Friday, January 09, 2004


Happy birthday to me, and to Richard Milhous Nixon, who would be 91 today. I think of Nixon often, and not just because I share a birthday with him (and also Joan Baez, Crystal Gayle, Bob Denver, Dave Matthews, Bart Starr and A.J. McLean, the Backstreet Boy with the complicated facial hair).

In the last couple of years I've probably read more books about Nixon than any other single subject. The current one is Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward's The Final Days, which tells the troubled tale of the latter part of the Watergate scandal, starting roughly at the moment John Ehrlichman and Bob Haldeman resigned in April 1973. Other recent reads are Nixon's Shadow, the pomo history by David Greenberg; Anthony Summers' The Arrogance of Power; and Art Buchwald's collection of satiric Watergate columns, "I Am Not a Crook". I've also been watching the five-part television documentary "Watergate," which ran on the BBC and Discovery Channel in 1994. And I read extensively about the Vietnam War, in which Nixon of course loomed large, as did Watergate.

Why the fascination? It's a little astrological, I suppose. Partisan ideology aside, I see some of myself in Nixon: the ambitiousness, yes, and also the secretiveness, the suspiciousness, the darkness. Did I mention the brooding? And of course, like Nixon, I love recording technology.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Hangin' Out

"That '70s Show" is back on track. Ereck and I were disappointed by the first couple of episodes this season, but last night's broadcast was first-rate, as was the rerun Fox showed Tuesday night.

If you haven't yet delved into this funny sitcom, please do. We Madisonians are lucky to get two episodes rerun in syndication every weeknight on WB 57. I don't know whether other cities have this luxury, or whether it is related to the show's being set in Wisconsin.

At its best moments "That '70s Show" rises to the level of "Seinfeld," to me the sine qua non of crisply written, consistently funny sitcoms of the last, oh, 11.7 years. Actually, "Seinfeld" fired on all cylinders more often than "'70s," which comes up with perhaps one dumb joke for every four superb ones.

What appeals to me about "That '70s Show" is the characters' humility: they're adolescents, so they're anxious about pretty basic stuff, especially sex of the furtive teenage variety. The "Seinfeld" characters' anxieties, on the other hand, have mostly to do with the difficulties of being bourgeois--Saab ownership on the Upper West Side of Manhattan indeed looks like tough going.

Last fall I predicted this would be the breakout season for "That '70s Show," mostly because over the summer, cast member Ashton Kutcher thrust himself into the national limelight with his heavily publicized Demi Moore romance. But the ratings of late seem to have "'70s" ranked somewhere in the upper 60s, below "Joan of Arcadia" and "The O.C." (but above "Reba" and "WWE Smackdown"). Oh well.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Slightly used

My LP of Judy Garland's 1961 masterpiece Judy at Carnegie Hall has a sticker on it that says "Not perfect condition."

Well, duh.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

More fun from back home

Here's a detail of another picture I liberated from the family homestead in Nashville. It's me the summer after eighth grade, yes, and it's from a large-format photograph of the school group with which I travelled to Washington, DC in 1985. It was one of the few moments in my life in which I appeared kinda fratty.
The divine Mr. R.

I'm haunted by the idea of Bette Midler singing, in a duet with a video image of Mr. Rogers, the Rogers staple "I Like to Be Told" ("I like to be told if it's going to hurt"). Read about it in Kelefa Sanneh's review of a recent Midler performance.

Wanted: bootleg of this.