Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy Late Thanksgiving, World

As is customary, there are a few things cultivating in the Dish, but for now it's all about the Bacchanalean food orgy that is Thanksgiving.

The missus, dog, and I headed south to my parents' digs for a satisfying feast yesterday, and today we'll be having some Thanksgiving orphans over to our place for a second gorge-fest. That means today, in my universe at least, is Thanksgiving Day, too.

In celebration and thanks, please find the winning entry in the illustrious 2007 Seattle Opera Hand Turkey competition, magnificently rendered by, um, me. Enjoy (or at least, don't chortle too derisively).

The Petri Dish will also ape one of television's grand traditions and direct you to a re-run in lieu of original programming: Namely, this 2005 entry about the greatest Thanksgiving movie ever created: Blood Freak (guess what's gonna be post-turkey-gorging entertainment at the old homestead this evening?). Happy Thanksgiving, and may all your turkey comas be restful, dark, and sweet.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Rick Springfield: The Rodney Dangerfield of '80's Rock

For a lot of years it wasn't fashionable to be a fan of Rick Springfield, unless you were a swooning teenage girl.

Rock snobs and insecure males everywhere dissed the musician/General Hospital heart-throb during the height of his musical success in the Reagan Years. But with that teen-idol stigma packed away in the old Pop Culture Hope Chest like a beat-up high school yearbook, the music he made stands the test of time surprisingly well.

Listening to his 1981 watershed record Working Class Dog (with its inescapably brilliant hit single, "Jessie's Girl") just cements this hypothesis. Pound for pound, it's one of the best power-pop records of its day, easily the equal in bright hooks and energy of anything the Plimsouls or Cheap Trick put out at the time (that's high praise indeed coming from this affirmed Cheap Trick nerd).

He gave his rock more polish and gloss than the aforementioned two outfits, but avoided Journey's strident hamminess and Bon Jovi's truly loathsome working-class-hair-metal poseurdom. He was smart enough to brilliantly cover the only good song Sammy Hagar ever wrote. And while he wasn't exactly Elvis Costello or John Lennon, the then-thirty-something Springfield wrote lyrics that felt a little smarter and more grown up than a lot of his peers. Yes, admit it, people: Rick Springfield kinda rocked.

And he still does, a fact duly noted by Rita and I as we watched Springfield in concert at the Emerald Queen Casino's I-5 Showroom on November 3. Snicker under your breath at the venue all you like, but there's no denying that the still-active soap-opera star put on a helluva show. The swooning women in the audience got an eyeful of their idol looking better than any 58-year-old man has any right to look, and those of us there for the actual music/concert end of it got some punchy pop-rock delivered with a lot of energy and showmanship--win-win all the way.

Springfield and his low-key but tight backup band opened with two hard-rocking new songs, then packed the remainder of the near two-hour show with liberal doses of classic chestnuts. The frontman bounded across the stage with the energy of a guy half his age, and played the old hits like he meant 'em (though stringing four or five of them together medley-style did smack of impatience). The man also seriously scorched on his six-string: at one point, he used one audience member's cel phone as a slide and fired off some wicked slide guitar riffs. All the way, he worked the crowd with the ease and aplomb of an old pro.

Rita hit the merch table after the show for not one, but two live DVDs, and we also picked up one of Springfield's recent, independently-released CDs (Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance, from 2004). The latter shows Springfield gracefully outfitting his signature sound with modern technology and a little post-grunge roar for seasoning, and he's even got the good taste to lay down a ripping cover version of the Easybeats' garage-pop classic, "Make You Happy." Loverboy, Bon Jovi, Sammy Hagar, and Journey should be so cool.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Passings: Actor/Singer Robert Goulet

For decades, Robert Goulet was Mr. Perfect.

With his old-showbiz helmet of pompadored black hair, bright blue eyes, chiseled jawline, and bell-clear baritone speaking/singing voice, Goulet (who died on October 30 at age 73) was less a traditional leading man than a larger-than-life cartoon of that leading man, and to his eternal credit he always seemed as keenly aware of it as anybody.

He rose to prominence as the stage's first (and I'd argue, definitive) Sir Lancelot in Lerner and Lowe's monster hit musical Camelot in 1959. That voice and those features--both strong and distinctive enough to clearly communicate to the back rows of the most packed houses on Broadway--ensured him frequent employ on the musical stage, most recently in 2005 for a revival of La Cage aux Folles. But Robert Goulet became celebrity comfort food of the most welcome variety for me (and many of my generation) on TV in the seventies and eighties, logging in scores of talk-show appearances and guest shots on episodic TV.

All the while, despite the rather unflattering portrait of him painted by ex-wife Carol Lawrence in her autobiography, he came off as an OK guy, and one of the few Handsome Famous People with a real awareness of the disparity between on-screen perception and real life. Recent years saw him having a grand time tweaking that image in The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear, on The Simpsons (his delivery of "Jingle Bells [Batman Smells]" remains one of the highest of that show's musical high points), and in a very funny Emerald Nuts commercial that hit national TV earlier this year.

Goulet also possessed that very old-school showbiz trait of genuinely appreciating his fans, a courtesy that Rita and I noted with joy ten years ago.

Back then, the missus and I--way too broke to entertain ourselves with the abject luxuries of first-run feature films, theater, or travel--spent a lot of spare time writing favorite celebrities for autographs. We found a photo of an unshaven and machine-gun-packing (!) Goulet from a 1970 war movie called Underground in the dollar bin at a local bookstore, and it was just screaming for his John Hancock. We wrote a gushy-but-sincere fan letter/signature request, and Rita and I mailed the oddball action shot to the Broadway vet.
Shortly thereafter, we received our reply envelope back with the photo signed, plus an extra personally-autographed color 8x10. He'd even paid the extra postage to ship the heavier return envelope. We were happy as the proverbial clams.

Rita carefully filed away the autographs in a binder, and it wasn't until a few weeks later that we noticed some handwriting on the back of the Machine Gun Goulet picture as well as on the front.
It definitively revealed to us that Robert Goulet could have as much of a good-natured chuckle about the twists and turns of his career as anyone. And I'll miss that brightness of spirit as sorely as Broadway will miss that theater-filling voice.