Books: A Day In the Life

So I’m at a get-together the other day, and someone mentions The Beatles, and someone else asks, “When did ‘The Beatles’ really start to exist? Is it when Ringo joined the group? When John, Paul, and George got together? When John and Paul met?”

And I said, “Really, The Beatles, as an entity, consisted of five people, and would be ‘The Beatles’ in name alone without any one of them. Those five people were John, Paul, George, Ringo, and George Martin, who produced most of their albums, as well as scoring the orchestral backups and often playing instruments on individual songs. Martin enters the equation in 1962, and The Beatles’ first recording session with him was in November of that year. One month later the “Love Me Do” single was released. So, in my opinion, The Beatles, as we now know them, began in late 1962.”

Whoa! Check out the big brain on Baldwin!

It helped, I suppose, that I’d just finished reading the book A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles the day prior to this conversation. Truth be told, a month ago I knew pretty much nothing about The Beatles. I was born a year after McCartney announced the dissolution of the group, and although I owned the White Album while attending college (as required by law), never really listened to it much.

In fact, it was the commission of a mortifying Beatles-related faux pas on my part that inspired me to read the book in the first place. I casually mentioned that I thought “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” was pretty catchy and received a fusillade of derision, with comments ranging from “you know, that’s pretty much universally acknowledged as the worst Beatles song” to “I really like McCartney, but that one makes me want to beat him with a tire iron.”

Humiliated, I resolved to listen to hundreds of hours of The Beatles compositions until I, too,developed a highly refined appreciation of their discography and legacy. Or, read a book about them. One of the two.

Fortunately, in opting for the latter option, I picked a book that served as a passable substitute for the former. Author Mark Hertsgaard bills A Day In the Life as the only book that focuses foremost on the music, rather than the celebrity, of the Fab Four. He does this by alternating between chapters devoted to specific albums and chapters covering some other aspect of Beatology. For example, chapter 13 covers the Rubber Soul album, chapter 14 discusses the role George Martin played behind the scenes, chapter 15 looks at the 1966 release Revolver, 16 investigates their drug use, and so on.

Though the topics are arranged semi-chronologically (their experimentations with mind-altering drugs really did began between their Rubber Soul and Revolve LPs, for instance), each chapter is largely self-contained. Thus, the book reads like a collection of essays rather than as a single narrative, a format I preferred. It’s unlikely I could have pulled off that “let me tell you a little something about George Martin” stunt if all of the information pertinent to my argument has been strewn over 400 pages instead of confined to chapter 14.

Hertsgaard sometimes gets a little carried away in his enthusiasm for the band–reading some of his fervent descriptions of their early pop singles and then listening to the songs in questions is like a summer of overhyped blockbuster movies that fail to meet you wildly unrealistic expectations. And his “album-chapters” occasionally got a little too in-depth for my liking, sometimes going so far as to rhapsodize about a single note or passage in a song. And yet the non-album chapters were uniformly riveting. In fact, A Day In The Life was a compulsive read for me. When the fractures between The Beatles began to appear, I was less sad that the band was going to break up than I was that the book was going to end.


Heavy Petting


These Fancy Feast commercials are essentially porn movies for lonely librarians. The idea that your cat would condescend to sit in your lap and be cuddled after receiving some cod-flavored glop is about as far-fetched as the Comcast guy having sex with a beautiful woman because he fixed her cable.

AFI 100: The Last Picture Show

Plowing through all of these old movies, I expected most to be tame and staid. Perhaps the rest are, but The Last Picture Show sure ain’t. Larry McMurtry meditation on sex and death in a small, Southern town is pretty much just a hodgepodge of scandals all intertwined into a two hour narrative. The black and white cinematography and stilted delivery of lines in the first 15 minutes made me think this movie has been made shortly after the day in which it is set, 1951, but it rapidly becomes far more risque than that era would have allowed. (In reality, it was made in 1971–a fact that became apparent to me when I started recognizing actors, such as an impossibly young Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd.) Featuring a stellar performance by Ben Johnson, a fine balance of humor and pathos, and the most awkward sex scene I’ve seen on film, I can see why The Last Picture Show (just barely) made the AFI 100 list. 7.5/10 … but I’ll throw in another .5 for Cybill Shepherd’s cans.

The next film in the AFI 100 Project will be Bringing Up Baby.

Rule 3.18

I had a racquetball game this afternoon against an opponent I was sure I had faced before on the ladder. He said otherwise. “No, I’m good with faces,” he assured me. “I’d remember if we’d played.”

Still, I was fairly confident that, not only that we’d met prior, but that there was something distinctly memorable about him, some unique characteristic that was eluding me at the moment.

Five minutes into the game it all came back to me.

And so, an open letter to the U.S. Racquetball Association:

Dear Sirs,

Please consider augmenting the USAR Official Rules Of Racquetball with the following:


Upon a Cutting of the Cheese, a player awards to his opponent a number of points equal to decibels/10. "Silently But Deadly" emissions will result in the conference of five points to an opponent and a mandatory 10 minute "airing out" period, during which the players may remove themselves from the court and the door shall be left ajar.

In the case of flatulent disputes, the player who smelt it shall be considered hereinafter to have dealt it.

The AFI 100 Project

I just discovered that, late last year, the American Film Institute revised their List of the 100 Greatest Movies of All-Time [pdf]. Looking over the list, I was a little surprised at how many I have never seen.

Here’s the breakdown, with films I’ve seen in green, films I haven’t seen in red, and films I have seen but don’t really recall well in yellow:

  1. Citizen Kane (1941)
  2. The Godfather (1972)
  3. Casablanca (1942)
  4. Raging Bull (1980)
  5. Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
  6. Gone With The Wind (1939)
  7. Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)
  8. Schindler’s list (1993)
  9. Vertigo (1958)
  10. The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
  11. City Lights (1931)
  12. The Searchers (1956)
  13. Star Wars (1977)
  14. Psycho (1960)
  15. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  16. Sunset Blvd. (1950)
  17. The Graduate (1967)
  18. The General (1927)
  19. On The Waterfront (1954)
  20. It’s A Wonderful life (1946)
  21. Chinatown (1974)
  22. Some like It Hot (1959)
  23. The Grapes Of Wrath (1940)
  24. E.T. The Extra-terrestrial (1982)
  25. To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
  26. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)
  27. High Noon (1952)
  28. All About Eve (1950)
  29. Double Indemnity (1944)
  30. Apocalypse Now (1979)
  31. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  32. The Godfather Part Ii (1974)
  33. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
  34. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937)
  35. Annie Hall (1977)
  36. The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)
  37. The Best Years Of Our lives (1946)
  38. The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (1948)
  39. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
  40. The Sound Of Music (1965)
  41. King Kong (1933)
  42. Bonnie And Clyde (1967)
  43. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
  44. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
  45. Shane (1953)
  46. It Happened One Night (1934)
  47. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
  48. Rear Window (1954)
  49. Intolerance (1916)
  50. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001)
  51. West Side Story (1961)
  52. Taxi Driver (1976)
  53. The Deer Hunter (1978)
  54. M*a*s*h (1970)
  55. North By Northwest (1959)
  56. Jaws (1975)
  57. Rocky (1976)
  58. The Gold Rush (1925)
  59. Nashville (1975)
  60. Duck Soup (1933)
  61. Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
  62. American Graffiti (1973)
  63. Cabaret (1972)
  64. Network (1976)
  65. The African Queen (1951)
  66. Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
  67. Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
  68. Unforgiven (1992)
  69. Tootsie (1982)
  70. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  71. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
  72. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  73. Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969)
  74. The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
  75. In The Heat Of The Night (1967)
  76. Forrest Gump (1994)
  77. All The President’s Men (1976)
  78. Modern Times (1936)
  79. The Wild Bunch (1969)
  80. The Apartment (1960)
  81. Spartacus (1960)
  82. Sunrise (1927)
  83. Titanic (1997)
  84. Easy Rider (1969)
  85. A Night At The Opera (1935)
  86. Platoon (1986)
  87. 12 Angry Men (1957)
  88. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
  89. The Sixth Sense (1999)
  90. Swing Time (1936)
  91. Sophie’s Choice (1982)
  92. Goodfellas (1990)
  93. The French Connection (1971)
  94. Pulp Fiction (1994)
  95. The Last Picture Show (1971)
  96. Do The Right Thing (1989)
  97. Blade Runner (1982)
  98. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
  99. Toy Story (1995)
  100. Ben-hur (1959)

And so, my New Year’s Resolution: to rid the above list of red. In other words, my goal, in 2008, is to watch these 41 movies:

  • A Night At The Opera
  • A Streetcar Named Desire
  • All About Eve
  • The Apartment
  • The Best Years Of Our lives
  • Bonnie And Clyde
  • The Bridge On The River Kwai done!
  • Bringing Up Baby done!
  • Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
  • Cabaret
  • City Lights done!
  • The Deer Hunter
  • Double Indemnity
  • The French Connection done!
  • The General
  • The Gold Rush
  • High Noon
  • In The Heat Of The Night
  • Intolerance
  • It Happened One Night
  • King Kong done!
  • The Last Picture Show done!
  • Midnight Cowboy
  • Modern Times
  • Mr. Smith Goes To Washington
  • Nashville done!
  • On The Waterfront done!
  • The Philadelphia Story
  • The Searchers
  • Shane
  • Singin’ In The Rain
  • Some like It Hot
  • Sophie’s Choice done!
  • Sullivan’s Travels
  • Sunrise
  • Sunset Blvd.
  • Swing Time
  • The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre
  • The Wild Bunch
  • West Side Story
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy done!

And then, time permitting, start in on:

  • The African Queen
  • American Graffiti
  • Annie Hall
  • Ben-hur
  • Duck Soup
  • Gone With The Wind
  • The Graduate
  • The Grapes Of Wrath
  • It’s A Wonderful life
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • North By Northwest
  • Psycho
  • Rear Window
  • Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs
  • The Sound Of Music
  • Vertigo
  • Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

Okay! Well, that probably ain’t happening. But we’ll see how close I get.

As Advertised

The Queen IMs me at work:

Queen: hey

Me: What’s up?

Q: Bored

Q: I called our insurance company, and have been on hold for like five minutes

Q: They are playing classic rock. Right now I am listening to “Can’t Get No Satisfaction”


The Iowa Caucuses

How about them Iowa Caucuses, huh?


In victory speech, Barak Obama called last Thursday “a defining moment in history”–presumably because it marked the first occasion in which a political prediction of mine actually came to pass. Although I said he’d win by “a significant (if not sizable) margin in Iowa,” and winning by eight percentage points strikes me as fairly sizable, so perhaps I’m still batting .000 after all.

After Obama’s speech, the NPR pundits were predicting GOP fratricide in the wake of Huckabee’s victory, and I had a lovely little daydream about all the Republican candidates turning on one another with such virulence that they somehow all lose, allowing Obama to waltz into the Oval office unchallenged. Sort of like a modern day “Millions Of Cats“:

Millions of Cats

Hell, maybe he could just adopt that as his campaign slogan.


Many assumed that my calling the election for Obama implied that I was rooting for him. Well, I am, kinda. But only because my first choice, Gore, has decided to spend this election home playing Blocksum on his three 30″ monitors; my second choice, Dodd, has, after a year of campaigning, managed to become as widely known as the gaffer on Daddy Day Camp; and my third choice, Edwards, has as much chance of getting elected president as I do of opening a line of Southern California Taco Trucks called “defective yummy” (“We Put The Eat Into Burrito!”).

Edwards was my man in 2004, and I still contend that he cwould have won, had he been nominated. But, to my mind, he’s been a moderately terrible candidate this time around. For one thing, I can’t help but wonder what he’s been doing since 2004–and the only conclusion I can come to is: running for president. Which means, really, he’s been running for President for five or six straight years, to the apparent exclusion of all other activities. And it doesn’t help when he says that the presidency is “his calling.” He’s pursuing the White House with such zeal that, were it a girl, it would have long ago politely asked him to stop calling and sought a restraining order. And, as the “Draft Al Gore!” and “Draft Fred Thompson!” and “Draft Wesley Clark!” movements demonstrate, Americans like candidates who feign disinterest in the presidency. The coy suitor, if you will, rather than the guy standing on the White House’s front lawn holding the boombox over his head blasting The Star Spangled Banner.

Still, of all the contenders (now that Dodd and Biden have dropped out), I think he’d make the best president. (Well, perhaps not as good as Hillary, but I have ruled her out for other reasons.) He has the experience Obama lacks, and the seriousness that just about everyone on everyone on the Republican side, save perhaps McCain and Paul, openly eschews. By “seriousness,” I mean that he has clearly thought about what he would do as president, and not just about how to get to be president. Check out this recent New York Times Interview with Edwards, for instance, or the issues page on his website. I get the sense that Edwards views the presidency as a job, and not just a plum.

Sadly, the media has this completely backwards, dismissing him as the lightweight in the race. And Edwards has largely brought this onto himself, with his relentless smile and a “sunny optimism” shtick that’s easily confused with blinkered shallowness. That kind of showmanship may have worked well in the courtroom, but here it has proven a total dud.

Anyway, I think Edwards may have served his purpose in this race: by edging Hillary out in Iowa by a fraction of a percent, he relegated her to “third” and made Obama seem much, much more the frontrunner than if she had come in second. That’s of enormous significance to the dynamic of the race, but probably the only thing of consequence Fate has in store for the Edwards campaign. He’s not going to be the protagonist of this story, alas, just a plot device.


I’d be happy to see Obama in the White House, though perhaps as a vice president first. Much of my reservations came while reading his book, The Audacity Of Hope, which is mostly written in the “Cowardly Journalist,” on-the-one-hand, on-the-other style of using a lot of words to say very little. His dissertation on the filibuster, for instance, is, like:

  • The filibuster is a hallowed and important senate tradition
  • But it was used to block very important reforms during the civil-rights era
  • But I don’t think it should be abolished
  • But, when Democrats consider using it, they should contemplate the fact that they are subverting the very principle of majority rule
  • But then they should use it anyway
  • But etc, etc.

Which wouldn’t bother me so much–“campaign books” are notorious for their meaninglessness–if it hadn’t made me so acutely aware of when he uses this same technique on the campaign trail.

By the way, I tried to read Al Gore’s most recent book, FATAL REASON ASSAULT IV: THE DUMBENING or whatever it’s called, and gave up on page 30, when I hit the line, “It was the new technology itself that empowered Galileo to describe a reality that was impossible to perceive so clearly until the new technology of the telescope made it possible,” one of many that was so bad that I could have written them. The guy has an Oscar and a Nobel Prize–you’d think we could rustle himself up an editor as well.


“It’s really impossible to overstate Chuck Norris’ impact on this race,” one pundit opined after Huckabee’s win in Iowa. And it’s also impossible to overstate the impact of Chuck Norris jokes in re-elevating Chuck Norris to the public consciousness.

This is the most influence an Internet meme has ever had, at least until Obama names Leslie Hall as Secretary of the Treasury.


I don’t know if you saw it, but before the Iowa Caucus Rudy Giuliani released the most fearmongering ad of the campaign.

After coming in fifth there, though, he decided to release this new ad, to really drive home the central theme of his campaign:


It’s … okay, I’ll just tell you. It contains Screaming Zombie Lady. You know, that asinine clip where you watch something relaxing and then all the sudden it becomes a scene of a ghoul shrieking at volume 12 and you shit your pants and have to leave work early to go get a new pair of Dockers? Yeah, it’s that one. If you insist on watching it, set the youtube volume to as low as it can go and still be audible. I wanted to spring it on you, but … I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Bah. I’m such a pussy.