Monday, January 28, 2008


‘Liverpool 8’ is Ringo Starr’s 15th studio album, which seemed remarkable to me after I counted them up. It’s quite a career for a singing drummer with a mediocre voice. Ringo’s solo career can easily be divided in two phases: 1970-83 and 1990-present. Beginning with two albums, of standards and country, that his audience didn’t quite know what to do with, he made his solo mark with ‘Ringo’ in 1973. Featuring songwriting help from his former bandmates, it remains his biggest commercial and critical success. It slid down from there, resulting in a string of late ‘70s albums that could generously be called unlistenable. 1981’s ‘Stop and Smell the Roses’ was a comeback of sorts, with Harrison and McCartney back to help their old friend for a fun, ‘Ringo’-style spin. The momentum faded with the follow-up, which didn’t even see U.S. release.

What followed was even grimmer than the disco of ‘Ringo the 4th’. Starr’s partying lifestyle and drug and alcohol addictions were ruling his life. He had to sue producer Chips Moman to block release of an album he had recorded while intoxicated. He was at a personal and professional low. Then he and wife Barbara very publicly entered rehab to manage a life spun out of control.

Newly sober in 1989, Starr began the next phase of career: jovial ‘60s icon and ringmaster of has-been rockers. Ringo mounted an All-Starr tour, featuring ex-Eagles, half the Band and others whose heydays were far behind them. The momentum of a successful tour led to a live album and a return to the studio, sans inebriation. The result, ‘Time Takes Time’ was a true comeback - a critical success and enjoyable album that evoked the Beatles and the ‘60s. Like his tour, Starr drew on former hitmakers as well as seasoned session musicians and superstar producers Don Was, Phil Ramone and Jeff Lynne.

One of the ‘Time’ musicians was Mark Hudson of the Hudson Brothers, a mildly successful group of the mid-‘70s. Hudson and Starr must have got on well, because he’s been Starr’s producer ever since, with the records sounding as much like the ’66-’67 period of the Beatles as possible. Along with Hudson were sessionmen who became known as the ‘Roundheads’ – pianist Jim Cox and guitarists Steve Dudas, Dean Grakal and Gary Burr – who were also Starr’s multi-partner songwriting team. Hudson’s approach was novel at first, with ‘Vertical Man’ in ’98, but the use of the same backing flourishes and vocal effects has worn thin. That’s why I was excited when the press for ‘Liverpool 8’ announced that Eurythmic Dave Stewart was the producer because maybe we’d get a new direction. Imagine my surprise on first listen when, as the album went along, I heard all the Hudson production values roll in. Checking the credits, there were Hudson, Dudas and Burr in full force, with Stewart on a handful of tracks. ‘Produced by Ringo Starr and Mark Hudson’ it reads, and then below, ‘Re-produced by Ringo Starr and Dave Stewart’. What the?!? “Re-produced”? I’ve never seen that credit before. Reading some other reviews I found out Hudson and Starr had some sort of falling out before finishing the album and that Stewart came in to polish it up. Those same reviewers praising Stewart’s work as a departure haven’t heard ‘Ringo Rama’ or ‘Choose Love’, his previous two studio works with Hudson.

Not that I want to bash the record. If this, at age 67, is to be his career-capper, it’s a pretty good note to close out on. Starr mixes it up with a country track, a couple Latin-rhythms and a touching Tin Pan Alley tribute to his friend Harry Nilsson. The title track (co-written and produced with Stewart) is the least Hudson-esque of all the songs and an autobiography of his early days up to when the Beatles rise took them out of Liverpool ("Liverpool, I left you, but I never let you down"). Starr seems most at home when he's doing bouncy, jaunty sing-a-longs. I do find myself joining in on "Think About You" and "If It's Love That You Want", vacant as they are. Atmospheric and moody fare like "Gone Are the Days" drag the album down, assuring you his strength is with lighter fare.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


One of my other all-time favorite dramas is NYPD Blue. They always had a tag up front that said 'Viewer Discretion Advised'. On the better episodes, the tag also read - 'This police drama contains partial nudity'. Now the FCC has fined ABC $1.43 million for the scene below, which aired in February 2003. You can read about the fine here. The scene in question features Charlotte Ross in, as the article states, "full dorsal nudity". I think it's a shame that the government is penalizing what is probably one of the top ten things ever to be shown on network television, in league with the Apollo 11 moon landing and the final scene from Newhart.

ironic footnote: VIDEO NOT SAFE FOR WORK!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

'The Wire' Webcast

My pal Jeff (whose blog, The Trunk, is linked at right), and I both agree that 'The Wire' on HBO, now in it's 5th and final season, is the best drama ever on television. So, in our first video webcast, Jeff and I discuss the first three episodes the season. If you are not a Wire watcher, this probably won't be of any interest to you. Also, if you're not a Wire watcher...what's wrong with you?!? Go rent or buy Season 1.

WireTalk from Jeffrey Miller on Vimeo.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Here is the third and final list. It's a long list because my only criteria was either knowing the name or being able to get something of theirs from the library. We lost some great singers this year - Pavarotti, Sills,...Goulet. Frankie Laine's death (on 2/5) made me think of my dad, who passed in '81. One of my ways to remember my dad is to listen to his old LPs, and he had four or so of Laine.

For subscribers, if you can't see the list, please go to the site.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


I had this and the other lists done three weeks ago, but I didn't know how to get them on my blog. It also flopped technically as an e-mail list, as many will attest. So, they're late, but I think they're still interesting. The only guideline I had for the TV list is that it had to be somebody on a show that I've watched. So, other TV folks may have died, or the ones listed may have been in different shows, but I didn't see 'em.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


I didn't think I'd be able to get this list from my Word to the web. Thanks to Jeff Miller for the technical info. Thanks also to Mark Evanier who did much of the reportage on these folks at his excellent blog, which is a daily habit for me. This is a list of folks from the world of comics (books and strips) and animation that died in 2007. It's by no means comprehensive so please let me know of any folks you think have been left out.

Monday, January 14, 2008


The ‘Cincinnati Post’ published their last edition on December 31st, after 125 years on the stands. It was one of the last afternoon newspapers in the country, and with circulation having dropped below 30,000 it just couldn’t make it. My family subscribed to the Post and I was raised on its comic strips, such as ‘Peanuts’, ‘Calvin & Hobbes’, and ‘Frank & Ernest’.

Readers of the Post’s comics must now go to the web. Of course, if they’re web comic readers they most likely weren’t reading the Post anyway. I myself confess that I haven’t read the funnies regularly since I stopped subscribing to a newspaper a few years ago. I haven’t read the Post’s funnies for decades, except on occasion, yet I lament the loss of strips like ‘Sally Forth’, ‘Born Loser’ and, one of Grandpa’s favorites, ‘Luann’. It remains for me an acceptable incongruity.

Four of the Post’s strips have been absorbed by Cincinnati’s morning paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer. Those strips, chosen partially by a readers’ poll from October, are ‘Get Fuzzy’, ‘Pearls Before Swine’, ‘Dilbert’ and ‘Classic Peanuts’. ‘Dilbert’, the last strip to become any kind of mass phenomenon, was a no-brainer (by the way, you can read the original 50-strip submission by Scott Adams on Very cool!). ‘Fuzzy’ and ‘Pearls’ are both talking animal strips that have debuted in the past ten years that seem to have a similar sensibility. Reading a month’s worth of both yielded few chuckles, but honestly that’s the same result I’d get from a month of ‘Hagar’ or ‘Beetle Bailey’.

There was a bit of controversy after Charles Schulz’s death in 2000. The ‘Peanuts’ strip died with him in that there were no more new ones, but the syndicate, and most of ‘Peanuts’ papers, carried on with reprints under the name ‘Classic Peanuts’. Many cartoonists trying to break out were upset. Schulz had more papers than any other cartoonist and some saw his death at their shot to add papers now that ‘Peanuts’ would be gone. Readers, papers and the syndicate had a different idea, and the most popular comic strip of all time continues. It won the Enquirer readers’ poll. Currently they’re running strips from 1961. Unless your over 50 or a younger ‘Peanuts’ fanatic (such as myself), these strips are new to you (and consistently funnier than the rest of the comics page).

Playing a zero-sum game, four strips in meant four strips out. Gone are ‘B.C.’, ‘Agnes’, ‘Flo & Friends’ and ‘Tina’s Groove’. ‘B.C.’ creator Johnny Hart died last year, with his daughter and grandchildren taking over the strip (the strip is signed “Mason”, Hart’s grandson Mason Mastroianni).

I don’t know much about ‘Flo & Friends’ and all I know about ‘Agnes’ is that I never read it because I find the crude art offensive. ‘Tina’s Groove’ is quirky but doesn’t understand that offbeat characters and dialogue have to have some truth to them, as in ‘Dinette Set’, or the laughs don’t follow.

Fortunately for web users, there is no shortage of ways to read comic strips online. There’s actually an abundance of strips that are exclusively online and will never see paper reproduction. For traditional comics readers, I recommend the comics page at the Houston Chronicle. There are over 100 strips available, most of them in color, and you can build your own comics page, bookmark it, and then visit every day. Or you could buy a paper…while you still can.

Monday, January 7, 2008


The Cincinnati Post recently ceased publication after 124 years of publication. For a brief time in that paper's storied history, just a few months of 1980, the staff editorial cartoonist was Bill Watterson of 'Calvin & Hobbes' fame and post-strip seclusion infamy. I'll try to post more of these in the coming months. The scans are from microfilm and the quality is super-poor, but Watterson's cartooning artistry still comes through.

In this cartoon from August 7th, 1980, Cincinnati mayor Ken Blackwell is behind the wheel of a bus. At the time, a 1% increase in the county sales tax was being proposed for SORTA (Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority). Mayor Blackwell was opposed to the measure, citing it as "too costly". Watterson depicts Blackwell taking the levy 'out of service'. The proposal ultimately failed.

It's interesting how the cartoon echoes today. In 2006, Blackwell was still in politics, as Ohio's incumbent Secretary of State who made a failed bid for governor. In 2007, Cincinnati had a 1% county sales tax on the ballot to fund a new jail that met defeat.