Friday, November 21, 2008

I'd Like a Side of Bacon

Has a more likable actor made more inconsequential movies than Kevin Bacon? Always a welcome presence in any film, he’s managed to have a career by being both noticeable and invisible at the same time. Does anyone not like Kev? Of course not. Does anyone care if he has a movie coming out? Of course not.

The first and last time crowds lined up for a Bacon flick was Footloose, 25 years ago. He’s smart enough to catch onto this because he rarely headlines big studio films anymore, the last one being last year’s bizarrely terrible Death Sentence and before that was way back in 2001 with Hollow Man. Anything he leads doesn’t really make money, so it seems he’s content to be a supporter, which is a role he’s suited for.

He doesn’t realize this, but he’s not a great actor. He’s good, and he has, not charisma, but a natural affability that is never off-putting. It’s only when he tries to act that he shoots himself in the foot, which is probably why he hasn’t taken a demanding role in nearly 20 years. He lacks range, which is the hallmark of any great actor. But, he is serviceable in drama or comedy, as long as neither is too broad, which is probably why he gets cast in important films like JFK, A Few Good Men, Apollo 13, and Mystic River, but none of those are good because of him (although he ALWAYS saves a film from totally sucking), nor were they hits thanks to his chutzpah. That isn’t a bad career actually, reap the benefits, but never be blamed when something fails.

Have you ever been in a social situation where you didn’t know anyone, except for maybe one person and you only sort of know them, but you cling to them and chat away because they’re a safe beacon compared to standing alone? Think a work happy hour, or your in-law’s family reunion, or when you had to break into teams in a class you didn’t have any friends in. He’s that guy. He’s the good guy that’s a safe bet. He’s the guy that, if you were forced to carpool with him, it wouldn’t be too bad and you could probably share a couple good laughs. He’s the theatrical equivalent of a Chris Isaak. Some hits early on, now he just goes about doing his thing without bothering anybody. It's almost always good. Nobody minds, some are pleased to hear from him again, but it isn’t causing ripples anywhere.

He just turned 50, so he isn’t growing old tragically like John Cusack, or a past his prime blowhard like Kevin Costner, or over-exposed like Samuel L. Jackson. He just is and nobody minds or notices.

I wish him the best, I really do. He could have small roles in every movie for all I care. He has no shtick that gets old or anything. The poor guy is just going to have a career like a blue collar factory worker. Punch the clock day after day. Do your best. Don’t bother anyone and no one bothers you. Live a good life, but maybe only make a lasting impression on those that know you best, even if people in general are grateful for the service you render.

Incidentally, he has an even less notable music career fronting the Bacon Brothers. In fact, they were on Craig Ferguson the other night and weren't half bad. But, much like his movies, I wish him well, but I'm not buying the album. The rub is, I hate myself for feeling that way. He was in Footloose for crying out loud! I'll say it again, who doesn't like Kev?!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lost Gem of the 80s #14: Glen Burtnick - "Talking In Code" (1986)

I’m going to coin a new musical genre right here: "Stallone Music". These are songs or sounds often heard during action sequences or training montages featured prominently during Sly’s 80s heyday of films such as Rocky 2,3, and 4, Cobra, Over the Top, Tango and Cash and the Rambo movies. The obvious pioneer of this genre is Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”, we all know that one. But, it’s augmented by the likes of Kenny Loggins, Sammy Hagar, Asia, Eddie Money and the unforgettable John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. Many other performers can be lumped into this group based on sharing similar DNA. Glen Burtnick is one of those guys.

Despite being a top-notch 80s songwriter, Glen was doomed from the start by being cursed with the surname Burtnick. Chicks don’t put posters of a guy named Burtnick on their wall (although they forgave Ralph Macchio, so maybe I’m wrong). Guys don’t grow up wanting to rock like Burtnick. Women don’t want to sleep with Burtnick, and Rocky is not going to spar with Apollo to a Burtnick. So, this minimizes your possibilities greatly.

Secondly, as I mentioned, he was a good songwriter for the 80s. His stuff could only truly come to life under the fa├žade of era-specific production. In other words, Glen performing his hits acoustically in a coffee shop is not where you want to experience him (even though I’m sure he’s out there looking for that exact gig as you read this).

And, lastly, he had the kind of high registered, nasally voice and slim frame of a kid who was picked on in school, grew a mullet upon graduation, had a knack for snappy pop songs, and morphed into a rock star while those who knew him, knew the truth.

Now, why should you listen to him? Because he’s fun. Because he had the goods, even if it was never fully acknowledged. His songs are catchy and, while never used, tailor-made for 80s cinema. Stallone film soundtracks had to straddle a very fine line between machismo and sensitivity. If you were too macho (Van Halen) or wussy (Journey) you weren’t invited to the party. The template was simple: crunchy guitars to please the boys and some sweeping synths for the ladies. This was the world inhabited by Foreigner, Loverboy, and Jeff Healy. This is a world we all secretly love. This is a world we think about when we’regrinding it out on the treadmill. This is a world we miss.

Sadly, Glen never really had a hit. There might be a song here or there that sounds vaguely familiar, but that’s it. His albums are all out of print and hard to find, and his live shows have been relegated to local bars and maybe a county fair if he’s lucky. And, to make matters worse, I can’t find a youtube clip of the best song on Talking In Code, “Crank It Up” (again, only in the 80s did that phrase even sound menacing). There isn’t much out there (“Little Red House” has a video posted, but isn’t the best example of what I’m talking about). The best clip to satiate your curiosity (I know you’re dying), would be for his modest hit “Follow You” off the album that came after Code, Heroes & Zeroes.

So, next time you decide to rip the sleeves off your t-shirt, grow your hair long, test drive a Trans Am, or throw on an acid washed denim jacket, let Glen be your soundtrack. He’s good enough and, Lord knows, he could probably use the work.

The Nugget - "Crank It Up" The link has snippets of all the tracks, so you'll get the idea. This is what should have been playing when Sly was looking for the strength to work that crazy move on the other arm wrestlers in Over The Top.