Friday, December 12, 2008
Not the Grammy's themselves, or who wins, but my knowledge of who these artists are. So - my annual look at categories I actually know nominees in:
Record and Song of the Year
I like that Coldplay song, sure.
Album of the Year
I'd like to get the Coldplay album, and agree that In Rainbows stands tall with Radiohead's best, so nice to see that there. and the Krauss/Plant album actually sounds interesting.
Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals
"Viva La Vida" again, but I have to note here that I actually (shock!) have heard a few songs off of the new Gnarls Barkley, and am interested in hearing more! That's almost hip, right?
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album
Up against Michael Feinstein, Natalie Cole, Josh Groban, and Barry Manilow is Rufus Wainwright! Go Rufus!
Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance
Gravity, John Mayer
I Saw Her Standing There, Paul McCartney
Girls In Their Summer Clothes, Bruce Springsteen\
Rise, Eddie Vedder
No Hidden Path, Neil Young
I've actually heard three of these, and am puzzled by the Neil Young song, as there are several much better songs - and vocal performances - on that album. Between Springsteen and Vedder, I'd go with Vedder here.
Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals and Best Rock Song
I like "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," but it almost comes across as pastiche Bruce. "House of Cards" by Radiohead, no doubt. Great song.
Best Rock Album
Like I said, I do want to get Viva La Vida, and the little I heard of Kings of Leon on SNL was actually interesting. But why isn't In Rainbows here?
Best Alternative Music Album
Because it's here, I guess. When an album is nominated for Album of the Year, doesn't it kind of automatically win the narrower category? I mean, none of the other 4 here were good enough for Album of the Year, right?
Best Jazz Vocal Album
Reminds me that I still need to get Cassandra Wilson's latest, Loverly.
Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album
I have the new Emmlou Harris, All I Intended to Be, and it is lovely.
Best Musical Show Album
Still haven't gotten to the new Gypsy, but I do have it. Little Mermaid was disappointing for this Menken fan, as none of the new songs were as good as the new stuff he wrote for Beauty and the Beast. The new South Pacific is good as well, but i have to bet Gypsy here, based on even the little I've heard so far.
Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media
Juno was good, but a bit repetitive. Sweeney Todd? No contest - great album, with some great film music treatments of Sondheim underscoring.
Best Score Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media
A very tough one. Johnny Greenwood's There Will be Blood score is magnificent, but so is Thomas Newman's Wall-E score. Easily the hardest category for me.
Best Song Written For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media
Peter Gabriel's WALL-E song, "Down to Earth," is a great one, narrowly beating out Menken's "That's How You Know" from Enchanted.
Friday, December 05, 2008
- That the first sound we hear isn't a spaceship, or majestic orchestral sounds, but Michael Crawford singing "Out there!"
- That all of WALL-E's movements have a mechanical, logical origin - you can see how he works, and how he fits together. Compare to the very unconvincing spatial logistics of the transforming robots in Transformers.
- The sheer beauty of those opening shots, as we descend towards earth and see those sad and beautiful towers of trash.
- The internal logic of WALL-E's daily life - we see how he repairs himself, how he lives.
- The sound of WALL-E rolling along.
- The way WALL-E recharges by using a solar charger like a tanning reflector.
- Fred Willard.
- That Fred Willard and the others in the B'N Large commercial are real people.
- The idea of monitors that project on their own, without a frame or surface.
- The moment when WALL-E grabs a hubcap so that he can copy the dance in "Put On Your Sunday Clothes." The first moment that hit me emotionally.
- The overall notion that music has that power, the power to move a robot to sentience.
- The sleek, Apple-y design on EVE.
- The way WALL-E trembles when EVE first tries to blast him
- Thomas Newman's majestic score - his best in a while, maybe even since Shawshank!
- The way WALL-E's low-power sluggishness in the morning resembles human tiredness.
- That the cockroach buddy never gets cloying.
- WALL-E trying to get EVE to hold his hand.
- WALL-E showing off his possessions to EVE to try and impress her.
- The way that WALL-E never gives up on her after she shuts down upon securing the plant.
- EVE's voice, just the right blend of real human female and robot.
- The way EVE's three fingers aren't attached to her hand, nor the hand to her arm.
- WALL-E's bouncy travel music.
- The way WALL-E digs himself under the ground to escape the rocket's blast.
- WALL-E reaching up to run his hand through Saturn's ring.
- The design and scale of the cruise ship.
- The switch in the second act, and how it doesn't make the lazy humans bad people.
- The notion that robots that gain a bit of free will are hauled off for repair
- The eager industriousness of the cleaner bot
- Jeff Garlin as the captain - fat people can get a glottal quality in their voice, and Garlin has it.
- John and Mary rediscovering the joy of touch.
- WALL-E and EVE dancing outside the spaceship. One of the most joyous and beautiful moments I've ever seen in a movie
- The animation of the fire extinguisher's exhaust crystallizing.
- WALL-E's self-sacrifice.
- The Captain standing on his own to feet.
- EVE's real panic as she tried to fix WALL-E.
- Cupcake in a cup.
- That, while exaggerated, the satire of humans never interacting, or moving on their own, came from a real place - all those people engrossed in their screens felt uncomfortably familiar.
- That they planted the seed of the hover chairs with the hover chair for Grandma in the earlier commercial
- That PIXAR somehow managed to make a beautiful family film about the near-extinction of the human race.
- EVE bringing WALL-E back to life with a kiss. Magic.
- How WALL-E says "EVE"
- How subtly the animators distinguished between no-memory WALL-E and recovered WALL-E.
- That WALL-E wants to introduce himself to everyone he meets.
- That the animators weren't afraid to make it look like WALL-E is taking a dump when he compresses trash.
- The massage robot gleefully pummeling the security robots to pieces.
- The credits, which tell us in evolving art styles how the humans repopulate the planet.
- Peter Gabriel's song.
- The ATARI 2600 WALL-E game going on in the margins of the credits.
- The short about the magician and the sheer inventiveness in the concept.
- The Mac reboot sound effect.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
I know I'm not the first to notice this, but it's kind of remarkable just how much of television drama is at heart, based on mystery stories. The ways in which we and the characters figure out who committed the crime change, but that core of a crime, suspects, and a reveal are at the heart of so many series. I mean, look at the current network lineup:
Cold Case - Cops solve old mysteries (why they can solve them now, and they were unsolvable then, generally goes unexplained)
The Unit - I'm not sure, never having seen it, but I bet there's a mystery aspect.
Medium - Psychic solves mysteries.
Boston Legal - Lawyers solve mysteries (I don't watch BL, but imagine that at least a goodly portion of the cases feature an aspect where we don't know if the defendant did it or not, and the answer gets revealed at the end, after the verdict. That was Kelly's modus operandi on The Practice anyway)
CSI Miami - Genius forensics experts solve crimes using science and a creepy old redhead with a sunglasses removal tic takes all the credit.
House - Genius doctor solves medical mysteries with the help of flunkies (who never actually solve a mystery on their own)
NCIS - Team of investigators solve naval-related mysteries.
The Mentalist - Genius former fraud-psychic solves mysteries by being really observant.
Without a Trace - Investigators solve missing-person mysteries.
Fringe - Super-genius and his son and catatonic FBI handler solve weird, vaguely sci-fiish mysteries.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - Dogged cops solve mysteries that often start out marked by some deviant sexual angle that turns out to be naught but a red herring.
Pushing Daisies - A sad sack guy solves endearingly quirky mysteries through magic.
Criminal Minds - A team of FBI profilers solve icky mysteries, but only after the killer has killed people, but before he kills the latest victim.
CSI: NY - Genius forensics experts solve crimes using science and the leadership of a slumming quasi-film-star.
Bones - A genius bone scientist solves crimes with the help of a hunky cop/FBI guy (never seen it)
Life - A cop solves mysteries while eating lots of fruit.
Law & Order - Cops and lawyers solve mysteries, while never cottoning to the fact that it's always the least-likely suspect.
Life on Mars - A modern cop solves standard TV mysteries in the 70s while trying to sole the big mystery of how he time-traveled in the first place.
CSI: Genius forensics experts solve crimes using science and the leadership of a slumming character actor.
Eleventh Hour - FBI guys solves vaguely sci-fiish mysteries.
Supernatural - Hunky brothers solve supernatural mysteries.
Ghost Whisperer - Busty psychic solves mysteries with the help of ghosts.
Numb3ers - Math genius solves mysteries using math.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
From his frogness:
1. Five names you go by:
(almost none anymore or in real-life though - in real-life I'm just John)
a. Tosy and Cosh
2. Three things you are wearing right now
a. A purple dress shirt
b. Grey slacks
c.) Black shoes
3. Two things you want very badly at the moment:
a. An HDTV TV
b. The complete Deadwood
c. An eggnog latte
4. Three people who will probably fill this out:
? I don't often spread memes.
5. Two things you did last night:
a. Watched the first half of the latest Pushing Daisies
b. Drank some maple tea
6. Two things you ate today:
a. Chicken Marsala pizza
b. Cranberry Vanilla Grape Nuts Trail Mix Cereal
7. Two people you last talked to on the phone
Two colleagues, about a meeting document we are preparing.
8. Two things you are going to do tomorrow:
a. Most likely start a new project at work
b. Finally start watching Wall-E
9. Two longest car rides:
a. New Jersey to Florida
b. New Jersey to New Hampshire
Monday, December 01, 2008
Random Top Ten!!
Top Ten Covers
10. "The End of the World" - John Mellencamp (orig. Skeeter Davis?)
Sometimes you know why songs grab you. Sometimes not. This is a pretty straightforward reading of an oldies station classic, a bit countrified, but man does it work.
9. "The Man Who Sold the World" - Jordis Unga (orig. David Bowie)
I had high hopes for Junga after that first season of RockStar. Alas, her promised solo album never materialized.
8. "My Heart" - Audra McDonald (orig. Neil Young)
Of all the pop tunes I'd imagined Audra McDonald covering, this wasn't one. And that it's the album's best track? Who knew?
7. "Sacrifice" - Sinead O'Connor (orig. Elton John)
A very powerful, hushed rendition.
6. "Shelter from the Storm" - Cassandra Wilson (orig. Bob Dylan)
I love the way the tempo and guitars accelerate as the verses pile up.
5. Come Down in Time – Sting (orig. Elton John)
I still have never heard the original, but Sting's piano-bar version is haunting and beautifully spare.
4. "Can’t Help Falling in Love" – Bono (orig. Elves Presley)
Simple and elegant. A guitar plays the simple arpeggiated chords and Bono sings the song, starting in a very low register, moving up an octave for the second verse, and jumping up another octave to a sweet falsetto for the last. Gives me chills.
3. "Like an Angel Passing Through My Room" - Anne Sofie Van Otter (orig. ABBA)
The operatic alto still stands as the best classical interpreter of pop songs I've ever heard.
2. "Hallelujah" - Jeff Buckley (orig. Leonard Cohen)
A cliche for a reason.
1. "The Rainbow Connection" Willie Nelson (orig. Kermit the Frog)
I've posted on this before. See here.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I haven't done a shuffle in a long while. For today's, I am shuffling only within my "5-Star Rock" playlist - all pop/rock songs I've rated at 5 stars (477 songs, to be precise).
1. "The Only Living Boy in New York" - Simon & Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water
This is one of those album cuts that never became a hit (or, I'm guessing, was even a single), but that is no less great for it. A deceptively simple acoustic figure underpins the song, and Simon's vocal is nicely melancholy, but what really makes the song work is the melodic, leaping bass line and the sunny chorus that pops up in the background.
2. "Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm" - Crash Test Dummies - God Shuffled His Feet
I really don't know what this song is about, but I absolutely love that deliberate, oom-pah-like accompaniment and the resigned way Roberts sings the verses. Also, I haven't tested it, but it's my theory that that first "Mmmm" in the chorus is the lowest note ever sung in a rock song. Love it.
3. "Purple Haze" - Jimi Hendrix - The Essential Jimi Hendrix
This is why I hate classic rock radio, and never listen to it anymore. This song is great, with an indelible opening riff. Great. But I can't listen to it anymore. It's been completely neutered by omnipresence.
4. "Rockin' in the Free World" - Neil Young - Freedom
The album-ending acoustic live version. I know I'm not saying anything that hasn't been said a million times before, but, damn, isn't it remarkable what one singer with a guitar can create? (Couldn't find Young's acoustic version)
5. "Love and Happiness" - John Mellencamp - Whenever We Wanted
Mellencamp approximating hard rock. It's actually a very nicely aggressive riff that dominates the song, and the decision to go with an insanely high trumpet solo for the bridge, instead of a tired guitar, is one of my all-time favorite moves in a rock song.
6. "Island of Souls" - Sting - The Soul Cages
I pimp for this album regularly, but seriously, this is some good stuff. This opening track could easily serve as the opening to a misty, somber musical theater piece set in a shipyard, and,as I've also oft-stated, this album has the bones of just such a musical in it.
7. "Give Me On Reason" - Tracy Chapman - New Beginning
A classic case of radio ruining a song. This forgotten post-"Fast Car" hit got a lot of play when it was released, but the solo guitar opening, which runs through the entire verse melody, was cut short to bring in the vocal in quicker, and it just kills the artful pace of the song.
8. "Knives Out" - Radiohead - Amnesiac
Christopher O'Reilly does a great solo piano version of this on one of his Radiohead cover albums.
9. "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" - XTC - Nonsuch
Rock bands don't get into the "overtly criticize religion" game much, but this lament at the hypocrisies of organized religion is a classic example of the form. An imaginary tale of Christ's return, and the Church's campaign against him.
10. "Graceland" - Willie Nelson - Willie Nelson Covers
My sister gave me Vampire Weekend a few weeks ago, and I've been really enjoying it. But it took a review by someone smarter than I to point out how African-influenced it was. Reminds me now of this.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Three things I liked about Forgetting Sarah Marshall
- The fact that there was no asshole character, even the Aldous character. Sarah wasn't some horrific bitch, but a mildly self-absorbed actress who in the end couldn't deal with the withdrawn nature of the Segel character.
- The portrayal of sex as more than just some movie-magicked wonderland, but as a real, often clumsy, physical act
The supporting characters, from Bill Hader's endearing step-brother to Paul Rudd's sly take on the surfer.
Three things I did not like about Saving Sarah Marshall
- The puppet Dracula musical at the end, which wasn't as clever or funny as we were supposed to think
- That Segel's idea of a job to hate is as a successful composer for a TV show. Rough, man. Rough.
- The screenwriter's contrivances - especially Segel's character getting to stay at the fancy resort for free, just because the desk clerk felt bad for him seeing his ex-girlfriend. Really? That's the best he could do?
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Maybe I'm missing something and someone can help me out, but:
In Toy Story, it's established that the toys can move and speak in the presence of humans, they just don't. After all, Andy and the misfit toys scare Sid off by talking to him and moving in his presence. So when they flop down when Andy bursts into the room, that's a choice, not something out of their control.
But for two-thirds of the film, Buzz Lightyear doesn't think he is a toy. So why does he become immobile in Andy's presence.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Jaq's back!! And giving me quizzes to steal!!
What was the last book you bought?
The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane, a historical police drama. I've been waiting for this book for a few years now, as it's taken Lehane longer-than-his-usual to write it. Alas, when it finally came out, I had just started Infinite Jest. And as I'm still plugging away there, I haven't cracked the Lehane yet. I've got about 300 pages of Jest left. So soon.
Name a book you have read MORE than once
I wrote a whole post on this actually. I reread a lot, but the book I've easily read the most is Stephen King's It. Five times. And I will read it again. It's my touchstone.
Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?
I don't think so. But I will say that reading in general has informed to a great deal some of the way I look at the world. A lot of my leftish views, especially on social questions, have been greatly informed by the views of the authors i read, I know that. But one book? no.
How do you choose a book? eg. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews?
Recommendations. I almost never read or buy a book because it caught my fancy in a bookstore or library. Almost always it's a book I'm searching for or am aware of; there are simply so many books I know I want to read that I don't make time for ones I've never heard of.
Do you prefer Fiction or Non-Fiction?
I prefer fiction, but only slightly. If I read too much fiction in a row I get antsy, and vice versa, so I typically switch back and forth. That being said, I do read a lot of non-fiction in magazine form, so I'll usually read more novels in a given year than non-fiction books.
What’s more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?
Plot. Great writing can make a book in absence of plot, but that's hard and rare. A great plot can survive even shitty writing.
Most loved/memorable character (character/book)
Paul Welscombe, in the Stephen King novel The Green Mile. The archetypal King good guy.
Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?
In recent months I've taken to using the nightstand for rereading comics. Right now I've got the Dark Age Astro City hardcover, by Kurt Busiek, and the entire Brubaker run on Captain America, which I've been meaning to reread for a while.
What was the last book you’ve read, and when was it?
Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer.
Have you ever given up on a book half way in
Many times. I gave up on Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver twice, the second time after getting 95% of the way through.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
My first post here at Tosy and Cosh (after a quickly aborted earlier stab at blogging) was about my ten favorite rock singers. So it was with great anticipation that I saw on the newsstand today that Rolling Stone has put out an issue highlighting the 100 greatest singers of all time, as voted on by a blue-ribbon panel of rock artists, writers, producers, and others.
So - how'd my list stack up against Rolling Stone's? Not too well. But that's because my list was of rock singers only - no James Brown, no Aretha, no Nina Simone, etc. But if I correct for that, and omit singers who aren't really rock singers (an admittedly rampagingly subjective exercise), what do I get?
Tosy and Cosh
10. Corey Glover (Living Colour)
9. Roy Orbison
8. Janis Joplin
7. Elvis Costello
6. Roger Daltry
5. Bruce Springsteen
4. Freddie Mercury
2. Bob Dylan
1. Elvis Presley
2. John Lennon
3. Bob Dylan
4. Paul McCartney
5. Little Richard
6. Roy Orbison
7. Robert Plant
8. Mick Jagger
9. Tina Turner
10. Freddie Mercury
Still not much overlap. To my mind Dylan blows Lennon out of the water and McCartney is ranked way too high. Little Richard is hard too argue with. Robert Plant is just too much of a screecher for me. Not enough weight and depth to his voice.
On the other hand, the only two on my list not to make the 100 are Corey Glover (not surprising) and Elvis Costello (very surprising). And the massive U2 fan in me was pleased to see Bono as high as he is - 33.
Friday, November 07, 2008
After last month's viewing of the first season of Picket Fences, I found myself craving that Kelly fix. But, alas, there is no second season of Picket Fences out, yet anyway, and no seasons of Chicago Hope (except on Hulu, which I would watch if I could get it on my TV and not just my laptop or desktop).
So it was on to the first season of The Practice. Wow. Much better than I remembered, and much, much better at portraying the messy, paper-work-stuffed, scrambling, pizza box-strewn, shaving-in-the-office chaos and grunge that is (I imagine) a typical defense attorney's life. The pilot does an outstanding job of getting us into that milieu in its opening minutes, with Bobby and Eleanore rushing to court, and with the lawyers in their office juggling piles of files and manila folders, or holding files with their teeth so they can pick up another.
But I particularly love the design on the courtrooms. Courtrooms on TV today seem stately and grand, like austere libraries, with lots of wood and beautiful architectural touches. The Boston courtrooms in The Practice are old, peeling and, most importantly, echoey. I love the sound design here, the attorney's speeches sound like they are being given in old VFW halls, flat and tinnily echoed.
And, as with any relatively older show, I love catching all the actors I didn't know back then but do now. John C. McGinley as an oily defense lawyer, sounding like a more-serious version of Dr. Cox. Hermann Edwards as a patrician big-firm lawyer. That Kelly regular who played the transvestite on Picket Fences appearing here as a judge.
I'm only three episodes in but I'm very surprised at how much I like this show. And a bit dismayed at the fact that Season Two is not out.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
First, the woman who made Tank Girl was going to make it as a film. (huh?) Never happened.
Then HBO was going to make it as a series (yay!) with the guy who made Daredevil (boo!). Never happened.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
That's not the Hulk. That's a tall and muscular green Euro-model.
This is how the Hulk should look
Thicker, and squatter, and more monstrous.
. . . your enjoyment of a big dumb super-hero movie is hampered when the superhero doesn't precisely match the vision in your head of what he should look like.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
So, a good month-plus into the new season, what has caught the eyes of Tosy and Cosh?
The Big Bang Theory is severely under-utilizing new regular Sarah Gilbert so far, and I hope they rectify that oversight soon. I also worry that they are starting to pull a Fonz with the admittedly very good Jim Parsons' Sheldon. He seems to be the focus of nearly every episode. Nonetheless, this is a well-constructed, funny, very old-fashioned sitcom and I'm glad it's on.
How I Met Your Mother seemed to have rushed the Stella story arc, and I suspect a lot of this is due to the scheduling problems of getting Sarah Chalke. I wonder if it would have played out differently had the original choice, Alicia Silverstone, not backed out in a Britney-fearing snit. Still, the show continues to charm, with the Barney-Robin pairing being handled particularly well so far.
Worst Week is well-acted and actually pretty funny, but good god how do these people think they can milk 200 episodes out of this thing?
Two and a Half Men is raunchy and funny and disposable. No harm in that. Still, how is Charlie Sheen getting Emmy nods for his one-note, just-plain-bad performance?
Heroes is done. I haven't watched a single episode. And Sepinwall tells me I needn't bother.
And I'm done with Terminator as well. I watched the premiere and realized that I was just impatient for it to be over so I could delete it from my TiFaux. Not worth the time.
House really has too big a cast. Time to cut. 'Twere it up to me, I'd get rid of Chase, Cameron, and 13. Otherwise, it's doing as good a job as any show on TV of balancing self-contained mysteries each week with smaller muti-episode arcs.
Fringe is really just OK. I was excited for it, and tried to convince myself that it was better than it is, but at the end of the day it's just OK. And yet I keep watching, scared that if the larger mythology becomes compelling I will have missed out. What's wrong with me?
The Mentalist is better than I would have guessed. I've only seen the first two episodes, but I liked them, even though at heart it's just yet another generic CBS procedural. I do think that they need to do a better job of explaining how the mentalist is able to figure out the things he does. Right now it's all a little vague, and may as well just be psychic powers for all of the explication his insights get.
Is there any show on TV as sweet, gleefully silly, and pretty to look at as Pushing Daisies? This show, which will likely be cancelled soon if reports are true, is just delightful, and a wonderful case of many elements (the acting, the music, the dialogue, the costumes) working perfectly together towards a very specific vision.
I am a bit behind on My Name Is Earl, but still enjoy it very much. The actors just give off such a palpable sense of the fun they are having that it makes the show fun to watch. And I also like to keep tallies of who is winning in the war of dirtiest jokers - it or Two and a Half Men. Earl's are certainly more clever.
The Office has become, as Sepinwall or the AV Club noted, can't remember which, one of TV's most affecting romantic comedies ever. Who would have thought. Taking the emphasis on the now-together Jim and Pam away somewhat by focusing on the potential for Michale to find happiness with a one-click more well-adjusted female version of himself was just genius.
I watched two-thirds of the first Kath and Kim and deleted it. Wretched.
I have yet to watch an ER. Casualty of too many late nights at work. I still hope to catch up though.
I've seen just two episodes of Life on Mars so far, and am actually quite digging it. The actors are good, the sense of time and place is excellent and (so far) they are balancing the mystery of how (or if) he time-traveled with the 70s cop stories nicely. I'm intrigued to see where it goes.
The Simpsons is both a shell of its former self and good for a laugh. I'll take it.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
Like most of the world, I watched the Palin appearance on SNL Saturday. But what got me thinking wasn't the politics, or any perceived or real animosity between Baldwin and Palin, or whether or not the show used the real Palin effectively.
What got me thinking was the short cameo by Baldwin. When an actor does that kind of walk-on, especially for someone like Baldwin, who knows Lorne Michaels, and has a connection to Tina Fey, and to the show, does he or she get paid? And if so, how much? I worked for Actors' Equity for a while, in the membership department, and know how strict the unions' can be about these kinds of things. So I'm guessing that SAG (or AFTRA, I don't know who gets SNL), would require that an actor be paid even for a jokey walk on like this. But what does he get? Minimum? His regular fee? How does that work?
These are the things I wonder about.
Friday, October 17, 2008
I got into Bob Dylan, not through the old stuff, as so many have, but through the recent stuff - specifically, through Time Out of Mind, the first Dylan album I fell in love with.
Now, I had owned Highway 61 for a while, and had listened to it once or twice, and been pretty non-plussed by it. (I know.) I can't remember what spurred me to buy Time Out of Mind, but I did and was presently blown away. What probably surprised me most, given that the only real Dylan songs I really knew knowledge at that point were "The Times They Are A-Changing," "Blowin' in the Wind," "Like a Rolling Stone," and "Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35," was how beautiful this music was. How gentle and sweet and pure.
Because of this, my favorite Dylan period is the one he's in right now - the one started by Time Out of Mind. So the release last week of his latest "Bootleg Series" album, which comprised outtakes, live versions, and cut songs from Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind, Love & Theft, and Modern Times had me giddy with anticipation.
And I was not disappointed. Each of the two discs starts off with a version of "Mississippi," a song off of Love & Theft. And I find it frankly astonishing how different they are from each other and the release version, and of how good each version is on its own. This album is just an embarrassment of riches. We've got wildly different takes on songs I know well, like the almost martial rendition of "Someday Baby," which on Modern Times was a finger-popping 50s-style bluesy rocker. We've got cut songs that could have easily made the album, like the slowly building and sweetly tragic-sounding "Red River Shore." We've got live versions of songs I didn't love so much originally that completely reclaim the song for me, like "High Water (for Charlie Patton)." We've got an authentic and pristine take on a Robert Johnson blues classic, "32-20 Blues." And we've got wonderful soundtrack tunes I've never heard, like "Huck's Tune."
But most of all, we've got a cohesive, album that sounds nothing like the hodge-podge of stuff it in reality is. Others have noted it, but I must as well - this strong a double-album would be a high-water mark or almost any other artist. For Dylan, it's a collection of stuff lying around.
When I am 90 years old, I am going to tell my great-grandkids that I was around when Dylan was still making music, that I saw him sing and play live, and they are going to react exactly as I would if I met someone who saw a Shakespeare play when Shakespeare premiered it. He's that good.
Monday, October 13, 2008
I have seen Spaceballs at least ten times, although not in years. Almost all of those ten (or so) viewings came as a teen.
In the last two months, I finally got around to seeing two supremely excellent films - Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge over the River Kwai.
And, wouldn't you know it, there are gags in Spaceballs that depend on knowledge of those films.
When Lone Star and party are traveling through the desert, the score is from Lawrence.
And when the Jawa stand-ins march, they hum the tune that the British soldiers whistled in Kwai.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
In a comment to this post, Jaquandor asked why I don't drink. I put this in the comments there, but thought it bore posting on its own.
If you gave me a big bowl of M&Ms, I would eat the whole thing. Now, about a third of the way through, I wouldn't WANT anymore M&Ms. But they would still be there, and so I would still eat them.
Based on this little bit of self-knowledge (and a little bit of family history), I have always suspected alcohol and I should not mix. And we never have. In 34 years, my total alcohol consumption comprises:
- A sip or two of beer as a kid (thought it was gross)
- A sip or two of wine as a teen (thought it was OK)
- A shot of cherry brandy foisted on me after shoveling the driveway of my wife's kindly Greek landlords before we were married.
I was saying the other day to my wife and brother-in-law that, if I had a GPS system (which I don't), that I'd pay extra to get Morgan Freeman doing the voiceover, instead of the generic "pleasant female" voice these things usually come with.
And lo and behold, what do I see on David Pogue's site just now?
You gotta love, though, the latest from Tom Tom: you can buy, for $13, any of 25 replacement voices. So instead of hearing the usual monotone GPS Lady telling you to turn right in 500 feet, you hear John Cleese, Burt Reynolds, Dennis Hopper, Mr. T, Curt Shilling, Gary Busey, or, now, Kim Cattrall.
I haven't looked up the full list, but have to assume that Freeman isn't on it or Pogue would have named him rather than, say, Curt Shilling. Still, only a matter of time, right?
Monday, October 06, 2008
Another absence, another meme to return on. I'm very predictable.
Stolen from the Frog.
Have you ever been apple picking?
Many times. Taking the kids has become a tradition, although this year the place (Masker's Orchards in NY) was out of cider donuts when we went. Not cool, Maskers, not cool.
Is there a dish you make/eat only during this time of the year?
Pumpkin ice cream. Only because evil Big Ice Cream only makes the stuff at this time of year. Jerks. This year, I've managed to get the kids hooked on the stuff. Passing on your addictions to your children can be fun!
Will you attend a tail gate party this season?
No. Went to a few in college and largely missed the allure.
When do you turn on the heat?
Usually at least intermittently by mid-October.
How many sweaters do you own?
Are you fond of Nouveau Beaujolais wine?
As its a wine, no. Tosy and Cosh are teetotalers.
Do you get excited about Halloween?
Yes. Much more so now that there are kids to act as beards for my enthusiasm. This year, one will be Cinderella and the other a witch.
How about Thanksgiving?
Yes. I just really like Turkey, plus the idea of a holiday with no real agenda.
Is there an activity you do only in the autumn?
Pumpkin picking, apple picking, pumpkin carving. Raking leaves.
Have you ever burned leaves?
No. Sounds fun though.
Do you own any ‘scarecrow’ decorations?
Two five-footers in the front lawn and two little one-foot decorations inside.
Do you plant bulbs?
We mean to plant bulbs.
Your fondest autumn memory?
When does fall begin for you?
The first time I have to out a jacket on in the morning.
What is your favorite aspect of fall?
The smell of the air. Just wondrous.
What do you like to drink in the fall?
Pumpkin spice coffee.
What is fall weather like where you live?
Northeast New Jersey is very nice in Fall - cool but not too cold with lots of sun.
What color is fall?
Burnt yellowy red.
Do you have a favorite fall chore?
No. I like the idea of raking, but the actuality of raking, not so much.
What is your least favorite thing about fall?
Rainy fall days. Very depressing.
What is your favorite fall holiday?
Halloween, in a pretty easy walk.
What’s your favorite kind of pie?
Do you have a favorite fall book?
Friday, September 26, 2008
Because I'm not feeling it today, after a week during which technical difficulties prevented me from posting much, I'm going to post the first two scenes fo a play I wrote a few years back. Any and all feedback is, of course, welcome.
We open on a spare stage, with unfinished, earthy, sticky even pine the dominant feature. A raised dais, hexagonal in shape, sits center stage, constructed entirely of this naked pine. The dais is about two feet high in the center, with a square platform of about 6 feet on a side on top. Two steps lead up to the dais on all sides. A large cross, also naked pine, dominates the rear wall of the stage. The Christ upon it should ideally be carved directly from the wood, that is the crucifix and Christ would all be one contiguous piece of wood. The Christ should be somewhat abstract, but still clearly Christ. The scent of incense should be faint on the air. The lights should be of muted purples and reds, as if all the stage lighting had been strained through stained glass. The wood that dominates the set should have a well-oiled look to it, strong and sturdy pine; the dais and the Christ should be constructed from thick and solid pieces of wood with a weight to them. As the curtain rises or as the lights dim we hear music in the background. The music should straddle the romantic and modern eras, retaining clear tonality but with definite experimental aspects to it – perhaps some Schoenberg or Barber. The music will continue throughout the entirety of this opening scene, always faint and never dominant. Perhaps there is a slight haze in the air. The feeling should be of an unadorned and stolid holiness, a strong sacred and holy feeling – the set and atmosphere should, as much as possible, evoke not just a church, but a church of ancient and unmoving strength and sacredness. At the front of the dais are two wooden chairs set side by side and facing the audience. A simple wire frame, much like a rolling hanger rack, sits between the chairs, perpendicular to the audience. Hung on this rack is a thick, black cloth.
Seated on the SR chair is FATHER CASTANELLA, an elderly priest. FATHER CASTENELLA is gray-haired and well-fed, if a bit gaunt in the face nonetheless. He wears wire-rimmed glasses and is a short man, perhaps 5 foot 4 or 5. His hair is wispy and thinning but still ample for a man of his age. Seated on the SL chair is FATHER OSTRAUSKAS. FATHER OSTRAUSKAS is a younger priest, in his later twenties. He has dark hair and the hint of stubble on his cheek. Taller, perhaps 5 foot 10 or 11, and wiry. FATHER OSTRAUSKAS looks nervous, agitated, and he fidgets in his chair. He is dressed in black dress pants and a black t-shirt, but wears no priestly collar. While it should be clear to the audience that FATHER CASTANELLA is a priest, it should not be clear at the outset that FATHER OSTRAUSKAS is one.
Bless me Father, for I have sinned.
How long has it been since your last confession?
Six days, Father.
And what is your confession?
Pause. Then, more to us than to FATHER CASTANELLA. I walked through the park yesterday. It’s been my custom to walk through the park ever since I came to this city, every Sunday, whenever I’m able. This was a nice one. Sunny and bright, a beautiful spring day. There were children playing, squealing and shouting like excited convicts afforded their first glimpse of freedom in years, and each step I took felt right, felt pre-ordained and perfect. The air was as sweet as I’ve ever smelled it here, not a hint of smog or smoke or garbage, just clean, fresh spring air. I could feel the grass, feel each blade bend and give, even underneath the rubber soles of my sneakers, and it had a spring to it, an almost palpable sense of life as it bent underneath my weight. I looked up at the sky so many times I could not count, there was one single, solitary cloud hovering in the corner of the sky, like a bad child made to sit in a corner. The rest of the sky was a pure and sinless blue, clean and fresh. The sun was warm at my neck, and I could feel the pleasant sensation of moisture as the sweat seeped up through my pores at its touch. At one point I was walking past a group of children playing soccer and the ball came out of bounds to my side. Immediately, all the children started yelling for me to “Kick it! Kick it!,” and I smiled at them. I used to play soccer, back home, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you that. Grinning, I kicked the ball towards the children over their outstretched arms and into the opposite goal. They cheered, erupted almost, and I raised my arms in victory before walking on. It was that kind of a day, Father, do you know the kind of day I speak of?
I do, Kostas. Indeed, I do.
It was a perfect day, and after a bit I took a rest by the lake, sitting near the bank and watching the small boats crisscross in sharp geometric patterns underneath that frightfully blue sky. And, as is always my custom on these walks, I turned my thoughts to Jesus and prayed to him, to thank him for the gift of such a day, the gift of such a beautiful place to call home. Pause I was scared, Father, as I began to do this, to engage in this small and meaningless prayer – not even a prayer, just a quick word of thanks to our savior - fear filled my heart, Father. I hesitate to call it terror for fear of making you laugh, and yet it was perhaps that just the same. Do you know why I felt this fear, this almost-terror, Father?
No, my son. Why?
Throughout the following, FATHER OSTRAUSKAS becomes more emotional, but never hysterically so. Because I knew not what I might find. I was scared that there would be no one there to answer my prayer, I was scared that Jesus would not be there to answer, that I would be greeted by nothing but silence, that the connection I’ve always felt with God, that I’ve always been able to call upon in prayer and reflection, would be gone. This scared me, no, terrified me, Father, because, for the first time in my life, I am not sure that he IS there. Do you understand, Father? I am not sure I even believe in him anymore, I am not sure if I believe in the resurrection, the passion, I am not even sure if I believe in God at all!
Was he there to answer your prayer?
Pause, then, almost terrified
FATHER OSTRAUSKAS stands up and, slowly, reaches into his back pocket , pulls out his collar and puts it on. These motions should have a very ritualistic sense about them, and coincide with the music either increasing in volume or climaxing, whichever makes the most sense. Blackout.
Lights up on FATHER OSTRAUSKAS standing at the center dais, in front of a podium with a microphone atop it. He is now dressed in full priestly robes. Seated to his right is FATHER CASTANELLA, also dressed in full gear. Opened on the podium is a Bible. As the lights come up, FATHER OSTRAUSKAS reads from the Bible:
Steadily, but not with great passion, either. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” The Word of God
A chorus of voices responds, “The Word of God.” FATHER OSTRAUSKAS closes the Bible, takes the microphone from the stand and walks in front of the podium. Addressing the audience.
I have a computer. Perhaps many of you do as well, own a computer. I’ve had it for some years now; I wrote the first draft of tonight’s homily, in fact, on this very same computer. Yes! Priests use computers. It’s true. One of our deep, dark secrets – promise you won’t tell. I’ll let you in on another. I even have a (exaggerated stage whisper) TV! (Loud) Yes! And I’ve WATCHED it! But – back to my computer, or, computers in general, actually. I’d like you, those of you who own a computer, anyway, to think back to when you first got that computer, when you first opened that box, when you first plugged it in and turned it on. I remember that day. My brother Phil was over, he helped me to set it up. Actually, it didn’t take much to set up. He plugged it in, connected the mouse and the keyboard and the monitor, flipped it on. There was some activity to be done with a password, I remember that, and then . . . we were in. It was on. Working. I asked my brother-in-law, and this I remember very specifically, I asked him, “Where are the programs?” I had really gotten the computer primarily for word processing, it was the main reason I had gotten it, and I asked him, “How de we load the word processing program? Where’s the disc?” He laughed and, with a few clicks, up came a word processing program. It’s already in there, he said, it’s been hardwired. (Pause) HARDWIRED. Now – THIS was a concept I understood, my brothers and sisters, and I think you all understand it as well. HARDWIRED. We didn’t need to teach the computer word processing by feeding it a program, no!, it had been HARDWIRED. Word processing was one of the many things it had been given at birth, been created with. I ask you, my brothers and sisters, as I asked myself that day, are we HARDWIRED with anything? We’re HARDWIRED to eat, are we not? To drink? To sleep, to suckle, to cry? These are things we have been HARDWIRED with, no one teaches us to do any of these, we just . . . KNOW them. They’ve been - say it with me, congregation - HARDWIRED! And today’s readings tell us that something else has been HARDWIRED into us, don’t they? “ . . .Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” God in his infinite wisdom has seen fit to HARDWIRE into us knowledge of him. Now – I hear your thoughts already my brothers and sisters, “then WHY AM I HERE!!!???” Why do we come to church together, why do we put our young through the endless Sundays and drills and sermons, if knowledge of God is already HARDWIRED? Well, brothers and sisters, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, the teachings of Christ are NOT HARDWIRED, the details of His story are not HARDWIRED, but the knowledge of God, the knowledge of his existence, of his goodness, of his love for us – THAT is HARDWIRED. And that is a glorious thing. We have knowledge of God at birth, from the moment we spark into existence like fireflies spontaneously generating into a cool summer night, we KNOW God. We may not yet know his name, or his story, or even precisely what he asks of us, but we know him and we hear him and we feel him. We are full of him.
FATHER OSTRAUSKAS pauses here. Almost as if hesitant about plunging forward. Soon enough, however, he does, almost nervously.
This is a glorious thing, is it not? A glorious thing. For imagine a world, imagine, my brothers and sisters, a world in which we were not HARDWIRED. Can you? What would that world be like? A world in which the identity of God was ours to discover, a world in which His presence was not ingrained into us, a world in which it was . . . open to question. Would we believe in a God in such a world?
As he progresses through the following, FATHER OSTRAUSKAS becomes more agitated and theatrical in tone and gesture, until at the end, he is fairly screaming, or, more precisely, over emoting
Looking at the world around us, at the evidence in front of us, hearing on the news of the child who’s killed by his Mother, of the war and violence man commits against man, hell, of great tragedies caused by the earth itself, earthquakes trembling and spitting us out like rotten teeth, hurricanes and tornadoes and ice storms and lightning and lava and locusts and plagues and disease and cancer, AIDS, heart attacks, epidemics, freak occurrences of nature that take life on a whim the fragility and capriciousness of human existence the very wispiness of our lives with no control or discernible order rhyme reason logic fairness system structure – NOTHING!!! (Bitter) In all of this NOTHINGNESS would we still believe in an almighty God if he had not seen fit to burn it into our brains with no more thought given to the branding of cattle? Would we? HARDWIRED, my brothers and sisters. HARDWIRED.
He drops the microphone to the ground and walks off.
Monday, September 22, 2008
The nine nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year are: Run-D.M.C., Metallica, the Stooges, Jeff Beck, Wanda Jackson, Little Anthony and the Imperials, War, Bobby Womack, and Chic.
I know pretty much nothing about any of these bands. So I'm not going to argue their merits or lack thereof. But I do want to talk about what it should mean to get in the Hall.
The impetus for this post is a conversation I've been having with my brother-in-law today over whether or not Kiss should be in. He, a rabid Kiss fan, says yes. I, who loved Kiss as a four-year old, but really know nothing of their music, say no.
Let me start by saying that the Hall will soon, by my standards, fall apart. They can’t not induct people, or they’ll lose attention and revenue. So they are going to have to lower standards every year so as not to have very small, or empty, classes. I’m actually impressed that Bon Jovi didn’t make the cut this year – I thought they’d get in for sure.
So - to my brother-in-law's argument. Why isn't Kiss in? As he says, they were hugely popular, had huge tours, and were very influential to 80s metal bands. But: for any Hall of Fame to have merit, critical consensus must be accorded as much, at least, importance as popularity. If popularity is allowed to be a sole criteria, then, sure, Kiss gets in, but so do WHAM, the Captain and Tennille, Hootie and the Blowfish, Boston, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, The Backstreet Boys, Journey, Phil Collins, Def Leppard, Celine Dion, and on and on.
Look at it another way: According to the RIAA, Kiss has sold 19 million albums. Pop/rock artists (and with Madonna’s inclusion it’s clear the Hall is treating rock as a very broad category) not in the Hall who have sold more include AC/DC, Mariah Carey, Metallica, Van Halen (or are they in? I forget), Neil Diamond, Chicago, Foreigner, Backstreet Boys, Rod Stewart, 2 Pac, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Phil Collins, R. Kelly, Linda Ronstadt, John Denver, Britney Spears, The Dave Matthews Band, Boston, Michael Bolton, ‘N Sync, Barry Manilow, Eminem, Boyz II Men, Janet Jackson, Jay-Z, Rush, Luther Vandross, Creed, Motley Crue, Jimmy Buffett, TLC, Green Day, Lionel Ritchie, Doobie Brothers, R.E.O. Speedwagon, Heart, Genesis, Kid Rock, Meatloaf, Alanis Morissette, Nelly, Hootie and the Blowfish, Usher, and Toni Braxton.
Many of these artists have had longevity similar to Kiss’ – and while Kiss may have produced those 19 golds and platinums over “three decades,” the bulk came in a relatively brief span (most of the more recent golds and platinums were for live albums and best ofs). Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond had two of the highest-grossing tours last year.
Inclusion in the Hall should indicate a certain degree of artistic quality. When it comes down to it, I’m enough of an elitist to want some kind of critical consensus in play. If it’s purely a popularity contest, we don’t need a hall – we have album sales and the charts for that. (I also reject the notion that being popular means that an artist is "doing something right." Well, I take that back – a “band” like New Kids on the Block was doing something right, but that “something,” namely producing pop strictly designed to cater to teenage girls’ simplest demands, most of them not musical, isn’t worthy of the kind of approval the Hall is supposed to signify.)
That being said, I’m also enough of a populist to want there to be a check on critical adoration. So, yes, the Hall should be about fame as well – but not only about fame. It’s got to be both. Inclusion needs to take both factors into consideration – an artist needs to be popular and to have received some degree of critical acclaim. If it’s just one or the other, no dice.
Music is not sports. It’s far more subjective. Critical consensus may be a piss-poor rubric, and wildly inconsistent, but it’s all we have, and much better than nothing. I don’t always agree with the critics either, but if we toss critical opinion out the window, the Hall, to me, becomes worse than useless. Bands like Kiss have already been lauded by the RIAA for being popular – that’s exactly what those gold and platinum albums mean. If the Hall isn’t different, if it doesn’t recognize something more than mere popularity, it’s useless.
So. 19 days later, I'm back. Why was I gone? The usual. When real-life gets too hectic, the blog is the first casualty. I don't feel good about it. But I don't feel too bad about it either. Does the fact that I can (and periodically do) let this site lie fallow mean I should just abandon it? Or does it simply mean I need to be content with the very small-size audience and operation I've got here? Well, it definitely means the latter. I hope it doesn't mean the former.
So, here are the things in each grand pop culture category that have been keeping me entertained for these past 19 days.
Book: Under the Banner of Heaven. Jon Krakauer. A wonderful, if a little too shaggy, history of the violence that has been perpetuated by Mormons since the religion's founding, wrapped in a look at how and why extreme religious belief often leads to horrific violence. A very hard book to read, as the sheer violence can get overwhelming - this is, after all, a book that is framed by a 1984 murder and near-beheading of a woman and her baby girl by fundamentalist Mormons. Rough stuff. But fascinating. The most compelling question Krakauer raises is why we make what seem like allowances for religion. He parallels the Elisabeth Smart case with another case of a Mormon girl trying to escape a fundamentalist, polygamous family where she was undergoing sexual abuse. The Smart case was a national big deal. The other case ended with the little girl being sent back to the family. Religion shouldn't get a pass.
Movie: Bridge on the River Kwai. What a glorious, exciting, and moving film. This is, to my shame, only the third Alec Guinness role I've seen. He is remarkable as the noble-to-a-fault British officer. And I, not knowing much about the film save the fact that a bridge is built and detonated, was surprised at the very finely wrought moral questions raised. I had expected a much more straightforward story. What I got was better. Also - David Lean makes gorgeous films. I know that's not new news, but it was a revelation for me, especially having finally seen Lawrence of Arabia relatively recently. The scene in the jungle when the British officer hunt down the one Japanese soldier was remarkable. The scene starts with the British exchanging fire with the Japanese scouts. The gunfire startles hundreds of massive bats, who take to the skies ahead. And for the rest of the scene, the landscape on the ground is constantly mottling and shifting as the shadows of the hundreds of bats criss and cross. Stunning.
TV: Fringe. I have only seen the pilot so far, and liked-but-did-not-love it. The whole sequence of the boyfriend's betrayal was a bit too murky for my tastes. What did he do? Who was he working for? I assume these aren't answers I'm supposed to yet know, and yet I still feel a little more clarity could have been afforded.
Music: Life, Death, Love, and Freedom. John Mellencamp. Mellencamp's best album since Big Daddy. And coming from me, that's high praise indeed. I am delighted that he still had an album like this in him. Take that, Hall of Fame naysayers!
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Random Top Ten!!
Top Ten TV Premieres I Am Looking Forward to this Fall
I'm very curious to see how they handle this season, given that they'll have an entire season knowing it's the last one - a luxury most shows don't get.
9. Big Bang Theory
This show grew on me last year, and I am curious to see where they take the main relationship in these days of letting core romantic tension resolve.
8. The Simpsons
7. True Blood
I like the idea of a vampire series on HBO - the sex, blood, and darkness won't need to be as coyly addressed as they were on Angel and Buffy.
6. My Name Is Earl
I don't get why so many have soured on this show - I find the writing to be as sweetly raunchy and cleverly funny as always.
Very curious to see if last season's notion of a more cohesive long-term arc is repeated. It worked well for a show that can be a bit repetitious.
I'm very curious to see what this is, as the promos have left me not knowing many details.
3. 30 Rock
Did you read the New Yorker profile of Alec Baldwin? You should.
2. The Office
Did a superb job of taking the Jim-Pam thing forward without artificial drama or stagnancy. Can they keep it up?
1. Pushing Daisies
As sweetly whimsical and precious (in a good way) a show as I've ever seen. Dying to see where they take it in season two.
1. (So I miscounted - leave me alone) How I Met Your Mother
Will Sarah Chalke be the mother? I'm betting that we don't know for a while and that there's still a big twist in the offing. He marries her and they have kids is too easy for this show.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
There is a new daily micro paper being handed out by the PATH station every morning called The Epoch Times. And every damn time I see it, I can't help but get somewhat irritated that they've, in effect, named the paper The Times Times.
Friday, August 29, 2008
I was going to milk this, but I figured what better way to end the summer than by finishing this thing off. So - my ten favorite songs:
10. "One" - U2
When all is said and done, 25 or 50 , or maybe even a 100 years from now, I believe this will be the song that U2 is remembered for. Its prominence has come on slowly - it was not the first single from Acthung Baby and it was never a huge hit. But as the years have gone by, it's become more and more loved, and covered, and esteemed. It's a kind of remarkably simple song, at least as the chord structure goes - I can even kind of play the main chord progression on guitar (and I don't play guitar). But there's something in the way that progression moves and shifts, something in the way that the Edge plays it, that creates an indelible mood. It also helps that the lyric straddles a vanishingly thin line between too-specific and too-simple, letting multiple meanings coexist. I mean, this is a song that has been used as a wedding song and a funeral song.
9. "Jackie Brown" - John Mellencamp
This is not a big Mellencamp hit. But it may be his best story song. A simple yet powerful elegy for the poor in this country that uses one (presumably fictional) family to tell its story. The almost-buoyant guitar line is a wonderful counterpoint to the lyric, and the mournful instrumental solo in the middle does a fine job of keeping the sadness front and center. Hugely effecting for me, and always has been.
8. "Come Down in Time" - Sting
A cover from the Elton John-Bernie Taupin tribute album. I've never heard the original. But Sting's slow-jazz version, with just piano and bass, is as beautiful a thing as I've ever heard. I did a play in college once where I played a character who was sad and depressed and down, and I used this song to get into the right mindset every night. Gorgeously melancholy.
7. "God Only Knows" - Beach Boys
A thing of pure beauty, and already the song that I think the Beach Boys are being most-remembered for. What a pristine arrangement. Also - best use of sleigh bells in any song ever, right? I love the low piano figure that bridges the first two verses - so theatrical and music hall-y. And that schizo, staccato instrumental bridge! It really shouldn't work at all, and yet - it does!
6. "Please" - U2
In a pretty bad ABC special promoting the album in 1997, narrator Dennis Hopper has a line about how in 1997 U2 was still writing songs like "Sunday Bloody Sunday," only now they were called "Please." True, actually. This may be U2's most musically sophisticated song - certainly Larry Mullen Jr. has never had a drum part as jazzy and slinky as this one. Pop is a pretty dark album, and this song is a big part of why. The music has a kind of haunted paranoia to it that is just delicious, and I love how Bono's impassioned delivery kicks up a notch at the end.
5. "When the Angels Fall" - Sting
A song you probably don't know. This is the song that ends Sting's best album, The Soul Cages. As I said when writing about "Island of Souls," this album could really form the basis of a fine musical. This is the finale. I can muddle my way through this on piano, and the chords and changes are just wonderful, full of unexpected tensions and releases. I love how damn slow he takes this song, how deliberately paced it is. It's also got a great subject and lyric - it's about letting go of your faith, which is a subject not many pop songwriters get around to.
4. "Check It Out" - John Mellencamp
I'm going to cheat an steal from myself. Here's what I wrote on this previously:
Back when I first started to get into music, when my music collection was still small but had started to gain some mass, I made a list of my 100 favorite songs (blogging impulses were clearly there long before there was blogging). And as time went on, I would periodically revisit the list, adding in new songs I had discovered and shuffling others as my tastes evolved. And yet every time I made my list, one song always took the top spot. Now, if I were to compile such a list today (and I just might!), I'm not sure that John Mellencamp's "Check It Out" would still come out on top. But it just might.
The Lonesome Jubilee remains, 20 years after its release, Mellencamp's best album. It's a distinctive, unified album that features a singular combination of county and rock elements that he's never since really combined in the same way. And "Check It Out," which was the second single released, I believe, is easily the album's highlight. The song starts with a crack of the snare a split second before the band comes in. We hear strummed guitar, bass, and drums, the meat and potatoes of rock music, but the primary element is not the electric guitar (which if it's present at all is doing rhythm work along with the acoustic) but an electric fiddle playing a high melody. It's this melody that forms the core of the song, and it's a gorgeous one - a sad, yet hopeful lyrical piece of music that speaks volumes in its quiet simplicity.
When Mellencamp comes in, after the fiddle has finished a complete rendition of this primary theme, it's over confident guitars and drums kicking out a steady beat:
A million young poets
Screaming out their words
To a world full of people
Just living to be heard
By future generations
Riding on the highways that we built
I hope they have a better understanding
This isn’t a verse, or early showing of the chorus, but rather a refrain that will reappear at the end of the song. The song, in fact, features no standard verse/chorus form – its structure is instead ABBA, with those central B sections comprising repetitions of the band-shouted phrase “Check it out!” with Mellencamp-sung pithy pictures in between.
The content here is familiar ground for Mellencamp – the changing of the guard that happens as one generation ages and another matures. My high school yearbook quote comes from Mellencamp, from the liner notes to Scarecrow actually, and it neatly encapsulates this recurring theme of his: “There is nothing sadder or more glorious than generations changing hands.” “Check It Out” is about this theme. That “I hope they have a better understanding” gets called back at the end of the song when Mellencamp repeats it five times, alternating the “hope” with “maybe.” The message is clear—while we all may like to believe that our children will learn from our mistakes and improve their lot and the world’s lot, that’s hardly a guarantee. You can hope for it, or look to its possible fruition, but you can’t bet on it.
The “verses,” for lack of a better word, paint a typical Mellencamp picture of lower-middle class life in the Midwest.
Go to work on Monday
Got yourself a family
All the utility bills have been paid
Can’t tell your best buddy that you love him
The music here is simple but effective, very American rock-based, with open chords and contented strumming. But after these lines the fiddle comes back and the chords darken, as Mellencamp questions the happiness of his typical family:
But where does our time go
Got a brand-new house in escrow
Sleeping with your back to your loved one
This is all that we’ve learned about happiness
Here that plaintive, searching fiddle theme repeats before we get to the second “verse” with middle-aged life being questioned. At the end of this verse comes one of my favorite Mellencamp lines: “Soaring with the eagles all week long/And this all that we’ve learned about living.” Here the strumming dies down and the guitar instead picks out an introductory bit of business that leads up to the fiddle reaching up to a high note, not once, not twice, but three times, each time it’s ascent halted by a gunshot drum blast. This leads into what in reality is a pretty conventional guitar solo that restates the main melody, but that in practice is actually very effective, this being the first time in the song we’ve really noticed any electric guitar. It’s also important to note that the tone of that solo is almost resigned, not triumphant at all.
After the break, we get that repetition of the A section again, with its final five-time repeat of the “understanding line.” And the tension Mellencamp achieves here, with each unresolved (lyrically and musically) “hope (or “maybe”) they’ll have a better understanding,” is quite effective. You can hear the weariness and the wariness in his voice as he keeps repeating the question, until he can’t take it anymore and the core fiddle melody returns to close out the song. That the question is never resolved is important, I think, and central to the song. After all, how well or not future generations fare is not something we really ever get to see for certain.
I still do love this song greatly, and while it’s “all-time top” spot would probably go to “Where the Streets Have No Name” these days, it’s still way, way up there.
I was right - it's not #1. But it's up there.
3. "Walk On" - U2
There's something about the piano that starts it and the triumphant and sad leaping guitar line that demand that the song be played at maximum volume for me. A great, impassioned vocal from Bono and some very simple but very inspiring lyrics about triumphing in the face of tyranny. I do find it amusing, though, that perhaps the song's mostly critical lyric gets obscured by sloppy scansion. At the end of the song, Bono sings, to a building, driving beat "All that you fashion, all that you make, all that you build, all that you break, all that you measure, all that you feel, all that you can leave behind." That "can" is the key to the lyric, contrasting the album's title and emphasizing the immateriality of our material lives. And yet the way it scans with the music, with the emphasis on the "can," it reads aurally as "can't." Nonetheless, this is a stellar, inspirational, emotional rock song. That ending guitar part is classic, getting across a lot in a very simple way. U2 does inspirational rock better than anyone, I think, and this song shows why.
2. "Sugar Baby" - Bob Dylan
Dylan stares mortality in the face and converses with it. The song alternates between a verse and chorus that really don't sound like verses and choruses. The recurring "Sugar baby get on down the road/You ain't got no brains now how/You went years without me/You might as well keep going now" is just haunting in the bitterly resigned and tired way Dylan spits it out. This is probably my favorite vocal performance of Dylan's - I love the weariness and age in the voice, the way he trails off at the end of phrases, and the way he's constructed the song around these big mid-phrase pauses - he sometimes sounds like a forgetful old man trying to remember a word - "I got my back - PAUSE - to the sun 'cause - PAUSE - the light is too intense." And what a devastating phrase that is. Really, I don't know that anyone has written about death as well as Dylan. Just listen to that last verse:
Your charms have broken many a heart
And mine is surely one
You got a way of tearing a world apart, love
See what you done
Just as sure as we're living, just as sure as you're born
Look up, look up - seek your Maker
'Fore Gabriel blows his horn
1. "Where the Streets Have No Name" - U2
This is it. The one. My favorite rock song, by anyone. I love every inch of it, from the marvelously solemn and hushed series of keyboard chords that ushers the song in; to the faint ringing guitar figure that drifts in slowly, gaining strength throughout the intro; to the way the drums kick in with power and an urgent drive partway through; to the impassioned and open-throated pure singing Bono indulges in throughout, to the perfect, symmetrical ending. And live, as anyone who has attended a U2 show could tell you, the song takes on added power and urgency--see the Rattle and Hum film for a stellar example.