Saturday July 02, 2022
Dreaming That Big Broadway Musical
Here's a dream I had the other night. For some reason, my dreams early this week were fairly vivid:
There was this girl who thought I was smart, and who might’ve been sweet on me, and who gave me this part to do in a play. She said just read these lines, it’ll be easy, and I said sure. (I thought I was smart, too.) And then we get to my line and … it’s in a song? And I have to sing it? I look down and the line is:
Exposes exposes exposes
But how does it go? How do I sing it? The person who feeds me the line, the other actor, the main singer of the song, who’s in costume, is looking at me with panic as I haltingly read it off the paper rather than sing it as it should be sung. As I guess everyone knows it should be sung? Because it’s kind of famous? The big hit number in a big Broadway musical? We’re on the set of an old-timey store, an immigrant shopkeeper’s shop, vaguely Jewish, and maybe we’re being filmed for television or something, and this other actor then picks up his lines of the song, hurriedly now, since I’ve put us behind the pace. But there’s still panic because he knows I don’t know anything. We’re walking through the aisles of the shop, and he’s singing, and others are singing, and then everyone turns to me and I have to sing again. The same line? I look down. Yes, the same line:
Exposes exposes exposes
And after a few rounds of this, as it keeps coming back to me, the other guy, and the other cast members, begin mouthing the words at me, as well as the rhythm, and I begin to get it. And it’s not exposes, as I’d first read it and sung it. It’s exposés. And it goes:
The first two times sung hurriedly, the last time lingering over every syllable.
And while it’s beginning to work, as everyone is kind of pitching in to remake the disaster I’ve made of everything, I’m still hugely embarrassed and keep thinking, “How did I get here? How did we not practice?”
A few things about this.
After I dreamed the above and wrote it down in the middle of the night, then got ready for bed again, I worried that I wouldn't remember the tune when I woke up. I was proud that I'd dreamed up music. I mean, it wasn't Paul McCartney dreaming “Yesterday” but it wasn't bad for me, and I wanted to remember it. So I nudged my wife awake, gave her the Cliff's Notes of the dream, and sang her the chorus. “Will you remember that?” I asked. She nodded with eyes closed. I looked at her and thought, “She won't remember.” Then I realized I could just record it via QuickTime or whatever, which is what I did. A bit later, returning to bed, somewhat mischievous, I nudged her awake again. “Do you remember the song?” I asked. She nodded with eyes closed, 90% asleep, and sang: “Scandal, Scandal, Scaaaan-dal.”
It was only after I wrote down the dream that I realized there was a kind of real life precedent to it. When I lived in Taiwan in my mid-20s, I was private tutor to a Chinese woman who taught at a big ESL school. And she thought I was a great teacher and super-smart, and she may have been sweet on me, and one day or week or something she told me her school needed a new ESL teacher and she asked me to to do it. Are you sure? I said? Didn't you tell me your teachers have to go through like a week's orientation? Because you guys have a certain rote pattern and rhythm to your method? And she said, “Oh, that's just for them, you'll be fine. You won't need it.” Because I was so super-smart, see? So I agreed. And it was a disaster. I didn't know the rules, I was completely out of rhythm with the pace of the class, and at one point, trying to explain the word “dry,” I resorted to the Mandarin, but in my haste I went fourth tone instead of first and wound up saying the “F” word in Taiwanese. Worse, I realized I'd said the “F” word in Taiwanese, and went “Oops” and covered my mouth, while the kids in the class laughed. The parents sitting in the back row weren't too amused by that. I was not asked back.
Thursday June 30, 2022
M's Beat O's in Fun Fashion, and How OBP Can Be Lower than BA
Yesterday I saw my first in-person M's win of the season (I was 0-3), and it was pretty definitive, 9-3 over Baltimore. All the damage was done in two innings.
In the second, off starter Austin Voth, whose name sounds like something out of “Star Wars”—some mix of Hoth, Darth Vader, and the western themes of “Boba Fett”—we got a one-out double from Abraham Toro, and then relied upon pee-wee baseball from the opposition: E-5, E-5, and the O's catcher hoping J.P. Crawford's dribbler would go foul. Add a sac fly and we're up 3-0.
Two innings later, it's 3-1, and the O's sub out Voth for another V pitcher, Vespi, Nick, a 25-year-old rookie who sported a nifty 0.79 ERA and a similar 0.794 WHIP in 11.1 innings. So I guess he was due because the M's made it seem like he was throwing batting practice: double, single, double, SF, HR, single, double, and that was all she wrote for Vespi. In came Bryan Baker, who promptly threw a wild pitch plating another run. Then a walk and another sac fly made it 9-1. Toro, who began the inning with his second double, finally ended it with a pop-up to second. It was a fun inning. The homer, by the way, was from rookie Julio Rodriguez and it was a jaw-dropper: upper deck, right field, and not just down the line, either. It was halfway to center. The kid's fun.
This team is fun. M's are still, whatever, five, six games below .500, with seemingly no shot at the postseason, but I actually look forward to seeing players now. You have a choice as to favorites. Hell, they're having fun with the music at the park. The walkup music for journeyman Sam Haggerty (28 years old, .580 OPS) is the theme from “The Godfather,” they riffed on Paul Simon's “Me & Julio” for our rookie star, while we got a nice mix of Seattle icons: a couple of Hendrix songs, a mashup of Nirvana's “Smells Like Team Spirit.” More Seattle, please. And less John Fogerty. They played his '80s hit “Centerfield,” whose opening riff always make me think we're about to get “La Bamba.” (Did the Ritchie Valens estate ever sue?) Just play “La Bamba.” Go to the source.
By the way: those E-5s in the 2nd inning? That was O's third baseman Jonathan Arauz, a recent waiver pickup from Boston, who, for the season, sported the statistical oddity of having an OBP lower than his batting average. I'd forgotten how that was possible until I looked it up online. It's the sac flies. They don't count toward BA but do toward OBP. Add in zero walks in 24 plate appearances and you get that anomaly. Sadly, for him, none of his numbers were any good. At the start of the game, his line was .136/.130/.273, and then he went 0-4 with two errors. Ouch.
Tuesday June 28, 2022
Twitter Needs More Mr. Spectors
“When I was a boy, I had a religious-school teacher named Mr. Spector, whose job was to confront us with the peril we presented to ourselves. ... He seemed to take our moral failings for granted and, perhaps as a result, favored lively argument over reproach or condemnation.”
-- from Michael Chabon's essay “Secret Skin,” from 2008, on The New Yorker site
Monday June 27, 2022
Movie Review: Nomadland (2020)
In the beginning I thought of “Brokeback Mountain,” then, throughout, of John Mulaney. At the end, I was onto Nietzsche.
I’ll explain the middle part first.
In 2018, John Mulaney hosted the Film Independent Spirit Awards with Nick Kroll. That year, Frances McDormand was up for lead actress for her performance in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which she would go on to win (her third Spirit award), along with the Oscar (her second), and based on her character in the movie, and a certain vibe McDormand gives off, Mulaney said the following joke: “I bet a fun way to commit suicide would be to cut in front of her in line and then go, ‘Hey lady, re-lax.”
But before he says that, he says she’s great. And before he says that, he says, “Frances McDormand, you are no bullshit.”
That’s what I kept thinking throughout this film. Frances McDormand is great. And Frances McDormand is no bullshit.
Down the road
The movie begins in the place where “Brokeback Mountain” ended, with a survivor smelling and hugging the shirt of a loved one who passed. Fern (McDormand) is picking through the items in a storage locker in Empire, Nevada, a former company town of 700+ people working for US Gypsum, which the company closed in the wake of the Global Financial Meltdown of 2008-09. She’s deciding what to take with her and it’s not much. She takes a plate with a pink pattern around the edges—something you might see on your grandmother’s table. She seems unsure, and alone, and wholly vulnerable.
We’re told about the closing of the company town and the loss of its zip code, and later Fern talks about the death of her husband, and whether she should’ve helped him die sooner, but otherwise we don’t get much background on what they had, what they lost, why she has so little. We just know she’s unsure, alone, living a precarious existence in a van.
She gets a seasonal job at an Amazon Fulfillment Center, boxing up the shit that we all order, then is invited down to a kind of camp in Arizona. It’s run by Bob Wells, who is played by Bob Wells. The movie is based upon Jessica Bruder’s nonfiction book of the same name, and many people play themselves: Bob is Bob, Linda is Linda, Swankie (who has cancer, and an outré personality) is Swankie. They teach Fern the ropes. They teach her how to survive with not much.
It’s an episodic film, as Fern travels from place to place, with the seasons, to get work and survive. We brace ourselves for something bad happening to her—Hollywood has conditioned us for such things—but the bad thing is just the American economy: not the Financial Meltdown version of it but how it generally works. She gets job at Badlands National Park, and at a Wall Drug in South Dakota, and at a sugar-beet processing plant. She’s making it, sure, but if something goes wrong she’s screwed. And something goes wrong. Her van breaks down and it needs repairs she can’t afford. She has to borrow from her sister’s family. She has to take the money on their terms, which is “You have to listen to what we have to say about you.” But it turns out to be almost a bonding moment. It’s “Why did you leave us? I needed you. I would’ve liked having you around.”
She also begins a friendship with another nomad, Dave (David Strathairn, the only other real actor in the film), and the two wind up staying at his son’s place in California. Dave says he has feelings for her. He also says his son is letting him stay there permanently. We see a resolution to her problems. But she doesn’t. It’s not what she wants. So she leaves.
To where? She watches the Pacific Ocean in winter. She gets the Amazon Fulfillment Center gig again. She does a jigsaw puzzle in a laundromat. Then it’s the camp in Arizona again. Her life is cyclical now but with inevitable changes. Swankie is dead, and they all toss rocks onto a fire for her because she loved rocks. Bob tosses one in and says “See you don’t the road.” That’s his philosophy: not goodbye but “see you down the road.” Later, he and Fern talk about the losses in their lives his son, gone five years now, and her husband Bo. Initially it feels like a simple sharing, this non-actor playing himself, and the great, no-bullshit actress doing her great, no-bullshit thing. But she’s in a search for answers and he’s not. His philosophy is so cohesive it’s almost like a religion:
I've met hundreds of people out here and I don't ever say a final goodbye. I always just say, “I’ll see you down the road.” And I do. And whether it's a month, or a year, or sometimes years, I see them again. And I can look down the road and I can be certain in my heart that I'll see my son again. You’ll see Bo again. And you can remember your lives together then.
I like the search better. I like uncertainty better than certainty. Particularly as it relates to down the road.
But is this the thing that finally helps Fern? He says “You can remember your lives together” because she’d quoted her father, “What’s remembered, lives,” and she adds that maybe she’s spent too much of her life remembering, i.e., not living. She doesn’t have much but she’s still holding on to too much. And in the next scenes, she finally lets go. She returns to Empire, the town that died, and she gives up the stuff she’d been keeping in storage. That’s when I thought of Nietzsche: “He who possesses little is possessed that much less.” (It’s like Marie Kondo without the PR.) Then she tours her old house, with no one there, with no one remotely interested, and heads out onto the road again. And that’s where it ends.
Question: Is that enough?
The movie is certainly atmospheric. It’s both depressing and—well, not exactly uplifting but it has a glint of some possibilities, of life lived in the moment; of a felt life rather than an artificial one. But then there are those Amazon Fulfillment Centers and Wall Drugs to work in, that slow death of the American soul. Is hanging outside the RV at the end of the day, around like-minded folks, enough to counteract that?
“Nomadland” is well-directed by Chloe Zhao, who won an Oscar for it. The movie won best picture. Frances McDormand won her third Oscar.
But is there enough of a story? Enough of an epiphany? Wisdom? Would I ever want to return to it?
Then there’s the fact that the movie was released a year into the pandemic, when we were all still hunkered down, and it was not a good time, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to see this movie without thinking of that time. It's not a time I want to return to.
Sunday June 26, 2022
Astros No-Hit Yankees!
So there's still some good news in the world.
Yesterday, the Houston Astros no-hit the New York Yankees, who have otherwise been rampaging through the league this season like Biff Tannen on a bender. It's not exactly a David-and-Goliath story (the Astros have been perennials since 2015, won the World Series in 2017, and infamously cheated throughout), and it wasn't even a true no-hitter, with one pitcher standing tall throughout. Astros starter Christian Javier went 7, struck out 13 and walked 1, but by then he'd thrown a career-high 115 pitches and Dusty Baker pulled him for an inning of Hector Neris (20 pitches, 0 Ks, 2 BBs) and an inning of closer Ryan Pressly (15 pitches, 2 Ks, no BBs). Now normally I'm not down with combined no-hitters but in this case I'll take it. For a day, the New York Yankees were shut down and shut up. There's joy in that.
When was the last time the New York Yankees were no-hit? Turns out, June 11, 2003, also by the Houston Astros, and also with a combined no-hitter: six pitchers back then. Before that, you'd have to go all the way back to 1958 when the Orioles' Hoyt Wilhelm beat them 1-0. He's the last single pitcher to no-hitter the Bronx Bombers.
There's a very helpful website detailing all of this. The Yanks have only been no-hit eight times, and by some sterling names: not just Wilhelm, but Cy Young and Bob Feller. They were no-hit three times in the deadball era (before they really became the New York Yankees), and then not again until Feller in '46. Then Virgil Trucks in '52 and Wilhelm in '58. Those are truly impressive no-hitters, since those Yankee teams were, like this Yankee team, dominant. That may be the most interesting aspect of all of this. The Yankees weren't no-hit in, say, 1966, when they finished last in the American League, or in 1968, when no one could hit, or during the early '90s when they were rebuilding. They were no-hit in seasons when they went 87-67 (and finished third), 95-59 (and won the World Series), 92-62 (and won the World Series), and 101-61 (and won the AL pennant). These were no-slouchers getting no-hit.
So how does the eight times the Yankees have been no-hit stack up against other teams? Fairly well, according to the website. The Dodgers and Phillies hold the record with being no-hit 20 times each. The fewest has been the KC Royals, who came into existence in 1969, with two (one vs. Nolan Ryan, which is like a bye). Meanwhile, my Mariners, who are 75 years younger than the Yanks, have been no-hit about the same number of times, seven, and, again, and oddly, not during our horrific beginnings, but in, say, 1996 when we had a Hall of Fame lineup Griffey, A-Rod, Edgar, Buhner, etc. Five of the seven have happened during the last 10 years, and four since 2019. I was at one of them. All of that makes sense. We've been hitless wonders, emphasis on hitless.
Of the original 16 franchises, the Cubs, of all teams, have been no-hit the fewest times: just seven.
Anyway, for a day, there's joy in Mudville, the mighty Yankees have struck out. In this season, and in this year, I'll take it.
Saturday June 25, 2022
Indict the Sumbitch Already
Yesterday afternoon, after a day spent reading about SCOTUS overturning Roe v. Wade 6-3, and how Justice Thomas' decision bodes poorly for other precedents like gay marriage (and interracial marriage, Clarence?), I walked over to Lake Washington on a sky-blue day listening to Ezra Klein and Jamelle Bouie have a smart conversation about the Jan. 6 hearings and whether Donald Trump can and should be charged with crimes.
- We're as much a nation of norms and formalities as we are a nation of laws, and Donald Trump shattered those norms and formalities. They're out there for anyone to use and abuse now. They don't go back in.
- Bouie in particular goes into how the founders hedged their bets on democracy by building into the process, for example, the electoral college, with state electors, rather than we the people, casting the true ballots. This is one of those formalities that Trump tossed into the dungheap. “Oh, there's no law preventing an elector from switching their vote? It's just on the honor system?” That's a wide-open lane for someone like Trump who has no honor.
- The two go into the whole right-wing “We're not a democracy, we're a republic” bullshit, and what's being truly said.
- They also talk about how indicting a former president sets a dangerous precedent; and how, given everything Trump has done, it's much more dangerous to do nothing.
Anyway, smart conversation on another dumb day for America.
Wednesday June 22, 2022
Quote of the Day
I like that Ostlund could be talking about himself. At the least, with films like “Force Majeure,” “The Square” and I assume “Triangle of Sadness,” he's not interested in pleasing the audience. He's not interested in giving us a wish fulfillment fantasy—a vision of ourselves as younger and braver and humble and free, as Joe Henry sang. He's the opposite of that. And that of course makes him very interesting.
Tuesday June 21, 2022
Early Superhero Sighting: Green Lantern, 1934
From “The St. Louis Kid,” 1934, starring James Cagney.
The superhero with that name was created six years later, July 1940, by Martin Nodell and Bill Finger, then recreated in his current incarnation in 1959 by Julius Schwartz.
Monday June 20, 2022
Movie Review: The Big House (1930)
Hollywood’s ur-prison film depicts a system, like in “Les Misérables,” that reduces a man to a number—or a series of numbers. This, for example, is Kent Marlowe (Robert Montgomery):
That’s his prison number, cell number, and the years he’s serving for vehicular manslaughter.
We first see Kent after the opening credits (shown against the machine-like clomping of prison feet), when a van pulls up to a vast, concrete prison—an obvious matte drawing—and three men get out. Two are guards. The third is Kent and we immediately sympathize with him. He’s clearly out of his element: dazed and scared. He’s surprised that he has to call the guard “sir,” semi-stunned when they take his possessions after frisking him, stunned that his body is no longer his own. I like the moment when the initial guards leave and he watches them go as if he's a kid whose parents have left him at camp.
We get more numbers from the warden (Lewis Stone): 3,000 and 1,800. The latter is the cell accommodations in his prison; the former is how many prisoners they actually have. “They all want to throw people into prison but they don’t want to provide for them after they’re in,” he tells a guard. “You mark my word, Pop, someday we’re going to pay for their shortsightedness.”
The first to pay is Kent.
The early “Les Mis”-like theme.
Boldness cowardice blame
They stack him atop two other prisoners in cell 265. These two just happen to be the toughest men in the yard: Morgan (Chester Morris) and Butch (Wallace Beery).
Even with this open, though, with Kent wholly gaining our sympathy, and Morgan and Butch the tough guys, they becomes the film’s heroes while Kent becomes its villain. A key line comes from the warden:
Remember, this prison does not give a man a yellow streak. But if he has one, it brings it out.
That’s Kent. Early on, a rat named Oliver takes him aside and gives him some advice, and you can see the movie setting itself up. Will Kent be on the side of Oliver the rat, or on the side of Butch and Morgan, cons but decent joes? I assumed the latter. I assumed, hey, it’s Robert Montgomery, he’s handsome and sympathetic, he’ll side with the decent joes. Nope. It’s an interesting twist, given the open. But at this point in his career, Montgomery (Elizabeth’s dad) wasn’t yet a star. He’s actually fourth-billed here, after the warden.
The stars are Morris and Beery, and they’ve got great rapport. Morgan, easy-going and handsome, but with steel in his eyes, is the only one who calls Butch on his bullshit—who’s got so much it’s hard to sort out. At one point, Butch tells Kent he’s the guy who wiped out the Delancey Gang—and he probably did. He also talks about how well he does with the ladies—and maybe he does? He has a repeated phrase when called on his crap: “Who, me?” He’s that ne’er-do-well kid found out, the lovable mug with an “Aw shucks, I didn’t mean to try to kill ya” demeanor. It’s a fine line but Beery walks it like a pro.
There’s a great early scene. In the yard, Butch gets a letter from a girl named Myrtle and begins to read it aloud to the boys. She tells him she misses him, how he’s “it.” Then he leaves off. Amid jeers, he says the rest is just for him and Morgan and they go to their own corner of the yard—where Butch hands Morgan the letter to read to him since he can’t read. Turns out there’s no Myrtle. “If I even knew a dame called Myrtle, I’d kick her teeth out,” he tells Morgan. No, the letter is from a fellow gang member, Tony Loop, who lets him know his mother was sick and now she’s dead. It’s nicely underplayed. Morgan gets Butch to talk about her and he does, a small smile on his face, absent-mindedly running gravel through his hands, about how she was “as big as a minute. And game.”
But the movie doesn’t pretend Butch isn’t also brutal and a cheat. Basically Butch’s boldness causes problems that Kent’s cowardice exacerbates, and somehow Morgan gets the blame.
Example: The guards are searching for Butch’s knife, so in the prison mess he passes it down the line and Kent winds up with it. When they do a cell search, he panics and stashes it among Morgan’s stuff and it’s found. So instead of parole, Morgan gets another year, plus solitary, and vows revenge against Kent. To this end, he breaks out of jail to pursue Kent’s sister, Anne (Leila Hyams), a looker. If that doesn’t make much sense, well, you’re right. Anne was originally supposed to be Kent’s wife, so Morgan would’ve been cuckolding him. But women in preview audiences didn’t want a matinee idol like Chester Morris doing dirty like that, so they reshot scenes to make Anne the sister. It mostly works but it means Morgan’s motivation here is a little odd.
Of course, he falls for her, and she for him, but he’s spotted by a cop (Robert Emmett O’Connor, Paddy Ryan from “Public Enemy”), and sent back to jail. There, we get that boldness-cowardice-blame dynamic again. Butch plots a prison break, Kent snitches, and when it turns violent Morgan is blamed for the snitching. Amid gunfire, and a WWI Army tank(!), our two heroes go gunning for each other. After they're both plugged, they crawl toward each other:
Morgan: Sorry, Butch. Did I get ya?
Butch: I’m on my feet, see?
Morgan: Don’t lie to me.
Butch: Who, me?
Morgan: Yes, you.
A guard then lets Butch know it was Kent—already gunned down—who was the snitch. At this point, the two men should’ve died in each other’s arms. Theirs is the movie’s true love story. Ah, but those women in the preview audience wouldn't like it. So Butch dies, Morgan survives, and is suddenly and nonsensically pardoned. He leaves the prison and into Anne’s arms. Who, him? Yes, him.
I like the penultimate scene, where the warden asks Morgan about his plans. “I thought I’d go to the islands of some new country,“ he says, ”and take up government lands.” That was still a thing back then? To just go to a place and just get land? Oh, to be free, white and 21.
Call and response
The role of Butch was originally intended for Lon Chaney, but he died suddenly in 1930, so Beery, who’d had trouble making the transition to talkies, got the nod. It not only resurrected his career, it supercharged it. He was nominated for an Academy Award for lead actor, losing to George Arliss (“Disraeli”), but a year later he won for “The Champ.” He made a series of popular films with Marie Dressler, starred in many of the early classic MGM ensemble films (“Grand Hotel,” “Dinner at Eight”), and played everyone from Pancho Villa to Long John Silver to P.T. Barnum. During the first four years of Quigley’s Top 10 Box-Office Champions (1932-35), he was one of four stars listed every year. The others were Joan Crawford, Will Rogers and Clark Gable.
“The Big House” was nominated for four Academy Awards and won two, including best writing for Frances Marion, the wife of director George W. Hill, who became the first behind-the-scenes woman to win an Oscar. Apparently she visited a prison to get a sense of what it was like. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where the sharp details of the opening scenes come from.
Speaking of: There’s another good numbers scene there that made me do a double-take. Kent is being given his (what turn out to be) ill-fitting prison clothes, and we get a kind of sing-songy call-and-response, as one prison official lets another know the sizes:
- Coat, 36 (coat, 36)
- Underwear, 4 (underwear, 4)
- Pants, 5 (pants, 5)
- Shirt, 16 (shirt, 16)
- Hat, 7 (hat, 7)
A year later, Warner Bros. ripped off this riff in “The Public Enemy” when Tom Powers first gets a suit. It actually makes more sense—and is more effective—here, since it plays into the whole reduction-of-a-man-to-a-number theme. In “Enemy” it’s just a slightly homophobic moment showing Cagney rise.
The Anne angle aside, “Big House” is an amazing early film. There’s a documentary feel to scenes, a power to Beery’s performance, and even a great tracking shot (Morgan visiting Anne at her parents’ house) that demonstrates that not all cameras in early talkies were stagnant.
The star turn: Beery filling a whole prison with the force of his face.
Sunday June 19, 2022
A Special Paul McCartney 'Known For'
What is Paul McCartney known for, according to IMDb?
Thanks for coming.
Why “Vanilla Sky” by the way? Because Paul did the title song.
What could go in place of “Vanilla Sky”? I don't know. “Help!” maybe? “Let It Be”? The new “Get Back”? How about “Live and Let Die”? He did the title track to that one, too, and the song was a top 10 hit in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia. “Vanilla Sky”? It went to No. 62 in Japan. That's it. Charted nowhere else. Nowhere. Else.
Happy 80th, Paul.
Saturday June 18, 2022
Paul McCartney Turns 80
Bob (left) and Paul (right)
I took this photo of a framed photo of my father with Paul McCartney when I flew to Minneapolis last January for Dad’s 90th birthday. The photo hangs in his basement study next to his computer. It’s of him and another journalist standing in line to get Paul’s autograph during an event for Paul’s film “Give Me Regards to Broad Street” in 1984. These were guys who never did that kind of thing. They never asked for autographs from people they were covering, and they certainly didn’t stand in line to do it. Just wasn’t professional. But they did it for Paul.
Well, Dad did it for me. In my teen years in the late ’70s and early ’80s I was still Beatles-mad, and Paul was my favorite, so he asked Paul to sign his reporter’s notebook to me. I still have it. That's here, too.
Paul McCartney turns 80 today. Eighty. Seems like yesterday I wrote about Paul’s 70th. Yesterday and a million years ago.
My friend Adam recently tweeted about this article, with musicians from all over the world breaking down favorite Paul tunes. I asked Adam which one he’d take a shot at and he said he wouldn’t ignore the greats: “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be.” I liked that. My first thought for me was “Listen to What the Man Said.” It was the McCartney song that was charting when I first began to listen to the radio, and I used to listen to various stations for hours just to hear it. I still like it. A lot. It would be fun trying to figure out why.
This isn’t true of other solo McCartney efforts. I recently heard “With a Little Luck” for the first time in, I don’t know, decades, and I was still sick of it. And I’d forgotten all about “Take It Away” and “No More Lonely Nights” until I looked up his discography. And “Arrow Through Me”? From the album “Back to the Egg”? Back to the Egg? What the hell was Paul thinking?
I kept going back and forth on his albums. Yes to “Venus and Mars,” no to “At the Speed of Sound.” Yes to “London Town,” god no to “Egg.” I bought “McCartney II” but … nah. It was “Coming Up” and not much else. “Tug of War” was his first post-John album, and it was supposed to be a return to form, a more mature work, and it kinda was, but it was just too uneven, and I look at it now and think the laudatory critics were engaged in some serious wish fulfillment there. Which I get. I was the same. I kept listening and wishing and willing it to be better. Same with “Pipes of Peace.” C’mon, Paul, you can do it!
And then he tried the movie, “Broad Street,” which I began with hope and ended with an eyeroll, and he was onto symphonies and things, and I was onto other music, and now it’s now and Paul is 80. But today, in honor, I listened to the whole of “Venus and Mars” for the first time since probably 1980-81, and maybe it's the '70s baby in me listening to one of the first contemporary albums I ever bought, but it's pretty good: from “You Gave Me the Answer,” his throwback to throwback songs like “When I’m 64,” with a lovely little line: “I love you/And you, you seem to like me”; and the “Oh, Darling!”-esque “Call Me Back Again,” and “Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People,” another Paul song about the aged (he was the only rocker doing that, wasn't he?), as well as “Crossroads,” the instrumental snippet at the end with the “Abbey Road” vibe. Plus of course “Listen to What the Man Said,” which still sounds good to me, and which I’d forgotten I'd bought back then, as a single, until my older brother, who keeps everything, gave it back to me a few years ago. He'd kept it all these years and he gave it back to me, and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since, sparking joy.
Happy birthday, Paul.
Saturday June 18, 2022
Dreaming of Ed Norton's Summer Blockbuster
I was reading an entertainment magazine about the new big summer franchise movie starring Ed Norton. It was ... no. Except he didn't see it as a sequel. And it wasn't a sequel. It was just a big movie starring Norton and directed by the same director of that summer franchise movie. They were being reteamed for the first time. In fact, they'd already made the sequel to the franchise movie with a different director, and Norton implied he thought it was better with a different director, and kinda sorta disparaged this new movie. but I was thinking the opposite. I liked the new movie better than the sequel to the summer blockbuster.
I was reading all of this in a small movie room—one of many. They were like the old MTVs of 1980s Taipei, with framed posters and pictures of movie stars on the wall. One room was dedicated to Heath Ledger. The girl who ran it got weepy at the thought of him.
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