It’s starting to feel a lot like summer in New Orleans. It hasn’t quite enveloped us in its full grip but the air is thick and damp. I’m seeing frizzy hair around town. It’s time to put the curling irons away for the duration: nature takes care of that quite nicely on its own. Shit, I sound like a hairdresser. As if I had enough hair to curl in any event….
One of the big local stories is-surprise, surprise-the murder of a former Tulane student who was in town scouting locations for his wedding. The facts of the case are on the hinky side: he allegedly disappeared from Ms. Mae’s bar near Adrastos World HQ. His friends shrugged it off, it’s what bros do. The victim was last seen on closed circuit video in a store in a very tough neighborhood. His body turned up an hour later. My gut instinct is that it was a drug buy gone bad. The local teevee stations have run with it and their coverage only increased when it turned out the dude worked for the 2012 Romney campaign. That led to this world-weary tweet from some internet smart ass:
I wish the local media cared as much about black kids getting murdered in that same neighborhood. Typical.
Now that I’ve bummed you out, let’s move on to this week’s theme songs. Notice the plural: they’re two tunes with the same title. We begin with the title track of a 2000 Jayhawks album. Anyone surprised after a week of Jayhawks songs? I thought not. Smile was written by Gary Louris and evokes Brian Wilson with its wistful melody and lush production. Make that Brian Wilson if he lived in Minnesota since it’s set in the wintertime. There’s no surfing involved, y’all:
The melody of the second Smile was written by Charlie Chaplin for his 1936 film Modern Times. The lyrics and title were added in 1954 by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons.
Eric Clapton used Smile as his opener throughout his 1974 comeback tour:
Now that I’ve put a smile back on your face, we’ll try not to turn it upside into a frown after the break. I promise you’ll be smiling as broadly as Kimmy Schmidt in a jiffy. If you’re not an Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fan, here’s what I’m talking about.
Speaking of women with big scary teeth, we begin this week’s escapade by dialing the wayback machine to the 1990’s. That’s right, part of the next piece is about the rather, uh toothsome, Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding mishigas:
Nineties Scandalpalooza: There’a an absolutely fabulous piece at Fusion by Sarah Marshall about the “scandalous” women of that decade: Marcia Clark, Monica Lewinski, Anita Hill, Lorena Bobbitt, and the aforementioned Tonya Harding. These ladies are nowhere to be seen in the article even though they were hot at the same time:
Of course, they *were* fictional but they were scandalous, right, sweetie, baby, darling? Back to Ms. Marshall’s piece, it’s a bloody, buggery, bollocky good read. (Uh oh, I seem to be turning into Jennifer Saunders’ Edina. I draw the line at ciggies and Vodka.) It was, in part, inspired by the interest in the return of Marcia Clark and Anita Hill to your electric teevee machines on FX and HBO respectively. Marshall spends even more time on Tonya Harding than Clark or Hill, so I don’t want to skate past that…
Now that I’ve got y’all smiling again, it’s time for a musical interlude before we dial the wayback machine way, way back:
Tudormania: There’s a tremendous piece by Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian’s long reads section about our fascination with the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
Ms. Higgins has a swell explanation as to why she thinks we still hire tudors for our chirren. Oh, I guess she meant the defunct royal family. Never mind.
The Tudors are the first people in British history into whose eyes we feel we can gaze. We slip into their world – or what we imagine to be their world – with ease. They were the first people to have lived in recognisable houses, rather than in the draughty great halls and militaristic castles of their medieval forebears. There is something comfortingly domestic and ineffably English about these dwellings, which is surely why mock-Tudor has been, since the late 19th century, such a persistently revived vernacular architecture. Some of the inhabitants of these houses had even been women, whose characters were a little more than cyphers (such as the redoubtable matriarch Bess of Hardwick who, with her four husbands, rivalled Henry VIII in marital energy if not murderous tendency). Hans Holbein’s portraits of Henry’s court carry an air of realism verging on the photographic; even those stiff, flat-as-a-pancake Elizabethan portraits of country squires and their be-ruffed wives have something bewitching about them. Unlike their forebears, they spoke what we can recognise as our language, the language crystallised by England’s most towering and inescapable literary figure.
I think it has more to do with sex, violence, and backstabbing. The Tudors excelled at all that shit; sort of like the worst felines Jackson Galaxy deals with on My Cat From Hell.
It’s Tudormania listical time, which is the bit where I list my favorite fictional Tudors:
KING HENRY VIII:
- Charles Laughton
- Ray Winstone
- Richard Burton
- Jonathan Rhys Meyers
- Robert Shaw
QUEEN ELIZABETH I:
- Glenda Jackson
- Cate Blanchett
- Helen Mirren
- Bette Davis
- Vanessa Redgrave
End of Tudormaniacal Listomania. Is a double mania the same thing as a double negative? Discuss amongst yourselves. Btw, my favorite Anne Boleyn by far was Natalie Dormer in The Tudors. Hubba, hubba. Time for a Rick Wakemanic musical interlude from his LP inspired by the BBC series, The Six Wives of Henry VIII:
Not Henry’s best known wife but it’s my favorite track from the album. We move on from an unholy royal devil to *the* Holy Devil of Imperial Russia, Rapustin:
The Holy Devil: I first encountered Rasputin in the film version of Robert Massie’s Nicholas & Alexandra but the first biography I read of the stinky starets was Rene Fulop-Miller’s 1928 classic:
That brings me to a splendid piece over at Longreads called My Dinner With Rasputin. I’m feeling lazy so I’ll crib their introduction:
The essay below appears in the new collection Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi, released this month for New York Review Books Classics. Teffi, whose real name was Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya, was born in St. Petersburg in 1872 and went into exile in 1919, first in Istanbul, then in Paris. “Rasputin” was orginally published in Paris in 192
A very concise intro, especially given how long-winded Russian literature can be. It took Solzhenitsyn 100 pages to say hello. I hope I haven’t offended any Russophiles if, that is, there are any still out there. I do tend to rag on Vodka in a not very nice way such as this: Raputin was known to get tanked up on Russian death juice. It just took a few barrelfulls to finish him off…
My Dinner With Rasputin is a helluva piece even if it’s nothing like Louis Malle’s My Dinner With Andre. Now that was a talkie. Let’s continue with another Russocentric piece from our pals across the pond at the Guardian:
The Real Americans: FX’s sleeper KGB spy show The Americans is one of the best things on teevee. The show doesn’t call the agents sleepers but “the illegals.” However you slice it, it’s a helluva ride. I’ve always been fascinated with spy craft even though it’s not as important as it’s cracked up to be. The Soviets won the spy war but lost the cold war, after all.
That brings me at long last to Shaun Walker’s piece about what happened when Tim and Alex Foley discovered that their parents were Russian spies. Note I said Russian, the discovery came in 2010 some 18 years after the dissolution of the USSR:
But the FBI had not made a mistake, and the truth was so outlandish, it defied comprehension. Not only were their parents indeed Russian spies, they were Russians. The man and woman the boys knew as Mom and Dad really were their parents, but their names were not Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley. Those were Canadians who had died long ago, as children; their identities had been stolen and adopted by the boys’ parents.
Their real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. They were both born in the Soviet Union, had undergone training in the KGB and been dispatched abroad as part of a Soviet programme of deep-cover secret agents, known in Russia as the “illegals”. After a slow-burning career building up an ordinary North American background, the pair were now active agents for the SVR, the foreign spy agency of modern Russia and a successor to the KGB. They, along with eight other agents, had been betrayed by a Russian spy who had defected to the Americans.
Walker interviewed the Foley brothers six years after their parents were arrested and traded to Russia along with some other spies for 4 Americans and a player to be named later. It’s a helluva read.
Documentary Of The Week: I’ve had Supermensch on my Netflix list for months but didn’t get around to watching it until my friend John of Ooodle recommended it to me. It’s the story of former rock music/celebrity chef personal manager, Shep Gordon. He was the guy who helped conceive the Alice Cooper persona in the early 1970’s. Their mantra was: if their parents hate it, they’ll love us. It worked.
I assumed that a documentary about a show biz manager would center on his malakatude. I was wrong. Gordon is a remarkably nice man as well as a great storyteller. It was directed by Gordon’s friend Mike Myers of Wayne’s World and Austin Powers fame. Yeah, bay-bay.
Here’s the trailer for the mensch you cannot bench:
I give Supermensch 3 1/2 stars, an Adrastos Grade of B+ and a skinny Siskelian thumbs up. I chose Gene because Roger was a Supergoy…
Saturday Classic: I wanted to keep you smiling, so I chose Elvis Costello’s aptly titled 1980 album Get Happy for this segment. It’s more fun than a tribe (pride?) of ferrets down your trousers. I don’t really understand the Attractions of that but I like EC’s backing band of that name:
That’s it for this week. As always, I had fun writing this post, there’s no rasputin that. Damn, that was bad even for me. We’re off to a Krewe du Vieux related function that involves cleaning the den and consuming berled crawfish. As always, I’ll be there stirring the pot:
I was only a *guest* pot stirrer last Saturday at the Crawfish Mambo. Do you think I’d argue with Captain Chris aka the Gentle Giant?
I’m glad he doesn’t Spank people with that paddle. The cayenne pepper would be a killer, I tell you what. But Beer takes the sting out of everything, y’all.
Now that I’ve done the longest closing in Odds & Sods history, I’ll let Batman, Robin, the Green Hornet, and Kato give you a rousing retro-teevee superhero send off: