Saturday, March 31, 2012

Yesterday once more

I may have told you this story before, but in lieu of recent events, here it is again.

Eighth grade, English class, Halls Middle School. I hear the most beautiful voice wafting through the cracks in the dual classroom's partitioned wall. The social studies students next door were watching a documentary about the '70s.

Long ago, and oh, so far away, I fell in love with you before the second show...

My heart jumped into my throat. Chills ran up my spine. Birds sang. Bells rang.

And, right then and there, I fell in love with Karen Carpenter.

Hers was a rare gift, that voice precious and pitch-perfect, intimate, awesome. I thought she was singing straight to my soul.

I bought a Greatest Hits disc and began to appreciate Richard's incredible arrangements as well as Karen's angelic articulation. Soon, I bought every one of The Carpenters' A&M albums as well as a couple of imports, the box set and the recordings Richard released after Karen's tragic death. (You know that story, no doubt.)

I wrote to Richard Carpenter in 1995 or '96. His longtime secretary Evelyn Wallace sent me a sealed vinyl copy of The Carpenters' last studio album, "Made in America." I never opened it.

Yesterday, my friend Amy brought me some rare Carpenters recordings, including ones stripped down to the center channel. Oh. My. God.

I told my friend Chuck it used to bug me to no end whenever a Carpenters record would finish playing on the radio and the disc jockey (remember those?) would say, "And that was Karen Carpenter..."

I would yell, "Well, what about Richard, jackass?"

He's never gotten just due for his genius and that's a damn shame.

Hurry, quick, go watch this concert on YouTube, recorded in Budokan, Japan, in 1974. Savor it. Or devour it. Just go listen.

Call them square, I don't care. If you say that you're just proving you're cynical or stupid or, worse, can't appreciate good music when you hear it.

Yes, I fell in love with Karen Carpenter on a day that does seem long ago and oh so far away. I remember it now and will cherish it forever. That moment is mine and even today, whenever I hear that voice, just like before, it's yesterday once more.

Shoobie doo lang lang.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Happy birthday, Vincent

Today is the birthday of my favorite painter, Vincent van Gogh, born in Holland in 1853.

Shown here is his iconic work, The Starry Night, and here is a link to the haunting and beautiful song "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)," written by Don McLean and performed by McLean and the late and great Chet Atkins.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Where my riches lie

So, I'm sitting in one of the back offices, finishing up a news meeting, when the phone rings.

On the other end of the line is a voice I haven't heard in at least four years. Ted Griffith, great guy, film buff, former sportswriter for the daily Knoxville Journal.

"Just had to call you about that great column you wrote about 'Casablanca,'" Ted says. "It's been my favorite movie since I was eight years old. I've seen it about 150 times.

"It's the closest thing to a perfect movie," he said. I agreed.

Turns out Ted had the same problem with the digital projection that Jenn, Dean and I did. (You can read that post here.) All I can say is, "Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away..."

We chatted awhile, about movies and mutual friends and maybe going to Pall Mall (that Tennessee town is pronounced like it looks, unlike the cigarette) to see Sgt. Alvin C. York's grave.

Ted made my day just by calling. Then he put the icing on the cake.

"I've just loved getting to read your column since I moved to Fountain City. It's just like you're having a conversation."

I gave the credit to Sandra Clark, my boss, mentor and friend, who told me years ago to write as if I were telling the tale to a neighbor over the fence behind the house.

"Your style reminds me a lot of Ben Byrd's," he said, meaning the legendary sports editor of the daily Knoxville Journal. Ben's "Byrd's Eye View" column was required reading once upon a time.

I thanked Ted profusely, although I'm not sure I belong in such company.

I mentioned Marvin West. Ted says Marvin's the best. I told him reading West's words each week is like listening to Mozart.

Silver and gold, diamond rings and limousines, you can keep all that. My riches lie with my family and friends, in the fact I herd words and get paid for it, in the sweet and simple joy of an unexpected phone call on a Thursday afternoon.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A treasured gift

Sorry I haven't written for a couple of days. Haven't felt too well. Got the crappy spring crud.

Tonight, Jenn brought home a box that turned out to be a wedding present from a friend that is a nationally-known columnist and writer. Included in the box were a piece of pottery and a book inscribed to me entitled "Gatlinburg and The Great Smokies."

The book is a collection of columns originally filed by Ernie Pyle for the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain (I work for its current incarnation, E.W. Scripps) in the fall of 1940, written during his visit to Gatlinburg and LeConte. It was collected in 1951 by The Mountain Press.

What a treasure. As you may know, Ernie is one of my heroes. My greatest source of pride about working for Scripps is being able to say I am employed by the same company for which Ernie Pyle once worked. Of course, I'm in the Rookie League and he was a major-league star. Jenn and I visited Ernie's grave at the Punchbowl in Honolulu when we were in Hawaii last October.

The book's forward says: "They (the columns) are good reading -- by one of the truly great writers of our time. They are about things close to the heart of all who love the Smokies. They are simple (as is all great writing) sincere and touched by a quaint and whimsical humor.

"I wish to thank Loye W. Miller, Editor of the Knoxville (Tennessee) News-Sentinel, and Bert Vincent, Strolling Reporter, for their help and cooperation in re-printing these columns."

It is signed C.C. Callaway, Gatlinburg, Tenn., 1951.

This thoughtful gift will be treasured as long as I roam this earth.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

21st century blues

I'm tired.

Don't know if it's some sort of malaise, the wonderful effect of puke-green pollen, or just deadlines and commitments.

But, I'm tired.

Did a little work this morning then came home and slept for four hours. Sinuses drained. It rained.

The highlight of the day was Jenn bringing home two totes bought at a yard sale, filled with old newspapers and magazines, about Elvis and JFK and Mickey Mantle and Richard Nixon. Down at the bottom of one was a surprisingly clean vinyl copy of Elvis's last studio album, "Moody Blue." Alas, the vinyl was blue. I'll find the black vinyl version one day.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. One box also contained something I've never seen: The Rolling Stone issue from just after Elvis's death.

I heard today that the Elvis statue is being removed from what used to be the Las Vegas Hilton. Hearing such news on the heels of seeing the trailer for the new Tim Burton "Dark Shadows" farce made me want to crawl into a hole and hibernate.

I was born too late and I know it and sometimes it just plain sucks.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

My new toy

Thanks to the incredible graciousness of my friend Sherry Cannon, pictured here is my new toy, a stationary, manual Underwood typewriter. Ahh, I can just hear the clickety-clack of the keys, music to my ears.

I'm still looking for a portable manual typewriter with its case that is in good working condition (without having to break the bank to buy it). Thought I had one spotted on Craigslist, but the seller hasn't gotten back with me. If you might have one with which you're willing to part, shoot me an email at

Gotta tell you one quick story: My first visit to the newsroom of a daily newspaper was a major disappointment. I had grown up watching "The Last Page" and "All the President's Men" and "Lou Grant." So, I was expecting a loud, busy newsroom, filled with cigarette smoke and people yelling "copy!" and noisy typewriters and the occasional sip of alcohol from a bottle kept in a desk drawer.

Instead, I found a deathly quiet, mostly empty room, filled with computers and cubicles.

Color me disappointed.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Still the greatest, as time goes by...

So, I went to see "Casablanca" tonight at Regal Cinemas West Town, a special Turner Classic Movies-sponsored showing for the film's 70th anniversary.

With one exception, which I'll get to in a minute, it was a great time.

This is a perfect film, a true testament to the studio system, the best American film ever made, with all due respect to the American Film Institute and "Citizen Kane." There is not one wasted word, not one miscast actor, not one flawed scene.

And the crazy part is the whole darn thing was an accident.

"Casablanca" was just another film rolling through the Warner Bros. factory in 1942. The script arrived daily, in pieces, and didn't have an ending. Director Michael Curtiz was great with the cast and terrible with the crew. Ingrid Bergman didn't think much of the film itself.

But a classic it became and, of course, it found an ending, a perfect one, courtesy of the Epstein brothers. Oh, and did you catch that the whole thing is an allegory for American involvement in World War II?

And what a cast -- Bogie, Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Dooley Wilson, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S.Z. Sakall. And that song, that haunting, beautiful song, immortalized by Wilson, you must remember this.

All those money quotes:

"Here's looking at you, kid," and "I'm shocked -- shocked -- to find that gambling is going on here" and NOT "Play it again, Sam." Listen carefully. It's never said.

TCM host Robert Osborne filmed an introduction, telling us the movie was shot for about $900,000. He talked about the script problems and repeated the story (which may indeed be apocryphal) that Ronald Reagan was almost cast as Rick Blaine.

This is the movie that made Bogart a motion picture star. He was tough and he was vulnerable and, yes, he could play the romantic leading man and play one quite well.

Our only unpleasantness for the evening was, again, a disappointing experience with digital projection. Yes, the print looked pristine. But, it kept getting interrupted with occasional pauses and a bizarre flashing message about someone not being authorized to view the film. At least it wasn't as bad as the time I tried to see the documentary "Senna" at Downtown West and the subtitles -- much of the film is in Portuguese -- were cut off.

Say what you will, none of this would have ever happened with a 35mm print.

But, even those annoyances couldn't ruin classic Hollywood's cinematic triumph, a film for the ages, still the greatest of them all, as time goes by.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Quote of the day

One of my all-time favorite presidents is Harry S. Truman.

I used to hate the guy, taking literally that the "S" stood for nothing. I don't know. I thought he paled in comparison to FDR, that he was the little worm who fired MacArthur and once actually said, "If you vote for Nixon, then you ought to go to hell."

Then I read David McCollough's excellent biography, saw the fantastic Truman installment in the PBS Presidents series and watched that great HBO movie with Gary Sinise. And I realized that Truman was my kind of guy.

My friend Spencer Solomon, a former student of Dean Harned's at Gibbs High, posted a Truman quote on Facebook. And it reminded me of my all-time favorite Truman quote:

"Always be sincere, even if you don't mean it."

Heh, heh.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Who did Bowden Wyatt push into the pool?

Furman Bisher died over the weekend.

If the name doesn't ring a bell, he was a longtime sportswriter and columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I used to read his columns about the Braves and The Masters. He wrote a touching tribute to Skip Caray in 2008 when the longtime Braves broadcaster passed away way too early.

The good news is Bisher lived a long, long life. When he retired in 2009, he wrote his goodbye on the same old typewriter he'd used for years. And, even in retirement, he kept on writing. That's a man after my own heart. Here is the story in the AJC.

I got to thinking that Mr. Bisher was the guy that former University of Tennessee football coach Bowden Wyatt pushed into a pool in an infamous incident that ultimately led to his forced retirement.

I checked with marvelous writer Marvin West, who has forgotten more about Tennessee football than most of us will ever know, and he says maybe, maybe not. Marvin's mentor, the late Tom Siler, thought it was Alf Van Hoose of the Birmingham News. At least one longtime UT athletics guy thinks it was former Chattanooga coach Scrappy Moore.

If you can shed any light on whom the wet one was, drop me a line here at the blog or at

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rabbit, remembered

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite writers, the late and great John Updike.

He was prolific in his day, writing 20 novels and a ton of pieces (short stories, criticism), mostly for The New Yorker. His best-known works were the "Rabbit" novels about, what else, a regular guy named Rabbit Angstrom.

Updike became and remained life-long friends with author John Cheever. Despite a rocky relationship at times, their fondness for one another was such that when Cheever was erroneously informed sometime in the mid-1970s by a reporter that Updike had died, he got out of bed, wept and wrote a moving tribute to his old friend.

Here is the complete episode of Updike and Cheever's joint appearance on Dick Cavett's PBS program in the early 1980s.

Updike by reputation remained a "regular guy" despite the fact he rose to the heights of American letters. He found early on he didn't like living in New York City and moved his family to Ipswich, Mass., near Boston.

Remembers Garrison Keillor in The Writer's Almanac:

"After his death of lung cancer in 2009, many of his neighbors remembered him as a down-to-earth fellow, a participant in several civic organizations, a guy in corduroy trousers who played regular poker with the boys."

Just before he died, I remarked to a friend after a Super Bowl party, "You know, I'd love to go to one of these things and, just once, hear someone discussing Updike short stories."

I'm still waiting.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Day at The Waynesville Inn

Waynesville, N.C. -- Happy St. Patrick's Day from The Waynesville Inn.

This charming valley, tucked into the mountains, is showing signs of spring, cute and quaint, growing green just in time for St. Paddy's Day.

Yes, I've had some green beer. Yes, I've also had some Guinness.

We are celebrating my birthday here at the Inn, which sports a spa, a golf course, a tavern and a three-star restaurant.

In the 1920s, the dairy farm that occupied the current property was sold to Jim Long, according to hotel literature. Donald Ross designed the golf course and the rest is history. It opened as Waynesville Country Club in 1926. Famous guests include Chi-Chi Rodriguez, Arnold Palmer, Billy Graham and President Richard Milhous Nixon.

We went downtown today. I ducked into that endangered species otherwise known as an independent bookstore, Blue Ridge Books. Bought a New York Times. Jenn bought me Stephen King's JFK novel, "11/22/63." She shopped at a store that has a moving sale. I bought a festive hat and a new pair of rose-colored glasses.

We came back to the country club and enjoyed some brews and a burger at The Tap Room. I had bought a Romeo y Julieta downtown and smoked it on the deck after lunch while finishing off my Guinness. We have reservations at the Cork and Cleaver at 6.

Sing a chorus of "Danny Boy," eat, drink and be merry today.

Life is good.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

'Find the good and praise it'

At a Great Schools Partnership event last night at The Square Room on Market Square, Buzz Thomas reminded me of a quote by the late, great Alex Haley.

"In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good and praise it."

Good words. Good words, indeed. It is the mantra that I've tried to use to guide my career.

Happy Friday! Hope y'all have a good weekend.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Beware the Ides of March! (and of dissing Caesar's poetry)

On this date in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was assassinated.

"Beware the Ides of March!" the soothsayer said. Caesar went to the Senate anyway.

Et tu, Brute?

My all-time favorite Caesar story comes from the time he forced his captors to listen to his poetry.

Here, let my friend and Gibbs High social studies teacher Dean Harned tell it:

"Yes, he mocked them for not appreciating it and threatened to crucify them upon his release. He also demanded to know how much they were asking in ransom for his return and made fun of them for asking so little. When he was freed he tracked them down and crucified them, though he cut their throats to hasten their passing because they had amused him."

Heh, heh. Now that, my friends, is funny.

If it weren't so late as I type this, I'd pull the Complete Shakespeare off the shelf and read the entire play.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Something's rotten in the Garden

Today is Pi Day.

No, not the apple or cherry kind, and I didn't forget the e.

Think math: 3.14.

I hate math.

In other news, Mike D'Antoni is out as coach of the Knicks. Makes me wonder what will become of Jeremy Lin. I think he's here to stay. We'll see how he'll fit into another system.

Carmelo Anthony is being quoted as saying he doesn't know where the comment came from about him saying he wanted to be traded. My guess is from his own lips. But, that's just a guess.

My friend Joey says Melo is a coach killer. There's some truth to that.

What puzzles me is how a guy can come on like gangbusters for a quarter and then go cold, and I'm talkin' Siberian winter cold, for the rest of the game.

If you've watched the Knicks of late, at least since Linsanity landed back on earth, you've noticed they aren't gelling. For better or worse, the coach's job is to take what you've got and figure out a way to make it work. D'Antoni, apparently, couldn't do it. The bench is by and large playing great. The stars? Not so much.

I hate to see D'Antoni go in a way. Always wanted to go have a beer with the guy. Liked him personally.

Something's rotten in the Garden. Just don't be surprised if a big part of it doesn't leave with D'Antoni and sports a No. 7...

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012


"Today's my birthday. And...I'm...getting drunker!"

Before you laugh, sigh, or call my mother, that's a quote from a vintage 1997 "Saturday Night Live" satire of the then-popular A&E program "Biography." I know my friend Dewayne Lawson will remember it immediately.

Actually, I'm propped back on the couch, sporting my Hawaii Warriors hat, watching a mini birthday marathon of "Magnum, p.i." Jenn's away so I'm free to watching old TV shows.

I always watch "Magnum" on my birthday. Particularly the episodes "Laura" (with special guest star Francis Albert "Frank" Sinatra), "Forty" (in which Magnum hits the big 4-0) and "Limbo" (which should have been the final episode of the series). I love this show. I want to go back to our 50th and most beautiful state. Soon. Now.

Depending on whether I can get to sleep, I'll also watch my favorite movie, the original (and best) "True Grit," with John Wayne and Glen Travis Campbell. Later today, I'll have lunch with my mom and then hang out with Halls grad and all-around great guy and guitar player Ross "Pat" Southerland. My guess is we'll dig out some old movies and cue up some tunes.

My wish for you is that you have a wonderful day, filled with love, hope, faith and laughter.

You honor me by reading this. Thank you.

Your friend,


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Monday, March 12, 2012

Another nice guy finishes last

In her column this week, my boss Sandra Clark offers her take on what voters said in last week's local elections.

Of the close win by Eighth District school board member Mike McMillan over Carter activist Conley Underwood she says, "Nice guys really do finish last."

I tend to think I'm the exception to that rule. But I digress.

We ran a front page photo (not the one here) from Underwood and McMillan's "debate" earlier this month at Gibbs High School. Looking directly into the camera, Underwood, smiling broadly, reminded me of former Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey, the perennial nice guy who lost to both Jack Kennedy for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, and to Richard Milhous Nixon in the 1968 presidential election.

Sandra's comment made me think of a documentary I saw last year on Humphrey and Kennedy slugging it out in West Virginia during the early portion of the 1960 campaign. There was Humphrey, an honest-to-God liberal crusader, pressing the flesh but losing in the end to the bronze warrior Kennedy, who was financed by his daddy's rum-runnin' money. Kennedy, later, used dirty tricks of his own (aka the dead voting in Chicago) to win against Nixon.

Now, let's get one thing perfectly clear (to quote a favorite pol): Mike McMillan ain't Jack Kennedy. He isn't even Boss Tweed. Or Boss Hogg.

But McMillan's backers played hardball. They followed Sandra's second rule: Politics is a blood sport. They reportedly flat-out lied to neighbors, telling them if McMillan lost, the new Carter Elementary School would never be built. They reportedly violated school board policy, politicking on school property.

It was a close vote, but it was enough.

I don't have a dog in this fight. I live in the Seventh District, don't know Conley Underwood (but I adore his aunt Shirley) and have known and gotten along with McMillan for years.

But, I do know that Conley Underwood worked his butt off for a new Carter Elementary School. Even after his kids moved on to middle school, Conley kept up the fight. Didn't have to, but he did. I can remember sitting through soporific, mind-numbingly long school board meetings, only to perk up when Conley approached the podium. He was sincere. He spoke from the heart.

Hubert Humphrey's optimistic grin went down again last Tuesday, this time to the bare knuckles, back rooms and deep pockets of the Knox Vegas good ol' boys.

A nice guy finished last in a very bloody sport.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

One heck of a great life

Sorry I haven't popped in for a few days. Been a busy week. Hope you've had a good one.

Did you remember to spring forward? Yawn.

Boy, I've had a great weekend. Friday night, Jenn and I spent a quiet evening at home. I sipped Hemingway's favorite highball, watched the Vols lose a heart-breaker, then saw the Knicks come up just short (again). Call it March Sadness. Special thanks to Skylar McBee for a three-pointer I'll never forget.

Saturday, we slept late, missed Marshal Andy's special pledge show, but made it to Joe Brooks' surprise 65th birthday party. Joe may live in Dandridge, but he'll always be a Halls guy. We sure do miss him.

Last night, Mom and Mike threw me an early birthday dinner. Barbecue ribs, red velvet cake, good presents and great company. I've got one heck of a great life.

Today, we were planning on taking in the UT baseball game, but the Daylight Savings change and a little insomnia has made me groggy. We're going to be lazy. I'm going to watch the Knicks and read the Times.

Birthday Week is off to a super start. I hope you all had a great weekend, too.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Kingle Single

Dwight Garner has a great piece in The New York Times about one of the lesser-known pleasures of owning an Amazon Kindle -- the Kindle Single.

Dwight says it well:

"I recently sat down and read 15 of these boutique minibooks. Most are blah; a few are so subliterate they made my temples ache. But several — like John Hooper’s reportage on the Costa Concordia disaster, Jane Hirshfield on haiku and Jonathan Mahler on Joe Paterno — are so good they awaken you to the promise of what feels almost like a new genre: long enough for genuine complexity, short enough that you don’t need journalistic starches and fillers."

I've read a couple. My favorite up 'til now is Pete Hamill's treatise on illegal immigration. But, having read Garner's article, I'm going to download the JoePa piece tonight when I get home.

Yes, I still adore the brick-and-mortar bookstore. Yes, I still buy paper-bound books. (Although if I bring too many more home my wife is going to kill me.)

But, I love the Kindle. I love it so much I have two. (Thanks, Jenn!) I'm currently reading Thomas Mallon's "Watergate: A Novel" on my Kindle Fire. Trust me, you quickly forget you're reading an electronic device and the e-ink technology of the original Kindle is easy on the eyes and doesn't glare in the sun.

E-readers and the internet are most likely the future of my profession. Heck, we wouldn't be meeting like this were it not for that lovely modern-day cracker barrel known as the weblog (or blog, for short).

So, I said all that to say all this, as Jerry Reed once sang. If you have a Kindle, don't miss out on the Singles. Good stuff. Good stuff, indeed.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Super Tuesday!

Today is Super Tuesday!

If you're eligible, please get out and vote. And, as they say in Chicago, vote early and vote often.

In honor of today's festivities, here is the greatest political commercial in American history, Nixon Now!, '72.

And here's Jake's take on the Republican race.

Rick Santorum is an extreme lunatic. No way around it. The guy's positions stem from the Stone Age, he isn't ready for prime time, he's as much a Washington insider as Newt Gingrich AND he suffered the greatest Republican senatoral electoral defeat in history in his 2006 bid for re-election, which he lost by 18 points. If Santorum wins the nomination, Mr. Obama's re-election victory will be larger than LBJ's '64 slaughter of Barry Goldwater.

Newt Gingrich is yesterday's news. The guy is smart, I like some of his ideas, I'd love to see him debate Obama, but he's got more baggage than Phyllis Diller. He would come into a general election with at least a 50 percent unfavorability rating. Newt's star shown brightly in 1994. Now it's time for him to set up his colony on the moon.

Ron Paul is great on most domestic issues, but terrible on foreign policy. Mr. Paul would've let the Nazis take over Europe and declare it not in America's interest to intervene. The reality of the situation is we live in a global economy. That's reality. I admire his respect for the Constitution and his no-nonsense straight talk. But I think a vote for Paul is tilting at windmills. Cue "The Impossible Dream."

OK, so Mitt Romney's a flip-flopper. Who isn't? I sure as hell don't think the same way I did when I was 18 and I want a president with the same flexibility. It shows a keen mind. The art of politics, after all, is compromise. Even Nixon, the ol' Communist hunter, made his greatest marks by reaching out to China and Russia. Reading "The Real Romney" sealed the deal for me. Like him or not, Mitt can win independent voters. He can win some of those 10 swing states on which elections hinge. He's super smart and has a proven track record on the most important issue of the day -- economic recovery. And if you think moderate is a bad word, please look up its definition.

Whatever your politics, go vote. Participate in the process. The privilege to do so was won with a lot of spilled blood.

Nixon Now!

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Monday, March 05, 2012

A rejuvenating Sunday, time to read and to reflect

Sunday was spent quietly, at home, reading, resting, reflecting.

Jenn is still exhausted. I am OK, rejuvenated from relaxation.

I made some coffee and watched "CBS Sunday Morning," slightly disappointed that Charles Osgood was on vacation. I miss his baritone and his bow tie.

Nice, nice segment on Hedy Lamarr and her inventiveness. Look it up, if you missed it.

Tracy Smith spent some time with supermodel Cindy Crawford. Don't tell anybody, but I have a bigger crush on the CBS correspondent.

I skimmed the Sentinel and tore into The Times, moved by a story from Syria and perked up by the politics. On the op-ed page was a nice salute to the retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, a real Republican maverick (you betcha!).

I found a nice book review of Thomas Mallon's "Watergate: A Novel," which is now downloaded to my Kindle thanks to a few Amazon gift certificates. I can already tell I'm going to enjoy it better than the engaging but bizarre "Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines A Life."

It remains to be seen whether it can top Kitty Burns Florey's "Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog," a loving ode to the lost art of diagramming sentences, which I could once do with ease and enjoyment at Brickey Elementary School and beyond. Do they even teach that anymore? I doubt it. (Quote of the book: "Use the right word, not its second cousin." -- Mark Twain)

Now, it's time to relax, time to seek slumber, time to get motivated for Monday morning.

Hope you had a wonderful weekend.

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Saturday, March 03, 2012

'La Dolce Vita'

Tonight I'm basking in the orange glow of Rocky Top, watching Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" and sipping a Sam Adams. Everything goes down better with a Sam Adams, after all.

Watching Fellini is a little like reading Faulkner. You've got to work at it. But, it's worth the work.

Some time ago, I watched Orson Welles' "F For Fake," clearly influenced by Fellini, particularly his later farcical surrealism. That's worth a look, if you've never seen it.

My pal Ross Southerland showed me a series of shorts once, one directed by Fellini. Alas, I don't remember its name. Darn good cinema, though.

Roger Ebert turned me onto this film. Here's his review.

Fellini's film speaks to me, maybe in ways I don't quite understand. A journalist, frustrated he hasn't done more, caught in a place from which he can't escape. Don't get the idea I'm in that space. I'm not. I just don't want to be caught there. Forever. Wasting whatever talent I possess. It's so easy, you see, to see only toward tomorrow's deadline.

We were in New York last weekend. That city quickens my pulse. I feel alive, full of gravitas, living la dolce vita, indeed.

It's a fantasy, the lights and the literati and the lovely lives of Manhattan. I know that. And still I want it.

Oh, how I want to wake up at the Waldorf-Astoria, A-No.1, king of the hill, a best-seller for Bennett Cerf, a welcomed mystery guest on "What's My Line?"

That New York -- that life, indeed -- is forever gone. It left us somewhere between Vietnam and Watergate, the cultivated manners and the black tie and tails replaced by blue jeans and Justin Bieber. God help us.

But it isn't so bad. I can watch Fellini on my Blu-Ray on a Saturday night, sipping on a Sam Adams, heeding its warning, dreaming my dreams.

That, my friends, is something.

La dolce vita.

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Friday, March 02, 2012

Southern Gothic, Union County, Summer of '72

Don't know if you know it or not, but the movies came to Maynardville in the summer of '72.

Yes, MGM shot a motion picture in Union County, bringing along such heavyweights as Rod Steiger and Robert Ryan and up-and-comers Jeff Bridges, Randy Quaid and Gary Busey.

The film was called "Lolly-Madonna XXX" (aka "The Lolly-Madonna War") and if you've never heard of it, you're not alone. It died a quick death at the box office in 1973. Some theaters even refused to show it, confused that the XXX (the symbol for kisses on a letter or postcard, i.e. Xs and Os) meant it was an adult film.

My buddy Bradley Reeves showed a restored 16mm print of the film tonight at the East Tennessee History Center. The print had faded a bit, but it was so good to see it on FILM, rather than some digital device. Yep, I still like to hear that whirl of a projector in a darkened theater. Call me crazy.

Based on an early and out-of-print novel by Sue Grafton (copies go for as high as $1,500 online), the story is basically a family feud gone horribly awry, a cross between "Deliverance" and the Hatfields and McCoys.

I first saw a television copy several years ago. It has never been officially released on home video or DVD. Don't know why, but I found myself enjoying it more this time around.

Don't get me wrong. This isn't "Gone with the Wind." It isn't even "Gidget."

But, it's a dark, Southern Gothic saga, vaguely Faulknerian in theme, something that could have been quite good given a better script and more competent direction.

I did a series of stories on the film for the Shopper-News in 2007. One mystery we've yet to solve is the whereabouts of Cathy Watts, an unbilled actress in the film who appears in flashback as Jeff Bridges' wife. Best I can tell, she graduated from Knoxville Central High School in the early 1970s and may or may not have been a cheerleader at the University of Tennessee.

Cathy, if you're out there, or if you know her whereabouts, drop me a note at

We had a great time in spite of a thunderstorm, Brad did a great job as always, and it was good to see a forgotten slice of East Tennessee cinema where it belongs: back on the big screen.

For a future list of upcoming movies in the "From the Vaults" First Friday film series, visit

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Thursday, March 01, 2012

'Monkees' in the morning

My friend Dean Harned to this day likes The Monkees better than The Beatles.

I thought about that yesterday afternoon when I heard the news that Davy Jones, the "Paul" of the group if you will, passed away of a sudden heart attack at 66.

And I thought, too, about the mornings we used to spend as kids, glued to the TV set when we only got four channels, watching "The Monkees" on WKCH 43. It later became a FOX affiliate and is now WTNZ.

I used to laugh whenever they'd run from the surf at the start of the show. And, for the record, my favorite one was Mike. I think it was because of his Southern accent. (Useless trivia: Mike Nesmith later co-wrote "Twelve Volt Man" with Jimmy Buffett.)

To this day, whenever I get "Daydream Believer" stuck in my head, I sing it for hours.

Cheer up, Sleepy Jean, oh, what can it mean?

I had a cassette tape (uhh) of their greatest hits and even "traded" for the Monkees revival album "Pool It!" (minus Mike Nesmith) from my friend Matt Shelton sometime in the late '80s. Yes, the Monkees reached down and grabbed us guys and gals from our generation, too, the one between X and Y.

Oh, where have the years gone? And, if I'm asking that, I can only imagine how the Baby Boomers feel this morning.

RIP, Davy.

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