Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Even if this is a real promotion, I still agree with Chuck Klosterman: China will get democracy before we get Chinese Democracy.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
In this context, the
The song seems focused instead on contemporary society’s focus on image and how that leads us toward vanity and away from the
There are other intimations of image and wealth as well. The idea of image is alluded to with the line “wouldn’t know the difference between a real blonde and a fake.” Part of that is that there are so many people with false hair colors that it has gotten difficult to remember whose is real. The other important part of this line is that blonde is often seen as the ideal hair color. People are trying to make themselves match the ideal in their heads, and companies, looking to profit off of this, are making hair dyes so realistic that they cannot be detected. Similarly, those most interested in image get their hair recolored so often, again fueling the capitalist cycle of the whole thing, that one can also not tell they have dye in by examining their roots. Dylan at one point suggests that if he had a conscience he could “sell it to the pawn shop,” showing that everything has a price and that the moral high ground that has been represented for so long as the conscience has been traded away in exchange for more wealth.
Elsewhere, life is described as the “same old rat race, life in the same old cage.” The idea there is that the “rat race,” the rushed pace of always trying to better ones self, often financially or in terms of image, actually imprisons people. It makes them a slave to their image or to their bank account, a slave to their own base desires. Stuck in this cage, people feel unable to life freely. Later, the narrator “feels like a prisoner in a world of mystery,” furthering that sense of claustrophobia brought on by the contemporary, post-industrial age. Looking around at what has happened to the world saddens the narrator to the point where he has lost his conscience. He feels that he has lost it because he is no longer angry at the world. As he claims, “If I had a conscience, well I just might blow my top.”
This all sounds pretty hopeless, but the song is not without the potential for change. There are two possibilities for a return to grace that Dylan implies in the song. Early on, Dylan says “I wish someone’d come and push back the clock for me.” As with much of Dylan’s work, most notably the liner notes for World Gone Wrong, this calls for a return to a simpler time that has faded away. Judging from the World Gone Wrong notes, this seems to be a return to an agrarian society, one of the pre-industrial age. Of course, this change seems improbable at best and errs on the side of impossibility in truth. The other possibility seems to be the youth. Dylan describes “the young men with the young women lookin’ so good” and claims he’d “trade places with any of them in a minute if [he] could.” There are many readings to these lines. Dylan could want to erase all of the mistakes he has made in his life. He may just want a chance to do different things or to have the vitality to go out there and change the world. From the song’s overall tone, though, one would imagine that he’d want to be young again for reasons that reach deeper than “drinkin’ and dancin’ [and] wearing bright colored clothes.” I think Dylan may see some hope in the coming generations. Of course, youth turns into old age, and soon the young generation will turn into the old.
The young becoming old and being replaced by new young brings us back, in some ways, to the idea of resurrection, which is what Easter is all about. The spirit of a strong moral structure (though not necessarily a traditional moral structure) being reborn within
Saturday, March 22, 2008
I finished watching a movie called Queens Logic just now, and it struck me as a really brilliant and underrated movie for one main reason, which I'll get to later.
As an overview, its one of those nearing-thirty crisis movies where everyone seems to be coming to terms with who they are and where they fit in the world, if they fit at all. The cast was a great ensemble cast of people who were about to make it, some who were in a fallow period, and some who never did. It has Joe Mantegna and John Malkovich in possibly their finest roles, as well as Tom Waits, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kevin Bacon. I don't usually like Kevin Bacon, but he played an asshole, so its alright. It had a few great lines. My personal favorite, for obvious reasons to those who know me, is when Kevin Bacon falls down and hurts himself dancing. Someone asks whats wrong with him and John Malkovich says, "oh, he's just a white boy who thinks he's James Brown." I also have to give kudos to the soundtrack, which was absolutely amazing. I have never seen Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye and Benny Goodman mix so eloquently together. Not to mention Sly & the Family Stone, David Bowie and Cheap Trick.
What really struck me about this movie, though, was its portrayal of homosexuality. The group basically follows a group of friends reconvening as the second member of the group moves towards marriage. Meanwhile, another member's marriage is falling apart. John Malkovich is the gay friend. Gays in films are often portrayed as a bit flaky and quite a bit feminine. There is a scene where John Malkovich explains why he is lonely; gay men fall into a trap of emulating otherness because society expects that of him, and he doesn't want to give up his sense of himself as being naturally masculine, and thus he is doomed to being alienated from relationships with either sex. Basically, he's a tough gay guy.
This was a pretty odd yet liberating image for 1991, but its still fresh. Here's why. The most memorable film about masculine gay guys in the mainstream public's mind is Brokeback Mountain. The problem with that is the two guys know their gay, and we see that they are gay when they are together, but they are in denial to the rest of the world. Along with their image of "straightness," namely their masculinity, they put up a front of being straight in public. What this means is that the movie is really saying that society isn't ready to accept masculine gay men. If society was, then they wouldn't have felt the need to repress their relationship in public. Queens Logic is built on an ensemble cast, though, and that means Malkovich's character is constantly surrounded by a variety of people, both straight and gay, but he's still open about it. John Malkovich's character is the most openly gay masculine character I've seen in a movie, which is what I think makes the movie worth one viewing. (I'm probably leaving someone out, but at the moment, he's the most mascuiline openly gay character I can think of, especially in an American film pre-1992.)
Overall, Queens Logic isn't a great film. In the end, it's rather predictable and none of its promising aspects (the cast, the soundtrack) carry it enough for it to fully succeed. Still, if you see it in a bargain bin (like I did) or at your local video store, it might be worth picking up.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Pennies are an annoyance, and every once in awhile as a diverison from more important issues there will be talk of eliminating them. I think it is finally time for the penny to go, but I think that if I were six years old I would disagree. When I was six, I loved pennies. I'd hear talk of the treasury getting rid of them and I'd freak out. I thought, "how will I ever make it in this world without pennies?" When you are a kid, parents let you use pennies like they are play money. They are about all you ever get. When I was little I thought that one day I'd collect enough pennies that they would amass to something. So, while old me is tired of pennies, the idealist in me thinks we should keep them around for the kids.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
"Dear Prudence" is among the most gorgeous songs ever written. It begins nearly funereal before working up too a fever about the sky being blue. Truly an amazing song. This was written for Mia Farrow's sister, if memory serves, as an attempt to get her to quit being a prude and have a good time with everyone else. I can't imagine it not working.
"Rocky Raccoon" is an amazing track as well, though. Paul decided to write this for the album after having heard Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding, along with other country-tinged tracks like "Mother Nature's Son." The characters from Wind In the Willows walk into a Dodge City saloon. Beautiful. The nonsensical scatting over the ragtime piano is even a revelation.
Overall, "The End" is a better song than "Old Brown Shoe," but if I have to limit it to Ringo's contributions, even if it is one of his best the prize goes to "Old Brown Shoe."
Totals thus far:
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Ginny & the Heartbreakers
Ministry of Magic
The Moaning Myrtles
The Remus Lupins
To be fair, I missed the Mudbloods and the Remus Lupins. Here are my thoughts on the others:
Ginny & the Heartbreakers were totally diappointing. I listened to their MySpace and thought they were okay. They performed "Harry Potter Gets Naked" at K-State and I assumed that since they supported reading, they were against censorship. The song is actually about Daniel Radcliffee getting naked on stage in London. Their message, though, is that he should "get his pants back on," and that doens't sit too well with me. I had hoped that as warriors for literacy they would be a bit more open-minded. Also, with the name Ginny and the Heartbreakers, I had expected at minimum a red-headed lead singer. The band consisted of two brunettes and a redhead.
The Ministry of Magic took the stage like they owned the place. They didn't. At first, I thought they sounded like early Beastie Boys (pre- Paul's Botique), but I was wrong. As their set progressed, it became clear that they were very repetitive. This trio in sweater vests bounced around stage, jumping over each others backs and simulating a microscopic mosh pit. They were three guys rapping over sampled beats; unfortumately, they had trouble rapping more than their own name. "We're the ministry of magic, yo" seemed to be about all they could muster.
The Parselmouth, two slytherin girls, had the most promising samples on their myspace page, which is why I bought their CD. In concert, they weren't as impressive. I know one of them plays piano, but in concert one barely played guitar. I would have liked a little more musical variety, though they were better than the ministry. As far as theatrics go, I had expected more green. They were both rather tall and as I remember wore mostly grey, but the shorter one had on hot pink, high-heeled Chuck Taylor's (which we used to call All-Stars), and that was by far the most memorable feature visually. During "What Kind of Name is Hermoine?," the girls brought out a third girl to play the part of Hermoine. She should have switched out with one of the brunettes in Ginny and the Weasleys because, unlike Hermoine, she was a redhead.
The Moaning Myrtles featured some of the simplest yet most effective costuming. The pianist had on navy blue knee-high stockings along with a gray skirt, which seemed both in keeping with the theme and also as though it was a conscious effort to be attractive. This would seem to me t be what you'd want to do if you were to mix Harry Potter and rock; keep rock's sex element while bringing in the wizardry. Their songs were all about one subject -- namely being a bathroom ghost -- but they brought some wicked piano riffs reminiscent of Nellie McKay and Fiona Apple. If they ever broaden their horizons, they have some real potential.
Like I said, I missed the last two acts. The others were ok, but I can only hope they improved. If my ticket sales hadn't have gone to help kids read I'd have been miffed. I had heard the music would be really good, just with limited lyrical content. I found limits in both. Still, I hope wizard rock expands and continues as a genre of its own in the years to come.
All that being said, I did buy a Parselmouths CD, appropriately titled Sssssss. Standout songtitles include "Let's Get Hagrid Fired," "What Kind of Name Is Hermione?" and "Kicking House Elves." Musically, they aren't half bad. Their songs usually are based on a few simple chords which make up a very basic riff, which they occaisionally supplement with drum machines.
The album opens with a spoken track called "Hey Guys," which consists of the girls thanking you for buying their cd. They break up laughing about halfway through, but its so geeky its almost cute.
"Eating Slugs" is perhaps the most melodic Parselmouths' offering while "Being in Slytherin Is Not Half Bad" is their funniest. The latter chronicles how the girls are slackers yet still make good grades in potions because Prof. Snape is too busy busting Potter's ass to care about them. "Daddy's Tattoo," about the mark of the Death Eaters, is both humorous and Potteresque.
Other humorous titles include "Life's Unfair," about a crush on an older professor. Another is "Two Classes," whose melody sounds lifted off a dozen 90s female singer-songwriters. Ultimately, the song is an open letter to their academic advisor about how they shouldn't be required to take "Muggle Studies" nor "Defense Against the Dark Arts."
The album isn't all great though. "Parselmouths Say Hello" is way too techno-y while "When You're A Parselmouth" walks the same line. When it comes to getting to teched out, I can only hope Hufflepuff and Gryffindor have some more musical authenticity.
Friday, March 14, 2008
It's a deal too. Only 612.50 for residents and 1,586 for non- residents. Sign up today! ;)
Bob Dylan's Literary Contexts
05/19/2008 to 06/06/2008
9 am to 12 pm MTWUF
3 Undergraduate Credit Hours
Recent years have seen an increasingly high level of academic interst in the work of Bob Dylan. As Dylan's oeuvre continues to grow it is important to consider his place in the American arts, and his contributions to language are just as important as his contributions to music. The main focus of the class would be on the text of Dylan's songs. Close readings of the lyrics would be supplemented with readings from critical articles, chapters from book-length studies of Dylan, and Dylan's own commentary, through both interviews and prose.
A course pack will be used.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Critics have an imbedded loathing of kids films that aren't computer animated. The critics, jumped all over Ratatouille. I remember reading early reviews which suggested that it might be nominated for best picture, and, while I certainly enjoyed Ratatouille, it wasn't as interesting of a film as other Pixar-fare such as Meet the Robinsons or The Incredibles.
In the seventies and eighties there were loads of mystical, incredible live action and puppet films: Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Muppet Movie, Neverending Story, The Peanut Butter Solution, Willow, Labyrinth. Not all of those got great reviews either. Sure, the effects may come off as more hokey than inspired and realistic, but that just means these films require a little more of what makes them magical -- imagination. If people just came Mr. Magorium a chance, they'd find in it some of the same magic that makes these films so inspiring.
Monday, March 10, 2008
I came to Jill Sobule's music relatively late, around the realease of her most recent album, Underdog Victorious. I saw the video for "Cinnamon Park," an early seventies power-pop throwback (it samples Chicago, but has the spirit of the Raspberries with Melanie sitting in). The song was wicked catchy and the video was wild, so I ordered the album immediately. It quickly became one of my two most-played albums of 2004 (along with Nellie McKay's Get Away From
Me). "Cinnamon Park" also soon became my least favorite song on the album. I didn't enjoy it any less; the rest of the album was just that tremendous. "Jetpack" is the best love song cum social-class awareness ever. It far surpasses runner-up "Workingman's Blues #2" (sorry, Bob), and that's saying something. Her musical range is astonishing too. The lounge-dance vibe of "Joey"is as accomplished as the rockabilly rave up of "I Saw A Cop." Now I have all of her studio albums and am a fan of every one.
The problem is, Sobule is in danger of not having another album. She has it written, but needs the money to properly record and promote it. Instead of trying to broker a deal with a label, she is taking matters into her own hands. Sobule is asking fans to sponsor her album, and is offering various prizes depending on their level of sponsorship. Check it out and lend her a few bucks:
By the time I posted this, Jill had exceeded her goal and is no longer accepting donations - go Jill! Hopefully, she will stop somewhere near Kansas (or wherever I might be living at the time) on tour. In the meantime, while we are all feening for her next disc, go out and buy whatever you don't have and give it a spin. You are bound to be impressed!
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
I saw these guys a few weeks ago when they opened for Daniel Johnston in Omaha, NE. Frankly, I wasn't that impressed. They had a bass player who was obviously copying his every move off of the Who's John Entwhistle and their lead singer kept attempting making love to his guitar. He hopped around the stage like a kid too happy to be on exctacy and basically annoyed me. There were a few moments though where I took notice. One song, "Jealous Motherfucker" (these guys are semi-big on profanity) features a catchy chorus that goes "Are you high? Nooo. Are you loooooow?" My friend Tony aptly pointed out that it was the kind of thing I'd pick out at karaoke. Another strong point of their set was a tremendous revisioning of "Strange Fruit," the Lewis Allen-penned Billie Holiday classic. Truly amazing.
Still, I wasn't that impressed, but my friend Will was. He bought their album and begged to listen to it on the drive home. When we finally put it on, it was like the blinders were lifted. This band was amazing in the studio. They were like a garage raga version of the Arcade Fire. Unique and strangely powerful. Unfortunately, I thought I'd never get a chance to own their album. The next day I went by the local indie record store (Sister of Sound -- dig it!) and told the younger sister about the album. Went I went back today to investigate an order I'd made, they had it among the new releases with a note about them having opened for Daniel Johnston. I gushed with excitement and bought it immediately.
Listening to it anew, it still sounds as good as I had hoped it would. I got four cds today, and against heavy competition (Bob Dylan's Artist's Choice for Starbucks and Good For What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows, 1926-1937), I listened to this one first. The liner notes are among the most elaborate I've seen -- a fold out, diamond-shaped mosaic of drug-addled dementia. The lyrics are included, but its the weirdness of the photos that brands the brain with searing sensation.
Don't get me wrong; some of their stuff is the overblown suckage one might expect from arthouse rock. "Golden Shackles" is an overly didactic political song that ends with the chant "Some change better come! We ain't fuckin' around no more!" Sorry to tell you this, but what do you think you're gonna do if change doesn't come? It's not like you are Neil Young, and its not like he can do anything but make another album. Sorry, but your either fucking around or your whining; which do you prefer?
Still, despite the wining, I suggest anyone who finds this album to pick it up. It is a true gem to hear.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Although Bookends and Bridge Over Troubled Water receive far more attention, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme is certainly the most varied and possibly the most affecting Simon & Garfunkel album. The raucous “Simple Desultory Philippic” and the deeply sorrowful “7 O’Clock News/ Silent Night” are like little else in popular music, and are certainly exotic yet brilliant excursions within the Simon & Garfunkel catalog. Other tracks such as the wistful “Homeward Bound,” the bouncy “59th Street Bridge Song” and the reflective “Dangling Conversation” may follow familiar models, but do so with a graceful delicacy that makes them memorable, not generic.
39. Prince – 1999 (1982)
Following Dirty Mind, Prince knew he had a unique sound, but was unsure of how to develop it. He tried to elongate songs and be over-the-top in his political declarations on Controversy, but a year later he learned how to control the raw power naked funk unleashed on 1999. Prince’s breakthrough, the album contained three top twenty singles, two of which remain classics (“1999,” “Little Red Corvette”). Prince learned more artistically mature ways to politicize his music with “Lady Cab Driver” and “Free” and still managed to keep up his sultry leer on “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and “International Lover.”
38. Rolling Stones – Exile On Main St. (1972)
Putting on Exile makes you feel like you’re stepping down into a speakeasy, replete with boogie-woogie piano licks, horns and gospel singers. Once inside, exiled from the mainstream, the album envelops you in cathartic celebration filtered through a whiskey-soaked drawl. “Shake Your Hips” is a leering blues. “Shine the Light” is an elegy. “Sweet Virginia” could be a backwoods ode to the state itself. Taken altogether, this is the apotheosis of what Gram Parsons (a close friend of Richards who worked on the album) termed “cosmic American music,” this roots-infused album of juke joint jive feels simultaneously grimy and rejuvenating.
37. The Doors – Morrison Hotel (1970)
Even though Jim Morrison moans that this is the strangest life he’s ever known on “Waiting For the Sun,” Morrison Hotel may be the most normal album The Doors ever released, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. No twelve minute songs about incest, no wigged out poetry readings – just the essence of rock. Robbie Kreiger’s guitar carries all the barroom swagger he can muster on “Roadhouse Blues.” Ray Manzarek’s hands flutter across his organ on the nuevo-funk masterpiece “Peace Frog.” The compositions are tight, leaving none of Soft Parade’s filler. The older I get, the better this record sounds.
36. The Who – Live At Leeds (1970)
Pete Townsend used the studio to great advantage to create pristine recordings unparalleled for their majesty and breadth. Then, in concert, his bandmates destroyed them with virtuosic power as a completely maniacal trio with a really pretty guy who mostly just stood there but occasionally sang. A blend of perfectly nailed covers (“Shakin’ All Over,” “Young Man Blues”), extended jams of songs that go leagues beyond their original incarnations (“Magic Bus,” “My Generation”), and a concise smattering of mostly straight-forward hits (“Substitute”), Leeds provides the perfect introduction to what the Who do best, and that is rock like wild wildebeests.
35. Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run (1975)
Born To Run is a street fantasy, an “opera out on the turnpike,” and a glimpse into the kind of world that plagued Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. The urban underbelly Springsteen creates is populated with a vivid cast of characters, including Bad Scooter, the Magic Rat, and the Duke Street Kings. Behind the gritty tales, though, lies a lush and tender soundscape. Roy Bittan’s nuanced piano invites the listener in while Clarence Clemons tight, bright horn leads shoot right through them with pained solos. More than anything else, this is the sound of E-Street, distilled to its finest essence.
34. The Band – Music From Big Pink (1968)
Coming down the wire from a big pink barn, this idyllic album slowly unravels its strengths. A muted organ begins spreading creaky chords among earthy voices in the gospel strains of ”Tears of Rage,” but by “We Can Talk” Garth Hudson is rocking it like a swamp, building to a peak in “Chest Fever.” Following this up is Richard Manuel’s most aching vocal on this album, “Lonesome Suzie.” The musicianship developed while a Toronto bar band and the sound honed with Bob Dylan in the basement of Hi-Lo-Ha reach their logical conclusion in this blissful blend of smooth country sounds.
33. Beatles – Revolver (1966)
Tonight, on Unsolved Mysteries of Rock, we will consider many of the conundrums and confusions surrounding the Beatles’ Revolver, such as what exactly did Dr. Roberts prescribe? Was “Tomorrow Never Knows” inspired by just LSD, or was a time machine also involved? Why do the head lice crawling around on the cover look conspicuously like the Beatles themselves? And, perhaps most importantly, why did the Beatles choose to name this album Revolver? Was it simply to prevent Ted Nugent from one day using the title himself, or was it just that the music on this album completely blows your mind?
32. DJ Jazzy Jeff – The Magnificent (2002)
Baby Black, Pauly Yamz and Chef Word are stars, at least in Philly, the geographical context that this album is a musical metaphor for. The Magnificent creates community, and the lesser known rappers stand shoulder-to-shoulder with giants like J-Live, Raheem, Jill Scott, Shawn Stockman, and DJ Jazzy Jeff. This is undoubtedly the most underappreciated album on my list, which is shameful because the socially conscious rhymes the rappers construct in their lyrical landscapes build up the people, despite occasionally falling into the misogynistic trap that plagues so much otherwise delightful rap. And, of course, Jeff proves fresher than the Prince.
31. Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison (1968)
If you were a prisoner who got to go to a concert, what would you like to hear songs about? (Please check all that apply.)
o Sleeping with your best friend’s wife
o Being so busted broke you have to steal
o Shooting cocaine
o Shooting your woman down
o Shooting cocaine AND shooting your woman down
o Shooting a man just to watch him die
o Getting pictures of mom in the mail
o Hangings and electric chairs
o Failed attempts at pardons
o Flushing down old love affairs
o A fellow inmate’s musings on religion
o Dirty thievin’ dogs
o Prison break attempts
o Prison break attempts that are really suicide attempts