Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper, 1936-2010

Dennis Hopper, dead at the age of 74. My second-favorite thing about Dennis Hopper was the Chicago Reader's description of his character in Hoosiers as an "Oscar-hungry drunk." My favorite thing about him was that I got to interview him a few years back, in order to talk about the following photograph of Ike and Tina Turner:

Dennis had taken that photo, at a time when his angry young man act had worn thin in Hollywood and he was turning to photography as sort of a second career. It was taken in the front hallway of Phil Spector's house, when Ike and Tina (or Tina, anyway) were working on "River Deep - Mountain High." He was very gracious and seemed genuinely flattered that I was thoroughly familiar with his work.

Hopper married Mama Michelle Phillips in 1970, but the marriage didn't last. "I will say this about Dennis Hopper," Michelle supposedly said later. "We were married for eight days and truly, they were the happiest days of my life." One wonders what happened on the ninth day.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fade to Black

Over at his Web site Rule Forty-Two, my friend Gavin Edwards has been leading us through an insanely detailed look at MTV's year-end video countdown from 1988. I highly recommend it, especially because you can be reminded of such insipidness as Paul Carrack's "Don't Shed a Tear" without having to listen to the song.

One video Gavin won't be covering is Dan Hartman's "I Can Dream About You," which came out in 1984. The strange thing about this video is that Dan Hartman looked like this:

You would never have known that, though, if you were watching MTV back in 1984, because the video featured a much younger man in sunglasses gamboling around a stage in front of a trio of background singers. Oh, and he was black.

The song was featured in a potboiler called Streets of Fire, an action film set in the music industry. Hartman had written the song, which was performed in the movie by a fictional group called the Sorels, with vocals dubbed in by a singer named Winston Ford. But for reasons that are unclear to me - who really knows why Hollywood does anything - the version that ended up on the movie's soundtrack album was the one sung by Dan Hartman himself.

So the video was carved out of the scene in Streets of Fire where the Sorels performed it. The amazing thing is that the head Sorel Stoney Jackson (whose real name was Stonewall Jackson, swear to God) was lip-syncing to Winston Ford in the movie, but he also works seamlessly with the Dan Hartman version. No one watching the video on MTV had any idea this thing was lip-synced, much less that it was lip-synced to an entirely different version of the vocal. (This was partly because Streets of Fire was seen by approximately six people.) My guess is that Hartman cut a guide vocal for Ford, so Ford always performed the song exactly the way Hartman did.

One wonders if Dan Hartman was disappointed that most people believed his biggest hit was performed by an entirely different man. Then again, he was 33 years old at the time, a bit long in the tooth for a pop star, and his only prior chart success had been a disco hit called "Instant Replay" that sneaked into the Top Thirty in very early 1979. (Hartman had also spent five years in the Edgar Winter Group, although he doesn't appear to be albino.) He was probably grateful for hits any way he could get them.

We could ask Dan Hartman how he felt about the video, but he died of a brain tumor in 1994, at the way-too-young age of 43. We've all seen the video for "I Can Dream About You" a hundred billion times, so here it is with a twist: This is culled from actual Streets of Fire footage, presenting the song as it was in the film, with vocals by Winston Ford:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pretty Woman or Ghost?

Okay. So. Crystal Bowersox. (Should be Bowersoxx – just saying.) Was 12 in 1995 when Alanis Morrissette’s “Ironic” was released. (Actually, was 12 and 1/2 – just saying.) Is now singing it on “Idol.” Followed by Alanis herself singing “You Oughta Know.” Yes, Alanis left out the part about the “Full House” guy and the movie theater. Here’s my question: When they had that moment, she was 16 and he was 31 (oy – just saying) and it was 1990 or 1991: What movie was playing?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Creative Punctuation Watch

Today I saw a big, very professional-looking light-up sign for a plumbing operation in Denver. It read:


Good thing I wasn't driving very fast, because it took me a few seconds to parse that.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Getting It Wrong

The first Buffalo Springfield album, Buffalo Springfield, featured a highly regarded Neil Young composition called "Flying on the Ground Is Wrong." If you heard only that title, you might think Young or at least the narrator of the song had some kind of objection to flying on the ground. But the chorus to the song actually goes:

But if crying and holding on
And flying on the ground is wrong
Then I'm sorry to let you down,
But you're from my side of town
And I miss you.

So flying on the ground isn't really wrong, and may even be totally permissible. There certainly doesn't appear to be any issue with flying on the ground, making the title almost a contradiction of the lyrics. It's as if the Beatles had called that song "Want to Spoil the Party."

(While we're on the subject of the Buffalo Springfield, that same first album originally didn't contain "For What It's Worth," the band's first and only hit, because it wasn't done in time. How close did it come? "For What It's Worth" was recorded on December 5, 1966 - the very day that Buffalo Springfield was first released.)

Are there any other songs like that, whose title suggests precisely the opposite of what the lyrics say? I can't think of any others. Can you?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Quote for the Day

"My one ambition was to have been in the audience when the Beatles played. It must have been great." - Ringo Starr

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

White Lie

Via Mark Evanier's invaluable blog News From Me, I read an interview with Lorne Michaels in which he makes the surprising claim that he's been trying to get Betty White to host Saturday Night Live for "decades" now. Well, "surprising" probably isn't the right word; let's sub in "preposterous."

It wasn't until her appearance in a Super Bowl ad that the Facebook groundswell for the ancient White to host SNL began in earnest. But if we're to believe Lorne Michaels, she was old news, so to speak, by that time. So when exactly was she first considered? When she had an extended cameo in the Sandra Bullock chick flick The Proposal? During the halcyon days of Golden Palace? Come on, Lorne - Cheech Marin had a better chance of being asked to host SNL at that point. Even during the Golden Girls days, Estelle Getty had the best shot at filling any batty-old-lady part. And in the 1970s, Betty White was exactly the kind of TV celebrity Michaels did not want hosting the show.

Lorne Michaels' position in comedy and in television history is secure. The Betty White choice was an anomaly, a left-field pick that worked out quite well, if you ask me. It doesn't do Lorne any good to pretend it was a long-planned event.

Personally, I've wanted Betty White to host SNL ever since she appeared on the classic Password episode of The Odd Couple:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

He Ain't Heavy, Because He's Only Twelve Years Old

There have been many brother acts in the illustrious history of rock & roll, in large part, I suspect, because someone's mother made them drag their little brother along just so she could get some peace in the house. The upshot is that many bands of brothers end up making their first record when the youngest isn't even out of his teens. Thus,

The Everly Brothers had their first Top 40 hit ("Bye Bye Love") when Phil was just 18.

The Isley Brothers wrote and recorded the iconic "Shout" (which didn't make the Top 40) when Ronald was just 18. Marvin Isley joined the group in time to perform on the Top 40 hit "That Lady (Part 1)" when he was just 19.

The Beach Boys had their first Top 40 hit ("Surfin' Safari") when Carl Wilson was just 15.

The Ronettes recorded their first Top 40 hit ("Be My Baby") when Ronnie Spector was just 19.

The Shangri-Las had their first Top 40 hit ("Remember [Walkin' in the Sand]") when Mary Weiss was just 15.

The Kinks had their first Top 40 hit ("You Really Got Me") when Dave Davies was just 17. Ray and Dave, by the way, had six sisters but no other brothers.

The Bee Gees had their first Top 40 hit ("New York Mining Disaster 1941") when Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb were both 17.

The Cowsills had their first Top 40 hit ("The Rain, the Park and Other Things") when drummer John Cowsill was 11. He was also in Tommy Tutone.

The Jackson 5 had their first Top 40 hit ("I Want You Back") when Michael was 11.

Wilson Phillips had their first Top 40 hit ("Hold On") when Wendy Wilson was 20.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Steamroller Blues

The title of the song is officially "Roll Over Beethoven," with no comma. So it's not a request that the decomposing composer step aside; it's a command to us, the listeners, to flatten him. To be fair, that would be news worth telling to Tchaikovsky.