Tag Archives: James Dean

Bad Things In Threes, Again

Certainly not comparing it to earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdownbut yeah, famous deaths have a tendency to triangulate. and with Elizabeth Taylor passing today, that’s three in four days, albeit three who outlived their atomic half-life and made tremendous contributions to their art.

Ralph Mooney left us on March 20th. A celebrated musician’s musician, he basically pioneered the steel guitar sound in popular country music and worked with a Who’s Who of famous names. A critical element of the Bakersfield Sound, you can hear that Buck Owens and Merle Haggard influence across the board in Americana and country-rock music. And you rockers, check those Burrito Brothers and Neil Young albums where his sound appears even when his name doesn’t.

Pinetop Perkins walked offstage on Monday the 21st at ninety-seven (!) years old. Last month, he won a Grammy for Joined at the Hip (with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith) so he wasn’t exactly slouching. A bluesman from Mississippi like Muddy Waters, he played in the latter’s band for years and was most famous as a sideman…until he was in his eighties. He won a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement and was featured in the Martin Scorsese / Clint Eastwood film Piano Blues. Check his website for much more information on the American treasure.

And Elizabeth Taylor shipped off today, March 23rd

I prefer to remember the younger vibrant actress rather than the perfume-pimping Jacko compadre of later years, although during that period she did yeoman’s work on behalf of AIDS. I’ll forever remember her in Giant with James Dean and Rock Hudson, although she interacted with a tremendous cast including Sal Mineo, Dennis Hopper, Earl Holliman and Rod Taylor. It was near the beginning of a great run of movies flanked on both sides by forgettable flicks.

I’ll remember the debacle about Cleopatra and the odd relationship she had with Richard Burton and how my Mom was a dead ringer for her when she was young. I’ll try to forget that she was better known for tabloid fodder than natural talent, but I’ll never forget those violet eyes.

They don’t make movie stars like that anymore.

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T.G.I.F. – Happy Birthday, Robert Mitchum

Boy, talk about a rebel.

Robert Mitchum just didn’t give a shit about authority or rules. Didn’t care that in Hollywood, people were supposed to act a certain way. Didn’t care that he might rub directors or producers the wrong way and it might impact his career. I doubt he even let the word career linger in his head. Basically, you go around once,  and baby, if you want to climb aboard the Good Ship Mitchum, things are gonna work out just fine.

Of course, by the time this reputation was clearly established, I was but a young film buff learning to appreciate the wonders of The Sundowners, Cape Fear, El Dorado and Story of G.I. Joe (amazingly, his only Academy Award nomination). It wasn’t until years later that I finally saw Out Of The Past, which is easily in the top five list of the greatest film noir ever made.

I was not a big Winds of War or War And Remembrance fan despite the accolades; I prefer Mitchum young and rebellious and demonic. But even in his seventies, his narration in Tombstone was outstanding (the last line is an absolute classic) and his small role in Robert DeNiro’s remake of Cape Fear put a big smile on my face. Pretty amazing that he lasted within a month of his 80th birthday after the life he had, but his majestic film performances are preserved forever in all their glory. As are those record albums and mug shots.

So as I celebrate Robert Mitchum’s birthday by having a cocktail, listening to a calypso song and just not giving a shit for a little while; here are Ten Memorable Mitchums for you to recall and/or discover…

(No slight to fellow birthday buddy Lucille Ball, a comedic legend and genius, but it’s all about Bob today. Maybe next year?)

01)  The Night of The Hunter. Oh. My. God. As (cough) preacher Harry Powell, with fingers tattooed L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E, Mitchum created one of the most frighteningly sinister characters in film history.

02)  River Of No Return. Mitchum in a western with Marilyn Monroe, a raging river and a real-life pot bust during filming. Not a classic, but a side of Mitchum not often seen.

03)  The List of Adrian Messenger. Okay, Mitchum only plays a small part in this movie, much like Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis . The stars are really George C. Scott and Kirk Douglas, but this who-done-it is really more of a who-is-it. Trust me – watch this film.

04)  Crossfire. Three Roberts – Mitchum, Robert Ryan and Robert Young – in a wartime thriller directed by Edward Dmytryk. Available in a film noir collection although technically not really in the genre.

05)  The Longest Day. Still one of the best WWII movies ever made, this film told the story of D-Day from the perspective of four different countries and featured forty-two Hollywood stars in the cast.

06)  The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Mitchum as a Boston small-timer with his back against the wall trying to survive between the Feds and the mob. Incredible cast (Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Alex Rocco) and finally out on DVD. A must-see movie.

07)  Thunder Road. Moonshine, hot rods and rum-running as Lucas Doolin. Mitchum wrote the script and even had a hit song with the title theme (take that, Bruce Springsteen!) as he played an Appalachian James Dean

08)  The Racket. Another film with Robert  Ryan (perhaps even more underrated than Mitchum these days) where Mitchum plays the righteous guy trying to stem the corruption of the mob.

09)  The Enemy Below. A taut duel between submarine commander Curd Jurgens and Mitchum’s destroyer. To say this is claustrophobic is an understatement, but the game of cat-and-mouse is spellbinding and tense, and the display of respect for one’s enemy was an unusual tone for a war film.

10)  Out Of The Past. An absolute stone-cold classic loaded with killer quotes. “Build my gallows high, baby”…”Baby, I don’t care”…”It was the bottom of the barrel, and I was scraping it“. And when the femme fatale says she doesn’t want to die, he replies “Neither do I, baby, but if I do I want to die last“.  Also featuring one of Kirk Douglas‘ best roles; loosely remade as Against All Odds in the 80s (a decent film,  but it pales in comparison to the original).

Robert Mitchum’s filmography at IMDB.

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Happy Birthday, Edward Hopper!

I’m sure you’ve seen this iconic painting, “Nighthawks

I love this painting. A great quote about Edward Hopper’s work says it  “depicts loneliness and beauty in a uniquely stark yet pleasing fashion“…man, that’s just perfect.  Happy Birthday, Edward Hopper!

I even love the famous takeoff on it featuring Elvis Presley, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart as the four characters; it’s called Boulevard of Broken Dreams“. The obvious explanation for the title is that these are four icons of music and film sadly gone too soon.

I was given a coffee cup with both images on it as a gift; I can’t bear to use it for fear the images will fade from washing. Another gift, the two versions on crisp 6×9 postcards, framed and matted, hangs proudly over my right shoulder as I type this. (I guess when it comes to gift hints I’m as subtle as a cabbage fart.)

There are many other takeoffs on this famous painting, several are listed at this great site called Nighthawks Forever.

My favorite is the one featuring The Simpsons.

But enough about me! Today’s post celebrates the birthday of Edward Hopper, the man who painted that famous image I fell in love with the first time I saw it. Hopper’s style was very unique; if you enjoy noir films and period programs like Mad Men, you really should check out his work.

Did you know that Steve Martin is a Hopper collector? Check out this DVD.

Looking at these again today also made me pull out my old copy of Rock Dreams, the book by Guy Peellaert and Nik Cohn that is loaded with great caricatures of rock stars. Peellaert did the covers of Diamond Dogs and It’s Only Rock And Roll (by David Bowie and The Rolling Stones, respectively). Grab a copy if you can find one.

Hell, he knew Keith was a pirate thirty years before Johnny Depp did!

Who said art had to be stuffy, anyway?

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Rock’s Darkest Day?

July 3rd is the anniversary of the deaths of both Brian Jones and Jim Morrison. Ask rockers about Morrison and you’ll get a highly divided camp; some revere his poetic lyrics and unique artistic expression with The Doors, while others see him as a bloated, self-indulgent hipster who yammered nonsense and called it art. 

I was a Doors fan and still enjoy their music – there are a series of great singles and many of the deeper tracks on the album were pretty fascinating. I thought L.A. Woman was a tremendous album and am saddened that they never got to continue that journey. But the drunken escapades, the supposed incidents of exposure, the pretentiousness of it all…yeah, I could understand someone resisting their work because they can’t get past that. 

But I’ll wrestle you to the mat about Jones

Brian Jones was The Rolling Stones. Without him, there wouldn’t be a band, let alone a Sticky Fingers or an Exile on Main Street or a Let It Bleed. Because it was Jones the blues purist who set the course, charted the direction and marketed the band in the earliest days when everyone else was ready to fold the tent and quit

Mick Jagger would have graduated from the London School of Economics and been a prissy accountant. Charlie Watts would probably have joined a jazz band and would be famous to a whole other audience. Bill Wyman might have lived the suburban life he seemed to be drifting towards, playing in r&b bands on the weekend and still pulling birds half his age. 

And Keith Richards? He probably would have done the same damned thing – overindulge in life’s pleasures and play some of the most timeless riffs man has ever wrangled from an electric guitar. 

I remember being crushed when Jones died. I was just a kid – other iconic deaths like Buddy Holly either predated my awareness or (like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding) involved people I liked but was not fully invested in. But The Rolling Stones were my lifeblood, and this was like losing a brother.

You have to realize that at the time, lines were drawn between Beatles fans and Stones fans; peer pressure said you had to be one or the other, and you’d better choose. All the cute girls chose The Beatles, of course…and that was reason enough for me to side with the Stones

He was the first rock star in my world; looked (at the time) like a golden god, played any instrument you put into his hands, added flavor to Stones singles that other bands would later copy and seemed like the coolest guy on the planet. When I saw the Stones on Ed Sullivan I looked right past Jagger and was mesmerized by him. And I wasn’t the only one…five hundred miles north of my New York City house, Andy and Greg of The Chesterfield Kings were watching the same program and getting their minds blown as well. 

And then he died – murdered, I still believe – and what had been this picture perfect vision of music and peace and utopia started to crumble. Soon it would be Jimi, and Janis and Jimoddly connected…and finally the nail in the coffin,  Altamont

Don’t get me wrong – I love the Mick Taylor era of the band, and although he’s been underutilized in his tenure, Ronnie Wood is one of my all time favorite guitar players. But the London singles the early Stones cut? Pure magic

Listen to the magic!

Had the Stones broken up after Exile, they would have that same unfinished legacy that Buddy Holly, The Beatles and James Dean have – a permanent snapshot of genius in its prime.  No chance to stumble and fall, or go ages between artistic releases, or climb on stage long past their prime and sing about want and boredom and being unsatisfied…right before pocketing millions per gig and taking a private plane home. 

What would Brian Jones have done after he got over the heartbreak of being squeezed out of his own band? I can only wonder. But I can also revel in what he left behind, which is a brilliant anthology of classic music that is as powerful to me now as it was as the impressionable boy with a transistor radio and a dream. 

What a drag...it is getting old.

And Happy Birthday to (among others) Kurtwood Smith, Fontella Bass, Franz Kafka, George Sanders, Dave Barry, and the late, great Ken Ober.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten for Dennis Hopper

This pretty much sums it up.

Actor, painter, director, producer, humanitarian, counterculture icon, thorn in the side of the predictable…we lost a great one this week when cancer claimed the life of Dennis Hopper. Like Keith Richards, most felt he wouldn’t make it out of the 60s alive, let alone the 70s, but both proved resourceful and resilient and capable of creating great work… albeit not quite as frequently. We were blessed to share this mortal coil with him for so long. 

Still, Hopper had a long and varied career in television and films, and a definitive best-of is impossibly subjective. But since he was such a character in real life, here are ten Dennis Hopper characters I will always remember: 


01) Billy in Easy Rider. The movie that started it all, or at least launched Hopper and Peter Fonda into the heart of the counterculture film movement that would change the face of Hollywood. “What the hell is wrong with freedom? That’s what it’s all about!” 

02) Lyle From Dallas in Red Rock West. It’s really Nicolas Cage’s picture, and one could argue that J.T. Walsh stole the picture (as he often did as  one of the best character actors of all time) in the role Hopper was initially cast in. But Hopper lights up the second half and raises the ante in this great John Dahl film. 

03) The Photojournalist in Apocalypse Now. In a world of madness, both real and scripted, Hopper’s acid casualty character might have been as insane as anyone else…or perhaps totally lucid but incapable of expressing himself. 


04) Clifford Worley in True Romance. A highly enjoyable Quentin Tarantino scripted movie that already spiked the oddball meter by casting Gary Oldman and Val Kilmer, among others. But the scene between Christopher Walken and Hopper is worth the price of admission. 

05) Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. An over-the-top performance that would normally have been too scenery-chewing, but how can you be over the top in a David Lynch film? Oh, a few f-bombs, as well. 

06) Billy Clanton in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Sharing the screen with heavyweights Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in John Sturges‘ classic western. A small role, but Hopper shone as the kid gunfighter way out of his league. 

07) Jordan Benedict III in Giant. One of two pictures he made with James Dean; Giant had him playing against type as the mild-mannered son of macho Rock Hudson (who knew?) alongside Dean and Sal Mineo. An underrated soapy western from George Stevens featuring a tremendous cast. 

08) Victor Drazen on 24. Sure, it was a bit of a hammy accent, but how cool was it to have Hopper show up as the criminal mastermind to close out the first season? 

09) Shooter in Hoosiers. Yes, it was a part written to tug the heartstrings, and many actors would have cheesed it up beyond belief. But maybe seeing a man who had battled so many personal demons in real life made it more powerful. “Now boys…don’t get caught watchin’ the paint dry!” 

10) Feck in The River’s Edge. Things don’t get much stranger than when Crispin Glover is onscreen, but add Dennis Hopper and  an inflatable girlfriend, and there you are. (“Look, I’m not psycho. I know she’s a doll. Right, Elly?”) The movie that might have ruined Keanu Reeves forever

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Remembering Sam Kinison

Hard to believe that it’s eighteen years since Sam Kinsion was killed.

Like many, my first exposure to Sam’s mania was on the Young Comedian’s Special on HBO, hosted by Rodney Dangerfield. He was onstage for six minutes – six – and I’ll wager that anyone who watched that show that evening was on the phone by morning, calling a friend and saying “Holy shit…you have to see this guy!”.

Sam on the 1984 Young Comedian’s Special

Dangerfield proved to be a friend and mentor to Sam. Unlike some comedians, Rodney wasn’t afraid of competition from other comics, and Sam was incandescent from his first appearance. Rodney created the role of Professor Turgeson in his new movie Back To School just to give him a cameo, which Sam turned into one of the film’s best moments.

Sam’s routines on television were legendary; David Letterman‘s classic introduction for him was “Brace yourselves. I’m not kidding. Please welcome Sam Kinison.”

Sam Kinison’s debut on Letterman.

But you had to see him live. I was fortunate enough to see Sam three times; the first was in a tiny basement club with black walls and ceiling and a tiny stage with a couple of lights. Didn’t matter – Sam brought his own flame. He hit the stage with more energy and power than many of the rock bands that played there; his incendiary performance singed the hair off every head in the crowd. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life; I laughed my ass off but felt like I was pinned to the chair by a gale force wind the entire time.

Thankfully there are a few recorded documents to preserve Sam’s greatness. He issued three albums (Louder Than Hell, Have You Seen Me Lately?, Leader of the Banned); a fourth (Live From Hell) was released posthumously. (There are also some rarities available at the official website.) There are several DVDs available containing performance footage from Sam’s shows;  Wild Child collects a few of them together at one low price.

Brother Sam, a reminiscence by Sam’s brother Bill, is an excellent read. While the film based upon the book (with Dan Fogler as Sam) has not yet surfaced, the latest word is that HBO has it scheduled for 2012, the twentieth anniversary of his death. (A similarly titled documentary was released in 2005 featuring Bill and Rodney Dangerfield introducing a series of clips from Sam’s concerts.)

When mercurial artists die young, sometimes their short careers become over-rated because all we have to judge them by are a few brief moments that we extrapolate. History tells us that no one stays on top forever; Jimi Hendrix would have made a disappointing album at some point and James Dean would have starred in a clunker. Sam died young but we already got to see the ups and downs; he had streaks of absolute brilliance and periods of wasted excess. We saw him get off the mat and stand up again.

But what Sam always had was an insatiable need to connect, and had he lived I’m certain he would have been one of our greatest social critics, for he had no sacred cows. We lost Sam and Bill Hicks within two years of each other, two fearless comics who threw the truth out there in very different ways, both sadly gone in their 30’s. But the legacy of Bill Hicks lives on, sparked again with the release of American this year. Hopefully Sam’s movie will help perpetuate his memory and introduce him to a whole generation of people who have grown up without him. R.I.P., Sam.

Visit Sam Kinsion‘s official website.

Sam’s Wikipedia page.

Craig Gass doesn’t look like Sam, but close your eyes and listen.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Wishes for 2010 Comebacks

 

Happy New Year! Many of us look upon January 1st as a fresh start, a chance to wipe the slate clean and start a new plan. For others, it’s an opportunity and a challenge to make a mark in life, to have a sense of purpose and accomplish a goal. And for pop culture freaks, it’s a chance to wonder what the year ahead has in store, as every year brings us some wonderful surprises, whether a great album or a new TV show. Who will occupy our thoughts in 2010? Certainly there will be some new breakout artists, but as always, some blasts from the past will knock us for a loop as well. 

All too often we take our cultural heroes for granted, expecting them to continually churn out yet another book or album or screenplay at the same pinnacle of quality. If they hibernate or quit, we pine that they walked away too early. Yet if they start to slip, we pounce upon them for overstaying their welcome and selling out. But our culture seems preoccupied with success and redemption, so we seem to be especially cognizant of those who recapture some past glory, especially if the road since then was paved with difficulty. 

I used to be among the camp that wanted to leave well enough alone – don’t tarnish a reputation with a comeback, but walk off on top and disappear into legend. With very few exceptions, no one does that voluntarily; it’s usually an untimely death that cements a legend. James Dean might have made as many horrible film choices as Robert DeNiro had he lived into his sixties. Had Elvis died while in the service, he’d still be larger than life, only not literally. But instead we usually witness a fall from grace – Willie Mays playing center for the Mets, Dick Clark still counting down New Year’s Eve. 

But after seeing Mott The Hoople reform in 2009, after watching Jim McCarty and Johnny Badanjek rocking like they were teenagers again, after having Dana Gould and Steven Wright release hilarious new albums years after I thought they were done with it all, I’ve jumped ship. Life is short – give me all I can handle. Not everyone will succeed, but I can swallow the moments of ineptitude for a calculated risk that there will be moments of pure magic that otherwise never would have happened. 

So with that caveat in mind, here are ten reunions, revivals and/or comebacks I’d like to see this year…a few of which might actually happen! 

Risk and Reward

The Faces – A test run happened late this year where Ian McLagan, Ronnie Wood and Kenney Jones finally gave up on Rod Stewart‘s false promises and played a gig without him. If only they would have done this while Ronnie Lane was still alive, but throw in Glen Matlock on bass and someone like Sulo of The Diamond Dogs on vocals and this could be magic. 

Arrested Development – Maybe line-for-line the funniest television comedy ever, and it’s a crime that something that great couldn’t find a strong audience let alone a network exec with a spine who would have kept it on the air for the sake of art. (Yeah, right) Rumors about a movie continue to swirl – please get it done before it’s too late! 

RockpileBilly Bremner is playing music in Europe, Nick Lowe is still great but sedate, and…well, where the hell is Dave Edmunds, anyway? Technically they only made one album although all those Lowe and Edmunds records were really Rockpile albums in disguise. Seconds of Pleasure turns thirty this year – how about a sequel? 

Eric RobertsMickey Rourke was right – if someone would just give Eric Roberts a chance, I think he’d knock the ball out of the park. After all these years tolerating his sister’s horrible movies, I think Hollywood owes me a film where Roberts has a great role to sink his teeth into. Tarantino, you listening? 

The Kinks – Come on, guys, even The Zombies have managed to get back together. Dave is recovering but back out on the stage, and Ray’s work over the past couple of years has been among his best. There’s an entire generation who hasn’t seen the band live on stage. Please guys…one for the road

Mel Brooks – I know he’s having great success reviving old hits on Broadway, and I know he’s in his eighties. But he’s still one of the quickest, sharpest wits around and perhaps five years after losing the great Anne Bancroft he will dig deep for one more devastating comedy film. 

The J. Geils Band – Peter Wolf still has the chops, and lord knows we need a band that doesn’t take itself so seriously. A kickass band with a guy who knew what being a front man was all about, their party atmosphere the antithesis to indie shoegazing. 

David Simon – The man gave us two of the finest television shows in history – Homicide and The Wire. Both scripted dramas were far more real than any of that reality TV crap that we drown in today. Save us, David. 

Tonio K. – I think I wish this every year. Not sure if he’s flying well under my radar or just involved in other projects (like assembling a blues compilation) but it’s been over a decade since Gadfly Records released his reissues and almost twenty since an album of new material. America needs all the cynics it can get.

Robert KleinGeorge Carlin might have been the one to make the most of the opportunity, but it was Robert Klein who helped put HBO on the map with his comedy specials. Whip-smart and multi-talented, I can’t believe that the events of the past several years haven’t inspired him to create a new hour of material. We need you, sir. 

"You start something this time, we all get a half-life, go figure it out on your own..."

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