Friday, May 24, 2013

A Song's Story #2: Suicide is Painless

Through early morning fog I see
visions of the things to be
the pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see...

That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.

The most amazing thing to me about "Suicide is Painless" (actual title: "Song from M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless)" is that the hard hitting lyrics were written by a 14 year-old, Mike Altman. A 14 year-old! He's the son of Robert Altman, who directed the 1970 movie M*A*S*H. Altman needed the "stupidest song ever written" for the scene in the movie where Walter "Painless Pole" Waldowski fakes his suicide after suffering a bout of impotence with a visiting nurse. Altman tried his hand at writing the lyrics but didn't think they were stupid enough, so he handed the job to his 14 year-old son. Johnny Mandel composed the music.

The result was anything but moronic: Suicide is Painless is one of my favorite TV/movie themes of all time, not because it's depressing but because it's so damn poetic and beautiful. If I ever get around to practicing my guitar again, this song is on my must-learn list. Since most people are accustomed to hearing the cheerful, instrumental version that was used on the series, I highly recommend checking out a cover where the words are sung. I know I included her in the last song's story post, but I really like Ania Dabrowska's version:

One other tidbit about this song to save for your next trivia competition: Robert Altman told Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show that his son received over a million dollars in royalties from writing the lyrics, while he received only $70,000 for directing M*A*S*H.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Happy Birthday, Cher!

Cher turns 67 today, and to help celebrate the folks at Can't Miss TV invited me to post this groovy infographic showing the history of Cher's career. I'll always remember Cher's impressive movie career, especially as she hit her stride in films in the 70s and 80s, the decades I grew up in. Moonstruck remains one of my favorite romantic flicks, ever. Happy 67th to Sonny Bono's better half!

Images under CC BY-SA 3.0 & CC BY 2.0.  Additional data from Wikipedia and DirectSpecialTV.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Whatever Happened to...Customer Service?

Image via bayswater97 flickr
I'm sure that the lack of good customer service in today's society is something that everyone can relate to. I've held off on ranting about it for so long because I used to work in the hotel industry and a grocery store, and having been on both sides, can tell you that the customer is not always right--nay, sometimes they can be downright douchebags. I've also seen people treat perfectly nice retail salespeople horribly and have actually spoken up on more than one occasion and made off-hand comments, within earshot, about how rude they were when it was my turn at the register. 

But lately the tables have been turning, and it's the people working in retail stores who truly have this I-couldn't-give-a-shit-about-you attitude. In the past few months, here are four scenarios I was part of:

1. I was waiting at the counter to buy a blouse at a local consignment shop but the teenaged salesgirl behind it ignored me for a good 2-3 minutes as she was transfixed by her boss, who was assisting another customer as she set off the alarm trying to walk out of the store. She finally said to me without any greeting, "All you all set?" It took all my strength not to say something sarcastic but I did what any good customer does nowadays--I unleashed a bit of my wrath on Yelp. And I was not the only one which tells me there's a problem with the employees in that store. 

2. I was in a local Sephora and asked one of the salesgirls if they had a new black eyeliner pen in stock called Punker. She said she would check and went to another girl and asked her, who just looked at me, shook her head and said, "No, we don't have any left." No mention of when or if it might come back in stock, no mention of looking up another Sephora to see if they had any, and no mention of ordering it on the website. I walked out. 

3. I was getting gas at a station location I don't usually go to, but had no choice as the other location is closed for renovations and they have the best gas prices in town. The guy in the booth was on his phone and didn't even look at me when I told him how many gallons worth I wanted. He did, however, look at the money like he was confused and couldn't subtract $45 from $60. So I repeated myself, he gave me the change, and I took it without saying a word. Pardon me for interrupting your personal phone call, asshat. 

4. I went out to eat with a Meetup group and we were instructed to sit anywhere in the upstairs area. After being ignored by several waitresses walking by, one of them told us the table we were at was reserved, despite the fact that there was no sign on it. After we grabbed another table, the waitress asked what we were going to have for drinks. I said we hadn't received menus yet and politely asked for some. When she bought them out, she dropped them so hard on the table on purpose that they made a THUNK and walked away. Things seemed to go downhill from there. 


This is such a departure from customer experiences I had growing up. I can still remember the managers of the shoe store and art supply store I visited as a kid, and the name of the kind man who ran the video store in town, Mr. Zappala (how many store owners today do you know by name?) When Mr. Zappala passed away from cancer, there was an outpouring of support in the local paper because everyone adored him. There were so many smaller mom-and-pop businesses around in the 70s and 80s, run by people whose livelihoods depended upon how happy they could make their customers. They couldn't afford to ignore people who walked through their that would eventually lead to theirs being shuttered. I can understand that working service jobs does not always deliver the greatest paycheck...but you know what? Neither was my hotel salary, but it was a job that paid my way through college, and therefore I had to respect it and the guests whether I liked it or not. If I didn't, I'd be out of a job. 

So, I think part of the problem here is they're hiring nitwits who just don't care. And with a lousy economy, if a big store like Walmart loses workers, there's ten more out there desperate to replace them for a piddly paycheck. 

Call it part of our increasingly isolated society where no one makes an effort to connect with other human beings. I won't even get into the rise of customer service hell, where you're stuck in "press this for that" purgatory trying to get ahold of a live person. It stinks, and there's not much we consumers can do except take to Yelp and other review sites. 

I came across this 1970s McDonald's training video (gotta love that opening ditty, "the greatest gift you give is the smile you give to your brother...") Nowadays Grumpy Cat doles out more smiles than the workers at McDonald's, but the reason I'm showing it is because there's a segment about a young man who goes to an auto supply store and how he's treated. 

If any of you have some great customer service horror stories to share, please do. 

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Gentlemen, Drop Your Razors: Rocking Retro Beards

Up until not long ago, I long detested beards on men (well...and on women, too. Ha.) I can't even explain why--I just thought guys looked sexier and more professional when clean shaven, with nothing standing in the way of any food that might fall from their face while eating. But now, I think a short, well-groomed beard is devastatingly sexy on the right man. What flipped the switch for me? It was watching Christoph Waltz play Dr. King Schultz in Django Unchained. That beautiful old timey facial hair is as much Schultz's trademark and accessory as the derringer he uses to blow to hell outlaws and abusive slave owners. Waltz has said in interviews that the beard was like a pet, and throughout the movie he cannot resist twirling his 'tache and smoothing it into shape...a character mannerism, I'm sure, he dreamed up himself. Plus he looks dashing with the right length of whiskers in a debonair brown and gray pattern which calls to mind a 1970s Kris Kristofferson. What I wouldn't give to feel those bristles gliding across certain parts of my body, but I digress...

We're talking about RETRO beards here! And they are sexy and masculine if done right. 

Beards have definitely been making a comeback on the celeb circuit in recent years--Ben Affleck, George Clooney, and Jon Hamm are just a few of the men who have been sporting them off camera on a regular basis. However, gentlemen need to take care--and clippers--here, because once a beard grows past a certain length it ventures dangerously into ZZ Top, Ted Kaczynski, Grizzly Adams, biker dude, Santa Claus and crazy hippie guy territory. Also, neck beards are never--NEVER!--ever sexy. I don't care what your hipster friends tell you. 

With that in mind, I rounded up a collection of dudes from back in the day who I think looked good with a certain amount of beard. Emphasis on good. Jim Morrison looked terrible with that caveman beard of his, as did Mick Jagger. George Harrison's Jesus look above is quite fetching, but then he turned into Rasputin the Mad Monk by the time All Things Must Past was released. So you won't find those examples here. Instead I present...

Jeff Bridges

Most of us are accustomed to seeing Bridges sport a goatee as "The Dude" in The Big Lebowski. But how hot was he in Against All Odds with his short, trimmed beard? So hot that Rachel Ward could not resist his charms among the Mayan ruins of Mexico. 

Clint Eastwood

The good, the bad, and the beard, which is a little bit of both and not ugly (and by bad I mean BADASS.) 

Harrison Ford

After finding this photo, I'm surprised that Harry never really was seen with a beard in his younger years. This is really a quite flattering look on him. Indy, leave the razor at home on your next adventure.  

Paul Newman

I don't think anything could have made Paul Newman look bad. Something about this beard...perhaps because it's bringing out his blue eyes even more. 

Paul McCartney

All of the Beatles had beards at one time or another, particular by the time Let It Be came out--I'd like to think they started the hairy trend, after all. Around the time the Beatles broke up, Paul looked like a stoned Neanderthal which is what happens when you get lazy about your beard grooming habits. But here in this photo, with a very short beard, I think he looks absolutely love me do-able. 

Bruce Springsteen

While I think The Boss looks better without the fuzz, he can still rock a beard--quite literally.

Steve Jobs

It was a bit skimpy in its younger incarnations, but I cannot leave Steve Jobs off a list like this. He did indeed look pretty good with a beard...even better than Ashton Kucher. 

Robert De Niro

One of the few times we've seen him with a beard--here with his Oscar for Raging Bull

Eric Clapton

Not very nice to the women in his life, but I'm guessing they couldn't resist Slowhand's whiskers. He did look very sexy throughout the 80s with the neat, trimmed beard. 

Billy Crystal

How cute was Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally when he had the beard?

Christoph Waltz

Well looky who we have here! Dr. King Schultz, the early years I presume. Yeah, I had to end it with that.

Friday, May 03, 2013

A Song's Story #1: Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)

Today I'm launching a new post theme for Go Retro: A Song's Story. We'll take a look at some songs from music history that have an interesting history behind them. 

The reason for my first choice, "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down," is because I have a confession about it: until yesterday, I never knew that Cher was the original artist to sing the song and that Sonny Bono wrote it! Hard to believe, but I always thought Nancy Sinatra took the credit. Quentin Tarantino is responsible for my personal gaffe--like most people of my generation, the first time I heard it was during the opening credits of Kill Bill Volume 1. After the film was released, its exposure inspired a lot of bands and singers to cover it--most notably was "Shot You Down" by Audio Bullys who sampled the Sinatra version in what became a top ten UK hit. 

However, after hearing Cher's original version which was released in 1966, I'm sold on it and prefer it over Sinatra's. I'm puzzled that I've never heard it on the radio, not even on oldies stations. It's already a haunting, depressing song--the singer is telling about her love who used to play with her when they were children and would pretend to shoot her while they rode on "horses made of sticks." They grow up and she marries him--complete with dancing and church bells--but then he leaves her. She's been shot down again yet again by the creep and it's devastating. But there's something about Cher's version that literally gave me chills as I listened to it twice--first of all, it has a Western/Spanish/gypsy theme running through it. No doubt Bono was inspired by the spaghetti westerns that were gracing movie screens in the mid-60s. It also seems to foreshadow the ultimate demise of Sonny and Cher's marriage in the 70s.  

The song was released as a single and on the Cher album The Sonny Side of Cher. It reached number two on the U.S. Billboard chart in 1966. Sinatra's version was released the same year and pretty much hid in obscurity until it was chosen for the Tarantino movie. It has a more melancholy tone and an opening tremolo guitar effect. 

Since its release, the song has been covered by Stevie Wonder, The Beau Brummels, Petula Clark, Vanilla Fudge, Lil' Wayne and Italian, French, German and Japanese artists. Cher herself updated the song in 1987 with a rock feel--but I prefer the original (unfortunately I don't think the audio is synched with this video, but it's the only clip of the music video available on YouTube):

One cover of the song that I came across the other day and love is this version by a Polish singer named Ania Dabrowska. It was released in 2010 and features some pro drumming as well as a scorching sax solo--this right after I posted about how you don't hear saxophones so much in pop music anymore.

And there you have it. The song will no doubt shoot me down for many more years to come. 

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