Monday, April 22, 2013

Richie Havens, the Voice of God

People have used the phrase "the voice of God" in a lot of ways. To me, I hear Richie Havens' voice and I hope that's what God sounds like. That unique combination of authority and compassion is so hard to find. His voice just cuts right through to the soul.

I loved Richie Havens. I love Richie Havens. My dad had the soundtrack to the Woodstock movie, which is where I heard him for the first time. And I heard this.

Later, seeing this in the movie, made even more of an impression on me. He had his eyes closed nearly the entire time. He wasn't singing the song - he was channeling it.

That's what Havens did. He was a channeler. The voice that sang those songs was deep and heavy with emotion: sadness, empathy, heartache, elation, joy. He could add new meaning to unexpected songs. His versions of "Just Like a Woman" and "Here Comes the Sun" are legendary.

But have you heard this? The original is a classic, but he finds new depths of despair in this song.

I was very surprised a few years ago to hear Richie Havens' voice again in a movie. Remember Collateral? With Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise (back when people still thought of him as an actor first)? This was on the soundtrack.

The lyrics are simple, but Havens does so much with what he's given. The song is impossible to imagine with anyone else's voice. Even the moans - could anyone moan with as much conviction as him?

God bless Richie Havens. I'm heartbroken to hear of his passing. He was one of the first connections musically that crossed my dad's generation and mine. And many years later, I had the opportunity to see him live at Seattle's Folklife Festival. I've seen big name legends. I've seen Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Solomon Burke. But seeing Richie Havens was like touching eternity. I could have sat in the grass and watched him all night, and I think he would have been content to strum his guitar and sing all night.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Inspector Gadget Saves the Day, Maybe

My kid is watching an Inspector Gadget movie that he found on Netflix. I want to save you the trouble, in case your small child is thinking about watching it.

If you're able to tolerate Inspector Gadget, it's fine. It's about the Inspector discovering some giant egg that hatches into a gigantic flying lizard who wreaks havoc all over Metro City. Wacky hijinks ensue, and everyone seems to have a different idea what to do with the lizard. The mayor wants to turn it into a tourist attraction. Dr. Klaw wants to use it to destroy the city. Inspector Gadget wants to make it his juggling partner.

There's some weirdness in the show. Penny is 16 and doesn't look much like her original version. (Her voice is identical, which frankly is just weird.) There's a GadgetMobile, inexplicably voiced by Bernie Mac. (My guess: 1) money, 2) he wanted to impress his kids.) There's a Scottish bad guy, for no apparent reason.

The whole premise of Inspector Gadget is that everyone is incompetent. Let's just lay that on the table. The inspector is the biggest buffoon, of course. Every time he solves something, it's by complete accident. But the bad guys are also incompetent, and come up with absurd schemes that never work. And never make sense. The mayor is an idiot, the chief is a doofus, pretty much everybody is an idiot except the dog.

Here, the movie ramps up the incompetence factor. Dr. Klaw (who has the best voice of the show) wants to control the lizard, so he has his henchmen try to feed it some kind of remote control electronic device blah blah whatever. The lizard won't eat it. What kind of super villain has plans that fail because an animal won't eat something?! Goon.

The Scottish assistant is also incompetent. Penny is helpless - she seems more of a damsel in distress than she ever did in the show, in fact. She does a lot of screaming and flailing and crying for help. She has a boy who seems to have a crush on her (again, was there ever a boy in the show? We didn't need this subplot.)  The boy's also an inventor, but he completely fails at inventing some kind of potion that ends up saving the day. So the world is saved because Inventor Boy screws up.

It's a fine waste of time, but just be prepared as an adult to yell at the screen a lot. It's computer generated, so it doesn't have the warm feel of the original cartoon. One other difference: it sadly doesn't have the voice of Don Adams, who passed away in 2005. The guy who does the Inspector's voice does a fine impersonation, but it's clearly not the original voice.

I always thought that the device of the show was that Penny and the dog were the real brains behind the Inspector. But here, nobody has the brains. They all seem so confused that it's amazing the entire city doesn't come crumbling down around their ears. It's a little disappointing on that front. Still, like I said, if you're stuck inside and your kid has to watch something, it's not the worst thing on Netflix.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What the hell?

Maybe there have always been stupid people in the world and it's just easier to hear about them because of the connected world. Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Instagram, everything makes it harder to hide your offensive stupid horrifying behavior.

But an honest question here. What the hell is happening in this country?

  • In Florida, a police sergeant shows up at a shooting range with targets that resemble Trayvon Martin. You remember Martin - the 17-year old boy who was shot dead by his neighbor, who then tried to hide behind the "Stand Your Ground" laws in Florida? Now he's a shooting target. Nice.
  • A judge in Montana emails around a "joke" that apparently suggested that President Obama's mother had engaged in bestiality. 

Let me say that again, just to be clear. He sent an email that suggested that the mother of the President of the United States had sex with a dog. Nice. Remember all those times when people said things like that about Barbara Bush? Yeah, me neither.

The judge has since retired. He wasn't terminated. He retired, which means that now the state will be paying a lifetime pension to a racist idiot.

  • In New York, a teacher assigns her students to "think like a Nazi" and make a persuasive argument as to why "Jews are evil and the source of our problems."  The school has apologized. No word as to whether the teacher faces any punishment for this heinous behavior. 

  • This comes after ANOTHER New York teacher was called out for story problems about beating slaves. The assignment was in 4th grade.   Nine and ten-year old kids were asked questions like "a slave was whipped five times a day. How many times was he whipped in a month?" No word if this teacher was fired, but the whole school is undergoing "sensitivity training." Ahem.
  • And then, there was the Georgia teacher who took it one step further, asking questions about how many beatings Frederick Douglass received. Also, this lovely example: “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?”
In GEORGIA. Which has a history of, y'know, slavery. Again, no word if the teacher was fired, but the principal was apparently looking into "what staff development is needed for the teachers."
Can someone explain exactly what kind of human resources training is needed to remind people that beating people is wrong and treating human beings like property is also totally the fuck wrong?! Jesus almighty Christ on a cracker.

I don't even know what to say. If a teacher assigned my kid something like that, there would be hell to pay. I'll be damned if some tone-deaf idiot is going to be indoctrinating my kid with their stupid racist 19th century ideas.

And the rest of them? I don't even know. What I'm going to do is raise my son to be open-minded, and to not be afraid to question authority. We all lose when people behave like absolute pigs and no one speaks up.