Monthly Archives: June 2010

(F)X Marks the Spot

Louis C.K. is back on television and thank God for that!

Lucky Louie, his prior cable show that infused his comedy writing into a lewd and hysterical sitcom, proved to be too much for people. Their loss! The cast (Pamela Adlon, Rick Shapiro and several great fellow comics) was perfect, and his knack for putting himself into extremely awkward situations was both bold and hilarious.

Louie, the new show, merges clips of his stand-up performance with related filmed set-ups, which is not a new idea (think Seinfeld if the clips were used within the show instead of just bumpers). But Louis is an extremely watchable actor who convincingly sells uncomfortable and cringe-worthy. The material is based on his own life;  I sure hope he’s embellishing the bad parts.

Great to see fellow comics like Jim Norton, Nick DiPaolo and Eddie Brill onboard as well (I could watch a “poker scene” every week just to let these guys riff) and Chelsea Peretti was great as the date from hell. But the better part of the show is simply Louis on stage, showing why he might just be the best stand-up comic we have right now. Not to mention prolific – this year should also see the release of yet another CD and DVD of fresh material.

Personally I enjoy the blend of stand-up and filmed segments – Louis C.K. writes, directs, edits and produces the entire thing, so it’s a pretty consistently funny experience. But if you’re the type who enjoys the stand-up routines but hates the vignettes that set them up, Videogum is the site for you – they’ve parsed the stage material.

Bonus: hearing “Brother Louie” as the theme song every week!

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Rescue Me is also back for its final season, although the decision was made to split the episodes between 2010 and 2011, with the closing of the show set to coincide with the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

 The first episode picks up after the pseudo-cliffhanger from last year (did anyone really think they were going to kill Tommy Gavin?) and uses the hour to re-introduce most of the central and recurring characters, most of whom have finally had their fill of Tommy. Haunted by his personal failures – and still haunted by his dead cousin – Gavin is somehow still on the precipice of a further fall even when seemingly at rock bottom. His wife might be finding solace with one of his crew, his daughter might be following in his footsteps, and his workplace might be closing, the victim of budget cuts and politics.

When the show first aired, there was a solid dose of homage to the fallen heroes from 9/11 and an emphasis on what is was all about to be a firefighter. As seasons progressed it became more about the humor and pathos of the firefighters’ personal lives (much like The Job spent less and less time at the police station), but anyone who knows good television cans ee an arc of redemption on the way. Will Tommy Gavin have to sink lower before rising to the occasion? Do bears shit in the woods?

Leary has always been loyal to his friends and associates, so thankfully that results in a lot of face time for Adam Ferrara and especially the great Lenny Clarke, whose Uncle Teddy character has shown he’s not shy about firing a sidearm. Also great to welcome back the luminous Andrea Roth, note-perfect as his exasperated (and smoking-hot) wife Janet.

I like Denis Leary the stand-up, but I really like Denis Leary the actor/producer/writer a lot more. He’s two-for-two already and I hope he and partner Peter Tolan have more concepts up their sleeves for 2012 and beyond.

Just two more home runs for FX, arguably the best channel on TV the past couple of years. And only a couple of more months before It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Sons of Anarchy return.

Louie

Rescue Me

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Summer, Save Us!

Realized that my three weekend posts were rather depressing, although in truth I am celebrating the lives of Pete, Tommy and Dige more than mourning their passing. Every year brings loss, some more than others. The first six months of 2010 have been very difficult, though.

There’s something about the turning of the seasons that brings solace, however, especially in the Northeast where the winters can be brittle and brutal. Spring will juggle nice days and wet weather, but Summer…ahh, now you’re talking. Granted, the joke up here is that it only lasts a week, but it’s really a pretty glorious three months, which my math skills say is all you can really expect from one-fourth of a year.

And summer means summer music! So today I point you to yet another marvelous compilation by my friend Angelo at PPC, whose talent for assembling mixes is only matched by the wonderful artwork he designs to accompany them.

Volume Two of this collection features a bevy of great bands like The Lolas, The Lackloves, The Squires of the Subterrain, The Flashing Lights and The Reckless Hearts. Household names? Nope. Great bands not getting enough attention? You bet!

So go get it, roll down those windows and crank it up!

And if you pay attention while you’re there, Volume One is also available.

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Happy Birthday, Mel Brooks!

 

He’s given us (among other things) Get Smart, The Critic, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and The Producers. He helped get The Elephant Man and My Favorite Year brought to the screen. He made his bones in a writer’s pit with Neil Simon, Carl Reiner and Sid Caesar

As an actor, director, producer, screenwriter, lyricist, singer and playwright he has helped introduce satire and parody to the last three generations…and his timeless work will continue to entertain the planet (and whatever life-forms visit in the future) for eternity. 

He’s won an Emmy, a Grammy, a Tony and an Oscar

 

He is, without a doubt, a comic genius

He is Melvin KaminskyMel Brooks to us – and he’s 83 years old today

I’m sure I’m not the only person who can recite lines from Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein by heart – I might, if pressed, spill out the whole movie. When The American Film Institute (AFI) released their recent poll of the funniest movies ever made, Brooks scored three of the top thirteen: Blazing Saddles (#6), The Producers (#11), and Young Frankenstein (#13). That is astounding

As an Alfred Hitchcock fan, I have a soft spot in my heart for High Anxiety, which skewers several Hitchcock films perfectly while maintaining a suspenseful (but hilarious) plot of its own. It’s a funny film if you’ve never seen a Hitchcock film, but if you know the master, it’s priceless. And who but Brooks would float a silent movie – called Silent Movie, of course – where the one spoken word came from the mouth of the world’s most famous mime? 

I realized recently that there were a lot of people who were very familiar with Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles (film and Broadway versions) but were unaware of Mel’s iconic “2000 Year Old Man” character, a routine played to perfection with the great Carl Reiner. A few months ago Shout Factory released a box set collecting all the albums and cartoons, adding some commentary and rare footage. It’s a first-rate package and a must-own for comedy fans. 

 Here is my review from earlier this year… 

 

Reiner recalls that the genesis for the 2000 Year Old Man occurred when he approached Brooks with “Here’s a man who actually knew Jesus” and Brooks deadpanned “Oh, boy”. But although they would continue the routine in private for years as parlor entertainment for themselves and their friends, it wasn’t until they were finally prodded by Steve Allen to record it in his studio. (Or perhaps it was George Burns asking if the routine had been recorded, playfully insinuating that he’d swipe it if it wasn’t.) Reiner had gotten in the habit of bringing a tape recorder to these parties because Brooks never said the same thing twice, and he was astute enough not to let this comedic gold slip away. 

  

Over the years the pair released five albums: 2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks (1961), 2000 and One Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks (1961), Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks at the Cannes Film Festival (1962), 2000 and Thirteen (1973) and The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000 (1998). The 1998 album won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Comedy Album, besting fellow nominees Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Jeff Foxworthy and The Firesign Theatre.  

The structure of featuring the title character as one among many was continued on the second and third albums, but the fourth and fifth albums were dedicated solely to the man who survived modern history. Reiner continued to play the voice of the audience, asking questions and challenging answers. “He was like a District Attorney” claimed Brooks, who felt that Reiner’s real-life knowledge of history and important events raised the bar on the exchanges. “I knew the questions” quipped Reiner, “but I didn’t know the answers”. 

Read the rest of my review at PopMatters

Mrs. Robinson, I think you DID seduce me!

Mel Brooks wiki 

Get this incredible collection of Mel’s films for a pittance! 

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Buddha With A Badass Halo

A couple of weeks back I got a call from a long-time friend that a college buddy of ours was in critical condition and things looked grim; by the time I was able to pull the pieces together he was already gone. He was just slightly older than me, an age young enough that a death is still a shocking event, but that was chronological years. Dave lead a raucous and hard life and not only burned the candle at both ends but lit yours as well. As he got older this caused more serious consequences; hangovers and apologies became damaged relationships, damaged health and lots of pain, both mental and physical.

When I knew him in our younger days, often hanging with him was like a joyride in a stolen car – you knew it wasn’t going to end well, and you had a moment of clarity that said “I should leave”…but you went along for the ride. Other times it would be late night discussions about…well, just about anything, deep emotional and intellectual discussions that would end at daybreak with a man-hug and a cup of coffee in the cafeteria before you both slept through your 8:00 philosophy class. Hell, why not? You had just philosophised all night long!

There were a bunch of us in college who hung out like a pack of wolves (nice wolves, mind you) but after graduation, efforts to keep in touch generally faded as we moved, got married, got jobs, had kids. Without the wonder of cell phones and email it took more of an effort to stay in touch, and over time friendships became mostly warm memories. Several years back, when one of us was at death’s door, word spread and people reconnected – albeit  ultimately for a sad occasion. Reflecting on it soon afterwards we realized that one of Rich’s legacies was bringing us all back together; most of us have remained in touch since and have made several trips to get together.

It was through some of this networking that I would hear the occasional story about Dave over the years – another marriage, another binge, another moment of madness that was both hilarious and disconcerting. A man who was completely charming and gregarious with a big heart and a kind soul, yet if someone described him as “the biggest asshole I ever met” you would not bat an eye (obviously they met his dark side). His meter went from zero to one hundred and back like a pendulum. I’m sure there were others who thought he was the greatest guy they ever met, but you don’t hear that as much because those stories just aren’t as funny to tell.

And now he’s gone.  No more demons. No more pain or hurt, just peace. That picture above captures Dave perfectly – Buddha with a bad-ass halo.

These two are for you, Dige. You’ll know why.

The Band: “Don’t Do It

Steely Dan: “My Old School

Look out, God – you have your hands full now.

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R.I.P. Tommy Hoehn

This is turning into a depressing weekend.

I was so startled by the loss of Pete Quaife yesterday that I didn’t even realize it was Friday and therefore time for my weekly TGIF feature. By the time it dawned on me, I didn’t really care to go back and rectify the oversight; I spent a few hours last night reading tributes and thoughts from other Kinks fans who were also saddened by his passing.

Now just a day later, more bad news. Memphis takes another kick in the nuts with the loss of Tommy Hoehn who died late Thursday night. You might not recognize his name right off the bat, but he was an integral part of the powerpop scene in Memphis and a contemporary of Big Star and other Ardent Studios artists who were plowing a different field than corporate radio in the 1970s.

Memphis is still reeling from the loss of Alex Chilton in March; now this. Besides the obvious thoughts and prayers to friends and family, my heart goes out to John Fry, Jody Stephens, Van Duren and other musicians and associates who knew and worked with Tommy for so many years.

Back in the day, it was Creem Magazine that first tipped me to Big Star and I wanted to gobble up as much of that type of music as I could find. During that expedition I discovered Losing You To Sleep, Tommy’s second album. It was on London Records and sure, with his beard and opened white shirt, he looked more like J. D. Souther or Andrew Gold than your typical powerpopper. But “Hey Polarity” and the title song knocked me out, and another track (“She Might Look My Way”) was a Chilton co-write. 

Hoehn had his hand in the jelly jar for Sister Lovers and also did some work with The Scruffs, but he slid to the melodic Paul McCartney and Emitt Rhodes side of the fence more than he did the crunchy sound of The Raspberries or Badfinger. Reportedly his musical hero was Todd Rundgren, but listening to his beautiful melodies and delicate style, you realize that his doppelgänger might have been his friend from Big Star,  Chris Bell.

Coincidentally, another album I picked up at that time was Are You Serious by Van Duren; Van would later record with Tommy as the Hoehn-Duren Band during the powerpop rebirth of the 90s,  releasing Hailstone Holiday and Blue OrangeNothing disappears on the Internet, so I can give you this link from an eleven year old blog post that sums up how they got back together after years apart. (Van has a new album out, but more about that very soon.)

The anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death is sucking all the oxygen out of the atmosphere this weekend and no doubt both Quaife and Hoehn are getting lost in the shuffle. Maybe that’s par for the course, since both were underrated and undervalued in the commercial scheme of things. But for those of us who get it, these are sad and painful goodbyes to people who have contributed far more to the music of our lives than Jacko ever could.

R.I.P., Tommy. Ironically, we’re losing you to sleep.

Scott Homewood’s 2007 essay on Tommy from Lost In The Grooves

Amy Nyman’s 2007 blog post about that Memphis scene.

Ardent Studios

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Dead End Street

Pete Quaife, original Kinks bassist, dead at 66.

“All those early gigs we ever played
Sometimes we were lucky if we even got paid
On the road
Pete played on the bass guitar
Liked to get around, mixing with all the stars
But Mrs. Avory’s child was all fingers and thumbs
But solid as a rock, setting time on the drums
While Dave the Rave hit the rock ‘n’ roll riffs
Yours truly strummed away with a slightly limp wrist

Ironically, Ray Davies also just turned 66 the other day. Rumors had run rampant for the last couple of years that the original band was going to reunite for one more album and tour, but I remember Ray saying he was going to do that a decade ago to celebrate the Millennium.

Now it’s too late.

Quaife was an underrated bass player and understandably so; how could you possibly stand out with the flamboyant Davies brothers out front? But listen to the early singles and albums like Face To Face, Something Else and Village Green Preservation Society and you’ll realize just how solid Quaife and Mick Avory were. They were the engine; Ray was the fuel…and Dave was the gear shift, chrome bumpers and (careful, ladies!) back seat.

Where Have All The Good Times Gone?

Pete quit the band over forty years ago (replaced by the exquisite John Dalton) but was still revered by Kinks fans worldwide. And even when he was diagnosed with renal cancer a decade ago but turned lemons into lemonade. A graphic artist after his music career, he drew cartoons during treatment that morphed from a private pleasure into wide acclaim. A collection of these were released in a book entitled The Lighter Side of Dialysis.

In Pete’s words, “For the last 10 years, I have been a dialysis patient. During those long, boring, sessions, I found that drawing cartoons was an amusing outlet for all of my frustrations with the condition, the hospital and even at times, the professionals that were treating me. I hope you can enjoy the humour in these cartoons – I know I certainly enjoyed creating them! I have tried to make light of the various situations that I know we have all had to endure at one time or another. I hope these cartoons will make your situation a little better, wherever you may be. Remember, there is always humour – even in the deepest despair.”

He had reportedly fallen ill recently, even in a coma for a short time. The passing of anyone who has endured renal issues for a decade is not a great surprise. But it’s a sad day for Kinks fans worldwide, for his chapter has closed forever. Rest in Peace, Pete.

Today will be filled with Sunny Afternoons and Waterloo Sunsets.

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Kinda Kinks

Geoff Edgers’ tribute from Do It Again

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Barn Empty. Horses Still Visible?

Towering Inferno

I got an email today from Jim Urie, President of NARM (National Association of Recording Merchandisers) reminding me of his primary mission for 2010 regarding intellectual property and ISP involvement. At the recent awards dinner he made a keynote speech entitled “Call To Action“. The thrust was that the government (!) needs to intervene in the war on piracy before all is lost, because people are sharing music illegally. 

Well…duh

Urie (also the head of Universal Music Group) is seeking a viral marketing campaign to bring the issue to the attention of our elected representatives to force cooperation from Internet Service Providers, a tactic which he says has worked in other countries to reverse the trend. From his email: 

The music business is facing huge challenges from piracy and theft. Never before in American history has an entire industry been so decimated by illegal behavior.  Yet the government has not responded in a meaningful way to help us address this crisis.  My call to action is for all of us to become more aggressive in lobbying our government, more outspoken in drawing attention to the problems caused by piracy and more actively engaged.  We cannot win this fight alone.” 

 

I have mixed emotions about this issue. On one side, the record industry could have done the right thing all along – like any sane business – and by anticipating the future and changing with the times. But they stubbornly held on to their antiquated sales model years after its atomic half-life expired, and even when blatant warning flags like Napster came along to wake them from their slumber, they just didn’t get it

First it was the loyal mom and pop shops who took the hit. Few at the top of the record company foodchain gave a shit, because they were concerned with their mega-chains and their superstar artists and keeping their hand in your wallet 24/7. But when seismic shifts happened – like Tower Records collapsing – then and only then did the movers and shakers start to admit that change was evident. 

It’s 2010…Tower filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and closed in 2006.  

So much for preemptive strikes; even Tower’s demise didn’t force the issue. The barn door has been open for years and years and I’m not even certain the horses are still in view. Had they not been so greedy and foolish, we wouldn’t be having this exchange today. 

Ten years ago Kodak was still stubbornly insisting that digital photography was a fad and that film cameras would be around forever. That egregious decision almost sunk a billion dollar corporation; what was a seventy dollar stock price in 2000 now hovers at five. They will survive, but they’ll probably never recover from the failure to act. 

Maybe I’d feel more sympathetic towards the music industry if I didn’t witness so many labels treating artists like cattle, failing to reinvest their huge profits into artist development and coddling flavors of the moment instead of nurturing long-term relationships. Tend the fire? They couldn’t even keep the kindling lit. They support gougers like Ticketmaster. They support the monopolies of national promoters because they are also a monopoly

Now they’re drowning. Think Ticketmaster or Live Nation gives a shit? 

 

On the other side, I am acquainted with a lot of people who are musicians and artists who are watching their product get stolen (and in some cases sold for money they have no share in). I know writers and publicists who lost their jobs. I know many record stores that aren’t there anymore. 

And as much as I can blame shitty radio or the drive to satisfy tweens or the myriad of other ways to spend an entertainment dollar, the fact remains that a large part of their potential income is lost because people take their art and give it away without their permission. Put as much lipstick on that pig that you want, but that is called theft

And I realize that a lot of those people getting that free music would never have paid for it; they only got it because it was free. That’s not the point. And if you try to sell me the idea that attainability is possession, I’ll respond with a hearty fuck you – just because you can grab something does not mean it belongs to you. If possession was ownership, there would be no shoplifting, no breaking and entering, no kidnapping, no grand larceny. I’m not trying to equate file sharing with kidnapping, but the premise is the same – someone taking what they want without concern for anything but their own gain

 

I’m all for the availability of music, but I firmly believe that the only person who decides what price you should pay is the owner of that music. And more and more often these days, that’s the artist, not the record company. But even as assholic as the record companies have proven to be, if they legally own the music, it belongs to them. Let the paradigm change as artists discover they can do it better on their own rather than have a large faceless corporation bury them in a financial blizzard. 

It’s a simple fact that a musician selling CDs on CD Baby can reap five to fifty times the royalty rate they would get on a major label deal. An independent artist with controlled overhead and fiscal sanity could sell a thousand albums and make a living. Try doing that on a major label

 

So you can see why I’m divided on this issue. On one hand I’m disgusted that the record industry waited long after an appropriate time to try to resolve the issue fairly; they banked on the fact that the tide would come back in and everything would return to normal. On the other hand…theft is theft

So check out the links below and make up your own mind. Maybe you’ll sign a petition. Maybe you’ll patronize the artists instead of the torrent sites. Maybe you won’t do anything. 

In the end it is your conscience and your wallet. Do the right thing

 

Music United website

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