Saying 'okey-dokey'/singalonga Smokey/Coming out of chokey
When British New Wavers Ian Dury and the Blockheads were scaling the charts in 1979 with Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 3), the rock group Smokie bumped into Dury at an airport and thanked him for including their obscure band on his list. Dury responded with good cheer, not letting on that his lyric referred, of course, to Smokey Robinson. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rD9AFG1GdgI
Dury's example of keen wit, social criticism and generosity of spirit inspires the following reasons for cheer during this tough holiday season.
1. Off-Ramp. 89.3-KPCC Saturdays 12-1pm, Sundays 7-8pm and archived here. Omnivorous host John Rabe finds stories wherever his mind and feet take him, and his award-winning show mixes the gritty with the beautiful with the comical. One minute he's arguing about Whittier Boulevard architecture with Americana expert Charles Phoenix; the next he's supervising Queena Kim (Off-Ramp's producer/reporter)/Frank Stoltze/Jackson Musker's documentary The Ashes of Oakridge, a hard look at the 2008 destruction of the Oakridge mobile home park by fire last year; then, lest things get too serious, he gets marine biologist Milton Love to explain how tracking fish helped him understand alien abductions. Rabe's blog is also a must-read.
2. CyberFrequencies Rabe evidently doesn't keep his producer busy enough, so earlier this year Kim teamed up with Tanya Jo Miller to launch this innovative web and technology podcast for non-techies on iTunes. (It also airs on Off-Ramp.) Segments have featured Moldovan activists using Twitter to stage a protest (months before a similar story in Iran played out on the world stage); Ann Minch and her Debtors Revolt -- one woman's YouTube quest to take down the big banks; and "Digital Daddies," a humorous take on the Fortune Tech Brainstorm. CyberFrequencies, which covers the web and technology as culture rather than mere gigs, bytes and pixels, demonstrates that the digital revolution isn't as much about companies like Google and Microsoft as about us everyday users.
3. Andrew Loog Oldham. XM Sirius Satellite Radio has become a kind of rock-and-roll heaven on earth, with iconic artists turning us on to their favorite tracks and telling stories we'd never hear otherwise. Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour is the godhead of the form, and Steve Van Zandt (creator of Little Steven's Underground Garage, one of the greatest rock stations of all time), Steve Earle, Graham Parker, Tom Petty and others also have -- or have had -- their own shows. I especially love Andrew Loog Oldham's daily broadcasts on Underground Garage. Oldham managed and produced the Rolling Stones from 1963-1967 (Marianne Faithful too!). From his virtual headquarters in Bogota, he spins sets that might begin with a little-known Who or Kinks track, progress to Kate Winslet by the Silver Brazilians and Del Shannon's Little Town Flirt and end by swinging from the Ronettes to the Noisettes, whose lead singer, Shingai Shoniwa, he describes as "the voice, the voice...Diana Ross meets Eartha Kitt today." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnxQMAmv3gU
Oldham's eclectic sensibility and droll philosophizing make his shows that much more fun. When he calls us "darlings" or "luv" while giving his current take on Beatles ("They never had to look over their shoulders") vs. Stones, he transports us to a special world in which the British Invasion co-exists with Sarah Palin, whom he describes as a "feral idiot."
4. Toni Bentley Former Balanchine ballerina and author of five New York Times Notable Books and countless reviews and essays in The Times Book Review, The New Republic, Playboy et al., Bentley has become the go-to writer on things balletic and for Parkeresque wit and take-no-prisoners commentary on sex. Last month, she branched out with "The Bad Lion," a stunning NYRB essay with photos about "Satan," a great cat she encountered on an African safari.
5. David Mellon's mysterious paintings and drawings have been described as dreamlike, creepy and bursting with humanity. He doesn't care about money or fame -- in fact he pretty much hates having to part with his works, preferring to keep them home as roommates. A few years ago I persuaded him to sell me a painting of a child of 10 or so who looks uncannily like I did at that age. I say uncannily because he painted it long before we met.
6. Nancy Fierro (Sister Nancy until she left the Convent to pursue her own spiritual path several years ago) Dr. Fierro -- who studied with Nadia Boulanger -- performs, composes, gives master classes and lectures about classical music all over Southern California. She's recorded four wonderful CDs, two of which emphasize her passion for women composers from Hildegard of Bingen to various ragtimers whose music rivals Scott Joplin's.
7. To complete the cheerful circle: Reasons To Be Cheerful: The Life And Work Of Barney Bubbles, by journalist Paul Gorman. The first, definitive collection of the work of the graphic genius responsible for classic record packages of Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and many other heroes, including, yes, Ian Dury. Foreward by Billy Bragg.