R.I.P. P.R. a.k.a. P.W.H.

Paul Reubens died this week, and while I was never a big fan of Pee-Wee Herman — who I found more annoying than amusing — I admired some of Reubens’ other work. Particularly his small but memorable role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which included possibly the most hilariously extended death scene in the history of cinema.

The normal and compassionate thing is to wish someone a quick and easy death. But I have to admit, I kind of hope Paul went out like this:

R.I.P. Alan Arkin

Last Thursday brought sad news of the death of Alan Arkin, who had about as full a life as a person in show business can have — acting, writing, and directing, and having kids who acted, wrote, and directed, while always coming across as a mensch.

He did an awful lot, including that memorable role in The In-Laws. (Highlight: Arkin dodges bullets as Peter Falk yells “Serpentine, Shel, serpentine!”) But my personal favorite is a movie called Simon, which was directed in 1980 by Woody Allen associate Marshall Brickman. Simon was not a hit at the time — in fact I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who saw it in a movie theater. But it got a second life on cable, where some of us kids who watched way too much TV ran across it and had our tiny minds blown.

Simon is a work of genius and Arkin is brilliant in it as a philosophy professor who is convinced by a sinister cabal of scientists that he’s from another planet. Bonus, it is like a top-level Woody Allen movie that Woody himself was not involved in, so we don’t have that to worry about. (I don’t know if Marshall Brickman ever adopted any kids, and I don’t want to know.)

By the grace of YouTube, Simon is currently available for home viewing free of charge. If I were you, I’d watch it tonight before that can change.

Requiem for a Heavyweight Hedonist

In my spin through the obituaries this week I came across one that began like this:

Irma Capece Minutolo, a Neapolitan beauty queen and opera singer whose relationship with the exiled Egyptian king and world-renowned hedonist Farouk I became fodder for gossip columnists around the world, died on June 7 at her home in Rome. She was 87.

This brought me up short because quite frankly it had never occurred to me that there was a world class of hedonism to aspire to. I’ve been a hedonist all my life, but I doubt I’ve ever risen above the local, or at best regional, level.

What does it take, I wonder, to achieve world-renowned hedonism? Surely a shit-ton of money helps. Beyond that, one must of course have the desire to indulge oneself to the highest degree, as well as the physical stamina to do so.

Sadly, I think that I will never reach planetary status because at 55, my capacity for hedonism is no longer what it was. Even were I to acquire great wealth — and to be honest these days I am already in a position to indulge most of my whims, which are trifling things by and large — the necessary appetite is simply not there.

This is probably a good thing. Scrolling down, one sees that Farouk “died of a heart attack at 45 in 1965, during a midnight meal at a French restaurant in Rome.” Which is not how you want to go out, unless maybe it is? Maybe he was eating an ortolan while getting a blowjob, and died a happy man who never suffered the indignity of decline. We’ll never know.

But on balance I guess I’m happy with my provincial hedonism. Most likely I will never be, like Farouk, the primary character in someone else’s obituary. Such is life.

Bring Out Your Dead, 2/19/2023

When Jerry Lee Lewis died last year, I wrote that “he was the last survivor of that first generation of rock stars.” But I was not aware at the time that Huey “Piano” Smith was still alive. Huey passed this week at the age of 89 — surprisingly young, considering that his big hits were in the mid-1950s. But he got started early, playing clubs and making records at the age of 15.

He was not quite as famous (or as infamous) as the Killer, and I’m not 100% sure that his music technically qualifies as rock’n’roll; it hews pretty close to New Orleans funk rhythms. But for that reason it is absolutely timeless and still sounds great today. I’m partial to “Rockin’ Pneumonia & The Boogie Woogie Flu,” but for our purposes here, let’s go with this lip-synced performance of “Don’t You Just Know It” from 1958. That’s Huey on the left.

Also on the Reaper’s list this week: Raquel Welch née Tejada. We don’t generally think of Raqual as Latina but she was; her father’s name Armando Carlos Tejada Urquizo. Most of us probably also think we saw her naked, but apparently she never appeared nude in any photographs or movies. Playboy pursued her for many years, and she did eventually appear in its pages — in a bikini bottom with one arm tastefully covering her breasts. “She declined to do complete nudity, and I yielded gracefully,” said Hugh Hefner, probably lying; I’ll bet Raquel left a lot of money on the table in that deal, and good for her.


Bring Out Your Dead, 2/12/2023

Sunday seems like the best day for this feature, but is also the laziest day of the week. Today I am going to resolve this tension by the doing the minimum amount of work that allows me to post something, so I can feel better about myself while wasting four hours watching a stupid football game.

Burt Bacharach died this week and my initial reaction was, well, he’s a legend and all, but that’s not really my area. Then I was reminded that he (and his partner Hal David) had written “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” which is probably the first song I remember hearing as a wee, wee lad. I had no idea it was from Butch Cassidy then (or for many years), and even now I can’t put much of a context to this song, or even say definitively whether I really like it or not. It’s beyond that, among the deepest-seeded imprints that I could never shake off even if I wanted to.

Also reaching the end of the road1this month: the Boeing 747, which debuted in 1968, right around the same time as “Raindrops.” Back then traveling by airplane was something people actually enjoyed doing; in a eulogy of sorts for the 747, The New York Times says:

The four-engine airplane was much larger than any other and could fit hundreds of people in rows with up to 10 seats across. The upper deck, reachable by a spiral staircase, hosted a luxurious lounge. American Airlines had a piano bar installed in the main cabin.

Nowadays such luxuries are reserved for the private jets of billionaires; the rest of us are happy for a seat that reclines three inches. The 747 won’t go away for awhile, as there are many still in service, especially in Japan. But the last one left the factory at the end of January, so the end is in sight.


A Foggy Day

So here we are again at the shortest day of the year — “The Return of Light,” as the Tao Te Ching calls it, because tomorrow will be slightly longer, and the day after a little longer still, until at last spring arrives in all its glory.

Yesterday there was a 6.4 earthquake that shook Humboldt County around pretty good but left our house mercifully intact, though without power until late in the day. Today is foggy and gray, as good a day as any to note the passing last week of Angelo Badalamenti, composer extraordinaire.

Angelo lived 85 years and did a lot of stuff, but most of us know him from his work with David Lynch. Says the NYT:

His best-known work was the “Twin Peaks” theme, recognizable from its first three ominous, otherworldly notes. He won the 1990 Grammy for best instrumental pop performance for the number, which was, according to the Allmusic website, “dark, cloying and obsessive — and one of the best scores ever written for television.”

In 2015, a Billboard writer described the theme as “gorgeous and gentle one second, eerie and unsettling the next.” It was, according to Rolling Stone, the “most influential soundtrack in TV history.”

But for today, his 1998 collaboration with David Bowie seems like the right thing to listen to.


I’ll be honest, I’m not 100% sure it was a good idea to turn the Gershwins’ gossamer bauble into a gothic cathedral of sound. But if we posit that it was, certainly Dave and Angelo did a fantastic job. In their version the sun doesn’t come bursting through the clouds; we glimpse it briefly behind a layer of relatively thin fog, and then it’s gone. We know it’s there, and have the idea we’ll see it again, but who knows when?

Even so… hope springs eternal.