John Y. Brown, III: The Maverick

jyb_musingsMavericks can be good guys

So long to James Garner who made us smile more than he made us think– because his characters seemed always to have a short-cut line to the obvious.

Commonsense, plain talk and good-naturedness made Garner’s characters both relateable and admirable to us watching at home. And always, of course, endearing. 

James Garner’s characters never quite rose to the level of charming because charming connotes some degree of manipulation being at play. And whether playing a Maverick or plained clothed Rockford detective, Garner’s characters were always defined by their transparency. They were mischevious, yes; but never covert or manipulative. His characters were certainly known for cracking wise — but the emphasis was always on the wise part rather than the cracking part. He always was, underneath it all, a gentle man playing someone tougher than he was meant to be…but happily playing along.

James Garner always seemed to play the guy you wanted to hang out with but never got the chance to.

And now he’s gone. But it was sure nice knowing him Thanks for all the smiles, Mr Garner, especially the knowing smiles that were your trademark. You will be missed.

And we suspect you have already found something in Heaven that is causing you to smirk to yourself –gently, as always. It’s just too bad we can’t be watching.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Sunday Morning

jybderby_1Sunday morning.

Eight thirty in the A.M.

A blonde dame, my wife Rebecca, was in the other room.

She was trouble but knew what she wanted –even if she didn’t know why. I was attracted to trouble, especially trouble named Rebecca. I didn’t know what I wanted—but at least I knew why (thanks to a good therapist who cost me some serious cabbage). 

We each had a cup of Joe –mine with sugar and cream; hers with Splenda and skim milk.

Like I said, it was Sunday.

And Sundays can be boring.

jyb_musingsSo I tried to fancy it up with film noir dialogue. Dialogue that was edgy hut as plain and as cheap as a two day old vanilla scone from a coffee shop you’ve never heard of –and will never go back to (after eating the two day old vanilla scone).

I didn’t create this problem of facing long Sundays with no plans. But I was going to have to solve it.

It’s what I do.

I don’t know why it’s what I do. But I do know why I don’t know why. (See above about having a good therapist.)

It wasn’t the beginning of a beautiful friendship. It was the middle of a beautiful marriage. That line may not be as catchy as the one from Casablanca, but it’s more than Bogie and Ingrid Bergman ever had. And it’s in color, see?

Maybe the middle of beautiful marriages isn’t supposed to make you think of film noir—of dark alleyways, danger and surprise lurking, guns with fingers twitching and bad dialogue around ever corner. I guess they are more like a relaxing Sunday morning. But still with a cup of Joe. And preferably fresh scones, from the coffee shop you know always go to.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: American Idol

10353579_10154263975915515_4282905237645892781_nSuper Proud Dad!!

Maggie made the cut to go to the Producer’s round at Disney’s American Idol.

And then she made the semi-finals round

And then Maggie won the semi-finals in front of an audience of several hundred –and was one of five to make it to the finals.

And performed in the finals that evening –just having turned 16 (too young to compete for American Idol) and about half the average age of the other four competitors.

Just incredible…and got reviewed by the judges as “Taylor Swift like” and ” a music producer and marketer’s dream” 

===

Like daughter like father

jyb_musingsThat was the thought today when Maggie persuaded me this morning to try out for Disney’s American Idol–after her great success making it all the way to the finals.

I was alone in a small room with an affable Disney female judge and with my daughter Maggie sitting in the corner grinning with anticipation. 

Judge: Can I get your name and is this your daughter?

Me: John Brown and, yes, this is my daughter Maggie and she made the finals at Disney’s American Idol yesterday. (Hoping to score a few points for myself with this fact.)

Judge (to Maggie): Oh my goodness! Congratulations!! I see up to 50 contestants a day and send maybe 1 to the producer who decides if that person goes to semi finals. You must be very proud, Dad.

Me: Yes, very proud for sure!

Judge: Tell me about your singing.

Me: (looking confused)

Judge: Where do you sing? Are you trained?

Me: Oh. No training. Just sing in the shower. Sometimes.

Judge: Ok. Well…great. Go right ahead.

Me: (Fumbling with phone to read lyrics and starting off with voice quavering. I sing 30 seconds of James Taylor and know I bombed except for 2-3 seconds where I really nailed it.)

Judge: Wow. That was nice. Really nice (Saying it the way someone would who says that exact same thing about 49 times a day would say it.)

Me: (Smiling stupidly and thinking to myself if she focuses on only the 2-3 seconds I nailed it and nothing else, I might get to next round….but knowing that isn’t happening)

Judge: If you could get some training in voice and practice singing and really commit to it, etc, etc.

Me: (Before she drops the “Congratulations for trying” bomb, I interupt) That is great and I really appreciate it but I need to let you know that for the finals competition (I look at my daughter), I am really busy this afternoon and can’t make it then. But I can do the finals competition later this afternoon or early evening –but it would have to be after 5pm. Sorry. But I have some.work commitments I really need to….

Judge: (Most awkward smile I have seen in a long time) Ok, Mr Brown. Let me explain how this process works.

Me: (interrupting) I am just kidding. I know I didn’t make it.

Judge: Phew! OK. Wow! You had me worried there for a minute.

Me: Yeah. No need to tell me how close I was. I think the key was I needed a Valium. Then my voice wouldn’t have quavered.

Judge (laughs) Well…

Me: And if I had brought an extra Valium for you, too, I think I could have made it to the next round.

Judge: You are funny. If you develop your voice, you would be really good with the audience. (Then she wrapped it up like she does about 49 times a day so feelings don’t get hurt– and, mostly, to avoid losing contestants snapping and having a total melt down.)

I didn’t have a meltdown and my feelings weren’t hurt either. I shook the judge’s hand and left. I was disappointed I didn’t make the cut but glad I tried — and really glad I wouldn’t have to come up with several hundred Valium for the audience if I had made it to the next round.

And besides, my daughter rocked the finals competiton two nights before.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The News

jyb_musingsIf you listen carefully to the news every morning you can’t help but notice it sounds about the same every day.

Some sports scores, somebody goes to jail, a corporate acquisition, some political races, an overcast outlook with temperatures going up and then down, an odd fact and a human interest story about someone we don’t know getting a nice break. 

I don’t even need to listen. 

If we can put a man on the moon, you would think the people making our daily news could mix it up a little with what they do each day that is newsworthy.

Lauren Mayer: The Music of Science

Music & science may seem to be strange bedfellows – the only songs I could think of were Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science” from the ’80s (and if you’re not old enough to remember that era and its fabulous goofy technopop, check out Devo while you’re at it), and “I Sing The Body Electric” from Fame (from the ’70s, which is making me feel really old . . . but I digress)

Generally they would seem to be polar opposites – science is about concrete data and provable facts, where music is emotional and subjective. Sure, you can give a scientific description of sound waves, but that doesn’t explain why some pieces of music affect us so emotionally. (For example, I get goosebumps when I hear the french horn entrance toward the end of the 4th movement of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony; I also start giggling every time I hear the intro to Spike Jones’ version of Hawaiian War Chant . . . ) Besides, trying to analyze the beauty of music reminds me of E. B. White’s comment about why analyzing humor was like dissecting a frog – “Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”

However, there is concrete scientific data on music’s value in aiding retention of information – it connects with the brain on multiple levels, which is why we teach kids the ABC song, or why anyone who ever learned the “50 Nifty” tune has no trouble remembering all 50 states in alphabetical order. (This multi-layer connection also explains “ear worms,” which is a disgustingly appropriate term for a tune that you can’t get out of your head. Often a TV theme or a commercial jingle . . . anyone old enough to remember “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is?”)

Science is getting a bad rap these days from people who deny climate change – an affliction common among right wing politicians and media pundits. Cosmos host Neil DeGrasse Tyson is doing his best to combat this willful ignorance, including his wonderful quote, “The good thing about science is that it’s true, whether or not you believe in it.” I don’t have Tyson’s scientific expertise (or a TV show), but I can do my part by using music to help make the same point. (And to tie this all together, I’ve borrowed an ear-worm-ish ’80s TV theme . . . )

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Straight Time

jyb_musingsAt lunch today we discussed the study of criminology with my niece, Meg Talley

The discussion –which eventually led to the topic of the criminal mind –reminded me of one of the great sleeper movies I have ever seen: Straight Time starring Dustin Hoffman.

The movie was released in the late 1970s and, in my view, is a classic study of the criminal mind.

Too often film and television celebrate and glorify the cleverness or boldness of criminal characters. But that depiction rarely seems to ring true to me.

The reason I believe Straight Time is such a powerful and insightful film is that it captures the mind of a criminal in a more credible and convincing manner–in its pettiness and mundaneness. Hoffman plays a common criminal who is endearing but uncomfortable outside of his criminal survival inclinations which, for him, have become instinctive. There is little to nothing about him to glamorize — or demonize, for that matter.

He is a common hustler and con man. Like most hustlers and con men, he is on the surface likable and even endearing. But underneath there is only a calculated instinct to take from others who seem only to exist as props in a never-ending slow motion heist. He tries to connect with others but can’t. Every interaction is just a step toward the next “job.” It’s business, not personal. And criminal not legit.

Hoffman’s character is pitiable at times and despicable at times. But mostly he is just an ordinary little man who approaches life day-by-day in a small and unimaginative manner to get by in a world that isn’t as complicated as he thinks it is yet is convinced he is destined to outsmart it.

But the criminal character in this film seems more real than usual and isn’t defined by bold or clever gestures that somehow seem heroic— but rather is defined by gestures that are crude and futile and essentially remorseless. He lives a criminal life that is noteworthy not for its tortured depth or unpredictable drama but rather is noteworthy merely for it’s shallowness, vapidness and painful predictability.

The Ugliest Negative Ad of the Political Cycle…Is Against Jonathan Miller?!?!

This shocking negative campaign ad was recently posted on YouTube by a shadowy political campaign finance group, likely funded by billionaires who desperately want The Recovering Politician, Jonathan Miller, to lose Dancing with the Lexington Stars:

If you despise this type of campaigning please vote for Jonathan Miller here to win Dancing with the Lexington Stars. Each vote costs $5 and benefits the extraordinary work of Surgery on Sunday and the Lexington Rotary Club Endowment Fund.

Of course, if you agree with the message of the ad, then please go here and vote for anybody but Jonathan Miller.  Every $5 contribution helps some truly needy and deserving people in our community.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: “Survivor: For Real”

Idea for a new reality TV show

“Survivor: For Real”

Twelve companies that provide online services (e.g. reservations, etc) –and then make it nearly impossible to ever reach a human by phone and, if you do, it is only to talk to a well-trained call center worker who has memorized every conceivable polite way of telling you you will get absolutely no help— will have their CEOs and call center employees transported to a marooned island with no food or shelter or cell phones.

jyb_musingsAlso on the island are the frustrated customers of these 12 companies and they will have much more food and shelter than they need –as well as having cell phones. But this group will be unable to talk live to any of the CEOs or call center workers who are begging for food and shelter because they will be on their cell phones and can’t be bothered. But they will be very polite about explaining why they can’t talk or help right now. And tell them to have a nice day and ask if they would agree to participate in a customer service survey.

The ensuing fun will be something most every viewer will be able to appreciate.

Best Speech of the 20th Century? RFK or Blutarsky?

 

 

 

 

Yesterday, on the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., I wrote this piece at The Daily Beast declaring Robert Kennedy’s eulogy to King as the greatest speech of the 20th century.

A loyal reader, the obscenely youthful looking media personality/stand-up comic/right-wing-nut-job Lee Cruse disagreed:

Cruse makes a point: John “Bluto” Blutarsky’s most famous line:

What? Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!…

is certainly more quotable than RFK’s exegesis on Greek poet Aeschylus:

And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

But it is only fair to compare the speeches as a whole.  So, in the spirit of a fair competition, I post the videos of both orations and ask the RP Nation to decide.  Is either the greatest speech of the 20th Century?  Or does another surpass it?  King’s “I Have a Dream”? Reagan’s “Tear Down that Wall”?  Carl Spackler’s “It’s in the hole!”?

Let us know in the comments below:

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The Trouble with Predicting the Future

We can’t know the future but we can try to guess as accurately as possible what the future will likely look like for us. But at best we can only approximate small parts of it. And it is imposible to know which parts will be correct.

When I was a boy I watched the Jetson’s cartoon every Saturday morning. Not so much because I enjoyed the storyline but rather because I wanted to get glimpses into what my high-tech futuristic life would be like.

jyb_musingsAs it turns out—over 40 years later–very little in my world resembles what was promised to me in the Jetson’s cartoon. No spaceships, no spacesuits, no hopping from planet to planet. Not even a robot dog that comes fully house trained.

The only similarities, if I really press myself, is that I am as goofy and ineffectual as George Jetson and my wife is as hot as Judy.

But the rest I will have to wait on.

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