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music friday: george shearing, rockpile, pink

George Shearing, Concord, 70s. I guess I revisit this one every once in a while. I think this is the third time I've written about, mostly just cut-and-pasting what I wrote before. The two most important items: I shook his hand, and he was featured in a scene from On the Road:

And Shearing began to rock; a smile broke over his ecstatic face; he began to rock in the piano seat, back and forth, slowly at first, then the beat went up, and he began rocking fast, his left foot jumped with every beat, his neck began to rock crookedly, he brought his face down to the keys, he pushed his hair back, his combed hair dissolved, he began to sweat. The music picked up. The bass-player hunched over and socked it in, faster and faster, it seemed faster and faster, that’s all. Shearing began to play his chords; they rolled out of his piano in great rich showers; you’d think the man wouldn’t have time to line them up. They rolled and rolled like the sea. Folks yelled for him to “Go”. Dean was sweating, the sweat poured down his collar. “There he is! That’s him! Old God! Old God Shearing! Yes! Yes! Yes!” And Shearing was conscious of the madman behind him, he could hear every one of Dean’s gasps and imprecations, he could sense it though he couldn’t see. “That’s right!” Dean said. “Yes!” Shearing smiled; he rocked. Shearing rose from the piano, dripping with sweat; these were his great 1949 days before he became cool and commercial. When he was gone Dean pointed to the empty piano seat. ‘God's empty chair,’ he said.”

Rockpile, Oakland?, 8-12-79. They opened for Blondie, and due respect to the headliners, but Rockpile blew them off the stage. They only recorded one album as Rockpile ... a live album from the same period was released a few decades later ... but in effect, they had several albums released as solo discs, as Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe. To the point, Edmunds once released "Heart of the City", a Nick Lowe track, simply overdubbing his own vocal atop Lowe's version (which Edmunds had played on). They were a fine band. Other members were Billy Bremmer on guitar and Terry Williams on drums.

Pink, Warfield, Fillmore, San Jose, Oakland, 2002, 2006, 2009, 2013, 2018, 2019. Not much to add about Pink ... seen her six times, all since this blog began so I've written about her for almost 20 years. She's one of the few music artists to get her own category on the blog, so if you want to take a trip down memory lane, go here.

geezer cinema: medium cool (haskell wexler, 1969)

Medium Cool is legendary for a reason. Haskell Wexler used documentary techniques to tell a fictional story, and knew where to go and what to do with the camera. He may not have been able to predict just how crazy it would get in Chicago in August of 1968, but he knew it was a place to be, and that something could happen.

Robert Forster plays a news cameraperson, John Cassellis, who ends up on the streets of Chicago and learns something about how the people on those streets perceive the work he and his fellow journalists do. Part of him maintains a distance from the story, but he's too smart to avoid some of the implications. It's a key moment for John when he finds out his network lets the cops and the FBI see his footage.

Meanwhile, the entire Medium Cool project confronts the boundaries between fiction and documentary. Verna Bloom, a professional actor from New England in her first movie, is so convincing as a woman who has moved to Chicago from West Virginia that some people thought she was an amateur. Bloom has talked about the odd dual nature of her performance ... Wexler had her walking around during the police riots on the streets, and Bloom is both doing her job as an actor and experiencing the violence in reality. It is these documentary-style scenes that lift Medium Cool above the norm, as the plot is serviceable but no more, and some of the larger political points are muddled. But as the riots take hold, Medium Cool is gripping in ways that surpass the usual film.

The ending is weak ... it feels out of place, like something out of a more traditional Hollywood movie. But the last shot, of Wexler pointing a camera at us as the crowd chants "The whole world's watching!" is the perfect summation.

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]

celine and julie go boating (jacques rivette, 1974)

I'll admit from the start that you won't learn anything from reading the words that follow. Celine and Julie Go Boating is a cinema classic. It is #213 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time. It was tied at #122 in the poll of TSPDT users that was posted a few weeks ago. More than once, critic David Thomson has called it his favorite film (that's when he's not calling it the "The most radical and delightful narrative film since Citizen Kane").

On the other hand, the heading for one of the articles I linked to read "A film you may want to walk out on --- but only for a while". And there is an oft-told and perhaps true story of a  festival screening of Celine and Julie Go Boating where Pauline Kael is said to have stood up halfway through the movie, grabbed her coat and hat, announced to the audience "I'm going to the movies!", and walked out.

I encourage you to check out the many fine essays written about this film. Thomson writes about it in his book Have You Seen...? Beatrice Loayza has a solid piece that can be found on the Criterion website.

But I have nothing to say. Celine and Julie Go Boating is 3 hours and 13 minutes long, and I don't think I understood what was going on for at least three hours of that running time. There are movies, usually from other countries but at times just about cultures where I am an outsider, where I miss context, and find it useful to look up information about the country or the culture to help me better understand what I have seen. With Celine and Julie, I was so lost, I found myself looking online for anything that might explain the movie to me. I had nothing to hold onto.

While at times the frustration I feel makes me intensely dislike a movie like this, I try to recognize when a film isn't a failure, despite my confusion, but the result of a film maker's vision. Celine and Julie Go Boating is likely the exact movie director Jacques Rivette and stars Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier wanted. There's a reason the film is considered a classic. I'm just not sure I ever want to see it again.

If you need signposts, Celine and Julie is often cited as a precursor to Mulholland Dr., a movie I didn't like. It clearly influenced Desperately Seeking Susan, which I haven't seen for a long time:

It's often compared to the 1966 Czech movie Daisies, which I loved. And at times it reminded me of Last Year at Marienbad. If you liked any of those movies, you might consider seeing Celine and Julie Go Boating.


This is what my year has been like.

Sometime during 2020 I got a note from the doctor saying it was time for a colonoscopy. Yuck, but what the heck. Except I had no intention of getting it done during the pandemic. Once a vaccine became available, I'd schedule the procedure.

February 13: first vaccine.

February 26: I have a video appointment with my doctor. When I explained that I have had some kind of nasal obstruction for years, and pointed to where it is always stuffy, she scheduled an appointment for me with the Head and Neck department.

March 13: second vaccine. Once I get the nasal thing taken care of I'll do the colonoscopy.

April 12: I see the nose doctor. She sticks a camera up my nose and sees what she thinks are polyps. She schedules a CT Scan.

April 23: I have the CT Scan.

April 26, May 12 and 18: appointments with nose doctor, who schedules an MRI.

June 9: I get the MRI.

June 11 and 22: Video appointments with nose doctor, who recommends surgery to remove an inverted papilloma.

June 23: I call the advice nurse because the vision in my left eye has gone to hell. We schedule an office visit for the next day.

June 24: I see eye doctor at 10:00. They say I have a detached retina, and schedule emergency surgery. In the late afternoon, they operate on my eye and fix the retina. Two months later, my vision is almost completely restored, although I haven't driven during that time, waiting for the full recovery.

August 24 (tomorrow): I finally get the nose surgery.

Needless to say, I still haven't gotten that colonoscopy.

of mice and men (lewis milestone, 1939)

Lon Chaney Jr. had a long career, and people of my generation are fond of him for his numerous appearances in Universal horror films. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid, and Chaney is very good there. Chaney was in his early thirties when he made Of Mice and Men, and the part of Lennie, which he had played on stage, seemed to fit him like a glove. But when he first played The Wolf Man two years later, he was typecast for life, and I don't know that he ever got the respect as an actor that someone like Boris Karloff did. And, of course, he had to deal with the fact that his father, Lon Chaney, was a colossus of silent film.

The film Of Mice and Men feels a bit stagy, even though we think of it today as the first film based on a John Steinbeck work. I suspect the stage version was in the film makers' mind. It doesn't matter ... the performances carry the film, and Aaron Copland's score, his first, helps as well. Essentially, Of Mice and Men is a buddy story, and it still works on that level.

Chaney is great, but don't sleep on Burgess Meredith, who also delivers. Like Chaney, Meredith connects with boomers on nostalgic grounds ... we know him as The Penguin from the Batman TV series from the 60s. And in the 70s, he was Rocky Balboa's trainer in several movies.

Chaney may be doubly cursed, though. His performance as Lennie became a part of popular culture because of its frequent use in cartoons. It's another nostalgic moment for boomers, for which one of us hasn't at some point asked, "Which way did he go, George?"

what they said: stanley kubrick

It took Phil Dellio, Scott Woods and I several Zooms to get through all of Stanley Kubrick.

Fear and Desire, Killer's Kiss, The Killing, Paths of Glory, Spartacus

Lolita, Dr. Strangelove (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)

2001: A Space Odyssey

A Clockwork Orange

Barry Lyndon

The Shining

Full Metal Jacket

Eyes Wide Shut

music friday: david johansen and outlaws

Outlaws, Oakland Coliseum, July 1977. They were the opening act for a Day on the Green headlined by Peter Frampton. More to the point, Lynyrd Skynrd was also on the bill,  and while Outlaws had their own sound, it was rooted in Southern Rock, and ultimately they weren't quite as good as Skynyrd (or the Allmans, or the Marshall Tucker Band, or Wet Willie, or you get the idea). Nothing wrong with them, worth an occasional listen, but when Lynyrd Skynyrd comes up later in the show, Outlaws will likely be forgotten in memories of that concert. Their most memorable number has enough similarities to "Free Bird" to further emphasize the relationship of the two bands. "Green Grass and High Tides" would often push 20 minutes in concert ... here is the studio version (the songwriter, singer, and lead guitarist is Hughie Thomasson):

Their first album was their best, and also had their top 40 hit, "There Goes Another Love Song":

David Johansen , Old Waldorf, Oakland Civic Auditorium, ?, October 1981. I've lost count of the number of times I saw Johansen ... three is a good guess, with the third coming when he opened for Pat Benatar (I left before she came on). I wrote about Johansen six years ago for a Music Friday, and I don't have much to add, but I'm always looking for an excuse to post some videos of Dave. Here is "Bohemian Love Pad":

Can't forget Buster Poindexter (yes, that's Soozie Tyrell):

Oh yeah, he was in another band before his solo career:

geezer cinema: beckett (ferdinando cito filomarino, 2021)

I guess John David Washington is a thing now. He starred in Tenet, which was a Geezer Cinema movie for us a couple of months ago. I wrote a few paragraphs without ever mentioning his name (I did talk about Elizabeth Debicki, though). He's not bad in Tenet, nor is he bad in Beckett, although his most notable feature seems to be the oddity of hearing the voice of his father Denzel coming out of John David's mouth. Beckett reminds you of other good movies, particularly the paranoid thrillers of the 70s. The problem is, Beckett isn't as good as the best of those films. Truth is, it's not as good as a lot of films that come to mind, and if that sounds vague, well, I'm still not sure what the hell Beckett was about so I'm going with vague.

Washington is a good choice to play an average Joe who needs to demonstrate some staying power during the kind of physical action that normally would go to a stuntman. But the character is like Job ... everything happens to him, and he keeps coming back for more. The Energizer bunny is a good comp, or the new-model Terminator played by Robert Patrick in T2 that was indestructible. I think they were trying to suggest John McClane in Die Hard, but Beckett is nowhere near as good a movie, and eventually the things that pile onto Beckett become too ludicrous to ignore. Linda Holmes began her review of the film:

There is a moment in the new Netflix thriller Beckett in which the main character played by John David Washington — who's already been in a rollover accident, been shot, been tased, been stung by bees, and likely broken both of his ankles — gets flex cuffs slapped on him, and now he's on the run ... in flex cuffs. The movie isn't even half over.

For what it's worth, Holmes kinda liked Beckett. And I wanted to like it ... I have nothing against mindless action, even though I usually roll my eyes at attempts to add meaningful context by claiming the movie is about politics, Greek, American, or whatever. But Beckett is ultimately just plain stupid, and by the time it ended, I had given up all efforts at any suspension of disbelief.

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]