Saturday, February 27, 2010


We may fall for the same old stagecraft and actorly tricks again and again, but what performances impress the professionals? Here, actors speak about their favorite performances of the decade.

(Sorry if this adds to your ever-lengthening Netflix queue, but get out your pencil and write some of these down.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010


This evening, Obama talks health care with greedy Republicans and cowardly Democrats in hope of finally passing some sensible health care reform. Good luck, Barack. Vested interests are well-represented and lobbied for, and some people are just getting too damn rich off the present system to allow progressive change. Republicans are calling the public talks with the President "a set-up," and fear for their lives (and pensions, and health plans) while the Democrats are trying on a wide variety of sheep outfits and preparing the mint jelly. What do you think? Should health care be a right of all Americans, or a luxury item for only the most fortunate?

This Frontline episode is appropriate today.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Seymour (Steve Buscemi) is a much older, geeky record collector, and Enid (Thora Birch) is a snarky anti-social high school student in the film of Dan Clowes' comic "Ghost World" (2001). They meet when Enid and her girlfriend play a trick on Seymour, but somehow the two actually become friends. Seymour turns her on to some good old-fashioned blues, and Enid is amazed by the records, especially "Devil Got My Woman" by Skip James.

In an extremely rare performance, Skip James sings "Devil Got My Woman" at the Newport Folk Festival in 1966. The song is a strange and haunting blues lament and blows across you like the wind at the crossroads, just past midnight, sweet as corn liquor but with a powerful hint of sulfur. Like Seymour says, "There are no other records like that."


Here's Muddy Waters performing with the Rolling Stones at the Checkerboard Lounge in 1981. The Stones owe plenty to Muddy, including their very name, which came from his song "Rolling Stone." Here they sing a blues song about a couple of their favorite pastimes, "Champagne and Reefer." (The cameraman obviously had too much of one or the other, or maybe both, but it's worth risking vertigo to hear this historic jam...enjoy!)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Ringo Starr is pushing seventy, but he's still making records. Recently he was asked about his favorite songs.

A classic jukebox (from "The Americans," by Robert Frank, 1958)

One of Ringo's favorites is Bob Dylan, and here is Dylan performing a song by one of HIS favorites, Woody Guthrie, the dust bowl ballad from the Great Depression, "Do-Re-Mi." Click HERE for that (and a bunch of great Dylan videos). Enjoy!

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Joe Sacco - Footnotes in Gaza, Jan. 12, 2010 from pdxjustice Media Productions

Joe Sacco draws cartoons. The Maltese-American is an award-winning comic journalist who first caught our attention with his amazing graphic novels Palestine (1996) and Safe Area Goražde (2000). Sacco talks to people. He listens. He explores these battle-scarred war zones, armed only with his cartooning skills, and recreates his travels on the page, allowing people to tell their own stories. The results are striking studies of lives lived beyond the mainstream newscasts and sound bites, real flesh and blood human beings who struggle to survive in a world far beyond the pat answers of politicians and pundits. Sacco brings them to life on the page with pen and ink.

Joe Sacco's latest book, Footnotes in Gaza (2009), investigates an incident that took place in 1956 when more than 100 Palestinians died in a seemingly routine search for fighters in Rafah. As usual, it's an extraordinary work. In this hour long video, courtesy of pdxjustice, Sacco discusses the work.

Here's a good interview with Sacco in Mother Jones.

Joe Sacco was born in Malta, moved with his family to Los Angeles, and then finally Beaverton, Oregon at the age of twelve. He he got his first taste of cartooning at Sunset High School, where he graduated in 1978. He earned a BA in journalism at the University of Oregon. He currently lives in Portland.

pdxjustice is an independent, not-for-profit producer of video and audio programming for community radio, public access television and free internet streaming. Based in Portland, pdxjustice is dedicated to community education and discussion of social justice issues, and engaged political action. pdxjustice was founded in February 2004 by William Seaman, who remains the chief volunteer producer.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Somebody get the drawn butter.

Friday, February 19, 2010


It's a beautiful sunny day in the Northwest, but some parts of the country are covered with snow and experiencing unseasonably cold weather. This leads some ill-informed yokels to argue against global warming--you may have them in your family, or maybe you bump into them at work. They think science is a liberal trick and never miss an opportunity to rail against Al Gore and other environmentalists. This video should help you deal with these nabobs. Enjoy! In the meantime, I'll have another gin and tonic.

Oh, and just to be fair--here's Al to break it down for you:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


The new Rolling Stone has a cover article about guitar virtuosos Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. The two hang out in Beck's sixteenth century British estate and shoot the bull, jam a little on some vintage guitars, and reminisce about the swinging sixties when they were young gunslingers. They were enemies back then--Beck took over lead guitar when Clapton left the Yardbirds--but they always had a weary respect for one another. Both loved the Blues, and both mastered a tasty melodic line that couldn't be matched. Clapton went on to Cream, the power trio of heavy blues rock with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, and then Derek and the Dominoes, with another awesome axeman Duane Allman. Beck formed the Jeff Beck Group, with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, and then went on to make a couple award-winning solo albums, Blow by Blow and Wired, and collected numerous Grammies and accolades. Still, this "guitarist's guitarist" never received the mainstream popularity of Eric Clapton, whose radio friendly pop hits ("I Shot the Sheriff," "You Look Wonderful Tonight," and "Tears from Heaven," to name a few) secured a place in the pop pantheon. Not to mention "Layla."

Eric Clapton didn't always dress like a lawyer.

Back in the day, these players were fierce. They could shred if they wanted, and rip through the time/space continuum at will, but they always played true to the music. Blues was their inspiration. Lately, these lions in winter have made peace. They've played a few gigs, and here is a clip from a show this past weekend, Valentine's Day, in fact, at the O2 in London. Here they play a languidly soulful rendition of "Moon River." It might be hard to believe the fiery gods of heavy psychedelic blues would touch this song, but not as strange as you might think once you give it a listen. They play it real cool...

And in case you miss them playing the straight up blues, here's a clip from 1981 with Beck and Clapton jamming on a blues classic that's been covered by James Brown, The Band, Joe Cocker, and Clapton himself--not to mention every other aspiring blues player worth his salt--a rave-up written by Don D. Robey and Joe Medwick Veasey,"Further On Up The Road."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Today is Mardi Gras. Time to throw out that puritan straitjacket and let the good times roll. Get some Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a file gumbo, and listen to this good old-fashioned New Orleans music. Can you get loose? Really loose? Here's some advice, and if you follow carefully you'll do fine. You let the bon ton roulet. You let the mulay voulay. Don't you be no foulay. You let the bon ton roulet. Go!

Professor Longhair, "Go to the Mardi Gras." Born Henry Roeland Byrd in 1918, he first made his living as a street hustler and started playing music in his thirties, eventually played his way into the Blues Hall of Fame and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was too freaky to become a mainstream hit, but his musical children Fats Domino and Huey "Piano" Smith carried his style into popular music. Allen Toussaint and Dr. John acknowledge the Professor as an important father figure and give him props.

The Meters, "Hey, Pocky A-Way." The Meters were a New Orleans funk band that got together in the late sixties. With frontman Art Neville, the band combined tight melodies with New Orleans "second-line" rhythms and riffs. Classic N'orleans funk.

Tom Waits, "I Wish I Was in New Orleans." Thomas Alan Waits soaked his voice in bourbon and cigarettes and growled his way through blues, jazz and vaudeville--finally combining Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill theatrics, beat poetry, carnival barking, industrial noise, and heart-rending stories to the mix. Don't let the animal rasp fool you; underneath the howl is a melodic genius.

Trust me. You want to eat a whole mess of this Jambalaya. Keep a cold beer at your side and dig in. Laisez les bons temps rouler!


The original was recorded back in 1985 for African famine relief, and included Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson (who co-wrote the tune with Lionel Ritchie), Cyndi Lauper, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan. The original was a patchwork quilt with an eighties sheen, synthesizer washes and drum machines, but somehow it all came together.

We Are The World, 1985

The song is back, this time to benefit victims of the earthquake in Haiti. There are plenty of new singers this time around, probably half I've never seen before. Kanye West is in there, and Pink, and Celine Dion, and Jennifer Hudson, some American Idol types, and even a couple of oldies, Tony Bennett and Barbara Streisand. Jamie Foxx does his award-winning Ray Charles impersonation. There is a phalanx of rappers to keep it real toward the end. Thanks to digital trickery, Michael Jackson returns to sing his part, and relying nearly as much on modern technology, Lil Wayne sings the Bob Dylan part with the robotic help of Auto-Tune. So what happened? They've kept the sheen, but the plane never quote leaves the runway. Lil Wayne is no Bob Dylan. Even so, I hope it raises lots of money for the Haitians.

In case you were in a coma in the eighties, or off celebrating Reaganomics and missed it, here is a reprise of the original.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


In his first performance at the White House, Bob Dylan played a slow, soulful version of "The Times They Are a-Changin'" for the First Family. The occasion? "A Celebration of Music From the Civil Rights Movement." Dylan was joined by a stellar cast of performers, including Smokey Robinson, Jennifer Hudson, Joan Baez, John Mellencamp, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Natalie Cole, and Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon.

This song still carries the hopes and dreams of the sixties Movement in every note, but Dylan isn't the strident firebrand he once was. Obviously he's older--who isn't?--and his voice is weathered and rough, and it carries the years in its grainy honesty. Dylan was just twenty-two when he wrote the song back in 1964, already wise beyond his years, and he's lived several lifetimes since and sounds even wiser now.

Bob Dylan in Greenwood, Mississippi, 1963, at a gathering sponsored by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an organization conducting a voter registration drive among African Americans throughout the Deep South.

For the complete White House show, courtesy of PBS, please click here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


What's all the big fuss about in Italy? First off, nobody's getting excited--that's just how Italians speak. Secondly, there is a reason to be upset which you might not understand unless you're a fan of Italian food. I am. Italy is a gastronomic dream come true, where even the roadside grills along the Autostrada serve food superior to any American fast food--FAR superior, with fresh salads and soups and pastas and house wine. The country takes pride in its cuisine, as it should, and has met our "fast food" with a "slow food" movement of its own, relishing the length of time it takes to cook good food. So what's all the fuss?

First off, they stuck a McDonald's on the Piazza di Spagna, or Spanish Steps, one of my favorite spots in all of Rome.

Piazza di Spagna

It's not just me.
Piazza di Spagna has been a favorite of locals and travelers since it was first built in 1725 (the construction of the Church above the steps began in 1502). The Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti is the longest and widest staircase in all of Europe. To the right of the steps, on the corner just above the fountain, is where the romantic poet Keats lived and where he eventually died. For generations, Piazza di Spagna has been visited by architects, painters, musicians and poets who all lodged here. George Eliot, Goethe, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron, the Brownings, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Giorgio di Chirico and Bob Dylan were just a few who visited and were inspired by these steps in the celebrated centro storico. The latest member of this illustrious company is Ronald McDonald.

This clown stuck a "restaurant" atop the historic steps, and if that wasn't bad enough just unveiled the McItaly burger to add insult to injury. The Eternal City could survive the culinary onslaught, you might say. After all, Rome has survived every army the world could muster, the sack of the Vandals, Goths and Visigoths, a succession of crooked popes and corrupt politicians, the iron fist of fascist Mussolini--surely it can survive this colossal whopper of bad taste.

The McItaly

This is the McItaly. Some genius at McDonald's cooked it up to match the glory of Rome. It's made with Italian beef, Asiago cheese and Artichoke spread. Sure, it's probably better than a Big Mac, but even so. According to the burger chain, they've been selling all week like hotcakes. Tasteless, overly-salted, high calorie hotcakes. The company says the McItaly has been exceeding their sales expectations...but what would they say? They're getting gobbled by homesick tourists and college kids?

Minister of Agriculture Luca Zaia endorsed the McItaly burger. He argued that the new burger would put money into the pockets of Italian farmers in these tough times. He smiled for the cameras and waved his greased palms.

This past spring, I spent nearly three weeks in Italy, eating my way across the country, and never once missed McDonald's. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a good burger, but fresh fish on the coast, grilled meats, delicate risottos and an array of fine pastas and pizzas and outstanding wines helped me forget the culinary sins of Ronald McDonald and his ilk. Sorry, guys. I know you spent a fortune on this ad campaign, but for me, there is no contest. Not even close. I'd pick the Spanish Steps over the Golden Arches any day of the settimana. And next time I'm in Italy I'm sticking with Italian food.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


It's Super Bowl Sunday, a holy day of obligation for sports fans. Two teams--the Colts, the champs of the American Football Conference, and the Saints, the champs of the National Football Conference--will fight it out for four quarters for world domination. Or something like that.

Yesiree, Bob. Super Bowl XLIV is here, but more important than the clash of teams--and those overly expensive commercials in between plays--is the halftime entertainment. This year they've brought some real champions. As you make another sandwich, or wash down Wendy's famous Buffalo wings with more beers, a truly magnificent rock group, one of the very best of all time, will take the stage. The Who. While the teams are off the playing field, off-screen, back in the locker room getting iced, shot up with steroids, playing with toy boats in the jacuzzi, and engaging in all that good old fashioned, all-American homoerotic towel-snapping, the mighty Who will hit the Thunderdome. Even as old geezers, these lads can blow anybody away. They know about staying power. These teams have been playing for how long? Payton Manning wasn't even born till 1976! The Who have been chewing up fans since 1964! I can't wait to see the looks on the faces of those uber-fans with their rainbow wigs and team blankets and comfy couch cushions.

Have fun with the game and let's hope it's a good one, and not some lop-sided contest. Even so, pay attention to half-time. Don't get lost in your snacks.

Let's face it, football is okay but ain't rock and roll.


Coach Payton and the Saints go marching in. Somebody pour Gatorade on this guy.

Okay, it was a good game after all, and the underdog Saints came from behind to win 31-17. Beer flowed, guacamole was gulped, and Wendy's famous flaming chicken wings sizzled. The Who were great, and here's the halftime show: