Saturday, June 5, 2004

THE US V. THEM YEARS: This is not the website for discussions of President Reagan's political legacy. I am glad that he is at peace, and that his suffering and the First Lady's is finally over.

But what I'm starting to think about, and this is all still in a very early stage now (so please, help flesh this out, refute it, etc.), is Reagan's impact on popular culture. I think about Madonna, and the way that her early libertinism seemed diametrically opposed to the values of the Reagan Presidency. I think about bands like the Minutemen, Minor Threat and Husker Du, an American punk movement created from a sense of alienation from the broader culture and a national political conversation unresponsive to the concerns of youth. From those same roots, of course, emerged rap music and a hip-hop culture, a bottom-up phenomenom like no other in our lifetime.

I think about Born in the U.S.A. and The Joshua Tree, albums of epic size, one that spoke of frustrations and struggling, the other of the quest for human connections to give meaning to it all.

Movies are another thing, and the movies I think about with that era largely reflect a conception of heroism in line with the Reagan ethos, and not in opposition to it. I think about John McClane and Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, lone rebels confident in their abilities and committed to their missions. I think about Marty McFly, just an ordinary kid with a smile on his face and the power to change the history of music -- and his family's future.

On the other hand, there's Blue Velvet and the films of Oliver Stone. (And? As I said, I'm still working through this.)

That's all I've got right now. I paid for this microphone, but now the floor's yours.
OKAY, SMARTY, YOU GO TO A PARTY: A three-year old from the Philadelphia suburbs fails at the finish, and so, yet again, The Curse of William Penn lives on.

Friday, June 4, 2004

SON, TAKE A GOOD LOOK AROUND: Bruce Springsteen's album Born in the U.S.A. was released twenty years ago today.

Fifteen years ago today was the Tiananmen Square massacre. For those of us old enough to remember, who watched it unfold live on television with Dan Rather narrating what he could (until authorites yanked the plug), it was era-defining and mind-opening: people really could try to change their world. We remember the lone man opposing a stream of tanks. We realized that not everything in the political universe could be stage-managed, but that an unaccountable government could still do what it wanted, brutally crushing dissent with the whole world watching, so long as it had the will.

In hindsight, Tiananmen Square connects backwards to Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement, and forward just a few months later to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Romanian dictator Ceausescu's execution and the end of the Cold War.

But at the time, all I remember thinking was, wow. This is History. Right in front of us. Live. And freedom must be pretty valuable, if this is what people are willing to risk in order to acheive it.
IF I WROTE THE LIST, JAMES BROWN WOULD BE UP THERE FIVE TIMES: Stealing Alex's beat, I have the privilege of informing you that Retrocrush has published its list of The 50 Coolest Song Parts Of All Time.

While it's deeply incomplete, it's still compulsively readable. See, e.g., #36:
Regarding [ ] Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”, the bass guitar riff has a cool piece of trivia about it deepening its impact on top of its incredible out-of-nowhere funk action. If you listen closely, the lick is actually a musical palindrome – it was played forward in its entirety, then the tape was flipped over and played backwards, the backwards lick was recorded onto another tape, and then that second recording was edited into place. . . . This kind of editing is easy to accomplish in the studio today what with fancy pants computers and stuff, but in 1986, this was a glorious and complex maneuver to pull off.

Three words missing from the list? Tin. Roof. Rusted.
YES, BUT THIS VERSION'S ACTUALLY FUNNY: One of the great mysteries of last TV season was how NBC managed to take Steven Moffat's insightful, funny, and slightly raunchy British scripts for "Coupling," and turn them into the piece of turd we saw on Thursday nights for four weeks last fall. Part of it was terrible casting, part of it was the fact that words like "pornography" are just funnier when said in a Welsh accent, and part of it was just how good the British version was. And it's back with six all new episodes, on BBC America.

The show had several jump the shark moments at the end of its last series. A couple announced they were expecting a baby and a pairing about whom we'd been asking "will they or won't they?" for two seasons decided that they would. Add to this that one of the six main characters is not returning for season 4 (without being written out at the end of season 3), and you can almost hear the immortal John Williams theme in the background. Sunday will nswer the question of whether a show can avoid jumping the shark when the sharks are circling in the water, a deeply fascinating question.
THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON'T GIVE ME ENOUGH COWBELL: Yes, according to the paragon of responsible reporting, The New York Post, O.J. Simpson has declared that he's in talks to host his own "prank show" in the vein of Punk'd, to be titled "Juiced!"

What's truly sad is that when I read it, the first thing that came to mind was this Christopher Walken "SNL" Sketch.

Link via Defamer, which is my go-to site for coverage of the truly important issues, like "Lohanboobies."
ACHILLES' SMELL: Continuing our theme of heterosexual men contemplating their masculinity, even the most butch man has been known to question his sexuality when it comes to Brad Pitt. But even if Pitt is strong enough for a man, yet made for a woman, he seemingly has never taken that paradox to its logical conclusion and applied some Secret, much less Right Guard, Sure, or Arid. In a poll conducted by Swedish showbiz expert Mikael Jagerbrand (who?), Pitt was found to be the world's smelliest celebrity.

Joining Pitt on the smelly pit list were: 2. Russell Crowe; 3. Hayden Christensen; 4. David Bowie; 5. Courtney Cox; 6. Robin Williams; 7. Christina Aguilera; 8. Cameron Diaz; 9. Metallica; and 10. Bob Dylan.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE FROM "HETEROSEXUAL MUSICAL THEATRE GEEKS OF AMERICA:" Yes, I know someone's getting whacked over on HBO Sunday night, but I'll be watching the Tony Awards, especially since the whacking will repeat many times during the week. My U.S. theatre-going has not been that great this year--I've seen only four shows that are up in the major categories ("Boy From Oz," "Wicked," "Wonderful Town," and the now-closed "Big River.") But, to make your TiVoing quicker, a run-down of the production numbers you can skip and those you should watch.

Best Play/Best Revival of a Play snippets: Skip 'em all. The Tonys have never really been able to make these work, because plays (unlike musicals) don't tend to have big dramatic moments you can "pull out" of the show.

"Everybody's Got The Right" from "Assassins." Watch it. Doogie Howser playing a presidential assassin alert!

"It Sucks To Be Me" from "Avenue Q." Watch it. Sadly, "Avenue Q" is limited in what it can perform by those pesky FCC regulations. We won't get the classic "The Internet is for Porn" as a result. Especially given that "Q" may not wind up winning a single award despite being the most critically acclaimed musical of the year (not to mention the first show of the year to recoup its initial investment), definitely worth watching.

"Not the Boy Next Door" from "The Boy From Oz." Depends on your mood. At least they're doing a Jackman-centric number, but I'd prefer they do something a little catchier and flashier, like "The Lives Of Me" or "I Go To Rio." Then again, they may wind up doing "Rio" as a separate production number for Jackman as the host. If you can't get enough Hugh, watch it. If you've had enough, skip it.

"Lot's Wife" from "Caroline, or Change." Watch it, but only if Tonya Pinkins wins for Best Actress in a Musical. It's apparently depressing and devastating, but that's not what I want in a show on Sunday night.

"Tradition" from "Fiddler On The Roof." Skip it. I mean, we all know the song. I might be more interested if Alfred Molina were doing it in character and in costume as Dr. Octopus from Spider-Man 2, though...

"Defying Gravity" from "Wicked." Watch it. I'm not sure if it'll have the emotional impact divorced from the show that it does in the show, and I'm not sure if they'll leave in or cut out bits surrounding the song that give away key plot points in the show, but this is the strongest part of the score and features an excellent visual.

"Swing" from "Wonderful Town." Watch it. I'd rather they have done "Conga!" but this shows off Donna Murphy wonderfully, and is a great time.

Oh, and predictions?

Best Musical: "Wicked"
Best Book of a Musical: Tony Kushner, "Caroline or Change"
Best Score of a Musical: Stephen Schwartz, "Wicked" (mostly because he's never won a Tony before, despite "Godspell" and "Pippin" being certified classics, but there's a chance for an upset by "Avenue Q" here)
Best Direction of a Musical: Joe Mantello, "Assassins"
Best Actor in a Musical: Hugh Jackman, "The Boy From Oz"
Best Actress in a Musical: Tonya Pinkins, "Caroline or Change"
Best Revival of a Musical: "Assassins"
Best Play: "I Am My Own Wife"
Best Actor in a Play: Jefferson Mays, "I Am My Own Wife"
Best Actress in a Play: Phylicia Rashad, "A Raisin In The Sun"
Best Direction of a Play: Moises Kaufman, "I Am My Own Wife"
Best Revival of a Play: "A Raisin In The Sun"

Thursday, June 3, 2004

WE TALKIN' BOUT PARKING: Allen Iverson seems to have a lot of friends in the world of athletics, but I'm guessing Cade McNown isn't one of them.

Able-bodied A.I.'s been parkling his Rolls in the handicapped slots at Philadelphia International Airport, and the police are none too pleased.
OYEZ, OYEZ! IT'S ALL OVER: Congratulations to David Scott Tidmarsh of South Bend, Indiana, your 2004 National Spelling Bee champion.

Buttressed by getting "kiwi" and "phalanx" as his first two words, Tidmarsh confidently worked his way through the rest of the competition while others fell by the wayside, though he was hyperventilating through the final word, A-U-T-O-C-H-T-H-O-N-O-U-S. For his victory, he wins $12,000, an encyclopedia and other booty, plus which, speaking of booty, he should be a very popular young man at the afterparty tonight. Can you spell 'prophylactic'?

For more, check out other bloggers who've been covering the festivities.
IT PAYS TO EAT FOOFY: Two of the round nine words were ones that spellers with sophisticated palates could grasp -- souchong, as in Lapsang Souchong tea, and genoise, which I've never ordered, but I knew it was some kind of dessert.

Three children remain. All boys.
SEE, THERE WAS EDUCATIONAL VALUE IN THE MATRIX RELOADED: Witness Round 7, which sees Dayton, OH's Abby Eustace miss "Merovingian." Also, sadly, the kid from Dubuque, IA can't come up with the right spelling of "Lubavitcher." I guess he'd never seen the Mitzvah Tank.

And also, a moment of thanks to the Bee staff. I'm debating whether the better gig is Auxiliary Judge or Associate Pronouncer. Finally, for a less reverential view of the Bee, check out Wonkette, who's finally moved to covering something other than women who sell themselves to government officials.
THIS ONE'S FOR THE DOGS: If you owned a Weimaraner or basenji, you were fine in round five of the Bee. Otherwise, only the most solipsistic of competitors would be happy with a round that saw another third of them perish -- except for the young woman from Chicago who drew 'solipsistic' and failed.

Seriously, it's one of those rounds where, maybe, there's five words you'll ever use in your life. Insert standard gripe.

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

NO, NO, I WANTED THAT AMERICAN LIFE: I haven't blogged about it, but the best $9.95 I've spent this year has probably been my weekly subscription to This American Life via Means I can listen to it when I want, on the go, at my convenience, and listen to any segment I want whenever I want. Particular snaps to the following episodes (links are direct to the episode page, where you can listen in streaming audio:

MacGyver: The prologue alone is worth your time, where you'll hear "And then, I'm going to take a BENADRYL!" over the "Mission: Impossible" theme music. The essays on the show aren't that great, but the opening is.

Testosterone: The first two segments, which deal with a writer whose body stopped producing testosterone and a woman's experiences in transitioning to man and the effect of testosterone, are a'ight, but the third piece is the true winner. The staff of TAL and a couple of the regular contributors all take testosterone level tests, which leads to one man bewailing "If I could be manly anywhere, I thought it would be in Public Radio!"

Fake Science: Act I, a mediocre attempt at doing a radio "Blair Witch" thing should be skipped, but Act II is a great "sting journalism" piece on scientific appointments in the federal government, and Act III features Glark from Fametracker waxing rhapsodic on the subject of People's list of the 50 most beautiful peopl.

Prom: Especially for someone who didn't go to their Senior Prom like me, this is so worth it. The first act is a bit interminable, but the interview with "Francine Pascal" (creator of Sweet Valley High) is excellent, as is the finale, a profile of Racine, Wisconsin, which televises its high school prom.
IS IT REAL, OR JUST A FACADE? Round 4 is now in the books, and it's a hard one. There's one stretch -- and they're airing the round on the Deuce as we speak -- in which eight out of ten kids go down, including five in a row on words like lumbriciform, reliquary and gastrilegous -- a word so obscure I can't even find a definition online.

Most ironic elimination? A kid representing the New York Daily News struck out on 'Gomorrah'.
WELL "SHAZAM!" I MUST "SKEDADDLE:" Round 3! Fight! Bizarre misses this round are "terrapin," "shazam," "wallaby," "ascetic," "corollary," and "scurillious."

And honestly, who can resist a competition in which the words "flibbertigibbet" and "skedaddle" play a crucial role? (Both were spelled correctly.)
HEY, DID YOU HAPPEN TO SEE THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN THE WORLD? Charlie Rich could have saved himself an awful lot of heartache had he just screened "Breakfast at Tiffany's," because, according to a new poll, Audrey Hepburn happens to indeed be the aforementioned most beautiful girl in the world, as selected by a panel of beauty experts. Rounding out the top 10: 2. Liv Tyler; 3. Cate Blanchett; (who knew beauty experts were such "Lord of the Rings" fans?) 4. Angelina Jolie; 5. Grace Kelly; 6. Natalie Imbruglia; 7. Juliette Binoche; 8. Halle Berry; 9. Helena Christensen; 10. Elle MacPherson.

Other notables in the top 100: 11. Cameron Diaz (umm, this is supposed to be a list of "natural" beauties, fellow Angel Lucy Liu is at 55, but Drew is nowhere to be found); 19. Madonna; 26. J-Lo; 27. Marilyn Monroe (for some reason, she is also No. 36); 47. Jennifer Aniston (neither of her two other "friends" made the list); and 86. Cleopatra.
BUT WILL THERE BE SERIAL KILLERS DRESSED LIKE NUNS AND MOTORIZED PNEUMATIC BRAS? Now, sadly, I'm ineligible for FOX's new reality show "The Partner," in which young lawyers compete for a partnership at a law firm, as the ads soliciting contestants require that the potential contestants not already have a law firm job. But today's Mediaweek Programming Insider brings a tantalizing tidbit--NBC is already prepping a knock-off, to which David E. Kelley is attached. A-ha! Now I have another shot--I just need to prepare to engage in all sorts of bizarre and borderline unethical behavior.
WE'RE ON A 'MARIACHI' 'HIATUS': Round two words from the National Spelling Bee are now online. It looks like the kids are getting 4/5 of them right, and, man, it's hard.

Unless you got 'hiatus'. Like, wow.
JIMMY FALLON GETS THIS, AND I DON'T? There are many times I wish I were famous, but perhaps never more than when I read about gift bags given to presenters and nominees at award shows. Now, honestly, this year's Tony gift bag is a bit of a disappointment--I mean, honestly, what am I going to do with "Gift certificate for a cut and color with Edward and Joel and a manicure and pedicure from Warren-Tricomi Salon" or "La Leash (for cell phone, keys, ID card, pen) from La Loop." (And who the hell are "Edward and Joel" anyway?)

Ah, but the gift bag isn't this year's true secret--it's what's in the "gift lounge" backstage, where presenters can pick up a gift certificate for Lasik on both eyes, an annual unlimited movie pass for two from Loews Cineplex Entertainment, and a Tempur-Pedic Swedish mattress, all for standing on stage for five minutes and delivering a couple of bad jokes. Honestly, do presenters even need this stuff? I think Nicole Kidman and Scarlett Johansson can both afford to buy these sorts of things.

And in other Tony news, the very funny Marissa Jaret Winokur, who I believe will have the honor of presenting host Hugh Jackman with his Tony, as she won Best Actress in a Musical last year, had a bit of a humiliating experience with a dresser earlier this week, but ultimately gets the last laugh, with friend Anna Wintour making sure she's fashionable.

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

NO, I'M A VERONICA: I liked, but certainly did not adore Mean Girls, which we finally saw this weekend. It was cute, and smart in parts, but it carried none of the true satiric viciousness of Heathers, and seemed to be pulling its punches in pursuit of a PG-13 rating.

That said, there's one small joke in the movie that I completely adored, and revealed a level of trust in its audience that I appreciated, but I don't want to give it away in case people are still going to see it. Check the comments.
YOU'VE GOT TO G-R-A-B T-H-E-M C-A-K-E-S: Only the first written round was held today in Beeville, the results of which, combined with tomorrow's first oral round, will determine which 90+ kids advance to the finals. You can see the round one words here, and I'm assuming the words are read aloud, defined and used in a sentence. The second half of that list is a doozy, indeed.

Also, check out the official rules, especially rule 11. Those of us who remember Jamaica's Trudy "Thank You, Sir" McLeary from last year's competition know exactly why it's in place.
HE ALSO MAKES ME MISS ROGER CLINTON: One thing I learned from watching the Miss Universe Pageant tonight -- and, really, the only thing I learned?

Ryan Seacrest is really good at what he does.

How did I learn this? Because Billy Bush -- the man who already ruined the Oscars pre-game show with his annoying questions -- is just that bad a host.

There's a skill to what Seacrest does, playing the role of the dumb, affable host in a way that doesn't insult your intelligence. He's just kinda there, and never draws excessive attention to himself.

Bush, on the other hand? Guh. Ingratiating, faux-flirty, and just plain obnoxious, When he said that the show was being held in the center of the world, meaning Ecuador, you wished it were actually being held at the real center of the world -- the earth's core -- so you could watch him writhe in pain as he melted into nothingness.
AND IN RELATED NEWS, SUPREME COURT HOLDS THAT CAKE IS DELICIOUS: As someone involved in litigating a case in which the major legal statement "Consumers are sophisticated enough to distinguish between vodka and rum" was made, I've always had a soft spot for unusual legal opinions. Today, we have a topper to that--the Seventh Circuit's opinion in Crue v. Aiken. Crue involves certain First Amendment issues connected with the University of Illinois' use of "Chief Illiniwek" as a mascot/symbol and NCAA regulations involving contact with prosecutive student athletes, but the legal analysis isn't what fascinates here. No, it's the two-page discussion of the judge's favorite college mascots, in which he holds that the best college nickname is the "UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs," and footnotes to "Pulp Fiction," that wins the day here. Read. Enjoy.

Thanks to Bashman for the pointer.
AND NEXT, LEAH LABELLE AS GYPSY ROSE LEE! Yes, we have more bizarre Broadway casting for you. The much-beloved around here Frenchie Davis will be re-joining "Rent" for a few months in the role of "Seasons of Love Soloist." She joins Melanie Brown (f/k/a "Scary Spice"), who's currently playing Mimi. (On a completely unrelated note, one of my favorite museum labels ever was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute "Fashion of Rock" exhibition--it was for Geri Halliwell's Union Jack boots from her time as a Spice Girl, and the label actually read "Geri Halliwell, f/k/a Ginger Spice.")

While we're at it, Jai Rodriguez is rejoining the cast to play Angel for two weeks in mid-July. Still explicable. But not at all explicable is the fact that Drew Lachey (yes, the other one, the one not married to that dimwit) will join the cast of "Rent" to play Mark, the geeky documentary filmmaker.

Haven't they learned anything? Stars don't sell tickets! Puppets do!
I AM NOT POCOCURANTE ABOUT THIS: I've been asked by fans of this weblog -- and yes, such people exist -- as to whether I plan to repeat last year's live blogging of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. (For last year's coverage, start here and scroll up.)

Well, there's a difference between this year and last -- last year, I was at home helping care for a newborn. This year, I'm back in an office that, while it does have television on all the time, tends to keep it tuned to C-SPAN 2 and CNN. So, odds are that my coverage will only be nighttime wrap-up coverage, and not live round-by-round analysis.

To follow the Bee live online, here's the official results page, which hopefully will be updated in a timely fashion. Television coverage begins tomorrow at 5pm on ESPN 2, with the final rounds live on the Deuce starting at 10 am Thursday.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

TO THE WINDOW, TO THE WALL: A few weeks ago, we were discussing songs that were being foolishly taken off the radio out of fear of FCC reprisal, and in the comments we got into the songs that, um, maybe shouldn't be on the air, like the popular "Get Low" by Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz.

Well, on the ride to Connecticut this afternoon, Jen and I were reminded of one that got on the radio a few years ago, completely unbleeped, and I believe it's the only song to receive mainstream radio attention for the topic of trying to dance while inappropriately erect.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's the R&B hit "Too Close", by Next. How a song featuring a woman singing "Step back you're dancing kinda close/I feel a little poke coming through/On you" made it onto the radio is beyond me.

There's a place for sex in popular music. But how about a little subtlety? What happened to Prince wondering if he had enough gas?