Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Happy New Year!

Mssrs. Tosy and Cosh will be away on vacation until year's end, so posting will be nonexistent until the new year is upon us.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Uses of Language I Don't Get

From John Lahr's New Yorker review of the current revival of Sweeney Todd on Broadway. In the sentence below he discusses a benefit of the very abstract staging of the classic musical (bolding mine):

"In this production, which sheds the eggy trappings of naturalism, even the star-crossed young lovers, Anthony (Benjamin Magnuson) and Johanna (Lauren Molina), who usually come across as ninnies, take on a refreshing, compelling sweetness."

Eggy? What in the world does that mean?

Until Whenever
Appearing in Your Own Story

Slate has an interesting piece up in which Jack Shafer takes a look at the New York Times child pornography article I linked to yesterday and debates the ethics of the Times' reporter's involvement in the story. Specifically, Eichenwald, the Times reporter, helped the subject of his article get immunity and to be come a witness for the prosecution in going after some of the pedophilic predators that had targeted him. Shafer takes issue with this, and asks the reasonable question of whether or not a reporter would do the same for, say, a teen prostitute or drug addict they were writing a story about. Give it a read.

Until Whenever
Questions in the Theme of Four

Taken from the estimable (and recently recovered from a health scare--happy news), Terry Teachout, and his cohort in crime, His Girl in Chicago.

Four jobs you've had in your life: Airline menu writer; Actors' Equity membership representative, accounting proposal writer, high school musical director.

Four movies you could watch over and over: Star Wars, It's A Wonderful Life, Beauty & the Beast, and The Shawshank Redemption.

Four places you've lived: Jersey City, NJ; New Brunswick, NJ; Bogota, NJ; and Midland Park, NJ.

Four TV shows you love to watch: Gilmore Girls, Lost, How I Met Your Mother, and The Simpsons.

Four places you've been on vacation: Jamaica, Orlando, New Hampshire, and Lancaster County, PA.

Four websites you visit daily: Byzantium's Shores, Tom the Dog, True Hoops, and Dave's Long Box.

Four of your favorite foods: Bacon, Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, rack of lamb, and blackened shark.

Four places you'd rather be: Home, browsing through a very large Barnes & Noble with lots of time, in a sunny, warm beachfront house with the fam, seeing Kig Kong.

Until Whenever

Monday, December 19, 2005

Odd Modesty

An article in today's Times by Kurt Eichenwald on the proliferation of child pornography on the Internet (teens selling pornographic webcam images of themselves), an article that discusses, among other things, how children have sex and masturbate on camera for pedophiles, includes this sentence:

"Unnerved by menacing messages from a fan of his first site, Justin opened a new one called, an online acronym that loosely translates into 'just messing with you.'"

In a serious article, one that talks about serious issues, couldn't they have run with just "f---ing with you" as a description of the acronym? Does the Times editorial policy proscribe against even the use of dashes to describe profanity?

I don't get it.

(The article itself, by the by, is good--if creepy.)

Until Whenever
Fifteen Things About Music

Now why didn't I think of this?

1. Until the age of, I dunno, fourteen or so, I had almost zero interest in music.

2. My first inkling of just how much fun it is to sing came in a fourth-grade production of a somewhat abridged version of Hello Dolly! I was Ambrose Kemper and so had no solos, but singing "Elegance" with three other students was fun.

3. I didn't start to really get into singing until high school, when choir and the yearly musical started to demonstrate for me how much fun singing was.

(For the record--my musical theater roles have been:
Fourth grade - Ambrose, Hello Dolly!
Fifth grade - (?), Best Foot Forward
Sixth grade - Abner, Lil' Abner
Eight grade - Chorus, You're a Good Man Charlie Brown
Ninth grade - Older Patrick, Mame
Tenth grade - Pirelli, Sweeney Todd
Eleventh grade - Hugo, Bye, Bye Birdie
Twelfth grade - Sanjar, The Apple Tree
College - Anselmo, Man of La Mancha
College - Potiphar and Judah, Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Community Theater - John, Godspell
Community Theater - JB Biggley, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying
Community Theater - Mr. Schlegel, Carnival

4. Probably my most treasured musical memory is of singing in the choir for a performance of Beethoven's ninth symphony. Awe-inspiring.

5. Probably my second-most treasured musical memory is of singing sacred music in a centuries-old church in Warsaw as part of an Eastern European tour with the Rutgers Glee Club.
6. I didn't like Sondheim when I first encountered his music, but sometime in college I got bit hard and became a full-fledged Sondhead.

7. Listening to Sondheim's "Next," the finale in his Pacific Overtures, really loud makes me cry--not because the music is sad, but because it is so powerful.

8. In grade school I remember performing in a recorder ensemble concert and completely pretending to play--I wasn't actually blowing through the instrument.

9. I love to play piano, but can't play piano. Ironic, hm? The pieces I have sheet music for that I most like to fumble my way through are: Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here," Williams' "Schindler's List (Main Theme)," Sondheim's "Loving You," Menken's "If I Can't Love Her," and Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata."

10. Probably my most treasured musical memory (solo category) is singing "Brotherhood of Man" in a community theater production of How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying)

11. I used to absolutely love Bon Jovi. So unclean.

12. My favorite group is U2 (really?); favorite classical composer is Beethoven; and favorite musical theater composer is Sondheim.

13. In high school I was tenor, but in college I started to lose some notes on top and moved into the baritone voice. In a high school production of Sweeney Todd I had to hit a high b-flat as Pirelli; that was hard.

14. I always wanted to sing in a rock band; never did.

15. I used to be able to read and write with music on much more effectively; nowadays anything with lyrics trips me up.

Until Whenever
Best Of . . . ?

This blog is something of an oxymoron. It's purportedly a pop culture blog, in which I write about movies, TV, music and any other pop culture ephemera that hold my somewhat easily distracted interest. And yet, as the father of twenty-one month old twin girls, my weekly dosage of current pop culture is in reality pretty thin on the ground. To wit; the thought occurred to me to write up a post of the year's ten best movies. And then I remembered that I only went to the theater twice, I think, this year (Revenge of the Sith and Pride and Prejudice). Any year's-best list I tried to trot out would no doubt be mightily hampered by the fact that I haven't seen much of what any specific category had to offer in 2005.

So. What follows is in no way, shape, or form a "Best Of" 2005 (the misleading title to this post notwithstanding), but much more narrowly and honestly a "Favorites" list--the 10 pop culture/entertainment products that I loved the most in 2005. In no particular order:

1. Star Wars - Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith
I actually just saw this again, on DVD, and was struck anew by how daring, and contradictory, the story Lucas told in these prequel films actually was. I, for one, and most other Star Wars fans too, I'd reckon, were expecting some big, world-changing event to have happened to Anakin to turn him from the good Jedi he was to the bad Sith he became. We were all expecting some huge story point to explain the creation of Vader. Indeed, over the years I expounded in several venues my own pet theory for what might have turned him (1). Instead of one clear event, though, what Lucas gave us was a very gradual, imperceptible drift from Anakin to Vader--suggesting that the line between good and evil is not completely clear. What I love about this is how wonderfully it addresses a longstanding criticism of the Star Wars films and the fantasy genre in general--that the bad guys are always cartoonishly bad, with no shadings or grays to their all-consuming evil. The prequel trilogy makes a strong case that the line between a good man and an evil one isn't in any way clear, but vanishingly thin.

2. Star Wars - Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith (score)
Williams best Star Wars score since Empire, full of lushly dark, ominous, tragic music that fit the story completely perfectly. A triumph coming after his Episode II score, which aside form the wonderful love theme was very recycled and uninspired.

3. Battlestar Galactica
Haven't seen any of season two yet, but season one was wonderful--engaging stories, well-shaded characters, and a refreshing take on a sci-fi universe. And Katee Sackhoff is one of the casting finds of the year--pretty in a very non-traditional way, and a very rare instance of that now-cliche character--the pretty girl who kicks ass--who actually looks like she could kick ass. I love me my Buffy, but I wouldn't be frightened is Sarah Michelle Gellar attacked me. Sackhoff not so much.

4. U2 Vertigo - Live from Chicago
I didn't get to see the band live this tour (first missed tour since I got into them in the late 80s), so this DVD of their stint in Chicago has been a godsend. City of Blinding Lights kills as an opener.

5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Rowling continues to spin one hell of an epic story--stuffed to the brim with interesting characters and twisty plots all inhabiting a wonderfully realized world.

6. The Light in the Piazza
A gorgeous score by Adam Guettel. I still have faint hopes of seeing this on stage before it closes. Guettel's next score will be for a musical adaptation of The Princess Bride. I can't wait.

7. No Direction Home: The Soundtrack (The Bootleg Series Vol. 7)
The soundtrack to the Dylan doc is better than the doc itself. The highlight for me is Dylan's very early, stark-yet-somehow emotive take on Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."

8. Crash
What I loved perhaps most about this film is how it took a sensitive, volatile topic (race); refused to dumb it down or metaphorize it; dealt with it through very, very real-sounding characters; and yet still did it all within a defiantly "Hollywood" sensibility--this wasn't a dark, post-modern indie film, or a dry, scratchy plotless film all about character, but a bold bit of old-fashioned, too-many-coincidences-to-be-actually-credible storytelling, in the best possible sense of the word. The film made you think, and hard, about race and how you react to other races, but it also delivered Potter-esque twists and turns worthy of Dickens.

9. Bob Dylan live at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, April 19
First time I've ever seen Dylan live (and only concert attended this year). Seeing him ensconced behind an electric keyboard for nearly the entire show was odd, but the musicianship and daring were inspiring.

10. Lost
The mix of storytelling, world-building, and character development has been near-perfect so far, and I only hope they can keep it up. I'm jonesing for a new episode hard.

Until Whenever

(1) The short version: When Kenobi is killed in the original film, the music we hear at that moment isn't the Force Theme, isn't Luke's theme, but is, oddly, Lea's theme. Why? My theory centered around the notion that there was a buried reason for this musical blip in Williams' otherwise strong use of motifs--that he was clueing us in to the hidden truth that Ben was Lea's father, not Anakin. My theory was that Lucas was holding this final surprise for the eventual Episode III, and that basically, Anakin and Padme would have spent the night together before the final and defining battle of the Clone Wars (conceiving Luke); that in the battle the next day, Anakin would be thought to have been killed; that Ben Kenobi would personally bring this news to Padme that day; that in their mutual grief they would comfort each other, ahem, physically; and that Anakin would turn up miraculously alive, witness the betrayal and go nuts. Seems I was wrong.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

Click. Bang!

1. "Under Your White Stars" - Mandy Patinkin - Mamaloshen
A delicate ballad from Patinkin's all-Yiddish album.

2. "The Gloria from the Mass of St. Bernard" - Chuck Mangione - Land of Make Believe
I get the feeling that Mangione's brand of melodic, big, full jazz sound is considered a bit cheesy, but I love it. This combination of swinging' jazz and choral odes to God is an odd mix, but one that works for me.

3. "Mad World" - Tears for Fears - Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits)
The original, not the big UK X-Mas hit of a few years back.

4. "November 22, 1963" - John Weidman - Assassins (Original Cast Recording)
The original cast CD of Sondheim's Assassins featured this full-length scene from the play in its entirety. It's a riveting, theatrically imaginative scene, in which John Wilkes Booth magically appears in the Texas Book Depository and convinces Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate Kennedy. Creepy, chilling stuff. I used an edited version of this for my standard audition monologue in college.

5. "Lucky Town" - Bruce Springsteen - The Essential Bruce Springsteen
Not one of my favorites, but in truth it's not a bad rock song.

6. "How Long Has this Been Going On?" - Elvis Costello - Kojak Variety
Elvis does standards better, and more often, than any other rock singer I can think of.

7. "Like Spinning Plates" - Radiohead - I Might Be Wrong (Live Recordings)
I love this live rendition of the Radiohead song, it's a somber, dark read on the song, with a lovely piano accompaniment running through.

8. "Love Is Everything" - K.D. Lang - Hymns of the 49th Parallel
Gorgeous cover of the Jane Siberry ballad (I've never heard the original).

9. "Swimming in Your Ocean" - Crash Test Dummies - God Shuffled His Feet
Whatever you think of this band, the album title is just great.

10. "So" - Tracy Chapman - Matters of the Heart
Chapman's most underrated album. This is an urgent song with some interesting percussion in the background giving it a real drive, making up for (mostly) the overstated lyrics ("So you made a little money/Off of someone else's sweat/Watching people starve/While you got fat, while you got fat")

Until Whenever

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Music Morsels, Vol XIII - Myths and Hymns

I rhapsodized here about Adam Guettel's latest theatrical score, The Light in the Piazza. Today's morsel is the cast recording of his second theatrical work, which was performed after the well-received off-Broadway and regional semi-hit Floyd Collins. Unlike Light and Floyd, Myths and Hymns was not a real musical, per se, but instead a kind of song cycle comprising theatrical songs written by Guettel around the twin themes of, well, myths and hymns. The result is a spotty, uneven piece, especially on disc, but nonetheless one that offers up some real gems.

The real highlight here is a new "hymn" of Guettel's, "Migratory V," which, with a simple yet elegant metaphor, makes a beautiful point about faith. But the real offering the song has to give is it's pure, equally simple yet achingly gorgeous melody, a tune Guettel's granddad, Richard Rodgers, would be proud of. The album features Guettel himself singing, well enough if not exceptionally, on a few tracks, including the bluesy and passionate "Saturn Returns" and the abortion mini-drama "Come to Jesus." The middle section of the album includes a few relatively straightforward musical retelling of classic myths, including "Icarus," Pegasus," and "Sisyphus." The best of these is the jazzy, funky "Icarus." Some of the musical experiments work better than others, with a gospel-inflected "There's a Shout" a particular weak point, but there's more than enough here to really admire--and in the case of "Migratory V" one song, and melody, for the ages.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

15 Things About Me and Books

Stolen from Scalzi, who stole it from others.

1. I feel very guilty if I start a book and don't finish it--an odd compulsion that I've gotten better at ignoring over the past few years.

2. I love to re-read books I've loved, and I've read several more than twice (and Stephen King's It what has to be 6-7 times.

3. I learned to read at an early age, and when I was three my father used to sit me on the counter at the deli he owned in Jersey City and have me read the Daily News headlines to customers.

4. I worshipped the Curious George books as a kid, and have recently taken great pleasure in reading them to my twin girls.

5. I credit The Electric Company with teaching me to read; my father credits the fact that he did all the voices from Sesame Street.

6. Two aunts did much to inoculate my love for reading: My Aunt Maureen, who had many a Shel Silverstein book in her home and who always gave me books for birthdays and Christmas, and my Aunt Christie, who lent me The Neverending Story at a young age.

7. I own many books, but do the vast amount of my reading through the munifecence of my local library system. Libraries are remarkable institutions. Just minutes ago, I clicked my mouse a few times, and within a week, my local library will have for me the first three volumes of Loeb's Superman/Batman stuff and his Hulk: Gray.

8. I own relatively few hardcovers--mainly stuff I know I'll want to re-read and pass down to my kids (Stephen King's books and the Harry Potter stuff among others).

9. I have a real aversion to writing in books--I pretty much never do it.

10. I love used books (the same words for half the price), and have a hard time not buying something whenever I visit one.

11. I love that my niece, to whom I had read Sobel's Frog and Toad stories out of my own copy, which my Aunt Maureen had given me, wanted her own copy for Christmas one year - but only if I would inscribe hers on the inside cover the same way my aunt had inscribed mine.

12. I pine for big, fancy, expensive prestige books (The Complete Calvin and Hobbes) but can't justify the cost to myself.

13. I leave the book I'm currently reading out on my desk at work in the hopes someone will notice and remark on it, and it's worked, a few times.

14. I've written a short novel (40,000 words) that I hope to expand one day.

15. My most prized book is the copy of The Giving Tree that my Aunt Maureen, who died when I was seven or so from a sudden brain aneurysm (she was about the age I am now), gave me. It's a wreck, given that as a youngster I wasn't the kindest to books, but it's treasured.

Until Whenever
Recent Reading

What's been on my nightstand/in the bag I take to work over the last few weeks?

(Yes, I'm envisioning this as a recurrent feature. Yes, I know you didn't ask for it. Sorry.)

New Avengers (1-6), Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch
Read this last night before going to bed. I've recently discovered that my local library system houses many a new comics collection, and I've been playing catch up with a whole bunch of titles I had abandoned when I gave up comics a few years back. I had read a fair bit of negative stuff about this one, but I liked it, if not wildly. Bendis writes the characters really, really well, and that's for me a key piece of any comic. The randomness of the team, and the kind-of-lameness at Cap assembling a new Avengers after Marvel went to all the trouble of blowing up the old one was assuaged in large part by the great character writing.

Paradise Lost, Philip Roth
I read The Human Stain when it came out a few years back and liked it, but was somewhat put off by how Roth would just abandon his narrative for pages at a time to indulge in long, wordy essay-like diatribes against race, class, or whatever other thematic elements the story was mucking about in. He does it here too, and, I'm supposing, throughout his work. And it's, for this reader, at least, a bit of a shame, since the actual plots and characters themselves are well worthy of the verbiage he instead spills pontificating outside of the narrative's confines.

Here there's also another twist--the main story, that of the terrorist act committed by the main character's daughter and what that act does to him and his family, isn't begun until a 100 or so pages in. The big front piece of the novel is taken up with Roth's doppelganger writer character, the version of himself he also plopped into The Human Stain, reminiscing for us about the main character as a high school sports God. And when the narrator (finally) begins to tell us the main story, it appears (and I haven't finished the novel yet--I've got another 100 pages to go, so I could be wrong here) that he's making it up, as away to explain what had happened to this hero from his youth to explain some odd behavior the narrator witnessed the hero engaging in. Very off-putting, and, again, sad, given that the actual story--that of the terrorist daughter and her family--is quite engaging.

The Man in My Basement, Walter Mosley
I've never read any Mosley, but had heard so many good things that I felt the need to check him out. This was a great short novel, with very well-drawn characters and a slightly absurdist situation that Mosley makes very real-feeling. My next step is to figure out the order of the Easy Rawlin's books and start diving into those.

Ultimate Fantastic Four, Volume II: Doom, Warren Ennis, Stuart Immonen
I love this take on the Four with one big exception--this whole "Doom has powers brought on by the same accident that created the FF" thing is just, well, dumb. And the notion that Doom was turned into some kind of metallic, hooved being by the accident is just blech. I'm looking forward to reading the Doom-less volumes three and four.

Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx
I hadn't read any Proulx, but the universal acclaim the film's been getting and the fact that The New Yorker put her short story up on their website for free spurred me to read it. As good as advertised. It's a powerful, moving, sad story that works in large part because of her ability to make the relationship, and the powerful lust and love between the two cowboys, real and not gimmicky. One of the better short stories I've read in a long while.

Until Whenever

Thursday, December 08, 2005

What I Used to Call My Mom's Mom

The Grammy nominations are out, and I thought it might be fun to illustrate just how much I am out of the loop when it comes to the current music scene by listing out some select categories.

Record of the Year
''We Belong Together,'' Mariah Carey
''Feel Good Inc.,'' Gorillaz featuring De La Soul
''Boulevard of Broken Dreams,'' Green Day
''Hollaback Girl,'' Gwen Stefani
''Gold Digger,'' Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx

Haven't heard a one.

Album of the Year
The Emancipation of Mimi, Mariah Carey
Chaos and Creation In the Backyard, Paul McCartney
Love. Angel. Music. Baby., Gwen Stefani
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, U2
Late Registration, Kanye West

Have heard the U2 probably a hundred times or so; the others all together, um, zero.

Song of the Year
''Bless the Broken Road,'' Rascal Flatts
''Devils & Dust,'' Bruce Springsteen
''Ordinary People,'' John Legend
''Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own,'' U2
''We Belong Together,'' Mariah Carey

Oooh! I know two of these. Between Bruce and U2, I go with U2.

New Artist
Fall Out Boy
John Legend


Solo Rock Vocal Performance
''Revolution,'' Eric Clapton
''Shine It All Around,'' Robert Plant
''Devils & Dust,'' Bruce Springsteen
''This is How a Heart Breaks,'' Rob Thomas
''The Painter,'' Neil Young

I like rock, and only have heard one of these (Bruce). The Neil Young is high up on the X-Mas list, though.

Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal
''Speed of Sound,'' Coldplay
''Best of You,'' Foo Fighters
''Do You Want To,'' Franz Ferdinand
''All These Things That I've Done,'' The Killers
''Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own,'' U2

Why does the U2 ballad get nominated for "Rock Performance?" I've heard the Coldplay, I think.

Rock Song
''Best of You,'' Foo Fighters
''Beverly Hills,'' Weezer
''City of Blinding Lights,'' U2
''Devils & Dust,'' Bruce Springsteen
''Speed of Sound,'' Coldplay

Three of five, wow. My love for "City of Blinding Lights" has been well-documented.

Rock Album
X&Y, Coldplay
In Your Honor, Foo Fighters
A Bigger Bang, The Rolling Stones
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, U2
Prairie Wind, Neil Young

Go U2!!

Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media
Beyond the Sea, Kevin Spacey
Napoleon Dynamite, Various Artists
No Direction Home: The Soundtrack ? Bootleg Series, Vol. 7, Bob Dylan
Ray, Ray Charles
Six Feet Under Volume 2 ? Everything Ends, Various Artists

Such an eclectic group. The Dylan is awesome.

And some more obscure categories I am interested in:

Traditional Pop
The Art Of Romance, Tony Bennett
It's Time, Michael Bublé
Isn't It Romantic, Johnny Mathis
Moonlight Serenade, Carly Simon
Thanks For The Memory...The Great American Songbook Volume IV, Rod Stewart

Sad how the big names get the nominations here. That Rod Stewart stuff is just horrid.

Musical Show Album
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Billy Straus & David Yazbek, producers; David Yazbek, composer/lyricist
Hair, Kurt Deutsch & Joel Moss, producers (Galt MacDermot, composer; James Rado & Gerome Ragni, lyricists)
The Light In The Piazza, Steven Epstein, producer; Adam Guettel, composer/lyricist Monty Python's Spamalot, John Du Prez & Eric Idle, producers; John Du Prez, composer; Eric Idle, composer/lyricist
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Kurt Deutsch & Joel Moss, producers; William Finn, composer/lyricist

I actually have all but one of these (Hair), and The Light in the Piazza is easily the best.

Best Score Album
The Aviator, Howard Shore, composer
The Incredibles, Michael Giacchino, composer
Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood, composer
Ray, Craig Armstrong, composer
Star Wars Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith, John Williams, composer

I have two (Star Wars and The Incredibles) and have heard all. Hate to be cliched, but Williams Star Wars work was his best Star Wars stuff since Empire, and should win.

Until Whenever
Doin' the Friday Shuffle

Yes, I know it's Thursday. And?

1. "I've Got You to Lean On" - Stephen Sondheim - Anyone Can Whistle (Live at Carnegie Hall - 1995)
Rousing ensemble number from Sondheim's first, flop score, here celebrated with an all-star (Bernadette Peters, Madeline Kahn, and Scott Bakula) cast in a benefit concert performance.

2. "Strange Meadowlark" - Dave Brubeck - Ballads
Very pretty jazz ballad by the very underrated Brubeck.

3. "Guess your nun ain't coming back, De Roche" - Jake Heggie - Dead Man Walking
Sister Prejean tries to comfort death-row inmate Joe after his final appeal is denied.

4. "Grimes! Grimes!" - Benjamin Britten - Peter Grimes
My favorite opera. This is Grimes' final aria, sung as he hears the distant mob of townspeople chanting "Grimes! Grimes!" as they march to his hut to most likely lynch him. Afte this aria, he will set off in his boat to sink it, in the process killing himself.

5. "Invasion Hit Parade" - Elvis Costello - Mighty Like a Rose
Horn-accented Costello tune.

6. "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. (A Salute to 60s Rock) - John Mellencamp - Scarecrow
"What I like about you!"

7. "Drifter's Escape" - Bob Dylan - John Wesley Harding
Not a classic, but a fine Dylan song all the same.

8. "All Aboard" - Stephen Sondheim - The Frogs (Original Broadway Cast)
Brief interlude as our protagonists set sail on the river Styx. And yes, there is a lyric that goes "Get your kicks on the river Styx."

9. "The Night That Goldman Spoke at Union Square" - Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens - Songs from Ragtime (1996 Original Concept Album)
Stirring number from the score, as the young would-be revolutionary is inspired by hearing Goldman speak to a crowd in Union Square.

10. "Hey, Tsigelekh" - Mandy Patinkin - Mamaloshen
From Patinkin's all-Yiddish album. A tender, melancholy ballad.

Until Whenever


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Is He Kidding with the U2 Again?

I have always tried to keep a running list in my head of what I consider to be the top 20 U2 songs. Every time a new album is released, that list is thrown into turmoil for a little while as the songs jockey with the old in my personal estimation--and I need a fair amount of time for the new songs to seep in to really, fairly place them amidst the old. Well, some 14 or so months after the release of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, I think I have my new list cemented, at least lightly. And yes, it would have made more sense to do this after I complete my "U2 Canon" series, but, well, I wanted to do it now. So there.

1. Where the Streets Have No Name - My favorite rock song of all time, bar none.

2. Please - I wouldn't have thought U2 could pull off a jazz-inspired drumbeat. I was wrong.

3. Walk On - I don't think any song I have ever heard has made me want to play it louder than this one.

4. One - Slowly but surely becoming the one (hah!) U2 song that will be remembered in the decades hence.

5. Sunday Bloody Sunday - Maybe the defining riff of Edge's career, almost classical in its elegant simplicity.

6. Pride (In the Name of Love) - Bono singing higher than he should; a capsule definition of his career, in a lot of ways.

7. Bad - Live, the setting in which this song becomes truly incandescent.

8. Acrobat - A forgotten deep cut off of Achtung Baby, one of the most impassioned and desperate songs the band has laid down.

9. City of Blinding Lights - If you couldn't get to a concert (like me), get the Chicago DVD and revel in the way this song opens the show. Palpable chills.

10. Kite - Heartbreaking ode to a child; its sister song is below.

11. Beautiful Day - Crank it up on a sunny day with the car windows down and the breeze pouring in. Priceless.

12. All I Want Is You - Epic sweep, filled with a lush grandeur.

13. Original of the Species - The twin to "Kite," another beautiful ode to a child.

14. Mercy - I shouldn't include this, as it has not been officially released, but this song, which was left off of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb will storm the U2 faithful when it eventually sees the light of official day. Trust me.

15. Love Is Blindness - The darkest song the band has ever recorded.

16. Stay (Faraway So Close) - Maybe the most well-constructed song the band has written. In a just world, this would become a standard.

17. Gone - A forgotten Pop shout of a song.

18. When I Look at the World - A painful look at a God we can never live up to.

19. Mofo - Odd, isn't it, that it tool electronic beats to get U2 to rock as hard as they do here?

20. Yahweh - "Always pain before a child is born." Indeed.

Until Whenever

TV Land is running this week a series running down what they've chosen as the "100 most unexpected TV moments." The special itself is mildly entertaining, and some of the clips are neat to see, but the list itself is bizarre, almost random. I mean, does anyone really recall Karen telling Minnie Driver's character on Will & Grace a few years back to "bite me?" It was a funny line in context, but one of the hundred most unexpected moments ever? And the list is full of bizarre choices like this, check it out. Puzzling.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Buried Beauties, Vol. VI

Melanie Lynskey plays the slightly pyscho Rose on the solid, if not exactly groundbreaking, sitcom Two and a Half Men. Hers is a very sweet, very open and almost comforting beauty. Many a time you hear the appellation "girl next door" used to describe a girl you could never imagine living next door to - Ms. Lynskey, I think, actually fits that cliched description quite well.

Until Whenever
X-Men 3

The first trailer is up, and unlike many in the geek-osphere I am encouraged. The style and look seem very faithful to the world Singer has established in his first two films, and the hinted at dual plots of (a) humanity trying to foist a cure for the "mutant disease" on mutantkind and (b) the resurrection of Jean Gray/Phoenix hold much promise. How in hell they are going to juggle the number of X-xharacters shown effecively (see below for a list of xharacters referenced in the trailer to see what I mean) is very much up in the air, but that was a fault of the second film as well, and that one was superb. The Beast looks great, very feral and, well, blue, and I have a hunch that the casting of Grammer is going to turn out as inspired. My fingers are crossed, but I really am looking forward to this.

Professor X
Jean Grey
Kitty Pryde
And I might have missed some.

Until Whenever

Monday, December 05, 2005

The U2 Canon - Rattle and Hum

Along with Pop, Rattle and Hum gets derided often as a U2 "misadventure," as a failed experiment and a generally unworthy album. And, in the sense of an "album" as a cohesive, focused artistic statement in which all of the pieces, all of the songs, work together towards one common goal, together, in the order presented, creating a valuable and organic piece of art, well, the received wisdom is right.

But see, Rattle and Hum was not conceived as an "album" in that sense. It was conceived as no more nor less than a scrapbook designed to document a moment in time, a very important moment in time for the band--the moment when they became not just a good, critically appreciated band, not just a cult band, but a huge band on a global scale--the moment when they became huge, especially in America.

And to the metric of this goal Rattle and Hum succeeds quite well. The hodgepodge collection of live songs, new songs, and aural collections from their massively successful Joshua Tree tour contains some good stuff, some great documents of that time, and some real gems.

1. "Helter Skelter" - There's been a lot of talk about how much gall it took for Bono to introduce this live cover of the Beatles classic with his now-infamous "Charles Manson stole this song from the Beatles. We're stealing it back." The thinking is that he was basically claiming the mantle of "greatest band" from the Beatles--announcing U2 as being as big as the Beatles, in effect. I've never understood this. To me, it was always pretty clear that he was saying that the song "Helter Skelter" had become famous not for being a kick-ass Beatles tune but for being connected somehow to a serial killer, and that the band's intention was to reclaim the song as a song, not as a connection to evil. That all said, I do love the band's cover of the song,which is more muscular and aggressive than the original, and which feautures a great vocal from Bono, who was really in the peak of his vocal powers on this tour, a fact really evidenced nicely by the live stuff on this album.

2. "Van Diemen's Land" - The odd solo Edge number--written, played, and sung by his Edgeness. This is one of those rare exceptions to the "U2 really don't write 'songs'" rule I've discussed before--this is a solidly crafted, elegant little folk ballad that many a singer with a guitar would be happy to play.

3. "Desire" - The Bo Diddly homage that does a much better job than you first think at melding American roots rock with U2's more ethereal style. A nice stomp of a quick, tossed-off rock song.
4. "Hawkmoon 269" - This mini-epic, replete with timpani, has always struck me as being woefully underappreciated. The slow build to a climax and the Cash-esque growl Bono shows off do a lot to create real tension and drama, and the big climax at the end, with Bono very likely doing a lot of the vocal damage that would become readily apparent in the 90s through hoarse shouts that would make Daltry himself proud, is suitably ferocious. And that Hammond organ intro? That would be Mr. Bob Dylan himself tickling those keys.

5. "All Along the Watchtower" - From an impromptu free concert U2 did in San Francisco during the tour. There's a truly awesome moment in the film where we see the band in a trailer before hitting the stage deciding on the cuff to do this song. The Edge figures out the chord progression on an acoustic guitar while Bono tries out a verse. At the same time, we hear a roadie yell out for someone to "find someone who knows all the words to 'All Along the Watchtower.'" Brilliant. The rendition U2 comes up with won't make anyone forget Hendrix, but it's a raw, intense performance closer in spirit to the Dylan original than anything else.

6. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" - Live from Madison Square Garden. The band brought a local gospel group that had been doing the song as a gospel song on stage to do the song with them, and it's an inspired performance that really brings out the joy and passion in the song, which was almost laconic on disc. Easily my favorite version of this song.

7. "Freedom for My People" - Again, it's an aural scrapbook. Just 30 seconds or so of a street musician singing some blues.

8. "Silver and Gold" - Another live cut, of a Bono original he had penned after being shamed by the likes of Keith Richards at not knowing any blues songs, or being at all conversant with the giants of the genre. Bono went back to his hotel room that night and penned an original blues song, "Silver and Gold." This live version undercuts a little of the bluesiness, but adds a lot of drama and tension. Bono's mid-song rant at the evils of apartheid ("am I buggin 'ya? I don't mean to bug 'ya.") has entered the pantheon as a near-Spinal Tap-esque moment of almost-self-parody, but this is more solid than you probably remember.

9. "Pride (in the Name of Love)" - A great live version of this U2 classic, inspirational and spirited.

10. "Angel of Harlem" - U2 records in Sun Studios, alongside the ghost of Elvis himself. U2 and horns by all rights should not mix, but they do, quite well in fact, at least here (and on "When Love Comes to Town," actually).

11. "Love Rescue Me" - A true forgotten U2 gem. This is another exception to the rule mentioned above--this is a classic song, in structure and form, and I'm surprised it hasn't been covered a ton. Dylan worked with the band on the song, and if the rumors are true, there exists somewhere a recording of Dylan singing some of this--in the end he decided that he didn't want to be on the track and the vocals are all Bono's. This is very Dylan-esque, in lyric and in the music, and is really an all-time great U2 song, albeit one most people completely forget about.

12. "When Love Comes to Town" - Another inspired collaboration, this time with blues legend B.B. King. A great rip of a blues song, with Bono delivering some very B.B.-esque vocals and lyrics.

13. "Heartland" - The song that probably feels most out of place, this feels like a Joshua Tree outtake, and might be for all I know. Not bad, per se, but very kind of generic U2 mood music.

14. "God Part II" - A sinister steam locomotive of a song with some wonderfully biting, snarled lyrics.

15. "The Star Spangled Banner" - This snippet of Hendrix at Woodstock serves as the intro to the live "Bullet the Blue Sky," and it's quite an effective transition.

16. "Bullet the Blue Sky" - A blistering take on what would become a live U2 staple--it's been featured, almost always prominently, in pretty much every tour since this one. This original stab stands up very, very well, with great, intense guitar work from the Edge and a tough, insistent backbeat from Larry and Adam. The Edge's solo, while devoid of pyrotechnics, is distilled beauty.

17. "All I Want Is You" - The cut everyone remembers, and rightly so. This is a gorgeous ballad, tender and open at first and passionate and aching at the end. Entertainment Weekly named it the fifth-greatest love song ever earlier this year, and who am I to argue? This song features my all-time favorite Edge guitar solo, double-tracked as it likely may be.

Until Whenever

Making Gates Look Like a Chump

Forbes magazine presents its annual list of the 15 richest make-believe people. I like that they play it mostly straight, as if it were just another Forbes list. Seen via News From Me.

Until Whenever

Friday, December 02, 2005

1. "The Girl I Mean to Be" - Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman - The Secret Garden (Original Broadway Cast)
The solo by the little girl that New York-area folk of a certain age will remember well from the ad they ran incessantly during the show's run. "I need a place . . . "

2. "Angel Band" - The Stanley Band" - O Brother Where Art Thou? (Original Soundtrack)
Not sure why I eventually broke down and bought this. It's good, but I really don't listen to it.

3. "A Warm Night" - Jake Hegie - Dead Man Walking
An aria from the opera in which our death-row-dwelling lead sings, gorgeously and sadly, about a warm memory from his pre-incarceration days.

4. "Yeah! I Live on My Grape Ranch" - Frank Loesser - The Most Happy Fella (2000 Studio Cast)
Short dialogue scene from this complete recording of the entire play, on three discs.

5. "This Time" - Smashing Pumpkins - MACHINA/The Machines of God
Pretty generic Pumpkins.

6. "By the Rivers Dark" - Leonard Cohen - Ten New Songs
Cohen in his speaking mode.

7. "Airport at Biarritz" - Stephen Sondheim - Stravisky (score)
Pretty little bit of underscore.

8. "Cello Concerto, Op. 22: Allegro Moderato" - Samuel Barber - Barber: Cello Concerto and Medea
He's much more than "Adagio for Strings."

9. "The Rising" - Bruce Springsteen - The Rising
This was the big single they pushed from this album a few summers back, but it's one of the album's weaker tracks.

10. "Entr'acte" - Tom Schmidt and Henry Jones - 110 in the Shade (1999 Studio Cast)
This is an underappreciated, heartland-flavored, Coplandesque score from the Fantasticks team.

Until Whenever

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I Won't Brook It

The Recording Industry Association of America's site has a nifty list of the top-selling (in the US) artists. I never would have guessed that Garth Brooks comes in at #4--with a total of over 100 million albums sold. Who knew? My boys, U2, come in pretty far down the list--with 50.5 million. I wonder what the list would look like if worldwide sales were taken into account?

The top ten, in millions sold:
in Millions)
The Beatles - 168.5
Elvis Presley - 116.5
Led Zeppelin - 107.5
Garth Brooks - 105.0
The Eagles - 89.0
Billy Joel - 78.5
Pink Floyd - 73.5
Barbra Streisand - 70.5
Elton John - 69.0
AC/DC - 66.0

Until Whenever
Stupid NBC

As discussed at length elsewhere, I still very much enjoy the oft-maligned current and past few seasons of ER. I also have a fine appreciation for Parminder Negra, who plays Neela on the show, also documented elsewhere. Which is why I hate NBC so much. For the past two seasons or so, ER has been spooling out a well-done and simple love story between Neela and Gallant. At the end of, I believe, the 2003-2004 season, Gallant , a reservist, was called up to active duty in Iraq. Right before he left he and Neela finally acknowledged the attraction that they had been ignoring all season. Since then we've gotten small tastes of how their long-distance love has grown, as well as a very sweet episode last year with Gallant home briefly on leave in which their love was, ahem, consummated. And now, according to the bozos in the NBC promotional department, they are going to get married in tonight's episode. I love that they are putting the two together like this and it feels very right for the characters, but I did not want to know this beforehand. The NBC promo bozos see intent on spoiling all their shows, and especially ER by giving away well-crafted and well-earned plot points like this that I'm sure the writers and producers would rather us find out by, you know, watching the show. I swear, if The Sixth Sense had been a TV show on NBC, NBC would have given away the secret in August before it even premiered. Idiots.

Until Whenever