Sunday, March 5, 2017

Headin' 'em up and movin' 'em out, or Rip Van Winkle wakes up

Laura Devon and Dino

(It's much a surprise to me to be doing this again as it is to anybody else but I saw something on TV yesterday that I couldn't get out of my head until I wrote about it, hence the following.)

In the rush to anoint whatever bright, shiny new television series comes along as "The Best Thing Ever" one loses sight of the fact that somewhere, somehow high quality television has always existed.

TV westerns are a long-dormant genre that few remember with any affection today but you go back and watch some of those old programs and you're astonished at how good they could be. In the late 50's and early 60's CBS had a Murderer's Row lineup of stunningly good westerns with Gunsmoke, Have Gun, Will Travel and Rawhide. Rawhide is remembered today, if at all, as where Clint Eastwood got his start but this show about the travails of cowboys on a cattle drive is worth watching in its own right.  I just saw an episode from Season 7 called "Canlis" that is stunningly good.

The regular cast of trail hands is just along the periphery of this story.  The real focus is on a man named Gird Canlis, a hired killer, who comes to a Southwestern village with his wife to gun down the town's leading rancher. His wife, Augusta, knows her husband's business and wants him to quit and come with her to settle in her old homeland in Louisiana.  Augusta pleads with the rancher to stay out of Canlis' way but one of his hotheaded friends forces a showdown which escalates the tension of the situation before it all resolves in a very unexpected way.

The show was written by Stirling Silliphant, who's best known for another excellent show of this period, Route 66. His literate script paints a portrait of a gunman who is very meticulous and careful about his jobs but has a deep and trusting love of his wife who's equally devoted to him. Dean Martin, who always did some of his best acting in westerns, plays Canlis and Laura Devon plays Augusta and they're both completely involving in their parts.  For the length of this show you almost forget that this man agonizing over a life of killing is the same one who clowned around with Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra in other settings.

I won't spoil the ending but it is a real surprise and goes against the macho code of honor that's usually considered the template for western shows.  There are also a number of familiar actors in supporting roles like Michael Ansara, Theodore Bikel, Ramon Navarro and Scott Marlowe making this episode, from the viewpoint of fifty years later, seem even more impressive.

The best of the old TV westerns told stories about people with depth and insight that rivals anything out today.  I've seen other good episodes of Rawhide like "Incident Of The Shambling Man" with Victor McLaglen and Anne Francis but this one is above and beyond. And guess what? Clint Eastwood isn't even in it.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

"Tea break over, lads. Back on your heads."

At least I've got a good reason for being gone this time.

About a month after I last wrote something here, I met my soulmate and I've been spending a lot of time with her ever since.  That's consumed all my attention and I haven't been getting out to see any shows or watch many movies, though I have been doing my radio show every week. In March I moved in with my girlfriend and that required even more adjustment in fitting all my stuff into her house as well as becoming stepfather to her cats.

After a couple of months things are beginning to settle down and my writing impulses are starting to flow so hopefully I'll be finding things to write about again.  This house has no cable TV but Verizon is supposed to install it in June 9 (fingers crossed) after postponing twice because of their strike.  I really haven't missed it too much outside of Turner Classic Movies and Adult Swim but I'm looking forward to having it back. Meanwhile I've been exploring digital sub-channels, discovering the Western anthology show, Zane Grey Theater, and examining 30 and 40 year old game shows on Buzzr. I've also come to enjoy Vera, a British detective series WETA-UK has been showing that stars Brenda Blethyn as a motherly police inspector and begun checking out German, French and Japanese news programs on MHz Networks.

As for movies, I haven't seen anything in a theater lately outside of the Maggie Smith film, The Lady In The Van.  I have seen a few things though thanks to old standbys, Netflix and Classic Flix.  I've seen a couple of big name pictures like Island Of Lost Souls, Howards' End and the excellent Brian Wilson biography Love And Mercy.  I've also checked out Chico And Rita, an animated love story that traces the history of Afro-Cuban jazz, The Big Operator, a bargain basement crime film starring Mickey Rooney as a crooked labor boss, Massacre, a surprisingly progressive early Thirties' movie about modern-day Native Americans and VHS, a so-so horror anthology.

My radio gig is the most fun I have by myself these days. My show was voted the best new one of 2015 on Radio Fairfax and I look forward to putting it together and going on the air every Tuesday. I like it so much I'm thinking of expanding, trying my luck with a similar program on a low power FM station in Arlington that has just been going a few months.

The point of all this is that I'm still alive and well and I'm starting to feel like getting back into my old routine. Hopefully that means I'll be writing more, here and maybe other places. I'm not promising anyhting. Time will tell.

Friday, September 4, 2015

"Aqua Teen Gonna Live Forever!"

Hey, weren't you guys supposed to be leaving?

A funny thing happened last Sunday night at 12:00 midnight. Adult Swim's own website said that it would be following the previous week's finale of Aqua Teen Hunger Force with a repeat of the series' premiere episode, "Raboot".  Instead they showed Master Shake and Meatwad watching last week's episode leading into...a new episode!?

With anyone else, I'd call that a snotty trick. With these guys nothing surprises me.

 Keeping with the season name Aqua Teen Hunger Force Forever, the episode had the boys debating different ways of becoming immortal. Shake and Meatwad went the religious route, putting their trust in the Bibble (sic) and the teachings of Jimmy while Carl and Frylock took on the powers Christopher Lambert's immortal Highlander character.  The somber nature of the previous "final episode" was gone as the boys gleefully chopped, shot and blew each other up and constantly regenerated. There was even room for curtain calls by many past guest characters like the Mooninites, the Plutonians, Hand Banana, Raboot, the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past and a few others I couldn't recall by name. At the end Frylock and Carl were in jail on death row for killing Lambert but the executions never fazed them. The final shot is of the boys watching this show on television and saying "That's the end!?"

This ending really reflected the wiseguy absurdity of ATHF and the truth that in a world that constantly recycles media content on different platforms, no TV show dies forever any more. Very clever, guys. Just don't do another new ending this Sunday, okay?

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Milkshake, a Meatball and a Box of Fries walk into a room...

2001 - 2015

The end.

We bid you goodnight.


After 15 years and 138 episodes Aqua Teen Hunger Force has rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisibule.  The final double-sized episode premiered Sunday night and the show went off as true to itself as Breaking Bad.  Frylock died when the jewel on his back burned out, Master Shake was devoured by hostile clams and Meatwad grew up to marry a mortgage lender and raise two kids in the suburbs. What else would you expect?

Aqua Teen was the first home-grown show on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block that wasn't based on old Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters.  The concept went for broke in its craziness, three human-sized talking pieces of fast food living in the New Jersey suburbs and fighting crime when they weren't sneaking into the pool of their next door neighbor, Carl, a fat, balding, veritable Goodfellas extra.  On the very first show they were dealing with a giant dancing, mechanical rabbit that had escaped from the lab of a nearby mad scientist, and things progressed from there each week in 11-minute bursts of concentrated insanity.  Pretty soon they dropped the crime fighting gimmick and became just three roommates encountering love-starved mummies, thieving moon men, radioactive zombie pets, and a blood-drinking spider named Willie Nelson that lived in their attic. The personalities of the main characters balanced each other very well. Frylock was the nerdy voice of reason, Shake was a loud, obnoxious pile of "me, me, me" and Meatwad was an indestructible, child-brained innocent who cheerfully endured all of Shake's tortures.

The show's creators, Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro, amazingly wrote every episode and developed a framework flexible enough to allow for shows that focused on Carl's tribulations like being visited by the spirit of New York Giant Bart Oatts,  finding out what his life would have been like if he had a full head of hair or getting sexually assaulted by a dog cloned from Shake's hand (Yes, this was a very weird show.)  Carl even became the main character for a few episodes when he had to show the Aqua Teen's house to new tenants while the guys were being held prisoner off camera by their vampire landlord. The flexibility even applied to the show's title which changed each season after the 100th episode. From Aqua Teen Hunger Force, it became Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1, Aqua Something You Know Whatever, Aqua TV Show Show (with a great chilled-out jazzy theme by Flying Lotus) and finally Aqua Teen Hunger Force Forever.

There was an unsually somber episode where Frylock got skin cancer and a live action one where Shake was played by Bob Burgers' H. Jon Benjamin, Frylock by rapper T-Pain, Meatwad by a red exercise ball and Carl by the winner of a real Carl-lookalike contest. Animation purists weren't happy that the action was little more than moving cutouts back and forth but for me, the non-stop lunatic verbal humor trumped all.  The voice actors, Dana Snyder as Shake, Carey Means as Frylock and Dave Willis pulling double duty as the "dese, dem, dose" Carl and the Southern baby-ish Meatwad, were consistently excellent.

Not every episode was great. I particularly didn't like the few where Shake, a complete jerk, came out on top but when the show was flying, nothing was better. Of course, no TV program goes away forever any more. Aqua Teen will probably stream on the Adult Swim website as long as it exists and the reruns will assuredly be a part of the TV block for a long time, joining other cancelled shows like King Of The Hill, Sealab 2021 and The Cleveland Show. However Sunday, with Patti Smith singing the closing theme, was the real end of the line. As Carl once said "Truly they were an Aqua Teen Hunger Force".

Friday, June 12, 2015

Dracula, The Dream and the Skies Of America

The past 48 hours have been one of those periods where you're afraid to open your computer or watch any kind of news anywhere. First it was the news that the great actor, Christopher Lee, had died. Then last night I saw that pro wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes had died also. Then this morning came word of Ornette Coleman's passing.  I don't know quite what to say.  Lee and Coleman were of an age where this wasn't unexpected but still there was no word they were in failing health and you don't want to admit your personal icons will ever die.

I loved Christopher Lee for all his great horror work as in the Hammer Studio Dracula films and The Wicker Man but I was also glad to see him get attention from younger audiences in recent years for acting in the Lord of The Rings trilogy.

I watched wrestling when I was a kid in the days of Bruno Sammartino and Killer Kowalski but I was turned off by the kiddie cartoon antics of Hulk Hogan and the rest of Vince McMahon's 1980's WWWF.  Then in 1986 I stumbled on the NWA's syndicated show and I was captivated by all their trash-talking, rough-looking badasses. Above all, one man stood out to me, a guy with curly white hair, the girth of a bus and a line in Southern patter that would put a Baptist preacher to shame. That was The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes. I grew to appreciate the mastery of other performers in that era like Ric Flair and Jim Cornette, but I always held a soft spot for that big, boogalooing tough guy who practically talked in his own language.

Then there's Ornette Coleman, simply one of the most important musicians of the last sixty years, the man who brought true freedom to jazz, the visionary who some reviled and called a fraud when he first emerged but who lived long enough to enjoy the accolades and love that befitted his genius.  There hadn't been much activity from him in recent years, and the one recording that came out last year is now looked on as a bit shady,  but still it hurts to lose him.  I had already prepared my next radio show for next Tuesday but I just junked that for a small Coleman tribute, though I currently have access to far fewer of his recordings than I should.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Coming June 9th: "The Outer View"

It's now official.  I'll be doing a weekly radio show on Radio Fairfax starting June 9th.  It'll be called "The Outer View" and it will be on from 2 to 3 PM. I'll be concentrating on various styles and groupings within modern jazz, starting on the first program with large ensembles.

The show is available on cable TV in the Northern Virginia area but also online at and on TuneIn Radio.

As I said before I hope to use this blog to talk in a general way about some of the artists I'll be playing and the approaches I'll be investigating.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

No, I ain't dead yet.

I don't even want to think how long it's been since I wrote something here.  Obviously this retirement stuff sapped most of the forward motion and organization out of me to the point where I cannot get my brain organized enough to even write anymore.

Hopefully though I will be doing something soon that might put some structure back into my life.  I'm at the verge of finally getting my own radio show, which would be on Fairfax County's public access station. If it happens that would be a one hour, weekly timeslot where I would be playing any music any I wanted, which means jazz in all those weird little niches and tangents I love so much, stuff like Carla Bley and all the British players and oddball vocalists I love which even the more progressive radio outlets around here don't touch.

If that happens (and I should be getting a final yea or nay in the next week or so) I may start using this blog as an adjunct to the show, doing posts on certain artists I'll be playing, something I was doing haphazardly in this latest spurt of posting. Lord knows if I'll get myself together enough to write anything else, but we'll see. After all my stop and start actions here, I don't want to make any more promises.

Since I am here now though, here is a small tribute to a great bluesman who just left us. Rest in peace, B. (When I went to YouTube to get this video, the recent comments underneath were mostly in foreign languages like French, Russian, German, Spanish and Italian. That says everything about how universally loved he was.)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Rigmor Gustafsson - "Calling You"

I said I was no longer going to post video or audio clips without any sort of context but now I need to make an exception because I know almost nothing about this artist. I was just looking up things on YouTube when I ran across a Swedish jazz singer named Rigmor Gustafsson who seems to be very acclaimed in her home country.  I watched clips of her performing "The Girl From Ipanema" and "The Windmills Of Your Mind" and was impressed by the natural soulfulness of her voice. Then I clicked on a live performance of her doing the song "Calling You" from the movie Bagdad Café with a string quartet.

Oh. My. God.

I've always liked this song but listening to her voice purr against those slow strings almost brought me to tears. I literally cannot listen to anything else right now.

Needless to say I just ordered the CD.