December 2008 Archives

the great sort

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sorting timeIt's almost the New Year, and time for a new project! Well, not new exactly. Something I've been meaning to do for awhile: go through the Divaville Lounge CDs. Move them around to make sure there's enough space in the binders, find and refile the odd CD that got misfiled, make label cards for the new acquisitions, and make sure everything is in the database.

I've been meaning to do this ever since I bought a 10-CD set of Artie Shaw and realized there wasn't room for any of it in the main CD case. Going through all those CDs seemed like such a slog that I put it off, left the Artie Shaw set in its box and just brought it to shows in my purse. Now I have my Christmas presents too (yay for family who know I want music and get me good things I really need, not a dud in the lot), and I just can't put it off any longer.

This is the perfect time to go through the CDs because I've got all day Thursday to work on it. Because it has to be done by my next show for obvious reasons. This way I won't have a frantic Sunday morning trying to cram all the CDs into the case so I can take them to the station. (Been there, rather not do it again.)

I started this evening and I've already made lots of progress. I have two cases, one for single artist CDs and one for compilations. Well, the single artist CDs fill the entire first case and spill over into the second. So to be precise, the first case is A to Nina Simone, and the second case is Frank Sinatra to Z, then comps, then lounge/exotica, then Christmas. (It's an odd system that works for me.) Last time around I filled the single-artist case almost completely and left all the blank spaces in the comps case. Which was the wrong way around as it turns out: I almost never buy comps anymore, except Christmas music. For regular music it's almost always single artist CDs or sets. Which means that when I get something new, there's never any room for it in the case.

This time I'm compressing the comps section, leaving only a few spaces where I think I'll need them. I think this will make enough room for all the new CDs plus things I'm planning to get in the next few months. Hope so!

the wayback machine

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I think the show went really well! If I do say so myself. It was a lot of fun & the work beforehand putting it all together really paid off. Here's the playlist if anyone is interested. Georg said he thought I did a good job of getting in at least one song by everyone important, which was good to hear. The only people I missed who I really wanted to include were Anita O'Day, Woody Herman and Django Reinhardt. I really tried but just couldn't work them in. Oh, and Dick Powell, Billy Eckstine, and Mildred Bailey. And I'm sure I could think of a dozen more if I thought a minute. Four hours were not quite enough for this show! It would have been easier to include everybody, and a few more songs by the really important artists, in five hours.

During the show I was surprised by how clear and distinct were the changes in musical styles. Playing a song a year like this, you could hear it happening. Sometimes triggered by events, like jazz coming on the scene in 1917, or the invention of electric recording technology in 1925, or sometimes just because styles changed with the passage of time. Swing in the early 30s, big band in the late 30s through mid 40s, those Mitch Miller novelty songs in the early 50s, then we hit the mid-50s and suddenly it's all sultry cool jazz. Of course in reality music was never that monolithic. I was trying to play songs that were either very popular or very important in each year, which tends to amplify trends.

The show was instructive for me in another way: before now I've thought of the really popular songs as "overplayed" and avoided them to some degree, in favor of more unusual songs. Well this show was basically a greatest hits program, almost every song was hugely popular, and people seemed to really like it. I got way more calls today than usual. (And most of them called during the big band portion of the show, which suggests that big band is what people like the most.) I liked it too; I spent the whole show singing and dancing along in the MCR.

This was a great way to wrap up the year. I wish I could do a show like this every year, but it would be really hard to do without basically repeating the same show. I think next year on Oscar weekend I'll do a song a year thing for Oscar winners. That would be a similar idea, but with a different spin on it so it didn't sound the same.

driving home math

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An eight hour drive that stretches to 10 1/2 hours, plus a late start, plus two stops on the way, makes for a very very long day.

I hate holiday traffic. At least we're home now, Jane is fine, the house is fine.

then again

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After writing my longish complaint about planning the Wayback Machine show, I took another look at the flowsheet and it fell right into place. All I had to do was move the talkset (I always do talksets over an instrumental) to 1923, then I could plug in "Somebody Stole My Gal" by Ted Weems. Now the hole is filled, the sets are more balanced, and the show is only a minute too long. Yay! For 1921 I might just leave the instrumental because it's a notable piece -- "Carolina Shout" by James P. Johnson. Or I could replace it with "I'm Going to Jazz My Way Right Into Paradise" by Mary Stafford, an obscure but good early jazz recording. They're the same length so I don't even have to decide until Sunday.

The only problem left is having "Red Hot Mama" for 1924 and "Red Hot Henry Brown" for 1926. Those songs are just way too similar, and neither one is particularly important or influential. They're good examples of racy flapper music, but one is plenty to illustrate the point. Well I could go with "Doctor Jazz" and be two minutes long. I hate to do that to the next DJ though. I think I'll look at the list of notable songs published in 1926 and see if I come up with anything. Wikipedia's "year in music" pages have been a godsend for planning this show.

[ETA: I spent more time on the show and had everything worked out, it had really come together. And then just now I was checking label information for each of the downloads, and I realized that my 1922 song, "Blue Skies" by Josephine Baker, can't possibly work because "Blue Skies" was written in 1926. So first of all, the person who posted it on archive.org got the dates wrong, second, it shouldn't be on there at all because it's still under copyright, and third, now I don't have a song for 1922. I should have known "Blue Skies" wasn't from 1922; it just sounded too clean for the pre-electric recording days.]

[ETA ETA: I've got a song for 1922. It's not super important to the history of modern music, but it's a song, it's pleasant, and I was able to find out a few things about the singer (Henry Burr) to say on the air. So, the show is done and only runs about minute long. That is, until tomorrow night when I will probably start monkeying around with the playlist again.]

So I've been working on the flowsheet for the Wayback Machine show on Sunday. I worked on it Wednesday night, it came together really well, and I was congratulating myself on a job well done.

My own collection only goes back to about 1924-25, so I got a lot of music for the teens and early twenties from the Internet Archive. They have a great collection of audio files which collectors have recorded from their old 78s and Edison cylinders. Anything that old is public domain, so I don't even have to be cagey on the air about where it came from. I found great stuff too: one of the earliest recorded versions of "Alexander's Ragtime Band" sung by Billy Murray, some of the earliest recordings by Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor, and best of all, the first ever recordings of jazz, by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917.

The only task left was to listen to all the music I had downloaded and make sure there weren't any audio problems. Well, it turned out one of the files was bad, really distorted. A shame too, it was a song by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake that I really wanted to play. Oh well, I found another good song for 1922 by Josephine Baker. Here's where things get complicated:

While looking for a song for 1922, I happened across a clean recording of Bessie Smith singing "St. Louis Blues" with Louis Armstrong. Wow, it would be great to play that in the show. I had been planning to play Bessie Smith's "Downhearted Blues," but I like "St. Louis Blues" better. The problem is that if I add "St. Louis Blues" in 1925, well first of all I lose "Yes Sir, That's My Baby!" which is what I was planning to play for 1925. Which is sad but not heartbreaking. But then I have to pull out "Downhearted Blues," and now I don't have a song for 1923. And I was planning to play "Heebie Jeebies" by Louis Armstrong's Hot Five, but that's 1926, and that would be two Louis Armstrong tracks in a row which wouldn't be so good. (That's a loss I can live with actually; "Heebie Jeebies" is a great song but I play it a lot.) So now I have nothing for 1926, and nothing with Louis Armstrong vocals.

I wasn't crazy about the song I had picked out for 1930, so I can swap in Armstrong's "If I Could Be With You," another classic. That's actually better because now I have Armstrong really early, on cornet, and then again on a slightly later piece with more singing and a bigger band. Where before I only had the one track from the Hot Five.

And for 1926 I can use either "Doctor Jazz" by Jelly Roll Morton or "Red Hot Henry Brown" by Margaret Young. The show is starting to run long, "If I Could Be With You" and "Doctor Jazz" are both longish tracks. And I couldn't stand to cut a whole song from later in the show; I've already made cuts that were painful. So I'd better go with "Red Hot Henry Brown" which is over a minute shorter. Except now I have a problem in 1924, because I had already chosen "Red Hot Mama" by the Brox Sisters, and that's way too similar to "Red Hot Henry Brown." One of them has to go. And has to be replaced by a short song, which is strangely hard to come by in the early twenties.

So to sum up, I either have a show that's done, but will disappoint me a little in the mid-twenties. Or a show that would be better, except with a couple of holes yet to be filled. And I'm wondering does this have to be so hard, or am I making it too complicated? The entire flowsheet wasn't like this, but parts of it definitely were. With only one song per year for most years, I feel like I have to make every song count: either really popular in its day, really important to music history, or really beloved by me.

I know I sound like a big old whiner, and I guess I am. In truth putting this show together has been a lot of fun. I hope it sounds good on Sunday.

"This magazine says beware of croissants, they have four times the fat of an English muffin."
"That's because a croissant is a dough full of butter, layered with butter. And an English muffin has almost no fat in it. You'd have to deep fry an English muffin to get the fat content of a croissant."
"That sounds good."
"We could wrap it in bacon first, then deep fry it."
"You know what would be really good: cut a pocket into the English muffin and stuff it with cheese, or crab and butter. Then wrap it in bacon. And then deep fry it."
"We'd need those extra thick Wolferman's english muffins."

No wonder I married into this family.

eartha kitt 1927-2008

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Farewell, Eartha.

holiday cheer

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Robot Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies. The only thing that would make it better is if they had used "Sugar Rum Cherry" (the Duke Ellington arrangement of same). Speaking of which, I just found out that Ellington arranged the entire Nutcracker, not just the Sugar Plum Fairies which we have on one of the Ultra-Lounge Christmas Cocktails comps. I haven't been able to track down the whole thing but I did find a CD with most of it. Which I will be buying in time for next year's Xmasville Lounge.

Thanks to Making Light for the link above. Merry Christmas everybody!

reunion in france

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December 19 movie: Reunion in France. Joan Crawford and John Wayne star in this wartime thriller that seems to want to be Casablanca, but isn't. Really. The movie takes a while to get going, and then the plot veers between improbable and absurd. Still, I enjoyed it. Crawford and Wayne had good chemistry. She's a spoiled rich Frenchwoman who gets caught flat-footed by the war and discovers she's actually a patriot. Wayne is a downed RAF pilot she helps escape Paris. Philip Dorn is Crawford's boyfriend, a Nazi collaberator. Or is he? Lovey Howell has a small part as an addle-brained rich German woman. Basically the same character as Lovey Howell, except mean and a Nazi.

who knew

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According to Tor.com, when first meeting a writer it's considered impolite to say "I have to tell you, I really hate your work." Those crazy science fiction people and their idiosyncratic social norms!

oh hoho, bacon

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hooray for captain santa claus

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I think the show went well! There were a couple of moments of confusion but nothing that was apparent on air, I think. The Hanukkah celebration was really fun. We waited until about 4:45 so that the sun went down and Hanukkah officially began during that part of the show. That Music from the Yiddish Radio Project album is fantastic. I really want to learn more about the Barry Sisters. The Irving Fields album is great too, but it's all instrumentals so it wouldn't be as easy to work into my show.

We got lots of great requests (one of which stumped us! That doesn't happen often) and a call from the King of Jingaling! He had commented on my blog here, so I wrote to him this morning and told him about Divaville Lounge. I had assumed he'd be too busy to listen now & told him about the "Wayback Machine" show on the 28th. But he had time to tune in today! When he called, he said he was listening while he prepared some music files to upload this afternoon. Speaking of which, I need to check and see what was uploaded today.

Georg and I are both exhausted. Four hours is a long time to be on the air, and then the next dj didn't show up! The guys who were supposed to be on at 7 were listening at 6 and heard us say so, so they came over early, and we got to leave about 6:25. Thank you, Eric and Myles! The funny thing is, if the 6-7 show had been listed as open I probably would have signed up to do it. But it wasn't on the sub list so I assumed that whoever does it normally was going to be there. Then as 6 pm approached it was difficult to plan the show, since we had no idea whether we were going to be on for a few more minutes or another hour. I find there's a big difference between knowing you're going to be on the air for X amount of time, versus having to do it on a moment's notice when you had planned to be on for a shorter length of time.

I'm going to write to the programming director and try to find out whether anyone is going to show up next week. Next week's show will have a preplanned flowsheet so it really would be a problem to have to unexpectedly fill 20 minutes (or an hour) at the end. I could easily plan the show to be longer, but having it happen without warning would be a mess.

xmasville lounge

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A little late to announce this: Georg and I will be hosting the annual Divaville Lounge Christmas show today from 2-6pm. Today's will be not just Christmas, also the first day of Hanukkah and the Solstice. Happy Holidays indeed! 88.7 if you're local, wxdu.org if you're not.

The Christmas show has become a tradition I really cherish. I'm not sure when I started doing it every year. I have recordings going back to 2004 and I think I did the show at least once before I had the ability to digitally record shows, maybe more. So this is at least the 5th annual Xmasville Lounge, but I don't know for sure.

In any event it's going to be a fun one. We've got music for Hanukkah from Kenny Ellis, Irving Fields, the Barry Sisters and the Yiddish Radio Project; wintry seasonal music for the solstice; and more classic, weird and wacky Christmas than you can shake a stick at. I'm particularly looking forward to the set devoted to Santa's alternate means of transportation. We've got songs with Santa on a helicopter, in a canoe, on a train, and 2, count 'em 2 songs about Santa in outer space.

gloomy sunday

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Not so nice thing: Going to sleep with a moderate headache and waking up with a bad one. Damn, I thought for sure I would sleep it off. I don't have time for this, I have to burn CDs for the Christmas show this afternoon.

[ETA: on the bright side, not being able to work on CDs meant I could relax and and spend an hour or so on today's crossword puzzle. Just figured out the gimmick. yay! The rest will fall into place now. And the Excedrin Migraine is starting to kick in. yay! Excedrin Migraine is the best thing on earth.]

[Well no, Georg is the best thing on earth. And then Janey. Excedrin Migraine is third.]

gloomy saturday

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Nice things for a gloomy Saturday:

December 18 movie: How Star Wars Ruined Educational Films. A/V Geeks is back in Durham! It was a great episode too: Star Wars influenced educational films using science fiction as a muddled gimmick. As a bonus he showed Hardware Wars at the end. I can't remember the last time I saw that. It has to have been about twenty five years.

the interns

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December 17 movie: The Interns. I watched this because I thought it was a remake of Not as a Stranger, a really good drama about interns starring Robert Mitchum. No, this was an unrelated, soapy melodrama about interns. I can't recommend it.

autumn leaves

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December 17 movie: Autumn Leaves. Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson costar in this psychological melodrama which was much more affecting than I expected. Crawford is a lonely spinster who marries Robertson after a very brief relationship, then finds out he's crazy and a compulsive liar. And he has an, um, complicated family. Special bonus: Lorne Greene as Robertson's sleazy bastard of a father. A small part which Greene makes the most of.

The directing by Robert Aldrich is excellent, drawing top-notch performances out of both stars. My beef with the movie is an extremely negative message for women. [major spoilers ahead] When Robertson loses it he becomes violent, blackening Crawford's eye and crushing her hand. (in the movie it's depicted as a gash or sprain or something, but we see him try to bash in her head with a typewriter, she rolls out of the way and it lands on her hand. Which would have shattered the hand. Those old typewriters were heavy!)

A sane woman would call the ambulance, the cops and the locksmith. Crawford goes all "Stand By Your Man," comforting him after his attack on her. Lucky for her he switches to docile crazy after that, so she's able to care for him at home & lie to him about the source of her injuries. Eventually she takes him to a mental hospital, convinced that if they make him sane he won't need her anymore. Well they do, and he still does, and don't you love happy endings! Ugh.

It feels like there are two movies here: the one they think they're making and the one they're actually making. It's the story of two deeply disturbed people who feed each other's delusions. Neither one gets better: Crawford is just as fearful and dependent and Robertson just as much of a lunatic at the end as at the beginning. I felt like it was only a matter of time before the typewriters started flying again.

double dynamite

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In the history of unlikely buddy picture teams, are there any as unlikely as Frank Sinatra and Groucho Marx? Their duet "It's Only Money" must be seen to be believed. Frank plays a squeaky-clean bank teller falsely suspected of embezzlement. Groucho plays a waiter who "helps" Frank. And Jane Russell plays Frank's best girl.

The weirdest part of the movie? Jane Russell got top billing.

christmas in connecticut

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December 16 movie: Christmas in Connecticut. My other favorite Christmas movie! Barbara Stanwyck plays the lifestyle queen of ladies magazines, whose publisher bullies her into inviting a war hero home to her farm in Connecticut for Christmas dinner. Only problem is, she's a fraud who isn't married, has no baby, no farm in Connecticut, and can't even cook. The movie is hilarious. I only have one problem with it: throughout the movie she seems largely unfamiliar with her own story. Her readers seem to know much more about the content of her columns than she does. The charitable explanation (which I try hard to believe while I'm watching the movie) is that she's so flustered by the situation and her growing infatuation with the war hero that she can't remember anything. The uncharitable explanation is that she wasn't creating a persona in all those columns; she was just making shit up and writing down whatever came to mind. Still, you'd think that knowing she was going to have to live out the character from her column, she would have spent a little time familiarizing herself with the material.

unsung heroes

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Speaking of Gene Krupa, did you know Downbeat magazine is still being published? I did not, until a few days ago when I saw a few issues at Santa Salsera's house. I remember reading about Downbeat in that really good biography of Nat King Cole. According to which Downbeat started complaining as early as the late forties that Cole had sold out, wasn't making real jazz anymore, had lost his edge, too pop, etc etc. All more or less true, but it's funny that the music press has not changed at all in sixty years.

Anyway, when I was at Sta. Salsera's I flipped through a couple issues of Downbeat. One had an article called "Unsung Heroes of Jazz Drumming," featuring luminaries Gene Krupa, Chick Webb, Jo Jones, Sonny Greer, Dave Tough and Sid Catlett. My first reaction on seeing the blurb was, cool, an article on all these great drummers. My second reaction was, wha? Unsung? No, sung! They are sung heroes!

I've played all of them many times on my show, and talked about most of them (I think Tough and Catlett are the two I haven't mentioned by name). I'm going to try and borrow that issue from Salsera. It would be fun to do a show about the (un)Sung Heroes of Jazz Drumming: one set for each of them.

george white's scandals

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December 15 movie: George White's Scandals. Joan Davis and Jack Haley (the Tin Man) play costars in the Broadway show George White's Scandals who are also having a romance. Except that Jack's sister (Margaret Hamilton, also from The Wizard of Oz) doesn't approve of the romance. Or the show.

This movie is very silly and not very good, and apparently something of a remake of an earlier, better film with Rudy Vallee and Alice Faye. There is a reason to watch this one though: Gene Krupa plays himself, leading the band for the show. And Ethel Smith has a specialty number. Accompanied by Krupa. I can honestly say I never thought I would see Ethel Smith and Gene Krupa perform together. The best number is one early on, where the camera swoops above the orchestra, following Krupa as he runs from one group of musicians to another, egging them on with the antic gestures Krupa did so well. That guy was a nut.

the man who came to dinner

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December 13 movie: The Man Who Came to Dinner. Now this is more like it. My favorite Christmas movie! It's so deliriously misanthropic. The perfect antidote to the schmaltz which overwhelms this season. Really, if Christmas makes you feel "bah humbug" you should watch this movie. They said in the intro that Bette Davis had wanted John Barrymore to play the lead. I'm sure he would have been good, but I can't imagine anyone but Monty Wooley in the part. He owns that character.

remember the night

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Dec 13 movie: Remember the Night. Melodrama set at Christmastime with Barbara Stanwyck as a shoplifter and Fred MacMurray as the prosecutor who feels sorry for, then falls for her. It was okay. Kind of a downer for a Christmas movie.

xmas countdown

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Just about done Christmas shopping. Are my feet tired! I don't much like shopping under any circumstances, and the Friday before Christmas is a particularly bad time for it. At least I was able to get done in the afternoon. I bet it will be really crazy tonight.

Last night we went to A/V Geeks, then I did some work while Georg decorated. Just the little tinsel tree this year, no big pine garland like we usually do. The decorations still look nice, even scaled back. Then we watched the Nutcracker on tv. Does it get any more festive? Well I guess if I hadn't been working. At least it was low-key work that I could do while watching the Nutcracker. It was a version costarring Macauley Culken. Which I must say, was not good for the production. Every time they showed his face it took me right out of the moment. All I could think was, "Macauley Culkin! What a strange looking child he was. I wonder whatever happened to him? Is he less annoying as an adult? Maybe he's as cool as Wil Wheaton. It could happen!"

Tonight we're going out for meat on swords, then tomorrow Georg and I will do prep work for Sunday's show. Sunday is four days before Christmas, also the first day of Hanukkah, also the winter solstice. And we'll be spinning four hours of tunes that celebrate all of the above. A holly-jolly-yuletide-dreidel-riffic afternoon!

we're mur-diddly-urdelers

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So we have mice. We first discovered, ah, evidence of them a couple of days ago. We had left some crackers in a ziploc bag on the counter, and the mice got up there, chewed the bag open, ate the crackers and pooped all over the counter. So gross.

We cleaned out the pantry and discovered that they had been on the floor, and on the first shelf which had no food, but it doesn't look like they made it up to the higher shelves where the food is stored. To be safe we bought more canisters and made sure all food was secure. No more soft plastic containers that mice might chew through. And we put everything bread-like up high in those hanging baskets people store onions in.

We read online that mice are repelled by Bounce dryer sheets, so we bought a box and put them everywhere we thought the mice might be. The smell is certainly repellant -- why on earth would people pay to have their clothes smell like this? -- but I don't think it's doing much to the mice. I saw one up on the counter, after we put the Bounce sheets out. I was up late and I heard a noise in the kitchen. Tiptoed in and turned on the dining room light. There it was, an adorable little grey field mouse sitting on the edge of the counter. It saw me and dropped over the side. I think it used the power cable from the stove to climb up onto the counter.

We did a little more research after that, and found out that mice breed very fast; if you see one, you have many; and they like to chew up electrical insulation and can cause fires in older houses.

So, we called Critter Control and they're coming tomorrow. We also put out a couple of traps. I really hate killing mice. Especially now that I've seen how cute they are. When I thought we just had one or two, I even suggested we catch them and keep them as pets. (Yeah, Georg liked that idea about as much as you would expect.) But we can't have a mouse invasion living in the crawl space, stealing our food, contaminating our countertops and chewing on our wiring. I've read that a quick kill trap is kinder than releasing them in a field somewhere, where they'll either starve to death or a predator will kill them.

We put the traps out last night and a mouse got caught this afternoon. I heard the trap snap. Cree-pee. Georg had promised to deal with trap disposal and I held him to his word, staying out of the kitchen until he got home. Poor mousie.

oh, that joe

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Joe Biden hasn't made many public statements lately, but he has found time for a couple of small gaffes:

In the press conference where Hillary Clinton was announced for Secretary of State, he twice referred to Obama as "President" rather than "President Elect." He seemed to catch himself because later in his statement he said "President Elect" rather pointedly.

Then tonight in the energy/environment press conference he referred to Al Gore as "President Gore."

These are both pretty minor. Nothing compared to calling Obama "clean and articulate" or telling a man in a wheelchair to stand up. Still, I hope Biden will continue to do his part to keep these press conferences entertaining.

(by the way, the video of Biden telling the guy in the wheelchair to stand up is hilarious. "Oh! God love ya, what am I talking about?")

signs of excess

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How do you know when you've gone to the same Wendy's too many times? Is it:

  • when you pull up to the drive-through window and they ask where your dog is?
  • when you make a slight change (like different salad dressing) to your usual order and they check to make sure that's what you really want?
  • when the manager comps your lunch?
  • when you bake goodies to give the drive-through staff for Christmas?

I think it's that last one.

meet me in las vegas

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December 12 movie: Meet Me in Las Vegas. What luck that I got to see this movie! I've wanted to see it for a long time, I even recorded it once and our bad DVR crashed and didn't record it. (Since then the cable company replaced the box with one that works.) The info guide got it wrong and IDed this as Meet Me In St. Louis, so I didn't set it up to record. And then I happened to turn on the tv just as it was starting!

Dan Dailey plays a down-on-his luck rancher with a gambling problem. Cyd Charisse plays a ballerina performing at the Sands. Whenever they hold hands, they literally cannot lose at any game of chance. It's not a great movie, but fun to watch. Thurston Howell from Gilligan's Island plays the head booker at the Sands and there are cameos by a lot of stars.

there goes my heart

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December 12 movie: There Goes My Heart. The first time I saw this, I thought it was just a knockoff of It Happened One Night. Well, it is. And I've seen it a couple more times, and it's grown on me each time. There's a sweetness to this movie that's really charming. Virginia Bruce and Fredric March have great chemistry, and Patsy Kelly and Alan Mowbray are funny as the secondary couple.

busy weekend

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It's been a fun, busy weekend. Let's see, Friday night we went to a "drive-through living nativity" with D. and S. I was seriously impressed with how well the event was put together. They gave us a CD at the start and told us when to start playing it. The CD describes each scene and told us when to pull forward to the next scene. There were 5 (maybe 6) scenes, and at each one people were acting out the same thing we were hearing on the CD. Somehow they managed to get it almost perfectly in sync with the CD, which they could not hear because we were playing it in our car. I'm still trying to figure out how they did that. Did they have some system of cues that we couldn't see? Or had they just practiced a lot.

The event did involve evangelism but very low-key and non-intrusive. The first guy just asked us if we had a home church and invited us to come to theirs. He described their church using a few key phrases -- charismatic, non-denominational, "we're all about Jesus" -- which I'm sure would have told us everything about their church, if we understood the lingo. Especially that last one. I would think all Christian churches were about Jesus, so that must mean something specific.

Saturday was the busiest: first a get-together for the North Durham Obama team. About 8 people came and it was really nice to see them again. Unfortunately a few folks I had really wanted to see couldn't make it. We're talking about having another meeting right after the inauguration since two of our group are going.

Then after the meeting Georg and I went to the farmer's market. We visited the famous pie lady, and her pies are as good as advertised. By the time we got there all she had left was a pie with roasted cauliflower, raisins and capers. It was excellent. Next time we're going to go earlier so there's more to choose from.

Then we did some shopping, including new lights which we put up out front when we got home. They're LED stars that change color. Corny, perhaps, and that's why we like them. The LEDs use much less power than regular lights, and the color changes are less abrupt too.

In the evening we made a sweet potato gratin for dinner and I worked on my end of the year theme shows. There's the Christmas show next week. More properly called a holiday show, because the 21st is also the first day of Hanukkah so I'm going to play Hanukkah music too. Then the week after is the last show of the year, and I'm going to a four-hour retrospective with a song a year for the entire time period covered by the show. Well, that's what I'm going to try to do. The oldest song I've ever played was from 1911, and it's going to be hard to do a song for every year from the teens. There is recorded music from that era, but I don't have much of it. On the bright side a lot of that really old music is in the public domain so it can be found online.

Anyway, once you get to 1923 or so it's easy peasy thanks to Wikipedia. They've got a "year in music" page for every year that lists the most popular recorded music of the year. That's what I did last night, just went through the list and wrote down a couple of songs for each year. I got up to 1957 before I started to feel really tired & then I ended up falling asleep in the middle of The Man Who Came to Dinner.

This morning we had dim sum with S. and D. It was particularly good this morning, and our only disappointment was that the chinese broccoli didn't come out until we were too full to have a plate. We've been getting there early because they get so crowded; maybe next time we should experiment with arriving later and see if different food is available.

Of course I had my show this afternoon, and in about an hour we're on our way to a Christmas party. Busy weekend!

pepe

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December 11 movie: Pepe. Santa Salsera and I got together and watched this. It was a comedy starring Cantinflas, a famous Mexican comedian. Basically Pepe is a Mexican magical black man. He appears out of nowhere, fixes all the white people's problems, asks for nothing for himself, and then disappears whence he came.

The movie was still enjoyable for the staggering number of cameos. Greer Garson, Edward G. Robinson, Billie Burke, Charles Coburn, Ernie Kovacks, Bing Crosby, Jack Lemmon, William Demarest, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ann B. Davis ... that's just the first 15 minutes. It's also got all five members of the Rat Pack, and singing by Bobby Darin, Shirley Jones, Sammy Davis Jr. and Maurice Chevalier. Plus more cameos by at least a dozen other celebrities. The stars are Shirley Jones and Dan Dailey. Most of the other celebrities play themselves.

Pepe was a bit too long. Well, about an hour too long. It felt very episodic, like watching an entire season of a half-hour drama on DVD. When we reached the "when is this movie going to end" phase we started talking about Latin music. I had heard this song on Pandora a few days before, "Ay, Azabache!" by Ibrahim Ferrer. It's caliente, and it turned out Santa Salsera had it in her collection! (I'm not surprised actually. Her music library is pretty amazing.) She put it on and liked it so much she jumped up and started spontaneously dancing.

Santa Salsera also hooked me up with an early 60s album by Rene Touzet. I had never heard of him before. He's terrific! The cha-cha version of 'S Wonderful must be heard to be believed.

high noon

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December 10 movie: High Noon. It's hard to find anything to say about an iconic movie like this. so I'll just say that it's one of those movies that you either get or you don't. I love it, but if you don't, don't say I didn't warn you.

tcm alert

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My two favorite Christmas movies are scheduled to air on Turner Classic Movies in the next couple of days:

The Man Who Came to Dinner tonight at 12:15 am.
Christmas in Connecticut tomorrow at 4:00 pm.

Both terrific movies. Don't miss them!

cowboy from brooklyn

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December 10 movie: Cowboy from Brooklyn. Dick Powell stars as a down-on-his-luck musician who gets stranded in Wyoming, finds a dude ranch that will feed him, learns how to sing cowboy songs to entertain the actual cowboys, gets mistaken for a cowboy himself and "discovered" by a New York talent manager, who names him "Wyoming Steve Gibson" and takes him back to New York to be a radio star. Oh, and also he's deathly afraid of animals.

That description makes the movie sound terrible, but I enjoyed it. Except the part where Powell shrieks like a baby and runs away from birds, prairie dogs etc. That was lame.

smartest girl in town

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December 9 movie: Smartest Girl in Town. Cute screwball comedy starring Gene Raymond and Ann Sothern. The supporting cast included Helen Broderick, Eric Blore and Eric Rhodes, which made it feel like a Fred and Ginger movie minus Fred and Ginger.

crazy nc weather

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We won at trivia tonight! I think our team name, "Candidate 6," was lucky for us. The questions were really hard and we did badly (only 14 points out of a possible 31), just not quite as badly as everyone else.

There were a few questions that we should have gotten right, but didn't:

  • We identified the quote "This is a receipt for your husband, and this is my receipt for your receipt" as being from the movie Beetlejuice. Actually it was from Brazil.
  • D. knew that the first Japanese car produced in the US was the Honda Accord, but (with encouragement from me) he only wrote "Honda" and we didn't get the point.
  • I wrote "bromeliad" for "what kind of fruit is a pineapple." That's the correct answer to the question "what kind of plant is a pineapple." The answer they were looking for was "berry."

Overall we agreed that it was a hard trivia contest, but the good kind of hard. The questions were fair, just really difficult. Very few stupid questions, and they avoided my pet peeve: entire categories geared towards a specific age group. For instance "one hit wonders of the late 90s" or "video games of the early 80s." These guys did a good job of coming up with questions for a variety of age groups.

Just as the trivia contest was ending, my friend Ezra from one-stop showed up! We had exchanged email a couple of times but hadn't seen each other since early voting ended. He came over after his class which lasted until 9. He said next week is the last week of the class, so after the holiday he'll be able to come in time for trivia.

In other news, this afternoon I put up most of our outdoor Christmas decorations. While wearing shorts and a t-shirt, with the front door wide open. Crazy NC weather! We had left the string of LED lights on the porch up all year, so all I had to do was plug them in. Then drag out the big white tinsel tree, set it up on the porch and put string lights on it. The tree is a bit too big for the porch, and we have to stand it up on top of a platform to make it visible from the road. Which makes it hard to maneuver around the tree to string the lights. Every year I end up with little scratches all over my arms from the tinsel branches.

I played a recording of my Sammy Davis show while working on the tree and lights. I suppose I should have played Christmas music but I wanted to hear how the Sammy show had turned out. Pretty good I think! There were a few moments that I felt awkward about at the time, that didn't sound too bad when I listened to it.

It rained pretty hard while we were at trivia, and I hear we might get severe storms tomorrow as the temperature drops. Crazy NC weather.

good news and bad

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So it turns out the governor of Illinois is really, really corrupt. Is this a surprise? Maybe in degree if not in kind. I must say, I'm relieved that early reports indicate Obama was totally uninvolved and I sure as hell hope it stays that way. What kind of a schmuck would I be, if I had given months of my life to help a man get elected who immediately became implicated in a scandal of this magnitude?

In brighter news, Ambinder reports that North Carolina had an 8% increase in turnout over 2004: the biggest increase of any state in the nation. Go us!

When I first started volunteering for Obama, I never thought we'd win North Carolina. My goal was to help make it just competitive enough that McCain would be scared into spending money here, so he'd have less for the real battleground states like Ohio and Florida. When we became a real battleground ourselves, I was stunned. Afterwards our field organizer told us that she had been told the same thing: they weren't expecting to win, they were here to be a thorn in McCain's side. She and the other field organizers were told that the only way we could ever win NC was if they went all out, every day, every hour. And she did; all the field organizers did. I was there often enough to see how long and hard they worked.

In other politics-related news, if you're hankering for an Obama memento, Durham for Obama are still selling t-shirts. I never bought one during the campaign because they only had men's sizes. Which I will not wear because they fit me so badly. Now that the election is over, they're ordering small runs of shirts so they can get whatever size you want. I ordered a youth XL, which fits me perfectly. Nice shirt too. Gildan is a good brand.

In other other political news, according to that whack-job lawsuit claiming that Obama isn't eligible to be president, the same logic would also call my citizenship into question. The lawsuit said that Obama's father was a British citizen, therefore Obama had dual British and American citizenship, therefore he isn't a "natural-born citizen." I have no idea if Obama's father was a British subject or not, but mine was. And I can say definitively that having one British parent does not automatically grant dual citizenship. My parents talked about getting dual citizenship for me but they never got around to filling out the paperwork. Which was a good call, as it happens. I'm quite happy being an American -- natural born, thank you very much. Damned wingnuts.

all night long

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December 7 movie: All Night Long. Based on Othello, this stars Richard Attenborough and Patrick McGoohan and is set in the London jazz scene in the early 60s. Includes a bunch of musicians, including John Dankworth, Dave Brubeck and Charles Mingus. McGoohan plays an American jazz drummer and sports one of the worst American accents I've ever heard.

This is the part where I would expect to write, "well the movie isn't that good, but it's worth it for the jazz luminaries and for McGoohan's accent." Thing is, I can't. Because this movie is horrible. What can you say about an Othello in which Othello doesn't kill Desdemona, but just chokes her half to death, so the movie can end with her running after him, begging him to take her back. Think about that for a minute.

swing time

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December 6 movie: Swing Time. They must be featuring Ginger Rogers this month. I so love this movie. I've had the "Waltz in Swing Time" in my head all day.

bachelor mother

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December 6 movie: Bachelor Mother. Ginger Rogers finds a foundling baby, everyone thinks it's hers, she and David Niven fight over and then bond over the bay. I have mixed feelings about this movie. It's funny and entertaining, but. The part in the beginning ... they compel her to keep the baby by threatening to destroy her if she doesn't, even though she keeps insisting that it's not hers. It's awful, even for the time.

our blushing brides

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December 5 movie: Our Blushing Brides. This one was a talkie, and costarred Robert Montgomery. Joan Crawford, Anita Page and another young lady are shopgirls in a department store. Each has a difficult relationship with men. One marries a crook and is implicated in his crimes; one shacks up with a society man who inevitably drops her, crushing her spirit; and Crawford refuses Montgomery's advances, seeing the damage men have done to her friends.

Everything wraps up at the end in a weird, tacked-on happy scene that doesn't belong at all. Without it the movie is a decent melodrama with good acting by Montgomery. There's a nicely done scene where he tries to comfort Crawford, but pulls his hand away without touching her shoulder. It's a small movement that adds a lot to the story.

tune in for sammy

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Just about finished putting together the playlist for tomorrow's Sammy Davis Jr. tribute show. It was really fun to go through my collection and put the songs together into meaningful sets -- his earliest sides for Capitol and Decca, his work with the Rat Pack, live recordings, "the cheese factor" from late in his career, etc. I'm not going to play anything really bad from his later work. No "Candyman" for instance. And I had to include one set whose theme is simply "songs I really like." Hard to narrow the show down to just 2 hours!

I didn't finish rereading the books but I've got more than enough material to fill the talksets. I don't want to fill the entire show with talk anyway, just a couple of minutes of interesting anecdotes between sets. Sammy was such a larger than life character that just like with the music, it's hard to narrow down the talkset material. For instance I was originally planning to talk about that infamous photo where Sammy hugged Nixon. Why did he do it, and what a huge mistake it was for his career and his standing in the black community. If it happened today we'd call it his "macaca moment." But looking at the flowsheet I don't think I'm going to have time to work it in.

All those who like Sammy, hope you can tune in tomorrow from 2-4. 88.7 if you're local, wxdu.org if you're not. And if you don't like Sammy, what's wrong with you?

grosse pointe blank

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December 4 movie: Grosse Pointe Blank. This movie was genuinely funny. I had forgotten that. I'd seen it a couple of times before (including when it was new) and never realized before yesterday that John Cusak and Minnie Driver are supposed to be the exact same age as I am. The high school reunion is for the class of 1986. That must be why I enjoyed the music so much. There were a few misfires (Guns N Roses, ugh) but it was mostly good stuff.

our modern maidens

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December 4 movie: Our Modern Maidens. This was the second in Joan Crawford's series of three alliterative flapper movies, preceded by Our Dancing Daughters and followed by Our Blushing Brides. This one was in an odd transitional phase as far as technology goes: it had sound, but not sync sound. So you get crowd noises and announcements over the PA system, but all the dialogue is still on intertitle cards.

Like Our Dancing Daughters, Our Modern Maidens is basically an excuse for carousing and sexy dancing. Crawford has one dance number in a sort of animal print outfit with a skimpy bikini top and a big flowing skirt slit to the waist, so that when she twirled her underpants showed. Like all these pre-code movies there's a moral tacked onto the end to justify all the sex. The moral is really strange though: a total "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with" message.

I was going to say this was one of Joan Crawford's first movies until I looked it up and saw on IMDB that it was actually #27 or 28. I must say, back in 1929 she had an extraordinary presence on camera. Whenever she's on screen it's hard to look at anything else. Her eyes were luminous.

captain blood

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December 3 movie: Captain Blood. It was our lucky day: TCM showed two of the all-time great swashbucklers back to back. Basil Rathbone looms large over this movie: I always remember him as being the costar, and then I watch it and remember that he's only in the movie for about three minutes. It's such a great character, I wish he had had more screen time. And I wish Alan Hale were in it!

prisoner of zenda

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December 3 movie: Prisoner of Zenda. What a delightful movie! I'm embarrassed to admit that I had never seen this, the 1937 version before. I had only seen the remake with Stewart Granger. The cast is spectacular: Ronald Colman, Madeleine Carroll, Raymond Massey, Mary Astor, C. Aubrey Smith, David Niven, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Every one of them shone. The movie hangs together perfectly and the fight scene at the end is terrific. I don't know if this can unseat The Adventures of Robin Hood as my favorite swashbuckler, but dang, it's too close to call.

the stairs of doom

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The stairs of doomAt the furniture company where I work, the only way to get up and downstairs has been named, by me, The Stairs of Doom. The stairs of doom are a rickety ladder on a slight angle, with a railing. The stairs of doom are so well used that a deep depression has been worn into the center of each step. Or maybe they're just made of cheap wood.

The stairs of doom are also covered in a thick layer of dust. I don't know why the dust isn't knocked off by people walking on the stairs of doom. Actually the guys don't really walk on the stairs of doom, at least not down. They slide down the rails like kids on a banister. Actually more like Batman entering the Bat Cave. I descend slowly, very slowly and carefully and fearfully. It's not so bad when I'm wearing good shoes, like my vogs with thick chunky soles. If I'm wearing my Rocketdogs, little more than slippers, I feel like I'm going to slip in the dust and fall off with every step.

In the normal course of events I work in the office, downstairs, and rarely have to use the stairs of doom. Once every couple of weeks at most. However, my boss is out for a few weeks and asked me to come in every day to handle phone calls and email. Since my boss isn't there, if anything comes up that I don't have the answer to, I have to find the guy who makes that part of the furniture and ask him. Most of the production area is upstairs, so ... the stairs of doom. Over and over. At least a dozen times today. It's not my favorite part of the job.

Actually it's not true that the stairs of doom are the only access to the upstairs. There's also a freight elevator, to which I do not have a key. Today one of the guys showed me that the key is only necessary to go up. Anyone can use the freight elevator to go down to the first floor. However, I would feel like an idiot riding the elevator all day long just because I'm scared of the stairs of doom. And besides it's wasteful of electricity. Still, I think I will ride the elevator when I'm carrying something. That makes it harder to hang onto the rail, which makes the stairs of doom feel even more treacherous.

I think tomorrow I'm going to wear my vogs again. And find a broom and sweep the dust off the stairs of doom.

dangerous when wet

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December 2 movie: Dangerous When Wet. Esther Williams and Fernando Lamas costar in this movie about a family of health nuts from Arkansas who try to swim the English Channel. The family (including Williams Demarest and Charlotte Greenwood) are quite funny, as is Jack Carson as a snake oil salesman who sponsors the trip.

My main problem with the movie is Fernando Lamas' character. In short, he's a dick. Why Williams' character would have fallen for him is beyond me. It's hard to believe he and Williams eventually married after meeting on this set. For her sake I hope the actor wasn't like the character.

I was so annoyed by Lamas' character that I almost turned the movie off. Which would have been a shame because the sequence where Williams crosses the Channel is genuinely dramatic. There's also a fun dream sequence where Williams swims with Tom and Jerry and other cartoon characters.

the great lie

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November 30 movie: The Great Lie. Another movie I never miss an opportunity to watch. Wonderful melodrama about Bette Davis and Mary Astor fighting over George Brent, and Davis raising Astor's baby. In the intro Robert Osborne said that Mary Astor played the piano for herself, which I do not believe. Astor was carefully filmed from angles that avoided showing her hands.

that's entertainment

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November 29 movie: That's Entertainment. We ate take-out from the Q Shack and watched this after we drove back from Thanksgiving in Delaware. What a nice way to relax after a long drive. It starts with clips from Hollywood Revue of 1929 which we just saw a couple of months ago.

support your local sheriff!

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November 25 movie: Support Your Local Sheriff! Funny western parody starring James Garner, Joan Hackett, Walter Brennan, the wonderful Harry Morgan, and Bruce Dern hiding behind a big bushy beard. At first I thought this was going to be too wacky for my taste. But I got into the spirit of it pretty quick. The role -- easy-going cowboy with a wry sense of humor who gets away with it because he kicks ass -- was perfect for Garner, and he played it many times. The first time I ever saw him in a comedy western was the Maverick remake with Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster.

the african queen

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November 25 movie: The African Queen. I didn't plan on watching this but I came across it and I couldn't resist.

whipsaw

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November 25 movie: Whipsaw. Drama starring Myrna Loy as a reluctant crook, and Spencer Tracy as an undercover cop. It had some nice moments but was overall fairly predictable.

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