Wednesday, January 7, 2009

E-Pop! The E-Zine Dedicated to Pop Culture Punditry

E-Pop! was born in a coffee shop on a cold, snowy Saturday in New York, with my friend Cathleen and I laughing at all things “pop.” For two years from 1998-2000, I exorcised my pop culture demons via a jointly produced E-Zine (the once popular but now irrelevant “Sony Walkman” of online publishing), rebuking all those pop culture media characters who live in our heads along with family and friends. They’re there all the time: Paula, Simon, Brad, Angelina, and Jen, Hillary and Bill, Princess Diana even 11 years after her death, Michael Moore, George and the entire cast of Ocean’s 11, 12, and 13, and the celebrities who pepper red carpets, talk shows, and websites where it’s nearly impossible to escape them.

With the fervor of Tonya Harding skating with metal pipe in hand, E-Pop! took on the awards show season, lame politicians, media mockery, and overexposed celebrities deserving of a left hook.

The following posts are highlights from those two years - a “Best of E-Pop!”

E-Pop Issue # 1: The Best of E-Pop!'s New York Post Obituary Headline Spoofs

Remember that old adage that airplane crashes happen in groups of three?

E-Pop! thinks that the deaths of pop culture figures come in three's, too. Dusty Springfield, Stanley Kubrick, and Joe DiMaggio all died during the first few days of March, 1999. Coincidence? Of course! But that's not hot copy.

E-Pop! is not alone in wanting to think they are linked, like some perverse Kevin Bacon game, and that these threesomes make for interesting bus rides to the pearly gates.

E-Pop!’s favorite story about celebrity deaths involves The New York Post headlines and this "three strikes" theory. Several years ago, after two minor celebrities died on the same day, The New York Post started running small 2nd page stories on how death and airline crashes happen in groups of three. But in 1991, after two celebrities died but no third appeared in the offing, we got worried! Would the theory hold? Just as The New York Post was about to be proved wrong, sixty-year-old actress Lee Remick, notable for her films in the 50's and 60s but hardly a household name for anyone under forty, succumbed to cancer. The New York Post headline the next day?

"Now it's Lee!"

That day, I saw plenty of quizzical expressions on New Yorkers who passed by newsstands and muttered out loud, "Lee who,?" But it didn't matter. The New York Post made its point in typically uber-dramatic fashion.

Taking our cue from The New York Post’s eye-catching death headline, E-Pop! started the “Now it’s _______!” pop culture alert system (PCAS) to inform our readers when a notable pop culture icon (or semi-icon) kicked the bucket.

Here’s a few of our favorite obituary listings:

1. Now it’s Mario Puzo! And in honor of him, a special E-Pop! Mario Puzo Haiku:

mario puzo
dead; he received an offer
he could not refuse

godfather author
cotton mouth no more
sleeps with fishes; sounds wet

2. Now it’s Peggy Cass! To tell the truth, we thought she died a long time ago.

Peggy Cass, the character actress best known for her appearances on 1960’s television quiz shows like To Tell The Truth and her award-winning role in both the film and stage versions of ''Auntie Mame,'' died Tuesday at the age of 74. She was known best for her smoky, boozy, raspy laugh as she cackled at everything Kitty Carlisle Hart said.

3. Now it's Ellen Corby! Grandma Walton died this past week, surprising Walton fans who believed that actress Ellen Corby, who played Grandma Walton to great acclaim for years, had succumbed years ago. In the "Peggy Cass-o-meter" of dead celebrites who, to tell the truth, we thought already died, add acerbic Grandma Walton to the list. Corby, who started life as a (gulp, please tell me there's no video) Las Vegas showgirl, now joins Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies in the great skinny, little-old-cranky-bitch section of heaven.

4. Now it’s David Letterman’s Announcer! Another pop culture icon fallen. The announcer on the David Letterman show, always second to Don Pardo his entire life, also died this past week..No more Daaaaaaaavid Letterman. When asked to give the eulogy, Ed McMahon responded, "YEESSSS!!" No, we don’t know his name. He never announced that. Don’t ask us.

5. Now it’s Anthony Newley! He meant it this time. Anthony Newley, singer and rancoteur famous for his show, "Stop the World I Want to Get Off" died last week at the age of 67.

6. Now it’s the Mars Candy Patriarch! Forrest Mars Sr., who invented M&Ms candies and built one of the biggest fortunes in America as head of the Mars candy empire, has died. He was 95.
The reclusive billionaire, one of the richest men in America, died of natural causes in Miami. On his deathbed, Forrest called a priest to confess what we long suspected was true: the red ones really do kill you. And that whole "melt in your mouth not in your hands" promise was just a cheap lie.

7. Now it’s Gladys Kravitz! Sandra Gould, who played nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz on TV's ``Bewitched,'' has died at 73. Miss Gould died of a stroke July 20. As Gladys Kravitz, she was forever peering into her window and seeing strange doings at the home of Darrin Stephens and his witchy wife, Samantha. She played the role on the ABC series from 1966 to 1972. When reached for a comment, her husband Abner responded with a resigned, "Yes, Gladys. Whatever you say, Gladys. Here's some aspirin for your sick headache, Gladys."

8. Now it’s Screaming Lord Sutch! E-Pop! leaves you with the sad news that David Sutch, who brought a chuckle to British politics as leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party with the slogan: “Vote for insanity - you know it makes sense,'' died of apparent hanging. He was 58. Known as Screaming Lord Sutch, he was Britain's longest- serving party leader. England apparently hasn't heard that failed politicians have lucrative second career opportunities hawking Viagra and making speeches to Japanese businessmen who can't understand a word they're saying.

E-Pop! Issue # 2: The Oscars-Awards Shows are a Gateway Drug

The Oscars 1999. The last shot before the millenium. My reaction? Yawn. The minute I read the nominee list, it was though I'd just sat through the entire debacle, survivable thanks to the screechy reprieve from skeletal, self-titled fashion critic Joan Rivers and her scary, genetic-defect daughter.

To me, the real race is for best song. Check out these gems:

"I Don't Want to Miss A Thing" from Armageddon (Even though the idea of seeing Steven Tyler and those lips, and the hair and the bad clothes on the Oscars is kind of intriguing in a gross, class- clash way, I think this number calls for Debbie Allen style "footloose" choreography with astronaut costumes);

"The Prayer" from The Quest - (if it's the Andrea Bocelli thing, well OK, but I don't think it is. And if I am confused that it could possibly have some merit by being that new age song recorded by Anrdea Bocelli and not some dumb animated movie theme song sung by repeat has-been Donny Osmond, then I think the older academy voters might be confused, too);

"A Soft Place To Fall" from The Horse Whisperer (I read this song title twice thinking it was a joke title. Who even knew there was a song with this endless film..but, come on, a movie about a horse getting creamed by a Mack Truck and this is the song you come up with? Hello? Why not call it "A Horse Had To Die For Us To Love" or how about "What's It All About, Wilbur - Love Theme From Horse Whisperer");

"That'll Do" from Babe 2 (how about "Well Done Pig" or "Bright Lights, Pig

"When You Believe From The Prince Of Egypt" (One of my personal "E-Ppp!" favorite sound-bytes this year was the Oprah Show where Whitney and Mariah screeched out this song like two cats sitting on a fence, then proceeded to talk some major New Jersey street talk. Whitney opened her pretty mouth and Newark fell out. Whitney should get a Mini Oscar for setting a new record of using the word "girl" in one sentence).

OK, onto the other awards...

Best Film:

Saving Private Ryan, even though I won't see it. Why see it? I already know it's well done, well acted and that I don't need to see bloody arms flying across the sandy shores to cast this vote. Besides, I signed a petition that reads "War Is Bad And I Don't Support It" that is currently circulating among all of us "Anti-Bloody Limbs" people who nevertheless want to further the annual acknowledgment of Spielberg and his causes.

Best Actor:

Ian McKellen for an extraordinary performance in Gods and Monsters. Nick Nolte is a long shot because Oscar hasn't rewarded a raging alcholic on film since Susan Hayward in "I Want To Live!"

Tom Hanks-it's not his year; he must be punished for bringing the insanely catchy and
stupid song "That Thing You Do" into public consciousness.

Roberto Ben-whatever would have been a great candidate if he hadn't gone on every talk show from Today to The View and made such an ass of himself. Edward Norton is too
young and dated Courtney Love.

Best Actress:

Cate Blanchett for Elizabeth because it's happened before. Bette Davis already won for this in the 1930's. And come on..a drama (plus) about a British (the Brit card) Queen (Royalty, another plus) who ages (makeup), fights foes (heroine!) starring a woman who no one knows at all but who seems fierce? Sounds like a show-in. It's not Gwyneth's year, though her impersonation of Sharon Stone on Saturday Night Live last week should get her at least a little prize. But Gwyneth, like Tom, must be punished for A Perfect Murder and (worse!) Hush.

Meryl Streep is great but one more stoic yuppie momma dying of cancer who lyp syncs with her kids and comes to term with her younger female counterpart and I'm outta here.

Emily Watson is a dark horse - just a little obscure, kind of a wispier, more neurotic Helena Bonham Carter. And who the hell knows the other one? Fernanda what? Oh yeah, the one who talked way too long when her film won Best Foreign Language Golden Globe. Not on Oscar she won't.

The Supporting categories are a wash; the actresses are mostly British, all talented, no one dying or recently dead, no 10 year olds...the actors are all fine, no sentimental favorites. I mean are we all going to go all misty over "screen legend" James Coburn? Or tooth picking sucking Ed Harris? Or, gross, Billy Bob Thornton without that scary cleavage-sporting, stalker of an ex wife. Personally, my votes are with Kathy Bates who rocked in Primary Colors and James Coburn, the Burt Reynolds of 1999.

The only other ones I care about are:

Adapted Sceenplay: Gods and Monsters

Best Original Screenplay: Bulworth

Shakespeare In Love can take everything else

But what about a few that were overlooked?

Best Murderous Couple: You could really believe Michael Douglas and Gwyneth
Paltrow would try to kill each other in "A Perfect Murder". Her dying
words: "He...really"

Best Fake Dog and Bad Tanning Experience : There's Something About Mary

Best Movie That Made You Glad You Really WERE At Studio 54, Because It Was
So Much More Fun: 54

Missing in action are Christina Ricci, Lisa Kudrow and Lyle Lovett from The
Opposite Of Sex! That was the funniest film, with the best line from a
movie this year: "Look for me first in any crowded room." I know they
missed the boat, along with Jim Carrey and a few others.

Due to the fairly bland lineup, this year at Oscar we need some serious
rivalry, some strange pairings to really make it watchable. I mean this is
the America of 1999. We've been through Bill, Hill, and Monica so our
shockometer is more finely tuned. The bar is raised. For pure entertainment value who can compete with a trembling, bloated, WAY overpaid Linda Tripp saying "I am you"?

Maybe if Jerry Falwell shows up with Tinky The Teletubbie
If Elizabeth Taylor pops in
If Gwyneth and Ben and Brad and Jennifer sit near each other
If Redford, Jack, Anjelica, Warren, Shirley, John, Lauren, Julia, Susan and
a few biggies show
If Cher sings the Horse Whisperer song

We'll see...

E-Pop! Issue # 3: Ricky and Grammy's Year of the Woman (Sort of)

The media keeps calling this year's Grammy Awards, "The Year of The Woman."

From where I sit, it was the year of the "staged win". Every artist who performed (except for that sad looking Scottish wench from the group Garbage) received a Grammy within minutes of their performance.

Here's how it worked. After each performance, the category in which that performer was nominated was the next award. We got to see Madonna, breathless after her "Like A Geisha" number, race back to the stage to get her award. The others performed their songs, then dutifully stood in front of a giant Grammy graphic until being called to the stage. Just a word to the wise when you are nominated for your Grammy. Show up and sing the damn song if you want to win, OK?

The performances were varied in style and uniformly excellent, and Lauryn Hill was, as expected, the queen of the night. And her reading of a psalm instead of the traditional speech - "Thank you Momma, Daddy, everyone-I've-ever-known, the "creator", all the little people I stepped on to get here, my lame competition, and Starbucks for that Chai Latte today" - was inspired.

Other impressions of yet one more Rosie O'Donnell-run awards show?

Thanks to the fact that Madonna read the bestselling book Memoirs Of A Geisha about a simple girl who actually likes being a geisha because of the link between her sexual "pearl" and power, and who rebels by saying "who the hell wants to live a traditional life anyway?" - we got to see her Ray of Lightship in six-inch red heels and billowing kimono bleat the song "Nothing Really Matters."

Now we can look forward to a full year of seeing little Madonna-Wanna-Be-Geishas in their red "Gap Kids" kimono knock offs. What next? Baby Ray of "Lite" Yoga? Madonna's Kabbalah For Kids? And just in case anyone thought she was turning into a saint, she turned on the old charm and dissed her toothless Brit Ray Of Light producer William Orbit, while managing to steal his air time.

In addition to Geishas, one of the other Grammy trends was the Who-The Hell-Is-That? syndrome. Is that Sheryl Crow with short, red hair? Since when is Mexican Jennifer Lopez blond? Which one is Brandy? Which one is Monica? Who's the blind guy singing with Celine Dion?

For your consideration, here are a few alternate Grammy Awards that didn't make the airwaves:

Best Stupid Guy Getting Dissed By His Female Co-Presenter:
TIE Jerry Seinfeld & Jennifer Lopez
Billy Corgan And Gwen Stefani

Country Slut Crossover Of The Year:
Shania "Man, I NEED A Man NOW" Twain

Best Genuine Fake Leather Jacket "Shaft" Costume Leftover:
Will Smith

Best Fake Commercial Joke About A Nominated Song:
Rosie O'Donnell touting the new Celine Dion "Near, Far, Cross-Your-Heart

Most Pathetic Moment When An Artist Announced His Own Grammy And No One Clapped:
Brian Setzer

Best Manic-Depressive Duo Of Hits During One Year:
"Thank You" and You're Uninvited", both by Alanis Morrisette

Best Televised 2-Hour Chair Slump While Chewing Gum And Scratching:
Wyclef Jean

Oddest Threesome Presenters Who I Hope To Never See Involved In A "Pamela Anderson Lee" Type Video On The Internet:
Beck, Sara McLachlan and Puff Daddy

Best T-Shirt That Sums Up How All Of Us Feel About "My Heart Will Go On"
Winning Yet More Awards:
"The Boat Sank. Get Over It."

Best Use of Music During A Presenter's Speech
Muzak Accompanying George Lucas

A few final thoughts before the union help starts charging us overtime like they do at real awards shows:

- A challenge: $10 To any E-Pop! reader who can remember one single
lyric from a song by Increasingly-Buff-And- Bouncy-Former-Menudo-Member
Ricky Martin, who rocked the house. But why do I want to call him Rico Suave?

- My favorite story about the Grammy's is about no-show R&B nominee
Aretha Franklin (Re-Re to her friends).

So where, in year of Lauryn Hill, was the Queen of Soul, who is known for hating travel?

"She stayed home in Detroit watching the show and eating finger food and drinking nonfat smoothies," says Barbara Shelley, Franklin's publicist.

"Aretha doesn't fly and she didn't want to drive to L.A. in the middle of winter."

Aretha didn't exactly weep when she lost. Like a true diva, Franklin told Shelley she was happy for Lauryn, but added, 'I'm going to get out the polish and polish my seventeen Grammys.'" Ouch. And pass the barbecue sauce.

E-Pop! did the same thing this year right down to the finger food.

E-Pop! Issue # 4: Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye. Ed? Not So Much.

Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye. Ed, We Knew Ye Too Well

Has-been-second-banana Ed McMahon celebrates his 50th year in show business this week. YESSSSSS!!!!!! Here's a faux-Irish toast to the original, boozy yes man:

May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May you be in Bali 40 minutes before you are subpoenaed to testify in any of the 53 "mail fraud" class action suits currently filed against American Family Publishers, the Publisher's Clearinghouse "magazine-hawker-to-old-people" that operates out of Newark.

E-Pop! Issue # 5: Mad Cow Disease at Old Navy

Lordy, the world is consumer with Mad Cow Disease! And the retail store Old Navy has possibly the worst case we've seen of it.

What is up with that new Old Navy Commercial? Is Morgan Fairchild supposed to be a younger Carrie Donovan (oxymoron) as they dance around, dressing and talking alike? Do these people on this commercial go into heavy duty voice training to get that bizarre iambic-pentameter way of talking? Is it going to be like Woody Allen films where all the characters, even the women and kids, talk just like Woody? Are we are all going to talk like Carrie "I'm mad for fleece" Donovan one day? Do male models like Marcus Shenkenberg actually think that strutting around in fuzzy knit caps talking like Bette Davis is going to help them land the next Ralph Lauren ad? Does Magic make more than that Taco Bell "Gidget" dog? Is Old Navy part of some vast right-wing conspiracy? Or is it some far reaching subversive Middle Eastern plot to discredit us as a nation by having us wear multi-colored fleece pullovers with twill cargo pants and thick-colored socks? If Old Navy wasn't our sponsor this week, we'd really have a few Mel Gibson "Conspiracy Theory" tales to spin. But until next week, we're mad for those mad cows in their commercial.

E-Pop! Issue # 6: The Oscars-What Really Happened

Taste took a holiday at this year's Academy Awards. That's what really happened. I love Whoopi, but if ever there was an indication that the world has gone to hell in a hand-basket, her incessant beaver jokes proved it true.

Too bad there wasn't much of what anorexic-wanna-be-designer-hag Joan Rivers referred to as "Glama, Glama, Glama," unless you count "I am the best singer in the world" Celine Dion and her cowgal outfit. Poor old Joan, alone for an hour on her pre-show waiting for someone - anyone - to show up. She busied herself by cursing Geena Davis and yelling into her "E" walkie-talkie, "Back to you Missy-got anything up there?"

Well, she had a lot of hair. The last time I saw a pony tail like that was at The Preakness.

Watching Geena's Stepford Wives pre-show, you had to think Joan was right when she said, "So the bitch isn't talking fashion in her segment?" What's she going to talk about? Bosnia?" If only.

OK, so were lots of upsets. But everyone in the world has already gone on about that ad nauseum. Poor old Steven Spielberg is running out of world tragic events to commemorate, so how many more Best Picture Oscars can there be? Is it right to thank families of dead soldiers? Remind me why you'd "thank" them? How about "empathize," or "acknowledge." It's all about verbs, people.

The big question for me is when Oscar Campaign reform will take place, and will it mirror Political Campaign Reform? Can we modify H.R. 5685 on Political Campaign Reform, currently before The House, and apply the trusty "find and replace" feature to the document, changing all key words to reflect the film industry?

If we do, will Al Gore take credit for that too, in addition to his discovery of the Internet last year? Forget reports that the Pentagon founded the Internet in 1969, the truth is that Al, while searching his computer last year for his missing monthly status report to Bill, "found" the internet. But I digress...

Miramax has long drawn the jealousy of competing studios for its ability to rack up Oscar nominations, and their ire for spending like mad to promote its films and actors. Harvey and Bob Weinstein went nuts this year pushing "Shakespeare in Love" and "Life Is Beautiful." They spent a reported $30 million of parent company Disney's money buying ads for "Shakespeare," and suffered negative press reports that Miramax was badmouthing "Saving Private Ryan."

Everybody badmouths this excessive spending, but it worked, just like it works for our political campaigns. I think for both film and politics, we should get back to Town Hall Meetings and strictly regulated and moderated television debates.

That way, next year, we'll see Stone Phillips moderating a debate in New Hampshire between Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman. Jack Nicholson and Ben Affleck will duke it out via their podiums in conference room C ("You can't handle the truth!"). I can see Dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench crustily critiquing each other's technique. And taping the debates will be Elia Kazan and his new girlfriend, Linda Tripp.

As in politics, the rest of Hollywood will have no choice but to follow the trail Harvey and Bob Weinstein blazed. It's the old "Primary Colors" theme - if we don't do what they do, we'll lose and then our winning ideas won't be presented. Look for the "For Your Consideration" ad pages in every publication from Variety to Pet Fancy go through the roof next year.

That's the 1999 lowdown. Truly.