Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bennett, '62, Lullaby of Broadway

Somebody told me about 15 years ago that the only reason Tony Bennett was still receiving such attention is because he has outlasted everybody else.

This was said in the afterglow of "Steppin' Out" and MTV "Unplugged."

I offer "Tony Bennett at Carnegie Hall," June 9, 1962, as Exhibit A for the defense. It's considered a classic now, but Bennett buffs will tell you, "This is the album that made Anthony Benedetto TONY BENNETT!"

It is playing tonight, softly, on the player. And, my goodness, what a record.

If you don't have it, get the complete concert, released on compact disc by Columbia in '97.

Oh, let's see. Where to begin? 

"Lullaby of Broadway" makes you jump. "Fascinating Rhythm" makes you smile. "Our Love is Here to Stay" makes you miss your sweetheart. (Mine is away on this rainy Good Friday.)

I have been a sucker for "Stranger in Paradise" since I first heard Bennett's original recording. Hearing him sing it live, that youthful voice full of fire, well, wow.

He goes into Harold Arlen's "I've Got the World on a String," and reinvents it after giving a generous nod to his buddy Francis Albert Sinatra, whom he calls "the president of popular music," and this was long before William B. dubbed Frankie the Chairman of the Board. Bennett sings it slowly, ballad-style, Ralph Sharon (who else?) playing softly on piano.

But *the moment* happens when Bennett begins what was then a brand-new tune "(I Left My Heart) In San Francisco." It's his signature song now, his "New York, New York," if you will, but on this long ago summer night, it's a moment, and it works. Spontaneous applause greets it; thunderous claps follow it.

Tony Bennett has gone on to record so many memorable songs, so many amazing albums. "When Joanna Loved Me." That beautiful session with Bill Evans. "The Art of Excellence." And, yep, "Unplugged."

But on June 9, 1962, at Carnegie Hall in The City That Never Sleeps, he put his name in the annals of popular music forever.

And, that, my friends, is why Tony is terrific, why he still matters, why seeing him on TV these days is such a treat, why lovers of good music will be listening to him 50 years from now. 

The defense rests.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Blogging the book: 'Falling in love'

This is my continuing review of "The Doctor's Daughter: Journey to Justice" by Belle Blackburn. 

Well, I endured several awkward first dates in my day, but nothing quite like what Kate found at the Rockwell home.

The theological discussion was fun. I like a good argument/discussion myself, although I'm not sure I would ever keep going until I had trapped a guest between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Seems arrogant.

Kate's first sighting of an indoor "privy" was cute. One can imagine. Must be similar to using a telephone for the first time. (Remember that scene in "Sgt. York"?)

So, Kate has fallen for Brice Rockwell after all. Saw it coming. Can't decide whether his intentions are honorable, but I am cautious that way. Personal bias, I guess. I learned that lesson the hard way a time or two.

Danny, Kate's best friend, "the brother I never had," she says, sure doesn't like it. Is he sweet on her too? Could the green-eyed monster be rearing its ugly head?

I had also been waiting for a scene in which Kate's mother's mountain medicine collides with what would then be considered modern methods. It came with a knock at the door. Pneumonia patient. Belle Blackburn, the author, does good work here. Doctor Mama sure didn't like it one bit. She doesn't think much of that university doctorin'. After all, the mountain methods have been working for hundreds of years, she says.

Of course, what was modern in 1861 sounds primitive day. Bloodletting and blistering a disease out of the body? No, thanks. Although if somebody told me today they could cure cluster headaches by drilling a hole in my head, I'd think about it for at least a minute or two. Let's just say they've earned the nickname "suicide headaches."

Tensions still play out, of course, between holistic health and the traditional trip to the doctor (and the pharmacy), and/or alternative care such as chiropractic or acupuncture still being frowned upon in some circles. Heck, even medical marijuana is part of the discussion, too, although I don't want to rip open that can of worms today.

The cold relationship between Kate and her mother reminds me somewhat of a scene in the film "The Last Picture Show," when Sonny Crawford runs into his estranged father at a Christmas dance.

"Sonny? How ya doin'?"

"Fine," Sonny says, looking downward, shifting uncomfortably.

"Well, that's good."


"See ya?"

The director, Peter Bogdanovich, who co-wrote the screenplay with Larry McMurtry, says he based the scene on an actual encounter he witnessed between comedian Jerry Lewis and Lewis' father.

But I digress.

Kate is off to a dance with Brice. She is learning more dances, just to be ready. I hope she doesn't get her heart broken. Brice seems like a nice enough fella. Why, then, do I have a shiver slivering up my spine?

Oh, and Brice's wealthy lawyer father? Will he come into play later? Might he help answer what really happened to Kate's father?

Onward we go, Kate and I...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Happy birthday to 'The Fugitive'

Remembering a favorite actor, the late David Janssen, on his birthday.

For my money, he is scandalously underrated. You might know him as Dr. Richard Kimble aka "The Fugitive." Or Richard Diamond. Or Harry-O. Or the reporter from "The Green Berets."

He is also in an underrated 1969 sci-fi flick called "Marooned," which co-stars Gregory Peck and Richard Crenna.  

If you happen to get "ME-TV," give "The Fugitive" a look. It is among the 10 best series in the history of American television.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Random thoughts

Welcome to spring! It snowed! Hope everybody who's on spring break went to Bermuda.

Dear NBC: In case you're wondering why you're in fifth place and a national punchline, I offer the Jerry Sandusky interview on "Today" as People's Exhibit A.

Oh, and by the way: Forget the Leno/Fallon debate. Just run rotating reruns of "Tonight" starring Carson, Paar, and Allen. Trust me, you have nowhere to go but up.

Blogging the book: Bear with me, friends. The big M came back over the weekend, so I was only able to read a few pages of "The Doctor's Daughter" by Belle Blackburn. Check it out at $2.99 digital download.

One reaction, though: Law enforcement and a coroner let a couple off without further investigation (so far) because the pair could touch the body and therefore could not have killed Kate's father!!!! Instead of sending weapons back to Civil War-era America like that fella imagined in his novel, maybe we should send a forensics team. Dang!

And what's that young man up to, courtin' Kate so hot and heavy? Color me cautious, but he better have good intentions. His words to her on the way to his family's house were charming though. No, Jake. Think with your head, not your heart. That's gotten you into trouble before...

Friday, March 22, 2013

LLAP, William Shatner

Happy 82nd birthday to the man, the myth, the legend, James Tiberius Kirk, Denny Crane, T.J. Hooker, equestrian, author, Mr. William Shatner.

My friend Matthew Shelton and I drove 13 straight hours last year to New York to see Mr. Shatner in "Shatner's World," his one-act, one hour and 30 minute stroll through his life and career.

For the record, my favorite "Trek" film is "Wrath of Khan," my favorite Shatner early TV role is, naturally, James T. Kirk, my favorite later TV role is Denny Crane on "Boston Legal," although "T.J. Hooker" has nostalgia and '80s cheese charm going for it. My favorite non-"Trek" film role of Shatner's is in the PBS teleplay "The Andersonville Trials."

But this performance could mark the zenith of 20th century American entertainment, and is perhaps the high water mark of humanity...
"I'm a ROCK-ET-MAN!"

LLAP, Mr. Shatner. You are a forever favorite. Thank you for the memories in the cinema, at the theater and, of course, on television.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Blogging the book: "He did this to me"

This is a continuation of my thoughts and ramblings as I read "The Doctor's Daughter: Journey to Justice." First blog post and links to the Shopper-News interview with Belle are here.

"He did this to me."

Brian Seaver is dead. Poignant scene.

Piqued my curiosity, though. When he stumbles out to Kate, his exact words are quoted above. "He did this to me." What does that mean, exactly? Murder? Suicide? Murder made to look like a suicide? Time will tell.

Poignant are the pages just before Mr. Seaver's demise. He gives Kate good advice:

"Never marry a man unless you can sit with him reading a book and feel perfectly comfortable."

That is true for both sexes, for any bibliophile.

"One more thing," he tells her. "Don't marry a man unless he can make you laugh. Life just presents so many things where the only option is to laugh or cry. Laughing is the better option."

Works for either gender. There is much wisdom, here and elsewhere, amid the hilarity and tragedy.

Poignant, too, is the moment Kate burns her blood-spattered dress. 

I have gone through stages of sentimentality over the mid-19th century. Belle Blackburn's book is a gentle reminder of the harshness of everyday life. Forget the medical practices and the looming horror of war. A good day often meant that the streets of Nashville weren't muddy. Taking a hot bath was a major undertaking. Here in the present, all we usually have to do is turn a faucet.

Whenever one gets nostalgic or mawkish about the past, perhaps it's best to remember a lyric from Billy Joel:

"The good ol' days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."

Or read a book like "The Doctor's Daughter." It's a nice, refreshing slap in the face in that regard.

Almost forgot to tell you: I loved the hog slaughter. Call me crazy. (Did anybody ever see "The Lolly-Madonna War"? But, that's another story for another day.)

Can't wait to keep going. Kate's (and my) journey continues.

"The Doctor's Daughter: Journey to Justice" by Belle Blackburn is available for digital download and in paperback at 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

When you wish upon a star...

Best part of a tough day (and week): getting to meet a true star in every sense of the word, Knoxville's own Mary Costa.

You might remember her from the opera stage, TV specials with Bing Crosby and Don Knotts, or a little thing from Walt Disney called "Sleeping Beauty."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Game on

Tonight's baseball game between Halls and Central High at Halls, with gate receipts to benefit the Chris Newsom Memorial Scholarship fund, will be played as scheduled at 5:30 p.m. (EDT)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Central game canceled, rescheduled for April 24

Note: The Halls/Central high school baseball game, at which gate receipts were to go to the Chris Newsom Memorial Scholarship Fund, which I posted for Halls coach Doug Polston on Saturday, has been canceled due to inclement weather. It is rescheduled for April 24.

Stay tuned for info on tomorrow's game at Halls High, which is to feature special uniforms.

Blogging as I read

Belle Blackburn is one sweet soul. She is also a swell scribe.

I wrote about Belle and her book "The Doctor's Daughter: Journey to Justice" in my newspaper column two weeks ago. It can be found here by scrolling to page A-3.

And, as you will read, I had intended to post my full review of her book on this blog one week ago. I am recovering from surgery more slowly than expected. Temporary fallout: I can only read for short stretches.

So, I thought I'd try something. As my way of making it up to Belle for missing a deadline, I am going to blog as I read, updates, here and there, as I can. I owe it to her. It's worth it. It will be fun.

As I said in the column, Belle grabs you from the beginning with a perfect prologue: a (fictionalized) snippet of a newspaper story from what was then called The Nashville Republican Banner. "Suicide on Summer Street" is the headline. May 16, 1860.

Seems the main character's father commits suicide in front of two witnesses, a business partner and his wife, before dying in his daughter's arms. Or did he?

Kate Seaver thinks otherwise. She's seeking the truth.

And I have been thinking this through, eager to learn more. Move it, migraine, so I can get to it! Did Brian Seaver commit suicide? Was he murdered? Is he even dead?

Kate's mother is a doctor of a sort, practitioner of the old ways, mountain medicine, you might say. An early chapter features a hilarious scene at a quilting bee in which the women get the men to tell the "true" way to be rid of a wart. You will see more of this -- medicine of the period (a central topic/theme) and humor -- later.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention here: one character wakes up at, yes, his own wake.

Another scene involves a character who could be found in "real life" today. Goad is her name, holier-than-thou, certain she's sitting at the left hand of the Lord. Perfect name, too, 'cause people like to goad her.

Kate's mother suggests a colic cure. Follow your own beliefs, she says, but try a toddy.

Goad growls:

"You'll burn in hell for that."

Discussion follows. God gave us the ingredients. Nowhere in The Bible does it say "Thou shalt not drink alcohol."

"Jesus drank wine. The Bible says so."

Goad: "That was just grape juice..."

"All I am doing is telling you what it says in the scriptures. You better quit using God in all your arguments or you will ruin His reputation."

Funny. Food for thought.

The review will continue...

"The Doctor's Daughter: Journey to Justice" by Belle Blackburn is available for download ($2.99) or paperback ($19.99) at As of today, it has a five-star average review. 

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Remembering Chris

For those of you in the Knox County, Tenn., area: 

Halls High School baseball coach Doug Polston just reported that the Halls and Central High boys' baseball teams are playing special games 5:30 p.m. Monday, March 18, at Central High and Tuesday, March 19, at Halls.

Gate receipts go to the Chris Newsom Memorial Scholarship fund. The Tuesday game will feature special uniforms worn by both teams. Help a beloved family, two great programs and a future college student all at the same time if you can.

Chris and his girlfriend, Channon Christian, were brutually murdered in January 2007. He is a Halls High graduate and played baseball for Halls High.

For more info on Chris and Channon, visit this website.

"Safe at home."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


I will try to write something more contemplative later today on this, my 35th birthday. I'm too sick and too tired to do so now.

But I am quite pleased to learn that I share a birthday with a journalism milestone. On this date in 1938, the first CBS "World News Roundup" aired on CBS Radio with Robert Trout (at left) broadcasting from New York.

You can hear it here. The Nazis are invading Austria.

The show still airs today, albeit in/with a slightly different format.

Happy birthday, WNR!

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Goodbye, J.R.

Goodbye, J.R.

I'm going to hang around, at least long enough to see who killed you.

Yes, I cried. Sue Ellen's speech.

In TV land at least -- and anybody who saw last night's show will understand the reference -- J.R. Ewing will ALWAYS be "My Favorite Memory."

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Champagne musician turns 110

Today would have been Lawrence Welk's 110th birthday.

Yes, I like (most) of the show, especially Knoxville's own Ava Barber, the big band and Ralna English.

Sue me.

Here is a rerun of my 2011 post about the show.

Take it away, boys-a...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Blog note: book review to come...

For any readers from the Shopper-News looking for my review of Halls High School grad Beverly "Belle" Blackburn's first novel, "The Doctor's Daughter," it will appear later this week.

My sincerest apologies to Belle and to everyone for not having it completed yet. I am continuing to have industrial-strength headaches in the aftermath of nose/sinus surgery, which has reduced the amount of time I can read, and we have also had a sudden death in the family.

I hope to have the review posted by Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest.

You can check out my interview with Belle beginning tonight (Sunday, March 10) by clicking on the Halls/Fountain City edition of the Shopper at and scrolling over to page A-3.  Her book is available for a $2.99 digital download at Amazon and is also available in paperback.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Crazy John, the lonely ol' loner

Waynesville, N.C. -- Well, we got one hell of a welcome.

Jenn and I are back, nearly a year to the day, to a favorite resort. It's my early birthday present. Now, we're sitting on the deck outside our room, savoring the stillness, staring at the mountains and the green of the golf course.

After check in, we ducked into a favorite pub to see if Amanda was still serving. She's here and had exciting news to share -- a new baby girl, born on Amanda's birthday, Jan. 28. Both mom and baby look and are doing well.

But down at the end of the bar, we met Crazy John, the self-described Lonely Ol' Loner. He was the loudmouth you tend to find in any bar or grill and it was obvious his five o'clock somewhere had started sometime in the a.m., probably aided by something synthetic. He was wearing a white turtleneck and a matching golf visor.

At first, John was charming, spouting song lyrics and poetry he'd written, mostly about ex-wives and lovers. He'd even had one tattooed to his arm, 'til he found out she didn't love him anymore. He called the song "Charm on my Arm."

Then his talk began to border on misogyny. He quoted from Ecclesiastes, giving Solomon credit for saying "he'd never met a wise woman." Although he went on to say there's a difference in being smart and being wise. And added, "I'm not Solomon, but I'm GD close."

Then John told me he began writing verse when he got back from Vietnam in 1970. And that explained what happened next. Well, that and the toxins that were barreling through his body.

"I lost 350 men in Cambodia, and if you don't know what dying looks like, I can (expletive) tell you.

We shared song lyrics. We both found out we'd stood on a corner in Winslow, Ariz., but, alas, found no girls, my lord, in a flatbed Ford.

Meanwhile, Wayne, CPA and gentle soul from Florida by way of Connecticut, joined us. Out of nowhere, Crazy John sat down between Wayne and Jenn, started telling a story, and smashed his drink on the wooden bar, glass flying in every direction. Thankfully, none of us got cut.

Amanda comped our drinks and snack and said, "I've never seen him like this." She called him a cab. Jenn and I asked to get our cheese fries and my Dr. Pepper to go.

Wayned must have sensed the scenario was spiraling south, because he quietly refused John's attempt to buy him a glass of pinot.

Before he moved to the other end of the bar, Wayne said he thought Obamacare was the worst legislation passed since the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. He went on to add that of the 14 boys that lived on his street back in Connecticut, he was the only one who didn't die in Vietnam. He tried to join the Coast Guard, wanted to fly, but they wouldn't take him because of a spinal defect.

Wayne was a gentle giant, the type of person you'd like to get to know. But we decided the best thing for us was to race to the room. We wished Wayne well and told Amanda we'd see her again.

It would be easy to judge John, but it's obvious he left his sanity and probably his childhood somewhere in Southeast Asia.

 Just goes to show you that, nearly 50 years removed, some scars never heal.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

RCA Victor vinyl, The Song is You

Relaxing with some classic vinyl tonight.

The Dorsey/Sinatra RCA Victor sessions. All 83 original recordings, on glorious vinyl, the way it was meant to be.

Like a friend says, "Wax is where it's at!"

Yes, yes, I recommend the excellent 1994 digitally-remastered CD box set Tommy Dorsey/Frank Sinatra, "The Song Is You." Can't beat it, especially for the live disc. Incredible. Awesome. It's worth the price alone just for the liner notes by Will Friedwald.

But, let's face it. These songs were meant to be heard on vinyl, pops, cracks and all. It's a better sound. Not as compressed as the "crisp but flat" compact disc.

This is an import from 1972. The vinyl looks like it was just pressed. Talk about pristine. It also includes a 12-page box set. Can't beat it.

I listened to a favorite earlier, "Be Careful, It's My Heart," first made popular by Bing Crosby in the film "Holiday Inn."

Man, this was music.

Just about everybody loves either Sinatra's Capitol years or the ring-a-ding-ding Reprise era. I do, too, but I have a soft spot for his work with Dorsey, because I like Big Bands, as well as his Columbia period, because this was when he was a crooner, smooth as silk, the Bobby soxer's delight. This is before booze and Ava and cigarettes roughed up his voice. I'm not saying it's better, I'm just saying it swings. Add Dorsey and the orchestra and, man, you've got something.

Well, I'm going to peruse the booklet and hit the hay. We put the paper to bed tomorrow.

Good night, and good luck.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A snowy stillness at Gettysburg

I awoke this morning to a three-inch snow drift on Black Oak Ridge.

This is my favorite kind of white wintry blanket -- wet, heavy, beautiful, no traffic trouble.

And it's funny. As I stood among the stillness, admiring the remnants of what I hope is our last blast of winter, I thought about Gettysburg.

Gettysburg, you ask? Why Gettysburg? That battle took place in the heat of summer.

Here's the deal.

We took a trip to Gettysburg back in the eighth grade. I was a budding history buff by then, so I couldn't wait to get there.

I can't exactly remember the sequence of events, but we stopped at Harpers Ferry and at Monticello. After we toured Jefferson's magnificent mansion and headed back to the bus, I saw a look of concern sweep across Paul Williams' brow. The weather forecast looked bleak. Might even be a blizzard, the bus driver said.

Well, we didn't get a blizzard, but we got some snow. It didn't keep us from haunting the hallowed ground at Gettysburg, though.

I stood there, listening to Mr. Williams talk of Rebs and Yanks, of Pickett's Charge, of Chamberlain's famous fishhook maneuver. And even though the weather was totally wrong for a re-enactment, it was perfect. Absolutely perfect.

You know how still it gets when it snows? Animals find shelter. Birds don't budge. Dogs don't bark. That's how it was that day. In the quiet, my mind drifted back to the summer of (18) '63. I gazed across that field and wondered how the Confederates felt, charging like lightning toward death's terrible swift sword.

The spell was broken when a few idiots started throwing snowballs.

As luck would have it, I got to go back to Gettysburg with Mr. Williams about a decade later. We walked together most of the trip, swapping stories about battles and books and the Baltimore Orioles. Life had come full circle.

A future Alabama fullback named Baron Huber caught a foul ball at Camden Yards. I met Boog Powell. I had to put up with a little eighth-grade immaturity, but, thankfully, no snow.

These are things a history major thinks about on a snowy morning in March. What can I say? Maybe Scott Fitzgerald said it best.

"And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

J.R.'s swan song

J.R. Ewing has ridden off into the sunset.

His final scenes were shown in last night's episode of TNT's reboot of "Dallas." Call me crazy, but I feel like I've lost an old friend.

"Dallas" and I are about the same age. My parents and paternal grandparents loved it. It became a Friday night ritual throughout most of the 1980s. I didn't get much of it then, but I liked J.R. and I loved the fact Elvis' ex-wife was on it and I went nuts over the opening theme song. In the days before DVRs (or even VCRs for most of us), people would actually leave Friday night football games early to get home in time to follow J.R.'s antics. I've never seen anything like it and I never will again in our on-demand, 400 channel era.

Even though the show was a shell of its former self by its final years, I made sure we were home to watch the 1991 finale. For the record, it was one of the worst last episodes in TV history. I don't think "Dallas" quite recovered after Pam dreamt the entire 1985-86 season. But, that's another story for another day.

Around the same time it left CBS, "Dallas" reruns popped up on cable. I watched. After a short hiatus, the reruns began airing on TNN when I was in college. I was hooked. Taped every episode. I even made a sojourn to Southfork one summer with buddies Drew and Dewayne. Somewhere, I've got a photo of us standing in front of Jock Ewing's portrait in the living room. We knew more about the show than the tour guide did.

I enjoyed the 1996 reunion movie. I cringed at the second one. After that, we didn't hear much about "Dallas" until it arrived, again in reruns, on SoapNet in 2003.

I started buying "Dallas" when it came out on DVD that same year. After an initial binge, I got into a habit of watching the discs when I was sick, especially when I had kidney stones. Watching J.R. in action was better than any painkiller, I can tell you that. Everybody always loved to hate him, but he was my favorite character (other than Jim Davis' Jock Ewing). Although he was originally intended to be a secondary character, without J.R., "Dallas" wouldn't have lasted six weeks.

Out of nowhere, "Dallas" returned last summer on TNT. Although I had my doubts, it was a runaway smash and a pretty darn good show. Larry Hagman hadn't missed a beat. J.R. was back!

And then, around Thanksgiving, Larry Hagman died. He'd survived a liver transplant in '95, but cancer, thought to be in remission, had gotten him.

It's funny. Just as the role of Barnabas Collins returned for former "Dark Shadows" star Jonathan Frid just before he died last April (Frid made a cameo in Johnny Depp's 2012 feature film reboot), J.R. was there for Larry Hagman in the end. It was a fitting epitaph for a fine career.

I could be wrong, but I doubt the new "Dallas" will last much longer. This season's episodes have by and large been fairly dull, more like the show I thought I was going to see last year. One big reason? Less screen time for Larry Hagman.

He once said that J.R. Ewing is like Othello: even when he isn't on stage, everybody's talking about him. I just don't see how the show continues without J.R. The kids look great but can't act. I don't think Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray can carry the show without Hagman. The relationship between J.R. and his baby brother and on-again, off-again wife were what made the old show (and the new one) work.

Thank God the producers were smart enough not to even think about recasting the role. That would have been worse than the year Donna Reed filled in for Barbara Bel Geddes' Miss Ellie.

Last night's episode was a snoozer. As good as it was to see Ted Shackelford again, when Ricky Rudd plays a major part in an episode, you know something's wrong. Plus, I'm over the whole storyline between Judith Light and Mitch Pileggi. "Dallas" is about the Ewings and the Barneses, y'all.

The show is already in trouble. It lost more than half its audience from last year, maybe because the second season should have been saved for summer, maybe because Larry Hagman's death sucked the oil well dry. Ratings have crept up a bit and should be pretty good next week. I'll tune in next Monday night for sure. I'm eager to see J.R.'s funeral, see who shows up, see how they give the man his goodbye. (It better be a damn good one.) But  unless the writers and producers pull off a miracle, the show should be buried right next to the man that made it a smash.

I'm planning on watching the show through the end of the season. But without Larry Hagman, "Dallas" has left behind a Texas-sized pair of cowboy boots that nobody -- and I mean nobody -- can fill.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Hitting the highway, if only in my dreams

I am reading a book that has rekindled a long-held desire.

"Dogging Steinbeck," Bill Steigerwald's charming new travelogue, re-creates the famous 1960 trip John Steinbeck took around the country to get back in touch with America in its people. Steinbeck felt he'd lived in Manhattan and abroad for too long. Critics said he was out of touch with his homeland. He agreed and decided to hit the road. The trip was the impetus for Steinbeck's popular 1962 book, "Travels with Charley."

Steigerwald, a longtime journalist, embarked on the trip after leaving newspapers behind just in time for the 50th anniversary of Steinbeck's sojourn. At first he thought it would be a fun way to see what was out there, discover how Americans were dealing with the Great Recession and drum up some publicity along the way in the hopes of publishing a book.

And he stumbled onto a literary shocker: "Travels with Charley" turns out not to be the nonfiction classic Steinbeck claimed and scholars have accepted. In other words, like his best-loved works "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Of Mice and Men," "Charley" is, largely, a work of fiction.

The author didn't set out to debunk or dethrone Steinbeck. He's not an obsessed fan or a legend killer. But, he's a good journalist. He was observant. He noticed dates didn't mesh. He discovered, for example, while in the middle of nowhere North Dakota, that there's no way Steinbeck ran into a Shakespearean actor. He read the original manuscript, housed in a museum in midtown Manhattan, and discovered some colorful and creative editing.

I confess I haven't read "Travels with Charley," although it has moved to the top of my list. But, frankly, I don't think this discovery is too shocking. Truman Capote, who is credited for "inventing" the nonfiction novel with "In Cold Blood," fabricated that book's ending and fudged a few other facts along the way. Once learning that, it didn't take anything away from what I consider to be a  masterpiece. And, I suspect the same is the case with "Charley."

This is probably a bad thing for a journalist to say, but I've always liked the quote from "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" --

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

In other words, a good story is a good story. One wonders, though, why Steinbeck made the claim that "Charley" was nonfiction. It seems unnecessary. Course, he did win the Nobel Prize for Literature...

I mentioned earlier that reading this book rekindled a long-held dream. For more than a decade, I've wanted to hit the road, loaded with pads and pencils and passion and pursue people and places. Charles Kuralt is a hero; "Route 66" is a favorite TV series. Plus, I guess I have a decent dose of the great American trait of wanderlust.

 I love to drive, particularly along the backroads and byways. Often, when I travel to Atlanta or to see friends in Macon, Ga., I take Highway 411 and take my time, perking up when I pass small towns with local diners and main street theaters.

Alas, that dream is largely gone with the wind. No newspaper would pay for it now. I had just such a trip planned before gas prices and the Great Recession destroyed that dream.

I've been fortunate to visit 47 of 50 states. Sadly, most of those trips has been seen by interstate or by air. One of these days, maybe when the mortgage is a memory, I can afford to hit the "Blue Highways," flip a coin, pick a direction and scribble about what I see.

Steigerwald liked what he saw. People were friendly. Folks were making it (and then some) despite the sluggish 2010 economy. Despite its faults, America thrives.

Fiction or nonfiction aside, something tells me John Steinbeck would be pleased to hear that.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Back to the blog

Hi, folks.

I'm back. Needed a bit of a break, I guess, longer than I had planned.

As I told you during our last outing, last fall was tough. These past few months have been a time of transition. And I guess I needed time to think, clear the cobwebs, clean out the attic.

Plus, I just got tired. When you write all day, the last thing you want to do when you get home is pull out the keyboard and go at it again.

But it's time. I've missed our little chats.

So much to report. I am an uncle again. My sister, Jenna, and her husband, Rance, are the parents of a beautiful baby girl, Georgia Reagan Sharp, 7 pounds and some change, born at 12:45 p.m. Friday, March 1.

She's such a sweet little thing. Tan complexion. Her big mop of black hair almost makes you think she's a year old. She's a magical mix between the Mabe and Sharp bloodlines. Her sister, Maisen, was the spitting image of her father when she exited the womb. Reagan is a more balanced genetic blend.

One of my most beloved teachers, Virginia Rains, died last month. She was my fifth grade teacher at the old Brickey Elementary School. Oh, how I loved that woman, then and now. As I said in the obit I wrote for the Shopper-News, Mrs. Rains cared about us as students, but she cared about us as human beings, too. Even at 11 years old, you could tell. She introduced us to music and to Monet. She was special.

I kept up with her over the years, although not as frequently as I wished. I sent her a letter when I graduated from high school. Her husband, Jack, said the family found it when they were going through her things after she died. I saw her and Jack at the final taping of "The Heartland Series" in 2009.

By one of those great turns that life takes, I became friends with Virginia's son and daughter-in-law, Donovan and Pam Stewart, before I knew the connection. Van is a chiropractor and a darn good one. When I happened to stop in for an adjustment last summer because I was having sciatic trouble, Van told me that day was Virginia's birthday. When I got back to the office, I called her on the phone. We talked for 15 or 20 minutes. That wasn't a coincidence, looking back on it now. I just hate it was the last time we got to speak. I told her I'd bring my wife by to meet her. But, as we too often let it, seven months went by while I was looking the other way.

Van broke down when I got to him at the receiving line. He told me Mrs. Rains loved me very much. I began to cry and told him that feeling was more than reciprocated. Some teachers leave a long-lasting mark. Virginia Rains was that kind of teacher, that kind of person.

I've been home for two weeks. Had a tonsillectomy and some other work to fix a deviated septum and some other sinus-related stuff, which required a hospital stay and an extended convalescence. It wasn't exactly a walk in the park. But, I look on the bright side. I lost 10 pounds, got to eat popsicles and ice cream, and watch plenty of classics from the tube and the cinema. Jenn says I was a pretty good patient.

Of all things, I got hooked back on "Dark Shadows." I needed to make a dent in that big box set anyway, and it's the perfect thing to watch when you're sick and stoned.

It made me think of childhood. For awhile in my teenage years, I was obsessed with Dan Curtis' crazy dream. And watching these episodes have brought me full circle in a way. Twenty years ago, my dad moved from the part of town that had been wired for fiber optics to another place that at the time didn't get the cable channel on which "Dark Shadows" aired. (Seems archaic just to type it.) So, I missed out on what's generally considered the show's best plotline -- Quentin Collins and the time travel trip to 1897.

I had started watching those episodes when I bought the set last summer. But, I can only take "Dark Shadows" in small doses. Now I had time. Couldn't read much anyway because I was too weak and was having too many headaches. Barnabas, Quentin and company proved to be perfect companions.

Now I've arrived at the dreadful Leviathan sequence. It's a ripoff of an H.P. Lovecraft story. Eh. At least it won't be long before they reach the first parallel time plot. That's a concept that's always intrigued me, that somewhere out there is another you, living an entirely different life, making opposite choices. I'm not a huge sci-fi buff, outside of an occasional Isaac Asimov short story and a little "Star Trek" and "Dr. Who," but I like that idea.

I also watched some cinema, classic '40s fluff like the Lew Ayres/Lionel Barrymore "Dr. Kildare" series (perfect for 4 a.m., when you can't sleep), the new James Bond movie "Skyfall," a few episodes of "M*A*S*H" (it went off the air 30 years ago last Thursday, as hard as that is to believe), a TCM broadcast of the brilliant "The Third Man" and a movie I'd never heard of based on Ernest Hemingway's Nick Adams stories.

The latter hasn't been very good, but it's Hemingway and I've stayed with it. The screenplay was adapted by Papa's friend and one of his better biographers, A.E. Hotchner (who, by the way, was Paul Newman's partner in that salad dressing business), and it's got a good cast, including Newman.

I've never thought Hemingway translated well to celluloid. Hemingway is meant to be read. It was his way with words, sparse, bleak, short, declarative, tough, terse. You can't capture that on the big screen.

I went through a phase last month in which I was watching reruns of "Frasier." I don't know why I didn't screen the show during its original run. I think I was opposed at the time to any kind of "sequel" to "Cheers," American television's last great sitcom. But it's cute and funny and witty and might be the last sitcom written by writers, several of whom were well read and raised on radio, who could create the quick, clever dialogue that was a staple of a handful of shows in the '70s and '80s, gems like "M*A*S*H" and "Mary Tyler Moore." You know what airs in "M*A*S*H"'s old time slot now? "Two Broke Girls." That might be this week's sign of the apocalypse.

I have managed to catch up on some newspaper articles, read The New Yorker online each Monday I've been off, delve into part of a book about The Murrow Boys' adventures in World War II and read most of a memoir about a writer who lived in Greenwich Village in the 1940s just after the war. The latter has the delicious title "Kafka was the Rage."

My intention is to duck in here on a regular basis again. I'm going to shoot for seven days a week, but it may be more like four or five. I'm working on a book and will head back to my day job tomorrow. But I'll do my best.

It's good to see you again, though. Like I say, I've missed meeting like this. We'll do it more often this year. I promise.