Sunday, April 29, 2012

Leibster Award

I was recently awarded a Leibster Award by a friend and a reader of my blog, Olga.  Thank you Olga.

From what I can tell, the Leibster Awards don't have an official web site or organization.  It is an award that people give out to blogs that they read that have less than 200 followers. The idea being that you help spread the word.  After getting the award, you hand out five awards yourself and so on ... if you have time and/or energy.

Here I go:
  • Confessions of a Grandma by my friend, Olga.  Back at you.  If only my grandma was around and were as cool as Olga.
  • Fairfield Preschool Blog by my wife, Beth.  This is her amazing classroom blog.
  • Steve Albini Voice, my niece Lauren writes for this blog.  She is such a good writer.  I can hear her talking when I read her writing.
  • Angels Watching Over Me by my friend Amy.   She hasn't blogged in a while so maybe this will inspire her.  
  • Green Space Boston by my friend Meg.  Another great writer I know from my years of living in Boston.  Meg writes about the green space around the city of Boston.
  • The Guy in the Pink Helmet by my friend and ex-co-worker, Jay.  Jay chronicles his quest raising funds to fight breast cancer.
That is six.  I couldn't decide who to exclude so I left it at six.  I couldn't tell if some of them had more than 200 readers so I left it at that.  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cop Show Progression

When I was a kid I loved cop shows.  My parents used to watch the Sunday night NBC Mystery Movie which had detective shows like McCloud, McMillan and Wife and Quincy M.E.   A lot of these shows were on in the 10PM slot with slight hooks to them like Police Woman, The Magician, The Rookies, Baretta and The Streets of San Francisco.  You'd be hard pressed to find any of these shows even on TVLand or the Retro station now.  This is because they are quite awful.  They were formulaic and tame compared to what we now consider a police drama.  Each mystery was wrapped up by the end of the hour (a short arc) by one dimensional good guys arresting stereo-typical bad guys.   Why did we watch such crap?  Mostly because there wasn't anything else on.  We had a black and white television set much of the 1970's.  Even after we bought a color television set, we still had only about five to eight channels, no remote control and fairly bad reception.  You had to get up and adjust the antennae when you changed the channel.  Might be one of the reasons why I become such a big reader.

Sometimes you don't know something is bad because you haven't experienced good yet.  In 1981, NBC introduced a new show that changed everything about the cop show genre.  After Hill Street Blues hit the air, it was really hard to watch any of these other shows.  The characters had back stories and personal lives, the cops weren't all good people, some of them had bad habits and some of them were dirty.  The criminals weren't all one dimensional and some weren't even guilty, just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Also, the narrative was very different than your typical show.  Sometimes you had plot lines that continued over several episodes (a long arc) sometimes with three or four different plot lines happening at once. So many things were better about this show everything from the dialogue to the camera work.

For the last 30 years, American cop shows have had a similar formula.  You have the crime each episode that needs to be solved (the short arc) and you have the character's personals lives (the long arc) that develop over the course of the series.  This works to varying degrees.  A good example is  The Closer where you have the homicide department resolving a murder each episode with the eccentric Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson.  If she can get them alone in a room, she can resolve the crime purely with manipulation.  The   crimes are heavy, their personal lives are light giving the observer relief.   I just watched an episode of The Body of Proof and I found it almost painful to watch. It had the bad dialogue of Grey's Anatomy, the one dimensional characters of  Desperate Housewives and the bad science of CSI.  It is particularly hard to watch something so badly done after seeing The Wire.

A few years ago, when I had HBO, I was flipping through the channels and discovered a show called The Wire that was captivating.  It seemed too realistic to be a drama.  The language was natural, the narrative compelling and less linear than most shows.  I rented all of the back episodes and watched the entire five seasons.  My wife wanted to see it so I recently watched all five seasons again.  I am not prone to use the word "masterpiece" readily but this show comes as close to a masterpiece as a cop show may possibly come. The show concentrates on Baltimore, Maryland, on one long drug case for the entirety of the series (aka a very long arc). The first season delves into the life of the drugs dealers in an East Baltimore neighborhood and what the cops have to do get a "wire" up to listen to their dealings.  But then season two takes a completely different turn, it concentrates on the docks where the drugs and other contraband come into the city.  Season three, politics, season four, the schools, season five, the media ... what you have after five seasons is a portrait of an American city like no other.  The Wire has set a new precedence for excellence for drama for me.  I love it, but again, it has made it difficult to enjoy the rest of television drama after I have seen what can be done.  I keep looking for my new Wire, but keep finding The Body of Truth.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Danny, the Needle and the Setting Sun

It is unfortunate for Danny Whitten that the most famous thing he ever did was die.  Many rock 'n roll fans might recognize his name but may not be able recall his accomplishments.  Yes, he is the drug addict that inspired the Neil Young song, The Needle and the Damage Done, but he was much more.

I always thought that Danny had died of a heroin induced overdose, but he died from a fatal combo of Valium and alcohol.  The Valium was used for the pain from an arthritic knee.  He was drinking heavily to help him get over the heroin addiction.  The Needle and the Damage Done appears on the Harvest album and it was during these session which Young kicked Danny out of the band.  As one of founding members of the band, Crazy Horse, Danny was one of the guitarists involved in the recording of Harvest in Young's San Fransisco home studio.  When Young noticed that Danny wasn't keeping up with the rest of the band and becoming a disruptive force, he bought Danny a plane ticket home to LA.  It was later that night, November 8th, 1972, that Danny died.  You cannot help but think of the lyric:  "Every Junkie's like a settin' sun."  Young obviously saw a beauty in his friend, one which would come to an end too soon.  It was one of the first of many anti-drug rock songs to come out in the early 1970's.

Danny played guitar and sang with Neil on some of his most rocking tunes.  On one of my favorite albums, Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere, Young's second solo album, Danny played guitar and sang on Cinnamon Girl, Down By the River and Cowgirl in the Sand.  Some believe that in these sessions grunge was born.  The driving pulse of the electric guitar in these songs can be heard in some of the best songs of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters.

Danny was also a song writer.  His most famous song was I Don't Want To Talk About It which was made famous by Rod Stewart in 1971.  Crazy Horse was the first to record it.  It was on their first album.  It was also recorded by Rita Coolidge and Everything But the Girl.  My favorite version of it is by the Indigo Girls.  I won't be able to hear this song now without thinking of the lost potential of Danny Whitten.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Transit of Venus

You won't be able to see it with your naked eye, but this June (the 5th and 6th to be exactly) a rare astronomical event will be happening in our skies.  Venus will be passing between Earth and the Sun.  If you are at an observatory using some of their amazing equipment, you'd be able to see its the path across the face of the Sun.  In North American we will get to see the beginning of it, while Asia, the Middle East and most of Europe will be able to see the end of it.  The rest of the planet is out of luck.  Don't look for it without the equipment, obviously, unless you want to be blind that is.  This particular event will not be happening again until 2117 so for most of us this our last chance.  The best place to view it will be the South Pacific Islands so plan your trip now to Hawaii or Tahiti.