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Was looking forward to my first Jean-Yves Thibaudet last Wednesday at Carnegie Hall, but things got off to an unpromising start. A man who’d bought the orchestra seat next to mine arrived and barked, “Get that bag out of the way,” as if my briefcase and I had plotted some inconvenient coup. I take rudeness too personally, and made the unfortunate mistake of letting it slide. A preoccupation takes over; you tell yourself it’s the other person’s issue, not yours, but really it’s too late, for such invasions shift your equilibrium. And in this case, escape was futile: the peace-offender was sitting right next to me. For the first half of the evening they (his wife, Asian, possessing personality for two—from long-practiced necessity, no doubt) rattled their programs, shifted in their $82 seats, confirming my deep suspicions that often it’s the wrong people who have money. The thought crossed my mind that they were having too good a time, and when I began to conjure thoughts of an inconvenient accident that would lead to his demise, I thought, oh boy, settle down. Clearly I’d need all my powers to take the high road tonight.
Monsieur Thibaudet made it easy. The cool blonde Frenchman didn’t disappoint with a program of Liszt that, with the exception of Isoldes Liebestod (oddly I recognized those strains, not from a Wagner encounter but Stanley Donen’s Funny Face), was mostly unfamiliar. The program was revelatory, from the meditative Consolations that opened the evening, to Deux legends’ turbulent bass runs that reverberated like low thunder. The encores—from Brahms to Cherasky—were also standouts, with Ravel’s Apollonaire providing an especially moving coda for the night.
By then I’d forgotten the white-haired pinhead sitting next to me—ah, the power of art.
They-Were-Great-Once Dept: the day Gladys Horton cajoled a few girlfriends into starting a singing group ultimately called the Marvelettes, they couldn’t have foreseen how happy they’d make a bunch of black kids growing up in Ohio. Their snappy, sexy melodies a street-corner symphony heard around the world in the mid-60s. Along with Martha and the Vandellas, theirs was an earthy, witty sound, a suitable soundtracks built for dance clubs and urban playlists; this was also Motown, albeit a grittier counterpoint to the sleek crooning of that other black girl group.
If The Supremes were considered the major league, then the Marvelettes could be called the sassy farm team of female vocal groups. Who could resist such clever tunes with titles to match (Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead always makes me chuckle)? The kids in my neighborhood pestered the local r&b station WCIN to play Please Mr. Postman (it was #1 upon its release, something no other Motown girl group was able to accomplish), Beachwood 4-5789, My Baby Must Be a Magician, Too Many Fish in the Sea, and my favorite, The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game.
From 1961-68: dog years for a pop girl group. Gladys would leave, and come back. The personnel changed (singing groups, ah, a revolving door), and the world moved on—especially Motown who by then was throwing all its eggs into the careers of by-then-gone-solo Diana Ross and her new discovery, The Jackson 5. It was the end of an era, but those of us who grew up hearing the Marvelettes and their bold, distinctive black-girl shout of pain, joy and attitude won’t ever forget that sound, the voice of our young America. Thanks Gladys. RIP.
Top, Horton, second from the left; below Horton sings lead on "Too Many Fish in the Sea."
Choose your Hornet...
Superheroes are not clowns. They don’t do pratfalls, lack technological savvy, or otherwise behave like assholes. It took a franchise like Christopher Nolan’s to usher in a new era of the comic-book-hero-made-flesh, and to give guys like us (who lapped up the TV serial-versions) grown-up editions compelling enough to rival, and surpass, those hi-tech shoot-em-ups that die at the box office within a week of their releases.
I thought The Dark Knight settled this: we prefer our superheroes serious, not jokey. Though wit is fine (preferably something dry and corrosive variety) I don’t care to laugh at my superheroes—I prefer someone I can laugh with, the best version of manhood, a model we can all look up to. If you feel the same, skip The Green Hornet. This new version, directed by Michel Gondry, is light years from the comic book, and especially the season-long TV show that starred Van Williams and the late Bruce Lee, and died way too soon. Instead of a sleek entertainment (something the show achieved effortlessly with far less than what got spent here), you get “laughs,” the kind made popular by frat boy fodder like American Pie (all of them, I guess); this type of physical comedy is so at odds with the Hornet’s character, you’ll wonder whether you’ve wandered into a remake of The Three Stooges. With Seth Rogen cast in the title role, it’s the only way to go. The hapless shlub with two left feet is Rogen’s stock in trade; instead of a performance his is a greatest-hits of Rogen mannerisms that I’ve found enjoyable in other films, but he is no one’s idea of the Hornet physically or in terms of charm and sophistication. The movie embraces that personality, which means it’s diminishing returns from start to finish—in the hero’s origin story especially, the choice to spoof, rather than take the material seriously shows how lazy people can be. Unfunniness ensues, like a bad episode of Stroker and Hoop.
Too bad. Jay Chou definitely has the stuff to be a model Kato. The word diabolical was made for Christoph Waltz, a go-to artist whose villain’s sinister motives are swathed in genuine wit; Tom Wilkerson, David Harbour and Edward James Olmos, in a better film, would burn holes through the screen, and there are perk-me-up cameos from James Franco and Edward Furlong. Maybe they had high hopes for The Green Hornet’s potential; maybe they were just picking up a check. I suspect they were as surprised as I to find them trapped in this snoozefest. Maybe I’m taking it all too seriously, but the one-hero-fits-all myth—a noble archetype whose crime-fighting skills are the only hope for city besieged—is like a sacred text. I’m no longer a little boy, but I still want to believe. When people spit on fairytales I get hurt. And pissed.
Susannah York (above with Jane Fonda, foreground) was also one whose work encompassed a great range--she could play a woman of breeding (Tom Jones) or be psychologically fragile as she was to shattering effect in one of my favorites, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, some of the best work of her (and Ms. Fonda's) career
I couldn't have gotten through adolescence without Don Kirschner's Rock Concert, the show where I first learned about everyone from Melissa Manchester to the Police. Believe it or not, the jacket he's wearing here was the last word in style. RIP.
I loved this show as a kid (heck, anything with superheroes, spies, fancy guys or girls did it for me). When she wasn't stroking her ocelot Anne Francis' Honey West was a cool chick who karate-chopped her way through the first (and only) season of this 60s TV series. But I always look forward to her first scene in Funny Girl, where she plays Georgia the chorus girl. In response to an admonishment for being late, she says with a swish of her skirts, "Sorry, Flo" (to Florenz Ziegfeld, her boss). Her delivery, and the look in her bauble-blue eyes--priceless. RIP.