Locked Lips Sink Ships

The media still seems to have its collective crotchless panties in a twist about the ‘shocking’ kiss between Madonna and and Britney on the MTV Video Awards. And, oh yeah, that lip-lock between Madonna and that other skank.

Madonna, as reported in a second-day lead, takes credit for thinking up this stunt. Collective memory being what it is, the media seems to have conveniently forgotten that not more than a couple of months or so ago, Madonna was doing a publicity tour saying that she didn’t want any more publicity and that fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But, like a lost little street addict, she couldn’t live long without her drug of choice — publicity.

Those who forget history are doomed to be subject to Madonna’s bullshit.

Now, I’ll sit up and take notice when 50 Cent and Snoop show some mutual tongue action on national television. That’ll put some shizzle in my fizzle. (I know. I’m a white guy. I have no idea what that means.)

Wake Up, Rod

There’s an AM radio station here in L.A. (KLAC – 570) that has returned to its previous format of playing standards, performed – when the station is at its best – by Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Billie Holiday and a number of other people who knew/know how to interpret a song. But interspersed with those heroes of popular song are the forays the station makes into the dark side.

I’m referring to those sorry attempts by artists who have never before ventured into the realm of American popular song (a/k/a ‘The Great American Songbook,’ standards, Tin Pan Alley songs, etc.) but who somehow believe that they can succeed in this milieu with neither the understanding or the inherent ‘chops’ to do so.

The most grievous of these offenders is Rod Stewart. I’m sorry. His voice might be alright for waking up Maggie or letting us know what night tonight is but it could otherwise strip the finish off a Buick. This poor soul sounds like he’s been gargling with paint thinner for the last couple of decades. Clearly, that life-ravaged voice has no business attempting such a nuanced song as ‘The Way You Look Tonight.’

And to add insult to injury, Stewart has only a passing acquaintance with the lyrics, his arrangements quite often strip out the harmonic nuance, and he changes melodies the way most people change their minds.

I can guarantee that if Rod Stewart didn’t already have a recording career, if he mailed a demo of this dreck to a record company, they’d throw it out with the leftover sushi.

Now, I’ve got nothing against people crossing over. Some have done it successfully. But they’ve done it by exhibiting respect for the genre they’re crossing over to. (And, let’s face it. Placido Domingo, whose operatic tenor voice can send chills up the spine of even the most shut down audience member, has no business singing John Denver songs, either. But I’ll save that rant for another time.)

What the hell. You can’t blame a guy for trying. But you can blame ClearChannel for jamming this dreck down our ear canals every chance it gets.


Master Cook

Let me heap some unabashed praise on one of the great performing artists of our time. Barbara Cook, whose evening of songs is being performed at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre, continues to be one of the pre-eminent interpreters of American song.

This evening of tribute to Stephen Sondheim — in songs written by him and songs, she informs us, that he wishes he had written — is about as pure and simple a performance as one could hope for. Her characteristic clarity, coupled with her willingness to be vulnerable, is a perfect match for her song choices. Cook has the bravery to stand on a stage with simply a piano and a bass and she has the wisdom to know that no more than that is needed to fill a theatre.

There are several songs that we identify with Ms. Cook — ‘Losing My Mind’ and ‘Ice Cream’ among them — and she comes through with flying colors, as we have come to expect. But where she surprises us is with her ability to take a song which, at first glance, is sort of a throwaway (‘You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun’) and make us laugh out loud with its comedy as well as reveal the Irving Berlin’s clever lyrical structure, all without beating us over the head with any of it. She also surprises with her ability to help us find new meaning with songs we have heard a thousand times, as in her forthright rendition of ‘Send In the Clowns.’

None of her songs is looked at with reverence from without. Instead, she lives deeply inside of each one, and lets us share that experience with her.

Her encore is a ‘down-in-one’ heart-wrenching microphone-free version of ‘Anyone Can Whistle,’ from Sondheim’s musical of the same name. That song alone is worth the price of admission.

Is there anything this woman can’t do?

Last week, it was Joan Baez (age 62). Last night, it was Barbara Cook (age 75). In a couple more weeks, it’s Elaine Stritch (age 78). If this progression continues, our next night out after that will have to be a visit to the morgue.

Are You Ashamed?

I’m so ashamed. I’ve just finished contributing to the nation’s downfall.

I admit it. I just watched “Are You Hot?,” the latest way that television has found to humiliate America’s citizens. This gawk-fest on ABC capitalizes on the precedent set by “American Idol,” but relies not on singing talent but completely on externals instead.

The judges point out flaws with laser pointers. They insist that the camera zoom in on individual flaws. The more contestants twitch with discomfort, the more the judges seem to revel in making them squirm. No feelings are spared.

But you have to blame the contestants for humiliating themselves, as well. There’s complicity here.

There’s one glimmer of hope here — the judges are making huge point deductions when the women are scary-thin. Clearly, there’s some anorexia trotting around the stage. We can at least be thankful that it’s not being rewarded.

Fourth-Rate Fourth Estate

I know I’m a few days late in writing about this, but it took a while for reality to catch up with me after watching the Michael Jackson interview/documentary.

I can’t imagine that I can say anything about poor misguided Michael that hasn’t been said before. But I can make some remarks about the so-called journalist who put the thing together. I was so appalled that this was billed as a documentary. Last time I checked, a documentary filmmaker was someone who laid out the facts in some sort of sequence, and then allowed the audience to come to its own conclusions about what they saw. This used to be one of the basic precepts of journalism.

But Martin Bashir befriended Jackson and his family, established a certain degree of intimacy and trust, and made his film over the course of many months. But as soon as the film was in the can, his attitude was one of an editorial writer, of a commentator. He determined that he couldn’t trust the audience with what we saw in his film — he had to interpret it for us, and he had to make sure that his (and our) interpretation was negative.

And how is he punished for this amateurish approach to journalism? ABC is reportedly “punishing” him with a multi-million dollar deal for several more “documentaries.” I hope that any potential subjects of his future reportage have the good sense not to let this man cross their doorsteps, because he’s made it abundantly clear that he can’t be trusted.

Jackson is reportedly taking legal action against this hack and, for whatever else I may think of the way he lives his life, I hope Jackson wins this round.

Shame on the Beeb. Shame on ABC. But, mostly, shame on Bashir. The fourth estate is fourth-rate.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Dignity …

Hmmm …Mexican drug trade as Aaron Spelling camp. What will they think of next?

And, in these troubled times, they’ve given America just what it needs — more sociopath role models.

Predictably, Mexican-American groups are already decrying the stereotyping being done by ‘Kingpin.’ And rightfully so. There are precious few Latino characters (and actors) in prime time. Does the network have to make the first show that features more than a token sidekick so derogatory.

But aside from all that, I’m also decrying how cheesy the show is. ‘Kingpin’ is supposed to be NBC’s answer to ‘The Sopranos.’ But to me, it looks more like ‘Dynasty’ with machine guns.

If I want the cheese factor, I’d rather have it full tilt and unabashedly. I’ll stick with ‘American Idol.’

California Hat Dance

Maybe it was the fact that, despite the naysayers, Jesse Ventura was actually elected governor of Minnesota. Maybe it predates that, way back to the über celebrity-turned-politician, our not-so-illustrious Prez #40. But somehow, it seeped into the collective American consciousness that the only thing one really needs to be a politician is name recognition. Qualifications be damned!

Based on an announcement earlier today, it’s feasible (though, admittedly, not exactly likely) that we could face a country in the not-too-distant future in which Jerry Springer could hold a U.S. Senate seat, Arnold Schwarzenegger could be the Governor of California, and — saints preserve us — Rev. Al Sharpton could be sitting in the Oval Office. And, yes, behind the desk. (Do you think Tawana Brawley could pass muster at a Senate confirmation hearing for a cabinet post? Even that’s possible, if Jerry Springer is doing the questioning.)

I wonder who’ll be the next to declare?

Perhaps ballerina-manqué Lara Flynn Boyle will run for Governor. It would have to be Delaware. You know where I mean — it’s that really skinny state on the right hand side of the country. Just don’t expect any promises of school lunch programs from her.

Maybe Survivor’s Jeff Probst will take a stab at a run for office. He has all the current qualifications — he’s telegenic (or maybe tele-generic would be a better word choice), he can read cue cards, he can say utterly ridiculous things with a straight face. And, at least, in office, he’d be obligated to wear long pants, so we wouldn’t have to look at his bony knees.

Why is that Kaczynski-esque tarpaper shack in the mountains of Montana sounding more and more appealing to me every day?

‘Fred Durst Sucks’

The human ego is bizarre and endlessly fascinating. I’ve also been finding it extremely funny lately, too, witnessing the things that people do to make themselves feel o.k. about themselves. Maybe I’ve lived in Los Angeles long enough now for me to find unbridled egotism humorous instead of merely patently obnoxious.

For example, I saw a guy the other day in Amoeba Music wearing a ‘Fred Durst Sucks’ T-shirt. After I remembered who Fred Durst was, I realized that it apparently was important enough to this guy to express this lovely sentiment, so that the world wouldn’t think less of him, but perhaps would think less of Fred Durst. (To quote Gore Vidal, another erstwhile Angelino, ‘It’s not enough to succeed; others must fail.’)

In addition to simultaneous devotion to and disdain for rock stars, people in L.A. (and, to a lesser extent, in other places) bolster their egos with suntans, cars, implants, trophy wives, wealthy husbands, tattoos and piercings, houses on hills, the right wine, shopping at Saks, career advancement, identification with sports teams/figures — the list goes on and on and on. The funniest part is when the very thing that bolsters one person’s ego fails to garner any respect or recognition from anyone else.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ll be discussing ego a lot herein. Living here at the epicenter of narcissism, there’s never a shortage of source material.

Big Al

When I was but a wee sprout, I spent a few years working at a daily newspaper. One of the editors once said to me that if I really wanted to learn about history, I should read the obituaries in the New York Times every day.

Today’s New York Times obituaries contain plenty of history – of the New York Times itself, and of the New York theatre scene – in the form of the obituary of caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, who died at 99.

His passing marks what seems to be the end of an era. His career spanned most of the last century and the beginning of this one. I can only pray that a retrospective of his work will remind producers, performers and audiences alike that there is so much more to theatre than Disney and Andrew Lloyd Webber.