Tweet of the Day: #R.I.P.JackKlugman

When I first saw this tweet from The Onion, I chuckled:

But then I realized that I never posted anything here in response to the loss of Jack Klugman, the stage, film, and TV actor best known as Oscar Madison on the TV version of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.

My having not done that is really unacceptable.

oddcoupleThroughout my entire childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, continuing until I moved to the west coast in 1988, reruns of The Odd Couple were broadcast nightly on New York’s WPIX, channel 11, and I watched them, was thoroughly entertained by them, over and over and over again.

I had friends who shared my passionate love of The Odd Couple, and we’d rattle off bits from the show, from one liners to entire scenes, and the jokes never, ever got old.

It’s tempting to say that Klugman, as Oscar, was my favorite, but the truth is that he and Tony Randall, as Felix Unger, were such an amazing team that it diminishes both of them to play favorites.

That said, Klugman’s Oscar Madison was refreshingly different from most adult male characters on TV. He was flawed (divorced!), utterly unpretentious, a man who loved the simple things in life, a slob, and yet a man with a very successful career as a sportswriter.

Most of all, he had a big heart, pushed to the breaking point over and over again by Felix’s annoying, often maddening, eccentricities, always to cave in time and again, to remember that Felix, warts and all, was still his friend and someone worthy of patience and compassion.

The character may have been written that way, but Jack Klugman brought Oscar to life in a thoroughly believable way, and even though Walter Matthau was great as Oscar in the film version, I always think of Klugman as Oscar first and always will.

R.I.P., Jack. Thanks for the memories.

Casting “Fiscal Cliff: Part II”

wile-e-coyoteI really had no intention at all of saying anything about the national embarrassment that was the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations.

But this morning, a friend of mine posted a tweet that refreshingly reframed the whole sad tale of governmental dysfunction into something I could nibble at:

 
Thinking of the whole nightmare as a bad B-Movie opened up wonderful satirical opportunities, so I replied, my friend replied, and here’s the whole conversation:

Me: “@TomMINT: Coming This March!! #FISCALCLIFF Part Duex – the debt limit” I hope they spice up the casting for this one.

@TomMINT: @FishandBicycles no kidding! Casting get on it!

Me: @TomMINT Samuel L. Jackson as Obama!

@TomMINT: @FishandBicycles as Obama said to Romney “please continue”, I’m at a loss.

Me: @TomMINT Bryan Cranston as John Boehner, Scooby Doo as Harry Reid, Thurston Howell III as Mitch McConnell, Kristen Wiig as Nancy Pelosi…

@TomMINT: @FishandBicycles maybe this other Jim Backus character would work for McConnell:
Magoo_Christmas_scrooge.jpg

Me: @TomMINT Michael Hogan, who played Colonel Saul Tigh on Battlestar Galactica, as Joe Biden, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Grover Norquist…

@TomMINT: @FishandBicycles well done! Now we need a script that’s more believable.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: A Rock & Roll Elder’s Beginner’s Mind

Originally Published: September 21, 2010


Like most guys of my generation, I spent a considerable portion of my youth listening to Led Zeppelin. I didn’t really have a choice. I had an ear for music and I had testosterone.

Now, all these years later, I’m a 45-year old frustrated musician, harboring a dream to be in a performing band, having worked at the guitar for over 20 years, particularly over the past 5 years, and yet I can’t seem to find bandmates. My recent Craigslist ad, the language for which I crafted over several weeks, yielded not one response. For the first time in years, I walk past my guitar these days, sitting on its stand, and I don’t feel an intense magnetic pull. I’ve started to question whether or not I should even bother. Perhaps, I think to myself, I should just settle for the occasional jam session that I attend, or the occasional campfire that I strum and sing around.

But then, last night, I heard a delightful interview with Robert Plant on NPR, and I was particularly struck by this exchange (my emphasis in bold):

Melissa Block: Do you think that you started thinking of your voice, maybe, as an instrument, in the way that Jimmie Page’s guitar was an instrument in Zeppelin?

Robert Plant:Yeah, it was a thing to play off of, definitely. But, it’s a weird thing to do, because the voice doesn’t have that kind of flexibility. I wanted my voice to be a tenor sax, really. I wanted to be Coleman Hawkins. I wanted to be Dexter Gordon. I just think that certain instruments have so much more chance of following the electric charges in your mind. When you’re listening to people play the post-bebop stuff, you can hear this great instrumentation. But for a singer, you’ve got to work with syllables; you’ve got to work with themes and lyric. I’ve got to learn to play something soon.

Sure, a cynic could write this off as a kind of faux humility that comes with the privilege of being a superstar. Certainly, Plant doesn’t have to learn to play an instrument. He’s set for life.

But for some reason, his comment struck me as a genuine expression of Shoshin, the Zen Buddhist concept of Beginner’s Mind. As Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki said: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.

There’s a film I saw in 2002 titled Fierce Grace, a documentary about Ram Dass. The film is part biography and part exploration of Dass’ experience of a massive stroke he had suffered. Near the beginning of the film, Dass explains that when the stroke hit he was struck by how he — a world famous spiritual teacher, a former Harvard professor and devoted student of Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba — at a moment of being very close to death had no connection to spirit, had no spiritual thoughts whatsoever, that as he laid there all he noticed were the pipes on the ceiling above, and he thought to himself: I have some work to do. (You can see this very moving scene, as well as the entire film, split up into nine parts, on YouTube.)

And when I think about the writing of my Craigslist ad, I realize that it was written from an expert’s frame of mind. Of course I’m no true expert at anything, and yet, as I was writing the ad, I was thinking of my musicianship as having achieved a degree of expertise and that I required bandmates to have an equal degree of expertise or higher. While there’s a fairly thoughtful and practical motivation behind that approach – to filter out musicians who won’t be very compatible with me due to their lack of experience, thereby saving their time and mine – I can’t help wonder whether or not this expert mind energetically turned off potential bandmates.

Maybe, like Ram Dass, I have more work to do. Perhaps I should take some lessons, to finally learn all those alternate chord forms that I’ve coveted for so many years.

It could be fun to be a beginner again!

Best of Fish & Bicycles: There Goes The Neighborhood!

Originally Published: August 5, 2010


No, the following headline is NOT from The Onion:

IHOP mascot Suzie Pancake assaulted at Bellingham restaurant

BELLINGHAM – IHOP’s mascot Suzie Pancake was assaulted by a bystander at about 3 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3, outside of the restaurant at 3619 Byron St., according to Bellingham police.

A 19-year-old woman dressed in the pancake suit was outside the IHOP, waving at passers-by, when 22-year-old James Manas approached her and began yelling at her and hitting the suit with his hand, Bellingham Police spokesman Mark Young said.

A passer-by stopped Manas as he tried to hit her again; Manas then walked to a nearby bus stop, said Young.

Disturbing. I know. It’s the kind of thing you never think will happen in your town. It’s so A Clockwork Orange!

It’s funny, right after I read this story in the Bellingham Herald this morning, I started to take off on my bicycle for work and found that our car, which we park on the street in front of the house, had had both front windows wide open all night. Truth is, this is a common occurrence, arguably foolish complacence for sure, but crime is, fortunately, incredibly rare in our neighborhood.

Question is: Now that Suzie Pancake has been assaulted here in Bellingham, will all that change? I mean, what’s next? Will Ronald McDonald go on a crazed vigilante binge seeking revenge on Suzie’s behalf?

The Hobbit & 3-D: Movie or Amusement Park Ride?

HobbitOk, a few weeks ago, I wrote about how much I was looking forward to seeing the first installment of Peter Jackson’s new trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

And now…I have seen it…and, while I don’t do full-on movie reviews, I do find that I have something to say about it, something, I think, important..

Back in November 2011, I wrote about my feelings towards High Definition and 3-D, declaring that I’d take 2-D any day, even at the risk of being labeled an old fogey.

Well, as you’ll see in the comments, that’s precisely what a close friend of mine did. It’s the price I pay for taking a stand.

But still, when The Hobbit came to town in 3-D, on a brand new IMAX screen at our brand new multiplex movie emporium, I overcame my initial resistance, reframed it not as a movie necessarily, but as some other kind of spectacle, a spectacle that would be fun, especially with my wife and 15-year old son, just for the experience of it, because, it turns out, that’s what people do for entertainment. Go figure.

Anyway, it was big, it was loud, it was a feast for the eyes, and…

…meh.

Frankly, the reframing didn’t work, I REALLY wanted to see the movie, but I found the 3-D glasses terribly uncomfortable and the hyper intensity of the visual feast, amplified by the 3-D and the sheer size of the IMAX screen, to be more annoying and distracting than anything approaching an enhancement. In fact, it was SO distracting that I came away from the experience not even sure what to make of the film itself; the way the story was adapted, the quality of the acting, directing, music, etc.

I feel I need to go see it again in 2-D in order to assess those things separately, and that just sucks, especially if you consider that it cost over $50.00 for the three of us to see it the first time.

Listen, I’d just been to another movie this past Saturday, at the same new multiplex movie emporium, an ordinary 2-D movie in a state-of-the-art theater, with stadium seating and the comfiest seats I’ve ever sat in at a movie, and it was fantastic!

In my mind, the 3-D and IMAX formats combined, if they were really worth the big extra bucks, would have blown the other movie out of the water, no contest.

But, that just wasn’t the case.

So, I’ve come up with what I think is a pretty good analogy to make sense of it all, and that is to categorize these next generation movie experiences as being more like amusement park rides than a traditional cinema experience.

When you’re done with an amusement park ride, sure, it was a lot of fun, but it doesn’t tend to stick with you. You tend to go on to the next ride and the next one after that or you leave the park and go about more normal activities.

On the other hand, a good movie, or a good film to be all analog about it, has the ability to leave you feeling like you’ve just witnessed a work of art, or even feeling like you’ve been transformed by the experience.

I guess I’ll just chalk it up to an apples-to-oranges comparison, since I was given the choice to see it in 2-D if I wanted to.

I guess I’m just a cinema guy rather than an amusement park guy.

And, you know what? I’m ok with that!

Video Fridays: It’s A Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful LifeSo, the family and I watched It’s A Wonderful Life last weekend, and I continue to be amazed at how much this film has stuck with me over the years, how meaningful it is to me, and how it never fails, no matter how many times I watch it, to move me to tears.

And I really think you have to be horribly cynical to write the movie off as overly sentimental Norman Rockwell-ish kitsch Americana, as some unfortunately do.

Sure, there’s a thread of post-WWII triumphalism, but focusing on that is missing the forest for the trees.

I LOVE the unapologetic romanticism in It’s A Wonderful Life, from kiddie Mary Hatch’s secret declaration that she’ll love George Bailey until the day she dies and George’s offer to lasso the moon so that Mary can swallow it, and it would all dissolve, and the moonbeams would shoot out of her fingers and toes and the ends of her hair, to George’s plea on that snowy bridge, that he didn’t care what happened to him, if only he could get back to his wife and kids.

In a way, you could say that the country needed this giant expression of the power of love after having been through the nightmare of war.

On a more personal level, I actually didn’t see the movie until I was in college, and I related strongly to George’s central challenge: wanting since he was a kid to escape the confines of a small town, to see the world and do big, important things with his life, while one obstacle after another thwarted his dreams.

I remember being rather lost at the time, not enjoying school, not sure what I wanted to major in or do with my life, fairly common young adult angst, but it was somehow isolating. And so, George’s story broke through that isolation, helping me feel ok about wanting those things and justifying my struggle with not being able to manifest them.

Choosing just one scene for this Video Fridays installment, was difficult, but ultimately I chose the ending, because one of the only things that has ever gotten me through difficult times was experiencing the truth of the note to George that Clarence the angel wrote in the copy of The Adventures of Tom
Sawyer
that he left behind, and I paraphrase: no man is a failure who has family and friends.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Worst Superhero Superpower: Regeneration

man_of_steelListen, I know this is gonna come off as cynical.

You could say that I was neglected as a child by parents who didn’t buy me comic books…and you’d be right.

Like most people, I love all the superpowers that superheroes have and I wish I had them too — flying, superhuman strength, bullet-proofness, x-ray vision, invisibility, ability to spin webs and swing from skyscrapers, mastery of the Batman utility belt, and the one skill that all superheroes seem to share: super counterfeiting, which they use to fund all of the high-tech gear that they always have at their disposal.

But, when I saw the trailer (see below) just now for Man of Steel, the upcoming latest retread of the Superman franchise (see how I cynically use the term “franchise”), rather than get all excited about this seventh Superfilm, my eyes rolled back in my head, where they were treated to horrible flashbacks of all the superhero remakes over the years.

Therefore, I hereby declare that the worst superhero superpower is the power of infinite regeneration.

I mean, how fair is that? They already have these amazing powers that no viewers will ever have.

Do they really need to rub it in that they also happen to be immortal?

Video Fridays: The Hobbit

HobbitIn a January 2011 installment of my Video Fridays series, I came out of the closet as a lover of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Specifically, I posted a favorite clip from the first film in Peter Jackson’s triology of The Lord of the Rings, and I mentioned that I was planning on watching the three movies in one marathon viewing weekend with my teenage son as a kind of father-son bonding experience.

Well, we watched, we bonded, we ate popcorn and drank root beer, and it was glorious fun!

Imagine my great joy, then, when I found out soon afterward that Peter Jackson was going to film The Hobbit, first announced as a two-film adaptation, but more recently as a whole trilogy.

Honestly, I’m not a fan of fantasy fiction in general. I never got hooked on Dungeons & Dragons. So, it might be surprising that I love this stuff so much. But just thinking about getting to escape back into Middle Earth for three more movies makes me very, very happy.

But then, a funny thing happened.

When a friend of mine said that he was going to take his teenage daughters to the premiere, in IMAX 3-D nonetheless, and asked if I wanted to bring my son and join them, I had a reaction that surprised even me: I said I’d wait a few weeks, until the crowds died down, and that I wasn’t all that crazy about 3-D anyway (as I’ve written about previously).

I know. BORING!!!

So, I came to my senses and went to Fandango.com and prepared to buy the tickets and…what was that date again?…(checking the email from the friend)…December 14th!…right!…ok…here we go…three tickets for the 7pm show…December 14th…

…Doh!!! That’s the night we’re hosting a Hanukkah party.

I text my friend:

Me: BUMMER!!! Can’t make it! Hanukkah party at our house.

Friend: Isn’t one of the nights of the holiday called Hobbitnukkah?

Me: Fuckyounukkah!

Friend: I’m not sure that’s spelled right.

Me: That’s because it’s the Elvis transliteration of the Hebrew.

Friend: Oh, that makes sense.

Anyway, I’ll be aiming to see the movie later in the weekend, and for now I’ll have to settle for the following trailer, which totally gets me in the mood.

Just think of the 6-movie viewing marathon my son and I can have one day!

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Eno

Back in August, I wrote a post about having embarrassingly, belatedly fallen in love with the music of The Kinks from the late 1960s through the mid 1970s.

Today, I confess to another gaping hole in my musical education.

For many years, I’ve heard people express their love for the music of Brian Eno, and in response I’d do one of two things: 1. If I was in a particularly strong egotistical state, I’d nod as if I knew exactly what they were talking about; 2. I’d admit that, while I’ve heard a lot about him, heard that he’d collaborated with or produced the work of numerous other music artists I was familiar with (David Bowie, Robert Fripp, David Byrne & Talking Heads, U2, Coldplay, etc.), I’d never listened to one of his albums.

That all changed yesterday, when I saw this tweet from one of my favorite contemporary musicians, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists (WARNING: the video is 2-1/2 hours long, so don’t start watching it until after you’ve read the rest of my post…hehehe.)

Now, you’d think I’d be turned off by Meloy’s introduction, but my ignorance of Brian Eno’s music wasn’t the result of willful rejection, I’d always wanted to listen and learn, but I never got around to it. And so, last night, I watched the video, and while I watched, I took breaks from it to listen to, via Spotify, the albums mentioned.

One word: Revelation

I can’t believe I’ve been without this music for all these years! From the very start of the first song — Needles In The Camel’s Eye — from Eno’s 1974 debut solo album — Here Come The Warm Jets — I was enthralled. And, one of the first things I noticed about the music was that it sounded so utterly contemporary. Eno’s aesthetic, his use of electronica and studio techniques to put a wickedly good spin on conventional pop songs, suddenly, surprisingly, made a lot of the great new stuff I’ve heard over the past 10 years sound not as original as I’d initially thought.

And, as experimental and innovative as Here Come The Warm Jets was, the mark of a great music artist is an ability to evolve, and over the course of the six years covered in the video above, Eno was incredibly prolific, producing his own music, producing the works of others, collaborating on joint projects, developing deeply intellectual concepts and practices for the creative process and studio work, and his music morphed from quirky pop songs to Protopunk to abstract electronica, and finally ambient music.

Of course, I’ve only scratched the surface and have a LOT of listening to do in order to fully absorb this unearthed, for me at least, treasure.

In fact, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll have another go at his 1975 album, Another Green World, which, at first listen, is currently my favorite.

I’ll be back soon!

Eyecatchers: A VERY Different Kind of Mobile Home

Now THIS is incredibly cool!

Via Inhabitat, I’ve come across this amazing tiny house, built on a trailer bed, in which five skiers/snowboarders lived, as they traveled around the U.S. and Canada in search of the best fresh powder they could find.

And the kicker, a killer surprise, it turns out that I know one of the skiers, a guy who helped my wife and I build a rock climbing wall in our home.

Anyway, it’s one thing to dream up an idea like this, but it really comes down to implementation, and this structure is nothing short of tremendously rad!

With only 112 square feet of space, which breaks down to a mere 22.4 square feet per person, space-saving measures like a sleeping loft, minimalist spiral staircase, mini-kitchenette, and a tiny wood-burning stove, make the space surprisingly functional. But, what I think is special, is that this house was built with great attention to detail as well as aesthetics. This could have been simply, ugly shack, but the carpentry is exquisite, with elegant trim touches, and the tiny front porch is an incredibly cute touch.

Here are some more photos (click on the images to enlarge), along with the 20-minute video about the project: