Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hey, Hey, He Was a Monkee!

He was, as heartthrobs go, portable.

Davy Jones was adorable and could fit in your pocket, it seemed. He was the pipsqueak of the Monkees, the tiniest of the singers/actors who captivated young women of the late-1960s thru the mid-1970s.

He was part of the British Invasion but in a decidedly American way. The Monkees, save for Jones, was made up of Americans: Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork. They had an American producer (Don Kirshner at first) and their shtick was concocted by Americans (Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider).

Rafelson and Schneider, who were each steeped with television experience, wanted to make a quirky TV show about a rock and roll band. They didn't, initially, intend for that band to actually become a rock band.

But that's exactly what the Monkees did; they were every bit of a rock band as the others they shared spots with on the Billboard 100.

The lead singer was Jones, with his very British mop head---and very Beatles-like at the time.

Jones quickly became the unquestioned star of the Monkees---at least with the sweet young things who cried and fawned and fainted upon seeing him in person. Also very Beatles-like.

Jones is dead now, of an apparent heart attack at age 66. He's the first of that generation's heartthrobs to pass---unless you include Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison.

The list of singers, off the top of my head, who caused the females to swoon in Jones' time includes David Cassidy, Leif Garrett, Bobby Sherman. Joining that group a tad later were the likes of Shaun Cassidy and Donny Osmond.

But Jones was one of the first to mesmerize the girls; the Monkees were formed in 1965, around the time Beatlemania was gripping our nation.

His British accent was part of his charm, because it stood out from the rest of the group. It gave him a waifish, almost vulnerable aspect to his persona.

The Monkees were carefully crafted. There was the Class Clown (Dolenz); the Goofball (Tork); the Intellectual (Nesmith); and the handsome, delicate front man (Jones).

But it was Jones, without question, who the girls came to see, when the Monkees would go on tour. From 1966-68, when the TV show was on the air, a ticket to a Monkees concert was as hot as anything.

The band (by this time they had removed the shackles placed on them by producers who wanted to limit their musical performances and replace it with studio musicians) continued to record several years after the show was canceled.

The hits were genuine and red hot at the time: "Daydream Believer"; "Last Train to Clarksville" (my personal favorite); "Pleasant Valley Sunday"; and "The Monkees Theme," to name just a few.


Davy Jones, at the height of his heartthrob status


Jones didn't sing lead on all of the hits, but he still managed to be the sexiest tambourine player that any teenaged girl could dream up, when he wasn't crooning.

Jones had performed as recently as February 19. He was always up for Monkees reunions, and participated cheerfully---unlike Nesmith, who for whatever reason has consistently resisted Monkees-related events.

The Monkees each had trivia tidbits about them. Dolenz has a daughter who is an actor; Tork's last name is short for Torkelsen, and he had a brother who was a running back for the Green Bay Packers in the NFL; and Nesmith's mother invented Liquid Paper.

And Jones?

He was an actor before he became a rock star. There was irony to his career.

On February 9, 1964, he appeared with the Broadway cast of Oliver! on The Ed Sullivan Show, the same episode on which The Beatles made their first appearance.

According to Wikipedia, Jones said of that night, "I watched the Beatles from the side of the stage, I saw the girls going crazy, and I said to myself, this is it, I want a piece of that."

He got it, and then some.

As recently as February of 2011, Jones spoke enthusiastically of a possible Monkees USA and UK tour. His reasoning was brilliantly simple.

"You're always hearing all those great songs on the radio, in commercials, movies, almost everywhere."

I know what Jones meant. To this day, I get excited when "Clarksville" comes on the radio.

Time Magazine contributor James Poniewozik summed up Jones and the Monkees thusly: "Whatever Jones and The Monkees were meant to be, they became creative artists in their own right, and Jones’ chipper Brit-pop presence was a big reason they were able to produce work that was commercial, wholesome and yet impressively weird."

Impressively weird. That may not be a compliment when spoken of others, but it's dead on accurate when it comes to the Monkees. They may have started as a gimmick, but they ended as a legitimate part of rock-and-roll history.

Thanks largely to that tiny little Brit with the mop head.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Li-Lo, the Homebody?

Only time will tell if Lindsay Lohan will continue down the road of the straight and narrow.

That's how it works with the addict, the abuser, the dependent. There's no other way to evaluate the progress than to sit back and wait.

Lohan, maybe the oldest 25-year-old in Hollywood history, went on the "Today" show and told host Matt Lauer that she's clean and sober and a "homebody."

The fast life and the drugs and alcohol don't appeal to her anymore, she told Lauer.

The interview will air Thursday morning, but MSNBC previewed it via Today.com.

"That's not my thing anymore," Lohan said. "I went out, actually, a few months ago with a friend. And I was so uncomfortable. Not because I felt tempted, just because it was just the same thing that it always was before. And it just wasn't fun for me. I've become more of a homebody. And I like that."

Lohan is 25 and who knows what else she can do right now to make money, other than to act.

She's hosting "Saturday Night Live" this weekend and certainly her motivation to go on "Today" is that it's a great vehicle on which to tell not only fans, but---and more importantly, frankly---TV and movie producers that she's fit to hire.

Lohan's interview with Lauer is just that---an interview, as in for a job.

With platinum blonde hair, Lohan looks good in a black dress as she explains to Lauer that, after being in denial, she's ready to start proving herself all over again.

Lauer asked her point blank: How can those with the power to hire, trust you again?

"I think that that's gonna take -- I think that takes time," Lohan said. "And I think that it's actions. Because people can say things all they want, but I think I still need to go through the process of proving myself, you know, with 'SNL,' being on time, being, you know, keeping my -- can't say the word -- but stuff together."


Lindsay Lohan, the blonde and clean and sober version


It's all very mature, lucid stuff coming from someone who's been anything but for the better part of the past seven years, at least.

The proving ground starts with Lohan's next role. And it's an ironic one: Elizabeth Taylor.

It's like what Marilyn Monroe once said of co-star Monty Clift, when they were filming "The Misfits" in 1960.

"(Clift)'s the only person I know who's more screwed up than me," Monroe said.

The notion of Lohan playing Taylor, who was an off-screen drama queen in her own right, is delectable. Yet that's where Lohan's road to professional recovery is about to begin, after her turn on "SNL" this Saturday.

Lohan knows that one clean job doesn't a comeback make, no matter how much she shines in the Taylor project.

"I don't want people to have that reason to be scared anymore," she tells Lauer. "So being able to have this opportunity with 'SNL' and the film, I'm gonna do what I'm supposed to do, and enjoy doing it, and do it as best as I can."

Lohan isn't out of the woods yet. The fact that she acknowledges that is a step in the right direction, albeit a baby one.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blue Bananas, Anyone?

Let me pose a question for you, survey style.

Should I ask bananas to change their color from yellow to blue? Because I like blue so much better, and I think they'd be prettier that way.

Vote now: yes or no, and why.

What, you say? That's a ridiculous question? What do you mean, bananas can't change color? Really? No matter how hard I try, and no matter how many of you agree with me?

Wayne County Commissioner Kevin McNamara (D-Canton) is the latest to scratch for his 15 minutes, in the ongoing saga of Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano, aka The Little Italian General.

It's Irish on Italian crime, just like the old days in the Bowery.

McNamara sent an e-mail out to thousands of his constituents in western Wayne County, posing this to them (verbatim): "Government cannot endure without some form of trust among the elected officials and by the taxpayers who voted for them. A vote may be forced upon the Wayne County Commission to ask County Executive Robert Ficano to resign. Complete a one-minute survey and comment."

Ficano is the yellow banana here. And McNamara wants to know if his constituents should ask their commissioner to ask Ficano to turn blue.


Kevin McNamara


The survey is a great way to get some media attention, which McNamara certainly has. But its results are destined to be pretty much moot.

You see, there's no provision in the County Charter that allows the Commission to remove Ficano from office, no matter how hard they try or how much they want to.

So why solicit responses for something that isn't possible?

"My feeling is, quite frankly, I would like us not to vote," McNamara told the Free Press. "As mad as I am at him, I haven't seen that he's done anything illegal. But I want to know what the people in my area think."

Maybe McNamara is still "mad" over the leaked video of his alcohol-related traffic stop from last year, which may have come from someone inside Ficano's inner circle.

It's also an election year for the Commission. Ahh--NOW we may be on to something.

Commissioners Laura Cox (R-Livonia) and Bernard Parker (D-Detroit) have already gone public, but at least they've actually called for Ficano's resignation, sans surveys.

Not sure what McNamara's end game is here. It's toe-dipping into warm water. Not surprisingly, per his Facebook page, response was running about 70-30 for Ficano to resign. But some of the comments expressed frustration with the survey.

"Kevin just do it," one person commented.

Yeah, enough already!

Trouble is, there's really nothing to do.

Stuck at the bottom of the Free Press story was this: McNamara said the Wayne County Charter has no provision for the commission to remove the executive, so any vote would be advisory at best.

But if three commissioners request a meeting to debate a resolution calling for his resignation, the meeting would have to be held, the story says.

But Ficano isn't resigning, and the Commission can't make him.

In fact, I'd put the chances of the Little Italian General abdicating his throne at about the same as, say, bananas turning blue.

But thanks for asking, Kevin.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Not-So-Sloppy Seconds

As much as I would have liked to have seen Eddie Murphy do a turn, there's something wonderfully comfortable about having Billy Crystal to fall back on.

I'm referring to the Academy Awards, which take place this Sunday. Crystal, the actor/comedian/director, will host, as he's done so many times before.

But Billy wasn't the first choice this time.

The Academy wanted to go with Murphy as a first-time host, but not long after inking him, the show's producer, Brett Ratner---a chum of Eddie's who was instrumental in getting him the Oscar gig---quit, and a day after that, so did Murphy.

I was totally on board with the notion of Murphy escorting us through the sometimes interminable broadcast, but like I said---Crystal isn't a bad second choice.

Oh, how many funny moments Crystal has given us as Oscar host---some of them occurring in the show's opening montage.


Crystal, with the best co-star he's ever had not named Jack Palance


But one that sticks out is when the Academy honored longtime silent movie producer/director Hal Roach, 100 years young, in 1992.

Crystal pointed Roach out in the crowd, and the centenarian stood and started to speak. Unfortunately, the theater's sound system didn't pick up his words for broadcast.

Without missing a beat, and displaying his God-given ability at comedic timing, Crystal deadpanned, "I think that's fitting, after all — Mr. Roach started in silent film..."

It was one of Oscar's funniest moments. You can see it here.

There have been many more bouts of laughter, with Crystal at the helm, and no doubt there will be even more added to the list this Sunday.

So it's not a bad thing that Eddie Murphy isn't going to make his Oscar hosting debut---not when you have an old pro like Crystal ready to yuk it up.

Billy Crystal, who never really found his footing as a film star in any movie without "City Slickers" in the title, is clearly much better poking fun at the industry than he is at being in it.

We can't be good at everything, after all. Crystal has his niche, and that's more than a lot of his brethren can say.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Got It, You Take It

It's often used in the world of sports, the notion of "doesn't anybody want to win this thing?"

Typically, scribes and observers will say that about a baseball pennant race or some other competition in which the players or teams involved appear to be more insistent on losing and screwing up than actually winning.

The Michigan GOP Primary is nearing, and the two front-runners are stumbling over themselves to crow how they would NOT have authorized a bailout of the Big 3 automakers if they were president.

This on the heels of news that GM just announced a 2011 profit of $7.6 billion. Profit sharing checks are upwards of $7,000 for giddy GM employees.

Yet here are Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum sweeping into the state, trying to out shout the other about how against the bailout they still are.

It's a rather strange strategy, to say the least.

Usually politicos are wont to crow their "I told you so" stance. It's a tried and true method of making yourself look good to voters---to be able to puff out your chest and tell everyone, "If only you had listened to ME, we wouldn't be in this mess."

But when the results of your stance are proven to be wrong/misguided, wouldn't you just want to shut up about it? Or, at the very least in this case, eat some humble pie and feel good for the car industry?


If Romney looks weary here, it's probably because he's been expending a lot of energy double and triple-talking his way around the auto industry bailout situation


Romney and Santorum, however, don't see it that way, apparently.

Romney is more egregious, as he's done some verbal gymnastics in trying to explain his 2008 column in the New York Times. The one entitled, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

Yeah, that one.

But Romney has not only explained it, he's re-defended it. Amidst all sorts of facts suggesting that he was dead wrong. His "solution" of a "managed bankruptcy" has very few, if any, people with industry and financial knowledge on board with him. Some have described it as laughable, given the state of the economy in 2008.

Again, strange strategy heading into a primary in---MICHIGAN.

Especially when you're trailing your opponent by four points, in the latest Detroit News poll (34-30, to Santorum).

What's next for these GOPers? Some caustic remarks about corn just before traveling to Nebraska? Decrying the movie industry on their way to California?

Romney is airing some TV ads that show him driving around Metro Detroit, waxing nostalgic about his childhood. He talks about going to the Auto Show with his dad. Then he makes an about face and openly wonders, "How could this great industry get itself into such a fix?"

Romney has it wrong. It's not about how the Big 3 got into the mess (that's a whole other story), it's the success story of how they got out of it. But I can see why Romney doesn't want to harp on that, because he was against the eventually successful solution. And he's still against it, and would be against it again.

Santorum told the Economic Club of Detroit today that he wouldn't have bailed the Big 3 out, either. Good for him.

Don't either of these guys want to win here?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Whitney

In the wake of the news of Whitney Houston's death, you've heard a lot of folks say that we've lost "the voice."

It's true, that Houston, the pop superstar who died at age 48 on Saturday, was an immense talent; certainly the best female voice of her generation. I know I'll get some argument there, but I don't care. The woman could belt it out, and her rendition of the National Anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl was as perfect as that song can be sung.

But I squirm a little when "the voice" is discussed as being hushed now in her death, because have we really had Whitney Houston's true voice in recent years?

And by recent years, I mean about ten.

It's not as if Houston was singing like it was the late-1980s and early-1990s, right?

Far from it.

I saw a clip of Houston a couple years ago, trying to deliver us those pipes, and to me that was the real tragedy---not what happened Saturday in the Beverly Hills Hilton.

Houston's physical form died on Saturday, but her voice had been killed off years before, thanks to the usual talent snuffer of alcohol and drugs.

I imagine reaction to her death was similar to that of Marilyn Monroe's, back in 1962. There was shock, of course, but that was quickly followed by a feeling of fait accompli.




It's like what I wrote about Michael Jackson after his death in 2009: did you really envision seeing Houston live to the ripe age of 70 or 80?

That would have been terrific, of course, because it would have meant that the drugs and alcohol would have been licked. But I didn't hold out much hope for that; I don't know about you.

So the words, "Whitney Houston, dead at age 48," just don't hold much shock value for me, as awful as it is for someone to perish that young.

The details of the circumstances of Houston's death are still trickling in, but we seem to be able to agree that she took some---what else---drugs and alcohol and settled in for a bath. Then she apparently drifted into sleep (wonder why?) and after that, we're not sure. Could be heart attack, could be drowning. Not sure.

Reports are conflicted as to the nature of her behavior in the days leading to her death. Some say she was cheerful and happy. Others have called her behavior "erratic." Again, not sure.

The only thing you're ever really sure about in these kinds of mysterious deaths is that the person is, in fact, deceased. Speculation then runs rampant.

Had she lived for 20-30 more years, maybe Whitney Houston would have rescued at least some of her voice. But I really don't care about that. We had it and we can always relive it through recordings, YouTube, etc.

I would have liked to have seen a sober Houston recovered from the drugs and the drinking, perhaps further pursuing a movie career, or acting as an advocate for others struggling with addiction.

I would have liked to have seen her host a talk show or become a spokesperson of some sort.

I had given up on her singing career. The voice was gone years ago.

I'd have liked to have seen any of these things, of course, rather than her being buried this week.

The great tragedy of Whitney Houston isn't just that she wasted her singing talents. It's that she then blew any chance of having a second, even more fulfilling life that likely would have influenced even more people than she touched with her singing voice.

So yeah, sad.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A New Day Dawning?

The barn door is being shut at the Wayne County offices---and before all the horses are out.

I've been critical of what's been happening at the County under The Little Italian General, Bob Ficano---but then again, who in their right mind hasn't been?

Who in their right mind wouldn't be disgusted by the largesse and hubris that has been flaunted at 500 Griswold, as the administration initially responded with nose thumbing at taxpayers?

Who wouldn't have been disgusted at the quality of "food" that county seniors were being served as Meals on Wheels looked to cut costs, while cronyism and inflated paychecks for do-nothing appointments ran rampant?

Who wouldn't have cast a cross eye at Ficano and his toadies while they asked for union concessions on one hand and greased the palms of other less deserving hands at the same time?

So I wasn't the Lone Ranger in my disgust, and having worked for the County Commission in 2010, the impropriety hit even closer to home, because much of it was stuff I and others tried to spoon feed the media, who weren't biting.

Then along came Turkia Mullin and The Severance Heard 'Round the World, and suddenly the bandwagon of Ficano critics was bursting at the seams.

If it's really true that it's darkest before the dawn, then I'm happy to report that I see a speck of the sunrise over yonder.

The County Commission, which has taken a lot of heat for not knowing of which it is supposed to be checking and balancing, is hard at work at making sure that Ficano and his administration---and indeed, future County Executive administrations---are reined in.

You can look at the Commission with a sour puss all you want, but as I have been told by a Commission insider, it's not as simple as I and others have made it out to be, when it comes to assigning blame for the lack of oversight.

Was the Commission maybe too trusting of past administrations, setting a precedent of misguided trust? Probably. Did the Commission expect to be flat out lied to? Probably not.

I'm told that in the matter of Mullin, the former Economic Development Director for the County, the Commission only knew of one Executive Compensation Plan.


Ficano and Mullin, in happier and less investigative times


Here's a portion of an e-mail sent to me regarding Mullin's deal, sent from someone inside the Commission: "The [Executive Compensation Plan], the one the Commission operates from, is the only one that we knew existed. We had no idea that they had secret contracts giving compensation outside the plan?? How would we know?? The dollars were coming from their own lump some budgets, and they hadn't even been allocated yet. Mullin was the first. Once her deal was exposed we forced repayment and asked them if any other such deals existed and they lied right to our faces, on the record!!!!"

Since Severance-Gate, ordinances have been passed, an ethics policy is in its final stages, and the Commission is continuing to ramp up the pressure on the administration. My insider tells me that, when all is said and done, the County will be "bullet proof."

To wit: the Commission's new Ethics Policy, which has much more bite than the one the Administration is trying to cobble together in order to police itself, includes a third party Ethics Review Panel, referrals of criminal activity to the Prosecutor, and fines for unethical behavior (i.e. failure to disclose inappropriate dealings, acceptance of gifts, etc.).

Yes, there are still some horses that didn't escape the Wayne County Barn. Looks like the County Commission is determined to make sure they don't.

Good for them--and for the County taxpayers.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Heeeeeeere's 30 Years!

The first guest was Bill Murray. That much I know.

Unlike Johnny Carson, David Letterman hasn't ever made too much of anniversaries. Letterman's "Late Night" show doesn't, anymore, do any prime-time specials, as Carson would do every October to celebrate another year on the air with "Tonight."

So it flew under the radar, big time---the 30th anniversary of Letterman on late night television, which was celebrated, in a very low-key style, last night.

That's right---30 years.

As a point of reference, that's even longer than Carson did "Tonight" (debuted October 1, 1962 and last show was May 22, 1992).

Hard to believe, eh?

Letterman's first foray into hosting a talk show came in the mornings on NBC, and didn't last very long. At all. But he was one of the lucky ones who got another shot, taking his quirky act to late night, where it played much better.

Murray was Letterman's very first guest in February 1982, and he would frequently be invited back every February thereafter, like a recurring birthday guest.

Letterman never went head-to-head against Carson, because their time slots were never the same (Letterman started at 1:00 a.m. in 1982). Only after Carson retired did Letterman move into his now current 11:35 pm slot.

There has been much made of Letterman wanting to follow Johnny in the "Tonight" host's chair after Carson retired. That job, of course, went to Jay Leno.

It will always be an unfulfilled desire, for Letterman, who will likely never be the host of the "Tonight Show." But it's also likely that his desire for that job has waned.

One thing Letterman does have in common with Carson is his intense desire for privacy, and his almost refusal to hang out with his guests outside of the show. You don't see photos of Letterman, really, other than on the set of his talk show. He's not a mingler. He doesn't do the party scene.



Any social relationships Letterman has with those he interviews are kept very hush-hush, if they exist at all.

Just like Carson, who would participate in poker games and the like, but those hardly ever got reported.

David Letterman and his gap-toothed grin have been gracing late night television for 30 years. Yet it's hardly celebrated, and the fact that he's been doing it longer than Carson did "Tonight" is barely a footnote.

But given how much reverence Letterman has for Carson, maybe Dave would like to keep that little factoid mostly for himself.