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music friday

Where did this come from? I was listening to a great Spotify playlist from Sasha Frere-Jones, “Perfect Recordings”. I took ten tracks from shuffle play and checked the artists on my page. This page tracks what I listen to, so if I enter, say, Sly and the Family Stone, it tells me that while “Everyday People” is the most-played song by the entire community, my most-played track is “Sing a Simple Song”. Now, if you asked me what my favorite Sly song was, it wouldn’t be “Sing a Simple Song”. But there’s no debating the part where I apparently listen to that one more than others. So, here are ten songs, in each case featuring my most-played track by the artist in question. These are not necessarily the songs on Sasha's playlist. (For what it’s worth, “Kerosene” comes closest to being my favorite song of the artist.)

by request: the blue angel (josef von sternberg, 1930)

The film that made Marlene Dietrich a star, and the first in her long association with Sternberg. Sternberg claims she got the part because she acted bored during her screen test, thinking she wasn’t going to get the part, an attitude that was right in line with Sternberg’s idea for the character. The screen test exists, and you can see in the first 30 seconds that this woman has something special. She knows how to smoke a cigarette on camera, she is completely unfazed by her surroundings, it’s all acting but she makes it seem real. Dietrich was in her late-20s and had been in movies for a decade. Some of that early period shows up here ... while with Sternberg’s help, Dietrich later became the woman we know today, that transformation had yet to happen. She’s bulky, with thighs that could kill you (and you’d die happy). The plot may be foolish, but you can certainly understand why Emil Jannings’ aging professor would fall for her.

There are at least two versions ... German-language and English-language versions were filmed simultaneously. (It was the first talkie from Germany.) I saw the English version some years ago, and remember little except it seemed stilted next to the other. I’d say the attitude towards sex was matter-of-fact, and indeed, Dietrich as Lola Lola is a part of that. Except Lola/Dietrich has something special, she knows it, she uses it, and despite Jannings being the “star”, the film is Dietrich’s. There are glimpses of a Lola who cares a little bit for the professor, but in the end, he comes off as a momentary play thing. He, of course, thinks theirs is a romance for the ages.

The latter part of the movie goes by too quickly. The lead up to the professor’s downfall is gradual, but once Lola loses interest, it’s barely any time at all before the professor is in his clown makeup, as if he was trying out for Freaks.

The look of the film is straight out of German expressionism, while the use of sound is interesting to a modern audience without seeming quite right (which is just off-putting enough to add to the distortions of the visuals).

Ultimately, we return to The Blue Angel for Dietrich. It has a place in film history, but beyond that, you have a moderately intriguing movie with a Marlene Dietrich who captures the screen in her every scene. #499 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.

taste preferences, or, you are what you eat

I just finished a Facebook meme, The 80s Music Challenge, where once a day for a week I posted a favorite tune from the 1980s. With each post, I also nominated someone else to participate. I’ve found their subsequent posts to be fascinating. Most of them haven’t finished all seven tunes yet, but here is what we have so far. I have no idea exactly what we can learn from this, but it seems like a peek into the lives of these people.

The first person I nominated was my sister Sue. She said the 80s were known by her kids for “riding in the car with Mom” songs. She’s posted five tunes:

  • Huey Lewis and the News, “The Heart of Rock & Roll”
  • Wham!, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”
  • Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You”
  • Taylor Dayne, “Don’t Rush Me”
  • Kenny Loggins, “Footloose”

Next, I nominated my old friend Marc:

  • Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Southern Cross”
  • U2, “I Will Follow”
  • U2, “With or Without You”
  • Bruce Springsteen, “The River”
  • Dire Straits (to be honest, I’m not sure which tune he chose)
  • George Harrison, “Got My Mind Set on You”

Then came a friend from way back, Barbara:

  • Electric Light Orchestra, “Calling America”
  • Ozzy Osbourne, “Crazy Train”

I tagged fellow Bruce fan Eileen:

  • The Go-Go’s, “You Can’t Walk in Your Sleep (If You Can’t Sleep)”
  • Dexys Midnight Runners, “Come On Eileen”
  • Steve Winwood, “Higher Love”
  • Van Halen, “Jump”

And Ray L:

  • Fischer-Z, “So Long”
  • Wall of Voodoo, “Back in Flesh”
  • Our Daughter’s Wedding, “Lawnchairs”
  • Public Image Ltd, “Careering”
  • Blancmange, “Living on the Ceiling”
  • Screaming Blue Messiahs, “I Wanna Be a Flintstone”
  • Jerry Harrison, “Rev It Up”

Don’t you feel like you know these people, just a little bit, after seeing their lists?

OK, here are the seven tunes I chose ... analyze this!

  • Cameo, “Word Up!”
  • Laurie Anderson, “O Superman (For Massenet)”
  • Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, “The Message”
  • The Go-Go’s, “Our Lips Are Sealed”
  • Eric B. and Rakin, “Paid in Full (Seven Minutes of Madness – The Coldcut Remix)
  • Pretenders, “Precious”
  • Bruce Springsteen, “Brilliant Disguise”

the greatest

In a post about honorifics, I wrote:

You know what I really find attractive? The honorific “Champ” when it’s given to a boxing champion. I love that no one is called “Champ” unless they have actually earned it. Even more, I like that you can never lose the title, as a referent if not literally. Even after you are no longer the literal champion, you remain “Champ”. So Muhammad Ali is “Champ” ... George Foreman is “Champ” ... they will never not be “Champ”.

I’ve heard this a lot in the last couple of days, as fighters from the past are interviewed about Ali. If they were ever champions in the literal sense, they are still called “Champ” today. I just heard Bob Ley call Larry Holmes “Champ” during an interview.

They are all “Champ”. But only one of them is called “The Greatest”.


More than once, I’ve told stories about the year we lived on Telegraph Avenue. We’re talking 1974-75, and ... well, I wrote about it more than ten years ago, check out “Telegraph Avenue Anecdotes”.

On that post, I wrote:

There was other stuff that happened ... the night Ali beat Foreman, people celebrated in the street, and when Saigon fell/was liberated in '75, two different parades started up, one coming down Telegraph towards campus, the other coming downhill on Haste, and when the two parades, who couldn't see each other as we could from our window, met up at the corner of Telegraph and Haste, there was great fanfare.

In 2005, some 30 years after the fact, I seem to have my memories straight. But another decade has clouded my brain. When I heard that Muhammad Ali was on life support, I thought back on his importance, and remembered a Telegraph Avenue anecdote. But I remembered it wrong, confusing the two events mentioned above. So my most recent memory was that when Ali beat Foreman, two parades started up, and when they met, there was great fanfare.

I think there’s a reason why I combined the two memories into one. In 1975, the marchers were chanting “Ho! Ho! Ho Chi Minh!” It was a clear marker of a crucial moment in world history. In 1974, the revelers were shouting “Ali! Ali! Ali!” In its own way, that night was a crucial moment, as well. For Muhammad Ali transcended his sport.

I don’t know of a single person from the world of sports who was as important in the world outside of sports as was Muhammad Ali. This is why the phrase “Greatest Of All Time” should probably just be retired, because there is only one Greatest. The closest thing I can think of to Ali is Martina Navratilova, but whatever her impact on tennis, even a great like Martina takes a back seat to Ali.

I used to follow boxing. There is something about a big championship bout that entices and thrills. But then Ali got Parkinson’s. And as far as I know, no connection has ever been proven between Ali’s boxing career and the later development of Parkinson’s. But the damage was done, whether I can pinpoint a correlation or not. The three fights with Joe Frazier were enough on their own to destroy a man. The fights at the end of Ali’s career, when he could no longer float like a butterfly, put finished to what the Frazier fights had started.

I have great respect for the way Muhammad Ali kept on as his disease worsened. But whenever I saw him, and thought about the brilliant light of his early years, I knew I could no longer praise boxing.

music friday: the 1980s music challenge

I’m participating in a Facebook meme, The 80s Music Challenge (“Post a favorite 1980s tune for each of seven days. Nominate someone to do the same.”). Here are ten tunes, one for each year of the 1980s. I won’t list any tune that I used for my Challenge. (All quoted material from the inevitable Wikipedia.)

1980: Kurtis Blow, “The Breaks”. “It was the first certified gold rap song for Hip Hop, and the second certified gold 12 inch single in the history of music.”

1981: Black Flag, “Rise Above”.Damaged ... has been recognized as a punk classic and one of the most influential punk records ever made”.

1982: Pretenders, “My City Was Gone”. “It has been used as the opening theme 'bumper' for Rush Limbaugh's popular American talk radio program since 1984”.

1983: Cyndi Lauper, “Money Changes Everything”. “It has been released in over 27 variations across the world”.

1984: Ashford and Simpson, “Solid”. “In 2009, Ashford & Simpson remade the song in honor of President Barack Obama, calling it ‘Solid (As Barack)’.”

1985: The Cramps, “Can Your Pussy Do the Dog? “The album was dedicated to Ricky Nelson”.

1986: Public Image Ltd., “Rise”. “The song contains the phrase 'May The Road Rise With You', which is an old Irish blessing.”

1987: Los Lobos, “La Bamba”. “When the Los Lobos cover of Valens' version peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1987, Valens was retroactively credited with writing a No. 1 single.”

1988: Lucinda Williams, “Passionate Kisses”. “Carpenter's hit cover adheres closely in tempo, feel, and instrumentation to Williams' original recording similarly relying on the catchy guitar riff to anchor the record.”

1989: Bonnie Raitt, “Thing Called Love”.Nick of Time topped the Billboard 200 chart, selling five million copies, and won three Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year”.