MUCH ADO ABOUT ‘APROPOS OF NOTHING’ — Yes, the Woody Allen book is finally out – via Arcade Publishing/Skyhorse. Here with a review is our colleague, Anthony Pomes:
First off, yes: The book is dedicated to Soon-Yi. It also happens to be dedicated to those of us who enjoy reading the words of a great writer. And make no mistake—Woody Allen knows how to write, something he says (in his newly published autobiography, Apropos of Nothing) he could do even before he could read.
Not that he enjoyed to read, of course. As he fondly tells it, the overlapping worlds of old-time radio and magic shops and hot New Orleans jazz recordings and midtown-Manhattan movie palaces offered his Brooklyn teenage self far richer diversion. In the opening pages of this plucky new book, Allen even goes so far as to describe himself as follows: “Illiterate and uninterested in things scholarly, I grew up the prototype of the slug who sits in front of the TV, beer in hand, football game going full blast, Playboy centerfold Scotch-taped to the wall, a barbarian sporting the tweeds and elbow patches of the Oxford don.” Here, then, stands perhaps one of the book’s biggest revelations: although most often associated by the public with the fastidious neuroses of The Odd Couple’s Felix Unger (a character created by Allen’s fellow New York borough-bred comedy writer, the late Neil Simon), it turns out Mr. Allen (born Allan Stewart Konigsberg) is largely—and gleefully—much more of an Oscar Madison.
He also, as it happens, remains one of the smartest and deeply funniest comic minds of this or any other time in the Common Era. One is persuaded of this within the book’s first two pages; by the end of the first chapter, readers (this reader, at least, using a Nook because delivery of the hardcover has been delayed) will have laughed out loud at least six times at Allen’s deft turn of phrase and keen presence of mind. And while a piquant breadcrumb trail of jokes and set-ups is dropped throughout the book that either echo—or outright lift—similar moments and routines from his more than 50 films, it all coheres on the page into a smart view of a boisterously creative life the 84-year-old Allen still feels has been predicated mostly on “luck.” For those who love comedy and the movies, our luck is that Allen has built his life strongly around both.
With so many remarkable pictures to his name—nearly one each year, since he debuted with Take the Money and Run in 1969—Allen chooses wisely to cover each across a series of tight and well-observed paragraphs. There is, of course, no way to sidestep his chaotic personal life events from the early 1990s, once again blunt grist for the mill over the past few years in this increasingly rancid time of “cancel culture.” Suffice to say, Mr. Allen (cleared twice, in courts of law, of any related wrongdoing) tells his side of the story across two chapters in the latter third of the book; and living in a free society means he still has the right to do so.
Moreso than a gifted writer or film director or jazz clarinetist or often sublime comedic actor, Mr. Allen reveals himself in his fiercely absorbing new autobiography as a dreamer; ever, and still, in love with the sophisticate fantasies of long-ago Tinseltown. During this vile time of COVID-19 pandemic and shrill political vitriol, I cannot think of a finer and more delightful book to read—except perhaps Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me, Deadly. (That one’s for you, Woody.)
IN THE Y — “YMCA” by The Village People has inspired partygoers to wave their arms around on countless dance floors since 1978. It’s feel-good. It’s camp. It’s cheesy. And now, the US Library of Congress has also decided it is historically important.
The library has added the disco anthem to its National Recording Registry, which preserves for posterity audio that is “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
Material by Whitney Houston and Dr. Dre has also just been admitted.
The registry was established in 2000, and is tasked with identifying 25 titles per year that reflect the cultural heritage of the US.
The Village People’s disco anthem reached number one in more than a dozen countries, including the UK, although it stalled at number two here in the States.
It has become a gay anthem, but co-writer Victor Willis told the BBC the semi-autobiographical song was meant to have a universal message.
“It was about the urban lifestyle of when I grew up going to the Y, and playing basketball and hanging out,” he told BBC 6 Music’s Matt Everitt last year.
“That was my interpretation of it. I didn’t know anything about the lifestyle of other people that go there.”
This year’s other inductees include D. Dre’s debut studio album, The Chronic; Whitney Houston’s version of the Dolly Parton-penned hit, “I Will Always Love You;” the original 1964 Broadway cast recording of Fiddler on the Roof; Dusty Springfield’s landmark soul/R&B album, Dusty in Memphis; and the 1968 recording of “Wichita Lineman” by the great Glen Campbell, who died in 2017.
“I’m humbled and, at the same time for Glen, I am extremely proud,” said the song’s writer, Jimmy Webb.
“I wish there was some way I could say, ‘Glen, you know they’re doing this. They are putting this thing in a mountain.'”
One of the more dramatic recordings to be preserved is a live radio broadcast made by the Boston Symphony Orchestra on the day of US President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963.
Conductor Erich Leinsdorf broke the news of JFK’s death midway through the concert, to audible gasps from the audience. He then distributed the sheet music for the “Funeral March” from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 to the orchestra, who played the piece unrehearsed.
More soothing pieces include the theme song to children’s TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – recently immortalized on film by two-time Oscar winning actor Tom Hanks – and the 1953 recording of Puccini’s opera Tosca, featuring the performance of legendary soprano Maria Callas.
Although the vast majority of recordings in the Registry are musical, spoken word recordings are eligible, and this year’s selection includes a play-by-play commentary of a 1951 baseball showdown between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The tiebreaker ended with Bobby Thomson’s dramatic, game-winning home run, known as “The Shot Heard Around the World.”
There is also a 1939 episode of Arch Oboler’s Plays, which was described by the Library of Congress as “one of the earliest American old-time horror radio programs.”
The show was said to be an important influence on Rod Serling, who went on to create TV’s The Twilight Zone.
SHORT TAKES — How apropos was that title of Joanna Bonaro’s web series, Good ‘n Screwed? The show’s former publicist told me he’s now had four requests for the show in the last two weeks. Too bad it didn’t make it.
Robert Funaro (The Irishman; The Sopranos) was sensational in it . . . Bob Lefsetz, the doomed-A&R guy who now posts his “Lefsetz Letter” at least once a week, has now become so political that he’s losing his readership. Here’s one response: “I am deleting my subscription. The Trump bashing and blaming is ridiculous. Nobody takes responsibility for anything anymore. Republicans bland Democrats and Democrats blame republicans. I am so tired of it and you perpetuate it.” I didn’t care for the Letter at all; but in all fairness, how can you not be political today?
Strange times indeed . . . Here’s a great shot of Micky Dolenz circa 2007, at NYC’s 54 Below, during his “A Little Bit Broadway, A Little Bit Rock & Roll” show, with Broadway Records’ Van Dean; PR-pasha David Salidor; photo-extraordinaire Paul Undersinger; and Micky’s beautiful wife, Donna. Great memories for sure. It’ll be back there shortly
. . . And sadly, veteran actor Mark Blum has died just short of his 70th birthday from complications due to coronavirus. He was 69, and would have turned 70 in May. He was essentially introduced to audiences via his role in Madonna and director Susan Seidelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985, along with Aidan Quinn. He also appeared with Micky Dolenz in an episode of Billy Eichner’s marvelous Hulu show, Difficult People. Blum had a long, stellar resume in movies, theater, and TV. More recently, he was a regular on Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle. He was just seen in HBO’s Succession, CBS’s The Good Fight, and Love Is Blind over at Netflix. Early in his thirty-five year career, Blum appeared in Crocodile Dundee(1986) along with a slew of other films. He also was featured in nine Broadway productions, including the 2000 revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, and several Law & Order episodes over on NBC. Survivors include his wife, veteran TV actress Janet Zarish. Many condolences. He will be sorely missed. I hope SAG honors all the fine journeyman actors like Mark at their ceremony next January. Mark was a great guy; funny, personable. Huge loss.
NAMES IN THE NEWS — Markos Papadatos; Randy Alexander; Keith F. Girard; Rory McEvoy; Armen Garo; Maureen Van Zandt; Steve Walter; Alan Kaplan; Eppy; Robert Miller; Clive Young; Joe Lynch; Timothy White;