Wednesday, March 31, 2010

High Fidelity: The Minutemen's "Double Nickels on the Dime"

As a part of today's installment of this site's coverage of the tenth anniversary of the release of the 2000 film High Fidelity, we pause to reflect upon that movie's brief homage to an old Minutemen album. And in so doing, we feature an original interview with Chris Rehmann, one of the actors from the scene in question (featured in the image below wearing the Charlie Brown t-shirt). But, first, onto the music: Featured briefly in the film is the 1984 Minutemen album, Double Nickels on the Dime. Two hooligans, Vince (Rehmann) and Justin (Ben Carr), shoplift a handful of LPs from Championship Vinyl, located in Chicago at the corner of Milwaukee and Honore streets and owned by protagonist Rob Gordon (John Cusack). Gordon spots the two shoplifters just as they are about to leave the store; he yells to his employee, Barry (Jack Black), to bar the door, but Barry is too late, and the thieves flee the premises. Rob and Barry immediately give chase outside the store and around the corner.

Gordon and Barry catch up to them, and Gordon orders them to halt, which they do, when the two young punks realize that Gordon has their skateboard, which may be more valuable than the pilfered records. The two miscreants them toss their records and tapes onto the sidewalk:

Gordon seems surprised at the records that they have stolen, going so far as to ask if they are taking them for someone else. (Note in the image above the copy of the Minutemen album at issue as well as the copy of 1978's Music for Films by Brian Eno. Gordon also professes surprise at their pilfering of music by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Serge Gainsbourg, and Sigue Sigue Sputnik.). The two young thieves scoff at Gordon's disdain, suggesting that Gordon is a musical bigot to think that just by looking at them he can discern what music they should or do in fact enjoy.

The encounter ends with the two sets of adversaries parting ways (although Gordon later learns that the two thieves are musicians in their own right, and he elects to produce their first EP).

For me, the Minutemen was one of those bands that I had always heard of, but never truly discovered until later adulthood, when I could afford to experiment and buy expensive selections from the SST Records back catalog. (Try finding a new copy of one of their LPs for under $16!). Around 1991, I bought a copy of the SST Records compilation, SST Acoustic, which featured one track by the Minutemen, "Stories," which originally appeared on the band's final album, 1985's 3-Way Tie (For Last). That album, of course, was released very shortly before the untimely death of D. Boon, who along with Mike Watt, was the core of the band. It was not until a number of years after I bought the acoustic compilation that I discovered Double Nickels on the Dime, which is really an epic example of the fusion of punk and other genres from the mid-1980s.

Last week, Rehmann kindly agreed to an interview, in which he reflects upon the filming of the scene in question and his memories of shooting in Chicago ten years ago. He recalls:
I got the part when the director Stephen Frears and a casting agent Claire Simon came to a Second City class I was in. They asked me to come and audition for the part. A friend from the second City Alum named Tim O'Malley coached me through the audition and helped me get the part.

I was new to how film worked as it was my first paying job. I was just thrilled the entire shoot. I remember that my first day on the set was to do my hair. The spots. Due to the director and producers having to check out how dark or light the spots or blond was it took seven hours before I was done.

Shooting the part when we got busted was interesting because the set was in a studio and the outside was set on location. So it was run out the door. Then two weeks later we were running away from the door. Jack Black was also a lot of fun in between takes, joking around a lot.

I was not [previously] familiar with the Minutemen. I did not get a chance to talk much music with the cast. Everyone was so busy, except Jack Black, who took the time to hang out, that I did not have much time to talk music. I did overhear discussions by the producers on what music they wanted in the film and one time let John [Cusack] listen to it when he was in make up. I was not in make up with him much and he ate his lunch mostly in his trailer.

The fondest memory was getting the part meeting John Cusack and Jack Black, and then shooting in the double door for the club scene near the end of the film. I was able to watch Jack sing, and it was just a lot of fun. I also got to improvise the part where I was stealing again and when seeing the movie with friends, it got a laugh. So I was proud of that.
Since High Fidelity, Rehmann has appeared in What about Joan (a television series starring John Cusack's sister, Joan), Early Edition, and a few television commercials but, as he notes, "nothing as big or cool as being part of High Fidelity."

Here's another scene featuring Rehmann, Carr, and Cusack:

Anthony Ortale, a Flickr user, has posted a photograph of the exterior that was used for Championship Vinyl in Chicago and the scene at issue in this post. As Rehmann noted, the film's scenes inside the record store were on a set, but the exterior was on a street corner in Chicago. See Ortale's photograph, which shows the site now all boarded up, here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

High Fidelity: The Beta Band's "The Three E.P.'s"

Today, as a part of this week's coverage of the tenth anniversary of the release of High Fidelity, we turn to The Beta Band. There's a scene in the film, in which Rob Gordon (John Cusack), pauses to survey the scene in the record he owns, Championship Vinyl. He notices customers walking through the establishment and browsing, but he decides to take matters into his own hands. He retrieves a copy of The Three E.P.'s, a 1998 compilation of, well, three previously released extended plays by The Beta Band, the British band that some have dubbed "folktronica." Perhaps that's just one way of saying that their music is catchy?

Gordon turns to his employee, Dick (Todd Louiso) and whispers "I will now sell five copies of The Three E.P.'s by The Beta Band." "Do it," replies Dick, with gravitas. He does, and the album's first track, "Dry the Rain," begins to play over the store's system. As it does so, Rob surveys the store, waiting for (and clearly expecting) a reaction from his clientele. He waits.

(It should be noted that when the song begins, its opening sequence is truncated. The portion of that is first heard is actually several moments into the song, rather than its initial beginning.).

Sure enough, the customers react.

One man, who is grooving to the music, asks Rob, "Who is that?"

"The Beta Band," Rob replies.

"It's good," says the customer.

"I know," says Rob, very sure of himself.

I remember seeing this scene in 2000 and being driven to investigate The Beta Band, a group about which I knew little, if anything, at the time. Sometime thereafter, I found myself at San Antonio's Hogwild Records, where I picked up a copy of The Three E.P.'s, which I remember wearing out at that time. A fine album, actually, and "Dry the Rain" does indeed provoke the same sort of reaction depicted in the film when first heard by an unsuspecting listener. Several years later, when I began frequently downloading music from the iTunes Store, I would also acquire the band's 1999 self titled album and their 2001 record, Hot Shots II (which Wikipedia alerts me know to confuse with the 1993 film, Hot Shots! Part Deux). Apparently now defunct, the band would release one more record in 2004 before calling it quits.

It's actually unusual in a film for a character to pick up a copy of a compact disc, mention both its title and artist, and the play a song from the referenced album. Here, Gordon does just that, which allows the viewer to later track down the song far more easily. (Remember, this was in the days before Shazam.). "Dry the Rain" would also appear on the film's soundtrack.

Below, you'll find a clip from High Fidelity, which includes the above referenced scene (as well as a scene featuring a discussion of Stiff Little Fingers to be discussed later this week).

Monday, March 29, 2010

High Fidelity (2000) - Tenth Anniversary

Ten years ago this week, on March 31, 2000, the wonderful film High Fidelity starring John Cusack and directed by Stephen Frears, was released in theatres across the nation. Anyone who has survived - or attempted to survive - a crumbling relationship can relate to this film, which relies heavily on its source material. Indeed, those familiar with the original 1995 book by Nick Hornby know that the adaptation was nearly flawless, with just a few changes to transplant the narrative from the U.K. to Chicago, Illinois. Cusack, essentially playing John Cusack, tortures himself by recounting the most excruciating break-ups of his life. In his confessions, he provides some surprising insight and a number of touching sentiments. Also interesting are Cusack/Hornby's observations as professional appreciaters - unpaid critics who cast their disdain upon those can't see what they see in music (as well as how music itself often fosters the misery of the broken-hearted). Jack Black - still early in his career - showcases his comic talents as Barry, the obnoxious record store clerk and frontman of the mighty band, Sonic Death Monkey. Popular music is almost a character in and of itself, as the characters are constantly referencing this album or that, and relating how particular songs and records affect their lives.

I have seen this movie many, many times. Many times. Surely you've seen it, too, and know the characters and plot all too well. This week, I plan to do a brief series of posts regarding some of the albums and music mentioned in the film, including some that are pivotal in particular scenes in the film. So, without further ado, this week, you can expect posts on the following:
Though far less ambitious than my commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the film, Zero Effect (which was, of course, a lesser known film), I would like to use this series of posts to pause to reflect upon the music and narrative of High Fidelity. The film captures so much of what it means to be a fan of both music and melancholy. In so doing, it references some meaningful albums and songs, some of which are not as well known as they should be. This project is my attempt to remedy that in whatever small way I can via this medium.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Off Duty XVIII

This weekend's misadventures have kept me from authoring a substantive post today. However, stay tuned, for the upcoming week here at Chronological Snobbery will be a doozy. Above, of course, is Marshall BraveStarr and his valiant steed, Thirty/Thirty. An awful cartoon indeed.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

It was nice to see "Saturday Night Live" recently pause to make fun of a 1963 episode of "The Twilight Zone" (although it may suggest something about the writers in 2010 that they are electing to parody 47 year old episodes of a television series). Above, you will see William Shatner in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," which originally aired on October 11, 1963.

It should also be noted that this episode was remade in 1983 as a part of the ill-fated The Twilight Zone: The Movie, featuring John Lithgow as the troubled airline passenger. I've taken the above still of Lithgow from this great 2008 write-up on the 1983 film by Glenn Heath, Jr.

Below, you'll find the recent SNL skit, conveniently embedded from the Hulu:

Friday, March 26, 2010

"March Has 32 Days"

As we approach the end of the month of March, we should pause to reflect upon the comic book story "March Has 32 Days" and its relation to ABC's "Lost." You can read this four page story here from Mystery Tales #40, published in April 1956, at a blog dedicated to this very issue of that comic series. It was featured prominently in "Cabin Fever," the eleventh episode of the fourth season of "Lost," some of which takes place in 1956. (You can learn more about this comic book's significance in the "Lost" universe here, and as per a commenter below, here). Enjoy. And remember how many days has March.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, McSteans.

Happy Birthday to McSteans, wife of Ryan S., who used to run The League of Melbotis, a now defunct pop culture blog. McSteans now runs her own blog here, so investigate it on this merry occasion. Incidentally, the image above is courtesy of illustrator J. Bone at the blog, Blah, Blah, Blog!. The image below, well, that's just from Ryan's last birthday party. Sigh.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Deaths of Robert Preston and Dean Paul Martin (Part II)

Today marks the twenty-third anniversary of the deaths of actors Robert Preston and Dean Paul Martin, who both passed away on March 24, 1987. Two years ago today, I offered my own commentary here on their careers and what I remembered of both of them from the 1980s.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Google Friendly Band Names

Some bands have gone out of their way to make themselves difficult to locate on the Internets. Some, of course, were formed well before the creation of the Internets, so their sins may be excused. (The perfect example of such a pre-Internet group is Smith, whose first album from the 1960s, A Group Called Smith, is depicted above. I mean, how the heck are we supposed to Google them?). But now that the Internet has been with us in earnest for the past decade and a half (and longer than that for same), you would think that bands might be more conscious of this issue than they might have been in the mid-1990s. Take, for example, the San Francisco indie rock group which calls itself Girls, whose 2009 debut album is called Album. Thanks, guys. Really helpful on the search engine front. Or even The Entertainment System, the Houston-based electronica outfit whose last album was 2003's Decibel Hunter. Plugging their name into the Google produces many results, most of which are Nintendo related. Really, what that band should have done is change its name to Decibel Hunter, if only to resolve this issue, rather than naming its last album that. Other examples abound: The Band, Liars, even The Police, but some of those have been around long enough and achieved enough fame to where the issue is not as immense as it might be. Advice to new bands: Be creative enough in your naming process to avoid this issue altogether. It should not be a hassle to Google you. Indeed.

Monday, March 22, 2010

How G.I. Joe Made Me Look Good in Science Class (1986)

Back in the mid-1980s, I scored major points in an elementary school science class because of the daily afternoon cartoon series, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. I was in the fifth or sixth grade, if memory serves, and the science teacher asked if anyone in the classroom knew what the acronym DNA actually stood for. Of course, no one did, and there was an awkward pause while the teacher waited, patiently, for someone, anyone, to answer her query. Not wanting to appear too brainy, I hesitated, but ultimately raised my hand and replied: "Deoxyribonucleic acid." How the heck did I know this at such a young age? G.I. Joe. That's right. G.I. Joe.

Back before I realized that cartoons were merely thirty minute commercials for toys I would later harass my parents to purchase for me, I watched the same animated shows everyone else did, including G.I. Joe. Periodically, when the toymakers realized they needed to introduce a new line of toys, they would begin a new season of the cartoon and introduce a whole host of new characters, each with its own accompanying "action figure." And so it was with Serpentor, the new leader of the terrorist organization, Cobra, who was introduced in a five part episode entitled, "Arise, Serpentor, Arise!" This new super villain was genetically manufactured by the villainous Dr. Mindbender, who dispatched his evil forces across the globe to rob the graves of famous military leaders and tacticians so that he might create his own super military leader from their DNA. Wikipedia suggests that this was part of the second season of the G.I. Joe cartoon, which aired sometime in 1985 or 1986. (I suspect it was 1986, as both the Wikipedia entries for Serpentor and Dr. Mindbender indicate those action figures were released that year.). Pictured above is the cover of G.I. Joe #49, which depicts Destro and Dr. Mindbender making off with a corpse for this purpose. In the cartoon, Dr. Mindbender, in explaining the scheme he had hatched, specifically mentions DNA and the source of the acronym, and I remembered it, making myself look smart in class later that year. Who knew? The best part: I never had to reveal the source of my knowledge, for even then, I knew that I would have regretted that admission.

In fact, thanks to the power of the YouTubes, I have found the exact moment of the G.I. Joe miniseries at issue. See below, and fast forward to about 1:50 in the video:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Blasphemy Mix

After hearing XTC's "Dear God" on the radio recently, I wondered if I could make a playlist featuring songs with somewhat similar, blasphemous themes (or at the very least, irreverent or light takes on religious topics in song). Here goes:

1. F_ck Christmas - Fear
2. No Resistin' A Christian - Brian Ritchie
3. Christ for President - Billy Bragg & Wilco
4. The Charging Sky - Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins
5. Baby, Let's Be Methodists Tonight - Fish Karma
6. Bible Days - Jessica Lea Mayfield
7. Dance Like A Monkey - New York Dolls
8. Dear God - XTC
9. Merry Christmas from the Family - Robert Earl Keen
10. Dear God - Sarah McLachlan
11. I Have Forgiven Jesus (Live) - Morrissey
12. Personal Jesus - Marilyn Manson
13. Jesus Is Just Alright - The Doobie Brothers
14. Jesus Don't Want Me For A Sunbeam - The Vaselines
15. The Number of the Beast - Iron Maiden
16. Jesus Built My Hotrod - Ministry
17. Hells Bells - AC/DC
18. God Gave Rock & Roll To You II - Kiss
19. Jesus Christ Pose - Soundgarden

Surprisingly, though, most of these are actually pretty good songs, to boot. I bet Richard Dawkins (or even Miranda C. Hale) would pay top dollar for this mix, no? The New York Dolls song, "Dance Like A Monkey," is about the battle over evolution, if you can believe it, and mentions the taking of that dispute to the Supreme Court. I picked the Marilyn Manson version of "Personal Jesus," instead of the original by Depeche Mode, simply for shock value. Most of the other selections are, of course, self explanatory (save for the Jenny Lewis selection, the themes of which merit its inclusion on this list.).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Battlestar Galactica - Series Finale

One year ago tonight, on March 20, 2009, Sci-Fi's "Battlestar Galactica" ended its run. The reimagining of the old 1970s sci-fi show began as a television miniseries in 2004 and then became a regular weekly series shortly thereafter. It received much acclaim, but it had some level of difficulty in convincing the general public that it was not a schlocky genre show. Pictured above and below, of course, is one reason to lament the loss the show. (That's Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck, which you should know.). Actually, come to think of it, the series finale of "Battlestar" was a bit controversial, as a number of viewers did not seem to appreciate the fashion in which all of the loose plot threads were ultimately tied together. You may recall the space farers ultimately find Earth - their long sought destination - but they arrive well in our planet's past. Thus, it is suggested that the series protagonists become our forebears. Some people didn't dig it, as can be noted in the comments to television critic Alan Sepinwall's review of the finale. (I foresee a similar reaction to this year's upcoming series finale of "Lost," if only because some people will never be satisfied with anything.). Although the series finale had its flaws, it wasn't too bad, actually, and I suppose there's no way to truly satisfy a die hard fan of anything.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Week That Was (3/13 -3/19)

1. And you thought the flash sideways on TV's "Lost" were confusing. I'm not entirely certain what is going on in the video above, but there is something very sinister about the way Michael Emerson (who plays Benjamin Linus) professes his fondness for cake. Yikes.

2. I can't believe I missed this post over at A Sampler of Things, in which the author shares with us his old Pep Cereal advertisement featuring none other than Superman, the Man of Steel.

3. Finally, in some sad news, this week saw the passing of Alex Chilton, who as a teenager was a member of The Box Tops (known for their single "The Letter") and Big Star, a hugely influence early alternative band. Many of us first come to know of Chilton and Big Star from the 1987 Replacements song, "Alex Chilton," which we suspect has been getting a lot of airplay these past few days. Here's a collection of links to a number of blogs tributes to Chilton:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lita Ford - Out for Blood (1983)

Well, they don't make album covers like this any more, do they? Yes, that's Lita Ford's 1983 Out for Blood album, which is probably not remembered in 2010 for its contributions to pop music. Below you can find an alternate cover for the same album. Not much of a change, eh? Well, it was the 1980s, wasn't it? Surely that excuses at least some portion of the error?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy Birthday, Steanso.

Happy birthday to Steanso, author of the aptly named The Adventures of Steanso blog. Steanso's brother, Ryan, used to run The League of Melbotis, a now defunct pop culture blog. (You can investigate Ryan's past birthday wishes to his brother here and here, but since Ryan has left the blogosphere, it is left to those of us at Chronological Snobbery to take up the task.). Below, please find a recent picture of Steanso, taken shortly after winning a trial at the courthouse.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tabitha Soren

What became of MTV news reporter Tabitha Soren? She seems to be one of those victims of popular culture condemned to be forgotten by virtue of her chosen profession. As a new reporter for a music station, she released no video cassettes or compact discs, meaning that there is no product or accumulation of her work that can be viewed or later discovered. She came and went in the years prior to the Internet, so there are no contemporary fan pages or tributes to her on the Internets, as no one used the Internets when she was at her most popular.

Really, then, she is mostly remembered by those Generation Xers who watched MTV in the early 1990s, who remember her reports about music news or her attempts to report on politics at the two national political conventions in 1992. (She also committed a gaffe of sorts when she asked, after overhearing Bill Clinton profess a fondness for Thelonious Monk, "Who is The Loneliest Monk?"). These days, it appears that she is a photographer married to author Michael Lewis (who wrote The Blind Side, which became the Sandra Bullock film that I can't bring myself to see); she now goes by the name Tabitha Lee Lewis.

Back in 1986, she had a brief appearance in the music video for the Beastie Boys' "Fight for Your Right (To Party)." In the early 1990s, Soren also appeared in the music video for "Down with MTV," an early parody of Naughty By Nature's "O.P.P." Sigh.

What became of her? This site is not the first one to ask that question. In 2007, Mike Reino of the SC6 blog wondered what became of Ms. Soren. Said Reino at that time: "Back in the old days of MTV - when they played videos, had good game shows like Remote Control and Singled Out, and The Real World actually tried to accomplish something (aside from hook-ups) - there was Tabitha, the little red-headed pixie, trying to be a serious journalist. While no one took her too seriously, at least she tried, and she looked pretty good doing it. Yes, I have a soft spot for redheads. She interviewed everyone, although he was tougher on George Bush than Bill Clinton, so I guess there was some legitimacy to it all. Then, POOF! Gone."

And she was gone forever.

Above: Tabitha Soren interviews Trixter in one of her first MTV appearances, likely in 1990 or early 1991. MTV news anchor and old fossil (even then!) Kurt Loder introduces her as "the newest addition to our MTV News team." Surely you remember Trixter.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Ides of March




Ha! who calls?


Bid every noise be still: peace yet again!


Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music,
Cry 'Caesar!' Speak; Caesar is turn'd to hear.


Beware the ides of March.


What man is that?


A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.


Set him before me; let me see his face.


Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.


What say'st thou to me now? speak once again.


Beware the ides of March.


He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.

- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene 2.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Daylight Savings Time Begins. Spring Forward.

I hate moving forward, especially springing forward. As this subject matter of this blog suggests, I prefer to remain in the past, rather than leap toward the future. Oh, well. Set your clocks.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Looking Back: The Flaming Lips

"Flaming Lips, formed as an alt.punk band 20 years ago and with only one major single to their name - the gimmick hit She Don't Use Jelly in 94 which Beavis and Butthead broke for them - are currently the coolest band on the planet. They are a fun-loving neo-psychedelic rock band with a mainline to existential beauty wrapped in delicate pop, and an ear to experimentation. - Graham Reid of the New Zealand Herald, writing in this piece, published January 10, 2004.

Reid offered these thoughts on the band six years ago. Was he right then, and if so, is he still? The answers to both questions is probably no. The Flaming Lips are a fun and wonderful band, but it cannot be said that they have changed music in the way that so many other bands have done. Lead singer Wayne Coyne is not the best vocalist, and these days, the band garners more press for its onstage antics than its music (which, for many, may even be beside the point). The band's latest album, Embryonic (the cover of which is pictured above), earned some accolades, but in the grand scheme of things, came and went like so many other albums before it. So why, then, in 2004, was Mr. Reid so fierce a partisan of the band? Sure, we liked "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1" as much as the next nostalgic music blog, but not so much to call them the "coolest band on the planet."

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Week That Was (3/6 - 3/12)

Below, you'll find some quotes and links from The Week That Was:
1. "I hate that Radiohead didn’t break up after OK Computer. Had that happened, I guarantee that OK would have shot up the totem pole of legendary records. I consider it to be one of the many travesties in rock history, alongside the death of John Bonham and the existence of Hall and Oats [sic]. And Kid A, the album to follow OK Computer, is also on that list of travesties. Look, I’m not going to bash Radiohead in the same snobby manner as others; they once were and still have the capacity to be an amazing band. But Kid A is where the buck stops." - K.A. Coldwell, writing in this piece, on the blog entitled Tipping the Lion, on March 6, 2010. Really? Coldwell would do away with not just Kid A, but also Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief, and In Rainbows? This seems rather extreme, don't you think? Coldwell must have really hated Kid A. Really hated it. It's not for everyone, but I wouldn't erase it from existence, either.

2. Picky Girl, author of the blog, Picky Girl: Discussions of food, film, and fiction (and everything in between), finally gets around to reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Says she: "I loved the characters. I wanted them to be happy. I hurt when they hurt. That being said, I was very conscious that I was reading this book. I wasn’t wrapped up in it. There were times when Chabon lost me. There were moments when I swore if I read another sentence as long and convoluted as the last that I would put down the book and mark it off my list as “I sure gave it my best…” Chabon likes his sentences. They’re pretty, and he knows it. I wish he weren’t so darn conscious of that fact," - The Picky Girl, writing in this piece, on the blog entitled The Picky Girl, on March 7, 2010.

3. Chris over at The Invincible Super Blog has a post entitled, "Wake Up and Smell the '90s." How could I not link to that? A caveat: It's about Wolverine.

4. Ryan V. at Distorted Veracity is a self described "voracious reader," and this week, he walks us through the latest tomes he's read and enjoyed. He appears to dig non-fiction.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Creative Drugs

Years ago, I jotted down this great quotation from a German newspaper: "[T]he real consequences of excessive consumption of beer, wine and spirits are to be seen not in prize-winning literature but in the broken people who wander outside train stations and on park benches." -- Georg Rüschemeyer, writing in this piece (long dead link) in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in January of 2004. The author began the article by mentioning that the myths of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulker have misled the citizenry into believing that booze is a "creative drug." But does not booze fueled melancholy prompt great art? That's a debate for another day, perhaps. Alas, the link no longer works, but the quote remains. Have I, by preserving this brief excerpt for posterity, saved it for the ages? Yes, I think I have.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Y Kant Tori Read - Tori Amos and Matt Sorum Together (1988)

Behold. The publicity photo above is of the band Y Kant Tori Read, the act that Tori Amos is probably now embarrassed that she was a part of prior to becoming the Tori Amos that we all know. That blond fellow second from the left is drummer Matt Sorum, once of The Cult, later of Guns N' Roses, now of Velvet Revolver. (The band was rounded out by guitarist Steve Caton and bassist Brad Cobb). In 1988, the band released a lone self-titled album and two forgotten singles, "Cool on the Island" and "The Big Picture," neither of which would have their own Wikipedia entries if Amos had not achieved later fame. The band was very, uh, representative of the 1980s (and you can check out its promotional materials here). But after one record, the project forever sank into the ether. (Perhaps their fate was in part due to the fact that their name could not simultaneously serve as an intentional misspelling and a reference to an 18th century German philosopher?). Long out of print, the album is a sought after collector's item for Amos fans. It's amusing to think that when Sorum was involved with this project his future GNR bandmates were already touring in support of Appetite for Destruction, a much different album to be sure. I wonder what Sorum or Amos would say to a Y Can't Tori Read reunion. Not no, but hell no?

Above: Y Kant Tori Read's video for "The Big Picture."

But we're not just here to showcase old photos of Amos. Here's what Amos herself had to say about that band in the early 1990s, when her solo career was just beginning to take off:
  • "Matt and I, we can laugh at it now, but at the time we were just opposites with the same fire, though." ("Tori Amos Has a Lighter Touch These Days," Albany Times Union, October 23, 1994).

  • "I was trying to live up to other people's expectations I'd be anything that was going to get approval. But before I made Little Earthquakes I made a commitment to myself and to my music." (Michael Norman, "Victim A Empowered Artist: Why Tori Amos Refuses to Go Into The Nice Box," Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 12, 1994).
  • "I wish I could get into those plastic snake pants again! My life then wasn't committed to being a musician. I wanted approval really bad, and I did anything to get it. When that album failed, I became a bit of a joke. It was a far cry from child prodigy to bimbo, which Billboard called me. But that experience was my teacher." (Edna Gundersen, "Tori Amos' Vision of Feminine Strength, " USA Today, February 7, 1994). (As noted here, though, Ms. Amos actually takes the Billboard review's bimbo reference out of context.).

  • "So I turned over my opinions to everybody else and refused to express what I was feeling in music anymore and invented this character for myself. . . . I forgot that if it isn't in my heart or if I'm not getting off on it, maybe people could tell. I didn't think about that one. When Y Kant Tori Read bombed, I didn't have any respect for myself." (Chris Willman, "Pop Music," Los Angeles Times, January 30, 1994).
  • "I can't tell you how many people said, 'That girl just does not have it,'". (Ann Kolson, "Tori Amos: Giving Voice to Her Fears," Philadelphia Inquirer, April 24, 1992)

  • "I feel like it's inviting the ex-boyfriend to the wedding. But without that record, I couldn't have written ["Little Earthquakes"]. That was the final step for me to make until I was willing to go back to the piano. It was the springboard that made me go into all the things I wouldn't talk about. The 'Me and a Gun' experience, all the religious viewpoints I had. So it was a big door for me, that record." (Wayne Robbins, "Songs of Sex and the Spirit," Newsday, April 5, 1992).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Dead Blog Cemetery Indeed

On the sidebar of this site, you'll find a blogroll entitled "Dead Blog Cemetery," which features links to blogs that were abandoned long ago by their authors. Nothing macabre there. But way back in April of 2003, in Wired News, author Chris Null wrote about an interesting, though rather depressing, topic: what happens to the weblogs of individuals who die? According to the article, "[d]eath and dying have lately become prime topics of interest for bloggers." Yikes. Null maintains a far less existential blog and founded a film criticism website back in 1995. Seven years later, though, surely this issue is much more widespread than it was in 2003, the earliest days of blogging. One wonders whether the blogging or social networking sites have developed any sort of policies on this matter now that so many millions of people are utilizing the technology. (Indeed, late last year, Facebook announced plans for its own set of memorial pages for deceased users.). The question: If I predecease this site, how would you ever know?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Robert Downey, Jr.'s "The Last Party" (1993)

The above photograph of Robert Downey, Jr. was taken during the 1992 Republican National Convention, between August 17 and 20, 1992, at the Astro Hall Arena (part of the Astrodome complex) in Houston, Texas. Downey and his cameraman were filming what would become the 1993 social and political documentary, "The Last Party" (which is, apparently, unavailable on DVD, but you can find both clips of the film, as well as the entire film itself, on the YouTubes, if you're diligent.). Directed by Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin, and written by Downey, Donovan Leitch, Levin, and Josh Richman, the film - an attempt to bring together politics, pop culture, and the personality of Downey - is now mostly forgotten.

Watching the film all these years later, and knowing what was in store for Downey in the years to come, the film is more of a cultural relic than a meaningful documentary about the political culture of 1992. Downey seemed more interesting in being the center of attention than accurately depicting the political landscape of the time. Of course, we know now, and we probably suspected then, that Downey, despite his talents, was not the most mature individual. He would later spiral downward into a pit of self indulgence from which he would later, finally emerge after nearly a decade of attempting to do so. (In fact, in one portion of the film, Downey comments rather frankly on his struggle with drugs, which modern viewers now know would halt his career for some time just a few years after this 1993 film was released.). However, in 2010, perhaps the young Downey can be forgiven for his political ignorance and his haphazard attempt to report on politics in 1992. Maybe we should just enjoy the film for what it is?

Well, that's not exactly what they did upon the film's arrival in theatres. In 1993, reviewing the documentary at the time of its initial release, Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote:

More than an interviewer, Mr. Downey has the impossible task of being the emotional and spiritual grounding wire for the film, which Mark Benjamin and Marc Levin have directed in the style of an jeans commercial on MTV. The film is so jumpy that no one, including Mr. Downey, gets to say much of anything. Adopting a cheery, guy-next-door attitude, he offers autobiographical tidbits about his parents' divorce, his sexual problems with women and his enrollment in a 12-step program, which are supposed to be emblematic of the "Less Than Zero" generation.

Crisscrossing the country with Mr. Downey is the furthest thing from being on the road with Charles Kuralt or Tom Brokaw, since Mr. Downey prefers the role of clown to pundit. Early in the film, he announces he has two sides to his personality, "the good boy" and "the goat boy." The goat boy is shown, stripped to his underwear splashing around in a public fountain. The goat boy prefaces a group interview with some young Wall Street traders who chant "greed is good" with a string of glib obscenities about how he loathes them.

The Wall Street colloquy is one of the more pungent fragments in "The Last Party," which opens today at the Village East. Far too much of the time, the film dashes around trying to cover as many political bases as possible. Mr. Downey attends marches and demonstrations involving feminists and gay-rights advocates, but the visits are so brief that the issues are barely addressed. Whether the people facing the camera are poor, angry blacks or rich Young Republicans, everybody tries to cram as much rhetoric as possible into their 15 seconds of celluloid. The collective voices add up to a cocktail party din in which no one is heard distinctly.

It did not, apparently, fare well at the box office. But then again, what documentaries do, especially then? (Michael Moore's big budget pseudo-docs were still years off in the future).

Back in late 2007, this site located a few of the interviewees featured in the film. Few of them were pleased with their depiction in the final product, and many were not interested in commenting on the film so many years later. Fred Bartlett, Jr., who was featured in the film as a young Republican at the 1992 Republican National Convention, was kind enough to answer a few questions by email regarding the nature of the experience. He and his friends were interviewed as a group by Downey, who discovered that a large group of College Republicans would be assembled at a ranch in Houston during the convention.

Bartlett's 2007 interview with this site is as follows:

1. How would you describe your political beliefs in 1992? How would you compare them to those of 2007?
In 1992, I would classify myself as a conservative Republican. Who followed the party line and was supportive of the political process. I was ready to fight the ideological war against the liberals who appeared very intolerant of all beliefs that did not support their agenda or point of view. Today in 2007, my views have changed and some would say that I am very different. While I still am a registered Republican, I really have a hard time supporting the party and what they are doing. Today, I really feel that the politicians are clueless when it comes to what people are going through on a daily basis. DC is like "Fantasy Island" and the politicians are like the guest getting off of the plane, they are there to have their fantasy fulfilled and they get that. I would classify myself as a fiscally conservative libertarian, I do not want the government in anyone’s life at all. If I approve of them getting into your life, then that says that they should be able to get into mine.
2. If your political beliefs have changed, or have been confirmed, what in the last 15 years would you identify as the reason for that change or confirmation?
I would say that the two biggest factors that have changed my political views are my marriage [and] my job. I am an administrator at a community college, and we have an open enrollment policy because we believe that education should be open to everyone willing to work and achieve. For many, politicians and politics continue to push that dream out of reach. My marriage has change my views because I no longer think of myself, I have kids, I am saving for college, I am paying a mortgage, and I have to live within a budget.
3. From the documentary, it appears that you were in Houston for the 1992 Republican National Convention. What brought you to Houston? Were you a delegate, or were you attending on behalf of a group? Do you have any fond memories of that August of 1992?
I was a student at the time, I was volunteering on the Bush Campaign Team and my friend Bill Spadea was the national youth director for Bush/Quayle ’92. He put this whole program together to get thousands of college students there for the president. I drove down with several other students. I have some memories of that whole episode, I remember having a really good time, details will not be discussed.
4. What do you remember about the interview with Robert Downey, Jr.? In the film, the viewer sees a number of young politically involved individuals being interviewed at what appears to be a ranch party. Do you remember where you were? What was the group's reaction to Downey, Jr.?
Interview, that is a nice way to describe it. It was more like a sound bite. His people contacted the CRNC, College Republican National Committee, and wanted to do a piece about young people, we had arranged for him to attend the cookout at the Double H ranch and though that it would be a good place for them to get some footage. A lot of it was staged and I only got in the final cut because he started asking about pro-choice republicans and the crowd went crazy shouting him down and one girl spoke up at this republican picnic and said she was a pro-choice party member. I yelled something over her interview and Downey pulled my in front of the camera because of it. The group liked Downey, they thought it was cool that they were in Houston, and there was this star wanting to get their opinion.
5. When did you find out that you had appeared in the film, and have you ever been curious about it?
I found out about the film maybe two [or] three years later. My friends kept saying that they have seen me on Showtime or HBO, where the film appeared. The first time they told me I thought that they were pulling my leg. I have never been curious about the film. If a copy landed on my desk, I guess I would view it.

Bartlett also helpfully directed our attention to this September 1992 piece from The New Republic, which recounts a College Republican road trip to the 1992 convention. The reporter was apparently present at the time Bartlett's scene was filmed and, in some detail, described the reactions of the assembled young conservatives to Downey and his documentary film-making:

At the back of the ranch, the leaders of the College Republicans gather in a small tent to participate in the taping of a documentary on American politics. The event turns out to be an unwitting documentary on the implosion of Reagan-Bush Republicanism. Not that the producers of the show had anything so sophisticated in mind. The event is hosted by Robert Downey Jr., an actor famous for portraying alienated yuppie drug dealers. When he arrives at the ranch he is instantly surrounded by a peristaltic mass of adoring College Republicans. Now he sits on one side of a long picnic table facing the two sign painters from Arkansas, one of the Virginia beauties, and Charismatic Leader Bill Spadea. Looking over them on higher benches, like hundreds of Mannerist angels, are row upon row of perfectly worshipful young Republicans.

"We believe in the values of the family," Spadea is saying. "But Congress has continually fought these values ..." The crowd starts to chant: "Bill For President! Bill For President!." Bill is clearly enjoying this proximity to celebrity.

Downey asks if "the so-called cultural elite" are to blame for the decline in Spadea's family values. "Well," says Spadia, gamely, "a lot of what they say on TV has no value base.... And the American people are sick of it."

Another great cheer goes up, and Downey fidgets. If George Bush has so many values, he asks, how come he's been involved with drug peddlers in covert operations?

"That's just hearsay. You're talking basically a lot of media people ... a lot of hearsay."

. . .

In the end the noise was too much. The film crew just gave up. The lights went off and the camera people together with Robert Downey Jr. moved to find a more peaceful place to ply their trade. As I made my own way to the exit, I couldn't help but notice a young couple off near some bushes, working hard to undermine College Republican morality.
The article has lots more about the encounter, including a detailed account of the pro-choice Republican female stepping forward and being challenged by Mr. Bartlett:
"Are there any pro-choice Republicans in the audience?" [Downey] asks.


But it's too late. A woman grabs the microphone, provoking a full-scale panic.

"The true conservative view is economic not religious ...," she begins.


And then comes the most startling voice in a three-state area; it booms with the authority of Yahweh speaking to Charlton Heston:


I turn. Downey turns. Everyone turns. And there stands Fred. He's not happy. Downey may not like the point of view, but he knows good television when he sees it. Out he comes, seizes Fred by the arm, and pulls him center stage. He wants a sound bite; Fred, of course, gives him something more closely resembling a full meal.


The crowd goes completely ape, and Fred wants to go on, but Downey, seeming ever so slightly possessive, has taken back his microphone. The crowd responds with another attack.

Interviewed by email in 2007 by this site, William Hamilton, who is featured briefly in the film as a UFO scholars, remembers the experience as follows:
Some producer (I do not remember which one as I have been interviewed on television programs) asked me if I wanted to do this as they needed a UFO expert. I just remember Robert telling us that he was going to go around the room and ask questions which he proceeded to do, but I did not expect some of his responses. I have seen the film and believe I have a VHS copy of it, but I first saw it at a Westwood theater. I am not too happy about my depiction and I would have clearly done it differently if I knew. I do not recall much about the political scene then, but I think we were entering an era of increasing doubt about our government which now has become widespread.
Leitch produced a sequel of sorts called Last Party 2000, released in 2003 and hosted by the much more restrained Philip Seymour Hoffman, who covered the 2000 election. Downey was not involved. Of late, though, Downey has become a bankable Hollywood action star.

One user has posted a series of clips from the film, including the following clips (which features, among other things, Downey's interview with a Houston rapper, Downey's views and interviews on greed and profit, Downey's description of his own troubles with drugs and treatment, Downey's description of his alter ego "Goat Boy," Downey's interview with an African American Republican at the Houston convention):

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sparklehorse and Mark Linkous and Thom Yorke and Radiohead

I can't say that I am too familiar with Sparklehorse, the band that's in the news today because its lead singer, Mark Linkous, apparently committed suicide yesterday. (See here for the coverage at Rolling Stone.). Linkous started out as a guitar tech and roadie for the band Cracker before beginning his own musical project in the mid-1990s. Investigating my iTunes library this morning, I can find only one tune by the band, that being its contribution to the 1997/1998 compilation, Come Again, which was a collection of old rock songs covered by modern acts. (Apparently, that compilation, now out of print, was released in the U.S. under the name, Essential Interpretations.). I have that album, of course, because of its inclusion of a cover of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here," for which the band collaborated with Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. According to Radiohead fan site Green Plastic, "Thom sang his part on the telephone from his hotel room where you can hear his TV in the background." The cover would later appear on the soundtrack to the 2005 film, Lords of Dogtown. The band had apparently toured with Radiohead in Europe following the release of its 1995 debut album, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot. Resquiat in Pacem.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Joss Whedon and Firefly

I was late to 2002's "Firefly," catching the television series well after its initial release on DVD. It was a fun, sometimes clever, space opera, depicting the exploits of the crew of the spacecraft, "Serenity." It was occasionally too cutesy, but when it was entertaining, it was entertaining. But it never found its footing, and it was canceled in December of 2002, after only 11 episodes.

I generally enjoy the work of its creator, Joss Whedon, but I do not worship him. (This makes me somewhat unique among the viewers of his television programs.). I have seen most, if not all, of the episodes of his "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" television series. I saw Serenity, the 2005 film based on "Firefly," at the theatres. But there exists around Whedon a puzzling and worshipful cult that forgives even the fact that he perpetrated the recent and awful "Dollhouse."

Fans, particularly science fiction fans in the Internet age, have become apologists and sycophants for their favorite shows. They so desperately want to become a part of a mythos - any mythos - that they don costumes, write fan fiction, and do anything and everything they can to insert themselves into the fictive universe that they adore. They maintain a personal stake in their fandom; if you look at their beloved program with anything approaching a critical eye, they take personal offense. They cannot respond well to such criticism, because their very identify is questioned by anything other than an obsequious review. They so identify with the shows they love that it becomes for them, in effect, a would-be ethnicity. I love "Lost," but hey . . .

This is not new. Certainly, there were and still are rapid fans of Star Wars and Star Trek and Lord of the Rings. (There are even some who pardon George Lucas for all of his post-1983 offenses, of which there are many.). But those were massive movie franchises, the first two of which have been around for decades. How is it, then, that a short-lived, albeit entertaining, television show like "Firefly", which lasted but eleven episodes, could gain such a cultish following? How is it that there are partisans of this show who still refer to actor Nathan Fillion as "the Captain," when he played that role for less than half of a full television season on a program that was canceled nearly eight years ago? The ensuing film was entertaining and fun, which is a rarity these days, but should a fun flick and a handful of TV episodes a subculture make?

I think not.