I was looking up Mark Twain's birthday recently – he was born Samuel L. Clemens 175 years ago, today – and came across an altogether more interesting fact: G. Gordon Liddy – also born today, in 1930 – is an "American entertainer."
That's right: The man who headed up the Committee to Re-elect the President, who was later convicted of conspiracy, burglary and illegal wiretapping on behalf of the Nixon administration, a man whose one true claim to fame is that he's a key player in the Watergate Scandal is an "American entertainer." He's a convicted criminal involved in the only political scandal to result in the resignation of an American President and he served over four years in prison for his crimes, but now he's an author, a public speaker, an actor, a celebrity.
And they say the American Dream is dead.
I've long been puzzled by how many of today's "stars" are famous for essentially nothing, but it's even more distressing that America is so fond of elevating even the most malignant blights on society to celebrity status. Especially in the age of "reality TV," there's this sick tendency to glorify our failings and prop up the kind of people we were taught as children to avoid, as "mavericks." As long as we're being entertained, who cares what someone has done in the past, right?
So, today is Mark Twain's birthday, a legendary American writer, who lived a life of genuine distinction, and on the same list of notable personalities born today, there is a convicted criminal, partially responsible for one of our country's greatest crises. And he's an "entertainer." The mind boggles at how readily we allow the media to manipulate history.
My friend Chris Giarrusso is an incredibly talented (not to mention hilariously funny) writer and artist, probably best known for his work on Marvel Comics' Mini-Marvels, but at the peak of his considerable powers when working on his own series, G-Man. His work has also taken on another life as an inspiration to graffiti artists in the Bay Area. First there was a huge mural on 19th Street in San Francisco's Mission District, and now there's another on the corner of Shattuck and Vine in Berkeley.
If you're not familiar with Chris' work, you can learn more about him here, and you can buy his books here and here.
I haven't had to deal with death much in my adult life. Both my grandfathers died before I reached my teens, and since then I've lost an uncle, a good friend, and a beloved pet; mercifully, time was stretched long between each loss.
Every now and then, I'll write a few words to note the passing of a musician, actor or author who meant something to me, but that's more to acknowledge the work left behind, as I had no firsthand experience with the actual person. Today, though, I lost someone very dear to me, easily one of the most important people in my entire life, and it's about as different from reading about the passing of someone I admired from afar as witnessing a car wreck is from actually getting hit. I've battled with tears for hours, and everything I'd been planning or thinking about seems utterly insignificant.
I was going to write about shirts today, shirts and British pop.
I can't think of anything more meaningless at the moment.
Here's some more good TV: The endlessly adorable Aimée Ann Duffy on Later... with Jools Holland last month.
And not to take anything away from Duffy, but even though The Tube was huge during the '80s and Later... has been a BBC staple since 1992, I still find Jools Holland's continued success as a TV host somewhat remarkable. Before The Tube, he was the keyboard player in Squeeze – a fantastic band, perhaps, but definitely not a household name – and now that band is a footnote in the story of Holland's career.
The songs Duffy performed on Later... are all from her new album, Endlessly, which is due out next week. My first impression of the new material is that I like it all well enough, but that it suffers for Bernard Butler's absence. Your mileage may vary...
This has been a great year for The Walking Dead. Robert Kirkman's Image Comics series has won multiple awards (Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series; Harvey Award for Best Continuing or Limited Series; Scream Award for Best Comic Book or Graphic Novel; Eagle Awards for Best American Comic (B&W) and Favorite Continued Story), and now Entertainment Weekly is proclaiming AMC's TV adaptation "the best new show on TV." The TV series has also been renewed for a second season, which seems rather amazing, given the show's gory subject matter. A television show based on a zombie survival epic seemed like a long shot to begin with; the fact it is actually a hit almost defies expectations. The comic book wasn't a sure thing, either, though, so it's been interesting to see the TV series follow a similar path to success.
As good as the show is, however, I think it's worth noting: The comics are much, much better.
When it was announced that The Beatles were finally coming to iTunes, many found the news a tad anti-climactic. Everybody has the albums, after all, either on CD or on vinyl, and the newly remastered albums have been available for download illegally for over a year at this point. Could there really be that many people willing to pay $1.29 per track to download the Fabs?
Looking at the Top 200 songs on iTunes today, The Beatles occupy 33 spots on the chart, ranging from "Here Comes the Sun" at number 34 to "The Long and Winding Road" at number 197. They hold 18 spots on the Top 200 albums chart, all but four of which are in the Top 40, and one of which is for the $149 "box set" that is essentially every Beatles album track, plus all the singles. (And that's at number 15 on the chart.) The top selling Beatles album on CD and vinyl for years, Abbey Road is currently at number four on the iTunes albums chart.
Not bad for a band that officially broke up 40 years ago.
The Beatles weren't perfect, though, so to celebrate their current success on iTunes, here's a list of my top 10 least favorite Beatles songs:
1. "Love Me Do," (single A-side, "Love Me Do," 1962)
2. "Matchbox," (US single A-side, "Matchbox," 1964)
3. "The Fool on the Hill," (Magical Mystery Tour EP, 1967)
4. "Wild Honey Pie," (The Beatles, 1968)
5. "Act Naturally," (Help! 1965)
6. "I've Got a Feeling," (Let it Be, 1970)
7. "Honey Pie," (The Beatles, 1968)
8. "Yellow Submarine," (Revolver, 1966)
9. "I Call Your Name," (US single B-side, "Long Tall Sally," 1964)
10. "The Long and Winding Road," (Let it Be, 1970)
Well, somebody's questions, anyway, in the first of a series of short interviews based on questions from the readers at Bleeding Cool. If you're a comics fan and have questions of your own, feel free to either email Bleeding Cool's Rich Johnston directly (email@example.com) or post a question in the comments section for the Q&A.
Before Jarvis Cocker and Pulp, there was Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music.
Bryan Ferry is now 65. His current girlfriend is 28.
I was initially somewhat cool on his new album, Olympia, but it has grown on me after a few listens. As one of my friends noted, it's more or less "Avalon light," and in the absence of a real Roxy Music album, and with the involvement of Ferry's Roxy musos Brian Eno, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera, I suppose I'll take what I can get...
Once upon a time, way back in the '90s when I was a young man, I was very much a Blur fan. I liked Suede, I liked Oasis – I liked quite a lot of the music coming out of Britain at the time – but Blur was the band of the moment for me, and it was through Blur that I first discovered Pulp.
Or rather, finally gave Pulp a chance.
I'd been aware of Pulp for years, through the various British music weeklies I poured over on a regular basis, but for a variety of reasons, I was never inclined to actually give their records a listen. Then I went to see see Blur for the first time, at the Palace (now the Avalon, down there around Hollywood and Vine) in Los Angeles, in what I suppose would have been Fall, 1994.
I'm not sure I even knew Pulp were opening, but when we arrived at the venue, they were already playing. I caught the end of "Lipgloss," which I instantly realized I'd heard before, and then they were doing "Joyriders," and then... Well, then I was transfixed. And kicking myself that I hadn't caught their set from the beginning. Everybody always talks about what an amazing performer Jarvis is, but the whole band were completely mesmerizing that night. I'd never seen anything quite like them before, and even though I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Blur afterwards, it is the memory of that all-too-brief Pulp set that has managed to stick with me, some 16 years on.
And while I occasionally listen to Blur these days, every single Pulp album is on my iPhone and though I can't claim to listen to them daily, I do listen to Pulp often.
More often than usual, this week: After announcing an "extended hiatus" at the end of 2002, Pulp are returning for a handful of live dates in 2011. With that in mind, I give you my top 10 favorite Pulp tracks.
(And you can find more info about the upcoming live shows at pulppeople.com.)
1. "Pencil Skirt," (Different Class, 1995)
"If you look under the bed, then you can see my house from here,
So just lie against the wall, and watch my conscience disappear now, baby."
The official video for this track isn't available for viewing here in the States, but here's Ian McCulloch and the Manics performing the majestic "Some Kind of Nothingness" on Later... in September. The single is due out early next month.
Years ago, when I lived in Los Angeles and worked in Santa Monica, I used to cut through Beverly Hills and pop out in West Hollywood in attempt to outsmart the traffic on my way home. I'd emerge on Doheny and after a couple blocks, I'd see this wonderful textile block house that for a long time I assumed was built by Frank Lloyd Wright. No matter how frustrated I was with my drive, just the simple fact this place existed always seemed to cheer me up. After doing a little research, though, I discovered that while it was designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright, it wasn't the Frank Lloyd Wright, but rather, his son, Frank Lloyd Wright Jr., or as he was more commonly known, Lloyd Wright. The younger Wright built over 30 houses, mostly in Southern California, and this one, the Lloyd Wright Studio House, was built in 1927; the ground floor was his workspace, the second floor was his residence. There's not much information about this structure (or Lloyd Wright himself) online, and my photos hardly do it justice, so if you're in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend checking it out. Unassumingly tucked away between Sunset and Santa Monica on Doheny Drive in West Hollywood, it's one of the LA area's hidden gems.
I didn't get a decent photo of a single member of the team, but it wasn't hard to get shot after shot of the thousands of Giants fans that showed up for the parade celebrating their victory over the Texas Rangers in the World Series. The amount of positive energy coursing through the streets of San Francisco today was truly amazing and somewhat humbling. Don't stop believing, indeed.