Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Force Awakens on Starz

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, the best Star Wars movie since the original original trilogy, makes its television debut at 9 p.m. this Saturday, September 10, 2016, on all Starz channels.

Whoever said you can’t go home again needs to talk to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. As the grizzled veteran space pilot, smuggler, and gunslinger says in the film:

Chewie, we’re home.”

May the Force awaken in you this weekend.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Happy 50th Anniversary, Star Trek!

Fifty years ago on September 8, 1966, the Federation Starship U.S.S. Enterprise (Starfleet designation NCC-1701) set out on a five-year mission that initially lasted only three years but ultimately went on to encompass an animated television series, 13 motion pictures, five more television series, and countless fan conventions, games, toys, books, and all manner of merchandising.

The Decades channel celebrates the momentous occasion with an all-day marathon on September 8 of Star Trek specials from previous anniversaries and milestone events.

And Me TV presents the original series' first broadcast episode, “The Man Trap,” in the show's usual 9 p.m. timeslot this Saturday, followed by a special Svengoolie screening of the first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” in which the only familiar faces are Leonard Nimoy as Spock and Majel Barrett (Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's future wife and Nurse/Doctor Christine Chapel in the original series and movies) as the Enterprise's female executive officer, Number One. And on the same night Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens makes its television debut on all Starz channels!

I have been a Trekker, Trekkie, and all manner of nomenclature associated with dedicated devotees of Star Trek for 36 years, and I shall happily continue to be.

Not only have I had the pleasure of being a fan of the franchise for all those years, but I have also had the honor and privilege of professionally interviewing several of its prominent representatives – original series stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy and their Star Trek VI costar Kim Catrall, and Next Generation-ers Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, and John de Lancie. I also had the good fortune to meet Shatner, James Doohan, and Walter Koenig in person. (And I saw Gates McFadden and Alexander Siddig – Siddig El Fadil at the time – at a special Star Trek exhibition at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.)

May Star Trek continue to live long and prosper (as it currently does with the original series on Me TV, Star Trek: The Next Generation on BBC America, theatrical feature films, and the forthcoming CBS television series, Star Trek: Discovery).

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, September 5, 2016

30 Years of Andy Summers' Solo Recording Career

Although Andy Summers' eponymous recording career outside The Police goes back another four years to include his highly acclaimed collaborations with fellow guitarist Robert Fripp – I Advance Masked (1982) and Bewitched (1984) – it was three decades ago during the summer of 1986 that Summers recorded his first solo album, XYZ, named after the middle initials of his three children.

Originally called Quark and engineered and recorded by Devo member Bob Casale at Devo Studios, XYZ is the only album on which Summers sings lead vocals throughout. It also marks the beginning of Summers' collaboration with Genesis engineer and producer David Hentschel, who coproduced and played keyboards on XYZ as well as Summers' next three albums and coproduced another Summers album a few years later.

While XYZ pales in comparison to Summers' virtuosic instrumental albums, the drone-like songs are hypnotically entrancing, the monotonous singing style is uniquely eclectic and serves the songs well, and the guitar work is excellent as always. The exceptionally upbeat, gospel-tinged song “Nowhere” features Summers' most rocking and soulful guitar solo ever, the best of his entire recording career thus far.

I say that as someone who has been a fan of Summers since The Police's final studio album, Synchronicity, in 1983 – when Summers was 40 and I was 10 – and who has some of Summers' key recordings from the 1960s with Zoot Money's Big Roll Band, Dantalion's Chariot, and Eric Burdon and the New Animals.

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of my favorite Andy Summers album, World Gone Strange, his only release to be recorded entirely in New York City, and the 20th anniversary of Synaesthesia, Summers' last album to be coproduced by David Hentschel – thus far.

Incidentally, it is also the 10th anniversary of Summers' autobiography, One Train Later. I had the pleasure of meeting Summers in person and getting his autograph during his book tour stop at my alma mater, New York University, for which I received a special invite as an alumnus.

Six years before that, I was fortunate and privileged enough to be able to interview Summers by telephone for a sidebar accompanying my main interview with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns in DirecTV: The Guide. Summers even listed our interview on his Web site's news section for a while.

And of course, I have seen Summers perform live several times over the years, first in an acoustic guitar duet with John Etheridge (in 1994 at The Bottom Line in the heart of NYU), then solo with his own various backing bands, and finally with The Police twice during their 2007-2008 reunion tour.

--Raj Manoharan

Gene Wilder (1933-2016)

Thanks for the laughs.

Nobody did it Wilder.

--Raj Manoharan