Friday, March 31, 2006

Between the moon and New York City

And you thought Chris Cross only sang one song. Pull up a chair, prop up your feet, and listen a few minutes to the rest of the story.

If you had wandered into the middle of the American pop music scene in 1980, that year of hostages in Iran and the Reagan Revolution, it would have been difficult to miss Christopher Cross. He exploded, seemingly out of nowhere, with a huge first hit, "Ride Like the Wind," complete with backup vocals from ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald. It was on that green album with the flamingo on it. Remember?

Then he took us "Sailing" on a polished ode to riding the waters of make believe in search of your dreams. That trip of the live fantastic hit No. 1 that summer.

Next he told us he'd "Never Be the Same" without our love and blindsided us with "Arthur's Theme," the Burt Bacharach classic from the 1981 Dudley Moore film about a rich, alcoholic man-child. Its catchy, "Caught between the moon and New York City" sensibility struck a chord. Presto -- yet another No. 1 smash.

A few more quick hits followed. The lush "Think of Laura." The up-tempo, feelin' good "All Right." And that, it seemed, was it.

Or was it?

Rotten vultures with no taste (also known as pop DJs) suddenly found Chris Cross to be out of fashion. Too polished. Too pop. Too "regular."

But Chris didn't care. He just kept on making pop music for adults. The jocks missed some of his best work.

A 1988 album, "Back of My Mind," featured the heartbreakingly beautiful ballad "Swept Away," Cross' best piece of work and one of the most underrated pop songs from any generation. The lyric is so wonderfully pure, the sentiment so exhilaratingly honest. ("I never wanted anything more," the song says, "than to love you.")

If only we could be so straightforward in our real-life relationships, imagine how the world would spin on its axis.

I first heard the song in a 1988 episode of the ABC-TV situation comedy "Growing Pains" and didn't hear it again for more than a decade. When I rediscovered the song again on a late night cable TV Cross "comeback" concert, it hit me like a sucker punch -- unexpectedly, the wind rushing out of my lungs.

Warner Brothers/Rhino Records released at long last a definitive collection of the Christopher Cross discography earlier this decade. Yes, the 19 song collection is something of a time machine, carrying you back to Morning in America.

But it also serves as a fine testament to a talented, underrated American popular music artist. Some of his best work came much later, long after all those pop hits. (Listen, for example, to virtually any track from the brilliant "Walking in Avalon/Red Room.")

Christopher Cross may never again have his finger on the pulse of popular culture. Who, at the end of the day, really even wants to be in such a shallow, fleeting place?

Nope, Chris Cross belongs to something higher, to that magical place that only seems to exist somewhere between the moon and New York City.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Pieces of time

Life is a series of moments.

So said a sign on a church a few years back. And it is true. Think about it. Whose life plays like a continuous TV movie of the week? Certainly not mine, thank ya very much.

It's the little things you remember. Dad setting up a toy train set on the kitchen table. The first day of school. The time you sang "All Shook Up" in front of your peers and they actually clapped.

Little things like that.

Your first kiss, exhilarating and awkward. Your first love. That girl back in high school you always wanted to ask out but never did.

A random baseball game. The Braves win 21-5. Kent Mercker pitches. Remember the score. Can't remember what year. Maybe '95.

The first time you read Hemingway. Your first fish. The first time you heard "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

The last time you saw her. The smell of her perfume. That stupid look on your face when she brushed you off, in public, for no reason.

Summer afternoons in the back yard, beautiful blue summer afternoons that never seemed to end. Beating Florida 45-3. Fighting with your sister over everything and nothing at all.

The beautiful blonde-haired girl who struck up a conversation at the express lube. The server at Aubrey's who smiled at you and oh so briefly set your soul on fire. You thought about her the rest of the afternoon.

The snowman that melted away to nothing. Sneaking up to the lake to fish on a forgotten October morning. The time you laughed so hard you cried at some movie you can't remember.

Christmas mornings with the family. Birthday parties with the best friends in the world. The time you struck out. The time you hit a home run.

"Magnum, p.i." "True Grit," for the 400th time. The first time you stared deeply into her beautiful eyes. Tiger Stadium, before they tore it down.

Wading naked into the pond to recover your dropped cell phone. The jerk next door who "borrowed" a video game and never brought it back. Getting a whuppin. Getting another one.

Chocolate milk shakes. That blonde in the bikini at Myrtle Beach. The day Nixon and Reagan passed away. The night you stole a kiss just before her grandmother came in the door.

Barry Manilow. Alison Krauss. Hag and Harry, George and Alan. 8-tracks. iPods. Hooking the record player up to the extension cord. Keeping quiet so you don't wake the baby up.

Getting a job. Losing your mind. Coming home. Those big beautiful eyes. (OK, I said that one already.)

The little things. A series of moments.

Some long forgotten. Some you can't forget.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The man in the cornfield

"Theeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey're gonna put me in the movies. Theeeeey're gonna make a big star out of me...."

The first time I remember seeing Buck Owens, he popped up out of a cornfield. Yep, I'm ashamed to admit it. For years, all I knew of Owens was his overblown laugh, that American flag guitar, and the fact that he was Roy Clark's co-host on "Hee Haw."

Then I heard "Act Naturally" on the radio. And went crazy.

Turns out Owens was a country music pioneer. His "Bakersfield" sound and rubber-meets-the-road vocals was a nice counterpoint to the polished, string-backed "Nashville Sound" of the 1960s. (Think "For the Good Times.")

Buck Owens died Saturday. He was 76.

We hadn't seen much of him in recent years. A stroke had slowed him down, kept him out of the limelight. The last time I remember seeing him on anything was around 1988, when he and Dwight Yoakam teamed up to sing about the "Streets of Bakersfield."

If you ignore his exploits in Cornfield County, Owens' country music discography is nothing short of stunning. ""Love's Gonna Live Here." "Made In Japan." "Cryin' Time." "Tiger By the Tail." And a true country classic: "Together Again." Listen to that song and I dare you not to think about the joy you feel whenever you are reunited with the one you love most.

Like so many of the country music greats, Buck was from Texas. But he finally made it out to California and would forever be associated with the Bakersfield sound. His first wife, Bonnie, later married Buck's California country "rival," Merle Haggard. (Hers is the voice that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck when you listen to Hag's "High On A Hilltop.")

But they stayed friends. Buck even flew up to see Haggard last year when he opened for Bob Dylan, Hag told the New York Times over the weekend.

Owens always said that "Hee Haw" destroyed his album sales. He seemed almost bitter about it. But don't fret too much, Buck. If It weren't for you and that cornfield, a little boy from Knoxville would have never found your music.

Godspeed, Mr. Owens.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The song remembers when

It happened this morning, while light snow was falling on my lawn. Snow in springtime --- you gotta be kidding me.

I was minding my own business. Just getting some things done. You know how you do on Saturdays.

And then it happened.

"No, I don't care/ If I'm not the first love you've known/Just so I'll be the last."

Suddenly I'm five years old again, riding in Mom's Buick, listening (of course) to WIVK. She's still quite young, dark-headed and beautiful. My biggest worry is whether to eat peanut butter and jelly or ham for lunch.

Funny how a song can take you back. With some people, it's a smell. Or a laugh. Or the sound of a locker slamming. With me, it's music.

I bet I hadn't thought about that old Skaggs tune in 20 years. But suddenly I was back there, wearing my velcro shoes and alligator shirt, waiting eagerly for Dad to bring me some Animal Crackers home from work.

My, my, my.

This happened to me about this time last year. I watch movies to keep the Black Dog at bay. Whenever he nips at my heels, I head for either the multiplex or the DVD player.

One night last winter, the movie was "Texasville," Peter Bogdanovich's 1990 update of his and Larry McMurtry's superb 1971 classic "The Last Picture Show." Early on in the soundtrack, popping up like a long lost uncle, was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

"But I'll just keep on dreaming that a song that I was singing/Takes me down the road to where my name is known/Now I'm gone/And it's a long hard road..."

I'm about 8 and we're riding down Andersonville Pike in Dad's Toyota. I slide my legs out of the way when Dad punches on the clutch to shift down for the stop sign. I cherished those Wednesday nights and every-other-weekends. Even under the easiest of circumstances, it's tough on a kid to be without his dad.

Sometimes the memories aren't so good. An old Gospel song, about angels and ladders, makes me think about a situation I still to this day thank God for delivering me from.

More often the thoughts are bittersweet. A sappy Barry Manilow tune makes me wonder about a blue-eyed, raven-haired girl who faded away one day with the morning mist. "Even now/When I have come so far/I wonder where you are..."

A Kenny Rogers duet brings to mind the symbolism behind that elusive, blinking green light in "The Great Gatsby." So close, and so far away.

The ringing phone brings me back to reality. It's just as well. Sometimes I wish the sad country song wasn't so true:

"Cause even if the whole world has forgotten, the song remembers when..."

Don't laugh. It makes as least as much sense as snow in springtime.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A promise kept in a friend's burial

Friendship is a beautiful thing.

The bond is as magical as the stars. It enriches your life. At its best, it makes you feel wonderfully, totally alive. It sometimes causes you to do crazy things.

"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," the excellent new film from director/star Tommy Lee Jones, is about such a friendship. And about vengeance and finding redemption.

Pete Perkins (Jones) is the no-nonsense head of a cattle operation in a flat and hopeless Texas border town. Pete hires Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo), here illegally from Mexico, to work for him. Melquiades is honest and gentle. He works hard. He remains faithful to the wife and children he's left on the other side of the river.

One day during a break from work, Estrada gets Pete to promise to take him back to his home should something happen to him in America. Because, as he says, he doesn't want to be buried in a land with so many f----- billboards.

Meanwhile, into town arrives Mike and Lou Ann Norton (Barry Pepper and January Jones). Mike has taken a job with the Border Patrol. He is violent and unlikable. He beats a woman trying to make it into the United States. He makes love with the passion of a milk commercial. He is haunted by hidden demons.

Lou Ann soon gets bored. She hangs out at the local diner and talks to waitress Rachel (Melissa Leo), who seems to spend most of her time sleeping with both Pete and the local sheriff (Dwight Yoakam).

Mike shoots Estrada in a senseless accident. The local sheriff buries Estrada and doesn't try too hard to find the killer. Pete does. He kidnaps Mike and forces him to help him fulfill his promise to return Estrada to his hometown. The journey transforms them all.

If this sounds like a retread of "Lonesome Dove," you couldn't be more wrong. Nothing is quite what it seems. In fact, what makes "The Three Burials.." such a fine film is that it subtly brings home the point that human beings, despite our attempts to believe otherwise, are ambiguous. We're complicated. We're not, as most movies at least imply through weak character development, black-and-white stereotypes.

I'm not totally sure why, but this movie touched my soul. Part of it may have been the haunting landscapes that made me think about the Texas books of Larry McMurtry. Part of it might have been the excellent honky-tonk soundtrack. Part of it may be the performances.

But more than that, "The Three Burials..." makes a comment about the bond between souls and how friendship can ease even the hidden hurt of the lonely. It says something about loyalty and honor and all those things few people seem to believe in anymore. It is a film about finding out who you really are.

If nothing else, it stays with you long after the lights have come up. That alone makes this movie something special.

"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" is rated R for adult language, violence and sexual content.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The *real* 'Darling Boys'

And you thought they were just a bunch of actors.

In the early 1960s, The Dillards were the hottest bluegrass group on the planet. Pre-staging the bluegrass revival of the 1970s, the group landed in Los Angeles from the Missouri Ozarks at the peak of the folk movement.

They set up shop in the lobby of the Ash Grove folk club and started playing -- and blew everybody away. Uninvited to California, The Dillards soon had won a record contract.

Doug Dillard's banjo playing and tight harmonies were the hallmark of the early years. Songs like "Dooley" and "The Old Home Place" have become bluegrass standards. But The Dillards weren't just a talented bluegrass group. Nope, they merged 'grass, folk, country, pop, and gospel together and created a distinctive new sound.

You may know The Dillards best as the Darling boys from "The Andy Griffith Show." The band (Rodney Dillard, Doug Dillard, Mitch Jayne and Dean Webb) would show up once or twice a season from 1963-65, picking 'grass and playing non-speaking cameo roles as the male sons of Briscoe Darling (Denver Pyle). The family would head into Mayberry ever so often to torment (and to pick a tune or two with) Sheriff Andy Taylor. "Dooley," "Banjo in the Hollow," "Ebo Walker," and other Dillards hits became part of the Griffith Show soundtrack.

By the mid-1960s, Doug Dillard fled the group to start a new band with Gene Clark of the Byrds. The remaining trio found a California banjo picker, Herb Pedersen, to keep the group going. (Pedersen's "Wait a Minute," recorded later by the Seldom Scene, is one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking songs from any genre.) Influenced by the budding folk rock movement, The Dillards forged a new vocal style that would soon be the hallmark of groups like The Band and Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

Highlights from this period include Pedersen's "Copperfields," a fine cover of Lennon/McCartney's "Yesterday (which owes its sound as much to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys as to bluegrass), and Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe."

Vanguard Records has released a fine collection from this period that is a must have for bluegrass and folk music fans. "There is a Time: 1963-70" is a sampling of tunes from the five albums the group released on Elektra Records during this period. All the "Griffith Show" songs are here, as well as the folk music and other standouts, like the gospel classic "Somebody Touched Me" and Lennon/McCartney's "I've Just Seen A Face."

Although their best work happened in California, The Dillards never forgot their Ozark upbringing. "Dooley" and "The Old Home Place" evoke images of a simpler, rural America. Even the later folk 'grass remains, at its heart, rooted in the heartland.

If you only knew them as The Darlings, do yourself a favor and pick up "There Is a Time." It doesn't get much better than this.

"There Is A Time: 1963-70" is available on compact disc from Vanguard Records.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Walking Tall

You just didn't mess with Buford Pusser.

The Tennessee county sheriff only knew one thing -- justice. If you came into his county and started trouble, you would soon regret it. They killed his wife, left him for dead, shot him, stabbed him. But Pusser never backed down. His weapon of choice was a big stick. And he always walked tall.

At least that is the Hollywood version. The real Buford Pusser was a Tennessee sheriff --- of McNairy County, in West Tennessee, back in the 1960s. His wife really was killed by criminals gunning for him. He really was left for dead. His jaw really was shot off. He really did rid his county of a band of gambling, prostitution and bootlegging crooks.

But the real Pusser, alas, carried no big stick. Hollywood wrote that into the script when Pusser's story was filmed as "Walking Tall" in 1973. Shot in Chester County, Tenn., just down the road from McNairy County, the first "Walking Tall" told the story of Pusser returning home with his wife and two children to Tennessee after a career as a Marine and a professional wrestler. He soon runs afoul of the local operation, is left for dead, and framed. Pusser runs for sheriff and runs the crooks out of town.

Texas actor Joe Don Baker was a fair Pusser, the movie struck a chord, and became a box-office hit in 1973. The real Pusser became a folk hero. He was to have played himself in the sequel. But Pusser died under mysterious circumstances following a car accident near his McNairy County home on Aug. 21, 1974. (The remains of his charred vehicle are on display at Carbo's Police Museum in Pigeon Forge.)

Swedish actor Bo Svenson took over the role in two sequels, "Part 2, Walking Tall" (1974) and "Final Chapter, Walking Tall" (1977). At one time, Svenson and "Gunsmoke" star James Arness were the two tallest actors in Hollywood at 6-7. Svenson was a likeable Pusser and bore a striking resemblance to the real-life sheriff.

NBC revived "Walking Tall" as a mid-season replacement TV series in 1981. Svenson again played Pusser, who was this time the sheriff of the fictional McNeal County, Tenn. Pusser and his three deputies (Harold Sylvester, Jeff Lester and Courtney Pledger) still ruled the county with an iron fist (and a big stick). When he wasn't enforcing the law, Pusser was busy raising his two children: Mike (Rad Daly) and Dwana (Heather McAdams), with help from his father, Carl (Walter Barnes).

The show premiered in January 1981 and should have been a huge hit. Airing against the backdrop of the fledgling Reagan Administration, Pusser's cowboy brand of law-and-order meshed perfectly with the times. But the show was canceled after seven episodes worth of low ratings.

Sony released the entire series on DVD last week. Watching the program 25 years later, it is tempting to label it as cartoonish. Pusser spouts piously against drug use and other crimes. The crooks act as if they just stepped out of the pages of a comic book. The show opens with a corny title sequence, full of red, white and blue patriotism, complete with a no-nonsense theme song ("Walking Tall/I'm putting evil on the run.")

Judging by the first episode, "The Killing of McNeal County's Children," the whole thing feels cheap. Svenson, so good in the earlier theatrical films and in other roles (his turn as the evil Ivan in CBS' "Magnum, p.i." comes to mind), walks through many of his scenes here. His over acting would make William Shatner proud.

The episode's plot centers around Pusser's efforts to curb the distribution of PCP (Phencyclidine) to McNeal County teenagers. The opening scene shows a high schooler crash his car after smoking a joint laced with marijuana and PCP. In the hospital, he loses his mind and becomes a drooling vegetable.

"Give me a break!" you want to yell.

Turns out PCP does indeed cause delirium and extreme agitation. The so-called Angel Dust is manufactured in illegal home laboratories, just as is portrayed in the show. The show's message is frighteningly relevant in 2006. Images of evildoers cooking up a batch of drugs in a barn will be familiar to anyone who has ever heard about methamphetamines.

Pusser's "I am in the law" attitude still resonates. Who doesn't like the image of a tall, square-jawed crime buster doing whatever it takes to solve the case? Few in Middle America. Why do you think Tim Hutchison keeps winning elections here in Knox County?

"Walking Tall" certainly wasn't Emmy material. The TV series doesn't come anywhere close to the appeal of the original "Walking Tall" motion pictures. (Neither, incidentally, does the pathetic 2003 motion picture "update" of the story, starring professional wrestler "The Rock" Johnson.)

But I'm glad the show finally made it to home video. The story of the lone crusader standing up for what is right will never go out of style.

Who knows. Maybe the best thing the state of Tennessee needs in its current fight against meth is another Buford Pusser. Or at least someone who walks tall.

"Walking Tall: The Complete Series" is available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Ides of March

Beware the Ides of March!

So said the soothsayer to Julius Caesar -- at least in Shakespeare's account of the Roman dictator's life and assassination. Good advice as it turned out.

Caesar was assassinated by a horde of friends-turned-foes on March 15, 44 B.C., in the Roman Senate. The story goes something like this:

After a series of military victories (including receiving arch nemesis Pompey's severed head on a platter from grateful Egyptians), Caesar declared himself dictator for life in February 44 B.C. Pretty good job security, huh?

The Roman Senate said, "Back up, partner," and decided to kill him.

"The conspirators never met openly, but they assembled a few at a time in each others' homes," Nicolaus of Damascus, who spoke to many of the participants, later wrote.

Suggested plots included killing Caesar when he took one of his favorite walks along the Sacred Way, or waiting until the elections, when he would have to cross a bridge to appoint the magistrates in the Campus Martius. But most wanted to do the deed when he took his position at the Senate, when he would be alone. (Non-Senators were not admitted.)

The rumors reached his ears. Caesar didn't feel too good that fateful day. He was dizzy. His wife, Calpurnia, was having bad dreams. He was warned not to go to the Senate.

Not to fear, "friend" Brutus said. He challenged Caesar's manhood. Couldn't believe the great Roman dictator would be swayed by his wife's nocturnal visions and by "idle gossip of stupid men."

Thus Caesar went.

More bad omens awaited at the Senate. Priests brought up victims for sacrifice. It was unsuccessful. Again, Caesar demurred. Again Brutus challenged him. His fate was sealed.

"All quickly unsheathed their daggers and rushed at him," Nicolaus wrote.

Tillius Cimber held him. Again and again the conspirators stabbed. Finally Caesar fell, ironically at the foot of Pompey's statue.

"There was not one of them who failed to strike his body as it lay there," Nicolaus wrote. "Until, wounded 35 times, he breathed his last."

Talk about the politics of personal destruction...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Bull Moose

What a spectacle he must have been.

Standing there in Chicago that summer of 1912, no doubt flashing those big teeth and that famous grin, Theodore Roosevelt had done the unthinkable. He had bolted the Grand Old Party. Said good-bye to the corrupt do-nothings he believed had blocked his way to the nomination to save face for William Howard Taft, the man TR himself had picked as his successor when he left office four years earlier.

Cynical reporters there that day were even moved by the raw outpouring of emotions that greeted Roosevelt from the true believers. They had done it. Rid themselves of the shackles of the past to form a new Progressive party --- the Bull Moose Party. They would save America from turncoat Taft and the politically naive Woodrow Wilson.

But as Patricia O'Toole argues in her excellent new book, "When Trumpets Call," Roosevelt answered the bugler as much for personal ambition -- indeed more so -- than from any tidal wave of public outcry. TR, she says, often deceived himself, confusing his inner drive with the will of the people.

And yet TR's heart was in the right place.

"Roosevelt called for a party that would appeal to progressive-minded citizens, Democrats and Republicans alike, in every section of the country," O'Toole writes. "Such a party would live by two simple principles, he said: 'the people have the right to rule themselves,' and duty obliged them to "rule in a spirit of justice toward every man and every woman within our borders and to use the government so far as possible as an instrument for obtaining not merely political but industrial justice."

A blurb in one of the news magazines a few weeks ago said that President George W. Bush has been reading "When Trumpets Call." Apparently George W. is thinking about life after the White House.

If only he would take Roosevelt's words to heart while he's still there. Instead, Bush remains adrift, twisting in a malaise, a disappointment to conservatives and an antichrist to liberals.

TR's third party is like water to the thirsty soul, more so now than it must have been nearly a century ago. He was the last American giant -- an intellectual who read a book or two a day, an athlete who would often invite the best boxers of the day to the White House for a few rounds, a trust buster who called for industrial and social reform, a Nobel Prize winner who negotiated peace, and a hawk who paraded the Great White American naval Fleet around the world for all to see.

His kind has not been heard from again. And probably never will be. Especially not in Washington.

Where is that Bull Moose when we need him?

Monday, March 13, 2006

A morning in paradise

Woke up in paradise this morning.

OK, that is a relative term. There was a little bit of dust and a few wasps. There were no streets of gold or no luscious green fields in which to run. But there is no other place on earth like the little cabin on the lake.

I try to get up here as much as I can. It's my Walden -- the one place I can clear my head, relax, and remember what life is supposed to be about. I don't do much. Watch movies. Work a little bit on the novel I'll never finish. Cook steak dinners and enjoy the company of visiting friends. It's enough.

Sitting out on the back porch there yesterday, I watched the sun dance across the water, making little patterns that will never again be replicated. A red-headed woodpecker spent his time banging on one of the trees. I couldn't help but picture Woody in one of those old cartoons. I halfway expected to hear that raucous laugh.

A squirrel jumped from tree to tree. Every now and then, the wind would stir around the leaves. It made me think of a sad old Seldom Scene tune: ("And you hear a sound that she used to love/Through the rustling of the leaves.") It made me think of a dark-haired girl that time and another man took away.

But it was too beautiful a day for such thoughts. I walked down to the lake and sat on the rocks for awhile, lost in the moment. I stared up at the blue sky, overwhelmed at an 80 degree afternoon in mid-March.

What a life. I'm getting paid to write words. I have my health, my family, great friends and a great job. Baseball is lurking just around the corner. May not have much money, but who cares? I've got silver in the stars and gold in the morning sun.

Lofty thoughts here in paradise on your birthday, huh?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Blog note

Musings from Mabe will not be updated for the next three days while I take three days off in honor of my 28th birthday on Monday, March 13. Have a great weekend, y'all!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

21 little nuggets

Kenny Rogers recorded a catchy little song a few years ago called "Slow Dance More." Its chorus could almost be a personal philosophy:

Love your neighbor as yourself. Don't use money to measure wealth. Trust in God, but lock your door. Buy low. Sell high. And slow dance more.

Not bad, huh?

I receive WAY too many e-mail forwards, but I got one the other day I really liked. Take these 21 pieces of advice and use them as you will.

ONE: Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.

TWO: Marry a man/woman you love to talk to. As you get older, their conversational skills will be as important as any other.

THREE: Don't believe all you hear, spend all you have or sleep all you want.

FOUR: When you say, "I love you," mean it.

FIVE: When you say, "I'm sorry," look the person in the eye.

SIX: Be engaged at least six months before you get married.

SEVEN: Believe in love at first sight.

EIGHT: Never laugh at anyone's dream. People who don't have dreams don't have much.

Love deeply and passionately. You might get hurt but it's the only way to live life completely.

TEN: In disagreements, fight fairly. No name calling.

ELEVEN: Don't judge people by their relatives.

TWELVE: Talk slowly but think quickly.

THIRTEEN. When someone asks you a question you don't want to answer, smile and ask, "Why do you want to know?"

FOURTEEN: Remember that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

FIFTEEN: Say "bless you" when you hear someone sneeze.

SIXTEEN: When you lose, don't lose the lesson.

SEVENTEEN: Remember the three R's: Respect for self; Respect for others; and responsibility for all your actions.

EIGHTEEN: Don't let a little dispute injure a great friendship.

NINETEEN: When you realize you've made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

TWENTY: Smile when picking up the phone. The caller will hear it in your voice.

TWENTY-ONE: Spend some time alone.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Last Carter Family child passes away

Hey "Walk The Line" fans. Perk up a minute.

For all those who fell in love with Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, you will be saddened to learn that Janette Carter has passed away. Here is the story from Reuters:

Janette Carter of country music Carter Family dies

(Reuters) - Janette Carter, the last surviving child of country music's original Carter Family, has died, a family friend said on Monday. Carter, 82, had been ill for some time and died on Sunday at a hospital in Kingsport, Tennessee, said family friend Dixie Hall.

Carter led a drive that culminated with the founding of a museum and amphitheater called "The Fold" at the family's Hiltons, Virginia, homestead which draws 50,000 fans of country and bluegrass music annually. She was born to A.P. and Sara Carter, who formed the Carter Family -- known as "The First Family of Country Music" -- with Maybelle Carter, who was married to A.P.'s brother Ezra.

Carter joined her parents on stage in the 1950s, then recorded solo sporadically after the group disbanded. Another incarnation of the Carter Family was led by Maybelle on autoharp and her daughters June and Helen. June Carter married Johnny Cash. Last year, Janette Carter received a Grammy lifetime achievement award on behalf of the Carter Family, whose classics included "Wildwood Flower" and "Keep on the Sunny Side."

She fell and hurt her shoulder at "The Fold" in July but insisted on returning from the hospital to take the stage to join a chorus of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

That *&*&*^ song...

I can't get that blasted song out of my head.

Don't you hate it? You are minding your own business. Just trying to make it through another day. Then you hear it. Some polished tune with a catchy hook.

And it drives you crazy for the rest of the day.

What's rough is when it's a bad song. "Brand New Key" comes to mind. "I gotta brand new pair of roller skates..."

Or one that goes on forever. Think "MacArthur Park." By the end of that song, I didn't care who left that damn cake out in the rain.

The one stuck in my head today isn't a bad one. Remember "Oh Girl"?

"Ohhhhhhhhh Girl/I'd be in trouble if you left me now..."

The Chi-Lites had a pop hit with it, back in the early 1970s. It became a staple on oldies stations. Which we don't know about in Knox County anymore because, amazingly, we don't have an oldies format on the air here anymore. Knoxville radio is about as bad as network TV. (WDVX is a SHINING exception.)

Speaking of Knoxville radio, WIVK used to play the heck out of local boy Con Hunley's version of the song in the early 80s. I probably heard Con's version before I ever knew about The Chi-Lites. GOP guy Brian Hornback was playing Hunley's cover on CD yesterday. This is probably all his fault.

MOR (Middle of the Road) crooner Paul Young had a pop hit with "Oh Girl" in the late 80s. Recording early 70s R&B/pop songs became something of a cottage industry for Young, who later had a hit with Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted."

I don't know how anybody gets any of the modern stuff stuck in their head. Not to sound like a geezer, but I can't even understand half the lyrics. And when I do, I wish I hadn't.

But it could be worse, I guess. I'll take "Oh Girl."

At least it isn't "Achy Breaky Heart."

Monday, March 06, 2006

'Crash' landing at the Oscars

Few saw it coming. But what a "Crash" landing at the Oscars.

Paul Haggis' social commentary mosaic stole the thunder out from under "Brokeback Mountain" at the Academy Awards last night. OK, I didn't see it coming, either. (I actually voted for "Capote" in the Halls B&P Oscar contest.)

Here is my review of the film from the June 2, 2005 edition of the Powell Shopper-News:


Has the entire country become nothing more than overt and covert racists?

Does the anger that seems to lie below the surface of much of modern life manifest itself into ugly racial tension? Have we become so isolated from one another that we will occasionally crash into one another just to feel some kind of connection?

Writer/director Paul Haggis’ film "Crash" answers in the affirmative to all of these disturbing questions. Which is appropriate since "Crash" is a disturbing movie.

The film weaves a convoluted story around the chance encounters of a dozen or so citizens of Los Angeles during a 24-hour period. Two "we aren’t what we seem" black car thieves pass a well-dressed white couple on the street and decide to rob them. A racist white police officer pulls over a passing SUV and assaults a mixed-race couple. A locksmith works a job for an Iranian shopkeeper with life altering results.

And so it goes. The film’s multilayered storyline is ambitious, if a bit confusing. Haggis, who received an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay of Clint Eastwood’s "Million Dollar Baby," sets a fast pace with his rapid-fire direction. Do not be surprised if you get lost in the action.

The ensemble cast, for the most part, shines. Matt Dillon may have given the performance of his career as the bigoted but troubled LAPD officer. Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Esposito are standouts. TV actor Tony Danza’s cameo (right down to his "Who’s the boss?" line) is just bizarre.

One wants to like "Crash" because the film attempts to comment on the ugly consequences of bigotry and raise us above it. And yet the film goes to such lengths to prove its point that the viewer is left feeling manipulated, as if you are being told how to feel. When it starts snowing in L.A., you know something is up.

All of those chance encounters also makes one think Los Angeles must really not be all that different from Mayberry. Folks sure seem to run into one another quite a bit in such a big town.
Still, this film does have a heart and rises above the mindless comedies and numbing action flicks that have become a staple of modern cinema.

At least when you leave the theater after viewing "Crash," a part of it stays with you.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

One last song for Charlie Hodge

"Well, you rock-a-my soul..."

They looked like they were having so much fun.

Crowded around a small piano in some long-forgotten studio, Elvis Presley, J.D. Sumner, and other members of the Stamps Quartet belted out "Bosom of Abraham" late into the night. J.D. hit the low note at the end of the song and everybody laughed.

"That's all I can do," Sumner joked.

Afterwards, Elvis said he was taking up a collection to buy some coffee. It was a moment.

Banging on the piano keys was Elvis' pal, Charlie Hodge. Singing lead, Charlie would turn around every now and then and flash Elvis a grin. He always seemed to have a grin wherever Elvis was concerned.

Charlie Hodge died Friday night. He was 71.

Charlie met Elvis in the army, back in the late 1950s, when both were headed to Germany and homesick. Charlie had sang in a gospel quartet; he knew the songs that Elvis loved best. They became fast friends, Charlie always right by Elvis' side.

There Charlie stayed for the next 19 years. He was always on stage when Elvis returned to live performing in 1969, handing him water and scarves and singing harmony. Elvis would often introduce him as "My friend, Charlie Hodge."

I met Charlie 13 years ago, when he became a fixture at the Memories Theatre Elvis tribute show in Pigeon Forge. He came out to meet the teenagers from Halls High School; all had been born after Elvis died. But that didn't matter. If you were an Elvis fan, Charlie liked you.

Backstage at Memories one night with guitarist Ross Southerland, I asked Charlie about "I'm Leavin," a haunting, lesser-known ballad Elvis recorded in the early 1970s. Charlie seemed to like the question and we sang a few lines of the song, me doing a bad job on Elvis' part, Charlie doing his familiar harmony. He didn't know which album the song was on, but he shook my hand and told me to come back and see the show.

Charlie was Elvis' most loyal friend. His book didn't talk about any of the drugs or the late night visits to morgues or any of the other stuff. Nope, Charlie only remembered the good things about his boss. He never brought him down, never invited the public into Elvis' privacy.

He was, in short, a friend.

I heard the news about Charlie late Friday night. Southerland called a few minutes later.

"It's just so sad," he said.

Charlie's body is being returned to Decatur, Ala., this week to return to the dust from which he sprang. But here's hoping his spirit is somewhere in the Hereafter this Sunday morning, singing another chorus of "Bosom of Abraham" with Elvis and J.D.

Godspeed, Charlie. You were the best friend Elvis ever had.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Duke, The Rock and other myths

Nobody could fill up the screen quite like John Wayne.

Well, maybe his pal Jim Arness could. At 6-7, Arness was even bigger physically than Duke Wayne. Guess that's why Duke recommended the young, then unknown actor for the part of Marshal Matt Dillon in a new CBS series called "Gunsmoke" in 1955. It worked out pretty well for all concerned.

I propped my feet up in the recliner Friday night just in time to catch the opening credits to "In Harm's Way," Otto Preminger's 1965 World War II epic, starring Duke and Kirk Douglas. You know you're in for a treat when Duke is playing a guy nicknamed Rock of Ages.

Rockwell Torrey is a Navy captain when Pearl Harbor is attacked by the Japanese in December 1941. He is a man of action who shuns parties and other social events. Instead, he sits alone and stares at a faded photo of a woman and a boy. Turns out he left his wife shortly after the birth of a son. She wanted him to go into the family business. He went to the Philippines with the Navy.

Rock gives in one night and goes with his roommate, Commander Egan Powell (Burgess Meredith), to a social. There he meets Maggie (Knoxville's own Patricia Neal), a nurse who has known a little heartbreak herself. They leave the party and go back to her place for supper.

Maggie's roommate is seeing a young Navy ensign, Jere Torrey (Brandon De Wilde), who, of course, turns out to be Rock's son. He didn't even know Jere was in the Navy.

Rock goes out to see him on his PT Boat one night. But Jere is a conniving little weasel who has attached his star to a conniving politician-turned-solider (Patrick O'Neal). Rock doesn't stay long.

Into this web, Preminger weaves the tales of the charming-but-tormented Eddington (Douglas), a husband and wife (Tom Tryon and Paula Prentiss) split up by the war, and an incompetent Admiral (Dana Andrews), more interested in winning headlines than battles. If it sounds a bit crowded, well, let's just say Preminger needed the anamorphic widescreen to fit all these characters into the movie. But when even Henry Fonda shows up, you don't mind too much.

Rock Torrey is reprimanded after Pearl Harbor. He's relegated to a desk job. But Fonda sees the error of Dana Andrews' ways, and the Duke becomes an Admiral. Look out, Japan!

The Eastern press didn't care too much for Duke's movies. They said he couldn't act. Hated his Republican politics.

But we knew better. If the Duke seemed to play the same parts, well, we liked what we saw. He was comforting and predictable, a Gibraltar in the middle of the raging sea. And, besides, who the hell's watching Laurence Olivier movies now?

By the end of the nearly-three hour picture, Rock had lost a leg and most of his crew are dead. But the war in the Pacific had turned around, Tryon was going to make it back home to Prentiss, and Rock had patched things up with his son before he got killed fighting the good fight. Patricia Neal told Duke she'd be right there for him every step of the way.

If only real life could work itself out into such a nicely-wrapped bundle.

At the end of the movie, Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne said that when "In Harm's Way" was released in 1965, Neal had just recovered from a series of massive strokes and Wayne was diagnosed with the cancer that would eventually take his life in 1979.

Turns out he wasn't the Rock of Ages after all.