About Brittany

Cold sober, I find myself fascinating.

McCartney 3, 2, 1

You would think that with all the streaming world has to offer, you would rarely find yourself thinking, “There is literally nothing worthwhile to watch.” While Paul McCartney shares some of the same stories and tidbits he has shared in the two billion other interviews he has done (really, he just can’t resist sharing the creation of “Yesterday” one more time and can you blame him?), the new Hulu series McCartney 3,2,1 does not fall under that category, offering enough meaningful content to keep even the most devout of Beatles fans interested (well, unless you’re one of those whiny types who is just never content with anything, ever, in which case try some therapy or see if buying a villa in Florida makes you happy — spoiler! it probably won’t).

The format of McCartney 3, 2,1 is straightforward: each episode features a dissection of a Beatles song (or two…or three) at a mixing board with producer Rick Rubin. Stories and memories ensue, with a few common threads coming through — here are some of my favorites:

The pure love and joy the music brings to Paul. He’s a fan just like the rest of us.

Listening to a playback of “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, he is dancing, smiling, and shouting, “Whoo!” He loves it. During one episode, he discusses the process of becoming a Beatles fan again. After the pain of the breakup (“I thought I would be in this band forever,” he reflects), it took several years for him to be able to listen — and play live — Beatles songs again. Yet, once he did, he remembered and appreciated what a good little band they were, which becomes more and more evident as McCartney and Rubin take apart select Beatles tracks.

One such track is “And Your Bird Can Sing,” which John Lennon bluntly wrote off as “another horror” and “another one of my throwaways.” Yet, at the mixing board, showcasing the different parts that make up the whole, the artistry and musicianship of the band becomes evident and, as Rubin points out, a listener can hear the energy and excitement the band generated playing together in the studio — an energy and excitement that is delightfully infectious, even if you’re Paul McCartney listening to your band some fifty-odd years later.

Creating music was (and still is) a simple, natural process for the band.

During many of these mixing board moments, Rubin will ask Paul if the different components required hours of laborious rehearsals before recording. The answer is simple: no. As the main songwriters, John and Paul would present the basic song to the rest of the group (and George Martin) and together they would develop the finished product, each contributing. Listening to “And I Love Her,” Paul remembers how they felt the beginning of the song just needed something. George played the opening notes, and the song was complete. “I couldn’t imagine this song without that…It was good, you know,” Paul muses. Similarly, Ringo’s militaristic drumming of “Get Back” took the track in a completely different direction.

Paul also explains how he learned to play the piano — a simple process that begins with finding middle C and creating chords. The band lacked formal training, yet it obviously didn’t matter. Their innate ability to create came, in part, from their unique bond with one another.

Paul has great affection for John, Ringo, and George…

While some may consider Paul’s re-telling of his memories rose-colored and self-serving (how’s that down payment for that villa coming?), I find him to be incredibly endearing and generous.

The first tune featured in the series is “All My Loving.” Paul is quick to point out the driving rhythm guitar — something John was equally proud of. (“‘All My Loving’ is Paul, I regret to say…Because it’s a damn good piece of work…But I play a pretty mean guitar in back.”) The discussion then moves to the differences in their personalities: John was more defensive and cynical, while Paul was optimistic and diplomatic. You see it famously in two Beatles tracks: “Getting Better” (Paul: It’s getting better all the time; John: It couldn’t get much worse) and “We Can Work It Out” (Paul: We can work it out; John: Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend). Paul attributes their success as a songwriting partnership, in part, to these differences and reflects on what made them so different, namely their upbringing. Paul came from a close-knit, loving family, while John was essentially abandoned by both of his parents. While he was raised by a loving aunt and uncle in a comfortable suburban setting (certainly the most prosperous of the four Beatles), he also knew his mother lived close by with his two half-sisters and their father, which had to be difficult for a young adolescent to understand and remain indifferent to.

Ringo was, of course, the last Beatle to join the band, yet his effect on the band is indelible. The band felt complete once Ringo joined; Paul remembers how different it felt from the very first time Ringo played with them. He lifted them up. Cut to Ringo banging away to “I Saw Her Standing There” at the Washington Coliseum during the Beatles’ first visit to the United States, and John is rocking, head bopping, completely enthralled by and feeding off of Ringo’s energy. “He just brought the whole band together,” Paul concludes.

George lived closest to Paul, and they met by chance on the bus ride on the way to school. There was an empty bus seat; George sat down, and they discovered their mutual interest in music. Rubin asks Paul how many other kids on that bus cared about music? “I would guess one…if you were lucky,” Paul answers. Chance – magic – divine intervention – whatever you want to call it – it is incredibly rare to sit on a school bus next to someone with whom you form this lasting connection. Not only do you become close friends but also have a shared extraordinary experience that forever molds you together, and at the end of the day, you have the greatest love and respect for each other. “From the little guy I met on the bus — a little guy with a quiff…He turned to be this very wise man,” Paul says.

The juxtaposition of the guitar and bass on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is fascinating to listen to in isolation. Reminiscing about the fact that Eric Clapton — not George — played the distinctive solo on the track, Paul observes: “It was very generous of George to give Eric this moment, when he could have had it for himself. But it’s just like, George was very like that. He was very open.”

…Even if he was the Bossy Beatle.

Some of Paul’s memories are, admittedly, carefully framed to downplay this fact. He recalls the use of the piccolo trumpet on “Penny Lane”; the solo includes an impossible high note that the player, David Mason, told Paul was out of the instrument’s range. Paul’s response? Well, you can do it! And he did. What Paul omits from this memory, however, is the fact that he asked Mason to record the solo a second time; George Martin had to convince Paul to be satisfied as the musician had just accomplished an inconceivable feat.

Listening to “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” Rubin seems surprised that Paul played drums on the track. Why? Well, Paul was probably showing Ringo what he wanted him to play on the track, and Ringo just said, “Well, you do it!” He neglects to mention the fact that Ringo actually quit the band at this point, precipitated by Paul’s overbearing direction.

Best butt in the Beatles? Is it not obvious?

At another point, Rubin plays “Another Girl,” an odd choice, as I always found the most memorable part of this song the sequence in the Bahamas from Help!, which clearly points out who had the best butt in the Beatles (ummmmmm, Paul).

“Who played the guitar on that?” Rubin asks.

“I’m not sure,” is Paul’s unconvincing answer. “I’m wanting to say it’s me ’cause it’s bad enough.”

“It’s a bold choice for you to play that,” Rubin compliments.

“Bold mistakes…That’s me. I specialize in bold mistakes.”

Yes, it is you, Paul. You played the guitar solo because you were unhappy with George’s rendition, and George just said, “Well, you do it!”

Yes, Paul was the bossy Beatle, but we still love you anyway.

Paul values John’s opinion — even now.

In some ways, John Lennon’s murder also made him a martyr, certainly at times to Paul (and perhaps George and Ringo, too). He was increasingly seen as the Beatles, the leader of the band (which, of course, he was, but it was also an equal partnership between the four–“How many Beatles does it take to change a light bulb?” George Harrison once quipped. “Four.”). Consequently, it has seemed, at times, that Paul is still competing with the memory and legacy of his dear friend. Yet, he has great love and regard for John, and you see how much Paul values John’s opinion and relishes his praise and respect even now.

Rubin reads Paul a quote about his bass playing: “Paul is one of the most innovative bass players that ever played bass and half of the stuff going on now is directly ripped off from his Beatle period. He has always been a bit coy about his bass playing, but he’s a great, great musician.”

“Did I write that?” Paul asks, laughing.

“That was John Lennon.”

“He never said that to me,” Paul replies — not begrudgingly, just matter-of-factly. And while I find it hard to believe he has never heard that quote or read it, he is genuinely pleased to hear it.

When asked to choose a favorite song he has written, Paul is tempted to say “Yesterday” because he finds its genesis so magical, yet he wants to say, more than ever, “Here, There, and Everywhere,” the beautiful love song found on Revolver that he wrote one day by John Lennon’s pool, waiting for him to be up and ready for a songwriting session. John himself always liked the song, telling Paul, “I like this one.” And that was enough — great praise indeed coming from John Lennon.


When asked, “Do you believe in magic?”, Paul responds that he has to, considering the way “Yesterday” came to him.

Magic is a word used often in this series, and it is a word that could be used to describe many aspects of the Beatles’ story. And while in some ways a fitting adjective, the word magic seems too easy. This band worked hard. They had great supporters behind the scenes who encouraged and augmented their strengths and creativity. They believed in and supported each other as friends and bandmates. “The Beatles is over, but John, Paul, George, and Ringo…God knows what relationship they’ll have in the future. I don’t know. I still love those guys! Because they’ll always be those people who were that part of my life,” John Lennon once said.

“That didn’t have to happen,” Paul says at one point. “We could have had five years and gone back to the factory.”

The final scene of the series finds McCartney at the piano, holding the final chord of “A Day in the Life.”

“Yeah. You know, there’s the magic again,” he says with a smile.

On the Waterfront Forever

Long time, no post, oops. I have no real excuse. Pet peeve #1: People who say they are “so busy”. False. Everyone is given the same amount of time. Individuals prioritize and make time for what is important for them. End of story.

Moving on.

Early in my marriage (going on a whopping four years now!), my husband and I would spend inordinate amounts of time trying to decide what to watch on a weekend night (you know, those nights when we have the energy to stay up past 9:30) until we finally landed on a routine: each of us is responsible for choosing one evening of cinema without complaints or protests from the other. While this method does indeed save time, it also has the added benefit of allowing me to watch Marlon Brando films (because someone is just a teensy bit jealous of Marlon–hence why my framed photograph of Marlon Brando is currently in storage and not hanging over our bed).

I recently chose On the Waterfront, and I was astounded yet again by the artistry and beauty of this film.

The story is compelling and forever relevant. The score perfectly complements the action and emotion on screen. (Do you ever just wake up with the On the Waterfront score in your head? I do but not near often enough.) The black-and-white photography, becoming increasingly obsolete by the Technicolor world at the time of its release, lends a raw beauty to the harsh, stark world of the longshoremen of Hoboken, New Jersey. There is not a single miscast actor or even extra. (Frank Sinatra is Frank Sinatra, but can you imagine him as Terry Malloy? Really? I laugh.)

Director Elia Kazan and Marlon Brando on the set of On the Waterfront.

The greatest being, of course, Brando as the menacing yet gentle and vulnerable Terry Malloy, who slowly realizes throughout the course of the film how he has sacrificed himself and his own ambitions for an entity that does not value or respect him and ultimately decides to take action against that abuse. (Brando later expressed dislike for what he felt was the implied metaphor in the film’s story: Kazan naming names to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952 was justified. A man, no matter what he has done, can atone.)

The effect of Brando’s verbal and nonverbal choices as an actor in inhabiting Terry Malloy and bringing him to life is mesmerizing: the touch of his nose, “By the nose, huh?”; playfully handling Edie’s dropped glove; the emphasis of the delivery of the modified line, “I coulda been somebody–instead of a bum, which is what I am.”; the tenderness in which he pushes the gun away from his brother Charley, then how he uses the same gun to massage his wounded arm, and finally hurls it at a photograph of Johnny Friendly–taking a weapon intended for killing and transforming it into an object of sadness, comfort, and anger; the forlorn wave of his hand when he discovers his pigeons have been mercilessly killed after his testimony, unable to share his grief with anyone. Elia Kazan rightly declared, “If there is a better performance by a man in the history of film in America, I don’t know what it is.”

Bless your face.

Terry Malloy’s journey throughout the film is laden with melancholy. He has been discarded and dismissed by his brother Charley and the mob as a brainless bum whose boxing career was thrown away for a bet, a reality he only verbalizes when Charley pulls a gun on him and pleads with him to take a job that will prevent him from testifying against Friendly. And yet, he still does not decide to take action until he sees Charley’s lifeless body hanging in an alleyway and declares he’s “going to take it out of their skulls.” Father Barry (Karl Malden) convinces him to choose the alternative route by testifying against Friendly. Yet when he does, he loses the friendship and respect of those around him; Tommy, a “Golden Warrior,” who once idolized Terry reacts by killing Terry’s entire flock of pigeons. “A pigeon for a pigeon!” And yet, his testimony was not enough–he has to face the other longshoreman on the dock and physically stand up to Friendly before his metamorphosis from a trapped bum to a free, upstanding, brave man with a conscience–a leader others want to follow–is complete. “If Terry walks in, we walk in with him.” And finally, miraculously, courageously he does.

Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint on the set of On the Waterfront

Eva Marie Saint told TCM host Robert Osborne that Brando was “adorable and a little frightening,” referring to the fact that she felt he could “see right through her.” She also revealed how sad it was that the acting world lost him–for she felt that at some point along the way, he lost the joy of acting. That is likely true; he may be the actor I have watched the most subpar films for. But On the Waterfront is certainly not one of them. In a world of technology addiction, my eyes were glued to the screen for the entire film because there is no need for any distraction found on that little phone screen while watching a film like this one. Where are the actors who make you forget that you are in fact just watching a movie? Where are the people in the world (or even the stories of people in the world) who are bold enough to stand up for what is true and right? Is it really all lost to the black-and-white world found in this stunning film? I hope not, but sometimes I am not very hopeful.

Until next time (hopefully not next year),

Countess Petofi

P.S. Definitely!

Double Fantasy Turns 40

I actually wrote this post in April and never published it. Oops. Happy birthday, John. You can check out Sean Lennon’s interviews with Elton John, Julian Lennon, annnnnnnd Paul McCartney on BBC Radio 2 if you are needing an extra dose of Lennon today! 

I’ve spread my wings a little lately and graduated to Beatles solo careers, spending a lot of time listening to and contemplating John Lennon’s final studio album, Double Fantasy. Both the album and Lennon’s murder turn 40 this year, which is just as much time as Lennon spent on the earth–a harrowing and humbling fact.

The genesis of Double Fantasy is well-known: with the birth of his son Sean in 1975, Lennon retreated from the music world to devote his time and energy to his newborn son. Years later, following a turbulent and transformative sailing trip to Bermuda, Lennon felt creatively re-energized, having written a handful of new songs. The album eventually became a joint effort with wife Yoko Ono, with one of Lennon’s songs being “answered” by an Ono composition, resulting in one critic to wish that Lennon had stayed in retirement and “kept his big happy trap shut until he has something to say that was even vaguely relevant to those of us not married to Yoko Ono.”

The critical response to the album was initially vitriolic before being awarded Album of the Year at the 1981 Grammy Awards, in wake of Lennon’s sudden and senseless murder. This shift in attitude is clearly linked to Lennon’s murder, as memory is in large part tied to emotion, and Lennon’s murder enveloped multiple generations in paralyzing, numbing grief. And for the critics, perhaps it was an apology or a saddening realization of what we once had and would have no more.

Considering Lennon’s solo career, the first two albums, Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, are masterful in their own distinct ways, yet he then faltered and never quite regained the same level of artistry on an entire album. (This is not to say that there are not outstanding compositions and performances on the subsequent albums.) I can imagine an avid John Lennon fan in 1980, eagerly awaiting the release of a new album after a five-year absence and being mildly disappointed. Lennon, the edgiest and most outspoken of the four Beatles who best encapsulated rock ‘n’ roll and all its connotations,  had waited five years to release an album full of songs about…middle age (euuuugh!)–marriage, parenthood, relations between the sexes, which he’d plastered on the front cover by giving half of the album to his wife! At any other point in his life, Lennon would have gagged over such a prospect, but his life had never had the domestic stability and contentment he did in the final years of his life. That fact, coupled with his murder, is what lends the album so much emotional weight and poignancy.

The hopeful, tinkling tones that usher in “(Just Like) Starting Over” are a harsh contrast to the heavy, somber tolling bells at the start of Plastic Ono Band’s opening track, “Mother”, recorded ten years earlier. This telling contrast reveals just how much life Lennon had lived in a decade–shattered and hollow from the abandonment of his parents to a stable cocoon of apparent domestic bliss. “I just gotta tell you goodbye,” he sang in 1970. “It’ll be just like starting over,” he announced jubilantly in 1980. Not only is the song an expression of his love for his wife but it is also a homage to Lennon’s rock ‘n’ roll idols: Elvis, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, and Buddy Holly. Unlike Yoko’s contributions, which embraced contemporary influences, Lennon primarily stayed true to the rock ‘n’ roll that he embraced as a teenager.

While “(Just Like) Starting Over” offers a rosy image of the Lennons’ marriage, “I’m Losing You” shows the relationship’s strain and frustration, making it an outlier on the album. It is also the only track that carries Lennon’s famous lyrical and vocal bite. “I know I hurt you then/But hell, that was way back when/Well, do you still have to carry that cross? (drop it!)/Don’t want to hear about it…” Yet all that anger and frustration melts away into the sublime “Woman.” For all her flaws and criticism–sometimes undeserved and often unnecessarily cruel–the beauty of this song and its sincere expression of love for Yoko is breathtaking–literally. It can be difficult to sing along because you can just feel how intense and heartfelt Lennon’s words are, with the knowledge that he was unexpectedly and unjustly ripped from his wife and children lodged firmly in your throat. “Hold me close to your heart/However distant, don’t keep us apart.” I mean, can you even imagine someone writing such a song for you? “Dear Yoko”, on the other hand, pales in comparison, as any song would.

My favorite on the album just might be “Watching the Wheels,” which is reportedly the track that convinced Lennon he could tell the world (or, rather, let Yoko tell the world) that he was making music again. The song is a response to those who criticized Lennon for leaving the music industry to “play house husband.” It’s playful, direct, and insidiously catchy.

“Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” is, of course, the gentle, loving lullaby for Sean, whose picture adorned the studio during record to remind Lennon of why he was there. “Good night, Sean, see you in the morning,” he whispers in the song’s final moments–and knowing that is all he wanted to go upstairs and say on the night of December 8 just rips your heart out.

I first heard all of these songs on the only John Lennon CD I had as a child: The John Lennon Collection (the cover photograph was taken by Annie Leibovitz on the morning of Lennon’s murder). (The only Lennon composition not included, “Cleanup Time,” has not stuck with me.) I don’t remember grouping the songs as Double Fantasy and not Double Fantasy, but I do remember enjoying the Double Fantasy songs just as much as (and–in some cases–more) than the other tracks–the same way I do now.

Listening to Double Fantasy in its entirety, I am inclined to skip over Yoko’s contributions–not to discount or disrespect her as an artist (although, really, she had no inkling of songwriting or knowledge of popular music until she married John Lennon and only then because of Lennon) but because I simply just don’t care for her music. At all. And while Lennon loved her and indulged her musical endeavors, I don’t subscribe to the view that I have to just because he did.

This all leaves the album where it ended–irrevocably tied to Lennon’s murder. He never intended for it to be his last statement on record, but he was undeniably proud of it at the time. Listening to the album is a reminder of how happy, fulfilled, and excited for the future Lennon was.

“When I was singing and writing this and working with her, I was visualizing all the people of my age group, from the sixties, being in their thirties and forties now, just like me. And having wives and children and having gone through everything together… I’m singin’ to them. I hope the young kids like it as well, but I’m really talking to the people who grew up with me. And saying, ‘Here I am now. How are you? How’s your relationship goin’? Did you get through it all? Wasn’t the seventies a drag, you know? Here we are, well let’s try to make the eighties good, you know?’ ‘Cause it’s still up to us to make what we can of it. It’s not out of our control. I still believe in love, peace; I still believe in positive thinking – when I can do it. I’m not always positive, but when I am I try to project it,” Lennon declared in his final interview, hours before his murder. “And we’re goin’ into an unknown future, but we’re still all here. We still… while there’s life there’s hope.”

Tracks had already been recorded for a follow-up album, and Lennon was planning to tour again. But it wasn’t to be. Lennon, who valued and demanded truth throughout his life, stumbled across the most brutal truth in the end: life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

The Song That Broke Up The Beatles

As the world adjusts to its new normal, with some finding comfort in innumerable rolls of toilet paper (hey, that’s one for you, nineteen for me) or choosing to purchase cleaning supplies for the first time ever (apparently), I still find contentment, joy, and comfort in the same things, and near the top of that list has always been The Beatles.

I have spent the past several weeks immersing myself completely in their words and music (nothing else sounds good anymore), and I find myself still amazed by the craft and beauty found in so many of the songs. (I think I could use my fingers to count the truly abominable Beatles songs on a single hand.) These songs are undoubtedly part of my DNA at this point, but it is startling to hear a song as if it is the first time and be utterly blown away.

Let It Be has never been a favorite album. (Even with the release of Let It Be…Naked, I wasn’t sufficiently swayed, although the omission of the horrid “Maggie Mae” and “Dig It” is an obvious improvement, and it might contain the best version of “Across the Universe,” a beautiful Lennon composition that never got the production it deserved.) When an editor used Let It Be as an example of a classic record that would receive a full five-star rating, I was appalled and lost respect for that individual’s opinion (although in retrospect, I suppose the Beatles at their lowest ebb is better than 99% of any other musician’s output at any time). Despite the band’s disintegrating relationship, they still managed to produce some astounding songs, but I’ve never really wanted to listen it repeatedly — until now, with the impending end-of-the-world. (But I need the world to not end before Peter Jackson’s film is released. And the final two volumes of Mark Lewisohn’s biography. Is that too much to ask?)

The initial idea behind Let It Be was to show The Beatles rehearsing, recording, and ultimately performing an album of new material in front of a live audience. “Someone mentioned The Colosseum in Rome, and I think originally Paul might have even suggested a bloody boat in the middle of an ocean. As for me, I was rapidly warming up to the idea of an asylum!” John Lennon stated, reflecting on the number of “live” performance options that were discussed before The Beatles finally just went up to the rooftop of their Apple building.

The original intended title, Get Back, was an expression of the band’s desire to “get back” to the simplicity of their old recording days with no studio trickery or hours of overdubbing. The original cover even copied that of their first studio album, which had been recorded in just under twelve hours. The final result: approximately 96 hours of film and 30 hours of music that no one could agree on a suitable production sound (ever). The record was subsequently shelved, and the band returned to the studio to record the superior Abbey Road later that year.

John and George, however, approached Phil Spector to re-mix Let It Be for release. Although Spector did the opposite of the album’s original purpose, adding a female choir and orchestra to four of the album’s tracks, three of the Beatles liked the album’s sound, and it was slated for release, more than a year after its initial recording.

Paul McCartney was upset with the extensive overdubbing that was added to two of his hallmark compositions, and he attempted to have the “raw” (later re-christened “naked”) versions from the Glyn Johns mix placed on the album instead. His request was blocked by the ever-magnanimous Allen Klein (because he “waited too long to ask,” according to Lennon). This was the final straw for McCartney and what ultimately cemented the band’s demise–not to discredit Yoko (please, do not play nice and naive and claim she had no role, it’s delusional and irritating), diverging interests, and sheer boredom. Not only had McCartney lost control over his music–unforgivable in itself–but his voice and opinion were no longer respected. He released his debut solo album, titled simply McCartney, on April 17, 1970 (a controversial date, as it clashed with the releases of both Let It Be and Ringo’s Sentimental Journey) and announced to the world that The Beatles were no more.

Yet it is “The Long and Winding Road,” the song that broke up the Beatles, that I find myself listening to constantly during this time. (When Ringo recorded his drum part for “The Long and Winding Road” on April 1, 1970, he was the last Beatle to attend a recording session. This was, unfortunately, not an April Fool’s joke.) It has never been a favorite; I think I found it too saturated in syrup (maybe a by-product of Spector’s over-production), and it reminded me of Peter Frampton contemplating suicide. Now, though, I cannot decide which version I prefer.

The “naked” version is arresting in its simplicity and bare emotion, and it is clear why McCartney wanted to release this version. (Interesting to note, however, that McCartney has used Spector’s arrangement for many of his live performances. Again, it may have been less that Spector added orchestration and female voices to his song than the fact that he did it without McCartney’s consent and approval. The man likes to control things, understandably so.)

By comparison, Spector’s version does seem over-the-top. Yet, in an over-reaching way, it does augment the song’s emotional weight. And I absolutely love the slight break in Paul’s voice around the three-minute mark: “You left me standing here….” That just might give it a slight edge. Thankfully, in this age of copious takes of Beatles songs being available, one does not have to definitively decide which one is superior.

Paul wrote “The Long and Winding Road” with Ray Charles in mind; Charles cried the first time he heard it. “It’s a sad song because it’s all about the unattainable; the door you never quite reach. This is the road that you never get to the end of,” McCartney has said of the song’s melancholy. And that is perhaps what makes it the perfect soundtrack to these uncertain times–even if it is the song that broke up the world’s greatest rock and roll band.

Remembering John Karlen, Our Willie 1933-2020

Well, 2020 is off to a bangin’ start when your own sister does not even bother to share the noteworthy, albeit sobering news that John Karlen, beloved actor of Dark Shadows, died peacefully of congestive heart failure on January 22. May this be a reminder to the Countess to always heed those promptings to watch Dark Shadows.

John Karlen brought Willie Loomis–con man turned slave of a vampire to eventual devoted friend and protector of Barnabas Collins–to life, for which I am grateful.

While the Countess hasn’t binged Dark Shadows in awhile, I’m resorting to my memory and YouTube to share some of my favorite Willie moments in memoriam. (I am going to refrain from posting the fan video set to music from Titanic…yes, really.) Here we go:

1. The coffin isn’t empty…surprise! 

Willie’s greed and lust for the legendary Collins jewels bit him in the butt–er, neck–when he went a-huntin’ in the Collins mausoleum. But of course. A new era begins.

2. “You’re a bad liar, Willie. You told them. You must have told them. You must have betrayed me. You shouldn’t have done that, Willie. That means I’m going to have to punish you. I must teach you your lesson, Willie. You’ll never betray me again!”

Classic. Unforgettable. Possibly nightmare-inducing.

3. You should have just done Uber Eats, Adam. 

Willie is charged with feeding Adam and cruelly taunts him with a chicken leg. Adam retaliates, and Barnabas is forced to intervene with his superb parenting skills: he raises his wolf-head cane and orders Adam to “LET WILLIE GO!” Adam whimpers like an abused dog, and Willie runs off like one–literally. Poor Adam. Poor Willie. Life at the Old House is rough.

4. Ooooh….pretty! 

Simpler, happier times when Adam and Willie got along and marveled at the beauty of Josette’s jewelry. They had so much more in common than they ever realized.

5. “Look at me. Look into my eyes!” “I don’t want to!” 

Angelique, operating under the alias Cassandra, extracts information from Willie about her number one obsession (pssst, Barnabas) the only way she knows how: witchcraft. Female empowerment, baby. No exposed butt cheeks required. Heck, she doesn’t even need a roaring fire in this scene.

And, my all-time favorite…. 

Willie and Julia have quarantined Barnabas for his own good, but Barnabas really wants some water — and Willie falls for it. Absolute classic.

Of course, John Karlen portrayed other characters on Dark Shadows–renowned Barnabas Collins biographer Willie Loomis (Parallel Time), practical joker Carl Collins (Quentin Collin’s loony brother), decapitated head collector Desmond Collins (1840), and nosy lawyer Kendrick Young (1840/1841 Parallel Time)–but it was the voice of Willie that a blind woman at the race track recognized, an occurrence that amazed John Karlen. Fellow Dark Shadows cast members Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie, Willie’s one true love) and David Selby (Quentin, tsssss) referred to Karlen as a “force of nature” who of course will be sorely missed. We love ya, Willie.

JFrid, KLS, & John Karlen

“There’s a lot of things we deserve but never get. And there’s things we get but don’t deserve.”
— Willie Loomis, S A G E

Little Women (Greta Gerwig, 2019)

“You want to stop that movement from the popcorn to the mouth,” Marlon Brando once said. For it is part of an actor’s job to draw the audience into their performance so completely that the audience loses that need for the mindless eating that accompanies movie-going. This does not happen when watching Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved tale of sisterhood, Little Women. While some critics have deemed it “near-perfect” and “the best film of the decade,” that is unequivocally false. Instead, it is an agonizing two-plus hour film with no energy or story.

Nearly every actor in Gerwig’s film fails to lend any heart, warmth, or believability to their role. You are constantly aware that you are watching actors try to make characters come alive — and thus failing. When you watch Gillian Armstrong’s truly perfect re-telling of Alcott’s novel, you completely forget that you are watching a movie: Winona Ryder is Jo March. Susan Sarandon is Marmee. Even Eric Stoltz is John Brooke. No actor in Gerwig’s film–except perhaps Meryl Streep (and we all know how much I love Meryl Streep–I don’t)–gives a true performance. Ronan is awkward and contradictory as Jo; Beth is nondescript; Amy is truly, truly horrible, acting as a spoiled brat as both a child and an adult by the same actress. (When she storms off after telling Laurie, “I’ve loved you my whole life!” I wanted to laugh because it was just so pathetic.) Amy is oft-disliked for a reason, but Kirsten Dunst and Samantha Mathis gave her a heart in Armstrong’s film. (Dunst’s Amy is truly apologetic after burning Jo’s sacred manuscript; in Gerwig’s film, it is as if Marmee is holding a knife to Amy’s throat, forcing her to express remorse.)

All the changes Gerwig has made to the story–focusing on the March sisters as adults, the non-linear storyline, and the subtle implication that Jo does not marry (I will get to that in a minute)–make no difference, as there is nothing for this film to stand on. Jo rushes home because her sister Beth is dying? That’s not sad at all because there has been no demonstration of any connection between these two “sisters.” Four sisters fall into an arguing, laughing pile on Christmas morning–actually, no, four actresses pretending to be sisters fall into an ungainly pile. Way to go. Professor Bhaer leaves to go West where they are not so particular about the accent? Ok, who is this guy again? Oh, the guy that has been interspersed into a handful of scenes with no authentic connection or interaction with Jo, who actually acts like she truly hates him? Get out. I wanted to cry because a story I love so much was being treated so very badly. Why didn’t Amy burn Gerwig’s manuscript instead?

While I respect that a film based on a book is a filmmaker’s interpretation and can even exceed the book in some cases (again, see the 1994 version by Gillian Armstrong), what Gerwig did to this story is quite unforgivable, as she tried desperately to put a book published in 1869 into a 2019 context, whereas Armstrong’s version of the story augmented the feminism of the original novel while still remaining true to the novel’s context. Gerwig does this by mixing the story’s creator, Louisa May Alcott, with the story’s heroine, Josephine March. Alcott undoubtedly poured some of her own spirit and beliefs into Jo, but her creation and own life should be considered separate. Alcott initially did not want Jo to marry (hence Jo’s refusal of Laurie’s proposal in the first part of the novel’s second part, “Good Wives”); Alcott herself never married. That does not make it acceptable to change the story by replacing Jo with Alcott–because that is not Jo’s story in Little Women.

Jo detests the idea of marriage throughout much of the novel and expresses her desire not to marry — simply because she loves her family as it is — and she pursues writing as a passion as well as an economic necessity, not as a way to justify a life without marriage. “You I leave to enjoy your liberty till you tire of it,” Marmee tells Jo in Alcott’s novel, “for only then will you find that there is something sweeter.” And so the novel really becomes not about whether or even whom Jo will marry but her journey in discovering that voracious ambition is not a substitute for familial connection. Furthermore, Jo realizes that the two ideas about marriage explored in the novel — marriage can be life’s greatest blessing and marriage should not be the sole purpose and goal of a woman — are not contradictory or opposing. Had such a marriage as the one Alcott creates for her heroine and Professor Bhaer been possible for herself, Alcott would have perhaps entered into a similar union. Jo’s decision to marry Bhaer does not reduce her independence or feminism; it makes her a stronger, more mature character. Alcott understood this. Gerwig meanwhile tries to justify her interpretation by inserting scenes that were never in the novel. Jo reconsiders Laurie’s proposal and voices regret at having turned him down. It is so untrue to the novel and the character, I wanted to gouge my own eyes out in the hopes that I could un-see the travesty.

In It’s A Wonderful Life, George Bailey expresses a similar distaste for marriage. “I don’t want to get married, ever, to anyone. I want to do what I want to do,” he says with intensity, visibly shaking his future wife Mary. Yet, George gives up his dreams of traveling and exploring the world for a married life rife with sacrifices to both his family and community in the place he always wanted to leave, Bedford Falls. George discovers — as does Jo — that these self-sacrifices have made his life that much richer and more wonderful. And so it would seem that in Gerwig’s world, George would need to travel and explore the world to have a wonderful life in order to lend the story relevance and credence. A thousand times NO. 

Furthermore, Gerwig forces words into little Amy March’s mouth that she never would have said. “Marriage is an economic proposition.” Well, that is true for Amy, as she has always wanted to marry rich, but the way Gerwig frames the conversation again makes it completely untrue to the character and the novel. Please stop vomiting your postmodern feminism views onto a perfectly pure and independently feminine novel.

I will credit Gerwig with producing a wholesome movie that emphasizes the importance of family relationships with strong, caring female characters amidst the Red Sea of crap that is flooded into movie theaters as a whole in these troubling times. And she does add a few touches that are appropriate and  effective — namely, illustrating the art of publishing a book and showing the depth of Mr. Laurence’s love for Beth. Perhaps her film will expose a new generation to the story of the March sisters and inspire them to pick up the novel and hopefully discover for themselves the true story of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy–and then go back to 1994 to find the most beautiful, wonderful, moving, perfect interpretation of this precious story.

David Crosby: Remember My Name

Before I went to the movie theater to see The Joker, I was supposed to see another movie…but never did. And so, for Christmas this year, the local library gifted me with the news that a copy of David Crosby: Remember My Name was ready for pickup! (Thank you Ben Franklin for your genius idea of public libraries.) 

David Crosby is a fascinating and engaging character, with a life and career to match, thus making him the perfect subject for a documentary that is humorous, heartbreaking, and honest. 

The film opens with Crosby’s lively re-telling of seeing John Coltrane perform with the most intensity in a puke-green-tiled bathroom in Chicago. Music is Crosby’s lifeblood: when Crowe poses the choice of having no music in his life for extreme joy in his home and personal life, Crosby does not hesitate to choose a life filled with music. Music, he feels, is the only thing he has to offer. And while his choice may seem selfish, the camera shows how torn Crosby truly is in the next shot: leaving his beautiful home and family, whom he truly loves, for a six-week tour, from which he may not return because of his health issues. “I hate leaving,” Crosby declares.  

Crosby lists his single regret as the time he has wasted “being smashed” and wants more time. Time, he declares, is the final currency, and how does one spend it? The film both explores how Crosby has spent his time and chooses to spend whatever remaining time he has left. 

Crosby’s childhood was marked by what he describes as a dysfunctional family — a loving mother, a “crusty”, unaffectionate father (award-winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby, who won a Golden Globe for his work on High Noon) who never once told his son that he loved him, and an older brother, Ethan, also a musician who introduced Crosby to ‘50s jazz, sending him “right down the rabbit hole.” (Ethan committed suicide in the late 1990s. His death is not discussed.) Crosby was a disciplinary problem and was kicked out of every school he ever attended (a foreshadowing of his membership in musical groups); in his words, he was a chubby, lonely kid who desperately wanted attention.  

With the massive success of The Byrds in the mid-1960s, Crosby finally gained the attention he had always coveted. Yet, Crosby admits, that success coming at such a young age impaired him from realizing how truly lucky he was. Cut to Crosby observing The Beatles answer banal questions in a 1966 press conference. “Who is the young man with the lengthy haircut to your right rear?” a reporter asks, and Crosby immediately hides. “That’s Dave, isn’t it? Dave Crosby, a mate of ours,” John Lennon replies. “Ahoy matey!” Crosby recalls hanging out with and learning from the Beatles—learning how to be a rock star because “they knew how.” The pure joy and admiration in his eyes as he watches them is clear. 


No Russian hats and mustaches yet: Crosby in his famous wide-brimmed hat as a member of The Byrds. Photo by Henry Diltz. 

Crosby describes his young self as “young, cocky, arrogant…and a total caboose to my dick.” (Quotes like these — uttered so nonchalantly and honestly — are part of what make this film — and Crosby — so entertaining.) Driving along Sunset Boulevard, Crosby and co. pass the Whisky a Go Go, where Crosby recalls the origin of his dislike of The Doors and Jim Morrison. Morrison approached Crosby and pulled down his shades, telling him, “You can’t hide.” Crosby, irritated, was high on LSD and naturally “teleported to the other side of the room” and never forgave Morrison for his brash comment. 

After being fired by The Byrds (the scene is creatively re-told in animation form), Crosby retreated to his other love, sailing. He bought a schooner for $25,000 — loaned to him by Peter Tork — and disappeared into the sea. Sailing, for Crosby, is transformative and restorative. While his senses are bombarded by the filtering of information on land, Crosby claims that every sensation is louder, clearer, and brighter while sailing, not to mention more beautiful and magical. “The ocean is totally real,” Crosby observes. “Opposite of Hollywood.” 

The film crew then travels up to Laurel Canyon. Crosby recalls being the first musician to move there, promptly followed by other musicians and thus transforming it into the place for musicians to gather and exchange ideas. They go into the Canyon Country Store, where Crowe asks Crosby what he wishes people really knew and understood about this place. 

“It’s not like we hung out here,” Crosby replies. “We just got groceries here. Where do you get coffee here?” he then asks — like any other ding dong tourist lost in a grocery store. Uhhh, Croz, I don’t think he was talking specifically about the store. 

“Morrison, what a dork,” he says, pointing at the pictures of The Doors (who, to his knowledge, never lived in the Canyon) decorating the walls of the small store. 

The film is littered with moments like these — Crosby visiting sites important to his story: the house where he was fired from the Byrds, the Canyon Country Store, and the house that inspired “Our House,” in the kitchen of which Crosby, Stills, and Nash was born in a matter of minutes. 

Later, Crosby visits Kent State University, reflecting on the May 4 shootings. Crosby’s anguishing cries in the song’s fading moments — “Why? How many more?” etc — add emotional weight to the powerful protest song (one of the handful songs written by Neil Young that I can admit to really liking). His anger at the Sergeant who swore to have never fired his weapon is palpable. The song—and what it represented—made Crosby proud that he was finally able to stand up for what he believed in. (Crosby’s firing from the Byrds stemmed from, in part, Crosby’s political comments at the Monterey Pop Festival about President Kennedy’s assassination. His bandmates did not feel that it was appropriate for “pop stars” to voice political opinions.) 

Graham Nash has said that David Crosby went to identify the body of his girlfriend Christine Hinton, who died in a car accident, and returned “never the same.” For Crosby, Christine’s death was debilitating. Her death left an emptiness, a huge hole that he wanted to fill, yet he had no tools to deal with his grief except for drugs and alcohol, an addiction that marred Crosby’s life and career for years. 


Oops — it’s Nash, Stills, and Crosby posing for their eponymous debut album in 1969. Photograph by Henry Diltz. When the band returned a few days later to correct their error, the house had been torn down — a fitting metaphor for the band itself. 

When Crosby, Stills, and Nash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, Crosby’s speech was both heartfelt and simple. He thanked his wife and the two men standing next to him for being “his brothers”, continually offering love and support and enabling him to create the music that he had. (I think Stills was ready to cry at that point.)

“I can’t tell you how great it was to be in that band,” Crosby declares, while also stating that CSNY is a completely separate band that should be inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame on their own, even if “just to make Clapton jealous.” And he is right — CSNY is a completely different band. I think Graham Nash put it best in his autobiography when he said that he, David Crosby, and Stephen Stills watched The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night and decided, “I want to do that.” That being in a cooperative and charismatic band. Neil Young, on the other hand, watched Bob Dylan be a total, selfish jerk in Don’t Look Back and decided that’s what he wanted to do. He waltzed into CSN’s world when it suited him and then called on “artistic freedom” when he wanted out, with no thought or consideration to how that might affect anyone else. It’s like he’s still sulking about being told his voice wasn’t commercial during the recording of the first Buffalo Springfield album and having his songs sung by other band members. Oy, shocker, Einstein. I digress.

CSNYHawaii 5 sharp15x15_3

One of these is not like the others… 


The film shows some home footage of the trio lounging in a backyard somewhere, discussing rehearsals for a tour or an album, I’m not sure. Crosby is relaxing in a hammock when Stephen Stills (bad teeth and all) gets THIS CLOSE to his face and says, “I’m not gonna cop out an inch to fear and he walked out two days in a row you f—ing hypocrite, YOU PISS ME OFF.” Then he storms off. I don’t know what that was all about (Neil Young?????), and I don’t think it was supposed to be funny, but I was laughing out loud–and so was Crosby, ca. 1969. (Maybe not the best idea seeing as Stills was ready to take out some hippies at the Big Sur festival for making fun of his fur coat or something.)

And while these men were once so close, Crosby states that forty years later it changed from a band of brothers with similar creative visions and goals to “just turn on the smoke machine and play the hits” because they could barely stand one another. Crosby’s statements about Neil Young’s girlfriend (gag me) Daryl Hannah (seriously?????) became public (he thought they were “off-the-record” — no excuse —  if that’s what you really think, just say it) and seared a rift in the band. The band’s final performance was a dismal rendition of “Silent Night” at the National Christmas Tree Lighting at the White House in 2014.

Crosby admits that his biggest mistake is getting angry. The adrenaline hits his system and bam, instant asshole (hey, his words) — just add water and stir. Yet, there is no real discussion — aside from the passing mention of the fall-out over his comments about Daryl Hannah (for which he belatedly apologized) — of what has inspired such volatile comments about Crosby from his once best friend Graham Nash. (I gather it may be for Crosby’s attitude toward Nash, who like Young, left his wife of decades for a younger woman. Crosby meanwhile has remained faithful to his wife of some thirty-odd years now. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.) The apparently irreparable break is disheartening.

Crowe reminds Crosby of what he said when they first met in 1974: “My father is 74, he says in the long run the only thing that counts is whether you got any f—ing friends. All the rest is bulls–t. He’s had 74 years to look. I’m inclined to agree with him.”

Crosby admits that he probably made that up–because his father never had any friends.

“What happened to your friends?” Crowe asks.

“That’s really hard,” Crosby answers. “I still have friends. But the main guys I made music with really dislike me.”

Why don’t you make the situation with Neil right and show up on his doorstep? Crowe presses.

“I don’t even know where his doorstep is,” is Crosby’s simple reply.

Yet — back to where the film started — Crosby has chosen to spend his time now making music, even if without these once important men in his life.

The DVD has deleted scenes and extended interviews, some of which I wish had been included in the final film. Chris Hillman tells of what a truly kind friend David Crosby is; Hillman, the scrawny, young kid in The Byrds always felt as if Crosby watched over and looked out for him. McGuinn recalls the joy of meeting Crosby for the first time. Crosby discusses connecting with his first-born son, who was adopted as a baby and now plays with Crosby in his band. Crosby’s wife remembers the agony over Crosby’s liver transplant. Crosby gets on his iMac to tweet in the middle of the night. The man has had such a full and interesting life the film could have gone on for a few hours more and no one would be bored. Remember My Name is an unvarnished and human portrait of one of music’s greatest figures and stories.


An impromptu, iconic photo by Henry Diltz (who makes a great appearance in the film). 

And that’s it for 2019, folks. More next year…maybe.

Joker (Todd Phillips, 2019)

While it is that time of year to bundle up under the beloved Afghan and not leave the house for any reason other than to answer the call of Barnabas, I went to the movie theater recently and saw a film that has actually motivated me to write, albeit it is now more than a month later and I am just now taking the necessary steps to do so. (#miracles) 

Joker is not your typical comic book movie. 

Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck, a young man who suffers from mental illness. He lives with his aging, disoriented mother, and he works as a clown in various capacities. We first see him as a dancing clown advertising the close of a shop and that “EVERYTHING MUST GO!” A group of cruel, bored young men grab Arthur’s sign; the chase ends in an alley, Arthur on the hard ground, legs kicking his bony body from all directions and with force. His boss later chides him for not returning the sign; a co-worker, noting his bruised body, gifts Arthur with a gun. 

At home, Arthur cares for his mother, who repeatedly writes letters to Thomas Wayne, whom she used to work for before Arthur was born. Arthur opens an empty mail box, bathes his mother, and prepares her dinner. Together, they watch The Murray Franklin Show, and we get a glimpse of Arthur’s mental state, as he imagines he is at the filming of a show and recognized by Franklin as an audience member. Arthur dreams of becoming a comedian. “Don’t you have to be funny to be a comedian?” his mother innocently, although quite cruelly, wonders aloud. 

Arthur attends therapy, but he truly finds reprieve from the bleak, cruel world around him in these delusions and music (and often the two mix). He seems to be able to escape and fully express himself as he dances. One night, with the 1937 Astaire-Rogers film Shall We Dance playing in the background, Arthur dances, gun in hand above his head. Shirtless, exposing his bony frame, his confidence and joy is evident as he body moves to the rhythm of the music. He enters a delusion again, beginning a conversation with himself. 

“Hey, what’s your name?” 


“Hey, Arthur, you’re a really good dancer.”

“I know,” he answers coyly, before adding, “You know who’s not? Him.”

He turns the gun toward the imaginary him and fires a bullet into the wall. Alarmed and exhilarated, Arthur’s transformation into another being has begun. 

“The world is in a mess/with politics and taxes/and people grinding axes/there’s no happiness.” (“Slap That Bass”)

He carries his gun with him to work, even when his job is to entertain sick children at a hospital. Stupidly, the gun falls out of his pant leg, and he is promptly fired. “It was part of my act, it’s a prop,” he desperately explains to his boss in a pay-phone booth. “I really like this job,” he pleads, but to no avail. 

He dejectedly boards the subway. Three men in suits harass a young woman; Arthur laughs uncontrollably. (He carries with him a card that reads: “Forgive my laughter. I have a condition (more on back).” Back: ”It’s a medical condition causing sudden, frequent, uncontrollable laughter that doesn’t match how you feel. It can happen in people with a brain injury or certain neurological conditions.”) The men move in on Arthur, baiting him and singing (badly) “Send in the Clowns.” 

Viewing this abuse, I want to cover my eyes. How much more cruelty does this guy have to endure? Everything about him is so pitiful, right down to the oversized old lady pajamas he wears around the apartment. When does he finally become The Joker and take these jerks out? 

Well, you know what they say: Be careful what you wish for. 

Bang, bang, bang. Having committed his first murders, Arthur retreats to a grimy public bathroom where once again he joyfully expresses his emotions through dance. 

Now able to spend his days at home, Arthur’s mother instructs him to mail yet another letter to Thomas Wayne. Arthur discreetly opens the letter and discovers that he is the result of his mother’s love affair with Thomas Wayne. Wanting to meet his father, he visits the Wayne mansion where he briefly meets a young Bruce Wayne. He is warned to never visit there again, but unable to resist confronting his father, follows Thomas Wayne into the bathroom at a ritzy event. When Arthur tells Wayne he knows the truth, Wayne laughs in his face, discrediting his mother’s tale because of her own mental illness. 

Unsure of the truth, Arthur returns home one night to find she has had an attack after being questioned by detectives about his possible involvement in the subway murders. She lies in a hospital bed as Arthur works to determine who is telling him the truth—his mother or Thomas Wayne, eventually stealing his mother’s file from the local mental institution. The file reveals that she suffered from delusions and allowed her adopted son to be abused by her boyfriend. Angered and hurt by the one person he should be able to trust to care and love him unfailingly, Arthur visits his mother in her hospital room one final time. 

Meanwhile, Arthur continues his pursuit of a career in stand-up comedy, and his mental health services have been discontinued because of cuts in funding. (“They don’t care about people like you and me,” his therapist informs him.)  Arthur’s pitiful performance is seen by his hero, Murray Franklin. The show invites Arthur to be a guest, and he, of course, agrees, while it is unclear if Arthur is aware that he himself is the joke to be laughed at. 

Before his appearance on The Murray Franklin Show, two of Arthur’s former co-workers stop by his apartment to see how he is doing after his mother’s death. One is the man who originally gave Arthur the gun to defend himself; the other is a midget who, in Arthur’s words, was the only person who was ever nice to him. Only one of them makes it out of Arthur’s apartment alive. (Five to one, baby, one in five. No one here gets out alive. Was that song in the superb soundtrack? I can’t remember.) 

Arthur descends the stairs to the tune of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2” and flees into a subway crowd of people dressed like The Joker for a political protest as the detectives chase him. (The Subway Murders have inspired the community to protest the wealthy and privileged establishment, all while dressed as clowns.) 

He finally arrives at the studio for The Murray Franklin Show. Franklin meets briefly with Arthur and is kind to him, while Franklin’s producer advises him not to do the segment. Franklin insists it’s going to be great. Arthur requests that Franklin introduce him as “Joker,” which Franklin obliges. 

Having practiced his introduction tirelessly (Arthur has seemingly taped every episode of the show, ever), Arthur’s entrance is well-received, and he has a polite conversation with Franklin about comedy and political protests (“I’m not political,” he insists) before asking to tell a joke. 

“Knock knock,” Arthur begins. 

“Who’s there?” 

“It’s the police, ma’am! Your son’s been hit by a drunk driver. He’s dead!” 

Franklin proceeds to tell Joker that his joke is not funny. They discuss the subjective nature of comedy, and Arthur admits to the subway murders, adding that no one would care if he had been the victim. It is only because of their wealth and privilege that their deaths are mourned. He turns on Murray, telling him that he is no different than the rest of them—he only invited Arthur onto his show to laugh at him. The atmosphere is tense and can only end badly. 

“How ‘bout another joke, Murray?” Joker asks. 

“No,  I think we’ve had enough of your jokes,” Franklin states firmly. 

“What do you get…” 

I don’t think so.”

…when you cross…”

I think we’re done here now, thank you.” 

…a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash?”

Call the police, Gene, call the police.”

I’ll tell you what you get!” Joker declares gleefully. “You get what you fuckin’ deserve!” 

And then he shoots Murray in the head, killing him instantly—on air. 

To the sound of “White Room” by Cream, Joker watches the riots he has inspired from the backseat of a police car. (“Do I look like the kind of clown that can start a movement?” he had asked Murray Franklin. Apparently so.) Chaos abounds and a man shoots a wealthy couple as they leave the theater, their young son watching. 

“The whole city’s on fire because of you,” a police officer informs Joker. 

“I know. Isn’t it beautiful?” he replies. Because, for Joker, the chaos and destruction make more sense than the cruelty and banality of everyday life. 

I’ll sleep in this place with the lonely crowd
Lie in the dark where the shadows run from themselves 

Joker is a film about mental illness. Joker is a film about treating other people how you would like to be treated. Joker is a film about a man who spirals when he cannot make sense of the cruelty of the world around him. And in the words of actor Joquain Phoenix (who deserves an Oscar, no questions asked), “We’re making a movie about a fictional character in a fictional world, ultimately, and your hope is that people take it for what it is. You can’t blame movies for a world that is so f—ed up that anything can trigger it. That’s kind of what the movie is about. It’s not a call to action. If anything it’s a call to self-reflection to society.”

So, as Joker once again dances off-screen to Sinatra’s “That’s Life” in the film’s final scene, we are left to ponder whether it really has to be that way—and hopefully do something about it. 

When life gives you Leviathans, make some lemonade.

Where has the time gone? Been working on my New Years’ Resolutions for 2019, OBVIOUSLY:

1. Change my e-mail to get rid of my God-forsaken maiden name. (CHECK. DONEZO. FINI.)

2. Finally finish Moby Dick. (The struggle is real. 300 pages of exposition about whale classification and I am praying for an anvil to fall on my head.)

3. Say what I think more often instead of playing nice. But still be basically a nice person. Basically.

Maybe I should add a fourth and go back to updating this blog regularly. Ehhhhhh. (That was in my North Muskegon accent, Butts McGee.)

A year or so ago, I had begun a major Dark Shadows marathon, binging my way through most of the storylines that I cared to watch again. At that time, I joyfully skipped over the Leviathan storyline…but this past week, I had a need to watch some Dark Shadows and I picked up the Leviathan storyline with Barnabas wandering around in the woods (where else?) in 1796 (when else?). So obviously between watching Dark Shadows and listening to Roy Orbison 24/7, I have been pretty darn busy. (You’re watching that again? my husband asks, delighted to re-enter this sublimely strange world.) And, while the story of the Leviathans is still infuriating, it has brought me a great deal of joy this week. Here are some of my favorite gems so far:

1. Barnabas lets his TRUE feelings about Dr. Julia Hoffman be known:

Sure, the writers try to blame it on the fact that he is currently possessed by the Leviathans, but really, Barnabas speaks the truth. Julia is nosy! Annoying! Hysterical! Her cry is the worst. It’s so, so ugly. Ugh. I much prefer Barnabas bashing/hating Julia to their dumb friendship/alliance.

2. Elizabeth is actually married to Jason McGuire. 

Ha ha ha.

3. This show has the most bizarre dream sequences. 

Screen Shot 2019-05-18 at 7.29.23 PM

Like, so weird. But hey, it was the ’60s, so I guess no one really noticed/thought it was completely normal.

And David totally looks like Donald Duck in “Donald’s Snow Fight”:

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4. Mrs. Johnson brings Paul Stoddard “some freshly baked cookies” which are supposedly Carolyn’s favorite, but they look like they came straight out of a Nabisco package. 

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The budget was spent elsewhere that day.

5. Quentin enters the twentieth century and has no idea who he really is. He gets upset when people try to tell him he actually is…Quentin Collins. 

Speak for yourself, Selby. This world needs a little Quentin Collins with a whole lotta sideburns. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I would go to Windcliff for Quentin!

6. David has learned nothing about being possessed/controlled by evil beings. 

He goes straight from the trauma of being brought near death by the ghost of Quentin Collins to playing with the Leviathan book and doing whatever this dumb kid tells him to. Yet, when he sees Quentin, he cowers and is afraid. No character growth for this kid. David Henesy is a better actor than many of the adults on this show, though. 100% truth.

7. Barnabas at one point tells Carolyn he is doing some “electronic experiments” in the basement of the Old House. 

Really? In the Old House where telephones (a dang inconvenience on this show — how many times has someone had to run to the Old House to give Barnabas an important message because he has no telephone), electricity, and modern plumbing do not exist, you expect us to believe you are really delving in some “electronic experiments”? Get outta town (that’d be COLLINSPORT), Collins.

8. Barnabas has a power struggle with a…six year old? 

This kid is the worst. Barnabas sassing him is golden, though. Like who does this kid think he is? Barnabas is the star of this show, the best alibi you can have in Collinsport, the savior of the Collins family multiple times over (…except in the 18th century when he brought shame to his family for being, you know, a vampire). When Barnabas speaks, you listen. And obey. OR ELSE. (And usually “or else” looks like being bit or beaten to death by the wolf cane — just ask Willie. Poor guy.)

Part two:

PICK IT UP. Will he obey? I’d kind of like to see Barnabas sock this kid.

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What would Dark Shadows be without the dramatic music?

And there’s still more to come:


I guess what I’m trying to say here is…even when life gives you the Leviathan storyline (the all-time worst storyline, right?), there is lemonade to be made. Sometimes you just have to put on your Count Petofi eyeglasses (free with most insurance plans) and chill to some Roy Orbison to be able to drink it.


I mean, is he listening to “Blue Angel” or what?

The Countess sure is.

‘Til next time (eight months from now)….

Favorite Beach Boys Deep Cuts

The Beach Boys’ discography is so massive, yet so often overlooked. By 1969, the band had released an album entitled 20/20 to commemorate the release of their 20th album (including greatest hits packages; it was only their 15th studio album). In the early 2000s, when I was blossoming ever-so-gently into a raging Beach Boys fanatic, I devoured those twofer CDs like candy on Christmas morning (my family’s traditional meal–you only live once, or so I’ve been promised). It can be a daunting task to undertake the band’s catalog as one migrates from the casual, greatest hits fan into the abyss of gimme all your tracking sessions, Brian. As the 1960s turned into the 1970s, the band fell from the grace and favor of the record-buying (and listening) public at large, leaving so many gems buried.

With so many tunes to choose from, I developed a very basic criteria for what could be included on this list: you shouldn’t be able to find the song on  The Beach Boys’ Greatest Hits, Vol. 1: 20 Good Vibrations or The Beach Boys’ Greatest Hits, Vol. 2: 20 More Good Vibrations  or Pet Sounds. (There is one exception on this list…but this is my blog, I can break my own rules.) No “In My Room.” No “Warmth of the Sun.” No “I’m Waiting for the Day” (take six). While those songs may not be instantly recognizable to many, I consider that Beach Boys for babies, and I am the Nanny in the white-and-green striped tights with killer purple sneakers kicking you outta the nursery. Let’s go.

1. “The Lonely Sea,” Surfin’ USA, 1963

Watch Brian sing this track in a film you would only watch if you are an obsessive Beach Boys fan–Girls on the Beach. Not that I obsessively waited for this film to be on TV so I could record it or anything… 

Pet Sounds doesn’t exactly have the corner on soul-wrenching tunes in the Beach Boys’ catalog. Take this track from the Beach Boys’ second album as a case in point. Stunning. Haunting. Beautiful. Written and sung by a 20-year-old Brian Wilson. Yeah, he earned the right to stay in bed for three years.

2. “Cherry, Cherry Coupe,” Little Deuce Coupe, 1963 

Talk about a jam. Dennis is trying so hard on this song, and I love it. Most of my car knowledge comes from Beach Boys lyrics, but I have no idea what 80% of the lyrics of this song even mean. “The wildest short around is my cherry, cherry coupe.” What??? “Door handles are off, but you know I’ll never miss ’em/They open when I want with the cellunoid system.” (Yeah, Mike Love’s nasal tones call it a “cellunoid” system. I know.) Sounds awesome, but I really have no idea.

(Side note: Little Deuce Coupe, a collection of “hot rod” songs, is considered an early example of a concept album. But what is more amazing is that it was released a mere month after Surfer Girl. The band released three–!!!!!–albums in 1963 alone. Is it any wonder why Brian suffered a nervous breakdown?)

3. “Girls on the Beach,” All Summer Long, 1964 

I include this song as an example of how even early Beach Boys’ songs that dealt with “summer and fun and summer and summer and fun and cars” that weren’t particularly thought-provoking or inspiring were still harmonically breath-taking. Also, Dennis gets a little vocal solo, so there’s that.

4. “The Lord’s Prayer,” The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album, 1964 

I first heard The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album by repeatedly checking out the cassette tape from the local library year-round. This track was tacked on the end of side two (I think), and I was so disappointed when I purchased the original album on vinyl and it wasn’t included. I was even more disappointed when it also was not to be found on Ultimate Christmas. It was originally found on the flip side of “Little Saint Nick.” What other band could so seamlessly pair a tune about Santa’s hot rod with such a heartfelt, gorgeous rendering of “The Lord’s Prayer”?

 5. “Good to My Baby,” Today!, 1965 

In a word: TUNE. On the surface, it’s just a good little rock ‘n’ roll song. Take away the vocals (as the above video does), and you can begin to appreciate the complexity of Brian’s music. So much of The Beach Boys’ music is like that: effortless on the surface, its sonic complexity easily overlooked. It’s how we separate the Mike Loves from the Brian Wilsons.

6. “Please Let Me Wonder,” Today!, 1965

Today! is such a great album. While the first side is full of upbeat, infectious rock ‘n’ roll numbers, “Please Let Me Wonder” opens the introspective second side. It’s one of my favorite Beach Boys songs, and it features one of Brian’s most beautiful, sweetest vocals.

7. “Kiss Me Baby,” Today!, 1965 

Kiss a little bit, fight a light, kiss a little bit, woah baby…

Oh my gosh, words can’t even do justice to the beauty of this song. Even Mike doesn’t mess it up. Enjoy the acapella version in the video posted above.

8. “Girl, Don’t Tell Me,” Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), 1965 

Dripping with the Beatles’ influence (most obviously “Ticket to Ride”), this is a great little tune, far superior to its A-Side (Ba-ba-ba-BARF-Barabra Ann…no, it’s a good song for what it is, really) and featuring a rare (at that time) lead vocal from Carl Wilson.

9. “Surf’s Up,” The SMiLE Sessions, 1967 

None of the versions of this song found on the five-disc SMiLE Sessions come close to the simple beauty of Brian’s television performance. The narrator of the program observed: “Here is a new song—too complex to get all of the first time around. It could come only out of the frontman that characterizes today’s pop music scene. Brian Wilson, leader of the Beach Boys and one of today’s most important pop musicians, sings his own ‘Surf’s Up.'” He goes on to describe the song as “poetic, beautiful even in its obscurity…a symbol of change” in the world of pop music. Eyes closed, Brian’s heartfelt delivery is unparalleled. How different the world of pop music might have been had this song and the rest of SMiLE had seen the light of day.

10. “Let the Wind Blow,” Wild Honey, 1967 

“Let the Wind Blow” is a somber ballad comparing love to nature, with the singer urgently pleading that, as elements of nature, his love might be a part of his life forever.

11. “Busy Doin’ Nothin’,” Friends, 1968 

A chill song in which Brian sings directions to his house and describes what keeps him busy while he waits for you to finally show up (and wow, is he busy). Once you do finally arrive, you’ll find him “in my house somewhere, keepin’ busy.” Has to be in my top ten Beach Boys songs, ever. I’ve been singin’ it at least three times in a row every night before going to bed for the past few days.

12. “All I Wanna Do,” Sunflower, 1970

This is another chill song, and I have to award credit to Mike Love for not pulling deep bass or nasal tones and inducing vomit like he usually does. He actually sings, and his vocal tone suits the ambiance of the song. I always see Mike practicing meditation when I hear this song, though. I think there may be a clip of that in Endless Harmony or some other Beach Boys documentary. Oh well, I just have to close my eyes harder, I guess. (“Tony and I think that if you close your eyes you can see a place or something that’s happening. It’s like being blind but because you’re blind you can see more. Don’t you think it’s a spiritual kind of thing?” “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. I closed my eyes. Didn’t see a thing.” Can’t stop, won’t stop.) Still, a good song.

13. “Forever,” Sunflower, 1970

So I’m going away, mmmm, but not forever…

Quite simply one of the most beautiful and romantic songs ever written. Some might even call it a “rock ‘n’ roll prayer.” I hope you’ve never had to listen to John Stamos sing this song; it’s a gross offense to sugar and spice and all things nice–especially a genuinely soulful singer, Dennis Wilson. It’s equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking to see how Brian watches the video montage of his younger brother with pride and sadness. Give that man a hug–or a kiss on the head like his little brother once did. 

14. “Feel Flows,” Surf’s Up, 1971

When Brian retreated into a cocoon of drugs and isolation, Carl stepped in and became the de facto leader. He was the beating heart of that band and, sadly, with his death, the Beach Boys became the fractured band we have today. “Feel Flows” (along with so many others of this period, including “Long Promised Road” also from Surf’s Up) is a fine example of Carl’s blossoming songwriting and production skills. It’s a jam.

15. “Lookin’ at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song),” Surf’s Up, 1971

Sounding more like The Beatles than The Beach Boys, Al (yep, little Al Jardine) woefully sings about job-hunting. But in a haunting, trippy way. But I’ll be coming home tonight/And everything will be alright/And we’ll be looking at tomorrow…You go, Al.

16. “‘Til I Die,” Surf’s Up, 1971

“I’m a cork on the ocean,” are the opening lines to “‘Til I Die,” which Mike Love once annoyingly described as “the last great Brian Wilson track.” (He probably also screamed that this song was NOT BEACH BOYS FUN! It’s a special brand of fun, you know.) That opening image perfectly encompasses Brian’s despair. It’s such a beautifully depressing song. “I’m a leaf on a windy day. Pretty soon I’ll be blown away,” Brian concedes. Yet, amazingly, he ultimately triumphed. What a guy.

Sometimes I just lay in bed and sing this song. That’s not a red flag or anything.

17. “I’ll Bet He’s Nice,” The Beach Boys’ Love You, 1977

Oh, this song. (Oh, this album.) All three brothers share the vocal responsibilities, with Brian and Dennis splitting each verse and Carl singing the bridge (oh-oh-oh man). The Moog synthesizer abounds amidst this aural paradise, lending it a quirky edge. Brian loves this song and so do I.

Well, that’s a good start. What’d I miss?

See you tomorrow, Hal!

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P.S. In the spirit of Christmas, let me implore you to be a Brian Wilson in a world full of Mike Loves.

P.S.S. The appropriate response when Mike Love asks if you like his beret or just opens his mouth in general:

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