Story Behind the Story



GORDONVILLE — So first an explanation. My wife was watching a series on Netflix about Humboldt County’s Murder Mountain. She was already halfway through an episode — and halfway through the series — when it caught my ear.

Her brief explanation, while telling me to shut up so she could listen, and my Google search had me in the ballpark.

Meanwhile, the phrases I was picking up from the real-life people on the screen had a lyrical quality to them. At that point, I start putting them into the notepad on my iPhone and had myself a song pretty quickly.

I was sufficiently mocked for getting a song out of something I only skimmed the surface of, but this is how I got through high school and college, so …

The song, for whatever reason, wrote itself. Those are the best ones. And I thought enough of it to enter it in American Songwriter Magazine’s March/April lyric contest (I got Honorable Mention for another song, Gray Christmas, in November/December but the bastards dissed me in January/February).

Yesterday, I get the following email:

Hi Gordon, 

I’m pleased to inform you that your song “Humboldt County” has received honorable mention in the American Songwriter March/April Lyric Contest. Congratulations! 
Your name, hometown, and song title will be printed in the March/April issue of American Songwriter, as well as posted on our website
Congratulations again, and we hope to see  more lyrics from you in the future!

And you will, Annie, despite what my wife says.

To thine own self be true.

And now the song, as inspired by the Netlfix series “Murder Mountain.” I didn’t see it all, but I saw — and heard — enough.

No music yet, but it will be fast-tracked. In my process, the words come first. Expect something in the spirit of Springsteen, Mellencamp and Steve Earle.

Pictured below is the dude whose words got me going …


Humboldt County

Neighbors shoot guns
We don’t even blink
Record is expunged
Let’s have a drink

Come work the land
The land yields grass
Hippies and Rednecks
Who forgot their pasts

Murder Mountain
It stands above the law
Humboldt County
A bridge with no toll

It’s all about the rush
Without going fast
Turned over trucks
Cruise right on past

Up in the Redwoods
Got rain, got snow
Hippies and Rednecks
Forget what they know

Murder Mountain
Let me live my own life
Humboldt County
Don’t violate my rights

Russian roulette
American style
The best you get
High on arrival

Lines in the sand
They kick up dust
Hippies and rednecks
Sucked in, sucked up

Murder Mountain
You keep it dark
Humboldt County
Dogs eat your bark






Celluloid Heroes In Waiting

fleetwood mac


GORDONVILLE — I have a love-hate relationship with Queen.

Not the Queen, as in Queen Elizabeth.

But with Queen, the rock band suddenly mythologized in a biopic film focused on the life of lead singer Freddie Mercury.

Queen has some of the best songs I ever heard – including “Under Pressure” and “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” – but some of the worst, too.

On my list of all-time songs that make me feel like I have Lyme Disease all over again, there are three Queen – yes, three – Queen songs.

And topping that ignominious list (which also includes Queen songs “Bicycle Song” and “Somebody To Love”) is “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which happens to be the title of the movie that was just nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Rami Malek, who has been stellar in every role he has played).

Its critical and box office success has me thinking about other musical acts and artists whose stories would potentially show well on the big screen.

The Beatles and Elvis? Too many to count. Dylan? In 2007, there was a flick called “I’m Not There” with six different actors – including a woman and young black boy – portraying six sides of his public persona. Kind of killed that one for now. Rolling Stones? Eh, maybe, but not yet. It would kind of kill the mystique. Ditto for Led Zeppelin. The Doors? Been there, Oliver Stone done that (with Val Kilmer playing Jim Morrison better than Morrison could have himself). The punk era was covered in “Syd and Nancy.” Johnny Cash? Check.

This doesn’t mean we are without options.

Consider a sampling of five that did make the cut?

1) Fleetwood Mac – Drama, drama, drama. Heck, just the drama around the making of the top-selling “Rumors” album, with the songs all about the members of the band breaking up with each other – Lindsey Buckingham with Stevie Nicks and John and Christine McVie getting divorced, all while Mick Fleetwood lurked in the shadows — would be enough without spreading it out over a period of years. People having to play and sing background vocals about how they should “go their own way” would be worth the price of admission.

2) Carole King – It used to be commonplace for Broadway musicals to successfully transition into feature films. The 1960s alone saw likes of “West Side Story” (1961), “The Sound of Music” (1965) and “Oliver” (1968), but there hasn’t been anything noteworthy since “Chicago” in 2002. For example, “Jersey Boys” (2014) was just average. “Beautiful,” the story about singer-songwriter Carole King is a script with terrific music screaming out to be adapted for the big screen. So adapt it already, will ya?

3) Otis Redding – You may only know him as the “(Sittin’) On The Dock Of The Bay” dude, but there is so much more to his story. For one, his greatest success, the aforementioned No. 1 hit, did not top the charts until after his death in a 1967 plane crash when he was just 26. Although his gospel-inspired singing style inspired many more popular contemporaries, as well as a litany of soul singers to follow, he is only mentioned as an afterthought. A movie delving into his interesting life could bridge that divide. The Georgia native quit school at 15 to help his family by pursuing a music career, and was a married father a month before his 20th birthday. His breakthrough came in 1966, when his version of “Try A Little Tenderness” reached No. 25. As time went on, he began writing a lot of his own material on a beat-up acoustic guitar. The batch of songs included “Respect,” which became Aretha Franklin’s signature anthem. With a gregarious persona, Redding was large in stature (6-1, 220 pounds), athletic and a sharp-dressed man (200 suits, 400 pairs of shoes) who was close to his family and successful entrepreneur. With the right actor in the lead role, this could be a stellar period piece that could introduce more of his lesser known music to the world.

4) Frank Sinatra – Yeah, sure, you are not supposed to mess with the Chairman of the Board. However, he has been dead since I was 30 (1995). That’s a long time ago. The only real dedicated screen time has been a character loosely based on him — Johnny Fontaine in “The Godfather,” which apparently drew an assault by Sinatra on Mario Puzo after the book was published. There have also been a few cheesy movies about the Rat Pack, but that’s about it. Let’s just pick a period of Sinatra’s life — like when he has down and out and came back, or his second run of popular success in the 1960s – and start filming tomorrow.

5) Bruce Springsteen – Don’t sigh, don’t moan and groan. You knew this was coming. It actually goes to the point about Carole King and Broadway, as the curtain just fell on Springsteen’s “Bruce on Broadway” run. The show has since been released on Netflix and, to be honest, was hard to get into at first. A lot of his spiel was verbatim from his autobiography or from stories I have heard him tell before. While the Netflix version picked up momentum toward the middle (we still haven’t reached the end), it occurred to me that his words and music are so visual that that maybe a movie of his life – with some selective narration over it – would be a logical next step to cement the legacy.

This column first appeared in The Times Herald on Jan. 27, 2019.

Forgotten: MLK’s Edge

king in jail


GORDONVILLE — MLK DAY, the 2019 version, means a lot of feel-good service projects in the suburbs – making PB&J sandwiches for the hungry and scrubbing away misunderstood graffiti — while U2’s “Pride (In The Name of Love)” plays on a loop.

It beats the alternative – reducing the minister turned activist into a faded footnote in American history – but each passing year seems to do less justice to the real man and what he actually stood for when the times they were a-changing.

While his wax figure has since found a safe space in the mainstream memory banks, he had enough of an edge to him that he was a far cry from the antithesis of, say, Malcolm X.

Just like the founding fathers were more radical than now portrayed, so too was MLK.

King – the person, as opposed to the icon — needs to be put in a real context all over again to truly understand the significance of his impact.

Consider that he was just 26 years young in 1955, the year he rose to national prominence as a leader in the Montgomery Bus Boycott that began with the likes of Rosa Parks refusing to surrender her seat, and ended 381 days later (with an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 bus fares lost).

Deeply moved by the deaths of young people, like 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955 and the 1963 bombing of the Birmingham church that killed four young girls, King was radicalized.

When King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, not long after giving a speech where he practically predicted his own fate, it was presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy who famously addressed – and quelled — a largely black crowd on the streets of Indianapolis.

In the era before instant news, many were not yet aware of what happened in Memphis, and the gasp as he makes the announcement remains as haunting as his words afterward where moving.

Ironically, it was earlier in the decade, when RFK was attorney general under his brother, that he gave the nod to tap King’s phones.

Jailed 29 times, King was considered that much of a radical.

The Kennedys – and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover – suspected him of having communist leanings. Keep in mind that this was in the height of the Cold War era, so it’s a pretty heavy suspicion – if not all-out accusation.

MLK was more than just a rebel. He was a rebel of the most frightening kind to the powers that be – a rebel with a cause.

And a rebel with followers with everything to gain and not much to lose.

What gets virtually dropped from the history books was King’s staunch opposition to the Vietnam War. While he decried all casualties of the war he called “madness,” King couldn’t help but note that the soldiers on the frontlines were disproportionately black.

King began speaking out in 1967, with his “Beyond Vietnam” speech. At the time, and in stark contrast to generalized remembrances time period, being outspoken against the war was still a few years away from being commonplace.

Consider that he said the following: “I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”

That was not exactly what those in mainstream America, who could call in favors to have their sons diagnosed with bone spurs to get out of serving, wanted put out into the universe.

This is supported by a 1965 Gallup poll showing that 64 percent of Americans supported the war.

This, and the Civil Rights activism, did not make MLK beloved on Main Street. His approval rating in 1965 was 45 percent, and it slumped to 32 percent in 1966.

Recent polling consistently has MLK approved at a rate of over 90 percent.

What accounts for this about-face? Not his radical side as much as the whitewashing of it.

A good number of those polled likely don’t even know much more than the snippets of the “I have a dream” speech and the day off on the calendars.

From the mid-1950s until his death, fighting for the equality of blacks in a white-dominated society made him a pariah.

But once you are a martyr in death, all bets are off.

Some of us always heard a bit of an angry edge to the “I have a dream speech” and his doubts that his vision would or could come to pass.

It is important to note that, at the time of his assassination — under suspicious circumstances — MLK was only 39 and was not really talking about breaking down barriers of Jim Crow laws.

He was planning what was called the “Poor People’s Campaign,” which was going to be highlighted by a march on Washington, D.C. demanded better access to housing, employment, and health care through legislation.

While an approximate 50,000 still people attended the march, the revolutionary idea faded and was never addressed in a way that MLK envisioned.

Kind of like the one of racial harmony.

And it makes me wonder if creating his holiday, with days of service and what not, is not just a way to the dull the edge of what was in his heart and soul.

This column first appeared in The Times Herald on Jan. 20, 2019.

Heart and Soul of a Crisis



GORDONVILLE — Philosophers, writers, poets and lyricists have used lies they have been told as creative fuel.

The reason is simple. Falsehoods create a crisis of the heart, and a crisis of the soul.

If that sounds familiar – the crisis of the heart and soul part – it is because your president (not mine) went there, with the sincerity of some saccharine Air Supply love ballad, during his Tuesday prime-time address to the nation.

As a cliché, it was just little more than filler in a speech he was reportedly prodded into giving about the national shutdown over the border wall he longs to build as, ostensibly, a monument to himself.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has his own opinion, one that polling shows most Americans are agreeing with, by calling this proposal of a wall – whether built of steel, concrete, brick or cardboard — “a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem.”

Durbin is probably letting your president (not mine) off the hook by a few centuries, but his point his well-taken.

Your president (not mine) wants this wall, as impractical as it is, to stand as some sort of nationalist phallic symbol.

Perhaps it would be more prudent to erect a red, white and blue billboard saying: “We will not press 1 for English and 2 for Spanish anymore!”

The net result? A legitimate crisis of the heart and soul of America.

There is now a humanitarian crisis at the border — particularly in West Texas — that was handmade in the USA.

There are families left struggling to pay bills and put food on the table because of the completely avoidable shutdown.

The First Amendment guarantees your president (not mine) a right to an opinion, but he is asleep at the wheel if he governs by opinion.

Which brings us back to the heart and soul of the crisis.

While a fact-checking scroll running under the screen during Tuesday’s speech would have been ideal, it didn’t take long for scorecards to emerge.

And the grades read like one of his Wharton School report cards.

Here are some of the results (source: NPR):

-“There is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our Southern border”

Fact check: Illegal border crossings in the most recent fiscal year (ending in September 2018) were lower than 2016 or 2014, and significantly lower than their peak in 2000. NPR adds that the recent change is the increase in children and families seeking asylum from countries other than Mexico, presenting different challenges.

-“All Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages.”

Fact check: Though studied extensively, the conclusion remains inconclusive. The push and pull of the debate is between immigrant workers (on the decline) taking low-wage/low-skilled jobs from native born workers weighed against reducing production costs for specific industries.

-“Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country.”

Fact check: Though technically correct about the total number of ICE arrests of immigrants with criminal records the past two years, NPR described the number as “misleading,” as the lion’s share of those arrests are immigration-related offenses.

The view here, not of NPR, is that this is a most egregious lie. Why? Because your president (not mine) has spoon fed the base a steady red meat diet of a dangerous false narrative about illegal immigrants going on raping and pillaging sprees when, in actuality, they commit crimes at lower rates than those of us born here.

And if your president (not mine) is as concerned about violent crime as he claims, here is an idea to break the stalemate: How about he consider budging an inch on common sense gun control legislation?

-“Our Southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs.”

Fact check: Well, your president (not mine) tends to believe the KGB (or whatever Putin calls it these days) over the FBI or CIA, so it only stands to reason he would go against the DEA, which has been clear that most illegal drugs imported to the U.S. from Mexico are smuggled in through legal ports of entry.

OK, with kudos to the fact checkers, it’s just not cool to be lied to, especially when it grinds the country to a halt.

So let us not talk falsely now.

There is the overriding lie that gnaws away at what truly is a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul.

What I mainly heard, while rubber-necking Tuesday’s prime-time crash on the highway, was the ongoing trope that Democrats “don’t want border security.”

Your president (not mine) doubled-down on it the next day, dubbing them “criminals” for not ceding to his tantrum.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) made it clear in a televised rebuttal — that actually had higher ratings than the speech they were rebutting (probably a record in television history) — that they, in essence, want the same thing.

They just won’t sign off on an impractical wall (there already is one covering 700 miles).

Your president (not mine) will not meet them halfway, or even a quarter of the way, making one wonder if it’s more about what Colin Powell recently decried as a dire situation wherein “Me the President” is more important than “We The People.”

Sounds like crisis of the heart and crisis of the soul worthy of a Bob Dylan protest song.

This column first appeared in The Times Herald on Sunday, Jan. 13.

Until It’s ‘Better Than Today’



GORDONVILLE — I have this song called “Better Than Today.” I rank it high among the hundreds of thousands I have written since the early 1980s – those painful mid-teen years when girls alternated between breaking my heart or not even knowing I existed.

This one, like most since that era, has nothing to with relationships.

In terms of the lyrics, the narrator is a married man who goes wherever the low-wage work takes him, but the drill is wearing thin.

He cashes paychecks and clears as many bills as he can, only to start the process over again. He is willing to eat once a day to ration. He buys a few Christmas gifts but takes no credit, letting them still believe in Santa as he tries to shield them from life’s harsh realities.

The song ends with a “reason to celebrate.” The narrator gets a second job and he’ll be now be working 16 hours a day. Though it’s not necessarily safe, the scenario is still “better than today.”

It wreaks of Bruce Springsteen, maybe as much as any and all previous attempts to reach that Promised Land.

But it was written, sometime in 2015-2016, while cast under the spell of another influence.

That would be Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Yeah, that Bernie Sanders.

That angry old grandpa type spewing the virtues of Democratic Socialism – with “free this” and “free that” – who also talked about American families like those in “Better Than Today” during his campaign.

Sanders’ proposed policies – framed as unrealistic – are already battle-tested in other countries (namely in Northern Europe) that do a lot things better than we do here.

It’s not unpatriotic to say so, either.

It’s blind patriotism, the worst kind there is, to believe it’s better to go into debt because a family member gets seriously ill or because our sons and daughters seek higher education than to admit defeat to Norway or Sweden.

All that doesn’t go away with a bunch flags on Flag Day.

It’s interesting how the first question about Sanders’ proposed policies were about the realistic ways they could be paid for, and yet many of the same people – some turned off by Hillary Clinton, but not necessarily by Sanders – ultimately voted for a candidate who proclaimed that he was going to build a fantastical border wall and have the country on the other side pay for it.

Staunch Democrats tell me to get over it, refusing to let me enumerate the many ways Clinton lost the election and accuse Sanders — an independent who almost always caucuses and votes with the Democrats — of being an interloper who crashed their invitation-only party.

To my eye, Sanders held up a mirror and showed the Democratic party just how un-democratic their flawed process was – with one candidate hand-picked, with super delegates lined up like penguins, to slide through the of 57-primaries/caucuses unchallenged.

Sanders didn’t take a dime of SuperPAC money, instead pushing on with average donations of $27 (I contributed my share, and have the coffee mug and water bottle to show for it). Despite legitimately packed houses, mostly on college campuses, he got almost no coverage of his rallies from the same mainstream media that the current president labels “the enemy of the people.”

The reality is that Clinton, though clearly done dirty by the other side, was not done in by Sanders.

What is easier to believe, and what historians will hopefully acknowledge, is that his challenge should have done anything but make her the weaker candidate she proved to be in the eyes of too many.

Maybe he didn’t campaign for her as vigorously as he could have, but he still left her a GPS route to success.

Example: She should have virtually lived in some the crucial swing states won by Sanders.

Instead, she blew them off.

Polls show Sanders very well might have won the general election, and could be best equipped to do it again in 2020.

While he is not the new “kid” in town anymore, there are other higher hurdles to clear.

While Democratic Socialism really just means capitalism with a few less backs being stabbed and throats getting slit, the word “socialism” is too much of a non-starter in the swayable heartland and bible belt.

I also find it odd that some are lightning quick to point to Sanders’ age (he would be 78 if/when elected) when some of the same people doing the questioning trumpet white-haired Joe Biden, only slightly younger than Sanders but with stale ideas that Generations X, Y and Z are rejecting.

While Sanders is a secular guy, his Jewish heritage probably won’t help much, either (even though it won’t show up in polls, as few will admit it as a primary reason).

Despite the polls, I still see Sanders as a longshot and I am prepared to back the last candidate standing, just like I still backed Hillary Clinton when she limped across the finish line in front of Sanders in 2016.

We still have a lot in common on the left. We couldn’t believe our eyes watching the horror of Charlottesville unfold, and couldn’t believe our ears the way our president responded. We can’t believe we are being governed by Twitter. We can’t believe news time is taken up about payoffs to porn stars.

We can’t believe what tomorrow will bring, other than it will make us more numbed up and dumbed down than the day before, leaving the nation ripe for more of the same.

That just can’t happen.

And the first step is to declare a truce in this Sanders-Clinton spillover effect – the bad blood between moderates and progressives — and see the big picture.

Clinton was the first woman seen as a serious candidate from a major party running for president. She was neck-and-neck with Barack Obama, the first president of color, in the 2007-2008 primaries and lost in 2016 general election (despite taking the popular vote).

Sanders was the first Jewish-American to make a serious bid.

The first female vice presidential candidate was Geraldine Ferraro in 1984. The first Jewish vice presidential candidate was Joe Lieberman in 2000.

Sense a pattern, fellow liberals? All Democrats.

The party of diversity now sees an array of potential candidates from coast to coast and north to south, from fresh-faced to experienced, and from male to female.

The truth is that I’d vote for a gold fish or an amoeba – anything but a Lyme-carrying tick – to bring back sanity.

But nothing has really changed for me in the last few years.

Bernie Sanders still sits at the top my list.

Until further notice.

Until it’s better than today.

This column first appeared in The Times Herald on Jan. 6.

Lyrics to Better Than Today:

Better Than Today

Finally got my paycheck
Cashed it down at Hank’s
When you live on the fringes
Can’t take it to the bank

Coins for the laundromat
Some candy for the kids
Get straight on the rent
Ration what’s in the fridge

And if we can’t make it stretch
Mister, I’ll just eat once a day
Ain’t thinking about tomorrow
Just pray it’s better than today

Winter just around the bend
I can feel it in my bones
Could find work down south
Family can’t go it alone

And we’re not gonna uproot
Jimmy’s already back a grade
Ain’t thinking about the future
Just pray it’s better than today

Sometimes I hear Anna crying
Or just praying softly to a saint
They put you in so many corners
When the break out the war paint

Finally got my paycheck
Christmas toys for the kids
Real man takes no credit
Says Santa left the gifts

Let’s call for my sister
Takin’ Anna for a date
Been keeping a secret
It’s time to celebrate

Yeah, I just got that second job
High risk but it really pays
Ain’t thinking about dying
Just pray it’s better than today

And I’ll be working 16 hours
Sir, there’s 24 in a day
Ain’t thinking about sleeping
Just pray it’s better than today

Hey You, Get Off Of My Lawn



GORDONVILLE — There are a lot of people I like.

You know who you are.

All eight of you.

Everyone else?

Eh, not so much.

I have followed a collision course from my younger self and, right on time, became a grumpy middle-aged man.

A combination of Archie Bunker, Frank Costanza, Fred Flintstone and Andy Sipowicz.

Perhaps, on a good day, a little bit of the great curmudgeon philosophers — Bob Dylan and George Carlin — sprinkled in.

And I guess we can’t forget Sonny Corleone, had he not met his premature fate as a younger hothead.

While you’re getting off my lawn and turning down the Justin Bieber noise, keep the following grievances in mind as I dance around my Festivus pole:

1) This “Merry Christmas” Thing: I do know a lot of people from a lot of backgrounds. Life has been good to me that way. And guess what? I know no one — at all — who ever said you can’t say “Merry Christmas.” As matter of fact, even though the holiday is now past us, say it twice and call me in the morning. There are real societal outrages right outside your window. Why create one that doesn’t exist?

2) Road Work At Rush Hour: A necessary evil. I get it. What I don’t get is creating a backup on a major thoroughfare between the hours of 8 and 9 a.m. Unless it’s an emergency, go have breakfast at your local diner. Speaking of which …

3) Male Waiters At Diners: I expect to be waited on by an old-school waitress — not waiter — with a bouffant hairdo who calls me “baby” and “honey” and has a natural instinct to fill up my coffee (and remembers I’m a decaf guy) and pre-butters my toast. I have nothing against male waiters in other dining scenarios — like, say, certain authentic ethnic restaurants (even if they are faking the accent for effect) — but we really don’t need the world spinning off its axis any more than what it already is, do we?

4) Casual Cyclists: I’m all for exercise (especially if I’m not the only doing it), but can’t they stick to the bike path? It’s not like we haven’t made them a few hundred to use. As far as I know, if a cyclist is on the road — even if it’s merely to get to one bike path to another on the other side — they are supposed to obey the same traffic laws as a motorist already stuck behind rush-hour roadwork. The next cyclist I see actually yield the right of way — or actually stop at a stop sign — will be the first. And don’t even get me started on the way they hog the roadway, oblivious to the world, once they are on it.

5) Royal Families: They can do what they want in the UK, but we won the Revolutionary War (in all the history books, if you’d like to check). If there any leaves floating about from the John Adams family tree, no thanks. Same for Roosevelts, Kennedys and Bushes. Suggestions of Michelle Obama running are just as bad as those of Chelsea Clinton. And don’t get me started on Ivanka (my eyes just rolled so hard that I got a detached retina). We are better than thinking certain bloodlines are better than others.

6) Guys Who Aren’t Sports Fans But Pretend They Are: You know the type? They show up at a Super Bowl party asking who is playing and then they ask the line (a real sports fan could care less who does or doesn’t cover the spread). Listen, buddy, if you don’t follow sports, that’s fine. Just be upfront about it. I don’t play the stock market. I don’t hunt or fish. I don’t even know how to play poker. I don’t have a woodshop in my house. If you’re into those things, I won’t insult your intelligence by trying to fake my way through a train-to-nowhere conversation. I’m into sports, so don’t insult mine. This is especially if the game in question is a life-or-death scenario involving a Philadelphia pro team or Temple. Speaking of which …

7) Ersatz Dallas Cowboys And/Or Penn State Fans: If you’re from the Dallas-Ft. Worth metropolitan area, or if you attended Penn State (or one of its 32,492 satellite campuses), fine. I’ll even be nice about it. I’ll let you slide on Penn State if you are Pennsyltuckian, and maybe even on the Cowboys if you are from a place in the country cursed with no pro team and have a weird fetish about blue stars on silver helmets. Otherwise, for your own safety, keep moving. You are morally bankrupt and spiritually corrupt. Side Note: Villanova is a national basketball program that happens to based on the Main Line. Unless you went there, which probably means you are from North Jersey or Connecticut anyway, zip it.

8) Lincoln Was A Republican: Easy there, cowboy. Not quite. We’ll get into this more down the line, but let’s leave this here for now: Lincoln was a progressive, which is what the Republican party was then but the polar opposite of what it is now.  If you have to go back nearly 16 decades — doing a selective hop, skip and jump over a clear role reversal in between — you don’t have much to go on, do you?

9) Self Checkout: When people in our moral conscience to the north — Canada — are refusing this concept of eliminating minimal wage jobs, it’s mirror time for us in the US. So wrong on so many levels, it’s yet another sign of apocalypse.

10) Unwanted Calls: Don’t tell me about a Do Not Call List. Been there, done that. No such thing. We still live with daily calls from weird numbers (i.e. 111-111-1111). Because I’m me, a stubborn curmudgeon, I sometimes call back and turn the tables. The best joys are when I get someone clearly from a foreign country trying to tell me his name is Tom or Joe — or Archie, Frank, Fred or Andy.

This column originally appeared in The Times Herald ( on Dec. 30, 2018.



Holiday Flicks You Can’t Refuse

Alastair Sim


GORDONVILLE — Last week, a survival guide of holiday songs.

This week, pop the popcorn and gather ‘round the TV.

It’s movie time.

Here are 10 you need to see:

10) The House Without A Christmas Tree – You may not have heard of this long-forgotten TV movie starring a much-younger Jason Robards, but the simple period piece set in mid-1940s Nebraska was a December staple from its 1972 airing until the early 1980s. If you never saw it, or are in need of a refresher course, I suggest hunting it down with the same verve I am now doing for Sofia. For what it’s worth, this gets near perfect scores across the board from both viewers and critics.

9) Miracle On 34th Street – Yeah, OK, I may not want to sit through it again, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth at least one viewing as a requirement for a quick path to US citizenship. Sofia now knows there is no Santa, which is a little sad but also takes a lot of pressure off. Still, a legal argument for his spiritual existence could hit the spot.

8) A Charlie Brown Christmas – Made in 1965, the year of my birth, it should seem dated. And yet, somehow, it never seems to be. Call it a Christmas miracle (nearly 12 years of fatherhood has made me very sappy).

7) A Very Brady Christmas – The Brady Bunch cast was reassembled (sans the original Cindy) in 1988 and the show’s original corniness was a perfect match set against the backdrop of a made-for-TV holiday family movie that led to an ill-fated attempt at a series. As disappointing as that series was, all of us who grew up “Brady” were not let down by this holiday effort.

6) Little Drummer Boy – Made in 1968, in what was called “stop motion,” the figures in this 25-minute short film look so fragile that, if it doesn’t tug at your heart strings, you have none to tug upon. This was my favorite seasonal TV flick at a tender age, which may explain why the song – notably the Bob Seger version – is also No. 1 in Gordonville.

5) Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – Made back in 1964, with a running time of under 60 minutes, those of us growing up on this – and the song — learned the power of redemption. I know there is some alleged bullying in it, and Santa comes off as a half a jerk, but Rudolph rose above it, literally and figuratively, did he not?

4) It’s A Wonderful Life – It’s a wonderful premise. What if I had turned left instead of right, gone north instead of south, etc.? I actually never saw this, start to finish, until a few years back. What if I hadn’t?

3) The Homecoming: A Christmas Story — Another TV movie, it was based on the novella of Earl Hamner, Jr. (the real John Boy) about his family’s struggles in depression-era rural Virginia. It was so well-done that it spawned the long-running series “The Waltons,” albeit with different actors – thankfully – in a majority of the adult roles.

2) A Christmas Carol — The 1951 version, originally called “Scrooge” — and starring Alistair Sim – reigns supreme over all others (no offense to George C. Scott). I caught this spin of the Dickens classic one lonely Christmas on PBS in the early 1990s and it became required viewing ever since. Sim hits it out of the park as Scrooge, but I want to give a tip of the cap to the women in this film for their nuanced acting. This list – topped by Kathleen Harrison (Mrs. Dilber) and Carol Mask (Fan) – also includes Hermoine Baddely (Mrs. Cratchit), Rona Anderson (Alice) and Olga Edwardes (Fred’s wife).

1) The Godfather — Huh, what? Well, it’s my list and my all-time favorite movie is required viewing in and around Christmas Day. And, while my general sanity is always worth questioning, several outlets do consider this classic an “incidental” Christmas movie (another would be “Trading Places,” for example). It may be because the pivotal scenes take place around Christmas. Example: Michael (Al Pacino) and Kay (Diane Keaton) are walking around New York City while Kay is talking about Christmas gifts she purchased for his family, leading to her noticing a tabloid newspaper headline about Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) being shot. Michael goes into a phone booth (remember those?), while Kaye looks in from the outside, which serves as unspoken symbolism of him locking her out of his small enclosed Corleone enclave. Meanwhile, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), is taken hostage while shopping for a sled for his kids, only to be released with a message for Sonny (James Caan).

Honorable Mention: Jack Frost; Trading Places; Full-Court Miracle; Polar Express; Frosty the Snowman; Eight Crazy Nights; Santa Claus is Coming to Town; How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

This column first appeared in The Times Herald on Dec. 23.