Archive for November, 2010

Surely you’re not dead! I am … (Leslie Nielsen, 1926-2010)

November 29, 2010

You can tell me -- I'm a doctor. First Peter Graves, then Barbara Billingsley, and now Leslie Nielsen.

It was the end of eighth grade — spring 1975, Long River Middle School, Prospect, Ct. — and I was making my stage debut: as the dim-witted comic sidekick to the lead in the school play. I’m spacing on the title, but hey, it sure beat having to prepare for the bullshit school essay contest, like my classmates.

It was the first time I could remember receiving attention for something besides ridicule from the other kids. People were laughing at my lines! And they were applauding me! And I learned at a young age why so many lonely, tortured souls gravitate to the stage: as an escape and, when it’s done right, to receive positive reinforcement that you can’t get in the real world.

I also learned something else early on. The director — my English teacher, Don Gray, who was once a roommate of Paul Newman at Denison College in Ohio — told me: A stupid person can’t play someone smart, but it takes a smart person to play someone stupid very well.

That said, Leslie Nielsen was a genius.

And his passing Sunday of pneumonia in Florida, at 84, also marks an “Airplane!” three-on-a-match this year: Peter Graves, then Barbara Billingsley, and now Nielsen.

After a lengthy career of roles in movies (“Forbidden Planet,” “The Poseidon Adventure”) and TV — where he exuded maximum gravitas, with a baritone just north of fellow Canadian Lorne Greene — who knew that there was a serious idiot just waiting to break out?

Well, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker did. And I’m sure most of you wouldn’t remember his character’s name — Dr. Rumack — but you sure as hell remember Nielsen’s lines. But the key was the acting. If it weren’t for the Most Serious Tone carried out with the straightest of faces by Nielsen and Peter Graves (as the pilot, Capt. Clarence Oveur), we wouldn’t be celebrating “Airplane!” 30 years later as one of the funniest films ever made.

And, of course, that led to some very happy, non-accidental typecasting — as Lt. Frank Drebin in one of the criminally shortest series in TV history, “Police Squad!” — which led to three hilarious “Naked Gun” movies. And I’m sure Nielsen was crying to his local bank over being typecast the rest of his life as the somber bumbler.

So it’s the laughter we will remember. Whenever we remember …

Surely you can’t be quoting Streisand!

I am …

And don’t call me Streisand!

Five Songs, Part 6

November 26, 2010

OK, it’s Friday and a new set of Five Songs. I’ll go easy on you and refrain from Christmas tunes for just this Black Friday. (And no, Steely Dan’s “Black Friday” didn’t make the list, either.) Just this once. Enjoy the rest of your Thanksgiving weekend:

Laugh or Cry — The Vagabonds

Unchained Melody — Vito & the Salutations

Keeping Time — Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents

Almost Good — David Seville

On the Way Home — Buffalo Springfield

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Le Noise’ — Neil Young (Reprise)

November 24, 2010

Neil Young with Daniel Lanois. Bring on "Le Noise." Photo: AP.

Neil Young has never been known not to follow his muse, for better and worse. Sometimes all in the breadth of the same album.

His longtime fans probably live by the same unofficial credo as the radio station to which I’ve belonged (albeit remotely these days) since 1991, WPKN  (89.5 FM, in Bridgeport, Ct.: Some songs I like. Some songs I don’t like.

And chances are his listeners are following those very same words again.

His latest album — his 51st, counting his box set and a greatest-hits disc — appeared with little fanfare a short while back. The title, “Le Noise,” is a play on the mispronunciation of the name of his producer, Daniel Lanois, but it’s also a sly way of summing up this solo collection: It’s noise, all right, but as the Frenchiness of the title implies, it’s refined noise. Sometimes greatly, sometimes just barely. Mostly for better, a little for worse.


Ask Aunt Fran: The hair

November 23, 2010

Welcome to Ask Aunt Fran, where I manage somehow to explain the transgender trip to people who never would have guessed they would have to come up against it. But here I am and there you are …

Anyway, if you have a question you’ve been curious enough to ask, please send it to me at (or my personal address if you know it). Just remember that I’m no doctor or shrink, and my answers are based mostly on personal experience. And all questions will remain anonymous unless you want the notoriety …

This one warms my heart. You see, I took a huge step forward over the past week: I came out to my father’s side of the family — my aunts and female cousins in Pennsylvania and Georgia. And the response was wonderful. So that has reduced my anxiety level immensely — and I’m gonna need all the strength I have left to deal with the ongoing unemployment and the possible ending of my federal benefits by Congress very soon.

Anyway, one of my relatives had a practical, everyday question during my coming-out phone call to her, having seen my hairline come and go over the years:

“So what are you going to do about your hair?”

Regardless of gender, everybody asks themselves that question, don’t they? At least the ones who don’t go cleanhead


Five songs, Part 5

November 19, 2010

Time for the latest Five Songs — five more tunes to get your weekend off to a rousing or at least provocative start. Now listen and then go get out of here and enjoy the weekend …

When I Had Your Love — Marvin Gaye

Do Something to Me — ? and the Mysterians

Couldn’t I Just Tell You — Todd Rundgren

Sunday Girl — Blondie

Holliedaze — The Hollies

So am I really screwed this time?

November 17, 2010

Not as if 20 months of unemployment hasn’t been stressful enough, or done a number on the old self-worth, but now it seems I, and millions like me, are in deep shit again.

And this time I’m afraid I’m not getting out.

And just in time for Christmas.

The time for giving. The time for remembering the Jesus that so many right-wingers wave in our faces as if they own him.

Federal emergency unemployment benefit extensions run out Nov. 30, the Monday after Thanksgiving. And, as in August, debate over extensions is being held up in the Senate by Republicans and a few Democrats.

And thanks to the recent election results, the Senate Democrats in this lame-duck period don’t have the muscle to reopen the debate.

And Congress adjourns for Thanksgiving week at the end of Friday. Meaning that unless a miracle occurs this week, which won’t happen, the chance of debate on the matter won’t be open again until Monday, Nov. 29 — the day before the end of the current extension.

And the newly emboldened Republicans, with all their deficit-cutting rhetoric — all the while protecting the Cheney/Bush tax cuts for their true constituents, the ultra-rich — don’t seem to want to talk about it.

We’re screwed.

Brother, can you spare a job?


Ask Aunt Fran: Legally female

November 17, 2010

Hi. Welcome back to Ask Aunt Fran, where you come up with all sorts of questions about gender transition and I come up with an answer. Or two …

Anyway, if you have a question you’re curious enough to ask me — and I’m definitely curious enough, if you haven’t noticed — well, email me at (or my personal address if you know it). All answers will be anonymous, unless you prefer the notoriety.

And remember: I’m not a doctor or therapist; my answers are based on my personal experiences, and no two transgendered persons’ personal experiences are quite alike, just like you non-transfolk …

This week I had a veritable flood of old college friends come back into my life, which was a wonderful thing (and I’m still trying to figure out how they found me — the Witness Protection Program is totally useless). Anyway, one of my friends, who doesn’t live in this state, had a question for me:

“What was necessary for California to legally recognize you as a female?”

You mean, besides bribe money or clicking my heels three times or watching all of Schwarzenegger’s films in one sitting from start to finish without going to the bathroom?

Well, click the magic link and find out …


ALBUM REVIEW: ‘National Ransom’ — Elvis Costello (HRM/Concord Music Group)

November 16, 2010

Elvis Costello teams once again with producer T-Bone Burnett. But it's not all boring Americana product.

Just the mention of some people makes this music fan’s ears glaze over like a stream on a November morning. Like T-Bone Burnett.

These days, “Produced by T-Bone Burnett” is often shorthand for “OK, this is gonna a boring Americana album — a collection of songs done in a scholarly and contrived hybrid of rock, country, folk and blues that’s geared to NPR-demographic yuppies who’ve forgotten how to rock in their middle ages. And certain critics will bleat on about how it’s another masterpiece and then life will go on another day.”

Yes, I know — he co-wrote the Oscar-winning “The Weary Kind” with Ryan Bingham for “Crazy Heart.” He’s also been on the board for several albums I hold in high regard: Roy Orbison’s “Mystery Girl” and “Black and White Night Live,” Marshall Crenshaw’s “Downtown,” Los Lobos’ “How Will the Wolf Survive?” and his first Elvis Costello album, “King of America.”But all those albums were from the mid-to-late ’80s.

And I realize he’s in demand now — just this year, he did the new discs by Elton John & Leon Russell, The Secret Sisters, Bingham, John Mellencamp, Robert Randolph, Willie Nelson and Jakob Dylan, with Steve Earle and Gregg Allman on deck for next year.

But still, those four words …

And they’re found on the back of Costello’s latest album, “National Ransom,” the way they were on last year’s “Secret, Profane & Sugarcane.”

Well, I let the stream thaw enough to let the album go around several times and then some. Costello may be pop music’s man for all seasons, but his recordings, like Neil Young’s (and there’s a review of his new one coming), are a crapshoot, and you never know whether you’re gonna get the good Costello, the bad Costello or the mediocre Costello.

Well, some of it’s the good Costello, some is the mediocre Costello. Not terrible, though. Not masterpiece material, but not bad. Or is that damning with faint praise, she asks semi-knowingly?


Five Songs, Episode 4

November 11, 2010

Hello again and welcome to another exciting episode of Five Songs, where your hostess pulls random tunes from the corners of her mind and lets the rest of you question her sanity.

Enough yapping. Happy Friday!

Restless Nights — Bruce Springsteen

I Was in Your Life — Bleached Black

That’s What You Do to Me — Deon Jackson

The Dreg — The Fleshtones

Memphis Trax — Isaac Hayes

Another milestone

November 11, 2010

Today marks 20 months since I was thrown out of work. One year, eight months. I plan to celebrate by doing the same things I do nearly every other day: have breakfast, ride my bike, scour the Web for jobs, write semi-copiously at some coffee shop and try to convince myself that life really is worth living, even though much of the universe tells me I’m not worth shit.