Monday, December 31, 2007

That Ramones Documentary

That Ramones documentary really opened up possibilities for the kind of rambling, disconnected outburst that is the whole purpose of "blogging." For example, I recalled that one of our "Blog" Buddies (whose name will be withheld here to protect his privacy) lived in the same building where (and when) Dee Dee Ramone passed away. In the documentary, Dee Dee brought up the name and oeuvre of Schoolly D, perhaps the original gangster rapper and a man with whom Barry B. and I once enjoyed a brief but fruitful professional relationship, in conjunction with a kids' show that we used to make. You never hear about Schoolly D anymore, though I brought him up in passing in an Oxford American music issue. And yes, Barry B. and I once made a kids' show. I have discovered that there is even a Wikipedia article about it. "Click" here for the article, which contains a small bit of accurate information here and there. Need more proof? Well, it seems timely to mention that back in '96, one of our lovable characters ran for president. I close with a clip of her campaign video (campaign song composed by Jon Langford):

Puffy Thrasher

Replies the Bird Correspondent, "Well, if it's not the wren, a brown thrasher is about the only other option I can think of. They're about the same color on the back, a cinnamon brown, and the beak fits. Thrashers are large, the size of a blue jay. They are also likely residents of bushes near the house. I would have mentioned them to begin with except that they are long, narrow birds. All birds will puff up in the cold and look fat, but still--a thrasher round? Not so much. Thrashers are svelte and elegant, with very long tails--like mockingbirds, only longer and pointier. Above is a photo of one looking somewhat puffy." Not as puffy as ours, Bird Correspondent!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

And Another Thing, Dear Bird Correspondent ...

Could it be a brown thrasher? A particularly fat one? I have just seen a picture of a brown thrasher. Perhaps we have the Jayne Mansfield of brown thrashers.

Dear Bird Correspondent

Dear Bird Correspondent, I had a good close look at our resident bird today and am no longer convinced that it is a Carolina wren. First, it definitely DOES NOT have the distinctive white stripe over its eye. Second, our bird has alternating bands of dark and light feathers along its chest and belly - almost like stripes - that I have not seen in any pictures of Carolina wrens. Third, its tail, while somewhat resembling the tail of a Carolina wren, does not stick up. It is parallel to the ground. Fourth, the bird appears to be larger than an average Carolina wren. Fifth, our bird seems to be (on its back and head and wings) a more solid and rustier brown. The bird does share with the Carolina wren a long, pointed beak (with which, as I have just observed, it likes to crack open acorns and eat them) and a spherical body type. What do we have, Dear Bird Correspondent? A mutant Carolina wren?

One Year Ago In "Blog" History

One year ago today, I must have had some enjoyable taffy. Thank you. This has been "One Year Ago In 'Blog' History."

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Tonight I watched END OF THE CENTURY, an interesting documentary about the Ramones. Near the beginning, Joey Ramone's brother declares that the ONLY thing with which to compare Joey's onstage transformation is "Jerry Lewis in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR." Jerry is everywhere! He permeates! I thought you needed to know.

Jack Carson

You know how much we love Jack Carson. You know our great debt to Now feast your eyes on this weird comic book we found over at "Click" here to see how explains it, sort of.


McNeil takes exception to my characterization of his feelings about Betty Hutton: "I don't want to give the blogging world the wrong impression ... I don't think Betty Hutton is NOT energetic. I just don't have a problem with her energeticness ... I like her energeticness, which is why I watch the clip over and over and over ..." I went to bed last night seriously obsessing over the idea that I had phrased the part of the "post" to which McNeil is referring in the wrong way. McNeil confirms this! I gave the impression through my vague wording that McNeil found Hutton ... I don't know ... sloth-like, which would be crazy. "Opposite" was the offending term. Well, now the matter has been cleared up, maybe. In a way, I don't care, because this is a "blog." Energeticness is not a word, for example, and I don't care about that.

Friday, December 28, 2007

One Year Ago In "Blog" History

One year ago, I got a new belt. This has been "One Year Ago In 'Blog' History." Oh ... I also "blogged" about Bob Hope and THE WIRE one year ago today - which is what I just did a little while ago! Apparently I have not grown as a person, or something.

A Hardboiled Jerry Fan

I have found another Jerry Lewis fan! She is none other than that author of true blue hardboiled pulp fiction, Megan Abbott. She and her husband Josh were passing through town and we had dinner tonight at the good old Ajax Diner. Coincidentally, Ms. Abbott spoke of the need to "surrender to Jerry" in terms quite similar to - yet entirely independent of - the recent self-brainwashing technique for learning to love Jerry Lewis that I outlined here recently. Megan, Josh, Theresa, and I had seen many of the same movies and we had a very nice time talking about them - THE FACTS OF LIFE, THE APARTMENT, ARTISTS AND MODELS, LAURA, FOOTLIGHT PARADE, NASHVILLE, ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, PILLOW TALK, and KISS ME, STUPID leap to mind, but there were perhaps dozens more that came up in conversation. Each couple recommended a movie that the other had not seen. Thanks to them, we will soon watch Carole Lombard in TRUE CONFESSION. Thanks to us, they will soon see Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell (pictured here with Bob Hope, who also came up quite a bit in tonight's conversation), and Vincent Price in HIS KIND OF WOMAN. We discussed the performance styles of (among many others) Mickey Rooney, Joan Crawford, Joel McCrea, Martha Raye, Bing Crosby, and Betty Hutton. Josh finds Betty Hutton a bit too ... energetic, shall we say. McNeil has the opposite feeling (Theresa and I wished that McNeil could have been around for tonight's conversation). McNeil reports having watched that Betty Hutton clip we recently "posted" (and present at the bottom of the current "post" for your convenient reference) dozens of times. He watched it again today, in fact. Now, we didn't ONLY talk about movies: we talked about TV - specifically the magnificence of MAD MEN and THE WIRE. Megan and Theresa also traded thoughts on Patricia Hearst's autobiography. After dinner, it was off to Square Books, where I goaded Josh into buying a copy of SMONK for a class he is about to teach on the "Southern Gothic" up in New York City. What a nice night!

Chondroitin and Shame

Today the "post" in which I mention chondroitin will fall off the bottom of the page. It's part of the circle of "blogging" life, or "blife" as I call it in my special language of "blogging." That means that the little subhead under the title of my "blog" (which at this moment reads "CHONDROITIN!" will no longer make sense. My favorite motto I ever had was "THE FEELING OF SHAME IS THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY FEELING." But the "post" from which it was culled vanished long ago. Hey, if I "link" to that "post" like so, I believe it will be okay to reinstate that motto. Wow! This has been a productive day!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sally Says

A bulletin from panto director Sally Timms: "Well, the panto gods smiled on us again and it was a great success ... There will be some photos soon ... Occasionally a little kid would be so frightened that he had to be taken out but most were in the spirit of it."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 25

Welcome to the last day of the "blog" advent calendar. I believe that traditional advent calendars stop on the 24th. But this is not a traditional advent calendar; it is a "blog" advent calendar. So you have one more goody in store. If I understand actual advent calendars correctly, part of the fun is seeing it all laid out before you at the end. I'm not sure how to do that here. What I suppose I should do is remind you of everything you have seen so far and make some allowances for "clicking" to enjoy it all over again. 1. Superboy facing an unusual dilemma 2. A clip from Emir Kusturica's Jerry Lewis film ARIZONA DREAM: Lili Taylor plays accordion while Johnny Depp rolls around clucking like a chicken 3. This was supposed to be the cover of an old paperback called NAKED ON ROLLER SKATES but the "link" wouldn't work, so instead it's a vintage postcard of war/cow-milking humor 4. Some dudes jumping off mountains 5. Meet Elizabeth Kucinich 6. An anthropomorphic lion holding an anthropomorphic soccer ball that looks like a decapitated human head 7. An LP of organ music with drum accompaniment 8. A talented young woman who can play the Britney Spears hit "Toxic" on her ukulele (she calls it a ukulele, and she should know, but for whatever it's worth it also resembles a small balalaika - or something - to me) 9. Web site of an art gallery where they sell those weird paintings of kids with great big eyes 10. Two polite British lads cover a Laurel & Hardy hit 11. An inflatable skeleton performs Gilbert & Sullivan 12. An old ad for a CB radio receiver 13. Bob Hope introduces Betty Hutton, who sings "Murder, He Says" 14. A young woman performs Gilbert & Sullivan in the privacy of her own room, arrayed in homemade finery 15. A panel from Ernie Bushmiller's comic strip NANCY 16. A snippet of Elvis 17. Woman standing in an otherwise empty diner 18. A high school with a sports mascot called "the Maniac" 19. Mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham 20. A "podcast" by Kim Shattuck, lead singer and guitarist of the Muffs 21. An excerpt from 18th-century poet Christopher Smart (seems to have a lot of pop-up ads for a poem from the 18th century) 22. A jingle I recall vividly from childhood 23. Information about the great Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies 24. Dean and Jerry goofing around. Before we get to your final treat, I should thank a couple of internet entities for making the "blog" advent calendar possible. I could have done the whole thing with naught but, as you will see when you visit that admirable site. As it is, I confined myself to just two images from there. I was not so circumspect when it came to YouTube. Ah, YouTube. What can I say of YouTube, which has also been responsible for earlier "blog" series, such as McNeil's Gold Medal International Emergency Exit Theatre? "Blogging" would not be the same without you, YouTube! In fact, the two runners-up for the final advent calendar surprise were both culled from YouTube. I did not choose them, but list them here for your consideration: a portion of Samuel Beckett's film entitled FILM; the Who performing "A Quick One While He's Away." I salute you, YouTube! And now, with no further folderol, I give you your final surprise.

Monday, December 24, 2007

I Misled You, People of Earth

Remember when I said that an excerpt from my detective novel would come out in "the next Oxford American"? Well, I just got the next Oxford American. It's the "sports issue," and I have nothing in it. My story will be in the one AFTER that. I forgot about the intervening sports issue. You should get it, of course. It looks great, with articles from people who have been mentioned on the "blog" before, people like Roy Blount, Jr., George Singleton, Pia Z. Ehrhardt, John T. Edge, and Jim Ruland (about whom you may read in the very first "link" in this "post"). They asked me for something to put in the sports issue but all my brooding produced was a faint memory of Little League, specifically, the day I received my tube socks and couldn't figure out how to put them on. Believe it or not, there wasn't really a story in that! Although now it seems to be a perfect "blog" entry. Tube socks!

The New Way to Watch Jerry

Yesterday, I believe Theresa was reading John Banville or some such personage while I was in the other room watching three Dean and Jerry movies in a row. I have concluded that THIS is the way to introduce yourself to Jerry, in contrast to the earlier method outlined on this "blog." Go off by yourself and watch the first three Jerry movies you can lay your hands on, with or without Dean, in quick succession, with no breaks for food or water. Immerse yourself! Do not allow yourself to pass judgement. Although any movies would do, I think some remastered widescreen Technicolor extravaganzas such as I enjoyed yesterday will seal the deal without fail. You will become properly mesmerized by the pretty colors and lights. Use the MGMIEET method (another psychological technique previously pioneered by this very "blog") and think of the films as objects like rocks, fire hydrants, or rainbows. What you're doing is introducing your brain to a new way of thinking - all right, you're brainwashing yourself. But I think it will work. Afterward, you will be able to enjoy Jerry for Jerry - for what he is. You will no longer be upset about what he is not. You will give thanks for Jerry in this holiday season! If you are a millionaire, rent a movie theatre and project some nice prints for yourself. Immersion will be complete. Invite the whole neighborhood for free. Supply snacks. You can afford it! You're a millionaire! (This method does not require fasting and solitude like the home version.) Satisfaction guaranteed.

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 24

As always, "click" for today's enjoyment.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 22

To ponder the origin of the "blog" advent calendar, "click" here. Or if you are pressed for time, simply enjoy today's special surprise.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Velvet Is Back

As you know, we were having a little trouble cataloguing velvet suits. But tonight we decided that if we limit ourselves to velvet jackets, everything will be fine. We went to a birthday party for renowned food writer (and so much more) John T. Edge at the City Grocery Bar tonight ... and what should John T. be wearing but a velvet smoking jacket? (To be fair, he made it clear that he does not smoke, and prefers to think of it as a "velvet drinking jacket.") Now we should say a few words about the City Grocery Bar, owned by Mr. John Currence. The bar has been referred to a few times on the "blog," though never by name. It is the place where I heard about the guy who coached a girl's basketball team who once faced off against the daughter of Sammy Davis, Jr. It is the bar where Tom Franklin told me how to get rid of wasps. Tonight at the City Grocery Bar, in honor of John T.'s birthday, Mr. Currence had imported hot dogs from Lobel's, a famous butcher in NYC, who, as John T. put it, "made hot dogs for Jackie O." Mr. Currence also provided homemade mustard (two varieties) and home-pickled onions, just to name two of the bevy of condiments. What else can I say but that the subject of Jerry Lewis came up. John T. told me about an older cousin of his, of whom he had been very fond as a young boy. This cousin's betrothed - a college man - had asked twelve-year-old John T. to name his favorite comedian. "Jerry Lewis," said young John T. "No, no, no," said the college man, gravely hurting the young boy's feelings. Tonight, on his birthday, I had the privilege of telling John T., "You were right and the college boy was wrong!"

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 21

What will it be?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Two Things That Are Fun to Say Like Jerry Lewis

I know very well that most of you youngsters have no clear idea what Jerry Lewis sounds like. Why, you've never even heard of Mr. Spock, to name but one common pop culture icon, as has been demonstrated here many times before. Yet I feel the need to express myself on this topic. I should also admit right out of the gate that it is impossible to duplicate Jerry Lewis's voice in a print medium. When I came up with that piece for the Believer on the theme "If Sammy Davis, Jr. Had Written Moby-Dick," the first draft was called "If Jerry Lewis Had Written Moby-Dick." But it was too hard! Bearing that in mind, we plug along: So, Theresa and I have been watching the enthralling TV series FIREFLY upon the recommendation of Dr. "M." The name of one of the actors is Summer Glau. Every time her name appears in the credits, I scream "Summer GLAU! Summer GLAAAAUUU!" like Jerry Lewis. "Are you going to do that every time?" Theresa finally asked. "Yes," I replied. Meanwhile, in New York City, Mr. Ward works in a place where the people have TVs on their desks, never mind why. There is a commercial for a product by the makers of the over-the-counter remedy Head-On, and one of its active ingredients is called "Chondroitin." When the announcer mentions that fact, Mr. Ward likes to yell out, "ChonDROITin!" like Jerry Lewis. No one in the office has any idea what he's doing. Now let us veer from the subject, as we like to do. Do you recall when Dr. "M." told us that "blog" "fave" actor Carlos Jacott was in an episode of FIREFLY? We must also comment on the fact that Christina Hendricks, who has a pivotal role in "blog" "fave" show MAD MEN, plays a fascinating recurring character in FIREFLY, as we have just discovered with our very own eyes. We leave you now with a clip from MAD MEN featuring Ms. Hendricks, who is the person with red hair. The chosen clip is somewhat literary, in keeping with our on-again-off-again status as a "litblog." Oh yes, I have gotten off the subject. As a quick reminder, the two things that are fun to say like Jerry Lewis are "Summer Glau" and "Chondroitin."

People of Chicago!

Don't forget the big Christmas panto tonight and successive nights at the Hideout Bar!

For Gotten

I have sent it off, washed my hands of it. Everything has been done to AWESOME that can possibly be done. It has been through the wringer, people! And do you know what I found out from the copy edits? That I have no idea how to use the word "gotten." I'm not even sure "gotten" is a word anymore. My head hurts.

BB Says CD From DC

Barry B. has kindly sent in another correction to my Times web site piece. The Casual Dots, he believes, are from Washington DC. (Pictured, the Casual Dots.)

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 20

"Open the flap" for today's surprise.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Hey, the nice people at the New York Times have fixed my faulty reference to Charles Ives. Now no one will realize I'm an idiot!

Photo Credit

Speaking of that New York Times web piece, I should take this opportunity to credit Charles G. Steffen (we call him Chuck!) with my author photo. That's Chuck, though, in this picture, not me. It's about time that we brought him into the light of day. You see, Chuck is the anonymous "history professor" to whom the "blog" often makes reference. He's an expert in early American history and has taken all three of my author photos (the one that accompanies the Times piece is from my second book). Chuck was Theresa's mentor back when she was an undergrad, and his teaching still influences her work. Most of all I am glad to call Chuck by name because now the world can know that he is the one who thought up the greatest nickname ever for Mel Torme: The Round Mound of Sound (as first reported on the "blog" over a year ago). PS: I don't know who gets the credit for Chuck's photo here. It's a crazy world we live in!

I'm Fancy

Hi, everybody. Say, have you heard of the New York Times? Why, sure you have. I'm on their book "blog" today, rambling on and on about what music I listen to. Fans of this "blog" (ha ha!) will not be surprised that I write about my old favorites Sonny Rollins, The Mekons, and Buck Owens. I did manage to call the Ives symphony "New England Holidays" by a different name that I apparently made up for the occasion. But other than that I stand by my babbling.

One Year Ago In "Blog" History

One year ago today, I had brown rice with lunch. This has been "One Year Ago In 'Blog' History," gingerly proffered for your contemplative pleasure by the staff and administration at this joyous time of year.

Badlands! The Musical

"Badlands! I Am Cuba!" writes novelist and impresario Amanda Stern. She is responding, much too late, to our recent "fave" movie poll. As Stern points out in her email, neither of those titles have exclamation points, really, but wouldn't the world be a better place if they did (my speculation, not Stern's)? Stern's note reminded me that I have a considerable backlog of "fave" movies to report, if I haven't lost them. Sorry, everybody. It seemed like a good idea at the time but ended up involving a lot of typing, which wearied me. I am a delicate man! You knew that going in!

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 19

Newcomers to the "blog" advent calendar, please "click" here for instructions. Others know how to enjoy the daily surprise. It might be anything!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Comma Coma

I've been going through those proofreading notes that I told you about yesterday. I regret to say that it turns out I know exactly as little about commas as I did during the preparation of my last book. There is one very specific comma mistake that I make over and over, but I will never tell you what it is! It's too sad. I also discovered, thanks to the copy editor, that the phrase "expertly piloted into my anal cavity by remote control" should have more properly read, in context, "expertly piloted by remote control into my anal cavity." Live and learn!

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 18

Every day a different surprise.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Danger! Spicy Language Ahead

People keep asking me how the detective novel is coming along. Ha ha ha! Not really! No one has asked me! But I'm going to tell you anyway. As I have mentioned before, the detective novel may never exist in the real world. I'm working on it, but who knows if it will ever be finished... and if finished, ever published? (I'm a little uncertain about my grammar there, but this is a "blog," so who cares?) As for my other novel, AWESOME by name, I hear about the results of the final proofreading today. That one's in the bag. But the detective novel can't even be called a novel yet. It's a bunch of random pages, that's all. What I CAN tell you about it, though, is that some small parts of it will exist in the real world. (NOTE: Don't "click" on the next "link" if you disapprove of gutter language!) There are a few words from the nascent detective novel in Smokelong Quarterly right now, the issue guest-edited by Jim Ruland. They also include a mini interview with me. WARNING! The language in my little slice of fiction is very spicy and untoward. Once in awhile I let some of that saucy language slip through on the "internet," but it always makes me nervous. Crassness is generally better between the protective covers of a book, I think! Anyway, I'm not kidding. For such a short piece it is packed to the brim with bad things: some terrible words and disrespectful remarks that I do not endorse. ANOTHER excerpt from the detective novel - longer and somewhat less rude - will appear in the next issue of THE OXFORD AMERICAN. So, as I said, at least a couple of little parts of it will exist in some form, though its fate as a whole is still unknown. Hey, speaking of the OA, I had a piece in the last music issue (not the one that just came out, the one before that) about - in part - Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters' performance of "Tonight You Belong to Me" from THE JERK. I even used the word melismata in my article, which - as anyone will tell you - is very fancy. Anyway, from my recent reading of Martin's BORN STANDING UP, I learned that the quiet musical interlude is his favorite scene in the movie. I'm with him! Also, as long as I am rambling I will mention that, speaking of detective novels, I'm reading THE FAR SIDE OF THE DOLLAR by Ross MacDonald right now, and it is just great. One of my undergrads was lucky enough to take a noir class from Barry Hannah, and she (the undergrad) said that she liked Ross MacDonald the best because "he was the only one who had sympathy for his characters." I'm not sure that's true, but I know where she's coming from and it's food for thought, which we all enjoy, don't we?

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 17

Here's how the "blog" advent calendar works. And HERE'S today's surprise.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 15

Welcome once again to this beloved holiday tradition. "Click" here for today's excitement.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Phil Has Dalek Information

RE: My ignorance of daleks. Phil would like to point out that there are daleks in the Clash song "Remote Control." He sends along these lyrics: "Repression - gonna start on Tuesday/Repression - gonna be a Dalek/Repression - I am a robot/Repression - I obey." 10-4, Phil. And I claim to love the Clash! But somehow the daleks slipped by.

Son of Panto

I should remind everyone that it is almost time for the second annual Christmas Panto at the fabulous Hideout Bar in Chicago. Once again I have been entrusted with Act 2, Scene 2. I sent it off and so far... silence. Ominous silence. The production will once again be under the direction of Sally Timms. It will again star Jon Langford as the "panto dame" and Kelly Hogan as the villain - this time, Hogan the Horrible. That's right, our new theme is Vikings (and daleks). I am sad to admit that I did not know what a dalek was. Langford was obliged to call me on the telephone and explain. I think I have it now. They're robots (I think) from the TV show DR. WHO. (The woman who runs our "fave" Aquaman "blog" will be very upset to discover that I didn't know what a dalek was. She "blogs" about Dr. Who all the time!) So if you like Vikings and daleks, get yourself out to see the big show, running from Dec. 20-22. If you would like to see Sally Timms singing with the steel guitar virtuoso Jon Rauhouse, go to my myspace page. She is in the music section, just under Laurel & Hardy and right above Thelonious Monk.

One Year Ago In "Blog" History

One year ago today, I needed a new belt. This has been "One Year Ago In 'Blog' History."

Parenthetical Exclamation Point

While I was poking around the "internet" for today's advent calendar entry, I stumbled on a video of Bing Crosby singing "Eleanor Rigby" (!) with the Supremes and Jose Feliciano. Those who understand and FEEL the parenthetical exclamation point may wish to push "play." Others may not be so inclined, and I am comfortable with that. (There's a lot more to the video than Eleanor Rigby - lots of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Bing doing more Beatles, Diana Ross with as much as she can bear (a single phrase) of Harper Valley PTA - but that's the spot where I was stabbed in the chest by a parenthetical exclamation point.)

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 13

Today's surprise.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

All About Kasha

Phil Oppenheim was inspired by an essay on the writer Daniil Kharms in Sunday's New York Times - an essay which happened to be written by "blog" friend George Saunders. Phil dug around and found a place on the "internet" where you can read a couple of stories by Kharms. "I particularly like [the story "Holiday"], as I'm a devotee of kasha," writes Phil, adding an explanatory note: "my mom makes me a batch of kasha varnishkes every time I come home to visit." As a bonus, Phil draws our attention to someone he ran across "blogging" about kasha. Hey, speaking of George Saunders, he once told me that one of his literary inspirations was Steve Martin's CRUEL SHOES. And I just found out yesterday from Steve Martin's BORN STANDING UP (which I devoured in one sitting) that Steve Martin "worships" - yes, "worships" - Jerry Lewis! Draw your own conclusions. Hint: Jerry Lewis is the prime mover, responsible for everything good, including the finest American literature. (See earlier "posts" on how Lewis has inspired Lynda Barry and Lorrie Moore.)

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 11

To be reminded of the intricacies, "click" here - or if you already know how to enjoy the "blog" advent calendar you may do so now.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Fancy That

Hello, everyone. I have "fancied up" my "myspace" page considerably. It all started when I decided that the "blog" advent calendar entry for December 8th - a talented young woman performing a Britney Spears number on her strangely shaped and charmingly decorated ukulele - deserved especial enshrinement. After that, I thought, Hey. My "myspace" page would also be a good spot for that clip of Sonny Rollins that I "posted" on the "blog" at McNeil's request, and which made me so very happy. The floodgates were opened, friends. I found myself decorating my "myspace" page with many, many more clips of "fave" things, such as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby doing a purposefully corny and highly enjoyable little number in THE ROAD TO UTOPIA, and a generous sampling of Messiaen. Yes, you can now spend literally minutes looking at my "myspace" page.

Writes Dr. "M."

Writes Dr. "M.": "Last night I was telling [the treasurer of the Ivan Bonar Appreciation Society] and [the Farmer] about how I remembered a special from my childhood in which David Copperfield floated over the Grand Canyon while Bonnie Tyler, in a flowing gown, sang I'm Holding Out for a Hero. And then I said, I wonder if I can find it on YouTube? Well, I did..."

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 10

Time for your daily surprise.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 8

For general instructions on how to enjoy the "blog" advent calendar, "click" here. For today's surprise, "click" here.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 7

Don't know what an advent calendar is or how to use one? "Click" here. But if you are a longtime fan of the "blog" advent calendar, just "click" here for your daily treat.

The Wren In Question

... or one like it. (I still think ours is bigger - perhaps the king or queen of the Carolina wrens!) Photo provided by Sheri Joseph, the "dear bird correspondent." Note the festive holiday trappings.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Solved!: Mystery of the Carolina Wren

Here is how the bird correspondent responded to our recent query: "Assuming this bird is not the size of a softball but smaller, more like a golf ball, you've got a Carolina wren. I could tell you that by the behavior alone: Carolina wrens are very bold around people and prone to nesting in all sorts of crazy places, like inside active mailboxes, or in the pocket of a coat left outside. My parents had a nest in their garage, even though the automatic door was going up and down all day and the birds were locked in at night. They really don't care. They have a very loud song and a distinctive white stripe over the eye." I wrote back to the dear bird correspondent to say that our bird was certainly puffed out to a size larger than a golf ball. Also, a quick "Google image search" for the Carolina wren did not produce anything that looked familiar. When, however, I ran across this document ("click" here) I knew that the bird correspondent was right again. The puffy bird represented thereon - and labeled "Carolina wren" - is certainly our bird. The bird correspondent had this to say about today's developments: "You've been doing an excellent job of describing a Carolina wren. I can't think of a rounder bird or one with a pointier beak, and you've got the colors right. They have perky, stubby little tails that often stand straight up. When it's cold, they will puff up and look rounder and bigger. Maybe baseballish? But it's all feathers. They can actually squoosh down small enough to sneak through a loose spot at the bottom of the garage door that you wouldn't think a mouse could get through." I can't find a Google image that adequately portrays our Carolina wren - they all look so puny! - so you will have to "click" on the chart above to get a sense of the wonder of it all.

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 6

"Click" here if you have forgotten the true meaning of the "blog" advent calendar. Or simply "click" here to "open the flap," revealing today's holiday surprise.

Dear Bird Correspondent

Dear Bird Correspondent, For months now, Theresa has spotted the same bird hopping around a particular row of bushes in our yard. At first she thought it was injured because it did not fly away when she approached - just hopped into a bush. She went so far as to put out some water for it in case it was sick or hurt. Well, the bird is not sick. It seems to be thriving. I saw it for the first time yesterday. Its body is shaped like a softball. Its back and head are reddish brown and its belly is lighter, sort of cream colored with dark stripes (can birds have stripes?). Its beak is thin, long, and pointed. It seems never to stray from its favorite bush. Pray tell, Dear Bird Correspondent, what is this bird?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 5

Happy holidays! "Click" here for the origin and meaning of the "blog" advent calendar. Or simply "click" here to "open" the proverbial "flap," revealing today's surprise.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Speaking of Dr. "M.," as I was several hours ago, yesterday's book purchases included the foodways volume of the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, containing Dr. "M.'s" elegant, witty, and informative article on Krispy Kreme. Aside from the pleasure and privilege of reading that entry in its entirety, there were other items of immediate personal interest to the "blog," as was evident at the earliest stages of browsing - everything the layman would ever wish to know about sorghum, for example, as well as a nice, long piece on my late mentor Eugene Walter (called in the encyclopedia by his full name, Eugene Ferdinand Walter, probably to distinguish him from Eugene Walter the early twentieth century playwright). I think Eugene would have been pleased and amused to find himself wedged alphabetically between Waffle House and George Washington. For a recording of Eugene reading one of his poems, "click" here.

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 4

Hello! If you need a reminder about how to work the "blog" advent calendar, "click" here. If you are ready to go and trembling with anticipation about today's special "blog" advent calendar surprise, "click" here. (Today's treat provided for your enjoyment by Dr. "M.")

The Welshman Speaks

Next up in our parade of favorite people and their favorite movies we are happy to present Jon Langford, artist, raconteur, and Mekon. Langford reports, "My favorite movie is Moby Dick starring Gregory Peck [and directed by John Huston - ed.]. Ray Bradbury did the screenplay and when you go back to the book to find all the really cool lines in the film you realize Ray wrote them... Also it was filmed in this little town called Youghal in Ireland in 1954 and when the Mekons visited there 40 years later it was the first thing that had happened since the Pequod left..." EDITOR'S NOTE: You can find musical references to the filming of MOBY DICK on Langford's solo album SKULL ORCHARD.

Better Half

On our current subject of favorite movies, we hear today from Kelly Kornegay, wife of Jamie and owner, with him, of Turnrow Books in Greenwood, MS. Here's Kelly: "I would have to say that Altman's Nashville is probably my favorite... but it is really a scene with Lilly Tomlin and Keith Carradine that stands out and to make things even weirder she shares a scene with Tom Waits in Short Cuts that is my other favorite scene in a movie... both Altman films... what do you reckon that is about? One more plug for a holiday movie that makes me smile every year... Home for the Holidays with Holly Hunter." Thanks, Kelly! Nashville is one of my big "faves" as well, as you can see by "clicking" on my "myspace" page. I want to thank everyone who is sending in their lists of favorite movies. I'll probably only get to one more today, because I am a very tired man, but don't worry, everyone will be represented sooner or later. Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, this is exactly what "blogging" is all about: the opinions of complete strangers. Submit to our whims!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Revised "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 3

It has come to my attention that today's advent calendar page cannot be viewed. (Thanks for the heads up, Phil.) Just to let you know, it was the tasteful (considering) cover of an old paperback called NAKED ON ROLLER SKATES. We apologize for the inconvenience and present you here with a completely new surprise for Dec. 3.

How to Write

I read an article today in the New York Times about the new Stewart O'Nan book LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER. I took note that part of Mr. O'Nan's novel occurs during a - SPOILER ALERT!!! - power outage at a Red Lobster restaurant during a snowstorm. Now it just so happens that I have nearly 100 pages of my new "detective" novel, and I was just getting to the part when - SPOILER ALERT!!! (if there can be such a thing for a book that may never be finished nor published) - there is a blackout in a video arcade during a squall. So it occurred to me to walk down to Square Books and buy Mr. O'Nan's novel, for research (i.e., stealing) purposes. Ha ha! I won't really steal anything. But I'm curious to see how he handles the power outage and storm. While I was there at the bookstore, someone told me that my special order had come in: THE EYE, by Nabokov. As I had learned from the introduction to PNIN, THE EYE is a spoof (I guess you'd say) of detective novels. That's sort of like what I'm working on, so once again... research. One nice thing is that THE EYE is 104 pages long and LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER is 146 pages long. I consider these to be pleasant lengths for novels, akin to Barry B.'s ideal running time for films. (Just so no one gets excited and thinks that I have written 100 pages since I first mentioned the detective novel here, I'd like to explain that I had as many as 40 or 50 pages over a year ago. It's the work-in-progress, containing a soliloquy on the subject of Richie Rich, that I mentioned quite a while back.) Well, while I was waiting for Tom Franklin to show up for lunch at the Ajax Diner, I had the pleasure of reading the first two pages of Mr. O'Nan's book. They were so good that I made Tom Franklin read them as soon as he arrived. He liked them so much that we walked down to Square Books after lunch so Tom could get his own copy. This has been today's lesson on how to "write." Good luck!

Mr. Ward's Favorite, Favorite, Favorite, Favorite Movie

I have a lot of great backlogged responses to my "fave" movie question. I'll be getting to some more of them tomorrow. It has turned out to be more work than I thought! The fingers I use to cut-and-paste are becoming chapped. Also, I am trying to write a new book between "posts." But I could not resist going ahead and giving you the two cents of Mr. Ward, if only because his is the second "fave" movie so far to feature "blog" hero Arnold Stang. Now I give you Mr. Ward's response, in Mr. Ward's own cut-and-pasted words: "I've seen a lot of great movies in my lifetime, but my favorite is still 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.' Most people don't even consider it a 'good' movie, in fact my own kids hate it. I don't care. Every time I hear that theme music it just makes me happy. I want it played at my funeral. [Mr. Ward is not being funny; we have heard him express this wish in person on several occasions - ed.] When I was a kid, I'd watch it with my parents and Grandmother every single time it was on TV. Grandma cracked up whenever Zazu Pitts appeared on screen. I believe, even then, she was probably Zazu's only living fan. [compare and contrast with Barry B. watching DIRTY HARRY with his granny - ed.] The opening credits are the best. The cartoon earth can barely contain the endless parade of star names that keep escaping from it. As you watch, you can't help thinking that with that many stars, why this just might turn out to be the funniest movie ever created! In fact, you should probably stop watching after the credits, because sadly, it's not. But again, I don't care." (Pictured, Zasu Pitts.)

Stang's For the Memories

Oh, you thought we were done talking about Stang? Not by a long shot. Take a gander at this hot dog stand in Marin, California. Thanks to "Blog" Buddy Jason Headley for the photo. And at this busy time of year, let's not forget the original man behind the Stang: beloved character actor Arnold Stang.

The "Blog" Advent Calendar for Dec. 3

"Click" here for a refresher course on how to enjoy the "blog" advent calendar. Or simply "open the flap" to reveal today's delightful surprise.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The "Blog" Advent Calendar

"Click" here to learn how to operate the "blog" advent calendar, and to be apprised of its history and purpose. Okay, now that you have prepared yourself, "click" here to unveil today's special surprise. Thank you for enjoying the "blog" advent calendar. Happy holidays!

New Reasons to Love THE STAR MACHINE

I keep finding new reasons to love the book THE STAR MACHINE by Jeanine Basinger. I'm not reading it cover to cover, just dipping in and leafing through, and each page falls open to a gem. For instance, remember when I told you that Bing Crosby was a precursor to Marlon Brando? And you thought I was crazy? Oh yes you did! You did, too! Well, Basinger does not mention Brando in this passage, but I believe she is picking up on the same "vibe" when she writes, "He [Bing Crosby] easily tosses off amusing asides as if they're ad libs, and these remarks often have a tinge of cruelty to them. There's meanness in Crosby, and audiences liked him for it. There are demons floating behind his cow eyes." Ah, there is no warmer feeling than having your crackpot theories marginally corroborated.

Barry B.

As we have mentioned here before, Barry B. has introduced me to a lot of my favorite cultural artifacts over the years. So pay heed as he weighs in on our current topic. I give you Barry B., to wit: "Hey, this question is always hard for me so I came up with three or four. I was thinking of movies that make me want to make a movie or really suck me in when I run across them on TV. A movie that always inspires me, which I could watch over and over (and have) is The Forbidden Zone by Richard Elfman. It's probably the closest thing to a live action cartoon I've ever seen. It does have bits of animation in it and is completely inspired by the Fleischers' cartoons which I love. The running time is awesome, around 75 or 80 minutes. I don't think there was any budget as the sets and backgrounds are mostly paper. First Danny Elfman score mixed in with Cab Calloway, etc. [pictured, Danny Elfman as a Calloway-inspired Devil in THE FORBIDDEN ZONE - ed.] On the other hand we have Once Upon a Time in the West which is incredible and I don't even really need to go on about but that made me think about how much I love The Good The Bad and The Ugly. This one is pretty out of left field but Good Bad and Ugly made me think of how much I love the original Dirty Harry. I have fond memories of watching that movie, I can't remember how many times, with my Granny when it aired on many Saturday nights on network television in the mid to late seventies. There's always West Side Story..." EDITOR'S NOTE: I was looking for a "link" to Barry B.'s mention of the Max Fleischer cartoons and discovered that the last time I "blogged" about Max Fleischer (see the "link" above) was EXACTLY ONE YEAR AGO TODAY. Also, I can personally attest to Barry B.'s love of WEST SIDE STORY, having viewed it with him at Atlanta's Fox Theatre one day when we were ditching work, several years ago. He, Caroline Young, and I used to be in a band that played a rudimentary version of the song "Cool" from WEST SIDE STORY.

Official Analysis of the Viewing Habits of Farmers and Doctors

I know you have been waiting to hear from the always engaging Dr. "M." on our current topic of concern. With no further ado, then, this "post" will seamlessly merge into the words of Dr. "M." like so: "Favorite movie may be REAR WINDOW? AMELIE as well. My favorite movies to watch shamelessly on Saturday mornings (not that you asked!): DIRTY DANCING, STEEL MAGNOLIAS, and SAY ANYTHING. I should be ashamed, but no one puts me in a corner. [The Farmer] does not have an answer at this time, but I suspect his answer may be THE BLUES BROTHERS or THIS IS SPINAL TAP. He and I are watching my (signed!) copy of HAIRSPRAY (the original) as I type. Pia Zadora--what a card! The advent calendar rules!!!!!!!!!!! Yours, M" EDITOR'S NOTES: The eleven exclamation points are Dr. "M.'s." Also, I think we would all like to learn of the circumstances under which she and the Farmer received a signed copy of HAIRSPRAY.

What They're Watching In the Delta

Boy, the responses to our "fave" movie project keep pouring in. I notice that now people have taken to listing several movies rather than one - the latter requirement one that the always succinct Phil Oppenheim had no trouble fulfilling: he did not even use words! I am equally fond of these longer lists. But my poor little fingers get so tired typing the titles into our Giant Repository of Film. I'm a brave and admirable man! Otherwise, these "posts" are just cut-and-paste, which I love. As you know, it's the heart of "blogging." Well, we've got some good viewing ideas today, and we'll start out with an email from Jamie Kornegay, part owner of the great store Turnrow Books in Greenwood, MS. Remember Turnrow this holiday season! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jamie: "My favorites are always war movies somehow, maybe because I killed men in a previous life. I always loved Apocalypse Now, which creates the best mood of any film I've seen, but a few years ago I got on a Serbo-Croatian kick (I recommend getting on one -- they made some of the best art of the 1990s because they were all tormented) and I watched a movie called Underground by director Emir Kusturica. I haven't seen a better movie since, and I still aspire to have my very own brass band follow me around and serenade. Seek this out, it's one of a kind. Then see me for more Serbo-recommendations."

Saturday, December 01, 2007

"Blog" Movie Club 10

Here's part ten in our series of "fave" movies of "fave" people. This guy should know! He's Academy Award nominated director Mark Osborne, and here's what he has to say: "Geez. What a tough question... Just one? I guess I'd have to decide between THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (I was ten and it hit me like a ton of bricks - Yoda's still the closest thing I have to religion in my life...), RAISING ARIZONA (funniest movie ever made including the line: "...I don't know, they had Yodas and sh** on 'em!") or CITIZEN KANE (no Yoda reference, but I was blown away when I first saw this projected at Pratt--it cemented my desire to make films). But if I had to pick only one? HARDLY WORKING." Mark just might be pulling our leg with that last one. "Click" here to see why!

What Movies Do Musicians Like?

Our secret contact in the band Hubcap City has stepped up to join our "blog" movie club. He reports: "My favorite movie always changes. I'm always drawn to movies with good scores and soundtracks. Man With the Golden Arm is a movie I think about a lot. It's got a great score, plus Sinatra's a junkie! But it's not my favorite movie anymore. My favorite movie, as of the past week and a half, is Children of Paradise. I saw this for the first time over Thanksgiving. It's a three hour epic. It's also got a soundtrack filled with trumpet music. The Paris tavern scene has a band made up of trumpet, flute, and a guy who plays one big bass drum. So, that's my favorite movie for now: Children of Paradise." EDITOR'S NOTE: The Sinatra movie costars "blog" hero Arnold Stang - the first on our list so far to do so.

"Blog" Movie Club 8

To get into the spirit of things, I have listed a bunch of my own "fave" movies over on my "myspace" page. Thank you for your time and attention. Meanwhile, Sheri Joseph, our trusty Bird Correspondent (not to mention a crackerjack novelist when she's not out birdwatching), shares what she calls "a completely arbitrary and sentimental pick: HEATHERS." We thought she would pick one named FEATHERS! Because she likes birds! Ha ha ha! Over at the history professor's house, he digs THE THIRD MAN, while his wife says THE ENGLISH PATIENT (like Bissell when moody; see the first "link" in this "post," or "click" here to learn of her affection for Jerry Lewis) and Son of History Professor, who is just off to college, joins Tom Franklin in admiring APOCALYPSE NOW. They are a together family, baby!

The "Blog" Advent Calendar

As promised, and thanks to the ingenious Dr. "M.," here it is! The "Blog" Advent Calendar. Here is what I think an advent calendar is, though I am too tired to look it up right now: Every day you open a little door to reveal a picture. I believe the traditional advent calendar goes from Dec. 1 to Dec. 25. I'm not sure what the pictures usually are. Myrrh, probably. Stuff like that. But on the "blog," the "picture" might be anything! It might not even be a picture! It might be a song, or a video, or a web page, or some other crazy thing. Instead of opening a flap, as I understand is done on a real advent calendar, just "click" where I tell you for your special daily surprise. Think of all the fun you're going to have with the "Blog" Advent Calendar! Start by "clicking" here. What will it be?

Tom Bissell's Movies for Every Occasion

Part seven of our in-depth series. "I have a rotation of favorite movies, depending on my mood," says award-winning fiction writer, essayist, memoirist and world traveler Tom Bissell. "For when I'm depressed and want the vague reassurance of childhood that life will be somehow better at some later point, The Empire Strikes Back. When I want to feel brooding and doomed, The English Patient. When I want to feel like a (more or less) mature creator, The White Diamond [by "blog" "fave" Werner Herzog. Not to be confused with the similarly titled 2007 documentary on Kylie Minogue (!!) - ed.]. When I want to feel scared and sick, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [not to be confused with Texas Chainsaw Massacre IV - ed.]. When I want to laugh, A Fish Called Wanda or The Life of Brian. And when I want to feel good (and it's a recent one), Hot Fuzz." We'll be back tomorrow with more "fave" movies of more "blog" "faves." What will the bird correspondent pick? Tune in tomorrow to find out! Meanwhile, get ready for a very special holiday feature of the "blog." (Pictured, Kylie Minogue.)

"Blog" Movie Club 6

Welcome to the sixth part of our continuing series on the favorite films of our special "blog" friends. "Click" here if you missed part five, which was not numbered. Laura Lippman: "Favorite FAVORITE is Citizen Kane, but that's so boring I'm going to say Miller's Crossing." Mark Childress: "The Wizard of Oz. Just watched this last week with a six-year-old seeing it for the first time, and was struck again how tightly constructed it is. Not a spare frame of film. Suspense, comedy, sentiment, magic, and Harold Arlen's songs: big-studio movie perfection in 101 minutes." McNeil: "I guess it would have to be between The Graduate and Out of the Past...Two movies which can't compete against each other because they are from such very different places - which I can't articulate until I finish my coffee...maybe."