Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Decade!

Although the media has hardly noticed, today is the last day of the decade I call the Naughts (I think they think it ended last year, which is incorrect). Over all, I think the Naughts were a very bland decade, much less flashy than say the Sixties or the Eighties. Even the Nineties I think were more interesting. But then the Naughts had much that made it different from other decades.

For myself, this would be the first decade I would spend without my parents. My mother died in October 2000, just shy of seeing the new decade and new century in. For myself this meant a huge change in my life. My sister is much older than I am, and had married while I was still very much a child. My brother was pursuing his own path. As a result, I found myself caring for my mother, very much a part of the Sandwich Generation. It would take a toll on my personal life, but I do not think I would have had it any other way. Regardless, the loss of my mother meant a very big change in the role in which I saw myself. I was no longer a caretaker, so I had to essentially redefine myself. Now that 10 years have passed, I find I am redefining myself again. I have decided to try to make a living at what I was born to do: writing.

As to the world beyond myself, perhaps the biggest impact on pop culture was the growth of the internet. The internet had been around since the late Sixties and the World Wide Web since the mid-Nineties, but the Naughts would see phenomenal growth. As the decade passed more and more people began accessing the internet by broadband. The higher speeds of broadband allowed for the rise of video sharing sites like YouTube. The various broadcast networks, such as the BBC, ITV, NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox began offering their shows on the internet. Cable channels such as TNT and USA did as well. Netflix, the video rental site, also began allowing movies to be viewed on the internet.

While social networking sites had existed in some form since the Nineties, the Naughts would see a phenomenal rise in their popularity. First MySpace and then Facebook became very popular, creating a new form of communication for many. Towards the end of the decade Twitter would arrive on the scene, creating the phenomenon of microblogging. Blogging, which had been around since the Nineties, would become a bit of a fad in the years 2004 and 2005, giving rise to thousands of blogs (including this one). By the end of the decade blogging would be an established part of pop culture and an important source of information for many.

Relatively uncommon at the start of the decade, cell phones would become as common, if not more so than landline phones. What is more, as the decade passed, cell phones would become more and more powerful, with more and more functions. In the early Naughts, it was remarkable if a cell phone had a camera. By the end of the decade cell phones would be capable of accessing the internet, and would essentially become, micro-computers.

In film computer generated imagery came to dominate. In many films it was used to create special effects, replacing the models and even make up of old. Computer animated films tended to be more popular than traditional cel animation. The success of Spider-Man in 2000 led to a new cycle of superhero films, including a revived Batman franchise, a new Superman movie, an Iron Man franchise, and the decidedly adult Watchmen. Epics of all sorts were popular during the Naughts, including Peter Jackson's adaptation of Lord of the Rings, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and The Matrix trilogy. A new cycle of fantasy movies also came about, embracing both animated films (the Shrek franchise, How to Train Your Dragon) and live action (the Harry Potter films and Lord of the Rings). Independent films grew more popular, from Little Miss Sunshine to Juno.

In music rap dominated the early part of the decade before, thankfully, heading towards extinction in the latter part of the decade. Power pop would make a comeback, with such new bands as Farrah, Hellogoodbye, OK Go, My Chemical Romance, The 88, and Throwback Suburbia. Heavy metal, indie rock (which was often power pop), and post punk also made comebacks. Synthpop would also make a noticeable comeback, particularly in one of the biggest artists to emerge at the end of the decade. Lady Gaga borrows a good deal from Eighties synthpop in her songs. R&B would come to dominate the charts in a way it had not since the Sixties. Many new artists made their way to superstardom. Lady Gaga would even be included in Time magasines 100 Most Influential People. Taylor Swift would emerge as country's only real superstar of the decade. Katy Perry would become one of the most popular pop rock performers. Digital technology would revolutionise the sale of music, with many songs downloaded from a computer rather than bought on CD, through programmes such as Napster and ITunes. The rise of video sharing sites would mark the rebirth of the music video, abandoned by MTV early in the decade.

Television in the Naughts would be rather depressing. For much of the decade American broadcast television was dominated by police procedurals (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Law & Order, Criminal Minds), reality shows, and talent competition shows (American Idol). While I liked many of the police procedurals (I am a big Law and Order fan), I despised many of the reality shows, many of which are simply exploitative. Cable finally caught up with the broadcast networks, producing such hit shows as Mad Men, Burn Notice, Leverage, and Nip/Tuck. For the broadcast networks and the cable channels alike, the biggest change may have been the increase in the number of people connecting to the internet via broadband. As a result, many shows would be watched on the network and cable channels' web sites, as well as downloaded through programmes such as ITunes or sites such as Amazon.

As far as literature, the Naughts may be remembered as the Decade of Harry Potter. The Harry Potter series became the smash hit of the decade, selling in numbers usually only reserved for the Bible. The book series would produce movies, games, and other memorabilia. Indeed, the Harry Potter series created a boom in young adult books, with such series as the Artemis Fowl series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Percy Jackson series, and many others. Sadly, among the most successful of the young adult series would be the Twilight Saga. While it has a large number of fans, there would be many more who would recognise how poorly the books were written. The decade saw an increase in the popularity of genre fiction, including mystery, fantasy, horror, and romance. It would also see the rise of digital books, read on such devices as Amazon's Kindle.

Sadly, print media would not see the success that books would. With more and more people turning to the internet for their information, newspapers and magazines would suffer. Many would fold during the decade, including some of the major newspapers and magazines. Yet others would go totally to the internet. Amazingly, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, the decade actually showed an increase in reading.

For me and many others, the Naughts would be a decade of tears. Many greats in the fields of film, television, music, and literature. It would be impossible to cover them all, but I will cover those who meant the most to me. Perhaps the deaths I took the hardest were musicians. Beatle George Harrison died at the start of the decade after a long bout with cancer. Both as as a Beatle and a solo artist, he had an impact on my life I cannot begin to measure. John Entwistle died in 2002. The Who was always my second favourite band after The Beatles, and had an enormous impact on my life. Mr. Entwistle composed some of my favourite songs. This year saw the death of Doug Fieger, leader and founder of The Knack. The Knack is my second favourite American band after Cheap Trick, and "My Sharona" my third favourite song of all time. Many of my favourite actors also died in the decade. As many of you know, I have always had a crush on Janet Leigh. I was very hurt when she passed from this world. I also have a crush on Cyd Charisse. Perhaps best known for her fantastic legs, she was a very fine actress and possibly the greatest female dancer on the silver screen. Two of my favourite actors died within a day of each other. Patrick McGoohan was John Drake and Number Six (whom I think were one and the same) and Dr.Syn. I remembered him from childhood from the Disney miniseries The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and from the TV series Danger Man and The Prisoner. His characters taught me much about honour and decency. Ricardo Montalban was Khan in the TV series Star Trek and the movie Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. He was also a bona fide movie star who later made many guest appearances on television shows. Mr. Montalban had a phenomenal voice and could play almost anything. Jack Lemmon will forever for me be Baxter from The Apartment, the everyman who always gets taken and never does the taking. He played many similar roles, always convincingly. Tony Curtis was the handsome leading man, but so much more. He had a gift for comedy, but could play drama equally well. Leslie Nielsen may well have been Canada's best import. He was the handsome leading man in the early days. He was the commander in Forbidden Planet and Frances Marion in the Disney mini-series The Swamp Fox. He always had a gift for comedy, however, and in his later years he would use that to revive his career. With a deadpan delivery he could be hilarious. Television saw the passing of so many great actors who played some of my favourite characters: Don Knotts, Bob Denver, Don Adams, Gene Barry, Frank Gorshin, Peter Graves, and John Forsythe. Kurt Vonnegut was one of my favourite authors of all time, and in my wildest dreams I would like to think I was influenced him. Even given such greats as John Updike (one of my other favs) died, I think Kurt Vonnegut was the greatest author to pass in the Naughts. Robert B. Parker was another one of my favourite authors to die, just this year. He gave the world detective Spencer and Police Chief Jesse Stone. Frank Frazetta was one of my favourite artists of all time. Indeed, he was perhaps the most famous fantasy illustrator of them all.

Over all, I think the Naughts were a bland decade in television and to a lesser degree music. It was actually quite a good decade for movies. Sadly, it would be a decade that would see so many great actors, musicians, authors, and artists pass. My hope for the Teens is that it is a more colourful decade, producing better movies, music, television, and books. I also hope for fewer tears in the Teens, although I fear we might see even more of the greats from pop culture pass.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Goodbye, 2010

Twenty ten is coming to a close and with the decade I call the Naughts. I'll talk more about the decade tomorrow, but today I thought I would discuss 2010 itself.

Last year I proclaimed 2009 to be the Year of Death. Now I know that I spoke too soon. If ever there was a Year of Death, it was 2010. I suspect more important figures from pop culture have died this year than any other. We lost some major stars in film, many from the Golden Age of Hollywood, including Jean Simmons, director Eric Rohmer, Lionel Jeffries, Kathryn Grayson, Lynn Redgrave, Dennis Hopper, Patricia Neal, director Clive Donner, Kevin McCarthy, director Arthur Penn, Gloria Stewart, director Roy Ward Baker, Sir Norman Wisdom, producer Dino DeLaurentiis, Ingrid Pitt, and director Blake Edwards. In television such figures passed as Gumby creator Art Clokey, Pernell Roberts, producer Aaron Ruben, Peter Graves, Robert Culp, John Forsythe, Allen Swift (the voice of Simon Barsinsiter and Riff Raff), Dixie Carter, Art Linkletter, Rue McClanahan, Peter Fernandez (the voice of Speed Racer), Maury Chaykin, writer Jackson Gillis, Bonanza creator David Dortort, newsman Edwin Newman, Harold Gould, producer Stephen J. Cannell, actor and producer William Self, Tom Bosley, Barbara Billingsley, James MacArthur, and Jill Clayburgh. The field of music saw the passing of guitarist Mick Green, Dale Hawkins, founder and leader of Type O Negative Peter Steele, Lena Horne, Ronnie James Dio, Paul Gray of Slipknot, Robert Wilson of The Gap Band, bassist Peter Quaife of legendary rock band The Kinks, and Eddie Fisher. In the realm of literature, comic books, comic strips and art, Robert B. Parker, J. D. Salinger, comic book legend Dick Giordano, legendary artist Frank Frazetta, Modesty Blaise creator Peter O'Donnell, legendary EC Comics artists Al Williamson, and underground comics creator Harvey Pekar.

At times this year I felt as if it was not enough for the Grim Reaper to take many of my favourite actors, writers, musicians, and artists. She had to take some of those I loved the most. Fess Parker had a huge impact on my young life, as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. Much of what I learned about honour, I learned from Daniel and Davy. Tony Curtis was one of my favourite actors of all time, a master of epic movies and comedies. As much as I mourned over Messrs. Parker and Curtis, however, they would not be the men I mourned over the most. Leslie Nielsen was one of my favourite actors from childhood. As a child he was the handsome leading man, playing in Forbidden Planet and the Disney mini-series The Swamp Fox. As I reached adulthood he became a master comic actor, giving me many hours of laughter. I cry when I think he is gone. By far the worst death for me, however, was the passing of Doug Fieger, leader and founder of The Knack. I was so upset the day he died I could not write his eulogy in this blog right away. Try as I might, I would start crying. And the crying would not stop for some days. Not since John Lennon, George Harrsion, and John Entwistle passed had I mourned a musician so. Quite simply, The Knack was my second favourite American band of all time (second only after Cheap Trick), and only a few musicians had as huge an impact on my life as Doug Fieger.

In movies the big news was 3-D. In fact, it is difficult to find a major motion picture that was not released in 3-D in 2010. Certainly most animated films and sci-fi/fantasy epics seem to be released in 3-D these days. While many seem to enjoy the format, I am personally hoping it is a fad. While many films are impressive in 3-D, with many other films it just seems unnecessary. As has been typical of the past few years, there were many remakes and sequels. In fact, of the highest grossing films thus far this year, five were sequels and one was a remake. Worst of the remakes were those of horror movies, whether classic (The Crazies) or definitely not classic (Friday the Thirteenth). Fortunately, the year would end well, with a movie that many thought was a remake but was actually another adaptation of a popular novel. The Coen Brother's True Grit is worth the full price of admission.

As far as television, the best new shows all seemed to be on cable. The Walking Dead continued AMC's winning streak begun with Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Showtime scored big with Spartacus: Blood and Sand and Pillars of the Earth. If Laugh In was around, NBC would surely have received the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award. Twice. The first time would be for returning continuously unfunny Jay Lenno to and bumping Conan O'Brien from The Tonight Show. Not surprisingly, Leno's ratings are lower than Conan's. Even more surprisingly, NBC has not booted Leno off the show yet. The second time would be for cancelling Law and Order, right when it was poised to break the record set by Gunsmoke as longest running drama on American television. The show was still popular and only needed one more season to break the record! The 2010-2011 season as been unimpressive thus far on American broadcast network television, and the film industry's taste for remakes seems to have reached the broadcast networks. ABC returned their remake of V this season, while CBS debuted remakes of Hawaii Five-O and The Defenders.

In music in 2010, Billboard  seemed to be dominated by  R&B artists such as Rihanna and Usher. Lady GaGA (who defies genre classification) and Katy Perry also continued their dominance of the charts. Taylor Swift continued as the only country artist to enjoy superstardom (I think it's the movie star good looks, myself). Rock music is still alive and well, with top albums by such artists as Bruce Springsteen and Kings of Leon. Rap, with the exception of Eminem, seems to be dying (thank heavens for that).

Over all 2010 was not a stand out year. Movies were dominated by remakes and sequels, a trend which seems to be creeping into television as well. Nothing particularly impressive emerged in the field of music, aside perhaps from the dominance of Lady GaGa. If the year stands out at all it is for a particularly sad reason. I was wrong. Twenty aught nine was not the year of death. It was twenty ten. It is a sad trend that so many of the greats of movies, television, and music are passing. Sadly, I am not sure it is a trend that will end soon.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Lone Ranger Announcer Fred Foy Passes On

Fred Foy, best known as the announcer on The Lone Ranger, passed on December 22, 2010 at the age of 89.

Fred Foy was born on March 27, 1921 in Detroit, Michigan. Not long after graduating high school, he was hired by radio station WMBC. It was in 1942 he was hired by WXYZ, the radio station from which The Lone Ranger, Sgt Preston of the Yukon, and The Green Hornet aired. During World War II Fred Foy served in the United States Army as an announcer for Armed Forces Radio in Cairo, Egypt.

It was in 1948 he began announcing The Lone Ranger. He was certainly not the first announcer on the radio show (it had begun in 1933), but he would become the voice most identified with it. Beginning in 1949, he also announced the television version. He remained with both until they went off the air. He also announced The Green Hornet and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon. Mr. Foy would later serve as a narrator on documentaries, as well as an announcer on The Dick Cavett Show. The Generation Gap, and The $20,000 Pyramid.

Author Jim Harmon called Fred Foy as "the announcer, perhaps the greatest announcer-narrator in the history of radio drama." I doubt there would be many who would say Mr. Harmon was exaggerating. Mr. Foy had a stentorian voice that fit adventure series such as The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet perfectly. Indeed, it is because of his magnificent voice that he would become one of the most celebrated announcers among fans of Old Time Radio. He was truly one of the greats.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Steve Landesberg Passes On

Comedian and actor Steve Landesberg, best known as Detective Sergeant Dietrich on Barney Miller, passed on December 20, 2010 at the age of 74. The cause was colon cancer.

Steve Landesberg was born in New York City on November 23, 1936. In the late Sixties he was a stand up comic, known for his deadpan delivery and akimbo observations. He made his film debut in a bit part in You've Got to Walk It Like You Talk It or You'll Lose That Beat (1971). He also made his television debut that year on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In 1972 he made his first of many appearances on The Dean Martin Show. He also appeared on The David Frost Show. In 1973 he appeared in the movie Blade. From 1974 to 1975 he was a regular on the TV show Paul Sands' Friends and Lovers.

In 1975 Mr. Landesberg was cast as Detective Sergeant Arthur P. Detriech on Barney Miller. Detective Sergeant Detriech was a soft spoken genius with knowledge on nearly every subject under the sun. Indeed, he often stated such facts in Mr. Landesberg's standard, deadpan delivery. He stayed with the show until it went off the air in 1982. In the Seventies he would also guest star on When Things Were Rotten, The Rockford Files, On the Rocks, and Fish (as Detective Sergeant Dietrich). In the Eighties he guest starred on Mr. President, Nine to Five, and Saturday Night Live. He also appeared in the movie Leader of the Band (1988). In the Nineties he guest starred on The Golden Girls, Seinfeld, Dinosaurs, Law and Order, Two Guys a Girl and a Pizza Place. He appeared in the movies Little Miss Millions (1993), The Crazysitter (1995), and Puppet (1999). In the Naughts he guest starred on Twice in a Lifetime, That 70's Show, Everybody Hates Chris, and The Cleaner. He was a regular on Head Case. He appeared in the movies Wild Hogs (2007), and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008).

Steve Landesberg was a great actor, with a gift for playing intellectuals. Indeed, aside from Detective Sergeant Fish (played by the great Abe Vigoda), Detective Sergeant Dietrich was my favourite character on Barney Miller. Landesberg not only made Dietrich intelligent, but also very cool and likeable. He proved one can be a bookworm and still be hip. Although best known for his role on Barney Miller, Mr. Landesberg was also a great comedian. He was exceeding funny, make left of centre observations on life and society, always delivered in his deadpan style. Steve Landesberg died all too young.