Thursday, December 31, 2009

January 1

As we begin a new year, I resolve to make more left turns. My most common candidates for this blog tend to be musicians, ones that have a neat music video I remember. But there's already plenty of music birthday sites out there (and at least one of them is awesome.) So, I'm not giving up video clips, and I'm not giving up musicians, but I'm going to try to feature other kinds of people.
Like Eichiro Oda, manga artist and creator of One Piece. He's kind of a manga prodigy; although he officially entered the Japanese comic book industry at 17, his first published character debuted years earlier. Actually, he started winning awards for his work at 17. At 19, he got hired as an assistant on the book Rurouni Kenshin, a comic that would eventually debut Luffy, the eventual hero of One Piece. At 22, One Piece debuted; it has since become the highest selling manga in history.
One Piece has since become a popular anime on both sides of the Pacific (although English-language fans are still waiting for a respectable dub), along with all the other typical spin-offs that a media darling inspires. New episodes are supposed to be on, but I don't know when they'll start charging, so let me share with you a classic AMV by Ninja of the Night, featuring clips from One-Piece atop "The Ballad of Captain Hampton" by the Aquabats:

The comic isn't that much different...

December 31

Let's hear it for Tom Hamilton, bassist for Aerosmith. He was bandmates with Joe Perry when they met Steven Tyler, so he's been there since before Aerosmith. Similarly, he lays the foundation of nearly every song they've done for decades. Here's the band's induction in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, playing a Hamilton-co-written composition, the breakthrough single "Sweet Emotion"

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

December 30

Today's a good day for a two-fer, so let's hear it for Davy Jones and Mike Nesmith of the Monkees. I enjoyed this show the second time around, which eradicates any semblance of cool I might have had.
First, props to Mike; he was writing and playing music before he joined the Monkees. He got to write and produce two songs per album, but that wasn't enough in the end. After the Monkees, he found plenty of success as a solo artist, a country-rock artist, songwriter, film producer - he's even credited with inventing the modern music video.
Here's Mike, front and center:

On to Davy Jones, a legend in the history of teen idols, and the other side of the Monkees equation. While Mike and Peter Tork were musicians who had to learn to act, Davy and Mickey Dolenz were former child stars cast to play the part of musicians.
(Davy had an inkling of what he was getting himself into; he was on Ed Sullivan's show the same night the Beatles debuted.) After the Monkees, he bounced between TV, stage, racing horses, breeding horses, and singing with his former bandmates.
This year, he starred in a stage production of Aladdin, and married his real-life co-star, who is, as of today, half his age. Also, 'hot' in that Latin way. Also, 'crazy,' allegedly, and not just in that Latin way.
Here's a fan-made montage of Davy doing what he does best:

Monday, December 28, 2009

december 29

Good artists can become great artists, but how does someone become the kind of artist that expands the vocabulary of a medium itself? Somebody like comic-book artist Dave McKean?

It's folks like McKean that render the potentials in comic book art toward the infinite. When I first saw his Black Orchid mini-series, I kind of liked it, although it didn't feel like comic book art. Even now, I feel clumsy trying to describe his work, but it's its own kind of beautiful. McKean's one of the reasons we call it graphic storytelling - because it's more than cartoons in panels, just like the stories are more than superheroes in fight scenes.

He's made the leap to filmmaking, doing as he's always done, ignoring and eradicating borders. Here's a short film he made, based on one of Shakespeare's sonnets.

December 28

Technology has chosen today's subject for me. I've taken a major step backward with my internet connection, so I'm posting what comes easy to my computer.
Fortunately, that happens to be Alex Chilton, a rock star's rock star that's been recording for almost 50 years. His first band, the Box Tops, hit #1 in 1966 with "The Letter"; he was 16 at the time. In the 70's, he was in the band Big Star, which only lasted four years but became a favorite of every third rock band in the 90's. Also, the Big Star song "In The Street" was adopted as the theme music to "That 70's Show".
Today, he balances appearances between the Box Tops on the 'legacy' circuit, a reincarnated Big Star at indie rock venues and festivals, and his own solo career.
That's the facts on Alex Chilton. Here's his cover of a Seeds tune:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

December 27

Today's featured birthday is for Mike Pinder, of the Moody Blues. Not the Moody Blues that gets played in JCPenny's these days, but the psychedelic symphonic band that gave the Beatles and Pink Floyd a run for their money. And it was all because of the Mellotron, the predecessor to modern sampler/synthesizer technologies. Pinder worked for the company that brought Mellotrons to England, and became an expert on the machines; purportedly, he introduced the machine to the Beatles, who would subsequently use one in "Strawberry Fields Forever."
He also knew how to exploit the machine's potential for his own music. When he started with the Moody Blues, they were another platoon in the British Invasion, with an R-&-B tinge. By the end of the 60's, their headphone music was part of the soundtrack of the psychedelic times. And Pinder's 'orchestra in a box' allowed them to bring their studio masterpieces on the road.
Here's a Pinder-composed song, performed on a Belgian TV show.

He left in the mid-70's, making his solo, proto-New Age music to this day. Meanwhile, the commercial and critical success of his tenure with the Moody Blues paved the way for King Crimson, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and any band that dares to sound like more than a couple of guys in a garage.
But I don't want to leave you with the impression that he was just a gearhead who was lucky enough to play with the toy first. Here's a Moody Blues song he wrote, as sung by the Four Tops:

December 26

Some stories are irresistible. Regine Zylberberg was born in France in 1929, and hid in a convent during World War II. In the 50's, she was hired as hostess at the Whiskey-a-go-go in Paris, and suggested the innovation of replacing the jukebox with two turntables and a microphone (so the music would never stop.) Voila- the modern discotheque was born; the success at the Whiskey became 25 exclusive nightclubs on 3 continents.
She introduced the dance craze 'The Twist' to France (and the Duke of Windsor.) She established the foundation of disco and modern dance culture. So, happy birthday to a girl that knows how to throw a party.
Here's her at 50, singing one of her radio hits, a French version of the disco anthem "I Will Survive".

Even though she's entering her eighth decade, she's still the 'Queen of the Night": she released a duets album last March, and still manages Jimmy'z in Monaco, if you're looking for a legendary party.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

December 25

There's something about having a Christmas birthday that doesn't feel entirely fair. Sure, everybody's celebrating and you probably get the day off of work; on the other hand, you probably get used to people ignoring your birthday a lot sooner. I mean, how do you compare with the biggest birthday celebration ever? You could be born with the cure for cancer in your hands and little wings on your feet, and you'd still be competing with the Big Guy for attention.
Well, that's what the blog is for. But I'm still in busy mode, so it's one set of candles today, and that's for Shane McGowan, formerly of the Pogues. Alive a lot longer than anybody thought he'd be, he's got a set of new teeth and a just-completed tour with his old bandmates behind him. Good year for the man.
Let's sew things together with a video clip of McGowan's most famous musical composition, a Christmas song called "Fairytale of New York":

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

December 24

Interesting development; while researching today's birthdays, I ran into a Wikipedia listing for Tomas Kalnoky - who I featured two months ago. I'll have to confirm this, eventually...
On to Christmas Eve, and a shout-out to Diedrich Bader, the other funny tall guy from the Drew Carey show. He's one of those guys that I know is going to make me chuckle, no matter if the comedy's good (Office Space) or bad (The Country Bears.) He's the Luigi to Patrick Warburton's Mario. (Too obtuse? How about "Bruce Campbell minus Clint Eastwood"?)
So, as a birthday present, let's enjoy one of his first efforts, the Danger Theatre segments known as "The Searcher":

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

December 23

Takes a lot of work to get a few days off. Today's short entry features ace guitarist Adrian Belew, who can't seem to turn down a gig. He's toured with the Talking Heads, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Bela Fleck... he's an artist's artist. But when have I ever talked about a guy for being an artist's artist? No, this father of three heard the name "Adrian Belew", and this song popped in my head:

December 22

Here's a mystery for you: what happened to Richey Edwards? The Manic Street Preachers emerged in the 90's, with the requisite mix of smarts and swagger that Britpop bands were supposed to have (think Oasis, not Coldplay); their public announced gameplan was to make an album that was bigger than Appetite For Destruction, then break-up. Edwards played second guitar, but his primary contribution was lyrics, the kind of politicized, pre-emo lyrics that Lit majors (and record critics) eat up.
In 1995, he went for a drive; his car was found abandoned, two weeks later. Although there have been a few sightings reported since then, authorities reported him 'presumed dead' in 2008. Their 2009 album, Journal for Plague Lovers, consisted of unfinished Richey Edwards writings.
Critics have noted that, like Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd, Richey Edwards' absence galvanized and refocused the Manic Street Preachers, resulting in their most critically acclaimed and commerically successful work. Their first album after Edwards' disappearance, Everything Must Go, began their run as global rock stars (although US success has still eluded them,) to the point that they're getting lifetime achievement awards in the British press. Meanwhile, they continue to pay tribute to Edwards on tour and on record.
Here's a fanvid for the title track of this year's "Journal For Plague Lovers". The editor used clips from the Joel Schumacher film "The Number 23", which is more appropriate, the more I think about it...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

December 21

There are some great birthdays for today, but I've been having girl problems. So, i'm calling on the powers of Paco De Lucia to help me answer some of life's mysteries. Paco, BTW, is an international legend on the guitar. So, of course, the only piece of music the average American's heard is from the soundtrack of a chick flick.

What, you thought Bryan Adams played that?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

December 20

Today's birthday post belongs to an 80's TV icon. John Hillerman was a ensemble player in 70's films like Chinatown and Blazing Saddles, and TV series like "Love Boat" and "One Day at a Time". Then he got the role that defined his career: British Army Seargent Johnathan Quayle Higgins III, the martini-dry aide de camp to Magnum, P.I.

The show and the Emmy-winning role became so popular that his character ended up wandering into other crime-fighting shows (Murder She Wrote? Did they hook up?) and commercials.
But here's what I never realized until I researched this evening: Hillerman was born and raised in Texas. Yes, I know he's an actor; I'm just used to all these British/Australian actors showing up in Hollywood movies, twanging up their voices just enough to fool me and wonder how Americans still end up in movies. I'm not used to it being the other way around.
I guess it's the power of the mind...

decenber 19

Happy Birthday to Jill Talley, who's a lot more than Mrs Spongebob Squarepants. Honestly, it's hard not to talk about Tom Kenny when you talk about Jill Talley; 2010 will be their fifteenth wedding anniversary. Since they were castmates on the 1992 Fox sketch comedy show The Edge (the more I find out about this show, the more I want to see a DVD release,) it seems like they've been inseperable. It helps that they're both hilarious and talented. They were utility players through the entire run of Mr Show; they were the traveling couple in the Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight Tonight" video; they even appeared together in "Sky High". Oh, and she does the voice of Plankton's computer wife Karen, on Spongebob.
Anyway, on her own, she does voicework for plenty of today's cartoons, including Boondocks, American Dad, Camp Lazlo, WordGirl... Also, she was Gail on Seinfield.

So Happy Birthday to Jill Talley, and thanks for giving me a reason to play Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight Tonight":

And here she is, on Mr Show, keeping up with the boys:

Friday, December 18, 2009

December 18

In the interest of perspective (and page hits,) here's some of the people that are celebrating their birthday today...

Christina Aguilera
Katie Holmes
Stone Cold Steve Austin
Steven Spielberg
Keith Richards

If you see any of these people today, tell them "Happy Birthday"...

Now, let me shine a light on our featured celebrant for today, animator Andrew Kepple. He's from New Zealand, and for the past few years, he's been creating compelling and hilarious Flash cartoons under the name Too Much Spare Time. His style leans toward the Terry Gilliam/South Park style, but layered thicker than fruitcake, and possessed of its own language of humor.
Y'know, Avatar makes its worldwide premiere today; James Cameron's latest masterpiece is supposed to be the next benchmark of computer animation, same as every new Pixar movie and all the movie Zemekis seems to do these days. But I'm all about the other computer animation revolution, the kind that empowers one person with a singular vision to produce their own animations at the speed of thought (comparatively speaking) and share it unfiltered. Imagine what Tex Avery or Ralph Bakshi could have done if they had started with Flash animation.
Anyway, talking about cartoons is like dancing about architecture. Here's a perfect posting for our blog, "French Erotic Birthday"

Besides the usual suspects, it's easy to find Andrew Kepple's work at or

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

December 17

Oh, man. Today's choice was a no-brainer for me: how about the toughest Filipino in the world, Manny Pacquiao. With a 50-3 record, he's the only boxer to take the title in 7 different weight classes. In fact, some analysts have ranked him as, pound-for-pound, the best fighter in the world. The other analysts are waiting until March, when Pacquiao will meet the other reputed pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, Floyd Mayweather Jr.
I prefer my fights staged for movie cameras, as opposed to people beating the living snot out of each other, but I gotta root for Pacquiao. He's kind of my Jim Thorpe or Arthur Ashe. I got a Filipino tan, from my mother's side. For every one person that successfully guesses so, I got fistfuls of people who think I'm Mexican, Thai, Pakistani, Indian, indian (of an indeterminate tribe), Columbian, Afghani... Movies aren't much help; the only mentions of Filipinos in films are punchlines for sex jokes. I'm happy to be able to point out somebody and say, "Yeah, that's a Filipino, like me." I can't say what type of movie star or politician he'll be, but at least he's a better example than, say, Ferdinand Marcos or Rob Schneider.
YouTube's acting funny tonight, but at least DailyMotion's got this posting of Pacquiao's "greatest hits". It's a decent way to get up to speed on why everybody's so excited about 'Pac-man'.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

December 16

Happy Birthday to Steven Bochco, a man who I've never met but who played a very important role in my life. When it was time for me to graduate and move on to college, I was at an impasse. I knew I wanted to be a screenwriter; I wanted to go to NYU, and study where Scorsese and Spike Lee honed their craft. My parents, still reeling from not raising a future doctor, wanted something more practical. Our compromise was Carnegie Mellon University, which was on the forefront of pre-WWW technology. They could tell their friends I was going to one of the best computer schools on the planet, while I could try to follow in the footsteps of Steven Bochco, class of '66, BFA in Theater, and the most influencial TV writer of the 80's.
So I enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University in the fall of '91. That was a hell of a year. (More on that, another time...)
Bochco made his mark in the 80's, when he created "Hill Street Blues", which would last 6 years and get nominated for 98 Emmy Awards. Once he had "L.A. Law" under his belt, he was offered an unprecedented 10-series deal by ABC-TV. That deal had its highs (Doogie Howser, M.D., NYPD Blue) and lows (Cop Rock- imagine if Glee were a cop show...) He's still in the game, but taking his blows (earlier this week, his TNT series Raising the Bar was denied a third season.)
So, here's a few themes of some of his greatest hits:

Okay, call the last one a tribute.

And finally, before Hulu charges us to show it, here's the Emmy-winning episode "Freedom's Last Stand," from his greatest achievement, "Hill Street Blues":

December 15

I do dig all kinds of music (but I hate it when people say that.) I have some preferences: first and third wave ska, 50's and 60's soul, 90's-era alt-rockers... But man, I love me some power metal. I'm such a wuss I can't take more than five songs a sitting, but that's because any good power metal song is like two hours of Star Wars distilled into a 5-to-8 minute experience. I can't think of a more cinematic musical experience. Something about a twin guitar attack and a strong, soaring voice that brings out the Voltron in me...
I am so happy to wish Dave Mackintosh a Happy Birthday, because Dave Mackintosh is the drummer of DragonForce, and DragonForce is the reason I can say I'm a power metal fan with pride. Because I can wax nostalgic about Helloween and Gamma Ray; I can rave about Strativarius and Hammerfall; or I can challenge you on "Through the Fire and Flames" on Guitar Hero III, and you can play their sound for yourself.
The band just announced that 2010 will be all about writing and recording their next album, so here's something from this year's model:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

December 14

I never stop admitting I'm a fan of Saturday Night Live, probably because I'm sick of all those people who say, "It's not as good as it used to be..." When, exactly, are you talking about? Be specific! If you're going to complain about Saturday Night Live, just point to a guy that's your standard bearer. Were they at their awesomest in their Belushi years? Sandler? Mike Myers? How about the year Robert Downey Jr was a castmember?
It's true, this year's feeling off from last year, even though I think they have the funniest cast in at least 20 years. In fact, they only let go of two castmates for this season: Casey Wilson and Michaela Watkins. Casey Wilson never found her groove, but Michaela was doing great in the season she had; her dismissal was a minor shock.
Anyway, no sign of her becoming Terry Sweeney yet; she's a recurring character on The New Adventures of Old Christine. She's also doing the next Jennifer Lopez movie; it's a rom-com, and Michaela's playing the 'best friend' (of course...)
Here's a character of hers I miss. Check out the spit-take:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

December 13

I was trawling through today's candidates, and got fascinated with the story of Jeff Baxter. He is the seminal 70's rocker: mutton chops, giant shades, nickname of "Skunk" (he's never said why, but consider that he was one of the Doobie Brothers...)

Before he joined the Doobies, he was one of the founding members of Steely Dan, and my favorite part of all the Steely Dan songs I like. I mean, without the guitar parts in songs like "Ricky, Don't Lose that Number" and "Bohdisattva", you got music to mallshop by.

He also was around for the best that the Doobies had to offer: playing steel guitar on their first platinum single "Black Water," and recruiting the most successful lead singer, Michael McDonald. Here's a ten-percent true story about how it all went down.

After the Doobies, he became a studio musician, while he discovered his new love, for missle defense technology. In the Reagan years, he parlayed his fascination into a new career, as a defense consultant. In 1995, he was nominated by a Congressman to chair the Civilian Advisory Board for Ballistic Missile Defense. In the last administration, he played on the White House lawn with his latest band, The Coaltion of the Willing, whose members include US Ambassador to South Korea and Hungary's ambassador to the US.
Here's a different coalition: Skunk and the other Doobies, rockin' out "Take Me In Your Arms..."

Friday, December 11, 2009

December 12

If I have to choose between early and late, I guess I'm doing early from now on...

So this December 12 goes to Kevin Parent, a French-Canadian singer-songwriter who writes and performs in both languages. Okay, he's mostly about the Québécois, but his talent translates well. While reading up about him, I found this great interview about the creative process, intended for an audience of other artists still finding their way.
Today's video is for his song "Les Doigts," featuring painted hand sculptures. You'll see what I'm talking about...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

december 11

Tis the season, so I can only imagine what Brenda Lee goes through. I mean, she was one of the 60's biggest stars: 37 chart hits, Rock n' Roll Hall o' Famer, her first number one at 16 years old, the BEATLES opened for HER...
But just like Billy Joel has "Piano Man", Brenda Lee has "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" haunting our radios forever, even if it is only for a few months a year. (By the way, she recorded "Rockin'" when she was 13 years old. It tanked during its initial release. Who knew?)

Anyway, didn't have much luck finding vintage Lee around the Tree. I found this telethon footage from a few years back...

-and this clip from the TV show American Dreams, with Kelly Clarkson playing Brenda Lee. Take your pick...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

december 10

Couldn't resist writing about 60's pop star Kyu Sakamoto, one of the all-time great crooners in Japan, but a one-hit wonder in the USA. In fact, he sang the only #1 US hit with all-Japanese lyrics. The song "Ue o muite arukō", which literally translates to "I look up when I walk", was retitled "Sukiyaki" in the US, to give American audiences a Japanese word they might recognize, or at least pronounce. Whether it was the beautiful melody or the hunger-inducing title, "Sukiyaki" was a #1 hit for 3 weeks in 1963. Sakamoto did a world tour, hit the charts one more time with the song "China Skies", and settled down to be a star in his native Japan.

In 1985, Kyu Sakamoto was aboard Japan Airlines Flight 123, when it crashed into a mountainside less than one hour into the flight; over 500 people died in the crash, including Sakamoto. Violinist Diana Yukawa, whose father also died on that flight, performed "Sukiyaki" on the mountainside crash site, in tribute to the crash victims.

"Sukiyaki" has been performed by lots of artists, in several languages, but it's kind of an unofficial Japanese anthem; Japan even issued a postage stamp for the song. So here's Kyu Sakamoto's rendition of "I look up when I walk":

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

December 9

Today's Imogen Heap day, but today's column is really all about "Hide and Seek". So, in the interest of giving credit where credit's due, a little info on Imogen Heap: she's a British-born singer-songwriter who's not afraid of using electronics or making music into art. In other words, she's the 21st century Laurie Anderson. She has four Grammy nominations to her credit, and she's auditioning cello players for an upcoming tour... okay, at this point, she would still be one of those hipster playlist artists that you don't really know but everybody who's anybody says you should, like Har Mar Superstar and My Morning Jacket. The thing is, you DO know one of her songs...

For the record, the name of the song is "Hide and Seek", from her second solo album Speak For Yourself. She released it on her own label in 2005 (she'd had bad experiences with record labels) and sold it on vinyl and as digital downloads.

She also released the song for use on the Fox TV show "The O.C." A sample of the song, about 3 minutes in, was used in the second season finale:

This scene was catnip to the comedy team The Lonely Island, whose online comedy series, "The 'Bu", a parody of "The O.C.," had made them internet stars, and helped gain them jobs on Saturday Night Live. SNL produced this digital short:

This short became an insane Internet meme; even though SNL couldn't post it themselves (they hadn't secured the music rights,) fans began posting and re-enacting and offering tribute re-edits...

This year, Jason DeRulo, an R & B singer, added his Auto-Tune to Imogene's, and used it as the base for his pop melange "Whatcha Say?" Last month, "Say" hit #1. (Meanwhile, in 2005, "Hide and Seek" reached #91 on the Billboard 100.)

Whatcha say to that? I'm wrapping this up before I get shot...

Monday, December 7, 2009

December 8

If you are a Chomsky-ite, you might not have been impressed with yesterday's entry.I admit, not very elaborate on explaining his greatness. (he's a complicated man, what can I say?) Besides, I'm a pop culturist; I'm a creation of the modern idioms. For example, today is Maximillian Schell's birthday. Am I writing about him because he was nominated for 5 Academy Awards? No, I'm writing about him because he was the evil genius in Disney's "The Black Hole."

Am I going to show a scene from his 1961 Oscar-winning performance in Judgement of Nurenberg? Or a clip from his 1984 award-winning documentary on Marlene Dietrich? Something from the 1973 Foreign Oscar nominee The Pedestrian? No, I'm going to show you the trailer from The Brothers Bloom:

-even though he's not even in the trailer, because he's in the movie, as the Diamond Dog, and I've seen that movie, and he rocks...

But it's true that this may not be the best representation of a man who has brought to life the great works of Shakespeare, Kafka, Pinter, and Arthur Miller for the last six decades. So, let's wrap up with his 1961 performance as Prince Hamlet in a German-language teleplay version of same, with commentary from the team of Nelson, Murphy, and Corbett:


Sunday, December 6, 2009

December 7

There's plenty of contrarians born today, but I'll use the blog to talk about one particular fellow that walks to the beat of his own drummer. Today is Noam Chomsky's birthday; you know the name, but why? Are you a linguistics major? Do you have to write a psychology paper? Or are you just a Rage Against the Machine fan?
Before he got famous for being quoted by anti-capitalism punk bands, Chomsky got famous to challenging the theories on how children learn languages. His theories required some change in the theories of brain function, and psychology itself. As for his politics, he makes Ralph Nader look lke a sellout.
Here's Billordo, an Argentinian rocker, with "Noam Chomsky for President"

Saturday, December 5, 2009

December 6

Here's another quick one, which seems like a fitting tribute to Craig Newmark, creator of Craigslist. Craigslist is the biggest classified ads source in the world; it's also how I found an apartment, some furniture for my kid, and my current job. So, Happy Birthday, Craig, and thanks.
Here's a musical tribute from Weird Al:

December 5

Okay, I'm going to be on the road for a while, so these posts are going to be pretty short. But I have today's post at least, about Frankie Muniz; You know him as Malcolm in the Middle, probably. If you know his as Cody Banks, I'm sorry. And if you only know him from that teen sex movie, you need some guidance in your viewing habits.
Frankie played a repressed genius in a lovably screwball family, and I always had the feeling he was more than the typical child star actor. Now that he's grown up, he's put acting aside to be a professional racecar driver. Before the show wrapped up, Frankie considered investing some of that Malcolm money on a racing team; instead, he signed up as a driver, and he's been professionally ranked since the 2006 season in the Atlantic Championship league.
Meanwhile, let's reminisce about a funny TV show, and one of the last catchy TV theme songs to come along in a while. Here's "Boss of Me," the theme to Malcolm in the Middle:

Friday, December 4, 2009

December 4

Today's Fred Armisen Day, who's pretty much locked in his job on Saturday Night Live for the next three seasons when he became the official Barack Obama impersonater for the show. And that's why I picked him to talk about today, because I wonder what it means that there's a white guy that basically performs in blackface every week on national TV, and there aren't riots in the streets. Is it a step forward for America, or backward? Is Armisen's impersonation that good? Is Obama really black? Is anybody still watching SNL? Besides the Digital Shorts?
Seriously, this was a pretty good political skit that opened SNL a few Saturdays ago, although Jon Stewart would have made the same point in 20 seconds on the Daily Show.

Maybe the reason it hasn't raised any ire is because the joke about Obama is that he's always the straight man in the joke, the sane guy in the room that stands there and takes it as the universe keeps throwing pies in his face.

Anyway, while I was digging up stuff about Armisen, I found this video for the band Man Man. I was going to dig up a video of one of the bands he's drummed in, but I like this little film too much

You know what today's blog needs? PORCELAIN FOUNTAINS!!!

Now that's class...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

December 3

Another birthday dedication for a friend, but they're not much for answering e-mails. But here's a Christmas tip: if you can't give somebody a present that you know they really want, you can give them something they really need. So, today's birthday celebrant is French film director Jean-Luc Godard, the guy who showed everybody the right way to break the rules.
I can try to do what books and books have been doing convince the world what a genius Godard is, or I can just show you two movies:
Here's Roger Corman's 1960 opus, The Wasp Woman, and indicative of what people expected in the drive-thrus and matinees of 1960.

This year, it was 'celebrated' by the cast of Cinematic Titanic.

In 1960, construction worker and film critic Jean-Luc Godard presented his first feature-length film, Breathless. This film is considered the global announcement of the French New Wave's arrival.

That's how much things changed when Godard got behind the camera. He's approaching 80, and what is he doing with his time? A new movie:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December 2

On the days that happen to fall on a friend's birthday, I like to offer my column as a birthday gift - not just because I'm cheap, but because I hope they find somebody that they connect with. See, this blog is an informal litmus test to me, a chance to see if people born under the same day (and, therefore, the same horoscope sign) share any similar characteristics.
So, I called my friend, who shall remain nameless, and we went through the list of today's candidates, which feature a lot of crazy divas and hip rock bassists (which is a reason that my friend's remaining nameless; she doesn't play bass.)
Our choice for today: Lucy Liu, an actress whose roles come to her. For example, her "Ally McBeal" audition was for the role that went to Portia DeRossi; the producers created a role specifically for her. Same thing when she talked with the producers of "Sexy Dirty Money"; she said she was interested in the show, and they wrote a part for her. She's been set to produce and star in a relaunch of the Charlie Chan franchise, but her choices in recent films to star in (Code Name: The Cleaner, Rise: Blood Hunter, Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever) seems to have stalled those plans. (If a movie title has a colon in it, Lucy - don't do it!) Until then, she's keeping busy with UNICEF and voice-over work, in the animated franchises for Kung-Fu Panda (as Viper) and Tinkerbell (as Silvermist).

I'm an Asian-American who tried his hand at acting, so I got nothing but props for Lucy Liu, who's managed to play roles beyond her race (GridLock'd, Chicago), along with the roles that depend on her ethnicity (Kill Bill, Shanghai Noon) yet allow her to surpass stereotypes. She's not simply the go-to gal when you need to fill the role of a geisha, or balance the whiteness of a cast; she's a draw in her own right. Now if she could just pick better scripts...
And is it a step backward if I show movie clips of her using kung fu? Here's a fight montage, featuring Charlie's Angels and more Ecks vs Sever than you ever wanted to see...

It was either this, or that scene when she kissed Callista Flockhart...

Monday, November 30, 2009

December 1

It's December 1st, and if anybody deserves a mention, it's Mat Kearney. This guy's been rolling out hummable hits for the last few years, not to mention the somber songs in the final minutes of your favorite TV shows, and nobody knows his face. He headlined the VH1 Channel's first "You Outta Know" tour (I guess we see how that worked out...)
I almost got vetoed on this by MiLady, who started griping about me featuring yet another musician nobody's heard of. And then I played this video:

As soon as the yodeling chorus kicks in, she's singing along. And that's the point: everybody HAS heard him. It's just that nobody's caught on to him, although his songs are inescapable, especially if you're watching prime-time dramas, spending your Sundays in one of those hip churches that wear jeans and serve cappuccinos, or shopping for sweaters this Christmas seasons. It's too easy to lose him with all the other contenders in whatever genre you want to call the Coldplay/Fray sound. So, let me slip you some knowledge, the next time you're in a carful of people trying to remember who sings that song.
Mat Kearney's from Oregon, who found his way a few years back, and that way led to Nashville. His first album came out in 2006. His singles are: "Nothing Left to Lose" (with the yodeling chorus), which was in that episode of Grey's Anatomy, NCIS, Bones, DirtySexyMoney... "Undeniable", which was in that episode of Cold Case... "Breathe In, Breathe Out", which was on that other episode of Grey's Anatomy (when they added the interns to the cast, I think...)

and the one from his new album, "Closer to Love", which they used in Vampire Diaries, and has that piano part...

Mat Kearney - Closer To Love (Official Music Video) - The most popular videos are here

There; now I've set things straight, and the world will finally recognize and appreciate the songwriter that they've been singing to all this time. As our former President said, "Mission Accomplished!"

Sunday, November 29, 2009

November 30

There was a time that a kung-fu movie - any kung-fu movie - would do me good. Whether the background music was a wooden flute, a wah-wah pedal, or a Casio keyboard, a kung-fu fight made everything alright. I don't know if modern times ruined me, or I just grew up, because it doesn't have the same effect.
Anyway, everybody knows about Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan... the guy I always wanted to see was Gordon Liu. Maybe it was the determination in his eyes, maybe the shaved-head/yellow-monksrobe combination made him look like Charlie Brown... but seeing him in Master Killer II (that's what they called it on Commander USA's Groovy Movies, and I'm sticking with it) convinced me for five minutes that I could look cool bald. I never saw him make the jump across the Pacific, and figured he was lost to the ages...
...until Kill Bill. Tarantino gave him two choice roles: leading the Crazy 88 in Kato gear in Part I, and playing the crazy old kung-fu master in Part II. Meanwhile, he'd never gone away in Hong Kong, segueing into a TV career for the past few decades. But the Tarantino touch put him back on movie screens around the world; this year, he played the bad guy in the Bollywood film "Chandni Chowk to China."
None of my jibber-jabber is going to get across the awesomeness of Gordon Liu like a demo, so here's the Master Killer himself taking out a horde of Manchus, and ruining the door-to-door bamboo pole salesman industry in the process...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

November 29

Looks like I'm 100 posts in; not fired up enough to pursue my next lofty goal, but I'm getting the hang of this...

Here's someone I discovered today: stage darling and poetess Sarah Jones. She has the transformative powers of Jim Carrey and the quest for social resonance of Sidney Poitier. Even Meryl Streep has her back.
Here's a speech she delivered at the TED conference in early 2009:

I know, you're saying, "Yeah, but she's no Anne Deavere Smith!" Well, does Anne Deavere Smith have her own punk anthem?

Before she embraced the one-woman show format, she was a beat poet on the Nuyorican scene, even made it on Def Poetry Jam. She's the first person to sue the FCC on censorship. Kudos for that, too...

November 28

Again, taking it easy on the holiday. Today's birthday boy is Randy Newman, the Johnathan Swift of the piano. If you're under 30, you probably know his Disney/Pixar songs the best. His first Oscar win happened on his 16th nomination, which provoked, IMHO, the best reaction to receiving an Oscar ever: he stepped up to the podium and said, "I don't need your pity!" If you're old enough to remember the 80's, you might remember songs like "I Love LA" or "Short People".
I found this clip where he name-drops my (current) home state, so it's the clip for today. If it auto-starts or repeat plays, I apologize. First time using the MUZU database...

UPDATE: That was the last time using the MUZU database... for this column anyway. Here's that Randy Newman track...

Friday, November 27, 2009

November 27

I want so much to offer more intriguing discoveries, more talents that you wish you had. But it's Thanksgiving night as I write things and I'm trying to shake off the tryptophan. So Happy Birthday to Jaleel White, who broke the color barrier for nerds everywhere, in his portrayal of the seminal character Steve Urkel. Here's "The Urkel Dance." Happy Thanksgiving...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

November 26

Our birthday star for today is singer-songwriter Shlomo Artzi; he is, from what I can tell, the Bruce Springsteen of Israel. He's been one of Israel's biggest music acts of the last 30 years, singing stripped-down and downbeat song-stories about life. Okay, maybe he's more like Bryan Adams. Seriously, probably the only reason he isn't a bigger star is that he only sings in Hebrew. But it's still easy to hear the beauty and longing in a song like "Moon":

His career also needs little translation: he started in the 70's, achieving middling chart success singing the kind of cheesy pop songs you'd expect in the 70's. In 1977, ready to give up singing, he recorded a farewell album, "He Lost His Way", writing and recording the kind of songs he wanted to sing. So of course, it became the album that resurrected his career. [Apparently, that album was the beginning of a long-standing collaboration with Louis Lahav, a record producer who cut his teeth as a technician on... Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" album.]

Here's 'Talpeni Talpeni', from 1988:

It's times like this that I'm thankful for this blog; it's a way to sift through everything this world has to offer, a forum to share it - and a way to crassly and publicly send my gratitude and love to my family on this Thanksgiving holiday. Hope you've got plenty to be thankful for...

November 25

The computer is the center of our home; as I try to write today's blog, I have two lightly pickled aspiring rock stars taking on Rock Band. Trouble is, it's hard to research today's stars if I can't, say, listen to their music videos or watch their movie clips without fear of recrimination from the She-tills.
And just like that, I found the perfect subject for today's blog: avant-garde choreographer Trisha Brown. The first female to receive the esteemed MacArthur Grant, her modus operandi is trying to eradicate the barriers between dance and daily life. For example, her 1971 setpiece Walking on The Wall actually had dancers in harnesses along the side of a wall.
As it so happens, I found footage of two routines featuring the choreographer herself, and neither routine is performed to music.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

November 24

This one's to 70's one-hit wonder Lee Michaels, another unappreciated musical genius. He mastered the Hammond organ in the 60's, turning himself into a one-man band that gained a reputation along the West Coast for his loud and raucous performances.

Even though the studio seemed the perfect home for the multi-instrumentalist, he didn't find recorded success until his fifth album, and the 1971 top 10 single "Do you know what I mean?" He couldn't repeat that success; meanwhile, the years of Hammond blasting would add until, by the time the keyboard-worshiping 80's came around, his hearing loss had already forced him into retirement. Years later, he got into the restaurant business, starting a chain of "Killer Shrimp" establishments in the Los Angeles area. Just like his music career, they were renowned for a while, then out of the business (since this spring, but they may be back in 2010...)
For all the talent he displayed and good luck that he did have, I don't know if I'd want to be Lee Michaels. But this guy does. And so does this guy. Heck, these guys don't even make music. But let's hear the one born Michael Olson, with his one AM radio hit:

Monday, November 23, 2009

November 23

Today, we remember David Rappaport, star of Time Bandits and "The Wizard." He started his acting career in his native England, in several 70's children's shows. His role of Randall, the bandit leader in Terry Gilliam's 1981 film Time Bandits, made him an international face, and he gave Hollywood a shot.

During the 1985 TV season, he starred in the CBS-TV series "The Wizard," as a retired spygadget-maker who makes toys that do extraordinary things. He committed suicide in 1990.
The Wizard series only lasted one season, but it still has its rabid fans. They have a website, and a campaign to get the series finally released on DVD...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22

Today is Terry Gilliam Day, observed in Brazil, Finland, and anywhere that people quote the Parrot Sketch. The lone American in Monty Python, he developed his style while animating the series' cartoon interstitials. His live-action films have a similar chaos, the kind that translates into wonder. For example, check out the trailer for his next film, "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus":

Almost as legendary as the movies he's made are the movies he almost made: the Watchmen 10-hour miniseries, the first Harry Potter film, Theseus and the Minotaur, his Don Quixote adaptation... After a bout of Job-level setbacks, Quixote may be his next film, after all. Fingers crossed...

Aw, what the hey; let's add some Python madness:

Friday, November 20, 2009

November 21

Today's the birthday of Brian Ritchie, the undercelebrated Violent Femme. He started the band with Victor DeLorenzo, before Gordon Gano made the Femmes a trio. Over the years (and several drummers), the Femmes persisted, although classic songs became soundtrack fillers and jingles for sticoms and hamburgers. No wonder the Femmes finally called it quits in 2009.
Of course, he's recorded several solo albums over the years, and jammed with other bands, waiting for Gordon to get through his writer's block. Here's a song he did with an Italian punk band called the Zen Circus:

And let's listen to a Violent Femmes song with some new ears. Just listen to the rumbling, looping bassline that threads together "Blister in the Sun", and tell me that's not your favorite part of the song now:

November 20

The rock continues with today's featured artist, Yoshiki Hayashi, drummer and co-founder of 90's "visual kei" metal band X Japan. "Visual Kei" seems to be another phrase for "Cosplay", while their flavor of metal is the power variety (like Dragonforce.) So basically, Japan X (as opposed to the seminal punk band X) is Japan's answer to Kiss.

Yoshiki's the one in the middle.
As you can see, the Japanese take their hair metal seriously. Mind you, this is 1993, two years after Nirvana came along, when they were at the 'height' of their popularity. (Man, do I crack me up...)
Here's the band's video for "Rusty Nail", which is not a clip job of some other anime. The band just looks like an real life anime superteam...

The band went their separate ways in '97, recording solo albums and forming supergroups. In 2009, the reunited but less hairy Japan X went on their world tour, further complementing their Kiss doppleganger status. Still, I'll take them over the Psycho Circus any day of the week.
Here's a song they recorded for the Japanese release of Saw IV:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

November 19

Sometimes it's about the clip. I mean, Happy Birthday, Jodie Foster; Happy Birthday, Grizzly Adams; Happy Birthday, Allison Janney and President Garfield and Savion Glover...
But today is Keith Buckley Day - as in, lead singer of Every Time I Die. You can consider this a belated nod to Keith's brother/bandmate, who celebrated his birthday on the 15th (when he celebrated Judge Wapner Day.)
Their new album came out in September, and they've got this new video, which feels like a stroll through a house full of psychotic tattoos...

They're finishing up the year in Europe, touring with Killswitch Engage. So, it looks like a few more years before Keith goes back to teaching high school English...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

November 18

Today's blog is about Duncan Shiek, an artist that I personally underestimated.

I remember "Barely Breathing" when it first hit the radio, and I thought all he had to offer was one hit and a fauxhawk. I practically said as much when I met the guy years later, at a radio show, when 'On a High' made him a one-and-a-half hit wonder.
At that point, he had already started writing scores for films and the stage. In 2007, the musical Spring Awakening would win 8 Tonys - Shiek would personally win two of them. But this is the same Broadway that was making room for Monty Python, Rock of Ages and Shrek, so I still wasn't that impressed. Someone burned me the cast CD, and I gave it half a listen.
Researching today's blog, I finally watched the cast performance at the Tonys:

...and I'm starting to get it. I definitely hear Duncan Shiek in the music, and it's a refreshing departure from all the aspiring Andrew Lloyd Webbers. At the same time, the unreservedness of a Broadway stage is exactly what's been missing from Sheik, for me. Shiek's own performing style is so mellow (he's a practicing Buddhist) that I reflexively group him with all the Music To Shop By. Shiek's newest album, Whisper House, is becoming a musical as well, which will better gauge what he brings to the table, but I'm giving him the benefit of a doubt. Heck, I'm apologizing for all the years I've been selling him short. Now I gotta find that CD today...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November 17

Happy Birthday to the indestructible Kiwi known as Zoe Bell. She couldn't have come at a better time; as CGI threatens to render movie making completely safe, Zoe reminds audiences the irreplaceable value of a skilled stunt professional. Growing up in New Zealand, she studied competitive gymnastics and Taekwon-Do. She first wowed a global audience as the stunt double for Xena: Warrior Princess. Later, she doubled for Uma Thurman in the Kill Bill films, and impressed Quentin Tarantino enough to write her into his next project, Death Proof.

Now she's transitioning to acting work (Gamer, Whip It) while still making other movie stars look good (Inglorious Basterds, 27 Dresses.) I don't have a folding chair or a pane glass window to throw her through, but Happy Birthday anyway, Zoe...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

November 16

Today's birthday girl is Missy Pyle, who was starting to enter 'Oh Yeah, That Girl...' status [that actress you see on-screen that you immediately recognize as soon as somebody tells you another movie she was in that you LOVED...]
She's almost 6 feet tall, with those eyes that are two sizes away from those people in Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun video. Add to this her knack for fearless physical comedy, and you got a go-to girl whenever you need an interesting female in the supporting cast. She was the alien girl Lailari in "Galaxy Quest"; she went toe-to-toe with Queen Latifah in "Bringing Down the House"; she rocked the unibrow as Fran Stalinofskivitchdavitovichsky (sound it out) in "Dodgeball"... She even gave it a shot in direct-to-video paychecks like "Home Alone 4" and "Still Waiting." She's a pleasant addition to any film comedy, like finding out your TV dinner's got tater tots instead of crinkle cut fries. A couple of the right roles, and she might be another Carol Burnett...
Her real life's almost as funny: In 2008, she got married, and the grizzly bear that her husband-to-be had raised as a cub (part of his job with National Geographic, perhaps?) was a guest. In the same year, her high-profile role in a Broadway play presented her the chance to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange - on September 29th, a day the market dropped almost 800 points; she declined the opportunity.

I missed the Pacquaio-Cotto fight last night, so here's Pyle-Latifah:

November 15

It's time to salute the original TV judge, Joseph Wapner, the most popular arbiter of justice the 80's ever knew. As a kid, I always had a sense that he was a badass, but I thought that was just because he was a dude on TV with a hammer. But he earned his robe, for sure...
In the 1930's, Lana Turner was his high school girlfriend. In World War II, he was an Army lieutenant who saw action in Cebu, Philippines. He served as a judge in L.A. County for about twenty years; after retirement, he was offered the People's Court gig in 1981. For the next twelve years, he would preside over 2,484 real cases before the American television audience.
For his 90th birthday this year, he presided over case #2,485, on the current incarnation of "The People's Court." He also witnessed the unveiling of his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It's a fitting tribute for a man who inspired an entire genre of courtroom TV (not to mention a cable channel - for a while) that continues today.

Here's the theme to the iconic show; provide your own typewriter noise:

And because I've been wanting to use Hulu's clip-n-embed feature (before it costs me a penny,) here's his appearance on the sci-fi series Sliders, playing his doppelganger from an Earth where the Soviets won the Cold War.

Commie justice wished it had been this efficient...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

November 14

Today's undercelebrated celebrity is songwriter/guitarist/producer Butch Walker. He used all these skills to mastermind the 90's alt-rock band Marvelous 3, whose highest charter was "Freak of the Week": a perfect title for a one-hit wonder tune, right? But that's not how the story ends, of course...
With the band dissolved in 2001, Butch started using his skills to write songs, play guitar, and produce hits for other artists. In 2002, he produced Bowling For Soup's major label debut; "Girl All The Bad Guys Want" hit the charts, got nominated for a Grammy, and Walker had his golden ticket. I've been trying to figure out how to encapsulate what he's been up to in the last decade; how about some of the songs he's written/co-written?

Happy Birthday, Butch. Thanks for the music.

Friday, November 13, 2009

November 13

I told you this day would come.

Today, we turn our attention to Nikolai Fraiture, bassist for the Strokes. The Strokes have some of the best intros in rock, like Fraiture's setups for "Reptilia," "You Only Live Once," or "Juicebox." He received his first bass guitar at 18 - and gave it to future bandmate Julian Casablancas; a year later, he took the bass back and learned to play it.
Like the rest of the guys in the Strokes, he's got more going on than the Strokes. Earlier this year, his side project Nickel Eye released their first album, The Time of the Assassins. But his moment as a frontman was short-lived; the Strokes marched back in the studio this summer to record album number 4. Nickel Eye will have to wait until the next hiatus.

Here's some solo Fraiture:

And here's the Strokes in action:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

November 12

Okay, it might be bending the rules a bit to talk about Anne Hathaway; I mean, she's a certifiable celebrity: box office smashes, award-nominated performances, scandalous ex-boyfriend... But I can't miss an opportunity to show her Mary Poppins sketch on Saturday Night Live, from an episode that she hosted - and totally killed.

What turns this bit from a funny joke to a classic sketch is Anne's performance: she's a pitch perfect mimic of Julie Andrews (due to exposure, I'm sure,) and her timing - the head turns, the vocal delivery - is so spot on. That's when I thought, "man, whatever she's doing next, I'll give it a shot..."

No, I did not see Bride Wars...

I did, however, see her special appearance on the Oscars, where she killed, again. Imagine if she hadn't given up the lead in Knocked Up to Katherine Heigl.
So, since she's still clawing her way out of the kiddie film ghetto (Hello, Rio) through the rom-com slums (Hello, Valentine's Day), she's under-celebrated; you're worth a birthday cake, Annie. (And wish for another host spot on SNL; they really need you this year...)