Friday, March 30, 2007

Flashback: Disco Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes

Say it slow, say it fast: Disco Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes. Sounds crazier each time you say it, doesn't it? Back in 1974, when there was money to be minted from disco, Four Seasons producer Bob Crewe formed this "group" as a showcase for hairdresser Sir Monti Rock III, aka 60's teen idol Joseph Montanez, Jr., aka Disco Tex. Here's some more choice play-by-play on the single.

And hey, respectable rock critic Chuck Eddy (scroll down this page) can hold forth admirably on the virtues of Disco Tex, the plastic qualities of a disco album at a time when disco was not quite defined. Thus, Disco Tex/Sir Monti Rock/Joseph Montanez, Jr. and Bob Crewe made an album that was a whole lot better than it had to be to succeed as a disco album, the purpose of which was mainly making money. Can it be that they Find a download (or the way I found "Get Dancin'," on a cheesy 70s compilation I got at Amoeba) and judge for yourself. And while we're passing the time admiring Monti Rock III, do visit his website. He is still letting his freak flag fly.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Book Review: The Lost, A Search for Six of Six Million

Follow this link to LAist to read my review of this extremely well-written, well-pondered and precise memoir, in which literary critic Daniel Mendelsohn goes looking for what happened to grandfather's brother, the brother's wife, and their four daughters, who perished in the Holocaust in Poland, and along the way finds out a good part of the truth, and learns to live with uncertainty and mystery.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Peeps triumph again!

The considerable Peep Posse is at it again, urging me to post about their favorite seasonal marshmallow friends. And who does not love Marshmallow Peeps? They are sugary sweet; they can be microwaved into a puddle or catapulted across vast distances. They can be squashed flatter than a pancake with, so to speak, nary a peep from them. They are junk food that is easy to love.

Not for me. If I were to be faced with the Peepmobile to the left -- which apparently dispensed candy treats to all visitors -- I would run in the opposite direction. One of the leaders of the Peep Posse once covered my desk, computer monitor and all (this was before flatscreens) in shocking pink Peeps: Very funny. Plus the sugary coating is like gritty sand, and the interior showcases the worst possible quality of marshmallow.

Bah, humbug, you say. However, since I am fond of the Peep Posse, I give you the following, as a special Eastertime gift from me to you.
  • Here's where you can see the newest hybrid, Cocoa Bunny Peeps, via Slashfood.
  • Here is the official site for the purveyors of Peeps, a company ominously titled Just Born. As you might imagine, the Peeps have their own website, with a section called "Featured Recipes and Crafts." Go crazy, Peep-ple.
  • And for those of you who just can't get enough of a) Peeps and b) the late candy confection Anna Nicole Smith, here is a loving memorial sculpted in Peeps.

I hope all you peeps (and Peeps) are satisfied. Happy Easter, Happy Passover, and eat yourselves into a sugar coma that lasts until Memorial Day.

photo by Crowbert via Flickr.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction

Yes, another awards ceremony, this one a bloated (yes, I mean you, Jann Wenner) dinner ceremony. But it's a live feed! And those of us without massive satellite dishes don't get live feeds in Los Angeles. So I watched, and took notes -- all so you won't have to. You are quite welcome.

We begin with Jann, who talks too long (and the mike is so sensitive that we can hear every hesitation, every lick of the lips. Yecch). Then a quick memorial section, with photos, where -- to my ears, or perhaps my imagination -- Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee get the most applause. Until we get to ...Ahmet Ertegun. Filmed highlights; then Aretha Franklin comes out and sings. She's clearly got a cold or something, but she still sounds good. Aretha does a shout-out to Mica Ertegun, calling her "Mrs. Ertegun," and asks her to stand. Mica, who looks uncomfortable, does what the queen tells her to do.

Now here's Keef, Keith Richards, here to induct the Ronettes. First he credits "giant strides in medical science" that allow him to join us. Oh, Keef, you derelict, you! It's not so funny when you're the one joking about it. Anyway, film clips, then Ronnie, Estelle, and Nedra come out. Ronnie is called Ronnie Bennett, not Spector, although Paul Shaffer reads a brief tribute from probable-murderer Phil, to minimal applause. Ronnie and Estelle have coordinated their outfits and are wearing black pantsuits. Nedra is wearing a golden gown, with cape, that looks like she's ready for the Rapture. Ronnie shouts out to Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, and "Miami Steve" (how many of us remember Mr. Van Zandt that way?) and to Joey Ramone. The Ronettes sing and everything old is new again; they do "Be My Baby," "Walking in the Rain," and "Baby I Love You."

Next, the inductee I've been waiting for: New Jersey native Patti Smith. Great vintage footage. Patti, obviously very moved, thanks Clive Davis; the no-longer-with-us members of her band, Ivan Kral and Richard Sohl; ex-boyfriends (although she doesn't identify them as such) Oliver Ray and Tom Verlaine; her crew; her family, including her son, Jackson, who plays bass in her band; and her present band, including Jay Dee Daugherty, who has played drums with her for 30 years (!) and of course Lenny Kaye. Patti is overcome; I'm overcome. Patti thanks her late husband Fred "Sonic" Smith. She accepts the honor in his name. She thanks her fans for remembering the words to her songs when she doesn't.

Then Patti and her band play, starting with a cover of the Stones' "Gimme Shelter," and moving through an OK version of "Because the Night," with shout outs to Bruce and to Jimmy Iovine for making the song possible. (Yes, this ceremony has some of the lesser qualities of a testimonial dinner.) Then, Patti says she's going to play her mother's favorite song. She talks about her mother, who answered all Patti's (actually, her family seems to call her Tricia) fan mail for 25 years. On her deathbed, her mom asked, "Did they save the Stone Pony?" (Just another New Jersey rock and roll mom.) So this is the song her mother liked to vacuum to: "Rock and Roll Nigger." Lenny is in fine form, as is his hair. The song totally rocks.

Barely 7:15 and I'm exhausted. When I saw Patti Smith at the Wollman Rink in the summer of 1978 my life changed. Sure, I knew women could be professionals or whatever else they wanted. But Patti Smith pissed off the side of the stage, right in front of everybody! What freedom! I have never done it, nor do I plan to --- but somehow seeing her do that gave me a sense that I could do whatever I wanted.

Back to the show. Al Sharpton talks about James Brown, who apparently was like a father to him. Sharpton is good, of course: He's a preacher. Then Van Halen is inducted and I leave the room to make dinner. Sorry, Van Halen fans! As y'all know, Eddie is in rehab and David Lee Roth didn't show, which left one guy and Sammy Hagar.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are inducted by Jay Z. They're the first hiphop group in the Hall. Melle Mel -- still very buff --appeals for hiphop that does not glorify violence. "I'm 45 and I don't have a police record," he says. Then they perform, and doesn't Grandmaster Flash start by shouting, "New York, just like I pictured it." If you don't get that reference, I can't help you. (Stevie Wonder, "Living for the City") These guys are awesome.

And already it is time (but believe me, we are several hours into this -- I spared you the "highlights of previous shows" interludes while they changed the stage) for our final inductees, REM. Eddie Vedder does the honors. He talks too long, but who cares, because he is intelligent and interesting and just spacy enough to be engaging. I might as well confess that, at this late date, I have developed a crush on Eddie Vedder. I'm late to the party, what can I say?

REM performs, among other songs, "Man on the Moon" with Michael Stipe and Eddie Vedder trading vocals. They sound great! Then Patti Smith comes out and she and Michael Stipe and all sing "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Lenny Kaye has a great guitar solo. As they wrap up, before they start the final jam, Patti yells, "Have a great night everybody! Drink plenty of water! Take care of yourselves!" Jeez, Patti Smith, punk poetess, is telling me to hydrate.

The final jam, not so star-studded this year, but sturdy nonetheless: "People Have the Power" from the Patti Smith album Dream of Life. Patti namechecks Fred again. Everybody's on stage -- even Keef and Steven Stills have strapped on the ol' guitars. Patti sings. Michael Stipe sings. Ronnie formerly Spector sings. Sammy Hagar sings and Patti hugs him -- he's just a big ham, isn't he? -- while Michael Stipe looks askance. While everyone bops, Michael Stipe sits off to the side and watches. He's a Boy with a Problem, to quote Elvis Costello, isn't he? Celebrity I'm-too-sensitive match: Michael Stipe vs. Morrissey.

And there you have it, folks. A motley crew this year, but all deserving and I am certain that most if not all of them are still toasting their success and God knows what else. Keef has to do it for science, after all.

The Host: Don't go near the water

As The Host (or as listed in Korean in the new IMDB, Gwoemul) begins, an arrogant American military guy (Scott Wilson, best known recently as Catherine Willowes' ring-a-ding-ding daddy on CSI) orders his Korean underling to pour hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde down the drain. "But these drains empty into the Han River," protests the underling. Exactly.

When we flash forward, we're on the river shore in Seoul, where a fractured and amusingly fractious family (Grandpa, Hie-bong Byeon; slacker Dad, Kang-ho Song, with a peroxided fringe; and sweet granddaughter/daughter, Hyun-seo, played by Ah-sung Ko) run a snack stand. But barely have we figured out the family relationships when a huge nasty sea creature that looks like a ferocious polliwog and runs like a lizard on speed crawls out of the ocean, threatens tens of funseekers, and grabs Hyun-seo, diving back into the Han with her in his ugly mouth.

The Host follows what happens to threatened schoolgirl Hyun-seo, who survives being grabbed by the sea monster, while focusing mostly on her family, both grandpa and slacker dad, along with slacker dad's siblings -- his sister the national bronze medalist in archery and his brother the snotty and unemployed college graduate -- as they discover that their beloved Hyun-seo is alive and plot to save her. At top and bottom, The Host is a creature feature, with excellent production values and a scary creature that moves so quickly that we never get a real fix on its appearance, which makes it seem even scarier. This is not Godzilla, except in the beast's origins; this is a very well-made film.

In its middle, however, The Host offers not just suspense but hearfelt family comedy; while this is not Little Miss Sunshine transposed to Korea, this family is both challenged and contentious. A brawl at Hyun-seo's memorial, before her slacker dad discovers she is alive, is dark fun. The clearly focused satire on Korean government officials, who are either bumblers or nefarious plotters, is entertaining and pointed, as is the presentation of the Americans as the people who create the problem, then rush in and take over to supposedly solve the problem. (You think?)

Who is scarier, a mutant river creature or the American military? That's the question that The Host asks, and, given this film's basis in history (a U.S. military official did indeed order the disposal of formaldehyde in the sewer system leading to the Han), it's not difficult to conclude that the latter is a greater threat.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Clatterford: Beyond the Waterloo Sunset

The newest program on BBC America begins, very appropriately, with a cover (by Kate Rusby) of the Kinks' "Village Green Preservation Society":

Preserving the old ways from being abused.
Protecting the new ways, for me and for you.

And indeed, we are in England, in the country, amidst the vicars and jumble sales, looking fondly on the women of a village that is more Ray Davies (existential ruefulness) than Barbara Pym (old-fashioned befuddlement). The first figure we see in Clatterford, pumping away on a bicycle that appears to be perennially out of gear, is a decrepette played by Joanna Lumley, once AbFab's Patsy, whose fineness as a character actor is immediately apparent. (If you saw her in Cold Comfort Farm you know what I mean.) And then we wander on to the meeting of the Women's Guild, and a pop in to see the vicar, followed by an amble into the local doctor's surgery.

Jennifer Saunders (aka Edina on AbFab) created this gentle, yet occasionally sharp, look at village life in contemporary Britain. Saunders plays a harried namedropping mum: "It was a lovely evening [chez Madonna] until Sting played the lute." The men are all professionals, such as they are in any small town; the women seem to be support staff -- a nurse, a grocery clerk, a jill-of-all-trades like Joanna Lumley's character. Most of the women are blonde, or blondish. You've got to pay attention to pick up on the laughs: a moment in church when no one in the congregation seems to know the responses (do they ever attend?), and a counselor from Grief Group (leave it to the English to create a snappy category for everything) who tells a widow that she simply cannot go through the stages of mourning in anything but the prescribed order.

Is Clatterford worth watching? Yes: Joanna Lumley's free-of-vanity expression, Jennifer Saunders' tone of voice, and the other quirks of this really capable cast make the show an easy, amusing, and stress-free 40 minutes.

The only down side is that BBC America now seems to have pulled the Friday night AbFab reruns. Sweetie darling, what will I do?
Clatterford airs on BBC America on Friday evenings at 10 p.m. Pacific time, 9 p.m. Eastern time.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Let's eat: I seafood, I eat it

Recent dining plans have taken me to casual seafood joints on either coast, giving me the opportunity to (drum roll) compare and contrast!

In Hollywood, The Hungry Cat is a venture of David Lentz (that's Mr. Suzanne "AOC" Goin to you) that faces towards the east coast but now seems a little more west-facing despite the persistence of the lobster roll (and that's not a complaint). It's a mini-empire, with a Santa Barbara outpost opening sometime soon.

Recently, C and I had a fishy feast there, beginning with a shared half dozen oysters: Stingray (named because that's what critter likes to eat them) and Old Salt from Maryland, as well as Malpeques from New England (forgive my not remembering their exact address). The oysters were distinctly flavorful, each memorable in its own way; the bartender's description (without reservations, you eat at the bar) was helpful. We then shared the dungeness crab w/ black rice and spicy blood orange sauce. This was my first experience with the western crustacean of choice, and it was a tasty one. We also tried the chorizo stuffed squid, which I'd rate at a B; tasty, but dressing squid up too much is, to me, not worth the effort. Like my grandfather told my brother when he bought his starter house: Don't overbuild.

The dessert of assorted cheeses with walnuts and honey was a great finish. Generally, Hungry Cat has gourmet ambitions that it generally fulfills, with the lobster roll and Pug Burger as delicious exceptions. As it expands into the former Schwab's space, including an oyster bar, we'll see how those ambitions play out.

On the other coast, in Cambridge, Jasper White's ambitions have always been clear -- he is the Cooking from New England guy, an early friend-to-Julia-Child who has long been a presence (both physical and theoretical) on the Boston food scene. Half a decade ago, White opened the first of four Summer Shack locations at Fresh Pond circle, across from the historic former location of Joyce Chen (I know my Boston food history) and in what was for years the Polynesian party joint Aku Aku. With one of Aku Aku's Easter Islandy heads recast as an old salt, White created a casual seafood place that's a cross between Legal Seafood and any lobster pound in Maine.

Summer Shack had a long specials list of raw oysters, with more variety than Hungry Cat, plus littleneck and cherrystone clams. All were fresh and perfect. The steamers, an east coast staple, were sweet and not at all sandy. The fried oysters were very good, as was the lobster roll, and our youngest guest enjoyed his fried calamari (not overbuilt, this squid) after he polished off umpteen raw clams. If the fries were undistinguished, well, the fries at Woodman's, up in Essex, aren't anything to rave about, either; the seafood is the point. The one gourmet excursion, a sauteed sea bass on top of garlic mashed potatoes with lobster bearnaise, was good, but monochrome in appearance (browned fish, white mashed, deep brown sauce) and possibly out of place on the menu. And the dessert selection, which includes soft-serve ice cream, is just what's needed. Summer Shack also offers a full clambake; east coast lobsters of various sizes, from modest to gargantuan, are offered steamed or cooked in less simple ways.

So where's the compare-and-contrast? It's not rocket science: east coast seafood is better on the east coast. West coast seafood places, like the Hungry Cat, like the phenomenally good Water Grill, are their own creatures. All together, class: Comparisons are odious. When I seafood, I eat it, wherever I happen to be.

photo by sooz via Flickr.

R.I.P. Ghost Parking Lot

AFTER: Hamden, Connecticut, March 2007

BEFORE: Hamden, Connecticut, 1978 - September 2003

Once upon a time, the New York design firm SITE was famous for a series of stores designed for BEST products; anyone who's read Learning from Las Vegas (and if you haven't, you should) has seen photos of the decorated sheds, one with a peeling facade, another with a forest growing out of the store. In fact, the firm seems to be thriving and continues to design institutions, restaurants, and residences, as well as Danny Meyer's Shake Shack in New York's Madison Square.
Back in 1977*, the seven-year-old firm created a work of public art called the Ghost Parking Lot, which was both a totally cool thing to view and a perhaps-biting commentary on the domination of car culture. The Ghost Parking Lot was essentially a parking lot full of various old cars (a Chevy, a VW bug, etc.) that had been drenched in asphalt. One could imagine that the road had reclaimed the vehicles for its nefarious purposes, although many other interpretations are possible.
I saw the GPL for the first and only time in 2001 before I moved west; its dreary Hamden, Connecticut location added to the general sense of weird despair that the piece conveyed.
And now, the Ghost Parking Lot is gone. Actually, it's been gone, as noted above, since September 2003. The excuse given was that the "cost of preservation" was too high, approximately $175,000, although one wonders why preservation was necessary. The asphalt was peeling off, and the cars emerging from not primordial, but civilized, muck.
What has replaced the Ghost Parking Lot, you ask? More parking.
*SITE's site lists the Ghost Parking Lot as created in 1977, not in 1978 as Roadside America claims. There's more art in that Hamden Parking Lot of the Damned; further report, with photos, in a later post.
AFTER photo copyright Chris Kopley; BEFORE photo copyright Roadside America.