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Gone to the Movies: “Suicide is Painless”

Posted by purplemary54 on May 25, 2015

I caught part of Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H on TCM the other night.  I’ve always been a huge fan of the TV show, and I really like the film–although I can see why some folks who saw the show first would be put off by it.  It’s black humor at its finest, with Altman’s signature style of vignettes and realistically overlapping chaos guiding the story of the lives of the personnel in a mobile army surgical hospital during the Korean War.  (I will never call it a “police conflict” even though that was its official designation.)  The movie was much more like the book, which I also read.  The film and the book are vicious satires of war and social mores, although that was somewhat diluted by the charm of the series.

Here’s the context for the song: The 4077th’s dentist has decided to kill himself because he couldn’t, uh, perform one night.  The surgeons, including Hawkeye and Trapper John, indulge his moment of vanity by setting up a fake good-bye party and giving him a “black pill” that is probably nothing more than a mild sedative.  They all say their farewells while the song is sung (yeah, there are lyrics to go along with the ubiquitous melody).  Later, Hawkeye convinces a nurse who’s going home to have sex with the dentist as a way to get him back in the saddle.  This is apparently no hardship for anyone since the joke about the dentist is that he is, um, quite well-endowed.  From the recreation of The Last Supper at the beginning, to the “resurrection” via sex at the end, the scene is perfectly played.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the name of the dentist up until now.  If you’ve seen the movie, you already understand the double meaning of the song’s title.  (If you haven’t, well, you should.  It’s a great flick.)  The dentist’s nickname?  Painless.

Of course, the idea that “suicide is painless” is also ironic.  There is nothing painless about suicide, for anyone involved.  The somewhat nonsensical lyrics of the song and the smiling, easy to hum tune belie the reality of the act.  Johnny Mandel wrote the music, while Robert Altman’s son Mike wrote the lyrics, which the director reportedly wanted to be as dumb as possible  (Altman’s son was only fourteen when he co-wrote “Suicide is Painless” for his dad).  Of course, the whole scene in the movie is about the unreality of this particular act, highlighted by the selfishly trivial reasoning behind it.  The dumbness of the lyrics are actually a perfect fit for the dumbness of suicide.

Posted in Gone to the Movies, Music, Soundtracks | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ireland Rocks!

Posted by purplemary54 on May 23, 2015

Ireland just became the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage through popular vote.  Over 60% of Irish voters participated, and over 60% of those voters approved the measure.

It is indeed a beautiful day.  Go Ireland!

Posted in Music, Rock | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

David Letterman’s Last Show

Posted by purplemary54 on May 20, 2015

Tonight is David Letterman’s final Late Night show.  Over the years, I’ve found him to be funny, exasperating, insightful, annoying, angry, caustic, generous, and very very entertaining.  The early years, when he was still on NBC, are some of the most creative television ever.  The main reason Letterman doesn’t make headlines the way he used to is because just about every other late night talk show is patterned after his.  (They all realized long ago that no one was ever going to come close to Johnny Carson’s greatness.  And Letterman was always edgier anyway.)

I loved the Top Ten lists.  I loved the wonderfully cantankerous give and take he had with his regular guests, many of them also his friends.  Dave wasn’t the best interviewer, but he would give his guests the room to fly or fail (both were equally entertaining).  His running bits and video remotes and all the other stuff will go down, rightfully, as one of the biggest influences on the late night comedy genre.  But one of my favorite parts of the show was also one of the least original.

Everybody on late night has a band (Craig Ferguson was the only exception I know of).  They introduce the star, lead into and out of commercial breaks, and serve as back-up for some of the musical guests.  There isn’t anything special about having a band, or that they’re a good group of musicians.  But Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band were special.  Please note that I didn’t call them the CBS Orchestra, because that name never really suited them; they were dangerous.  Not because there was any sense that they would suddenly go off the rails, but because they were the smartest, tightest, most versatile group of musicians ever to grace the small screen.  They could play anything with anyone, and they were Dave’s not-so-secret weapon.  Even if everything else on the show fell flat, you could count on Paul and the band to turn in a wicked good performance.  Monday night’s performance with the great Eddie Vedder should be proof enough of how terrific this group is.  I know they can all probably retire and live comfortably, but I hope they keep playing–preferably together.

Posted in Music | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

B.B. King

Posted by purplemary54 on May 14, 2015

Sorry I disappeared this week; I had a bunch of posts planned, but then I got lazy and distracted.  I just hate coming back with news like this.

I just heard on the radio that B.B. King has died, probably of complications related to his long-term struggles with diabetes.  I’d heard a couple of weeks ago that he was in hospice care, and my heart just sank.  When someone is in hospice, that’s pretty much it.  And while King lived and loved and made the world a little bit better for 89 years, it’s still pretty sad to lose his presence.

He was as big and outsized as his smile; you could see the power of his heart written on his face whenever that smile appeared.  He had so much talent and personality that it seemed impossible for anything to stop him.  I’m sure there will be much more eloquent accolades from better writers and critics than me.  I’m just a music fan, and I’m so grateful that B.B. King shared his music with us.

Posted in Music, Rock | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues

Posted by purplemary54 on May 7, 2015

I used to have this album.  I remember buying it, listening to it, and enjoying it.  But I didn’t listen to it all that often, I guess, and it got purged at some point.  Which was probably a mistake.  Because this really is a terrific album.

I first heard of Buddy Guy because of Stevie Ray Vaughan.  Guy was one of the players onstage with SRV during his final set on August 27, 1990.  He released Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues in 1991.  It was called a comeback of sorts, although Guy had been recording and performing since the 60s.  I guess it was something of a commercial comeback, since his name was back in the spotlight (a little bit, anyway) with the coverage surrounding SRV’s untimely death.  I know I bought it partly because I viewed it as something of a tribute to Stevie Ray, even though I knew better.

The other more tangible reason I bought it was Guy’s blistering version of “Mustang Sally,” which made it into MTV’s rotation.  All the tracks are great, but for a Blues novice like I was then (and still kind of am), “Mustang Sally” was probably the most accessible entry point.  Really, I should consider getting this one again.  It’s definitely worth the time.  Buddy Guy’s guitar is one of the best in the Blues.

Posted in Music | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Errol Brown

Posted by purplemary54 on May 6, 2015

You might not know the name, but you sure do know the voice.

Come on.  You know how much you love this song.

Errol Brown was the lead singer for Hot Chocolate, an interracial Funk/R&B group who had a major hit with “You Sexy Thing” in the 70s.   (That’s him rockin’ that striped satin suit.)  Brown also co-wrote “Brother Louie,” which might be more informally known by its chorus “Louie, Louie, Louie.”  (It’s best known these days as the theme to Louis C.K.’s hit comedy on FX.)  But the Jamaican born singer-songwriter quit the music business when he got married and had a family.  I’ll bet he still sang all the time; you don’t have a voice like that and not love making music.  But he didn’t need the fame, which is something I greatly respect.  That kind of integrity will be sorely missed.

Posted in Music, Obituaries, R&B/Soul | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Posted by purplemary54 on May 5, 2015

I don’t really have much to say today, but I didn’t want to slack off like I did yesterday, missing both Star Wars day and the anniversary of the Kent State Shootings (I still might post on that one).  Today’s holiday is pretty much an American invention, even if the day does have historical significance.  It’s still not Mexican Independence Day, though.

But if you feel so inclined, have a margarita or two and make tacos for dinner.  Celebrate because celebrating is fun.

Posted in Music, Rock | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Ben E. King

Posted by purplemary54 on May 1, 2015

One of the great voices of Rock/Soul/R&B is silent.  Ben E. King died today at 76.

King was most famous for his solo hit, “Stand By Me,” and deservedly so.  It’s a fantastic song.  King imbued such incredible emotion into that plea for love and loyalty.  It’s kind of hard to pin down exactly what’s going on, there’s so many emotions tumbling around each other.  There’s sadness and love and happiness, and who knows what else.  It is a song about triumph over fear, and it is one of the classics of popular music.

This video was made when “Stand By Me” became a hit for a second time with the 1986 movie of the same title.  Based on a Stephen King short story, the movie was a tender, funny, and sad coming of age story about four boys and their friendships.  I’d forgotten this video was made to support the film, but I’m sure I must have seen it.  (I have to admit that I’m a little partial to John Lennon’s version of “Stand By Me,” but that’s mostly because I’m a little partial to John Lennon.)

My favorite Ben E. King performance was from when he was with the Drifters.  “Save the Last Dance for Me” is one of the sweetest and saddest love songs ever.  There’s such longing in King’s voice as he delivers the lines, “But don’t forget who’s taking you home and in whose arms you’re gonna be.  Save the last dance for me.”  I love that yearning ache he conveys so easily.

There seems to be an undercurrent of sadness to much of King’s oeuvre.  I’m not sure what kind of sadness he faced in his life, but I know there will be some tears shed for him today.  At least we still have these lovely performances to remember him by.

Posted in Music, R&B/Soul | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

“Stupid Girl”

Posted by purplemary54 on April 30, 2015

I’ve been using the word “stupid” a lot lately.  No real reason; it just seems like everyone and everything is kind of annoying to me right now.

This is one of the more mean-spirited songs from the Rolling Stones.  I mean, let’s face it, these men are not exactly bastions of enlightened feminism.  Calling them sexist pigs would really be an insult to pigs, since, as far as I know, pigs don’t care what sex anyone is.  Unlike some of their other disturbingly anti-woman songs, “Stupid Girl” has never been one of my favorites, although I can think of any number of reality TV stars it could be applied to.

Stupid just seems to be everywhere right now.  It’s like some kind of highly communicable disease: Everyone catches a case of it at least once in their lives, but if you’re lucky, it’s only mild and temporary.  But I see so much stupidity being treated like something worthwhile, it kind of burns me up. From politicians who proudly declare that they don’t know much about whatever important (and usually scientific) thing they’re trying to legislate against to a family of people whose last name begins with K and ends with “Oh my god, why do these people exist?”, stupid seems to be way too popular.  There was an epidemic of stupid in Baltimore the other day, which seems to be dying out but could flare up again at any moment.

I should take a moment to explain my definition of stupidity.  Stupid people are not those who are uneducated.  That’s simply being uneducated, and if you expose most people to ideas and knowledge, they will take in at least some of it.  Stupid is also not an inability to learn.  Developmental and mental problems are not stupidity; they are conditions that can be dealt with and adapted to.  No, stupid is the willful, conscious refusal to learn.  Stupid is the refusal to be open to new ideas and facts that may contradict or invalidate beliefs you hold dearly.  Stupid is the refusal to acknowledge that other people might not feel or believe the same things you do, and that you should not impose your beliefs or feelings on others without their permission.

So this merely adequate Rolling Stones song is dedicated to all you stupid people out there.  I’d say you know who you are, but you’re probably too busy declaring how smart you are to the rest of the world.

Posted in Music, Rock | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

“Raining in Baltimore”

Posted by purplemary54 on April 27, 2015

As if things weren’t bad enough.

I spent much of the weekend watching footage of Kathmandu, Nepal literally crumbled to pieces by a 7.8 earthquake.  There were occasional reports on the volcanic eruption in Chile, and I’d switch to other news which really wasn’t much better.  Fire, war, murder–in other words, the usual.  I thought things were relatively okay in Baltimore, in spite of this being the location of the latest death of an unarmed* black man in police custody.

Today shows me just how wrong I was.

I don’t know much about the arrest, injury, and subsequent death of Freddie Gray.  Frankly, neither does anyone else except for the arresting officers and the late Mr. Gray.  The mystery of how he was supposedly walking and talking when he was put in the back of the van and ended up with a nearly severed spinal cord and crushed voice box is one that has not been solved yet.  But the investigation has been fairly swift, and, since it involves the Feds, looks like it will be thorough.

The Baltimore PD has already essentially admitted they screwed up.  The brass has also made it pretty clear that the officers involved not only made mistakes, but that there will probably be criminal charges of some sort.  How do I know this?  Because the line when something like this is usually, “We believe our officers acted appropriately, and we stand behind our brothers in blue.”  But by saying that mistakes were made, and that further investigation is warranted, the department is throwing these guys under the bus.  One of the six officers involved has pled the Fifth, which tells me something really bad went down.  While the anger of the citizens of Baltimore, especially the African-American community is fully justified, I think all they had to do with this one is wait a couple of weeks.  I don’t know that charges will come down, but it looks like things are leaning that way.

Peaceful protests were held, but things started going downhill.  Today, after Gray’s funeral was held, rioting broke out on the streets of Baltimore.  There has been looting, police vehicles have been burned, and at least seven officers have been injured.  Who knows how many civilians have been and will be hurt. Tonight’s baseball game was postponed due to the rioting.

I get the anger.  Like I said, it’s justified.  But violence never is.  And looting businesses that didn’t have anything to do with any of this bullshit is really unnecessary.  The only people harmed by rioting are the people who are rioting and the innocents who happen to be in their path.  Baltimore has pretty much turned into a war zone, with stupid people taking advantage of genuine problems to create havoc.  If only rain were the only thing happening in Baltimore today.

*It’s been reported that Freddie Gray had a switchblade knife on him, and that’s what precipitated his arrest.  But a switchblade against the firearms of six policemen really doesn’t count as a serious threat to me.

Posted in Music, Rock, Singer-Songwriters | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


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