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Steve Martin Tag

[caption id="attachment_145644" align="alignnone" width="840"] Notable music highlights from 2015 included the hip-hop “Hamilton;” Adele’s omnipresent “Hello;” Katy Perry’s sharks; Elvis Costello’s book soundtrack (not to mention the book); and Ryan Adams morphing into Taylor Swift. Photos: Joan Marcus/The Public Theater; Virginia Sherwood/NBC; Wikimedia Commons; Courtesy

Horror movies derive most of their power and enjoyment (you sicko) from a combination of novelty and surprise.The novelty: how the filmmakers will have this particular bad guy stalk and kill the good guys. The surprise: OHMYGODLOOKOUTBEHINDYOUDREWBARRYMORE! Nevertheless, because horror movies are eternally popular, Hollywood remakes

Johnny Carson was the king of late night for a reason. He could handle any situation put in front of him with ease and he never lost his cool. When a joke, a sketch or a guest were about to go bust, all Carson had to do was make a deadpan glance at the camera, roll his eyes, or deliver a perfectly time comeback to create a classic comic moment. Together with his trusty sideman, Ed McMahon, and bandleaders Skitch Henderson (up until 1966) and Doc Severinsen, Carson ruled the after hours because he was always in control. Before the airwaves became crowded with late night yap fests, there was only one destination if stars wanted to plug their projects or simply sit down and have a good time for an hour. That place was the couch next to Carson’s desk.

This beautifully packaged box set contains 15 discs of complete episodes (not highlights) covering Carson’s four decades as Tonight Show host. It offers just a taste of the wit and genius that Carson possessed. Starting with his wily days as a young gun in the 60’s, transitioning to the 70’s, when he became the consummate talk show host, sliding into the 80’s when he hit his peak, and wrapping it up in the early 90’s, just before he decided it was time to retire, the 30 hours on these DVD’s offer a chunk of television history. Anyone who enjoys Dave, Jimmy, Conan, Craig, the other Jimmy, Leno, and maybe Lopez, should watch this collection to understand what all of those hosts are trying to achieve each night. They’re all successful in their own way, but  none of them have the same stature as Carson.

Let your mind go and your body will follow.

A group of us drove out to a second run theater just outside of Toledo. It was a Saturday night and we decided to have some laughs with the latest Steve Martin film, L.A. Story. The commercials made it appear to be another one of his slapstick laugh fests. While L.A. Story does include some zany, off the wall situations, there is s much more to L.A. Story that the ads didn’t tell us. Then again, how to you relate to the average moviegoer that the film written by and starring the brilliant Steve Martin is not just a comedy, but also a poetic reflection on love and how, in a city of millions like Los Angeles, you can find your soul mate. Yeah, it’s kind of hard to cram all of that into a 20 second spot between Doritos and Volkswagon commercials.

Martin plays Harris Telemacher, a “wacky” TV weatherman whose time on camera is about making people laugh, not really giving them a forecast.  What’s it matter, anyway, it’s always sunny in Los Angeles, right?  Harris is stuck in a miserable relationship with the deplorable Trudi. After one of her diatribes, Harris remarks to her, “You know, I don’t think you understand how unattractive hate is.” Trudi is played perfectly by Marilu Henner, whose hair is pulled back so tight on her head it’s no wonder she’s never happy.

At a lunch with some of Trudi’s friends, a sequence that includes the now classic decaf cappuccino ordering scene, Harris is introduced to Sara, a British journalist visiting L.A. to write an article about the city and its culture. She is played by Martin’s then wife, Victoria Tennant (they also appeared together in All of Me). The moment Harris and Sara meet he’s in love. In a voice over he says,

“As far as I’m concerned, there are three mystical places in the world. The desert outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, the tree of life in the Arab emirates of Bahrain, and the restaurant on the corner of Sunset and Crescent, because that’s where I first met her and touched her.”

I’m not gonna lie, I was shocked to find out that Alabama actually played concerts outside of Alabama….that is, at least one time in Salt Lake City where they played a short acoustic set for a bunch of Mormons that were all jacked up on caffeine pills, the same kind of pills that eventually led Billy Idol to write “White Wedding.”

With the exception of the Salt Lake City part, all of the previous is one big Southern fib, but it made for a good intro and it also got me thinking.  If you were a band named Alabama, why wouldn’t you just tour the entire state playing every nook and cranny hole in the wall bar that you could possibly find?  Think about all of the cash that you could make as a band with that plan! And that’s the thing, Alabama definitely took that thought to heart and expanded on it to become one of the most successful bands in the country music genre, playing more than 300 shows per year.  It’s the kind of schedule that you would forgive them if they had trouble remembering their own zip code while filling out paperwork.

I hope you all enjoyed last month’s Halloween-themed posts. If you were around last year during the holiday season, you’ll recall that I wrote about three excellent Thanksgiving-themed films in November and I plan to do so again this year. I have to say, though, that I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep this up next year — there aren’t very many Thanksgiving-themed movies with out-of-print soundtracks. Hell, there aren’t very many Thanksgiving-themed movies period.

If you’ve read this column at all, you’re probably aware that I have a profound love of John Hughes and his films. But I have to admit that of all of Hughes’s movies, Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) is one I never really got into that much. I remember watching it a lot with my family when it would come on cable and I remember thinking parts of it were pretty funny at the time, but it’s not a film I’ve had a desire to watch since I was a kid. In fact, I think the last time I saw it before writing this column, I was in junior high. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me because this movie is a fucking riot.

I think part of the reason that I didn’t fully enjoy this movie until now is that, as a child who had never traveled more than 40 miles from her house, I couldn’t really identify with the characters or the situation they were in. I picked up on what was supposed to be funny, but I didn’t really appreciate the humor. But as an adult who has done a lot of traveling, and who has been involved in many unfortunate travel mishaps, I now think this is one of the funniest movies ever made. And I cannot believe it took me this long to realize that.

I spent a good chunk of my Saturday night watching Fred the Movie on the Nickelodeon channel. I’d say that it was two hours I’ll never get back, except I have a feeling they will return someday, if there is really such a place as hell.

For the uninformed among you — e.g., those of you without kids between 9 and 14, whoever you are — Fred is the “YouTube sensation” known for his squeaky voice and manic delivery, and the screaming … Good God, the screaming. I could try to explain further, but instead you should probably just watch the clip below. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

OK, now that you’ve seen Fred for yourself, you’re probably having difficulty reading this column because you’ve been distracted by the blood coming out of your eardrums.

Here we are again with another edition of “You’re The Voice,” an ongoing series of interviews with some of the best and, as a result, most prolific voice talent in the animation industry. As you may recall, we kicked off the series by chatting with Tom Kenny, the man who gives voice to Spongebob Squarepants, among many other characters, and the proceedings wrapped up with the assurance that I already had an interview locked in for the next column. Unfortunately, while that interview is still a go for whenever we can get around to scheduling it, the individual in question…oh, hell, let’s stop trying to keep it a secret: it’s Billy West…has been so busy promoting the return of “Futurama,” not to mention constantly working his butt off in various and sundry recording sessions, that we just haven’t been able to lock down a time to talk. But to borrow a phrase from Billy’s quote book…

Good news, everyone! Someone else has stepped in to serve in Billy’s stead!

When I posted the link to the Tom Kenny interview on my Facebook page, one of the first people to offer their congratulations and praise was one of Mr. Kenny’s peers: Rob Paulsen. Not wanting to let a perfectly good opportunity slip by, I immediately thanked Rob for his kind words, and then I promptly asked him if he’d be interested in doing an interview for a future column. He agreed without hesitation, and I told him I’d check on his schedule after I’d chatted with Billy West, but once I learned that Billy’s schedule was looking pretty tight, he gladly agreed to step in and help avoid any future delay in putting the next edition of “You’re The Voice” into play.

After a bit of idle chit-chat about the weather…no, seriously: Rob had heard about the excruciating heat that we’d been getting here in Virginia, and when the topic of humidity came up, he told me about visiting Orlando for some Disney business, stepping off the plane, and wondering if he’d accidentally landed in Thailand by mistake…we got down to business with our Obligatory Opening Question:

How did you first find your way into voice acting?

Well, I started out in music, primarily. Growing up in Michigan, I was a big fan of a lot of kids’ cartoons and music. My initial desire was to be a professional hockey player, but fortunately for my dental health and the general health of my body, I realized fairly early on that I had neither the talent nor the temperament to make any money as a professional hockey player…or any professional athlete, for that matter!

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I was a huge fan of the Pythons and Peter Sellers and primarily British comics when I was a kid, and I was kind of enamored by all those goofy, wacky voices. And, of course, I was watching cartoons: Jay Ward and all those “Fractured Fairytales,” and, of course, Mel Blanc. Everybody loves Mel. The first thing I found that I was fairly good at was singing, so it wasn’t a huge leap for me to go from singing to doing other things with my voice, and I found that I was pretty good at doing dialects. I’m not a very good impressionist. There are so many good ones, and I was always impressed by…I’m at the age where I was watching Rich Little, John Byner, David Frye, and other fantastic impressionists like that, guys who I thought were really spectacular when I was a kid. My heroes were, like, Jonathan Winters, Pat Paulsen…no relation…and Steve Martin. All these guys made me laugh, and a lot of them had funny voices, but I was clearly not a great impressionist, and I’m glad I didn’t go down that road, because when I got out here, I found people like Maurice (LaMarche) and Kevin Pollak and other folks who do killer impressions of folks. I’m a pretty good actor, and I’m good at creating things and pretty solid with dialects, but I’m not an impressionist. But, anyway, as I was saying, the Pythons, Peter Sellers, “The Goon Show,” and all those guys were my heroes, so I started working on dialects, and I had a pretty solid musical background, so I started learning how to sing in character, and…I probably spent a little too much time in my bedroom by myself. (Laughs) When I wasn’t playing hockey, I was working on funny voices.

There is a new Harry Potter movie out this week, which millions of fans are extremely excited about, even though they’ve all read the books and know exactly what’s going to happen. Also, they don’t seem to mind that it’s based on the one that was mostly flashbacks, meaning there’s less Harry than in the other movies – although we do get to see young Dumbledore, who, rumor has it, looks exactly like Chris Pine.

I’ve read all the books, and one thing I enjoyed about them was the way J.K. Rowling wove the world of magic so cleverly in with our own. Somehow, the wizardry practiced and taught at Hogwarts seems to make logical sense – it propels the story while at the same time serving as a sharp satire of academia, and as an added plus it steers unsuspecting young readers toward godless occult practices. Wait, wasn’t that the idea?

Regardless, in the Harry Potter films, such a rich and layered portrayal of the existence of magic is unusual for cinema – mainly because the role magic usually plays in movies is, of course, the handy plot device. With that in mind, here’s another look at five movies that, if it weren’t for magic, would have ended after 12 minutes. (And in some cases, we would have been better off.)

David Medsker:
As a rule, music lovers begin their journey square in the middle of the mainstream, and once they’ve gotten a taste for more adventurous fare, they take off for the fringes, often never to return. Over time, I’ve slowly found myself coming back to the middle. I have to say, I never thought this would happen. But then again, I never thought I’d move back to Ohio after over a decade in Boston and Chicago, but that’s life for ya: it changes you in ways you can’t anticipate.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that my list, much like last year’s list, isn’t exactly hip, or edgy, but that’s mainly because I’m not hip or edgy. I like what I like, whether it’s Massive Attack or Mandy Moore. And here are five albums from this year that I really, really like.

38ea810ae7a05023171b0210.L._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]Metric: Fantasies
I am admittedly late to the Emily Haines Show – a friend of mine persuaded me to download Live It Out a few years ago, but it never hooked me – but their latest is a monster blast of New Wave-tinged DOR that Garbage would kill for. Metric – “Stadium Love”

The Hours: See the Light

Epic, sky-high pop that recalls the best of the Verve, Keane and even the Wonder Stuff in singer Antony Genn’s delivery. The title track is a “Common People”-style slow burner and one of the finest pieces of British pop I’ve heard in years. The Hours – “Big Black Hole

Steve Martin - The CrowIf, upon hearing the news that Steve Martin has a banjo album, you have an image of Martin in overalls and a straw hat displaying a novice’s banjo-picking skills while singing about shit and Shinola, you’re not alone. (Conversely, if you have an image of Martin in a suit with an arrow through his head, playing the banjo and singing about grandma, you’re not alone either.)

The joke’s on us, however, because Martin’s appreciation for and mastery of the banjo is deeper than anyone but the most devoted fan might anticipate. Martin originally picked up the banjo to add another talent to his one-man show, and over time added satirical banjo songs. His comedic career took off, but he never set the banjo down. In 2001, he played with Earl Scruggs on the tune “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” for the album Earl Scruggs and Friends, which won him a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance the following year. In 2007 he played his own tune, “The Crow,” with Tony Trischka on Trischka’s album Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular.

Steve Martin, “The Crow” (download)

Writing “The Crow” served as the jump-off point for Martin’s new bluegrass album, The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo. 14 of the 15 songs are originals, written by Martin and arranged John McEuen, Martin’s childhood friend and member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Most of the tunes are instrumental and traditional sounding. Martin’s compositions show an aptitude for tempo, able to switch time signatures on a dime, and melody, with more than a few refrains lingering past the album’s end. He’s also an impressively emotional player, able to convey sentiment and subject, as projected in his titles, like “Words Unspoken” and “Freddie’s Lilt.”

Although released in late 1977, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack would be impossible to ignore for much of 1978, with the Bee Gees’ “Night Fever” and “Stayin’ Alive,” as well as Yvonne Elliman’s “If I Can’t Have You,” all reaching #1. At several points during the first half of ’78, the soundtrack album was selling over 1 million units a week.

Bee Gees – Stayin’ Alive
Bee Gees – Night Fever (w/ More Than a Woman)

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SteveYou know what I miss? Novelty songs. Not just the typical “Weird Al” parodies, but wholly original works that slipped into the mainstream and became pop hits. Even crap like “The Streak” or “Disco Duck” was amusing on some level. We just don’t have those kind of hits anymore (although “Dick In A Box” has come the closest in recent years). Steve Martin scored big with “King Tut,” but it was his first chart hit in 1977 that’s become Lost in the ’70s.

“Grandmother’s Song” was the single off Steve’s debut album, Let’s Get Small, a record that blew my grade school mind. Small was my introduction to Martin (since I was too young to stay up to watch “Saturday Night Live,” not that I’d be allowed to anyway), and more important, my first exposure to absurdist humor as a legitimate art form. While all children dabble in meaningless jokes, Martin was the first adult I heard making nonsense and making other adults laugh instead of irritated. It was one of those clouds-parting-sunlight-beaming-down moments.