Bach’s 13 Mistakes

“Tar” is a bit long-winded but still the best movie I’ve seen this year. Blanchett will win the Oscar. I am absolutely fabulously overjoyed that they filmed and recorded the orchestral scenes with a real orchestra, live; Blanchett’s piano playing is also real, as is the cellist ingenue. Most films about musicians dub the performances and it usually shows, badly. Contains a provocative, timely discussion by the lead character of the relationship of art to the scandalous behaviors of the artists, instancing a LGBQ student who can’t get “into” Bach’s music because he had 13 children.

Nick Cave is Getting Old

Q.  This is semi-random but did you see the Elvis movie?  [The hit movie “Elvis,” directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Austin Butler as Elvis Presley.  from this year?]

A.  Yeah. I was confused by it. Elvis is my hero. There was an aspect to the story of his later years that is almost religious to me.  NY Times

First of all, a journalist should not be telling Nick Cave that the movie is “a hit”.  What is your point?  That it was popular and successful?   [Well, pardon me– but, as if to prove me right, he didn’t say “hit movie”: the NY Times website attached a note to the article that my copy somehow picked up.]

I take it Cave was confused because Luhrmann, striving for some kind of credibility, I suppose, ended up allowing some ambiguity in the film as to just how “heroic” Presley was.  He clearly refused to stand up to his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, who made so many bad decisions for him, and Elvis’ greatest success came in Las Vegas– a cesspool of kitsch– but he is worshipped by the credulous American public who can’t believe that someone that rich (he wasn’t, really– Parker took most of the money) isn’t also virtuous and deserving.

Firstly, I know someone reading this will, sooner or later, leap up and shout “but he had a great voice”.  Yes he did.  So does Celine Dion and Michael Bublé and a hundred other irrelevant “artists” who merely produce pleasant-sounding confections.

Is there anything more bereft of artistic merit than a Michael Bublé song?

As another aside: the film could have done one brilliant thing to lift itself above the messy contrivance that it is:  it should have contrasted Elvis in Vegas– and his audience– to the nascent punk movement in London and New York, and their audiences, just to clue the audience in to just how far from “shocking” Elvis had become and how much he had become, instead, an establishment icon.

It means very little to me, who would rather hear Bob Dylan sing one verse of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” or  “Tambourine Man” or Leonard Cohen croak his way through  “Famous Blue Raincoat” or Tom Waits wail “Cold, Cold Ground” than an entire concert of Elvis.

There is a reason Elvis impersonators are so popular.  What Elvis produced is easily imitated. It’s all surfaces and gloss.  It’s that warble in his voice, the breath, the thirsty lips.  It’s audio scenery.

I won’t hide my crushing disappointment at hearing Nick Cave admit he admired perhaps the most corrupt and conformist rock-pop artist in history.  Elvis was always only ever about getting rich.  Okay– yes, he was a white artist doing black music in the 1950’s.  What did that mean to him?  That he was progressive or activist or even liberal?  He “shocked” the establishment.   Into what?  Hurling their panties onto the stage in Las Vegas?

And gosh, yes indeed, he was very attractive to girls– because, one suspects– he was a girl.  He was definitely a mama’s boy who couldn’t bear to have sex with his wife after she had become pregnant.

He was also a credulous believer in old time religion, producing several albums of the most banal, conventional gospel tunes imaginable (he made Tennessee Ernie Ford look positively conscious).   He used his money to build himself a playground at Graceland and surrounded himself with men who were willing to act like kids and horse around and eat too much and keep real people away.  He begged a fat old Dutch hustler with the cultural palette of Gumby to please, please take 50% of all of my earnings because I am too dumb and too weak to  get myself a lawyer– without your permission– and challenge you on any point on any issue including those monumentally stupid movies you signed me up for.  This was no “shock” to the establishment: it was a slobbering wet kiss to everything the white patriarchal society represented at the time.

Elvis joined the army.

Seriously– Elvis never, in his 20’s, a powerful (in terms of potential earnings power) celebrity, never challenged Parker’s control of his career, of his social life, of his engagements, his politics, his clothes?  Just how gutless exactly was the man?  Regard the Beatles, who exploded into four solo-careers, fired their manager, hired and fired lawyers and accountants, started a company, bankrupted the company, promoted new artists, demonstrated for peace, and so on, and so on, all while Elvis was sitting on a toilet in Las Vegas.  (It has to be noted here that the Beatles, too, admired Elvis, and the Beach Boys.  But they were more influenced by Bob Dylan.)

That’s not merely weird.  It’s nauseating.

Nick Cave says:

The final Las Vegas concerts were the Passion of crucifixion and redemption and resurrection.

Nick Cave– do you even know what Las Vegas is?  Have you ever been to Vegas?  Have you toured the hotels, the strip malls, the casinos?  What is there about this place that doesn’t strike you as hell?

There is a man who’s suffering on such an epic level to be onstage and to perform and to live.

No, there is a man who didn’t have the backbone to make any decisions for himself for his entire life.  You admire him for it?!!

I have always found Elvis repellent for the same reason Cave says he admired him: he played Vegas.

Growing up in the 60’s, my generation had the courage (for better and worse) to begin to think independently of the established pro-war, pro-growth, anti-sex, anti-drugs culture and strike out boldly with new values and ideas and lifestyles.  Sure, a lot of it went off the rails, and a lot of it did not endure.  But think of the environmental movement, the feminist movement, civil rights, and the antiwar attitudes that do still prevail.  Elvis had nothing to do with any of it.  It was a conscious decision, made for Elvis by the “Colonel”, to never, ever have an intelligent opinion about any of these raging issues during the entire decade.

What was Elvis doing, during the time of “Ohio”, “The Times They are a ‘Changing”, “For What It’s Worth”, “Eve of Destruction”, Woodstock, Kent State, Viet Nam, Love Canal, etc., etc., etc.?

A medley, arranged by the great songwriter Mickey Newbury, of “Dixie,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “All My Trials” that Presley frequently used as a centerpiece of his later concerts.

(Another note from the NY Times referring to a segment of the documentary, “This is Elvis”. )

Suffering?  Elvis wanted the worship, the attention, the money, the corrupting lifestyle, the entourage, the limousines, the bullshit.  It is what he lived for.

That changed my life as an artist. It was the most stirring thing that I’ve ever seen musically. There was something that was happening at those shows that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Well, that part is right.  You watched a generation of obese, self-satisfied, smug, contemptible Las Vegas consumers wet their panties over a  vacuous washed-up celebrity icon.  This wasn’t a crucifixion, and it certainly wasn’t redemption (Elvis had long ago lost the younger generation: he was now appealing to the teenagers of the 1950’s, who were now middle-aged and settled into their suburban homes) and Elvis wasn’t courageous or innovative or inventive or noteworthy in any artistic sense at all, aside from the fact that he was a white man performing black music.  All that blather that you read about his “come-back” is from a bunch of hacks being overwhelmed by Elvis’s popularity and coercing themselves into sucking up to the myth.

What, really, at this point in his career, was the difference between Elvis and a mediocrity like Engelbert Humperdinck?  Not much.  Elvis was louder.

We are told that Elvis died on the toilet.  Elvis lived on the toilet, on the Las Vegas of culture, literally: trashy spectacle and banal confections.


The only thing that could be more disappointing than Nick Cave’s admiration of Elvis would be Eric Clapton finding Jesus and becoming an anti-vaxxer or Van Morrison comparing Covid restrictions to slavery.

And yeah, Eric Clapton found Jesus and is now a pro-Trump anti-vaxxer and Clapton and Van Morrison compare Covid restrictions to negro slavery.

Has Clapton changed?

In 1976, Clapton said this, publicly:

Onstage, Clapton told his audience that it was important to “keep England White” and that “the Black wogs and coons and Arabs and f—ing Jamaicans don’t belong here.”

You might say, and I might say, that an incident that happened 45 years ago should be forgotten.  I would strongly agree, if it was an “incident”, like groping a groupie, or stealing your best friend’s wife (yes, he did).  But it wasn’t: it was Clapton inadvertently forgetting to hide his opinions from the public.  Clapton, who made a career playing the blues, a style created by black musicians, has never played a role in any protest or civil rights movements.  He has been conspicuously silent on those issues.   He choice to not publicly support those movements is, in fact, a statement in itself.

When he appeared in photos with Greg Abbott in Texas, one can’t doubt that that too was Clapton lettings his opinions slip into the public stream.

Now he complains that his old friends don’t call.


I was curious.

Articles on the web defending Elvis seem to think there is a constituency out there that thinks Elvis is racist.  I never thought that.  I don’t know of anyone who does.  Then I realized— that’s the strawman.  Prove that Elvis wasn’t racist and you have therefore salvaged his reputation from allegations of triviality and irrelevance– the kind of stuff I am asserting here.  So there are numerous articles on line showing that Elvis had many black musician friends and none of them thought he had any racist attitudes.  He grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, a mixed race community.  I’m fine with that.

However, I thought it was interesting that so many sites felt the need to make that defense.  In any case, I was curious: did Elvis agree to play for segregated audiences?  The Beatles refused.  Did Elvis refuse?

The rider for the September 11 concert “explicitly cited the band’s refusal to perform in a segregated facility,” writes Kenneth Womack at Salon. When concert promoters pushed back, John Lennon flatly stated in a press conference, “We never play to segregated audiences, and we aren’t going to start now. I’d sooner lose our appearance money.”  From Here.

It’s easy to find references online of the Beatles refusing to play segregated audiences.  The Rolling Stones are known to have recorded songs by obscure black artists as b-sides to their hit singles, to give them some income.

Regarding Presley’s first hit, “That’s All right Mama”:

Arthur Crudup was credited as the composer on the label of Presley’s single, but despite legal battles into the 1970s, reportedly never received royalties. An out-of-court settlement was supposed to pay Crudup an estimated $60,000 in back royalties, but never materialized.[15][16] Crudup had used lines in his song that had been present in earlier blues recordings, including Blind Lemon Jefferson’s 1926 song “That Black Snake Moan”.[16]  (Wiki)

It is hard to believe that there would not be a record of it– as of the Beatles– if he ever had.  There is a clear record about one thing: Elvis virtually never stood up to Tom Parker (can we all please STOP calling him “Colonel”: he was never a Colonel anywhere)  and challenged any of his decisions, and Tom Parker obviously didn’t give a fuck about civil rights.

There is a video— by “fans”, of course– that claims that Elvis performed a beautiful, powerful song (“If I can Dream”) about truth and beauty and justice and brotherhood at the end of his 1968 NBC TV special.   But the song is anodyne at best, banal, and unspecific, and safely generic.  Not a single line that even approaches “battle lines being drawn” or “tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming” or even (of course) “Imagine there’s no country”.

People love Elvis.  I never have.  The people who love Elvis will twist themselves into a pretzel to find some way to rationalize that love, to find virtue in the man that is commensurate with their esteem.   That esteem is a reflection of ourselves, our good taste, our own virtue, but not of the reality of fat , sweaty Elvis leaning in and kissing the women taking a break from the slot machines in the front rows of the International Hotel ballroom.

Pretty Good Discussion of the Racism

The Death of Stalin

You thought “Succession” was hilarious?  The story of minor-league talents battling it out to take over the family business from a toxic patriarch?

“The Death of Stalin” is a terrific movie about the end of the life of quite possibly the worst dictator the world has ever known.  It is reported to be one of Barack Obama’s favorite films.  It was banned in Russia, which, of course, is hilarious.  It was also criticized by some for historical inaccuracies, which, of course, is also rather absurd: it is a comedy.  The comedy lies in the kind of chaos created when an authoritarian, melomaniac, paranoid leader dies without leaving a clear line of succession.

It drives me insane to read, in IMDB, an explanation of why they made the “strange” decision to have the actors speak in plain English, instead with an amusing Russian accent!  The assumption is that they should have had them speak with Russian accents, which is actually a really, really strange idea.  But these are Russians talking to each other in Russia.   Do viewers think that Russians or Germans or French people speak to each other with funny accents?

If you say, that’s what people expect, it is only because they have been trained to expect that moronic approach, the way they have been trained to believe that bullets arrive at their target simultaneously with the sound of the gun being fired: they have been trained by early Westerns which chose not to allow audiences to learn the truth.

The best solution is for them to speak in their real, native tongue, with subtitles, but having them speak fluent English is a good option, and far, far, better than the stupid accent idea.

Stalin

Estimates vary, as they will, but Stalin was probably singularly responsible for the deaths of millions of people.

Key players:

Lavrently Beria

  • Became head of the NKVD in November 1938.
  • Proposed and master-minded the Katyn Massacre in March 1940.
  • just before Stalin’s funeral, he had the army units in Moscow replaced with his own NKVD units and cancelled all the trains coming to Moscow.

Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor)

  • Closely associated with Vladimir Lenin.
  • Ran Soviet Missile Program during World War II.
  • Discredited Georgy Zhukov to curry favor with Stalin who was jealous.
  • Briefly succeeded Stalin as Premiere and “first among equals” (March 5, 1953)
  • Eventually sidelined by Nikita Khrushchev.  Attempted a palace coup against Khrushchev in 1957 and expelled from the Presidium and exiled to Kazakhstan.

Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin)

  • Negotiated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Germany in 1941.
  • Part of the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death to plot things out.
  • his wife, Polina, had been arrested by Beria, with Molotov’s passive consent.  Three days after Stalin’s death, Beria did indeed release Polina to Molotov, presumably to cultivate support in the ongoing power struggle at the Politburo.

Nicolai Bulganin

  • Part of the the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death.

Lazar Kaganovich

  • Part of the the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death.

Anastas Mikoyan

  • Part of the the Central Committee meeting after Stalin’s Death.

Nikita Khrushchev

  • Brought back from Ukraine to Moscow in 1949
  • Regarded by British Diplomats as mouthy and misinformed and inarticulate.  They were far more impressed b y Malenkov, though the movie portrays him as a bit of a dunce.

Vasily Stalin

  • Stalin’s son
  • Called to his father’s side after his cerebral hemorrhage, he was drunk and angry, shouting at the doctors

Svetlana Stalin

  • Stalin’s daughter.  Reported that her father’s death was “difficult and terrible”.
  • Beria had been very friendly with her as a little girl, like an Uncle

Maria Yudina.

  • famous pianist who played piano at reception at Stalin’s lying in state
  • 9 years before his death (unlike in the movie which places the event the very night of) she had played the concert shown in the movie, and had been roused out of bed to repeat the concert for a recording
  • Wrote a note to Stalin which she placed in the record sleeve saying:  “I will pray for you day and night and ask the Lord to forgive your great sins before the people and the country.”  She was not arrested.  She died in 1970.

Georgy Zhukov (died June 1974)

  • got along well with Eisenhower; tried to supply food to Berlin after war
  • however, did nothing to stop the brutal rapes and pillaging by Russian soldiers
  • unlike everyone else around Stalin, he refused to kowtow; openly dismissive of Stalin, and openly contradicted him at times
  • did loot Berlin; was caught and made an abject apology
  • Brilliant Soviet military general who guided the stand-off in Stalingrad.
  • his arrest of Beria did occur, but 3 months after the funeral (June 1953), and Beria did get a trial and was executed in December 1953.
  • supported Khrushchev’s bid for power, but, by 1957 lost favor and was forced to retire
  • never returned to a position of influence after that
  • some historians believe he exaggerated his role in WW II.

Normal Text

 

Kansas vs Manhattan

One of the most fascinating aspects of the whole story of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” is the culture clash between the sophisticated, gay, cultured New Yorker and the “just plain folk” in Holcomb, Kansas, particularly when, as we discover, Capote invited some of his friends from Holcomb and its’ neighbor, Garden City, to New York, to one of his parties.   Reportedly, they were not impressed by the sophisticated culture, but were more than happy to be able to return home with stories about meeting famous actors and princesses.

When Capote arrived in 1959 to write about the Clutter family murders, most people in Holcomb had no idea of who he was, though he was, by then, a very well-known writer.  They didn’t much care for him at first, either, but he quickly began to ingratiate himself with the local police, including Alvin Dewey,  an investigator with the Kansas Bureau of Investigations.  His wife, whom Capote met in a supermarket, was the key: she did value literature and was dazzled by Capote’s connections.

Holcomb, Kansas might as well have been a different planet.  Everyone went to church, everyone knew each other, everyone pitched in in a crisis, and everyone was white and heterosexual.    Don’t sneer at Holcomb: for all the close-minded parochialism, small towns like Holcomb do have their upside.  People took care of each other.  They were actually reasonably tolerant of weirdness and non-conformity as long as it didn’t threaten the status quo too much (“It’s okay to be different; but not too different” as Woody Allen put it in “Bananas”).  And who knows?  Some day, a thousand years from now, people may look back at life in small towns in America and say to themselves, “you know, that was as good as it got for the human race.  Comfort.  Predictability.  Prosperity.”  And then someone may point out that that is only a superficial view of what life was really like in those small towns.  There was bullying, and abuse, and alcoholism, and a steaming, suppressed, virulent hatred of outsiders.  [See Thorton Wilder’s “Our Town” for a fascinating encapsulation of small town American life, in all of it’s facets.]

Some relatives of the Clutter family continue to resent the book, the movie, and Truman Capote.  They have a familiar complaint: the book doesn’t accurately represent the wonderful Clutter family.  The Clutter family was, by all accounts, wonderful indeed, but what they really mean is that the book doesn’t make them feel wonderful about the Clutters and awful about the killers.  They resent the depiction of the killers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, as humans.  They resent the sophisticated attitude towards crime, that the perpetrators have a story, that there might be things that happen in a person’s life that affect his character and behaviour, when we all know it is Satan alone who causes evil.  The resent the implication that the Clutters had flaws and foibles.

They detailed what they called 45 mistakes in the book.  If you analyze their list, like I did, you actually may come away with an even higher regard for the over-all accuracy of Capote’s book.  (For example, he didn’t give enough credit to Mrs. Clutter’s love of cooking.  And he noted that she was often “unwell”, based on comments from some people who knew her well, which the Clutter family contradict but don’t really undermine.  And he mis-stated the exact size of the Clutter’s acerage.)  Given what we know about Capote’s work habits at this time, I tend to believe Capote.  He didn’t really care what you thought about the Clutters and had no reason to ignore what he heard.  Nelle Harper Lee was with him and verified most of his information.

The story is fresh and relevant because that divide is probably bigger than ever.  Many of the citizens of Holcomb did eventually at least come to respect the fact that Capote was a well-regarded writer.

Today, they would just call him “fake news”.

 

I Am a Tiffany Camera

The story is about a young writer struggling to have his first breakthrough moving into a rooming house in a big, sophisticated, complicated city and meeting his kooky neighbor, a beautiful free spirited young woman with multiple boyfriends and shady relationships with rich men whom she openly seeks to attach herself to, if she is unable to realize her delusional dream of becoming a famous actress or singer.   The crazy landlord provides comic relief.  It’s written by a gay man who occasionally seduces some of his friend’s handsome courtiers.

Yes, we are talking about the Sally Bowles stories in “I Am a Camera” by Christopher Isherwood.  Or wait– are we talking about “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, the slim novella that made Truman Capote’s reputation?

The difference is this: Christopher Isherwood could not, of course, have had a copy of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in his suitcase when he arrived in Berlin; Truman Capote did have a copy of “I am a Camera” in his when he arrived in New York.

 

For What it’s Worth

Though a large majority of Americans thought it was right and good and natural for the government to pay off the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks, it was not. This was a completely original application of government resources that had never been done before, and it was at the behest of the airline industry which convinced the government– and the makers of this movie– that the nation would suffer immense economic harm if existing law was permitted to prevail and the airlines were sued, like they should have been in a capitalist free enterprise economy.

Have the airlines ever sued somebody?  Have any of the executives or large shareholders of the airlines ever sued somebody?  Did they think, before 9/11, that unlimited jury awards in tort cases might be a bad idea (actually, Republicans generally do)?  Why were gun manufacturers specifically exempted from tort law in 2005?   (As the link clarifies, gun makers could still be liable for “defects” in their product, if a product designed to kill and maim people can ever be said to have defects– does it not kill and maim?  Take it back to the store!)

Remember all that blather you heard about government hand-outs leading to toxic dependency? Yeah, that’s only for immigrants and black people.  In a capitalist system, as we claim to have, and as we say justifies letting poor people fend for themselves instead of helping them, the courts provide a system by which a good citizen can address compensation for deficiencies in a product or service that causes personal loss and suffering.

So the U.S. government broke all of it’s own rules and principles and decided that it would pay off the families of victims so the airlines could continue to pay off its shareholders and executives.

Next problem: how to decide who gets what?

We are the government: we have trillions. Line up and put your hands out everyone. And remember, repeat after me, “it’s not about the money”. Let’s work on the euphemisms for it: to bring closure; to ensure dignity; to make sure this never happens again; to bless the children and the kittens and the apple pie.

Meet Ken Feinberg, who, you should know, has been repeatedly hired (subsequent to 9/11) by large, powerful corporations like BP and Boeing to handle massive claims distributions after great big disasters. (Most recently, he has managed the 737 Max victim fund). Feinberg is asked by John Ashcroft to be the master of the compensation fund for victims of 9/11 and to the credit of “Worth” he is shown to be, at first, pretty clueless about managing the delicate feelings of the victim’s families.  (Except that he does refuse a salary– but then, we know how that works: somewhere down the road he will receive another appointment, maybe to a board or government post, that does pay, very, very well).  But the film does want it both ways: the families cannot be seen to be a mob of greedy materialists salivating at huge financial rewards. It’s not about the money, right? But it is always about the money and even the supposedly “pure” Donato family that sneers at the idea of taking compensation eventually joins the suit. Possibly the gravest hypocrisy in the U.S. right now is this absolute bullshit that people get away with when suing someone for a grievous loss. It is always about the money. “Worth” is far more honest than I expected about that, and presents some interesting dialogue about how the “worth” of a human life is determined. Should a janitor’s family get the same payout as a rich executive? (The initial plan, which rightly offended so many of the litigants, said: the CEO should get more since more potential earnings were lost.) And what about the children of a fireman by a woman with whom he was having a secret affair? Even more delicate: the gay partner of one man who lived in Virginia which did not allow for gay spouses. “Worth” is above average in it’s handling of these subjects, and relatively self-effacing– for a time– about Feinberg himself. Perhaps that is because it was critical to present him credibly while soft-pedalling the fact that this was all, all, really about sparing the airlines’ shareholders from shouldering the cost of their liability for 9/11, and for allowing juries to award scads and scads of millions of dollars for “pain and suffering” to family members who can cry on cue on the stand during a trial. We are also shielded from detailed discussion about the percentage of a settlement sucked up by the lawyers in cases like this.  The most depressing thing about this entire episode is how the government continues to resist any serious discussion about compensating the families of victims of slavery, or racial violence, in any form whatsoever. I’m not saying there is no argument against it– there is. I’m just noting how obvious the difference is between these two constituencies, and how quickly we can disregard and make exceptions to policy whenever we feel like it.

Astonishingly, Feinberg’s entry in Wikipedia contains no personal information about the man.  That is wondrous, for someone who was pivotal to some of the biggest and most controversial disasters in recent memory.

Coda

What I really liked about the film “Coda”:

  1. The “deaf” characters are played by deaf actors.
  2. The story isn’t highly original but it has some charms and some heart.
  3. I was astonished by the fact that they don’t appear to have autotuned the singing. Really astonished– and I loved it. Yes, the singing is slightly off occasionally– and wonderfully real.
  4. Emilia Jones trained on a fishing boat for six months and does her own singing. (That doesn’t mean they didn’t record her in a studio first and then film it synched — just that it is the actor’s real voice,) She’s also very good in the role.
  5. The song they chose for the finale, “Clouds” by Joni Mitchell, was perfect for that moment in the film. If anything, it’s a song that almost over-shadows the rest of the story in it’s eloquent expression of disillusionment and transition. The ending is just clever enough to overcome its own predictability.

We actually watched the entire movie without subtitles. Then laughed when we discovered that it had subtitles, because about 1/3 of the movie is sign-language. It was accidentally charming: we worked hard to interpret what they were saying from their facial expression, body-language, and whatever we could figure out from the hand gestures.

Norm MacDonald

Did I miss something?  After Norm MacDonald’s death this week, I kept reading about what a great comedian he was.  I had never liked him much but I wanted to be fair:  I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to him.  Maybe I missed something.

Here’s one of his jokes.  He tells us that during a medical examination of Arnold Schwarzenegger because of a faulty heart valve some of the doctors were concerned because they became turned on during a routine examination.

That’s it.  That’s the punch line.  The audience, on SNL (which is live) didn’t laugh much either.

He also joked about a custody battle between a mother and her ex-husband who was transgender.  It was witless, crude, and dismissive.  It was the kind of joke back-slapping conservative males made and enjoyed at the time.  [Well, well: I now read that Macdonald was a Christian.  It’s possible to be politically progressive and Christian, but clearly Macdonald was your standard, off-the-shelf conservative hypocrite, mocking feminists, poor people, and gays, perhaps with slightly more subtlety than Dennis Miller, while nursing a gambling addiction.]

Again, in front of a picture of Bill and Hilary Clinton: “here’s a picture of the first bitch”.  No joke– just calling Hilary Clinton a bitch.  In another segment, he calls her a liar.  Again, no joke– just calling her a liar.   On an episode of “The View” he accused Bill Clinton of being a murderer.

A lot of Beatles paraphernalia was up for sale, including a “rare” photo of George Harrison not looking haggard.  Huh.

Two homeless people got married at a homeless shelter.  If you want to buy them a gift, they are “registered” at a recycling center.   Huh again.

I’m told his “off the cuff” comments on carrot-top were hilarious.  I’ve watched the clip.  I’m open-minded: maybe there is some reference there that is hilarious, and I missed it.

Same with a cooking demonstration on Conan O’Brien’s show with Gordon Ramsay.  We’re supposed to find his inept inability to follow instructions– like a drunk, really– hilarious.  The biggest laugh was his use of an obscenity, which the audience laughs at because they know it will be beep out.  It was all lame, tedious, witless, and boring.  Conan must have loved him– that lame segment should never have seen the editing suite.

Paul McCartney is going to host an online chat.  Already, 2.5 million calls have come in from people hoping to chat.  But 2 million of them are from Ringo.  That one is not even a little funny.

How about this: Donald Trump decided to divorce Marla Maples because she violated the pre-nuptial agreement by turning 30.  Sophomoric.

Washington D.C. mayor is not interested in polls, or anything that isn’t crack.  Again, very sophomoric.

A joke, in bad taste, about Reagan being allowed to still think he owns the ranch he sold to the U.S. government after the purchase.  Maybe Norm didn’t know Reagan had Alzheimer’s.

He mocks women for their looks.   He mocks Ellen DeGeneres for wanting to have a baby, because she and her partner are both women.  Yeah, they are.  Did someone miss something here?  This might have been funny had it not already occurred to every single person in the audience.

More women would vote if you could bake your vote.  I’m not making that one up– yes, he thought that was funny.  Yes, he read it on Weekend Update.  No, the audience didn’t find it funny either.

When a joke failed– which was often– he would ramble on aimlessly about how that one didn’t work, which is not even funny once, or make a banal comment like “what a world we live in” as if he discovered something that was not already obvious to everyone.  Or, fatally, he would try to explain why the joke was actually funny even though the audience didn’t laugh.  That’s not a secret: Macdonald’s approach to comedy was to do jokes he thought was funny even if the audience didn’t.  Like Red Skeleton.  He and some others thought it was a virtue.  I think it’s an attempt to explain why someone who checks him out because you said he was great might be disappointed: because you don’t get it, see?  He doesn’t care if you don’t think he’s funny.  Really?

After joking about Rikki Lake having to get rid of a dog because it was aggressive with her young child– by eating it– he compounds the lukewarm audience reception with “she ate a whole dog”, which torpedoes the wit factor of any joke.

Those are neither the least nor most funny of a bunch.  A joke about Richard Gere and a gerbil is worse than tasteless.

A lot of his humor is based on the “everyday man” school of comedy, which holds that anything sophisticated or complex should be mocked because if I don’t understand it, it can’t be true or valid.  Gay marriage.  Transgender surgery.  George Harrison frowning in a picture.  And why can’t I make fun of obese talk show hosts?  Well, you can– but making jokes about their obesity really isn’t all that funny anyway.  Calling Bill Clinton a murderer with a tone of  “everybody knows it, right?” isn’t even witty.  If there’s a joke about someone involved in the Clinton scandals– and there are lots– tell it.  But Macdonald didn’t have that kind of Carlinesque skill.

Macdonald did not graduate high school and he has the tone of someone who loves to get digs in on those people who think they are smarter than you simply because they are smarter than you and got educated and understanding something about finance and trade and economics and medicine and music and history– those snobs.

He defended Louis C.K. after he was blacklisted for some relatively mild allegations of inappropriate behavior– a position I agree with.  But he also defended Roseanne Barr  after she made several tasteless, racist tweets.

Well, gosh, so did Donald Trump.

Jokes about Oprah Winfrey’s husband writing a book on how to be a success (Macdonald quips, “marry Oprah Winfrey”), are okay.   A genuine joke: congratulations, Norm Macdonald.  Use this one as a model for humour.  And ironic insight.  A smart perception.  A revelatory twist.  Go for it.

That’s it for Norm Macdonald.  Some okay jokes.  Someone who must have been quite likeable in person– he has lots of defenders, including Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien.  That doesn’t make him funny.

 

 

Digestible Disney

In the original legend of “Robin Hood” the bad guys were greedy aristocrats; in Disney’s version, they are tax-collectors. In the book “Hunchback of Notre Dame”, Frollo is an arch-deacon, not Disney’s magistrate. And in real life, Rasputin was a monk; in Disney’s Anastasia, he weirdly becomes a warlock instead.

Disney loves making stories easier to digest.