Friday, October 17, 2008

House's Dad

This week's episode of "House" made me again recall the similarities between House and Patrick McGoohan's Number 6, from "The Prisoner." House's Dad died, and House confides to Wilson that he discovered his father wasn't really his father. House's real Dad was a friend of the family, whom House apparently bears some resemblance to. This character was said to have been at his Dad's funeral, but we never got to see him on screen. I know who should have played him! Patrick McGoohan! It would have been perfect!

I Met Martin Sheen!

Okay, so this week was a good week for meeting people. On Tuesday afternoon, Martin Sheen spoke at a rally for Al Franken, who is running for the U.S. Senate from Minnesota. (Yes, Al Franken from SNL.) Al actually wasn't at the rally, because he was being interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio. It was at a Mexican restaurant on Lake Street, kind of a random place for a rally, but whatever. There's a large space upstairs where they have dances and entertainment, and that's where the rally was. Keith Ellison, who represents the Congressional district that includes most of Minneapolis, spoke and introduced Martin. Keith Ellison is also the only Muslim serving in the U.S. Congress. (He actually did take his oath of office on a Koran!) Martin spoke for about 10 or 15 minutes, and wove some quotations and stories into his pitch for Al Franken. Oh, I wish that Martin Sheen was the President in real life! He's such a cool guy.

After Martin spoke the rally was basically over, and Martin was talking to whoever wanted to talk to him. My Mom was at the rally too, she wouldn't have missed it for the world. She's been a huge Martin Sheen fan since she saw him on TV in 1973 in "The Execution of Private Slovik." Martin actually spent time talking to everyone he met, finding out some common thread or something to talk to them about. He would ask people questions, and he was totally locked in to the conversation. He's honestly interested in people, he would make a great politician. I got to shake his hand, and tell him that I really admired his work as an actor, and his political activism. My Mom talked to Martin for a minute, and Martin insisted on getting a picture with us! (I didn't bring my camera, so some guy who was there taking pictures took the picture.) Martin said, "I need a picture with these two!" He's the nicest guy! It was really great to meet someone I've liked and respected for a long time, and have them be even cooler than I thought they would be. My Mom thought the same thing. So, that's my brush with fame this week!

I Met Nick Lowe!

Last Saturday night I saw Nick Lowe live at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis, and after the show I got to meet him! It was really a great show, very similar to when I saw him last year at the Fine Line. But the acoustics at the Dakota are much better. Nick performed solo, he really should do a solo live album. He really attacks his guitar, I'm surprised he didn't break any strings! The crowd was really great, very appreciative of Nick.

Nick even did a new song, called "I Read A Lot." It was excellent, a sad but gorgeous song about how the narrator reads a lot now that his girlfriend has left him. In introducing the song, Nick said "People fall into two categories when you say you're going to do a new song. They either say, 'I must hear it right away, another nugget of brilliance from this man, how does he do it, when does he sleep?' Or they say, 'How long is this going to take?' I must admit, I fall into the second category." Well, when it comes to Nick Lowe, I definitely fall into the first category! And I'm greedily hoping there's more new songs on the way.

After the show a group of people were waiting by the backstage/green room area, and Nick was signing autographs, posing for pictures, and chatting with people. I was excited, as I had wasted quite a while after the Fine Line show hoping to meet Nick, with no luck. I heard Nick tell the guy in front of me that he was hoping to tour with a band next year, and that he has a best-of coming out next year. I went to the concert with my Mom, who is as big a Nick Lowe fan as I am, and she was pretty excited to meet him too. (She thinks Nick is pretty cute, in addition to being a great singer and songwriter.) So I got to shake Nick's hand and talk to him for a minute, and stand around while someone found a Sharpie so he could sign our CD's. (I had stupidly assured my Mom that Nick would have a Sharpie. He didn't.) I learned that Nick is left-handed, which just makes him that much cooler in my book. (I'm left-handed as well.) Nick is quite handsome up close, with his white hair and piercing blue eyes, but then you know that if you've seen the cover of his album "The Convincer." (Just seeing that CD cover when it came out made me wonder, "Who is that guy?" But I didn't just buy the CD at the time. I should have.) I told Nick, "I think you're one of the great songwriters," because I had to say something to articulate how much his music means to me. He seemed pleased that someone would say that about him, he said, "Thank you very much. And thanks for bringing your Mum along!" What a nice guy!

So that was my meeting Nick Lowe story, here's the set-list, I think I have all the songs, but not in perfect order:

People Change
Soulful Wind
When I Write the Book (so glad he played that!)
Lately I've Let Things Slide
What's Shakin' on the Hill
Long Limbed Girl
Hope For Us All
All Men Are Liars
I Trained Her to Love Me
(after those 2 songs Nick said, "Now we're through the controversial part of the show, we've made it to the other side, which doesn't always happen.")
Man That I've Become
Has She Got a Friend?
I Read a Lot-new song
Cruel to be Kind
I Live On a Battlefield
What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding?
Without Love
Rome Wasn't Built in a Day
I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll

The Man In Love
The Beast In Me
2nd encore:
7 Nights to Rock

It was a great show and a great night.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

As I Write This Letter to Ringo...

If you've been putting off writing that fan letter to Ringo Starr, you'd better hurry up, because as of next week, he won't be answering fan mail! He posted a video on his website about this, and if it's postmarked after October 20th, "It's gonna be tossed," Ringo says. Ringo's reasoning is that "I have too much to do." Which sounds like a reasonable excuse, the man's an ex-Beatle, I'm surprised he has time to answer ANY fan mail! In the video Ringo sounds a bit cranky. Well, as cranky as Ringo can sound, anyway. It might have been nice to say, "I appreciate all the stuff people send, but I don't have time for it." But he's also been living under a microscope for about 45 years now, so I understand if he's lost a little patience. And I'm sure people send him all kinds of crazy crap.

Interesting fact, I have read somewhere in my Beatle studies that Ringo actually got more fan mail than the other three Beatles. The reason supposedly was that girls thought they would have more of a chance with Ringo than the others! So it wasn't just a cute scene in "A Hard Day's Night," he really does have mountains of fan mail to respond to! Just like the episode of the Simpsons Ringo guest-starred (sorry) on! Or, maybe people saw the Simpsons episode and really thought he responded to EVERY piece of fan mail that made it's way onto his desk.

I think Bob Spitz contradicts this in his book "The Beatles," and says that Ringo hardly got any fan mail, and had no idea how to respond to it, but I like my story better. (I really did read it somewhere, honestly.) Spitz also portrays Ringo as pretty much a doofus, and doesn't make much of an attempt to really understand him. In one passage, after the Beatles quit touring in 1966, Spitz basically says, "Ringo stayed at home and played with his cameras. He was a simple lad." Okay, I'm not going to make the claim that Ringo is the smartest guy on Earth, but give him a little more credit than that! (Spitz is also pretty dismissive of George Harrison, which is a big no-no in my book. Spitz is kind of like, "There were John and Paul...and then there were these two other guys.") Sure, the Beatles were three absolute geniuses and one normal guy, but that's nothing to knock Ringo about. He's the Everyman Beatle. It's not Ringo's fault he joined a band with three of the greatest songwriters ever! For anyone who knocks Ringo, I would say to them, "And what songs would you have written for the White Album and Abbey Road? How would you have competed for space with Lennon, McCartney and Harrison?" Ringo did a damn fine job.

Ringo was the perfect drummer for the Beatles, both in personality and in drumming ability. He wasn't a virtuoso like John Bonham or Keith Moon, but the Beatles' music didn't call for that. Ringo pushed his own ego aside and did what he thought was the best drum part for each song. He served the songs rather than himself. If you have your doubts, go listen to "Rain." Drummer Steve Smith, (who drummed with Journey for a number of years) said, "One of Ringo's great qualities was that he composed unique, stylistic drum parts for the Beatles songs. His parts are so signature to the songs that you can listen to a Ringo drum part without the rest of the music and still identify the song." Which is totally true. (Okay, so I got this quote from Ringo's Wikipedia page, it's still a good quote.)

Anyway, peace and love to Ringo, the drummer for the greatest band ever! And I should get going, because I need to get my diorama of an octopus's garden postmarked before October 20th!

CNN Hearts Ron Sexsmith!

There's another article on about Ron Sexsmith, currently touring in support of "Exit Strategy of the Soul." (It's a great album, go buy it!) It's at least the second article they've had about him lately, it's nice to see him get some press. Here's the link to the article:

At least this time they mention Ron by name in the headline, when I first read it, it was: "Songwriter wanted to be Elton, happy to be himself." And I was like, why would I want to read about someone who wanted to be Elton John? If you could be like anyone, why on earth would you pick Elton John? Then I saw it was about Ron, and I read it. Also, the CNN story about the Kinks' box set credited Ron with giving them the tip. H'mmm...I guess Ron has some special ability to read Ray Davies's mind...Anyway, the piece also gives a nice little shout out to Nick Lowe. So if you don't know about Ron, go read about him and listen to his music. He's a very talented songwriter. I wanted to go see Ron when he was in town a couple of weeks ago, but I was really sick, so I missed him. Oh well, next time.

And as long as I'm talking about CNN, I heart CNN's post-debate coverage last week, because I got to see three of my CNN crushes, Campbell Brown, Suzanne Malveaux, and Soledad O'Brien! Sigh...I would be in Soledad's focus group of undecided voters anytime! Of course, I'm already decided, but that's not the point. I love it when Campbell Brown just barely masks her complete and utter contempt for Sarah Palin! (It's cute.) And I'm sad that I don't get to see Kyra Phillips on "American Morning" anymore, now that Kiran Chetry is back from maternity leave. (Kiran is still pretty cute, though.) Okay, okay, so maybe I'm a CNN junkie, but I can quit anytime I want to! Just not before the election!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Paul Newman, 1925-2008

The passing of Paul Newman was not totally unexpected, as reports about his health have been commonplace over the last 6 months, but it was still a very sad day. Newman was one of my very favorite actors, one of the all-time great film stars, and a lifelong Democrat. (Among many other things, devoted husband, dedicated philanthropist, etc.) His star shone brightly in Hollywood for fifty years, a rarity in film history, and his many memorable roles have touched all of us.

From the very beginning of his career, it was clear that Newman would be a different kind of actor, a different kind of star. His first movie was a flop, a Biblical epic called The Silver Chalice. Newman was given the star buildup, but he distanced himself from the finished product when he took out an ad in the Hollywood trade papers apologizing for the film and his performance. You would think that this would have been a bad move for his career, but there was no lasting effect. His next movie was Somebody Up There Likes Me, a biopic of boxer Rocky Graziano, and it made Newman a star. The role had originally been intended for James Dean, but after his death Newman inherited the role. By the end of the 50's, Newman's career was in full swing, after twin triumphs in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Long, Hot Summer. (It was on the set of Long, Hot Summer where he met Joanne Woodward, and one of Hollywood's greatest love stories began.)

But the 1960's would make Paul Newman an icon. Movies like The Hustler, Hud, and Cool Hand Luke made him the epitome of cool. Like Steve McQueen, he was a rebel who played by his own rules. He finished out the decade in the first buddy movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring alongside a relative newcomer, Robert Redford. (The studio wanted a more famous co-star, like Steve McQueen.) Another, much less famous movie from 1969, Winning, started Newman's obsession with race car driving.

The 1970's belonged to Newman's friend Redford, although Newman did appear in two huge hits, The Sting, and The Towering Inferno. (Okay, so Towering Inferno isn't a great movie. No one's perfect.) But, The Towering Inferno is notable in that Newman starred alongside that other 60's anti-hero with piercing blue eyes who also loved racing on the side: Steve McQueen. Their relationship seems to have been a bit edgy. McQueen had had a tiny role in Somebody Up There Likes Me, and seems to have still been insecure around Newman, even though he was just as big a star. (Maybe McQueen didn't like being around someone who reminded him so much of himself?) There was a long battle about top billing for the movie, finally resolved with McQueen's name appearing first on the left of the screen, and Newman's name appearing at the right of the screen, but higher up. McQueen also insisted that he and Newman have exactly the same number of spoken lines! Yes, I think Steve was a bit insecure...and Newman could have cared less, it seems.

Newman gave one of his greatest performances in 1982's The Verdict, playing an alcoholic, ambulance-chasing attorney. (It's my own favorite Newman performance.) But he lost the Oscar, as usual. He finally won for playing Fast Eddie Felson in The Color of Money, Martin Scorsese's sequel to The Hustler. As Newman grew older, it seemed like the only change in his appearance was that his hair went grey. (Eschewing the usual Hollywood vanity, he almost never dyed it for parts.)

I know I'm just skimming over Newman's career here, but it was extremely fitting that his very last performance was as a Hudson Hornet in Cars. Newman's career and life were both truly remarkable, he was someone I had a great amount of respect for, as a great actor and also as a great man. He gave the world so much, and for that we should all be thankful.