JUNE BIRTHDAYS Ron Canova, June 13, 51 yrs. Clayton Smith, June 16, 29 yrs. Derrek Carriveau, June 17, 37 yrs. Simon Lynx, June 22, 34 yrs.
The latest reports from Bangkok authorities now state that Kung Fu star David Carradine, 72, was found dead with a rope tied around his neck and his genitals. The original "suicide by hanging" pronouncement was understandable, but premature.
Now it looks like it might have been an accident caused by an episode of erotic/autoerotic asphyxiation taken too far. There were reportedly no others in the hotel room and no one was known to be with him the previous night. Carradine's family suspects foul play as they were told his hands were tied behind his back. (Not meaning to sound insensitive, but could he have had a little help getting tied up? If the participants fled when something went wrong, and that was covered up, I'd call that "foul play".)
Carradine was in Bangkok shooting the movie Stretch.
Thursday night's Tonight Show starring Conan O'Brien, his fourth episode as host, was much more encouraging, and I can see that the first episode from Monday was just him being different.
The monologue went off on cue, lasted more of the expected duration, and special videos were saved until he was at the desk. Thankfully, the whole show now looks like an even cross between Conan's former Late Night show and the traditional Tonight Show format. I am very pleased with this development.
The guests on Thursday included Gwyneth Paltrow, currently shooting Iron Man 2, and comic/actor Joel McHale. The musical guest was John Mayer who performed "California Dreaming" (terrific guitar-player, BTW) backed up by the Los Angeles Boys' Choir.
I think Conan will do a fine job here as he always did on his previous show, and the Tonight Show transition can now be considered smooth and complete.
David Carradine, who rose to fame as the star of the '70s drama Kung Fu, was found dead in a hotel room in Bangkok, reportedly of suicide by hanging, though this is not confirmed. Conflicting reports put the actor's age at either 72 or 73.
Carradine was an influencial actor who helped popularize martial arts in the '70s. The son of B-movie star John Carradine and brother to Keith Carradine, and successful star in his own right, David enjoyed a dramatic career revival a couple years ago as the titular star of Quentin Tarantino's feature film Kill Bill.
I'm sure Mike Smith will do his usual outstanding job of outlining Carradine's career in this week's Mike's Rant which will post sometime over the next few days.
It occured to me a week ago Thursday while I was watching the second-to-the-last Tonight Show starring Jay Leno that there is a whole generation that never knew The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson except as history or as a series of boxed DVD sets. Then again, I never knew The Tonight Show starring either Steve Allen or Jack Parr except as that, either.
This venerable late-night talk/variety show has a long and colorful history going back fifty years, and has been frequently imitated, but never bested. When Johnny retired from the show in 1992, one of the most heated campaigns in television history exploded as the two top contenders for successor, David Letterman and Jay Leno, both successful stand-up comics who'd appeared on The Tonight Show many times, competed for the job. The story of this battle has filled many columns and was the subject of at least one TV movie. It's too much to go into here, but of course, in the end, Jay Leno won the job and David Letterman continued his highly successful career on rival networks. In any event, the 17-year tenure with comedian Jay Leno as host came to an end last Friday, May 29th.
This past Monday, June 1, began a new era with Conan O'Brien in the host's seat, Conan himself the veteran of his own successful late-night talk show called, well, Late Night. Before Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Conan's biggest claim to fame was as a comedy writer, most notably on the early years of The Simpsons. That...and having a funny name like "Conan". I've always been a huge Conan O'Brien fan, and was excited to see him get the job. It seemed an apt reward for his years of toiling on NBC.
Due to a work-related issue, I was only able to partake of the first thirty minutes or so of Conan's inaugural episode. The opening segment featured Conan, still in New York, checking off a written list of "things to do". Just under "shaving" and "brushing teeth" came "Move to L.A.", which he now realizes should've had higher priority! After failing to hail a cab, he decides to run. All the way to L.A. To the tune of Cheap Trick's "Surrender". The sight of Conan running cross-country with nothing but the clothes on his back probably sounded better on paper than it played out, but it was amusing seeing him cross in front of countless national landmarks dressed in a business suit on his way west, stopping only at a souvenir shop to chat briefly with a clerk. This would've been better at no more than 2 minutes, but seemed to go on forever, probably 5--7 minutes.
Finally getting to L.A. and onstage, the show got underway in earnest. Since up to this point I hadn't heard how they were going to handle production particulars, this segment revealed several things I'd been wondering about. Yes, he got to keep his regular band, The Max Weinberg Orchestra. (I presume Kevin Eubanks moved with Jay to the new, earlier time slot to start later this year). The studio set is gorgeous, apparently a new one built at Universal Studios for this purpose, and carries the traditional Tonight Show veneer (desk, couch, backdrop of LA). The bigger surprise was the return of Andy Richter, Conan's "Ed McMahon" for the earliest years of Late Night, who'd left for greener pastures fairly unsuccessfully, back in his original role.
The monologue segment seemed to feature more videos than monologue. (Set-up...pause..."well, take a look"...play video.) I don't remember him doing all that much of that even on Late Night, except after the monologue. Finally, around midnight he introduced his first guest, Will Ferrell, ex-SNL player currently starring in the movie adaptation of Land of the Lost. Ferrell came out to the stage Egyptian King style on a throne carried by four "slaves". Amusing, sure, but not particularly hysterical. At this point I had to leave for work, so I didn't hear much of the interview, and I haven't bothered to watch any internet video of the rest of the show. I will note that the musical guest, Pearl Jam, closed the show, and from all accounts put on a good performance, although the singer seemed to be fighting a cold or something.
Even Conan admitted that the first show was going to be unusual, and I'm assuming that subsequent episodes incorporated more of the ingredients that made both The Tonight Show and Late Night so successful.
My next opportunity to see The Tonight Show in its entirety will be Thursday. I hope that I discover those ingredients in place. (I did catch an AOL news video clip of Tom Hanks' Tuesday night encounter with a prop meteor that I found funny and encouraging.)
About 20 years ago when Ye Olde Editor was still toiling in the hallowed halls of classic heavy metal, it was very prestigious among the head-banger population to be thought of as a great technical player. Privately, the holy grail ranking among guitarists of the day was to be a "shredder", that is, to be able to play blindingly fast, and hopefully, tastefully. The two are rarely automatically conjoined.
About this time, fellow bandmate, Scott van Sickle, brought to my attention a new phenom on the scene he'd heard about and wondered if I'd heard about it, too. With a bit of a grin reflecting his amusement, he relayed the story of the first female heavy metal shredder in the world (or words to that effect) who graduated from Juilliard as a classical violinist, but through an epiphany of sorts, she decided to pursue a career in heavy metal and apply all her violin chops to electric guitar. Her name was Katherine Thomas, but she went by the stage name of The Great Kat. I'm sure I replied "No, I don't know about that one" after which, knowing Scott, he proceeded to play me something of hers. I have no memory after that except I was likely impressed and probably said something like, "so she's going to be up there with Yngwie Malmsteen and Racer X, huh?" That was probably the last I'd thought about it. Any TV appearances (e.g., Headbanger's Ball, etc.) are vague at best. After 1993 or so, I didn't follow the music scene all that closely considering anything that would be relevant to me had pretty much come and gone.
Fast-forward 16 years, and I'll be damned if the Sacred PO BOX of Crazed Fanboy hadn't been invaded by not just one but two DVD compilations of The Great Kat's shredding! I am grateful to the promoter for allowing me this opportunity to re-examine and re-evaluate that unique creature known as The Great Kat.
First off, let me say that Kat is still a hot-looking woman! To say she's aged miraculously would be an understatement -- she's actually more gorgeous now than I remember from 20 years ago. That alone can be difficult to determine from the videos as they are very fast-moving and she always has her "open-scream-war-face" on (see pics).
EXTREME GUITAR SHRED
Live In Chicago
And fast-moving they are. Because of the frenzied pace of all the performances, most clock in at around 90 seconds, some go over a little over 2 minutes. "The Flight of the Bumblebee", long a favorite among speed-record setters of violin and guitar, gets a great workout here. "Beethoven's Fifth" and "Paganini's Caprice #24" get a similar boost of amphetamines, going by in a blur of notes that's over nearly as soon as it starts. Truthfully, at these speeds, the uninitiated may think they all sound like "Flight of the Bumblebee"! But I know the notes are all there, I can hear them, and it's especially amazing she can pull that off while moving around onstage. Kat indeed plays violin as well as guitar on some of the pieces, "Bach's Bradenberg Concerto #3" notable here.
The bigger surprise is the route she has taken with much of the video production in which Kat appears to be in the role of a crazed and sadistic dominatrix (was that always the case and my memory failed me?). Combine that with a visual approach I believe is currently called "goregrind" -- violence, graphic torture and mutilation, blood splattered everywhere, especially on Kat -- and you have something that is definitely not for everyone. Although I admire the production values on both DVDs, some of the "narrative" simulating extreme violence ("Castration" is the most extreme video here) gets flirtingly close to snuff flick territory. If they went for shock value with a lot of this, I'd say they nailed it!
It's apparent that the musical value of the pieces are slightly secondary to the shredder acrobatics and the shocking stage show, but that's obviously by design. Arguably, the most musical it gets are "Flight of the Bumblebee", "Paganini's Caprice #24", "Beethoven's 5th Symphony", and "Zapateado". My favorite, believe it or not, is a hint of one of my favorites, "Bohemian Rhapsody #2", a very clear and precise rendition by Kat, but is merely the background music on the "Extreme Guitar Shred" DVD menu! Now I have to hear the whole thing, so a little seaching is in order.
Nevertheless, The Great Kat's place as one of the top 10 fastest guitar-shredders in the world is definitely secure! I can highly recommend these to all fans of hers. For those who've never heard of her and are willing to hear some classics played at speeds you can scarcely imagine while have your senses shaken in every conceivable way by extreme videos, well, I'd have to recommended them to you, too!