Friday, May 30, 2008

Jake's Top 25 (for better or worse)

This list has to reveal something about me. What exactly, I don't know. But, fooling around with the iPod yesterday, I took a peek at my top 25 most played songs.

I'm not sure whether I should share this kind of sensitive info (LOL) or not. But, here goes. Have a good weekend, y'all.

Jake's Top 25 most played songs (iPod)

1. "Teardrops" by Robinella (No surprise here, huh?)

2. "Morning Dove" by Robinella (Well, you know...)

3. "Yellow Roses on her Gown" by Johnny Mathis (Somebody told me that the songwriter's father was persecuted for defending innocents during the McCarthy witchhunts. This has to be the most poignant lyric I've ever heard.)

4. "I Shall Be Released" by Joe Cocker (Best cover of a Dylan tune ever recorded)

5. "Last Date" by Floyd Cramer (I love sad songs -- even instrumentals.)

6. "Ozark Mountain Jubilee" by the Oak Ridge Boys (My mom's favorite song.)

7. "Don't Fall in Love with a Dreamer" by Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes (God, what a song.)

8. "I Couldn't Find My Walking Shoes" by the Seldom Scene (Now this is a sad song!)

9. "Oh So Sexy" by Robinella (I admit it -- I pretend she's singing this about me. Sigh.)

10. "The Way I Am" by Alan Jackson (Cause I usually wish I were down in some blue bayou, a bamboo cane stuck in the sand...)

11. "Love at the Five and Dime" by Robinella (Hmm..I'm sensing a pattern here...)

12. "The Touch of Your Lips" by Tony Bennett and Bill Evans (Best collaboration of both their careers -- well, except Evans' work with Miles Davis...)

13. "She's In Love with a Rodeo Man" by Don Williams -- (Prettiest waltz I've ever heard.)

14. "Man Over" by Robinella (I figured she needed at least one song on the list.)

15. "Blue Ridge" by the Seldom Scene with Jonathan Edwards (If there is any better harmony than the magic blended by the late, great John Duffey and Edwards, I've yet to hear it.)

16. "Carolyn at the Broken Wheel Inn" by the Seldom Scene with Ricky Skaggs. (You just gotta hear this one...)

17. "Broken Lady" by Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers (Prettiest country lyric I've ever heard...)

18. "Fox on the Run" by the Country Gentlemen (A bluegrass favorite...)

19. "Listen to the Radio" by Don Williams (Just because of Sunday nights at Barley's...)

20. "Daytime Friends" by Kenny Rogers (Don't ask.)

21. "Garden Party" by Ricky Nelson (If memories were all I sang, I'd rather drive a truck...)

22. "I Finally Found Someone" by Bryan Adams and Barbra Streisand (Only because I'm practicing this to sing in Elizabeth Harned's wedding with the multi-talented Elizabeth Williams. God, I hate Streisand.)

23. "I Wonder Who'll Turn Out the Lights" by Bobby Flores (A true classic of a country song...)

24. "Whippin Wind" by Robinella (Oh, that girl sings like an angel on this song...)

25. "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" by Roberta Flack (This song is an addictive drug...)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

'A Little More Like Me (The Crucifixion)'

Downloaded a Kenny Rogers CD last night while hunting the Mickey Newbury song I wrote about earlier in the week. This has to be the most unusual take on this story I've ever heard.

Thought I'd share...

A Little More Like Me (The Crucifixion)

It was an April night and I was right
Then out on the town
The show was at the Palace
So we all went on down.

We all had a ball as I recall
But now it seems absurd
As the madness raged upon the stage
He didn't say a word.

He was a little weird and we all feared
He wasn't one of us
He didn't drink, he didn't smoke
And he didn't even cuss.

You'd see him now and then
With a bunch of men hanging 'round the sea
And I'm sure I would have liked him more
If he were a little more like me.

It was a spring-ish day
The clouds were gray
Looked like it might rain
We thought about the night before
And I was so ashamed.

When I heard what they had done to him
Stranger I had known
But as drunk as we all got last night
It's a wonder we got home.

He was a little weird and we all feared
He wasn't one of us
He didn't drink, he didn't smoke
And he didn't even cuss.

You'd see him now and then
With a bunch of men hanging 'round the sea
And I'm sure I would have liked him more
If he were a little more like me...

Labels: ,

Somewhere other than here...

I'm knee-deep in the middle of a Walter Mitty kind of day.

Oh, I want to be elsewhere. I get like this sometimes, when the Black Dog raises its ugly head, and life or music or a sappy old movie can't chase the feeling away.

I wanna put on my old overalls and John Deere hat, grab the fishing pole and a Hemingway paperback, and lose myself among rippling waters somewhere. Drink a beer, smoke a stogie, spit and cuss, and be a politically incorrect guy for a change.

Failing that, I'll take a dinner of steak and taters, a John Wayne movie on the TV and a sweet girl in my arms.

As it is, I'm stuck behind a desk, distracting myself with a sad Kenny Rogers story song, typing copy before heading to the the school board budget workshop.

I need a vacation.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

'Sunday in New York'

If I could be anywhere other than here in the Crossroads, it would be -- at least for awhile -- a swingin' bachelor apartment like the one Cliff Robertson owns in that early '60s comedy "Sunday in New York." Saw it on TCM last night and thought, "Now that would be mighty cool."

Course, that New York is long gone. It probably existed only in the movies anyway. But, it was a fun way to kill a couple of hours.

Robertson plays Adam Tyler, this ultra-cool airline pilot, who finds himself with a Sunday to kill. So naturally he's plans to get (ahem) up close and personal with his No. 1 gal Mona (Jo Harrell).

But, oops. Seems his young, naive sister Eileen (played by a young and extremely fetching Jane Fonda) has shown up from Albany. Yep, she's spending her vacation with her big brother. Adam keeps his cool, tells Eileen he's taking Mona "ice skating at Rockefeller Center," and heads off to find a quiet place to, er, relax.

Meanwhile, Adam's boss (played by the hilarious Jim Backus) calls the apartment. Adam has to fill in for a flight to Pittsburgh. So Eileen hops a bus to find him, runs into Philadelphia music critic Mike Mitchell (Rod Taylor), and what ensues from there is one amusing little series of mistaken identity and "this isn't what it looks like" moments.

These kind of pictures aren't going to win any Oscars, but pepper them with attractive women, Peter Nero jazz and a nostalgic look at an era in which men wore coats and ties -- even to row in a canoe on the park's lake with their gal -- and you don't seem to mind much. Despite my tirade against bad TV the other day, sometimes a little nonsense is exactly what you need.

Hated to learn that this little ditty isn't out on DVD. Especially since my TiVo decided to screw up and miss about five minutes in the middle and the concluding scene at the end.

Anyway, I just loved Adam's bachelor pad. Fireplace, spiral staircase upstairs, bar in the corner -- my condo isn't near as cool.

Oh, well. That's what old movies are for, I guess.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The songs that didn't make it...

This one's for all the songs that didn't make it.

You know what I mean. Album cuts, lost singles, sure-fire hits that didn't chart, damn good songs the public missed.

I tend to seek these out, cherish them, blab about them to anyone who will listen. They're usually better than the hits.

I've told you before about John Mathis and "Yellow Roses on her Gown." Won't repeat myself other than to say I have no idea why that song didn't make it.

Elvis had a slew of these kind of tunes. I spent about 5 years trying to track down "I'm Leavin'", a haunting, quite unusual song that EP recorded in 1971. Found it on a vinyl album box set in '95. RCA finally got around to releasing it on CD later that same year.

"Loving Arms" is another lost classic. Elvis recorded this during the nadir of his career (mid-70s), but it's one of his best. Those silly Dixie Chicks brought it back on their debut album, and I must say, did a pretty darn good job.

Briefly, other Elvis notables are "It's Midnight" and "Pieces of My Life." The latter was a hit for Charlie Rich.

B.J. Thomas had one, too. It is called "Most of All" and should have been recorded by Elvis instead of "I Just Can't Help Believin'." Also, if you never heard Thomas' "Rock and Roll Lullaby," run don't walk to iTunes or some such place and download it.

I could give you 100 other examples. But, for the sake of time, I'll share with you the song that prompted this blog.

Found my old 33 1/3 vinyl records while moving to the condo. One sentimental favorite was Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler" album. On it is one of these lost classics, a Mickey Newbury composition called "San Francisco Mabel Joy."

I remembered the song when I heard it, had discovered it as a kid, playing the tar out of the 8-track version of this album. (What an awful technology.) Listened to the little story again over the weekend and was quite taken with it. I'm going to see if I can bribe Emily into learning it so we can sing it.

A Google search revealed that both Joan Baez and Waylon Jennings recorded the song, too. Had no idea.

Anyway, here's the lyrics. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Or if you know this song, and love it as much as I do, send an e-mail my way.

San Francisco Mabel Joy

His daddy was an honest man
A red dirt Georgia farmer
His mama lived her young life having kids and bailing hay
He had fifteen years and an ache inside to wander
Jumped a freight in Waycross and wound up in LA.

Oh, the cold nights had no pity on that Waycross Georgia farm boy
Most days he went hungry then the summer came
He met a girl known on the Strip as San Francisco's Mabel Joy
Destitution's child born on an L.A. street called shame.

Growing up came quietly in the arms of Mabel Joy
Laughter found the mornings that brought the meaning to his life
Night before she left sleep came and found that Waycross country boy
With dreams of Georgia cotton and a California wife.

Sunday morning found him neath the red light at her door
A right cross sent him reelin' and put him face down on the floor
In place of Mabel Joy he found a merchant mad marine
He said your Georgia neck is red but, sonny, you're still green.

He turned 21 in a grey rock Federal prison
The ol' judge had no mercy on this Waycross Georgia boy
Starin' at those four grey walls in silence Lord he'd listen
To the midnight freight he knew could take him back to Mabel Joy.

Sunday morning found him neath the red light at her door
With a bullet in his side he cried have you seen Mabel Joy
Stunned and shaken someone said she don't live here anymore
She left this house four years ago, they say she's lookin' for

Some Georgia farm boy...

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, May 23, 2008

Dumb it down, baby

Got into an interesting conversation yesterday with a professor from UT about World War I. Won't give too much away since I have a column to write.

But, one thing he said, about another topic, piqued my curiosity. He was talking about good television, and how it doesn't have to be dumbed down for moronic consumption. At its best, he said, television can educate, entertain and inspire.

He's exactly right.

God knows I've wasted a big portion of my life watching mindless sit-coms and hour-long escapist adventures on the tube. As the great savant Willy Wonka once observed, "A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men."

At some point, though, you have to ask yourself what this crap says about us as a society. "Temptation Island," for example, comes to mind, as does virtually anything on MTV.

Compare something like "M*A*S*H," the most popular 30-minute show of its day, with its mid-'90s equivalent -- at least in terms of popularity -- "Seinfeld."

"M*A*S*H" started off as a fairly lowbrow sit-com, "Hogan's Heroes" goes to Korea, have a laugh on me, I can help. And then something wonderful happened.

Alan Alda and producers Gene Reynolds, Burt Metcalf and Larry Gelbart decided to make this show stand for something. You'd laugh, sure, but you also might learn something, could ponder a grand point, gain insight into why humans do the things they do, and even (quick, make sure nobody's looking) shed a tear or two along the way.

And, somewhere amid those 11 years, the stereotypes became three-dimensional characters. Alda tried to show us how to become better human beings. William Tecumseh Sherman would have been proud. It was difficult to come away from a night with the 4077th not believing that war is all hell.

"Seinfeld" was a self-described show about nothing. Occasionally amusing, sometimes brilliant (Kramer finding the set to the "Merv Griffin Show"), "Seinfeld" often morphed into a 22-minute ego trip. Four selfish, impish, incredibly solipsistic characters would roam around Manhattan, all wrapped up in themselves, commenting about the most inane aspects of life.

I can't tell you the delight I took when the much-hyped "Seinfeld" finale came nowhere near the ratings monster that was the final installment of "M*A*S*H."

Times change, I guess. Two generations removed from Vietnam, maybe something like "M*A*S*H" is no longer relevant.

What's that? You forgot about the wars in the Middle East?

Guess you were too busy watching TV...

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

'For years I was smart; I recommend pleasant'

Here's a crazy theory for you.

I believe that a person reads a certain book, or hears a certain song, or watches a certain movie, or bumps into a certain person, at a particular moment in time for a darn good reason. The book, song, movie or person brings with them a message, or a smile, or a laugh, or a tear, just for you, right when you need it.

It may sound nuts, but I think it's true. Happened to me last night.

Got home late from another crazy workday. Put the groceries away (God, I hate being domestic) and flipped on the TV. Wanted to watch baseball, but the Braves were in a rain delay and the Tigers were blowing out the Mariners. (Detroit decided to play offense for a change. We'll see if it lasts.)

So, I remembered that it was Jimmy Stewart's birthday, fumbled through my DVDs and found "Harvey." And, I must say, that silly little picture was exactly what I needed last night.

Stewart shines as Elwood P. Dowd, an alcoholic but charming middle aged man who spends most of his time in a downtown bar with his unseen 6-foot, 3-inch pal, a rabbit named Harvey. Of course, this drives his sister Veda (brilliantly portrayed by Josephine Hull) and niece Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne) crazy, not to mention scaring off virtually everybody with which Elwood comes into contact.

One day, when he and Harvey ruin a clambake Veta was throwing for Myrtle Mae, Elwood drives the final nail in the coffin. Veta decides to have him committed.

Well, the film turns into a screwball comedy from there, but along the way, it manages to make some gentle and quite humanistic points about life. Elwood may be off-center, but in the film's universe, he might just be the most normal -- and certainly the nicest -- human being around.

At one point he tells the psychiatrist from the mental hospital, "My mother used to say to me...'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant."

And also:

"Well, I wrestled with reality for 35 years, doctor, and I'm happy to state that I finally won out over it."

In the end, Veta realizes that Elwood is too special a human being to change. She releases him from the hospital, forbids the doctors to shoot him up with their serum.

As the cab driver tells Veta just before she saves Elwood from the psychiatrist's hypodermic, "After this, he'll be a perfect normal human being. And you know what stinkers they are."

Sometimes it's difficult to look at the world through a romantic lens. You're often let down, regularly disappointed, sometimes broken-hearted, by what you see. Nothing stings quite so badly as some cynical or snide comment, or snub, or rejection, especially from those you love.

What Elwood and his rabbit teach us is that you can't let the pettiness of others, or the innate cruelty of this ol' world, get you down. You gotta keep going, be true to who you are, keep caring too much and singing too loud and laughing too often, regardless of whatever pigpen the legions of the miserables want to wallow in.

You're right, Elwood. For years, I tried to be smart, sometimes even tried to be a smart aleck.

And, you know what? If life's taught me anything, it's that I recommend pleasant, too.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

FDR, Jimmy Stewart and other things I shouldn't know about...

Americans will go to the polls this November to select a new president, provided the Democratic primaries have ended by then. It feels like an important election, full of real problems and tough challenges.

Which is why "FDR," PBS's 4-part documentary from '94 on Franklin Roosevelt, which concluded last night, seems so timely. We're nowhere near a depression, but this year's electoral burden seems heavy. Thus it was in 1932, when voters took a chance and elected a popular governor from New York to fight its economic woes.

Roosevelt's story is nothing short of inspiring, regardless of one's political affiliation, especially his courageous struggle with polio. The New Deal gave the nation a much needed jolt of confidence, even if it did take the Second World War to pull us out of the Depression.

FDR wasn't without fault. He tried to pack the Supreme Court. He was estranged from his wife. He ran for an unprecedented fourth term in 1944, knowing deep inside that he was a dying man; he didn't even tell Truman about the atomic bomb.

But he didn't shirk, to borrow his favorite phrase, his rendezvous with destiny. If ever America elected the right leader in the right place at the right time, it was the patrician from Hyde Park.

Will such a president be elected this fall? Stay tuned...

Today would have been Jimmy Stewart's 100th birthday. That stuttering, "aw shucks" actor was a true American hero, World War II pilot, the kind of guy any self-respecting man would do well to emulate.

The funniest thing I ever heard about him came from, of all people, my mom, who once remarked, "That guy always played weirdos."

Well, I thought about it, and she's partially right. It was an unfair comment, though, because I'm almost certain I was watching "Harvey" at the time she said it...

If I make it home tonight at a decent hour, I think I'll flip on the DVD player and watch Stewart and Duke Wayne tame the town of Shinbone in John Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." That movie is great on so many levels, but most especially for this immortal line:

This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Happy birthday, James Stewart, wherever you are.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, May 19, 2008

The song

It's beautiful, the way a Chopin prelude is beautiful, the way Catherine Barkley in Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms" is beautiful, the way the sun is beautiful, when it sets in the evenings over the rippling waters of the lake.

I can't explain it. I hear in its rhythms something so damn beautiful, and yet its lyric is so damn sad. I also hear in it something I've lost, and something I've never known and will never have.

Good music hits you in such a way. It was the same, if not near as acute, with Roberta Flack, and "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." I heard that, years ago, on an old 45. It gave me a youthful understanding of what it means to want a woman with all of your inner being.

I came home last night, sat down, and tried to will the pain away. But it wouldn't go, so I dialed the iPod to something poignant, smoked a cigar (yeah, I know I shouldn't, sue me already) and dulled the senses enough to function.

It's insane, I know, but what I thought about was Hemingway, or really about Catherine, and how his hero walked into the rain the night she died. I wanted to be elsewhere, drowning my soul, but the moment, alas, had passed.

It always does.

Friday, May 16, 2008

'The Cuz' graduates

Oh, the passing of time.

The world goes by at such a blur. You look up one day and 5, 10, 15 years have disappeared. They tell me it gets worse the older you get.

Cousin Jaren graduated from high school last night. We gathered at a favorite eatery, P.F. Chang's, to celebrate.

I thought back to a long-ago trip to Myrtle Beach, when a young Jaren used to make his mother align the bite marks on his McDonald's hamburger and bun if they got out of line. I remembered the time he didn't want to wear an outfit to school; when he didn't get his way, he frowned in the class photo, as if he'd been sucking persimmon. He owns more pairs of tennis shoes that anyone I've ever seen -- all in immaculate condition.

Needless to say, Jaren has always been a favorite.

He loves his family, is kind of sensitive, possesses an off-beat sense of humor. He's struggled with juvenile diabetes for a lotta years, and learned to give himself shots without a word of protest.

I can't even imagine trying to come of age in today's social climate. But I wish Jaren, and his generation, all the best.

Godspeed, bubba.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Empty tables

Double bonus for a Wednesday:

Pause with me a minute and remember the life of a remarkable talent today. Francis Albert Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board, Ol' Blue Eyes, died 10 years ago today.

I just wrote an extended piece on Sinatra and his signature film role in "From Here to Eternity" last week. So, I won't belabor the point.

Suffice to say Sinatra was and is a legend, a performer in every sense of the word, the kind you liked, the kind you hated. He was vulnerable and he was cruel, but more than anything he could sing (and swing) his ass off.

Here's to you, Frank. This Jack Daniel's and soda is for you, pal.

Since you've been gone, every night has been like singing to empty tables...


Let's R-U-N-N-O-F-T

I've got a toothache.

But, you don't care about that. Sorry. Feels better to get that out of the way, though.

It's been raining here in Halls this morning. Kind of cool for late spring. I didn't want to get out of bed.

Here I sit, though, failing miserably to put any words down. Trying to forget about my tooth.

You ever want to just run off somewhere? I'm not thinking about a ballpark today. No, I think I want to go to the lake.

Fish a little bit, maybe? Cook some for supper, definitely. Enjoy the water and the cabin and the sunset, I'm thinking. We can talk and eat and drink and relax.

After the daylight slips away, I'll light a fire. It's perfect up there during a cool spring twilight. We can sit on the back porch and talk about everything and nothing at all.

Whaddya think? I'll drive if you buy the gas...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Left in the dark...

I had it all planned.

Sunday afternoon was going to be my time. I was skipping the UT baseball finale (good move as it turned out), had already gone to eat with Mom and given her a present (Happy Mother's Day!) and now had the day to myself.

I threw some laundry into the washer (sigh), put Jon Schwartz's "Sunday Show" on XM and leaned back in my recliner. Now, this is more like it!

Then I heard the clap of thunder. Tony Bennett stopped singing on the XM. The power was out.

But, wait. No clouds. Huh?

A few minutes later I heard the utility trucks. Seems the high winds had knocked down a power line. After awhile, KUB blocked off a section of Brown Gap Road while they worked.

This isn't so bad, I thought. I opened all the blinds, grabbed the issues of Sports Illustrated and Newsweek I'd neglected all week and polished them off. Somewhere in the midst of stories about Obama's pastor and the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks, I drifted off to slumber.

Woke up about 4. Still no power.

I met some friends for supper at Puleo's, hoping things would be fixed in a couple of hours.

Nope. Still black as the night. So much for watching that Sinatra special on TCM.

Instead, I grabbed the iPod and tried to listen to Charles Frazier read "Cold Mountain," a book I'd read a decade ago. But that got boring, so I managed to find a candle, then sat back in the chair, picked back up the iPod and tuned to some old time radio shows I'd downloaded a year ago.

Suddenly I was solving a mystery with Ellery Queen. After that, Marshal Matt Dillon and I helped Doc Holiday get out of a jam on "Gunsmoke." It was silly, but it was fun, and I couldn't help but wonder how many kids developed their imaginations doing this exact same thing on rainy Sunday nights of yesteryear.

Between acts, the announcer told us to "stay tuned to CBS Radio for the upcoming Democratic National Convention." I couldn't help but feel nostalgic for something I'd never known.

After "Gunsmoke" ended, I listened awhile to Miles Davis and his quintet work magic on "Flamenco Sketches." Then I gave up and went to bed.

Loud jazz music woke me up about 1 a.m.; the TV receiver was still resting in the "on" position. I shut it off and went back to sleep, glad in a way that I'd been left in the dark.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Autumn in spring...

So it's late afternoon on a Saturday, and I'm sitting in the Ramsey's Restaurant back room, drinking a sweet tea, watching the Cubs and the Diamondbacks on the corner TV. Baseball seems tailor-made for a lazy day. Its pace, its rhythms -- it all fits together.

Today is a day for endings. Barring unexpectedly good weather tomorrow, I won't make it back to UT for the season finale. So, today's 5-2 loss to Kentucky was most likely all she wrote for another year.

The Vols got our hopes up in the home half of the 9th with two last-minute home runs. But, as usual during this dreadful losing streak, it was all for naught, too little, too late.

I said good-bye to Carol, her sister Kay and to Bob, my friends in Section C. I looked around for usher Jim, but he'd disappeared. We don't know if we'll be together again next year. New construction at Lindsey Nelson Stadium may break us all up. We'll see.

Tennessee has a game tomorrow (weather permitting) and one last SEC series at South Carolina. But it doesn't look like they'll have to worry about packing for Hoover and the SEC tournament. The fond optimism that followed early, unexpected wins gave way to the realization that this team just isn't very good.

Oh, well. They're young. They need pitching. Badly.

Meanwhile, I'll have the Braves and the Tigers to keep me busy this summer, with the occasional Dodgers' and minor league games thrown in here and there.

Funny thing, though. It felt a little like September this afternoon on Rocky Top. I took one last look around the field, winked at my favorite bat girl and drove off toward the Strip, closing the books on the orange-tinted '08 version of the greatest game of them all.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Frankie's shining hour

Didn't feel much like baseball last night -- which to those who know me well should tell you something. Got home from work just before 8 and surfed away from the Braves game to Turner Classic Movies in time to catch one of my favorites, the 1953 Columbia classic, "From Here to Eternity."

It's probably most famous for the then-provocative scene on the beach between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, but at its core, "Eternity" is Frank Sinatra's film. He's a supporting player, not the name above the titles, but he so dominates the role of Pvt. Angelo Maggio that he's noticeably missed when he isn't on screen.

File this one under Exhibit A for making the case that Sinatra, without question really, was the greatest entertainer of the American century.

I'll dispense with the usual plot summary other than to say this film focuses on the men that make up an army unit in Hawaii during the days leading up to the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. It's a guy movie, full of the rhymes and rhythms of military life, but it has a little romance and all the other stuff filmmakers used to think they needed to tell a story.

Lancaster is his usual terrific self. Kerr is mighty fetching as his illicit lover. My favorite woman in the film, however, is Donna Reed, who I will insist to my grave was one of the most beautiful women of her day. More importantly, she was a darn fine actor.

But this is Sinatra's picture. You can almost feel that Maggio was a character he was born to play -- the scrappy Italian who ain't takin' nothin' off nobody -- ripped straight from his own sense of who he was as a man and a performer.

Frankie was down on his luck when this movie premiered. He'd been released from his longtime recording contract with Columbia. His records weren't selling anymore. His tumultuous marriage to Ava Gardner had ended, too -- with Frankie holding the bag -- and the pieces of his broken heart.

He needed a comeback. Maggio was it.

From here, Sinatra made another fine little film ("Suddenly," in 1954) and bounced back on the music scene in a big way, making magic for Capitol Records during his long association with arranger Nelson Riddle. (Those Sinatra/Riddle albums of the '50s, by the way, are essentials for anyone who claims to love American popular music.)

After the film ended, I popped in some of Sinatra's early big band work with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, and thought awhile about what being an entertainer used to mean. Elvis may be the king, Ellington may be the Duke, but Sinatra really is the Chairman of the Board.

If you doubt me, watch "From Here to Eternity" and "Suddenly" back-to-back, then take a listen to the "Wee Small Hours" LP.

It's not even close, folks.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The look

"All our young lives we search for someone to love. Someone who makes us complete. We choose partners and change partners. We dance to a song of hearbreak and hope -- all the while wondering if somewhere, somehow, there's someone perfect...who might be searching for us." -- "The Wonder Years"

I think about the look sometimes, in the mornings mostly, when things are quiet and the day has yet to begin.

I've seen it twice, I guess, both times after offering a few meager words that don't come anywhere close to how I really feel. Her eyes lit up, though; a smile crept onto her face. And she glowed. It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

I think about that when the world doesn't make much sense. All the cynicism disappears and for a few moments I still believe in the old, good dreams, the crazy ones, that have absolutely nothing to do with sense or reality.

I'm a romantic fart and tend to wear it on my sleeve. It usually gets me into trouble, or leads to misunderstandings, but I don't know how else to do it. I tried being stoic awhile, but keeping things bottled inside nearly killed me -- literally. I am who I am and am finally becoming comfortable with it.

And I guess if I were honest with you, and can be an absolute wuss for a moment, I'd say that my fondest wish (other than for the Tigers to figure out how to pitch and hit) is to fall madly in love with a woman and go 100 miles per hour on a feeling as untamed and free as wild horses on the run -- something that isn't limited to your own fears, reality or the stifling expectancies of modern suburbia.

Sometimes I feel so close to it, staring at Jay Gatsby's blinking green lights, literally in front of my face. Other times it's a pipe dream, as distant as Pluto, and I'm insane, people say, for even thinking about it.

But I hear it in a sad song, see it in an old movie, read about it in a Hemingway story. And I saw it a couple of times in a brief look -- the most beautiful thing you've ever seen.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Still crazy after all these years...

Heard a special soul singing Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" last night. And, aside from it being a hell of a song, I thought, "How appropriate a theme for this nutty life of yours, Mabe."

What a difference a day makes. I went into the weekend (as you can probably tell by Friday's post) angry and frustrated. Nothing serious. Just had let the normal stress of the week, plus a couple of jerks, get to me. Kind of wanted to go home and crash.

But I forced myself to make it out to the UT game Friday night. And, they lost, but what a night for baseball. Chattin' with my pals in Section C, I was happy as Ernie Banks, ready to play two.

Saturday I chilled at the house until going to give my godson his birthday presents. There's nothing like a 3-year-old's youthful enthusiasm to lift your mood.

Sunday I caught the series finale against Vandy (UT lost that one, too -- but again the weather was perfect) and celebrated my sister's birthday with the family. Life is good.

And, last night, I kept humming that Simon song and thought about all the fun I've had during my short time on this earth. Suddenly the disappointments, the stress, the bills and the ups and downs with the opposite sex all seemed part of it, too, the moments you carry with you on such a journey.

America has rolled by, the world has changed, friends and women have come and gone, but here I sit, laughing too loud, singing off key, carrying on too much about the songs and sports and books and girls I love, still crazy after all these years...

Friday, May 02, 2008

Let it be...

There will be an answer, let it be...

Sometimes the best thing to do is punt (or, in this case, throw) the ball.

Come hell or high water, I'm heading out of here in about an hour for the UT baseball game against Vanderbilt. I need a break. Too pretty to be inside anyway.

Oh, what a week. I've let things get to me. You know how you do. A lot of it is soap bubbles --- work and other things that are always going to stress you out.

Biggest thing is this: somebody I admire let me down this past week. But, it reinforces that old cliche that we're all human. It's impossible -- and unfair -- to expect people to be more than they are, I guess. Bad thing is I usually don't miss the mark so badly when it comes to sizing up somebody.

But, here's the thing. You just can't worry about other people -- what they think or what they do or what they feel. You can't please everyone, Rick Nelson once sang, so you gotta please yourself. Good advice, both for garden parties and human relations.

Bottom line is I'm letting it be. Not going to worry about it anymore. The only thing this ol' boy has to concern himself with is his own actions. To hell with somebody else's blindness and misguided judgments.

I'm off to the ballpark. Here's hoping you find your Walden this weekend and spend time with the things (and people) you love.