Stephen King turns 70

Considering I’ve read almost nothing of the writings of Stephen King, and and have watched relatively little of the films based on his work, I nevertheless enjoy his observations about the world.

The first movie I ever saw based on a book of his was The Shining (1980), which I pretty much hated. And it’s because of what happens early on, when the Jack Nicholson character looks crazy pretty much as soon as he’s gotten the keys to the hotel. So the wave of blood in the hall isn’t even scary, it’s comical.

Stand by Me (1986), based on his novella The Body, I loved; a great coming-of-age story. Misery (1990) I Liked a lot, surprisingly given the sudden violence. The Green Mile (1999) I had some problems with, but enjoyed well enough.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994), based on the short story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, is one of my favorite films, and that’s true for a lot of people. The fact it was a commercial dud before finding its audience somehow makes the movie more satisfying.

That’s it, out of over 200 writing credits. I saw a little of the remake of The Shining (1997), but not enough to count.

I’ve read various comic book adaptations of the work of Stephen King. None was rendered better than Creepshow by the late Berni Wrightson.

The ONLY book of his I ever read cover to cover was 11-22-63, and I read it in less than a month. I know this because I took the then-newish, 800+ page tome out on a 14-day checkout, and I renewed it only once. But I was not interested enough to watch the 2016 miniseries.

Still, I’m interested in what he thinks on a variety of topics. If I were to read another of his books, it would probably be On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Here are some nifty quotes from the book. Possibly my favorite: “If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it.”

He also has some things to say about politics which I must admit dovetail with my worldview.

Happy birthday to the King of Horror.

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September rambling #2: Len Wein

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A Moment of Silence – a poem by Emmanuel Ortiz

Guntown (Rogue Kite video)

I’m a US military vet, and I feel afraid in my own country

Joe Arpaio: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Reverend Barber on White Supremacy

Tired are the peacemakers

Increasingly, foreign students are choosing Canada over the US

What Your Phone Knows. Is your phone watching you?

What Does an Innocent Man Have to Do to Go Free? Plead Guilty

Here’s why right-wing Christians think they are America’s most persecuted

So, you hate unions because …

The Great Flood and What Comes After

Spotting a viral hoax: Debunking the fakes from Hurricane Irma

Congress’ most unapologetic feminist, Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior senator from my state of New York

How English Was Made – the introduction of the printing press had a profound and revolutionary effect on the language

Why Science-Fiction Writers Couldn’t Imagine the Internet

Scientists Say That Being Forgetful Is Actually A Sign You Are Unusually Intelligent – gee, I HOPE this is true

Newly-coined portmanteaus:
“It took me a long time to get to sleep after the whole shebacle.” From shebang and debacle (per the wife of a friend)
“Vomment” is a comment, usually on social media, someone makes that’s so full of bile and bitterness than it’s the verbal equivalent of vomit (per AmeriNZ)

When I heard Len Wein, the legendary comics writer-editor, passed away at the age of 69, I was surprisingly sad. I had never met him, but he started writing comics professionally almost simultaneously to when I started reading them. Mark Evanier, his long-time friend wrote “Len Wein died… and it feels so odd to type those words even though I’ve known for a long time I would have to.” I also know people IRL who knew him IRL, and I experience their sadness as well. Condolences to his wife Christine Valada

No, I don’t understand Len Wein’s teddy bear thing


How Bullwinkle Taught Kids Sophisticated Political Satire

Condolences to my old FantaCo boss Tom Skulan, and his brothers Dan and Joe, on the loss of their mother Ruth. I remember her fondly, though I haven’t seen her since the 1990s. Tom said that she really liked me too, and that she had asked about me as recently as a year ago. She was suffering from Sjogren’s syndrome, which I had been unfamiliar with.

Once the kings of Hollywood, directors are now increasingly interchangeable

22 Broadway Musicals That Closed on Opening Night

How are diamonds made?

Helpful Home Remedies for Sunburn

Now I Know: The Fake Illness Which Saved Lives and The Power of Being Bored and What Happens When a Monkey Takes an Awesome Selfie and The Million Pound Cough

MUSIC

Papa, Can you hear me – Nina Simone

Mozart. Symphony no. 29 in A major

Composer Alan Menken plays his greatest hits in ten minutes

Dee Dee Sharp – Mashed Potato Time and other tunes

Coverville 1185: Cover Stories for Fiona Apple and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics

I don’t want to work

They Dance to a Popular Song from 2016

Why Brian Wilson Is A Genius

Pirate music throwback: We Are Family

The family was going to the movies. I got out of the car and walked a little bit ahead, hoping unsuccessfully to to exchange an old Spectrum Theatre card to get into the entity run by Landmark. They stopped taking them at the end of 2016, alas!

But the Daughter said that I had to wait. She asked, “And do you know why?”

“No”

“Because” – and then she sang “We are family.”

I asked her how she knew it; she’d heard it from some school mates. Did she know who sang it? “Sly and the Family Stone?”

“Sister Sledge. But a good guess, actually.”

I’m reminded of the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team, who used the song as the team’s theme song that season. It went to #2 pop and #1 r&b on the Billboard charts. It also went to #1 in Canada, and it was Top 6 in the UK, Italy, New Zealand, and Switzerland.

The Pirates had stars such as Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and Bill Madlock. They got to the World Series but were down three games to one in a seven-game series. Then I did something uncharacteristic: I bet a couple dollars on the Pirates in Game 5, which they won. And I did likewise for Game 6, in which they were likewise successful. But I chickened out on Game 7, when they won the Series.

From the Wikipedia:

“We Are Family” was the first song that Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards wrote for any other act than their own band Chic… Atlantic Records President Jerry L. Greenberg wanted the pair to write and produce for other acts on the label, which Rodgers and Edwards considered far too big and established, e.g., The Rolling Stones, Bette Midler… The pair suggested that they write and produce a song for the label’s least established act, and that if they got them a hit record, then they could take the challenge of writing for a bigger act.

There’s a We Are Family Foundation, which “amplifies the world’s most influential, creative young people who are positively affecting our planet to power their work and ideas forward.”

Listen to We Are Family here or here or here (12″ version)

K is for Thou Shalt Not Kill

My late mother had a fairly simple theology, which she said was to follow the Ten Commandments. Sometime in the last decade of life, I asked her what did that mean in this world. What is meant by graven images, e.g.?

Also, I asked what does Thou Shalt Not Kill mean? How does it apply to war, self-defense, defense of others, capital punishment, abortion, suicide, euthanasia, even eating meat? This was not a terribly lengthy conversation.

It is evidently true that in biblical Hebrew… “killing (harag) and murder (ratzah) are two different words with two very different moral connotations, and the commandment uses the Hebrew word ratzah.”

The question becomes, Is the last word? I was looking at 78 biblical verses about Thou Shalt Not Kill. On a personal level, I was immediately drawn to Luke 6:31″ “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” This is generally known as the Golden Rule.

Also, from Matthew 5: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”

I was a Methodist for the majority of my life, and the message for me has almost always been, “Use your head! Make up your own mind! Don’t just swallow everything the religious leaders have taught you.” I’ve also been struck by what a Unitarian once told me, that we all create our own theology. I think this true: God/the universe/whatever you call it has given us discernment and intellect.

So, for example, capital punishment makes no sense to me. I’ve written in the past about how a father a young woman killed the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 went on a spiritual journey to where he found the idea of vengeance against her murderer, Timothy McVeigh, utterly abhorrent.

But we all find different paths on this journey. What are some of yours?

New York Needs a Constitutional Convention?

There’s an article from the Rockefeller Institute of Government called Why New York Needs a Constitutional Convention, which notes:

“Every 20 years, New Yorkers have the chance to vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention (known as a ConCon). The next vote will be held this November. If the voters approve a convention, delegates will be elected in November 2018, and the convention will open in April 2019.”

Here’s the odd thing: I agree with almost everything the writers are saying about a need for a ConCon. Yet I disagree about actually conducting one.

On the affirmative side:
Are you satisfied with the way the state is governed? Surely not.

“New York:
“Has a persistent culture of corruption. Albany thrives on a pay-to-play culture that has seen: four temporary presidents of the Senate since 2008 charged with (and three convicted of) some form of public corruption; the convictions on corruption charges of one of those temporary presidents, Dean Skelos, and the speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, within weeks of each other.” The fact that Silver and Joe Bruno’s convictions were overturned barely mitigates this mess.

“Has close to a 90 percent incumbency rate for members of the state Assembly and Senate. More legislators leave office under indictment, conviction, retirement, or death than by losing elections! District lines are drawn in ways that not only favor one party or the other, but insulate most incumbents from primary challenges as well.

“Does anybody really believe that a legislature benefiting from the current power structure and anxious to retain that power would adopt, or even seriously consider, institutional reforms such as…
an independent redistricting commission that would end political gerrymandering…;
an independent Moreland/Ethics Commission?”

On the other hand:

“…the political insiders and lobbyists… view the convention as a great opportunity to rewrite the current Constitution to their own benefit, while making a huge profit in the process. The constitutional convention takes place over several years—while the taxpayers… are footing the bill for the delegates’ election and salary—at an estimated cost of $200 million…

“Any approved amendments will not take effect until at least 2020 and beyond. Delegates will be paid a salary of $80,000 a year (in addition to their other income). Because delegates are elected to their positions, many will be elected officials or politically savvy insiders who are familiar with the techniques and demands of the political process, such as fundraising and campaigning.” That’s what happened the last time, in 1967.

“The argument that the convention provides an opportunity for ‘fresh eyes’ and ‘outsiders’ to participate in government is not the reality. Instead, the reality is that a constitutional convention would be controlled by well-funded special interests, such as… career politicians, and it will put the ‘”foxes in the hen house.'”

There’s a BIG problem in New York, but the solution might well be worse than the disease.

Music throwback: Stax food choices

The Astors

I was listening to one of my Stax-Volt box sets, which I usually do in the summer, in honor of the label’s co-founder Jim Stewart’s birthday. (His sister Estelle Axton ALSO belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, BTW.) I’ve written about Stax before, including its complicated relationship with Atlantic Records.

I noticed that some of the Memphis soul label artists, especially the more obscure ones – we’re not talking Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas – had tracks with food-related titles.

This is not to say that some of the name artists didn’t ALSO choose a musical culinary route. Booker T and the MG’s had a song about popcorn, e.g. But I picked three songs to highlight, two of which may give you tooth decay.

Candy – The Astors. Composed by Booker T & MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper and Isaac Hayes, this is the only one of the Memphis group’s songs to chart. #12 on the R&B charts, #63 on the pop charts (Billboard) in the summer of 1965.

“As ‘Candy’ moved up the charts, The Astors performed on shows at the Uptown Theater in Philly, the Howard Theater in D.C., The Regal Theater in Chicago, and The Apollo Theater in New York. The other performers on these shows included The O’Jays, The Coasters, Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions, and Redd Foxx to name a few. The Astors also spent 2 1/2 months performing on tour with The James Brown Review.”

Listen HERE or HERE
***

Sugar, Sugar – The Mad Lads (1966). The song was composed by Alvertis Isbell and Eddie Floyd, the latter a name artist, but, as far as I can tell, the song did not chart. The group is from Detroit.

Listen HERE or HERE
***

Hot Dog- The Four Shells (March 1966). “A Chicago group recording licensed to Stax, produced by Jerry Butler and Eddie Thomas.” I cannot find any chart action for this either.

Listen HERE or HERE

Despite their relative obscurity, these all sound vaguely familiar, as though they were regionally popular, even if they were not always national hits.

100 greatest movie comedies of all time

Some Like It Hot

My problem with of most rosters such as the “greatest movie comedies” is that there’s a good chance I’ve seen substantial portions of them. But they don’t count unless I’ve seen them in their entirety.

So I’ve seen chunks of:

87. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953)
80. Office Space (Mike Judge, 1999)
65. Caddyshack (Harold Ramis, 1980)
54. Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)
33. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Adam McKay, 2004)

28. It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934)
27. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
25. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)
21. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)

17. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
16. The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin, 1940)
15. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, 1975)
14. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
13. To Be or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)
12. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)
11. The Big Lebowski (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1998) This was playing at the local cinema recently, and I didn’t make it

10. The General (Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, 1926)
5. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
2. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
1. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959) – I’ve probably watched every scene, but never from beginning to end

Odd thing about 100. (tie) The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1982) is that I have the soundtrack on LP but I never saw the film

I have seen, almost always in a cinema:

99. The Jerk (Carl Reiner, 1979) – on TV
95. Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984)
85. Amarcord (Federico Fellini, 1973) – probably at college
84. Waiting for Guffman (Christopher Guest, 1996)

78. The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987) – saw this, again, recently, in the cinema with the family
74. Trading Places (John Landis, 1983)
73. The Nutty Professor (Jerry Lewis, 1963) – as a kid, at the movies
72. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (David Zucker, 1988)
71. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001) – didn’t particularly like it

69. Love and Death (Woody Allen, 1975) – I’ve seen virtually all of Woody’s films in the 20th century
58. Zelig (Woody Allen, 1983)
57. Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004)
56. Broadcast News (James L Brooks, 1987)- when I saw it in the cinema, I loved it at the time
55. Best in Show (Christopher Guest, 2000)
53. The Blues Brothers (John Landis, 1980)

47. Animal House (John Landis, 1978) – I can always listen to the “Germans bomb Pearl Harbor” speech
46. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994) – ah, this was a comedy. OK, I guess
44. Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011)
43. M*A*S*H (Robert Altman, 1970) – when Albany got an independent TV station in the early 1980, now its FOX affiliate, it showed this movie at 8 a.m. on the first Sunday it was on the air

40. The Producers (Mel Brooks, 1967) – my second favorite Brooks movie
38. The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940) – on TV
36. A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton and John Cleese, 1988)
35. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952) – saw it on DVD with the family
34. Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)
32. Raising Arizona (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1987) – possibly THE best movie before the opening credits that I’ve ever seen. Six people the movie theater.
31. Tootsie (Sydney Pollack, 1982)

29. When Harry Met Sally… (Rob Reiner, 1989) – made a star out of Carl Reiner’s wife Estelle
22. Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974) – literally fell out of my seat laughing, in the movie theater
20. Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974)

9. This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984)
7. Airplane! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, 1980) – I’ll Roger that
6. Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979) – I never really understood he controversy; Brian CLEARLY wasn’t Jesus. One of my favorite segments is about what the Romans have done for us
4. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993) – one of the first movies I bought on VHS
3. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977) – my touchstone movie, and also one of the first I got on VHS

Only 34 of the greatest movie comedies, meh. There are also links to interesting articles about the gender preferences in the selection.

A meme from SamuraiFrog: Myth Memers

After SamuraiFrog experienced a lull in blogging – I missed him – he broke the dry spell with a meme. I’m in favor of that, because writing is better than not writing. Sometimes the meme will get you off the schneid.

1. Do you make your bed?

Almost never, and never willingly, though when my wife starts doing it, I invariably join in. When I was visiting one of my sisters back in the ’80s, she asked, “Don’t you like the feel of a newly-made bed?” And I said, “Not enough to make it.”
And if a bed is TOO tightly made, I feel like a mummy. I’ll undo almost any bed in one sleep cycle.

2. The first car that was officially yours?
Perhaps none of them.

3. Three grocery items you don’t run out of?
Eggs, milk, cottage cheese.

4. When did you start doing your own laundry?
Maybe in high school, maybe not until college; I just don’t remember.

5. If you could, would you go to High School again?
Oh, heavens, no, and I liked high school. I was President of student government, president of the Red Cross club, active in social justice actions, was on stage crew for the drama club.

6. Can you parallel park in under three moves?
No, driving in reverse confounds me.

7. A job you had which people would be shocked to know about?
Shocked? Can’t imagine. I was a janitor twice, once in Binghamton city hall, once in a department store in New Paltz.

8. Do you think aliens are real?
More than likely.

9. Can you drive a stick shift?
No, I remember the Okie screaming at me while I was burning out the clutch on her blue Volvo station wagon.

10. Guilty TV pleasure?
Old episodes of Law and Order, all three varieties, especially from the periods after I had stopped watching them. Actually, I had watched the original from season 2 until Jerry Orbach left, but the other two only sporatically.

11. Would you rather be too hot or too cold?
Too cold. When I’m too hot, I’m totally drained.

12. If the world ends do you want to be one of the survivors?
Depends on what’s left. And who.

13. Sweet or Salty?
Sweet.

14. Do you enjoy soaking in a nice bath?
I have, but I haven’t taken one in a very long time.

15. Do you consider yourself strong?
I vacillate on this. Probably stronger than I think, but not nearly as strong as I want to be.

16. Something people do, physically, that drives you crazy?
Talk on their damn devices, phones and whatnot, and almost walk into me on the sidewalk. Or worse, walk between cars and I almost hit them with my bike.

17. Something you do, physically, that you are sure drives everyone else crazy?
My daughter thinks I’m too loud, especially when I laugh.

18. Do you have any birthmarks?
Not that I’m aware of.

19. Favorite childhood game?
Pinochle or SCRABBLE.

20. Do you talk to yourself?
ALL the time. I try not to do it when others are around. Although who would know? They’d probably think I was on some miniature device. I started a short story about that…

21. Do you like doing jigsaw puzzles?
Depends. I get impatient early on, but as it begins to come together, it becomes more fun. I seldom do them alone.

22. Would you go on a reality show?
No, they hurt my brain.

23. Tea or coffee?
Tea. I never learned to like coffee. And BTW, I HATE it when I can taste coffee in tea water. Separate carafes, PLEASE.

24. First thing you remember wanting to be when you grew up?
Either a minister or a lawyer.

25. No matter how much money you have or don’t have, what are you an absolute snob about?
Like Alvy Singer, the Woody Allen character in Annie Hall, I don’t go to movies late. Not only might I be missing something important, but I can’t see when the lights are down, at all.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Sometimes, there are movies that I really wanted to see at the time they came out but, for some reason, I don’t. This was certainly true of The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). It was well reviewed and had name stars (George Clooney voicing the title character, Meryl Streep as his wife).

Finally, this summer, it showed up at the nearby Madison Theatre, and the Wife and I attended one weekend afternoon. The premise is interesting: “An urbane fox cannot resist returning to his farm raiding ways and then must help his community survive the farmers’ retaliation.” The idea of fighting against one’s nature and take responsibility for his family versus the lure of one more series of thefts.

I liked the early part of the film well enough. When the farmers threaten the entire animal ecosystem, the film was more engaging. I enjoyed the stop-motion animation throughout, but the Daughter opted not to see the film because, just on the previews, the movie looked “creepy” to her.

Bill Murray has a very distinctive voice as Badger, even in animation (Jungle Book). Also solid Jason Schwartzman as the mopey Ash Fox, Eric Chase Anderson as Ash’s cousin Kristofferson, Willem Dafoe as Rat (naturally) and Owen Wilson as Coach Skip.

Wes Anderson is a writer/director I either enjoy (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom) or not (The Royal Tenenbaums). I liked the film.

This was annoying, though: some rube sitting behind us, but on the other side of the aisle was periodically flashing a red pointer at the screen. I thought the guys sitting immediately in front of them were going to punch out the culprit.

And I Was more sad than angry because he was just encouraging people to stay home to watch on DVD or some streaming service rather than enjoying film in a more communal way. Given the fact the movie only cost us 35 cents apiece to watch – the first showing of the “family” film on Saturday is always a bargain, so you can spend more on the concessions – this joy sucker helps diminish the art form.

Here’s the trailer for The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

J is for Tom Jones

One of those guys I’m friends with on Facebook, after wishing for something impractical, wrote: “Well, here is a better, and more tasteful desire: I want to see Tom Jones make a bare-bones acoustic guitar album, a la Johnny Cash.”

It’s pretty clear to me and most people that those American Recordings of Cash in the 1990s and early 2000s represent some of the finest music in his career. As it turns out, Welsh singer Sir Thomas John Woodward, OBE, has already followed suit.

Praise & Blame came out 26 July 2010. “The album was Jones’ first release with Island Records and was recorded in 2009… [It] was made up of largely little known devotional and gospel covers, marking a departure from the pop-orientated style that had dominated Jones’ recent recordings…

“Upon its release, Praise & Blame received generally positive reviews from most critics. Giving the album four stars, Andrew Perry in The Daily Telegraph claimed that the album was ‘by far Jones’ best album in two decades’ and stated that “with its loose, spontaneous sound, and the all-pervasive sense of artistic rebirth… it’s a revelation.'”

Spirit in the Room (2012): “Tom Jones is still commendably committed to re-imagining himself as a Rick Rubin-years Johnny Cash, by way of interestingly oddball selections of Americana and bespoke blues covers.”

Long Lost Suitcase (2016): “Andre Paine, reviewing for the Evening Standard also gave it four stars, stating ‘At 75, Jones’s volcanic vocal still sounds majestic on an album that maintains the artistic rejuvenation of recent years.'”

I have the first two albums of the trilogy of albums produced by Ethan Johns, and I like them a lot. They’re a far cry from What’s New Pussycat and It’s Not Unusual.

Listen to:

What Good Am I here or here

Burning Hell here or here

Run On here; Johnny Cash performed the same song, as “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”, on American V: A Hundred Highways (recorded in 2003, released posthumously in 2006)

Bad as Me here or here

Hit or Miss here or here

Travelin’ Shoes here

Dimming of the Day here

Charlie Darwin here or here