“A beer with…” is a new phase in the ChattaPop saga. On a monthly basis, I’ll get together with local and national celebrities, have a beer with them and talk about pop culture. It’s pretty simple.
For the inaugural beer, l met with Chattanooga mayoral candidate and former state Sen. Andy Berke at local favorite Nikki’s Drive-In on Cherokee Boulevard, his choice. We covered a wide range of pop culture territory, including "Star Wars," “Kim Possible” and, of course, Bruce Springsteen.
Let’s start off with an easy one: “Star Wars” or “Star Trek”?
"Star Wars," first trilogy, and in particular, “Empire Strikes Back.” It’s hard to imagine a better point in time than seeing all the things that were going on in “Empire Strikes Back,” especially at my age at the time. I’m really excited. J.J. Abrams is going to direct the next "Star Wars," especially because I loved the first "Star Trek" of his reboot.
Yeah, I agree. I am pretty excited. At first, when I heard that there was going to be another trilogy, I was like, “Ehhh, I don’t know about that,” but then when I heard that Abrams was going to do it, I got excited.
I remember my main line from the second trilogy, “Kiss me like you did by the lake, like you did on Naboo.” And I thought to myself, "This is where I’m off the 'Star Wars' train. But, hopefully, we can get back on track in the third set of movies.
One more "Star Wars" question: During "Empire," when Darth Vader told Luke that he was his father, was that a shocker to you?
I’m going to admit that I try to get most twists, but I missed that one. Now, in retrospect, seeing the movies, I see it set up, but that was a classic twist and perfectly set up by what came before it.
Let’s move on to Springsteen.
You’re a pretty well-known Springsteen fan, from what I understand.
What's your favorite album, if you had to pick one?
We could go on about this for a very long time. Every year when I do Bruce, BBQ and Berke, I try to make sure that I tie my speech in with something that Bruce has written about because I think he says so much about all of our experiences in a lot of ways.
But I’m going to go counterintuitive with the answer to this question because I do think his masterpiece is his most personal album, which is “Tunnel of Love.“ “Born to Run” is incredible; even with all of the accolades it has received, it measured up. “Darkness (on the Edge of Town),” which I’ve grown more fond of, I think, was underappreciated at the time, and now it’s properly in the canon. “The River” is just a sprawling, fantastic snapshot of great American music. “Nebraska” is acoustic punk. “Born in the U.S.A.” is an amazing commercial success and probably underrated because of how successful it was commercially, and that gets us all the way from ’75 to what I think, really, was his masterpiece when he turned inward and said, kind of, “I’ve had all this success writing about this stuff. Now, I’m going to strip down the music and get really personal about what’s going on in my life.” I can keep going on after 1987, if you want.
I’m going to ask you about one of my favorite albums. I don’t think it’s properly appreciated. It’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” What did you think about that album?
“The Ghost of Tom Joad” is spectacular, and I was having this debate Saturday with a volunteer on the campaign, who said he thinks that is Bruce’s masterpiece. I think the one thing, to me, that is amazing is that Bruce Springsteen, in his 60s, still reinvents himself on a regular basis. And it takes a person of vision, I think, to say, “OK, I’ve done it this way for some period of time. I’m going to keep changing it up and trust that my fans are going to stay with me. And for those who don’t, that’s OK, too.”
But if you look over the last several years, the last decade, you had “The Rising” and then "Devils and Dust,” which, I think, really, is another underrated album. Then you had “Magic” and “Working on a Dream,” which was his forced album. And I’m trying to think where in there “The Seeger Sessions” fits in ... and then, even on this album and tour, he’s kind of taking things in a different direction, combining some of this folk stuff with some of the more modern influences. So, I really appreciate the fact that he’s willing to take risks.
Besides Bruce Springsteen, who would you say is your next favorite musician?
Let me start with rap. I’m an ‘80s rap person. I love Public Enemy. And I have right now a good mix of Public Enemy songs. On the rock side, it’s hard to find somebody whose canon matches up with Bruce, but I would say I really enjoy a number of Wilco albums. They make some great music. There was a period of time when I listened a lot of Talking Heads. “Stop Making Sense” is the greatest concert movie of all time. So, I’d say there’s a bunch of pretenders, but Bruce stands above them all.
I would ask about the best concert you’ve ever seen, but I would gather it’s a Bruce Springsteen show.
I’ve never seen Springsteen live, but I’ve heard he does one of the greatest shows ever—even now in his 60s, all of the energy he has, playing shows for three-plus hours.
You know, there are two types of people. The people who think Bruce Springsteen is the greatest concert ever. And those who’ve never seen Bruce Springsteen live.
Did you ever read comic books as a kid?
Do you still read them as an adult?
Who was your favorite superhero?
Would you call on the Avengers to fix Chattanooga’s crime problem?
I would have to get Tony’s attitude under control first. Tony Stark can be a bit of a mess. And I would be a little worried about what an angry Bruce Banner would do to our downtown. But if I could get those things under control, I think the Avengers would be a great addition to our city.
Are you a “Walking Dead” fan?
I am not. I’ve never seen it.
Are you a “Downton Abbey” fan?
I am not. You missed me both ways there.
Do you watch much TV at all?
I do. I’ve had a little less time recently. I kind of missed the zombie era, although I did see “Shaun of the Dead,” which was funny. And then the kind-of costume drama of 'Downton' is not as appealing to me.
My wife convinced me on that one. It took me a couple of episodes, but then I became addicted.
I enjoy TV, and I like watching whole series, and so that may be one I get to one of these days. Which one should I do first?
“The Walking Dead.” The writing sometimes isn’t as great as it could be or should be, but there’s a lot of the shock factor that gets you.
I’ll keep that in the potential rotation.
What are some of your favorite movies?
No. 1 is “The Godfather.” When I was a kid, I was probably too young for my parents to let me have watched this, but I was too busy stuffing grapes into my mouth and repeating Marlon Brando lines. And so I’ve always loved “The Godfather.” No. 2, I’ve always thought that “Citizen Kane” is as moving, kind of a classic movie, as you could find. “Godfather II” is also way up there. So those are the movies that are not only my favorite, but I’ve probably seen more often than anything else.
Now, I’ve never seen “Godfather II” or "Godfather III," but I’ve heard that “Godfather III” is kind of a throwaway but that “Godfather II” is supposedly better than the first one.
That’s right. Pauline Kael, who was a famous movie critic for the New Yorker magazine, believes that “Godfather II” may be the greatest movie of all time. But the kind of arc of No. 1, where you have Michael Corleone walk in as an innocent and walk out as the Godfather makes it special, and by the second one, as great as I think it is, he’s kind of gone so far to the dark side that it’s hard to feel as compassionate for him because you can see all of the things he’s done to get to that place.
Are you a sports fan?
What’s you favorite sport to watch?
I watch a lot of sports. I will watch pro football, college football, college basketball, a little bit of NBA. I will watch Major League Baseball and golf. If it’s on, I’ll have sports on in the background of what I’m doing.
I used to be a baseball fan. I’ll go to a Lookouts game every now and then.
I’ve watched a little less baseball lately, too. And I think part of the problem is that to enjoy baseball, you have to be into the statistics of it. I’ve played some fantasy baseball, and when you were paying attention to how your players were doing every night, it gave you a reason to read the box scores. But since I’ve gotten out of that and I maybe watch a game every couple of weeks and I just watch the highlights, it’s hard to get invested in what’s going on.
Let’s talk about books. Are you reading any good books right now?
I just finished a book called “How Children Succeed.” It’s a really interesting book that makes the case that the most important thing we can do for our children is give them the character traits that are essential for success. Those character traits aren’t what a lot of people think ... like kindness or graciousness, which are good traits. But the book says that the ones that are essential for success are things like grit and determination and perseverance. So, I found it to be an incredibly interesting and provocative book.
Out of all the books you’ve read in your life, which one do you think had the greatest influence on your life?
I love the book “Master of the Senate.” Robert Caro has written a series of President Lyndon Johnson that really describes both the good and the bad behind his life. And “Master of the Senate” shows a person at the top of his game who could get extraordinary things accomplished but who was frequently lurching between his best and worst instincts. Johnson, when he was at his best, changed our country by getting more people involved in society and in every fabric of our community. At his worst, he closed down everything that was important to people by refusing to let them be part of important decisions. I love reading that book. It says so much to me about our country but also about how people operate in really important positions of power.
What were some of your favorite TV shows growing up?
Well, you might remember this one: “Hill Street Blues,” which was the first show that I remember watching that was serious. And then it led to shows like “NYPD Blue.” I love comedies. I watched everything from “Mork & Mindy” to “Barney Miller.” Even today, I love going on the Hallmark Channel and watching old “Cheers” because I think it’s getting hard to beat that humor.
Let’s talk about guilty pleasures. I’ll admit a guilty pleasure, and then you admit a guilty pleasure. Whatever you don’t feel comfortable with …
I don’t feel guilty. I’m not going to feel guilty about this stuff.
OK, music-wise, Bryan Adams. I listen to Bryan Adams, and, sometimes, I feel a little guilty about that.
First of all, before you feel too guilty about that, Bruce Springsteen sang “Cuts Like a Knife” two or three years ago at Sting’s birthday party. And there’s a bootleg video where he sings it as a soul song. It’s awesome. Cheesy ‘70s music of all varieties. I can enjoy a mellow groove with some bad lyrics with the best of them.
TV ... and I know you don’t watch a lot of it. But for me, “True Blood.” And people have varying opinions of it.
That seems pretty highbrow to me. I wouldn’t feel guilty about that.
It’s an HBO show, and usually, HBO shows are good. And this one is good. I guess if you were to compare it to “According to Jim,” then yes, I would consider it highbrow. I guess it depends on your definition of guilty pleasure.
“Kim Possible.” I love Ron Stoppable and his … stop laughing: I love how he gets into trouble, and Kim has to help him out. Rufus, the naked mole rat, he’s a fantastic character. I love “Kim Possible.”
Let’s move on to movies. “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” I’ve watched it on TBS. My wife caught me watching it and asked me what I was watching and I was embarrassed to say that I was watching Paul Blart and she made fun of me.
Movies … I would say any movie is pretty much my guilty pleasure because I love going to the movies. It’s one of my favorite things in the world to do. I can sit in there with a tub of popcorn ... I may not enjoy the movie, but I will enjoy the experience.
So, this is partly a guilty pleasure of mine, but I’m also pretty proud of it: Neil Diamond. I’m a big fan of Neil Diamond, but I’m a big Neil Diamond fan up to a certain point. How do you feel about him?
I’m going to have to part paths there with you on that one. I can sing “Sweet Caroline” at the ballpark. Most other situations, I’m going to turn the channel when Neil comes on. But I think pop music is really fun and that sometimes people feel guilty because they listen to stuff that is pop when, in fact, there’s every reason to think that great pop music is as enjoyable as the most hardened, highly reviewed rock. So, if people can sing to it or groove to it, then I don’t feel guilty about enjoying some good pop music. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of really bad pop music.
If you are elected mayor, would you institute a Bruce Springsteen Day?
Bruce will be invited to every event the city has. If there is an opening of a city park, Bruce Springsteen will be invited. If there’s a day of giving or doing something for our seniors, Bruce Springsteen will be invited. If there’s a youth initiative, Bruce Springsteen will be invited. I feel relatively confident that he will take advantage of most, if not all, of the opportunities.
Charlie Moss writes about local history and popular culture, including music, movies and comics. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.