Friday, May 9, 2003

THE GREAT WORK BEGINS: Well, if it were a sporting event, you'd be hearing it at the start, so now that Jen's labor has begun, why not listen to American Idol's Clay Aiken sing our National Anthem?

And send Jen and the Bun some good thoughts, 'k?

Thursday, May 8, 2003

APROPOS OF NOTHING: Well, apropos of a conversation with a group of friends over dinner last night: does Sandy Duncan, star of stage and screen, have a glass eye? I hadn't heard this rumor, but others asserted it as proven fact.

If you know definitively, email me.
WAS "DYNASTY" EVER THAT GOOD? Tim Goodman has a nice appreciation of Survivor: The Amazon in today's San Francisco Chronicle. Key graf:
[G]ive "Survivor" its due. Here's a franchise that continues to rake in viewers while remaining the gold standard for entertainment. In a genre with no long-distance runners, Mark Burnett and crew are the Borstal boys gone mad in the TV industry. "Survivor" is, plain and simple, brilliantly constructed. The format has ensured that if the casting is right -- and it's been right all but once -- human behavior will bring in all the turmoil, intrigue, humor, deviousness and thrills you could ever want.

Read on via this link.

It's too late now for newbies to hook onto all that's been great about this season, the best since the original show, but those of us who've been fortunate to follow it from sixteen castaways down to five know how special this mix of "good, bad, devious, inept and sometimes insane people" has been.
PLAY TRACK SIX, TRACK SEVEN, AGAIN AND AGAIN: In a news sure to delight less than 2% of my readership, but thrill that 2%, Superchunk (a/k/a The Gratist Band Evir) has announced the track listing for Cup of Sand, its third compilation of Superchunk singles, b-sides and rarities. Read all about it here.

For those who are new to the blog, y'all should know that its name is indeed derived from an early Superchunk song.
HOW DO YOU MEASURE A YEAR IN THE LIFE? Congratulations to American Idol evictee Frenchie Davis, who will be making her Broadway debut in Rent beginning May 16. Details here. Thanks to the reader who sent me the heads-up.

Speaking of the show, say what you will -- say what you will about the order of evictions, and whether Vanessa or Trenyce were axed prematurely or whether Josh and Goat Girl remained too long -- but the fact remains that the best three singers from among the twelve finalists are the three remaining performers, and there's something awfully nice about that.

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

DAMN: Tom Nord of the Louisville Courier-Journal hits the nail on the head of the Bob Ryan/Joumana Kidd scandal as square as a hammer can go:
One question: If Bob Ryan has been suspended for saying he'd like to smack Joumana Kidd, why wasn't Jason Kidd suspended for actually smacking her?

Via MediaNews Letters.
HOOSIER DADDY? Alabama head football coach Mike Price has already lost his job over his excessive desire to "admire beautiful women".

But if you don't kick a man when he's already down, he's got a better chance of getting out of your way. So, with that in mind, I've got to share this detail from Sports Illustrated's coverage of the scandal:
Price, witnesses told SI, left Arety's around midnight and eventually met with two women he had reportedly earlier propositioned for sex at the Crowne Plaza. One of the women, who agreed to speak to SI on the condition of anonymity, told the magazine that the threesome engaged "in some pretty aggressive sex." According to the woman's account, "We started screaming, 'Roll Tide!' and he was yelling back, 'It's rolling, baby, it's rolling!'"

At least he wasn't the coach for Oklahoma. "Sooner, baby, Sooner!"
CROUCHING UMA, HIDDEN BRIEFCASE: The trailer for Quentin Tarantino's long-awaited-slash-some-of-us-figured-he-was-never-coming-back-because-of-drugs-or-writer's-block-or-shame-after-Jackie-Brown fourth film Kill Bill is now available online. Yes, Uma kicks a lot of ass.
GREAT MOMENTS IN FILM DISS HISTORY: Today's Hot Button column reminded me of this review of Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable perpetrated by Armond White of the New York Press. It begins:
Unbreakable is the Birth of a Nation of our day. Not in terms of greatness or innovation; it simply embraces noxious attitudes that many people hold without question or shame. Like Birth, it is most dangerous in precisely the moments some people find "entertaining" -- when its childish story lulls their consciousness, or appeals to unexamined, seemingly unbreakable, social prejudices.

M. Night Shyamalan's newest film isn't anywhere near the work of art D.W. Griffith made at the beginning of cinematic feature history; but Shyamalan also uses dramatic manipulation -- and so primitively some viewers cannot resist him. They're suckers for Shyamalan’s logy, leading-by-the-hand technique -- snail-pacing with overemphatic compositions. But something more basic -- subliminal -- lures people to Unbreakable. It is the specter of racist fear that the story justifies even as it launches a dismaying, unlikely plot. Griffith's audience kept the secret of lynching; Shyamalan's politically correct audience holds on to its secreted suspiciousness -- and blamelessness. Unbreakable keeps an unholy faith.

White is completely and utterly wrong, in this filmgoer's opinion, but it sure is fun watching a guy get all worked up like this.

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

JUST DREADFUL: I think it's time for a truth to be acknowledged about this season's American Idol competitors:

None of them are that good.

We've seen enough of these final four singers to realize, unavoidably, that they're all flawed. None are as good singers as first season competitors Kelly Clarkson and Tamyra Gray; none have the ability to entertain that Justin Guarini did. Not one of them can have a successful post-Idol recording career. Let's review:

Kim Locke has a lovely voice when it's on, but it's just too inconsistent and weak at times. Too often she belts, and tries to allow increased volume to hide her lack of vocal control. And she's got a great smile, but otherwise is fairly inert as an entertainer. She does not draw you in.

Josh Gracin is an okay country singer, but his arrogance, his distracting hand gestures and his utter lack of sense in choosing material to sing are all fatal shortcomings. His range is slight, and he seeks to extend it far too often. Moreover, I just viscerally dislike him when I see him, and can't get over the tastelessness of choosing to sing (and sing badly) Kool and the Gang's "Celebration" while his Marine brothers were dying in Iraq. Josh just isn't 'pop', and may not be a good human being either.

You can't dislike Clay Aiken, but I can't see him in pop music either. He's a great interpreter of wordy, melodramatic songs, and there's a great place for that: Broadway. And there's no shame in that whatsoever. As I've said before, put him in Rent as Mark Cohen and let him shine. He's too stiff, too genial, too affected, too Up With People! to belong in competition with the Timberlakes of the world.

And, finally, Ruben Studdard. Boy's got one trick. It's a hell of a trick, being able to sing The Vulnerable Guy Who Wants You To Love Him Again role so well. But that's all he can do. No matter what genre of music the producer select each week, Ruben finds the one song that allows him to tip his cap, do his reach-the-hand-towards-the-camera lean and sing his tenor heart out. But can he do up-tempo? Can he sound sad while singing a sad song? I don't think so.

It all comes back to theme choices, as I argued last week. The show's producers have chosen themes week after week (Neil Sedaka, Bee Gees, Billy Joel, etc.) that do not allow the competitors to show their abilities to entertain in a modern context. Tonight's show was "Star Search"; it was not a show that was designed to divine who the next modern pop superstar could be, but one only measuring how many "glory notes" each competitor could hit. As TWoP's Miss Alli explains:
Enough with the Glory Note. Seriously. Seriously, seriously. You know the Glory Note, right? The one (usually, but not always, a high note) that the contestant hits and then tries to hold onto while the audience applauds and goes, "Wooo!" for no good reason? Yeah. I hate the Glory Note. The Glory Note is a mark of Star Search and beauty pageants. It is one thing and one thing only -- a note you can barely sing. If you can sing it comfortably, it doesn't come off like a Glory Note. The reason "sky" at the end of the bridge sounds like a Glory Note is that Clay can barely reach it. That's it. It's not that death-defying a note. Many quality tenors could pull it off in their sleep. I realize that, for the same reason that it's tempting to applaud ice skaters just because they don't fall down, it may be tempting to applaud people who manage to hit notes that are obviously barely within their ability, but if you think about it? It doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's not a good note at all, in this case -- it's extremely forced and reedy, and sounds exactly like the "necktie tenor" effect one of my teachers used to bitch about. If he didn't make you fear that his voice was going to crack, there'd be nothing to clap for.

Is American Idol entertaining? Sure. But without better talent, it's just "Star Search" with better production values and more entertaining judges, no more.

Just as the people on Survivor aren't America's best schemers and survivalists, nor are the competitors on American Idol a real selection of America's best singers and entertainers. They're good, not great, and so it's fun watching them on a weekly basis because they might fail, and because the structure of the show makes you want to root for (and against) individual performers. But these aren't the best pop prodigies in America, and this season, they're not even close.
AND THAT'S WHY THEY CALL HIM 'IRON MIKE': From the latest issue of Sports Business Journal (subscription required) comes this bit of endorsement news, via the Sun-Times:
The NFL has signed a multiyear sponsorship deal with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Bayer to support the launch of Levitra, "an erectile dysfunction drug expected to be approved for use'' in the U.S. late this year, according to Terry Lefton in this week's Sportsbusiness Journal. Sources said that the deal "was for more than $5[M] a year in rights fees, with media spending on NFL broadcasts expected to be in the tens of millions of dollars.'' Other sources added that GSK and Bayer have inked NFL HOFer Mike Ditka to endorse the product. Lefton writes that both companies "have been mum on the deal, since they don't want to appear they are marketing Levitra before it receives approval'' from the U.S. FDA. Lefton adds that "some of the more optimistic projections have erectile dysfunction drugs becoming the third-biggest spender in sports, after automobiles and beer.''

He was always known for his stiff upper lip and rigid demeanor, no?
AND SO IT BEGINS: CBS's official website for The Amazing Race 4 is now online.

Among the teams: two professional clowns, the NFL wives, and an out-and-proud gay couple, and Millie and Chuck, described on the homepage as "Dating 12 years/Virgins", to which I can only say that's going to be one hell of an orgasm when it finally happens.

Television's best show returns Thursday, May 29, at 8pm, with a 90 minute premiere. Do watch.
NUMBA ONE GIRLFRIEND: Today this blog (in other words, me, 'cos ain't no one else here) congratulates "Saturday Night Live" head writer and Weekend Update anchor Tina Fey, who recently secured a new two-year deal to remain at her job and develop her own projects. Read more about it here.

(For the same amount, NBC could have hired Red Sox slugger Kevin Millar (.306/369/.528). Better OPS, but not nearly as funny.)

In her honor, I'm reproducing her infamous Hefner Rant from the April 7, 2001 Update. Enjoy:
[holds up picture of Hugh Hefner and seven girlfriends] Tonight, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner will celebrate his 75th birthday. At Hefner's side will be his seven girlfriends - Stephanie, Tiffany, Regina, Cathy, Kimberly, Buffy and, of course, Tina. Because wherever two or more whores are gathered, there's always a Tina. Thanks, mom. Now, when I first saw these women, I thought the same thing we all did -- what has happened to affirmative action in this country? Hefner's dating seven blonde, white women -- not a blonde pubic hair among them, might I add. Not a pubic hair among them. Come on, though -- seven blondes? There's not a hot Asian woman you can throw in there? A light-skinned black woman? A deaf brunette? Something? Where's the diversity? When are we going to have a Hefner harem that looks like America? Am I really to believe that these women, each of them, offers you something unique?

Let's go over them, if you will. [points to first girlfriend] This one is 19, okay. Two months ago she was working at Dairy Queen, now she goes clubbing every night with Bill Maher and Don Adams. Is she better off? It's hard to say!

This one . . . [points to second girlfriend] . . . this one isn't even trying. I'm actually very disappointed in this one. What is that, a man's shirt? You are the weakest link - goodbye!

[onto the third girlfriend] This one doesn't even have a name anymore.. she's just "Girl". She's basically just there because she knows CPR.

[fourth girlfriend] This one is always next to him, always holding his hand. [in Chinese accent] She a numba one girlfriend! At 28, Tina is the oldest and has a two-year-old son. That must be a wonderful way to grow up, playing Fetch the Ashtray with James Caan in the Grotto, while your mom's upstairs praying for the Viagra to wear off so she can get you to the orthodontist on time. Fantastic.

These two . . .[points to next two girlfriends] . . . .these two right here these two are like this.. [crosses fingers] Sometimes they're like this . . . [squeezes fingers]

[final girlfriend] And this one, clearly, this one is willing to do something the others will not do. Whatever the filthiest thing you can think of -- it's a little worse than that, and she'll let you photograph her doing it. Gotta be the reason she's there.

But you know what? You can't condemn these woman, because at least they work together, they support each other, and how many woman can say that, right? And these women aren't doing it for the money. They're doing it because they were molested by a family friend. I salute you, Hefner ladies. You are making it work! Back to you Jimmy!

For what it's worth, that 4-7-01 show also featured the return of Pete Schweddy.
CHERRY HILL'S FINEST: From Will Carroll's "Under the Knife" column on (subscription required), this gem of an anecdote:
Some baseball stories are so good that, even if they aren't true, they should be. Take this one, for example--all I can find is hearsay, but it's so good, I still have to share it. When Chan Ho Park was told he was being placed on the DL, he is said to have complained to pitching coach Orel Hershiser that he was fine. Hershiser allegedly looked at him and said: "If you were healthy, you could throw strikes." subscriptions cost $33.95 for now through 2/29/04, and if you're a dedicated baseball fan, it's a site worth supporting.
LE SCANDALE: When is it appropriate for a newspaper to report on a star athlete's infideility and marital woes?

Stan Hochman discusses the case of Martin Brodeur, his sister-in-law, and a story few wanted to tell in today's Philadelphia Daily News.

Monday, May 5, 2003

NOT YET: In the meantime, muse on this:
Cinco de Mayo.
Blow out, denial.
It wasn't fun this time, letting you go.

What if I never, a bullet forever,
Held out my hand to you, we wouldn't have known
Beautiful flow,
Absolute measure, I ain't no pleasure hound
Bus' out of control, plowing the road.
Out on a bender, just Alice falling down
A deepening hole.

I'd never been to Rome until you smiled.
You're about as old and piled.
I used to pray for snow...
Now I just wonder what spell I was under,
Thinking you thought of me as
Something to hold.
I'd never been to Rome until you smiled.
You're about as old and piled.

Cinco de Mayo.
Burn-out, Ohio.
It wasn't me this time, letting you go.

--Liz Phair, "Cinco de Mayo"
off Whip-smart (1994)

Sunday, May 4, 2003

TO HELP POUR OUT THE RAIN: Congratulations to grizzled Nashville session player Buddy Jewell for winning the inaugural Nashville Star competition on the USA Network last night. As his prize, Buddy gets to record an album for Sony/Nashville, which will be produced by country star Clint Black.

I liked this show from day one. Not just the only show on television featuring Gina Gershon's sister, Nashville Star distinguished itself from American Idol and its competitors by daring to feature legitimately talented performers, top-to-bottom. People who wrote their own songs and played their own instruments, and were judged accordingly.

(C'mon, dawg: as much as we all love Ruben Studdard, can you imagine him having to write a song?)

You can listen to some of Buddy's heartfelt music on his website, including "Lacey's Song", a single scheduled to hit radio tomorrow. (Note to the Nigels and Simons of Idol: tomorrow, not eight months after the competition ended.)

Other competitors with music available online include soulful Tejano/country singer John Arthur Martinez, a fellow finalist, and Amy Chappell, whose songwriting and charm made her the WeinBo house favorite.

In addition, the official website has a number of video clips from the competition, including Anne Louise Blythe's nice countrified take on Warren Zevon's "Poor Poor Pitiful Me".

Here's hoping for a Nashville Star 2, one with a better time slot on a more-watched network. But nothing about the show itself needs to change, not at all.
ENRON MEETS THE HIPPIES -- AN UPDATE: Anyone remember the whole Weavers Way Co-Op financial crisis this blog covered a few months ago?

Anyway, today's Inquirer Magazine has a comprehensive article on the scandal. How bad was the problem?
The co-op's cash reserve fund was missing $35,000 - and nearly empty. Suppliers and other creditors were owed $265,000. Retirement money withheld from employees' paychecks had not been deposited in 401k accounts. The co-op had been writing bad checks, thousands of them, for years. Chestnut Hill Bank had been covering the checks, but charging fees. Because the checks were being covered by the bank, the co-op's vendors were being paid - usually late, but paid all the same. But the overdraft fees were mountainous. At $32 per check, Weavers Way had spent $91,000 on overdraft fees. Those costs had not been recorded in the co-op's general ledger. All told, Weavers Way was looking at debts of more than $400,000.

As the Co-Op's most recent member update gently puts it, "We have limited confidence in the accuracy of our financial reports going back for a number of years."

Read the article via this link.

Remember, kids: trust, but verify.
STILL DIRTY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: Ladies and gentlemen, Ol' Dirty Bastard is a free man again.

The fomer Wu-Tang Clan member had spent two years in upstate New York on felony drug possession charges, and most recently was placed in a Manhattan mental institution as officials questioned his fitness to return to society.

(Dirty's? Naw. Not the man who had bum-rushed the Grammys stage in 1998 while poor Shawn Colvin was accepting an award in order to protest Puff Daddy's win for best rap album, noting, "I went and bought me an outfit today that cost me a lot of money, 'cos I figured that Wu-Tang was gonna win. I don't know how you all see it, but when it comes to the children, Wu-Tang is for the children," only to get overshadowed by Soy Bomb in our collective memory of the event.)

ODB had been arrested at the Grays Ferry McDonalds (not far from Penn's campus) while on the lam from drug treatment. Philadelphia Weekly recently hailed that McDonald's (yes, I'm digressing) as one of the 103 things it loved most about Philadelphia (#28).

Anyway, born Russell Jones, the ODB has abandoned his name, plus former nom-de-lyrics Osiris and Big Baby Jesus, and would henceforth like to be known as Dirt McGirt. In addition he has signed a new deal with Roc-A-Fella Records, and is also being tailed by a VH-1 camera crew for a reality series, tentatively titled “On Parole With ODB.”

Portions of Mr. McGirt's press conference are available via this link, and you can read more about his past run-ins with the law through this article.

Let's all welcome ODB back to free society. I'm guessing, though, that Wendy's is more his thing these days . . .