Saturday, August 25, 2012


Neil Armstrong is dead following complications from heart surgery. He was 82.

RIP. Your one small step will never be forgotten.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

The 35th

I can't really tell you why Elvis Presley is my favorite singer.

The artist, the music, the listener -- a connection exists. You can't explain it.

The fun part is you don't have to explain.

It makes me sad so many folks don't really know Elvis. Look past the stereotype, the bad jokes, the even-worse impersonators (several of them are worth the price of admission), the so-so films and all that kitsch.

Go back to the music. Go back to the man. Take a good listen. Take a good look.

I had put Elvis away, folded him neatly and placed him in a box marked "memories" for most of the last decade. Well, I had ODed on him during my childhood and needed some distance.

And here's the great part. A year or two or three ago, Elvis came back into my life, as if he'd put on the black leather and stepped back into the national consciousness on NBC-TV in December '68. And you know what? He's even better this time around.

I bought a Sirius/XM player in large part so I could listen to Elvis Radio. Jenn would tell you I probably listen too much, but like Jose Feliciano just said from Memphis, "I'd rather be addicted to Elvis Radio than to drugs."

Elvis left us 35 years ago today. The world is a much duller place without him.

It's funny. I feel like he's an old friend. You may think that's nuts. I don't care. Elvis is there when I need him. All these years later, he's still entertaining.

If you don't like him or don't get it, that's OK. I guarantee you have an Elvis in your life. And that's cool. It's what puts the fan in fanatic.

I like the later, mature stuff, more "Suspicious Minds" and less "All Shook Up." But I'll say this. Some of the gems the disc jockeys on Elvis Radio dig up have given me a new appreciation for the "Young Man with a Big Beat" years.

One of these days, I'll make it back to Memphis, to Graceland, to pay my respects. I want to see whether it's changed in 15 years. I want to say thanks.

Forgive me if I am just a little bit maudlin today. I am going to pause. To smile. To listen to the music, that sweet, sweet music. To remember.

God bless ya, Elvis. You'll always be The King to me.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

From "M*A*S*H" to trash

Tonight, Jenn flipped on the tube around 9 o'clock.

CBS, the once and proud Tiffany Network, was airing one of the worst excuses for a sitcom I have ever seen, some kind of nonsense called "Two Broke Girls."

The jokes, if you could call them that, were sexual in nature, sophomoric, unfunny, pathetic. I've heard simians speak with better clarity.

The most depressing part of it all was the realization that this lowest-common-denominator filth is going to air in the time slot once held by "M*A*S*H."

Ah, now there was a television series. Serious, hilarious, sobering, healing. I have said it before and I will say it again. "M*A*S*H" made me a better human being. How many shows can you say that about?

I'm not a prude when it comes to this kind of thing. "The Big Bang Theory," network television's best series at the moment, uses sexual humor quite well. "Two Broke Girls" isn't even a bad joke.

I have to be careful when I am tempted to give in to these "the world is going to hell" rants. Television has been full of garbage since its golden years. ("My Mother the Car" anyone?)

But, for the life of me, I'll never figure out how, in just 30 short years, we've gone from "M*A*S*H" to trash.

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mellowing out ('Far Out!') with John Denver

Sunday morning is coming on quietly, cup of coffee, "CBS Sunday Morning."

Tracy Smith is in Central Park, Shakespeare in the Park, James Earl Jones, Meryl Streep, Sam Waterston.

The newspaper tells me Rheta Grimsley Johnson is in New Orleans. The Big Easy. Of course, she's writing about music. Sweet music.

Speaking of which, now I'm listening to John Denver ("Far out!") circa Japan, 1981.

"Starwood in Aspen." "Country Roads." "Follow Me."

And I feel free.

Glen D. and JB are in the band. They used to perform with Elvis.

Ol' Elvis. I miss him. I really do. I miss his talent, his kindness, his clothes, his cars. The world is darker and duller without The King.

They used to tour with orchestras and backup singers and horns and strings. Now we get CGI, explosions, Autotune, awful.

My music is mostly gone now, relegated to AM and 8-tracks and specialized stations on Sirius/XM. That's OK. All that really means is it's still here when I need it.

Which is often.

"Without a song," you see, "the day would never end."

Far out.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Nobody did it better...

RIP, Marvin Hamlisch.

Conductor. Composer. Creator of some of the best music of our lives.

"Nobody Does It Better," from the 1977 James Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me."

"A Chorus Line."

Adapting Joplin's music for "The Sting."

(Even the score for "The Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman" 1987 reunion TV movie.)

And, of course, "The Way We Were."

Believe it or not, I have never seen that film. I've had my issue with Babs over the years, but I love the song. Particularly its melody.

Hamlisch conducted some of the most renowned orchestras in the country, including the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, of which former Tennessee football coach Johnny Majors was a longtime booster. I catch their concerts from time to time on WUOT-FM.

Hamlisch leaves behind an impressive body of work, songs we'll never forget, misty water-colored memories of the way we were.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Literary ADD

I have literary Attention Deficit Disorder.

No, really. I think I do.

Or maybe it's just another example of my obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

Case in point:

I read the excellent new biography on Walter Cronkite. And then I buy, mostly on the cheap, books by or about many of the CBS news correspondents from the Tiffany Network's golden age, enough to fill a sizable shelf.

I tour the Knoxville FBI building. So, I seek out a copy of Don Whitehead's "The FBI Story."

I read a piece in The New York Review of Books about a new Dickens biography. And want to read everything. "Great Expectations." "Bleak House." "David Copperfield." Everything.

Gore Vidal passes away. I recall reading "Lincoln" years ago. And I want to read "1876." And "Burr." And one of his memoirs.

I stumble upon the lauded 1981 Granada Television version of "Brideshead Revisited" streaming via Netflix and immediately want to wallow in Evelyn Waugh.

What gives?

A thirst for knowledge? Definitely. A deep and abiding love of literature? Certainly. OCD? Maybe.

Literary ADD? Probably.

Please forgive the adverbs.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Curiosity has landed!

Mission Control: Curiosity has landed!

Yes, I stayed up until roughly 1:30 a.m. (EDT) to see NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity land on the Red Planet.

Well, to tell you the truth, I almost missed it. I nodded off while reading Jeff Himmelman's engaging new memoir about the late and legendary Ben Bradlee, the former executive editor of the Washington Post. But, I awoke with a start about 1:15 and made it in front of the TV in plenty of time.

Down it came. Picture perfect. The folks at NASA (California) were jumping up and down, high-fiving, grinning from ear to ear. I did the latter, too, figuring this will most likely be my moon moment. I doubt I'll live long enough to see a human being make it to Mars.

As usual, the nattering nabobs of negativism were busy denouncing this mission as a waste of cash. One, on Facebook, actually said, "This is about the future!"

I thought to myself, "Yes. Exactly."

Space is the final frontier. It's in our very nature as human beings to explore it, for one thing to see what's out there, for another to reap the scientific knowledge.

The day the human race stops dreaming, stops exploring, stops searching for information, is the day it is finished. Had no one dared to explore the Earth itself, people might still think it was flat. People once thought, incorrectly until the solar system was studied, that the earth was the center of the universe.

NASA hasn't helped its cause over the years (see the Challenger and Columbia disasters). That didn't matter early this morning.

The United States has put a super scientific vehicle on Mars. On Mars! MARS!

Hey, Olympics: Take one of those gold medals and send it to NASA.

As Walter Cronkite might have said it, "Oh, boy!"

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Sunday, August 05, 2012

Grand ol' game delivers again

Baseball is an old friend, a comfortable companion, here for six months or so, if I need it.

I haven't watched much of it this year. Work and other pursuits have kept me busy. Jenn and I did catch a minor league game in Chattanooga with my friend Kurt a couple of months ago.

This afternoon I was trying to ignore a migraine when I got an email from my buddy David, a Detroit Tigers fan from Ferndale, Mich. He told me Tigers manager Jim Leyland had been thrown out of this afternoon's game against the Indians. The Tigers were looking to sweep the Tribe.

"I'll go turn it on," I replied.

And I did.

Baseball's leisurely pace -- it is not boring if you know its rules and strategy -- is part of its endless appeal. I scanned the headlines, surfed the Web, even listened to part of a Charlie Rose broadcast on Bloomberg Radio, all while the Tigers and Indians maneuvered in Motown, and I missed nothing. It helps that the Tigers' TV talent do their jobs well.

The game see-sawed a bit. Cleveland by a run. Tie. Tigers by a run. Tie. So forth.

I thought Detroit had it won in the bottom of the ninth when Austin Jackson hit a triple -- the best offensive play in the game -- with nobody out. Wrong. The Tigers offense couldn't move him 90 feet.

Free baseball ensued.

And everything imploded for the Old English D. The Indians scored three runs in the top of the 10th. Fans headed to the exits. That seemed to be that.

I came close to switching the TV to a DVR-recorded broadcast of today's "Face the Nation." Then I remembered the time my dad and I left Neyland Stadium with three minutes or so to go in the 2002 edition of the UT/Georgia football game.

Tennessee took the lead and lost it -- and the game -- in a span of two minutes we didn't see. I vowed then and there I'd never leave a sporting event early again. Maybe I would make an exception for life-threatening situations. Maybe.

Sure enough, I was rewarded for my patience.

The Tigers scored five runs in the bottom of the 10th, the last two on a majestic, super, joyful walk-off home run by Miguel Cabrera. For a second or two, it felt like the postseason -- The Shot Heard Round the World and Kirk Gibson's gimpy trot around the bases in '88 and Magglio Ordonez's '06 miracle shot in the ALCS all rolled into one.

I didn't jump up and down. But I grinned. And grinned. And grinned some more. Felt like anything was possible.

For a minute, I didn't think about datelines and deadlines, deadly shots in Wisconsin and Colorado or civil war in Syria. For a minute there, I was a kid again, and all was right with the world.

Exhibit A as to why baseball is the greatest game of them all. Don't tell me otherwise. Don't talk about football or basketball or golf or The Olympics. I'm not buying it.

Not today.

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Saturday, August 04, 2012

A few things I've missed

Hi gang.

Sorry to have been absent for awhile. Of all things, I tested positive for strep throat. Couldn't believe it. The nurse should have given me a Snoopy sticker and a sucker on the way out the door. Ugh.

I missed a hero's birthday yesterday. Legendary Scripps-Howard columnist Ernie Pyle was born on Aug. 3, 1900. You may know he was killed by machine gun fire on April 18, 1945, just north of Okinawa, while covering the war for the newspaper chain.

Ernie was my kind of guy. He liked to be in the trenches with the grunts. He wrote about them instead of the generals. He helped get a bill through Congress securing combat pay for the troops. His war dispatches won him a Pulitzer.

It is a great honor to be able to say that I work for the same organization that once employed Ernie Pyle. Jenn and I visited his grave at the Punchbowl in Honolulu on our honeymoon. One of my most treasured possessions is a collection of dispatches Pyle filed from Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains during September 1940. My friend Rheta gave them to me as a wedding present. Such a thoughtful gift.

I hesitate to say anything about what transpired Aug. 1 at Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country. I joked that what disturbed me most about the controversy was the amount of times I saw the restaurant's name misspelled on Facebook and Twitter feeds. And that's enough of that. You have your opinion about it, no doubt. I will keep mine to myself.

I used my sick leave to get caught up on several shows that have been resting quietly on my DVR's hard drive for many moons now.

Oh, how I love "Downton Abbey." That final scene from Series 2, in the snow with Matthew and Mary, delighted me to no end. "Downton" is this generation's "Upstairs Downstairs." Speaking of which, I noticed the original "Up Down" is available on Netflix streaming. Methinks I will watch it -- and savor it -- again. That series has aged as well as a fine wine from a very good year.

I continue to enjoy my guilty pleasure for the summer, TNT's new version of "Dallas." Maybe, just maybe, somebody is paying attention and will give Larry Hagman the Emmy he should have received 30 years ago.

I didn't make it to Nashville to see Barry Manilow. I didn't make it to Memphis to pay my respects to King Elvis the Presley. It's OK. Health comes first. I've seen Manilow many times and Graceland isn't going anywhere.

I have managed to make a dent in my book queue. Douglas Brinkley's biography of Walter Cronkite is a must-read for news junkies and TV and pop culture historians, or for anyone who loves a well-written biography.

In one sitting, I more or less enjoyed Mitch Albom's "For One More Day," soap bubbles that warmed the soul. Now, I'm tackling a more meaty tome on the U.S.'s so-called "twilight war" with Iran, written by David Crist, a veteran of both Gulf Wars. Heard him talking on NPR a week or so ago. The book begins with the 1979 revolution and continues to the present day.

Gore Vidal died this week. Whether one agreed with him or not, Vidal harkened back to an era when, as he once put it in a PBS interview, "everyone seemed to read and authors were celebrities."

Proof of such can be found in kinescopes of the game show "What's My Line?", on which a guest panelist might be Herman Wouk and a regular and beloved panelist was Bennett Cerf, co-founder of Random House.

Vidal often referred to his native land as "The United States of Amnesia," meaning that Americans by and large tend to forget or, even worse, never bother to learn our nation's rich history. Methinks he may have been correct on that final point, a fact that has already created needless tragedy and may ultimately prove fatal.

I guess that's it for now. I'm feeling some better, but still don't seem to have much energy. Have a good weekend. I'll see you soon.