Welcome to Doo-Wop Theater

Welcome to Doo-Wop Theater

Marc Silver

It was born in the bathroom, the Beatles helped kill it in the ’60s, and now PBS is counting on it to make a mint in viewer pledges. That’s the story of doo-wop music, whose beautiful harmonies and heartfelt love songs gave some soul to rock-and-roll.

Legend has it that street-corner singers invented doo-wop, with its nonsense syllables and romantic lyrics. Not quite, says soul singer Jerry Butler, host of Doo Wop 50, the PBS special. “It started with teenagers singing in the john. The sound bounces off the porcelain–man, that’s the greatest fun in the world.” Hip-hop and rap come from the same place, says Butler: “Kids singing in bathrooms or rapping in corridors.”

Doo Wop 50 is the brainchild of T. J. Lubinsky, a 25-year-old “Jewish kid from New Jersey.” The doo-woppers who sing on the show are mostly black. The audience is largely white. “This is my opinion,” says Butler, “but as a people we have never been good archivists. Maybe some of it came from the fact that folks would say there was no history to be proud of.” Those oldies but goodies should do PBS proud. An earlier doo-wop show on Pittsburgh’s public broadcasting station earned $225,000 in pledges in three hours. A concert by opera’s Three Tenors on the same station brought in $60,000.

This year, the Doo Wop Box, a $70 four-CD set (Rhino), went gold–500,000 sold. New this fall: Doo Wop for Kids (Kid Rhino, $12).

BESTSELLERS

A new time-travel thriller tops Amazon.com’s sci-fi chart.

1. Timeline by Michael Crichton

2. Dune: House Atreides by Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson

3. All Tomorrow’s Parties by William Gibson

4. Krondor the Assassins: Book Two of the Riftwar Legacy by Raymond E. Feist

5. Star Wars, The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime by R. A. Salvatore

6. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

ASK DR. HIP

Why are men obsessed with Steve Irwin, the Australian host of Animal Planet’s The Crocodile Hunter?

The intrepid, possibly insane Irwin calls crocodiles, snakes, and other reptiles “cute” and “darling” while poking them with sticks until they want to rassle–what’s not to love? Since its 1996 debut, the “extreme” nature show has spawned imitators and turned Irwin into a cult celebrity who jokes with Leno and shills for Pentax. Critics accuse him of faking heroics with animals from his zoo (Irwin denies it). Current shows are tamer than the early days, when creatures occasionally drew a little blood. But the threat of death keeps fans on edge. Buffs like Jeff Major (www.jeffmajor.com/croc) track Irwin sightings to fight rumors of his grisly demise.

TOP PICKS

BOOKS

Nine Spoons: A Chanukah Story by Marci Stillerman (Hachai Publishing, $11.95). The poignant picture book is almost unbelievable, and absolutely true: Women in a Nazi slave labor camp risk their lives when they beg, borrow, and steal spoons to twist into a menorah for the holiday of lights. The Association of Jewish Libraries honored the title this year.

The Blood of Strangers by Frank Huyler (University of California Press, $19.95) is a collection of 28 true emergency-room vignettes by an ER doc and published poet. One quiet gem describes a 15-year-old who fears she is pregnant. The microscope reveals a yeast infection–and shows that her macho lover is sterile.

DVD

Chinatown ($29.99, R). Roman Polanski’s detective story is a bleak pastiche of ’40s noir films like The Big Sleep. The 25th anniversary DVD has interviews with the director and writer.

MOVIES

The Green Mile (December 10, R). Director Frank Darabont’s second film shares the sepia tones and thoughtful pace of his first, The Shawshank Redemption (Stephen King’s other uplifting prison story). The resemblance ends there in this slightly supernatural tale of miracles on death row. A mouse’s star turn could challenge upcoming Stuart Little for best performance by a rodent.

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