John Belushi would have turned 70

Saturday Night Live was the platform from which John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd launched the Blues Brothers.

John Belushi.Rolling StoneSince John Belushi (January 24, 1949 – March 5, 1982) was only 33 when he died, he’s been gone longer than he was alive.

I watched Saturday Night Live religiously for the first quarter century. While that original cast was quite gifted, I’ve always balked at the notion that that all the subsequent groups were inadequate by comparison.

It’s unsurprising that Jane Curtin recently talked about sexism at SNL. “‘There were a few people that just out-and-out believe that women should not have been there and they believe that women were not innately funny,’ said the first female anchor of SNL’s ‘Weekend Update’ segment.” And one of those was Belushi.

Nevertheless, in lists of the greatest cast members of all time, Ranker has John Belushi at #3 and Rolling Stone dubbed him #1. “‘Samurai Hitman,’ where Belushi proves he doesn’t need words — just a robe and a sword — to turn a one-joke premise into a savage comic ballet.” He did a great Henry Kissinger, and the Greek owner of the Olympia Café always fascinated me.

SNL was also the platform from which Belushi and Dan Aykroyd launched the Blues Brothers. I suppose I was nervous about their sincerity – I didn’t know at the time that Aykroyd had played with a blues band in Canada – but having such luminaries as guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn from Booker T and the M.G.’s well as Matt “Guitar” Murphy, gave me comfort.

I was pleased when I bought the four-CD set Atlantic Blues in the 1990s and found Hey Bartender by Floyd Dixon and I Don’t Know by Willie Mabon. The Blues Brothers’ covers were surprisingly credible, I discovered.. Now the Blues Brothers MOVIE (1980) was loud and messy and pretty much critic-proof. And it had Aretha, Ray Charles sand Cab Calloway.

Belushi’s previous film, National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) practically invented the raunchy college comedy. What it lacked in script – “food fight!” – it more than made up with energy and panache and a great Elmer Bernstein score. It was wildly successful, and generated spinoffs on all three TV networks, none of which lasted more than a few months.

Animal House was endlessly quotable – “double secret probation.” But never more when Bluto Blutarsky (Belushi) gave the Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? speech.

The other John Belushi movie I saw was Continental Divide (1981), with him playing a tough Chicago reporter who “gets a little too close to the Mob.” For his protection, his editor sends him to Colorado to investigate an eagle researcher (Blair Brown).

I remember enjoying the movie, with Belushi playing against type. Though I recall that the reviews were mixed and the box office tepid, Roger Ebert liked it.

There’s often a desire to play “what if” when performers die tragically young. But it’s a futile task.

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Ohio – John Batiste, Leon Bridges, Gary Clark Jr

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“Africa” le Toto as Gaeilge

Summer Wind- Willie Nelson

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Feel The Love – Rudimental, featuring John Newman

In the Mood – Glenn Miller (see Sonja Henie!)

Stand By Me – Bootstraps

Fur Elise – pianist Lola Astanova

The Place Where Dreams Come True and End Credits – James Horner, scoring Field of Dreams

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In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Iron Butterfly); Cover by Sina

1-2-3 – The Electric Indian

My Dearest Ruth – Patrice Michaels (from Notorious RBG in Song)

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MUSIC

Found Tonight – Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt

Listen to the Music – Playing for Change

Catch Me If You Can -John Williams score

She’s A Rockin’ Machine – Archie and the Bunkers

Coverville 1212: Cover Stories for Jimmy Cliff and Pharrell Williams

Oriental Rhapsody – Alexander Glazunov

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Can’t Take My Eyes Off You – Sonny Vande Putte

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Christopher Guest, 5th Baron Haden-Guest, turns 70

Since April 8, 1996, Christopher Guest has been The Right Honourable The Lord Haden-Guest

When the NBC series Saturday Night Live decided to go with more experienced talent in the 1984-85 season, I realized that Christopher Guest was one of the most anonymous-looking actors in show business. Unlike someone with a strong persona, such as Martin Short or Billy Crystal that season, Guest tended to blend in, which can be an asset in an ensemble cast.

I also remember him as the writer (with Eugene Levy)/director/actor in three films I saw in the cinema at the time: Waiting for Guffman (1996) -“an aspiring director and the marginally talented amateur cast of a hokey small-town Missouri musical production go overboard when they learn that someone from Broadway will be in attendance”; Best in Show (2000), about the human personas at a national dog show; and A Mighty Wind (2003), about the reunion of a 1960s folk trio.

These films had largely the same troupe of performers, including Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, and Bob Babalan. There was something about the off-kilter sensibilities of these characters that I found, in their mundane absurdity, quite believable. I’ll have to seek out 2006’s For Your Consideration, which I somehow missed.

You might be familiar with Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel – up to 11! – the lead guitarist of the rock band Spinal Tap, in the 1984 mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, directed by Rob Reiner. The film was written by Reiner, Guest and the other members of the “band”, Michael McKean (vocalist/guitarist David St. Hubbins), and Harry Shearer (bassist Derek Smalls).

This “fake” band has put out two albums that charted, one the title of the film back in ’84 (#121 on the Billboard charts), and Break Like the Wind, which I will admit to owning, that got up to #61 in 1992, when the movie sequel, which I did not see, came out.

But you probably know him best as the villainous Count Tyrone Rugen, The Man with Six Finger, from the movie The Princess Bride, which the family has seen together at the now sadly closed Madison Theater nearby.

Some biographical info I did not know: “Guest holds a hereditary British peerage as the 5th Baron Haden-Guest.” He has dual British and American citizenship. I did know that he has been married to Jamie Lee Curtis since 1984, but not that they have two adopted children.

December rambling #1: Sheila E. turns big 6-0

Rebecca Jade [the niece], Ashling Cole, Sheila E., Lynn Mabry before taking the stage at the Paramount Theatre of the Arts in Oakland, CA during 60th birthday month of Sheila E., Dec 2017
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