Thursday, December 27, 2007

How You Gonna Keep 'Em Down On The Farm?, Dept.

Your sobsister is, as you might know, fairly picky when it comes to, well, everything, but especially when it comes time to pick my entree from the great televisual menu that is cable television. One dish to which I regularly return is America's Heartland. Half-an-hour on your local PBS station profiling the men and women of this great land of ours who put meat-and-two-veg on our tables.

Host Paul Ryan begins each episode standing in front of a wholesome pastoral vista to introduce segments that teach us a little something about the American farmer and the way in which he or she is adapting to changing times while retaining the traditional love for the land and respect for the productive relationship between man and Nature. The segments are upbeat, the interviewers just the tiniest notch above the reporter at your local news station who can't quite be trusted with hard news and, so, has to specialize in human interest stories about kids reading to old folks. And as I watch these segments, I generally forget about dodgy GMOs and countless metric tons of livestock effluvia daily poisoning our water supply and the horrifying conditions in the factory farms and slaughterhouses and the ruthless practices of Big Agro which thinks that "natural resource management" means jerking puppet congressmen and -women into maintaining the profitable status quo irrespective of the national good, and I enjoy instead the tales of cheery family farms and plucky small-scale entrepreneurs regularly featured on the program. Sort of like watching a World War Two documentary that focuses on the increased efficiency of the Italian rail system.

As the theme song states,
"There's something that the people know
who make things live and make things grow,
deeper than the words of any sage,
that unless you've touched the earth,
planted seeds, or given birth,
the human heart can never come of age.

Which means male city folk like your sobsister are doomed to an arid hell of emotional immaturity. On the upside, however, I don't have to smell pig shit or flay half-conscious cows on a daily basis, so I'll just ask the song's composer, "America's #1 Selling Cowboy Music Singer" Michael Martin Murphey, to take his idiot romanticization of the agricultural sector of our economy and fling a wee flying fuck at a doughnut.

Yet I still watch the show. Maybe it's a suppressed longing on my part to enjoy the bucolic rhythms of farm life. Maybe it's the periodic sight of overweight men lavishing the sort of lustful looks normally reserved for Jessica Alba in a whipped-cream bikini on great metal leviathans of farm machinery. Maybe it's the fact that there's not much else scheduled in that time slot. But I do enjoy it. Honest. Even when they use the world "heartland" like they're earning commission on each mention. Talk about staking out enviable semantic ground. Who's going to take issue with anyone who hails from the heartland? Though, really, it should be the stomachland, given the destination of the ag sector's production. But "stomachland" sounds like an unpleasant amusement park and quite understandably is in disuse.

So, yeah, tune in. If you're in the mood to hear nothing but good news about the impact of increasing ethanol consumption on corn farming, this, my friend, will be your, pardon the pun, meat.
Mouse Droppings, Dept.

I'm in that kind of mood today.

So, here's America's Favorite Vermin™ performing "Minnie's Yoo Hoo", a sing-along favorite for all ages.

And here are the lyrics for you to peruse while the popcorn pops and the egg nog chills:

(Carl Stalling / Walt Disney)

I'm the guy they call little Mickey Mouse
Got a sweetie down in the chicken house
Neither fat nor skinny, she's the horse's whinny
She's my little Minnie Mouse

When it's feeding time for the animals
And they howl and growl like the cannibals
I just turn my heel, to the hen house steal
And you hear me sing this song:

Oh! the old tom cat with his meow meow meow
Old houn' dog with his bow wow wow
The crows caw caw, and the mule's hee haw
Gosh, what a racket like an old buzz saw

I have listened to the cuckoo "kuke" his cuckoo
And I've heard the rooster cock his doodle doo-oo
With the cows and the chickens, they all sound like the dickens
When I hear my little Minnie yoo hoo...

Oh, the Bluebird down in the cherry tree
And the busy buzz of the bumble bee
Evening bells a ringin', whippoorwills a singin'
Well they don't mean much to me

For my heart is down in the chicken house
Where I long to be with my Minnie Mouse
And I'll meet her there, 'mid that fragrance rare
Sing to her this melody:

Oh! the old tom cat with his meow meow meow
Old houn' dog with his bow wow wow
The crows caw caw, and the mule's hee haw
Gosh, what a racket like an old buzz saw

I have listened to the cuckoo "kuke" his cuckoo
And I've heard the rooster cock his doodle doo-oo
With the cows and the chickens, they all sound like the dickens
When I hear my little Minnie yoo hoo...

For the completists among you, here's the song as performed under the closing credits of The Mouse Factory, a '70s half-hour show featuring celebrity guests (Jo Anne Worley! John Astin! Ken Berry! Charles Nelson Reilly!) introducing vintage cartoon clips.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Radio Friendly Unit Shifters, Dept.

Madonna, John Mellencamp, Leonard Cohen Lead 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees : Rolling Stone

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (R&RHoF) announced their 2008 inductees on Wednesday. You may recall my dissection of the '07 Induction Ceremonies many months ago. Well, this is what you have to look forward to next spring:

John Mellencamp
Leonard Cohen
The Ventures
The Dave Clark Five

The nominees who did not make the cut were the Beastie Boys, Afrika Bambataa, Chic, and Donna Summer.

Before I add my little bit o' value to this news, a quick note. I read on the FOXNews site--hey, news is news, okay?--that there were reports surfacing last March that the Dave Clark Five had actually made the induction cut last year but Rolling Stone publisher, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation chairman, and superannuated weasel Jann Wenner had bumped them in favor of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five because "(they) couldn't go another year without a rap act." Wenner is characterized in this piece and elsewhere as a dictatorial thug who purged the Foundation board of everyone but yes-men now that he's free of the mediating influence of the late Ahmet Ertegun. The piece is worth a read, as it sounds to be sourced on the inside of Wenner's vanity fair. In a similar vein is this interesting article from the MTV website on the workings and composition of the nominating committee at the R&RHoF. And if you're wondering when the fuck your favorite band is going to be inducted, try Future Rock Hall, which does a very nice job of listing which acts have been overlooked and which acts are reaching their eligibility date, along with other data breakouts.

That all said, a few thoughts of my own on this crop of inductees and the R&RHoF in general. This year, as in previous years, one of the biggest questions left unanswered is: what constitutes "rock and roll"? According to the R&RHoF site, "The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors the legendary performers, producers, songwriters, disc jockeys and others who have made rock and roll the force that it is in our culture." Which is fine, but does nothing to define the breadth of the pool from which nominees are drawn. If previous inductees are any indication, it is a pretty expansive bit of property. Alongside the aforementioned Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, we see the O'Jays, Percy Sledge, Isaac Hayes, Earth, Wind & Fire, James Taylor, Bob Marley, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and most of Motown's roster. I'm not sure how elastic a definition of a genre can be before it loses any semblance of integrity, for none of the performers I mentioned ever worked in a genre or sub-genre that attached "-rock" as a suffix. They were soul or funk or rap or reggae or folk or gospel acts, period. Looking at this year's crop, Madonna and Leonard Cohen are not "rock" artists under any reasonable definition of the term. And, no, I don't think having a "rock'n'roll attitude" counts towards qualification.

So, should the name of the operation be changed to the "American Music Hall of Fame"? Well, no, given that there are any number of British Invasion and post-Invasion groups already inducted. How about the "Good Music Hall of Fame"? Well, that raises two problems. First, if you don't call it the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you don't have a hook on which to hang your museum and your induction extravaganza, irrespective of any convenient boundary-blurring you may do when no-one's looking. Once you remove the fig leaf of "rock and roll" from your project and let everybody in, what you gain in inclusiveness, you lose in distinctiveness. Wouldn't jazz, with its century-long history, swamp the boat? How about classical? Or country? The second problem is much more difficult to address and that is the why, how, and wherefore of the R&RHoF's nomination criteria. I'll just toss out a few names. Genesis. Roxy Music. Jethro Tull. Deep Purple. T. Rex. Yes. The Stooges. Captain Beefheart. Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Okay? Now, are you going to tell me that John Mellencamp should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ahead of even one of these acts? He's certainly had a creditable career, a number of Top 40 hits and albums. He's shown his heart to be in the right place with his work on Farm Aid and Vote for Change. He followed his folk-blues muse even when sales flagged. But can anyone say that, from the standpoint of originality, popularity, or influence, he should be inducted before Genesis or Roxy Music or Captain Beefheart or Yes?

And that's where the thing breaks down. Because of the museum and foundation and other trappings of officialdom, selection for induction into the R&RHoF is seen as an official imprimatur of excellence by a Great and Knowledgeable Establishment of Unimpeachable Taste and Objective Insight, an honor comparable to selection for Cooperstown, with all the requisite statistical and empirical data to support each nomination. But it isn't. Not at all. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame selection committee is a bunch of old music critics angling to get their favorites chosen for, and their enemies excluded from, a museum of pretend prestige. Otherwise there is absolutely no way to justify the induction of Percy Sledge with absolutely no ties to "rock" of any sort and only one single ever to make the Top 10. Someone--and here, I'm looking at you, Dave Marsh--had a hard-on to get him included and he succeeded. A similar story is told in the linked MTV article about one board member's persistence in getting ZZ Top inducted. There is no great scheme of things, no overarching mandate of aesthetic fidelity. There is no litmus test to separate dyed-in-the-wool rock'n'rollers from genre poseurs. There is no benchmark of quality or originality or influence against which to measure candidates. It's basically "people who might've appeared in Rolling Stone who could draw an audience to the induction ceremony."

Which makes the passion and vehemence of the arguments online in message boards and comments fields a bit sad. Because these people arguing and pleading and praying for the induction of KISS and Linda Ronstadt and Yes actually feel like their favorite artists are being dissed or ignored by the Great Validating Body of Music. When, in fact, the truth of the matter is that there's no-one behind the curtain but some wizened little men with bad haircuts, narrow viewpoints, and long grudges. And the whole affair signifies nothing more than the triumph of venality and pettiness over quality and integrity. In short, a microcosm of the music business which, as we all know, has nothing to do with music and everything to do with business.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Soundtwrecks, Dept.

'Dja ever have it when you ask what's for dinner and you're told whatever and you're really not that excited by it but you think, well, maybe it'll taste better when I'm sitting down at the table all hungry, but dinnertime comes and you're sitting at the table and you're certainly hungry and you get served whatever and it's even less appetizing than when you first imagined having it? 'Dja ever have that?

Because that was your sobsister's experience watching the telecast of Movies Rock Friday night. (You may recall that I described its promotional magazine a while back.) To describe it act-by-act is to relive the disappointment of even diminished expectations, but for you I'll do it.

We begin with a clip from the last few moments of The Wizard of Oz. We're back in Sepia, Kansas, and Dorothy is declaring a future of resolute agoraphobia for herself, ostensibly due to her love for her family and friends but likely due to the trauma of having had her ass pinched purple by midgets. Why are we seeing this clip? Well, because Movies Rock and because we're opening the show with...

Beyoncé! The top half of her dress is cut in a way that looks like she's wearing a halter top under the sort of weight girdle seen at loading docks everywhere, while the bottom half flares out violently in a mustard skirt that reaches to the floor then crumples. She looks like a centerpiece at a cut-rate wedding. And she will treat us to her rendition of "Over the Rainbow." She takes the first verse straight, but then the piano gets churchy and we're off to another running of the Melisma Sweepstakes. Why sing one boring old note when you can sing fifteen? And why bother learning the song when you can just fuck up the lyrics at will, as she does in verse three? Beyoncé is Bigger than melody and Bigger than lyrics. The crowd interrupts her overwrought-yet-limp reading of this song not with rotting fruit and drained beer cans as one might hope but with worshipful applause. Then, after having gotten all fonky with the melody, she finishes the song with a traditional, i.e., s-l-o-w, showy, and empty, flourish. She could've been singing "Macarena" for the lack of emotional specificity she displays. Just another opportunity to take her tonsils for a stroll and "act" like a not-overly-talented fifth-grader overselling "Tomorrow". Hard to convey just how vigorously Beyoncé sucks. You have to see and hear this vapid construct to appreciate the Abyss of Obviousness in which she dwells. And that you can do here. The audience, it should go without saying, bestows upon her a standing O. Just 'cause.

Jennifer Lopez comes out looking like she's smuggling the defensive line of the Philadelphia Eagles into the theater under her muu-muu. She's quite preg. And will--thank you, Jesus!--not be singing to-night but will, instead, tell us that "tonight, many of our most magical artists, musical Wizards of Oz, have gathered here to celebrate the most powerful combination in the world..." Heroin and cocaine? Shock and awe? Mary-Kate and Ashley? "...movies and music." Oh. Was this script written after the Writers' Strike commenced? 'Cause the night's introductory remarks all sound like they were written by cocker spaniels. And not clever ones either.

Cue titles.

And we're back with Cuba Gooding, Jr., still eating out on Jerry Maguire. He opens with a crap Bogart impression then launches into a mind-numbingly horrible intro that cites snippets of Casablanca's famous lines in a cut'n'paste, cutesy-wootsie style that makes glitter GIFs look dignified and sophisticated. All by way of introducing "As Time Goes By" as sung by John Legend and Mary J. Blige.

A set rolls out, presumably meant to evoke Rick's Café Americain or maybe a strip-mall kebab joint. Legend is tickling the ivories for a nearby couple. He croons the first verse in an odd oleaginous style, writhing his neck as if a small lizard were descending his spinal column. Then the drums get funky, Mary J. emerges, and we see the pattern for the evening: movie standards will be "reinterpreted" by being wrung through the funky-smooth-jazz mangle. His voice is sludgy, hers flinty. They are mismatched as a duo, the melody is ill-suited to the arrangement, their reading reveals nothing new about the song, the drive-time sax solo does nothing for my mood, and enough with the fucking melismatics already. I'm starting to think that these singers were given the sheet music and no context the day before. Because I am not sensing this is a song Mary J. has ever sung or ever wanted to sing. Ever.

Billy Bob Thornton then comes out in an outfit that looks like three blind grabs into the bargain pile at the thrift shop. He's introducing Elvis Presley in clips from Jailhouse Rock. And here the producers make a critical mistake. Whereas Beyoncé's performance of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"was not forced to follow Judy Garland's, some poor schlub is going to have to follow Elvis' iconic performance of "Jailhouse Rock". And that poor schlub is...

Chris Brown! Yes, my reaction exactly. Not much of a singer. More of a shouter, really. Okay dancer given Elvis moves to ape. Not helped by the "updating" of the song's driving beat into a--yes, again--"funky" groove on the chorus. It sounds like the band is composed of a bass player and a dude with a Casio organ set on "rock'n'roll" rhythm. The production is limp and boring, including the explosions triggered periodically to wake the audience, all very painful to endure, particularly since staging a number involving black inmates, including children, being beaten by a black guard might be considered a tad insensitive given the high rate of incarceration among young black males in this country. The number ends with metal bars descending in front of poor Chris who at that point would have to be found guilty of wanting to kill his agent.

A clip from West Side Story's "America" number plays Rita Moreno onstage. She tells a cute story about George Chakiris' sloping shoulders and how that messed up their performance while shooting the film, and, for a few minutes, we are treated to how this show might've been structured: film stars share anecdotes about the making-of and clued-in performers interpret classic numbers in interesting and non-crap ways. I'm sure it made for great viewing on Earth 2. Here on Earth 1, however, we get to hear...

Jennifer Hudson sing "Somewhere"! Hudson has a good, strong voice. Unfortunately, as was the case in her Dreamgirls' numbers, she is generally made to sing numbers that become unnecessarily HUGE and SHOUTY by the end. Following a soft Spanish guitar intro, she starts off controlled and quiet. Within a verse, however, she is being heard, unaided, as far north as Whitehorse, Yukon. Like the sentiment of the song could not possibly be conveyed by just singing the melody and enunciating the lyrics. Like blasting the audience through the back wall is the only way to express power and feeling. There is a story which my uncertain memory wants to cite from the film El Cid, wherein the Spaniard prepares to face the champion of the Moors in single combat. El Cid impressively cleaves a tree trunk in twain with one blow from his great sword. The Moor, in turn, floats a sheer veil down onto the blade of his scimitar. The veil is noiselessly sliced in two. That's power. Jennifer Hudson's caterwauling is not power and it's not entertaining but it signifies "good singing" to the audience which responds with a standing O. Remember when standing ovations were reserved for events like Charlie Chaplin appearing at the Oscars after twenty years in exile abroad? Yeah, me neither.

Emmy Rossum (who?) and Molly Sims (no, really, who??) come out to introduce "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" as sung by...

Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls! And hers is actually one of the best numbers of the night. Not pretending to be much more than it is. She's got personality, sex appeal, a sense of humor, and a decent voice. The staging is cute and I don't feel insulted by the experience. Two thumbs up!

Remember Kate Hudson who was going to be Big six crap romcoms ago? Well, here she is to introduce the results of the "people's" voting for "Flix That Rock" via Verizon Wireless, yada yada, I don't give a fuck either, free ad for Verizon, something something, short clip from Footloose.
There is an inverse relationship between the number of times people vote nowadays and the significance of their election.
As if--thank you, American Idol--the tastes of the hoi polloi suddenly merited consideration.
A consideration that, at standard texting rates, Verizon will fight to the death to support.

Hey, Charlize Theron! And she's introducing a Sound of Music number. It's the title track sung by...

Carrie Underwood! Tastefully dressed, she presents the song in a dignified and delicate way. Very dignified and delicate. So dignified and delicate it sounds muted. This was never a headbanger but at least Julie Andrews made the sound of music sound like something desirable, not a regrettable consequence of illness. Underwood is often like the kid whose penmanship is perfect but who has nothing to say. The anti-Billie Holiday. I will, however, give her credit for singing the melody as written and for underplaying, if a bit too much. One thumb up.

Then we are shown what is presumably the show's centerpiece and one of the evening's odder features: in a filmed segment, Usher recreates, more or less, Gene Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain" number in its entirety. On a full set with rain and soaked pedestrians. Why?, you may reasonably ask. Umm...the best I can guess is that Kelly's choreography is being treated as part of the dance repertoire in the same way that Balanchine's or Martha Graham's would be, with the qualification that Kelly's routine is much more familiar to general audiences. Usher does a creditable job of recreating Kelly's steps, although not his spirit, and the performance has curiosity value. It's just not very interesting. At the end of the film segment, he then appears, live, before the audience and executes a neat tap sequence down a staircase. Usher is a stylish dancer. He could've fashioned his own "Singing in the Rain" tribute without resorting to an unflattering recreation of an irreproducible original.

Josh Duhamel (why?) introduces a performance of "Mrs. Robinson" by...

Marc Anthony! Accompanied by one conguero and three acoustic guitarists including longtime LA stalwart Waddy Wachtel, he knocks out a sweet cover. The man looks like he could use a sandwich or two but it's got some fire and it's personalized while still faithful to the original. Two thumbs up.

Danny DeVito emerges to do some shtick on James Bond movies and to introduce "Live and Let Die" as sung by...

Fergie! She's encased in leather Saran Wrap, as are the eight backup dancers. She starts singing and immediately one knows that she grew up on the G'n"R "Live and Let Die" and not Sir Paul's. A few notes:
1) Fergie does not have much of a voice.
2) Fortunately, "Live and Let Die" does not have much in the way of lyrics.
3) As a consequence, Fergie has to spend most of the song twirling and pointing her finger like a gun.
4) Despite the relative simplicity of the song, Fergie manages to fuck up her delivery of the money phrase "live and let die" every single fucking time, coming in a beat behind the backup singers and the band.
5) This is annoying.
6) As is the sight of what appear to be the reconstituted Solid Gold Dancers pantomiming the song for its duration, accompanied by explosions and bright lights presumably employed to distract us from the fact that there isn't much happening onstage.
7) Besides Fergie punching one fist in the air and threatening the audience with the glittery gun attached to her mike stand.
8) At song's end, while the dancers caper, she is hoisted off the stage on a line by one arm, swinging back and forth while whooping into her mike, then spun in place as she is raised and lowered.
9) Yes, it was just that bad.
10) The audience, of course, rewards her with a standing O.

Carrie Underwood pulling double duty because she's just that lovable introduces a Disney song montage which segues into...

Elton John! And he's singing "Can You Feel The Love Tonight?" while playing a red piano which not-very-subtly points to his long-running Vegas show entitled, well, you know, "The Red Piano." His performance alone is apparently deemed insufficiently compelling because an enormous screen behind him features clips from The Lion King.

Jenna Fischer and John C. Reilly unfunnily flog their upcoming movie introduce a montage of "funniest musical moments from our favorite music movies."

Apropos of nothing and reminded by the appearance of not one but two Will Ferrell clips in the preceding montage, I watched the first forty-five minutes of the Bewitched film a few days back. God damn, Nora Ephron could kill Indiana Jones Meets Spider-Man at Shrek's House.

So, we're back with Shirley MacLaine who does another "Hollywood vet tells insider story" bit. Me, I could do without the self-deprecating "ha ha, I believe in woo-woo New Age nonsense!" jokes. I was struck, however, by how much she now looks like Christina Applegate aged forty years and wonder if that was a criterion to cast the latter in the Broadway revival of Sweet Charity. At any rate, Shirl talks about Sweet Charity and the song "Hey Big Spender" by way of introducing...

Queen Latifah! As I try to keep the gorge from rising in my gullet, I'll pose the following question: at what point did mediocrity become the new excellence? More specifically, why would a woman who can neither dance nor sing be asked to sing a songbook standard originally staged and choreographed by Bob Fosse? Anyone? Little help? I see twenty women on the Metro daily who look like Queen Latifah and who, sound unheard, I can guarantee would sell this song better than she does. She has no breath control, her voice is thin, she can't move worth a damn...I want her agent. I want her agent to represent me. She has the Olympian God of Agents working for her. Her ubiquity is otherwise inexplicable. There are a thousand women singing in choirs, showers, and karaoke bars in Choc City alone who could humble this poseur with two well-placed notes. The inequity of the celebrity system has never been more apparent.

Hey, Harrison Ford! Long blah-blah even he seems bored by. He introduces John Williams who conducts a medley of movie themes. JW gets a standing O just for walking out. The sequence is nothing you haven't heard or seen a million times before. He gets a second O for finishing. Okay, I want Queen Latifah's agent and this audience. I could kill with my story about how leeches can look like wet leaves on your legs when you're not wearing glasses.

Quentin Tarantino is up and he reads the heck out of his teleprompter language regarding Shaft and its theme song. He then introduces...! LL Cool J! Busta Rhymes! Eve! Okay, makes his Pea-mate Fergie sound like Renée Fleming channeling Ella Fitzgerald. He has no voice. Zero voice. What he does manage to squeak out is in an off-key, reedy alto which, let's see...given that he's trying to recreate the rich'n'creamy rumble of Isaac Hayes sounds like...anyone? Correct: shit. Out comes Busta who sprays the stage with his trademark ragga rap. Back comes looking most like Chris Rock's little brother in a fright wig. Out comes LL with some canned material. He gives it a typically muscular reading. Back comes, having shed his faux-'fro. America wonders whatever happened to Urkel. Out comes Eve. She has pawmarks tattooed? drawn? in her cleavage. That's different. She raps vigorously. The song ends.

Finally, Queen Latifah returns to the stage to introduce the closing number, "White Christmas", as sung by...

Tony Bennett! Standing O for Mr. Benedetto. He tries to reintroduce the notion of singing the melody the composer wrote with a quiet reading of "White Christmas" but is beaten down by a mob wearing Mariah Carey masks.

And, with that, J. Lo closes the show, as "White Christmas", from the 1954 film of the same name, screens behind the orchestra.

What can your sobsister add by way of conclusion to all this description?

Not much. As noted at the outset, the program was a disappointment of even my drastically-reduced expectations. For all the hoopla and ballyhoo, it was tossed off without much thought, just like most of the performances. To illustrate, let's look briefly at what, for me, is the most egregious of the available examples: Beyoncé's affectless reading of "Over the Rainbow" (and take a minute to compare it to Judy Garland's and Eva Cassidy's versions of the song). Singing a song that defines wistfulness and longing, Beyoncé is all pose and hair and clothes and tired performance tricks and extreme self-consciousness about being Beyoncé Singing A Song. She does not sing the lyrics to this song. She mouths words that serve as pretexts for her trilling. I've watched her performance several times and never cease to be repelled by the inappropriate or feigned emotions she flashes and by the way, at song's end, that she assumes the expression of a child who has recited its lesson without mistakes. She signifies emotion without feeling it and is not only not penalized for it, she is rewarded for her meretricious display. Could Beyoncé sing "better", that is to say, in a way that connects in a present and genuine way with the lyrics and their message? I don't know if she would care to make the effort to do so. But I would love to see her sing this song at a Barbara Cook master class.

Thus, what I dislike so very much about that one performance can be extended to cover the show in general. The conceit--old songs sung by new singers--is so generic as to not qualify as a conceit at all, which is not inherently negative but, instead, opens the door to any number of staging and casting possibilities. Unfortunately, the producers chose the most obvious and shopworn of the possibilities as their frame. They chose not the performers who might be the most interesting or the most adroit at singing these songs but, instead, currently- or recently-popular singers who might appeal to CBS' target demographics. I will not pretend to be shocked! shocked! that there is a commercial motive behind each and every program presented on television. That said, I never cease to be disappointed at the narrowness and meanness of the vision exhibited by network programmers and producers. Possibly because I have not worked in Hollywood.

At any rate, there you have it. You did not miss a thing by not watching except the opportunity to jeer and hoot in disbelief at the clothing, hair, and performance choices made by Some of Your Favorite Stars™. Here's looking forward to Movies Rock 2008.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Math Is Hard!, Dept.

The Raw Story | White House press secretary admits she didn't know what Cuban Missile Crisis was

Now, this is the sort of Internet pile-on of which your sobsister heartily disapproves.

Dana Perino, the peroxided press secretary for the White House, admitted on radio this weekend that she didn't know what the Cuban Missile Crisis was. Faster than you can say "Ann Coulter", bloggers and commentators and other online rabble were holding her up for public scorn and ridicule as an ignorant cow who would better serve the public as a speed bump.

To them I say: pray, desist! While one might hope that the spokesperson for the most powerful office in the Western Hemisphere, if not the world, would possess at a minimum the knowledge corresponding to that ensured by a fairly-earned equivalency certificate, it simply is not necessary for the successful completion of her sole job requirement: looking icy blonde while she punts any and all questions that would shed even a pinprick of light into the rank and tenebrous swamp that is the Bush Administration.

That Ms. Perino would be unaware of the specifics of the Cuban Missile Crisis can be attributable to her tender age. At 35, she is about ten years too young even to have been born at the time of that historic event. As a consequence, she cannot be expected to have any in-depth knowledge about its origins, development, or consequences.

Ms. Perino, in subsequent interviews, has also revealed that she does not know who is buried in Grant's Tomb, which is bigger: the moon or a MoonPie, where babies come from, how they can milk a cow into those tiny little cartons, where everyone goes when you sneeze, and why it's a bad idea to poke oneself in the eye with a stick.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Art Is Where You Find It, Dept.

YouTube - Un chien ruine la vid�o d'une petite fille

To date, I've not seen a more brilliant allegory for the Internet than the linked YouTube video: a precociously-sexualized tween dances provocatively for no-one while a dog futilely humps a stuffed toy.

All it's missing is the skull in the foreground corner to remind us all of the transience of life.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Is "GOP Sex Predator" Redundant?, Dept.

Orange County Weekly - Oh, Boy!

Orange County conservative activist and former aide to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Jeffrey Ray Nielsen admitted in court on December 5, after years of emphatic denials, that he'd sodomized a 12-year-old in Virginia and a 14-year-old boy in California, the former while working as a church youth counselor.

The date of the admission was itself ironic, given that it was the Eve of Saint Nicholas, celebrated in the Netherlands with the giving of gifts to children.

Let me just note that your sobsister was shocked and amazed to discover that there is currently no blog devoted to chronicling Republican man-man/man-boy sex scandals. Because that, friends and listeners, would be a full-time gig.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bless Me, Father, for I Am Something of a Shitwit, Dept.

Well, William Donohue is trying desperately to get back in the news. Who's that, you ask? He's the cassock-hugging gasbag who heads the "Catholic League" which, no, is not a band of superheroes who fight contraception and rationalism but, instead, a censorious little sewing-circle that purports to sniff offenses and outrages against the Holy Mother Church in every media mention of the pedophile-coddling organization.

If you've never had the pleasure of seeing and hearing William Donohue, you are immeasurably luckier than I. So, I'll just give you a li'l taste of the fellow. Donohue is like every fucking Irishman whose wide ass swamps a stool at any old-man's bar in midtown. A "Shamrock Inn" kind of joint where the steam table has been warming the same hunk of corned beef since 1975. And a wrinkled eight-by-ten glossy of JFK is reverently taped up by the register. He's the fat load who harangues his vacant barmates in a foghorn voice about the "coloreds" and the "fags" and don't get him started on those "women's lib types". The kind who, had he ever gotten married, would have settled his marital disagreements with the business end of a coal shovel. Donohue's heyday was the period surrounding the release of The Passion of the Christ when he could be found across the airwaves bloviating on the correctness of the film, its source material, and particularly its director. No-one has tossed Mel Gibson's salad more enthusiastically than William Donohue. Since then, he has tried to remain relevant despite sounding increasingly like Archie Bunker as Willy Loman. His delusions of grandeur and significance, however, lead him to present himself as the secular spokesman for, and defender of, Catholicism. And, let's face it, the beleaguered institution needs a douchebag like Donohue the way it needs a joint venture with NAMBLA.

So, Donohue is now up on the ramparts bellowing his opposition to the film version of The Golden Compass and calling for a boycott of a film he characterizes as atheistic and anti-Catholic. It should go without saying that he has not seen the film. In his spit-spewing opposition, he is leaning considerably forward of the church for which he shills. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' news service reviewed the film and found it to be "lavish, well-acted and fast-paced", "an exciting adventure story" in which "there's hardly a dull moment, and the effects are beautifully realized". The review's laudatory tone is admittedly influenced by the excision of explicit visual or textual references to the Catholic Church, but it recognizes that the original author's intent and execution may have been less charitable. In this regard, it takes the following stand, "Will seeing this film inspire teens to read the books, which many have found problematic? Rather than banning the movie or books, parents might instead take the opportunity to talk through any thorny philosophical issues with their teens."

A reasonable viewpoint. Surprisingly so. So, does the Defender of the Faith take his marching orders from the USCCB? Heck, no! Interviewed on FOX News, Donohue maintains that the film--which, again, he has not seen--is not only luring children and their clueless parents to its downplayed atheism and anti-Catholicism, but also whetting innocent children's appetite for the unbridled, full-blown Godlessness of the original novels. Not for Donohue the moderate approach and parental engagement advocated by the bishops. No, no. Moral absolutism, fueled by a promiscuous love of the spotlight and a searing desire to be more Catholic than Benny XVI, takes no prisoners. When even the FOX commentator conceded that the bishops' endorsement took the teeth out of any potential protest, you know that Donohue is out on a limb. But, hey, if you don't say stupidly outrageous things that are wholly out of step with common sense and reason, how are you gonna get your fat pan on the talk shows?

That said, Donohue has positioned himself well. Because if The Golden Compass does anything short of Shrek or Spider-Man opening weekend box office, he can claim that the shortfall is due to his righteous, principled crusade against the forces that would besmirch the name of the One True Church.

And the fat load at the end of the bar drowns out the Irish Rovers with his views on how the Jews control the world.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Marked and Somewhat-Tragic Inability to Locate One's Anus with Two Hands, a Flashlight, and a Bespoke Road Map of One's Fundament, Dept.

The Skeptical Camp Emerges on Irans Nuclear Ambitions - The Lede - Breaking News - New York Times Blog

Our nation's plucky right wing is apparently undaunted by the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that reports that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago in response to international pressure. In this, they are providing choral support for duplicitous under-achiever George "can I pet the rabbit?" Bush who stated today that the NIE doesn't refute the Chicken-Little-ish tone he's been taking on Iran; it supports it! Somehow. In his own words, "I have said Iran is dangerous and the N.I.E. doesn’t do anything to change my opinion about the danger Iran poses to the world — quite the contrary.” Quite the contrary, indeed. People characterize him as a gormless fucktard but I say to those nameless people that it takes a highly advanced intellect to take information that, to the less-cerebrally-endowed, would appear to shoot so many holes in one's position that, by comparison, Bonnie and Clyde seem like new sheets of printer paper fresh from the ream, and process it in a way that supports one's own worldview.

So, the last few vermin on the S.S. Chief Executive are now calling the NIE--crafted, incidentally, by those flaming liberals at CIA, DIA, NSA, and other jihad-loving havens--"policy advocacy masquerading as serious intelligence" and other charming things along those lines. Intelligence is such a slippery thing. Take that as you will. But wasn't it just a few short years ago that every manjack in the Bush Administration was trumpeting the significance of the intelligence on Iraq's WMDs as well as on its many supposed links to a global terrorist network? I believe it was. Luckily there was no "policy advocacy" in the interpretation of intelligence back then! Whew, that might've led to some sort of a politico-military disaster, huh?

My favorite quote in this regard comes from today's New York Times wherein unnamed "administration officials" expressed "skepticism about the conclusions reached in the new report, saying they doubted that American intelligence agencies had a firm grasp of the Iranian government's intentions." Yes, yes. These would be the same American intelligence agencies who gather the SIGINT and HUMINT, who analyze it in a context of years of personal and organizational experience, and who then summarize their findings in daily reports for officials like Georgie-Porge and his pack of jackals. These latter do not need no stinkin' intelligence, apparently preferring the much more incisive view of Iran's intentions available in the regular briefings they receive from Jesus.

As always, I pray for the existence of the sort of afterlife in which these people profess to believe, for there and only there will punishment fit to their crimes be meted out to them.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Every Question Tells a Story, Dept.

Honor Code - Frequently Asked Questions

From the FAQ page for the Honor Code at Brigham Young University, where their motto is: "If it feels good, eschew it!"

What is the process for obtaining a beard waiver?

A student who wishes to obtain a beard waiver must visit a BYU Student Health Center doctor by appointment (422.5156). The doctor will fax his recommendation. The student then needs to come to the Honor Code Office to fill out some paperwork and receive the letter allowing the growth of the beard, if approved. If a yearly beard waiver is granted, a new Student ID will be issued after the beard has been fully grown, and must be renewed every year by repeating the process.

Two widdel things:

1) I would sooner undergo a sex-change and move to Kabul than attend a school/live in a state/practice a religion wherein I have to get a fucking doctor's certification before I can grow a fucking beard.

2) I'm going to say that the beards most popular on the BYU campus are the ones that look like a girlfriend and sound like a girlfriend but they ain't really a girlfriend, capeesh?
Straight as a Boomerang, Dept.

More gay men describe sexual encounters with U.S. Sen. Craig | Eyepiece | Idaho Statesman

Alright, people, do you want to know just how kick-ass-hetero Senator Larry Craig is? He can make sweet, sweet manlove with multiple partners and still be as straight as the road between here and Perdition.

Four gay men, including Ted Haggard cock-merchant Mike Jones, have consented to have their names made public in connection with detailed allegations regarding their sexual encounters or flirtations with Der Über-Hetero. A fifth recounts his encounter under the cloak of anonymity.

It should go without saying that Senator Larry finds these claims infra dig.

The linked article from the Idaho Statesman provides spicy!spicy! details and audio of each man's testimony, and thus is essential reading and listening for these chilly December days.

Because your sobsister is so very nice to you, I've transcribed one of the audio segments: David Phillips' account of some alleged back-door shenanigans with Senator Larry. Sounds like the Senator doesn't go in for much in the way of post-coital cuddling:

He left the room for a moment and came back with condoms and some lotion or something to use as lubricant that he wanted for me to offer him anal sex, for me to receive him. And I did and he again commented, "Just remember, you don't know me." And it was getting really uncomfortable for me and the graphic detail about what occurred during the anal sex and that the mess that was created during the sex he was absolutely frantic about it and didn't want me going in the bathroom to clean myself up. He just wanted me to get my clothes back on and leave. And I had just never been treated that way by a man before. And he led me back down the stairs. Whereas going up to have sex he seemed halfway attentive, touching me, stroking my face, even though he was constantly telling me, "You don't know me. You haven't been here.", he was halfway attentive. After the sex, he just wanted to get me out of there.

What, no bus fare on top of the dresser? Sounds like Senator Larry might need to re-take Anonymous Quickie Fucks 101.

Only time will tell if any of these allegations is true. Until then, we can only marvel at the dignified restraint shown by the Senate's Leading Heterosexual™ in not lowering himself to rebut these very detailed allegations.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Bigger The Headache, The Bigger The Pill, Dept.

Roberts says God forced his resignation - Yahoo! News

The scene: the Judgment Seat
The time: a moment after Richard Roberts, former president of Oral Roberts University, draws his last breath

ROBERTS: Lord...I, I don't know to say. I didn't actually believe You existed...I mean, I acted like I did but that was just for show, you know, for the rubes. As a result, Lord, I cheated, I stole, I invoked your name in every sort of blasphemous lie. I exploited for personal gain the simple faith of the poor dumb hicks who actually thought I talked to You, Lord, and that You talked back and gave me legal advice and professional advice and spiritual advice. Lord, I treated you like a ventriloquist's dummy instead of the Almighty Deity of the Universe just to make a few sleazy bucks, just to drive a nicer car than anyone I knew, just so my wife could go on shopping sprees, just so I could revel in the power that came from belief by tens of thousands that I was a religious man with a connection to God Himself as deep and real as that of Moses and Abraham. My Lord, My God, can You find it in Your Infinite Kindness and Goodness to forgive a black-hearted sinner like me?

GOD: You're fucked, bitch.

As Gilbert & Sullivan wrote, "a paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox".

How is it that the ones who preach most loudly and most self-importantly that God exists act most obviously and most egregiously as if He, She, or It doesn't?

On second thought, that's no paradox at all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Woodman, Spare That Tree!...And The Hundreds Like It Necessary to Publish This Catalog of Inanities!, Dept.

I'm special. How do I know I'm special? Well, besides the fact that Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, I just got a bonus magazine with my latest home-delivery copy of Wired. Actually, we received two, count 'em, two copies chez sobsister because we subscribe to several Nasty Cunt...ahem, excuse me, Condé Nast publications. Parenthetically, I will not be offering our surplus copy on eBay--please keep the sighs of dismay to a roiling underscore--but, instead, will be double-bagging it and storing it in a climate-controlled room until it has achieved its true collector's-item valuation.

Now, what is the name of my special bonus magazine? Movies Rock. What does that mean, sobsister?, I would hope to hear you ask. Well, apparently the nice people at Condé Nast were worried that we wouldn't rush like lemmings off a cliff to watch the upcoming TV special of the same name, so they went to the trouble and expense of producing a whole magazine, referred to in one piece as Vanity Fair's 13th issue of 2007, just to flog the concept of movies, you know, rocking.

A little background on the TV special since I know you, as discerning culture consumers, won't watch it. The Big Concept: "today's top stars"--such as they are--in "a world-premiere celebration of marquee moments in music and film". Ratcheted down several notches on the Münchhausen Hyperbole Scale, it translates to "popular singers sing famous songs from the movies." But when I say it like that, it sounds Six of American Idol? Perhaps. Here's a li'l taste of the magnitude of talent gracing the stage of the Kodak Theatre on December 7. In alphabetical order, no less:

Marc Anthony and his wife, Jennifer "My Talent is Inversely Proportional to My Demands" Lopez. Now that Ms. Lopez is infanticipating, she and her husband are inseparable. Also since her latest album, politely put, has sold as well as sandpaper condoms.

Beyoncé. I was raking some leaves this morning and I pulled a little pile off near the hydrangea and there was Beyoncé. And I poured boiling water into a cup along with a tisane-bag of chamomile and it steeped for three minutes and I pulled out the bag and there was Beyoncé. And I was making the bed and fluffing the pillows and under a fluff of goose-down there was Beyoncé. What's that? Am I sick to fucking death of Beyoncé? No, not at all. She's hardly overexposed. Why, I DVR'd her wonderful new ad for DirecTV--you know, the one where she chants that song about upgrading to HDTV--just so I can watch it over and over and sing along and copy her stylin' dance moves. I extra-particularly like the part where, after rolling on a floor apparently molded from the contents of Aladdin's Cave, she turns her head to reveal a massive gold bit in the form of the word "UPGRADE" stuck between her teeth. Verrry classy. She's scheduled to sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at Movies Rock because...ummm...because she's the Judy Garland of this generation? If not Judy Garland, at least Hank Garland. Or Judy Carne. However, Beyoncé as Dorothy is troublesome for me. Mainly because I just saw an Annie Leibovitz photo spread for Disney which had Beyoncé as Lewis Carroll's Alice. Who else can she be? J.M. Barrie's Wendy? Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking? Beverly Cleary's Ramona? My goodness, she truly is America's Chocolate Mirror™.

Mary J. Blige.

Chris Brown.

Jennifer Hudson. I wonder if she's going to hip-check Bee-yonce off the stage for shits'n'giggles. She's going to sing "Goldfinger." But she won't sound like Shirley Bassey and I fear will, as a consequence, be a disappointment.

Queen Latifah. I've said it before and I'll say it again: America loves itself some Queen Latifah! She's out flogging her new album of jazz standards. Sort of the Black female Rod Stewart. Except Rod the Mod actually had an appealing and distinctive voice once. And his appeal was once actually discernible. Queen Latifah is like the Oprah of the musical world. Inexplicable, unavoidable.

John Legend.

Nelly. Really? Nelly? There were no actual, you know, singers willing to take the gig? Is Nelly going to rap his way through "Moon River" or "The Way We Were"? Oh, wait. His first disc in three years, now several times delayed, may be dropping in December. Well, there you go. Yo! Yo! Moon river! Get up up on the dance floor! Give that man what he askin for! Yeah.


Gosh, is this BET Goes to the Movies? No, wait. I know there're some Caucasians in here somewhere...Carrie Underwood! She's White. Not particularly appealing on any level. But she's popular. And, as I mentioned, White. And Country. And so is LeAnn Rimes, who's also participating. Now, why you'd have both LeAnn Rimes and Carrie Underwood on a show like's a little like having a peanut butter and almond butter sandwich. Redundant systems in case one fails, I suppose. Carrie Underwood's going to sing "The Sound of Music." I don't know of a singer/song combination in the world that could strike a louder chord of apathy in me than that one.

Elton John. He's going to sing a medley of songs from animated films. Call me Cassandra but I predict we'll be hearing "Circle of Life".

Fergie. What's her talent again? Baton twirling? Fire eating? At any rate, she's going to sing "Live And Let Die." Yeah. If the Auto-Tune doesn't burst into virtual flames, it'll only be because God is great and merciful.

So, have I whetted your appetites with this bill of fare? Could it be any more au courant and, as a consequence, unspeakably wretched? Well, maybe if it featured Miley Cyrus, backed by the Duff sisters dressed as Everygirl's First Feminine Hygiene Products, singing "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." No, wait. I'd watch that. At any rate, you get my none-too-subtle drift and I...what's that? You'd like to be as blow-the-doors-off cool as your sobsister and know what's inside this amazing bonus magazine itself?

Well...I don't know...remember that time I lent you my backhoe and you took, like, forever to bring it back and there was, like, Coke™ all spilt'n'sticky on the seat and you were all, dude, I don't know how that got there...? Now, now, no embarrassing attempts at self-exculpation are necessary. Here's enough of a peek into the first few pages of the mag that you'll be able to drop references to it in casual cocktail conversation and cause your friends, colleagues, and creditors to turn twenty-seven shades of emerald.

The cover features Bill Murray in late-Vegas-era Elvis jumpsuit drag, complete with big hair and muttonchops. Bill Murray is equated in some minds with "jaded-but-warm hipster irony", so this tells the clued-in reader that reverence and, well, irreverence will be doled out in equal portions by the nice hairnetted ladies on the cafeteria line. Either that or the magazine's late-boomer editors wish they were as cool as they perceive Bill Murray to be. Whichever.

Thumb a few pages in...and there's Jennifer Aniston! Once famous for her role on an intermittently-funny, intermittently-insufferable sitcom, now best known as Debbie Reynolds to Angelina Jolie's Liz Taylor. Jen-Jen's looking fine, tit-tays all hangin' out, as she flogs "glacéau smartwater" in a two-page b'n'w spread. First, I ask myself, why the accent ague over the "e" in "glacéau"? I mean, this shit comes from Whitestone, Queens, where the leading brand is "gimme some'a dat fuckin' water." Then I ask myself, does she need the money? the exposure (her leotard stare-out version of the ad is featured on the back cover)? the validation that comes from knowing that a division of Coca-Cola views her as marketable? Then, examining her pose, I realized that the camera has caught her, fingernails about to flip under her chin in the classic me ne frego or "I don't give a damn" hand gesture. You tell him, Jen-Jen! Him and that homewrecking hussy with her lush, overripe mouth that hints of unspeakable midnight madness!

A few more pages...and there's an ad for Tom Ford For Men. Considerably more restrained in its presentation than the Flash graphic on his site wherein a gape-mouthed, sweat-flecked, nude woman first holds the cologne bottle between her breasts and then against her vagina. Is that all meant to give us hints as to the scent notes in his first fragrance for men?

Wow, an eight-page, full-color spread for Dillard's! Featuring a girl-woman who looks like Mena Suvari! I've never visited a Dillard's! The nearest one is in North Carolina! All the shots are set at night or in darkened spaces! This is not helpful! And, no, I'm not shouting!

Then, finally, some substance. The Editor's Letter, penned by a "Mitch Glazer", who appears to be a screenwriter and film producer of some sort. His thesis for this opening salvo in the war for my limited attention span: with all the music-related films (apparently defined to include musical films, films about music, and documentaries about musicians) out and due out, 2007-2008 is a Year of Music. Possibly in historical reaction to "times of national unease", possibly due to natural Hollywood theme cycles, who knows. Okay. I'll grant that assertion and its equivocal underpinnings. That's about it for Deep Thought, however, as the rest of the Letter describes in woozy prose the magazine's contents. My favorite sentence...well, not quite my favorite sentence, as that would imply some enjoyment on my part...the sentence that most made me wish that Vanity Fair employed editors was: "If (Elmer) Bernstein was film's inspired professional, director Ken Russell is its nutty diva." Hmmm... Aside from the fact that I don't know what a "nutty diva" might be--Maria Callas meets Carrot Top? Joan Sutherland eating brittle?--I'm confused by the construction. Usually the "if x is the y of (topic), then a is the b (of (topic))" format requires that (topic) be the same in each case, as in "if Mick Jagger is the Hamlet of the Rolling Stones, then Keith Richards is its Laertes." Here, if Elmer Bernstein is the inspired professional of film--and, just a question, is "inspired professional" a Type specific to film or any other field? or is it just a generic description applicable to anyone in any profession?--then Ken Russell is the nutty diva of film. And, again, is "nutty diva" a recognized Type in films or the film industry? You see the source of my confusion. By the end of this waste of a page that could've otherwise been profitably employed to display, I don't know, particularly-good lolcats graphics, we the readers have learned not only that Bill Murray sang all five verses of "Brandy" at this fellow's wedding, but also that putting together this special edition "has been like driving an Aston Martin DB5 convertible along the Big Sur Highway, naked." And just not to leave you on the edge of your seat, that would be "exhilarating and terrifying and possibly humiliating." We are not given much time to ponder why anyone would do such a thing or why it would be "terrifying" (are Aston Martins prone to sudden mechanical failure that would cause the vehicle to careen off the road?) before the Letter closes with the assertion, "In fact, I think we rock." Good on you, then, "Mitch Glazer". Too many people are beset by anxious doubt, possibly regarding their writing skills and public exhibition thereof. But not you. Good on you, mate. Now, never make me read anything you've written ever again.

That done, ooh! a four-page, b'n'w Budweiser spread! Wherein "three hot new talents revisit scenes from their favorite movies"! Jeepers, there's a newly-minted concept! And it's realized in as half-assed and half-hearted a fashion as the concept deserves! Actor Josh Duhamel in what purports to be a scene from Pulp Fiction but instead looks like some guy in a suit opening a briefcase in an abandoned diner. Producer Stacey Sher having her hair blown-dry in supposed hommage to Shampoo. "Post-grunge rockers" (excuse me?) Hinder walking next to a mist-enshrouded jet in apparent reference to Top Gun. No, but really, it's at least twice as good as my description. At least twice as good. A worthy use of Budweiser's advertising budget. It tells me nothing about their product and everything about the lamebrainedness of the ad agency and Bud execs who greenlighted this waste of pulp that could've been used to print those two-color flyers for Chinese take-out joints one invariably finds strewn about the mailbox.

And then we get some info on the producers of the Movies Rock program. Spielberg associate Kathleen Kennedy and some dude named Bruce Cohen. From what we're told, "These longtime friends put their heads, hearts, and Rolodexes together to plan the event." You can't buy writing like that at Kresge's, folks. You can't buy writing like that at Woolworth's. "Put their heads, hearts, and Rolodexes together" Take THAT, John Donne! The aforementioned Cohen gives us an insider's peek at the Big Thinking that created the show, "Taking today's performers, giving them a classic song that everyone's always loved, and then having you hear it in a whole new way--that to me is what's going to excite people about the show." Hell, yeah! I'm excited already! When Hollywood producers get all Big Concept-y like that on me, woof!, I get all a-twitter. See, that's why these Hollywood folk drive late-model Porsches stocked with hot'n'cold running supermodels, and you, you schmuck, are taking the bus to work carrying a grease-stained brownbag lunch, okay? It's called Sheer Fucking Genius. And if this "today's stars sing yesterday's songs" concept doesn't reek of genius, then I gotta take my schnozz in for a tune-up.

I'll stop here. There're some articles to lend this thing a fig leaf of legitimacy, the inevitable 50-Best List, a painfully-unfunny film music bit with two "comedians", etc. But by now I hope you can see why I'm pants-wettingly excited about having received this schweet bonus mag. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go figure out why the not-by-any-means-overexposed Halle Berry is appearing in a four-page ad for Harry Winston diamonds under the aegis of the Diamond Trading Company, on whose website not a single squeak is squeaked about supporting trade in conflict-free diamonds. Whoopsie.
Lott's To Ponder, Dept.

Mississippi’s Lott to Leave Senate Seat - New York Times

So, in a few weeks, Senator Trent Lott is going to resign his newly-rewon position of power and authority in the nation's highest legislative chamber.

What could possibly compel a recently-reelected politician to renounce a 35-year career in Congress and the prestigious position of Minority Whip?

Lott claims that he has "financial commitments" to meet, as well as the age-old desire to "do something else".

But could it be the fact that, under new ethics and lobbying rules set to go into effect in 2008, Lott-o would have to wait two years instead of one before lobbying his erstwhile colleagues? Nooo, not Trent! He specifically noted that he was not retiring due to the new rules. So, you can take that assertion to the bank, okay?

Or could it be the rumor flitting about that he's resigning to avoid fallout from a few assignations with a male escort? Please. Trent Lott is a married conservative Republican and a former cheerleader besides. What possible use could he have for a hunky rent boy?

Well, I'm plumb out of guesses. So, we'll have to take the esteemed Senator from the Magnolia State at his word. He's jettisoning a career in politics to do other, unspecified things. Not to dive face-first into the sweet, sweet slop of the lobbying trough as soon as possible and certainly not to avoid the foul breath of manlove scandal.

Best of luck, then, to soon-to-be-former Senator Lott. I expect to see him building homes at a Habitat for Humanity site once the holiday season winds down. If he isn't devoting himself to literacy programs in his native state. How refreshing it is to see a man leave the hurly-burly and ego-crank of national politics to devote himself to good works and grassroots public service.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Errata and Corrigenda,Dept.

Thanks to the helpful and charming Orderfire, who, as we speak, is making the Nutmeg State a finer place to study, I was reminded of Jane Horrocks' performance in Little Voice as a prime example of celebrity voice impersonation.

So, following up on my last posting, here's a fine clip of Ms. Horrocks wowing an audience with her impressions of everyone from Shirley Bassey to Judy Garland.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Double Tonguing, Dept.

Funnyman, Who Art Thou? - New York Times

The above article from Sunday's Arts and Leisure section features Frank Caliendo, a comedian and impressionist who debuted a sketch-comedy series on TBS Tuesday. Apparently, Mr. Caliendo, using his mimicry skills, plays most of the characters on the program. (Promo trailers for the show itself here and nearby.)

Watching Caliendo's act on Letterman brought up the principal difference between him and the old-school impressionists, Cézanne and Degas aside: he amplifies the accuracy of his impressions with decent comedy material. In contrast, say, to the tiresome Fred Travalena, who, despite years at the game, has neither accurate impressions nor jokes worth a damn. In contrast, actually, to the vast majority of impressionists I saw on YouTube who lean heavily on catchphrases and the same half-dozen voices--Mommy, please don't make me watch another rendition of DeNiro arguing with Pacino, I swear I'll be good!--to sell their routines.

Basically, says I, there are two types of impressionist acts. The "quick-change" act wherein the impressionist will trot out all his or her impressions one after the other with only the slightest hint of narrative (here and here for Frank Gorshin's intense and kinetic "what if actors ran the government" bit and here for Rich Little's career-overview-as-routine) and the "immersion" act wherein the impressionist only does one impression in depth (here for Marilyn Michaels' Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand).

Most non-singing impressionists will opt for the former because it gives them the opportunity to show off a number of impressions quickly and, by this quickness, avoids the danger of revealing the limitations of the impression. Marilyn Michaels does a very good Garland but hearing her do an extended medley of Garland's signature tunes allows the audience to notice both where she doesn't sound like Judy and also exactly how she is making herself sound like Judy. Once the impressionist's tricks become apparent, as they almost inevitably must do in an immersion act, it's like seeing the trap door behind the magician's cape. By contrast, the quick-change act can ride from gasp of recognition to gasp of recognition without sagging and without revealing either the flaws in the impression or the wheels and gears of the illusion. The downside of the quick-change act, aside from the clunky set-ups (what if Hollywood actors advised the President? what if Robin Williams and Jack Nicholson played golf together?) however, is the tendency to become a rapid-fire slideshow of the clichéd tics and moues of the easy caricature in the manner of the many, many living-room impressionists who have hiked up their shoulders, hitched up their forearms, and growled, "You dirty rat" to convey Jimmy Cagney. An extreme example of this is the YouTube appearance of 100 voices in under five minutes, 101 voices in under four minutes, and 200 impressions in fifteen minutes.

Watching the assortment of impressionists' videos on YouTube, I was struck by three things. First, how amazingly sucktastic some of these performers are. One apparently need only don a fright wig and be in the vaguest vicinity of an approximation of a celebrity's voice to make a decent living as an impressionist before the gomers and goobers who fill the seats at casinos and cruise ships. By way of illustration, I point you to the sampler reels of Larry G. Jones, of Tony Mosti, of Tony Pace, and of Bethany Owen. Unfortunately, I could find only a short clip of the king of the crap "comedian"/"singer"/"impressionist" lounge circuit, Danny Gans, a man whose popularity makes me fear for Western civilization as a whole. I mean, can't America and the world-at-large do without yet another version of ol' Satchmo singing "What A Wonderful World"? Apparently not.

Which leads to the second thing by which I was struck: the extent to which the impressions most of these performers do are the same impressions done by their predecessors. Jack Benny, Dean Martin, Johnny Carson. Richard Nixon, for fuck's sake, right down to the V-for-Victory signs and "I am not a crook." Presumably these tired bits go down easy with the elderly patrons of Branson and the Vegas and A.C. lounges. But does this say anything Bigger about the lack of iconic figures in American entertainment? Were someone to do a spot-on Julia Roberts or John Cusack or, flashing forward a bit, Reese Witherspoon or Jake Gyllenhaal, would anyone recognize the source and the accuracy of the reproduction? And, for the singing impressionists who are still doing Sinatra and Johnny Mathis and Cher, who is currently universally recognizable? Not too many people working on their Britney Spears or Alicia Keys or Eddie Vedder, I daresay. While current-day film and television celebrities are not totally ignored, the bulk of the contemporary impressions I've seen tend to come from the world of animation (Family Guy, The Simpsons, South Park, Spongebob Squarepants), sci-fi (Terminator/Star Wars/Star Trek), and politics (Bush 43 and Bill Clinton). Of course, there may be a built-in lag for celebrities outside politics to become sufficiently iconic that they are identifiable by a catchphrase and a facial quirk. Current impressionists seem to be stuck in the mid-'80s with their DeNiros and Pacinos and Robin Williamses. But it is still hard to imagine anyone being plucked out of contemporary film and television in ten years who will have the same resonance and universality that a John Wayne or Cary Grant or Bette Davis had for an earlier generation. Which may be why these long-dead stars are still being exhumed nightly by the hack impressionists of the world.

The third thing which struck me was the extent to which the repertoires of impressionists past and present serve as a barometer of the Eurocentricity and androcentricity of our popular culture, with the corollary observation that there are almost no female or Black impressionists. Marilyn Michaels was it during the '60s and '70s, and even she based her success on her singing ability coupled with her gift for mimicry. Without the opportunity to build an act around the songs of Garland, Streisand, and others, whom would she have had left to "do"? Or, rather, what women would have been universally familiar and sufficiently memorable for her to caricature? Bette Davis, okay. Tallulah Bankhead. Joan Crawford, maybe. And they're still a generation before Michaels. Jane Fonda? Could you tell if someone was doing a great Jane Fonda? Or a Maggie Smith? Or a Lee Grant? How about Emma Thompson? Or Meryl Streep? These are all great actresses of their respective generations and yet at best one might recognize an impression of them in a specific role. Of course, someone could point out male actors who've never been "done", but the point that seems to glimmer here is that, traditionally, female actors--at least those who have not been willing to play the grotesque--have, consciously or not, presented fewer features to caricature than their male counterparts.

Similarly, Black impressionists (old-school: George Kirby; new-school: Reggie Reg) are few on the ground. Their situation, interestingly, is a twist on that of female impressionists: they do not want for recognizable (male) models to caricature but, on the national level, they are constrained by the Black figures who will be recognizable to a mass audience. In the preceding clip, Reggie Reg "does" Bernie Mac, Chris Rock, Denzel Washington, Bill Cosby (no-one, black or white, doesn't "do" Cosby and his frickin' Jello Pudding Pops), Jesse Jackson, and Richard Pryor along with a few White voices before a Black audience. On his Letterman appearance, he leads off with a so-so Bush 43, features the most famous of the Black impressions from his club act, and introduces Schwarzenegger and Clinton. In the 1978 Kirby clip, before a White audience, he focuses on Black singers (Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Joe Williams), "does" Archie and Edith Bunker only passably, then Gregory Peck, Edgar Buchanan, John Wayne, and back to Bill Cosby. Kirby's emphasis on White impressions is a function of the times in which he developed his act, just as is the case for Sammy Davis Jr. who, among his many skills, was an excellent impressionist (witness his fine 1960 Royal Command performance, impressions starting at 6:00 of the clip, here and an impressionist mano-a-mano where he kicks Rich Little's butt here). Thirty years later, the situation has improved, but only just.

After watching a flock of impressionists and hearing audience reaction to their routines, I think the appeal of these acts, which, as I've noted, are not exactly masterpieces of narrative, comes in two ways. First, the accuracy of the impression is delightful to audiences, particularly in that first moment when the impressionist opens his or her mouth and out pops a voice uncannily like that of a celebrity. There is an audible frisson of pleasure at recognition for the best impressions. Second, and related to that shudder of delight at the accuracy of the impression, is a shudder of delight at the unease caused by the temporary possession of the impressionist by the disembodied celebrity. Like the human-riding Loa of Haitian Vodou, the spirits of singers and actors appear to enter the impressionists and speak through their mouths. Our protective line between the Self and the Other is temporarily smudged, albeit in a safe environment. The more accurate the impression, then, the greater the sense of uncanniness about the performance. Of course, the hokiness and corn of many performers' routines tend to undermine an audience's sense of wonder and awe, as does the careless way in which one impression follows another in quick succession, but occasionally a performer can hit that seam of pleasure and unease and it is clearly audible in the audience's reaction.

For those who, for some reason, have not seen or heard enough impressionists, here are the lineups from David Letterman's 2006 and 2007 Impressionist Weeks, some of which have already been linked above: (2006) Rich Little, Fred Travalena, Gordie Brown, Frank Caliendo, and Kevin Pollak. (2007) Rob Magnotti, John Byner, Mike MacRae, Joe Piscopo (for whom no YouTube Letterman clip exists), and Reggie Reg.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go practice my Ronald Reagan-meets-Robert DeNiro.
"Weeell, there you go again..." "You talkin' to me? You talking to ME?!"

Monday, November 12, 2007

Oh, Was That Your Dick in My Mouth?, Dept.

State lawmaker says he's a victim of extortion

Alright, people, this is getting old.

Married Republican lawmaker who has consistently opposed gay rights legislation engages in homo sex, gets busted, and denies he'd ever, ever make sweet, queer love with another man. Any new wrinkles this time around? Well, Richard Curtis, the GOP legislator in question, did try to throw a change-up by reportedly changing into long red women's stockings and a black sequined lingerie top at the Hollywood Erotic Boutique where he got the blue plate special from a thousand-dollar rent boy in an upstairs room, according to witnesses. So, a few originality points for Dick. None of this ho-hum "wide stance", did-he-didn't-he bullshit. Dickie-boy was gonna bust out queer and tranny and everything else he could think of. It should go without saying that the former firefighter declared, according to media reports, "I am not gay". Which, here in Bizarro-America, means: WOOO-hoo, sailor...I'm as queer as a clockwork orange!!

But, really, boys, stop already. This story is so mid-2007. I mean, the ladies-wear was a nice touch but "homophobe Republican legislator makes the beast with one back and four hairy legs, then denies homo longings"? Yaawwwn. Dog bites man. Film not at 11.

Call me when your station stops showing reruns, 'k? Thanks.
A Second Pass over "Nagasaki", Dept.

Well, I don't know about you, Faithful Readers, but I haven't been able to knock the tune "Nagasaki" out of my head after my recent posting. Possibly because I've been scouring YouTube for video versions of that ditty. Which I've found. Some of which I shall now share with you. Because that's just the kind of okay Joe I am. Without further ado then.

Here, the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra smokes the tune in a big-band reading.

A more laid-back but nonetheless funky reading by the duo of "Red and Struggle", backed by Don Redman and His Orchestra here.

An instrumental version here featuring British stride pianist Neville Dickie.

And here, one of my favorites, Bertie Wooster has a go at it on the old 88s.

More fun than a boxful of puppies! Or, if you don't like puppies, narcotics. Whichever.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Gilded Age, Dept.

New York's $25,000 dessert sets Guinness record - Yahoo! News

So, a $25,000 chocolate sundae, available at New York City's Serendipity 3, using expensive and exotic cocoas, infused with edible 23-karat gold, served in a goblet lined with edible gold, at the base of which is an 18-karat gold bracelet studded with white diamonds, the contents of said goblet to be eaten, along with gold-covered whipped cream and a side of $2,600/pound truffles, with a gold spoon decorated with white and chocolate-colored diamonds.


If I hear a fiddle being played, does it mean the whole shithouse is going up in flames?

-Knock, knock.
-Who's there?
-"Barbarian" who?
-Taste my sword, decadent American fool!!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Best American Poetry 1928, Dept.

They don't write 'em like this any more. I think I can say that without fear of contradiction. I was introduced to this song via Cab Calloway's jumpin' rendition. He, however, grabs a few lines off the first chorus, then scats his way through the rest. So, it was only recently that I learned the lyrics as they were written by Mort Dixon. And what fine lyrics they are. Redolent of another age when we as Americans found foreigners considerably more amusing than we do today. Enjoy. Ideally with ukulele accompaniment.


Verse 1:

Fellows if you're on,
I will spin a yarn,
That was told to me by able seaman Jones.
Once he had the blues,
So he took a cruise
Far away from night clubs and from saxophones.
He said, "Yoho, I think I made a certain port,
And when you talk about real he-man sport."

Chorus 1:

Hot ginger and dynamite,
There's nothing but that at night,
Back in Nagasaki
Where the fellers chew tobaccy
And the women wicky wacky woo.

The way they can entertain
Would hurry a hurricane,
Back in Nagasaki
Where the fellers chew tobaccy
And the women wicky wacky woo.

Oh, Fujiyama,
You get a mommer,
And then your troubles increase;
In some pagoda
She orders soda,
The earth shakes milkshakes, ten cents a-piece.

They kiss-ee and hug-ee nice,
By jingo, it's worth the price,
Back in Nagasaki
Where the fellers chew tobaccy
And the women wicky wacky woo.


With an ice cream cone and a bottle of tea,
You can rest all day by the hickory tree;
But when night comes 'round, oh, gosh, oh, gee!
Mother, mother, mother, pin a rose on me.

Chorus 2:

They give you a carriage free,
The horse is a Japanee.
Back in Nagasaki
Where the fellers chew tobaccy
And the women wicky wacky woo.

They sit you upon the floor,
No wonder your pants get sore,
Back in Nagasaki
Where the fellers chew tobaccy
And the women wicky wacky woo.

Oh, sweet Kimona,
I pulled a boner,
I kept it up at high speed;
I got rheumatics
And then sciatics
Of halitosis that's guaranteed.

You must have to act your age,
Or wind up inside a cage,
Back in Nagasaki
Where the fellers chew tobaccy
And the women wicky wacky woo.

Verse 2:

When the day is warm,
You can keep in form
With a bowl of rice beneath a parasol.
Ev'ry gentleman
Has to use a fan,
And they only wear suspenders in the fall.
That's where the gals
Don't think of rings and furs,
Gee, it's the grandest place that ever was:

[Chorus 1, Patter, Chorus 2]

The preceding is from a very good Harry Warren page, he being the composer of the ditty. I found another chorus on the web that may or may not be kosher but for completeness' sake, I'll include here:

Those pretty mamas
In pink pyjamas
They try to give you a kiss
Those torrid teases
Heaven help a sailor on a night like this!

Not too gentle and not too rough
But you've got to tell them when you've had enough
Back in Nagasaki
Where the fellers chew tobaccy
And the women wicky wacky woo.

Now, some might try to read "bawdy" meaning into some of the lyrics of this song. To him or her, I would direct those time-honored words which have guided the behavior of the English people through the years: Honi soit qui mal y pense. Which, loosely translated from Old French, means: a nod is as good as a wink to a blind bat.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Song of the Viking, Dept.

Moondog - Music - New York Times

The above link is to an article in last Sunday's NYT about Moondog, the composer who, to most eyes, lived on the street in midtown Manhattan from the '40s to the '70s from which venue he sold his poetry and music. While attired in a Viking helmet and cloak. And he was blind. Truly the stuff of legend.

Irwin Chusid, who knows a thing or two about unorthodox musicians, features a flock of Moondog music (which, incidentally, is an indescribable and delicious blend of jazz and classical and Moondog, like what'd glide off the bandstand at an unearthly nightclub where cigarettes are good for you and liquor makes you smarter) on two episodes of his excellent WFMU radio show: one here and one here. The music, to which I came as an interested neophyte, is well worth a listen. And there are interviews with Moondog biographer Robert Scotto, who is quoted throughout the Times piece, on both shows.

Good and good for you. So, dig in!
Criminally Incompetent or Incompetently Criminal?, Dept.

Immunity Deals Offered to Blackwater Guards - New York Times

Hmm. Let's see. So, someone at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) in the State Department kinda-sorta went off the reservation and offered the jackbooted thugs of Blackwater limited-use immunity regarding the faster-pussycat-bang!-bang! at Nisour Square in Baghdad without consultation (supposedly) with any ranking State officials or with the Justice Department who, you know, has the point on such deals. And the head of DS, Richard Griffin, resigned last week to "move on to new challenges". Like avoiding indictment, presumably.

Wow. Sounds like a good old Mongolian pooch-screw down at Foggy Bottom. I can't imagine at least a few more people aren't going to bite the dust before it settles on this lovely moment in American foreign policy. But now, as we all know, accountability is the watchword for this administration, so shouldn't the head of the State Department be the one who takes the bullet? Shouldn't the extra-long-grain Rice nobly but quietly, head lowered, shoulders rounded, withdraw into the long shadows of disgrace?

BAAH-HAH!! Just funnin'! There's no frackin' way I-Want-Condi is going to take responsibility for this. Come on. It took bull mastiffs and a high-pressure hose to get Li'l Albertito Gonzalez to loosen his grip on his desk chair! People don't quit the Bush Cabinet unless you've got audio, video, documentary, and, possibly, StormTracker Doppler Radar footage of them rolling that busload of orphans off the cliff. If any deals were cut, they'll have been done, of course, without the knowledge or sanction of the Seventh Floor where Her Cacao Nibs holds court. Deals cut by rogue employees. Coincidentally with another pack of rogue employees. Are you noticing how when shit gets done, it's always unauthorized? Like there's no hint of a corporate culture that tacitly or otherwise encourages cowboying and jiggery-pokery? "Plausible deniability" enshrined as organizational credo. Credo credere credidi creditus. All the credit, none of the blame, that's the Bush appointee game.

More on this breaking story as it shatters...

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Situation Too Serious Not to Laugh, Dept.

Myanmar Magic: Tell a Joke, and You Disappear - New York Times

The link above is to a piece in today's New York Times on a Burmese street theatre called a-nyeint pwe, and the difficulties that practitioners of this ofttimes-political comedy form have under the humorless gaze of the murderous military junta that has done such a swell job of running that country into the shit. Here's a similar article from the London Times from a few weeks back. Both pieces feature the Mandalay troupe known as the Moustache Brothers who, perhaps by dint of their notoriety, are somewhat atypical of a-nyeint pwe's practitioners.

That said, what I find most noteworthy about the piece(s) is the notion held by some of these performers that, despite harassment, beatings, and lengthy incarcerations, they continue their act because it's what they do. Not the sort of self-righteous martyrdom on the Muse's altar which we might expect in the West. Just a recognition that this is the family business and that joking is what they do and if they get thrown in jail for five years, well, that's the cost of doing business.

Your sobsister's hat (and I look crap in hats, so this is a big deal) is doffed for the remainder of the day to these performers. Listen to the words of U Par Par Lay--the Moustache Brother recently arrested for leading writers and performers in marches to support the Buddhist monks--upon his release from jail in 2001, “You cannot close my mouth, ears and eyes. If you want to do that, it would be better not to release me

Monday, October 22, 2007

Nothing Up My Sleeve, Dept.

Copperfield magic canceled by FBI probe - Yahoo! News

Yeah, so David Copperfield, the smarmy "illusionist", is shutting down his Southeast Asia tour after the feds began investigating him back in Las Vegas. Seems they were following up on allegations that he had tried to make his winkie disappear. Inside an unidentified woman who thought of it more as "forcing himself" on her.

Upside, it helps quell the David-is-gay rumors that have swirled about the prestidigitator ever since Paris Match claimed that his six-year engagement to Bavarian megahottie Claudia Schiffer was a contract-based sham.

Downside, it's called "attempted rape".

-Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a one-eyed snake out of my hat!