Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tristan and Isolde's Romantic Legend

Tristan and Isolde, from 2006, is worth watching for entertainment value, although the legendary tale is extremely similar to lots of other England vs. Ireland period pieces. Man and woman from opposite sides fall in love, jump great hurdles to sustain that love, some things go well and some tragically. James Franco (Milk, Pineapple Express) as Tristan is a poor-man's Heath Ledger, and the rest of the cast is equally solid but fairly forgettable.

Considering most of the claptrap coming out of Hollywood, this has to be considered better-than-average and worth watching if you're bored. It also has director Kevin Reynolds (who did a fantastic and underrated job with 2002's The Count of Monte Cristo) going for it.

*** out of ***** stars

T.C. Boyle and Frank Lloyd Wright's Women

Being a fan of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright (I visited Taliesin West in Arizona in 2001 and loved Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, which portrays Wright in a highly arrogant, unlikeable light), I thought I'd give T.C. Boyle's new novel a try. I really enjoyed the one Boyle novel I've previously read (Drop City, about communal hippies in California and Alaska) and his short stories are consistently among the best in The New Yorker.

The free sample of The Women: A Novel that I downloaded to my Kindle promises to be about the women in Wright's life. It begins with a 25-year-old Japanese man making a trip to the hinterlands of Taliesin in Wisconsin (pictured, right). He encounters locals along the way who express their surprise at seeing a "Chinaman." But our protagonist doesn't mind these uneducated folks. He's go too much anticipation on his way to do a year-long apprenticeship under Wright. Turns out, the conservative community isn't really disapproving of a strange foreigner, but more of the communal lack of orthodoxy going on up at Wright's property. The apprentice ends up living at Wright's for nine years, all the time wondering whether the man is misunderstood or really a sociopath.

I'm intrigued and will keep reading.

The Grateful Dead Goes Into the Studio

I was never a Deadhead, but I had lots of friends who were. They finally dragged me to a show on July 6, 1995 at Riverport Amphitheater in St. Louis. Lucky me too, Jerry died almost exactly a month later.

So I'm obviously no expert. The show was definitely memorable. But I've always been (perhaps the only one) more of a Dead studio-work lover. An article in a book I'm reading, Stories Done, discusses how Workingman's Dead and American Beauty were the albums where they consciously attempted to rein in their wildly psychedelic live sides and make simple pop-country-folk songs. So I could never rate (or have the patience to listen to) all the Dead's live songs, but here are my favorite studio tracks:

15. "Built to Last," Built to Last, 1989
14. "Franklin's Tower," Blues for Allah, 1975
13. "U.S. Blues," From the Mars Hotel, 1974
12. "China Cat Sunflower," Aoxomoxoa, 1969
11. "St. Stephen," Aoxomoxoa, 1969
10. "Foolish Heart," Built to Last, 1989
09. "Ripple," American Beauty, 1970
08. "Sugar Magnolia," American Beauty, 1970
07. "Friend of the Devil," American Beauty, 1970
06. "Eyes of the World," Wake of the Flood, 1973
05. "Uncle John's Band," Workingman's Dead, 1970
04. "Touch of Grey," In the Dark, 1987
03. "Casey Jones," Workingman's Dead, 1970
02. "Truckin'," American Beauty, 1970
01. "Box of Rain," American Beauty, 1970

Debate, Deadheads.

Photo by

Death and the Dead

This is the third installment in a series about a book I'm reading called Stories Done, which is a great collection of tales of excess from counter-culture leaders.

Death hovered over The Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia his whole life. As a young boy, he watched his father, Spanish immigrant Jose "Joe" Garcia, swept away to his death in a California river while on a fishing trip.

His mother, Ruth, died in a car accident in 1970 near Twin Peaks in San Francisco.

After trying for years to kick his heroin and cocaine addictions, Garcia was found unconscious by a rehab clinic counselor on August 9, 1995. He had died of a heart attack in his sleep "with a smile on his face," according to his wife.

Photo by Toby Talbot/AP

Friday, February 27, 2009

Woolly Mammoth: Hell Meets Henry Halfway

The string continues. I have yet to see a bad play at D.C.'s best theater, the Woolly Mammoth. Hell Meets Henry Halfway is far from the best thing ever on stage there, but if meaningless entertainment is what you're after, this is pretty top-notch. 

I have no idea what this was about, but the comic timing was excellent most of the time. The plot had something to do with heaven vs. hell, but probably the plot didn't much matter. One running story line was about a man who comes to visit for the purpose of giving tennis lessons to a woman. Both are pathetic excuses for humans and neither can stand their lives (although they kind of love their own bodies, and each other's).  Very much an angry/funny Royal Tenenbaums feel. Jon, the ball boy, whose relation to everybody else is one of the many mysteries of this play, is a cryingly funny, immature man-child much like Mike Myers' Simon.

The acting is great, although the Prince, for some reason played by a woman, is a terrible and not-funny character. Tim Treanor, who panned Wiener Sausage: The Musical! (admittedly, he attended our one seriously bad show), loved it. He'll give away nearly the entire script for you here.

***1/2 out of ***** stars

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hoya Horrible

Greg Monroe (pictured, right) had a few cool dunks tonight against Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals, but otherwise, my partner-in-crime Peter said Coach John Thompson III's coaching has been a joke this year and the team has seriously underachieved. I tend to agree. 

Thankfully, I'll be in Minneapolis for Georgetown's last home game of the season against DePaul. Let's hope next year's season tickets are more worth it.

Photo by Nick Wass, AP

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Even Half of Drive-By Truckers Is a Great Show

The Washington Post reviews both D.C. weekend shows.

Conan O'Brien and Great Moments in Late Night

Many Americans with a sense of humor can somewhat define themselves by which late-night shows they prefer. Me, I'm a Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and early-era David Letterman man. I rarely watch Conan O'Brien, but I've always liked his style of funnyman a lot. 

The video above is hilarious and was the highlight during Friday's last show before he moves from New York to L.A. to assume Jay Leno's post as host of The Tonight Show.

And here are several of Conan's best moments.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Who's Top 13 Songs

While on the subject of The Who ... These are my top 10 songs by them. I always preferred the less bloated, punk-like early era stuff (some of which appears on this list as representing 1971's Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, which was a compilation I wore out on vinyl as a kid. It collected for the first time several of the band's non-album singles).

You may notice no Tommy tracks. I sort of lost interest in most of The Who's classic-rock 1970s' stuff, but they came back with a couple of strong cuts in the early 80s, as noted on this chart.

13. "Athena," It's Hard, 1982
12. "Behind Blue Eyes," Who's Next, 1971
11. "Armenia City In the Sky," The Who Sell Out, 1967
10. "I Can See For Miles," Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, 1971
09. "A Legal Matter," The Who Sings My Generation, 1965
08. "My Generation," The Who Sings My Generation, 1965
07. "Baba O'Reily," Who's Next, 1971
06. "Substitute," Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, 1971
05. "You Better You Bet," Face Dances, 1981
04. "Happy Jack," A Quick One (Happy Jack), 1966
03. "Pictures of Lily," Magic Bus, 1968
02. "The Kids Are Alright," The Who Sings My Generation, 1965
01. "I Can't Explain," Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, 1971

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Kids Are Alright

The Who, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones are the bands I first loved when I was getting into music around age 7 or 8. Anything I subsequently liked in Casey Kasem's American Top 40 or elsewhere had to stem somehow (however loosely, Nena "99 Luftballoons," I'm looking at you) from those three roots. 

So it's amazing that I'm just now getting around to watching The Who's 1979 rockumentary The Kids Are Alright. There's not much that needs to be said about it. They play a lot and joke a lot. Keith Moon is a crazed freak show who plays and beats up his drums like no other rock drummer will ever do again so well. John Entwistle's fingers jaw-droppingly motor on top of the bass. Pete Townshend's hair catches on fire from one too many guitar-destructo moments. And Roger Daltry swings his microphone and is generally a more jock-like version of Robert Plant. Just watch the film. Few bands have ever had four such powerhouse individuals.

***** out of ***** stars

Oh Woe is Poe

Edgar Allen Poe is history's greatest horror writer. Perhaps nobody will ever top chilling tales like "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Cask of Amontillado," and, most of all, "The Black Cat."

But I'd like to see them try. So I started to read a new anthology called Poe's Children: The New Horror. The title certainly enticed me. In the introduction, editor Peter Straub, who himself has written dozens of horror novels, claims the genre is "the most interesting development in our literature during the last two decades." Readers must be "open-eyed and flexible as to category to get what's going on."

But if Straub's going to give us that hard of a sell, it seems like he should start out the compilation more strongly that with Dan Chaon's "The Bees." A husband with a normal, happy family begins to hear screaming in his head and have nightmares. The problems start when his wife finds him blacked-out and naked in the middle of the living-room floor. Things get weirder when we learn that the husband had a secret former life. He was previously married with child and was apparently not-very-nice to either. The karma of those earlier poisoned relationships comes home to roost. The tale is indeed terrifying, but a little suburban and plain for the lead-off story. 

Maybe I should read further into this anthology, but I think I'll continue this search ... elsewhere. Or maybe just read the above-mentioned Poe stories for the umpteenth time.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

George W. Bush: Most Boring President Ever

Platoon and The Doors are two of my all-time favorite movies (Natural Born Killers, JFK, and Born on the Fourth of July aren't too shabby either). So when it was announced that Oliver Stone would take on George W. Bush in his next film, I was pretty excited.

But W. has to be considered a bit of a disappointment. All the juiciest details are here (the ex-prez's obsessive love of baseball, his fraternity alcoholic hazings, his under-explained relationship with Jesus) and there are gripping inner office roundtable meetings with Condi, Rummy, Colin Powell, and the whole gang.

Josh Brolin is perfect and an undeniable force as W. Elizabeth Banks is good but too cute and not nearly as creepy as First Lady Laura. James Cromwell is excellent as the villainous Daddy H.W. Bush. And the rest of the actors do admirable jobs as other cabinet members (especially Richard Dreyfuss as the purely evil Dick Cheney). The problem is that they all feel like such caricatures rather than fully fleshed-out characters.

The series of vaguely connected scenes work well as 5-minute segments on their own. Taken together, it's just not that interesting at more than two hours. Or, then again, maybe Oliver Stone just didn't have much to work with. Maybe W. just isn't that interesting of a person.

*** out of ***** stars

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Future of Environmental Journalism

An event on Thursday at the Woodrow Wilson Center featured fascinating analysis of the uneasy state of science and environmental journalism. The panelists were (pictured, left to right): Seth Borenstein of the AP, Elizabeth Shogren of NPR, Jan Schaffer of J-Lab, and Peter Dykstra, formerly of CNN.

Borenstein set the tone: "The journalism business is like Detroit. We're getting it worse and we're getting it faster." 

Examples from the other panelists and audience members drove home this point: The L.A. Times' D.C. bureau has closed. NPR has had big layoffs. Content-sharing agreements between former rival newspapers are increasingly happening, quite a change from the old days, when every paper and reporter wanted the scoop.  Many bosses/editors see the environment as a "marginal beat." The Baltimore Sun has gone from three environment reporters to one. The Boston Globe has terminated its Health and Science section and now environment stories are placed in the Features section.

The was a lot of talk about how niche publications are taking the place of mainstream ones. For example, interested readers and experts can get more information about global warming than ever before from online sources such as Climate Wire, Mother Nature News, and Grist. But an average Joe still needs mainstream media reporters to pluck the most important news away from these niche publications because he won't go to Climate Wire (either because he doesn't know about it or won't pay for the pricey subscription). For more on this, there's a powerful new study by Pew about the growing importance of niche reporters in Washington D.C.

I could go on, but I'll mention one other point. The panel was about the future of environmental journalism. So what will environmental journalists be covering? Borenstein said it will be pork, waste, and stupid spending; and land mines left for Obama by the previous administration. 

Shogren said programs in the economic stimulus package will provide endless stories. Will the electric grid get any smarter? Will people change the way they use electricity? How will the country decide to curtail our greenhouse gas emissions? What will happen with cap-and-trade money? Do climate bills fail because they look like pork? What will be the impacts of climate change?

The full two-hour Webcast of the event will be up soon here and a more in-depth article on last week's event appears online at the Columbia Journalism Review.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Don't Sweat It: I Love You, Beth Cooper Arrives!

I Love You, Beth Cooper by Simpsons' writer Larry Doyle was the best comedic novel I read in the past year (thanks for the recommendation, Dewey).

And now the trailer is online for the film, set for release in theaters on July 10. Hayden Panetierre of Heroes' fame and Paul Rust play the leads, in what will surely take you back to your cliquish high-school days.

The story involves nerdy class valedictorian Dennis Cooverman proclaiming his love for popular cheerleader Beth Cooper. When Beth actually takes Dennis up on stopping by for Dennis' graduation party at his parents house, a hilarious and unforgettable night ensues.

***** out of ***** stars

Friday, February 13, 2009

Wiener Sausage: The Songs!

Plans are still in the works to carry Wiener Sausage: The Musical! forward to other cities in the U.S. Those plans are predictably coming along slowly by WS's co-creators, myself and Dan Sullivan (pictured left), but they're still coming.

In the meantime, I'll be editing some footage of the Capital Fringe performances from last summer and posting on You Tube.

For starters, here are clips of the songs Not Cash or Check, Baby and Free.

For more songs, stories, and similar nonsense, go to the Wiener Sausage Web site.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Too Hot in the Furnace for Duke

Duke lost at home Wednesday night in what Raycom announcers called a "furnace" and "the feel of a summer-league game." North Carolina, after a couple of unexpected midseason losses (many expected them to go undefeated for the year; they're that good), appears to be the cream of the NCAA crop again. Duke is pretty good, but as the Tarheels pulled away late in the game, it really seemed liked no contest.

Nobody scores 100 points in Cameron Indoor. North Carolina got 101, in a dominant offensive performance, led by Ty Lawson's 25 points.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Timothy Leary's Head

This is the second installment of a series based on a book I'm reading called Stories Done, which is a great collection of tales of excess from counter-culture leaders.

LSD figurehead Timothy Leary did something almost nobody does when he found out he was dying from prostate cancer: celebrated. He called friends and told them he was "exhilarated" by the news.

Leary planned to have his death broadcast on his Web site. After dying, a crew of cryonics technicians would freeze his body and preserve his brain. Leary would be placed into a cryonics coffin. His blood would be drained and replaced with antifreeze compounds.

Over time, Leary became creeped-out by CryoCare employees' "ghoulish interest in obtaining the head of Timothy Leary." It became even worse when family and friends learned that the employee charged with the decapitation and freezing process had signed on to write about it for Wired magazine.

Bottom line: We'll never have another Timothy Leary again. But apparently this man is full of these kinds of stories, so I plan to read his acclaimed autobiography, Flashbacks, whenever I get a chance.

Back to High School With Stephen King

I hadn't read Stephen King since high school, when I devoured horror pop-culture classics like The Stand, Night Shift, The Dark Tower, Pet Semetary, It, and Different Seasons.

But when I recently bought an Amazon Kindle, one feature that I realize I love about the e-reader is its ability to download lengthy free samples of books from Amazon. Since I especially liked King's short fiction, I thought I'd sample his new collection, Just After Sunset. But the first story, "Willa," had me hooked and, when the sample ended in the middle, I just had to go ahead and purchase the whole book.

Thus marked my first purchase on the Kindle. Ironically, on Monday, King was Amazon's spokesman in announcing the new Kindle 2.0.

Meanwhile, I'm reading lots of samples on my old-school Kindle 1.0, but still sticking with Just After Sunset. I just finished "The New York Times At Special Bargain Rates," about the widow of a 9/11-like plane-crash victim who receives a haunting call from her husband just prior to his funeral. Many of the stories in this book are very post 9/11, and the author is still clearly a populist master of the pen.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Ed Hightower Representin' Eville

I think he's a great ref, and he did his usual steady job in the one game I saw him work earlier this year at Georgetown. But the fans of Kansas apparently aren't so fond, as this Photoshop gallery suggests.

You Know You're a Daddy When ...

You go to Disney on Ice. Don't think I'd ever been to one of these things before I accompanied Rachel's family and toddlers Jackson and Julia last night to 1st Mariner Arena (proud home of the indoor soccer Baltimore Blast). Although I can't remember if I actually saw Sesame Street Live on Ice when I was a kid.

Saturday evening's show could have used more of Disney's classic songs. But it was still pretty entertaining, mainly because the kids loved it, even at the probably too-young ages of 2 and 1. The plot was heavy on The Incredibles' family teaming up to find Mickey and Minnie, who have been kidnapped by pirates and others in a Magic Kingdom gone haywire. Or something like that.

But I suppose the plot (and sloppy falls by Dad and Daughter, always my deviously favorite part of ice skating) were beside the point. Disney's stories and characters have a mostly strong record. Call me old school, but my favorites are still Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and The Jungle Book.

Steelers and Babies Are So Cute

Pretty clear why these are worth posting for posterity on my blog.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Cab Crashes Into My Buddy's Bar Solly's

Check out the story at DCist.

And here's the link to Solly's. Hope this all turns out OK, John!

The update: The taxi driver supposedly doesn't have a license! An arrest is pending. Another reason to dislike DC cabbies.

What's Wrong With Greg Monroe?

Georgetown appears done for the season at this point. What once looked like one of the nation's best teams has sunk to an NIT candidate.

The Hoyas' 2-point overtime loss to Cincinnati today was another sorry performance. Freshman phenom Greg Monroe (pictured, left) blew three free throws in overtime and the team shot 0-8 from the field in those final five minutes. Monroe's once-sure hands have turned pillow soft. He can't finish and he can't really do much else either.

Chris Wright is maddening in his underwhelming selfishness. JTIII's play-calling seems ever-more suspect. Jessie Sapp was benched for the entire second half for unknown reasons. My season tickets are going to be tough to play out.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Allen Ginsberg's Poetic Moment

This is the first post of a series based on articles from this book I'm reading. Stories Done, by Mikal Gilmore, is a great collection of tales of excess from counter-culture leaders.

Allen Ginsberg's story leads off the book.

In the early 1950s, after at least a couple of sexual encounters at Columbia University with fellow Beat Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg had a similar suaree with Neal Cassady and fell instantly in love with him. But Cassady played hard to get and found the occasional sex with Ginsberg meaningless. Ginsberg eventually sought psychiatric treatment over his pained lost love, gave up his poetry, and started work at an ad agency in Manhattan.

One day, Ginsberg's therapist asked him what he really wanted to do with his life. Ginsberg replied: quit his job and write poetry. The therapist said: "Well, why don't you?" By 1954, the group had begun to reassemble in the San Francisco Bay area. Ginsberg often hung around City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, but one day he drove out to San Jose to visit Cassady. When Cassady's girlfriend walked in to find the two men in bed, she drove Ginsberg back to San Francisco, gave him $20, and left him there. It was the best thing that ever happened to Ginsberg, as he soon found the man he would stay involved with for the next several decades. And his poetry career took off with the publication of the compilation Howl.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Georgetown In a Rut

The crowd was decidedly sparse (kind of like the amount of postings at one of my favorite Hoya blogs, The Van Buren Boys) for Tuesday night's home game against Rutgers. Georgetown won 57-47 to snap a 5-game losing streak. Before the streak, Hoya games were exciting and lively. The team looked like world beaters.

But now, the team looks like a Big East last-place team (which they were as of tip-off) against a high-school-like Scarlet Knights club. Rumor has it that Jessie Sapp and Chris Wright threw punches at each other in the locker room, but who knows what's causing this team to collapse.

On the court, Sapp led the unexcitement with 11 points and Greg Monroe followed with 10. Georgetown is now 13-8 and 4-6 in the Big East.

At least Peter and I ate good sushi at Wok and Roll beforehand. And, as an interesting footnote, Wok and Roll is in the same rowhouse where John Wilkes Booth planned the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Steelers Six-Pack!

NBC Anchor Bob Costas ended the Steelers' record-breaking sixth Super Bowl win by declaring the franchise the greatest sports team in American history.

Final: Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Steelers Sunday

Finally time to end two week's worth of pre-game hype and get onto the field!!!

John Lennon: A Life Most Interesting

John Lennon was brilliant from the start. By age 5, thanks to his Uncle George picking out particular words for John to learn from the Liverpool Echo, he gained a lifelong addiction to newspapers.

At school, he didn't draw the normal renditions of kitties or his "Mummy." One example was a painting of Jesus, which was "like a psychic vision of himself 20 years into the future." 

Because he had bad eyes and hated to wear his glasses, little John possessed "the very Liverpudlian traits of a fascination with language and an irresistible compulsion to play around with it." He often misread words or had a myopic vision of his immediate surroundings. But rather than viewing this as a disability, he turned these flashes into puns, spoonerisms, and double entendres. Once on holiday and near broke, he sent a postcard to his Aunt Mimi saying, "Funs is low."

There are all kinds of great and well-researched stories in this book by Philip Norman. One could ask: What more needs to be said? But no journalist knows The Beatles better or has better access (this book includes in depth interviews with Yoko Ono). So if there's one Lennon biography to read, this is it.

Here's an excerpt about how John's life was transformed by the birth of his son Sean. 

I read the first several chapters and will probably finish this epic sometime in the next decade. With juicy new details like Lennon supposedly contemplating whether to have a gay fling with McCartney and an afterword by the heretofore hush-hush Sean, it will be hard not to dig back in.

Is The Love Guru Really That Bad?

Often named as one of the worst movies of 2008, I actually enjoyed The Love Guru. The supporting cast was pretty bad, except for Jessica Alba, who was harmlessly perfect in her fairly nondescript role as the Bill Bidwill-like owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Mike Myers may never reclaim his Austin Powers mojo. But even if this movie is not entirely memorable, Myers is weird and funny the whole way through. He's difficult to stop watching and The Love Guru is well worth 90 minutes of your life.

*** 3.5 out of 5 stars ***