Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Earworm: “Sometime in the Morning”

I was still trapped in Florida, waiting for my parents’ house to sell, and as I hoped for reprieve I toyed around with the iPad I had brought to liven up my confinement. I don’t even remember what I was looking for when I stumbled across this old song on YouTube. I had heard it before, of course, when it was new. But back then it was just another song on one of the Monkees albums we kids had around the house.

And now hearing it again, half a century later, I admitted that “Sometime in the Morning” was a damn good song. And why wouldn’t it be? It was, as I already knew, written by Carole King, arguably the greatest American songwriter of the rock era. (With a nod to Paul Simon.) In fact, it was co-written by King and her former partner/husband, lyricist Gerry Goffin. And make no mistake, Goffin’s contribution to the song should not be dismissed. As original and infectious as the melody is, the lyrics, too, are creative and touching, and leave quite the emotional effect.

“Sometime in the Morning” is about a man who has an epiphany, and suddenly and dramatically appreciates the woman he has been with for who knows how long. And to give credit, it’s a joy to watch and listen to the short clips of Micky Dolenz sing it in the video, which is taken from the Monkees’ both wildly popular and surprisingly short-lived TV show of the 1960’s.

Still, as I played the song over and over I eventually switched to viewing the version with just the lyrics on the screen. As the song grew on me it became harder and harder to listen to it as the Monkees, dressed as clown, Benny Hilled it up trying to cheer up some chick at a circus. The song deserved better.

I played that song every day, several times a day, for about a week. When I was driving around that hot, flat state I often caught myself singing it. No doubt about it, “Sometime in the Morning” had become what today is commonly known as an earworm. That is, that song that you play over and over in your head until it almost drives you crazy.

And apparently I’m not the only one who appreciates the song. As you would expect, so does Micky Dolenz. In fact in 2010 he recorded his first album in ten years, cleverly titled King for a Day. On it he covers fourteen Carole King songs, including, of course, “Sometime in the Morning.” In concert Dolenz has introduced it as, “A beautiful song by Carole King.” He’s absolutely right, and it goes like this:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Presumed Guilty

I’m going to use the Bill Cosby scandal to illustrate my point, but in truth the misuse of this expression had been irritating me for years, long before the accusations against Cosby came to light. The expression is, “A person is innocent until proven guilty.” You hear it all the time, not infrequently by Cosby’s defenders, and it makes me cringe every time.

First of all, the expression actually states that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. They even get this wrong at the beginning of Cops. And what the presumption of innocence means is that when a person stands accused of a crime, generally in a court of law, the burden of proving guilt is on the accuser, rather than the accused having to prove himself innocent.

Let’s take a look at the famous O.J. Simpson trial. It was the job of the prosecution to prove that Simpson had committed the two murders. They failed to accomplish this, at least in the eyes of the jury. Now, assuming that Simpson did indeed kill those two people (and you and I have no way of knowing for sure) there’s no way he can be considered innocent. He may not have been convicted, but he most certainly is guilty of the crime.

A year or so ago I heard an interview with comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who stated that the three greatest stand-up comedians of all time are Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Bill Cosby. I recall this because they’re the same three that I would have chosen. Sometimes Cosby, who works clean and never presented a particularly hip persona, doesn’t get the appreciation he deserves, so it was nice to hear him get the recognition.  

Not every one of Bill Cosby’s accusers is saying he raped them. Some have simply come forward with an account of how Cosby crudely attempted to seduce them, and was rejected. However, if even one of the rape allegations is true, Cosby is a criminal. Again and again women have said that while with Cosby they mysteriously passed out and woke up naked, often with Cosby having sex with them, or with Cosby not there but with the feeling that they had had sex.

If Cosby did in fact rape these women but never stands trial, because of statute of limitations loopholes and/or secret payoffs, it is legally wrong and morally reprehensible to describe him as “innocent,” as the people who still attend his performances often do. If he raped those women he is guilty, even if he never steps inside of a courtroom. As with O.J. Simpson, we can never know the truth with absolute certainty, but as thinking adults we can look at the evidence and form our own opinions. And many people, myself included, now believe it’s at least possible for someone to be both one of the greatest comics in history and a serial rapist.

One thing that you can definitely count on, however. You will never hear me defend Cosby, or any accused person, by claiming he is “innocent until proven guilty.” It is simply an automatic, go-to defense for people who have no other evidence to support their argument, and besides, it’s not what the concept means. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Guess Who #39

It’s not that tonight’s Mr. X is a hero of mine. In fact, most of his work was created before my time, if you can imagine such a thing. Still, there’s no denying that Mr. X was a powerhouse in the field of cinema in his day, and you’ve most certainly heard his name. And if, before taking this quiz, you come up a little short in your attempt to identify even a few of his accomplishments, that’s okay. You’ll certainly be able to do so after taking it.

Mr. X’s middle name was Marcellus.

Mr. X was born in 1906.

Mr. X was nominated for an Oscar ten times.

Mr. X began perming in Vaudeville at the age of three.

Mr. X was married five times.

Mr. X often cast his father in movies.

Mr. X often cast his daughter in movies.

Mr. X often cast Humphrey Bogart in movies.

Mr. X is the only person to direct both a parent and a child in Oscar-winning roles.

Mr. X was a licensed pilot.

Mr. X said, “If I ever do a movie that glorifies war, somebody shoot me.”

Mr. X was an amateur boxing champion.

Mr. X received an Oscar nomination in five consecutive decades.

Mr. X once had a pet monkey.

Mr. X was proclaimed the 13th greatest director of all time by Entertainment Weekly.

Mr. X appeared on a U.S. postage stamp in 2012.

Mr. X said, “I prefer to think that God is not dead, just drunk.”

Mr. X was born in Missouri and died in Rhode Island.

My, that certainly is a long list of clues up there. So tell me, who is Mr. X?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Talk Show: The Ultimate Prize

It was 1997 and I was enjoying a new game show called Win Ben Stein’s Money. It was fun to try to answer the questions and add to my vast storehouse of useless information, of course, but more and more I found myself tuning in to watch Stein’s co-host on the show. He was a bit chubby, poorly dressed and had a quick, smart-ass wit that made the show a lot of fun. His name, of course, was Jimmy Kimmel.

Kimmel remained on Money for three years, but eventually left to co-produce and co-host the hilariously creative The Man Show. I still remember thinking that it was much too soon for Kimmel to leave this show when he did just that, in 2003. The show was at its creative peak and had a lot of mileage left. Kimmel left because the Holy Grail of television had been laid down before him: he was offered his own talk show.

Short of a break-out movie career, the ultimate achievement for successful television funnymen (and funnywomen) seems to be sitting behind the desk of their very own talk show. Over and over we seem to lose uniquely entertaining programs, and their stars, to the apparently irresistible lure of the talk show. You would think the formula would have worn out by now, with the host feigning fascination with a seemingly endless parade of celebrities pretending they are not there to hawk their latest movie, book or TV show. It has been, after all, fifty-three years since Carson began his celebrated late-night reign.

But no, it seems that few can resist that seat behind the desk. We lost The Man Show because of it.  Some might recall that before she had her talk show, Chelsea Handler hosted a sketch comedy show on the E! network called The Chelsea Handler Show. It was funny, daring and something fresh. Ah, but it didn’t fit the formula. It lasted two years, after which Handler began to host Chelsea Lately, which was, and let’s say it together, a talk show.

And that brings us to my main point, the most crushing blow of all. I still remember that he was a little shaky during the first weeks of his new fake news show. He stumbled over lines and at times I felt just a bit embarrassed for him. Back then it would have been nearly impossible to imagine that Stephen Colbert would host his Colbert Report for the next decade, amassing a catalogue of 1,447 shows. Television is much like any art form. There is some real crap at the bottom, a huge mass of mediocrity in the middle and a slim layer of brilliance floating on top. For ten seasons The Colbert Report, without a doubt, was nothing short of brilliant.

And then he was tapped to replace the retiring David Letterman. Yes, Colbert was leaving the Report to do…a talk show. I suppose it’s really not a mystery why he, or any performer, would make this choice. Apparently a late-night talk show, especially on one of the major networks, is a huge step up the showbiz ladder, and I assume it is, as such, accompanied by the appropriate rewards, monetary and otherwise.

There might be sharper minds and quicker wits on television than Stephen Colbert, but none come to mind. And no doubt he will find even greater late-night success when he begins his new gig. The price he’ll have to pay, however, is the softening up of that razor sharpness. He’ll have to appeal to a wider audience and therefore use broader humor. He’ll probably even have to, dare I say it, “dumb it down” for his new audience. He’ll have to play it safe. Oh, he’ll be fun to watch, no doubt. And it will be easier, too, for us viewers. You know, without all that thinking to get in the way of the laughs.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

He Loves Garlic

It’s called Cheesy Chicken and it’s a simple recipe that I’ve carried with me for about thirty years, ever since making it for a long-ago girlfriend. And on this night just last week it looked like I had all of the necessary ingredients in the house.  This shouldn’t have been too surprising, since there really are only three. I had the chicken, I had the cheddar cheese and I had the cream of mushroom soup.  Great! Let’s make dinner!

I had already grated the cheese and was in the middle of browning the chicken when I reached up to grab the can of soup. Hmmm…that’s interesting. It was indeed a can of cream of mushroom soup, but somehow I had accidentally bought the “with garlic” variety. Well, how much difference could it make, really?

I opened the can and tasted a bit of the soup. I was not pleased. It didn’t taste like good old cream of mushroom soup. Frankly, it tasted worse. Much worse.  Ah, but I had already started making dinner, and so convinced myself it would come out just fine.

But it didn’t. The Cheesy Chicken, one of my favorites, didn’t taste right that night. And it was no secret why. It was the garlic. Now, had you asked me earlier that day if I liked garlic I would have given a resounding, “Sure! Who doesn’t?”

That doesn’t, however, mean it needs to be added to everything. In fact, there are very few things that are enhanced by garlic. Have you ever been to the Garlic Festival in Gilroy? There’s always a long line of people waiting to buy the famous garlic ice cream.  I love ice cream, and a few years ago I finally made it to Gilroy to taste the garlic kind.  It was awful. How could it not be? It’s garlic in ice cream! And no matter what people claim, they don’t like it. They just eat it so they can tell their co-workers that yes, of course they ate the garlic ice cream at the festival.

You no doubt know someone who claims to love garlic, or you yourself might be that very person. They go on and on about garlic. Oh, they put it in everything.  I suppose it’s possible that they do actually love it, but I have my doubts. You know, I love ice cream. I love the Beatles. I love breasts. But loving garlic? Nah, not even close.

And then there’s the guy, and for some reason it always seems to be a man, who has to prove his love of this stinking rose. And woe be to you if you find yourself a dinner guest at his place. You see, this maniac has a point to make, and he’ll do so by putting more garlic into a single meal than most humans consume in a lifetime. 

And soon the people sitting around the table, those who had only just recently proclaimed their undying  love of garlic (“Mmm…what smells so good?”) will have quieted down, slowly eating their dinner, politely complimenting the cook and  surreptitiously making eye contact with their fellow diners. Maybe, if it’s a particularly close group of friends, somebody might mention there’s a bit too much garlic in the meal. At this point the whole group will quickly jump in to agree. The cook will just smile, of course. He’s sorry, he’ll chuckle, but you see he can’t help himself. He just loves garlic.

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