It's no coincidence that the design template chosen for this blog features brown tones. Brown in all its glorious earthtones has been on the verge of being the forgotten color. Born in the '60s and growing up in the '70s, I never anticipated the need to designate an entry on this blog for the color brown. Clothes, furniture, shag rugs, films, and sports uniforms celebrated the color and its cousin, burnt orange. Brown was beautiful, man. Chocolate Thunder! It was natural. It was the color that best matched its own tones. Brown signified a meeting ground for deep and meaningful social interaction. Then the '80s came along and brown, a color not represented on the pastel pallette, was cast aside. Even the Rolling Stones, a band that understood the beauty of brown as well as anyone, went the Miami Vice route. Brown is making a comeback, and don't overlook it again! UPS has built its ad campaign around the confidence that the color instills. The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals have held true, and look for the Padres to return to their old '70s uniforms before this decade's up. Recent films like We Don't Live Here Anymore capitalize on the sadness inherent in these tones. You're still not convinced, are you? Rent The Beatles' Help! There's a scene where they're playing some songs on a hill. John, Paul, George, and Ringo are wearing varying tones of brown suits. Perfect. Brown has all the cool of black without the threatening and exclusionary aspects.
Maestro Parametric Filter
The Maestro Parametric Filter, more commonly referred to as the "Coltrane Box" in my little world, is an old guitar effect I've used for more than 20 years. I could educate you with a bunch of technical jargon that means nothing to me, or I could tell you about all the times I've stomped on that noisy old beast and let the midrangey wash elevate my rudimentary, fuzzed out pentatonic scales to new heights.
The Undertones, Positive Touch
Following the giddy punk-pop delights of the band's eponymous debut (which IMNSHO far outshines the entire recorded history of the Ramones by the end of side 1), Ireland's criminally underrated Undertones matured at an alarmingly fast and commercially disastrous rate. The cover art for their second album, Hynotised, and its leadoff track, "More Songs About Chocolate and Girls", solidified the band's clownish image but obscured growing songcraft and an assured sense of production and arrangements. For me, however, the band reached its peak on album #3 with the bubblegum psychedelia of Positive Touch, a peak so high that most pop fans, including Undertones fans, cannot appreciate its majesty to this day. This album's all about the nooks and crannies; apply butter and check it out for yourself! If you can score an original vinyl copy, that's the way to go: the textured cover and inner sleeve fascinate me to this day. The band's swan song, The Sin of Pride, saw the infusion of hair gel, puffy shirts, and slick '80s soul. Although a few songs cut through the sheen, the album failed to make its mark in the dawn of '80s synth-pop and the attrocities to follow.
Don’t get the wrong idea: I’m not a fan of the works of Tom Arnold or the man himself. Rather, over the course of many years, I’ve come to appreciate his position as Hollywood’s modern-day Everypatheticman. When he was first foisted on the public as Roseanne’s Yoko,* I found even a few seconds of him hogging space on the small screen unbearable. All those nervous tics and giggles and desperate glances for approval, the beads of sweat, the self-deprecating attempts at pussywhipped humor, the likely hair plugs… Hell, I could look in the mirror and find my own pathetic condition more amusing.
Then came The Jackie Thomas Show, a short-lived sitcom in which Arnold played a version of what we suspected was himself, a pompous no-talent comic who lucked into starring on his own sitcom. With a strong supporting cast and some more forgiving house mates at the time, I watched a few episodes, and I had to admit it was not half bad. More importantly, for the first time, I started to see the unmistakably human despair and longing behind his less-flattering surface desperation. I would come to appreciate more of this quality as he began his role as co-host of Fox Sports’ in appropriately named The Best Damn Sports Show Period. As a host and interviewer, the guy is incapable of simply giving himself over to his subject, incapable of taking himself out of the equation.
Arnold’s crowning achievement as an overlooked gem of my lifetime came during a Fresh Air with Terry Gross interview that I listened to a few years ago while sitting in my car, waiting for my Mom and my boys to take care of some last-minute impulse Christmas shopping. He discussed his struggles with various addictions, his weight, his troubled upbringing, his time with Roseanne, and just about every other train wreck you could imagine. Arnold was calmer than I’d ever heard him, but that eager-beaver, open-nerve desperation was still lurking. In a time where too many people want to be a star and where “reality”-based attempts at exploiting various interpersonal weaknesses rule the airwaves, there’s something reassuring about Tom Arnold carving out his niche as America’s true no-talent star. David Brent's got nothing on this guy.
*I had already found Roseanne’s act tired long before Tom joined in on it, so maybe the Yoko analogy isn’t quite accurate (and not that I ever faulted John for Yoko, but that’s another story).
Friends (ie, Quakers)
The Christian religion with little dogma, no ministers, minimal authority figures, and great faith in the ability of humans to connect directly to their spiritual source has failed to catch on in these insecure, consumer-driven, self-help happy times. Somebody get these people a publicist!
Baseball has provided numerous overlooked gems of my lifetime, but most recently I was reminded of the almost-lost art of choking up. Few players choke up today, even when the situation calls for a little restraint. While watching a DVD of the 1980 Phillies World Series Champs (maybe the first and last Phillies World Series Champs of my lifetime?), I noticed shots of hulking, slugging leftfielder Greg Luzinski choking up an inch and a half on his bat. This was once common practice, even among some sluggers, when down in the count in a key situation. "Kids," any little league coach would say, "you've got to get wood on the bat if you want to make something happen." Bat control should not be underestimated, but maybe bat control and choking up are not an option when you're swinging a thin-handled aluminum bat. Yuck! Just the ping of a ball off those things makes my stomach turn. Raise your hand if you're old enough to remember trying out one of those old Jackie Robinson model bats, with a handle half as thick as the barrel. Choke up on that baby, and you too can hit 'em where they ain't.
When Things Were Rotten
This mid-1970s Mel Brooks tv show that spoofed the Robin Hood tales is a hazy memory. Maybe it actually sucked and deserved to be canceled after a handful of episodes, but to an early adolescent high off a half dozen viewings Young Frankenstein, it was hot stuff.