Wednesday, March 31, 2010
I never met him, but because of his "Undercover Black Man" blog, I almost feel like I knew him. I read the blog every day, and one of my proudest moments as a blogger was when he added mine to his list of links. He also commented on my posts every once in a while, and I'd tell anyone who would listen, "hey, that guy used to write for NYPD Blue, and he just commented on my blog!"
To me, Undercover Black Man represents the very best that a blog can offer - on one day, pointed commentary about President Obama, on the next, a link to a video of a classic R&B tune, the day after that, a link to a totally ridiculous video that would fall under one of his categories: "Random Wrongness," "Random Hotness," even "Random Japaneseness."
I'll miss reading him, and send my condolences to his friends and family. A tribute from one of those friends - Alan Sepinwall - can be found here.
Update: Another tribute, by Steven Rubio.
Update: Another tribute, at A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago, which includes a link to some of Mills' greatest posts.
Update: Another tribute, from his friend and colleague Shyonelung.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
The movie basically takes every horror-movie cliche that you've ever seen, and puts them all together in an original and highly entertaining mix. Good looking students? Check. Zombies? Check. Nazis? Check. Strange old man warning the kids about ancient evil? Check. Having sex in strange, inadvisable places? Check. Splitting up to increase the odds of survival? Check. Axes and chainsaws? Check.
That's about all you need to know. If any of those things interest you, then you should definitely check this one out.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Peter Gabriel's new covers album, Scratch My Back, is also getting slammed in some quarters (most notably, Pitchfork), but I'd call it a success, because in most cases, Gabriel totally reimagines the songs, deconstructing them and recreating them in his own image. Now, whether you like what he's done with them is another matter entirely, and I can understand why some might have a distaste for the London Symphony Orchestra arrangements he surrounds the songs with.
A good example of the difference in approaches is with the album's first song, "Heroes." Whereas Smith probably would have faithfully recreated the original Bowie arrangement, Gabriel turns it into a song that you might not even recognize - much slower and methodical. But Gabriel's vocal carries the day, and the symphonic backing provides the drama. On Paul Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble," Gabriel also slows the pace down, and in the process gives the song a whole new meaning - whereas on Graceland it was somewhat bubbly, here it is ominous, even dangerous.
I'm not familiar with Elbow's "Mirrorball," but I love Gabriel's version of the song. Also strong are his takes on Bon Iver's "Flume," Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going To Rain Today," and Neil Young's "Philadelphia." Interestingly, his cover of "The Book of Love" sounds lifeless in comparison to the version that played on the final episode of Scrubs a year ago, and he also sucks much of the power out of Talking Heads' "Listening Wind" and Arcade Fire's "My Body Is A Cage."
So it isn't a perfect album, by any stretch of the imagination. But it is a brave and worthy one.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
It’s fair to say that I own a lot more albums than the average person, but the reason I keep on searching for new stuff is to find a band like the Drive-By Truckers. Somehow, despite positive reviews for over a decade and a pedigree that should have been right up my alley, I managed to miss them completely. Until just a couple of months ago, I’d never heard a single song (at least not knowingly). If it wasn’t for a colleague and friend where I work, I’d still be blissfully unaware of their existence. Thank you, Jean.
For those who haven’t been exposed to the band, they’re from Athens, GA (what is it about that town, anyway?) and the music they play…well, let’s just say that if they’d been around in the 1970s instead of now, they would have given Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers a run for their money in the competition for the title of “best Southern band.” Their musical approach is similar to Skynyrd’s, with a three-pronged guitar attack leading the way, augmented by keyboards and a rhythm section that keeps everything swinging.
On the new album, the band writes the music as a band, but as the lyric credits make clear, one of their strengths is that they’ve got three songwriters: Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and Shonna Tucker. Hood gets the majority of the tunes, but the three styles complement each other perfectly. The band obviously takes their work very seriously, as evidenced by something Hood writes in the album’s liner notes:
“I grew up worshipping Rock and Roll like a religion. I know its shortcomings and strengths but have loved it unconditionally all the same since I was eight years old. I ran away and joined the circus and honestly, I’m still as obsessed as I was as a boy. I’m not a kid anymore but I still remember how it felt and it doesn’t really feel all that different to me now. I pay the price, but I get to get up there with my best friends and tell dirty and violent stories about desperate people in troubled circumstances. I get to turn it up loud,” and sometimes I even get to dance.”
You’d be hard-pressed to write a better description of the band’s music than “dirty and violent stories about desperate people in troubled circumstances.” The perfect example of that is the centerpiece of the new album, “The Wig He Made Her Wear.” With an ominous but subtle musical backing that just ratchets up the tension with each successive verse, the song sets its tone right from the beginning:
It was as open and shut as anything I have seen
He was a pillar of town his reputation was clean
It was right before Easter in the first week of spring
He didn’t show up for service that Wednesday night
The congregation knew something weren’t right
Blood on the bed when they opened the door
The preacher was dead on the bedroom floor
As you’ve probably already guessed, nothing is quite as it seems in a song like this:
He’d been shot in the back, a day before he was found
His wife and three kids were nowhere around
An Amber Alert was issued in town
Everyone was shocked at the scene of the crime
She’d taken the kids across two state lines
Found her in Orange Beach with the kids in the car
Sent back to Selmer to await her trial for first-degree murder
But then, in a twist worthy of the best episodes of “Law and Order” or “Perry Mason:”
Said, they were having a fight and the gun was a bluff
She didn’t pull the trigger it just went off
Said that he berated her about everything
Make her do things that made her feel so ashamed
Nobody at church would ever suspect
Made her dress up slutty before they had sex
In the courtroom that day there was an audible gasp
What they put up on display the locals couldn’t quite grasp
There was an audible gasp in the courtroom that day
When the defense pulled out and displayed
Them high-heeled shoes and the wig he made her wear
“Dirty and violent stories,” indeed. The fact that this one is based in fact doesn’t lessen its power.
But Hood is capable of great humor as he explores the darker side of the human psyche, and that’s clearly on display in “Drag The Lake Charlie,” in which a couple of losers actually hope to find their friend Lester drowned at the bottom the lake, because if it turns out that he just went into town for a night of carousing, there will be hell to pay for everyone, at the hands of Lester’s wife Wanda.
Mike Cooley only has three songs on the album, but two of them are absolute winners: “Birthday Boy,” which tells the story of a prostitute who would rather her client just not know her name, and “Get Downtown,” which approaches the same territory as Hood’s “This F*cking Job” but from the other side – a guy who’s out of work, with a wife who’s “too pretty” to do so. Shonna Turner also contributes an outstanding song, the deceptively simple “You Got Another,” which allows the album to showcase something you don’t hear much about anymore – perfect sequencing. Putting “The Wig He Made Her Wear,” “You Got Another,” and “This F*cking Job” in the order that they’re in may seem like a simple thing, but if you think about it, if those three were in any other order, each song would lose a little bit of its power.
Like I said before, the album does end a bit slowly, but I’m still hoping that the final four songs will grow on me as I continue to listen. And I will, I can promise you that.
Pau Gasol walked out of class on Nov. 8, 1991, not sure where he was headed. It was recess at Escola Llor, the private school he attended in suburban Barcelona, and students were starting a soccer match. Gasol wandered the perimeter of the field as if in slow motion, neither playing nor watching, enveloped in a fog that was emanating from a foreign metropolis 6,000 miles to the west. He tried to comprehend the words and letters he had just heard in class: Magic Johnson and HIV. "I was deep in thought," Gasol says. "I was trying to figure out what it meant and what I should do. It was one of those moments that sticks in your mind and stays there your whole life."
For many of today's athletes, too young to have seen a president assassinated or remember a space shuttle falling from the sky, it was the first such moment. When the fog finally lifted, Gasol came to a conclusion about his future. He did not decide then that he would move to Los Angeles and play for the Lakers and lead them to a NBA championship.
He decided that he would become a doctor and try to cure AIDS. He was 11.
Read the whole thing - you won't be sorry.
Friday, March 26, 2010
"Night Fever," the #1 song this week in 1978. The Bee Gees were pretty damn close to being omnipresent that year, the year I graduated from high school.
And never mind wondering how Barry Gibb got his voice to do that. What I want to know is how he got his hair to do that!?
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
I'm not quite ready to post a review yet, but I can say without equivocation that the album to beat for my Album of the Year is "The Big To-Do," by Drive-By Truckers. Here, you can hear a couple of songs, plus Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley talking about their partnership in the band.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
- The Fourth Night of My Drinking
- This F*cking Job
- The Wig He Made Her Wear
- (It's Gonna Be) I Told You So
- Eyes Like Glue
Yep, those are some good song titles.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
Sunday, March 14, 2010
A shot of "A Morir ('til Death), by Miguel Angel Rios. Taken at the Hirshhorn Museum.
I'm not what you would call a huge fan of modern art, but this was fascinating - a video production, running just short of five minutes, with sound.
And yes, it is exactly what it looks like - spinning tops.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
The movie stars Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins, a single mother and supervisor at the phone company (the movie establishes early on that this was a rarity in 1928, the year the story begins), and the kidnapping of her 8-year old son Walter is the event that sets the narrative in motion. Jolie does a good job conveying the anguish of losing a son, the frustration of trying to deal with a policy department that won't (and doesn't want to) listen, and then the fear and panic of someone who, too late, realizes that she's fallen into a trap from which there may be no escape.
Among the rest of the cast, the largest impressions are left by John Malkovich as the Rev. Gustav Briegleb, a man on a crusade to expose the LAPD's corruption and Jason Butler Harner as Gordon Northcott, the truly frightening serial killer. The film doesn't do much to develop the other characters, which is a shame in the case of the good/bad, night/day cops played by Jeffrey Donovan and Michael Kelly - I would like to have learned more about each of them. Donovan showed little of the spark that is on display every week in "Burn Notice," and seems to have been brought on board for little more than his mastery of accents.
The least effective part of the movie is probably when Collins is held in an asylum for her refusal to drop her insistence that the boy brought to her by the LAPD is not, in fact, her son. Parts of it are horrifying, but the entire sequence doesn't quite feel real. "Changeling" is at its best when it focuses on the quiet moments where Jolie/Collins agonizes over the disappearance of her son.
Overall, a very good movie that might have been better off as an HBO mini-series.
Everybody Is A Star - Sly and the Family Stone
Isolate - Moby
Low - R.E.M.
California Sun - The Rivieras
Brown-Eyed Girl - Van Morrison
(Set Me Free) Rosa Lee - Los Lobos
Flaming - Fruit Bats
He Doesn't Know Why - Fleet Foxes
Motherless Children - Rosanne Cash
6'1" - Liz Phair
Rumbleseat - John Mellencamp
One Wing - Wilco
Rome - Phoenix
I'll Be Around - Spinners
My Unusual Friend - Fruit Bats
Just Breathe - Pearl Jam
Tin Man - Avett Brothers
She's A Little Randy - Patterson Hood
Beyond Here Lies Nothin' - Bob Dylan
The Ways of Love - Neil Young
Love Is The Drug - Roxy Music
Ain't No Grave - Johnny Cash
Sugar Magnolia - Grateful Dead
Funkytown - Lipps Inc.
Bridge Over Troubled Water - Johnny Cash
Train In Vain - The Clash
Run - Vampire Weekend
Gonna See My Friend - Pearl Jam
Heard Them Stirring - Fleet Foxes
Satisfied Mind - Johnny Cash
Haitian Divorce - Steely Dan
Into The Great Wide Open - Tom Petty
My Old School - Steely Dan
Red Rose - The Blasters
Girls In Their Summer Clothes - Bruce Springsteen
Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress) - The Hollies
Trouble Bound - The Blasters
Cinnamon Girl - Neil Young
Friday, March 12, 2010
I objected to the concept behind Hair long before I ever saw it. (Since I haven’t seen it to this day, I guess I still object.) Broadway had no business co-opting rock and roll … how dare they? (There’s a certain irony here … my favorite, Bruce Springsteen, especially in his early days, was as much West Side Story as he was Gary U.S. Bonds.) When my friends went to see the San Francisco production, I stayed home … I probably smoked pot and listened to “underground” radio or something equally revolutionary. In my mind, Hair was Bye Bye Birdie with nudity.
Of course, he's absolutely right...but my experience with Hair was much different. My parents saw the San Francisco production, perhaps even the one he speaks of, and ran to the nearest Tower Records posthaste to pick up the soundtrack. I was 8 years old, and I listened to that record more than any other with the possible exception of The Beatles' "Yesterday and Today," and thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Hey, what did I know? I was 8 years old. I had no idea what the lyrics to "Sodomy" meant, and I can't imagine that my mom and dad were listening too closely, because they never said "no" when I asked if we could listen to the album.
And when the Fifth Dimension's version of "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" came out, I was really hooked. I listened to KROY on AM-radio all the time back then, and "Aquarius" was one of three songs I distinctly remember waiting for, for hours on end - the other two being "Green River" by Creedence, and "Honky Tonk Women" by The Stones (see? I wasn't a total loss).
Even now, I enjoy listening to Hair, as a camp classic. But back then, you better believe that I thought it was real.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
But with the prodding of son #2, I've managed to narrow my "50 for 50" list of films down to the required number. Now I just have to figure out what order to put them in.
That might take a while.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Monday, March 08, 2010
Sunday, March 07, 2010
When it came out, we were there, on the first weekend. It was intense, and I liked it a lot.
But I have to admit, sitting there watching it, it never crossed my mind that I was watching the Best Picture Oscar winner.
I don't say that to be negative - in fact, I think it's a good thing that a film like "The Hurt Locker" won the Best Picture Oscar. And after all, I did rank it #3 of my top films of 2009 (behind "Inglourious Basterds" and the aforementioned "Moon.").
But I do think it's interesting.
Let me start by saying that overall, I thought this was one of the best Oscar shows in recent memory. I've read some live-blogs since I got home, and I'm discouraged to see the level of cynicism that seems to have prevailed. To which I would say, if you're going to get cyncial, get cynical about the national political scene or the California gubernatorial race. Enjoy the Oscars, damn it!
So, on to the notes:
- Nice job by Neil Patrick Harris on the opening.
- Not a single political joke in the opening, which must set some sort of record. But it's a good trend, although I imagine that there are many folks who will use this as just another example of the Hollywood community being a bunch of fascist liberals. Yeah, well, get a life.
- For the most part, we were back to "and the winner is..." as opposed to "the Oscar goes to..." Another good trend.
- Nice tribute to John Hughes, although the clips were a little herky-jerky.
- Showing the screenplay on the screen while showing a scene from the movie? Doesn't work for me, especially when the words you hear spoken are different from the words on the screen.
- If you're going to show a series of clips from horror films to make the point that horror films don't win Oscars, you probably shouldn't show clips from films that actually won Oscars.
- As opposed to the gimmick for screenplay, the gimmick for the sound categories actually worked very well.
- Ron Silver died? Man, I totally missed that one. I feel like an idiot, because I really liked Silver.
- The dancers on the original score presentation? I hate to say this since my brother teaches dance at a university, but that was probably the lamest moment of the show.
- Sandra Bullock's lipstick was really red. I kinda liked it, but the rest of the crowd I was with did not.
- Earth to Sean Penn...want to try that one again?
- I liked the way they did the Best Actor and Actress categories this year, with folks doing the tributes to the nominees. Seeing the tears run down Gabourey Sibide's face was one of those authentic moments that allow you to set aside your cynicism for the moment.
- "I Am Woman" after Kathryn Bigelow's win? Puh-leeze.
- Man, Tom, that was fast...
All in all, a good show. But what was up with the lampshades?
You want to talk about Oscar injustices? Try this one on for size:
Roberto Benigni won an Oscar for Best Actor.
Cary Grant did not.
Just think about that one for a while. I would, but it always makes me too angry.
But watching this scene always makes me feel better. My favorite actor, in my favorite Hitchcock film.
I should warn folks who have not seen "Ordinary People" and have a desire to do so - you shouldn't watch this clip, unless you don't care about knowing what happens near the end.
This scene with Timothy Hutton and Judd Hirsch is the emotional center of the film - it is where Conrad finally begins to come to grips with his guilt, and by surviving an awful blow to his pysche, comes out the other side stronger for it.
It is a great performance by Hutton, one that - notwithstanding the successes he has had - he's never equaled in his career. There are nay-sayers today who decry his victory and argue that the Oscar should have belonged to Joe Pesci. I don't see it, myself - as much as I enjoyed the Scorsese films that featured Pesci in a prominent role, it's always seemed to me that he's played the same role, over and over. But no matter.
Kudos are also due to Judd Hirsch, one of those guys who has always seemed to be good in anything that he's in.
Another scene from another favorite Academy Award winner.
It still surprises me today that Redford scored the nomination as Best Actor, and not Newman - he was just brilliant throughout the entire film. And talk about making it look effortless - a true, true star.
Saturday, March 06, 2010
Friday, March 05, 2010
Who do you think would win in a fight - Christopher Plummer, or Max Von Sydow?
If you do answer, be sure to justify your choice, and show all your work.
At one point in the strip, Bob loses track of what is going on in his district, where a regular Joe by the name of Allen Soup is slowly building a base. The next thing you know, Bob is actually trailing in the polls, leading to something he has avoided for a very long time: a public debate.
When the debate happens, it goes a little something like this:
"I would just like to say that if I am elected, I would NEVER vote to cut social security."
"Well, let me make it clear that I would NEVER NEVER vote to cut social security."
"By contrast, I would NEVER NEVER NEVER vote to cut social security."
And so on.
I bring that old strip up now, because this is what I imagine, if it were ever to take place, that a debate between Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner would sound like. Just substitute "raise taxes" for "cut social security," and you've got your script down pat.
I say this because of an article that appears in today's Sacramento Bee, wherein Mr. Poizner responds to Meg Whitman's charge that he donated $200,000 to an initiative which made it easier to raises taxes. In this earlier post, I pointed to a Greg Lucas column which revealed that the initiative in question was Proposition 39, the primary provision of which was to allow local parcel tax elections for schools to be decided by a 55%, rather than 2/3, vote.
Displaying a profile in courage the likes of which hasn't been seen since Bruce Ismay, Poizner told the Bee's editorial board that he has changed his mind about Proposition 39, and regrets the error of supporting it at the time.
So those are your choices for Governor on the Republican side of the ledger, folks. A woman who didn't begin voting in California until 2002, and a man lacking the courage of whatever convictions he's hiding under that sport coat.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
As far as highlights go, there are several, but off the top of my head I’d put “Dead Flowers,” “Me and My Cigarettes,” “Somewhere Trouble Won’t Go,” and “Sin For A Sin” at the top of the list. Listening to those songs, you recognize that sure, they’re country songs, but even before that they’re just great songs, period.
Trying to pin down exactly how I feel about Vampire Weekend’s “Contra” is likely to take some time. My first reaction was not positive – to me, it sounded as if the band had taken its few rough edges and had sanded them down so far that it sounded like an even softer version of Haircut One Hundred (and for those of you who are too young to remember Haircut One Hundred, “an even softer version” of that band is not something we’re likely to see in our lifetimes). Then, several of the songs made me think of the “too many notes” line in “Amadeus.” There was a lot going on, but the end product sounded like much less than the sum of its parts. But then one of the songs caught my ear, and began to worm its way into my brain – the album’s closer, “I Think Ur A Contra.” It’s not a fast song, and no one would argue if you called it “soft,” but it sneaks up on you, and before you know it you can’t get it out of your head.
And now, I’m beginning to find that some of the other songs are threatening to do the same thing. So the jury is still out, but in political parlance, the numbers are trending in the right direction.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
"...Michael's worst fears come to life when a world class terrorist is unleashed on Miami..."
"World class terrorist?" I didn't know they had a world ranking for terrorists, but it just struck me as an odd choice of words.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Before you start laughing, you should give it a listen. And if you don't have time for the entire 13 minutes, fast forward to the 10:30 mark and listen to Sir Tom take on Jerry Lee Lewis.
I don't own a single record by Tom Jones, but I've always liked the guy - and saw him perform live once, way back in 1983 at the late and lamented Sahara Tahoe.
And even Robert Christgau himself once wrote about Jones,
"Jones is very good at what he does. He has one of the best voices in popular music--not one of your failed opera baritones, but a rich, husky ballad instrument with heavy black and country influences and that essential romantic Welsh fillip--and he knows how to use it. Not many singers could do such a wide variety of top-forty material--from Wilson Pickett to Al Green, from Frank Sinatra to Three Dog Night--so credibly."
This year's gubernatorial election in California is shaping up to be a contest between Jerry Brown vs. Meg Whitman. Just think about that for a minute - a state the size and diversity of California, and the best we can come up with is Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman? I'll be voting for Brown for Governor for the second time in my life (the first being 1978, the year I turned 18), but not with a lot of enthusiasm.
But Meg Whitman is a piece of work. Giving her all due credit for what she did with E-Bay, I've yet to see one single piece of evidence that she is remotely qualified to govern this state. Basically, her campaign thus far has amounted to a series of meaningless platitudes, fortified by outrageous pandering to the far right. And oh, yeah - she's going to "fix education."
But don't take my word for it. Read Greg Lucas' column today, where he skewers Whitman like a fine chef would filet a freshly-caught salmon. It's a great read.
Monday, March 01, 2010
I'm not a hockey fan, although I watch a few games every year during the Stanley Cup playoffs. But that game was something else. And even though I was rooting for the U.S. and was sorry they lost, I also felt good (and felt relief) for the Canadians. Because while that was a game we wanted to win, that was a game they had to win.
And win they did, in the most dramatic fashion possible.