Friday, January 31, 2014

The Simpsons predicted this Super Bowl...

... in 2005.

Matt Groening, psychic.

P.S. Having looked at the entertainment lineup, I'll be watching a DVD of "The Dean Martin Show" during halftime.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Forget snow; bring on spring!

Opening Day is March 31!

Anybody remember these Detroit Tigers? I know Cortney Piper, Danny Sharp, Dean Harned, Bob Martin, David Romas, Kurt Pickering, Grant Rosenberg and Thomas Magnum do.

Glory days...they'll pass you by, glory days, in the wink of a young girl's eye...

(Has it really been 30 years??!!)

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Christa McAuliffe. Greg Jarvis. Judith Resnik. Dick Scobee. Ron McNair. Mike Smith. Ellison Onizuka.

Never forget.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Wax is where it's at, baby!

Yep. Got caught red-handed doing what I love best -- digging through vinyl records.

I'm delighted that records are hip again. I never got rid of mine. Always preferred the sound. Any audiophile worth a damn will tell you it's superior to tape, disc and digital downloads.

Oh, sure. I've got plenty of those, too. But as my buddy Ross Southerland says, "Wax is where it's at, baby!"

I read an article in one of the papers the other day that said vinyl sales were up something like 130 percent (how do you do anything more than 100 percent?) in 2013, although it still only counts for a few percentage points of overall music sales.

Anyway. I love it. Have two turntables in two different rooms and too many records to count.

Headed over to Happy Holler yesterday and ducked into Raven Records and Rarities. Found a few. Dino Martin. Elvis Himselvis. Billy Joel. It's a terrific treasure hunt. The initiated know what I mean.

We've got several great record stores in town. Lost and Found is another. I hear Basement Records is back in business. And my buddy Spencer has told me about a small store in Sequoyah Hills. Gotta get over there someday soon.

After roaming 'round the records, I ducked into Central Taps and Flats for a pint of stout. The sign out front said, "Happy Hour -- All Day -- Screw it, let's drink!"

Methinks Dino would approve.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

The TV shows that made me, well, me

Concluding this week's theme, here are the television shows that influenced my life. Other than the first two, they are listed in no particular order.

M*A*S*H -- This one's my favorite, the granddaddy, a show that could make you laugh, cry, fly you to the sky, and crash you back down, all in 30 minutes. M*A*S*H made me a better person. Hawkeye Pierce is my hero. When my dad and I watched the finale along with most of the civilized world (it still holds the record as the most-watched episodic TV event), I felt like I was losing my family. You truly could get the Best Care Anywhere at the 4077th.

Magnum, p.i. This show was revolutionary and I'll tell you why -- it was the first American primetime series to portray Vietnam veterans in a positive light. Up 'til then, whenever you'd see one on a scripted series, he would usually be a screwed up drug addict. Magnum was also a lot of fun, ignited along with the original "Five-O" my love for Hawaii, and introduced me to two of my best friends, David Romas and Kurt Pickering, both of whom I wouldn't have otherwise met. Plus, Magnum and Higgins are one of the all-time great comedic TV teams.

Scooby-Doo -- Watched it when I was a kid. Love mysteries. Loved it even better when Jerry Reed showed up.

Murder, She Wrote -- This show was a Sunday night ritual for awhile. I loved seeing all the movie stars from Hollywood's golden age in guest spots, and it probably helped fan the fire burning inside me to be a writer. Although, Cabot Cove, Maine, must have the highest murder rate in the United States!

The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson -- Getting to stay up late to watch Johnny, Ed and Doc was a big treat. After VCRs came along, I'd tape the show and watch it the next day. Johnny Carson was my idol. I thought he was the coolest cat on TV. I wanted his job. But, Jay Leno got it instead, by his chinny-chin-chin, you might say. HIYO!

The Jack Benny Program -- I picked up a cassette tape of Jack's radio show in the 1980s and have never been the same. Jack and his protege Carson are my favorite comedians. The TV series wasn't as good as the radio show, but watching Jack's trademark look was worth the price of admission alone. Random trivia: Marilyn Monroe made her TV debut on Jack's show.

Twilight Zone -- Years ahead of its time. When it was good, it was great. When it was bad, it was still better than virtually anything else. Rod Serling, Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont are among my literary heroes.

Star Trek -- Gene Roddenberry's dream took me to the stars.

Family Ties -- I was Alex P. Keaton when I was growing up, for better or worse.

Hee Haw -- For all its corn, "Hee Haw" introduced me to country music talent back when that wasn't an oxymoron. Plus, I thought it was cool that the funniest guy on the show, Archie Campbell, lived in Powell.

Mary Tyler Moore -- Two words: Ted Knight! OK, four words: Mary Richards! (I still have a crush on her.) "Hey, MARE!"

All In the Family -- Quite simply the most revolutionary show ever aired on American television. To show you how much we've progressed (sarcasm alert), no broadcast network would even touch "All in the Family" today. We need Archie and Meathead to help us laugh our way through serious problems again, my friends.

The Dick Van Dyke Show -- Rob Petrie was the luckiest guy on TV. He worked for Carl Reiner. He got to write jokes all day with Buddy and Sally. Then he got to go home to Laura Petrie. (I still have a crush on her.)

The Andy Griffith Show -- I don't think I even need to explain it.

What's My Line? -- This is the most sophisticated game show in TV history. I came to it in reruns, but it's a gem, a gentle reminder of a time when celebrities had class (at least on the tube) and people knew how to speak properly. John Charles Daly's elocution and acrobatic linguistics were superb. "That's two down and eight to go. Mr. Cerf?"

The Carol Burnett Show -- Tim Conway or Vicki "Mama" Lawrence can't even walk into a scene without me bursting into laughter. I'm SO glad we had this time together...

Gunsmoke -- Far and away the best TV western, Marshal Matt Dillon was like John Wayne. Who cares if it was fiction? This show will forever remind me of my dad and my late grandfather.

Upstairs Downstairs -- This show paved the way for "Downton Abbey" and was engrossing to me even as a kid. I'll never forget the night the king dined at 165 Eaton Place.

The Dick Cavett Show -- Dick was the most intellectual late night host of them all. Where else could you find Cheever and Updike chatting together or Vidal and Mailer nearly coming to blows or John Lennon chatting with a New Yorker writer?

The Lawrence Welk Show -- Laugh if you will, but Ava Barber lived down the street, I loved the big band stuff (although hated polkas) and had a crush on Ralna English. (Are you seeing the pattern yet?)

The Dean Martin Variety Show -- Didn't find it until the tapes came along, but what a treasure. Dino could swingo, daddy-o!

Evening At Pops -- Arthur Fiedler, John Williams and some of the best musicians on the planet. I miss this one.

Cheers -- Somebody once said this was the last sitcom written by writers who grew up with scripted radio. Oh, what fun. I still keep hoping people will yell "NORM!" whenever I enter a bar. Thomas Deakins, David Barclay and I hoofed all the way up to the real Boston bar when we were there in 2009. Cause sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name...

The Fugitive -- First saw it in reruns on A&E in the late 1980s. I rooted for Dr. Richard Kimble from day one and part of me still literally fears Lt. Phillip Gerard. David Janssen is the most underrated actor in TV history. His later series, Harry-O, is another favorite. Janssen's chemistry with Anthony Zerbe was palpable.

Inspector Morse -- The most sophisticated detective in TV history. Let's go have a pint at the pub, Morse!

The MacNeil/Lehrer Report -- Other than Cronkite, they were the best news anchors (to date) of my lifetime. This PBS gem (now called the PBS NewsHour) delves deeply into the events of the day and remembers that a world exists beyond U.S. borders.

60 Minutes -- I've watched or recorded it for nearly 30 years. They were my heroes: Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley, Harry Reasoner, Morley Safer and, of course, Andy Rooney.

The Big Bang Theory -- This is the sitcom I never thought I'd see again. I've nearly had a heart attack laughing at those nerds. And, I LOVE Penny (cough).

Dark Shadows -- OK, it's silly as hell, filmed on the cheap, campy, creepy. AND I LOVE IT!

Dallas -- OK, it's silly as hell, campy, creepy. AND I LOVE IT! I'll never forget watching people leave Friday night football games early to get home in time to watch J.R. Ewing in action. Whenever I have kidney stones or the flu, I put these DVDs in the player. Watching Larry Hagman do his thing always makes me feel better.

The Bob Newhart Show -- Bob Newhart is a comedic genius. Best straight man of them all.

WKRP In Cincinnati -- Three words: Doctor Johnny Fever! OK, five words: Bailey Quarters. (I still have a crush on her.) The turkey drop is the greatest radio promotion of all time!

Dr. Who -- I've always been fascinated by time travel. Tom Baker first grabbed me on the PBS reruns in the 1980s. The current reboot is a modern classic.

Quantum Leap -- Time travel, righting wrongs, great soundtrack, classic series.

Happy Days -- Family fun ... and THE FONZ!

Friday Night Lights -- The best written drama of the decade (to date).

The Avengers -- Jonathan Steed and Emma Peel are the classiest spies in television history. Two words: Diana Rigg (I still have a ... well, you know.)

The Prisoner -- Underrated gem starring Patrick McGoohan

Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister -- For those who love politics, this is almost a documentary.

The Waltons -- Sentimental favorite that helped keep my writing dream alive. I'm an unabashed Earl Hamner Jr. fan.

China Beach -- Groundbreaking series that should've lasted longer. Two words: Dana Delany! And what a soundtrack...

The Wonder Years -- Sigh 

Get Smart! -- AND LOVING IT!

Happy weekend, y'all.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The movies that made me, well, me

Continuing with a theme I stumbled onto this week, here's a list of the movies that have made me the person I am today.

As with the last two lists, I'm sure I'll unintentionally forget a few (thank you, Giant Rat of Knoxville), and they are listed in no particular order. This is not a "great films" list, just one that includes celluloid that made me care, chuckle, or cry.

I'm sure I'll think of 20 more tomorrow.

Citizen Kane -- Everybody pretends to love this film, but I do. I'll never forget where and when I first saw it. (God bless Chuck Maland). Superb, stunning, stimulating. You don't pop some corn and prop up with this on a Friday night, but you can't pretend to love film and ignore it. Orson Welles' masterpiece.

Walking Tall (1973) -- It's quaint to think about now, but this was the first R-rated movie I ever saw. McNairy County, Tenn., sheriff Buford Pusser's picture show exploits left a large impression on an impressionable kid.

To Kill A Mockingbird -- I read the book before I saw the movie. Didn't matter. I was hooked from the opening Elmer Bernstein score. Still try to watch it every few years. Gregory Peck was never better. Mary Badham was precociously perfect.

Casablanca -- "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world," this is one hell of a picture. Brings back a lot of personal memories, too. What a movie. It's a shining testament to the studio era. P.S. Bogie never says "Play it again, Sam."

The Last Picture Show -- This film grabbed me, stabbed me, and I gabbed about it for days. Finally took a road trip to Archer City, Texas, in 2004. It hasn't changed much since 1971, and that's a good thing. Honorable mention to its sequel, Texasville, although don't watch it after your high school reunion.

The Empire Strikes Back -- The best of the three. (Notice I didn't say six.)

Dr. Zhivago -- This one seduces me to screen it every...single...time. "Lara's Theme." Lovely.

True Grit (1969) -- My favorite, my "comfort food." Duke Wayne was born to play Rooster Cogburn.  "Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!"

The Best Years Of Our Lives -- What a picture. I watch this one at least once a year. It poignantly captures the problems GIs have adjusting to the homefront. They truly don't make 'em like this anymore.

Harvey -- Mary Chase's tale of Elwood P. Dowd and his pooka named Harvey is as charming a picture as I've ever seen. Best line: "I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it."

My Favorite Year -- My favorite Peter O'Toole film. I've lived just long enough now to go from wanting to be Benjy Stone to wanting to be Alan Swann.

Flesh and the Devil -- The film that made me fall in love with Greta Garbo

Field of Dreams -- I don't care what Dean Harned says, this is the greatest baseball film of them all. Just listen to James Earl Jones' speech if you doubt my word.

Smokey and the Bandit -- OK, it's a guilty pleasure. Don't care. Love it. Jackie Gleason steals the show. "You sumbitch!"

Laura -- Film noir at its finest...

Andy Hardy -- Mickey Rooney's charming series of an America that never existed.

The Magnificent Ambersons -- There are no words.

The Third Man -- Ditto

The Hound of the Baskervilles -- Basil Rathbone. Nigel Bruce. Monochrome magic.

The Road to Morocco -- Bing, Bob, Dorothy, and lots of laughs. Perfect for a rainy day.

From Here To Eternity -- Frank Sinatra's shining piece of celluloid. (Honorable mentions to "Suddenly" and "The Man With The Golden Arm.")

Nashville -- Robert Altman at his best. Sadly, this turned out to be prophecy in a way.

It's A Wonderful Life -- A Christmas classic.

El Dorado -- A sentimental favorite I first watched with my dad.

Same Time, Next Year -- I've been watching it the same time each year for more than 20 years.

Vertigo -- Hitchcock at his darkest

Elvis On Tour -- For obvious reasons (and part of it is filmed in Knoxville!)

The Last Waltz -- Best rock and roll documentary of them all.

Nixon -- I hate Oliver Stone and it's full of fiction, but this one hooked me. Nice homages to "Kane."

The King's Speech -- Instant classic

Annie Hall -- Yep, I fell in love with her, too.

Forrest Gump -- Cause life IS like a box of chocolates.

Being There -- I'm afraid this one has become prophetic, too.

F For Fake -- Orson Welles and magic tricks of the mind...

High Noon -- Perhaps the truest Western of them all, regardless of the lies we tell ourselves.

Somewhere In Time -- Sentimental favorite based on a story by the late, great Richard Matheson

The Artist -- I never thought I'd ever see a movie like this again. I was wrong.

Saturday Night Fever -- I love the nightlife. I want to boogie. Don't judge.

That's Entertainment! -- Those were the days, indeed.

10 -- I'm a sucker for Blake Edwards' humor

Revenge of the Pink Panther -- See above (plus Peter Sellers!)

Tombstone -- The Western I never thought I'd see again. I was wrong.

One, Two, Three -- Jimmy Cagney, Arlene Francis, Cold War hilarity.

Sex and the Single Girl  -- Natalie Wood. 'Nuff said.

American Graffiti -- George Lucas' greatest film. Yep, you read that correctly.

A Beautiful Mind -- Saw it when I needed it.

The Narrow Margin -- My favorite film noir.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service -- The best James Bond film nobody's seen.

The Front Page (1974) -- Matthau and Lemmon, newspapers, nuts!

Grumpy Old Men -- Heh, heh.

Patton -- A hell of a picture.

The Godfather -- No words needed

High Society -- Crosby. Sinatra. Princess Grace.

Rear Window -- Wonderful and horrible and back again

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan -- The best of the bunch. Kirk out.

Stone Reader -- A bibliophile's dream

Midnight in Paris -- Ditto

2001: A Space Odyssey -- I can't pass a talking computer without thinking of HAL

The Graduate -- Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson

The Searchers -- John Ford and John Wayne's masterpiece

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World -- I break up into hysterics. Every. Single. Time.

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington -- I keep hoping he's still out there.

Full Metal Jacket -- Holy *&^%

Apocalypse, Now -- See above

Ikiru -- I never looked at cinematic storytelling the same way again.

Lost In Translation -- "For relaxing times, make it Suntory time!"

Duck Soup -- You know why...

In The Heat of the Night -- "They call me MR. TIBBS!"

Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight -- Bridget Trogden understands...

Groundhog Day -- Janna Barrett understands...

12 Angry Men -- Whew. Close one.

Sunset Boulevard -- Elegiac, awesome.

Yankee Doodle Dandy -- My favorite musical

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance -- "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

The Shootist -- John Wayne's awesome epitaph.

The Public Enemy -- Jimmy Cagney at his best...

Murder By Death -- "Hey, look, it's 22 Twain's house!"

Planet of the Apes (1968) -- That. Last. Scene.

Radio Days -- My favorite Woody Allen picture.

Seven Men From Now -- Underrated Western

The Horn Blows At Midnight -- I just wanted to see if you read all the way to the end...

What are your favorites? Go with your heart, not your head.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The books that made me, well, me

I had such fun with yesterday's post that I thought I'd take a stab at listing the books that have shaped my life, for better or worse. I've tried to put these in the chronological order in which I read them, with a one sentence explanation of why the book has stayed with me.

There's no way I could put a limit on this list. Like the albums, I'm sure I'll soon think of 50 other titles I could name. But, let's have some fun, OK?

As is quoted in the Jefferson/Adams letters, "I cannot imagine a life without books." And, yes, I'd love to spend a week in the library at Biltmore Estate with no tourists and a big stack of books.

The books: 

"Danny and the Dinosaur" Syd Hoff -- Learned how to read it before kindergarten.

"While The Clock Ticked" Franklin W. Dixon -- The one that ignited the inferno.

"Where The Red Fern Grows" Wilson Rawls -- Joyce Hill's fourth-grade class, Brickey School, 1987. Read it twice.

"The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" Arthur Conan Doyle -- So darn fun, plus I was (am) envious of Sherlock's brain.

"That's Not All, Folks" Mel Blanc -- This book began my love affair with vocal impersonations, old-time radio and Jack Benny.

"Curtain" Agatha Christie -- Hercule Poirot's swan song. Sigh.

"The Moon Is Always Full" David Hunter -- True crime tales from a friend and mentor set in my neck of the woods.

"The Bible" -- It's history, literature, spiritual study, puzzling, promising, and pure poetry in parts.

"To Kill A Mockingbird" Harper Lee -- Read it before I was assigned it; the book made me a better person.

"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" Ian Fleming -- The best 007 novel

"A Tale of Two Cities" Charles Dickens -- Sydney Carton's sacrifice is the truest form of love.

"The Great Gatsby" F. Scott Fitzgerald -- I've been gazing at blinking green lights for years.

"Education of a Wandering Man" Louis L'Amour -- Daytona Beach, 1996. Knew I wanted to roam the world and become a writer.

"Nixon" (three volumes) Stephen Ambrose -- Summer 1996. Convinced me to major in history at UT.

"Lincoln" David Herbert Donald -- Life-changing look at our best president.

"A Life on the Road" Charles Kuralt -- July 4, 1997, Jackson, Wyo. Wanderlust. Wishes. Wonderful.

"Anna Karenina" Leo Tolstoy -- Terrible. Tragic. Terrific (in both senses).

"American Scripture" Pauline Maier -- Rekindled my love for the Declaration of Independence

"Lee: The Last Years" Charles B. Flood -- Cut through the crap to the power of reconciliation.

"Lonesome Dove" Larry McMurtry -- Read a 1,000-page novel in two days. Those cowboys became real, flesh-and-blood characters. I think of them often.

"Shoeless Joe" W.P. Kinsella -- I'm a shameless romantic about baseball. Beautiful book (and hook).

"It Wasn't All Velvet" Mel Torme -- One of the best memoirs I've ever read by an underrated citizen of jazz.

"My Antonia" Willa Cather -- Grabbed me in a way I can't quite explain.

"The Sun Also Rises" Ernest Hemingway -- Memorial Day 1999, my Dad's cabin. Thus it began...

"A Farewell To Arms" Ernest Hemingway -- St. George Island, 2000. Brilliant. Beautiful.

"Julius Caesar" William Shakespeare -- The Bard's bait that hooked this fish forever.

"A Drinking Life" Pete Hamill -- Not a wasted word can be found in this textbook study on how to write a memoir.

"Joe DiMaggio" Richard Ben Cramer -- Graceful, classy, just like its subject

"The Old Man and the Sea" Ernest Hemingway -- Read it in one night. I still struggle with that marlin.

"The Catcher in the Rye" J.D. Salinger -- One big "stuff it" to the Establishment.

"Theodore Rex" Edmund Morris -- Trust-bustin' Teddy Roosevelt in his prime.

"The Last Picture Show" Larry McMurtry -- Hopped in the car on my own journey to find McMurtry after reading the book that saved me from the worst brawl I've ever had with the Black Dog. All I found was his bookstore and the Dairy Queen, but had a heck of a fun road trip.

"The Lords of Discipline" Pat Conroy -- Those broken sand dollars still haunt my dreams.

"Killings" Calvin Trillin -- Among other stories, one filed from Halls Crossroads, set in March 1977. Stunning, sad, shocking, superbly written.

"Amazing Grace" Robert Drake -- No Good Friday passes without me thinking of this true Southern gentleman and the finality of his father's passing.

"Careless Love" Peter Guralnick -- The best book ever written about Elvis (along with its prequel).

"Centennial" James Michener -- Rocky Mountain High, baby.

"The Last Lion: Alone" William Manchester -- Churchill's most fascinating period.

"Sinatra: The Song Is You" Will Friedwald -- A superb study by a marvelous musicologist.

"Master of the Senate" Robert Caro -- History of the U.S. Senate and its best Majority Leader.

"In Cold Blood" Truman Capote -- Haunted me, showed me how a "nonfiction novel" works. 

"Love, Me" Garrison Keillor -- My dream come true: Best-seller, The New Yorker, William Shawn

"The Things They Carried" Tim O'Brien -- Vietnam tales that haunted my dreams

"At Random" Bennett Cerf -- Cerf's is the life I wish I had lived (other than my own).

"Swimming in Sky" Inman Majors -- He calls Knoxville "paved hell." Yet he loves it. Great debut.

"Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming" Rheta Grimsley Johnson -- This cemented my love for a writer I am proud to call a friend. Hell of a read, too.

"Cosmos" Carl Sagan -- Puts one's place in the universe into perspective.

"Maine" J. Courtney Sullivan -- The best novel I read in 2011.

"The Descendants" Kaui Hart Hemmings -- Heard about it in Hawaii before the movie. Marvelous!

"Death of a President" William Manchester -- This is how one writes a historical narrative.

"Life Itself" Roger Ebert -- A heartfelt final curtain to America's best film critic.

"Cronkite" Douglas Brinkley -- Cronkite was the best news anchor. Period. "And that's the way it is..."

"All In Good Time" Jonathan Schwartz -- Charming, troubling, moving memoir by my favorite radio personality.

"2001: A Space Odyssey" Arthur C. Clarke -- I will never look at the world in the same away again.

The journey continues...


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The music that made me, well, me

Just played a fun game on Facebook. I was asked to do the following:

"List the top 10 albums that influenced you. No judgment. No right or wrong answers."

Well, I couldn't limit myself to 10, so I picked 20, with five "Bubbling Under" as the Billboard charts used to say. I could have named 50 more.

In no particular order...

"Elvis (The '68 NBC-TV Special)" Elvis Presley
"Anniversary: 10 Years of Hits, 1972-82" George Jones
"Solace for the Lonely" Robinella
"Kind of Blue" Miles Davis
"Sinatra at the Sands" Frank Sinatra
"His Legendary Years" Bing Crosby
"Apprentice (In A Musical Workshop)" Dave Loggins
"Let It Be" The Beatles
"Singing In the Smokies Live" The Inspirations
"Running On Empty" Jackson Browne
"So Long Harry Truman" Danny O'Keefe
"Same Train, A Different Time" Merle Haggard
"Mahogany" Johnny Mathis
"Windsong" John Denver
"Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs" Marty Robbins
"By The Time I Get To Phoenix" Glen Campbell
"Swings Schubert Alley" Mel Torme
"The Gambler" Kenny Rogers
"Pet Sounds" The Beach Boys
"Barry Manilow Live" Barry Manilow

Bubbling Under:
"Songs In The Attic" Billy Joel
"The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Song Books" Ella Fitzgerald
"Rigoletto" Verdi (Sutherland/Pavarotti/Milnes)
"Days of Future Passed" The Moody Blues
"Symphony No. 5" Beethoven

Two I Can't Believe I Forgot:
"Nashville Skyline" Bob Dylan (I own it on vinyl, 8-track, reel-to-reel and CD)
"The Last Waltz" The Band (I own it on vinyl, 8-track, CD and DVD)

What are some of your favorites?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Social media -- super, sickening or somewhere in between?

Read an interesting article in The (London) Times yesterday.

The gist of it was that the popularity of TV period pieces like "Downton Abbey" (its Series 4 premiere two weeks ago drew the highest ratings for a drama in the history of PBS) and "Mr. Selfridge" are striking a chord with viewers worldwide because it reminds us of a slower, simpler time.

Hang on, hang on. Before you think, "Here Mabe goes again, waxing poetic about the past, hear me out a minute.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the long-term effect that social media will have on a society with an already short attention span. People used to gripe about MTV and sound bites. Twitter has reduced talking to 140 characters. Facebook is a shining, seductive online soap opera.

And we don't even have to be sitting at a computer anymore. Smartphones have made the whole thing portable! How many times have you seen couples sitting in a restaurant doing everything but talking to one another? I once watched two kids, who were sitting side by side at a baseball game, "talk" to each other by texting. And, no, they weren't watching the game.

Something's happening here, but what it is ain't exactly clear, with apologies to the Buffalo Springfield. Communication skills are shrinking. A sizable number of children and adults, at least judging by their cyberspace chatter, appear to be barely literate. That could be an indictment of American education, or users could just think online observations don't have to be grammatically correct. Either scenario stinks. I meet young people all the time who can't carry on a conversation.

Now, having said all of that, there's a flaw in this flue, too.

Period dramas have been popular for years. Paging "The Waltons," the original "Upstairs Downstairs," "The Wonderful World of Disney" and any Sherlock Holmes show set in the proper period. (Holmes is the most portrayed fictional character, and his motion picture adventures started in the silent era.)

I meet many, many people of all ages who use social media daily and are smarter and more articulate than I.

And, perhaps most importantly, nostalgia is a two-edged sword. Sure, watching "Downton" makes me wish I were a leisurely English lord, but as the Times article pointed out, the "good ol' days" were also filled with rudimentary medical practices ("Downton" dealt with that last year), terrible attitudes toward women and minorities and many social issues, illiteracy and little access to information.

Social media outlets have also created needed national and international conversations, given users unprecedented access to news, helped flame the fires of revolution, connected us to classmates, relatives and others we'd never see on a regular basis, and -- let's face it -- are just plain fun.

Sobering thoughts before one starts wishing it took a carrier pigeon to bring you this blog.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Time to hop across the pond...

OK, friends and neighbors, it's time to hop across the pond.

Tonight on PBS is perhaps the greatest back-to-back programming schedule since "All in the Family" and "M*A*S*H."

Yes, the sadistically seductive "Downton Abbey" (Series 4) airs at 9 p.m. (EST), followed by the much anticipated return of "Sherlock" (Series 3).

As you can see, I'm all set. And don't worry. Since one has to dress for dinner at Downton, I'm wearing black tie and tails underneath that smoking jacket.

Cheerio and the game is a-foot!

And thank you, BBC and PBS. I've been looking for something to screen on Sunday nights since "Murder, She Wrote" expired.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Comfort food

Hey, it's Friday. Fabulous. Fun.

Whatcha doin' this weekend? I plan to take it nice and easy. Cause you know what they say. Nice and easy does it, baby, every time.

Told ya the other day that I've been listening to Mr. Crosby a lot lately (Bing, not David). On a documentary originally shown on PBS, movie critic Leonard Maltin called Bing's velvet voice "comfort food."

Wish I'd coined that phrase.

Gave me an idea to ask a question. What is your comfort food -- literally or figuratively?

Here's mine:

Literally: Steak and taters. Pepperoni pizza. Louis' spaghetti. Hamburgers (mustard only). E.B. Hunter's hoagies. Bacon and egg sandwiches. Peanut butter and bananas. (Yep, stole it from Elvis.) Oreo cookies dipped in milk. Pancakes. Popcorn.

Figuratively: Bingo, of course. Elvis. Sinatra. John Denver. Jimmy Stewart. John Wayne. "Dark Shadows." Baseball. Bugs Bunny."Gunsmoke." Monochrome movies. Robinella. "Road" movies. Johnny Carson. J.R. Ewing. Jack Benny. "Big Bang Theory." "M*A*S*H." "Cheers." "CBS Sunday Morning." The Carpenters. Radio. Reading. Hawaii. Hawaii. Hawaii.

You know what I think? We need comfort food. You have yours. I have mine.

The best quote is from Willy Wonka: "A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men."

Don'tcha think?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Quote of the day

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

 -- Elwood P. Dowd, "Harvey"

P.S. It's almost Friday, y'all!

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Start the week with a song!

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Forgive me for not ducking in until now. New year, new week, new beat, old dog, new tricks (and treats).

I've been listening to Bing Crosby of late. It started near Christmas, of course, but really long before. Crosby -- along with Sinatra and Presley -- is a favorite.

Makes me sad that he's all but forgotten now, remembered if at all for "White Christmas" and the "Road" pictures and the image of the pipe-smoking, ba-boo-ba-boo-ing paternal pap, or -- even worse -- the phony father figure who "beat" his kids and neglected his first wife when the colors faded. I'll save a rant on that (and son Gary's "Going My Own Way") for another day.

Now, I'll tell  you about "Seasons." It turned out to be Bingo's swan song, a concept album collecting the spring, summer, fall and winter of this wonderful, terrible thing we call life.

I passed up on a sweet deal for the vinyl a few weeks ago. Went back to get it and it was gone. Didn't get too grumpy. Glad somebody got it. Bing needs to be moving round and around, not collecting dirty dust.

Anyhow, this is a gem. That velvet voice was there for 50-some years, whistling and scatting and singing (never shouting) until Crosby fell on a golf course in Spain, an unexpected adios.

He begins with "On The Very First Day of the Year," sprints through spring, introspects through autumn, and laments in the winter of his years on "Yesterday When I Was Young."

Then he recites pieces and poetry before crooning through a few more cuts on the deluxe edition of the disc. A super surprise is a perfect philosophy for life, Tim Rice and Marvin Hamlisch's "The Only Way To Go."

We'll be happy 'til we die; my foolish dreams and I; relax until they take us to that bar up in the sky; and up's the only way to go; and it's the only dream I know...

Sort of like spending four hours swinging away, winning by a stroke, shaking hands and calling it a day.

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Monday, January 06, 2014

Walter Mitty dreams for a day

A few years ago I read a Garrison Keillor novel called "Love, Me" that played out one of my Walter Mitty (Danny Kaye version) dreams.

It's about a small-town scribe who writes a best-seller, moves to New York and works for Mr. Shawn at The New Yorker. I was so taken with it that I nearly moved to Manhattan. (I'd have been broke by the end of the week, but hey...)

Every Sunday (and every day if I wish), I play out another Walter Mitty (Danny Kaye version) dream listening to Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC-FM and/or his new The Jonathan Channel. He's forgotten more about The Great American Songbook than I will ever know, and he likes the Red Sox. 

Tonight, and most nights over the last 20 years, I've played out another Walter Mitty (Danny Kaye version) dream by watching Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies. 

For the channel's anniversary, TCM aired a special "Private Screenings" on Osborne, interviewed by his best "Essentials" co-host, Alec Baldwin. 

Osborne's life is better than even a black-and-white MGM movie. He wrote for the Hollywood Reporter back when that meant something. He had a special relationship with Natalie Wood. He hung out with Peter Lawford at Louis B. Mayer's old mansion. He moved to New York and had a morning movie moment on CBS. He talks to Olivia de Havilland each week. 

And, nearly every night for the last two decades, he's hosted primetime introductions of the creme de la creme of classic cinema on TCM. 

Some guys have all the luck, as they say. 

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