Saturday, December 30

My Favorite Holiday Gift

Comes from the unlikely source of A&E, the Arts and Entertainment network, presently plugging the imminent basic cable broadcast debut of The Sopranos with Etta James singing "At Last". Great song, written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, (who, between them, have four first names and four last names, so that if ever I try to change the billing I'm hopeless lost almost instantaneously), and an absolute primer on R&B balladeering, but especially appreciated this time around for finally removing the echo of that American Idol idolesse--the one in Dreamgirls--who belted NPR listeners out of an episode of Terry Gross' Fresh Air last week. "Belted" is used ironically here, as an ethicist might refer to Hiroshima as "an explosion". She had broken the neck of the song on the downbeat, and the first bar was yet to arrive before she had it stripped of watches, rings, cash, credit and debit cards and dental minerals and begun pummeling the corpse with a drill hammer for insufficient blingitude. The audience doesn't fare much better. I was physically exhausted by the second bar, and it took all my remaining strength to hit the off button and keep the truck on the road.

I am about as innocent of American Idol as an American can be and still own a television set. I recognized the woman's name as someone who was a major crowd favorite but lost due to hinky voting or some soft-core porn in her past or something equally mortifying, but I'd never heard her before. Then later that week--thanks to the fact that Dreamgirls seems to have been given the leftover Borat PR account to play with--I got to see a clip of her mugging what may or may not have been another tune from the movie. I can't imagine the circumstances that would make me want to find out. It's supposed to be Motown, but instead of Holland, Dozier, Holland the songs sound like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Whatever Lyricist He Found Out By The Pool This Week. Anyway, the woman is flailing her arms in close approximation to what she's doing to the scattered carnage of the song, which explains why she's such an enormous hit with the American public, for whom "subtlety" means making sure the gate gets closed after you let your six Great Danes attend to their fecal needs among the neighbor's prize petunias.


Anonymous said...

So, I haven't seen any minutes of American Idol nor have I heard any of this person's belting. But I do want to join in the condemnation of the Whitney Houston School of Howling as Singing. Please make it stop.

On the other hand, the showtune in question is a real belter and was a showstopper when Jennifer Holliday sang it.

eRobin said...

I think it was b/c she was overweight?

Happy New Year, Doghouse. Thanks for writing this blog.

punkinsmom said...

Ah yes, the school of "if you sing really really loudly, everyone will think you're talented".

isabelita said...

Etta James is fabulous. We got to see her perform here in Seattle at our Labor Day music thang called Bubmershoot, some years ago. She sang things like,"Jump Into My Fire", "I'd Rather Be A Blind Girl", and - gasp -
"Damn Your Eyes".
I'm not even gonna say nothin' about that otehr so-called singing you mentioned.
Hope you have a great new year.

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year! I'm glad I'm not the only one who was horrified down to my toenails at what I heard on Fresh Air on NPR. I whipped my head around so fast it almost fell off my neck... Just another reason to never, EVER tune in on "American Idol." Glad you were able to keep the truck on the road. We'd miss you something fierce if you weren't here.

DBK said...

My brother and his wife told me that Dreamgirls, was okay, but the music wasn't anywhere near as good as the Motown tunes they pretend to offer. I haven't seen the movie, but Motown done well is the only reason I could think of to see it, so that one's off the list.