Saturday, June 18, 2011

Carl Gardner of The Coasters Passes On

Carl Gardner, the tenor who was the original lead singer of The Coasters, passed on 12 June 2011 at the age 83. The cause was congestive heart failure.

Carl Gardner was born in Tyler, Texas on 29 April 1928. By the early 1950's he was making a living by singing at parties. He left Texas for California to pursue a career in music. In 1954 he was hired as a replacement for a singer in The Robins and remained with the group even after that singer, who had been in jail, returned. The Robins would not last beyond 1955. They were signed to Spark Records, founded by legendary song writing team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. When The Robins' single "Smoky Joe's Cafe" proved to be a hit, Leiber and Stoller were offered a package deal from Atlantic Records, whereby they would produce records for The Robins. Of The Robins, however, only Carl Gardner and Bobby Nunn were willing to move to Atlantic. As a result, The Coasters were formed with Billy Guy, Leon Hughes, and guitarist Adolph Jacobs joining Messrs. Gardner and Nunn.

The Coasters would have a hit with their first single written by Leiber and Stoller, "Down in Mexico," released in 1956. Their next single "Young Blood"/"Searchin'" would cross over from the R&B charts to become a hit on the pop charts as well. The Coasters would have several hits in the next several years, including "Yakety Yak," "Charlie Brown," "Along Came Jones," and "Poison Ivy." Unfortunately, the Sixties would not be kind to The Coasters, as the early part of the decade saw them getting fewer and fewer hits. Their last major hit would be "Little Egypt" in 1961. By 1967 The Coasters would disband. They would return in 1968 with a new line up and have remained every since, always with Carl Gardner as lead vocalist.

Here I must point out that Carl Gardner was not simply the lead vocalist and leader of an R&B and doo wop group. He was the leader of the R & B and doo wop group. In my humble opinion, The Coasters were the greatest doo wop of them all, performing songs that were at once humorous and meaningful. "Along Came Jones" was a commentary on the state of television in the late Fifties. "Poison Ivy" was a not so veiled reference to sexually transmitted diseases. Of course, these songs would not have been hits without the vocal talents of The Coasters. Indeed, Carl  Gardner was arguably the best lead vocalist of any doo wop group, a tenor with an incredible range. If Carl Gardner and The Coasters' career lasted over half a century, it is because Mr. Gardner was an incredibly talented singer.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Facebook F***s Up

Believe it or not, I am angry enough right now that I felt tempted not to use asterisks in this post's title. The simple fact is that last night something happened that not only reduces my enjoyment of Facebook, but makes the site very nearly useless. Worse yet, the problem has not yet been corrected. To say I am unhappy with a site with which I have often been unhappy is an understatement.

Before you can understand why I am angry, I suppose I should explain a bit about how Facebook works. The home page of Facebook consists of a news feed, basically a feed of posts from one's friends. One can use various filters on his or her news feed to view certain posts. The basic news feed consists pretty much of what Facebook believes to be the most popular posts, but one can filter the news feed so one sees the most recent posts from newest to oldest or, if one has lists of various friends set up, one can filter the news feed so he or she sees posts from certain friends. Last night my Most Recent filter and every other filter disappeared from my news feed. Worse yet, my news feed is, from my perspective, a chaotic mess. The posts are not in any sort of chronological order. Worse yet, I might see posts from people with whom I rarely associate, but not those from people with whom I associate regularly. Concluding it was a bug, I messaged Facebook immediately.

Anyhow, I did a bit of research today and it seems that the problem of my missing news feed filters could be related to a new feature which, for whatever reason, Facebook has chosen to test on me. The feature is called "Happening Now" and, in theory, is supposed to work like a Twitter feed in updating posts by the minute. It rests in the upper right hand corner of the page, where once there were adverts. Now the problem with "Happening Now" is that it is entirely unnecessary. The Most Recent filter on the news feed does the exact same thing, with the advantage of using the whole page and thus being easier to see. Worse yet, the "Now Happening" feature doesn't work properly--it does not show posts in chronological order as Twitter does. Whether it was a glitch in installing the "Happening Now" feature on my page that robbed me of my news feed filters or the news feed filters were meant to be removed does not matter. It was an uneven trade. The "Happening Now" feature is useless to me. My news feed filters were what I relied upon to make sense of the many posts from my friends on Facebook.

In the below screen shots you can see what I mean. Below is my Facebook homepage with my news feed as it was and should still be. You'll notice filtered through my Close Friends list (the personal details are blurred for privacy reasons). You'll notice that across from the words news feed are the words Top News and Close Friends (it says that because the news feed is being filtered through my "Close Friends" list). This is where the filters are. I could click on Close Friends and a drop down menu would appear, which could take me to Most Recent (posts from all my friends) to yet other filters.  The pictures of people (blurred though they are)  are the friends on my "Close Friends" list and  it is only their posts who would show in my news feed with that filter on.

Below is a screenshot of my home page as it is now. You will notice that where on the other screenshot it said "Close Friends," meaning the filter for the "Close Friends" list was on, there is absolutely nothing. Not Most Recent. Not Pages or Games. Nothing. That's right, there are no filters at all. If I had not had to blur the posts for privacy reasons, you could also see they are not in chronological order.

Sadly, the problem has not been corrected well over twenty four hours later. Worse yet, I fear it will not be given the concern Facebook shows for its users. Whether this is a glitch which has made my news feed filters disappear or whether Facebook intends to do away with the news feed filters, my Facebook account has been rendered almost useless in that I cannot sort through the posts with any inefficiency. The fact is that most Facebook users have the need to filter the posts on their news feed. Only those with very few friends (satm under 100) would not have to. I have around 450 friends on Facebook and I know others who have far, far more. If Facebook intends to replace the filters with this useless "Happening Now" feature (a possibility given their past decisions--can we say "PUT THE STATUS BACK AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE!!!!"), then I rather suspect that a year from now we will be speaking of Facebook the same way we do MySpace now. Quite simply, I believe this time Facebook has really f***ed up.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cinematographer Gunnar Fischer Passes

Gunnar Fischer, a cinematographer who worked with Ingmar Bergman, passed at the age of 100 on 11 June 2011.

Gunnar Fischer was born on 18 November 1910 in Ljungby, Sweden. He studied painting in Copenhagen, Denmark, then joined the Swedish Navy where he served as a cook. It was an actress he met who helped him get into Filmstaden in 1935. It was there he worked on his first film, Smålänningar (1935) as an assistant cameraman. He first worked as a cinematographer on Bara en trumpetare (1938).  It was in 1943 that he began working regularly as a cinematographer, starting with the film Natt i Hamn (Night in the Harbour). Over the next few years he would work on such films as Blåjackor (Sailors 1945), Tappa inte sugen (Don't Give Up 1947), and Krigsmans erinran (Soldier's Reminder 1948).

It was in 1946 that Gunnar Fischer worked with Ingmar Bergman, collaborating with him on the experimental film "Crisis." The two would work together again on the feature film Hamnstad (Harbour City, Port of Call 1948). Over the years Mr. Fischer would work on some of Mr. Bergman's greatest films: Törst (Thirst 1949),  Sommarlek (Summer Interlude 1951), Sommarnattens leende (Smiles of a Summer Night 1955), Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal 1957),  Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries 1957), Ansiktet (The Magician 1958), and Djävulens öga (The Devil's Eye 1960).

In 1970 Gunnar Fischer would leave Filmstaden and Svensk Filmindustri to go to work for Svensk Television. He worked on such television projects as Din stund på jorden (1973) and Raskens (1976). Mr. Fischer also wrote and illustrated children's books. 

There can be no doubt that Gunnar Fischer was a great cinematographer. He was particularly skilled when it came to black and white. Indeed, he had a particular gift for deep focus, bringing the characters to the fore while keeping the background sharp. The technique is obvious on what, in my opinion, is Mr. Bergman and his greatest film, The Seventh Seal, where Mr. Fischer's cinematography gave the film a nearly apocalyptic feel. Mr. Bergman would make great films without Mr. Fischer, but none would look nearly as good.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Requiem for a Friend

I hope you will forgive me a post of a more personal nature, although it does touch upon pop culture. This morning my best friend Brian passed on. It was about three weeks ago that Brian's wife found him unconscious on the floor. When he awakened at hospital he was suffering from dementia. He had been in various hospitals and a nursing home ever since. This past Friday had given us some hope, as he had recovered from the dementia. Unfortunately this morning he was not responding and so he was rushed to hospital. He died shortly thereafter.

I had met Brian while still at university through the group with which we played Dungeons and Dragons. We shared an interest in comic books, movies, and television. In fact, Brian's knowledge of pop culture matched my own, although we had our specialities. Brian knew more about classic films and Silver Age comic books than I did. I knew more about classic television and Golden Age comic books than he did. In many respects we complimented each other well.

It was with Brian I usually watched movies. This was not a simple case of two friends going to the movies, as we would also seek out classic films on television or rent them from 9th Street Video in Columbia, a store with a vast array of classic films on VHS and later DVD. Together we watched for the first time such films as The Crowd (1928), Force of Evil (1948), La Dolce Vita (1948), and too many others to name.  The fact is that the majority of classic films I have seen, I may well have seen with Brian.

Indeed, Brian and I could spend hours talking about classic films, television shows, and so on. It was through Brian that I got hooked on The Wire. It was through me that Brian that I got hooked on Mad Men. I introduced Brian to the Doc Savage novels. He introduced me to the "Harry Potter" series. As two pop culture addicts sharing TV shows, movies, and books was a means of sharing ourselves. It was very rare that we disagreed on a particular movie or TV show, although there were a few instances. Brian loved Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), a movie I detest to this day.

Of course, Brian differed from me in some ways. While I am a total technophile, Brian had trouble programming his own VCR. In fact, my brother or I had to set up most of the VCRs, DVD players, and even computers he owned. I was rather surprised that he figured out how to use his DVR all by himself. He never had a web site or blog, much less a MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter account.

Brian was a very creative individual. In fact, he had written a screenplay which he had never bothered to market. Together we had talked about ideas for various television shows and movies. One idea for a television show we even had about two seasons' worth of episodes outlined. I rather suspect if Brian had been in the position to do so, he could have been a success in the entertainment industry.

Brian was not simply a fellow pop culture expert, however, as he was also a good friend. If I did not have money to go to a movie he would pay my way in, just as I would pay his way in if he did not have money. Neither of us ever kept particularly good track of who owed whom. He was always there if someone close to me died or if a relationship had just ended or I had lost a job. I could always rely on Brian for support.

Today I feel as if I have lost a brother, even though Brian and I were not related by blood at all. In fact, the only reason I am even able to write this is because I have already spent much of the day crying. I know that I will shed more tears in the days to come. I will always miss Brian and I will never forget him.