Saturday, April 12, 2008

Spine tingling (navel maneuver)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Fame up close

I look back fondly on my adolescence in 1980s Nashville, in no small part because the city's alternative music scene was smokin', and I was privileged to play a small part in it. The Nashville Scene, an alt-weekly, ran a fine article about the milieu sometime back, and I've written a little about it, and my esteemed colleague from those days Walter also once wrote a fine remembrance.

The alternative music scene isn't the only thing I remember fondly, however. After all, in Nashville alternative music wasn't an alternative only to the Starships and the Tiffanys of the day. There also was mainstream Nashville country, which I had a love-hate relationship with. The hate had to do with the fact that as a teenager living comfortably in suburbia, I just didn't get country music on some basic level. I think that's because country traditionally dealt with, and to some extent still deals with, vivid adult themes like addiction, loss, infidelity, class resentment. I had to grow up a little to understand all that.

But what was appealing then about mainstream Nashville music -- and I think this has changed -- is that the stars were very accessible, much more so than the celebs on the coasts. I remember once running into Randy Travis, who was pumping his own gasoline near Music Row. I was like, hi. Then there was the time I encountered the Oak Ridge Boys' Duane Allen buying a toilet plunger at a hardware store, and the time I saw the Oak Ridge Boys' Joe Bonsall at a screening of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (I was forever running into Oak Ridge Boys.) Yes, the stars were out and about, in humble ways. And Nashvillians, being polite Southerners, left them alone.

The music business formalized this intimacy with something called Fan Fair, which let music lovers meet their favorite artists in person. The event still occurs, though it moved downtown from the trashy fairgrounds and now is the slicker CMA Music Festival. I remember Fan Fair as a strange, even grand summer rite, a reminder that we lived amid giants.

And speaking of giants, this picture captures Fan Fair and 1980s Nashville very well, about as well as anything I can imagine. The supremely accommodating David Allan Coe is giving a little of himself to that sweating, shirtless Fan Fair fan, because that's what Nashville stars did.

The picture comes from a great coffee table book I found at the library, Nashville: Music City USA, by John Lomax III (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1985). It pleases me to find my memories in convenient coffee table book form.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Good word

"Everyone hates a sad professor."

-- R.E.M.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Lone voice

On the Daily Page earlier this week I reviewed the celebratory new documentary Welcome to Macintosh, which premiered at the Wisconsin Film Festival. My review wasn't altogether positive, so I'm disappointed not to have inspired any online vitriol from Apple Inc. fans, who notoriously go after Mac naysayers with pitchforks.

But there's still time.

For the record, I'm the proud owner of an Apple IIc, which I sometimes use to play hangman. Otherwise the thing mostly sits in a closet.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

You do that Hulu

I've been sampling the wares at Hulu, the new web-video effort by the NBC and Fox TV networks. So far, I like it. There's a bounty of full-length television and movie offerings -- though many titles are, unfortunately, available only in short clips. Who wants to watch mere excerpts of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"? Someone with a very short attention span and a love of Mariska Hargitay, I suppose.

The site has its critics. Compared to the bounty of YouTube, the offerings can seem scant. Episodes of the wondrous "Simpsons" are available, for example, but only five of them. The site is free, but unlike other web offerings, the clips come complete with commercial spots that can't be skipped. All of that adds up to an experience that may not appeal to web-video fans.

My Hulu experience has been positive, though, in part because I've been watching old television shows not on a computer monitor but on a television. Sometime back I connected a spare PC to the TV in the bedroom, and I've had great fun using the machine as a TiVo-like device, thanks to the Beyond TV software. So it didn't take a great leap of imagination to try watching web video on that TV, too.

Which brought me to Hulu. The site is easy to navigate, even using the PC-based remote control that came with Beyond TV. (It's an awkward method, but it works.) Hulu's full-screen moving images look fine on my standard-definition set. And although Hulu's offerings are pretty slim when it comes to new programming, the site is rich in the sort of classic -- I use the term loosely -- TV programs that in some ways I enjoy the most of all.

So I spent my first hours on Hulu sampling shows like "Dragnet 1967". (One "Dragnet" episode I watched featured the LSD-addled hippie kid known as Blue Boy. Let's hear it for Blue Boy!) I also watched the first episode of the 1979 sci-fi series "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century", which I loved when I was 8. It's not holding up well. And I was pleased to find a show I've been meaning to catch up with: "Picket Fences", whose 90-minute pilot proved gratifyingly quirky. I'll be watching more of that -- the entire first season is available on Hulu -- and also some of the episodes of "Hill Street Blues" Hulu offers. That show has been on my list ever since Terry Teachout blogged admiringly about it a few months ago.

All of this I watched, not squinting at a computer display, but reclining in bed. It's a good place to enjoy the mildly narcotic effect of old TV shows, whether they're coming in over the airwaves or via the cable modem.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Front page news

New York Times to would-be competitors in the blogosphere: If you blog, you might die.