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Gotta dance! My history with Don Lockwood

| August 23, 2012

Gene-kelly-1A hundred years ago today, Eugene Curran Kelly was born in Pittsburgh. At the time, it probably wasn’t that big of a deal beyond the family. But then he grew up to pursue a song-and-dance life. For the stage, he dropped his middle name and used the common nickname associated to his first name–Gene. Then, in 1940, he caught his break, playing the lead role in the stage musical, “Pal Joey.” Two years later, he appeared with Judy Garland in his first MGM film, “For Me and My Gal.”

I learned about Gene Kelly a little over 45 years later. I can’t quite pinpoint how, but my memory wants to attach it to the weekend afternoons I spent watching KTLA 5’s “Family Film Festival” in the late 1980s. “Family Film Festival” was the TCM of my pre-teen and tween days. The program opened with a whimsical, nostalgia-triggering instrumental and a green ribbon spelling out “Family Film Festival” on screen. From there, it transitioned to host Tom Hatten sitting in a set made to look like a screening room in an old Hollywood bungalow. The green from the ribbon in the opening echoed in the pine green carpet of the set. A large film projector was propped on a large end table next to Tom Hatten. Before the film started, a film that usually dated between the 1940s and 1960s, Hatten would provide viewers with trivia on the afternoon’s selection.

I often watched “Family Film Festival” by myself. My parents were uninterested in watching the films Hatten screened because they considered the movies old. They often rhetorically asked me why I liked such old movies. To this day, I don’t have a satisfactory answer. I just like them.

It was in one of my first “Family Film Festival” afternoons that I first saw “Singin’ In the Rain.” I was either 9 or 10 years old and, not fully understanding the concept of time, crushed hard on Mr. Kelly and the idea of telling a story through song and dance.

I eventually wizened up to the fact that the film was made tens of years before I was born, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to watch more like it. “Singin’ In the Rain” was my gateway musical and my original favorite film, the first of which I made a point to learn the names of the principle actors–Gene Kelly, Donald O’Conner, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen. I wanted to know their names so that I could find more films starring them. On Friday afternoons, when my dad would take me to our local video rental store, I’d gravitate to the classic movie section while Dad had a look at the new releases. Of the four “Singin’ In The Rain” stars, Gene Kelly seemed to be the most famous since his films were in stock. I rented and re-rented “Anchors Aweigh,” “On The Town,” “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” “An American in Paris,” “The Pirate,” “Summer Stock,” and “For Me and My Gal.” My Dad never understood why I wanted to see movies more than once and it would sometimes take some fibbing (”No, I haven’t seen this one yet”) to get the chance to rent one of these films a second or fourth time.

I personally think Gene Kelly was funniest when he played opposite Judy Garland. They starred in “For Me and My Gal,” “The Pirate,” and “Summer Stock” together, and they would have starred in “Easter Parade” together if he hadn’t broken his leg (no disrespect to Fred Astaire intended). Of their three films together, I own but one (”Summer Stock”) and my goal is to own all three at some point. I know it’s as easy as buying them on Amazon.com, but I’m in a frugal stage of the year. And, frankly, I hold out on buying them for myself to give those who know me best a chance to gift them to me on Christmas or on my birthday. Conniving, I know.

My favorite Gene Kelly numbers tend to fall under the obscure category. For instance, I love the “Moses Supposes” tap number with Donald O’Conner in “Singin’ In the Rain”; his highly sensual ballet in “The Pirate”; and his newspaper and plank tap number in “Summer Stock.” There was an amazing ease to the way he danced such intricate numbers. Considering the fact that much of those numbers were filmed during the era of long takes, wide shots, and few cuts (an era I sorely miss), I fully appreciate and admire Kelly’s drive, stamina, and uncanny way of making numbers he rehearsed over and over again look fresh.

Gene Kelly made me appreciate dance in general, both on screen and on stage. He was an artist, treating tap, ballet, and modern dance like paints on his dance palette.

He also made white socks and loafers look dapper.

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Josh Rouse’s first online show set for May 20

| May 16, 2012

josh-rouse-at-piano260x390When it comes to singer-songwriter Josh Rouse, I am admittedly late to the game. Very late.

I stumbled upon the down-to-earth quality of the Nebraska native’s acoustic music via his “Summertime Noisetrade Sampler” about a year ago. His sound is warm. Friendly. The kind I imagine would play out of a transistor radio as I lay on the grass under a Poplar tree on an 82-degree afternoon.

I’ve often craved to see him play a set live. But as he currently doesn’t tour much outside of Europe (he currently lives in Spain), I’ve settled for listening to his recordings. Thankfully, the Universe picked up on my wish and the web-savvy team behind Rouse has found a way to bridge the geographical gap.

Rouse has partnered with Stageit.com to put on his first online show on Sunday, May 20. According to Rouse’s website, it is hoped that the show, which will air from the Valencia apartment of band member Cayo Bellveser, will be the first of a series of shows Rouse is calling “Late Night Conversations.”

The online performance will start at 10:00 p.m. Valencia time, which is 1:00 p.m. San Diego time. To see what this means for the start time in your neck of the States, click here.

You’ll have to buy a ticket to catch the show. If you’re new to Stageit.com like I am, this means that you’ll first need to sign up for an account with Stageit.com, buy some Stageit Notes, and then pay what you can/want for access to Rouse’s show. (”Notes” are Stageit’s form of currency; $1 equals 10 Notes.) Buy enough Stageit Notes and you can also tip Rouse during the performance which is said to include a few new songs, some Rouse oldies but goodies, and live requests.

For more info on the show, including how to get your hands on a handwritten lyric sheet of one of Rouse’s new songs, check out the Stageit.com page for the event.

To quote my favorite song off of Rouse’s latest album, Josh Rouse and The Long Vacations, “Oh, look what the sun did. It made the sky turn blue.”

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Marcel The Shell, Chapter Two

| February 01, 2012

There’s a reason why Jenny Slate rhymes with “plenty great”: a shell outfitted with a googly eye and a pair of shoes and goes by the name of Marcel.

This past November, she and Dean Fleischer-Camp posted a follow-up to the original “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” on YouTube. In part deux, we learn the fate of Marcel’s sister, Marissa. We learn the nickname Marcel wouldn’t mind being called, though he understands that making up his own nickname is disingenuous. We learn what his pen name would be if he ever wrote a book. We find out what happens when he finally remedies his regret of not having a dog. And, in the end, he reminds us about the simple joy of smiling.

As if that weren’t enough, this second video coincided with Penguin’s publication of Marcel’s story in the book, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On: Things About Me.

What I appreciate most about the publication of the book is that its website resolves, once and for all, the question of whether Marcel is a he or a she.

Ah, there’s nothing like a little validation to help get through the middle of the week.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. in San Diego, February 1

| January 31, 2012

Dale-Earnhardt-Jr-Jr No, that second “Jr.” is not a copy and paste oversight. It’s as on purpose as Conan O’Brien’s untamed ginger pompadour.

Neither is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. the son of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. Rather, they’re a musical duo from Detroit and they’ll be in America’s Finest tomorrow night to play a show at North Park’s Soda Bar.

To borrow from one of my favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. songs, “Simple Girl”, I’m a “simple girl governed by simple pleasures,” which is why I dig their reverent indie-rock melodies and why I like to catch shows at venues like Soda Bar. Soda Bar is intimate the way watching a performance in a recording booth might be. Bands don’t perform on a stage set at shoulder-level to elevate them above the masses. Instead, they’re at the same level as the rest of us. Depending on where you sit or stand, you could be the towel girl or guy dabbing the perspiration off performers’ foreheads between songs. It’s this quality that makes Soda Bar a great setting for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s Daniel Zott (pictured left) and Joshua Epstein (pictured right). I mean, have you seen Zott’s lion-like mane? He’ll likely need help on its upkeep during the show.

Tickets for the show run $16 a pop. Doors open at 8:00 p.m. The show, which opens with a set by San Diego band Tourism, starts at 8:30 p.m.

Curious but have never heard of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.? Here are three, quick ways to get to know them:

  • Stream music from their album, It’s A Corporate World, from their website.
  • Exchange your e-mail address for a free download of “Morning Thought”, the track that opens the 12-song It’s A Corporate World.
  • Watch Zott and Epstein perform “Simple Girl” on Conan.

(Image from Sezio’s event page for the show.)

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Marcel The Shell Made Me LOL

| August 22, 2011

Not ROTFL, but laugh none-the-less. Would that be LN-T-L?

See if he makes you laugh, too.


Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp.

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