They Listen

 

Interesting thing happened to me recently. I know, go figure, right?

Well, I got a text from a guy named Will, who was a client of mine last year, when I was still a chauffeur. Turned out, Will was a musician, in town for some huge, weekend-long wrestling event. He loves music, and he loves wrestling, and we joked about him maybe making a career combining the two, like being a musical wrestler. Or a wrestling musician.

Anyway, we talked some about the kinds of music we like, and he said he likes stuff with a jazzy vibe to it, so I asked him if he’d ever heard of Steely Dan, whose specialty is just that. He said he hadn’t, which was understandable; Steely Dan was a little before his time. So I suggested he check ’em out; he might like them.

Hadn’t had any correspondence with the guy since.

Until this text he sent me. He said, when he heard recently of the death of Steely Dan co-founder, co-songwriter and guitarist Walter Becker, I was the first person he thought of.

(!!!!!)

Mind you, I drove this guy once.

Over a year ago.

He still remembered me, and our conversation. He said in his text, he couldn’t believe it. I texted back, “Neither can I!”

 

This was a story about how you never know what you’re gonna say to someone that stays in his mind long after you said it. Good thing for us all to keep in mind.

Will, thanks for the reminder. Great to hear from you, even if it did freak me out just a bit. Hope you’re a successful musical wrestler, now.

By the Time He Gets to Heaven

 

Before my musical taste shifted to rock, in my teen years, I listened to country and western music as a kid. Johnny Cash was my absolute, all-time favorite, but I also enjoyed hearing folks like Ray Price, Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, Buck Owens, Roger Miller and Tom T. Hall.

And Glen Campbell.

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Glen passed away Tuesday, at the age of 81, after living the last six years with, in my view, the most cruel, insidious affliction to ever befall a person: Alzheimer’s disease.

The thought of my mind slowly and deliberately eroding, eventually leaving me unable to dress myself, feed myself, or remember anyone I’ve ever known and loved, while those loved ones helplessly watch…

Rest in Peace, Glen. Your suffering is over.

Peace and comfort to you, Campbell family. You don’t have to witness it anymore.

 

Glen had the good looks, the mellifluous voice, and the instrumental skills, and he was an immensely popular recording artist, especially in the late 1960’s and ’70’s. He had tremendous crossover success, earning Grammy awards in 1968 in country and pop music. He sold an estimated 45 million records over his career.

(I’m not going to get into the toll his success took on him, personally, because really, there’s no need to do that here. Suffice it to say, he came out the other side of it.)

Above all that, though, was just the joy, the love of performing, that made him a star. You could see it every week in the late 1960’s and early 70’s on his variety TV show, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.” He put his heart into everything he sang; from the bouncy, infectious “Southern Nights”, to the resolutely optimistic “Rhinestone Cowboy”, to the wistful, apprehensive “Galveston”, to the sunny and upbeat “Try a Little Kindness.”

Then, there are my two personal favorites, both written by Jimmy Webb, one of the best songwriters ever, without a doubt: “Wichita Lineman” (beautifully orchestrated, like most of his hits), and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, still one of the most sublimely heartbreaking tunes I’ve ever heard.

Even in the face of that merciless monster he battled in his later years, Glen kept on performing, enlisting the help of his sympathetic audience for the words he could no longer remember. He even allowed a camera crew to travel with him on his farewell tour, resulting in the award-winning documentary, “I’ll Be Me.” He was not afraid to make his struggle public, which earned him high praise from former President Bill Clinton, a fellow Arkansas native.

So, if it’s been awhile since you heard you some Glen Campbell, reacquaint yourself with an old friend, and celebrate his life and career. If you’ve never heard of him, take this opportunity to listen to a truly great artist. Even if you’re not into country music, you’ll discover a good song and a good singer transcend all genres.

Adios, Rhinestone Cowboy. Thanks for all the good times, and all the great music.

 

 

So Long, Caped Crusader

 

You can keep your Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer and George Clooney and Christian Bale and Ben Affleck.

Give me the late, great Adam West as Batman every time.

West passed away recently, at the age of 88, from leukemia. Batman, based on the comic book series of the same name, was a television series that aired in the late 1960’s. And, I don’t mean, in the afternoon, when the kids got home from school. This was a primetime TV series, two nights a week!

It was basically the same every time. Some nefarious criminal would show up in Gotham City, be it the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin, Catwoman (mmm-mmmm, Julie Newmar…), or any number of oddball baddies. Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara, knowing they were inadequate for the task at hand, would call Batman on his Batphone, discreetly located in plain sight in millionaire Bruce Wayne’s study.

Bruce would take the call, upon being notified surreptitiously by his faithful butler, Alfred, “It’s the Batphone, sir.” And Bruce and his youthful ward, Dick Grayson (who was never referred to any other way) would head down to the underground Bat Cave upon Bruce’s exhortation, “To the Bat Poles!”

(I was always amazed at how these guys could change from their street clothes to their crimefighting uniforms on the way down the poles! Maybe, those things could be used as wife poles; it could cut way down on the time it takes for wives to get ready to go out. Just sayin’…)

Anyway, off they would go, Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder, to the commisioner’s office, in their superbad Batmobile. Once Commissioner Gordon brought them up to speed, and Chief O’Hara applied some appropriate curses, begorrah, then began the cat-and-mouse (or bat-and-mouse, if you prefer) game between the good guys and bad guys, culminating in a climatic fight scene.

(The fight scenes were great, because the sound effects were depicted graphically onscreen. POW! BAM! BIFF! SOCK! OOOOF! YEOWWW! That was cool.)

And then there was the dialogue. You had to grow a little older to fully appreciate just how tongue-in-cheek it was. But, it was delivered in all earnestness by the cast, which makes it so freakin’ funny when you go back and watch those shows later.

Have you figured out by now just how unashamedly corny this show was? You could almost taste the butter and salt when you watched it. But we kids loved it. Batman and Robin were our heroes. It really was a comic book come to life.

And at the center of it all was the square-jawed, supremely moral presence of Adam West. He fit the part perfectly, which turned out to be a liability for him after the Batman series ended. West found himself getting typecast in several roles following that, to his aggravation. Eventually, though, he made his peace with it. From all accounts, he was a very nice man, which should surprise no one.

To a younger generation, he’s known as the voice of the town mayor on the animated series Family Guy, but I know nothing of that. To me, Adam West was, is, and shall forever be the Caped Crusader.

Rest In Peace, Adam. The citizens of Gotham City are safe, thanks to you. 

 

 

Refill on that Large Buttered (urp)

 

Okay, film fans, here are some more favorites of mine:

Big Bad Mama – I saw this movie on my fifteenth birthday. You talk about making an impact…you coulda hung ten hats on me when I walked out of there.

Rocky – I’ve been to only one other movie that had the audience this much into it. We were all cheering for Rocky at the end, and even though he didn’t win the fight, he went the distance, and he had love, and we cheered that.

Halloween – My all-time favorite scare. This was the other movie that had the audience all in. We all SCREAMED at this chick to “Get out of there, HURRY!!!” Why don’t they ever listen?

Airplane! – Unapologetic nonsense from start to finish; I loved it. Steven Stucker, as Johnny, absolutely stole that movie.

Arthur – Sentimental favorite. My wife and I saw this on our first date. The theater we saw it in is long gone. So is the restaurant where we had dinner, and the mall we walked around in until we went to the movie. But we’re still here!

Sophie’s Choice – I can hear my wife exclaiming, “Why?” The only reason I include this one is because it has the distinction of being, by a wide margin, the SADDEST movie I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Unless you’re really, really happy, don’t watch this one.

The Silence of the Lambs – An up-close look at two horrifying personifications of evil. Anthony Hopkins, at his Oscar-winning best. Same for Jodie Foster.

Schindler’s List – This one’s sad, too, but ultimately, a very uplifting story of one man’s compassion in the face of such unspeakable evil. Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece.

Saving Private Ryan – Spielberg’s other masterpiece. World War II as we’d never seen it before. Outstanding cast led by Tom Hanks.

Liar Liar – I love Jim Carrey, and I love him best as this manic lawyer forced to tell the truth for a day. Hysterical!

Jerry Maguire – I’m including this movie for just one scene: Jerry’s “You complete me” declaration of love to his wife. The most romantic scene ever, for my money.

One Hour Photo – Best work Robin Williams ever did, in my opinion. It was like watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Positively creepy.

Sling Blade – Outstanding writing, acting and directing, all by Billy Bob Thornton. Mm-hmm.

Brokeback Mountain – Yeah, some folks made a big deal of two cowboys in love, but it was a very heartbreaking story, brilliantly acted by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. After watching this and The Dark Knight, I am convinced that Heath Ledger, were it not for his untimely death, could have ended up being the greatest actor ever; he was that talented.

Citizen Kane – As a noted philosopher once said, “Boring beyond belief.” I did sleep through this one. In 1998 (and again in 2007) the American Film Institute listed this movie as the greatest American film ever made. Shows what they know.

Oh, there’s so many others, but you know what? I’d love to hear from you, now. What are some of your favorites, and why? Let’s get a roundtable going here; this’ll be fun!

Oh, and for those of you who observe, Happy Easter this Sunday!

See you at the movies, as they say.

One Large Buttered, Please

 

It’s occurred to me: one thing I haven’t shared on this blog is my lifelong love of movies.

From the time I saw my first movie at age six, I’ve been a big fan. I appreciate how books allow you to use your imagination more, but it’s more of an investment of time, whereas a movie only demands, on average, a couple of hours.

And, on a huge screen, in a theater with several large speakers, the whole audiovisual experience just overwhelms you. For those couple of hours, you’re totally captivated. You, and an audience of complete strangers, which usually enhances the experience. Together, you laugh, cry, cheer, scream, jump or, in some cases, sleep.

So, here’s a list, in no particular order, of some of my favorites; some that I really enjoyed, or that made an impact on me in some way:

Mary Poppins – First movie I ever saw. (first one I remember seeing, anyway) It was magical; live action and animation played together, and I loved it.

What’s Up, Doc? – Still the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. Barbara Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, the late, great Madeline Kahn, and plenty of slapstick, laugh-til-it-hurts comedy.

Young Frankenstein – Close runner-up for funniest movie. Director Mel Brooks at his hysterical best. The whole cast is hilarious.

The Sting – My all-time favorite. Because it pulled off the neat trick of making the audience members believe they were in on the con, and when they found out at the end they were conned, too, they weren’t mad about it! Slick.

The Godfather, Parts I and II – Part III gets an honorable mention, but it doesn’t approach the quality of these two masterpieces. Even to criminals, family means everything. So many great performances, with Marlon Brando and Al Pacino at the front of the pack.

The Birds – To this day, any time I see several birds congregated together in one spot, I think of this movie. Some images just stay with you.

The Odd Couple – Another great comedy, with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau both owning it. Terrific writing from Neil Simon.

Jaws – Waited over an hour in the hot Texas summer sun to get in to see this movie. Absolutely worth it.

Star Wars – Another long, hot wait. Again, totally worth it. This was completely unlike any outer space movie I’d seen before. The special effects were amazing!

Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Watching that enormous mother ship rising over Devil’s Tower on a big screen, there wasn’t a jaw in the whole theater that wasn’t on the floor.

The Deer Hunter – The most nerve-wracking and, in the end, moving film about the Vietnam war, and its aftermath, I’ve seen. Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken are incredible. Also, early in her career, a great performance from Meryl Streep.

Platoon – Another Vietnam war movie. You know how, when people walk out of the theater at the conclusion of the movie, you’ll hear them having random discussions – that was great, that sucked, where are we going for dinner, blah, blah, blah?

When I walked out with the crowd at the end of Platoon, I heard…nothing. We all shuffled out like zombies, in complete silence, thoroughly stunned at what we had just witnessed. I’ll never forget that.

 

Well, there’s many more, but I think we’re gonna have to have a sequel, so this doesn’t stretch out forever. So, be on the lookout, and you can turn your cellphones back on, now.

Treadmills

 

These are the days of the open hand
They will not be the last
Look around now
These are the days of the beggars and the choosers

This is the year of the hungry man
Whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance
And legitimate excuses

The rich declare themselves poor
And most of us are not sure
If we have too much
But we’ll take our chances
‘Cause God’s stopped keeping score
I guess somewhere along the way
He must have let us all out to play
Turned his back and all God’s children
Crept out the back door

And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much, much too late
Well maybe we should all be praying for time

These are the days of the empty hand
Oh you hold on to what you can
And charity is a coat you wear twice a year

This is the year of the guilty man
Your television takes a stand
And you find that what was over there is over here

So you scream from behind your door
Say what’s mine is mine and not yours
I may have too much but I’ll take my chances
‘Cause God’s stopped keeping score
And you cling to the things they sold you
Did you cover your eyes when they told you
That he can’t come back
‘Cause he has no children to come back for

It’s hard to love there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time

“Praying for Time,” George Michael

 

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The late, great George Michael sang those words in 1990. Scary, how relevant they sound now.

Since the 80’s pop superstar’s untimely death at 53, on Christmas Day, this song, from his superb album, Listen Without Prejudice, has been playing endlessly in my head.  I highly recommend listening to it, if you never have. It’s a powerful piece.

I won’t pretend I understand everything he said in it, but a good part of it is pretty hard to misinterpret. Especially, in light of our current circumstance.

It amazes me how many songs speak, not only to their times, but to ours. They serve as sobering reminders of how little progress we human beings have really made in how we treat each other.

We just stay on our treadmill, walking endlessly and getting absolutely nowhere.

What will it take to get us off that treadmill, and actually moving forward?

What will it take for you?

The Usual Gang of Idiots

 

No, this post is not about Congress. (rim shot)

Many of you will recognize the above phrase as the description of the contributing artists and writers in each month’s issue of a favorite indulgence of mine in my youth, MAD Magazine.

I loved MAD Magazine. The satire found in its pages was consistently brilliant. Comedian George Carlin once acknowledged its influence on the development of his own satirical worldview. Though its humor was decidedly less acerbic and adult than the other classic humor magazine of its time, National Lampoon, MAD still landed plenty of hard punches to politicians, show biz types, business big shots, the media, doctors, lawyers, preachers, you name it.

With the ubiquitous, gap-toothed smile of Mr. “What, Me Worry?”, himself, Alfred E. Neuman, greeting you on the cover of every issue, MAD reliably brought the laughs, along with the relevant social commentary. It was an original.

Some of my favorite regular features from MAD were:

  • “The Lighter Side Of (something different every month),” by Dave Berg.
  • “The Shadow Knows,” by Sergio Aragones. (also his clever drawings in the margins)
  • The movie spoof, usually drawn my Mort Drucker.
  • The TV show spoof, usually drawn by Angelo Torres.
  • TV commercial spoofs, by various artists and writers.
  • “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” and the always brilliant “MAD Fold-In,” by Al Jaffee.
  • The classic, wordless “Spy vs. Spy,” by Antonio Prohias.
  • Frank Jacobs’ hilarious poems and song lyrics.
  • And my personal favorite, “MAD’s MADdest artist,” Don Martin. Hysterical. (Fact: The hardest I ever saw either of my brothers laugh was at a Don Martin cartoon.)

These great talents, along with many others, like Bob Clarke, Dick DeBartolo, Paul Coker, Jr. and Jack Davis, were far from idiots; they were smart, razor-sharp and, above all, consistently funny. Every issue had something in it to crack me up, and I greatly enjoyed reading them.

MAD Magazine is 64 years old this year, and while it doesn’t boast the readership it had back in its heyday, it still delivers on humor that is fresh, relevant and incisive.

(And Jaffee, Aragones and six other longtime veterans are still at it! They must be MAD)

But, make no mistake, before there was Spy magazine, before there was Saturday Night Live, before there was Second City Television, or National Lampoon, there was MAD, the granddaddy of satire.

The original “Up yours, the Establishment!” publication.

Happy Birthday, MAD Magazine. A toast to all you idiots.

Leonard and Leon

 

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

“Hallelujah”, Leonard Cohen

 

I love you in a place where there’s no space or time
I love you for in my life you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you

“A Song for You”, Leon Russell

 

Now, I ask you: Have there ever been any lyrics written to surpass the two examples I just presented?

Two songwriting giants no longer roam the earth.

We lost Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell in quick succession, recently. Each lived a life long and full – Cohen died at the age of 82, Russell at 74 – yet it still feels like they both departed too soon. But, boy, were we lucky to have ’em with us for awhile.

This has been a tough year for music fans.

It started with the one-two gut punch of David Bowie and Glenn Frey’s passing, followed by Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire, the loss of country music legend Merle Haggard, the tragic, untimely death of Prince, along with several more of their brilliantly talented fellowship.

And now, these two legendary figures.

If you’re not familiar with the works of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, do yourself a big favor, and get acquainted. If you want to learn about songwriting, these gentlemen are the Master Class. You might discover you know more of their songs than you thought; you just never knew these guys wrote them.

Vocally, each of them is, putting it kindly, an acquired taste. Just warning you, in case you’ve never heard them before. But don’t listen to their voices; listen to their words.

And appreciate the two peerless craftsmen who graced us with them.

Rest in peace, gentlemen. Thanks for what you shared with us.

 

P.S. – Russell’s “Tightrope” features one of my all-time favorite lines:

Like a rubbernecked giraffe, you look into my past.

Gotta love it.

 

 

Best Scare I Ever Got

People, it’s October, already. Good grief, where has this year gone?!

Well, it’s like Neal Peart, lyricist and drummer for the rock group, Rush, once wrote, “The future disappears into memory/with only a moment between.”*

Time flies, in other words.

You know why it flies? The retail industry.

Just tell me you haven’t already seen Christmas decorations in the store shelves. I know you have. That’s…just…wrong.

Anyway, I digress.

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As everybody knows, October is the month for Halloween. And Halloween, of course, is the time to get the s**t totally scared out of you. Fun, right?

One way to get a good scare is to visit one of the haunted houses in your community. You can pay good money to walk through a pitch black building, screaming your fool head off as monsters jump out of nowhere, brandishing sharp implements, chainsaws, Donald Trump photos, whatever will scare you right to the marrow of your bones.

Another good way is to go see a horror movie. A new one usually comes out just before Halloween, one that you haven’t yet watched through your fingers. That was my preferred way of getting a good scare. My preferred way now is not to get scared at all, seeing as how real life does that quite well. A bit too well.

And the best scare I ever got was in 1979, when I saw Halloween, starring Donald Plesance as Dr. Loomis, and featuring Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode.

Man, that was a scary movie!

 

It tells the story of Michael Myers, one seriously  messed-up dude. For starters, he murders his older sister on Halloween night when he’s only six years old. (Can’t start ’em too early, right?) He gets put in a mental institute, but escapes fifteen years later, and returns to his peaceful little hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois (on Halloween, naturally), and gets right to making up for lost time.

There’s almost no blood and gore in Halloween, but there’s plenty of Boo! moments in it. Michael was really good at staying hidden until just the right time, then suddenly appearing with his big ol’ knife to scare all of us to death. (Of course, the same could be said for Sheriff Brackett, only without the knife. Don’t you know it’s mean to sneak up on folks like that?)

What really made it good, though, was the audience. You can choose to watch this movie at home, by yourself (do you DARE??) or with others, but I’m telling you, you can’t beat seeing it in a theater full of shrieking, hysterical moviegoers. I hadn’t heard that much audience participation since the first Rocky movie.

I mean, people were just screaming at Laurie to HURRY UP HE’S COMING GET OUT OF THE HOUSE HURRY UP JUST BREAK DOWN THE FREAKING DOOR OMIGOD HERE HE COMES HURRY UUUUUUUPP!!!!

See, that’s the thing: we were all trying so hard to help this girl, and she didn’t listen to a word we said! Stubborn, huh?

Anyway, it was great. That’s when a movie is fun, when the whole crowd is into it like that. And, as I said, the best scare I ever got.

But, I think even it will end up in second place, behind an upcoming feature that promises to be even scarier and more horrifying:

Our Next President!

YAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!!!

 

*”The Garden”, Rush

Songwriters
LEE, LIFESON, PEART

Published By
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC