Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Putting Your Presents to Good Use

Maybe the best film ever showcasing what you can do with your Christmas Presents!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Year In Music

From my vantage it was a better year for songs than for albums, so here are my fave songs of the year. Listed in a vague order.

Statement by Boris
Absolute Stooge-worthy, string-shredding riffage from Japanese psych/stoner/metal overlords. The remix of this song, Message, is mighty strong as well. Tense, taught and bringing out the kraut.
Watch & Listen here.

Better Get To Livin’ by Dolly Parton
Over the past several years, people have been psyched by Dolly’s return to her bluegrass roots. But honestly, I got to say Dolly is at her best when she hauls out the pop gloss. Don’t deny it. You love Here You Come Again as much as any other song in her catalogue. Better Get to Livin’ may be one of her all time greats. I know her first tv show didn’t do well, but if they’re looking for an Oprah replacement or a new regular on The View, this song ought to serve as her job interview.
Watch & Listen here.

We Call Upon The Author by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
It’s a late career renaissance. The rock quotient is up and the growl and bite are back. This song is an erudite scorcher. Geez. An “erudite scorcher”. Not many acts can pull off that combo.
Watch & Listen here.

Why Do You Let Me Stay Here? by She & Him
Sounds so old and so new at the same time. Killer combination of girl groupieness, country pop, and folk.
Watch & Listen here.

La Fin Du Monde by The Dirtbombs
Have Mick Collins and crew been spending time watching French Canadian tv on Detroit’s UHF channels? Not sure, but this French language entry steals the show on their latest We Have You Surrounded. It’s a hit in any language. The track surprisingly veers heavily into pop territory for these primitive rockers.

All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You) by Paul Weller
Paul Weller, where have you been for the last 30 years? His latest, 22 Dreams is one of the best of the year. It’s got the all the Weller stylings from Mayfield-soul to mod rockers. But damn it’s good.
Watch & Listen here.

The Cock Crows at Sunrise by Victor Krummenacher
Speaking of late career renaissance, former Camper Van man Victor K is on a roll. His latest album, Patriarch’s Blues, showcases this old salt getting a little feistier. Full disclosure coming. This tune features some killer vocals by my wife, Alison Faith Levy, and is a monster on cd and in their live set. They have a record forthcoming under the name McCabe & Mrs. Miller due out next year that's gonna be hot.
Listen Here.

Always A Friend by Alejandro Escovedo
Escovedo performed this one with the Boss. Check it out on YouTube. Pretty cool. And it makes sense. Real Animal is a roots rock record that moves a hint toward MOR/AOR territory, but I love it. I might add that local hot shot Chuck Prophet co-penned a lot of this stuff.
Watch & Listen here.

I Will Possess Your Heart by Death Cab For Cutie
Their set at the Bridge show and my son’s obsession with this band has won me over. Plus this song is just awesome.
Watch & Listen here.

Nothing Ever Happened by Deerhunter
Just picked this record up. Lots of indie rock influences all over the place. Sebadoh, Sonic Youth, Yo La. But somehow I’m not irritated. They bring a lot of their own to the mix. This track is simply classic expansive indie rock with lots of texture.
Listen Here.

Alligator Skin by Tilly and The Wall
Just got turned onto this band of oddballs from Nebraska. Fun Fun Fun. Channeling tap dancing, girl groups,The Mamas and the Papas, Katrina & The Wave, and The Go-Gos. It’s a party.
Watch & Listen here.

Aly, Walk With Me by The Raveonettes
Not such a scintillating record, but this song is sultry and sexy.
Watch & Listen here.

My Head by Times New Viking
When was the last time I counted down the days until a Tuesday release of a new record? Why that would be Times New Viking’s Rip It Off which came out this past February if memory serves me right. While I like this record a lot, it never called to me to put it on over and over like last year’s Paisley Reich record. But that said, lots of choice cuts like this one.
Watch & Listen here.

Senses On Fire by Mercury Rev
Was there a worse record made by a band I loved this year? If so, I never heard it. Overly precious, psychedelic, lite-rock. Yeesh. But this song approaches something called rock and roll and is well worth downloading.
Listen Here.

Dolly Hands Out the advice with help from Amy Sedaris!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas on Mars by The Flaming Lips

Christmas on Mars is a bit like Eraserhead in space or Vegas In Space on downers. Great sets, bizarre soundscapes, but scant on story or characters you might care about for most of the movie. The film pulls it together in a somewhat sweet way in the final 15 minutes, but until then, mood trumps story. And the mood is cold and lonely, just like space.

If you’re itching to see this, I recommend watching Cory McAbee’s The American Astronaut (2001) instead. American Astronaut is a black and white, low-budget, inventive-looking, sci-fi epic made by a musician. Same deal, but really good. And if people tell you, “But Christmas on Mars has an amazing scene with a marching band with vaginas for heads,” don’t worry. American Astronaut counters with a beautiful musical number called The Girl With The Vagina Made of Glass. Like I say, same deal.

Optimal viewing experience for Christmas On Mars is to see it unwittingly on a tv monitor at a bar with the sound off. You’ll stare transfixed thinking it’s the best thing you’ve ever seen. You’ll ask the bartender, “What is this? It looks amazing.” If you’re lucky, she’ll say, I’m not sure. And it will stick in your mind as a beautiful memory.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Books On My Night Stand And Other Literary Ramblings

Get Up: A 12-Step Guide To Recovery For Misfits, Freaks & Weirdos by Bucky Sinister
Poet, and good friend, Bucky Sinister sets his sites on recovery in this self-help book for outsiders, misfits and artists who need to get their act together and embrace the 12 Steps. Anyone who has read Sinsiter before knows that this isn’t going to be be a new age self-help affair. It retains Sinister’s wit, irreverence, sharp insights, and pop culture references. Need help setting and reaching your goals? Just look to Lee Marvin in Point Blank for help. Need to figure out what kind of recovering addict you are? Just take inventory of the characters on the A Team and you’ll figure it out. All kidding aside, this is a heartfelt book that digs deep emotionally and philosophically. I’d recommend Get Up even if you don’t need help in recovery. There’s a lot to be gleaned here for folks just trying to reassess where they are in their life, for folks who feel they are at a crossroads, and for folks who feel they aren’t living the life they hoped they would. A good read to start the year.


Porchlight Storytelling Series
For those of you not from SF, Porchlight is a storytelling series put on by local author Beth Lisick and literary impresario Arline Klatte. The event has been going on monthly for the last 7 years. I attended the other night and had a little epiphany. Porchlight is the ultimate who’s who of the art scene. Writers, musicians, filmmakers, tv personalities, artists and scenesters step to the mic to share their stories, grouped around a monthly theme. It’s cool. It’s not just literary types stepping to the mic. Sometimes the stories fire on all cylinders, sometimes they ramble and wobble around. Regardless, it’s great to see people step out of their comfort zone and lay it out there.

This month, guest Chuck Prophet brought along a friend from Nashville, Jace Everett. Jace is a good ol’ Southern boy from a red state. Offhandedly he said, “Wow, this is just like walking onto the set of NPR.” Not exactly, but in a way he was right. Certainly not as stuffy and East Coast, but the more utopian, S.F. version of NPR. Porchlight is full of erudite charm, boho swagger, with a hint of self-deprecation. It’s the good kind of institution.

Sherman Alexie Live at Herbst Theater
I’ve been obsessed with Sherman Alexie this year. Read several books and a collection of poetry. Had the good pleasure of seeing him read at SF’s esteemed City Arts and Lecture Series last month. It was a great event. Essentially, Alexie opened with a 20 minute comedy set full of observations about people on airplanes and the like. Not what I expected, but pretty brilliant in its way. From there he did a short set of poetry. Great, narrative-based, easy to follow pieces, filled with grit, humor, and humanism. Given that I had just finished a poetry section with my high school students, I couldn't have been more delighted. The event was co-sponsored by a S.F. poetry program for teens called The WritersCorps. The Corps sent out three teens to follow Alexie’s set. Pretty daunting, but the youth handled it with aplomb. Currently an exhibit of the WritersCorps work is on display at SF Arts Commission Gallery. It’s a great exhibit. How do you showcase written work in a gallery setting? Go to the show and find out. Expertly laid out. The exhibit is on until January 24, 2009. I highly recommend wandering over and checking it out.

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy
A fever dream of brutality spreading across Mexico and the Southwest. At times the journey unfolds like a beautiful silent film. Vast impressionistic landscapes, with heaps and heaps of description and details of the debased journey. It crawls with filth. A little long in the tooth however. When the action and dialogue kicks in, Blood Meridian is marvelous. But some overly long descriptive passages combined with the phantasmagorical narrative made me a little antsy and distracted.





Little Big Man by Thomas Berger
If you're like me, you don't like to bail on a book, but unfortunately, that's exactly what I did here. 2 weeks and only 90 pages worth of progress I decided to cut my losses. Not sure if I wasn't digging the book or the book had the misfortune of dropping into my life when I was crazed, frantic, and busy. Not sure if any book would have stood a chance. But that said, after a summer of Sherman Alexie, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and an intertribal Pow Wow, I just wasn't feeling this. It seemed like a glimpse into Native culture from an outsider. Granted the early portions of the book are told from the standpoint of a 12 year old boy with a lot of negative pre-conceptions about native culture who is thrown into that world in a severe way. So maybe that's the stylistic of the first chapters and the book would have born fruit had I stuck it out. Maybe I'll revisit.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Omen On My Shoulder

My good friend Becky Haycox has an awesome blog called Hamblog. You should check it out. This month she has a groovy Advent Calendar going with holiday-ish offerings from all her friends. She posted a story from me today. If you have a minute check it out. If you have two minutes, check out all the offerings. Good stuff.

Here's how my offering is described. "Today’s Hambox Advent Calendar Window: December 18, 2008 — Avian Omen! Danny Plotnick recounts the fateful day that a New Year’s miracle flew into his family’s life, and out just as fast. Not to mention an appearance by the ever-trembling Hanukah Guinea Pig!"

To get to my post, go to the advent calendar and click on the number 18 (since my entry occurred on the 18th). Here's the link.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hit It & Quit It: My Week at My Stereo

Mercury Rev Snowflake Midnight. Wow, was there a worse album made by a band I really like this year? If so, I haven’t heard it. I’m a big Mercury Rev Fan and I think their last album Secret Migration was a real return to form. But this one? The fey, psychedelic-lite is a little too precious for me. Senses On Fire is worth downloading, but outside of that, it’s a syrupy slog. I gave it a couple of spins and was straining through it the second time around.


Dungen 4. Love the Dungen I’ve heard, but haven’t picked up an album since their first. This one is all over the map. When the Swedish psych-pop starts getting heavy and outré, I’m all over it. I likes me a little grit. At times, especially early in the cd, things are a little lite and precious. I feel like I’m being transported to a spa in Stockholm in 1976 and I’m a little frightened. I guess I’m having trouble digesting lite and precious psychedelia these days. Pretty good all and all, though.

Vivian Girls. Wow. Don’t get the hype on this one. Can’t sing. Can’t play. It’s like third rate Heavenly or Tiger Trap! Maybe if I was 19 I’d find this charming, but I’m old and crusty, and not even the lecher in me is moved. One or two of these songs might be nice popping up in shuffle, but even in its brief 25 minute entirety it overstays its welcome.



Deerhunter Microcastle. Based purely on hype I picked this one up. I’m apparently one of the only idiots left in America who can’t find the time to listen to something free on MySpace, Youtube, Pitchfork or wherever. But whatever, I still make the rash, blind purchase. I suppose it keeps me young. After two listens, I got to say, I’m down. Definitely heavily influenced by 80s/90s indie rock. I hear a lot of Sebadoh(?!), Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Stereolab. But in small doses, mixed in with some freshness as well. Not overly produced, lots of interesting sounds and textures mixed in with some good songs. Occasionally weird. Occasionally expansive. Not precious. I like.

Neil Young Sugar Mountain. I’m a fool for Neil digging through the archives. This one is from Ann Arbor 1968. All acoustic, immediately post Buffalo Springfield. The great numbers are great. Amazing versions of Birds, On The Way Home, Mr. Soul. Some of the lesser songs are lesser, but hey, it’s Neil. It’s all good. His between song banter, which is plentiful, is goofy, weird, self-effacing. He’s still honing his persona. Don’t know if that’s a good thing, but there it is. I listened to it on DVD as well. Apparently the audio is better, but I don’t know if I’m rigged for primo dvd sound. But, I will say, I checked out the “trailer” for the monstro $300+ archive release forthcoming. And the trailer is awesome, awesome, awesome. Funny. Great looking footage. Even Journey Through The Past looks good, which it must not be. I’m a cheapskate, so I doubt I’ll plonk down for the archive, but yow, it looks great!

Deerhunter, Nothing Every Happened

Mercury Rev remixes the rock out of the best song on their record!


My Favoite Dungen Song from the first album.


Not the Neil Young trailer I saw, but still!

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

Just finished reading Roberto Bolaño’s immensely popular The Savage Detectives. The book chronicles a marginal branch of the Mexican Poetry scene in the mid-70s. Outsider Poets. Who knew the American reading public cared about such things?

The book has three distinct parts. The first and third are told by way of diary entries from a 17 year old, up-and-coming poet who is enamored by and immerses himself into the world of the visceral realist poetry scene. By far these are my favorite sections of the book because they really capture the excitement of what it’s like to be a late teen, diving headlong into a scene—a world of art, parties, politics and sex unfolding before your eyes. Garcia Madero, the narrator of this section, falls deep into the scene and the course of his life starts shifting in an unexpected way. When The Savage Detectives is on, it captures the feeling of that precious turning point in one’s life when one discovers the path that they want to walk down. Few books manage to capture that feeling so well. Similarly, as the book progresses and the scene dies and most of its participants move on, The Savage Detectives expertly captures the melancholy hangover blues of a fading scene.

That said, the book’s middle section, an oral history (think Legs McNeil) of the scene’s two touchstone poets is long, long, long. The history is told from the perspectives of friends, acquaintances, and accomplices of Arturo Belano, a thinly veiled portrait of Roberto Bolaño, and his compadre, Ulises Lima. So many characters, so many places, so many microscenes, so many references to literary scenes that I know nothing about, and ultimately so many sideways glances at Belano and Lima. In a way we learn much about them, but ultimately in an elusive way. They drive the narrative, but we never get inside their heads. Instead, they are a composite of what the world thinks of them, and for me, I felt we never got to the heart of these characters.

Ultimately The Savage Detectives is rewarding in many ways, but a little long-winded in others. When it’s on, it’s a great read, but at times it’s a slog.

The Dream Syndicate, Live, Ann Arbor, 1986 or 1987


No question that The Dream Syndicate’s Days of Wine and Roses was one of the landmark lps of the 80s. Starting with their follow up The Medicine Show, the band took a rootsier direction and by the time the third lp Out of The Grey hit the streets, original band members and fan faves Kendra Smith and guitar hero Karl Precoda were no longer in the band. Post Days of Wine and Roses, none of the Syndicate records generated as much heat within the fan base as did their stunning debut. I was big fan and went down the path for the long haul, and while The Days of Wine and Roses is still my fave, there was clearly gold later in the career. I saw the band in their Precoda incarnation, as well as with Paul Cutler, who took over on Out of the Grey. I saw the band on the Out of The Grey tour in 1986 or 1987 and, by far, that was the most explosive I’d ever seen the Syndicate.

And hey, I got the tape to prove it. My girlfriend and I decided to bring a couple of super 8 cameras to the show, interview the band and shoot one song on film. It was all we could afford since film cost a lot. We interviewed Cutler before the show and filmed That’s What You Always Say on black and white super 8 (4X film stock me thinks). The film had to be shot silently and we recorded the audio separately on a little hand held piece of crap tape recorder (definitely not a walkman!). We then transferred the film to ¾” umatic video and tried to sync the audio to the picture. We tried for about an hour and then gave up. What a frickin’ disaster. It was impossible. The footage has been sitting in my garage for about 20 years and I decided to give the syncing another chance given the advent of non-linear editing. And wouldn’t you know it, success!

I’ve included the footage here. It’s pretty smoking. First off it’s a blistering, string-shredding version of the song. One thing that's interesting, is that there is little great live footage of indie bands from that era. Of course, a lot of that had to do with technology. Video cameras were bulky and unwieldy, so rarely would one take them into the pit in a club, which basically left the documentation of that era to 1-3 camera video shoots from the back of clubs or cable access tv performances. Each of these set-ups had a pretty cold, canned feel to them, no matter how hot the the performance. Very distancing stuff. Plus most of the video from that era has degenerated in a pretty bad way. Very few people ever shot film because it was so damn expensive or impossible to sync up if you didn't have the right gear or enough money. As for this footage, we were right there in the pit, backs of heads blocking the way, focus fading in and out, light flares galore. The result is footage that matches the energy of the performance. The footage is by no means perfect, very rough around the edges, but then again, that was the vibe of the music at the time.

We audiotaped the whole set which I’ve posted below. As I already mentioned, it’s a barnburner of a set and a testimony to the power the band was still channeling in 1987. The old songs are great and the new songs bristle with an energy not quite captured on the studio recordings. The sound quality is surprisingly good given the recorder that I used. There’s a little bit of distortion, but I think it sounds good. It sounds LIVE!

From an archivist standpoint I do, however, need to apologize. The band launches into an encore of Light My Fire which I chose not to record. Not sure why. I can only guess that the 21 year old me didn’t like the Doors and I decided that I could use that 5 minutes of spare tape for other purposes. What an idiot. Enjoy.

Here's the track listing:

1. Danger Zone
2. Tell Me When It's Over
3. 50 in a 25 Zone
4. Now I Ride Alone
5. Daddy's Girl
6. That's What You Always Say
7. Free Bird
8. When You Smile
9. Still Holding Onto You
10. Boston
11. Light My Fire

Thanks to Chris Xefos for helping me extract and futz with the audio.

Also, my buddy Pat Thomas just had his mid-80s zine, Notebook, pubilshed on the web. Check it out for some hard hitting looks at the Paisley Underground as the scene was unfolding.



Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nels Cline Singers Live, Cafe Du Nord, SF

One of my fave guitarists to emerge from the indie rock scene of the 90s is the one and only Nels Cline. His ability to wring out tastefully bizarre sounds and tones from his guitar is an aural treat. Over the years, I've seen him add his guitar wizardry to the Geraldine Fibbers, Scarnella, and most recently, Wilco. I've owned a couple of his solo cds, but never seen him perform solo (well as a trio) until last night. It was a great night of experimental, guitar overload. A big channeling of Sonic Youth-like outre progressions, mixed with a dose of 90s math rock precision, and some avant Beefheartian guitar-based, free jazz for good measure. At the height of heaviosity the band was utterly rocking. Totally transfixing. Some of the slower, plinkier jazz interludes I could have done without. Made me think of how much my feet and back can hurt at a rock show. But all told, I was feeling it. If Jim Granato's power 'fro wasn't blocking my line of vision all night, it would have been blissful. As a bonus, the Deerhoof duo guested on a Eddie-Hazel flavored rendition of a Weather Report song.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

Can’t rave enough about Slumdog Millionaire, the new film from Englishman Danny Boyle. It’s in the theatres now and the film begs to be seen on the big screen. It’s a cinematic masterpiece that sucks you in from its opening tortuous moments to its redemptive finale. The film focuses on a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. As he stands on the verge of winning the show's top prize, the film delves into his traumatic upbringing, his attempts to rise from abject poverty, and his pursuit of love at all costs.

Boyle has always been a master of combining substance and style as evidenced by Trainspotting, Shallow Grave and even 28 Days Later. With Slumdog he ups the ante. The film clearly has grand aspirations. It’s an epic story that mixes the high drama and sweeping romance of Golden Age Hollywood, 70s Bollywood plotlines, along with the grit and the grime of tough-as-nails gangster movies. Amazingly, Slumdog manages to be simultaneously both epic and intimate, which is a rare treat in the movies these days.

It’s boldly edited and visually stunning, continually finding beauty in its squalid locales. Those elements, along with the propulsive soundtrack, root you to your seat and create an utterly unique universe in which the film operates. The story structure is also inventive, using flashbacks in a unique way to create an added air of mystery to the film.

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing an absolutely captivating movie on the big screen. One that leaves you saying, “Now that’s cinema!” Slumdog Millionaire delivers that feeling and then some.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Take it to the Bridge

Each year Neil Young throws a benefit for the Bridge School at the Shoreline Amphitheatre, just outside of SF. I’ve never been one for the big rock fests, and given that the show is often filled with a lot of middle of the road acts that I have a passing interest in at best, I’ve never been willing to plonk down the big money for show tix. Not even the lure of the almighty Neil himself has tempted me. This year I decided to bite the bullet. On tap were Cat Power and Wilco, plus the bill was rounded out by Death Cab For Cutie, Norah Jones and Jack Johnson—all acts that my son has really liked at certain points in his life. I’ve taken him to rock shows before, but this was a tempting bill for his first big rock and roll shindig.

It opened with a Native American blessing and hoop dance (which if you’ve been reading the blog, you know that I was down with) and then Neil took the stage for a brief acoustic set. I Am A Child followed by Sugar Mountain. How awesome was that! It was just like being in the audience for the taping of Live Rust. Plus the hoop dancers came back and pranced about during Sugar Mountain.

Out came Cat Power. I was pretty psyched for this set. I’ve only seen Cat Power once, years ago. Horrid. We left early. Couldn’t watch the on-stage self-flagellation and torture. I’ve heard that Ms. Marshall has conquered her stage fright and knows how to perform now. Drumming was Jim White of the Dirty Three so there was an initial jolt of excitement in my jaded heart. And while she clearly has gotten over her early career stage jitters—heck she even wandered into the crowd for a set—I got to say that the overall set was a hint boring. Don’t know that I can blame her or her band. But the dark and dusty stylings of Cat Power don’t translate to 2 pm on a sunny, Sunday afternoon at an outdoor amphitheatre, playing to a half-filled house. She closed with Neil joining her on stage for Fortunate Son. A classic Cat Power cover given that I never figured out what the song was until I read about it in the paper the next day.

Up next were Wilco. Outside of Neil’s set, this was the set I was most anticipating. Saw Wilco on the last tour and was blown away. One of the best shows I’ve seen in the last couple of years. What I quickly learned about the Bridge show though, was that all bands had to play acoustic. It’s a rule. And I got to say that while that’s cool in theory, some bands were a little hog-tied by that and Wilco was one of those. You’d think Wilco, could have kicked out the awesome acoustic set, but I must say it was a bit flat. I think they’re a band that’s developed into a live dynamo due to the incredible amount of dynamic tension between all the instruments (acoustic and electric). Nels Cline is one of my fave guitar players, but he’s an electric kind of fellow and all acoustic the band didn’t have their full arsenal at the ready. All of that said, one of the day’s highlights was Neil joining them for I Shall Be Released. It’s pretty clear that live, Wilco channels The Band in a heavy, heavy fashion. And here they were playing a Band song live…with Neil Young. It made total sense and was breathtaking. And what became evident is how awesome of an acoustic guitar player Neil is. He knows how to use that instrument and have it cut through the wash of instruments on stage. Whenever he appeared on stage throughout the day, it was as if the clouds parted and a beam of light shone down on center stage.

Death Cab For Cutie were next. I was getting a little worried. Death Cab are a band I’m lukewarm on. At times I think they’re a tad boring. And if Wilco had trouble pulling off the acoustic thing, how would these mopey, emo boys manage? As it turns out, their set was one of the strongest of the day. A fantastic set. The lock-solid rhythm section playing off the crisply, plucky guitars was fantastic. It was a live set that has made me revisit the band on cd and I must admit that I’m into it. This was the set my son was looking most forward to and it was cool to see him so excited at a rock show. At the start of every song, he gleefully turned to me and said "We know this song!" Ever since the show, he’s been hanging out in his room, listening to Death Cab and reading their lyric booklets. I can start to see the teen years looming.

Smashing Pumpkins were next. Not a huge fan, but whenever my high school kids played them throughout the 90s they always sounded good. I was ready for the golden oldie hit machine. But I guess they must have a new record out cause I only recognized the last song, Disarm. And for that they had opera boy Josh Groban join them on lead vocals. I heard one grey-hair later beef, “They only played one hit. What was that about?”

Josh Groban was up next and that was our cue for a snack break. Not much of a sweet selection at the Shoreline. Settled on some hot chocolates (it was getting chilly) and my son immediately deposited half a cupful of the steamy mess on his lap. Things could have started turning for the worse here, but we rallied. Got back to our seats to see Neil join Mr. Groban for a phenomenal version of Harvest Moon.

Nora Jones up next. Very nice. Some Johnny Cash songs, some Hank Williams songs plus a cover of Jesus, Etc by Wilco. It was a great version, maybe the best Wilco song of the night. Am I wrong to think she's kind of hot?

Surfer dude Jack Johnson was next and I have to go full confessional here. I like this guy. Every bone in my body says I should hate him, but what can I say, I find him entirely enjoyable. Utterly pleasant. There I've admitted it. Sling your barbs. I don't care. Next to Death Cab it was the best set of the day. The guy knows how to craft a feel-good, acoustic set. Neil joined him for Harvest. Yet another highlight.

Then it was time for full-on Neil. Going in, I never anticipated that my son would be up for staying for the whole show. When I bought the tix, I assumed and came to terms with the fact that we wouldn’t make it to Neil. I gave my son plenty of chances to call it quits throughout the day, but he gave me incredulous stares and shot the occasional “Why would we leave?” That’s my boy. When it became evident that we would see the whole set, I was ecstatic. I love Neil more than any other. I’ve seen him live a couple of times, but only in full Crazy Horse mode. The acoustic moments throughout the show were awesome and I was giddy for the set. I was singing along, jotting down the set-list, and snapping, pointless, blurry photos like a schoolgirl. What can I say? Neil totally rules. It was awesome. Oh, Lonesome Me, Unknown Legend, the big hits from Harvest all ruled. The finale of Comes A Time with all the artists joining him on stage (including the hoop dancer) was a mindblower. If I had to choose, I’d choose Crazy Horse Neil over acoustic Neil, but I was shocked that live, Acoustic Neil was just as powerful as Crazy Horse Neil. That set was worth the price of admission alone.

We then headed out to the parking lot and in classic fashion couldn’t find our car. Honest to god I thought it was stolen. The last time this happened I was 16 and my Dad, my stepmom and I circled the Potniac Silverdome in a snowstorm, fruitlessly looking for our station wagon after a Lions/Vikings game. In a similar fashion, we managed to find our car when there were only 10 cars left in the place. At least all the traffic had dissipated.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sarah Palin vs. The NHL

I can’t help but being irked by the people championing Sarah Palin because she’s a hockey mom. As a long time hockey fan I’ve spent years being mocked and chided for loving hockey. I’ve come to begrudgingly accept the fact that 99% of Americans don’t give half a sh*t about hockey. It was fashionable to like the NHL for a minute or two in the 90s as Gretzky took his show to LA and then NYC. But increasingly crappy league management, horrible tv contracts (so long ESPN and good luck seeing the Stanley Cup on broadcast), and an entire season work stoppage later, the NHL has lost its status as a top 4 sport in most people’s minds.

So the fact that Sarah Palin’s parental duties as a hockey mom are being used to tout her credibility as a salt-of-the-earth, hard-working American is laughable. People are acting like being a hockey mom is as American as hot dogs, apple pie, and baseball. Come on. Who are we kidding? Hell, this is a sport championed by Canadians and…gasp…Russians! The only time anyone in America ever cares about hockey is when some unlucky sap is nearly beaten to death on the ice, when a spectator is killed by an errant puck, or when a player drops dead at the rink from a medical condition. Oh wait…didn’t that happen last week in Russia. If Palin was such a great hockey mom, maybe she could have saved that young Ruskie, after all, I’m sure she could have seen the incident from her house.

And does being a parent who attends your kid’s sporting events necessarily make you a good parent? There are constant reports of abusive parents berating referees and kids alike at the pee wee sports level. Even in San Francisco (home of San Francisco Values), the youth soccer league requires a mandatory meeting for parents at the start of the season where parents are told not to behave like lunatics. The meeting is called because every year there are multiple incidents of parent-generated sideline lunacy. Now I’m not saying Palin would be one of these nutbag parents, but honestly do you think she would more likely be the type of parent who, after a game, would a) buy the team slurpees or b) try to get a referee fired for making a questionable hooking call against her child?

And finally on the parental note, are her kids any good at playing hockey? If they were good, we could ascertain that she was a good hockey mom. She’s certainly birthed enough kids, but it’s not like any of her brood are tearing up the NHL like the Staals, Sutters, Mahovolichs or Howes. Heck, they’re probably not as good as the Koivu or Michalek clans. Now that’s a list of hockey moms that should be celebrated.

Trying to goose her party’s chances in November, Palin has been making the rounds of NHL rinks in key battleground states. Right now, it’s looking like this tactic may backfire. The other night in St. Louis, Palin dropped the ceremonial first puck at a Blues' game. Shortly thereafter, Blues starting netminder Manny Legace tripped over the ceremonial red carpet and had to leave the game with a “lower body injury”. The Blues will be fighting for that 8th playoff spot in the always tough Western Conference. Without Legace they don’t stand much of a chance. Here’s hoping that Blues’ fans will keep that in mind when they vote on November 4. And remember, since 1904, Missouri has always voted for the eventual winner of the Presidential election with the exception of 1956.

Several weeks back she dropped the ceremonial first puck in Philadelphia and the boo birds were out in force at the Spectrum (or whatever the hell the name of that arena is now). Some wags have been laying the blame on the Flyers slow start as a Palin curse. I don’t see it that way. The Flyers defense just sucks right now. But that said, imagine if Daniel Briere had tripped on the red carpet and had left the ice with a "lower body injury". Palin would have been lucky to escape alive. Minimally, some of the Philly faithful would have chucked a couple of battery-filled snowballs at her head. Her $20,000 hairdo would sure to have been mussed.

There's about 15 months left in the interminable NHL season but only about a 10 days left until the election. I'm not sure if Palin is planning on taking in a Panther or Lightning game, but at the rate she's going, I'm hoping maybe she'll stop by to work the corners in the Sunshine State.

A Post In Which I Admit To Liking The New Coen Brothers Movie

I’m a skeptical man when it comes to the Coen Brothers. I’m the old crank at the party who starts pooh-poohing their efforts while others wax enthusiastically. Sorry I just don’t think they’re that funny. Their brand of humor seems aimed at Stanford Professorial-types or really smart high school kids. Nothing wrong with that but I like my comedy a bit more biting and a hint less “wacky”. That said, they’ve made a boatload of films and occasionally hit one out of the park. No question Fargo is one of the all time great screwball dramadeys. Razor-sharp writing with fantastic performances from Buscemi, McDormand and Macy. Few films straddle the line between comedy and drama so well. I've always wished more of their stuff was like this one.

Whenever a new Coen Brothers movie comes out it seems like you can’t escape the cocktail party conversation about it. No Country For Old Men came down a few pegs for me just based on the number of times people asked me if I thought it was brilliant. My answer was “It was really good, but not as good as 3:10 To Yuma which covered similar territory but in a much more complex and subtle fashion”. Whatever.

So out comes Burn After Reading and I’m strangely attracted, yet deeply fearful. I took it in last night and I got to say I thought it was pretty awesome. One of the best films of the year at this point. Right up there with there with Fargo. It operates in the same vein of drama meets comedy and finds the perfect balance between the two. The acting was great. Malkovich is brilliant (why doesn’t he make more movies I want to see), McDormand always delivers, Brad Pitt is funny, Swinton does her icy thing and even the loathsome Clooney delivers big time. The wacky level is kept in check and the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’m man enough to admit when these guys deliver and this time through, they do.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hit It & Quit It. My week at the Movies

One of the nice things about being a teacher is the occasional mid-semester break. I took full advantage this week by going to the movies…a lot. Here are some quick capsule reviews of the flicks I took in.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Now to be fair, I took my son to this one, but his response was telling. Though he liked the movie, when pressed for his favorite scene, he couldn’t come up with one. I haven’t seen a lot of movies in the theater this year, but I’m going to venture to say you will not see a movie much worse than this one. I was skeptical going in but figured a talking dog movie would have to have some laughs. I was pretty wrong. This movie was amazingly off-kilter--so oddly paced, such mixed messages, some really uncomfortable cult of consumerism mojo. Not even so bad that it was good.

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. I was hooked by the opening strains of Chris Bell’s Speed of Sound. I’m a big fan for movies that take place in the course of one night which this one does. Perhaps this year’s answer to Juno, but thankfully without the snark and the overly written showiness. The film’s energy lags every now and again, but Michael Cera’s charm carries it through. Though the scenes and scenarios are somewhat farfetched in a classic movie way, the interaction and communication between characters strikes a refreshing, honest chord.

Tropic Thunder. Tropic Thunder may be the most unhinged Studio comedy in ages. The film documents a movie production going off the rails and the movie follows suit. It’s all over the map and bizarre in a great way. Robert Downey Jr. gives a tour de force performance as an academy award-winning actor who gets a skin pigmentation operation in order to play a black man. Brilliant. Ben Stiller also delivers as an actor facing the downside of his career. My man Steve Coogan continues to flatline making me question whether or not he’s a one trick pony. The movie is unhinged and as a result inconsistent at times. Not a big fan of super famous Hollywood actors lampooning the biz. Let’s leave that to borderline outsiders like Robert Altman. Tom Cruise as a ball-busting studio exec is funny, but queasy all at the same time. Still. I laughed a lot.

Happy Go Lucky. Mike Leigh has been consistently turning out great films for almost twenty years. His latest installment Happy Go Lucky a is a good one, but not top shelf in my estimation. It has some fantastic moments including some unforgettable driving lessons and flamenco lessons. But the film struck me as a little flat. Sally Hawkins plays Poppy, the eternal optimist school teacher who refuses to see that perhaps, her life is in a bit of a rut. Can she break through? Does she need to? Will there be an epiphany? A lesson learned? Do such things need to happen in a movie? All this was broached, but perhaps a little to subtly for me. My wife Alison liked it a lot though.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Bloody Valentine, Live SF

I promised myself to blog about the My Bloody Valentine show once my ears stopped ringing. A couple of weeks have passed, so now’s the time. As I mentioned previously I greet these reunion/classic album tours with a degree of skepticism. Going to a concert in 2008 to relive the salad days of 1991 causes me a degree of queasiness. Yet, I didn’t hesitate to drop $90 on a pair of tickets to see MBV. The fact that the show was on my birthday might have helped quash the inner cynic and loosen the purse strings. But, what can I say? I love MBV and Loveless is one of those records that has grown in stature over the ages and one that sonically holds up. The balance of savage guitar work and ethereal beauty is a balance few bands have ever managed to capture. Interestingly we saw them on the Loveless tour and I remember being pretty blasé about it. The band was a suckhole of energy and the keyboard mix was so high I questioned what the hell the guitars were even doing. That show ended with a fantastic, 10+ minute, locked-groove drone that was otherworldly. But other than that I was non-plussed. So strangely, 17 years later I was back for more.

The night started out kind of dodgy. I had been fighting off illness for several days and had I not already spent the money the chances that I would willingly go out and stay up past midnight were slim. Basically, the last thing I wanted to do that night was go to a rock show. Also, the show was at a non-conventional rock venue. Doors listed as 7, show 8. Would it really start at 8? Hard to set the rock clock. Plus, we didn’t have a clue if there were openers or not. No info forthcoming even on the internet. So we dutifully got there at 7:45. Suckers. The doors didn’t even open until 8, plus there were two openers. Yikes. Spectrum was one of the bands. And as much as I love the Spacemen 3, one of the worst shows I have ever seen was Sonic Boom’s E.A.R. The most underwhelming 20 minutes of knob twiddling I had ever seen. I was tired, feverish and dubious.

But apparently good things come to those who wait. Spectrum opened with the Spacemen’s Transparent Radiation and proceed to bust through an entire set of Spacemen 3 songs capping it off with Suicide. Holy crap. Now that’s a reunion I would have paid to see. As a surprise bonus experience, it was out of sight. Sadly, almost nobody in the throng seemed to know what was going on, but nuts to them. Their loss.

As for My Bloody Valentine, what can I say? Their set ruled. I had been warned how loud the tour was, and no joke, it was blistering. Maybe the loudest show I’ve ever heard. I’m not one for earplugs. Dampens the experience. But 3 songs in, the plugs were in my ear holes. This time through there was no mistaking the power of the guitars. They were hot and heavy in the mix. The band is still somewhat of a vacuum on stage, but 17 years later, with more money to mount a stage show they could pull it off. With a big flashing light show, trippy video projection behind them and a massive wall of sound to envelop you, there was no problem getting sucked in. They sounded great. More savagery than beauty than on the records, but that’s the way it should be for a live show. They also pulled heavily from Isn’t Anything which has subsequently been in heavy rotation in my house. As for the finale? This time it was a gargantuan, 20 minute ear-shattering slog . A slow, sonically brutal endurance test for the ages.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Out of Print Up For Big Award. Vote For Me!

Ironically, given its subject, Out of Print is up for another internet award from MetaFest, the folks who run the on-line movie service MetaCafe. 1,000 contestants down to 26 finalists. The top vote getter wins $1,000. If you have a minute, go over to their site and give me a rating. You may have to sign up for an account to vote. I’m not sure. I apologize if you do, but I’m sure it will only take a minute. If you could vote, it would be a big help to me. I’ll love you forever. Also, the films will be screening at the Roxie Theater in SF on Nov. 13. If you’re in the area, come on down and check it out.
To vote: Click Here!

Out of Print



Back in December I entered a film contest for filmmakers with a body of work. I was just about to release my dvd compilation Warts & All, so it was no brainer of a contest to enter. All I had to do was pop a dvd-r in the mail. I figured I’d be on the short list of finalists, because regardless of what anyone thought of the films, the dvd-r was a hell of a package. Bonus materials, stills, audio commentary. Plus the contest was for a site calling themselves Underground Film. And let’s face it, underground is my milieu.

I was pleasantly surprised when I got the call in the first week of January that I was indeed one of 12 finalists vying for a hefty grand prize. However, I quickly realized I had not read any of the fine print on the contest rules. If picked as a finalist I would be required to make two short films in under a month for a shot at the grand prize. I had not counted on that. The first film had a theme--a short film on the current state of counter culture. I cringed. In my younger days, I’d have that wrapped up in a heartbeat. But today? What the hell does that mean to me? As a forty-something parent, living in the urban/suburban section of San Francisco, I can’t say that I have my finger on the pulse. Sure, I have some idea of what the kids dig. I read some blogs, check out some podcasts, but who am I kidding? Trying to intelligently talk about the current state of counter culture seemed like walking into some horrid trap. At least a recipe for being mocked by some hip 24 year old.

So I decided to just run with the idea of counterculture and talk about what I do know. The late 80s, and early 90s. An era of zine making, cassette trading, vhs dubbing, rare book hunting and underground movies screening in bars, squats and cafes, as opposed to being disseminated on YouTube. A marginalized sub-culture that in large part I think will be overlooked and relegated to the dustbins of history. Maybe. Maybe not. But here’s the film I made.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Making Stuff With Your Kids: The Day After Halloween



It’s an interesting thing being a parent and an artist. It can be a tough balance. Working a straight job, finding time to do your thing and making time to be there for your kid. It’s not always an easy balance. But I think keeping your art strong is a good thing, Your kids like seeing you enthused about life and about your work. For me, I like making movies. It’s what I do. I don’t always get paid, but when I’m in the filmmaking zone, I’m a happy camper.

My son and I have made our share of goofy videos. Slapstick inspired homages to Buster Keaton, bizarre travelogues, obsession-based animations and the like. He’s into it. Recently I was tapped to make a music video for my wife’s psychedelic kid rock band The Sippy Cups. The song is a wistful little number called The Day After Halloween, about a post-Halloween world where a kid reminisces about the autumnal joy of Halloween. After hearing the song once, an image stuck in my head. A kid unwilling to take his costume off once Halloween was over and not wanting to give up the total awesomeness that is Halloween when you’re a kid. I saw a kid playing soccer in his ghost costume, while the rest of his team was in their uniformed finery. A concept was born.

In two short weeks me and my son banged out this video. He’s the star and worked his butt off. About 10 hours of shooting, take after take, sweaty ghost costume and all. Long discussions about comic acting, playing it straight, and the need to dress sets and wait for the light to be just right. He also made excellent editing suggestions (the placement of the pool and slide scenes for comic and lyrical timing), learned how to rock certain Final Cut shortcuts and I found out his love of watching footage capture. Now if I could teach him how to capture, deal with timecode breaks and color correct, I’d have it made.

Enjoy the video. If you got kids, feel free to share and go comment and give it some ratings over at :

YouTube (be sure to watch in high quality)
Vimeo
UndergroundFilm

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Perfect For The Moment--Pioneertown

Came down to Yucca Valley, right outside of Joshua Tree for the 4th Annual Cracker/Camper campout. For 4 years running, the Camper Van Beethoven posse has thrown a mini-fest out in the desert in a little spot called Pioneertown. All configurations of Camper/Cracker and their solo projects play as well as a tasteful smattering of other indie bands. This year’s bill includes Built To Spill, Quasi, Citay and my wife’s new band McCabe & Mrs. Miller, a duo with Camper’s very own Anderson Cooper-esque, Victor Krummenacher.

I must admit to not getting the appeal of the new destination festival mania that’s sweeping the rock ‘n’ roll touring landscape these days. It seems conceptually awful to me. Thousands of people roasting in the sun, seeing bands that, for the most part, I don’t want to see or have already seen in a venue 1/100th the size of the sprawling outdoor festival, temporary cityscape. This campout is nothing like that. It’s an altogether different and quite pleasant beast. It’s mellow and very cool. 300-400 people, maybe less (I’m bad with numbers), at a dusty bar, sand coating the floors, Joe Walsh on the jukebox, drinks in pickle jars, pulled pork sandwiches on the bbq. Good sound, small stage and if you want to get up to the front, no problem. Lots of elbow room. People are just having a good time.

Yesterday’s highlight was Built To Spill performing their brilliant 1997 record Perfect From Now On. Funny thing about BTS was that I loved this band like no other in 1997. They were my soundtrack for 3 consecutive summers. I loved the gentle, pop twee of There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, a record that was a pleasant change in the landscape when it was released at the height of grunge mania. And then came Pefect From Now On. A sprawling opus. Kinda psychedelic, kinda Crazy Horse, fully epic. Monstrous and beautiful in so many ways. At the apex of this band’s powers I saw them live twice. After the second time I made my wife promise me to make sure I never paid to see this band again. They sucked live. They always sounded great, but somehow managed to bore the crap out of me. Maybe it was the dispassion on stage. Maybe it was the insistence on playing almost all new material. While I respect a band’s decisions to play lots of new material live, I don’t necessarily love it. When Perfect From Now On came out I owned every song this band had released, yet I knew practically not one song they played. Add in the dispassion and the wanky guitar solos and forget about it. Snooze city.

I should say that I’m not that into the reunion show scene (though I’ll be seeing My Bloody Valentine in a couple of weeks) and I’m not that into the playing an old album in it’s entirety scene (though I did see Sonic Youth do Daydream Nation a couple of years back). I don’t know, I guess I like to move forward. Playing the old stuff seems defeatist in a way or maybe it’s more like realism--recognizing that most people aren’t interested in your new stuff. Isn’t this an oldie circuit that our twentysomething personalities would decry.

No matter how you look at it, I was gonna be in Pioneertown anyway and so was Built To Spill, so in a way I was psyched they were gonna be playing Perfect From Now On. They were gonna be playing the set that I was dying to see 11 years ago. And they delivered. The band is still somewhat dispassionate on stage, but they sounded amazing. Close your eyes, let the desert wind sweep over you and listen to the soaring guitar parts and twist with the songs’ changes. It was a nice reminder why I loved this band in the first place. And sometimes it’s kinda nice to channel your inner 30 year old.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hamlet 2 vs. The House Bunny

Went for the comedy double bill with the wife last weekend. First up was the highly anticipated Hamlet 2, followed by whatever movie we could then sneak into in a timely fashion…which turned out to be The House Bunny. Now let me say this. You will not find bigger Steve Coogan fans than my wife and I. We gloriously squirmed to the disturbing charms of all three seasons of Alan Partridge, many viewed on poorly dubbed vhs bootlegs prior to the show being released on dvd in America. I’ll even go so far as to say that Coogan is damn hysterical in Night at the Museum playing the miniature Roman soldier Octavius.

Hamlet 2 is clearly his attempt to make it in America. His big crossover film. And I must say, it disappoints. The premise seems to be full proof. Failed thespian tries to revitalize a high school’s fledgling drama program by writing a debauched sequel to Hamlet that involves time travel and show tunes. But somewhere along the way, the film flatlines. To be fair, there are great, laugh out loud moments and the production of the play is brilliant, but the film is ultimately inconsistent and underdone at times. At first I thought it was the writing, but Catherine Keener, Amy Poehler and Elisabeth Shue light up the screen and deliver first-rate laughs whenever they’re on screen. They’re fully committed to their characters in a way that Coogan is not. I kind of think that Coogan’s decision to play the film as an American is his undoing. He never truly seems to find his character and maybe that’s because he never truly finds his accent. Who knows. The film is all right but I expect a lot more from Coogan.

Thirsting for a little more comedy, but expecting a lot less, we snuck into the House Bunny. I must admit to having a soft spot for teen girl movies and I was kind of glad this was our option. And maybe it had to do with decreased expectations, but we were laughing a hell of a lot more than during Hamlet 2. Anna Farris plays up the Legally Blonde-style ditz factor as an out-of-work Playboy bunny trying to sexy up a homely girls’ sorority. I’m not gonna spend to much time analyzing this thing other than to say it was funny. Farris pulls it off and outshines Coogan. Ouch man. Didn’t see that one coming.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Wall-E

Given that I have a 7 year old, my intake of kid movies has spiked in the last ½ dozen years. And while there are certainly some good family films coming out (I really liked Madagascar and Over the Hedge), I approach each new release with a certain amount of dread. There’s just a numbing sameness to them all. I had heard the hype on Wall-E, and though skeptical going in, I must say that for once the hype was well deserved. Wall-E was really awesome and what makes Wall-E stand out is, dare I say, the language of cinema. There is a sophistication at play not normally found in kid movies of the day. The first half of the film conjures up the ghost of great silent cinema and the slapstick of Keaton, Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and the like. The first 20 minutes of the film take place on a post-apocalyptic earth and consists only of Wall-E and a cockroach. In other words, no dialogue. That alone is unbelievable for a kid’s film in this day and age. And Wall-E doesn’t fill this silence with contemporary pop schlock. The story is allowed to unfold through character observation, non-verbal communication, facial gestures, body language and the like. Nobody is burping the ABCs to get a laugh. This sort of quietude is rarely seen in kid’s films and is a welcome relief to a landscape that is normally cluttered with fast-talking, wisecracking animal buddies. The fact that the story works based on physical comedy and interaction between the characters is a true testament to how far animation has come in recent years.

Weeks before seeing Wall-E, I had the pleasure of seeing Jacques Tati’s masterpiece Playtime on the big screen. I walked out of that screening thinking that Playtime was the greatest slapstick, silent movie ever made, which is a funny thought given that it’s not particularly slapstick, no is it silent. In fact, sound plays a crucial role in Playtime, but not in a conventional dialogue-driven way. The sound design of Playtime is an elaborate multi-language choreography, though for the most part, the content of the dialogue is superfluous. It’s enough to know that the characters are communicating, but it’s their gestures, actions, and the scenarios themselves, rather than the dialogue that drives the plot. The first half of Wall-E functions in the same way. When Wall-E and the space probe Eve first meet, they try to find a common language. They speak in tongues and can’t communicate, but the audience fully buys into the drama and comedy that result. No dialogue needed.

Though there are direct references to 2001 and Brazil, Playtime is perhaps a greater touchstone for Wall-E. And, given Playtime’s consumerist critique it’s not a far stretch to think of these films in a similar light given that Wall-E has a similar social conscience.

What’s most encouraging is that kids and adults both seemed to love this movie. Kids had no trouble following this more subtle type of film language. I’m not surprised because my kid has been watching silent films for years and Buster Keaton is his favorite film star. But it’s nice to see Pixar taking a chance on this kind of language and getting the critical and box office response that it did.

Like I say, there are a lot of good kid’s films out there, but I’m hoping that Wall-E shows you can break from the formula and still put the little butts in the seats.

Another Post About Hair Metal or Fargo Rock City

A couple years back I read Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs. While I liked it, I didn’t love it. It was well written, clever and filled with lots of essays and cultural critiques. It should have been right up my alley, but like I say, I didn’t love it. Having just read Klosterman’s ode to his metallic youth, Fargo Rock City, I think I now know why I was lukewarm on Sex, Drugs. Klosterman’s formative cultural moment was hearing the first Motley Crue record. 80s Glam Metal was his first love. This is a guy who loves being one of the guys. This is a slightly different vantage than someone whose formative moments might be considered “out of step with the world”. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s a different compass setting for looking at the world of pop culture. I somehow think that when reading pop culture ruminations, there’s an inherent advantage in knowing where your author is coming from. When reading Sex, Drugs, I just didn’t know my author.

At a friend’s urging I picked up Fargo Rock City and I can’t begin to tell you how awesome I think this book is. In short, Fargo Rock City ROCKS. It’s the product of a balls-to-the-walls, glam metal super fan. It brims with passion and champions metal of the glam, pop and hair variety. In other words, it champions music that people who take music seriously loathe, lampoon and scoff at. Klosterman knows this and gladly puts his street cred on the line, defending the music he loves. He unapologetically loves The Crue and is willing to discuss it with the seriousness others have discussed more high-falutin musicians like Robert Johnson, Patti Smith and the Minutemen. The book is an unapologetic, exhaustive examination of metal and gives serious thought to the likes of LA Guns, Skid Row, Whitesnake, Ratt, Faster Pussycat, Warrant and on and on. What do they mean to Chuck? How do they fit into the broader popular culture? All this and more will be answered in this metallic tome.

Like any excellent book on pop culture you don’t need to be a fan of these bands to like the writing. Klosterman is a grade A wit. This book is damn hysterical with a constant barrage of laugh out loud moments.

In many respects this book would make a great companion piece to Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, which documents the rise of the 80s indie rock scene. Ultimately this is this scene that kills off glam metal and in a way the two scenes become inextricably linked. Both books also capture what it’s like to be passionate about music that is disregarded by so many. Indie rock never had many fans. Glam metal had lots of fans but no critical acclaim. Different sides of the same coin perhaps.


Monday, August 11, 2008

ZhangTastic!

I’ve never been one to pay much attention to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. In fact I can’t remember one. And the parade of nations—feh. I mean how long can you watch athletes parade around a track looking like 1960s airline stewardesses? When I found out that Zhang Yimou, one of my fave directors, was in charge of this year’s festivities, my curiosity was peaked. The end result was nothing short of totally spectacular. One of the great directors on the world’s largest stage with seemingly unlimited resources at his disposal managed to create a spectacle of immense proportions. Zhang and the Chinese delivered full marks to be certain. The NBC commentators seemed truly awed. I can say I’m not surprised given the epic nature of Zhang’s most recent work. Hero, House of Flying Daggers and the underrated Curse of The Golden Flower showcase his penchant for people flying through the air, extravagant costuming and his ability to choreograph armies of people. And let’s not forget his tendency to be schmaltzy and overdramatic—key elements in creating for the Olympic audience.

Last year, I wrote a review of Curse of The Golden Flower that appeared on the KQED arts blog. I’m going to reprint it here because little bits of the review dovetail nicely with what went on in this week’s opening ceremonies.

CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER
Let me start by saying I’m a sucker for Zhang Yimou. From martial arts epics like Hero to town and country comedies like Not One Less he delivers year after year, gracefully hopping from style to style and mastering them all. His latest, Curse of the Golden Flower, picks up where last year’s twin killings of Hero and House of Flying Daggers left off. Curse is a martial arts epic on the grandest of scales. In many respects Curse fulfills the promise of films from Hollywood’s Golden Era in ways that American films no longer approach. If you have a hankering for a bygone era where movies provided an element of escapism with stories bigger than life, international stars dressed to the nines, set in milieus beyond your wildest fantasies then Curse delivers in style. Set amidst the palaces of Tang Dynasty China, the sets are beyond belief—opulent and colorful bordering on the kaleidescopic. The wardrobe, costumes and hairdos should have devotees of Edith Head salivating. Both Gong Li and Chow Yun-Fat look amazing and don jaw-dropping outfit after jaw-dropping outfit. But the fashion show doesn’t stop with the stars, the film has a cast of thousands dressed in color coordinated finery. As for the story, this is unabashed melodrama of Sirkian proportions involving infidelity, incest, poison, and for good measure, a military coup that leads to a staggering body count. And while the mounting death toll may be a turn off to those fond of a more genteel 50’s universe, the martial arts sequences are a thing of choreographed beauty. It might not be Astaire and Rogers, but one could make a case for a comparison. Technically the film is astounding. The cinematography, art direction, editing, and sound mix are all Academy-Award caliber. Like the Golden Age of Hollywood which featured the top technicians at the top of their game, Zhang has surrounded himself with technical masters. At the end of the day, if you’re looking to sink back into your seat and let a movie envelop you, Curse of The Golden Flower won’t disappoint.

Must See Zhang Yimou Movies:
Raise The Red Lantern
The Story of Qiu Ju
Not One Less
Hero
House of Flying Daggers
Curse of The Golden Flower
Ju Dou
(I’ve not actually seen this one, but this is the one that made him famous)

Really good Zhang Yimou Movies:
Shanghi Triad
To Live
Happy Times
The Road Home


For all things Zhang Yimou on imdb, go here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Ever since reading Sherman Alexie’s Flight last month, I’ve been on a self-directed Native American studies bender. I realized that my knowledge of Native American history was scant at best. We screwed over the Indians, gave them rotten blankets and broke a lot of treaties. But the depth of my knowledge stopped there. Flight opened my eyes to the injustice of the history and I was ready to dive in. Since then I’ve read Alexie’s short story collection, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven, attended an inter-tribal Pow Wow in Simi Valley, and devoured the classic tome, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Bury My Heart is essential reading, shining a thorough light on the American/Indian Wars and policy developments between 1860-1890. This history in this time period is absolutely sobering as the government continually steals land from the Indians, breaks up tribes, and tragically thins the ever-dwindling Indian population. The government breaks treaties, soldiers and settlers repeatedly provoke Indians, poach their reservation lands and when the Indians retaliate they are branded as aggressors, thus paving the way for more stringent government sanctions against the Indians. A vicious cycle to be sure. What was most eye-opening to me was the population disparity between the Americans and Indians. European immigration was so swift that ultimately the Indians never stood a chance. They were outnumbered on a grand scale and they knew it. The Old Chiefs knew they could never defeat the Americans. They were hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. They might win some battles and skirmishes, but they knew a new flood of soldiers would simply replace the ones they killed. This realization would lead them to accept bad treaties, moving their tribes from their native lands to patches of the arid plains and deserts that the Americans had no interest in. Many of the older chiefs felt this was their only choice for survival. This would often cause tensions within the tribes as the Young Warriors would often chafe at these conditions and accuse their elders of giving up the fight. Also revelatory was the Indians' quest for peace and desire to find ways to live comfortably amongst the whites. The image of bloodthirsty, marauding Indians was a stereotype perhaps better suited to the soldiers and settlers trying to force the Indians from their lands than the tribes who were trying to find ways to stay out of the crossfire. Bury My Heart offers up tale after tale of the devastation to tribe after tribe, chief after chief. Heroes emerge, such as the great Sioux Warriors Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. And villains emerge as well, first and foremost, Custer, who gets his at Little Bighorn, and Sherman whose charge takes a deadly toll.

My brain is a tad saturated right now and I’ve got to take a break from this line of study, but Little Big Man is on the pile, Life Among the Modocs has been recommended and I have tix to see Alexie speak in December.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Boris-Live at the GAMH

My tolerance for metal, doom and sludge sure ain’t what it used to be, but that said, I have a big soft spot for Boris. Perhaps it’s their indelicate balance between total heaviosity and transcendentally beautiful moments. I didn’t dive full in until last year’s collaboration with Ghost guitarist Michio Kurihara. He’s one of my absolute faves and their album Rainbow was one of the standouts of 2007. It was a good place for me to start, figuring the atmospheric moments might outweigh the brain scraping moments. Since then, I’ve been digging a bit into the back catalogue and am head over heels into the new album Smile. The incendiary Statement is hands-down the best track of the year, wielding brutal Stooges riffage courtesy of ice queen guitarist Wata. It’s a total metallic k.o. Last night I sauntered down to the Great American Music Hall with my buddy Jimmy G. to check the band out in action. Fantastic show all around. As a bonus, Kurihara was touring with the band. Heavy smoke machine set the tone and to class things up, drummer Atsuo Mizuno donned a white satin shirt, plus white gloves, making all the giant gong playing that much more impressive. The set clocked in at 90 brain-rattling minutes. The first half of the show mined the heavy vein, with the second half getting more trippy and expansive, culminating in an epic slow and low rendition of Introduction from Akuma No Uta. Many great highlights, but I was really digging the more, dare I say, poppy version of My Neighbor Satan from the new record. Interestingly I often feel that Kurihara is an odd fit into the live Boris show. His guitar playing can be so delicate and atmospheric and has the ability to beautifully slice through a song. His subtleties are often lost when Boris heads into metallic overdrive. For the heavy stuff I kind of think Boris are better served by just one guitar instead of the sludge inducing two-guitar attack. Strangely, Kurihara has worn the exact same shirt every time I’ve seen him play (4 times in the last several years.) What’s up with that? Does he have only one shirt? A closet full of the exact same shirt? Do we need to take up a collection to get him a new one? In any event, my ears are still humming, and that’s a nice Sunday morning vibe.

Here's a clip of the live version of My Neighbor Satan. Kurihara is lost in the fog somewhere and you can't hear the vocals, but be sure to check out the white gloves.