Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Song #6

Title: "Overkill"
Artist: Men At Work
Album: Cargo, 1983
Written By: Colin Hay

Longtime friends and associates know of my obsession with Men at Work. No surprise that they would have a tune on this list somewhere. "Down Under" may be a little more famous and more fun, but "Overkill" is the better song. Colin Hay is my favorite rock vocalist, and this song really shows the guy's amazing range, which has remained, for the most part, intact. And lets not overlook the other members of the band. Greg Ham's (RIP, earlier this year) saxes are front and center, and Ron Strykert is a fantastic, melodic, underappreciated guitarist. Colin Hay tours both with a band and solo acoustic these days, and I would suggest catching him if you can. Not only is the music outstanding, but he is very engaging and a funny storyteller when onstage. I saw him in a small club in Austin awhile back, and he could not have been a cooler guy. He hung out after the show, signed autographs, shook hands and told stories. What a great dude.

Bonus clip: Here is the famous episode of "Scrubs" where Colin shows up and plays "Overkill" solo acoustic. It has been edited together from the episode so the song plays all the way through. Very funny.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Song #7

Title: "Wild West End" (live)
Artist: Dire Straits
Album: Live version available on bootlegs of the August 17, 1985 show in Houston, Texas. Original studio version from Dire Straits, 1978.
Written By: Mark Knopfler

This is a rather unique pick for my list, because this version was never officially released, although it is widely available on a popular bootleg. It was bootlegged so much because the show was broadcast nationally on the radio, so lots of tapes were made. Unlike my previous pick, where the studio version could have stood in at the same spot for the live version I officially picked, that is not so in this case. While I do love the studio version of this song, the live version that I picked takes it to an entirely different level. Is it within the rules for me to pick a bootleg for my list? Sure, I don't see why not. These are the 24 songs, regardless of format or availability.

I've discussed this particular song before, but a refresher. I was present at the creation of this version you can listen to below, as it is from the first concert that I ever attended. Summer night in Houston at the no longer existing Southern Star Amphitheater behind the no longer existing Astroworld. Perfect night, with the amusement park as the backdrop. You can hear the whole show (and many, many other legendary shows from many different artists at the website Wolfgang's Vault. May I also suggest the '78 Springsteen show that will absolutely knock your socks off.)

The track is a beautiful, fairly faithful rendition of the original (with Knopfler playing his national steel guitar) until about 6:25 in where one of the most gorgeous guitar solos ever blows the doors down. Mark Knopfler is my favorite guitarist, but this solo is actually played by the second Dire Straits guitarist at the time, Jack Sonni. Knopfler gave Sonni a solo or two per night on the Brothers in Arms tour, and the dude certainly made the most of this one! It is not particularly complicated or technically challenging, but it is just so right and soars to great heights. What a great first concert, eh?

BELOW: Here is the version that makes #7 on my list, available at Wolfgang's Vault:

Listen to more Dire Straits at Wolfgang's Vault.

BELOW: Bonus clip. Here's the original studio version, which is a gorgeous song on its own.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It Happens To the Best of Us

Taking a quick break from my list, check this out. I heard this a long time ago and it is so funny and contagious. I just found it on YouTube, so I figured I'd post. It is sort of famous, so some of you might have come across it already. Elvis is singing "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" in Vegas, and twists a line around to make a joke (showing how bored he was with the whole thing), and then cannot stop laughing. Things start falling apart about 45 seconds in. Notice the background singer keeps going. I love at 1:56 where Elvis goes, "sing it, baby." Anyway, it is pretty damn funny. (Ignore the visuals).

Song #8

Title: "With Or Without You" (live)
Artist: U2
Album: The version that I pick for this list is the one from the film 'Rattle and Hum,' although it does not appear on the album that accompanied the film. I've been able to get great bootlegs of all of the songs from the film, so I generally turn to this live version as my favorite. The original studio version would also appear about here on the list if this live version didn't exist, anyway. I just think the live version has just a bit more punch to it. The original song appeared on The Joshua Tree, 1987.
Written By: U2

If my last pick was a bit obscure, this pick definitely steers us back to the mainstream. Every once in awhile, the ignorant masses get it right. I have always felt that this is the most perfectly constructed song I've ever heard. The entire song is a crescendo of emotion and power, so when it does explode there near the end, the release is well earned and all the more potent. Producer Daniel Lanois said "It has tension and builds like one of those great Roy Orbison songs, where every section is unique and never repeats." He makes a good point. Structurally and how it perfectly builds tension throughout the song, its antecedent could be Orbison's glorious "Running Scared" (which also does not have a chorus).

BELOW: Here's the song from the film 'Rattle and Hum.' Enjoy Bono in all of his melodramatic glory...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Song #9

Title: "Slim Slow Slider"
Artist: Van Morrison
Album: Astral Weeks, 1969
Written By: Van Morrison

This stark beauty closes Van's masterpiece, Astral Weeks. One of the more obscure tunes on this list, but that is part of the fun of a more subjective, personal list. Not the same old songs that appear on every Rolling Stone magazine list. Van sometimes goes through the motions, and he can get away with it because his cruise control is top notch when compared to many other popular artists, his talent is so immense. But when Van really throws himself into his music, he is untouchable. I don't think I've ever heard a song so beautiful from a popular artist. And that note on the bass at 1:30 ("you're out of reach") and again at 2:32 ("I know you're dyin', baby")...that is perfection.

BELOW: Bonus clip. You've got to check this clip out if you appreciate Van Morrison at all. This is a live version of "Slim Slow Slider" from his 2009 tour where he played Astral Weeks through in its entirety (It is available on disc too, I would recommend it). There is no way to recapture that stark magic from the original cut, so Van doesn't try to. Instead, he expands this stark three minute tune to a exciting eight minute jazz improvisation. I love at about 6:55, where he points to his piano player to solo. It is not a very friendly gesture, like "play, motherf*cker." I can't imagine Van is the easiest going dude to play for.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Song #10

Title: "Can't Find My Way Home"
Artist: Blind Faith
Album: Blind Faith, 1969
Written By: Steve Winwood

Blind Faith (Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Ric Grech) was one of the earliest "supergroups," and like many other subsequent supergroups, it failed to live up to its potential. They only released one album, and overall the record is pretty mediocre considering the talent involved, but this one song makes it all worthwhile. It is Winwood's masterpiece in a career of sporadic greatness. You don't get much simpler than two fingerpicked acoustic guitars and a voice, but when those two guitars are played by Winwood and Clapton and the voice is Winwood's in his prime, that is going to be something great to listen to. The song is beautiful, haunting and searching.

BELOW: Here are some stills set to "Can't Find My Way Home" from a movie that I love, the great underrated 80's road movie that is funny but also one of the best films about male friendship, 'Fandango.' "Can't Find My Way Home" is used over the closing credits of the actual film.

BELOW: Bonus clip. This is Winwood and Clapton in 2007 playing a nice electric version at the 2007 Crossroads Guitar Festival. It is nowhere near the original, but it is a cool version nonetheless, and a different take on the tune.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Song #11

Title: "China Girl"
Artist: David Bowie
Album: Let's Dance, 1983
Written By: David Bowie and Iggy Pop

Lively discussion around here lately, that's great. Don't see why we shouldn't push forward. This first appeared on Iggy Pop's 1977 solo debut The Idiot, but I've always loved Bowie's slicker rendition. Imperialism never sounded so sexy, although some say the song is really about heroin. Contains what may be my favorite lyric in any rock song: "I'm feeling tragic like I'm Marlon Brando." So great. On top of all that, you've got greasy guitar lines from Stevie Ray Vaughan throughout. Alright Statler and Waldorf, fire away.

BELOW: Unfortunately, I could only find the single edit on YouTube, so you're missing about a minute from the album version (much of what was cut was Vaughan).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Song #12

Title: "Eminence Front"
Artist: The Who
Album: It's Hard, 1982
Written By: Pete Townshend

I know, I know. I pick a Who song from the Kenney Jones era, from one of their worst albums, and that Roger Daltrey doesn't even sing lead on. But you know, this song kicks ass. As you know from my Artist and Album lists of yore, The Who is one of my favorite bands. On my expanded Top 200, there are many Who songs, and ones that you might expect, like "Substitute," "Naked Eye," "The Seeker," "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Baba O'Riley" and so forth. But this last gasp stands right up with them. I saw the latterday Who most recently in 2007, and this was a highlight of the show. It has been consistently in their setlist ever since '82, while the rest of It's Hard was long ago tossed aside. Another of Pete's great synth grooves, the opening is what really gets me, with Pete's great solo. Also listen to John Entwistle's bass from about 2:55 on in the song. Incredible. As with many of Townshend's songs from the early 80's period (both Who and solo), I don't really know what he's singing about, but I really dig some of the songs. This was also the period where he was doing his best solo work.

BELOW: I like this video someone put up on YouTube. Great sound quality.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Song #13

Title: "Eight Miles High"
Artist: The Byrds
Album: Fifth Dimension, 1966
Written By: Gene Clark, Roger McGuinn and David Crosby

In a decade that arguably had the most daring and iconic rock and roll songs, I think that this tune is the greatest single of the 1960's. It is tight, wonderfully written and constructed, and as promised by the title, it truly does soar with an air of mystery. It features still unique 12-String solos from McGuinn (who claims to have been inspired by John Coltrane when playing these dense and frenetic solos) and the best vocal harmonizing in rock (eclipsing even the Beach Boys or the Beatles). There is some dispute regarding songwriting credit. All parties, including Crosby himself, acknowledge that David Crosby contributed very little, just a lyric line or two (Crosby has joked that it was the most profitable phrase he ever wrote: "Rain grey town, known for its sound"). Traditionally, it was viewed as mostly a Gene Clark composition, his last parting gift before he bolted the group, with him writing most of the lyrics and developing the melody of the song. But McGuinn has since claimed that the lyrics were a true collaboration, and that he came up with the melody and music. Clark is unfortunately no longer with us to defend himself.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Madness of Mel

I've always had somewhat of a soft spot for Mel Gibson. With Mel, fans/former fans are confronted by one of the classic dilemmas of fandom. Can you separate a man's personal behavior (or perhaps political activity) from their work as an entertainer? Take Bruce Springsteen, a longtime favorite of mine. He has become quite politically outspoken in the last decade, and generally speaking he is on the opposite side from where I am. Yet, I can still admire his music, however much I may resent being preached to by a high school dropout who doesn't fully understand the ramifications of policies he promotes. "Born To Run" still rocks.

For obsessives like me, "entertainer" is not a strong enough word anyway. Music and to a slightly lesser degree films are a major part of my life, so I get quite invested in the work that these people create.

If you had asked me a decade ago, I would have said that I was a big fan of Mel's work, especially his early work. Gallipoli, Mad Max, The Road Warrior, The Year of Living Dangerously and The Bounty are all movies that I admire quite a bit. I even enjoyed the first Lethal Weapon, for what it was. I can accept, and even admire, Mel's strong religious beliefs. Standing out as he does in Hollywood, he's the rebel for sticking to such a strict, conservative line of faith (hardcore catholic stuff, like pre-Vatican II).

But Mel is insane. That has become clear with the distressing string of police reports and recordings of his ranting. You name it: anti-semetic, racist, violence towards women...Mel's been captured on tape for all of it (they are all on YouTube). Hell, his 80 year old stepmother filed a freaking restraining order against him recently! It has become big business to try and entrap Mel on tape these days. But, he did bring it all on himself. Hollywood douchebag Joe Esterhaus and Mel's ice queen Russian girlfriend both have gotten some publicity by releasing surrepticious recordings of Mel's ravings. (My personal favorite: on the recording sleazebag Joe Esterhaus released, after berating Esterhaus for delivering a crappy script for a project they were developing, he bellows "Who wants to eat!? Who wants some f*cking dinner!!" at an almost unfathomable volume and rage as he strolls the halls of his Costa Rica home calling to servants for a meal. Or perhaps screaming that it should be obvious to his girlfriend that oral pleasure be given before she retires to the hot tub in his house. It is ridiculous that he even needs to explain this, according to Mel. "Even if the house is burning to the ground," she should perform this duty first.) But, of course, he is also a very religious man.

Reading about these incidents and hearing them is sometimes shocking, sometimes funny just in their intensity and absurdity, but mostly very sad coming from someone who was seen before as quite talented and who gave charismatic performances.

So, how do you view his work in light of who he is? Tough question. I still love those early films. In a way, though, his recent explosions actually inform some of these early performances. Take a look at his character in Lethal Weapon. While the sequels were much lighter, the first film was quite dark in places. Mel's character, if you recall, was suicidal and performed his police duties with a death wish. At the time, I and most fans probably figured that those scenes where he goes nuts and rages were craft, were scenes of lustful Shatneresque over-acting. Or the mutinty scene in The Bounty, where he and Bligh (Anthony Hopkins) rage at eachother on deck, with Gibson finally just screaming incoherently up at the heavens (a somewhat accurate portrayal of the mutiny, though). The scream in The Bounty sounds quite similar to his screams on several of the recordings released by his girlfriend. I guess my point is, some of these early performances, in hindsight, were not merely acting (and some over-acting). He was reaching within himself, harnessing some of that rage within in those performances. Interesting in hindsight.

Hard to like the man anymore, but you can still admire and enjoy the work.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Song #14

Title: "Cortez the Killer" (live)
Artist: Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Album: Weld, 1991. Original studio version from Zuma, 1975. Also available on Live Rust, 1979.
Written By: Neil Young

Several versions to choose from, but I usually return to the Weld version. It is actually slower than the studio version, but features some of Neil's most passionate playing on record and is the most majestic version. "He came dancing across the water / With his galleons and guns..." God what great lyrics! The song is so gorgeous that I can even forgive the blatant historical inaccuracies. "Hate was just a legend and war was never known." No. The Aztecs were one of the most brutal tribes in the Americas, and one of the reasons Cortez was able to conquer them is because other tribes were so sick of being slaughtered by the Aztecs, so they joined with Cortez and the Spaniards to kick Montezuma's ass. Of course, they came to regret it once under even more brutal Spanish rule. But no matter, it is mostly about the feel. The two solos (one starting at 5:40 and then especially the one starting at 7:35) show why Neil Young is such a brilliant electric guitarist, technique be damned.

Song #15

Title: "King of Pain"
Artist: The Police
Album: Synchronicity, 1983
Written By: Sting

Woe is Sting. Sting is never better than when he writes with heartfelt conviction and infinite empathy for the one he loves the most, Sting.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Song #16

Title: "Red Rain"
Artist: Peter Gabriel
Album: So, 1986
Written By: Peter Gabriel

This is the song that first got me into Gabriel's music. Stewart Copeland plays the hi-hat on the track. Not the drums. Just the hi-hat. And even with just the hi-hat, you can tell that it's him.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Battle For Historical Narrative

"I hope never to see Fletcher Christian again. Unless it is to see him hanged." - Attributed to Capt. William Bligh, 1789

What's not to love about the story of the mutiny on the Bounty? British Empire, exploration, betrayals, Pacific paradise, beautiful women, what was perhaps the greatest tale of survival in naval history, a new civilization created, courtroom drama. Hollywood has certainly taken notice, as it has been the subject of five films so far. I've been fascinated by the event since I was a child.

Very briefly, the facts:

The Bounty was sent out under the patronage of British renaissance man Joseph Banks under the command of Lt. William Bligh. The mission was to sail from England around the dangerous waters of Cape Horn, to reach Tahiti. Tahiti had only been visited by a handful of British ships up to this time. The plan was the get hundreds of breadfruit plants from Tahiti and transport them to the West Indies, as they were seen as a cheap food source for slave labor. After a rough passage and failure to make it around the stormy seas of the Horn, the Bounty eventually did make it to Tahiti, where they were greeted warmly (the King remembered Bligh from his previous voyage under Capt. Cook, who was viewed almost as a god by the Tahitians). The Bounty stayed there for about 6 months, where the crew and officers developed close relations with the Tahitians. Once they did depart, trouble brewed onboard. Accounts vary widely, but Bligh was either acting as a tyrant or was the victim of a naturally rebellious crew. A mutiny occurred, led by officer Fletcher Christian. Christian set Bligh and about 18 other loyalists adrift in a skiff in the South Pacific, to certain death. Bligh incredibly navigated, without a compass or other equipment, the small boat an astounding 3600 miles to civilization. Meanwhile The Bounty returned to Tahiti under the command of Christian, where some of the mutineers disembarked, while others, along with some Tahitian women and men who were essentially duped and taken hostage, continued to sail. They finally settled on an uncharted island, started a new civilization that was rife with violence and intrigue, but that survives to this day on Pitcairn's Island, still inhabited by the Bounty's descendants, and is the least populated British possession. (A child-rape sex scandal that was much publicized rocked Pitcairn this last decade.)

When Bligh finally returned to England, he was rightfully hailed as a hero. His 3600 mile epic journey in a little boat in the South Pacific was, and still is, acknowledged as one of the greatest feats of navigation and survival in naval history, complete with battling hostile natives and stormy seas en route. But an interesting thing happened. Soon after his return and after he was exonerated in his own court martial regarding the loss of the Bounty, Bligh set out on another voyage that took him away from England for several years. Meanwhile, the mutineers who had disembarked on Tahiti were captured by the Pandora, a ship the British Navy specifically sent out to hunt down the mutineers. (The voyage of The Pandora is a story unto itself, as it sank off of Australia, and incredibly the mutineer-prisoners that had been captured in Tahiti had to endure a shorter version of the open boat journey they had forced Bligh to take!) The court martial of the captured mutineers was a news sensation at the time, with three eventually being hung, four acquitted, and three sentenced to death but later pardoned by the King.

Two families made it their mission to take control of the narrative. Fletcher Christian's family and mutineer/pardoned prisoner Peter Heywood's family were both families of the upper crust, but had severe financial troubles. Yet they still maintained their friends in high places. While Bligh was away, they published accounts turning the narrative from a crew of villains taking the ship and setting 18 of their comrades adrift to what they thought was certain death to romantic heroes standing up to the abuse and tyranny of the evil Capt. Bligh.

Another interesting aspect of the story is that this is happening amidst bigger world events, such as the French Revolution and the beginnings of a new movement in British literature by the likes of Wordsworth and Byron (both of which entered the Bounty fray with writings of their own).

I've read quite a few books on the subject (including Bligh's own published log). Caroline Alexander's The Bounty may be the best, albeit very thorough. We simply do not know everything that happened. There are many accounts from many players, and they are fascinating in their differences. Not only that, but there are multiple accounts from the same person over many years that contradict their own earlier accounts. Money was thrown around liberally to get statements favorable to Heywood. You don't have just one adventure, but many. The mutiny. Pitcairn's Island and its eventual discovery by an American whaling ship. The trial. Bligh's epic open boat journey.

But the battle for the historical narrative is one of the aspects that intrigues me. What may be my favorite passage in Alexander's book sums up the bigger forces at work behind how the people then (and now) view The Bounty's story, how it was symbolic of the changing of eras:
"It was Lieutenant Bligh's ill luck to have his own great adventure coincide exactly with the dawn of this new era, which saw a devotion to a code of duty and established authority as less honorable than the celebration of individual passions and liberty. Coleridge's Anciant Mariner was a crude forerunner of the full-blown Romantic hero to be glamorized by Byron; but Fletcher Christian was the forerunner of them all..."

Most serious studies of The Bounty fall somewhere either in between or side somewhat, and with serious caveats, on the side of Capt. Bligh. But Hollywood cannot resist the Romantic hero, and has portrayed Bligh as a blustering tyrant and Christian as the sensitive hero pushed too far. Just look at who has played Fletcher Christian in these films: Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando, Mel Gibson (pre-psycho). In reality, Christian was a troubled soul, and by all accounts he was haunted by his setting Bligh adrift until his own murder on Pitcairn's Island by the hands of the Tahitian men who accompanied the mutineers (all accounts do agree on the exchange between Bligh and Christian on deck, where Christian, wild-eyed, shouts "I am in hell!" and Bligh tries to unsuccessfully appeal to their former friendship, "Fletcher, you have bounced my children upon your knee!") Funny enough, the last straw seems to be an incident where Bligh flew into a rage accusing Christian of stealing from his private stash of coconuts. Christian admitted to taking only one, when he was on the overnight watch and wanted to quench his thirst. At any rate, no doubt many of the mutineers were drawn back to their lost paradise of Tahiti, where several of them had developed serious relationships with the island women. The crew was uncommonly interesting, even the seamen. Several of them were quite educated, and there is strong evidence that several of them influenced and "pushed" the fragile but well liked Christian into leading the mutiny.

Of all of the film versions, 1985's "The Bounty", starring Anthony Hopkins as Bligh and Gibson as Christian, attempts the most even-handed treatment of these two men.

When Bligh returned to England, he and patron Banks tried to counter the propaganda campaign started by the Christian and Heywood camps. They were only marginally successful. I guess what continues to give this story life is that it is unclear what really happened over those almost two years in the South Pacific. Bligh certainly had a volcanic temper, but so did many other British captains of the time. Abuse from superiors was expected in the 1700's British navy. What made this voyage so different? That is what so many people, like myself, still try and figure out. The battle for the historical narrative, both in book and in film, and in the accounts of the many survivors, rages on.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Song #17

Title: "Gimme Shelter"
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Album: Let It Bleed, 1969
Written By: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

The dark side of the Flower Power 60's was never better captured than on this harrowing track by the Rolling Stones. Vietnam, Manson, Altamont, drug casualties, generational divide, credibility gap, assassinations...none are mentioned by name, but they are all there in the ominous mood. And while Jagger is great, this song really belongs to Merry Clayton's emotional delivery.

BELOW: Here's a video some dude on YouTube put together with many images from the 60's:

Monday, July 9, 2012

Here's Some Cuteness

Haven't posted cute pics of my daughter in awhile, so here's some...

The History of Rock and Roll in 100 Riffs

For you music fans out there, this is really cool. And he does it all in one take. Imagine how frustrating it would be to screw up on #97.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Song #18

Title: "Powderfinger" (live)
Artist: Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Album: Rust Never Sleeps, 1979
Written By: Neil Young

For those who complain that Neil's lyrics can be a bit vague at times, listen to this one. I think this is probably his best song, lyrically speaking, and it also has a killer groove and vibe to it. Neil and the Horse at a peak.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Song #19

Title: "Changes"
Artist: Yes
Album: 90125, 1983
Written By: Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Alan White

90125 was one of the more remarkable and unlikely comebacks in rock and roll. Yes were seen as the poster child of the bloated 70's by the time the streamlined New Wave 80's rolled around, and had been seemingly powerwashed away by the force of punk. But Yes, or this new version of Yes, led by new addition Tevor Rabin, reinvented itself brilliantly with their most successful commercial release. "Changes" is the centerpiece of the record, wonderfully combining elements of New Wave with Yes's prog-rock roots.

BELOW: I couldn't find an acceptable clip for the studio version, so here is a live version of the song that kicks quite a bit of ass, despite the 80's fashions.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Song #20

Title: "Everybody Wants To Rule the World"
Artist: Tears For Fears
Album: Songs From the Big Chair, 1985
Written By: Roland Orzabal, Ian Stanley & Chris Hughes

Few songs capture their era better than "Everybody Wants To Rule the World" does for the mid-1980's. It is a tune that is completely of its time, yet is so good that it still sounds great today.

The Dead Pool (and RIP Andy Griffith)

First of all, RIP Andy Griffith. Iconic star and from most accounts, as warm a man as his public persona.

My buddy Kyle and I recently set up a friendly wager with a celebrity Dead Pool. When I say recently, we drafted late last night. Dead Pools are quite popular, actually, and quite common. Rules vary, but generally each person picks a roster of famous people who they feel are most likely to move into the great beyond within the next year. You collect points for each one on your roster who goes, and the person with the most points at the end of the Pool year wins. Our year will go from 7/2/12 to 7/2/13.

ABOVE: Clint Eastwood and Liam Neeson in 'The Dead Pool,' the last Dirty Harry film in which Callahan (Clint) ends up on Neeson's Dead Pool list. Neeson is a wealthy psychopath who hosts a high stakes Dead Pool, and takes matters into his own hands to make sure he wins every year. But, do you really think anyone can kill Dirty Harry? Not even Chuck Norris can do that. I guess Callahan was in the news enough to qualify as a celebrity.

Kyle and I opened it up to several other friends, but were surprised and disappointed at how skittish some were about the whole thing. (To be fair, one of them was already involved in another one and he felt that two Dead Pools was a bit much.) But these others are people who are generally not uptight about most anything. I guess we all deal with death in different ways. It is inevitable, it is coming for us all. We can fear it, we can hold it with some religious reverence, we can try to ignore it, we can face it with a little humor...or some combination thereof. I have a great deal of fear about death, in part because I am still conflicted on my own religious beliefs. That is one of the primary issues addressed by religion, so since I am unsettled in that arena I find death unsettling as well. But that is a different conversation.

We've all lost people close to us at some time or another (I've lost a brother, an aunt to suicide, and others), so I do understand the magnitude of the milestone. And I think if you read my obituaries that I write here, I do have a certain reverence for the memory and accomplishments of those who have moved on. Being a historian, I am naturally a bit obsessed with the past to begin with. I teach it for a living, afterall. But at the same time, it is fun to speculate on those in the public eye. So, with one friend already involved in a Dead Pool, another not agreeing with our rules, and the rest not wanting to participate, it ended up being the two of us.

So, we draft last night. The rule was that you can draft any person whose demise would be noted in the national media. Here are our rosters, in draft order:

Dez: Hosni Mubarak, Bhumibol Adulyadej, Nelson Mandela, Jerry Lewis, Fidel Castro, Andy Griffith, Pope Benedict XVI, Harper Lee, Bashar Assad, Eli Wallach, Nancy Reagan, Herman Wouk, Stephen Hawking, Lindsey Lohan, Hugo Chavez, Olivia de Havilland, Todd Bridges, Bob Dole, Robert Mugabe and Dick Cheney.

Kyle: Kirk Douglas, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Billy Graham, Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger, Mickey Rooney, Abe Vigoda, Prince Philip, Judge Joseph Wapner, Dick Van Dyke, Chuck Berry, Andy Dick, Queen Elizabeth, Ernest Borgnine, Fats Domino, Jimmy Carter, Stan Lee, Angela Landsbury, Courtney Love and Bobby Brown.

First, who do you think has the "better" roster? Now that Griffith is gone, I have added Aretha Franklin to take his slot.

Mubarak was an obvious first pick for me, as he is in a coma. I like my Assad pick too, I really feel that he will go the way of Qadaffi if the Syrian people can get their hands on the sonofabitch. And he is under 50, which is worth more points than people 50 or over. We have to have at least 3 people under 50 on each of our rosters. Kyle's first three picks are really solid, I think.

Imagine my surprise when I look at the news and not twenty four hours after our draft, Andy Griffith has left us. Griffith was much more, by the way, than a friendly sheriff of Mayberry or a lawyer in powder blue suits. Check out 1957's 'A Face in the Crowd' for a pretty amazing performance from Griffith.

ABOVE: RIP Andy Griffith. Mayberry has lost its most dedicated protector.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Song #21

Title: "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?"
Artist: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Album: Pendulum, 1971
Written By: John Fogerty

So many great CCR tunes to choose from. John Fogerty is one of the great American rock songwriters. The two Rain songs are amongst his most poignant, this one and "Who'll Stop the Rain." While "Who'll Stop..." gets more airplay, this is the one that has always hit me the hardest.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dez Reviews 'Prometheus,' 2012

I will go ahead and reveal the worst kept secret of Ridley Scott's Prometheus - it is a prequel to the Alien franchise. Scott has been evasive on the subject for months, but it clearly is. The mysterious ship that they explore in the beginning of Alien is finally explained, as is the iconic alien voyager in the chair. There are other connections that I will not spoil.

But that is the main problem with Prometheus. If you are familiar with the Alien series, and Alien (Scott) and Aliens (James Cameron) are two of the greatest sci-fi films ever made (with the follow-ups being among the worst), then what was once original, shocking and innovative has now become rather rote. It's all here: a large crew so they can mostly get picked off in gruesome ways, a dark and spooky place to explore that allows for dangerous creatures to jump from the shadows and attack, the nefarious corporation with the hidden agenda, the "company man" aboard who knows the "real" mission (except here it isn't the smarmy but great Paul Reiser of Aliens, it's the icy hot Charlize Theron, yet she doesn't even know the real, real nature of the mission), the unsettling android aboard with questionable motives and loyalties, the rather unconventional births, and the strong female characters that Scott is known for. The problem is that I could have listed those elements about Alien or Aliens before even seeing Prometheus. Perhaps this is somewhat fresh for a younger generation not raised on Alien, but it has become comfort food vs. a bold new dish for the seasoned moviegoer. Also Scott leaves much unexplained. I don't mind that in sci-fi, but this feels less like innovative, thought-provoking filmmaking and more like lazy storytelling.

There are two things about Prometheus that largely save it, though, and still make it a worthwhile sci-fi film. First it is absolutely stunning visually. One of the most beautiful and grand sci-fi film I've ever seen. I saw it in a small, rundown theater without the 3D, so I can only imagine it in an IMAX theater. Secondly, the performances are good. Michael Fassbender is especially good as the calculating android David. Ridley Scott seems to specialize in this type of sci-fi character. David sits alongside Ian Holm's Ash from Alien, Lance Henriksen's Bishop from Aliens (although James Cameron directed Aliens), and the replicants from Scott's Bladerunner as androids or replicants who dangerously long to be more human. Noomi Rapace is good in the other specialty role Scott pioneered, the strong unlikely female action hero who is not obviously an action hero in the beginning, but must fight and adapt. While it is impossible to match Sigourney Weaver's iconic Ripley from the Alien series, Rapace does a good job.

Worth seeing, but it falls short of Alien and Aliens, while improving greatly on the rest of the Alien progeny.

*** out of *****