Monthly Archives: August 2009

Music: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The great I.M. Pei designed the Hall. Uploaded to Flickr by Junior Sam.

The great I.M. Pei designed the Hall. Uploaded to Flickr by Junior Sam.

Has it been 25 years since your first record was issued? Have you been influential in rock history? That’s okay, I knew you wanted to be. The good news is that you can visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and Cleveland and see the several hundred artists who have made rock and roll history.

Here are some of my own personal observations:

Best class of inductees: 1988. (Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Drifters, The Supremes) Worst class of inductees: Are you kidding? They’re all great. Inductees I’m sort of ashamed to admit I don’t know: Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, The Moonglows. Artists who should have been inducted much earlier than they were: Elvis Costello, Leonard Cohen. Artists who have no business in the Hall of Fame: Grandmaster Flash, The O’Jays, The Dells.

The Dells???

The great-looking museum in downtown Cleveland has seven levels of exhibits. You can look at rock history by chronological era, by influential cities, by area of musical interest, or by groundbreaking artists. And though the first class joined the Hall in 1987, the I.M. Pei-designed building wasn’t opened until 1995. What Drew Carey told us, we can now attest to be true: Cleveland Rocks!

Take a tour of the Hall…

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Actress: Grace Kelly

America's royal actress, Grace Kelly. Uploaded to Flickr by FTL Traveler.

America's royal actress, Grace Kelly. Uploaded to Flickr by FTL Traveler.

There have been lots of beautiful women in Hollywood history who made great movie posters. Grace Kelly was a beautiful woman who actually made great movies.

She starred, and that’s the proper word, opposite such leading men as Jimmy Stewart, Bing Crosby, William Holden, Cary Grant, and Frank Sinatra. Her blockbuster films included Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, and High Society. And she won an Oscar for her role as Georgie Elgin in The Country Girl.

Uploaded by nndb.com.

Uploaded by nndb.com.

But what many people remember most about her life was that she lived “the dream” of marrying a handsome prince and becoming “Princess Grace” of Monaco. She had children by Prince Rainier – Caroline, Albert, and Stephanie. Reports differ as to whether the marriage was a happy one. Rainier prohibited his wife from continuing to act, and even banned her films from being shown in Monaco. The Princess accepted her new role, but never relinquished her American citizenship.

Like a later British princess, Grace Kelly’s death came in an auto accident. She apparently had a stroke while driving on Sept. 13, 1982, and her car went off the road and down a mountainside. She died the next day, never regaining consciousness. More than 100 million people worldwide watched her funeral.

Entertainment Weekly named her the 27th Greatest Movie Star of All Time. And the American Film Institute ranked her number 13 of America’s Greatest Female Legends in its 100 Years…100 Stars list. Here’s a fan’s tribute, showing the Princess in some of her most memorable roles.

Food: The Varsity, Atlanta

President Clinton ate a grilled chicken sandwich at the Varsity. Pathetic. Photo uploaded by blogs.ajc.com.

President Clinton ate a grilled chicken sandwich at the Varsity. Pathetic. Photo uploaded by blogs.ajc.com.

“What’ll ya have!” For 81 years, visitors at The Varsity drive-in in Atlanta have been greeted with those words. In a world that moved from individually owned restaurants to large chains, The Varsity has stayed small in terms of locations while becoming “The World’s Largest Drive-In.”

How large, exactly? The flagship downtown location spreads across more than two acres, covers two city blocks, has more than 600 parking spaces, and can accommodate more than 800 people inside. And get a load of the food consumed. Two miles of hot dogs, a ton of onions, 2500 pounds of potatoes, 300 gallons of chili, and 5000 fried pies. EACH DAY.

Anyone can be off a diet for one meal. Uploaded by disneymike.com.

Anyone can be off a diet for one meal. Uploaded by disneymike.com.

Over the years, The Varsity has fed thousands of Georgia Tech students (the campus is right across the road) as well as the rich (Warren Buffet) and famous (Elvis). Clark Gable came by when he was in town for the premiere of Gone with the Wind (Great American Thing No. 29). And Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush all ate there while they were in office.

Freshness is an obsession with The Varsity. Founder Frank Gordy, who died in 1983, had a saying: “No food over 12 hours old.” Someone once asked him what the restaurant did with its leftovers. “We don’t have any,” he said.

If you go, here’s some jargon to help you fit in. Hamburgers are “steaks.” Want some chips? Get “a bag of rags.” Prefer onion rings? Say, “Ring one.” And if you ask for a hot dog, you’ll get one on a bun with chili and mustard. The video: A tour with an annoying guy, but at least you get a feel for the place.

Kid Stuff: Mad Magazine

America's most popular cover boy. Uploaded by flitparalisante to WordPress.com.

America's most popular cover boy. Uploaded by flitparalisante to WordPress.com.

It’s been written that “At the height of its influence, Mad was The Simpsons, The Daily Show and The Onion combined.” Of course, that was written by a “comics historian,” and who could argue with an authority like that?

Mad came into being in 1952 under the inspiration of editor/writer Harvey Kurtzman and publisher William Gaines. The publication started as a comic book before being converted to a magazine in 1955. In the early days, Mad focused on satires of comic books (“Superduperman”), movies (“Hah! Noon!”), and TV shows (“Howdy Dooit!”).

A classic Mad from its comic book days. Uploaded to Flickr by Jasperdo.

A classic Mad from its comic book days. Uploaded to Flickr by Jasperdo.

Through the years, some of the greatest comic artists contributed regularly to Mad. Men like Jack Davis, Al Jaffee, Dave Berg, Mort Drucker, and Sergio Aragones elevated the magazine’s circulation to a high of 2.1 million in 1974.

If you were a fan as I once was, you have a soft spot for the magazine’s regular features, including: The fold-ins, “The Lighter Side of…”, Spy vs. Spy, Scenes We’d Like to See, You Know You’re Really _____ When, and of course, America’s most popular cover boy, Alfred E. Newman.

Mad is still around, now a quarterly and a shadow of its former self. Also, it now costs $5.99 an issue. I don’t think they have the word “Cheap” under the price as they used to. But then, I’ll never buy another issue, so – What, me worry? Here’s an interview 60 Minutes (Great American Thing No. 129) did with the magazine’s publisher back in the late 80s:

Music: Glenn Miller

The Glenn Miller Orchestra in the late thirties. Uploaded by serenadeinblue.net.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra in the late thirties. Uploaded by serenadeinblue.net.

I realize with some shame that most of what I know about Glenn Miller comes from the movie The Glenn Miller Story, which starred Jimmy Stewart as the great bandleader. I say “know,” because where facts are concerned, a Hollywood biopic of this era makes Wikipedia seem like Holy Scripture.

But I do know the music. I love big band music, and sometimes wonder if I was born thirty years too late. Miller’s theme song came to be “Moonlight Serenade,” a beautiful ballad with a remarkable arrangement. It was those arrangements that made the Glenn Miller Orchestra unique. While it’s easy to remember the trumpets in his songs, what made his sound distinctive was the combination of a clarinet and four saxophones on the melody line. The movie got that right, though the circumstances were pure Hollywood.

It flirted with the truth, but it's still a good movie. Uploaded by teachwithmovies.org.

It flirted with the truth, but it's still a good movie. Uploaded by teachwithmovies.org.

Following stints in other bands, Miller finally put together his successful outfit in 1938. The band then started churning out hits like clockwork. “Little Brown Jug”… “The Nearness of You”… “Jukebox Saturday Night”…”Blues in the Night”… “Pennsylvania 6-5000″… “Tuxedo Junction” … “Stardust”… “That Old Black Magic”… “String of Pearls”… “In the Mood”… “Chattanooga Choo Choo”… and “I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.”

Miller’s career was interrupted by World War II. Too old for the regular army, Miller volunteered to lead a modernized Army band. He formed a 50-piece band that performed more than 800 performances in England alone by 1944. In December of that year, Miller took a flight to perform for the soldiers who had just liberated Paris. He, the flight crew, and the airplane literally disappeared. No trace of them has ever been found.

His death was tragic, and he left behind a wife and two adopted children. But his music has continued to flourish, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra continues to tour to this day. Go hear them if you the the chance, and step back into a simpler time when popular music was focused on the quaint concept of melody.

The video is my favorite part of The Glenn Miller Story when Jimmy Stew, er, Glenn Miller discovers “the sound.”

Book/Movie: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The movie won 5 Oscars. But the book was even better. Uploaded by moviewallpapers.net.

The movie won 5 Oscars. But the book was even better. Uploaded by moviewallpapers.net.

For the first time, a listing covers both a book and a movie. Both are exceptionally good, and could be here separately. But that would be a little silly, wouldn’t it? So we honor them together.

I enjoyed reading Ken Kesey’s novel more than any book I’ve ever read. I’m not saying it’s the best book, only that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of living with these characters, and didn’t want the book to end. Especially considering the way it ended, which is absolutely truthful but difficult to handle.

The book was based on Kesey’s experiences as a night orderly at a mental health facility in California. Randle McMurphy was a minor convict who faked insanity to spend the rest of his sentence away from the work farm in what he considered the easier confines of a mental institution. McMurphy is one of the greatest characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction, and the ensemble of patients are also brilliantly created.

Jack Nicholson won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance. Uploaded by top250movies.net.

Jack Nicholson won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance. Uploaded by top250movies.net.

The film starred Jack Nicholson as McMurphy and featured a chilling performance by Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched. The film went on to sweep the Oscars that year, winning Best Picture, Director (Milos Forman), Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay. But many of you book lovers can relate to my reaction – I came out of the theater disappointed. More than two hours long, and it just hit the highlights of the book. It was certainly an excellent movie, and I appreciate it more now, after the memory of the book’s details have faded a bit.

Ken Kesey is said to have never seen the movie. He was never pleased that the film changed the point-of-view character to McMurphy from Chief Bromden. But if you haven’t seen it, you definitely should. Then read the novel. Going in that order will have the effect of filling in layers, rather than having them removed.

Here’s Jack Nicholson at his best, and Louise Fletcher at her scariest:

TV Show: The Ed Sullivan Show

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Uploaded to Flickr by sebastian matus.

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Uploaded to Flickr by sebastian matus.

As befits the very earliest days of television, there couldn’t have been a simpler program format. Bring on a wide variety of acts, introduced by a handsome, charismatic host. This long-running show, originally called Toast of the Town, had all of this – except the handsome, charismatic host. It had Ed Sullivan.

Ed was an entertainment columnist for the New York Daily News, and he drew upon his contacts in the early days of the show to get some of the biggest names in entertainment. Nowhere else on TV could you hear a song by a Broadway cast, watch a team of acrobats, laugh at a comedian, cringe at an opera singer, and then hear the hottest pop group of the day.

Ed Sullivan small by conffeti

The show ran from 1948 to 1971, and featured some of the era’s most memorable events. For example, Elvis appeared on the broadcast on three occasions, and indeed was shown only from the waist up during the up-tempo portions of his songs. His first appearance drew 82.6% of the television audience, an amazing number even during the three-channel era.

All America again gathered in front of the Sullivan Show in February 1964, as the Beatles performed on three consecutive Sundays. The first week they sang “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” They drew a studio full of screaming girls, and the largest audience in television history at that time.

Of course, there were some low moments as well. The Doors were instructed to change “You know I couldn’t get much higher,” to “You know I couldn’t get much better,” but didn’t, and were permanently banned from the show. Jackie Mason allegedly gave Sullivan the finger, but filed a libel suit and eventually received an apology. And Bob Dylan was scheduled to perform a protest song, and was told it wouldn’t be allowed. So he walked out and never appeared on the show.

You can watch full episodes at tv.com and see what it was like “back in the day.” Tonight’s video can’t be embed, but it’s worth seeing – ten minutes of the Best of Sullivan, including songs by the Beatles.

Americana: Mall of America

Inside Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America. Uploaded to Flickr by Poppyseed Bandits.

Inside Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America. Uploaded to Flickr by Poppyseed Bandits.

It’s a basic element of American culture. We like our stuff supersized. First there was the strip shopping center. Then the mall. Then the regional mall. Finally (?) we got ourselves the big ol’ honking mall on steroids, aka the Mall of America.

Okay, you can’t tell this story without some factoids, so here they are. This Bloomington, Minnesota behemoth encompasses 4.2 million square feet. It has 4.3 miles of storefront footage. It has more than 520 stores. Up to 13,000 people are employed there. There are 12,550 parking spaces. And each year, some 40 million folks visit the mall.

Uploaded to Flickr by auntbub55.

Uploaded to Flickr by auntbub55.

One of the things that sets MOA apart is its non-shopping attractions. Nickelodeon Universe, with its two roller coasters, is the country’s largest indoor theme park. Underwater Adventures Aquarium has more than 4,500 sea creatures. And a four-story LEGO world is a children’s favorite. This is in addition to 14 movie theaters, 18 full service restaurants, and the 350 events hosted annually.

And here’s the most amazing part: They’re expanding the thing. A new 306,000-square-foot IKEA store has opened, and that’s just part of the 5.2 million-square-foot new phase that will include a branch of the Mayo Clinic, hotels, a water park, and the new home of the Statue of Liberty.

Just kidding about the statue. Probably.

Americana: Lighthouses

Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Uploaded to Flickr by Ed Karjala.

Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Uploaded to Flickr by Ed Karjala.

America has some beautiful lighthouses. So, for the first time, a Great American Things post is going to be mostly photos.

Boston Harbor Light, Boston, Massachusetts. Uploaded to Flickr by mbell1975.

Boston Harbor Light, Boston, Massachusetts. Uploaded to Flickr by mbell1975.

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Owl's Head, Maine. Uploaded to Flickr by aybee27.

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Owl's Head, Maine. Uploaded to Flickr by aybee27.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Buxton, North Carolina. Uploaded to Flickr by lebronphoto.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Buxton, North Carolina. Uploaded to Flickr by lebronphoto.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pigeon Point, California. Uploaded to Flickr by prevailingconditions.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pigeon Point, California. Uploaded to Flickr by prevailingconditions.

Heceta Head Lighthouse, Yachats, Oregon. Uploaded to Flickr by PhotoScenics.

Heceta Head Lighthouse, Yachats, Oregon. Uploaded to Flickr by PhotoScenics.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse, Cape Lookout, NC. Uploaded to Flickr by Jasber.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse, Cape Lookout, NC. Uploaded to Flickr by Jasber.

Sports: Chris Evert

Completing the famous two-handed backhand. Uploaded by sports.popcrunch.com.

Completing the famous two-handed backhand. Uploaded by sports.popcrunch.com.

How do you become a world-class tennis player? It helps if your dad is a tennis pro. And if you’re on the courts constantly from age 5. And if you have talented brothers and sisters to play against. And if you have the strongest will ever seen in women’s tennis. At least, that’s how Chris Evert did it.

Chris’s career singles record is 1,309-146 (.900). No professional, male or female has been better. She won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, including a record seven French Open titles.

And while we’re talking statistics, here are some more amazing ones. Chris reached the semifinals in 273 of the 303 tournaments she entered. That’s mental toughness. And she won at least one Grand Slam title for 13 consecutive years. That’s freakish physical skill.

When she was a very young player, her father taught her to swing her backhand using both hands, which he intended as a way for her to compensate until she was older and stronger. Chris, however, never relinquished the stroke. She turned everyone’s head when she began using it on the professional circuit, and now a vast majority of women players use it, thanks to her.

Chris with new husband Greg Norman. Uploaded by timeinc.net.

Chris with new husband Greg Norman. Uploaded by timeinc.net.

Chris has been married three times, all to athletes. Her first husband was tennis pro John Lloyd, her second was Olympic downhill skier Andy Mill, and last year she tied the knot with Australian golfer Greg Norman.

Tom Friend of the Washington Post summed up Chris Evert’s appeal best. “Chrissie was a beautiful woman playing a beautiful sport in a beautiful way, and that’s why America fell in love with her.”

There are lots of long videos on YouTube of Chris competing against the best players of her generation, but this one point with Monica Seles is entertaining:

Actor: Robert Duvall

Duvall in the brilliant but haunting Apocalypse Now. Uploaded by web.britannica.com.

Duvall in the brilliant but haunting Apocalypse Now. Uploaded by web.britannica.com.

This man is an actor’s actor. Seldom has anyone had such a rich career and performed so many roles so flawlessly. And yet, when the discussion comes up about the greatest living actor, it’s DeNiro, or Pacino, or, heaven help us, DiCaprio. But Robert Duvall doesn’t have to stand down to any of them.

We first saw him on film as Boo Radley in the classic film To Kill a Mockingbird (Great American Thing No. 43). Sharp-eyed TV viewers would have already seen him on such classic shows as Playhouse 90, Route 66, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Here’s a film character I bet you forgot Robert Duvall played – Col. Frank Burns in M*A*S*H. Really. But it was in 1972 that his career took off when he was cast as Tom Hagen, consigliere to the Corleone family in The Godfather (Great American Thing No. 74). And he uttered the line that the American Film Institute chose as the number 12 film quote of all time, in Apocalypse Now: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

Duvall in Lonesome Dove. Uploaded by wildwesternclassics.com.

Duvall in Lonesome Dove. Uploaded by wildwesternclassics.com.

Some of his other great films: Tender MerciesThe NaturalLonesome DoveNetworkThe Apostle… and my pastor’s favorite, Secondhand Lions. He’s been nominated for six Oscars, and won one (Tender Mercies).

If you see that Robert Duvall is going to be in a movie, you don’t know for certain that it’s going to be great. But you can know without a doubt that his performance will be.

You didn’t want to mess with Robert Duvall in a bar…witness these two wonderful scenes:

Food: Jamoca Almond Fudge

Good in a cup, great in a cone. Uploaded to Flickr by sea turtle.

Good in a cup, great in a cone. Uploaded to Flickr by sea turtle.

What could be better on a 90-degree August day than ice cream? And what ice cream could be better than the unbelievably good Jamoca Almond Fudge from Baskin-Robbins?

It’s Jamoca ice cream with ribbons of chocolate fudge and roasted almonds. In an age of literal “flavors of the month,” JAF has been a staple on the Baskin-Robbins menu since 1959. In fact, it’s said to have been the favorite flavor of company founder Irvine Robbins.

Must...have...a cone. Uploaded by baskinrobbins.com.

Must...have...a cone. Uploaded by baskinrobbins.com.

With this coffee-flavored ice cream, the company seems to have foreseen the mania that’s swept the country. The unusual thing for me is that although I do love coffee, I never liked coffee ice cream – still don’t. But add the chocolate, the almonds, and the sugar cone, and oh, baby. And this flavor is best enjoyed with a cone, not in a cup. The crunch of the cone complements the crunch of the nuts and completes the experience.

If there’s not a Baskin-Robbins close by, Dreyer’s/Edy’s makes a respectable imitation called Mocha Almond Fudge. And the Chocolate Gourmand even has a great blog post about making your own homemade version. He said this was his favorite flavor growing up “because it was like a portable coffee and chocolate sundae, with the fudge and nuts neatly packed inside.”

Today’s video: A really cute Baskin-Robbins commercial:

(Jamoca is a trademark of Baskin-Robbins, that I’d have used the symbol for if I could figure out how to do it.)

Americana: John Deere

Nothing runs like a Deere. Uploaded to Flickr by greg.newman.

Nothing runs like a Deere. Uploaded to Flickr by greg.newman.

The name John Deere is synonymous with farming in the great American farm belt, stretching from the mid-South through the Midwest and into the plains states. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that John his own self comes from…Vermont. Yes, Southern readers – John Deere was a Yankee.

Uploaded to Flickr by kansasexplorer.

Uploaded to Flickr by kansasexplorer.

John was a blacksmith, but times in Vermont were tough. He chose to head to the wonderfully named town of Grand Detour, Illinois to provide a better life for his family. There he built the first steel plow, and it was so well received that he decided to make his living building farm equipment. That was a good plan, John. Good plan.

Now Deere & Company employs some 56,000 people and has annual worldwide sales of more than two billion dollars. It’s ranked 102nd in the Fortune 500 largest companies. In addition to the familiar tractors and harvesters, the company also makes forestry equipment, off-road vehicles, and just about everything that can be used on a farm.

Everyone’s familiar with the John Deere green color, and the slogan “Nothing Runs Like a Deere” is one advertising’s great successes. When you drive that JD lawn tractor, you’re part of a manufacturing legacy that’s helped make America’s farming industry the envy of, and provider to, the world.

Joe Diffie did a song called “John Deere Green.” It’s awful, but it does a nice job of setting up lots of green farm stuff.

Person: Chuck Yeager

Chuck Yeager, fighter ace and first man to break the sound barrier. Uploaded by b-29s-over-korea.com.

Chuck Yeager, fighter ace and first man to break the sound barrier. Uploaded by b-29s-over-korea.com.

My father ran the control board for the wind tunnels at Langley Field in Hampton, Virginia. As new airplane models were tested, he watched prototypes came to pieces under the stress of flight. As a result of his observations, he never flew in a commercial airplane. But he had great respect for test pilots – and Chuck Yeager was the very best.

At age 24, Yeager was the first man to travel faster than the speed of sound, flying the Bell X-1 at 45,000 feet. While that was his signal achievement, Yeager had a distinguished career as a fighter pilot during World War II and wing commander during Vietnam. He retired from the Air Force with the rank of brigadier general.

General Yeager. Uploaded by pilotportalusa.atspace.com.

General Yeager. Uploaded by pilotportalusa.atspace.com.

Yeager grew up in the back hills of West Virginia, in a town called Myra. Well, “town” might be stretching it. Myra is a suburb of Hamlin. That accounts for his accent, but also for his no-nonsense, well-grounded personality. Let’s conclude this post with a couple of quotes from the general:

“I get a lot of letters from kids. ‘What do you recommend that I do?’ And my simple answer is that nobody ever gave me any advice. I have found that those who do it on their own do it best.”

“You don’t concentrate on risks. You concentrate on results.”

“I still have my grandmother’s recipe for butterscotch pie. A couple of years ago I entered that pie in the county fair where I live now in California and it won a blue ribbon.”

Singer: Eva Cassidy

The best way to honor Eva is to share the love of her music. Uploaded by phaseme.com.

The best way to honor Eva is to share the love of her music. Uploaded by phaseme.com.

Eva Cassidy’s music has made its way from iPod to iPod by enthusiastic word of mouth. Sadly, it can’t be spread any other way. Eva died in 1996 of a melanoma at the way-too-young age of 33.

What an incredible voice. I heard about Eva from a travel forum on which people posted their island playlists. I hadn’t heard of her, so I went to iTunes and listened to my allotted twenty seconds of some of her songs. That’s all it took – twenty seconds of Eva’s voice – to make me a fan for life.

Her version of “Over the Rainbow” is just unbelievable. A British d.j., Terry Wogan, happened to hear it several years after Eva’s death, and like almost everyone else, was blown away. So were his listeners. When a low-res video of Eva singing the song was played on Britain’s Top of the Pops 2 TV show, the song went to number one on the U.K. charts.

Eva Cassidy. Uploaded by poplexicon.com.

Eva Cassidy. Uploaded by poplexicon.com.

Three things make Eva’s music unique. First, of course, is her voice. Sweet, soulful, she did it all. Which leads to the second thing, the wide variety of musical genres she performed. Folk, blues, gospel, jazz. She mastered them all. One of the reasons she wasn’t signed to a major recording contract is that no one knew where she fit in the marketplace. But that was okay with Eva. She preferred to sing all kinds of songs, recording contract or no. And the third thing was her ability to make every song she performed her own. There are a number of songs she “owns” now, including “Rainbow,” “Fields of Gold,” and “Danny Boy.”

All right. I could go on, but listen for yourself. You’ll feel the mixture of elation that such a voice existed, and sadness that it was taken away so early.

Film: Young Frankenstein

Peter Boyle as the monster and Gene Wilder as Dr. Frankenstein perform "Putting on the Ritz." Uploaded by grouchoreviews.com.

When Mel Brooks was good (Young Frankenstein) he was very, very good. When he was bad (Spaceballs), it was uncomfortable to watch. In 1974, though, Brooks reached the zenith of his career, releasing both Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. Now, that was a year.

Uploaded to Flickr by Matthew and Tracie.

Uploaded to Flickr by Matthew and Tracie.

One of the reasons YF was so good was who was in the cast, and who wasn’t. Gene Wilder was magnificent as the good doctor, and he also co-wrote the movie. Marty Feldman was the perfect Igor, Teri Garr was fetching as the lovely Inga, and Cloris Leachman stole the show as the spooky Frau Blucher. So whose omission from the cast made the movie better? Mel Brooks. He had a tendency to think he could act, which was a serious miscalculation.

It helps if you’ve seen the classics: Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and Son of Frankenstein. Brooks actually did a great job of recreating the settings, music, and cinematography of those movies for comic effect. And if you like fast wordplay and visual puns, Young Frankenstein has them in spades. (Dr. Frankenstein and Inga are standing in front of huge castle doors. Dr. Frankenstein: “What knockers!” Inga: “Why thank you, Doctor.”)

Young Frankenstein was number 13 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Funniest American Movies, and also was on Bravo’s list of 100 Funniest Movies. Here’s my favorite scene from the movie:

TV Show: 60 Minutes

The longest running prime time show in America. Uploaded by newvaluestream.com.

The longest running prime time show in America. Uploaded by newvaluestream.com.

It’s hard to believe that this show has been on the air for 41 years! It’s currently the longest-running prime time TV program. To give you an idea of how amazing that is, the lead story that first night (Sept. 24, 1968) was a behind-the-scenes look at the convention suites of the presidential candidates. Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. Whoa.

The current (I think) line-up of hosts. Uploaded by zap2it.com.

The current (I think) line-up of hosts. Uploaded by zap2it.com.

Now you need a scorecard to keep up with all the hosts, but that first night featured Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner. Morley Safer came in 1970. Here are the others who’ve been hosts (more than this have been correspondents). See how many you’ve forgotten: Christiane Amanpour, Ed Bradley, Steve Kroft, Scott Pelley, Dan Rather, Diane Sawyer, Bob Simon, Lesley Stahl, and Meredith Vieira.

It used to scare the wits out of people when Mike Wallace would show up at their door unannounced. Sometimes people turned him away, which was good TV, but more often they thought they could outsmart him, which was even better TV. The show was much more about investigative journalism in its early years, and is more feature oriented today. But then, isn’t that true of the whole news business?

One of the popular early segments featured conservative James Kilpatrick and liberal Shana Alexander debated issues in a format that probably gave other network shows a format for debate, notably Crossfire. It led to one of the earliest hit parodies on Saturday Night Live, with Dan Ackroyd telling Jane Curtin, “Jane, you ignorant slut.”

And no discussion of 60 Minutes would be complete without a few minutes with Andy Rooney:

Travel: Broadway

The TKTS booth, a source for discount show tickets. Uploaded to Flickr by billygiu.

The TKTS booth, a source for discount show tickets. Uploaded to Flickr by billygiu.

Give my regards to Broadway. The Great White Way. The Theater District. The Street of a Million Lights. Okay, I made that last one up. But anyone who’s been to New York and not been to a Broadway show hasn’t had the full Big Apple experience.

According to Robert Rusie’s Talkin’ Broadway, the Theater District stretches from W. 41st St. to W. 53rd St., and only four of the roughly 40 Broadway theaters are actually on Broadway itself.

Lower Broadway in 1925, uploaded by talkinbroadway.com.

Lower Broadway in 1925, uploaded by talkinbroadway.com.

Broadway (the street) has always been the main artery of New York. It went from an Indian trail to a Dutch settlers’ country road, and for a century was the only road that extended the length of the island. Look at a map of NYC today, and you can see that Broadway doesn’t follow the city streets’ grid pattern.

Broadway audiences have become much more casual in recent years, a trend I find somewhat disheartening. If there’s any occasion where dressing up would still be appropriate, it would be to attend a major show at a theater on Broadway. I’m sure the theater owners are glad to have fannies in seats, but those fannies in suits and dresses would be so much better than jeans.

Broadway plays aren’t cheap, but there are several options for getting discount tickets. Most of the options can be found here. For once, there were so many options for today’s video…I particularly enjoyed this one:

Okay, I had to see this one again, too:

History: Appomattox

Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses Grant. Uploaded by galleryone.com.

Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses Grant. Uploaded by galleryone.com.

I’m reminded of the Leonard Cohen lyrics: “Everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost.” Okay, the South wasn’t the “good guys”, except in the romantic fog of chauvinism. The War Between the States, the War for Southern Independence, the War of Northern Aggression, the War of the Rebellion, the Lost Cause. The Civil War. Whatever you call it, it came to an end in Appomattox.

It was a sleepy little Virginia town on April 9, 1865 when Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses Grant. It’s still a sleepy little town, with a McDonald’s and an indelible place in American history.

Lee had hoped to reach the railroad in Lynchburg and get supplies for his beleaguered troops, but Union troops pinned his army at Appomattox, leaving the general no alternative but to surrender. “There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant,” Lee said, “and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”

Appomattox Court House. Uploaded to Flickr by jimbowen0306.

Appomattox Court House. Uploaded to Flickr by jimbowen0306.

Of course, there were other Confederate armies still fighting, but when word reached them of Lee’s surrender, they realized the dream was over. The last sizable Southern force gave up the fight over two months after Appomattox.

Grant was magnanimous to the vanquished enemy, allowing them to keep their horses and mules along with their personal sidearms. Lee appreciated Grant’s spirit, and never allowed a bad word to be said about the Union general in his presence.

Thousands of Civil War buffs visit the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park each year, making a pilgrimage to the McLean House, where the surrender was signed.

Sports: Michael Jordan

Dunkosaurus Rex. Uploaded by slashfilm.com.

Dunkosaurus Rex. Uploaded by slashfilm.com.

Here’s an oldie but goody: Q. Who was the only person who could hold Michael Jordan to under 30 points per game? A. Dean Smith. Oh, the old jokes, they just never stop bringing a chuckle.

By now you know that Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team as a sophomore. We don’t know that coach’s name, so we can’t make fun of him as we do Dean Smith. We can only say he ranks as one of the worst judges of athletic talent in sports history.

Jordan went from his hometown of Wilmington, NC to the University of North Carolina. All he accomplished his freshman year was to become ACC Rookie of the Year and make the winning shot in the national championship game. After winning the Naismith and Wooden Player of the Year awards as a junior, he entered the NBA draft.

Michael Jordan. Uploaded by popartdks.

Michael Jordan. Uploaded by popartdks.

He was chosen third in the first round of the draft. So we can induct two more coaches into our talent scout Hall of Shame.

Simply, Michael Jordan is the greatest player in the history of basketball. He did everything not just well, but extraordinarily well. He won six NBA titles, and was incredible in the clutch. Five MVP awards. Defensive Player of the Year. Slam Dunk Contests. He was selected ESPN Male Athlete of the Century. I maintain that honor should have belonged to Babe Ruth, but they didn’t ask me. (Yes, they should have.)

It’s a good thing he tried to become a Major League Baseball player. His failure in the minor leagues showed that he was, in fact, human.

Today’s video: Some of the greatest plays ever by the greatest player ever: