Saturday, February 11, 2006

Good word

"One summer during college, I was an intern at the Atlantic Monthly, and our primary responsibility was reading unsolicited fiction manuscripts. Unfortunately, the experience helped me understand why instead of featuring so-called fresh voices, magazines choose to print stories by John Updike or Joyce Carol Oates over and over again."

-- Curtis Sittenfeld

Friday, February 10, 2006

Back in time

I care barely a whit about the Grammys, but I'm a teensy bit disappointed that Lee Ann Womack didn't win Female Country Vocal Performance for "I May Hate Myself in the Morning," a track on her lustrous CD There's More Where That Came From.

Last year Charles Hughes extolled There's More Where That Came From, and I wanted to believe him, especially because the album cover is so beautiful -- it's every great country record that came out in 1967. But Womack's putrid 2000 self-help anthem "I Hope You Dance" is one my least favorite things in the world, the epitome of all that is wrong with country music today. When she sang it in the warm-up slot at Willie Nelson's otherwise terrific Ravinia show three years ago, I wanted to crawl into a hole (unlike the woman in front of me, who was moved to lift up her arms like an evangelical).

But There's More Where That Came From is a very focused, finely wrought piece of countrypolitan classicism. The arrangements are lush with vocal harmonies and weeping pedal steel, and you never hear songwriting like this on mainstream Nashville releases anymore. The two standout cuts, the title track (by Odie Blackmon) and the Grammy-nominated one (by Chris Dubois and Chris Stapleton), are wry-sad ballads with my favorite kind of lyrical hook: the everyday phrase turned on its head, to devastating effect. "There's more where that came from," Womack sings sadly -- meaning, in the context of a motel tryst, more passion, but also more infidelity, more guilt, more shame. The performance makes me gasp.

What's missing from the record, I think, is a honkytonk shitkicker of a fast song. The album is very mellow and could use just one lively tune, something along the lines of Tammy Wynette's "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad." Still, the secret hidden track, a faithful remake of George Jones' midtempo classic "A Girl I Used to Know," is a step in the right direction. But why a hidden track? Must you closet your Possum fandom, Lee Ann?

Regardless, all props to Emmylou Harris, who prevailed in the Grammy category.
Break away

I can understand why Kelly Clarkson would disavow ("Two words: contractually obligated") From Justin to Kelly, the movie musical she made with fellow "American Idol" alum Justin Guarini. 2001 it ain't.

But I was in the infinitesimal minority of critics who liked From Justin to Kelly. Here's what I wrote about it in the June 27, 2003 Isthmus:
"American Idol" dreamboats Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini star in an old-fashioned beach-blanket musical about the curse of being young, beautiful and at the top of the class system. Unlike recent anti-musicals like Chicago and Dancer in the Dark, there's nothing metatexual going on here, just unmitigated singing and dancing; however, unlike Chicago stars Renee Zellwiger and Richard Gere, Clarkson and Guarini can actually sing and dance.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


The radio station Z104, sponsor of the kissing contest, has moved the event to its studios. All are welcome. Details here.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Lookie here: In a developing story, it appears Madison's West Towne Mall will not let same-sex couples participate in a kissing contest this weekend. Read all about it on the Daily Page here.
Sorry for the confusion

I posted here about the closing of the Waldenbooks at East Towne Mall, then thought better of it and posted the entry to The Daily Page. So many blog!

I'm curious whether someone at Madison's remaining Waldenbooks branch will protest my using a fairly high-profile local platform to call the store "crappy." (We get letters.)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

More sad news

It's a day for remembrances. My recollection of Louise Scruggs, wife of banjoist Earl, is up on the Daily Page. She died last week at age 78.
John Foster, 1923-2006

My neighbor John died on Jan. 30. He was 82 and lived two doors down from me on Baldwin Street. His wife, Cecilia, passed away a couple of years ago, and I worried about him -- she seemed to keep the household running. But after she died, family members came and went regularly. He was being looked after.

John almost always wore his Disabled American Veterans cap, and he told me he served in England in World War II. (According to his obituary, he was a sergeant in the Army Air Force.) I am grateful for his service.

John always -- always -- had a friendly word. Usually it was "Nice day!" I was fond of him, and of Cecilia.

Please remember John Foster.