Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Spinal Tap, The Early Years

Lots of Spinal Tap this week. In conjunction with the re-release of This is Spinal Tap on Blu-Ray, the band made an appearance on Jimmy Fallon's show on Monday and on The Daily Show last night. Tap can always be counted on to go all out live. "Sex Farm" and "Gimme Some Money" brought down the house. Plus, I learned that Nigel Tufnel raises miniature horses for breeding, racing and eating. Nigel has never looked more like Jeff Beck than he does now.

The 1984 movie of the group's illustrious career gave the world its first deep look into the legendary combo. Yet, how many among you know of an earlier project involving two of the key members of Tap? Not many, I bet.

Behind the real band are the real people who play them. Christopher Guest is Nigel, Michael McKean is David St. Hubbins and Harry Shearer is Derek Smalls. McKean played Lenny and, alongside David L. Lander's Squiggy, formed the most underrated comedy twosome in sitcom history. They made Laverne and Shirley watchable, no easy task.
The show was big enough that the pair were able to con Casablanca Records into giving them a record deal and, in 1979, came Lenny & The Squigtones. It is an album that will cause Tourette's-like howling and chronic knee-slapping. The hysterical patter between songs is hard to top, but the songs themselves are what you pay for and they are the real deal, both laugh- and music-wise. And, lo and behold, there's "Nigel Tufnel" credited on guitar.

You must hear this record. You'll never be the same after listening to "Squiggy's Wedding Day" and "Babyland," a poem that Mrs. Squigman recited to the young Squig, will leave you in a puddle of laughter.

So, go get it. Check YouTube under "Lenny and The Squigtones." It's all there.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Party with the Stars

Don't get me wrong, I love being an elected official. Really. The countless (and endless) meetings don't bother me a bit. There is one, and only one, real perk to being Deputy Mayor/Trustee in Cooperstown. I get to go to Jane Clark's Friday night party two days before Induction.

The fun begins at The Otesaga. It's from the hotel that shuttle buses leave to the party. The lobby is filled with Hall of Famers and their families. Everywhere you look there's a legend. My wife and I went out to the veranda, it was pouring and there was a rainbow. An even more magnificent sight was Yogi Berra and wife Carmen, to my right, chatting away.

One of my favorite scene is the shuttle itself. Last night, we rode with Frank Robinson, Don Sutton, Rollie Fingers and Phil Niekro. I've met Phil before and he always remembers, which is nice. In fact, two years ago I drove him and his wife Nancy from the hotel to a local haunt, where we met up with Rich Gossage. Just another of my surreal Cooperstown experiences.

I pride myself in knowing enough about the players to always approach them from an angle they don't expect. It's always effective and they seem to appreciate not being asked about the same old stuff. Robin Roberts, who was a great college basketball player at Michigan State, was sitting alone when I saw him. We had talked once about Basketball Hall of Famer Bobby McDermott, who I have been researching. Last night, I regaled Roberts with some McDermott stories and we were having a great time. He told me about playing against George Mikan in Chicago Stadium.

Rod Carew came over and excuse himself for interrupting. Rod Carew, begging my pardon! Too much. He and Robin chatted a bit and I realized I was the one who should get out. Which I did.

Standing on line for food, we found ourselves behind Paul Molitor. I forget how I know Molitor was a big Springsteen fan, but I know. At a Hall event, I had my youngest son, a big Bruce fan himself, asked Paul about The Boss and Molitor was genuinely surprised at the question. I asked Paul if he had seen Springsteen with Jay Weinberg on drums and we talked for a while. Great fun.

Here's another story. I was walking out of the food tent when I saw our State Senator Jim Seward. He made a little joke about us having food and I said "I got this for you to eat while you wait on line." Don Sutton, standing behind Seward honed in.

"You know these politicians," he joked.

"Gotta keep 'em fed," I responded.

"Hey, he's one too!" Seward pointed out. True, I had almost forgotten.

The nice thing about going to the party year after year, last night was my fifth, is there is that little hint of recognition from people who know they've seen you before, but just can't quite place you. When you get the nod of the head from Sparky Anderson, or Tom Seaver, I gotta tell you, it's a thrill.

We got back to the hotel around 10:45 and went in to get our umbrella. As we left, Reggie Jackson and Rickey Henderson were yukking it up. Too much!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Back to the Garden?

Great summer day trip yesterday. I took five teenage boys down to the Woodstock museum or, as they prefer to call it, The Museum at Bethel Woods. Granted, the Woodstock Festival was held in Bethel Woods on the site of the museum, but, come on, give up the need for credit. It's a lost cause.
The drive was about two hours long through seemingly uninhabited forest or, worse, the occasional creepy town. That's the danger of plugging an address into the GPS and following blindly. Upstate New York driving is unlike any other in my experience. There is absolutely no sense of direction. For all I knew I was driving in circles. What if I plugged in the wrong address? The GPS could have taken us anywhere. That's another one of my fears.

The museum is not large, a medium sized wooden structure in the middle of a field. There were not too many cars in the parking lot. Hitting the information desk and looking at the map, it was clear this would be a pretty short tour.
Downstairs was a special exhibit - never before seen photos of John and Yoko's Bed-In. I've been doing a lot of thinking about Lennon for my Maybe Baby (or, You Know That It Would Be Untrue) rock history blog, and his phenomenal dickishness is impossible to ignore. The sound system played "Gimme Some Truth," a hate-filled diatribe against the establishment from the Imagine album. It was fitting. After all, this was an exhibit about protesting. The opening strains of "How Do You Sleep?" were a shock to hear. It's John's vitriolic attack on Paul, with George helping out, playing a slide guitar solo with fangs. Terribly vicious and venomous, an uncomfortable song to listen to. Well, I said to myself, that's odd to play John at his meanest at a peace exhibit. But, someone had been listening, someone knew. The track was played sans vocals, as an instrumental. That great defender of humanity, John Lennon, could remain intact in the confines of the exhibit.
One of my sons brought his camera. He's been a regular shutterbug lately, clicking away for later Facebook postings. It's great, since I never take photos and wish I had. He took some great shots of the recreated hotel room. Then he met The Man head on. We all missed the "No Photography" sign. OK, that happens, and the guards are certainly within their rights to say "No pictures please." What my son got was "One more picture and I'll call the Sheriff's Department." AND we were followed throughout the museum all day long. Now, while some of us expected a lot of hippies on the scene, we never considered that at a museum celebrating the Woodstock spirit of cooperation, peace and love, that fascists would be patrolling the floor. The death of the dream indeed.
The museum itself is alright. A short history of the 60's, the planning of the show and the show itself. There were some interesting films, the best covering local reaction and witness accounts. I loved seeing the present day photo of the couple who adorn the cover of the soundtrack album. Footage of The Band's performance, which has been held up since the show for legal reasons and not seen in the film, or in the new DVD, was a joy to behold. Speaking of The Band, I have Levon Helm's address in my GPS from when I attended The Midnight Ramble that takes place at his Woodstock studio. I knew the original festival wasn't in Woodstock, but thought Woodstock the town (or village) was pretty close to Bethel Woods. It turns out that the two places are about 50 miles apart! I was stunned. So we ducked into Monticello and ate at Tilly's Diner instead.

The best part of the day was backtracking about 1/4 mile to the festival site. A funny, somewhat amateurish monument marks the spot and gives the lineup. Like the Babe Ruth plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Jimi Hendrix' name is rubbed to the point of shininess. Sorry, Mountain, no one cares. Down below you can see where the stage was and the now famous hill to the right. I can tell you that if you were past the apex of the hill, on the plateau, you were screwed. Figuratively, and possibly, literally, based on how the love-in played out.
The openness of the concert area itself was just the breath of fresh air we needed after the autocratic museum. It made clear the wonder of Woodstock, where a vast empty space could, through the vision of a small group, become the signature event of a generation. Just add a bunch of bands and several hundred thousand people and there you have it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Kid Who Can't Grow Up

I won't get heavily into having an autistic son. He's been part of our life for 19 years and his diagnosis, hyperlexia to be precise, for about 15 of those years. He's a treat and a challenge, wonderful to be around and frustrating too. Having just graduated from High School last month, he is scheduled to attend college in the fall. Not bad, not bad at all.

I think most parents have in them a wish, small or big, for their kids to remain the same. Well, we have a kid who can't grow up, at least as of today. A a story to illustrate.

He was not feeling too well last week and was pretty clingy. On Friday, I was doing what I refer to as "research" for my Maybe Baby blog. That meant watching John and Yoko on the Dick Cavett show from September 1971. My son came in and sat on my lap, putting his head on my chest. Now remember, he's almost 19, about 5'10", 220 lbs (at least). Not the usual kid on lap scene.

"What are you doing now?" I asked.

"Hanging out with you," he answered, quite literally.

He proceeded to lie down on the couch and cover himself with a blanket. Then, he explained to me how being sick felt.

"Yesterday, I had a Freaky Friday day. I was like a little kid in a big kid's body." A very nice example of what it's like to not feel like yourself.

"Is this The Dick Ca-vett show?" he asked, emphasis on the wrong syllable.

"Ca-vett, I corrected."

"Ca-vett," he repeated.

He watched with me, not particularly interested, nodding off now and then.

"Are you skipping parts?"

"No, they're bleeping out John saying 'shit'."

He let out a huge laugh. He loves rude words.

The next episode began. A few more segments with John and Yoko, then Stan Freberg. My son watched the opening credits - he loves credits - and then told me that Stan Freberg did some Looney Tunes voices. Of course he's right. He is encyclopedic on cartoons. A conversation ensued around his knowledge base.

It was a wonderful time with my "baby" who, though now a man, stills brings out those sweet feelings of when he was a little kid.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This Week's Music and Movies

Wilco, like only Bruce Springsteen, is in a groove. What those two powerhouses share is an ability to create brand new albums that are instantly knowable. Not sure how they pull it off, but with Wilco (the album), Jeff Tweedy and the gang have created a canon of songs that sound like old friends. There's a familiarity to the tunes that makes you feel you've heard them before, but not in a hackneyed way. It's the effortless pop hooks that grab you, and Tweedy's inscrutable lyrics give the tracks a unique blend of artiness and bubblegum. The duet with Feist is a marvel. Her voice is sure to knock you out. And there are a couple of nods to George Harrison - a stolen guitar riff here, a classic Harrison sound there.

I writing the Maybe Baby (or, You Know That It Would Be Untrue) series (it's over on the right under Daily Reading List), I have been immersed in rock, musically and literarily. I never knew much about The Pretty Things past the fact that Dick Taylor had started out with The Stones. I also was only a little familiar with The Small Faces, owning, as everyone should, a copy of Ogden's Nut Gone Flake. But I got to thinking I needed to get some more of both band's material and, binge buyer that I am, looked for lots on eBay. And, in a sign that would make anyone a believer in a higher power, there it was, an 11 lot of Small Faces and Pretty Things CDs. Un-friggin-believable. I won the auction, there was no other possible outcome, and, I have to say, The Pretties can hold their own against virtually all '60's legends, barring The Beatles and Dylan. Emotions, a highly produced entry from 1967 which the band didn't care for, is one of the best records in a year of legendary output (Sgt. Pepper, The Doors, Are You Experienced? et. al.).

The worst movie/venue combo in my life was seeing Apocalypse Now at a drive-in. Not only is it a tough movie to understand, and Brando's diction wouldn't get him to finishing school graduation, but hearing on a slotted toaster hanging on the driver's side window was impossible. As ridiculous as watching Lawrence of Arabia on an iPod. When Apocalypse Now Redux was released in the summer of 2001, I saw it on one of the only remaining huge screens in Chicago. A miracle to behold, unforgettable. As a matter of fact, I saw Lawrence at that same theater on its re-release in the late '80's. I bring this up because, as the kids go through movies they MUST see, we are on the verge of watching ANR at home. But with a huge screen and great sound system, it should still blow away the drive in experience.

One of my favorite movie genres is "dirty New York of the late '60's and '70's. That's my NYC, not the clean, Disneyish look of today. They Might Be Giants, with George C. Scott as a loony who thinks he's Sherlock Holmes is one of the best of the category. What a shit hole New York was. Taxi Driver, of course, and Midnight Cowboy. Also, Where's Poppa? And The French Connection.

We watched The French Connection a couple of nights ago. It had been a long time since I saw it, and it plays wonderfully against type. It seems like a standard cop drama, but Gene Hackman as "Popeye" Doyle is a terrible cop. You get glimpses of it during the film - some bad act in the past that involved the death of a cop, terrible surveillance work that has him made for the get-go, an obsession that borders on the insane. Plus, Roy Schieder as Doyle's partner can't help but cracking up hearing Hackman's nonsensical banter. Worth another look.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Unpublished excerpt from "When Baseball Met Hollywood"

Two years ago I worked on a proposed book on the marriage of West Coast baseball and Hollywood. Whether this work will ever see the light of day via the regular publishing process is a mystery. But why let it sit forlornly on my computer. I will run pieces sporadically. Enjoy!

The Bar Sinister

Two famed reporters. Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill, were having dinner one night. While kidding around, they came up with an intriguing idea - the two of them should work together on an article entitled “The Ten Worst Human Beings Who Ever Lived.” An interesting thought, and Newfield suggested that each write down their top three. Let Newfield explain the results. “Each of us wrote down the same three names and the same order: Hitler, Stalin, Walter O’Malley.” It comes as no surprise, then, that Walter O’Malley would fit perfectly in a Branded episode entitled “The Bar Sinister.”

Bullets blazing on the main drag result in our hero, Jason McCord, receiving a gunshot injury. Who should appear to bandage McCord’s damaged right arm, but the man who cut out the hearts of the Brooklyn faithful, Walter O’Malley. (The end credits humorously say “Introducing Walter O’Malley,” as if he is a young star on the rise.) Walter seems like a lovable old country doctor, a giant cheroot dangling from his lips. Until he opens his mouth and then he can’t hide his venomous nature.

As McCord, who killed the man in the opening scene in self-defense, explains that he does not intend to stick around the premises very long, O’Malley lashes out. “Take it easy. I told you this was a bad wound. You almost severed a tendon. I don’t want you to use this for at least two weeks!” he spits. It’s delightful bedside manner, the same care for an injured man that O’Malley showed when Dodger management gave legendary right fielder Carl Furillo his unconditional release while he was suffering from a calf injury (which violated his contract and resulted in a lawsuit).

The Mayor of Sandy Creek is seen seizing his cousin’s son, Jimmy Whitlaw, ripping him from the “squaw” Neela, who has always taken care of the boy. The white couple is outraged that this housekeeper, who they want shipped to the reservation, is the person Jimmy actually prefers. Neela is shocked at McCord’s decency when he insists she sit in the front of the coach with him. McCord tells Neela that Sam Whitlow, Mayor Reymer’s cousin, died a very rich man, richer than he imagined and that his property is vast. The Mayor knows this and wants Jimmy for that reason. If he is guardian, then he’ll get the property. Jimmy knows where he belongs. “This is my home,” he tells the Mayor, and that is where he wants to stay.

“The Bar Sinister” serves as a great parable of the Brooklyn Dodgers story. O’Malley, read the Mayor, is willing to rip the beloved boy, read Dodgers, from its rightful guardian, in this case Neela, in the Dodgers’ case the borough of Brooklyn. Why? To acquire land and riches, alluding to Chavez Ravine and the land around it that Los Angeles willingly gave to entice O’Malley to sunny California. Clear parallels. Perhaps by design, perhaps by accident, but enough to make the casting of Walter O’Malley a perfect fit in this story.

Jimmy begins to turn on Neela. She thinks that he is ashamed of her. It hurts her, more than any one would know, until she reveals that she is Jimmy’s mother. It’s the same way the glamorous Los Angeles Dodgers would always look back on their maternal borough with a mix of love and embarrassment. Jimmy doesn’t know this, about Neela (or the Dodgers). Whitlaw and Neela arranged it so that Jimmy would think his mother had died. Neela has proof of her parentage. The kids call Jimmy names, like “papoose.” At least they don’t call him a “bum,” as they did the Dodgers in Brooklyn. Much anti-Indian sentiment ensues, and when McCord shows the townspeople that Mayor Reymer’s reasons are venal, things heat up. Jimmy does the right thing and sticks up for his mom.

In the perfect world of television, Neela, the rightful “owner” of Jimmy, gets to keep him and the land at the episode’s end. In real life, Brooklyn lost their team, their beloved Dodgers. Those Brooklynites were unable to stop their family from being seized by their own Mayor figure, O’Malley. It’s only more of an insult that earlier in the day that this show was broadcast, Game 4 of the 1965 World Series, a complete game masterpiece tossed by Don Drysdale at Dodger Stadium, pulled the Dodgers into a 2-2 tie with the Minnesota Twins. On their way to their third World Series Championship in southern California, the Dodgers were settling nicely into their new home, life in Brooklyn receding that much further into the past.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Music Mavens, I Need You!

A couple of things have been occupying large chunks of my brain lately and the only way to stop dwelling on them is to air them out publicly. The first is a matter of fact, the second of opinion (although, like all of you likely to comment, I have pretty strong feelings and, since it's my blog, my opinion will serve as fact. Don't like it, get your own blog.)

First, The Small Faces. Steve Marriott quit the band and the remaining members, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLaglen and Kenney Jones, recruited Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood. For their first album, First Step, they remained The Small Faces, but soon grew, dropping the "small" and remaining The Faces. Substantially the same group, they changed their entire musical style.

Now, how often has this happened? I can't really come up with many and I need all of your musical knowledge to help. The best I could come up with is Fun Boy Three springing from the ashes of The Specials. Go to it!

Second, the baseball fans among you know the fun we have with stats. One of my faves is "Decade Leaders." You get some funny names when you arbitrarily set the goal posts. For example, the hit leader for the 1990's is _____ (I'll wait a second...waiting...waiting....waiting) ___ Mark Grace with 1754. By no means the best hitter of the decade, as anyone who, like myself, attended hundreds of Cubs games in that decade can attest, he fits the criteria of 1990-1999.

I was thinking of how many rock stars were producing at a high level for an entire decade as defined above. Here's my list so far:

Bowie - 1970's
The Who - 1970's
Springsteen - 1980's and 2000's
U2 - 1980's
Dylan - 2000's

That's it so far. Don't tell me Dylan in the 1960's (he started recording in 1962), and don't tell me Zep until you go listen to In Through the Out Door again.

There you go, from my obsessing brain to yours. Have fun!

Monday, July 6, 2009


Like Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut's book, I have become unstuck in political time, bouncing back and forth from 2009 to 1788. Never one to look at the past as any kind of "glory days," that approach is a much tougher row to hoe in terms of political thought.

Having just written about Palin, let me say a few words, not in any groundbreaking way, about a few of our Founding Fathers. I'm reading The Federalist Papers in toto and the depth of Hamilton, Jay and Madison's political thought is, as always, shockingly rational, logical and consciously aware of the merits of both sides of the Constitutional argument. Not to mention visionary in a way that would make Nostradamus jealous.

Palin's windswept presser, with every gust sounding like a great sigh in the microphone, was a lesson in idiocy and poor thinking, not a trace of preparedness involved. It showed, and anyone pretending that that was a well-laid out argument for anything but the need for better education in the USA and the necessity for drugs like Ritalin, is too deeply in the tank to warrant any discussion.

The writers of The Federalist Papers were the great thinkers of the day and VALUED as such. Oh, what an age, when intellectual power and serious thought were praised, not vilified. In a day where Keith Olbermann and Sean Hannity are seen as intelligent commentators on their respective sides, we are truly screwed. And the pundits who invade our space every day in between Michael Jackson reports, are almost entirely devoid of substance. Sure, some peek through now and then - Zbigniew Brzezinski, occasionally, Pat Buchanan, often - and like them or not they have some brainpower.

And where are the great minds in public service, who are not in the tank for Goldman Sachs, or the NRA, or the health care industry, or (name your own powerful special interest that doesn't care about the general welfare of the nation)?

I'll never give up my iPod, 52" Samsung TV and this computer I'm blogging from, but it would be lovely to head back, if only for a few minutes, to a time, when smart men made smart decisions for all the people, not only the people who had just bought them tickets to last night's cricket match, after supping at a posh local ale house.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Trip to Upside-down Land

I forget when I first heard the insight that the modern Republicans always take what they do and pin it on the Democrats. When the Rove/Limbaugh machine looks at the history of the GOP, and see a party that has always stood against Civil Rights, they, of course, cite the obvious fact that it is the Democrats who are racist. As the Bushies take from the poor and give to the rich, of course, it is the Democrats who have it in for the little guy. And so on.

Which gets us to Sarah Palin. Only in the black is white, up is down world of today's GOP, can a Governor lead by quitting. Palin's sports analogy, (inartfully delivered in the same style as her failed ESPN audition of years back), that she's a point guard passing the ball off, is wildly off the mark. This is not a passing to a teammate - this is a 5'10" guard seeing that the defense is made up of five Shaqs and, realizing the futility of the effort, walks off the court. Don't think John Stockton on this. Think Scottie Pippen, begging out of a 1994 playoff game v. the Knicks when the coaches wanted Toni Kukoc to take the end of the game shot.

As to the rest of Palin's press conference/speech, it is required viewing. A rambling, incoherent mess of catchphrases and repetitive drivel, it should, in a just world, be the death knell for her political career. Sure, Nixon came back from his "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore" speech to the press, but say what you will about the only President to resign, the man had intellectual heft.

Perhaps Palin will, to take another page from the sports book, pull a Bill Parcells or Phil Jackson and head to a broadcasting gig until something better comes along. A Fox News show is surely at the top of likely possibilities. It seems to me though that Newt Gingrich has this path already laid out. Regardless that Newt is a hypocritical, reactionary blowhard, he does speak clearly and elucidate his opinions well. Palin couldn't handle that kind of competition.

Perhaps she can make a pass to Sean Hannity, like any good point guard would.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Nose By Any Other Name...

Our celebrity obsessed culture is a poor reflection on us all. The idea that we somehow "know" the famous and they've "touched" us is taken too far with 24-hour cable news coverage and the strange outpourings of so-called grief, when the regular folk appear at, say, Neverland Ranch, hoping for a glimpse of MJ's dead carcass.

Real talent is often given short shrift if not accompanied with bizarre behavior or a shred of a scintillating story line. I won't argue Michael's talent, although the tally of how many will remember him as a musical genius v. those who will recall him as Freak #1 has yet to be counted. Farrah, well, I certainly have my fondness for her, but, come on, what was she really, but an average actor who, nipples protruding, burst into the American consciousness in one of the worst television shows this side of My Mother the Car. Ed McMahon was a buffoon clad in catchphrases hammered into our brains night after night for four decades.

Lost in all of this hubbub is the loss of Karl Malden. Malden, whose most prominent feature was a schnozz that looked like a cauliflower had been glued to its end, had enough fame via his American Express commercials that Johnny Carson lampooned him, fake beak and all, during the '70's. No doubt, Big Ed was apoplectic on the sidelines.

Forgotten is how truly excellent Malden was. Truly. In On the Waterfront, Malden burns as Father Barry, seeking justice for dockworkers. One scene in particular, when the Padre speaks to the men while standing in the ship's hole next to the crushed body of "Kayo" Dugan, shines. Malden is in mid-harangue when he's hit by a bottle. He seems genuinely surprised and turns his anger up a notch. Brilliant.

With Brando, again, Malden is wonderfully affecting as the oafish Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire. It's not enough that Marlon's Stanley is always on Mitch's case, but in his one attempt at love, Malden is both goofily sweet when Blanche seems to love him, then puzzled, hurt and near-violent when he finds out she's a tramp from way back.
There's so much more. Malden's portrayal of Omar Bradley in Patton is lost in George C. Scott's bravura performance in the lead, but is no less solid. In One-Eyed Jacks, Malden's traitorous and sadistic role as Dad Longworth dominates Brando's. While not top shelf, Jacks has been unfairly relegated to the bottom level. It's much better than that and worth your time.

Then there's The Streets of San Francisco, Fear Strikes Out, The Cincinnati Kid, Baby Doll... A true giant, a great loss and, while unworthy (in a good way) of cable news frenzy, the life of Karl Malden should not be passed over so lightly. He left his mark.