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Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I have a surefire idea for a new Easter candy that would sell like ice cream sandwiches in hell.

It would come in a bag. It would be called "Bunny Eyes."

Remember when you were a kid and you would unwrap the hollow chocolate bunny? And the first thing you did was pick off the crunchy, yellow "eye" on the bunny? And chomp it down like a Flintstone Vitamin?

When we were VERY young, we sometimes felt weird about this act -- we felt guilt over "disfiguring" the bunny. Then, of course, we'd commence to biting off the bunny's ears, head, etc.

But with a trusty bag of "Bunny Eyes," you can just reach in, pull out one of the hundreds of spare yellow "eyes," pop it into the appropriate space on the side of the bunny's head, and BINGO! Problem solved.

Or, just pour the bag into your mouth and crunch away.

"Bunny Eyes" would be a hit. I've never heard this idea from anyone else. My Web column -- OK, "blog" -- is time-stamped at 10:24 p.m. on Wednesday, March 28, 2007. YOU ARE MY WITNESS.

Monday, March 26, 2007


My niece Gracie is a lovely young woman now, but when she was tiny, her father decided that she'd had enough candy one Easter.

"OK, pick out one more piece of candy from your basket and that's it for the night," he said.

Gracie extracted the large, solid-chocolate bunny from her basket.

Hey, you can't blame the kid. It's the American way!

Kathy loved that story and laughed every time we remembered it.

(By the way, Dad didn't let Gracie get away with it. Or else she would have been gnawing chocolate bunny until daybreak, eyes like pie plates fixed on the ceiling.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007


A little more than a year ago, I told my grief counselor that I figured I'd be feeling better by Spring 2007. His eyebrows went up and he laughed. "You journalists really live by your deadlines," he kidded me. Then he asked me to explain my reasoning.

I figured it like this: The first year is a wash. Brutal, horrible, merciless, unrelenting. You just have to somehow get through it.

In the second year, you're reliving the horrors of the first year. But after that second Christmas, that second miserable winter, I figured by then, at least I would finally start getting used to it. As the world around me wakes up -- as the birds sing and the trees flower and the air warms -- I'd be in a better position to appreciate it all.

Of course, this was a very optimistic projection. The sound of the first chirping bird, which happened just the other morning, made me bawl my eyes out, because Kathy loved that sound so much.

Stop me if you've heard this one: Have I yet shared my theory I call "Over the Next Hill"?

That's the title of a wonderful album and song by Fairport Convention. The full lyric goes: "Over the next hill, maybe there's good weather." The lyric -- or, at least, my interpretation of it -- is about how we get through life by telling ourselves these little lies. Like, life will be perfect when (1) I finally get my driver's license, or (2) I finally graduate, or (3) I finally get married, or (4) I finally buy a house, or (5) my kids finally get married, or whatever it is.

But life never gets perfect.

So my prediction about feeling better in Spring 2007, which arrived at 8:07 p.m. on Tuesday, was another case of "Over the Next Hill." I probably knew it at the time. I'm good at fooling myself. And anyone who thinks they aren't is GREAT at it.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Nephew and Roofus have been raving about "Pan's Labyrinth." It was hard to find for a while, but after snagging an Oscar, it re-opened wider. I caught it with a friend over the weekend.

But going in, I knew very little about the film. Nephew said it was a masterpiece; Roofus echoed that sentiment, but warned of its hard-to-watch violence; even The New Yorker failed to adaquately communicate the prominent "fairy" aspect of the movie (meaning: flying magical fairies, not the derogatory epithet favored by Archie Bunker) in a minireview I read. I just knew, from the minireview, that military oppression dominated the plot.

So when the little graphic at the cineplex resembled that of a Tim Burton movie, I joked, "What IS this, a Tim Burton movie?"

I can say this: If I had been watching "Pan's Labyrinth" on DVD, I never would have finished it. But I saw it through, and I'm very glad I did.

You see, I'm not big on modern fairy movies, and a little less than halfway through the movie, the fairy stuff seemed to be taking over the film. I was relieved each time the film returned to the reality part of the story, which concerned a sadistic Captain in World War II Spain (Sergi Lopez), an underground movement to overthrow him, and an imaginative little girl (Ivana Baquero) whose mother (Ariadna Gil) has married the Captain and is carrying his son.


As the fantasy and reality begin to crossover, it dawns on the viewer that it's all in the little girl's head. (This is made clear in a clever scene in which the girl sees a Mandrake root as a squirming baby, but adults see a dried root.)

So I thought one shot in the movie was badly played. When the Captain finds the little girl delivering her baby brother to a creepy fawn, the girl sees the fawn. But in a POV (point of view) shot, the Captain does not. Alas, director Guillermo del Toro underestimated his audience. It was like: "Attention, audience! It's all in her head! Get it?" It would have been better if they had blurred the Captain's POV shot; after all, he had just been drugged by the girl.

Otherwise, "Pan's Labyrinth" is a beautiful film. But I'm confused about the age group it is aimed at. Sometimes, it is a child's film (and there WERE a couple of little ones in the audience). At other times, the violence is nightmarish, even for adults.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

MAY 11

We've got another gig!

It'll be May 11th at a place called O'Malley's in Gloucester City (in South Jersey, natch). I haven't visited there yet, but I've seen the photos, and it's a real classy lookin' place. It might be the first place we've ever played where all the urinals in the men's room flush.

We're doing another double-bill of The Burners (our keyboard-based quintet) and Mad Jack (our guitar-based quartet). We'll be working with our original sound company again. We'll be adding new songs. We'll be on a sweet, elevated stage with a built-in light show. (That means no slogging out to hang lights the night before which, at our age and weight, gets less and less fun.) So the whole experience will have a feeling of newness for us.

I hear there's a go-go bar across the way, so I'll be sure to let the guys in the audience know when Karch will take a seven-minute solo.

The recording sessions last week were a blast. As I suspected, I was a bit too ambitious regarding the cues I recorded for Nephew. Fifteen in one afternoon was unrealistic. We now consider them to be "demos" of cues, not the cues themselves. But it's all good. As I tell the young people, this is a journey, not a destination. Nephew can now absorb the music at his leisure, and then get back to me if he wants me to perfect one of the cues for a project.

The Scream medley was the opposite. I intended this thing to be "dirty" -- in other words, a very rough track for learning purposes only. But this time, it was my brother who got ambitious. He double-tracked my guitar, double-tracked my vocals, and then added a couple of subtle keyboard tracks. The thing sounds like an album! I think the old Screamers are gonna flip when they hear it.

It'll be 18 months on Sunday. A year and a half. Feels like four months.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


I've been watching a lot of old television lately, thanks to dollar DVDs and You Tube. I bought dollar DVDs of Jack Benny, Red Skelton, "Love That Bob," "Ozzie and Harriet" and "Burns and Allen."

The Red Skelton DVD has a terrific early Carol Channing performance. She plays a hillbilly girl (sort of like Ellie May on "The Beverly Hillbillies" or Daisy May in "Lil Abner") who is in love with Red's character Clem Cadiddlehopper. He wants to marry her, but her dream is to go to New York to become a famous actress. Clem later strikes oil, becomes a millionaire, founds Cadiddlehopper Enterprises in New York and meets up with Carol again. She sings a comic version of "Heartbreak Hotel," which I'm guessing was a hit at the time by Elvis Presley. On the same DVD, there's an episode with Vincent Price and Jackie Coogan. It's wonderful to see Henry Jarrod work with Fester Addams.

The Ozzie and Harriets are cute. These are later episodes, when Ozzie and Harriet are ancient and not doing very much. The heavy lifting is being done by Ricky OR David, who have both married and moved out of the house. The girl who plays David's wife is a doll.

"Love That Bob," starring Bob Cummings, really has its moments. I never realized how "adult" the show was. It's all about That Skirt-Chasing Bob. He photographs models, so there are a lot of jokes about models' "figures." One episode was like a "Who's Who of TV Comedy." It had Bob, Ann B. Davis (Alice on "The Brady Bunch"), Dwayne Hickman ("The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis"), Rose Marie (Sally Rogers on "The Dick Van Dyke Show") and Nancy Kulp (Miss Hathaway on "The Beverly Hillbillies"). That's ONE episode!

But I learned from You Tube that not EVERY television show from the '50s is a timeless classic. I saw one You Tube posting from the '50s that teamed Jackie Gleason and Groucho Marx. Well, this historic teaming would have to be the funniest thing ever, wouldn't it? Nope. It was just a lazily written variety number resting on the laurels of both men's careers. And Boris Karloff singing on a monster-themed "Dinah Shore Show" was, frankly, a little embarrassing.

Old television -- watch some today!

Thursday, March 08, 2007


I'll be a human juke box this weekend. Hopefully.

I've got three musical projects going -- all involving my brother, of course.

First off is a rehearsal with Mad Jack, our 31-year-old guitar-based quartet. It'll be great to see Karch and Fro again. Nephew, on spring break from the School of Visual Arts, will be on hand. Mad Jack is basically going to rehearse the 90-minute show we did in November with one hoped-for switch; Brinie may sing "Fortunate Son" instead of "Sunshine of Your Love." We'll try it on for size tomorrow -- if the song doesn't click right out of the box, we'll have to re-examine the idea.

Next, Brinie and Nephew will record me playing cues I've written for possible use in Nephew's student films. You see, Nephew has entered his student films in a couple of contests, and one bugaboo keeps popping up: Most contests require that the entrant "own" the music used in his or her film. One of Nephew's gifts is his uncanny knack for matching up his visuals with appropriate music. So I've written a bunch of cues that he could use in the future, if he sees fit. (If he never uses them, it's no biggie; I want to do this.) Brinie will record them with just me on guitar (no overdubs, no vocals). Some are pieces I've written specifically for Nephew's films, others are excerpts from existing songs. The titles of the cues are (hopefully) evocative of the mood they intend to create: "Panic Sets In," "Run and Hide," "Echoes," "Driving Stoned in Rain," "Altar/Stage," "Up From the Bottom," "Sweet Memory," "Siempre."

After that, Brinie will record me singing and playing guitar on a thing I've whipped up for a planned October gig titled "The Scream Medley"-- excerpts of 12 original songs by my old high-school rock band, Scream. We were glitter-rock nerds obsessed with David Bowie, Roxy Music, Sparks, T-Rex, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Mott the Hoople, Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Nico, Eno, the Velvet Underground, Kiss and, believe it or not, '50s rock 'n' roll. One of the Screamers lives in California and says he may visit New Jersey in October. Well, that's all me 'n Brinie needed to hear; we've been in scheme mode ever since. So we're planning a Scream reunion gig -- not that there's the SLIGHTEST demand for such an event. Some of the song titles in the medley: "The Crimson Cult," "The Funeral March," "I Walked With a Humanoid," "Mastermind," "Something in This Room," "Jack the Ripper."

Anway, I've been practicing up a storm. I've even re-strung my guitar (Karch will be proud). My finger callouses are like rock. I have the dexterity of a tarantula. But I'm probably trying to jam too much work into a short period. I can be sloppy on "The Scream Medley" -- it's just a "dirty" version for the other guys to learn on -- but I've got to NAIL it on each of the film cues. So here's hoping for a little magic.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I just caught "Dick Tracy vs. Cueball" (1946), which is an unusual mix of film noir and the Sunday funnies.

The movie can be cartoony, yes. (Skelton Knaggs is wearing his most ridiculous "coke bottle" specs, and a diamond dealer in the film is named "Jules Sparkle.") But there are times when the movie is so gritty, it out-noirs many of the "chick flicks" that Fox Video has been passing off as noirs in its otherwise excellent series of DVD releases.

It's almost hard to watch the scene in which burly Cueball whips dottering drunk Filthy Flora in the face with his hatband, before strangling her with same. It's not for "Little Orphan Annie" readers.

Then again, Chester Gould's "Dick Tracy" comic strip never was, either. Gould often depicted murder unblinkingly in the strip. In most cases, his bad guys met grisly ends rather than be captured by Tracy. Gould, a crime buff, explained that in real life, the criminal would likely avoid incarceration or execution by exploiting some legal technicality. So Gould preferred to kill his villains right then and there.

Another highlight of "Dick Tracy vs. Cueball" is Ian Keith's performance as Gould's hypochondriac ham, Vitamin Flintheart. I've never heard anyone mention this, but to me, it's obvious that Keith is doing a ruthless parody of John Barrymore, and having a ball doing it. (I suppose Flintheart is, himself, a reference to "the Great Profile.") In one scene, Keith pulls out a vitamin bottle and downs some pills, just like in Gould's strips. It's heartwarming.

P.S.: I saw Warren Beatty's 1990 film "Dick Tracy" one time. I feel no particular need to see it again. I remember a scene in which Beatty makes out with Madonna. As a fan of the REAL Dick Tracy, I found this to be a disgustingly cavalier disregard for the Gould strip. DICK TRACY WOULD NEVER MAKE OUT WITH A SUSPECT, AND HE WOULD NEVER CHEAT ON TESS. Chester Gould must have been spinning in his grave.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


One summer when I was really little, probably between first and second grade, my mom enrolled me in a summer art school. Wouldn't you know it -- the very first class was a field trip to a zoo (probably the Philadelphia Zoo). This trip was extremely strange for me, because I literally was dropped off to class and ushered onto a bus. I didn't know a soul, not even a teacher. I was so young, and this was the first time I did anything on my own.

I can't speak for today's generation with their i-Pods and video games and text-messaging and K-Fed, but little boys in the early '60s were fascinated with monkeys. If there was a movie or television show with a chimpanzee, WE WATCHED IT. So if I did make an acquaintence or two on that trip to the zoo, I'm sure we agreed that we were particularly anxious to see the monkeys.

To our great disappointment, a teacher said to us: "We won't be seeing the monkeys today, boys and girls, because they are mating."

I didn't know what "mating" was, but when I got back home and said to my parents, "We couldn't see the monkeys because the monkeys were mating," it was a big hit. For the next week or so, I was asked to repeat it to any grownups who visited our house.

I do remember that at the zoo, as we were being told that the monkeys were mating, we were shown a tiny, fenced-in building, inside which this thing called "mating" was in progress. There was a tiny window, and I distinctly remember that there was one monkey looking out the window at us.

Today, with the benefit of my decades of life experience, I know what mating is. And I grew to realize that the one monkey who was looking out the window at us was -- for the moment, at least -- NOT mating.