Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The World's Most Useless Equation?

I'd like to extend my congratulations to Slate's John Dickerson, who has finally outdone himself this time. Already known for his penchant to write, in Yoggoth's words, "political-writing because-I'm-paid-to stuff," Dickerson has established a mathematical formula designed to demonstrate exactly where McCain and Obama stand on Iraq. Are you ready? Are you seriously ready? Here we go:

Current troops
in Iraq
- troops withdrawn per mo. * no. of months = Residual Force
Obama: 140,000 - (2,500-5,000)X * 16 = Y(x)
McCain: 140,000 - X * 16 = Y(x)
Ladies and gentlemen, there you have it, all the vagaries of political analysis have finally been squelched once and for all. No need for verbose pseudo-commentary. Just plug in the numbers and presto! It's possible that this is a joke, but I can't be sure.

In a slightly less groundbreaking piece, Dickerson ponders what McCain's best options might be concerning the inevitable George W. Bush appearance at the Republican National Convention:

When I asked GOP veterans whether there was any way to minimize the damage for McCain, their first reaction was to laugh. Since the convention starts on a Monday, one member of the McCain campaign joked that Bush could speak on Sunday night. Another veteran Republican suggested putting up an onstage dunking booth for the president. McCain could break tradition by arriving at the convention early in the week so he can take a few throws at the target.

Sounds like a good idea to me. Honestly, what can he do? Dickerson astutely notes that McCain "has no historical precedent to follow. Richard Nixon didn't speak at Ford's 1976 convention. The benefits of resignation." Ah, Nixon. At least the man knew how to make an exit, yes?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Adventures In Rap #6: "Friends"

Years ago, back when I wasn't sure how much I really wanted to get into rap, I remember reading AMG's review of Whodini's Greatest Hits, in which Alex Henderson wrote:

When funksters and soulsters who reached adulthood in the 1960s and '70s criticize rap, their number one complaint is usually that too much of it isn't melodic enough. But they seldom make that complaint about Whodini, which in the mid-'80s enjoyed a lot more support from R&B fans than the more forceful and abrasive sounds of Run-D.M.C. or LL Cool J.

Hmm, I thought. Maybe this would be closer to my kind of rap. Even though I was actually 19 years old, in a way I was one of those "funksters and soulsters" who enjoyed Baby Boomer music much more than the rap I'd occasionally heard in passing. So I thought, "Well, I better listen to some Whodini then."

Years later, I have finally listened to some Whodini, and to be honest, I don't think they sound any different from early Run-D.M.C. or LL Cool J. Maybe their choruses are slightly more melodic, but to say they have any sort of serious R&B twist is absurd. Sure, maybe compared with Run-D.M.C., but hell, Public Enemy had more genuine R&B in their music than Whodini. How long did it take before rappers realized their songs could basically be normal pop songs with hooks and choruses and all that fancy business, except they could just rap instead of sing? And how long did it take before rappers realized that their lyrics better be really amazing, or else they'd just sound silly? And that they'd better rap really fast? Not even the Sugarhill Gang took as much time between words as Whodini did.

So I've realized that, when it comes to old school rap, AMG doesn't know what the hell they're talking about. But there is one Whodini song I really like: "Friends." While no "U Can't Touch This" in the hook department, "Friends" sports a beguilingly eerie keyboard line, some tasteful synthesizer embellishment, and a drum machine borrowed straight from Men Without Hats' "The Safety Dance."

As for the lyrics, initially they appear to be the usual Fresh Prince-style "PG ode" to buddies:

How many of us have them?
Ones we can depend on
How many of us have them?
Before we go any further, let's be

Sounds pretty lame, right? But as the song goes on, the group's attitude toward "friends" becomes noticeably ambivalent:

"Friends" is a word we use everyday
Most the time we use it in the wrong way
Now you can look the word up, again and again
But the dictionary doesn't know the meaning of friends

And if you ask me, you know, I couldn't be much help
Because a friend is somebody you judge for yourself
Some are OK, and they treat you real cool
But some mistake kindness for being a fool

We like to be with some, because they're funny
Others come around when they need some money
Some you grew up with, around the way
And you're still real close to this very day

Homeboys through the summer, winter, spring and fall
And then there's some we wish we never knew at all
And this list goes on, again and again
But these are the people that we call friends

So the rhymes aren't terribly dextrous (funny/money; cool/fool) but this depiction of friendship is getting kind of complicated for a supposedly frivolous song. The second verse takes a surprising turn into romantic territory:

When we first went out together, we barely knew each other
We had no intentions on becoming lovers
But in no time at all, you became my girl
Me and you, one on one, against the world
Talkin' on the telephone for hours at a time
Or else I was at your house, or you was at mine
And then came the arguments and all kinds of problems
Besides making love, we had nothing in common
It could've lasted longer because it started out strong
But I guess we went about the whole thing wrong
Cause out of nowhere it just came to an end
Because we became lovers before we were friends

How many rap songs suggest that lovers ought to be friends as well? I'm guessing not too many. Finally, the third verse descends into a paranoia more in line with early '70s soul songs such as The Undisputed Truth's "Smiling Faces Sometimes" and the O'Jay's "Backstabbers" than with DJ Jazzy Jeff:

You say you and your girlfriend were so tight
You took her out with you and your guy one night
She even had a set of keys to your home
And you shared mostly everything you owned

But as she shook your hand, she stole your man
And it was done so sweet, it had to be a plan
Couldn't trust her with cheese, let alone your keys
With friends like that you don't need enemies

You wonder how long it was all going on
And you're still not sure if you're glad he's gone
You say, well if she took him he was never mine
But deep inside you know that's just another lie

And now you're kinda cold toward people you meet
Cause of something that was done to you by some creep
But nevertheless, I'll say it again
That these are the people that we call friends

Damn. Friends can be pretty crappy, now that you think about it. They'll destroy your entire faith in humanity, if you really want to get down to it. You can't even trust 'em with cheese, for God's sake. Anyway, that's Whodini.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Stump Speech

I've never read the New Yorker before, but I caught a link to this great (fake) stump speech. It sounds like Obama, in fact I'm pretty sure some of the lines are ripped straight from him, but the farther you read the sillier it gets. I especially like the Sammy Hagar reference:

"I’m talking about the middle-aged man from Monterey, California—a Mr. Sammy Hagar—who told me, “I can’t drive fifty-five.” To tell the truth, I never had the good fortune to meet Sammy face to face, but we did have a long and fruitful one-way conversation through my car stereo one night during a Classic Rock Block."

Just read it thinking of Obama's voice as you do and I think you'll get a laugh. And yes, it contains a Halo reference (a pretty accurate one too).

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Beats "Carrot Top" At Least

Judge: Girl Can't Be Called "Talula Does The Hula"


"Registration officials blocked some names, including Fish and Chips, Yeah Detroit, Keenan Got Lucy and Sex Fruit, he said. But others were allowed, including Number 16 Bus Shelter 'and tragically, Violence,' he said."

Can you imagine that? "Hi, I'm Violence McGee, great to meet you." Maybe Major Major Major Major got off easy!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Batman: The Dark Knight: The Gut Reaction

This Saturday night me and my girlfriend decided to go see the new Batman movie on a whim. I didn't really want to go because I thought the crowds would be enormous. We saw the 10:30 showing, it was pretty easy to find seats surprisingly.

I'll try not to give away spoilers, though I might mention a scene or two. Has anyone else seen this movie yet? Overall I sort of liked it. Spiderman 1 and 2 were definitely better. Heath Ledger was pretty damn good as the Joker and he definitely made the movie. The best parts of the movie were definitely the Joker and the Hong Kong sequence, which included probably the most awesome/ridiculous get-away method ever conceived. Gary Oldman was a chameleon as usual, hard to believe this is the same guy who was the villian in the Fifth Element and Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK.

Things I didn't like: The music! In every scene where Nolan wanted to create tension, he used this terribly annoying technique of having this tense droning sound (pardon my lack of music terminology) that he kept turning slowly up. It starts as this slight drone and is slowly turned up as the scene gets more tense, but he used this EVERY single time he wanted to create tension in every scene. I started making a motion like I was turning a knob/dial whenever this music would start, and by halfway through the movie me and my girlfriend would just start laughing whenever the droning knob-turning noise started. Ugh.

Also - It felt like there were a lot of little missing fragments of scenes that maybe got cut for time. Something would be going on with a character and then it would suddenly cut to the same character somewhere completely different and the audience is left to extrapolate "oh I guess he managed to get away." Especially after Batman rescues the girl from the party. Hold on a sec, wasn't the Joker still holding everyone else hostage at the party, what about them? Oh well, it's the next morning now, I guess everyone's ok(?).

Finally, I think the movie suffered a bit of the Spiderman 3 syndrome. It tried to cram too many bad guys into one movie. In my opinion, they should have left the rest of Harvey Dent/Two Face's story to the next movie. I really didn't care about his villain, and I thought his CGI looking face stood out too much to the Joker's more authentic looking smeared makeup. They could have shaved a good 45 minutes off the movie without Two Face. At least he was better than the awful Sandman baddie from Spiderman 3.

Oh, and did I mention that Gotham city is now Chicago? I've never even been to Chi-town and even I could tell you that was it. It practically even had the whole Von Steuben Day parade, I half expected Ferris Bueller to pop out and start singing Danke Schoen.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

6. Oasis' (What's The Story) Morning Glory? (1995)

My biggest complaint about this album: the drummer.

I can't stand that fucking drummer. 'What drummer?" you say. The new drummer. Noel Gallagher decided to kick out the first drummer. The thing is, there was nothing wrong with the first drummer. Maybe he thought Alan White would add some "finesse" to the drumming. But as Neil Young's producer once put it, "The more you think, the more you stink." And for me, the second Oasis started thinking, that's the exact second they started stinking - not much, maybe only just a little bit at first, but it was downhill from there. Apparently Noel thought that Tony McCarroll "wouldn't have been able to drum the new songs," and that Alan White was "one of the best drummers I've ever met in my life." What was he smoking? Actually, I know the answer to that, but I still think he blew it.

Most of you are probably wondering what the hell I'm talking about and have never even given two ounces of thought to the quality of the drumming on (What's The Story) Morning Glory?. To tell you the truth, I hadn't either. Back when I didn't know what I was missing. Here in the U.S., most casual listeners are probably inclined to think that Morning Glory is the only Oasis album. But this is not so. Like most of you, I figured that the drumming was just fine - nothing spectacular, but certainly nothing embarrassing. That is, until I soaked in the blazing majesty that was Tony McCarroll. You see, Tony McCarroll rocked. Hard. Sure, maybe he didn't have the fanciest fills, or the firmest grasp of complicated time signatures, but this is Oasis we're talking about here! He laid the beat down like a glistening ocean, so that all the Gallagher brothers needed to do was just push off from the coast and sail along the surface. He had a great "snapping" sound: tight, focused, danceable even. You know the saying, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it"? Well Tony McCarroll was not broke. But they canned him.

Apparently the Gallagher brothers, and everyone else in the band, just plain didn't like the guy. As Ian Robertson, one of the band's roadies, describes in Britpop: Cool Britannia and the Spectacular Demise of English Rock, "There's always somebody who gets the kicking on any tour, but it's not usually somebody in the band...It was 'You're a fucking shit drummer, I'm going to sack you, you're going to be back on the dole before you know it, what the fucking hell are you wearing that shirt for, why are you shagging her,' just everything." Apparently Tony was oblivious. "We were chatting on the tourbus one night, and he said, 'I can hack it, because I'm in the band. I am the drummer with this fucking group. The rest of it is incidental.'"

Too bad he became the band's punching bag. Because thanks to the Gallaghers' arbitrary whims, we got Alan White, or "One Trick Alan" as I like to call him. "One Trick Alan's" one trick is a cluttered, tumbling, wimpy little drum roll. This is the only rhythmic flourish that Alan knows how to perform. Half the time he sounds like he's playing with brushes. Brushes! On an Oasis album! Sure, maybe Noel figured Alan's style would be better suited to the plethora of ballads on Morning Glory, but what I liked about Oasis' Definitely Maybe-era ballads was that they rocked. Suddenly with One Trick Alan it was like Noel was flashing a big neon sign with the word "BALLAD" on it.

So once it dawned on me that I couldn't stand One Trick Alan's drumming, I have to say I've never been able to listen to Morning Glory quite the same way again. I'll be bobbing my head in excitement to "Hello" but I can't help but imagine how much better the song would be without his simpering little affectations. It's all over the place! He can't keep his fidgety little hands still. He craps all over "Wonderwall," splooges all over "Champagne Supernova" - the guy drives me crazy. He breaks rule number one in Little Earl's Cardinal Rules of Drumming: don't call too much attention to yourself. He goes WAY overboard with the fills. And you know, maybe if he could do more than just one kind of fill I'd be more forgiving. But he does the same lame piece of goo over and over again! Maybe someday I'll get the master tapes and I can just mix him out. (Stephen Thomas Erlewine writes in his All Music Guide review that "Alan White does add authority to the rhythm section." Are you serious? Erlewine probably figured he just had to say something because, otherwise, why the hell else would Noel have bothered to switch drummers unless he just wanted to show everybody that he was a big fucking idiot?)

Well, One Trick Alan doesn't bother me much on "Hey Now," "She's Electric" or "Morning Glory," I will say that much. But if Tony had been the drummer on this album instead of Alan, then who knows, we could possibly have our number one pick right here. "No Fancypants Tony" actually does make an appearance on "Some Might Say," that single having been recorded before his sacking, although he's mixed really low and doesn't sound all that amazing either, now
that I think about it.

I have a few other complains, I suppose. The hilariously boneheaded sense of humor that the boys displayed so charmingly on Definitely Maybe is not as evident, another sign that perhaps Noel was beginning to take himself a little too seriously. But flashes of the old "first absurd line that comes into my head" school of lyric-writing are still around in "Some Might Say" and "She's Electric." I mean, who can forget these gems:

'Cause I've been standing at the station
In need of education in the rain
You made no preparation
For my reputation once again
The sink is full of fishes
She's got dirty dishes on the brain
All my thoughts been itchin'
Itchin' in the kitchen once again


She's got a sister
And God only knows how I've missed her
And on the palm of her hand is a blister
And I need more time

On the whole, though, Morning Glory finds Noel in an increasingly moody, reflective state of mind. For a guy who should have been on top of the world, he sounds pretty terrified. It's like, "Holy shit! All my life all I ever wanted to do was be a rock star, and now I am one, and Jesus Christ what the hell do I do now?" In the hands of others, the whole "Oh my God I'm so rich and famous and woe is me" schtick can be quite embarrassing, but, as with the Rolling Stones before them, Oasis' vulnerability is particularly surprising and affecting because it clashes with their public persona of sheer and absolute confidence. I think one of the mistakes Oasis made after Morning Glory was in assuming that sheer, absolute confidence on its own could be appealling. But confidence mixed with doubt - now we're talking.

That whole Yin-Yang of "We're great/we suck" is present right from the get-go, where the hushed, distant strum of the (by now instantly recognizable and almost groan-inducing) acoustic riff from "Wonderwall" is swiftly overtaken by the wailing electric guitars of "Hello." At first Liam sounds as though he wants you to get the fuck out of his face: "I don't feel as if I know you/You take up all my time." But the song strikes me as more brooding than celebratory. Noel expresses his post-fame midlife crisis with a startlingly vivid metaphor: "It's never gonna be the same/Till the life I knew comes to my house and says 'Hello.'"

And then there's "Wonderwall." There may not be another man, woman or child on this earth who needs to hear "Wonderwall" again. Personally, if I hear "Wonderwall" anywhere else outside of the context of this album, I can barely even listen to it anymore. But nestled in its original spot on Morning Glory, it's gold. I mean, it's all about the album pacing folks. After the foreboding "Hello" you slide right into the relatively more upbeat "Roll With It" (which I still find hard to believe was the band's entry in the Battle Of Britpop, so blantantly does it scream out to me "Solid Album Track But Not A Single"), and then from there, courtesy of one of the greatest "cough segues" in rock, you go into those opening acoustic guitar chords, and there's just something about it that draws me in and grabs my attention every time, like "Hmm, what do we have heaaah?" Although many have assumed Noel wrote it as a love song to his girlfriend, he explains now, "The meaning of that song was taken away from me by the media who jumped on it. How do you tell your missus it's not about her once she's read it is?" Rather, he says, "It's a song about an imaginary friend who's gonna come and save you from yourself."

Then we come to what is probably my favorite song on Morning Glory, "Don't Look Back In Anger," which not only rips off "Imagine," Bowie, Dylan, and Pachelbel's "Canon In D" in the space of one song but also Oasis' own six month-old single "Whatever," and yet still somehow manages to be a flaming work of genius. According to Wikipedia, Noel "admits that he was under the influence of substances when he wrote the song, and to this day he claims he does not know what it means." Clearly the approach worked. It also helps that Noel decided to sing this one himself, giving the tune an even more confessional feel. I like Rolling Stone's theory the best, that it's about "the star's inability to sustain a relationship on the road." When Noel sings, "Please don't put your life in the hands/Of a rock and roll band/Who'd throw it all away," it's like the ultimate admission of worthlessness: "I'm no good, you can't depend on me, please don't get your hopes up."

So who the hell is Sally? In the words of Noel, "I don't actually know anybody called Sally. It's just a word that fitted, y'know, might as well throw a girl's name in there. It's gotta guarantee somebody a shag off a bird called Sally, hasn't it?". You see, the details in a Gallagher lyric don't really matter, as long as they convey the broad outlines of a situation. "Stand up beside the fireplace/Take that look from off your face"? Whatever the hell he's talking about, I think his performance puts over an overall sense of frustration and discord. And yet, despite all the turmoil, "Sally" takes the high road and suggests the singer not "look back in anger." I mean here is the question: can you come away from the pain of experience and not succumb to bitterness and regret? For Noel I imagine it was difficult to do so, and apparently grasping the impossibility of such magnanimity, Sally qualifies her request with a final, perhaps more realistic, plea of "at least not today." It gives me the chills every time. ("Anger" is also possibly the only track on the album that might benefit from One Trick Alan's lazy, tumbling style. His drum roll that puncutates Noel's raging guitar solo before the final chorus is perhaps his one true crowning moment of glory).

So maybe I'm being a little hard on the album. Number 6? Sure, I may not like the drummer and I may miss the more overt sense of humor, but listening to it now, and comparing it to most rock albums of the '90s and beyond, what impresses me most about Morning Glory is that so many of the songs are...good. And good in different ways. No one ever singles out "Hey Now!" for example, but "Hey Now!" would probably be the best song on any rock album released today. (It also contains another classic set of "Noel Gallagher lyrics that are this close to being bad but are actually good": "I took a ride with my soul by the side of the road/Just as the sky turned black/I took a walk with my fame down memory lane/I never did find my way back.") I never much cared for "Cast No Shadow" (One Trick Alan is particularly aggressive on that one), but at least it adds variety. Otherwise it's wall-to-wall winners. And by the time you get to the end, where even some of the best rock albums pretty much run out of gas, you find yourself stumbling upon...oh, what's this? Oh, it's only "Champagne Supernova."

On a more personal note: Morning Glory is probably the most well-known album on my list, and the only album I discovered in reasonable proximity to the moment of its popularity. I remember being at summer camp in 1996, at a time when I was rather green in the ways of the world. While I was busy standing in a field under a starry sky teaching astronomy to 12-year-old kids, some of my fellow counselors were smoking pot and attempting underage sex. These days, of course, I am much more accepting of friends who enjoy mild drugs and random physical liasons. But back then it was quite confusing. So for the rest of that summer, every time I heard "Where were you while we were getting high?," I would always say to myself, "I know where I was. I was in that field, staring up at the stars, apparently clueless and impossibly wholesome." And every time I came to the roaring bridge near the end, where Liam sings, "But you and I/We live and die/The world's still spinning round/We don't know why/Why, why why why," almost as if he's pissed off at the meaninglessness of the universe, (I love how the song moves from tranquility to almost a sort of rage), and the guitars surge as the boys wail "Nah nah nah," I used to imagine myself looking up at the starry sky in that field at summer camp, watching as the placid constellations exploded into fiery psychedelic creations, like the perfect audio/visual expression of my disillusionment with my fellow teenagers. I could be a bit dramatic in those days. But then again, so could Noel Gallagher.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I'm A Barbie Girl

Speaking of anorexia, I was just watching a bootleg copy of Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, the first film by Todd Haynes (of Far From Heaven, I'm Not There, and Velvet Goldmine fame) on YouTube. All of the characters are portrayed by Barbie dolls. It's sort of like Team America except not so blatantly played for laughs. Because Haynes did not gain the rights to either the Carpenters' music or Mattel's Barbie, the film is currently not legally allowed to be distributed. But legend has it that Richard Carpenter took legal action mostly because the film portrays him as an overbearing and possibly homosexual control freak.

We've only just starve, that is.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Number Six: Yo La Tengo's I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One (1997)

I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. The title alone divides us. Is this a heartfelt paean to common human experience or an ivory tower, indier than thou fuck off? Well you know which side of the divide I come down on. Ira Kaplan, the singer and guitarist, wrote rock criticism before forming Yo La Tengo. He had an idea of what rock should be before becoming a rock star (or what passes for one in indie rock). There have been other rock critics-turned-rockers before and most of them have been the worse for it, betraying a self awareness that detracts from the genre's necessary emotion. Yo La Tengo avoid this pitfall out of sheer earnestness. I read an interview with Carl Newman, songwriter for the New Pornographers, in which he explained that he wasn't a great musician, he just had good taste in music so he knew what to copy. This approach resulted in satisfying, if uninspiring, power-pop for the New Pornos. For Yo La Tengo it resulted in a masterpiece.

As is only befitting to a band that always seemed happy just to be around, the album is overtly introspective. The songs are mostly about relationships, but not the usual stuff of rock n' roll. They take place in the difficult pauses in between happiness, filled with anticipation or dread. Often they record the unspoken thoughts of one person about another. I love Brown Sugar and Blitzkrieg Bop as much as anybody, but sometimes I want something more in line with my own experiences. I can be cynical and pragmatic about human relationships, yet like Ira and Georgia, there's a foundation of romanticism at the bottom of my personality that hasn't diminished. I jokingly refer to my philosophy as "optimistic nihilism" but it's not really nihilistic. It's more the realization that life is fucked up in many ways, and that people can no more transcend this fucked-upedness than a rock can float. But you can't act that way. Sometimes beautiful things happen. I know, they've happened to me.

It helps that I Can Hear includes two of Yo La Tengo's best singles, "Sugarcube" and "Autumn Sweater." In "Sugarcube," Ira sings of his desire to "try to be more assured, try to be more right there/try to be less uptight, try to be more aware." There's no rock swagger there, but just before this he said, "Whatever you want from me, whatever you want I'll do/try to squeeze a drop of blood from a sugar cube." Now that's classic rock braggadocio followed by conciliation rather than conquest. "Autumn Sweater" never made much sense to me, but the melody is great and so is the two line chorus: " We could slip away, wouldn't that be better/Me with nothing to say, and you in your autumn sweater."

In "Damage" Ira sings about meeting an old crush on a Saturday night. "I used to think about you all the time, I would think about you all the time/Now it just feels weird, that there you are/ The damage is done." There are no Dylanesque insults, jokes, or wordplay to embellish the scene. Most songs need a little something else to keep them interesting but here simplicity works. The music deserves much of the credit for that. The songs are built on simple sweet pop melodies accompanied by distorted guitar, catchy thick bass lines, and various drones. Think Jesus & Mary Chain's "Psychocandy" with more than just treble.

I can't end this without mentioning the final track, "My Little Corner of the World." This is a cover of a song originally sung by "former beauty queen, orange juice pitchwoman, and anti-gay advocate Anita Bryant," as the All Music Guide puts it. Well I didn't know that when I first heard it, and now that I do know I'm glad Yo La Tengo rescued the song from obscure infamy because it's a great tune. In her quiet but appealing voice, Georgia sings "Come along with me to my little corner of the world/Dream a little dream in my little corner of the world/You'll soon forget that there's any other place/Tonight, my love, we'll share a sweet embrace." Since elementary school I've been day dreaming about a girl approaching me and saying just this. And then we get married and live forever in bliss. What? I told you I was a romantic.

So the album will annoy some. The singing isn't much above the "Grateful Dead" we-sang-because-we-were-there level. There is some free jazz/Velvets inspired instrumental noise. The ending track may threaten your masculinity. But don't call them pretentious. This is real, honest emotion. And after reading all the lyrics again and humming the songs in my head I wish I'd put this higher on my list of 90's albums. Ah, well. What's a number when you've got romantic daydreaming to do...

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Universe as a Joke...

...and everyone's in on it but me. At least that's how it feels sometimes, when the cosmic wind begins to blow through solid objects including me and passers by struggle to hide the curl from their lips.

Please G.W., you're not supposed to reveal the punchline just yet.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Death Proof (Tarantino)

So is this what Quentin Tarantino's life is really like? Lots of hot white, black, Asian and hispanic chicks sitting around all day chatting about Vanishing Point and lap-dancing to obscure '70s soul classics? Or is this just what Quentin Tarantino thinks his life is like? Either way, I can't say I relate.

It's probably unfair and misguided to treat Death Proof as a movie unto itself when Tarantino really intended it to be merely one half of the Grindhouse experience. But he did release it on its own and he did say that he thought it could hold up as a separate film. Tarantino has said a lot of things.

You see, I'm not a Robert Rodriguez fan in particular, and when I heard that Tarantino was collaborating with Rodriguez on his next project, I had the sneaking suspicion that this would be more of a "Rodriguez" film than a "Tarantino" film. Although the concept certainly sounded interesting, as soon as I learned that Miramax was planning to release the films separately on DVD, I figured I'd wait and rent Tarantino's half by itself. Tarantino is one of those directors whose filmography has been so universally strong that even a "genre" movie like Kill Bill is, I'd say, better than most Oscarbait dramas. I feel like if Tarantino releases a movie, I need to see it. But now I wonder if I really might have been better off catching the whole Grindhouse enchilada. Because Death Proof on its own is like a good half-hour idea stretched to two hours. I hear the Grindhouse version is 90 minutes, and hell, that's already 60 minutes too long.

I suppose he's earned the right to do a frivolous throwaway project. But David Lean and Stanley Kubrick never felt the need to do frivolous throwaway projects. I guess what I don't understand is this: if you had the talent, and the resources, and the built-in fanbase that Tarantino has, wouldn't you want to use your power to create something truly beautiful? He can do whatever he wants, of course, but the fact that he's decided to spend his time on something like Grindhouse makes me realize that Tarantino and I do not quite share same idea of cinema's role in human life.

Also, ever wonder what a Tarantino movie without any character development would be like? Here you go. Sure, Tarantino's other movies consist of long periods of dialogue, but I actually liked those characters. The characters in Death Proof are boring. Maybe that was the point. Maybe the girls were supposed to be unlikeable so that by the time Stuntman Mike tries to kill them, we're rooting for them to die. But I think you can have unsympathetic characters who are also interesting. I think Tarantino just half-assed it. That's the problem with Death Proof: it's not bad enough to be out-and-out bad, but it's not actually good either. Those crappy B-movies Tarantino loves so much didn't know they were bad. Here's a question for the world's most noted physicists: can a talented director make a movie that is intentionally bad?

There are a few keepers in here, such the amusingly improbable car crash, in which a tire manages to ride directly over a girl's face. But the movie needed at least five more scenes like that one to really live up to its potential. I'm not saying he's not allowed to make a few fun, side-project kind of movies here and there, but if Death Proof didn't have Quentin Tarantino's name on it, then whoa nelly.

"Film critic" rating: **
"Little Earl" rating: *

Monday, July 7, 2008

Robots with Usher

Via Penny-Arcade; this video brought a smile to my face.

Do you guys remember this animatronic band? There was a Chuck E. Cheese near the rollerskating rink in Visalia. My response to this ragged band was a mix of fear and ultimate wonder that someone somewhere had created such a thing-musical robots just for kids! Why weren't more people dedicated to projects such as this? I was in favor of two major areas of publicly funded research, robots and NASA(not because I wanted to be an astronaut, I didn't, I wanted to be an architect). Human-machines and space exploration; if only children could vote.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

EW's "Best Albums Of The Past 25 Years" List AKA Picking On An Easy Target

I probably shouldn't even bother, but this list from Entertainment Weekly, "The New Classics: The Best Albums of the Past 25 Years," is so pander-tastic I just simply had to comment. At the very least, perhaps it will encourage Yoggoth to continue on with our (more personal and more in-depth) "10 Best Albums of the '90s" list, so disgusted will he hopefully be by the apparent lack of methodology Entertainment Weekly has employed. Or rather, the methodology must have resembled something along these lines:

1) Pick several albums from the last five years, regardless of whether or not they are any good
2) Pick an artist's best-selling album as opposed to the artist's most critically respected album
3) Pick a few blockbuster mainstream pop albums that no one holds in particularly high critical regard
4) Pick the occasional obscure critical favorite to give the list at least a semblance of credibility

This might explain why Radiohead's OK Computer is at #62 and Shania Twain's Come On Over is at #24, or why My Bloody Valentine's Loveless is at #86 and Mariah Carey's The Emancipation of Mimi is at #21. Or why Metallica's Black Album is here but not Master Of Puppets, or why Prince's Purple Rain is here but not Sign O' The Times. I'll give them credit for a few idiosyncratic picks (Life's Rich Pageant over Automatic For The People or Murmur, Paul's Boutique over Licensed To Ill or Check Your Head), but mostly I'm just shaking my head. Kelly Clarkson? American Idiot? Amy Winehouse? I just feel bad for the staff writers who had to produce copy justifying the inclusion of some of these albums. The most cringeworthy:

Britney Spears, Britney

She claimed to be not a girl, not yet a woman, but the onetime pop tartlet in perky pigtails sure seems all grown up on her third release, a remarkably assured, beat-heavy batch of impeccably-built bangers, including the Prince-esque ''I'm a Slave 4 U'' and ''Boys,'' alongside the requisite soft-focus ballads. Alas, it's likely the last time we'll see her so strong.

System of a Down, Toxicity

As nu-metal died a slow, ugly death, SOAD emerged with something darker, weirder, and infinitely more dynamic—jagged, agro rock brilliantly fronted by singer Serj Tankian's unabashed politicking and dark-overlord vocalization. And thanks to its timely release date, Toxicity's evocative banger ''Chop Suey!'' swiftly became a post-9/11 anthem.

Dixie Chicks, Home

The Chicks' third album with Natalie Maines as lead singer marks the transitional point between their frothy country and serious rock periods. Both it and their tragic, war-themed ''Travelin' Soldier'' single were No. 1 on the country charts when Maines said something about the President—making this album historic for reasons only partly to do with its innate greatness.

Shania Twain, Come On Over

She had great abs, sure, but an even greater ability to straddle — and conquer — the heretofore walled-off genres of pop and country. The result was a cavalcade of hits, including ''Man! I Feel Like a Woman!'' and the instant wedding staple ''You're Still the One.''

Yeah...sure EW, if you insist. Slightly better is their Best Movies of the Past 25 Years list, although Casino Royale at #19 and the Lord of the Rings trilogy at #2 definitely gives me pause. In sum, I wish they simply let their writers do individual lists of their own. I suppose by employing anonymity, the listmakers have shielded themselves from my wrath and scorn. Here at Cosmic American Blog, of course, we hide behind nothing...other than our blogger names.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Help Ian Curtis Find His Grave

Poor Ian Curtis. When will he finally get a break? First they go ahead and make a movie about him, now the poor sap gets his grave stone stolen by thieves. As desperation takes hold, won't someone help poor Ian?

In other news, has anyone noticed the music in the new Axe body spray commercial is Jimi Tenor's Take Me Baby? I'm certainly not used to hearing music associated with my local goth club being played on a deodorant commercial.