Sunday, March 30, 2014

Guess Who -- "Star Baby" (1974)

I'm head over heels in love
With your kind of insanity

If I had a dollar for every woman who has expressed that sentiment to me in the course of my very long and very rich life, I'd be a rich man today!

Not that I'm not a rich man already!  Not rich in dollars exactly, but rich in all the good things that money can't buy!  You know what I'm talking about, right?  I hope so, because I can't think of what they are off the top of my head!

Oh, yeah -- now I remember what one of them is: love!  After all, as the Beatles once sang, "Money can't buy me love!"  

Then again, the Beatles once sang that "Money don't get everything, it's true/What it don't get, I can't use!"  

Of course, the Beatles also once sang "I am the egg man, they are the egg men/I am the walrus!"  

Anyway, as the "Bard of Avon" once said, "Poor and content is rich, and rich enough!"  That's act 3, scene 3 of Othello, if memory serves -- as it purt near always does!

By the way, are you familiar with the poem titled "Purt Near!"

What a stupid question that is -- of course you aren't!

"Purt Near!" is a famous cowboy poem by S. Omar Barker, who wrote an estimated 2000 poems and 1500 short stories and novelettes, many of which were published in Ranch Romances magazine!

S. Omar Barker!
Barker, who was known as the "Poet Lariat" of New Mexico, used to sign his name as "Lazy S.O.B."!

Here's the first verse of "Purt Near!"

They called him "Purt Near Perkins,"
   for unless the booger lied,
He'd purt near done most everything
   that he had ever tried.
He'd purt near been a preacher
   and he'd purt near roped a bear;
He'd met up with Comanches once
   and purt near lost his hair.
He'd purt near wed an heiress
   who had money by the keg,
He'd purt near had the measles,
   and he'd purt near broke his leg.
(I did ol' "Purt Near Perkins" one better because I did have the measles, and I had 'em when I was just a kid!)

He'd purt near been a trail boss,
   and accordin' to his claim,
He'd purt near shot Bill Hickock—
   which had purt near won  him fame!
He'd purt near rode some broncs
   upon which no one else had stuck
In fact he was the feller
   Who had purt near drowned the duck!
(Don't ask me what "drowned the duck" means because I don't have a clue!  I did find the phrase in a 1907 story by John Masefield, who describes an unsavory character as "him who drowned the duck and stole the monkey!")

"Purt Near" Perkins later comes to the aid of a fellow cowboy named Tom, who is about to receive a little frontier justice at the hands of some fellows who have the mistaken impression that he is a horse thief!  They are getting ready to hang poor Tom when Perkins arrives and commences to shootin'!  The vigilantes skedaddle, leaving Tom unhung and grateful to good ol' "Purt Near":

"Looks like I purt near
   Got here just in time," ol' Perkins said,
"To see them nesters hang you!"
   Tom's face got kinder red.
"You purt near did!" he purt near grinned.
  "They purt near had me strung!
You're lookin' at a cowboy
   That has pert near just been hung!
And also one that's changed his mind—
   For no word ever said,
Can sound as sweet as 'purt near',
   When a man's been purt near dead!"
(Hmmmm, doggies! -- that's one fine poem!)

"Star Baby," which was released on the Road Food album in 1974,  was not one of the Guess Who's biggest American hits -- it topped out at #39 on the Billboard Hot 100!  But it remained on the chart for 19 weeks, which was several more weeks than any of their other hits!  

I'm going to stop now because I'm purt near out of exclamation points!

Here's "Star Baby":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, March 28, 2014

Molotov -- "Apocalypsh*t" (1999)

A veces soy obsceno
A veces soy corrupto
Puedo beber cerveza y comer mientras eructo

Bill Buford's 2006 book, Heat:  An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, is one of the best books I've read in years.

The book had its genesis at a birthday dinner that Buford -- who was the fiction editor for the New Yorker -- hosted for novelist Jay McInerney.  On an impulse, Buford decided to invite celebrity chef Mario Batali, who also was a friend of McInerney.  Buford had become acquainted with Batali after seeing his "Molto Mario" show on the Food Network.  

Celebrity chef Mario Batali
Buford had planned an ambitious meal, including grilled lamb.  As Josh Getlin wrote in his Los Angeles Times review of Heat, the evening didn't turn out as Buford had planned:

[T]he food was a disaster.  Batali minced no words upon his arrival, calling Buford "a moron" for placing the cooked meat in tin foil (the lamb continues to cook in the foil, he explained).  The stocky, red-headed chef quickly pushed his host aside and took over the cooking.  With a flourish, he put pieces of lardo -- cured pork fat -- on guests' tongues.  He drank five bottles of wine, danced with all the women and ended the party at 2:30 a.m. by playing air guitar to Neil Young's "Southern Man."

Buford was smitten. 

Batali invited Buford to spend some time as his "kitchen bitch" at Batali's best-known restaurant, Babbo, which is an Italian (not Italian-American) restaurant in New York City's Greenwich Village.  Buford then wrote a lengthy profile of Batali for the New Yorker.  But Buford's time at Babbo didn't satisfy his craving to learn more about the world of high cuisine.

Bill Buford and Mario Batali at Babbo
Getlin explains what happened next:

Quitting his day job, Buford decided to write a book about Babbo.  He spent 14 more months with Batali.  Then he grew restless and moved with his wife to Tuscany, apprenticing himself to a charismatic and eccentric butcher.  At their first meeting, Dario Cecchini greeted Buford with a booming recitation from the opening of Dante's "Divine Comedy," which Buford translates as "Midway through the road of life, I found myself in a dark wood, on a lost road." Was he also lost, Buford wondered about himself?

When he returned to New York, Buford went to the Greenwich Village farmers' market and ordered a whole pig from one of the farmers so he could put his knowledge of butchery to good use.  Getlin continues:

[O]n a blazingly hot summer day, Bill Buford was riding a scooter through Greenwich Village with a freshly slaughtered 225-pound pig strapped to the rack.  Its hoofs were dangling to one side, the pig's head to the other.  [The people he passed] shot him hostile looks as he puttered by, but Buford's biggest problem was logistical.  Blood was beginning to pool in the clear plastic sheets covering the pig.  How would he fit the carcass into his building's small elevator? 

Bill Buford with his long-suffering
wife, Jessica Green
The book ends with Buford telling his wife that he needs to go back to Italy and spend a few more months with the man who taught him to butcher a pig so he can learn how to butcher a cow.  I don't have the book handy, so I'll paraphrase her response to him: "HAVE YOU LOST YOUR F*CKING MIND?"

Buford has apparently toyed with the idea of opening his own restaurant, but decided to go back to New Yorker and write about food.  He is working on a book about French cuisine.  

Babbo's Sicilian-lifeguard-style calamari
I ate at Babbo on a recent trip to New York City.  I had an extraordinary meal (an appetizer of grilled octopus and an entrée of calamari served "Sicilian lifeguard style" -- click here if you'd like the recipe).

Guess who else dined at Babbo's that night?  None other than Aaron Paul, the co-star of the critically acclaimed television series, Breaking Bad, which just completed a five-season run on AMC. 

A week earlier, I wouldn't have known Aaron Paul from Aaron Burr or Aaron Rodgers . . . or Erin Moran, for that matter.

Erin Moran and Scott Baio
But a few days before I hopped on the train for New York City, I had checked out the first season of Breaking Bad from the library and watched a few episodes of the show.  So I recognized Paul, who portrayed Jesse Pinkham, a young (and clueless) meth entrepreneur and ne'er-do-well.

Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman
I found out later that Paul was in town to promote his new movie on "Live With Kelly and Michael."  (I don't know about you, but I miss Regis so much!)

That movie, which is titled Need for Speed, stars Paul as a street racer determined to avenge the death of a friend at the hands of a rival racer.  It is based on a series of video games, and its producers no doubt have high hopes that it will turn into a franchise on the order of the Fast & Furious series of movies.

Molotov is a Mexican band that sings and raps in Spanish and English.  Their lyrics have been described as "risqué, playful, and frequently aggressive."  ("Risqué" is quite the understatement.)  

Molotov's songs are often very political.  If I had to compare them to an American group, I'd say they remind me of Rage Against the Machine.

Our featured song is the title track from Molotov's 1999 album of the same name.  It is featured in the climactic scene from Breaking Bad's first episode.

Click here to view the highlights from that episode.  You'll hear a brief excerpt from "Apocalypsh*t" beginning at 6:10.

I can't read Spanish, so I went to Google Translate to get a translation of the song's lyrics.  Here's what I got for the lines quoted above:

Sometimes I'm obscene 
Sometimes I'm corrupt 
I can eat while drinking beer and belching

I'm not sure about that last line.  It's looks to me lie this would be a more accurate translation:

I can drink beer and eat while belching

Here's "Apocalypsh*t":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Skee-Lo -- "I Wish" (1995)

I wish I was a little bit taller
I wish I was a baller

Skee-Lo's 1995 hit, "I Wish," was released on the rapper's 20th birthday.  (By the way, Skee-Lo's real name is Antoine Roundtree.)

The singer of "I Wish" has got the hots for a girl named Leoshi.  There's just one problem:

Her boyfriend's tall and he plays ball
So how am I gonna compete with that?
'Cause when it comes to playin' basketball
I'm always last to be picked
And in some cases never picked at all

It's the way of the world: "the jocks get the fly girls," while the guys like the singer "get the hood rats."

Skee-Lo is said to be only 5' 4" -- considerably shorter than most of the ballers who monopolize the fly girls -- so I'm guessing that this song is painfully true-to-life.

We have snow today, but it's (finally) spring time.  Spring is when (in the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson) "a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love" -- or perhaps it turns to thoughts of the NCAA basketball tournament and your "March Madness" bracket.  

I used to be close to 6' 3" back in the day, but I'm about 6' 2" now -- which is still  comfortably taller than the average height of the American male, which is 5' 9 1/2".  But when it came to basketball, my skills weren't all that mad.  The only thing I really had going for me was height.  

About 12 years ago, I became a basketball referee.  I'm guessing that a lot of the players and fans look at me when I come on to the court and assume I played in high school or even college because I'm tall.  Then they see how I run and realize they've probably jumped to conclusions.

I referee a fair number of boys' and girls' high-school games, but I do a lot of games involving younger kids, too.  I even spent one morning this season refereeing games for a first-grade instructional league:

"Can't anybody here play this game?"
Some of the private schools have dedicated dressing rooms for the refs, but most of the public schools ask you to get dressed for games in the physical education office.

I'm guessing that this bathroom was shared by both male and female coaches:

The phys ed office at Churchill High School had some inspirational sayings taped to the wall, including this one by Albert Camus -- not what you'd expect in such a setting:

Say what you will about public schools, but the schools where I live do know their Latin plurals:

Some of the private schools in the Washington area are pretty posh.  Here's the gym at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA, which also has an officials' dressing room that comes equipped not only with a nice shower but also with a digital clock that's connected to the scoreboard clock, so you know exactly when you need to go to the gym.  (We're supposed to be on the floor fifteen minutes before the start of the game and three minutes before the start of the second half.)

Here's an exterior shot of the gym.  (I think a lot of people would look at Episcopal's gym and its expansive campus as a whole and assume they were at a tony private college.)

The Episcopal HS gym 
Occasionally, I see a celebrity at a game I'm refereeing.  Here's former Washington Bullets player Gheorghe Muresan with his middle-school team.  Muresan was 7' 7" -- there's never been a taller player in the NBA.

Gheorghe Muresan
This year I worked some rec league games with rookie referee Adrian Dantley, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame who averaged over 30 points a game for four consecutive seasons and finished with over 23,000 points in his 15-year professional career. 

NBA great Adrian Dantley
My youngest child, Peter, is an inch or so shy of six feet.  So it's pretty impressive that he's got enough hops to dunk the ball:

Peter was a good high-school basketball player -- he was on the varsity team for three years, and started quite a few games -- but he might have been even better if he had been as tall as I am.  

Then again, maybe he wouldn't have worked as hard if he had been taller.  (Peter was a self-made player.)  And maybe he wouldn't have the little chip on his shoulder that made him such a tough competitor.

I think my favorite memory from all his games was one from his senior year, when his team's opponents included a footballer who was 6' 5" and well over 250 pounds.  That kid couldn't jump, but he occupied a lot of space and was pretty much unstoppable when he got the ball within five feet of the basket.  

As the opponents were bringing the ball up court late in the game, Peter was walking backward directly in front of the big guy, probably talking a little trash.  Suddenly, he stopped dead -- meaning that the big guy was going to have to change direction to get around him.  Instead, he simply put his big paws on Pete's chest and shoved him to the ground.

Peter (#2) and his senior teammates
await pregame introductions
The referee saw what happened and immediately (and correctly) called an intentional foul.  That meant two free throws -- both of which Peter hit -- and possession of the ball.

I suppose the lowlight of Peter's high school career for me came a few games later, when he became the only player on his team that year to be assessed a technical foul after he complained (and complained and complained) about a foul called on a teammate.  You'd think a referee's kid would know enough to keep his mouth shut.

Here's a brief video I took just before the tip-off at the final home game of my son's varsity basketball career.  His coach had a pretty good game face, but so did Pete:

Peter also had fun with basketball, as this amazing video (which he made when he was a 9th-grader) shows:

Here's Skee-Lo's "I Wish":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Rolling Stones -- "Monkey Man" (1969)

I'm a fleabit peanut monkey
All my friends are junkies

The previous several 2 or 3 lines posts discussed the "American Cool" exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, which I visited a few weeks ago.  I've pretty much milked this topic dry, I think, so this will be the last 2 or 3 lines on the subject of coolness.  

Most of the 100 Americans featured in that exhibition are not really cool.  Too many junkies, for one thing.

Kurt Cobain, for one -- he wrote and recorded some great songs, but he used a shotgun to end his screwed-up life at age 27, leaving behind an infant daughter.  How does make him cool?

The musicians of the last 50 years who made the "American Cool" list include Afrika Bambaata, James Brown, David Byrne, Kurt Cobain, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Deborah Harry, Jimi Hendrix, Chrissie Hynde, Jay-Z, Madonna, Willie Nelson, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Lou Reed, Carlos Santana, Tupac Shakur, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Neil Young, and Frank Zappa.

There are a lot of great musicians on the list, but a lot of them aren't really cool if you ask me.  Maybe I'm just a tough grader.

Johnny Cash
Take Johnny Cash, for example.  "The Man in Black" was a great performer, and he had a very distinctive look and an amazing physical presence, but he struggled with drug and alcohol his whole life.  Drunks and addicts just aren't cool.  

I like Willie Nelson's music, but potheads aren't cool either.  All that weed probably explains why Willie supported the presidential campaign of Dennis Kucinich -- who was highly uncool -- in 2004.

Nelson and Kucinich
Bob Dylan is one of the greatest songwriters of all time, but the guy was much too big a weirdo to be cool.  (Did you ever see him in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid?  Dylan's performance in that movie is all mumbles and twitches -- what in the world was Sam Peckinpah thinking when he cast him?)

Tom Waits?  Really?  (He's unlistenable.)

Neil Young?  He was born in Toronto and spent the first 21 years of his life in Canada.  So why is he on a list of the 100 coolest Americans?

Jimi Hendrix is probably the coolest guy on that list.  He was the greatest rock guitarist of all time, and setting his guitar on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival was without a doubt the coolest rock-concert move of all time.  But dying from aspirating your own vomit is a highly uncool way to go. 

One rock musician who is exceedingly cool is Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts.  He's not American, so he's not eligible for the "American Cool" list.  But the musicians on that list could learn a lot about being cool from ol' Charlie.

Charlie Watts -- then and now
Charlie Watts was a jazz fan as a teenager.  He started out playing with local jazz bands when he was an art student, and then joined an early-day R&B supergroup, Blues Incorporated.  He continued to play with jazz and R&B bands after joining the Stones -- including a great boogie-woogie band called Rocket 88.  He's also an accomplished graphic artist.

Watts got married in 1964, not long after the Stones were formed.  (You want to feel really, really old?  Charlie Watts joined the Rolling Stones OVER FIFTY-ONE YEARS AGO!)  He's still married to the same woman, and apparently consistently rejected the overtures of groupies during the band's many tours.  

Contrast Watts to long-time Stones bassist Bill Wyman, who wrote that he had slept with over 1000 women while with the group.  In 1989, Wyman -- who was 52 -- married his 18-year-old girlfriend, Mandy Smith.  They had been dating for five years! 

Mr. and Mrs. Wyman
Wyman's son from a previous marriage later married Mandy's mother -- meaning Wyman's son was also Wyman's father-in-law.  That's not very cool -- it's just weird.

Watts did use drugs and abuse alcohol in the 1980s.  "[My drug and alcohol problems were] my way of dealing with [family problems]," he once said.  "Looking back on it, I think it was a mid-life crisis. All I know is that I became totally another person around 1983 and came out of it about 1986. I nearly lost my wife and everything over my behavior."

Here's the coolest Charlie Watts story I know.  One night, an intoxicated Mick Jagger phoned Watts' hotel room in the middle of the night and asked, "Where's my drummer?"  Watts reportedly got out of bed, shaved, dressed in a suit and tie, went to Jagger's room, and punched Mick right in the kisser, saying: "Don't ever call me your drummer again!  You're my f*cking singer!"

Watts is a very natty dresser.  The British newspaper, the Telegraph, has named him one of the world's best dressed men.  In 2006, Vanity Fair elected Watts into the International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame.  (Other honorees include Fred Astaire, George Clooney, Prince Philip, Cary Grant, Peter Jennings, Calvin Klein, David Niven, and Yves Saint Laurent.)

Today, Watts and his wife of 49 years live in rural Devon, where they raise Arabian horses.

Mr. and Mrs. Watts
Charlie Watts is usually a very understated drummer -- not a big showoff like Keith Moon was.  (Don't get me wrong.  I loved dear old Keith, but he was a bit of a diva.)  

Here's a video of Watts drumming during a performance of "Monkey Man" that nicely demonstrates his style:  

So let's review the bidding, shall we?  (That's an pretentious catchphrase I use now and then so you're aware that I know how to play bridge, which about a billion other people know how to do better than I do.)

Watts is one of the best in the world at what he does -- but he is content to remain in the background when he performs and let others get all the attention.  He has generally resisted the siren songs of drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity.  He's good-looking and very well-dressed.  All that sounds very cool to me, n'est-ce pas?

Here's "Monkey Man," from the Stones' 1969 masterpiece, Let It Bleed.  Some people think the lyrics are about a bad drug trip.  If so, Charlie Watts wasn't along for the ride -- he's much too cool for that sort of thing.

Click below to order the song from Amazon:

Friday, March 21, 2014

Nice Peter and EpicLLOYD -- "Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates" (2012)

A man uses the machines you built
To sit down and pay his taxes
A man uses the machines I built
To listen to the Beatles while he relaxes

The last several 2 or 3 lines posts have been about a few of the 100 people featured in the current "American Cool" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.  (The exhibition closes on September 7, so you have plenty of time to visit it.)

The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery
and American Art Museum
I'm not sure exactly what makes people cool.  But I am sure that a lot of the folks who made the cut for "American Cool" are not cool at all.

Someone who is cool is not necessarily admirable.  Cool people are often vain and self-absorbed.  And cool people can be clueless -- much of the time, the reason that a cool person remains cool under pressure is that he or she doesn't comprehend just how bad things are.

The "American Cool" exhibition
Not surprisingly, virtually everyone on the "American Cool" list is a pop culture figure.  Actors and popular musicians dominate the list.  There are a number of athletes as well, with a sprinkling of authors and even a couple of artists thrown in to make the whole exercise seem a little classier.

The only person on the list who clearly doesn't fit into one of the above categories is Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple.  There are no other entrepreneurs or business leaders on the list -- and no politicians, no scientists or inventors, and no lawyers or physicians or religious leaders or military figures on the list.

So don't take "American Cool" too seriously.  Despite its scholarly co-curators and its Smithsonian seal of approval, the exhibition panders to the hoi polloi as much as any reality TV show.

Walter Isaacson's
biography of Jobs
Let's get back to Steve Jobs.  Was Jobs a cool guy?  Here are some an excerpts from a New Yorker article about Walter Isaacson's authorized biography of Jobs.  You be the judge:

Steve Jobs, Isaacson’s biography makes clear, was a complicated and exhausting man. . . . Jobs, we learn, was a bully.  “He had the uncanny capacity to know exactly what your weak point is, know what will make you feel small, to make you cringe,” a friend of his tells Isaacson.  

Jobs gets his girlfriend pregnant, and then denies that the child is his.  He parks in handicapped spaces.  He screams at subordinates.  He cries like a small child when he does not get his way.  He gets stopped for driving a hundred miles an hour, honks angrily at the officer for taking too long to write up the ticket, and then resumes his journey at a hundred miles an hour.  

He sits in a restaurant and sends his food back three times.  He arrives at his hotel suite in New York for press interviews and decides, at 10 p.m., that the piano needs to be repositioned, the strawberries are inadequate, and the flowers are all wrong: he wanted calla lilies. (When his public-relations assistant returns, at midnight, with the right flowers, he tells her that her suit is “disgusting.”)

Steve Jobs on a cool motorcycle
None of that is the least bit cool.  But sometimes people who start out as uncool eventually learn how to be cool.  Did Jobs put uncoolness behind him before he died?

Isaacson begins with Jobs’s humble origins in Silicon Valley, the early triumph at Apple, and the humiliating ouster from the firm he created.  He then charts the even greater triumphs at Pixar and at a resurgent Apple, when Jobs returns, in the late nineteen-nineties, and our natural expectation is that Jobs will emerge wiser and gentler from his tumultuous journey.  

He never does.  In the hospital at the end of his life, he runs through sixty-seven nurses before he finds three he likes.  “At one point, the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated,” Isaacson writes.  "Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. . . . He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex."

Jobs with Bill Gates
Steve Jobs's company may make cool products -- especially compared to its bête noire, Microsoft.  That's the point of the lyrics from today's featured song that are quoted at the beginning of this post: PCs are for bean counters, while Macs are for more creative types.

But according to the lyrics of today's featured song, Steve Jobs was not a cool guy:

You blow, Jobs
You arrogant prick
With your secondhand jeans and your turtleneck

Jobs in his jeans and turtleneck
Nice Peter and EpicLLOYD (whose real names are Peter Shukoff and Lloyd Ahlquist) are the guys behind Epic Rap Battles of History, a YouTube video series that features rap battles between famous (or infamous) historical figures.  Previous Epic Rap Battles of History episodes have featured Darth Vader vs. Hitler, the Mario Brothers vs. the Wright Brothers, Frank Sinatra vs. Freddie Mercury, Miley Cyrus vs. Joan of Arc, and Donald Trump vs. Ebeneezer Scrooge.  

The Jobs-Gates Epic Rap Battle video has been viewed over 70 million times to date, making it one of the most popular of the series.  

Here's "Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates."  But before you watch it, click here to read the lyrics and the Rap Genius annotations to the lyrics.

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Jim Croce -- "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" (1972)

You don't tug on Superman's cape  
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask 
Off the old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Jim

Thanks to the late Jim Croce, you know all that.  I know it, too.  And I'm sure the people at Jewel Food Stores know it.

But what Jewel didn't know is that you don't mess around with Mike either – meaning basketball great Michael Jordan – by running a full-page ad in Sports Illustrated congratulating him on his entry into the Basketball Hall of Fame without paying the guy.  Because if you do that, Mike will sue you for $5 million.

This whole hot mess started in September 2009, when Sports Illustrated took note of Jordan's induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame by publishing a special commemorative issue devoted to the extraordinary career of the nonpareil cager.  (Click here if you've ever wondered why basketball players are called "cagers.")

Jewel Food Stores was offered a free full-page ad in the magazine if it agreed to sell it in the 175-odd Jewel-Osco supermarkets it operated in the greater Chicago area.

Jewel happily agreed to the offer, and its ad ran on the back inside cover of the special Sports Illustrated issue.

Here's the text of the ad:

A Shoe In!

After six NBA championships, scores of rewritten record books and numerous buzzer beaters, Michael Jordan’s elevation in the Basketball Hall of Fame was never in doubt!  Jewel-Osco salutes #23 on his many accomplishments as we honor a fellow Chicagoan who was “just around the corner” for so many years.

The ad also included the Jewel-Osco logo and the supermarket chain's trademarked slogan – "Good things are just around the corner" – as well as a photo of a pair of basketball shoes bearing the number 23 (Jordan's uniform number).

Here's the ad in its entirety:

After the ad appeared, Jordan sued Jewel, alleging violation of the Illinois Right of Publicity Act among other laws.  (For those of you who are fortunate enough not to have gone to law school, the right of publicity is the right to limit the public use of one's name, likeness and/or identity, particularly for commercial purposes.  The right of publicity is most commonly asserted when an advertiser has used a celebrity's name or likeness in advertising, which likely implies to the audience that the celebrity endorses that product.)

Jewel argued that its ad was not advertising and, therefore, fully protected by the First Amendment.

A lower court agreed, and entered a judgment in favor of Jewel, which relied heavily on the fact that the ad was not "commercial speech" (i.e., advertising) at its core because it did not propose a commercial transaction.  In other words, the Jewel ad didn't sell a particular product.

The district court's decision was described as "a thoughtful opinion" by the federal appeals court that heard Jordan's appeal.  Praising a lower-court opinion as "thoughtful" is an example of what an old boss of mine at the Federal Trade Commission used to call "a little Vaseline to make the corncob slide in more easily" – the corn cob in this case being the fact that the appeals court overruled the district court's finding that Jewel's speech was noncommercial.

In fact, the appeals court rejected the lower court’s holding more emphatically than ex-NBA'er Dikembe Mutombo rejected that box of cereal in the Geico commercial.

In doing so, the appeals court displayed a fairly sophisticated understanding of modern advertising methods:

The notion that an advertisement counts as “commercial” only if it makes an appeal to purchase a particular product makes no sense today, and we doubt that it ever did.  An advertisement is no less “commercial” because it promotes brand awareness or loyalty rather than explicitly proposing a transaction in a specific product or service. Applying the “core” definition of commercial speech too rigidly ignores this reality.  Very often the commercial message is general and implicit rather than specific and explicit.  .  .  . [C]onsidered in context, and without the rose-colored glasses, Jewel’s ad has an unmistakable commercial function: enhancing the Jewel-Osco brand in the minds of consumers.

We've been talking about what it means to be cool.  What does the Michael Jordan-Jewel Food Stores litigation have to do with being cool?  Generally speaking, suing people is not cool. 

I personally think Michael Jordan was in the right here.  Jewel was likely hoping to win some goodwill by buying the Sports Illustrated ad. 

But basking in the reflected glory of a famous celebrity has a price.  What would happen if Jewel got away with taking a ride on the Jordan gravy train without buying a ticket?  

Gatorade is one of the many
products Jordan endorses
We're talking serious money here.  As Jordan's lawyers said in the complaint they filed in a similar case:

Jordan has . . . had enormous success as an endorser of products and services.  By carefully controlling the nature and frequency of his product endorsement . . . Jordan has enhanced and maintained the value of his endorsements.  The majority of Jordan’s income, and his income potential, is now derived from his ability to license his name and persona to commercial sponsors. . . . As a business, the licensing of Jordan’s identity is just as important to him now as his professional basketball playing career once was.

It's all about the Benjamins, boys and girls.  And as my mother told me when I told her I was thinking of marrying my live-in girlfriend, "Why buy the cow when you're getting the milk for free?"  That principle applies to celebrity endorsements in the same way it applies to getting a little somethin'-somethin' without having to put a ring on it.

Michael Jordan may have been cool.  But he wasn't as cool as Walt "Clyde" Frazier.

Walt Frazier
Frazier was a great, great basketball player – he led the New York Knicks to two NBA championships, started seven consecutive NBA all-star games, and is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.   He scored 20-plus points a game in six different seasons, but also finished in the top ten in assists in six different seasons.

But statistics aren't the most important thing when it comes to cool.  Walt Frazier was the first NBA star to make regular appearances in fashion magazines, the first NBA player to drive a Rolls-Royce . . . with personalized plates, of course.

And to quote Carly Simon, when Walt Frazier walked – whether he was bringing the ball up court at Madison Square Garden or making a late-night appearance at a New York nightclub – it was like he was "walking on to a yacht."  (Not sure if Walt owned a scarf that was apricot, but I wouldn't be surprised.)

Let's not forget the facial hair – especially the sideburns:

One final note.  The author sincerely regrets that you can’t get “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” out of your head.  (If all else fails, just whistle the theme from “The Andy Griffith Show.”  That usually does the trick.)

Click here to listen to "Don't Mess Around With Jim," which is almost certainly the worst song ever featured on 2 or 3 lines.

If you want to buy the song from Amazon, you'll have to do that without my help – my conscience won't allow me to insert the usual link.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Nirvana -- "Come As You Are" (1991)

And I swear that I don't have a gun
No, I don't have a gun
No, I don't have a gun

Everyone wants to be cool.  But most people are not cool.  (For example, you . . . and you . . . and especially you.)

In the last 2 or 3 lines, I told you that the co-curators of the "American Cool" exhibition -- which recently opened at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery -- had chosen William S. Burroughs as one of the 100 coolest Americans ever.  (Click here if you missed that 2 or 3 lines.)

The "American Cool" exhibition
Burroughs was a prolific author (his novels include Naked Lunch, Queer, Junky, and The Soft Machine) and a Beat Generation icon who hung out with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.  (Burroughs makes an appearance in the most famous Beat novel, On the Road, in the guise of the fictional character Old Bull Lee.)

Norman Mailer said that Burroughs was "the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius," and he was admired by many other famous writers -- including J. G. Ballard, Jean Genet, Lester Bangs, William Gibson, and Ken Kesey.

Some of the musicians who say they were influenced by him were Patti Smith, Tom Waits, Lou Reed, and Kurt Cobain (all of whom are featured in "American Cool"), and a number of bands took their names from Burroughs's novels (including Steely Dan, the Soft Machine, Thin White Rope, the Mugwumps, and the Insect Trust).

That all sounds pretty cool.

William Burroughs practices his quick draw
But Burroughs also had a very uncool side.  He was addicted to morphine and heroin for much of his life.  (One of his biographers wrote, "Virtually all of Burroughs's writing was done when he was high on something.")  He cut off the end of his little finger in hopes of impressing a guy he had a crush on.  He shot and killed his wife during a drunken game of "William Tell."

And he wasn't exactly a candidate for the "Best Father of the Year" award -- he introduced his teenaged son to drugs when he came to live with him in Tangiers (where some of Burroughs's friends allegedly tried to rape him).  The son, who blamed Burroughs for most of his problems, died at age 33 from the effects of drug addiction and alcoholism.

When I balance the cool and the uncool aspects of Burroughs's life, I think the scale tips decidedly in the direction of uncool.  But what do I know?  I'm just a wildly successful blogger with absolutely no academic credentials qualifying me to make cool/uncool judgments.  So let's hear what the experts have to say.

Beat Generation icons
One of the co-curators of "American Cool" is a professor of American Civilization at a major Southern university, and the other is the co-director of the museum of art at a New England college.  They didn't make their picks based on their subjective opinion of who was cool and who wasn't.  Instead, each potentially cool figure was considered with a "historical rubric" in mind.

Of course, anyone who uses terms like "historical rubric" is definitely not cool, and almost surely has no effing idea who is cool.

Ceci n'est pas une rubric
Here are the four criteria the curators applied.  To be on the list, you had to meet at least three of the four listed criteria:

1.  An original artistic vision carried off with a signature style

2.  Cultural rebellion or transgression for a given generation

3.  Iconic power, or instant visual recognition

4.  A recognized cultural legacy

That all sounds well and good.  But if you look at the list, you quickly see that each of the hundred picks were actually chosen on the basis of these criteria:

1.  He or she is famous

2.  His or her choice reflects well on the co-curators, and makes them look cool and politically correct

I wouldn't disagree that virtually all of the people on the list are talented and successful.  But being talented and successful doesn't make you cool.  

To the contrary, the primary talent that most cool people have is a talent for seeming to be cool, and the thing that cool people are more successful at is making others believe they are cool.

You know what I think about William Burroughs.  Let's look at one of the other people on the "American Cool" list -- the man behind today's featured song, Kurt Cobain.

Kurt Cobain
Why was Cobain chosen for the exhibition?  Obviously he did well when it came to the "historical rubric" the co-curators applied.  

Looking at the first of their four factors, did Cobain have an "original artistic vision carried off with a signature style"?  I think he did.  Cobain wrote some remarkable songs, and Nirvana certainly had an original style -- although they only recorded three studio albums before Cobain's death.

Second, did Cobain represent "cultural rebellion or transgression for a given generation"?  I think the answer to that question is certainly yes.

Third, does Cobain have "iconic power, or instant visual recognition"?  Probably -- or at least he did at one time.  He certainly doesn't have instant visual recognition among most people today but he probably still does among Generation X'ers.

Finally, does he have "a recognized cultural legacy"?  I'm not sure how this really differs from the first factor discussed above.  But I'll give Cobain this one -- he has a legacy, although its depth and breadth may not be that great.

A very young Kurt Cobain
So Cobain clearly seems to be eligible for the "American Cool" list because he meets the criteria set out by the co-curators.  But does that make him cool?

Not in my book.  I think an essential quality of coolness is -- to use a cliché that I really don't like -- being comfortable in one's own skin.  Someone who is cool is also relaxed and confident and generally satisfied with themselves.  He or she doesn't worry about failure because he or she never contemplates that failure is a possibility.  

Cool people don't sweat the small stuff.  In fact, they don't sweat at all.  (I suspect that many cool people aren't very smart, and that the secret to their gift for staying cool under pressure is that they don't really understand how bad things are.)

Cool people usually are good-looking -- that's just the way it is, boys and girls -- and dress with a certain je ne sais quoi

They usually have some kind of talent -- many authors and musicians and star athletes are cool -- but that talent must appear to be mostly natural because it's not cool to struggle and work too hard.  

Many cool people have a lot of money, of course -- it's a lot easier to act cool when you're not worried about paying the rent.  But it's very uncool to talk about your money, or to spend it in a showoffy way.  (Cool guys don't go to strip joints and throw handfuls of cash at the dancers.)

Cool people are not necessarily good people, of course.  They can be vain, and selfish, and not very bright.  (If a cool person is very bright, he or she needs to keep that from showing too much.)

In fact, it's very possible to be cool and an assh*le at the same time as long as you don't act too much like an assh*le in public.  A lot of cool people are at least semi-assh*les, but manage to conceal that fact.

So was Kurt Cobain cool?  I don't think so.  

Kurt Cobain seems to have been a train wreck waiting to happen.  He struggled much of his life with various physical and mental illnesses.  He first used marijuana when he was 13, consumed a considerable amount of LSD, abused alcohol and sniffed solvents, and eventually became a heroin addict.  He had a lot of problems, many of which may not have been his fault -- but people who are screwed up as Cobain are the opposite of cool.

To compound his problems, Cobain married Courtney Love.

Kurt and Courtney
Love's mother was a psychotherapist and her father was the ex-manager of the Grateful Dead.  He allegedly gave her LSD when she was a toddler, which could explain a lot.  When she was 12, Love auditioned for the Mickey Mouse Club TV show, reading a Sylvia Plath poem.  (You can imagine how well that went over.)

A couple of years later, she was arrested for shoplifting and sent to a correctional facility.  After a few years in foster care, she became legally emancipated at age sixteen and immediately went to work as a stripper.  

To make matters worse, she developed a substance abuse problem that was as bad as Cobain's, which didn't help things when they got married.  (Cobain wore green pajamas to the ceremony.)

I don't mean to belittle Courtney Love.  She was a talented musician and a talented actress -- she was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actress for her role in The People v. Larry Flynt.  (Coincidentally, Love portrayed William Burroughs's wife -- the one he shot in the head while playing "Drunk William Tell" -- in the 2000 movie, Beat.)  But she was a hot mess.  

At age 27, Cobain killed himself with a shotgun.  That is not at all cool.

Cobain with his daughter,
Frances Bean Cobain
He left behind Love and their 20-month-old daughter.  That is about an uncool as it gets.  (By the way, Love tried to commit suicide on her 40th birthday, and eventually was sentenced to six months of locked-down rehab.)

Courtney Love with Frances Bean
Kurt Cobain suffered from torments the likes of which probably far exceeded anything that you and I will have to battle.  He was a very talented musician, but he was not cool -- it's just not cool in the slightest to become an heroin addict and decide to put the barrel of a Remington model 11 autoloading shotgun under your chin and pull the trigger.

By the way, I just learned that Kurt Cobain and William Burroughs were friends and admirers of one another.  The two collaborated on a 1992 EP titled The "Priest" They Called Him, which consisted of a reading Burroughs did at his home in Lawrence, Kansas, combined with a guitar accompaniment recorded in Seattle by Cobain.  Cobain then asked Burroughs to appear in the video for Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" single, but Burroughs declined.

Cobain drove to Kansas to meet Burroughs in October 1993.  The two exchanged presents — Burroughs gave him a painting, while Cobain gave him a Leadbelly biography that he had signed.

Burroughs and Cobain in 1993
After Cobain committed suicide, Burroughs wrote this: “The thing I remember about him is the deathly grey complexion of his cheeks. It wasn’t an act of will for Kurt to kill himself. As far as I was concerned, he was dead already.”  Burroughs is one of those who feel Cobain “let down his family” and “demoralized the fans” by committing suicide.

There a number of other musicians who made the "American Cool" list who aren't cool either -- for example, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Waits, and Bonnie Raitt.

It's not that Springsteen and Waits and Raitt are drug addicts or suicidal.  It's simply that their music sucks.  And if your music sucks, you're not cool -- at least not as far as 2 or 3 lines is concerned.

Here's "Come As You Are," from Nirvana's 1991 album, Nevermind:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: