Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dolly dish

On Wednesday, Dolly Parton disclosed big news about Dollywood, her Pigeon Forge, Tenn., entertainment complex: a $300 million investment that will yield a 300-room resort hotel, among other upgrades. Here's my Mountain Press report on the announcement, and here is my interview with Parton about the development.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Back to school

In Sevier County, school started on Friday. Here's my Mountain Press report from Seymour Primary and Mrs. Clark's first grade class.
"Does anyone know what a clock is?" asked Mrs. Clark.
A little girl raised her hand. "Yes?" said Mrs. Clark.
"It's like a round circle," the little girl said, "and it has clock stuff on it."

Friday, August 02, 2013

Music business people

Here's my Mountain Press interview with Sevier County native Lisa McCarter, of the Americana group Runaway Home. In the 1980s she and her sisters performed as the McCarters and notched top-10 country hits like "The Gift" and "True and Timeless Love."
The sisters moved to Nashville in 1987. "We were scared to death," Lisa said. "We had never been around music business people. We would travel home to Sevierville every weekend."

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Father's daughter's son

Here's my Mountain Press article about Chas Hartman and his book "Daughter of a Park Ranger," a biography of his mom. Her father spent a career in the National Park Service, including a stint as superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Good word

"An alien race that looks like a cross between Jabba the Hutt and Harold Bloom."

-- Roger Ebert

Good word

"Got up went to Twickenham rehearsed until lunchtime — left the Beatles — went home, and in the evening did King of Fuh at Trident studio, had chips later."

-- George Harrison

Friday, July 26, 2013

Summer scenes

The middling summery comedy "The Way, Way Back" opens this week in Knoxville. My review in the alt-weekly Metro Pulse is here.
For better or worse, "The Way, Way Back" owes a lot to "Meatballs," including a nerdy character who gets picked on by the cool people because he’s just such a nerd. On behalf of nerds everywhere, I protest.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Song man

Here's my latest Mountain Press column, inspired by the buskers of Knoxville's Market Square. Did you know I've done some busking?
On a pleasant day, playing music outside is fun. It’s nice to see people smile when they hear a song they like. At places like State Street and Market Square, people tend to be in a festival mood, so impromptu singing and dancing may break out.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Good word

"According to David Lee Roth this was because critics accused him of writing about nothing more than partying, sex, and cars, but Roth realized that he had yet to write a song about cars.[citation needed]"

-- Wikipedia

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Today's top story

Grad Student Band's Bio Intellectually Impoverished

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tennessee folkies

The Maryville, Tenn., folk duo of Sparky and Rhonda Rucker perform this weekend in the Sugarlands Visitor Center at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My Mountain Press preview is here:
Sparky worked as a schoolteacher after he graduated from the University of Tennessee. He also worked for the Council of the Southern Mountains, “doing social-change work,” he said, “basically trying to make Southern Appalachian lives better – fighting mountaintop removal, getting benefits for black lung disease, trying to get unions organized in various areas. I’m quite a rabble-rouser.”

Friday, July 19, 2013

Good word

"I'm not generally a fan of movies spun off from TV animation. 'The Flintstones' and 'Ninja Turtles' moved me only marginally."

-- Roger Ebert

Good word

"Obviously, people from other planets are going to have extra powers that Earth people don't have. Anybody who has ever watched television knows that."

-- Daniel M. Pinkwater

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Good word

"I hate Woodstock. There is the birth of one of the most destructive myths shoved down the throats of Generations X and Y ever."

-- Jim DeRogatis

Good word

"He never quite forgave his father for being an admiral."

-- Roger Ebert on Jim Morrison

Monday, July 15, 2013

Musical youth

Nice pieces have run in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times on the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. I wrote about the organization in The Mountain Press a while back when I profiled a Sevierville high school kid who is touring with the group. Inspiring stuff.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Good word

"Among schoolmates, informal, faddish, well-meant salutations that do no physical damage should not be condemned."

-- Miss Manners

Good word

"For years I have wondered, during 'Don't Cry for Me, Argentina,' why we were not to cry. Now I understand: We need not cry because (a) Evita got everything out of life she dreamed of, and (b) Argentina should cry for itself."

-- Roger Ebert

Friday, July 12, 2013

Good word

"When classical music is associated with popular entertainment, the result is usually to trivialize it (who can listen to the 'William Tell Overture' without thinking of the Lone Ranger?). Kubrick's film is almost unique in enhancing the music by its association with his images."

-- Roger Ebert

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My fellow Americans

When I was a kid, I got irked when presidential speeches took over all three broadcast networks. Since that was all we had. I used to flip between channels and note subtle differences between the feeds. Look, on NBC Reagan's suit is slightly more brown.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013


Next time we move, I'm going to do some strength training to prepare, and I'm not even kidding.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Today's top story

IT Guy Says That Shouldn't Be Happening


Ke$ha wakes up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy. I wake up in the morning feeling like Harold Ramis.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Settling in

Over the two days that we have lived in our new house, neighbors have extended generosity and hospitality twice. In all my previous moves that has happened exactly zero times. I could get used to this.


Greetings from our new house in South Knoxville. We have decided to leave everything where we put it down when we moved in. We call this the Hall of Bookshelves.

Friday, July 05, 2013

The new normal

You know what moving heavy boxes and furniture at age 42 affirms? I'm age 42. As opposed to age 22.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

My advice

Confidential to the little kid on the school bus who slyly shot me a bird as I drove past: You're going to have to work on your negativity.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Today's top story

Consensus Emerges That From Now On, All Westerns Are Revisionist Westerns

Monday, July 01, 2013

Decisions decisions

How thoughtless

The problem with the Instagram fruit spam is that it makes people selling legitimate miracle fruit diets look bad.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Scenes from a move

Adult education

If politics hadn't worked out, Gov. Alexander could have fallen back on his TRS-80 skills.

Feats of strength

Nashville ought to bring back the All-American Country Games. They would help us find out what the stars are really made of. When Sylvia biked, she biked to win.

What would we do, baby

Farewell, "Family Ties" creator Gary David Goldberg. Alex talking to the picture of Nixon was freaking funny.

Saturday, June 29, 2013


I just noticed that in my Liberace box is my official Olympic Listerine lapel pin.


Time to move again, and to handle every item I own, one by one. This is my Liberace box from my country singer days.

Facts you can't deny

The best "Columbo" is "By Dawn's Early Light" with Patrick McGoohan. But "Now You See Him," which we watched last night, is right up there.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Never mind

Okay, I'm about six episodes in, and I have determined "Mad Men" is, my initial reservations notwithstanding, freaking awesome. As you were.

Facts you can't deny

The word Jacuzzi appears in these country songs: John Anderson, "Black Sheep"; Shania Twain, "You Win My Love."

Thursday, June 27, 2013

What she said

"I say it because I grew up in the South during the civil rights era and because I was paying attention."

-- Tracy Thompson

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Professional query

If famous musicians start singing as I'm interviewing, is it okay if I sing along? That's happened three times in a row.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

This I believe

If looking at fireflies and listening to crickets in the backyard on a Tennessee summer evening is wrong, I don't want to be right.

Picture this

I gather from my stats that people still find their way to my blog by searching for pictures of a Flying Tiger airplane. When I posted about "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" in 2004, I mentioned Sky Captain's Flying Tiger. Welcome, Flying Tiger fans!

What I'm not seeing is people who arrive because they're looking for images of Rachael Ray. I used to get that all the time, because I once posted to the effect that Ray is cute as a button. I affirm that claim. But maybe the moment has passed.

Monday, June 24, 2013

How to

Don't forget the time that Ereck, inspired by the For Dummies series, thought up a series of instruction books whose inaugural title would be: "Container Gardening for the Overanalytical."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

No place like dome

I hope to hear the following lines in the CBS television event "Under the Dome":

"Sure is a mighty big dome."

"It's quiet under the dome ... TOO quiet."

"You shoulda seen the dome that blew in with the nor'easter of '48."

"Yes, we're under the dome. BUT WHAT IS THE DOME UNDER?"

"They can't put a dome over our love."

Farrah fan

Then and now.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


I revisited the 1983 James Bond film "Never Say Never Again" this weekend only because I just learned that its theme song is sung by Lani Hall. She was in Brasil '66, which was of course the greatest thing ever.

Man of the people

Speaking of Dick Cavett, let me tell you about the most awesome thing I ever heard anyone say in Wisconsin. I was waiting in line for Cavett's appearance at Ten Chimneys, and a woman near me wore an annoyed expression as she looked around and said, "I thought this was for Yale alumni only."

The walkover

Questlove and Ben Greenman write about musical cues on the Jimmy Fallon show:
The walkover, or walk-on, for those who don’t speak backstage, is the song that the band plays as a guest comes out from behind the curtain and walks over to the host’s desk. Once upon a time, maybe, it was straightforward, a little musical cue or song associated with the artist. But then came Paul Shaffer’s work on “Letterman,” and the walkover became its own little art form — an obscure musical reference that the audience (and sometimes even the guest) had to decode.
FYI, before Shaffer and Letterman in the 1980s, Bobby Rosengarden was doing this sort of thing as Dick Cavett's bandleader in the 1960s and 1970s:
On the Cavett show, he would accompany a seemingly endless of entertainers and banter with Mr. Cavett, and he became known for signaling “walk on” themes for each guest. When a guest who was a sex therapist was introduced, the band played “I Can’t Get Started”; the artist Salvador Dali was greeted with “Hello, Dolly.”
"The Dick Cavett Show" never gets enough credit.

Safety first

Per the promotional materials: When you're watching Amazon streaming video on your Wii, it's important that the Wiimote be strapped to your wrist at all times. Because the sight of Jeff Bridges in "True Grit" may make you wave your arms.

Friday, June 21, 2013


Just signed a lease on a house in South Knoxville! And so we are moving to South Knoxville. From West Knoxville.

Way back when

I finally watched the first episode of "Mad Men," and I'm wondering what all the fuss is about. Other period TV shows, excellent ones (e.g. "M*A*S*H"), don't condescend to their subject matter.

The issues we face

If I were an author or actor, I would spend most of my time worrying about whether I should have my left hand on my face in my head shot, or my right hand, or both hands.

True story

Ants got in the peanut butter and it was animated Jif.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Robots and rights

Interesting piece on Slate about robots and souls and the Star Wars universe:
George Lucas doesn’t care about metal people. No other explanation makes sense. In a kid-targeted sci-fi setting that’s notably inclusive, with as many friendly alien characters as villainous ones, the human rights situation for robots is horrifying. They’re imbued with distinctly human traits—including fear—only to be tortured and killed for our amusement. They scream while being branded, and cower before heroes during executions.
The grand authority on robots and ethics is of course Isaac Asimov, who is mentioned in the article, but only in passing. Most apropos is "The Robots of Dawn," Asimov's somewhat boring 1983 novel about the murder of a robot. I just read it. Gotta say, his musings on robot sex are more interesting than the stuff about roboticide.

Then there is "The Measure of the Man," probably the best episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." It's about exactly the issue raised in the Slate article. Do robots have rights? Great stuff.

We'll have to face this one day. Meanwhile, be good to your Roomba.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Today's top story

Phone That Rings Just Like Old Phone Is Actual Old Phone

First things first

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Wave theory

Today the Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay discusses waving rituals of runners and cyclists.
On the Internet you can find many message boards devoted to the wave question, an evergreen topic that never really goes away. There are worries that the ritual is eroding; that cycling and running have become polluted with rude wave deniers; that society in general isn't as nice and we're all on a slow road to a hell…in which, presumably, nobody ever waves.
When I'm running, I wave at other runners I encounter unless they do something to irritate me -- say, run to the left of the sidewalk instead of the right. Then I punish them by not waving at them.

Monday, June 17, 2013

At your fingertips

Our trip to Atlanta this weekend marked the first time I extensively used a smartphone for travel tips in an unfamiliar city. Forgive me if I state the obvious, but this technology is miraculous.

We have 90 minutes. What should we do? Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap. Want to look at mummies in the Michael C. Carlos Museum on Emory campus? It's five minutes away. Let's go.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Not here

Greetings from Atlanta, where Jake Tapper is bigger than all of us.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Here in my car

Greetings from Atlanta. The traffic indicator on my Android map turned a shade of red I'd never seen before.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Viva Mr. ZIP

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Today's top story

Area Man Secretly Still Thinks Big Mouth Billy Bass Is Pretty Funny

Name game

"The Applebee's chain was started by Bill and T. J. Palmer who opened their first restaurant, T.J. Applebee’s Rx for Edibles & Elixirs ..."


"In 1986, the name of the concept was changed to Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar ..."

Whyyyyy ...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My new pal

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How do you like it

When I was a kid, I regularly ate at chain steakhouses like Western Sizzlin and Quincy's, the kind of places where you grab a piece of lemon pie in a cafeteria line. Which is why I still say a steak ought to come with a plastic tab stuck in it indicating doneness.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Hitting the road with Ray

Here's my Mountain Press profile of Paula Michelle, the Sevier County singer who toured with Ray Charles. "Charles was 'hard, difficult,' Michelle said. 'It was stressful.' Still, she notes, she learned a lot about the music business from him."

In dreams he came

Watching the "Phantom of the Opera" performance on the Tonys last night, I looked for clues to explain the musical's amazing longevity. It has been on Broadway since 1988. I enjoyed the number, but the long stint is a mystery. The show is looking shopworn -- and sounding shopworn. The synthesizer arrangements reminded me of the score for "Cats," which I once wrote sounds like a justly forgotten Styx album.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The end of play

Last night I was reminiscing about Star Wars toys. When I was a child in the 1970s, the neighbor kids and my brother and I played with them endlessly -- the four-inch-tall action figures, the spaceships, the Death Star set. For days on end we used the toys to act out stories of adventure. I loved this.

Then I remembered something that made me sad. At some point, I forgot how to play. When I was 12 or 13, a new line of Star Wars toys came out, cast-iron spaceships and play sets that were smaller than the originals. They were lovely. I liked them and bought a few, but when I got them home I realized: I don't know what to do with these. The play that had come so easily now seemed forced. I gave up and watched TV.

And that's how kids at play turn into grown-up collectors.

Mon semblable

I gather from studying page view statistics that the most dedicated reader of my blog is me.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Appliance of Satan

More often than I would like, I get fascinated by some new technology that takes up a lot of my time and attention and might even affect my relationships. When that happens, I think of this story from the November 1976 "Archie's Girls: Betty and Veronica," which I read when I was a kid. I found a copy on eBay, with a big assist from the excellent pop culture blogger Jaime Weinman. He knows a lot about Archie comics and was really helpful when I queried him about this on Twitter.

The story has stayed with me all these years. I also think of it whenever I install a window air conditioner.

Dept. of hiking adventures

Here's my Mountain Press feature about Gatlinburg's John LaFevre, who with his wife Kat recently released a new version of their book "Scavenger Hike Adventures." It makes a game of walking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. "It’s a sturdy, wire-bound book that should travel well along the park’s beautiful trails."

Olde Englande

We're finally catching up with "Upstairs Downstairs," season two, which aired on PBS last fall. With its quick scene changes and opulent English settings, it reminds me of "Downton Abbey." Except it might actually be better than "Downton Abbey." Less silly.

Friday, June 07, 2013

The bias is real

"Do you think there’s an element of bias against Southerners or Christians at work here?"

The bias is real, and for this Southern Episcopalian who recently returned home after half a lifetime away, it's frustrating.

I'm not defending the guy who stole people's comedy tweets. That's shameful.

Dept. of child stars

Now I did not know that Fergie was on "Kids Incorporated."

Good word

"It'd be hard to imagine greater talents than Pryor and Jackson, just as it'd be hard to imagine icons who did more to squander their almost inconceivable gifts."

-- Nathan Rabin, "My Year Of Flops Case File #8: The Wiz"

Circles within circles

Spirograph website. There goes my weekend

Robots in disguise

My Roomba 620 pretended to be a Roomba 630.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Today's top story

Donor Still Writing 2012 on Giant Ceremonial Checks

Dept. of neologisms

I avoid all trendy slang except "23 skidoo."

Mon semblable

My email doppelgänger in Texas buys shoes and applies for nursing jobs.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Health tip

It's not snacking if you eat all your snacks with your meals.

Little-known fact

The working title of "Brave New World" was "Dude, Where's My Soma?"

Collector's item

My Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum pencil set is still in the original packaging. Bet it's worth a fortune, like a Star Wars toy.

Jitterbugging to lose

Here's the thing about dance-a-thons. Whenever you see a dance-a-thon in a movie or TV show, it starts out with people dancing gleefully, with great abandon, arms and legs flying everywhere. Now is it just me, or is this not spectacularly bad dance-a-thon strategy? I say slow dance every number, including "Sing, Sing, Sing."

Technical support

Yesterday I had a web chat with a Comcast representative about my flaky Internet service. I got nervous when the rep opened the conversation with this: "I understand the importance of internet in our daily lives at our own convenience."

But things went reasonably well after that.

Endless games

"Games among 'amateur' players often extend far longer for a variety of reasons."

I'm surprised this Slate piece doesn't mention a really important reason Monopoly games go on forever: unofficial house rules that replenish cash supplies, like the Free Parking windfall. The goal is to BANKRUPT YOUR OPPONENTS, people. Atlantic City wasn't developed by hippies.

Monday, June 03, 2013

All I miss is the unrelenting negativity

And the anger. Here's the Mountain Press column I wrote about my Facebook-free summer. "I’m not interested in politics as an all-consuming leisure activity."

Sunday, June 02, 2013

No way

You mean Paul McCartney was in a band before he was in a Beatles tribute band?

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Good word

"What John needed was an editor. That's what the Beatles would do -- they'd edit each other."

-- Phil Spector

Buy me that


Smooth a path

"Players smooth a path from near their ball to the hole, and place their ball in the path to putt, making sure that the distance to the hole is the same as from their original lie."

And now you know about sand-greens golf.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The candidate

If I ever get rid of any LPs I may start with this copy of John Lennon's "Rock 'n' Roll."

Words to live by

Today's top story

Area Man Clicks Through 50 Slides About Someone Else's Nostalgia

Today's top story

Bon Iver, Alabama Members Compare Beards

Details matter

Nice moment in Dollywood's "Dreamland Drive-In" show: During the Beatles' "Yesterday," someone in the band hits the cello's famous flat-7 note.

Today's top story

"Family Feud" Pollster Takes a P-Value

Today's top story

Fred Flintstone's Alarm Clock Molts

Multiple slots

"He also talked about sealed computers and how that was a big change from the days when there were multiple slots."

I'm still a fan of multiple slots. I like being able to open up a desktop computer, install stuff in slots, upgrade memory, put in another hard drive, try a new video card, blow dust off the CPU. This puts me in a minority of everyday computer users, I realize. I don't know anyone else who still uses a desktop computer at home, more or less exclusively. Maybe one day I can open a booth at Craftsman's Valley in Dollywood. I'll be the guy upgrading RAM in a desktop PC, between the blacksmith and the glass blower.

Choo choo

I enjoyed the roller coasters and shows at Dollywood yesterday. A Thursday in May turned out to be a perfect time to visit. The park wasn't too crowded, and the lines at the popular rides were short. I was kind of surprised that my favorite attraction turned out to be the Dollywood Express, the steam train that chugs up the mountain and back. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. I am, after all, a transit geek who has been known to ride streetcars and funiculars for fun. I think there were other transit geeks on the train. As our trip got underway, I looked around and saw that several men of a certain age were, like me, grinning broadly.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Today's top story

Unsubscribe Request Ignored


Promising start to a day of vigorous outdoor recreation.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Today's top story

MySpace User Still Friends With Tom

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Gift of a Facebook-free summer: no memes.


Today's top story: Someone who doesn't seem to know much about country music makes sweeping generalizations about country music.

"Country music prides itself on a lack of sophistication and pretense."

Is it possible that what appears to be a lack of pretense is ... a pretense? Is there anything more sophisticated than a Nashville recording studio, apart from the international conglomerates that market and distribute country music?

The darkness

If we were meant to be in caves, we would be sightless fish. Or lichens.

Cité de la Musique

"From what I learned on 'Nashville,' country music is a lot about feelings, very strong feelings, and I think that translates well into French culture."

Monday, May 27, 2013

Today's top story

"Family Feud" Family Declares Bad Answer Good

Safety first

I wonder if the ice cream truck driver I drove by last night puts her cigarette out when the children come around.

I remember those

So far I've used my Facebook-free summer to look at birds in the backyard. There are birds in the backyard?


I will use my Facebook-free summer to a) read Plato's "Republic" b) read St. Augustine's "Confessions" or c) watch "Family Feud."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Which are the voyages?

Do deleted "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" scenes that wound up in the director's cut count as canon? Not that canon matters anymore.

Angry young, I mean middle-aged, man

Finally got around to watching the "Masterpiece Contemporary" film "Lennon Naked," which languished on my DVR for three years. Most reviews were miserable, but I didn't hate it. My main complaint is that at 46, Christopher Eccleston was much too old to play John Lennon in his 20s. Part of what's moving about the story of Lennon in the 1960s is that he was so young.

The country closet

"What really sets Mr. McAnally apart, though, is his personal life. Mr. McAnally is gay. Country remains American music's bastion of cultural conservatism."

People used to say the military and pro sports were the professional closet's last great bastions. But there also is mainstream country music. Not a single gay star has been unequivocally out in the prime of a sustained career as a country hit maker. Chely Wright and k.d. lang both came out long after their greatest successes on the country charts, and Sugarland's Kristen Hall left the band before it notched its biggest hits.

"Changes do seem to be afoot in Nashville."

Could be. There's a tantalizing plot thread about this on the TV show "Nashville." Bet it's making some people squirm in the Music City.

Just the way he is

"Yeah, I relate to Beethoven."

I don't think Billy Joel is actually likening himself to Beethoven. He's just pointing to a familiar example as he makes an analogy. But it's fun to make fun of Billy Joel for likening himself to Beethoven.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Facebook-free summer

I anticipate being a busier blogger in the coming days. I am taking the summer off from Facebook, and some of the stuff I would write there I instead will post here. It's 99 big days of a Facebook-free summer, Memorial Day through Labor Day. I hope you read and comment!