.

Edie Adams died of lung cancer and pneumonia yesterday at the age of 81. Nice job, Edie. I really don’t think they make ‘em like you anymore.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Zack and Miri Make a Porno" and the Latest Loss of Childhood Innocence

I suppose it started with the Comics Code Authority in 1954. For those of you who don’t know, this was an industry self imposed set of restrictions on comic book content established to avoid government regulation by The Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, which was set up specifically to focus on comic books (this during The Cold War – you’d think The Senate would have had bigger fish to fry. Like Joe McCarthy). Yes, to protect America’s tender, impressionable youths from lurid, immorally seductive images and ideas conveyed by fanciful cartoons drawn and pressed on paper. If you want the details look it up – it’s every bit as absurd as you might imagine.

Then came the countless studies that continue to this day on the terrifying impact that television is having on youthful minds. Television romanticizes violence, sexuality and drug use. Television reduces intelligence. Television causes autism. The Red Chinese use television to brainwash political prisoners. Tinky Winky is gay. It’s inevitable that television will at some point produce a generation of homicidal, crack smoking, homosexual, idiot-savants that will destroy the country, if it hasn’t already happened.

Need I mention rock ‘n’ roll music, which was leading our impressionable youth into Satan worship, drug abuse, and suicide in the 1980's? That one landed in The Senate as well, thanks to our latter day hero of the centrist-left Al Gore. If he’d spent that energy on environmental politics maybe people would have started listening sooner. Anyway, as Gene Simmons pointed out, had subliminal messaging in rock ‘n’ roll music worked his would have been, “Buy more KISS records!” I venture to say he’s not alone in that sentiment.

Now video games are the bugaboo. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wouldn’t have shot all those people at Columbine High School if it weren’t for the nefarious influence of violent video games in their lives. Nor would the handful of school shooters since. Pre-existing mental instability, unchecked bullying, and poor parenting didn’t enter into it at all. It was that one last round of Doom that pushed them over the edge. This is proven by the fact that the millions of teenagers out there playing violent video games are even now oiling their carbines.

This brings us around, of course, to movies. In 1930 The Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (now The Motion Picture Association of America) adopted The Production Code to avoid any “lurid” content from making it into films (again – look it up). This was a little different in that it was intended to protect EVERYONE from the profane and vulgar imaginations of the riff-raff involved in the motion picture industry. In 1968 The Production Code was abandoned for the (now) MPAA’s film rating system, designed to keep “morally questionable” content out of films. This had more of a focus on children, arbitrarily deciding at which age a child was capable of safely absorbing which kind of content. The holds, of course, slipped here with the advent of cable television, video cassette rentals, and the DVD revolution. Still, no rabid hordes of bloodthirsty nymphomaniac teenagers running wild in the streets. At least, as in the cases mentioned above, no more than usual.

Which brings me to my point. Kevin Smith’s new movie Zack and Miri Make a Porno has raised something of a furor. Several TV stations, newspapers and cable networks are refusing to screen the ad. The City of Philadelphia has ordered all poster ads pulled from its bus stops, and The City of Boston is considering doing the same. Fox Sports has agreed, at the team’s request, to not show the ad during Dodger’s games as the ads damage the Dodgers’ “family friendly” image. Kevin Smith had to beg the MPAA to drop the film’s rating from “NC-17”, a box office killer, to “R”. Why all the hubub, bub? The last word of the film’s title. Yes – “porno”. This five letter word is now the overwhelming threat to the morals of a new generation. It doesn’t matter that the movie isn’t a porno, or even a sex comedy for that matter. It has the word “porno” in the title.

And I thought the 1954 Senate being scared of comic books was absurd.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Neal Hefti RIP

Let’s face it. It doesn’t matter that Neal Hefti scored The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park. It doesn’t even matter that this unbelievably talented trumpet player sat in with orchestras conducted by such luminaries as Count Basie and Harry James among others. Impressive achievements all, but, in the end, they just don’t matter.

Finally, it doesn’t matter that Hefti scored what is generally agreed to be possibly the most puerile, asinine television series of the 1960’s (Adam West disagrees, and I’ll probably get my ass chewed by modpro for saying it, but that doesn’t change the ugly truth). What matters, in the final analysis, is that theme song. A song that burrowed its way into the consciousnesses of at least two generations of kids. One of the coolest theme songs of all times – right up there with The Munsters.

Hefti always said that the Batman and Robin theme song was the most difficult piece he ever wrote, and it shows. It made that piece of crap show worth watching. Well, at least the first minute of it. And usually the whole grim half hour, as aspects of the song would show up periodically throughout the episode, especially during the fight scenes. He won a grammy for that song, and a more deserved one has never been handed out.

Neal Hefti died today at the age of 85. A pretty good run and a pretty distinguished career. But man, that song…

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Tin Pan Alley, Nick Reynolds RIP

Nick Reynolds, one third of the legendary folk trio The Kingston Trio, died Wed., Oct 1st 2008 of acute respiratory illness at the age of 75. A little slow on the uptake for me here, I know, but it’s been a hell of a week. I’m sitting here with a bellyfull of painkillers right now and they’re hardly doing me a lick of good in any respect. Anyway, back to Nick.

It’s hard to appreciate the impact The Kingston Trio had on pop music in the early 1960’s. Brian Wilson appropriated their idea of dressing nattily in identical striped suits and utilizing soaring harmonies to make an impression. Peter, Paul and Mary pretty much wanted to be them, and The Mamas and the Papas lifted arrangements directly from their songs (something that an inner circle member of pop-culture royalty like John Phillips denied to his dying day). The Trio took great inspiration from early mainstream folkies like The Weavers and Woodie Guthrie, of course, but also, and somewhat more unlikely, from the Calypso sounds of Harry Belafonte (hence their name). Most importantly, The Kingston Trio helped usher the second wave of American folk music into popular culture, something that would result in the development of artists such as Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie and, most staggeringly, Dave Van Ronk and an angry little Jewish kid from Duluth who went by name Bob Dylan.

It’s sad to see you go, Nick, but you certainly more than did you part.

On another sad note, the owners of a five building stretch on West 28th St. in Manhattan’s Chelsea District lovingly referred to as Tin Pan Alley have placed the buildings up for sale, the real estate listing recommending the buildings be razed to make way for a new skyscraper. From the 1890’s to the late 1950’s, when The Brill Building and it’s corresponding rise of rock ‘n’ roll (or what passed for it coming out of Brill) changed the face of things, Tin Pan Alley was one of the two cultural heartbeats of NYC, the other being Greenwhich Village. In its heyday The Alley gave us luminaries like Irving Berlin and George Gershwin, and in its latter days the respectful and nostalgic revisionism of a genius like Tom Waits.

The New York Historic Districts Council along with the local tenants are, of course, up in arms about this and ready to fight city hall in order that this cultural historic hub of American music and musical theatre be saved from demolition. Many of you probably remember how well that went over with the massive push to save punk rock Mecca CBGB. Let’s just say that I’m of the opinion that we’re about to see yet another irreplaceable landmark of American cultural development succumb to soulless big money interests. No big surprise there. With the slow, agonizing death of American culture itself, who amongst the fascist pricks want to be viscerally reminded day to day of the physical expression of the phenomenon that they've so blithely destroyed. If they even have the hearts, minds or souls to give a shit. If you get the chance, stop by while you can.

Finally and unusually I’ll go ahead and end on a positive note. I received a package today from Jeff Smith over at Saustex Media containing the advances of their two upcoming releases – The Service Industry’s Keep the Babies Warm and The Summer Wardrobes’ Cajun Prairie Fire. I love both bands, and can’t wait to give a good sit down with them and write up my thoughts on them for you folks. They say high expectations lead to disappointment, but neither of these particular bands have let me down yet.A little farther down the road we’ve got The Cure’s incessantly pushed back (over six months now – the tour has even already come and gone) 4:13 Dream and The Supersuckers Get it Together, both of which I’m excited as shit about sinking my teeth into, so the next couple of months will hopefully be short on RIPs and long on some completely unbiased record reviews. Be back atcha when I get all that writing done.