Friday, October 19, 2018

Joke of the Day (Amy Schumer, on Her Scary Feeling of Being Brave)

“So, I tweet out this photo of myself. I’m holding coffee. I’m topless in just underwear, and it goes viral. It was everywhere, every news show, every website, and that’s when I learned the word you don’t want people to use when a nude photo of you goes viral: ‘Brave.’”—Stand-up comic Amy Schumer, ‘The Leather Special,” June 20, 2017

(Amy Schumer at 2015 SXSW on March 16, 2015, by Anna Hanks)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Quote of the Day (Thomas Hardy, Anticipating Winter)

“At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.”—English poet-novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), “The Darkling Thrush,” in Poems of the Past and the Present (1901).

Hardy’s poem was published in December 1900. Until a week ago, it seemed like the Northeast of the United States, where I live, was emmeshed in an endless summer. Now, all of a sudden, it seems far easier to see the end of the year and the “growing gloom.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Joke of the Day (George Carlin, on Airport Announcements and Evel Knievel)

“About this time [during airport announcements], someone is telling you to get on the plane. ‘Get on the plane. Get on the plane.’ I say, ‘F--- you, I'm getting IN the plane! IN the plane! Let Evel Knievel get ON the plane! I'll be in here with you folks in uniform! There seems to be less WIND in here!’"—American stand-up comic George Carlin (1937-2008), George Carlin: Jammin' in New York, original air date Apr. 25, 1992, directed by Rocco Urbisci

I heard a slight variation on this joke on vacation two months ago, while visiting the National Comedy Center in southwestern New York. (This museum, which only opened earlier this year, is in Jamestown, the town in which Lucille Ball lived as a child. It is well worth your visit—and well worth a future blog post from yours truly.)

The joke reminded me of the shrewd attention to language nuances by George Carlin. Mentally, I filed it away for future use. It turns out to segue nicely into my brief consideration of daredevil Evel Knievel, born on this date 80 years ago in Butte, Mont. 

If you came of age in the late Sixties to late Seventies, as I did, you couldn’t have turned on your TV set without witnessing some outlandish stunt or other by this showman. His first--performing wheelies, crashing through plywood firewalls and jumping over two pick-up trucks at the National Date Festival in Indio, Calif.—was a big success, but comparatively tame compared with what followed at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, where he successfully jumped the fountains before crashing (1967); Snake River Canyon at Twin Falls, Idaho (1975); and a crash in a jump over 13 buses at Wembley Stadium in London, England (1975).

A fine interview with Knievel by Pat Jordan shortly before the onetime media sensation died at 69 depicted him as the father of “extreme sports.” It might be easier to think of Knievel as a defier of death, the late 20th-century link to Harry Houdini. 

Muhammad Ali once humorously billed the daredevil in his mid-‘70s prime as “the white Muhammad Ali.” Indeed, his motorcycle and costume—a white leather costume with red-white-and-blue stars and stripes and a flowing cape, inspired by his friend Liberace—both now reside in the Smithsonian.

This Day in Pop Music History (Levi Stubbs, Powerful Lead of 4 Tops, Dies)

Oct. 17, 2008—Levi Stubbs, the commanding frontman of the enduring soul band The Four Tops, died in his sleep at age 72 in his home in Detroit, the city where he was born, raised and achieved fame.

In May 1992, I was lucky enough to catch the Four Tops in concert in Las Vegas. In town for a trade convention, my group was looking to relax after an exhausting day. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was delighted by the end of the show.

With their resonant voices and refusal to turn out cookie-cutter versions of their old hits, Stubbs and his bandmates—first tenor Abdul “Duke” Fakir, second tenor Lawrence Payton and baritone Renaldo “Obie” Benson—deserved to sell out large arenas rather than a Vegas showroom. But their loss was their listeners’ gain, as we enjoyed hearing them in an intimate setting.

I had grown up in the late Sixties hearing their string of Motown hits—"I Can't Help Myself,” “It's The Same Old Song,” “Bernadette,” “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” and “Reach Out, I'll Be There”—on WABC-AM, New York’s top 40 radio station, so I was certainly familiar with their work.

What I did not appreciate at the time was the bond of loyalty that kept the quartet together for 40 years—remarkable, then and now, in a music industry rife with egotism, money squabbles, and drug addiction. Those forces could divide and decimate the most enormous talents, as seen in the Four Tops’ colleagues in the Motown music factory, the Temptations.

Colleagues in the Four Tops may have appreciated that intense loyalty even more than Stubbs’ baritone. Fakir, for instance, told Billboard after Stubbs’ death: “He had many chances and many offers to be lured away into his own solo world, but he never wanted that. He said, 'Man, all I really want to do is sing and take care of my family, and that's what I'm doing, so all is well. Everything else that doesn't include you guys, it doesn't mean a thing to me.' That kind of character and commitment is really hard to find these days." 

Only serious illness could keep Stubbs from performing with his old friends till the end. Cancer and a stroke silenced and sidelined him for good after 2000, though he still tried to see the remaining Four Tops in concert as much as he could.

I could tell you how versatile Stubbs’ voice was—how it could rumble, implore, promise, agonize, woo, even threaten with carnivorous gusto (as when he sang as “Audrey II,” the man-eating "Mean, Green Mother from Outer Space," in the 1986 movie version of Little Shop of Horrors). But you knew that already. (And if you didn’t, I urge you to go now and listen to any Four Tops records.)

But a performer of transcendent goodness is every bit as worth celebrating as one of transcendent talent. Back in 1992, I would, if I had ever had the chance, thank Stubbs for giving such a great show. Now, knowing somewhat more about him, I would also be grateful for his tight bonds with his city, audience and friends.