I must be headed there because why else would it feel so good to be on the 405 late on a Friday afternoon, fighting traffic and knowing the return trip will be worse? Or maybe I have tickets to a Laker game? Or a South Bay reggae festival?
Traffic schmaffic, I’m out! Out of the house, out of the neighborhood, out of the Westside, obviously out of my mind trying to remember the last time driving in Friday afternoon traffic on the freeway felt so good.
But I’m headed north, to the Valley. To my appointment with the irrepressible, the inimitable Chuck Sloan, tax man to the (actors on their way to becoming) stars. And the occasional ragged writer husband of a star.
It’s usually a trek I dread because I‘ve been up all night, buzzing with strong coffee and fretting that I’ve forgotten something important or couldn’t find it, and Chuck will berate me mercilessly (but creatively). He’s a pretty funny guy. And who doesn’t need a chuckle during the annual agony of income tax travail?
MY MOBILE MUSIC ROOM
Was at least half the reason for my good spirits. I love listening to stations on the car radio. I know, hopelessly Old School. Great sound, no interruptions or distractions, you can relax and close your eyes and… OK, maybe not but if traffic is slow and loose enough you don’t really need to think much about anything else. Just stay in your lane and get lost in the music, and savor every note.
But first you’ve got to get a good tune, and you are relying on the DJs. I favor 88.5 FM nearly all the time because I like most of what they play, it’s a good mix, deep cuts not just hits, and I have also discovered many new artists there that I now like. My next choice is usually to flip to the classical station KUSC, 91.5. And that one-two punch delivered two “perfect songs” during my short drive up.
WHAT IS “PERFECT”?
It’s subjective as heck, of course, kind of a game I play with myself. I usually don’t think of it until I’m halfway through a song and then realize, dang, every single thing works flawlessly, I wouldn’t change a note. For a long time now I have listened to songs with an ear to what I would call, um, any lapse of good judgment for composition or performance, any missed opportunity or weakness. I’m not listening FOR those lapses but when they happen they jump out at me. Arrangements are awfully important, I think. And a big finish can erase the memory of a long mediocre middle.
I might make this a regular feature of NOTEWORTHY. “Perfect Song of the Week.” Ha. And a short justification. You’ll have to return next Thursday for that breakdown, but I will tell you that the two I heard Friday were Creedence Clearwater’s “Run Through the Jungle,” and one of my all-time faves, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Genre doesn’t matter. What were they trying to do, and did they do it masterfully, arrestingly, dazzlingly, flawlessly, irresistibly? Did it capture you from start to finish? Did it move you? Did you whistle like Humphrey Bogart at the end?
And if you never once thought — guitar’s too far down in the mix, drumming’s not creative or melodic enough, too many choruses, where’s the bass? — it just might be a Perfect Song.
If you have some candidates that do it for you, send them to me (my email is always on the bottom of my columns). I’ll probably know by the end of the first listen whether or not I agree. If I do I’ll make it a Perfect Song of the Week and give you credit. (That and a fiver will get you a cup of coffee.)
SPEAKING OF LINCOLN
CNN is running a series on him on Sunday nights and it is totally involving and so well done. Even amateur Lincoln-ologists like my wife are loving the presentation and even finding a few new things (and remarking about what’s left out, like what about early Springfield roommate and lifelong best friend Joshua Speed that he shared a bed with for four years, hmm? — but it was not an unusual practice at that time, and I am not trying to gossip about that towering but flawed great leader). All the episodes should be there, on demand, if you hurry. Binge.
Besides having spot commentary from real Lincoln scholars, they also slip in political commentator Van Jones and comedian Conan O‘Brien. I can imagine them being serious Lincoln buffs getting wind of the project early, and begging, oh please, I must be a part of it! They’re both good in their brief appearances to move the story along. Grabs your attention, more than the gray scholars.
For me it brings back my junior high (voluntary) immersion in Civil War history, reminding me I used to know every battle, general and politician. I was launched into that phase by the serialized history fantasy in Look magazine by noted historian MacKinlay Kantor, “If the South Had Won the Civil War.” Kantor proposed that a different outcome for one battle could have left Cuba and parts of Mexico absorbed into a slaveholding South that endured into the 20th century. It was an enormously popular magazine series that led Look to run, a year later, “If Hitler Had Won World War II” by William Shirer, who had just released his comprehensive, 1250-page tome “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” That one was a little unnerving for many, coming only 16 years after the end of World War II. (Shirer predicted Hitler would have launched WWIII, and IV and V, until the entire world was his.)
“THE GREAT DICTATOR”
Which brings me around — wow!! music, television, radio, books and film, all in one NOTEWORTHY — to the remarkable Charlie Chaplin film released in 1940, a year prior to America’s involvement in WWII through the attack on Pearl Harbor, the following December. “The Great Dictator” was Chaplin’s first true talkie (and his most popular film), as he continued to make silent films more than a dozen years after “The Jazz Singer” broke that sound barrier.
It would seem Chaplin finally found something he had to talk about. It is a remarkable satire comedy, certainly hilarious in parts, with Chaplin writing, directing, producing, scoring and starring, playing both a Jewish barber and dictator Adenoid Hynkel, but he turns dead serious at film’s end when he gives a speech that has become universally lauded. I recommend watching it, or watching it again. Like the Lincoln series, it is perfect for our times.
Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 3,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com