Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Pop Culture News and Notes

American Idol’s Little Miss Sunshine will be gushing, dancing, poking Simon Cowell, and babbling incoherently on air for at least 3 more years as Paula Abdul has signed a contract extension with the show (I guess this shoots down the internet rumor that the producers were thinking about dumping the former pop star and bringing on someone like Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson to take her seat at the judges’ table.)

* * *

Academy Award winners Three 6 Mafia have been working with the annoyingly ubiquitous Paris Hilton on her upcoming CD. (Man, I was feeling you guys…”It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” is one of the coolest Oscar-winning songs ever [alongside “Lose Yourself” and “Theme from Shaft” among a very few others]…but I’m not feeling this even a little bit. Couldn’t you fellas have waited for Lil’ Kim to get out of jail instead??)

* * *

Prince nails the first #1 debut of his long career this week as his new 3121 disc tops the Billboard chart (with 183,000 copies sold during its first week on sale.) This is only the 4th Prince album to top Billboard’s Album chart (following 1984’s Purple Rain, 1985’s Around the World in a Day, and 1989’s Batman soundtrack.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Random Pop Culture List

FHM’s Top 10 Sexiest Women in the World 2006

  1. Scarlett Johansson

  2. Angelina Jolie

  3. Jessica Alba

  4. Jessica Simpson

  5. Keira Knightley

  6. Halle Berry

  7. Jenny McCarthy

  8. Maria Sharapova

  9. Carmen Electra

  10. Teri Hatcher

As voted by the readers of FHM (For Him Magazine.)

I'm not sure if I've ever read an issue of FHM so I'm not sure what the readership is exactly but judging by their picks it's a pretty sure thing that they're predominantly young (though Ms. Hatcher did make the list as someone who is not twenty-something) and they spend a fair amount of time watching movies and TV.

Scarlett Johansson was apparently ranked #9 in last year's poll but I'm not sure what she did that had her vault to the top this year (Ms. Jolie...who has been relatively camera-shy since she's been carrying the golden Pitt-Jolie child...was last year's #1.)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Random Pop Culture List

Entertainment Weekly’s Top 10 TV Dramas

  1. 24

  2. The Sopranos

  3. CSI

  4. Battlestar Galactica

  5. Lost

  6. Everwood

  7. Gilmore Girls

  8. Law & Order franchise

  9. Veronica Mars

  10. The Shield

I am a faithful viewer of #’s 3 and 5 and a faithful wait-for-the-DVD-set buyer for #’s 1, 2, and 10. I catch up on sporadic episodes of #8 in reruns and syndication. I’ve never seen episodes of #’s 4, 6, 7, or 9 so I guess I’ve got some catching up to do :-)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

American Idol

So far this American Idol season: Simon Cowell seems more bored than ever, Paula Abdul seems more incoherent than ever (sometimes to the point of seeming downright inebriated on some shows…I’m not saying that she is but she does seem awfully heavy-lidded and slurry sometimes), Randy Jackson’s hipster routine seems more tired and rote than ever, and Ryan Seacrest’s attempts at wit (especially when trying to slam Cowell) are more lame and annoying than ever.

On the upside, the contestants are as strong a group of singers as American Idol has ever had. As of this writing, Chris Daughtry seems to be the one to beat…he has a great voice, an appealing back story, and a strong sense of who he is and what he does; he’s also not afraid to take chances and, more often than not, he pulls them off. As the judges have said several times I can easily imagine buying CDs by Chris right now.

The rest of the field is filled with some potential stars…Taylor Hicks, Mandisa, Ace Young, and Katherine McPhee among them…and none of the contestants are without some measure of real talent (I could do with less of the “Chicken Little” kid’s smugness but I guess we can attribute that to his youth…and I think that Miss Pickler is overplaying the “ditzy country gal” routine.)

The American Idol juggernaut doesn’t seem to be losing steam yet (as the gold and platinum selling records by Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood, Ruben Studdard, and Bo Bice prove so surely) and it will interesting to see who comes out on top during this very competitive season.

* * * * *

3/23 addendum: Kevin "Chicken Little" Covais' fanbase failed him as he got the boot last night. It was a mild surprise since his performance this week was, in my opinion, one of his better ones...but that's the way it goes sometimes on Idol.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker

Cindy Walker, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, has written or co-written dozens of classic country, cowboy, and western swing songs in her long lifetime. One of her most famous tunes, the title track to this affectionate tribute disc, was most famously a big hit for the late, great Ray Charles.

You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker finds Willie, backed by a crack band, putting his distinctive spin on 14 of Walker’s great songs. From the sprightly swing of venerable chestnuts like “Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Age” and “It’s All Your Fault”…from bittersweet saloon songs like “Warm Red Wine” and “Bubbles in my Beer”…from sly cowboy songs like “Dusty Skies” and “Cherokee Maiden”…from wistful lost-love songs like “Just Walking Out the Door” and the title song…Willie is relaxed and playful and completely engaged (I love Willie…I’ve been down with him for decades…but even I can’t deny when he’s off his records can have a maddening indifference to them…as if he went into the studio, dashed off the first take and then got the hell out of the studio again.)

And if Willie’s voice is a bit ragged around the edges from time to time (he can’t sustain notes the way he might have in younger days), that’s okay because it just adds a beguilingly authentic touch of raggedness to the proceedings. It’s a sweet little record indeed.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Pop Culture News and Notes

The Donald has another Apprentice. Third wife Melania Trump (see above) gave birth to a boy, Donald Trump’s fifth child, this morning. The child, unnamed as of this writing, is reportedly well. Trump had three children with his first wife Ivana (Donald, Jr., Eric, and Apprentice sidekick, Ivanka, whom he rather creepily said was the kind of woman he might date were she not his daughter) and one daughter, Tiffani, with his second wife Marla.

* * * * *

A judge has banned the continued sale of The Notorious B.I.G.’s album Ready to Die after a jury found that it contained an illegally used sample from a 1992 song (“Singing in the Morning”) by The Ohio Players. The jury also awarded the two companies which won the rights to the Players’ songs more than four million dollars in damages. Sean “Diddy” Combs, the sample-happy producer of the CD, and his Bad Boy Entertainment will doubtlessly appeal.

* * * * *

A company (World Wide Red Light District) which obtained a sex tape featuring Kid Rock, former Creed frontman Scott Stapp, and four women has reached an agreement with Rock which will keep the temporary injunction against releasing the tape in effect until the matter is fully adjudicated. I don’t care if celebrities feel the need to document their sexual adventures for posterity (or for whatever reason they do so), I just wish they would learn to keep the recordings under better lock and key if they’re so concerned about keeping them out of the public view.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Top Chef

I watched and enjoyed both editions of Bravo’s Project Runway even though I haven’t the slightest interest in “high fashion” and so far I’m digging their new show, Top Chef, even though I have little patience for the kind of fussy gourmet cuisine the folks on the show aspire to master.

Top Chef is less manic and stagy than the similar Hell’s Kitchen (the Fox show from last year which starred the always-apoplectic Chef Ramsey) and more interesting than the sedate Next Big Food Network Star (a second edition of which debuts soon on the Food Network.)

As always these kinds of “reality” shows rise or fall on the quality of their casting process…put together an interest bunch of folks and put them in odd situations and it can be escapist TV magic (take a bow, current edition of The Amazing Race.) On the other hand, if your cast is dull and irritating (that’s right, Survivor: Panama- Exile Island, we’re looking at you), it can make getting through episodes slow, mind-numbing slogs.

Top Chef seems to have brought in enough interesting people to make it work. We already have people to root against (the smug, pretentious Stephen and the whiny, crabby Tiffani) and underdogs to root for (the ditzy, profane Cynthia, who is competing even while her father is dying of cancer and the fun-loving Miguel) and competitive infighting already brewing. (Kenneth, the cocky, acerbic Irish guy, got the boot in the first episode when his food failed to live up to what his ego had promised it would be.)

Katie Lee Joel, the host, is no Heidi Klum (Joel’s kiss-off phrase…”pack your knives and leave the kitchen”…doesn’t hold a candle to Klum’s gloriously abrupt “You’re out”) but she doesn’t get in the way too much. Neither do the judges (whose names escape me and I’m really don’t care enough about them to go look them up.)

Top Chef is not great TV…but it’s fun and engaging and that’s cool by me.

(As an aside: I do wish though that Bravo didn’t run so many promos during Top Chef for Blow Out 3…featuring the self-absorbed wonder that is Jonathan, the gayest self-proclaimed [over and over and over again…we get it, “bro”, you “dig the chicks.” Right. Whatever works for you, dude] “straight” guy in TV history. I like a lot of “reality” TV but nothing on heaven or Earth could get me to watch the show and endure yet another one of Jonathan’s endless prissy/pissy tantrums.)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

It’s the voice that captures your attention first…it’s the voice that captures your attention and holds it fast. Neko Case…indie darling, remarkable singer-songwriter, New Pornographer…has a voice filled with passion and power, confidence and heartbreak, the soaring and beguiling mixture of “absolute torch and twang” that K.D. Lang once championed before she gave up the twang.

Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (no, I’m not sure what that means even after hearing the song of the same name but that doesn’t matter even a little bit) is a shimmering, utterly gorgeous collection of 12 melodic, poetic songs that are neither country nor pop but rather an intoxicating blend of the two (with the stellar musicianship defying any facile pop sheen to take hold.

From the opening acoustic lilt of “Margaret vs. Pauline” to the gospel swagger of “John Saw That Number”…from the wondrous harmonies of “That Teenage Feeling” (an updated version of one of those plaintive girl-group ballads from the 60’s) and the bittersweet “A Widow’s Toast”…from the ominous, yet strangely beautiful, murder ballad “Dirty Knife” to the gently-propulsive pop lilt of the closing “The Needle Has Landed”, this record never takes a wrong turn. And Case’s voice…which, oddly and engagingly enough, often seems to be booming and soothing in the same instant…shines brightly and wonderfully from beginning to end.

Fox Confessor is a grand record indeed.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Pop Culture News and Notes

Actually, South Park’s Chef should be saying “Goodbye, children” as Isaac Hayes, the legendary soul man who has been the voice of the character on the iconoclastic cartoon from the beginning, has quit the show due to religious concerns.

Hayes, one of the many celebrity members of the Church of Scientology, apparently took umbrage with having his religion skewered during a November episode (poking fun at other notable Scientologists like John Travolta and Tom Cruise.)

“There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins," Hayes is quoted as saying.

South Park co-creator Matt Stone dismisses that explanation. "This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology... He has no problem - and he's cashed plenty of checks - with our show making fun of Christians."

Guess it’s not so funny when your ox is being gored, is it Isaac?

The Calvin or Hobbes Test

My results:

Almost All Hobbes

You are 10% Calvin and 90% Hobbes
You're a clever tiger with a dash of little boy. A bit pessimistic about human nature, you think most people would be better as meals than as friends, and maybe you're right. At least, I've known several guys who fit that description. But your cannabalistic streak notwithstanding, you're a sensitive, (mostly) patient, and supportive friend. You have a few wild ideas here and there, but over all, you're quite sensible. Finally, my guess is you're the kind of person who gets along well with others, but who really needs space to be alone, like me.

My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 0% on calvin
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on hobbes
Link: The Calvin Or Hobbes Test written by gwendolynbooks on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Deal or No Deal

Deal or No Deal is the first hit primetime network game show since the heyday of Regis and the one-time ratings juggernaut that was Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Deal or No Deal (an international success with versions in a couple of dozen other countries) is proudly simple (no questions…trivial or otherwise…other than the titular one), repetitive, shamelessly giddy (the contestants dance, yell, jump, and mug for the camera like they were all in the throes of the biggest sugar rushes you could ever imagine), and strangely addictive.

Howie Mandell, free from the manic silliness that used to punctuate his standup comedy act, is an engaging master of ceremonies who seems to really enjoy his interaction with the would-be “millionaires” who join him on stage.

The game itself is simple…there are 26 briefcases each representing an amount of money from one cent up to one million dollars (the models carrying and opening the cases, each outfitted in identical outfits, are pure window dressing), the contestant chooses one for themselves and then the other cases are opened with breaks in the action during which the mysterious “Banker” tries to tempt the player into quitting by offering sums of money to sell back the chosen case. If the contestant doesn't sell back the case, the amount of money in their case is theirs. A small group of friends and family members are brought onstage to yell and scream and dance and prod the contestant with giddy advice. Not much more to it than that.

As of this writing, nobody has won a million dollars but everybody seems to be having a grand time. NBC is trying to avoid the Millionaire overkill by scheduling the show just twice a week…on Mondays and Fridays…and so far it’s working. It will quickly get old…this sort of show has a short shelf life…but for now it’s entertaining enough (and it doesn’t take itself anymore seriously than that which is cool.)

Monday, March 13, 2006

It's my birthday, too...yeah!

You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too--yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.

You say it's your birthday
Well it's my birthday too--yeah
You say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.

It’s my birthday…yay!...and if it’s your birthday too, have yourself a grand one!

Namaste, y’all.

words and music by John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Pop Culture News and Notes

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held on Monday March 13th in New York City. This year’s list of inductees is a relatively eclectic bunch:

Blondie, the poppy New Wave band fronted by Deborah Harry who had the first rap (well, sorta…) single to top the Billboard pop chart with “Rapture”.

Miles Davis, the jazz legend whose blending of jazz and rock (starting with the monumental Bitches Brew...see above) gave birth to a flood of lesser jazz-rock fusion attempts (yes, we’re looking at you, Return to Forever…)

Black Sabbath, the prototypical (and enormously inventive and influential) Heavy Metal band fronted by absent-minded reality TV show Ozzy Osbourne.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Southern Rock legends that are still soldiering despite the deaths of leader Ronnie Van Zant and two other band members in a plane crash back in 1977.

The Sex Pistols, the raucous punk band that had more attitude than talent (though “God Save the Queen” is still a thrilling rock and roll song all these years later. The ever-pretentious (some might call him cool but I don’t) John Lydon (aka “Johnny Rotten”) and the rest of the surviving members of the band have already said that they won’t be at the ceremony (maybe they’re honked off that The Clash, a superior band, made into the Hall before they did :-)

* * * * *

Isabelle Dinoire, the French woman who was the recipient of the world’s first face transplant late last year is ready to tell her story on to a major American network…if they’ll meet her quote. Allegedly she wants something in the six figures for an interview and an additional half-million bucks for the rights to broadcast a documentary about the groundbreaking procedure she went through. NBC has already demurred (Matt Lauer had already been waiting in the starting gate) and ABC is denying rumors (propagated it seems by Dinoire’s lawyer) of a deal involving an interview with Diane Sawyer and a trip to Disney World.

Free enterprise is a wonderful thing…and face transplants can’t come cheap…so I don’t begrudge Dinoire taking her shot at the golden ring (and eventually, despite all their high-falutin’ bluster about not paying for news, I won't be surprised when one of the networks ponies up some cash in one way or the other for her story.)

* * * * *

American Idol has their Top 12 (one might wonder how a couple of them made the cut but America voted and these are the folks who will sing and dance endure Paula Abdul’s pointless treacle, Randy Jackson’s hipster babble, and Simon Cowell’s acid barbs.) Now let the real show…on the big stage with the big band…begin.

For those who bet on such things, Pinnacle Sports (the first sports book to list odds for reality show contestants) has rocker Chris Daughtry (one of my favorites) listed as the early favorite to win with odds of 7-2. Mandisa goes into the finals with odds of 11-2 followed by Katherine McPhee and Ace Young both at 6-1. Kevin Covais (40-1), Bucky Covington (50-1), and Melissa McGhee (60-1) are the longshots at this juncture (but, of course, things can…and probably will…change as the season rolls on.)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Project Runway

Ah, Project Runway…with Heidi Klum’s endless wardrobe of stylish maternity clothes and her oddly-endearing cool Aryan charm (you almost forget that her catchphrase…“You’re out”…is a kiss-off sending yet another would-be Versace or Donna Karan out of her presence and off of the show)…with sanctimonious judges with pursed lips (Nina Garcia always looked like she was smelling something extremely foul) and quips not nearly as clever as they thought they were (Michael Kors might be a great designer…honestly I wouldn’t really know…but his “witticisms” almost always lacked anything resembling real wit)…with 16 designers full of good reasons for making bad fashion…with the celebrity aesthetic that actually thinks that Nikki Hilton is someone to be lionized…with the fussy dithering of Tim Gunn…and, of course, with the self-proclaimed majesty of the one and only (at least we should hope so) of SANTINO!...what was not to like this season?

Well, silly outfits made of plants notwithstanding, not too much. The second season was better than the first…more interesting challenges and just enough bitchiness, cat fighting, rampant egos (well hello there, Santino, fancy meeting you here) and overemotional weeping (yes, Andre, we’re looking at you) to keep it interesting. Chloe’s win was a bit of a surprise (the straight woman trumps two gay men in a fashion designing competition...go figure :-)…Daniel seemed to be the anointed one until his final collection sort of fell flat and Santino seemed to have the maverick thing going for him but he went soft (though often pretty) with his final collection…but then I didn’t think that what’s-his-name should have won the first season so what do I know about this fashion stuff?

(Me, I was rooting for Nick but he got bounced before the finals.)

They’ve put out a casting call for Project Runway 3 so Heidi and the gang will be back…and so will I (as unabashedly fashion challenged as I am and will ever be.)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Over and Over

One of the Christmas gifts I gave came with 50 free downloads from, a site I hadn’t heard of at the time (they’ve since started running TV ads), and as the recipient of that gift isn’t much interested in new music, he gave the downloads back to me (sometimes it’s cool to give AND receive :-).

I’m digging, a site featuring music of all genres from independent labels, more than I thought I would. It’s led me to discover (and in some cases rediscover) cool music not spotlighted by radio or the other online sites (iTunes, Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, etc.) Case in point is the wondrous Erin Bode and her new CD, Over and Over.

There’s a mellow, jazzy feel to Erin Bode’s music that brings to mind the music of other noteworthy female artists who straddle the worlds of pop and jazz…artists like Norah Jones, Lizz Wright, and the late, great Eva Cassidy. But where there those ladies bring a smoky, undeniably soulful vibe to their vocals, Bode’s voice has a more delicate and lilting quality…harkening back to some of Joni Mitchell’s early jazz-influenced efforts or, perhaps a bit more on point, to the ever-wonderful Nanci Griffith (though with less twang :-)

The songs on Over and Over are all slow simmering, soothing mid-tempo offerings that keep Bode’s evocative voice always at the forefront (though space is given over to tasteful piano solos and yearning sax solos to bring additional colors to the program.)

Where Bode's last album, 2004’s
Don’t Take Your Time, was dominated by an eclectic group of interesting covers (Lennon & McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Irving Berlin, Bob Dylan, the Gershwins), this disc is filled mostly with poignant originals co-written by Bode and keyboardist/guitarist Adam Maness…the three covers here (a sprightly take on Paul Simon’s “Graceland”, a slow-building version of the jazz standard “Alone Together, and a lovely, spare [just vocal and acoustic guitar] cover of Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years”) fold nicely into the overall flow of the CD without being the distractions that cover songs can sometimes be.

Over and Over is a Sunday morning/soft rainy day kind of album…the kind of music that slips up on you and takes you into its gentle embrace and soothes your soul. And hey, that’s all right by me.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

78th Annual Academy Awards

Okay, the fact that Crash won out over Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture was a bit of a surprise (especially after Ang Lee snagged the Best Director Oscar) but the biggest…and most whimsically amusing…surprise of the Academy Awards was the fact that they gave an Oscar to a song entitled “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”. In some ways it doesn’t get much cooler than that (though I’m guessing Dolly Parton didn’t find it that cool…)

The show itself was a bit tedious and anticlimactic (I guessed all of the winners…with the exceptions of the two mentioned above and the two short subjects…before the envelopes were opened and I doubt that I was alone in that.)

Jon Stewart, like Chris Rock last year, was okay…nowhere near great (he reined himself in to the point of being just this side of dull for large stretches of the evening), but okay. And thankfully they got the unavoidable Brokeback gag out of the way at the very beginning of the show with Billy Crystal and Chris Rock.

With no blockbusters (no Lord of the Rings: Return of the King or Titanic, for example) in the mix for the major awards I’m presuming the audience for the show was down in the ratings…and truthfully they didn’t miss much. Better luck next year, Academy.

(“It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”…heh. Priceless.)