Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos” Reveals Lucy’s and Desi’s Real Love in Real Life

It’s always easy to be loved by lightning in a bottle; from within its confines, it reaches out, holds you, captivates you, becomes obsessed with you, and never lets you go. It has captured you. It is harder to love lightning in a bottle because it shines so brightly it blinds you; it projects warmth that you fear will one day leave you. It owns you; you don’t own it. Individually you are important; together you are magic.

This film from Aaron Sorkin and Amazon Studios is the story of a week in the life of Desi Arnaz and his wife Lucille Ball—a film of passion, turmoil, love from above the elemental plane of earth and sorrow that is resolute and inconsolable. [Photo credit: ft.com]

Having waited for two months after learning of the December 21st debut of Aaron Sorkin’s latest work of genius truly gave me something to look forward to. At one minute past midnight on December 21, I opened Amazon’s website to check if it was available.

Christmas came early this year, because all I had to do was click, and instantly I was transported back to my 1950s childhood. The opening scene introduces Walter Winchell’s breaking news that Lucy (referred to only as “the redhead” had been a member of the Communist Party. The second scene introduces the full cast and crew of “I Love Lucy,” and there’s brilliant dialogue that will delight TV trivia fanatics who definitely know, even if they hadn’t known before, who Rusty Hamer was.

Next, you see all the CBS executives and too many representatives of the show’s sponsor, Philip Morris in Desi’s office at Desilu Productions. Finally, we’re back on set for Day 1’s Table Read. Background music begins and triggers the process by which the show’s director, producer, and two writers along with the stage director interact. And for the next two hours, you will lose all track of time because there’s no place but the world of the Ricardos and the Arnazes that matters.

In the first 18 minutes, you’re about to learn the backstory of Desi as singer, movie star, and mesmerizing lady killer. For every pre-movie crank who claimed there was no chance that Javier Bardem would be believable as Desi Arnaz, pay up whomever you bet with because no better actor could portray Desi than Bardem.

Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Lucy goes straight to the heart. Her presentation of the range of emotions that Lucy experiences in a week’s time is the height and depth of real-life angst and satisfaction from delivering what she knows she is capable of bringing. Not once during the movie did it occur to me that I wasn’t watching the “real” Lucy. Note: to those who think this movie reflects the TV show, there are multiple scenes that would never have made it past the CBS censors in olden days, but don’t let that be a reason not to watch.

J. K. Simmons has proved over and over again what a brilliant actor he is. He is so good that he managed to reveal the true heart and spirit of Bill Frawley, who virtually every fan of the show considers to be the lesser light and grumpy old man. In fact, Simmons’ Frawley is brilliant, insightful, compassionate, and actually funny.

So far that’s three Academy Award winners so who do we get for Vivian Vance? A Tony Award winner, Nina Arianda. This may be the first you’ve heard of her but not seen. You After numerous successful Broadway plays, Arianda brings accolades from movies and television as well. Her portrayal of Vivian is superb and explores the story thread that Lucy always wanted Viv to be more like the average American housewife than movie star, especially in a contract that specified her minimum weight.

As seen multiple times, Lucy’s skill in envisioning full comedy scenes from one line pitched by a writer to full scene is part of the brilliance of the show: “Lucy stomps the grapes” was written on an index card on the corkboard; how it “became” the “stomping the grapes” episode happened in Lucy’s mind.

Three writers and one dreamer added up to magic. Lucy was a stickler for detail in set design, show flow, use of scenery, lines that didn’t work, and the “moving parts of physical comedy.” As you progress in the film, you won’t “hear” Nicole; you hear the range and timber of Australian Nicole as the real Lucy.

Desi Arnaz received the credit he was due and the respect as a businessman he so greatly deserved. Sorkin made sure to show the behind-the-scenes role that Desi played as he functioned literally and substantially as Desilu studios’ President. He had no trouble leading (wait until you see how he handled “the Red Scare.”) No hints, no spoilers.

The dialogue flows: (Lucy to Bill Frawley) “Let me tell you something about Desi. He runs this show, every creative decision goes through him. Every business decision, the network, Philip Morris, and if that wasn’t enough, he is camera ready on Monday. Takes me five days to get a laugh. He’s killing at the Table Read. And believe me, that man is nobody’s second banana.” (Bill to Lucy) “And how many people know that? That Desi runs the show?”

Therein is the key to the major struggle in the Arnaz family at home. Home is a word that Lucy used often, wistfully, and it meant to her that it was a sanctuary for her and her family. For Desi, home was “the boat,” his home without her, as well as the stage at Ciro’s and everywhere he toured.

Once again, Javier Bardem kills as Ricky in his prime as a bandleader and performer. Whether or not Javier ever played the congas before this movie, thanks to coaching by the iconic Walfredo Reyes, Jr. (Chicago, Santana, Traffic), his playing of “Babalu” was perfect, down to the detail of loosening his bow tie during the “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole” call-and-answer with the band. Later on, his version of “Cuban Pete” is another showstopper.

One unique aspect of the film is Sorkin’s inside look at the relationship between Jess Oppenheimer (writer and producer), Madelyn Pugh Davis (who just died this past April at age 90) and Bob Carroll, Jr., the three brains that wrote the dialogue that America memorized each week. Lucy and Desi brought life to the words, but a surprise reveal was the snarkiness and almost ridicule bordering on contempt that the brilliant writers showed Lucy…to the point of Desi having to have serious discussions with them about how disrespectful they were to her.

It was a bonus to see Linda Lavin portraying Madelyn Pugh Davis. Trivia fans will love that Madelyn Pugh was also known as Madelyn Martin from 1955–1960, as she was married to producer Quinn Martin, producer of “The FBI,” “Barnaby Jones,” and “The Fugitive, among at least 12 weekly shows he produced, another show-biz couple in the exact same business.

The character of Bob Carroll, Jr. was not a pleasant one--he eternally tried to take credit for any good idea the cast liked, unabashedly and unbelievably narcissistic. Perhaps the writers' slight jealousy was understandable as your face, name, and existence are known only to faithful credit watchers, and it’s beyond real to have anyone give the writers a standing ovation, even if they win an Emmy or an Oscar. And yet, great dialogue in the hands of the wrong actors, simply is not funny, no matter what. As has been said, all the stars in the sky must line up properly for the magic to happen. Here, magic was built on respect.

Respect was everything to Desi, not as much for himself, but for his wife and her talent. Sorkin’s dialogue captures that point and brings it home multiple times. That one tenet of faith that, at least professionally, was made clear was the unquestioned respect Lucy and Desi had for another and that’s where the love began. Offstage, it was easy to see where the love faded.

Lucy (with or without husband Gary Morton’s consent) stayed dear friends with Desi and his wife Edith. The two wives were very close and the blended families were often at Lucy’s home, so that everyone could visit with Lucie, Desi, Jr., and the grandchildren. Everyone had access to unconditional love in real life.

And yet, the acting and producing was also their real life. Lucy’s gift was comedy, not the Rita Hayworth and Judy Holiday stars that shone brightly on the dramatic screen. She resigned herself to that because she had a chance, one she demanded from CBS, to work with her real-life husband on a quality program that America fell in love with and shared with the rest of the world. The show was groundbreaking in so many ways, yet it remains fresh each time you see an episode today, even if it is the 34th time you’ve seen “Vitameatavegimen.”

When they worked together, they built an empire. It was Desi’s idea for the three cameras to shoot scenes more completely and the live audience would have an unobstructed view of the action. Occasionally Lucy’s dialogue would include stage directions and only then were you reminded that this was not real life you were watching.

Desilu Productions also produced “Star Trek,” whose shows remain almost as iconic today as “I Love Lucy,” and their reach is worldwide as well. Their “Mission Impossible” was the precursor to virtually every governmental secret agency show that would be developed for the next 60 years. For just three of their productions, that’s hundreds of millions of viewers amassed.

In its debut, “Being the Ricardos” is available on Amazon Prime today in the United States, Germany, Latin America, Paris, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy. It’s a free film to Amazon Prime members, but I would have willingly paid $20 to watch it tonight. The Arnaz children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., are two of the Executive Producers of this film. Along with other key producers, we had “one more chance” to be with a favorite couple from our Baby Boomer childhood. Aaron Sorkin is once again synonymous with brilliance in show flow, dialogue, and comedy.

In 2017 Amazon Studios won its first three Oscars for their film “Moonlight.” Someone better make room at headquarters, because this film is bound to bring home trophies. Thanks for an early Christmas, Aaron, Amazon, and the Arnaz family.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Zach Calzada Was the Right Young Man for Texas A&M; It Was Just the Wrong Decade

For the five decades I’ve watched Texas Aggie football, for at least the first four of them, it never seemed like big business, a corporation, or anything other than a wonderful opportunity for young men with skill to earn a college education and potential gain entry to the NFL, with substantive hard work, sacrifice and difficult training. [Photo credit: 247sports.com]

During the days of Bear Bryant and Gene Stallings, Aggies gave their all for their coaches. Quarterbacks, tight ends, running backs, and many other players would limp back into the lineup after having been crushed and ground and left for roadkill under a bruising opponent. If they were going to leave a game, it would be on a stretcher.

It was the heart and soul of the Aggie spirit to “give your all” for your team, your teammates, and your school. The 12th Man stood in every space in the student section on the ready, having been taught by tradition what it meant, and cost, to be a part of the proud 12th Man tradition. That was before concussion protocols were developed. Times have changed.

It was disheartening to read the various headlines on social media surrounding Zach Calzada’s decision to enter the transfer portal. To wit:

Houston Chronicle Sports

Zach Calzada is entering the transfer portal and won't play in the Gator Bowl, potentially leaving Texas A&M Football without a healthy scholarship quarterback.

Texas A&M Aggies Football Fans (not an official Aggie affiliated page)

Calzada isn't a fit with the Aggies anymore, but he'll generate interest elsewhere.

San Antonio Express-News That leaves the Aggies potentially without a healthy scholarship quarterback against Wake Forest in the Gator Bowl.

This after just two weeks ago reading the TexAgs.com laudatory post regarding the “almost win” vs. LSU:

After a tough, 3-TD performance that included two second-half scoring drives to give the Aggies the lead, quarterback Zach Calzada is this week's Overnight Sensation:”

And that, just 9 weeks after the first loss Alabama has had since 2019, under the arm of Zach Calzada, the hero of the night, the week, and the next 56 or so days….until the loss at LSU. [Photo credit: KBTX.com]

All of a sudden, people began inquiring as to the health of Haynes King, the former starting quarterback, and then there was the news story about the Aggies signing of a premiere 5-star prospect, yada yada.

And just like that, yesterday’s hero is an afterthought; no mention of Zach Calzada or his future potential as a quarterback who’d been not only a successful backup who led the team with dignity this year, but a true 12th Man who came in and took not one, not two, not three, but multiple beatings, both on and off the football field.

Yesterday’s news and then today, a guy, who according to some headlines, left A&M without a starting quarterback for the “big” bowl game coming up. I think I’ve seen it all now.

Has social media really created all the ingrates or it is instead a place where bullies who buy the Aggie hats get to join in and pile on when someone wants to rag on the one they decided is the cause of all their problems?

It was never this way in the old days—yes, there was the “what have you done for us lately?” attitude in sports, but it was never as visceral. Back then, there was no Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or other instant means of trashing a person, instantly, as there is today. Players back then were different, too.

Under Emory Bellard, in the 70s, the top football players were also on the (then) GTE (today Verizon) Southwest Conference for Academic All-Americans as well as for football prowess. Ed Simonini ’78, Civil Engineering master’s, Baltimore Colts, Bubba Bean, ’75, Industrial Education grad, Atlanta Falcons, and the tradition of academic strength continued.

Under R.C. Slocum we had more of the same, and then many players found their way into the NFL and would return after their pro careers to get their degrees and get on with life.

We’ll skip Dennis Franchione and zip right to Coach Jimbo Fisher. Pluses about Jimbo include his inevitable good humor, willingness to appear on TV commercials and support anything that brings Aggies to Kyle Field, and he can brighten any game loss with his smiles and promises that the next week, the team will execute the plan and get back on track and get down to business and make all those working parts come together and be the team he knows they can be.

All season long the Aggies had highs and lows, and yet we weren’t breaking through to beat teams we should have handled easily. That’s the “any given Saturday” reason, because some teams simply aren’t as bad as their antagonists think. Others have reputations that far exceed their abilities.

The Aggies bring heart and soul to every game they play and there’s those 12th Man kids in the stands, screaming their heads off for the Aggies to win. Aggies never lose, they’re only outscored.

This season, though, reminded me a little too much of Coach Fisher’s final season at Florida State. Back then, he had the future Heisman Trophy winner to be in the media crosshairs because of some “youthful indiscretions” and “personal matters” that if you actually took the time to read the constant details of the “indiscretions,” well, you wouldn’t be impressed.

No matter how many times he got in trouble, he was the QB leading the #1 team in the nation and was a shoe-in for the Heisman. Jimbo tolerated, placated, and kept talking and they won the national title and the wild child won the Heisman. Win-win, right? Or not.

Before this season started, two Aggie football players got in some “trouble” and the infraction for one of them was such that there was a question whether he would play this season. After a one-game suspension the young man was allowed to play and did pretty well for the team, and the football press called it his “offseason personal matters” that he’d be dealing with after the season was over.

But of course. Two weeks ago, the local paper ran a laudatory article about that player being a mentor for the younger players this season, advising them on learning from his mistakes because he'd really grown up (in 12 weeks). Fine, fine.

Sadly, if you can do something to help the school win a football game, you are golden. It’s hands-off, we love ‘em, and it’s probably always the way it’s been. It’s just that no one talks about it out loud. If you question it, you will hear from social media that you are a “2-percenter” or a “bad Aggie” or “a hater,” a term that came to life during the Johnny Manziel era, where people who questioned his off-the-football field antics were considered haters and “good” Aggies hated the haters and loved their Johnny Football.

Except for one thing. Had any coaches been able to look past their win/loss record to bring some stability and reality into his world, that young man might still be playing professional football today, as he had unparalleled spirit, talent, and a desire to win.

After he left, and his pro days played out in the media, Aggies welcomed him back for a while, and today, whenever he’s in town, it’s only his true friends who welcome and honor him for being the guy who not only beat Alabama, but who got the Aggies positioned to even seriously consider dreams of the national championship. Alabama is in his rearview mirror, though he graciously did a social media shout-out to Calzada when his never-say-die play led the Aggies to victory.

Zach Calzada made a good choice in entering the transfer portal.

Just as Kyler Murray proved out who he was at TCU, and a Heisman Trophy later, he continues to start for the Atlanta Falcons each week, and A&M is a distant memory in his rearview mirror. Players these days are fortunate to have parents or mentors as advocates looking ahead for their young proteges.

Any “fans” who slammed Zach on social media might read what he posted in response to the slams, excerpted from the edited version on Instagram:

“The overwhelming majority of the 12th Man has given me unwavering support. In exchange I gave you my left ankle against Mississippi State, my left knee against Alabama and my left shoulder against Auburn & again last night, and I will continue to give everything for this team and this University.”

It’s painful to recall watching the injuries Zach sustained, possibly at the inexperience of his offensive line. That we got a bowl game this year, despite his injuries, can be summed up to his willingness to “step into the medical tent,” followed by a worried Jimbo Fisher.

One can only imagine Fisher’s angst as he wondered about the well-being of his player and the outcome of the game that remained to be played. That’s why they pay the big bucks to the coach, to balance their judgments as to when to pull a player or play one who’s been injured a little bit longer.

Each time Zach came out of the tent and resumed play; one can only wonder what pain he had to live through the rest of the week, after the miracle patching up he received in the tent, only to have another injury come his way in subsequent weeks. The adrenaline rush of playing to win surely saw him through the rest of those games. But the minute you might not be useful to the team..."next in line!"

Zach made his choice yesterday, and it was the right one for him, and he’ll be fine after shoulder surgery (he wouldn’t have been able to play in the Bowl game anyway, so he didn’t “leave A&M without a quarterback”). He's been on the sidelines all year as backup and you'll see him in the bowl game. The school that chooses Calzada will benefit from his experience and skills learned this year. Will A&M constantly be chasing that rainbow of the national championship? Yes.

Will Aggies continue to support their team and be the true 12th Man through both wins and being outscored? If the traditions have lasted this long, hopefully they can last a little longer. But will A&M continue to perpetuate a culture that allows cyberbullies to challenge the resounding swell of the 12th Man? One can hope that will go away sooner than later.

Monday, December 13, 2021

TV Commercials and Favorite Songs Move You Into Holiday Spending Spirit

If you’ve been tuned into TV nonstop for football, basketball, or Hallmark movies the past two weekends, subliminal advertising is showing us all “game on!” It may take you a while to recognize who Santa is in the new Capital One TV spot this season, the one with our favorite Samuel L. Jackson popping up on Santa’s laptop as Santa is working through inventory?

“…All right we got 9,000 tins of hot chocolate, 3,000 bags of marshmallows, and 5,0000 World’s Best Elf mugs…”

As Santa and Mrs. Claus dance, the "Pulp Fiction" dance move has likely seeing clearly if the “ho ho ho noooo” didn’t reveal him to you right off the bat.

For the most annoying, most overplayed TV commercial this holiday season? When and if you’re locked in to the Hallmark channel, you will pay for it…with the new projection light feature, Star Belly Dream Lights, and for a reasonable fee, your child's plush stuffed animal will project special lights on the child’s ceiling and comfort them to sleep at nighttime.

And finally, I thought I’d heard just about every version of Sonny Bono’s biggest selling song imaginable…until Walmart came out with a very strange not-rap version of “I Got You Babe.” I vote it a “Bah Humbug” version of a song I love. Harrumph.

How about a feel-good song? There’s one song that Macy’s has used twice in their “Celebrate” campaigns (2016 and 2017) — the most upbeat, emotion evoking feel-good songs, “Happy” by the Canadian group 2C2 (feat. Derek Martin).

Happy Holidays and Happy Hunting in stores. Don't forget to shop local as best you can. It's great for the economy and they actually have a lot of items in stock that your family will love!

Saturday, December 11, 2021

James Holvay Offers Healing Holiday Music, Calms a Stormy Week

Late Friday night across some parts of the United States, weather damage to cities and residents was so devastating that if you were in the path of two tornadoes in St. Louis, four tornadoes in Kentucky, or 60 mph winds that ripped through Chicago overnight, you woke up to the aftermath of the fierce but invisible tumult at your door.

Just when the storms were starting to kick up locally, I hoped to see some sign of positivity and goodness.

And there it was, right after midnight, in the form of a YouTube video released by award-winning singer-songwriter James Holvay (of The MOB and The Buckinghams’ fame).

In a three-minute healing feel-good video, Holvay on guitar, accompanied by popular L.A. jazz bassist, Michael Saucier, offered a tremendous, blended version of “Silent Night” and “Amen.” Mother and daughter Ariana Rogers-Wright and Nala Ruby Rogers-Wright share their joy at being caroled, at seeing all the Christmas lights in the neighborhood, and production assistant Debi Otto captured perfectly the little cherub being so relaxed after a night of caroling, lights, and joy that she went out like a light and was fast asleep in her mother’s arms.

At the end of stormy weeks and tumultuous days and nights this month so far, thanks to a rockin’ yet respectful rendition of a favorite Christmas carol and spiritual (written by Jester Hairston, a famous choral conductor, writer, and actor). Thanks, James, for starting the weekend off in perfect holiday style!

Friday, December 10, 2021

The Life and Career of Michael Nesmith—Singer, Songwriter, and Monkee

With today's death of Michael Nesmith, 78, only one Monkee remains—Micky Dolenz, to sing the songs and carry on the legend of the supergroup, as he remembers it. [Photo credit: Billboard Magazine, 1967 trade ad, in public domain via Wikipedia.]

Of course, if there were four Monkees, you can count on there being four stories (and more) of how this one-time legendary supergroup came together to entertain teenagers and the adults they morphed into for over 50 years in multiple variations of the core four band.

The “boys” that Screen Gems productions advertised for with a simple casting call produced an iconic pop rock group from four complete strangers who came together, some who knew how to play their instruments and sing fairly well, and others who needed some fine tuning to be solo artists. Together they were magic. [Photo credit: Billboard magazine, May 1967, public domain.]

The four guys who made fame and fortune at the guidance of music producer Don Kirshner were indeed The Monkees: Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork, and British actor/singer Davy Jones. As writer Rich Podolsky shares in his book “Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear,” Kirshner “selected and executive-produced all of their songs.” Of the four, Mike Nesmith was the most business-minded. A native Texan, he was born in Houston and was raised in Dallas for most of his life. Legend was that his mother had been a brilliant creative who invented Liquid Paper (a godsend to anyone with an clerical job) and so he was exposed a normal business life at home during early influential years.

Nesmith’s business inclinations almost destroyed the group as soon as it had skyrocketed to national prominence. Behind the scenes, most TV audiences were not going to see the group in concert for a while. They had recorded their songs under Kirshner’s team including Snuff Garrett and per Podolsky, “Garrett found the foursome so difficult that after just one session he quit and flew to his mother’s home in Texas.” Keep in mind that Snuff Garrett was one of the most brilliant successful calm figures in the music business….he’d already had 24 Top 10 songs to his credit.

Jeff Barry was next on deck as producer—he found them entirely disagreeable to work with too. No one was paying any attention to this among their fan base because copies of “16 Magazine,” “Tiger Beat,” and “Teen Beat” had 50 pages devoted to “Which color does Micky like best?” and “What’s an ideal date with Mike Nesmith like? And few fans cared that recording sessions for Monkees’ records were closed to the public and window shades kept down purposefully so you couldn’t see the legion of studio music professionals playing on the tracks.

Yes, you’re hearing them sing on the albums (in many places), but even the first Monkee albums were enhanced by the additional of professional studio vocalists who could manage to sing “just like” The Monkees should be singing on the tracks. Yes, you are hearing Micky and Davy in many lines but the harmony blends on choruses were impacted for the better. Many fans become infuriated to consider this proven fact but the point was you enjoyed the albums and the music.

It’s just what they did with many groups back then—Gary Puckett’s “Union Gap,” Paul Revere & the Raiders (except Mark Lindsey), the entire Partridge Family (until they found out David Cassidy could sing), and Gary Lewis’s “Playboys” were all studio singers plus the headliners’ voices.

But the four fiery personalities, led most vocally by Mike Nesmith, were not satisfied with that arrangement. Don Kirshner for his part, offered them a major royalty check to make up for it, but the guys weren’t having it. Podolsky noted, “Nesmith said they wanted to play their own instruments and pick their own songs.” Execs reminded them to “read their contracts,” and Mike Nesmith “punched a hole in the wall,” as Podolsky wrote.

Meanwhile, America tuned in to NBC for their TV show, they lined up to buy 45s and 33s with The Monkees’ photos all over them, and the band caused collateral damage such that Don Kirshner was fired—after they’d had three million-selling singles and two 3-million selling albums each. That’s not the thank-you one would presume to receive—egos, pride, and attitude in the 1960s, having risen from total obscurity to national prominence.

Smartly, Mike Nesmith had taken the initiative and made sure his own compositions were the ‘B’ side of the hit records all over the radio. Rolling Stone reminds us that four of Mike’s compositions included “Mary, Mary,” “Circle Sky,” “Listen to the Band,” and “The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” all but one considered deep tracks except for the most devoted Monkee fans, who know the words to every song.

Devoted Buckinghams' fans also know that The Buckinghams knocked The Monkees off the number one spot on Billboard's charts where they'd been with "I'm a Believer" when their song, "Kind of a Drag" reached the top spot.

Nesmith worked steadily in the music business after The Monkees. Back in the early 1970s, Carl Giammarese remembers the days when he and Dennis Tufano (as the duo Tufano & Giammarese) opened for Mike Nesmith at a Chicago club called Orphans, located at 2462 N. Lincoln. Orphan’s was a premiere folk club for over 20 years. Giammarese remembers Nesmith as being a sort of cerebral, seriously focused guy, which tracks with his career longevity and success, always concentrating on the music. [Photo credit for Orphan's building: dnainfo.com]

The four musicians were far from a band of brothers, united only when fighting the corporate structure. Reunion tours would show that Mike Nesmith was the only one who never cared to tour with Micky, Davy, and Peter. In 1986, David Fishoff created The Monkees’ 20th anniversary tour, adding Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, Herman’s Hermits, and The Grass Roots, and quoting the LA Times’ review, played “to a crowd of more than 11,000 screaming fans that spanned two generations.” Still, no Nesmith.

However, for a concert on September 7, 1986, Nesmith joined the others at The Greek Theatre:

From May 12, 2011 to July 23, 2011, the 45th Anniversary tour included Dolenz, Tork, and Jones. Forty-six successful shows spanned Europe and North America; talk about staying power. [Photo source: Ticket Sarasota.] Meanwhile Mike Nesmith collected more royalties than the others, whether he was on the road or not. It is why indie artists have learned to own their own publishing rights these days. They learned from those who came before them.

And, it was possibly the final concert appearance for Davy Jones in the 2012 Concerts at Sea Cruise, on board with The Buckinghams, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and Charlie Thomas’ Coasters. During the show I attended, Davy said boldly, yet wistfully, as he sang “Mary, Mary” that it was a song written by Mike Nesmith, the “smart one of us” in the group. Jones passed away unexpectedly the next month.

It could be that Nesmith just preferred not being where Davy Jones was, because he agreed to tour almost immediately after, with Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork.

Nesmith may not be the originator of music videos or MTV, but he was certainly among the pioneers of the genre. The Monkees TV shows were inspirational for that, kooky antics while performing hits, but in 1977, a video called “Rio,” Nesmith’s solo album furnished his label’s request for “a nice promotional clip of Nesmith singing along to the music.”

In 2018, Nesmith (note billing) and Dolenz toured “as the Mike & Micky Show). Peter Tork died in 2019. Mike Nesmith never stopped working.

Four years ago, “he created the music video for Cruisin’ as part of the (1981) Grammy Award winning (for video) “Elephant Parts.” There are over 10,800 subscribers to Michael Nesmith’s Videoranch on YouTube.

Again, he may in some places be credited for an originator of MTV, several people seized early opportunities to put music and film together to promote record sales (today called digital downloads). A story worth reading is in Sean O’Neal’s article in Texas Monthly: “On MTV’s Fortieth Anniversary, Don’t Forget to Thank Michael Nesmith.” [Photo credit: Texas Monthly.]

A final musical legacy that Mike Nesmith leaves include son Christian Nesmith and his wife and music partner, Circe Link. A fun video of two Nesmiths and a Link is here:

Son Jonathan Nesmith is both musician and artist. Check out his Facebook page here.

However you perceive Mike Nesmith, for the majority of Baby Boomers, only wistful memories of our youth continue to flash by as brightly as a neon sign burning a hole through the night. Rather than any Monkees’ songs, a personal favorite of Nesmith’s compositions was one he wrote in 1964, “A Different Drum,” as recorded by the inimitable Linda Ronstadt. And to the one who remains, Micky Dolenz, thanks for keeping the music going as long as you have thus far.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos” Is Sure-Fire Success

How would you like to go behind the scenes of the early days of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s life? Academy Award winners Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem recreate the roles of one of America’s most beloved couples, which you can watch later this week in theatres or later this month on Amazon Prime Video.

In “Being the Ricardos,” Amazon Studios is flexing its powerful position in the online universe as an independent movie production house sufficient to draw the creative mind of Academy Award Winner Aaron Sorkin to create his latest masterpiece. Who better than Sorkin to research the lives of this unique married couple who turned television production on its ears early in the broadcasting industry?

Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue and effective storytelling pace guarantees a breathless race through all things Ricardo and Arnaz. Academy Award winner J. K. Simmons portrays William Frawley and Nina Arianda plays Vivian Vance.

As writer and director, Sorkin has found the perfect way to tell the real-life Lucy-Desi story set in a time capsule of just one week of their lives. Rarely are the powerful television producers, cameramen, or advertising sponsors (Philip Morris cigarettes) seen as weighing in on every aspect of the weekly production. Here, you go quietly behind the scenes to reality.

Some people forget that Desilu Productions was founded as a production company for the “I Love Lucy” show, or that Desi was an astute businessman and creative visionary. The pilot was produced for $5,000 via Desilu; Desi was the one who insisted on the three-camera shoot for the live tapings in front of audiences. He was the one who planned ahead to own their own episodes for potential rebroadcasting in subsequent years. Later, Desilu sold the rights to CBS; they also produced two more iconic shows, “Mission Impossible” and “Star Trek.”

So many who caught the show in reruns just thought of Arnaz as the real “Ricky Ricardo,” the guy who sang “Babalu” and played the conga, while Lucy tried to carry the comedy all on her broad shoulders. Most never knew that character actor William Frawley had a terrible battle with alcohol for much of his life prior to the show, but it was Desi who had a firm talk with him as a condition of his hiring that if he was late to the set or drunk on the set even one time, he was fired. Frawley arrived on time and sober for five consecutive years.

For Baby Boomers who grew up with the shows (most of them in reruns), the lives of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and Ethel and Fred Mertz were revealed each episode to show just how strong a friendship was and how long one could endure when taken to the extremes each week. The show debuted on CBS on October 15, 1951 and signed off May 6, 1957.

Lucy’s primary role as comedienne who sought her turn at taking center stage as a singer/dancer/performer up against Ricky’s attempts to establish himself as a viable supper club bandleader led to sufficient plot premises to keep the brilliant minds of Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr., and Jess Oppenheimer busy for the first seasons. Then they added Bob Schiller and Robert Weiskopf to the team, and these five are collectively responsible for the 181 episodes of comedy history.

The next National “I Love Lucy” Day will be celebrated on October 15, 2022, and a special celebration takes place annually in Lucy’s hometown of Jamestown, New York. It’s noted that “at this very minute, somewhere in the world, Lucy and Ricky are arguing in 44 countries.” That’s a whole lot of ‘splainin’ to do, worldwide.

I look forward to seeing what Aaron Sorkin has dreamed up and how and what he shares of the Ball-Arnaz partnership in his newest project. He won my eternal respect with “The West Wing” (who among us has not binged at least one season’s worth of episodes?)

As if the topic isn’t enough to drive you right into the theatres, Lucie Arnaz, firstborn child of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz said, “Nicole Kidman became my mother’s soul; she crawled into her head. I don’t know how you do that. She cared very deeply about this part, it showed, and I believed everything she said. She looks beautiful…Javier Bardem…has everything that Dad had—his wit, his charm, his dimples, his musicality, he has his strength and tenacity, and you can tell from the performance that he just loved him. Everyone that Aaron Sorkin cast, right down to the guy who has one line, is perfectly cast.”

Produced by Amazon Studios, “Being the Ricardos” debuts in theatres on December 10, and on Amazon Prime beginning December 21.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Gary Blair’s Aggie Women vs. Vic Schaefer’s Longhorn Women — The Good, The Bad, and the Sad

Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, was part of A&M Women’s Basketball History in the meeting between Coach Gary Blair’s Texas Aggies (#17, 8-1) and Coach Vic Schaefer’s Texas Longhorns (#15, 6-1). For two men who coached together at Arkansas and Texas A&M for 15 years, sadly I never thought I’d write that sentence with the phrase “Coach Vic Schaefer’s Longhorns” in it. Even sadder, the Aggies lost to Schaefer’s Longhorns today, at least on the scoreboard. [Photo: TAMU Athletics]

An Aggie is an Aggie for life, and I didn’t think it would irritate me as much that the Aggie alum would go down the road and take the national spotlight at the school’s oldest rival. Had it been to teach at their vet school, or their medical school, it would have not even crossed my mind.

But with the emotion that is inbred in Aggies from Midnight Yell on up, it’s as unfathomable just as a Harvard alum going to coach at Yale. Or a USC alum coaching at UCLA. Some things “Just ain’t right” as they say.

Friends of Coach Schaefer’s need not rush to his defense and cite 17 reasons why he’s the right guy for the job at UT; I’m not questioning anything but his decision to join “that other school.” But it’s his life and his choices have netted him great financial prosperity.

Okay. So many of us just assumed that an Aggie would lead the Aggies beyond the Blair dynasty. In April 2020, local sportswriter Robert Cessna penned “Texas A&M left without a sure-fire replacement for women’s basketball” (re UT’s hire of Schaefer).

But Texas? I had wondered what the big rush was, when the handwriting was on the wall for Blair when the new AD was hired; it’s tradition to follow the all-sport national championship quest. Nothing less will do.

With all the miracles he worked at Mississippi State, surely Schaefer could have named his price to be Head Coach here, next year, had he stayed another year there. That’s a thought of just one person who has absolutely no insight or back-room knowledge of the way these things really work.

Have to admit it, though, when a UT friend shared a photo from their Alcalde magazine, showing four Schaefer’s with at least three Aggie degrees among them doing the “Hook ‘em Sign,” I shook my head. It's like welcoming Matthew McConnaughey as the new face of 12th Man giving a thumbs up; it is not according to nature. Tell you what, though, UT has a winner with his support, though, and he's a welcome UT guest here anytime. [Photo credit: UT Alcalde magazine.]

I’d only had great feelings about Schaefer’s transfer to Mississippi State, because undoubtedly he could turn their program around, and show his natural leadership as a Head Coach. Indeed he did, and he took Blair’s blessing with him, as he personally works so hard to promote his associates. Vic raised the Lady Bulldogs to national prominence in a very fast time, and set new attendance records for The Hump arena there. He did that also by taking Asso. Coach Johnnie Harris, the hidden gem, and defense genius-in-training Mary Ann Baker, with him when he left Aggieland. But yesterday was different.

It was “interesting” to watch Coach Schaefer running up and down the sidelines, rolled-up program in hand, constantly stepping over the baseline and never getting flagged once for it. The histrionics, even with a 20-point lead, seemed to be overkill. Surely I was grumpy, and clearly his team was well coached and they were following the plan, but the other behavior was confusing because you’d have thought they were behind by 30 points.

I prefer calm to manic sideline action. As an Aggie coach, he’d confine his jumping up and down to the chair’s width he was alotted at the time. Meanwhile, the only real temper Blair showed was to take off his suit coat and toss it to Radar Ricke (now retired, sigh, is NOTHING going to be the same this year?) and reach for his koozie of Diet Coke. Calm and assured is the vibe I want to be in sync with, please.

I actually like and respect the University of Texas—even as a multiple-degreed Aggie, because for many years they offered degrees and majors that we didn’t. It’s important to have multiple flagship schools in the state. Texas Tech competes nicely with the Aggies in veterinary medicine and they had a solid law school long before we ever ‘acquired’ one because surely we must have one if everyone else did. Hard to fathom there being any more pressing a reason that that. And that doesn’t make me a 2%-er. Don’t question my Aggie blood; you’ll lose that argument.

There is always a matter of state pride in being comfortable to join in whenever any Texas school was playing an out-of-state school. As long as it wasn’t A&M that UT was playing, you root for UT for the sake of state pride. At least a few others subscribe to this generosity of spirit, too.

Even when we were not playing the University of Texas, since we joined the SEC, no one changed our school song, because it was simply inevitable that Texas would have to find their way back to our sandbox. An in-state rivalry is only as lucrative as when you put these teams in direct contention, so four years will fly by and then we’ll all be one (un)happy family together, just like before. So what? Why do we keep singing “Goodbye to Texas University” when they won’t stay gone?

For every game that the Aggies and the Longhorns play, families who have mixed alliances have a lot of pride at stake for their team to win. It’s based on a premise that we (that’s right, you!) made the “best” choice of where to attain your academic credentials and that the opposition exists simply to be crushed, ground, and spit out under our monolithic superiority and strength.

My mind keeps wandering back to last Monday’s first Gary Blair radio show of the season at Rudy’s BBQ. For last week and for all the years of these shows, Gary Blair has made fans proud he’s their coach, exhibiting only solid personal on-court, and off-court professional behavior. He owns every loss and never tries to hope we didn’t notice. The days of Gary Blair and his style of coaching are approaching an end at A&M but will live long in the minds and hearts of every Aggie who regards and respects him.

Blair is forthright, analytical, and has a wise sense of humor to keep his student-athletes focused on what they did right and what they need to do for next time. He‘s had a wide range of playing talent coming through our portals and he’s done his best to teach, model, and keep up with the players to have as close to a 100% graduation rate as he can possibly manage. His teams graduate. They are out in the community with regularity as they are expected to be good resident citizens and give back selflessly to the town where they reside and play as “home.”

This is not to say he’s the only one to do it. Every school has a similar program in place. It’s just that the way Blair does it, he’s modeled in his players the need to unite, he has instilled in them loyalty to their alma mater. He “gets” A&M, and he is the best ambassador of all things Aggie with a genuine sincerity and joy that just spills out of whatever he says and does.

Even at the top, when the Aggie name was a brief household word nationally as the victors of the 2011 Women’s National Championships, Blair’s ego remained in check. His joy was unparalleled of course, but he didn’t buy all the hype that comes with that “one moment in time.” He has always been in it for the long haul. It’s easy to get caught up in hardware of trophies and accolades of titles, but it’s the work that his team puts forth by which he measures his accomplishments.

That name plate on his desk still says “Gary Blair: Building Champions.” And it’s still very early in the season. Lots of games to go, many players are building excellent skills on solid foundations, many future professional players and coaches in training—that’s who this team was last night, and they have a positive role model to thank for their education. There are many victories, tournament wins, and likely NCAA appearances ahead.

The Aggies might have been outscored, but they definitely were not outclassed. The rest of the season has many bright spots ahead of it. Join the crowd in Reed Arena and keep the momentum going. It may be Blair’s last year as head coach, but his dynasty will last far beyond this game. Congratulations to the UT players who were relentless and played with passion. They have a good year ahead of them as well.

Only a handful of women’s basketball programs have immediate national recognition by just one name alone: Geno’s UConn, Pat’s (Summit) Tennessee, Muffet’s Notre Dame, Mulkey’s Baylor (it will take a while for the LSU thing to stick, even if she’s going home), Iowa’s Lisa (Bluder) and (yes, all one word the way announcer Mark Edwards says it) GaryBlair’s Aggies.

To the season at hand, the Aggie women (8-1) are destined for a great year ahead, especially after Sunday’s learning session. So much to be proud of and for the team and many of the great things they did today, in front of 7,100 people. They played the first part of the first quarter brilliantly, which we can do more of, just keep playing basketball “Blair’s way.”

The next Gary Blair Radio Show is tonight, 6pm at Rudy’s BBQ.

Next home game is vs. Texas Southern Thursday, Dec. 9, at 7pm.