Friday, January 27, 2017

Mary Tyler Moore and the Mark Twain Prize

In 2010 I came up with a list of folks who should get the Mark Twain Prize. In 2011 I argued certain comedians should have gotten the award before Will Ferrell. As a lifetime achievement award, it cannot be posthumously given, and some of these folks are old, and Ferrell (if he deserves it) was only 44 when he got it.

Since then, silence. So, in brief: I was glad to see Bill Murray get it this past year for 2016. Indifferent to Eddie Murphy’s 2015 win. Not so glad to see Jay Leno receive it in 2014. Very happy to see Carol Burnett (who had been on my list in 2010) get the award in 2013. Indifferent to Ellen DeGeneres’ 2012 win.

Mary Tyler Moore had been on my original lists, and I find it somewhat tragic she did not get the award (especially before Jay Leno or, again, Will Ferrell). 

Others from my list have been lost along the way as well, such as Joan Rivers, Sid Caesar, and Robin Williams. So I decided to update and expand the list to 15:

1.      Betty White, 95. I mean, come on. She’s been around longer than anyone has iconic status for good reason.

2.      Dick Van Dyke, 91. He is so talented – one of the great physical comedians. The plots of The Dick Van Dyke Show were clever, and he was always so sincere. And Mary Poppins!

3.      Mel Brooks, 90. Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, The Producers. The man worked with Sid Caesar and won an EGOT.

4.      Mort Sahl, 89. He wrote jokes for Kennedy. I know his work afterwards (he has doubts about the assassination) is problematic – but this award would be a great way to bury the hatchet. The guy practically invented modern stand-up comedy.

5.      Tom Lehrer, 88. He wants to be remembered for mathematics, and that’s nice and all, but his comedy recordings are part of the National Recording Registry, and his math isn’t.

6.      Dick Gregory, 84. Admittedly, I suppose most people haven’t thought much about Gregory since the 60s, when he was on fire as a great envelope-pushing comedian. Really, he’s the only one who used it as a form of activism in the Civil Rights era, which is pretty remarkable.

7.      The Smothers Brothers, 79+77. After a string of noteworthy comedy albums they got their own show, The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour, which helped change the comedic landscape of television.

8.      Garrison Keillor, 74. Honestly? Not a huge fan. But I would respect his induction as a uniquely American comedic voice for the residents of Lake Woebegone.

9.      Matt Groening, 62. The Simpsons, alone. But let’s not forget the off-beat Life in Hell or Futurama. And he got Conan O’Brien started.

10.  Harvey Fierstein, 62. A pretty big force in Broadway’s comedy world. His play La Cage Aux Folles successfully crossed into film and Kinky Boots won Best Musical. And Hairspray proved his acting chops.

11.  Julia-Louis Dreyfus, 56. She started out on SNL, then Seinfeld (which I don’t like, but whatever), and kept her career going with Veep. All earning a record *twenty-two* Emmy nominations.

12.  Jon Stewart, 54. Basically changed how media, news, and television works. Fought an eight year crusade against George W. Bush and spawned Samantha Bee, John Oliver, and Stephen Colbert.

13.  Janeane Garofolo, 52. Remember the 90s? Remember when Garofolo was the coolest new comedian on the block?

14.  Chris Rock, 51. He’s had a great standup career. His television and movie work is mixed, but usually he’s one of the highlights of whatever he’s in.

15.  Louis C.K, 49. Admittedly, C.K. is my only under-50 comedian, just because he has been so very influential in such a short period of time. There’s a reason he consistently ranks as one of the best standup comedians out there, and his show Louie was sufficiently incredible to win a Peabody.

Of special note – there are a bunch of great female comedians out there today, and, if we’re going to break the rules, you could easily swap my 15th, Louis C.K., for Amy Poehler, Sara Silverman, Margaret Cho, Tig Notaro, or many others. It’s sad that Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, and especially Mary Tyler Moore (and many others) didn’t get the award while they were alive – the trailblazing comedians who made it possible for the rising generation of women in comedy. (Luckily a few have, Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin. But there’s a big age gap between them and the new guard.)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Ideal High School Curriculum

Every few years, it seems, I revisit this concept. Last time I did was the summer of 2015. So here, once again, is an updated - though potentially subject to change - view of how I think U.S. high schools should actually function. At least for which courses students would be required to take (with a few variants for the super-advanced or struggling) throughout four years.

*Sorry for the table formatting - can't seem to fix it!*

Required Courses
World History: Middle Ages to 20th Century. Includes Geography.
Performance Art: Dance, Music, Theater.
Physical Education and Health – Anatomy and Physiology, Physical Diseases.
Planetary Science: Astronomy and the Big Bang to Geology, Climate Science.
Logic and Algebra: Variables and Expressions, Linear Equations.
World Literature: Middle Ages to 20th Century.
Foreign Language I / ESL I
World History: 20th Century. Includes Geography.
Visual Art: 2D, 3D.
Physical Education and Health – Gender and Sexuality, Sexual Education.
Biology: Cells and Genetics to Evolution, Environmental Science. Alternate: AP Biology, Env Sci
Logic and Geometry: Euclidean.
World Literature: 20th Century.
Foreign Language II / ESL II
American History: Native Americans to Present. Alternate: AP U.S. Hist.
Performance / Visual Art Elective. Alternate: AP Art History, Music Theory, Studio Arts (2D, 3D, Drawing)
Physical Education and Health – Psychological and Psychiatric Conditions.
Chemistry:  Atoms and Elements to Compounds and Molecules. Alternate: AP Chem
Probability and Statistics: Data collection, plotting, Significance, Misuse and Detection, Correlation and Causation.
American Literature: ½ Prior to 20th Century, ½ 20th Century.
Foreign Language III / ESL III. Alternate: AP Chn, Fr, Ger, It, Jap, Lat, Sp Lan, Sp Lit
American Government: Includes Hum Rights. Alternate: AP Gov: U.S.
Economics: Budgeting, Taxes, Stocks. Alternate: AP Micro, Macro
Psychology and Ethics: Developmental Psych, Epistemology, Ethics. Alternate: AP Psych, Euro Hist, World Hist, Comp Gov, Hum Geo
Physics: Newtonian, Relativity, Quantum. Alternate: AP Phys 1+2, Elect, Mec
Pre-Calculus: Logarithms, Radicals, Functions, Trigonometry/ Calculus: Limits, Differentials, Integrals
English Electives. Alternate: AP Eng Lang, Eng Lit
Computer Science: Programming, Web Design. Alternate: AP Comp Sci, Comp Sci Prin

After School (Any years) (three years required):


Cooking/Nutrition – One semester
Parenting – One semester
Home Economics: Basic plumbing, maintenance, gardening, recycling, carpentry– One year
College Prep, Job Skills and Rhetoric – One year


Yearbook – One year
Driver’s Ed – One semester
Drama Production – One Semester (can supersede a semester of a year-long required.) Limit four.

Sport: Team – Seasonal (can supersede anything else, ‘cause why fight it? It's not going away.)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - I'ma Let You Finish

But here are some of the best bands and artists of all time! You should induct them right away.

You're welcome!

Graham Parsons
Roxy Music
Dionne Warwick
Jethro Tull
Richard and Linda Thompson

Tim Buckley
Whitney Houston
Sonic Youth
The Cars

Cyndi Lauper
The Eurhythmics
The Bangles
The Pixies
Lee “Scratch” Perry

The Smiths
Sinead O’Connor
The Cure
Sugarhill Gang
Peter Tosh
Def Leppard

The Modern Lovers
Aphex Twin
The B-52s
Emerson, Lake, and Palmer
Nick Drake
The Replacements

Jeff Buckley
Jay Z
Tracy Chapman
Fatboy Slim
PJ Harvey
Jane’s Addiction

The Zombies
The White Stripes
Ry Cooder

Tangerine Dream
Joy Division/New Order
A Tribe Called Quest
Alanis Morissette
Wu-Tang Clan

The Strokes
The Fugees
Big Star
The Stone Roses

Fiona Apple
T. Rex
Quicksilver Messenger Service
The Decemberists
The Chemical Brothers
Depeche Mode

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band
The Meters
King Crimson
Snoop Dogg
Massive Attack

Arcade Fire
Nine Inch Nails
Kanye West
The Smashing Pumpkins

My Bloody Valentine
The Flaming Lips

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


I have thought long and hard.

And by that, I mean, I spent an afternoon a week ago on this.

Many a time I have distilled / compared / listed / compiled American music. The problem, of course, is that I'm always learning more, and with new discoveries I come up with reshufflings of the deck.

So there's a mixed metaphor blown to hell.

A little while ago, for example, I came up with a 300-song playlist of American music. But that's rather daunting.

This, then, is a sort of shortened version of 100 Essential American Musicians, with an overly-simplified quick description, and a YouTube link for each (except, you know, Prince.) Yay!

(Note - no classical composers included, 'cause that gets too complicated too fast.)

These are not hierarchical, nor chronological, but instead alphabetical, to be sufficiently randomized for your enjoyment. Here goes!

Marian Anderson - With her operatic voice Anderson elevated the spiritual to new heights.
Louis Armstrong - The riff at the start? That's the birth of jazz where soloists improvise.
Clarence Ashley - One of the most influential folk musicians of the early recording era.
Gene Autry - The transition of country music out of Appalachia is largely due to Autry.
Burt Bacharach - He wrote hits that made others famous, developing a unique pop sound.
Joan Baez - Released her first folk album before Dylan, and stuck with the genre as well.
Count Basie - Brought Harlem swing to Kansas City, and outlasted everyone.
The Beach Boys - Transformed the nascent pop sound of the 60s with studio wizardry.
Lead Belly - Weirdly uncategorizable blues / country / folk pioneer from Texas.
Tony Bennett - His longevity makes him second only to Sintra in the class of crooners.
Irving Berlin - Astonishingly prolific, he brought American music to the world.
Chuck Berry - It's thanks to Berry that rock and roll deals with hot rods, teens, and guitars.
Eubie Blake - From popular rags to co-writing the first African American Broadway show.
James Brown - Brown defined R&B and in the process laid the groundwork for funk.
The Byrds - The American answer to the British Invasion.
Hoagy Carmichael - Besides his prolific output, 'Stardust' alone should cement his place.
The Carter Family - Brought spirituals and gospel to the early days of folk and bluegrass.
Johnny Cash - Another genre-defier, Cash is claimed by both rock and country fans.
Ray Charles - By mixing R&B with gospel Charles created soul music that moves.
Patsy Cline - Country songs made for the Vegas showroom, thereby transforming it.
Nat King Cole - During the 40s Cole turned jazz from big bands to small combos.
John Coltrane - After bop Coltrane perfected modal jazz' wondrous sheets of sounds.
Sam Cooke - Cooke was the greatest songwriter of soul and R&B.
Miles Davis - Late Miles fused two of America's defining musical styles: rock and jazz.
Fats Domino - Strings back him up - typical today - but then unprecedented.
Bob Dylan - America's Nobel Laureate songwriter.
DukeEllington - One of America's composer-geniuses, and the most-covered jazz artist.
Jose Feliciano - Helped bring Puerto Rico's mellow side mainstream. And 'Feliz Navidad'.
Ella Fitzgerald - Her golden voice brought the songs of the 30s to the Boomers.
Foggy Mountain Boys - Led by Flatt and Scruggs they brought bluegrass mainstream.
Aretha Franklin - Franklin's soul music made her both a civil rights and feminist icon.
Marvin Gaye - Making R&B politically conscious opened the doors for followers.
George Gershwin - Elevated jazz to the level of classical, and folk to the level of opera.
Dizzy Gillespie - After popularizing bebop he brought Afro-Caribbean rhythms to jazz.
Benny Goodman - An integrated band went to Carnegie Hall and got white folks to swing.
Grateful Dead - And, lo, the 15+ minute improvisational jam rock band was born.
Woody Guthrie - I mean, his populist songs are taught to schoolchildren across the nation.
WC Handy - The first significant jazz recording artist of the century, emulated by many.
Jimi Hendrix - One of the most gifted guitarists of any genre, and psychedelic rock's king.
Billie Holiday - Played a significant role in blending blues and jazz now taken for granted.
Holland Dozier Holland - Motown's unstoppable songwriting trio wrote nearly all the hits.
Burl Ives - Before he became 'Holly Jolly' he popularized many American folk standards.
Mahalia Jackson - Jackson ushered gospel music through the civil rights era.
Michael Jackson - King of pop music, and the world's best selling solo artist.
Robert Johnson - Delta blues legend who was widely copied and covered into the rock era.
Blind Willie Johnson - This recording may be the purest blues ever captured.
Janis Joplin - America's great songwriter of the hippy movement.
Scott Joplin - The great-grandfather of jazz with his piano roll rags.
Louis Jordan - His jump blues paved the way for the uptempo rock and roll that followed.
John Kander and Fred Ebb - Shows like "Chicago" and "Cabaret" remade the Broadway.
BB King - Hailed as one of the great guitarists, King updated the blues for new audiences.
Carole King - Songwriter par excellence, her work created an upheaval in the early 70s.
Hector Lavoe - Puerto Rico's salsa icon was instrumental to every major act of the era.
Henry Mancini - And the definitive sound of the American movie soundtrack is born.
Johnny Mercer - Four Academy Award wins - nineteen nominations. Song-writing legacy.
Metallica - Punk had died - something had to pick up the torch.
CharlesMingus - The top of the hard bop and post-bop composers.
Thelonious Monk - Monk's slight output is one of the most revered and covered in jazz.
Bill Monroe - Split bluegrass off as its own distinct genre from country.
Jelly Roll Morton - Morton is the exemplar of the early New Orleans style of jazz.
Billy Murray - Murray was America's first hugely popular first recording star.
Willie Nelson - Outlaw Nelson moved country away from symphonies back to roots.
Nirvana - Grunge helped define the 90s, and made rock do a 180 away from the 80s.
NWA - The hiphop equivalent of punk - an angry, powerful voice that shaped a decade.
Charlie Parker - Bebop's icon, and the form's foremost practitioner.
Les Paul and Mary Ford - Paul made the guitar, Ford displayed his multi-track recording.
Cole Porter - America's cleverest lyricist who dominated Broadway and popular song.
Elvis Presley - Mixed in his country boy roots to give rock and roll its missing ingredient.
Prince - Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who redefined R&B and rock through fusion.
Public Enemy - The first politically and socially conscious rap group.
Tito Puente - His popularity made him the main proponent of Caribbean music's influence.
The Ramones - Arguably perfected in England, punk began in America.
Little Richard - "[S]omething could be louder than that... And I found out it was me."
Eck Robertson - The first country recordings were made by Robertson in the 1920s.
Paul Robeson - Robeson's operatic voice for civil rights later had him blacklisted.  
Smokey Robinson and The Miracles - Helped define the Motown sound with tons of hits.
Jimmie Rodgers - Yodeling didn't have to be a part of country music.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein - "Oklahoma". "The Sound of Music". Legacy.
Run DMC - Run DMC broke the barriers and records - the last hiphop group to rock.
Carlos Santana - After Ritchie Valens, Latin rock remained dormant until Santana.
Pete Seeger - In 1947 he changed "I Will Overcome" to "We Shall Overcome" and...
The Shirelles - The original girl group, creating songs that became standards.
Nina Simone - Sometimes a louder, angrier voice is needed to sing truth to power.
Frank Sinatra - King of the crooners, the smooth vocals of jazz, the pop standards...
Bessie Smith - The first great blues singer. Her songs brought those pleading tones.
Patti Smith - The great-godmother of punk also ushered in spoken-word poetry to rock.
Stephen Sondheim - Broadway legend: "West Side Story", "Sweeney Todd", "Company".
Roy Rogers - Roy Rogers' was the face of Western music - in film, and later television. 
Bruce Springsteen - After the 60s introspection he brought rock back to teens in cars.
Barbara Streisand - Icon vocalist of stage and screen.
The Supremes - Record-breaking #1 hit machine, The Supremes became essential.
Talking Heads - No New Wave group captured the existential feel of the era quite so well.
James Taylor - His work led to a host of imitators in the 70s and beyond.
The Temptations - The Temptations were able to adapt and innovate through the 60s.
The Velvet Underground - Defiantly wrote about sex, drugs, and violence before anyone.
Muddy Waters - Electrified blues, made it relevant to a generation, brought it to Chicago.
Kanye West - The first significant rapper of the post-NWA (post-gangsta) period.
Hank Williams - Williams wrote original tunes, whose style was quickly copied.
Howlin Wolf - Influential blues singer of his time, and composer of many a standard.
Stevie Wonder - Talented multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who defined a decade.