Friday, January 29, 2010

J.D. Salinger, Bill (CALVIN AND HOBBES) Watterson and the "I owe you nothing else" ethos.

[On THE NEW YORKER's website at in the Online-only section, there's a Back Issues link to J.D. Salinger's short stories written for the magazine.]

It always fascinates/perplexes people when artists go into exile after they determine their careers are finite, with no reason to add to their accomplishments; Greta Garbo, J.D. Salinger and cartoonist Bill Watterson of CALVIN AND HOBBES fame are the three most prominent examples.

Inevitably, the exiled artist is either pursued by curious fans or has to cope with will-there-be-a-comeback rumors.

In the case of the now-deceased Salinger, there is speculation as to the unpublished manuscripts he left behind and whether they will see any kind of posthumous publication.

Given Salinger's apparent ego, perfectionism and desire for absolute control over his work (he never again spoke to a NEW YORKER editor after the editor added a comma to one of Salinger's short stories), perhaps it's better to keep the legend intact.

Sometimes, we're not meant to have access to everything from the artists we treasure.

[UPDATE 2/1/10: Bill Watterson gives a rare interview--again justifying his decision to end CALVIN AND HOBBES and continue living off the public grid--]

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conan, Jay and NBC: What we've learned.

After Friday night's great finale for THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH CONAN O'BRIEN, I now feel free to make a list of things I've learned (as well as most of you reading this):
1. I can't wait for Comcast to fire Jeff Zucker, Jeff Gaspin and Dick Ebersol and bring in new
executives that might have some grasp as to how to run a broadcast network in the 21st century.
2. NBC's trying to create a new myth--that THE TONIGHT SHOW is a franchise must be executed in strict lowest-common-denominator fashion in order for it to be Number One.
That myth is based solely on Jay Leno's pandering-to-fratboys tenure on the show since 1995. If you take the network's myth
as gospel, then Steve Allen (too quirky) and Jack Parr (too talky, books too many smart guests) could never host the show if they were alive today. Even Johnny Carson, who would occasionally book author Truman Capote and scientist Carl Sagan, would be suspect to current NBC management.
3. In spite of NBC giving Conan a gag order and allowing Jay to go on OPRAH for another platform for Mr. Leno to do his ".....ehhhhh, I'm just a working class guy that NBC took off when I was Number One" schtick, the legend of Coco will persist. Especially because Conan was likely screwed into the ground by network weasels who insisted that he try hard to mute his normal humor and come up with a Leno-esque way of doing THE TONIGHT SHOW--and, then, when Conan was passive-aggressively fired for giving them the show they wanted, they turned around and unfairly accused him of "not listening" to them.
4. Conan O'Brien's next TV series may not knock off Jay, Dave or Jimmy Kimmel (likely the front-runner for Leno's TONIGHT SHOW chair), but it's guaranteed to be fresher and funnier than its competition--as long as network execs let Conan be Conan and stop all the second-guessing and other interfering-with-creativity nonsense.

Friday, January 22, 2010

After three-plus decades, Paddy Chayefsky circa NETWORK is still a prophet.

Not sure how many people remember Ned Beatty's corporate titan "educating" Peter Finch's nonconformist newscaster ("I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!") near the climax of 1976's NETWORK.

But the Beatty speech begins like this: "There is no America.
There is only IBM, AT&T......"

Thanks to the Supreme Court's decision to make the corporate-contributed domination of political parties overt rather than covert, we're pretty close to Paddy Chayefsky's bleak vision
of the future.

Some people may moan about unlimited campaign contributions from labor unions. But the corporate culture in the U.S. is so successful at demonizing unions (and giving them rope-a-dope treatment when unions dare to go out on strike), that the labor movement is likely to have a few more teeth knocked out in this just-begun decade.

Add the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts, Nancy Pelosi's gutlessness re health care (still hard to understand the conservative fury at her and the equally hacky, I-like-my-perks-and-hate-to-fight, Harry Reid--as if they were threatening to anyone), the Tea Party madness and President Obama's likeliness to opt for a heaping helping of pandering-to-GOP (or as the mainstream media defines it, "moving to the center"), and it might be safe to predict that America will be to China what the former Yugoslavia was to the old USSR.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Post-Golden Globes, I'll take a guess at Oscar wins.

Having watched the Industry's three-hour party which takes place about six weeks before its four-hour ceremony of gravitas, I'll make a few guesses about certain likely winners of the latter.
BEST ACTOR: George Clooney (UP IN THE AIR)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

London GUARDIAN article assesses Obama one year into Presidency.

Although the article linked above has an unnecessarily dumb-edgy "Even Charles Manson could beat him" tagline, it has some sobering assessments of Year One of the Obama presidential term as the White House and the Democratic Party plan to metaphorically go over Niagra Falls in a barrel to ensure that the Massachusetts senate seat vacated by the late Ted Kennedy doesn't go to a Republican. As the media is drumbeating, this could be the (gasp!) end of the health-industry-friendly health care plan--and possibly the beginning of Obama being forced to do Clinton-esque soccer-mom pandering (plus more capitulation to Republicans) for his remaining three years in office.

Take a look at this passage in particular (highlighting by me):
"Many on America's left are also ­disgruntled with Obama. They believe the healthcare reform, without a public option, will be inadequate, that the war in Afghanistan will unravel, the stimulus bill was insufficient to kick-start the economy and that his economic team is being run by Wall Street. But unlike the right they have so far failed to turn their disillusionment into a potent political force."

If the Tuesday Senate replacement election doesn't go Obama and the Democratic Party's way, it's safe to say that the sort-of-left in this country will opt more for depressive rationalization of the "oh, he had too much to contend with from the Bush years" instead of organizing for meaningful Change that benefits people who won't cash corporate paychecks during their lifetimes.

Friday, January 15, 2010

My generation wants to set me straight re Tea Parties and government.

Here's a lengthy response that someone who went to high school in my hometown sent to me publicly on Facebook (related to yesterday's post):
Liberal groups are almost always coordinated and funded by centralized groups whereas the tea-parties where almost all spontaneous local uprisings by pissed off citizens. Sand? We don't need no stinking sand! Propaganda? Dude . . . I think you may be subsisting on it.A. Governments are necessary entities, not persons.B. Governments produce nothing. They are always a sum-zero to sum-negative net creators. The only true wealth is created by producing something worth more than it's inherent cost.C. The more control you give any government the more control it will demand and ultimately take. Our founding fathers understood this impeccably.D. If you have a $1.00 problem it will always take a governmental entity at least a $1.50 to TRY and fix it, which it seldom ever does. At least not without creating numerous collateral new problems.... E. EVERY re-distribution experiment to date has failed to even begin to compete with the over-whelming success of free enterprise. Anyone want to live in North Korea, Russia, China, Cuba, or Venezuela? How many East Germans died trying to get to West Germany before the wall came down?F. Ever gotten a job from a poor person?G. I have more bullet points but it's way past my bed-time!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Talking about my generation--and their responses.

Posted this as a status update to Facebook earlier today:
I'm sorry to say this--but I'm still having a hard time with people I know from high school being suckers for right-wing propaganda and putting heads in the Tea Party sand.

Received a response saying (in essence) that I drank liberal Kool-Aid.

Then I posted the following:
Don't think that I drank Kool-Aid. I find things to disagree with both on left and right. Just think that the Republcans should do something besides supporting passive-aggressive fascism, yelling SHUT HIM UP! re Obama and ousting people who might dare to have more moderate views. Saying it again--too many people I've known in high school and at [Midwestern State University] in Wichita Falls have turned into adults who don't ask questions and turn too much of their lives over to other people because "they know more than we do." And they don't do their chidren and grandchildren any favors when they just expect their values to be unanimously followed and, in some cases, don't love them when they [their children and grandchildren] may turn out differently.

Received some serious responses from people I've known about Obama's danger to the "American Way of Life", "Obama sucks", and that the Left started all the mudslinging. Then, the posts became more jokey since jokes are a great way to neutralize opinions people think are Wrong.

You've just heard the pulse of the nation courtesy of certain members of the high school graduating classes of 1976 and 1977--and 1979 as well.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pat Robertson, hate and Haiti.

With all the death, devastation and misery that Haiti's currently suffering, the citizens of that country need a lot more than U.S. televangelist/former Presidential candidate Pat Robertson (THE 700 CLUB) fake-folksy babbling about some kind of pact with Satan that the country allegedly engaged in, causing the horrors of the recent earthquake.

Unfortunately, followers of Robertson only have to hear words like "Satanic" and their brains disappear and they become zombie-like slaves to the Reverend's hateful theology practiced in the name of Jesus.

Face it, Pat Robertson is a blasphemer. And he doesn't speak for Jesus--for a desire to get and hold an Earthly empire, instead--just like the late Jerry Falwell.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Letting Vic Richie have the last word on the Jay/Conan talk-show turf-fest.

Take a look at Nikki Finke's DEADLINE story from Thursday about NBC plotting to move Jay Leno back to 11:35 p.m. and Conan O'Brien to 12:05 a.m.

And scroll down quite a long way in the Comments section to read what Vic Richie says about the whole mess.

Paraphrasing Vic: He's quite right to complain about overpaid execs who make stupid, shortsighted decisions and then go home to their elegant big houses (which they're not likely to lose).

Except he says it so much better than I (or a hundred other legitimate TV "critics") can.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The unauthorized review of Rick Lupert's WE PUT THINGS IN OUR MOUTHS.

Having been inside a glass house recently when G. Murray Thomas wrote a "you're not trying hard enough" review of my 2008 chapbook yellow tree red sky, I'll try to tread carefully.

For those who don't know who SoCal poet Rick Lupert is, this useful website will provide an introduction:

Continuing to speak neutrally, I can say that Rick, at his best when hosting poetry readings or performing his own work, has the kind of quick wit and ability to "read the room" that would certainly overshadow some alleged comedians.

And Rick, in recent years, has decided to take advantage of his professional likability and give readers a series of "how I see the rest of the physical world" observational poetry volumes.

In the past, this approach gave us the good, memorable "I'm in Israel" FEEDING HOLY CATS; now, it delivers another "I'm in Europe" tome called WE PUT THINGS IN OUR MOUTHS.

I now know enough about the craft of writing poetry to not say that Rick doesn't try (or try hard enough) when he writes his wry, no-longer-than-a-page poems (which sometimes depend on their titles for full humorous impact).

But it might be best for Rick to declare a moratorium on continuing his "funny travel poet" niche (or "brand" as the young people say nowadays) and consider being more consistently well-rounded in his choice of subjects (a recent piece on mortality he submitted to the BLUE JEW YORKER was quite funny and poignant at the same time). The on-the-road formula, loved by Rick's fanbase, may not seem so fresh here to those previously unacquainted with his poetry.

To give an example of one of the better poems in MOUTHS, here's a few lines from "Giant Wooden Shoe Couple":
Everybody already took pictures
in the giant wooden shoe at the first stop.
The giant shoe here sits lonely and unphotographed.

Maybe this second giant wooden shoe
is married to the first one and they just
work in different places.

Too often, there are two-to-four line poems that vary from flat to moderately funny--and depending on the titles to carry them across the finish line.

And there's not enough of the more serious pieces where Rick's gift for brevity works for the subjects and expands their emotional impact. Two of the best here are "To Anne Frank" and "Oh Amsterdam".

To be fair to Rick, he has altered his persona with the years to where he and wife Addie (a sometimes-supporting character in some of the pieces) now remind one of the younger George Burns and a smart, wise variant of Gracie Allen.

One just wishes, though, that he'll move on a bit from travel-as-subject and concentrate more on the everyday world and life as a suburban husband and father. Some of his best work--past and present--have come from these subjects.

Maybe someday, he'll again fill a book the size of WE PUT THINGS IN OUR MOUTHS with poems of that nature.

Warner Brothers--and other studios likely to come--decide to change the video rental game.

Interesting--Hollywood studios want to forcibly revive the old ways of doing DVD business by breathing life into sagging in-store sales and rentals from chains like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video (plus what few independent video stores remain). At the same time, there seems to be a cluelessness about just how much of a demand there will be in the recession climate... for consumers to keep paying an average of $20 apiece for movies on DVD--outside of surefire hit titles like THE HANGOVER and THE BLIND SIDE.

And, of course, Netflix will probably continue spinning the "hey, we get a lot of older content to stream on computers, set-top boxes and newer DVD players" talking point.

The question is: Will WB provide Netflix with quality older content--or just dump a lot of revenue-stream-exhausted stuff like THE IN CROWD, THE POSTMAN and BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Random trivial thoughts on pop culture.

1. After the widely lambasted solo project with Timbaland producing, I'm curious how much interest there may be in Chris Cornell reuniting Soundgarden later this year. Also wondering if any new material will be generated--or if it's a Pixies-esque just-play-the-old-stuff tour.
2. If Warren Beatty's so annoyed by the likely-irreverent upcoming bio from Peter Biskind, maybe it would have been a good idea to have just said nothing at all (as Artie Lange is currently doing regarding his hospitalization; Beatty had superattorney Bert Fields issue a "I didn't authorize Biskind's book" denial after Biskind and publicist apparently leaked a five-figure estimate of the number of women Beatty has been intimate with).
3. It's safe to say that Colin Firth is this year's Richard Jenkins--a fine actor who will get no more than a "thanks for your body of work" Academy Awards nomination for the film he's in. The collolary to this axiom is that, as with Jenkins and THE VISITOR, Firth is head-and-shoulders superior to the film he's in (Tom Ford's A SINGLE MAN).

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Cinematic Underachievers of 2009.

In no particular order:
1. DRAG ME TO HELL--Sam Raimi got some ecstatic reviews for this underwhelming
cursed-woman-tries-to-get-uncursed tale, which at least occasionally evokes 60s American
International Pictures/William Castle product.
2. NINE--Someone needs to tell Rob Marshall that audiences post-CHICAGO are more
comfortable with movie musical conventions and the numbers-taking-place-inside-the-character's-head motif isn't necessary. And enough with the cross-cutting between the
numbers and "reality" already!
3. THE ROAD--Apparently interfered with by the Weinstein Company, John Hillcoat's
adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's man-and-boy-on-the-Post-Apocalyptic-Trail novel doesn't quite hit
the stark-but-human notes that THE PROPOSITION (Hillcoat's previous film) did.
4. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE--Spike Jonze's film of the Maurice Sendak book
(apparently also interfered with by Warner Brothers--witness the obvious tacked-on
ending) meant well and had some great voice work from the actors playing creatures.
But the oh-tres-hip decision to include a grating song score from Karen O (ironically, the Arcade Fire song used in the trailer worked much better) is enough to qualify this as an underachiever.
5. WHATEVER WORKS--After Woody Allen made VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA his best film in a decade, he returned to New York and gave the world a dinner theater-level comedy which would have worked a lot less without Larry David in the lead role.