Thursday, November 30, 2006

Baby, it's cold outside -- But I have CRICKET to keep me warm!

Well, it's 17 degrees here in Dubuque this morning. I suppose that means winter has finally arrived.
I'm warm, though. I'm sipping coffee and watching some of HISTORY'S GREATEST CRICKETING MOMENTS on YouTube.
Click on this link here, to see a five-minute recap of one of the greatest performances in the sport's history.
Antiguan CURTLY AMBROSE of the West Indies took 405 wickets in 98 Test matches -- that makes him a Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens figure in cricket.
On YouTube, you can watch parts of one match against the usually invincible Aussies as Ambrose takes 7 wickets for only 1 run. Ambrose bowls and the batsmen hit it directly to a fielder. When you see the size of the cricket pitch at Perth's WACA (Western Australia Cricket Association) ground, you will understand the difficulty of the 7 for 1 feat.
Lately I have been reading "People Funny Boy," the Lee "Scratch" Perry biography by David Katz, listening to loads of reggae and now immersing myself in the great moments of West Indies cricket.
Does that mean I am in denial of winter already? It's just started!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Oh, the band is out on the field!"

I was delighted this week to find the full, nearly 7-minute video of "The Play" on YouTube. I have watched it about five times now, remembering the surreal excitement when I saw it live on TV in 1982.
Cal and Stanford tangle Saturday in the 109th Big Game, but this upcoming game would find it difficult to match the bizarre finish of the 85th encounter between the Bay Area schools.
Remember...?
Trailing 19-17, Stanford faced a 4th and 17 at their own 13-yard line with 53 seconds left, but QB John Elway proceeded to lead them down the field to the 18-yard line of Cal. He called a timeout with 8 seconds remaining, then Mark Harmon kicked a 35-yard field goal to give the Cardinal a 20-19 lead.
That would have been a great finish to a college football game.
Only nobody told Cal it was finished.
Harmon kicked off from the 25-yard line (because of a celebration penalty on his field goal). Harmon squibbed the ball down to Kevin Moen at the Cal 46-yard line with 4 seconds remaining.
Moen lateraled the ball to Richard Rodgers.
Rodgers lateraled to Dwight Garner.
Garner lateraled back to Rodgers.
Rodgers lateraled to Mariet Ford.
Ford lateraled back to Moen, who stepped past a number of members of the Stanford band -- who had stormed onto the field thinking the game was over.
Finally, Moen ran into the end zone, crashing into trombone player Gary Tyrrell.
Golden Bears win, 25-20.
Cal broadcaster Joe Starkey with the call:
"Oh my God, the most amazing, sensational, traumatic, heartrending, exciting thrilling finish in the history of college football!"

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's not all reggae

I spent a rare day off yesterday reading the Lee "Scratch" Perry biography "People Funny Boy" by David Katz.
It was an active endeavor: I would read a couple pages, realize the prodigious Perry had produced yet another song I have on my iPod, then quickly add it to a mushrooming playlist devoted to the reggae legend.
I added Junior Delgado's massive "Sons of Slaves" and Bob Marley's ode to 1977's changing UK music scene, "Punky Reggae Party."
It wasn't all reggae, though. Perry's 1977 trip to London to work with old friend Marley coincided with a meeting of the Jamaican auteur and the punk band most influenced by reggae -- The Clash.
Perry produced the band's classic, angry blast against record companies and managers, "Complete Control."
The band wrote the song in protest of CBS Records releasing the single "Remote Control" without permission:
"They said, we'd be artistically free/When we signed that bit of paper."
Perry reportedly complimented Mick Jones' guitar playing, describing it as someone who "played with an iron fist."
But the band reportedly toned down Perry's production by bringing guitars forward in the mix and reducing echo.
No matter, it's a great rock song and proof that Scratch could work beyond any genre boundaries.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Don D. Junior: Musical Hero

I've only got one track credited to Vin "Don D. Junior" Gordon in my 60-some reggae CD collection. That song is a Phil Pratt-produced, rock-steady instrumental called "Dirty Dozen."
Although his name appears only once in my collection, his music appears on (rough but probably close estimate) two-thirds of the disks.
That's because by the end of the 1960s, Vin Gordon was *THE* preeminent, active TROMBONIST in Jamaica.
Gordon's name keeps popping up in "People Funny Boy," the Lee "Scratch" Perry biography I have been reading. I realized Gordon had made a profound impact on Jamaican music, so I decided to teach myself a quick course in "Jamaica's great trombone players."
Don Drummond was Jamaica's -- and perhaps the world's -- greatest trombone player. He co-founded the Skatalites, wrote phenomenal songs such as "Eastern Standard Time" but died too young, age 20 in a mental hospital following a murder conviction.
Rico Rodriguez filled in for Drummond on occasion during the ska era, but moved to London in the early 1960s and eventually played with 2 Tone bands such as the Specials.
Gordon filled the void in the Jamaican music scene following the departures of Drummond and Rodriguez. He didn't just "fill in," though. He played so well the other musicians started calling him "Don D. Junior."
The Soul Vendors, Sound Dimension, the Upsetters and the Aggrovators -- name a reggae session band and you can be assured Gordon is the man playing trombone.
Gordon is one of my musical heroes.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Clash of the titans

I watched today's Premiership clash between first-place Manchester United and second-place Chelsea live on Fox Soccer Channel.
The match featured a great ebb-and-flow rhythm, with Manchester United scoring first through a 29th-minute Louis Saha strike the just edged past Chelsea goalkeeper Carlo Cudinici's left hand.
Chelsea struck back in the 69th minute: Ricardo Carvalho heading in from a Frank Lampard corner.
It finished 1-1 then, a fair-enough result, I suppose.

Now I am enjoying some great toasting from the classic Jamaican superstar deejay I-Roy.
Born Roy Reid, I-Roy came out of Spanish Town and road some great rhythms with a strident baritone that must have dramatically BOOOOOMED out of the sound systems.
His style surely forecasts the rap revolution that would explode out of Brooklyn and the Bronx -- both boroughs heavily populated with Jamaican immigrants -- in the late 1970s.
I-Roy beat those crews by about 5 years at least.
U-Roy, Dennis Alcapone and Big Youth were major stars, but by about 1974-75, I-Roy was the RULER, and as he said himself in the liner notes to the awesome CD collection "Don't Check Me With No Lightweight Stuff:"
"In a my days, when me young, an' out there, an' spurt an' sprint, no guy couldn't kick weh my foot."
Oh yeah.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Stuffed full of stuffing? Now hear this!

Hope you all enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday.
This week, ROUTE 1 marked the occasion by asking the following FRIDAY QUESTION:
"What would you like to hear after digesting that big meal at Thanksgiving?"
Rick T. -- "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays" by ole Bing Crosby. That sets the mood!
Mike M. -- After digesting that big Thanksgiving meal, I'd like to hear someone read aloud Taro Gomi's classic picture book, "EVERYONE POOPS" ("MINNA UNCHI" in original Japanese): "An elephant makes a big poop. A mouse makes a tiny poop. A one-hump camel makes a one-hump poop, And a two-hump camel makes a two-hump poop"... Only kidding!
Kerstin H. -- Some Christmas music!
Mike D. -- "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is" the Alka-Seltzer theme), since I usually stuff myself beyond my stomach's capacity.
Erik H. -- I drove home from Cedar Rapids, Iowa while digesting my big meal -- I work today -- and I listened to some excellent rock steady tunes on a Lyn Taitt & The Jets anthology. "You Hurt My Soul" by Joe Higgs, "Stop Requests" by the Viceroys and "I Like Your World" by the Gaylets were among the timeless songs that accompanied me through the night.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving: Turkey, cranberry sauce and CRICKET?!?!

England's cricketers don't have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
I stayed up late last night, listening to an unauthorized, Indian audio commentary (?!) of the first day of the first Test of the Ashes series -- the Australia versus England cricket rivalry that makes the Giants versus the Dodgers seem like hormonally charged, teenage lovebirds.
In short, the bitter series dates back to the 19th century and at its worst has triggered diplomatic crisis talks between the two governments (that was back in the 1930s, when England's "bodyline" tactics involved slowing the Australian's offensive prowess by bowling at their heads).
Last night's first day (it was daytime in Brisbane) was tame by comparison.
England's bowlers simply couldn't take any wickets ("get anyone out," for us Yanks).
The score was Australia 177-2 when I finally went to bed, and the Indian commentators were remarking about how easily the Aussies were scoring runs.
The easy run rate continued while I slept: The score at the close of the first day (of a four- or five-day match) stands at Australia 346-3. An innings generally ends when 10 batsmen are out. With only three wickets taken (three outs), England have a long way to go.
Happy Thanksgiving Everybody! You too, England, you're gonna need some happiness after this mess.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Pope of Punk

I was too young.
When the Mabuhay Gardens helped spawn the San Francisco PUNK EXPLOSION, I was a sniveling little sh!t in SUBURBAN WASTELAND CONTRA COSTA COUNTY (Concord, to be exact).
I had HEARD of the "Fab Mab," of course, and I had a vague concept of punk rock, but I was born too soon to fully enjoy the Nuns, Avengers, Crime, et al that made SF one of the most exciting places in music from 1976-82.
Dirk Dirksen recently died, age 69. He owned and operated the Mabuhay Gardens and called himself the "Pope of Punk."
He was not far wrong, as they say.
Dirksen gave all of these emerging bands a place to play. He verbally abused the crowd, whipping them into a frenzy, then he unleashed the bands.
Thanks to him, kids could pick up guitars and live a dream.
I was going to high school in Phoenix, Ariz., by the time I truly discovered punk rock (Jodie Foster's Army will *NEVER* leave my iPod), but I appreciate what Dirksen meant to the Bay Area music scene.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Phil Pratt, I adore you!

For the first time in a week-and-a-half, I listened to some reggae that was *NOT* produced by Lee "Scratch" Perry.
Fear not. I am still reading the Scratch biography by David Katz, "People Funny Boy."
I just decided to listen to some music produced by a Scratch associate for a change.
Here is how Katz describes the very early association of Scratch and Phil Pratt:
"One of the first friendships (Perry) formed was with George Phillips, a teenager from Milk Lane initially employed by (pioneering producer and sound system operator Clement) Dodd as a box loader; he would drag the heavy speaker boxes onto trucks to transport them to a sound system dance, helping to set them up and ensure the smooth running upon reaching their destination."
From those humble beginnings, Phillips -- who adopted the stage name Phil Pratt -- rose to become one of the respected producers during the rock steady era of reggae (to about 1968) and later during the days of deejay stardom in the 1970s.
Today I have been listening to the great "Safe Travel" compilation of tunes Pratt produced from 1966 to 1968.
Pratt recorded his boyhood friend (and reggae vocal colossus) Ken Boothe, as well as Clarendonian vocalist Peter Austin (his "Time is Getting Harder" is a song to convince ANYONE of the joys of Jamaican music), Tommy McCook, Alva "Reggie" Lewis and several more.
These songs don't show up on many other compilations, which is a shame. They pack so much soul.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The "Citizen Kane" of comedies

It had been several years since I had watched "Annie Hall," and after reading about all of the accolades (four Oscars, including Best Picture), I began to wonder if it had been overrated.
I watched it tonight, and I can safely say IT IS NOT OVERRATED.
It ranges from poignant to side-splittingly funny.
There are so many wonderful one-liners that Woody Allen just tosses off, like a modern-day Groucho.
"What do you mean, our sexual problem? I mean, I'm comparatively normal for a guy raised in Brooklyn."
"Annie, there's a big lobster behind the refrigerator. I can't get it out. Maybe if I put a little dish of butter sauce here with a nutcracker, it will run out the other side?"

"I have been killing spiders since I was 30."
The lines come fast and furious, but apart from the funny lines, "Annie Hall" demonstrates Allen's remarkably innovative filmmaking technique.
Here is a bittersweet romantic comedy that includes:
* Flashbacks.
* Split screens.
* Direct addresses to the camera.
* Use of double exposure.
* Animation.
Allen pulls out all of the tricks he knows, but somehow the film seems more real because of the tricks. To me, that is the hallmark of a great filmmaker, and "Annie Hall" is nothing short of a great film.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Yes me friend, me friend, them set me free again

I have reached the part of "People Funny Boy," the Lee "Scratch" Perry biography by David Katz, in which Perry has combined with Bob Marley & The Wailers to create a true masterpiece of reggae: "Duppy Conqueror."
Marley had been living in Delaware with his mum, had received military service registration papers, decided he didn't really want to fight the Vietnam War and returned to Jamaica.
Perry has been concentrating on instrumentals -- the sonic experiments he became famous for -- and wasn't looking to collaborate with any singers. Until he crossed paths with Marley.
Perry convinced Marley to voice the songs in a new "revolutionary soul," with "Sun is Shining" being the first result of the approach.
Here is the soulful Marley who would conquer world music, backed by spooky organ and other weird-sounding hallmarks of Scratch.
They followed with "Duppy Conqueror," a song that bounces along and might prove to be the highlight of the careers of both Scratch and the Tuff Gong.
I think I hear a cooing pigeon at one point -- about 1:35 into the song -- and I wouldn't be surprised if sound-effects wizard Scratch didn't add it just for fun.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Is it too early for Christmas music?

I say "yes," but the size of the "no!" majority would suggest a mandate, at least in my house.
Oh by gosh by golly, that means it's time for mistletoe and holly.
But, oh by gosh by jingle, I'm just not ready for Kriss Kringle.
Except for Frank Sinatra Christmas tunes.
I could listen to Sinatra sing the phone book and I would be happy.
The clan hauled out the Christmas music when they decided today -- Nov. 18 -- would be a good time to PUT OUT THE CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS.
That includes a full SIX TREES. My role, besides cringing at Rosie O'Donnell duetting with Elmo, includes hauling HEAVY totes of Christmas decorations up from the basement. And helping to move furniture.
We're currently watching college football with the sound on "mute" while listening to Christmas tunes... in the middle of November... more than a month before Christmas.
Happy Birthday Jesus. And, please help me!

Friday, November 17, 2006

"Is this a good week for FRIDAY QUESTION?" Magic 8-Ball says: "Whadda you think?"

Inspired by repeated viewings of Richard Linklater's ode to 1976, "Dazed and Confused," ROUTE 1 asked readers the following FRIDAY QUESTION:
"What is the best idea to come out of the 1970s?"
Inger H. -- Feminism. The Equal Rights Amendment, equal pay for equal work, Title IX, Roe v. Wade, all of it. For all the goofy hippie aspects of that movement, real progress for women was made then that is still plainly evident today.
Kerstin H. -- Scooby Doo!
Dave B. -- The best thing to come out of the 70s was the next decade, the 80s.
Mike D. -- There are too many to mention, but I'll try...
Scooby Doo, Super Friends, Schoolhouse Rocks, Stingray bikes, Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, "Billy, Don't be a Hero," Paul McCartney & Wings, K-Tel Records, The Brady Bunch, Happy Days, The Carol Burnett Show, Saturday Night Live, Creature Feature, disaster movies, the Oakland A's, The Big Red Machine, our nation's bicentennial...
OK, let me take a breath...
Lisa Y. -- The crock pot is the best thing to come out of the 70s. It "crocks all day while the cook's away!" Isn't it great when you get home from work and dinner is ready? Or you go to a party and their crock pots are filled with little smokies, cheesy dips or sloppy joes?
Mike M. -- This week, Variety.com reported, "After a long illness, the groundbreaking home-entertainment format VHS has died of natural causes in the United States. The format VHS has died of natural causes in the United States. The format was 30 years old... VHS enjoyed a lucrative career, transforming the way people watched movies." Maybe not the BEST 70s idea, poor VHS, but certainly was a GOOD one!

Ellen B. -- MOPEDS! My husband still has his.
Scout S. -- I would say "ME!" but I know you'd just post it on the damned blog, so I won't.
Ah, who am I kidding. You'll post this anyway. I know how it is with Internet tycoons like you: You get your lackeys to generate content for you, so you can sit back in the stately office housing, your Route One Global Domination Center, in your giant overstuffed Herman Miller chair, stroking your luxurious white Persian cat, and cackling maniacally as the money rolls in. Oh, don't try to deny it. You say you're in "Iowa" but everyone knows you're lounging by the beach on your private island near Tonga, fanned by topless native girls and fed papaya smoothies all day long. Everyone knows that you keep Jimmy Buffett on your payroll just so that every time you feel like hearing "Cheeseburger in Paradise" you just snap your sun-wrinkled fingers and out he hobbles (his kneecaps long since shattered to prevent further escape attempts) with his plastic ukulele and rum-swollen cheeks to serenade you as best he can through his salty, bitter tears.
No no, I won't be a pawn in your wicked little game, my friend. I won't sit here at my desk, pretending to create marketing expenditure spreadsheets for the Jenkins/Kennedy account, all the while mindlessly writing material for your blog so that you don't have to put any thought into it other than "cut and paste." I know better than that. I won't get sucked into your whirling vortex of sublimation and fear.
I will simply give you a brief answer to your question, and that brief answer is: INVERSION BOOTS.
Erik H. -- Smiley face.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A contemporary classic

If you watch enough great old movies, you begin to think that their quality can never be matched by contemporary films.
That's why the 10-year-old "Lone Star" is so refreshing.
I watched John Sayles' contemporary classic last night on DVD.
The plot twists and turns like one of those great old movies, the cast is superb (Chris Cooper shines as the sheriff uncovering some painful truths) and Sayles effortlessly innovates -- he pans to transition into flashbacks (for example, the camera pans to a table during the present and pans back up into the past).
One of the pleasant surprises in the film is the appearance of some celebrated actors in some smaller roles.
Frances McDormand, for one, compellingly plays the sheriff's bipolar and football-obsessed ex-wife.
To sum up: If anyone ever tells you "they don't make movies like that anymore," you tell them they do, and one is called "Lone Star."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

It took me by surprise

I received the Lee "Scratch" Perry biography, "People Funny Boy" by David Katz, from Amazon last night.
I have been waiting for it since August, but apparently Amazon had to ship it from the UK and were waiting for the 2006 updated edition before sending it my way.
The phrase "musical genius" is among the most overused, but surely Perry's more than 40 years of producing reggae classics qualifies him in that category.
I used a Scratch discography I found on the Internet to help fashion a playlist of his productions on my iPod.
It ballooned from 88 songs to an unbelievable 104 -- more than six hours of music -- with the inclusion of Perry-produced classics from Bob Marley, Roland Alphonso, Dennis Alcapone, Junior Byles, Max Romeo and many more.
The sheer volume of Perry-produced songs on my iPod took me by surprise. Has there been a more prolific producer in Jamaican musical history.
I cannot imagine anyone other than Scratch fits that bill.

Monday, November 13, 2006

I remember that! I remember that!

I have been tripping down memory lane the past few days, fueled by repeated viewings of Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused" and the sounds of The Eagles and Thin Lizzy blaring from my car speakers.
I think what "Dazed and Confused" does best is capture the vibe of the 1970s.
By combining lots of little details, Linklater opened a portal into the heart of the decade.
I didn't see too many muscle cars or stoned teenagers in 1976, but I saw enough of them for Linklater's film to trigger some other memories.
I remember thinking a girl in my fifth-grade class looked like Kristy McNichol.
I remember thinking "The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan" was OK, but that "Hong Kong Phooey" was much cooler -- especially when Henry the Janitor jumped in the filing cabinet and emerged in full costume.
I remember wondering if Bonne Bell lip smackers really tasted like 7up, Tootsie Rolls or Dr. Pepper.
I remembering what all of the fuss was about concerning "Jonathan Livingston Seagull." I hate seagulls! Rats with wings!
None of these things are in "Dazed and Confused," but I have been remembering these 1970s fads and phenomena because of the movie's vibe.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Breakfast with Budd

After an absolutely crappy day yesterday -- including a foam-insulation-spray mishap that ruined clothing and a nauseous night -- I desperately wanted a fresh start today.
That's why I turned to Budd Boetticher's "7 Men From Now."
It is one of the greatest of Westerns by the bullfighter-turned-filmmaker Boetticher and I watched it on DVD while munching on a bagel this morning.
With its film-noirish plot twists and flamboyantly likeable outlaw (played by Lee Marvin), I would even characterize "7 Men From Now" as the Western for people who don't like Westerns.
The stately Randolph Scott stars as a sheriff hunting the bandits who killed his wife during a robbery.
He stops to help a couple haul their wagon out of the muck, and the trio's subsequent journey is among the most memorable in film history.
The "making of" documentary on the DVD is good, too, with Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Bogdanovich and Taylor Hackford lending their voices in support of one of Hollywood's most underrated directors.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

I remember these guys -- they terrorized me!

I have been watching Richard Linklater's brilliant "Dazed and Confused" and remembering what it was like for me in the 1970s.
I was 10 in 1976, the setting for Linklater's 1993 film. I was growing up in suburban Contra Costa County, where Concord and Pleasant Hill intermingle.
In Linklater's film, pot-smoking older teenagers perform ritualized acts of terror against badly dressed youngsters.
In my experience, pot-smoking older teenagers performed random acts of terror against badly dressed youngsters, such as myself.
Linklater's spot-on depiction of the 1970s -- the feathered hair, the questionable dress sense and the rockin' music -- makes me laugh at memories that once made me cower.
Perhaps that's why I love "Dazed and Confused" so much.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Gol-darnedest, rip-snortin-est FQ

Blame it on the comprehensive "Rough Guide to Westerns," but ROUTE 1 simply must ask the following FRIDAY QUESTION:
"What is y'all's faver-ite Western?"
Dave B. -- "Young Guns." "Doc, did you see the size of that chicken?"
Mike D. -- If an early 20th-century Montana setting qualifies, I'd pick "Legends of the Fall," because I can identify with the competition-yet-camaraderie of the brothers and the interaction with their father. The story is well-told and the Academy Award-winning cinematography is breath-taking. For a more classic feel (and in memory of my father, who loved Westerns), I'd choose "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly." My brothers and I still utter the dry-throated "Carson... Bill Carson..." line whenever we're parched.
Ellen B. -- Not a Western fan... Sorry!
Mary N.-P. -- Anything by Frankie Laine, especially "High Noon," "Rawhide," "Wild Goose" and "Gunfight at the OK Corral."
Scout S. -- "High Noon."
Rick T. -- "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral."
Erik H. -- I have a glorious trio of Westerns that I adore: Sergio Leone's "Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly)," Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" (as Paul Schrader said: "No one has mastered the art of multi-camera, multi-speed editing like Peckinpah, even today") and my personal favorite, Sergio Corbucci's "Django."
As described in "The Rough Guide to Westerns:"
"Mudfighting whores, a coffin-dragging hero, a violin-playing dwarf bartender, a Ku Klux Klan priest forced to eat his own severed ear, Sergio Corbucci's blood-spattering Pop Art spaghetti Western has all these and more."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

So many films, so little time

In between compiling various county election returns, which kept me at work until 1 a.m. Wednesday morning and sleeping, an activity I approached with a rare fervor Wednesday night, I have been reading "The Rough Guide to Westerns."
It's a wonderful book, full of enough intriguing details about the classic film genre to relieve my mind of the stress of general election coverage at the newspaper.
As with Rough Guide's book of gangster films, which I read last month, the Western guide lists "50 Essential" films, provides biographical detail of screen icons and makes me want to SEE MOVIES, which is the book's greatest attribute.
It makes me want to see John Sturges' "Bad Day at Black Rock," a contemporary Western from 1954 about the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
It makes me want to see Anthony Mann's "Man of the West," a dark film starring Gary Cooper and hailed by Jean-Luc Godard.
It makes me want to see Budd Boetticher's "The Tall T," one of the collaborations between Randolph Scott and Quentin Tarantino's favorite Western director.
Sadly, many of the films are difficult to find around here, including at the local library.
Thanks to this Western book, however, I will keep trying to find them.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I vote for THOMAS MITCHELL

I stayed up late last night and watched John Ford's "Stagecoach" for the umpteenth time.
It's too bad this classic Western premiered in 1939... it might have taken home more Oscars the next year.
Instead, "Gone With the Wind" claimed Best-Picture honors in a legendarily crowded field of nominees that included "Of Mice and Men," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "The Wizard of Oz."


One Academy Award the film did take home was Best Supporting Actor, given to the amazing Thomas Mitchell, who played Doc Boone.
As I watched "Stagecoach" last night, I purposely paid less attention to John Wayne's "Ringo Kid" and more attention to the ensemble cast.
John Carradine is perfect as the gambler, Hatfield. George Bancroft as Marshal Curley and Andy Devine as Buck also give fine performances. Louise Platt as Lucy Mallory seems a little melodramatic, but that is probably how Ford wanted her to play the part.
Despite these fine performances, Mitchell steals the show, even from Wayne.
His alcoholic doctor, driven from town, must take a heroic step and deliver a baby in less-than-ideal circumstances.
Mitchell portrays all of the emotions his character must have felt during the tense delivery and its aftermath, from the embarrassment that he was initially too drunk to function to the sense of pride that he had ultimately pulled it off.
Watch films from that time period and you will start to notice Mitchell's work.
He appeared in "Lost Horizon," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Gone With the Wind" and "It's a Wonderful Life," where he played Uncle Billy.
Although the stars got to leave their handprints in the wet cement at Grauman's Chinese Theater, Hollywood's character actors also contributed to the greatness of films. Mitchell proves it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Take a tip from The Clash, country kids

Local country music legend Rick Tittle recently sent me a music column bemoaning the lack of historical perspective among the latest generation of country artists.
The Faith and Keith wannabes don't know their Maybelles from their Farons, and it shows in their increasingly bland musical output.
I was reminded of the importance of knowing your musical history while walking on the treadmill just now, listening to The Clash.
Although they began as invective-spewing punkers, Strummer, Jones and the gang quickly infused their music with a heart-felt love of reggae. Later, the developing band added other musical styles to their palette, including blues, 50s rock and even country, culminating in their landmark achievement, the "London Calling" double album.
As a result, The Clash continue to offer towering inspiration to rock artists -- just ask Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong.
While the punk novelty of bands such as the Lurkers, Sham 69 and even the Sex Pistols fades daily, the music of the Clash grows in stature.
That's the lesson for the new country artists.
Sure, your constituency of teeny boppers and on-the-run soccer moms loves your music now, but what about shelf life?
Will these same people embrace your sound as they mature and seek more substantive musical offerings?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A day for heroes

What a day for heroes!
Guitar hero Steve Earle (pictured) kicked it off.
I listened to his early classics, including "Guitar Town" while reading "The Rough Guide to Westerns."
Of course, that book is full of heroes, although I tend to favor the more ambiguous rather than the John Wayne types.
Chris Cooper's Sheriff Sam Deeds, from John Sayles' brilliant "Lone Star," is my type of hero. He bravely continues his search for the truth, even when it appears the truth will hurt himself, his family and friends.
The Tottenham Hotspur football club were heroes, too, as they defeated Chelsea, 2-1, to claim their first league victory against the champions in 16 years. I watched that match, then watched as the San Francisco 49ers eked out a 9-3 win over the Vikings. Hey, given how bad my BELOVED NINERS have been in recent years, even a meager win is heroic.
Our final hero of the day is natural-born hunter, MIKA THE CAT.
I like bats and appreciate the important ecological role they play.
However, if a bat inside our home swoops at my daughters and sends them into hysterics, that bat has got to go.
Armed with a broom (where *DID* that badminton racket go?), I chased the bat back into Kerstin's room, where it hid in a cluttered corner. Rather than upturn tables and add to the chaos, I sent Mika into the room to flush out the winged mammal.
She did, and with Mika and feline cohort Lorelie in pursuit, the three of us combined to defeat the bat. If we hadn't, the girls would have never gone upstairs again.
Three cheers for Mika. Hip, Hip, Hooray!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Turn up the volume, vacation is OVER

I returned to work today with the blaring sounds of vintage U.K. punk rock.
My week's vacation ended with a P.M. shift at the newspaper. I had to interview actors and actresses who had locked themselves into a vacant warehouse as part of a "24-hour theater project," one of those events when the drama types conjure up plays -- "from page to stage" in a day.
I rebelled against the return to work by TURNING UP the volume on my "Anarchy Plus" playlist on the iPod -- 89 U.K. punk rock songs so obnoxious, that my 11-year-old, Green Day-loving daughter Kerstin even complained about them. Take THAT, Billie Joe.
I drove home to "Neat Neat Neat" by The Damned, "Tommy Gun" by The Clash (what a great song) and "Suspect Device" by Stiff Little Fingers.
Hey... If you have to return to work following a vacation, you might as well go down swinging.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Fredag Fr├ąga!

ROUTE 1 Tsar Erik is lordin' it up on vacation this week, so understudy Annika came up with this week's FRIDAY QUESTION:
"What is the best SWEDISH song?"
Gary D. -- There is a little known Swedish song that is heard every four years, "I see the puck, then I duck."
Erik H. -- I was going to say either "Dancing Queen" by ABBA or "Crucified" by Army of Lovers, but my anarchist tendencies are on the rise during vacation, so I will pick "Raggare is a Bunch of Motherf**ckers" the 1978 classic by the Rude Kids. Best... Swedish... Punk... Ever!
Lisa Y. -- Does the "Reeecollaaa" commercial count? I am picturing the guy up on the hill hollering that through the big horn.
Mike D. -- "Dancing Queen" by ABBA. It's so seventy-ish!
Annika H. -- "Dancing Queen!" Because it is the best song!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I go on vacation for a week and suddenly there will be no more fish in the sea

It is amazing how disconnect from the news I have become while on my week's vacation. It's odd, because I work for a newspaper and news pervades my normal environment. Not this week, though. I have been unaware.
Apparently, Sen. John Kerry made some remark about getting "stuck in Iraq" if students don't study. It made big news, but I didn't really pay that much attention.
A woman set a fire in a residential hotel in Reno, Nev., killing six people and I only heard about it because my mom and step-dad are visiting from "The Biggest Little City on Earth."
Then, after a vacation day spent hanging out at Dubuque's National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, I come home to hear the first substantial news reports I have heard in days and guess what I hear? The world's ocean fish will all be dead in 50 years.
What?!?!
When did they decide to do that?
I feel like Rip Van Winkle. I never heard a thing about it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tri-state vacation day

The girls and I took my mom and step-dad on a Tri-State vacation today.
From Dubuque, we traveled to Galena, Ill. for some history. We had visited Galena earlier this week for a shopping excursion. Today, we ate a COLD picnic lunch in Grant Park before touring the President Ulysses S. Grant home.
My step-dad Bob has been immersing himself in Civil War history recently, so the tour proved most interesting. Although Grant graduated only 21st in his class of 39 at West Point, he proved a battlefield -- if not a classroom -- genius by becoming the first Union general to initiate coordinated offensives across multiple theaters in the war.
All that history made us hungry, so I drove us north to Wisconsin and Cuba City, the famed CITY OF PRESIDENTS, where the fine folks at Weber's Meats hooked us up with beef sticks, sausage and -- hey, it's Wisconsin! -- cheese curds. Mmm... CHEESE CURDS...