Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, June 03, 2006
      ( 6/03/2006 06:49:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"WHO'S THE TOAST OF RHYTHM TOWN?" – It's difficult to overestimate Louis Jordan's significance in the history of American pop. The Arkansas-born singer and sax man, who had a ton of number ones on the rhythm-and-blues charts in the forties, was a seminal influence on Chuck Berry and Ray Charles, two pillars of American rock 'n' soul, while his songs continue to be performed today by bluesmen like B.B. King. Jordan's recorded output also provided the basis for a musical revue (Five Guys Named Moe) back in the early nineties, and if the show in question couldn't completely measure up to its source, it happily provided the impetus for a slew of CD reissues in this country. I have three different discs released from that period, and though much of the material is different on each, they all contain his high-speed recording of "Moe." To have left it off would've been like keeping "Louie Louie" off a collection of sixties garage band music . . .

I love Jordan (not to be confused with the actor who once starred in a soporific TV adaptation of Dracula, by the way) and not just for his role in the formulation of rock 'n' roll music. He's smooth, funny and his Tympany Five could play like a sumbitch. In an era still dominated by the big band sound, Jordan and his combo showed just how much ebullient noise could be generated by a smaller unit: it was not a lesson lost on bandleaders like Bill Haley. Unlike a lot of jump blues shouters (Wynonie Harris, Big Joe Turner, to name two), Jordan was equally accomplished as a jazz vocalist, which gave him the range to do a rueful lament like "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby?" (a lyric first heard by this Boomer as a punchline in a Bugs Bunny cartoon) or a tropically tinged bluesy monologue like "Early in the Mornin'" (later made their own by both Ray Charles and Harry Nilsson) alongside bacchanalian party invites like "Saturday Night Fish Fry." His sense of humor – well repped in comic monologues like "Open the Door, Richard" or "What's the Use of Getting Sober (When You're Gonna Get Drunk Again)?" – clearly tickled a young Chuck Berry, who took Jordan's comic tales of woe out of the city and transplanted 'em into the fifties teen world. Berry's "Maybelline" could be the teenage-aged daughter of Jordan's "Caldonia."

In sum, Jordan is just plain fun to listen to. Play a track like "I Like 'Em Fat Like That" ("Let the cats all criticize/Joke about my baby's size/She's reet with me/Because you see/I like 'em fat like that!") or (equal time!) "Reet, Petite and Gone" (dig Carl Hogan's rockin' electric guitar opener), and if you don't at least start grinning, then, Jack, You’re Dead. (Lyrics to a very funny pre-Viagra song that Jordan assayed way back in 1946.) In a high-stress couple of months, I've been returning to Jordan's music quite a lot – and been happily appreciating his sound every time. Like a lot of early r-&-b, there's a goodly amount of down-on-yer-luck lyricism and stereotypical clowning ("Yes, it's me – and I'm drunk again!") that white artists have frequently performed as modern minstrelsy (think of Joe Jackson on his heartfelt, but misperformed, Jumpin' Jive tribute album). With Jordan, however, it's all a part of an honest sound: the music of partying (and regretting) in the midst of hard times that also informed early New Orleans jazz – and is still an essential theme in modern r-&-b. Plus ca change, and all that . . .

As I said, there are a host of good-to-great Jordan collections out there. A strong starter set is Number 1s, which collects most of his big Decca hits from the 1940's, and includes "Ain't That Just A Woman," the song where you can hear Carl Hogan inventing Chuck Berry's beloved guitar lick. After his pre-fifties chart dominance, the singer traveled through a slew of record companies, which has also inspired a variety of lesser collections from this era (a decent overview of this period can be found on Rhino's Just Say Moe!). To my ears, the most grin-packed set is MCA's Five Guys Named Moe: Original Decca Recordings – Vol 2, which, in addition to classic jump boogie like "Fat Like That" and "Texas And Pacific," includes pure novelty tunes like "Pettin' and Pokin'" and "(You Dyed Your Hair) Chartreuse" that still hold up today. "Vote for me . . .I'll put everybody in the red!" he loudly boasts in "Jordan for President." Sounds to me like he'd have no difficulty fitting into the presentday political clime . . .
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Friday, June 02, 2006
      ( 6/02/2006 04:06:00 PM ) Bill S.  

WEEKEND PET PIC – It's been a rough week for Ziggy Stardust, who in addition to experiencing the indignity of his annual summer shaving, also had to suffer through a trip to the vet's today for treatment of a sore foot. (Note the red bandage on his rear right leg.) That shadow is yours truly, trying to block the bright light from a window.

ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING: If (like me) you wanna see more dogg blogging, check out the weekly "Carnival of the Dogs" at Mickey's Musings. And for a broader array of companion animals, there's Modulator's "Friday Ark."
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Thursday, June 01, 2006
      ( 6/01/2006 04:35:00 AM ) Bill S.  

NOTE TO MARK EVANIER – Sure, most of the offerings on Sleuth TV are crap (not half as cool as the half hour showings of Johnny Staccato that used to appear on Trio). But Karen Sisco is plenty fine: one of the best ten-ep series that American teevee has ever seen. May not be enough to build an entire cable network around, but still . . .
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      ( 6/01/2006 03:58:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"SOME YOKEL VENTRILOQUIST SPOILED MY PITCH!" – With the recent death of Alex Toth, comics bloggers have been scouring the Internet for samples of the great man's work. Today, good ol' Johnny B. led me to two Toth stories, an old war story featuring Joe Yank and an Archie Goodwin-penned Creepy tale, that were posted at a neat page entitled "Last of the Spinner Rack Junkies." The site proved to be a treasure trove of great old comics stories, and one of the pleasures that Johnny noted was Klaus Nordling's four-page "Lady Luck" tales. To my eyes, Nordling is one of the great underknown Golden Age comic writer/artists: he was part of the shop that produced "Spirit" stories when creator Will Eisner was in the service, and the primary artist on the "Lady Luck" secondary feature that was packaged alongside Eisner's seminal series. But where the guy really shines is in his rollicking circus feature, The Barker, which ran in Quality Comics' National Comics for over thirty issues and appeared as a separate title for fifteen. So imagine my delight to see that Chance Fiveash, the proprietor of "Spinner Rack," has also included a twelve-page Barker story on his site. Trés sweet – and there's even more great stuff here, too (like a coupla Jack Cole crime stories, a Walt Kelly "Our Gang," Sheldon Mayer's "Scribbly," recently TCJ-featured artist Boody Rogers and more). A site well worth bookmarking . . .
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Tuesday, May 30, 2006
      ( 5/30/2006 11:57:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"HE DON'T DO NOTHIN' BUT HACK!" - Per request of no one in particular, here's Part Two of Roy Brown's infamous blues shouter "Butcher Pete":
Butcher Pete (Part Two)
(Brown - Bernard)

Well, they let ol' Pete out of the jail;
He went back to his store;
All the women who paid his bail
Were waitin' on Pete to chop some more!

He's hackin' and whackin' and smackin'!
He's hackin' and whackin' and smackin'!
He's hackin' and whackin' and smackin'!
He just hacks, whacks, choppin' that meat!

There's an old woman, who's ninety-two,
Lives on down the street;
She said, "One thing more I wanna do
Is find ol' Pete and let him chop my meat!"

[Repeat Chorus]

Pete went to church one Sunday night;
He gave the preacher a fit;
That crazy Pete started a fight
When he went hackin' on the pulpit!

[Repeat Chorus]

Well, they put him in jail again;
They tried to give him life.
Pete beat the case; he pleaded insane;
They gave him back his same ol' knife.

[Repeat Chorus]

Well, he got out of jail on Sunday night;
Monday he tightened his grip.
He started to China to see the sights,
Went nuts again and chopped up the ship.

[Repeat Chorus]

Thjey brought ol' Pete back to town
To electrocute him there,
But Pete was crazy like a clown;
He chopped down that electric chair!

[Repeat Chorus with spoken interjection:]

He's a maniac!
He don't do nothin' but hack!
No wonder parents were all up in arms in the fifties about them nasty rhythm-'n'-blues . . .
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      ( 5/30/2006 07:33:00 AM ) Bill S.  

BEST O' LUCK, MARK! – Here's sending out some good thoughts, wishing Mark Evanier a speedy recovery from his recent gastric bypass.
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      ( 5/30/2006 07:21:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"IS THAT YOU I'M HEARING/IN THE TALL GRASS NEARBY?" - Watched the director's cut DVD of 1776 last night: perhaps not the movie one automatically associates with Memorial Day (surely, it's more a July 4th flick, right?), but Scott Jarvis' performance of the dying young soldier's lament, "Mama Look Sharp," never fails to get to me. Just a magnificent moment and totally right for a Memorial Day . . .
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Monday, May 29, 2006
      ( 5/29/2006 06:50:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"WE'RE ALWAYS TELLING LITTLE LIES. ALWAYS!" – Been catching up on episodes of Big Love this weekend, and for the life of me I can't see how those culture critics who've been slamming the HBO series for its purported message can assert that the series "endorses" polygamy. Leave aside Harry Dean Stanton's creepy "prophet" Roman Grant and the denizens of his isolated compound, the life led by series' lead Bill Henderson (Bill Paxton, never better at blending a bland exterior with a hint of strange) and his trio of wives is an unending series of deceptions and self-imposed isolation. As the show repeatedly highlights, the life chosen by our extended family – the illusion of normalcy in a suburban Nevada neighborhood – is built on an extremely rickety financial foundation, one sustained through a mountain of debt and capable of instantly collapsing should word of Bill's multiple marriages become public in Salt Lake City.

And though Paxton's hubby is presented as a nicer guy than either his father Bruce Dern (who's like the immature thug from Support Your Local Sheriff rendered even more childish with age) or Roman, he still has his moments of patriarchal heavy-handedness (as when he gets enraged over second wife Chloe Sevigny's compulsive overspending – this show has middle-class debting as one of its central motifs). Too, the only spouse with sure legal and financial footing in the home is Jeanne Tripplehorn's Barb, the levelheaded first wife. Neither Sevigny's Nicki nor young wife Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) have any legal rights should their hubby pass on, and though the family attempts to resolve this with a set of wills, it's clear this won't be sufficient should the worst happen. Even the men's mag fantasy of living with Three Hot Wives proves a double-edged situation – as our hero nearly overdoses on Viagra in his attempt at keeping all three spouses happy.

In short, though it focuses on making its characters as recognizably human as the gang in HBO's flagship drama, The Sopranos, the show doesn't endorse its peoples' choices. It examines them. Of course, to a certain breed of cultural critic even acknowledging something exists is tantamount to supporting it. In their willful shortsightedness, they're like Rhonda, the little 14-year-old (and future wife to Roman – Ick!), who is so blinkered by her beliefs that she describes Long Day's Journey into Night as a play about "this family that's miserable because God's punishing them." Don't think that's exactly what Eugene O'Neill had in mind, Rhonda, but with this kinda cultural criticism, projection is everything . . .
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Sunday, May 28, 2006
      ( 5/28/2006 06:50:00 AM ) Bill S.  

FEAR IS A MAN'S BEST FRIEND – The new summer season of big superhero flicks has commenced – and yours truly has just had a chance to watch Batman Begins on HBO. Chris Nolan's movie engendered some passionate responses when it first came out, but I personally wound up feeling lukewarm toward it. While more heartfelt than Batman & Robin (for this relief, much thanks!), it never earns the mantle of full-blown seriousness that it strives for – in part, I suspect, because Nolan is too elliptical a director to give the material the straight-ahead approach it needs. Liked the acting, in general – Gary Oldman's Jim Gordon, in particular (as in Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, the focus is as much on his character as it is Bruce Wayne) – though I never quite accepted Katie Holmes in the movie's universe, and, as much as I love Michael Caine, he never managed to wrest the role of Alfred away from Michael Gough. Bale’s Bruce Wayne was a-okay, though, and I didn't even mind the unconvincing tough guy voice he gives the Caped Crusader. Wayne's still new to the role, after all, so you have to expect a few rough patches. Neither of the movie's Big Bads – Ras al Ghul or Scarecrow – are as theatrically enjoyable as Jack Nicholson's Joker, Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman or even Jim Carrey's Riddler, but casting Liam Neeson as the anti-Yoda was the kind of witty touch that the movie could have used more of.

I'd watch another Nolan-directed Batman movie, but I probably wouldn't run out to the theaters to see it. But since I didn't rush out to the movie-house for this one, that comment probably isn't worth much.
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      ( 5/28/2006 06:48:00 AM ) Bill S.  

FADING INTO THE BLACK – Read on Johnny B.'s site that comics great Alex Toth has passed away. First became aware of Toth's art in Warren's Creepy and Eerie magazines back in the sixties, and I have to admit that the first few times I saw his work, I wasn't sure what to make of it. So many of the Warren artists – EC vets so many of 'em – worked in an ornately detailed style (think Reed Crandall, with all that fine-lined shading), where Toth went for simplicity and big black strokes. I grew to love the man's way of telling a comics story over time, though, as have the scores of young artists who have sensibly taken from him much as Toth himself took from Milton Caniff. Think I'll pull out one of the old Warren books this weekend . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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