Monday, July 31, 2006

The Cover Game

It's a simple game, really. What songs by my favorite artists should one of my favorite artists cover? Today's contestant is Tracy Chapman. Chapman's voice is like good barbecue - smoky, sweet, and simple. It's one of my favorite voices, and I'd be quite curious to see how she would handle these songs by my favorite artists:

U2 - "Please"
Chapman has a definite plaintive, mournful quality to her voice that would be a wonderful complement to this moody U2 classic. I'd be curious to hear her tackle an arrangement not too unlike the original's, in that it's not exactly a hard-rock song, and I think that her natural, warm voice would be an intriguing contrast to the electronic, almost chilly sounds.

Paul Simon - "America"
Chapman is a great solo singer - just her and an acoustic guitar is, perhaps, the best way her voice is presented. This mellow, pretty Simon & Garfunkel classic would be a fine showcase.

Radiohead - "True Love Waits"
I love this song, but don't particularly care for Yorke as a singer. Chapman's voice would be a great fit.

Elvis Costello -"Satellite"
A sweeping, acoustic-flavored song from Costello's underrated Spike that could benefit nicely from Chapman's softer, more open sound.

Neil Young - "Are You Passionate"
A bluesy, languid song that would let Chapman show off some of those blues chops she hinted at on "Give Me One Reason"

The Who - "The Kids Are Alright"
She'd somehow add some maturity and perspective to Townsend's original reading.

Aimee Mann - "Wise Up"
Remember the group sing-along song from Magnolia? Chapman would own it.

Bob Dylan" - Just Like a Woman"
There have already been more feminist readings of this song, but I'd still love to hear Chapman's.

Bruce Springsteen - "Brilliant Disguise"
Take away Springsteen's defeated gruffness and add Chapman's more melancholy sweetness.

Dire Straits - "Brothers in Arms"
A female perspective on this song about male camaraderie in times war would be very interesting.

John Mellencamp - "Human Wheels"
The melody is tailor-made for her voice.

Peter Gabriel - "Blood of Eden"
Soft and slow and a warm, cozy fit.

Sting - "Why Should I Cry for You?"
A sad, beautiful song - it would be interesting to hear Chapman's warmth added to the mix.

Until Whenever
To Boycott or Not to Boycott . . .

Michael Slezak at PopWatch asks an interesting question. If, from the rantings Mel Gibson made during his arrest for DWI this weekend, he is indeed an anti-Semite (and I'd have to agree that, on at least some level, he surely must be), would that deter you from seeing his movies? Without having to really think about it, I knew my answer. Most definitely.

See, I've never understood the notion behind avoiding or condemning an artist's work because of their abhorrent political views. The famous test case is, of course, Wagner, who was an infamous and raging anti-Semite. And yet he was, just as undebatedly, a remarkably brilliant composer. Now, truth be told, I don't listen to any Wagner, but not out of any political reasons--he's just one in a long line of classical composers I haven't yet sampled. But I'd like to. Now, as much as this weekend's events make it pretty clear that Gibson harbors some really awful sentiments towards Jews, I still think that he probably falls pretty far below Wagner on the official anti-Semite scale. But the discomforting hate that came out of his mouth that night is still pretty hard to sweep away. But I think he's a severely underrated actor and director who has contributed quite nicely to the art of film. Am I now to dismiss those contributions because of how he is as a person? I don't think so.

Slezak brings up another, related but separate point, that by buying a ticket to Apocalypto this winter is to, on some real, tangible level, support Gibson. I suppose. And yet I find it exceedingly hard to get worked up about the couple of bucks he'll see out of my ten. After all -- this is a very rich man. Is it unethical to support in this financial way a man whose views are repellent to you personally? I can't deny that there is a line there. And yet I find myself being OK with crossing it for a $10 ticket. As for the films I already own, there is no compulsion there. So, I will continue to admire Gibson the artist--even as I begin to regretfully understand that Gibson the man might be, on the whole, a poor human being.

Until Whenever

Friday, July 28, 2006


Sounds like a Harry Potter-world spell, no? Something to transform a person into a horse or something? Of course, it's the brilliant Peter Shaffer play, which Harry Potter film star Daniel Radcliffe will take the lead in on the West End next year. I applaud the guy for wanting to take it on, but Equus is a tough play, and the part Radcliffe will take, Alan Strang, is a tough part--he's a pyschologically troubled teen who blinds six horses with a metal spike one night in London. The play was inspired by a real-life event where just such a thing happened, although Shaffer took nothing but that description in writing the play. The bulk of the play focuses on a psychiatrist's attempts to figure out why the boy blinded the horses, and it gets a bit freaky by the end. (The psychiatrist is to be played by Richard Griffiths - the actor who played Uncle Vernon in the films!!) I did it in college (I had a minor role--Dalton, the stable owner whose horses are blinded), and it's great theater, but, as written, it calls for nudity in the last scenes (the character of Alan and a girl he is on a date with strip to have sex, Alan for the first time). We skipped over the nudity by having our actors only strip to underwear, but it sounds like Potter will be up on stage flag a' flying. The Potter films, while great fun, make it hard to judge Radcliffe's talents - I really couldn't even hazard a guess as to whether he's got the talent to really do the role justice, but here's hoping.

Until Whenever
Iconoclast Pop Views

On his blog, Ken Jennings asks for folks' iconoclastic pop culture opinions - pop culture opinions you hold that sharply veer from the critical and popular consensus. A few of mine:
  • Timothy Dalton is a better Bond than Brosnan (this is on Jennings' list too, so maybe it's not THAT iconoclastic)
  • Raging Bull is boring.
  • Sophie Coppela was fine in The Godfather Three. Not great or even particularly good, but hardly distractingly bad
  • Don Dellilo's White Noise put me to sleep
  • Jon Lovitz's performance in Mom and Dad Save the World is brilliant comedy
  • Kevin Nealon was one of the best SNL Weekend Update anchors
  • Thom Yorke is a horrid singer
  • London Calling is monotonous and boring
  • Good Night and Good Luck was neither engaging or inspiring
  • The Soul Cages is Sting's best album, by leaps and bounds

Until Whenever

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

After the last two weeks of limiting the shuffle to 5-Star Rock and Musical Theater songs on my iPod, I thought it only fair to do the same with the stuff I've put in the Jazz Vocals genre (which I tend to use as a catchall category for stuff that's not Rock/Pop or Musical Theater. This is really not very representative, as I haven't rated much of my Jazz Vocal stuff as of yet, but here are the first ten 5-Star songs that come up:

1. "In the Darkest Place" - Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach - Painted from Memory
I love, love, love this album. This is the opening track, and it's got a great smoky, noir vibe going on.

2. "God Bless the Child" - Billie Holiday - Ken Burns JAZZ Collection: Billie Holiday

3. "The Weight" - Cassandra Wilson - Belly of the Sun
One of my favorite covers, this is an intensely soulful, languid rendition of the great The Band song.

4. "Strange Fruit" - Nina Simone - Compact Jazz: Nina Simone
I have several versions of this essential song, and this is perhaps my favorite (sorry Billie Holiday fans). The strident, righteous, fierce anger in Simone's voice is palpable here. (If you don't know the song, do, do, do check it out--in its simple description of a lynching, it's a stark and plaintive defiant scream of anger at the violence of racism.)

5. "Bird on a Wire" - K.D. Lang - Hymns of the 49th Parallel
Lang's album of Canadian songwriters overs is consistently great, but this is one of my favorite tracks, a sensitive, delicate reading of the Leonard Cohen classic.

6. "Little Girl Blue" - Nina Simone - Nina Simone's Finest Hour
The arrangement of the classic standard here is inspired - Simone plays a simple version of the Christmas chestnut "Good King Wenceslas" on the piano, which serves as the accompaniment to the "Little Girl Blue" melody. Enchanting.

7. "A Case of You" - Joni Mitchell - Both Sides Now
From Mitchell's album of torch-type songs, this is a strong, lush rendition of one of her own tunes.

8. "Both Sides Now" - Joni Mitchell - Both Sides Now
The masterful use of this song in the woefully underrated film Love, Actually is what turned me on to it. Stunningly beautiful.

9. "God Give Me Strength" - Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach - Painted from Memory
The song that kick-started the Costello-Bacharach collaboration. One of Costello's best-ever vocals--listen to how he teases us by using the falsetto for the high note on God the first two times through the chorus before letting loose by hitting it in full voice for the climax. I'm dying to hear Audra McDonald do this on her forthcoming album.

10. "Sinnerman" - Nina Simone - Compact Jazz: Nina Simone
Another song that a film turned me on to - this is used to superb effect in the finale to The Thomas Crown Affair. This is just a great song, almost tribal in its insistent, quasi-minimalist rhythm.

Until Whenever

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Fine Five

Nothing like a easy-peasy meme when the originality is at baseline levels. Thanks, Jaquandor!

Five things . . . my refrigerator.
1. Lots of milk for the rugrats - whole for the very little twin and 2% for the still-small-but-not-as-crazily-so twin.
2. A big container of meatballs I made Sunday, dwindling day-by-day.
3. A refrigerator case of Diet Pepsi.
4. A slowly rotting cantaloupe we keep forgetting to cut up.
5. Yogurt for the younglings.

. . . in my closet.
1. Beach shoes, loafers, old sneakers, old sandals, old dress shoes.
2. Lots of shirts I should really toss.
3. A plethora of shoeboxes.
4. Old belts.
5. Our hamper. my bag (the one I take too and from work)
1. A copy of Lloyd Alexander's The Black Cauldron (I'm re-reading the Prydain series)
2. The current New Yorker. (Good article on Wikipedia)
3. A mostly depleted pack of Extra bubblegum-flavored gum.
4. My checkbook.
5. My glasses (in their case). my vehicle.
1. A copy of Caitlin Flanagan's To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Your Inner Housewife (waiting to be returned to the library). A good book, but it leans perhaps too heavily on her portfolio of magazine articles.
2. Dozens of green plastic newspaper bags (tossed on the back seat floor every morning)
3. Elvis Costello's The Delivery Man.
4. A Belkin iPod cup holder.
5. At least one empty Diet Pepsi can.

...on my desk.
1. Way too many loose papers.
2. The monitor for the home computer - a Sony VAIO.
3. A spindle of CD-Rs.
4. The cable modem and the currently not working router.
5. An extra mouse and Ethernet cable for when I work from home and need to plug in my laptop.

...on my walls.
1. Lots of pictures of the kidses.
2. A poem written by my wife's grandmother that I had done for her over a picture of the chillins and framed.
3. The Mel Blanc commemorative lithograph (the one with a grouping of Looney Tunes characters with heads bowed next to s spotlight hitting a lonely microphone).
4. Some cheap Home Goods-bought prints, including a Monet.
5. Some wall vases framing the china cabinet.

....on my bookshelves (other than books).
1. A box of juggling balls.
2. A Spider-Man action figure, hanging from a gargoyle head.
3. Assorted art supplies.
4. A spindle of DVR-R+s.
5. Many, many picture frames.

. . . I want to do in the next few years.
1. Expand the novella I wrote for my MA.
2. Begin writing criticism again.
3. See an opera or two.
4. See a Broadway play or five.
5. Teach the monkeys how to hit a baseball.

And two new ones I'll add.

. . . On my nightstand.
1. The remote for the TV.
2. The following books: A paperback collection of Eugene O'Neill plays, Helter Skelter, The annotated Wizard of Oz and Huckleberry Finn, The 2006 Writer's Guide, and Mystic River.
3. A small, travel-sized, battery-powered alarm clock.
4. A dusty lamp.
5. A candle with change in it.

. . . I'm hoping to get for my birthday
1. The new Dylan album.
2. A DVD of The Incredibles.
3. A ticket to a Broadway play.
4. The Complete New Yorker
5. A new basketball.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

In Case You Thought That Only the Studios Were Stupidly Paranoid about Copyright

It appears that Actors' Equity, the stage actors and stagehands union, is also firing off cease and desist letters to YouTube. I simply don't understand the logic here. The removed clip referenced at the link was of Lauren Kennedy performing a song from the musical The Last Five Years. In what way, shape, or form was this video hurting the property? I'd argue that it was helping the property, by exposing more musical theater fans to this particular play. I mean, is anyone interested in musical theater going to not see The Last Five Years if they have the chance because they can instead just watch one song from the play on their computer? Or are they much, much more likely to seek out a production (or, if they are amateur directors or otherwise involved in community, regional, or school theaters, become more likely to try and do an actual production) now that this song has whetted their appetites. It's well-known that a cast album of a musical play greatly increases the play's chanced for future productions, both commercial and amateur. Wouldn't clips like these have the same effect?

Until Whenever
Back to the BIFF!-ing and the BAM!-ing

As I may or may not have mentioned at some point, I've started to tread back into the seductive waters of superhero comics again after a three-year absence. I used to read comics regularly, and while I wasn't a heavy user, I'd show up regularly at the comic shop every week and leave with, on average, three or four comics in hand. I stopped, not out of any deep-seated dissatisfaction with comics, but rather for more mundane and practical reasons--I no longer had a comic book store within easy reach. I flirted with ordering on-line for a while, but found the whole process to cumbersome and expensive to maintain. Well, I now have a pusher within easy reach once again and have been settling into old habits once more. So, here's a quick look at the titles I'm currently reading, and what I think of them:

This is the one book I probably regret losing track of most. I got the Vol. 2 trade collection and have managed to get caught up via back issues with all but one issue, so I mostly have my bearings again. I have to confess to simply loving the large-scale, epic feel of this series. I was a big fan of The Authority when it was big, and I never would have thought that so much of that series tone, ethos, and approach would translate so well to a modern Avengers book. And yet it does. I have a sinking feeling it'll be a long haul until issue 12 comes out, but it's nonetheless the single issue I'm most anticipating.

Captain America
I jumped back on for the current follow-up to the Winter Soldier storyline, and so far, so good (but not so great). The somber, espionage-y, Clancy-esque style isn't my favorite Cap approach, but it's fun enough to keep it going for a while.

Civil War
So far I've been not-too successful at not picking up all the ancillary titles as well as the actual mini-series itself. My overall impression of the whole shebang is very good - I love the concept itself, like how they've drawn up the sides so far, and appreciate the levels of characterization that have been given attention. Captain America in opposition to the Federal government is actually a recurring theme of the book, and I've always loved the notion of Captain America and Iron Man as the opposite poles that balanced The Avengers and made them work. Spider-Man's unmasking I'm a bit shakier on, motivation-wise, but as a plot turn and a new area for the character to explore, I'm all for it. I like Millar, but he is showing some tiredness already in the main series already, which is perhaps not the best of signs. (The bit in the last issue with Captain America basically tricking Iron Man with the old "psyche!" fake handshake gag was in all honesty pretty lame. And that Cap's rebels are being outfitted with tech is a kind of a cheat, isn't it? wouldn't it be more interesting to see what Cap and his team would do if they were really "underground," and not hiding in a Nick Fury super-hideout?) Still, I'm hooked on the larger story and will be in for the long haul.

Amazing Spider-Man
Through the pure magic that is the inter-library loan system, I just read the last year and a half or so Stracyzinski Spider-Man stories, including the infamous Gwen's kids storyline. I liked them OK, I guess, but was far from in love. What I'm still trying to suss out is how this Peter Parker-Tony Stark relationship came about. Right now it feels a bit strained and forced, although I like the notion of it conceptually, and I'm trying to determine if that's because I'm missing an important piece of the puzzle that set it up in the first place.

New Avengers
I love me some Bendis, but some of this has felt really stale. The whole storyline with the mutant absorbing the energies of all the dead mutants felt very, very bad early-90s to me, although the gift for dialogue was, as always, spot-on. Still, the first Civil War tie-in, focusing on Cap, was excellent, so I'll be sticking around for a while.

Astonishing X-Men
I'm just loving Whedon's take on the X-Men, pure and simple. He gets these characters completely, and the story so far has me hooked almost as much as the dialogue and characterization do.

Ultimate Spider-Man
This is the only title I managed to keep completely current on during my sojourn in the wilderness. I went to the trades while I was away from comics, and have now gone back into the monthlies. What I find so impressive about how much I love this series is how fond of it I am despite the fact that I really don't care at all for Mark Bagley as an artist. I didn't like him on his 90s Amazing Spider-Man run, and I'm not really fond of his work here. But Bendis' mastery of this character, and his compelling and energetic retelling of the Spider-Man saga has me hooked. All that being said, the just-started "Clone" storyline does have alarm bells ringing. We shall see.

Those are pretty much the titles I'm reading regularly. I'll try the odd issue of something if it looks intriguing or if I read good things (like Busiek's first Superman issue - nothing special there, so I won't be adding that to the "regulars" list), but these are the ones I'm committing to.

(Oh, and, yes, I am pretty much a Marvel Zombie - why do you ask?)

Until Whenever

Monday, July 24, 2006

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!

Random Top Ten Simon & Garfunkel Songs

10 - "Mrs. Robinson" - I really don't think I've ever understood what this song is about, but the music is the bee's knees.

9 - "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" - The counterpoint is just lovely.

8 - "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" - Simon's thinly veiled farewell to Garfunkel (who was an architecture student at one time). The soaring "dawn" on "All of the nights we'd harmonize 'til dawn" is beautiful, and the flute solo is just-jazzy enough to be neat, not cloying.

7 - "The Only Living Boy in New York" - Should have been a much bigger hit. Features the rare effective use of a choir in a pop song.

6 - "Old Friends" - Such a remarkably lovely bit of writing and orchestration - that clanging, triumphal beauty-out-of-dissonance middle section was an early hint that Simon could think theatrically, musically speaking (dramaturgically speaking is another matter).

5 - "Sounds of Silence" - This is one of those songs that someone would have written even if a young Paul Simon had been tragically killed. Just archetypical.

4 - "The Boxer" - Is that awesome banging sound that punctuates the choruses a backfiring car? That's what I've heard. One of Simon's best all-time lyrics.

3 - "America" - Wistful, sweet, and confident with a wonderfully evocative lyric.

2 - "Bridge Under Troubled Water" - Garfunkel's shining moment. Others have sung, and will sing, this song better in a lot of ways, but Garfunkel's original thin, plaintive, but soaring rendition will always be primal.

1 - "Kathy's Song" - Not a huge hit, but a gorgeous piece of songwriting, with a disciplined, precise lyric and a wonderfully understated melody and accompaniment.

Until Whenever
Bad Lyrics

Funny piece up at The Phoneix about really bad song lyrics. My favorite entry:

THE SONG: America, "A Horse with No Name"
THE LYRIC: "There were plants and birds and rocks and things"
THE VERDICT: What, did he get tired? Rocks and things? Try a fuckin? cactus. Dirt? Bugs?

Until Whenever

Friday, July 21, 2006


It's going to be a great month from late August to late September. As reported, late August will see a new Bob Dylan album, and now I learn that late September will see the long-awaited fourth solo album from Audra McDonald, singing, in addition to the modern theater songs she made her name on, some great pop songs as well. Happy day!!!

"WMG/Nonesuch Records has scheduled Audra McDonald's fourth solo album, BUILD A BRIDGE, for September 26, with these tracks:

1. God Give Me Strength (by Burt Bacharach/Elvis Costello)
2. My Stupid Mouth (John Mayer)
3. Build a Bridge (Adam Guettel)
4. Cradle and All (Jessica Molasky/Ricky Ian Gordon)
5. I Wanna Get Married (Nellie McKay)
6. Dividing Day (Adam Guettel, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA)
7. My Heart (Neil Young)
8. Damned Ladies (Rufus Wainwright)
9. Wonderful You (Jane Kelly Williams)
10. To a Child (Laura Nyro)
11. Bein' Green (Joe Raposo)
12. Tom Cat Goodbye (Laura Nyro)
13. I Think It's Going to Rain Today (Randy Newman)

Until Whenever
Doin' the Friday Shuffle

As I indicated to Roger in the comments to last week's shuffle, here is a shuffle derived from the musicals/Broadway songs labeled as "5-Star" in my music collection:

1. "Happiness" - Stephen Sondheim - Passion (Original Broadway Cast)
The only musical I'm aware of that starts with an orchestra indicating an orgasm. This song is the post-orgasm pillow talk between Clara and a Georgio and, in addition to being a lush, gorgeous piece of writing, was wonderfully staged on Broadway, with the two actors in a bed on center stage.

2. "The Ballad of Booth" - Stephen Sondheim - Assassins (Original Cast Recording)
This is really a long, sung, scene rather than a song, and it's a remarkable bit of playwriting. Booth's impassioned, anguished aria in the middle of the scene (sung here by Alias's Victor Garber) can raise goosebumps; it's a beautiful, stirring piece of music about hatred and racism.

3. "Color and Light" - Mandy Patinkin - Sunday in the Park with George (Original Broadway Cast)
A showcase for Patinkin, and one of the play's central songs, it's an intense and deeply felt paean to the struggles and elations of creating art.

4. "Sunday" - Mandy Patinkin - Sings Sondheim
The finale to Patinkin's intense solo show of Sondheim songs, a thrilling and impassioned solo rendition of the choral finale to Sunday in the Park with George.
5. "Waltz for Eva and Che" - Andrew Lloyd Weber - Evita (Original Broadway Cast)
The final confrontation between Eva and Che, sung impeccably by Mandy Patinkin and Patti Lupone.

6. "Experiment" - Mandy Patinkin - Experiment
Solo piano and a delicately sung rendition of a great classic - sublime.

7. "The Carnival" - Adam Guettel - Floyd Collins (Original Cast Recording)
A kind of melancholy, yet bouncy instrumental piece from Guettel's first show.

8. "The Ballad of Floyd Collins (Reprise)" - Adam Guettel - Floyd Collins (Original Cast Recording)
An acoustic guitar-accompanied country-folk sounding song from late in the play.

9. "How Glory Goes" - Adam Guettel - Floyd Collins (Original Cast Recording)
One of my all-time favorite theater songs - a dying man sings to God, questioning him about what heaven will be like. Haunting and rapturous.

10. "Icarus" - Adam Guettel - Myths and Hymns
A poppy, funky retelling of the Icarus myth.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Music Morsels Vol XXIV - XO

In adhering to the alphabetic processional through select favorite albums from my music collection, I'm pretty much limited here to either this or John Ottman's score for X-Men II. I choose this. This was a shot-in-the-dark birthday gift from my sister, and I have ot admit that her instinct that I would like this Elliott Smith guy was well-founded. It's just the kind of soft, assured, acoutic-based, melodic pop I go for. My main quibble is the same quibble I have with so many rock artists, especially in the soft, assured, acoutic-based, melodic pop genre--that the singers can't seem to just sing. Smith's voice isn't bad, but he affects the same kind of thin, wan, "I can't be bothered to project and sing out" voice favored by so many singers today. Ah well, rant over. Singing aside, this is a pleasant little album, with nicely structured pop songs, full of good piano and guitar interactions and a great sense for melody. Highlights include the literal "Waltz #2 (XO)," the confident opener "Sweet Adeline," and the sweet harmony-laden "Independence Day."

Grade: B
The Best of the Bests

Taking a page from Byzantium's Shores, I thought I'd name a "favorite episode" for each of the picks in my sitcom top ten of earlier this week.

10. Cheers - "Bar Wars VII - The Naked Prey" - The episode in which the gang finally gets one over on Gary's Old Towne Tavern. I can still hear the whisper-to-a-scream show-ending chant in my head.

9. Will & Grace - The episode in which Grace discovers that Will once tried sex with a woman - and not her. A lovely example of how well the show could do real, cutting drama when it wanted, and how while they might have idealized some aspects of the Will and Grace friendship, they never stinted on showing how ugly friends can get with each other either.

8. Frasier - Call me a sap, but the episode where Niles and Daphne finally unite holds a special place in my heart.

7. Friends - More sappiness - "The One with the Prom Video," or as it might alternatively be titled, "The One with the Best Main Character Flashbacks Ever." The whole Ross and Rachel saga might have been protracted a season or three too far, but for a while there it was compelling, sweet stuff.

6. Scrubs - "My Screw Up" - with Brendan Gleason returning as Jordan's brother Ben. A great melding of the emotional gut punch and laugh-out loud comedy, with a twist ending I wouldn't dream of spoiling.

5. Everybody Loves Raymond - Probably the "Debra has PMS" episode, if only because it was such a great showcase for what a great natural actress Patricia Heaton is. The ep is also a great example of what Raymond did so well - take small, real conflicts and stresses that affect married people everywhere and build great comedy out of them without blowing them up or exaggerating them too much.

4. Roseanne - The episode that stands out the most in my memory is the "domestic abuse" episode, the episode where Jackie is hit by her boyfriend Fisher and Dan comes to her rescue. Roseanne was able to combine real drama like this better than almost any sitcom I can think of . . .

3. All in the Family - . . . except this one. The episode I love the most is the one where Meathead and Gloria leave for California. As I said in the post that led to this one, that episode makes me weep like a baby at the end, when Meathead says to Archie: "I know you always thought I hated you Arch, but I didn't. I love you." Meathead hugs Archie and runs off to the cab, leaving
a devastated Archie on the porch.

2. Seinfeld - It's hardly original to say so, but "The Contest." Has any other episode of any other primetime network sitcom revolved around masturbation?

1. The Simpsons - "Bart Sells His Soul." The church organist playing "In A Gada Da Vida." Uncy Moe. Milhouse's grandma. Some great stuff in this episode, with Bart selling his soul to Milhouse to prove that souls don't exist and finding out that maybe they do. This episode is hilarious, but has some real affecting emotional content, like the best Simpsons episodes. Add a perfectly executed dream sequence and it adds up to my favorite Simpsons episode.

Until Whenever
Once and Again Season Two - Episodes 7 and 8

Continuing my, slow-as-molasses, ep-by-ep look at season two.

Episode 7 - "Learner's Permit"
An episode focusing on Jake's and Tiffany's relationship, with a parallel plot about Grace using the attentions of a dorky boy who likes her to gain access to the boy's hunkier friend, whom she actually likes. The relationship between Tiffany and Jake was always tricky, in that the producers made it clear that she was the uninhibited, sexy young woman who he turned to for fun when married. And yet after the divorce, Tiffany stuck around, and in this episode we see that conflict, between Tiffany's status as girlfriend or not, come to a head. Jeffrey Nordling was especially good in this episode, especially in his last monologue/confessional in which he admits that he's probably never really loved any women apart from his daughters. I like that the producers didn't feel the need to give him any big epiphany here, or have him run to Tiffany to tearfully confess his love. At this point, he doesn't love her. And he doesn't know why. That's a much more interesting dramatic question than the typical "he does love her but just can't admit it."

Meanwhile, as Grace's plotline intersects with Jake's (she accidentally catched her father on a date with another woman, bringing back bad memories), Whelan is again excellent at portraying the whirlwind of confusing emotions that comes with adolescence. Her awkward date, and mid-date kiss, with the motormouth dork is a series highlight. The episode also features one of the show's all-time best uses of the "confessional" gimmick, when the dork puts his hand on her thigh during the movie, and we cut to the confessional, and a freaked out Grace says, somewhat calmly, "His hand is on my thigh!" Cut back to the movie theater. Hand still on the thigh. Cut back to confessional. Grace screams "His hand is on my thigh!!" Priceless. A subplot also starts here around Eli beginning a relationship with Grace's "bad girl" friend, Carla. that will feature heavily in the remainder of the season.

Episode 8 - "Life Out of Balance"
The old standby - a pregnancy scare that freaks out the man and gives the woman pause about their relationship. What makes it more than cliche is how they build it into Rick's newfound feelings of parental inadequacy, with Eli dying his hair blue and getting kicked off the basketball team and having a disastrous acadmic year and Jesse's anorexia. But the episode's crowning touch is how we see Grace completely sidelined by both Eli and Carla's relationship and her mother's relationship, and how all of it seems to conspire to make her feel ike an eternal spectator to life. "Sometimes I just feel like everybody in the world is like, living, and I'm just watching it happen." A climactic scene paralleling and cross-cutting between Lily and Rick reconciling (after the pregnancy scare had thrown a wrench into their relationship) by having sex in the laundry room and Eli and Carla having sex for the first time in Eli's (Rick's) truck does a fine job of showing how tense and messy sex can often be.

Until Whenever

Monday, July 17, 2006

Wacky Neighbors Abounding

Because Tom had such fun with his, I thought I'd toss up my ten favorite-ever sitcoms. Let me give this list a huge disclaimer, by readily acknowledging that there are many, many, many, many a classic sitcom I've never seen hardly any episodes of (Mary Tyler Moore, Andy Griffith, more), so this is by no means a "best-ever" list. It's simply a "my favorites" list, no more, no less.

10. Cheers - Always good for some laughs and with great characters. I've seen way disproportionately more Rebecca episodes than Diane ones, and so my full judgment of the show is probably skewed.

9. Will & Grace - Megan Mullaly's Karen and Sean Hayes' Jack are the kinds of characters that can be so easily misunderstood, in terms of the acting. What can seem like the simplest kind of overacting is actually very subtle and hard to pull off. In effect, being as cartoonish and exaggerated as they are without crossing some invisible line into becoming a complete cartoon is very, very difficult. In some ways, it's the acting underneath the big gestures and comic voices that was so brilliant on both of their behalfs. (I call this the Tom Hanks Gump rule--because so many people can do a Gump impression, Hanks' achievement in the role can be and often is trivialized. But underneath that voice and the tics, he was creating a fully fleshed-out, living, breathing character. The supplements on the Gump DVD make this clear; we see an early screen test of Hanks doing Gump, and while the voice is there, the rest isn't yet--and we see what a two-dimensional cartoon Gump could have been.) But it was the interesting and new dynamic between the leads that I always found compelling about Will & Grace. The notion of building a show around two people who should be together and can't was a good one, and it was well-executed (if by necessity drawn somewhat out over seven or however many seasons). People tend to forget the dramatic moments, but they were real and heartfelt (see the episode in which Will reveals that he did once have sex with a woman, and not Grace, for some prime examples of them.)

8. Frasier - Sharp, sharp, sharp writing around solid characterization. A damn solid sitcom, even if Grammer's Frasier started to calcify several seasons in. But Hyde Pierce was brilliant (we tend to forget, now, that at the outset, and for several years running, he was criminally overlooked by the Emmys) and the kind of sophisticated yet accessible writing - in terms of dialogue, gags, and structure--epitomized by the show isn't seen much now, and wasn't then either.

7. Friends - The mega-success has tended to blind some to how funny and clever this show was, especially in the first five or six seasons. And they pulled off the trick of incorporating serialized storytelling into what always remained a very traditional structure remarkably well (long-running stories or not, anyone who's never seen a Friends can tune into almost any rerun and get it, immediately). A show that shows how important casting is - if that sixsome hadn't gelled the way they did, Friends would have been a solid but kind-of-forgettable show. Writing isn't everything, not by a long shot.

6. Scrubs - A real all-time champ in the laugh-per-minute category, for me, with an uncanny ability to marry just downright goofy humor with real and effecting pathos. As it has continued on, however, I do see a certain weariness settling in, with the fantasies getting more surreal and less connected to the plot (what do all those "too many tangential cutaways unconnected to the plot" Family Guy complainers say about Scrubs, I wonder?) and the performances getting goofier and less grounded. This latter problem is common to many sitcoms as they wear on - the actors start going to the exaggerations and extreme parts of their performance too often and with too much gusto, making formerly rounded, accessible characters that audiences used to be able to connect to one-note and unfunny (see David Schwimmer on Friends, whose Ross became a collection of tics after, say, season seven). Scrubs isn't there yet, but this past season it started to come close.

5. Everybody Loves Raymond - I guess it's not cool to love Raymond, but I found the show remarkably consistent even in its final year, and one of the most relatable sitcoms I've ever seen. Most of the humor came in situations I could see myself in - not something you can say for most sitcoms.

4. Roseanne - What a train wreck at the end, but what a breath of fresh air at the beginning. A messy living room! What a concept! Roseanne at the outset was actually a good actress in the role (and for those who would snipe that playing oneself can't be that hard, I've done it, and it is) and Goodman's performance is in the best-ever category. For a while there, they handled family drama better and less sappily than any sitcom I can think of. And amidst the fighting, and the squalor, and the realism it was always just flat-out funny. Pity about how bad it got at the end. (And for one of the most dramatic examples ever of the devolution of a child actor - from unforced naturalism at a young age, to painfully self-conscious "acting" at an older age, look no further than Fishman's DJ.)

3. All in the Family - Carroll O' Connor was freaking brilliant. That the same man played Archie and that Southern sheriff on In the Heat of the Night never ceases to amaze me. It was just a completely felt, lived in performance, never showing the seams. And Stapleton's Edith was, pound for pound, equal to his example. What surprises me about the show seeing it in reruns is how, while Archie's bluster and bigotry was often nailed for being as corrosive as it would be in real life, in many an episode, it's shown in a remarkably empathetic light. See the "Meathead's draft-dodging friend comes over for dinner at the same time as Archie's friend whose son died in Vietnam" for a prime example. An almost painfully contrived set-up, but the execution was gold. The episode where Meathead and Gloria leave for California, and Meathead tells Archie that he loves him, made me weep openly.

2. Seinfeld - No depth. No lessons. No pathos. No deeper meanings. Just brilliant set-up after brilliant set-up, executed flawlessly by a genius-minus-one-cast. What's remarkable is how good the show was considering how bad an actor Seinfeld himself was. On Raymond, you could see Romano go from a stiff stand-up who wasn't really acting in early eps to a pretty damn good actor in the end. Not so here. Still, Louis-Dreyfus, Alexander, and Richards were brilliant, and the chemistry among all four was bubbling. Just like with Friends, that chemistry explains a lot of the show's success as well - just-as-sharp writing with a less meshed foursome would have resulted in a show not nearly as good as this.

1. The Simpsons - I'd call it the "best show ever." Creativity busting the seems, voice work to rival the days of Mel Blanc, a density of joke to square inch that's never been beat, a stylistic freedom live action shows can only dream of, and one of TV's all-time greatest creations in the form of Homer Simpson. An American treasure.

Until Whenever
A Toe in the Water

As the blogroll to your right attests to, I don't read any political blogs. Now, I'm not an apolitical person, but to be sure I don't invest a lot of my reading and thinking time to politics. I read the paper, but hardly read every political or hard news article every day (in fact I rarely read any such article in its entirety). I also read Newsweek cover to cover every week to get a good summary kind of view of the big stories going around, and The Atlantic cover to cover every month (or, now, ten times a year) to get some more detailed looks into specific issues and topics. But that's pretty much about it.

I'd like to start reading political blogs, but in the interest of my time and sanity I want to read two: One reasoned, non-blindly partisan, well-written, informative, and clear blog that comes from the Left (even if it will sometimes agree with the Right), and one reasoned, non-blindly partisan, well-written, informative, and clear blog that comes from the Right (even if it will sometimes agree with the Left).

So, the question is, which two should they be?


Until Whenever

Friday, July 14, 2006

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

For this week's shuffle, I thought that instead of doing a completely random shuffle, I'd instead select a random selection from my "5-Star Rock" playlist - anything in the collection that I've rated as a five-star rock song (and in my iPod I label pretty much anything that's not jazz, musical theater, or classical as "rock." Also note that I've yet to rate every "rock" song in the collection.)

1. "Original of the Species" - U2 - How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
It's so rare for rock artists to write sings about parenthood, which is just one of the things that makes me love this song so much.

2. "Not Dark Yet" - Bob Dylan - Time Out of Mind
Languid, reflective Dylan pondering the last stages of life. I cannot express enough how much I am looking forward to the new Dylan album coming out in August.

3. "I Can See for Miles" - The Who - Thirty Years of Maximum R&B
It's the dissonant harmonies on those "for miles and miles and miles . . . " that push this song into 5-star territory for me.

4. "Bye & Bye" - Bob Dylan - Love & Theft
A slow shuffle of a throwback song. Try an experiment. Play this for a non-Dylan fan and tell him it's an old song from the 30s. Bet they buy it.

5. "Rockin' in the Free World" - Neil Young - Freedom
The hard version. Just a kick-ass song.

6. "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" - Tears for Fears - Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82-92)
I can't hear this song and not see the end of Real Genius.

7. "Blood of Eden" - Peter Gabriel - Us
A gorgeously haunting, slow, slow ballad with some wonderful backup singing.

8. "If Not Now . . ." - Tracy Chapman - Tracy Chapman
Sweet-sad, guitar and piano song from Tracy's first and best album.

9. "For You" - Tracy Chapman - Tracy Chapman
Just a simple, thoughtful figure picked out on an acoustic guitar and some remarkable singing. This is probably one of her three best-ever songs.

10. "4th Time Around" - Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde
I love that playful guitar figure, almost like a happy merry-go-round riff played on acoustic guitar.

Until Whenever

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Mandy Patinkin fans (and anyone interested in theatrical singing at its best) would be well-served to check out the newly well-stocked Mandy Patinkin page on YouTube. The Chicago Hope clips, in particular, are a beautiful blast from the past--especially the "I Dreamed a Dream" clip, which I would not be surprised at all to learn earned him the Emmy he won that year (unless it was the intense rendition of "Rock-a Bye Your Baby" - also at YouTube - that did it. ) If there is any season of any TV Show I'd pay handsomely to get on DVD, that first season of Chicago Hope would be the one. There's also a nice collection of songs he did on Larry King Live in the mid-90s, including a gorgeous medley of "Casey," "The Band Played On," and "Once Upon a Time." Oh, hell, just check them all out.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

On the Impossibility of Being Emmy

Emmy nominations were over a week ago now, so I'm not going to rehash any of the "should've/shouldn't have" arguments about various nominees as that's all old hat by now. (OK, short version - no Lost is just silly; Gandolfini, Laurie, Graham, and Falco were robbed; and Stockard Channing, brilliant as she is, sucked on Out of Practice.)

What I do want to discuss, though, is how the Emmy's may never really be fixed, no matter what they do. This story does a good job of explaining how the specific episodes producers and actors submit for consideration go a long way towards explaining some nominations that may seem odd otherwise. But what the article doesn't address is that, even for a show like Law and Order, TV is a serial medium. TV should generally be judged, not on the basis of single episodes, but on the basis of a season's worth of work. And therein lies the rub. For it's obviously impossible for the members of the TV Academy to see every episode of every show. For example - as I said above, I think Lost should have been nominated. Fine. But this season I saw four or five West Wings, three 24s, no Grey's Anatomys, and no Six Feet Unders. So it's in all honesty kind of hard to really argue that Lost was better than any of those series and deserving of its spot. My off-hand, exasperated "no Lost is just silly" is, really, in the end unfair.

And just as I can't see every episode of every show, neither can the voters. The Best Series winner should be the one that is the best over the course of a whole season, the one that offers the most satisfying experience when watched in its entirety. Similarly, the best actor awards should go to the actors who best portrayed a character and his or her many character arcs over the course of a whole season. But as its stands actors and series are instead judged on the basis
of a single episode - which is why we often see lead actors on shows often get big showcase episodes at least once in a season; those are their "Emmy" episodes. And while this may be frustrating, it's really the only practical way to handle things. Again, expecting a judging member to have seen every lead actor's season's worth of episodes is, perhaps obviously, impossible.

The bottom line is that the voters will never be really judging fairly, as it's always going to be impossible to really evaluate a many series as series. And the solution as it stands - to treat a small sampling of episodes as representative of the whole - unsatisfactory as it may be, may be, alas, as good a solution as there is.

Until Whenever
Say What You Want, But That Theme Works . . .

The full trailer for Rocky Balboa is up and it's . . actually pretty promising! Looks much better, from this admittedly small, could-be-misleading glimpse, than Rocky V, that's for sure, anyway. Watching it, though, and it's simple story of an elderly Rocky looking for one final shot at glory against a very young fighter, made me realize something very elemental. If Rocky loses the inevitable film-ending bout, in a nicely symmetrical bookend to the original film, Balboa has a chance of being good. If he wins? Not so much.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!

Top Ten Sesame Street Characters

10. Amazing Mumford - Let's create a vaudevillian-esque, hammy stage magician Muppet? Very cool. Let's give him the magical, "Abcradabra"-stand-in phrase of "A-la-peanut butter-and-jelly-sandwiches?" Super cool. Let's give him a W.C. Fields accent? Genius.

9. The Count von Count - Such elegant simplicity - he loves to count. That he's a vampire is just icing on the cake.

8. Big Bird - The Elmo-haters forget that there was a more rounded, gateway character for little kids before Elmo - the hardly unpopular Big Bird. And a plus - best snore in pop culture history.

7. Oscar the Grouch - Like many a little kid at times, he hates everything. One of the best characters in the Sesame Street tradition of having one character embody a specific kid trait.

6. Bert - Hero to anal retentives everywhere.

5. Elmo - I know that as a certified Gen-X'er I'm legally bound to hate on Elmo, but I just can't do it. And I've seen first-hand the spell he can cast on younguns. Impressive.

4. Snuffleupagus - The classic imaginary friend writ real. How many of us still bemoan his reveal to the rest of the world?

3. Cookie Monster - The best of the "one trait" characters. "C is for cookie" is a mantra for living.

2. Ernie - He got way more than his fair share of great songs ("Dance Myself to Sleep," Rubber Duckie" "The Honker-Duckie-Dinger Jamboree," "that "Moon" song," but he kind of deserved them. And has anyone ever had a better laugh.

1. Grover - He's a frickin' superhero for crying out loud! How could he not get number one?

Until Whenever

Monday, July 10, 2006

Commence with the Traditional Quiz-Answering, Post Haste!

As is our wont, upon return from an extended hiatus, Mssrs. Tosy and Cosh like to stretch the blogging muscles by indulging in a quiz-meme, should one be available. Courtesy of the fine, long-haired hippie overt at Byzantium's Shores, one is:

1. Have you ever been searched by the cops?
No. Traffic tickets comprise the extent of my brushes with the law. (Correction: In high school a local cop shooed a group of friends and I out of the library parking lot. We were sitting in a friend's car, drinking blue juice drinks we had bought at the grocery store.)

2. Do you close your eyes on roller coasters?
I don't go on roller coasters, but if I found myself accidentally riding one, I would most likely close my eyes, real tight.

3. When's the last time you've been sledding?
Many years ago, but as an adult, still. The daughters will be nearly three this coming winter, and should be ripe for some sledding.

4. Would you rather sleep with someone else, or alone?
Alone in most cases - although I much prefer sleeping with the wife than alone.

5. Do you believe in ghosts?

6. Do you consider yourself creative?
I do. I even (on rare occasion) get to flex those muscles on the job some times.

7. Do you think O.J. killed his wife?
I do.

8. Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie?
Aniston. That whole "vial of blood on a necklace" thing is a major turn-off.

9. Do you stay friends with your exes?
I only had one long-term girlfriend, in high school. After we broke up, we kinds remained friends. Then, four years later, we started dating again. Now we're married.

10. Do you know how to play poker?
Only the most basic five-card draw variety, and not well.

11. Have you ever been awake for 48 hours straight?
No. 24+, but not anywhere near 48.

12. What's your favorite commercial?
Currently, Jon Lovitz hamming it up gorgeously as a Subway spokesman. Anything Lovitz does I find funny.

13. What are you allergic to?
Nothing I'm aware of (cue furious knocking of wood).

14. If you're driving in the middle of the night, and no one is around do you run red lights?
Never. Not sure why.

15. Do you have a secret that no one knows but you?
Sure. Nothing earth-shattering, though.

16. Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees?
These days, the Red Sox. I was a big Yankee fan up until about five years ago. But when Steinbrenner, after several years of huge successes, suddenly decided that he know better than the men who had been responsible for said success, I could no longer root for them. Maybe when Steinbrenner dies, I can be a fan again.

17. Have you ever been Ice Skating?
Yes, a few times as a young 'un. I sucked.

18. How often do you remember your dreams?
Very rarely.

19. When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
Ah, Lovitz. Recent Tonight Show appearance. He says to Jay, "People think I'm a Jew, Jay. I'm not. (beat). I'm Jew-ish."

20. Can you name 5 songs by The Beatles?
Who can't? I'm far too lazy to type them, though.

21. What's the one thing on your mind now?
When I get to leave the office.

22. Do you know who Ghetto-ass Barbie is?

23. Do you always wear your seat belt?
To my discredit, no, on short trips I often don't, out of horrid laziness.

24. What cell service do you use?
T-Mobile. Meh.

25. Do you like Sushi?
Not particularly.

26. Have you ever narrowly avoided a fatal accident?
Yes. A friend and I were traveling down the Interstate to South Carolina and a big 'ol rainstorm hit us. Sheets of rain, barely-there visibility, and (being stupid teenagers) we barely slow down. Out of nowhere comes a row of old toll plazas - no longer in use, but the concrete barriers between booths were still present. We had to be going 65-70, easy. In a panic, he swerves (he was driving) and we slid laterally one way then another, and manage to shoot in between two of the concrete barriers.

27. What do you wear to bed?
Boxers. Pants make me feel confined when I twist and turn in bed (which I do a lot).

28. Been caught stealing?
No. Or stole, for that matter.

29. What shoe size do you have?

30. Do you truly hate anyone?
Sure. Ann Coulter? But even people I know in "real life" I've hated. Some people suck.

31. Classic Rock or Rap?

32. If you could sleep with one famous person, who would it be?
One? Hm. Put a gun to my head and I'd have to give Salma Hayek the nod.

33. Favorite Song?
"Song" as opposed to "performance" means I go with Stephen Sondheim's "No More."

34. Have you ever sang in front of the mirror?
Sure. And on stage, and into a microphone, and in church . . .

35. What food do you find disgusting?
Raw tomatoes.

36. Do you sing in the shower?
Not as much as I used to, but yes.

37. Did you ever play, "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours?"
No, alas.

38. Have you ever made fun of your friends behind their back?
Of course. And to their faces. My best friend wrote a play in college that was one big festival of him making fun of himself, me, and two other friends. And I played me.

39. Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
Sadly, I don't think I have.

40. Have you ever been punched in the face?
Yes. And received a hairline fracture to the nose. Ah, eighth grade.

Until Whenever