New “Muppet Movie” for children of all ages; grouches need not attend

Folks – you know, those people who determine pop culture – will say that the best moment of “The Muppets” is when Academy Award-winning actor Chris Cooper breaks out into rap, sort of like that moment when Tom Cruise, playing nasty studio exec Les Grossman, begins rapping in “Tropic Thunder.”

But there were two better and more important moments for me when I saw it Saturday evening in a theatre full of parents and kids – and one grumpy couple.

One, near the movie’s end, was when Kermit sat in a sliver of moon and began singing my favorite song . . .

“Why are there so many songs about rainbows
and what’s on the other side? . . .

I couldn’t believe the lump that rose in my throat as I listened to a song that was more than three decades old.

“Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
and rainbows have nothing to hide.”

I had gone to see the movie for the same reason that I had dragged my daughter to “Aladdin” and “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King” and “Finding Nemo” – because I love fantasy and magic and the color of rainbows – even if she just tolerated them.

“So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it.
I know they’re wrong, wait and see.”

I wanted to connect her with the beauty of escape and to feel what I did as I’ve gone to the movies for so long: Film can take you anywhere you want to be and some places you didn’t even know you wanted to do.

“Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.”

The great Paul Williams and Kenny Asher co-wrote the “The Rainbow Connection” for the first “Muppet Movie.” It was nominated for an Academy Award in 1979 for Best Song. Williams later spoke with great reverence about the song, which opened and closed the film:

“It’s one of two favorite songs I’ve written in my life, and oddly, they’re both from The Muppet Movie. (The other is “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday.”) When we started working on the film, Kenny and I and Jim (Henson) and Jerry Juhl (the late Muppets head writer) all agreed that we had to establish Kermit’s soul from the very beginning. And to do that, he has to ponder some big questions. Kenny and I began to write this song — the song addresses that inner voice that tells Kermit he can try to do these big things. Then Jerry Juhl did this great thing in the script at the end, when the stage explodes and the end of the rainbow appears — the actual “rainbow connection.” That’s the proof of the whole Muppet philosophy.” Continue Reading

Opening Pandora’s Box

So I’m at Textures Hair Spa yesterday, having my locks re-twisted and talking with an old friend, Denise and the rest of the clients, about the current state of affairs in Detroit.

Suddenly, as if the universe had spoken to us simultaneously, we all realized we wanted, needed, to talk about something else. So I asked about the wonderful Brazilian music that was flowing from the speakers’ all around the spa.

“It’s Pandora!” Nefertiti said.

Dang. I knew this was one of those moments that would embarrass my daughter, but I asked anyway.

“What’s Pandora? I’ve heard the word, but I’m not sure what it is, some kind of music site, right?”

No, it’s not just a music site.

Pandora is an infinite internet radio station. You don’t buy. You just listen. You plug in what kind of music you like, and it finds song after joy after revelation for you to listen to.

For free.

(No, I do not work for Pandora. They’d be embarrassed that I just joined the club. But then I only began using Facebook three and a half years ago.  So there.)

I opened an account and typed in my favorite music, Parliament/Funkadelic. And my mouth fell open. I hadn’t heard “Get Up on the Down Stroke” since I was a kid. And then “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” from War. A day later, it’s playing Prince’s “Lady Cab Driver.”

It doesn’t find just a single artist’s music: It imagines what music you might like if you like that artist.

I’m typing in James Taylor and Gladys Knight right now, and I know I’ll be happy all day long.

TEENA MARIE: Not Bad for a White Girl? Nah. How about brilliant in any color?

It was among the things that led to the phrase “You lying!”

Growing up, every time someone said Teena Marie was white, that was the response.  Every time someone said she could sing her butt off, even enemies and racists agreed.

That Teena Marie, one of a handful of white performers to understand and successfully interpret rhythm-and-blues, died Sunday was a shame.

But the response to news reports that she died of natural causes?

“You lying!”

There is nothing natural about the music world losing that voice and an age when many singers are beginning their second acts.

She began her career at Motown. Years earlier, Berry Gordy set the standard for interracial recruiting by signing the white rock band Rare Earth to the Motown family (Motown and Tamla Records). But it was the Sound of Young America – the Supremes, the Miracles, the Temptations – that defined Motown and led it to create music that became iconic.

Still, early Motown happened when we were children, and Motown was Mama and Daddy and ‘em’s music that we loved anyway.

But when Rick James arrived at Motown, full of jheri curls and vinegar, it led to a whole new Motown. Rick jammed a prom or a house party full of kids whose parents were driving around the neighborhood looking for them.

And when Motown signed Teena, the company began breaking all the rules. And so did Teena and Rick, beginning an onstage and off-stage affair that angered black women and reminded America that even in the music industry, racial tensions rule. Another successful black man chose a white woman: who did he think he was? He thought he was free.

For her first album in 1979, Motown wanted Teena to pass for black. There was no recognition of her background, her face, her beginnings. (The great irony was that so many black artists and groups had to do this in the industry’s early years.)

Teena passed, ruling black radio stations and remaining colorless until the following year, when it was her face that graced the cover of her second album, Lady T. Continue Reading