The weather is playing tricks on us. We’re having February weather in March. That’s fine with me. It beats the hell out of an early New Orleans summer. But the cool temperatures have brought the pollen that torments me in the Spring. Achoo.
In local news, the Mississippi River is on the rise, so it’s time to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway to divert river water into Lake Pontchartrain to prevent flooding. It has me pondering the way folks in South Louisiana pronounce French words. We’re usually off but as not badly as with the Spillway: the local media insist on saying Bonny Carry. That sounds like a blue-haired old lady up river in Duluth. It drives me nuts, y’all. I feel like taking a stroll up Charters (Chartres) Street.
This week’s theme songs are inspired by the layers of golden pollen that are everywhere in Uptown New Orleans. Achoo. Neil Young’s Heart Of Gold was the first of many sonic departures he was to take in his career. It worked: it was Neil’s first big solo hit.
Ray Davies has told two stories about the Kinks’ Heart Of Gold. One is that it was inspired by the birth of his daughter. The other story is that it was inspired by Princess Ann telling some photographers to “naff off.” Only Ray knows for sure. If you asked him, I suspect he’d come up with a third story.
I love Ray’s chorus:
Underneath that rude exterior,
There’s got to be a heart of gold.
Underneath that hard exterior,
Is a little girl waiting to be told,
You’ve got a heart of gold.
She’s got a heart of gold.
Let’s take our rude and hard exteriors and jump to the break. “Watch out, don’t get caught in the crossfire.”
I didn’t watch the Oscars for the first time in decades. I’ve grown increasingly exasperated with the crappy comedy bits inflicted on the audience by the hosts: remember Doogie Howser’s box or Jimmy Kimmel’s ordinary people shtick? I do and wish I didn’t. Despite my skipping the broadcast, we open our second act with two pieces about the Oscars.
Sing A Song Of Oscar: Walt Hickey brings the 538.com technique to bear on the worst best original song in Oscar history. It’s such a fun exercise that I stole one of the charts:
The worst songs on Hickey’s list are obscure even to me. His pick for the worst original song is Sweet Leilani from a 1937 Bing Crosby flick Waikiki Wedding. I’m a Crosby fan but still agree that this tune is from hunger:
The voters selected that turkey over George and Ira Gershwin’s They Can’t Take That Away From Me from the Astaire-Rogers classic Shall We Dance:
That exercise proves that the Oscars have *always* sucked, which is the point of our next segment.
Oscar Night In Hollywood, 1948: Who knew that the great crime fiction writer Raymond Chandler wrote about the Academy Awards for the Atlantic? I didn’t until stumbling into it at Longform.org. Thanks, Mr. Long and Ms. Form.
Here’s an epic quote from Chandler:
If you can go past those awful idiot faces on the bleachers outside the theater without a sense of the collapse of the human intelligence; if you can stand the hailstorm of flash bulbs popping at the poor patient actors who, like kings and queens, have never the right to look bored; if you can glance out over this gathered assemblage of what is supposed to be the elite of Hollywood and say to yourself without a sinking feeling, “In these hands lie the destinies of the only original art the modern world has conceived “; if you can laugh, and you probably will, at the cast-off jokes from the comedians on the stage, stuff that wasn’t good enough to use on their radio shows; if you can stand the fake sentimentality and the platitudes of the officials and the mincing elocution of the glamour queens (you ought to hear them with four martinis down the hatch); if you can do all these things with grace and pleasure, and not have a wild and forsaken horror at the thought that most of these people actually take this shoddy performance seriously; and if you can then go out into the night to see half the police force of Los Angeles gathered to protect the golden ones from the mob in the free seats but not from that awful moaning sound they give out, like destiny whistling through a hollow shell; if you can do all these things and still feel next morning that the picture business is worth the attention of one single intelligent, artistic mind, then in the picture business you certainly belong, because this sort of vulgarity is part of its inevitable price.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. At least Chandler was spared the unfunny comedy stylings of Jimmy Kimmel.
It’s time to leave Philip Marlowe’s creator and take a look at a story that John le Carre’s George Smiley would find very interesting indeed.
Man Of Steele: In a fair world, Jane Mayer’s brilliant piece about Christopher Steele and Kremlingate for The New Yorker would have been the talk of the town all week. In the Trump Era, news flies at one like a Fast and Furious movie, which makes it hard to prioritize. Mayer is the real deal, accept no substitutes. So is Steele.
I was not surprised to learn that Steele is a temperate man not given to flights of fancy. That’s what makes his original dossier so important. I wish people would stop focusing on the so-called “pee tape,” which is among the least significant aspects of the Steele Dossier. Get your minds out of the gutter, y’all.
There’s one new-ish revelation in Mayer’s piece. It involves our old pal Willard Mittbot Romney:
One subject that Steele is believed to have discussed with Mueller’s investigators is a memo that he wrote in late November, 2016, after his contract with Fusion had ended. This memo, which did not surface publicly with the others, is shorter than the rest, and is based on one source, described as “a senior Russian official.” The official said that he was merely relaying talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but what he’d heard was astonishing: people were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. (During Romney’s run for the White House in 2012, he was notably hawkish on Russia, calling it the single greatest threat to the U.S.) The memo said that the Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would coöperate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria. If what the source heard was true, then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over U.S. foreign policy—and an incoming President.
As fantastical as the memo sounds, subsequent events could be said to support it. In a humiliating public spectacle, Trump dangled the post before Romney until early December, then rejected him. There are plenty of domestic political reasons that Trump may have turned against Romney. Trump loyalists, for instance, noted Romney’s public opposition to Trump during the campaign. Roger Stone, the longtime Trump aide, has suggested that Trump was vengefully tormenting Romney, and had never seriously considered him. (Romney declined to comment. The White House said that he was never a first choice for the role and declined to comment about any communications that the Trump team may have had with Russia on the subject.) In any case, on December 13, 2016, Trump gave Rex Tillerson, the C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, the job. The choice was a surprise to most, and a happy one in Moscow, because Tillerson’s business ties with the Kremlin were long-standing and warm. (In 2011, he brokered a historic partnership between ExxonMobil and Rosneft.) After the election, Congress imposed additional sanctions on Russia, in retaliation for its interference, but Trump and Tillerson have resisted enacting them.
Sorry for the mega-quote but it’s important. Team Trump may have given an unfriendly foreign country veto power over who would be Secretary of State. The Kremlin got their man in a scenario that le Carre’s KGB mastermind character Karla would find most inspirational. Karla would be smiling, not Smiley.
Now that I’ve bummed everyone out, it’s time for some comic relief and I’m not talking about the Billy-Robin-Whoopi benefit thing either.
Saturday GIF Horse: The musical stylings of Jackie Gleason were featured last Wednesday at First Draft. The Great One was not only a conductor, he was light on his feet for a corpulent comedian.
Here are two GIFs showing Gleason on The Honeymooners dancing in the Kramden’s cramped apartment.
Art Carney had some moves too, y’all.
It’s time for our favorite stolen feature.
Separated At Birth: I’ve long thought Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion bore a strong resemblance to the dread rock star David Crosby.
This feature has gone from the BAPD last week, to the biggest asshole in classic rock, BACR. And I’m not lion. Believe me.
It’s time for some palate cleansing music.
Saturday Classic: I mocked Der Bingle earlier in the post. It’s time to redeem myself with this 1971 album with the great Bill Basie. It features what Bing-n-Basie would have surely called the hits of the day all Basie-fied.
That’s it for this week. I originally planned to give Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice the last bat word last week but he got bumped. The fucker has been haunting me ever since. I hope this breaks the spell: the maniacal laughter is annoying.