Amy and The Force Awakens

DOD and I managed to fit in two movies between last night and today, the first being Amy, the Debbie Downer of a documentary about the recording artist Amy Winehouse, and the much-anticipated return of the Star Wars franchise directed by J.J. Abrams. I can’t help but want to blog about these, starting with the former so I can spare you the spoilers.

My take on Amy Winehouse has always been that, with the Back to Black album, she sort of luckily careened into a creativity singularity. I think she was talented but not that talented, but that for one album, yeah, she was that talented, and so were the producers and session musicians around her, and the style, the instrumentation, the market, the people yearning for something new, the timing, her emotional state at the time…

Sadly, though, I think had Winehouse lived another 20 years, she would not have replicated the feat. Back to Black was a one-time deal.

The film is quite the downer, especially if you’ve ever been as haunted by the Back to Black album as I have. You realize how utterly mismanaged she was after her success, how the relentless paparazzi contributed to her downfall, and how, surprising to me, how much bulimia likely contributed to her untimely death as did her fondness for various substances.

The movie missed a few things. I would have wanted more about the making of Back to Black; I’d want to know more about the technical aspects of making that fine album and more about the personnel. I’d also like more made of her collaborations with various 2-tone bands at the end of her life. It would have been nice had she been able to carry out a 2-tone renaissance and prove me wrong.

Anyway. On your bike. Let’s talk about STAR WARS. Which I can, finally. Cuz I went and seen it.

I have been chanting lately, as I consider this Abrams approach to the Star Wars tale, I’ve been chanting, chanting, chanting…please let him fix it. Please let him fix it. Please let him fix it.

I mean, George Lucas had this beautiful thing, this wonderful creative vision masterfully executed. Then came the prequels. Which were horrible. As documented, say, here, for example (Mr. Plinkett’s Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Review).

So. Did he fix it?

That and beyond, my friends. That, and beyond.

Interesting challenge J.J. Abrams had, the way I figure. Dude had to appeal to two distinct audiences: Old farts like me who saw the first one in the theater when he was 11. And, younger farts who grew up initially exposed to the prequels and thinking that was what Star Wars was.

Hee-hee. Jar-Jar stepped in poo.

True story: I was opposed to seeing Star Wars when it first came out. I was 11. I did not want to see it. Because I was an aspiring peace-nik, even then. And the movie was about wars.

But I ended up going, accompanied by my DOD, and I still recall the experience as a wonderful, visceral thing. It was probably a seminal normative experience. I think it was for many people; I think it’s why people cling to the franchise so tensely.

Star Wars upped the game.

Just by watching this film, you became a better person, a more sophisticated consumer of film. You walked out changed. You would, from that point forward, require more from your cinema. Because while Star Wars gave more, it also demanded more. It made you infer and question and cast curiosity. And just watching it informed you about what works.

Star Wars titilated us. But it also formed and informed our tastes. That, I think, is why it resonates as it does.

J.J. Abrams gets it.

In The Force Awakens, Abrams essentially re-tells the original story. Like, all over again. It’s recast, there are adjustments eked, but all of the essential elements are there. Evil guy in a dark suit and mask with bidding minions the stromtroppers. The unrealized, unrefined protagonist with an unexpected quest presented, who soon discovers abilities previously unknown. The large evil weapon the size of a world and the desperate fight to stop it. The familial complications and their ties to the larger universal forces at work.

I could go on and on with the parallels. But I don’t need to because I’ve told you: It is essentially. The same. Movie.

A genius stroke, because as I’ve indicated, there are two large audiences with whom Abrams has to connect. He has to draw out the inner skinny child inside of us old farts, and, more important, I think, he has to shake from the younger folks the bizarre disillusion that the prequels had anything to do with Star Wars. This movie both excites the fan-boy in me and clues in the youngsters, letting them know that this, kids, is how it’s supposed to be. And he does it well, and it is precious, and


See, when I was a kid watching that movie for the first time in the theater, I felt a certain way. I remember it. I gripped the arms of the chairs at times, I grimaced and moved to the side sometimes, I put off the urge to pee because that was not a possibility I could not miss this not one minute

This movie made me feel like that again.

A few specific notes:

~ The only change, the only change I would have made would have been to throw R2 and 3PO out the air lock. Goodness. They were pure fan service, even the um “purpose” they were there for was horribly anti-climactic (DIDN’T SEE THAT COMIN’ FROM FIFTY MILES AWAY) but their existence in the franchise at this stage in the game is puzzling, I mean, just technically.

The 3PO unit is, simply put, a horribly unreliable piece of technology. Even in this iteration he shows up damaged. I mean, in 1977, you kind of expect a brass-plated humanoid style robot to be walking around in a a film like this. It was kind of required. Now? It’s like I watch Robocop of 1987 and I’m like WHY IS HE DRIVING A CAR?

No, a humanoid style robot is not useful unless you can build that sucker like Data of Star Trek Enterprise, or like a Cylon from the reimagined BSG. I cannot imagine the maintenance issues involved with a system that complex and yet so vulnerable. And the thing is, the movie audience would dig that.

C’mon. Every person in every audience has more computing power in their pockets than that of those two morons put together. Enough fan service.

And you can say but what about the BB unit? Eh, that little guy kinda makes sense, a Dyson take on a droid in this universe. At least with the sphere he can move faster than my adopted Grampa Harry. Can’t say that for 3PO and the other one, who spend this entire movie um, SITTING IN A ROOM.

R2-D2 and C3PO are obsolete. Sorry.

* And, oh, by the way, they do manufacture beings in the Star Wars universe who are more reliable than the 3P0 units: They’re called “clones.” How about making some clones for the purpose of handling protocol, training them, and then setting them off? Hmmmmm?

~ The ending scene is so brilliant. It is brilliant, and I know this because during it I was internally screaming “END THE MOVIE NOW END THE MOVIE NOW PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE MAKE THIS HOW IT ENDS PLEASE PLEASE NO MORE”

and the credits rolled.

Thing is. She’s handing it to him. But from what you’ve seen of her that isn’t right. And you know darned skippy he’s gonna be handing that thing right back to her next.

Those are my thoughts now. What I know is that I haven’t been this excited about a movie since Django Unchained, or maybe American Hustle. You owe it to yourself to see it, just to be reminded that movies, no, heck with that, to remind you what movies can be, what they should be, that it should be something so good it leaves you in a snotty pile on the floor for an hour after.

May the force be with you.


So I had these envelopes in the back seat of my car. Big ones. You know. For mailing presents.

See, where I live, I have to park in a garage across the street. So there is no quick “running out” to the car. You have to get dressed, lock up, go down an elevator, jaywalk across a busy street, go up an elevator, and to your car. So I figured when I woke up today, I’d go to get the envelopes, but first I’d go get my favorite slice in town and then go get a piece of fish for dinner.

So I got dressed.

And I ate lunch.

And I went to the grocery store.

And I came back to my apartment.

Do you notice what I didn’t say I did?

But my day otherwise was just stupid. How about yours? ::putting my f’ing coat back on::

Frank and Frank

Regarding the 100th birthday of one Frank Sinatra and this, Zappadan 2015, I’ve been looking for a corny crossover.

Thank you, Internet. I give you “The House I Live In” versus “Little House I Used To Live In.”

Compare and contrast.

Sunday Session

Pssst. C’mere. I’m going to tell you a secret.

The best two hours of radio anywhere is on Sunday nights. And it broadcasts from Rochester, N.Y., on 88.5 FM, WRUR, from 6 – 8 p.m. Sunday.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Sunday Session, hosted by the fabulous Ruth Elaine.

There is little available online biographically of this DJ powerhouse, whose delivery is reminiscent of Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman and takes a listener some time to adjust. For a time she was name-checked in our house as “that crazy jazz lady.” A Google search brings up a D&C feature done on her on October 20, 2009, but the rest of the article ain’t available. Disappointed. But the search did unearth this from her, regarding her cool style:

“It really is my voice,” Ruth Elaine assures me, clearly accustomed to the question. There’s no hint of exasperation in her answer; she knows that her distinctive sound-a slow, snaking alto dripping with cool-cat enthusiasm-is instantly recognizable to anyone who has heard her hosting “Sunday Session with Ruth Elaine,” her weekly jazz radio show on WRUR-88.5 FM.

But if I am near a radio or other contraption that will deliver a broadcast at that time, I will be listening. Because Ruth Elaine succinctly delivers in those two hours some of the best jazz you will ever hear. As a taste-maker, as a person whose ear you trust absolutely, as a friend of yours to go hey, listen to this, she is the finest. I am a resolute Ruth Elaine fan and by gosh, her show is on the radio right now. Here. You can go listen right here.

Which brings me briefly to yet another item for the Zappadan.

Zappa is often quoted as saying “jazz is not dead, it just smells funny.” As noted in the hour-28 radio documentary I’m about to share with you, Zappa’s relationship with the form was, well, odd. But, the truth is, among the things one could accuse him of was that he was essentially a jazz band leader.

Take the time, kids, I’m telling you. This is one meaty documentary. It’s British, of course.

Jazz from Hell – His Bizarre Relationship with Jazz

And if you’re not gonna listen to that, at least give Ms. Ruth Elaine a shot. You will gain a lovely education.

Wom Bom Ba Loo Bop

Today is Little Richard’s birthday. And if you’ve read my Zappadan coverage long enough, you know that I tend to go a little crazy writing about the man on his birthday. Why?

Because this

So I tried to get inspired by buying and reading the David Kirby book, but so far I’ve found it full of many personal stories about David Kirby. Though the book is useful for broaching the argument that Little Richard is indeed The Architect.

I think this year I’ll let my writing of a few years ago speak for me. It is really the best thing I have to say on the subject, in fact, one of the best things I’ve ever written in my life.

Here it is.

Gail Zappa

This year, recently, Mr. Zappa’s better half, Gail Zappa, stopped refusing to die.

Zappa scribe and author Pauline Butcher made available the obituary from the Sunday Telegraph, the only to offer more than the official press release provided. I offer the entire piece here and then I have some reflections of my own.


Gail was married to Zappa for 26 years and during his life she managed his business affairs. After his death in 1993 aged 52, she fiercely protected his legacy, fighting copyright battles, sending “cease and desist” letters to tribute bands and insisting that his music be played as he had intended. When Apple launched its online music download service, iTunes, in 2001, she wrote a furious letter to Steve Jobs, signing off with the words “f— you”.

Although she acknowledged that her efforts to protect her husband’s legacy had given her a reputation as a “screaming shrew”, Gail Zappa insisted they were justified: “My job is to make sure that Frank Zappa has the last word in terms of anybody’s idea of who he is,” she explained in 2008. “A copyright, is a copyright, is a copyright, is a copyright.”
The unusually prolific Zappa brought out more than 60 records during his lifetime and left enough unused material in a vault for his widow to continue to issue new albums . According to Rolling Stone magazine, from 1994 she released 38 albums of rarities from the Zappa vault.

If Gail Zappa’s protective zeal made her popular among performing artists, it did little for her reputation among Zappa fans, who accused the Zappa Family Trust (ZFT), of which she was executrix, of preventing his songs being played by other musicians (except by her son Dweezil) and betraying the principle of artistic freedom in which her husband had supposedly believed. The ZFT was accused of taking down YouTube videos, stopping tribute nights and even writing to internet service providers of fans trading Zappa bootlegs. In 2009 fans were reported to be sporting “Stop Gail” T-shirts and a petition opposing her gathered more than 3,000 signatures.

Their specific grievance on this occasion was her attempt to stop Zappanale, a German festival devoted to the maverick rock star from using his image and trademark. When the organisers of the festival erected a statue of their hero in the town of Bad Doberan and began merchandising T-shirts bearing Zappa-esque facial hair, the ZFT sued for €150,000 in damages and a further €250,000 if the Zappanale continued to sell the merchandise, alleging violation of the musician’s trademark.
The statue, Gail Zappa declared, was an “impish creature” that “doesn’t look like Frank Zappa unless you argue that putting a moustache on any face looks like Frank Zappa. I’ve long known that there was this quote-unquote festival slash event slash what the f—, [but] I felt we were getting into territory where we were putting the audience at risk in terms of who Frank was.”

Unusually, the courts on this occasion agreed with the Zappanale, ruling that the ZFT did not actively use its trademark in Germany, and that the Zappanale logo was easily distinguishable from Frank Zappa’s official one.

Adelaide Gail Sloatman was born in Philadelphia on New Year’s Day 1945. Her father was a nuclear physicist who worked for the US Navy on the Manhattan Project. In 1959 he was posted to Britain, where Gail attended a convent in Kingston-upon-Thames and spent most of her teenage years. During the early 1960s she modelled for Terence Donovan and David Bailey and hung out with the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

Returning to America in the mid-1960s, she enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, then hitchhiked to Los Angeles, where she met Kim Fowley, and recorded with him as “Bunny and Bear” – ironically, given her later concerns over copyright, a sort of tribute act to Sonny and Cher. She became a secretary at the Whisky a Go Go club on Sunset Boulevard, where, by her own admission, she became something of a rock groupie.

When she first met Frank Zappa in 1966, she was repelled by his casual approach to personal hygeine. For Zappa, however, the chemistry was instant and it took him “a couple of minutes” to fall in love. Despite her initial misgivings Gail soon moved into his house in Laurel Canyon, and by the time they married in 1967, she was heavily pregnant with Moon Unit.

Even though Zappa was an enthusiastic participant in “groupie culture”, their marriage was a successful and (for the rock world) unusually enduring one. Gail regarded her husband as a genius – the “HG Wells of rock’n’roll”. He described her as a “fascinating little vixen” and relied on her to manage his home and business affairs, leaving him free to concentrate on his music.

Gail Zappa’s protection of her husband’s musical legacy ran counter to his deathbed wish that she should “sell everything, get out of the music business and go get a house at the beach”. But as she explained, “I owe it to Frank and what I feel about his music. When it’s said and done, I still work for that guy.”

She is survived by her children.


I adore Gail Zappa.

As noted, many fans felt her to have been overly litigious, and, I have to say, as a proponent of the fan-driven blogswarm we know and love as “Zappadan,” I’ve always been a little nervous that the Family Trust would become aware of us.

But the fact is that Gail Zappa gave us what I believe to be one of the most important documents that exists regarding the legacy of Frank Zappa, and it is a generous, lovely document that belies her existence as the First Freak. She, Gail Zappa, gave us Everything Is Healing Nicely, companion piece to Zappa’s final masterpiece, The Yellow Shark. Buy it. Listen. But more important, read its notes. Gail Zappa’s love and adoration and fan-dom seep sloppily through this entire lovely document. And she gave that to us, heck, screw you guys, she gave it to me, and for that, I’m grateful for her.

Thank you, Gail. We’ve lost a lot of folks from the Zappa universe of late, Motorhead, Jimmy Carl Black, Ray Collins, Captain Beefheart, blah, blah, blah, so many folks stopped refusing to die on us lately.

Bummernacht 2015

Ya’ll didn’t think I forgot, did you?

Let. Zappadan. Commence.

As you may well know, Zappadan is an annual blogswarm running from April 11 through November 1, which represents the first day that Dweezil Zappa made a poo-poo in the toidy through the day the WORLD CHAMPION KANSAS CITY ROYALS CLINCHED THE WORLD SERIES IN FIVE GAMES. We celebrate this fine holiday by pluning at the gnomes and sorting out the binomial nomenclatre of the lemons and the geese.

I hear you’re having trouble with pigs and ponies.

Now. As you know, what I have just typed is not actually the truth about the Zappadan. But I finger that enough people will explain to you the ins and outs of the Gregory Peccary, that it begins on December the Fourth, which is the day in 1993 that composer, musician, and rock god Frank Zappa stopped refusing to die, which is today, concindentally as a zombie woof, to December 21, which is my kid brother’s birthday, and also soul singer Betty Wright’s birthday, and is also composer, musician, and rock god Frank Zappa’s birthday, too, so the holiday goes from Bummernacht, which is today, which is today, which is today, to the birthday of the Frank Zappa, which I was not going to explain to you, but which I just did.

America drinks and goes home.

I usually spend the holiday bloviating at this little blog area I have created and maintained for a pretty long time. Topics this year that may or may not be discussed: Little Richard. Gail Zappa. My Dad. The little house I used to live in. Underpants. Prince. Paul Robeson. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Pauline Butcher. The artificial fart under the arm. My perpetual life status as an outsider. The Republican Party. Star Wars. Lou Reed. AAAFNRAA. Suzie Quatro. My auditory cortex. Stranger danger. The first time Dweezil Zappa made a poo-poo in the toidy. Gerbils. The new Frank Zappa CD. The new Dweezil Zappa CD. Tony Bennett. The new Frank Zappa movie.

And, I think today it is appropriate to write a little something about San Bernardino.

Frank Zappa reviled San Bernardino in song, once referring to “San Berdino squares” and again later in an entire composition based on his own experience in Rancho Cucamonga after a trumped-up porno charge by an overzealous detective. He wrote:

“The ten days I spent in Tank C at the San Bernardino County Jail were very educational. Unless you’ve been to jail, you can’t imagine what it’s actually like….We were supplied with one razor blade per day, and one small shower stall at the end of the cell block for forty-four men. The scum on the shower basin was about four inches thick. I didn’t shave or take a shower the whole time I was there.”

From the Miles biography:

Frank was a different person when he came out. He no longer believed anything the authorities told him. As far as he was concerned the American education system had failed him; it was a lie from start to finish, the reality was America was a corrupt, grubby little fascist state. He was determined never to be duped again. Tank C [His jail area] traumatized him for life and in many ways he spent the rest of his career shoving his pornographic tape down America‘s throat, time and time again. He was determined to show Americans what their country was really like.

So, there’s that.

But tonight, on this Bummernacht, we can take a new bead on the ol’ Inland Empire. In a way, in a somewhat perverse way, it may be good that Frank Zappa can’t see what in the wide wide world of sports it’s all come to.


Anyway, kids, the other thing I’ll be writing about OTHER BLOGGERS. Other bloggers who are blogging Zappadan. Cuz, after all, this is a blogswarm. And that’s what it’s all about. Sharing is caring.

But hey, enough of my yakkin’. What do you say? Let’s boogie!