Thursday, February 26, 2009

Louis Armstrong, Newport, 1958

First heard Louis Armstrong on those ol' antiquated mediums, the radio and TV, way back when I was a chubby snot-nosed kid - and his music still sends me, big time. Here's Louis, making transcendent music with the All-Stars (this version featuring the great trombonist/vocalist Jack Teagarden and red-hot drummer Danny Barcelona) at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Burt Bacharach Day

This is one of my favorite songs ever written by Burt Bacharach. It really gets me, every time. The only cover of "Painted From Memory" I've heard, by Bill Frisell, featuring the splendid Cassandra Wilson on smoky-rich vocals, is also quite wonderful.

Here's hopin' that Elvis Costello and the remarkably ageless Burt get to write more songs together! I admire how Elvis continues to seek new ways to grow as an artist and disregard those marketing-friendly shackles, A.K.A. the Balkanization known as "genres".

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Got Clarity? by Paul F. Etcheverry

Today, I digress at least momentarily from my usual compendium of the absurd and/or musical to rant, with a few less cuss words than a "standup philosophy" sermon by George Carlin, Chris Rock or Bill Hicks.

When my psyche alternates between flailing and dog-paddling through a river of shit (thank you, The Fugs, for that uncomfortably pungent phrase), not much of anything - including Pollyanna/Stuart Smalley "affirmations" and other simplistic "
New Age spirituality" drivel - helps, but if I stop, take a step back, ask, "got clarity?" and answer the damn question, it's useful.

Granted, simple disconnect strategies do not compare on the healing spectrum with passionate, cathartic sex and snuggles, plus fearless, equally penetrating dialogues with someone you love more than 73% dark chocolate, but they sure beat a pointed stick in the cornea. And, unlike the aforementioned nirvanas, this is an "always available" technique.

Now WTF am I talking about? How would one do this?

Say you're irritable, pissed-off, or suffering from a case of the blues that's got you like a ravenous pit bull on a slab of steak tartare accidentally tossed by underpaid restaurant staff. Derail the runaway train of thought for an instant and
ask, "do I have clarity right now?". Then answer that query with an honest yes or no. Asking "got cow's/goat's milk? chocolate milk, soy milk or milk of magnesia" doesn't count.

If the answer is "yes", pause, take it slow and ask again. I would suggest that any defensive responses - "well, of course I've got clarity and who the fuck are you for suggesting otherwise" - are quite emphatically a "no". Usually, my honest answer is, to paraphrase a 1990's pop culture reference, "I don't think so, Tim/Psychotronic Paul".

If the answer is "no", here are just a few subsequent courses of action to try:
  • Stop what you're doing and make a cup of tea. If you detest tea, pour a glass of chocolate milk (chocolate skim milk or choco-soy milk if health issues dictate).

  • Call a friend

  • Meet friend for coffee or tea

  • If possible, weather permitting, take a walk, perhaps with aforementioned friend

  • Watch a Peter Sellers flick

  • Do something for somebody else who's hurtin'

  • Take another road, provided it doesn't lead you face down in a gutter or to mixing controlled substances that don't combine in the body terribly well (ask Chris Farley and John Belushi)
You may still feel like crap after (and while) doing this, and the Cro-Magnon mind will undoubtedly want to hurtle back into that wretched quicksand like Iggy Pop diving into a mosh pit, but the mere act of seeking a different perspective can disconnect
the piling on process.

Besides, I agree wholeheartedly with U.S. President #44 about the utter uselessness of drama (and know this from personal experience); it adds nothing but self-induced misery, with secret sauce holding a fetid stench substantially beyond any F.D.A. mandated expiration date.

Now let's not kid ourselves -
asking "got clarity" is in no way, shape or form an answer or the magic bullet/easy way out that us gullible humanoids crave (which "true believer" political parties, organized religions, paramilitary organizations, cult leaders and self-helpsters reap an awful lot of ill gotten gains offering). To suggest that a question can do anything to heal aftershocks from serious life traumas not only insults the intelligence, but is a monstrously arrogant and cruel assertion.

Locating pathways to much needed perspective and objectivity - or, if there's actually free time, examining our ridiculous attitudes and bullshit belief systems with further questions - is no panacea, but can help this earthly journey we share go a tad easier.

Of course, another short-term technique that works is watching such really silly film clips as this one:

Friday, February 13, 2009

This Weekend In San Francisco

There are two fantastic movie events in the city by the bay. Cinematic Titanic, featuring many of the footage-crazed miscreants who created Mystery Science Theatre 3000, hails at the Marines Memorial Theatre both tonight and Saturday night. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival holds forth at the superlative Castro Theatre darn near all day Saturday.

If you are lucky enough to not be stone broke, support these creative and fun local events. Stay home and do nothing during the week!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Two Guys I Like: Wheeler And Woolsey


I dig comedians/comediennes in no uncertain terms and require laughs daily. And, as anybody who reads this blog has probably figured out, I especially go for those double-entendre packed early 1930's comedies!

The zany, high-spirited feature-length and short comedies of the early 1930's were unquestionably a balm for those battered by the Great Depression.

The stars were the hilarious likes of the iconic Mae West, W.C. Fields and Eddie Cantor, as well as a host of lesser-known but equally funny comedy greats: the delightful Polish-American singer-comedienne Lyda Roberti, the very underrated Marion Davies and three way over-the top comedy teams, the Marx Brothers, zany Clark & McCullough and Wheeler & Woolsey.

Among those
outrageous wisecracking lechers who cut their artistic teeth in burlesque and vaudeville are the subjects of today's blog: Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey.

Big box office stars who cranked out comedy features for RKO from 1929 to 1938, Bert n' Bob were fast-talkin' wiseacres and talented "song and dance men", capable of sweetness, unabashed silliness and verbal zingers in the Groucho Marx/Bobby Clark tradition.

The boys' good-natured lechery exemplified double entendre humor as Laurel & Hardy defined the art of slapstick and Charley Chase the comedy of embarrassment.

Co-starring with Bert and Bob in many of their films was the singer-dancer-ingenue who, with charm and chutzpah to spare, owned the patent on "cute and adorable", Miss Dorothy Lee.

The next four clips are from one of the best W&W films, the unapologetically outrageous Diplomaniacs (1933).

Diplomaniacs is a close cousin to the contemporaneous wacko fantasy romps Million Dollar Legs (1932) and Duck Soup (1933), and with good reason: the screenplay was penned by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who began his career with wacky Depression-era comedies - and fully deserves the highest measure of silver screen immortality for writing both Million Dollar Legs and All About Eve (the 1950 Oscar winner for Best Picture)!

Bert shares the screen with another very talented and funny musical comedy performer, Marjorie White. They are hilarious and it's a darn shame they never appeared in another film together.

Bert & Bob attempt to sing their way out of sure trouble in a sleazy dive:

This production number conveys both the surreal and Pre-Code flavor of Diplomaniacs

Last up is a favorite musical number of mine, from Hips Hips Hooray, directed by the great Mark Sandrich, whose credits ranged from wild and crazy Clark & McCullough two-reelers to the big-budget features of Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers.

This production number starts off sweet with Bert and Dorothy, then, about three minutes in, gets wonderfully silly. It also offers a chance for co-star Thelma Todd, a terrific but frequently under-utilized comedienne, to be funny. Here, as in Charley Chase's 1932 classic The Nickel Nurser, Thelma gets to do her stuff, where in many of her films she is just cast as eye candy.

In closing, I recall my father telling me about a W&W routine in which they sing "It's A Wonder You Don't FEEL IT", while beating the crap out of each other. Sounds both indescribably, side-splittingly funny and among those guilty pleasures that Wheeler & Woolsey no doubt relished giving to their fans. . . then and 80 years later.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

More Busby Berkeley

I've been waiting for someone to post the "Bend Down, Sister" number from Palmy Days (1931) online. I found it - and thanks; this is sublimely ridiculous!

This ultra-goofy film starts with a mega-bakery staffed entirely by showgirls, run as a dictatorial and draconian paramilitary organization. The bakery boss played by Charlotte Greenwood espouses a world view that surely led to anorexia and bulimia if anybody actually took this silliness seriously.

Also a hoot is the prescient spoof (starting at 7:37) of a certain specific hucksterism that would emerge as New Age claptrap decades later.

Now, where can I buy a DVD of this, Roman Scandals, The Kid From Spain (which co-stars the hilarious Lyda Roberti) and other Eddie Cantor musical comedies produced by Sam Goldwyn?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Snake Hips And Rubber Legs

From the vaults of Turner Classic Movies, a clip from the 1930 MGM musical short Crazy House, featuring a dance number by the talented, triple-jointed, agile and sinuous Earl "Snake Hips" Tucker.

Not to be outdone in the vaudeville eccentric dancing department, here's the equally mindboggling Al "Rubber Legs" Norman, strutting his stuff to "Happy Feet" in the 1930 Universal feature The King Of Jazz.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Psychotronic Paul's Favorite Pre-Code Clip

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a bunch of two-reel musical shorts between 1930 and 1933. They are the tackiest, campiest pieces of work to ever emerge from the "Tiffany" (no, I'm not referring to the the teenybopper bubblegum pop singer of the 1980's) of Hollywood movie factories. Titles include The Devil's Cabaret (1930), Crazy House (1930), Wild People (1932) and Nertsery Rhymes (1933), which stars Ted Healy and The Stooges (yes, Moe, Larry & Curly - not Iggy, Dave & the Asheton Brothers) and the bizarrest showgirl in movie history, Marion "Bonny" Bonnell.

This one, Over The Counter (1932), takes the cake. It features Emerson Tracey (Spanky's beleaguered dad from two hilarious 1933 Our Gang comedies), ever-spunky songstress Eleanor Thatcher and some very funny character actors.

Jack Cummings helmed the aforementioned 1930 Crazy House (not to be confused with the 1943 Olsen & Johnson Universal comedy of the same name) and the Ted Healy/Stooges epic before producing numerous MGM features, including Esther Williams flicks and Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, directed this magnum opus.