Friday, May 14, 2004

LEWIS AND CLARK AT COSTCO: Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of the start of Lewis and Clark's journey to the Pacific, and to mark the occasion the National Archives released some of the duo's papers, including their shopping lists. Besides the usual assortment of opiates for pain, "thunder clappers" for purging, ink, wax, and quills, the pair got a special rate on the 193-pound container of "portable soup," a paste made of boiled-down beef and cow's hooves, eggs and vegetables. Alas, the soup proved to be something of a dud amongst the men, and was usually consumed only when starvation was nigh.
DON'T YOU LET NOTHING, NOTHING STAND IN YOUR WAY: Good friend and frequent comments contributor Bob Elwood had the following to say about the murder of John Whitehead, which I reprint here with his permission:
It is with great sadness that we note the murder on Tuesday of John Whitehead, a key figure in the "Philly Sound." Whitehead was best known for his hit "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" which he recorded with his longtime collaborator Gene McFadden and which hit #13 on the pop charts in 1979. That song became an unofficial anthem for the Phillies during their World Series championship in 1980 and the Eagles during their run to the Super Bowl in 1981.

Whitehead was a truly amazing talent. He co-wrote the song "Back Stabbers," which the O'Jays took all the way to #3 in 1972. It was the first hit for Philadelphia International Records, which went on to record dozens of soul classics during the 1970's. In 1973, Whitehead wrote "I'll Always Love My Mama", which the Intruders turned into a major hit. He followed that up with two huge hits for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes -- "Bad Luck", which hit #15 in 1975, and "Wake Up Everybody," which hit #12 later that year. Both of these songs were sung by Teddy Pendergrass, whose gravelly soul voice resembled Whitehead's. Whitehead and McFadden produced countless other soul artists.

What always struck me about Whitehead's songs was the way that he could embody an important message within a hook-laden arrangement. Take his signature hit "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now." You hear it at graduation ceremonies and at sports events. Most people respond to it as a statement of personal empowerment or the realization of a dream, as Leo Sacks notes in the article cited above. But I have always thought there was a deeper meaning hidden beneath the feel good surface. It seemed to me that the song was about the civil rights movement. Consider the lyrics in that light and ask yourself if you can imagine Martin Luther King giving an emotional speech using these very words:
There have been so many things that held us down.
But now it looks like things are finally comin' around.
I know we've got, a long long way to go,
and where we'll end up, I don't know.
But we won't let nothing hold us back,
we're putting ourselves together,
we're polishing up our act!
If you've ever been held down before,
I know you'll refuse to be held down anymore!

Don't you let nothing, nothing,
Stand in your way!
I want ya'll to listen, listen,
to every word I say, every word I say!

Whitehead's songs have a timeless quality. Over 30 years after the fact, "Back Stabbers" is still a powerful song. Each Mother's Day, you hear "I'll Always Love My Mama" on the radio and it makes you smile. In closing, let me note that the following lines from "Wake Up Everybody" seem to apply to the present just as well as they did in 1975.
Wake up everybody, no more sleeping in bed
No more backward thinking, time for thinking ahead
The world has changed so very much
From what it used to be
there is so much hatred, war, and poverty

Thursday, May 13, 2004

HOW SWEET THE SOUND: CBS has already given the go-ahead for Amazing Race 6, even before Race 5 starts airing in July. That tells me that we've got another good season in store this summer.

Oh, for the simple pleasures of a show that relies upon the difference between unleaded and diesel fuel for its drama . . . .
WAKE HIS MOTHER AND RING THE BELL: Andy Dick, arrested again.
YOUR GOVERNMENT AT WORK: What's the biggest problem facing Louisiana today? It is unemployment? Is it massive corruption in government? Is it stagnation in the tourism industry? Is it even how many Hurricanes are too many? No, the number one issue facing Louisiana today is baggy pants. Please do not show your butt in Louisiana. Well, Gallagher ought to be quite happy, as the issue was #4 on his platform in his race for California governor.
I'M LISTENING: Another week, another ballyhooed NBC sitcom finale (where was the hype when "Facts of Life" was cancelled?). This time it's Frasier's time to say goodbye and mess with your Tivo. One of Frasier's signature bits, of course, was the anonymous celebrity voices calling his KACL show and the exhaustive Goodnight Seattle Web site has a list of all of the guest callers from Marv Albert to Pia Zadora, plus the reasons why they picked up the phone. Close to the Doc's fictional home, The Olympian looks at the list of the show's memorable on-camera guest stars over the years, including seven fellow "Cheers" co-stars. And the always great Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Sun-Times recounts his 10 favorite episodes, while the TV critic for the St. Petersburg Times has a list of reasons why you should watch the "Frasier" finale and why it was time for the show to go.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

SO WHO WAS ELIZABETH TAYLOR IN A 40 MINUTE RELATIONSHIP WITH, MUCH LESS A 40 YEAR ONE? Today's amusing tidbit from Jeopardy Power Players. Two of the three contestants did not know that in 2003, Barbie Roberts and Ken (whose last name I do not know off the top of my head) announced they were ending their 40+ year relationship through their publicist. Only Aaron Brown got it right. Former Press Secretary Ari Fleischer answered "Elizabeth Taylor," and former MSNBC news bunny Ashleigh Banfield couldn't even come up with an answer at all. Ari still, just barely, beats Aaron, in an underwhelming game.
FOREIGN TYPES WITH THE HOOKAH PIPES SAY . . . ? Toss-up question, as suggested by some friends of mine: name your favorite pop/rock/rap song that includes a significant amount of whistling.

Your nominees might include Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard", G n'R's "Patience", Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers" or the song referenced in the title to this post. Or not.

edited to delete credit incorrectly given to Art Garfunkel.
RICH ENOUGH FOR THE RICH HALL OF FAME: Yes, it's a given that pro athletes make a lot of money--and some of them actually earn it. Still, Sports Illustrated's "Fortunate 50" list of the top paid athletes factoring in both salary and endorsements in this week's issue (available online to subscribers only) is somewhat shocking. Tiger makes $70 million in endorsements! LeBron made $39 million his first year out of high school! Grant Hill earned $24 million to rehab an ankle injury! Three baseball players will make more than A-Rod this year, including the guy standing next to him on the field! Five of the top 50 play for the Yankees! The Knicks backcourt rotation earned over $49 million this past season! Grant Wistrom?!?

Here, for the benefit of you non-subscribers is the whole list:
1. TIGER WOODS, Golf--$76,673,413; 2. SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, Los Angeles Lakers--$40,517,858; 3. LEBRON JAMES, Cleveland Cavaliers--$39,018,920; 4. PEYTON MANNING, Indianapolis Colts--$36,400,000; 5. KEVIN GARNETT, Minnesota Timberwolves--$36,000,000; 6. OSCAR DE LA HOYA, Boxing--$32,000,000; 7. ANDRE AGASSI, Tennis--$27,030,929; 8. KOBE BRYANT, Los Angeles Lakers--$25,498,000; 9. DEREK JETER, New York Yankees--$25,000,000; 10. GRANT HILL, Orlando Magic--$24,279,250; 11. VINCE CARTER, Toronto Raptors--$24,000,000; 12. MANNY RAMIREZ, Boston Red Sox--$23,950,000; 13. DALE EARNHARDT JR., Auto Racing--$22,081,807; 14. MIKE PIAZZA, New York Mets--$21,500,000 ; 15. TRACY MCGRADY, Orlando Magic--$21,279,500; 16. ALEX RODRIGUEZ, New York Yankees--$21,000,000; 17. ALLEN IVERSON, Philadelphia 76ers--$20,500,000; 18. SAMMY SOSA, Chicago Cubs--$20,000,000; 19. BARRY BONDS, San Francisco Giants--$19,000,000; 20. CARLOS DELGADO, Toronto Blue Jays--$18,750,000; 21. JEFF GORDON, Auto Racing--$18,622,002; 22. ANFERNEE HARDAWAY, New York Knicks--$17,750,000; 23. SERENA WILLIAMS, Tennis--$17,504,871; 24. JASON GIAMBI, New York Yankees--$17,500,000; 25. RASHEED WALLACE, Detroit Pistons--$17,290,000; 26. LANCE ARMSTRONG, Cycling--$16,960,000; 27. CHRIS WEBBER, Sacramento Kings--$16,937,500; 28. ANDRE MILLER, Denver Nuggets--$16,650,000; 29. LAVAR ARRINGTON, Washington Redskins--$16,540,000; 30. SHAWN GREEN, Los Angeles Dodgers--$16,500,000; 30. MIKE MUSSINA, New York Yankees--$16,500,000; 32. ALLAN HOUSTON, New York Knicks--$16,437,500; 33. TIM DUNCAN, San Antonio Spurs--$16,176,125 ; 34. JASON KIDD, New Jersey Nets--$16,152,000 ; 35, ROY JONES JR., Boxing--$16,000,000; 36. PHIL MICKELSON, Golf--$15,828,031; 37. GRANT WISTROM, Seattle Seahawks--$15,600,000 ; 38. KEVIN BROWN, New York Yankees--$15,500,000; 38. ANTOINE WALKER, Dallas Mavericks--$15,500,000; 40. LAMAR ODOM, Miami Heat--$15,375,000; 41. VENUS WILLIAMS. Tennis--$15,126,555; 42 STEPHON MARBURY, New York Knicks--$15,000,000; 43. DAMON STOUDAMIRE, Portland Trail Blazers--$14,875,000; 44. RAY ALLEN, Seattle SuperSonics--$14,500,000; 44. CHIPPER JONES, Atlanta Braves--$14,500,000; 44. ANTONIO MCDYESS, Phoenix Suns--$14,500,000; 47. SHAREEF ABDUR-RAHIM, Portland Trail Blazers--$14,000,000; 47. DONOVAN MCNABB, Philadelphia Eagles--$14,000,000; 47. LATRELL SPREWELL, Minnesota Timberwolves--$14,000,000; 50. MICHAEL FINLEY, Dallas Mavericks--$13,781,250

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

WOULD THAT MAKE FRANKIE VALLI INTO DICK CHENEY? Is The Sopranos' Little Carmine a stand-in for our President? Danny Geffen has a theory, and I like it.
SEEING RED: In an inconsequential move designed to inspire no one, Syracuse University has axed the Orangeman as a mascot, instead choosing to call its athletic teams the Syracuse Orange.

By following on the heels of the Cornell Big Red, Dartmouth Green, Harvard Crimson, Tulane Green Wave and Stanford Cardinal in choosing color-based mascots in unpluralized form, Syracuse has likely consigned itself to a similar fate of futility in the NCAA world.

My lingering question is this: is Otto safe?
COME BACK TIPPER GORE, ALL IS FORGIVEN: According to this Rolling Stone article, rock radio stations are combing through their libraries and self-censoring some songs that seemingly have the shock value of Easy Bake Oven, lest they feel the wrath of the FCC. Among those on the list of songs deemed to obscene for our genteel ears: "Who Are You?" "Walk on the Wild Side," "Jeremy," "Jack and Diane," "Jet Airliner," "Closer," "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," and "Money." Sayeth Lou Reed, never one to lose his head about these kinds of things: "It's absurd. It's like being censored by a squirrel. It's beneath me, it's beneath all these artists. It's done by people who are very pious and stupid." A squirrel? Well, you get the point.

Monday, May 10, 2004

HEY, HEY, MY, MY: Alan wasn't the only "King" to recently slip this mortal coil. Elvis A. Presley of Mantiwoc, Wisc., who was born one Herbert A. Baer but changed his name to honor the King in 1978, passed away on April 26 at the age of 67.

And speaking of comedians and the King, May 16 marks the 20th anniversary of Andy Kaufman's supposed death. Some believe Kaufman faked the whole thing and that next Sunday he will reveal, to the shock and delight of the faithful who have been waiting for a "Taxi" reunion show, that he has been living among us these past two decades.
MUPPETS, TRANSVESTITES, AND KILLERS--OH MY!: Yes, the 2004 Tony nominations have arrived. Something for everyone: puppets singing about pornography ("Avenue Q"), the story of a transsexual Stasi informant ("I Am My Own Wife"), the lives and times of people who killed or tried to kill the President ("Assassins"), Hugh Jackman shaking it like a Polaroid picture ("The Boy From Oz"), the story of a pedophile serial killer ("Frozen"), and the story of the Wicked Witch of the West ("Wicked"). And they say they've cleaned up Times Square.
AND PEOPLE WHO BOUGHT "THE EMINEM SHOW" ALSO BOUGHT "WEST SIDE STORY:" Poking around on iTunes, I made the shocking discovery that individuals who bought Sir Mix-A-Lot's seminal album "Mack Daddy," featuring the smash "Baby Got Back," also purchased the original Rosalind Russell cast recording of the musical "Wonderful Town" and an abridged version of the February 2003 issue of "Scientific American."

Going in the other direction, folks who bought the cast recording of "Boy From Oz" (awful show, amazing lead performance by Jackman, BTW), apparently quite like Christina Aguilera, Morcheeba, and Mya.

Sunday, May 9, 2004

ALL IS FAIR . . . Is Survivor just a game, or is something more personal at stake? If you watched tonight, you saw a good deal of discussion and impassioned debate on the topic. Here's my take, which I've had since the first season:

The game is whatever its players decide it is.

There are no standards or rules given to the jurors as to the basis in which they ought to vote. They can base it off of who played the game better, who was a better person, or a flip of the coin. Whatever they want.

The players create their own moral universe, and it is one which is refined through each iteration of the game. If jurors consistently voted for the most morally decent player, you'd see more morally decent play in future games. If jurors consistently voted for the best strategic player, you'd see more sneaky play.

Me? If I were a juror, I'd reward the most strategic play, because I do see this as a game where the only goal is to avoid being voted out, and within this contained universe I see no real value in playing honorably. Every player comes in with an equal opportunity to persuade others as to how to vote and to be persuaded in return, and if you can avoid being tripped up by your own lies -- within this game -- more power to you. But given the rules of the game -- or, rather, lack thereof -- anyone else's view as to how a juror should vote is as equally valid as mine. It's just up to the seven jurors voting, in that particular season, and that's it.

Based on the reunion show, we've got another question to discuss now, but let's put that on hold until everyone's had a chance to watch.
WHAT'S NEXT? PRINCETON*BERT? CHICAGOTRON 2084? CALTECHZERK?--There are moments I'm quite proud to be an alumnus of NYU Law School. There have been two this week. The first was when Bryan Stevenson, a professor at NYU Law School was one of the guests on Air America Radio's "Majority Report." The second, is, of course, the fact that NYU students have come up with PacManhattan, an interactive, live-action version of Pac Man played on the streets of Greenwich Village.

In less proud news, I was reminded today, due to a small feature article, of the story of Alan Sokol, who made up an article claiming that mathematical theory had feminist politic applications, then admitted he made the whole thing up, saying it was an experiment in deconstructing academic theory. Honestly, who would have been taken by an article titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity."
A TUMMLER'S TUMMLER: Legendary stand-up comic Alan King, whom I've had the pleasure of seeing live several times, passed away today at the age of 76.

Longtime abbot of the legendary Friars Club, King, #55 on the Comedy Central Gratist Standups Evir list, was old school comedy personified. He didn't reveal his personal neuroses; he didn't attack; he didn't brag about being smarter or hipper than his audience.

He just told jokes, and he told them well, and there's something to be admired about that.

Also, how many comics do you know who have endowed chairs at major universities, as King did for Brandeis? (Okay, other than Cosby, who has given so much money and support to Temple University that I fully expect them to rename the undergrad school for him before he dies.)
THE REAL FINALE IS TONIGHT: Sure, All-Star Survivor hasn't been as All That as it could've been -- Rob M's ruthless, brutal Pagonging of all but his core group of three has been something more to be admired than enjoyed, more like watching QB Tom Brady's brutally efficient execution of the Patriots' offense as opposed to a more entertaining Michael Vick (Rob C? Jonny Fairplay?) improvise his way out of danger.

He had a plan. It has worked. He hasn't even had a single vote cast against him, despite his not-exactly-hidden strategy. But in a way, it's hard even to admire what he's accomplished, just because those he's playing against have played the game so poorly -- whether Lex's stupidly worrying about individual immunity challenges later rather than strong allies post-merge, or Shii-Ann's inability to do anything more than complain, or Richard's/Colby's/Ethan's total failure to stop the train charging at their heads.

Heck, he and Amber went away for the car/drive-thru reward, and leaving Tom/Amber/Jenna together all night to plot still didn't put him at risk. (See, contra, Fairplay and Burton last season.)

No one -- not Shii Ann, not Kathy, not Lex, not Tom, said, at any point at a Tribal Council or another public setting: "Please raise your hand if Rob or Amber has promised you a trip to the final four," nothing that would quickly and obviously make everyone realized they might be at risk. Nope.

So who's worth admiring here? Jenna Lewis. After all, she led her tribe's decisionmaking in the first two episodes, ousting Tina and Rudy, then, once merged into Chapera, somehow worked her way into the core with Rob and Amber, making herself -- not original Chaperans Tom or Alicia -- the apparent third person in a final three, and one in which, if it's a Hands On The Idol-type endurance challenge, has always favored women on the show.

Any of these winners will have earned it. Jenna for the above; Rupert, because he'll have had to make a Kelly-level immunity run to make it at this point; and Rob and Amber, because if they've pulled off this alliance that they've had since the second day on the island, well, damn, give 'em credit for taking Richard Hatch's season one strategy and bringing it back old school for the All Stars.

Who are you rooting for? Me, I'm not rooting for any competitor as much as I'm rooting for a good episode, one with a final challenge even one-tenth as entertaining as Fairplay and Lil on the rafts from last season ("These are called squats, Jon. I do aerobics.") or, of course, a tribal council tirade that rivals with the one about the rats and the snakes.

Game on. Any favorite Survivor finale memories to share? Predictions for the night?
MOM, YOU ARE THE KINDEST, BRAVEST, WARMEST, MOST WONDERFUL HUMAN BEING I'VE EVER KNOWN: As mothers everywhere today try to live up to the example of Claire Huxtable, who this year beat out Mrs. C and Marge Simpson to top the list of top all-time TV moms, why not run out to the video store this Mother's Day and pick up one the films on this list of Mom-related classics like "Psycho," "The Graduate," "Mommie Dearest," and our favorite story of the love between a mother and son, "The Manchurian Candidate" (see the original now before the remake comes out this summer). A movie with mom beats passing the time playing a little solitaire.