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Jan

20

2015

Dave_goelz_muppets

 

I recently spoke to Dave Goelz, the mind, voice and puppet hand behind The Great Gonzo, Zoot the Sax Player, and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew about his history with Jim Henson and his merry band of puppet pranksters.

The interview ran in Salon this past wekeend.  My favorite question:

What is Gonzo?

[laughs] We didn’t know. [Muppet head writer] Jerry Juhl wanted to answer the question, so he wrote “Muppets from Space” (1999), which revealed that Gonzo was an alien. Later, Frank Oz insisted that was just a movie, and we still don’t know what he is.

Read the whole interview



Jan

15

2015

I include trivia in each one of my newsletters. Subcribe here

  • The idea for Back to the Future came when co-writer/producer Bob Gale was visiting his parents and found his father's high school yearbook. While thumbing through, he asked himself "What would it have been like if my father and I had been in high school at the same time?" 
  • The idea for Home Alone came when writer John Hughes was about to leave on a family vacation then at the last minute scrawled down the idea "What if we left one kid at home by mistake?" 
  • The following Christmas songs were written by my people, the Jews: "White Christmas," "Let it Snow", "Santa Baby," "I'll be home for Christmas," "Silver Bells," "Winter Wonderland." 
  • The word "December" means come from the Latin word for "10," Back in ancient Rome, the calendar only counted only 10 months, beginning with March. The western calendar didn't start on January 1 until 1582, many centuries later. 
  • The reason "lbs" means "pounds also comes from ancient Rome: "LB" is an abbreviation for "libra", the Latin word "to weigh." (via 99% Invisible). 

 



Jan

14

2015

I include a series of reading recommendations in each edition of my newsletter you might enjoy...

Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014 (perfect for someone terrified of science like me). This completely-bananas saga of what's happening at The New Republic magazine. How the scandal of Sony's leaked emails and the cancellation of The Interview are our present not future. A speech by TV showrunner Shonda Rhimes that made me cry.  How podcasts are making serious money. The Strand Bookstore's recipe for success in the age of Amazon. The social shame of having bad teeth while living in a rich country like America. A nice remembrance of director Mike Nichols. "Requiem for Rod Serling" . And a book I'm really excited to read next: Who We Be: The Colorization of America, new book 8 years in the making by the brilliant Jeff Chang. 

Subscribe to newsletter. About twice a month. Always useful. No spam or skeezy business. 



Jan

13

2015

Happy New Year! 

For the last few years I've read "Ring Out, Wild Bells" a poem by Alfred Tennyson aloud on New Year's Day. Though originally written as a eulogy for his brother-in-law, I find it a fitting end to the events of one year and the incoming hope of another. The first three stanzas are below... 


Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind. 


Nov

6

2014

 

Kevin_Smokler_01

My buddy Ninna Gasensler-Debs who works at the awesome KALW 91.7 Local Public Radio San Francisco (exhale) asked me to appear on The Book Report, which asks local authors about a book that's meaningful to them. I spoke about James Baldwin's essay collection The Fire Next Time which I read last year in residency at Ragdale to get pumped (and better) at essay writing. 

They also rendered me as a pen and ink drawing, which was a bucket list item I didn't know I had. 

Only 4 minutes long and Ninna did a bang up job with audio production. How often can one speak while scored to with the immortal Nina Simone? 

Listen!



Sep

5

2014

Ferriswheel

  • The Ferris Wheel was named after its creator George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. an engineer from Illinois who began his carrer building bridges in Pittsburgh. 
  • The Chicago Wheel had 36 cars, took 20 minutes to make two revolutions and carried 60 riders at a time. An immediate success, 38,00 fair goers rode it each day. 
  • George Ferris had seen a version of the wheel a year before in Atlantic City. When his own design was a success, the inventor of the Atlantic City ride sued him. 
  • Ferris had a terrible time keeping himself out of trouble and also spent two years in ligitation trying to get a larger share of the profits from the fair organizers. He died bankrupt at the age of 37. 
  • Ferris's creation spent the next 10 years as a neighborhood attraction in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, then made an appearance in at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. The ride was dynamited in 1906. 
  • Because of their height, Ferris Wheels are often the visual stand-in for a much larger gathering of people be it an amusement park, a neighborhood (the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island) or an entire city (The London Eye). 
  • Ferris Wheels say summer, enjoyment and romance (a Ferris Wheel car is a rotating kissing booth). They also, despite being several tons of steel, paint and machinery, feel fragile. The size but openness of the structure makes it at once grand yet unstabble and notoriously prone to malfunction and collapse. That Ferris's original wheel was dynamited and not dismantled (as it had been after its debut in Chicago) speaks to a kind of sudden end, a violent death.

    The idea that a Ferris Wheel can both signify a whole place yet also be dangerously ephemeral speaks to what we love and mourn about public amusement. Public amusments create other worlds. But those worlds are meant to vanish, to live more in memory than for real, to end suddenly and without explanation. They contain the seeds of their own ending.  

 



Aug

4

2014

2010-12-27_1293491157

Was a poster for a terrible 80s throwback movie I saw 10 minutes of in a hotel 11 months later and then turned off. I'm pretty sure my caption was pun on the Eddie Money song, which I love. The video for that song is 3 1/2 minutes long and infinitely better than the movie, which felt about a month long. 

The video then: 

Trivia: the song is a duet between Eddie Money and Ronnie Spector. They never appear on screen together.  



Jul

31

2014

If you'd like to know what my next book Brat Pack America: Places you Know and Love Thanks to 80s Teen Movies is about, here's the nut of it in five minutes where I explain all. 

 Thank you to Brady Forrest and Ignite San Francisco who invited me to do this presentation in the spring. Great prep for the 9813 times I'll be doing it next year when I go on tour.  

And I want to do more Ignite Events (say what?). This one was so much fun. 



Jul

17

2014

Billy_zabka

Do you keep in touch with the folks from “Karate Kid”?

Yeah, we’re kind of a fraternity. Ralph and I have become better friends in recent years, first from me calling him out of the blue to work on the “Sweep the Leg” video with me. We also reconnected in 2008 at Pat Morita’s (Mr. Miyagi’s) memorial. The Cobra Kai guys I’ve stayed in touch the whole time. And Pat we were all very close to. We called him Uncle Pat. He called me BZ.

“The Karate Kid” is a family. Like family, you don’t talk every day. But when you do, you pick right back up. And I can’t really imagine my life without it.

Complete interview up at Salon



Jun

19

2014

Caseykasem

None of us buying our first Radiohead T-shirts could have known that, three decades later, we would be living in the world Casey Kasem helped create. It is the music fan's time, powered by self-curation and the urge to share. Our playlists, queues, devices and social media profiles may be as unique to each of us as our genetic code. But sharing and effusing are the highways this data travels. Since those highways are choked with music already, we search in the noise not just for experts but also for common ground, not just for someone who knows music better than us but someone who feels as enthusiastic about sharing the joy of it as we do.

In an earlier time, we would find our musical brothers and sisters by picking a side — alternative over mainstream, rap instead of rock — seeing who agreed, then defending our choice to the death. In the 21st century, that feels like hating on hugs and world peace. We like the music we like. Instead of xenophobes, we are now all world travelers, on the same journey to find more.

 

One of my heores, Casey Kasem passed away this past Sunday. I wrote this remembrance for NPR.org. Thank you to Linda Holmes for the opportunity.