music friday: dan hicks, grateful dead, alison krauss

Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, Fillmore West, July 1970. My memories of Dan Hicks come at three different times of my life. In 1970, I saw him and the Licks for the first time. I didn't really notice him ... Sha Na Na was the headliners, and we knew nothing about them, so that's what we remembered. In 1973, the night before our wedding, I saw Dan and the band on ABC In Concert, one of a few late-late night shows featuring rock music that popped up in the 70s. That night, the performers were Miles Davis, Albert King, Slade, and Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. The latter performed three songs, including the classic "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away" and the great "I Scare Myself". I knew these songs because I had the band's first album ... had it back when I saw them in 1970. I was so taken with "I Scare Myself" that I wrote the words down on a piece of paper, and at the wedding the next day, pulled that paper out of my pocket and read the lyrics to the attendees. I told this story the third time I saw Dan, when he "and Friends" did a show in Rodeo. He was drunk, the show was a disaster, he eventually walked off the stage. But before the show I found him sprawled across a few seats in the theater (which was a movie theater, as I recall), and when I told him about seeing him on TV before my wedding, he started laughing, a slow but steady drunken laugh ... "heh, heh, heh." One of the Lickettes was Naomi Ruth Eisenberg, and by the time we saw him in Rodeo, my wife was working at a fabric store owned by Naomi's brother. So we got her autograph while Dan sat on stage bemoaning his fate and commenting on the action where his backup singer was giving autographs.

Here they are on the Flip Wilson TV show. Naomi is on Dan's left. The violinist is Symphony Sid Page, who was with Dan from the start, and who has played with just about everyone, including a stint in Sly and the Family Stone.

The Grateful Dead, Oakland Coliseum, October 1976. The only time I saw the Dead was at a Day on the Green they co-headlined with The Who. To be honest, I was there for The Who (this is when Moonie was still alive), but the Dead were good, and while I had never seen them, their shows were regularly on local public television, and they already had lots of lve albums, so they weren't exactly unfamiliar to me. Here's "Sugar Magnolia" from that show:

Alison Krauss and Union Station, Greek Theatre, 20??. The exact date escapes me, but I know it was in the 2000s, because Dan Tyminski of Union Station told a story about doing the vocals for George Clooney in O Brother, Where Are Thou?, which came out in late 2000. I had long loved Alison Krauss, and I was glad we had the chance to see her live. The show lacked moments of ecstacy ... it was consistently wonderful, like Krauss' voice and fiddle playing, from start to finish, but it wasn't ever more than that. Doesn't really matter, it was a fine performance. Here she sings what many of us consider her greatest ... she sang this at the White House for the Obamas:

Bonus: Dan Hicks and an enormous bunch of Hot Licks from his career, performing "I Scare Myself" for his 60th birthday (Symphony Sid is the third of the violinists to solo):


geezer cinema: the book of eli (the hughes brothers, 2010)

This is the fifth movie I've seen from The Hughes Brothers, but for some reason it's the first one I've written about. Which is too bad, because The Book of Eli is at or near the bottom of the list when it comes to their movies. Menace II Society was a touchstone, with a terrifying performance by Larenz Tate. Dead Presidents (also with Tate) surprised me ... I thought it was even better than Menace. From Menace II Society in 1993 to From Hell in 2001, the brothers (who are twins) directed four movies together. For reasons not completely clear, they have only directed one movie together in the last 20 years, The Book of Eli. I wish I could say it was a return to form.

The brothers (and casting director Mindy Marin) put together a solid cast, with a couple of reliable leads in Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman, strong support from Mila Kunis in the female lead, and an intriguing list of players in smaller parts: Ray "Titus Pullo" Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Frances de la Tour and Michael Gambon as an old couple that haven't lost their fire, even Tom Waits and an uncredited Malcolm McDowell. None of them are wasted, but it's really Denzel's show, with Oldman doing a good job of underplaying the villain, something he doesn't always do.

The story, a post-apocalyptic tale that goes mostly unexplained, reminded me of a lot of other movies, most of them better than The Book of Eli. There are a few twists near the end that I won't spoil (at least one of which, I didn't get until I read about the movie afterwards). The fight sequences are well done, with Denzel doing his own martial arts stunts. If you ended up spending two hours watching this movie, you wouldn't hate yourself afterwards. But you might wonder why you bothered. For me, there wasn't much to inspire. If you want to be surprised by a movie you might not know, check out Dead Presidents.


safety last! (fred c. newmeyer and sam taylor, 1923)

This is the thirty-third film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 33 is called "Hosts Past and Present Week".

Another Season Challenge has come and gone. As always, we must pay tribute to the hosts of Season's past for creating and maintaining the Challenge before I got my grubby mitts on it. Last year I had this separated into two weeks, but I figured I'd condense them to make room for another challenge. I hope you've enjoyed your time during this Season Challenge, and I look forward to seeing you all next time!

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from either Monsieur Flynn's Movies to See Before Your End Credits listkurt k's Personal Cannon list, or my own A Hundred or So of My Favorites list.

This was my very first Harold Lloyd movie, which amazes me, considering how many Keaton and Chaplin silents I've seen. I don't know how typical Safety Last! is of his work, so I hesitate to draw conclusions about Lloyd just yet. But there were a few things that struck me as different compared to the other two silent comedians.

First, I wasn't prepared for the way Lloyd (who plays a character listed as "The Boy", but whose name on his paycheck reads "Harold Lloyd") is a fairly normal guy. Chaplin is the Tramp, milking the sentimentality and always good for some thoughtful visual gags. Keaton, my favorite, is the blank-face existential hero. Lloyd? He's a guy, "The Boy", and no more than that. In Safety Last!, he wants to prove himself to his prospective wife, so he goes to the big city to get an impressive job. Chaplin might have wanted to impress a girl, but he was always going to be The Tramp. Keaton's relationship to women was complicated to say the least ... think of Seven Chances, with Buster, running away from hordes of prospective wives, starting an avalanche in the process. Lloyd is much less neurotic than Keaton. More than the others, he is an Everyman.

His stunts, which are what he remains famous for, are less chaotic than Keaton's. Keaton planned his stunts tightly, but they often looked as if he'd just thrown them together, or like they had happened while the camera was rolling. Lloyd lets us see the planning. It's one of the reasons he is so impressive, but I think he lacks the edge of the others. His most famous gag, which appears in Safety Last!, is amazing, a talking point well past when you've seen the film (that he is still remembered for it almost 100 years later speaks for itself), and it always looks perfectly planned. This takes nothing away from Lloyd's feats, but it does feel different.

I'm glad I finally got around to watching one of Lloyd's movies, and I'd like to see more of them. But I don't think I'll ever have the love for him that I do for Keaton.

This is the final picture in this year's Letterboxd Challenge, and I'm already looking forward to next year's. Among the movies that really came out of nowhere for me, so that I not only loved them, but I was surprised I loved them (let's face it, I hadn't heard of them) were The Lure and Furie. Let's revisit Furie one last time ... here we learn that you should never kidnap a child when Veronica Ngo is her mom: