Tuesday, August 26, 2008

September at the Silent Movie Theater: Hip Hop Movies

It's pretty pathetic that I've still never gone to the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax (which no longer shows exclusively silent movies since they were taken over by a shadowy entity known as The Cinefamily), but that will change in September.

Word is Born: Hip Hop at the Movies, 1979-1984

9/2 @ 8pm / SERIES: word is born
Wild Style
Bongo Barbership

9/11 @ 8pm / SERIES: word is born
80 Blocks From Tiffany's
The Deadly Art of Survival

9/14 @ 8pm
Beat Street

9/18 @ 8pm / SERIES: word is born
Style Wars
Stations of the Elevated
All City

9/23 @ 8pm
Delicious Vinyl presents: L.A. Old-Skool, 1982-1989

9/25 @ 8pm / SERIES: word is born
Beat This! Hip-Hop Rarities

I can skip Beat Street and Breakin', but the rest gets me giddy. I've seen Style Wars and Wild Style, but the bonus short films make these screenings pretty attractive. And 80 Blocks From Tiffany's? I watched part of it on YouTube before it was removed, but I can't stand watching a movie on YouTube. And The Deadly Art of Survival! Fuck yeah!

P.S. The other shoe drops!

P.P.S. Fixin' to move Brandy up to Oakland (permanently, she's got an apartment and all that), so probably no blogging for the next few days. I'll see if I can squeeze one more post out before I leave.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Underground Scene

This is pretty wild. They've discovered an abandoned underground city beneath Leavenworth, KS. Several city blocks of storefronts underground, like Underground Atlanta, but nobody had any idea it was there. Nobody knows why it was built. Go nuts with your conspiracy theories!

And dude...DUDE!...an early demo of A Tribe Called Quest's "Scenario" with contributions from members of De La Soul, Jungle Bros. and Black Sheep!

I like this post, with some poetic language about video game kill screens. "Then there is Galaga, which eventually closes in solitude. After everything comes nothing. No enemy armada. No music. No score. Just you and the existential void."

One last grad show Monday night at the Ice House. Come out and see some comedy. Special Guest Maria Bamford!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

7 Houses

OK, here's the point, which nobody on CNN seems to understand: the only reason McCain's 7 houses are even a topic of conversation is because the McCain campaign insists on trying to paint Obama as some kind of elitist. You can't play the elitist card if you own 7 (or even 4, which is the amount he seems to actually live in) houses. The only purpose of this attack is to take the"elitist" bullshit off the table--we're both millionaires, so let's go on from there. Well, it probably sets up a good basis to attack McCain's economic ideas, which should alway be (but never is) the strike point for Democrats.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


This was my favorite band c. 1981. At the time, they were just the fastest band I'd ever heard, and in my mindset at the time (age 12-13), that pretty much meant they were the best band I'd ever heard. Actually, the song sounds better on the album. Someone uploaded the whole thing, so you can listen to it here, and also check out the blazing "Fire Down Under" and "Run For Your Life," and the catchy tune "Outlaw."

I almost got to see them live, opening for Rainbow, but they cancelled and were replaced with Krokus, which pretty much left me having to watch Rainbow and Krokus. I have no idea about the weird furry thing on their album covers (possibly a reference to their bassist at the time, Kip Lemming?).

Monday, August 18, 2008

What Would Jesus Buy/Super High Me

Apparantly, Morgan Spurlock has given rise to a whole cottage industry of wacky, vaguely political documentaries. Supersize Me may end up being the Clerks of the 00's.

Nothing wrong with that, mind you. In fact, I like the idea of easily-disrtibuted political propoganda DVD's. Getting someone to watch The Corporation seems like a very easy way to win them to our side of the argument, and takes a lot less convincing than getting them to read Chomsky or Zinn. And if you can make a funny, entertaining movie while doing it, why not? Spurlock's Michael Moore Lite style serves him well on Supersize Me. The hook of watching Spurlock destroy his body on McDonald's drags you in, but the meat of the movie is all the bits of research and information that he throws at you between visits to the doctor (it also works against him, since so many people refuse to watch the movie based on the hook--"I already know McDonald's is bad for you! You're not supposed to eat it every day!").

And that's basically what's missing from these two docs. They have the hook, but not the research. Take Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. The guy's a fairly entertaining performance artist making a pretty good point, so you'd think just following him around with a camera would be entertaining enough. I never really got bored watching What Would Jesus Buy?, but I can't say it made much of an impression on me. It was like watching Friends--kind of passively entertaining, you know? But this movie is really like what the detractors expect Supersize to be. There are no great revelations beyond what you get from the hook, and the same points could be made in about 5 minutes without losing any great entertainment value.

I actually liked Super High Me, wherein comedian Doug Benson goes 30 days without smoking dope, then 30 days without not smoking dope, a little better. Little doubt that this is because Benson is a fairly funny entertainer (Rev. Billy is really just not that funny), and interacts with a lot of other very funny comics. But again, you don't come out of this film with any greater understanding of the politics or physiological effects of marijuana use. It's just a guy following Doug Benson around while he does or doesn't smoke pot. And it's not like I don't get enough of watching comedians smoke pot in my life.

I'm hoping for better from Bill Maher's Religulous, which is opening in October--coincidentally on the same day as this future classic:

Vacation Pics!

OK, so I know I went a week without posting, but I'll make up for it now by giving everyone what they want: slides from our vacation! Here's one of several pics from the garden at the Mai Kai:

I couldn't resist getting a photo of my childhood home (my bedroom window in the middle).

View through the bed frame of the Ft. Lauderdale coastline:

A cruise ship passing by:

There's a few more on my Flickr page.

Sentence of the Day

"Captain Walker-Smith, one-time hero of the RAF, had a cold, gray eye, an arrogant mustache, and a manner of speech so incomprehensible that one was led to wonder whether perhaps the mustache grew on the inside as well as the outside."

-John D. MacDonald, Please Write for Details

Friday, August 08, 2008

Come On Out!

If you're looking for something to do next tuesday or the following two mondays (fuck, that's a confusing way to say it...just read the dates on the flyer), come on out to The Ice House. We could use the extra bodies in the seats. It's a solid group of comics, and we have some very cool special guests coming in. As always, I'll be in back working the camera, so come by and say hi.

TCM is having it's Summer Under The Stars theme this month. Wednesday (the 13th) is Peter Lorre day, and the 19th is Stanwyck day, with several of her rare pre-Code films!

The Anthology of American Folk Music as a Google Map or a Tarot Deck (that's a pretty interesting blog all around).

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Fiery Furnaces Muxtape

I've been working on this long post for a long time, and it's changed a bit as it evolved, and I'm still not sure I like it, but I figure I might as well get it out there just so I can move on. I might have never gone ahead and published it, but I discovered this keen little website called Muxtape which is perfect for this. They let you upload 12 mp3's. People can't download them, but they can stream them, and the sight provides links to legally buy them from Amazon, so it's a less of an intrusion on an artist's profit than just posting them to a file sharing server, which is perfect for the point of this post: a long overview of the work of a single artist. You can hear my Fiery Furnaces Muxtape here. I might not leave it up for more than a couple weeks, so listen while you can.
So I saw the Fiery Furnaces last week (well, it was last week when I started writing this over two months ago). It wasn't the greatest show, but I had a good time. As you may know, they are fond of re-arranging their arrangements in live performances, and while sometimes this can be cool (like when they performed "Navy Nurse" with the lyrics to "I'm Gonna Run", and further confused things by introducing the song as "Leaky Tunnel"), more often they seemed to take the edge off of their songs (like leaving out the tempo change that emphasizes the hook on "Straight Street"). I'm not against the idea of them doing "rockin'" live versions of two of my favorite songs, "Up in the North" and "Evergreen," but the versions they played had no personality at all. "Up in the North" would have sounded great as a fast song if they'd just added a little "Roadrunner" accent onto it, but the way they played it, it was hardly a song at all.

But the thing is, over the course of the following week, I could not get those songs out of my mind, and I went on a two-week listening binge. The Fiery Furnaces have now been cemented in my mind as one of my favorite bands of all time, and crystalized some of my opinions about their music. To make talking about the band a little easier, I have set up a 12-song Muxtape of the songs I'll be discussing in this piece, so new listeners can follow along and be drawn to the cause of The Fiery Furnaces. Or repulsed from them. Whichever.

A year or two ago, I got into an email debate with my friend Rob over the band, when he referred to them as "prog rock." This was shortly after EP had come out, so their recorded output consisted of Gallowsbird's Bark, Blueberry Boat and EP, so it was easy enough to dismiss Blueberry Boat as a fluke (I wasn't that familiar with it anyway), and I responded that that seemed an inapproprately harsh term to use. And then there was DaveB's withering assessment of Widow City on his blog earlier this year ("the Friedbergers write song parts, not songs, and then stitch them together in an awkward, haphazard fashion, hoping to impress with their constant jumps"). And in light of Bitter Tea and Widow City, I'll have to agree with Rob's accusation and Dave's implication. The Fiery Furnaces are a prog rock band. This would be a problem if I hated prog on principal, but I don't (Zappa is one of my favorites, and Zappa is, if anything, more prog-ish than Rush or Jethro Tull). I don't hate Yes because they defy some sacred principle of rock n roll, because they're overly complicated and rock should be simple, or because they're a bunch of showoffs. I hate them because they suck. I think a lot of people internalize this idea that, since Yes and ELP are awful and The Ramones and Stooges are great, that there must be some organizing rule to the universe to explain this.

Listen to the last couple Furnaces albums, and you don't hear wankery. You hear great songs. Or, as Dave would have it, great bits of songs, cut up and pasted back together, so that the melodies swim around in your head. But they're great, fantastic melodies. Maybe "Thick as a Brick" or "Seen All Good People" are catchy tunes, but I don't think they can really be called "great," regardless of structure. Many of FF's songs can.

OK, I'll concede one point--the two best FF albums are Gallowsbird's Bark and EP, which are the least prog of their stuff. Bark is a fairly straightforward album, and at least half of the record is straight-up, blues-y garage punk, albeit with an extremely off-kilter sensibility. And EP is a pop masterpiece. Or at least the first "side" is. Apparantly, EP is a collection of unreleased stuff from their first couple years, but that first half flows as well as any album I've ever heard. The second half is more "out there," but still brilliant.

The second album, Blueberry Boat, is the beginning of their more progish tendencies, and I think it's the weakest of their albums (not counting Rehearsing My Choir, which we'll get to in a minute). Like I said, I have no problem with unconventional song structures, but I do have a bit of a distaste for "rock operas," and that's what a lot of the long suites on Blueberry add up to. They hadn't yet figured out how to make these ideas work, and were relying on a Who-influenced structure of building storytelling songs from bits and pieces. Not to say that there aren't some amazing songs on the album, but it's the one with the most stuff that I could afford to lose.

On Bitter Tea, the approach changes, tightens up. Instead of these little mini-operas, you get these compositions made up of brilliant bits of melody. In what is unquestionably the band's most progish song, "I'm in no Mood," two melodies, both as catchy as melodies get, are used as themes in what sounds (based on my tiny knowledge of classical music) like a Mozart piano concerto. The song isn't trying to tell a story, and seems interested in nothing more than pure melody, which suits me fine. Although there are stories to be told. Some of them are very compact, the narrative equivalent of haiku, as in the second "theme" of "I'm in no Mood":

I was so drunk last night
I didn't even undress for bed
And the pin in my hair got stuck in my head

Or this, from "Black Hearted Boy":

My mother-in-law
Standing by the stove
Hissing like a snake
She gave orders
To spill my blood

Pretty intense stuff. The one song that does seem to be devoted to an extended narrative is the title track. Is it any surprise that that's my least favorite song on the album? If I'm reading it correctly, it seems to be about a witch tempting a young lover to eat some sort of magical fruit which causes him to be turned into a crane. It sounds like one of those old Child Ballads--I'd bet that the Freidbergers have spent a lot of time listening to the Anthology of American Folk Music. Maybe their parents were old folkies? Many of their early songs, like "Single Again" and "Worry Worry" sound like they could be ancient folk songs. But I digress. I'm not even sure of the narrative I've constructed from "Bitter Tea." The only FF song I feel like I understand is the cartoonish tale "Inca Rag" from Bark, wherein the narrator (I believe the same character is voiced by both Matthew and Eleanor) finds a mummy while dumpster diving behind the Cracker Barrell, immediately calls in sick to work, hops on his uncle's schooner and sails to some tropical island where he throws the mummy into a bottomless pit (but not before treating it to fried plantains and rum & coke). But for the most part, the words seem to serve the purposes of strengthening the melodies, creating vague images, and just sounding good. Rolling Stone compared "Quay Cur" (unfavorably) to Finnegan's Wake, which makes as little sense as any other sentence in that review, but they do share Joyce's love of the English language, and load their songs with alliteration, internal rhyme and archaic idioms that make them sound like characters out of 19th century novels ("That damnable diesel never fails to deliver"). The alliteration reaches its peak on side two of EP, with the threefer of "Cousin Chris," "Sweet Spots" and "Sullivan's Social Slub." Sometimes, as on the end of "Namegame," Eleanor seems to be just savoring the sounds of the words, swishing them around in her moth, lingering on each one as it goes by: "Penguin...Mole...Sound...Chris." Listen to how she holds the last "s" at the end, as if the name has such delicious associations that she just wants to taste it as it passes over her tongue (obviously, I can understand).

Widow City, the band's most recent album, is very much in the same vein as Bitter Tea, but they've gained confidence, and it's a stronger album. It doesn't hurt that they've incorporated a Zeppelinesque sound, with distorted synths standing in for guitars, which gives it a solid bottom their earlier albums lacked, and it's easily my favorite of the "prog" albums. The words don't make any more sense, and I don't believe there's any verbal connection between the three hooks on "Navy Nurse" (what would "She's a nurse, she's open-minded, she's involved" have to do with "If there's anything I've had enough of, it's today" or "This year's champion dwarf marigold?"), but the interwoven melodies are even more complex.

The one beef I have with Widow City is that it doesn't have any short, simple songs. On both Blueberry Boat and Bitter Tea, the Freidbergers set aside some time for these simple little "traditional" songs that sound so beautiful, and so achingly familiar, as if you'd known them all your life. These songs are thrown into relief by weird-as-hell songs like "Wolfnotes" and the genuinely psychedelic "Vietnamese Telephone Ministry." "Waiting to Know You" from Bitter Tea is a my-true-love-is-out-there-somewhere song that's almost as good as "Ana Ng," and "Birdy Brain" from Blueberry Boat is so generous with it's simple melody that it's almost cloying, but not quite. It sounds like a song the family might play on a piano in the parlour. Part of the mystique of this band comes from the feeling that these two siblings have a shared mythology they've been building since childhood, a hidden backstory to all their songs. I always think of Brenda and Billy on Six Feet Under, with their Nathaniel and Isabell alter egos. You can imagine this whole unspoken world the two inhabit together. Which brings us, I suppose, to "the grandmother album."

I figured that, in the midst of this temporary obsession, now was the time to finally download Rehearsing My Choir, the album they recorded with their grandmother. It's a difficult album, and it was met with hatred when it was released two years ago. It's not hard to see why--the album mostly consists of the grandmother telling stories about growing up in Chicago, and she has a very creaky, old woman voice. There is constant musical accompaniment, but little that could be considered real songs. But it's really quite a remarkable album. It's not an album I'll be listening to much over the course of my life, just as I probably won't go in for many repeat viewings of Magnolia or Inland Empire, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable for the times when I do listen to it. My favorite track is the opener, "The Garfield El," which captures both the propulsive sound and feel of being on a train and the excitement of a young girl's first train ride. Throughout the record, these sort of perfect little moments pop up, where the music emphasizes the story.

I was going to finish by linking to this great live recording that Matthew Perpetua posted, but the link has since expired. Prog-crastination.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Big Government Liberals

Those fucking liberals are always wanting big government programs to solve every little problem, instead of allowing people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and letting the invisible hand of the market work its magic. Take, for instance, this week, when Republican candidate Barrack Obama suggested that the solution to high oil prices might be to cut back on gas consumption, and do things like getting your tire pressure checked and your car tuned up to improve your mileage. Sound advice, following the law of supply and demand. Of course, those big government liberals were appalled at such an idea, and left-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh has even demanded that the government subsidize oil companies. Of course, that's the solution to every problem for liberals like Limbaugh.

Have you seen this footage of McCain at Sturges?

I wonder how people would react to Obama saying something like that.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Shine A Light (Martin Scorsese, 2008)

"The truth is, we're both pretty lousy, but together we're better than any 10 others."

-Keith Richards, asked whether he or Ron Wood is the better guitarist

"I love the 'stones, can't believe they're still doing it after all these years. I watch 'em every chance I get...ol' Fred and Barney"

-Steven Wright

In 1968, the Stones and a bunch of other bands recorded a concert for TV called the Rock and Roll Circus. After the recording, the Stones were pissed off that The Who had, in their opinion, blown them off the stage, and the show never aired. It sat in a vault until the mid-90's, when it finally got a video release. The Who play "A Quick One While He's Away," and they play it with as much flash and fury as any rock band in the world ever could, and when the Stones come on and open with "Jumpin' Jack Flash," you can see where they were coming from. On a straight-up rock n roll song, there's just no way they can keep up with the Who. But then they slip into songs like "Parachute Woman," "No Expectations" and "Sympathy for the Devil," and they start to show off their real strengths, snaking through these slinky, dirty blues riffs. And you know what? They stomp the shit outa the Who.

And this has been a consistent truth about the Stones: in a live show, they suck at the straight-up rockers that begin and end their sets, but they shine on the bluesy grooves in the middle. It was true of Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out (what's the track that gets played off that album? The sped-up "Street Fightin' Man?" No, it's "Midnight Rambler."), and it was true of the Madison Square Garden concert that aired on HBO a year or so ago. Most of that show was pretty awful, but they sunk right into "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'" and delivered an amazing "Tumblin' Dice," the hilight of the show.

On Shine a Light, which is easily the best recorded Stones show since the late 60's days of Ya-Ya's, Circus and Gimme Shelter, and just maybe the best of their whole career, the hilight is "Champagne and Reefer" with Buddy Guy. It's not treated as a big event, like you could imagine, say, Eric Clapton playing this song with Buddy Guy, a chance to see two great guitarists side by side. Instead, it's as if Buddy Guy had always been a member of the Rolling Stones. They just slide right into the pocket, and everything just gels. As great as Buddy Guy is, the Stones make him greater, which I think is the idea Keith is getting at in the quote at the top of this post. None of the Stones are crackerjack aces at their instruments, but together, they're a BAND.

(I'd also point out that the cameras at this show were manned by half a dozen Oscar-winning cinematographers, and if you think "who cares?", look at that moment where Keith spits out his cigarette in a cloud of sparks and smoke. Think of the skill and precision needed to capture that moment, to get the shudder speed or whatever it is...see, I don't even know the words to talk about it.)

"Tumbling Dice" isn't quite as good here as it was at that MSG show, but it's still fantastic. Whereas, at MSG, they were right down in that groove, here they're riding on top of it, partying to their own music, as if their favorite song had just come on the radio. And Mick sure does move for his age. If I tried to dance like that...hell, if I moved as much as Ronnie does on that song, I'd be out of breath!

For most of my life, I've thought of the Stones as "too old." Dinosaurs that should have retired long ago. As they slid from being "still great, but not as great as they once were" (Goat's Head Soup through Some Girls - note that even this period was ancient history by the time I started listening to rock music) to "not great, but still good (Emotional Rescue [which gets a bad rap because of the awful title track] through Undercover), to just lame but if you look for it, you can find some OK stuff buried on their albums (from Dirty Work on), they increasingly looked not just irrelevent, but pathetic, and the conventional wisdom that they "should have called it quits after___________(insert name of last good album, Some Girls or Tatoo You or whatever) became accepted as fact. But now, something has happened. They've come out of the other end of the "too old" tunnel. There's no point in putting up an argument--they are self-evidently old men--but they've entered the realm of B.B King or Willie Nelson, whose music actually gains a sense of gravity from their age. Last year, I rented a John Lee Hooker video anthology from the library. I'd seen plenty of footage of JLH, but I'd never seen footage of him as a young man. And you know what? It's not as good! His voice doesn't have that gruff authority, just as his face isn't lined with hard-earned wrinkles and crags, the same crags you see on Keith and Ronnie's faces in Shine a Light. They're too old to be a great rock and roll band, but they're perfect as folk legends (and with a little historical distance, it all becomes folk music). I don't expect them to ever record an album half as good as Exile on Main Street again, but as a live band, they might be entering their golden age.

Letters To The Editor

More fun from the archives! I used to write a lot of letters to the editor when I lived in Athens. Sometimes it would be a serious response to something I'd read in the paper that I felt needed to be rebutted, sometimes it was just me blowing off steam. Once I wrote one in response to an article about the property seizures that were taking place during the height of the War on Drugs, where the police had the authority to seize your shit if they suspected it of being used for drugs, and it was virtually impossible to get your shit back even if you were found innocent. I got a bunch of phone calls on that--not from other hippies, but from farmers that lived in the area who had had their shit taken by the police! One guy talked to Bobbie for a long time about how the cops had seized his truck because they thought he was hauling bails of pot on it, and when he proved that it was hay, he still couldn't get his truck back!

Anyway, let me give you some context for this one. In the 90's, the city of Athens was building a new civic center, and they decided to put a statue of Athena in front of the center. You know, because the city is called Athens and the statue would link the city to its classical roots and all that jive. This being the bible belt, you get a lot of people upset about this. For example (you might have to click on the images to get them big enough to read):

There was actually this old, conservative racist guy who wrote a column for the paper, and his column on the subject was so much worse than that letter. I wish I'd saved it. I think he predicted that Athens would be swallowed up by an earthquake or something. And just to be logical for a second, the point she raises about what the reaction would be if the city put a statue of Jesus outside the civic center is pretty stupid, since nobody actually worships Athena anymore (or so I thought...). Anyway, here's my response:

I think that last paragraph was laying it on a little too thick, but you can't really go back and edit something like that, can you? After this, I spent the next week reading the letters every morning, because I was sure that some crazy Southern Baptist would write in with a hilarious, fuming response. Instead, I get this:

"I truly hope that you do not consider a comics company, especially Marvel, to be a sound place to look for religious validation." Like, "OK, DC I could understand, but Marvel...?"