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Six Boring Hours For Sandy Relief

I’m not usually one for benefit concerts or all-star assemblages of disparate talent. They usually run way too long, and feel self-indulgent, even when they’re in the service of something bigger. But this week’s “12.12.12: The Concert For Sandy Relief” touted the biggest gathering of stars ever, even bigger than the concert for 9/11, so I couldn’t resist checking it out. Is Nirvana really reuniting with Paul McCartney in place of Kurt Cobain? That alone is enough to make me want to watch, and if I’m gonna watch, I might as well blog the thing, no? (I will probably regret this decision.)

7:30pm: The introductory footage of the devastation to New Jersey, Brooklyn, and Staten Island is really affecting. It’s weird how quickly major disasters like this are swept under the rug in favor of the next thing, like this phony “fiscal cliff” debate. There’s no denying, this is a good cause. Having said that, the footage is kept mercifully brief, though I’m sure there will be a lot more of it as the evening goes on.

7:34: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band kicks things off without so much as an introduction. The house lights in Madison Square Garden are still on, which seems like a strange choice. Bruce has never really been my cup of tea, but he looks great here. (As my wife likes to say, he looks rich.) As a non-Bruce fan, I don’t know if “This Train” is a new song or an old classic, but they’re certainly doing it justice, and the message of optimism is appropriate. I still don’t really dig Bruce though.

7:38: Segueing into Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” is a nice idea. Although, Bruce and the E Street Band, as the world’s unfunkiest band, is particularly unsuited to the task.

7:40: Once again, I don’t know if “Wrecking Ball” is a new song or what, but to a non-fan it plays like a parody of a Bruce song: quiet intro listing off his various Jersey bona fides, followed by shouted “1! 2! 3! 4!,” the drums kicking in, and inspirational choruses about steel and rust and youth and beauty and blue-collar yes we can. Once again, I guess it’s appropriate, but still, I’m reminded why I don’t really like Bruce.

7:46: Back to the “People Get Ready” chord changes, while Bruce waxes elegaic about Asbury Park, with a special shout-out to the gay community for gentrifying and improving the area. Whoops! I guess this is a Bruce song, “My City of Ruins,” with the same exact chord changes as “People Get Ready.” I think Bruce seems like a nice guy, I have nothing against him, it seems like he runs his band like a family and it’s all about positivity and being proud of where you come from and I’m in favor of all that… I still don’t like the music, though. It’s like the unfunkiest blue-eyed soul ever.

7:55: Jesus, Bruce, enough already. Was “My City of Ruins” nine minutes (and counting) on the record?

7:56: Bruce brings out Jon Bon Jovi and Madison Square Garden has a Jersey orgasm as they begin a duet on “Born to Run.” This is pretty much the only Springsteen song I ever liked at all (but still not that much) and they sound great.

8:00: It’s weird how much Jon Bon Jovi’s image changed when he cut his hair off. He went from cock-rock d-bag to respected figure in the rock canon. That didn’t happen with Metallica or David Lee Roth or anybody else that cut all their hair off. I guess just because Jon Bon is soooooo handsome.

8:02: Half an hour in, here’s the official slate of performers: 75 classic rock heroes, and Kanye West!

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I’ve Got Chills, They’re Multiplying

1681701-poster-1960-john-travolta-olivia-newton-john-look-super-normal-on-their-christmas-album-cover

Did you hear the news?!? The reunion that everyone in America, Australia, and parts of Europe was waiting for (in 1980) has finally happened! Yes, JOHN TRAVOLTA and OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN got together and recorded a Christmas album!

Everybody loved these two together in Grease, of course — at least, the girl who lived down the street from me in elementary school loved them together, enough that when we played House or Cops and Robbers or Fumbling Medical Exam she always insisted that my play-name be “John” and hers “Miss Olivia.” I should have been nicer to that girl.

Anyway, Grease was a movie musical about ’50s high-school kids from different worlds: one a beautiful, goody-goody, obviously over-30 woman from Australia, the other a juvenile delinquent a little too quick to break into song to qualify as a “juvenile delinquent.” Their romantic difficulties resolve when Danny (Travolta) decides to wear a lettered sweater and be a nerd like Sandy (Newton-John), only to find she’s decided to dress like a ’70s Lower East Side hooker (despite being a high-school kid in the ’50s), and they celebrate their perfect union by duetting on the movie’s eleventh completely anachronistic song in a row, “You’re The One That I Want.” (Though by no means the most anachronistic: “Grease Is The Word” was written and recorded by the Bee Gees [with ’50s teen idol Frankie Valli singing], and couldn’t possibly feel more out of place for a movie set in the ’50s, from the fake-strings intro forward.)

People have enormously warm memories of the “You’re The One That I Want” finale to this movie, and to some of them, this couple represented the Platonic ideal of romantic success, of love conquering all, of opposites attract, of a bad boy being tamed by a good girl. That is, until they reunited in 1983 for a truly terrible movie called Two of a Kind, whose biggest success was landing its almost-as-awful theme song, “Twist of Fate” by Ms. Newton-John, in the top ten. (That video deserves its own live-blog, by the way.)

But nearly 30 years have passed, and Travolta and Newton-John have finally reconvened for their holiday album, “This Christmas.” And guess what else? They made a video for the leadoff single, “I Think You Might Like It,” which just so happens to have been written by the author of “You’re The One That I Want,” John Farrar. With megatalents like these getting back together, how could it possibly be bad? Oh, boy, let me count the ways:

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The Rolling Stones Made Their Own Tour Irrelevant

Is this really worth $850 a ticket? Really?

I will not be seeing the Rolling Stones next weekend when they play at the brand-new Barclays Center, two miles from my house in Brooklyn. I absolutely wanted to: I went to a game there a couple of weeks ago and was struck by what a great venue it would be for rock shows, big enough for a major act but still small enough to feel intimate, with good sightlines everywhere in the house. The Stones are, depending on when you ask me, either my favorite band ever or somewhere in the top five, and this show was one of only five scheduled to commemorate the band’s 50th anniversary.  This could be the last time. May be the last time, I don’t know!

Let me save you some time: Who wants to see a bunch of septuagenarians try to rock? While that is a very valid argument, I would counter that although they haven’t made a memorable album in about 30 years (I’d say 35 — I never cottoned to Tattoo You) they sound better live now than at almost any time since Brian Jones was in the band. Although they made great records in their peak period — the Beggars Banquet – Let It Bleed – Sticky Fingers – Exile On Main Street run is one of, if not the very best achievements in the whole rock canon — they sounded pretty lousy in concert most of the time, from the available evidence: their 1969 live album Get Yer Ya-Yas Out; Gimme Shelter, the concert movie that turned into a horrifying document of the doomed free concert at Altamont Speedway; and Cocksucker Blues, the banned document of their 1972 U.S. tour. Even when they played well, as in certain moments on the Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones concert film (also from 1972), they always seemed to be plagued by sound problems, or tempo problems, or Mick’s not being able to hit the notes he hit on the records, or the band seeming not to quite remember the rhythm of the tunes, or whatever.

Whereas, modern advances in monitoring, so the band can actually hear itself, plus the (relative) sobriety of the band means that even though they’re not all that much to look at anymore, they generally get a lot closer to the sound of their best albums than they ever used to. Plus, in recent years they’ve eased up on their dogged insistence on playing half the songs from whatever forgettable new album they’re using as an excuse to tour, and broken out more interesting album cuts. So it’s arguable that they are a better bet now than they have been for quite some time.

But I’ve seen the Stones a couple of times already. The opening show, at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., of the 1989 Steel Wheels tour was my first big rock concert (I was 16), and I saw them again at the same venue on the 1994 Voodoo Lounge tour. (They were way, way better in ’94.) And as much as I love them — I cannot possibly overstate the importance of the aforementioned four-album run to my musical identity — I don’t know how I can justify paying $1,700 dollars for any two-hour experience, much less one where I have all my clothes on.

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The Cosmetically Altered Menace

She’s fast enough for you, old man

We’ve all had a couple of weeks to digest the Big News: George Lucas sold his company, Lucasfilm Ltd, to Disney for $4.05 billion. What did they buy for all that money? Only the biggest movie franchise of all time, and the rights to extend that franchise. In half a hummingbird’s heartbeat, Disney announced its plans for a new trilogy of “Star Wars” films, starting with Episode VII, which will follow the events of Return of the Jedi in the chronology of the Galaxy Far Far Away.

After the dismal non-entertainment of the prequels, one might reasonably wonder why anyone would care about any more “Star Wars” movies. But Disney has made a few smart moves to gradually ease all us kids of the ’70s, myself very much included, back from “lock that sumbitch up, I never want to see him again” to “he didn’t mean to, he’s a good man, I brought bail money!”

First and foremost, George Lucas is not writing or directing or even producing the movies — he’s been consigned to ceremonial “creative consultant” status, which probably means the folks who just bought the keys to the Millennium Falcon will ask him what he would do, and then do the opposite. Because how could any set of movies be any worse directed than the prequels? It’s not a shock that Jake Lloyd (child Anakin) and Hayden Christensen (surly teenage Anakin) were terrible, as they were both unknown, but George Lucas got stultifying, awful, unwatchable performances from the normally reliable likes of Natalie Portman, Ewan Macgregor, and Liam Neeson. (There are many theories about how exactly he accomplished that, and here, in video form, is mine:)

httpv://youtu.be/WTNclkwjCxg

 

A second source of excitement among the faithful:  it’s been hinted that the key characters of the original trilogy — Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia — will return in the new one, and original stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and even Harrison Ford have indicated interest in participating.

Hamill and Fisher are no surprise, of course. While neither of them is exactly starving — Hamill has had a successful career as a voice actor for comic-book cartoons, and Fisher is a celebrated author coming off a sold-out Broadway run of her autobiographical one-woman show — neither has come anywhere near the heights of success or visibility they enjoyed as the faces of the biggest movie franchise of all time.

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The "Lincoln" Trailer Is A Parody Of Itself

I’m a fan of movies. I’m a fan of big movies, of historical movies, of Important Movies. Total sucker for biographical movies. Love to read nonfiction, about American history in particular. So I should already be lining up for the premiere of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, the nakedly calculated Fall Prestige Picture sure to win Oscars for everyone involved, right?

On paper, this thing seems like a slam dunk: Daniel Day Lewis, the human chameleon most recently seen making his eyes literally (and I do mean literally) gleam with evil intent in There Will Be Blood, is playing Honest Abe. (I wish — and I realize this would turn it into a completely different kind of movie — that the movie were called Honest Abe and everyone addressed him only as Honest Abe, as in: “Honest Abe! General Lee is about to take Manassas!” and “Do you think we’ll ever free the slaves, Honest Abe?” But I digress.) The movie is based in part on the book everyone talked about and nobody read during the 2008 election cycle, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals.” It has a long list of dependable actors on its call sheet. It’s getting nothing but valentines from critics. How could it not be great?

And yet, I can’t shake the feeling, watching the trailer, that it looks like the bad TV adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” that Bill Murray is producing live on Christmas Eve in Scrooged.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

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Halloween (Observed)

Halloween falls on a Wednesday this year. That’s not such a big deal for the kids, because they start trick-or-treating before dark and are done only a little after their normal bedtimes, when the sugar crash takes them down harder than an old casino. But for the grown-ups, who for the sake of this argument I will include to mean people in their 20s and 30s, a mid-week Halloween presents some problems.

Principally: when does one throw a Halloween party? Or hit the bars in costume? Or wait in the bushes for a suitably sexy nurse/French maid/schoolmarm?  It seems to me that the answer is obvious, that the nearest weekend night that’s not after the actual holiday is the de facto stand-in non-schoolnight Halloween. Right? Isn’t that the way it’s always been?

And yet in recent years I have been noticing a steady erosion of this unspoken social contract, with people taking to the streets in costume on non-sanctioned surrogate Halloweens.

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You Didn’t Build That Binder Full Of Women

So funny I forgot to laugh

It’s kind of breathtaking when the entire Internet seizes on the same thing at the same moment, but that’s what happened Tuesday night during the second presidential debate, when “binders full of women” became a meme, a website, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, an Instagram, a tumblr, a Pinterest board, and a sought-after boutique gift item on Etsy about 45 seconds after the words came out of Mitt Romney’s mouth.

All day Wednesday and Thursday, my Facebook and Twitter feeds were jam-packed with Photoshopped pictures and links to reviews of binders on Amazon and all manner of commentary on the phrase, be it graphic, literal, or metaphorical. It is kind of amazing how quickly something can catch onto the popular imagination in the digital age.

I was watching the debate on a 20-minute DVR delay, and at some point early on I took a peek at Twitter to see what all the funny people I follow were saying about the candidates’ performances. They were all (ALL) talking about Binders Full of Women. I found this puzzling, because I had not yet reached that moment in the debate, but when I got there, I was still puzzled. What, exactly, is so fascinating about this, this… I don’t even know what to call it. Slip of the tongue? Misstatement? I feel like “odd formulation” is the best way to put it.

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Ben Affleck Suffers From Drew Barrymore Disease

I’m yelling, but I’m smiling!

There’s a new movie hitting theaters this week that sounds like it could be pretty good: Argo, the stranger-than-fiction story of a CIA agent who gets six hostages out of 1979 Iran by posing as a film producer scouting desert locations, and passing off the hostages as his crew. Even better, it stars John Goodman (never not great), Alan Arkin (criminally underrated despite a lifetime-achievement Oscar disguised as a Best Supporting trophy for Little Miss Sunshine), and Bryan Cranston (the Swiss Army knife of American actors). Best of all, it’s from the director of Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Ben Affleck.

I loved Gone Baby Gone — it was a surprisingly assured debut that got a career-best performance from its lead (Casey Affleck) and emphasized its Boston setting in part by casting local barflies in key walk-ons. The Town I liked a little less. Even though Jeremy Renner found the perfect follow-up to The Hurt Locker as a borderline psycho bank robber, the Boston setting and Boston accents felt a little reheated from Gone Baby Gone, I never bought the romantic subplot, and Affleck cast a leading man who nearly capsized the whole enterprise, and who I fear will do the same thing to Argo: Ben Affleck.

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The Worst Bathtub Accident of All Time

I read somewhere that 90% of all accident-related injuries occur in the home, and that 90% of those occur in the bathroom. I can’t remember where I read these statistics, and I don’t much feel like Googling them now, but I can tell you from personal experience that the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house, especially if you have small kids.

Even though my son is a rough and rowdy five years old, well past the age where I have to worry that the weight of his head will capsize him headfirst to drown in seven inches of off-white soapy water, I still feel a little uneasy about leaving him alone in the bathtub.

That’s because his mischief meter, already usually hovering around a 7, invariably pegs the needle the moment his feet hit the water. No matter how scary I try to make my voice, no matter how implicitly I threaten severe violence (because explicitly threatening it would be bad parenting) if I see one more drop of water on the floor, the thrill of splashing, sloshing, pouring, spitting, flicking, and kicking us more than he can resist.

You know that move where you slide back and forth from one end of the tub to the other, and the water starts to move with you, but then you push off the other end of the tub so you’re going one way and the water’s going the other, so there’s a big collision/wave-break/splash in the middle? We all did it. Well, he does it too and I now understand why my mother couldn’t quit smoking cigarettes till I was in high school.

It’s one thing to find a big, wet mess that someone else made and know that it will take at least two clean towels (an embarrassingly precious commodity in our house) to clean it up. It’s another to know that at least half that mess is in an incredibly hard-to-reach spot under the bathroom sink cabinet and between the cabinet and the bathtub. But nothing boils the blood like knowing that said mess was created in direct contravention of your own explicit orders.

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The Beach Boys’ Mike Love Is A Monster

Mike-Love

We can probably start here: Everyone knows Mike Love is a huge asshole, right? 

In case you need a recap: Mike Love is the second lead singer and, even more unfortunately, sole rights licensee of The Beach Boys. He’s in the news this week because he’s reportedly firing both of the other surviving original members of the band — Al Jardine and Brian Wilson — effective after the last show of their massive 50th anniversary tour.

It seems crazy. Who would fire Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys? But Mike Love has a long history of doing crazy asshole things, and this is just the latest. It’s not even the first time he’s fired Brian from the Beach Boys (that would be 1982). Some of the highlights from his Crazy Asshole CV:

His constant badgering of Brian Wilson, the band’s bassist, first lead singer, primary songwriter, visionary genius, resident virtuoso, and acid casualty drove Wilson literally crazy right around 1968. Wilson had composed and performed almost every note of the band’s critically adored, times-changing 1966 album Pet Sounds in solitude while the rest of the Beach Boys played concerts on the road; Brian worked insane hours to create an even grander follow-up, a double album called Smile, and the first fruit of those sessions, “Good Vibrations,” promised another huge sonic leap forward.

But when Mike Love came in to add his nasal baritone to the new songs he made a huge deal about the weird lyrics and browbeat Wilson — who by this time had already begun to invent Eccentric Rock Stardom as a thing by turning his thousand-square-foot living room into a sandbox with his grand piano at the center — until Wilson had a nervous breakdown, shelved the entire album, and spent the next 20 years in his bedroom a shell of his former self, never coming anywhere near the twin highs of Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations.”

(Tangent: I recently acquired a 45 of “Good Vibrations” and it sounds amazing. 45s sound amazing, especially the well-recorded ones. If you see one, buy it, unless you hate music that sounds amazing.)

Love’s concern was apparently that the band — the biggest-selling American band for several years to that point — would sell fewer records if it strayed from its cars/girls/fun-in-the-sun lyrical formula. The artistic strides Brian was making, and the unanimous admiration of their peers for Pet Sounds, appear not to have persuaded Love in the least, and the world was robbed of an enormous potential legacy. Imagine if Brian Wilson had been a functional human being at the same time that Stevie Wonder took control of his own work in the ’70s? Wilson was always competitive, and saw Pet Sounds as a direct response to the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. What would his response to Innervisions have been like? Songs In The Key Of Life? What if they got in a room together and stared each other down over matching ARP keyboards? It boggles the mind. We can only imagine, and for that we can blame Mike Love.

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