Happy 70th birthday to the great Patti Smith!

[read in Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac” voice]

Happy birthday to writer and rock star Patricia Lee “Patti” Smith, born Chicago, Ill. 70 years ago today. Her family moved to Philadelphia and eventually New Jersey, where she was raised. Her mother was a devout Jehovah’s Witness which informed Patti’s religious views, both pro- and anti-.

After moving to New York in the late 1960s, she befriended artist Robert Mapplethorpe. The two were close until his death in 1989. Smith’s National Book Award-winning 2010 memoir “Just Kids” chronicled their friendship. She published another memoir, “M Train,” in 2015, in addition to more than dozen collections of poetry and lyrics.

mtrain_authorAfter writing and performing poetry for several years, Smith formed the Patti Smith Group in 1974, becoming an integral part of the New York punk and proto-punk scene. The group released the landmark album “Horses” in December 1975.

A dynamic, groundbreaking songwriter and performer, Smith fronted the group until 1979, after which she largely retired from the public eye to raise her family with her husband, ex-MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith.

She released a one-off comeback record, “Dream of Life,” in 1988. After the deaths of both her husband and brother Todd’ in 1994, Smith returned to the road in 1995, released the album “Gone Again” in 1996 and continued to record and tour ever since.

From  her radical reworking of Them’s “Gloria” to Motown tunes to Nirvana songs, covers have always been a huge part of the Patti Smith story and I have always loved the relationship between her and Bob Dylan. She never seemed afraid of him, or rather, never acted afraid of him, which is even cooler and he seemed to revel in her lack of care. I love the way both of them had no problems tying themselves up in the past and openly worshiping their idols, Patti being far more likely to cite her sources.

Here is a clip of Smith performing Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” at this year’s Nobel Prize Ceremony. Dylan won the 2016 prize for literature.


Remembering D. Boon on the 32nd anniversary of his death

On Dec. 22, 1985, Dennes Dale “D.” Boon, was killed in van accident in the Arizona desert. He was the guitarist and singer for the Minutemen, one of the very few punk bands you could call “the greatest” and not sound like a complete idiot. Indeed, the Minutemen were one of the best rock bands America ever produced, period.

For those who know their work, this is self-evident.

One of the greatest double albums ever made.
One of the greatest double albums ever made.

Over four albums (one of them a double), seven or eight (it’s complicated) EPs and a few collections, the Minutemen were total art and total activism boiling down the power trio to its bare essentials, ditching verse-chorus for blurts from the underground.

Blue-collar Commies from San Pedro, Calif., the Minutemen worked insanely hard all the time but made every second look like play. I am never, ever not energized by their music; it never fails to put me in a good mood or make me thing the unconquerable can be handled.

Boon’s impossibly trebly guitar (which he played with a frantic, jazzman fluidity), Mike Watt’s ductile bass and George Hurley’s skittering drum rolls smash into each other like gleeful bros in the world’s woke-est mosh pit. People talk about  Watt and Hurley as punk’s all-time greatest rhythm section and that’s valid, but I also think it misses the point of their band-ness. They were an insanely democratic in both their move-as-a-unit playing and in their songcraft; everyone wrote for everyone else, including lyrics.

Here is a great performance of “The Anchor,” a song I need to hear about once every couple of months


After Boon’s death, Watt and Hurley played from 1986 to 1994 in the more straight-ahead fIREHOSE, then Watt started a solo career that continues to this day, playing under his own name and with various outfits. The 59-year old remains one of the hardest working punks in showbusiness.

Very little in their catalog has aged a day. If you know them, you know this. If you do not, I am jealous that you get to hear them for the first time.

To listen the Minutemen is to think that being in a rock band is the most honorable profession in the world and this band was the most honorable of all.

‘The OA,’ ‘Jackie,’ ‘Assassin’s Creed’ and Santa vs. the 21st century

What is everyone talking about this week? “The OA.” This Netflix series, which seemed to come out of absolutely nowhere, stars Brit Marling as a once-blind woman who reappears seven years later with her sight mysteriously restored. And that is the least weird thing that happens, as co-creators Marling and Zal Batmanglij drop the viewer into a deeply odd sci-fi/metaphysical stew involving Russians, near death experiences and Things Man Was Maybe Not Meant To Know. It might be the oddest TV show since “John from Cincinnati” (Surely someone remembers that one). And man alive, people are hacked off about the ending. (Out now.)

asscreedposter“Assassin’s Creed.” Based on the smash-hit video game series of the same name, with Michael Fassbender as a man who finds out he is descended from … wait for it … a 15th century Spanish assassin and is able to experience his ancestor’s adventures. With actual good actors such as Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson and Michael K. Williams. (Dec. 21)

“Jackie.” Directed by Chilean director Pablo Larraín from a script by “Divergent” series screenwriter Noah Oppenheim, this film stars Natalie Portman as the very recently widowed Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy — and you better believe ol’ Nat read up on the lady. (Dec. 21)

“Sing.” Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly and many, many more provide the voices for this animated, funny-animal film about a singing contest held by a koala to keep his theater from closing. From the production company, but not the creative team, that made the “Despicable Me” and “The Secret Life of Pets” movies. (Dec. 21)

klaus01  “Klaus and The Witch of Winter” by Grant Morrison and Dan Mora (Boom! Studio).  A one-off sequel to “Klaus,” Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s amazing, seven-issue riff on the secret, superheroic origin of Santa Claus. “The Witch of Winter”puts the character in modern times. It would surprise exactly nobody if Morrison and Mora made such stand-alone stories an annual tradition. Fans of the heroic tradition and the magic of Christmas would certainly welcome it. (Dec. 23)

“Why Him?” Bryan Cranston, who might be turning into the Shatner of the 2010s, stars as a dad who meets his college-age daughter’s boyfriend, a deeply odd tech bro billionaire. (James Franco). Points off for the title, because “The dude is a billionaire” is a pretty good answer to any instance of asking “why him?” (Dec. 23)

“Elle.” A rape revenge film based on Philippe Dijan’s novel “Oh…” directed by 78-year-old Paul Verhoeven and starring Isabelle Huppert. Because nothing says Christmas like a Paul Verhoeven rape-revenge picture. (Dec. 23)




This week: “Star,” “La La Land” and the return of “The Man in the High Castle”

star_promo_title_card“Star” (Fox). Another music drama from “Empire” creator Lee Daniels, this one seems to be about a female R&B trio based in Atlanta rather than an NYC hip-hop dynasty. With Benjamin Bratt and Queen Latifah; look for guest spots from Naomi Campbell and Lenny Kravitz. The show premieres this month and returns in January. (Dec. 14)

  “La La Land.” Written and directed by Damien “Whiplash” Chazelle, “La La Land” stars Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt and J. K. Simmons in an old-school, classic Hollywood-style musical that Chazelle made for $20 million. (Dec. 16)

seriously, read the book
seriously, read the book

  “The Man in the High Castle” (Amazon). It isn’t clear if America will really, really not be in the mood for the second season of a fantasy series in which the Axis won World War II — or if they really, really will be. Either way, the show is completely different from Philip K. Dick’s novel, which is one of my all-time favorite books. (Dec. 16)

 Tony Bennett, “Tony Bennett Celebrates 90” (Columbia/Legacy). This year has been an utter trash fire of celebrity deaths, but this dude is still with us and celebrates with an 18-song compilation; there is also an Amazon-exclusive three-CD deluxe edition. (Dec. 16).

The Kinks, “The Mono Collection” (Sanctuary). Well, everyone from the Beatles to the Stones has released contemporary, mono LP collections of their classic albums, so the most underrated band of its era (at least in the States) might as well join in. This is a 10-LP set of 180-gram vinyl that covers 1964 to 1969, including “Live aAt Kelvin Hall” and the double LP compilation “The Kinks” (aka tThe Black Album), and also includes a hardcover 48-page book. Expect to pay about $200. (Dec. 16)

David Murray, “The Complete Remastered Recordings Volume 3” (Black Saint/Soul Note). A six-CD box set covering some 1980s work by one of the best jazzmen of his generation. (Dec. 16)

Rush, “2112 (40th Anniversary)” (Anthem/Mercury / UMe). The band’s classic (especially if you really like Ayn Rand) 1976 album in a remastered two-CD, one-DVD set with live and previously unreleased material, plus, for reasons that pass understanding, covers from Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins, Alice in Chains and Steven Wilson. (Dec. 16)

Patton Oswalt and Ali Wong among headliners for 2017 Moontower Comedy fest

Ali Wong (photo: Moontower Comedy)
Ali Wong (photo: Moontower Comedy)

Patton Oswalt, Ali Wong and Ralphie May are just a few comics coming to the sixth annual Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival, festival producers announced today. The fest takes place at theater and clubs in Austin April 19-22, 2017.

Festival badges ranging from Club Show & Podcast-only badges to full VIP access will be on sale Friday, December 9 at noon CT here.

Comedy fans might know Wong from her tremendous Netflix special “Baby Cobra,” which she performed while nearly eight months pregnant. She also appears on the ABC show “American Housewife” and writes for “Fresh Off the Boat.”

Oswalt, who picked up an Emmy for his special “Talking for Clapping,” will be performing at the Paramount Theatre, as well as comedian Ralphie May who will host the 2017’s midnight show. He has been open about his grief regarding the loss of his wife, true crime author Michelle McNamara, earlier this year and penned both this extraordinary essay and this wonderful piece about single parenthood.

In its sixth year, the festival will be expanding its love podcast offerings. Look for a headlining presentation of “My Favorite Murder,” hosted by Emmy-winning comedian Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark.

The comedy podcast providing a dark comedy look at murders, both solved and unsolved.

Patton Oswalt (photo: Moontower Comedy)
Patton Oswalt (photo: Moontower Comedy)

Other podcasts include “Guys We (Expletive)” with Krystyna Hutchinson and Corinne Fisher, “Kill Tony” with Tony Hinchcliffe, “Sklarbro Country” with The Sklar Brothers, “The Fighter and The Kid” with Brendan Schaub and Bryan Callen, “Bitch Sesh: A Real Housewives Breakdown” with Casey Wilson and Danielle Schneider,”Legion of Skanks” with Jay Oakerson, “About Last Night” with Brad Williams and Adam Ray and “The Bonfire” with Big Jay Oakerson and Dan Soder.

Also look for many of the signature Moontower club shows and a few new ones, including the Goddamn Comedy Jam; Shebang; New York’s Finest; the Tinkle Twins; 7 Minutes in Purgatory, where comedians perform material in a sound proof booth away from the audience and the Boast Rattle, a head-to-head roast-style competitive compliment contest.

Additional performers, including headliners as well as Austin Towers (the ‘best of’ Austin lineup), are still to be announced. Lineup is subject to change.  Badges go on sale noon Dec. 9 at  www.moontowercomedyfest.com, the Paramount Theatre box office or call (512) 474-1221.

Here is who that Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival has locked up so far:

Adam Ray

Ali Wong

Aparna Nancherla

Arden Myrin

Barry Crimmins

Brad Williams

Brendan Schaub

Bryan Callen

Caitlin Gill

Casey Wilson

Corinne Fisher

Chris Cubas

Chris Garcia

Chris Porter

Dan Soder

Dana Gould

Daniel Koren

Danielle Schneider

DJ Douggpound

Dom Irrera

Drew Michael

Erica Rhodes

Georgia Hardstark

Guy Branum

Ian Abramson

Ian Karmel

James Davis

Jake Weisman

Jay Oakerson

Josh Adam Meyers

Josh Johnson

Karen Kilgariff

Krystyna Hutchinson

Kurt Metzger

Kyle Ayers

Lashonda Lester

Matt Bearden

Matt Ingebretson

Melissa Villasenor

Michelle Collins

Michelle Wolf

Mike MacRae

Patton Oswalt

Ralphie May

Rojo Perez

Sarah Tiana

The Sklar Brothers

Tony Hinchcliffe

Wendy Liebman


And these podcasts:


This week in pop culture: A new Expanse book, ‘Hairspray Live!’ and a new Neil Young

corey_babylonsashes_hc“Babylon’s Ashes” by James S. A. Corey (Orbit). The sixth book in Corey’s hit space opera known as the Expanse series. The series has been turned into a show on Syfy called “Expanse,” for which one imagines they are hoping for a “Battlestar: Galactica”-type audience. (Dec. 6)

“Hairspray Live!” (NBC). NBC really loves these live musicals, huh? With Jennifer Hudson, Harvey Fierstein, Kristin Chenoweth, Ariana Grande and more, starring newcomer Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad. (Dec. 7)

Donny Most, “Swinging Down the Chimney Tonight” (Summit). You might recall Most played Ralph Malph on “Happy Days;” I put this five-song holiday EP here mostly because he co-stars in Owen Edgerton’s sort-of-Christmas movie “Follow,” which is now on iTunes.  (Dec. 9)

Not one of his more thrilling album covers, huh?
Not one of his more thrilling album covers, huh?

Neil Young, “Peace Trail” (Reprise). Young’s 37th album overall and second of 2016 (following the live album “Earth”) is reportedly a mostly acoustic album, cut in four days, with drummer Jim Keltner and bass guitarist Paul Bushnell. (Dec. 9)

“Miss Sloane.” Jessica Chastain stars as a hard-charging D.C. lobbyist in this Franco-American thriller directed by John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”). With Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Michael Stuhlbarg, which seems like a very strong cast for a movie with virtually no buzz. (Dec. 9)

“Office Christmas Party.” When an uptight CEO (Jennifer Aniston) tries to close the office run by her goof-off brother (T. J. Miller), he and his staff must throw a total rager to save their jobs. As often happens in these situations. You may have seen Aniston on a really terrible episode of “Saturday Night Live” on Dec. 3 promoting this very film. (Dec. 9)