(Homicide: Life on the Street, Dominatrix, Ferry Aid, Cinequest, Stanford Repertory Theater.)
Yes, the Herald is back to the hybrid newsletter/website status. The re-launched print version just didn't pull in enough advertising. I'll expand on this next issue. And, as usual, I'll blame other people for my own failings. Though, in this case, it seems to be warranted. The whole print industry is dying, so it doesn't really matter what your individual publication does. OK, enough doom and gloom (at least until next time)...
Last year I wrote about Hill Street Blues, which was voted the most influential television show ever in a poll of television critics. This column is about one of the shows it influenced.
Like Hill Street Blues, this show had multiple plot-lines that overlap in serial form, hand-held camera work, and stories with shades of gray morality instead of strict black and white. It was called Homicide: Life on the Street.
And it never attracted much of an audience. Though both shows were lauded by critics, HillStreet Blues was a solid - if unspectacular - staple of the Nielsen Top 30, while Homicide was regularly one of television's lowest-rated programs.
The show, a drama about the Baltimore Police Department's Homicide Unit, was based on the book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, written by Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon. (Simon later went on to create a similar program for HBO called The Wire.) According to the show's Wikipedia page, Simon sent the book to film director (and Baltimore native) Barry Levinson, who thought it would make a better television series than movie.
Homicide had one of the best opening credits in television history...
The character Luther Mahoney was Baltimore's most notorious drug dealer and a complete sociopath – probably the most despicable criminal to ever appear on the show. He was portrayed by Erik Dellums, the son of former Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums. (A bit ironic as Baltimore is the homicide capital of the East Coast and Oakland is the homicide capital of the West Coast.)
Homicide was an ensemble show, but if you had to pick a main character, it would probably be Detective Frank Pembleton, portrayed by Andre Braugher. In this scene, he suffers a stroke. The Pembleton character left the series before it ended.
Chris Noth (portraying his detective character from Law and Order), and John Waters, a proud Baltimore native, guest starred on an episode. When was the last time you heard Dorothy Parker mentioned on a cop show?
Robin Williams guest-starred in the premiere episode of Season 2 which was titled “Bop Gun”. According to its Wikipedia page, it was directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal and starred his son, Jake, who played Williams' son. The first 9 episodes of Homicide (season one) had low ratings, so the show was moved from Wednesdays to Thursdays (replacing L.A. Law) in the hope it would become a hit. Though this episode attracted a lot of viewers, the program quickly nosedived in ratings, eventually ending up on a Friday night time slot (which, along with Saturday prime time, is where shows go to die.)
Here's a critically-acclaimed episode called “Subway”, written by James Yoshimura and guest-starring Vincent D'Onofrio. A documentary about the making of the episode was shown on Public Television. Despite the publicity and critical acclaim, the episode didn't perform well ratings-wise.
The last scene of the series - in 1999 – had the same dialogue as the first scene of the series - in 1993. The show's producers were notified of its cancellation only a few weeks before the end of the season, so there wasn't enough time to wrap up some stories.
“Homicide: The Movie” aired in February of 2000, and it wasn't a reunion for the sake of having a reunion. The movie serves as an epilogue for the show. A dark one.
Ever wake up and wonder whatever happened to Dominque Davalos, the lead singer of Dominatrix, who had one minor dance club hit with their 1984 single, “The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight”? (Not to be confused with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens.) Well, I did, so I emailed her, asked her a few questions, and here's what I found out:
Dominique says she was about 19 years old and with Ford Modeling Agency at the time she joined Dominatrix. She got turned down for a sweater campaign, but was referred to a music video shoot. She auditioned to be the video's singer as well and got the job.
“I didn't even know what a dominatrix was. I had to learn about it and went into the Hellfire Club – and Whoee – did I find out indeed! The girl whom was previously in the band was a real dominatrix. They knew the song was a hit so they wanted to market it with someone less severe, is my guess.”
(Actually, Dominique and I are the same age and I didn't know what a dominatrix was when I was 19 either. I knew there were people who paid other individuals to tie them up and whip them with leather straps, but I wasn't familiar with the term. When the song came out on the radio I thought it was a catchy, innocent tune about a Hobbit-type character called The Dominatrix. Or since it was the '80s, more like a Smurf-type character.)
Dominique's mom was a Martha Graham dancer who lived in New York and her dad was an actor (he played opposite James Dean in East of Eden) who lived in Los Angeles, so she lived in both cities.
“Being in Dominatrix and touring with the band around the East Coast were probably the most outrageous and fun times I've ever had. The director of the video, “Beth B”, went on to do a low budget movie called Salvation where I had a lead role.”
Dominique wanted to write songs, but she wasn't allowed to in Dominatrix, so she left the band to sing for other rock groups. She got a role as a bass player in the movie Howard the Duck, where George Clinton and Thomas Dolby told her she was a natural and should take it up in real life. She did and has spent 20 years as a touring and session player for an assortment of bands. She currently has a songwriting partnership with Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go's (www.thebluebonnets.net) and has a new EP on the way, as well as an East Coast tour this fall with Jane Lee Hooker.
Dominique Davalos (left) and Kathy Valentine
Though Dominique's had a decent musical career, she's done even better for herself in the Austin, Texas real estate market (go to her website and it's about buying houses, with no mention of her bands). “I started with $20,000 in savings and... well.... Austin just blew up in my little grubby musician high school dropout hands.”
So you see that, folks? Get hooked up in that fast track Rock 'n Roll lifestyle, hang out with the bondage crowd at sleazy, underground nightclubs.... and you'll end up as a successful real estate agent. I'm just warning you. Don't mean to preach.
Two related tidbits from the above story:
Kathy Valentine recently quit the Go-Go's (apparently not on friendly terms).
The name “Dominique Davalos” sounded familiar to me, so I looked her up online and she used to be in another band with Kathy Valentine. It was called The Delphines and SF Herald columnist Kimberlye Gold and moi actually saw them perform at a now defunct club called The Pound a month before 9-11. (Yes, 9-11-01.)
Two more related tidbits from the Dominatrix story:
Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go's lives in San Francisco now – in the Castro. With her boyfriend.
If you heard the Dominatrix song out here in '84, I guess you heard it on The Quake. I heard it on WLIR back on Long Island, and recently discovered that one of their disk jockeys is out here now – as a successful radio producer. His name is Ben Manilla and I stopped by his office, spoke with him (nice guy) and maybe, if you're good, we'll have a little something about Ben in a future issue.
The Quake – San Francisco's “Modern Rock” station in the mid-1980s. Anyone out there remember it? I remember not being able to hear any new “Modern Rock” from the summer of '84 to the summer of '85 because I moved from New York to Oklahoma. Then when I was driving around San Francisco looking for a place to live - in the summer of '85 - I came across The Quake on the dial and looked forward to listening to it once I moved here. I went back to Oklahoma, got my stuff, headed west, and The Quake changed formats to something awful the week after I got here. I had to wait around for 2 years until Live 105 was born for my up-to-date “Modern Rock” fixes.
The MS Herald of Free Enterprise, a British ferry, capsized off a Belgian port in 1987, killing 193 passengers and crew. When another ferry sank recently in South Korea, I scanned Google News to see if that tragedy sparked any remembrances of Ferry Aid, which raised money for victims of the British disaster over a quarter century ago, but apparently there were none. I know that Ferry Aid wasn't as big as Live Aid (for African famine relief), but you'd expect one media outlet on the planet to mention it. The single for Ferry Aid was Kate Bush, Boy George, Mark Knopfler, and a chorus of pop stars who were big for 15 minutes and completely forgotten today singing “Let it Be” by the Beatles. Paul McCartney gets spliced into the video (hamming it up as usual) and it really is a great rendition of a great song. It's on Youtube if you want to check it out.
Mike Peters of The Alarm was also in Ferry Aid. I remember meeting Mike backstage at a concert of his years ago and he told me how he was recovering from leukemia. Glad to see Mike's still alive, kicking, and making music. On a local note, Nigel Twist – the original drummer for The Alarm – lives here in the City of St. Francis.
An online exclusive: In the print newsletter version of this issue's Herald, I wrote about my experiences as a member of 24 Hour Fitness. This little tidbit got left out:
I finally got to visit the Santa Cruz 24 Hour Fitness. It seemed nice. I noticed they had signs hanging in the men's locker room instructing the clientele that the hand dryers are only for drying hands. (I think we know what they mean by that – don't we, gentlemen?)
Speaking of “24”, this past spring I was in the same room with the guy who created that show.
It was at the closing night ceremony for Cinequest, the San Jose-based film festival that started in 1990 (a big thank you to festival bigwig Kyle Burt for getting me into it again).
Joel Surnow, the former head writer for “Miami Vice” went on to co-create “24” starring Kiefer Sutherland, and was at Cinequest to promote “Small Time”, a movie he wrote and directed.
“Small Time” is about a recent high school graduate who decides to skip college and sell used cars like his father. It's an enjoyable movie that's humorous, somewhat touching, and apparently a real departure for Surnow. (If used car dealers had pressure groups that constantly monitored how they were portrayed in the media, they'd probably protest this film, though.)
Chris Meloni (TV's “Law and Order: SVU”) and Devin Bostick (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid”) play the father and son, respectively. After the screening, Meloni was presented with Cinequest's highest honor, the Maverick Spirit Award.
According to the film's trailer on Youtube, it was supposed to hit theaters in April, but apparently it never reached the Bay Area. There's no record of its earnings at BoxOfficeMojo.com, and it didn't have a Wikipedia page.
I noticed something interesting (but trivial) about the movie - no one talked on a cell phone. The closest thing to it was a cordless phone next to a swimming pool. “Small Talk” took place nowadays, right? Maybe I missed one.
Speaking of cell phones, Cinequest's opening night ceremony featured a brief speech by Martin Cooper, known as the inventor of the cell phone and the first man to speak on a cell phone. (Note how he's billed as the first “man” to speak on a cell phone. You know how women love to talk on the phone. Do you think... na, he was probably the first person to speak on a cell phone. Forget it.)
Martin Cooper is 85 years young, as former “Today Show” weatherman Willard Scott would say, and developed his idea for it while working at Motorola in the 1970s.
He said the first cell phone weighed 2 and a half pounds and had a battery that lasted 20 minutes. Then he noted that was okay because nobody was going to hold something that weighed 2 and a half pounds next to their ear for 20 minutes.
Cinequest's opening night feature was “The Grand Seduction”, which sounds like a Cecil B. DeMille-directed porno movie, but is actually a small film out of Canada.
Brendan Gleeson plays the mayor of a small town without a doctor trying to lure a young doctor (Taylor Kitsch) to live there so a big corporation will move there and the townsfolk will have jobs. “The Grand Seduction” was directed by Don McKellar.
I preferred “Small Talk”, but this movie wasn't bad – it had its moments as light comedy and had a benevolent feel to it – something that's almost daring in independent film. It's a remake of the French Canadian feature “La Grande Seduction”.
Above: A wholesome, heartwarming photo from the opening night party for Cinequest at South First Billiards in downtown San Jose (just blocks away from where I got my useless degree at San Jose State University).
Thanks to Pinch, the latest drummer for storied punk band, The Damned, who played Slim's recently. He said I could cover the show, but I got food poisoning at a restaurant a few days before the gig so it was not to be. The Damned had a good show at the Great American Music Hall around 2000. Backstage, the band were very polite and Captain Sensible kept singing Rod Stewart's “Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?”. Check out www.OfficialDamned.com to see what's new with them.
And a shout-out to the owner of the restaurant where I got food poisoning. When told what happened to me, he said I could bring the whole family to his restaurant and eat for free. (So now the whole family could get food poisoning – at no charge!) Namaste.
Stanford Summer Theater (at Stanford University) recently changed their name to Stanford Repertory Theater, and I caught their summer production of Moby Dick – Rehearsed.
Going in, I figured it was an adaption of the Herman Melville novel, but it's actually a play written by Orson Welles, with a quirky premise. Actors rehearsing for a production of Shakespeare's King Lear butt heads with the director (Courtney Walsh, who has an engaging presence and is a dead ringer for Saturday Night Live alum Ana Gasteyer). The cast members wonder what it would be like to perform a theatrical version of Moby Dick, with saucy language inspired by The Bard. So they do.
I have, like any admirer of western civilization, a deep respect for Shakespeare, but I'm not a fan, so I'd sum up the show as a well-done performance that wasn't really for me. Fans of Orson Welles may want to take another look at this work. His movies (especially that one movie) rightfully continue to be worshiped today. His War of the Worlds radio broadcast was inventive and is ingrained in American culture (even though it causing widespread panic has pretty much been proven to be an urban legend). So watching something from the old master that hasn't attracted that much notice can be a little different.
Rod Gnapp played King Lear/Captain Ahab and the play was directed by Rush Rehm.
This next item may seem like a plug for an advertiser, but it's really hard-hitting, serious news: The world's only salon dedicated solely to the hair-straightening technique known as Brazilian Blowout is in Silicon Valley at Brazilian Blowout Bar, 2255 The Alameda in Santa Clara (near Santa Clara University). Imitating Mike Wallace, I leaned into the salon owner, James Griffiths, and asked why people should come all the way here when hair-cutters across the Bay Area offer the Brazilian Blowout treatment. He said they should go to his place because they administer the treatment full-time and have become experts at it as opposed to other salons that do it part-time. So that settles it. Head on down there today.
Remember Allison Parks? She had some articles published in Herald back in 2008, with titles such as “Coping with your DUI”, “The Beast Next Door”, and “Knowing Your League in High School”. Well, apparently she's talented at business as well as writing, as she recently opened a tanning salon in her native Napa...
On a similar note (meeting local brilliant minds), former Bay Guardian publisher Bruce B. Brugmann (BBB) actually stopped his car and let me walk across the street near his home in the West Portal district. I gave him the thumbs-up, he waved, and drove off. Ya see – we can all get along.
For some reason I enjoy going on Youtube and watching old made-for-TV movies about the rise and fall of situation comedies. So far I've seen “Unauthorized Stories” of Mork and Mindy,Three's Company, and Gilligan's Island. Watching the ascendency and decline of particular individuals reminds one of Shakespeare, except instead of everybody dying at the end they all end up as guest stars on game shows.
In tribute to Robin Williams, here's the Mork and Mindy one (which was pretty well done). Hats-off to Chris (whatever his last name is, it's some long Greek thing I can't pronounce) who really captures the essence of the late funnyman. And unlike the vast majority of people who encountered success in show biz, Robin Williams wasn't just the guy who got lucky. There weren't other qualified performers, who just weren't chosen, that could have done what he did.
Thanks to Fouladi Projects for the invite to the opening reception for “Proud to be a Hero”, which consisted of new work by Italian artist Laurina Paperina (which translates to English as Little Laura Little Duck). As the press release noted, “The subjects of her drawings, animations, and installations are most often merrily maimed and killed in a myriad of ridiculous ways...”
(Kind of like an avant-garde version of the old animated cartoons.)