I’m not very good about sending out Christmas cards.
Two years ago, on the spur of the moment, I decided to do an audio recording of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” post it to Soundcloud, and send a link by email to family and friends.
People seemed to enjoy it, so last year I did the same thing with Francis Church’s famous “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus” newspaper column.
I’ve tried to figure out what to do this year. It has to be something in the public domain. I think I’ve found something – it’s short, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I may try to record and edit it tomorrow.
One of these days, I’m going to try my hand at an original story – but I never think about it early enough.
Anyway, whenever I send it out I’ll also be sure and post a link in case I don’t have your email address.
The first two recitations are still online, and you can find them on the Soundcloud web site (my user name is LakeNeuron) or embedded below. Feel free to share them if you like.
This is one of those cases where I’ve blogged about a movie multiple times in the past, and should probably just look up the old post and link to it on Facebook rather than reinvent the wheel.
But I think it’s been a while since I’ve actually devoted a whole blog post to “Sullivan’s Travels,” airing at 8:45 p.m. Central tonight on Turner Classic Movies, and so I figured, what the hey, I’d blog about it again.
This is a movie that is funny, first and foremost, by one of the best comedy directors of the golden age, the wonderful Preston Sturges. I love Sturges’ other work, especially “The Lady Eve” and “Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.”
But “Sullivan’s Travels” also has a little hidden message – sort of an irony, since the message has to do with the fact that not every movie has to have a message.
Anyway, the central character is John L. Sullivan, played by Joel McCrea. He’s a movie director, perhaps a standin for Sturges himself, who has spent the 1930s making silly little movies with titles like “Hey Hey in the Hayloft” and “Ants In Your Pants of 1939.” But he’s decided that these musical comedies aren’t significant enough. He has been duly impressed by a “Grapes of Wrath”-style novel which he wants to adapt for the screen. (If you look closely at the cover, the author is Sinclair Beckstein, a wonderful melange of John Steinbeck, Upton Sinclair and Sinclair Lewis).
Remember, this novel, and “Sinclair Beckstein,” didn’t exist – they were made up by Sturges to be a plot point for the movie. I tell you that because the the title of the novel is “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, a title which was appropriated a half-century later by the Coen Brothers and made into an actual movie, although the Coen Brothers movie is a lot more fun to watch than John L. Sullivan’s social-problem drama would have been.
The title, of course, was an obvious play on words back in 1940, when “Oh, brother!” was a much more common expression of annoyance.
Anyway, Sullivan tells the head of the studio he’s tired of comedy and wants to make a film of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
John L. Sullivan: I want this picture to be a commentary on modern conditions. Stark realism. The problems that confront the average man! LeBrand: But with a little sex in it. John L. Sullivan: A little, but I don’t want to stress it. I want this picture to be a document. I want to hold a mirror up to life. I want this to be a picture of dignity! A true canvas of the suffering of humanity! LeBrand: But with a little sex in it. John L. Sullivan: [reluctantly] With a little sex in it. Hadrian: How ’bout a nice musical? (From IMDb)
The studio mogul, who’s been making good money off Sullivan’s comedies, tries to discourage him without offending him. He tells Sullivan, at one point, that he’s not the right person to make a movie about poverty because he, Sullivan, grew up in an upper-class family and has never known hardship himself.
Sullivan takes that criticism to heart – but not in the way the studio head was hoping. Sullivan decides to take a leave of absence from the studio and wander the countryside dressed as a hobo. It’s a fallacy that you can truly understand poverty from this kind of gimmicky stunt, of course, and eventually Sullivan will realize that – but not before some twists and turns. Along the way, he encounters a frustrated actress (the mesmerizing Veronica Lake) who is preparing to give up her dream and move back to the midwest. He tries to encourage her aspirations without revealing his real identity.
It’s a lot of fun, and yet there’s a great moment of realization at the end of it. Please, if you haven’t seen this one yet, set the DVR or enjoy it with the family tonight.
I’m not due at Dad’s until this afternoon, so I ran to Walmart just now to pick up a few groceries. (I won’t be doing any of my holiday shopping until later.) On the way back, I realized I had to break a $20 so that I could get change so that I could do laundry.
I stopped at a convenience store, and when I got out my front driver’s side tire was completely flat. And this wasn’t a fix-a-flat flat; both front tires need to be replaced. I had trouble with one of the lug nuts, and a stranger was nice enough to stop and help me with it. I have the temporary spare in place now’; I’m not sure whether my tire store is open tomorrow or whether I’ll have to wait until Monday.
I’ve already had to get a new battery this month, and I was not planning on the expense of two new tires.
But on the bright side, it could very easily have gone flat last Friday, on the Interstate, and prevented me getting to Nashville. So that’s a thankful note for the day.
Here, my friends, is the story of one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me.
The thing I’m talking about happened this month, but in order to appreciate it we have to jump back a few decades, to the early 1980s in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was a student at what I sometimes refer to as Famous Televangelist University. Christian college can be a stiflingly-conformist environment; I had a dorm director once proclaim in a devotion that it was one of the hardest places to be a Christian, because it was so easy to just drift along with the crowd and do all the right things for all the wrong reasons, or for no reason at all.
Then, as now, there existed both really bad Christian music and really good Christian music. I had the quirky sense of humor to latch on to several artists with satirical sensibilities – songwriters who could laugh at themselves and poke at the foibles of both the secular world and the imperfect church. During my years at ORU, I became a particular fan of the band Daniel Amos, singer-songwriter Randy Stonehill and singer-songwriter Steve Taylor.
Daniel Amos, by the way, played a concert at a church in Smyrna three or four years ago – the first time they’d toured in ages. But I couldn’t go; I was in camp that week, as a volunteer in Mountain T.O.P.’s Adults In Ministry program in Grundy County.
About a year and a half later, my wonderful sister, who had drawn my name for Christmas, gave me a ticket to a nostalgia-themed all-star concert of Christian entertainers from the 1970s and 80s which had Randy Stonehill as one of the headliners. But the concert (which was going to be taped for a TV special) ended up being canceled for some unknown reason.
For purposes of this story, then, let’s get back to the third member of that troika. Steve Taylor’s 1983 debut EP, “I Want To Be A Clone,” had a blistering, new-wave title song. That song, and the EP, were a perfect antidote to Christian college conformity. The song was all about Christian conformity, and how some within the church seek to impose their own private beliefs, practices and even language upon others.
By the time that album came out, I was using my own sense of humor to help keep me level at ORU. My good friend, the late Kendall Durfey, and I produced parody radio ads which I played over the public address system prior to on-campus movies (I spent 2 ½ years as ORU’s campus film chairman, and then my senior year I was vice-president of the Student Association in charge of campus activities). I wrote the spots, we both voiced them, and Kendall used his production expertise to make them sound great. In many of the spots, Kendall played a funny character, “Dr. Herb Zimmerman.”
I also wrote a humor column, “Speed Bumps,” for ORU’s campus newspaper, the Oracle, and was in charge of a special April Fool’s edition of the paper my senior year, setting the stage for the April Fool’s story I now do each year at the Times-Gazette.
Time marched on. I graduated in 1984 and moved home to Tennessee a year later. Steve Taylor released several more of his own albums. He was also a member of a crossover band, Chagall Guevara, which had a secular record deal. I went to see Chagall Guevara in Nashville in 1991, the only time I’d ever seen Steve perform live. Steve became a record executive, and played a key role in the success of Sixpence None The Richer, among others.
He directed a number of videos – for himself, for Sixpence and for other artists – and that gave way to him becoming a movie director. I and my girlfriend at the time went to Brentwood Baptist Church to be in the crowd scenes for “The Second Chance,” a movie Steve directed starring Michael W. Smith.
More recently, Steve directed a movie adaptation of “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller.
Now, after a 10-year absence, Steve is making music again. He’s put together a new band, The Perfect Foil. Their new album was released earlier this week. A few weeks before that, Steve started releasing videos to promote the new album.
I enjoyed all three. While watching the last one, “Goliath,” I happened to click the “like” button on YouTube. Because of the way my YouTube account is configured, that automatically generated a Twitter post stating that I had liked the video.
Right away, the official Twitter account for Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil favorited and retweeted my post. No real surprise there; any artist with a good social media team might have done the same.
But then, almost right away, I got a message from the account asking if I was the same John Carney who had attended ORU in the 1980s.
I had to admit that I was. I was also, at that moment, pretty curious.
The message came from Steve’s manager, Nick Barre. Nick was a few years behind me at ORU. He remembers the funny fake radio ads and the humor column. He said that Kendall and I inspired him, and made him want to be creative too.
We could stop the story right there and it would be pretty darn amazing. This guy remembers my humor – 30 years later! – and actually calls me an inspiration. He took the time to introduce himself and tell me so on a social media site. I was deeply flattered. That compliment alone made my night, and it’s probably the most amazing thing about this story.
But then, Nick continued. Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil would be playing Nov. 21 at the Cannery, a Nashville nightclub. The band was billing it as their album release party.
“I’d love to put you on the guest list,” wrote Nick.
Nope; sorry. Not interested. I mean, why would I want to be an invited guest for a show by one of my long-time favorite artists? That wouldn’t be any fun, would it?
Two of my ORU friends, Emory Stagmer in Maryland and Darrell Grizzle in the Atlanta area, went to earlier concerts on the tour and gave them glowing reviews.
I arrived at The Cannery early enough to get one of the last few free parking spots, before people started having to park in the paid lot next door. I must have gotten there about 20 minutes before the doors opened at 7 p.m.; it was an 8 o’clock show.
While I was waiting outside, a man in a plaid shirt darted out, and we instantly, if hesitantly, recognized each other from Facebook profile photos.
Nick was busy with his managerial duties, but he stopped to introduce himself and welcome me to the concert (as if I were doing him a favor rather than the other way around). He mentioned that The Perfect Foil’s lead guitarist, Jimmy Abegg, was “under the weather,” which I mistakenly thought meant he’d have to miss the concert. It later turned out he had gotten severe food poisoning while the band was in Atlanta for that show earlier in the week. (Darrell, do we need to educate you Georgians on food safety?) He was still not feeling well at show time, and Steve made reference to this, but you couldn’t tell it from his playing.
Nick did, however, tell me that there would be “surprises” during the concert.
I made polite conversation with a few other people standing there on the porch – a lot of them, not surprisingly, were my age, and the porch looked like Old Fart Jubilee, to borrow a phrase from Joe Bob Briggs.
The Cannery Ballroom is one of those big open standing-room-only nightclubs. There are no tables around the perimeter or anything like that. I was there early, and so I was thrilled to be standing very, very close to the stage.
The opening act was the husband-and-wife duo Fleming & John – not a coincidence, since John Mark Painter also happens to be the bass player for The Perfect Foil. I’d heard the name but wasn’t really familiar with their work. I was blown away – they were great, melodic and entertaining. I will definitely be checking out their catalog. I posted a photo to Facebook after their set, and was tickled when my former castmate Sharon Kay Edwards responded by saying that “I’m Not Afraid” had been her “high school jam.”
Later, during his set, Steve said his goal next year is to release a new Fleming & John record.
Then, of course, it was time for Steve and the new band. They were every bit as good as I thought they’d be. I was worried about standing for three hours. Steve, who is 4 ½ years older than me, rubber-legged and skinny as a rail, bounced around the stage, flailing and crouching and spinning and leaping with the same energy I’d seen at that Chagall Guevara concert in 1991. He has an incredible stage presence.
The set was a perfect mix of new and old songs.
They opened with “Only A Ride,” which had been the first video released from “Goliath,” but “I Want To Be A Clone” popped up early in the set as well.
I was lost in the music throughout.
When the show was over, we screamed for the encore. Steve, true to form, came back out and performed – so help me – a cover of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” Then he launched into the real encore, “Jim Morrison’s Grave.” I had seen reference to this having been the encore at one of the previous concerts.
But it wasn’t the only encore.
After that, Steve brought out Dave Perkins, Lynn Nichols and Mike Mead from Chagall Guevara. Mead displaced Peter Furler at the drum kit, but Abegg and Painter stayed on stage, and The Perfect Foil / Chagall Guevara peformed a cover of “Gloria” and then “Violent Blue,” off the Chagall Guevara album. That was the surprise Nick had hinted at, and what a surprise and thrill it was.
Steve had promised to hang out and meet people after the show, and he was as good as his word. I had brought a 1984 issue of The Wittenburg Door with Steve on the cover, and he signed it for me. Nick was standing nearby and was kind enough to repeat his compliments in Steve’s presence, but the fact of the matter is that Steve was just as gracious to every single person who wanted to speak to him.
I’m an idiot, by the way, for not getting a photo of me and Nick as well.
By this point, it was after midnight. I told Nick I had to get back to Shelbyville so that I could get up early for a Relay For Life fundraiser at the Times-Gazette. Nick repeated his story of how Kendall and my parody radio spots, and to a lesser extent my humor column, inspired him, and how seriously he took it when he got the chance to program ORU’s campus radio station.
At this point, I’m wondering to myself: If I was really as talented as Nick perceived me to be, what happened? How is it that I’m now 52, overweight, single, seemingly at a career dead end, and fighting my way out of poor financial practices from earlier in life? I was kind of grateful that Nick didn’t see my white 1995 Geo Metro with one red door, the one I literally prayed before the trip would make it to Nashville and back without incident.
But this wasn’t a night for dwelling on the negative. This was a night to accept a great compliment, enjoy a great show, relive some memories and get to know some great new songs. This was, in short, one of the best nights I’ve had in some time – one of the best nights ever.
The honest truth is, when the letter first came inviting lay speakers and lay leaders to participate in something called “72+U” training, I was not at all clear what it was all about – even after reading the letter. But it sounded like something that would fit in with the educational requirements for me to continue as a certified lay speaker, and besides, it can be fun to go to district and conference events and meet United Methodists from other communities.
So I signed up online, and I put out a call on Facebook to see if anyone else from Bedford County was interested in carpooling to Nashville. I was Facebook friends with Jim Overcast, a very active – and very connectional, to use the church’s term – United Methodist, but I’d really never had much actual contact with him. So riding together turned out to be a chance for us to connect as well.
The training event was originally scheduled for the Tennessee Conference offices, just off I-24 at the Harding Place exit. But strong advance registration numbers resulted in a change of venue, to Hillcrest United Methodist Church. The wonderful Ruthan Patient, director of lay speaking for the Murfreesboro District, was also there, and the three of us sat together. I saw several other friends and acquaintances as well.
This event was actually training-for-the-trainers. Each of us who completed the training today received a notebook and DVDs which we can use to teach the 72+U curriculum in local churches – our own, or any others that might want or need the training. The curriculum can be taught in large group or small group settings, either as a single-day event or split up over four weekly sessions. It could be used as four weeks of Sunday School lessons, or four weeks of Wednesday night programming, or you could put on a day-long training as a regional event to bring in people from smaller churches that don’t hold the training on their own.
So, what is 72+U exactly? It’s an initiative of the Tennessee Conference (which represents United Methodist churches in Middle Tennessee) and the Memphis Conference (churches in West Tennessee). The name comes from Luke 10, in which Jesus commissions 72 disciples and sends them out in ministry. The curriculum has to do with equipping and motivating local church members for ministry, mission and outreach, in keeping with our conference’s mission to “discover, equip, connect and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Jesus Christ to a hurting world, one neighborhood at a time.”
The 72+U curriculum has been carefully developed and researched to implement a variety of educational principles and techniques, with a lot of participation from the students. There are different versions of the curriculum tweaked for large group and small group settings.
I really enjoyed today’s training, and hope I get a chance to teach the 72+U curriculum. The district superintendents will get a list of today’s participants, so it’s possible we’ll be called on (and we’re also free to set something up on our own). The Murfreesboro District is already looking at holding its own training-for-the-trainers event similar to the one today, and Ruthan said that Jim and I would each be asked to be a part of putting that on when it happens.
All in all, it was an enjoyable day. At one point, we did a “scavenger hunt” in which we were tasked to find various things in our 72+U curriculum notebooks. I was one of the winners, and so I brought home a very attractive-looking box of fine Belgian chocolates. I decided the best use for this would be to put it in First UMC’s annual bazaar tomorrow, so I dropped it by the church on my way home.
I did, however, get to enjoy a bag of custom-printed M&Ms (you can order those online) which they’d printed up for the event, with slogans such as “GOD IS CALLING,” “72+U” and “BE ONE OF THE 72.” Each of us got a little bag of them.
I didn’t get around to watching Monday’s episode of “Mike Tyson Mysteries” until tonight, and – after three episodes – I think this may be one of my new favorite shows, and the funniest thing Adult Swim (Cartoon Network’s late-night programming block) has done in years.
“Mike Tyson Mysteries” is a 15-minute-long animated parody of several different things, including “Scooby Doo” and various Saturday morning cartoon shows of the past built around real-life personalities like Mr. T and Jackie Chan. You may recall a few times when Robert Smigel’s cartoon segment on “Saturday Night Live” parodied the Mr. T. show specifically. Those segments were funny, but “Mike Tyson Mysteries” is funnier.
Tyson (voiced by himself, although all the other celebrities on the show are impersonations) travels in a Scooby Doo-like van with his adopted Chinese teenage daughter; the ghost of the Marquess of Queensbury (Academy Award-winning screenwriter Jim Rash, who plays Dean Pelton on “Community”); and a talking pigeon (the always-funny Norm MacDonald).
The show parodies that one season of “Scooby Doo” that involved celebrity guest stars. The first episode featured a murder mystery involving Cormac McCarthy and John Updike; the second episode featured Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov and computer Deep Blue; and this week’s episode involved Buzz Aldrin, Elon Musk, Elton John and Richard Branson.
Please note, this is a show for grownups, with adult humor.
I’m a little behind pace on my National Novel Writing Month novel. But I had a vacation day yesterday, and caught up just a little. I am taking comp time today, because I’ll work a full day Saturday covering various events, and hope to catch up a little more today.
Just a few days ago, I had my main character worrying about something going wrong with his car.
This morning, I had (re)scheduled a lunch with Chris Shofner, a former co-worker (Chris was editor when I first joined the T-G in 1985). I went out to my car at the time I wanted to leave, and – it wouldn’t turn over. Chris came over and gave me a jump start, and I got the car to the place where I normally take it – which has changed hands since the last time I went there.
They tested and ruled out the alternator, and then tested the battery – bad. Not as expensive as an alternator would have been, but still exactly the kind of thing my main character was worrying about in the novel. Chris and I had our lunch while they were putting in a new battery.
If I have this kind of control over time and space, maybe I should have my character in the novel win the lottery.
A month ago, we had a belated cast party for “Daddy’s Dyin’… Who’s Got The Will?” at one of our local restaurants and had such a great time we decided to do it again a month later. At the time, all I was thinking about was that the first Tuesday of the month was the only one in which I had no county meetings to cover. I didn’t think about it being Election Night, when I’d have to be at the courthouse collecting results. When I realized the conflict a few days ago, I had to beg off.
Meanwhile, I ran into an old co-worker on Halloween night and he suggested we get together for lunch. Tuesday sounded fine to me — this time, I knew it was Election Day, but I also know that during the day, when the voting is actually taking place, isn’t necessarily that hectic. In fact, I need to take a little comp time during the day to make up for the fact that I’m working long hours in the evening, so a relaxed lunch with an old friend sounded like a great idea.
But the friend called me this morning — he’d suddenly realized it was Election Day, automatically assumed I’d be too busy for lunch, and went ahead and made other plans before calling me.
So now, I’m eating alone for both lunch and dinner — which is par for the course, but in this particular case a bit of a disappointment.
I might end up writing a little more before I go to bed tonight, but I seem to be at a stopping point.
I am officially ahead of the 50,000-word pace on my National Novel Writing Month project, “The Unreliable Narrator,” but I’m not as far ahead of pace as one would expect to be after two weekend days. I had sort of hoped to get 5,000 this weekend, especially since I may not have much time to write Tuesday, Election Day.
I have gotten off to a mixed start. I like some things, but what I’ve got so far is a little more scattershot, a little too autobiographical, and a little more rambling, than I had intended. But this is NaNoWriMo – it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be 1,667 words a day. It may be that nothing I produce this month will be marketable. Or it may be that there will be parts of what I produce that I can turn into something marketable. But it’s more about the discipline and the experience than about crafting the next Great American Novel on this particular try.
One fun thing is that three of my “Daddy’s Dyin … Who’s Got The Will?” castmates are also taking the plunge this month, and so I’ll get to commiserate with them. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll get to make it to our cast get-together Tuesday night – I had forgotten about the election back when we scheduled this.
One of my all-time favorite comedies will be on Turner Classic Movies: TCM? at 7 p.m. Central tonight. I have blogged about “To Be or Not To Be” before, but just in case you’ve never seen it, please watch it or DVR it.
The movie, directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch, stars Jack Benny and Carole Lombard as the leads in a troupe of Polish actors during World War II. Carole has a little bit of a backstage dalliance with a Polish pilot – played by an impossibly-young Robert Stack – that ends up getting her, and thus the acting company, mixed up in some spy chicanery and requires Benny to impersonate a traitorous Polish professor.
The movie was a huge flop on its original release – it was at a time in the war when people weren’t in the mood to laugh at the Nazis, and it was released just after Lombard’s death in an airplane crash. But in the years since, it’s been recognized as a classic. It was remade in the 1980s by Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, and that’s not bad either, but the original is still the best. Be sure and see or record it tonight if you haven’t yet seen it.