Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Movie List Via ASWOBA

As I mentioned last week, my buddy John has started his Top 100 Movies list at his site, A Special Way of Being Afraid. He has asked some friends to create quirky mini-lists, and I contributed the first one. So, if you want to read my list of the Best Robert De Niro Movies Not Directed By Martin Scorsese, jump over to ASWOBA and check it out.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conan's Last Night

Last night was Conan O'Brien's last night as host of the Tonight Show. The last couple of weeks have been fascinating to watch, as he eviscerated NBC on a nightly basis. He did some of that again last night, but during the second half of the show, he seemed relaxed and reflective. And hey, he isn't exactly hurting with his $45 million settlement package he got from the network.

I like Conan a lot (much more than Leno), but I have to say that I never thought he was exactly right for the Tonight Show. His quirky humor seemed to fit better in that later time slot. I loved his last monologue. Very classy, a bit emotional. Also, I dug Neil Young coming on and playing "Long May You Run" for Conan. Awesome. Neil looked about 2000 years old, but still sounded great.

My hope and prediction for Conan O'Brien: once he is legally able to return to television by the terms of his settlement (September), he will sign with Fox (who is chomping at the bit to get him) and he will kick ass with a new, innovative talk show that will go up against Leno.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Peter Gabriel

I'm a huge Peter Gabriel fan as many of you know. I think Gabriel is one of the most unique and creative artists I've ever come across, and I follow his musical trail anywhere it goes. His music, voice and writing hit me deeper than almost anyone else. Since his pace for releasing new records has slowed to about one a decade since the 1990's, I am looking forward to his new record Scratch My Back coming out 2/15. Admittedly, it is rather humorous that this is his first new release since 2002's Up and it is a record full of...covers. Couldn't write a new batch of tunes in 8 years, Peter? He covers an interesting array of artists (David Bowie, Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Lou Reed, Paul Simon, Bon Iver, Neil Young, Talking Heads, Randy Newman and others).

For me, the key to good covers is that you do something different with them. Based on the two tracks I've heard so far ("My Body is a Cage" from Arcade Fire and Bowie's "Heroes"), he definitely accomplishes that. The record is all orchestral (no drums, guitars, etc.) I've listened to "Heroes" about ten times now. Absolutely gorgeous and totally reconstructed. Or, should I say, deconstructed. Starting at a glacial pace with Gabriel doing it almost spoken word, it has a wonderful, dramatic payoff about halfway through. I think Bowie would approve. So fine, it will be covers. But count me in as very interested based on what I've heard so far. Full review upon release, of course.

I think it is rather silly and petty that he says he will not perform or probably even show up for Genesis' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March. They didn't even break up acrimoniously, and he is still good friends with them all. He claims that it would require too much rehearsal to get something together. Really? I can understand not wanting to put on the 25 minute "Supper's Ready," but you couldn't get up there and belt out a little "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" or some "Carpet Crawlers"? Is that too much to ask, Pete? Come on, dude!

Monday, January 18, 2010

A New List To Debate

Recall over the summer I posted my Top 50 Movies list. (To refresh your memory, you can find them all in the "lists" section of GNABB). I seem to recall my good friend JW promising a concurrent movies list on his blog for some good cross promotion. Well, 6 months later, he has started his list. The first installment was posted today at his blog, A Special Way of Being Afraid. Here's the link. As expected, he's already got some Woody Allen in there.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

God Save Conan

NBC. What are you doing? Could this have been handled any worse? In case you have not been following the story: Jay Leno used to host the venerable Tonight Show. It was agreed about six years ago that Conan O'Brien would take over in 2009. He did. What NBC did not count on was that Leno's ratings would be topping Letterman at the time he was supposed to hand over the reigns. To keep Leno and to cut costs, NBC decided to have it both ways. Let Conan take The Tonight Show, and then give Leno a new nightly comedy/talk show earlier in prime time. So, every night on NBC you would have Leno/local news/Conan.

The problem: Leno's show has been a failure on the scale of The Titanic. I watched it a couple of times, and it was painfully not funny. The writing sucked, Leno appears uncomfortable and disinterested. Many of the local affiliates started to complain that Leno was losing viewers for their own local news programs immediately following. Additionally, Letterman has been consistently topping Conan's Tonight Show. In other words, NBC lost in every aspect of this experiment/debacle. So then they started to scramble. The plan? Cancel Leno in prime time, let him follow the local news for 30 minutes, and then Conan comes on after Leno.

Is nothing sacred? The Tonight Show follows the local evening news. End of story. As sure as the day followed night, the Tonight Show followed the late local news.

While I was not a huge fan of his era, Leno obviously had a comfortable groove going on the Tonight Show. So NBC stops something that was clearly working for what is perhaps the most loved franchise in television. Don't get me wrong. I was happy for Conan, a very talented comic, when he got the Carson chair. But Conan still has not really found his rhythm yet. Which is fine, it takes a little while. But now NBC is being hugely unfair to Conan (and breaking their contractual arrangement with him) and possibly destroying the holiest of television shows in the process.

Conan, for his part, came out today and said that he would not follow Leno and would not be a part of moving The Tonight Show to a later slot. In a wonderful, bitter and funny statement released today, Conan calls NBC on their BS.

He says in part: "Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me...After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule...Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35. For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show...Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way."

Good for Conan. It seems that at least he understands that a new host for the Tonight Show requires some time to get established. When Jack Parr took over for Steve Allen...he needed some time. Carson needed time when he took over for Parr. And Leno was given time to emerge from Carson's shadow. No such patience was granted Conan. I admire Conan for not wanting to be a part of the destruction of this iconic show. NBC forced him into a corner, and he has fought back. Why is NBC even concerned with moving Leno at all? Just cancel him. It makes no sense to me. NBC has treated Conan shamefully, and in trying to allow Leno to save face, they may destroy The Tonight Show.

ABOVE: What would Johnny think of this mess? I'm glad he's not around to see NBC destroy his Tonight Show empire.

Addendum: I watched The Tonight Show last night. Wow. Did you see that? A show on NBC, where for the entire show the host bashes and makes catty comments about NBC. You could almost see the steam coming out of Conan's ears. I know late night hosts have traditionally had fun with their ownership (Letterman has long done that), but this was at a totally different level. Fascinating television.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

King Jann Must Go

I have long promised (and I am sure that my loyal readers have long waited) for my analysis and critique of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame process and politics. I have referenced them in passing in related posts, but it is time to address them head on. This is because Jann Wenner is now considering changing the criteria for induction in order to fit his tastes (and TV ratings). How can one man have that much control over an institution? As chairman of the Foundation and friend/power broker/mentor to many others on the various Boards and Committees, Jann Wenner (founder and editor of Rolling Stone Magazine) has long been one of the main puppetmasters of the Hall's business.

ABOVE: Jann Wenner seems to think that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should reflect his personal record collection

Currently the criteria for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are as follows: An artist may be inducted 25 years after the release of their first single or album. The other qualifications are that they "had a significant impact on the evolution, development and perpetuation of rock and roll." That's it. A somewhat mysterious Nominating Committee made up of 30-35 industry insiders (purportedly a mix of musicians, critics, industry people) gets together over each September and hammers out a list of nominees ranging from 8 to 15 choices. Then the voting body casts their votes. The numbers vary, but there are between 500 to 600 voting members, made up of past inductees and various other music people. (Again, made up of critics, historians, musicians, producers, managers, promoters, DJs, etc.) The top five vote-getters are inducted each year.

Unlike baseball or some other sporting Halls of Fame, they cannot really go on statistics and numbers to guide them. They swear up and down that record sales are not a consideration. It is funny, however, that when a darling of someone on the Central Committee happens to have made a lot of money, record sales are used as a justification for induction. Yet when a popular but disliked candidate comes up for consideration (read: KISS), record sales are suddenly irrelevant to the discussion. My view: record sales and financial success should definitely be part of the equation. Rock and roll is a "popular" music form afterall. But it is not the only or even most important criteria. There are very important inductees into the Hall who had negligible record sales but were definitely important to the music (Velvet Underground, Sex Pistols).

For people who follow the Hall closely (the website Future Rock Legends is an excellent website, blog and discussion place that does just that), the controversies and factions are well known. I've already mentioned Jann Wenner and his minions, but another huge power block centers around the triumvirate of Bruce Springsteen/Jon Landau (Bruce's longtime manager)/Little Steven Van Zandt (Bruce's guitarist and a successful musician in his own right). Landau and Van Zandt are on the Nominating Committee, and while Bruce is not, Landau and Van Zandt make sure that The Boss’s will shall be done. It is no accident that Springsteen shows up and performs at almost every induction ceremony. What makes Springsteen's influence extra strong is the fact that he is also one of Rolling Stone's favorites (along with U2). Elvis Costello is an artist on the Nominating Committee who wields much influence as well. Critic Dave Marsh is another powerful voice (whose war against KISS is well documented: "as long as I am on the Committee, I will do everything in my power to prevent KISS from being nominated"). Marsh is guessed it, a good buddy of Springsteen's. Robbie Robertson (of The Band) also has a lot of power.

While the Committee has recently admitted that they need some fresh voices and have added some younger (and black) Committee members, and have gone so far as to admirably create some sub-committees to look at underrepresented genres in the Hall, such as prog rock and metal, the old guard still has a firm hold. Stress on the word "old." Once Ahmet Ertugen died, Wenner took firm control of Hall matters and decisions.

So now Wenner has come out and said that he might want to change the induction criteria. He would like to shorten the waiting period from 25 years to 20. This is because Wenner has decided that we have already inducted most of the worthy people from earlier eras, and the 80's suck according to Jann, so he would like to jump to late 80's/early 90's names like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Guns 'n Roses, etc. Unfortunately, one of the main considerations is revenue from televising the induction ceremonies. What were once fun, drunken, insider get togethers have become more formal and televised affairs. To attract viewers, Wenner wants to be able to get to artists who the younger demographic will recognize and care about. This is a horrible idea and a slap in the face to many worthy artists still waiting to get in.

I imagine many of the other power brokers disagree as well. Steven Van Zandt, for instance, is a vocal opponent of even moving into the 80's yet because he feels there are still important 60's artists that have been left behind. It is apparently Van Zandt's view that every person who ever released a record in the 1960's should be inducted, from The Chocolate Watchband to Moby Grape (fine bands, by the way, but not Hall worthy). Van Zandt has also referred to the 80's as "a musical wasteland," so don't count on Steve to help modernize the Hall. (Even though Steve himself gained his fame in that same decade).

We are in a precarious place for The Hall's credibility. Frankly, in the early days of the Hall things were pretty easy. Elvis? Chuck Berry? Beatles? Stones? Who is really going to have a problem with the giants of the 50's, 60's and even the 70's? Enough time has passed that perspective is fairly clear. Yes, there are still some egregious omissions from the 70's especially, but overall the first three decades of rock are fairly well represented. The Hall has also done an excellent job of recognizing crucial rock influences, inducting a generous number of blues and soul folks who were the precursors to rock and roll.

But we are now entering an eligibility period where there is much less consensus. The eligibility frontier is now at about 1985, and opinions vary wildly on the 1980's. Not to mention that important but historically critically lambasted 70's names are being left in the dust as well. (Whatever your personal opinion, the fact that Rush, KISS, Yes, King Crimson, Judas Priest, Hall & Oates, Motorhead and Chicago remain uninducted is embarrassing if you want to have a comprehensive and "accurate" Hall of Fame, while Blondie and Percy Sledge sit comfortably and unjustly in the Hall's Mt. Olympus.) But according to King Jann I, the next five years of classes will be fairly "thin," so we need to move up the eligibility date.

While prog rock and metal are grossly underrepresented as genres, I am afraid that an entire decade (the 80’s) of important music is about to also get the shaft because the Committee is too old to appreciate it.

So Jann, let me do you a favor. Don’t change the criteria. Here is a list of already eligible artists that you can try and push through in these next five allegedly “thin” years (this list is currently eligible, as each year of the next five passes, there will be even more great eligible artists each year). To be fair, some of these artists have been nominated, they just have not been inducted yet.

First, here are some important ones to consider who still need to get in and who are currently eligible: Beastie Boys, Big Star, Chicago, Alice Cooper, The Cure, Dick Dale, Deep Purple, Depeche Mode, Devo, Neil Diamond, Dinosaur Jr., Dire Straits, Dr. John, Donovan, Richard Thompson, Roxy Music, Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates, Heart, Joy Division & New Order, Judas Priest, King Crimson, KISS, Kraftwerk, Los Lobos, Love, MC5, Meat Loaf, Steve Miller Band, The Monkees, Moody Blues, Motorhead, Willie Nelson (hey, you put in Johnny Cash), Randy Newman, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lou Reed, Rush, The Smiths, Sonic Youth, Sting, Thin Lizzy, Tina Turner, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tom Waits, Steve Winwood and Yes.

That’s 47, asshole. That list could keep you and your Committee in business for the next 9 years at five inductees per year, Jann. Don’t like some of those choices? Fine. I’m not saying the following all need to be inducted, but some other currently eligible folks who are still not in but could at least be part of the discussion include: Joan Armatrading, Average White Band, B-52s, Bad Company, Afrika Bambaataa, Black Flag, Blood Sweat & Tears, Blue Oyster Cult, Marc Bolan & T. Rex, Boston, Roy Buchanan, Jimmy Buffett, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, J.J. Cale, Canned Heat, Captain Beefheart, The Cars, Nick Cave, Cheap Trick, Chubby Checker, Chic, The Church, Joe Cocker, Phil Collins, Ry Cooder, Country Joe & The Fish, Robert Cray, Def Leppard, Doobie Brothers, Dream Syndicate, Duran Duran, Steve Earle, Echo & the Bunnymen, ELO, ELP, 13th Floor Elevators & Roky Erikson, Eurythmics, The Faces, Fairport Convention, Flying Burrito Brothers and Gram Parsons, Foreigner, J. Geils Band, The Go-Go’s, Grand Funk Railroad, Dobie Gray, The Guess Who, Whitney Houston, Husker Du, INXS, Iron Maiden, Janet Jackson, Joe Jackson, The Jam, The James Gang & Joe Walsh, Rick James, Jethro Tull, Joan Jett, Journey, Kansas, Kris Kristofferson, Little Feat, Loggins & Messina, Nick Lowe, Madness, Manfred Mann, Marshall Tucker Band, Midnight Oil, The Minutemen, Misfits, Mott the Hoople, New York Dolls, Ted Nugent, Laura Nyro, Ozzy Osbourne, Peter Paul & Mary, Iggy Pop, Procol Harum, Psychedelic Furs, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Rain Parade, The Replacements, Linda Ronstadt, Todd Rundgren, Leon Russell, The Searchers, Carly Simon, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Small Faces, Smithereens, Soft Boys, Sonny & Cher, Steppenwolf, Cat Stevens, Stephen Stills, Styx, Donna Summer, Television, Ten Years After, Joe Tex, They Might Be Giants, Three Dog Night, Pete Townshend, Townes Van Zandt, Violent Femmes, War, Barry White, Johnny Winter, Bill Withers, X, Yo La Tengo, Warren Zevon and The Zombies.

Need some more Early Influences? Here are some that you have overlooked: Burt Bacharach, Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Patsy Cline, John Coltrane, Merle Haggard, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, Waylon Jennings, Albert King, Freddie King, Otis Rush, Nina Simone.

Need some more Non-Performers? Here are some that you have overlooked: Lester Bangs, Tom Dowd, Brian Eno, Daniel Lenois, Albert Grossman, Quincy Jones, Mutt Lange, Steve Lillywhite, Andrew Loog Oldham, Rick Rubin, Shel Talmy, Bernie Taupin.

Got the message, Jann? Just because your personal favorites are all in and you want to fast forward to some newer favorites does not mean that there are not plenty of worthy candidates to consider. Your personal preferences as tastemaker should not be a part of the equation.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Beatles via Jeff Beck

Notice at the end of the clip, when there is an audience shot, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are both out there cheering.

BONUS Beck...

ABOVE: Shows what an innovative slide player he is. Most players play a slide with blues stuff, but there is nothing remotely bluesy about this tune. Watch through to the end where he plays the slide above the pick-ups.

ABOVE: When Jeff does decide to visit the blues, it is interesting. Whereas Clapton would slavishly play the same old tired riffs over and over in homage to the masters (I've always said Clapton is guitar's true conservative), Beck takes this Muddy Waters classic and totally re-energizes it. Imogen Heap helps too.

One more...

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Gilbert Arenas (seen above dancing and pantomiming shooting guns at his teammates at Tuesday night's game) may have played his last NBA game. He's been suspended without pay for the rest of the year (thereby forfeiting $10 million), and if he is convicted and jailed, the $80 million he is owed over the next four years by the Washington Wizards (formerly Washington Bullets...ha!) will not be paid.

For those of you not following this story, evidently Agent Zero and teammate Javaris Crittendon got in an argument over a gambling debt. It got pretty heated in the locker room, so Gilbert pulls out several guns from his locker and sets them on the table and asks Crittendon to "pick one." Arenas swears he was just fooling around and they were unloaded. Reports are now circulating that Crittendon then pulled out a weapon of his own that was loaded and he cocked the gun, loading a bullet in the chamber.

Arenas has always been an eccentric guy, and not in the Ron Artest kind of way, so this is quite surprising. Also, knowing how Arenas loves to joke around, it is actually possible that he was just kidding around. What is amazing to me, though, is how Arenas acted in the aftermath once the NBA and the DC police decided to investigate. You see, unfortunately for Gilbert, handguns of any kind are illegal in D.C. Additionally, handguns are forbidden in NBA facilities by the agreement currently in place between the player's union and the NBA.

But instead of playing the game and acting contrite and apologizing and appearing on Oprah, Arenas tweets that he's "the new John Wayne" and pretends to shoot his teammates in pre-game warm-ups for Tuesday night's game. NBA Commissioner David Stern had no choice at that point. Arenas has been "suspended indefinitely without pay" (meaning, at the very least, the rest of this season). His NBA career may be done.

A sad turn of events for a guy who was an All-Star only a couple of years ago.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Looking Back

Did we just live through the Aughts? What do you call 2000-2009? I've seen some lists lately proclaiming "The 50 Best Albums of the Aughts" and so forth. How come the first time I hear the official title for the decade is after it is already over?

My good friend JW wrote a thoughtful essay about what the last decade has meant to him and how his life changed over those ten years at his blog. Excellent piece of writing, check it out here at A Special Way of Being Afraid, entitled "Thoughts on a Decade." He inspired me to look back and do the same for my last ten years. And funny enough, I was ringing in 2000 in that same Houston apartment where JW discusses starting his decade. What a relief it was to find that our computers all didn’t come to life and hunt us down like Terminators, or whatever the Y2K thing was all about. Remember that scare? Why did we need faux nightmare scenarios when a year and a half later we would have a real one?

I started The Aughts in the midst of law school at the University of Texas at Austin. I had reluctantly but somewhat hopefully left a career in teaching in the search for more fulfillment and money. Well, mainly money. If fulfillment followed, all the better. Law school was fantastic. I lived within walking distance from the UT campus in Austin. Saw and met my hero Colin Hay at a small show, saw Jeff Beck, CSNY, Springsteen, U2, Moby and Tenacious D all while living in Austin. It was not too difficult other than around finals time. I loved being a law student. Lawyer? Not so much. I will say that studying for and taking the Texas Bar Exam was the most difficult thing I have ever done. Imagine spending about three months in almost total isolation, save your cat and the squirrels that hang out on the UT campus where you study. Those are some bold, desensitized squirrels. They ate peanuts out of my hand as I lectured them on the finer points of Adverse Possession and Estate Taxation. They are now very educated squirrels.

2001 was a tough year for two reasons. One is shared by all of us. I was sleeping. The phone rang. My friend Brian told me to turn on the TV, some dumbass flew into the World Trade Center. I turned on the TV in time to catch the immediate aftermath of the second plane. I watched the Pentagon get hit live. I watched as the media learned about the Pennsylvania plane. I watched both towers fall live. I watched as the media could not locate the President of the United States. Then I had to go to class. Most were cancelled, except for Payment Systems. If we don’t learn about Payment Systems on 9/11, then the terrorists win. Unless you lived in NYC or DC, you experienced 9/11 through the television.

Months later, I lost my brother Rick. To be honest, we had been expecting his demise for at least a decade due to both his mental illness and the choices that he made, but it still hits you hard when it happens. I remember mostly him laughing and smiling. I also remember a conversation I had with him one of the last times I ever saw him. He fully anticipated his fate, and was quite philosophical about it. And he always played cars with me when I was little. RIP Rick.

I have always despised math and numbers. So it makes sense that the first job I took out of law school was as a property tax attorney in San Antonio. Although I did it for about a year and a half, I still have no clue about how property taxes work. I met a girl, we dated, we broke up, we got back together, we moved in together, we got engaged, we got disengaged, and I never saw her again. All within one year. I was able to pawn the engagement ring for about 1/3 of what I paid for it. But that was a start, because I needed the money to move back to the place I always call home, Houston. Everywhere else is a place to live, but Houston is always where I feel most grounded. My old stomping grounds, you know?

After a long lost weekend (well, several lost months) I was able to find employment at a Houston law firm. Thus started the most fun two years of my life. The legal work that I did at this time was so easy it was hardly work at all. But I was able to travel to all corners of Texas, all paid for by our clients. I met some new friends that are still amongst my closest friends, and I reconnected with some old friends who I thought were gone for good. I played poker two or three nights a week, got paid lots of money to do very little, traveled everywhere all expenses paid, went to Mexico a lot with some fun and shady associates. I basically did what some people do in college, but got paid. Also bungie jumped and skydived within the same year.

At one particular deposition I saw this beautiful attorney who I had to meet. I think it was her long, dark hair that first caught my attention. Always looking out for my clients’ interests, I spent most of the deposition hitting on her. Or at least trying to talk to her. I came up with some excuse to get her to go to dinner with me and some other attorney friends before she returned to San Antonio. Once she pulled out that Star Trek credit card to pay for her meal, I was hooked. To have the stones to whip out a Star Trek credit card at a table full of lawyers and just not give a shit? Gorgeous attorney chick with a serious geek side as well? Nothing hotter. After dinner, I called my friend Willis and told him that I just met my future wife. Seriously. Ask him.

Fast forward: a year of long distance dating and weekend trips between SA and Houston, and I decide to make her my bride. She made more money than I did, so it made sense that I move to SA. Good thing. The law firm that I worked for in Houston folded six months after I left. I had nothing to do with it.

I then worked for one of the best law firms in SA and hated it. I distinctly remember a trip to Phoenix for a week with my boss for a big case. The best attorney I have ever come across. In Phoenix I had to keep him entertained, so we went to many bars and strip clubs during the evenings to pass the time. Late one evening, he had a drunken but serious conversation with me. “Dez, you are a good lawyer and you are really smart. But to be a great lawyer, you need to be an asshole. Nothing comes before your work. Not family, not anything. Will you promise me something, Dez? Will you try to be more of an asshole?” Sure thing, boss. Soon after that firm and I parted ways, I had a long period of soul searching and unemployment (my wife was amazing to stay with me during that period). Then I did some more legal work and still hated it.

My aunt shot herself in the head at the end of ’07. That was a shock, since she had always proclaimed to despise guns. She was a fellow music obsessive, but from a different era. With no children of her own, her nieces and nephews were special to her. She always dealt with children better than adults anyway. I think she viewed us as her co-conspirators. Then we grew up. She left behind a “final” mix CD to be played. A woman after my own heart. I’d do that. So we played some of the tunes at her funeral. The capper? Frankie's "My Way." Hell yeah. I remember Christmases decades gone with the most affection. RIP Bunny.

Finally, I returned to the profession that I had left in the late 90’s. I am a teacher of History and love it. Had a fantastic honeymoon road trip in California, went to Maui over the summer. Listened to lots of Iz. Now we have a baby girl coming in two months.

So, what conclusions to draw from this last decade, the tumultuous Aughts? Professionally, I am back to where I was before. Great detour, though. Lost some important people in pretty unnatural ways. Overall, though, I had a lot of fun these last ten years. Fun and some intense, trying times. But my lovely wife and I are excited about the little adventure that is supposed to pop out around the 1st of March. Here's hoping for some killer Teens.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Dez Reviews the book "Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" by David Bianculli

I'm too young to have watched the groundbreaking "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" when it was on television between 1967-69, but I've seen several historic clips through my years of obsessing over pop culture. For instance, The Who's notorious performance of "My Generation" which left Pete Townshend partially deaf (from the explosives that Keith Moon had packed into his bass drum for the finale), Betty Davis unconscious from fainting in the wings, and Mickey Rooney jumping up and down with glee. Author and TV critic David Bianculli dedicates an entire chapter to that famous performance alone.

ABOVE: Tom Smothers goofs with The Who, and then they launch into their incendiary (literally) "My Generation"

Tom and Dick Smothers broke ground in many ways with their variety show. At a time when television networks worked hard to not be controversial or offensive to any demographic at all, The Smothers attacked politics, Vietnam, politicians, religion and race in bold and often very funny ways. At a time when "Bonanza" was the top rated TV show in the nation, The Smothers Brothers were downright revolutionary. Bianculli makes a compelling case that The Smothers were the root of everything from Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher to The Simpsons and early David Letterman. The book also serves as a cultural history of the late 1960's.

Starting out as a clean cut comedy/folk music duo, the Brothers were hardly subversive revolutionaries from the outset. Even the first season of their show was fairly tame, but during the second and final seasons Tom especially became radicalized and created the first "appointment television" show for people under 30. While they had tried to appeal to multiple generations at the outset, they became increasingly more daring and radical as they went along, naturally making many enemies along the way. They also had a keen eye for writing talent, hiring unknowns by the name of Steve Martin, Rob Reiner, Mason Williams and Bob Einstein for their staff.

Most shows (even today) encourage their musical guests to play their latest hits, but Tom Smothers always wanted artists to play new songs that would be hits in the weeks ahead (often, in part, due to their performance on the show). And being a musical group themselves, Tom and Dick would often perform with their guests or perform their own tunes. From featuring one of the first televised psychedelic shows with Jefferson Airplane to boldly showcasing blacklisted artists like Pete Seeger, The Smothers were always stretching the boundaries.

One of the funnier aspects of the book is the contrast between Tom and Dick. Where Tom was involved in every aspect of the show, Dick was often absent racing cars or getting one of his many divorces. As Dick himself says, Tom was saving/fighting the world while he was out enjoying it.

The book rightfully focuses much attention on Tom Smothers' epic battle with CBS and its censors. Many things that would be seen as fairly tame today were taboo in late 60's television, and Tom was constantly fighting for every joke or performance to remain intact. I enjoyed the humor in some of these battles, such as when Tom leads the studio audience in the Pledge of Allegiance but has them leave out the "under God" part, thereby putting the censors in an editing bind. Or when he instructed his guests, the audience and the crew to snicker knowingly whenever he said the word "Galveston" in a skit. The censors, of course, always trying to catch up to the drug lingo of the youth, immediately suspected drug references and insisted that they excise all references to "Galveston."

But the battles, on the whole, were no laughing matter. And as Bianculli and even Tom Smothers now admit, in his inability to pick his battles (he insisted on fighting tooth and nail every one of them), Tom was as responsible as CBS for the showdown that occurred and that the Smothers Brothers inevitably lost in their cancellation (a mere week after CBS had announced the show's renewal). The battles and tactics used are detailed wonderfully by Bianculli.

ABOVE: After all the goofing, The Smothers Brothers were fine folk musicians

If I have one complaint with Bianculli's writing, it is that his political views on the issues of the day (and today) seep into his narrative quite often. They are also in line with the left leaning views of Tom Smothers, by the way. But while Tom's political opinions are crucial to the story, David Bianculli's are not.

But this is an excellent read and a wonderful tribute to two entertainment visionaries.

**** out of *****

"Water...and glasses..."

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Resolution

For 2010, I resolve to be a father.