Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas time's a-comin'...

So, how are you doing on your Christmas shopping?

Well, I'm not doing too badly. Still have a few little things to pick up, which I hope to do today or tomorrow. I'm bound and determined to make this as painless as possible.

Sad it's come to that, isn't it? I really do enjoy giving more than receiving, but I hate waiting in lines. And you can forget seeing me at the mall.

I guess my favorite part is getting to spend time with family and friends. This year, my wife and I will spend our first Christmas together as a married couple. That will be fun.

However you spend the holidays, I hope they are extra warm and bright this year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

One last time...

I may be the only 33-year-old in America with a hand-picked, self-created "Glen Campbell's Greatest" playlist on my iPod. So be it.

I am a fan. Have been for a long time.

I guess it probably started with "Rhinestone Cowboy," one of those songs you grow up with. And "Gentle on my Mind," which I think is brilliant, and "Wichita Lineman," which I think is poetry. Plus, I liked the fact he used to be a Beach Boy. Somewhere along the way, more than 20 years ago now, I saw "True Grit." You know, the real one, with John Wayne. And with Glen.

I finally saw him in concert in the 1990s. He'd lost his high register by then, no longer sounding like a Dee-light, Arkansas country boy on speed ("Hello, everybody, I'm Glen Campbell!")

All those Jimmy Webb gems were favorites, including the rarer ones, like "Where's the Playground Susie?" and "Still Within the Sound of My Voice." And he could pick a guitar like nobody's business.

Saw him again two years ago in North Carolina. That time around, I started collecting his vinyl records. I finally stopped when I ran out of room.

Last night, I bought one more Glen Campbell vinyl: his final studio album, "Ghost on the Canvas." The Rhinestone Cowboy stopped in Maryville to say goodbye. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in July. Sigh, sigh.

You can read my thoughts on the show in Monday's Shopper-News. For now, I'll say it was a bittersweet night and felt very much like what it was -- a final salute to an old friend.

You'll be missed, Glen. Thanks for the music.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

'Here's that Rainy Day'

Because it's raining here in K-town this afternoon, here is one of my favorite songs, by the late, great Mel Torme.

Smooth as silk, baby!

Funny, that rainy day is here...

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why do I like 'Storage Wars'?

I am a self-described "Reality TV" hater.

I truly dislike the genre. The shows are bogus. The networks like them because they are cheap to produce; they don't have to pay writers. I've never watched an entire hour of "Survivor," not even when it was popular.

But, for whatever reason, I like "Storage Wars" on A@E.

My friend Dean Harned got me watching it. I didn't think much about it at first. But, the more episodes I watched, the more I found myself looking forward to it.

I particularly get a kick out of "The Collector," aka Barry Weiss. I admire a man who spends hundreds of dollars on a storage unit just to buy one or two items. Plus, he pulls up in a different vehicle in every episode.

It's a bit silly, but like "Pawn Stars" and "American Pickers" (which for some bizarre reason both air on the so-called History Channel) I like to see some of the vintage items culled from the units.

Heck, it's more amusing than most of the sitcoms on network TV.

(The same can not be said for the "Storage Wars: Texas" spinoff. Whoever came up with that cheap knockoff should be fired.)

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Monday, December 12, 2011

'The Descendants' doesn't disappoint

Well, here's something you can't say every day. I saw a movie and it was almost as good as the book.

When we were in Hawaii back in the fall, I heard some buzz about an upcoming George Clooney picture called "The Descendants." It was filmed on Oahu and Kauai and was getting good marks for showing "the real" contemporary Hawaii.

I read the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings when we returned to the mainland and really enjoyed it. Hemmings writes in a fresh, 21st-century voice, and creates vividly realized characters. I remembered seeing the trailer for the film back in the summer and awaited it with some anticipation.

But, then, that old dreaded feeling crept into the back of my mind. What if, like so many others, this turns out to be a bad adaptation of a good book?

Didn't happen.

Clooney delivers a perfectly restrained performance as Matt King, a lawyer whose wife slips into a coma following a nasty boating accident. He suddenly finds himself reconnecting with his young daughters, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller). At the same time, he's having to finalize plans to sell longtime family property on Kauai to a business developer. Oh, and he finds out -- and I'm not revealing anything you don't see in the trailer -- his wife was having an affair at the time of her accident and planned to leave him.

Yes, "The Descendants" is a bit depressing -- I don't know why it was released during the holidays -- but it's also seriously funny, shockingly so at times, and is a moving piece about family, priorities, mortality and responsibility.

This should give Clooney some serious Oscar buzz. He takes a role in which he could have overacted and delivers a nuanced, thoughtful performance. Woodley and Miller are also picture perfect. The images I had in my mind of these pivotal characters were almost exactly what these two young actresses bring to the screen.

Oh, and I can't forget about Nick Krause as Sid, Alexandra's amusing, bumbling, pot-smoking friend. He provides some serious comic relief.

A special treat for us was seeing neighborhoods and parts of Honolulu through which we drove in October. It also made us want to hop on a plane tomorrow afternoon and spend a few days on Kauai.

For some reason, critics are complaining about Clooney's voice over. I have no idea why. It's a perfect plot device and reminded me of the book's narration. I don't see the problem.

Don't go into this film thinking you're going to see a pleasant two hours in paradise. This is a serious movie that deals with some deep and at times disturbing issues. But it's so well done, and with its oddly perfect mix of morbidity and hilarity, you simply should take it for what it is, which is a really good motion picture.

"The Descendants" is rated R.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

'Halls guy' finally makes it to the Waffle House

OK, I have a confession to make: until today, I'd never once eaten at the Halls Waffle House.

I'm not sure why, really. I've been to the Waffle House at Emory Road and I-75 several times -- after a George Strait concert, for a mid-morning breakfast interview with David Hunter, on assignment with Don Dare years ago. Stopping by the Waffle House at the Clinton exit used to be a ritual for Drew Weaver and me when we'd go to the lake. And, yep, I've stopped at several of them throughout the South during my travels.

But I'd never eaten at the Waffle House that is literally within walking distance of my office. Go figure.

We wanted breakfast for lunch and were running behind. Jennifer suggested Waffle House. Those patented hash browns sounded super.

Place was packed. We sat at the bar. The food hit the spot.

So, too, did the conversation. Every Waffle House I've ever been to employs servers that are ripped right out of "Alice." I have to confess I enjoyed every "honey" and "sugar" and was only disappointed that nobody said, "Kiss my grits!" Best of all, I never once had to wait on or ask for a refill.

Sitting at the bar, we got to watch the servers. They are in constant motion, yelling orders, washing dishes, gossiping, cleaning this or that, counting change. In spite of the busyness, the service was superb. I think it's partially because unlike most everywhere you go these days the Waffle House, or at least this one, is staffed properly, almost as if -- stop the presses! -- they expected the Sunday noon crowd.

Our bellies full, we bounced into the boundless sunshine ready to go see the beauty of the Smokies. Color me satisfied.

I don't know why I waited this long.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

'Old Soldiers'

Last night was the first chance I've had since I heard about Harry Morgan's death to throw an episode of "M*A*S*H" in the DVD player and say good-bye to one hell of a great character actor.

I chose "Old Soldiers," a favorite from 1980, in which Col. Potter learns that he's the last surviving member of a group of friends and soldiers-in-arms from World War I. Yep, I'm not ashamed to say I teared up a little while the Colonel bid his comrades farewell.

I may have told you before that "M*A*S*H" made me a better person. The show's gentle humanism plucks the heartstrings like a violin virtuoso. When Potter says he wanted his new friends from the 4077th to be with him for the toast -- friends whom he said have come to mean more to him than even his old war buddies -- well, that just about does it, don't it?

My pal Charles Kincade says watching "M*A*S*H" is like spending a few minutes with an old friend. And he's right.

For my money, there will never be another show like it. Not a chance. Can't come close.

Here is a link via veteran "M*A*S*H" writer Ken Levine to Gary Burghoff's thoughts on Harry Morgan's passing.

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Friday, December 09, 2011

'What about the shillelagh?'

My friend J.M. called last night to tell me that one of my all-time favorite people, former UT football coach Johnny Majors, was on "SportsTalk" on AM 990 helping predict the winners of this year's bowl games (with David Keith!).

I chuckled when Majors picked North Carolina State to lose its bowl game, saying: "NC State's been kind of a yo-yo team all year."

For some reason, it made me think of one of the more bizarre and hilarious moments from his final "Johnny Majors Show" with John Ward in 1992. Near the end of the program, Majors had been quite serious, thanking a tearful Ward and others. And then, out of nowhere, he says what sounds like, "What about the shillelagh?" (pronounced "shil-lay-lee") and throws his pen.

Ward starts laughing and says something like, "Never again!"

I have no idea what Majors was talking about.

A shillelagh is an Irish cudgel or club, traditionally made of blackthorn or oak. Well, that doesn't tell me anything.

J.M. says he remembers the winner of some football game getting a "shillelagh trophy." That's exchanged by the winner of the Notre Dame/Purdue football game each year.

Sounds more plausible, but if that's the reference, I have no idea why Majors would bring it up during such a serious moment or why Ward then said, "Never again!"

Must have been an inside joke.

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Godspeed, 'Colonel'

The 4077th has lost one of its most beloved alumni.

Harry Morgan, the actor who will forever be known to me and thousands of other "M*A*S*H" fans as Col. Sherman T. Potter, passed away yesterday. He was 96.

Here is The New York Times obituary.

Morgan had been in a ton of movies and co-starred in at least two TV series (one being the revived late '60s version of "Dragnet") before being signed to play Potter after McLean Stevenson left "M*A*S*H"in 1975. Morgan had played a crazy general on the series the previous season and had left an impression on the cast and crew.

He later called Potter "the best part I ever had," winning an Emmy in 1980.

I'm one of the few people who actually prefer the later episodes of "M*A*S*H." Morgan is a big reason why. As much as I loved Stevenson's Col. Henry Blake, Morgan's Potter was wise, sardonic, amusing, sentimental -- everything you'd want in a CO. He loved his Zane Gray westerns, his horse Sophie and his wife, Mildred.

When he first got to Hollywood, he was known as Henry Morgan, but wisely changed his first name to avoid confusion with the jackass TV personality Henry Morgan. I can remember seeing him in one of my favorite westerns, the chilling mob psychology drama "The Ox-Bow Incident." Later, he had a colorful role in John Wayne's last film, "The Shootist."

I can still picture him as Col. Potter, riding off from the Korean War on Sophie, after sharing one final goodbye with Alan Alda and Mike Farrell. Loretta Swit's Margaret Houlihan called him a "dear, sweet man" and he was.

You'll be missed, "Colonel." Godspeed.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

'Too long in the wind, too long in the rain...'

Just heard that Dobie Gray has passed away. RIP.

Everybody remembers his monster 1973 hit "Drift Away."

Gimmie the beat, boys, and free my soul; I wanna get lost in your rock and roll...

But here is my favorite song of his, "Loving Arms," which was later covered quite well by Elvis Presley.

Thanks for the music, Dobie. Guess you're singing somewhere through the lonely night, too long in the wind, too long in the rain...

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Having fun in Fountain City

Well, no matter what happens from here, I've already had a great Christmas.

Here's what happened:

Last night was the annual Fountain City Lions Club Christmas party. It's one of my favorite events of the year.

Kaye Galyon cooked a fabulous feast. Yum, yum.

The Lions are a great bunch. I enjoy slapping backs and swapping stories and hearing Gib Galyon's jokes.

Lynn Bennett comes just about every year and sings Christmas carols. Like I've said in the newspaper, she can channel Mahalia Jackson when she wants. Last night, she sang one of the most soulful versions of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" I've ever heard.

Well, the last few years they've goaded me up front to sing "Blue Christmas." I gave up my Elvis gig 15 or so years ago. But I always make this one exception as a Christmas present for Mary Sue Miller.

So, I jumped up and sang it last night. But, Lynn wanted me to do another one, so I threw in "Hound Dog." Paul Caton can play just about anything on the piano.

Then Lynn asked me to sing along with "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph." So, I did.

On my way to sit down (I thought) I started mumbling about those old Andy Williams Christmas specials that used to come on TV. I said I guess I was a nerdy kid because I always wanted to do that -- be one of those crooners belting out the classics in a cardigan sweater.

Somewhere along the way, Paul started playing the notes to Williams' signature tune, "Moon River." I shook my head and laughed but the crowd clapped.

So, I opened my mouth and let it fly. Nobody threw anything, so I guess it turned out OK.

Hearing Lynn and Paul and spending time with the Lions have become as much a part of my Christmas season as anything else. Thanks for the early present, y'all.

Monday, December 05, 2011

'The Art of Excellence'

The Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli was on PBS last night singing at a concert recorded in Central Park.

It was quite the show. We missed the first part of it, but managed to hear him sing "The Prayer" with Celine Dion and "Amazing Grace" and a few others. I looked up a nice version of "Ave Maria" on YouTube after the show ended.

I perked up when 85-year-old Anthony Dominick Benedetto, better known as Tony Bennett, strolled out on stage to help Bocelli belt out "New York, New York." For some reason, it made me think of Tony's "comeback" album, "The Art of Excellence" (1986), his return to Columbia Records, which kicked off a professional second wind that kept going through "MTV Unplugged" and "Live by Request" to the present day.

I'd never heard of the album until Jonathan Schwartz was playing it one Sunday on his radio show. I used to think my favorite track was "How do you Keep the Music Playing," but another listen drew me to "A Rainy Day" and the "Why Do People Fall in Love/People" medley and "I Got Lost in Her Arms" and "When Love was All we Had."

We started out as children on a carousel...

I sometimes wonder whether singing like this is on the verge of extinction, but I think it will endure. Both younger and established artists continue to draw from the Great American Songbook. Over the weekend, I saw Streisand and Michael Buble and a couple of others on TV singing from it.

Oh, heck. If nothing else, I have my tapes and discs and iTunes and records.

Sing it, Tony...

It really was worthwhile to live when love was all we had...

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Sunday, December 04, 2011

Maybe he needs to get out of the Beltway...

Twitter is one of those interesting aspects of modern life that sometimes makes me wonder if it's just another excuse to waste time.

Oh, don't get me wrong. Twitter is a good way to find links to news stories you might otherwise miss, blogs, coupons, traffic tips, weather updates and amusing one-liners. I use it to plug my blog and my newspaper column. And I also follow a few celebrities, mostly news types.

Somewhere along the way I started following Luke Russert. I like his take on sports. I liked his dad, Tim, and still miss Tim's steady presence on "Meet the Press." Luke is a young man (born in 1985) who covers Congress for NBC.

Luke has made me give my Twitter feed a double take a couple of times, though. During one of the Republican presidential debates earlier in the year, he tweeted something like, "Where the hell was gas $1.59 a gallon in late 2008?" after one of the candidates mentioned it.

Well, I knew quite well that gas got that cheap here in Knoxville, so I told him so. He didn't reply.

Today he tweeted: "The entire #Bills bar including myself just went 'Who the hell is Michael Buble?'" No doubt they'd just seen one of CBS's previews for tonight's "60 Minutes" story by Lara Logan on the popular Canadian singer.

Dang, Luke, get out of the Beltway every now and then!

Buble is a Grammy Award-winning pop singer (granted that doesn't mean what it once did) who has sold more than 30 million records. He had a huge hit in 2005 with "Home" and his Christmas CD has roared to the top of the charts. I first saw him 11 years ago in the film "Duets" and enjoyed his concert at Thompson-Boling Arena in 2008.

(He's also hosting a Christmas special on Luke Russert's own network on Tuesday night.)

I can somewhat give Luke a bit of a pass on this one. I don't know much of anything about modern day music. But I do know Buble. He's a throwback in a lot of ways. He wears a coat and tie on stage and has a stronger vocal range than Frank Sinatra did. But he croons in that same style and actually has talent, which is more than one can say for most of what passes for popular music.

I will say that I did shake my head when I saw Logan was going to be profiling Buble on "60 Minutes." But, heck. It's Christmastime. And he can ring-a-ding-ding almost as well as the Chairman of the Board.

I hope you know who that is, Luke.

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Saturday, December 03, 2011

Christmas comes to Halls

There we were, sitting on the steps in front of Halls Middle School, enjoying a remarkably mild December afternoon and watching busy people build floats.

It was almost time for the Christmas parade.

We'd at first sat on that concrete contraption in front of the high school gym, mainly so I could admire a guy's dune buggy. But I had a headache and the furious fumes weren't helping. So, we walked a ways and got a glimpse of the Loveland Baptist Church float.

One thing I like about taking pictures at the parade is that virtually everybody you meet wants to be in the paper. Even a girl who didn't seem too happy while her mother fixed her hair beamed when I asked if I could take her photograph.

Shannon Carey was busier than scavenging ants at a July Fourth picnic. She was running this way and that, telling folks where to turn, making sure the parade preparation, chaotic at best, didn't devolve into downright anarchy. Give her a gold star. She and Pam Jordan worked their tails off.

We admired a guy's Golden Jubilee Ford tractor, gave grins to a woman with the greatest holiday hair I have ever seen, and became all warm and fuzzy inside when Kenny Widener, the parade's perennial Santa, brought with him his three-month-old granddaughter.

Yes, my friends, the holidays have come to Halls. Frank Capra ain't got nothin' on our Christmas parade, I'll tell you that.


Thursday, December 01, 2011

The New York Times and me

Yes, I am a newspaper junkie.

Makes sense, I guess, given my vocation, huh?

But I always have been one, long before I ever dreamed I'd herd words for a living.

I started reading the local papers (we had two dailies then, alas and alas, an era gone with the wind) when I was in elementary school. It was addictive, even then.

I can remember the first time -- this was several years later -- I got hold of The (Sunday) New York Times. Oh, my. Now this was a newspaper! You could read it all afternoon -- heck, all week -- if you wanted.

It was once fairly ubiquitous at Kroger on the newspaper rack. But along the way most of the grocery stores in these parts, including Kroger, either reduced the amount of copies for sale or didn't carry it at all. At one time, the Weigel's gas station on Maynardville Highway at Ledgerwood carried a grand total of one copy. I once got there at 6 a.m., just as the doors opened, to snag one.

Home delivery of the Times didn't even make it to Knoxville until a few years ago. And finally -- finally -- it has made it to my zip code. I signed up for the Sunday Times and felt like a kid at Christmas the first morning I saw it at the bottom of the driveway next to the News Sentinel.

Some of my favorite columnists -- William Safire comes to mind -- are long gone. Maureen Dowd used to infuriate me. Now I agree with her more often than not, or am at least amused.

The Gray Lady has taken some tough hits over the past decade. Jayson Blair and all of that. But it's still the best daily in the country by leaps and bounds. And, every time I read it, particularly the arts section's Broadway reviews, it never fails to put me in a New York state of mind. It makes me want to hop a plane and wake up in the AM at the Milford, run out for a quick bagel and coffee, and work my way back to the room with a city edition to spend the morning with an old friend.

By the way, if you missed "Page One," the excellent documentary film about the a year at the Times, go find it. It's a powerful argument as to why, even in this age of smartphones and super bloggers, the ol' newspaper is still as important as it ever was. Maybe it's even more important now that any idiot with a computer and a camera begins to dream delusions of grandeur....