Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Biggest Stage On Earth

Since the show aired in 1975, Saturday Night Live (SNL) has not only been THE place for budding comedic talent to become famous but it has also been THE place where musicians have the opportunity to perform for millions of viewers at home. If you are a musician and you get invited to play on SNL you know you’ve made it – or at least that you’re on your way.

Right out of the gate this show had some big names take their stage including Randy Newman, Art Garfunkel and ABBA – and that was just in 1975. Since then the names have become increasingly star-studded and some of the performances have become legendary. The fact that a television show, which is basically designed as a sequence of comedic sketches, could bring in such renowned talent definitely speaks to its credentials but here’s the question: How did it become such a popular (and at times necessary) venue for artists? Why have musical acts always been so drawn to performing there? Was it because they figured it was the best way to gain exposure? Since MTV didn’t exist until 1981 was it one of the only ways to get yourself on TV while playing music? Or maybe it was the idea of putting famous actors, comedians and musicians in the same place.

Either way, in the 35 years SNL has been on the air, an impressive list of artists have taken the stage, sometimes several years in a row, making it arguably the most sought after music venue of all time. Here is my list of the best of the best of the biggest names with no repeats:

1976 – Jimmy Cliff, Patti Smith, Carly Simon, James Taylor, John Prine, Joe Cocker
1977 – The Kinks, Chuck Berry, Santana, Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles
1978 – Bonnie Raitt, Billy Joel, Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones
1979 – Blondie, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, David Bowie
1980 – Sam & Dave, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, James Brown
1981 – Prince, Rod Stewart, Meat Loaf
1982 – John Cougar Mellencamp, The Allman Brothers Band, Elton John, Queen, The Clash
1983 – Stevie Wonder, Michael McDonald, Stevie Nicks
1984 – Billy Idol, Billy Squire, Robert Plant & the Honeydrippers
1985 – Tina Turner, Bryan Adams, Sade
1986 – Stevie Ray Vaughan, Run-DMC, Lou Reed
1987 – Roy Orbison, LL Cool J, Sting, The Cars, Cher
1988 – Randy Travis, Keith Richards, Tracy Chapman
1989 – Dolly Parton, Don Henley, Neil Young
1990 – Aerosmith, Eric Clapton, Mariah Carey
1991 – Whitney Houston, The Black Crowes, Public Enemy, Skid Row
1992 – Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, En Vogue, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam
1993 – Bon Jovi, Madonna, Peter Gabriel, Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots
1994 – Counting Crowes, Salt-N-Pepa, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Janet Jackson, Green Day, Hole
1995 – The Cranberries, Dave Matthews Band, TLC, Alanis Morissette, Bush, Foo Fighters
1996 – Tori Amos, Coolio, Tupac Shakur, Everclear, Soundgarden, Sheryl Crow, Fiona Apple
1997 – Live, Jewel, Oasis, Jane’s Addiction, Metallica, Sarah McLachlan
1998 – Garth Brooks, Natalie Imbruglia, Third Eye Blind, Puff Daddy, Beastie Boys, Lauryn Hill
1999 – Beck, Everlast, Barenaked Ladies, Lucinda Williams, Dr. Dre, Eminem
2000 – AC/DC, Christina Aguilera, Kid Rock, The Wallflowers, Jay-Z
2001 – Lenny Kravitz, Weezer, Destiny’s Child, Alicia Keys, Macy Gray, No Doubt
2002 – Faith Hill, The White Stripes, Beyonce, Eve, Norah Jones
2003 – Dixie Chicks, 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Outkast, Pink
2004 – The Black Eyed Peas, Maroon 5, Toots & the Maytals, The Roots, Ben Harper
2005 – Kelly Clarkson, Gwen Stefani, Queens of the Stone Age
2006 – The Strokes, Mary J. Blige, Tenacious D, Ludacris
2007 – Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Kanye West
2008 – Gnarls Barkley, Lil Wayne, Kings of Leon, T.I.
2009 – Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Regina Spektor
2010 – Them Crooked Vultures, Jennifer Lopez, Kesha, Katy Perry, Florence + the Machine

Can you believe all those musicians have played on that same stage over the past 35 years? Neither can I.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Heart Wrenching Acting

Whether or not you’re a fan of Private Practice (the Grey’s Anatomy spinoff starring Kate Walsh as Addison Montgomery) you need to watch the episode where Charlotte (KaDee Strickland) gets raped. It is horrifying, heart wrenching and so real that you won’t be able to look away. It was also one of the bravest performances I’ve ever seen by a television actor.

But let me back up a minute. This show is based around Oceanside Wellness Group, a co-op private practice in Los Angeles where several types of medical practitioners reside under one roof. The doctors’ fields include Neonatal Surgery, Obstetrics, Alternative Medicine, Infectious Diseases, Critical Care, Reproductive Infertility, Pediatrics, Urology, Sexology, Psychiatry, Neurosurgery, Internal Medicine and Cardiothoracic Surgery, among others.

In the episode centered around Charlotte’s rape we find out that this no-bullshit southern broad can’t take pain killers for her severe wounds because of a pill problem she used to have. We know this only because she explicitly insists that she can’t take pain killers and as a result, we watch the excruciating pain she goes through as another doctor stitches her wounds without the help of anesthesia.

To say that KaDee Strickland’s performance in the rape episode was Emmy-worthy is a severe understatement. The anger, fear, embarrassment and agony in her eyes was palpable. It gave me the chills to watch a character who is usually tough as nails be subjected to the kind of horrific aftermath that rape leaves. In the subsequent episode we see Charlotte’s fellow doctors trying to help but it only makes it worse. Addison is the only one who knows she was raped – everyone else (including Charlotte's fiancée) thinks she was mugged. Charlotte wants everyone to treat her normally but there is nothing normal about the damage that was inflicted on this woman. The “aftermath” episode concludes with Charlotte scurrying over to fellow doctor Amelia’s office (also a former addict) to ask her to go to a meeting. If that’s not strength and bravery I don’t know what is.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Give The Gift Of Music

With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching (in three days to be exact) the holidays are definitely here and that means a slew of new albums will be hitting stores and iTunes at seemingly warp speed. Although it makes sense for artists and record labels to release new material as close to the holidays as possible some of the Tuesdays coming up have as many as 13 new discs released in one day. So how do you decide what’s worth it? If you’re looking to put a few albums in stockings this year or are thinking about giving iTunes gift cards to the ones you love here are some good choices to consider:

Released November 16:

Kid Rock - Born Free
Nelly - 5.0
Pink - Greatest Hits…So Far!!!
Rascal Flatts - Nothing Like This
Rihanna - Loud
Bruce Springsteen - The Promise (compilation of unreleased songs from Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions)
Keith Urban – Get Closer

Here are a few to look forward to just in time for the holidays:

November 22

Kesha – Cannibal
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

November 30

Black Eye Peas - The Beginning
Flo Rida - Only One Flo (Part 1)
Ron Isley - Mr I

December 7

T.I. – No Mercy
Natasha Bedingfield - Strip Me
Daft Punk - Tron Legacy (Soundtrack)

December 14

Crystal Bowersox - Title TBA
Michael Jackson - Michael
Young Jeezy - TM 103

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Beatles Shmeatles

Yesterday (yes I started this post like that on purpose) the Beatles finally caved and put their albums for sale on iTunes and apparently the world is rejoicing. Although I’m well aware that I’m in the minority when it comes to my thoughts on the Beatles I’ll share them anyway: I don’t think they are as great as everyone thinks they are. I’ll wait a minute while you pick your jaws up off the floor – yes Mom, you too.

Even though I’m not a fan I’ll give credit where credit is due: The Beatles have sold millions of records, are music icons and there is no question that the four of them are legends. That being said, I think they are overrated. And I finally found someone who agrees with me - acclaimed writer Malcom Gladwell. You may recognize his name, as he is also the author of another very popular book, The Tipping Point, but I’m especially interested in Outliers because in it he helps me prove my Beatles theory.

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. To support his thesis, he talks about the causes of why the majority of Canadian ice hockey players are born in the first few months of the calendar year, how Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates achieved his extreme wealth and how two people with exceptional intelligence, Christopher Langan and J. Robert Oppenheimer, end up with such vastly different fortunes.

A common theme throughout the book is the “10,000-Hour Rule” which claims that the key to success in any field is a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. Gladwell asserts that greatness requires enormous time, using the Beatles’ musical talents and Gates' computer savvy as examples. The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, therefore meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule. Gladwell asserts that all of the time the Beatles spent performing shaped their talent, “so by the time they returned to England from Hamburg, Germany, ‘they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them.’” Similarly, Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it.

While there are a few Beatles songs I really do like such as “Come Together,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Penny Lane” I just see them as a boy band from the sixties. If they were a band of the nineties they would have been the Backstreet Boys or N’Sync. But millions of people all over the world love them and think they are the greatest band that has ever lived and now they can finally buy all the songs they want on iTunes. I guess yesterday was a good day for music after all.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Willow Who?

Have you seen the new Willow Smith video? Oh I’m sorry…you don’t know who Willow Smith is? Neither did I until recently so I'll tell you what I've learned: She’s the daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith which pretty much makes her pop/rap/hip- hop royalty. She’s also 10 years old and has a new single called “Whip My Hair” which is equally ridiculous and genius. While everyone in the English-speaking world knows who her parents are, that same world was just recently introduced to the youngest Smith spawn who, barely in double digits, has signed with Jay-Z’s record label Roc Nation.

When I initially sat down to watch Willow’s first music video I was skeptical. I thought to myself: How could a 10-year-old not only be the latest Jay-Z protégé but also the seemingly youngest person in recent memory with a record deal? Well, here’s the story. While Willow does have some skills they are minimized by the constant repetition of the phrase “whip my hair” and the way too many close ups of our little lady’s cute face. When she has a chance to sing/rap she is actually very good –shocking because of her age but not shocking because of her roots.

The video is in visual overdrive as it starts in “boring” black and white and then moves into color with the help of our young heroine decked out in bright colored rings, makeup and attire. While the video is visually pleasing it is also very predictable which I’m sure has more to do with her parents' producer friends and less to do with her personal decisions. Is she even old enough to make personal decisions?

At the same time, this is an exciting debut for a girl who technically should still be in elementary school. She is confident, fun and actually has a great voice. The big question is whether or not Willow will be able to shake the child-star blues in a few years. My guess is yes but who knows where the music industry will be at that point. Even though the Smith spawn has a lot to learn she has definitely made her mark on the game.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Grey’s Anatomy Gains Some Ground

When I first heard that Grey’s Anatomy was doing a documentary-style episode that would take place six months after the hospital suffered a horrendous shooting in last season’s finale, I was less than excited. Although the first four seasons of the show were medical drama at its finest I have found this season to be either too dull or so unnecessarily graphic that I’ve almost lost my dinner more than once. There was a time that I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next on Grey’s but recently that has not been the case so it’s no surprise that it took me so long to watch this episode – it aired two weeks ago but I just got around to watching it on DVR. That being said, this episode reminded me why this show is so good as it was gripping, at times tough to watch and inspirational all in 45 minutes.

While all the major characters were interviewed by the “film crew” throughout the episode, there were a few that stood out. Callie, Derek and Mark worked on giving a patient new arms, Alex Karev literally grew a new trachea for a little girl, Bailey performed a surgery on a patient who was in the hospital the day of the shooting and Arizona was offered a grant that would require her moving to Africa. All these situations were very intense but they flowed seamlessly in this episode. Everyone was on their game both as actors and "doctors," making the show so exciting that it was hard to look away.

I know that I’m not spoiling anything because this episode aired a while ago so here’s how it all turned out: Callie, Derek and Mark successfully attached the donor arms on their patient which was no small miracle. One of the donor’s arms had a tattoo that said “Nicole” for his wife (an extraordinary woman who also part of the documentary) and once the procedure was over and the man began healing the documentary told us that man tattooed “Thank you” above the name Nicole. While Karev grew the new trachea he slept in the room with his patient because her mother lived too far away and couldn’t afford to visit every day. We learn through the documentary that he not only saved the little girl’s life but also was a guest speaker in her class at school. Bailey’s patient never woke up from her routine procedure which was no question the most heartbreaking part of the episode. We later see the woman’s husband having to make the call to unhook her from life support. Arizona took the grant in Africa and Callie said she was going with her. Does that mean they are both leaving the show? We’ll see….but I think the idea of both of them leaving the show is doubtful.

Although Meredith and Christina had the most “on air” documentary time neither of them had big parts in the medical portions of the program. The two of them mostly talked about what it was like for Meredith to see her husband shot and for Christina to heroically save his life while at gun point. Christina, who has been hit the hardest after the shooting, ends the episode with a stoic and intense last line: "Sometimes being a hero has its price."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Born Free

Tuesday, November 16 can’t come soon enough. Why? Because that’s the release date for Kid Rock’s new album Born Free. For all you Kid Rock haters out there listen to his latest single and you’ll change your mind. It’s American rock and roll at its finest and I’m sure the rest of the album will be just as awesome.

With five Grammy Award nominations including Best New Artist and Best Hard Rock Performance under his belt, Kid Rock is a force to be reckoned with. His breakout record was 1998’s Devil Without a Cause which sold 11 million albums behind the hits “Bawitdaba,” “Cowboy” and “Only God Knows Why.” In 2000, he released The History of Rock which was a compilation of remixed and remastered versions of songs from his previous albums as well as the hit single, “American Bad Ass.” In 2001, he released the follow up, Cocky. After a slow start, his country-flavored hit “Picture” with Sheryl Crow resurrected the album and it went gold as a single and pushed the album's sales to more than five million. It was followed by 2003's self-titled release, which failed to chart a major hit and in 2006 he released his only live album to date entitled Live Trucker.

Then came the song that seemingly everyone on the planet couldn’t get enough of, “All Summer Long,” which was part of 2007’s Rock N Roll Jesus. The ubiquitous smash hit was a mash up of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.” Twangy and catchy at the same time, the song was Rock’s first worldwide smash hit, charting number one in eight countries across Europe and Australia. As a result, Rock N Roll Jesus would go on to sell five million albums worldwide including being certified triple platinum in the United States. In total, Kid Rock has sold 22 million albums to date in the U.S.

While some people are turned off by his loud, R-rated songs, his sometimes pimp-like attire and the fact that he married and divorced Pamela Anderson, Kid Rock is a true musician. I saw him live a few years ago and he absolutely blew me away. The guy played like eight instruments and could go back and forth between singing and rapping without missing a beat. Literally. He also is constantly crossing over genres of music. Whether he’s singing rock and roll, rap, metal, country or even a ballad, he will make believers out of his listeners. While “Cowboy” is a fun party song that always gets me going, “Picture” is on the other side of the spectrum as Rock duets/harmonizes with a female singer and plays acoustic guitar. “All Summer Long” was inescapable for probably close to two years and although the tune was partly taken from other songs Rock made it his own. Every time I hear it I think of Bob Seeger singing about Michigan in “Night Moves” which is something I didn’t think I’d ever say when Rock first hit the big time airwaves ten years ago.

Of course the success of Born Free remains to be seen but if his first single is any indication this record may be another multi-million dollar hit. I mean, he did say “I’m going platinum” in “Bawitdaba.” I’d say mission accomplished.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Importance Of Coaches

Every good sports movie features a coach that made an impact on the lives of his or her players. In inspirational films like Coach Carter, Miracle and Hooisers and even in intense sports movies like Any Given Sunday, coaches are the key to making their players better people and their teams more competitive. While I did have some excellent teachers over the years there are some names I have forgotten. Conversely, the names of my coaches have and will always stay with me.

This past weekend in Miami my high school basketball coach, Dave Hewett, retired after 39 years. Although there is no question that coaching football and basketball is his passion, at the age of 62 he should be doing the other things he loves that are less stressful like listening to Jimmy Buffet records and fishing. Although his heart told him not to retire his head and the rest of his body knew it was time to move on. And so, the longest active coach in Miami Dade high school sports coached his final football game under the lights at Ransom Everglades on Friday, November 5.

As I’m sure Carly and Shaina remember, Coach Hewett wasn’t the easiest guy to play for but there was so much about him that we loved. His one-liners, the way he stood with his arms crossed, his pick and roll plays, etc. His dry sense of humor is one-of-a-kind and there is no question that Coach Hewett is an original. There is not and will never be anyone like him.

A few of my favorite Hewett sayings:

“If the queen had balls she’d be king.”

“I want you guarding that player like flies on stink.”

“Yeah man.”

At Hewett’s final football game on Friday several generations of players congregated to watch and pay their respects. Players from prestigious high schools such as Palmer, Belen and of course Ransom, whose ages ranged from 16 to at least 40, were there to talk about their favorite and most idiosyncratic coach. It was amazing to see all those people come together for him and to share all of their fond and funny memories of one of the best personalities in high school sports.

While Coach Hewett was mainly a football coach I will never forget playing basketball for him for three years at Ransom. He is so much of a character that Mo had Hewett bobble heads made while I was senior in high school. Yep you read that right – bobble heads. And they were complete with the towel he always wore around his neck and his visor on his head.

There is no question that Coach Hewett retiring is the end of an era, but I think that he will enjoy seeing his successor (who I’m sure will be either someone who played for him or he coached with) apply what they learned from the unparalleled Coach Hewett on the field. One of my best friends (who runs the show at Ransom) coached with him this year and I’m hoping he’ll want to take the reins. There would be no one better to replace the best.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Good Wife Is Great

In an effort to find a new television series that wasn’t a teen drama or a medical show I decided to take the advice of the reviews I’ve read and check out The Good Wife. And I’m so glad I did. Starring Juliana Margulies as Alicia Florrick, the wife of Peter Florrick (played by the fabulous Chris Noth) this show is extremely topical. Peter, a former Chicago state's attorney, has been jailed following a very public sex and corruption scandal forcing Alicia to return to her old job as a litigator to rebuild her reputation and provide for their two children.

What’s great about Alicia is that she is tough as nails but is also extremely relatable and kind. Faced with public humiliation, the realization that she has a cheating husband, the need to return to the working world and the responsibility of doing everything in her power to shield her extremely smart children from their father’s misjudgments, Alicia is a force to be reckoned with. She has an amazing ability to keep her composure when random people bring up her husband by saying a lot with very few words. She is cool, calm and collected at all times and she handles her precarious situation with grace and strength.

As far as her job goes there is no question that Alicia is an excellent lawyer as she is observant and pays very close attention to detail. Additionally, she is also a good listener and a tough litigator while maintaining compassion and kindness when and where it’s deserved.

Although I’m only on the second disc of the first season there is a lot to be said about our heroine and the rest of the cast. The people Alicia works with are characters all their own and are each very smart and likable. My two favorites are Will (Josh Charles) and Kalinda (Archie Panjabi). Will is a partner at the new law firm who went to Georgetown with Alicia and who may have a thing for her. The firm’s private investigator, Kalinda, is funny, sarcastic and very cynical about the human race. She has no fear and will do whatever it takes to get evidence she needs.

This series was partly inspired by the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal, as well as by other prominent American political sex scandals, particularly those of John Edwards and Bill Clinton. But, this is not a show about a politician’s scandal – it’s about the woman behind the man. And that woman has no choice but to pick up the pieces, be tough and move forward.

It is no surprise at all that The Good Wife was nominated for eight Emmys and won four. This show is sharp and refreshing. It’s anything but another law show – in fact it’s completely new and brings a totally different perspective which explains why I am flying through these episodes at seemingly warp speed. Do yourself a favor and pick up season one on DVD…if you do you might want to cancel your evening plans for the following few days.