Is Justin Timberlake developing into one of “Saturday Night Live’s” all-time great hosts? Could he eventually rise to the ranks of such legendary guest hosts such as Steve Martin, John Goodman or -for my money-the best all-around “SNL” host, Alec Baldwin? (Each of these gentlemen has hosted at least 12 times and, like Timberlake, stopped by for cameos as well.)
The answer is yes. I posed it as a question, but that was just to be polite. It’s not really open for debate. Whether when he’s been hosting or just dropped by, as he seems perfectly happy to do randomly, Timberlake fits in immediately and seems to elevate and energize the crowd. He has a flair for comedy and natural ability that few of the actor hosts seem to have. He is someone who swings for the fences and is not all self-conscious or willing to bust on his own image (such as the “Coming to America” sketch Saturday night where Timberlake played his great grandfather and hinted the Timberlake could be bisexual.) I’m still laughing over the “Mother Lover” short, but, for the love of God, beg Timberlake and Andy Samberg not to make the fatal flaw of The Coneheads, the Roxbury dancing fools, Stuart Smally, the sexually ambiguous Pat and other vintage “SNL” characters and try to extend these two nameless smoothies into a feature length movie. “Mother Lover ” and the instant classic, “Dick in a Box,” would quickly outlive their hilarity if they go beyond five minutes.
Timberlake and Garth Brooks are among the few musical artists who have hosted who have really been up to the task–and could compete not just with the few other musical acts who have guest hosted, but with the larger pool of hosts (Similarly, every now and then, an athlete, such as Peyton Manning, ends up being a surprisingly nimble choice as well).
Both Timberlake and Brooks are natural mimics, both are willing to stretch way outside of what their fans expect of them (anyone remember Brooks’ French whore and Mango sketches?) and are able to keep from cracking up. Timberlake’s movie acting career has been a non-starter, but I’d love to see him in a top-notch comedy (“The Love Guru” counts as neither top-notch nor a comedy, and his drama choices have failed him as well.)
I miss new music from Timberlake-it’s been almost three years since his last solo album, although he’s hardly been absent from the radio between duets with folks like T.I and Ciara. But I love see him develop his comedic chops.
Other random Monday thoughts: Friday night I went to “Rock for Erase MS.” It’s an annual fundraiser to fight multiple sclerosis started by Nancy Davis after she was afflicted with the disease nearly 20 years ago. Now in its 16th year, Rock to Erase MS (usually known as Race to Erase MS, but renamed this year because of the inclusion of performers Michelle Branch and the Eagles), has raised more than $30 million to fund treatments and research for the neurological disease. I’m no stranger to Hollywood galas from all my years at Billboard, but this event was glitzier and more well-heeled than any I’d ever attended. For example, during the live auction, someone seemingly did not blink about ponying up $275,000 for a new Lamborghini.
Davis is the daughter of billionaire Marvin Davis and is the mother of famous-for-doing nothing-but-partying scions Jason and Brandon Davis. Jason was in particularly fine form on Friday night when he gave what had to have been one of the most self-indulgent, relatively incoherent speeches I’ve ever heard when he introduced his mom. I have no idea whether he was high on life or some chemical substance, but it was cringe-worthy.
Michelle Branch performed four tunes and then joined the Eagles for a killer version of “Lean on Me,” with her and Don Henley’s harmonies warming up the room. I always feel sorry for artists performing at such benefits. Most of the attendees are rude beyond belief and feel since they’ve already plunked down their money for the cause, there’s no need for them to be polite and actually listen to the performance. The Eagles didn’t help their own cause by playing three relatively unknown songs ( “Waiting in the Weeds” sounded gorgeous even if, as Henley correctly back announced it as “The one you just talked through” ) before getting the crowd going with “Take It to the Limit.”
You don’t have to be a mom to appreciate this essay from Sunday’s New York Times about Tom Waits and the healing power of his music for this family. Debra Gwartney writes with a blistering, confessional honesty that is painful to read at times, but is beautiful for the same reasons. Music unites us in a way that nothing else can. There is no other shared experience that we all, nonetheless, experience in our own uniquely personal way. In Gwarthney’s piece, her estranged daughter uses a Waits’ concert to begin a new relationship with her mother, one that has, at times, been torn asunder to a seemingly irreparable degree. If you’re someone like Waits, I wonder if you’re still touched when you find out the role your music plays in someone’s life? I have to believe that’s why he continues to do it: for the way it makes him feel and for the way he knows it makes us feel. I’m just a dilettante when it comes to Waits, but songs like “You Can Never Hold Back Spring” and “Picture in a Frame” are about as stirring as any songs I’ve ever heard.
Last week, I also went to a party for Katie Melua, whose third album, “Pictures,” came out in the U.S. May 5, 18 months after its initial release in the U.K. The 24-year-old, who was born in Georgia (as in former U.S.S.R., not Atlanta), has already sold more than 10 million copies of her first two albums, primarily in England. She’s yet to get a toehold here, despite a voice that recalls Kate Bush at times and a penchant for writing/singing long songs with a twist. For example, one of her biggest hits, “Nine Million Bicycles,” was inspired by a trip to Beijing, where there are, supposedly, that many bikes. She takes that, throws in some other numbers such as 6 billion people in the world, but, as she deciphers, it comes down to loving one person the most. She’s not as pop as someone like Natasha Bedingfield, but doesn’t have the edge onf a Amy Winehouse or Adele. We’ll see if the third time is the charm for Melua in the U.S.