Adam West

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When I saw the news that TV’s favorite Batman Adam West had passed today, I was sadder than I thought I would be.  The 1960s television version of Batman is often ridiculed for its cartoonish action, ham-handed moralizing, and general silliness.  People of my generation grew up on this version, but we were indoctrinated into the Dark Knight school of Batman characterization in the 80s and 90s; our then-teenaged psyches found more to love in the troubled, vengeful version that is so ubiquitous today than we did in the brightly-colored uprightness of our childhoods.  But Adam West’s portrayal of Batman as a decent man who fought crime because it was the right thing to do became a pop culture touchstone, and made West an icon.

Adam West did a lot of other acting besides Batman, but that character is what he will be most remembered for.  One of the things I loved is how he embraced it and how he in turn used it as a base for much of his recent work.  West did voice acting for a number of cartoons, and he used the same cadences and phrasings he did as Batman.  It made him easily recognizable and, I think, brought a lot of warm feelings to those who remembered that voice from Saturdays in front of the TV.

So I bid a fond farewell to West with the Batman theme, a tune almost as iconic as his portrayal of the Caped Crusader.  Composed by jazzman Neal Hefti, the catchy “na na na na na na na na” riff runs throughout and is really what makes it such an effective ear worm.  (Seriously.  Try to get it out of your head.  I dare you.)  Because this version of Batman relied so heavily on the comic book version of the character that was popular at the time, this is exactly the kind of music you’d expect to hear if a comic book could play music when you opened it.  With its jazzy and surf undertones, it was perfect.

So long, Mr. West.  Thank you for bringing so much happiness to so many people.

“A Real Indication”

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I just watched David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the 1992 prequel to his brilliant television show.  The film’s ostensible story is the telling of what happened in the days just before Laura Palmer’s death.  It’s real story is a human soul and mind in disintegration, of the hidden dangers lurking just beneath the seemingly normal exterior of the human psyche.  One of the things I enjoy most about Lynch’s work is their deliberate interiority, the way the line between what is real and imagined is blurred into non-existence.  It’s difficult to tell the difference between things that happen in the physical world, the so-called “real” world, and the things that happen in the minds of his characters.  It’s a very real possibility that there is no “real” world in Lynch’s films, just an extended dream sequence meant to represent the darkest thoughts, desires, and nightmares of human beings.  In short, this is one weird movie.

This song from the soundtrack of Fire Walk With Me is definitely cut from the same cloth as the film.  David Lynch wrote the lyrics, Angelo Badalamenti the music.  And like everything else Lynch has his hands on, there is a sense of unreality to this song.  It’s unmoored from context or genre.  Jazzy but not quite Jazz.  Spoken, not quite sung.  It reminds of Pere Ubu or the Residents.  Or Was Not Was’ great “Dad, I’m in Jail.”  I googled the name of the band listed as the performer, but there doesn’t seem to be any information on Thought Gang; most of the hits related to a novel of the same name by Tibor Fischer.  That seems appropriate.

It’s also totally appropriate that this clip simply uses the empty red room from Special Agent Dale Cooper’s dreams.  And Laura Palmer’s dreams.  And the Black Lodge.  You won’t know what any of this means unless you’ve seen Twin Peaks.  I’m not sure you’ll understand this post at all unless you’ve seen Twin Peaks.  I highly recommend both the TV show and the movie, and pretty much every other movie David Lynch has made.  He’s one of my favorite filmmakers, although I admit to not having seen several of his films; I think he’d like that.  I am positively vibrating in anticipation of the new Twin Peaks episodes premiering in May.  I’ve been watching whatever they air on Showtime in preparation for the return to one of my favorite imaginary places.  But then again, isn’t every place in Lynch’s world imaginary?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden craving for cherry pie.

“A Whole New World”

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Some years ago (at least three, but probably more) the Disney behemoth began advertising its Hawaiian resort Aulani with this utterly enchanting version of “A Whole New World” from Aladdin.  Even in the little bit they played in the commercial, I was in love with it.

I’ll be the first one to admit I don’t know much about Yuna, the singer who created this song (anyone who does can click here).  But she gives me the general impression of being quite charming.  I also believe she is a Muslim, which means she is persona non grata in Trump’s worldview; all Muslims are terrorists to him.  Even the one’s who sing songs as wholesomely American as Disney songs.  Of course, this particular Disney movie is now suspect in Trump’s vision of the world.  It is, after all, set in an Arab country and features brown people as characters.

I didn’t mean to make this one political at all.  The song is just an innocent romp meant to further the Disney-fied romance between Aladdin and Princess Jasmine.  And this cover is, as I stated earlier, utterly enchanting.  I just wanted to share it with you.  And to remind you that not all Muslims are out to get Westerners.  Some of them just want to create music.

 

Mary Tyler Moore

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Not that long ago, I posted the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show as interpreted by Minneapolis Punk band Husker Du.  Now I’m posting it because Mary Tyler Moore has left this plane of existence.  (I hate saying “died.”  Yes, her physical body has died, but her spirit and energy will always be a part of the Universe.)

I like this clip because it includes just a bit from the final episode.  You can here the rest of the WJM gang singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” as Mary takes one last loving look at the newsroom before turning out the lights and closing the door.  It was a great good-bye then, and it’s a great one now.  So long, Mary.  I’ll be sure to laugh as hard for you as your TV namesake did for Chuckles the Clown.  (And please, jukebox listeners, for your own sakes track down the episode “Chuckles Bites the Dust” if you haven’t seen it.  You will never be sorry.)

A Peek Inside My Brain

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I sometimes feel as though my entire brain is an iPod on shuffle.  Random songs pop into my head at odd times.  It’s been like this for years, even before I got an iPod, although it has been a bit more. . . pronounced, shall we say, since I bought that first one many years ago.

There’s two perennial staples on my mental playlist, songs that generally come up when I’m doing some kind of mundane task.  The first is what I call my Filing Song.

While I enjoy Frank Sinatra, this particular song has never actually been a favorite.  But when I spend more than five minutes filing (like I used to have to do at the community college I used to work at), “Strangers in the Night” just appears like the proverbial bad penny.  I don’t sing the lyrics; I don’t even know most of the lyrics.  I just hum, and occasionally “do be do be do” to the tune.  It’s a satisfying enough way to occupy my brain, although I’d prefer to alphabetize to “All of Me.” (If I’ve been filing too long, I get a little lost in the middle, and have to sing the ABC song to remind myself if K comes before or after M, but that’s a different story altogether.)

The other song that randomly, and rather aggressively, injects itself into my consciousness is a Disney classic.

I don’t think I’ve seen this version of the Three Little Pigs since I was in single digits, but “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” has been on rotation ever since.  Just as I mysteriously associate “Strangers in the Night” with filing, this song is mostly a kitchen tune.  Cooking brings it to the forefront of my brain and I find myself singing the chorus (the only words I remember) over and over in a high-pitched, kiddie-style voice.  Why?  How the hell should I know?

What these two songs seem to best illustrate to me is that some melodies are so ubiquitous either to the culture or our personal experience that they become woven into the fabric of our lives.  Also, that I have virtually zero control over what pops into my head for which reason.  The human brain is a weird and wonderful place, but I wouldn’t want to get lost in mine.

Gene Wilder

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I step away from music for a moment to remember Gene Wilder.  He was one of those actors I’ve always loved because he was a presence in my childhood.  Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles (my favorite) were staples in my family from the moment they were released.  I didn’t see Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory until I was an adult.  (And the fact that the adult comedies were staples of my childhood while I had to seek out the kids’ movie as a grown-up should tell you a great deal about why I’m such a twisted little weirdo.  Although that is one twisted kids’ movie.)  Wilder was also a favorite of mine for his devotion to his wife, the brilliant Gilda Radner, during her illness and ultimate death from cancer.  He was a very funny and very good man.

News of his death today from complications of Alzheimer’s makes me terribly sad for all of us on this plane of existence.  But for everyone he loved who have already transitioned to the other plane–people like Gilda and frequent co-star Richard Pryor–there is much rejoicing.  Now they can all be brilliantly funny together again.

Marni Nixon

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You’ve heard Marni Nixon’s voice hundreds of times, even if you’ve never seen her face.  West Side Story.  My Fair Lady.  And one of the few musicals I enjoy, The King and I.  These and many other movie musical performances were the incomparably versatile Marni Nixon.  She was probably the most famous ghost singer in film history.  The studios would call her in when they didn’t feel the leading actress had a strong enough singing voice for the role.  Actresses like Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn were immensely talented (and highly photogenic), but not great singers.  They weren’t bad, but they weren’t as good as Marni.

Here’s one of my favorite musical clips ever, with Marni Nixon singing for Deborah Kerr.  “Shall We Dance” also happens to be one of the sexiest scenes in movie history, so feel free to enjoy the afterglow.  RIP, Marni.