Sunday, December 30, 2007

Song du semaine: Tom Jones, "You Can Leave Your Hat On"

Great song, but you know I'm just picking it this week to have an excuse to show the Full Monty finale (warning: partial nudity shown, full frontal implied):

One of the best movie endings ever. The simple act of stripping isn't a surprise -- no director or screenwriter would let down an audience by having them chicken out at the last minute. But the scene captures the change in mood that evolves through the film. This is no longer an act of desperation to get a few bucks. This is a celebration.

It's not that everything is magically resolved. We see just enough to know that these guys are bouncing back. Dave's wife gives him a vote of confidence. They all have career prospects at last.

Gaz's son is the key here. Gaz was driven to desperation in the first place because he wanted to stay in his son's life, which wasn't going to happen unless he scraped up some money for child support. But in the end, his son gives him a little kick to get out and revel in what he created.

Beautiful stuff. Well-choreographed, too.

The song was already an oldie when the film was made. Randy Newman wrote it and recorded it for his 1972 album Sail Away. Three Dog Night apparently did a cover. Joe Cocker did the version our local rock station plays on occasion.

But seriously ... a rollicking bawdy song like this is tailor-made for Tom Jones, isn't it?

Happy New Year to all.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The days of kung fu theater and independent TV

Did anyone else grow up with local independent channels showing really terrible kung fu films? Apparently so.

Not so much these days. For one thing, we don't really have independent channels today. Now they're all affiliates of CW or whatever's passing for the sixth and seventh TV networks these days. The typical former independent station shows syndicated daytime shows, sitcom reruns and so forth. Not so quirky.

Independent TV also brought us the show Almost Live! from Seattle -- briefly national in the good old days of Comedy Central. And that brought us kung fu parodies like this:

Monday, December 24, 2007

Weird and wonderful traditions

According to the legend at the Wikipedia entry and this CBC broadcast, NORAD took over as the official Santa Claus tracker when a newspaper accidentally confused a store's "Santa hotline" with a secret phone line at the height of the Cold War. Great timing.

All I can verify first-hand is that I've been checking NORAD's Santa tracker since I first went online in 1996, and it never ceases to amaze me. (Granted, it's slightly disappointing to know that the people doing all these charming videos aren't in the nuclear blast-proof mountain in Colorado anymore, but it's still fascinating stuff.)

I'm clearly not the only one watching. This year, the videos are going up on YouTube, and you can see the hundreds of thousands of page views tonight alone.

It's one of the most incongruous productions imaginable. It's hard to imagine a job grimmer than watching the sky for impending Armageddon, and yet these folks have the sense of humor to animate Santa's sleigh doing flips past world landmarks.

Great stuff.

Merry Christmas to all, and may Santa pass through your airspace safely.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Song du semaine: BNL/Sarah McLachlan, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings"

I'll assume you've all heard this wonderful holiday favorite, but until five minutes ago, I'd never seen it synched up with another holiday favorite.

Enjoy, and everyone have a great religious or family festival of your choosing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Overheard on Dylan's radio show

We're debating whether to keep our XM subscription. A couple of local radio stations have responded to the satellite challenge with outstanding new formats, and we've had trouble picking up the signal in the living room since remodeling.

So I'm checking out the online version this morning, and I've finally had a chance to listen to Bob Dylan's show. It's wild stuff. Snippets of obscure songs and Dylan striking a hipster comedian pose, sneaking in little jokes like this ...

"A lot of people don't celebrate Christmas, like my friend Dexter Quinn. You know his favorite Christmas movie? Coincidence on 34th Street."

Not an original joke, but hearing Dylan tell it before seguing into a musing on how we "don't heard much about myrrh these days" is a unique experience.

This is why XM needs to make its original shows available on demand online for subscribers. Renewing our subscription would be a no-brainer if they did that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

*&%$ of the Irish

Reason's Hit & Run drifts away from Ron Paul discipleship long enough give us the rundown on the BBC bowing to public pressure and playing the Pogues/Kirsty MacColl Christmas classic Fairytale of New York with the f-word intact.

Not that f-word. The verse: "You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy ..."

It's always funny to see singers muddle through this line in Irish pubs. "You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap luffle (muffle), Merry Christmas you arse ..."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Attention Athenians: Good food alert

I see in your local paper that you now have Five Guys. I shouldn't be surprised. This place is so staggeringly popular in the D.C. metro area that I think several localities are considering laws requiring that any new office building must have a Five Guys somewhere on the premises.

This is, of course, blatantly unfair. You already have so many food chains that we in the supposedly enlightened D.C. suburbs do not. The Schlotzsky's in Reston is long gone. It's a long, long drive to a Bojangles or Mrs. Winner's. Waffle House? Yeah, right.

That's it. I'm moving back.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Song du semaine: Suzanne Vega, "Blood Makes Noise"

(Video is here; embedding disabled. Feel free to play it while you're reading, though it's a very short song and this is a long story.)

I've been holding on to this one until the minor medical question of two weeks ago was completely resolved. When I last mentioned it, my doctor had convinced me that I couldn't possibly have something that moved from Point A to Point B. But I still had to have Point A and Point B checked individually on the off chance that something was wrong there.

Point B was checked Thursday, a mere 12 days after my initial visit to urgent care. That was done via CT scan. If you haven't had a CT scan, I highly recommend that you do it. That recommendation is contingent on how many burning sensations you like to have at once.

First, of course, you have the pent-up agitation of waiting 12 days. See, I have a pricey HMO in affluent Fairfax County. I'm not some uninsured Chicago resident who turns up at County on ER and is quickly ushered to a scanner by a couple of pretty people who are busy arguing about the fact that they're the last heterosexual permutation on the current staff that has yet to consummate its flirtation. So I had 12 days to think of possible things that could be sitting around in my abdomen. The woman waiting next to me cracked up when I said I'd been avoiding the movie Alien.

Second, you have your barium smoothie. Make it a double. 750 milliliters or so of stuff that makes you all tingly. It's kind of like a loofah for your innards, pushed through by enough liquid to make Hoover Dam say, "Hey, guys? I need some reinforcement in Sector 3."

Third, you have iodine. Not rubbed on your arm, as if this was just a blood donation. Nope. Pumped into your blood stream. I was told I'd feel a warm sensation and possibly a few other side effects. When the scan started, I did indeed feel warm and a little loopy, with occasional twinges all through me. Then the guy said, "OK, I'm putting in the iodine now."

On your way out, they tell you to drink about 8-12 glasses of water to get that iodine the heck out of your blood stream. They were telling me this around 9 p.m. Thursday night. So, when was I supposed to drink all this? And if I could drink all that water on top of the barium still sitting in my stomach like nuclear pop rocks, would I really need the CT scan?

Basically, I had a choice between bloating and burning in the four days I was waiting to hear from the kindly folks who would scan my insides. I split the difference.

Today, I finally heard the expected reassuring results, delivered by a doctor who spoke ... very ... deliberately ... like the rabbi who hits on Elaine in Seinfeld. ("Someone .. in my .. syna-gogue .. has a .. time-share in Myr-tle Beach." Which always begged the question: "What the hell kind of New York synagogue-goer, presumably over age 30, goes to Myrtle Beach?")

It's nice, I suppose, now that it's all done. It's good to hear my heart and all my other organs are functioning as they should. But when this comes up again, I'd like to do something about that 16-day wait. I'm already a little ticked off at the medical establishment for its failure to do anything for a toddler's constricting congestion between "stick him in a warm, humid room, but watch the mold" and "strap this to his face and turn on this machine while cranking Sesame Street to a volume approximating The Who circa 1973."

One positive word about medicine: In 1991, when Magic Johnson told us he had HIV, did anyone think we'd be attending Magic Johnson Theaters rather than Magic Johnson Memorial Tournaments 16 years later? So they're doing something right.

And that leads to this song, the only tune I know that addresses fear of getting tested. Released less than a year after Magic's announcement, it's quite clearly informed by the AIDS fear cutting through society at the time. Sample lyric: "I think that you might want to know the details and the facts / But there's something in my blood denies the memory of the act."

If you only know Suzanne Vega from Luka and that dance remix of her a cappella Tom's Diner -- well, first of all, shame on you. Secondly, you're in for a bit of a shock. Like Indigo Girls, Vega pushed "folk"-rock into all sorts of interesting directions, but my fellow Georgians never veered as close to Eurotechno as Vega does here. It's a propulsive bass line and a whole lot of noise. When Vega performed this one with David Letterman's band, drummer Anton Fig played his part on a trash-can lid. (I watched that show when it aired -- I recall Dave found it quite amusing after the fact to see Anton take such a low-tech approach.)

The noisiness was the brainchild of Vega's producer and future former husband Mitchell Froom. I only mention him because a couple of years after he started dating Ally McBeal singer/appearer Vonda Shepard -- we'll just say the ink wasn't dry on any sort of separation agreement -- Vega recorded Songs in Red and Gray, which put the split in philosophical terms but has this wonderful withering cover photo. If there's ever a mixed martial arts tournament among '80s folk-rockers, my money's on Vega.

An intriguing fan site has gathered a few of Vega's thoughts on most of her songs. She opens up a few interpretations on this one, ranging from simple fear to skepticism of the doctor-patient relationship. Sounds like she was aiming for the personal level, but I hope she doesn't mind if I apply it to an HMO.

MMM Jr. goes to church

It was an "Advent lessons and carols" service, which in retrospect was not the best place for an inquisitive 4-year-old who doesn't go to such things that often.

Imagine the conversation taking place in a stage whisper ...


What is it?

When are they going to turn the lights on?

Well, they're going to light all these candles to make it brighter.

But when?

I don't know.

(Skipping ahead -- candles now lit)



Who's singing this?

See all those people up there? They're singing.

But what are their names?

I don't kn -- I'll tell you more later, can you be quiet for a while?

But why?

Because we're all enjoying the music.

Why are we enjoying the music?

Because it's nice -- please? You'll get a treat when we get home. Can you be quiet for five minutes unless you have to go potty?

OK. (Moves hand to cover mouth)





Yes, what is it?

I'm being quiet.

Good ... well ... actually, you're not -- but good. We'll leave after one more song, OK?






(exasperated) What is it?

When are they going to turn the lights on?

Remember? They lit the candles.

Is the light -- the candles -- the light on the candles? Is that fire?

Yes, but it's OK.

How do they make the fire?

We come in here and pray to Prometheus for a well-timed ... look, can you wait one more song? Please?

OK, Daddy. (Plays with his "Bionicle" toy on the hymnal.)




Wh ... What is it?

This is Bionicle's Bible.

That's sweet, son. Now can you be quiet for this last song before we go?






#$%@! What?

I'm being quiet.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Yes, this was entertainment when I grew up

Jason's blog is all full of Mellowmas glory this month. Among the many surprises, a recent Captain and Tennille song that begs the question "What the heck happened to Toni Tennille's voice?

Captain and Tennille also bring to mind a TV genre that died in the '70s -- the variety show. Oh yes, they had one. Check out the muskrats dancing on the good Captain's hat and keyboards here:

I may be completely wrong on this, but I seem to recall the Captain doing a particularly earnest segment on his love of New Orleans and its music. Or maybe it was a love of boating. No idea. Because on these shows, you really had no idea what to expect.

You might see Sonny and Cher trying to get their kid to sing.

You might see a young David Letterman on The Starland Vocal Band Show. (Yes, the Afternoon Delight crowd. They're locals, you know.)

You might see Paris Hilton's mom replacing the original Jan on The Brady Bunch Hour. Well, no, she didn't quite get the part. But you could see Tony Randall reading poetry while someone dances in a bear suit. (This horrifying show inspired a terrific Simpsons parody.)

You might see Donny & Marie, be-otch!

The closest you get to this today is the Aimee Mann traveling Christmas show, which is wonderful for those of us who crowd into places like the Birchmere to see a really odd mix of off-the-wall antics while Aimee keeps perfectly composed and sings her sad songs.

That might not have mass appeal for a prime-time ABC slot, particularly when the foul-mouthed Hanukkah fairy shows up.

But in this age of mind-numbing reality shows, shouldn't we make some room for mind-numbing variety shows? We already know Timberlake's funny -- couldn't we give him a prime-time show? Or maybe The Maroon 5 Ersatz Soul Hour? The Lohan/Winehouse ... oh, never mind.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Song du semaine: Waitresses, "Christmas Wrapping"

Pity they never shot a video for this, but at least we have some sort of weird tribute with a girl wearing headphones.

The Waitresses are known for two songs, this one and I Know What Boys Like. If you're a walking encyclopedia o' pop culture, you might also know the theme to Square Pegs.

In some respects, they were kind of a burlesque act. Patty Donahue was more of a character actress than a prototypical lead singer, which group leader Chris Butler doesn't dispute. They had a goofy sax player. At one time, they had an accomplished bass player in Tracy Wormworth, but I have no idea whether she actually played on this track.

The bass helps, as you'll notice from the head bob in the "video." It's a great groove and a great story, told with a sincerity that wins you over. (Must have been tough to shift from that to the more cynical I Know What Boys Like if they were ever asked to play them back to back.)

Amusing moments in Northern Virginia driving

I travel on the Beltway toward Tysons. Like everyone else, I get over to the right to take Leesburg Pike to Tysons, then remember that you need to get in the left-most of the two exit lanes.

No problem.

Then a minivan makes the same decision, just a lot later and in a lot more traffic.

Then the minivan hits its brakes hard.

I hit my brakes and pray ... stopping ... stopping ...

Stopped. Maybe an inch or two short of the minivan's rear bumper.

Relief turns quickly to anger. HONK! HONK! HONNNNNNKKKKK!!!!!


"Bam?" I think.

Hey, wait ... that's from behind.

Hey, I've been in an accident!

OK, let's pull over ...

Phew! The back of my car has just a scratch or two on the bumper.

The guy behind me ... ick!

But he's strangely calm. Even apologetic about my bumper, though he took the worst of it. He gives me his number and drives off.

OK, ready to merge back into traffic ...

Son of a bitch -- will someone please let me back in?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The next senator of Minnesota should be me, Al Franken

Al Franken's long on-again, off-again association with Saturday Night Live was always hit or miss for me. I never really got the Franken and Davis skits. He tended to lapse into tedious self-loathing, which sunk his promising sitcom Lateline. His books suck.

On the flip side, Stuart Smalley was a brilliant character, and he got a lot of mileage out of the "one-man mobile uplink unit."

So could I accept him as a senator from Minnesota? Seems less silly than electing Jesse Ventura governor, anyway.

Also made me wonder if I could take any other SNL stars seriously in politics. Dana Carvey made a few political comments in his stand-up, but I didn't buy it. Chris Rock says plenty of provocative things as a comedian he could never, ever say in a campaign.

I might go with Tina Fey, just on intellect and demeanor.