Category Archives: Popular culture

Maybe it would help to have a POINT to the story

The Washington Post ran a review of the new Tolkien prequel — financed by the newspaper’s owner, Jeff Bezos, or at least by his company — today.

It was headlined, “‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ is beautiful, banal boredom.

Which, frankly, was about what I expected. I think if Tolkien thought what had happened (in his imagination, not Tommy Westphall’s) in Middle Earth 3,000 years earlier was as compelling as The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, he’d have written the stories out, rather than summing them up in an appendix.

Coincidentally, the Jesuit magazine America ran something related today, headlined “C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Inklings: Telling Stories to Save Lives.

It concentrates on those Oxford writers as besieged Christians taking comfort from their friendship — and their work — in a time and place of growing indifference and even hostility to faith, and it’s worth reading. You can probably do so without subscribing as I have — as I recall, America still uses the model in which you can read two or three pieces before the pay wall goes up.

Frankly, when I read Lord of the Rings, I saw it as a warning against the isolationism that was so dominant in Britain and this country before the Second World War. (The writing of the work started in 1937 and continued until several years after the war.) I tended to see Sauron as Hitler, Saruman and Wormtongue as the quislings who were undermining Europe — I mean, Middle Earth — ahead of the orc blitzkrieg, and Gandalf as the sort of Churchill/Roosevelt figure who ran about trying to wake everyone up before it was too late.

But yes, Tolkien’s mind was working on deeper levels as well, as the piece in America notes:

Everyone loves an underdog, of course, but these tales feel more meaningful than a standard superhero film because their authors had their eyes on a deeper set of truths. Sin and corruption are real, but salvation is still available. They knew, as Tolkien explained to Lewis in the early years of their friendship, that the Christian story is the truest story, of which all others are echoes. When all appears to be lost, we always have recourse to the deep magic from the dawn of time.

Recently, I drew your attention (or tried to, anyway) to a homily by Bishop Barron in which he used the experiences of Bilbo Baggins as an example of what God expects of us — that we’re supposed to get out and encounter the world and have a great adventure, not sit comfortably in our hobbit holes smoking choice Shire pipeweed, and enjoying the copious food and drink of our larders.

Anyway, however you interpret it, it helps for your story to have a point, and consist of more than breathtaking CGI scenery and battle sequences. Those can leave you feeling rather empty…

I just learned about the Tommy Westphall Hypothesis

And I enjoyed learning about it, however belatedly.

I had never heard of it, possibly because I never watched a minute of something called “St. Elsewhere” back in the ’80s. Nor do I feel compelled to go find it and binge it, as interesting as the hypothesis is. After all, the hypothesis itself tells me the show and its fictional universe are ephemeral things, with which I need not concern myself.

But I do read Alexandra Petri’s humor columns, which I’ve mentioned before. And Alexandra taught me about Tommy Westphall. And she did it in a cool, offhand sort of way. Did she say, “Brad, I’m about to tell you about something interesting, something everyone else already knows, something you will be grateful to have learned.” She did not. She wrote a fun column about the stunning lack of originality of our film and television industries, as evidenced by some of the silly “prequel” shows that keep coming out.

The column was headlined “Our new fantasy show is definitely a prequel to something you love.” And as I say, it was fun. But then, she slipped in the reference. It was just a passing reference, in the course of mocking the prequel madness:

Could we theoretically just make a totally original show and then zoom in on a little grain of sand and watch it get heated and cooled and become glass and zoom out and reveal that, yes, this was the origin story of the iconic “Friends” apartment window? You know, that’s a possibility. Lots of things are possible; most TV takes place inside Tommy Westphall’s snow globe…

Which makes no sense unless you know about Tommy Westphall. And, of course, his snow globe. So I started looking into it. And it was very cool. I learned that Tommy was the young autistic son of one of the lead characters on the show, a physician named Donald Westphall.

The reference is to the end of the last episode of the series. Wikipedia describes it this way:

Tommy Westphall enters the office and runs to the window, where he looks at the snow falling outside St. Eligius.[3] An exterior camera shot of the hospital cuts to Tommy Westphall sitting in the living room of an apartment building alongside his grandfather, now being portrayed by Norman Lloyd (aka “Daniel Auschlander”). Tommy’s father, still being portrayed by Ed Flanders (aka “Donald Westphall”) arrives at the apartment wearing a hard hat.[3][4]

Wearing a hard hat, you see. So suddenly, he’s not a doctor. And he starts talking, and says to the grandfather, “I don’t understand this autism thing, Pop. Here’s my son, I talk to him, I don’t even know if he can hear me. He sits there, all day long, in his own world, staring at that toy. What’s he thinking about?” Then, Wikipedia continues:

Tommy, who is shaking a snow globe,[5] is told by his father to come and wash his hands. As they leave the living room, Tommy’s father places the snow globe upon a television set. The camera slowly zooms in on the snow globe, which is revealed to contain a replica of St. Eligius hospital inside of it.[3][1]

The foremost interpretation of this scene is that the entire series of events in St. Elsewhere were dreamt by Tommy Westphall, and thus, products of his imagination…

So… kind of a cool, creative ending to a TV show, and one that ticked off a lot of fans. Because it told them, Ya know this was all made up, right? But that’s just the beginning of what it means.

As another website explains:

St. Elsewhere didn’t exist in a bubble. Like most shows, there is some degree of crossover between it and various series. Some of these series ran along side of it, some of them ended before it even began, but most simply call back to it, well after St. Elsewhere comes to an end.

Here is where the Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis really kicks in. The concept is simple: if St. Elsewhere is all in the mind of Tommy, then every show connected to it could also be just in his mind. So, taking that into consideration, what all has Tommy dreamed up?

How many such shows are there? Yet another site counts 441. How does that work? Well, think about the overlap between, say, “Cheers” and “Frasier.” Or The “Andy Griffith Show” and “Gomer Pyle, USMC.” And while I never saw the show, I read that “The doctors had visited the bar on Cheers in one St. Elsewhere episode.” And we’re off…

A huge portion of the connection is between fictional characters who appear in multiple shows — as did storekeeper Sam Drucker in “Petticoat Junction,” “Green Acres” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Which I noticed at the time and thought was interesting at the time, but people didn’t go around blogging about such silly things back then, because there were no blogs. And no social media.

A lot of that Sam Drucker stuff goes on. Richard Belzer has portrayed cop John Munch on 11 different series — one of them being “Homicide: Life on the Street,” which included some characters from “St. Elsewhere.” So he’s sort of a superspreader of this snow globe virus. So are the guys who played Cliff Clavin and Norm Peterson on “Cheers.” John Ratzenberger and George Wendt appeared as those characters on seven series each, one being, of course, “St. Elsewhere.”

So among the shows that exist only in Tommy’s imagination are “Breaking Bad,” “The Office” (both versions), “Supernatural,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Firefly,” the old ‘60s “Batman,” and about 400 or so more. Including, maybe, this.

You’re probably scoffing at me right now, because I suspect everyone on the planet except me knew all about this. In fact, there seems to be a bit of an industry in other series paying homages to Tommy’s snow globe. I’m sure I saw some of those, and didn’t get them until now.

I may be late to the game, but I’m digging it….

Richard Belzer as John Munch.

The Ned Stark gimmick

Apparently, a prequel to “Game of Thrones” is about to air, and some folks are very excited about it.

Perhaps you are among them. I am not, although I confess I made a point of watching the original series. Each year that a new season appeared, I signed up for HBO Now (later succeeded by HBO Max) for a few weeks to watch it — and catch up with such things as “Barry.”

I found it entertaining in its own weird way, but was not a fan in the original sense of a fanatic. For instance, I wasn’t the sort to sign petitions demanding that the final season be reshot with a different ending. I thought the ending was fine. I mean, come on — Daenerys needed to go, and if you can’t see that, I suspect you might be one of those who believes the 2020 presidential election was stolen. And the ways the writers tied up the other loose ends were, I suppose, satisfactory. Time to move on, people.

Now the prequel is about to start, which I know because this morning The Washington Post went on and on about it, in five separate stories by my count. You see four of them in the screengrab above. And no, I’m not planning to sign up for HBO Max to watch it. I did skim through some of the stories, though.

For instance, this one, which tries to parse the alleged 6,887 deaths that occurred in the series, began with this (I’d say SPOILER ALERT here, but if you don’t know this, you obviously don’t care about the topic, and therefore haven’t read this far):

The season that started it all. When Ned Stark, the main hero and character supposedly least at risk, was beheaded, viewers everywhere realized that no one was safe.

Exactly. And this reminds me why, from the very beginning, I would never love this series. I don’t like being manipulated that way.

And this was major-league manipulation. You have bewilderingly numerous cast of actors you’ve never seen before (with the possible exception of Aidan Gillen, if you’re a fan of “The Wire”), but you know Sean Bean, right? And he’s the hero, right? So at the end of the first season, he gets killed off, so that two things will happen:

  1. You’ll get more invested in the other characters, whom you’ve sort of gotten to know over the course of the first season.
  2. You’ve been shocked into believing, with all your heart, that anybody can get killed at any time, which adds suspense during every subsequent second of the rest of the series. (Which only makes the Red Wedding slightly less shocking.)

(And no, this was not a big surprise to those who had read the books, I suppose, but I’m not a member of that set.)

Anyway, I had seen this before, and the first time, I was more impressed by it. Remember the opening scene of “The Hurt Locker?” It starts with Guy Pearce, as a bomb-disposal specialist, getting suited up to approach and disarm an IED. Every little detail of the scene persuades you that he will be the star of the show. He’s obviously the central character of this scene, suiting up for his task with a certain heroic elan. And you know him, from L.A. Confidential and, more impressively, from “Memento.” He’s the only then-famous actor in the whole movie, with the exception of the brilliant David Morse, whose later scene as a wound-too-tight colonel pretty much steals the movie.

And then, in that very first scene (SPOILER ALERT, although you’ve certainly seen this coming), he gets blown up. And the “star” of the rest of the movie is Jeremy Renner, whom at this point in his career, you’ve probably never seen before. (Really. Check out IMDB for any major flicks in which he was the star before this one.)

And you watch the rest of the film thinking, “This nobody could get blown up any second. Hey, they killed off Guy Pearce at the very beginning!”

This is such an obvious and effective gimmick that I’m sure Hollywood had used it before. Maybe you can give me a Top Five list of previous films that did the same thing. (In fact, here’s such a list on which Guy Pearce shows up as No. 6.) But this was the first time I really noticed it, and identified all the elements. It was quite well done. And it impressed me.

When I saw it again in “Game of Thrones,” I was far less impressed. In fact, I was kind of ticked, particularly since they didn’t hit me with it until I had watched a whole season.

Next time I see it, I’ll probably just stop watching…

Guy Pearce, in the opening scene of “The Hurt Locker.”

The Rolling Stones love me so much, they’re going to let me buy something!

Don’t you love these kinds of come-ons?

I just got an email — and y’all know how much I love having people send me email — from Spotify headlined, “The Rolling Stones made you something special.”

Below that was a pic of the lads — the unbelievably ancient-looking lads, but as we all know, they’ve looked that way since they were very young — looking at me oh, so fondly. You know, because we’re such mates and all. (Except that Ron Wood. He’s looking off to the side for some reason. Oh, well. We were never that close. I still think of him as that guy from Rod Stewart’s band.)

And then below that was this message:

Thanks for being a fan

To celebrate their 60th anniversary, The Rolling Stones have designed an exclusive t-shirt and mug for their top fans on Spotify.

A limited quantity is available for this offer – until August 7th or while supplies last – so act quickly!

And below that, the critical button that said “BUY MERCH.” Here’s where it leads, although you may not be able to call it up, if you’re not as tight with Mick and the guys as I am. Sorry. You should make an effort to be cooler in the future.

Anyway, clicking the button offers me the chance to buy both a T shirt and a coffee mug for only $48! This is amazing because the T shirt costs $40 alone, while the price of the mug alone is $20!

I’m overwhelmed. But sorry, guys — I’ve been buying a bunch of stuff lately. Also, I already have a lot of T shirts. And a lot of coffee mugs — more than I need, if you can believe it.

But thanks for thinking of me. It really touches me to think of y’all putting down your guitars and such and making these things for me with your own hands and all. Get back to me when your 70th anniversary rolls around. Or maybe your 75th, OK?…

Sequels are seldom as good as the original

Hold it right there — no sequel will be as good as this.

Especially not the sequels of one certain genre — messianic fiction. You know, the type of story where you’re all in suspense as to whether the protagonist is The One, and eventually everyone learns that yes, he is. All of which happens in the first book, or movie, or whatever.

After that, you have sequels in which the author or director tries really, really hard to reproduce the magic of the original, usually by being super repetitive in terms of plot.

Some of you will disagree strongly with this Top Five list — I’ve found that in the past when I’ve pointed this out. But I think a lot of that is that the author or director just did an exceptional job of recreating the magic of the first, and you loved the first so much you loved the others, too. But for me, after the reveal has occurred, I’m ready for a different story — or at least, a story about a completely different messiah.

Here’s my list of examples. Oh, and for those who haven’t read or seen these, HUGE SPOILER ALERT!

  1. Dune — I loved the first novel. But it turned into the worst generator of sequels I’ve ever encountered. Nevertheless, they kept coming out, even after the author was dead. Think about it: By the end of Dune, we learn that Paul is definitely the Kwisatz Haderach, all his main enemies are dead, and he even becomes emperor of the known universe. How do you top that? You don’t. Herbert certainly didn’t. The following stories try way too hard, and take liberties with characters that I found highly objectionable.
  2. Harry Potter — This one will engender some of the strongest objections. But I was totally satisfied by the first book: Harry is rescued from a cartoonishly horrible life by Hagrid, who informs him not only that he is a wizard, but “a thumpin’ good’un I’d say, once yeh’ve been trained up a bit.” So he wanders in awe about Diagon Alley, and goes to Hogwarts, and spends the full school year there. You learn all about the magical world, and how it differs from that of muggles. And then, when it’s all over, Harry comes back to Hogwarts, and spends another whole year doing many of the same things. And because my kids and so many others loved the stories so much, I read the first three books or so in a vain effort to keep up, but then I stopped. But, you will cry, the stories after that get so serious and dark! Well, that’s not an attraction to me. Life is serious and dark enough, and this was a children’s story.
  3. The Matrix — Let me confess, up front, that if I even tried to watch the sequels, I’ve since forgotten them. Frankly, I had no interest. “The Matrix” (the film, not the graphic novel) had bowled me over completely. I thought it was great. But then I was done. Neo was The One, and he could kick agent butt without breaking a sweat. What else did I need to see?
  4. Star Wars — I’m flying in the face of some people’s religion here, but no, “The Empire Strikes Back” was not better than the original movie. Nothing was better than the original movie. “Empire” was good — especially the parts on Hoth — and other works in that fictional universe have sometimes been very engaging, especially “The Mandelorian.” But the first film contained everything that I would most enjoy from the characters and their respective arcs. And the overall premises of the fictional universe were fine for one film, but got a bit thin beyond that. A story such as this is fun, but needs to remember not to take itself too seriously.
  5. The Godfather — Again, the second movie was most assuredly NOT better than the first. Yes, that’s that wonderful section that tells the story of how Vito became Don Corleone. But hey, that was in the novel that the first movie was based on — it just got left out. The first movie tells us how Michael, seemingly the least likely son, becomes the don’s successor, and seals the deal by overcoming all the family’s enemies. But he also becomes something terrifying, as the look on Kay’s face in the final shot drives home. I don’t need to see him manifesting his monstrosity in the second tale, as the family itself becomes consumed.

Not all sequels fall flat. Here are some that really worked:

  • Post Captain, and the other 18 books that follow Master and Commander. I refer here to the book, not the movie — which unfortunately based its plot vary roughly on the 10th book in the series, and pilfered good bits from various others. Each book tells a complete story, and the 20 taken altogether tell a saga of immense scale. Each deserves more than a film of its own. Each book should be a full season of a masterful television series — one that would last 20 years. Anyway, the “sequels” work because while the characters and the historical universe are the same, each story is fresh and different. And compelling.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — Yep, it’s a sequel — to Tom Sawyer.  And it starts out in the tone of a sequel to that light celebration of youth in the 19th century, and a particularly amusing one at that. But Twain set it aside for several years, and then came back and turned it into the Great American Novel. If you’re the pedantic type, you might say that such an uneven book can’t be a great anything. But America is filled with different voices telling different stories, and its actual history is buffeted by mood swings and changes of tone. So it’s no surprise its greatest fictional work should be so “uneven.”

Note that none of those are of the “revelation of a hero’s destiny” type — what I referred to earlier as the “messiah” story.

I could mention more that worked and didn’t work, but I guess that’ll do for now…

A completely suitable ending to the story.

Top Five (and Ten) TV Shows of All Time

Sure, I could have gone with Omar for ‘The Wire,’ but I’m going with my man Bubbles, who doesn’t get enough credit.

One nice thing about a Top Five list of TV shows is that you can bill it as “all-time” and still stick to stuff you know from your own lifetime. You don’t feel like you have to go back and pull in “Greensleeves” or “Veni, veni, Emmanuel” to make up for neglecting Top Songs before Elvis.

Sure, there was some TV before my time, like “Your Show of Shows,” which went off the air about eight months after I was born. But while I’ve heard people rave about it, I suspect I didn’t miss all that much. I mean, I’ve seen some of Sid Caesar’s stuff, and he was good, but to me, Imogene Coca was the cavewoman on “It’s About Time” — which I assure you isn’t going to make my Top Ten.

I thought at first that I wouldn’t have the discipline to stick to the Top Five format, since this is a pretty broad field — All TV Shows, ever. I figured I’d do 10, and then go back to the Nick Hornby standard when we do top sitcoms or something narrower like that.

But after I’d made a list of 10 and started trying to rank them, I realized the Top Five were very clear, and stood out well above 6-10. So I did five, and then another five. I hope Barry will be proud.

And yes, this is inspired by what I mentioned a couple of days ago — the Rolling Stone list that outrageously didn’t include “Band of Brothers” in its top 100. Bud already reacted with his own Top Ten list, which I urge you to peruse as well.

Anyway, here goes:

  1. The West Wing — If not for streaming, I would not even be a fan. I never watched my first episode until years after the show ended. I’m so glad I was able to watch it on Netflix. I regret that it’s only available now on a service I don’t subscribe to. Why do I love it? It makes me feel happy about the world I live in. (It makes me actually appreciate human beings, and have hope for the species.) Not many things do that out there in the media universe. But someone who understands America as well as Aaron Sorkin does can do that.
  2. Band of Brothers — You should understand that I felt invested in this from the beginning, long before the first episode appeared on HBO. I had been thinking for some time about what an awesome TV series Stephen Ambrose’s book would make — if it were made by the right people. Specifically, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who brought us “Saving Private Ryan.” (I was also thinking about “From the Earth to the Moon” as a model, so I should probably mention Ron Howard as well.) I even thought about writing them to suggest the idea, but I’ve never done fanboy stuff like that. As it worked out, I didn’t have to. They went ahead and did it anyway. You might say I wished it into being — and it was everything I had wished for. I need to figure out how I did that, so we can finally get that Jack Aubrey series
  3. The Wire — Wow. This was just so awesome on so many levels. It’s a newspaperman’s fantasy — an amazingly high-quality production that shows exactly what things are like in his city. And of course, it was written by an unusually gifted newspaperman, former cops reporter David Simon. He switched careers for a very newspaperman reason: “I got out of journalism because some sons of bitches bought my newspaper and it stopped being fun.” Well, it was often intensely painful to watch, but The Wire was also fun. I will end by simply naming some favorite characters: Omar, of course. Major Rawls. Kima Greggs. Beadie Russell. Jay Landsman. Brother Mouzone. Tommy Carcetti. And most of all, Bubbles the snitch.
  4. Firefly — I’m not going to go into the horrible thing that happened, and how all the people in charge at Fox network are a buncha gorram idiots. Although obviously they are. I mean, come on! It’s the only series ever that’s about space cowboys — something that previously only existed in the imagination of Steve Miller. That made it automatically better than any show that was merely a space opera or merely a western. And then, the characters and the writing took that advantage and blasted it clear across the known ‘verse. The use of language alone — “‘verse,” “shiny,” and the odd bits of Chinese thrown in — made it irresistible. Not quite on a “Clockwork Orange” level, but way up there. Favorite characters? Well, I guess Kaylee was my true favorite, but my publicly admitted favorite (so I don’t seem to be a dirty old man) is Jayne. Third would be Mal. Sorry, captain…
  5. The Andy Griffith Show — Yep, I’m a sentimentalist. If I wanted to be critical and judge it by Golden Age of Television standards, I’d object to the flaws. Like, how come only about two characters beyond Andy have Southern accents? Or how come, if he’s the sheriff, he seems to work for the mayor of Mayberry rather than being a separately elected county official? Why did Andy go from being the main comic figure to being the straight man in later seasons? But never mind all that. I love it, and I’ve loved it almost all my life (it wasn’t around for my first few years). If you want to love it as well, remember the main rule: Never watch an episode that’s in color. The good ones are all in black and white. Favorite character? Ernest T. Bass. Second fave is Floyd the barber. But I love the others as well. Except some of those who came along after Barney left.

Just barely got in one comedy, because the list needed it, and because I love me some Mayberry. Here’s the next five:

  • The Sopranos — I didn’t mean to disrespect you, Tony. Really. The show was awesome, and probably launched the whole Golden Age. I respect Rolling Stone‘s decision to make it No. 1 on their list. And I had it in my Top Five, truly. But then I realized I had completely forgotten “Firefly.” Anyway, fave characters: Paulie Gualtieri (played by an actual Wise Guy), Silvio Dante (possibly the most inspired casting decision in TV history), Adriana La Cerva, Artie Bucco.
  • Seinfeld — This came just about as close as you can get to being the perfect sitcom. And there was never another one like it. It did not fit in any kind of category. I could say much more, but do I really have to convince you? The only way I can imagine you disagreeing is if you get on my case for not having it in the Top Five.
  • 30 Rock — And this one may have been THE perfect sitcom. It took the same foundation upon which Carl Reiner based “The Dick Van Dyke Show” — in his case, his experience writing for “Your Show of Shows” — and expanded upon it and went wild with it. So many great characters, from Liz and Jack down to guest stars like Al Gore playing themselves (“Quiet!… A whale is in trouble! I have to go.”) But the one who amazed me the most, and could alone have put it on this list, was Kenneth Ellen Parcell.
  • Hill Street Blues — Kind of dated now, but wow was it impressive at the time. We had a sort of minor cult following at the paper in Jackson, Tenn. I remember one night watching it over at the publisher’s condo. He and his wife, who was our business reporter, served nachos. I had never heard of nachos. Of course, I couldn’t eat them anyway. But we all enjoyed “Hill Street.” Capt. Furillo was my ideal leader. As news editor at the paper, I wanted to be just like him in dealing with my reporters. But my favorite character? Renko.
  • Mad Men — One of the most glittering examples of Golden Age TV — brilliant in writing, direction, cinematography and acting. Like entering another world — one in which we got to see Christina Hendricks way more than we did in “Firefly.” For some reason though, once we got way into the 60s and people started dropping acid, I stopped watching. I need to go back and finish. I suppose I’ll have to start from the beginning, dagnabbit. Favorite character? Not sure. Maybe Joan. Or maybe Roger, the acid-dropper. Now I’ll do something different and list by far my least favorite: Pete Campbell. What a creep and a half.

There were a lot of other great shows out there, some of which didn’t even get a mention from Rolling Stone. So here’s a random bunch of honorable mentions:

  • Key and Peele — I suppose this is the thing on this list that I got into most recently — like, within the past decade. These guys are incredibly brilliant, and there’s no one else like them. However they first met and teamed up, we’re lucky they did. Best bits? Well, I love the obvious choices, such as “Obama’s Anger Translator,” “Substitute Teacher” and “I Said (I quickly look around before continuing) Biiiiiiiitch.” But my fave might be “Retired Military Specialist.”
  • The IT Crowd — For years, I saw this available on Netflix, and ignored it, having no idea what it was. Then my younger son talked me into watching one episode — and now I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve watched the whole three seasons. It’s hard to describe how funny it is. Now, I’ll watch pretty much anything that has the players in it. Fortunately, Chris O’Dowd has gotten a lot of work, and if I need a Richard Ayoade fix, I can always watch some “Travel Man” on Prime. But my greatest frustration is that it’s hard to find my favorite, Katherine Parkinson, anywhere. Last time I saw her was in “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” and it really wasn’t all that funny. Best episode is either “The Work Outing,” “The Dinner Party,” or “Are We Not Men?”
  • Breaking Bad — Are you thinking it’s kind of weird that this didn’t make either the Top Five or the next five? I sort of am, too, but I just kept thinking of things I liked better. It might be that this was the most stressful TV show I have ever watched, and the stress has lingered. But it still seems worthwhile to have watched it all, because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have appreciated the last episode, and that was really good.
  • Green Acres — I have mentioned a number of times that the possibly the most amazing night ever on television (from an 11-year-old’s perspective) was Sept. 15, 1965, the night that “Lost in Space,” “Green Acres” and “I-Spy” all debuted. We had returned to America — and to television — five months earlier after two-and-a-half years in Ecuador, and I was already overdosing on popular culture, and loving it. But that was the biggest night. At the time, my fave was probably “Lost in Space,” but “Green Acres” was definitely the one that aged the best. As was written in my favorite reference work, The Catalog of Cool, “To be truly cool, one must genuinely understand the uselessness of logic and reason in a world gone mad. ‘Green Acres’ understood it better than any other show.” I’d never seen anything like it before, and I haven’t since. Favorite character? Eb, of course.
  • The Office — The real one, the British one. Absolutely brilliant, although admittedly sometimes hard to watch, because David Brent. Favorite character? Probably Gareth.
  • Friday Night Lights — I’m sort of putting this here as a way of thanking Bryan for getting me to watch it. But I’m also putting it here because it was really, really great. Even though it was about, you know, football…
  • The State — I loved MTV when it started, when it knew its job was to show music videos, and have them be introduced by people like Martha Quinn or Daisy Fuentes. And it was wonderful. Then it got into other stuff. I will never forgive it for launching the scourge of reality TV. But I can almost forgive “The Real World” when I consider “The State.” If only it had lasted. And if only I could find the old skits online somewhere. Best one ever? “Prison Break.” (But that’s “off-limits”…)
  • Life on Mars — OK, this show was really uneven, and sometimes the writing was shaky. But it was a lot of fun, and I’ve watched the two seasons (the two series, since it’s British) several times. And not just to see Liz White as Annie. When I saw it on The Guardian‘s 21st-century list, I decided I had to mention it. A warning, though: Do not try to watch the American imitation. I couldn’t even make it through the first episode. Sure, it’s got Harvey Keitel in it, but he couldn’t save it.

Finally, I know I’ve forgotten something. Maybe several somethings. The way I was almost done when I remembered “Firefly.” But you’ve got to start a discussion somewhere…

Yes, I am a sentimentalist.

But he’ll remember with advantages What feats he did that day

This is pretty cool.

A significant number of the actors from HBO’s “Band of Brothers” did this a couple of years back, 20 years after the release of the series. But I didn’t see it until now.

I wish I’d seen it on D-Day itself, but hey, the Battle of Normandy was still far from won on June 7. So I pass it on, and hope you enjoy. Curahee!

It starts with “Captain Winters,” but you’ll recognize a number of the guys. Quite a few are Brits, which works well with Shakespeare, as they don’t have to put on American accents. But there are some Yanks as well — “Malarkey” and yes, the incomparable “George Luz.” (Actually, Luz should have done it as an impersonation of Major Horton.)

One or two of the guys look too young to have played soldiers two decades earlier. But on the whole, you see graybeards who seem ready to play the “old man” part of the “Henry V” speech:

He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’

Of course, the real old men, the ones with real scars to show, are all gone now. At least, all the ones whose portrayers in the series had speaking parts. (Unless you know of someone I don’t know about.) To them truly should go the honor.

But I also honor everyone involved in this series. And I’m glad quite a few of the real guys were still alive to see the tribute, and be a part of it.

I think this is James Madio, who played Frank Perconte. Isn’t it?

Doesn’t everyone do this? And if there are people who don’t, what is wrong with them?

This Tweet raised a number of questions:

My initial response was simply to reply, “I don’t know what this has to do with ‘parents,’ unless it was written by a child. Doesn’t everyone do this? And why isn’t IMDB mentioned?”

But seriously, people, when all of us are sitting there with smartphones, who doesn’t do this?

I don’t mean with Steve Buscemi. If you have to look him up, you should just quit partaking in popular culture altogether. I mean somebody a little harder, like Zoë Wanamaker. I see her all the time, of course (such as, recently, in “Britannia”), but I was thrown because she appeared in an episode from the first series of “Prime Suspect” in 1991, and I hadn’t seen her when she was that young. Also, she distracted me by stripping off her blouse to flash her breasts at a cop who was surveilling her.

Of course, some of us do it to a greater extreme than others. Like me. My wife goes, “Who is that? Where did we see her?” But then, she generally returns her attention to the show and follows the action.

Meanwhile, several feet away, I’m on my phone’s IMDB app, researching away. Which, of course, sometimes takes several steps. Sometimes with a TV show, simply calling up the entry for the show won’t tell you who this actor or actress, who may only have appeared in this episode, was (either because the person is buried in a long list, or, too often, is missing entirely from the main page). So I might have to look up the series on Wikipedia, and find the title of the specific episode, and then go back to IMDB and search for that episode by name, and that leads to success. I then call up a representative photo of that person, and show it to my wife, and tell her where she has seen him or her before.

And my wife says, “Yes,” and goes back to the show.

This presents a bit of a problem. Because even with my new hearing aids, I’m very dependent on subtitles to help me follow the dialogue. So after a couple of minutes of looking at my phone, I’m a bit lost as to what’s going on.

So I ask my wife. And tolerant as she is, this sometimes makes her a bit impatient with me. But she doesn’t call me a “parent.” She just, you know, thinks I’m a bit of a compulsive idiot.

But I can’t help it. In a world in which the computer — phone, tablet, laptop, what have you — is always right there, and always connected to the Web, I have to do this.

Before the Internet, I was sorta kinda able to focus on what was going on. The biggest problem back then was the dictionary. Always right there on the desk. Fortunately, I didn’t use it much, because I’m a fairly literate guy, and if I had to look the word up to be sure I was using it correctly, that was an indication that I probably shouldn’t be using it in the newspaper.

But I did look sometimes, and that meant I’d be lost for awhile. On the way to the word in question, I’d run across other words that would trip me and tie me down and force me to study them and the other words they led to, and it just went on and on from there. Eventually I’d get back to work, but it took awhile.

And the Web is millions of times worse, of course.

But it’s not because I’m a “parent.” It’s because I’m the most easily fascinated person on the planet. It’s like my superpower, although not very empowering…

Helen Mirren and Zoë Wanamaker in “Prime Suspect” in 1991.

Sorry, but I won’t even call back ‘Silverado’

For the longest time, most of the spam calls I received claimed to be coming from towns in South Carolina — Clover, Jackson (which I didn’t realize was a place in SC before that), Camden and so forth.

Lately, they’ve been coming from California. Don’t know why. Maybe the algorithm got confused between the two USCs.

Have y’all noticed that happening?

Anyway, I got one a few minutes ago, while on a work-related call, and of course I ignored it. But I was intrigued. It claimed to come from “Silverado.”

I don’t know about y’all, but I loved that movie. Coming out as it did in 1985, I saw it as a collaboration of young actors (all about my age, or slightly older) who had grown up on Westerns, but had never had a chance to act in one. So they made an oater that was packed with every trope you could think of — the roving gambler, the saloon, the wagon train of sodbusters, the evil rich guy who ran the town, the gunslinger, everything.

I thought, briefly, about calling back. I imagined myself talking to “Emmett” or “Paden,” or if I really got lucky, “Hannah.” (Then I could say, “All I did was talk to the girl.”) But with my luck, it would end up being “Sheriff Cobb.”

So never mind…

Stop nagging me, Netflix!

I get emails like this all the time. Do you?

They seem weird to me. I find myself wondering why Netflix cares whether I “finish 30 Rock.” I assume this is simply about making sure I’m watching Netflix, period. But if that’s the purpose, it seems to have at least a couple of problems as a strategy:

  • If AI has any actual intelligence at all — and I’m talking minimal smarts — it would know that I engage with Netflix quite frequently. Not all the time, because I have Prime and Britbox and Hulu and other streaming options. But often enough that I don’t need to be bugged about it — one would think.
  • Also, if you’re tracking me and my habits, why don’t you know that I’ve watched every bit of “30 Rock” multiple times? And I think I did so at least once on Netflix. This makes me less than impressed with your technology.

Maybe they just want to stay in touch with customers, and they don’t care how stupid the excuse is.

Anyway.

Do y’all get these? And do you have any idea why?

Today may be George’s birthday, but I’m thinking about ‘Lincoln’

The very first time I posted a “Top Five” list on this blog — during the first year, on Jan. 9, 2006 — I threw away the opportunity.

I did the most obvious topic of all — best movies of all time — and while the five were all completely deserving, I didn’t really think about it. I listed them, and didn’t even bother to explain my choices. I guess I just thought there was all the time and space needed in the future to fill in the gaps.

Here were the five:

1. “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
2. “The Godfather.”
3. “Casablanca.”
4. “The Graduate.”
5. “High Noon.”

Recently, I had occasion to ask, “Why wasn’t ‘His Girl Friday’ on the list?”

Well, I was asking myself something similar last night when, just before hitting the hay, I watched a few minutes of Spielberg’s “Lincoln” after seeing it was available on Prime.

And of course, since I needed to get to bed, I spoiled myself by scrolling to the very best scene of all. I’ve talked about it here before. Which, for whatever reason, I can’t find on YouTube — although here’s a piece of it, for some reason messed up with a sepiatone effect.

It’s that scene when Abe explains to his confused Cabinet exactly why the 13th Amendment has to pass, and has to pass now, before the war ends. It is the most amazingly perfect explanation of a political situation — of perhaps the key legislative moment of our nation’s history — that I have ever heard or read. His explanation of why the Emancipation Proclamation is on the ragged edge of uselessness (something many in the room likely understood, but as we see all the time these days, the audience does not), all the contradictions he has had to navigate to get this far without such an amendment — treating escaped slaves as “contraband,” which meant regarding them as property, which meant respecting the laws of the rebelling states, and sometimes regarding them as a foreign entity when his most core conviction is that they are not, and so forth…

And it’s all delivered by one of the best actors who’s ever lived, in what is probably his greatest performance, speaking in that backwoods aw-shucks way Lincoln had, the plain man so comfortably dissecting the most complex truths…

It’s amazing. And while this is the best, the film contains scene after scene like it. I remind you of the one in which Tommy Lee Jones takes his oh-so-self-righteous fellow Radicals to task by demanding that they try thinking, just for once, about the opportunity before them: “But… Hasn’t he surprised you?”

And so forth.

It would be amazing, a top-drawer film, on the most superficial of terms — based on mere wonder at how much they make Day-Lewis look like Lincoln. See the image above from my Prime account. I mean, if Lincoln didn’t look like that, he should have.

But there’s just so much more, in every detail. Of course, one is tempted to dismiss in on those grounds alone — Spielberg was such a mature master craftsman, at the peak of his game (which impresses us more — Scorsese’s raw “Mean Streets” or his polished “Goodfellas?”), and he had so many resources that previous generations never dreamed of. He was deliberately making a great film, and he did it.

Lacking that freshness factor, it seems out of place on a list that includes “Casablanca” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Those people had no idea whatsoever they were making something for the ages. It just happened. Poor combat-fatigued Jimmy Stewart was just trying to get a movie cranked out, having just returned from the war, and Capra was just doing that thing he always did, loving America the way he did…

But it’s right up there, however you count its virtues.

Anyway, I just wanted to say something about it, again (yes, I’ve praised it and praised it before).

Confession time: When I got the idea to write this, I was thinking this was Abe’s birthday (although Wikipedia had set me straight before I started writing). When I was a kid, and we celebrated both of them separately, I always had trouble remembering which was the 12th and which was the 22nd. I mean, come on — they’re practically the same number.

So I guess it’s just as well we mashed them into one day. Although, of course, I don’t think I’ve ever had that day off. Whatever…

Best John le Carré dramatization yet (non-Smiley division)

Gadi and Charlie visit the Acropolis…

It’s not the best le Carré ever, because we have to face the fact that the Alec Guinness version of George Smiley is out there, in both “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “Smiley’s People.”

But if you consider only adaptations of the non-George novels, I think this is the best.

And I wasn’t expecting that — at all. In fact, when I heard they had remade The Little Drummer Girl as a TV series back in 2018, I was, as usual, irritated. Why mess with success?

The 1984 version, starring Diane Keaton, wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty great. She was good as Charlie, Klaus Kinski was just as good as Kurtz, and Yorgo Voyagis — of whom I had never heard before or since — was very impressive as the conflicted, lugubrious Israeli hero Gadi Becker.

Yeah, they messed with it. For instance, they turned Charlie into an American. Because, you know, Diane Keaton. But beyond that, I was well pleased.

But still, when I fell victim recently to a come-on from AMC+ (a free week! which of course wasn’t enough to get me through this one show without having to pay!) I immediately had to go check it out.

And then, I had to watch all the way through. These last couple of days with COVID helped me get it done.

And from the beginning, I realized, “This is better.”

Especially if you appreciate dramatizations that are true to the book, in every possible way. And of course we don’t see that nearly enough. I had had high hopes for “The Night Manager,” which is probably my favorite non-Smiley le Carré. But you couldn’t get more than a few minutes into it before everything was turned this way and that. Worst of all, they updated it (shudder). As le Carré reacted at the time:

But a novel I had written nearly a quarter of a century ago reset in present time? With none of Pine’s trip to northern Quebec in the story? None of Central America? My beloved Colombian drugs barons replaced by Middle Eastern warlords? No zillion dollar luxury yacht for Richard Roper? A new ending to the story, yet to be discussed? What did that mean?

One change worked: Jonathan Pine’s handler was changed from a man to a pregnant woman. I’m still not sure whether that was an improvement because of the maternal aspects of looking after an agent in the field, or simply because the actress was Olivia Coleman. Probably both.

But the other changes didn’t work. Especially not the new ending.

But this was true right down the line. Time, place, characters and plot. Which is great because it’s a fantastic story, filled with delicate features and contradictions that could be thrown completely off with the wrong changes.

The moral ambiguity of the story is doubled, partly because of the extended time format. And that’s essential. No one — not agent Charlie, not her handler, not anyone — is supposed to be entirely sure who’s right and who’s wrong in this counterterrorism story.

And then there’s the casting. The unknown (to me) young woman who plays Charlie is just what the role demanded. She’s supposed to be an unremarkable little actress who feels she’s never been able to realize her potential. Now I realize: How could that be Diane Keaton, who at 38 was such a big star that they’d change the main character’s nationality to get her? She needs to be someone you look at and try to figure out and decide whether she’s up to the overwhelming task.

And you do. She makes you do that. A lot of women should love her in this. First, she’s not a willowy supermodel type like Ms. Keaton. Her figure — as you discover when the head of the terror cell makes her strip to her underwear as a safety precaution — is at best “average.” And yet, she has this quality that draws men’s eyes. You completely believe the thing you have to believe about Charlie — that she can bewitch everyone from her fellow actors to international terrorists.

They had to do the same with Gadi Becker. You had to believe that he could enthrall Charlie, and that it was so obvious that Kurtz, head of the Israeli team, could bank on it. And yet it was something Becker himself did not value.

As for Kurtz: Klaus Kinski was perfect, but if anything — if you’ll allow the logical impossibility — Michael Shannon is more so. An American, of course, but one who can really act, and makes this intense Israeli real. But what has Shannon ever done that wasn’t great, from Elvis to the cop in “Boardwalk Empire?” His characters are always bigger than life. And kinda scary.

Anyway, I recommend it…

Michael Shannon as Kurtz.

Why didn’t THIS make my Top Five? (Plus, Top Ten Comedies of all Time)

It gets better every time I see it.

So, when I watched “His Girl Friday” again over the holidays, I was yet again just bowled over with how awesome it is. Cary Grant’s best performance. Rosalind Russell’s, too. Loved what Ralph Bellamy contributed. Everyone was great, including a wonderful small role played by Billy Gilbert.

Congrats to Howard Hawkes. He was going for the fastest dialogue in any screwball comedy — in any movie, I suppose — and he got it done. The amazing thing is, every word of it worked. His goal was to be faster than the film upon which this one was based, “The Front Page.” He said he did it, and staged joint showings to prove it. A bigger thing he did was make the movie much, much more memorable. I’m not even sure whether I’ve ever seen the 1931 version, but it would have had to be a lot better than the 1974 remake (I can only take so much Walter Matthau) to even get into the same ballpark as “Friday.”

Seriously, how could it possibly have been anywhere near as wonderful with Hildy as a man? Turning him into Rosalind Russell and making her Walter’s ex-wife just added so many levels, it was exponentially better. Makes me not even want to go back and watch the original — so much would be missing.

Now, the personal bit. No, you probably won’t love it as much as I do. But if you don’t love it to some extent, your capacity for appreciating comedy is practically nonexistent.

I love it because I identify with it. Years ago there was a bit of pain — let’s say, guilt — associated with that identification. That’s because so much of the comedy derives from way editor Walter Burns manipulates everyone in his universe in order to get the story. And I wasn’t quite like that, was I, despite the shock of self-recognition? Did I lie to reporters to get them to pursue a story? No. Did I have a couple of crooks — male and female — hanging out in my office to go out and steal wallets or plant counterfeit money on innocents or to entrap them in sexual charges? No. Did I hide escaped killers? No. Or plot to toss out the city government in the coming election? No, at least not from the newsroom (you might make a weak argument that I may have attempted such effects from the editorial board).

But this was caricature, and the inventive — I mean, awful — things Walter did were exaggerated expressions of my never-ending drive to see to it that my reporters got out there and got the story. (Once, in the early 90s, an assistant managing editor called me a “news hound.” I said the newsroom was full of news hounds. She said no, it wasn’t. I was a good bit more obsessed. I think she was trying to manipulate me with flattery. You know how those editors are. You have to watch them.)

And sometimes I felt kind of bad about that. But as the years have passed, most of that has worn away, and I can see the humor in it without kicking myself quite as much.

Maybe that’s why it’s funnier every time I see it. And as awful as the journalists come across (and not just Walter and Hildy, but every occupant of the press room down at the cop shop — note their treatment of poor Mollie), I love the spirit of the enterprise still. So my favorite moment remains the one when Hildy has just torn up the great story Walter had manipulated her into getting and writing — having realized what Walter had done to make her do it — and essentially tells him to go to hell over the phone, and marches out of the press room self-righteously… just before gunfire erupts all over the place because the killer has escaped. So Hildy comes rushing back into the press room, grabs the phone and tells Walter:

Walter?… Hildy. Earl Williams just
escaped from the County Jail. Yep…
yep… yep… don’t worry! I’m on
the job!

And hangs up and runs right out to get the scoop! She wastes no time. She starts by chasing the sheriff down the street and physically tackling him.

Attagirl, Hildy!

Oh, scoff all you want to. It was awesome.

Anyway, as I watched, I wondered why this had never made my Top Five  All-Time Best Movies list. Oh, it made a Top Ten once, but why hadn’t it broken into the Top Five? Well, it’s complicated. Which of these (from 2006) would I bump?

I decided to do justice by putting it at the top of a subset list, so here are my Top Ten Comedies of All Time:

  1. His Girl Friday — Yay, it’s at the top of the list! And deserves it.
  2. Young Frankenstein — Some would choose “Blazing Saddles.” I would not. Have you seen that one in the last few decades? It doesn’t hold up. This does.
  3. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — I was looking at the AFI list of the supposed top 100 funniest movies in American cinema, and at No. 79 they had “The Freshman,” from 1925. Which I’ve never seen, but I did see “The Freshman” from 1990, and it was awesome. I mean, come on, Brando playing a guy who just happens to look like the Godfather? Still, it was not star Matthew Broderick’s best. Ferris was. And it didn’t even make this stupid list. Which is lame.
  4. This Is Spinal Tap — You can talk mockumentaries all day, but this is the granddaddy of them all, and the best ever. Because it goes to 11.
  5. Office Space — In a category by itself.
  6. My Man Godfrey — Another screwball comedy, but I think there’s room for this one and Friday both. It’s certainly different enough.
  7. Love and Death — Say what you will about Woody Allen (and there’s a good bit of creepy stuff to say), but I’ll paraphrase the fan from “Stardust Memories:” I really liked his early, funny ones. And the best of all was “Love and Death.” That’s what Tolstoy and Dostoevsky really needed — a few laughs.
  8. The Graduate — Yeah, this one is on my Top Five best ever. But it’s the only one of those to make this list. Yet I’m not sure it should be here. Was it really a comedy exactly? It’s the most category-defying of the truly great films.
  9. Groundhog Day — I had to get a Bill Murray in here, and I chose this one.
  10. The Paper — Initially, I had American Graffiti here. Or maybe Trading Places, which so brilliantly combined two Mark Twain stories, and two of his best. But I decided to end up where I started — with a film about newspapering that I could really identify with. Funny thing is, some serious journalists hated this film for some of the same factors that might cause someone to reject “Friday” — they were afraid it made us scribes look bad. But again, it was brutally dead-on caricature. Sure, we were more serious and principled that this. But I really, really identified with the Michael Keaton character, who at least had this going for him: He wasn’t as bad as Walter Burns, not by a long shot. Not as funny either, though…

 

 

As Billy Kwan asked, ‘What then must we do?’

Billy Kwan, making a point…

I was listening at Mass on Sunday — I really was, to the best of my ability. But until I went back and read the Gospel reading again, and some commentary on it, I missed something that should have grabbed my attention right away. Here’s the relevant first half of the reading:

Lk 3:10-18

The crowds asked John the Baptist,
“What should we do?”
He said to them in reply,
“Whoever has two cloaks
should share with the person who has none.
And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him,
“Teacher, what should we do?”
He answered them,
“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Soldiers also asked him,
“And what is it that we should do?”
He told them,
“Do not practice extortion,
do not falsely accuse anyone,
and be satisfied with your wages….”

Hours later, it hit me: That’s the passage Billy Kwan loved so much!

That memory is from a movie I loved so much, and have always thought should get more attention than it does: “The Year of Living Dangerously.”

There are so many reasons for that. Among them:

  • I’m not a huge Mel Gibson fan, but I think this was his best.
  • He played a journalist, and a large part of the conflict is his struggling to handle certain moral questions raised by obsession with getting the story, no matter what. It’s an actual moral question that journalism raises, different from the irrelevant things most critics of media raise.
  • Sigourney Weaver.
  • The fact that it’s set in the Third World, at the same time that I was living in a very different part of that world, also as a Western outsider. There’s something in the atmosphere of it that seems very right and accurate.
  • Various esthetic considerations, from the cinematography to the music.
  • The amazing fact that this was Linda Hunt’s greatest role, and she was portraying a man. Not to make any sort of latter-day Identity Politics point, but because she could, and she did a fantastic job.
  • Billy’s question, which pervades the film.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share that. Here’s the scene in which Billy shares this question of ultimate import to him — and to us all, if we’re as good as Billy. I always remember it the way he says it, “What then must we do?” And in our Scripture reading the “then” is left out, which is probably what caused me to fail to recognize it right away (also, it’s “should” instead of “must,” but that wouldn’t have thrown me off if the “then” had been there — a matter of rhythm). I just realized a few moments ago that he said it that way because he was citing the title of Tolstoy’s book, which he mentions in the scene…

The best use of rhythmic alliteration in a pop song, ever

Usually, I would wait until I could come up with “Top Five Uses of Alliteration,” in keeping with the immemorial custom of the blog.

But that might take me a month, or at least an hour (if I wanted a lame list, just to have a list).

So I just thought I’d say it. This is the best use of alliteration to achieve a rhythmic effect in the history of popular music:

“Little old lady got mutilated late last night…”

Yeah, it’s gruesome, perhaps even off-putting. But wow, does it pop as a way to warn people to look out for the Werewolves of London.

Today, walking around the neighborhood and listening to Pandora on my new phone — I initially started to listen to headlines on NPR, but like most news these days, it was all stupid — and since it was a new phone and all, I listened to a station I hadn’t heard for awhile, probably years and years: My “Handbags & Gladrags Radio” station.

I didn’t know what to expect, beyond related Rod Stewart tunes. I think when I created it I had been watching “The Office” (the real one, not the American one), and I always loved that they made an instrumental rendition of the song their theme. I wasn’t trying to make a Rod Stewart station, it was the song itself. I wanted to see what Pandora would tell me was like it, because I expected it would be pretty good.

And it was. Yeah, it’s a little on the mellow ’70s side. You can smell the dope (in the air, and sense the use of ‘ludes in the vicinity. But it’s more of the smart, edgy side of the mellow ’70s. Not Bread or Seals and Crofts or something mind-numbing like that. Stuff you can really get into, mind and body.

That, of course, led to the late, lamented Mr. Zevon. Which I appreciated.

The line before that one has a nice rhythm to it, too — although it’s not as evocative or provocative, it does a nice job of setting up the great one: “You better not let him in.” It creates anticipation, even excitement, because you know: Here it comes!…

And there it is! And now you know that whether you “hear him howling around your kitchen door” or not, don’t go walking through Soho alone after dark.

So… if we were building a Top Five List, what else should be included? It’s got to use alliteration to achieve a really impressive rhythmic effect, the way Warren did, racing through “Little old lady got mutilated” so that the words tumble over each other, and slowing down on the last three as though Warren hesitated to say the last word, probably because it didn’t have an L in it: “late last… night.”

I don’t mean exactly like that. It should be as different and distinctive as this is. (At least, it was distinctive, until other songs ripped it off). It just needs to achieve as impressive an effect.

Anyway, now that I asked y’all to do the rest of the work, just to observe the forms, here’s a quick Top Five Best Songs I Heard Just Now on that Station:”

  1. Werewolves of London, of course. I’m not sure whether this is my favorite Zevon song or not, but it’s definitely in the Top Three. “Lawyers, Guns and Money” is probably first, with “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” offering it some stiff competition. All on that same amazing album.
  2. Maggie May. Have I ever told you how large this song looms in my legend? About hearing it that day when I came to interview for the job at The State in 1987? It’s a good one, one of the moments in my life when I felt I was in a well-directed movie, and the person in charge of the needle drops had a really nice touch? If not, remind me to tell you.
  3. Your Song, by Elton John. This puts me on the sand of Barber’s Point on Oahu in 1970-71, not so much sunbathing (although getting burned) as resting up, letting the cramps in my side go away before I paddled my board back out. You ever surf (or are you like Charlie)? If you haven’t, you can’t imagine the way it punishes your lats. Anyway, someone else sitting nearby had brought a radio, and this was playing.
  4. Mandolin Wind. Not sure whether this or “Handbags” is my favorite Rod Stewart song. As does the wonderful “Werewolves,” “Maggie May” is probably third.
  5. Can’t Find My Way Home. In which Blind Faith inspires a semi-religious experience. Which is what they did throughout their oh-so-brief time as a Supergroup.

Other songs I heard were good, too, but those are the top five. If you’re on Pandora, I highly recommend creating such a station. This is far, far from being the only kind of music I like, but it is A kind of music I like…

Why were so many of those TV people single?

Brian Keith’s character had no wife, although he had Mr. French to help with the kids.

I don’t mean the actors; I mean the characters they played.

Robert Ariail raised the question in a comment back on that post about the picture of all those CBS stars:

One more comment since you brought up Ernest T. It took me a while to realize this , but do you know why everyone in the Andy Griffith show was so happy? No one was married.

Excepting Otis , the town drunk and Clara( was that her name?) Bee’s friend who was a terrible gossip and we never even saw her husband.

Just sayin’…

Well, that got me going to where I thought I should turn my response into a separate post. So here goes…

The Ernest T. reference he mentions was this, which I posted in response to a video from Bill.

As a former Ernest T. impersonator, let me point out, Ernest T. wanted to be married. He wanted it more than anything. That was the whole point of sprucing himself up to go to Mrs. Wiley’s mixers. And it was his main motivation in other episodes. It’s even why he wanted a you-nee-form

That aside, you’re completely right — not so much that people were HAPPY because they weren’t married, but that they simply weren’t married. (I don’t think Clara was married, either, was she?)

And this went way, way beyond “The Andy Griffith Show.”

I remember that dawning on me at some point in the ’60s. It was noticeable. In the world in which I grew up, grownups were married. My parents, and the parents of pretty much everyone I knew, were married. Some of them may not have been on their first marriage, but they were married, generally speaking. It was like it was a rule. (At this point, someone will rush to point out that “that’s because you had a privileged upbringing!” Well, no. Kids today know a lot more grownups who aren’t married, and yes, it’s a phenomenon that goes up as you move down the economic scale. But I think it you look at demographics from the 50s and 60s, you’ll see it was far more the norm.)

And I think it was simply a matter of giving the writers of shows more to work with. An unmarried person is in a position for his (and as you’ll see, we’re talking mostly men) life to go in more different directions. The viewer can wonder, “Will Miss Ellie Walker be the one for Andy?” But no, along comes the nurse, Peggy, and of course later on, Helen Crump. And others briefly in between. It gave the writers more possibilities for plots.

Everybody on Gilligan’s Island was single except the Howells, and who cared about them? From the perspective of Boomers, they were absurdly old. You had Brian Keith on “Family Affair,” and the show that was actually called, “Bachelor Father,” and “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.” And of course, it was “My Three Sons,” not “Our Three Sons.”

Yep, they were mostly men — if they were parents, and leading characters. Probably because the plight of the single mom was seen as sad — and of course even today, it’s more of a predictor of economic distress. If you wait to the 70s, you get “One Day at a Time,” which was sometimes funny, but even the title suggests a certain state of hardship. It took awhile to get to Murphy Brown. (Sure there were some earlier examples such as “The Ann Sothern Show,” and Lucille Ball’s efforts after Desi. But Ann Sothern was kinda before my time, and I have little memory of those later Lucy shows.)

Of course, all of the Clampetts — Jed, Granny, Ellie Mae and Jethro — were single, as was Miss Jane. Which was very important to the plots. From that same comedic universe, no one on “Petticoat Junction” was married, either. Not even Uncle Joe, who’s a movin’ kinda slow. Although with Kate Bradley, we did have a lead who was a single mom.)

Never mind comedy. Think about the leads of “The Rifleman,” or “Bonanza,” or any of the Warner Bros. Westerns. All single, near as I can recall (I’m not really familiar with some of those Warner Bros. shows). And that’s just one genre.

Speaking of Miss Ellie… Of course, there were  shows about married people. Elinor Donahue was the official older daughter on “Father Knows Best” and other shows like it. But I ask you, which was funnier: “The Donna Reed Show,” or “The Beverly Hillbillies?”

I rest my case. It was all about giving the writers more potential plots to work with…

Would Ellie be the one? As it turned out, no…

Is this real, or Photoshopped? I think it’s real…

Here’s another fun pop-culture thing, one that I found way more engaging than I would have thought if someone merely described it to me.

My friend Steve Millies in Chicago retweeted this the other day:

I assure you I looked at it more than a minute.

It didn’t look like anything particularly engaging at first. OK, so we have some people who were big in TV in the ’70s all dressed up and having their picture taken together.

Yeah, there’s Mary Tyler Moore right at the front, looking as she did when she was probably the hottest star on CBS with her show that ran from 1970-77. OK.

But wait. Alfred Hitchcock is standing next to her. And on the other side of him, Walter Cronkite. Whoa…

So you start looking around. And you have to hunt, but eventually you find:

  • All four stars of “All in the Family,” scattered separately here and there.
  • Chester, from “Gunsmoke.” Yeah, I know that at this time, he was McCloud, but to me, he’ll always be Chester. Anyway, everybody else in this picture was affiliated with CBS, as was “Gunsmoke,” and “McCloud” was on NBC. So I think he’s there for being Chester.
  • Lou Grant! Which makes sense, since Mary is there.
  • Andy, Barney, Opie and Gomer, scattered about the picture.
  • Carol Burnette.
  • Lucille Ball.
  • Art Linkletter and Art Carney. And Arthur Godfrey, I think.
  • Steve Allen? Yeah, I think so.
  • Adrienne Barbeau! Yeah, I see at least one other person from “Maude” there, but who cares? There’s Adrienne Barbeau, whom we all know from certain other classics as well…
  • Danny Thomas.
  • Telly Savalas.
  • Betty White, with red hair!
  • One of the Gabor sisters, but I can’t tell which. Probably Eva. When you zoom in, the quality is poor.
  • Hang on! There are Roy Rogers and Dale Evans!!! And Roy’s duded up in black tie…
  • Is that Danny Kaye near George Burns?
  • I’m not sure about this, but do I see Captain Kangaroo, only out of uniform?

There are so many others I could name — big stars. But I’m going to let you find them yourselves.

I guess this was like the Emmys or something, and CBS must have really gone to a lot of trouble to make this happen.

Of course, maybe it was Photoshopped. But I don’t think so. As remarkable as it is, I think it’s real.

The only reason I have to doubt it (aside from the logistical difficulty of getting them together at the same moment) is the fact that these people weren’t all on the network at the same time. Overall, it seems like a shot from the ’70s. Steve speculates it was at a certain point in that period: “Good Times/Barnaby Jones overlap suggests 1973-74.”

But when someone was on a show isn’t a limiting factor. Hitchcock hadn’t been on CBS since 1964. And Dennis Weaver, although a former star of “Gunsmoke,” was at this time on a competing network. But they’re in it, too. And this has to be a CBS effort, based on who’s in the picture.

It doesn’t sound like it would be fun, but I thought it sort of was…

 

 

 

 

 

Top Five Best Vacation Spots from Movies

‘There wolf. There castle…’

I read yesterday about this fun idea, poorly executed:

If you like scary movies, as the ghostly voice famously asks on the other end of the phone, you can now stay in the original house from the horror movie “Scream.”

Because this Halloween season marks the film’s 25th anniversary, Airbnb will be offering three one-night stays for up to four people at the Northern California estate where the movie took place….

Besides just being really scared, guests will have the opportunity to explore the two-story property in Tomales, Calif., and see eerie details such as knife marks on the doors to the garage. They will also get a virtual greeting at check-in from their host, David Arquette, who will be reprising his role as small-town sheriff Dewey Riley….

As one who loves movies, I think this is a tremendous idea. And when I say “poorly executed,” I don’t mean they didn’t follow through properly on details. For instance, here’s a picture of a room in the house, which you see comes complete with such time-appropriate items as a cordless landline phone. Also, it appears that when you watch the four movies in the series, they will be on VHS. Nice.

The trouble is, they chose a movie — or movie franchise — that I have never seen, and never intend to see. In fact, I’m not into the genre. My favorite work in this vein is this Geico ad, which makes fun of it wonderfully. So they’re not getting my hard-earned vacation bucks.

But there are some I would at least consider, assuming I had the money, and if certain impossible things were possible. Note that these are not my Top Five movies or anything. I thought about that. For instance, I thought about the Bailey home from “It’s A Wonderful Life.” But beyond having the top of the newel post on the stairs come loose every time you grabbed it, I wasn’t sure how to perfectly create the feeling of being in that particular house. So I just picked five movies I like that were set in places that lend themselves to the concept:

Number Five: “Home Alone” house — This is at No. 5 because it really didn’t require much creative thought. But I had to include it because among films I actually like, I can’t think of any that is more about a house as much as anything. Sure, Macaulay Culkin and Joe Pesci are both very entertaining, and who can forget John Candy’s cameo as the reassuring Polka King? But the house itself plays as important a role as any of the humans. “Home” is even in the title. I came away from watching it thinking, “I’d like to live in that house.” And it’s a real house, in the actual suburbs of Chicago. It’s still there. But since it sold for more than $1.5 million in 2015, you’d be better off aspiring to rent it through Airbnb.

Number Four: Almost Famous” bus — Why does it have to be a house? Rock bands’ tour buses have places to sleep on them, right? Of course, for this one to work, you have to assume a little magic: The actors from the movie would all be there, too, and they would all be the same ages they were when the film was made in 2000. Well, Patrick Fugit wouldn’t be there, because the idea is that you, the paying guest, would be that character. But you’d see Russell Hammond and Jeff Bebe and the other members of Stillwater. And here’s the best part: You’d get to sit next to Miss Penny Lane! You’d all be on your way to the Riot House in L.A., which would be a long way away as you drive through Midwestern farm country. And all of you would be singing “Tiny Dancer” together.

Number Three: Young Frankenstein” castle — As you approached your destination, Eye-gor would announce, “There wolf. There castle.” Assuming you wanted him to talk that way, which you would. You, of course, would be back in the hay with Inge. Once at the castle, you would be led to your chamber by the housekeeper, Frau Blücher (the horses outside all whinny loudly), carrying an unlit candelabra. She would warn you to stay close to the candles, for the stairs are treacherous. Then she would offer you Ovaltine before you retired. The fun would start when Inge came to your bed to wake you up from your Nachtmare, and the two of you would then follow the secret passage (“Put… the candle… BACK!”) down to the hidden laboratory, which would be filled with the actual, functioning equipment from the movie this one was lampooning.

Number Two: Cool Hand Luke” barracks — Hey, if people will pay money to be in a place where a horror movie was set, why not a prison? And you can have a lot of fun here, playing poker with your fellow guests for a cold drink. If you get tired of that, you can bet everyone you can eat 50 eggs. Why 50? It’s a nice, round number. Then, after everybody’s in their bunks, Dragline will keep you all awake by talking endlessly — in great, steamy detail — about “Lucille.” Speaking of the bunks, remember that clean sheets come on Saturday, at which time you put the clean sheet on the top, the top sheet on the bottom, and turn in the bottom sheet to the laundry boy. That’s a rule. There are a lot of rules, but don’t complain about it. If you do, that will be regarded as back-sassing a free man, and you’ll spend the night in the box. And you don’t want that.

Number One: HMS Surprise — Really, I just wrote the whole post for this one, because it is truly the ultimate. And like the “Home Alone” house, the venue actually exists. The filmmakers adapted HMS Rose to look and sail exactly like Surprise herself, and with ol’ Boney dead and the war over, it’s probably available now. At the start of your experience, instead of being greeted by a video of David Arquette like in the “Scream” version, the real-life Killick himself (as portrayed by David Threlfall) will walk up to you, as ornery as ever, jerk his thumb back over his shoulder, and announce, “Wittles is up!” That will be the start of a magnificent feast featuring soused hog’s face, flying fish that just happened to land on the deck moments before, an unending flow of wine (“The bottle stands by you, sir!” the captain will say repeatedly), and some sort of pudding, maybe even Spotted Dick. And that’s just the start. Your stay won’t last a weekend, or even a week, but months and months, because you’ll be sailing to the Far Side of the World. And it won’t cost you a thing. In fact, you yourself will be paid — not much in wages, but prize money is guaranteed! When you catch up with the chase, the captain will give you a pep talk, then give the poor sods a broadside, and you’ll board ’em in the smoke — a pistol in one hand and a heavy cavalry saber in the other! And you can’t say fairer than that, can you, mate?

I look forward to your own ideas.

Some of your shipmates aboard Surprise. That’s Killick pouring the wine.

Top Five Social Media I Hate (Personally)

The above is an email I got today. My reaction was, “LinkedIn deserves to be ‘moentized,’ far as I’m concerned. I may moentize it myself, next time I see it…”

We’ll talk another day about people who send out such emails, and are so careless with their headlines. Today let’s stick to LinkedIn, shall we? I hate it.

Which inspired me to write this quick-and-dirty list of social media I hate. And when I say “quick and dirty,” I mean even quicker and dirtier than the sloppy one about the Top Songs earlier.

I think I spent way less than one minute coming up with the five. Which is fitting, when writing about social media, don’t you think?

Anyway, here’s the list. Note that this is a personal list. I have to deal with some of these professionally, and in truth for many in business something like LinkedIn actually is useful, and I often help people make it more useful to them. But for me, I don’t get much out of it. This is partly because I’m not at a point in life when I’m trying to a) get a job or b) build a career. In other words, this is not business; it’s strictly personal:

  1. LinkedIn — Years ago, a colleague persuaded me to sign up for this, because it was the “professional Facebook,” or something like that. Not long before that, someone had persuaded me to sign up for Twitter, and I had loved that, so why not give this a chance, too, I figured. Also, I was briefly persuaded that in my post-newspaper career, I needed to be on LinkedIn. I no longer am. In fact, I haven’t been for years. Persuaded, I mean. Maybe y’all can argue me into believing again that it serves a purpose to me. Have at it.
  2. Snapchat — OK, I think maybe this feature has changed, but I’m not going to look it up, because I don’t care. I mean the feature that anything you posted there would soon disappear. This was touted as a feature rather than a flaw, which means it was being pushed to people who were stupid enough to post, on the internet, things they did not want other people to see. Here I was, glorying in the fact that anything posted on the Web could stay there forever (unless one’s blog disappeared), meaning that I would never in my life have to type or copy or in any way again publish the “background” we used to have to put in news stories — all you had to do was link to the old material, because it wasn’t going away! That was possibly the one most wonderful thing about the Web. And these people were giving it the finger. So I hate it.
  3. Instagram — It’s about pictures, and yet you can’t right-click and save a picture from it. How stupid and pointless is that? I can grab pictures, if I need them, from anywhere else. But not from here. Which I realize is intentional, and that irritates me no end. I’m responsible with pictures, and careful not to use them if I don’t have permission to do so, within the boundaries of Fair Use. (Ask Paul DeMarco.) So I stay away from it.
  4. Reddit — Listen, I know a lot of intelligent people who really like this medium. But I don’t, because I don’t understand it. I’ve tried using it, and couldn’t find any reason way in which it was a helpful or useful tool, and decided I didn’t understand it. Which meant the people who love it must be smarter than I am. And what do I think of a social medium that shows me other people are smarter than I am? I hate it.
  5. Facebook — It’s a little weird that this is only No. 5 on my list, because I’m sure that I say “I hate Facebook” more than I say I hate all other social media combined. But that’s just because I deal with it that much more. So does everyone, because it is by far the most ubiquitous. And one of many reasons it’s so dominant is that in many ways it is useful. Like for sharing pictures and news with a group of friends and relatives. For instance, one branch of my family has a members-only group from which I’ve gotten lots of great old family pictures for my tree. And Facebook does that better, and more conveniently, than most other instruments. Of course, if you start using FB as your sole Source for News and All Knowledge, it will mess you up. But that’s your fault. So really, I just occasionally dislike it fairly strongly, and other days enjoy what I get out of it….

Of course, there are other social media I love, even as I see their profound flaws and worry about the Rabbit Hole phenomenon. Those include Twitter — use it responsibly — and YouTube.

Then there are in-between social media — such as Pinterest. I go surf through it occasionally, and it intrigues me, but I can’t shake the feeling that it could be so much better

A slapdash ‘Top Ten (plus) Songs of All Time’ list

A Pre-Raphaelite take on “Greensleeves”…

Just to start a conversation…

I mean, a serious Top Ten Songs of all Time would take years to think through and put together, and even then I’d probably hesitate to publish it without lots of caveats, protesting my own ignorance and forgetfulness. How do you construct such a list and have confidence in it?

Think about it. I doubt that any of us would even be familiar with a tune dating back before, maybe, the 9th century (see my list below). And surely there was something catchy going on somewhere in the Roman Empire — not to mention the many thousands of years homo sapiens was kicking around before inventing writing. Some caveman might have had a great groove going on around the campfire (assuming fire had come along).

Because “all time” is a long time.

But even within my own lifetime, I’m sure that if I tried to do it, within five minutes after posting, I’d remember something I’d forgotten. And then I’d remember something else.

Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about doing such a list for awhile, and I was reminded of that notion today when I saw this tweet, shared by our own Bryan Caskey:

Bryan had replied, “Rolling Stone Magazine is just trying to stay relevant and avoid relegation into the lower tier.” (I sort of wondered what he meant. What about that list made it “relevant?” And relevant to whom, in what context?)

In any case I jumped in, criticizing specifics: “Seems like they’re trying a bit too hard to ‘take care of TCB,’ to cite a painfully redundant phrase I heard somewhere. And ‘Like a Rolling Stone?’ I’m not sure that would even make a list of top ten songs by Dylan alone…”

I was overreacting a bit. That probably would make a Dylan Top Ten. But fourth best song of all time, by anybody? Come on…

Anyway, here’s the Rolling Stone list.

And now, my own slapdash effort. I’m just going to throw a bunch of songs out there, with some of them being representative of several other songs I might have chosen in the same category. And to save time, I’m not going to worry about paring it down to 10, much less my usual five, because that takes extra work. Note that these are all popular songs; I’m not trying to be all arty with you. (You may argue that Veni, veni, Emmanuel is sacred plainchant — or something like that; I’m no expert — but I will say it had to be really popular to last 12 centuries.)

Oh, and I’m not ranking them, just listing sorta, kinda chronologically. Here we go:

  • O Come. O Come, Emmanuel” — If you’d perused the charts back in the 9th century, you’d probably have known it as Veni, veni, Emmanuel. Definitely my favorite hit from before the Norman Conquest. And I guess it’s the oldest song I know — or the oldest that I know is that old. The Church plays this a lot during Advent — it’s sort of the Advent song. But they never quite play it enough for me.
  • Greensleeves” — Or, as it was known when published in 1580, “A Newe Northen Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves.” As you probably know, Shakespeare mentioned it. I first heard the tune myself when I went to see “How the West Was Won” as a kid. Now, I usually hear it at Mass in the weeks after Advent ends, as “What Child Is This?” Whatever the lyrics, it’s an awesome tune. So congratulations, King Henry. This was your one chance to make the list, and you did it! (Just kidding.)
  • La Marseillaise” — This is the only national anthem on the list, I promise. I love our own, and “God Save the Queen,” and the Russians have a nice one. I can even say positive things about “Deutschland über alles” (or, as it is correctly called, the Deutschlandlied — but we don’t usually call it that because it’s a lousy song name). But I think the French take the prize in this, if in nothing else. If you doubt the song’s power, go watch “Casablanca” again.
  • Lorena” — There were a lot of hit songs during the Civil War, but of all those Ken Burns weaved so artfully into his TV series, I find this one most appealing. It predated the war, but during the fighting it was huge among both the blue and the gray. Here’s a version with words.
  • “I’ll Be Seeing You” — Same here. Written in 1938, but during the war, this one most powerfully captured the yearning of so many millions to be back with their loved ones. One of the most wistful songs ever.
  • Hard-Headed Woman” — Had to get in some Elvis P. This one was my fave when I was about 3 (the year it came out), and I’m just going to keep it there. It’s special because it represents a certain category in my mind, which is songs that really rock out, no holds barred. You could say the same about “Tutti-Frutti,” or maybe another Little Richard track such as “Good Golly Miss Molly.” Creedence made a solid entry in the class with “Traveling Band.” But this is my favorite. When I was a kid, I definitely had a favorite line. I used to go around saying, “You better keep your cotton-pickin’ fingers out my curly hair…” Oh, and if you like some Wanda Jackson, here you go.
  • Summer Wind” — I’m also making a special effort to get in some Sinatra, and to me, this one blows away all the others.
  • Yesterday” — OK, I’m being hard on the Beatles here, only allowing them one song. Especially hard on Lennon, since as even he admitted, he had nothing to do with this one. If you want to be kinder to John, you can substitute “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” or maybe “In My Life.” If I spent years working on this list, really did the homework and the sweating, I might end up with more than one Beatles song on the list, but this one will have to represent the rest.
  • Just Like a Woman” — My answer to Rolling Stone including “Like a Rolling Stone.” Yes, that’s very emblematic of him, but it’s easy to name a bunch of his works that are simply better songs, no doubt about it. And if you don’t think this is the best thing from “Blonde on Blonde,” I’ll allow you to substitute “Visions of Johanna.”
  • Soldier of Love” — This me pulling a real Barry (from High Fidelity) move, going with a pop song that’s sort of esoteric. I loved it when I heard the cover of it on “The Beatles on the BBC,” but I think I might have enjoyed the Pearl Jam cover even more. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever even heard the original, whoever did it. (Oops, found it.)
  • Mas Que Nada” — If you want to evoke the 1960s in the mind of someone who actually lived through them, you’ll play this perhaps even more readily than something by the Beatles or the Stones. That’s what Austin Powers did, and it worked. Coming from me, it also represents my love of samba music from that era. So you could also have chosen “One-Note Samba,” “Desafinado,” or the ultimate standby, “The Girl from Ipanema.” For that matter, just get Astrud Gilberto to sing anything, even if not samba, and I’ll be happy.
  • Green Shirt” — My official Elvis C. entry. Again, could have been any number of others, but we love this one down at the Quisling Clinic.
  • Hallelujah” — I’ve raved about this a number of times in the past, but I tell you — this Leonard Cohen masterpiece would probably make the Top Ten list even if I spent the rest of my life on it.
  • Creep” — Wanted to get in something good from the early ’90s — the very last gasp of rock music — and probably would have been happy with something from Weezer or Green Day, but for now this will do. The boys from Abingdon did a great job on this one. And if you’d like a fun cover, here ya go.
  • Hey Ya” — Here, I’m just being perverse by including one song from the Rolling Stone list. It was the only pick that I found at all original or thoughtful, and I’m sure Barry would say the same. So I’m throwing it in. It ain’t “Greensleeves,” but it’s catchy.

Yeah, that was 15. I just didn’t want to do the sweating necessary to get it down to 10. I look forward to seeing y’all’s lists. And remember, “all-time” doesn’t just mean, you know, when you were in high school…