Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Van Halen Remembers How To Not Suck

I feel like I've been waiting my whole life for this. My favorite band ever has reunited and made their first album together in 28 years, an album I've anticipated and feared in nearly equal measure for as long as I can remember. Anticipated, because it seems such a massive cosmic injustice that the band that so effortlessly fused Big Loud Rock with Disco Dance Party has spent the last three decades pointing fingers at each other, talking smack, and (worst of all) making bad records. I've missed this band's signature sound for my entire adult life, in no small part because even after all these years it remains sui generis, a totally unique sound that no other act has ever come near duplicating. Feared, because over the course of those three decades everyone involved has been diligently submitting proof that they've all forgotten how to do anything but suck.

Everybody loves original Van Halen. When you ask them (or at least, when I ask them), people invariably say, "I love original Van Halen, with David Lee Roth -- Van Hagar, not really." I don't think I've ever heard anyone say "I don't like Van Halen," and I don't think I have ever known anyone who preferred the Hagar era to the Roth era (though the Internet certainly tells a different story). I loved Roth-era Van Halen so much, I talked myself into the first two Sammy records just so I wouldn't have to let go. But even I never listened to Balance (the last record with Hagar) or Van Halen III (the one with Gary Cherone).

When they finally got back with Diamond Dave in 2007 and toured, I and quite a few of my friends went to see them to the tune of $150 a ticket. I can think of no better illustration of the early MTV generation's enduring love toward this band with this singer. Yet, oddly, my informal polling reveals that in the two weeks since Van Halen released A Different Kind of Truth, their first record with David Lee Roth since 1984, exactly nobody I know has listened to it. I say oddly because quite unlike the early '80s, it is possible to listen to most new albums (this one included) for free on Spotify or whatever. I have been listening to this thing a lot for the last two weeks and I want to talk to someone about it, but I can't because no one has heard it and apparently doesn't care to.

I can understand that: as much goodwill as the original band still enjoys (strangely, considering how little goodwill they had for each other), they did so, so, so much to wreck it in the last 15 years. First, under the expert tutelage of Sammy Hagar, they learned how to suck. They put out a few bad records. Their performances became erratic. And then they went on a Nixonesque firing spree, terminating Sammy Hagar, David Lee Roth, and Gary Cherone in a three-year period, and then firing Sammy Hagar again after a disastrous reunion tour a few years after that. They became the worst thing a rock band can be: they became a joke.

So even though they sounded great on the 2007 tour, even with Eddie Van Halen's 16-year-old son playing bass, and everybody went and everybody liked it, nobody seemed -- indeed, nobody seems, present tense -- to imagine that these dudes are even capable of making a decent record.

The early evidence was not promising: a month ahead of the album's release, a single called "Tattoo" hit YouTube, and although it was not altogether horrible, it didn't really feel like something they couldn't have done without Diamond Dave, or wouldn't have done with Sammy Hagar. I watched the video a few times and realized that, while the song was definitely not that great, the video was so bad that it actually made the song seem worse. (I appreciate that they made a performance video like the ones they made in the '80s, but not even bothering to sync the video with the song is a strange, strange choice.)

So I listened to it a few times without looking at the video, and it did indeed seem a little better (but still not that great) -- it feels like a conscious effort to revisit the crossover pop appeal of "Jump" without directly aping the song itself. It certainly sounded better to me than the two songs they did with Roth in 1996 when they did the big reunion headfake, "Me Wise Magic" and "Can't Get This Stuff No More." Those tunes sounded like unfinished Van Hagar riffs that they got Roth to write lyrics to, right down to the wet, chorus-pedal-y guitar tone that Eddie made his signature in the 90s. It's far from perfect, but still a step in the right direction, so I remained cautiously optimistic for the rest of the record (though I feared that I was just talking myself into it, the same way I did OU812). As it turns out, "Tattoo" is the first song on the album, which is a weird choice considering that tracks 2-13 are pretty much exactly what all the Van Halen fans like me have been waiting the last 28 years for. This album is loud, rude, fast, aggressive, and restores the sense of humor and mischief that Diamond Dave took home in the divorce. And, it occurs to me that skipping the first track, or even the first two tracks, on a Van Halen album is nothing new to me: I always skipped "You Really Got Me" and "Eruption," I always skipped "You're No Good" and "Dance The Night Away," and I always skipped "1984" and "Jump." So "Tattoo" falls into a grand tradition, and if you skip it and start with the second song, "She's the Woman," you immediately realize that THE IMPOSSIBLE HAS HAPPENED, and that you are listening to a new Van Halen record that actually sounds like Van Halen: propulsive, funky, hard-edged but not abrasive. "She's The Woman" has the same kind of grinding feel as "Mean Streets," only without the killer riff intro. (This song and five others are based on demos of old songs from Roth's original tenure, which some have leveled as criticism but I consider a non-issue.) Things stay promising with the first all-new song on the album, "You and Your Blues," which really should have been the first single: it's got more pop appeal and unlike "Tattoo" and every other song on the album, its lyrics aren't totally stupid. Instead, Roth recycles blues song titles in the service of a mid-tempo kiss-off to a depressive lover. (One might also read a kiss-off to the melancholy style of Van Hagar into those lyrics, if one were so inclined). Then, with "China Town," we finally, FINALLY hear the return of the thing that has been totally absent since Roth left the band and what made them so distinctive: the boogie beat, previously used to such great effect on "I'm The One" and "Hot For Teacher" and "The Full Bug" and several others; the exuberant, too-fast-to-dance-to, impossible-not-to-try beat. I guess they missed this beat as much as I did, because it shows up on a couple of other songs on the record: "As Is," which reminds me of "Sinner's Swing" from Fair Warning; and "Stay Frosty," an overt homage to "Ice Cream Man," from their debut album. Alex Van Halen, by the way, is an absolute monster on this record, and on the boogie-beat songs in particular. As for David Lee Roth, he sounds good, if a little strained at times. (I have a feeling he needed a lot of takes to sing some of these.) But Roth's vocal prowess was never his strength, nor was his gift for meaningful, insightful lyrics. Just like on all his past efforts with this band, his lyrics consist of memorable one-liners strung together with nonsense. There is no narrative, no message, no deeper meaning. (Having said that, he does uncork a few great lines: "Some days you're the dog, some days you're the hydrant"; "God is love, but get it in writing"; "Love 'em all, I says -- let Cupid sort 'em out!") He is the kind of singer who gets by on pure attitude and enthusiasm, who makes every song sound more like a party than a bloodless exercise in rock virtuosity -- which is what most of the band's work with Sammy Hagar sounded like.
All is once again as it should be
(except for that headset mic)
The clean-tone arpeggiated intro that kicks off "Blood and Fire" made me a little nervous that that style was about to creep back into the mix, but it thankfully doesn't, and here Roth sings some nonsense lyrics that nonetheless convey a spirit of triumph and seem to directly address the band's toxic history without really saying anything about it except that it sucked. And even though this is definitely a rock song, nowhere near a ballad, it is the last light moment on this record for a while, as the next five tunes are pummeling rockers. The word "Love" is not in the title of any of them, and the chorus pedal is nowhere to be found. I've written about this before, but I've slowly come to feel that adding Wolfgang Van Halen to the band is the best thing they could have done. Like any 20-year-old, the kid wants to rock, and like any parent to a 20-year-old, Eddie wants to do whatever he has to do to make his kid think he's cool, and even if that means ditching the harmonizer and the TransTrem, Eddie is all "sure thing buddy, I'll drive, popcorn's on me!" Michael Anthony was a great part of the band once upon a time, but Eddie did have a tendency to keep him down in the mix -- you can actually hear him getting turned down on "So This Is Love?" from Fair Warning -- but when it's his own son playing bass, he's more inclined to bring him up in the mix and the kid more than acquits himself, playing more active and inventive lines than Anthony tended toward. I have a feeling that Wolfgang's favorite Van Halen record is Women and Children First, because most of the all-new songs sound like they could be on that record, particularly "As Is" and "Honeybabysweetiedoll." Also because they played "Romeo Delight," one of the heaviest tunes in the band's entire early catalog, on every date of the 2007 tour (which Wolfgang supposedly wrote the setlist for) and they're also playing it on the current tour. I can't think of anything at all wrong with the spirit of Women and Children First guiding Van Halen Mark IV's efforts, now or in the future. It's not without a problem or two. Even though the tone is perfect, and the spirit is exactly as it should be, and there are no (no! none! zero!) ballads, and all the Van Halens are playing brilliantly and Dave is tossing out one-liners like he's been saving them up for 20 years, the big, memorable riffs are in short supply. There's no monster riff like "Unchained," or "Panama" that makes you want to grab your guitar and try and figure it out. It's also too long by 3 or 4 songs: as I mentioned, it would have been better without "Tattoo"; "The Trouble With Never" is a little too close to a Hendrix song ("Crosstown Traffic," to be exact) for comfort; and "Beats Workin'" feels like filler stuck at the end. Cut off three tunes and you've got a 35-minute Van Halen album that feels of a piece with the rest of the Roth-era records. But having said all that, the fact that there is a new Van Halen song that sounds like "Ice Cream Man" ("Stay Frosty") is cause to rejoice. My biggest worry about a new Van Halen record wasn't that it would be bad. Edward Van Halen and his brother don't know how to make a bad record. But they sure as shit know how to make a lame one, as they proved throughout Hagar's tenure and into Cherone's. My biggest fear was that they'd drag David Lee Roth down into anther limp, boring, adult-oriented-rock album, and I'm happy to say that whatever its other faults, this is not a lame record (if you do like I told you and skip "Tattoo"). It pushes all the same buttons that their early records pushed, buttons the band couldn't even find from 1985 to the present (and no other band has ever been able to find at all). That "Panama" and "Hot For Teacher" and "Unchained" left a smoking hole where those buttons used to be shouldn't detract from the fact that "Stay Frosty" and "As Is" and "She's The Woman" push the same buttons more than well enough to turn the little light on. But I think the best compliment I can pay this record is that once I started listening to it, I haven't been able to stop. The songs got in my head and made me want to listen to them, to hear all the buried layers and get as familiar with them as I am with Fair Warning and 1984. Even more surprisingly, I found myself wanting to go see them play these new songs live. For whatever reason -- and I'm on the record as to what I think the reason is -- they seem to have remembered what they're good at, and as importantly, how to do it. I am completely shocked that I like this record as much as I do, and the biggest surprise of all is that I am now finding myself sincerely looking forward to hearing what their next record sounds like, when Wolfgang is even more settled into the band and the pressure of this big reunion has been released. These guys are capable of big things, and they may be going places. Keep your eye on them! PS -- All of that said, Dave needs to lose that headset mic. It's embarrassing, and cured me of my urge to go see the tour.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Elton John vs. Madonna: The Real Super Bowl

Last Sunday the stage was set for a Super Bowl showdown of epic proportions. The two sides had met before, and there was clearly a lot of bad blood between them, so there was a lot at stake in the rematch: pride, bragging rights, the chance to avenge a humiliating upset loss.

I refer of course to Elton John and Madonna, who have been locked in a bitter blood feud since Elton's acceptance speech at the 2004 Q Awards, where he won the (honorary) Classic Songwriter Award and Madonna won the Best Live Act Award. Elton said a perfunctory word of thanks before devoting the rest of his remarks to his fellow winner: 

"Madonna, best fuckin' live act -- fuck off! Since when has lip-syncing been live? I think everyone who lip-syncs when you paid 75 quid to see them should be shot." Madonna's flack countered soon after: “Madonna does not lip-synch, nor does she spend her time trashing other artists.” Indeed, it must be noted that this feud is pretty one-sided in terms of public sniping. This comment is the closest Madonna has come to (publicly) insulting Sir Elton, though I imagine that behind closed doors her comments on the matter were tart enough to make her almost drop her mysterious accent. In any case, that was just the volley for serve, the regular-season game, if you will, before their first showdown on the big stage: this year's Golden Globes, where both Elton and Madonna were nominated in the category for Best Original Song. Madonna's song "Masterpiece" was for the movie she herself directed, W.E., while Elton's song was probably for some animated Disney thing that kids don't even like. Oh, all right, I'll look it up... Ah, yes, it was "Hello Hello," from the animated Gnomeo and Juliet. (It's like I'm psychic or something!) In an apparent lapse of chivalry, Sir Elton told reporters on the red carpet that Madonna "hasn't got a fucking chance." I haven't looked this up but I do believe that Sir Elton is the only knight of the Queen's order to have been photographed in a Donald Duck outfit. I Spotifyed both of these songs, neither of which I had ever heard of until the celebrity news machine started hyping this epic battle, and my unbiased opinion is that I would rather listen to my teeth being hammer-drilled than listen to either of these songs again. With gun to head, I would have to say that Madonna's is slightly less awful than Elton's, and apparently the Hollywood Foreign Press Association agreed, because she won the award. (There were no other nominees.) Madonna gave a rambling acceptance speech about how she wrote the song at the last minute, just kind of tossed it off amidst her million other duties as director and producer of the movie, which I suppose might read as a tweak at Elton, but she stayed clear of any direct response to Elton's taunts, thus averting the world's gayest rap beef. (When your venue is award show podiums, you've got a very gay rap beef.) Facing the press after the ceremony, Madonna said of Elton, ”I hope he speaks to me for the next couple of years. He’s been known to get mad at me so I don’t know. He’s brilliant and I adore him so he’ll win another award. I don’t feel bad.” Sir Elton's husband was not as gallant: "Madonna winning Best Original Song truly shows how these awards have nothing to do with merit. Her acceptance speech was embarrassing in its narcissism. And her critisism of Gaga shows how desperate she really is." Meow! When it was announced that Madonna would play halftime at the Super Bowl, Madonna seemed to have the upper hand. Not to be outdone, Elton booked a big Pepsi commercial to air in the third quarter, thus allowing him to get the last word and setting up the world's second gayest rap battle. (Award show podiums: slightly gayer than the Super Bowl Halftime Show). In an ABC News interview promoting the commercial (a news interview promoting a commercial -- God bless America!), Elton tartly offered Madonna one piece of advice: "Make sure you lip sync good."
Now look: I'm not sure how much of a feud this feud really is. I'm not at all sure that Elton wouldn't say the exact same thing to Madonna's face while he handed her a flute of champagne aboard an 80-foot yacht while they troweled Fleet Week, fishing for their dinner. We are talking about the cattiest queen ever to don a pair of oversized sunglasses, and the woman who understands catty queens better than anyone -- better than they even understand themselves.  But it was a big story in the 24-hour-news celebricycle, so I think we have a responsibility to determine who won: Madonna's halftime show or Elton's commercial? Madonna went first, and it is hard to imagine that on a visual level, even Elton wouldn't drop his queeny jealousy long enough to enjoy the sight of his rival being carried in on a litter by 144 bronzed, muscular Romans in gold lamé fetishwear. No matter how awesome Elton's Pepsi commercial turns out to be, it has no chance at even faintly challenging Madonna's decision to overtly ram 14 minutes of homoerotica down Football Nation's throat in terms of audacity or cultural relevance. The Pepsi commercial could be directed by the Coen Brothers and it will still be a Pepsi commercial. Before she even opens her mouth, Madonna's two points ahead, not unlike the safety that gave the Giants an early lead in the game. Madonna 2, Elton 0. As soon as she does open her mouth, it's clear that Elton is not wrong about the lip-syncing. There was an awful lot of debate amongst my friends about whether she was singing live or not, but that debate should have been settled even before she began the first verse of "Vogue." The voice coming out of the speakers is doing things that human voices can't do -- namely sample and repeat itself -- and the movement of her mouth did not quite match the sound coming out. I don't have a problem with the lip-syncing in this case: a single person at the center of a football stadium needs a lot of razzle-dazzle if they're going to get any kind of entertainment across, and choreography on the scale that Madonna brought (cartwheels, stairs, simulated tightrope bouncing) tends to undermine one's singing. I have definitely seen footage of Madonna singing loud and dancing hard at her concerts back in the day -- you can always tell for sure when someone isn't lip-syncing. As I remember, she always hit the notes and stayed on key but she also sounded a little husky voiced, like a gym teacher, and I have to say that takes a little of the awesome out of it. So maybe she really doesn't lip-sync as a rule but made an exception for the Super Bowl (most likely under withering pressure from the producers)? I dunno. I don't care if Madonna lip-syncs. Has Madonna's appeal ever had anything to do with her voice? I have seen a lot of articles over the years about the cultural impact of Madonna and her various personae and her mastery of PR and spectacle and even the quality of her material, but I don't think I've ever read a word of analysis of her as a singer, as a transmitter of emotion through song. Somehow, amazingly, the most famous singer of the last 30 years is not really famous for singing. She's famous for performing. I have known more than a few very, very big Madonna fans in my time, and I have been party to quite a bit of Madonna discussion, and nobody ever talks about her voice: they talk about the costumes, and the setlist, and the choreography. I mean Jesus, look at this. That's the stuff she really has to get right to please her audience. So if lip-syncing is what it takes to get that stuff right, of course she should do it. Right? Would you rather hear the sound of her chest caving in while she's being twirled in a cartwheel while trying to sing, or would you rather see the dance move happen without the distraction of the singing getting weak? Either way, Elton puts some "I told you so" points on the board because he called her out on it years ago, she's denied it, and he's now definitively proven right. Elton 3, Madonna 2.
Cee Lo.
The rest of the first half is a mixed bag. Madonna makes a direct play for youth and relevance by having the guys from LMFAO, who I finally learn are the ones responsible for that one song I hear three times every Friday night and who prove tragically inept at pretending to scratch records, mash up with her on "Music"; she rolls out a very crappy new song, "Give Me All Your Luvin'," with guest rap verses by living cartoon villain Nicki Minaj and laconic British politirhymer M.I.A., who flips the bird at the camera in a craven effort to replicate some of her hostess' early-90's provocations; and she appears maybe to have sung live on the closer, "Like A Prayer," with ex-M&M mascot Cee-Lo playing the role of the gospel chorus on the outro. I really thought she sang this part live, but the second time I watched it I saw a lot of sounds not matching the mouth so maybe she lip-synced that too.   Going into halftime, Elton had to be nervous: the video effects projected onto the field were amazing, the choreography was impressive, the sound mix was good, and Madonna looked great. She seems to have put on a little weight, and it suits her. She was starting to get a little old-ropey. I'm sure Botox has its advantages, but nothing tightens the skin like 10 or 15 pounds! My football-scoring gimmick is starting to feel a little unwieldy; let's call it a touchdown and two field goals. Madonna 15, Elton 3.
The Pepsi commercial begins the third quarter, and with his first line -- "No Pepsi for you!" -- Elton reminds us why he has done so little acting over the years. Though to be fair, John Barrymore couldn't make "No Pepsi for you!" work, it is an outrageously terrible line. His outfit is of course ridiculous, but it  doesn't even move the weirdness needle compared to some of his past outfits. It actually kind of suits him. The shoes are a nice touch, but they just remind me of all that gold Madonna had. So much more gold than a pair of platform boots. This commercial is very well shot, and the scenery and costumes are teriffic. After Elton completely fails to sell two more awful lines of dialogue, a young lady I'm told was the recent winner of The X Factor, Melanie Amaro, comes out and starts singing a dubstep remix of Aretha Franklin's "Respect." Elton taps his toe and clutches his Pepsi. The song ends and Elton begrudingly gives the girl a Pepsi with the only line that could ever be worse than "No Pepsi for you": "All right -- Pepsi for you."  It is an undeliverable line and Elton does nothing with it. The girl declares, in the only line that could ever be worse than "All right -- Pepsi for you," "No -- Pepsi for all," and showers Pepsi on everyone in the court and drops the King into a pit where he meets Flavor Flav. Somehow they resisted what must have been a powerful urge to put a rimshot in at the end. They didn't do it, but I'm sure it was discussed. So wait -- this commercial is over and Elton John didn't sing at all? Not a word? After all that? How do we score a performance like that? I hate to not even give him a field goal, but I don't see where he scores any points here at all. It looked good and the costumes were great, but it wasn't funny and he was terrible in it. Even if you thought Madonna's halftime show was terrible, we can probably agree it was better than this. The one thing this clip makes clear is that Elton John would make the greatest American Idol judge ever. How can he possibly not be doing that? Who has not offered Elton John enough money to break young singers' hearts on national TV twice a week? Because that person should be fired. They should get rid of all three of the current judges and replace them with Elton John. (He has to be wearing that King's outfit though.) The fact that he's so perfect for it makes me want to give him a field goal, but the fact that he isn't already doing it makes me want to take it away. Ah, let's just give it to him, he loses either way. Final score: Madonna 15, Elton John 6.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sean Young and Winona Ryder Are Awful, Irredeemable Monsters

Remember that thing with Kate Moss a few years ago? She got caught on videotape snorting coke (something she had long been known to indulge in from time to time -- she's a famous model, after all). When photos of this completely unsurprising piece of news hit the English press, she promptly lost most of her endorsement deals, H&M and Chanel among them, and for a few weeks the 24-hour news celebricycle busied itself with pronouncing her career completely dead once and for all.

Twelve months later, she signed 18 high-profile deals and became totally ubiquitous for the next few years, her visibility higher even than when she was dating Johnny Depp. For once, the dramatic high-profile fall from grace didn't even have time to fade from memory before the triumphant comeback campaign was over and won.

The celebrity highway is littered with the corpses of personal scandals, misdeeds, and embarassments, nearly always reported by a breathless celebrity press as "career-killing." Sometimes these things are legitimately terrible deeds, sometimes not. But let's play a little game and look at some supposedly career-ending scandals and see if they have anything in common.

NFL quarterback Michael Vick was convicted in 2007 of running an illegal dogfighting ring out of his home and sentenced to 21 months in prison.

Sports announcer and celebrity news presenter Pat O'Brien was forced to take a leave of absence when a string of voicemails that can only be described as creepy, gross were made public by a woman who worked for him.

Quarterback Brett Favre was fined $50,000 by the NFL for sending a photo of his penis to a TV host.

NBA superstar Kobe Bryant was tried for rape in 2006. The case was dropped, but Bryant's own account of what happened is only slightly less awful (and no less gross) than what he was accused of.

NFL linebacker Ray Lewis was acquitted of murder charges in two stabbing deaths, got immunity in exchange for testifying against his two companions, and ultimately paid settlements to the victims' families.

Radio host Rush Limbaugh, who once told his audience "we have laws against selling drugs, pushing drugs, using drugs, importing drugs... so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up," was charged in 2006 with doctor shopping to supply his addiction to oxycodone.

Pop star Britney Spears left rehab after less than a day, shaved her own head in a strip-mall salon, lost custody of her two young children and kidnapped them, and was committed to a psychiatric facility, all in the space of a year.

Chris Brown pled guilty in 2009 to felony assault of his girlfriend, Rihanna, and is still under a five-year restraining order to stay 50 yards away from her.

NBA sportscaster Marv Albert pled guilty to assault and battery charges when two women accused him of biting them during sex. One of the women also claimed that he dressed in women's underwear, and Albert himself claimed the biting was consensual, but the woman objected to Albert's request to bring a second man into the bedroom.

Rapper Snoop Dogg was tried for murder in 1993 when his bodyguard shot another man from the car that Snoop was driving.

Filmmaker Woody Allen was sued for custody of his son with actress Mia Farrow when Farrow found nude photographs of her 20-year-old adopted daughter in his possession.

Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry was filmed smoking crack in a hotel room in 1990, during his third term.

What do all of these people have in common? They returned to, and in most cases continue in the jobs they lost in the fallout over these incidents. Michael Vick is the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, Rush Limbaugh is still on the air, as are Pat O'Brien and Marv Albert, Britney is having her biggest year ever, and Woody Allen just had the highest-grossing movie of his whole career nominated for Best Picture. I even heard Chris Brown and Rihanna are secretly back together (in violation of the restraining order). 

I reeled that whole list right off the top of my head, but when I tried to make a list of people who had big scandals that they didn't come back from, I found myself wracking my brains quite a bit harder. Here's what I came up with:

Actress Winona Ryder was arrested in 2001 for shoplifting $5,000 worth of designer clothes from Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. I don't recall seeing her in a movie since then, except in a 10-second cameo as Spock's mother in the new Star Trek.

After having to give up the Kim Basinger role in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman due to an injury, actress Sean Young lobbied hard for the role of the Catwoman in the sequel, going so far as to make her own costume and confront Burton and Michael Keaton, and has never been seen again, unless you count her run on Celebrity Rehab last year. (Her Blade Runner co-star, Daryl Hannah, has also not been seen in a long time, but I think that's just because she's weird-looking and a terrible actress.)

I think that's it. Can you think of any more, other than O.J.? I can think of a few politicians, but the first one who comes to mind is currently polling second in the Republican primary race.

Fitzgerald was wrong: not only are there second acts in American life, there are third, fourth, and fifth acts in American life. (American public life, anyway.) Mel Gibson seems like he may not bounce back from his torrent of murderously angry phone calls to his estranged wife, but then again that happened after he had already come back from uncorking a stream of anti-Semitic and misogynist comments to the cops who pulled him over for (very) drunk driving, so I wouldn't count him out just yet.

It's curious: why weren't Winona Ryder or Sean Young able to rehabilitate their images, particularly considering neither of their offenses were violent or drug related?  Oliver North can run for Senate with a straight face after basically copping to treason, but an actress can't have a bad weekend?

When my wife and I discussed this, her contention was that there's a gender double-standard at work here, that if a male celebrity stood accused of the same things, they'd have bounced back, and I can't deny that there's a pattern, but there is an anomaly that tends to wreck that theory: Britney.

Winona Ryder and Sean Young's offenses were not very severe crimes -- in Young's case, not crimes at all -- but they were genuinely weird: why would a presumably wealthy actress steal a bunch of stuff she can easily afford? Why would an actress on a hot streak, having starred in a long string of big-budget movies as leading lady, humiliate herself on TV by groveling for a role? A weird, fetishy role to boot? In both cases, these women gave the impression that maybe they don't just do crazy things, but that they might actually be crazy. And it's true that men in the public eye don't get a lot of that kind of scrutiny. But Britney's wild ride in 2007 and 2008 was way, way crazier, and I'm still hearing her latest single every Friday night (I can't take no, take no, take no more!)

If we have learned anything from the last 20 years or so of the 24-hour news celebricycle, it is that Shit Happens. All kinds of Shit Happens, from mildly amusing to totally horrifying, and being exposed to all of it, all the time, in intense focus for a news cycle or two before moving on to the next thing, may have desensitized us, raised our tolerance for pearl-clutching scandal, and raised the bar for what we truly won't forgive.  Nothing's Shocking, as a once-great band once sang.

What used to be awful and horrifying is now just awesome entertainment, and after we go through the motions of acting shocked, shocked that Alec Baldwin left those messages on his daughter's voicemail, we're more than happy to let him back on the carousel because the only thing worse than him doing something like that again is him NOT doing something like that again. When people tarred by the brush of celebrity scandal start warming up for the comeback, the celebrity press doesn't seem too interested in reminding us what they did to make a comeback necessary -- they don't want to get between the fallen star and another juicy headline.

As a matter of fact, it's got to the point that something that would once have been a career-ending scandal -- like say, an interracial sex tape -- is now like submitting a scandal on spec, to prove you've got what it takes to run with the big dogs.

So if you hear anybody wringing their hands about whether Marky Mark will be able to recover from having claimed that he could have stopped 9/11, or whether Demi Moore can bounce back from her whip-it debacle, or if anyone will hire Daniel Radcliffe even though he played Harry Potter half in the bag, or if M.I.A. will ever be able to show her face in public after flashing the bird at the Super Bowl, don't waste your time wondering if they'll bounce back. There's no mystery, no suspense: they'll bounce back. They all bounce back. Let's just skip the part where we all pretend to be offended, because it's all ringing hollower and hollower. Mark my words: O.J. Simpson will do a "funny" cameo in a big-budget movie in the next five years -- I'm thinking The Hangover 4 --  or at the very least get into porn.