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April 2011
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June 2011

what i watched last week

The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955). #31 on my Facebook Faves list. Just a reminder, if you’d like to read the reviews for those films, let me know and I’ll add you to the Facebook group. #39 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 10/10.

Shoot the Piano Player (François Truffaut, 1960). #33 on Phil’s Facebook list. A fun film about melancholy, and perhaps my second-favorite Truffaut after Jules and Jim. Charles Aznavour’s pianist shuts himself off from emotion because things go wrong when he gets involved, and we see just how wrong they can be. Yet Truffaut’s style is playful; he seems to try anything that crosses his mind. The director exhibits the qualities the title character avoids, and the director wins. #219 on the TSPDT list. 9/10.

Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976). #30 on my Facebook list. #26 on the TSPDT list. 10/10.

The Conspirator (Robert Redford, 2010). This is a fairly straightforward, low-key film about the real-life trial of Mary Surratt, accused of complicity in the assassination of Lincoln. Redford approaches the facts of the case with dogged assurance, but Robin Wright as Surratt is asked to submerge her emotions for the most part, so the film lacks punch. Meanwhile, Redford blatantly piles on the "it's just like America after 9/11" comparisons; in the relative absence of emotion elsewhere in the film, those comparisons leap out at the viewer. You leave the theater thinking less about Mary Surratt and President Lincoln and more about the Patriot Act and Presidents Bush and Obama. 6/10.


I'm sitting in our hotel room in Santa Cruz. So far we've done all the same things we always do. When we got here, Robin read while I watched sports (usually baseball, but this time it was Barca-Man U). Then we went to the nearest Mexican restaurant. Then we stopped at a market to get a few things. Now we're waiting to go to the movies. Tomorrow night we'll eat at Shadowbrook. Same old thing.


I'm sitting in our hotel room in Santa Cruz. So far we've done all the same things we always do. When we got here, Robin read while I watched sports (usually baseball, but this time it was Barca-Man U). Then we went to the nearest Mexican restaurant. Then we stopped at a market to get a few things. Now we're waiting to go to the movies. Tomorrow night we'll eat at Shadowbrook. Same old thing.

music friday: dan hicks & his hot licks, “i scare myself”

I’ve told my anecdotes about this song so many times, even I am a bit tired of them. Quickie version: the night before our wedding, I saw Hicks and the Licks singing this on some late-night TV show, and realized it spoke for me. So at our wedding the next day, a wedding that took maybe five minutes (Judge Rose said a few words, Robin and I said a few words, the Judge married us), when it was my turn to say something personal and specific to the day (my “few words”), I pulled a piece of paper out of my pocket and read the lyrics to “I Scare Myself.”

What I’m thinking about for this post is Dan Hicks, specifically, why wasn’t he more popular? He wasn’t a critical darling … he doesn’t appear on best-of lists. Christgau gave one of the Hot Licks albums a B+. The All-Music Guide is a bit kinder, but doesn’t hand out any 5-star ratings.

The first Hot Licks album was considered a botch, although I liked it OK, and it did have the first version of “I Scare Myself.” For the next three albums, the band was reconfigured into the “classic” lineup: Hicks, Sid Page on violin, Jaime Leopold on bass, and Maryann Price and Naomi Ruth Eisenberg on vocals (Naomi also playing violin). They released a live album, a studio album that included an updated version of “I Scare Myself” that became the standard, and finally another studio album that was more popular than the others and led to Hicks appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone.

So, of course, he broke up the band.

He’s never quit playing or recording, and he’s made a bit of a comeback in the 21st century. He has loyal fans here in the Bay Area. But he’s not going to be on the cover of Rolling Stone again.

I’ve always thought Hicks didn’t get quite the attention he deserved because his music was hard to define. It’s jazzy, but swing-era jazzy, not anything that’s come since then. And it’s mostly acoustic, and the songs are ironic in a folkish kind of way. Hicks is a fine rhythm guitarist … he started as a drummer … and his music generally moves with an enthusiastic beat (i.e., it swings), but he isn’t up there acting like Eric Clapton. He’s often very funny, but not always in a friendly way. Like I say, you can’t define his music, and that was a marketing problem in the 1970s just as it is today.

Here is the classic lineup from 1972 … there is some odd laughter in the background, and the poster guesses, probably correctly, that this is a rehearsal for their appearance on Flip Wilson’s show. The songs are “By Hook or By Crook” and “Shorty Falls in Love.”

Here’s their actual appearance on that show, with “Milk Shakin’ Mama”:

Here is the first recorded version of “I Scare Myself” … it’s the one I knew best at the time of our wedding:

And here are those lyrics I read at my wedding … they are just as accurate today as they were in 1973:

I scare myself
just thinking about you
I scare myself
when I'm without you
I scare myself
the moments that you're gone
I scare myself
when I let my thoughts run

And when they're runnin'
I keep thinking of you
and when they're runnin'
what can I do?

I scare myself
and I don't mean lightly
I scare myself
it can get frightenin'
I scare myself
to think what I could do
I scare myself
it's some kinda voodoo

and with that voodoo
I keep thinking of you
and with that voodoo
what can I do?

but it's oh so, so, so different
when we're together
and I'm oh so so much calmer, I feel better
for the stars have crossed our paths forever
and the sooner that you realize it, the better

then I'll be with you
and I won't scare myself
and I'll know what to do
and I won't scare myself
and then I'll think of you
and I won't scare myself
and then my thoughts'll run
and I won't scare myself


I just submitted the grades for my spring class. Since at the present time, I have no more classes scheduled at ARC, it might be a good time to thank all of the people who have done so much for me over the years.

I am the kind of amiable but befuddled teacher who never remembers to do my paperwork. I have spent time in six departments at three different schools, and in every single case, there was someone who covered my ass. Schools can’t run without qualified staff, yet most professors are too full of themselves to say thanks. So if any of you are reading this, thanks from someone who needed your help far more than I should have.

Being able to give a keynote speech to a gathering of counselors remains one of the things I’m most proud of … it gave me a chance to thank them in person. I had great counselors as an undergrad, I had great counselors as a grad student, and I worked with great counselors as a professor. Their job is vital to the success of students.

I have been lucky to work with some fine fellow teachers, first as a student learning from my professors, later working together with other graduate students, and finally as a professor myself with graduate students working with me. I’m not sure I was very good at the latter, but I hope my respect was obvious. I am proud to say that many of the graduate students who worked with me have gone on to successful careers, not just at universities, but in other fields, some related to academia, some not. If I had any useful influence on even one of them, I’ve done something right with my life.

I’ve also been lucky to work with some terrific students. A few have become friends over the years, and nowadays, thanks to Facebook, I’m able to keep track of more of them than I used to. Again, I’m proud to say that many of those students have gone on to success in various fields, and here, too, I hope I’ve had even the smallest influence on their successes. Without students, there are no schools and no need for teachers.

The above reads like a requiem, and it’s probably premature. But you never know, and it’s better to say these things now than to have time run out before they’ve been said.

what i watched last week

Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989). #33 on my Facebook Fave Fifty list. #176 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of top 1000 films of all time.

Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972). #32 on my Facebook list. #273 on the TSPDT list.

Lost in America (Albert Brooks, 1985). Phil had this at #38 on his list. He and Jeff have given me some grief for assigning a rating of 6/10 to every one of their movies, so perhaps I should break that streak here. I liked this one, although I feel the opposite of Phil in some ways. He said he rarely watches comedies, but some scenes in Lost in America "bring me to tears I laugh so hard". I watch comedies on a fairly regular basis, although I don’t usually like them very much; I liked Lost in America, but I didn’t laugh very often. It reminded me of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but a friendlier version (and, of course, Brooks’ brother is a semi-regular on that show).

Country Strong (Shana Feste, 2010). You’ll be reminded of many other, better movies while watching Country Strong (most obviously, All About Eve and Nashville). Country Strong is an unambitious movie where actors are singers and the only real singer (Tim McGraw) doesn’t sing a note. Yet it’s not as bad as it sounds, and if it weren’t for an unfortunate melodramatic ending, I might have given it a higher rating. I was interested in seeing Garrett Hedlund, since I hadn’t seen him before and he’s Dean Moriarty in the upcoming On the Road … he’s fine, although I still have no idea how he’ll be as Dean. Gwyneth Paltrow inspires such hatred in people, and I don’t get it … part of me wants to shout, “be nice to Blythe Danner’s daughter!” She can do everything well, even if she’s not spectacular at anything (even her vaunted looks are more “prettiest girl I’ve seen” than “the most beautiful woman of all time”). Oddly enough, despite using actors as musicians, Country Strong treats the music with more respect than, say, Nashville, a far more ambitious (and vastly better) film that nonetheless didn’t bother to get actors who could actually, you know, sing. Paltrow, Hedlund, and Leighton Meester do fine; if they aren’t exactly Miranda Lambert, they’re a lot better than Henry Gibson singing “200 Years.” Too bad the movie isn’t much.

meet the new boss

From the Associated Press:

Top congressional leaders agreed Thursday to a four-year extension of the anti-terrorist Patriot Act, the controversial law passed after the Sept. 11 attacks that governs the search for terrorists on American soil.

The deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner calls for a vote before May 27, when parts of the current act expire. The idea is to pass the extension with as little debate as possible to avoid a protracted and familiar argument over the expanded power the law gives to the government.

great rassling

Randy Savage’s untimely death reminded me that today is the tenth anniversary of the greatest rassling match I ever attended. Raw came to San Jose, and the tag-team title owned by Triple H and Stone Cold Steve Austin was on the line against Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho. It promised to be a good matchup. Triple H and Austin were not very good technical rasslers, but they had charisma and knew how to play the audience (Triple H in particular was very good at building a dramatic narrative within a match). Benoit and Jericho could take care of the technical side … Jericho (who recently competed on Dancing with the Stars), had both skills and personality, while Benoit was an awful interviewee but was arguably the best all-around in-ring grappler of his day. He had technique, and like Triple H, he knew how to construct a match. All four participants had appeared the day before in a pay-per-view, so they could be forgiven if they were tired and/or hurt, and it seemed unlikely that any big storyline would occur just a day after the PPV. But a good match was certainly a possibility.

The match turned out to be legendary. Not only for the action, which was top-of-the-line, but also because of the injury Triple H incurred near the end of the match. He tore his left quadricep muscle … you’ll see him start dragging his leg … he ended up being out of action for 8 months, yet on that night, he not only finished the match, but allowed himself to be placed in Jericho’s “Walls of Jericho,” which puts stress on precisely the place where Triple H was injured.

By the end of the match, all four stars had pulled off their signature finishing moves, but for various nefarious purposes, none did the job.

Benoit was a favorite of mine, and when he later killed himself and his family, I found myself stepping back from the game. I haven’t paid much attention to rassling the last few years. But I still remember that night in San Jose.

Here is the second half of the match. Triple H blows the leg muscle just past 6:20.