Gary Maxwell Tag

My Favorite Covers

Everyone here at the Roundtable is playing the cover-songs game, and now it’s my turn to make like Michael Damian and rock on!

 

Elton John, “One Day (At A Time)”

Back in 1974, little seven-year old me acquired his first rock and roll 45: Elton John’s epic cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” I wore out that little piece of vinyl during my childhood, and I even occasionally flipped the 45 over to play the b-side. “One Day (At A Time)” was another Beatles-related song—it had first appeared on John Lennon’s so-so 1973 solo album Mind Games. Elton’s version squashes John’s original like a grape, but Lennon didn’t seem to mind—you can clearly hear him singing backup on the track.

 

Soundgarden, “Girl U Want”

This “Outshined” b-side might just be the perfect bridge between ’80s new wave and ’90s grunge. Soundgarden slows down Devo’s original and finds a colossal groove, but musically they’re almost identical in structure. Could “Smells Like Teen Spirit” actually have more in common with “The Safety Dance” than we ever possibly imagined?

This Mortal Coil, “Song to the Siren”

This beautiful Tim Buckley song has been covered by everyone from Pat Boone to Robert Plant, but no one will ever match the ethereal beauty of This Mortal Coil’s 1983 take. This version punches me in the stomach every single time I listen to it thanks to Elizabeth Fraser’s stunning vocal.

 

Lindsey Buckingham, “I Am Waiting”

As I write this, I am still seething over Fleetwood Mac’s decision to fire Lindsey Buckingham on the eve of their 2018 tour. The Mac are one of my all-time favorite bands, and I absolutely worship Neil Finn as a songwriter and performer, but I will not be attending any Fleetwood Mac shows this year. Instead, I’ll just stay home and dive into Lindsey’s stellar solo work—including this whispering take on a deep cut from the Rolling Stones’ 1966 classic Aftermath.

The Clash, “I Fought the Law”

The Clash’s searing version is actually a cover of a cover. The Bobby Fuller Four took “I Fought the Law” to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966, but the song was first recorded by songwriter Sonny Curtis and the Crickets after Curtis joined the band following Buddy Holly’s death in 1959.

 

Ian McCulloch, “Lover, Lover, Lover”

You can’t have a top covers list without a Leonard Cohen song—I think that’s an actual law. I will, however, defy the odds by not including one of the 73,459 covers of “Hallelujah” that have bombarded the musical landscape over the past 25 years. Instead, check out this sublime cover of “Lover, Lover, Lover” from Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch. His 1992 solo album Mysterio was a bit of a letdown to longtime Bunnymen fans, but he absolutely nailed the Cohen vibe on this overlooked gem.

 

Harry Nilsson, “Without You”

This might just be my favorite cover song of all time. Badfinger’s 1970 original was a perfectly solid album track, but Harry Nilsson’s remake two years later completely redefined the concept of the rock ballad. I am still amazed that this song appears on the same album as “Coconut” and “Jump in the Fire.” Harry may have been all over the place stylistically, but the crazy bastard could SING.

 

Wilson Pickett, “Hey Jude”

When you have Wilson Pickett and Duane Allman, you don’t even need the na-na-na-na’s. Take a sad song and make it better.

Gary Maxwell

Gary Maxwell lives in Dallas with his wife, three cats, 6,000 LPs, and a vintage Atari 2600.
He once attended 218 consecutive Texas Longhorn football games over a span of 17 years,
yet he seems unable to commit to a particular brand of shampoo. His all-time favorite TV
show is Star Trek, except when it’s dark on Tuesday. When someone asks Gary if he prefers
the Beatles or the Stones, his answer is “The Who.”

ER

Like millions of Americans in the ‘90s, Thursday nights meant one thing to me: It was time for NBC’s “Must See TV” lineup. NBC had dominated Thursday prime-time programming from the moment Bill Cosby donned his first sweater in 1984, and classic shows like Cheers, L.A. Law, and Seinfeld only tightened the network’s hold on Thursday viewership over the next decade.

 

But even the execs at NBC had to be surprised by the immediate breakout success of two shows added to that already powerful Thursday night lineup in September of 1994: Friends and ER.

 

My mother fell in love with ER (and George Clooney, of course) from the very start, so we quickly settled into a family ritual. Every Thursday night after work, I’d drive the 20 miles to Mom’s house. We’d settle in, flip on NBC, order some pizza, switch to something else when Madman of the People came on, and then switch back in time for our weekly appointment with the doctors and nurses at Chicago’s County General hospital.

ER

We clearly were not the only ones captivated by this new drama—ER became a mainstay in the Nielsen Top 10 for the next decade, and at the height of its popularity averaged more than 35 million viewers.

 

ER finally signed off in 2009 after 15 seasons, a remarkable 331 episodes, and 124 Emmy nominations (a record for a drama). The final episode gave the series its largest rating in years, but the show seemed to disappear from the public consciousness very quickly after it left the air.

 

We live in an era of countless cable TV channels and multiple streaming platforms, yet for 10 years the only way to watch ER was on DVD. That finally changed last year, when the POP network started airing three episodes every afternoon. I soon found myself entrenched in a full show re-watch—a task that took up a Dr. Benton’s ego-sized chunk of my spare time (and about 75% of my DVR) over a six-month period.

 

Thankfully, anyone who now wants to revisit ER can do so in much simpler fashion. Earlier this year, Hulu announced it had added all 15 seasons to its streaming service. You no longer have to force yourself to watch three episodes a day just to keep pace, like I did. But that does bring up a big question: Is an ER binge really worth 331 hours of your precious screen time?

 

At the very least, I’d recommend watching the first seven or eight seasons—especially if you’re a first-time viewer. Medical dramas have always been a staple on TV, but ER was the first to expose viewers to the real blood and guts of a big-city hospital. The fast-paced, in-your-face cinematography was always a standout aspect of the show, and these early episodes look even better now that they can now be seen in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. (Note: ER episodes began airing in widescreen during Season Seven, but they were filmed in widescreen format from Day One.)

 

As impressive as ER was from a technical standpoint, it was always the characters that were the heart of the show. George Clooney may have become the breakout superstar, but every member of that stellar original cast created a character to remember. Even the smaller roles of the nurses and desk clerks seemed like people you wanted to have a beer with, and that only added to ER’s mass appeal.

 

Of course, with great success came great cast turnover. One by one, George Clooney and Juliana Margulies and Eric La Salle eventually left the show. Maura Tierney and Goran Ivanisevic came on board and helped to keep the quality (and ratings) at a high level, but the glory days of ER officially came to an end with the departure of Noah Wyle’s John Carter in 2005.

 

With no ties left to the original cast, ER lost much of what made it appealing in the first place. The storylines became more and more over-the-top (so many explosions!), but there were always just enough quality moments to keep me watching for all 15 seasons.

 

And as my re-watch reminded me, ER was never lacking in star power. Almost every episode seemed to feature someone who would go on to do bigger and better things—Lucy Liu, Kirsten Dunst, Christina Hendricks. Zac Efron, Chris Pine, and Jessica Chastain are just a small sampling of the many then-unknowns who made visits to County General over the years.

 

While I truly enjoyed my recent re-watch, it wasn’t always easy viewing. ER will forever remind me of my mother, even though we stopped watching together on a regular basis after she moved away in the late ‘90s. Mom is older now and going through some tough medical issues, and more than a few episodes hit just a little too close to home—but that was always the power of ER at its very best.

 

I’m sure that over the course of 331 episodes, you’ll shed some tears as well. And if you do manage to make it through to the very end, you’ll be rewarded with a final season that features return engagements from almost all of the show’s original stars. Even Anthony Edwards makes an appearance, despite the fact that Dr. Greene passed away way back in Season Eight.

 

ER may have been on life support over its last few seasons, but the final episodes provide a fitting end to one of TV’s longest-running—and best—dramas.

Gary Maxwell

 

All 15 seasons of ER are available on Hulu. It is also available for streaming from Amazon,
Vudu, Google Play, and iTunes.

Gary Maxwell lives in Dallas with his wife, three cats, 6,000 LPs, and a vintage Atari 2600.
He once attended 218 consecutive Texas Longhorn football games over a span of 17 years,
yet he seems unable to commit to a particular brand of shampoo. His all-time favorite TV
show is Star Trek, except when it’s dark on Tuesday. When someone asks Gary if he prefers
the Beatles or the Stones, his answer is “The Who.”

Review: ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’

Twin Peaks

The American television industry had nearly hit rock bottom as it entered the ’90s. Only four dramas finished the ’89-’90 season in the Nielsen Top 20—and that assumes you can actually classify Murder, She Wrote and Matlock as traditional dramas.

 

Sitcoms dominated the lineups of the four major networks. Some of the shows were classics—Cheers, The Golden Girls, The Wonder Years—but most (Chicken Soup, Grand, Dear John) have been completely forgotten by time. America’s Funniest Home Videos and Unsolved Mysteries were mainstays in the Top 10. Quality programs like L.A. Law and thirtysomething were both nominated for Outstanding Drama Series at the 1990 Emmys, but so was Quantum Leap (a decent show, but Best Drama?). The TV drama was truly becoming an endangered species.

 

That all changed on April 8, 1990—the day ABC aired the two-hour pilot of a new show entitled Twin Peaks.

Twin Peaks

In a mere eight episodes, the first season of Twin Peaks completely reinvented the idea of what could happen on a network TV show. David Lynch and Mark Frost created a world that was dark, funny, deeply disturbing, and somehow both nostalgic and groundbreaking at the same time. Networks had been making movies for TV for years, but Twin Peaks was the first TV show that felt cinematic. It was, in a word, mesmerizing.

 

Of course, the network execs at ABC messed it all up when they forced Lynch and Frost to reveal the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer early in the second season. The show lost its focus, the public lost interest, and ABC cancelled Twin Peaks after only 30 episodes.

 

Fast forward 25 years. We are all now living in a Golden Age of TV drama. Viewers are all too happy to binge-watch entire series because there are just too many fantastic shows available on too many platforms. And if you ask the people who created shows like Lost and Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, a majority of them will cite Twin Peaks as one of their primary inspirations. Twin Peaks changed the rules about what you could do on TV, and today we’re all reaping the benefits of its genius.

 

Unlike many original viewers, I never lost interest in Twin Peaks during its initial run. I taped all the episodes on VHS when they eventually re-aired on Bravo, and of course I purchased the DVDs when they were finally released. Every few years, I’d watch the entire show again and re-immerse myself in Lynch’s amazing universe. I never even allowed myself to believe that Twin Peaks could return, especially since Lynch himself had often said he had no interest in revisiting the past.

 

And then an amazing thing happened: Showtime announced that Twin Peaks would return to the air in May 2017 as a limited series. Most of the original cast was scheduled to return, and Lynch himself would be directing (and co-writing) all 18 installments.

 

As a fan, it was a dream come true. I knew I’d finally get some sort of resolution to the show’s staggering cliffhanger finale, but I was equally intrigued by another question: If David Lynch had already changed the course of TV once before, what could he possibly do for an encore? How would the new Twin Peaks compare to the other great dramas of our time—shows that, in many ways, owe their very existence to Twin Peaks in the first place?

Twin Peaks

The answer to that is, like Twin Peaks itself, extremely complex. I spent every Sunday night last summer glued to Showtime as each new episode aired, and I regularly re-watched each installment at least two more times during the week. I also recently completed another binge-watch of the entire show, and I’m still not sure I’ve completely processed everything I saw.

 

There’s just so much to talk about, which is one reason I’m happy to let you know that the powers that be at The Rayva Roundtable have agreed to let me discuss the Twin Peaks revival over a series of articles. I’ll be able to break down plot points, discuss recurring themes, and attempt to tell you what I think really happened at the end (and believe me, there isn’t one simple way to describe it).

 

For today, I will simply try to answer one question: In a market saturated with quality dramatic programming, is the new Twin Peaks really worth 18 hours of your valuable viewing time? The answer is unquestionably “Yes”—although you might start to doubt that at more than a few points along the journey.

 

Anyone simply expecting a nostalgic trip to the Double R Diner for pie and damn good coffee with Special Agent Dale Cooper will certainly be in for a huge disappointment. Yes, Kyle MacLachlan is the unquestioned star of the new series, but his actual on-air screen time as our beloved FBI agent is quite limited.

 

Instead, McLachlan steals the show in two remarkably different (and Emmy-worthy) roles. The character of Mr. C will make sense to anyone who remembers the finale of the original show—he’s a Cooper doppelgänger inhabited by Black Lodge denizen Bob. McLachlan also appears as Dougie Jones, a Vegas insurance agent who is actually the real Cooper after his escape from a 25-year stay inside the Black Lodge.

 

There’s only one problem: Dougie is a virtual vegetable who seems to have very little memory of who he really is and how he got there. In other words, Agent Cooper spends a majority of the Twin Peaks reboot acting nothing like Agent Cooper. 

 

As you might imagine, this was a source of great frustration for many viewers—myself included.  But at about the halfway point of the show, it all clicked into place for me. I knew where this new version of Twin Peaks was going, and I was thrilled to be a part of the ride. I can’t wait to share my views and theories with you in future articles—but first you’ll need to watch 18 hours of some pretty amazing television. 

 

A suggestion: Watch all 18 episodes as closely together as possible. The entire series was shot from one shooting script, and therefore really does play out like one long movie. The viewing won’t always be easy. It won’t always be fun. But like the original Twin Peaks from 28 years ago, you’ll be taken to a place both wonderful and strange—and the results are literally atomic.

 

Let’s rock!

Gary Maxwell

 

Seasons 1 and 2 of Twin Peaks are available on Netflix and Hulu. Twin Peaks: The Return is available on
Showtime Anytime (subscription required) and available for digital purchase on Amazon and iTunes.

Gary Maxwell lives in Dallas with his wife, three cats, 6,000 LPs, and a vintage Atari 2600.
He once attended 218 consecutive Texas Longhorn football games over a span of 17 years,
yet he seems unable to commit to a particular brand of shampoo. His all-time favorite TV
show is Star Trek, except when it’s dark on Tuesday. When someone asks Gary if he prefers
the Beatles or the Stones, his answer is “The Who.”

Morrissey: Low in High School

Low in High School

Confession: I love Steven Patrick Morrissey. I own (and revere as scripture) every Smiths album. Type the name “Morrissey” into my iTunes search box, and it returns 1,158 songs. Back in my early-‘90s college days, I once wore a different Morrissey t-shirt every day for two straight weeks.

 

Another confession: I also sometimes hate Steven Patrick Morrissey. In 1992, I attended a mediocre concert in Dallas that lasted a whopping 52 minutes including the encore. That night opened my eyes to the fact that my musical hero wasn’t perfect, and over the years Morrissey himself has hammered that point home with frustrating regularity.

 

His anti-establishment political leanings have always made for controversial headlines, but his loud stance against immigration in his native U.K. left a sour taste in the mouths of many longtime supporters. How could Morrissey, the artist so many of us saw as the ultimate champion of the outsider, continually make so many racially insensitive comments?

 

The truth is that it has been very difficult to be a Morrissey fan over the past decade. Fans have been exposed to a string of mediocre albums, cancelled tours, and increasingly confounding takes. Just last year, Morrissey essentially victim-blamed the accusers in the Harvey Weinstein/Kevin Spacey scandals. (He later claimed he was misquoted.) He did this while promoting the release of Low in High School, his eleventh solo album—and the first one I didn’t rush out and buy on the day of release.

 

But then I started to hear things.

 

“Best record in years.”

 

“As good as Vauxhall.”

 

I finally gave in and bought Low in High School. I was immediately taken by “My Love, I’d Do Anything for You,” the crackling first cut. Full of swagger and sounding like a great lost outtake from 1992’s Your Arsenal, Morrissey makes a bold declaration:

 

You know me well, my love
I’d do anything for you
Society’s hell
You need me just like I need you.

And over the course of 12 songs, Morrissey proves to me that I do need him. The playfulness that seemed to disappear years ago returns in force with “Spent the Day in Bed,” a ridiculously catchy song in which Moz decides to turn off the news and stay in bed by himself all day “even though I’m not my type.” “I Wish You Lonely” is both a great title and a great song, while “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage” somehow works both as a metaphor for Brexit and Morrissey’s own contentious public persona.

 

There’s a strong anti-war current running through the middle of the album, although the bombastic “I Bury the Living” takes things a bit too far. “In Your Lap” serves the same subject matter in much stronger fashion, and continues a running theme on the record involving Morrissey’s face and contact with various laps and crotches. Obsessions with genitalia aside, Low in High School is easily the most complete album Morrissey has released since the ‘90s.

 

Most of those t-shirts I had in college have long since vanished, but I do still own one featuring the artwork from The Queen is Dead. That seems appropriate, as the cover of Low in High School depicts a child outside Buckingham Palace with a hatchet in one hand and an “Axe the Monarchy” sign in the other.

 

“Has the world changed, or have I changed?”

 

Of course, we have all changed—after all, it has been thirty-two years since the release of The Queen is Dead. I may no longer view Morrissey through the same melancholy-tinted glasses he wore in my youth, but Low in High School proves that he can still make powerful and thought-provoking music. Now if he could just stop cancelling concerts at the last minute . . .

Gary Maxwell

Gary Maxwell lives in Dallas with his wife, three cats, 6,000 LPs, and a vintage Atari 2600.
He once attended 218 consecutive Texas Longhorn football games over a span of 17 years,
yet he seems unable to commit to a particular brand of shampoo. His all-time favorite TV
show is Star Trek, except when it’s dark on Tuesday. When someone asks Gary if he prefers
the Beatles or the Stones, his answer is “The Who.”