It’s New Years Day so it’s time for an early Friday Cocktail Hour. Let the day drinking begin.
There’s an apocryphal story that Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics to Trav’lin’ Light to bail Billie Holiday out of a jam. The more likely story is that Mercer added lyrics in the studio in his capacity as the co-founder of Capitol Records. That makes a helluva lot more sense but it isn’t as colorful. Oh well, what the hell.
Trav’lin’ Light was composed in 1942 by Trummy Young and Jimmy Mundy. I already discussed Johnny Mercer’s lyrics. It *was* written for Lady Day and became one of her signature numbers.
I thought Trav’lin’ Light was a good choice for New Years Eve because people travel for the holidays. Not me this year: I’m hunkered and hermitting.
We begin with the original version featuring the Paul Whiteman Orchestra with Billie Holiday.
Billie revisited the song in 1956:
Lady Day may have owned Trav’lin’ Light but she rented it to Ella Fitzgerald and Nelson Riddle with splendid results.
The whole character of Super Dave is a takeoff on people who pontificate. So one thing I never want to do is pontificate why this works, why this is funny. I have no idea what the appeal is. All we are trying to do is make people have a good time and laugh.
–Bob Einstein on his most famous character
Comedy is a very powerful component of life. It has the most to say about the human condition because if you laugh you can get by. You can struggle when things are bad if you have a sense of humor. Laughter is a protest scream against death, against the long goodbye. It’s a defense against unhappiness and depression.
–Mel Brooks in his autobiography
For the holidays this year I have been taking a deep dive into what exactly is funny.
Actually I’ve spent a good amount of my life diving into that pool. From the time I could talk I liked to make people laugh. Being funny was my defense mechanism against bullies, teachers, authority figures, any and all who would try to knock me down both physically and spiritually. I am Jewish, so I come by it naturally.
What prompted this particular dive was being given Mel Brooks’ autobiography All About Me. Brooks has always been a hero of mine. I mean come on, he wrote one of the funniest routines in 2000 years of western civilization and got to perform it with his best friend of 70 years, got to work in a legendary writer’s room on Your Show Of Shows, created a TV series that we still quote lines from 50 years later (“sorry about that chief”), is one of the few writers to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for a comedy, turned that screenplay into a blockbuster Broadway musical, and on top of all that looked like he could be my cousin Shecky from Williamsburg and STILL got to marry a shiksa goddess named Anne Bancroft. I mean who wouldn’t want to be this guy?
OK, Adolph Hitler maybe not, but, hey, you never know.
The other prompt for this E-Ticket ride was a new documentary on HBO called The Super Bob Einstein Movie. For those who don’t know, Bob Einstein is probably most famous for creating the character of Super Dave Osborne, a perennially pompous stuntman in the vein of Evel Knevel whose ridiculous stunts inevitably were wretched failures. While I liked Super Dave, I loved Bob’s character Officer Judy on the Smothers Brothers Show (on which he was also a writer) and more recently the character of Marty Funkhouser on Curb Your Enthusiasm. He was the very epitome of what is referred to as a comedian’s comedian.
The two could not have been more unalike. Mel was born in Brooklyn during the Depression, faced consistent anti-Semitism, worked his way up from bussing tables in the Catskills to headlining there, and had to fight for every chance he ever got. Bob was born in Beverly Hills, the son of a famous though now unfortunately forgotten comedian who went by the name of Parkyakarkus, stumbled into comedy writing through being in advertising, was a TV star almost immediately, and oh yeah, had a brother who decided Albert Einstein wasn’t a good name for a comedian so he changed it to (ironically) Albert Brooks.
On the other hand, they both knew funny. They understood what makes people laugh. More importantly they understood why people needed to laugh. They even understood why some people can’t or won’t laugh. It’s that need to laugh that has been working it’s way through my brain these past days.
And let’s face it, we need to laugh more these days.
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Making a political satire in 2021 is one difficult task. How do you make a satirical movie about a reality that is so bizarre right now, if it was a movie plot in any other time period, critics would slam it as ridiculous and over-the-top?
That is the tall order director Adam McKay took on with the latest Movie Everyone Is Talking About, “Don’t Look Up.” McKay’s latest film is a continuation of his trend away from broad satires and toward more dark comedy/drama-type movies such as “The Big Short” and “Vice,” which may have led to his well-publicized breakup with his creative partner, Will Ferrell. So, has McKay succeeded in skewering how our society reacts to serious threats like COVID-19 and climate change?
I would say mostly, he has.
“Don’t Look Up” begins with our intrepid heroes, Dr. Randall Mindy, an astronomy professor played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and one of his graduate students, Kate Dibiasky, played by Jennifer Lawrence (smell the Oscar bait already), discovering a new comet, and then calculating its path. As you have probably heard by now, they find out the thing is heading right for us, and it’s really big.
What follows is a trip to the Oval Office, where they are met with apathy by obvious conservative President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep, again, smell the Oscar bait), and her Chief of Staff, who is also her toadie son, Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill). Initial attempts to cover up the killer comet fail, which leads to Dr. Mindy and Dibiasky appearing on a breezy morning show to try to warm people, but the hosts (Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry) are hyper-focused on “keeping it light.”
Dibiasky’s frustration boils over, turning her into a social media meme, and Mindy becomes seduced by fame and Blanchett’s Fox News-esque morning show host. Soon an oddball tech mogul, Peter Isherwell, played by Mark Rylance, becomes involved because of course he does.
Make no mistake, this is one angry movie, perhaps the most pissed movie I’ve seen in a while. There are multiple times where the movie itself seems to possess DiCaprio and Lawrence, when they launch into rants about people not taking an existential threat more seriously, often to great comic effect. There are also scenes in it that seemed to be designed to enrage Rachel Maddow, as various conspiracy theories pop up on the Internet about whether there is even a comet.
This is also a movie that probably couldn’t be made five years ago. There are moments in it, such as a presidential sex scandal, that would be considered absurd prior to Trump. Now they get a “sadly enough, I could see that” type reaction. There are very funny moments, some moments that are not clear whether they are intended to be funny, and moments of deep existential angst. The title itself comes from a conservative slogan championed by the Meryl Streep president, “Don’t Look Up,” which is basically telling the movie wingers to ignore the planet-destroying comet, everything will be fine.
But does it all work?
I will say that there are moments where it feels like the movie is ready to careen off the rails and collapse under its own anger. Streep is really not given much to do other than be a series of right-wing memes, and while she was her usual marvelous self, it feels like her character could have been more. There is an infidelity plot in the film that feels attached and is sort of clumsily handled.
However, I’d best describe the movie as an angry gymnast doing a crazy vault full of spins and twists and somersaults, all while rage-screaming. And then sticking the landing. I feel like the third act of “Don’t Look Up,” is a bit unusual in where often a movie falls apart in the third act, this film ends strong (won’t spoil a pretty wonderful ending except to tell you to stick around until midway through the credits). Also, Hill’s chief of staff/spoiled brat son is obviously an amalgamation of Trump’s spawn but still kind of fun, and, Rylance’s tech guru performance was outstanding. McKay was wise in creating Isherwell as his own sort of weirdo, and not as a Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Must clone. He’s still one of those tech moguls who are so strange that you can’t figure out why people take what they say as a form of gospel.
Blanchett and Perry are solid as representations of a rather heinous aspect of our society that I refer to as Toxic Positivity. The two happy-happy morning hosts drive our heroes insane by making jokes and focusing on “positive things” while they are trying to warn people of our Earth’s imminent demise. Toxic Positivity takes many forms, such as those concern trolls who hector civil rights activists for being “divisive” or shout down people warning of imminent dangers as “focusing on the negative,” and the movie works well here mocking those tendencies.
Dana Milbank [T]he United States is experiencing the worst economy we never had. The economy is going gangbusters — historically so. Yet Americans, particularly Republicans, express a gloom not matched by economic reality — or by their own spending behaviors. Polls and consumer-confidence indices show an economic pessimism as grim as when millions lost jobs in the pandemic shutdown. This is, in large part, because disinformation has prevailed. Partisanship long colored economic views, but now Republicans, in addition to occupying a parallel political reality, are expanding an alternate economic universe. “America’s economy improved more in Joe Biden’s first 12 months than any … Continue reading Mythbusting: Harder Than You Think
On Tuesday I learned about a Christmas tradition that I absolutely could not believe was real, despite my source being someone that I trust to tell me the truth. In Catalonia, families decorate a log—the Tio de Nadal, or the log of Christmas–with a smiley face, a hat, and 2 short front legs. The children “feed” the log all December, and then on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day the adults place a blanket on the log’s back end and the children sing a song, Caga Tio, while they beat the log with sticks. To wit: You have no doubt noticed … Continue reading Yielding Sweetness
In summary the story told was ostensibly about an attempt to institute an indoor mask mandate in the midst of the pandemic we are about to “celebrate” the second anniversary of. The mandate was ultimately voted down when a group of Enid citizens, calling themselves the Enid Freedom Fighters, shouted down all attempts at institution at a city council meeting. While this group claimed to have logically and civilly presented their views on the mandate, what they really did was shout, yell, make unfounded claims about the US Constitution and the bible, invoke the names of discredited quack “doctors”, and in general parrot the talking points of the far right. That “victory” emboldened them to become a political force that forced out all those council members who voted for sanity…er…I mean the mandate, take over the city council and the school board and suddenly become a political arm of religious extremists and white supremacists.
The story asks more, though, about what it means to be an American these days. So as we slouch out of this old year (thank you Joan Didion for all you wrote) I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on what I think it means to be an American.
First of all, being an American is a choice (ooh, that’s a word full of contention these days). There is no ethnicity called American. This country was founded, it didn’t naturally evolve as a confederation of related and or conquered tribes like Anglos, Saxons, Gauls, Gaels, et al created Britain, France, Ireland, et al. The Founders (and that right there shows you a difference) made a conscious choice to disassociate from their former country and re-associate with the folks they were living around, mostly British, but also Dutch, German, French, and yes even Africans. Since then America has been a melting pot. Or a salad. Or a quilt. Or whatever analogy you want to use to signify that we aren’t all the same. And then of course in the last several decades we have all become hyphenated Americans, even the increasing number of citizens who are multi-hyphenated because their Australian-Chinese mother married their Belgian-French father making them so many shades of humanity about the only thing they CAN be called is American. We are the mutts of the world. And proud of it.
And I like that. I’d rather live in a land where who your parents were or where they came from makes no matter. Or at least a country that aspires to be that.
Being an American means you have an opportunity to make yourself into the best self you can be. It makes no matter if your desire in life is to have a house in a small town with 2.3 kids, a spouse, a pet, and just enough to retire comfortably on or if you want to have the mansion up on the hill and own all that you can see. The opportunity is open to all who wish to take advantage of it. Your background shouldn’t matter, your family shouldn’t matter, where you grew up or went to college or even if you went to college shouldn’t matter. As long as you are willing to do the work, and do it honestly, then you should be allowed to climb as high as you want. This is an asperation for our country as we have certainly gotten closer but never reached the nirvana of complete equality. Again, this country isn’t a finished product, it’s still in the rough drafts stage. The important thing is to believe we can get there and to have the strength to help get it there.
And if you do make it there, it is your responsibility to make sure the ladder you climbed up on is still there for the next person to use.
While I think nostalgia is a two-edged sword and I am often a nostalgic memory skeptic, I do admit to missing the Good Old Days. And by Good Old Days, I mean before the year itself became a meme/joke about something terrible.
This started in 2016, when we all joked about how the year was so bad, nothing can top it. Then each year after said “hold my beer” and was terrible in its own way. 2021 was no exception.
Along with being kinda lousy, 2021 was also weird. And on occasion, good. I cherry-picked a few examples of the good, the bad, and the weird that stood out to me. Perhaps you can add yours in the comments.
The Good: Joe Biden became president, despite the best efforts of people like 9/11 Hero to Suckers Rudy Guliani, Crazed Lawyer Sidney Powell, and The My Pillow Guy. Biden hasn’t been perfect but he has done some good things. And with two very sad and key exceptions, he mostly seemed to unite Democrats, including having one of his biggest advocates being a member of The Squad, Jamila Jayapal.
The Bad: The Big Lie lives on and is a driving force in the Republican Party, which is now focused on wrecking our democracy, something you can say without hyperbole. Unfortunately, too many people in America either view this development as super awesome coolness, or are clueless enough to think that thinking there is a real threat to democracy is hyperbole.
The Weird: Even as a screwup, the Four Seasons Landscaping fiasco (see the above image) was bizarre and surreal. One of those things that if it were part of a movie, critics would slam it as a ridiculous plot development, and yet it happened in real life.
The Bad: The anti-vax movement has become even larger, more heinous, and more dug-in than ever before. Instead of getting a simple two shots, then a booster, way too many Americans (mainly conservatives) decided the best path forward was trying one of a sad number of convoluted Rube Goldberg-like solutions to fighting COVID. Many died while bringing the term “horse paste” into the American lexicon.
POINTS Former President Donald Trump says he received a booster vaccine shot for Covid-19 “Oh don’t!” Trump said, waving his hand as some people in an audience in Dallas at a show with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly seemed to react negatively to him saying he got the booster. A relatively large percentage of Republican voters have refused to get even initial doses of the coronavirus vaccines. GOP governors around are resisting vaccine and mask mandates.
Very disappointing. It makes me wonder if he knows what is actually going on with the global takeover.
4 posted on 12/20/2021, 5:20:25 PM by JudyinCanada (Aim low, avoid disappointment.)
“Oh don’t!” Trump said, waving his hand as some people in an audience in Dallas at a show with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly seemed to react negatively to him saying he got the booster.
YOU don’t. You’re blowing this one POTUS 45.
10 posted on 12/20/2021, 5:25:06 PM by philman_36 (Pride breakfasted with plenty, dined with poverty and supped with infamy. Benjamin Franklin)
Well, you blew him daily here for over four years, so maybe you’re even?
Trump is either nowhere near the very stable genius many here had thought.
Or he is nowhere near the good and faithful American many here had hoped.
Spin can’t fix this, only repentance.
15 posted on 12/20/2021, 5:26:59 PM by BuddhaBrown (Path to enlightenment: Four right turns, then go straight until you see the Light!)
Aw, c’mon – surely ye hath not forsaken The Darnold?
Simply put he is wrong here. I won’t harass him about it because quite frankly I’ve never considered him very intelligent to begin with, (snip) I still like what he represents to many people, but he’s getting a bit old at this point and personally I’ve moved on to DeSantis.
“I don’t understand him when it comes to this vaccine. He must think they really work. Very disappointing. It makes me wonder if he knows what is actually going on with the global takeover.”
Clearly, Trump has been comprised by the Deep State Cabal – why else would he take the vaccine?? In fact, anyone who has taken the vaccine is now under the influence of the Deep State nanobiots, and no longer to be trusted!!
The ship will be lifting of at exactly 2342 hours on December 29th, departure point Bravo. Be there or be left behind to become part of the Global Consciousness!!
I promised last time that I was going to explain how Warner Brothers cartoon scorer Carl Stalling led me to discover composer Raymond Scott. Stalling loved to lift bits of public domain music – (“Tea for two”, “The Lady In Red”, “Oh You Beautiful Doll”, “California, Here I Come”, “Oh Suzanna” – all either publc domain, or owned by Warner Brothers music publishing). He used most notably “Dance of the Comedians” from “The Bartered Bride” as the background music for the Road Runner tearing up the highway. And then, he lifted a composition by an avant-garde composer Raymond Scott for … Continue reading Today in Tommy T’s Random Ruminations – “Powerhouse” edition
Tis the day after Christmas and I’m posting some holiday fare. It’s a short film made in 1945. It tells the “no room at the inn” story in then contemporary drag. It’s good but its pedigree is more interesting than the film. It was the first directorial outing for the great Don Siegel and an early outing for cinematographer Robert Burks who would go on to shoot most of Hitchcock’s films from 1951 to 1964. Continue reading Sunday Morning Video: Star In The Night
I’m not big on Christmas music but I love Mel Tormé. The Velvet Fog wrote my favorite Christmas standard. The “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” opening line makes me think of my mother’s chestnut laden stuffing. Growing up in the Bay Area, Jack Frost never nipped at my nose. Can’t imagine why.
The Christmas Song was written in the summer of 1945 by Mel and Robert Wells. It became such a success that Mel often referred to it as his “retirement account.”
We begin with the songwriter:
The first version of The Christmas Song was cut by the Nat King Cole Trio in 1946:
So here’s a fun story as we come to the end of the Xmas shopping season. Back in the mid 1890’s when department stores were just beginning to become the shopping norm, they very often had dull, uninspired window displays that did little to attract customers into the stores. This is ironic as once inside the shops, storekeepers did everything they could to keep their customers, mostly women, happy and content. They offered amenities such as complimentary tea service and lounges to rest in. Very nice of them, but those amenities were useless if no one was coming through the … Continue reading Follow The Red and Green Road To Xmas
First off, The Reason for the Season, at least the reason for today (Festivus): Yeah, I’d air my grievances but we’d be here a while. Lots of reasons for grievances, including one I’ll aim at a certain senator, with apologies to ol’ Charlie Dickens: “Spirit! are they yours?” Manchin could say no more. “They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow … Continue reading A Festivus For The Rest Of Us
More proof we’re the ones stuck in the dystopian Spock-with-a-goatee universe (requires registration, but you can read the main points from the Twitter thread). Basically, another fine example of Cokie’s Law, adding that, for all the carping from the wingers about the media, their own version has an echo chamber large/broad enough to flood the zone, which creates its own reality, at least with the political press. To the extent where, sure, irony here — and here — but not long ago record low unemployment in a deep red state (if I remember, Nebraska) was straight up reported as a … Continue reading The Echo Chamber
So as a lot of you know, Joe Manchin kind of lost it on Sunday morning and declared the Build Back Better Act dead, and if you missed the ins and outs of it, it was capably handled here at First Draft by Adrastos and JamieO. I didn’t write anything about it because I was so mad all I could do was call his office, yes even on a Sunday when no one was there, to leave a message about how I felt. And I called all 4 of his offices. I was delighted because 2 of them had full … Continue reading The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease