If you had a Rock Time Machine and you could go back in time to any show, what would it be? At one time I would have said the Monterey Pop Festival, the night Jimi Hendrix unfurled his massive talent for a credulous, acid-drenched crowd of rock royalty. At another time I’d have chosen Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys shows on New Year’s Eve 1969/70, memorialized on the Band of Gypsys album. Or maybe Stevie Wonder opening for the Stones on the 1972 tour. Or maybe XTC at Hammersmith Palace in 1980. Or Van Halen at the US Festival in 1982. Or the Replacements at 7th St. Entry in 1984. The list goes on and on.
But that list is a thing of the past, because from the moment I first learned about it there is only one show I would want to go back in time for: a show featuring an artist I’m not very familiar with and even less fond of.
Rick Wakeman rose to fame as the keyboardist in Yes, the early-’70s math rock unit that everyone’s heard of but no one has listened to. Despite their success, Wakeman felt that the albums Yes had released during his tenure — Fragile, Close to the Edge, and Tales From Topgraphic Oceans — were getting increasingly pretentious, mired in weird lyrics, undercooked themes, and long, indulgent instrumental passages.
So he quit the band in 1973 and as a solo artist released a string of increasingly pretentious albums mired in weird lyrics, undercooked themes, and indulgent instrumental passages: The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973); Journey to the Center of the Earth (1974); and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1975).
At first glance this might just seem an ill-considered concept album that you wouldn’t want to sit through at home, much less in concert, and you’d be right, except for the addition of two little words: The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table… ON ICE.
This week Donald Trump is back in the news — his favorite place to be, with the possible exception of a (presumably) gold-plated tanning bed. It seems the real estate magnate-turned-reality TV clown-turned-just plain clown built a building in Chicago a few years ago and recently made good on his promise to emblazon his name in 20-foot letters on the side of it, as is his custom. Through a spokesman, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the sign is “in very poor taste and scars what is otherwise an architecturally accomplished building,” setting off a local controversy.
Even though I don’t live in Chicago and don’t subscribe to any of the architectural journals (I just look them over in the waiting room when I go to see my architect), I was aware of this story before it hit the national media, because I belong to the select club of 2.6 million people that follows @realDonaldTrump on Twitter, one of the the greatest unintentionally funny feeds in the short history of the form.
Trump tweets about 150 times a day — note that nearly all the tweets below are from June 17, and I didn’t even use half of them. It’s amazing to me that someone who claims to be so busy with moving and shaking and importing and exporting and so forth has time to tweet so much. And it’s clear that he hasn’t hired a Social Media Strategist or just told one of his nieces to handle it — the tone is too authentically douchey to be anyone but, as the handle suggests, @realDonaldTrump.
Last night the San Antonio Spurs scored a mindblowing 71 points in the first half of game 3 of the NBA Finals against the fearsome Miami Heat. At the intermission the Spurs had not missed a shot in ten minutes of play. It was an astonishing performance, one that would ordinarily have been dissected and celebrated by the in-studio team of analysts for the duration of the halftime break — but it wasn’t. Instead, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver took more questions on a topic we all thought was closed: Donald Sterling.
Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, had agreed to sell the team after his skeevy girlfriend secretly taped him on the phone saying a lot of horrifyingly racist things and the NBA swiftly banned him for life from the league and the other owners voted to strip him of ownership. Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer had an agreement to buy the team from Sterling for 2 billion (with a B) dollars, but this week Sterling abruptly changed his mind, announced he would not sell, and sued the NBA for a billion dollars.
I don’t expect Sterling’s lawsuit or his effort to keep the Clippers to succeed, and I am unclear on the legalities of owning an NBA franchise, but I wish they wouldn’t force him to sell.
The photo above is from the recent wedding of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, an affair that was by all accounts decadent beyond all measure. Jay-Z sent an oversized bottle of wine, dipped in gold and corked with a diamond. The groom apparently threw multiple bridezilla fits just before the ceremony, rejecting both the lighting system he’d chosen himself and the greatest sound system in Europe. He sawed the bar in half himself and danced alone with his bride to five songs, played by John Legend on a marble piano. (A MARBLE PIANO.) The guests relieved themselves in a 50-foot tall comfort station made of gold.
And yet, with all of that, Kanye West was not the most narcissistic, impulsive person at the event. That honor goes to 15-year-old Jaden Smith, spinoff project of Will Smith, who attended the wedding — as you can see at the far right of the photo — in an all-white Batman costume.
An all-white Batman costume.
AN ALL-WHITE BATMAN COSTUME.
I purposely paid no attention to any of the press around this wedding, because I am not a fan of either of the principals. But somehow this one detail slipped through my self-imposed media blackout and I feel I have to speak up.
I am a stone-cold sucker for a good rock documentary. GIMME SHELTER; THE FILTH AND THE FURY; JIMI HENDRIX; RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM; THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION PART II: THE METAL YEARS; TOM DOWD AND THE LANGUAGE OF MUSIC; CROSSFIRE HURRICANE; THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY; these are only a few of my favorites. But I’m also a sucker for a bad one; I don’t even have to like the band the documentary is about. No matter who it is, if I am flipping channels and I come to musicians talking self-importantly about their careers and the people they stepped on along the way, whether it’s just starting or five minutes from the end, I am powerless not to watch.
That’s why the arrival in the late ’90s of the VH1 series BEHIND THE MUSIC was simultaneously the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. Immediately, from the very first episode I saw, which if I recall correctly was the MC Hammer one — where Hammer revealed, among other things, that he spent a million dollars on marble tile for the entry to his $10 million house in Oakland, which also featured a solid gold, 8-person bathtub; $68,000 worth of mirrors; and $3 million worth of indoor and outdoor fountains, because as he put it, “Water represents power. Water represents freedom… so when I see that water flowing all through my house I feel free, spiritually free.”
The episode went on to mention that Hammer’s house was on the market, listed at $6 million, and I was hooked for life on this show.
Everybody, it seems, is mad at the public school system in America for adopting the Common Core standard. My son is only in first grade, but judging by the small amount of math homework he gets, Common Core is spectacularly ill-advised and very poorly implemented. But that’s not why I’m mad at the public school system — at least not yet. I’m mad at the public school system for feeding my kid a free breakfast every day.
As I’ve written before, to say that Henry is a picky eater would be like saying Jimi Hendrix is a guitar player. We have been trying for his entire life to get him to try a vegetable, any vegetable, to try a piece of fruit, to try a piece of (unprocessed) meat, or fish, or chicken, and he just won’t do it. You can lead a child to healthy food, but you absolutely can’t make him eat it.
For the most part, we’ve actually given up on trying to get him to eat healthy — we just want him to eat. When he doesn’t, his blood-sugar drops and he turns into a spinning demon of mischief, shouting vulgar, unfunny jokes and scattering papers everywhere and bouncing off things that aren’t bouncy; then he collapses into an inconsolable sobbing heap as soon as something goes wrong, like the cardboard halfpipe he’s building not supporting his weight, or being told that there’s no such thing as “lunch dessert.” It’s bad enough when we have to deal with the Low Blood Sugar Monster ourselves, but now the boy is in first grade and getting sent to the principal’s office because the Low Blood Sugar Monster just can’t control himself.
So it’s important that he eats breakfast, and fortunately this is the only meal he can always be counted on to eat no matter what. The problem is that after he eats breakfast at home, they feed him another breakfast at school.
If you had told me six months ago that there would be a TV show based on the Coen brothers’ 1996 Best Picture Winner FARGO on the air, and not only that, that it would be really really good, one of the best shows of the year, I would not have agreed a hundred percent with your police work. I have a dim memory of a FARGO TV adaptation in the ’90s, when the movie was still a fresh memory, with a pre-Carmela Edie Falco in the Frances McDormand role — I guess the idea was a case-of-the-week kind of show, except with big, broad Minnesota accents. Would Chief Carmela have been perpetually pregnant? We never got to find out, because the show mercifully never made it past the pilot stage.
FARGO is a great movie, probably (arguably) the best movie the Coen brothers have made, full of memorable characters, pitch-perfect performances, and one of the best scripts the Coens have ever written (which makes it one of the best scripts ever written, full stop). This is a movie I am constitutionally incapable of flipping past when I come across it on cable; the final scene is one of the best endings to any movie I can think of; it makes me tear up every. Single. Time I watch it.
To just move the veneer (gray sky, snow, crime, you betcha yaa) onto an otherwise conventional procedural would cheapen its memory, and in the process cheapen the Coens’ reputation, whether they had anything to do with the project or not. But to my great surprise, four episodes in, it turns out that FARGO (the show) isn’t an adaptation of FARGO (the movie) — it’s an homage to the Coens’ entire career, set in the most vivid world of any of their movies, and neatly sidestepping the pitfalls that so often capsize film-to-TV adaptations.
I am beginning to think it may be time to end one of my longest relationships. It’s been eleven years of joy and sorrow and laughter and tears and amazing produce, but I’m finally ready to bail on the Park Slope Food Coop.
When my wife and I first arrived in Brooklyn in 2002, we moved into a spare room in our friend’s huge 1-family brownstone on the east side of Prospect Park — the side opposite from the fully gentrified, Disneyland Main Street U.S.A. known as Park Slope. Following the lead of our friends/landlords (friendlords?), who’d joined the Coop (not Co-op, even though spelling it the other way makes you think coop rhymes with poop) when they lived in Park Slope and remained devoted members even from the wrong side of the park. When we moved in, they didn’t tell us we HAD to join the Coop, but it was strongly suggested that living in a Coop household and eating Coop food without contributing to the Coop as working members would drag all of us into a moral gray area that not all of us would be comfortable with. Our friendlords had never led us astray before, the produce we’d been eating from their kitchen was indeed delightful, and we were eager to be good roommates because they were giving us a great deal to live there, so we agreed to join up.
We took the tour and sat for the orientation lecture, where we got the hard sell: The Coop offers amazing, mindblowingly fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as an assortment of free-range, grass-fed, hormone-free, yoga-practicing meats and a variety of off-brand, all-organic dry goods, at prices an average of 30% cheaper than the supermarket. How are they able to accomplish this? That right there is the greatest trick the devil ever pulled — if the devil was committed to social justice and canvas pants.
Last night as I was staring blankly at enjoying the season finale of PARKS AND RECREATION, I somehow spaced out enough to forget to fast-forward past the commercials. Just as I realized my error, I heard a familiar riff on the upright bass, immediately placed it, and watched the rest of the commercial in growing disbelief:
That the Pixies would license their first single, 1988′s “Gigantic,” for a commercial is not all that shocking. Having continued their post-2004 reunion career even after losing, if not their most important, certainly their most popular and charismatic member last year, and soon after that firing her replacement, it would seem that they are not being particularly coy about soldiering on for the money.
After reuniting and playing their back catalog on tour for twice as long as their entire pre-breakup career, next week they are releasing their first new album since 1991′s Trompe le Monde, so “Gigantic” popping up in an Apple commercial is very likely the result of some canny corporate brand synergy, with each brand leveraging the other into key demographics, to use only a couple of the marketing terms that make me glaze over in meetings I shouldn’t have been invited to.
So it’s not the commercial element of this that I find odd — other than the fact that they’re selling out with a song written by and prominently featuring an ex-band member that the other three original Pixies are probably sick of taking questions about. Like it or not, commercial licensing is one of the only avenues of Big PR left to musicians anymore, so you can’t blame the Pixies for taking advantage of it (though the use of “Gigantic” rather than something from the new record is telling, to say the least).
No, what’s strange is that, while “Gigantic” is one of the Pixies’ most popular songs and certainly their most radio-friendly, it is unambiguously a song about a huge penis.
They say we are living in a Golden Age of Television, and they may be right. Certainly THE SOPRANOS, THE WIRE, BREAKING BAD, MAD MEN, GAME OF THRONES, and many other shows have risen past anything at the multiplexes in terms of capturing the popular imagination.
But none of them is my favorite TV show of all time. That would be LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN, which aired at 12:30 weeknights on NBC, after THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JOHNNY CARSON, from 1982 to 1993.
I am not talking about LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN, which ran on CBS at 11:30 from 1993 to the present day. You may have heard that Letterman recently announced he’ll be leaving the show next year, which has kicked off a lot of eulogies for the man’s career, including this one. Dave certainly had more than a few great moments on CBS, but in making the transition to an earlier hour and a wider audience, he sanded off most of the rough edges that made LATE NIGHT so special.