Friday, August 14, 2009

Basketball Jones

The other day, I stumbled upon one of the most unusual music collaborations I've ever seen or heard. There a scene in Hal Ashby's brilliant but underrated film Being There (starring Peter Sellers) that features the animated music video (if I can call it that) for Cheech and Chong's "Basketball Jones" from their 1973 Los Cochinos album. Riding the wave of the 70's blaxploitation movement, the parody* features Cheech on vocals as "Tyrone Shoelaces" and get this, George Harrison on lead guitar, Billy Preston on organ, Klaus Voorman on bass, Ronnie Spector and Michelle Phillips on backing vocals, Carole King on keys, and a slew of several other well-connected and accomplished session players.

Are you kidding me?!? How did I not know about this?!?

Take a listen. If you can get past the politically incorrect images, the underlying music is actually pretty freaking good!

"Basketball Jones (Featuring Tyrone Shoelaces)" by Cheech and Chong

*The original, "Love Jones" by Brighter Side of Darkness

Popularity Contest

Do you ever find yourself going back to the same album or song on your iPod on a seemingly regular basis? You know, those that aren't necessarily your favorites, but ones that you're mysteriously drawn to as if satisfying some primal urge? On my walk to work today, it occurred to me that for the past year, I've listened to one particular album ad infinitum -- on the sidewalks, on the subways, on the bus, at my apartment, etc. It isn't my "favorite" album nor do I have any special connection with it on some personal or spiritual level. And I assure you, it has nothing to do with iPod's pointless "rating" feature we accidentally click on from time to time!

But for whatever reason, Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison/At San Quentin/America is the undisputed, most frequently played recording on my iPod. Why? I have no answer. Obviously, this is a great album. Hell, it's even one of the best. No one (with any concept of good music) would disagree that it ranks amongst the most influential from a historical/cultural perspective over the last 50 years. But there is something more -- something more deep-rooted that reels me in each time. Perhaps I'm hypnotized by Cash's raw, monotone vocals or the everyman's wisdom he so aptly instills; or maybe I'm moved by the hoots and hollers of the prison inmates, who were undoubtedly the most affected by these performances on the most human of levels -- at least more so than any of us; or the fact that Cash put every ounce of sweat and soul into each song that keeps me truckin' on both good days and bad. Even his narration on the America album has a certain soothing, nostalgic quality which brings me back to the storytelling days of my youth -- a better, much simpler time.

So, hats off to you Johnny Cash. You're the most popular guy in class.

What keeps you goin'?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Before There Were Blogs: John Hughes Edition

Not...Done...Yet. While it may be clear that this blog is on its last legs with the obvious lack of posting of late, the reason for its initial existence has not faded. It's to share stories, articles, news clippings, and videos that inspire three guys to pause their day for a few moments and reach out to whomever is paying attention. And that's where I am at right now.

So perusing the web obsessively as I do (I think I need to get sent to one of those Chinese Internet addiction places) I came across this very well written blog post about a women who put pen to paper and wrote to John Hughes on a whim back in 1985. That's right kids, I said used a pen on paper. It's these two artifacts that old people used to utilize to communicate their words. So she poured her heart out about her thoughts and feelings about being a high school student and being misunderstood. Just like the kids in The Breakfast Club. And she put the letter in the mail...and she waited. And she got a dreaded form letter back initially. And that just wasn't good enough. John ultimately agreed. And so they developed a multi-year writing relationship with a phone call mixed in for good measure. These are her words:

I was babysitting for my mom's friend Kathleen's daughter the night I wrote that first fan letter to John Hughes. I can literally remember the yellow grid paper, the blue ball point pen and sitting alone in the dim light in the living room, the baby having gone to bed.

I poured my heart out to John, told him about how much the movie mattered to me, how it made me feel like he got what it was like to be a teenager and to feel misunderstood.

(I felt misunderstood.)

I sent the letter and a month or so later I received a package in the mail with a form letter welcoming me as an "official" member of The Breakfast Club, my reward a strip of stickers with the cast in the now famous pose.

I was irate.

I wrote back to John, explaining in no uncertain terms that, excuse me, I just poured my fucking heart out to you and YOU SENT ME A FORM LETTER.

That was just not going to fly.

He wrote back.

"This is not a form letter. The other one was. Sorry. Lots of requests. You know what I mean. I did sign it."

He wrote back and told me that he was sorry, that he liked my letter and that it meant a great deal to him. He loved knowing that his words and images resonated with me and people my age. He told me he would say hi to everyone on my behalf.
Maybe I'm just being nostalgic, but this concept that you have a strong urge to write your thoughts on a piece of paper and lick a stamp and put it in the mail, knowing full well the intended recipient may never receive it or worse they could blow you off, is fascinating and reminds me so much of what life was like without the WWW.

Her feeling a need to connect to John Hughes is no different than a blog poster or commenter writing an entry never knowing if anyone will care. It's the writing part that is cathartic. Any feedback or acknowledgment thereafter is just gravy. Getting back to our John Hughes fan, their (not e-) mail relationship blossomed, they became heavy pen pals, and the reclusive John Hughes let her into his world. Please take a minute to read through the whole entry she wrote. It is fascinating, and of course all too sad knowing that John is no longer with us. John ruminates on a number of things and provides unprecedented insight into why he left Hollywood for good so many years ago. And if you want to take a chance and leave a comment, whether to connect or leave your thoughts, feel free. No stamps required.