Thursday, December 13, 2012

Zombie Christmas - The 2012 Christmas Compilation

And here we are again, at the end of another year, where the operative word seems to have been lost--as in friends, loves, youth (hello, 60), elections (nyah nyah) and houses ("Thanks for nothing, Sandy. No Love Ever, Maddy."). Loss and endings. Like for instance the fact that the days are ending sooner is really killing me this year. I can't tell you how many times since we turned the clocks back that my body has said it's midnight and the clock has said 7:30. (Actually I can tell you exactly how many times, because I've been keeping track of it: 37.)

Yeah--a big year for endings: lives, friendships, more lives, maybe even tax cuts for the rich--and we even have the end of the world to look forward to in a week and a half. According to a long-extinct race that was so notoriously smart they could track the movements of Venus for centuries in advance, and so notoriously dumb they never invented the wheel. Which is, like many notorious things, not quite true--little Mayan children played with wheeled toys, if I remember right; it’s just that, when your cities and towns are all connected by cliff-based pathways, a wheel is more of a danger than a convenience.  People who live on a perpetual incline invent cleats, not the wheel.

And the way my, uh, (Maya?) year has inclined to go? Well, it's no surprise that my year-end version of those cleats is a playlist of holiday songs.  This year’s compilation was born even more quickly than last year’s, over a rain-soaked spring-like weekend where I flogged my dying Microsoft laptop for hours trying to get it to load up an internet connection, and trolled through four years worth of discards and downloads for tunes that struck my fancy--or, given that I’m more withdrawn than Bob Cratchit's bank account these days, struck me at all.

The result is below, split up into two downloadable zip files.  As with previous years, please let me know offline if you want these in CD format, or if you want any individual songs rather than the whole kit and kaboodle.  (Note to self: add “Kit and Kaboodle” to your list of Imaginary Rock Bands.)   

Merry Happy, everybody.

Zombie Christmas
The 2012 Christmas Compilation

1.      Zombie Christmas - Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler
2.      Monsters Holiday - Bobby Boris Pickett and the Crypt Kickers
3.      It’s Christmastime (and I am still alive) - Deep Sea Diver
4.      It’s Christmas, Baby - Ms. Jody
5.      I Ate Too Much Over The Holidays - Lee “Shot” Williams
6.      Santa Bring My Baby Back - O.B. Buchana
7.      I Need A Lover For Christmas - Sheba Potts-Wright
8.      I Need A Man Down My Chimney - Barbara Carr
9.      Ain’t No Chimneys In The Projects - Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
10. New Year’s Resolution - Otis Redding & Carla Thomas
11. Our New Year - Tori Amos
12. All I Ever Get For Christmas Is Blue - Over The Rhine
13. Home For The Holiday - Sugar & The Hi Lows
14. Snowfall Kind Of Love - Ingrid Michaelson
15. Deeper Than You Know - Marc Scibilia & Leigh Nash
16. Christmas In Paradise - Mary Gauthier
17. It’s A Wonderful Life - Henry Travers
18. Wonderful Life (Live) - Kylie Minogue
19. Christmas For Cowboys - Jars of Clay
20. Christmas Time In The City - Mary Chapin Carpenter
21. Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy - Brad Paisley
22. Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier Around Christmastime - Mickey Gilley
23. The Little Hooters Girl - Bob Rivers
24. Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (Q-burns Abstract Message Remix) - Johnny Mercer with the Pied Pipers
25. Christmas Alphabet - The McGuire Sisters
26. Django Bells - Gypsy Hombres
27. Linus And Lucy - Bela Fleck & The Flecktones
28. Santa’s Midnight Run - The Untamed Youth
29. Santa Is Coming (Ho, Ho, Ho) - The Woggles
30. Santa’s Too Drunk To Drive - The Hot Rods
31. Driving Home For Christmas (Extended Remix) - Benny Royal vs. Chris Rea
32. All Alone On Christmas - Parker Lewis & Matilda Berggren
33. Christmas Day (I Wish I Was Surfing) - Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler
34. Christmas In the Sand - Colbe Caillat
35. Oh Holiday - Jules Larson
36. Bonus Track - Hers
37. Bonus Track - His

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Movies in brief

Skyfall.  Good; very good.  But still not as good as Casino Royale, which is probably what we’re going to be saying about the next ten Bond movies.  Especially since Daniel Craig is only signed for the next two.  The film does five things at once: it sends Bond through a three-hour action plot that feels like two hours tops, winks at past movies (hello and goodbye, Aston Martin), gives Bond a past (hello, Scotland), sets up the Bondian supporting cast (hello Q and Moneypenny), and creates a modern version of the Bond Villain (hello, Javier Bardem in a bad wig) who can destabilize governments with a single computer and yet still persists in shooting a lot of bullets from big-ass guns that never once hit our hero (hello, Stallone Rules).  As an added bonus, Judi Dench reminds us why she won on Oscar for five minutes of screen-time in Shakespeare In Love, and Albert Finney plays the obvious Sean Connery cameo (supposedly they offered it to Connery and he declined) by performing his own version of an in-joke and channeling Wilfred Lawson’s Black George from Tom Jones

Anna Karenina.  You’re either going to love or hate the directorial conceit that embraces this Tom Stoppard script: all the country scenes (and this version actually has the country scenes) take place in the country; but all the Moscow scenes take place on a huge period proscenium stage, including the railroad scenes and (brilliantly, IMO) the horse race.  Me, I loved it, and not just because for once we get to see all the Levin and Kitty scenes.  I loved it for Jude Law’s Karenin.  The way he makes the man sympathetic is astounding when you think that ten years ago he would have been typecast as Vronsky.  It makes me want to see him play Torvald in Doll’s House opposite Lily Rabe. 

Killing Them Softly.  By boring them to death and making them walk out of the movie theatre thinking they just wasted 15 bucks.  The perfect George Higgins movie, because it’s just as annoying as the book.

Argo.   It’s such a rare pleasure these days to see a movie where you’re on the edge of your seat even though you know the ending.  That’s what this movie is: a pleasure to watch, and in retrospect all too rare.

Lincoln.  Speaking of movies where you know the ending.  Where Argo goes for the excitement of a thriller, Lincoln goes for the excitement of getting caught up in a good novel, which is unsurprising given the Tony Kushner script.  What is pleasantly surprising is that it’s the most bookish thing Spielberg has directed, which may be why his usual bag of tricks is not in evidence.  All for the better, say I.  Other pleasant surprises include Sally Field’s Mary Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones’ scene-stealing Thaddeus Stevens, and James Spader’s unrecognizable “I’m just having a great old time” WN Bilbo.  And while it seems redundant to say that Daniel Day Lewis is probably the greatest film actor we will ever see in our lifetime, it’s only redundant in the same way that saying Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player we will ever see in our lifetime.  In both cases, the level of the game is raised to stratospheric levels even as they make it look easy.  Best movie of the year so far.  And don’t forget to stay through the credits and see Joseph-Gordon Levitt get the keys to the Beard Cave from his father’s manservant.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

MZ Ribalow Memorial Celebration Speech

This past Saturday night at The Players Club, there was a memorial for my friend Meir Ribalow, who died in August. I had the honor to be the final speaker of the evening. Here's the speech I gave. 

Hi, I’m Matthew Wells.

In a few minutes, I’m going to read you a sonnet I wrote the morning after Meir died. But before I do, I want to tell you a couple of stories. Well, actually, Meir wanted me to tell you a couple of stories.

The first story starts in the wild and empty desert. To the tune of whistled notes as liquid as a flute, a lone rider appears--a man whose calm and steady self-possession only needs a spark of fire to blaze up into irresistible action--a man whose two companions are a wolf called Black Bart, and a horse named Satan that no other man can tame.

The name of this cowboy is Whistling Dan Barry, and he’s the hero of three Max Brand novels which Meir read as a kid, and returned to when he was an adult.  As he put it, “I wanted to see if they were as good as I remembered them being.”  And because, for him, they were still that good, those books were one of the first things he told me about when we started to get to know each other.  I think he told everybody about them; and if he didn’t tell you, please don’t feel slighted--it just means he didn’t get around to it yet.

Why did Meir love the Dan Barry books?  Because they are literate, adventurous, courtly, earthy, entertaining and instructive.  Y’know--like Meir.  That’s answer number one.  Answer number two is a lot simpler: because they are good westerns.  Meir loved westerns.  We are, after all, celebrating a man who would have fought tooth and nail to wear that Stetson of his to a nudist colony.

A man who loved not just Dan Barry, but Ethan Edwards, Tom Doniphon, Cole Thornton, JP Harrah; Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, Gregory Peck in THE GUNFIGHTER; and Gary Cooper in just about anything. 

Meir told a lot of Gary Cooper stories.  Here’s one you haven’t heard yet. 

On the last Sunday in July, there was an article in the Arts section of the New York Times about LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (1962, directed by David Miller, starring Kirk Douglas and Walter Matthau).  According to the article, Miller’s only direction to Douglas was, “Try and play this the way Gary Cooper would.”  Which prompted Douglas to write Cooper a letter admitting that he was in essence playing the quintessential Gary Cooper part, and confessing his fear of failure by saying: “I know now that at best I will come remotely close.  But more important--I do know also that just trying to be you will make a better me.”  A statement made even more poignant by the fact that Cooper died nine days after Douglas wrote that letter.

When I visited Meir on that Monday, the day after this article appeared, the first thing he did was swing his computer screen around to display the online version.  “Did you see this?” he said.  And when I told him, “Yes, and I thought of you when I read it,” Meir said: “And I thought of Maria Janis. (Gary Cooper's daughter, with whom Meir was good friends.) I don’t know if she knows this.” And he reached for the phone across his day bed, and he looked at me over his glasses and he said: “She has to know this.  Don’t you agree?”

Now, I knew Meir well enough to know that the phrase “Don’t you agree” was not a question. It was his way of saying, “If you don’t agree, meet me on Main Street at high noon; bring a gun.”  And those first five words?  “She has to know this?”  In various forms, those five words echo through the lives of everyone he ever met.  “You have to read this,” he would say.  “You have to see this.”  “You have to write this.”  “You have to hear this.”  “You have to know this.” Seriously--raise your hand if the only reason you know about a movie or a book is because Meir told you about it. [BEAT] The rest of you have forgotten.

How do you explain someone like that?  By saying that sharing was a reflex with him?  By saying that it was the teacher in him?  Maybe by saying it was the eager and eternal student in him, which is why he was such a great teacher?  Each one is true, in its own way; but in the end, explanations are like labels, and people are more than labels.  Meir did what he did because he was Meir.  Because his friends echoed in him.  And if you were Meir’s friend, and he understood you, then you were all right. 

Which happens to be a quote from another one of Meir’s favorite westerns, a movie called RAMROD.  1947.  Directed by Andre DeToth.  Joel McCrea; Veronica Lake.  RAMROD puts a film noir femme fatale in the middle of a cattle ranch war--a woman who gets away with murder because the men around her all treat her with respect--a woman who can slap the bad guy and know that he won’t hit her back, because that’s just not done; he’ll only smile and say, “You know, Connie--that’s the first time you’ve ever touched me.”

Which is my favorite line from the movie--not Meir’s.  His favorite line gets said later, when Connie, played by Veronica Lake, has endangered Joel McCrea’s life--because that’s what the femme fatale does--and McCrea’s best friend Bill is going to sacrifice himself to buy McCrea time to escape. “And he’ll need that time,” Bill says to Connie.  “Thanks to you.” 

Now a normal human being would probably feel remorse at this point, but Connie is not a normal human being, it’s all about her, which is why she says: “You haven’t much use for me, have you, Bill.” And Bill takes a moment to size her up and then he tells her exactly how small she is by saying:  “You’re like a horse or a dog or a man or any other woman.  Once I understand you, you’re all right.”  And he turns and rides off, to what he knows will be his death. 

His certain death.

At the end of THE UNTAMED, the first Dan Barry book, winter is coming, and Whistling Dan sees the wild geese flying south; and because he is a wild child himself, a force of nature in buckskins, he feels the urge to ride off after them.  But following them would mean leaving Kate Cumberland, the woman he loves, the woman who knows him well enough to understand exactly who he is, which is why she tells him that he has to go; he has to follow the wild geese south; he has to leave her.  She says this in the hopeful knowledge that, when the wild geese fly north in the spring, Dan Barry will follow them back to her.

That’s the kind of close that feels right at the end of a good western--a close that remains open.  Our hero riding off into the sunset, and with him rides the possibility of a sunrise when he may someday ride back. 

One of the most famous instances of this is at the end of SHANE.  Meir’s favorite western; his mother’s favorite movie.  1952.  Directed by George Stevens.  Jean Arthur; Alan Ladd; and Brandon deWilde.  If you haven’t seen it, you should. And I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that, in the end, the wounded hero who has just killed the bad guy rides off into the mountains, because he is what he is--he’s a gunfighter--and all good gunfighters are like Moses--they can get you through the desert, but they are not permitted to cross that river into the Promised Land.  Like a good teacher, their job is to get you to where they are not needed anymore.  Because it’s the gunfighter’s job to make sure that there are no more guns in the valley. 

So Shane rides away, wounded.  That ride is open-ended--we’re never told what happens to him--so what we think happens next is not just a window into his story, but ours.  In other words, if you choose to look at the end of this movie as a touchstone--and I know Meir did--then there are only two kinds of people in the world.  The ones who think Shane dies at the end, and the ones who are dead certain that he lives. 

Meir was unapologetically part of that second group.  He had no use for despair, no time for cynicism, and no patience for people who thought that moaning was a form of music.  I keep thinking of the line that gets repeated over and over again in John Ford’s RIO GRANDE: “Get it done.”  “Get it done, Johnny Reb.”  “Get it done.”  That’s what Meir did.  He got it done.  He was a man for whom the work was its own reward.  The care and pride he took in casting the absolutely perfect actor for a play or a story reading was like a jeweler’s pride in matching a diamond with the perfect setting.

No surprise there.  As Meir once said about his father, he loved writers and he loved talent, and he lived for what he loved.  As Meir once said about his father, he did not want to be emulated; he wanted to inspire.  And as Meir once said about his father: now, we must live in a world where his absence is a constantly illuminating presence.  Where what happens next is not just a window into his story, but ours.

Life is a coincidence of travelers.  A bond can be created from a glance.  Chance meetings can turn into lifelong friendships.  Far too often, you go through your day, and in the back of your mind is a voice which asks, “Am I really the only one who thinks this?  Am I really the only one who feels this?  Am I really the only one who likes this?”

And then somebody rides into your life like Meir--a man who gives you permission to be yourself--a man who answers all those inner questions not by saying you aren’t alone anymore, but by saying you never were.   Which is why, for me, meeting Meir Ribalow was the equivalent of Robinson Crusoe finding Friday’s footprint in the sand.  It was the day my desert island became a community.  Of which he was the one and only mayor.   

He was an amazing friend to me.  When my brother died two years ago, Meir called me constantly; and if he didn’t hear from me for more than three days, I’d get out of work and there’d be a message from him on my phone.  “Just calling to see how you’re doing,” he’d say, or, “Give me a call when you get a chance; I want to run something by you.”  And then we’d talk for the next thirty hours.  Quite a gift, when you remember that this is a man who had more than a few issues of his own to deal with on a daily basis. 

That’s the Meir I’ll never forget.  The man who was the western hero of his own life--especially at the close. I hope he thought I was as good a friend.  He was--he was and is--my non-blood brother.  I loved the man this side idolatry.  I still do.  And in that, too, I am not alone.  Because like Shane, Meir didn’t just ride off into the sunset.  He rode off into us.

So all that, and more, is why, on the morning after Meir followed the wild geese south, I sat down with my notebook in the Dunkin’ Donuts at the corner of 20th Street and 3rd Avenue, and I wrote the following sonnet.  I changed a couple of words on the ride over to the burial service, and when the time came to say my farewells, I read it over his grave.

It’s time to say farewell again, so here it is.  It’s called Ride Away.   

Ride Away

I saw his Stetson first, as he rode up.
   He grinned at me as if he’d found the Grail.
When we made camp, he offered me a cup,
   And, for a while, we shared a common trail.
He had a hunger only hard work fed.
   He’d ramrod someone’s ranch, get it to thrive,
Then quit and move on--like he always said,
   “It’s not about the cattle--it’s the drive.”
A river to his people, he would fight
   For others with a passion uncontrolled.
And when he rode west, hunched against the night
   Like Shane before the final credits rolled,
      He called out, as he crossed that river wide:
      “I’ll see you, Pilgrim, on the other side.”

Copyright 2012 Matthew J Wells

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In Darkest Manhattan

Traffic cop, 14th Street and 2nd Ave

East 11th Street looking west from 2nd Ave:

St Mark's Place:

"Keep a light burning in the window; I'm walking up to 29th Street to get milk."

East 6th Street:

East 4th Street:

Wine Bar.  I stopped for a glass of Malbec there (okay--two glasses); sadly, without my usual Wine Bar companion.

2nd Ave and East 3rd looking south:

East 3rd Street:

East Houston looking south from 2nd Ave:

The Bowery looking north from 2nd Ave:

Mott Street looking south:

Lafayette Street looking north from East Houston:

"Keep a light on in the window for me; I'm walking to 34th Street to get toilet paper." 

Broadway looking north from Houston:

Bond Street.  Judging by the lack of activity, this would be the George Lazenby Bond.

Great Jones Street:

Bleecker and Broadway.  Only NYU and the Stock Exchange have lights below 23rd Street.  (Hmm . . . .)

Washington Square Arch:

MacDougal Street:  

6th Ave looking north from Waverly Place:

6th Ave looking south from Waverly Place.  Here there be dragons.

And when you come right down to it, we all know who to blame this disaster on.  Don't we, Loki?

On the plus side? Manhattan buses are all back to normal:

And yes--after three days of no hot water, we all look this fucking good:

Out but not down

42nd and Broadway: as if it's just "this station" . . .

Traffic cop, corner of 22nd and 3rd:

Chrysler Building:

Empire State Building:

28th and Broadway, looking east:

27th and Broadway, looking east:

26th and Broadway, looking east:

Madison Square Park:

The Flatiron Building:

Broadway and 23rd looking south:

3rd Avenue looking north:

Checking in on 4Square:

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Oh Sandy, the Hudson is rising around us . . .

10/29/12--Before the storm

 Empire State Building, 6AM:

Pete's Tavern, recycling Irene:

Fallen leaves on 18th Street:

10/29/12--After the blackout:

Hospital for Joint Diseases:

Third Ave looking north from 18th:

Irving Place looking north from 18th:

Park Ave South looking south from 18th:

The W Hotel, 17th and Union Square:

Falafel cart, Broadway and 17th:

Park Ave South, looking north from 17th St:

Broadway looking north from 17th:

Chrysler Building:

Second Ave looking north from 18th:


Waiting in line for coffee:

Park Ave South and 21st:

30th and Broadway:

Live from Times Square:

Mickey Mouse hurricane:

Those stocks are worthless, I tell you--worthless!