Sunday, September 28, 2008

You can have this one for free, Republicans.

This photo was taken on Thursday, September 11, in New York City, when senators John McCain and Barack Obama participated in a Time magazine-sponsored forum on national service at Columbia University. Doesn't Obama look scary in this picture? Doesn't he look like he's threatening the white-haired old white man? That's not what he was doing, but doesn't it look like that's what he's doing? And isn't that worth more than the thousand words Democrats could use to justify the thousand other things that were probably going through Obama's mind at that particular moment?

Do you want your next president to threaten your sweet, defenseless, white-haired grandpa, America? On November 4, vote for the white-haired man. He only threatens our godless enemies. Plus his running mate is totally do-able!

(Paid for by the Committee to Elect a President Who Isn't Mean to Grandpas or Grandmas or Puppies or Rainbows.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

memories that hang by a thread

As we get older, our brain pushes out older memories for newer ones. Sometimes that's not such a bad thing, like when someone from high school reminds you of a pretentious thing you said when you were 15 and you have no recollection of it whatsoever. Therefore it never happened. I savor this kind of small victory.

But there are other times when you have only the thinnest strand of a memory still trapped in your head, like an image from a movie or a TV show or a music video, but the image isn't enough to help you identify where it came from, even in the Internet age, where information on seemingly everything is available whenever you want it.

In January I mentioned that I'm glad to go into a grocery store these days, hear a song I haven't heard before on the PA, and not be able to identify it even if I write down a line or two and then look up the lyrics on Google when I get home. (Some people, of course, can access the Internet on their phones or PDAs and would be able to identify the song right away. But I don't want that much Internet in my life.) It's nice to not know. And yet a part of me still wants to know, especially if I want to hear the song again.

I remember a video that came on MTV in the summer of '87 that featured some sort of jungle setting, though the jungle was created on a soundstage and was meant to look fake. That summer I looked for the cassette that featured the song while I was with my grandfather in a music store in Douglas, Georgia, where my grandparents used to live. But that's all I remembered about the song—not the title, not the artist's name, not even a basic melody. Just a vague image from the video and a vague recollection of the location where I briefly considered buying the entire album so I could have that song. (I'm sure I just wanted to buy something that day, no matter what. That allowance money/spoiled-grandchild money was burning a hole in my pocket.)

On April 23 Dave Steed helped me solve this minor mystery in his Popdose series called Bottom Feeders, where he meticulously tracks down every song that peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1980s below #40. On that day he featured a song by Jon Astley (no relation to Rick) called "Jane's Getting Serious." I thought I hadn't remembered anything about the melody of that mystery song from 21 years ago, but something clicked when I listened to Astley's minor hit. I love how the brain works that way.

Now that I had the title, I started looking for the video for "Jane's Getting Serious" on YouTube. It wasn't there, but I did find a sentence or two on another site about it being set in a jungle, which made sense in terms of "Me Tarzan, you Jane." It took 21 years, but I'd finally identified the Song With No Name. And a few months ago the video showed up on YouTube:

Another vague image that's never left my memory comes from even earlier in my life—I was probably four or five when I saw a TV show in which milk was poured on a person's head while he was sitting at a kitchen table. I thought maybe it came from the TV series based on the film The Paper Chase, though I wasn't sure why. Memories get jumbled over the years, especially the ones from the first years in which your long-term memory is active.

About a month ago a rerun of Eight Is Enough came on Me TV, and at the end of the episode ("Triangles," 9/28/77) Tommy Bradford (Willie Aames) made a sarcastic comment about money to his sister Mary (Lani O'Grady), who retaliated not by yelling at him for ripping her off but by kissing him softly on the cheek, then opening the refrigerator and pouring a carton of milk on his head. Tommy didn't seem that confused by the out-of-nowhere kiss, nor did he get mad at Mary for dousing him with milk. Tommy wasn't the brightest Bradford.

But as soon as Mary kissed him on the cheek, something in my head clicked once again. I didn't know what was about to happen, but I was glued to the screen. Once the milk hit Tommy's head, another minor memory mystery was solved.

Me TV's sister station, Me Too, ran an Our Gang short recently that I remember very strongly from childhood, one in which Jackie Cooper gets caught trying to play pranks on his new teacher, Miss Crabtree. She tells him and his co-conspirators to go home and explain to their parents what they did, but right before they exit, the rest of the class is given cake and ice cream. As Jackie sits in the schoolyard crying, ashamed at what he was planning to do to his lovely, sweet new teacher, she brings him a plate of cake and ice cream.

Once again, I was glued to the screen, even though my memories of
"Teacher's Pet" from Little Rascals reruns in the 1980s have never been vague like the other two examples I mentioned. I was just glad to see it again for the first time in many years. It's a tearjerker for the kindergarten set.

I also have a vague memory of where I put my wallet yesterday, but you probably don't want to hear about that.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I'm doing my part to keep the American status quo alive and well.

A few weeks ago, right after Sarah Palin was chosen by John McCain to be his running mate, this anonymous comment showed up in a Chicago Sun-Times "reader reaction" sidebar:

Well, why didn't they choose Condi? She's a good Republican. She likes to travel, too, and she wears nice suits. She's even educated like Obama. She had no experience, but look at what a fine job she has done.

lady opinion

To imply that most African-Americans aren't educated and don't dress well is condescending, ignorant, and downright offensive. Now get back in the kitchen where you belong, you silly, stupid bitch.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I was never crazy about the ending of Raising Arizona, but while I'm daydreaming ...

It makes me smile to think that in 70 years my nieces will have these same smiles, which will be captured in pictures much like this one. Side by side. Sisters and friends. With nieces, nephews, daughters, sons, and grandchildren of their very own. (The purple pajamas are optional, but if the mood strikes them, why not?)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Old Sweat

Singer Keith Sweat turned 44 in July. In the highly scientific realm of R&B evolution, that makes him "a grown-ass man."

I heard Sweat's new album, Just Me, recently at work. It contains the song "Just Wanna Sex You," on which Keith banishes all thoughts of his impending prostate exam so he can tell his listeners how much he wants "sex in the morning, sex in the evening, sex in my Jeep." He also wants to "have sex on my lunch break, sex after work, and sex in a strange place." Does your nephew's high school graduation count as "a strange place," Keith? (No, you're not invited to his graduation party.)

I think recording desperately horny songs in your mid-40s to reaffirm your verility puts you in "a strange place"I call it the land of overcompensationbut you're not the first middle-aged singer who's refused to let go of his early glory days, and you won't be the last.

This isn't to say that people over 40 can't love and lust just as intensely as a 19-year-old. Not at all. It's just that it's embarrassing when someone over 40 compares himself to the Energizer Bunny because he can "keep goin' and goin' and goin' and goin'," especially since Sweat needs the help of Auto-Tune, a.k.a. vocal-cord Viagra, throughout Just Me to help him hit the required notes.

You can grow old gracefully in pop music and still be accepted by your fans, but both sides have to acknowledge that being young at heart doesn't equal being young in the flesh. Otherwise you risk becoming a Chris Rock joke: "Every man has to settle down eventually. You know why you gotta settle down eventually? Because you don't want to be the old guy in the club. You know what I'm talking about. Every club you go into, there's always some old guy. He ain't really oldjust a little too old to be in the club."

Maybe Keith Sweat really is "an addict when it comes to making love." (If that's the case, Keith, seek counseling like Michael Douglas and David Duchovny did.) But I do think anyone would agree, no matter how old they are, that sex on their lunch break would be a refreshing change of pace from eating yogurt and reading Us Weekly in the break room.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Soul Train is about to reach its last stop.

We received this e-mail at work yesterday from an employee of WGN-TV:

Got a call last week from someone at Chicago Reader regarding our final airing of "The Best of Soul Train." The timeslot has changed to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 20.

I'm not the one who called, and I don't know why anyone from the Reader would've called, but it is news, because after September 20 Soul Train may be gone from the air for a long time.

According to Wikipedia (sorry, it's the only source I can find), "The future of
Soul Train," which hasn't produced new episodes since the end of its shorter-than-usual 35th season in the spring of 2006, "was placed in further uncertainty with the announced closing of Tribune Entertainment's syndication division [Tribune Company owns WGN] on December 18, 2007, leaving Don Cornelius Productions to seek a new distributor for the program. DCP then secured a deal with Trifecta Entertainment & Media, which also distributes another former Tribune Entertainment series, American Idol Rewind. In May 2008, the rights to the Soul Train library were purchased by MadVision Entertainment, whose principal partners come from the entertainment and publishing fields. The price and terms of the deal were not disclosed."

Since December of '06 Soul Train has been airing reruns from the '70s and '80s under the name The Best of Soul Train. I first discovered these reruns on WGN last October when Bunny Sigler appeared on my TV screen. It turns out that episode aired again last Saturday, and now I'm a little mad that I didn't check the schedule so I could tape it.

I haven't watched the Soul Train reruns in a few months because more and more episodes from the '80s were being shown, and they just aren't as interesting to me as the '70s installments, mainly because the soul music of the '80s didn't hold a candle to that of the Me Decade. Plus, The Best of Soul Train keeps repeating the same two dozen episodes, making me wonder if the show's staff is very, very selective about what's considered "best" or if they lost most of their assets in a fire a long time ago.

By the '80s Don Cornelius had learned a thing or two about how to start off an interview, which meant fewer mind-boggling but highly entertaining faux pas like "Your new single sounds a lot like the last one" or "You look like you've put on some weight since I last saw you." That second comment was made to Village People producer Jacques Morali, who was French (he died in 1991), so I'm not sure he fully comprehended what the Soul Train host and former Chicago radio personality was saying to him. Too bad he didn't reply in pidgin English, "And I see that you are still, uh, how you say ... socially awkward, yes?"

According to Wikipedia's list of Soul Train episodes, the September 20 rerun will be from December 15, 1984, with Donna Summer and the Staple Singers as the guest performers. After that you'll only be able to hear the sooooooooooul train in the distance until Trifecta Entertainment & Media finds it a new home.

Monday, September 1, 2008


Paul Westerberg wasn't the only artist to give his fans almost-free music this summer. On Friday, July 25, California rapper Murs released Sweet Lord for free over the Internet. It's his third collaboration with producer 9th Wonder, following 2004's Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition and 2006's Murray's Revenge. Sweet Lord isn't up to the level of Murray's Revenge, but it would've been tough for Murs and 9th Wonder to have reached that peak again. Besides, it gives the listener more hooks than Westerberg's 49:00, and in less time.

Though Sweet Lord was free, donations were accepted. I gave $10, partly because Murray's Revenge is one of my favorite albums of the past few years, but I heard it through a free promotional copy at work, which I still have. I feel a little guilty about that, so I was happy to donate.

Earlier this week I bought Classic, the 2005 album by Living Legends, a rap collective of which Murs is a member, along with Luckyiam, Sunspot Jonz, the Grouch, Scarub, Eligh, Bicasso, and Aesop. I heard tracks from Classic last summer at work thanks to a departed coworker whose computer still contained all the music he'd loaded onto the hard drive. Classic has a half dozen or so terrific cuts, including "Blast Your Radio," on which Murs declares that Beverly Cleary's The Mouse and the Motorcycle is a classic (I wonder if he's a Judy Blume fan too); the soulful, sultry "Good Fun"; and "Down for Nothin'," which drips paranoia and seething anger ("He's always up to somethin' ... / Forever huntin' someone / Screw over loved ones"). Classic also contains "Even Though," the best rap breakup song I've heard. The chorus is "Even though we don't get along, I still love you," sung in unison by the Living Legends at their most wistful.

On "Blast Your Radio," one of the Living Legends
(sorry, I can't tell whose voice is whose except for Murs's) says, "Now, just because it's retro don't mean that it's classic / Just because it's classic don't mean it ain't brand-new." Another Legend responds, "That's true / The Love Below was new, I considered it a classic / Like a pickle made by Vlasic." I'll give it a few more years, but I'd wager that Classic already is.