Woody's Winning Women

We finally had a chance to watch “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and it occurred to me that Oscar seems to favor the women who star in Woody Allen movies that include a woman’s name in the title. In fact, all four of the women who have won Academy Awards for saying Woody’s words did so in films which met this criteria: Diane Keaton for “Annie Hall” in 1977; Dianne Wiest for “Hannah and Her Sisters” in 1986; Mira Sorvino in “Mighty Aphrodite” in 1995; and now Penelope Cruz for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” in 2008. Dianne Wiest bucked the trend by picking up a second statuette under Woody’s wing in “Bullets Over Broadway,” but only after nabbing the first under terms. Unfortunately, there’s no way for a Nicole Kidman to know when she signs on for something like 2010’s typically Untitled Woody Allen London Project. And if the trend holds true, it only happens every nine to 13 years anyway.


44 Years of Stuff: Illustrated Mythology Cards

I love mythology and I love card decks, so it was a no-brainer to pick this up at an antique show in Ohio about 10 years ago for a cool 10 bucks. The Cincinnati Game Company was cranking out a lot of themed educational sets around the turn of the century. An ad card inside mentions almost two dozen others, including “Strange People,” “In Castle Land” (famous castles of the Old World), “The Mayflower” and “Yellowstone.”


Ada Lovelace Day

Since so much of the tech world is dominated by men, and I am raising a daughter with dreams of a future in which women can not only compete in male-dominated fields but eventually supplant them, I looked forward to participating in Ada Lovelace Day. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that in considering the day’s challenge--to write about a pioneering woman in technology--no names immediately sprang to mind.

The Ada Project changed that. Dedicated to providing information and resources related to women in computing, the site served up 17 names from the 19th-21st centuries. These included folks ranging from Ada herself, whose plan in the 1840s for a “calculating engine” that would work with Bernoulli numbers led to what is now regarded as the first computer program (she also anticipated a machine that would be used to produce graphics and compose music), to modern tech company CEOs like Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina.

I ended up choosing a woman whose surname happens to be similar to mine. Rósa Péter was born in 1905 and studied mathematics at Loránd Eötvös University in Budapest. After abandoning her initial interest in number theory when she discovered her early results had already been proven, Rósa ditched the field entirely to write poetry.

She re-entered the math fray in 1930 when a colleague suggested that she examine the work of Gödel, and later became a founder of recursive function theory. She wrote two books and over 50 papers on the subject, and continued to apply her theory to computers until she passed away in 1977, a year after the release of her seminal book, “Recursive Functions in Computer Theory.”

Péter is also noted for her dedication to making the public more aware of mathematics. She was especially concerned about the education of female students. It’s hard to say what such pioneers would think about our world of laptops, cell phones and iPods. But thanks to the solid mathematical foundations these things were built upon and a growing contingent of female mathematicians, my daughter will know and participate in a future that only visionaries like Péter dare to dream of.


Blowin' in the Wind: Bob Dylan's Outhouse Set List

From the Bizarre Habits of the Rich & Famous Department comes a tale of freewheelin' Bob Dylan stinking up the air around his posh Point Dume estates in Malibu. According to a story in today's L.A. Times, Mr. Zimmerman has refused neighbors' requests to take care of an odiferous outhouse that they say has been wafting the smell of waste their way for over six months. A city code enforcement officer looking into the matter was reportedly threatened with trespassing charges and turned away by Dylan's security staff.

Residents are doing what they can to repel the redolence, but the efforts of neighbors like David Emminger, who put five industrial-sized fans in his front yard to send the stench back to the singer/songwriter, are apparently no match for the ocean breeze. "It's a scandal." Emminger told the Times. "'Mr. Civil Rights' is killing our civil rights."

Malibu municipal officials are currently looking into the matter and can't comment during a pending investigation. In the meantime, here's a special Dylan sewage set list that says it all:

"Only a Hobo"
"If You Gotta Go, Go Now"
"Step it Up and Go"
"Nothing was Delivered"
"Open the Door, Homer"
"Blowin' in the Wind"
"Down Along the Cove"
"Rank Strangers to Me"
"Baby Stop Cryin'"
"Got My Mind Made Up"
"Ain't Talkin'"
"Outlaw Blues"


Tora Tora: Memphis Rocks Tonight

If I were to write my own metal magazine version of "Almost Famous," Tora Tora would figure large in the main act. They were one of the first "next generation" hard rock bands that I really liked, and when I was sent to Memphis to join them on the set of their first video in 1989 we quickly became friends. They were as excited to have a rock journalist who was into them as I was about being in on a local secret that I felt was going to be big.

Over the course of two trips to Memphis I got to visit the famous Ardent Studios, join the band for another shoot in one of the most run-down areas of Tennessee, sit with them on the banks of the Mississippi River, and try frog legs with them in a Hollywood, Mississippi restaurant that we drove through swampland to get to. To this day those experiences mark the best sense I have of what I consider the authentic South.

Tora Tora's first album "Surprise Attack" was a hit (it eventually went gold) and they left home for some extensive touring. We saw each other in Hollywood, California when they were in town, and when their second album "Wild America" came out in 1992. But a planned third album got lost in a corporate shuffle and as the guys neared their 30s they settled down with families and more conventional jobs.

I was happy as hell when I heard that the four of them had gotten together for Rocklahoma 2008, an annual five-day festival in Pryor, Oklahoma that draws about 30,000 fans a day. And when I found out that they were playing tonight at the New Daisy Theater, one of the old haunts of four old friends who decided it might be fun to hook up and rock again as old farts, I was seriously tempted to try to get myself out there somehow. Then the daddy and husband in me reminded me it wasn't quite realistic. But for those who do make it into the sold-out show, Memphis will be surely rocking tonight.


Reviving Sarah Silverman

So it's come to this. When news surfaced that Comedy Central was in a standoff against "The Sarah Silverman Program" because they wanted to cut the show's budget by over 20%, it gave me a better idea of how dire things are. Budget cuts have already resulted in one friend of mine getting a pay decrease and another having his Blackberry taken away. But trying to cut back on one of your most successful shows in an industry where hot sitcoms are perennially rewarded with increased budgets is telling, as is the fact that Comedy Central had to go to gay-oriented sister cable net Logo for co-financing.

Granted, everything is relative; the $1.1 million the show spends per episode is still more than most independent feature films. And you could almost hear Sarah Silverman in character as she played it humble after the deal was announced. "All we ever wanted was just to make our show," she told THR. "Nothing fancy--just our show."

(Photo: Joan Garvin)


44 Years of Stuff: "Life of Brian" Bumper Sticker

It was Friday, August 17, 1979, and one of the movie theaters in Westwood had thrown down the gauntlet; the first 100 people who came to see the first showing of "Monty Python's Life of Brian" on its opening day would receive a free T-shirt and bumper sticker. Heck, that alone was worth more than the inflated $5 we had to pay to go see a movie "over the hill."

A friend of mine and I were not about to let the fact that we were still a year away from driving age deter us from such a prize. So we got on our bicycles in the Valley and pedaled almost nine miles over Benedict Canyon in the hot August summer. I remember what a great relief it was to coast down the other side on the way to Westwood, and how some stiffness had already set into my muscles when the movie ended and we had to go back. I can't believe we took our bikes through such a dangerous pass, especially now that I know how aggressive things can get trying to drive a car through there as an adult. But I got my sticker, and the accompanying cheap tan T-shirt with a black-and-white "Life of Brian" poster shot ironed on to the front. I'm sure that's around here somewhere, too.


Stalking Kristen Schaal

I have to admit that I’ve kind of been on the fence about the sophomore season of “Flight of the Conchords,” in part because founders Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie seem to be taking quite a back seat to guest vocals by the rest of the cast this year.

But that changed in an instant when my 20-month-old daughter became enthralled with the song “Like in My Dreams” by Mel, the cute ’n’ creepy stalker on the show played by Kristen Schaal. We’ve watched it over 50 times in the last four days, sometimes five to 10 times in a row, and I’m still finding something new to laugh at every time. Its loopy surrealism has provided a welcome respite from our usual menu of Wiggles and “Peep.”

Schaal herself has a lot more funny going on. She was recently in “Mad Men” and “Ugly Betty,” graced “The Daily Show” as a contributing correspondent in 2008, and will appear on the big screen as Gertha Teeth in “Cirque du Freak” with Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly and Willem Dafoe later this year. She also has a great MySpace page where she harbors original videos (check out “Angry Erotic Sheep in the Woods” and the ongoing “Penelope Princess of Pets”) along with over 20,000 friends.

I wrote the actress on a whim to tell her how much my little girl was enjoying her FOTC song and was surprised and delighted to receive a personal response that included another recommendation. “That's really sweet,” she said. “If she gets bored of it I hear the kids are into this clip as well.”

The clip she sent was of a song by The Striking Viking Story Pirates called “Abbey is Sile” (sic) and features Schaal as a hyperactive six-year-old. I know my little girl is going to love it, but I’m keeping it in my back pocket until I need an ace. In the meantime, I hope Schaal’s star shines so brightly that we all need to wear protective goggles.


Roger McGuinn: Fanfare for the Creative Commons Man

It took the Byrds to make me realize there was more to 1960s rock than the Beatles, and their folk roots have continued to inform countless bands with each generation of new musicians. So I was happily surprised to learn that former lead Byrd Roger McGuinn, whom I was lucky enough to interview with the release of his vastly underrated (and only) solo album "Back to Rio" in 1991, has been keeping busy recording an ongoing selection of old folk songs now in the public domain and offering them up as free MP3s on his website McGuinn’s Folk Den every month since November of 1995. McGuinn also has a great 4-CD, 100-song box set of his favorites available, but the freebies have a wonderful lo-fi quality about them that harkens the era in which many of them were first recorded, like some previously undiscovered nuggets that fell out of Alan Lomax’s knapsack. This month's Great Depression-era offering of "Nobody Knows You" seems a particularly poignant mix of the timeless and the timely.

Other picks:
"Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad"
"Wild Mountain Thyme"


44 Years of Stuff: "Lancelot Link" View-Master Reels

Kicking off some entries on random things I've accumulated over the last 44 years, this is an original set of "Lancelot Link Secret Chimp" View-Master reels. Under the aegis of Commander Darwin, Lance and the agents of APE (Agency to Prevent Evil) battled the evil-doers of CHUMP (Criminal Headquarters for an Underworld Master Plan) from 1970 to 1972 from a building that looked suspiciously like the Cinerama Dome from the outside. Along the way they also rocked out as The Evolution Revolution (shades of the Guess Who!), which quickly followed the Banana Splits as my first exposure to rock music or psychedelia of any kind.

Though I was too young to know what the "secret code" on the front of the View-Master cover could be when I was six, as a pre-teen Cub Scout I finally realized it was Morse Code and solved it as follows: "Lancelot Link Secret Chimp makes you an APE agent."


Rabbit Hole Day

Mr. Starkey reached into the pocket of his grayish 1968 bell-bottoms with the red and yellow stripes and grimaced.

"I've got a rabbit hole in me pocket!"

"Sod off," the Walrus retorted. "Carroll's mine. Yellow matter Cheshire Hatter. Goo goo goo joob."

"What about the space between us all?" cried the Dark Horse. "And what is Wonderland without a Wonderwall?"

"Tweedledum, Ob-la-di, Tweedledee, Ob-la-da," Macca proclaimed triumphantly. "Elsie, Lacie, Tillie, Vera, Chuck and Dave!"

Happy Rabbit Hole Day.