Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rant #685: Goodbye, Davy

This is a bonus rant for today, because as you probably know, something happened today that really tears into the hearts of baby boomers everywhere.

Davy Jones, once and forever a member of the Monkees, passed away today. He was 66.

You can find out lots about Jones just by surfing the web. His name has been trending for hours now, and there are hundreds of stories on him popping up on the Web by the hour.

So I am going to look at Jones from my perspective, and my perspective alone. You probably will see things in here that are from where you sit, too, but I am not going to give you that many facts, just some personal observations.

On that September Monday night in 1966, my sister and I turned on our old Dumont black and white TV, which was in our living room when we lived in Rochdale Village, Queens, New York.

It was 7:30 p.m., and a new show was debuting that looked pretty interesting to this nine year old's eyes.

Just a few years before, I had fallen in love with the Beatles. Not love like you are thinking, but I thought the Beatles were the coolest things ever.

They had started to get a little weird by 1966, and while I wasn't losing interest, I needed something new to enrapture me--and I found it on that September night.

My sister and I fell lock, stock and barrel for Peter, Micky, Mike and Davy, the Monkees! There was something fresh about this show that we really liked. It was like watching a live action cartoon, and with rock and roll music!

We were in heaven on earth here.

My mother ran out and bought their records for us, like "Last Train to Clarksville" and "I'm a Believer." The first record I ever bought with my own money was "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You," which I bought at the Kress store in Rochdale's first mall.

And Davy was the lead singer on that tune.

My sister covered her walls with Davy Jones pictures and posters. I preferred Mike Nesmith, but I really didn't mind Davy Jones at all.

He played the tambourine and sang in my favorite rock band!

But the problem was that the growing rock establishment looked upon the Monkees as a canard, a farce, a joke.

Sure, the foursome was talented, but they didn't have to work up the ladder to get to the top. They were cobbled together for a TV show, were given songs to sing, and heck, they didn't even play their own instruments early on!

But you know, I really didn't care. The Monkees were making music for my generation of kids, kids born from about 1955 to 1960. We were their target, and they hit the bull's eye.

And through it all, Davy Jones was probably the least respected of the bunch. Some said he couldn't sing, some said he didn't have any rock chops.

But they were wrong, oh how wrong they were.

Jones, a former child actor in England, was musical, but from a different standpoint. His learning ground was the stage. He won a Tony for his performance as the Artful Dodger in "Oliver," and his stage persona set the stage, literally, for many performers that followed, with theatrics that in 1966 weren't understood enough to be appreciated.

But from David Bowie (nee Jones--he changed his name to avoid confusion with the Monkee), and even Madonna and Lady Gaga, well, they got it. The theatrics you see at many rock concerts today started with Davy and the Monkees, who burst out of giant speakers when they entered the stage in those days.

He was basically a stage actor who morphed into a rock and roller, and he did it flawlessly. There haven't been very many actors who have been able to do this, but Jones did it, and did it well.

And when the Monkees were no more, Jones continued working, doing much stage work, mainly in England. He later even played Fagin in Oliver, believe it or not.

For me, I searched out his records in the 1970s and 1980s, and put my ear to the grindstone to find out any information abou him that I could.

Then 1986 and MTV happened, and the Monkees--less Mike Nesmith--were as hot as a pistol. And Jones and Micky and Peter were relevant again.

But for me, they never really became irrelevant.

Over the years, through Monkees reunions and solo shows, I always followed Jones' career. He was never really out of my sight ever, and I do mean that sincerely. Whenever I could find out information on him, I ate up that information rapidly.

And his influence is felt to this day. Don't tell me Justin Bieber hasn't learned something from Jones. Whatever you think of today's number one teenybopper star, there is a definite link between him and Jones.

And while there were teen idols before Jones, Jones became the archetype for the modern teen idol. Every teen idol that followed him picked up something from him and from the Monkees, and that means from David Cassidy to Bobby Sherman to the Bay City Rollers to the Backstreet Boys, and yes, to Bieber too.

I last saw Jones perform as part of the Monkees reunion tour last summer. He was effervescent as he always was, and I speak from experience--I've seen him dozens of times.

One of the most memorable was in the 1990s, when he was performing as part of the umpteenth Monkees reunion. I saw him at Westbury Music Fair in Westbury, Long Island.

He was performing with his mates on that legendary revolving stage that Westbury has, and for some reason, he lost his footing, fell off the stage, and fell on his arm. He got up as if nothing happened, went back on the stage, and completed the show without a hitch.

We found out later that he had broken his arm, was in a lot of pain, but, you know, "The Show Must Go On."

Back to last summer ... for the first time in their on again, off again history, the Monkees were getting terrific reviews for their reunion shows. And Davy was really into these shows, prancing around as if he were a man a third of his age.

He seemed to be having a better time than the even the audience was having!

So Davy, rest in peace. When I heard you passed, it was like a relative had left me.

I have always been a fan, and always will be a fan.

And yes, I am still a "Daydream Believer," and will be one forever.

Thanks, Davy.

Rant #684: Three Into One

Today is the anniversary of three separate events that when added together, equal up to one thing.

First, today is the 72nd anniversary of the film "Gone With the Wind" winning eight Academy Awards, including best picture of 1939. Most importantly, actress Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for best supporting actress, the first black performer to win an Academy Award.

Second, today is the 52nd anniversary of the opening of the first Playboy Club. The Chicago club featured waitresses wearing scanty bunny outfits.

Third, today is the 44th anniversary of the release of the Kerner Commission report, which warned that racism was causing America to move "toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal."

Sure, the first and third entries for today are kind of intertwined, but all three actually are.

They all signaled social change in America.

America went through a Victorian period that still has its fallout today. People were set in their ways, and nothing was going to change them. And that included thoughts about people of other races, other religions, and other nationalities.

But certain events did change them and America, and these three events, in their own way, helped to change America and loosen up those values we had.

Hattie McDaniel's win really can't be fully understood even today, even so many years after the fact. Sure, her portrayal of a mammy was a stereotype, but for a black woman to win such an award at that time of our history must have been incredible.

It was so incredible, in fact, that you can count the number of blacks on one hand who have won acting Oscars since.

The second event people may scoff at, but Playboy helped to loosen our morales a bit, made us think a bit outside the box on certain things.

Playboy has been a game changer for generations, and whatever you think of Hugh Hefner, you have to give him credit for hitting a bull's eye with his magazine and the ancillary items, like the Playboy Club, that he started as a result of the magazine's success.

The third one is probably the most critical. Yes, there was racism in the world then, and there is racism in the world now. Nobody is going to dispute that.

In fact, there's lots of "isms" that are still practiced today that are pretty deplorable.

But I really think that things have loosened up a bit. People are generally more accepting of one another than they were back then. We have a President who is a man of color, so things are much, much different than they were back in 1968.

I don't think we are as separate as we were back then.

So the three events, which aren't really directly related, are kind of related.

They all signal change, and you can bet that years from now, their significance will still be looked at and dissected by future generations.

Or at least they should be.

(And happy February 29. It happens just once every four years, so have a good Sadie Hawkins Day. And happy birthday to those who celebrate their birthdays once every four years--you guys are really younger than you actually are!)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rant #683: From Nothing to Something

Gavin MacLeod has had a very interesting career, and today, on his 81st birthday, he can reflect on the fact that he is one of the few actors who appeared in a regular role in not one, not two, but in three classic TV shows.

MacLeod had acted in several movies and TV shows before his role as Happy Haines on "McHale's Navy," but he began to make his name as one of McHale's (Ernest Borgnine) henchman on the classic Navy comedy of the early 1960s. He often was in the background on the show, perhaps having one or two lines of dialogue on each episode. But he was there.

But it did not foresee what was to come next.

As Murray Slaughter on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," he solidified his place on television as one of the most popular characters on that show. Moving on up from his previous TV role, McLeod had many lines on this early 1970s show, as the news writer in the newsroom, writing copy that Ted Knight's talking head character would inevitably bumble and fumble. And he sat next to Mary, so his on-screen time was at a maximum on this show.

But again, even this role did not foresee what was to come next.

As Captain Merrill Stubing on "The Love Boat," MacLeod cemented himself as one of television's most popular and prolific actors. He led the cast of this popular 1980s-1990s series, which featured has-been and third-rate actors and actresses picking up a paycheck with performances from hell. But the public loved this series, it did wonders for the cruise industry, and MacLeod became the cruise ship captain to which every cruise ship captain must be compared.

Sure, MacLeod has done many other things in show business, but he will forever be identified with these three roles.

Most actors are lucky if they get one prime TV role; MacLeod has had three!

Can you name another actor who was a regular character in three classic television shows?

I don't think you can.

MacLeod is in a unique group, where he might just be the only member.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Rant #682: Oscar Who?

It's really amazing that so many people watch a show each year that celebrates films that nobody remembers soon after.

Yes, that is a terrible sentence, but it's true: does anybody remember Oscar-nominated films even a month after the show ends?

Movies today, with few exception, are garbage. Nobody remembers them because they simply aren't memorable, feature lousy performances that are often touted as being the work of genius, and heck, it costs so much to go to the movies that most people just stay home.

I personally saw very few of the nominated films, so I really shouldn't talk about them. But why should I spend my good money on films that simply don't interest me at all?

I have seen movies in my life that move me and stay with me, but most of those films were made years and years ago, when filmmaking was more of an art form than it is today. Today, most movies seem to be made for eventual home video consumption, not really for a real movie. Sure, you can see these films in the theater, but they become everlasting as videos you can see at home.

And do you really think that "The Artist" will be remembered a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now?

I doubt it.

Sure, my likes are more toward comedies and musicals of days gone by, and no, I don't consider "Bridesmaids" worthy of any mention at all. I did see that movie--on home video--and that movie epitomized the trash that is out today. I don't care how many nominations it received, that movie was Garbage with a capital G.

I have seen movies in the past that I didn't mind spending money on. They were insightful, funny, and/or grabbed me in a certain way and wouldn't let go--and still haven't let go.

It would be hard for me to name my all-time favorite movies, but I am going to try. I am not saying that they were all "art," but they did something to me as I watched them that made a major impression on me, and years later, still has a hold on me.

"Favorites" are a subjective thing. My favorites may not be your favorites, and vice versa.

Here is my list, and you will see, there a very, very few Oscar winners on this list.

Each is on the list because they absolutely cry out for repeated viewings.

And each is connected, because each of them did not take a safe route. These films all took chances, and in my book, their chance-taking paid off via a successful film.

10) "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner": A perfect movie about an imperfect subject. It is done in such a way that it never hits you over the head with its message.

9) "To Sir With Love": Sidney Poitier is one of our greatest actors, and in this movie, he absolutely shines as a teacher in a school educating kids on the wrong side of the tracks. I guarantee that his performance made many viewers think about teaching as a profession.

8) "Bye Bye Birdie": When you see Ann-Margret in that last sequence, that is an image that stays with you for the rest of your life. Great soundtrack, great cast, great music, what else can you ask for in a film?

7) "A Hard Day's Night": A similar review to the previous one. The Beatles' first full-length movie set the tone for all musicals to follow it. And a lot of great humor mixed in with the Fab Four's music.

6) "Psycho": Certainly one of the greatest thrillers ever made. Everything is perfect in this film, except for the crime. Hitchcock at his very, very best.

5) "Buck Privates": People scoffed at Abbott and Costello films in the 1940s, looking at them as the equivalent of movie candy. But this film is so well done, that you can't really scoff that much. And the humor holds up 70 years later.

4) "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein": Quite frankly, this is one of the funniest films ever made. A clever idea turned inside out, and it is as funny as any movie that has been made before or since.

3) "The Wizard of Oz": Without the doubt, the greatest fantasy film ever made. Again, everything is perfect in this film, from the story to the casting to the music. A film that I loved as a kid and love equally as an adult. Maybe the greatest movie ever made.

2) "Head": I have pontificated about this Monkees' movie many times. It takes "A Hard Day's Night" and turns it inside out. I love this movie, because every time I watch it, I see something that I had never seen before.

1) "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World": Was there ever a greater amalgam of comedians and comic actors in one film? Sure, it's long, but it needs to be to fit everything in. And in one of his greatest performances, Spencer Tracy steals the show from all the comics while he steals the loot. I can come into this film at any one of its moments and fall in line immediately. What a movie!

So there you have it. I would give every film here a "Larry" for making me love the potential of movies even more. Not a piece of trash among any of them as far as I am concerned.

I love them all!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rant #681: Pay to Play

When you watch TV today, just think back to the time when you didn't have to pay for it.

In the New York area, we had channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13, and that was just about it.

Occasionally, we would be able to get Connecticut stations, like channels 3 and 8, but most of the time, we had just these seven channels, and we had to use rabbit ears to get the best reception we could, which usually wasn't very good.

I remember that my friend got a new TV with UHF, meaning he had a TV that could get the upper span of channels beyond 13. We used to watch "Lucha Libre" every Friday night on Channel 41, a Spanish-language channel.

The reception was terrible, but if you turned off the lights, you could see it pretty well--in black and white, of course.

In 1973, my family was one of the first to have cable TV in our area. During those years, cable TV was basically showing movies over and over and over, but it was incredible that we could watch this at home on our TVs.

And the clarity of the broadcast was incredible. Those rabbit ears never could really bring in the image that clearly, but with cable, you got everything picture perfect.

Fast forward to the current time, and the choices are truly endless. We now have satellite TV and phone company TV in our home, and we have so many channels that we don't know what to do with them ...

Except, of course, to pay the bill each and every month.

And it all started back on this date in 1961.

That's when the Federal Communications Commission authorized the nation's first full-scale trial of pay television, in Hartford, Conn. There were earlier trials even in the 1940s, but this was the first one that was okayed by the then burgeoning FCC.

I remember seeing pictures of some of the early pay TVs, probably in TV Guide.

They literally had slots on the side of them where you put your money, probably quarters, into the TV and then it would start up.

I don't know if the first trial was on this level, but let's face it, pay-TV has revolutionized entertainment and what we can do in our own homes.

We can watch un-cut films in the comfort of our living rooms, so we don't have to go to the theater to do that anymore.

We can watch sporting events as they happen, and while this was originally on free-TV, the spectrum of sporting events--everything from the major sporting events to things like Mixed Martial Arts and the X-Games--were almost designed with the home viewer in mind.

And yes, we can watch adult movies without having to go out to a sleazy theater, if that is what we want to do.

We decry the prices for this luxury, but again, it is a luxury, so we have to pay for it.

Not with coins like in the early pay-TV model I talked about a few lines up, but with dollars, real dollars, and a lot of them, too.

But at least we have a broader choice now. Sure, I don't think watching something like "Bridezillas" is a real choice, but at least you can watch that if you want to ... or shut the TV off entirely.

I don't think that those behind that first pay-TV experiment in Hartford could envision TV today, what with its cable, satellite and phone company offerings.

But that experiment set the tone for many other such "pay-xx" experiments to come.

I mean, who thought we would pay for something like ...


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rant #680: Comics Unleashed

I have documented here the fact that I was a comic book collector as a child, voraciously collecting, reading and cataloging my comic book collection as if it was gold.

I still have that collection, although I don't collect anymore, and the collection spans from the late 1950s to the mid 1970s.

But I guess you have to be lucky, which I am not. My collection probably isn't even worth $10,000, but another collector's collection was worth millions.

Michael Rorrer, who discovered his late great uncle Billy Wright's collection last year while cleaning out his great aunt's home in Martinsville, Va., hit the motherlode of comic books.

He hit what amounted to a $3.5 million lottery win.

The bulk of his great uncle's collection was filled with some of the most prized comic books on the planet, including the first appearances of Superman and Batman. In total, 44 of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide's top 100 issues from comic book's Golden Age--the late 1930s through the war years--were in this collection, and they were sold at auction yesterday.

Among the prized comic books in this collection were Detective Comics No. 27, featuring Batman's debut, which went for $523,000; and Action Comics No. 1, featuring Superman's first appearance, which went for $299,000. And there were many others.

Heck, one comic book in this collection went for much, much more than the 2,000 comic books in my collection would probably go for collectively!

It's not fair, it's just not fair.

I collected those comic with a passion that I haven't had for too many things in my life.

I kept my comics in basically good shape, and they've been stored away in a closet in my parents' house for more than 40 years.

But they aren't worth that much, I have found out.

But if you have a spare $10,000, I can give you a great starter collection of comics from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

It will be more than worth it.

So come on, somebody must be interested.

Well, I guess not, but they are for sale, and I hope one day that something spurs someone on to buy these comic books from me.

It was my childhood, and really, you can't put a price on those years.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rant #679: Superman

With all this talk about the New York Knicks' Jeremy Lin, the greatest basketball player I ever saw once played right here on Long Island.

Julius Erving turns 62 today, and it seems like eons ago that he did his thing as a member of the American Basketball Association's (ABA) New York Nets right here in my own backyard.

The ABA was a fledgling league, trying to compete against the behemoth National Basketball Association (NBA).

The only way I can put it into contemporary terms is the Total Non-Stop Action (TNA, now Impact) wrestling group competing against World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

They exist, but certainly aren't equal.

The same could be said about the ABA vs. the NBA.

The ABA sought to bring high-quality, professional basketball to areas the were under-served by the NBA, basketball hotbeds like Indiana, Kentucky and Florida. They had a red, white and blue basketball, and featured a three-point line.

But they need a New York-area team to solidify the league, and the New York Nets--nee the Americans, out of New Jersey--was that team.

They played in the brand-spanking new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum--at that time considered a state of the art arena--and they had the league's marquee player, Long Island's own Julius Erving, from Roosevelt, who the league forced the Virginia Squires to basically give to the Nets to make the league stronger.

Julius Erving was a forward who did things that no other player at the time could do. With his major afro sprouting out of his head and giving punctuation to everything he did, Erving flew threw the air like a black Superman.

His dunks started at the foul line and his other moves were a combination of Oscar Robertson, Bob Cousy and certainly Houdini.

Frankly, even in this second-class league, he was the most exciting basketball player on the planet in the early 1970s. There wasn't even anyone near him, and the NBA knew it.

The Nets won the final ABA championship, and I was there for every home game in their run. It was a great run, and the Nets were a great team.

After that 1975-1976 season, the two leagues merged, with a couple of teams from the ABA absorbed by the NBA. It looked real good for the ABA champion Nets to compete equally against the rival New York Knicks.

But the ownership of the Nets found they could not afford Erving and pay the NBA the millions that it owed them to get into the league, and Erving was basically handed over to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Erving had a stellar career with the 76ers, and is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The Nets moved to New Jersey, had a few good seasons, but have been second class to the Knicks in the New York metropolitan area. Even in their good years, the Nets found that the Knicks owned this territory, and they will probably find out the same thing when the Nets move to Brooklyn next season.

During his ABA years, Julius Erving was to the ABA what Michael Jordan years later was to the NBA: their marquee player, the player that even non-fans knew.

But to me, Julius Erving was the greatest single basketball player I ever saw.

Sorry Michael Jordan, during those ABA years, you couldn't even carry Erving's jock strap.

Happy birthday, Dr. J. You really were something else during those ABA years!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Rant #678: An Amalgam of Interesting (Sort of) Stories

Not much is doing right now, or not much is doing that I care to write a long-form essay about here on this blog.

But there are bits and pieces of things that I do care to mention.

Here they are.

Fortune Cookie Flap: Yes, this Jeremy Lin thing has gotten out of hand, even for a Knicks fan like me. The latest nonsense is that some people evidently got offended when MSG Network, the network that broadcasts Knicks games, showed a graphic of Lin over a fortune cookie and with the text, "The Knicks' Good Fortune." People believed it perpetuated a stereotype, and should not have been shown.

Early reports were that the graphic was designed by the MSG Network itself, but the network denies it, saying they took the graphic from one of the many signs that have been designed and held up by fans--many of Chinese descent, like Lin--in arenas where the Knicks have played. These arenas are beginning to resemble WWE Raw and Smackdown tapings, where fans are encouraged to hold up signs with messages that can be seen on air when these shows are broadcast.

I saw the graphic, kind of cringed myself, because I just knew some people would be offended, but the fact of the matter is, we live in a politically correct world, and the sign maker should have known that this would get some people crazy.

Yes, I did say crazy.

New Jersey Flags Fly At Half Staff For Whitney Houston: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has decided that bucking the unwritten rules for such a thing, that New Jersey flags will fly at half staff for singer Whitney Houston during her funeral this weekend.

Usually, flags are flown in this matter to honor a President or a prominent legislator's passing, or to honor a fallen police officer or soldier, not for an entertainer.

The thing that gets me is that Christie has the nerve to liken Houston's death to the death of these people, justifying his decision by putting it into the cultural sense of the comparison. Yes, Houston was born and lived in Newark, but she probably hadn't been back to her old neighborhood in decades, and to do this for not only an entertainer, but a drug abuser, I mean, come on now.

We all know why Christie made his decision--to help others, specific others, make a decision about him in the 2016 Presidential race.

Several Teachers Arrested or Disciplined For Child Endangerment Issues in New York City Schools: Just this week, four teachers have been arrested, or at the very least disciplined, for some odd behavior directed toward New York City school students, including possessing pedophilia, touching kids inappropriately and having kids send Christmas cards to a convict in jail who is incarcerated on gun and child pornography charges.

What this says about the system that allowed these skunks to get hired in the first place speaks volumes about why the New York City school system is in such a mess, and has been for about the past 40-plus years.

And it also says something about Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who closes schools rather than fixes them. He would rather close a school than be more cognizant about who is being hired as instructors in his schools.

And through all this, my daughter still can't get a job as a teacher.

Rising Fuel Prices: I am sure you have noticed that when you go to the pump to get gas, that the prices have skyrocketed. Right here on Long Island, I recently paid $3.79 a gallon, and that is relatively "cheap" compared to other places, where gas is pushing $4 a gallon and probably will be there really soon.

Why have prices skyrocketed like this, and right in the middle of winter, when they aren't supposed to be so high?

The nuclear threat by Iran is threatening our gas supply, and thus, pushing up the price of gas to record levels for this time of year.

What can we do about it? Absolutely nothing. We have to just grin and bear it, but I'm not grinning and I am barely bearing it, too.

Baseball's Gary Carter Passes: He put up a brave fight, but Hall of Famer Gary Carter finally succumbed to brain cancer, at just 57 years of age.

He had a sterling 19-year career as a catcher for several teams, but really rose to fame as one of the main members of the 1986 World Champion Mets. He was liked by just about everyone, and more importantly, he was one of the most respected players of his generation.

Sure, he had faults. He wanted to be a manager so badly that he grandstanded for the Mets' job a few years back while Willie Randolph was still managing the team.

But I guess most of us, even Yankees fans like myself, will always remember his determination for what he was doing. It was infectious, as anyone on that Mets team could tell you.

He will be missed.

Speak to you again on Wednesday. In addition to having the holiday off, I have a funeral to go to, so I won't be back until mid-week. Have a nice holiday.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rant #677: The Prototype For All Who Followed

Did you like the Supremes in the 1960s?

How about Honey Cone in the 1970s?

Maybe you also liked En Vogue later on, or maybe Destiny's Child?

All of these groups were made up of female singers, usually about three, with one standout as lead singer.

They all had numerous hits that we still hum today.

But for the prototype to these girl groups, you have to go back to the 1930s and 1940s, to a threesome--actually three sisters--who had hit after hit after hit, especially during the years of World War II.

I am talking about the Andrews Sisters, and specifically Patty Andrews, who turns 94 today.

She led her two sisters--Maxene and LaVerne--to a solid legacy of hits during those war years.

The songs are as well known today as they were when they were new--"Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," (I'll Be With You) in Apple Blossom Time," and "Rum and Coca-Cola."

Between 1938 and 1955, they placed more than 100 songs on the charts.

And they appeared in numerous movies. I am, of course, especially fond of their appearances with Abbott and Costello, especially in "Buck Privates," where they performed "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."

You just know Bette Midler probably saw this film 100 times before she did her cover version of the tune.

Another one of their hits that is near my heart is "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," which translates to "To Me You're Beautiful," a Yiddish tune from an obscure musical. Although the Andrews Sisters were not Jewish, their version retained the title, turned the lyrics into English via lyricist Sammy Cahn, and had their first No. 1 hit with this tune in 1938.

In my family, this song has become something of legend. I can only imagine how important this song was to American Jews at the time, just based on its prevalence in my family.

I can just remember that my aunt used to sing a few bars of it, and it would make my grandmother so happy to hear it. To this day, whenever I hear the song, I get goosebumps just remembering the smile on my grandmother's face. She is long gone now, but I will never forget that smile she had from that tune.

The Andrews Sisters had a strained relationship from early on, and it blew up in the 1950s.

Maxene and LaVerne are long gone, and Patty carries the mantle today, retired and living in California.

However they got along with each other, the Andrews Sisters made some absolutely great recordings. Their influence stretched into the emergence of rock and roll.

Whenever a new girl group comes around, you can thank the Andrews Sisters. They set the bar, and although often imitated, few have reached their level of success.

Happy birthday, Patty. Myself and so many others would like to say to you, "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rant #676: Lin-Sanity

" ... and we might have seen the birth of a new star in the name of one Jeremy Lin."

Yes, check back a couple of Rants ago--#669--and you will see that I jumped on the Jeremy Lin (#17 in the photo) bandwagon before one was hitched up and sent into the ether.

I said that this guy might be the savior that the Knicks were looking for, only to have him sitting at the end of the bench all along.

And with last night's sixth straight win, this time against the Toronto Raptors on what else, Asian Appreciation Night--punctuated by Lin's game-winning three-point shot with less than a second to play--I think this guy is the real deal.

I did when I saw him in person at Madison Square Garden, and I do now.

Lin's ascent from benchwarmer to multi-media hero is unprecedented. I can't remember another time when such a thing happened, or at least happened with quite the splash that this has created.

Here is a guy who looks like the guy you sat next to in your classes who seemed so at ease in getting all the answers right. He looks like the guy who was your next door neighbor way back when. He looks like the guy who was the last picked to play in pickup games.

But he isn't any one of these.

Everyone knows his name, even if you aren't a basketball fan. People are buying up his jerseys as if he were Michael Jordan. He is on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week, and he has ruled the back pages of the New York tabloids for more than a week now.

But who is this guy?

He grew up on the West Coast, and actually, was a fine athlete in high school and college. He wasn't drafted, but managed to work his way onto the radar, and was actually cut by two teams before the Knicks signed him.

And yes, he was slated to be cut by the Knicks before his "coming out party" at Madison Square Garden nearly two weeks ago.

And yes, he is Asian. Not too many Asians play in the NBA. And he is American-born, which makes him a complete oddity, because almost all the other Asian players who have played in the league have actually come from Asia, such as Yao Ming, who was born in China.

There have been a few others, but none of them have made quite the splash that Jeremy Lin has.

And his race is immaterial, really: everyone seems to gravitate towards this guy, who is playing out all of our fantasies.

Wouldn't we all like to be the unrecognized guy who saves the universe? It plays out like a movie, doesn't it?

In 1968, the Knicks made a brutal trade that ended up making the franchise a perpetual winner in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The traded two popular and talented players, Walt Bellamy and Howard Komives, to the Detroit Pistons for Dave DeBusschere. DeBusschere was a superior athlete who also played Major League Baseball, and he was now devoting himself full-time to basketball. He even coached the Pistons briefly, so this guy had a head to go with his hands and legs, so to speak.

In his first game as a New York Knick, he galvanized the Garden crowd to the point that Bellamy and Komives were mere after-thoughts, and the rest is history. With DeBusschere as starting forward, the Knicks won two NBA championships from 1969-1973, and became the hottest ticket in town.

I was actually at DeBusschere's first game as a Knick. I went with my dad, and the Garden was electric.

It was as if everyone knew that this guy was the savior, the guy who would lead the Knicks to the promised land.

Well, I went with my own son to the Garden when Jeremy Lin had his own, rather different entrance into Knicks' history.

It is funny how things work out that way, isn't it?

And the way Lin and the Knicks are playing, I hope this craziness never ends.

It's great for sports, great for basketball, and yes, it's great for me too.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rant #675: Playboy Boy Toy Rabbit Punched?

With all that is going on in the world, this is a story that completely came out of left field.

Marston Hefner, the son of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, was out on $20,000 bail after allegedly assaulting his live-in girlfriend, 2010 Playboy Playmate of the Year Claire Sinclair.

The younger Hefner, one of two sons that the older Hefner had with his former wife, 1989 Playboy Playmate of the Year Kimberly Conrad, was arrested on a charge of misdemeanor domestic violence. He paid his bail, and there is no court date yet set.

And to have all of this happen right before Valentine's Day ...

The younger Hefner has been brought up in an idyllic lifestyle, the very rich son of a very rich man. What young Marson does for a living is anyone's guess.

He has been surrounded by a bounty of babes since the day he was born 21 years ago.

He co-habitates with a woman barely out of her teens, and evidently, he competes with his dad and his brother Cooper for young babes.

At least neither one of the boys wears a sailor hat like their famous dad.

Honestly, I can't figure the Hefner family out.

They worship women, use them for their own benefit, the women use the Hefners for their own benefit, and everybody is happy.

Until now.

This puts a stain on the older Hefner's reputation as a champion for women's rights.

Of course, it is his right to have used them to make a fortune that most of us can only dream about.

But domestic violence is another thing altogether.

All the older Hefner could say about his son's arrest was that, "If they care about each other, they'll patch it up."

Yup, that's it. I guess the older Hefner wants to distance himself from his son.

But the older Hefner appears to be somewhat guilty by association, if for nothing more than providing a lifestyle for his kids where they evidently don't know right from wrong.

I will give the older Hefner one thing: he took nothing and made something out of it, something huge. To this day, he is a hard worker, although he kind of looks like a dirty old man at this point in time.

His kids were born with silver spoons in their mouths, and that often isn't a good sign.

Hopefully, the younger Hefner will right his ways, and get on with his life, whatever that life actually is.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Rant #674: Another Completely Senseless Loss

Yes, the music world suffered another tremendous loss with the death of Whitney Houston on Saturday.

She was extremely talented, and took the music world by storm during the 1980s and 1990s.

But the music world had passed her by by the mid-1990s. She made more headlines regarding her marriage and her drug use than for her recordings.

She had comebacks, all of them fizzled, and she really had become something of an icon of the time, and certainly a major influence on female singers who came after her.

But let's not deify her, as the press and much of the public is doing.

Like they did with Michael Jackson, underneath all the talent, there was a terrible dark side to this woman that unfortunately probably led to her death at such a young age, at just 48 years old.

Houston was raised in Newark, New Jersey, an area that long has long been ravaged with the evils of drug use. I am sure she saw this first hand, maybe even right outside her doorstep, but even though she was raised in the church by her parents, including her mom, pop/gospel great Cissy Houston, it didn't stop her from her own drug ravages once she hit the big time.

And it affected her mindset and her talent. It also didn't help that she married a fellow drug user, Bobby Brown, another talented performer who not only abused drugs, but we later found out, abused his wife.

Both drugs and age played havoc on Houston's career.

No matter what anyone says, she wasn't going to have that angelic voice for her whole life. People get older, and voices do change, even for singers.

Listen to Frank Sinatra. His voice was much different in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and beyond. Mix in age with cigarettes and alcohol, and what do you expect?

Well, Houston mixed in age with alcohol and cocaine and heaven knows what else, and it took its toll on her, physically, mentally and emotionally--and professionally.

It's one thing when you do drugs when you are younger--the body can often withstand so much when you are in you 20s. But when you continue to do this garbage when you are in your 40s, there is much less room for error.

Even if you give Houston the benefit of the doubt here--let's say she died of "natural" causes, something we might not find out for weeks or months--she ravaged her body with this garbage, making it weaker than it should have been for a person of her age.

She was just in rehab in the fall--what does that tell you?

Quit frankly, she slowly killed herself because of her out-of-control lifestyle.

And her own daughter is proving that the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree, because this young lady--the child of two drug abusers--has also reportedly been seen abusing drugs herself.

And that is the tale that the media should be telling here, not the flowery tale about how wonderful she was, making her into the female equivalent of Michael Jackson.

Houston and Jackson shared so many things, and for that matter, the parallels between Houston's demise and death of Judy Garland are frightening.

Houston, Jackson and Garland were all talents beyond normal talents, but had their lives extinguished because of drug abuse.

That is what the media should be covering. It is a cautionary tale about what can happen to even the brightest talents when they abuse themselves.

But that isn't what we are hearing, and again quite frankly, I am a bit sick of the whole thing.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rant #673: From the Folks That Gave You "Head"

That was going to be the tagline if the Monkees' 1968 movie, "Head," was a success.

Producer Bert Schneider and director Bob Rafelson planned to use that tagline for their next movie.

Well, it didn't work out exactly as planned, although "Five Easy Pieces" and "Easy Rider" did follow, but without the connection to "Head," or for that matter, the Monkees.

I have brought up the film "Head" on this blog a number of times, and I am happy to say that this little film, which was one of the all-time bombs in its original theatrical run, has been constantly resurrected and looked at again since its debut 44 years ago.

It is a certified cult item, and has consistently taken on new life after it tanked all those years ago.

It has been deconstructed, taken apart piece by piece, and cut up by fans and critics alike, and no two people have the same opinion about the film.

It was re-released on DVD about two years ago as part of a major collection of films by Schneider and Rafelson, some of which, as in the case of "Five Easy Pieces" and "Easy Rider," changed Hollywood forever.

"Head" did not.

It was shown on the retro "Antenna TV" station just yesterday morning, and the station has said that after running it about a half dozen times over the past few months, it is putting the movie to bed, at least for now.

Rhino Records not only recently released a boxed set of the music from this movie, but also released a pristine, limited edition vinyl LP of the soundtrack last year.

Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, is doing its roundup of Oscar nominees, and one of its writers is listing his Top 20 personal movie favorites concurrent to the approaching awards show.

And the newspaper has asked readers to name their favorite movies of all time.

Well, "Head" is in there, courtesy of yours truly.

I wrote this long examination of the movie, included a film clip in my review, and I got my views into print ... well, a smidgen of my views, at least.

If you have Newsday, just check out page B13, and, at the bottom of the page, you will see the seven lines the newspaper gave me to explain a film that you would need about 200 pages to fully dissect.

"My favorite film is the unappreciated "Head," starring the Monkees and an array of guest stars (including Frank Zappa and Sonny Liston). It pokes fun at the movies and our way of life at the time. Every time I see it, I see something new."

That's what they printed. The paper's entertainment editor wrote me an email back, and said I made a great choice.

I just wish they would have printed more, but I guess it will have to do.

I checked out the website, and it's not there either.

The explanation they printed is fine, but it really doesn't do the film justice.

Not only are we witnessing the deconstruction of the Monkees, a pop phenomenon the likes of which makes Justin Bieber look like a Milli Vanilli wannabe, but we are also seeing Hollywood being deconstructed too.

Never has a film killed off its own stars while, at the same time, killed off its very reason for being.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. Schneider, who recently passed away, and Rafelson didn't bite this hand, they chopped it off piece by piece by piece.

And to follow "Head" with the two "Easy" films, and to have those two films be so influential and successful, shows just how spot on "Head" really was in opening the door for these then "new" types of films with not stars, but really "anti-stars" like Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, and Dennis Hopper.

And it all started with the Monkees jumping off a bridge.

If you haven't seen "Head," it is a must for any student of film, or even if you just love the movies.

I guarantee that you will shake your head after seeing this movie, wonder what all the fuss was about, and then proceed to watch it again to figure out just what this film was trying to say.

It is that good, and that bewildering at the same time.

(It is online now at

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Rant #672: Eight Arms to Hold You

Today is the 48th anniversary of one of the most memorable TV appearances of all time.

On this date in 1964, the Beatles made their first live appearance on American television, performing on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Although I wasn't even seven years old yet, I remember the show vividly.

I remember that this was a time when TV was shared with all the family. Families generally had one TV, and everyone gathered in front of the TV to watch shows, and watch them together.

I know that my family gathered in front of our Dumont black and white TV to watch the Beatles that night. We always watched Ed Sullivan on Sunday night. It really was a tradition that stretched until the end of the show's run in 1971, and this night was going to be no different than any other.

But it was.

Ed Sullivan was old Hollywood. He would have on the Georgie Jessels, the Judy Garlands, and the other greats of that time period.

But in the late 1950s, Sullivan, ever the showman, knew that to keep his show up to date, he had to have on something for the kids.

Elvis Presley's successful performances on the show solidified that notion, and Sullivan, until the show's end, always had on something for younger viewers, whether it was the Muppets, Topo Gigio or the hottest recording acts of that time.

The Beatles were hot, hotter than hot in 1964, giving all of us something to look forward to less than three months after JFK was assassinated.

And they delivered.

Kids like me sat there mesmerized at the four British moptops.

Their music was new, they looked unlike anyone else I'd ever seen, and they looked like they were having fun.

And viewers were too.

I will never forget that night. Never.

Some say it led them to be musicians, or at least to pick up a guitar and learn to play it.

But for me, it didn't lead me to my future occupation or made me do anything that I wasn't going to do before seeing them.

But to today's kids, who simply have to turn on their TVs or go on the Internet to find the latest recording sensation, they have no idea how world changing that night in 1964 was for my generation, and, yes, down the road, for their generation too.

Rock was finally accepted. It wasn't a trend or a fad.

Elvis laid the groundwork, and the Beatles ran with it.

From then on, "The Ed Sullivan Show" featured the hottest rock acts of the day on a regular basis, everyone from the Dave Clark Five to the Rolling Stones to Sly and the Family Stone to the Supremes to the Association to ...

I mean, it was endless, and served as a reason to watch the Sullivan show each and every week, amid the plate twirlers and the comedians and the Broadway acts.

And I loved it.

There's nothing like it today, and I am glad I was around to witness the night when everything was turned inside out.

And the funny thing is, Beatlemania is still with us. Both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr each released new albums in the past few weeks, and George Harrison and John Lennon remain alive in our hearts even though they have each been gone for years now.

But it started with that night, an evening I will never forget.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rant #671: First Radio, Then the World!

Today is the 90th anniversary of something that seems innocuous, at best, but was pretty revolutionary for its time.

On this date in 1922, President Warren G. Harding had a radio installed in the White House.

Well, this is no big deal in the context of today's world, but back then, this was pretty awesome.

Radio really hadn't been around too long back in 1922, but it was the first of the electronic mediums to usurp newspapers' hold on us as a deliverer of news.

So putting up a radio in the White House pretty much signaled an acceptance of this medium by the American public.

If the president could have one of these newfangled things in the White House, it was OK for the general public to have it in their houses too.

And Presidents have learned to weave the use of electronic mediums into their political lives. They make speeches, they appear regularly on whatever electronic medium is in vogue, and they have learned that these electronic mediums can be wonderful, but they can also be a curse.

But looking back to a simpler time, tthose radios, they were pretty ornate. I guess you had to have them "installed" in your home. They were like a piece of furniture that talked to you.

And for about the next 25 years, radio was the electronic medium of choice, until television took over in the late 1940s.

But for Harding to put a radio in the White House when there really wasn't even an electronic medium to speak of is something incredible.

It's probably the most impressive thing he did during his term ... do you know anything else that he did when he was in office?

As a President, he is nothing but a footnote in our history. And that's saying a lot about this guy.

But radio was the standard for about 25 years. Not only did it deliver news on the spot, but it delivered entertainment, sports, and probably the first instance of "white noise" in our history.

But it, too, was pushed out of the way by television, which right now, is being pushed out of the way by the Internet.

What electronic marvel will come next to make the Internet obsolete?

Who knows, but it all may have started with Warren Harding.

Show your friends how smart you are by telling them you actually know something about him.

I guarantee that they will be impressed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rant #670: Junk Food Gold To Kids

Everybody seems to be on the healthy eating bandwagon.

"Eat healthy, and you will live longer," say some, and perhaps it is true.

But for kids, I really don't think they care about such stuff. They will eat whatever they like.

"Start kids off in their lives with healthy eating, and you will set them on the right path," say some, and perhaps it's true.

But my generation filled up on Devil Dogs and Twinkies, and it didn't seem to hurt us too badly.

But some continue to say that eating healthy is the right way to go, and schools can be a big help in fighting off the fat.

A new study now says that roughly half of U.S. elementary school kids can still buy junk food at their schools, even after repeated mandates to remove this stuff from these centers of learning.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago said such horrid things as cookies, cakes and chips are still sold through many school cafeterias and vending machines, even if they are not served during lunchtime.

Sure, rising obesity in children is a reason to rethink what we feed our kids, but schools really shouldn't be held responsible for kids getting fat.

That's like saying that McDonald's is responsible for creating Chubbsy Ubbsies across the country, and although some have even taken fast food providers to court over this, the cases are always thrown out.

You have to have the mindset to eat healthy, and that starts at home.

And you know what? All this talk of healthy eating is fine in my book, but generally, people don't want to eat healthy. The healthy stuff should be available, but you can't force any food provider outside of your own home to regulate what your kids eat.

Again, it has to start in the home.

And when I was growing up, everything literally was on the table. You could eat salads--and I did--but I loved my Yodels and Oreos, too.

Yes, I am overweight right now, and I still love my cookies. And that is my fault, because although my eating habits have changed over time as I've gotten older, it's my decision to eat like I do.

But did it hurt me as a kid? No, I don't think so.

My wife watches herself like a hawk, and I am very proud of her. She looks 20 years younger than she really is, because she does what she has to do to be fit, including exercises regularly. She is beautiful, has a great figure, and rarely noshes.

I choose to nosh.

My son, 16 years of age, eats everything and then some, and he is as skinny as a pencil.

You have to want to eat healthy, not literally have it forced down your throat.

And you can't expect schools to fully toe the line.

We are very much into the blame game in this society, and schools are likely targets for lots of blame on a variety of subjects.

But if you want your kids to eat healthy, give them the broccoli at home, not a Yankee Doodle.

And stop expecting schools to regulate what your kids eat.

They can help, but ultimately, the burden falls on the home, exactly where the burden should be.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Rant #669: Stupid Bowl to Possible Cinderella Story

Now that the Stupid Bowl ... err, Super Bowl--is over, maybe the world can get back to normal.

I didn't watch a single minute of the game, really don't care about football, and congratulate the New Jersey Giants ... err, New York Giants for their victory.

In fact, my wife and I watched the film "Moneyball," a film about baseball and really about life, instead. It was the perfect film to watch when the rest of the world is losing their sanity about a game that 90 percent of them could really care less about.

Funny how betting and parties makes most everyone a football fan. I bet most of those people don't even know what the line of scrimmage is.

And now we can move on.

Oh, that's right, I forgot, the parade in New York City for a New Jersey-based team that left New York City decades ago is on tap for tomorrow.

Boy, New York City is sure a friendly town, holding a parade for a New Jersey-based team.

But anyway, I saw a New York team that plays in New York play this weekend.

Yes, I went to a Knicks game with my son, and we saw a great game, probably the most important game of the year for the NBA team.

They beat the New Jersey--until next year, when they become the Brooklyn--Nets by a score of 99-92, and we might have seen the birth of a new star in the name of one Jeremy Lin.

Lin has been a journeyman player during his short career. Only recently signed by the Knicks, he might be a focal point of one of the great Cinderella stories in New York sports history if he can do what he did on Saturday night on a regular basis.

The Knicks, who were supposed to be a powerhouse this year, have been downright terrible. They had lost two straight tough games and have been perennial losers the past few weeks, and the shine that the Giants put upon the city was not rubbing off on the lowly Knicks, who continued to lose.

One main reason is that the Knicks do not have a point guard, or the player who sets up the other players on offense.

Without a point guard, players simply stand around, and without dedicated ball movement, the offense goes static.

The Knicks had two point guards--Chauncey Billups and Raymond Felton--but through various deals and trades, those guys are gone.

The Knicks were losing again, and losing badly to the also lowly Nets. The Knicks were down 12 points in the first quarter, and it looked like another dismal showing for the team.

Then came Lin.

Coach Mike D'Antoni, who I swear would have been fired if the Knicks didn't win this game, inserted Lin during the second quarter, more out of desperation than anything else.

And Lin clicked.

He ended up scoring 25 points and most importantly, registered seven assists.

That is what a point guard is supposed to do, and it appears the Knicks may have had one buried on the bench all of this time.

Lin is an interesting story. He is just the second NBA player of Chinese-American heritage. The other one played during the NBA's inaugural season in 1948, so there's nearly a 65-year gap.

And Lin played his college ball at Harvard, of all places.

He went undrafted, and when he finally caught the eye of the NBA, he was let go by two other teams before being signed by the Knicks a few weeks back to take up bench space. They even demoted him to the developmental league, their minor league system, to add polish to this guy before he got bed sores.

So Saturday's game was the game of this young player's life.

It also brought life to the newly refurbished Madison Square Garden, which had been more like a mausoleum than an arena lately as the losses piled up.

Fans were chanting his name, the place was loud, and you could have sworn you were at a playoff game, not just another regular season contest.

Nobody is expecting this kid to have another game like this, but even if he doesn't, he made my and my son's evening something special the other night. And the same can be said for the nearly 20,000 other fans who were there that night, and millions of others watching on television at home.

Maybe it is the first coming of a major star on the horizon, maybe not.

The last time something like this happened to the Knicks, it was with John Starks, who became a mainstay with the Knicks teams of the 1990s, teams that never won a championship but came close numerous times.

But New York loves underdogs, and maybe Lin is that guy, and with football season mercifully over, maybe the light can shine on him, and the Knicks ... until baseball season begins soon.


And yes, people wanted to buy his basketball shirt after the game, but none were to be had. You can bet that at tonight's game, you will be able to get them.

And just imagine. If this guy does become a star, he couldn't do it in a better place. With New York's huge Asian population--and Chinatown just blocks away from the Garden--this guy could be the biggest thing since Hideki Matsui played for the Yankees.

I wish him well. The Knicks need some spark, and this unlikely sparkplug might be just what they needed.

Sometimes, you really can't see the forest for the trees.

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