Category Archives: Popular culture

When did rock ‘n’ roll die? I nominate 1993

creep

You can get a lot of nominations for this. Don McLean seemed to think it died with Buddy Holly — but you know, there was still a lot of great stuff after that.

Of course, we can argue all day what “rock ‘n’ roll” means. It gets confusing. For instance, back in the ’60s and I suppose into the ’70s, we sort of relegated the term to that “old stuff” from the ’50s. Elvis, Little Richard and the like. Buddy Holly, of course. Wonderful stuff from history, to be sure, but terribly dated. What we listened to in those days was “rock,” preferably “album-oriented” stuff, via FM — by the ’70s, anyway. “Rock” was cooler, more refined, more sophisticated than those 3 minute-and-shorter bursts of exuberance from the ’50s.

But then, it crept back into our language. We were listening to something that had always been (in our foolish young minds) and always would be (in our innocence). Little did we know that we would live to see it die, and be replaced by the kind of frothy, commercial, packaged pop that used to dominate radio and TV variety shows before The Beatles.

We resisted it, in waves of rock ‘n’ roll fundamentalism. There was punk. Then later, grunge. But grunge came at the very, very end. After that, there were good pop songs to be sure, but rock ‘n’ roll? I don’t think so.

By the term, I sorta think what I mean is guitar bands, although not exclusively. There’s a certain loudness and wildness to it, although not always. It’s definitely male-dominated, being a sort of semi-constructive (by comparison to other, less-savory, behavior) outgrowth of what happens to boys in their teens — although we also thoroughly enjoyed “Blondie” and Joan Jett and Tina Turner and Janis Joplin.

Anyway, I know what I mean. In my last post I made a passing reference to “The State” being on MTV when “rock ‘n’ roll was still alive,” and then noticed that the series came along in 1993, and thought harder about it, and realized that may have been the year it all ended.

If so, it went out with a bang. Here are some of the top songs from that year:

Yeah, I know UB40 was reggae, but I wanted to include it because it was good, and because it harked back to the beginnings of rock ‘n’ roll, to the King himself, which seemed fitting.

Anyway, Google the top songs of 1994, and you’ll see a big drop-off. Sure, there’s stuff like Beck’s “Loser,” and indeed there was some decent stuff leaking out here and there over the next few years. But the age of rock ‘n’ roll was over. And in late-1960s terms, the age of just plain “rock” was done.

Note that I didn’t pick anything from when I was a kid. I’m not claiming that 1971, the year I graduated from high school, was the last cool year or anything (although it was pretty great — think “Sticky Fingers” or “Who’s Next,” or Leon Russell). Rock stayed alive through the 1970s, producing some wonderful stuff like Elvis Costello. And then music got a shot of adrenaline stronger than anything they gave Trump at Walter Reed when music video exploded in the ’80s. I was busy being a Dad and a newspaper editor then, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

But I think 1993 — coincidentally the year I turned 40 (on that birthday, the Battle of Mogadishu happened) — was the end. Since then, we’ve been crossing a long, dry desert.

At least, that’s what I’m thinking at the moment. What do you think?

‘The State’ emerges from extinction to endorse Jaime


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Hi, we’re The State.

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Oh, you thought I meant The State? No, no, no, I meant the comedy troupe, “The State.”

I appreciate them going to the trouble to get together and do this, even though only one of them even momentarily wears a mask. Of course, they did it on Instagram, making it harder to just grab the video and embed it, and they also called The other State South Carolina’s oldest newspaper, which it isn’t, but why would you expect them to know better? They’re actors.

However, after an instant’s reflection, they did have the sense to back Jaime, which not all actual newspapers had the sense to do, so let’s give them some credit.

And it’s good to see them together again. I’ve often wanted to use a clip from that series on the blog — such as the practical advice of “Pants,” or “Prison Break,” which if you recall was made impossible by the fact that the open road was “off-limits” — but have had trouble finding them online.

It’s been so long. The series goes all the way back to the days when MTV was still watchable, and rock ‘n’ roll was still alive.

So enjoy….

the state

Tempted for once by the grocery checkout rack

Now THAT is tempting...

Now THAT is tempting…

I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything from the magazine racks at the grocery checkout.

But a publication devoted to “The West Wing?” Now that’s tempting…

But I still passed.

And you know, part of it is — why do I need a print product full of “West Wing” stuff? Don’t I have Google? Can’t I already access whatever I want about the show, or any of the characters, or analysis or full transcripts of any episode? Content that is available to me wherever I go, via phone or iPad, without carrying around something as awkward as a magazine?

Yep, it’s printed on nice, glossy paper. But here’s the thing… At some point in the latter part of the ’80s, I first saw a color picture on the screen of a Mac. And I was blown away — even though the resolution and color saturation on that screen was probably pretty pathetic, compared to, say, my phone today.

It was just so — bright and alive. Since then, I’ve never seen a hard copy photo that could compare.

Not to mention the fact that if you want to share something in the mag, the person you’re sharing it with has to be standing right next to you. There’s no sharing by text, email or social media.

So… what’s the appeal of the magazine version?

Everything I used to read on paper — the newspapers I subscribe to, magazines, what have you — I now read on my iPad. Which is always with me.

Compelling content. But the wrong medium…

Thoughts on the new ‘Dune’ trailer?

One of my kids asked me if I’d seen it, and until moments ago, I hadn’t realized it was out.

Anyway, I just saw it.

I’m not going to say what I think until I hear what y’all think, except to say this: So far, it looks much better than the abomination David Lynch unleashed upon the world in 1984. That, of course, was the worst large-budget motion picture in history.

Worse, it was the most significant betrayal ever of a ready, eager, trusting fan base. All those millions of people who (like me) ran to the theaters and bought tickets — finally, we were going to see Arrakis ourselves! And then to watch that nightmare unfold before our eyes. Frame after frame, Lynch must have stayed up nights screaming to himself, How can I screw THIS part up? And it’s got to be more extreme than the frame before it!!!! (Imagine him doing this in a voice like Bobcat Goldthwait.)

Don’t agree with me? I have two words for you — “weirding modules.” Enough said.

Oh, as for the made-for-TV series that came out in 2000… that wasn’t bad. I liked that they called it “Frank Herbert’s Dune,” to distinguish themselves from David Lynch’s horror. Probably the biggest letdown in that was the casting of William Hurt as Duke Leto, but then Hurt has been miscast in everything except “Altered States” (he was totally believable as that guy) and maybe “Broadcast News.” But it wasn’t bad. Still, in those days, TV wasn’t yet the medium it is now. So we’ve waited another 20 years for something to be attempted on the grand scale.

Which means at this point, my expectations are unreasonably high. I know this.

Anyway, tell me what you think of the trailer, and we’ll discuss…

Dune still

Netflix is trying to guilt me into bingeing. Really…

Netflix IT

In the course of my life, I’ve had many people try to make me feel guilty about many things — usually successfully. Often, this has involved tasks I started but had not, at the time of being nagged, completed. I have at times become a bit sensitive on this point, I’ll confess.

Now, Netflix has weighed in, via email. But this time, the charge of not having followed through is utterly unjust, and I stand before you an innocent — even laudable, in terms of having applied myself assiduously to the task — man.

I’ll have you know that when it comes to watching “The IT Crowd,” I am an over-achiever. I have “finished” it multiple times. I have watched certain episodes, such as the one Netflix attacks me for stopping on in this instance (“Are We Not Men?”), many more times than that. That is one of the very best in the series, if not the best. It shows what can happen to guys like us — I mean, guys like Roy and Moss — when they make deceitful use of a website that empowers them to talk about football (soccer, to American friends) and therefore seem to be “proper men.” The site teaches them to say things like, “Did you see that ludicrous display last night?” I’ve used that one myself on several occasions (but not always, I’ll admit, with impressive success).

I only stopped on that one this time because I wanted to save it to savor on another occasion. I didn’t want it to get stale on me. It was like not allowing myself to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” more than once a year, on Christmas Eve. That sort of thing.

I have never been a slacker when it comes to watching. I have not been a Roy. Whenever anyone has asked me to help him or her by watching “The IT Crowd,” I have not hesitated. I have not tried to put anyone off by saying “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” I have immediately stopped whatever I am doing — reading my iPad, playing a video game — and watched it from start to finish.

And I just wanted all of you to know that….

are we not men

The magical reason why Phil Collins is a hit again

This is just pure fun.

Heard this on NPR One while walking this evening, and had to share.

Phil Collins’ 1981 hit “In the Air Tonight” is currently the No. 2 best-selling song on iTunes.

Why, because of the above video, which has had 5.5 million views so far.

It’s 22-year-old Tim and Fred Williams of Gary, Indiana, just shooting video of themselves reacting to songs they’ve never heard before. Which is something they do:

The Gary, Ind., twins have also recorded their first time listening to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart,” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” which she responded to on Twitter. “No point in begging…Jolene already stole these two,” Ms. Parton said….

If you don’t watch the whole video, you at least have to watch until… well, you know what part I mean. Then, you’ll listen to the whole thing.

This is an illustration of a phenomenon that may be unexpected to you. Kids today actually have to go out and hunt for great old songs to listen to. I’ve written about this in the past — you know my shtick about how, back in the day of variety shows on TV, if it was popular you heard it, whatever the genre — rock, pop, soul, adult contemporary, Broadway showtunes. It was all out there for everybody on our relatively few broadcast outlets, and we heard it wherever we went.

Now, music has become so narrowly focused, and made available through such personalized algorithms, that to do what these kids are doing is rare — and kind of thrilling. To find something that hasn’t been preselected for you, you have to go out and dig:

“The algorithm is built around user behavior,” Ebro Darden, the global head of hip-hop and R&B at Apple Music, said. “As more consumption options became available for music lovers, platforms got narrower and more targeted.”

Discovering classic jams on the airwaves seems hard to do now, too, as radio stations have also become more personalized, Mr. Darden said.

“You are beholden to a platform, whether it is a radio station or a streaming service, whether it is a human curation or an algorithmic curation, but you can go into these services and start looking around,” said Mr. Darden, who also hosts Ebro in the Morning at the New York radio station, Hot 97.

On streaming services like Apple Music or Spotify, users can decide if they want to go down a rabbit hole and listen to music based on the era, genre, producer, or artist, but they have to take the first step, which seems to be a hurdle….

Anyway, never mind the why. Just watch the video, and enjoy. Enjoy the twins enjoying…

In the air tonight

‘Trump plays tic-tac-toe with Jared, who lets Trump win…’

As you can see, the TV in my home office is an old SD model. But the resolution is usually better than THIS. Weird...

As you can see, the TV in my home office is an old SD model. But the resolution is usually better than THIS. Weird…

Lately, what with the weather, I’ve been doing more of my steps on the elliptical in my home office — indoors, with the A/C. And that means watching the Roku more.

So, of course, I’ve been rewatching “The West Wing” yet again. And of course, suffering the pangs of watching a show about a White House full of competent, decent, intelligent people who care deeply about serving their country — while I live (for the moment) in Trump World.

Anyway, the synopsis of this episode really jumped out at me. Boy, would that need rewriting to be current and relevant.

In case you can’t read it on that low-res screen, it says, “Bartlett engages both Sam and Toby in intricate chess matches that mirror the wily game of brinksmanship that Bartlett is playing with the Chinese.”

Today, we’d have to say something more like, “Trump plays tic-tac-toe with Jared, who lets Trump win to boost his confidence before he goes to the Chinese to beg them to help him get re-elected.”

Or maybe you can think of better words.

Oh, and before someone says “Aw, ‘The West Wing’ is fiction,” I’ll say that it’s fiction based on the reality that we knew, no matter which party held the White House, for all of our lives before 2016. I was reminded of that when I (re)watched a subsequent special episode in which presidents and their aides — from both parties — shared the kinds of observations about working in the West Wing in reality that the show worked so diligently, and brilliantly, to mirror…

Whoa! We got old, dude! This is most non-triumphant…

You'll note that the two stars are poorly lit throughout the trailer.

You’ll note that the two stars are poorly lit throughout the trailer.

Not to mention, it’s both bogus and heinous.

I was looking for a link for a “Bill and Ted” reference in a comment earlier, and ran across this — a trailer for the upcoming “Bill and Ted” sequel, with the original stars.

And seeing it, I’m like, whoa! They got old in the past 31 years!

I’m not entirely sure this is going to work. I mean, the comedy was driven by these guys being utterly clueless, stupid kids. Is it as funny when old guys are this dumb? (I mean, I don’t find Trump funny. Do you?)

Of course, I’ll watch it anyway. But I’ll probably wait until I can stream it for free. Which will take, what — like a week or so?

Welcome to Trump’s America, where we all live in San Dimas!

That seems a little desperate there, cable people…

My computer just made me watch this ad while I was waiting for something.

And all I could think was, “Wow, cable is really getting desperate.”

Streaming is so complicated, it’s… evil?

OK, so, if you’re very technology-averse, I suppose it’s a little complicated. But the complexity is wonderful. With cable, you watch what is “on” now. And in my experience, there is pretty much never anything “on” at a given moment that I have any interest in seeing. I don’t mind a bit of clicking around through various services to find something that interests me. I find myself watching more TV than I did in cable days. Which is not necessarily good, but I do it because the new way is much more appealing. It has a lot more to offer.

And claiming that it’s too expensive? Really? Have you actually checked out the pricing? I’ve got Netflix, Prime, Britbox and Disney+, and the monthly total is, what — about a fourth of what most people pay for cable? Maybe I’m doing the math wrong, but I don’t think so. Of course, at the moment I’m getting the Disney free because of… I don’t know… something to do with my Verizon account.

Not that there’s not the potential for things to get too messy, or too expensive. Once, there was just Netflix, and it seemed they had everything — or at least, more than I had time to watch. But now we’re moving toward every content producer pulling out their stuff and making you sign up for yet another service. And that’s not good.

But it’s still way better than cable, right?

monsters

The doctor should have tried a little harder on his Top Ten Albums of the ’60s list

Pepper

Do you have a Google search app on your phone or iPad? I do. And Google uses it to entice me to click on things. On the home page, there are all these links to things Google is convinced fascinate me. Most have something to do with the Beatles, or the Sopranos, or Key and Peele skits.

You’d think I’m not interested in anything else. Which is weird. Is that really what the data say to Google about me? I mean, it’s not like it’s sending me to significant news about these pop-culture touchstones. Or even authoritative sources. Most are from websites I’ve never heard of, and which I would never go to to become more informed about anything.

But sometimes they get me. Sometimes I click anyway, at the risk of encouraging this stuff. I did so when I saw this link to a piece headlined, “From Bob Dylan to The Rolling Stones: Hunter S. Thompson’s favourite albums of the 1960s.” It’s from something called Far Out magazine, which as you can tell by the spelling of “favourite” is published from Britain.

I mean, how could I resist?

But what I found was disappointing. It seemed to me that, beyond throwing in some esoteric choices to let you know he’s the head doctor of Gonzo, little thought went into it. Maybe in the original letter there was some engaging explanation of each choice. But the list itself seems kind of flat:

  1. Herbie Mann’s – Memphis Underground (“which may be the best album ever cut by anybody”)
  2. Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home
  3. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
  4. The Grateful Dead – Workingman’s Dead
  5. The Rolling Stones – Let it Bleed
  6. Buffalo Springfield – Buffalo Springfield
  7. Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow
  8. Roland Kirk’s “various albums”
  9. Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain
  10. Sandy Bull – Inventions

So, of course, I thought I should put together my own list.

It wasn’t easy. I cheated a bit by consulting Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Just to prime the pump. Then I added four or five of my own that weren’t even in the magazine’s top 200. (I didn’t look lower than that.)

I went back and forth between things that were emblematic of the period and enormously influential and things that just appealed to me at the time. As Thompson did, but I tried to be more disciplined about it.

You’ll notice this is all white guys, except for the one Jimi Hendrix pick. I could slough that off and say I wasn’t going to skew the list for Identity Politics, but the thing is, I tried to. I did so because you can’t review the 60s without being blown away by the contributions of black and female musicians (and sometimes Hispanic as well — I really tried to squeeze in a personal favorite, Feliciano!, but it didn’t make it). But problems having to do with the nature of my list kept getting in my way.

For instance, how do you review the ’60s without including The Supremes, or some of Dionne Warwick’s renditions of Burt Bacharach songs? But… what album would I choose? The songs tower over the decade, but no particular album stands out — in my mind, anyway. (You may correct me with something I should be thinking of and failing. If you do, I’ll thank you.)

I tried cheating, by including “Otis Blue” from Otis Redding. It was on the Rolling Stone list, and I started to include it. But… even though it had songs that I love, they’re songs I came to know later, posthumously. The truth is, I’m one of those white boys who hadn’t heard of Otis until “Dock of the Bay” came out after his death. I was blown away by the rest of his work much later. As for the album in question, I didn’t even remember it. I wasn’t cool enough for it to be part of my 60s memories.

Then there was my abortive effort to get Janis Joplin on the list. For a moment, I included “Cheap Thrills.” I mean, can you think of an album that looked more ’60s than that, with its R. Crumb artwork? But… that wasn’t honest. It wasn’t nearly as good an album, in my view, as “Pearl,” which was recorded a little too late, and not released until 1971, after her death.

And it really hurt to leave off Carole King’s “Tapestry.” It included some of her work from the ’60s, but there was no escaping the fact that it was released in 1971, and is very tied up with that specific time.

Man, if we could just have included that adjunct of the ’60s — the ’70s — this would have been a much more diverse list. (Al Green, anyone? Joni Mitchell?) But I stuck to the ’60s. I even left off Led Zeppelin II, even though it was released in 1969, because it’s just too firmly associated in my mind with 1970 and later. The ’70s were the decade of album-oriented radio. I mean, think about Carole King’s work in the early ’60s — all those hits she wrote for Little Eva, Bobby Vee, the Drifters, the Chiffons, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield and even the Monkees. None of those make me think of the word, “album.”

Anyway… it’s full of flaws, but here’s my list:

  1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — Not necessarily my favorite from the Beatles, but a towering achievement. And from the music to the cover, can you get any more ’60s than this? It was Rolling Stone’s No. 1 all-time pick. (Their Top Five had three Beatles albums!) I know it’s cooler to choose, say, “Revolver” or “Rubber Soul,” or even to leave the Beatles off altogether. But I care more about citing the ’60s top albums than I do about being cool.
  2. Are You Experienced? — Again, when you go with Jimi Hendrix and pick ONE album, you’re leaving off fantastic classics of the period. It’s tough. There’s no, say, “All Along the Watchtower.” But hey, it’s got “Purple Haze,” “Manic Depression,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Foxey Lady” and “Fire,” so I’m going with it. Come to think of it, what was I complaining about?
  3. Let it Bleed — Not the Stones’ best album — those would come in the ’70s (“Sticky Fingers,” “Exile on Main Street”). And it means passing up their awesome early hits, such as “Satisfaction.” But there are some great Stones tunes here. And of course, the one that pushes the album onto the list more than any other is “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
  4. Highway 61 Revisited — It’s tough to pick ONE Dylan album, and I’d agree with you if you chose any one of three or four others instead of this. Especially if you picked “Blonde on Blonde,” or insisted it had to be early, pre-electric Dylan. But looking back over the track list, I feel good about this one. Don’t you, Mr. Jones?
  5. Meet the Beatles — Yep, two Beatles albums. I almost set myself a rule to prevent this, but if anyone was going to get two, it would be the Fab Four. And how do you leave this one off? Critically and musically it might not be as impressive as later stuff, but for those of us who lived the decade, this is the album that started what we think of as the 1960s. Before that, it was like the Four Freshmen and such. So I’m keeping it, even though it prevented me from including something else I really liked.
  6. The Band — This 1969 release barely makes it, and I’m going to confess I didn’t really discover The Band until a year or two later. But it’s my list, and I’m such a fan that I’m including it. Rolling Stone rates “Music from Big Pink” higher, but I’m going with the Brown Album. If you could only take one album from these guys to a desert island, it would have to be this one.
  7. Crosby, Stills and Nash — Another one released in 1969 — meaning my list is way skewed toward the end of the decade. But go listen to it. Look at the cover. Doesn’t it pretty much scream “’60s” to you, from the very first notes of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”? Even if you don’t agree, you’ll have the treat of hearing “Marrakesh Express,” “Guinnevere,” “Wooden Ships,” “Lady of the Island,” and “Helplessly Hoping.” So stop complaining, and enjoy.
  8. Best of Cream — I need to be specific here. Over the years, there have been several “best of Cream” albums on the market, but none of the others were any good. This one, the one released on vinyl in — of course — 1969, was awesome. It was truly their best — “Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room,” “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “Spoonful,” “Tales of Brave Ulysses” — and that unbelievable live version of “Crossroad.” This album is not easy to find. At least, I never could find it on CD, and I just checked iTunes — again — and you just can’t find that distinctive cover with the vegetables (see below) anywhere. Good thing I still have my vinyl.
  9. Blood, Sweat & Tears — Released in 1968, this was their second album, but everything else they did fades alongside this one. It was so different from anything I was hearing at the time, and I really got into the horns, the jazz influence and other stuff that set it apart. Hey, I was a dumb kid. I knew nothing of jazz. To me, “God Bless the Child” was new! I didn’t even get the reference to Churchill’s famous speech. Also, this is where I first encountered Erik Satie! So it opened my mind a little.
  10. Whipped Cream & Other Delights — There were so many different sounds that made up this decade, stuff other than guitar groups, that I felt like I needed to get in something from Bacharach, or Petula Clark, or Sergio Mendes. But I didn’t. I’ll stick in some Herb Alpert, though. His music is almost as representative of the decade as the Beatles — in its own way (hey, you couldn’t have had TV game show without it!). This was crossover music. There was a copy of the album in our house, but it belonged to my parents, not to me. And of course, if I’m going to think of a Herb Alpert album, it’s going to be this one. Because of, you know, that cover. I looked at it a lot. Because, you know, I was really into the music.

Well, that’s it for now. I’m interested to see where y’all agree and disagree.

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Doug and I were 60 percent in agreement!

Have I told you guys how great you look in garnet?

Have I told you guys how great you look in garnet?

This is to make up for that long post that no one but me could have found interesting. (And I wouldn’t have, either, if it had been about someone else!)

This morning Phillip Bush said something way wrong on Twitter — that cool as it was, the theme from “Mission Impossible” wasn’t Lalo Schifrin’s best. That instead, it was the theme from “Mannix.”

Knowing I could not win an argument with Phillip about music, I tried anyway, saying, essentially, nuh-uh! I also mentioned “Peter Gunn,” to give my case force by mentioning a show that was on before I was old enough to stay up that late.

Obviously, I was doomed.

But then Bryan, whose brain has not been recently damaged by a stroke, said he agreed with me, then quickly changed the subject:

Related: Give me your top five movies that are primarily *about* music.

Nice one, Bryan.

Bryan, Phillip AND our own Doug Ross all offered their lists before I returned, as follows. Doug’s:

Bryan’s:

and Phillip’s:

No, I don’t know know to separate those. Anyway, I had nothing to add. But I thought Doug’s was the most creative, and immediately endorsed his last three picks, adding two from the other lists:


I think we were all too contemporary. I suspect we did injustice to the music of earlier generations. For instance, were we all wrong to have left out “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” which featured Jimmy Cagney dancing down stairs?

And wouldn’t our grandparents have scorned us for leaving out “The Jazz Singer?

I dunno. What do y’all think?

mugshot-james-cagney-dancing-robert-odierna-criminal-movie-reviews

James Cagney, dancing down stairs!

The official, properly considered, Robert Redford Top Five List

the natural

I hadn’t intended to do this. There’s something inherently uncool in doing such an obvious, vanilla, whitebread Top Five List. Barry would never stop giving me grief about it, if Barry actually existed. Actually, I suspect Jack Black would never let up, if he found out about it. So don’t tell him.

Actually, a cool list would be, say, a Jack Black list.

But no, this is about the ultimate whiteguy A-lister from a generation ago, or more. I mean, next we’ll be doing, I dunno, a Clark Gable list or something. Or so Barry would say.

But I have to do this to set things right. In a recent comment on this blog, reacting to a side conversation about a clip from “Three Days of the Condor” — really a Max Von Sydow conversation, not about Redford at all — Bryan Caskey snuck up while I wasn’t looking and posted this:

Top Five Robert Redford Movies
1. Jeremiah Johnson
2. The Sting
3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
4. Sneakers
5. Spy Game

Ahhhhh! No way! Totally apart from the very worst thing about it — more on that in a moment — he put “The Sting” (a relatively desperate attempt by Hollywood to recapture the Newman/Redford magic of the previous) above “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!” That should have cancelled the whole list outright, but there it is, still on this blog, and I feel responsible and must set the record straight.

So, here is the official bradwarthen.com Top Five List for Robert Redford.

But wait. I didn’t mention the worst thing: He left “The Natural” off his list altogether! We’re talking about a film that not only makes my Top Five list for all sports films, but is at the TOP of my Baseball Movies list! And he’s a sports guy and I’m not!

So anyway, here is the official bradwarthen.com Top Five List for Robert Redford:

  1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — I probably wouldn’t start the list with this — the second and third films are better — but this is a Robert Redford list, and without this film, we wouldn’t know who Robert Redford is. Also… it’s a unique Redford movie. It’s the only film he appeared in in which his character was cool. After that, he competed with himself to see how uncool he could make his characters. Including Roy Hobbs. Definitely including Jeremiah Johnson, the dullest Mountain Man in the Rockies. The Sundance Kid is one of the coolest characters ever in a Western. Watch, and see what Redford did with him — and then tell me one other character he did that with. You can’t. Newman’s characters were almost always cool. Redford’s never were.
  2. All the President’s Men — Every time I see this film, I’m blown away at how good it was. I don’t remember being that impressed with it when it was new, but it’s amazing. And it’s because of the little things. It has the most realistic depiction of the interview process that I’ve ever seen. The naturalistic awkwardness that Redford as Woodward and Hoffman as Bernstein experience as they try to get people to talk to them and put their story together is probably painful for laypeople to watch — but if you made your living doing that kind of thing, you’d recognize it, and be impressed. And you’ll also see why I preferred being an editor to going through the daily grind of being a reporter. It’s very, very real.
  3. The Natural — To Bryan’s credit, I was reminded of this film’s awesomeness when Bryan put this video on Twitter, with its invitation, “If you’re missing baseball, watch this.” You should definitely watch that compilation, and think about how much poorer it would be without the clips from “The Natural.” That film corrected a huge literary mistake, committed by Bernard Malamud. Malamud’s novel stripped all nobility from Roy Hobbs, and condemned him not only to lose in the end, but to deserve it. Totally depressing. It totally missed why Americans, back when they were real Americans, loved baseball. The film understood all of that, was unembarrassed about it, and crammed it all in with no apology.
  4. The Great Gatsby — If you try to look this up on IMDB now, they’ll show you the Leonardo DiCaprio version, which is just sad. There’s a certain amount of personal involvement here: This was the movie that inspired me to wear a white linen suit when I got married that same year. (Try even finding one of those.) But it’s great. No one can sound as plain and uncool as Redford calling people “old sport.” It’s pure mastery. And it has Sam Waterston — and Edward Herrmann in a cameo, playing the piano! Oh, and see if you can find the guy who played Hershel Greene in “The Walking Dead” — he’s in it! In a key role! (Talk about a guy with a cool Top Five list!)
  5. The Candidate — I was going to put Jeremiah Johnson here, but I didn’t, just to be cantankerous. Jeremiah’s good, but it’s maybe too popular among my more libertarian friends, who think that being a mountain man is a sensible way to live. So I thought I’d go with something that in its own way was kind of groundbreaking — the story of a political candidate who only ran because he was promised he would lose — and has Peter Boyle as a political operative.

Butch-Cassidy-Film-Still-2-800x640

Top Five Coolest Airplanes Ever

F-4

I’m trying to keep my mind off of Super Tuesday today. The last three days have been wonderful, from Joe’s stunning win here, through the endorsements of Amy, Pete and Beto. But while Joe was concentrating on South Carolina, Bernie was getting a huge head start everywhere else, especially California. And Bloomberg was spending half a billion dollars to try to win the very voters Joe needs to stop Bernie.

Burl with one of his early models.

Burl with one of his early models.

So… how about a Top Five List? I’m feeling kind of basic today (I’m in a “Top Five Side One, Track Ones” mood), so let’s make this the sort of list we could have made when we were 11 years old and building model airplanes. Back when we weren’t cool (yet), but we had a keen sense of what we thought was cool. We can make it a sort of tribute list to our friend Burl Burlingame, who along with many other accomplishments was the best modeler any one of us ever knew.

And just to head off the “war-monger” cries from some of my friends, I’m sorry, but warplanes have always been cooler than civilian aircraft. Not because they’re warplanes, but, well, just look at them. Built for speed and performance, they’ll always be cooler than, say, a 707. The way a 1964½ Ford Mustang or a 1962 Jaguar XK-E is way cooler than a minivan.

This was inspired by a video YouTube suggested to me this morning. I had called up Cream’s “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” and YouTube suggested something called “Best Rock Songs Vietnam War Music.” And again, it’s not “War” that makes it cool. Think about the Vietnam War movies you’ve seen. Don’t they tend to have awesome soundtracks?

So, intending to just leave it playing while I worked, I called it up. And the first image on the screen was the above one, of an F-4 Phantom taking off. (No, wait — the flaps are down, so I think it’s landing. But I don’t know. Bob Amundson, can you give us a ruling?) It showed while CCR’s “Fortunate Son” was playing.

So I got to thinking, and here’s the list. And not in order of coolness — more chronological:

  1. Fokker DR.I Triplane. The Red Baron‘s plane, it was both wicked and ungainly looking — but all planes looked awkward back then, right? The SPAD was all right, and the Sopwith Camel had a great name, but the Fokker was cooler. Also, 11-year-olds who build airplane models like to say “Fokker.” Almost as good as saying the full name of the Fw 190.
  2. P-51 Mustang. Maybe the nicest-looking, solid-but-sleek design in aviation history. And quite a formidable fighter. Also, it looked so modern. (Weirdly, the P-47 Thurderbolt came later, but looked 20 years older — at least to my eye.) I had trouble on this one. I was torn between this and the Spitfire, which won the Battle of Britain (OK, the Hurricanes helped) — the ultimate emblem of British pluck. But as big an Anglophile as I am, I went with the American plane.
  3. C-47 Skytrain. Or Dakota. Or Gooney-Bird. OK, it’s not fast, and it’s not sleek. Definitely the Plain Jane of the bunch. But it was so awesome in its plainness. One of the main instruments that won the war for us. The Band of Brothers jumped out of them, they saved Berlin in the Cold War, and… It was the first plane I ever flew in, hopping over the Andes, up and down the Pacific coast of South America. An unbelievable amount of noise and vibration, but a real thrill for a kid. So I’m playing favorites here.
  4. F-4 Phantom. My generation’s version of the P-51. It had a solid look to it, like nothing could knock it out of the sky (a handy attribute when flying Wild Weasel missions), but also looked like it could fly like a bat out of hell. And it sorta could. These also loom large in my legend, from the ones that flew out of MacDill AFB when I lived there in high school to the ones the Kansas Air Guard flew over our house (we were under the takeoff pattern) when I worked in Wichita.
  5. X-15. The world’s first operational spaceplane, the futuristic great-grandchild of Yeager’s X-1. This was another one I had to think about a bit. It was competing with the SR-71, another sci-fi sort of aircraft. But the X-15 was the one I thought was cool when I was a kid, and it wins on sheer speed. The Blackbird could cruise at Mach 3.2, but in 1967, the X-15 set the speed record that still stands: Mach 6.70.

I almost put the Navy’s ultimate WWII plane, the F4U Corsair, on the list (foldable gull wings! Pappy Boyington!). But the P-51 beat that out as well as the Spitfire.

The North American X-15 rocket plane, made to fly to the edge of space.

The North American X-15 rocket plane, made to fly to the edge of space.

Turns out ‘Bungalow Bill’ has a good eye for natural beauty

Molokai

That is, assuming this bit of Beatles trivia I found on Quora is accurate…

Normally I ignore most of the unsolicited emails I get from various social media outlets, but I bit on the one headlined, “Who is Bungalow Bill in that Beatles song?.” An excerpt:

The real life inspiration for Bungalow Bill was a 27-year-old American man named Richard A. Cooke III (known as “Rik” for short). In 1968, Rik was in Rishikesh visiting his mother, Nancy Cooke de Herrera, a publicist for the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. As the Maharishi’s publicist, Nancy would also serve as a liaison between the Maharishi and the Beatles, while the Beatles were learning Transcendental Meditation…

Anyway, he ends up going on a hunt and killing a tiger, and his mother is along, and when some criticized the kill, his mother objects that it was them or the tiger, all of which will sound familiar to you from the song.

As it happens in this telling, Cooke almost immediately felt bad about killing the tiger, and never hunted again. Wikipedia supports this version of events.

In face, “he chose to honor the natural world by working for 40 years as a photographer for National Geographic.

He took the amazing image you see above.

He’s not my favorite National Geographic photog. That would be my old friend Joel Sartore, of the famous Photo Ark.

But it looks like Cooke’s pretty good, too. And I don’t think we should hold the tiger thing against him, after all these years. I’m not entirely sure I trust Lennon’s version of events.

No. No. No. Rob Gordon CANNOT be a woman

It was bad enough to make Rob an American. But that, at least, WORKED.

It was bad enough to make Rob an American. But that, at least, WORKED.

OK, I’m a little upset now.

I sort of heard on the radio this morning that Nick Hornby was going to be on Fresh Air tonight. I got a little excited about that, being such a huge fan of High Fidelity and all.

So I went looking to confirm what I’d heard. And I ran across this.

It seems that “High Fidelity” is being rebooted for Hulu. And in this version, Rob is female.

No. Way.

Why do I love High Fidelity? Well, for one thing, it’s hilarious. And the pop culture stuff is fun, especially the Top Five lists. But those aren’t the reasons why I think it’s one of the most profound books written by a living author.

My reverence for the work stems from the fact that no one else has ever come close to expressing something essential about the relationships between men and women in the slice of history in which I have lived and had my being. In other words, it is to my time what Jane Austen’s work was to hers.

Rob’s problem — an inability to see that what is truly important in life is our relationships with other human beings — takes a form that is particular to young (and, perhaps, old) males in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Rob cares about, and devotes most of his mental and spiritual energy to, pop culture. Specifically pop music, but movies and other manifestations as well.

It’s a problem that feeds on itself when similarly emotionally stunted young males gather, such as when Rob, Dick and Barry stand about in the usually empty record store arguing about their Top Five lists — while women are (presumably, since we don’t see them in this venue) off somewhere actually living life.

That’s the problem he has in his relationship with his typically far more emotionally mature girlfriend Laura.

SPOILER ALERT: One incident in the book illustrates the dichotomy beautifully. After their spectacular breakup (which finally was so painful that finally makes Rob’s Top Five list of worst splits), Rob and Laura are trying to make a go of it again, and whether they will succeed remains very much in doubt — on account of, you know, Rob.

They go to have dinner with some friends of Laura’s, a couple Rob doesn’t know. During the initial stages of the evening, Rob is really impressed. He likes these people. Laura observes this.

Then, when the couple is out of the room, Laura urges Rob to indulge his habit of inspecting his hosts’ record collection. And he is appalled. Their taste, in his exquisitely refined opinion, is horrible.

Laura knew this would be his reaction. And she watches to see if there will be an epiphany.

There sort of is, as Rob admits, but only to himself:

… that maybe, given the right set of peculiar, freakish, probably unrepeatable circumstances, it’s not what you like but what you’re like that’s important. I’m not going to be the one who explains to Barry how this might happen, though.

And feckless Rob, who is feckless in a particularly male sort of way, takes a tiny step toward maturity. But grumbles about it, accusing Laura: “You did that deliberately,” he says on the way home. “You knew all along I’d like them. It was a trick.”

It’s not that every male is like Rob, and every female like Laura. But the conflict between them, the gap between them, was colored by an essential difference that stated impressively true things about the relationships and differences between men and women.

Listen, sometimes it’s OK to change the gender of a character. It worked in the TV adaptation of The Night Manager, when Jonathan Pine’s case officer — who was a man in the book — is played by Olivia Colman. There were other changes that didn’t work, but that one was a great move. It gave the case officer/agent relationship an extra something that it didn’t have in the book.

But that book wasn’t trying to say something deep and true about the relations between men and women, and ways in which they are different.

High Fidelity was. (Actually, I don’t know that Hornby was trying to do all that, but he did. When I recommend the book to friends, I always describe it in those terms. That’s what’s impressive about it.)

I’ll try watching it, if it’s on the level of Hulu that I can get. (Some things, including some things I’d really like to see, aren’t.) But I suspect I’m not going to like it. It was a big enough leap that the original movie made the characters American instead of English. But it still worked because American males can be just as stunted as British ones, and in the same ways.

But with this change, that remains to be seen.

Why is everything worth watching initially aired on Sunday nights?

From "The Sopranos" through "Game of Thrones," HBO has been squatting on Sunday nights for almost a generation. And the guys and I are getting tired of it...

From “The Sopranos” through “Game of Thrones,” HBO has been keeping us up on Sunday nights for almost a generation. And the guys and I are getting tired of it…

First, this seems like a stupid thing even to be thinking about at this stage in the 21st century. It’s been decades since the scheduled time of a TV show was a thing that regularly concerned me.

When I was a kid, when something came on was a huge factor in how I planned my life. Back in about 1965 and 1966, I didn’t even need a TV Guide — I knew when everything came on on the three channels we got in New Orleans. I had the schedules memorized. I was TV mad, after having spent two-and-a-half years living in South America without television — we left our set in our bodega, not even plugged in. Those first couple of years back in the States, I was mainlining it all — comedies, dramas, variety shows, talk shows (Merv Griffin, anyone?), reruns, even occasionally soap operas. I even loved the commercials. As I’ve mentioned here before, the night of September 15, 1965, was a major landmark in my life as an 11-year-old, because on that night, “Lost in Space,” “Green Acres” and “I Spy” all premiered.

But then I got older, and got a life. But I still looked forward to some shows, such as “Hill Street Blues” in the ’80s. But about that time, we got a VCR. And every development since then — DVDs, streaming, has made me increasingly apathetic about when something comes on.

There are exceptions to this. For instance:

  • Every decent show that comes on PBS, which is the only broadcast station I regularly watch, is initially broadcast on Sunday night.
  • Every new HBO show I may want to watch — say, “Game of Thrones” — is released on Sunday nights.
  • Remember that string of great shows AMC introduced in recent years — “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead?” Guess when they came on.

And I have to wonder: Why does every time-sensitive thing I want to see schedule its first broadcast at a time that keeps me up on the night before Monday morning? It really kind of makes me feel like TV schedulers hate me.

But I’m one of the lucky ones, as I was reminded this past week by a piece in The Washington Post headlined “Move the Super Bowl to Saturday, already. And the Oscars. And most of HBO.

Well, I couldn’t care less about when the Super Bowl is on. (But don’t get me started on baseball games that keep me up half the night for the convenience of the West Coast. If those people want to watch baseball, they should move back to civilization.)

And I care even less about the Oscars and other celebrity strokefests.

But yeah, you’ve got a point with HBO.

And it’s not just Sundays. Alyssa Rosenberg notes that we’re in for a bruising week this week:

2020 offers a particularly punishing schedule for American television watchers. The Super Bowl kicks off at 6:30 on Sunday, Feb. 2, and a week later, the Oscars begin at 8 in the evening on Sunday, Feb. 9. That means two late nights and two underslept Monday mornings for Super Bowl and Oscar viewers — and in between them, the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3, President Trump’s State of the Union address on Feb. 4 and a Democratic primary debate on Feb. 7…

But the main problem is Sundays. And I’m tired of it. You?

 

Some advice for the Queen on handling Prince Harry

take sides

I’ve often thought of putting together a book of advice for life from “The Godfather.” But I figured getting the rights would be a hassle, and the royalties would probably eat away any money I’d make from it.

Still, fans would enjoy it, and maybe someone would actually get some good out of it; who knows? It’s not that I see the Corleones as a morally defensible guide to how to live one’s life, but the book and film do contain a lot of advice, good or bad. And some of it makes some common sense. Especially, I’ve noticed, to men.

Anyway, this is on my mind today because of the confab Her Majesty has called to help Prince Harry get his mind right (just to mix my movie metaphors a might). And I’m thinking the Queen, not being a guy, might not be hip to this stuff.

The first thing she and the other princes need to tell him is fundamental. I’m picturing William telling him this, while the others nod:

Harry, you’re my younger brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.

It doesn’t need that menacing look that Michael gave Fredo. Harry’s a good kid. Ask the South Carolina guardsmen who served with him in Afghanistan. They’ll back me up on this. Just reason with him; he understands duty.

But if he needs more convincing, the other thing they might say is a corollary to the first:

What’s the matter with you? I think your brain is going soft with all that comedy you are playing with that young girl. Never tell anyone outside the Family what you’re thinking again.

Which means like, ixnay on the Instagram posts. If you have something to say, run it through the palace press office.

As long as he listens, that should do it.

Yeah, I kid, but my own view of this situation isn’t all that far off. Harry does have an obligation to his family, and as an extension, to his whole country — which actually makes the obligation greater than just family. It’s not as heavy as that borne by his brother, but it’s still an obligation. Just show up, cut a few ribbons, keep your nose clean, and in return you get this amazingly posh life. You don’t tarnish the brand by running off to America and peddling tacky souvenirs, or whatever fantasy you have in mind for being “financially independent.”

Uncle Jed, I wanna be one a them double-naught analysts!

cyber threat

I know I’m boring y’all with these, but I continue to enjoy the daily job listings I get from Daybook.

That’s because almost all the jobs they show me are ones I would actually be interested in. And you just have no idea what a novelty that is to me, after the thousands of emails I’ve gotten in the years since getting laid off, almost none of which have any basis in who I am or what my skills are or what I might actually like to do.

But the folks at Daybook get me. I think what did the trick was my stint as communications director for James last year. That seems to have been the missing ingredient. Combined with other things in my background, it suddenly caused the algorithms to start churning out some cool jobs, things I might actually like to do in my post-newspaper career.

Today’s coolest job is “Cyber Threat Analyst.” It might not be as cool as being one of the Navy codebreakers who enabled us to win the battle of Midway, but I guess being the guy who, say, warns the country that the Russians are trying to make Donald Trump president of the United States is as close as it gets these days. (Although it seems maybe that may have been more humint than sigint.)

Never mind that I’m totally unqualified for the position. I’m not planning on applying for it. I just like the sound of it.

It appeals to me the way various fantasy jobs appealed to Jethro Bodine — medieval knight, Army general, double-naught spy. It momentarily engages my enthusiasm.

That’s not much, but it’s something. And I enjoy the momentary distraction…

NO, I’m not watching TV all day. Are YOU?

live tv

I’ve never been fond of “man-on-the-street” interviews. I prefer “people-who-know-what-they’re-talking-about” interviews. Guess that makes me an elitist. That, and… other stuff.

Anyway, this morning on NPR — I think it was on “The Takeaway” — there was this long string of short clips of Real People answering the question of whether they’d be watching the impeachment hearings on TV today. As usual, I could only take so much of it before switching it off.

If I remember correctly, most of the Real People were not planning to watch the hearings. (Actually, I just went back to check, and all of the ones I heard said that. There was a string of people who said “yes” after that, but I had turned off the radio before they came on.)

Presumably, I was supposed to be interested in their reasons for watching or not watching, as though there would be something edifying in these reasons, as though I would be somehow wiser for having heard the usual comments like “I’ve made up my mind,” “It’s all a partisan farce,” “I have a life,” etc.

And I’m thinking, Who can sit and listen to TV all day — TV about ANYTHING? And moreover, who on Earth would WANT to?

Or NEED to in order to be an informed citizen? I take in news and analysis from quite a few competent professional services every day. I’ll get all the information I need from those sources. (Unlike the president, I trust professionals to do their job — and I know if one slips up in doing it, the next one will fill in that gap.) If — and this seems doubtful — I feel the need to watch a portion of the testimony, to get intonation or whatever, I can go back and find and watch it with little trouble. In fact, I most likely won’t even have to look for it, because so many sources will be throwing the clip at me.

So in other words, the Real Person who sounded most like me was the one who said he would not be watching, but “I will pay close attention to the media recaps.”

Which will give you more than anyone needs to know. In fact, you’ll have to scan the whole mess with skill, discernment and alacrity if you’re going to get anything else done that day.

So who’s watching? And why?

the room