Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Being a Short Discourse on the Latest Edition of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies, Dept.

Right, so I forgot that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (R&RHoF) Induction Ceremonies were last week, so I had to watch the two-hour reduction instead of the full live feed.  On the one hand, I missed Jann Wenner's most-likely half-toasted introduction, some unedited acceptance speeches that remind us why a number of performers are not their own best editors, and the inevitable closing "jam."  On the other hand, I missed Jann Wenner's most-likely half-toasted introduction...you get the bit, right?  Onto the show, then, now in bulleted form!
  • Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack was inducted by John Legend, which must have been as disappointing for the good doctor as it was for the viewing audience.  John Legend, what, now?  Aside from having one of the ironic self-inflicted surnames of all time, I don't get him.  He, like Fergie, like Pink, like so many others whose name more than music springs to mind, occupies this middle tier in the music business.  Like he's the regional manager for product development.  Not the CEO, not the mailcart guy, just...there.  In the middle.  Doing some job that I don't care about or even really understand.  His induction speech was flaccid and Teleprompter-heavy, and then, inexplicably, he played a piano duet with Dr. John on "Such a Night."  Was everyone and anyone else who could have said something meaningful about Mac Rebennack dead or out of town?  I mean, Christ, Robbie Robertson was in the audience!  Dr. John played "Such a Night" at The Last Waltz!  There's relatedness, right there!  Or Liv Tyler looking quite lovely.  Or Catherine Zeta-Jones likewise.  I'd preferred to have watched Liv Tyler and Catherine Zeta-Jones freestyle an induction rap for Dr. John over watching John Legend's grade-school pageant presentation.  Ugh.
  • Bette Midler wearing an approximation of Bette Midler's face ca. the Divine Madness Tour inducted Darlene Love.  *ha ha*  I joke; she's had the good work done.  And at least she read her speech with characteristic sass and oomph in contrast to the agent of entropy who preceded here.  And Darlene Love spoke her acceptance sincerely,  good lines well-delivered, from what the excerpts showed.  The acceptance speeches were all intercut with the associated musical performances, so the absolute length of them is unknown to your reporter.  She (and the others) may have spoken for an hour or two minutes.  But she's got pipes, I tell you what.  She ran through a few Spector classics with Paul Schaffer's Letterman ensemble, the usual house band for the event.
  • Rob Zombie, looking like he ate Choo-Choo Charlie then stole his hat, inducted Alice Cooper.  A clever speech delivered in an offhand way.  The band performed two numbers; the inevitable incongruousness of the 62-year-old Alice Cooper né Vincent Furnier singing "I'm Eighteen" and "School's Out" overshadowed by the fact that all but the guitarist are original members and looked to be having a tremendous time as they rocked out.
  • Neil Young now resembling a cantankerous Civil War veteran woken after a century's sleep offered offhand comments, essentially admitting he hadn't prepared remarks for the occasion, but, nevertheless, winged a funny, surreal performance piece in introduction of Tom Waits.  I'd call this the marquee event.  Tight-lipped and media-shy, Waits keeps a low profile, revealing print interviews of him as numerous as my hen's teeth.  His acceptance speech is funny, likely rehearsed, but as engaging as you might imagine, punctuated by his eyes blinking as if forced into sunshine from the cool deep dark.
  • In the evening's most personal introduction, Sir Elton inducted his idol and current tour partner, Leon Russell.  He spoke of his encounter with Russell's music as a young musician and of his awe and respect then and Russell's help and advice to him, followed by his reconnection with the man 30 years later when Russell's fortunes were much reduced.  A riches-to-rags-to-riches story underlined by Russell's speech wherein he noted that Elton had found him in the "ditch by the side of the highway of life" and treated him like a king.  Now and for some time in fragile health, he performed "Delta Lady" and, affectingly, "A Song for You"  in a shadow of his voice, particularly poignant given the film clips of him hollering and tearing it up onstage as a younger man.
  • Paul Simon came out and kvetched humorously about it taking 20 years since Neil Diamond's first eligibility for him to be inducted.  Paul looks like he hasn't had the good work, unfortunately.  Maybe it's just crap makeup, but Paul Simon?  Really?  Whatever it is, he shouldn't look like Albin in La Cage at the Jewish Community Center of Flatbush.  Neil Diamond offered a moving "I Am...I Said," with the weight of 45 years in the business behind it.  Wistful, valedictory, a slow recognition of life's existential weight that ended in as many "no"s as Molly Bloom offered "yes"s.  He then shifted gears suddenly--and somewhat unwillingly, if his expression was any barometer--to sing "Sweet Caroline."  Pro that he is, however, by mid-song, he'd waded out into the audience to grab family members, shmooze other singers and, at one point, stand on a chair to lead the assembled in song.  As I said, a pro.
So, okay, the average age of the inductees was 104.  That's fine, but it led me to think and research.  The list of good, even top-tier, bands that have yet to be inducted is long.  Longlonglonglong loooonnng.  And it raises a few questions that I'll characterize as "uncomfortable" and discuss in the next installment.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

New York State of Mind, Dept.

Recently back from der großer Apfel 
--using the Teutonic version thereof in memory of the Yorkville neighborhood of NYC where I went to high school and where once there stood a series of great, traditional German businesses, large and small, including restaurants and Konditoreien and Biergärten and the like, but now is home to Big Box Stores because why have interesting, organically developed, locally owned businesses when you can have another Sephora and a Best Buy--

and, setting my bitterness aside for the moment, I thought to offer a few notes and observations from our latest visit.
  • If you are an attractive Asian-American female between the ages of 18 and 25 who is not appreciated in her precincts, by all means run-do-not-walk in your clackety heels to New York City.  Apparently, the mayor passed an ordinance recently that requires casually dressed Caucasian men of the same age to be seen on the streets with an Asianesque hottie irrespective of their own Hot-or-Not rating.  It follows on the heels of the controversial tattoo-sleeve/soul-patch/porkpie-hat requirement for Williamsburg.
  • If you read this before April 17, speed your way to the New York Theater Workshop in the East Village and glom a ticket or two for Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel to J.M. Barrie's classic, Peter Pan, adapted from the novel of the same name.  It's the closest to British panto I've seen on these shores.  A smash-bash of high and low art that veers from fart gags to the line "It's as hard to find as the melody in a Philip Glass opera."  Wildly inventive, it turns red headlights and two clotheslines into a crocodile, and ropes into everything from whipping waves to a narrow tunnel.  Fantastic cast in a jewelbox setting.  Do.  Not.  Miss.  It.
  • Our hotel seemed to house two types of guest: us and ugly Euro-hookers.  No, let me correct that: us, ugly Euro-hookers and Lolitas who ostentatiously occupied space in the lobby.  One stood out: Ugg-ish boots, a v. short skirt over coltish legs, a headful of yellow curls, pouty mouth and a large sock monkey doll.  What, the prop department couldn't find heart-shaped glasses and a lollipop?  I'm sure these young ladies could earn their college and grad school tuitions in a single season working the lobby, assuming, of course, that by the time they're old enough to matriculate, they're not dead or chained to the throne of the Sultan of Brunei.
  • Mediocre seafood is not redeemed by a bouncy server who puts his thespic training on display as "Gregarious Waiter #2".
  • Times Square, thanks to the aforementioned Bloomberg, is now--thank you, Guinness--The Biggest Traffic Clusterfuck in Creation.  I'm sorry, say again...? make Times Square a pedestrian mall?  Certainly!  I mean, who would ever use Broadway as a southbound artery?  *ha ha* the very notion!  Absurd!  Perkins, throw another wog on the fire, I'm getting chilly!
  • I saw a number of institutions of secondary education named using the formula "The (illustrious obscurity's surname) School."  They irritate me.  That they are no more and no less than high schools that nevertheless charge, thanks to a consensual cachet, the equivalent of a small Andean country's GDP per annum to instill the values of a predatory plutocracy guised as beneficent meritocracy into the pretty heads of the loinfruit of the financial condottieri and their siblings in the Professions.  That we as humble passersby should be awed by the stark simplicity of the institution's name, its opacity incised into the façade's granite.  Not for them the transparency of "Wendell L. Willkie Middle School"or "Our Lady of the Illuminated Hardships High School for Girls," when, in fact, it should be: "The Murgatroyd School for the Coddled Children of the Monied Class, Who Within Our Walls Will Get an Earful of the Sort of Egalitarian Nonsense Only the Wealthy Can Afford to Believe, Then Stumble from Here to the Ivies, or, if They're Horrible Fuckups, the 'Little Ivies,' and, After Some Dalliance with Conformist Noncomformist Thinking, Will Eventually Get a Law Degree, Find a Suitable Spouse from the Same Class and Breed Their Successors at the Firm."  At a minimum, it would provide ample work for automobile decal makers, and, really, isn't that all we can ask as a people? 
  • There is more diversity in any three-block stretch of Queens Boulevard than there is in most of our landlocked states. Queens is where the immigrants live, cheek-by-jowl, bulgogi joint next to cumbia palace next to bagel shop.  Queens is the last bit of Old New York, now that Progress, that tasteless bitch, has eaten up Manhattan and shitten out Singapore, then driven the dead out of Brooklyn.  I can't speak for the Bronx or Staten Island because, frankly, who the fuck goes to the Bronx or Staten Island?
  • An apology to the people responsible for developing content for the little TVs in NYC cabs, but, really, I don't need to watch NBC-branded television if I'm in a taxi in Manhattan, right?  If watching the architecture, storefronts and people of one of the most dynamic cities on the planet is too boring, I can always ask my driver how long it's been since he left Lahore.
  • Apropos of nothing, I judge people who have to have coffee before they can function or be even vaguely approachable at work.  I mean, I'm extremely judgmental by nature and nurture, but, really, substitute "crystal meth" or "black tar heroin" or "a rock of cocaine" for "coffee" in that sentence, and you kinda get my drift.  The fact that many enterprises--my own employers included--keep giant vats of this shit percolating all day for free consumption is ethically and operationally no different than their piling a five-ounce pyramid of blow on a conference room table at 9 a.m.  So, yes, Mister Venti Non-Fat Four-Shot Extra-Hot Macchiato, you are the moral equivalent of a bust-out junkie, except you're nodding out before you score, and I pronounce anathema on you, sir, anathema!
At any rate, that's NYC for now.  Coming back to Choc City after a weekend in Manhattan is like ambling back to Mayberry.  Well, Mayberry with Black people.  And without its courtly charm.  But with horrible commuter traffic.  Have I mentioned my proposal for a thousand-dollar-per-vehicle annual commuter tax on the Maryland and Virginia parasites who drive--and always, always badly--their cars into town and leave nothing of any value in return?  Derail.  At any rate, Choc City is apparently nothing like Mayberry, but is still a small Southern town.  Those who wish to send me a file baked into a cake can write me for my mailing address.