That Old Feeling: The Feelies!

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The Queen hands them out. So do critics, creative guilds and whoever votes for the Golden Globes. The New Year rings in a glut of knighthoods, awards and Person of the Year citations. As I've written before, these honors are like funeral orations: they really promote the ones announcing them, not the ones receiving them. So here I am, promoting this column by presenting the First Annual That Old Feeling Awards. The Feelies.

Believe me or not, they are given as much in gratitude as in egotism. It's been a gas concentrating, each week, on some aspect of classic movies, TV, radio, theater, Broadway — the whole circus of pop culture. (Which reminds me: I also did a column on circuses.) I've learned a lot, been astonished by the richness of venerable entertainment, and pleasantly surprised at how much more is available now, on paper, on disc and online, than just a few years ago. The Feelies pay tribute to these precious artifacts. May everything old be new again.

1. Best Audio Website (Spoken Word): The Mercury Theatre on the Air

The legend of radio's golden age — and of that incorrigible prodigy Orson Welles — comes to life on webmaster Kim Scarborough's lavish site. It contains 18 of the 20 hours in the 1938 series "The Mercury Theatre on the Air" (a/k/a "First Person Singular"), with thrilling renditions of "Dracula," "The Count of Monte Cristo" and, most notoriously, "The War of the Worlds." The site also has 29 broadcasts of the "Mercury"'s sponsored successor, "The Campbell Playhouse," and, from 1937, a superb, 3-1/2-hr. "Les Miserables," which the 22-year-old Welles adapted, directed and starred in. The shows are available in streaming audio or download audio. A gift to all aficionados of ear-drama, and an invaluable asset to scholars of Welles. His large legend flowered on these broadcasts; on this site, the spoken word is made flesh.

Honorable mention: Max Schmid's Jean Shepherd Tape Catalog. What Welles did with a dozen or so actors — create a coherent aural world full of humor and heartache — Shep did all by himself, 20 years later. There's great stuff by the medium's premier monologuist on this site, but you have to send away and pay for it.

2. Best Audio Website (Music): The Harry Warren Web Site

Warren could have been a pop immortal from just his train songs ("Shuffle Off to Buffalo," "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe"). The Tony-winning revival "42nd Street" showcases more than a dozen of his toe-tapping tunes. A recent TV commercial features his timeless ballad "I Only Have Eyes for You." Yet Hollywood's preeminent songsmith remains a treasured anonymity. This fabulous site — a monumental work of love and scholarship from 20-year-old David Jenkins — will educate the ignorant. It not only lists all Warren songs but contains audible versions of 699 of them on MIDI files. Sing along with Harry (and David).

Honorable Mention: "Kristina fran Duvemala." All the words, in Swedish and English, to the 1995 musical from ABBA's Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulveaus. It's headed for the West End, and then Broadway, but why wait? Buy the CD, scroll this site, and you're inside Andersson's lyric rhapsody.

3. Best Info Website: Satellite News

Being "The Almost But Still Not Quite Complete History of MST3K" — "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" to the unknowing. It was surely the 90s best TV comedy series (or do I mean "The Simpsons"?) Christopher Cornell and Brian Henry's biography of that cable show with the guy, the two robots and the bad movies is evocative, fair, smartly written and darn-near exhaustive (23,600 words). Should be perused after a re-screening of Joel-and-the-Bots' deconstruction of "Manos: The Hands of Fate."

Honorable Mention: Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia. Evocative bios and pix of John Zacherle, John Facenda, Hy Lit, Jerry Blavat, Joe Niagara ... do these names mean anything to anyone who didn't grow up where I did, when I did?

4. Best CD Box Set: "Atlantic Rhythm and Blues 1947-74" (WEA-Atlantic).

Big Joe Turner, Clyde McPhatter, Ray Charles, The Drifters, Aretha Franklin and dozens of others convene on this Rosetta Stone of rock 'n soul. The accompanying booklet alone is worth the price of admission. Those with spare cash should listen to this eight-volume treasure while riffling the pages of the handsome picture book "?What'd I Say': The Atlantic Story, 50 Years of Music."

Honorable mention: "Les Paul: The Legend and the Legacy" (Gold Rush). Four discs and an encyclopedic booklet on the Edison of the pop guitar. Not available on Amazon, but worth searching for.

5. Best Video Box Set: "The Sid Caesar Collection"

More than six hours of skits from Caesar's variety shows of the 50s: pantomime, foreign-movie parodies, half-hour melodramas, musicals with a cast of dozens. Catskills comedy made magnificent, from Caesar and his now-even-more-famous staff of writers.

Honorable Mention: "Arbuckle & Keaton: The Original Comique/Paramount Shorts" (Kino video). The apprentice work (as second banana to Fatty Arbuckle) of the silent film's most inventive comedian. A fine adjunct to Kino's earlier "The Art of Buster Keaton."

6. Best DVD Box Set (live action): "Pink Flamingos / Female Trouble."

Directors aren't often their own best exegetes. So the filmmaker commentaries on most DVDs have way too much indulgent cackling. ("Gee, that was good.") But Waters, a raconteurial genius, provides observations on his most notorious movies that are both hilarious and modest As he says of one particularly naughty "Pink Flamingos" scene, "It's like looking at your past crimes at a parole hearing." If so, this DVD is the comedy trial of the century.

Honorable Mention: "The Godfather DVD Collection." Francis Ford Coppola provides a wonderfully curmudgeonly commentary, explaining how the brass at Paramount tried to destroy everything he tried to create. With 34 deleted scenes.

7. Best DVD Box Set (animation): "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

The most influential film of the 30s gets a DVD worthy of its historical and aesthetic import. Storyboards, trailers, Easter eggs and a deleted number, "Music in My Soup."

Honorable Mention: "The Simpsons: The Complete First Season." The unmissable starter set from the 90s' best comedy series (or do I mean "MST3K"?). As creator Matt Groening writes in his liner notes: "With 280-odd shows in the can and no end in sight, you might be able to complete your ?Simpsons' DVD collection just before the next format comes along."

8. Best Showbiz Biography: "The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Underworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan" by Jimmy McDonough (A Capella Press)

Milligan's "sexless sex films" and incestuous horror movies were too pretentious to cop any of the doting derision lavished on Ed Wood's cinematrocities. They weren't bad-funny; they were bad-peculiar. But as the leader of his ragtag band of not-quite-actors, Milligan exuded a monstrous glamour, which McDonough brilliantly captures. His pristine, ferocious prose makes Milligan seem almost the cinema's Celine.

Honorable Mention: "Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, The Early Years, 1903-1940" by Gary Giddins (Little, Brown). A persuasive life of the 20th century's signal crooner, by its foremost jazz critic.

9. Best Music Book: "The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin" by Robert Kimball and Linda Emmett.

Just in time for the "God Bless America" craze, this prime tome collects all 1200 or so of the immigrant troubadour's published songs, and a couple hundred more songs from the trunk. Its inclusivity buttresses Jerome Kern's argument that "Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He is American music."

Honorable Mention: "Reading Lyrics" by Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball. The authors could start shouting matches in certain homes with their choices (and omissions) of certain songs. But then we'd start singing the remembered tunes and dissolve into domestic, nostalgic harmony.

10. Best Musical Revival: "An All-Star Tribute to Brian Wilson" at Radio City Music Hall, March 29.

Part exalting singalong, part night of the living dead, this tribute show (excerpted for a TNT July 4th special) brought Paul Simon, Elton John, Billy Joel, Heart, Vince Gill, David Crosby, George Martin, Ricky Martin and Wilson Phillips onto the giant deco stage to sing the glory of Beach Boy music. Brian, or what's left of him, was there too — the ghost at his own wake.

Honorable Mention: "Hair" at Encores! For years, this series, at Manhattan's City Center, has been your maiden uncle's favorite shrine for old musicals, which glow like new in a concert format. So "Hair" was shock therapy for the Encores! crowd; this daring, scrupulous resurrection of the tribal love-rock music of 1968 set some dentures on edge with its naughty words and Vietnam-era arrogance. But in the end, Galt MacDermot's pop-music profligacy and the elegiac tenderness at the show's heart won over all but the sternest traditionalists. We heard it might transfer to Broadway — wouldn't it be nice if the Age of Aquarius dawned again?


What's an Awards show without an acceptance speech? OK, here's mine: I want to thank the Online Academy for letting me wallow, at such length, in our glorious past. I'm grateful to's Rick Stengel for saying, yeah, why not, do it, when I suggested a series called That Old Feeling; and to my editor Mark Coatney, a most patient and agreeable shepherd, who keeps encouraging me even though I have not devoted so much as one column to the century's single greatest artist, George Jones.

And a plethora of thanks to you, TOF readers, especially those who have e-mailed me (which anyone can do by clicking on my byline at the top of each column). I appreciate, and have tried to respond to, every note, the kind and the critical. I've learned that any story — say, one on Brian Wilson — can earn an equal number of bouquets ("What a spectacular piece of writing." -Steve) and brickbats ("What a miserable, elitist, cynical and snide excuse for an article." -Tim Mashburn).

I'm pleased to know that the two columns on the cultural detritus of the World Trade Center bombings touched a plangent chord in some of you. And that another story, on pop songs that fathers pass on to their children, could cross its own generation gap ("The best part of your article was the fact that my daughter e-mailed it to me." -John Bonavita). Of course, not everyone can embrace the Old. Just last night, film critic Andrew Sarris — himself an eloquent champion of classic culture — told me that, in a course he taught this past semester at Columbia on film musicals, the one thing his students couldn't "get" was the music; those tunes, which many of us cherish as immortal, held no magic for the young. I get some of this in my e-mail. At the end of the first column, I listed ten old songs and asked what they have in common. "They all SUCK!" wrote Bernhard Schilling. "Life is for the living!"

I'd say: Listen more carefully to those stale chestnuts; they may get to you yet. But I acknowledge that the oldies can learn from the young and the new. I got an education from Marissa K. Lingen, 22, who underlines what I should have known: lots of kids are open to the glories of old music. So why, she sensibly asked, am I implicitly dismissing contemporary pop? "If you're going to argue that we should keep old music around (and I agree, we should), you should also respect the breadth and depth of new music, rather than offering obligatory trite remarks about its lack of melody." We'll see if I can atone; I'm planning a geezer's take on today's top music, movies and TV shows.

But mainly I'll walk in my favorite furrow (or rut). In coming weeks and months you should find columns on Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire, "Children of Paradise," "Father Knows Best," Jerry Lee Lewis, Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey (at last!). I'm always happy to get suggestions for future topics. Here's one, on Patsy Cline: "She sang in four octaves. She was the Queen of ballads in her time. She gave me my first WOODY!" -Tom. (Thanks for sharing, Tom.)

The column that garnered the most e-mail was not for That Old Feeling; it was a plaint, from an old print critic, about the online movie reviewers, which e-mailer John Silver cogently described as "the most eloquently vacant autoerotic ego stroking since the last Streisand tour." (Silver can write for my website any time.) One web-movie scribe, Jay Allard, gave me some insight — or, as he spelled it, "insite" — into his craft: "When I write movie reviews, I usually do it in about 2 minutes without proofreading... I feel I can write decent, I just don't take the time to." Another correspondent, K. Talat Muskara, bewailed "the consolidation of print-tv-radio-books-film and Internet service providers (warner-time-aol) under one roof," and added a warning that amuses me and creeps me out in equal measure: "The people that pay you WILL in time discard you, for a cheaper and more pliable mind."

Could be. But I hope to stave off that inevitability by keeping my TIME employers — and mainly you, dear readers — enlightened and entertained, at least through 2002. How tough can that be for those of us, all of us, who survived 2001? Living through the past sustains us in the present, gives us hope for the future. Or, as Yvonne De Carlo sang in Stephen Sondheim's "Follies": "I got through all of last year/ And I'm here."