Speaking of Cruise …

I have to say at the outset that it’s a sign of my security in my marriage to link to a Dane Cook clip. The guy is on the fringe of Mrs. MMM’s Top 5.

But the guy is always funny, and his talk-show bit professing his love for Katie Holmes is a masterpiece. In most comedians’ hands, a bit like this would die out after the initial joke. Dane makes it funnier as it goes on. Seriously — I was chuckling a little at the beginning and howling by the end.

Listen for the more subtle gags, like “she’s so many words in my vernacular.”

Quick catchup

First of all, does anyone else find it odd that all these young pop stars are racing to get married? Michelle Branch, a promising talent, got married before she was 21 to a guy twice her age. (Wikipedia says she’s expecting.) Britney Spears got married and jumped into the over-the-hill reality TV circuit before many kids her age had finished college. And now there’s Avril Lavigne, whose strong young independent woman act is going to take a credibility hit as she marries the lead singer of a forgettable band (Sum 41).

Is this happening because we’re asking kids to grow up so fast these days? That’s something strange I’ve noticed more since I became a parent. On one end of childhood, we’re extending baby status — kids are potty-training later and basically holding their parents’ hands until age 10 or so. Of course, by that point, TV and radio have sexualized them to the point of overload.

If this continues, we’re going to have kids losing their virginity in their booster seats.

And we’ll get back to Spin’s Top 100 list. Quick thought: Automatic for the People is a good legit choice, a strong, sweetly sentimental R.E.M. effort. Soundgarden deserves a nod, but the overrating of Beck has gone on long enough.

Oh … and Tom Cruise? Just shut up. You’re getting refuted in Entertainment Weekly, dude — that’s gotta convince you that you’ve made a bad choice at the spiritual-philosophical buffet. And as the close relative of someone who has suffered through mental illness, don’t fucking tell me there’s “no such thing as a chemical imbalance,” OK? As Lewis Black just said on the Daily Show, you’re walking proof.

Is it too late for Katie Holmes to marry someone else? Maybe she could go from Chris Klein, the actor, to Chris Klein, the wing midfielder for the Wizards? Even Rod Stewart and Billy Joel would be preferable.

Supply and demand?

(I know, I’ll get to the Spin thing I promised shortly. I did phone home and fertilize the yard, so I’m catching up.)

To get a sense of how out of whack concert pricing has become these days, take a look at the listings for the Birchmere, a hip venue in the D.C. area.

Colin Hay, whose solo career has received a well-deserved boost from Scrubs, is an affordable $19.50. The bluegrass folks who embrace the venue are in the reasonable $20-25 range.

The doublebill of Pure Prairie League and Poco is $35. That’s stretching things a bit, but those band undoubtedly have a few fans. Of course, Pure Prairie League ran through personnel in a hurry during their heyday, and I can’t tell from Poco’s Web site who exactly claims to be a band member these days.

“Norman Brown’s Summer Storm 2005” is $49.50, but hey, they have Peabo. (Personally, I’d pay to see Peabo and Poco. Check that — I’d pay for the T-shirt.)

“An Acoustic Evening With Liz Phair,” on the other hand, is only $20. Little wonder they’ve added a second date. (And if I were single, I’d consider it very flattering to get a second date with Liz.) One day, I’ll rant in defense of Liz Phair’s recent “selling out,” but I’d imagine these evenings will focus on older stuff that should sound pretty good in this setting. I’d love to hear Polyester Bride.

I have no idea what Bea Arthur does that’s worth $55, but what the heck.

But America for $55? No. They have another of those Web sites that cleverly hide who’s in the “band” and who’s not.

But the worst offender here? Clearly — Creedence Clearwater Revisited. For $75, I’d better see John Fogerty walk out on stage, and we know that ain’t happening.

More signs of aging

1. The Fleetwood Mac classic The Chain pops into my head for an instant, and I suddenly remember that I have to fix the toilet. Yes, the chain from the flush handle to the flapper is no longer intact.

2. I see something that would make good blog fodder, but it’s past my bedtime, so I’ll have to get to it tomorrow. That’s if I manage to get the yard fertilized in time. I was supposed to do that today, but Father’s Day festivities got in the way.

So three reminders for me tomorrow:

1. Find more of Spin’s Top 100 albums of the last 20 years and blog about the inexplicable decision to rank Radiohead’s OK Computer No. 1.

2. Call Dad.

3. Fertilize the yard.

Spiritual sounds

I’ve listened to Indigo Girls for more than 15 years, and I had no idea (A) that Emily Saliers had a spiritual side, (B) that her father was a church musician and theology professor and (C) that father and daughter collaborated on a book about spirituality in music. Might need to add that to the never-ending stack of stuff I should read if I ever quit spending every night online like Mrs. MMM and I keep saying we will.

No I’m never gonna get it …

I know this will make me unhip in certain circles, but I just don’t get Joni Mitchell.

That’s a dangerous admission for those of us who want our opinions on music to be taken seriously. Most critical appraisals of Joni Mitchell begin like this: “When the dust settles, Joni Mitchell may stand as the most important and influential female recording artist of the late 20th century.” So arguing that Mitchell’s music isn’t all that great is like telling an NBA writer that Michael Jordan was overrated.

I’ll have to grant that I haven’t heard Mitchell at her most experimental, though I think I have the right to be a little skeptical of the folk-jazz fusion the critics describe. Besides, when critics talk about the influence Mitchell had on music, they list a bunch of female artists who wouldn’t have the slightest inclination to call up a Marsalis brother to play on their latest releases. That was Sting, not Madonna, playing with Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland.

It’s safe to say the Mitchell music that influenced others was her early work, from which the most lasting song is Big Yellow Taxi, from which everyone remember the “paved paradise and put up a parking lot” line.

And there’s the problem. Maybe it’s not fair to blame Mitchell for all the abuse and misuse this song and this line have taken over the years — Counting Crows’ typically self-impressed version leads the list of offenders. The AllMusic.com reviewer insists that this is “atypical of her work in general.”

But atypical or not, this is what people think when they think of Joni Mitchell. Again, the people who followed in her wake didn’t do jazz odysseys. (Yes, that’s a gratuitous Spinal Tap reference to illustrate the fact that adding “jazz” doesn’t make music more sophisticated.) When everyone got up on the stage toward the end of a Lilith Fair stop to do their tribute to Joni Mitchell, which song do you suppose they picked?

Given that, you can’t argue that Mitchell is influential and yet dismiss Big Yellow Taxi as “atypical.” (To be fair, the AllMusic links above are from different reviewers, but they seem representative of rock critics’ views that I’ve distilled over the years.) That’s the song that inspired a lot of artists that followed.

And it’s not very good. The “paved paradise” line reeks of the smug self-righteousness that makes 51 percent of the country hate “liberals.” (I’m not saying that’s fair — I’m saying it’s true.) And maybe I’m being too literal, but how do you put “up” a parking lot? Wouldn’t you put “up” a parking garage and lay down a parking lot?

I have heard other Mitchell music in the early-to-mid-80s, when everyone who made a video got a spin on MTV. It was dreary stuff. Between the video, interviews I read and pictures I saw, the main thing I remember is that she seemed obsessed with smoking. The tobacco industry hadn’t had product placement that good since Hollywood’s first few decades featured suave movie stars who were always ready to help the helpless damsel light up.

None of this means I don’t respect Mitchell. She clearly influenced a lot of my favorite artists, including a lot of the people who were sharing the mike at the Lilith Fair. But is it possible to be influential without being all that good?

Find out next week when we write about the Velvet Underground.

(I’m kidding. I’m not doing all this on the Velvet Underground.)