Monthly Archives: August 2008

Watching the Detectives

Quote of the Day: “Cause the high heel he used to be has been ground down/And he listens for the footsteps that would follow him around…” Elvis Costello, “Man Out of Time”

I hate to sound like one of those blurbing quote machines, but listen:

If you like detective thrillers…If you like mob stories…If you like books that take place in Chicago…If you like debut novels that make you happy that you’ve discovered a new writer but pissed that there’s not a catalogue of stuff to then dig into…


Sean Chercover, according to his bio, used to be a PI himself. I’m sure that’s why Big City Bad Blood feels so close to the bone real. Ray Dudgeon–one of the best protagonist names I’ve encountered in a long time–is a GREAT character, funny, snide, conflicted, and crazy crazy tough. I loved this book. There are a coupla of teensy flawed moments, but for the most part, when I was done I felt the way I felt after I’d finished my first Walter Mosely, Lee Child, and T. Parker Jefferson–really really satisfied and eager to read more. HIs new one, Trigger City, comes out in October.

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Politics as Usual

Quote of the Day: “Sign o’ the times mess with your mind/Hurry before its 2 late…” Prince, “Sign ‘O’ the Times

Someone sent me an email asking why I never dealt with political issues at Scott Topics. To quote the emailer: “Your blog is called Scott Topics. Which I guess is a take-off on The View’s Hot Topics. That’s cool. But The hottest topic out there right now is the election and Barack Obama. Why haven’t you dealt with that at all?”

Well, my answer would begin, thanks for “getting” the title of my blog. I have had to explain to some readers, but there you go, some things have to be explained to some people. And I really like the title. I think it works. But as for politics, I don’t really write about politics. And I hate to say “never”, but I never have and probably never will. It’s not really my beat; I don’t write about things I don’t feel like I can be halfway original or smart about. That said, if you want some politics, specifically something about Barack Obama, here you go:

I wish the media–or Barack’s people–would get off the whole Isn’t-it-cute-that-Barack-loves-and-plays-basketball? thing. It’s boring. He’s a forty-something AMERICAN black dude in 2008 who watched Dr. J and Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. Of course he loves basketball. The story would be if he didn’t like basketball.

I guess Bryant Gumbel came closest to getting it right:

And here’s something else, vaguely politics-ish for ya: I actually liked Michelle Obama’s speech at the DCC. It seemed heartfelt and smart and loving. All that said, I could have done without all the post-speech family shenanigans, with Barack piped in from some family’s crib out in the hinterlands somewhere. It just came off as maudlin and staged and dull. It occurred to me for a moment that for all the Obama references to and insistence on change, there didn’t seem to be much “change” going on up on that stage. I felt like I’d seen–and heard–so much of it before.

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A Model World

Quote of the Day: “Heaven knows we sure had some fun, boy…” — George Michael, “Freedom ’90”

The race man in me comes out at times like this–Tyra Banks on the cover of Bazaar’s huge September 2008 fall fashion issue:

And to celebrate their good taste, I’ll add a cover photo of my favorite Bazaar cover–Liz Tilberis‘ first issue, September 1992, starring the one, the only Linda…

I used to be a supermodel fanatic, a small-time modelizer (you can get some sense of what I’m talking about by clicking here or here)

Which is one of the reasons I was so obsessed with this video from 1990…”i won’t let down, so please don’t give me up…”

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Let It Fly in the Breeze…

Quote of the Day: I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy/Snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty/Oily, greasy, fleecy/Shining, gleaming, streaming/Flaxen, waxen/Knotted, polka-dotted/Twisted, beaded, braided/Powdered, flowered, and confettied/ Bangled, tangled, spangled, and spaghettied!…” “Hair”

There’s a production of Hair running at the Delacorte Theater in Manhattan’s Central Park. And I haven’t gotten a chance to see it. And I’m pissed, because it’s one my favorite musicals and I haven’t seen a production of the celebrated “tribal love-rock musical” since the City Center Encores! production in 2001. But there’s hope! The show’s being extended–again!–until September 14, so hopefully your boy will be able to hum along with “The Flesh Failures” at least once before it closes…
So, in honor of this raved-about production, I’d thought I’d share some music from the film version of Hair, which came out in 1979 and didn’t exactly set the world on fire like the original Off Broadway and Broadway productions did back in ’67 and ’68. That didn’t matter to me (and some other die-hard fans of the flick). Sure, the narrative arc that playwright Michael Weller’s screenplay imposed onto the shenanigans seemed a little forced at times. And sure, the direction of the great Milos Forman seemed to lack a certain, well, rock-and-roll rhythm. And some of the big set pieces–staging “Where Did I Go” on the streets of NYC and “I Got Life” at the bourgeois party, for example–sorta stumble when they should strut and soar. But there’s still some beautiful visual stuff in the movie, like the pastoral opening shots of middle America that open it and the heartbreaking militaristic moments leading to the finale. 
And then there’s the singing. Boy, is there some good singing, two scenes in particular:

Ren Woods performs “Age of Aquarius”: the arrangement’s a little more slick gospel-r&b than the stage version’s hippie-acoustic acid rock, but it works. The swirling camera work draws you in, and the Twyla Tharp choreography is quirky and exciting–even if it doesn’t always feel era-specific hippie-ish enough at times. This might be my favorite opening to any movie musical.

“Easy to Be Hard” sung by Cheryl Barnes, who reportedly was a hotel maid with no agent when she auditioned for the movie. Her rendition is a bit different from Lynn Kellogg’s more restrained version from the stage original and the radio hit by Three Dog Night. I think of Barnes’ version as the definitive one. There’s some scene stuff before the music starts but it’s good context for the song…and oh yeh, check out the little boy’s expression at the 5:03 point of the video. Priceless…That’s why you hire Milos Forman, for moments like that one…

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Fun Random Stuff

Quote of the Day: “I know you’re hopin’ to find/Someone who’s gonna give you peace of mind…” Fleetwood Mac, “Second Hand News”

Just some news and notes til later:

  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof went black, on Broadway this past season. Now another stage classic gets the “non-traditional” casting treatment, with Avery Brooks as a black Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. [Playbill]
  • Is Damon Dash broke? The word on the street is he’s about to lose his cribs. [Forbes]
  • There’s been all this talk lately (like here and here) about book trailers hitting the Internet to market books to readers, sorta like movie trailers. I’ve seen some wack ones and some funny ones, but this one–for Brad Meltzer‘s upcoming The Book of Lies–actually makes me wanna read the book. Maybe it’s cause I’m a nerd who loves comics and conspiracy theories? Anyway, check it out–and all the lit/TV stars he got to help him make it happen. [EntertainmentWeekly]

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Shock of the New

Quote of the Day: “…Still it would be hard. So very hard to forget the man who fucked like a star.” — Toni Morrison, from Tar Baby

At a party the other night, someone asked me to name my favorite novel of all time. First I said Toni Morrison’s Sula. Then I changed my mind and said Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Then I changed my mind again and said Toni Morrison’s Paradise. Then I decided it actually is Sula. By which time the person who’d asked me was already starting a different conversation with someone else at the party. Oh well.

I tell you all this as a way of mentioning that there’ll be a new Toni Morrison novel this fall. It’s called A Mercy, and you can read about it here. I hope I like it more than I almost liked her last novel, Love. Almost, because I couldn’t get through it.

On the music front: I’m loving the new Oasis single, “Shock of the Lightning”. But is it just my imagination running away with me or does anyone else think it sounds a little bit like a muted version of the Von Bondy’s “C’mon C’mon” (aka the theme song of the great TV show Rescue Me)? You can hear Oasis here. And you can check out Von Bondy’s here.

If you’re an Oasis obsessive like me, you might enjoy the trailer below. It’s a sorta greatest hits/coming soon thing to remind you how great the band used to be while making you wet for the new stuff. Well, uh, I mean, that’s the effect it had on, um, me.

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The Name Game or, Being Martha Wash-ed

Quote of the Day: “I wore the clothes you wanted/I took your name/If there is some confusion, who’s to blame?…” — R.E.M., “I Took Your Name”

So I’m talking to my best buddy and we’re chatting about the Olympics, specifically about all those young-looking Chinese gymnasts who cannot possibly be 16. Of course, we decide, China must be lying about their ages–they set a precedent in the Opening Ceremony by replacing the ugly “unpresentable” girl who really could sing with a cuter, more presentable girl who was more TV-ready. Someone high up didn’t think the masses were ready to watch the little girl with the, uh, crooked teeth serenading the world. Those wacky communists, always looking out for the feelings of the masses. So poor little Yang Peiyi sat in the wings of the world stage while presentable little Lin Miaoke soared among the stars singing the unpresentable girl’s tune.

In other words, Yang Peiyi got Martha Wash-ed.

For those you young’uns who don’t know who Martha Wash is, you can sample the video below. Back in the 90s, Martha was the owner of the soul-shouting voice that made C&C Music Factory sound so good, while Zelma Davis was the skinny, model-type who made them look good–while lip-syncing to Martha’s vocals.

“Martha Wash-ed” is an example of how my buddy and I turn famous names into victimizing verbs. Getting Martha Wash-ed is sorta like being Linda Tripp-ed. You’ve been Linda Tripp-ed when somebody secretly tape-records a phone conversation with you about all your personal bidness, then uses it against you and the man you were doing your personal bidness with.

Or say, perhaps, you were a popular ice skater who was clopped across the shin with a steel bar by the husband of your closest competitor–you might say you were Tonya Harding-ed. Get it? Hard-dinged. Anyone? Is this mic on?

Oh forget it. Just watch Martha (and her then-partner Izora) singing a disco classic. She’s the one in the trench coat and blue blouse…

It’s Raining Men by The Weather Girls

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A Song For You

Quote of the Day: “Must be the music that’s turning me on…” — Secret Weapon, “Must be the Music”

Click HERE to check out my new favorite track: Kissy Sell Out’s hot remix of R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming”–it’s one of those high energy tracks that works in the gym, in the car, on a walk, with a vibe that somehow maintains the melancholy of the original…(thanks to Micah for hipping me to this)

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A "Trick" Treat

Quote of the Day: “Do you wanna see me down on my knees?/Or bending over backwards, now would you be pleased?” — Madonna, “Burning Up”

When I really need to laugh I watch this clip, five of the funniest minutes in a movie I’ve ever seen. It’s from a flick called Trick. If you haven’t seen it, do. It’s sweet…

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Jerry Wexler, RIP

Quote of the Day: “Now I’m no longer doubtful of what I’m living for/’Cause if I make you happy I don’t need to do more…” Aretha Franklin, “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman”

I was about 12 years old when I started to understand the what the concept of the “producer” was on a pop record. Back then I devoured liner notes* the way other kids perused the backs of cereal boxes (or the way they devoured the cereal itself?), and it was then that I began to realize that no matter how talented the pop star was, no matter how cute or charismatic or fun to listen to, they’d be nowhere without songwriters and producers. Two producers stood out to me in those early days: Quincy Jones and Jerry Wexler. Because as much as I loved Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin–the artists that (in my lifetime, at that time in pop culture, at least) I most associated them with–it was the sound of their music that intrigued me as much as the artists themselves. I’d already interviewed MJ by that time, but I always told myself that if the journalism thing worked out, I would do anything to meet and/or interview Jones and Wexler. Well, I got a chance to meet, work with, and ultimately befriend Quincy. But I only came close to interviewing Jerry Wexler–who, himself, had once been a music journalist–when I was writing a documentary about r&b history for VH1. It didn’t happen, due to timing and circumstance. But believe me, I was ready, to ask him all about Aretha and Muscle Shoals and Dusty Springfield and Atlantic Records and even what it was like to work with George Michael.

Jerry’s not with us anymore. He’s joined Ahmet Ertegun and Arif Mardin–two of his great partners in r&b crime–up in r&b heaven. In honor of Mr. Wexler’s passing, I invite you enjoy some old TV clips: Aretha doing “Chain of Fools”, the biggest hit off Aretha’s Lady Soul, and Dusty Springfield singing “Son of a Preacher Man” from her Wexler-produced Dusty in Memphis. Enjoy them–ah! the women, the wigs, the Wexler touch!–and think of Jerry, chilling in the production booth, encouraging and loving the magic coming forth…

* For those of you who are too young to remember albums or even CDs, liner notes were the written information that accompanied the music, printed on the paper that covered the actual record, listing songwriters, musicians, lyrics, and other important data. Go to a thrift store and find some old LPs and experience the effect of liner notes…you’ll thank me…

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