Music for the Times

Sometime last year, when we were all hunkered down in our bunkers made of hoarded toilet paper and existential dread was creeping through the streets like the green-mist curse of Egypt in The Ten Commandments, I discovered a gentleman called Patrick Dexter. He’s a cellist who lives in a bucolic cottage somewhere in the west of Ireland. Every few days throughout the long, dark Lost Year of the Plague, he posted a video to social media of himself, sitting outside in the clean sunshine, playing for us while the Irish breeze ruffled the grass and his dog roamed the grounds behind him. His musical selections cover the gamut from traditional Irish songs to classical pieces to covers of popular hits, and just last week he released his first original composition, written for his niece who was born during the height of the pandemic. I’ve enjoyed all of his videos — as I tweeted to him at some point, they’re refreshing moments of grace in a dark world, affirmations of life and beauty that came along just when I needed them most. But there’s one in particular that I keep going back to. I’ve listened to it a number of times over the past few days…

An affirmation of life and beauty… just when I need it. It’s been a hell of a week.



Don’t Come Around Here No More

There are multiple reasons why this blog has kind of petered out, but this is a big one:

You can write the most interesting stuff, make the most beautiful music, perform the most incredible entertainment, but if there’s no audience to receive it, it starts to feel a little pointless. Facebook is where the people are, and something I post there is seen by hundreds of thousands of people, while something I post here is seen by a few thousand at best. Facebook is also where the conversation seems to have moved, and I genuinely enjoy the conversation that used to happen in blog comments, way back in the before times.

Wil Wheaton

Now, obviously I do not and never have had the kind of reach Mr Wheaton does, even in the most rollicking heyday of this blog and even with a few hundred contacts on FB. But the principle applies. I’ve felt for a long time that my writing here was just shouting into a void. Mental masturbation. And there are other contributing factors as well <gestures at… everything…>. I don’t want to shut this place down entirely, but I no longer feel much compulsion to write on it either. And so it goes…


It’s That Season Again…

Somehow this time of year, when the clouds snuggle down against the rain-slicked earth and the yellow lantern lights start to glimmer from shadowy front porches at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, somehow that seems to call for something more… lo-fi… than all that high-definition digital stuff. Or maybe it’s just me…


Twenty Years On

I slept late this morning and awoke to the milky grey light that hints of a rainy day ahead. I got up, checked my blood sugar, fed the cat. I pondered whether I wanted to go to the trouble of making waffles for breakfast or just pour a bowl of cereal.

Glancing out the window, I noted there was a group of people with garbage bags and work gloves spread out along the road, pulling weeds from the park strip that no government agency seems to want to maintain. Probably a church volunteer group, I thought. Good for them.

My mom and dad are out of town at the moment, so I walked out to their house to feed their cats and their horses. The rain started while I was out there, so I sat under their covered patio for a while, watching it pelt down. It’s been a long, hot summer; it feels good to sense moisture in the air again. I reveled in the low rumbling of thunder.

It never even occurred to me that this was the anniversary of 9/11 until I hopped on Facebook and saw all the posts that begin with “I remember… ”

I remember where I was too, the day the towers fell. Anyone who was alive and old enough to be aware of what was happening that day remembers. But as I’ve written a number of times, I honestly think it would do this nation good to remember it a little less. I’m sure that sounds disrespectful to many, if not outright blasphemous. But tell me: What purpose does it serve to wave the bloody shirt every September and insist that we “never forget” (as if we ever could)? What comfort is it for those who lost someone and those who were near the attacks to see the horrific photos all over again? To read the transcript of Todd Beamer’s final phone call from doomed Flight 93 (which seems to be the social media meme of choice this year)? For traumatized people, surely all this “never forgetting” just reopens old wounds and stirs up the PTSD. And what about the rest of us, like those of us here in Utah, 4000 miles removed from the scenes of the crime, where the “healing fields” of American flags start popping up in mid-August every year as predictably as Spirit Halloween stores opening in the shells of defunct Kmarts? I’m sorry if those displays are meaningful to you, but it’s hard for me to see that stuff as anything other than nationalistic chest-thumping, and haven’t we had quite enough of that over the last 20 years?

Well… maybe we have. Today, a generation after that other September morning, it seems to me that the commemorations are less fervent somehow. Oh, the websites for CNN and NPR are covered in the expected retrospective headlines, and many of my friends are posting their usual patriotic and religious stuff on Facebook. There’s the ceremony happening in Pennsylvania with Presidents Biden, Obama, Bush and Clinton. But scanning through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, I’m seeing lots of other things too… completely unrelated things like jokes and gripes, birthday celebrations, hype for the upcoming Dune movie and discussions about Shang-Chi and the current state of Star Trek. One of my writer friends has written a nice remembrance of that time his dad introduced him to a particular Steely Dan album. Another friend is sharing photos of his Funko Pop collection. Just ordinary, everyday life. Life going on. As it should.

It’s good to see that. Finally.

I think maybe I will make waffles today. And just enjoy the sound and smell of the rain.


Friday Evening Videos: “Here I Go Again”

Did anyone think I wouldn’t post this video soon after that Tawny Kitaen entry? I never claimed I wasn’t predictable.

Anyhow, Whitesnake is a British hard-rock band centered around lead singer David Coverdale, who had formerly been a member of Deep Purple. They formed in 1978 and did pretty well in Europe and Japan, but failed to make any significant in-roads in North America. As a result, Coverdale was ready by the mid-80s to call it a day and dissolve the band. But a new deal with Geffen Records and a collaboration with guitarist Jim Sykes (formerly of Thin Lizzy) convinced Coverdale to give it one more shot. The result was the self-titled 1987 album Whitesnake. While some longtime fans lamented the band’s revamped sound and image, accusing Coverdale of “Americanization” (i.e., selling out), the makeover did the trick: Whitesnake was a smash success in the United States, where it peaked at number two on the Billboard chart and remained at or near that spot for an incredible seven months. (It would be occasionally eclipsed by three other monster albums from that year — Whitney Houston’s Whitney; Michael Jackson’s Bad; and The Joshua Tree by U2 — but it always seemed to drift back into position.) Whitesnake became the band’s biggest selling album globally and was so successful that it boosted sales of their previous effort, Slide It In, as well as spawning four singles: “Give Me All of Your Love,” “Still of the Night,” “Is This Love,” and “Here I Go Again.”

The biggest of these was “Here I Go Again,” which was actually a reworking of a song the band had recorded five years earlier. “Here I Go Again ’87,” as it was officially titled, was a number-one Billboard hit and finished out the year in the number-seven slot; it has since gone on to be listed on several retrospective lists, including VH1’s “100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s” and Rolling Stone‘s reader-selected “Best Hair Metal Songs of All Time.” It should be noted that there are two variants of the song: a radio edit that starts off with the electric guitars and the album version, with a longer, more introspective opening. This longer version is what was used in the video, and curiously it’s the one that appears on most of the compilations of ’80s music that are floating around out there. For years, I thought I must’ve imagined the other edit until the internet came along to help me track it down. (It’s not that I prefer the radio edit, per se, I just needed to know my memory wasn’t completely scrambled.)

The video, which prominently features Coverdale’s then-girlfriend Tawny Kitaen, is often credited for the song’s incredible success — Tawny herself wasn’t shy about making that claim — but as I said the other day, the song was out there and climbing the charts before the video debuted, and I think it probably would’ve been a hit with or without her. It’s simply a damn good tune with some evocative lyrics. Still, her gymnastic stunts and general sprawling across a pair of Jaguar XJs (one of which was Coverdale’s, the other director Marty Callner’s) is one of the more indelible images of the era. The New York Times has called this clip one of the “15 Essential Hair-Metal Videos”:

Tawny also appeared in the videos for “Still of the Night” and “Is This Love,” but neither of them impacted on the public consciousness the way this one did. One of those mysteries of the ages, I guess. Something about Tawny and those damned Jags just clicked with the public. She would marry David Coverdale two years later, in 1989, and they divorced two years after that. She later said in interviews that he couldn’t handle sharing the spotlight with her or knowing that she’d had a hand in the band’s success. Whether there’s any truth to that is open for debate; in the golden era of MTV, image often counted for more than substance, so she might not have been wrong about her contribution. However, I also think both of them had sizable egos, which couldn’t have made for the smoothest relationship. Whoever was right about the importance of those videos, though, it is true that Whitesnake never again reached the heights they experienced in 1987. Of course, that could have been because Coverdale had a falling out with Jim Sykes, who cowrote much of the album, and fired him from the band before the album even came out. The followup, Slip of the Tongue, was created with a completely different lineup than had appeared on Whitesnake, and these things do make a difference.

I will say this for David Coverdale: Ego or not, he’s one of the hardest working guys in rock and roll. Before COVID hit, he and the current iteration of Whitesnake were still out there touring, and in fact, I had tickets to see them — along with Sammy Hagar — last fall. The show was cancelled when the plague hit. I hope I get another chance.


Just for fun, here’s the earlier version of “Here I Go Again,” as heard on the 1982 album Saints & Sinners. It’s a pretty different animal, much more simply produced, much more of a ballad, even a bit soulful with an electric organ featuring prominently. And yes, that really is David Coverdale with dark hair; part of his “Americanization” makeover was bleaching it. I almost always tend to prefer originals to covers, and this one’s not bad. But I thought of the ’87 version as my personal theme song for far too long for this one to grab my heart. And I really prefer the slight change of lyrics from “hobo” to “drifter.” See what you think…



The Hardest Day

“It never fails to astonish me. You’re alive, you’re dead. No drums, no flashing lights, no fanfare. You’re just dead.”
— Margaret Houlihan, M*A*S*H

Yesterday morning, I noticed a weird raw spot on the side of Uggy, the semi-feral kitty who mothered our boy Evinrude and who has spent much of her life living under our deck. By nightfall, it was visibly swelling and we decided we’d better take her to the vet in the morning to get it checked out.

This morning, the damn thing was the size of a golf ball. Hoping it was just a cyst or an abscess that could be drained, we took her in to the emergency clinic.

The news wasn’t good. It was a tumor, and it was moving fast. The vet said it ran deep, too, and that to surgically remove it would probably take out a big chunk of her pelvis. In addition, she had a serious heart murmur suggesting some other underlying problem. The vet figured that, left untreated, she had maybe a couple weeks left, and given her outdoor lifestyle, we feared that she’d likely disappear beneath something in my dad’s junkyard to die and we’d never find her again. There really were no good treatment options. So we made the hard call.

I’ve never had to do that with one of my animals before. They’ve always spared me this decision.

I have no idea where she came from or what she might have endured before she showed up here in the Bennion Compound, very young, very afraid… and very pregnant. I’ve long suspected that someone dumped her and she just got lucky in finding her way to a friendly port. I think she basically had a sweet nature and wanted to be loving but whatever she’d gone through made it hard for her to trust anyone, and you could only get so close to her. But she trusted me, at least more than she did anyone else. She was on my lap at the end, one of the very few times she’s ever allowed that.

Tonight I’m struggling with the idea that she trusted me and I basically gave the order to have her killed. Even though I know it was the right, best thing I could do for her. And I’m also wrestling with whether I gave her the happiest life I could have, if I was too impatient with her, if maybe I didn’t trust her enough. Ultimately, I just wish I’d had more time… time with her, time to be good to her, time to make the final decision.

Anne and I both want to thank the compassionate staff at Copper View Animal Hospital for making this as easy as possible for both Uggy and us.

Rest in peace, Mama Cat. Wherever you are, I hope you find all the cheese you will ever want, and that your boys Hannibal and Jack are there and you’re all finally able to get along.


In Memoriam: Tawny Kitaen

“She was gonna be an actress
She was gonna be a star
She was gonna shake her ass
on the hood of Whitesnake’s car.”

— Bowling for Soup, “1985”

I don’t know whether you could legitimately say that Tawny Kitaen — who died unexpectedly last weekend at only 59 years old — was any kind of actual star. She was indeed a model and an actress who worked pretty steadily in the ’80s and ’90s, enough for her face to have become familiar, but she never appeared in anything really significant. Off the top of my head, I can think of only a guest shot on Seinfeld as one of Jerry’s never-ending rotation of girlfriends, and she was a series regular on the short-lived attempt to revive WKRP in Cincinnati for the syndication market. (Her character was somewhat analogous to Loni Anderson’s role on the original series, a DJ whose intelligence is constantly underestimated by those around her because of her looks.) Sadly, she was probably as infamous for her domestic problems — she was once arrested and charged with assaulting her second husband, baseball player Chuck Finley — as she was famous for any of her work. Well, aside from those Whitesnake videos that the Bowling for Soup song refers to; for better or worse, doing the splits on the hood of a Jaguar for a heavy metal band really is her claim to fame.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here; it’s not my intention to disparage her. The truth is, Ms. Kitaen’s sudden demise has troubled me far more than I would have expected, and I’m trying to sort out in my own head exactly why. I’m not sure if I feel bad that a woman who had a tumultuous life died relatively young, or if it’s because I associate her so strongly with a particular time and place, and with the person I used to be in that moment, that her death feels like another totem of my youth toppling.

Like most everybody else, I suppose, I first became aware of her in the fall of 1987, when the video for “Here I Go Again” was in heavy rotation. It was my first quarter as a freshman at the University of Utah. I had a screwy schedule those first few months, with a big block of empty time between my morning classes and one that I could only take in the evening. I probably should’ve spent those unscheduled hours studying or writing my first novel or doing something productive, but I had just turned 18 and I was feeling more than a little overwhelmed by life at that that point, so productivity wasn’t really in the cards. I ended up killing most of that free time in the student union, either playing Gauntlet or parked near a giant projection TV that more often than not was set to MTV. I must’ve seen that Whitesnake clip a hundred times in the three-month period before Christmas break. I already knew the song from hearing it on the radio earlier that summer, and I liked it quite a bit — the lonely romanticism of the lyrics appealed to my budding self-image as a brooding loner in the Byronic mold, and I dug the heavy guitar-based sound of it — but the visual element provided by the video, i.e., the gymnastic lady in the flowing white gown… well. That appealed to me on, shall we say, an entirely different level.

She was beautiful, yes, but in an unconventional way that started with a great mass of shaggy red hair that begged to have the wind blowing through it… or your hands buried in it. Her mouth was a bit too large, but her smile was dazzling… and contagious. (She actually presaged the coming of Julia Roberts, who had a similar energy with her mass of unruly red hair and her too-large-but-delicious megawatt smile.) The thing that really struck me about this girl, though, was her eyes in a shot toward the end of the video. She’s now in the car with Whitesnake’s lead singer (and Tawny’s future husband #1) David Coverdale, and she gives the camera a sideways glance as she sings along to the chorus. Her expression is playful and sly, intelligent and forward all at the same time. She knew exactly what she was doing with that expression, and it was sexy as hell. And yes, I developed an instant crush on her. Just like a lot of other young people watching MTV in 1987.

In those days when I had no love interest of my own and desperately wanted one, I dreamed that I might find someone like her (or hell, maybe even the actual her, because if you can’t aim high in your fantasies, where can you?). She became an aspirational figure to my 18-year-old self, a rock-and-roll goddess who felt like someone you might actually know. That image was reinforced by her part on The New WKRP, where I at last heard her voice and learned her name.

Later on, when stories came out about her whaling on Chuck Finley with a high-heeled shoe, she became less aspirational than a cautionary tale. So she was one of the crazy ones, it now seemed, the sort of unstable woman you heard about in skeezy movies that often starred Michael Douglas and that I now most definitely did not want to find. The very energy that had made her so damn sexy a decade earlier had curdled into something dangerous.

A few years after that, there were stories of her struggles with drugs, an arrest for possession and then another for DUI. Rehab, followed by appearances on reality TV, plastic surgery, a face that no longer looked quite like the same person, a downhill trajectory that was all the more depressing for its utter familiarity. We’d seen it before, hadn’t we? Nothing special here, just another fading starlet turned trainwreck. But I am a sentimental slob and seeing my old crush brought low like that stirred up my protective instincts. Whenever I’ve thought about her in the last 15 years — which admittedly hasn’t been too often — I thought I’d like to put my arm around her and somehow make everything all right for her. Condescending? Paternalistic? Yeah, maybe. But I remembered the playful rock-and-roll girl with the megawatt smile and I wanted to somehow put her back together. I don’t apologize for my feelings.

And then… she died.

A rumor went around Twitter on Friday night that something had happened to her, and I felt a pang in my gut. Anne and I had just seen that Whitesnake video a few days prior  and I’d wondered what Tawny Kitaen was up to these days. I hoped that her fall from grace hadn’t finally ended in the way those falls so often do: an OD, a suicide, perhaps a body pushed beyond its limit by years of bad choices just… stopping. But there didn’t seem to be any corroboration of the rumor, and if it wasn’t on TMZ, it wasn’t for real right?

Confirmation came Saturday afternoon when I took a break from a landscaping project to glance at social media on my phone. It was true; she was gone. Cause is yet to be determined, but when it is, I won’t be at all surprised if it’s one of the possibilities I just mentioned. Standing there in the yard, leaning on my shovel, I found myself thinking about the warm golden light of a fall afternoon slanting through the wall of windows on the south side of the union, and about the sheltered dark corner where the big TV was set up; I thought about the drama that had been going on at home at the time, how school was an escape for me; and I thought about the endless stream of three-minute musical fantasies that had filled my downtime with dreams of sex and glamour and fast cars and a world where wind and smoke machines made everything look so much cooler than my mundane existence. I thought about being 18 and lonely and, yes, horny, and how anything seemed possible and how it felt like there would always be time for everything. And I thought about a woman only a few years older than myself who I’d always hoped might actually like me if our paths had crossed. A woman for whom time ran out too soon, whose big claim to fame is one of those three-minute fantasies she made decades ago, and I thought about how damned awful it is that life is a process of everything you love gradually diminishing.

And then I put my phone down and went back to work because I had a project to finish, and the daylight was fading. And I found myself humming a song from 17 years ago that’s about missing a time that had been 19 years before that, an unlikely hit from a band with the unlikely name of Bowling for Soup…



On Men Growing Older

“I don’t think I’ll ever reach the stage, however old I get, that I won’t turn to look at a see-through blouse.”

— Sean Connery, as quoted in Sean Connery: From 007 to Hollywood Icon by Andrew Yule


Happy Birthday, Bill!

I don’t think I realized how long it’s been since I last checked in around here. Assuming anybody is still following this blog and still cares, sorry. I hope I didn’t worry you. There’s nothing’s wrong. I haven’t been sick or anything, just busy… and perhaps filled with a touch of fatalistic “what does it matter” ennui. But I don’t want to talk about that right now. Instead, let us observe our silly annual tradition of wishing the one and only William Shatner a very happy birthday. The actor who portrayed my childhood hero, Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, turns an incredible 90 years old today.


That’s difficult to believe, as he remains more engaged with the world than many people half his age. He’s active on Twitter, for one thing, sparring with trolls and fans alike on a daily basis. He’s still working, too. The image above is from his upcoming movie Senior Moment, in which he stars with the equally iconic Christoper Lloyd. (The trekkies among us will no doubt remember that they previously worked together in a little thing called Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, way back in 1984.) Judging from the trailer, Senior Moment will probably be the sort of thing that’s best described as “cute,” a by-the-numbers exercise in life-affirming treacle. I don’t have very high expectations for it at all, but I think it’s admirable that Shatner has found a starring role at this stage of life, and I hope it’s a success for him.

And here’s an interesting project that was just announced today, no doubt to coincide with his birthday: Shatner has become the “brand ambassador” and will be the first subject of a new service called StoryFile that will use recorded interviews and AI technology to create interactive video simulations of people that others can converse with, just as if they were talking to the real person. I’ve had a look at the company’s sizzle reel; it seems entirely plausible, and they have a lot of interesting potential applications in mind. But the one I’m really intrigued by is the idea of creating a legacy, some hint of a person that will remain after that person is gone. Journals, photographs, personal possessions, even film and video can only go so far in giving you the sense of an actual person, but one of these StoryFile simulacrums could capture an inkling of someone’s actual personality. It reminds me of the old Max Headroom concept, where a computer-generated TV personality was created from a scan of someone’s brain. Of course, that was more akin to downloading someone’s mind, which this isn’t. But some of these AI chatbots are getting pretty difficult to distinguish from actual human customer service agents. If we could create that level of realism… well, like I said, I’m intrigued. Where I never got around to having children, the idea of living on in even a video simulation form is… appealing.

I know start-up companies with these grandiose, would-be revolutionary ideas are a dime a dozen. StoryFile could easily be vaporware, this year’s version of that Mars One debacle a few years back. But like I said, I’m intrigued. And I love that William Shatner, 90-year-old William Shatner, is involved with it. He is still a role model to me in so many ways… still curious, still engaged, still grappling with the human adventure. I aspire to that.

Happy birthday, Bill.




The First Film You Remember Watching

30-Day Movie Challenge, Day 1: The First Film You Remember Watching

My earliest movie-related memory — hell, one of my earliest memories period — is of going with my mom and my great-grandmother to an old-fashioned, single-screen neighborhood movie house across the street from where Grandma lived to see The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.

If that title sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of the weekly television series that ran on NBC for two seasons from 1977-78. The series was spun off from the feature film of the same name, which believe it or not was one of the highest grossing films of 1974, despite being G-rated and starring a virtual unknown named Dan Haggerty, whose biggest role prior to that was a bit-part in Easy Rider. Grizzly Adams was an independent film made on a shoestring budget by a Utah-based production company, filmed on location around my home state and loosely based on a real 19th-century mountain man. I couldn’t find much information about the film online, so I can only guess its success was a quirk of its timing. Its story of a man wrongly accused of murder escaping into the wilderness and living in harmony with nature struck a chord in those days of anti-authoritarianism, back-to-the-land lifestyle experiments, and the nascent environmental movement. A film with a similar premise, Robert Redford’s Jeremiah Johnson, had come out only two years prior, and the “Crying Indian” PSA and the related Keep America Beautiful campaign two years before that.

Now, I was all of five years old when Grizzly Adams was released, so I’m sure my memories of the film itself are conflated with the TV series that followed. But I do have a vivid impression of the experience of seeing it. I recall that the movie theater — the Murray, named after the city it was located in — was just a short walk from Grandma’s tidy little house with the Chinese red kitchen. This is the only time I remember going to the movies with her, and in my mind, I sat between her and my mom, feeling warm and safe and loved as I munched my popcorn.

I also recall having a bit of an obsession with the Grizzly Adams story for a while, which seems incongruous given my lifetime affection for science fiction. (I know I was already watching Star Trek by ’74, and the following year, Space: 1999 as well.) But something about Grizzly clicked with me… possibly the fact that I recognized the landscapes where it and the spinoff series were filmed. I remember having this weird notion that Grizzly and Little House on the Prairie — which I also watched during my wholesome Utah childhood —  were both taking place right now, er, that is, then, in the 1970s, contemporaneously with the shows’ airing. I knew they were only TV shows and that actors only pretended to do the things they did, but I also believed there were real analogs of the characters living in the mountains that I could see from my living-room window. That if I were to go up there somehow, I would run into Adams and his companion Ben the bear, and the town of Walnut Grove with all its inhabitants just the way they appeared on my screen every week. It probably didn’t help my confusion when a real-life mountain man came riding up the street in front of my house one summer, bound for Idaho where he intended to live off the grid, in communion with nature and by his own terms. He was on horseback with a pack horse following behind, and he was wearing a Bowie knife as long as my young arm on one hip and an honest-to-god six-gun on the other, just like those guys on TV… but that’s a story for another time.

As far as I can determine, the Life and Times of Grizzly Adams feature film has never been released on any home video format — the TV series is available on DVD — and I haven’t seen it, probably, since that day with Mom and Grandma. I know there’s a copy of it on YouTube, but I’m half afraid to look at it. Better perhaps that it remain a sweet memory unsullied by low-budget reality.

My great-grandmother died decades ago, in the late ’80s, I think, and her little house, along with its entire neighborhood, was demolished and replaced by an apartment complex where a friend of mine lived for a time in the ’90s. Weirdly enough, the Murray Theater is still standing, although no movies have been shown there in almost as long as Grandma has been gone…