One odd thing Helen and I did over the holidays (though not as odd as the Seavey family dog, Jaycie, falling down the cellar stairs last weekend, luckily without injury) was see Aimee Mann’s annual live Christmas show. She may be versatile enough to have sounded New Wave in ’Til Tuesday back in the mid-80s, haunting as the backing vocalist on the brawny-but-poignant Rush song “Time Stand Still” (the only thing my math-geek pal Chuck Blake knew her from), and sort of alt-country-sensitive in her subsequent solo material (no doubt influenced by co-writers like Elvis Costello and her marriage to folky-sounding Michael Penn, awesome in his own right — and one of the few people besides Prince who can boast of having written a cool song for Wendy and Lisa, “Mother of Pearl”), but you wouldn’t expect her to do comedy. Moping maybe, but not comedy.
Yet the Christmas show — which you can probably catch next year, too — is done as a big, sarcastic variety show, with plenty of songs but also videotaped guest appearances by the aforementioned Michael Penn (as the ghost of Christmas Past), John C. Reilly (as the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come, who tells Mann, reasonably enough, that she should not feel guilty about her tour being sponsored by a yogurt company and that perhaps she should even stop to appreciate the beauty of a Corvette once in a while), and Michael Cera (as himself refusing to play Tiny Tim).
Cera is also apparently, in real life, resisting doing the planned Arrested Development movie, the bum, yet, as if to twist the knife, is reportedly likely to star in the movie version of goddam Gilligan’s Island. If that project comes to fruition, I just hope they use the song “I Am Gilligan” by Furious George, the punk band founded by my old New York Press colleague George Tabb — which has lines like “I wear the white hat/ I wear the red shirt/ They all think I’m stupid/ One day I’ll kill them/ I am Gilligan.” In fact, if memory serves, those are the only lines.
The best thing about “the Mann show,” though, may have been comedian Paul F. Tompkins, who did a great bit about New Yorkers who are traveling always bragging about all the things they could be doing at odd hours if they were still back in the City That Never Sleeps, climaxing with absurdities like “10:30am? In Manhattan, we’d be unraveling a mummy right now!”
Kudos to Mann for trying something fun and weird and old-fashioned at the same time — and something that plainly makes her a bit nervous — instead of just singing her greatest hits over and over again (though I wouldn’t mind hearing “Telescope” live — and my favorite line in it is “the stars were just phosphorous sparks on long strings”).
Incidentally, I have a rather insane ex-friend who says that when she was at Harvard in the late 80s, she was friends with a guy in the Boston area who spurned Mann’s romantic advances. I wonder what that dumbass has to show for himself today. I also know a woman whose ex-boyfriend ended up with Tina Fey, come to think of it. Do not underestimate your mates, people.