About Ron

Rockabilly guitarist, writer, library technician, Ron fills the daylight hours with dreams of reading, well-behaved pets and the perfect dark beer. Reading interests range from humor to mystery, steampunk to travel writing, historical fiction to surrealism.

LA To Vegas

LAtoVegas

It’s no secret that I’m always on the lookout for an entertaining new comedy. Thankfully, the quality of new television programs is higher than ever before. However, the flip side of this is that many sitcoms now have a mere 10-16 episodes per season rather than the classic 26. So if you’re a binge watcher, it doesn’t take too long to get through an entire season. Which creates a need for more high quality programs.

Fortunately, funny people are indeed filling this need. My discovery this week is LA to Vegas, a Fox sitcom that ran only for a single season. It’s not the best or the brightest of shining stars, but the premise is familiar yet unusual.

Each episode begins with the statement that many people fly regularly from LA to Vegas over the weekend. This leads us to Jackpot Airlines, a low-budget outfit that is based in Vegas and to a sitcom standby, the workplace comedy. The workplace in this case is a small aircraft with a crew of four. Rounding out the cast are three regulars on the flight: a gambler, a stripper and a long-distance dad. Additional plot material is drawn from other passengers who are not recurring characters.

In a way, this premise is not much different from your typical workplace sitcom. There are the staff members who we see each episode and there are customers who appear only in a single episode. But the feel is unique, moving from LA to Vegas, sometimes being in an airport, sometimes in a strip club for a children’s birthday party. The revolving cast of characters creates a wide variety of comedic situations and the fact that Vegas is the destination means, well, anything goes.

In the greater scheme of things, I would probably not rate LA to Vegas in the top tier of comedies. However, the jokes are clever, the actors are talented and the situations are amusing. All in all, not a bad way to spend a binge day.

Sadly, the show ran for a mere 15 episodes, as has been the case with many recent highly-entertaining comedies. So the crew and passengers will remain trapped in this small yet amusing world until time immemorial…

But I digress.

With the wide array of platforms currently creating programming it’s hard to keep up with what’s out there, so keep your eyes peeled for new TV shows at Everett Public Library. And please, remember to return your seats to an upright position.

Funny Stuff on the Box

I am a person who thrives on comedy. When choosing movies, television shows or books I always gravitate towards humor. And now that Seinfeld is rumored to be cancelled (pause for laughter), I’m always on the lookout for new sitcoms. What with cable and streaming services, the new offerings are more numerous than ever before. Here are a few newish shows that I have come to treasure.

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Fresh off the Boat is the story of a Taiwanese family that moves from Washington D.C. to Orlando so the father can open a cowboy-themed steakhouse. As so many Taiwanese dads do in Florida. The family consists of parents, three boys, and grandma. In addition to typical sitcom plotlines the Huangs are faced with culture shock while attempting to mix seamlessly with the Orlando way of life. What makes this show stand out is the superior acting of all parties and the clever writing. The “sit” part of the sitcom is pretty typical, but the “com” is a cut above the rest.

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But perhaps you’re the kind of person who’s looking for proof of alien abductions in your television comedies. Fear not! People of Earth is just the ticket for you. The cast includes a group of abductees trying to make sense of what’s happened to them, a reporter trying to write a story on the group, and three aliens of different species (one of whom is named Jeff) trying to conquer earth. Ozzie, the journalist, is not a believer but the more he investigates the more it appears that the group’s claims are true. He even begins to suspect that he himself is an abductee. Meanwhile, the aliens halfheartedly attempt their conquest. One of the freshest and funniest shows I’ve seen in a long time, but be aware that TBS quite suddenly pulled the plug on it, leaving a cliffhanger that will never be resolved.

AngieT

Finally we find Angie Tribeca, a police comedy strongly reminiscent of Police Squad!. The show’s focus is the LAPD’s infamous Really Heinous Crimes Unit. Sight gags, one liners and general silliness prevail whilst the officers attempt to solve cases. If you enjoy this exchange from Airplane! then you’re dead-certain to love Angie Tribeca.

Rumack: You’d better tell the Captain we’ve got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.
Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it?
Rumack: It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.

These are just a few of the truly superior comedies available for your viewing pleasure at Everett Public Library. So get out your banana peel, couch and VHS player and settle in for a long, funny Spring.

Bill Murray Stories

Everyone has a story about Bill Murray, whether it be something he did in a movie, on a talk show or during his run on Saturday Night Live. My Bill Murray story might be his appearance on the first episode of Late Night with David Letterman in 1982. It was a rather crazy bit of television and I later found out that Bill and Dave were both drunk at the show’s taping. Or perhaps it would be the many ways in which his dialogue from movies has permeated my life.

Caddyshack
caddyshack
“So we finish 18 and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ … So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”

This completely improvised speech came from the lips of Carl Spackler (Murray) in Caddyshack regarding the time he caddied for the dalai lama. Now I frequently think to myself, “I’ve that going for me.” Which is nice.

Stories

But not everyone has a story about how Bill came to their birthday party and sang or served them a drink in their local bar. And this is precisely what the movie The Bill Murray Stories is about. Apparently, many people tell of encounters they’ve had with Bill Murray. It’s even become an internet thing to post these tales. Tommy Avallone, the film’s director, sets out to determine if these stories are true or simply urban legend. And as Bill Murray is notoriously difficult to contact (he has an 800 number that goes directly to an answering machine and he seldom returns calls) Avallone does this without going to the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

Stripes
Stripes
Oh, it’s not the speed really so much, I just wish I hadn’t
drunk all that
cough syrup this morning.

So Avallone begins tracking down people who claim to have had serendipitous encounters with Mr. Murray. Stories range from Bill washing dishes at a house party to Bill playing kickball with strangers in the park. In each case, the stories’ purveyors are able to provide photographic proof of the incidents. More than just legend, it appears that the Bill Murray stories are true!

Ghostbusters
Ghostbusters
“Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!”

This wonderful movie continues on to dissect Murray’s philosophy, his way of life. As this aspect of the story is somewhat mysterious and surprising, I’ll leave you to explore it on your own. And I highly recommend that you immediately check this film out so that you too can be in the know.

Prolific actor, funny guy, bringer of joy, he is… Bill Murray.

Get Shorty, Now!

It’s 9th grade English and we are reading To Kill A Mockingbird. I enjoy the book tremendously and soon the crafty Ms. Franklin tells us that we’re going to watch the Oscar-winning movie of the same name. I like watching movies in class as much as the next guy so I eagerly await this golden opportunity. And… I am sorely disappointed. The book is so very much better. To an older and wiser person this is no surprise, but to an impressionable teen… well, it was a surprise. And so I became interested in the relationship between books and movies based on books.

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard is unusual in that the 1990 book spawned a 1995 movie and a 2017 TV series. Let us look at these gems in the same order in which I discovered them.

Movie

The movie version of Get Shorty is one of my all-time favorites. Featuring a cast of John Travolta, Gene Hackman (who at that time was in every movie made), Rene Russo and Danny DeVito, as well as a funky soundtrack by John Lurie, this fast-paced glance into the world of organized crime and Hollywood phonies is simply brilliant. Travolta plays a Florida thug with mob connections who, while on a job in L.A., decides to become a movie producer. The rest of the plot is too complex to explain with any clarity, but there are twists and turns galore, surprises and shocks, scream queens and egg-white omelets.

Book

Some years later I decided to read the book to see how the movie compared to it. 9th grade English all over again! But this time both book and movie were excellent. Never having read Leonard before, I wasn’t sure if I would like his prose, but his words were like butter to my soul. There seems to be this school of writers who focus on kooky capers in Florida (Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, Tim Dorsey), and Leonard is, if not their king, at least their vice-chancellor. And having seen the movie first, there was the added bonus of hearing the soundtrack in my head while reading.

TV

When the television version of Get Shorty arrived I was highly suspicious. Although the cast of Chris O’Dowd and Ray Romano is solid, it seemed that a “remake” of the movie could do nothing but fall short of the mark. The first episode did nothing to dispel my suspicion. See, the movie has such a specific feel created by the soundtrack, pacing, editing and acting. To my mind, the story and this feel are one and the same. The TV version could have chosen to imitate the movie’s feel, but it does not. And as much as I love Chris O’Dowd, I was disappointed.

Eventually I moved on to episode 2 and I felt that there might be hope. Trudging on, I began to respect and enjoy the show, its soundtrack and pacing, its somewhat different telling of the story. And by the time I finished season one I was loving it.

So here we have a rarity, a book that became a movie that became a television series, and all three versions are fabulous yet distinctive. I recommend checking out each version of this story, in whatever order you like. Just jump in your Cadillac minivan and drive on down to the library. Tell ‘em Chili Palmer sent you.

Hidden Comedy

I am a lover of comedies. Sure, dramas can be dramatic and westerns might feature exciting horse brawls, but comedies speak to my soul like an impoverished artist panhandling for paint money in the Ben Franklin parking lot. But I digress.

While it’s easy enough to be aware of mainstream comedies, many films fall through the grapevine cracks (or gracks) and spend their golden years on the shelves of your local public library, waiting for some kindhearted chappie to take them home, give them a spin, perhaps entertain guests…

But let us remain on point. Many spectacular comedies you might not have heard of await you at Everett Public Library. And here are six of them.

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The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975) starring Gene Wilder and Madeleine Kahn
There is a certain type of comedy set in 19th century Europe that’s filled with costumes and frolicking and chaos. This is one of those. Here we find Professor Moriarity attempting to steal vitally important documents, Sigerson Holmes trying to stop him, and various people singing, dancing, and acting in myriad screwball ways.

The Big Picture (1989) starring Kevin Bacon and Teri Hatcher
From time immemorial artists have struggled with the dilemma of making art vs. making a living. The Big Picture tells the story of a young film student who wins a competition, is wooed by studios, tries to maintain his artistic integrity and eventually sells his soul. This depiction of Hollywood is hilarious yet sadly accurate.

Mystery Men (1999) starring Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, and Janeane Garofalo
Not all superheroes are created equal. Some can melt matter with their eyes, others emit foul odors or lob bowling balls at the bad guys. The Mystery Men fall into the latter category, featuring the Blue Raja who throws cutlery at people and the Shoveler who wears a hard hat and fights with a shovel. When Captain Amazing is kidnapped by the evil Casanova Frankenstein, the Mystery Men set out to save him. And much hilarity follows.

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The Big Year (2011) starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson
Some people like to count birds. Sometimes these people spend an entire calendar year keeping track of the number of species they see. This is called a big year. Our movie finds three strangers who each secretly set out to break the record for most birds counted in a year. The film is rather quiet, slow and charming, delving into the lives of the birders as well as documenting their searches for rare birds.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016) starring Tina Fey and Martin Freeman
Based on a true story, Tina Fey plays a journalist who goes to Afghanistan to cover the war. Initially unhappy with this assignment, she gradually finds herself feeling more and more at home. Not a typical comedy, somewhat slow-paced, this film transports its audience to a lifestyle that few have experienced.

The Little Hours (2017) starring Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie and John C. Reilly
Loosely based on stories from The Decameron, this medieval comedy is set at a convent filled with nuns and novitiates who talk like sailors, enjoy sex and, in one case, worship the devil. The juxtaposition of stereotypical millennials with a 14th century setting creates a unique and entertaining viewing experience.

New Year’s Eve in Music

Once upon a time, many years ago, my band had a show on December 30th. We wanted to play something to celebrate the time of year, but it soon became apparent that Auld Lang Syne made up the entire catalog of songs available for the occasion. So I wrote a song called New Year’s Eve Eve (please feel free to call me for an explanation) and there was much rejoicing.

New Year’s Eve is definitely the red-headed stepstool of holiday songs, but if you look hard enough there are tunes to be found.

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While the sentiment is not specifically filled with the holiday spirit, U2 has provided one of the better known January holiday songs, titled simply New Year’s Day.

All is quiet on New Year’s Day
A world in white gets underway
I want to be with you
Be with you, night and day
Nothing changes on New Year’s Day

Hanson provides fun old-time rock and roll, complete with silly lyrics in ‘Til New Year’s Night.

Once we get Santa on his sleigh, on his sleigh
We play rock’n’roll from Christmas ‘til New Year’s Day
One week a year we do it right, do it right
We play rock’n’roll from Christmas ‘til New Year’s Night

Or perhaps you’d prefer the jazzy, laid-back stylings of the Velvet Fog, Mel Tormé singing Let’s Start the New Year Right.

When they dim the light, let’s begin
Kissing the old year out
Singing the new year in
Let’s watch the old year die with a fond goodbye

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The Breeders deliver gut-pinching rock and mildly surreal lyrics with New Year.

We have come for light 
Wholly, we have come for light
It’s true, I am the sun
I am the new year, I am the rain

The old-timey blues of Lightnin’ Hopkins combine with actual holiday-ish lyrics to provide perhaps the best New Year’s anthem yet, Happy New Year.

This is Happy New Year ain’ gon’ worry me to death
Don’t think about Christmas ’cause Christmas just now left

Or, if you’re more in the mood for a contemplative respite, you could do worse than the jazz balladry of Diana Krall on What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

 Wonder whose arms will hold you good and tight
When it’s exactly twelve o’clock that night
Welcoming in the New Year
New Year’s eve

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 Partial to the psychedelia? Then try This Will Be Our Year by the Zombies.

The warmth of your love
Is like the warmth of the sun
And this will be our year
Took a long time to come

And finally, perhaps the most meaningful yet least specific lyrics are found in Nina Simone’s Feeling Good, a gorgeous jazz/blues number.

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me, ooh
And I’m feeling good

So when you’re out and about this New Year’s wanting to imbibe in a steaming hot tankard of wassail and to sing songs of the holiday, partake of some gems from your local Everett Public Library. And as always, please remember to bring a towel and to tether your yak safely away from the main thoroughfare.

Swing, Baby, Swing!

“Jazz is the red-headed third cousin
riding a bull elephant through
your teapot-laden drawing room.”
~ Ron Averill

Jazz is not popular with everyone. Many find it too academic, difficult to understand. But let us remember that there are as many types of jazz as there are flavors of M&Ms. At least as many. Myself, I prefer pre-WWII jive (as the hepcats say): swing, Dixieland, hot jazz, ragtime… Subgenres that soothe my soul.

Which leads to the question: What’s up with early jazz at Everett Public Library? Let’s find out, shall we?

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If you want to check out some early jazz, Hot Dance Bands from Okeh, 1923-1931 is an excellent starting point. The musicians featured on this album have mostly disappeared into the mists of time, the songs are not particularly well-known, but the music gives a clear idea of what was going down in the formative years of jazz. Billie Holiday adds her silky smooth voice to a musical backdrop that is clearly related to those hot dance bands but is perhaps more recognizable to modern-day listeners. And Fats Waller pumps them ivories like nobody else, providing a mesmerizing piano-centric take on early jazz.

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And time marches on. Your Hit Parade: The Late 40s provides a hipster’s overview of those fabulous big band years. It’s an excellent starting point for the swing-curious. If it’s a chanteuse you’re wanting, you’d be hard pressed to find a better interpreter than Peggy Lee. Perhaps best known for Fever, Lee turns everything she sings into a sultry hot springs of passion and fortitude. And the ever-smooth Nat King Cole? His early work with the Nat King Cole Trio ranks up there with the best that swing has to offer.

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You say you like the big band swing thing but refuse to watch black and white films or listen to music made before 1966? There are still excellent options available to you! Whether she’s belting out hits from the 30s and 40s or insinuating her way into your brain with hand-penned originals, Madeleine Peyroux is a bonafide contemporary jazz gem. Each and every album she drops is a genuine pleasure. Diana Krall, another modern-day siren, kicks it laid-back style with her sweltering contralto voice. Winner of numerous accolades and record-setting album sales, Krall can scratch that itch that Ms. Peyroux couldn’t quite reach. And finally, as we approach Christmas, the Brian Setzer Orchestra brings songs of joy and anticipation, in a swingin’ mood, straight to your pleasure center. If you’ve not heard Setzer play guitar, prepare for many notes. Many. Notes. And they’re all the right ones! One of the most fabulous purveyors of modern swing and Christmas music, check these fellas out.

So no more excuses. Buy a beret. Listen to some jazz. Maybe invest in cigars and culottes. Swing, baby, swing!