Friday, February 29, 2008

The Science of Rapping, and Vice Versa

One more rap post for the road.

One of the other artists John introduced me to was MC Hawking. Using a text-to-speech program, his raps are basically gangsta physics. Nerdcore, they call it on Wikipedia.

From his greatest hits album, A Brief History of Rhyme, here's "Entropy," which explains the measure of uniformity of the distribution of energy in a way even I can almost understand, sampling Naughty by Nature in the process. It even edits out the bad language, so feel free to show it to the kids.

By the way, for the record, Stephen Hawking is a fan.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Steely samples

I'll confess to not being well versed in rap. I have nothing against it, and have liked a lot of what I've heard - it's just not my particular bag, so I don't hear a lot of it. In fact, about the only exposure I get comes from mixes from my friend John in LA.

This year, he sent me a mix that included Kanye West's song "Champion." This was the first time I heard it, and I think John put it on in part because he knows I'm a Steely Dan fan, and this is based around a sample from their song "Kid Charlemagne."

Before this, the only Dan sample I knew of was in De La Soul's "Eye Know," which along with a loop or two from "Peg" also has Otis Redding and the Mad Lads featured therein.

But it turns out they've been sampled a lot. A little research revealed two samples from "Black Cow," off Aja. One was in Tatyana Ali's "Daydreamin'"...

The other: Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz, in "Deja Vu."

Unfortunately, Tariq and Gunz didn't clear the sample before release, so they wound up being sued and having to pay the Dan around a hundred thousand dollars. But judging by this clip, I don't think Becker and Fagen had any hard feelings.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

You're the man now, Vader!

On the off chance you're not already familiar with it, is a webpage where people create (usually brief) content - a series of photos, say, or a film or music loop - out of previously created art. I'm making it sound a bit highfalutin - it makes fun of pop culture and much in it.

They've got a channel on YouTube featuring some of their greatest hits, several of which I've posted here. Today I thought I'd focus on a few of their Darth Vader bits.

Here he's a magician. Look at and listen to Luke in the crowd.

Pat Sajak is wowed by his Wheel of Fortune playing ability.

And then there's the roller coaster.

Finally, he orders his Chia Pet to do its thing. Make sure and watch it all the way to the end.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Those thrilling days of yesteryear

Dan Rather once said, "An intellectual snob is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of The Lone Ranger." I guess I'm no intellectual snob. Really, did a piece of classical music ever become so tightly entwined with any other fictional character?

Clayton Moore, who played the Lone Ranger, is unique among TV stars in his desire to be as much like his character in real life as he was onscreen, living by the Lone Ranger creed and rarely appearing in public without a mask. Even when doing this ad for Cheerios (and where can you find a cereal these days that will send you a gun for a couple boxtops and four bits?), he talked only of gun safety, nothing about those tasty whole grain oats.

Finally, here's a fantastic story actor/radio personality Jay Thomas told on Letterman about his encounter with that masked man early in Thomas's career.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Spot the Oscar nominee

Well, the Oscars are over and done and were quite rewarding (no pun intended). I thought I'd share an early appearance by one of the nominees in earlier years.

This is a little puff piece on Ernie Anderson, who was the voice for ABC for years - my guess is you'll recognize that voice the moment you hear it.

That kid playing basketball with him about 3:20 in? That's Paul Thomas Anderson, who was a double nominee last night (losing to those ear-tuggin' Coen brothers both times).

Is it me or does it seem like Ernie's wife, who dwells on his inability to discipline and the joy she gets from shutting him off, has a few issues she can't quite keep under wraps?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

And a few of the nominees are...

Tonight's Oscar night, and while I'm not as intensely into it as I used to be (see all the nominees, watch Barbara Walters beforehand), it's still something I get into. I'll be looking forward to see who wins - excuse me, who the Oscar is awarded to - this year, as it's one of the strongest collections of nominees in years.

Just a few of the great performances here: Philip Seymour Hoffman going ballistic in Charlie Wilson's War...

Javier Bardem chillingly making a man choose heads or tails in No Country For Old Men...

And George Clooney facing off with Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mick Jagger in "The Nightingale"

We had an awful lot of snow in my neck of the woods - couldn't even make it all the way into the driveway. I'm guessing some of you are going to be kind of stuck indoors yourself this weekend, so I thought I'd put up a long one here.

This is Faerie Tale Theatre, a children's show created, produced, and hosted by Shelley Duvall from 1982 to 1987. It retold old tales for kids, with a sly wit for the adults ("it's hard to stay anonymous when your face is on all the money"), and some real talent at work - would you believe both Francis Ford Coppola and Tim Burton directed episodes?

In this episode, Mick Jagger plays Asian royalty. I think I'll stop the description there. (Except to say, keep an eye out for a bewigged Bud Cort of Harold and Maude fame.)

It's seven parts long and goes on for almost an hour, so sit back, relax, and please don't throw any popcorn at the ushers.

Friday, February 22, 2008

And there's a law in New York State

This is my all-time favorite stand-up comedy routine, one which I can perform at the drop of a drunken hat. It's Woody Allen's "The Moose," performed here as I first heard it, on the album Standup Comic. The jokes, the pacing, the buildup - it's a masterpiece.

Now this is him doing the same routine in England in 1965, the same year as the above performance.

It's interesting - to me, at least - to hear the slight differences in emphasis, pacing, word choices. It seems more deliberate - I don't know if it's because of the different venue, different country or what. I'm so conditioned to the first one that I can't help but prefer it, but I wonder if an unbiased listener might get more of a kick from the latter. Your thoughts?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ronald McDonald over the years

When McDonald's first brought in a clown to promote their vittles, he looked nothing whatsoever like he would later.

Here he is in his more traditional form, doing battle with Grimace, who was once evil and had four arms, if you can believe that. (Note the young Jodie Foster.)

Grimace later became a lovably dopey good guy. Here's one from my younger days, when he lost his voice. The doctor part of this still makes me laugh.

This may be my favorite of the ads, as Ronald does his level best to stay fah-resh.

Maybe it was better in its original Chinese.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"My name is Abbie. I am an orphan of America."

Today marks the 38th anniversary of the day the Chicago Seven were sentenced. The OJ Simpson trial may have been the best legal soap opera of the 20th century, but the Chicago conspiracy trial of 1969-70 was the best legal theater. When I was in high school I read The Tales of Hoffman, a collection of highlights from trial transcripts, and I still remember how amazed I was at the attitudes everyone had - judge, lawyers, defendants, even the spectators constantly interrupting with shouts of "Right on!"

Here's one exchange from memory, between attorney William Kunstler and a government witness:

"When you said the defendants announced they were going to open up a whole can of worms on the city of Chicago, were any of them holding a can opener in their hand?"
"No, sir."
"Thank you. No further questions."

The trials weren't filmed, but that didn't stop moviemakers. There were dramatic performances of those transcripts done at the time, preserved on film and recently released on DVD.

There's also a documentary that mixes news footage with animation, going into limited release at the end of the month.

Looks cool, doesn't it? Well, get this - there's a movie version in preproduction, written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring Sasha "Borat" Cohen as Abbie Hoffman. Who in real life faced off against Judge Julius Hoffman. Who also faced off against Kunstler, who will be played by (wait for it) Philip Seymour Hoffman. To my mind, this is a great argument for living.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A little bit older, a little bit slower

Today's my birthday.

In honor of my reaching 37 on 2/19, I'm posting two clips wholly unrelated to each other and barely related to me. One is of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where they talk about systems of government, strictly for :29 to :33.

The other is a cover of the Tom Waits song "2:19." Even though it relates to the time and not the date. Trust me, this is better than all the "February 19" entries.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Boxcutta style!

I'm going off to Maine for a couple of days; my dad's turning 68 and my mom's getting ordained. (I'm betting that sentence hasn't been spoken too many times in this world's history.) So as per usual, I'll leave you with a long one that'll hopefully keep you busy for a while, maybe longer.

I discovered Kung Faux during a late-night/early-morning channel surf at a dying party. The host was passed out, and my friend Jarrett and I stumbled across this. Picture What's Up Tiger Lily dubbed by hip-hoppers and strained through a video game and you'll get the idea. It was like we'd found Aladdin's lamp in a junkshop - totally unexpected, and the more you watch what it's doing, the more excited you get. Here's a brief clip to give you a sense.

There are a few episodes on YouTube, but I'll start you off with the one that caught my eyes; if you like it, there's more where that came from. Go here, here, and here.

Throw dem bows!

Friday, February 15, 2008


Over at the Agony Booth forum, the topic of great animated films was raised. One person posted a link to something I'd never heard of; I followed it, and I was knocked out.

Ladislas Starevich was a Russian stop-motion animator who got his start in the 1910s by taking dead beetles, removing their legs and mandibles, and reattaching them with wax, thus turning them into puppets. He would go on to work in France, where he created Le Roman de Renard (The Tale of the Fox). Here, a tomcat serenades his lady love.

Check out that last shot, where she sighs, and remind yourself this is stop-motion animation.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Likin' King

Last year I tried to devote a week of MeTube to Valentine's Day and found myself getting tired enough of it that the last clip was the one from Jackass Two when the guys are reading a valentine and wind up with a boxing glove to the head.

But the irrepressible hopeless/hopeful romantic in me can't be denied one more chance to celebrate it.

I'll do it with this video, which someone put together using parts of The Lion King and the XTC song "I'd Like That."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Digits getting down

Some dancing writ small for you today. First we have some fingers dancing to Janet Jackson. And you know somebody out there is wishing they could have those boots.

These fingers have more basic, um, tipwear I guess is the word, but they also have much, much flashier moves.

Finally, a bit from the movie The Groove Tube. Believe it or not, this clip is not appropriate for work.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cartoons for adults

In the '60s and '70s, animated cartoons were on the wane. Theaters no longer showed the shorts before the feature presentation, and the TV cartoons were cost-cutting affairs that had no sense of art and less of story.

That's when Ralph Bakshi arrived, determined to show a new way. His cartoons were definitely not aimed at the kiddies, not just in their images, but their sensibilities as well. They could be crude, but highly personal as well. They were controversial, but highly praised too. They fired the imaginations of thousands, and their influence can't be overestimated.

His first film, Fritz the Cat, was the first X-rated animated film. There are a good few bits of it on YouTube, but I'm putting up this one, even though little happens in it, because I'm just such a sucker for the Bo Diddley beat.

This is the trailer for Heavy Traffic, a look at inner-city life that mixed live-action footage with animation. It's one of his best.

He would do a lot of work with rotoscoping, a process of animation traced over live-action for a realistic look, making this sweet little scene in American Pop possible.

And then there's his take on Lord of the Rings, but that's another story for another day.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Funniest fight scenes

There's two kinds of funny. There's intentionally funny and there's unintentionally funny. Both have their proponents, but as long as they bring about laughter, they're both winners in my book. It's kind of like a family talent show where they have to give everyone prizes. (Or maybe I'm just tired and rambling.)

Anyway, there eleventy jillion fights on YouTube, so don't take my singling out these two as the funniest as gospel ("What! He didn't even mention King Arthur and the Black Knight?!"). They just float my boat o' jocularity, whether they mean to (as in this clip of Val Kilmer duking it out underwater in Top Secret)...

Or not, as in Don Niam and John Miller's pas de deux in Cui hua kuang mo, aka Undefeatable.

From the cutlery-moistening at the start to the bad-and-I-do-mean-BAD puns at the end, this has everything you need to make your jaw hit the floor.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bullet. Tracer Bullet.

Calvin & Hobbes, the best comic strip of the past quarter century, had occasions when Calvin would take on the character of Tracer Bullet, private eye. It gave artist Bill Watterson the opportunity to do great work with his art (lots of shadows and Dutch angles) and fine passes at doing hard-boiled narration.

Watterson, of course, isn't one to permit animation of his creations, for which he has been both blessed and cursed. (Confidentially, I bless.) But that's no reason for fans not to take a whack at reenacting the strips. Here are two flatteringly devotional videos which do just that.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Bleeping Muppets

Question: What's cruder than a Muppet swearing?

Answer: A Muppet not swearing.

Friday, February 08, 2008

It ain't John Philip Sousa

The University of Arizona marching band, known as the Pride of Arizona, does their marching-band thing with bands like Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, Talking Heads, and the Beatles. And they do it very well.

Here's a taste of their tribute to Led Zeppelin.

If you liked that, parts 2 and 3 can be found here and here.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Great Lost Albums 2

One of the first mix tapes my friend Paul from NJ made for me included the song "Alimony" by an Australian band called the Hummingbirds. It was energetic jangle-pop with three-part male-female harmonies, which of course meant I had to run out and buy loveBUZZ, the cassette it was on. It was an excellent investment, in no small part because it wound up going out of print so fast. Years later, flipping through a used-CD rack in Portland, Maine, I found a copy of it and about leapt out of my skin, and not just because it only cost $3.99.

"Alimony" isn't on YouTube, but there were two other good songs available: the leadoff track, "Blush"...

And another single, "Word Gets Around."

Lousy videos, great songs. And their Greatest Hits CD is available as an import.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Rappin' Reagan

Heh, heh. You know something? He DID say "Well" a lot! - Homer Simpson

Today's the anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth, and it got me to remembering. When he was running the show, rap was starting to make its inroads into society, but it was still seen as more of a novelty than anything else. And we all know how much a good novelty brings out the novelty songwriters. This resulted in a veritable plethora of Reagan imitators stuttering rhymes to a heavy beat. Let's watch a few of 'em, what do you say?

Then there's this one. "See the Light / Feel the Heat" was the first rap song where the entire vocal was sampled.

There's a 12-inch version on YouTube as well, but I think you've heard enough, don't you?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

He ain't misbehavin'

Here's a fantastic story I came across on Wikipedia:

Fats Waller was in Chicago in 1926 and, upon leaving the building where he was performing, he was kidnapped by four men, who bundled him into a car and drove off. The car later pulled up outside the Hawthorne Inn, owned by infamous gangster Al Capone. Fats was ordered inside the building, where he found a party in full swing. With a gun against his back, Waller was pushed towards a piano, whereupon the gangsters demanded he start playing. A terrified Waller suddenly realized he was the "surprise guest" at Al Capone's birthday party. Soon comforted by the fact that he wouldn't die, Waller played, according to rumor, for three days. When he left the Hawthorne Inn, he was very drunk, extremely tired, and had earned thousands of dollars in cash given to him by Capone himself and by party-goers as tips.

What kind of pianist would be in such high demand? Why, the one who wrote "Ain't Misbehavin'"...

"Your Feet's Too Big" (as a size 14, I can relate)...

And "This Joint Is Jumpin'."

For all his playing, writing, and singing skills, what's going to stay with me longest is his mugging. Al Pacino wishes he could chew this much scenery.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Speaking as a New England Patriots fan

PS - It's not all bad news - Will Ferrell's Bud Light ad was the best commercial I've seen in a long time.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Get your kicks in Times Square

I was introduced to this clip by Mike Daisey's blog. A breakdancer gets an unexpected partner, and the result is rather painful.

This is one of those clips that's been around a long time and has inspired a lot of parodies. I quite liked this one, which turns it into a video game. Keep an eye on the strength meters.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Super Bill

Today is, of course, Groundhog Day, and that's also, of course, the title of a movie starring Bill Murray. So of course, the obvious move would be to post a clip of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Which of course is why I'm not going to.

Instead, I'll post a couple of Bill Murray / Super Bowl related clips, as the big game's tomorrow (and I'm scheduled to work, consarn it). Here he is last year, trying to score tickets to the big game from the head of CBS as Dave Letterman eggs him on.

But this is even cooler, as well as being 31 years older. Bill joins Christopher Guest in some humor with a few sports immortals.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The fattest and the tallest

When I was a kid, I used to buy the new Guinness Book of World Records every year. This isn't the glossy hardcover with loads of color pictures they sell nowadays, but the mass market paperback crammed with black and white photos and all kinds of records. My favorite chapter was always the first, on human achievement - the woman who lived to the age of 114 ("She never wore glasses"), the guy who held his breath underwater for over 13 minutes ("He hyperventilated with oxygen for 30 minutes before his descent"), and the fat twins on their motorcycles.

For years the record for the fattest human was held by Robert Earl Hughes ("He was buried in a coffin the size of a piano case"). Nowadays he's been passed by about half a dozen others, but he was still a not-insignificant 1,069 pounds at his peak. Here he is a svelte 720. Watching this, I get the sense that he's really sweet.

And then there's Robert Wadlow, who reached 8 feet, 11.1 inches (and 491 pounds, if you're curious). My grandfather actually grew up in the same Illinois town and remembered him at the movie theater, draping his legs over two rows of chairs. It was remarkable for me to see this footage of him walking and hear him talking, in a voice that sounds slowed down to 16. (Note to kids: That's a reference to a "phonograph.")

The picture at 1:05 was in the Guiness book, accompanied by a caption that closed with the unforgettable bone-dry aside, "Robert is the one wearing glasses."