Who’s Afraid Of Jan Levinson?

We’ll take a break from stanching the flow of blood from Western Civilization to reach across the aisle to admire on of the civilization’s crowning achievements.

Submitted for your fan-geek edification, this very long, gloriously detailed oral (well, transcribed) history of perhaps the greatest single episode of comedy television of the 2000s, the “Dinner Party” episode of The Office.

Beggars

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

The Guthrie Theater had to cancel its entire Spring and Summer run of
performances because of the deadliest virus known to mankind.  They need
help to keep the doors open.  Their state grants and corporate sponsors
aren’t enough.

Won’t you considering digging deep to support the Arts?

Um

Well

No.

Joe Doakes

Hard pass.

Same with you, NPR.

Programming Note

As background: Thursdays are usually my slow day here on SITD. I usually do a little surge of writing over the weekend that tides me through the first half of the week – and the end of the week usually brings its own observations I scramble to get in for Friday.

But late-week fatigue, other commitments, and the like have made Thursdays the red-headed step-day of the Shot In The Dark schedule for years and years, now.

I’m going to fix that. Sort of.

So – the urge to do another book project has overtaken me. And writing Trulbert as a “Dickensian Serial” on this blog six years ago was not only a lot of fun, but short-circuited some of the usual pitfalls of trying to write a book, most particularly the whole “self-discipline” thing.

Indeed, I believe the fact that one of you readers called it exactly that was what sparked an interest to turn an extended series of “comical” posts into a novel. And it was suggestions in the comment section that led to an actual ending.

So I’m gonna do it again. I’m going to earmark Thursdays for the new project.

Or should I say, “new” project.

Thursdays will likely be light on other content, and devoted to a “chapter” of my next project.

More next week.

Open Letter To Seth Rogen

To: Seth Rogen
From: Mitch Berg, Obstreporous Peasant
Re: Issues In Fulfilling Your Request

Mr. Rogen,

In regards to your request that everyone who questions “Black Lives Matter“ should“F*** off” and not go to any of your movies: We’ve got a bit of a problem here.

I’m not going to say I haven’t enjoyed a few of your movies; “Zack and Miri make a Porno” was worth a watch. And Freaks and Geeks was pretty essential, although that was mostly a Linda Cardellini thing – and you played basically the same role you’ve played in just about every movie since.

Which brings us, with all due respect, to the point; you’ve kind of got a formula – to the extent that once you’ve seen one of your movies, you’ve kind of seen them all.

Which puts us in a bit of a pickle. I can’t “f*** off” and skip your movies, since logically, unless your formula changes, I have already seen all your future, lovable-bumbling-stoner/slacker-fish out of water movies as well

Please see to this.

That is all.

Too Far

The stupidity of the mob that is seizing headlines and rewriting/erasing history is on daily display.

But now, they’ve gone far, far beyond too far:

It’s a statue of legendary confederate general, slave trader and blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Wait – he was never a confederate general, never owned a slave, and was born nearly 100 years after the Civil War.Indeed, Vaughan was something of a center-lefty during his way too short life.

So of course the mob is vandalizing his statue.

Talk About Injustice

Budget cuts have claimed Live From Here with Chris Thile, the show that picked up where A Prairie Home Companion was amputated when Garrison Keillor got #HimToo-ed.

While I don’t think its move last fall to the Town Hall Theater in NYC helped it one little bit (it had to be a lot harder to meet the nut there than at the Fitz in Saint Paul), the show was one of the few local MPR non-news productions to be genuinely worth the time.

And yet Keri Miller just ticks on and on.

Perspective

This blog is eighteen years old and counting. Granted, it’s been a hobby the whole time – other than my annual fund drive and the occasional Google Ads check, it’s never been a money-making proposition. There’s aways been something else to keep me much, much busier from 8-5 – initially a couple of kids, plus a career; these days, the career covers most of it.

But the goals have always been the same: talk about the things in this world where not talking about them would drive me completely crazy, and try to convince the “other side” that there’s another way.

Christian Toto – longtime journo, and conservative film critic – has been at it longer, with different priorities, and a story that resonates with me; a conservative in Saint Paul is a fish at least as far out of water as one in Hollywood.

The whole thing is worth a read, but here’s my pullquote:

What’s different now about me?

I’ve embraced more of Andrew Breitbart’s spirit, his vision. It IS a culture war, and one side has far more ammunition. I’m not looking for domination, though. Given the chilling clampdown on free speech I simply want all sides to be heard without, as Dave Rubin would say, being called a Nazi … and then punched.

Once upon a time that was the liberal’s default position. No longer. It’s time to act accordingly. Taking that basic stance makes me both an outlier and a culture warrior. Guilty as charged on both fronts.

If you’re a left-of-center movie buff, I hope you’ll stand by me, too. Let’s argue about the best, and worst, content streaming into our homes.

We can agree to disagree, assuming you acknowledge “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” got stiffed by the Academy in 1948.

Worth a read.

Wascally

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

The CDC advises people over 60 to avoid crowds, stay home to avoid the virus.
If all of us old people are going to be sitting around in our bathrobes, self-quarantined, Netflix should bust out the good stuff. 

Pajama party!

Joe Doakes

Sometimes I wonder if kids today would know what to make of Warner Brothers cartoons…

Disconnected

This is today’s celebrity class:

The TL:dw version: A bunch of entitled, overpaid people blessed/cursed with fame, are virtue-signaling the rest of us by “singing” the worst song in pop music history [1] – a mewling paeon to socialism and atheism from a singer who himself became so embittered and disconnected from the world by his fame and wealth that it had become something of a cultural punch line before he was murdered and became the icon for the death of every baby boomer’s innocence – as they hole up in their Manhattan condos, California estates and rural getaways…

…as millions of people wonder how long their paychecks are going to keep coming, or if they will, and the rest of the country waits to see if the army of homeless that crowd California’s streets get completely ravaged by this new plague.

Imagine, indeed.

I’ve never been a hugeLarry the Cable Guy fan, but for today, I am totally on board.


[1] This may be a reach – but work with me, here.

I think “ex-Beatle preference” is a key dispositive indicator of political outlook and personal attitude.

I suspect “progressives” prefer John Lennon. He was the angsty, prickly one, the one who seemed most prone to have a penchant for Sylvia Plath He died tragically, relatively young, and in the grand romantic tradition, illustrating and confirming the progressive’s innate hopelessness.

I’m going to guess conservatives trend toward the sunny, optimistic, irrepressible McCartney.

Me? I’m a guitar player. I’m with Harrison.

The Show Trial That Never Ends

Ben Sexsmith in Spectator on Taylor Swift’s pummeling into a deluxe, fashion-forward conformity.

While complaining that country singers are expected to “shut up and sing” because Dixie Chicks…:

Swift is shown to have been under at least some pressure to avoid being ‘political’, including from her own father, but the media she appears to be so vulnerable towards was criticizing and deriding her for not being political enough. Her reputation, which is so important to her, was suffering in the late 2010s because her silence on the Trump administration was held to represent ‘white privilege’ if not outright racism.
There was article after article about her ‘blinding white privilege’ and her ‘indifference to the struggles of people of color’. For Quartz, Swift represented ‘a dangerous form of white women’. For The Root she was ‘one of the most dangerous types of White woman’ (my emphasis). A Daily Beast writer said Swift was ‘the living embodiment of white privilege’. 
This was the greatest pressure that Swift’s reputation faced and it is hard not to suspect that her politicization did not have something to do with answering such criticism. There is no point in complaining about celebrities being progressive. You might as well complain about the winter being cold or the tides coming in. But it is preposterous to imply a celebrity’s progressivism takes courage and iconoclasm. It is expected if not demanded of them, and Swift and her friends clinking wine glasses as they toast ‘the Resistance’ is one of the most bourgeois images of our times.

About the same time I read the article, I heard this episode of the NPR “prog media” cheerleading broadcast “On The Media”, talking (approvingly) about the extent to which celebs have to go to prove they’re “woke”, and its political ramifications.

And it reminded me of the sort of exaggerated denouncements that people issued during Stalin’s show trials – when people literally virtue-signaled to save their lives. The Modern Left is a show trial that never ends – but hasn’t killed anyone. Yet.

Little Straw Men

A few weeks ago, I saw the new film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott “Little Women“. I’m told there are seven different versions on film out there – I’ve only seen parts of the 1933 version with Katherine Hepburn, and of course the 1994 version with Winona Ryder (of which the less said, the better).

I liked it. A lot. Yes, it’s a“Chick flick“, and I don’t care, because all I really care about is “is it a good movie“.

Around the same time, I saw a new statistic; a solid majority of doctors under the age of 35 or women.

That’s after a couple of decades in which the share of undergraduate degrees going to women has reached three out of five, on its way to an estimated two out of three in the next decade or two. This, as the education system becomes more and more dogmatically feminized, with the attendant treating of “boyhood“ as a pathology to be medicated into submission , and as the media seems to be incapable of showing males above a certain age as anything but loutish buffoons.

So I could see, perhaps, men staying home from yet another film that shows men as expendable cads (which, by the way, “Little Women“ doesn’t); It’s not like men don’t get a steady diet of that anyway.

But here’s an experiment for you: read this article – not a review – from the utterly underwhelming Kristy Eldridge  whom the Times helpfully notes, is “a writer”, entitled “Men are Dismissing “Little Women““. The article points out that the movie finished third in its opening week, behind two tent post blockbusters (Star Wars and the new Jumanji), and throws in a lot of pro forma “men just don’t care about female writers/artists/films“ whingeing.

One thing it doesn’t do is quote any men who don’t actually like the movie, or show any demographic evidence that men are shunning it any more (or less) than any other “chick flick“. Given that the film would seem to be at least a modest success (especially compared to the boat anchor 1994 version, which played like a high school production), that’d seem to be a little impossible if all those female viewers weren’t hauling their boyfriends/husbands along with.

The article promises male rage. It delivers Little Straw Men.

I have to suspect the article was written long before the movie opened

Hollywood Polishes The Cannonball

Some stories shouldn’t need Hollywood to go all, well, Hollywood on them to make them riveting utterly compelling.

But they do it anyway. And it’s almost always a massive drag.

It’s not a new phenomenon; The Battle of the Bulge was utterly atrocious, seemingly feeling the need to dumb World War 2 down to a cowboys ‘n indians movie – for an audience that had in huge numbers actually been there. Even as a kid, the Hollywoodisms (“They’re sending tanks! Send the artillery and infantry to the rear!”) annoyed me to no end.

The effect wasn’t always catastrophic: the Great Escape didn’t completely bastardize the subject, the greatest POW camp break in history – although adding Americans to the cast was an audience-grabbing anachronism (all Americans had been sent to different camps shortly before the escape’s famous tunnels were started).

But Hollywood’s wall of shame exerts a powerful vortex.

Stories that don’t need the Hollywood treatment get it anyway. 12 Strong – the dramatization of the events of the fall of 2001, where 85 Green Berets – count ’em, 85 – led an insurgency that drove the Taliban from the battlefield. What “improvement” does a story like that need? Well, it got little from the movie – which was watchable, but traded CGI for story all too often.

And the Tuskeegee Airmen’s story needs not even a whiff of gussying up; is there a bigger underdog war movie of all time? (There could be – if Hollywood ever produces Brothers in Arms, the story of an all-black tank battalion that became one of Patton’s best, written by none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). But gussying up it got, with Red Tails, a George Lucas labor of love that substituted P51 Mustangs for X-wings, Germans for Stormtroopers, and white bigots for Emperor Palpatine.

Now, when I saw that there was a remake of Midway in the works, I thought “at last, someone can improve on the turgid but accurate-ish 1976 historical epic. Then I saw the most dreaded six words in movies: “From the maker of Independence Day” (a movie, it needs to be said, that I detest with a cordial passion) and gave up all hope. Roland Emmerich would seem to have turned the all-in total-stakes back-against-the-wall fight by the battered American fleet against an undefeated Japanese Navy that outnumbered it by a prohibitive margin and had aims on closing the trap around Hawaii into a video game – and made an even worse movie than the 1976 version.

Worse still? If there’s a story in American history that’s begging to just be told, it’s Harriet Tubman. Her story is both pretty universally known and completely misunderstood; a gun-toting freedom fighter who defied the entire institution of slavery while running runaways to the North (or, more often, Canada) and returned to run a huge, effective spy ring during the Civil War? One hardly needs a screenplay.

But a screenplay we get – and it’s abominanble:

Set in 1849 Maryland, full of danger, rescues, superstition, frivolous gunplay, and pop-politics, Harriet demonstrates the current exploitation of African-American history, through historical revision, simply to sell tickets while aggravating political identity, tribal separation, and perpetual grievance — the same way that politicians manipulate voters.
Ever since Harvey Weinstein confirmed Hollywood’s Obama Effect, film culture has sought various ways of appeasing racial anxiety through movies about black victimization and white guilt. It’s the new diversity, as one of Harriet’s progressives summarizes: “Civil war is our only hope.”
…The difference in approach tells everything about the modern state of Hollywood race consciousness. Dismissing Demme and Morrison’s perception of slavery’s aftermath (its internalized stress and ongoing need for explanation, relief, and catharsis), Harriet looks at Tubman on a first-name basis, as if to standardize her travails into a Slavery Land thrill ride: She suffers spells after a head wound that causes hallucinations (or prophecies) that may indicate either madness or saintliness; she sacrifices her love life to crusading zeal (the film’s only complex moment occurs when her lover laments, “I’d a died for you. If you’d a let me”); and she frequently sings out her discontent in several message-driven musical interludes: “Sorry I have to leave” and “Lord, why you let me live?”

Even NPR took a pass on it.

Why, it’s almost as if Hollywood doesn’t trust moviegoers to make the right conclusions.

Not As Live As You’d Hope

To: “Live From Here”
From: Mitch Berg, ornery peasant
Re: “Out In America” with Tom Papa

Have you ever listened to a putative “comic” bit where a “comedian” reads a (for purposes of argument) “comic” monologue of intermittently (very very intermittently) amusing observations, interrupted with a tag line that isn’t especially funny the first time, but gets repeated 3-5 times every episode, to the point where you want to spray him with spray cheese on stage?

I have.

Read more

Comfort Food For Thought

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Stouts Pub at Snelling and Larpenteur opened as an English pub, serving bangers and mash, fish and chips, and Guinness beer on tap. Lately, with the cool wet weather, I’ve been feeling a need for comfort food. Mutton stew with thick warm bread. Maybe a shepherd’s pie.
But when I looked at their menu online today, it’s all trendy stuff, the kind you could get at Applebee’s or Chili’s. Spinach and artichoke dip. Cheeseburger with sharp cheddar and applewood bacon. Margherita pizza. Chipotle BLT. And all kinds of wraps and salads.  Yuppie Paradise.
I don’t blame them, that’s where the money is. But what happens to us crusty curmudgeons? Where can I go to get my pre hibernation food?

Joe doakes

You got me. Most “comfort food” is well outside my diet these days.

But let’s hear it, hive mind. Comfort food sources in the Metro?

Only In Minnesota

Such is the inferiority complex of Twin Cities media that this story is getting major airtime; the iconic TV sitcom Friends discussed relocating the show to Minnesota for half a seazon:

I said “discussed”:

The relocation to Minnesota developed in the writers’ room during the fifth season, thanks to a recurring desire to genuinely surprise the audience with plot developments. (Just like season four’s episode “The One With the Embryos,” where Monica and Rachel lose a bet and switch apartments with Joey and Chandler.) “The idea was that Chandler would be unexpectedly transferred to Minnesota for work,” Austerlitz writes. “Since there was no urgent reason for the characters to stay in New York, each of his friends would ultimately choose to join him there, and Friends would keep them in Minnesota for half a season.” The gang would grow to love this magical Midwestern respite from their go-go-go New York lifestyle, with “cheap apartments, friendly neighbors, and subzero temperatures.”

Bear in mind – the change was shot down. Hard. 20+ years ago.

Tailgunner Joe Is Alive And Well In Hollywood

Eric McCormick calls for a blacklist of Trump supporters in Hollywood:

Your first question might be “Who in the flaming hootie-hoo is Eric McCormick. Truth is, I had to ask, myself. Turns out he was in the once-upon-a-time hit TV show Will and Grace.

Which I watched maybe twice. It was basically Friends, but with characters.

Anyway, where were we?

Oh, yeah. Eric McCormack accidentally voicing the inner id of “progs”

We know it was an accident, because Mr…let me look back up to the top…McCormick is trying to walk it back. I suspect a social media spanking was involved.

Land Of The Free And Home Of The Flaming Hot And Dusty

America asks “when will Hollywood make movies about things that genuinely matter to us?”.

Hollywood answers; a biopic about the “only in America” origin story of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and the broom-to-mahogany-row story of its inventor – directed Eva Longoria:

Longoria is officially attached to direct Flamin’ Hot, a biopic about Richard Montanez, the man who the invented iconic snack, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. DeVon Franklin (Breakthrough) will produce through a deal at Fox, and the film is slated to be a Fox Searchlight title.
Flamin’ Hot tells the story of Richard and Judy Montanez. The son of a Mexican immigrant, Richard rose from humble beginnings, working as a janitor at Frito Lay when he developed the idea for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, inspired by the flavors of his community. The spicy snack (and twist on an already popular brand) not only revitalized Frito Lay, but disrupted the food industry and created a pop culture phenomenon.

Is it a move to virtue signal to the Latino community?

Do Cheetos leave dust on your fingers and everything else they touch? Of course it is. The devil is in the execution – and given that it’s Hollywood, the odds are overwhelming that it’s gonna be crap (if it’s ever released).

But one can hope. The world could use a good ” this is what America is all about” story.

One Place That Ain’t Looking Through Me

About a decade back, I heard an interview on All Things Considered with Sarfraz Manzoor, who’d just come out with his book Greetings from Bury Park – his memoir about growing up as a British-Pakistani in Luton, in the Midlands, and getting immersed in Bruce Springsteen’s music. And I think I sat in the garage for a solid half hour, catching the whole fascinating story; someone who couldn’t have come from a more different culture than me, getting pulled on the same musical and personal odyssey by the same bunch of records.

If you’ve read this blog at all, you can see the grab. Right? I don’t think I need to restate the obvious.

I caught the show the other night.

First things first: This isn’t Mama Mia with Springsteen music. While there is the requisite act of the movie where Manzoor’s fictionalized version of himself, “Javed”, gets the same burst of recogniton while listening to “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, the musical epiphany only opens the door to all sorts of conflict in real life – which, in turn, illuminates all sorts of the musical themes.

Any description of “musical epiphanies” from ones’ teenage years is bound to swerve into the cloying and mawkish at times. Teenagers are cloying and mawkish, and it doesn’t matter what culture they’re from. And so the movie’s occasional short-cuts through plot points, via lyric drops or the occasional borderline production number that might – hell, probably will – come across as cringingly sentimental to the non-belever comes across as cringingly autobiographical to those who’ve (raises hand) been there.

So – did I enjoy the movie? Yes, but that wasn’t my main takeaway. It’s more accurate to say I felt a lot of it in the pit of my stomach. The movie took me back to a lot of things from my teens and twenties, in pretty much the same way Manzoor remembers them. That’s a good thing.

Mostly.

And – no spoilers, here – the music isn’t necessarily the most important point of the movie. There’ll be another post about that before too long.

Cons? Yep, there were a few.

It’d be impossible to do a movie about eighties Britain, especially as a Pakistani, without throwing in some of the politics of the era. And Manzoor’s memories of the era include a lot of the prattle of the anti-Thatcher left – which sounded at the time every bit as intolerent and libelous as Big Left’s cant against conservatives (to say nothing of Trumpkins) today. The infantlism of today’s campus “progressive” seems modeled on the prate and gabble of European lefties of the era. That, and the occasional bout of Thatcher-bashing were to be expected. That wasn’t unexpected, or especially dishonest. On the other hand, the rest of the movie – which imparted a lot of humanity on Manzoor’s very traditional Pakistani family and most of the movie’s other, very disparate characters – had me expecting much better of one of the side-conflicts; when “Javed” met his (inevitably left-wing) love interest’s (inevitably) Tory parents, they were portrayed with all the nuanced humanity of a Joe Piscopo sketch on SNL. It was a throwaway – and the movie would have been better had it been thrown away.

So do I recommend it? If you’re not a Springsteen fan, you may not “get” it. Or then maybe you will. Who knows?

If you are? It’d be interesting to see what you think.

ASIDE: By the way – the movie reminded me that my theory – Springsteen is America’s best conservative songwriter – has been completely vindicated this past year. I suspect this would be to the chagrin of a former regular commenter – but alas we’ll never know.

More coming in the next week.

Deja Vu All Over Again

One of my life’s great face-to-desk moments was in the fall of 2004.

Back in 2003, I’d participated in “National Novel Writing Month”, usually known as NaNoWriMo. “Nano” takes place every November; the goal is to write a novel – 50,000 words worth – in those thirty days. It doesn’t have to be much of anything – it’s just gotta be done.

Now, I went into NaNoWriMo 2003 with an outline for a book that I’d been tweaking in my mind, and then on paper, for 5-6 years. I’d fleshed out characters, come up with a pretty cool plot, and had things pretty well laid out. And I hit Nano running; I think I got through 100,000 words – and 40% of my outline.

I put it away for a bit – but figured I’d finish it between then and the next Nano, in the fall of 2004.

That fall, the opening of the TV season included a series that smacked into me like a Proust compilation hitting a cement floor; my novel about a bunch of people stranded by a crash under bizarre, perhaps supernatural circumstances suddenly went from “original” to “just like Lost“.

And so it was back to dreaming about writing a novel.

That opportunity came to me finally six years ago, as I started writing a series of satirical observations about local Libertarians, which morphed – at the suggestion of commenters, truth be told – into a “Dickensian serial” about a highly tongue-in-cheek collapse of civilization and “reboot” of the political order. Trulbert was a hoot to write, and even more fun to see people reading. I sold probably 500 online copies – profiting enough to take a halfways decent vacation.

And it whetted my appetite for more.

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of the US finally taking some critics’ suggestions (including, occasionally, mine) and breaking up into some smaller, more politically contiguous countries, and what that’d mean. There was on the one hand an urge not to go full-blown satirical, a la Trulbert; I still go back and forth on that, as “desire to try something different” runs up against “go with what you know, and also unknown people can’t get typecast”.

So the urge to do another Dickensian serial about a divorce – maybe amicable, maybe not, a la my 2005 serial, Secession Diaries – between the several states has been bubbling around since, well, Trulbert came out.

That urge has been mightily tempered by the fact that Kurt Schlicter seems to have taken over that market.

And The Social Media Lynching Will Begin In 5…4…3…

Scarlett Johannson lashing back, in her own way, at the PC police’s affect on acting:

She addressed was she called the ‘political correctness’ in casting without directly mentioning her controversial casting in Rub & Tug. 
‘You know, as an actor I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job,’ she said point blank.
She continued: ‘I feel like it’s a trend in my business and it needs to happen for various social reasons, yet there are times it does get uncomfortable when it affects the art because I feel art should be free of restrictions.’ 
‘I think society would be more connected if we just allowed others to have their own feelings and not expect everyone to feel the way we do.’

Between that and supporting Israel, she’s never gonna do lunch at Spago again.

But you know what? The interview was in conjunction with a very style-y retro photo shoot for a magazine. I’m gonna focus on that, if that’s OK. Thanks.

Backlash

Last week, I caught Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix special.

I’ve always like Ansari. This special is far and away the best thing he’s done in his career.

Is it connected to his getting caught up in the #MeToo purges?

Perhaps.

But far from groveling to “woke” culture, gives the PC horde the sort of response it’s been needing from more participants in pop culture – an astringent satirical enema:

From Robert Verbruggen’s review:

Perhaps the most memorable routine, though, involves the famous Pizza Hut swastika story, where a restaurant was accused of making a pizza with the pepperoni arranged in the shape of a Nazi symbol — but some people saw it as just a regular pizza. Ansari asks the audience to clap if they thought it was a swastika, and then if they thought otherwise.
The story is made up. There never was a swastika pizza. But some audience members take sides and clap anyway. One even identifies the news source where he read about the incident. It’s a stunning illustration of how political polarization rots the brain, and it fits into a broader theme that we could do with less outrage and more honest discussion among people with differing opinions — a point Ansari makes more explicitly when discussing the uproar over a white teenager who wore a traditional Chinese dress to prom.
Refreshingly, Ansari avoids the incessant and usually unfunny Trump-bashing too many comedians rely on when short on better material. To the contrary, he points out how trivial modern America’s problems are relative to what previous generations dealt with. “Could you imagine if we had a draft with today’s people?”

It’s worth a watch.

What Chu Wantin’ In De White Man’s World

Over this past weekend, I saw the movie “Rocket Man”, the Elton John biopic.

And while it was a good movie, as these things go – more below – it left me with one huge, nagging question unanswered.

To wit: what ghastly crime did Bernie Taupin see Reginald Dwight/Elton John commit, and promise to keep quiet about forever, in exchange for Elton John turning his “lyrics“ into songs?

Because it say what you will about Elton John’s music – I liked some of it – but Taupin was the one lyricist in the history of the world that can’t get away with mocking and taunting Desmond Child.

There simply has to be some ghastly conspiracy. There’s no other rational explanation.


More seriously, now – I did in fact see the movie over the weekend.

Truth be told, I was way too cool for Elton John when he was at his peak. I loved the Clash, the Ramones, Springsteen, the Iron City Houserockers, Television, Emmylou Harris, the Pretenders – all the stuff that the rest of the kids in my high school weren’t listening to. It was how a tall, geeky nerd with no athletic talent stood out from the crowd (or thought he did).

And I never had much time for pop stars disintegrating in public, as I watched Elton John (among many other celebs back then) collapse in a welter of excess, booze and cocaine. “You think you got it tough?”, I muttered, reading every week in the pages of “Rolling Stone” down at the library. It’s why I had no time for a lot of seventies pop stars; half the reason I couldn’t stand Styx as a kid was Dennis DeYoung’s constant whinging about what a meaningless illusion being a star was; “then go back to Chicago and work in a ^%$#@ meatpacking plant and make some room for someone else”, I muttered.

And he was a piano player. Nothing against keyboard people – I always wanted to be decent on keys. But they have a very different approach to music than guitar players do. Some of his stuff, like most of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, was marvelously melodic, in the kind of way that piano players can tease out of a song in a way guitar players can’t.

So Elton John was…well, not a non-entity for me as a kid. His public image was something that annoyed me; his music sometimes grabbed me (“Someone Saved My Life Tonight” was guilty pleasure), some didn’t.

Anyway.

“Rocketman” is billed as a “fantasy biopic”, which started me off thinking “what could go wrong?”.

Short answer: Nothing!

In its own way, telling the story of Elton John’s path – from neglected child to piano prodigy to sideman to “overnight star” (it actually took him eight years of gigging, song-writing and session work, given very short shrift in the movie) to one of the biggest selling singers of all time, to recovering addict and, we’re told at the end, happy, loved, well-adjusted elder, is a lot more interesting in the telling that it was in the watching 30-40 years ago. Taron Egerton plays a better Elton John than Elton John himself ever did.

One interesting bit, if you’re a serious music trivia buff; there’s a scene where John and longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin are auditioning for a manager (in a scene that could have come out of every iteration of “The Jazz Singer” or “The Star Is Born”). The manager asks John to play some of his stuff. John, at the piano, tosses out a few songs that the manager cuts off immediately…

…that are actually from the early ’80s, when John and longtime Taupin were on the outs – things like “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” and other stuff from John’s fallow years after going through treatment. The manager only warmed up when John played “Border Song”.

It was just one of the ways in which John – one of the movie’s executive producers – seemed to be saying that his career without Bernie Taupin was never quite what it should have been. Every single non-John/Taupin song is associated with failure, with bottoming out (as when “Victim of Love”, one of John’s most vapid songs, is playing in the background during a scene when he meets the partner in his ultimately sham 1984 marriage). In some ways, Taupin is every bit as much the star of the movie as John is.

So I won’t be coy about it – it’s a lot better than I expected.