Surely, a comedy genius.

When I was 10, my parents took my brother and I on a vacation to Boston. It was the first big city I’d ever seen. But I only really remember one thing about that trip – seeing The Naked Gun in a cool underground theater. The perfect mix of brilliant one-liners, elegantly staged slapstick sequences and spot-on comic acting, the movie was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. And the main reason it all worked was Leslie Nielsen, who passed away Sunday at the age of 84. Nielsen played Lt. Frank Drebin like a steely-eyed king of the asphalt jungle, scorned by his ex-wife, struggling to find meaning in the world, murdering people at Shakespeare in the Park. He was the straight man and the funny guy, never cracking a smile yet delivering jokes with impeccable comic timing. In today’s comedy universe, nobody’s pulling that off. And while TNG is his masterpiece, Nielsen gave us much more, from Airplane to Police Squad, the quality Naked Gun sequels, and the inspired bit parts in Scary Movie 3 and 4.

I miss you already, Mr. Nielsen. I’m sure that in heaven, if you get somebody a harp for Christmas, they won’t ask you what it is.

An Awesome Show

If you’ve ever watched an infomercial because you thought it was funny, or sat in awe of a bad public access TV show, then the singular comedy universe of Tim and Eric is right up your alley. All of the shows the duo has created for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim late-night programming block (only one of them a cartoon) have been obsessed with the marketing of crappy products, the use of outdated technology and the performances of wildly untalented people. And last night at the Town Ballroom, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim shared their latest stage show with a packed-to-the-rafters crowd of folks who had already taken deep draughts of the T&E Kool-Aid. If you haven’t seen their video announcing the tour, watch it now, and understand why my wife and I had been counting down the days until we could see it.

Mainly, this was a promotional jaunt to support the guys’ upcoming holiday show, airing Dec. 5 – the Tim and Eric “Chrimbus Special” – so the set began with a blast of twisted, fake holiday cheer. Tim and Eric took the stage wearing their gloriously hideous Chrimbus outfits, a mix of horrible wigs, bronzed skin, bedazzled vests and boob-high green pants that make them look like frightening, super-sized oompa loompas. The first skit centered around Eric’s refusal to get Tim a Chrimbus present, after Tim had already spent $279 on a car stereo at Circuit City for Eric’s gift (it lets you set your six favorite FM radio stations!). The bit’s mix of innocence and insanity was an ideal beginning for a night of comedy that was about fostering a sense of community more than anything else.

There’s a quality to the duo’s signature show, Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!, that inspires fanaticism, and it’s not just the funny characters and catchy, silly songs. This is comedy with a language all its own – freakish, unibrowed babies are “chippies,” fathers and grandfathers are “pep peps,” the term “for your health” has taken on monumentally hilarious connotations. If you watch Tim and Eric and “get it,” you’re more than a viewer. You’re part of something.

So while this show featured jokes about getting your balls drained, a body suit with flopping genitalia, and a brilliantly sloppy closing set by Tim and Eric’s band Pusswhip Banggang, the pervading attitude was childlike, not childish. When the duo hit the stage to promote their “new movie,” Blues Brothers 2012, they talked about the film’s sponsor, Terminix, more than anything else. Which set the stage for a song that laundry-listed random American brand names, ending with a shout out to The Arizona Jeans Company – “I need my ‘Zona Jeans!” It wasn’t exactly satire, nor was it raunchy, or slapstick – it was silly, random, obsessed with being unstylish, and permasmile-inducing. In other words, pure Tim and Eric.

What’s in my Discman, November 2010

Bob Dylan – The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (2010)

To my generation, so much has been made of Bob Dylan “going electric.” How brave and invigorating it was, how it resulted in Dylan’s best work, how we should wish we were 20 years older, just so we could’ve been around when it was happening. I’m not disagreeing with any of that necessarily, but an unintended counter-effect of this type of praise is an underestimation of Dylan the baby-faced folksinger. It took me a long time to seriously pay attention to any material that pre-dated Bringing It All Back Home. But now, with the release of The Witmark Demos, my silly prejudice has been washed away for good. Both an interesting insight into the workings of Tin Pan Alley and a testament to the prolific genius of the young Robert Zimmerman, this collection of demos gives us an unprecedented look at the burgeoning star spilling his ideas on tape, for the purpose of impressing other artists, not the public. All the elements are here – the shameless Guthrie-aping, the snidely funny political commentary, the jaunty blues numbers, the timeless statements. And the sound quality is better than you’d think; “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” rings out with such honesty and clarity, it breaks your heart all over again. This is 47 peeks into the formative years of America’s most influential singer/songwriter, complete with coughs and murmured explanations, flubbed notes and in-the-moment inspirations. Treasure it.

Jamey Johnson – The Guitar Song (2010)

A double album from the guy who co-wrote “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”? Sounds like something whipped up by the Satan of my own personal hell. But there ain’t nothing trendy or empty-headed about The Guitar Song, a robust collection of songs with roots in traditional country and production values that gleam like an oil soap-polished bar. Don’t be fooled by the record’s “Black” and “White” subtitles, because Johnson’s interested in grey areas. Whether he’s singing about heartbreak, the plight of the modern farmer or breezy afternoons on porch swings, there’s either a resiliency behind the sadness, or the sense that real happiness is earned. Through it all, the pedal steel licks soar and mourn, the pianos dance in dark corners, and every word is soaked in Johnson’s elegant, commanding baritone.

Pink Floyd – Meddle (1971)

This is Pink Floyd’s bridge album – after the departure of the band’s original creative force, Roger Waters & company stayed in acid freakout mode for a bit. And while Meddle has its share of spacey, groove-based psychedelia, it also provides the first glimpses of the more accessible rock juggernaut to come. This transitional nature is perhaps best illustrated by Meddle’s final two cuts. First is the quirky Delta blues of “Seamus,” a two-minute song about a dog. It’s followed by the 23-minute “Echoes,” a gorgeous, undulating epic that does justice to its title, introducing melodies, riffs and freaky bird sound effects that continue to resonate across the decades. For folks who dig early Floyd as much as the mainstream stuff, this is the best of both worlds.

A Boy and His Dog …

I caught the end of the 2000 Frankie Muniz vehicle My Dog Skip over the weekend. Skip dies. And the movie ends with this speech from the narrator, a grown-up version of Muniz’s character in full Wonder Years mode: “He and my mama wrapped him in my baseball jacket. They buried him out under our old elm tree, they said. That wasn’t totally true, for he really lay buried … in my heart.” I was surprised to find myself crying, until I realized that I had puked with my mouth closed, and that vomit was leaking out of my eye sockets.

Denver: Underrated Artist, Overrated Omelet

Saturday night, I reviewed “Country Roads,” a theme concert from the Buffalo Philharmonic that featured a five-piece band performing tunes by John Denver (above, in full Beastmaster mode) and Dan Fogelberg, with the orchestra fleshing things out. Other than reinforcing my feelings about both artists – Denver’s melodies are grand, timeless things, while Fogelberg’s are sopping loaves of Wonder bread – it got me feeling all defensive about one of my favorite country singers. So, here’s a list of reasons why John Denver deserves more cred than he typically gets:

1. His songs are audaciously simple. It ain’t easy to connect with listeners using basic language, and Denver does it as effectively as anybody, injecting warmth and truth into seemingly throwaway sentiments like “Sunshine on my shoulders/makes me happy.”

2. He’s so square, he’s cool. There’s never been anything hip about a guy with an acoustic guitar singing about mountains. Denver didn’t care, singing about dizzying natural highs with a passion that’s as refreshing as a gulp from a Rocky Mountain stream.

3. His love songs are untouchable. Whether it’s the swooning romance of “Annie’s Song” or the tender parental poetry of “For Baby,” Denver’s fusion of simple sentiments with soaring melodies make for unforgettable expressions of love.

4. He makes you sing along. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” could get a monk to break his vow of silence.

5. While hiking in West Virginia, a backwoods mystic (a.k.a. “mountain mama”) gave him an enchanted amulet on a golden necklace. It gave him the power to grow sexy hair and speak with the animals, after which he fell in love with a falcon named Stephanie (above).