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My solitary issue with Reginald Cleese, father of John Cleese (you know, that lanky British writer/actor fellow who is terribly funny on the television device and in the movie parlor and inside those paper word-holder thingys) is this: by changing the family name from "Cheese" to "Cleese," he prevented thousands of hack writers like myself the opportunity to entitle essays about his son with lame surname jokes.




But I suppose I must forgive the dearly departed Reg for this, as he did provide us somewhat indirectly with one of the biggest laughs of the night during "An Evening With John Cleese": a show-stopping and spectacularly hilarious recreation of his morning smoker's cough, delivered by his son in choking, expertly-timed, red-faced comic perfection, so horrifyingly realistic I feared that the Reg's son, a strapping lad of 75 years, might blow a lurking aneurysm and drop dead on the church floor. I feel, although this would have been truly awful to witness and possibly even worse to have happen personally, there would have been no regrets on John Cleese's part. He committed to the bit, gave it everything he had, and one has to admit that it would have been very darkly humorous indeed to cough yourself to extinction inside a church moments after you asked "Is is alright to say 'fuck' in here?"

Presented by the University of Washington Bookstore, "An Evening With John Cleese" delighted the capacity crowd at the lovely University Temple United Methodist Church in Seattle, who gave Cleese standing ovations at his entry and exit, smiles on the faces of all. The event was arranged in support of Cleese's newly-published autobiography, "So, Anyway..." (Crown Archetype,  Random House, 2014), in a simple and relaxed two-guys-in-chairs-talking format with host Steve Scher. Scher, former anchor of KUOW's Weekday program for many years, was an excellent choice as host: relaxed, well-prepared, expert at letting Cleese do his thing while keeping questions flowing from topic to topic seamlessly, keeping the focus on the guest of honor. 

After a few technical readjustments with the microphones, Scher and Cleese began the dialogue that would take the audience through some key parts of "So, Anyway..." expanded by Cleese in further sharp and amusing detail. The topic of Cleese's mother, apparently the most anxiety-ridden, self-absorbed human who had ever lived, was often invoked. Mother Cleese lived to the age of 101 years despite crushing self-imposed busy-work such as oiling owls and polishing trees and organizing decorative gourds (I may have remembered this somewhat improperly), and, in comorbidity, after a habit of composing lists of her very many worries for the express purpose of ensnaring her child into the exhausting task of addressing them one-by-one at length. Cleese noted that in psychological studies of brilliant comedians and high-achieving folk, most are found to have fractious relationships with their mothers. He noted, "If only my mother could have been just a little bit worse...I really could have been something great!"

When I last saw Mr. Cleese in person at Seattle's Moore Theater in 2009, he was beginning what he termed "The Alimony Tour" -- a highly-entertaining one-man show designed to refurbish his personal coffers after a staggering 20 million dollar divorce settlement awarded to his third wife. His anger towards what he felt was a grossly-unfair excision of cash was quite palpable then, but turning that anger into comedy not only made for profit, but seems to have been a bit beneficially cathartic as well. In 2014 we find Cleese in a happier place, recently married to a woman he called "the love of my life," and willing to let go of some fruitless frustrations as well. In later life, we find two types of people. The first, like Cleese's mother, view aging and death in the same way they have experienced their lives overall -- so wrapped up in fear that they cannot experience much other than worry and an endless need to try to control the uncontrollable, so that the smallest change is cause for deep depression and alarm. The second type, like John Cleese, may have plenty of concerns and issues but have made some peace with the absurdity of it all. Here are a few of the life lessons Mr. Cleese offered us last night, with a twinkle in his eye that I am sure was visible to even those in the back of the room.

1. The entire world is run by a handful of greedy, power- and control-mad assholes. This is the way it's always been, the way it will always be, and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it, other than rake them over the coals comedically on a regular basis.

2. Too many people focus on small details, and miss out on the big picture.

3. The most important thing in life is to be kind.

4. If you meet him, never ask him to do the Silly Walk ever, ever, ever. No. Stop. Don't do it. No. No no. That means you. Have some pity on him -- he's three-quarters of a century old and now made up of bits of plastic and metal held together with tape and spit.

I was unable to bring my proper pro camera last night, which was fine since the event was filmed (properly) by the University of Washington Bookstore and will appear on their YouTube channel shortly. I took only a couple photos with my phone because this was not the event to be obnoxious with a phone. This idea was not shared by the man in front of me, who spent at least half the show with his point-and-shoot camera raised above his sight line trying to get a photograph of Mr. Cleese. Beep beep beep!, went his camera, as he failed over and over and over again to get one single in-focus shot. I hope the entire audience appreciates the restraint I showed in not grabbing the thing from his hands, shouting, "HERE! LET ME HELP YOU! I'LL TAKE THE FUCKING PHOTO FOR YOU AND THEN WE ALL CAN LISTEN TO JOHN CLEESE RATHER THAN YOUR AUTOFOCUS DISABILITY SOUND!" See what I've learned from John Cleese? Turn your anger into comedy, and avoid ulcers.

I've now come to terms with Reginald Cleese's rejection of Cheese, and can appreciate that Muriel Cleese was plenty crazy enough to have produced a brilliant and creative child in John Cleese. "An Evening With John Cleese" went exactly as I anticipated -- joyful, hilarious, thoughtful, and definitely inspirational. Do go buy "So, Anything..." and get your leaden posteriors in gear to see him this week in California and Florida. Thank you, University Book Store and University Temple United Methodist Church, Steve Scher, and to John Cleese, who has brightened things up here on Planet Asshole...errr, Earth, quite a bit for so many for so long. What a tremendous gift to give.

"An Evening With John Cleese" 2014 dates:

11/17/14 The California Theater, San Jose, CA., 7PM
11/18/14 Alex Theater, Glendale, CA., 8PM
11/19/14 The Granada Theater, Santa Barbara, CA., 7PM
11/20/14 University of San Diego Shiley Theater, San Diego, CA. 7PM
11/21/14 Barnes & Noble - The Grove at Farmer's Mark, Los Angeles, CA. 7PM
11/23/14 Miami Book Fair, Miami Miami Dade College, Chapman Conference Center, Miami, FL. 7PM


People! AMIRITE HERE OR WHAT? I TELL YA! Yes, people are the people who originally bought these things that ended up in my local thrift stores, and you are the people who get to experience their choices right here, right now. Please to enjoy!

Oh, WTF. Who in their right mind at ALL would choose a graphic of a crying cowboy shooting his broken stick horse in the head for a CHILDREN'S RECORD??? If someone had given this to me when I was a kid, I would've cried massive buckets of tears, and that's the truth.



As I type this at my desk in Seattle-ish, autumn is in full force: winds whipping through the eight zillion pramillion trees that make even our urban areas feel wild and majestic, leaves of every color crowd-surfing on the currants, sprays and slaps of rain spattering on my window, water puddles forming and filling on the ground for the express purpose of being my dog's favorite water bowls.

I hate autumn.

OK, sure, sure...it's very beautiful, all this color and movement and shiny wet, I agree. But for me, fall is just a soggy reminder that my favorite season, SUMMER, is gone yet again and won't reappear until July. I'm a sunshine kind of girl, and there's nothing I find charming about driving in the dark and the rain hoping one of those giant trees doesn't fall on me, having the dog track in mud for months, and chokingly-sweet Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Top that off with the bad old mental remnants of autumn = OH GOD NO I HAVE TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL AGAIN, and all the pretty leaves in the world don't really make it swing for me.

But the fall is a good thing to write about, rich in imagery and melancholic change. Our friends, Professional Songwriters, know this and have provided us with some swell songs about the season, ten of which I shall share with you from my personal archives. I'm being very strict in that each song must have the word "autumn" in the title, mainly for the fact that it takes too long to figure out if the "fall" songs are about autumn as opposed to actually falling, figuratively or literally. I have to devote more time these days to wiping the dog's paws off, you know. Let us begin.

"Autumn Almanac," The Kinks 

Of course, this song would be first on my list, taken from the absolutely perfect "Something Else By The Kinks" album. We find the Kinks here at their sweetest, English vaudevillian best, with starring (and uncredited for decades) harmonies by Ray Davies then-wife, Rasa. Because it's Ray Davies, midway through the song an element of claustrophobic discontent appears as our protagonist proclaims "This is my street/And I'm never gonna leave it/And I'm always gonna stay here/ If I live to be ninety-nine/'Cause all the people I meet/Seem to come from my street/And I can't get away...". But with some highly jaunty "la la la"'s, the darkness is swept away, at least for awhile.

I have an extra-special memory related to this song. I was discussing the recording of it one night in a nearly-deserted and dank hotel bar with Dave Davies many years ago, and he asked me if I would sing it with him, right there and then. After I picked up the pieces of my blown mind, I did so, and will never forget it, sitting across from the actual recording artist in dingy blue club chairs, singing such a wonderful song together.

"Autumn Leaves," Nat King Cole

This list would be a SHAM without including a version of composer Johnny Mercer's standard, "Autumn Leaves," and I chose Nat King Cole's. Cole always knew how to deliver a melancholy song, cradling the melody in such a nuanced way that the emotion subtly threads through the listener's heart: an infusion rather than a soaking, if you will. The cascading notes remind us of the falling leaves themselves, tumbling from high to low.

"Autumn Is Your Last Chance," Robyn Hitchcock

Another gorgeous autumn song from another quirky British artist, from another absolutely perfect album, "I Often Dream Of Trains." The arrangement is simple, acoustic and sparse, spotlighting the reflective lyrics. We feel the solitude of the narrator, walking amongst the fall beauty in his surroundings, seeing it, feeling it, but unable to enjoy it for missing someone to share it with.

"Autumn Sweater," Yo La Tengo

This song could be interpreted in polar opposite ways: a couple either at the awkward beginning or awkward ending of a relationship. It's hard to tell if the narrator is critical or fond of his partner's "autumn sweater," but I think the use of this single-shot of fall imagery tell us that no matter what, change is coming, whether the couple likes it or not.

"Autumn," Joanna Newsom

Newsom does not shy away from composing long pieces, which unfold at their own pace, giving the listener the feeling that they are precisely as long as they must be.  That, and exquisitely-angelic vocals remind me of Kate Bush's earliest work, a fusion of classical and British folk traditions. "Here, in a row of silent dove-grey days..." Newsom quietly tells a tale of loss and longing in poetic language that is unashamedly elegant and mysterious, in times that are most often neither.

"My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion," The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips have often examined the uniquely-human gift/burden of knowing that life is finite, and celebrate a humanist view: make the most of the one life you have right here, right now. Whatever your own personal views, it's a good rule to live by and one that few people actually accomplish. "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion" is a delicate and wistful ode to appreciating the cycles and patterns of life, and embracing all of what is around you.

"Autumn in New York," Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

Two incomparable jazz masters take on a slow, sexy love letter to Manhattan, making me want to book a flight right now. There are so many, many songs written about New York City -- some passionate paeans, some snarky and sarcastic -- but here's the thing: The Big Apple inspires creativity like no other place on earth, no matter the season. Listening to this, I can imagine myself walking arm-in-arm with a friend through Central Park, crunching leaves beneath my feet, glancing up at the giant buildings in the distance, and feeling like magic is always happening there, somewhere, because it really is.

"Autumn's Child," Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band

Captain Beefheart makes The Flaming Lips sound, well, as Safe As Milk. The stamp of Zappa is all over this song, of course, with odd timings and orchestral punctuations. The Captain's growl/shout is nicely incongruous considering the poignancy of the lyrics, remembering falling for a "cornhusk hair" girl met at a harvest party ten years past.

"The Autumn Carnival," The Dandy Warhols

The Dandy Warhols have gotten more out of four chords than any other band I can think of, save for the dear ol' Ramones. OK, so this sounds like a rewrite of Blur's "Song 2" sans "woo hoo"'s and if Damon Albarn had a sore throat, but there's nothing wrong with that in my book. Courtney Taylor-Taylor takes us for a spooky trip through a fall freakshow, but we aren't entirely sure where that is located -- out in the world or inside his mind.

"Autumn Waltz," Tony Bennett

Finally, in honor of the deeply wonderful Tony Bennett, playing this very evening at Seattle's Paramount Theater and whom I've had the honor of photographing twice, we end with the "Autumn Waltz." I wish I could be there tonight, waltzing with the coolest 88-year-old that ever was (outside of my mom), but since I cannot I think I will choose to take a lesson from him: be young at heart, be creative, give of your time and talents generously, and take good care of yourself, and your Fall may extend in swirling, beautiful color for many, many years, Winter be damned.


Ah, the joys of thrifting...saving a buck here and there and getting CREEPED OUT at the same time! Here are a few more oddball items from the ol' VV -- please to enjoy!!

I...I...don't know. I just don't.