He's Got the Whole Wide World in His Hands
I'm short on space this week, but let's take a go at pop music. No doubt you're sick of lists, so I'll keep it short: my Top 65 pop songs from the last half-century.
In no particular order: "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" (Bob Dylan); "My Favorite Things" (John Coltrane); "The Look of Love" (ABC); "Brilliant Disguise" (Bruce Springsteen); "Ain't That Peculiar" (Marvin Gaye); "Today" (Smashing Pumpkins); "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (Gene Pitney); "Levi Stubbs' Tears" (Billy Bragg); "Lipstick Vogue" (Elvis Costello); "Discovering Japan" (Graham Parker); "Visions of Johanna" (Dylan); "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" (Dylan); "Come Go with Me" (The Del-Vikings); "Back on the Chain Gang" (The Pretenders); "His Latest Flame" (Elvis Presley); "I'd Rather Go Blind" (Etta James); "Something About England" (The Clash); "Maps and Legends" (REM); "New Year's Day" (U2); "Runaway" (Del Shannon); "El Paso" (Marty Robbins); "Let's Stay Together" (Al Green); "Don't Bother Me" (The Beatles); "Dolphin's Smile" (Byrds); "All Along the Watchtower" (Dylan); "Grace" (Jeff Buckley); "Monkey Man" (Rolling Stones); "What She Said" (Smiths); "Station to Station" (David Bowie); "Dumb" (Nirvana); "Mr. Tambourine Man" (Dylan); "God Only Knows" (The Beach Boys); "You Set the Scene" (Love); "Take a Message to Mary" (Everly Brothers); "The Main Thing" (Roxy Music); "Salt of the Earth" (Stones); "Contract on Love" (Stevie Wonder); "Four Days Gone" (Buffalo Springfield); "I'll Try Something New" (The Miracles); "Kid Charlemagne" (Steely Dan); "She's Your Lover Now" (Dylan); "Space Oddity" (Bowie); "When I Come Around" (Green Day); "He's a Rebel" (Crystals); "The End" (The Doors); "Tell Me Momma" (Dylan); "Fairytale of New York" (The Pogues); "Odessa" (Bee Gees); "Meat Is Murder" (Smiths); "Peaches En Regalia" (Frank Zappa); "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" (Frankie Lymon); "Under Pressure" (Bowie & Queen); "She's Not There" (Zombies); "Green Onions" (Booker T. and the M.G.'s); "This Wheel's on Fire" (Dylan); "Shout" (Tears for Fears); "Whipping Post" (Allman Brothers); "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side" (Smiths); "Try a Little Tenderness" (Otis Redding); "Connection" (Stones); "Uptown" (Crystals); "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (The Beatles); "Kathy's Song" (Simon and Garfunkel); "Surf's Up" (Beach Boys); and "Dear Landlord" (Dylan).
I've never paid much attention to the scant food writing in The New Yorker, so when I read two recent "Tables For Two" columns in the listings section I was quite shocked at how miserable they were. For example, in the Jan. 10 issue, the anonymous critic says, in recommending The Red Cat: "Other than a gallery opening, a performance at the Kitchen, or a transit strike, there aren't a lot of reasons that you'd end up on this lonely stretch at night." Oh really. I doubt the real estate brokers stuffing their pockets would agree with that assessment, since West Chelsea has only been the trendiest area in town for at least 18 months.
But it gets better: "Order one of the house cocktails (don't ask what a cricket ball or red cat is, just have one) before sampling chef Jimmy Bradley's fresh bistro fare, then do so recklessly..." Uh, no, if I'm going to have a silly drink, I'd like to know the ingredients and not trust a New Yorker moron who'd be more at home writing reviews-for-ads copy at the Resident newspapers. In another "Tables for Two" these cliches made me wince: "comfort food" and steaks "for which a veritable hunting knife is supplied." This is worse than Gael Greene-awful, more amateurish than Time Out food capsules. It's just horrible prose.
I am not optimistic about David Remnick's New Yorker. Yes, the illustrations up front are splendid, as are occasional "Talk of the Town" pieces. But Jane Mayer's I-Am-Sidney-Blumenthal's-Soulmate political propaganda is embarrassing; the virulent anti-Giuliani theme, from Art Spiegelman covers to articles inside, is predictable overkill; and Joe Klein, another national political correspondent, hasn't had an original insight since he came out as the author of Primary Colors. Why Remnick wasted part of his budget on Pete Hamill is mystifying and cartoonist Roz Chast is a mortifying 70s throwback.
Remnick's had enough time to recreate the magazine in his own image. I'd advise a head-to-toe makeover, including ditching stupid department headlines like "Our Far-Flung Correspondents" and "Shouts & Murmurs" and change the blood of the entire publication, a la Keith Richards. It's that desperate a situation.
Richie Rich Scores; Londoners Are Jealous
Two stories from England caught my eye last week. First, I've subscribed to The National Enquirer (even before The New York Times began stealing stories from the tab without proper attribution) and The Star for years. No apologies necessary. But what is the big deal with Prince William, aside from the fact that he moves papers on the newsstand? The Jan. 11 cover headline reads "Prince William Out of Control: Wild Party Girls?Booze? Druggie Pals," with sources wringing their hands and nagging Prince Charles for his lack of attention.
A few facts: William is 17; rich; good-looking; and the future king. Of course women both his age and older want to fuck him; of course he's eager to satisfy them. Wouldn't you at that age? It's better than being a Beatle in '64! Old fogies were upset William missed church services on Christmas Day because he had a hangover. Get over it. Although Queen Elizabeth is a sourpuss, like Charles, I'll bet the Queen Mum, after a few stiff gins, probably tries to cop a feel off young Wills. British royalty isn't my normal beat and I don't suspect I'll be writing about Princes William or Harry in the future, so I'll have my say now to the Rosie O'Donnells, Barbara Walterses and Larry Kings of the world: keep your grubby hands off the lads and let them lead lives as normally as possible.
George Harrison had a close call last Thursday when an intruder attacked him and his wife with a knife at their Oxfordshire mansion. At a time when pop stars?Rick Danko and Doug Sahm lately?of the 60s are dropping with frequency, George's death would be most unwelcome. However. In a New York Post story last Friday, groupies with nothing better to do offered inanities to reporter Joyce Cohen as they gathered at the Dakota and Central Park's Strawberry Fields. "It must be awful for Yoko today," said Christine Shelley, ignoring that it's probably more awful for Harrison and his wife Olivia. Norway's Victor Kirkebo contributed this blast of profundity: "It happens because the Beatles are an icon. They are the most famous band of all time." And Nigel Bourke said: "My first thought was, 'Are they going to wipe out the Beatles?'"
Not likely, Nigel, whoever "they" are, but you're swell to worry so.
ABC Sucks Up to Clinton and Gore
It's bad enough that ABC News' president David Westin has tossed conservative Bill Kristol off Sunday's This Week, but his lying about the firing is galling. According to a Dec. 23 report by The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, "ABC insiders say Westin had no problem with Kristol but felt that the round table was too crowded with five people, making it hard for individual voices to be heard." Westin also told Kurtz that his station "ha[s] an obligation to our viewers to make sure we present both sides of any issue." It was also said no changes on the show were imminent.
So, on Jan. 2, on tuning in This Week, whom do I spy in Kristol's chair but Michael Oreskes of The New York Times! The very same Michael Oreskes who was a guest at the Clintons' New Year's Eve bash at the White House! Now that's balance: along with Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, George Stephanopoulos and Oreskes?four liberals to varying degrees?there's George Will, the only conservative in the bunch. This Week is getting creamed by Meet the Press in the ratings, so much so that they changed their time slot in New York. I don't need to see a dimwit like Stephanopoulos on Sunday mornings, and certainly not the DC bureau chief of the Times, so, much as I enjoy Will's commentary, I'll skip the show and wait for Tim Russert instead.
President Clinton himself, who told Larry King he "grew up in the country, you know, out there with the folks," isn't at all pleased with Curious George, his former aide. He said: "I think he's probably more comfortable being part of the professional critics of the Washington establishment, the media establishment... It's a game, I know that. And so it's hard for me to take it seriously." In other words, Steph is a pussy. Hey, Clinton and MUGGER agree on something!
An Easy Life in Beantown
Mainstream newspapers and magazines are notorious for their abysmal media critics; The Boston Globe's Mark Jurkowitz is probably at the bottom of the barrel. He might be the laziest journalist in the country, filing one or two stories a week, no doubt at full-time pay. You can quibble with The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz?he's without humor, behind the curve on media trends and no friend to attribution of original sources?but HE does possess an extraordinary work ethic.
Jurkowitz was at his worst in a Dec. 30 column called "1999: Buzz, busts, and some bests." He picks up on the in-front-of-your-nose fact that Talk is about to sink and adds that "[Tina] Brown's reputation as the Queen Midas of magazines looks to be in serious jeopardy." Bravo, Mark, here's another tip: the Red Sox probably won't win the World Series next year, either.
This one's a dilly: "Further marking the Internet's ascent, veteran journalists Sam Donaldson, Peter Arnett, Lou Dobbs, and Sydney Schanberg migrated to the realm of 'dot.com.' Actually, that may be a sign that 'old news' is wresting control of the cyberspace frontier from the Matt Drudges of the world." How many Big Macs did you eat before writing this drivel, Mark? Did you ever consider that old dolts like Arnett and Schanberg are moving to the Internet because no else wants them? That they'll have as much success on the Web as Abe Rosenthal had with his Times column last year? And another shot at Drudge? This is just horseshit and doesn't belong even in the Globe, the daily that keeps Thomas Oliphant and David Nyhan off the welfare rolls. "Old news" is "old news" for a reason: to think that these characters can just jump in and say, "This is Peter Arnett, reporting from somewhere in Cyberspace," is both naive and insulting to the true innovators.
Jurkowitz has some very strange praise for a television colleague. He writes: "To some, Andy Hiller's surprise world affairs quiz for George W. Bush might have seemed like hackneyed 'gotcha journalism.' But almost two months later?with Bush's gravitas and intellect still the major campaign issue?the WHDH-TV reporter looks like a genius."
See my point? Andy Hiller's a genius? Then why's he working for a television station in Boston? Besides, the major campaign issue isn't Bush's intellect, but why the mainstream media is running John McCain's race. Not hard to figure out: if his First Amendment-violating campaign finance reform ever became law, the media and labor unions would increase their power in electing candidates. But Jurkowitz is content to consume another dozen donuts, read Newsweek's Jonathan Alter for left-wing pointers and just marvel at the verbal gymnastics of a fellow hack like Michael Kramer. The Daily News pundit, last Sunday, opened his column with a quilt of cliches that must've been printed 100 times in the past month. He's just the last to get at it. Kramer writes: "It only seems early. In fact, it's late. The presidential primary season starts in just three weeks. And because both parties have contrived to 'frontload' the most important contests, the nominees will likely be known by the middle of March, when more than two-thirds of the delegates will have been selected. So if you haven't paid attention yet?and the polls say most of us haven't?it's time to wake up."
I'm ahead of you, Mike. How do I know? Why Howard Fineman, Dana Milbank and Richard Berke told me so!
Such a Winter's Week
I'll now return to California and the MUGGER family's melancholy holidays. If the private wake for my brother Doug in San Luis Obispo wasn't wrenching and weird enough?although our sons had a wonderful time with Doug's girls Xela and Kira?my other brothers and I had to make things stranger by staying in the Madonna Inn, the temple of kitsch in those parts. Mrs. M, the kids and I were staying in a three-bedroom suite?$290!?called Harvard Square, and after they'd gone to sleep I repaired to the bar with the older boys. As the scotch was poured, I said to Jeff, "I'm afraid this is going to be old hat after a while." He replied, "Yeah, at some time in the future, there's going to be one lonely guy at the bar with five glasses in front of him." I quickly responded, in black-humor mode, "Yeah, and I hope it's me!" He wasn't amused.
The next day we took a puddle-jumper to Los Angeles, had a limo meet us and drove the 90 minutes to Malibu where my mother-in-law Barbara, her husband Al and a bunch of dogs live on a 20-acre ranch. The Santa Ana winds were blowing at 50 mph, which felt somewhat cleansing, but it made the place damn cold and I had to wear three sweaters to bed. This was the first time Junior and MUGGER III hadn't spent Christmas Day at home, with their own tree and Christmas Eve party, so they were somewhat discombobulated. But the next day, the 21st, we went to the Mann Chinese Theater in Hollywood, a hideous tourist attraction, so that Junior could look for the footprints of Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan. He is James Bond these days and there's no way around it. Hollywood blows, so we left shortly and went to Aunt Gillian's spacious apartment, where Mrs. M was hit with instant cat allergies. As it turned out, there were fires that night?when aren't there any in Southern California??and embers from a Glendale blaze dropped on tourists just where we had been standing that afternoon.
I have no affinity for Los Angeles. There we were, one afternoon, at the shopping mall in Malibu?the newsstand sucks, the one-hour photo joint's even worse; the woman at Sav-On told me, "My processor was a little funky this morning, can you come back later?"?and I see a bum hit up a guy for change. "Well, of course," he said, "give me a moment to get out my wallet." Whereupon this grubby woman went into the supermarket and bought a bottle of cheap wine, opened the bottle and guzzled away, right by the Toy Story merchandise.
Junior and MUGGER III were sick at the beginning of the stay: naturally, I came down with the sniffles, which morphed into a horrendous flu?diarrhea, constipation, fever, hacking cough?and it was all I could do to stay awake. Several days later the insomnia and bleeding gums hit. One bit of comic relief was the boys' reaction to their Nana's stray dogs: they love the polar-bear-like Alicia and lapdog Remington. But Tiffany, no way. In fact, I had to carry them past enemy lines. Why? I asked Junior. "Because he's already snipped me three times and I'm afraid of him." Weak answer. "Just kick him in the shins," I said, although that wasn't advice Barbara cottoned to.
We did have a wonderful Christmas Eve and Day, with the boys getting a bunch of presents and eating all sorts of sweets. On Christmas morning we drove over to their other set of grandparents, Rudy and Daisy, and while they watched the tube, we had a marvelous breakfast of smoothies, scrambled eggs with salmon and cream cheese and blueberry scones. Later, it was back to the ranch for a big party of relatives, and a menu that included a whole ham, turkey, a side of beef, crab soup, cheese and a table of cakes and pies. Needless to say, I conked out early.
But it was great seeing Ramsey, Mrs. M's nephew, who's now a senior in high school and choosing colleges. He could go anywhere, with his grades and Board scores, and so while I pushed Hopkins or Georgetown, he said sheepishly, "Well, I think I'll stay in the West since Dad's paying." Well, I can hardly blame Drake. Anyway, it's Ramsey's birthday soon and someone asked how'd he celebrate: like a movie star, he sat back and said, "Take a drive through the valley, wear my shades, smoke a cigarette, be cool."
And hey, fuck Starbucks. We were in Santa Monica and Mrs. M felt a touch tired so we stopped for a caffeine injection. When she came back with what she thought was a triple espresso brain-enhancer, or whatever that (eventually) dying chain calls it, she found that it was a 20-ounce cup of hot milk.
Back to New York and the boys weren't jetlagged at all. Mrs. M was full of rage, however, when we got our bags at Newark and some men of religion tried to butt ahead of us at the elevator. One creep bumped her, she blasted him for jumping the line, I told the guy to fuck off and keep his mitts off my wife, he yelled in another language and then his cart tripped up MUGGER III. "That's it, scumbag, leave my son alone," and there was about to be a "Page Six" brawl before the coward slithered off, telling me, "You're from outer space, pig!" I kept my racism in check, with our friend Alejandro holding me back, and we were on our way.
I was working at the computer early one morning when MUGGER III joined me. "Dad," he said, "if you die, I'm going to swim to the end of the pool and be eaten by a shark so I can be with you." I wiped a tear away and told him I'd live to be 100 if I could. Uncle Doug's premature death has freaked him, like it would any young boy or girl. It's all he talks about. In fact, right before we left, on the last day of school, he made a painting that said, in a scrawl, "Uncle Doug might not survive." Junior's keeping his emotions more in check, like both his maternal and paternal grandfathers, but I think he's being strong for his younger brother. In fact, I'm sure of it.
New Year's Eve was a quiet affair for the family. I was pissed that we missed a swell party next door, a black-tie event held by our neighbors in a heated tent on their portion of the rooftop. But since I was wobbly and feverish I wouldn't have been much fun, even though it was the networking chance of, well, a year or two. We did have George, Wendy and Scooter Tabb over in the afternoon for a buffet of caviar, foie gras, big-ass Virginia peanuts (a present from Lisa Kearns), stinky cheeses and champagne. I passed on the latter and drank Coke, while George showed Junior some moves on our tyke's new PlayStation contraption. The Tabbs are wonderful, considerate friends and our boys adore them. I just hope George's punk-rock fans don't read this (or the fact that after a glass of bubbly he switched to Diet Coke) or his street image might be damaged.
What a Card
I still can't find a liberal writer who has a sense of humor. I'm trying. A reader suggested Michael Kinsley, and I just reacted, "You nuts, baby?" After all, on Dec. 22, this was Kinsley's idea of a joke: "Slate will be publishing erratically for the next couple of weeks. There seems to be some holiday going on." That cracked me up, what about you?
Bush/Ridge Trumps Gore/Townsend
Let's talk politics, January- style. Read Christopher Caldwell's cover story this issue for an insightful roundup; I don't always agree with Chris, but he's a far superior writer to 98 percent of his colleagues in rat-infested DC, and also had the wisdom not to give his soul to Tina Brown like Weekly Standard officemate Tucker Carlson did. Caldwell's correct, I think, that we're looking at Speaker Gephardt in 2001; that makes me sick, as it should the entire country. Along with Joe Hill-impostor David Bonior, the next majority leader, these throwbacks will pester President George W. Bush with an agenda, aided by good-time Charlie Rangel, that will read like a script from 1972. As in George McGovern's platform.
However, I believe the Senate will remain under GOP control, and all this campaign finance reform nonsense will be forgotten, stored in the attic with Bradley and McCain posters. It's a hoot that The New York Times still refers to McCain and Bradley as "insurgent" candidates, even though they've led New Hampshire polls for weeks now.
In the last week of '99, the Times saw fit to front-page two Frank Bruni stories about Bush, both negative. The first, on Dec. 26, made light of the relationship between the Governor and his father. Bruni wrote about Bush's reaction to the former president's loss to Bill Clinton in '92: "It provided a similarly revealing glimpse of Mr. Bush, underscoring his capacity for anger and especially competitiveness, so keen that he responded to his father's loss by insisting on a different kind of victory and training for a marathon, the first and only one he ever ran."
On Dec. 29, Bruni had another article, called "Bush Makes Adjustments as McCain Gains Ground," writing that the Governor is in "deep trouble" for the New Hampshire primary. Message to The New York Times: Bush isn't in deep trouble, no matter how much you'd like him to be. In fact, McCain has done so well with his bogus campaign (acting more and more like a Democrat, which makes Times publisher Artie Sulzberger come in his pants) that a narrow win there will give Bush bragging rights, a la Clinton that he's the "Comeback Kid." In another slur on Bush's intelligence, Bruni writes about a Larry King appearance by Bush in which he talks about his formal education. "'They ignored the fact that I went to Yale and Harvard,' Mr. Bush said, neglecting to point out that his last name undoubtedly helped his admission to both places."
Uh, okay. How about the Kennedy family, which considered Harvard a birthright? I guess Teddy Kennedy, who's now considered by liberals to be one of the most important senators of the 20th century, wasn't admitted because of his name. Harvard and Yale are famous for rich-guy affirmative action; if Bush's admission is up for debate, what about Teddy and his relatives? In fact, what are Sen. Kennedy's accomplishments, aside from living to a normal age, unlike his tragic brothers? Is there universal health care? No. Teddy Kennedy's claim to fame, aside from his incredible hypocrisy of speaking out for the poor while treating them like servants, is his outrageous rhetoric against Robert Bork in 1987, denying a Supreme Court seat to a worthy judge, by telling lies.
In New York Times reporter Adam Clymer's new book Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography, there's a passage that's three times as rich as an old-fashioned eclair. He writes: "[Kennedy] deserves recognition not just as the leading senator of his time, but as one of the greats in its history, wise in the workings of this singular institution, especially in its demand to be more than partisan to accomplish much... A son of privilege, he has always identified with the poor and the oppressed. The deaths and tragedies around him would have led others to withdraw. He never quits, but sails against the wind."
I yield to no one in my admiration for the Kennedy clan's ability to withstand tragedy, self-inflicted or not. But what would Teddy do if he didn't remain in the Senate? Sell hotdogs at Fenway Park?
Anyway, I'd like to read a scenario that contradicts the following. Gore, using an arsenal of dirty tricks and outright fibs, will finish off Bradley sometime in March. (That's assuming he doesn't have a falling-out with Clinton over Hillary Rodham's purported Senate race.) Bush has a stumble or two early on?perhaps in Iowa, if Steve Forbes bribes enough people to turn up at the caucuses?but then wraps up the nomination in early March. McCain is no longer a "maverick" or an "insurgent" but the media's candidate; if he doesn't take New Hampshire by more than five points, Bush will then have the momentum and McCain can forget about South Carolina.
On to the general election: Friends of mine who support Bush are concerned that the Governor will be outfoxed and outsleazed by Gore and his smart but going-straight-to-hell advisers like Robert Shrum. But do the Electoral College math and it doesn't add up for the Veep. Bush takes Texas and Florida, the Plains states, most of the South (maybe even Tennessee and Arkansas) and forces Gore to spend time and money in California, unlike Bob Dole in '96 and President Bush in '92, who simply ceded that state to Clinton. Similarly, although he probably won't prevail, Bush will make an effort in New York and other Northeast Democratic strongholds. By choosing Gov. Tom Ridge, a pro-choice Vietnam vet as his runningmate, Bush locks up Pennsylvania and probably Ohio and Michigan. Election over. There are still those who say a GOP candidate cannot pick a veep who's pro-choice; that's just silly since Bush is pro-life and a pick like Ridge makes him safer to women voters, who already prefer him to Gore.
It's true that it will be highly unusual to throw out a party that's presided over an extended economic boom. However, the extreme stench of the White House, the extraordinary number of Gore gaffes, and the mere fact that the GOP will have a candidate under 60 all point to a Bush victory.