Long-Time Favorite

(I was reading this article and it triggered a train of thought which is worthy of a post.)

I am sometimes asked which classical novelist is my favorite, and honestly, I have a tough time answering the question.  Victor Hugo?  Balzac?  Dumas?  Mann?  Hardy?  Robert Graves?  D.H. Lawrence?

Wait, go back a bit;  Hardy?  Jude The Obscure, Far From The Madding Crowd, The Mayor Of Casterbridgethat Thomas Hardy?

Indeed.  My first exposure to Hardy was The Mayor Of Casterbridge (our 12th-grade set work).  I was utterly captivated, and despite the oncoming final exams and the endless study involved, I still somehow managed to squeeze in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Return Of The Native  and The Woodlanders  before year’s end.  In my lifetime, I have read all his “major” novels (i.e. the Wessex series) at least twice each, and Casterbridge maybe six times.

Here’s why.  I was (still am) a rebellious soul who has always looked on the customs and mores of society (of any era) with a critical and jaundiced eye.  (That I have a favorite era — late Victorian / Edwardian — does not stop me from being critical of it, understanding its shortcomings and loving it nevertheless, especially when I compare it to our modern, soulless technocracy.)

Hardy was probably one of the most critical writers of my favorite era, ever.  In fact, so scathing was his “realistic” perspective that many people believe that he finally eschewed novel-writing for poetry because of the opprobrium he received for his baleful scrutiny.

And for the 16-year-old Kim, full of ignorant passion and rebellion, Hardy was fuel to the fire — not for his displeasure with the Victorian era, but for his displeasure per se.  It became easy to criticize apartheid-era South African society (and I did) using Hardy’s prose as my role model.  It may therefore come as no surprise to my Loyal Readers that I haven’t changed a bit, except that now my ire is directed towards our contemporary society of the early 21st century.

My only regret is that I don’t have Hardy’s skill as a novelist — nobody does — but that doesn’t stop me from reading him, over and over again.

In fact, I think it’s high time for me to re-read… hmmmm, which one… Native?  Jude?  Casterbridge?

I’ll let you know.

Best Comedy TV (Part 3)

Married… With Children
This show was never supposed to be popular, with its unrelievedly hostile approach to the subject matter.  And yet it was, enormously so, perhaps as an antidote to all the saccharine TV families that had gone before, with their wise mothers, irascible yet good-natured fathers and spunky but lovable children.  Instead, we got Ed Neil’s snarling loser father, Al Bundy, his slatternly non-housewife partner Peg (Katey Sagal), with snarky sex-starved son Bud (David Faustino) and the slutty daughter Kelly (Christine Applegate).  When I first watched this show, I spent much of the time helpless with open-jawed laughter, and it became one of the very few TV shows I looked forward to each week.  And while I loved the buxom Peg, I have to admit that young Kelly Bundy turned me into a Dirty Old Man every time she flounced onto the screen.  I don’t think that I’m alone in this, either.

Best Comedy TV (Part 2)

Frasier
Quite possibly one of the only spinoffs that was even better than its host series (this one from the above-mentioned Cheers ), Frasier was not just the chronicle of the exploits and catastrophes of the pompous (and hapless) psychiatrist Frasier Crane.  What set this show apart from all others was the relationship between Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier and his onscreen brother, David Hyde Pierce’s Niles, which was absolute perfection — as was the brothers’ relationship with their father, John Mahoney’s Martin Crane.  I think I’m pretty safe in saying that no better family relationship — at times hostile, affectionate, prickly, loving, irritable and always fraught with tension — has ever been written for the small screen.  While the female co-stars played a large part in the show’s quality, the three men were absolutely exquisite.  And speaking of the women, let’s not forget the very-much-underappreciated radio show producer, Peri Gilpin’s Roz:

 

Best Comedy TV (Part 1)

I know that what constitutes the “best” of anything is very much a personal issue, especially as it pertains to entertainment — Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles has been hailed as one of the best movie comedies ever made, for instance, yet I can’t watch it past the first five minutes — but I think when to comes to TV sitcoms, it’s not too difficult a job to create a list of at least eight which could be classified as “really, really good, if not the best”.  So here’s what follows for the next eight Saturdays:  my personal favorite TV sitcoms, being defined as those which I could watch (and sometimes have watched) from Episode One through Episode Final, and which I can safely call “the best”.  They are in no specific order, and as with all my lists, their popularity is irrelevant:  I  happened to love them, and that’s all that counts.  Note too that the list doesn’t include many (or any) of the newer shows, simply because I gave up watching TV to any degree in about 2005.  And I’ve excluded cartoons (with one exception), because I’ve only ever watched a few, and none all the way through. Here goes with 1…

Cheers
As ensemble casts go, this one pretty much had it all.  Almost every character was funny and outrageous, and they seemed to take it in turns — sometimes within the same episode — to make the viewer roar with laughter.  My absolute favorite character was George Wendt’s Norm, whose comebacks on entry were one-line classics:

“Hey Norm, how’s the world been treating you?”
“Like a baby treats a diaper.”
and:
“Can I pour you a draft, Mr. Peterson?”
“A little early, isn’t it Woody?”
“For a beer?”
“No, for stupid questions.”

And finally, I will be forever grateful to Cheers for introducing me to Kirstie Alley:

 

Hairstyles, Again

Most actresses adopt a “look” when they become famous, and they pretty much stick to it as it becomes their identifying feature — e.g. Veronica Lake’s hair falling over her eye:

However, the exquisite Anne Baxter was not one of those;  in fact, one of her trademarks was to change her hairstyle often (not just to fit the movie role she was playing, either).  I’ll leave it to others to decide which worked and which didn’t, because whatever she did, nothing seemed to affect her flawless beauty.

Anne Baxter

 

Then there was Anne being coquettishly sexy:

Her most famous pic was actually a mistake:  only after it was released did everyone realize that the hairstyle wasn’t the point [sic] of the photo:

I know, I know… I just broke one of the cardinal rules of my blog.  Don’t care.  Enjoy.

The Problem With Lists

Whenever you set about making a list which has lofty goals — e.g. “Top 10 Songs That Defined The 60s“, you have to careful about the criteria.  On the aforementioned video, the listmaker used both record sales and influence on music as the primary characteristics for inclusion on the list.  Here’s the choice, as formulated:

10. Hit The Road Jack — Ray Charles (’61)
9. Mrs. Robinson — Simon & Garfunkel (’68)
8. You Really Got Me — Kinks (’64)
7. Respect — Aretha Franklin (’67)
6. Like A Rolling Stone — Bob Dylan (’65)
5. My Generation — The Who (’65)
4. Good Vibrations — Beach Boys (’66)
3. Satisfaction — Rolling Stones (’65)
2. All Along The Watchtower — Jimi Hendrix (’68)
1. I Wanna Hold Your Hand — Beatles (’63)

With honorable mentions of:

Stand By Me – Ben E. King (’61)
Be My Baby – Ronettes (’63)
Heard It Through The Grapevine – Marvin Gaye (’68)
Light My Fire – Doors (’67)
For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield (’67)

The problem with this list — and by the way, I don’t have any argument over the worth of the songs because they’re all excellent — is that I’m not sure how much the R&B numbers (e.g. Ray Charles and Aretha) influenced music, per se, because R&B hadn’t really changed much since the 1950s (e.g. The Platters) and it was only when James Brown’s funk and later, bebop came on the scene that the R&B genre started to change radically.  (The really big change to R&B had already happened, with Elvis using R&B to ginger up the early rock ‘n roll music and getting White people to listen to it.)

The biggest problem with the list, though, is the concatenation of “record sales / popularity” (which is an easy measure) and “influence” (which isn’t easy).  Using just sales, for instance, we’d have to include songs like Louis Armstrong’s Hello Dolly, Percy Faith’s Theme from ‘A Summer Place’ and the Four Seasons’ Big Girls Don’t Cry, all smash hits in the 1960s, but not influential songs by any measure.

Here’s an example of my confusion.  Simon & Garfunkel were simply folksingers (albeit brilliant ones), and even the brilliant Mrs. Robinson wasn’t that different from other songs of that genre, before or since.  Paul Simon would later be a major change agent in music, but S&G, not so much.

The two songs on the list which stand out as not only popular but also influencers are of course I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Good Vibrations, both of which changed the way other musicians started to compose and play.  The fact that they were also hugely popular merely emphasizes what giant songs they were.  Using that criterion, there would be a very strong case to put the 1967 Beatles’ A Day In The Life (the song and the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album) onto the list — because having already influenced modern rock music once in 1963, the Beatles went ahead and changed its direction again, in 1967.

Likewise, the inclusion of Satisfaction and My Generation makes sense because they weren’t much songs as they were generational counter-culture anthems and they too set the stage for others to follow.  (Despite my dislike of both bands, it’s quite likely that without The Who and the Stones there would have been no punk music, for example.  That’s “influence” for you.)

I also have my doubts about All Along The Watchtower because while it is quite easily one of my favorite rock songs of all time, all Hendrix did was make a Dylan song sound good (not a difficult task, by the way).  Jimi’s music was so different and so iconic that his would-be successors (e.g. Stevie Ray Vaughan) simply covered his songs.  Yes, Hendrix changed the way people played music, but I challenge anyone to point to a modern song of which you can say, “Aha!  That sounds like Hendrix!” (although I will allow that Lenny Kravitz has come awfully close on occasion, as did Prince).

So if you were to ask me to draw up my  list of 12 Songs Which Defined the 1960s, it would look like this, but ranked in no specific order:

  • Good Times Bad Times — Led Zeppelin (68) — OR — Whole Lotta Love (69) because Zep practically defined hard rock for future musicians.  Granted, they came right at the end of the 60s, but the point of the 1960s was that it set up the next decade’s music (and beyond).
  • I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Good Vibrations — no argument from me on those two;  the Beatles song established pop music and Good Vibrations was a forerunner for other neo-orchestral songs which followed, such as Bohemian Rhapsody.
  • A Day In The Life — for reasons as stated above.
  • Ditto Satisfaction and My Generation, which dirtied up the clean Beatle-esque songs of the 60s and reminded us that at its heart, rock ‘n roll isn’t pretty.  (By the way, if we use record sales as a criterion, Honky Tonk Woman — a much better song, in my opinion — outsold Satisfaction by far, but the latter is the more important song.)
  • Whiter Shade of Pale — Procol Harum (’67) turned rock progressive.
  • (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay — Otis Redding (’67) turned R&B into Soul.  Without Otis, artists such as Bill Withers, Percy Sledge, Joe Tex and maybe even Marvin Gaye might not have been as big as they were.
  • You Really Got Me — The Kinks (’65). Still heavy, even today.
  • Like A Rolling Stone — Bob Dylan (’65).  Hate his voice, love the music.
  • Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? — Chicago (’69).  Like Sergeant Pepper’s, you could pick just about any song off Chicago’s first album to put on this list.  (Jimi Hendrix’s comment to the band:  “Your horns are like a set of lungs and your guitarist’s better than me.”  ‘Nuff said.)
  • White Room — Cream (’68).  No list of musical influencers of the 1960s would be complete without Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.

Honorable mentions:

  • Space Oddity — David Bowie (’69) although his real influence would come in the next decade (a story for another time).
  • Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag — James Brown (’65)… now he changed R&B.  Without him, no Earth, Wind & Fire, for example.
  • River Deep, Mountain High — Hellooo Tina (’66)
  • Funk #48 — James Gang (’69).  Like many of the musicians in the above bands, Joe Walsh probably influenced more bands than he’d care to admit.  We’ll look at him in greater depth when I get round to doing this for the 1970s.

I should point out that I don’t necessarily like all the songs listed above, but I can’t deny their influence on the 1960s.

Your arguments and invective are, as always, welcome in Comments,