Top 5 Of The Moment


Now out on DVD, HBO’s The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is, like the titular changeling himself, by turns fascinating, tragic, trippy, ingenious and a little corny, but in a sweet way. Like Sellers’ existential quick-change act of a life, Geoffrey Rush’s performance is one of those nested Russian dolls: Unscrew Inspector Clouseau and you find Dr. Strangelove, and inside of him is Chance the Gardener, and finally, just when you think you’ve gotten down to Peter Sellers, there’s … nothing. He was a cipher, quite literally the man who wasn’t there, which made for a remarkable cinematic legacy but a less than wonderful life.


Without a doubt Paul Reubens’ impish, supernaturally jolly man-boy in a tiny sharkskin suit was a candidate for Ritalin, but the kaleidoscopic kitsch of his TV show was easily the best thing to happen to childhood since the invention of recess. Sure, Reubens comes with baggage. But parents can use his post-Playhouse transgressions as a teaching moment to explain the cruel and destructive hypocrisy of red state Puritanism. I mean, busting guys for spanking the monkey in a porno theater is like giving out speeding tickets at the Indy 500. What does it prove? Who wins here other than the usher on wet-mop duty that night? Certainly not the children. Besides, don’t all adults lead lives of quiet masturbation?


There’s been boatloads written about this ill-fated album, so I’ll spare you the highfalutin chatter. But the blissfully ignorant should know a few basic facts: Smile was essentially the Beach Boys’ Sgt. Pepper, the big psychedelic leap from pop to high art, and Brian Wilson more or less went insane trying to finish it in 1967. In the wake of all the overheated hype before an album that never came out — Smile will change music as we know it! Smile will cure lepers and the common cold! — a cult of Wilsonian obsessives sprung up as musicians and superfans tried to connect the dots and piece together a completed album from the bootlegs of outtakes that have leaked out over the years. Like the mysterious leopard found frozen to death near the summit of the mountain in Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro, everyone wanted to know how Brian got that high and what exactly he was looking for up there. The Smile tapes sat more or less untouched in the vaults of Capitol Records for nearly 40 years, until Wilson — now reasonably healthy and reenergized by the belated global acclaim for Pet Sounds — decided to finish it. This year’s resulting Smile is, despite occasional forays into rubber-chicken dinner-theater arrangements and unnecessary add-ons, nothing short of a miracle. This concert performance of Smile is even better than the studio version, with Wilson in fine voice, surrounded by an exceptionally fluent band of new-school L.A. power-pop scenesters who manage to cloak him in a Disneyesque bubble of sound, replicating the sunbeam glories of those Beach Boys harmonies and recreating this teenage symphony to God down to the last ornate sonic detail. Sail on, sailor.


I don’t know how to pronounce it either, but it’s a goddamn miracle drug–er, miracle homeopathic remedy. (But “oscillococcinum” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, which makes me think those homeopaths just don’t understand show biz the way the pharmaceutical industry drug dealers do.) Got this nagging head cold frickin’ weeks ago after visiting my sister in Charleston, S.C., over Thanksgiving. I love my sister and her kids, but let’s call a spade a spade: They’re little walking germ incubators, typhoid Tommies in tennis shoes. So I come back to Philly sick and decide to tough it out sans antibiotics, trying to do my share to save the planet from the drug-resistant superbug I’ve been told is looming, blob-like, in the collective bloodstream of the human race, just waiting for the day it will kill us all. After two weeks of rubbing my nostrils raw with Kleenex, I say screw the human race, give me my z-pack. Run through that, feel a little better, then worse. Apparently it’s viral, not bacterial. Heh heh. Somebody recommends oscillococcinum, which are these little pixie sticks of curative powder you sprinkle on your tongue every six hours. These little globules go inside and have a Batman-style fight with the germs and — biff! bang! pow! — I am cured. Turns out some of my best friends are homeopaths. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


I hate to bum you out amid all the holiday and New Year’s tidings of comfort and joy, but pencil this in alongside Warren Zevon’s deathbed dictum to “enjoy every sandwich” on your to-do list. My cousin’s husband Matt — 39 years old, father of three, blond, J. Crew handsome, clean- living nonsmoking sweetheart of a guy, with more good karma in the cosmic bank than he’ll ever get a chance to spend — was feeling sick for weeks and finally went to the doctor. To make a long and terrible story short: He’s got inoperable pancreatic cancer. The doctors give him two months to live, a year if he’s lucky. Pancreatic is the worst — even when it’s operable, the survival rate is something unbearably grim. Now here’s the silver lining: Matt says he gonna beat it, he’s gonna be the poster boy, the new Lance Armstrong, and I’m gonna believe him until he proves me wrong.