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Thursday, June 07, 2007



Today, in betwen bouts of "No, Miles! You can't EAT that!" and "Lily! No! Get DOWN from there!" I found 20 or so minutes to begin watching my DVD of Elvis Presley on Ed Sullivan. Like the Beatles / Sullivan set issued a ways back, the set offers complete broadcasts, commercials and all, rather than the usual excerpted clips. Like the Beatles set, it is an education. Now, you know I love Steve and Eydie, Soupy Sales and all the other luminaries of that lost era, but seeing these eventual rock n roll icons in their original broadcast context truly confirms how astounding their arrivals were.

On the Elvis set, Ed is not present for the singer's first appearance; Charles Laughton hosts. Laughton is hardly more effervescent than the sepulchral Sullivan, but Ed never directed "Night of the Hunter" (a great film received so poorly upon release that it discouraged Laughton from any further directorial efforts, as I understand it. I'd rather have more Laughton films than Welles films, personally), so rave on Charles. The old guy reads some "Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes" type verse and introduces a compelling pair of acrobats, a Broadway singer of the faux-operatic school, and a tedious lounge comedy musical combo. Laughton's jokes provoke little more than polite titters, and as much as I crave old-school tv, it gets dull, breddren and cistern.

As Charles introduces Elvis, the audience barely responds. I expected shrill cheering from the slish gallery, but no dice. Turns out Elvis was being piped in from the West Coast, so the only folks in the house were Ed's usual crowd. Methinks they were as stoked to see the kid as I might be to see, maybe, Josh Grobin or that fuckin' Michael Buble (whose popularity completely baffles me). But when they cut to the theater where Elvis awaits, some audible girl reaction can be detected. Nothing insane, but it was early in the game. Boy, was it ever.

Elvis is apparently shitting bricks, despite having logged some serious tv time already. Ed's show was the big one, you see. The Copa. The Center Ring. Carnegie Hall. Presley looks, of course, superb as he stammers through an odd, endearingly awkward pre-song spiel, but jeez, he really is a kid. He delivers a fairly subdued Don't Be Cruel and a very mellow Love Me Tender along with the Jordanaires, his tamped-down delivery a perfect complement to his tamed-down outfit. It seems like part nerves and part straining at the leash when he goofs around with facial takes and random bits of physical schtick unlike the mad gyrations we've all seen elsewhere.

But Jesus, he's great.
Gave me fucking chills. No, the "hairs on the back of my neck" didn't "stand up" (what's with that weird boner metaphor anyway? Does this happen to any of you? HAIRS? On the back of your NECK? Standing UP? REALLY? Beats me; never had that experience), he just floored me. After all the previous tedium, nostalgic as it is, Elvis is new again. Again.

I never really "got" Presley before seeing the film This Is Elvis. Not that that was a great film, but the concentration of performances finally made me take notice. By the time I watched the 68 Comeback Special and its inedits, I was sold and how.

(On Americal Idol recently, they pulled off a real landmark of ├╝berkitsch by cryotronically pairing the irksome yet nonexistent Celine Dion with Elvis on his masterful performance of If I Can Dream from the 68 special. It sucked untold cock on every level, but succeeded brilliantly as the most incomprehensibly WRONG thing to happen to art and technology since Steven Spielberg first darkened our culture's door. I am so glad I had the vcr rolling; I want to force Celine Dion to view it incessantly, Clockwork Orange-style, until she explodes, leaving nothing but a viscous blob of Cointreau and knick-knack dust.)

Anyway, I cannot imagine a better vocal performance than Elvis on that original clip of If I Can Dream. His passion on the middle eight is breath-fucking-taking. If you don't "get" Presley, I suggest you view the comeback special, the collection of "black leather" performances taped for it and later issued in complete form, and this Sullivan set. I can't wait to watch him go through the remainder of this episode's performances and the other shows in the set, pending Miles' and Lily's kind permission. Thankyouverymuch.

Postscript - back when Miles was only just beginning to speak, and barely able to focus on anything on tv except Boobah, a clip of Elvis and his original band happened to appear on the tube. Miles locked his gaze on guitarist Scotty Moore through the solo and exclaimed: "That guy can play the musikguitar!"


Miles Murphy pretending to be daddy.

Lily Murphy mugging in her Princess garb.

A glamour shot of yours truly, taken by young Miles Murphy

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


My friend Larry has a good tribute to Charles Nelson Reilly on his blog, and I can't add much to what's been said there and elsewhere. I would like to note that, not long ago (maybe a year or 2), I read an article about CNR that quoted him complaining about his abandonment by the medium to which he owed his greatest fame. He was ubiquitous to people of my generation, even overlooking his fabled Match Game tenure. Starring in sitcoms like Ghost and Mrs Muir, kiddy fare like Lidsville, constantly guesting on variety and talk shows, shilling on ads for the Bic Banana pen, the guy was all over the tube.

Carson kept him on deck as a "replacement guest" whenever someone pulled a no-show, since he always made himself available and proved a reliable and ever-popular guest. Come the Leno era, the phone stopped ringing (along with the Tonight Show's laughs and any residual trace of sophistication it had retained). Maybe it was a little unusual for a performer to complain publicly about this kind of cold-shoulder, but his predicament was anything but unusual. I give him credit for telling them what ingrate fucks they were. Then and now, Reilly's complaint struck a chord in me, signifying the fairly sudden end of a showbiz continuity maintained through the 50s, 60s, 70s and at least the better part of the 80s.

When I tell younger people nowadays about watching, say Sly Stone co-hosting the Mike Douglas show for entire weeks, they laugh "how did THAT happen?" But it was pretty common , onceuponna, to see these kind of kulture kollisions (or kollusions, really, 'cause Douglas visibly loved Sly and supported him even when Sly was unmistakably blasted on drugs; this was not the "clueless square vs. ironic hipster" shit you'd expect now ). No More: CNR's banishment to the entertainment remainder table typified the arrival of today's popular anticulture.

The songwriter Paul Williams once told me about his experiences guesting on Match Game, which he described as "the Algonquin Round Table of game shows." He was very fond of Charles and Brett, and though it seemed a little fulsome to hear him compare this goofball game to that legendary corroboree of caustic wits, he was right. Surely the booze flowed no less generously to hear Paul tell it, and if someone were to cherry pick the finer quips from Rayburn's celebrity panel over the 4 or 5 years Match Game really cooked, I think Charles would compare favorably to Parker and Benchley. And the Algonquin cynics never had to deliver EVERY FUCKING DAY, on coast to coast tv, as did Brett, Chuck, Dawson et al. I'll bet you a round of Tom Collinses that most Algonquin chatter consisted of low gossip, pretentious blather, silly arguments and fuck jokes, just like yours and mine.

So... thanks and a tip of the toupee to you, Chuck; you still make me laugh my blank off.

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