The Lure of folklore

Yes, I’m on record as being a huge fan of Taylor Swift‘s new album, folklore. Not normally any kind of Swiftie, I discovered the music thanks to the kind algo-bots on Youtube (Hi!), who blessed my feed with the lyric videos when the album first “dropped,” as the kids and marketers say. Intrigued, then hooked, I quickly bought both the digital files and physical CD, and I’ve been listening nonstop since. It’s a good record to do the dishes by.

But then a new Youtube rabbit hole appeared: Insistent, ardent folklore cover versions. As with the 300-plus fan versions of Shallow that I found shortly after A Star Is Born was released, there is no shortage of reverential performances by happy Taylor fans. More intriguing are the many, many rewrites and answer songs. These are not attempts at Weird Al japery, these are deeply felt, sincere efforts to make Swift’s music even more resonant than it already is.

Most are based on the “teenage love triangle” of tunes on the album, cardigan, august, and betty, a mysterious triptych of angst, regret, and remembrance, which Ms. Swift is known for and excels at.

So here’s some of the more interesting videos I found. As usual, they come from people with thousands of subscribers and views to those who barely register double digits. But numbers belie talent; so many of these ladies could be the next Taylor Swift. All of their efforts are heartbreakingly wonderful.

Betty seemed to provoke the most response, with many gals leaping to provide Betty’s point of view:

And a ukulele version, but gender-swapped:

Speaking of gender-swapping, there’s a fair amount of reworking Swift’s songs to be explicitly LGBT-centric. Here’s betty, again, reworked to that effect:

And illicit affairs:

august from Jame’s POV:

This mashup combines the trilogy into one:

As does this:

This person seems to be rewriting the whole album!

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this is me trying:

Finally, here’s an amazingly deep analysis about the whole Betty/James relationship that is positively Sherlockian!

I’m On a Podcast!

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I was delighted to be a guest on Jason Klamm‘s fascinating podcast about the world of film extras, The Professional Blur. We talked about me sneaking onto the set of Airport 75, almost killing the president in a made-for-TV miniseries, and being cut out of the first Spider-Man movie by my good friend Sam Raimi (pictured). Among many other topics.

Listen to the episode here.

Ode to the Uptown

On March 13, 2020, America woke to the horrible news–no, not that horrible news, the news that the fabled Uptown Theater was closing. In fact, it was already closed. In the middle of everything else going wrong, this hits me hard.

A 1936 Art Deco palace, the Uptown building is still owned by the Pedas family; brothers, Ted and Jim ran the equally-cherished Circle Theater, which they built into a local powerhouse chain of 22 theaters, including the Uptown. So, while the landlord is sympathetic to the public’s outcry, that is no guarantee that the place will come back.

Indeed, Josh Levin, who rescued the plucky West End Cinema from the Cineplex Odeon chain (which had gobbled up Circle Theaters and was then gobbled up by current Uptown owner AMC Theaters) before having to give in to market realities, posted a thoughtfully pessimistic analysis on Facebook, delineating the many obstacles standing in the way of reopening the Uptown as a successful movie venue:

It’s a single-screen theater
Needs equipment, seating, and concession upgrades
It’s a single-screen theater
Probably needs to become a community nonprofit
It’s a single-screen theater
Probably needs a liquor license
It’s a single-screen theater
Repeat

Yeah, that single screen is 70-feet-by-40-feet, but apparently watching movies on your phone is a thing. Still, there is a Change.org petition going around to try to save the place. I signed.

And with so many memories wrapped up in that theater, I made this video appreciation. Enjoy.

Express is Dead! Long Live Expresso!

So the Washington Post has finally stopped printing its weekday tabloid, Express, a mere 16 years after I tried to get them to give up on such a bad idea. In fact, I was so sure Express was foolish that I created a same-day-of-publication parody, Expresso, which was distributed at Metro stops right alongside the Post‘s confused hawkers. That is, I had the great help of the Washington City Paper staff, and its publisher, Jane Levine, who agreed to throw more than $10,000 at a fairly juvenile gag.

The inspiration for publicly mocking the Paper of Record came after reading the Post‘s article announcing why they decided to create the thing. Editors had noticed that half of Metro riders weren’t reading a newspaper. Their conclusion: That’s our market! My smug response from my breakfast table: No, those are the people you’ve already lost!

The Post seemed intent on creating a newspaper for people with no interest in reading newspapers. So I came up with the concept of “a paper for people who don’t like to read,” and the tagline: “Half the Content. Twice as Free!” And pretty much wrote all the content-free content, which was largely listicles, before that became a thing. Also took the photos of willing co-workers pretending to be goofs.

At the time, I was City Paper‘s Webmeister, in charge of its online music site, among other tasks. In addition to disliking the idea of what I perceived to be a dumbed-down news product — and note: I was also against the equally simplistic USA Today when it first appeared — part of my reaction against Express came from the fact that the mighty Post was marching into City Paper‘s territory, the free paper. In fact, Express’ initial rate card did undercut City Paper. I was not only opposed to Express on pretentious grounds, but also it was a real threat to my livelihood.

We printed 25,000 copies, I believe, along with bright yellow Expresso T-shirts for staffers to wear that morning at Metro stations around town. And we continued the joke by creating a website, u-love-expresso.com, which went to a gotcha page and then to City Paper‘s homepage. For all of this we won a “Format Buster” award from the Association of Alternative Newspapers.

Side note, as I was giving away copies at the Silver Spring Metro that morning, an older gentleman slowly walked up and, with a sad face, corrected me: “It’s espresso.”

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Going Deep With “Shallow”

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Would you like 300 cover versions of the song Shallow from the film A Star Is Born? Of course you would. After exhaustive and exhausting research, I’m proud to present this list of some — repeat, some — of the too many cover versions of this Oscar-worthy tune, performed in the film by the Oscar-worthy Bradley Cooper and the Oscar-worthy Lady Gaga. Many of these renditions rival the quality and emotional resonance of the film version. Many do not. Some have thousands of views; others low single digits. Some are just inexplicable. Enjoy this time-suck. You’re welcome.

  1. Alyssa Shouse
  2. Allie Sherlock
  3. Moniqu

Loco in MoCo

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Please enjoy this Q&A I did with the prolific author Mike Sacks (I reviewed him here and here) about his latest literary outrage, Randy: The Full and Complete Unedited Biography and Memoir of the Amazing Life and Times of Randy S.!

Sacks claims that the book is a “self-published memoir of a thirty-something from Maryland found by me at a garage sale and that’s being re-published ‘as is.'” As the interview reveals, the work is really a vulgarly heartfelt homage to Maryland — largely Montgomery County — from a native son who strayed far from home.

One may also follow “Randy” on Twitter at @RandyIsDaMan, where the occasional reward is witnessing Randy’s Twitter feuds with the likes of Justine Bateman. What a world.

Maryland Native Mike Sacks’s New Novel Is The Most Montgomery County Thing Ever

For Whom the Belmont Tolls

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Happy to have my first byline in Washingtonian magazine, an oral history of the Belmont TV jingle (“Whatever you want, think Belmont!”)

This extends my previous trifecta with Washingtonian. For several years, my band played the magazine’s annual “Best & Worst” gala, a swanky soiree based on its issue celebrating and castigating what the editors considered the high and low points of D.C. culture. The live event featured only the high points, where “Best” winners, mostly restaurants, were invited to host a booth and offer their wares. My band, I should note, was certainly not the best in D.C. Not sure how we got the gig, but they were usually fun.

As for low points, my group, Travesty Films, was once named the “Best Vanity Project” for our crowd-pleasing though admittedly low-brow comedy films. Thanks, I guess.

And then one year I was invited to be a judge for the Best & Worst issue, lending my expertise to the category of Best Movie Theater Popcorn. Arch Campbell was also a judge. We set up at the Uptown Theater to sample the snacks, including some microwave popcorn, which I didn’t think should have qualified. I can’t remember who we gave the prize to, but I recall being underwhelmed by all the options. For the record, the best movie popcorn was at the old Cineplex Odeon Wisconsin Avenue, which proudly boasted real butter — until the scolds at the Center for Science in the Public Interest released a “study” that declared buttered popcorn to be a health hazard. Cineplex countered with a statement pointing out that most Americans only go to the movies a few times a year and thus were hardly in danger of contracting heart disease from the multiplex. And then the company caved and changed the recipe to the same dreck as everyone else. Thanks, “science”!

As is often the case in journalism, one learns as much about oneself as the subject of one’s article. Though I’d been listening to the jingle for its entire 40-year history, I didn’t realize until I made the calls that I knew everyone in the band: Pete Kennedy on guitar, Shannon Ford on drums, high school classmate the late, lamented Wade Matthews on bass, and Jon Carroll and Margot Chapman on vocals.

Anyway, the article was fun to do. I got to use my clever Olympus TP-8 Telephone Pick-up Microphone, which I picked up after learning that Ryan Lizza used one to record his insane conversation with disgraced political nutjob Anthony Scaramucci.

Click the link to get the earworm stuck in your head all over again. You’re welcome.