“My Country”

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I’ve been watching quite a bit of television lately, but in my defense, I think most of it was time well spent.  The premieres of Gotham and Sleepy Hollow were pretty darn cool (but I’m pretty sure Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has lost me).  And PBS has given me some lovely time with antiques and Richard III.  Okay, there was a bunch of time with football and poker, which will be repeated this weekend.  But a special deal with Time Warner and a local channel meant I got to hear the dulcet tones of Vin Scully while I was jotting some notes the other night.  (I don’t particularly like baseball, but Vin is one of the warm voices from my childhood.)

I’ve been writing a bit, too.  An idea came to me in a dream the other day, and I’ve been trying to flesh it out.  I sent my notes to Mr. BFF because he is my go-to guy for Science Fiction, and this idea falls under that umbrella.  I’m trying to write more regularly again.  Not just the blog (which clearly, I’ve fallen down on a bit lately), but possible stories and novels.  And poetry.  I beginning to miss writing poetry.  Maybe after the relative peace of my 30s and early 40s I’m ready to get back into angst.  Who knows.

But TV has been a thing for me.  And it will be for the next little while.  I’ve got several hours worth of The Roosevelts by Ken Burns to catch up on.  Mom said it was pretty good, so I’m very much looking forward to firing up the DVR.  But not tonight.  Tonight, it’s an episode of 20/20 about those creepy little girls who tried to murder their friend so they could meet the Slenderman.  Hey, I only watch PBS part of the time.

“I Love L.A.”

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Randy Newman can be mocking, sarcastic, angry, and depressed.  He can be frighteningly prescient and wickedly funny.  But every song he sings, comes from a place of love.  He truly loves music and the characters he creates, even the somewhat distasteful ones.  He has a deep sense of the history of the U.S., and a wonderful sense of what makes people both unique and sympathetic.  He doesn’t pull any punches, but he doesn’t take any cheap shots, either.

Which is why a song like “I Love L.A.” works.  It’s both mocking and loving of this deeply strange and deeply fun place.  Los Angeles and the surrounding area is difficult to imagine if you’ve never been here.  There’s so much that’s commercialized and commodified; we’ve been packaged and sold so many times, we don’t know who owns what anymore.  But there are also pockets where there are no chain stores (or it’s a chain of, say, two shops).  Between Disneyland and Hollywood, there’s a very real sense that everything is fake; the copious amounts of plastic surgery, hair weaves, and spray tans don’t really add much reality to the scene.  Not to mention the mostly unreal weather (it’s what they call June gloom right now, where the coasts stay socked in with clouds for a good chunk of the day, keeping temperatures down; we’ll miss this come July and August).  But we also have some of the finest universities, more than a few terrific museums, and more good food than you can eat in a lifetime.  Reality might be subjective around here, but you’ll always find someone willing to debate it with you.

Right now, all people are seeing of my home is footage of a criminal rampage that ended in a lot of death and destruction.  And we’re being reminded of the terror inspired by serial killer Richard Ramirez, aka The Night Stalker, who died in prison yesterday.  I just felt the need to remind the rest of the world that we kind of rock out here in LaLa land.  We are funky and fun, and you can always find a good taco, day or night.  (Great, now I want a taco.)  I also want to send out a big psychic hug to everyone here.  Things might not be totally awesome today, but there’s always tomorrow.

“The Naked Man”

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Disclaimer: There are no actual naked men in this post.  Considering the song is by Randy Newman, that’s probably a good thing.

They announced the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees for 2013 today.  I am sorry to say The Meters did not make it.  Oh sure, Rush and Heart and Public Enemy got in.  They were the shoo-ins as far as I was concerned.  Albert King and Donna Summer were both borderline, but they don’t surprise me much.  And it’s not the least bit surprising Lou Adler and Quincy Jones made it in the non-performer category.  But no love for The Meters. *sigh*

Of course, I didn’t really think Randy Newman stood a chance.  He obviously deserves it, because he is absolutely brilliant, but come on, look how long it took the Academy to give him an Oscar.  I figured he was just a little too esoteric, a little too acerbic, to be inducted any time soon.  People just don’t get Randy Newman.  His music is very often satirical, but he delivers his songs so earnestly, a lot of people think he’s serious.  These are the same people who think Jonathan Swift really thought people should eat babies to reduce famine in Ireland; they just don’t get it.  Luckily, enough people understood Randy Newman this year.  I, for one, am really looking forward to his speech.  He’s not just funny in his songs.  I remember an interview in Rolling Stone, where he was talking about his struggles with Epstein-Barr.  He had commented to his manager, who would call him daily to try and get him moving, and he said to the man “If I was a potato. . . would you put me on the bench and say ‘Sing, potato, sing!'” (a quote I’m pretty sure is close to accurate; I definitely remember “Sing, potato, sing!”).  It’s been my catchphrase upon hearing or seeing Newman ever since.

“The Naked Man” got a little attention a few years ago when it was used in an episode of Monk (for which Newman wrote and performed the theme).  It’s pretty typical Randy Newman–absurd and cynical, with just the slightest hint of sweetness.  I’m not sure who he’s poking fun at here, but only Randy Newman could make a purse-snatching, incestuous nudist seem sympathetic.

Sing, potato, sing!

“Burn On”

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Ready for a little history lesson?  No?  Too bad.

In 1969, just a few weeks before we landed on the moon, the Cuyahoga river in Ohio caught fire.  This was not, apparently, the first time the Cuyahoga caught fire.  There was a much more damaging fire in 1952, and fires on this particular body of water date back as far as the 1600s (thanks Wikipedia).  It sounds like a contradiction in terms, the ultimate oxymoron, burning water.  To be fair, it wasn’t exactly the water that caught fire.  It was all the pollution in the water.  Everybody knew it was disgustingly polluted, but little had been done to change it.  This was the Rust Belt, the industrial heart of America at the height of its economic and manufacturing powers.  People calling for clean up and regulation were considered a bunch of looney hippies at this point.

Then Time magazine reported on the Cuyahoga river fire in 1969, and brought this environmental atrocity to national attention.  And that attention led to, among other things, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.  There was a movement to clean up the river, to clean up all rivers and lakes and oceans.  While I am proud that this movement continues today, it makes me a little sad that it does still continue.  Don’t you think by now we could have figured out how to keep this disgusting crap out of our water?  Not as long as corporations are considered people, I suppose.

Randy Newman wrote a tragically lovely song about the incident, which appeared on his 1972 masterpiece Sail Away and was later used as the opening theme to Major League, a very funny movie about the Cleveland Indians.  There really isn’t much to say about it, since it speaks for itself very nicely.  Newman is one of the finest, funniest, most acerbic and articulate songwriters there is.  Long may his creative fires burn.

Be kind to the water out there, boys and girls.  Be kind to all the animals and plants.  Do as little harm as you possibly can.  And someday, maybe, songs like this will be nothing but amusing historical artifacts.