Monday, August 31, 2009

Escape from Glendale

Had to pack a bag and get the hell outta Dodge. The Angeles National Forest has been burning for days, and the air in Glendale is hardly fit to breathe.

Last Wednesday, I flew back to California coping with the tail end of a cold. I still haven’t shaken that cold yet. It hurts to swallow, my sinuses are stuffed, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since I got back. The air was scraping my eyeballs, and I’ve been coughing up disgusting slime.

So I broke towards the ocean. Hoping a couple days in Santa Monica can clear my respiratory system up.

I feel better already. I stood on a bluff as a cool breeze rolled in off the Pacific, and congratulated myself for good thinking.

Then I turned 180 degrees and faced east... and saw a mushroom cloud hanging over some far-distant mountains.

This is called a pyrocumulus cloud; sometimes a forest fire creates its own weather like that. Trip part is... that’s not even the fire I fled from! That’s a different out-of-control wildfire... in the San Bernardino National Forest.

UPDATE (08/31/09): Okay, this is bizarre. I’m right near the ocean. It’s sunset. I stick my head out the hotel window, looking east. I can see the San Bernardino Mountains, gotta be more than 75 miles away.

And I can see the flames from here!

A free Count Basie Orchestra download

William Allen Basie passed away 25 years ago. But his band swings on. The Count Basie Orchestra put out a new CD last week called “Swinging, Singing, Playing.”

I had no idea the Basie brand – never mind the band – had that much life in it. The new album features top-notch guests such as Hank Jones, Geri Allen, Jon Hendricks, Nnenna Freelon and Janis Siegel.

Click here to hear “Blues on Mack Avenue.” To download it as a FREE MP3, click the title below.

“Blues On Mack Avenue” (MP3)
More on this album

A rhetorical question

Wouldn’t life be better with more Jiminy Glick in it?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Celebrity Tweets of the Day!

(Actual Twitter posts from earlier today.)

Ice-T: “Bout to go eat a Dennys. I’ve been on the road so much in my life.Dennys & Ihop have become my favorite places to sit down & eat. Cheap too.”

Tori Spelling: “My husband made us pineapple sunday mimosas! Delish. Kids having their applejuice and looking at the beautiful august day.”

Tyra Banks: “made coffee this morn that was too damn strong. i had to add so much milk and sweetener that it turned into tasting like melted ice cream!”

Demi Moore: “Twitterverse you did it! @moonfrye is at 1 million!!!!!!! Woo hoo!”

New cuts from Smokey Robinson, Bettye LaVette

Lay the recording careers of Smokey Robinson and Bettye LaVette end-to-end, they’d span almost 100 years. And they’re still putting out new music.

Click here to hear Smokey’s grown-up interpretation of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” (though that might sound like a strange concept).

With this track, Smokey is taking advantage of the Michael love... big time. Because you cannot buy this MP3 on its own. You have to purchase the complete album download of “Time Flies When You’re Having Fun,” Smokey’s brand new release.

(That’s all right. Well played, Smokey. I’ll check the rest of it out later.)

Now... click here and listen to Bettye LaVette’s brokedown version of “Ain’t No Sunshine.” This is from her new six-song digital EP, “‘Change Is Gonna Come’ Sessions.”

Matter fact, Amazon.com is giving away a FREE MP3 of Bettye LaVette’s rendition of “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Just follow this link.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A song for Teddy

Predictably, MSNBC is going way overboard with its coverage of the death of Edward Kennedy.

Indeed, my favorite so-called “cable news network” is taking a break from reporting news today. It’s all about the Fallen Lion of Liberalism.

I swear... they didn’t give Reagan this much dap. And he was president.

Chris Matthews teased this evening’s memorial service (or “Irish wake,” as he kept calling it) by revealing that Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell will sing Sen. Kennedy’s favorite song – “The Impossible Dream.” Matthews promises that Mitchell will “bring the house down.”

I’ve got a sneak preview streaming on my Vox blog. Brian Stokes Mitchell starred in a Broadway revival of “Man of La Mancha” a few years ago. Click here to hear his version of “The Impossible Dream” from the cast album.

Random wrongness

The Barack Obama of Africa

Here’s a neat little irony or coincidence or something. As the world grooves to the United States having a biracial president, Sub-Saharan Africa last year also got a biracial head of state.

Ian Khama, the president of Botswana, was born in the U.K. His father was Sir Seretse Khama, who led his nation to independence. His mother was an Englishwoman named Ruth Williams.

Their marriage – and its impact on the politics of southern Africa – is the subject of a recent book called “Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation.”

To check out Ian Khama’s Obama-like swagger, watch this CNN piece:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Human beasts on the internets

Seems like every few weeks, another human monster reaches the end of the road with his deranged fantasies... like the elderly racist who took his long gun to the Holocaust Museum. Or that middle-aged loner who shot up a ladies’ gym class.

Both of those men had an Internet presence long before their final bloody outbursts. So, too, did Phillip Garrido, the convicted sex offender at the center of America’s latest true-crime drama.

Garrido and his wife are accused of snatching an 11-year-old girl off the street in 1991... and keeping her as a sex slave in a back-yard shed for 18 years.

The girl, Jaycee Lee Dugard, bore two children by Phillip Garrido. She and the children are now free. The Garridos are under arrest.

And yes... Phillip Garrido has a blog. It’s called Voices Revealed.

In his last post, on August 14, Garrido wrote: “[T]he Creator has given me the ability to speak in the tongue of angels in order to provide a wake-up call that will in time include the salvation of the entire world.

“You too can witness what the world believe’s is impossible to produce! email: godsdesire@rocketmail.com. DON’T MISS OUT!”

Today, that blog post is attracting comments such as these:

“I hope you rot in jail and burn in Hell.”

“I really hope every last thing you did to that poor kid is done to you when you enter jail.”

“What a complete piece of shit. I think a torture treatment performed each day, in public viewing is what this asshole deserves.”

Strange how the internets grant us such intimate access, almost in real time, to the monsters in our midsts.

Celebrity Tweets of the Day!

David Lynch: “You have control over action alone, never over its fruits. Live not for the fruits of action, nor attach yourself to inaction.”

Paris Hilton: “I’m so tired and sore from all the stunts and fighting scenes while shooting yesterday.”

A free Citizen Cope download

Alt-groove artiste Citizen Cope (a.k.a. Clarence Greenwood) has a new album coming out next February.

Already he’s giving away a FREE MP3... if you’re willing to give him your email address.

Click here to hear “Keep Askin’ ” on my Vox blog. To download it, follow this link to Citizen Cope’s website.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

Celebrity Tweets of the Day!

(These are actual Twitter posts from earlier today.)

Aaron McGruder: “Seriously... too many gay-ass rappers pretending to be straight . If you say ’no-homo’ in a song at least make it sound convincing.”

Russell Simmons: “Workin on phone and being driven in from hamptons,old school radio just played ’big ole butt’ by ll cool jay today he's my favorite nigga!!”

New cuts from Jef Lee Johnson

If you’re not yet into Jef Lee Johnson, the fault is mine. I should be blogging about this cat every week.

A virtuoso guitarist and idiosyncratic singer-songwriter, he has been one of my favorite recording artists for the past dozen years.

Jef Lee’s one-man-band albums offer up delights for blues and jazz heads, funkateers, black rockers, guitar fags and indie-music omnivores. Yet he’s one of America’s best-kept secrets.

Jef Lee Johnson has a new double-CD out called “Longing Belonging Ongoing.” We’re talking 30 tracks here. A lot of those tracks feel like sketches from a sketchbook, but that’s how he tends to do.

For some reason, Jef Lee released this project under the name “aka rainbow crow.” (Dude does have his quirks.) The fastest way to get your hands on “Longing Belonging” is to order directly from the Philly-based distributor Dreambox Media.

I’m streaming three cuts on my Vox blog. Click below to listen.

1. “TV people”

2. “BONE (Ghettos of the Mind)”

3. “gods gone by”

A rhetorical question

Shouldn’t we destroy all these Japanese robots now, instead of having to travel back in time and do it?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A free Soul Rebels Brass Band download

In a matter of weeks, it’s back down to New Orleans for pre-production on “Treme.” Looking forward to getting into a groove of intense work.

Meanwhile, here’s a FREE MP3 of some brass-band music. Click here to hear “Let Your Mind Be Free” by the Soul Rebels.

To download it, follow this link to the Blue Mountain Artists website, then scroll down. If you’re a Mac user, CTRL+click the download link.

What could possibly be more cute than...

... TV newscasters during a commercial break?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Celebrity Tweet of the Day!

Sarah Silverman: “I changed a baby’s diaper today and she had a totally shaved vagina. What a country!”

Corey Harris, Carolina Chocolate Drops live in D.C.

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know I dig roots musician Corey Harris and the old-timey fiddle band Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Well, they’re both performing today – along with some Native American blues bands – at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

The music will be live-streamed below, starting at 5 p.m. Eastern time.

At 3 p.m., there’ll be a scholarly discussion of the relationship between black and indigenous roots music. That will be live-streamed also.

UPDATE (08/22/09): I caught most of the Chocolate Drops, but missed Corey Harris. Below is a 7-minute clip from Corey’s set.

Saturday morning cartoon

Friday, August 21, 2009

(Annotated) Celebrity Tweets of the Day!

(Below are more actual, honest-to-goodness Twitter posts... all from earlier today. Plus my personal parenthetical commentary.)

Sandra Bernhard: “hope you are all checking out my first single with chrissie hynde on itunes the album drops tuesday august 25th whatever it takes.”
(The song sucks.)

Jeremy Piven: “contest for the best reason u haven’t seen ‘the Goods’ 500K following...”
(Reason? Because it probably sucks.)

Paris Hilton: “On my way to go visit some of the most poverty stricken villages in Central America. Going to be a very emotional day, God bless them all.”
(Dang, Princess. You could’ve just come to Langley Park.)

Kevin Smith: “Glourious! Quentin’s BASTERDS is at 86% Fresh at RottenTomatoes. Going tomorrow morning. Been waiting for years to see this. I bow to Q.”
(I just got back from seeing “Inglourious Basterds.” I’m still waiting for Tarantino to tell another story about humans.)

Yoko Ono: “Give Peace A Chance. It’s time for us to come together, and say it again, and to realize, again, that War Is Over, if you want it.”
(Ummm... okay.)

Oprah Winfrey: “thank you will.i.am and black eyed peas. I love you. see you for our party in the streets of chicago.”
(Hey Oprah... Yoko Ono says you suck.)

Ellen DeGeneres: “Celebrity sighting of the day: Portia de Rossi, eating lunch in my kitchen!”
(I’d better leave that one alone.)

A free Yancey Arias download

Actor Yancey Arias – star of my 2003 TV show “Kingpin” – is making a move into the music business. He just released a limited-time-only FREE MP3.

I knew Yance could sing. When I played in his charity poker tournament a few years back, he rocked “Luck Be a Lady,” Vegas-style. This new track is an R&B ballad.

Click here to hear “True Love” on my Vox blog. To download it, follow this link. The track goes on sale next month at iTunes.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

UBM presents: Celebrity Tweets of the Day!

(Below are actual Twitter posts from earlier today.)

Kim Kardashian: “My retainer is cutting the inside of my mouth, maybe its too small. I need 2 go 2 the orthodontist :( ”

Shaquille O’Neal: “im at knots berry farms n my butts 2 big 2 fit in da seats on ride. ahhhhhh (dats me yellin)”

Sean “P. Diddy” Combs: “They want me to stop talkin about GOD on twitter!!! And my answer is NEVER!!! #Godismyhero take that!”

Miley Cyrus: “P.S. I have GOT to start wearing my retainer again. Just a thought ha.”

Star Jones: “My friend Tara & I just spent the afternoon drinking wine & laughing at our favorite ‘Miranda Priestly’ lines from The Devil Wears Prada”

Hill Harper: “Just finished Runyon Canyon and now heading back to set to finish shooting CSI:NY. I’ll twitter from set!!”

Erykah Badu: “At marthas vineyard with Dj dnice on the wheels... I love it .. Going on stage now!.... In t-10”

Lance Armstrong: “Getting a massage. Listening to The Fleet Foxes.”

Serena Williams: “I’m getting treatment. My physio is working on my hamstrings. They r sooooooo tight!!!!!”

(Now, as if that wasn’t exciting enough... a video from Ben Stiller.)

A rhetorical question

Don’t you miss this show?

New jokes from Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford

Lick your lips, bitches. I’m pouring a tall cool glass of the laffy-laffy juice.

Patton Oswalt, one of the best standup comics currently working, has a new CD coming out next week. It’s called “My Weakness Is Strong,” and it’s already downloadable from iTunes.

Oswalt will be on the Letterman show tomorrow night plugging it.

Click here to hear “Obama... and Time Travel... and Coolness... and the Last Racist.”

Maria Bamford is too weird to ever become hugely popular. But I like her style. It’s so rare to find a comedian with a truly original voice.

Bamford’s latest comedy album is called “Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome.” It came out in April.

Click here for 8 minutes of randomness titled “I Miss Working in an Office.”

Random hotness

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Don Hewitt (1922-2009)

Legendary CBS News producer Don Hewitt, the creator of “60 Minutes,” died today. He was 86. CBS has posted an online obituary here.

I’ve been a huge “60 Minutes” fan for my whole adult life. The first opportunity I had to pitch an idea for my own TV series, back in 1998, I sold the concept of a Steven Bochco-type ensemble drama about a news show like “60 Minutes.” I imagined Alan Arkin as the Don Hewitt character.

He would’ve been the heart and soul of the thing.

Hewitt’s template for investigative broadcast journalism has been imitated around the world. Click here for a look at South Africa’s answer to “60 Minutes” – “Special Assignment.”

Don Hewitt has said that his show’s finest moment was the Lenell Geter story in 1984. The “60 Minutes” team got an innocent man out of prison (in the days before DNA testing). Check out a glimpse below. Remember that one? I sure do.

Lenell Geter is now a motivational speaker.

Something inspired from Antony and the Johnsons

I’ve been waiting for Antony to do a studio version of this song ever since I heard the live bootleg. Well, he’s done it.

What could possibly be more cute than...

... an outlaw with a Prince Valiant haircut?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A free Melvin Van Peebles download

Sixteen months ago, I blogged about a weird new movie by Melvin Van Peebles called “Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha.”

Looks like that movie will come out in limited release on Friday... which also happens to be Mr. Van Peebles’s 77th birthday.

A Village Voice film critic called the movie “a public-access ugly, unintelligible, inconsequential adaptation of his quarter-century-old Broadway show, ‘Waltz of the Stork.’ ”

Be that as it may, Mr. Van Peebles has also released two new songs from “Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha.” One of those is available as a FREE MP3.

Click here to hear “Come On Write Me” on my Vox blog. If you’d like to download it, click the song title below.

“Come On Write Me” (MP3)
Single available at iTunes Music Store

Tuesday 12-inch Flashback: ‘Don’t Push It, Don’t Force It’

Remember Leon Haywood? That was a funky dude.

For the past couple of decades, he’s been running his own label in South L.A., Evejim Records (releasing material such as this).

But funk fans know Leon best for “I Want’a Do Something Freaky to You” and, to a lesser degree, “Don’t Push It.”

I never knew Leon Haywood also wrote “She’s a Bad Mama Jama.”

Monday, August 17, 2009

The third commandment

When I was on the writing staff of “NYPD Blue,” we could use the word asshole in dialogue. And we did it every episode. We also could use the word dickhead and even douchebag.

But never, ever could a character say goddamn.

By the standards of primetime broadcast television – and I don’t think this has changed since the 1990s – the word goddamn is considered profoundly offensive to many Americans.

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann need to check themselves.

Last week, Matthews berated a town-hall protestor thusly: “You’re carrying a goddamned gun at a Presidential event!”

And tonight, Olbermann referred to “one of those goddamned ‘water-the-tree-of-liberty’ T-shirts.”

Matthews at least was caught up in a moment, whereas Olbermann taking God’s name in vain seemed deliberate. Telepromptered even.

I know it’s too much to expect either of those jackasses to apologize for their unprofessionalism. Can’t imagine they regret the offense they might’ve caused to viewers who don’t wanna hear that kind of language on a “news” channel.

But shit, dudes... if you can’t roll with the commandments, at least try to remember the main hustler’s rule: Don’t blow your cool.

Coming attraction: ‘Still Bill’

This documentary is screening Wednesday night at L.A.’s Downtown Film Festival.

Point/counterpoint

“In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false. ... [O]ur own Veterans Health Administration, which is run somewhat like the British health service, also manages to combine quality care with low costs.” Paul Krugman (yesterday)

“Dawn Halfaker, a former Army captain who lost her right arm in Iraq, says negotiating the [VHA] bureaucracy to get treatment for all her medical needs has been frustrating at times. She had to wait eight months for an appointment at the Washington hospital to get her teeth cleaned. Even so, she says, the care ‘is not as bad as I thought it would be.’ ” Time magazine (2006)

Until the Clinton Administration reformed the veterans health-care system in the 1990s, VA hospitals had a horrible reputation... notwithstanding Mr. Krugman’s blithe equation of socialized medicine and “quality care.”

Just sayin’.

Random wrongness

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Random hipness...

... from 25 years ago.

A free Eagle-Eye Cherry download

Posting that Don Cherry/Rashied Ali video on UBM-TV got me thinking about Don’s son, Eagle-Eye Cherry. I’ve never really checked out Eagle-Eye’s music.

But I got a FREE MP3 for you.

Click here to hear a remix of his 2003 track “Don’t Give Up.” To download it, follow this link to Eagle-Eye Cherry’s official website, then scroll down to “Rarities and Remixes.”

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A free Naomi Shelton download

The ’60s soul revivalists at Daptone Records – the folks who brought you Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – now present an Alabama soul singer in her sixties: Naomi Shelton. Plus her backup group, the Gospel Queens.

Click here to hear “What Have You Done?” on my Vox blog. To download it as a FREE MP3, follow this link to Spinner.com.

Saturday morning cartoon

Charlyne Yi has a weird sense of humor.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rashied Ali (1935-2009)

Jazz drummer Rashied Ali, who replaced Elvin Jones in Coltrane’s band, died on Wednesday. He was 74. The New York Times obituary is here.

After his legendary free-jazz recordings with Trane, Rashied Ali collaborated with other outstanding avant-gardists such as Frank Lowe, Arthur Blythe, Joe McPhee, Peter Brötzmann, William Parker, James Blood Ulmer and Jaco Pastorius.

Click here to hear “Mars,” from the Coltrane/Ali duo album “Interstellar Space,” recorded in 1967.

‘Electric Purgatory: The Fate of the Black Rocker’

Here’s a complete 69-minute music documentary, “Electric Purgatory,” from 2005. (Hat-tip: Wandarful.)

The piece has a no-budget, homemade feel. But it’s got interviews with Vernon Reid, Greg Tate, Angelo Moore (Fishbone), Doug Pinnick (King’s X), Lonnie Marshall (Weapon of Choice), Jimi Hazel (24-7 Spyz), Cody Chesnutt, and many more.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

MSNBC vs. MSNBC

The latest worst thing to happen to the U.S. news industry (except for all those newspapers dying) is NBC’s decision – its business decision – to turn cable-news channel MSNBC into a wing of the Democratic Party.

The sad folly of that decision is evident in MSNBC’s “coverage” of the health-care debate. Specifically this month’s town-hall meetings with members of Congress... where some citizens have gotten loud ’n’ salty.

MSNBC has packed its primetime lineup with doctrinaire liberals, adding radio talkers Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz to the bombastic duo of Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann. Apparently MSNBC has instructed these hosts to behave like a Fox News of the Left. All partisan, all the time.

I remember (fondly) when libertarian Tucker Carlson and moderate Republican Joe Scarborough were part of the evening mix. (Olbermann, petulant adolescent that he is, would refuse to “throw” to Scarborough, meaning that Keith never ended his show with “And now, here’s Joe Scarborough,” the way he does nightly with Ms. Maddow.

(Keith actually bragged on the air about dissing Scarborough when Rachel Maddow took over. “I’ll be glad to throw to you,” he told her. Or something like that. Fucking child.)

The problem with an avowedly partisan “news” channel is... you can’t trust it. You can’t believe what they say, because objectivity and even- handedness are not values for Olbermann, Matthews, Maddow and Schultz. Their leftist agenda drives everything.

They are Soldiers for Christ (figuratively speaking) in the war against evil conservatives, corrupt Republicans, their greedy corporate puppetmasters, and Ronald Reagan’s ghost.

Even summer-vacation substitute hosts like Lawrence O’Donnell are licensed to push the Democrats’ party line.

MSNBC, in other words, is almost as worthless as Fox News.

Rachel Maddow this month has been pushing a narrative regarding those town-hall protests over health reform. She calls it “astroturfing” and “false-flagging,” not genuine grassroots opposition.

Every night, Maddow tells her viewers that the public dissent is being orchestrated by right-wing political pros.

Which relieves Ms. Maddow of the mental discomfort of having to contemplate why anyone would want to resist socializing health care. It also relieves her of the hard work of analyzing the Obama Administration.

Olbermann, Matthews and Schultz have also pushed the “astroturfing” narrative.

Thank goodness for “Morning Joe.”

Joe Scarborough got sent to 6 a.m. (3 a.m. on the West Coast!), and he made it the best show on MSNBC.

This morning, Scarborough gave the simplest, most cogent explanation of President Obama’s current political problem that I’ve yet heard on MSNBC. Joe said that Obama is “overloading the circuits with ideological items that most Americans just don’t give a damn about. Especially when they’re not working.”

When the people are not working, that is. It’s the economy, dumbass. Obama needs to show people he can fix the economy before he starts trying to change the health-care world as we know it.

I’m just saying... the best marketing minds on the planet couldn’t sell “New Coke.” Because the people didn’t want New Coke. They liked the old Coke.

Barack Obama is out there trying to sell the “New Coke” of domestic policy.

Yet most of the talking heads on MSNBC would have you believe he’s on a mission from God. (Figuratively speaking.)

Les Paul (1915-2009)

The music world is in mourning. Guitarist and guitar designer Les Paul died today at the age of 94. The Los Angeles Times obituary is here.

In the early 1950s, the Gibson Les Paul, an electric guitar designed with input from Mr. Paul himself, came on the market. It would have a huge impact on rock ’n ’ roll. (Les Paul had designed one of the first solid- body electric guitars back in the ’30s.)

Among the legendary musicians who played Gibson Les Pauls are Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Carlos Santana, Peter Framton, Eddie Van Halen, Rosetta Tharpe, Bob Marley, Al Di Meola, Pat Metheny and Frank Zappa.

Les Paul’s name is so thoroughly associated with those Gibson guitars, his own career as a musician tends to be overlooked. Especially his early jazz work.

Click here to hear a version of “How High the Moon” that Paul recorded during World War II while serving with Armed Forces Radio.

And click here to hear a live 1944 recording from the very first “Jazz at the Philharmonic” concert. It’s a jam session anchored by Nat King Cole on piano and featuring Illinois Jacquet and J.J. Johnson along with Les Paul. Paul starts cuttin’ up about 7 minutes in.

This has been called “one of history’s most famous jams,” and Les Paul has referred to it as his favorite gig ever. Listen to the crowd (and the other musicians) go nuts when Nat Cole and Paul get to trading licks.

Q&A: Berkeley Breathed (pt. 2)

Here’s the rest of my 1982 interview with cartoonist Berke Breathed. Mark your calendars: Volume One of the complete “Bloom County” collection is due out in October.
DAVID MILLS: You do some political suff in “Bloom County,” like on James Watt or the nuclear issue, but you don’t do a whole lot about President Reagan directly. How come?

BERKELY BREATHED: There’s more to the world than politics. And there’s so much political commentary in the world right now – and in this country right now – it’s almost overwhelming.

It’s almost an easy shot. So I don’t find political figures as such good material for “Bloom County.” ... I mean, everyone’s screaming about Reagan right now. It’s not going to help if I do too.

MILLS: There’s nothing about drugs in “Bloom County.” Is that a topic you won’t write about?

BREATHED: For two reasons, I would really shy away from having any commentary on drugs. One is that it’s an old subject.

Drugs are not a social happening any more, basically. Whatever they are, they’re not intertwined with any social upheaval like they were in the ’60s. It was almost a social statement to be taking drugs, so it was almost worthy to talk about.

But Christ, nowadays all you hear about them is people dying from them. So the only thing I would say about drugs is that they’re basically pretty much out of vogue and I see little merit in them.

If I’m going to be doing a strip where it can be influencing people, I think it’s not wise nowadays to have any characters taking drugs, even if you’re making a negative comment on them. ...

It’s just not an issue any more.

MILLS: What has been the most controversial topic you’ve dealt with?

BREATHED: No doubt about it: Prince Charles and Lady Di. It’s definitely an untouchable subject as far as a great many people in the world think – like with the pope – for some reason.

I find that funny by itself, that basically these two people in the world who have absolutely no responsibilities are considered above almost everything, including any satirical comment.

MILLS: If anything, you’ll go down in comics history for having presented the first handicapped regular character, Cutter John.

BREATHED: I’m getting a Disability Awareness Award from the Paralyzed Veterans of America in Oklahoma City for that character, so I’m very proud of him.

MILLS: What made you think to have a character in a wheelchair?

BREATHED: No big deal. Being someone who appreciates good characters, in a novel or a comic strip or whatever, it just seemed like an interesting thing to explore – someone’s perspective from a wheelchair.

But I have no great claims to any humanitarian reasons for doing it. It just seemed a good idea to present a disabled person as somebody that could function independent of his disability, without making a major statement on his disability every time he appeared, such as most TV shows seem to do.

MILLS: How do the animals fit in? I mean, some days the strip is very realistic...

BREATHED: Sure, and then you see a bear and a rabbit sitting there talking to everybody. That just reflects my attraction to a little bit of fantasy. A strip can get too dry if it’s reflecting real life too much.

I think it makes it a little more interesting to throw in something that just absolutely shouldn’t be there in realistic terms. Otherwise, why do a comic strip? Why not throw in a talking penguin, for Christ’s sake?

MILLS: Why is it that, after “Doonesbury” broke the mold, there haven’t been other strips like “Bloom County,” with a very contemporary sense of humor?

BREATHED: I haven’t the slightest idea. As I said, I think the people with more to offer than others head elsewhere. And certainly I would too if I had a chance.

Comics are obviously not my first love, and there are other things to do. But I don’t know.

I think if more people realized how much freedom they had on the comics page and the magnitude of its potential and communicative powers, there might be more of a draw to talented people.

What has been done in the last 10 years except “Garfield” that’s gotten any attention at all? And 10 years is a long time for there to be a drought in any artistic area. ...

If the artist had more control, I think you’d find better quality on the comics page. But the syndicates keep the artist as pretty much employees, and they mold their product, just to be able to sell easily and not to upset anybody and to keep the money rolling in. So you find little experimentation.

Although I must admit that, now that I’m looking, I’m seeing a lot more avant-garde humor on the comic page, especially in one-panel strips. Like “The Far Side” and “Guindon.” That’s good to see.

My God, the stuff that’s usually been in those one-panel strips for 50 years has been pretty bad. I mean, “Dennis the Menace” is fine, but it’s time to move on.

MILLS: How much of your time does it take to do “Bloom County”?

BREATHED: I work about five days out of the month.

MILLS: What do you do with the rest of your time?

BREATHED: Work on other projects. Compose music, all sorts of things. Travel.

MILLS: Do you write?

BREATHED: I would like to think that I will in the future. But not at the moment.

MILLS: How long do you plan to keep the strip going?

BREATHED: I won’t say. But I would make this comment: A wise comic-strip artist should realize that there is a life span to a comic strip, and it’s not meant to be immortal.

The reason some strips have died such inglorious deaths in the past, such as “Li’l Abner” and “Pogo” – almost embarrassing demises – is because somebody thought it would be worthwhile to carry on either after the death of the original artist, or after the strip had just fulfilled its potential. To squeeze as much money out of it as possible....

I realize that it’s tough for an artist, after developing a strip for five or 10 years, to decide to cut it. But I think a comparison can be made to good television shows.

If you notice, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” got out of it before it started decaying. They’re taking “M*A*S*H” off the air. It’s still a big hit, but they realize they can’t continue it.

There’s going to be so much you can do. And when you go beyond that invisible line, you start getting old, stale, out of date. ...

I mean, look what Al Capp did. He continued his strip for so long, he continued his ways of thinking right into the middle of the liberal ’60s, and it killed him – almost literally and figuratively.

He should have cut the strip off at its peak, or right after he detected its decline.

MILLS: When you’re through with “Bloom County,” what area do you want to get into?

BREATHED: Oh, I’ve got some ideas, but I wouldn’t say. All I would say is that I admire film and television a great deal. ...

I mean, for me to create a batch of characters and let people get to know them, it takes at least a year, unless I’ve got extremely simple strips.

But I’ve got 25 characters, and to get their story across to anybody, it takes drawing strips every day for an entire year, while I could do it in two hours in a movie.

It’s an extremely slow medium, frustratingly slow, and something that would probably keep me from staying in it for too long.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Playlist: The soundtrack that never was

A few years ago, I pitched an idea to HBO and Showtime for a drama series called “Soul ’66.”

In a nutshell, it was about dueling black record-label owners in a fictional Midwestern city in the 1960s... inspired, in part, by stories I’d heard about Ed Wingate whilst researching George Clinton’s early years as a songwriter in Detroit.

There was a crime element to show. One of the label bosses was backed by the Mafia; the other by a black numbers kingpin.

I couldn’t sell the show. For one thing, setting it in the past would make it extra expensive.

But in thinking the concept through, I’d decided that the way to make the music work would be to find actual obscure ’60s soul songs and re-record them. As opposed to hiring songwriters to create something that sounded authentic.

That was my big problem with “Dreamgirls.” The songs felt phony.

So I went searching for music.

Wanna hear some great ’60s songs that you probably never heard before? Click the titles below.

1. “I’ve Got That Feelin’ ” – Darrell Banks

2. “You’ve Changed Me” – Brenda Holloway

3. “In the Twilight Zone” – The Astors

4. “Can’t Win” – The Invincibles

5. “My Hi-Fi, Albums and Me” – Joyce Kennedy

6. “I’m Not Ashamed” – Bobby McClure

An amusing anecdote

Last night I and two other “Treme” producers dined in Studio City with filmmaker Anthony Hemingway.

I’ve known Anthony going back 10 years, when he was a first A.D. on “The Corner.”

Now he’s editing “Red Tails,” a feature film about the Tuskegee Airmen that he directed for George Lucas.

Anyway... at dinner, Anthony Hemingway related a story that should amuse any fan of “The Wire.”

He was in Washington, D.C., for Inauguration Day. And he was sitting with actor Andre Royo (“Bubbles”) and Royo’s family, about six rows back, as Barack and Michelle Obama made their way along a rope line, shaking hands.

Knowing that Obama was an avowed “Wire” fan, Hemingway urged Royo to stand up and draw Obama’s attention. Royo was reluctant, but eventually he did stand up... just when Obama was directly down front.

As Hemingway tells it, Andre Royo’s rising brought Barack Obama’s eyes up. Then Obama pointed at him and said: “You’re my dude from ‘The Wire.’ ”

“It made Andre’s life,” Hemingway told us with a laugh. Royo’s daughter was like, “Daddy, the president knows who you are!”

CORRECTION (08/17/09): I messed up this story, y’all. This incident actually took place in Prague last April... during President Obama’s visit to the Czech Republic. Hemingway and Royo were in Prague shooting “Red Tails.”

I apologize for the mistake.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Vibe magazine to relaunch

The Wall Street Journal reported today that Vibe magazine will rise again... under new ownership. (Hat-tip: Richard Prince.)

“The new owners say they plan to relaunch Vibe.com in the next few weeks,” according to the Journal.

“They intend to bring out the print edition only at the end of the year and then publish it quarterly rather than monthly, possibly increasing the frequency after 2010.”

I blogged in June about Vibe going out of business.

One of the magazine’s new owners – private investment firm InterMedia Partners – acquired “Soul Train” last year, and plans to relaunch that show in the fall.

A free Márcio Local download

More Brazilian goodness from David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label. Click here to hear “Happy Endings” by Rio’s own Márcio Local.

Márcio’s sound is called “samba soul”... and it’s smoking. His debut album is “Márcio Local Says Don Day Don Dree Don Don.”

To download the FREE MP3, click below. And below that, check out a vidclip of Márcio Local at play. (Ain’t no machines in his funk.)

“Happy Endings” (MP3)
More on this album

Tuesday 12-inch Flashback: ‘The Smurf’

In 1982, drum machines started turning up in black music... and soon they took over. A revoltin’ development, in retrospect.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Random hipness

(Hat-tip: Bold As Love.)

Q&A: Berkeley Breathed (pt. 1)

If we were to carve a Mount Rushmore in honor of cartoonists who brought hipness to the funny pages... there’d be no debate about which four.

Garry Trudeau. Berke Breathed. Bill Watterson. Aaron McGruder.

Trudeau revolutionized comic strips during the 1970s with “Doonesbury.” The ’90s belonged to Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes.” In this decade, McGruder’s “Boondocks” was the bomb.

But do you remember “Bloom County”? That one was blazing hot in the ’80s.

Berkeley Breathed ended “Bloom County” in 1989. But a Sunday spin-off strip, “Opus,” ran from 2003 to 2008. (And there was “Outland” in between.)

Nowadays, Breathed creates children’s books and is trying to get something cooking in the movie business. But I look around the internets and see that plenty of folks are still feeling “Bloom County.”

Matter fact, the entire run of “Bloom County” is being republished in book form, starting in October.

Breathed is often described as a “reclusive” guy who rarely gives interviews. Well... I interviewed him by phone in 1982, when I was in college. (I briefly published a campus magazine called This Magazine).

I’m posting an edited transcript, for the benefit of all Berke Breathed fans online. Part 1 covers his general view of the daily funnies; Part 2 will focus more on “Bloom County.”

At the time we talked, Breathed was 25 years old... just three years out of the University of Texas, where he’d created a comic strip called “The Academia Waltz.”
DAVID MILLS: Back in college, what did you figure you’d be doing now, three years after graduation?

BERKELEY BREATHED: Probably up in the Tibetan mountains taking pictures for National Geographic.

MILLS: Do you have any formal training in drawing?

BREATHED: I don’t have any art background. I’ve always just drawn for fun. And in college, it became a tool for this.

I’m more of a writer than an artist. I mean, there’s not that much art involved in drawing a comic strip, especially nowadays.

MILLS: Yeah?

BREATHED: Well, look at them. They’re drawn terribly.

That’s the only criticism I would have of comic strips nowadays. I wouldn’t say anything other than the fact that since the days of “Li’l Abner” and “Pogo” and such, the artistry in comic strips has declined rather depressingly.

MILLS: Do you think the comics pages are now more of a forum for writing, then?

BREATHED: To tell you the truth, there’s not that much about the comics page even worth talking about. I don’t read it. I never have.

MILLS: Even now you don’t read the funnies?

BREATHED: There’s nothing to read. What am I going to read? “Blondie”? You know? This stuff is 50 years old.

MILLS: When “Bloom County” first started, people noticed a striking similarity in style with “Doonesbury.” Was “Doonesbury” an influence?

BREATHED: Sure. Obviously it was. I probably wouldn’t have gotten the idea not to use those ridiculous word balloons without seeing that he didn’t have to.

In college I was exposed to “Doonesbury” because it was on the editorial page every day. But before then, anything close to comics that I really read were Feiffer and underground comics, and they had an influence on me as well.

Some people might think that “Doonesbury” is the only strip that’s influenced me. But I would say that editorial cartoons have influenced me more than anything else, at least in drawing style.

MILLS: You mention “Doonesbury” being on the editorial page. Don’t a few papers also run “Bloom County” on the editorial page?

BREATHED: Where have you seen that?

MILLS: I don’t remember exactly which paper, but I have seen “Bloom County” on the editorial page.

BREATHED: That’s too bad. That’s a real drag.

MILLS: This is news to you?

BREATHED: Well, I know that it happens sometimes. I never see the newspapers that I’m printed in.

It is too bad. It’s just a chickening out of the paper. For some reason, there’s this unwritten rule that you can’t say anything relevant or intelligent on the comics page or it upsets everybody. So they feel it’s safe to put it on the editorial page.

Well, that’s silly because the most famous and the most classic of all strips through the history of comics have always been socially commentative and politically reflective. They were just doing it in a little more subtle manner.

I think the papers are just being weenies about the whole thing.

MILLS: Is it true that papers won’t let you write about a couple living together outside of marriage?

BREATHED: That’s just more my syndicate. The comic strips are kind of new to my syndicate. They normally syndicate writers.

And sometimes they don’t agree with me as to what is perfectly permissible with most of the editors out there. And we’ve had some conflicts before, but we basically don’t anymore.

In the beginning, I couldn’t put the term “living together” in the strip, which we had problems over. But I don’t think that would happen now.

MILLS: Are there some topics that you yourself would not write about, even if you had free rein?

BREATHED: The only thing I’m not doing that I could if I was still in college doing cartoons – if this doesn’t sound frivolous – there would be more indirect sexual content. But nothing that could be construed as dirty.

Just the fact that I’m supposed to ignore that people have romantic relationships in this world is a little bit silly for the comics page.

But that’s the way it is, and I’ve accepted that. And I knew about it going into the business.

Basically, I can pretty much do what I want. Other people throughout comic history have paved the way for this kind of material. It would be a lot tougher if they hadn’t been there first.

MILLS: Let’s get back to the comics page. What do you think the daily comics should be?

BREATHED: ... I would expect to see more raw talent on the page. It doesn’t seem to be an area that people who have a great deal to offer – literarily or artistically – head to. I think they go in other directions.

Besides the quality stuff that is there – obviously there are some good cartoons – on the whole you’ve got a lot of cartoons left over from 50 years ago that syndicates are still trying to pump life into.

A lot of the new people coming up have no reason – artistically and in other ways – no reason to be there. They should be doing other things.

It’s not that hard to have a hit strip. All you have to do is come up with the right formula and one or two characters that are easily identifiable to a specific and esoteric group in society, and you can develop quite a following without even having to be very funny.

I guess you can tell I don’t have a great deal of respect for the comic strip as it exists now.... The comic pages have just not ever demanded a great deal of excellence.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Sunday, August 9, 2009

‘Doctor Prince und Mister Jackson’

The rest of this new German/French TV documentary is up on YouTube. (But probably not for long.)

George Lopez has problems.

I noticed an upsurge in traffic on this blog last night... quite odd for a Saturday. So I checked my Sitemeter.

Turns out a lot of folks were googling “George Lopez” and “Erik Estrada” and “feud”... which led them to this post from 2007. (I didn’t even mention Estrada; commenter dez did.)

This alerted me to the fact that Lopez had a new comedy special on HBO last night – “Tall, Dark & Chicano.” So I decided to watch the West Coast feed.

I’m on record with my opinion that Lopez’s 2004 Showtime special, “Why You Crying?,” was a great one. But he hasn’t been hittin’ since then, for me.

Last night, he did about 80 minutes. I laughed probably eight times. (And never at one of his many fart jokes.) Not an All-Star-caliber performance.

Deeper still, George Lopez seems to be revealing more and more of his fucked-up emotional state onstage. The man is filled with contempt. Just seething with it.

I know all comedy is hostile. But the art of standup is in disguising the hostility... or at least turning it in surprising directions.

Before I get to that, let me share with you some of Lopez’s best jokes from last night.

“Sarah Palin is Latina. Pay-leen. She has an infant and a grandkid the same age. Latina!”

“Tasers don’t work on us. When you grow up poor, you get shocked by shit every single day. Toasters, lamps...”

“We didn’t have a ‘baby-proof’ house. Sometimes a 2-year-old with a hammer woke your ass up from a nap!”

And he cracked on Lou Dobbs pretty good. Dobbs hates illegal immigration... and he’s married to a Latina. Lopez said: “Just ’cause you can’t control yours, don’t throw us all out!”

Okay now... to the straight-up hostility. His relentless mockery of white people is tiresome and unfunny. (Come on, George. At least give white folks credit for inventing transplant surgery, you kidneyless bastard.)

Lopez also started and ended this live concert – in front of 14,000 fans in San Antonio – by bragging, “I sold this motherfucker out! In a down economy!”

People cheered, but I wouldn’t have. That was George Lopez expressing contempt for his audience. Dude, these people paid money to see you. Don’t congratulate yourself; thank them... and then work to please.

Anyway, at the end of the concert, he took another swipe at Erik Estrada:

“Even novelas don’t want you... and they’ll hire anybody.”

Why is Lopez mad at Erik Estrada? Because when he was 17 years old and Estrada was a star on “CHiPs,” Estrada wouldn’t shake his hand.

Thirty years later, Lopez is rich, Erik Estrada is broke, and George is still holding a grudge!

That’s. Fucked. Up.

UPDATE (08/09/09): Holy shit. It’s 8:30 p.m. Pacific Time, and it’s happening again. Google is pointing people here 50 at a time. They’re all searching George Lopez + Erik Estrada.

Must’ve just been shown on HBO again.

Chicks with ukuleles

Back by popular demand! (What, the voices inside my head don’t count?)

Friday, August 7, 2009

A rhetorical question

Who knew Hillary could get down like this? (@ 0:26)

New cuts from KJ Denhert, Georgia Anne Muldrow

More new music from artists I’ve blogged about before. Today: two progressive singer-songwriters... one’s jazzy, one’s hip-hoppish.

Click here to hear “Choose Your Weapon” on my Vox blog. This is KJ Denhert.

The track is available only through Denhart’s website. I must tell you... she wants $1.98 for it. And the FizzKicks Media Store (which I hadn’t heard of before) took me a while to figure out. But there it is.

Now to Georgia Anne Muldrow, whose album “Umsindo” came out last month. Click here to hear “Sermonette.”

The album is available at iTunes, Amazon and eMusic.

Jackie Mason is nutty as fuck.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A free Homemade Jamz Blues Band download

I first blogged about Tupelo’s own Ryan, Kyle and Taya Perry – the Homemade Jamz Blues Band – last summer.

The band’s second album is out. It’s called “I Got Blues for You.” And I got a FREE MP3 for you.

Click here to hear “Rumors” on my Vox blog. To download it, click the song title below.

Ryan Perry, all of 17 years old, is a total beast on the guitar.

If you’re in New York City or L.A., you’ve got a chance to see Homemade Jamz perform in the near future. The band will play the Hudson River Park Blues & Bar-B-Que Festival on August 23... and the Long Beach Blues Festival on September 5.

“Rumors” (MP3)
More on this album

Bet you can’t watch this just once.

(Hat-tip: Comb & Razor.)

Lady-killer

George Sodini, the loveless nut who gunned down women in a Pittsburgh gym and then killed himself, had a couple of videos up on YouTube. Yep. He posted them a year ago.

Hurry up and watch before YouTube finds a reason to take ’em down.

Random hipness

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corp. gives up the funk.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Playlist: George Clinton... Icon.

BMI, which represents songwriters and music publishers, will salute George Clinton next month as a “BMI Icon.”

Recent recipients of this honor include Gamble & Huff, the Bee Gees, and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

“Icon” status reflects one’s “unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers.” George will get a nice trophy.

Me and some friends went to Cleveland in 1997 to witness Parliament-Funkadelic’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s always nice when Dr. Funkenstein’s special gifts are acknowledged by the earthlings.

Talk about “influence”... check out my poppin’ playlist of P-Funk covers! It includes jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove (The RH Factor), gospel’s Blind Boys of Alabama, and classical-trained violinist Lili Haydn.

Oh, also... Happy Belated Birthday to G. Clinton, who two weeks ago turned 69.

1. “Color Me Funky” – Weapon of Choice

2. “The Goose” – Fishbone

3. “I’ll Stay” (feat. D’Angelo) – The RH Factor

4. “You and Your Folks/23rd Psalm” – The Blind Boys of Alabama

5. “Maggot Brain” – Lili Haydn


Random wrongness