Monday, May 31, 2010

June 1

Big-name music acts don't come to my town that offer (especially the ones that don't wear cowboy hats.) Apparently, it's a big deal that Brandi Carlile is coming to town. She's a new name to me, but the last time this singer-songwriter came around, tickets to her show were gone as soon as the word got out.
Guess there's a lot of "Grey's Anatomy" fans in the area; four songs from her first two album have been used by the show. "The Story", her second album's title track, was used as a 3rd season recap, and became an iPod darling shortly thereafter.
She's got a new album this year, and her new tour's brought her back to my neck of the woods. (Two weeks, Grumpy, if you haven't got your tickets already!) Rick Rubin produced her latest, so I might give the album a try. Meanwhile, here's Brandi's biggest song so far...

May 31

Been a while since I did a twofer, but it's easy when they're in the same band. First, happy birthday to Karl Bartos, formerly of Kraftwerk. You can hear the echoes of their music in everybody from Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails to T-Pain and Blue Man Group. Plus, anybody who uses an electronic keyboard.
Here's a Top of the Pops clip, with a great encapsulation about the band's style and mission:

The trippiest part for me is, "Autobahn" was inspired by the Beach Boys. One of the vocalists said that the Beach Boys made music that sounded like California, and Kraftwerk wanted to make music that sounded like Germany.
Regarding Karl Bartos, he joined Kraftwerk for the Autobahn tour; he's now part of the classic, electro-pop lineup that would become the global face of Kraftwerk. He played and toured with Kraftwerk through the 70's and 80's. In 1991, he left to collaborate with other artists, and released his own album in 2003.

Kraftwerk entered a new phase in the 90's with a new lineup - including birthday boy Fritz Hilpert (he actually joined the band before Karl left, but it's an undeniable transition.) The emphasis since the 90's has been on live performances, although the technology has streamlined to the point that there's minimal exertion required for performing the music, and more concentration on the presentation (exactly why Bartos left.)

That's not to say the people in Kraftwerk have become irrelevant in a Kraftwerk show; in fact, Hilpert fell ill on an Australian stop in 2008, cancelling the night's show and threatening the tour.
Since 2008, only one founding member remains in Kraftwerk. They still do festival shows, and they've been re-mastering and re-releasing the discography, but no word about new music yet. Then again, they've been traditionally reclusive, so there's no telling when Kraftwerk's latest sound will emerge.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

May 30

I'm in the mood for some brit-pop, so let's give a nod to Tim Burgess, lead singer of The Charlatans. They've been together since the 90's started, a product of the Mad-chester scene.

Why have the Charlatans not make a bigger splash across the pond? In the first place, they had a 60's psychedelic band with the same name that forced the band to slap "UK" on all their North American releases. Another point of contention was their first keyboardist, Rob Collins. At their height of their buzz, he was arrested for driving a getaway car from a convenience store robbery; a few years later, he died in a DUI.
Then there's the fact that Tim moved to LA in the 2K's and released a solo album. But they recorded together again in 2004, and keep on keepin' on. He's got his fingers in a lot of pies: he's sang for the Chemical Brothers several times, is part of the Britpop supergroup The Chavs, appeared on Joaquin Phoenix's upcoming rap album, and DJs at spots across the globe. In fact, between his producing credits and concert programming/curating, he's become quite the tastemaker.

2010 should be a banner year for the Charlatans, between a new album and the 20th anniversary of their first. They've thrown country, ska, psychedelia, and electronic sounds in their previous releases; interesting to see where Tim and his mates' next album takes us... maybe even the US. Meanwhile, here's the biggest splash they've made in the US so far, and the song that made me a fan...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

May 29

It's easier to let the music of Danny Elfman speak for him, but I wouldn't be doing my job then, would I? Danny first made the world sit up and notice him as part of the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. The band formed from the afterbirth of "Forbidden Zone", which also happened to be Danny's first film score. The band lasted until the mid-90's.

Paul Reubens introduced Danny to Tim Burton, who was set to direct Paul in "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure." In that time, all the way to Alice in Wonderland, Elfman has composed all but two of Burton's films.
I can't believe that for all the films he's written for, Elfman's been nominated for an Oscar a mere 4 times - and only one nomination is for a Burton film (Big Fish). Here's a great retrospective of his music libray so far:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 28

Happy Birthday, Patricia Quinn, Lady Stephens... her proper name, from her knighted husband. In Great Britain, she's been a TV regular for decades, guest starring on such BBC mainstays as "I, Claudius," "Minder," and "Dr Who". She's stayed just as active on the West End stage, with a career just shy of 40 years. Her second most memorable performance might be as Mrs Williams, the Sex Ed Instructor's wife in "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life."

As to the first... First, let me mention that Lady Patricia is a former Playboy Bunny; not one of the magazine models, but a former floppy-ears-and-corset wearing employee of the Playboy Clubs, back when they were world-wide and top of the line. Even today, she's a stunner of a redhead; she looks like Susan Sarandon, but with well-rested eyes.
And then, there are the lips...

Lady Patricia's lips are among the most celebrated and adulated in cinematic history (sorry, Angelina.) Let's clear up about "Science Fiction Double Feature": the movie opening has Richard O'Brien's voice, but it's Lady Patricia's lips mouthing them, drawing the audience in. She actually sang the opening in the original stage production, but the movie producers preferred O'Brien's less vampy version.
Since I never turn down an opportunity to share some Rocky Horror:

May 27

A rare commodity in modern film is the 'scream queen'. The nature of the typical horror film makes it so; there's little time for character development before the majority of the cast become roadkill. To make the most of a thankless role, the actress has to bring in her own charisma and talents, and not just a good set of lungs.
Linnea Quigley's a great example. She brought her certain something into movies like "Silent Night, Deadly Night" and "Night of the Demons". My favorite role of hers was Spider in "Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama"; she presaged my adoration of punk girls, biker babes, and Angelina Jolie (ah, so that's why she's fallen off the map for me...)

It's her dancing that highlights some of her most adored roles. She even toplined her own exercise video. Here's a star turn from "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers"

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

May 26

I've wrote about the Iron Chef program before; today is the birthday of my favorite Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto. More than anyone, he embodies the spirit of ingenuity and adventure that Iron Chef purports to be. He first became adept at Keiseki cuisine and sushi preparation, with his own restaurant by age 30. He sold his restaurant to travel to the US, cooking in exclusive restaurants like New York's Nobu, while developing his fusion style.
And it was that style that was a game changer for Iron Chef. The show was sold to audiences as an Olympic-style cooking competition, where French cuisine would take on Chinese style, or Italian would clash with Japanese; the styles were in competition, with the chefs as conduits. But Morimoto's style was so exciting and unpredictable that his competitions inevitably became chef versus chef, particularly when conservative Japanese chefs would challenge Morimoto for the honor of Japanese cuisine.
He's a cast member with the Iron Chef America series, as well as owner of several Morimoto restaurants around the world. Dinner at Morimoto is something on my personal bucket list, somewhere between driving a motorcycle and riding into space.
Here's a demo that the once and future Iron Chef Japanese did at Google:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 25

Happy Birthday, Sir Ian McKellen; your Shakespearean pedigree has elevated two of the geekiest cults into the pop culture stratosphere. You make everything sound sophisticated and haughty.

Observe these tributes:

Monday, May 24, 2010

May 24

Happy Birthday to "Little Nell" Campbell, the girl with the tap shoes, the Betty Boop voice, and a BLT. She's an automatic guest on the blog, due to her ubiquitous turn as "Columbia" in the many iterations of the Rocky Horror (Picture) Show. But there's more to her than that...
"Rocky Horror" led to a recording contract for Little Nell; her biggest single, "Do The Swim", benefited from a notorious performance on the BBC (that BLT, again...) She also spent some time on Broadway in various productions.
But her biggest mark was Nell's, one of three New York nightclubs she ran in the 80's and 90's. Nell's picked up where Studio 54 left off; in fact, Notorious BIG filmed his "Big Poppa" video there. (It also happened to be Patrick Bateman's favorite nightclub.)
Around the age of 45, she became a mother, and got out of the nightclub business. She continued working in show business until a few years ago, and got out of New York altogether. She's retired and raising her daughter in her homeland of Australia.
But we'll always have the music (and the boop-oop-eedoop...)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

May 23

Never mind Raymond; it seems everybody loves Mitch Albom. As a sportswriter, he's been the Associated Press's sports columnist of the year a record 13 times; nobody else has won it more than once. As a novelist, he wrote Oprah favorite "Tuesdays with Morrie", the most printed memoir of all time. He was Ted Koppel's choice as the final guest on Nightline. He founded several charities for the Detroit area, targeting illiteracy, homelessness, and the deterioration of Detroit's neighborhoods.
And I'm writing about him because of a song about hockey. He wrote "Hit Somebody(The Hockey Song)" with Warren Zevon, for Zevon's 2002 album, "My Ride's Here". It's an ode to one of those rarified creatures, the hockey goon, and it's a bittersweet and hilarious song, even without David Letterman's contribution. Of course, the song's getting turned into a movie, and Kevin Smith's going to direct. Smith and Albom are writing the script together, so it's already shaping up to be Kevin Smith's best movie ever.
For this reason alone, I want to wish Mitch Albom a happy birthday and a thank you. I think you'll feel the same after you listen to this song:

(I'm not even a hockey fan. Have to admit, tho, it's the Flyers' year...)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

May 22

A Quickie: John Vanderslice, San Francisco transplant, is becoming an indie rock star far too quietly. Playing in MK Ultra in the 90's, he started the Tiny Telephone recording studio that has hosted acts like Beulah, Mountain Goats, Death Cab for Cutie, and Spoon. In the 2K's, he started his solo recordings, and has been a critical darling since.
Here's a song of John's that wouldn't leave me alone:

Friday, May 21, 2010

May 21

Today's Laurence Tureaud's birthday, but you can call him Mr T. He is the closest thing we have to a living American myth, but I can share some historical tidbits with you: He created the Mr T persona while working as a bouncer. While working the door at some club, he would wear the gold chains, rings and other jewelry that got left behind after some fight in the establishment, so whoever lost their items could get them back without re-entering the club. He wears the Mohawk in the style of a Mandinka warrior, an ethnic group of the African continent; he discovered the hairstyle while reading National Geographic.

His combination of radiating strength and public saavy made him a natural as a celebrity bodyguard, in every sense of the phrase. He parlayed that into an acting career, then into cartoons and pro wrestling, then merchandising. Matter of fact, I started a cereal box collection a few years ago, just to have an excuse to buy a box of Mr T cereal again.

Never mind that the box was empty. Never mind that the cereal tasted like tart packing material, even back in the day. Ebay had that box, and I went for it.
A new generation's discovering Mr T: besides his current status as a pitchman and reality TV star, he's been doing impressive work in cartoons like The Proud Family and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. In 2010, he has a CGI "Mr T" movie in development, and he's got his own video game forthcoming, as well. That's not so surprising, considering what he did to World of Warcraft.

That's enough jibba jabba for today. Stay in school!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

May 20

Hawaiian Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (say it like it's spelled) brought the music of his people to the attention of the world in his time on Earth. Like the land for which he was named, Israel sang and spoke about reclaiming the land of his people for his fellow native Hawaiians. He first got notice in Mahaka Sons of Ni'iHau, a band he started with his brother in the 80's. In the 90's, he released several solo albums, to massive acclaim, before his passing in 1997.

His most famous recording is a cover medley, inserting "What a Wonderful World" into the lyrics of "Over the Rainbow". Recorded for his 1993 album 'Facing Futures', Israel's version persists, long after his passing. It's become a turn-to song for sentimental TV commercials and wistful movie scenes (Meet Joe Black, 50 First Dates, Fred Claus,...) The song anchors three of Israel's best-selling albums ('Futures' is the only Platinum album by a Hawaiian artist) and is on its way to becoming the preferred performance of "Over the Rainbow" (if American Idol auditions are any indication.)
So, here's Brudda Iz, and his signature on the song:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May 19

Is Australian David Helfgott a geniune savant, or does he just play piano better than we'd expect him to?
Helfgott is known for his piano playing, along with his psychological burden. As a youth, he showed genius potential in his musicianship, but by the time he was awarded scholarships to international music conservatories, he was also battling mental illness. By his 30's, he was institutionalized.
Eventually, he found the coping mechanisms that allowed him to return to society. He got a job playing piano at a wine bar in Perth, and from that ignominious perch, began dazzling everyone that could hear with his music again.

It's the kind of story that the movies love to tell (and the movie based on his life, Shine, would be nominated for 8 Academy Awards.) But there are music critics who feel he's been too mythologized by the movies; that beyond his on-stage tics and behaviors, his piano playing is only slightly better than ordinary. So are crowds gathering to listen to a genius? Or just to cheer on a man who they wouldn't expect to play piano at all? Is he being appreciated or exploited?
Undeniably, his story has brought to light the challenges of dealing with mental illness and trying to find a place in the world. In 1999, he played piano on the Silverchair track, "Emotion Sickness".

Monday, May 17, 2010

May 18

I can't think of a mellower man in music than Jack Johnson. He's the closest thing to a Yacht Rocker in my generation, philosophically speaking. Unfortunately, this means he's going to be less appreciated in his time than by the generation that's being created by his music.

Seriously, he's managed to out-mellow Dave Matthews and spearhead this easy-feeling music that has yet to crest. Consider the sounds of Jason Mraz, Colbie Caillat, Matt Costa... heck, John Mayer may get a lot more magazine covers, but he tries too hard. Jack Johnson still has the image of the surfer who just happens to be able to pick up a guitar; he is the proverbial man that men want to be and women want to be with.
That's why, even though he's gone platinum with his last five albums (including a children's album, fer pete's sake...), I still consider him undercelebrated, and qualified for this column. Here's something from his next album...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

May 17

I know practically nothing about Seoul singer Lim Jeong Hee, but this video for "Don't Go My Love" just has to be seen. There's not enough sci-fi torch songs videos out there...

Okay, so Lim's the robot. She's also a Korean pop star after years of street shows; her third album included a cameo from Outkast's Big Boi, a prelude to her search for a music career in America.

Her most recent song is a duet with Korean pop star Lee Hyun, which may mean a return to her Korean career. Which is fine by me, if it means more sci-fi torch song videos. Here's a PSA about the dangers of scarves, called "30 Minutes Ago":

Saturday, May 15, 2010

May 16

Hell yeah! It's Danny Trejo day! He's the most exciting That Guy to graduate to movie star since Samuel L Jackson. The most amazing thing to me is the fact that he's eligible for AARP membership.
He's also a good example that the movie business is all about who you know, all about networking. In the early 80's, he met someone in his 12-step support group in the movie business, who got him a job as an film extra. (The film would be called Runaway Train.) On the set, the film's screenwriter recognized Trejo from when they did time in San Quentin; he got Trejo promoted to boxing trainer for one of the film's actors. Those sparring sessions impressed the director enough to boost Trejo to a larger speaking role - and that is how a career in movies begins.
Speaking of who you know, he's apparently cousins with Robert Rodriguez, who's given him his best roles, including his topliner, "Machete". Incredibly, it started as a gag trailer in "Grindhouse", a trailer too awesome not to be made real:

May 15

It's amazing what one song can do. Melle Mel was recruited by Grandmaster Flash, a prominent DJ adept at the up-and-coming artform of turntablism, to join his Furious Five in 1978. Their job was to provide entertaining distractions (call and responses, poetic witticisms) to back up the deejay while he spun the records that got the crowds dancing. Shortly after "Rapper's Delight" made the radio charts, Grandmaster Flash's crew began recording tracks themselves.
In 1982, their label released the debut album's title track "The Message" as a single. It slowed the beat down, and put the lyrics front and center. The lyrics, instead of typical "get on the floor" rhymes, dealt with heady subject matter: the crime, poverty, and ills of modern life. Neither Grandmaster Flash nor the rest of the Furious Five were interested in recording the track; it's basically Melle Mel and a studio musician from their label.
The single went platinum in a month. "The Message" signaled rap music's transformation from the next sound on the dance floor into the voice of all disenfranchised, or what one artist would call "the CNN of Black America." "The Message" also shifted the balance of power toward the rapper, and began the deejay's relegation to the rhythm section, the background.
As for Melle Mel, he started his own group a few years later, then solo for another decade. His first Grammy, for his appearance on Chaka Khan's "I Feel For You", would be the first awarded to a rap artist (he would win two more in his career.)
He and Flash would reunite to accept the band's induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. He even released a children's book, with a CD featuring two songs by Lady Gaga - back in 2006.
"The Message" has become one of the most celebrated and emulated songs in hip hop. The song was inducted in the National Archives in 2002. Not bad for a song that missed the Top 40 in its initial release (#62, 1982).
I'd have also liked to have posted their pre-album recording "Birthday Party", but no luck finding a vid of it. Instead, let's enjoy a national treasure:

Friday, May 14, 2010

May 14

I showcase a larger proportion of singers and actors than I like in this column; it's easier to find videos, easier to give you something else to look at beside my bumbling testimonials and second-hand research. The people that are really shaping our world to come - the doctors, scientists, and philosophers that our children will study about - these are the kind of people I want to recognize and imbue, in some small way, some distinction in our pop culture-saturated attention spans.
A great example is Professor Frederik Kruger, world expert in particle discharge and DC current systems. Since the early 60's, he's invented several high voltage containment systems and components that have become global standards. His laboratory in Delft, Holland is considered the centre of knowledge in direct current research. He wrote the textbook on particle discharge, literally.
That's not all Professor Krueger writes about, however. He's published several studies of a fellow local boy done good, 17th century painter Johannes Vermeer, and the painter's use of pre-photographic technology in his art. He also identified several presumed Vermeers as forgeries, particularly by the expert forger Han Van Meegeren.
Krueger became an expert on Van Meegeren himself, writing several novels and biographies about Van Meegeren's work, his frustration as a legitimate artist, and his abilities to fool the critics and the Nazis. (You can read some of Kruger's research at this Van Meegeren website.)
When he's not playing with high voltage or identifying great art forgeries, Krueger plays out with his band, the Siperkov Ensemble, who keep alive the traditional sounds of Romany (Gypsy) music.

Of course, he's written a book about Romany music, too.

But who am I kidding? If I say it's Fred Krueger's birthday, you're probably expecting something like this:

I'm sorry, Professor...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

May 13

Today was a scary day to research, but I found Koji Suzuki, the Japanese author who gave us the novel that began the Ring (Ringu) phenomenon. I first saw Ringu online, in the days of Kazaa; after watching the story about a movie that kills you, I kept my computer online for seven days, just to make sure somebody - anybody - would upload it and assume the curse for himself.
The story's become more supernatural as it's been re-interpreted from movie to movie; the South Korean adaptation, titled "Ring Virus", might be closer than any version yet to the original text. I might have to revisit the film; there may be a lot more to the story I'm missing, if this trailer is any indication:

May 12

Happy Birthday to one of the Kids: comedian Bruce McCulloch, of the Canadian sketch comedy group Kids in the Hall. If your memory's short on which member was who, Bruce was the short one. He was also the most musical one, writing several songs for the show and the subsequent movie "Brain Candy".

Besides KITH, Bruce has recorded two albums of his funny songs. He's worked more behind the camera than his fellow Kids (writing and directing SNL episodes, plus feature films Dog Park, Stealing Harvard, and Superstar). Most recently, he created the ABC sitcom "Carpoolers", and if I'd have known, I'd have given the show a chance. Especially if they had more scenes like this:

The boys got back together this year for "Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town". It debuted on Canadian TV (and their website has episodes on tap), and comes to US cable this summer. If you're wondering if Canada's answer to Monty Python still has it, here's the trailer:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

May 11

Time to write about an unappreciated gem of a film, called "The Last Action Hero". Beyond its action film trappings, "Hero" is a meta-film, a movie about the collision of movies and reality (see: Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Purple Rose of Cairo.) Schwartzeneggar assumes the role of one of his characters; while he's doing all the action hero things (catching bad guys, property damage), he deals with the absurdity of his existence alongside one of his fans. The movie was too pretentious for some action fans, too pedestrian for some critics; even though it made $200 million worldwide, it's considered a blemish on Schwarteneggar's career (I disagree; that honor goes to Jingle All The Way.)

I'm talking about 'Hero' because of co-star Austin O'Brien, a child actor that didn't tank a Schwartzeneggar film (again, Jingle All The Way.) As Danny Madigan, O'Brien was the perfect audience liason; after all, who was really worshipping Schwarzeneggar's R-rated spectacles at the time?
O'Brien had several choice roles as a child actor: Lawnmower Man, My Girl 2, the 3-season "Promised Land"... Now, he's transitioning out of ChildActorland. Next stop: bad guy in an indie film...

Helix Trailer from Windward Entertainment on Vimeo.

Here's hoping he's back in the big leagues soon...

Monday, May 10, 2010

May 10

I can see why We Are Scientists (featuring Chris Cain and Keith Murray) aren't bigger in the US; they've busy in the UK. In 2005, I became enamored with their "With Love and Squalor" album, and anticipated their conquering of the world; despite a bushel of videos directed by The Lonely Island:

-it didn't happen.

Their sound's a pefect fit with fans of Block Party and Arctic Monkeys, so they've been making their name across the pond, with six singles in England to their one in the US. They also finished filming the first season of "Steve Wants His Money," a comedy mini-show for MTV UK.
Right now, they're releasing singles for their next album, Barbara, that comes out in June. No sign of them making a big push in the US; guess they'll remain a Continental secret this year...

BTW, listen to the lyrics before you read them...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

May 9

Happy Birthday to Sean Altman, co-composer of one of the most relentless TV theme songs of all time. Altman co-founded the vocal group Rockapella alive, which tried to pick up where doo-wop groups like the Inkspots and the Persuasions left off. They got their big break in 1988 performing at a house party for Kathy Lee Gifford; she was so impressed, she invited them on Regis and Kathy Lee. Their performance impressed Spike Lee, and he invited them on a TV special about vocal groups; here's a clip:

He's the one that with the dreadlocked mullet (and when is that style ever coming back?)
All this TV exposure led to a recording career and critical accolades. But Rockapella were still shy of household names, until TV stepped in once again, and they were commissioned as the house band for a children's game show. They also wrote the show's theme:

Altman stayed with the group until 1997, then began concentrating on his solo career in earnest. Besides his solo albums, he performs with other ex-Rockapellans (as the GrooveBarbers) and comedy songs under the name JEWMONGOUS (songs like "Be My Little Shabbos Goy" and "A Little Off the Top".
Let's wrap this up with a goodbye song; the GrooveBarbers, singing "Goodnight Sweetheart" onstage. Sean's the one in the middle:

Saturday, May 8, 2010

May 8

I'm writing a birthday passage about the guy you're not looking at in this picture.
This picture is considered one of the most iconic images in modern sport. I probably don't have to tell you about the guy standing in the center of the ring, the one they call "The Greatest". Today, I'm introducing you to the guy on the floor. He was Sonny Liston.

He was 6 feet tall, with a 7-foot reach. He was the most terrifying boxer of his time, an ex-con who punched his way out. By the time he met Cassius Clay in the ring, he had a 35-1 record and two championship belts; he was the heavyweight champion of the world.
Liston had fear and power. Clay was fearless, and his speed outdid Liston's power. Liston sat down after the sixth round, and Clay received the win decision by TKO. Clay declared himself "The Greatest" and changed his name to Muhammed Ali the next week.
But the picture you see was taken at the rematch. Liston attempted to take the title back the following year. Midway through the first round, Ali threw 'The Phantom Punch': a right to Liston's head that sent him to the canvas so fast that half the crowd didn't see it. While Liston lay sprawled on the ground, Ali stood over him, taunting him and the crowd. It took about 20 seconds for Liston to get back up.
A ringside photographer captured the moment, and the photo of that moment made the cover of Sports Illustrated; decades later, it made the cover of the magazine's "Greatest Sports Photos" issue.
Liston still boxed throughout the rest of the 60's; he would end with a 50-4 record. His body was found by his wife in their Las Vegas home in January 1971; authorities estimate he had been dead for about a week.
Local police declared it a drug overdose; Liston supporters cry 'cover-up', citing his phobia of needles, among other things... A medical examiner declared his death was due to lung congestion and heart failure.

To those who remember, Liston remains a fearsome legend. Mike Tyson considers Sonny Liston a personal hero, even before his own career echoed Liston's rise and fall. In both cases, their victories made them larger than life, but their losses revealed more about them, showed us how much they were like us after all.
Here's the punk band Stiff Little Fingers, with a live performance of their song about Sonny Liston, "Walking Dynamite":

Friday, May 7, 2010

May 7

This is my son's birthday, but he's not my feature of the day; that's too much pressure. I just shared that fact to help explain why I picked children's author Michael Rosen for today's column. Since his first collection of poems were published in 1974, Rosen has been critically acclaimed for his works; in 2007, he was appointed the Children's Laureate in Great Britain. So far, he's published over 140 books
Honestly, we need more writers like Rosen. The nursery rhymes we inherited have lost their relevance; when's the last time any of you internet citizens had to fetch a pail of water? What's a tuffet, and what does whey taste like? When's the last time you heard "Old King Cole" and didn't think about bong hits? But enough perversions of childhood memories...
I found this recitation of Rosen's 1989 work "We're Going on a Bear Hunt," as performed by the author, and was so glad to post up anything besides another musician this week. And because I have two children under two, I'm perfectly excused to keep chanting this repeatedly. If you're at work, you might want to turn the volume down:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

May 6

The hits keep coming on the Birthday Blog; today's celebrant is Tony Scalzo, from alt-rockers Fastball. They're an Austin, TX band that hit the radio lottery with the
1998 smash "The Way," a song about an elderly couple cruising into the sunset; inexplicably, it was a top ten hit all over the world that summer. While they never duplicated that success, they made a few more splashes on the charts, and still play today, mostly around Austin.
"The Way" reminds me of my cruising days, when I had the car, the gas money, the stamina, and the legal documentation to just drive nowhere at all, for no reason at all; some of the best times of my life...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May 5

Adele may not belong on the blog this year, but I don't think she's going to become any less celebrated as the years go on. Her first album's called 19 because that's how old she was at the time she wrote and sang those songs, in a style that has never gone out of style. The results made her a Grammy-winning, platinum selling artist's artist. People aren't talking about her against the aspiring Beyonces and Lady Gagas of the world; they're expecting the next Dusty Springfield, Etta James, Aretha... they're expecting a future legend.
She's already making a dream album for her followup; it's being produced by Rick Rubin. Once "21" comes out (or "22", depending on when it's released), and the world embraces her heartbreaking voice all over again, I'll never be able to write about her.
If you want to hear what makes her one in a million, look around the Internet for any cover of Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love", a relatively recent entry from his songbook. It's been covered by Garth Brooks, Billy Joel, Joan Osbourne, and a fistful of American Idols. Listen to any of them, and then listen to Adele's version:

The vocals here are slightly different than the album version; she sang them live, on camera.

Monday, May 3, 2010

May 4

Happy Birthday to Green Day's Mike Dirnt. Born Michael Pritchard, he got known in school for playing 'air bass', muttering 'dirnt, dirnt, dirnt' whenever he strummed - hence, the nickname.
Green Day is becoming that extremely rare punk band that manages to find success decades later, at the expense of their 'punk'ness. After all, isn't punk about being marginalized(Ramones, Fugazi) and/or self-destructive(Fear, Sex Pistols)? It certainly isn't doing arena shows or musical theater...
...and yet, the toast of Broadway is American Idiot, which is energizing a otherwise moribund box office season. Rock music on Broadway isn't new - The Who's Tommy, Hedwig, Rock of Ages... But are there enough Green Day/Glee fans willing to shell out Broadway ticket prices?
Here's the video for the cast recording/band mashup of "21 Guns":

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May 3

This one's for my daughter/sidekick. Today's the birthday of Dule Hill, who plays one of her favorite sidekicks, Burton "Gus" Guster. I joined the 'Psych' party late, but by my second episode, I got hooked; it's a great redux of the action-comedies that made 80's TV fun. I grew up with "Hardcastle and McCormick"; she's got "Psych".

Dule left the cast of "The West Wing" to join 'Psych'. He's also in a couple of movies you might have seen: She's All That, Holes, Sugar Hill...
Okay, that's enough biography. Here's the pilot episode of 'Psych', which sets up the whole shebang:

May 2

Alan Best started in the animation trenches in the 70's, but more than your predictable fuzzy bunny cartoons; his early credits include Heavy Metal and Pink Floyd's the Wall. He also directed the animated "Far Side" special and the kids' series 'Galador'. But the reason I'm bringing him up today is his time in the chair directed the first ever all-animated music video, a fun and breezy cartoon for ABC's "How to Be a Millionaire":