Monthly Archives: July 2009

Now That’s How You Cover Jim Croce.

I had a sort of Proustian rush the other day when I heard Jim Croce’s “Time In a Bottle” come on the radio.  The song bounced around my inner workings in my very early years (it was a posthumous hit for Croce–who died in a plane crash) and filled the airwaves of my youth along with Abba and “The Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack in the late 1970’s. As soon as I heard the first few chords of the song, I immediately was awash with thoughts of my brown-carpeted family room, the pretzels or animal cookies I may have been eating,  the laundry basket full of washcloths on the floor, my childhood blankie, a bookshelf full of children’s books and the old twist-knob color t.v. that was situated opposite it.  And on that television, today’s great thing is being broadcast: 

93.  The Muppet’s Show “Time In A Bottle” Production

Could there be anything more heartpinchingly bittersweet?  Though the song could easily be about two lovers, Croce actually wrote this about his son.  The scientist muppet, could be singing about either or something else entirely, like Cookie Monster for instance.  You can fill in your own blank.

Me put cookie in a bottle.

Interestingly, the scientist muppet seen in this clip is know as a “whatnot”.  A whatnot is a kind of muppet template on which you can build any human looking muppet–like a Mr. Potato Head body before you plug the eyes, nose, mouth, shoes, and “whatnot”.  They’re known also as “anything” muppets.  Here’s a couple of examples of muppets that started their lives as whatnots.

Lew Zealand

Marvin Suggs

This clip dates from the 1977 episode of “The Muppet Show” which featured Edgar Bergen as a guest host.  Jim Henson provides the vocals for this sweet cover version.

I dearly love this clip.  I think I was just at the right age to appreciate something sweetly sad.  What would you do if you could keep time in a bottle?  Spending it with you DOES sound nice…but I might also use it to watch everything that’s backed up on my Tivo.


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The Old Man and the Fleabag

Recently, I received a worthy forward.  It was a video compilation of reporters eating it.  It’s very funny…though for a few of these clips, I was left a bit anxious…wondering if the reporter featured was actually physically alright afterwards.  Have a look and try not to cringe too much.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

There are a few clips that really get me on that reel.  I love the inappropriate “Ohio State!” lady.  I love the angry woman that wallops the reporter with her purse and challenges him to “put that on the news!”.  But, most of all, I love that blustery old codger trying to shoo away that dog.

92.  Bert Case’s Dog Shoo

I obsessed over this clip for a good week at my day job–watching it sometimes five times in a row.  It stuck in my head so much that I was even driven to learn more of how/why/and where this incident occurred.  Here’s an extended version of the incident in question.  It answered some of my questions.  The dog shouter-er in question is Bert Case of Jacksonville MS:

It gets me every time.  This guy does exactly what you’re not supposed to do when confronted with a snarling dog.  He’s so grumpy old-cootish, I love it!  I keep waiting for him to sputter ‘get outta here you pesky varmint!  Dagnabbit!” and let off some six shooters.  I’ve memorized his choreography and now bust it out sometimes at work in random scenarios–like if someone comes to my desk with post for me.  Admittedly, it’s pretty obnoxious to do something like that if the person doesn’t get the reference but…feh…I just can’t help myself.

The triumphant “You go!” at the end is a cherry on top of this man vs dog sundae.  Watch him look over to the camera man at that point for his/or her approval.  Bert, you are a viking among newsmen.

I’m also just plain smitten by that dog.  Look how full of glee it is at it nips at the old man’s heels.  Life is a game.  This dog relishes misbehaving.   It reminds me of any attempt to try and discipline my sister’s dog.

The Brown in question...

The Brown in question...

Brown would do something awful, like take a poo in the middle of the room and you’d use your sternest voice to say ‘Bad dog.  Bad.  No!’ and Brown would just put her fuzzy face into happy dog smile and bow right into play pose and dart around the room as if your tirade were an invitation to play some stupid dog game.  Incredibly frustrating from a training point of view, but also hilarious.  Hey, she’s not my dog even if I did help pick her out.

Anyway, I thought it only fair that if Bert Case, the reporter in this clip, gets a profile on a website, the dog should also get equal representation.  After all, a dramatic scene requires two players and this dog should get credit where it’s due.  So, I wrote one for him.

Here’s Bert’s first.  If you click on this link you’ll see a nice snap of him and learn that he’s an experienced field reporter, anchor, and news director for WLBT 3 out of Jackson, Mississippi.  :

Bert Case

And now, for the real star of the scene:

Ruggles Age 5


Ruggles, 5, has been a resident of Jackson, Mississippi for three years–previously occupying a dog house in a backyard in nearby Biloxi.   For three years running, he has been celebrated locally for treeing the most neighborhood cats–11 per week at last count.

Ruggles has built a solid reputation for independence and bravery.  This can be seen in his daily actions wether it be courageously and brazenly  whizzing on Mr. Atkinson’s prize begonias or for not coming when he’s called.

Ruggles has earned the wary respect of local residents for successfully chasing away more delivery men than any other neighborhood dog–ensuring that nobody gets packages or pizzas in a timely manner.  Since taking residence in the area, Ruggles has made it his priority to be more brown and stripey and barky than any dog in the immediate vicinity.

To email Ruggles, leave comments here.

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Prima Don

I’ve only seen two operas in my life (not counting rock operas)–Carmen at the Met in NY and the Sunday matinee performance of the Manchester International Festival’s debut and today’s great thing:

91.  Rufus Wainwright’s PRIMA DONNA

So, I might not be the world’s foremost authority on what constitutes a good opera.  In fact, what I do know about opera is probably only thanks to Bugs Bunny cartoons and Rufus Wainwright’s previous output, which has often been called operatic–critics even inventing a new word for it– “popera”.  His lush albums take the listener to emotional geography that top-40 radio just can’t touch.  Undoubtedly, I will be adoring Rufus’ music in future blogs.  But, for once, I’m going to be topical and only address his debut work in what seems to be his most treasured and revered art form.

Before I left for the theatre that day, I watched a BBC documentary on Wainwright called “Imagine”.  It confirmed much of what I already knew about Wainwright:  opera had a huge impact on his life, his current boyfriend is German, and he speaks fluent French, but it also lent some insight into what he hoped to create with PRIMA DONNA.  Feeling that people expected it to be a contemporary piece, as far as musical composition goes (perhaps in the style of TOMMY or something , he gave himself the extra challenge of keeping the music in a classical vein (though it is set in 1970’s Paris).  One concern he had about the genre is that its appreciators were dying out.  Most people today look at opera solely from a historical point of view.  Even his admirers sort of see this as a noble ambition rather than something terribly relevant.

The plots of operas are like that of Greek myth.  Drama doesn’t get much higher…what with all the patricide, matricide, and fratricide.  Most people just don’t relate to the characters and their problems.  Today’s folks would much rather just watch Tila Tequila spend eight weeks deciding who she wants to get her picture taken with.

Having seen the show yesterday, I feel like I can appreciate the opera a bit more now.  What it provides is complete escapism.  I’ll NEVER have the same problems that a Parisian prima donna faces…but I can wonder at her world and comprehend the very satisfying moral at the end of the story.

A bit about the actual event.  We arrived at The Palace theatre–a lovely, ornate venue in central Manchester–and found that Rufus was in the lobby allowing a few pics to be snapped.  Karey was rueful that we didn’t bring the camera but I wasn’t so bothered.  It’s not like I was going to ask for a picture and then Roofie and I would be besties on Facebook or something, sending each other cyber-hugs and joining each other’s Mafia.  The ONLY regret I have about not getting a snap is that now I have no photographic evidence of what he was wearing yesterday.  With a full beard, turned up pants, a seer-sucker type patchwork jacket and a top hat, he looked like some kind of hobo clown that jumped off the rails at Fire Island.

Just like this, but more gay.

There is the distinct possibility that this was simply another costume that, in my opera-ignorance, I haven’t recognized.  (See this piece about opening night from the NYTimes review):

MANCHESTER, England — Before the premiere of Rufus Wainwright’s first opera, “Prima Donna,” as part of the Manchester International Festival at the Palace Theater on Friday evening, Mr. Wainwright dropped hints that he would show up costumed as a famous operatic figure. Sure enough, while a crowd milled in the lobby before the performance, Mr. Wainwright arrived meticulously made up as Verdi, in a formal 19th-century black suit, complete with white silk scarf, black top hat and a bushy beard grown for the occasion. Mr. Wainwright’s companion, Jorn Weisbrodt, a German theater director, was dressed as a young Puccini in a cream-colored summer suit and a straw hat. The crowd erupted with applause, and lights flashed as people took pictures.

Anyway, back to the show.   I’d bought my tickets early.  So, we had terrific seats (3rd row back in the centre).  Orchestra warmed up, the first thing I saw after the lush gold-tassled red curtain was pulled up was the minimal but striking and beautiful set which depicts the decor and furnishings of opera singer Regine St. Laurent’s penthouse apartment in Paris.  Important stuff, this.  In capable hands, the art direction and stage and lighting design can definitely set your impression for the show.

Whilst this opera may not offer a cast of thousands, it is a simpler piece dealing with one main character really, the performances were undoubtedly the highlight of the production.  Scotland’s Janis Kelly was pitch-perfect (pun kinda intended) as Madame Regine St. Laurent.    Kelly has been performing in opera for several years and has a reputation as a solid performer who has never been given the opportunity to enjoy a diva moment.  Well, here it is.

She’s also kind of hot in ‘I hope I look that good when I’m that age’, kind of way.  Just saying.  Here’s a link to an interview from The Telegraph with PRIMA DONNA’S prima donna:  interview with Janis Kelly

The other stand-out performance was given by Bedfordshire native Rebecca Bottone, astounding my eardrums as the sparrow-like maid, Marie.  Marie offers Regine comfort and loyalty (which she desperately needs as the only other characters are a villainous gay butler, a mute footman, and a star-fucking journalist).  This relationship, which I enjoyed putting a kind of lesbian spin on, in my head, actually represents a wonderful bond between two women who are both surrounded by abusive leeches of men.  It reminds me of Rufus’ “Damned Ladies” track off of his first album.  The song educates the listener that if you’re a leading lady in an opera, you’re bound to get the short end of the stick by the fall of the curtain.  So, in other words, look out Desdemona–he’s behind you!!!

As far as the music goes, I’d comment that I enjoyed the experience as a whole and that the score felt like a spoke in the wheel.  Being in a hall that was built for music, watching seasoned performers enact a brand new work, seeing one of my favorite songwriters ever sitting in the same audience that I sat in as he watched the birth of his art all contributed to my enjoyment.  Do I feel the need to run out and buy the score?  Not particularly.  Let me reiterate at this point that I am NOT an opera aficionado and my unlearned ear is undoubtedly contributing to the slight detachment I feel towards the music.  I also find that I need to hear a new piece of music more than once to let it sink in.  This is especially the case with opera music.  It’s beautiful and complicated and to love it in its entirety takes more patience than most typically give to music.  It’s not as easy and hooky as pop.  This is also, however, why it’s able to convey emotion that reaches beyond the standard ‘I take you to the candy shop.  I let you lick the lollipop’ variety.   There were moments that were grand and moments that were absolutely eye-drenching.  Anyway, a second listen if you will.

The only clip I could find online is here.  It’s from a concert he did almost a year ago in Paris and he charmingly stumbles through it a bit.

Yep.  That did it.  That’s good stuff.

Reviews have been mixed, some glowing and appreciative of Wainwright’s career as a whole…others almost as bitchy as the man himself–calling the plot thin and the music banal.  Thin and banal…maybe on opposite day.  Zing!  Take that critics.  Regardless of what the professional opera snobs have to say, I feel lucky that I got to see it in its premiere weekend.  It’s also had a mind-expanding effect on me–I’d be willing to give more opera a listen now–which, I believe is one of the goals that Wainwright had when writing this debut.  Rufus Wainwright, you brilliant queen, I vow to pay better attention when Bugs dons that Brunhilde chestplate and learn to respect the composer and not just the cartoon.

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In This Corner…Upstanding Citizens. And In This Corner…Sangria!

Even though it started to piss down rain here in Manchester, my Simpsons calendar says it’s STILL technically summer for the next 2.5 months and that means there’s no excuse to not be making today’s great thing:

90.  Sangria

I feel a hangover just looking at this.

I love sangria.  As with most grown-up things, I was first exposed to it in NYC.  I think it was at the now defunct Dew Drop Inn.  That place was the shizzle.  They had a drink called “A Damn Shame” which was something like…champagne and grape soda.  They served all their cocktails in mason jars and sold miniature hamburgers.  Also, the bartender,  Becky–a statuesque brunette with loose curls and Gina Gershon lips– was smokin’ hot.  I used to awkwardly flirt my ass off every time I went in…hammily making stupid puns and snarky comments and I don’t think she took any notice.  In fact, I went in there just about every week and she never learned my name.  Way out of my league.  Memories.

Anyhoo, Sangria is terrific for many reasons.  It’s got a cool name (means ‘blood’ in Spanish).  It’s refreshing.  It gives cheap wine a purpose–in much the same way that a champagne cocktail recipe can dress up a shitty bottle of bubbly.  It is delightfully hard-hitting–a stealth bomb dressed up in tropical fruit.  Case in point…A couple of years ago my mother threw a lovely baby shower for my sister.  Since I’m not a great cook, I mixed up a batch of white sangria for the event.  The noon-time brunch was attended my my tame and gentile neighbors and my seldom drinking aunts.  It only took about fifteen minutes for the effects to set in.  Baby clothes have never been so hilarious.

The party went from sorta like this...

To this...

It’s one of those cocktails that you can have a bit of experimentation with until you find the recipe that really hits the spot.  Technically, there’s not really a universally preferred recipe.  It’s truly a party beverage in the sense that you just scoop up whatever you have available and dole it out to the masses in one big boozy stew.  For this reason, travel sites recommend that you actually NOT order sangria from bars and restaurants when you go to Spain.  It’s a tourist trick.  Real sangria is made at a house party in Spain–not at bars.  A bar will just serve you something like red wine, sprite, and a wedge of lemon or something (any concoction known as tinto de varano).  Ordering it at a restaurant is missing the point.  It’s like going out to a nice restaurant and ordering leftovers.

Anyway, for a more traditional take, I really enjoy starting with a bold red (a cheap but not completely awful California zinfandel for instance) and adding triple sec, brandy, orange juice, and whatever fresh fruit is around the house cut into wedges.  Simple, easy and eating the fruit after you’ve downed the drink is a more delicious alternative to eating the tequila worm.

There’s a version that they used to offer during brunch hours at the fun restaurant I worked at in NYC, Punch Bar and Grill.  I recall it using cinnamon in there somewhere.  It provided an enticing zing and was surprisingly moreish.  I think the addition of cinnamon is kind of a Portuguese thing.  Here’s the closest I could find to that recipe on-line:  Zippy!

Here’s another version of spicy sangria to try if you’re so inclined:  Spicy Sangria

I usually stick to the standard Red variety, but sometimes a switcheroo to sangria blanca is alright.  The addition of melons to the white wine version usually goes down a storm.   I tend to stay away from rose–not really for any particular reason.  I just don’t buy a lot of the stuff.

For further studies, sangaree is a West Indian beverage that’s quite similar to Spanish sangria except it’s usually made with Port.

Regardless of which recipe you use, the luxury of time can only help.  Leaving the mixture overnight helps all the flavours soak into each other.  Plus, I mean, you’d only have to wait 12 hours or so.  It’s not like you’re barrel-aging Scotch whiskey or anything.

In closing, here’s a clip of piano chanteuse Tori Amos singing her song “Sweet Sangria”.  Enjoy with a glass of the good stuff.

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