Pop Culture Gadabout
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
      ( 6/07/2006 10:31:00 AM ) Bill S.  

A QUICK POLI-SNIPE – Y'know, I don't care how many times reporters reassured me that an anti-gay marriage amendment wouldn't pass; every time I read or heard about it, I wound up gritting my teeth. It may've been a transparent ploy for Bush and his party to appease their core social conservative base, but for many of us outside the base, it's like having a homeless schizophrenic regularly accost you on the street to rant about the how the Elders of Zion have been secretly bombarding 'em with brain waves. They might be mostly harmless* and you may feel sorry for 'em, but after a while, you still wish they'd shut the hell up . . .

*Which doesn't preclude the possibility of them suddenly hitting you on the head with a beer bottle for no apparent reason, of course.
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      ( 6/07/2006 09:33:00 AM ) Bill S.  

DEFINITELY MAYBE NOT! – Okay, I can get behind a little Oasis luv (especially for What's the Story?), but Greatest Album of All Time?!?!?! That's just perverse. (We all know the Shaggs' Philosophy of the World is deserving of that particular title!)
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Tuesday, June 06, 2006
      ( 6/06/2006 12:03:00 PM ) Bill S.  

ALL FOR YOU, DAMIEN! – A few scattered (all I seem to muster lately) thoughts on the original 1976 version of The Omen, sparked by today's release of this remake:
  • I saw the movie the weekend it was first released, and at the time my then-wife and I didn't have a clue as to what the movie was about, thanx to a profoundly teasing ad campaign. About halfway into the flick – when we realized it was basically a patriarchal spin on the much more disturbing Rosemary's Baby – I suspect we both felt more than a little disappointed, even if the plight of Gregory Peck's distraught daddy had us in its grip. Nowadays, with trailers giving away half the storyline, I don't think anybody would be caught unawares by the movie's subject matter.

  • In its day, the flick's state-of-the-art killing fx were considered big stuff. Today, the deaths look fairly tame, but I remember Harlan Ellison once railing against 'em in TCJ back when Omen director Richard Donner'd been announced as the director of Superman – The Movie. Describing the flick's most memorable death – David Warner's beheading by a large plate glass window – Ellison made the effect sound even more explicit than it actually was: demonstrating the imagination's capacity to remake even a visual medium in one's mental movie screen.

  • Lead Gregory Peck, playing the American ambassador who discovers that his young son may indeed be the Anti-Christ, was an inspired choice in the original. I'm not sure many actors of either his or the current generation could've pulled off the final scene with the same blend of modernity and Old Testament intensity. (He's killing the monster! He's Abraham killing Isaac!) I've really gotta wonder whether new lead Liev Schrieber possesses enough gravitas to pull this off . . .
Ah, hell, I won't be seeing this 'til it shows on cable, anyway, even if it does mean missing out on a 06/06/06 showing . . .
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Monday, June 05, 2006
      ( 6/05/2006 04:57:00 AM ) Bill S.  

A TRULY SHOCKING SOPRANOS MOMENT – A.J. getting' laid? Now I know the world's gone topsy-turvy . . .
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      ( 6/05/2006 04:46:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"AND LOOK AT ALL THE BUGS WE FOUND" – Three things I learned while hanging out in Napoleon Dynamite's so-so private Idaho this Sunday:
  • Doesn't matter if you're an uber-nerd or even (as in Hairspray) if you're fat. If you kin dance, the world is yours to own. Tough beans, if you've got two left feet, tho . . .

  • Tina (Veronica Mars, Big Love) Majorina has the cute geek thing nailed!

  • Taken away from its album, Jack White's "We're Going to Be Friends" sounds even more McCartney-ish . . .
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Sunday, June 04, 2006
      ( 6/04/2006 07:32:00 AM ) Bill S.  

LOOSIANA HOLD 'EM – Watched the weekend rerun of Celebrity Poker Showdown's first New Orleans show yesterday. This season, the tourney is focusing all of its charity winnings on organizations helping the Big Easy in the aftermath of Katrina, a smart idea made even more personal for the audience by flashing the numbers to donate to each of these charities on the screen as the game progresses. (For the record, we've made several donations to the Humane Society.)

Of course, the big question for regular viewers is how new poker commentator Phil Hellmuth interacts with the series' show biz smart-ass Dave Foley (who, thankfully, has shaved himself for this round and looks much less dissolute as a result). Well, the opening outing wasn't as casual on the give-and-take as Foley and first expert Phil Gordon became after six tourneys, but it wasn't bad. I miss Gordon's seemingly near-instantaneous dispersal of statistical probabilities as the game progresses, though. (That Gordon did it so insistently, while Hellmuth doesn't bother, probably is a clue as to how each plays their own game.) A decent batch of players in this first volley (once Kevin Sorbo very quickly eliminated himself, that is), even if the probability that Jason Alexander and Bryan Cranston would be the final two was so strong that Foley and Hellmuth picked 'em at the beginning of the game to be the head-to-headers . . .
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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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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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