Wednesday, August 15, 2007
I hate Elvis Week
Here it is again, another Elvis Week.

I can't stand it.

I've got nothing against celebrating Elvis -- his music and his influence are well worth honoring, and not just for one week a year. What I have trouble with is the Elvis who seems to take over during Elvis Week, the one safe for tourist consumption: the spangled Elvis, the overly sideburned Elvis, the fat Elvis.

The caricature Elvis. The joke.

Somewhere along the way the standard image of Elvis ceased to be the vital, virile, dangerous singer who turned popular music on its ear back in the '50s. Instead, he became the lug who padded his career with all those crummy movies. (Colonel Tom Parker, that old con man, always wanted Elvis to be softer and usually got his way -- and Elvis deferred all too often.) Yeah, people remember the 1968 comeback and the tremendous live shows of the early '70s, but ask people today to describe Elvis Aron Presley and I'll bet the word "jumpsuit" is one of the first out of their mouths.

("It's a lot easier to do Vegas Elvis," a professor told me for an article five years ago.)

Anyway, I'd rather listen to "Hound Dog." And "Trying to Get to You." And "Little Sister." And "Guitar Man." And "Crying in the Chapel." Yes, the man could be a complete hammy showman -- you can't stay No. 1 through danger and charisma alone, which explains "Don't Cry Daddy" and "Way Down" -- but Elvis was much deeper than that.

So, if you're in Memphis, enjoy the Elvis gimcrackery and approved consumer tie-ins. But take in some struggling bluesman, too -- or a solid country band. Otherwise, joke Elvis wins.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Paradise by the broadcast booth
I would be remiss, on the sad occasion of his death, if I didn't offer a tribute to the literary excellence of that poet of the broadcast booth, Phil Rizzuto.

What? You didn't know the Scooter was not just an American League MVP and multiple World Series winner -- not to mention the play-by-play caller in Meat Loaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" (the sexual connotations of which, allegedly, caught Rizzuto by surprise) -- but a published poet?

Thanks to Tom Peyer and Hart Seely, he is. In 1997, the pair published "O Holy Cow" (Ecco), a collection of verse based on calls, comments and non-sequiturs Rizzuto had made during games. A sampling:

"A little high./Two balls/No strikes.//Riverview Medical Center/Is down the Jersey shore.//Three balls/No strikes." ("F.Y.I.")

"Bobby Thigpen out there./Number thirty-seven./That's the guy in the Peanuts cartoon./Pigpen./That's a joke./That guy in Peanuts with Charlie Brown./He's always dirty./Oh yeah./Every day./Orphan Annie./You know,/She hasn't changed in thirty-two years." ("Forever Young")

"O it was always intense./Just as you said/And it was not a regular/Not a regular game at all./It was every game meant so much,/You know,/One seemed to top the other." ("Remember When")

Lemme tell ya Scooter, the next time I'm in New York, I'll take a drive over the bridge to a place like Fair Lawn to get a cannoli. And I will listen to a game. And I will remember.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Merv
Who wouldn't want to be Merv Griffin?

The media mogul, who died Sunday at 82, not only created "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" (the latter, for me, enough for elevation into the TV pantheon), he was an accomplished singer, a splendid talk show host and a shrewd entrepreneur -- and he had a blast doing it all.

"I refuse to be bored," he told Esquire in a "What I've Learned" interview, and you could see that in his manner. He loved talking, loved showbiz, was enthusiastic about everything (Rick Moranis had a lot of fun with Merv's "Ooooooo").

Best of all, he was a great entertainer, in all senses of the word. "There are no bad guests," he said in the same interview.

Who wouldn't want to be Merv?
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