Monthly Archives: June 2011

Forward, Into The Past…

We take so many things for granted. And we forget that not so long ago, so many things were very different.

Twenty-five years ago today, a Supreme Court decision made homosexual acts between consenting adults illegal.

 Bowers v. Hardwick was eventually overturned, with the presiding judge stating that  “Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.”

Next month, gay marriage becomes legal in New York State, the sixth state to pass the amendment. Interesting cluster of states (see map above, details here), resembling most political issues where the coasts and the middle of the country are polar opposites.

I get both sides of the argument. I do believe that everyone should be free to pursue their own religious and social beliefs, regardless of gender. And I can appreciate the fact that religious people believe in the sanctity of marriage as a heterosexual union between man and woman.

But what tips the hand for me is my belief that any union of two people making that level of commitment should receive the same rights, tax breaks and social status. If marriage is such a religious institution…why are we voting on state and federal levels? Faith is a personal pledge that should have nothing to do with politics. It should be the same with love.

And people, we have much bigger fish to fry.

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Major League – Another Sequel?

As my team craps the bed with the worst record in baseball, thoughts turn to happier rawhide moments. I don’t know of any baseball fan who doesn’t love the movie Major League. There are several great baseball movies, from Fear Strikes Out to Bull Durham, but none is as quotable.

Talk now centers around another sequel, either the second or the third, depending upon whether you count Major League III (sorta the Godfather III of the franchise). Many of the major actors are not only available, but willing. Let’s face it, Corbin Bernsen and Tom Berenger aren’t getting a lot of A-list offers, and Charlie Sheen has some time on his hands. Dennis Haysbert – and don’t you wish you had President Palmer handling our problems in 2011 – has given thumbs up as has Bob Uecker.

I found it hilarious that director David Ward hired Uecker as the announcer based upon his funny Miller Lite commercials, not realizing that Uecker was the announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers. Just goes to show you that when ESPN thinks only two teams matter, many Americans follow suit.

I’m hoping they do this. Baseball is such a rich subject, with so many in-jokes as low hanging fruit, that making a funny script should be easy. The trick will be finding actors who look convincing playing baseball. Things like this just won’t pass muster these days.

But damn, I’ll miss James Gammon.

Click here to read Sports Illustrated’s oral history of the film.

Click here for ten revealing facts about the original film.

Lou Brown plays for the angels now...

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Happy Birthday, Mel Brooks!

I was flipping channels and caught the end of the Get Smart movie starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway, and while it was mildly entertaining, I couldn’t help think how it paled in comparison to the brilliantly written series.

Of course, I can watch that whenever I want – a majestic box set.

And it made me miss Mel Brooks. Yes, I know he’s alive, and a spry 85 at that (pickles are nutritious, you know). But Woody Allen keeps spitting out films at a rapid pace, occasionally hitting the high marks again. But he’s long since given up zany comedy. Most of today’s comedy films are so broad and cliché that they quickly fade from memory. But the world of today is a crazy, insane place. We need crazy, insane comedy.

We need Mel Brooks now more than ever. I know he has lost so many of his reliable company; Harvey Korman, Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise, Rudy DeLuca, Madeline Kahn, Ron Carey and Kenneth Mars have all left this mortal coil.

But as Mel himself would say, “we have much to do and less time to do it in.”

Happy Birthday, Mel! Now get busy

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Elvis (Costello) Is King

As I walk through
this wicked world
searching for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself
is all hope gone?
Is there only pain and hatred and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside, there’s one thing I wanna know
What’s so funny about peace love and understanding?

Nick Lowe wrote it, and in the 1970s, to boot. But it’s Elvis’ song. And it should be our goddamned National Anthem.

My friend Bill has seen Elvis Costello live about twenty times over the years. After witnessing his three-hour performance at Rochester’s Jazz Festival (yes, I know…) earlier this month, he proclaimed it the finest show he had ever seen Elvis perform…ever. I do not take comments like that from Bill lightly; he’s not prone to hyperbole.

I missed that show; by the time I was available to get seats there were a few nosebleeders left for $95 (plus Ticketbastard charges), and $250 seemed a bit steep. Fortunately I discovered that two short weeks later he was performing in a beautiful outdoor setting at the Buffalo Harbor…for ten dollars. That’s like time-travel prices, folks! It’s also a magnificent place to see a show; I saw Crowded House there last summer.

There were two openers as the sun set over the water. A game Mark Norris and the Backpeddlers did their best and sported some catchy songs, albeit monitor troubles were likely the cause of some flat vocals. Then Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers came on – great band instrumentally, great concept and even very entertaining on occasion…like when lead singer Shilpa didn’t howl like a banshee impaled on a fiery pole.

With curfew, I knew Elvis now had only two hours, not three. But damned if he didn’t hit the stage en fuegofive straight classics without a breath between them – and wrung every second of time for all it was worth without so much as a momentary lapse of energy. I wish every young band who think they are the shit could watch and learn how to create, sustain and leverage momentum. This was a master class.

The band was phenomenal. Consider that had Bruce Thomas not left the fold for personal reasons, this was the same quartet that changed lives thirty-five years ago. But Davey Faragher – veteran of Cracker, John Hiatt and others – has been the perfect foil for Elvis both musically and vocally for years. And while the other two might not sit atop people’s lists of best drummer and best keyboard player, I cannot think of anyone else manning those chairs better.

Pete Thomas is still a dynamo of hands and feet, as steadily adept and pulsating as he was when The Attractions were at their peak. Unassuming but rock solid, he and Faragher are telepathic.

And Steve Nieve – is that the greatest rock’n’roll name ever? Not only was his mad scientist act on banks of keyboards as good as ever, but I have never seen anyone play a theremin with such impeccable pitch and control.

Elvis is no spring chicken, but someone forgot to tell him. His vocals were superb, whether artfully crooning “Shipbuilding” or spitting out the fast paced venom of “Mystery Dance” and “Radio Radio“. He paced the stage restlessly, played guitar god whenever the Gibsons were strapped around his neck, and damned if he didn’t do a little dancing, too.

The set list tilted heavily to the early years, but some of the obvious crowd-pleasers (“Oliver’s Army”, “No Action“) were skipped in favor of deeper dives like “Green Shirt” and “Clubland“. He even threw in spirited covers of  “Heart Of The City” and “Substitute” pleasing the old guard among us.

He did finally pull out “Alison“, and as couples hugged and swayed and the crowd sang along I couldn’t help wondering if he felt compelled to play it just because it was such a touchstone. But as he headed for the home stretch, the band’s volume ebbed and flowed as he stepped to the microphone and started to weave in other artist’s lyrics as if they were simply bonus verses. Hank Williams. Jimi Hendrix. Smokey Robinson. Not covering the songs, mind you – weaving them into his own melody and chord changes, and each fit like hand in glove. With dignity and subtlety the man was giving a goddamned rock history lesson from the pulpit, and we were renewed in our faith.

And as he wailed about infidelity to draw the song to its conclusion, and thousands of people already on their feet tried to stand even taller in appreciation, he lit off the cherrybomb that has become his signature song, and we were all one explosive beacon in one of rock’s finest moments.

So where are the strong?
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony, sweet harmony?

Right here, Elvis. Forever and always.

Elvis Costello

The Buffalo set list will eventually be here.

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Five Angels, Four Years

It seems like yesterday and it seems like forever ago.

My daughter graduated high school four years ago, graduated college this year and is about to embark on the next chapter of her life. For five families in my town – including two who are neighbors and friends – their daughter’s chapters ended four years ago in a fatal automobile accident.

Every year, we try to make something positive out of the negative. For some it’s charitable events and community service. For others, a time of reflection and an appreciation of what really matters in life. For still others, a motivation to be a better person.

I don’t understand why things like this happen, nor can I imagine what it is like to get up every day and have that cold slap of reality hit you in your first waking moment…she is gone. I don’t know if I would have the strength to get out of bed. But my friends somehow do.

I don’t expect you even to experience a sliver of what’s going through my mind today. But look around your own street, your own neighborhood, your own social circles. Can you do one thing better than before? Can you forgive one person? Can you help one person?

Can you make something organically positive happen?

It’s never too early. But if you wait it might be too late.

They would have graduated this year and have gone on to their next chapters. Instead, they will live on in other people’s hearts. Five angels, four years.

Bailey’s Book

Katie’s Closet

Hannah’s Hope

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R.I.P. Peter Falk

With apologies to Philip RothGoodbye Columbo.

Peter Falk passed away yesterday at 83. Probably most famous to most people for his longtime role as the rumpled but intelligent Lt. Columbo, Peter Falk had a long and storied career as a film and television actor. In fact, his breakout role was as psychopathic hitman Abe Reles in 1960’s Murder Inc., an Oscar-nominated performance.

Video: Murder Inc. trailer

I’ve always appreciated Falk’s versatility. He could play serious or demented characters, but also excelled in comedy roles in Murder By Death, The Great Race and The In-Laws; even his cab driver cameo in It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World was memorable.

He was great friends with John Cassavetes and made several films with John, Gena Rowlands, Seymour Cassell and Ben Gazzara. Husbands and A Woman Under The Influence got bigger press, but my favorite Cassavetes collaboration was Mikey and Nicky (directed by Elaine May), a story about a tragic and twisted friendship.

Video: Mikey and Nickey trailer.

And following on yesterday’s TGIF about Boston criminals, I would be remiss in not mentioning The Brink’s Job. Falk could do it all.

Just one more thing…goodbye Peter Falk. Thanks for a lifetime of great work.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Boston Badasses!

So…they finally caught you, Whitey Bulger!

Imagine how peacock-like the FBI must feel now that two of their top ten have been taken care of. Whitey Bulger was captured after years in hiding, and whatshisname is swimming with the fishes, literally. (Or maybe not, conspiracy theorists!)

Of course, the FBI’s fast-acting publicity campaign that surprisingly ended the two-decade manhunt raises two questions: (1) Umm…why didn’t you try that sooner?, and (2) what is the fallout going to be now that he’s in custody? I remember watching a fascinating documentary about the career criminal, his ties/deals as an FBI informant and the odd situation with his brother. Whitey Bulger is surely sitting on a powder keg of info that could bring the Boston politicians and police to their knees.

Of course, his story was background for The Departed, with Jack Nicholson playing a variation of the Bulger character. They changed enough details to prevent (ahem) character assassination, but those in the know, knew.

So this week’s TGIF is Ten Boston Badasses…must-see films if you haven’t!

(01) – The Departed

(02) – The Town

(03) – The Fighter

(04) – The Friends of Eddie Coyle

(05) – Southie

(06) – Whatever Doesn’t Kill You

(07) – The Boston Strangler

(08) – Monument Avenue

(09) – Gone Baby Gone

(10) – The Verdict

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