Tuesday, July 31, 2012
This is where it all began for me; as far as reading goes. Dick and his two sisters, Jane and Sally, taught me how to read by allowing me to look into their little world. In a way they were the first “reality” type of show. They did the things we all do at the age of 5, at least back then. We waited for our Dads to come home from work, while our Moms took care of us. And the luckier kids had dogs, like Spot to play with.
Sue still has her 1st grade reader, “The New We Look and See” by New Basic Readers. This is the 1956 edition. They say that this system of teaching young people is outdated and inefficient. Of course, I disagree. Upon the average, I read about 100 books per year, more if I were to count the ones which I begin but do not finish, and even more when you add in the number of books I take out from the library in order to read a specific portion, of which I have interest.
I am in favor of any program which teaches children to read; and even more so when it comes to any program urging young people to continue reading past the point of being functional. Dick, Jane and Sally were my first fictional characters; beyond the ones which my mom read to me at bedtime. These were characters to whom I could relate, and; more importantly; access on my own. They were a vehicle to make me want to read beyond the level in which I could merely pass the test.
I don’t know if they are still using these books anymore, but I hope so. If not, someone please tell me; whatever happened to Dick, Jane and Sally? Did they get old, like we did? Are they retired and living in Florida, like my Aunt Gloria? Or, have they gone the way of all things when they are considered obsolete? And if you see them, could you say hello for me? I kind of miss them.
Monday, July 30, 2012
Back in August of 1970 John Prine was working as a letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office in Chicago. It was in this capacity that he met the great journalist Studs Terkel for an interview, presumably for one his many books chronicling the American work experience. Mr. Terkel had been doing this type of journalism since the 1930’s, when he was employed by the NRA as a “writer.” Armed with a dictaphone and notebook, he set off on an adventure across America, the results of which were later published as “Working.”
But the best part of this interview was what took place after it was over. John Prine, as explained in the liner notes to this album, was looking to record a tape of his songs for copyright purposes. The tape would be sent on to the Library of Congress. So, he simply asked Mr. Terkel if it was possible to record the songs there in the studio. Mr. Terkel agreed, and the legendary Ray Nordstrand, who hosted “The Midnight Special”, agreed to do the engineering of the session.
What followed was 11 tracks, all of which Mr. Prine later recorded for his first album on Atlantic Records, which came out in October 1970. But this tape is so much better. It is clear and crisp in its quality, and John Prine was fresh and eager to share his work with the world. From “Hello In There”, “Souvenirs”, “Great Society Conflict Veteran’s Blues” (which was later retitled “Sam Stone”) all of Mr. Prine’s earliest work is here like you have never heard it before.
There is also a second disc of a performance by Mr. Prine in November of 1970, one month after the release of the album. “Paradise” is a song still applicable today. In that song Mr. Prine sings about how the town in which his father was born and raised ceased to exist after the coal company simply strip mined it off the face of the earth, leaving nothing behind. All of the songs speak to the conflict that is America, and the struggle of the average man; against all odds; to make it in this world.
No matter how much of a fan you are of John Prine’s, this album will only further secure your connection with the artist. And read the liner notes, they’re short and sweet, and highlight a uniquely American talent.
Medicare Signed Into Law - 1965
It was 47 years ago today when President Lyndon Johnson went to the Truman Libray in Missouri to sign the historic Medicare Act into law. To the President's right is former President Harry Truman. Behind them, partially obscured, is the chief architect of that Act, Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
I was barely 11 years old when this event took place, and never thought of it is as having anything to do with me. Well, here I am, 47 years later, and I am on Medicaid, a program which grew out of the original Medicare Program. Without this return on my investment, through a government mandated deduction from my paycheck, I would be in a very different position, respecting both my health and my dignity as a human being.
So, in the midst of all of the hubbub regarding what some people term to be "entitlements"; which they are not, they are investments; I just want to thank the leaders who made this program possible. Their actions, over 4 decades ago, affect me directly today.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Malik Bendjelloul and “Sixto” Diaz Rodriguez both play themselves in this fascinating true story about the vagaries of fame and fortune. The story begins in 1969 with the recording and release of Sixto’s first album, which didn’t do much here in the States. His second album also met the same fate in America. Still driven to play music, Mr. Rodriquez became a staple in his home town, often seen walking with his guitar, making the rounds of local bars, playing for the simple joy of playing. He had moved on with his life, working at various construction jobs to support his family, even as his recordings were selling like gold in Australia and South Africa, Most people thought that he was dead.
Malik Bendjelloul was a journalist, working in South Africa when he first heard of Rodriguez and his tremendous following. He began to research the story of the man behind the music, as well as find out how he died. Through interviews with a record store owner in South Africa, he was able to trace Rodriguez to his home town. And that’s when he got a big surprise. “Sixto”, as he is called by his family; he was the 6th child born to Mexican immigrants who came to the U.S. during the 1920’s; was still alive and playing in the evenings at local bars.
And, in a nutshell, Mr. Bendjelloul, at this point, heads to America to meet him. From there the story takes on a life of its own. If “Sixto” was dead; or at least presumed to be so; what had happened to his royalties?
I was first alerted to this movie when I saw the coming attractions recently and have been waiting for the release of this film ever since. It opened in Los Angeles and New York on Friday, but is still not in the Charlotte area. I have been listening to some of Rodriguez' music for about 3 weeks now, and his spirit is amazing. It leaps from the recording and into your soul, it’s that inspiring. This is one movie I am actually looking forward to seeing.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
Friday, July 27, 2012
There is great acting by everyone in this film. Ethel Merman is a standout; even at this early stage of her career you can see that she is going to be big. Leon Errol is also wonderfully vibrant as, well, Leon Errol playing a yacht captain. And with Bing singing his way into Carol Lombard’s heart, this film is just plain fun to watch.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
So, when I went to the Mooresville Public Library the other day; and saw this book staring me in the face; I took it as an omen that I should read it. I’m glad I did. The author, veteran stand-up comic Jimmie Walker, one time star of TV’s “Good Times”, has written a really good book. He discusses everything with candor, from his own upbringing; and his father’s desertion of the family; to his experiences in the projects of New York City, and his slow climb to fame. Along with the likes of Jay leno and david lettermen, the author came of age in a world of comedy where it was okay to be edgy, but there were still boundaries not to be crossed.
Monday, July 23, 2012
Contrasted with today’s views on the subject of Human Rights, it is, at first, hard to fathom. But, when you come right down to it, Batista was a puppet dictator, living off the fat of the Mafia and the CIA, both of whom had substantial blood on their own hands concerning Cuba.
Sunday, July 22, 2012
The sounds associated with David Bowie’s “Major Tom” record originated with these guys dropping marbles into toilets, and anything else it took to achieve their vision. Working against all accepted principles of recording, they actually succeeded in accomplishing their goal with the 1962 hit record named, aptly, “Telstar”. While the rest of the country was listening to Rory Storm and the Hurricanes (with Ringo Starr on drums), and bands such as Cliff Richards and the Shadows, or Gene Vincent; Joe Meek, played in this movie by Con O’Neill; stayed true to his vision, leaving behind a string of hits which eventually culminated in his rapid decline.
An excellent performance by Kevin Spacey, who has never made a bad film; at least in my opinion; along with a tightly wound script, based on the whirlwind career of a largely forgotten genius; make this film an informative, as well as entertaining one to watch. And, you will be surprised, if you are over 55, that you may remember hearing some of this music as a kid. Also; note the unique guitar sound that has permeated all of the “Spaghetti Westerns”, as well as films such as “Pulp Fiction”, and you will realize just how far ahead of the curve Joe Meek and his band were.
This is the original recording of “Telstar” from 1962, courtesy; as always; of You Tube;
Saturday, July 21, 2012
Friday, July 20, 2012
Thursday, July 19, 2012
This story comes back to me at odd times; usually when I am struggling with myself over something. And, when I look at that picture, it gives me strength.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
When Carlos’ truck is stolen, his son uses his knowledge of the streets and barrios of South Central Los Angeles to help his father locate the stolen vehicle. Together, they are successful and recover the vehicle, only to be pulled over in a traffic stop which will change their lives forever.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Monday, July 16, 2012
Nick Lowe has been a force in rock and roll for almost 4 decades now. His solo efforts are legendary, and his all too short collaboration with Dave Edmunds in the early 1980’s supergroup “Rockpile” was almost the apex of both of their respective careers. But time has a way with performers like Nick Lowe; who used to be son in law to Johnny Cash, and even had the old man record one of his darker hits, “The Beast In Me” for his Rick Rubin albums; has matured like fine wine. He has a certain elegance about him which draws you into the things, and people, about whom he sings.
Sunday, July 15, 2012
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Friday, July 13, 2012
To most white people the game known as “playing the dozens” is somewhat of a mystery. Most of us (I’m white) think of it only as a variation on what we used to call “ranking out” one another, which usually involved such witticisms as “You’re mother’s so ugly she can make a freight train take a dirt road”; that’s a very generic example; which would immediately be answered with another, and hopefully worse, reply, thus “outranking” your foe. In this book by Elijah Wald, the author sets the history of “the dozens” in its true historical context. The funny thing is, he’s a white guy! But that should be no surprise, as “The Dozens” spread over into the white community many decades ago.
Thursday, July 12, 2012
I mean, here I am in my own home, watching a movie which I have either bought, borrowed, or rented, and the first thing I see on the screen is a warning from both of these agencies. They can fine you, imprison you, and even bankrupt you for misuse of a movie. And to cap it off, you can’t fast forward these warnings to the next scene. You are a prisoner in your own home, even before you have committed the crime.
You know, they hung Hussein, and I have always harbored a suspicion that he was guilty of stockpiling huge amounts of pirated DVD’s in each of his many palaces. And what about Bin Laden? Don’t you find it a little bit suspicious that he was killed while sitting in front of his TV? You have to wonder…
Theaters nowadays are not much fun either. It begins with the purchase of your ticket, when you are threatened with being evicted from the premises; without a refund; for violating the “Code of Conduct”, which is not on the ticket, or even posted anywhere I’ve ever seen. So, now I am sitting anxiously in my seat, wondering if I am doing anything wrong.
Then comes the film itself; with its ubiquitous warnings about copying the film. Yeah, I’m all set up in the third row with a video recorder, waiting to make my fortune. I guess it’s time to think back to the days of my youth, and contrast the 2 experiences.
As a kid we had it fairly simple. You bought your ticket, you paid the price. And then stayed all day if you cared to. At the Century’s Avalon, on Kings Highway and East 18th Street, there was even a balcony; or lodge, as it was referred to on the sign by the stairs. That was where we went to sit if we were bored, or had sat through the movie already. The balcony was the spot to pour soda upon the unsuspecting souls watching the movie for the first time. And for those who cared to sit up close down below; in order to avoid the soda; there was the thrill of hurling quarters; or rocks; at the screen, hoping to tear a hole in it.
But, by far the most exciting way of going to the movies involved a group effort. We would all chip in for one ticket; which was like a buck at the time; and then one of us would go into the theater and let the others in through the fire door, which, when done in the daytime, would bath the entire theater in bright daylight, eliciting moans and curses from the afflicted innocents. Then came the fun part; being chased by the 17 year old usher dressed in an Admirals uniform, armed with a flashlight. He never caught anyone, leaving me to wonder at the lengths which some people will go to for minimum wage.
Well, looking back on it all, I suppose I can now see that I brought it all upon myself, and as such, have no real reason to complain. But man, I miss those days!
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
The film follows 5 couples; if you count the parents; as one set of prospective in laws, who are American, are about to meet their Italian counterparts. What follows is too complicated to put down here with any justice, so you’ll just have to see the film.
Director Allen states in an interview with McClatchy Newspaper’s Rene Rodriguez, that he had several stories to tell, and so he was “.. so inspired that I couldn’t figure out which story to tell…. Finally I decided to make one movie with a lot of stories in it.” The result is a sprawling, yet connected set of stories intertwined by love, fate, and in some cases stuff seemingly out of left field, but based on the reality we all live.
Roberto Benigni is brilliant as the ordinary man, who suddenly finds himself the center of media attention, where all his movements are scrutinized and his privacy invaded. He is incensed at the turn of events; and has no idea of why he is suddenly famous; but when it is all taken away; his feelings are of being abandoned for a talent he knows he never possessed in the first place.
Alec Baldwin does a superb job as a successful architect returning to Italy, where he once studied, and through a chance encounter meets a young American architect student who lives in the same street where he used to live. He sees himself in the choices being made by the younger man, and I was left wondering whether those sequences were merely in his own mind.
Throw in the antics of two sets of prospective in laws, and the problems engendered by their children as they continue to discover themselves, and this film works on many levels. Woody Allen is at his all-time best in this one, where he basically plays himself. Just a hint at part of his role; he’s the one responsible for the short lived career of a mortician who can only perform opera in public while taking a shower. If that doesn’t get you to see this film, I give up.
Another wonderfully entertaining film from one of the best; and by the way; he’s from Brooklyn.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Monday, July 9, 2012
Two years later; well maybe only 18 months; an envelope arrived in the mail; yes, the U.S. Mail; and in it was the signed copy of the review of his autobiography which I had sent, minus the cover letter. To say that I was thrilled is an understatement. It hangs, framed, on my wall.
Long before “McHale’s Navy”, Ernest Borgnine was serious actor, even winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in the film “Marty”. In that film he plays a lonely butcher who lives at home with his mother and spends his evenings with his other unwed friends; drinking, going to dance clubs; always looking to “score”. It’s an empty life, and Marty longs for more, even as he thinks himself too ugly to find true love.
In “Bad Day at Black Rock” he plays a sadistic killer who works for William Holden, a rancher who has killed an innocent Japanese farmer for his land; even as the dead man’s son was fighting for America in the Pacific. His intensity in that role, alongside Spencer Tracy and Lee Marvin is palpable.
Sunday, July 8, 2012
However, if you’ve never read anything else by Mr. King, “Truth Be Told”, is a wonderful place to begin.
Saturday, July 7, 2012
In this 1933 release from Walt Disney’s “Silly Symphony” series of cartoons comes the classic children’s story of “The Three Little Pigs.” With a bit of literary license on the part of the writer’s, the story is a bit different than the original, but the moral is the same.
While one pig labors industriously to complete work on a brick house; in order to be safe from the Big Bad Wolf; the other two pigs, who live in a straw shack next door, are busy playing and singing “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” They mock their neighbor’s efforts at security, until one day the Big Bad Wolf really does come around with ill intentions. It is only then that they see the wisdom in being prepared.