Monday, August 25, 2008

8 things I love about Mad Men

1. The period detail: Everything looks right: The authentic looking 60's sets, production design, and props are perfectly realized.
2. The acting: Every actor on the show from walk-ons to the main characters, are top notch, and utterly convincing.
3. The costumes: They're almost characters in themselves. The wonderful ad-man flannel suits and the form fitting vintage dresses.
4. The writing: Fluid, straightforward, smart. Episodic, but avoids soap opera conventions.
5. The drinking: One of the funniest show elements is no matter where the characters are, in a bar, at work, in a restaurant, or at home, someone always seems to have a drink in their hand.
6. The smoking: almost as often as the drinking, someone is always seen lighting up.
7. The hair: From Don Draper's unnaturally perfect jet black locks to Joan's Lucy Ricardo red coif.
8. The comfort: Of cuddling with my girlfriend on a late night watching our favorite show.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Some of My Favorite Artists (1): Pj Harvey

I first encountered Polly Jean Harvey on David Byrne's old PBS music showcase, Sessions at West 54tha terrific series that featured up-and-coming artists. Through that show, I also began love affairs with Chocolate Genius and Tricky,  two other amazing musicians I also saw for the first time.

I had never seen anyone quite like her.  She had a beautifully harsh, controlled voice that she used to maximum effectiveness, screaming, hiccuping, shouting --while holding in her hands this huge, obscenely loud guitar despite her skinny, slight frame. At first glance, I thought she was physically homely, but her intensity and ferociousness made me quickly appreciate her image. She was womanly-- but not feminist. Her hyper wails of anger and frustration mingled with an aggressive sexuality.  

Harvey is an artist that continues to evolve.  Her first albums, Dry and Rid Of Me were all about raw, punkish rock n' roll, but her third disc, the critically acclaimed To Bring You My Love, despite having some effective rockers, was more experimental and varied in tone.  

Is This Desire? A near-concept record, had a quiet, folky atmosphere with beautiful, wistful songs.  Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea and Uh Huh Her, were  a return to a more rock oriented sound, though more commercial.  Her last album, White Chalk, is another subdued affair with a dark, gothic tone.   

An eccentric character, Harvey always continues to surprise. 

Favorite Songs: Victory, Happy and Bleeding, Legs, Rub 'Til It Bleeds,  50 Foot Queenie, Snake, Rid Of Me, To Bring You My Love, Meet Ze Monsta, Working For The Man, Electric Light, The River, Catherine, Big Exit, The Mess We're In

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sun Ra song: Nuclear War

(click title for song)
This an amazing Sun Ra song I happened to run into on the web. It's from around 1982,when there was a lot of buzz going around about the threat of nuclear war between the USSR & the states.  According to, Ra really thought he had a hit song and took it to Columbia Records and had it soundly rejected. Listen to it for just a couple of moments and you'll realize he really must have had his head somewhere in space. The word motherfucker is used over a dozen times--and with lyrics like "It's a motherfucker don't you know/if they push that button yo' ass gotta go. and whatcha gonna do without your ass?"

But I love it. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I'm talkin 'bout Isaac Hayes (Shut Yo' Mouth!)

The Leopard is sure that in the coming weeks there will be dozens of articles, obits and tributes about the original Black Moses, Isaac Hayes,  flooding the media. There probably won't be anything that The Leopard can contribute in that area that won't already be covered about the fruitful musical life of the man who was the very personification of soul.

So I can only offer a youthful rumination.  The first time I remember seeing Hayes' image, it was in the basement at my aunt's house. My aunt and uncle were the hippest folks in my family and they always had the latest records. I used to enjoy just looking at the album covers: Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and The Pips. I especially loved The Ohio Players covers, like the one for the album called Fire featuring a model with nothing on but a fire chief hat. Up until that time, it was the closest thing I'd come to an actual Playboy magazine.

Then there was Isaac Hayes. My aunt and uncle must have been big fans because they seemed to have all his records.  I remember the Black Moses album that folded out into a crucifix. But my favorite was Hot Buttered Soul. Of course, I had no idea what that meant, but I loved the cover image, looking down on Hayes's bald head. I used to stare at the cover while listening to the groovy, soulful sound of his voice.  I looked at it so much that I remember thinking if it's called Hot Buttered Soul, maybe they should have put a pat of butter melting on his head--pretty silly.

The music was different than anything I'd ever heard before--all the songs were abnormally long, sometimes as much as 20 minutes, a whole album side--and had fascinating spoken introductions recited in Hayes's trademark gravelly baritone.

Shaft was everywhere on the radio in 1971.  Everyone I knew had a copy of the album or the single. The Theme From Shaft is probably one of the most recognizable pieces of music ever written.  It is unforgettable. 

Kinda like the man himself.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Recently, The Leopard was having a conversation at lunch with some co-workers about fears. What is it that we are afraid of? We all agreed that our biggest fear would be the death of a loved one: our children, our spouses, our significant others. But what were our childhood fears when we were kids and more self-centered?

I mentioned that the first thing I remember really being afraid of was the Wicked Witch from Wizard of Oz. They used to play it every year around Thanksgiving or Easter and I loved the movie and was mesmerized by it, but I hated the Witch. I remember from the moment when she first arrives to fetch the ruby slippers in one of the early scenes set in Munchkin Land. I would cower in my seat, hugging a couch cushion tightly to me.

In our conversation at lunch, someone interjected that they were afraid of the flying monkeys. She said that she used to have nightmares about them. They never bugged me. Their frozen faces were obviously masks, and even at 8 years old I knew they were fake and you could clearly see the wire harnesses connected to their backs when they "flew". So it's interesting to note, based on personal experience even at that young age, what's scary to some people and what's not.

I think the scariest movie I'd ever seen in my adolescence was The Exorcist. The mixture of religious imagery the sexual references, and the utter grossness of the film freaked me out. I couldn't sleep after seeing it for days. Unlike vampires whom you could fight with a cross and a wooden stake, or Frankenstein, who walked so slow I always imagined I could outrun him, the Devil was everywhere. There wasn't really anything to fight. Like the scene in The Omen where David Warner's head is lopped off by a large sheet of plate glass.

As you get older, you tend to have more realistic fears. The thugs on the street, someone breaking into your home, the car accident.

In the summers, I usually see several children's films with my kids. This year I haven't seen any. The reason is my youngest saw a poster for Dark Knight and the image of the Joker horrified him. Since then, I haven't been able to get him into the theater to see any film. For him The joker is his Exorcist. I don't blame him. If I were 5 years old, I might feel the same way.

The Leopard was afraid of the dark until I was around 8. My parents allowed me to have a blue light in my room until my older brother finally got fed up and took it away. I'm not sure what I was afraid of, there in the dark. I think the Wicked Witch, ready to fly me away to her dark castle. Never could figure out what she'd want with me, though.