Friday, March 30, 2007
1. "No Place Like London" - Stephen Sondheim - Sweneey Todd Live in Concert 2000
From the Lincoln Center concert, featuring opera and musical theater performers. The concert's balance got unfortunately shifted too far to the musical theater side when Bryn Terfel had to pull out as Sweeney at the last minute.
2. "Hollywood (Medley): It Only Happens When I Dance with You" - Mandy Patinkin - Mandy Patinkin
A rollicking good time.
3. "When the Saints Go Marching in" - Louis Armstrong - The Essential Louis Armstrong
New Orleans' most famous son sings its most famous song.
4. "Poison Moon" - Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True
Slight acoustic thing.
5. "Talkin World War III Blues" - Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series, Vol 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964 - Concert at Royal Philharmonic Hall
I have to admit that I've never really cared for this song.
6. "Gloomy Sunday" - Elvis Costello - Trust
See, but here Elvis shows that he can do a fine, gorgeous job with just an acoustic guitar and a standard.
7. "Love Is Blindness" - U2 - Achtung Baby
A somber, steeped-in-sadness song, and one that features one of my favorite Edge guitar solos, a short solo comprised of one stabbing note that he somehow manages to wring deep emotions from.
8. "Cheer Up! Smile! Nertz!" - Thomas Newman - Cinderella Man
A depression ditty (not really written by Thomas Newman; I just don't have the original artist info in my iPod).
9. "Peter, we've come to take you home." - Benjamin Britten - Peter Grimes
The end of the opera. Peter's last two supporters in the town tell him to take his boat to see and sink it before the townspeople arrive to lynch him. He does.
10. "Digging a Ditch" - Dave Matthews Band - Busted Stuff
Some nice acoustic guitar in this one.
I've read a lot of takes and comments on this Wednesday's Lost out in blogland, and there seem to be two theories:
That this was a course correction instated by the writers after they realized how much the fans hated, hated, HATED! Nikki and Paulo.
That this was, more or less, the plan all along.
I'm in the latter camp. I think the intent was from the beginning to take a little time this year to see what the other survivors (and I haven't dome the math - how many are we down to now?) have been doing, and to do so by focusing on one pair, integrating them lightly into the early eps, and then indulging in one meta-bomb of an episode in which we saw how they had been interacting all long. As others have pointed out, too many elements from earlier episodes (Paolo using the toilet in the station, Paolo acting fishy when Nicki wanted to go there) fit too neatly with this episode to have been reverse engineered in.
But the most common complaint I'm reading, regardless of which school of thought is ascribed to, is that the episode was a waste, in that it didn't move the story forward at all. And every time I read a sentiment like that I can't help but marvel. A waste? I laughed more at this episode than maybe any other Lost episode to date. The meta references, the seamless incorporation of Nikki, Paolo, and Arst into earlier footage (especially the crash), the twisty nature of the story, the delicious reveal of why we were getting such specific time tags when we realized that "eight hours earlier" meant that the paralysis was about to wear off--I was highly entertained!
And let's face it - the show will run for at least four seasons, probably five. And with 100+ episodes to fill I really don't think every one can move the ball of the overall plot forward. No, too many of these would not be appropriate to the tone of the show, but two or three a season? That works for me.
I've been feeling a little guilty for my earlier snarky comment at my beloved Mandy's expense. That the man has been down to chew the odd bit of scenery is hardly news, and the drama he shows in that Larry King clip can be kind of comedic, but two things come to mind.
First is that he was doing Larry King to promote his concert series. Accordingly, the performances he was doing, performances culled from that show were performances designed to play to big 1,000-seat theaters, not to a camera ten feet away. So some of the gestures, the extremity, can be forgiven when you realize that they really are designed for the concertgoer in the back of the house.
Second is that, contrary to popular belief, the man can underplay an emotional moment. Below you will find Exhibit A, one of my favorite moments from one of my favorite TV series ever. This was, I think, the second or third episode of Chicago Hope, and we've just found out that our main character, Patinkin's Dr. Jeffrey Geiger, a character who has already been clearly established as an egocentric, rude, genius surgeon (no, House didn't invent the type), has a wife in a mental institution, a wife who years ago drowned their baby son in a bathtub. This moment was the end of the episode, and it may well have been what won Patinkin the Emmy that year. The way he underplays the grief, the way he lets us see that his wife's request for a song is fraying on his nerves, and how much how part of him is just playing to shut her up, and the way that the music almost makes things worse for him, by making it harder to keep the emotions he's felling buried - all these things are just remarkably played out. Chicago Hope went to the "Geiger sings" well probably a bit too often, but here the device works beautifully.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Note - I'm republishing this piece, a favorite of mine, because now that I know how to embed the video it works a lot better.
As I think I mentioned here before, I firmly and irrevocably, and with no irony or insincerity of any kind, believe that Kermit the Frog's rendition of "Bein' Green" is one of the greatest vocal performances of the 20th Century. Seriously. I am speaking only of that original performance from Sesame Street, 1969 according to YouTube. I've heard other Kermit renditions since that have nowhere near the artistry and power of this one. Renditions where Henson is clearly just marking time, or just isn't as committed as he was for that first performance. And I say this not as a slight against the great Henson - after all, he wasn't really a singer. But in that original performance? He achieved an artistry and a unity of song and singer that many a ridiculously talented singer could only dream of achieving.
The first sound we hear (apart for some crickets) is a repeated piano chord, soon ornamented by a jazzy, but not too-jazzy guitar line. With the first line, "It's not that easy bein' green," we are surprised by how down, how defeated, really, this piece of green felt feels. The piano chords modulate down and we hear the next line ("Having to spend each day the color of the leaves"). Listen to how Kermit/Henson his that "color" - he's not spitting it out, but he's cutting it short with a sense of fatalism that cuts to the bone.
I love how in the next line he underplays the "red, or yellow, or gold" lines - there's no conviction, no real hope that he could ever be those things. He's going through the motions, as is made clear at the end of the line, where he can barely muster up the energy to sing "something much more colorful like that."
The next verse starts with a repeat of the first line - and this time we almost hear a catch, a break in his voice on the word "easy." What's so amazing here is that on this kid's show, Henson is singing with such a committed sense of finality, of not quiet reflection, but real sadness. There's no pulling of the punches. It's astonishing. After that repeated line, we hear for the first time a melancholy flute joining the guitar, emphasizing the sense of dispiritidness. As Kermit sings "you blend in with so many ordinary things" we can again hear the resignation in his voice, especially in the way he pauses ever-so-slightly before the word "ordinary." As he finishes the verse, listen to how he employs that same just-behind-the-beat cutting-short technique on the lines "pass you over" and "shiny sparkles."
As the bridge begins, some twinkly xylophone-sounding tones signal a shift in mood. Now we get to the switch in viewpoint, the part of the song where Kermit realizes all of the good things about being green. And what I can never get over, no matter how many times I hear this original version, is how he refuses to make the song into something it's not. Even as he sings the words, he's still down, still resigned, still sad. "But green is the color of spring," he sings, and yet even as the notes go up and attempt to sound uplifting, Henson/Kermit keeps his voice low-key, de-emphasizing the rising melody. "Green can be cool and friendly-like." There is a shift, don't get me wrong, but it's much subtler than you would expect - or than it is in other renditions. Even at the putative climax, "big, like an ocean, or important, like a mountain, or tall like a tree," Kermit downplays the epiphany and emphasizes the melancholy. Kermit may acknowledge that there are advantages to being green, but, and this what makes this version of the song so brilliant to me, he clearly still wishes to be something besides green. And still knows that he never will be.
What a remarkably mature, deep, and subtle message to try and pass on to kids! As time has passed the accepted message of the song is to love who you are--and, yes, that's also part of it. But when sung right,the message is also that we all have limitations, and that it's OK to be saddened by them. I can't help but repeat - astonishing!
For the closing, Kermit acknowledges that he will always be green. And listen to that final "why wonder" - the inevitability of his condition, of life, is supremely evident. "I'm green, and it'll do fine. And it's beautiful. And I think it's what I wanna be." Listen hard to that "beautiful." Listen hard to that "wanna be. And note the presence of that wonderfully non-committal "think" in the lyric. Do you believe him? I don't.
The clip below is a promotional piece done for a production of Kurt Weill's opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogany featuring, amongst legit opera singers, musical theater stars Audra McDonald and Patti Lupone. That classically trained Audra McDonald is so comfortable, and sounds so good, in an operatic mode is no surprise; that Broadway belter extraordinaire Patti LuPone sounds so good in her brief clip is a real treat.
P.S. - If you surmised that this post is more or less an excuse to try and embed video for the first time you'd be right. But still - LuPone sounds good!
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
"Elitists go to operas they don't understand because it makes them feel separate from the rest of society; blue-collar drunks watch pro wrestling for the exact same reason."
Chuck Klosterman--Fargo Rock City
I've been on a Chuck Klosterman kick recently, having read in the last few weeks both Chuck Klosterman IV and Fargo Rock City, and in the last months Killing Yourself to Live. This reading has elicited many laughs and more nods of agreement than I can count. Klosterman is a witty, involving, creative writer whose take on popular music can sustain my interest even when I know nothing about the music he's discussing - a rare feat. But the biggest "aha" moment for me, the quote that elicited the biggest nod of agreement, was the above. I love the notion that those who would disdain popular culture for high art they really have no passion for (or even real understanding of) are no better (or worse) than those who embrace empty culture precisely because of its emptiness. Klosterman can embrace art that many consider unworthy with the best of them (Fargo is after all about 80s heavy metal), so the quote shouldn't be taken as a shot at any common-appeal pop culture. But it should be taken a a shot against the willful embrace of either the high or the low in defiance of the middle. The bottom line is that I know people who fall into both camps, and Klosterman's accusation that their real goal is to set themselves as apart from the rest - either by deliberately declaring their tastes to be "higher" or "lower" than the rest of society's is head-on.
Read more Klosterman. It'll do 'ya good.
Monday, March 26, 2007
- The deliciously anticipated Princess Bride musical, with music and lyrics by Adam Guettel and book by William Goldman has fallen apart, apparently due to a demand by Goldman of 75% of the rights. I thought that Guettel was the perfect choice for the material and was very excited to hear what he was going to come up with. If the report is true, then I call a pox on Goldman's house!
- My TiFaux's untimely death has made me miss the last third of this season's Battlestar Galactica, and from what I've been seeing, last night's finale was quite the shocking bit of TV. Now I have to try and wait months without spoiling myself. Arg.
- The folks over at A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago, in the comments thread to this post, are relating a blind gossip item that indicates that How I Met Your Mother may be headed to cancellation land. No!
- The newest Spider-Man 3 trailer, which reads less like a trailer and more like a three-minute summary of the film. Having read the comics, there are story beats I'm aware of, but I do not need to see so many plot points spelled out so neatly.
Friday, March 23, 2007
1. "Barkley Superhero (Nike Commercial)" - Danny Elfman - Music for a Darkened Theatre
One of the odder pieces in my iPod.
2. "I Cried for You" - Billy Holliday - Ken Burns JAZZ Collection: Billie Holliday
An early, upbeat recording.
3. "Stories of the Street" - Leonard Cohen - The Songs of Leonard Cohen
A light glossing of flamenco-style guitar in this urgent song, highlighted by some nice background organ work.
4. "The Wild Wild Sea" - Sting - The Soul Cages
Epic Sting, with a long, moody, wonderful story-song about an eerie dream in which the narrator finds himself on a black ship in a stormy sea. The Soul Cages is wildly underrated.
5. "Teachers" - Leonard Cohen - The Songs of Leonard Cohen
More Spanish-inflected Cohen.
6. "Linus & Lucy" - George Winston - The Music of Vince Guaraldi
Winston has a wonderful touch with the mood pieces on this disc ("Cast Your Fate to the Wind," "The Great Pumpkin Waltz"), but really doesn't have the jazz chops for this one.
7. "International Echo" - Elvis Costello and Alan Toussaint - The River in Reverse
I'm really beginning to suspect that Costello can record anything convincingly.
8. "Boy Wanted" - Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Gershwin Songbook
Sweetly swinging ballad with some nicely effective flutes complementing Fitzgerald's sweet and easy voice.
9. "I Want You" - Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde
One of the few Dylan songs that could arguable be termed "sprightly." I love the way the countermelody on guitar meshes with the primary vocal melody on the verses.
10. "Old King" - Neil Young - Harvest Moon
An ode to a faithful hound dog. Sometimes the simplest ideas work the best.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Random Top Ten!!
Top Ten Overtures
10. 110 in the Shade - Sprightly, Copland-esque Americana with bright brass and seeping strings.
9. The Most Happy Fella - Grandly romantic.
8. The Light in the Piazza - A light, sweeping, yet lush overture.
7. My Fair Lady - Hits all the right notes.
6. Man of La Mancha - Best use of acoustic guitar in an overture (or musical).
5. Carousel - An "overture" that features no melodies from the show but that stands on its own as a gorgeous piece of music that still manages to anticipate for us the themes and melodic structures coming. Genius.
4. Jesus Christ Superstar - Love that ominous organ hum and sinister guitar melody at the beginning, and how at the end the triumphant announcement of the "Jesus Christ Superstar" theme is immediately hushed by spooky, distant choral voices.
3. Candide - A perfect morsel of gaiety and fun for an orchestra. This gets done by orchestras all the time.
2. Merrily We Roll Along - Like a slap to the face, an adrenalin shot of energy.
1. Gypsy - The gold standard. Styne was truly inspired on this score and it's signaled by this brassy piece of beauty.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
From James Tata I see this fun meme to try out on your novel-in-progress.
Turn to page 123 in your work-in-progress. (If you haven't gotten to page 123 yet, then turn to page 23. If you haven't gotten there yet, then get busy and write page 23.) Count down four sentences and then instead of just the fifth sentence, give us the whole paragraph.
The below is from my finished novella/unfinished novel Seeing the Ball, which I wrote as my thesis for my Masters degree in English.
Filling her lungs with a deep, audible gulp, like a drunk filling his belly with liquid courage, Jennifer started to speak, then hesitated, as the words caught in her throat and a fat tear slipped quietly from one eye and fell, unnoticed, onto the liverwurst in her hands. “Yes, she might. But she might not. The doctors just don’t know. They told Aunt Mary that she was fine for now, they were able to stop the bleeding and get her pretty much cleaned up, but that the damage to her br..brain might be too much. They really can’t say what will happen; they said we just have to wait for her to wake up.”
Earth-shattering in its brilliance, huh! My intent is to someday expand this episodic novella into a full-fledged novel, but, well, pure, undiluted laziness has kept me from yet doing so.
Via Amazon, I see that September 1st will see the publication of a hardcover collection of each of August Wilson's landmark "Pittsburgh cycle" plays - one play for each decade of the century that together chronicle the black experience in America in the 20th century. I've seen only two of these in production (The Piano Lesson and Joe Turner's Come and Gone, both in wonderful university productions at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University) and have read a few others, but would absolutely love to have the complete collection, especially in such a handsome format. Alas, financial prudence will most likely compel me to wait for the inevitable paperback version.
Monday, March 19, 2007
This list of "all-time great" albums, assembled by retailers with an eye towards mass popularity more than anything else, has been making the rounds. Taking a cue (but a much less exhaustive one) from Tom, here are some thoughts.
Bold = I Own It
Italics = I Want It
Underline = I actively want nothing to do with it
Let me also state that I'm not concerning myself (mostly) with what "belongs" and what doesn't, nor with what order these are in. I think it's pretty clear that no one (including whoever put it together) really thinks these are the "best" albums, but they are all important in the sense that they are either acclaimed or wildly popular, and I think looking at it from that perspective is worthwhile.
1. THE BEATLES – SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND
I know I am supposed to have an opinion, but I really don't. Don't have it and am not all that curious about hearing it.
2. PINK FLOYD – DARK SIDE OF THE MOON
3. MICHAEL JACKSON – THRILLER
4. LED ZEPPELIN – LED ZEPPELIN IV
Truth be told, Zeppelin bores me.
5. U2 – JOSHUA TREE
My favorite album ever. See here.
6. THE ROLLING STONES – EXILE ON MAIN STREET
7. CAROLE KING – TAPESTRY
8. BOB DYLAN – HIGHWAY '61 REVISITED
Brilliant, but no Blood on the Tracks.
9. THE BEACH BOYS – PET SOUNDS
I like it, and "God Only Knows" is sublime, but not sure I buy the hype.
10. NIRVANA – NEVERMIND
Only acquired recently. Good, but didn't shatter any worlds, certainly. (Then again, I know now most of the songs through cultural osmosis; maybe if I had bought it in 1991 I would think differently.)
11. PEARL JAM – TEN
12. THE BEATLES – ABBEY ROAD
13. SANTANA – SUPERNATURAL
It's pretty much universally acknowledged that that Rob Thomas song is the highlight. And I hate that song.
14. METALLICA – METALLICA
15. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – BORN TO RUN
I have the Essential Bruce CD, though, so I'm not in any particular hurry to get this either.
16. PRINCE – PURPLE RAIN
Curious. I know nothing about Prince save what you hear on the radio, and almost nothing about that even.
17. AC/DC – BACK IN BLACK
Not my style.
18. THE ROLLING STONES – LET IT BLEED
19. THE DOORS – THE DOORS
20. GRATEFUL DEAD – AMERICAN BEAUTY
Want it primarily because of its use in the last episode of Freaks and Geeks, honestly.
21. SHANIA TWAIN – COME ON OVER
Way not my style.
22. THE WHO – WHO'S NEXT
23. STEVIE WONDER – SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE
24. FLEETWOOD MAC – RUMOURS
25. PINK FLOYD – WALL
26. ALANIS MORISSETTE – JAGGED LITTLE PILL
27. NORAH JONES – COME AWAY WITH ME
28. EMINEM – MARSHALL MATHERS LP
Not a rap fan. . .
29. OUTKAST – SPEAKERBOXX-LOVE BELOW
But I've heard too much good stuff about this to not be curious.
30. DR. DRE – THE CHRONIC
31. BEASTIE BOYS – LICENSED TO ILL
32. GUNS 'N ROSES –APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION
Best debut ever?
33. DIXIE CHICKS – WIDE OPEN SPACES
34. MILES DAVIS – KIND OF BLUE
One of the best things ever. I include on that list stuff like, you know, oxygen.
35. THE EAGLES – HOTEL CALIFORNIA
36. DEF LEPPARD – HYSTERIA
I was thirteen; what did I know?
37. SOUNDTRACK – GREASE
38. MARVIN GAYE – WHAT'S GOING ON
39. THE BEATLES – THE WHITE ALBUM
40. SOUNDTRACK – SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
41. JIMI HENDRIX – ARE YOU EXPERIENCED?
42. THE BEATLES – REVOLVER
43. BOSTON – BOSTON
Not a fan.
44. BON JOVI – SLIPPERY WHEN WET
I was young and naive once.
45. U2 – ACHTUNG BABY
Genius. See here.
46. WHITNEY HOUSTON – WHITNEY HOUSTON
47. LED ZEPPELIN – LED ZEPPELIN II
48. DAVE MATTHEWS BAND – CRASH
49. THE ROLLING STONES – STICKY FINGERS
50. GREEN DAY – DOOKIE
51. LED ZEPPELIN – HOUSES OF THE HOLY
52. JONI MITCHELL – BLUE
Just got this a few months ago, and I see what everyone has been talking about. Gorgeous stuff.
53. ELVIS PRESLEY – ELVIS AT SUN
54. AEROSMITH – TOYS IN THE ATTIC
55. LAURYN HILL – THE MISEDUCATION OF LAURYN HILL
56. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – BORN IN THE U.S.A.
57. 50 CENT – GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN'
58. AC/DC – HIGHWAY TO HELL
59. NOTORIOUS B.I.G. – LIFE AFTER DEATH
60. VAN HALEN – VAN HALEN
61. GREEN DAY – AMERICAN IDIOT
62. BLACK SABBATH – PARANOID
Ozzy's voice grates horribly.
63. EMINEM – THE EMINEM SHOW
64. JEWEL – PIECES OF YOU
65. COLDPLAY – A RUSH OF BLOOD TO THE HEAD
66. MEATLOAF – BAT OUT OF HELL
Theatrical rock that takes all of the bad qualities of theater music and none of the good.
67. USHER – CONFESSIONS
68. KID ROCK – DEVIL WITHOUT A CAUSE
69. GEORGE HARRISON – ALL THINGS MUST PASS
70. BILLY JOEL – THE STRANGER
I like Joel well enough, but don't really feel a need to own his music.
71. EAGLES – HELL FREEZES OVER
72. VAN MORRISON – MOONDANCE
73. R.E.M. – AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE
74. PHIL COLLINS – NO JACKET REQUIRED
Another from the impressionable youth stage of my life.
75. METALLICA – MASTER OF PUPPETS
6. FAITH HILL – BREATHE
77. JOHNNY CASH – AT FOLSOM PRISON
78. JOHN COLTRANE – A LOVE SUPREME
79. PINK FLOYD – WISH YOU WERE HERE
80. MICHAEL JACKSON – OFF THE WALL
81. MARVIN GAYE – LET'S GET IT ON
82. BOB SEGER – NIGHT MOVES
I do not like Bob Seger.
83. PAUL SIMON – GRACELAND
84. LINKIN PARK – HYBRID THEORY
85. PRINCE – 1999
86. DEF LEPPARD – PYROMANIA
87. JANET JACKSON – CONTROL
Not a dance music fan either.
88. RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS – BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK
89. DIRE STRAITS – BROTHERS IN ARMS
Some filler tracks alongside some great sonic rock. And "Brothers in Arms" is an all-time great.
90. TUPAC – ALL EYEZ ON ME
91. MATCHBOX TWENTY – YOURSELF OR SOMEONE LIKE YOU
92. RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS – CALIFORNICATION
93. LED ZEPPELIN – PHYSICAL GRAFFITII
94. NELLY – COUNTRY GRAMMAR
95. CREED – HUMAN CLAY
96. THE CLASH – LONDON CALLING
97. CELINE DION – FALLING INTO YOU
98. NEIL YOUNG – HARVEST
99. SOUNDTRACK – DIRTY DANCING
100. DIXIE CHICKS – HOME
101. TOM PETTY – FULL MOON FEVER
102. VAN HALEN – 1984
103. SOUNDTRACK – TITANIC
Loves me my James Horner.
104. CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG – DÉJÀ VU
105. TLC – CRAZYSEXYCOOL
106. BECK – ODELAY
107. KENNY G – BREATHLESS
108. N.W.A. – STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON
109. SEX PISTOLS – NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS
110. THE BEATLES – RUBBER SOUL
111. RADIOHEAD – O.K. COMPUTER
112. SIMON & GARFUNKEL – BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER
113. DIXIE CHICKS – FLY
114. METALLICA – AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
115. MICHAEL JACKSON – DANGEROUS
116. MARIAH CAREY – DAYDREAM
117. SOUNDTRACK – TOP GUN
118. ELTON JOHN – GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD
119. THE POLICE – SYNCHRONICITY
120. NO DOUBT – TRAGIC KINGDOM
121. THE ROLLING STONES – BEGGAR'S BANQUET
122. R. KELLY – R.
123. TOOL – LATERALUS
124. OASIS – WHAT'S THE STORY MORNING GLORY
125. BOB MARLEY – EXODUS
126. JOURNEY – ESCAPE
127. CHRISTINA AGUILERA – CHRISTINA AGUILERA
128. JAY-Z – BLUEPRINT
129. ALICIA KEYS – DIARY OF ALICIA KEYS
130. SOUNDTRACK – O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?
131. THE CARS – THE CARS
132. ENYA – A DAY WITHOUT RAIN
133. NATALIE COLE – UNFORGETTABLE: WITH LOVE
134. SOUNDTRACK – FOOTLOOSE
135. LIONEL RICHIE – CAN'T SLOW DOWN
136. SARAH McLACHLAN – SURFACING
137. BONNIE RAITT – NICK OF TIME
138. METALLICA – RIDE THE LIGHTNING
139. SHERYL CROW – TUESDAY NIGHT MUSIC CLUB
140. FRANK SINATRA – IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS
141. EARTH, WIND & FIRE – GRATITUDE
142. ZZ TOP – ELIMINATOR
143. WILLIE NELSON – RED HEADED STRANGER
144. JOHN LENNON – IMAGINE
145. TONI BRAXTON – TONI BRAXTON
146. ETTA JAMES – AT LAST
147. ELVIS PRESLEY – ELVIS PRESLEY
148. CAT STEVENS – TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN
149. SMASHING PUMPKINS – MELLON COLLIE & THE INFINITE SADNESS
150. DAVE BRUBECK – TIME OUT
Everytime I go to buy it I realize that I already have hafl of it through compilations. Still.
151. JANET JACKSON – JANET
152. QUEEN – A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
153. OZZY OSBOURNE – BLIZZARD OF OZZ
154. WILL SMITH – BIG WILLIE STYLE
155. PRINCE – SIGN O THE TIMES
156. PUBLIC ENEMY – IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLIONS TO HOLD US BACK
157. BOB DYLAN – BLOOD ON THE TRACKS
158. GEORGE MICHAEL – FAITH
159. BOYZ II MEN – COOLEYHIGHHARMONY
160. DESTINY'S CHILD – THE WRITING'S ON THE WALL
161. JAY-Z – THE BLACK ALBUM
162. AVRIL LAVIGNE – LET GO
163. THE FUGEES – THE SCORE
164. MADONNA – LIKE A VIRGIN
165. LED ZEPPELIN – LED ZEPPELIN
166. STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN – TEXAS FLOOD
167. STONE TEMPLE PILOTS – CORE
168. ORIGINAL CAST – PHANTOM OF THE OPERA HIGHLIGHTS
Yay! Musical theater!!!
169. JETHRO TULL – AQUALUNG
170. TUPAC – ME AGAINST THE WORLD
171. DAVID BOWIE – RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST
172. SHAKIRA – LAUNDRY SERVICE
173. SOUNDTRACK – FORREST GUMP
174. AL GREEN – CALL ME
175. CURTIS MAYFIELD – SUPERFLY
76. LIVE – THROWING COPPER
177. GEORGE BENSON – BREEZIN'
178. THE WHITE STRIPES – WHITE BLOOD CELLS
179. LYNYRD SKYNYRD – PRONOUNCED LEH-NERD SKIN-NERD
180. SADE – DIAMOND LIFE
No.181. FLEETWOOD MAC – FLEETWOOD MAC
182. PAUL McCARTNEY & WINGS – BAND ON THE RUN
183. BEYONCE – DANGEROUSLY IN LOVE
84. ANITA BAKER – RAPTURE
185. NAS – ILLMATIC
186. BARBRA STREISAND – A STAR IS BORN
187. EARTH, WIND & FIRE – THAT'S THE WAY OF THE WORLD
188. ANITA BAKER – RHYTHM OF LOVE
189. JAY-Z – IN MY LIFETIME VOL 1
190. LL COOL J – MAMA SAID KNOCK YOU OUT
191. STEELY DAN – AJA
192. WILLIE NELSON – STARDUST
193. ARETHA FRANKLIN – SPARKLE
194. ANDREA BOCELLI – ANDREA
195. BOB DYLAN – BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME
196. LUTHER VANDROSS – NEVER TOO MUCH
197. U2 – ALL THAT YOU CAN'T LEAVE BEHIND
198. RUSH – 2112
199. OUTKAST – AQUEMINI
200. GRAND FUNK RAILROAD – WE'RE AN AMERICAN BAND
Not sure why it's taking the wife and I so long to rewatch the second season of our beloved Once and Again, but it is. I've been posting on each ep as we rewatch them - and the last such post was dated July 18, 2006! But over the past two weekends, we've caught up on a good chunk of the season. So:
Episode 9: Scribbling Rivalry
The episode that set up the ongoing sexual harassment/office politics storyline, with a new consultant coming in at struggling Pages Alive (the lit-website that Lily works as an assistant at) and wreaking havoc. This storyline was never a favorite of mine, nor was pretty much any of the Pages Alive stuff. I did like, however, the subplot with Judy discovering that Lily has basically stolen her "singles meeting through shared literary tastes" idea for Pages Alive and calling her on it. The show always did a fine, fine job of honestly and realistically portraying the sticky relationships siblings can have, and Ward and Hinkle play off of each other extraordinarily well.
Episode 10: Love's Laborer's Lost
A Judy-centric episode, with the character dithering over whether she should follow her heart and pursue a relationship with the soft-spoken laborer Will Gluck or continue to see the charming, if closed-off, professional she has been dating. As was so often the case on this show, sharp and insightful writing and acting work in concert to elevate pretty boilerplate plot material. And the same goes for the "teens-in-lust" subplot with Eli falling for Grace's somewhat stereotypically "bad" friend Carla. throughout its run, the show did a wonderful job of capturing the real pain that someone like Judy would face as a sensitive, smart woman who very well may never find the love and family she wants and who envies her sister for having just that.
Episode 11: Thieves Like Us
A stand-out from the season and the run of the show, and all the more impressive given the run-of-the-mill-nature of the plot - Jess' glitter makeup goes missing from her room and everyone suspects "bad-girl" Carla. The stuff that Bradys are made of, right? But the episode does a superb job of juggling the complicated emotions that can seem overwhelming to teenagers. It's really Grace who steals the makeup, in a confused attempt to act out against Carla and Eli, who seem oblivious to the effect their intense romance and dalliances are having on third-wheel Grace. Whalen is just great in her scenes - I know I've gone on at length about the tragic waste of her talents post-show, but she makes it hard for me not to gush in this episode. That very specific teenaged sensitivity, and fear of never finding someone, of constantly being on the outside looking in, is something she nails completely. Also worth mentioning is Evan Rachel Wood's performance in the episode - in particular in a scene with her psychiatrist where she confesses to stealing the glitter from her mother in the first place. As the shrink coaxes her to admit that she did it because she was upset with her mother for never having cared about being beautiful for her father, Wood makes us, all over again, feel the pain that still exists for these kids at their parents' break ups. It's a testament to the vision for the series that it never sweeps those constant emotions under the rug.
Episode 12: Suspicion
A plot-moving episode, with Karen getting an injunction against Rick's construction project and Karen breaking up with Leo because she can't see a real future with him. Also, we get more movement on the Pages Alive plot, with Graham coming on to Lily and Lily eventually accusing him in front of Christie of harassing her. The execution is as good as usual, but in the end this was a fairly forgettable episode.
Episode 13 - Edifice Wrecked
More drama around Rick's big project, with Grace joining the picket line against him. We also see David (Rick's partner, as played by Todd Field, and who is ostensibly a series regular) quit in disgust over the project. While not a classic episode, I liked how it gave Campbell a chance to play despair and depression, qualities he did a fine job of limning throughout the run of the show. The real big plot point of the ep, though, was Rick's somewhat bleary late-night proposal to Lily, which he seemed to be doing for all of the wrong reasons. Lily, touched at first, worries about his motivation and kind-of-sort-of turns him down.
Episode 14 - The Other End of the Telescope
The infamous "hostage crisis" episode. A busboy at Jake's restaurant, having had enough with the abusive chef, takes a Sunday brunch's worth of diners (and Grace and Tiffany) hostage, demanding an apology from the absent chef. O&A fans at the time scoffed at this episode, which seemed like (and certainly was, to a degree) an attempt by ABC to artificially inject some ER-type drama into the series and, hopefully, shore up what was a very flagging audience. seen now, from some distance, the motivations seem a bit more organic, with the emotional heaviness of having her daughter be in such a situation providing Lily with the clarity she needs to recognize that she loves Rick and does want to marry him. The drama and gunplay still come across as pretty heavy-handed, but I was impressed with how well the writer(s) was/were able to flesh out the character of the busboy in such a short span of time. The notion that a very naive, perhaps borderline mentally, young man could misinterpret the messages of hundreds of films and TV shows and bring a gun to work to make a bully respect him comes off as actually very specific, and more or less plausible. It is also in this episode that we learn that Tiffany is pregnant.
Episode 15 - Standing Room Only
Fallout from the engagement and the hostage situation is dealt with. A pretty standard O&A episode, wit the families (and Rick and Lily) clashing over a new step of becoming a new family, but a well-executed one. Everyone deals with the practicalities of Rick moving in with Lily and her kids in comic manner. The end of the episode, though, in which Rick and Lily force the kids to air their concerns at a family meeting, is nicely done, and lets us see the burgeoning dynamics between the four kids clearly,as they band together to mock and dismiss their ineffectual parents.
Episode 16 - Aaron's Getting Better
Patrick Dempsey returns for the first time all season as Lily and Judy's paranoid schizophrenic brother Aaron, who is doing better than he has in a long while. One of the all-time great episodes, with Dempsey a true revelation in the cliched actor role of playing "mentally challenged." What's so truly touching about the episode is the developing rapport between Grace and Aaron, and the way Aaron is able to comfort a heartbroken Grace when the boy she had assumed would be her first boyfriend turns her down. What was also illuminating for me was the subtle and effective method the writer and producers came up with for portraying Aaron's schizophrenia. Like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, Aaron sees a fedora-ed authority figure who really isn't there, but where in that film the treatment of the imaginary figures seemed almost cartoony, here it's dealt with much more subtly. The three imaginary figures Russell Crowe sees in A Beautiful Mind might as well be real - we as the audience are given no reason to doubt what Nash is seeing until later in the film. I understand that this was done to protect the surprise we the audience get when their imaginary status is revealed, but it also had the effect of making schizophrenia seem almost harmless, or extremely simple. Whereas, here, we get the sense that some part of Aaron knows that this mean, critical figure is imaginary and that he nonetheless can't help but react to what he says. we never see the figure's face, but only see him and, a few times, see him in profile, which does wonders to suggest the strange nature of how Aaron must see him. Of course all of this is accomplished only through Dempsey's excellent, subtle, and sympathetic work.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Stephen Sondheim's "No More" is one of my favorite songs. It's an achingly searching, defeated, pensive song about wanting to give up in the face of the constant challenges life hurls in our faces. The song is a duet sung between a father and son, as the father tries to gently, somewhat sarcastically, talk his son out of running away from his troubles.
The way the song is structured, the son sings the intro and then the father comes in, singing in a ruminative, deliberately simple, nursery-rhyme-esque melody, "they disappoint, they disappear, they die but they don't/They disappoint, in turn I fear, forgive though they won't." And in that sing-songy melody, the "don't" and "won't" lines are set on a sudden drop down the scale - "they" (relatively high) - "DON'T" (low).
In reading through the vocal score many moons ago, and in haltingly playing my way through the song, I realized something not evident on the cast album - that those two words are actually different notes. The second drop, the "don't," drops to (if memory serves) an A-flat, while the "won't" is an A. And since then, whenever I see a production or hear a recording of this song, I listen to see if the singer nails those intonations, if he or she gets at that depressing, flattened, off tone on the "don't" in what is otherwise a simple sing-songy melody. And no one ever has. Not Mandy Patinkin on his first solo album, not Tom Aldredge (Tony Soprano's father-in-law!) in the original, not whoever played the Mysterious Old Man in the recent revival, not any of several high school kids I've seen. No one.
And that bugs me.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Watching a Law and Order: SVU rerun last night and noticed something. Being that it films in New York, Law and Order is famous for making extensive use of Broadway actors, including, of course, musical theater actors--in fact, series regular BD Wong had the lead in the recent revival of Sondheim's Pacific Overtures. And last night's episode also featured not only Christopher Sarandon, who was recently in The Light in the Piazza, but also musical theater luminary Bernadette Peters as a hard boiled defense attorney, so my musical theater neurons were buzzing. Then, at one point in the plot, the detectives track down a poison that was shipped from overseas - from Kanagawa, Japan, specifically. My mind immediately started humming "Welcome to Kanagawa," from Pacific Overtures. So - was this an intentional nod by the show's writers to its musical theater connections? Or a specific nod to Wong's recent role in that musical?
Or am I being silly?
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Monday, March 12, 2007
I posted earlier about how my Ti-Faux exploded leaving me exposed and rudderless. The gory details about what its untimely demise has wrought:
- Haven't seen the last three episodes of Veronica Mars (and yet remain remarkably ignorant of the identity of Dean O'Dell's killer!)
- Missed my first Lost in two years last Wednesday.
- Am now three (I think) episodes of Heroes behind, and am almost a month into the "Psychic cop, radioactive guy, and bluetooth girl invade HRG and Claire's home" cliffhanger.
- Still haven't seen that Gilmore Girls Lane's shower ep that the machine died during.
- Was going to give The Black Donnellys a try. Not anymore.
- Have only seen bits and pieces of American Idol, not being able to record and speed through.
- Missed the last new Office and a few 30 Rocks, Scrubs, and ERs.
- Missed STEPHEN SONDHEIM - Tosy and Cosh oracle and figure of worship - on THE SIMPSONS - Tosy and Cosh "best television program ever. Yes, Charlie Brown, AUGHHH! indeed.
- The networks only offer streams, and for some reason watching TV on my laptop at home never seems to happen. for one thing, I watch most of this stuff with the wife, and it's not the most comfortable viewing situation to share a laptop screen.
- The iTunes stuff won't for some reason download right on my laptop, and watching a TV show on the monitor in my basement is just not enjoyable. Also, at $1.99 a pop, that habit could get expensive and right quick.
Random Top Ten!!
Top Ten Bob Dylan Songs
10. "Bye and Bye" - A slow, sly shuffle of a song featuring some great organ fills and some very corny jokes ("I'm sitting on my watch/So I can be on time.")
9. "Moonlight" - A delicate, old-fashioned courting ballad. ("Won't you/Meet me/Out in the moonlight alone?")
8. "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" - There's a demo version on the No Direction Home soundtrack, a version Dylan cut for the record company to help sell the song to artists, that's just gorgeous in its simplicity.
7. "Not Dark Yet" - An aching look at the end of life.
6. "Just Like a Woman" - One of Dylan's most-covered gems. I'm fond of his 1975 live version, faster and more rocking than the traditional acoustic version.
5. "Visions of Johanna" - Another song that's withstood many interpretations, many by Dylan himself.
4. "Tangled Up in Blue"
3. "A Simple Twist of Fate"
It was the one-two punch of these stellar acoustic songs on Blood on the Tracks that really made me fall in love with Dylan in the first place.
2. "Like a Rolling Stone" - The tipping point, and perhaps the most important song in rock and roll history.
1. "Sugar Baby" - This Love and Theft closing track is completely haunting in its stately, slow funereal cadences and in the way Dylan invests the lyrics with such weariness and resignation. A master class in singing.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
I love that the US government sees fit to name 25 recordings worthy of taking extraordinary measures to protect for posteriy each year, and then does it. 225 recordings have been carefully arhived and would presumably survive a nuclear holocaust. That's just cool.
This year's additions:
2006 National Recording Registry (in chronological order)
"Uncle Josh and the Insurance Agent," Cal Stewart (1904)
"Il mio tesoro," John McCormack, orchestra conducted by Walter Rogers (1916)
National Defense Test, September 12, 1924 (1924)
"Black Bottom Stomp," Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers (1926)
"Wildwood Flower," The Carter Family (1928)
"Pony Blues," Charley Patton (1929)
"You’re the Top," Cole Porter (1934)
"The Osage Bank Robbery," episode of "The Lone Ranger" (December 17, 1937)
Address to Congress, December 8, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt (1941)
Native Brazilian Music, recorded under the supervision of Leopold Stokowski (1942)
"Peace in the Valley," Red Foley and the Sunshine Boys (1951)
Chopin Polonaise, op. 40, no. 1 ("Polonaise militaire"), Artur Rubinstein (1952)
"Blue Suede Shoes," Carl Perkins (1955)
Interviews with William ‘Billy’ Bell, recorded by Edward D. Ives (1956), representing the Edward D. Ives Collection held at the Maine Folklife Center, University of Maine, Orono, Maine and the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
"Howl," Allen Ginsberg (1959)
"The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart," Bob Newhart (1960)
"Be My Baby," The Ronettes (1963)
"We Shall Overcome," Pete Seeger (1963) recording of Pete Seeger's June 8, 1963, Carnegie Hall concert
"(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction," Rolling Stones. (1965)
"A Change is Gonna Come," Sam Cooke (1965)
"Velvet Underground and Nico," Velvet Underground (1967)
"The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake," Eubie Blake (1969)
"The Wailers Burnin’," The Wailers (1973)
"Live in Japan," Sarah Vaughan (1973)
"Graceland," Paul Simon (1986)
I know this isn't news, but the depths of the man's arrogance and snobbery are distilled quite nicely in this week's Newsweek. In a new weekly feature in which a prominent author lists five great books, Bloom, in three quick moves, makes his pomposity and the weight of his ego clear to all:
1) Asked to make more "unusual choices" Bloom refuses, and lists as his first "mot important book" the complete works of Shakespeare. See, he's far too important to play by silly Newsweek's rules.
2) He, when asked about a book he cared most about sharing with his kids gave worthy respect to Lewis Carroll's Alice books, before saying "They will last forever, and the Harry Potter books are going to wind up in the rubbish bin. The first six volumes have sold, I am told, 350 million copies. I know of no larger indictment of the world's descent into subliteracy." First, I have no doubt that history will prove him utterly wrong. I suspect strongly that the Potter books will be read and cherished for many, many decades to come. Second, the contention that Rowling's novels are "subliterate" is cheap, elitist, and, most grossly unfair, flat-out wrong. Having read the Carroll and Potter books, I'd make the claim that Rowling, while falling short of some of their achievements (the sense of absurdism, the poetry) she easily eclipses them in other ways (the subtle shading of character, the ingenious plotting). Ass.
3) Asked to cite an important book he hasn't read, Bloom answers (seriously - go look yourself), cannot think of a major work I have not ingested." Well la-dee-da, Mr. Fancy Pants. Seriously, can you imagine a more arrogant way to answer that question? I can't.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
When I first got into U2 in the late 80s, I certainly never imagined the kind of figure Bono would become. Listen to this speech and see if you react the same way I did. With a sense that this man - this still-young man, lest us forget - is going to do a lot of good in the world in the, not years, but decades to come. That this man, when I am in my eighties and telling stories to my grandchildren, will be the historical figure they will be most eager to hear stories about. That he will be in the history books, and in the 21st century magazine recaps. That he will be influential.
Courtesy of Tom the Dog, via Roger Green:
1. Name a movie that you have seen more than 10 times.
The original Star Wars films. In all honesty, there may not be any other movies I've seen more than ten times. Maybe The Shawshank Redemption.
2. Name a movie that you've seen multiple times in the theater.
I rarely see movies more than once in the theater, but I did see the original Star Wars and Return of the Jedi twice each. And I saw Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace three times.
3. Name an actor that would make you more inclined to see a movie.
Morgan Freeman. Always good.
4. Name an actor that would make you less likely to see a movie.
Um . . . Paris Hilton? No, she's not an actress. Rob Schneider.
5. Name a movie that you can and do quote from.
The Princess Bride. "Life is pain. Anyone who says different is selling something."
6. Name a movie musical that you know all of the lyrics to all of the songs.
Beauty and the Beast. "Rather like my thighs!"
7. Name a movie that you have been known to sing along with.
Beauty and the Beast. "No denying she's a funny girl this Belle!"
8. Name a movie that you would recommend everyone see.
The Princess Bride. Seriously, do you know anyone who has seen it that doesn't like it?
9. Name a movie that you own.
I own lots of expected titles, but a favorite less-known film is the underrated screen adaption of Terrence McNally's play Love! Valour! Compassion! about a group of friends, all gay men, who meet at a summer home over three weekends (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day) one summer. A lovely, moving, touching film that happily features almost all of the original Broadway actors.
10. Name an actor that launched his/her entertainment career in another medium but who has surprised you with his/her acting chops.
Most recently, Jenifer Hudson in Dreamgirls. Did not see that coming.
11. Have you ever seen a movie in a drive-in?
12. Ever made out in a movie?
13. Name a movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven’t yet gotten around to it.
So, so, so, so, so, so, so many. Two will suffice. Old? On the Waterfront. New? Pan's Labyrinth.
14. Ever walked out of a movie?
Nope. Tempted, but no.
15. Name a movie that made you cry in the theater.
Monsters Inc. "Kitty."
17. How often do you go to the movies (as opposed to renting them or watching them at home)?
Nowadays, three or so times a year. Sad.
18. What’s the last movie you saw in the theater?
19. What’s your favorite/preferred genre of movie?
Big genre pictures with lots of special effects. In the theater at least.
20. What’s the first movie you remember seeing in the theater?
One of those Bugs Bunny compilations, with some new connective stuff surrounding classic cartoons. I must have been very little.
21. What movie do you wish you had never seen?
Can't remember the title - that Kim Basinger live action/animation thing where she's a cartoon sexpot. Horrid.
22. What is the weirdest movie you enjoyed?
Mom and Dad Save the World, starring Jon Lovitz as the evil leader of an enemy planet and Terri Garr and Jeffrey Jones as the titular Earth-saving Mom and Dad. Lovitz is genius.
23. What is the scariest movie you've seen?
As a kid, the film that freaked me out the most was The Toy, with Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason. Not sure why, but I had nightmares for a while.
24. What is the funniest movie you've seen?
Airplane!. Most laughs-per-minute.
Monday, March 05, 2007
Lots of blogs and magazines have posted lists of those rare "celebrity" blogs that are actual real blogs and not never-updated, bland PR sites masquerading as blogs. I don't read any of them, but recently came across the website and blog of Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown. I'm a fan of Brown's work, or at least his work on CD (I've yet to actually see a production of any Brown play), and was delighted to see that his blog (and site) are the real deal. He's clearly posting himself, and while he plugs like any good artist hawking his wares, he's also unguarded, open, and pretty frank about his music, his shows, and the state of musical theater in general. Do check it out.
As I think I've mentioned before, I dabble in fiction writing and have been published by a few on-line literary journals in the past. The now-defunct site E2K published a poem of mine entitled "Thirteen Pianos" back in 2002 and the site New Works Review published my Star Wars-themed story "A New Hope" several years back. (I posted that story here). And now the literary journal Canadian literary chapbook Tickled by Thunder has published my short story "TKO." The story was actually published last winter, but I just last week got my contributor's copies. It's funny; this is hardly the big time (I'm not sure what Tickled by Thunder's circulation is, but I'm guessing low hundreds, if that), and yet seeing for the first time a story of mine in print - even if it's photocopied, stapled print - is quite the thrill.
If you go the the website, you'll see that they don't publish stories on-line, so for the curious, here is my first "published-on-paper" story, "TKO."
Samuel lay on the slightly springy floor of the ring, blood running into his right eye through an open cut directly above the eyebrow. Through the currently swelling left eye, the one not being overrun with blood, he could dimly make out the ref’s hands dramatically demarcating the final ten seconds of his long and uneventful career.
He still remembered the first time he had gone to a gym with his father. In his twenty some odd years as a professional boxer, he’d talked with a lot of other fighters about their first memories of the sport, bullshit sessions in dank and moist bars buried in the pits of cities too numerous too remember. Most of them said that their first memories were of the sound. That incessant thwap-thwap of the bags around the gym being hit. But for Samuel, it was the smell. Even now, thirty three years later, every time he walked into a gym that particular mélange of sweat, dull and basic, like weak ammonia, mixed with just a pinch, a barely-there memory, of the coppery sharp penny smell of blood, brought him back to that first day with his father.
“Stick with me, Sammy, just stay right here, you hear?” Sammy didn’t need to be told; he knew enough, even at five, to be intimidated by the half-naked, glistening men that ringed the room like notches on a numberless clock. Primarily, it was the harsh and painful-sounding grunts they made as they punched bags, each other and the air itself; the room sounded dangerous, sounded like something Sammy instinctively knew he wanted no part of. Walking across the crowded floor to the ring, Sammy couldn’t help but imagine, hard as he tried not to, what it would feel like to be hit by one of those punches, what it would feel like if it were his face at the other end of the glove instead of the bag. With the shuddery delight familiar to all five-year olds attempting to torture themselves, Sammy tried to figure out exactly what such a punch would feel like. Would it sting, like the time last month his mother had slapped him for trying to grab a pot of boiling water off of the burner? He had been surprised then by the stinging quality of getting hit; it was almost as if he had been to the doctor and gotten a shot, only in his cheek instead of arm or ass. Or would it be more like the time he had fallen and hit his head on the stairs? A dull and aching pain that throbbed instead of burned?
As these ponderings passed through his young consciousness, Sammy passed relatively close to one of the boxers hitting the bag. To most other boxers, never mind five-year olds, this one would have been huge; from Tommy’s vantage point, weighing in at 3’9 and at barely fifty pounds, he was gigantic. Perhaps the numbers were inaccurately inflated by the sheer difference in scale, but Sammy guessed that he must have been about 6’8 and at least 275 pounds. At least. The route he and his father were taking toward the ring brought him close enough to this large boxer to make out details, and while he couldn’t tell you anything else about the boxers present that day, how many there were or what they were doing, even with his consciousness graying there on the mat, seven seconds at the ref’s count away from retirement, Sammy could still see every detail of Rudolph that day in the gym.
His hair was shaggy and unkempt, a dirty blonde that seemed truly a dirty blonde, twisted into dreadlock-like strands by the sweat of his workout. The stringy ropes hanging down his neck were streaked different colors not by a lifeguard’s bottle of peroxide, but by sweat. Sammy would have looked over his face without incident, not noting the brown eyes, large vertical forehead or incongruously long and dainty eyelashes at all, were it not for the man’s nose. It had been broken, two or three times at least, but Sammy didn’t know that. All he knew was that it looked like someone had taken it off and put it back on wrong, as if a game of “got ‘yer nose,” that kid’s game he sometimes played with his little sister, had gone horribly awry.
In any case, nose or no nose, it was really the punching that had so captured Sammy’s attention. The man holding the large, duct-tape-patched bag for the giant was a small, older man; many years later Sammy would be sitting in a dark movie theater, slowly snaking his hand down his girlfriend’s blouse, when he would be spooked by the uncanny resemblance between Burgess Meredith’s character in Rocky and the old man with the giant that day. What had so grabbed his attention was that the small old man was being lifted clean off the ground, almost two feet into the air, with each punch of the bag. The giant’s arms were monstrous, and as he pounded the bag Sammy could only imagine what a punch like that would feel like. Perhaps his head would explode. Sammy grinned slightly at the thought, at the idea of his head just cracking apart and splashing the ring, his father suddenly covered with Sammy-brain and Sammy-blood.
"Wait here, Sammy. Just sit and don’t move. I’ll be right back.”
Lost in his thoughts, Sammy hadn’t noticed his father talking to the man by the ring. He watched as his father hurried off towards the back of the gym, lime-green gym bag in hand. Doing as he was told, Sammy sat down in one of the old aluminum chairs next to the ring, choosing one that, not coincidentally, gave him a clear view of the giant working out. Sammy found himself entranced by the way the sweat flung off of the giant’s back and shoulders as he moved; in the way it was effected by his repetitive movements it was almost dance-like. Sammy found himself trying to predict when the next splash would come, when enough sweat would have trickled between the fighter’s shoulder blades to be thrown off in a sprinkler-like spurt. It was while Sammy was deep within this particular pondering that his father returned. He was dressed in nothing but a pair of red boxing shorts with a white stripe down the sides and a pair of gleaming white sneakers; that is, unless you counted the black headgear he wore as clothing, which Sammy did not.
“You ready to watch your old man kick some ass?” The question startled Sammy - the trip to the gym had not been explained. His father had merely said, as Sammy sat watching Spider-Man do whatever a spider can on the TV, “we’re going to the gym, let’s go,” and, of course, Sammy had went. It hadn’t occurred to him that his father would be fighting.
“I thought you were old enough to see a little sparring up close kiddo, you know, see the old man in action. Thought you might enjoy it.”
Silently, Sammy nodded. He didn’t know quite what to think about his father fighting. It could be exciting; on the other hand, and this last was not quite a conscious thought, Sammy realized that if his father were to lose this “sparring match” he might not be the most pleasant companion for the rest of the afternoon. After all, if he got angry enough to shout and curse at the TV when a fight he was watching wasn’t going the way he wanted it to, what might he do if he was the losing fighter?
“Rudolph – you’re up.” The giant that Sammy had been so studiously observing stopped his frenetic bag workout and stepped into the ring.
“You’re fighting him!” They were the first words Sammy had spoken since entering the gym.
“Yea, you don’t think I can take him?” Sammy’s father was grinning and Sammy just shook his head.
“No, Dad, I know you can take him.” It was the first time Sammy could remember deliberately lying to his father.
They were well into the third round of the match and his father was getting pummeled (Sammy had no idea how many rounds there would be; he just hoped that there weren’t that many left). Even with the protective headgear, his face was cut up and raw in a number of places. He was breathing heavily, with sweat coating his entire body, not in the healthy sheen Sammy had noticed on the other boxers, but in an oddly greasy looking layer of sludge. Rudolph hardly looked as if he had been fighting for three rounds; his breathing wasn’t anywhere near as labored and strained-sounding as Sammy’s fathers. Sammy just sat and watched, cringing with each blow that landed. His father was by no means a small man, but even he looked miniature next to the giant. Most of the blows that Rudolph landed staggered Sammy’s father enough so that he took a few steps back; Sammy could only think of the old man being lifted into the air.
And, then, without warning, Rudolph managed to land a solid, square blow. Not quite an uppercut, it nonetheless lifted Sammy’s father into the air and sent him crashing onto the ring floor.
Sammy screamed. In the noisy gym, with all the shouting, grunting and hitting that was going on, not to mention the loud outburst that had erupted at the blow from the small crowd that had gathered to watch the sparring match, no one heard him. And it was a short scream, as soon as it had started Sammy stopped it, knowing that his father would not approve of such a reaction. Sammy cautiously looked down to the mat to see how his father was, afraid of seeing blood, or worse. Instead he saw his father leap to his feet and charge at the giant.
He had a look on his face that Sammy was thankfully not too well acquainted with - he was furious. Sammy looked on in awe as his father reached the giant in two long strides and started hitting. Taken by surprise, the larger man let a few of the early blows land clean, big haymakers squarely hitting his head and face, and in the end those few were enough to do him in. Had he been able to fend off one or two of those early blows, no matter how furious Sammy’s father had been, he wouldn’t have been able to do much damage. But, with those two or three landing clean and hard, Rudolph, slightly dazed, wasn’t able to screen out all of the rest of them, and with each furious, hard hit, he got a little more dazed. Within a minute of the knockdown, a minute in which Sammy’s father let up for not even one second, Rudolph was down, to the astounded cheers of the gathered fight fans.
Leaping off of his chair and smiling broadly, Sammy cheered along with them. He had never seen a display like that, especially from his father, and he found it indescribably thrilling. Without even realizing it, he had clenched his little five-year old hands into tiny fists, and he shook them as he jumped up and down. It was quite an introduction to the sport of boxing, and many times throughout his career, Sammy would reflect on what an insidious gift that one day was. After all, without such a thrilling and emotional introduction to the sport, would he have kept with it for all of those years, would he even have tried it out in the first place? Who knew? All Sammy knew was that, in the end, he had.
Sammy lay bleeding on the mat, waiting for the ref to finish the interminable count, and realized that there would be no heroic late charge from him. He had spent the last twenty years trying to relive that one feat of his father’s, and had gotten beaten harder, and knocked out more times, because of it than he cared to, or even could, remember. So it was with a certain amount of peace and resignation that Sammy closed his eyes.