Sophisticated Whoppers

IMG_20160630_122527

Last month my neighborhood Burger King underwent a cosmopolitan rhytidectomy, in accordance with mandates to transform such troughs into elegant gastronomy. McDonald’s has emerged in recent years from an extended postpsychedelic adolescence to embrace the Library of Alexandria aesthetic, while Jack in the Box, under direct orders from draconian CEO “Jack,” has jettisoned its staple blues and reds for a soothing Humidor Autumn. The desired effect, according to corporate literature, is contemplative chi, as opposed to “Holy God, this Applewood Bacon Cheese Fist is wrapping itself around my heart.”

Having never patronized a chic Burger King, I decided this morning to have it my way. On foot I passed the phantom of its children’s playset — the industry no longer caters to plebes. In its place stood a scale replica of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon complete with tanzanite wall, over which flowed a talkative Chianti stream. Occupying its drive-thru lane were sleek fleets of Google cars activated by smartphone apps. Four impeccably attired valets monitored the parking lot, sending any vehicle older than 2008 to a “VIP lane” seven blocks away.

The building’s exterior could best be described as futuristic neoclassical. Its sanctum, inspired by the parlor in Don and Betty Draper’s Ossining home, wallows resplendent in oaks and comfortable beiges. Posted advertisements no longer boast of “flame-broiled” or “flame-grilled” meats; they’re now “artisan-crowdsourced.” Six overhead flatscreens broadcast “Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia,” with a corner space nearby to discuss the film with the shift manager, a former Harper’s editor-at-large. Wafting through the restaurant: Herb Alpert’s “Fandango,” on 180-gram vinyl.

I immediately recognized my counter garcon’s uniform as Yves St. Laurent. “Yes,” she confirmed. “They outfit us all.” “But what about grease stains?” I asked. “Those,” she said, “are flown in from Vienna.” She then apologized for the store’s wine steward, whose flight was delayed in Milan. “That’s fine,” I replied, and ordered the venison curly fries with a 32-ounce growler to go.

Because of the restaurant’s new decibel regulation, I saw only one other “broseph,” as BK calls us nonemployees: an older gentleman pecking at a laptop while seducing a mimosa. Sans prompt, he told me, “It’s a Dogme-esque novel about a man who’s smarter than everyone else but is too humble to share his rare gift, so he hangs out at Burger King, tormented in self-imposed silence, until a beautiful cashier who recognizes his shyness as intellectual superiority offers him her soul. I liken its tone to a Ferrari 458 speeding recklessly past the intersection of Huxley and Terry Southern, and crashing into an abandoned storefront that once sold steampunk fetish wear.”

Alas, I left before the BK book club convened in the alcove, but I’ll be back for the Appalachian dulcimer jam this evening. If you’re not too busy with the Taco Bell barrel tour, feel free to bro by. Bring your Konghou — and plenty of antacids.

Advertisements

Selected Excerpts from Ken Burns’ 7-Part “KISS Army”

MICHAEL GAMBON (VO): “If I should fall in the heat of war, bury me not in the cold, grey earth. Let me go, rock and roll.” — Lieut. Francis L. Scurvy, KISS Army, 1979

KISS (1975 recording): “Baby gets tired, everybody knows / Your mother has to tell you, baby has to show / Yeah, yeah / Let me go…”

MARK STRONG (narrator): The Wabash River covers 490 square miles, carving a vein from Fort Recovery, Ohio, to Shawneetown, Illinois. Nestled between those points is Terre Haute — or “Higher Ground” — Indiana, so christened by 18th century French explorers for the way the land crested above yet simultaneously embraced the tributary. Their geological synchronicity was once both legendary and picturesque; authors and composers have quaffed of its inspiration. Gripped by the memory of a childhood along its flow, 40-year-old songwriter Paul Dresser, in October of 1897, published a paean, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” from the more bustling climes of New York’s Tin Pan Alley.

JOSH GROBAN (singing): “Oh, the moonlight’s fair tonight along the Wabash / From the fields there comes the breadth of new-mown hay / Through the sycamores the candle lights are gleaming / On the banks of the Wabash, far away…”

MARK STRONG (narrator): In January of 1975, music and culture would clash anew, just as water once caressed soil then joined the rush toward history. It was here in Terre Haute, long after Paul Dresser’s beloved sycamores were razed for empires of industry and suburbia, where young William Starkey and Jay Evans launched a tiny voice that would one day speak for many.

BILL MOYERS (journalist): It’s difficult to comprehend now, but in 1975, nobody who mattered knew KISS. Radio stations didn’t play them — wouldn’t play them, in fact — and only a small but dedicated fan base bought their albums. They’d had only two up to that point, anyway: KISS and Hotter Than Hell, which had come out the previous October and made barely an ripple on what Billboard calls the “Hot 100.” One can imagine the frustration these boys felt that their heroes were being ignored.

SHIA LaBEOUF (VO): “Gentlemen: It has come to our attention that your station, WVTS-FM, has yet to feature KISS in its rotation. We ask that you address this oversight at your earliest convenience.” — William Starkey, Jay Evans, 1975

FRANK LANGELLA (VO): “Kind sirs: Thank you for your recent letter. I hope that my reply finds you both in good health. However, we have no plans to add KISS at this time, for it is felt among our staff that these ‘musicians,’ such as they are, fail to meet our exacting standards as regards rock and roll.” — Rich Dickerson, program director, WVTS-FM

SHIA LaBEOUF (VO): “Gentlemen: We are disheartened by your refusal to honor our request, for we do not ask much. Admittedly, we are young, still clutched in idealism’s thrall, and perhaps men of your experience find our passions trivial and banal. However, we assure you that our dedication to this cause wavers not, and our ranks number far more than ourselves. We are, in fact, an army — a KISS Army, if you like — and through sheer stubborn strength and will, we shall prevail.” — William Starkey, Jay Evans

JACK BLACK (VO): “The first shot is fired. The first blood is drawn. A brainchild is sired: a new dawn is born. This summer is bound to be hotter than hell.” — Henry Oliphant, Poet Laureate, KISS Army, 1975

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN (historian; reading from her diary): “On denim-bound binder, in fine ball-point, Doris etches the names of giants. Her devotion is such that she even knows their birth names. Chaim Witz. Stanley Eisen. Paul Daniel Frehley. George Peter John Criscuola. Their phantoms invade her chamber at night, a hot swarm of tongues, glitter, and tangles of hair. She imagines her Jiminy Cricket flashlight is the blinding supernova of a Polaroid Instamatic. ‘Take me, Space Ace,’ she gasps. ‘Enter my feminine galaxy. Baby wants it fast, baby wants a blast. She wants a rocket ride. She wants a rocket ride.’ ” Oh, my land and the infant Jesus, stop the camera…OHHHH

MARK STRONG (narrator): The tale of KISS is widely known, from Kabuki rise to Kabuki fall to Kabuki rebirth and triumph. To relay it even in passing is unnecessary. What of those legions in the dark, their numbers vast, their faith steadfast? This is the story of the not-so-silent millions, who would follow four men across four decades over all four corners of the earth.

(FADE IN, OPENING CREDITS)

KISS (1976 recording): “You’ve got something aboutcha / You got something I need / Daughter of Aphrodite / Hear my words and take heed / I was born on Olympus / To my father a son / I was raised by the demons / Trained to reign as the one / God of thunder / and rock ’n’ roll / The spell you’re under / will slowly rob you of your virgin soul…”

STEPHEN AMBROSE (historian): You’ve got to understand: 1975 was a very fraught period in American history. Vietnam was just ending. Patty Hearst was on the loose. At least two people tried to kill Gerald Ford, and they couldn’t do it. Gas and oil were sky high. Looming over all of this is the specter of the ’60s. Woodstock. Altamont. Cynicism. Then Nixon. Watergate. Darkness. The hippie dream had failed, and its carcass was beginning to smell. America was months from her Bicentennial, the celebration of a garish, tarnished lie. It was time to medicate. It was time for KISS.

KISS (1976 recording): “I feel uptight on a Saturday night / Nine o’clock, the radio’s the only light / I hear my song and it pulls me through / Comes on strong, tells me what I got to do / I got to / Get up / Everybody’s gonna move their feet / Get down / Everybody’s gonna leave their seat / You gotta lose your mind in Detroit Rock City…”


JACK WHITE (narrator): It was in the city of Cadillac, Michigan, that KISS’ propensity for publicity reached full flourish. For one week in October of 1975, this quiet community of 10,000, located 179 miles from the cacophonous nerve center of Detroit, became the universe’s envied pulse, besieged by press, overwhelmed by madness, drowned in rock ’n’ roll.

JON HAMM (VO): “Dear Sir: As you know, we here at Cadillac High School have been big fans of KISS for a long time. Last year our football team’s defensive unit was nicknamed the ‘KISS Defense,’ and we went on to finish with a seven and two record. Since that time KISS has been the rock group in Cadillac. … I can assure you that we will do everything in our power to make a KISS visit a worthwhile experience for you. … Hopefully, we can work together and make these plans a reality. Our Homecoming will be ‘super’ just because of the KISS theme. KISS in person would make it an extravaganza.” — Jim Neff, teacher-coach, Cadillac High School, 1975

PERRY SUSKIND (Cadillac High School historian): The Vikings carried the KISS defense into the 1975-76 season and ended with a 6-3 record. The highlight that year, of course, was when KISS came to visit. They completely took over the whole city from Oct. 8-10, 1975, beginning with an Oct. 7 telephone interview for WATT-AM and ending that Friday with a helicopter departure from the football field. It was nothing short of spectacular: kids in KISS makeup, city officials in KISS makeup — I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a cat or two dressed to look like Peter Criss. The fellows received a silver key to the city and showered it in fliers: “Cadillac High — KISS Loves You!” Historic, just historic.

ED HARRIS (VO): “For years we have been trying to unite the student body and the faculty … KISS accomplished this in one night.” — John Laurent, principal, Cadillac High School, 1975

JACK WHITE (narrator): The growing KISS Army was on the march.

KISS (1977 recording): “I remember the day that we met / I needed someone, you needed someone too, yeah / Spent time takin’ all you could get / Givin’ yourself was one thing you never could do / You played with my heart, played with my head / I’ve got to laugh when I think of the things you said / ’Cause I stole your love / stole your love / Ain’t never gonna let you go…”

CASEY AFFLECK (VO): “Dearest Helena: My will to live is gone, my darling. The winter has been most brutal upon my body and conscience. I cannot bear its savagery much longer. The others are freezing, huddled against its cruelty. Morale has evaporated, along with what remains of our hopes. The size of our desires, I fear, shall not bear fruit when the time has come. I was plagued last night by visions of the inevitable, that this godforsaken line is for naught: that Cobo Hall has, indeed, sold out.” — Pvt. Steven Guernin, KISS Army, July 7, 1977

NATALIE PORTMAN (VO): “Dearest: I discovered your letter this morning. Although your woe pains me to my soul, I am confident that you will return to me, tickets in hand to a kick-ass show. And even if it’s not meant to be, we can take comfort, you and I, in life’s little pleasures: your Mustang, my lucky hat, our records, and a sofa built for two. Bear up, my love. This too shall pass. Remember to buy cigarettes and bubblegum on your way home.” — Nancy LaRose, July 7, 1977

KISS (1976 recording): “Beth, I know you’re lonely / And I hope you’ll be all right / ’Cause me and the boys will be playin’ / all night…”

If You Leave: John Hughes (1950-2009)

John Hughes died today. He was 59. He’ll be remembered for producing, writing, and/or directing a series of popular teen films in the 1980s, which are enjoyed even today, long after those teens (i.e., us) have softened into middle age with teens of our own, kids who can somehow look past the dated (what the squirts sardonically call “retro,” although in a tone of reverence and awe) attire to the eternal truths of the adolescent experience buried within. For those of us who were his target demographic back in the day — I was in middle school during his peak, a cauldron of confusion and desire — the movies were a fantasy-laden version of a hormonal modern drama too horrific to contemplate.

Although I loved his Oxy oeuvre, I did have a few issues with Hughes. For one, the families in his films always seemed impossibly upscale (did anyone in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off live in a one-story house?) — even the broken one belonging to thrift-shop poster-girl Andie Walsh in Pretty in Pink. Her squalor was well-scrubbed. If that was the wrong side of the tracks, I’ll bet you could eat the mess hall’s Charlevoix Veal right off the jailhouse floor. Also, while the girls at my school swooned over Anthony Michael Hall and Jon Cryer, they were strangely immune to the true geek’s obvious charms. Oh, how they wanted to pamper Ducky, coddle Ducky, take Ducky in their spray-tanned limbs and kiss his fashionably quirky lips. It was bad enough I’d never be a Jake Ryan or a Blane McDonnagh; I wasn’t the right kind of outcast, either.

On the other hand, I’m glad Hughes at least acknowledged the loser’s humanity. Most teen-centric flicks tended to pillory the spaz as a sexless dope flailing impotently around the genetically blessed. With his Messy Marvin countenance, Hughes seemed to identify with the social underdog. When he cast the geek in Sixteen Candles, his directorial debut, he eschewed the look usually adopted for such roles. “Every kid who came in to read for the part … did the whole stereotyped high sch0ol nerd thing,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 1984. “You know — thick glasses, ballpoint pen in pocket, white socks. But when [Anthony] Michael [Hall] came in he played it straight, like a human being. I knew right then that I’d found my geek.”

Although he may have understood the geek’s dilemma, as a successful man in his early 30s, perhaps he regarded his own adolescence with fondness and sympathy. Therefore, his films seem to simultaneously criticize and celebrate the artifice of high school, with the Beaver Cleaver happy-ending aesthetic of his youth transferred to Shermer, Illinois, with a more colorful palette and parlance. The girl scores the dreamboat (always a sensitive chap beneath the popular, chiseled sheen), the guy lands the babe. Or a babe: The Geek loses a redhead but gains a blonde in Candles, and poor-goob Ducky, politely declined by his own siren-locked pal, is awarded one helluva senior-prom consolation prize by the Hughes ex machina mere seconds before Pretty in Pink‘s fade.

These are but slight alterations, however; the old pecking order remains firmly in place. Even after an educational Saturday detention in The Breakfast Club, when Anthony Michael Hall (garbed in geek again) asks, “What’s going to happen to us on Monday, when we’re all together again? I mean, I consider you guys my friends. I’m not wrong, am I?”, the only right answer, as voiced by school queen Claire Standish, is the one he doesn’t want to hear. It’s the most honest moment in any of Hughes’ films — and he’s responsible for more than you think — which makes it his best.

I knew him initially as a filmmaker/producer. Then about 15 years ago I read some of his pieces for the National Lampoon. Most were toothless in the irreverent Lampoon vein, but the best had a nostalgic patina. The ones that stand out in my memory are “Vacation ’58” and “Christmas ’59,” from which he’d later draw the Griswold family (yep, Vacation was his brainchild). The latter story introduced one of his more alarming stereotypes, Long Duk Dong, whom he uprooted from the page and shoved into Sixteen Candles for comic relief. As much as I loved Gedde Watanabe’s performance — the character is memorable and lovable, even though you hate yourself for laughing — he seemed out of place in a whitebread fairy tale.

However, whatever need Hughes had to offend or subvert through deliberate provocation was usually complemented by a Capra-esque sentimentality. Crack him open, he was a sugarplum softy. Home Alone was Looney Tunes bathed in shmaltz. Despite its thorns, Planes, Trains and Automobiles walked a straight-and-narrow mawkish path. Uncle Buck teetered between sadism and morality but eventually fell on the right side. Curly Sue was paint-by-numbers sap. After that, Hughes just began cashing checks. I doubt many historians will defend the merits of Baby’s Day Out or Dennis the Menace.

Nonetheless, John Hughes was an important part of my life. I never got to live in Shermer, Illinois. My moxie and determination didn’t win the girl in the end. A detente was never reached through weekend summits between the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, and the criminal. But Hughes succeeded where so many chroniclers of adolescent ennui have failed: by bringing comfort to all of us.

“Saturday Night Live”: Wanna Bite the Hand That Feeds Me (Miskel Spillman Meets Elvis Costello)

On the evening of October 8, 1977, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels sat behind the same desk from which he’d presented a $3,200 check to The Beatles the week before, and made an offer that was just as genuine — one that, unlike his Fab Four pipe dreams, would yield genuine results.

“How many of you out there watching this show right now,” he began, “are saying to yourselves, ‘You know, Madeline Kahn‘s pretty good [the actress hosted that week], but I think I can do a better job than that’? Well, here’s your chance. Because now, anyone can host Saturday Night Live. All you have to do is write a postcard and state in 25 words or less why you want to host Saturday Night Live.”

This was not a sketch. An address was provided as Lorne explained the details. After the November 1 deadline passed, the entrants would be winnowed to five finalists, who would then be flown to New York to read their entries on-air, and the winner would host the December 17 Christmas episode, with the series’ $3,000 hosting fee as a quite generous gift.

“We don’t care who or what you are,” Michaels concluded. “If you can lick a stamp, you’re on your way to stardom.”

Some 150,000 tongues and minds went into overdrive over the next three weeks as Saturday Night Live was deluged with pithy correspondence.  “I’m an 80-year-old grandmother,” read one. “I need one more cheap thrill since my doctor told me I only have another 25 years left.” Volumes of submissions were considered and discarded, before finally being pared down to five finalists. The following week’s emcee, Buck Henry, announced the news on the November 12 episode hosted by Ray Charles and added that the lucky competitors would appear with him on November 19.

Sure enough, seven days later they were trotted out for Saturday Night Live‘s cold open, each in matching blue button-down sweaters differentiated by the letters A through E, a regular malt-shop quintet. Gilda Radner introduced them on camera as a “cross-section of America” (to the disappointment of Garrett Morris, who complained of a distinct lack of ethnic variety). And a curious cross-section ’twas: David Lewis, a gangly, bearded “unemployed guy” from Oregon; Deb Blair, a housewife and mother from Peoria, Illinois; Connie Crawford, a Vassar freshman; Richard Kneip, the governor of South Dakota; and, finally, Miskel Spillman, a petite 80-year-old grandmother from New Orleans, Louisiana, who stood out with her bob of shocking white. Introductions were made, but the audience favorite was quickly established when Buck cajoled from the genial octogenarian “I’m Miskel Spillman. I’m old.”

The five were given the honor of announcing, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!” and appeared intermittently throughout the show, first during Henry’s monologue, where it was discovered that David Lewis may have been a little too eccentric even for SNL. (After Lewis’ turkey impression fell flat, Henry deadpanned, “Obviously, we didn’t throw all the weird letters away.”) Later they surfaced in a Gary Weis short chronicling each finalists’ underhanded attempts to influence the host (Crawford came on to him, Kneip offered him a government job, Lewis spun a wild story of animal cruelty, Blair suggested that perhaps her children wouldn’t have a merry Christmas after all, and Spillman announced, “Something’s going to happen around New Year’s Eve. I’m going to kick.”) They were brought back out for the cast farewells at home base, with Spillman admitting over the adulation, “I’ve had the most wonderful time in my life.”

Connie Crawford, today an acting and directing instructor at Brown University, fondly recalled both the episode and Mrs. Spillman in an interview with TV.com’s HelloStuart last year:

For me, it was brilliant. [The show] was exciting and smart and funny, and people were very generous and kind and patient. … With us there, us five, doing what they did with us, bring us into this, not only did they put on a live show in less than a week, but the material was very edgy and they asked five complete civilians to join them. That was quite risky. The show on its own and the way they were doing it was quite raw, and to bring us in … that was reality TV.

[E]verybody knew [Miskel] was going to win. Come on. She was an 80-year-old woman from New Orleans having an adventure. … I expected her to win, so it all made sense. … [S]he was a lovely woman. She was a charmer, she really was. I wouldn’t have done anything differently.

David Lewis concurred in his own 2008 exchange with TV.com. “[Spillman] was a prime example of many who are past retirement age, yet so full of life, rich with wisdom and experience,” said the performance artist/songwriter. “By the end of the show, it was obvious who the sentimental favorite was.”

(Of the remaining finalists, Deb Blair’s whereabouts are unknown, and Richard Kneip, who followed his South Dakota governorship with a Presidental appointment to U.S. Ambassador of Singapore, died in 1987.)

After all the votes were tabulated from postcards, phone calls, letters and specially printed TV Guide ballots, Spillman was the clear victor by some 15,000 votes. The sprightly senior citizen, pending any natural life occurrences, was locked in for December 17.

Her musical guest, however, was not. The Sex Pistols, the melodic scourge of the U.K. sneering inroads into the stateside press, were initially scheduled to perform, but their notoriety and criminal records made visas near impossible. (The Pistols did arrive early the following year, disintegrating in San Francisco on January 14.) Luckily, Elvis Costello & The Attractions were then touring the United States and Canada to promote their debut, My Aim Is True; a few phone calls later and a New York stop was scheduled.

The Saturday Night Live staff may have been relieved, but the 23-year-old Costello was anything but. He gritted his teeth as Columbia Records, his U.S. label, began instructing him on what songs to perform. They wanted established tracks, naturally, but the band leader blanched at a request for “Less Than Zero,” a composition whipped by its angry writer after watching ex-British Union of Fascists head Oswald Mosley snivel on the BBC. Costello felt the references were too obscure for Americans; it was a decidedly English phenomenon. The label, however, insisted. Costello fumed.

His anger is evident even in the night’s first musical performance. Costello snarls through “Watching the Detectives,” almost challenging the cameraman to track him. He advances upon the lens, ducks its gaze, and evades its path. He seems to have little regard for blocking, which didn’t match his perception of “live” spontaneity. In fact, Costello wasn’t all that impressed with the show, period. “Maybe something got lost in translation,” he mused in Rhino‘s 2002 reissue of 1978’s This Year’s Model, “but none of the humour seemed nearly as ‘dangerous’ or funny as they seemed to think it was, or perhaps they were just having a bad show.”

Even with a private citizen serving as “host,” Saturday Night Live pulled few punches in its presentation. In the cold opening, Laraine Newman admonished John Belushi (who eerily prophesied, “Don’t worry, I plan to be dead before I’m 30” — he was only off by three years) for sharing a lethal strain of bud with the 80-year-old to relax her nerves. “John,” gasped guest-guest host Buck Henry, “your joints overwhelm even an experienced drug user like myself!” Miskel, for her part, was game, wandering into her monologue on Henry’s arm and marveling at “the colors.”

Spillman was used sparingly for the next hour-and-a-half. She sat and listened to Jane Curtin recite an alternate version of O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi that ended with a trademark Belushi outburst and the still-nascent cry of “But nooooo!” Later she had a brief walk-on as the mother of a desperate Vietnam War vet (Bill Murray) in the existential buddy-cop drama, Sartresky & Hutch. Her most prominent showcase came as Belushi’s college girlfriend in a sketch chronicling a student’s holiday homecoming. Otherwise, the episode did contain two future classics: E. Buzz Miller’s sleazoid exploration of the artist Titian and Al Franken’s Yuletide tirade against his parents.

Spillman was nowhere in sight or earshot when Elvis returned for an encore; announcer Don Pardo announced him instead. The artist dutifully adhered to his record label’s wishes with an ice-cold stare through “Less Than Zero” — until he hit the line “There is a vacancy waiting in the English voodoo.” At “waiting” he abruptly shouted, “Stop! Stop!,” dramatically flailing his arms. As if confidentially, he turned back to the microphone and apologized. “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “there’s no reason to do this song here.” Then he turned to his bewildered Attractions and called for “Radio, Radio,” a song they had yet to even record (after that night, the song would go unheard in America until This Year’s Model the following fall). As Elvis told Tom Snyder in 1981, it made for riveting television. “They didn’t have my camera cues, which supposedly, from a professional point of view, isn’t very good. But from a live TV point of view, I would’ve thought it was great,” he quipped.

Apparently, he was alone in that sentiment. “[T]he producer did not agree,” Costello recalled on the Model reissue. “He stood behind the camera making obscene and threatening gestures in my direction. … We were chased out of the building and told we ‘would never work on American television again.'”

Miskel must’ve been unaware of such backstage drama. As the cast gathered for goodbyes, the by-now-beloved grandmother, resplendent in a Mrs. Claus outfit that complemented her brilliant white head of hair, wrapped with “I want to thank everyone in the world for voting for me. I’ve had the most wonderful time in my life.”

It was a life that would continue for another 14 years, past, sadly, both Belushi and Gilda’s. She was a spry and feisty 92 when People caught up with her for a 1989 SNL retrospective. “I love the current cast,” she said, singling out Dana Carvey as a particular favorite. “I take naps in the afternoon so that I can stay up. I’d love to host again. I have 13 more years left, you know.”

When the issue hit newsstands on September 25, 1989, it had been exactly six months since Elvis’ triumphant return to Saturday Night Live after an 11-year absence. This time he was Mary Tyler Moore’s problem. However, the bespectacled icon, by now a respected artist, made it through the show without incident, flowing smoothly through “Veronica” and “Let Him Dangle” with nary a hint of surprise. He was invited back in May 1991 to perform “The Other Side of Summer” and “Candy.” One wonders if Miskel Spillman watched either with interest. She passed away less than a year later, on March 30, 1992, at the age of 94 and remains, to this day, Saturday Night Live‘s only non-celebrity host. As for Elvis, he has long been forgiven, even ribbing his youthful defiance on Saturday Night Live‘s 25th anniversary special in 1999, by barging in on the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” to lead them through “Radio, Radio.”

Stewart vs. Cramer: It’s Not Funny Anymore

I wonder what Jim Cramer was expecting, exactly, on last night’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Perhaps a showbiz amnesty, a symbolic handshake and acknowledgment that all is fair in satire, that CNBC were sure good sports, followed by light chatter about the silliness of their heavily promoted “feud,” then a gentle nudge into stormier territory about the failing economy to sate the “issue” palate. But nothing too serious, right, since we’re all in this mess together?

Wrong.

I’m not sure how to describe it except as historic television that will be chronicled and blogged and re-blogged and e-mailed and embedded and linked and water-coolered all over the world today. If you have a working tongue, this is on your mind. If you’ve landed here without my guidance, you have my undying gratitude, because I know I’m competing with every soapbox forum and snark’s nest imaginable rocked by this exchange.

And even then I feel I’m overselling and underselling it simultaneously. Adjectives like “vicious” and “brutal” only serve to cheapen and trivialize. Even a blasé phrase like “torn apart” is overkill. Let’s keep the blood-soaked metaphors out of it, shall we? It was fair. It was necessary. It was a long time coming. Cramer, CNBC’s stocks prognosticator — he of the tornado tongue, sanitarium eyes, and unholy torrent of volcanic bluff, vamping and flapping about a studio in a dance of woof and flail — had the fangs plucked from his mouth, his claws pruned to harmless nubs, his bluster-fed cheeks injected with a crimson hue previously unseen on CNBC: shame.

But there was no “gotcha” snag. No entrapment. What separates Stewart, I think, from his more predatory stepbrothers in real television news — and Jon will insist to the end that he’s not a journalist, even though he often does a more credible job of playing one than the so-called pros — is his rational, even tone. It makes his condemnation of CNBC’s failure as the public’s advisory board in troubled economic times all the more damning. Of the channel’s zoo-like atmosphere of bombast, bells, blowhards, and bullies, Stewart chided, “I understand you want to make finance entertaining, but it’s not a [bleeping] game.” Cramer seemed so stunned by the host’s sobering stings, their import immense and tenacity relentless, that all he could do was admit that, yes, he was wrong, but he remained a dogged crusader against Wall Street “shenanigans.” (Uh-huh.) He did concede, however, “I should do a better job at it. I’m trying.”

One can only hope that his sleep, at least tonight, is as troubled as ours.

Watch the unedited three-part interview HERE.

Bonzo Goes to Washington, “5 Minutes”

bonzo-goes-to-washington

“I have a fantasy that, by some kind of luck, this record will last, if only because enough people will buy it to transform it into an artifact.”
Greil Marcus (Village Voice, December 18, 1984)

‘Twas a far cry from the inspiring “Yes We Can.” From the collective cells of Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) and Bootsy Collins came this Cuisinart bass ‘n’ bite patchwork of an impromptu line Reagan delivered during a sound check for his weekly NPR address in August 1984:

“Monday Night Raw” Post-Mortem

Monday Night Raw/SLAMMY Awards
Monday, December 8
Philadelphia, PA

Sorry ’bout the delay — I’m still stunned by the ferocious vapidity of last night’s three-hour hooeyfest. Damn near broke my thesaurus looking up antonyms for the word “awesome.” Finally I’ve settled on the beautiful, curt simplicity of “sham” sans “wow.” From 8 to 11 p.m. the USA Network was clogged with dangerous levels of unfiltered swill.

At roughly two hours, minus 20 minutes of spots for artificial stimulants and video games (two lovey-dovey industries in perfect synch), Monday Night Raw adequately covers my weekly wrestling limit. Add an extra hour of pageantry and I’m clawing rooftops, cutting my flesh with shingles. That’s why I don’t watch any of the pay-per-views; somewhere around the 125th suplex my mind gets restless and I yearn for the kind of fresh air that doesn’t come from opening a new box of Fiddle Faddles. What could be more boring than epic stretches of fibrous flesh-slaps?

Well, last night the answer to that question was the annual SLAMMYs, last seen in 1997. They’re the WWE’s bid for austerity mixed with toothless MTV Movie Awards copycat sputter, an event so eminent that even Jerry Lawler gussies up to greet the august gleam. But it’s not so hoity-toity it can’t be held in a sweaty coliseum for the foam-jawed delight of liquor-lubed rageoids you wouldn’t invite to a neighborhood barbecue, let alone a prestigious ritual meant to acknowledge individual industry achievement. Which, of course, is what the SLAMMYs are ostensibly about. Actually, it’s just a cheap promotional tool for this weekend’s Armageddon pay-per-view, corralling the Raw and SmackDown and ECW stables under one roof as a free-tease appetizer for the spendy main course.

No one gives a shit about the SLAMMYs, least of all the WWE. It’s empty filler between matches, a total waste of airtime. The “stage” is a Triscuit-sized platform jammed into a corner, with only a podium and two shabby statues to announce its existence. For such a formal occasion, many of its participants and nominees are dressed for work, since after collecting their honors most will march straight down the ramp and into the ring. Imagine an Oscars where Jimmy Stewart delivers his acceptance speech, then races to another part of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to participate in a reenactment of The Philadelphia Story.

So fuck the SLAMMYs. They’re about as meaningful as Anaheim wedding vows. But if you’re dying to know who won what on-air, here you go, now git:

WWE TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR
Presented by Maria and Festus

Nominees: Carlito and Primo, Priceless (Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase Jr.), The Miz and John Morrison, Cryme Tyme (JTG and Shad Gaspard)

Winner: The Miz and John Morrison

BEST FINISHING MANEUVER
Presented by Candice Michelle and Cryme Tyme

Nominees: The Undertaker’s Hell’s Gate, Randy Orton’s RKO, Even Bourne’s Shooting Star Press, The Big Show’s Knockout Punch

Winner: Evan Bourne’s Shooting Star Press

“EXTREME” MOMENT OF THE YEAR
Presented by Tiffany and ECW Champion Matt Hardy

Nominees: John Cena and John Bradshaw Layfield, “Parking Lot Brawl”; The Undertaker, “Crash Landing”; Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels, “Crash TV”; Jeff Hardy, “Plunge”

Winner: Jeff Hardy, “Plunge”

COUPLE OF THE YEAR
Presented by Kelly Kelly and Kane

Nominees: Glamarella (Beth “The Glamazon” Phoenix and Santino Marella), Edge and Vickie Guerrero, William Regal and Layla, Finlay and Hornswoggle

Winner: Edge and Vickie Guerrero

DIVA OF THE YEAR
Presented by Melina and ECW General Manager Theodore Long

Nominees: Beth Phoenix, Mickie James, Kelly Kelly, Michelle McCool

Winner: Beth Phoenix

“OH, MY GOD!” MOMENT OF THE YEAR
Presented by Alicia Fox and Joey Styles

Nominees: CM Punk, “CM Punk Cashes In”; The Undertaker, “Undertaker Sends Edge to Hell”; Floyd Mayweather and Big Show, “Mayweather Breaks Big Show’s Nose”; John Cena, “The Champ Returns

Winner: CM Punk, “CM Punk Cashes In”

MATCH OF THE YEAR
Presented by Eve and Mr. Kennedy

Nominees: “Money in the Bank” Ladder Match, Wrestlemania 24; 2008 Royal Rumble; The Undertaker vs. Edge, “Hell in a Cell,” Summerslam; Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair, “Career Threatening” Match, Wrestlemania 24

Winner: Shawn Michael vs. Ric Flair, “Career Threatening” Match, Wrestlemania 24

“DAMN!” MOMENT OF THE YEAR
Presented by Mickie James and Ron Simmons

Nominees: The Great Khali’s Kiss Cam, “CM Punk Surprises Chavo Guerrero,” Sailor J.R., “Santino’s Split Goes Splat”

Winner: The Great Khali’s Kiss Cam

2008 SUPERSTAR OF THE YEAR
Presented by Stephanie McMahon

Nominees: Jeff Hardy, Chris Jericho, Batista, Edge, Triple H, John Cena

Winner: Chris Jericho

Enough. On with the show!

Intercontinental Championship Tournament (Semifinal Match)
John Morrison vs. CM Punk

After preening with partner The Miz at the podium, SLAMMY recipient Morrison doffs his faux mink and gets down to biz. If I recall, some 16 hours after the fact, there’s some confusion about a possible pinfall win by Morrison, but Punk, fighting through an angle — I mean, ankle injury (Freudian typo!) succeeds on his second Go to Sleep finisher and puts out the Lizard King’s lights to advance to the finals, where his opponent will be the survivor of the Kofi Kingston/Rey Mysterio bout slated for later.

Winner: CM Punk

Backstage we catch up with John Cena, who again trumpets his “Hustle. Loyalty. Respect.” mantra and mocks Chris Jericho’s Raw monologue last week, twisting Y2J’s pained tale of his Cena-worshipping son into a bottom-feeding soliloquy about how his own dog, Lou, can’t help cleaning himself whenever Jericho’s pin-striped puss emanates from the flatscreen. Cena then suggests that perhaps Jericho Jr.’s idolization has something to do with Pop’s heel turn. Cenalysis: “He saw his dad becoming a snot-nosed punk who needs his teeth kicked down his throat!” He also promises to shadow Jericho all night long.

After the Best Finishing Maneuver award, which is accepted by human bookshelf Mike Knox in the injured Evan Bourne’s stead, Randy Orton emerges to snivel. His standing as one of the WWE’s best grapplers apparently isn’t enough to convince the nominating committee of his excellence. “Tonight’s like any other night,” he spits, “a show of a lack of respect.” He then challenges Batista and Triple H, thus far carded to collide in a singles match, to a 2-on-3 handicap affair with him and his new bosom companions, Cody Rhodes and Manu. “Tonight,” he promises, “the legacy is born.”

MVP vs. MVC (Charlie Haas)

MVP disses the on-hand Jimmy Rollins and his fellow Fightin’ Phils for their fluke World Series victory. After some back-and-forth dozens in the dark, his bark’s snuffed by the entrance of Charlie Haas, his scheduled opponent, garbed exactly like him and calling himself MVC. In an interesting twist, Haas actually wins, and MVP’s losing streak continues.

Winner: MVC (Charlie Haas)

Jeff Hardy vs. Chris Jericho

Jericho enters the arena with his darting eyes focused every which way but on the ring before him. With Cena at bay, he manages to wrench a victory from his Kool-Aid-headed adversary with a Codebreaker. As he heads backstage his careful peepers wander anew.

Winner: Chris Jericho

After the custodial staff mop up Vickie Guerrero’s (sporting Andy Kaufman’s neck brace) cocktail of crocodile tears and expectorations of “Excuse me!” Santino Marella and Beth Phoenix strut out to indignantly protest her Couple of the Year win, and to challenge any of their fellow nominees to a live gitdown right here and now. Who accepts? Why, none other than the gregarious Finlay and his son/valet, the diminutive Hornswoggle, a bearded sprite in leprechaun attire. The comic heel gods open hot fire on Philadelphia and humiliate the hapless Marella once again, forcing him to watch helplessly as wee bairn Hornswoggle clambers up to the top turnbuckle and dives like a free-falling Junior Mint onto his laid-out form for the 1-2-3. His embarrassment continues after the ridiculous loss when Phoenix, consoling her man, drops his head to the canvas when her name’s called for Diva of the Year. Later she accidentally butts him further south in an onstage tussle with hated rival Melina. Within a month, the poor doofus’ gone from Intercontinental Champion to a two-legged America’s Funniest Home Videos time bomb.

Winner: Finlay/Hornswoggle

Intercontinental Championship Tournament (Semifinal)
Kofi Kingston vs. Rey Mysterio

Gonna see plenty of airtime with both dexterous grapplers enacting their own Cirque de Soleil in-ring. It’s a fast ’un, with Mysterio winning not by twirling Kingston on his thumb and pinning him against one of the swinging light fixtures as expected, but by simply rolling him up like any mere mortal. Dang. It’s like watching Hank Aaron dink a bunt in a loaded ninth. Oh, well. Mysterio faces Punk in the IC finals, and the Kingston/Punk tag team will persevere.

Winner: Rey Mysterio

2 on 3 Handicap Match
Batista and Triple H vs. Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes & Manu

I never noticed until tonight that Triple H’s entrance music, Motörhead, suits him just fine, since he resembles a beefier Lemmy Kilmister. Tonight he joins fellow side and former Evolution teammate Batista, and together they batter the kids like two hefty sirloins swinging in a meat-locker breeze. Batista should know better by now than to telegraph the Batista Bomb to get the audience worked up; doesn’t he realize the bad guys can see him flog those ropes and stomp his toes? In a climactic flurry, his finishing-move attempt is thwarted twice, the final time by a Rhodes skull-smack, giving Randy Orton enough time to drop an RKO to tuck Dave in for a good night’s sleep. Looks like Batista’s taking the long way back to the belt.

Winner: Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes & Manu

That squeezable good-time goof, the Great Khali, arrives from Brobdingnag to acknowledge his SLAMMY for “DAMN!” Moment of the Year, but suffers a Vanessa Redgrave moment and declines it. The “DAMN!”edness of it all is further enhanced when Jillian struts out to screech “My Heart Will Go On” as grapplers, including Sgt. Slaughter and Hacksaw Jim Duggan, are inspired en masse to wave flags and Mickie James leaps into Khali’s arms for a liplock. Ron Simmons’ reaction? “Damn!” (That’s his shtick.) Wait ’til next year, folks!

R-Truth vs. Dolph Ziggler

Speaking of shtick, two prime artists of the form lock horns here. R-Truth works crowds with babble raps culminating in “Wassup” calls-and-response (not to be confused with Cryme Tyme’s “That money, money/Yeah, yeah”) while Ziggler continues to introduce himself to everyone in sight. Tonight he grabs the mike after Truth is counted out (sounds like a subtle Vince McMahon statement to me!) and deviates from his script just a smidge: “I’m the winner, Dolph Ziggler!”

Winner: Dolph Ziggler

Superstar-feted Chris Jericho steps into the void once occupied by Superstar award presenter Stephanie McMahon and reminds Philadelphia, to whom he affectionately refers as “mindless sheep,” of his many achievements in 2008, culminating in his third Heavyweight title at Sunday’s Armageddon. That’s all Cena needs to hear; he rampages from backstage and Jericho beats a hasty retreat, which is fine — just means Cena’s arrived early for…

World Heavyweight Champion John Cena vs. WWE Champion Edge

The crewcut meets the bug-eyed former partner of Christian in a meaningless cross-promotional tussle that degenerates into a Cena/Jericho blowout that windmills toward the TV horizon into to-be-continued, leaving Edge all alone until a compassionate Triple H resolves to keep him company and hold him tight. Not to be outdone, Jeff Hardy races into the fray and tries to demolish everybody in what the late Gorilla Monsoon would’ve heartily sold as “total pandemonium.” Bodies are tossed along with cookies as your disgusted emcee stomps the offending cathode and heads to bed.

See you next week!