Friday, July 29, 2005
Since the Spin list struck me as so editorially driven and narrowly casted, I thought I'd see what albums Rolling Stone picked as the best of the last twenty years, by going through their list from last year of the 500 greatest albums ever and pulling out the first 100 post-1985 candidates. The RS list struck me as at least more fair, given that it wasn't a single editorial staff making decisions but a poll of hundreds of relatively diverse artists, producers, critics, and others. I've interspersed my own random comments throughout on the relatively few I own. So:
1. Nevermind -- Nirvana
Don't have, oddly enough.
2. The Joshua Tree -- U2
Probably my favorite album ever.
3. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back - Public Enemy
4. Appetite for Destruction - Guns 'N Roses
Best debut album ever.
5. Achtung Baby - U2
Almost the equal of The Joshua Tree
6. Purple Rain - Prince
7. Graceland - Paul Simon
Great, but I prefer Rhythm of the Saints.
8. Born in the USA - Bruce Springsteen
The first album I ever opened. I hated it at first, not liking music at all, but several years later got into it.
9. Sign o' the Times - Prince
(note: as an indication of what those polled think of the last twenty tears, this is all that was in the top 100)
10. The Bends - Radiohead
Good, but I do prefer OK Computer.
11. Raising Hell - Run DMC
12. Ready to Die - The Notorious B.I.G.
13. Slanted and Enchanted - Pavement
14. Tim - The Replacements
15. The Chronic - Dr. Dre
16. All that You Can't Leave Behind - U2
This album is perceived as lightweight in some quarters, but I think its depths are easily missed.
17. Straight Outta Compton - N.W.A.
18. The Low End Theory - A Tribe Called Quest
19. Paul's Boutique - Beastie Boys
20. OK Computer - Radiohead
#1 on one list and only 20 on this one!
21. Master of Puppets - Metallica
22. So - Peter Gabriel
I actually prefer Us.
23. Dookie - Green Day
24. The Downward Spiral - Nine Inch Nails
25. Bad - Michael Jackson
26. Dirty Mind - Prince
27. Ten - Pearl Jam
28. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain - Pavement
29. The Queen Is Dead - The Smiths
30. Licensed to Ill - Beastie Boys
31. Loveless - My Bloody Valentine
32. Doolittle - Pixies
33. Paid in Full - Erik B. and Rakim
34. Nick of Time - Bonnie Raitt
35. Like a Prayer - Madonna
36. Freak Out - Mothers of Invention
37. Automatic for the People - REM
38. Reasonable Doubt - Jay-Z
39. Metallica - Metallica
40. Whitney Houston - Whitney Houston
41. The Velvet Rope - Janet Jackson
42. Buena Vista Social Club - Buena Vista Social Club
43. Tracy Chapman - Tracy Chapman
I love this album--some great acoustic gems.
44. Psycho Candy - The Jesus and Mary Chain
45. The Slim Shady LP - Eminem
46. Rhythm Nation 1814 - Janet Jackson
47. The Immaculate Collection - Madonna
48. My Life - Mary J. Blige
49. Meat Is Murder - The Smiths
50. Weezer (Blue Album) - Weezer
51. Fear of a Black Planet - Public Enemy
52. The Marshall Mathers LP -Eminem
53. Grace - Jeff Buckley
54. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road - Lucinda Williams
55. Odelay - Beck
56. Nothing's Shocking - Jane's Addiction
57. BloodSugarSexMagik - Red Hot Chili Peppers
58. Unplugged in New York - Nirvana
59. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill - Lauryn Hill
60. Surfer Rosa - Pixies
61. Rock Steady - No Doubt
62. The Eminem Show - Eminem
63. Disintegration - The Cure
64. Jagged Little Pill - Alanis Morrisette
65. Exile in Guyville - Liz Phair
66. Daydream Nation - Sonic Youth
67. Superunknown - Soundgarden
68. Play - Moby
69. Violator - Depeche Mode
70. 3 Feet High and Rising - De La Soul
71. Stankonia - Outkast
72. Siamese Dream - Smashing Pumkins
My roommate in college listened to this non-stop. I hated it at the time, but have grown to like it.
73. Substance - New Order
74. Ray of Light - Madonna
75. American Recordings - Johnny Cash
76. Louder than Bombs - The Smiths
77. Is this It - The Strokes
78. Rage Against the Machine - Rage Against the Machine
79. Post - Bjork
80. (What's the Story) Morning Glory? - Oasis
81. CrazySexyCool - TLC
82. Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers - Wu-Tang Clan
83. The End of Innocence - Don Henley
84. Elephant - The White Stripes
85. Blue Lines - Massive Attack
86. Rain Dogs - Tom Waits
87. Californication - The Red Hot Chili Peppers
88. Illmatic - Nas
89. Rid of Me - PJ Harvey
90. I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got - Sinead O'Connor
91. Time Out of Mind - Bob Dylan
Brilliant, but I preger the equally brilliant flow-up, Love & Theft.
92. Mule Variations - Tom Wait
93. Dummy -Portishead
94. The Battle of Los Angeles - Rage Against the Machine
95. Kid A - Radiohead
Great stuff, but I prefer the live versions of some of these songs.
96. To Bring You My Love - PJ Harvey
97. In Utero - Nirvana
98. Sea Change - Beck
99. Tragic Kingdom - No Doubt
100. Rum Sodomy and the Lash - The Pogues
And we begin.
1. "Blame It on Cain." -- Elvis Costello -- My Aim Is True
Great early Costello. I love that he wrote this stuff while doing some menial office job.
2. "O Tannenbaum" -- Vince Guaraldi Trio -- A Charlie Brown Christmas
The greatest Christmas album ever? I'd say so. This is the opening track, with a great semi-stately opening yielding to a mellow jazz version of the tune.
3. "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. (A Salute to 60s Rock) -- John Mellencamp -- Scarecrow
"What I like about you!" Woops, wrong song. Hell, given the title the near-plagiarism is justifiable. Mellencamp does some fine throwback.
4. "You Little Fool" -- Elvis Costello - Imperial Bedroom
Another in the endless string of damn solid Elvis songs. I love the little harpischord-sounding fills Steve Nieve throws in, and Elvis is in especially fine voice here, singing in a comfortable lower range.
5. "Saving Metroville" -- Michael Giacchino -- The Incredibles (score)
Great score. I am dying for a Lost score. This is a nice moody piece from the end.
6. "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go." -- Elvis Costello (covering Bob Dylan) -- Kojak Variety (Bonus Disc)
Elvis, with some success, takes this Dylan ditty and turns it into a bit of countrified rockabilly.
7. "Anthropology" -- Charlie Parker -- Ken Burns' Jazz Collection: Charlie Parker
Scratchy old recording, but some fine horn work.
8. "Wound" -- Smashing Pumpkins -- MACHINA/The Machine of the Gods
Upbeat driving Pumpkins; could have been on Mellon Collie.
9. "A Wolf at the Door (It Girl Rag Doll) -- Radiohead -- Hail to the Thief
One of the album's better songs; I usually don't like the kind of talk-singing Thom is doing here, but it works for the song, and the music-box accompaniment is nicely eerie.
10. "Elena's Truth" -- James Horner -- Mask of Zorro (score)
Truth be told I don't know this cue at all. Bought the CD used but have never gotten into it the way I have the other Horner scores I have.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Lefty has posted his ten favorite superhero movies. I read his list and said, "self, I can totally steal that idea!"
Tosy and Cosh's Ten Favorite Superhero Movies*
1. Spider-Man 2
It amazes me that as a wee lad I would scan the channels on weekend afternoons in the vain hope that one of the stations would be rerunning one of those horrible 70s Spider-Man movies. It's hard to imagine what I would have thought if I could have seen this.
2. X-Men 2
A very engaging story well acted and with special effects that don't exist for their own edification. They nailed Nightcrawler, which I wouldn't have thought possible, managed to show us a credibly berserk Wolverine in a PG-13 universe, and begun exploring the greatest X-Men storyline of them all.
3. The Incredibles
The central scene in which the kids really discover the full use of their powers is astonishing superhero origin stuff. The look on Dash's face as he realizes he can punch the bad guy really fast made me smile when I saw it--sheed delight.
Astonishing how perfectly they got Peter Parker--I had always assumed a big-budget Hollywood Spider-Man would be Clark Kent nerdy (a tall, strapping pretty boy faking at gawkiness) but they went with the real deal. Whatever Maguire may be, he's not imposing. Perfect.
5. Superman II
This would be so much higher if it weren't for the too-overt attempts at comedy and the infamous "random powers" at the end. I simply can't imagine the writers room or pitch meeting or producer's head where having Superman throw a cellophane version of his chest symbol at a bad guy was a good idea. Still, that moment at the end where Superman kneels to Zod, and Lois cries, and all is perfectly quiet, and a young Tosy and Cosh was absolutely convinced that Superman had been defeated, and then out of the stillness we hear a faint trumpet echoing that famous theme, and we see Zod's face begin to crumple, well, man, that was one hell of a moment.
A bit under-budgeted, perhaps, but it could have had even less of a budget and worked if just for the masterly acting between McKellan and Stewart. I'd pay money to see a My Dinner with Andre-style movie of nothing but conversations between Magneto and Professor X if it weer made with these two written by the right person.
Unfairly maligned, says I. The Hulk effects were great, even if I did get a trifle too big, and the stylization was wonderful. The story got a little lost, but that's one fault among some serious pluses.
8. Superman: The Movie
I keep meaning to show this to my seven-year old niece, but, man, that scene towards the end at Lois' car is intense.
The Prince stuff and the story kind of sucked, but the Joker was great if not definitive and Keaton proved everybody very wrong with easily the best Batman of the first four films (see below).
10. Captain America
Yes, it's a horrible movie. No, I don't really want to ever see it again. But seeing a live-action Captain America, even a crappy one, was cool for this fan of the good Captain.
*Tosy and Cosh has not yet seen Batman Begins or The Fantastic Four
There are still a lot of supporting players to be sorted out, but the core of the New Jersey Nets 2005-2006 team seems set, and I'm a bit more than cautiously optimistic. Returning from last year, but hopefully all healthy together (as they were not last year) are team leader Jason Kidd, still arguably the best point guard in the game, inarguably one of the top three; shooting guard Richard Jefferson, who many expected to have a breakout year last year (and who may well have were it not for an early season-ending injury); and small forward Vince Carter, who showed last year that he still has some very impressive abilities in him. Both Jefferson and Carter should be capable of 20 a game. So, on paper at least, the Nets were looking, if not championship-worthy, very competitive. But last week they were able to sign Sharif Abdur-Rahim--a 6-9 power forward from Portland whose career averages, 19.9 points and 8.2 rebounds a game, are highly comparable to the lost, lamented Kenyon Martin's. Abdur-Rahim should meet the Nets' needs very well, providing them with an inside scoring presence they, since martin left, have been lacking. Looking at the roster now, the Nets have a trio of legitimate 20-a-night threats on the team, a trio that will be led by a hall-of-fame-lock point guard. The cast of supporting players they put around this core will be critical, but it's certainly possible that the Nets could after an off year be an elite Eastern team again. Here's hoping.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
I had heard of Cassandra Wilson but didn't know anything about her music. I was noodling through itunes and noticed her cover of one of my favorite U2 songs--"Love Is Blindness." I listened to the 30-second snippet and was hooked; she had completely captured the desperate vibe of the song but through her own, very different, idiom. A few weeks later I was at the CD store and looked for the album. They didn't have it, but they did have Belly of the Sun, which I went ahead and bought, largely because of the presence of one of my favorite songs, Antonio Carlos Jobim's beautiful "Water of Life" on the tracklisting.
I'm not a huge blues fan. I like the blues enough, but not enough to, you know, actually need to go buy any blues albums. But Wilson's very distinct blend of blues and jazz is one of my favorite sounds in music--smoky and swinging, lazy and groovy. The album opens with a cover of The Band's "The Weight," and it's a great opener--moving with an easy-going shuffling gait. That "Water of Life" cover gets a little coy with a children's choir, but the call and response she plays around with with them makes the song work. I came to Wilson for her covers, but the few originals here are good, especially the melancholy "Just Another Parade." A desperate "Wichita Lineman" and a optimistic-sounding "Shelter of the Storm" (I'd love for her to do a full-on Dylan covers album) are highlights, and the last track, a down and dirty rusted rendition of what I assume to be an old blues standard, "Hot Tamales," ends things off pretty much perfectly. The middle of the album meanders a bit too much, but there are some great things here.
Another thought I had upon completing the book was what the future will hold--post-book seven. Rowling has said on many occasions that she only foresees, if anything, writing encyclopedia-type supplemental volumes after she's finished book seven, if only to have something to do with the volumes of information and back stories she's developed in telling these stories. But given that perhaps the greatest strength of the series is this world she has built, and the intricacies and detail it's filled with, I have my doubts that it will just be allowed to lie fallow. Just think about the mountains of cash that will be left on the table if there are no more Harry Potter books. No, whether Rowling (who's still young, of course) is convinced to produce more Harry Potter books--even if they don't deal with Harry Potter directly but with the wizarding world in other ways--or whether she deigns to allow other writers to play in her sandbox, I suspect we will be seeing more Potter universe novels before the decade's out.
So much for the general thoughts. Now a wee bit of spoileriffic ponderings:
Count me among those who think Snape was acting under Dumbledore's orders when he killed him. Yes, he really killed Dumbledore, and yes, there will be real consequences from that. I wouldn't be surprised at all if we learn in Book Seven that, while Snape was acting on Dumbledore's orders, and while he truly is working for the good side, firmly on the side of the Order, that part of him, at least, liked killing Dumbledore. My hunch is that, in the end, Snape will be revealed to be jealous, vindictive, hateful man who is nonetheless working on the right side and who has a very clear sense of good and evil. And not because he is forced too, or because of some pact, but because he despises Voldemort and all he stands for. We will find out, once and for all, why Dumbledore trusted him so much, and it will not make Snape just heroic, but rather heroic, tragic, and full of anger. I concur with what others have put forth--Snape is the most interesting character in the whole saga.
I also think that Harry and Co. will, regardless of their intentions, be back at school for the seventh volume. Rowling just seems too fond of the formula (and not in a bad way) too ditch Hogwarts at the end, not to mention how wrapped up in everything Hogwarts has been throughout the story so far. Perhaps it will be revealed over the summer that the remaining Horcruxes are in Hogwarts. I don't know. Either way, I'm guessing Rowling's sense of symmetry will demand a school year.
I do think Harry and Ginny will end up together, whether towards the end of the seventh book or even right at the beginning. Again, love is key--and Harry will realize that he needs Ginny's love to prevail.
As for the rest of the mysteries (what are the remaining Horcruxes? Who is R.A.B.?) I am not Potter-smart enough to hazard guesses. I do look forward to learning the answers though.
Monday, July 25, 2005
Watched Mystic River last night on DVD. I had read the book (and loved it), so I knew what was going to happen, but was still very curious to see the film, given the awards and critical hype it received when it came out a year or two ago. The movie and, especially, the performances, were all they had been billed as, consistent excellence throughout, but what struck me, watching this so soon after seeing Million Dollar Baby, is how good Clint Eastwood is as a director when he's in what seems to be his wheelhouse--making naturalistic, near-melodrama about the lower class. The accuracy with which he portrays the people and their environments in both films is simply refreshing--so many Hollywood movies seem to be about prettying up characters and places, putting a gloss and sheen on things to make the neat and clean. In both films, we see real, lived-in locations--waterstains and peeling paint and cracked wood and the rest. And we see the same things in the acting, the same lived-in, un-self conscious portrayals. It's easy to dismiss these films as old-fashioned, but to take classic storytelling techniques and use them well is nothing to be ashamed of. Even after hearing the stories of how reluctant Warner Bros. was to back Mystic River I find it hard to imagine that the back-to-back artistic and commercial successes of these films don't have producers more eager to get behind whatever project Eastwood is interested in next.
Friday, July 22, 2005
Begin the beguine.
1. "I Believe My Own Eyes" -- Pete Townsend -- Tommy
I got this song on a CD packaged with the coffee table book on the Broadway version of The Who's Tommy. Townsend wrote a new song for the show, and this is his solo version of it. It's actually a damn fine song, and he does some impressive high harmonies on this single version.
2. "Todd's Delight" -- Miles Davis -- 'Round About Midnight
Try not snapping your fingers.
3. "Perdido" -- Dave Brubeck -- Ken Burns Jazz Collection: Dave Brubeck
. . . and they keep on snapping. I get the feeling that in jazz circles Brubeck is considered a bit square, but I love his stuff. This is a great little energetic piece.
4. "A Cinema in Buenos Aires, 26 July 1952 -- Andrew Lloyd Weber -- Evita (Original Broadway Cast)
The show's opening, with a movie being interrupted as the manager announces Eva's death.
5. "In a Mellow Tone" -- Ella Fitzgerald -- Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook
Randomizer grabbing a lot of jazz today.
6. "Rhyme & Reason" -- Dave Matthews Band -- Under the Table and Dreaming
7. "Don't Let It Bring You Down" -- Neil Young -- After the Goldrush
This is older, but it made made me think--Neil Young has been producing consistently good music for longer than probably just about anybody outside of Dylan.
8. "Skirmish (Instrumental)" -- Alan Menken -- Pocohontas (Original Soundtrack)
A bit of underscoring.
9. "The Battle of Stirling" -- James Horner -- Braveheart
Great battle music from my favorite score.
10. "So What?" -- Fred Kander & Jon Ebb -- Cabaret (Original Broadway Cast)
One of my favorite songs from the score, in large part due to Lotte Lenya's aged, haughty delivery.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
Jacquandor tagged me a few weeks back, and I, having already responded to two memes on his blog without asking, skipped this one. Well, at long last, here it is:
1. What are three of the stupidest things you've done in your life?
Demonstrating for my mother, in the kitchen, how I had been dunking on the 8 ft basket at the local gym and ignoring her repeated commands to stop (well, until I smashed my hand into the lamp hanging over the kitchen table, slicing a good gash into my thumb in the process. Then I stopped. You know. To attend to the copious bleeding.)
Riding down a hill on a skateboard and trying to stop by holding a stick in front of me and using it as a brake. Went right into my throat, thankfully not killing me.
Wacking the side of an above-ground pool with a hammer, to see what would happen. Interestingly enough, as I learned, the hammer will go right through and hundreds of gallons of water will flood the small yard behind your father's store.
2. At the current moment, who has the most influence in your life?
It's a tie between the two little toddling monkeys (one-year old twin daughters).
3. If you were given a time machine that functioned, and you were allowed to pick up to five people to dine with, who would you pick?
Alec Guinness (from what I've read he was one hell of a story-teller); an actual, real caveman (come on, that'd be cool); Rita Hayworth (hot); Bert Lahr (for the funny); and some ancient Israelite who heard Jesus preach.
4. If you had three wishes that were not supernatural, what would they be?
To have my pick of jobs (would be hard to decide between acting and writing); to have free travel and lodging for ever; and to have final approval over all network cancellations.
5. Someone is visiting your hometown/place where you live at the moment. Name two things you regret your city not having, and two things people should avoid.
I live in the suburbs of New York city, so pretty much everything is nearby. I do wish my town had a book store and CD store I could walk to. Not much to avoid--it's a small suburb, for crying out loud.
6. Name one event that has changed your life.
Cliches become cliches for a reason. Having kids. Easy.
In what will (hopefully) become a recurrent feature here on Tosy and Cosh, I will be dipping into my CD collection and offering up brief reviews on selected albums. I'll start with an album from the 'A's and continue through the alphabet--eventually, I suppose, circling back to 'A.'
The first entry is for one of my favorite scores, John Williams' for the Steven Spielberg film A.I. Williams' seeming inspiration for his work on this futuristic film was to combine his romantic, epic style with the tightly controlled more evocative minimalist style of Philip Glass. It's an odd choice at first blush, and seems unworkable but in execution it works wonders. The driving action and chase themes wonderfully capture the mildly antiseptic future Spielberg (in collaboration with a post-mortem Stanley Kubrick) has imagined, and the more delicate themes surrounding the relationship between the robot and his adopted mother are delicate little chilly jewel boxes. Williams has, in a way I wouldn't have thought possible, managed to musically combine the very different artistic visions of Spielberg and Kubrick, and the result is one of his most fascinating scores. Even the near-histrionic love theme, sung by pseudo-operatic vocalist Josh Groban, manages to almost work (better than it should, at any rate).
My grade: A
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
As I may or may not have yet mentioned, I dabble a bit in the 'ol creative writing. I've completed a MA in English with a writing concentration in which I wrote for my thesis a (very) short novel and have written a fair number of short stories, none of which have seen the light of day. Well, kind of. I have "sold" one piece of fiction, to the on-line literary journal New Works Review. (I put "sold" in quotations since there was no actual payment involved.) Since they don't seem to maintain archives, I guess it's more or less kosher to post the story here. Enjoy.
A New Hope
Andrew Gearding fidgeted uncomfortably in the hard wooden folding chair, rattling both his awkward, bony frame and that of the impervious cello case between his knees to and fro in an attempt to achieve at least a minimum degree of comfort. He and the rest of the London Symphony Orchestra had just arrived at the Anvil Studios in Denham, digs not nearly as history-laden or ample as their usual space in London, Andrew noted to himself. The studio was small compared to their normal rehearsal room, and what with the room needed for the preponderance of recording equipment, the large screen facing the orchestra and the film technicians with their equipment, the space for the musicians was even tighter than it usually was for a recording session. Shaking his head, Andrew conceded defeat before they had even begun; no matter how he looked at it, the day ahead looked to be a long one.
As he settled in, Andrew scanned the room, his eyes anxiously searching the woodwind section and mentally noting the other musicians one by one. Soon enough, he had spied her. Buried just to the right of the mass of clarinetists, alongside the brass section, she sat, methodically paging through the score before her, with her goose-necked oboe resting between her legs. Without quite realizing he was doing it, Andrew smiled; it was the happy, shy smile of a school child. Today, she had on a plaid skirt and a green blouse the color of wet, thick grass, and her hair was pulled back into a tight, yet fetching, deeply ebony bun. Her features were sharp, angular and unforgiving, her face primarily defined by high cheekbones that barely descended below eye level and razor-thin dark eyebrows that grasped towards each other over the bridge of her nose without quite touching. Her nose was small and symmetrical, with an upturn at the end that gave her nostrils a lean ovular shape. Her mouth was equally small, with the hint of a smirk always seeming to hide behind her pursed, circular lips. Her name was Lucy Violet Bath and Andrew was smitten with her, smitten with every beautifully harsh and neat detail of her face; even the small, muffin-shaped mole on her neck directly below her right earlobe gave him a shudder.
Lucy had only recently joined the orchestra, having previously played for the opera house in Wales, and Andrew had yet to speak to her. This was not through some fundamental lack of courage, Andrew insisted to himself, often, most usually at night as he pictured her in his mind, but was rather part of a deliberate and calculated plan. While he was quite eager to meet her, Andrew knew that these things were best not rushed, and that only by careful and deliberate planning would a successful encounter be possible. Before approaching her, he knew he would have to develop a connection, so that his first approach would be seen as more sophisticated than the clumsy advances of a nervous teenager. He was still searching for that connection, and remained confident that, in due time, he would find it. Perhaps her mother had gone to grade school with an aunt of his. Or perhaps her father and his shared greens rights at the same club. Sooner or later, it would be logical to proceed, and once it was, he would. If there was a truism by which Andrew lived, this was it; that nothing in life could better be achieved by passion than forethought. Methodology and logic were the keys, Andrew was sure, to success, in any endeavor, and Lucy would be no exception.
As Lucy fiddled with her oboe, Andrew was reminded of the scoring session he was there for. Squinting his already small, almost Oriental eyes behind their wire-framed lenses even smaller in an expression of disapproval, he began to get ready. Andrew was by all measures a small man, and the contrast between the large, almost muscular cello and the small, thin and balding, rather unmanly, man wielding it was a disorienting one. This paradoxical sense of contrast was further compounded by Andrew's manner of dress. While many members of the Symphony had begun to dress more casually for rehearsals and recording sessions, Andrew was steadfast in his appearance, and had never attended a session, recording or rehearsal, in anything less than one of his many tweed three-piece suits, with bow-tie knotted squarely around his neck, vest buttoned to the top, and his leather loafers polished to a fine gleam.
Andrew, finally settled into his chair, proceeded to unlatch his case and remove his instrument. The cello had been Andrew's for years, since his boyhood, really, and if he had been inclined towards such frivolities (which he most decidedly was not) he might have followed the lead of American blues artist B.B. King and named his instrument. Of course, he would have chosen something a bit more regal and elegant than "Lucille" - perhaps Abigail, or Guenevere or Victoria. As it was, he merely displayed a substantial, and, some might say, excessive, amount of care towards it (not much more, really, than many of his fellow musicians paid to their instruments). With deliberate, practiced care, Andrew removed the cello from its case and placed it between his knees, the slender silver rubber-tipped foot gripping the faded linoleum floor tightly. Once the cello was situated comfortably, he removed from the case at his feet a small bar of resin, with which he began to expertly grease the slightly frayed tendons of the bow.
From all around him, Andrew heard the yawning and stretching sounds of instruments being woken up by their owners, disagreeable toots and hums and scratchy, irritated yelps and barks. Refusing to rush, Andrew calmly proceeded to grease his bow, stroke by stroke, and only when he was completely satisfied with the grip on the strings did he neatly place the resin bar back in its compartment and put bow to cello.
Slowly, the expectant sounds of the orchestra began to coalesce, like constellations dimly etching their shapes into a dusky night sky, and as they did the immense screen in front of the orchestra was lit up by a beam of light emanating from the rear of the studio. With surprisingly few short strokes and adjustments, Andrew was satisfied with the tone thrumming from beneath the bow, and he turned his attention to the music on the stand in front of him. A quick glance at the film's title, "Star Wars," was enough to dampen his already besodden spirits that much more. "Star Wars." With a title like that, what else could it be but some turgid piece of sci-fi claptrap? Film scoring sessions were bad enough, with the incessant start and stop and start and stop of short cue after short cue, the added chaos caused by the presence of the filmmakers and technicians, and the infuriating necessity of syncing the orchestra with the pale, ill-focused images on the screen, but to add on top of all that the dreariness of a simple-minded sci-fi score? Andrews?s already dark mood purpled.
Turning his attention back to the score before him, Andrew glumly conceded that even a sci-fi score might merit a brief perusal before he was called upon to perform it. As he leafed through the pages, noting the cello parts mentally, Andrew could not help but think of other scores, scores he would rather be playing: The Haydn Farewell Symphony, perhaps, or, no, even better, a Haydn string quartet, the Opus 20, wonderful, wonderful cello lines in that one! Of course there was always Andrew's beloved Mozart, any Mozart at all - an opera, a symphony, a string quartet, even one of the piano concertos, and he would be in heaven. Now there was music! So beautiful and perfect, but in ways beyond the Beethoven his father had been so fond of, here was music that thought rather than felt, music that was smart rather than muscular. Mozart was like a vastly complex puzzle opened up and solved before his eyes, each piece a necessary part of the whole, each motif developed as if by equation, the piece as a whole snug and fitted together perfectly, with not a single note or phrase out of place.
Andrew was startled by the thinly clanging sound of a baton on a music stand. The man standing at the podium, the composer as well as conductor, was balding, with pepper-gray hair ringing his head and framing his face in a trim beard. He wore large, round glasses and was indicating that they'd be starting with the cue labeled "Chasm Crossfire." Angry at being jolted from thoughts of Mozart to play something entitled "Chasm Crossfire," Andrew paged through the score before him to locate the part. As he did so, the lights in the room darkened, and numbers flickered ghostly on the screen. Having located the appropriate pages, Andrew held his bow above the strings, ready to begin.
As the conductor cued in the orchestra, the screen in front of them began to play. The music was rhythmic and punchy, with a guttural seesaw line for the cellos that Andrew sawed through with ease. Onscreen a young man clad in white armor ran down a gray corridor, pulling behind him a young woman, also in white. Both the man and woman were firing large, heavy guns behind them at a pursuing group of similarly armor-clad and helmeted fellows. Andrew yawned, sawing away. The music was not nearly as bad as he had feared, with no electronic noise or synthesizers intruding on the purity of the orchestra, but was pretty rote chase music all the same. Following the score with his eyes, and keeping the baton in his peripheral vision, Andrew was startled to hear, amidst his sawing, a sprightly theme pipe up from the trumpets in the brass section to his right. The motif had an energy to it, a fanfarish, lyric quality that Andrew would never have associated with a sci-fi film. The motif repeated itself as it was taken up by various instruments, then dovetailed into a new, brief romantic theme before the sawing returned in the cellos and low strings and woodwinds, ending the part. Not great, but it could be worse, Andrew reasoned.
Several takes later, the bespectacled conductor said that they would now be playing through the film's main titles. Sparing a quick glance over at the woodwinds, and surprised to find a smiling, not frowning, as he was, Lucy, Andrew found his spot, readied his bow and awaited the conductor's signal. "Take sixteen," the recording engineer announced, and with a flourish the brass trumpeted out an introductory fanfare, the percussionist beating out a ringing triangle tone to accompany it. Immediately, the brass led with a pronouncement of that sprightly motif Andrew had noticed earlier, here rendered more stately and ornate than before. In the middle section of the opening, the strings painted a brief lyrical theme, and Andrew found himself grinning as he bowed the notes out of his cello. Much to his surprise, Andrew felt emboldened, the music producing a quite unexpected emotional reaction. This was, after all, not Mozart; it was, in fact, as anti-Mozart as you could get - was, Andrew realized with a guilty start, music that might make even the Beethoven of the Ninth blush. And still, it was doing something to him; something in its unapologetic, direct and triumphant spirit was speaking to him. "Take seventeen."
The day's session was over, and Andrew had packed up his cello. All around him he heard the discordant buzz of musicians chatting, making their various plans to grab a bite to eat or get drinks together, laughing at their gaffes, and, Andrew thought, discussing the music with far more animation than a film session usually generated. Andrew normally kept to himself, and as he stepped his way out of his row he said a simple goodbye to the other cellists. As he made his way to the exit, his cello case cradled under his arm like an oddly large and hourglass-shaped baby, he spotted Lucy out of the corner of his eye. She was smiling broadly, still in the middle of packing up her oboe, and several seats to either side of her had already been vacated. Andrew paused. The plan didn't call for approaching her as of yet; that was not the methodical, logical way to proceed. And yet, as he stood there, halfway to the exit, he was transfixed once again by her sharp beauty, and he felt the oddest compulsion to just go over and introduce himself. Almost without realizing he was doing so, Andrew took a step in her direction. But just a step. As soon as it had been taken, he caught himself. No, no, no, mustn?t stray from the plan. What would he have said? What would she have said? No, it was still far too early to proceed, far too early. Andrew gathered himself and left the studio.
Andrew slid his key into the keyhole and turned it, pushing the door open with that hand and pulling the cello in behind him with the other. As he leaned the cello against the wall by the music stand and put away his coat, that small snatch of melody kept running through his head. Da-da, Da-da-da-DA-da. Ugh. The entire way home it had been like this, that simple, child-like, really, refrain running around and around in his head. He had even caught himself humming it a few times. Why this was, why this basic, Sousa-level melody wouldn?t detach its vampiric form from the stalagmites in his head was puzzling, but, no matter what the reason, Andrew knew he had to get rid of it.
Andrew lived in a relatively large flat in London, not far from the Symphony's hall. The flat's key feature, the reason that he had bought it, was the excessively large living room, much larger than any he had seen elsewhere during his search. An old, cracked-brown leather couch that had been his uncle's reposed in the middle of the room, like a tired elephant resting after a day?s foraging. The couch was faced by two matching antique wing chairs that he had found, right in London actually, in a store he had passed on his way to lunch one day. Shelves, large floor-to-ceiling shelves that ringed the other three walls entirely, dominated the rest of the large, square living room.
The shelves were filled, completely, with nothing but records. It had been his father's collection, and now it was his, and he had added to it tremendously. The records in the living room were what Andrew considered the heart of the collection. The remainder, including many of the items his father had passed on, was in storage in the building's basement; there simply wasn't room in the apartment for the entire collection. Every recording was a classical piece, there wasn't a solitary rock, country, jazz, folk, popular, comedy, West End show, blues, soundtrack or spoken word album to be found in the bunch. The collection was organized by composer, arranged alphabetically, with Adams starting in the top of the room's northernmost corner and proceeding clockwise until Zemlinsky, in the bottom right hand side of the last shelf by the kitchen.
As Andrew peered at the shelves, he realized that some Bach would be the perfect tonic to erase the stubborn vestiges of the day's score from his memory while he cooked. He plucked the recording from the shelf, gingerly removed the record from its sleeve, and placed it on the turntable. Then, with a surgical delicacy, he slowly and deliberately placed the stylus on the album.
As the dry, intricate music played, Andrew fetched from his refrigerator the ingredients for his meal. A thin fillet of veal, a few small yellow onions, some shallots, a sprig of fresh rosemary and a box of light cream. He placed the items on the counter and from the cupboard below retrieved the pepper grinder, box of risotto and bottles of imported Italian olive oil and midnight-black aged balsamic vinegar. As he prepared his dinner, Andrew listened to the music, actively trying to let it wash over his senses and knock loose that irritating fanfare. As he let the music work, he pondered: what was Lucy doing at this moment?
Well, she could have been here with you, listening to the Bach and helping to prepare the salad, chatting about music and the opera and the theater, sipping wine, and - dare I say it? I dare! Mayhap flirting a bit? But no, instead she's probably alone, or, even worse, consorting with that flautist!
Andrew paused, mid-chop. That was odd. He hadn't heard that voice in years, that contrary impulsive voice that had dogged him all through grade school, until the routine and strictness of his life had gotten to be too much for it. Hm. No, no, Andrew reasoned, if he had invited Lucy to dinner the odds were that she would have politely refused, and just like that any possibility of, well, of him and her, would have been gone forever. No, better to be careful and precise. Still, as Andrew continued to prepare his meal, neither that persevering nugget of melody nor his old contrary friend would give up the ghost entirely, and by the time the veal was cooking in the oven, Andrew was thoroughly annoyed. And on top of it, the Bach was starting to give him a headache. Who was the hack they had butchering that poor cello?
Frowning, Andrew walked into the living room, with his apron still tied around his midsection, and lifted the stylus from the Bach. He replaced the album in its sleeve, and re-filed it. Scowling, he scanned the shelves, and in almost no time at all he had located what he was looking for. Mahler's Fifth. If the Bach couldn't quell the traitorous thoughts spawned by the Star Wars piece, Andrew reasoned, then perhaps he needed to fight fire with fire. As the choir and orchestra opened with a blaring fortissimo chord (what an assaulting way to open a symphony, he thought), Andrew returned to his veal, hoping that thoughts of aliens and Lucy would soon be, at the very least, a dim background hum.
The next day at the recording session, Andrew found himself quite without the power to stop looking in Lucy's direction. Every few minutes or so, whenever there was a break or pause (and, as this was a film scoring session, there were many), his eyes would betray him and wander in her direction; a few times now he was sure she had spied him. Normally, he had enough self-control to limit his glances, ensuring that no one, Lucy or otherwise, could deduce any attraction on his part. But now? Andrew was certain that half the orchestra must know of his yearning. How could they not? He was staring like a lost puppy and there was nothing he could do about it.
"Take 117, 'Tales of a Jedi Knight'" the recording engineer announced, and Andrew raised his bow. The conductor lowered his baton and the strings hummed a stationary chord, the piccolos and flutes framing it with a repeating motif of rising and falling notes. Then, Andrew heard a haunting melody waft through the air, played by the oboe. Immediately, and quite against his will, he looked over to see Lucy playing the solo with quiet concentration, with an equally quiet gleam in her eye. The melody was subtle and soft, and nothing like the fanfare that had been stuck in his head since the afternoon before. Melancholy almost, with a sense of the mystic to it. There was no denying it this time; Andrew liked it. Glancing back at his the score on his music stand, Andrew realized with a start that the melody was about to be passed from the oboe to the first cello, which was he. Glancing back at Lucy for his cue, and not at the conductor, as he should have done, he saw her smile and nod in his direction. Their eyes locked; it was the first time they had directly looked at each other. Sweating slightly, Andrew nodded back and put bow to string, gently bowing through the same melody. As he did so, exploring that strange mystical quality the theme possessed, he stole one more quick glance over in Lucy's direction, once again catching her eyes directly. She too was smiling.
The day's session was wrapped up, and Andrew was once again packing up his cello. This time, however, and try as he might he simply could not deny it, he was looking forward to the next day's session. That subtle theme he and Lucy had shared was now stuck in his head, and he really didn?t mind. It had none of the precision or order of his Mozart, and, quiet and reflective as it was, still very much the stamp of Romanticism, and yet Andrew found that he quite liked it. With a not-unhappy start, he realized that he was humming it even now beneath his breath.
"Catchy tune, hm?" Andrew looked up, startled to see Lucy looking down at him, her sharp features smiling.
"Why, yes, it rather is, I agree. Much to my surprise, I must admit," he replied. Andrew found himself sweating uncomfortably, hoping against hope that she was not going to call him out for the day's copious stares. What on earth would he say? That he found her to be a thoroughly enchanting woman, and wanted more than anything else in the world to get to know her better? That try as he might he simply couldn't help from looking at her every chance he got?
"Mine too," she said. "It's really an interesting score, though, don't you think?"
"I do, I do. Not usually my particular cup of tea, I must admit, but there's something about it that . . . my word, where are my manners? I'm Andrew, Andrew Gearding. You're new to the orchestra, are you not?"
"Yes, yes, I played with the opera in Wales for many years, and just moved to London. Lucy Violet Bath," and with that she put forth her hand. With what he hoped was a calm ease, Andrew reached up and took her hand in his, noting as he did the fine, clear complexion of her skin and the way her fingers could really have been a piano player's, thin, long and tapered.
"A pleasure to meet you, Lucy," Andrew said.
"The same," she replied. A brief pause hung in the air, pregnant and ripe.
"Lucy! Let's go, I've got to be back for a lesson by six!" called out a voice from the back. Lucy started and took her hand from Andrew?s, and he was dismayed and shocked at how much that simple act hurt, at how much he wanted that hand back in his.
"Sorry, ride's waiting. See you tomorrow, Andrew," she said, as she turned and headed towards the exit.
"Tomorrow then," Andrew called out. Tomorrow.
On his way home, Andrew, still humming contentedly that melancholy "Tales of a Jedi Knight" heme, stopped at the local music shop. He approached the counter and saw to his delight that Sam, the shop owner, was there. As the record collection in his flat would suggest, Andrew not only knew Sam well, but was rather well-liked by the man. Andrew supposed that he might easily be his best customer, so this was hardly a surprise. Still, unlike so many record shop owners in this day and age, Sam was almost as knowledgeable on the topic of classical music as Andrew was, and the men did get along reasonably well.
"Andrew, here for the new Handel organ concerto? Just came in yesterday and not a bad reading, I must say," said Sam.
"No, Sam, actually I've a question for you," said Andrew as he approached the counter. "John Williams, film composer, the name ring a bell?"
"Well sure, he's done a bunch of stuff, what do you need?" asked Sam, clearly puzzled that Andrew was asking after a non-classical album.
"I need one of his scores, what do you have?"
"Well, the only one we have in stock right now is Jaws."
"Jaws?" Andrew asked.
"Don't get to the pictures much, do you? Huge American picture from a few years back, made millions, big shark, got people scared of the beach? Any of this ringing a bell?"
"No, I'm afraid not," replied Andrew, puzzled.
Sam came around the counter and headed for the small soundtrack section of the store. He rifled through the stack for a moment, and pulled out an album with a picture of a large shark surfacing directly beneath a bikini-clad swimmer. "Here you go, Jaws."
Andrew took the album and confirmed the name: "Composed and Conducted by John Williams."
"How is it?" he asked.
"Not bad, not bad at all."
Later, Andrew sat at the small writing desk that took up a corner of his bedroom contemplating the stationary in front of him. After a few moments, he deliberately put his pen to paper, and wrote:
From, as it would seem, one Williams fan to another. It's nice to know that music continues to be able to surprise even those such as us, those who live and breathe it day in and out. I hope you enjoy it.
Andrew signed his name, folded the paper, placed it into an envelope and sealed it. Carefully, he wrote "Ms. Lucy Bath" on the front, and affixed it to the wrapped album. As he did so, he felt a nervous shudder course through his small body. Perhaps this was a mistake after all. Could this be too much? Would she laugh, or merely be uncomfortable with the gift, with him, forever ruining any chance he might have had? Or would she be touched and flattered, and could the simple gift lead to something, anything? Andrew recalled the moment, several weeks ago, when he had first laid eyes on her. She was beautiful, of that there was no doubt. But it was something else entirely that drew his attention that day. He had walked past her on his way to his seat, and she had laughed, at what he had no idea, she was talking with a friend, but that laugh . . . Sighing, Andrew decided to find out, either way.
It was the final session, and the wrapped album and note lay directly beneath his seat. "Take 203, 'Princess Lea's Theme,'" the recording engineer announced, and Andrew readied himself to play. As Williams lowered his baton with the first beat, a piccolo played a descending ladder-like introductory melody, with a clarinet soon picking it up. Then, the main melody started, played by the French horn. The theme was a beautiful and delicate bit of gossamer, with just a hint of melancholy in it. Andrew, with the cellos silent so far, was able to just listen, and he did so, by now fully willing to surrender himself to the unabashedly, not just Romantic, but romantic, music. There was more than just the whiff of romance in this particular piece, Andrew realized, this was a true love theme. As the first statement of the theme ended, the woodwinds played a short bridge, and Andrew looked over to see Lucy grinning broadly as she guided her oboe through the sinewy passage. As the bridge ended, the flutes picked up the main theme again, and Andrew and Lucy locked eyes and smiled. Still smiling, Andrew turned his attention back to the score, readying himself for his part. After a second woodwind interlude, the string section began to play the main theme again, and Andrew happily laid out the bottom of the harmony, the violinists filling in the top. The theme began to crescendo and build, in true Romantic fashion, repeating one last time with the full orchestra behind it in glorious, open and unashamed full-throated thrall to the music. As the theme climaxed, a solitary flute and violin gently ended the passage, and, furtively, Andrew and Lucy locked eyes, smiling at each other again.
Williams thanked the orchestra for their time and patience and with that they were done. Still smiling, as he had been almost non-stop for the past few hours, Andrew packed up his things and grabbed the package from beneath his chair. Humming Princess Lea?s theme, he walked over to Lucy, who was still collecting her things. Andrew?s nervousness had, remarkably enough, deserted him, and as he approached, Lucy looked up at him. He held out the wrapped gift.
"For you," he said.
"For me? Why, thank you," she replied.
"I was wondering if you had any plans for the evening."
"None, none at all." She smiled again, and Andrew felt his pulse skip a beat, a new, though not unwelcome, sensation.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
WARNING--POST CONTAINS, BY NECESSITY, SPOILER INFO ON THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
In The Shawshank Redemption, when Andy escapes from the prison, as he discards his clothes and lifts his face to the heavens, reveling in the cleansing rain that pours down upon him, we are rewarded with a triumphant piece of music, the first taste of real triumph we've gotten in the movie or the score, with horns blazing and drums pounding. But almost as soon as it is sounded, that triumphant theme is cut off, and we hear a faint piano underscoring the moment, almost anxiously pattering underneath the storm. The piano theme is not triumphant, or reposed, or the kind of satisfied, "savoring the moment" music we might expect. Instead, it's almost sorrowful, giving off a real sense of sadness, which is exactly right for the moment. Thomas Newman, the composer, is careful not to let the moment get out of hand, and to make sure that the music records the fact that this escape has only come after nearly two decades of hard time. The triumph Andy is feeling is severely undercut buy a realization of what he's lost, whet he's endured, to get there, and the music, very subtly, makes sure we realize this.
Get the score to The Shawshank Redemption, to my mind one of the best scores of the last decade, here.
BEWARE--SPOILERS BEFOUL THE WATERS AHEAD
The Oscar folks got it right. Million Dollar Baby is a great movie. I had been itching to see the film last winter after reading remarkably superlative reviews from both Roger Ebert and The New York Times, this for a movie that I had been decidedly non-plussed by the advance notice and commercials for. I finally saw it on trusty 'ol DVD last week, and was just completely floored.
The biggest surprise (not the third act twist, which, despite my best efforts not to, I had been made aware of) for me was Morgan Freeman's performance. I suppose I had in the back of head been thinking of his Oscar win for the film as a de facto career achievement award. You know, one of those "you are a great actor whose never won an Oscar so take one for this good, but not really Oscar-worthy, performance." Was I wrong. I knew from reviews that Freeman's character narrates the film, and many reviewers kind of snidely alluded that he was just rehashing his excellent work on The Shawshank Redemption. No. That mellifulous voice is there, of course, but it's wrapped within a whispery growl; you could almost imagine that Redd Foxx had lived and come out of retirement to do this part. There was a rough and tumble accent and a flatness that's completely apposite to trhe "Freeman voice"; he was not, as some quarters indicated, doing a gloss on the typical angelic "Freeman character" but creating a very, specific, very real person. I find it harder and harder to argue for anyone else as "our greatest living actor."
Of course, the rest of the film was equal to Freeman's performance. Both Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank were excellent, creating very specific characters. Eastwood did lean a little, certainly more than Freeman, on the "Eastwood" personae, but was able to inflect enough twists and turns to make Frankie real to us. And this was my first Swank performance, so I was unaware of how well she is able to inhabit a character. I never heard a "Hollywood actress doing an accent," but a real, lower-class, uneducated woman from Missouri.
Now, about that twist. Again, I knew it was coming, so it's power was, of course, diluted. But it still had a strong, strong impact. What made it work was how accurately it reflected how these things work in real life. The kind of life-altering injury that Maggie suffers is never expected and is always random; I've read some criticism that the moment comes out of nowhere, wrenching the story off track. Exactly. Christopher Reeve's story wasn't building towards that accident; it was a surprise that completely altered his story. Same here. And the character's reaction to that event was what made the whole thing work just so well. Criticism of the decision Frankie and Maggie make is completely off-base. The point of the story isn't that a lifetime of near-complete paralysis is not worth living, but that for this particular woman it wasn't. It was the decision that was right for her, that she had to made, and the film made you believe it. And it made you understand the impact on Frankie in a very clear way.
Enough said. Count this as a full-fledged recommendation for the film; I certainly didn't see a better one last year.
Friday, July 15, 2005
Emmy nominations were announced yesterday, and rather than go though the main categories one by one, I figured I'd just go through the nominations and point out any that moved me to comment:
Outstanding Music Composition For A Series (Dramatic Underscore)
Michael Giacchino was nominated for his brilliant work on Lost, the only time I've really noticed and been impressed by dramatic scoring for a TV series. Hoping he wins.
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series
Nice to see Jason Bateman and Zach Braff (of Scrubs) get nominated. Not sure Eric McCormack deserved another nomination for Will and Grace though. Tony Shaloub for Monk and Ray Romano round out the group. Everybody Loves Raymond fan though I am, I do think Romano's acting got a little exaggerated and fakey last season, although I am very impressed at how good he got after that first season. To replace McCormack, I'd go with Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men).
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series
Nice to see Hugh Laurie of House get a nomination--he's great. Also nice to see Martin Sheen not nominated.
Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series
I haven't seen one episode of Desperate Housewives, but have my doubts that three of the leads are worthy of nominations. Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) would, I'm betting, be more worthy than at least one housewife. Also not sure if Patricia Heaton (Raymond) or Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle) were that worthy either. Would have liked to see Sarah Chalke of Scrubs get one of those spots.
Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series
Jeffrey Tambor is great on Arrested Development, but Brad Garrett and Peter Boyle were getting a bit tired on Raymond. No one was pushing for him, but Scott Patterson on Gilmore Girls is excellent. Sean Hayes was nominated for Will and Grace, again, but I have ot say that he's still brilliant. He gets overlooked by critics I think because the character is so cartoonish, but that's hard to do.
Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series
Nice to see Terry O'Quinn and Naveen Andrews get nominated for Lost--the show's only acting nominations.
Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series
Conchita Ferrell, as the maid, and Holland Taylor, as the Mom, on Two and a Half Men, are good, but hardly worthy of nominations. Get Judy Reyes from Scrubs and maybe the kid from Arrested Development in there instead. For Megan Mullally's nomination for Will and Grace, see my comment on Sean Hayes above.
Outstanding Guest Actor In A Comedy Series
Four nominations for Will and Grace. No.
Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama Series
Only one I saw was Ray Liotta on ER, and he was just stunning.
Outstanding Comedy Series
Gilmore Girls should have gotten Will & Grace's spot. I love Will & Grace, but it's tiring quickly and isn't as sharp as it was.
Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series
Three Arrested Development episodes, and no Scrubs or Gilmore Girls episodes? Thpt. The Raymond finale's nomination, though, was well-earned. Great writing, and hard writing to do well.
Outstanding Writing For A Drama Series
Lost's two nominations (for the pilot and the brilliant Locke-centered episode "Walkabout") are nice.
1. "Dialogue: "Pluto!"" -- Stephen Sondheim -- The Frogs/Evening Primrose (2001 Studio Cast)
Dionysus greets Pluto in Hades.
2. "Harvest Moon" -- Cassandra Wilson (covering Neil Young) -- New Moon Daughter
Wilson's a captivating jazz/blues singer, and she does a wonderfully languid version of the Neil Young ballad here.
3. "Wave" -- Antonio Carlos Jobim -- Jobim's Finest Hour
So 60s, but good nonetheless. You've probably heard this as background music somewhere.
4. "Variation XIII - Scene 6" -- Benjamin Britten -- The Turn of the Screw (opera)
Between every scene in Britten's opera there are brief musical interludes, all variations in one form or another on the same theme.
5. "Be Careful of My Heart" -- Tracy Chapman -- Crossroads
One of my favorite Chapman songs, the delicate coda to her underrated sophomore album. An insinuating, repeating guitar figure grounds this quietly building five minute-plus song.
6. "Waltz to the Death" -- Danny Elfman -- Batman (Film Score)
This is easily one of Elfman's finest scores, and this ironically cheery waltz did a fine job of capturing the joker's gleeful anarchy, much better than Prince's ill-adviced songs.
7. "Soldier's Gossip (2)" -- Stephen Sondheim -- Passion (Original Broadway Cast)
One of three interludes in the play in which the soldiers comment on the plot.
8. "Only Us" -- Peter Gabriel -- Us
Not one of my favorite cuts off the album, a little plodding and never getting anywhere.
9. "Seasons of Love B" -- Jonathan Larson -- Rent (Original Broadway Cast)
One of a few reprises of what amounts to Rent's main theme.
10. "Vietnam (We Know too Many of these Kids) -- Michael Kamen -- Mr. Holland's Opus (Film Score)
Underrated score; this is a nice little piece of music for the moment in the film where Holland and (I think) the football coach learn of a former student's death in Vietnam.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
The issue of SPIN magazine on the stands now features the magazine's take on what the 100 best albums released from 1985 to 2005 were (the top 11 are listed below). Now, I love lists like this, but as I read through the magazine's selections, one thought did bug me--and not that my favorite album wasn't represented. Sure, as a U2 fan of considerable passion, it did bug me that their masterpiece, The Joshua Tree, didn't make the cut, and that they had their second masterpiece, Achtung Baby, at only number 11. But in all honesty, I haven't heard probably 90% of the albums on the list, so it's hard for me to reasonably insist that the albums they did pick are less worthy.
That aside, as I read through the selections I noticed that alternative and hip-hop albums were, not just highly represented, but almost exclusively represented. And what came to mind was the arbitrariness of it all. I have no problem with SPIN respecting hip-hop and not listing exclusively rock albums. But it's interesting that, for example, there are no jazz records on the list. No classical music. Almost no country. No blues. I guess I can't reasonably expect them to title the issue the "100 Best Alternative and Hip-Hop Albums of the Last Twenty Years," but in reality that's what it is. This myopic view of the music world, one in which only "hip" music counts (after all, The Joshua Tree was too square for inclusion; what hope did John Adams masterful Naive and Sentimental Music have?), can sometimes irritate. The fact is there is a lot of brilliant music being written and recorded in all sorts of "square" obscure corners of the musical universe. I tend to object to the genres I love being excluded, but I have no doubt that there are genres I'm not even aware of that have also produced albums in the past twenty years worthy of inclusion. What would a completely inclusionary and non-prejudiced list look like, I wonder? I can't say, but I wish someone would show me.
The SPIN Top 11
1. Radiohead, OK Computer
2. Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of a Million to Hold Us Back
3. Nirvana, Nevermind
4. Pavement, Slanted & Enchanted
5. The Smiths, The Queen is Dead
6. Pixies, Surfer Rosa
7. De La Soul, 3 Feet High and Rising
8. Prince, Sign 'O' the Times
9. PJ Harvey, Rid of Me
10. N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton
11. U2, Achtung Baby
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Am cautiously optimistic about CBS's new reality series, Rockstar: INXS. The concept is pretty simple--an American Idol-type singoff in which 15 rock singers compete to be the new lead singer for INXS. The band members themselves will be judging and ultimately deciding who will get to front them. It's really a neat idea.
They've completed the first week, and so far two of the fifteen have been eliminated. The premiere had me a little worried; the producers structured the episode with lots of cut-always from the performances, some very quick, to show reactions of the band and host/judge/undefined participant Dave Navarro. There was also a fair amount of "backstage" stuff, very The Real World-esque interactions between all of the contestants who are, of course, living together in a big house. But the second and third episodes were much more music-driven, allaying my fears that this show would be more Survivor than American Idol. The singers so far are actually pretty good, although from what I've read many of them have substantial experience, with albums and tours under their belts--one contestant was the lead in the London production of the Queen jukebox musical We Will Rock You, apparently. I'm also loving that the songs are so much more consistently, well, better than most of what gets sung on AI, good, solid rock songs. Yes, the house band has already shown a worrisome tendency to make every song sound vaguely the same, hard, guitar-driven rock, and the contestants so far have been really, really emphasizing the "rock" part of the formula, turning pretty much every song into a raging hard rock piece. Still, I may be hooked.
The schedule seems to be:
Mondays: Contestants pick songs and interact. The night that resembles most reality shows, with the youngish contestants interacting.
Tuesdays: Performances. The viewers get to vote on the website for their favorites.
Wednesday: Elimination. The bottom three perform an INXS song and the band eliminates someone.
1. Using your Current Initials, choose a different name for yourself:
What's wrong with my name? You sayin' something about my name??
2. If you were born outside of your era, when would you want to be born?
I love this era, and wouldn't really want to trade, but part of me would love to have been a young man in the middle of the Golden Age of the Broadway musical, say from around 1950 on. The premier of West Side Story? Sweet.
3. If you ran a store, what would you sell/have?
If money was no object, I'd love to open a large, beautiful old theater/shop right in the middle of suburbia with its own black box and house community theater troupe in the back and lots of sheet music, scripts, cast albums, theatrical makeup, etc. in the front with (of course) a coffee shop in the middle of it all. Just the kind of place I would have killed for as a teen.
4. What part in a movie would you love to play?
My dream role has always been Sweeney Todd, and I see no reason to think of another just because the notion of me being cast in a feature film Sweeney is absurd.
5. In your opinion, why do people suck?
Because it's hard not to. Sucking is easy; being good is difficult.
6. If you had your own state, what would you put on your new quarter?
A bare stage, "so many possibilities."
7. What's the oldest article of clothing you own?
A seriously tattered shirt from the U2 '92 Zoo TV tour.
8. What piece of furniture have you replaced the most?
CD cabinets. I keep running out of room.
9. What instrument do you wish you could be more than great at?
A tough call between piano and guitar. As a former singer and musical theater enthusiast, the piano probably makes more sense.
10. Record, Tape or CD
11. What do you think would be the best concert ever?
A concert reading of Sweeney Todd with Mandy Patinkin as Sweeney. Hearing the excitable Patinkin let rip on "Epiphany" is something I've been wanting for years.
12. What is the best part of your favorite movie?
When the audience realizes Andy has escaped in The Shawshank Redemption. How I'd love to be able to see that without knowing what's going to happen. Even the first time I saw the film, I'd read the Stephen King novella upon which it was based several times, so knew what was coming.
13. What do you think is the most overrated candy ever?
Circus peanuts. Ick.
14. If you were writing out your will, who would you give your CD collection to?
My sister. Her musical tastes most match mine.
15. If you could only debate two topics the rest of your life, what would they be?
Homosexuality as debased/unnatural/sinful (it's not) and how Martin Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ is not anti-Christian, but very, very Christian.
16. Out of your friends, who would you say you are most jealous of, artistically?
To be brutally honest, I don't have too many friends. My friend Mike has an imagination I wish I had, but no discipline to go with it. If we could combine our powers . . .
17. Most jealous of....Intellectually?
18. What do you collect?
19. What is broken that you have, that you wish was fixed?
My mp3 player. Stupid earphone jack has to be in the right position or most of the sound cuts out.
20. What do you do when you're home, sick?
(not really. I watch crappy TV.)
21. Story behind your username?
"Tosy and Cosh" is a song from the musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. There's no real story though; I just always liked the sound of the name.
22. Current Favorite Article of Clothing?
23. Line from the last thing you wrote for someone?
Well, I write business proposals for a living, so probably something like "We greatly look forward to serving you."
24. A famous person you have met?
Former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda (I was maybe ten years old and had no idea who he was--my father told me to get his autograph).
25. Favorite way to waste time?
Click through the channels over and over. Yes, sad and pathetic.
Back from the restin' and relaxin'. Let's warm up with a quiz, shall we? Stolen from Byzantium's Shores:
10 years ago
Living at home, just finished my junior year of college, slightly panicky over switching from a Chemistry and Theater Arts double major to a Theater Arts major with a Chemistry minor, and in rehearsals for a community theater production of Hello Dolly!, and about to reunite with my former high school girlfriend (now my wife of nearly seven years).
5 years ago
Married for two years and working as a copywriter for a small marketing company.
Took my twin one-year old daughters swimming for the first time this summer. Abigail loved it; Ella not so much.
Back to work after vacation. Blech. Very surprised at how much I miss my girls after a week and a half of being with them all day.
More work. Double blech.
5 snacks I enjoy
Good, soft chocolate chip cookies; Charleston Chews; hot, soft pretzels; Munchos; Raisinets
5 bands that I know the lyrics of MOST of their songs
U2, John Mellencamp, Sting. Lots of other favorites, bit none I could say I know most of their lyrics.
5 things I would do with $100,000,000
Keep a nice chunk to keep me and the fam comfortable (not rich--comfortable) and give the rest away to someone smarter than me. Finding that someone would be quite the project though.
5 locations I'd like to run away to
The White Mountain region of New Hampshire; a cozy beachtown in the Virginia/Carolinas area; a lake by a mountain in Montana; a small farmhouse in Italy; a beautiful apartment near the theater district in New York.
5 bad habits I have
Biting my nails. Eating too much food that is too bad for me. Not exercising, pretty much at all. Laziness. Not telling my wife how much I love her.
5 things I like doing
Browsing through large, well-stocked bookstores, both big chains and out-of-the-way used bookstores. Listening to music. Going to the theater. Watching movies, and then reading my favorite critics reviews to see how my reaction compared with theirs. Playing with my girls. Enjoying quiet dinners out with my wife. Playing basketball.
5 things I would never wear
Thongs, baggy pants, tight pants, hats, $150 sneakers.
5 TV shows I like
Lost, Gilmore Girls, Scrubs, The West Wing, The Simpsons.
5 movies I like
The Shawshank Redemption, Star Wars, The Fisher King, Saving Private Ryan, The Last Temptation of Christ.
5 famous people I'd like to meet
Stephen King, Bono, Morgan Freeman, Stephen Sondheim, Mandy Patinkin.
5 biggest joys at the moment
The smiles on my girls faces; the smile on my wife's face as she watched the smiles on theirs; a piece of music that can grab me and make my heart move; a story I can not for the life of me put down; a walk on beautifulul summer night.
5 favorite toys
My Nomad Jukebox mp3 player; my computer (even though it crashes regularly and I can't wait until it's old enough to reasonably want to replace--it's still a computer); my laptop (when used as a portable DVD player--it's a company laptop, so it's really not "my" computer; my digital camera.