Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bob Dylan at E. J. Thomas Hall (April 19, 2013)

Bob Dylan never makes chit-chat on stage and speaks only when introducing his band, but he didn’t even do that at Akron’s E. J. Thomas Hall on Friday night. He brought his hat with him but never wore it. He never cracked a smile the way he did many times last August in Youngstown. Maybe he didn’t feel well or was in a bad mood. It was a good show, but a little flat.

He opened with “Things Have Changed,” an appropriate choice for these troubled times (“If the Bible is right, the world will explode”), then segued into “Love Sick” from 1997’s Time Out of Mind. From the ’80s, there was “Blind Willie McTell” with a bluegrass arrangement that was one of the evening’s highlights, and "What Good Am I?" from 1989's Oh Mercy. The 1970s, the decade of Desire, Street Legal, and Slow Train Coming, were represented only by “Tangled Up in Blue” from Blood on the Tracks. From the ‘60s, he gave us “Visions of Johanna,” with an intro that sounded similar to "Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues." The decade with which he will forever be associated was also acknowledged with “All Along the Watchtower,” and the encore, “Ballad of a Thin Man.”

But there was no “Like a Rolling Stone,” nor did we hear “Simple Twist of Fate,” or “Rainy Day Women,” staples of late that were pruned from his set to accommodate several selections from the recent Tempest album. That would be fine if not for the continued inclusion of some less memorable cuts from Modern Times and Together Through Life. The man’s song catalog is equaled only by the Beatles, and it would be great to hear “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “Every Grain of Sand,” or something really surprising like “The Mighty Quinn” or “Foot of Pride.”

The stage was always dark, cast in a sleepy blue hue, and Dylan spent most of the time hunkered over an organ in the corner where he seemed to be reading those newer songs from lyric sheets.

I arrived too late to see much of Dawes, the opening act, but I liked what I heard.

It may not have been a great show, but it was a good one. And it was Bob Dylan. That’s enough.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks

1. Things Have Changed
2. Love Sick
3. High Water (For Charley Patton)
4. Soon After Midnight
5. Early Roman Kings
6. Tangled Up In Blue
7. Pay In Blood
8. Visions Of Johanna
9. Spirit On The Water
10. Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
11. Blind Willie McTell
12. What Good Am I?
13. Summer Days
14. Scarlet Town
15. All Along The Watchtower
16. Ballad Of A Thin Man

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Superman's Kryptonite is in Cleveland

I hate to say it, but my hometown, Cleveland, Ohio sometimes lives up to its unflattering nickname, "The Mistake on the Lake." It's a town where corrupt or simply incompetent politicians make decisions that benefit their bank accounts while an indifferent public let’s them get away with it.

Cleveland successfully lobbied to get the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum built there, but failed to secure the all important induction ceremony which is held in Cleveland only on an occasional basis. Nothing says more about Cleveland’s loser status than its inability or refusal to honor its most famous native son. It’s not Paul Newman. He came from Shaker Heights. It certainly isn’t LeBron James who hails from Akron and whose honors are way out of proportion to his accomplishments and who abandoned Cleveland for Miami.

Who is Cleveland’s most illustrious native son?

It’s not a bird. It’s not a plane. It’s Superman!

Born 75 years ago in the Glenville neighborhood, an area of town now associated with gangs and criminal activity, the visitor from the planet Krypton is known and loved around the globe and his secret identity of Clark Kent is equally famous. He may very well be the most recognizable figure in fiction, and he was created by two Cleveland boys, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Other than Elvis Presley, he may be the most recognizable figure in all of pop culture.

Superman should be prominent all over the city, but once visitors leave Cleveland Hopkins Airport where his image is plastered on posters, they will see no reminders of the Man of Steel’s origins right here in Cleveland, Ohio. The statue that should be standing prominently in Public Square was never erected, and there’s no museum. Since Superman turned the comic book into an industry, a Superman museum could honor all the superheroes that followed in his wake: Batman, Spiderman, Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, X-Men, and on and on and on.

It never happened, and Cleveland’s unimaginative track record suggests it never will.

Thank God that Elvis didn’t come from Cleveland. If he had, there would be no Graceland today. In Cleveland, the second most visited house in the United States (after the White House) would have been demolished and replaced with a parking lot.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Eat S - - -

Not long ago, a woman sued a pizza joint that gave her a pie that included “swinging steak.” What is “swinging steak”? Bull testicles. It could have been worse. Scientists in Japan are boasting that they can turn feces into steak.

How do we know that the hamburger in our freezers actually came from a cow? We’ve let corporations take over the food industry and they can feed us whatever poisons they choose. When country singer Willie Nelson started Farm Aid in 1985, the media more or less asked, “Who cares?” People would still get their eggs and corn and cow meat from corporate farms. There really is no difference in the food produced by corporate farms, is there?

Corporations have no morals. Corporations such as Monsanto which produced chemicals like Agent Orange for use in Vietnam, are now producing our food, and have even patented seeds that independent farmers are obligated to use in growing their crops. We’re being poisoned now with scientifically manipulated food.

The pernicious influence of Monsanto in the production and packaging of the food that Americans eat is the subject of Food Inc. It is disturbing to see the corners that are cut to produce food as cheaply as possible. Now, after eating bacon or sausage, I feel guilty about consuming pork. I saw poor little piggies tossed into a compactor where they squealed when being crushed to death. Most of these animals only see life for the purpose of being killed to fill our dinner plates. We fry ‘em up, eat ‘em then lick our lips in satisfaction. Is that right? Is it right to kill animals just to have a moment of pleasure? The animals that eventually find their way to our dinner plates are frequently abused, kept in such cramped quarters that they frequently stand in their own feces. The meat that finds its way to the stores is often contaminated, hence the occurrence of E-coli warnings and hoof and mouth disease.

The corporate farms that produce most of the food that Americans eat have as much regard for people as they do for the animals they slaughter. We're the bigger fools because we buy their products.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Homicidal Handyman

The other night I joined approximately 25 other classic film buffs in the auditorium of a local library to see Beware, My Lovely, a rather obscure 1952 thriller starring Robert Ryan as a deranged handyman who has killed one employer and now terrorizes another, played by Ida Lupino.

The movie probably played better when it opened at New York’s Palace Theater on September 12, 1952 where, according to Bosley Crowther’s review in The New York Times, it shared the bill with “eight acts of vaudeville.” There was some potential for vaudeville in the audience due to the presence of several teenagers who shifted uncomfortably in their seats before the movie started (10 minutes late since the movie was introduced by an old woman who provided more biographical information about Robert Ryan than I needed), but they seemed to relax once the lights went down.

Ryan was the whole show. With those narrow eyes, he always looks like he’s just taken a bite from a foul-tasting fruit. He was a perfect villain, a role he mastered throughout his film career. Even when he played good guys, he was usually the wrong kind of good guy. In the late 1960s, he was in both The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch, but since he wasn’t a part of either the dozen or the bunch, what did that make him? He was the authority figure – by-the-rules Colonel Breed in the former and a bounty hunter on the trail of the outlaws in Sam Peckinpah’s acclaimed western – but it was the age of the anti-hero, making Ryan the bad guy by default.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Harper Lee on American Masters

American Masters may be the finest show on TV, but their segment on Harper Lee and her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which I caught in a recent repeat, is a disappointment, one of those documentaries characterized by talking heads, most of whom did not know Lee, only her book on which they pontificate. You get Oprah Winfrey saying how “brave” Lee was for the book’s portrayal of racism. Anna Quindlen and Rosanne Cash read from the text and try their best to appear moved, and Tom Brokaw, Andrew Young, and others offer predictable thoughts on the novel’s impact on society. Brokaw even uses the word “pantheon” (“temple for all the gods” – Webster’s). Lee was part of the pantheon, he says. Silly man.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a popular novel in classrooms, and whenever a city stages one of those reading programs, encouraging the citizenry to read a particular title, you can bet Lee’s novel will be considered and often chosen. It is, as one cynic noted, the favorite book of people who do not read much. I read a lot, mostly nonfiction, but it was years before I got around to reading the book. However, I did write book reports about it several times in my preteen years, basing them more on the movie which seemed so serious, so mature, when I saw it on TV. It is serious, it is mature. The movie is also a bit overrated.

Lee never published another novel, and, appalled by celebrity, gave no interviews after 1964. She did not appear in the American Masters program in her honor.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


Thursday, April 4, 2013

How to Find X

I received an email with a little piece titled “Why Public School Teachers Drink . . .”

Several examples of students’ work supposedly shows their poor thinking skills, but it actually displayed their natural intelligence.

“Briefly explain what hard water is,” a student is asked.

His answer is what I’d expect a kid to say: “Ice.” After all, he’s familiar with ice. It’s in his family’s freezer and he adds it to his soft drinks.

“What did Mahatma Gandhi and Genghis Khan have in common?”

The kid’s answer is pretty good: “Unusual names.”

There’s more:

Q: “Name one of the early Roman’s greatest achievements.”
A: “Learning to speak Latin.”

Q: “How does Romeo’s character develop throughout the play?”
A: “It doesn’t, it’s just self, self, self, all the way through.”

Q: “Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?”
A: “At the bottom.”

These are perfectly sensible answers to the questions being posed. Granted, they’re not the answers that the teachers expect, but it took brains to come up with them.

My favorite of these answers is to an algebra problem showing one of those quasi-triangles. There’s an x on one side, while the others are marked with 3cm and 4cm. The kid is asked to find x. Sure enough, he did. He circled the x and wrote, “Here it is.”

Smart kid.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks