Previous month:
January 2019
Next month:
March 2019

music friday: patti smith at the boarding house, 1976

43 years ago today, we saw Patti Smith for the first time, at the Boarding House, which sat 300. It was a couple of months after the release of Horses. Noel Redding, former bass player for Jimi Hendrix, was the opening act.

It was an interesting show, of course. She did several covers, including two Velvet Underground songs. Only four songs from her then-current album, along with two from the subsequent album, Radio Ethopia, and even one from Easter. I remember she had star quality, and thought the band was only OK ... by the next time we saw them, the band was much better. Here is the setlist:

  • We're Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together
  • Privilege
  • Ain't It Strange
  • Kimberly
  • Redondo Beach
  • Free Money
  • Pale Blue Eyes/Louie Louie
  • Pumping
  • Time Is on My Side
  • Flying Saucers Rock and Roll/Poem/Gloria
  • My Generation

And here is an audio-only bootleg of the show, which was simulcast on local radio:

1984 addendum

Should have thought to include this in the TT post:


The captions are a little blurry, so:

  • Upper left, "The withered old prole tells her story."
  • Upper right, "Julia flirts while Winston reads."
  • Middle left, "Winston and Julia are caught together."
  • Middle right, "Big Brother's 'Exiles'."

And in the group photo at the bottom, which is of the acting group from my senior year, you can see a few friends of the blog. That's Robin Smith in the front, second from right. In the back row, sitting next to each other (#5-6 from the left) are the future Dub Debrie, and Tina Sellars who was then Gooch. On Tina's left is Lynette Shaw, later a pioneer in legalizing marijuana and once the Libertarian candidate for Lt. Governor of California. I feel like this is not the full picture ... for one thing, I'm not in it.

Also, here's a picture of me getting made up for my role in 1984:

Steven in makeup 1984

A few other mementos I can get to easily ... all from high school, there are no pictures as far as I know of me in junior-high plays. From Inherit the Wind ... that's me as the William Jennings Bryan character.

Inherit the wind

This is from My Three Angels, which was made into the movie We're No Angels on two occasions, 1955 when Aldo Ray played my character, and 1989, which I haven't seen but I think maybe Sean Penn played my part. In the picture, that's me in the middle.


[Edited to add this photo from Arsenic and Old Lace ... I played the Boris Karloff character, and am in the back, behind the guy who is in ropes.]

Arsenic and old lace

throwback thursday to 1970

Once again, a cut-and-paste from an old post (comment, actually) where I described my final stage performance as an actor. I took drama from 7th through 12th grade. My first play was The Wizard of Oz ... I was 11 years old, and played The Scarecrow. Don't remember much about it, but I think I was already establishing myself as the guy who knew not only my own lines, but everyone else's. And in 7th grade, knowing your lines is all that can be asked of you. My last play was 1984, where I played the "hero", Winston Smith. It ran for three nights, the last of which was 49 years ago today, February 14, 1970. Here is what I wrote back in 2007:

The last play I was in was 1984, where I played Winston Smith. It was done in the round, so there were no blind spots where we could trick the audience, plus they were very close to us. Near the end, as I'm being tortured/reprogrammed, I say the wrong thing and I get smacked in the head for my mistake. During rehearsal, the guy would be standing in front of me, I'd see the fist coming, and I could time my flinch. I guess I was flinching too soon or something, because the director decided to have the guy be standing behind me when he smacked me, so the audience would think I didn't see it coming. We had some cue to let me know when it was coming, but it didn't matter ... my flinches were even more poorly timed because I was scared. So finally I told the guy I was willing to take one for the team ... and for the actual performances, he'd walk behind me, I'd say the wrong thing, he's smack me one ... and I wouldn't move an inch, because I preferred getting clubbed than flinching like a wussy in front of an audience.

Thankfully, we only did three performances.

Not sure what video I can use to liven things up for this post. How about this one?

lesser-known 1990 films

Catherine Stebbins asked on Twitter, "i need you to recommend me lesser known films from 1990". I went to MovieLens, which has stored 2,178 of my movie ratings, and asked it to sort those ratings by the difference between my rating and the average rating, where I liked it more than others.

Here are the top nine, with my rating and the average MovieLens user's rating, on a scale of 5:

Bullet in the Head (4.5, 3.52)

Arachnophobia (3.5, 2.76)

Pump Up the Volume (4.0, 3.5)

Close-Up (4.5, 4.07)

Total Recall (1990) (4.0, 3.6)

GoodFellas (4.5, 4.18)

An Angel at My Table (4.0, 3.74)

Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael (3.0, 2.78)

The Godfather: Part III (3.5, 3.45)

This "method" isn't perfect. I may have liked Roxy Carmichael more than the average person, but I didn't really like it anyway. Close-Up and GoodFellas are movies I liked more than the average person, but the average person liked them a lot, too. The first two movies on this list stand out, though, the first because while it is fairly popular, I am way ahead of everyone on it, the second because it's mostly junk but I liked it OK nonetheless. So what do we take from this? If you haven't seen them, watch Bullet in the Head and Arachnophobia.

revisiting chungking express (wong kar-wai, 1994)

This was a bit of a test in a couple of ways. First, it's the latest Movie of the Week on the upcoming Criterion Channel, so I felt obliged to stream it, even though I own the Criterion Blu-ray. Second, I wanted to try out my new computer with its 4k graphics. This was also a stretch, since the Channel wasn't in 4k, so the movie probably looks better on the TV in Blu-ray. But I had to play with my new toy.

I wrote about Chungking Express before, and outside of liking it even more this time, I don't have much to add. Interesting to note how critical opinion changes ... when I wrote about the film in 2010, it was #320 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time. Now it has moved up to #214. This reflects my own opinion, since, as I noted back then, I've liked Chungking Express more every time I've seen it. Brigitte Lin and Tony Leung are great, but I expect no less from those great actors. (Leung really is in my pantheon ... I've given my highest rating to In the Mood for Love, Hard Boiled, and Red Cliff, and have never given one of his movies a bad rating ... his average is 8.5/10.) Faye Wong is such a bright spot ... she was/is a singer, she had done some acting, mostly on TV, but Chungking Express was her breakout role in movies. (She has only acted in a few features since.) She commands the screen, and being able to do this when sharing a scene with Tony Leung isn't easy.

One of my favorite film-based videos is this one, created out of Faye Wong's hit version of "Dreams" by The Cranberries:

It's funny, in the movie, the song most identified with Faye is "California Dreaming", but it's her version of "Dreams" that has always stuck with me.

It amazes me that Chungking Express is now 25 years old. The actors are so young ... Tony Leung was 32, Faye Wong was 25, Takeshi Kaneshiro (unfairly getting less attention than the other stars) was 21, and Brigitte Lin, the veteran, was 40.

How did the test go? The Criterion Channel picked a good one for their second Movie of the Week, and the new 4k 27" screen looked great, even in a non-4k film.

gumshoe (stephen frears, 1971)

Wanted to watch something with Albert Finney in honor of his passing. Looking at his past work, I found I liked the movies best where he was a supporting character: Traffic, Skyfall, Erin Brockovich. There's one I liked a lot when it came out, but haven't seen since: Shoot the Moon. And there are ones that are highly regarded which I didn't care for: Miller's CrossingBig Fish. I chose an obscure one I hadn't heard of: Gumshoe.

Turns out Gumshoe is one of those movies that are more fun to talk about than to watch, because the trivia is pretty interesting. Finney intended to direct, as he had for Charlie Bubbles, but decided instead to give the directing job to his assistant on Charlie Bubbles, Stephen Frears. This was thus Frears debut as a director ... he later received two Best Director Oscar nominations, and he directed one of my very favorite movies, Dangerous Liaisons. Also making his movie debut was Andrew Lloyd Webber, who did the music.

There wasn't a lot of originality to Gumshoe, which borrowed from numerous detective story cliches without enlightening any of them. Finney plays the title character, Eddie Ginley, a comedian who gets by calling bingo games. On a lark, he puts an ad in the local paper offering his services as a private investigator, and the next thing he knows, he has a job. Old Time Radio fans might be reminded of the Alan Ladd show, Box 13, which was better than Gumshoe. The movie stumbles around for an hour and a half, and doesn't overstay its welcome, even if it never really finds its moment. The most noteworthy thing is also its most distasteful: Ginley regularly refers to the main black character with a variety of racist epithets, which never seem to be noticed by the other characters.

Sorry, Albert, I chose the wrong movie to remember you by.

music friday: winterland, 45 years ago today

This will be quicker than usual ... I'm trying to get my new computer running smoothly. So I'll fall back once again on This Day in Bay Area Music, which I really don't intend to be a regular feature. This was the lineup at Winterland on February 8, 1974. At that time, Dylan was touring with The Band ... we saw them a few days later, in fact. It's also a few days after Patty Hearst was kidnapped.

Opening the show was Stray Dog. They started as a power trio, made a few albums, went nowhere. Sometime in 1974, they went in a more AOR direction, which didn't work out. They eventually disbanded. Their most famous member was vocalist/guitarist W.G. Snuffy Walden. After a few years doing session work and occasional backup band jobs for touring bands, Walden was asked to score a new TV series, which turned out to be thirtysomething, which was a big hit and earned Walden an Emmy nomination. He has done numerous series since then, and won an Emmy for The West Wing. Here is Stray Dog performing "Worldwinds":

Next up was Stoneground. They were a locally-popular band from Contra Costa County (my old stomping grounds). Sal Valentino, formerly the lead singer for The Beau Brummels, was the front man, although by 1974 he had left the group. They made a name for themselves on the Medicine Ball Caravan, a cut-rate travelling Woodstock event. After Valentino left, two members of the band formed Pablo Cruise, who had some hits. Singer Jo Baker, about whom more in a bit, was one of the many singers to pass through Stoneground. This video cheats a bit ... it's from a couple of years before 1974, and features Valentino. But I can't resist ... it's from the movie Dracula A.D. 1972:

Headlining was Elvin Bishop. Bishop had been around forever, first as a charter member of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the early-60s. As a solo artist, Bishop was quite popular in the Bay Area, although he didn't really hit the big time until "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" in 1976. The aforementioned Jo Baker sang with Bishop during this time ... she and Elvin were also a woosome-twosome for awhile. Bishop's sound gradually went from blues to the Southern Rock that made him famous. Eventually he returned to the blues ... he's still at it. He's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Butterfield Band. A few months after this Winterland show, he released the album Let It Flow, which included his first charting single, "Travelin' Shoes":

One fairly irrelevant bit of trivia that I find delightful is that Bishop is BFFs with Dusty Baker.

Finally, how can I resist adding his classic "Midnight Creeper", where he explains that he read that smoking marijuana made you grow mammary glands. He then notes that weed makes you eat everything in the house. His proof is that once, a friend got him high on Thai stick, and when he got home, he ate so much he couldn't fit into his brassiere anymore.


40 years ago today: the clash play their first u.s. concert

In the spirit of Throwback Thursday, I recall an event from 40 years ago that I have written about on this blog at least twice. Why write something new on Throwback Thursday? So here is a little cut-and-paste.

From November 29, 2007, "The Clash and Bo Diddley":

We actually saw the first show The Clash ever played in the USA, it was in Berkeley, not their first North America show, I think they played Vancouver first. Anyway, the band was asked who they wanted to have as an opening act, and they said they'd love to play with Bo Diddley. And they were told hey, that might not work, can't you come up with an up-and-coming punk band? But no, they wanted Bo Diddley, he was one of their idols and they wanted him to play. And they got their way, which is why, on February 7, 1979, I saw Bo Diddley play for the first and only time. He was great, of course.

Time sure does fly. I remember that part of Bo's act that night was to make fun of his age ... he'd bend down and as he did so, he'd have his guitar making creaky noises like his bones were too old to take the stress. Well, I just looked Bo Diddley up on Wikipedia, and damn, he sure was old back in 1979 ... 50! Yep ... Bo Diddley was younger the time I saw the old geezer than I am now. Geesh.

And from five years ago, "Music Friday: 35 Years Ago Today":

Next up was the legendary Bo Diddley. As I have mentioned before, as part of his act, Bo played up how old he was compared to all the young punks. He’d bend down, and his guitar would make screaky noises as if his bones were too old. This story seems less funny to me with each passing year, since Bo was only 50 at the time. Here, he talks about what it was like opening for The Clash:

Here's something that wasn't in those older posts: The Clash from later in 1979, playing "I Fought the Law":


minding the gap (bing liu, 2018)

Minding the Gap, nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar, is the first feature film of Bing Liu, who as of this writing does not have a Wikipedia page. Based on this film, that won't last. Liu, who I believe is in his mid-20s, has a long list of credits. The IMDB gives him 38 credits for "Camera and Electrical Department", many of them for TV. If nothing else, this helps explain the extraordinary look of Minding the Gap; on what seems to have been a budget of about $15, Liu dazzles with his shots of skateboarding. What is surprising is that Liu also has a great sense of how to build a movie so that it doesn't just offer up pretty pictures, but also tells a story that is progressively deeper during the film.

Minding the Gap is the story of three young boys/men (including Liu) from Rockford, Illinois, who share a love of skateboarding. At the start, it doesn't seem to be headed anywhere. But as we get to know the boys, as we learn their personal stories, we understand that skateboarding means more to them than just zipping around. It provides an alternative family for kids whose home lives are troubled. The film lets us gradually see this, but the boys themselves seem to understand it without saying anything. They are reflective of their own lives without being solipsistic about it.

At first, I was worried that Liu was exploiting his friends. But they don't seem disarmed by the process of being interviewed on camera. And Liu plays fair ... he turns the camera on himself, in a tense scene with his mother, who is confronted with the reality of her son's abuse at the hands of his stepfather. If at times, I wondered if Liu was taking advantage of the boys, well, he throws himself right into the mix.

The result is a character study, which didn't seem likely. When the film began, I thought the camera work was nice, and settled in for a pretty but empty ode to skateboarding. By the end, I'd seen something far beyond that supposed emptiness.

And Liu amazes in the way he creates a movie that feels seamless. Liu credits co-editor Joshua Altman for much of this, and it is interesting to read interviews with Liu and Altman where they describe the tag-team method they used for editing. But the credit would seem to go to both ... Liu is a more-than-active participant in the process.

Minding the Gap is an audacious first film. This isn't the last we'll hear of Bing Liu.

russian doll

Pretty much everyone I've read who offers up an introductory review of Russian Doll says the same thing: the less you know going in, the better. The trailer, which you can find at the bottom of this post, does a decent job of making you believe you know what the show is about without actually telling you, so it's safe. But for the most part, it's true: you don't want to know anything before you watch Russian Doll. So what I say here will be purposely vague and fragmented.

A friend asked me if they should watch it. I replied that I couldn't decide about Russian Doll, at least as something I'd recommend. If, like me, you think Natasha Lyonne can do no wrong, then it's a no-brainer to watch an 8-episode show she co-created, co-wrote, directed an episode, and is the star. And if she drives you crazy, don't watch! I thought it was kinda funny, then mid-way it took a darker turn, then I guess maybe it had a happy ending, not sure. It's one of those confusing shows. And even there, I've said more about it than I should ... it's best to come at it blind. I liked it.

My friend's comment was, "You had me at Natasha Lyonne", and so yeah, if you are a fan, by all means, jump right in. The 8 episodes are all 30 minutes or less, so it's not a big batch of time to watch the whole thing. I'm not big on binging, myself, but I watched Russian Doll in two days.

On the other hand, when I mentioned the show to my brother, he was basically "who's Natasha Lyonne", so it didn't do him any good to say his feelings towards her would affect how he liked the show. I mentioned But I'm a Cheerleader, but he hadn't seen that. He knew the name from Orange Is the New Black, but hadn't seen the show. Movies like The Intervention are too obscure for anyone to have seen them. And he's 71 years old and not really the target audience for the American Pie movies. He finally remembered her when I mentioned her role as Opal in Pee-wee's Playhouse, which was interesting since she was only 7 years old when she made that show, and she was only in the first season (clearly she made quite an impression!).

This gives me an excuse to show a favorite YouTube video, if you can get past the rather slimy interviewer:

I suppose I should say something about Russian Doll. I could mention the cast, which includes Charlie Barnett, Elizabeth Ashley, Dascha Polanco, Burt Young, and Chloë Sevigny, all of whom are great. (When Ashley and Lyonne get together, it's a marvelous blend of two wonderfully scratchy voices.) I'm not usually a fan of stories that are complicated enough to confuse me, but Russian Doll moves so quickly and Lyonne is so watchable that I didn't mind in this case. And I can't say I understood the ending, but it brought me to tears of joy. Go figure.

Honestly, if after reading the above, you think you'd like Russian Doll, you are probably right. Which I guess is my thumbs-up recommendation.