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|Monday, October 28th, 2013|
|New McCartney Album Defies Some Listeners' Expectations
On first listen, Paul McCartney's first studio album of new material in six years might not "sound" like a traditional Macca album to many people, thanks to the somewhat edgier musical settings chosen by the four young producers he worked with. Oh, the hooky melodies are pure McCartney and many of the tracks bring to mind earlier works — his last couple of studio albums, his more experimental ambient efforts under the Fireman name, his days with Wings and even his original foursome from Liverpool. But longtime McCartney listeners might be given pause, at least initially, by the efforts of the producers on the album "New" to make Sir Paul's music sound more contemporary and give it a bit of an indie vibe.
However, after you've lived a while with the album, released two weeks ago, it becomes clear that, aside from the production touches, there's nothing really "new" here. The tracks are still styles we’ve become accustomed to Paul doing, from catchy pop-rock to acoustic ballads to upbeat rockers to techno dance music to rockabilly. The sort of variety that used to show up on Beatles albums is still McCartney's musical hallmark. Critics who try to pigeon-hole him as a thumbs-up popster, crooner of silly love songs or vintage rock ’n’ roller betray their lack of familiarity with the constant stylistic wanderlust that always has characterized his music. (Sometime collaborator Elvis Costello, another stylistic vagabond, acknowledged his and McCartney's insatiable curiosity recently when he said that's the proper way to approach music: "Have all the experiences, not just one.")
Even the au courant production tricks used on the "New" album are, in many cases, simply updated throwbacks to earlier eras — just about all of which have been bridged by McCartney's career. Whether you think the vocal processing or electronic flourishes or tape loops or layered backings freshen his sound or distract from the melodies will depend on how just how locked in you are to what is perceived as Paul's "traditional" sound (which, for the audience at large, means the way he sounded with The Beatles and Wings).
Handling production are Paul Epworth (known for his work with Adele), Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Duran Duran), Ethan Johns (Laura Marling, Kings of Leon) and Giles Martin, Beatles producer George Martin’s son, who did The Beatles’ “LOVE” album. Martin also contributed some production to some of the others’ tracks and was executive producer of the album with McCartney. There are several stand-out tracks and none that is really wince-inducing in this collection, which finds an apparently energized Macca at times playful, nostalgic, romantic, enigmatic and even a trifle embittered.
The album opens with one of the Epworth tracks, “Save Us,” a propulsive rocker that is driven by an insistent, fuzzy guitar hook reminiscent of the Strokes and is backed by rich harmonies. It’s rather like I’d imagine Wings would sound circa 2013. Next up is one of my favorites, “Alligator,” a slyly sexy pop-rocker produced by throwback specialist Ronson that is the album’s best marriage of melody and contemporary production. The track, which has some familiar McCartney chord progressions, features a distinctive flute-like synth line and a slower middle portion sung in falsetto, plus one of those uniquely Macca sexual analogies: “I need somebody who’s a sweet communicator I can give my alligator to.” Chomp, chomp.
Martin’s first track is “On My Way to Work,” a slow acoustic guitar number with a thumping beat based on Macca’s memories of his brief time working in Liverpool as a delivery truck driver’s assistant. It also makes use of a string section and initially sounds Beatlesque, but Martin spices things up with some squalling guitars as the production gradually gets heavier. A nice lyrical twist is that the reminiscing Macca recalls dreaming of finding a soulmate. “But all the time I thought of you, how far away the future seemed, how could I have so many dreams, and one of them not come true.”
Then comes “Queenie Eye,” another Epworth production and the album’s second radio single. At first, this struck me as a strange track that would have been better suited as a nonalbum B-side, but its quirky lyrical rhymes, based on a childhood game Macca played in Liverpool, and energetic beat quickly grew on me. This track also has one of several mid-song slower breaks with falsetto vocals that show up on this album, no matter who's producing.
“Early Days,” produced by Johns (son of producer Glyn Johns, who worked with The Beatles and, briefly, Wings) is a lovely autobiographical acoustic number featuring a undoctored, frayed, timeworn McCartney vocal that is reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s “American Recordings” period. Besides harking back to The Beatles’ early days, the lyrics jab those who profess to know what went on with the Fabs but who weren’t actually there. (Mark Lewisohn, the Beatles biographer of the hour, seems to think Macca is taking a shot at him here, but to me it seems more likely to be aimed at the likes of past writers such as Philip Norman who tried to boost John Lennon's importance in the group at McCartney's expense.)
The title track and first single, “New,” produced by Ronson with a nice use of horns, is a terrific, bouncy number with a wonderful melody. It’s ironic, considering its title (about Macca’s relationship with third wife Nancy), but it’s the most retro-sounding song on the album, bringing to mind “Revolver”-era Beatles. The coda with Brian Wilson-ish harmonies is a nice touch. “Appreciate,” produced by Martin, is a slightly psychedelic dance track (what would a McCartney album be without one of those?). It has an echoey beat, noisy techno backing and gets into a nice groove. Another Martin track, “Everybody Out There,” was designed to be an audience-participation number in concert. It has a nice hooky guitar riff reminiscent of the “Flaming Pie” era and its shout out to today's indie scene is a sort of neo-folky Lumineersy chorus.
For me, the album’s only real misfire is “Hosanna,” a droney acoustic ballad produced by Johns that meanders along in search of a melody. It does have an interesting, prominent bass line, though.
“I Can Bet,” produced by Martin, is another updated Wingsy pop-rock track with a thundering beat and sexy lyrics. You can definitely picture Linda playing the synthesizer solo. “Looking at Her” is a romantic midtempo number with a quintessentially Macca chorus. It’s sung in that higher, lighter voice Paul used on his pop standards album but producer Martin throws in a bit of acid house backing with fuzzy guitar. McCartney also trots out the old mellotron and Moog on this track. And “Road,” produced by Epworth, is another trippy number, reminiscent of “Pretty Little Head” from the "Press to Play" album in the mid-1980s. It has a spacey backing using xylophone and a processed vocal. The “heading for the light” chorus will stick in your head.
At this point, some might be wondering, “What about a traditional Macca piano love ballad?” Well, on the regular album, “Road” is followed, after a bit of silence, by an unlisted “hidden” track, “Scared,” produced by Martin. (“Scared” comes after the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition.) It’s the ballad you’ve been expecting, presented in a spare production with a naked, rough-edged vocal. Besides Paul’s piano, it has stand-up bass and vibraphone. Not a classic right off the bat, but it also grows on you.
The deluxe edition features a couple of excellent bonus tracks (by all means, if you're going to get "New," go for the deluxe edition in the blue cover rather than the standard version in the orangey-red cover). “Turned Out,” produced by Johns, is an upbeat, catchy tune with a Wilburys-ish backing featuring Paul on his cigar-box guitar. And “Get Me Out of Here,” produced by Martin, is an acoustic guitar country blues number done rockabilly style with a thunderous beat and backing vocals straight out of an early Elvis record. Macca at one point throws in the line “I’m a celebrity ... ,” making reference to one of Britain’s cheesier reality TV series.
Released only on the Japanese deluxe edition is another bonus track, “Struggle,” a very dark, moody ambient techno piece with lots of layered sound and chant-like backing vocals. It sounds like a Fireman outtake.
All in all, “New” shows that, at 71, Macca continues to enjoy not only making music but confounding our expectations of how it will be presented. As he sings in “I Can Bet,” “What I’m going to do next, I leave entirely to your imagination.”
QUICKIES: OK, some of you might not be ready yet to think about Christmas music, but then there's my daughter Olivia, who's almost always ready for a bit of fa-la-la. For some of us, the most wonderful time of the year arrives Tuesday, Oct. 29, with Real Gone Music's release of Andy Williams' "The Complete Christmas Recordings." Included in the two-disc set are Andy's three Xmas collections ("The Andy Williams Christmas Album" — 1963, "Merry Christmas" — 1965 and "Christmas Present" — 1974), as well as bonus tracks (including "White Christmas" in Spanish and Italian). ... Also out Tuesday from Legacy is "The Essential James Taylor," a two-disc compilation of JT's best, including a couple of live tracks. Sounds like an essential purchase to me. ... Reprise Records has an interesting release coming Nov. 25: Norah Jones and Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong treaming up on "Foreverly," a track-for-track remake of the Everly Brothers' classic 1958 album, "Songs Our Daddy Taught Us."
ON THE TUBE: The only new fall series that has become every-week viewing for me is Fox's new fantasy adventure series "Sleepy Hollow." It's a bizarre mash-up of Washington Irving, the Book of Revelation, witches, demons and fish-out-of-water humor. But as Johnny Carson used to say, you buy the premise, you buy the bit. And while none of the show's story bears very close examination — and some parts are pretty silly — it's quite entertaining, especially Tom Mison as Icabod Crane, who's woken up after 250 years, right at the same time the Hessian horseman he beheaded in the Revolutionary War shows up in Sleepy Hollow. In addition to figuring out the 21st century (there was an amusing bit in the pilot about the proliferation of Starbucks — "Is it a law?" Crane asks) Ichabod has to deal with his witch wife from the 1700s appearing to him to provide some cryptic guidance and beg him to get her out of some sort of purgatory. Nicole Beharie is also very good as the cop whose childhood demonic vision gave her reason to believe Crane's crazy story is true. The chemistry between Mison and Beharie is quite engaging. The first episode (repeated recently before the series took off a couple of weeks for baseball) was one of the best pilots I've seen in years. Some of the subsequent episodes have found the overarching Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse mythology getting a bit too convoluted and the demon-of-the-week plots a little over the top, even for this series, while the humorous interplay between the two leads that was a highlight of the pilot has been in shorter supply. Hopefully they'll arrive at a better balance. It's not a difficult concept to pick up even if you haven't seen earlier episodes, so if you're looking for a diverting Monday night hour, this is worth checking out. ...
The other new show I've caught a couple of episodes of is NBC's "The Blacklist," which also airs on Mondays, but, frankly, I didn't see anything to make me add it to my must-see DVR list. If I'm not otherwise occupied, I'll watch it, but it's not must-see TV. ... My favorite returning network show, "Elementary," is off to a really good start in its sophomore season. This modern-day New York-set Sherlock Holmes is nicely done and leads Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu also have great chemistry. If you're a Holmes fan and haven't yet discovered this Thursday night show, you need to make a point of catching it. ...
We really enjoyed Starz's recently completed "The White Queen" (even though it necessitated reading up on the War of the Roses). While the BBC decided just to make the one series, the good news is that Starz hopes to develop "The White Princess," a stand-alone sequel miniseries also based on Philippa Gregory’s The Cousins’ War novels. It may not be strictly accurate historically, but it's enjoyable TV. ... Two other cable/satellite shows I'm watching each week are the third season of CIA thriller "Homeland" (which got off to a slow, confusing start but has finally gotten on track) and the new "Masters of Sex," a 1950s-set show about the developing work (and relationship) of sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. While Michael Sheen plays Masters as a slightly off-putting cold fish, Lizzy Caplan is quite enticing as Johnson, his secretary-turned-colleague (and future wife). Plus, of course, the show's concept allows plenty of folks to get naked and have sex without it seeming gratuitous. ...
Not that there's anything wrong with a little gratuitous sex on satellite — speaking of which, "The Spartacus Saga: Uncut" is coming to Starz Oct. 26, with all four seasons of the show repeating on Saturdays in extended episodes featuring bonus footage previously available only on the Blu-ray discs. Host of the repeats is Liam McIntyre, who inherited the title role from original series star Andy Whitfield after the latter became ill and died.
Leslie and I are pleased to announce the debut of SOMETHING NEW: The Beatlefan Blog! It's a new outlet where we'll offer exclusive opinion pieces, news updates, articles that won't appear in Beatlefan magazine and more! The first post: London Editor Simon Rogers offers his thoughts on the new Mark Lewisohn Beatles biography. Check it out:http://beatlefansomethingnew.wordpress.com/
If you'd like to add to or have your say about anything in this column, just click on comment below. You don't have to be registered with Live Journal. Current Mood: pleased
|Monday, August 26th, 2013|
|A Supporting Role for My Hometown, Plus Batman, Summer TV and More!
Even if Sundance Festival favorite "The Spectacular Now" wasn't one of the most favorably reviewed films of the year, I would have gone to see it anyway because the director, James Ponsoldt, also hails from my hometown of Athens and shot the film there last summer.
But you don't have to be from Athens to enjoy the film, which is why it's drawn raves from the likes of The New Yorker and USA Today. While it does fall into the general "coming of age" genre, Ponsoldt's movie avoids most of the cliches and stereotypes of such films with its remarkably unsentimental story of a smart but unambitious and hard-partying charmer who winds up dating a quiet, bookish girl he's barely noticed before.
Self-destructive Sutter (Miles Teller), who drinks too much and whose mother won't even tell him where his ne’er-do-well father lives, is completely focused on living totally in the moment — the "now" — and not worrying about what lies ahead, while gentle soul Aimee already has her future planned out for herself (if she can just get up the gumption to break away from her stifling mother).
The conventions of the teen film mostly get turned on their ear in "The Spectacular Now." Do they meet cute? Well, only if you think her coming across him passed out in a front yard while she does her mother's early-morning paper route is cute. They are the proverbial opposites that attract, but actually have much more in common, primarily in their troubled home lives, than you'd initially think. Is the path of true romance a rocky one? Yeah. Do they overcome all obstacles? Not really. And while the film's ending can be viewed as hopeful, if not outright happy, it's also a bit ambivalent (if you see it, watch Aimee's face closely in the final scene).
Teller and Woodley are both extremely natural and charismatic actors who deserve the rave reviews they've gotten. I think Woodley ("The Descendants") could be our next Jennifer Lawrence. And the supporting cast is very strong, too, from Athens area native and UGA alum Kyle Chandler and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sutter's parents to Brie Larson ("United States of Tara") as the school beauty who dumps Sutter and Bob Odenkirk ("Breaking Bad") as Sutter's boss at a local menswear store.
And for those who know the Classic City, Athens, while never named in the film, is prominently featured, with lots of recognizable locations (including legendary local record store Wuxtry and several bars), the halls of Clarke Central High School (formerly Athens High in my day and an ironic choice since Ponsoldt went to crosstown rival Cedar Shoals), Clarke County schoolbuses, and Sutter even wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the name of a local restaurant.
But what I got a real kick out of came at the movie's very end: In the credits, after all the local businesses and institutions that helped out with the film are listed, Ponsoldt gives a shout out to "the kind, cool, gracious people of Athens, Georgia." And then he adds: "Go Dawgs!"
How cool is that?
ON THE TUBE: Largely eschewing reruns, I've watched much more original television than usual this summer — and it's all been on satellite/cable channels rather than the traditional broadcast networks.
I admit that I initially tuned into FX's cop thriller "The Bridge" primarily for Diane Kruger, but the slow-burn story of an American cop who has Asperger syndrome (Kruger) and a Mexican cop with a troubled marriage (Demián Bichir) who team up to try and solve a mysterious killing soon had me hooked. Besides the mysterious serial killer, there are side stories involving Mexican drug lords, illegal immigration and a fair amount of sex.
Meanwhile, a couple of new series from Britain have become regular viewing for Leslie and me. "Broadchurch" on BBC America is a pretty engrossing small-town murder mystery with well-drawn characters and a lot of suspects. David Tennant (formerly of "Doctor Who") leads a good cast.
The other new BBC series, "The White Queen" on Starz, is set in the War of the Roses. It's more "Masterpiece" with sex and nudity than "Game of Thrones," but that's not necessarily a bad thing, as the latter is almost impenetrable if you haven't been with it from the start. The 10-part series is based on Philippa Gregory's novel "The Cousin's War," and the very strong British cast features Max Irons as Edward IV, newcomer Rebecca Ferguson as his commoner Queen (who wound up being Henry VIII's grandmother), along with strong support from the likes of Janet McTeer and James Frain. Unfortunately, I read recently that the BBC doesn't plan continuing the story with a sequel based on Gregory's "The White Princess."
And then there's the new series of HBO's "The Newsroom," the Aaron Sorkin behind-the-scenes look at a cable TV news network, starring Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer and Sam Waterston. This season, there's a bit more emphasis on the news process itself and a bit less on the soapy relationships (though there's still some of that), but basically it's still what you'd expect from Sorkin: challenging drama with overly glib dialogue and righteously liberal politics. Still works for me.
QUICKIES: The weekend fanboy social media outcry over the news that Ben Affleck will play Batman/Bruce Wayne in conflict with Henry Cavill's Superman/Clark Kent in Zack Snyder's sequel to "Man of Steel" reminds me of the uproar created a few years ago when Daniel Craig was announced as the new James Bond. All those dire exclamations of how wrong he was for the part ("He's blond!") were soon forgotten when "Casino Royale" proved to be among the best-ever 007 films. I like what Joss Whedon, director of rival Marvel's "The Avengers," said on Twitter of the Batman casting news: "Affleck'll crush it. He's got the chops, he's got the chin — just needs the material." Indeed. Whedon added: "Affleck and Cavill toe to toe — I'm in." Me, too. ...
Speaking of Cavill, the good news concerning the upcoming movie remake of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." from director Guy Ritchie is that the current movie Superman has taken over the role of Napoleon Solo previously reported to have been miscast with Tom Cruise. Armie Hammer will play Illya Kuryakin and Hugh Grant has joined the cast as the head of British Naval Intelligence. The cast also includes Swedish actress Alicia Vikander ("Anna Karenina") and Elisabeth Debicki ("The Great Gatsby"). Richie will co-write the script with Lionel Wigram, who wrote both of Richie's Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey Jr. Filming is due to begin in September for a 2014 release. ...
I was really saddened by the news Linda Ronstadt is suffering from Parkinson's disease and is no longer able to sing. In her prime, she had a remarkable voice and was one of rock's biggest stars. I recently got a DVD of her 1977 concert at the Fox Theatre (which I covered), and I was reminded again of what a fantastic talent she was. Here's a clip:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eo0pC6228dM
East meets West: Sisters Anoushka Shankar and Norah Jones (daughters of the late Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar) team up on "Traces of You," from a forthcoming album by Anoushka, and the video was done by film director Joe Wright ("Pride & Prejudice," "Atonement"). Check it out:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturevideo/musicvideo/10263706/Anoushka-Shankar-and-Norah-Jones-Traces-of-You-exclusive-video.html
NPR is streaming Neko Case's new album, "The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You." I really love her voice and I like the production on much of this album, but I just wish the tunes themselves were stronger. See what you think:http://www.npr.org/series/98679384/first-listen
NPR also is streaming highlights from from Bob Dylan's "Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)":http://www.npr.org/2013/08/18/210228529/first-listen-bob-dylan-highlights-from-another-self-portrait-1969-1971
If you'd like to add to or have your say about anything in this column, just click on comment below. You don't have to be registered with Live Journal.
|Monday, July 1st, 2013|
|From Roman slaves and Russian spies to a new Man of Steel
I've been reading lately about how the traditional TV networks are rediscovering limited-run series — formerly known as the miniseries — in an effort to bolster their dwindling audience by emulating the round-the-calendar use of short-run series favored by cable channels.
Looking back over my own viewing habits the past few months, I've concluded there's something to that line of thinking. It's been an unusual television season for me in that I've been a regular weekly viewer of an unprecedented number of series — and yet all but a couple have been on cable rather than on the traditional networks.
On the network side, the high point definitely was CBS' Sherlock Holmes series "Elementary" — somewhat surprisingly so in that it was obviously emulating the BBC/PBS "Sherlock" in re-setting Holmes and Watson in the modern day. I tuned in initially wondering whether Jonny Lee Miller could possibly compete with the wonderful work Benedict Cumberbatch has done in the two brief series of "Sherlock."
He did just fine, thank you, and "Elementary" proved to be a fresh, different take on Holmes and Watson thanks to its twists —setting the show in New York City, having Holmes be a recovering drug addict (rather than an occasional user when he's bored) and making Watson a woman (played by Lucy Liu). That was nothing, though, compared with the surprises in the fantastic season finale featuring the sublime Natalie Dormer as Holmes' one great love ... and arch enemy. Yes — SPOILER ALERT! — Irene Adler turned out to be Moriarty. The interplay between Miller, Liu and Dormer was electric — there was definitely some work meriting Emmy consideration in that episode.
But beyond that, most of my unusually heavy viewing this winter and spring was on cable, starting with the final season of Starz' bloody, sexy and very much underrated "Spartacus," which managed to hold my interest despite the fact that anyone with a passing knowledge of Roman history knew how it was going to end.
Then came the British import "Ripper Street" on BBC America, with Matthew Macfadyen as a Scotland Yard detective exploring the nascent field of forensics while policing the worst area of Victorian London in the aftermath of the Jack the Ripper killings. Yes, it was a tad formulaic in that it featured yet another damaged detective, but it was well cast and handsomely staged.
Over on FX, "The Americans" gave last fall's "Homeland" a run for its money as the season's best series, cable or broadcast, with its through-the-looking-glass tale of a couple of Soviet spies living as a suburban American couple outside D.C. at the dawn of the Reagan era. The series was tensely plotted and took a couple of unexpected turns, but the best part was the relationship between the couple, played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, who had a hard time figuring out whether theirs was still a "fake" marriage after 20 years of living together and a couple of kids. The ultimate accolade for the show is that you found yourself rooting for them not to get caught, even if you didn't want their missions to succeed. This one's getting a lot of Emmy talk.
A much lower-profile but no less enthralling entry was the BBC America original series "Orphan Black," a sci-fi thriller that featured a tour de force series of performances (playing very different cloned "sisters") by Canadian star Tatiana Maslany. She definitely deserves an Emmy. On top of that, though, the premise was set up in an intriguing way, so it wasn't just your typical "conspiracy" plot. And the writing was smart and sassy — great dialogue! If you haven't watched the series, try catching up online or check it out on DVD and Blu-ray (out July 16).
And then there's the grandaddy of prestigious cable series, "Mad Men," which recently wound up its sixth and penultimate series. Actually, I know several folks who became disenchanted with the show this season and, frankly, it did get off to a muddled start with antihero ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) in a malaise that saw him returning to his cheating ways and drinking more heavily than ever amid all the turmoil of 1968. However, I thought "Mad Men" got back on track midway through the season and wound up with a terrific series of challenging episodes as Don hit bottom, professionally and personally, while ex-wife Betty (January Jones) — a complete bore in the previous couple of seasons — got her mojo back (and, as my son noted, got "thin and hot" again). It's going to be really interesting to see how creator Matthew Weiner wraps this up next year.
Bottom line: As Alec Baldwin noted recently in the Guardian, "Cable TV is the bastion of great acting now." And there's more to look forward to this summer, what with the return of "The Newsroom" and the debuts of "The Bridge" and "Broadchurch."
AT THE MOVIES: While I've been watching more TV series this year, I've conversely been going to the movies much less than usual. At a point in the year where I've typically seen close to a half-dozen films, so far in 2013 I've seen only two. Partly, that's been because I've been busy and it's been tough to fit moviegoing (and blogging here) into my schedule, but also there just hasn't been much I've wanted to see badly enough to head to the multiplex.
An exception was "Man of Steel," which I caught today. I must say it's my favorite Superman film so far. Not perfect by any means, but finally we have a movie version of the original comic book superhero that isn't saddled with a campy tone or buffoonish bad guys.
In fact, there's very little humor in it at all. If the charming lighter side of the Christopher Reeve incarnation of the character was your favorite thing about those films, well, you probably won't like this one.
But if you welcomed the dark, gritty tone created by Christopher Nolan for his "Dark Knight" Batman films, you'll find this new approach to Superman very similar — not a surprise since Nolan produced and co-wrote it.
I had minor quibbles — the Kryptonian prologue went on too long and the battle scenes were a bit Transformer-ish for my taste — but Amy Adams kicks butt as Lois Lane and I really liked Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Kal-El (the name "Superman" is only uttered once in the film). I've read a couple of reviews that complained about a lack of chemistry between Adams and Cavill, but I very much disagree. I thought their scenes together were terrific.
There are a couple of new wrinkles in the Superman legend introduced here — I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that Lois knows Clark Kent's secret from midway in the film — but overall I thought it was true to the spirit of the comic books and showed great respect for the material — like I said, no spoofy bad guys or phone booth jokes. Plus, it succeeds on its own terms, rather than trying to ride the coattails of the Reeve films like 2006's underwhelming "Superman Returns" did.
If you liked Nolan's Batman films but are on the fence about seeing this one, I'd recommend giving it a try.
Speaking of Superman, I've enjoyed reading Larry Tye's "Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero" this summer. Tye provides a vivid picture of the mostly Jewish creators of the Man of Steel in the comics as well as on radio, TV, Broadway and film, while also placing the character in a larger social context. Pop culture history at its best.
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|Monday, April 1st, 2013|
|Renewing the Late Night Shuffle, and the Lost Art of TV Conversation
Remember the protracted Jay Leno-Conan O'Brien "Tonight Show" debacle three years ago, a classic case of corporate ineptitude/mismanagement in which the NBC television network managed to diminish one of its longstanding tentpole programs, turn its 10 p.m. weeknight time slot into a ratings sinkhole, embarrass one of the network's major names and lose a promising younger star at the same time?
Now, apparently having learned nothing about the way to deal with the thorny problem of replacing the still top-rated but older-skewing Leno, the Peacock Network (currently owned by the evil Comcast Empire) apparently is bumbling its way through still another installment of its late-night follies.
The New York Times (which has owned the late-night news beat going back to 1992 and NBC's original Johnny Carson-Leno-Letterman cock-up) recently reported that sometime in 2014 NBC plans on replacing 62-year-old Leno as host of the 11:35 p.m. "Tonight" broadcast with "Saturday Night Live" alum Jimmy Fallon, 38, who currently mans the desk at the 12:25 a.m. "Late Night" franchise started by Letterman and previously home to O'Brien.
(UPDATE: Leno made it official Wednesday, April 3, announcing he will wrap up his 22 years as host of "The Tonight Show" in the spring of 2014 — some seven months before his contract was officially due to end. Fallon will "transition into new hosting duties on 'The Tonight Show'" after Leno ends his run, NBC said in a statement.The network also confirmed it was moving "The Tonight Show" from its Burbank studio, outside Los Angeles, to New York, where it began in 1954.)
It appears NBC's decision to cut and run has been prompted at least in part by the success ABC's Jimmy Kimmel is having in the coveted 18-34 demographic since his program was moved up ahead of "Nightline."
But the awkward way NBC's determination to again force Leno out of the "Tonight" host seat has leaked out — amid pointed barbs about the network's ratings collapse and reptillian execs in Leno's usually innocuous monologues — has given late-night observers a feeling of deja vu all over again. As my old schoolmate, Associated Press TV critic Frazier Moore, noted: "Name an NBC program with more laughs, intrigue, double-dealing and disgrace than when the network moved Jay Leno to prime time and handed Conan O'Brien the 'Tonight' show, then reversed itself several months later, bringing back Leno and losing Conan (along with his $45 million exit payment). These days NBC's prime time is in shambles. Bungling at 'Today' ended NBC's morning dominance. Can NBC go three-for-three by screwing with its late-night lineup?"
Actually, I have no problem with Fallon replacing Leno, whose bloated ego; tired, predictable jokes; and skim-the-surface interviews long ago bolstered my inclination to stick with Letterman even on one of Dave's off nights. Fallon is an ingratiating presence on the tube and probably will provide a less-jarring transition for Jay's not particularly demanding audience than just about any other likely choice as new host for "Tonight." And the reported plans to keep Fallon based in New York City, rather than move him to Leno's base of L.A., seems like a good idea, since Fallon definitely has more of an East Coast orientation.
But the prospect of Fallon leaving 12:35 and moving up an hour has set off lots of speculation about the ripple effect it's likely to have on the late-night TV scene. Rumored possible contenders to replace Fallon at "Late Night" range from controversial radio legend Howard Stern to the seemingly more likely Seth Meyers, who does "Weekend Update" on "SNL," which, like "Late Night," is produced by Lorne Michaels.
And what does the future hold for CBS' "Late Show" when Letterman retires, which is expected to be in a couple of years?
While Craig Ferguson, whose 12:35 a.m. "Late Late Show" is produced by Letterman's Worldwide Pants company, reportedly has a contractual right of first refusal, it's hard to see the multitalented Scotsman really wanting to smooth the rough edges off his offbeat late late-night act for the earlier audience. CraigyFerg's act — with its gay skeleton robot announcer, triple entendres and dancing horse — doesn't seem an ideal fit for the more mainstream 11:35 time slot.
Trying to lure Kimmel, an avowed Letterman disciple, away from ABC (possibly resulting in a bidding war) would be one option. Or CBS might try to up its hip quotient considerably by hiring Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert away from Comedy Central. (The pending vacancy at CBS is considered one of the reasons NBC wants to go ahead and lock Fallon into its own 11:35 spot.) Of the two, Stewart has the larger following and is brilliant at skewering political targets, but isn't a much better interviewer than Fallon.
One thing that's considered highly unlikely is a major network return for O'Brien, who's now toiling in the relative obscurity of basic cable's TBS, where he draws well among younger viewers but doesn't pull much of an audience beyond that and seems as trendy as last year's news.
(For an interesting analysis of the major late night hosts with comparisons to old-time hosts like Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett, check out a piece Ken Tucker wrote for Grantland:http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9097994/assessing-state-late-night-television-shows-turbulent-week
Speaking of the erudite Cavett, Tucker raises a valid point: None of the current crop of late-night hosts has proved to be a particularly adept conversationalist. The days of Cavett spending an hour talking with the likes of Groucho Marx or John Lennon are long gone. Ferguson probably could do it, if he weren't so focused on sillyness — at least, based on the no-audience one-guest installment of his show he did with fellow Brit Stephen Fry about three years ago. But the fact that he's never repeated that critically praised experiment would seem to indicate he's not really interested.
As for the others, if they're not fawning over a guest (Fallon's specialty), they mostly serve up softball questions punctuated by a couple of one-liners as a familar stream of celebs stop by to promote their latest movie, TV show or whatever. Even Letterman is guilty of this, though with the right guest the quick-witted, acerbic old man of late night still can leave the younger hosts floundering in his wake.
I really wonder whether any of the younger hosts will be able to handle serious interviews with politicians or experts on important subjects, as Letterman can do, or help the viewing audience get past tough times like 9/11 — again, as Dave did. Fallon's taped bits and game parodies are clever and fun, but his interviews are strictly schmoozefests. I like Kimmel and I like the way he openly patterns himself after Dave, but I'm not sure he has the gravitas; we'll see.
I actually think Colbert might be CBS' best choice as a successor to Letterman. In that new role, he could finally drop the faux-conservative persona, and he might well prove to be as interesting and charming as he is when he guests on talk shows.
MY TUNES: Eric Clapton's recently released "Old Sock" (Bushbranch/Surfdog) is a low-key, fitfully satisfying collection of cover tunes plus a couple of new songs turned out by some of the folks he collaborated with on the album, Slowhand's 21st studio effort. When it all clicks, as on the Great American Songbook standard "All of Me," which features Paul McCartney duetting with Clapton as well as playing stand-up bass, it's a delight. The two classic rockers' aging voices blend beautifully on the jazzy honkytonk rendition of the Gerald Marks tune. There's more good stuff, including a countryish rendition of the old folk standard "Goodnight Irene"; a bluesy take of Gary Moore's "Still Got the Blues" that boasts Steve Winwood on Hammond B3 organ and some tasty guitar work by Clapton; rootsy versions of the show tune "The Folks Who Live on the Hill" and the country oldie "Born to Lose" that are nicely flavored with pedal steel, accordion and dobro; and a laid-back, jazzy rendition of the Gershwins' "Our Love Is Here to Stay" that calls to mind McCartney's "Kisses on the Bottom" standards album from last year. But even with guest appearances by the likes of Taj Mahal, JJ Cale and Chaka Khan too much of the album comes off as generic Clapton, with too little time devoted to his guitar-playing and an overreliance on cod-reggae rhythms to try and inject some bounce into the proceedings. I'd advise downloading the best tracks mentioned above and skipping the album as a whole.
AT THE MOVIES: I was both pleased and disappointed by the recent news that the long-in-gestation big-screen version of "The Man From UNCLE" is moving ahead. The good news: Guy Ritchie, who's done the recent Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, appears to be taking the helm as the picture's director. The bad news: The departure from the project of George Clooney because of back trouble (Clooney's pal Steven Soderbergh previously was set to direct). Clooney would have been a brilliant choice to follow in Robert Vaughn's urbane steps as Napoleon Solo. His replacement, Tom Cruise, not so much. Leslie said she thinks Cruise would be better suited as a villain from THRUSH, and I'm inclined to agree. She also suggests that the producers should have Vaughn and David McCallum in the film, perhaps as senior officials at UNCLE. Personally, I think McCallum, who's in the ultra successful longrunning hit "NCIS" on CBS, would make a perfect successor to Leo G. Carroll, who played UNCLE boss Alexander Waverly in the original series. As for who should take McCallum's place as Solo's Russian partner, Illya Kuryakin, I'm inclined to think Jude Law, who has been so successful as second banana Watson in Ritchie's Holmes flicks, is the perfect choice. What do you think?
ON THE TUBE: Leslie and I caught the premiere of "Orphan Black" on BBC America Saturday night. It's an intriguing premise (a petty criminal sees her identical double commit suicide and then impulsively tries to assume her identity — not really a spoiler as the previews have tipped you off to that) and star Tatiana Maslany is undeniably appealing and sexy. But for most of the first episode her lead character wasn't very likable or relatable. And neither were any of the other characters. Toward the end, as things started to spin out of control for her, I started to feel a bit of empathy, so I think I'll give this series a shot. But that raises a point that's bothered me about some other recent series, most notably HBO's sex-and-whine-fest "Girls." The writing is clever, but there aren't any characters you can really like or even relate to. The central character, played and written by Lena Dunham, is irritatingly self-involved, and even the show's least obnoxious character, played by Allison Williams (daughter of NBC news anchor Brian), is hopelessly neurotic. It all gets tiresome. By comparison, the achievement of the producers/writers of FX's very adult current series "The Americans," about a pair of Russian spies posing as a suburban married couple living near Washington early in the Reagan era, is that much more impressive. You actually find yourself liking and wanting things to work out well for a couple of KGB agents (wonderfully played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) rather than the FBI folks trying to thwart them!
BEATLES TALK: To mark the 200th issue of Beatlefan magazine, I chatted recently with Beatles Examiner Steve Marinucci and syndicated radio host Ken Michaels for their "Things We Said Today" Beatles podcast. We talk about how the magazine got started, its most memorable moments, controversial articles over the years, and much more. If you're of a Fab Four persuasion, check it out. It can be downloaded in the iTunes store or you can just click on the link below and listen to it streaming: http://beatlesexaminer.podbean.com/
For more of my thoughts on TV, movies, music and pop culture in general, check out my posts on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/badston
And if you'd like to comment on anything in this column, feel free to click on comments below. You don't have to be registered with Live Journal. Current Mood: contemplative
|Monday, January 14th, 2013|
|Another Quickie look back: Highs and lows of 2012
Back in December, when I was writing the holiday letter of family news we send out to friends, it struck me that no matter how many good things happened to the Kings in 2012 — and there were a lot of them — a tinge of sadness permeated the year because of the passing of my 89-year-old father.
Likewise, looking back now at the year 2012 in entertainment, I got a lot of pleasure out of quite a few performances, but what stands out the most to me are the many talented favorites we lost during the year — most notably my favorite television performer of all time, Andy Griffith. But there were so many more, including Dick Clark, Ernest Borgnine, Robin Gibb, Davy Jones, Andy Williams, Ravi Shankar, Victor Spinetti, Earl Scruggs, Larry Hagman, Dave Brubeck, Charles Durning, Jack Klugman and Jonathan Frid.
So with a final tip of the hat to the departed, let me quickly catch up now on what I enjoyed over the holiday period and run through the highlights of the rest of 2012's offerings ...
AT THE MOVIES: I'd never seen any production of "Les Miserables" before, but my daughter Olivia is a big fan of the stage musical so I went with her to see the movie version, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not your typical movie adaptation of a stage musical in that the actors sang "live" on the set, rather than miming to a prerecorded track, which added considerably to the realism. And the story is almost entirely sung, rather than having people suddenly break into song between dialogue as is done in most musicals. Not everyone in the cast had a Broadway-ready singing voice, but that also made it seem a bit more real, I thought. Not being familiar with the play, I was a bit surprised that Anne Hathaway's character was in the fairly lengthy film for such a short time, but she makes quite an impression anyway, especially the "I Dreamed a Dream" number. And she has a wonderful voice. Hugh Jackman was fantastic, as expected. And while Russell Crowe is no balladeer, he did quite a good job. Amanda Seyfried was a little shrill in the upper register but was a suitably lovely Cosette. All in all, a good movie musical for those who generally don't like movie musicals.
Olivia and I also saw "The Hobbit" and, quite frankly, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. Yes, it's too long. The opening part tends to drag a bit as it sets up the back-story (including a cameo by Elijah Wood as Frodo from "Lord of the Rings") and introduces the 13 dwarves who make up Bilbo and Gandalf's companions on the story's quest. It easily could have been trimmed a half-hour off the 2-hour-46-minute running time. And, yes, it will take maybe 10 minutes or so for your eyes become accustomed to the higher frame-speed at which director Peter Jackson shot the film. At first, the picture looks a bit unreal (even for a fantasy story) and lacks some of the warmth of traditional film. But after you adjust, you'll find the higher definition pays off, especially in the scenes with Gollum (which takes the motion-capture technology to new heights). The film may start slow, but once the journey is under way it's one adventure after another as they battle their way through trolls, orcs and goblins. As Olivia said, you hardly get a chance to catch a breath between action sequences. And Martin Freeman (of "Sherlock" and the British "The Office" fame) does a wonderful job of filling out the character of the younger Bilbo. Ian McKellen does his usual fine job as Gandalf, Andy Serkins is superb as Gollum, and among the new additions, Richard Armitage is impressive as head dwarf Thorin Oakenshield. Some critics have complained you can't tell the dwarves apart, but I didn't find that to be the case (though I couldn't remember their names). Despite its length, it doesn't feel padded once you get past the opening, and the addition of material from J.R.R. Tolkien's "Rings" appendices that doesn't appear in the original "Hobbit" novel provides a nice portentious bridge to the "Rings" trilogy. Overall, it's a well-done film that fans of Jackson's "Rings" trilogy shouldn't miss.
The only film I went to the cinema to see twice in 2012 was the latest James Bond epic, "Skyfall." I first saw it with my daughter and then went back with Leslie, so obviously I really enjoyed it. It manages to update the old 007 movie formula (with self-contained debate about whether agents like Bond are still needed in the cyber age) with quite a few nods to the past. There's the usual carnage, but a surprisingly large amount of it is old-fashioned low-tech stuff. We revisit Bond's and M's pasts. And there's quite a twist toward the end that allows Daniel Craig to once again personalize and humanize his Bond, as he did in "Casino Royale." Highly recommended.
But if I had to pick one film that I went to see last year that I'd rank above all the others, it would be the superb "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," a dark, moody, slow-burn puzzler of a Cold War spy story with no car chases or explosions. Gary Oldman was fantastic as the taciturn but always watchful George Smiley.
Other films I saw in 2012 that I thought were exceptional included the English-language remake of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara; Ridley Scott's "Prometheus," which was well-done sci-fi horror with a terrific performance by Noomi Rapace; and "The Dark Knight Rises," in which Christopher Nolan wrapped up his Batman trilogy in thrilling style, with epic scope, stunning pictures, superb action and a refreshingly dark, somber tone. Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway headed an excellent cast.
Films that didn't quite rank with those but which I still enjoyed: "Farewell, My Queen," a subtitled French period costume drama about the confusion and intrigue at Versailles during the outbreak of the French Revolution with wonderful performances by Lea Seydoux and Diane Kruger; "Arbitrage," a nifty financial thriller that has a top-notch cast featuring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth and Stuart Margolin; and the indie film "Safety Not Guaranteed," a quirky sort-of time travel tale that really was more a comedic character study/relationship film.
The only film I went to see last year that I really did not enjoy was the Tim Burton remake of "Dark Shadows," starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, the reluctant vampire. It started out with promise, mixing humor and horror, but the film went completely off the rails in the second half, with an over-the-top climax that seemed like they were just throwing every horror movie cliche they could think of at the screen, whether it made any sense or not.
ON THE TUBE: If you've ever been a Sherlock Holmes fan and you haven't been following CBS' "Elementary" series, you're missing a treat. What started out as something in between PBS' similarly modernized "Sherlock" and a typical CBS procedural has grown much more complex and interesting. "Sherlock" is more closely tied to the Conan Doyle canon, but that isn't always an advantage (the British series' updating of "Hounds of the Baskervilles" having been a bit of a disappointment). Jonny Lee Miller's Holmes in "Elementary" is every bit as arrogant and brilliant, but is more human and vulnerable than Benedict Cumberbatch's rather cold, cruel Holmes in "Sherlock." And Lucy Liu's female Watson is less traditional than Martin Freeman's in "Sherlock," but no less interesting. The interplay between Miller and Liu gets better as the back story of both (none of which is traditional Holmes) is unreeled. Both series offer new twists on such Holmes staples as Irene Adler and Moriarty. I'm a fan of both series, but "Elementary" is a lot more accesssible, not least because it's available weekly while "Sherlock" is very limited (six episodes in two years so far). I highly recommend "Elementary."
As for the rest of my television highlights from 2012, I'd give the top spot to the second season of Showtime's terrorist conspiracy thriller "Homeland," which kept throwing viewers curve balls and had a wonderful Anglo-American cast headed by Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin. I absolutely loved the way the big twist in the season finale sends this series in a completely unexpected direction.
Also still among TV's best was AMC's period piece "Mad Men," which moved into 1966, touching on various mileposts of the era, from race relations to the obstacles faced by career women to tripping on LSD. Watching the superb cast topped by Jon Hamm and John Slattery explore their flawed but fascinating characters was as satisfying as ever. And a worthy newcomer was Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom" on HBO, which managed to blend media self-scrutiny and soap opera while making serious political points. Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer headed another wonderfully talented cast.
Other TV offerings I really enjoyed included the gritty BBC America Civil War-era series "Copper"; "Game Change," the superb HBO movie starring Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin; the off-the-charts sci-fi weirdness of the final series of J.J. Abrams' "Fringe" on Fox; the interplay between the regular cast members on CBS' sometimes-over-the-top procedural "Hawaii Five-O"; and the skewering of West Wing stereotypes in the Julia Louis-Dreyfus HBO satire "Veep." As for "Girls," the Lena Dunham 20-something sex comedy for HBO that did so well at Sunday night's Golden Globes, I admired the clever, at times brutal, self-portrait of a coddled generation, but found it difficult to actually like any of the characters. I'm still watching, though.
Most lamented loss of the year on TV was another J.J. Abrams series on Fox, "Alcatraz," which had an intriguing time-bending premise but apparently moved too slowly for the prime-time network audience. Too bad.
MY TUNES: My favorite album release of 2012 was Paul McCartney's tasty stroll down Tin Pan Alley for "Kisses on the Bottom." Backed by a terrific jazz band headed by Diana Krall, Macca came up with a sublime collection of pop standards plus a couple of new tunes that fit right in. Another favorite was George Harrison's "Early Takes Volume 1," a collection of demos and early versions of songs that was enthralling in its simplicity. Other albums from last year that I enjoyed included Bob Dylan's "Tempest," Krall's own "Glad Rag Doll," Jeff Lynne's "Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra," Carole King's "The Legendary Demos," Joe Walsh's "Analog Man," the Decemberists' "We All Raise Our Voices to the Air" (a career-spanning live collection), Mumford and Sons' "Babel" and the gorgeous folk harmonies of the Staves' "Dead & Born & Grown."
Among the individual tracks I really enjoyed last year were Eric Hutchinson's "Watching You Watch Him," Gotye's song-of-the-year contender "Somebody That I Used to Know," the Black Keys' "Lonely Boy" (actually released in late 2011 but an alternative radio staple in 2012), the Shins' "Simple Song," John Mayer's "Shadow Days" and "Queen of California," Of Monsters and Men's "Little Talks," the Lumineers' "Ho Hey," Phillip Phillips' "Home," Imagine Dragons' "It's Time," Anna Sun's "This House Is Falling Apart," Mumford and Sons' "I Will Wait," Tristan Prettyman's "My Oh My" and Ringo Starr's remake of his '70s tune "Wings," as recorded live at Atlanta's Fox Theatre. Seeing Ringo's All Starrs at the Fox with Leslie and Livvy was my only concert foray of the year and a totally enjoyable one!
ON THE SHELF: Among the DVD releases I really enjoyed this year were the remastered version of The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour," McCartney doing his pop standards thing live at the historic Capitol Studios for "Live Kisses," the deluxe set of Martin Scorsese's "George Harrison: Living in the Material World" (including a very nice book), "Sherlock: Season 2," "Strange Fruit: The Beatles' Apple Records" and the Criterion Collection reissue of Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps." Books from 2012 I can recommend: Larry Tye's "Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero," Coyne S. Sanders and Tom Gilbert's "Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz," "James Bond: 50 Years of Movie Posters," Robert Rodriguez's "Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock 'n' Roll," the updating of Alan Barnes' "Sherlock Holmes On Screen: The Complete Film and TV History," and, for history buffs, Antony Beevor's "The Second World War."
If you'd like to add to or have your say about anything in this column or share your own favorites from 2012, just click on comment below. You don't have to be registered with Live Journal. Current Mood: contemplative
|Thursday, December 13th, 2012|
|12.12.12: The Concert That Wouldn't End
By the time Paul McCartney took the stage at the marathon 12.12.12 benefit concert for Hurricane Sandy relief, it was 12.13.12.
At five hours and 50 minutes, watching the whole thing was something of an endurance test, though it was worth it since concerts like this only seem to come around a couple of times a decade. (Thankfully, I should say, since they're usually precipitated by some sad event.)
This one had a pretty varied 40-minute set by McCartney, with five rockers and two ballads. I know some folks found it a bit lacking in the unforgettable sing-along classic quotient, but I was actually glad he skipped the overdone "Hey Jude" that he so often does at these all-star things. And the number he did with the members of Nirvana, while not a great song, was an exciting, generation-spanning performance.
I also was relieved that McCartney's infamously time-worn voice wasn't the shakiest on display at Madison Square Garden (that dubious honor belonging to a rather strangled-sounding Roger Daltrey).
Highlights of the evening, besides Macca's set, included Bruce Springsteen's heartfelt half-hour opening sequence, the middle portion of The Who's somewhat meandering set, Billy Joel singing the exact songs the New York crowd wanted to hear, Michael Stipe joining Chris Martin (with a shout out to my hometown of Athens!) and an impressive solo turn by Alicia Keys, the sole female headliner. I could have done without Kanye West and his leather skirt, though.
But the low point of the evening, not counting Adam Sandler's and Jon Bon Jovi's haircuts, definitely was the dragging, unfunny "Drunk Uncle" sketch by Seth Meyers and Bobby Moynihan of "Saturday Night Live." Brian Williams mistakenly referring to Pete Townshend as Keith Moon in one of his phone-bank segments came a close second.
All in all, it was a well-produced show that needed trimming back by at least an hour, even if it was largely a dream bill of aging classic rockers that may well never be repeated.
"This has to be the largest collection of old British musicians ever at Madison Square Garden," Mick Jagger joked at one point. However, the best line went to Coldplay's Martin, who noted he was the youngest performer on the bill (actually, that was Keys) and cheekily suggested audience members should figure their donation for the evening by calculating the average age of the concert's performers. "I think you'll raise billions," he said.
Of course, the solid gold lineup was deliberate, as one of the concert's producers noted backstage: It was aimed squarely at baby boomers, who have the most money to donate. Still, you've got to wonder why they think boomers wouldn't have been spurred to open their wallets by a couple of more women on the bill.
Taking a closer look at the evening's performances, I thought Springsteen provided a suitable serving of gravitas with the likes of "Land of Hope and Dreams," "Wrecking Ball" and "My City in Ruins." And, considering they're fellow Jersey boys, the duet with Bon Jovi on "Born to Run" was predictable but acceptable (though I thought the Boss returning the favor on "Who Says You Can't Go Home" during Bon Jovi's set was a bit of overkill in a show that was destined to run way too long).
The Roger Waters segment of Pink Floyd tunes provided another of the evening's superstar team-ups when Eddie Vedder joined him to sing "Comfortably Numb." Overall, though, Waters' presentation of music from "The Wall" and "The Dark Side of the Moon" came off a bit lacking in the sort of emotion that fuels shows like this. And David Gilmour's guitar definitely was missed. Plus, as my son noted, without the full light show those numbers aren't as satisfying.
Bon Jovi's “It’s My Life,” “Wanted: Dead or Alive” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” leading up to his second duet with Springsteen weren't bad (again, except for the hair) and certainly were on point with the audience at Madison Square Garden.
Eric Clapton's set was surprisingly low-key, as he did a couple of more obscure songs in “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and “Got to Get Better in a Little While” before trotting out the familiar “Crossroads."
The Rolling Stones' brief two-song segment consisted of shambolic (even by Stones standards) performances of "You Got Me Rockin'" (one of the most uninspired choices of the entire show) and "Jumping Jack Flash." I understand they had a concert in New Jersey set for the next night and don't like back-to-back shows, but their presentation frankly came off a bit perfunctory — and deservedly drew a couple of barbed references by actor Steve Buscemi in the between-sets segment that followed. He joked that the producers made room for him by cutting the Stones short: "I said, 'If they play more than two songs, I'm out of here.'"
New York City native Keys, alone at the piano, impressed me greatly with her impassioned renditions of “Brand New Me” (a post-breakup ballad that some critics thought an odd choice but which I thought was in keeping with the rather defiant mood of the evening) and “No One,” which was turned into a love song for the Big Apple (and featured this century's twist on my generation's penchant for holding up cigarette lighters at concerts — now replaced by glowing cellphones).
When it comes to The Who, perhaps I was expecting too much as I remember their absolutely killer set at the similar 9/11 concert on the same stage, but their six-song segment was a bit of a mixed bag. The "kids" started out alright with "Who Are You," but then presented "Bell Boy," complete with the late Keith Moon singing the lead vocal on the video screen while Daltry had his back to the audience. I realize they're prepping a "Quadrophenia" tour and Moon is a beloved figure, but the mini-tribute to him seemed out of place at this show. Things got back on track with "Pinball Wizard"/"See Me, Feel Me" and "Baba O'Reilly" (with Pete Townshend altering the lyrics to "a Sandy wasteland" at one point), but "Love, Reign O'er Me" dragged a bit, and winding up with "Tea & Theatre," an acoustic number unknown to most in both the arena and the worldwide viewing audience, was definitely anti-climactic.
Like I said earlier, Daltrey's voice wasn't in the best shape, either, and his efforts at his trademark lariat-style mic swinging were a trifle underwhelming, but he did provide one of the evening's more tweet-worthy moments with his geezerdom-defying glistening bared chest.
Kanye West went the medley route, cramming in abbreviated versions of nearly a dozen of his hits, only one of which ("Jesus Walks") I recognized. I'm just not into hip-hop. If I'd been in the arena, that would have been the opportunity to take Townshend's advice and "have a fucking beer!"
Long Island native Billy Joel might not look the part of the cocksure rock 'n' roller any more, but musically he was his usual reliable self, running through a set of tunes that resonated with the audience, starting with his post-Sandy rewrite of “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" and continuing through "Moving Out (Anthony's Song)" and a snippet of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" leading into the obligatory "New York State of Mind." The latter wasn't as emotional a performance as at the 9/11 concert, but still satisfied. Then came a toe-tapping "River of Dreams" and a pair of Joel classics in "You May Be Right" and "Only the Good Die Young."
Joel also served as a pugnacious voice for the folks in the region slammed by Sandy when he said, “We’re going to get through all this. This is New York and New Jersey and Long Island, and we’re just too mean to lay down and die.”
Chris Martin had another nice quip when he came on past midnight representing the younger branch of British rock, saying, "I know you really wanted One Direction, but it's way past their bedtime. That's why you get one-quarter of Coldplay." Which was enough to satisfy, as Martin did a nice acoustic guitar version of "Viva La Vida" and a solo piano take of "Us Against the World" before providing one of the evening's few real surprises by bringing Stipe "out of retirement" to join him on a version of R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion."
Ringo might not appreciate Martin saying he had to get off the stage quickly to make way for "The Beatles," but when McCartney and his touring band finally took the stage at 12:35 a.m., Beatles is what we got, at least initially, as Paul, dressed casually in a white shirt and light blue jeans, established his rocker bona fides right away by opening with a rousing "Helter Skelter."
Then came "Let Me Roll It," which provides Macca a chance to play some lead on his color-splashed Gibson (though I wish he had played more), and "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five" on the grand piano. While I always enjoy the two Wings tunes, I can see my son's point that they perhaps weren't the best choices for this setting. As he put it, "'Let Me Roll It' is too slow and '1985' changes tempo too much to develop any kind of groove with those abrupt 'oooh oooh ohh' interludes. They are decent songs, but just didn't work for the setting."
Probably neither did Macca's recent "My Valentine," which works better in the jazz setting in which it originally was recorded, but it did at least provide an opportunity to bring Diana Krall out on piano, thus doubling the number of big-name women participating in the concert. (It would have been great to have Clapton playing the guitar solo he performed on the record, but by the time Paul took the stage Eric, whose set had been hours earlier, was probably at home in bed watching the show on the tube.) The next tune, "Blackbird," is also a ballad, but it's such a beloved one that it was a pretty safe choice, even if, as my daughter ruefully noted, it does showcase the limitations of Sir Paul's 70-year-old voice. One hiccup: The earnest if clunky intros to the two ballads, in which Paul tried a bit too hard to connect the circumstances in which they were written to Sandy. Awkward, but his heart was in the right place.
Then it was time for the teaming of Macca with Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear of Nirvana for "Cut Me Some Slack," a tune they all recently recorded for the soundtrack of a film Grohl is making about the Sound City studios. I thought the song had a nice "Helter Skelter"-ish groove, even if it didn't have much of a melody. It definitely fit in well in such a show, and I got a kick out of Macca playing slide on a cool-looking cigar box-style 4-string guitar with resonator.
McCartney then was rejoined by his band for a choice Beatles selection, "I've Got a Feeling," followed by a real crowd-pleaser in the bombastic "Live and Let Die," which had such intense flashpots and fireworks at the end that Macca said it left him blinded. I got the impression he may have been only half-joking. All in all, a solid Macca set worth staying up late to catch.
That wasn't the end, although the concert finale wasn't the expected all-star jam. Instead, Macca was joined onstage by many of the heroes of the aftermath of Sandy while Keys took over the piano to belt out her "Empire State of Mind." It was a suitable New York-centric selection, but the sight of her singing while Macca, wearing a firefighter's hat, swayed and posed for pictures onstage with the various first-responders made for a slightly odd wrap-up to the marathon show.
And so the concert that wouldn't end finally did. Of course, it wasn't nearly as long as Live Aid; it simply felt that way at times. But it was definitely for a good cause and boasted enough memorable musical moments to be considered an overall success.
Let's just hope it's a few years before we have to do this again, and, when we do, these aging superstars are still around to heed the call.
|Monday, October 29th, 2012|
|Of missiles, mystery tours and more
Already this year we've marked numerous notable 50th anniversaries, from the founding of the U.S. Navy SEALS, K-mart and WalMart to the launch of Telstar, the first communications satellite; the first performance by the Rolling Stones; Johnny Carson's first "Tonight Show"; the release of the first James Bond movie; and quite a few landmark Beatles events, including Ringo joining the band and the release of their first single, "Love Me Do."
Quite a year, 1962.
Sunday marked another anniversary: 50 years since the conclusion of what came to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, probably the closest we ever came to the Cold War with the Soviet Union becoming a nuclear war.
Many young people probably don't have a clue what that was all about; others know it was when President John F. Kennedy announced that U.S. spy planes had spotted Russian missile bases in Cuba, just 90 miles away. In a game of global brinksmanship, JFK ordered a U.S. naval blockade of Cuba that could well have brought armageddon had Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev not backed down and agreed to dismantle and remove all offensive Soviet weapons in Cuba.
But what the history books can't really capture for those who came after is just how nerve-wracking those 13 days in October 1962 were for the American people. Perhaps if they recall the paranoia that immediately followed 9/11, when people were busy sealing their windows with duct tape, they can get some idea of what it was like in October 1962.
I remember a classmate begging off from some after-school event because he had to go straight home and help his mom work on preparing a fallout shelter. Remember those? The idea was to protect your family from radioactive fallout in the event of a Russian nuclear attack. Sometimes it was a sealed off basement or inner room of a house. The more elaborate, like my great Uncle Leon's, were underground bunkers complete with air filters and provisions for an extended stay. Fortunately, Uncle Leon's was only ever used for storing his wife's homemade jams and preserves.
Those families that didn't have shelters made plans as best they could. My wife Leslie recalls her mother gathering jugs of water in the inner hallway of their house, where her family would have gathered. I remember asking my Mom what we would do and she told me we'd go to the downtown building of the bank my Dad worked for, which was one of those community fallout shelters where volunteers periodically were locked up for a few days as a drill.
I clearly remember watching the president's TV address to the nation announcing the crisis and later watching live coverage of the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, taking on the Soviet representative, famously telling him he was prepared to wait "until hell freezes over" for an answer. My Welsh-born Mom had become a naturalized U.S. citizen specifically so she could vote for Stevenson in the 1956 presidential race and she was a big fan of his. I remember her cheering him on in perhaps his finest hour.
I also remember one evening when a plane with a big red star on the side flew low over the neighborhood, leading some nervous kids to declare that it probably was Russian.
Strangely, though, I don't recall really being scared. I was only 10 and perhaps the magnitude of it all escaped me. Or maybe I just had faith the president would do what was necessary to keep us from going to war.
I think it was only in retrospect, as I got older, that I realized how close we came to the precipice during that time. Watching the excellent 1974 made-for-TV drama "The Missiles of October," starring William Devane as JFK and Martin Sheen as his brother Bobby, really brought it home.
As U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, a fellow Georgian, noted back in ’62, "We were eyeball to eyeball and the other guy just blinked."
ON VIDEO: I’ve always been fascinated with The Beatles' “Magical Mystery Tour,” recently remastered and reissued on DVD and Blu-ray. The movie has long had a bad rap as a rare creative misstep by the Fab Four. When it first was shown as a holiday special on British TV the day after Christmas 1967, viewers were aghast. NBC bailed out of airing it in the States, relegating it to college screening rooms and the midnight movie circuit.
It's easy to see why viewers expecting something along the lines of the Richard Lester-directed moptop romps “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” were nonplussed by this nonlinear film, which really was an elaborate "home movie" of the Fab Four and friends riding a bus around southern England in a vain search for a plotline. Just about everyone agreed the music was great, but most folks were like the girl with whom I attended a college screening of the film, who declared it "too far out." I’ve heard even longtime Beatles fans dismiss it as “unwatchable.”
Actually, once you get past The Beatles' psychedelic garb and the weird camera effects, it's not that far out at all. Based on a working class U.K. tradition of mystery bus trips, the film is closer to vaudeville than avant-garde, what with its lampooning of various British stereotypes and its reliance on visual jokes. As British writer Barry Miles points out in the booklet accompanying the deluxe box set edition of the film's reissue, "Magical Mystery Tour" was "a visual equivalent of 'Sgt. Pepper': It broke all kinds of rules, it used some avant-garde ideas, but it made sure that there was something for everyone. The Beatles were never exclusive, never part of a trendy clique; they were open, democratic, inclusive. There was room on the bus for everyone."
Attempts to pitch "Magical Mystery Tour" as cutting-edge cinema are probably overreaching, but watch it as sort of an extended music video and it's hard to resist a very stoned Paul McCartney dancing around in France for "The Fool on the Hill," the swaying policemen in the tripped-out “I Am the Walrus” segment or, best of all, the Fabs trotting down a winding staircase in white tuxes for the affectionate send-up of movie musicals in the "Your Mother Should Know" finale.
AT THE MOVIES: Leslie and I recently went to see "Arbitrage," a nifty financial thriller that has a top-notch cast featuring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth and Stuart Margolin. Even though Gere plays a not-quite-Bernie Madoff type whose corporate and personal transgressions don't make him a very sympathetic character, you find yourself rooting for him anyway as his troubles turn deadly and threaten his blameless friends and family. Nate Parker particularly shines in a key supporting role. Not a must-see, but certainly a worthwhile way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
ON THE RADIO: I'm trying to wrap my head around what's happening in Atlanta radio, but it makes no sense. Entertainment Weekly recently noted that the biggest music debut of 2012 doesn't belong to a pop act like One Direction or Justin Bieber, but to the jangly British folk-rock band Mumford & Sons, whose banjo-infused "Babel" debuted atop Billboard's album chart, selling more than 600,000 copies in its first week.
And yet as of last week there isn't a single commercial radio station in Atlanta on which I can regularly hear Mumford & Sons. Or other alternative acts like Avett Brothers or the Shins or the Decemberists or Death Cab for Cutie or even much of the fairly mainstream music of Coldplay and the Dave Matthews Band.
Dave FM, which for the past eight years had been Atlanta's "adult rock" or album-alternative station, has been switched over to sports talk by CBS, its owner. So while someone seems to think there's room in town for three stations chattering about the NFL, half a dozen Top 40 formats aimed at teenagers, a couple of rednecky country stations, several r&b or rap outlets and even several Spanish-language stations, there isn't even one non-college station that plays the Drive-By Truckers or the Lumineers.
If I don't want to hear Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Led Zeppelin and George Thorogood cycling incessantly on our "classic hits" station or have my ears assaulted by likes of AC/DC and Metallica on a "rock" station that features infantile jocks aiming their "humor" at the NASCAR crowd, it seems I'm out of luck. Unless I want to pay for Sirius/XM, which I don't.
So much for the diversity of the marketplace.
ON THE TUBE: The only new TV series I've added to my regular viewing so far this fall season is "Elementary," the CBS series that updates Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to a contemporary setting, much like the BBC/PBS "Sherlock" already did, but with a twist: While Holmes is still British (played by the excellent Jonny Lee Miller), he's now a recovering drug addict living in the Big Apple and consulting with the NYPD. And Watson is his female "sober companion," a disgraced former doctor played by Lucy Liu. Unlike "Sherlock," which cleverly updates Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories, "Elementary" is essentially another CBS procedural, though a cut above most of them. The best part about it, so far, is the interplay between Miller and Liu as Holmes and Watson. Miller's Holmes is every bit as brilliant as Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock in the British series, but a bit more human and humane. And Liu's Watson doesn't take nearly as much guff from the brilliant detective as most portrayals of Holmes' companion usually do. So far, the producers have wisely avoided introducing any sexual tension between the two, but their exchanges still bristle with electricity. ... Also highly recommended is the second season of Showtime's terrorist conspiracy thriller "Homeland," which keeps throwing viewers curve balls and has an absolutely wonderful Anglo-American cast headed by Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin.
MY TUNES: Recent albums I've picked up that are worth recommending: Bob Dylan's "Tempest," Diana Krall's "Glad Rag Doll" and Jeff Lynne's "Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra." I can give a conditional recommendation to Lynne's other new release, "Long Wave."
The Dylan album continues in the blues-based rootsy vein of his past few releases, with the most notable development this time out being his move back toward very long story songs. Once you get used to his voice, which these days sounds like something you'd expect from a Batman villain, the music and lyrics reward repeated playings. My favorites are "Soon After," which has a countryish feel and is sung in a more tender voice than his usual growl, and "Scarlet Town," a haunting tune that has a nice melodic hook and makes good use of a mournful fiddle. The two tracks that have drawn the most attention close the album: the title number, an epic retelling of the sinking of the Titanic, and "Roll on John," a surprisingly sentimental tribute to John Lennon that quotes from some of the Beatle's lyrics.
Krall's change-of-pace "Glad Rag Doll" sees the jazz pianist-vocalist leaving behind her usual ultra cool lounge vibe for a sampling of vintage and mostly obscure jazz-Americana-blues-r&b tunes from the 1920s and ’30s under the guidance of producer T Bone Burnett. The whole album is enjoyable, but the high points are a version of "There Ain't No Sweet Man That's Worth the Salt of My Tears" featuring some surprisingly grungy guitar by Marc Ribot, and the bluesy piano piece "Here Lies Love." Also fun is the swinging rockabilly treatment of "I'm a Little Mixed Up," the cowboy ballad "Prairie Lullaby," and the blues-rockabilly-jazz fusion of "Lonely Avenue," which would sound right at home on the soundtrack of HBO's campy vampire series "True Blood."
The more successful of the two Lynne albums is "Mr Blue Sky," which is an ELO greatest hits album for which Lynne has recorded new versions of the songs that are basically note-for-note copies of the originals. For my money, the title song is still ELO's best. "Long Wave" has Lynne covering songs that inspired him, including "Beyond the Sea," "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing" and "At Last." The album gets off to a poor start with renditions of Charles Aznavour's "She" and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "If I Loved You" that don't really suit Lynne's voice or production style. Much better is his version of the Rolling Stones' "Mercy, Mercy," which is very reminiscent of his work with the Traveling Wilburys; his acoustic rendition of fellow Wilbury Roy Orbison's "Running Scared"; his classic pop treatment of Rodgers & Hart's "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" (the album's best showcase for Lynne's vocal abilities); and a soft rockabilly reading of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile." Overall, it's a collection that mostly will appeal to hardcore Lynne fans.
If you'd like to add to or have your say about anything in this column, just click on comment below. You don't have to be registered with Live Journal. Current Mood: contemplative
|Tuesday, August 28th, 2012|
|Another of McCartney’s 'Great Performances'
In the wake of his high-profile but disappointing, rather croaky one-off performances this summer at Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee concert and the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, it wouldn’t be surprising for some viewers — and even Paul McCartney fans — to be a bit gunshy about yet another chance to catch Macca singing on TV. But “Paul McCartney’s Live Kisses,” premiering Sept. 7 on “Great Performances” (check local listings), sees Sir Paul definitely living up to the title of the PBS arts series.
Taken from a February iTunes Webcast to promote McCartney’s “Kisses on the Bottom” album of pop standards done with Diana Krall and a group of top-flight jazz musicians, this is a low-key, thoroughly charming performance by McCartney, whose atypically restrained vocals here actually sound better live on some of the tunes than on the album itself, with less reliance on the use of falsetto.
Several of the musicians interviewed in this film by Jonas Akerlund talk about the tremendous musical history of the famed Capitol Studios in Hollywood where Macca is performing (and where much of the album was recorded) and the legendary names like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole who have worked there. Soaking up all that pop music history seems to have affected both the backing band and the evening’s star. All appear to be enjoying themselves, sharing lots of smiles and chuckles, with even the musicians applauding after some numbers.
Akerlund, known primarily for directing music videos and commercials, includes some color background footage, but the performance and interviews have been stylishly shot in black & white, with lots of different camera angles.
One of the things that made the “Kisses” album such a delightful surprise (and the same is true for this special) is that McCartney hasn’t gone just for the predictable chestnuts that performers usually do for these standards albums. Yes, there are some classics that everyone will instantly recognize, but other tunes performed are offbeat choices that will be “new” to many viewers.
The performance opens with “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” with Abe Laboriel Jr. from Paul’s touring band providing the backing vocal. Next is the lovely “Home (When Shadows Fall),” which features some McCartney family snapshots blended in with the studio performance.
Then come several interview clips, including bits with Stevie Wonder and Eric Clapton, both of whom joined McCartney on the album, though they don’t participate in this live performance. After that is “The Glory of Love” (again with backing by Abe), followed by a performance of “More I Cannot Wish You,” utilizing a split screen. At the end of that little-known Frank Loesser tune from the stage version (but not the film) of “Guys and Dolls,” Macca obviously is moved by the song’s tender advice from a parent to a child, noting, “That one gets me.”
Next comes “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” on which Macca is backed vocally by both Laboriel and Krall. Then we have Joe Walsh, Wonder and Clapton talking about McCartney. Speaking of the “Kisses” project, Walsh says, “I think he’s very brave to do this ... It’s a different Paul than we all know — and it’s wonderful.”
That leads into the only Macca original included in the special, “My Valentine,” written “for Nancy,” his new wife, with Walsh handling the acoustic guitar solo that Clapton did on the album. Then comes the classic song “Always,” followed by Clapton noting that, like Paul, he grew up with these tunes. Adds Wonder: “A great song is a great song, no matter when you hear it.”
The fun Fats Waller number “My Very Good Friend the Milkman” is next, and it appears to be a favorite of everyone involved. Macca notes that he’s a bit “intimidated” by the great jazz musicians surrounding him, but they all seem very appreciative of what he’s doing. The performance winds up with the bluesy “Get Yourself Another Fool,” with Walsh on electric guitar.
The briskly paced hour should prove entertaining for both fans of McCartney and those who appreciate classic pop tunes (a good portion of the PBS audience, I’d wager). If there’s any justice, this program will prompt more people to seek out “Kisses on the Bottom,” one of the most adventurous albums in McCartney’s catalog.
AT THE MOVIES: Leslie and I went to see "Farewell, My Queen," a subtitled French period costume drama about the confusion and intrigue at Versailles during the outbreak of the French Revolution. The very pretty and talented Lea Seydoux (whom we'd previously seen as the king’s wife in Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood") plays a lady-in-waiting who acts as reader to Queen Marie Antoinette. The queen is played brilliantly by one of my favorites, Diane Kruger, who manages to be simultaneously sympathetic and selfish. At times, you'll wonder at the devotion of Sidonie (Seydoux) to the queen, even when absolutely outrageous demands are made, until you realize that without the queen this ambitious young woman has no existence at all and is, as she says, "no one." The period detail in the production is magnificent and the tension building throughout the film is palpable. This one is definitely worth seeing if you're at all partial to costume dramas.
ON THE TUBE: The season finale of HBO's "The Newsroom" drama about a cable news operation was vintage Aaron Sorkin: overstuffed with rapid, clever, punchy dialogue; a plot that veered all over the place; and a cogent political point made with, naturally, a bit of self-righteous hyperbole. Irritating and overly glib at times, "The Newsroom" tackled serious issues facing people in the news business these days but remained rewarding viewing most of its first season, even in the soap opera-ish parts about the staff's personal lives.
The most powerful writing by Sorkin in the finale was anchor Will McAvoy (a terrific Jeff Daniels) detailing the tea party's "ideological purity, [view of] compromise as weakness, a fundamentalist belief in scriptural literalism, denying science, unmoved by facts, undeterred by new information, a hostile fear of progress, a demonization of education, a need to control women’s bodies, severe xenophobia, tribal mentality, intolerance of dissent and a pathological hatred of the U.S. government." He summed it up memorably: "They can call themselves the tea party. They can call themselves conservatives and they can even call themselves Republicans, though Republicans certainly shouldn’t. But we should call them what they are: the American Taliban.” Nicely done.
Overall, the first season of “The Newsroom” was uneven but never less than entertaining, with a strong cast — particularly Daniels, Emily Mortimer (as his executive producer and ex-lover) and Sam Waterston (as the crusty news department chief). Jane Fonda also had a nice recurring turn (including in the finale) playing against type as a sort of American female Rupert Murdoch media mogul.
Thanks, HBO, for another show we couldn't see anywhere else. ...
I thought the first two episodes (a two-part story) of the new BBC America series "Copper," set in Civil War era New York City, got off to a very promising start.
The characterization of emotionally damaged (of course!) police detective Kevin Corcoran (played by Brit Tom Weston-Jones, previously seen over here on “MI5”) could use a bit more fleshing out, as could some of the supporting characters, especially his hooker girlfriend (played by Franka Potente of "Bourne Identity" fame). But the period detail is terrific, the untenable situation of the free black doctor (Ato Essandoh) who helps Corcoran out with forensic work provides valuable historical context, and the shoot-first style of policing makes for an interesting contrast with contemporary cop shows.
So does the fact that, because of police corruption, solving the crime doesn't necessarily bring justice, which in the second installment prompts Corcoran to resort to some rather brutal tactics (and a pretty shocking scene involving a young girl and the rich man who has victimized her).
This series has some talented people behind it, including executive producer Barry Levinson and co-creators Tom Fontana (“Oz”) and Will Rokos (“Southland”). The 19th century New York it offers is ugly, dirty and dangerous, as are the characters, but the end result is gripping viewing. I’m hooked.
QUICKIES: Most of the media and social media reaction to the death of first man on the moon Neil Armstrong seemed to come from those of us who are old enough to remember that momentous event. I think perhaps the younger generations don't really appreciate what a giant leap for mankind that really was and how courageous the astronauts were. Reading about how the computer flight plan had the lunar module set to land in a bad spot on the side of a crater and how Armstrong had to take manual control and find a spot to set it down, with only 20 seconds of fuel left, is just one indication of how risky an adventure this was. These guys didn't just sit in a tin can while a computer did all the work!
I’m really looking forward to the return of the thriller “Homeland,” with the second season premiering Sept. 30 on Showtime. The deadly dance between disgraced bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and war hero/would-be sleeper terrorist Nicolas Brody (Damian Lewis) is one of the most watchable relationships on the tube in a long time. Here’s a preview trailer for Season 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Xh_TPjZJCRc
Speaking of sleeper agents, just based on the description provided by TV Line, a forthcoming new series on FX sounds like it’ll be worth checking out. In “The Americans,” set in D.C. during the cold war era of the 1980s, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play a pair of KGB spies posing as married suburban Americans. Tensions heighten when an FBI agent working in counterterrorism (played by Noah Emmerich) happens to move in next door to them. …
Ain’t It Cool news reports that, thanks to TCM and in celebration of Universal Pictures’ 100th anniversary, some classic films that have been restored for Blu-ray are going to get one-night runs in cinemas nationwide. They are: Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (Sept. 19), “Frankenstein” and “The Bride of Frankenstein” starring Boris Karloff (Oct. 24) and “To Kill a Mockingbird” with Gregory Peck (Nov. 15). Each film will start at 7 p.m. local time with special 2 p.m. matinees playing in select theaters.
If you'd like to add to or have your say about anything in this column, just click on comment below. You don't have to be registered with Live Journal. Current Mood: pleased
|Sunday, July 22nd, 2012|
|This Dark Knight rises to the occasion
NOTE: A couple of mild spoilers are included in the following review of “The Dark Knight Rises.” I don’t think they’ll ruin the film for anyone, but if you plan on seeing it and don’t want to know anything in advance, wait and read this afterward. Now, on to the review …
Christopher Nolan set quite a task for himself in closing out his Batman trilogy.
After all, with 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” featuring Heath Ledger’s unforgettable performance as the Joker, Nolan created what my son rightly describes as “about as close to a flawless Batman movie as I think is possible.”
Young Bill got to see the latest film, “The Dark Knight Rises,” a couple of days before I did and had sent the advance word that this one has less of the nuance and character development of the second film and shows its hand more, but still was quite good and very enjoyable.
After my daughter and I saw the new film this weekend, I’d say that’s a pretty fair assessment, but I’m even more enthusiastic about it. Livvy and I both had the same reaction after the film had ended: Wow.
Nolan has wrapped up the trilogy in thrilling style, with epic scope, stunning pictures, superb action (which thankfully isn’t all computer-generated like in most of today’s films) and a refreshingly dark, somber tone in keeping with the gritty, more reality-based approach that sets Nolan’s films apart from other comic book/super hero tales.
Like my son, I’n not sure if any Batman film (or, for that matter, any superhero film) can top "The Dark Knight" (whose only major flaw, as far as I’m concerned, was the miscasting of Maggie Gyllenhaal). This one comes awfully close, however. It may not have a showy (but deservedly praised) performance like Ledger’s in the previous film, but as a whole it is entirely satisfying.
One major reason is that this film is Christian Bale's finest performance as Bruce Wayne/The Batman. I still think Michael Keaton probably remains my all-time favorite in that role (though the films he did with Tim Burton overall fall short of Nolan’s work with the character). But in his third go-round as the Batman Bale manages to imbue the millionaire vigilante with a rather selfless nobility, even when working behind the cowl. You can believe that he’s willing to sacrifice himself to save his city.
Also a tremendous plus in “The Dark Knight Rises” is the super-talented Anne Hathaway as sassy cat burglar Selina Kyle (they never use the name “Catwoman” and while she wears a sexy catsuit, what at first appear to be “ears” on her head are actually night-vision goggles pulled back). The onscreen chemistry between Bale and Hathaway is tremendous and you’ll probably regret that while she and the Batman share a kiss, the film’s one romantic scene isn’t with her. (More on that in a bit.)
Returning cast members Gary Oldman as police Commissioner Jim Gordon and Michael Caine as Wayne’s butler/substitute father figure Alfred are both excellent, as usual, and fellow Brit Tom Hardy does a good job as villain Bane, despite the fact the mask he wears obscures some of his dialogue (at least, in a regular cinema; I don’t know if the sound mix is any better in an Imax theater). Bane, an apparent terrorist, is a formidable opponent and the fight scenes between him and the hobbled Batman, who’s just coming back from eight years in retirement, are almost painful to watch. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a rising young policeman drawn to the iconic myth of the Batman is a welcome and effective addition.
The bedroom scene I referred to earlier involves not Selina but Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, Bruce Wayne’s partner in an erstwhile fusion energy project that he mothballed because of its potential to be weaponized … which shouldn’t be too much of a spoiler as to what’s going on in this film. Unfortunately, as my son indicated, there’s no real development of the relationship between Miranda and Bruce before they hop into bed. I’ll be interested to see if there’s more to that twosome in the expanded director’s cut that we’ll no doubt get eventually on DVD/Blu-ray. Likewise, Selina’s semi-intriguing lesbian sidekick (who’s played a much bigger role in the comic books) is there, but just barely.
Some reviewers have made much of a supposed 9/11 subtext in the film’s treatment of Gotham City (which pretty obviously looks like the Big Apple in Nolan’s take on the legend), but I actually think there was more of that in the previous film. I never actually had even a fleeting thought of the attack on the World Trade Center while watching this movie. Others have noted that Bane’s army of terrorists looks suspiciously like the denizens of the various Occupy protest camps and wondered if the scenes of them doing battle with the boys in blue is making a political statement (which Nolan has denied). But I think that view misses the fact that Bane’s supposed revolution of the downtrodden is actually a facade for what’s really a quest for personal vengeance, plus he’s in league with at least one of Gotham’s financial fatcats.
This is the end of Nolan’s trilogy, so there’s a finality to the concluding act that is both sad and satisfying. But while the director has said he won’t make any more Batman films, he leaves the possibility of a spinoff or two at the end.
My initial feeling is that my son is right, and “The Dark Knight Rises,” while a very worthy entry in the Batman canon and head and shoulders above most superhero flicks, doesn’t quite match the previous film’s complex tango between good and evil in the form of Ledger’s Joker and Bale’s Dark Knight — or the duality of hero and villain as two sides of the same coin.
But I definitely want to see “The Dark Knight Rises” again. And I might want to revisit that verdict after I do.
POSTSCRIPT 1: The tragedy at an early screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo., is horrifying and scary in its randomness, but I never even gave it a second thought when Livvy and I set out to see the film. Then someone on Facebook asked wasn’t I scared to go? Really!!? No, I said. People die on the roads every day, but that doesn’t stop me from driving my car. If you started thinking like that, the temptation would be to hide away in your home and never come out. The other reaction to the tragedy that gets under my skin comes from those well-meaning but misguided folks who harrumph about violence in films and try to lay some blame for what happened in Colorado on the film industry in general and “The Dark Knight Rises” in particular. Hogwash. If we blame anything, it should be the ease in this country with which deranged people can get their hands on automatic, military-style weapons that law-abiding citizens have absolutely no legitimate need to own!
POSTSCRIPT 2: I really liked a piece on the Ain’t It Cool site running down the best cinematic Batmen, and I agree with his top three: Michael Keaton, whose Bruce Wayne has a touch of crazy (hey, normal folks don’t dress up as bats) and has a damaged quality but still seems to enjoy fighting crime; Christian Bale, the hardest-working Batman; and Kevin Conroy, who voiced the Dark Knight in the 1990s animated TV series that my son grew up with. Val Kilmer? Not so much a fan of his take on the character. And I don't think I could include Adam West and George Clooney in consideration at all. I just hated those incarnations too much. Here’s a link to the piece:http://www.aintitcool.com/node/57082
What about you? Who’s your favorite Batman? Is there a cinematic superhero you prefer to the Dark Knight? What are your views of comic book films in general? If you'd like to add to or have your say about anything in this column, just click on comment below. You don't have to be registered with Live Journal. Current Mood: impressed
|Monday, July 16th, 2012|
|Generation gap skews listing of most memorable TV moments
Whenever lists of the greatest, best or most memorable anything are compiled these days, there's usually a noticeable generation gap involved, with the results dominated by those to whom a rotary phone or eight-track tape are quaint (or even unknown) relics from the past.
So it was last week, when Sony Electronics and the Nielsen television research company released the results of a survey on the most memorable moments shared by television viewers over the past 50 years. Scanning the top 20 answers, I was gobsmacked, as the British might say, to see no mention of Neil Armstrong walking on the surface of the moon. (That ranked only 21st on the list.) Nor did JFK's assassination or President Nixon's resignation rank very high.
That's because those unforgettable events, which most people of my generation experienced via television, simply didn't register at all among viewers aged 18 to 34, according to an AP report on the survey. The oldest event to appear in the rankings for that age group was the 1980 shooting of John Lennon. The coverage of the Kennedy assassination registered only with folks 55 and older, who ranked it No. 2. Overall, it finished in 15th place.
Topping the list for everyone, regardless of age, was an event that no doubt made everyone's list: The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Here's the top 20:
1. Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (2001)
2. Hurricane Katrina (2005)
3. The O.J. Simpson verdict (1995)
4. The Challenger space shuttle explodes (1986)
5. Death of Osama bin Laden (2011)
6. The O.J. Simpson white Bronco chase (1994)
7. The Japanese earthquake and tsunami (2011)
8. Columbine school shooting (1999)
9. BP oil spill in Gulf of Mexico (2010)
10. Princess Diana's funeral (1997)
11. Death of Whitney Houston (2012)
12. Capture and execution of Saddam Hussein (2006)
13. Barack Obama election night speech (2008)
14. Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (2011)
15. John F. Kennedy assassination (1963)
16. Oklahoma City bombing (1995)
17. Bush/Gore disputed election (2000)
18. Los Angeles riots, Rodney King beating (1992)
19. Casey Anthony murder trial verdict (2011)
20. John F. Kennedy funeral (1963)
You'll note the past few years are disproportionately represented. Actually, after looking at that list I'm wondering if some of the respondents thought they were supposed to be listing biggest news events, as opposed to most memorable TV moments. I can't recall one single TV broadcast from the BP oil spill that seared its way into my memory. Likewise Columbine. And while the horrifying footage of the Challenger space shuttle exploding was watched by most of us, that was mainly as an after-the-fact replay: Few saw it as it happened.
As for OJ's ride in the Bronco, it might have made for can't-turn-it-off viewing in the way that any car chase (even one that slow) generally does, but I can't believe it fits Sony's supposed criteria of an event that made an impact on you and for which you can remember where you were and who you were with when you saw it.
Also, some entries on the list just plain baffle me. I don't think I watched a single minute of the Casey Anthony murder trial. And the death of Whitney Houston earlier this year listed as one of the most memorable TV moments of the past 50 years? Really?
I'm surprised no "Dancing With the Stars" finale made the list.
Speaking of which, the people behind the survey expected major entertainment events on TV that drew huge audiences to rate higher than they did. The Beatles' first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" broke viewing records and changed the lives of millions of American youth, but it only ranked 43rd, one spot ahead of the "Who Shot J.R.?" episode of "Dallas" (which became a national obsession; I recall watching it at a viewing party at a coworker's home).
The study, conducted this past February, was based on an online questionnaire of 1,077 adults selected as a scientific sample from among Nielsen's panel of people measured for television ratings.
I wasn't one of them, but if I had been, here's what I would have listed as my 10 most memorable TV moments of the past 50 years, dating to when I was 10 years old:
1. Watching man's first step on the moon. I don't think live television — or history in the making — gets much bigger than that. Earlier that day, watching Walter Cronkite let out a sigh of relief and wipe his eyes after we all heard that "The Eagle has landed" was pretty goosebump-inducing, too.
2. The JFK assassination coverage. More specifically, Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald live on television as we sat watching over Sunday lunch, John-John saluting his dad's coffin, the skittish riderless horse in the procession, and the cracked note blown by the solo trumpeter at Arlington.
3. The plane hitting the second tower of the World Trade Center on live TV while I worked with the rest of the staff of The Atlanta Journal to get out an extra about the first tower. Our jaws collectively dropped.
4. The Beatles on the Sullivan show. While I didn't take up guitar like so many boys who caught that show and thought, "That's what I want to do," it definitely shaped the rest of my life. If I expanded the list to 20, I'd also find room for getting to see the Fab Four record "All You Need Is Love" on the then-unprecedented live global "Our World" satellite telecast while I taped the audio on a little 3-inch reel-to-reel recorder.
5. Nixon's resignation speech. I watched it by myself on a b&w portable in my first apartment, and then joined fellow journalists at an Atlanta tavern to hoist a few in celebration.
6. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, which I seem to recall being carried live by the networks, though I'm not sure if they aired all of it. Regardless, rarely does oratory reach such heights.
7. The return of the Apollo 13 crew. I was a high school senior on lunch break and was sitting in one of the jam-packed TV rooms of a local eatery called the Varsity. When the camera scanning the sky finally picked up a tiny parachute, the entire place erupted as everyone jumped to their feet, cheering. A spine-tingling moment.
8. Jim McKay's voice breaking as he announced the deaths of the Israeli Olympic team members in Munich: "They're all gone."
9. A joint entry: The 1968 funerals for MLK (particularly the procession through the heavily guarded streets of Atlanta) and RFK (most notably, Teddy Kennedy's quavering voice as he delivered the eulogy for his brother).
10. CNN's "Boys of Baghdad" — Bernard Shaw, Peter Arnett and John Holliman — describing the opening bombardment of the first Gulf War. I couldn't get over the fact that I remembered Holliman as a Top 40 deejay in my hometown while I was in junior high.
If I did carry the list beyond a top 10, I'd include a few sports moments like Al Michaels' "Do you believe in miracles?" finish to the underdog USA team's unexpected ice hockey victory over the Russians at the 1980 winter Olympics, or more entertainment highlights. Plus, a moment or two from the recent past, including election night coverage of the 2008 presidential race and President Obama's address to the nation announcing the death of Osama bin Laden.
But limiting it to 10, these are one boomer's most memorable TV moments of the past 50 years. Feel free to share your own.
And you kids, get off my lawn!
IN CONCERT: Leslie, Livvy and I saw Ringo Starr and his latest incarnation of the All Starr Band recently at Atlanta's fabulous Fox Theatre, a great place to see a show. Leslie and I particularly enjoyed the Santana tunes done by Gregg Rolie ("Evil Ways," "Black Magic Woman" and "Everybody's Everything"), as well as Todd Rundgren's numbers. Most of the crowd also liked the Toto songs performed by Steve Lukather, and I didn't mind them. In terms of musicianship, I thought this was one of Ringo's better bands in recent years, especially Lukather on guitar for the Santana numbers. Livvy, who was seeing her fourth Ringo concert, enjoyed the show but actually preferred the 2010 band in terms of music; this show was a bit too much classic rock for her. (She said it reminded her of a live version of The River (the Atlanta "classic hits" radio station). She also would have preferred more Ringo, as would all of us. He was in great voice and very personable, and I liked the way he changed things up a bit by opening with "Matchbox." He did his usual tunes plus a couple of new songs: "Wings" (which isn't about his former bandmate's group) was well received by the crowd at the just-about-full Fox, though "Anthem" ended up as a beer-run song for a lot of folks. Of course, I still don't understand Ringo's refusal to do "Octopus's Garden" (he says he already has one "underwater" song in "Yellow Submarine"), and I can't believe he's never done one of his own hits ("Only You") in concert. Still, it was a fun and satisfying show overall.
AT THE MOVIES: Leslie and I went to see Ridley Scott's "Prometheus," which was the first of the "Alien" films I've ever seen in its entirety. It was excellent — even when it was gross, which is pretty much a given with this genre full of creatures bursting out of people. There were even some thoughtful bits about why we choose to believe in things we can't prove. I mainly went because of Noomi Rapace, who was wonderful in the original Swedish trilogy based on the Stieg Larsson books and woefully underused in the last Sherlock Holmes film. She's terrific here, playing sort of the prequel's equivalent of the Ripley role that made Sigourney Weaver a legend in the original. And Michael Fassbender is great as the creepy robot. Lots of action, with only one and a half survivors at the end (makes sense if you see the film), leaving the prospect for the inevitable sequel. (What do you call the sequel to a prequel?) Anyway, it's top-notch sci-fi/horror. ... We also saw the indie film "Safety Not Guaranteed," and I enjoyed it more than Leslie did. Main thing to know is that although it's about some magazine staffers trying to get a story on a guy who's advertising for a companion to travel through time with him, this is not a sci-fi time travel flick. It's more a comedic character study/relationship film in which time travel, or the possibility, is just a plot device. A lot of familiar TV faces (not big names) are in the cast, though the best are the central twosome played by Aubrey Plaza (of "Parks and Rec") and Mark Duplass, who was one of the producers of the Washington state-set film, along with his brother. Not a great movie, but a pleasant way to spend 86 minutes on a summer afternoon.
ON THE TUBE: I wasn't sure whether I was going to stick with HBO's "The Newsroom" after the first episode — I thought parts of it were a litle predictable/trite, and there was a bit too much speechifying for my taste, though that's typical of any Aaron Sorkin show. But I have to admit I'm enjoying it several episodes in, and I like the way Sorkin has set it in the not-too-distant past, allowing him to make use of the fact that we know how the news events being covered will turn out. The characters are all still impossibly glib and quick, but the cast (headed by Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer and Sam Waterston) is very strong and Sorkin has landed some telling blows on some of my favorite villains, especially the tea party. ... I'd never watched USA's spy series "Burn Notice" until Leslie started getting caught up in those marathons that seem to pop up just about every weekend. Now, I think I'm hooked. Yes, it's every bit as formulaic as any police procedural (it's more of an espionage procedural, with the central character explaining why and how spies do things), but the central cast of Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, Bruce Campbell (who I remember fondly from "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.") and Sharon Gless has great chemistry. Plus the stories are fun. You could call it popcorn television. ... I haven't yet made up my mind about whether USA's new series, "Political Animals," is worth continued viewing. Unlike, say, Aaron Sorkin's "The West Wing," the 90-minute pilot never gave the impression that its creators really understand how Washington works. It's basically by-the-numbers soap opera with the lead characters being thinly veiled knockoffs of the Clintons with a bit of the Kennedys thrown in, only without the charm or charisma of either. The supporting characters are your basic sudsy stereotypes (gay cocaine-using son, bulimic future daughter-in-law, ex-president's pneumatic starlet girlfriend), though the sex is a bit more graphic than you generally see on basic cable. Still, there's no denying the appeal of Sigourney Weaver, who plays the former first lady turned secretary of state. If the producers could find a way to keep her on camera all the time, it might be worth watching. ... While we're talking about TV series with White House settings, when I first encountered HBO’s recently concluded “Veep,” a political satire starring Julia Louis Dreyfuss as the vice president, I wasn’t sure what to make of it other than its writers certainly enjoyed using the f-word just about every other line. But I've been told by someone who should know that the show’s fairly brutal portrayal of executive branch aides was pretty much on the nose. After seeing mostly pieces of episodes, I caught all of the first season's last two and was impressed.
ON VIDEO: Nowadays, hardly a week goes by that a film or TV show isn't filming in Georgia, but when the movie adaptation of James Dickey's novel "Deliverance" first came out in 1972, the fact that it was filmed on location in the Peach State made it something of a rarity. To mark the 40th anniversary of its release, the film that made Burt Reynolds a star has been reissued in a special Blu-ray edition featuring a 42-page book. The print itself is the same restored version issued five years ago on DVD. It's still a terrific adventure. Anyway, this gives me an excuse to tell my favorite "Deliverance" story: First, you have to remember that Ned Beatty, who plays the guy raped by hillbillies in "Deliverance," later headlined a short-lived TV series called "Szysznyk" (pronounced Shiznick). Leslie's brother-in-law, who has a down-home way with words, told me one time that he knew someone whose brother, I think it was, played one of the hillbillies in "Deliverance." Only the way he put it was: "Yeah, his brother was the guy who cornholed Shiznick in Deliverance." Since then, I've never been able to think of that scene any other way. And I also can't bring myself to call that beanbag game that college football tailgaters play by its popular name: "cornhole."
If you'd like to add to or have your say about anything in this column, just click on comment below. You don't have to be registered with Live Journal. Current Mood: contemplative
|Monday, July 9th, 2012|
|More than just 'Andy of Mayberry'
An awful lot has been written about Andy Griffith in the past week, most of it focusing rightfully on his iconic portrayal of Sheriff Andy Taylor over the eight seasons of "The Andy Griffith Show" in the 1960s, with a nod toward his successful return to series TV in the 1980s-90s with "Matlock."
As anyone who knows me can attest, Griffith's hallowed sitcom classic is my all-time favorite, and my brothers and my daughter and I know many of the episodes practically verbatim.
But I've written about "TAGS" here before. And as a nearly lifetime fan who had the privilege of interviewing him five times over the course of my career — including one in-depth conversation that took up most of a morning while on location with him in Middle Georgia for a TV movie — I thought perhaps I could provide a somewhat broader perspective on Griffith's career.
Besides Andy Taylor and Ben Matlock, probably Griffith's best-known part is Will Stockdale, the barefoot boy from the Georgia hill country who gets drafted and manages to make a mockery of the military way of doing things in "No Time for Sergeants." It's an admittedly broad role that Griffith played first on live TV, then on Broadway and finally in the movies, and it's a comedy classic. It also introduced him to his future costar and forever pal, Don Knotts.
Griffith's comedy chops already had been evident, starting out when the University of North Carolina graduate and former music teacher was doing stand-up in the early 1950s as Deacon Andy Griffith in places like Atlanta's old Henry Grady Hotel and later on the "Ed Sullivan Show," establishing his reputation as a great storyteller by putting a cornpone twist on everything from William Shakespeare to sports. The latter resulted in a million-selling 1954 recording, "What It Was, Was Football." His catch phrase in those days was his characteristically gracious response to his audience's laughter: "I apreciate it."
Often overlooked, however was Griffith's considerable ability as a dramatic actor, first on view in his debut film in 1957, Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd." Playing "Lonesome" Rhodes, a drunken Southern drifter who gets "discovered" and becomes an overnight TV star, the neophyte Griffith more than holds his own in a stellar cast that includes Walter Mathau, Patricia Neal, Tony Franciosa and Lee Remick. His searing portrayal of a ruthlessly ambitious media sensation who becomes a victim of his own megalomania is about as far from Andy Taylor as he possibly could have gotten.
Ironically, Griffith ended up having to return to Lonesome Rhodes territory in the middle of his career when he found it difficult to move out of the shadow of Mayberry's finest.
After retiring from "The Andy Griffith Show" in 1968 with it at the very top of the ratings, Griffith's career foundered a bit. Having whiffed in a brief stint starring in family films ("Angel in My Pocket"), he tried to return to weekly TV with the overly earnest and stiflingly "relevant" dramedy "Headmaster." It sank like a rock, as did a midseason morphing of that show into "The New Andy Griffith Show," which tried to return him to his previous small-town glory, this time as a mayor in North Carolina. It was a painfully uneven (and mostly unfunny) effort that made "Mayberry RFD," the mediocre spinoff from his earlier show that his company produced, look good by comparison.
Griffith took a series of small supporting roles, including a priest in the drug-abuse TV movie "Go Ask Alice," and then concluded that he needed to shake up his professional image by playing a villain. Thus came "Pray for the Wildcats," a 1974 telefilm in which Griffith got ruthless again as a sadistic bully of a businessman who turns killer.
Griffith later told me that while he was filming that role, he had a terrible nightmare in which he brutally killed his good friend Don Knotts. His therapist told him the dream was a manifestation of him trying to kill his old image. The same year he played another ruthless businessman who plays the most dangerous game in "Savages," a similar TV film.
He wasn't quite ready to give up on playing the good guy, though. Griffith bought the TV rights to the book from which the James Garner film "They Only Kill Their Masters" was taken, returning to law enforcement as the police chief of a small northern California resort town where people had a tendency to turn up dead. Through an initial TV movie ("Winter Kill"), a summer replacement series ("Adams of Eagle Lake") and two more TV movies, Griffith stubbornly tried to make a go of the character (whose name changed from one incarnation to another, though the setting remained the same). Two of those films, 1977's "The Girl in the Empty Grave" and "Deadly Game," used to show up frequently for years on Ted Turner's old Superstation.
Griffith continued to take guest roles in dramatic films and miniseries, including an LBJ-ish character in "Washington Behind Closed Doors."
Then came another TV series, with him starring as a crafty junk dealer who manages to outwit the FBI and launch his own moon mission in 1979's "Salvage 1." The pilot film was a nifty blending of comedy and adventure, with Griffith's Harry Broderick coming across as something of a rascal, but the weekly installments that followed were a major letdown due to undeveloped characters and improbable plots. When I talked with him about the show, Griffith railed against the poor scripts and the lack of control he had in the short-lived series.
Griffith returned to a mix of supporting and leading roles, mostly on TV, and two years later hit a dramatic peak as a bitter father trying to prove his Houston socialite daughter was murdered by her doctor husband in "Murder in Texas," a Dick Clark-produced miniseries based on the same case that inspired Tommy Thompson's best-selling "Blood and Money."
When I reviewed the miniseries, I wrote that Griffith deserved an Emmy for the role of Ash Robinson, and sure enough "Murder in Texas" finally brought him his first Emmy nomination (as incredible as that might seem since Knotts won five Emmys for "The Andy Griffith Show"). He didn't win, though, and speaking of the Emmy ceremony, Griffith told me, "That's the last damn time I ever show up for one of those things!"
He turned in another strong, chillingly evil performance in the 1983 true-crime TV film "Murder in Coweta County," playing an arrogant, wealthy Georgia landowner who thinks he can get away with homicide, only to be tripped up by the dogged work of a lawman played by Johnny Cash. It was on the set of that film that I got to spend quite a bit of time with Griffith.
He was about to undertake another villainous role as serial killer Foxy Funderburke in the terrific 1983 miniseries "Chiefs," based on a best-seller by Stuart Woods, when he was felled by Guillain-Barre syndrome. Keith Carradine took over the role in his place.
Fortunately, Griffith recovered, though three years later while filming in Atlanta he showed me that he still had to wear braces in his shoes to deal with the after-effects of the illness. He continued a mix of TV and movie supporting roles, including as the bad guy in the big-screen Western spoof "Rustlers' Rhapsody."
Then he caught a career break thanks to former network president Fred Silverman, who spotted him in a small but significant part as the wily prosecutor who finally brought Jeffrey MacDonald to justice in the 1984 miniseries based on the true-crime best-seller "Fatal Vision."
Silverman told partner Dean Hargrove that they needed to create a TV series around Griffith as a Southern lawyer ... and thus was born "Matlock."
At the same time, Griffith was returning to the scene of his career's happiest and most successful days, reassembling the cast of his old sitcom for "Return to Mayberry," the highest-rated TV movie of 1986. NBC, which aired the film, wanted more, suggesting a "Christmas in Mayberry" follow-up, he told me, but by then the deal was set for Griffith to return to weekly television in "Matlock," and he just didn't have time to do another Mayberry sequel. He did, however, find recurring roles for Knotts and other Mayberry denizens in "Matlock."
Playing Ben Matlock, a crafty, Harvard-educated but folksy Atlanta attorney, Griffith was back in his element, and the viewing audience embraced his return, keeping the courtroom drama on the air for nine seasons. Although set in Atlanta, only the pilot film, "Diary of a Perfect Murder," was actually filmed in the Georgia capital, and it was on location for filming at the legendary Limelight disco that I again had the immense pleasure of chatting with him.
The end of "Matlock" in 1995 was by no means the end of Griffith's career, however. He continued to do TV movies, usually playing a grandfather role, and drew critical plaudits in 2007 for his spotlight-stealing return to the big screen as crusty diner owner Old Joe in the whimsical Keri Russell indie comedy-drama "Waitress."
He also returned to his musical roots in the mid-1990s, recording a series of Top 10 gospel albums that won him a Grammy award. I gave those albums to my father, who was just about as big an Andy fan as my brothers and me. We used to sit around during our Sunday visits with Dad at his assisted-living home, listening to Andy sing the likes of "Church in the Wildwood."
So it was that Andy Griffith provided the soundtrack to the last week of Dad's life, as we literally played one of his gospel discs around the clock in my father's hospice room.
So I guess it won't surprise you to hear that when my brother Jonathan called me last Tuesday morning to tell me that Griffith had died, it hit a little closer to home than the death of a show business personality usually does.
Over the course of more than five decades Griffith had provided me with many hours of pleasure, and a mutual love of his work bound three generations of our family together.
Thanks, Andy, for all the laughs and tears.
I appreciate it. Current Mood: sad
|Tuesday, May 29th, 2012|
|My Tunes: Carole King, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh and the Beach Boys
I've been listening to an unusual number of new and forthcoming albums while I've been working over the past month or so, and I thought I'd share some thoughts about them.
Two of the recent releases are similar in that they are collections of demo recordings and early takes that originally weren't intended for public consumption: Carole King's "The Legendary Demos" and George Harrison's "Early Takes Volume 1."
As most King fans know, she got her start as a staff songwriter back in the Brill Building days before becoming a justly acclaimed singer-songwriter in her own right with her classic 1971 album "Tapestry" (which, I think I've noted before, is just about the only non-Beatle album I've bought in multiple formats, including LP, eight-track and various CD packagings).
Half of the album features tracks that eventually showed up on "Tapestry," including "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" (recorded first by Aretha Franklin), and while they're not drastically different from the final versions on that album, there's an added intimacy in the demos of such numbers as "Way Over Yonder," "It's Too Late" and "You've Got a Friend" (which King gave first to James Taylor).
The rest of the selections represent work King did (mostly with then-husband Gerry Goffin) for other artists. Some of the songs are very familiar, while others are not. So we get to hear her original of "Pleasant Valley Sunday," which was a big hit for the Monkees as well as "So Goes Love," which also was for the Monkees but didn't get released until long after the band had broken up. Others that were quite successful include "Take Good Care of My Baby," a big hit for Bobby Vee and others; "Crying in the Rain" (a hit for the Everly Brothers); and "Just Once in My Life" (a Righteous Brothers hit). Then there are obscurities such as "Like Little Children" (done by the Knickerbockers and then not released for many years) and "Yours Until Tomorrow," a lovely romantic ballad that was recorded by a host of performers, from Engelbert Humperdinck to Cher, but never was a hit.
Whether it's the early versions of the hits or the more obscure tracks, this collection nicely showcases King's songwriting range and should please longtime fans.
"Early Takes Volume 1," the collection of demos and early takes by Harrison, originally was released in Britain as a bonus disc with the Martin Scorsese Harrison documentary, but has been issued on its own as well as with the DVD in the U.S. It's of even greater interest than the King demo collection because of the contrast between the simple, unadorned performances here and the better-known finished versions of the songs, most of which got the Phil Spector wall-of-sound treatment.
Six of the 10 tracks in this set are songs that ended up on the "All Things Must Pass" album: “My Sweet Lord,” “Run of the Mill,” "I'd Have You Anytime," "Awaiting on You All," "Behind That Locked Door" and that album's title song. "Woman Don't You Cry for Me" wound up on the "33 1/3" album and "The Light That Has Lighted the World" was done for the "Living in the Material World" album, while covers of "Let It Be Me" and Bob Dylan's "Mama You've Been on My Mind" never showed up on a finished album and date from later (though exactly when is hard to say since no recording data is included, unfortunately).
Harrison is known for his gorgeous demos, and fans have been familiar with some of these takes for years thanks to bootlegs. It's nice to finally have them officially released, however. And while I'd have liked a more generous serving than we get here, at least the "Volume 1" in the title promises more. And, in fact, Beatles producer George Martin's son Giles, who assembled this collection, says in a forthcoming interview in Beatlefan magazine that more volumes are planned. Let's hope we don't have to wait too long.
The album that's actually been occupying most of my listening time recently is the remastered reissue of Paul McCartney’s “Ram.”
As I wrote in the last Beatlefan, I have vivid memories of the album's original release. I was browsing in a record store called the Music Grotto on lunch break from college one day in May 1971 when I heard a ukulele start plunking on the sound system and immediately recognized it as McCartney. They’d just unpacked the album and told me I was the first to buy it. I carried it with me to class and couldn’t wait to get home and pop it on my turntable.
When I did, I remember I particularly liked the opening track, “Too Many People,” the intricate harmonies of “Dear Boy,” the bizarre rocker “Monkberry Moon Delight” (which struck me as a euphemism, though I wasn’t quite sure for what), the simple ditty “Heart of the Country” and the gorgeous Brian Wilson-ish closing track, “The Back Seat of My Car.” Plus, of course, the album’s multi-part big production, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” which became a smash radio hit and topped the charts that summer.
Probably because it drew mixed to negative reviews at the time from the rock press, who saw McCartney as the villain in the breakup of The Beatles and seemed to resent him billing the album as by "Paul and Linda McCartney," "Ram" often has been overlooked in assessments of Sir Paul's solo career. But thanks to this marvelous-sounding reissue perhaps now the album will get some credit for its mix of downhome charm and rather sophisticated production.
An enjoyable bonus disc with the reissue includes the contemporaneous non-album single and B-sides "Another Day," "Oh Woman, Oh Why" and "Little Woman Love," plus five outtakes.
I've also been listening to an advance disc of "Analog Man," Joe Walsh's first solo album in 20 years, which is due for release June 5. I've never been that big a follower of Walsh's non-Eagles work, but I appreciate the Traveling Wilburys vibe that infuses this collection, largely thanks to Walsh working with Jeff Lynne as producer. Walsh's brother-in-law, Ringo Starr, also shows up playing drums on two numbers.
The hallmarks of Walsh's past work are here, including the sardonic humor and his distinctive guitar playing. My favorite tracks are the country-rock "Lucky That Way," which turned out to be something of a sequel to his hit "Life's Been Good," the lovely "Family" (with David Crosby and Graham Nash providing the harmonies) and the catchy "One Day at a Time," on which Lynne's musical influence is most obvious.
Finally, the most recent arrival I've been listening to is the Beach Boys' reunion album, "That's Why God Made the Radio," which also comes out June 5. The credits say the album was "produced" by Brian Wilson with Mike Love as "executive producer," but that it was "recorded" by Joe Thomas, who takes a co-writing credit on all the tracks except one Mike Love number. From what I hear on the grapevine, Thomas was the key creative player in this album.
No matter, the sound is pure Beach Boys — which is both the album's strength and weakness. Aside from the dreamy opening instrumental track, "Think About the Days," the first three-quarters of the album comes off as the Beach Boys doing the Beach Boys — like a tribute band, only with the original players and new songs that aren't particularly memorable.
All the tracks make for pleasant listening, and there are snatches that are very pretty. The rich harmonies are what you'd expect. And there are lots of familiar riffs and vocal bits that conjure up past Beach Boys numbers. However, after a while they come off as a bit manipulative, sort of like all the musical Beatle-isms that Mark Hudson used to cram into the albums he produced for Ringo Starr. Also, there's something about a bunch of 70-year-old guys singing about surfing that just seems a trifle ridiculous.
My interest perked up, though, with the last four songs — "Strange World," "From There to Back Again," "Pacific Coast Highway" and "Summer's Gone." At that point the material becomes a bit more contemplative, bittersweet and, frankly, more in keeping with where the Beach Boys are at this time of life.
The difference between the two approaches was summed up for me in the recent Billboard interview with the band members. Love said the musical reunion was "like 1965 again," while Wilson noted, "Actually, it's like revisiting an old town you used to live in 20 years ago."
I think the latter part of the album is more successful in capturing that feeling.
AT THE MOVIES: After debating back and forth about whether I wanted to see the Tim Burton version of "Dark Shadows," I finally decided to take it in, joined by my daughter Olivia. She knew nothing about the original TV show on which it's based, while I was a big fan back in the late '60s, when we'd rush home from school to catch the gothic horror-soap with Jonathan Frid as the first sympathetic vampire. I also enjoyed the brief 1991 prime-time TV remake with Ben Cross.
After the movie was over, Olivia asked me what I'd grade it on a scale of 1-10 and I said a 5. She agreed, saying other than a few witty lines, she didn't think it had much to offer.
My problem was it seemed director Burton and star Jonnny Depp couldn't make up their minds what sort of film they wanted to make — a spoof or an homage to the original series. It would have been better had it been one or the other.
The film started out with promise, mixing humor and horror as it made 18th century vampire Barnabas Collins (Depp) something of a fish out of water when he's released from his coffin in 1972. And before Burton had her start destroying (if not chewing) the scenery, the normally delightful Eva Green was interesting as Barbabas' nemesis, the vengeful witch Angelique.
But the film went completely off the rails in the second half. The over-the-top climax seemed like they were just throwing in every horror movie cliche they could think of, whether it made any sense or not. And there was no attempt at character development or any coherence in terms of the plot.
Unless you're a major Depp fan, no need to bother with this.
If you'd like to add to or have your say about anything in this column, just click on comment below. You don't have to be registered with Live Journal. Current Mood: chipper
|Monday, April 23rd, 2012|
|The day Dick Clark called to talk about The Beatles
"Time, it seems, finally has caught up with Dick Clark."
That was the opening to a piece I wrote for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in April 1989 when Clark, then still a youthful-looking 59, was preparing to end his 33-year reign as "America's oldest living teenager" by handing over the hosting chores of a diminished "American Bandstand" to 26-year-old David Hirsch as the show moved to the USA cable channel.
Unfortunately for Hirsch (there's a trivia stumper for you!), the show he inherited was but a shadow of the pioneering televised sock hop that in its heyday could make or break records. "Bandstand" mercifully came to an end six months later.
But my premature verdict on Dick Clark's race with time proved to be off by a mere 23 years, as he continued to not only be a major producer of television programming but also showed up regularly on TV, even though after suffering a debilitating 2004 stroke his screen time was reduced to his brave, if awkward, "New Year's Rockin' Eve" segments as co-host with Ryan Seacrest.
(As I noted here after his return on the 2005 telecast, for a guy who'd made his career out of being perpetually young and glib, it must have been hell for Clark to go on camera with his speech obviously still quite impaired from the stroke. A gutty performance.)
Finally, though, time did catch up with Clark last week at age 82.
While most of today's younger viewers probably associated Clark primarily with New Year's Eve, for their parents' generation he was a practically ubiquitous and extremely formative presence on the tube and in the music business.
"Bandstand" originated in September 1952 as a local show on Philadelphia's WFIL-TV. Clark became the show's host in 1956 and the next year gave it national exposure on ABC, where it aired every weekday afternoon and quickly became a sensation, drawing at one point almost a million fan letters a week.
It was a simple formula: hit records, attractive kids having fun and quick glimpses of popular personalities lip-syncing their hits ("Bandstand" never had a large enough budget for live musical performances), all presided over by a genial host. Much of Middle America still might have found rock 'n' roll threatening at that point, but Clark came across like a well-dressed, clean-cut, articulate older brother and made "Bandstand" acceptable viewing in most homes.
In addition to popularizing such dance crazes as the Twist, the Pony, the Watusi and the Mashed Potato, "Bandstand" became a national launching pad for pop music talent. The "Rate-a-Record" segment — "I give it a 95, Dick. It's got a good beat; you can dance to it" — became a part of Americana.
The impressive list of stars making their national TV debut on "Bandstand" included Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, the Beach Boys, the Doors, the Jackson Five, Talking Heads and Prince. (Though it should be pointed out that Clark spent nearly as much airtime pushing such soon-to-be-forgotten acts as the DiFranco Family as he did future legends.)
Probably the major name to come out of "Bandstand" was Clark himself, the only TV personality to simultaneously host programs on all three networks and in syndication. At ABC's behest, he divested his lucrative record industry businesses in 1959 during the "payola" scandal over disc jockeys being paid to play certain records (and subsequently cleared himself during congressional hearings). But that didn't stop him from diversifying into concert promotion, acting and hosting game shows, most notably the "$10,000 Pyramid" (and its various higher-valued offspring). He also was host of a couple of nationally syndicated radio countdown shows for years and produced various "Bandstand" siblings, incuding "Where the Action Is."
Indeed, it was as a TV producer that Clark hit his stride. Dick Clark Productions was behind the American Music Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards, Golden Globes and Daytime Emmy telecasts in addition to the ABC New Year's Eve show. Turning out an average of 150 hours of programming a year at his peak, Clark showed a knack for mass-appeal (if lowbrow) fare. Although one of his latter-day productions, the nostalgic 2002-2005 drama "American Dreams," drew critical praise, more typical of his output were his many "bloopers" shows. It's what onetime NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff (an admirer and major customer) called "fast-food programming ... the McDonald's of television."
Clark, who amassed a personal fortune estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, defended his programming in a 1984 interview, saying, "I am in a commercial business. What is wrong with giving people what they want and enjoy?"
For most of three decades, that included "Bandstand, " which Clark continued to host. But the rise of MTV and video music in the '80s accelerated the dissipation of the show's power and impact that had begun after it moved to Los Angeles in March 1964 and started airing just once a week. Eventually, the audience dwindled as well.
But there's no denying the important role Clark played in the evolution of American pop music into the broad-based money-making machine it became. He spearheaded the rise of such teen idols of the late '50s and early '60s as Fabian, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell. And he provided one of the first national TV showcases for black entertainers. Despite Ku Klux Klan threats, Clark presented Atlanta's first integrated concert bill at the Lakewood Fairgrounds in 1958 for a live Saturday night TV show that he also hosted for 2 1/2 years.
Still, more often, Clark avoided controversy. He dropped Jerry Lee Lewis from his shows after the flap over the singer marrying his 13-year-old cousin. And, as I noted in that 1989 piece, he hedged his bets when a furor erupted over John Lennon's remark that The Beatles were more popular with kids than Jesus Christ, offering viewers the chance to send in unwanted Beatles items if they were disenchanted with the Fab Four, and then in the next breath introducing the group's latest single, "Yellow Submarine."
The inclusion of a mention of that waffling on The Beatles led to my last direct contact with Clark. Previously, I'd met him a couple of times at network TV press gatherings for some of the shows he hosted and/or produced, and at one such affair I'd chatted with him briefly about what happened to The Beatles' lawsuit against him over his "Birth of The Beatles" TV movie. (He said they'd "settled," and when I asked if that meant he'd paid The Beatles off, he held his fingers together closely to indicate, yes, but it hadn't cost him very much.)
Anyway, a couple of weeks after the 1989 article ran in the paper, my office phone rang and it was Dick Clark calling! He'd read the article and was complimentary about it, but he wanted to pick one bone with me: Where, he asked, had I come up with the idea that he'd offered to hold a bonfire of Beatles items? He was pretty sure, he said, that he'd never done any such thing.
"That came from my own memory," I told him, relating how I recalled clearly as a teenager watching him try to straddle the fence on the issue on a late-summer 1966 installment of "Bandstand."
I'll give him credit: He didn't tell me I was full of it. Instead, he again said he had no recollection of doing that and indicated he was going to go back and check the videotape to see what it showed.
I never heard back from him, so I don't know if he ever checked the archives or not. But whether he was right or I was, there's no denying that straddling the middle of the road over the course of his career paid off hugely for Dick Clark.
But as he noted, what's wrong with giving folks what they want and enjoy? Clark had an unprecedented knack for knowing what that was.
I don't think we'll see the likes of him again.
ANOTHER LOSS: I never got to meet Jonathan Frid, the Shakespearean actor who became a teen idol and TV sensation playing Barnabas Collins, the sympathetic vampire on the 1960s gothic soap "Dark Shadows."
Back when I was covering television, a veteran publicist at ABC, who was friends with Frid, urged me to try looking him up on one of my trips to New York City, telling me what a lovely guy he was and how much he'd love to talk about the old days. I really wish now I had done that, but unfortunately I never was able to work it into my always-tight schedule on those trips.
I would have enjoyed meeting Frid, because I was an avid fan of "Dark Shadows" in high school. I remember I was aware of the program in its early days, before Frid joined the cast and became a phenomenon, but I generally avoided daytime soaps of any sort. Then, in the fall of 1967, my brothers started watching the after-school show with some neighborhood pals and told me about it. Intrigued, I tuned in and immediately got hooked by Frid's conflicted portrayal of a reluctant vampire awakened long after his time, the show's serial mash-up of elements from myriad monster and suspense movies, and the comely young witches and damsels in distress. (Angelique! Maggie!)
I remained a faithful viewer of the show, went to see the two feature films that were spun off from it, and even bought the soundtrack LP of Robert Cobert's haunting "Dark Shadows" music. But as a freshman in college I missed the latter months of "Dark Shadows" because it conflicted with my class schedule — this being the era before VCRs and digital recorders. I wanted to skip class to watch the final installment but couldn't do so because of a test. So my Mom volunteered to watch the show for me and gave me a report.
A couple of decades later I tuned in every week to the short-lived prime time version of "Dark Shadows" starring Ben Cross as Barnabas — an earnest, serious remake that didn't last very long.
And now, coming right on the heels of Frid's death on May 11, we'll finally get another big-screen "Dark Shadows," this one starring Johnny Depp and Eva Green.
I was pleased to read what the new Barnabas had to say after Frid's passing. “Jonathan Frid was the reason I used to run home from school to watch ‘Dark Shadows,’” Depp said. ”His elegance and grace was an inspiration then and will continue to remain one forever more. When I had the honor to finally meet him [Frid has a cameo in the new film], he generously passed the torch of Barnabas.”
Unfortunately, I have a feeling I'm going to want to take a torch to the new version of the tale of Collinwood, which director Tim Burton has reimagined as a campy comedy. I've hated campiness ever since the Adam West "Batman" unleashed a flood of tongue-in-cheek programming (and ruined several previously good shows) back in 1966. Joel Schumacher's "Batman & Robin" took a similarly campy big-screen approach to that character and nearly killed it as a movie franchise, before Christopher Nolan got things back on track with a serious approach, resulting in "The Dark Knight."
Too bad it's not Nolan reviving Barnabas and "Dark Shadows." I think that might have made a more suitable tribute to Jonathan Frid.
ON THE TUBE: I spent much of Sunday afternoon catching up on the new season of AMC's "Mad Men," and I'm pleased to say it's still the best series on television. The stylish period piece has moved into 1966 now and is touching on various mileposts of the era, from race relations to the obstacles faced by career women to tripping on LSD. Watching the superb cast explore their flawed but fascinating characters is as satisfying as ever. ... I've also caught the first two episodes of "Girls," the new HBO comedy that provides a sort of millennial generation updating of "Sex and the City." Created by 26-year-old wunderkind Lena Dunham, who plays one of the four young women the show revolves around, "Girls" offers some witty dialogue and isn't afraid to let its central characters come off as spoiled brats with little more in their lives than a sense of entitlement. But that's also a problem: The characters are not very sympathetic. And for a show that spends much of its time focusing on sex, it features some of the unsexiest couplings ever filmed. The verdict is still out on this one.
A QUICKIE: I love Norah Jones' voice and I commend her for trying to shake up her sound a bit by teaming up with producer Danger Mouse (another UGA alum) for her new album, "Little Broken Hearts," out May 1.There's only one problem: mediocre material. For me, there wasn't really one keeper in the bunch. Let me know what you think. You can listen to the album streaming courtesy of NPR and the Guardian:http://www.npr.org/2012/04/15/150302373/first-listen-norah-jones-little-broken-heartshttp://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2012/apr/16/norah-jones-little-broken-hearts-stream
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|Monday, March 12th, 2012|
|It's not the sexy TV ads that are going too far
Sexy ads aren't anything new, especially on TV, so it's a little surprising the amount of comment directed to the most recent sexed up Carl's Jr./Hardee's spot, featuring Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton getting practically horizontal with a literally saucy Southwest Patty Melt.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdGsKzmCgB0
The hamburger chain, which in the past has used Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian in similar ads, is known for marketing to hormone-driven teenage males, and the Upton ad is just more of the same, if a little more blatant than its predecessors.
It's an approach used more and more to peddle foodstuffs, such as in the spot with the widening eyes of a young woman seemingly having an orgasmic reaction to ... eating a York Peppermint Patty.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aB1rNAzVSa8
It's kind of ironic that ads for beer and food are often more forthrightly aimed at the libido than those ubiquitous but romantically coy spots for Cialis and other products more directly connected to the sex act. Even in the area of products enhancing lovemaking, however, TV commercials are getting a bit more, um, pointed.
Like those ads for K-Y Intense, a product that purports to enhance female satisfaction. In most of the spots, we see a rather shy couple who don't exactly look like models sitting on a bed and talking about what happens when they use Intense. Then there's usually a cut-away shot of firecrackers exploding, followed by the couple sprawled out on the bed in post-coital bliss.
Actually, I think a more subtle approach in the latest K-Y Intense campaign is much more effective. That's where the proper British couple is talking in code over breakfast about the "amazing" desert with cinnamon and nutmeg they had the night before, with subtitles letting you know what they're actually talking about. "Mmmm, nutmeg," says the woman at the end, while the subtitle says, "K-Y." http://www.bestads.tv/view/5855/ky-intense-cinnamon-and-nutmeg/
Subtle isn't exactly the word I'd use to describe the "bush" ad for Schick's Quattro TrimStyle. I remember the first time I saw it, I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing: As a slinky model walked along, the various trees and shrubs she passed suddenly took on topiary shapes resembling some of the more common styles for trimming feminine pubic hair. Certainly a memorable bit of advertising, though. http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/schicks-trim-your-bush-commercial
I don't mind ads pushing the envelope when it comes to being sexy, but there's another recent trend in TV commercials that I think definitely has gone too far. For lack of a better term, let's call it bathroom talk.
It started when the Charmin bear ads started making their point with mama and papa bears trying to stop a cub from going around with bits of inferior toilet tissue stuck to his rear end.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLKTUsyCMcg
Then there was the Huggies ad with a dad trying to change his son's diaper while the kid destroys a hotel room with a stream like a fire hose. OK, parents of boys can see the exaggerated humor in the situation, but still ...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNqL28QK3pg
I can't find any redeeming qualities at all, however, in the Wal-Mart ad that has a man sniffing his wife's armpits on the dance floor to make sure her Degree deoderant has worked.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwxhySdJ_2I
And the recent animated "heavy dooty" ad for Luvs that has squatting babies competing in a contest to see who can fill their diaper the most is just plain disgusting. What can the makers of this ad have been thinking? http://www.adstorical.com/commercial/2575/luvs-diapers-heavy-dooty-championship/
Not exactly the kind of work that ad agency is likely to submit for the Clio Awards.
ON THE TUBE: I hadn't originally planned on watching "Game Change," the HBO movie based on the best-selling book about the McCain-Palin campaign that debuted this past weekend. But then I caught portions of a couple of airings and was so impressed that I made a point of watching the entire film.
It's not a work likely to change your view of former Alaska Gov. and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin — if you were horrified in 2008 by the thought of such an uninformed, inexperienced media creation being one beat of a 72-year-old heart away from the presidency, as a character notes in the film, "Game Change" will leave you even more relieved the American electorate didn't buy her. And if you are a Palin fan, you probably will want to label it "fiction" like Palin herself has done.
But keep in mind that this isn't some Democratic Party screed against the darling of arch conservatives — it's a McCain campaign insider's view of Palin as seen by Republican stalwarts like Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace, played in the film by a terrific Woody Harrelson and Sarah Paulson.
The filmmakers have skillfully blended actual news footage of such figures as Wolf Blitzer, Katie Couric, and Barack Obama and Joe "Obiden," as Palin wanted to call him, with very strong portrayals of the McCain campaign principals.
Julianne Moore manages to look and sound like Palin while avoiding coming off as a caricature. True, Palin comes out of the film looking pretty bad, but Moore's performance isn't completely unsympathetic. In fact, during scenes where Palin hugs Down syndrome children and their parents on the campaign trail and when she's painfully watching herself being lampooned on TV by Tina Fey, even a confirmed Democrat is likely to feel some sympathy for her. She obviously wasn't prepared to be thrust into the spotlight like that. As Ed Harris' McCain says at one point, "That poor girl. She wasn't ready for this." But then there also are moments where Moore's Palin comes off as an uncooperative, self-involved bitch.
Much more positive overall is the film's take on McCain, who battles to keep the campaign from going off the deep end while still trying to derail Obama, and who warns Palin at the end not to get caught up with Rush Limbaugh and the extremists he fears will ruin the GOP.
In the end, "Game Change" is one of the more successful efforts in HBO's long string of reality-based telemovies, thanks to both a crackerjack script by Danny Strong and strong performances by the top-notch cast. If anything, what you'll take away from it isn't what an ill-prepared candidate Palin was, but more a cautionary tale about the things politicians and their aides are forced to do in nowadays out of desperation. It'll be interesting to see what sort of film HBO gets out of the 2012 race.
MY TUNES: My son introduced me to the music of The Shins a few years ago. Here's their latest, "Simple Song," which I've been enjoying recently: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyAJ4V06izg
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|Monday, March 5th, 2012|
|Stroll down Tin Pan Alley stirs childhood memories
Back in the pre-Beatles days of my youth in the 1950s and early '60s, rock 'n' roll was "teenage music," the soundtrack for my brothers and me making fun of the dancers on "American Bandstand" on weekday afternoons.
Musically, my upbringing was much more immersed in the pop standards and Broadway tunes that were played on the middle-of-the-road station to which my parents kept their bedroom radio tuned. Many a night I recall falling asleep listening to the sounds of the great American songbook on a nightly show that WGAU called "Dancing in the Dark."
So I have a history with the type of music Paul McCartney has chosen to record with Diana Krall and a group of jazz musicians for his "Kisses on the Bottom" album.
Just as McCartney himself does. These are the type of songs his dad played on the piano at the family sing-alongs that happened whenever the McCartney clan got together. As Paul recalls in the liner notes to his new album, "For years I've been wanting to do some of the old songs that my parents' generation used to sing at New Year. ... the carpets would get rolled back, all the women would sit around with their little drinks of rum-and-black, gin-and-it, Babycham; someone would play the piano and it was normally my Dad. They would sing these old songs all night: 'When the Red Red Robin,' 'Carolina Moon.' And I took all of that in."
The result, despite the fact that McCartney wrote only two of the songs on "Kisses on the Bottom," is perhaps the most deeply personal album he's ever done. This music means something to him, strikes an emotional chord with him, and it shows in his performance.
As he has noted, McCartney is far from the first musician from the rock ’n’ roll generation to tackle pop standards. But rarely has this golden material been approached on one of these latterday collections with the superb taste, charm and class that Macca has brought to his stroll down Tin Pan Alley.
It helps that he’s surrounded himself with a first-class cast of folks from the jazz-pop side of the musical spectrum who know this material intimately, including producer Tommy LiPuma and pianist Diana Krall (his pal Elvis Costello's wife, who also handled most of the rhythm arrangements).
The entire collection is very laid-back and jazzy and finds Paul in crooner mode. On most of the tracks, McCartney sings in a very light, almost breathy style. At times his nearly 70-year-old voice may be frayed around the edges, but that fits the mood of the album. And some of the tracks see him singing with a sensitivity to the lyric that you rarely hear in the rock world.
This is Macca exploring new vocal territory. While his vocals no doubt would have been technically stronger 20 years ago, he gives heartfelt readings of the lyrics that hit the mark. As a friend said, there’s a sort of “September of his years” feel to the album.
Also, the choice of material is sublime, ranging from classic tunes that anyone over 50 should know well to lesser-known but tasty selections.
McCartney didn’t limit himself to songs from the old family sing-alongs, with LiPuma and Krall suggesting a couple of numbers that Macca didn’t even know. So it’s like McCartney and his listeners alike are exploring a cool musical treasure chest. Macca told Billboard he and the musicians “went in there and enjoyed the songs,” and it sounds like that.
Another plus is the cool vibe provided by the band. With lots of acoustic guitar and brushes on the drums, the playing suits the material and the production style perfectly, especially Krall’s delightfully understated piano playing and the use of a stand-up bass.
The album opens with a jaunty midtempo “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” (The album’s cheeky title comes from a line in this song.) The band is in a nice groove right from the start, with Krall’s piano solo a particular highlight.
Next up is a lush, string-backed treatment of “Home (When Shadows Fall),” a fairly obscure ballad. Macca gives a very tender reading to the song, at times in almost a half-whisper.
The pace picks up with a sprightly rendition of Harold Arlen's “It’s Only a Paper Moon," featuring the unexpected but effective addition of a fiddle.
Macca’s vocal limitations show just a bit on that number, as they do on an orchestrated version of Frank Loesser’s “More I Cannot Wish You,” a song from the stage musical “Guys and Dolls” that didn’t make it into the film score (and a tune McCartney's company owns). Still, Paul offers a very appropriate reading of the poignant lyrics, which he’s noted in the play are sung by a grandfather to a young girl and which struck home with him in terms of his daughter Beatrice.
He sounds more sure of himself on “The Glory of Love,” which prominently features John Clayton’s distinctive stand-up bass as lead instrument.
One of the more left-field choices on the album is the Tommy Dorsey hit “We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me),” which features strings and piano in a lovely orchestral arrangement by pop veteran Johnny Mandel.
One of the more upbeat numbers on the easygoing, mellow album is Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” which has a memorable piano solo by Krall.
Next is “My Valentine,” the first of the new McCartney songs, featuring Eric Clapton on acoustic guitar. I find myself wishing there were some vocal harmonies on this one, but the ballad has one of those sneaky McCartney melodies that grows on you, and I have to admit it holds its own pretty well amid these classic pop numbers.
Next is an orchestrated version of Irving Berlin’s “Always,” a tune associated with Frank Sinatra. Sir Paul is no Old Blue Eyes, but he acquits himself pretty well here. I particularly like John Pizzarelli’s acoustic guitar on the intro and solo.
Another oddball but choice selection is the Fats Waller tune “My Very Good Friend the Milkman,” which has some of Macca’s airiest vocals, supplemented by whistling. There’s a very nice use of trombone on this number, particularly in the solo.
Then comes another well-known classic in “Bye Bye Blackbird,” which is done here as a languid torchy ballad complete with the lesser known introduction, as opposed to the upbeat Dixieland version of the same song that Ringo Starr did on his own 1970 collection of standards, “Sentimental Journey.” Krall shines again here on piano and the brushes on the drums set just the right intimate mood.
One of the album’s high points is “Get Yourself Another Fool,” a tune associated with Sam Cooke and done here in a very jazzy arrangement with bluesy electric guitar by Clapton and a particularly strong vocal by Paul, who uses his regular singing voice on this one.
Another treat is “The Inch Worm,” first done by Danny Kaye in the film “Hans Christian Andersen.” Having children join in singing the arithmetic chorus is a charming touch.
The regular album winds up with the other new McCartney song, “Only Our Hearts,” an orchestrated, string- and flute-backed ballad with solo harmonica played by Stevie Wonder. It’s Macca at his most romantic and, again, feels right at home amid these pop standards.
Two bonus tracks are included on the “deluxe” version of the album sold at Target as well as on iTunes. The first is a remake of “Baby’s Request,” the tune from Wings’ “Back to the Egg” album that Macca originally wrote with the Mills Brothers in mind. A delightful surprise is a brand-new upbeat instrumental reprise added at the end.
The other bonus track is “My One and Only Love,” a song most famously recorded by Sinatra. The gently orchestrated version here features more tasty piano by Krall and one of Macca’s most tender vocals (almost falsetto at times).
There’s not a duff selection in the bunch. Macca summed it up rather well when he described "Kisses" as "an album you listen to at home after work, with a glass of wine or a cup of tea.”
One to savor, in other words.
AT THE MOVIES: Leslie and I have caught two films so far this year. The superb "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" is a dark, moody, slow-burn puzzler of a Cold War spy story — no car chases or explosions. It takes a while to get going, but the British cast is fantastic, especially Gary Oldman as taciturn but always watchful George Smiley. Highly recommended. And having seen all three of the original Swedish films based on Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, we weren't sure what our reaction would be to the English-language remake of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," but we really enjoyed it. There are few differences from the original, including a slightly more bittersweet ending that is more true to the book in some respects. I didn't think I'd like Rooney Mara as much in the role of Lisbeth, having been wowed by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish films, but she's excellent. And Daniel Craig is, too, in a very un-Bond way. Highly recommended if you don't mind films that get a bit graphic in their sex and violence.
ON THE TUBE: My favorite new show of the midseason is "Alcatraz" (Mondays on Fox), from "Lost" creator J.J. Abrams. While my son was in town, he watched an episode with me, and I think he's hooked now, too. It's a sci-fi mystery that posits that when the Alcatraz prison closed in 1963, it was because the inmates and guards just suddenly vanished into thin air. And now, one by one, they're showing up again and running amok in modern-day San Francisco. It has all the hallmarks of an Abrams show, including a sudden revelations out of left field that leave you even more puzzled than you started out and, for some, a frustratingly slow pace at moving the conspiracy (or whatever it is) along. But while the overall story arc might be dawdling, the weekly encounters with the miscreants from the past are briskly told. Ingratiating Jorge Garcia plays one of the three key figures as a smarter version of the Hurley character that was such a favorite of "Lost" fans, but unfortunately his is the only character that's really been well developed so far. Sarah Jones is appealing but her detective character needs more emotional depth, and Sam Neill's mysterious government man is still a bit two-dimensional. And, unfortunately, the delightful Parminder Nagra ("Bend It Like Beckham") has spent too much time in a coma! I've read that the audience for the series has fallen off over the past month, probably a sign that Abrams needs to speed things up. In the Twitter era, I'm not sure viewers have the patience that the "Lost" audience showed in waiting years for answers.
MY TUNES: I first encountered Eric Hutchinson doing his song "Watching You Watch Him" on the Letterman show and the song was still in my head the next day, always a good sign. As my friend Al Sussman said, he has sort of a Marshall Crenshaw thing going on. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EqARZh9g7o
The big indie hit right now is Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know," which also buried itself in my brain the first time I heard it back in January: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UVNT4wvIGY
And here's a cool cover of the tune by Walk Off the Earth featuring the entire band playing one guitar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9NF2edxy-M
There's a civic debate going on right now in my hometown of Athens about a proposed Wal-Mart development on the edge of the historic downtown area. Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, Mike Mills of the former R.E.M. and other Athens musicians banded together as The Downtown 13 with a protest tune, "After It's Gone." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQ87g7uPyaY&feature=player_embedded
Finally, the morning after my Dad died, I dug up this David Gates performance of Bread's "Everything I Own." I always loved that tune but didn't discover until years later that it was Gates' tribute to his father. That adds a dimension to the tune that really hit home.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pfTfMoR8sg
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|Thursday, February 2nd, 2012|
|A hymn for Papa
This is the eulogy my son Bill delivered at his grandfather's funeral service. As he did three years ago at Mom's service, Bill spoke eloquently on behalf of his dad, uncles and the entire family. I thought you might enjoy reading it. ...
"Amazing Grace how sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see."
I remember a little less than 3 years ago, walking into a physical rehabilitation center Pop was staying in after we nearly lost him back then, and finding Pop sitting near a small group of volunteer high school musicians who were playing "Amazing Grace." There he was, singing along and even pretending to play a violin or fiddle of some kind. Pop looked up and saw me and smiled with those twinkling blue eyes of his. It was in those eyes you could see and feel so much warmth. As he so often did, he'd call me by a nickname. In the past, it would be something like Sam for some reason; this time around it was "Abe" in honor of my beard. After we sat and he sang some more, a nurse came by and asked him who I was. When she learned we shared the same name, she asked him what he thought about that, to which he responded, it was the highest honor. Of course, really the honor was all mine, as I couldn't imagine a better namesake for myself or my father … a better example of what it is to be a good man … a better role model.
I read somewhere once that a life well lived is like a sermon, with each day teaching a lesson to others on how to live their own lives. I like to think Pop's life was more hymn than sermon. For one thing, Pop wasn't much for talking your ear off. But his life was so immersed in music and the hymns of his faith. And to understand his lessons, sometimes you had to listen closely for that sweet sound and more often, like that Amazing Grace, simply watch and see.
His song began in the humble hills of Madison County. Life in 1920s and then Depression-era rural Georgia was not always easy. Certainly to hear it from Grandma, upon arrival in Madison County from her home of Wales, she'd probably locate Colbert, Ga., somewhere between Reconstruction and the Stone Age. Pop wasn't born with much, but somewhere in those early days, maybe amongst the uncles and aunt who looked out for him, he must have learned a few lessons about right and wrong, dignity, honor and humility. Sure enough, there was something to him that attracted the eye of his future bride, Mollie Parry King.
To look at Pop, perhaps thanks to his quiet, unassuming nature, one could underestimate his strength and even boldness. But his actions in pursuing our grandmother were nothing less than a profile in gutsiness, if not courage or cunning. Pop, stationed in her hometown of Abergavenny, Wales, as part of Allied preparations for invading France, spied her at a local dance and devised a plan for his Army buddies to distract her date in the bathroom while he swooped in and chatted up grandma. What he said, I'm not sure. And maybe it wasn't much. But soon enough, the two were engaged. Of course, the story that came next will be in family lore as long as there is a family and lore. The story of Pop taking on courier duty from France so he could make it back to marry her. His risky trip to Wales from London for the wedding itself, without written permission from the Army, all speak of a man willing to take actions when necessary. Especially when love was involved. He didn't have to say it, he just did it.
After the war, with his bride and partner for the next 64 years alongside, he set about to building a life in Athens. Pop worked hard and provided for his three boys through a successful career in banking. He was able to lift himself and family to an even higher quality of life than perhaps he had previously known. Yet, even in doing all that he went further and gave so much of himself to the community here. President of numerous civic organizations and clubs including the Optimists, Pop believed in helping improve the quality of life for everyone. He didn't simply talk about it, he just did it.
But as impressive as his resume was, as significant as his contributions were to this town and its people, Pop's greatest lessons, his finest examples, were even deeper and more important. One could ask, what kind of man did it take to not only attract a woman of Grandma's caliber but get her to leave her home behind and move all the way to Georgia. Perhaps it was a man who had an innate sense of right and wrong. Upon selling their house in Five Points, Grandma was planning on moving some flagstones to the new house, when Pop stopped her and insisted they stay, as they were in place when the buyer agreed to purchase the house. This is just one of numerous examples of him behaving honorably, even when many others in this world would never even think to do the same. Perhaps she was attracted to the type of father he was. Without a whole lot of words or talk, Pop was willing to stand up for his children when necessary and make sure they got what they needed. Once, after my father thanked him for something he did, Pop just waved him off and simply said, "That's what dads are for."
And while Pop may not have been loquacious, he still had a sharp wit and an ability to steal the show with a line or two that surely attracted Grandma, along many other folks, to him. Pop could deliver a dry quip, like at a wedding years ago, when after a man passed by wearing a rather garish plaid suit, Pop turned to one of his sons and stated with a serious expression (but a twinkle in his eye), "Let me give you a piece of advice, don't ever buy a plaid suit." During family meals, Pop would just quietly wait and then strategically deploy the most hilarious line of the entire meal, leaving everyone in stitches. Even in his final years, with his short term memory slipping, he could still quip with the best of them. One time, my Uncle Tim brought along a friend to meet Pop and introduced the two as we all entered his room. A few minutes later, Pop turned to the visitor and asked "Who is that?" and Uncle Tim responded, "this is my friend Trish, remember you just met her 5 minutes ago?" Instead of being frustrated or embarrassed by the failure of his memory, Pop, not missing a beat, said, "Well, that's not a very long time to know someone." His eyes still twinkled with that mixture of humor and mischief.
When Pop retired, he set forth to prove himself wrong and see if he could tolerate playing golf 5 days a week. Turns out he could. But he did so much more than that. He continued his active involvement in the community, faithfully participating in the Optimist Club, including his dogged devotion to helping with their Christmas tree fundraising, much to the chagrin of Grandma, who practically timed Pop to make sure he got back home at a reasonable hour. At night, Pop would watch his beloved Braves play from his own personal "Atlanta Fulton County Stadium" in his home. The timeless and quiet nature of the game fit Papa well, though, he was known to spend many a fall afternoon in Sanford Stadium, a devotion he passed down to his boys. Pop also got more time for one his great passions, gardening. He once told me that during the war he convinced an elderly Welsh villager in Grandma's hometown to let him work in her garden, as he missed it so much from his rural upbringing. In retirement, his garden was a labor of love, where he tenderly cared for vegetables each and every year and spent many happy hours wiling away.
But in retirement, he was also helping cultivate another garden in the hand he played in raising his grandchildren, and being such a great friend and companion to us. For example, Pop, a man of such dignity and honor, never hesitated to obey the demands of his grandchildren to wear a silly hat, which he dutifully would put on, at our behest, along with a goofy grin. Us grandchildren all learned so much from him about what it is to be kind, thoughtful, and loving, with a sermon never needed. We heard the sound of his song. As if we were blind, through his example, we learned to see.
I know in my own life I have tried to emulate him often. A few years ago, when living here in Athens, I decided I, too, wanted to make an impact on others, as he had. So, I decided to follow his example and join the Optimist Club. I’ve found that throughout my life when I followed his example, as I have often tried, I have seemingly always ended up on the right path. The right road.
So, where does the high road take you? If the songs of his faith are any indication, somewhere after he slipped away from us Saturday night, Pop found that high road intersects with those streets paved with gold. I suppose only God knows for sure if there is a Heaven, but I know for sure if there is, his road led him there. Where Grandma awaits, wondering what took him so long.
But as the destination is important, so too is the journey there. And that journey brought a lot of happiness for Pop. Grandma used to speak of how his eyes had a sadness to them when she first met him. She noted how the birthday party her family threw for him in Wales while he was stationed there was his first he could ever recall. But after meeting her, building that life together, those eyes I saw and remember always seemed lit up with happiness. They dimmed a bit when she passed just over 3 years ago, as they understandably would. But for 64 years they expressed a joy and pleasure for life and the life he'd built that words never could. And they lit up again this past week, even when his voice sometimes failed him, to let us know that he knew we were with him and loved him.
As it turns out, the journey on the high road nears its end in a pretty fine place, too. If Pop's life was a hymn, he did a great job teaching everyone else the words. It would have been unjust if his time here had ended 3 years ago in an ICU, as it nearly did. Restrained and miserable, hooked up to machines. But instead, his final week was a chorus of love. Sung by his children and grandchildren each day, with him often happily participating. Everyone let him know how much they loved him and how proud they were of him. He was kept company nearly constantly, as he had been when he was faithfully visited throughout his final 3 years here by his family, led by his sons. But they were merely following the example he set when he himself faithfully visited his own mother each Sunday, regardless of her own state at that point. As Pop had taught them what dads were for, turns out they had also learned from him what sons were for. Each Sunday of the past 3 years was spent singing the same song Pop had sung his entire life. One of faith, selflessness, honor and love. Indeed, his song ended with a chorus of love and everyone sang along. It was the ending he deserved. Amazing grace. How sweet the sound.
For the rest of our lives we will continue to sing that song. Not just in speaking reverently of him, though I imagine we will always do that, but in following his examples of how to live a life. Doing the right thing, but never calling attention to it or wondering what is in it for me. Though, it turns out, through Pop we already learned what's in it for us. Not through telling us but by showing us. A life well lived ends surrounded by family singing and sending you home. That chorus of love.
Years ago, I had the great joy of accompanying Pop to the Optimist Club state championship golf tournament. Pop was the driving force and primary Mr. Everything for the local tournament, but would then follow the Athens champions on to the state tournament, purely to support them. He didn't see his role as ending just at the registration table. So, I got to go with him a few times and they are some of my fondest memories with my grandfather. Of course, only Pop could make the drive from Athens to Clarkesville take about 3 and half hours. But I never complained. With Pop, none of us were ever in a rush to leave. At the last tournament we went to together, the Athens contingent did very well, sending several golfers on to the regional tournament. At the end of the day, the various golfers from Athens, given a chance to play thanks to Pop's hard work, decided to all take a photo together. Before the photographer could snap, though, one of the golfers stopped him and motioned to Pop. He said, "Mr. King, this is all because of you. We would be honored if you'd join us." Pop's eyes lit up and he smiled big and wide for the camera. He never asked for attention, never asked to be thanked. He was already so proud of those golfers. But the simple gesture made all his hard work, all his quiet, relentless effort worthwhile. That grin stayed on and those eyes stayed lit up all the way home. Papa never asked for attention, never asked to be thanked, but he taught us to always be thankful, to appreciate everything we have and show that appreciation.
I remember the last time I saw Grandma, I came by the house a couple of days before she passed to take Pop to the pharmacy. She was unable to get out of her chair and join us. So Pop and I went, and as we headed towards the checkout line, he grabbed a chocolate bar. I thought to myself, “Oh Lord, he can’t eat that. What is he doing?” But before I could ask, he turned and said, “We’ll get this for Grandma. Maybe it’ll make her feel better.” Pop was teaching a lesson in caring, being thankful and showing appreciation to the person who had taken such good care of him. He did it so often through actions. But I will do it through mere words. The words I will always add to his song, his hymn. Thanks, Pop. Current Mood: grateful
|Monday, January 30th, 2012|
|Saturday, January 7th, 2012|
|A Quickie look back at 2011
Some years are just jam-packed with outstanding entertainment; 2011 wasn't one of those years (perhaps why Hollywood had its worst box office numbers since 1996). Still, the year did bring quite a few offerings that I'm glad I got to experience. Let's take a look ...
AT THE MOVIES: A baker's dozen films lured me to the cinema in 2011, and I enjoyed all of them to varying degrees. But if pressed to pick the very best, I'd have to go with the first film I saw last year, a holdover from 2010: "The King's Speech." It was that rare film that completely lives up to expectations. Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter were all superb, but especially Firth, whose Best Actor Oscar was well deserved.
A close runner-up would be George Clooney's fine bit of political cynicism, "The Ides of March," with the wonderful Ryan Gosling and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Also excellent were the totally winning performances of Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in the behind-the-scenes baseball story "Moneyball"; Robert Redford's "The Conspirator," with Robin Wright as Mary Surratt, the boarding house owner who went to the gallows rather than implicate her son in the Lincoln assassination and James McAvoy again impressive as the young attorney battling the U.S. government to clear her; and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," a dark, tense and action-packed film that provided a satisfying wrap-up to the lengthy fantasy series.
A couple of other excellent films we saw were the twisty Italian romantic thriller "The Double Hour" and "The Adjustment Bureau," a Twilight Zoney tale of alternate realities lifted by the terrific starring team of Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.
I also enjoyed Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger in the tense but somewhat far-fetched thriller "Unknown," Jake Gyllenhaal in Duncan Jones' nifty sci-fi adventure "Source Code," Saoirse Ronan in Joe Wright's very stylish action tale "Hanna," the chemistry between Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell in the well-done comic book adventure "Captain America: The First Avenger," and the film that wound up our year of moviegoing, Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows." In the latter, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law didn't get to have quite as much fun with their Holmes and Watson characters as in the first film, but I thought this one had a better plot and a much better villain in Jared Harris' Moriarty. I just wish Noomi Rapace had had more to do, though.
Rounding out my 2011 films, I thought "Cowboys and Aliens" with Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford was a fun popcorn flick that had its moments — but ultimately was a bit disappointing considering the talent involved.
MY TUNES: Three albums sit atop my "best of" list for 2011: The Decemberists' "The King Is Dead," Glenn Campbell's "Ghost on the Canvas" and Coldplay's "Mylo Xyloto." The album by the Decemberists, a group my son introduced me to a few years ago, saw the band strip down their sometimes overly theatrical indie sound to an almost bluegrassy folk-rock style with strong R.E.M. influences. Campbell's album, likely to be the veteran singer-guitarist's last studio effort because of the onset of Alzheimer's, presents him at his best in a collection of pop tracks reminiscent of his heyday. And the Coldplay album is so full of memorable melodies and hooks that you'll find your head full of them after the first listen. In addition to the two big hits — "Paradise," with its majestic backing and infectious chorus, and the anthemic "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall," with its catchy keyboard riff and ringing guitar — I particularly enjoy the upbeat pop-rocker "Hurts Like Heaven," the insistent guitar of "Charlie Brown," and the piano ballad "Up in Flames." My daughter was excited that the British band is joined by Rihanna on the synth-drenched "Princess of China," but, to be honest, that one didn't do much for me.
Other new albums I'm glad I bought last year include the box sets "Sinatra: Best of the Best" (it really is) and the Beach Boys' "The Smile Sessions" (fascinating); Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water (40th Anniversary Edition)"; the uneven but very interesting "Rave On Buddy Holly" tribute disc; the "McCartney" and "McCartney II" deluxe reissue packages, accompanied by very nice hardbound books but disappointing bonus tracks; Willie Nelson, Wynton Marsalis and Norah Jones teaming up on a collection of pop classics called "Here We Go Again"; the wide-ranging 2-CD set of '60s pop and jazz on "Mad Men: A Musical Companion (1960-1965)"; Billy Joel's "Live at Shea Stadium"; Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. teaming up for "The Very Best of the Rat Pack"; and Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward's "A Very She & Him Christmas."
My favorite individual tracks from the year included the Decemberists' "Down by the Water," R.E.M.'s "Oh My Heart," Ringo Starr covering Buddy Holly's "Think it Over," Neko Case and Nick Cave's cover of "She's Not There" (from TV's "True Blood"), Meyer Hawthorne's "The Walk," Fitz and the Tantrums' "Moneygrabber," Drive-By Truckers' cover of Eddie Hinton's "Everybody Needs Love," the Black Keys' "Lonely Boy," Mumford & Sons' "The Cave" (not released in 2011 but all over AAA radio throughout the year), the Rolling Stones' cover of Bob Dylan's "Watching the River Flow," Adele's "Rolling in the Deep," Natalie Maines covering Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows," Bon Iver's ethereal "Holocene" and Coldplay's "Paradise."
ON THE TUBE: With "Mad Men" missing in action last year, Showtime's terrorism tale "Homeland" was hands-down the best series on television. Boasting a terrific cast headed by Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin, it was the kind of viewing that left you discussing and arguing about it for days afterward. If you missed it, catch up using Showtime on Demand or watch for a DVD release. Other shows I really enjoyed in 2011 included the Starz prequel "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" and the sole season (unfortunately) of "Camelot" featuring Eva Green, Showtime's raw but engaging remake of the British dramedy "Shameless," the increasingly convoluted but still fascinating sci-fi drama "Fringe" on Fox, the second season of "Hawaii Five-O" and third season of "NCIS: Los Angeles" on CBS, and the second season of the formulaic but fun "Rizzoli & Isles" on TNT. I lost interest in the fourth series of HBO's increasingly overpopulated "True Blood" before it got to the season finale. I enjoyed the last couple of episodes of Showtime's "The Borgias," but up till then it had been something of a slog. I'll probably check the second series out, though. I thought Martin Scorsese's two-part "George Harrison: Living in the Material World" on HBO was a fascinating and mostly satisfying character study of the Quiet Beatle. And I really enjoyed Coldplay's 90-minute "Austin City Limits" concert on New Year's Eve. I think we could have done without Paul McCartney's self-serving 9/11 documentary "The Love We Make" on Showtime.
ALSO OF INTEREST: Most of the DVDs I bought this past year were classic movies and TV shows. Of the 2011 releases I picked up, I can recommend "The Hollies: Look Through Any Window 1963-1975" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show: 50th Anniversary Edition Fan Favorites." Added to my bookshelf (and still being read or waiting their turn) are David Browne's "Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970," Stephen King's time travel adventure "11-22-63" and Anthony Horowitz's "The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel."
LOOKING AHEAD: On TV, I'm excited about the long-awaited fifth season of "Mad Men" (premiering March 16 on AMC), J.J. Abrams' new sci-fi mystery "Alcatraz" (debuting Jan. 16 on Fox), “Spartacus: Vengeance” (returning Jan. 27 on Starz), and the second season of "Sherlock," complete with a naked Irene Adler (May on PBS). And at the movies, we shortly plan on seeing the Hollywood version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and the new "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and I'm definitely planning on catching Tim Burton's version of "Dark Shadows" with Johnny Depp as vampire Barnabas Collins and Eva Green as the witch Angelique (May 1), Christian Bale back as the Batman in "The Dark Knight Rises" (July 20), the return of Daniel Craig as 007 in "Skyfall" (Nov. 7) and "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (Dec. 14). Possible additions to the list include John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe hunting a killer inspired by his writings in "The Raven" (March 9), Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender in the Ridley Scott outer space thriller "Prometheus" (June 8) and "The Company You Keep" (TBA), a political action thriller about a former Weather Underground militant on the run again 30 years later after his true identity is exposed by an ambitious young reporter. It's directed by Robert Redford and stars Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Chris Cooper, Sam Elliot, Nick Nolte and Shia LaBeouf. On the music scene, having heard an advance copy leaked online of "Kisses on the Bottom," Paul McCartney's collection of pop standards (plus two new originals) recorded with Diana Krall and her jazz band, I'm looking forward to its release on Feb. 7.
How about you? If you'd like to add to or have your say about anything in this column or share your own entertainment highlights and low points of 2011, just click on comment below. You don't have to be registered with Live Journal. Current Mood: pleased
|Monday, October 31st, 2011|
|George Harrison: 'He lit the room'
Martin Scorsese's "George Harrison: Living in the Material World" is currently airing on HBO and HBO On Demand and will be airing in Britain on BBC2 on Nov. 12 and 13, so for those of you who don't read Beatlefan magazine and those in the U.K. who haven't bought the DVD yet, here's a condensed review adapted from my comments in Beatlefan:
If you're expecting a traditional documentary telling its subject’s complete life story, you might be disappointed by Martin Scorsese’s three-and-a-half-hour film about George Harrison. There is no narrator to fill in the chinks between the mix of interview clips and archival footage, and chunks of Harrison’s career are completely skipped, particularly in the second half focusing on his post-Beatles years. But that’s not what Scorsese was trying to do here. What he’s offering us is more a character study than a career retrospective — a portrait of a man who, as Terry Gilliam put it, was caught between the spiritual and material worlds, and the impact he had on those around him.
With George’s widow Olivia as one of its producers, it should be no surprise that this is a loving portrait full of intimate details and rare home movie footage. I generally liked it a lot, though I wish there had been more emphasis on Harrison’s music. Eric Clapton did note George was “clearly an innovator” with his guitar playing, but not enough attention was devoted to that aspect of the story.
And the Beatles-centric first half at times seemed unavoidably like an “Anthology” retread, though Paul McCartney served up some fond and informative memories of his young school pal. I loved the description of teenage George’s quiff as looking “like a fucking turban.”
The second half I really enjoyed, particularly the segments on the Dark Horse tour (including a hoarse Harrison gargling backstage), George's foray into movies with Handmade Films and his unique Friar Park home. Well-known percussionist Ray Cooper, who worked with George at Handmade, noted that part of the appeal of the movie business for Harrison was that it was like being in a band again. “He missed The Beatles.”
There were lots of stories showing Harrison’s well-developed sense of humor, and fascinating (though frustratingly brief) clips of musical rarities. (The U.K. deluxe Blu-Ray release of the film, not yet available in the U.S., includes a bonus disc of gorgeous Harrison demos. I’ve always thought Harrison did the best demos. Let’s hope that somewhere in the Harrison Estate's future release plans is a complete set of George’s acoustic recordings.)
The filmmakers deserve kudos for not ignoring George’s drug use or womanizing, though both were covered in a fairly circumspect way. I particularly liked the bit where Olivia talked about the secret to a long marriage (“You don’t get divorced”).
I also got a kick out of George's son Dhani’s recollections of growing up with an unconventional father. “To rebel in my family was to go to school,” he noted, adding that when he wore his uniform for CCF (the British equivalent of ROTC) it really "pissed off" his dad.
The all-too-brief clip of George and Paul sharing a mike during the Threetles reunion sessions left you definitely wanting more, but I loved the scene where Paul arrives and hugs George, who tweaks his old pal by asking, “Is that a vegetarian leather jacket?”
Death, unfortunately, was a recurring theme of the second half, whether it was Lennon (George was “angry that John didn’t have a chance to leave his body in a better way,” Olivia said), Roy Orbison (George called Petty after hearing of Roy’s death and asked, “Aren’t you glad it’s not you?”) or Harrison’s own illness and the brutal knife attack at Friar Park (recalled in chilling detail by Olivia). It was all skillfully handled, but tough to watch.
McCartney obviously was struggling to maintain his composure when talking about what it was about George that he misses (humor, friendship, love) but Ringo didn’t even try to keep a stiff upper lip as he told of his last visit with George, who couldn’t even sit up. When Ringo said he had to leave to go to Boston, where his daughter was having treatment for a brain tumor, Harrison asked, “Do you want me to come with you?” With tears streaming down his face, Ringo noted those were the last words he ever heard from George. Then, wiping his eyes he cracked, “God, it’s like Barbara Fucking Walters here, isn’t it?”
Olivia wound up the film talking about George’s passing and, in essence, provided a fitting epitaph for Harrison when she said, “He lit the room.”
As you can tell from the faces of those talking about him, he still does.
MY TUNES: I'm currently enjoying Coldplay's new album, "Mylo Xyloto," which is contemporary pop-rock at its best and unfailingly melodic. I'll have more to say about that next time. But the album that I've been listening to the most the past few weeks is one that I'm afraid a lot of folks have overlooked: Glen Campbell's "Ghost on the Canvas," which is likely to be the singer-guitarist's last studio album because of the onset of Alzheimer's. It has a mixture of songs written by Campbell and producer Julian Raymond and tunes contributed by the likes of Paul Westerberg, Jakob Dylan and Robert Pollard. Lyrically, it's bittersweet, with Campbell looking back over his life and ahead and noting, "Each breath I take is a gift that I will never take for granted." Musically, there are lots of echos from some of his past hits and the production style is vintage Glen Campbell, so if you were fond of "Gentle on My Mind," "Wichita Lineman" and "Galveston," you'll probably find much to like here. It leans heavily toward Campbell's pop side, with only the occasional country touch. The entire album, which includes brief instrumental interludes to set the mood, is good stuff, but among the high points are the lovely acoustic ballad "A Better Place," the title track written by Westerburg, "A Thousand Lifetimes" (with a twangy Campbell guitar solo very reminiscent of his work on "Wichita" and "Galveston"), the folk-pop "Nothing But the Whole Wide World," the upbeat "In My Arms" (featuring Brian Setser and Dick Dale on guitars and Chris Isaak on backing vocals), and the stately "There's No Me ... Without You." If this truly is Campbell's last release, he's going out at the top of his game.
ON THE TUBE: It's good news that Showtime has greenlighted a second season of the fascinating CIA drama "Homeland," starring Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin. Danes plays Carrie Mathison, a CIA agent who believes that a returning POW who's been held for eight years in Afghanistan has been "turned" and is a terrorist-in-waiting. Part of the fascination with the series is that the viewer, despite being privy to information Carrie doesn't have, is so far never sure whether she is right about Sgt. Nicholas Brody (played by Brit Lewis with a very convincing American acccent) or not. Showtime repeats the episodes quite a bit and has done some catch-up marathons. If you get the chance to catch the show and are at all inclined toward spy dramas, this is a good one.
AT THE MOVIES: Leslie and I saw the political thriller "The Ides of March" and were wowed by it. Terrific film directed by George Clooney with a great cast featuring Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei. It's smart, compelling and oh so cynical. Highly recommended. ... We also saw the baseball drama "Moneyball," and it was actually Leslie's idea. It's a great sports movie for those who don't think they like sports movies. The fine cast is headed by Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman (who seems to be everywhere these days and always turning in an excellent performance). ... Finally, just out on DVD and Blu-Ray is "Captain America: The First Avenger," which we saw at the end of the summer and enjoyed. It has lots of well-executed action enhanced by the dynamic starring duo of Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell, and is briskly directed by Joe Johnston. Awesome look for the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), too. The most successful comic book movies play it straight, and this is one of them.
QUICKIES: Out this week is "Sinatra: Best of the Best," the first time Frank Sinatra's greatest recordings for Capitol Records and his own Reprise Records have been gathered in one collection. It's available in single-disc and deluxe 2-CD packages. ... Due Nov. 15 is R.E.M.'s career-spanning "Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage: 1982-2011." The "farewell" single released from the album is "We Go Back to Where We Belong," an orchestrated ballad. Check it out here:http://stereogum.com/848272/r-e-m-we-all-go-back-to-where-we-belong/mp3s/
Feel like something a little retro, perhaps Motown-inspired? How about Mayer Hawthorne's "The Walk" on Letterman?http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZASLU0gEHc
Still in the mood for something retro-sounding? Give this a try: "MoneyGrabber" by Fitz and the Tantrums:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bb6cBKE3WzQ
If you'd like to add to or have your say about anything in this column, just click on comment below. You don't have to be registered with Live Journal. Current Mood: pleased
|Monday, September 26th, 2011|
|Remembering a band that never forgot its roots
I was beginning to think R.E.M. was going to rival the Rolling Stones in longevity until last week when I heard a deejay on the local adult album alternative station say the band had just announced on its Website that it was breaking up.
After all, they'd been together 31 years and 15 albums.
The news made made me sad. Although I didn't have all their albums and wasn't obsessed with R.E.M. like some folks, I enjoyed much of their music and always took great pride that such an original, forward-looking group came out of my hometown of Athens, Ga. And that the group that essentially gave birth to the alternative sub-genre of "college rock" managed to sell 85 million records without ever selling out.
Sure, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band's best days artistically were in the past. I heard more than one fan say last week, "They were never the same" after drummer Bill Berry quit as a full-time member in 1997. When I mentioned my Rolling Stones comparison to a friend who's a longtime R.E.M. fanatic, he said he had feared that would indeed be the case ... that they'd stick around for many more years producing mediocre albums and touring on their past glories.
I think he was being a bit harsh in his characterization of their recent work. While not up to the incredibly lofty standards set during R.E.M.'s heyday, I still found the releases worth listening to, at least in part. But admittedly there was nothing cutting-edge about the band any more, and a self-realization of that probably played a major role in the decision of Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills to hang it up as R.E.M. "A wise man once said, 'The skill in attending a party is knowing when it's time to leave,'" Stipe wrote last week on the band's Website.
While I had long since graduated from the University of Georgia and left Athens for a career at The Atlanta Constitution several years before R.E.M. got its start, I first was exposed to them before they'd hit it big outside the college town. I was the Constitution's rock critic for nearly 10 years and I spent several days in my hometown in the spring of 1981 working on an article about the rising Athens music scene. I met members of numerous bands, including Pylon and Love Tractor, but the group that everyone in town unanimously said stood the best chance at making the big time was R.E.M. As one person put it, "They're the only band that the artsy crowd and the frat boys both love."
Bridging those two worlds was no mean feat. Generally, the folks whose world revolved around fall Saturdays Between the Hedges at Sanford Stadium didn't mix much with the UGA art school crowd that gave birth to the music scene that first attracted international attention with the late 1970s success of the B-52's.
During that 1981 Athens visit, I sat down with the members of R.E.M. in a house where a couple of them were living on Barber Street, one block over from where I attended seventh grade, and I remember thinking that, unlike most of the Athens musicians I'd met that week, who were primarily interested in having fun, these guys were serious about the music business. I also thought Stipe was very odd but somehow still likable.
I continued to follow R.E.M. as they started climbing through the ranks of what would later become known as the indie music scene. I remember doing a brief phone interview early in the 1980s with Berry, calling from a tour stop somewhere, and being amused that the first thing he wanted to talk about was the Georgia Bulldogs football team.
I first got a chance to see the band perform when I reviewed them at Atlanta's Fox Theatre at the end of July 1984 — ironically, the last concert I reviewed for the Constitution as I shifted over to mostly writing about television for a while. They were touring in support of their second album, "Reckoning," and the thing about the Fox show that most impressed me was how familiar the audience was with the band's music, singing along to every number.
I wrote that the performance "showcased the characteristics of R.E.M.'s music that early on separated the group from others in the Athens dance-art music scene. These include Stipe and Mills' dreamy, layered vocals, Stipe's intriguingly (and sometimes frustratingly) indecipherable lyrics, Buck's ringing, melodic guitar work (compared by many to that of The Byrds in the '60s) and a recognition of the benefits of exploring other tempos besides a simple, frenetic dance beat. ... It was a varied program ranging from ballads to upbeat dance numbers that somehow managed to touch on elements of folk, pop, country and New Wave rock and yet still produced a continuum of sound that in the end was uniquely R.E.M.'s."
They continued to grow in popularity and by the time of my next R.E.M. encounter, they were the biggest band in the land. It was the weekend before the 1992 presidential election and I took my son to the high school football stadium in Decatur, where Democratic candidate Bill Clinton was appearing at a campaign rally. There was rock star excitement in the crowd, and not just because of Clinton's charisma. One of the speakers at the rally was Michael Stipe.
As R.E.M. continued to ride high, I was pleased the band kept its base in Athens. It wasn't all that unusual to hear of sightings of various band members at local shows or restaurants. My favorite of these encounters came from my own Mom, who told me how she and Stipe both attended some hearing on a local zoning issue. I also got a kick out of the fact that my parents' next-door neighbor, Miss Margaret, had a cameo in one of the band's locally made music videos.
The Athens connection remained intact to the end, with the members of R.E.M. reuniting in Athens this past summer to record three new songs for a two-CD greatest hits package, "R.E.M., Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982- 2011," that's due out Nov 15, with the aptly titled farewell single, "We All Go Back to Where We Belong," coming out Oct. 18.
And the band, who had never allowed their music to be used in commercials, licensed the song "Oh My Heart" from their most recent album, "Collapse Into Now," for use in a TV spot promoting their alma mater that is airing this fall during UGA football telecasts. You can watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csg30vJ7l3I&feature=player_embedded
"This place is the beat of my heart," Stipe sings in the spot, which shows scenes of Athens and the campus and has the theme, "You may leave ... but it never leaves you."
That pretty much sums up Athens and R.E.M., I think.
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