The “Page Six” Scandal
For anyone who saw Sweet Smell of Success, with Tony Curtis as sniveling flack Sidney Falco trying to curry favor with Burt Lancaster’s curmudgeonly J. J. Hunsecker, it’s no secret that there’s a fascinatingly symbiotic relationship between gossip columnists and their sources.
All sorts of “scratch and be scratched” deals go on behind closed doors, and in this day of “fair and balanced” journalism, one realizes there’s no such thing as objective reporting, up to and including the great gray lady, The New York Times itself. William Hearst may have coined the phrase “yellow journalism,” but there’s a long and less-than-noble tradition of press barons using their vehicles to promote their own self-interest.
The N.Y. Post’s Jared Paul Stern did nothing wrong telling Ron Burkle he could help him with his coverage at “Page Six,” and while he appeared rather unseemly asking for $100k upfront and $10k a month for a year to do it, it seems to me a clear case of a sting. Certainly, if Burkle is offering the money, you wouldn’t expect a freelance gossip journalist to turn it down, would you?
Especially when publicists-turned-high-priced “media consultants” command about the same monthly stipend to do something very similar. It’s no wonder that the case hasn’t raised any eyebrows out here in L.A., where this sort of quid pro quo is considered the price of doing business.
The Streets, The Hardest Way to Make An Easy Living (Vice/Atlantic)
This long-awaited third album from the Cockney version of Eminem starts off with Mike Skinner on the verge of a nervous breakdown, chanting, “I’m about to do something stupid,” but the jam-packed confessional that follows offers more insight, advice, observations, and confessions in its 37 minutes than a week’s worth of Dr. Phil or Oprah.
Skinner tackles a variety of issues prompted by his incipient pop stardom, including a nasty gambling habit (“Pranging Out”), relationships in the post-feminist world (“War of the Sexes”), the no-win finances of the music business (the title track), his fixation with materialism (“Memento Mori”), the British tabloids (“When You Wasn’t Famous”), the death of his father (“Never Went to Church”), the loneliness of the road (“Hotel Expressionism”), the difference between England and America (“Two Nations”), and being alienated from your own fans (“Fake Street Hats”).
It’s all accompanied by a characteristic sing-song storytelling, equal parts Johnny Rotten and My Fair Lady’s Stanley Holloway (“With a Little Bit of Luck”), containing elements of soulful divas (“Pranging”), nursery rhymes (“Hardest Way…”), gospel-soul choirs (“Never Went to Church”), and even a Latin American samba (“Famous”). And while The Streets’ parochial viewpoint might remain too narrow for the kind of American breakthrough Skinner wishes for in lamenting, “Two nations divided by a common language/And 200 years of new songs and dances,” when he sings “If you don’t like what’s going down/You need to change something’ round” in “Fake Street Hats,” you realize, by describing a very particular state of music biz anomie, he also manages to touch on the universal.
Say what you will about Fall Out Boy — and to my mind, “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” is the best pop-punk song on the radio this side of Green Day — its bassist leader is a savvy businessman with an impressively encyclopedic knowledge of rock history and a healthy respect for elders like Neil Young, Bob Marley, and U2.
Toss in the fact Wentz signed Panic! at the Disco to his own label Decaydance (an imprint on the influential Chicago indie Fueled by Ramen) after hearing just three songs on the Internet, and you begin to realize rock & roll is in pretty good hands if he’s any indication of the new post-emo generation. After having him participate with me and Scoppa for our Sony Connect Music Snobs chat (shameless plug), we came away carrying a newfound respect and mind-blown admiration. If any band is capable of an American Idiot move with their next album, I’d put my money on FOB, even if Wentz insists their Insomniac is next.
I’m not an American Idol fanatic, but I do sneak a peek every now and then just to see what some 30 million weekly viewers find riveting… and to be able to carry on a water cooler conversation. What has attracts my attention are the oddball contestants who end up capturing the public’s attention. Not the William Hungs, but the ones who actually think they have a shot at the top prize, even with images that go against the usual notions of stardom.
I’m talking Clay Aiken, whose ruffle-haired, sexually ambiguous “nice guy” crooner was something I spotted early on as being different enough to grab attention. This year, there was Kevin Covais, the so-called Chicken Little from Long Island whose feisty, pugnacious spirit (he famously told off Simon Cowell during one critique) and self-deprecating shtick led him into the final dozen or so before his lack of vocal chops in comparison to the competition led to him being voted off.
The latest anomaly is 29-year-old Taylor Hicks, one of the seven remaining finalists, whose premature gray hair has turned into the show’s newest fixation. Hicks’ specialty is a Tom Jones-style blues rant that Cowell has compared to someone getting drunk at a wedding and grabbing the microphone. Could he be the Next Big Thing? In a time when Barry Manilow can top the album chart, anything is possible…as long as the stix don’t nix Hicks’ lix.
The Ice Harvest
Through films like Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, and Analyze This, actor/director Harold Ramis is one of the more underrated comic auteurs, and his latest, which came and went in the blink of an eye last Christmas, was obviously his attempt to duplicate the anti-holiday, feel-bad success of Bad Santa, which also starred Billy Bob Thornton.
This faux noir tries to duplicate the black comedy of Coen Brothers films like Blood Simple and Fargo, but never manages to strike the right balance between slapstick and violence, despite effective performances by John Cusack as a mob lawyer who tries to embezzle $2 million from his boss (Randy Quaid), who runs a bunch of strip joints and a massage parlor in Wichita, of all places, and Oliver Platt, basically doing a less lovable version of his Huff character, as a wise-cracking, obnoxious drunk.
Like John Landis’ Into the Night and Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, though not as good, the movie takes place over the course of a single night, in this case Christmas Eve, and while there are some laughs, especially during a family dinner crashed by Cusack and Platt, who has married the former’s ex-wife, the enforced whimsy and potential mayhem never quite gel into a coherent whole, despite the sometimes-witty repartee.
The Dying Gaul
Call it Brokeback Screenplay. I’m not quite sure if this rather strange indie film ever got a theatrical release, though I did see the trailers several times at my local art theater. Written and directed by Craig Lucas in his theatrical debut after making his mark as a playwright of dramas with gay themes, the movie starts promisingly enough, with Peter Sarsgaard as a struggling screenwriter who sells his film about the death of his lover from AIDS to predatory studio exec Campbell Scott for a cool $1 million, but only after agreeing to change the protagonists into heterosexuals.
Scott then begins a torrid affair with Sarsgaard, which he tries to hide from his wife, the always-wonderful Patricia Clarkson, and two children. Sarsgaard’s moral dilemma about changing the screenplay is soon diverted into a series of explicit couplings with Scott, which he inadvertently exposes to Clarkson via an online chat room. With the film set in 1995, the Internet angle seems a little prescient, and the plot merely a homosexual twist on the old melodramatic clichés, which seems a lot less groundbreaking in the wake of Brokeback Mountain.
The tragic ending is also a little jarring and doesn’t really follow what came before, but as an acting exercise, you can’t beat seeing Sarsgaard, Scott, and Clarkson go through their strangely attenuated, ultimately fatal, roundelay, with Steve Reich’s pulsating minimalist score providing the tension.
Luther Campbell, Uncle Luke – My Life and Freaky Times (Urban Box Office)
2 Live Crew founder and original rap entrepreneur Luther Campbell has gone up against some mighty large targets in his day, from George Lucas and Florida attorney Jack Thompson to Tipper Gore and Acuff-Rose, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The originator of the Miami bass sound that continues to reign in today’s Dirty South hip-hop and the first to start his own rap indie label back in 1983 with Luke Records, Campbell is an enigmatic figure in the genre’s history, with his profanity-laden music and groundbreaking videos heir to a noble tradition that includes the likes of bawdy adult-only African-American performers like Redd Foxx and Moms Mabley.
His latest release is a three-CD set including an audio book that names names and details wild experiences with athletes Mike Tyson, Ray Lewis, and LaVar Arrington, Hollywood icons like Robert DeNiro and his own notorious Luke dancers. It’s pretty obscene, but Campbell’s blatant guile and upfront honesty make him a trailblazing hero in battling for sexual liberation and free speech, and a much-overlooked icon in modern-day hip-hop.
Being Mick (A&E)
This 2001 documentary, filmed during the recording of Mick Jagger’s solo album, Goddess in the Doorway, was originally aired on ABC in prime-time, if I remember correctly, and is now being shown as part of an ongoing series of entertainment biographies on A&E. Jagger flits between his various families while recording with a series of superstars such as Bono, Wyclef Jean, Lenny Kravitz, and Pete Townshend, pausing just long enough to exchange some intimate small talk with his children and a rather touching moment with his dad, reminiscing at a father-and-daughter track day.
His various girlfriends and wives are nowhere to be seen, except for a brief glimpse of Jerry Hall, but given the private nature of Mick, even this carefully controlled doc offers more insight into the Jagger personality than any of his music or by-rote interviews do. And as we watch people fawn over him like royalty, we get insight into how fame can almost, but not completely, isolate you from the rest of humanity – even, to an extent, your own family.
Ex-Sire/Reprise President Howie Klein’s unabashedly leftist political blog cum website this week deals with President Bush’s attempt to stir up a war with Iran, his disenchantment with Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the San Diego recall election to replace convicted Republic congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the defeat of Italian Premier and nose-picker Silvio Berlusconi (a staunch Bush ally), Newt Gingrich waffling on Iraq, and lots more. Klein has replaced his passion for the Ramones with one for politics, and his takes on the day’s news betray his belief in activist engagement. Who needs Huffington when you’ve got Klein?
Gripe of the Week
With the advent of ATMs, you rarely have to wait in line at the bank anymore, but when you do, it can be a painful experience, even with the overhead monitors playing CNN without the sound. So there I was, waiting at my local Wells Fargo to cash a check, eyeing each of the individual stations and trying to figure out how long before it was my turn when, all of a sudden, an opening comes up, only to have the teller decide it was time for their break, putting up that frustrating “go to next teller” sign. I mean, can’t they just finish working the rest of the line, which was only about three-deep at the time, before taking off? Just asking.