Saturday Odds & Sods: Mystery Train

Train In The Snow by Claude Monet.

I had a head cold this week so I’m going to keep this introduction terse and, uh, heady. If nothing else, I want to prove that I’m capable of brevity. I gave the world a straight line when I called my bi-weekly Bayou Brief column, 13th Ward Rambler. As Captain Beefheart would surely say at this point, Woe-Is-Uh-Me-Bop.

This week’s theme song was written by bluesman Junior Parker in 1953. He cribbed some lyrics from the Carter Family’s Worried Man Blues, which, in turn, borrowed from an old Celtic folk song. That’s American music in a nutshell, y’all.  In 1973, Robbie Robertson added some lyrics to The Band’s version of this classic locomotive tune.

We have three versions of Mystery Train for your listening pleasure: Junior Parker, Elvis Presley, and The Band.

In case you were worried, man, here’s the Carter Family with some hillbilly lagniappe:

Now that I’ve worried you half to death, let’s jump to the break.

The featured image is a Monet painting executed in the age of the steam train. Before moving on, here’s a train tune set in that era as well:

We begin our third act with an in-depth look at a presidential campaign gasping for air.

The Rise and Fall Of Kamala Harris: It wasn’t supposed to be like this for California Senator Kamala Harris. She looked to be one of the most talented and promising candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination, but things have not gone well.

The Harris campaign has lacked focus: at one point they were skipping Iowa and New Hampshire to concentrate on South Carolina. They eventually realized this was a bad idea reminiscent of Rudy Giuliani focusing his 2008 campaign on Florida. Nobody wants to be compared to Rudy in 2019.

Harris has lacked a consistent message. Other than her all-around awesomeness, I have no idea why she thinks she should be president. It may not be too late for her to bounce back but she needs to pick a message and stick to it.

In talking to my Indian American friends, I’m surprised by Team Harris’ limited outreach to their community. She’s half Indian and it’s a prosperous group. Michael Dukakis successfully tapped into Greek ethnic pride in 1988 and used it to finance his campaign. Why Harris has not done likewise is mystifying.

Now that I’ve opined, get thee to Politico Magazine where Christopher Cadelago takes a deep dive into why the Harris campaign has flopped thus far. Sometimes pieces like this light a fire under a candidacy. Other times they sound a death knell. Which will it be this time? It’s a mystery to me:

Let’s set the dial on the Wayback machine to 1924.

The First Washington Baseball Champions: Before the Washington Nationals won the 2019 World Series, there were the 1924 Senators. They were also spunky underdogs competing against the dominant teams of the day: the New York Yankees in the American League and the New York Giants in the World Series. The country was rooting for them and they won it all.

In a piece excerpted from his book about DC baseball, Fredric J. Frommer has the details at Politico Magazine.

Frommer’s article was published before the Nats beat the heavily favored Houston Astros to take the crown. There was the inevitable Trump era controversy over a visit to the White House. President* Pennywise specializes in divisiveness and the contagion spread to the World Series champs.

The best account of this mess is in the club’s hometown paper, the WaPo. Kudos to the player who did not attend. Shame on catcher Kurt Suzuki who donned a MAGA hat thereby proving the truth in the old joke about catchers wearing the tools of ignorance.

Marty On Marvel: Martin Scorsese caused quite a stir with his criticisms of comic book movies. I’m burnt out on them, especially the Marvel Universe, which is far from universal as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway, Marty wrote an op-ed for the Failing New York Times that’s worth a look. Here’s the money quote for my money:

Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.

They are sequels in name but they are remakes in spirit, and everything in them is officially sanctioned because it can’t really be any other way. That’s the nature of modern film franchisesmarket-researchedaudience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.

I’ve never liked sequels, which is why I’ve seen only one Avengers movie and ended my relationship with the Iron Man franchise after the first one even though I liked it. Repetition is not my thing. If it’s yours, that’s okay with me. I do like Batman, after all.

We conclude our second act with a numerically relevant train tune:

We begin our third act with our favorite stolen feature.

Separated At Birth: It’s a famous dude paired with unknown dude from the past. They’re not usually my favorite of the genre but this one with Eddie Murphy is pretty darn good.

Speaking of Eddie Murphy, he’s having his umpteenth comeback, read about it at Vulture.

The Movie List: This week we take a look at the career of an actress who has never made a comeback because she never went away, Meryl Streep. I’m not a fan of the Abba flicks but Swedish pop has never been my thing. It’s too blond and perky.

My Top Ten Favorite Meryl Streep Movies:

  1. Sophie’s Choice
  2. Defending Your Life
  3. The Devil Wears Prada
  4. A Cry in the Dark
  5. Silkwood
  6. The French Lieutenant’s Woman
  7. Out Of Africa
  8. Florence Foster Jenkins
  9. Julie and Julia
  10. The Seduction of Joe Tynan

This was another tough one. I went with my personal favorites and added a sleeper in Joe Tynan, which was the first time I ever saw La Streep on the big screen. I knew she had something special. Who among us doesn’t like being right?

Saturday GIF Horse: This week we feature a nifty GIF from the number 3 film on the above list. It’s Meryl as Amanda Priestly being beastly.

Weekly Vintage Video: It’s time to return to our train theme with this REM classic:

Let’s finish this week’s festivities with some more music.

Saturday Classic: This 1969 release by the late, great Nancy Wilson has bupkis to do with trains but it’s a good example of the glossy jazz-soul-pop that she was known for.

That’s it for this week. The last word goes to baseball hall of famer and pitching ace of the 1924 Washington Senators, Walter Johnson, whose nickname just happened to be The Big Train: