Monday, February 24, 2003

John Sebastian

I spoke with classic rock legend John Sebastian (of The Lovin' Spoonful) today about how the band got its name, about turning a child's musical instrument -- the autoharp -- into a key component of his sound, how he got involved with writing the "Welcome Back, Kotter" theme, and why most of his hit songs were only two minutes long.

Listen.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

France In Your Pants

Sacre bleu! There's some major anti-French backlash going around these days, because France won't support the US efforts to beat up on Saddam Hussein.

It's gone so far that at least one restaurant has refused to sell French Fries any longer (they now call them "Freedom Fries"). Well, that's certainly going to teach the French a lesson because, as you know, we get most of our potato crop from....um, wait. Are we angry at Idaho, too?

Why stop with French Fries? Let's take all French food off the menu. No more French Bread, French Dressing, French Toast, French Cut Green Beans, French Dip Sandwiches, French Vanilla ice cream, or French Onion Soup (I prefer Albanian onion soup, anyway). Throw away that bottle of French's mustard!

Hey, get your tongue out of her mouth -- that's French Kissing! -- and tell her to take off that cute little French Maid outfit. What were you planning, a menage a trois? Not anymore, you sexual Francophile !

HBO can no longer show "The French Connection." Lifetime can't broadcast "The French Lieutenant's Woman." Showtime has to quit airing "Moulin Rouge." MTV can't show the "Lady Marmalade" video anymore, because they ask the timeless French musical question, "Voulez vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?"

No more Venus and Serena at the French Open. No more French Doors on "Trading Spaces." No more French Stewart from "Third Rock From The Sun." Oh, never mind, that's taken care of already.

Please delete Three French Hens from that Christmas song. Tell the brass section they'll have to do without French Horns. Call Julia Child and tell her she's now the Spanish Chef.

Now we know the real reason Frenchie Davis was kicked off "American Idol." And why Didi Conn has been cut out of the umpteenth showing of "Grease."

What will the "Girls Gone Wild" crew do on Mardi Gras (excuse me, Fat Tuesday) in New Orleans, when they can't film women pulling their tops off because no one's going to the French Quarter anymore?

Of course, it could be worse. We could have decided to embrace even more things beloved in France -- and ended up suffering through a Jerry Lewis movie marathon.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Bob Schieffer

Bob Schieffer, host of "Face The Nation" host and Chief Washington Correspondent for CBS News, was on my show today to talk about current events and tell some stories from his memoir, "This Just In: What I Couldn't Tell You On TV."

The discussion included what he thought of the duct tape terror alerts, how he had to avoid broadcasting the explicit language in the Starr Report, how Tom Brokaw and Roger Mudd conned him into changing his CB handle, and whether Texans like him consider George W. Bush a real Texan.

Listen.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Department of Duct Tape Security

A long time ago, a President of the United States told us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

If you weren't gripped with fear last week about an imminent terrorist attack on the US, you just weren't trying hard enough. Or at least that's how most of the media made it seem. Television newscasts, in particular, were doing their very best to make you more than a little apprehensive.

The government upping the security alert status to orange had the same effect on television newsrooms as a piƱata breaking open does to a group of kindergartners. Calling it a feeding frenzy would be an understatement.

Newscasters kept reminding us just how great our national fear factor was. On ABC, Claire Shipman (filling in for Peter Jennings) said we were, "living in fear, America in the age of insecurity." NBC's Tom Brokaw, who had conveniently left the country for the somewhat-safer confines of London, told us via satellite that "the country is at a high anxiety level" with "a case of national jitters." The cable news channels put up the non-stop orange threat alert graphic.

It's understandable that the major news divisions would see it that way, since they're based in the twin 9/11 targets of New York and Washington. Plus, the more scared you are, the more you'll stay tuned to find out what happens next. Is it too cynical to suggest a motive to the overzealous coverage?

Even First Lady Laura Bush complained, "constant news alerts are frightening people...it's a little bit like crying wolf."

Remarkably, it was CBS anchorbot Dan Rather, whose brain goes to Def-Con One faster than Barry Corbin in "War Games," who showed the most restraint. He was the first to admit that "the anxiety level is not the same across the country."

He's right. The view from the midwest is substantially different. People here aren't walking around with terror-stricken looks on their faces. Nor have the local stores had a tremendous run on plastic sheeting and duct tape, thus denying retailers a chance to raise prices and gouge us like the oil companies are.

Ah, duct tape! One of those miracle products (along with Krazy Glue) with a thousand uses that you already have around the house, just in case. So, it was suggested, why not whip out a roll or two and tape your shower curtain over the windows and vents? What better way to prove that fear can suffocate you, literally? That whole breathing thing is so over-rated.

In addition to duct tape and plastic (the advice from "The Graduate" comes back to haunt us again!), we were told to have enough water and food to last three days, in case of a chemical or biological attack. Yes, I'm sure that the effects of such an attack would wear off in exactly 72 hours. What a lovely sight that would mean -- all of us simultaneously gasping for air and water on that fourth day.

Tom Ridge, head of the Department of Duct Tape Security, says that they only want to make sure we're prepared and know what to do if there is an attack. Reminds me of those "duck and cover" drills we had in school during the Cold War, where getting underneath your desk would supposedly protect us from nuclear fallout (for those of you born more recently, desks were made out of solid lead shielding until 1966, when schools were forced to go unleaded).

Whenever there's a potential for crisis, there are always those who hit the panic button quicker than Ryan Seacrest reaches for the hair gel. They run to the store to stock up on milk, bread, and toilet paper if there's even a remote chance of snow. Their basements still have stockpiles of canned goods leftover from the Y2K scare -- and maybe even the New Madrid Quake scam of the early 1990s. They're the ones today with gooey duct tape adhesive marks around their windows.

For the most part, however, the rest of us live up to our "Show Me" nickname. But in this case, it's possible there wasn't anything to show.

By the weekend, ABC reported that the threats that led to the alert level going to orange may have been a false alarm, based on information from a captured al-Qaeda operative who later failed a lie detector test. Still, the threat level wasn't lowered from orange -- not even to tangerine, cantaloupe, or any of the less-threatening items in the produce section.

While we're on the subject, how about dumping the color scale altogether -- who do they think we are, Sherwin-Williams? -- and going with one that Americans could interpret more easily? Make it food-based! The more disgusting the food, the higher the potential threat: "Based on its latest information, spokesperson Joe Rogan just announced that the Department Of Homeland Security has raised the threat alert from it current status, Fried Cow Tongue With A Side Of Brussels Sprouts, to the highest level, known simply as Haggis."

Then we'd all comprehend just how scared we should be.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Exposing Michael Jackson

Where are the adults? There are none in Neverland!

That thought kept occurring to me as I watched the "Living With Michael Jackson" documentary on ABC. Jackson sees himself as Peter Pan, the boy who lives in a world where grown-ups don't exist. He even has his own flag!

What he doesn't seem to have are adult friends and mature staff members. There appears to be no one to tell him when he's stepped over the line into the world of the inappropriate. Even if someone on his staff has tried to make that point, it no doubt sounded to him like the grown-ups in the Peanuts cartoons: "wah wah wah wah, wah wah wah."

Where are the parents of the children who are allowed to visit and romp at Jackson's Neverland theme park? What is their star-struck motivation? Sure, fun is a therapeutic and necessary part of any child's life. But last time I checked, the country was full of amusement parks and carnivals with rides and games, none of which are run by men wearing lipstick and tattooed eyeliner who admit that, while in their late thirties, they carried baby dolls around with them all the time.

Where are the parents of the children who sleep in Jackson's bed? What kind of person thinks that's a good thing for their kid? Even Bernard Law's priests know you shouldn't go there. If you or I did that with boys or girls to whom we weren't related, we'd have to answer to the authorities, not to mention the kids' parents. What do you tell your son or daughter if Michael's bed is full that night? "Sorry, honey, we'll have to go over to R. Kelly's or Pee Wee Herman's place instead."

Gavin, a 12-year-old who had cancer, told the story of wanting to spend one night in Jackson's bedroom. Michael saw nothing wrong with that, nor with the lure of milk and cookies in bed, which he used with Macauley and Kierin Culkin and other youngsters.

When interviewer Martin Bashir pointed out that he would never allow his child to take part in such activity, because it was simply improper for a 44-year-old man to do with children who were not his own, Jackson asked, "Why can't you share your bed? It's the most loving thing a person can do."

Gavin said that Michael begged him, "if you loved me, you'd sleep in my bed." Don't those sound like the words of a pedophile? I pictured thousands of viewers who prey on children nodding their heads with pleasure, as if they finally had validation for using similar words to bait their victims.

Jackson wants to be portrayed as a victim. He declares that his whole life has been marred by torment, from the early days by his father to present day by the media. But the only members of his family who deserve any sympathy are his children. There aren't enough psychiatrists in the world to supply the therapy these kids are going to need. He says he's giving his kids a normal life, but won't send them to regular school because there would be too much fuss. This from a man who forces his children to wear masks whenever they're in public -- that's a good way to deflect attention!

In the real world, a normal life does not involve putting burqas over the heads of your children to drag them to the zoo just so you can have a peek at the gorillas -- while being negligently unaware of the danger you're needlessly exposing the children to in a crush of fans and paparazzi. I say needlessly because I'd bet that a single phone call to a zoo administrator could have pre-arranged a private, secure visit for a billionaire and his children. Without it turning into, well, a zoo.

It's apparent that Jackson doesn't think that way because, as much as he may complain about the attention, he thrives on it. I'm sure he agreed to this in-depth profile because he doesn't view anything he does as remotely wrong -- he has no clue why his actions are deemed unacceptable by the real world -- but thought that this television exposure would make him look so wonderful that there would be a surge in his sagging fan base, thus returning him to the top of Show Business Mountain.

That explains the Berlin balcony baby-dangling. Jackson claims he did it because the fans -- and it was clear from an overhead crowd shot that there were no more than fifty of them on the sidewalk -- were shouting, "Let us see your baby!" The responsible answer from a parent who wants to shield his children from the glare of attention is to ignore the public's request. Yet, he acquiesced to their demand, although he didn't actually show them his kid. The infant's head was covered with a blanket, leaving the spotlight on daddy, instead.

Jackson seems oblivious to the damage he's doing to his own offspring. Let's just hope he doesn't start screwing around with their appearance as much as he has with his own (already, the five-year-old has hair that's been bleached blond, probably to match daddy's skin color). I can't help but wonder what it looks like when the kids draw a picture of daddy's face. They certainly wouldn't have to worry about outlining his nose -- two simple dots for the nostrils would do.

Ironically, in the original tale, Peter Pan couldn't take care of the Lost Boys all by himself. He needed a woman's help. A woman who could be mature and handle responsibility, while he played like a child.

Maybe that's the real untold story here. On the inside, Michael Jackson is Peter Pan. And on the outside, he's still trying to turn himself into Wendy.

The documentary shows that he has a long way to go. Let's hope he doesn't end up with Lost Kids along the way.