Friday, June 29, 2007

Is This the End: The N.E. Epilogue

So that we can finally move on as a society, here it is: The most complete New Edition playlist out there, arraigned in the best order possible. 1.2 hours of classic (R&B) boy-band goodness, as well as further proof that Ralph Tresvant is one of the all-time R&B front-men. The below songs are culled from one greatest hits record and two reunion albums, meaning you could save a lot of cash if you buy the singles straight off of I-Tunes (or however else you may get your music…). Enjoy the mix. Feel free to comment if you think I’ve forgotten anything (doubt it). I’m in the bunker the rest of weekend:

  1. “Can You Stand the Rain”, Greatest Hits, Vl.1
  2. “If it isn’t Love”, Greatest Hits, Vl.1
  3. “Something About You”, Home Again (the best BB & RT callabo…ever)
  4. “Count Me Out”, Greatest Hits, Vl.1
  5. “Cool It Now”, Greatest Hits, Vl.1
  6. “Candy Girl”, Greatest Hits, Vl.1
  7. “Hit Me Off”, Home Again
  8. “Best Man”, One Love
  9. “Mr. Telephone Man”, Greatest Hits, Vl.1
  10. “I’m Still in Love With You”, Home Again
  11. “One More Day”, Home Again (a truly beautiful Ricky Bell solo)
  12. “Re-Write the Memories”, One Love
  13. “Leave Me”, One Love
  14. “Newness”, One Love
  15. “Boys to Men, (Remix Version)”, Greatest Hits, Vl.1
  16. “Is this the End”, Greatest Hits, Vl.1

Possible thoughts next week: Nick Cave, Dick Cheney, Die Hard, the “Counsel of Democracies”, Melville, The Road

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Required Reading

It was my intent to write my thoughts regarding the new Die Hard movie (I’ll get to it next week), but recent events have left me quite shaken. Announcements yesterday of a congressional investigation into the office of the vice-president was welcome news, and, while reading Permanent Damage by Steven Grant, I clicked a link he provided a found myself reading series of reports that the Washington Post has been running on the vice-president titled “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency”. I started the series believing I had a fair understanding of the extent to which Dick Cheney has mismanaged this country and damaged the office of the President. I had… no idea. I implore anyone who might be reading this blog, to please click on this link and read the stellar work that Barton Gellman and Joe Becker have done. If you don’t read these articles, then you must live with the fact that you have no interest whatsoever in the fundamental issues at the core of this nation—the economy, the environment, the war on terror, the office of the executive branch (or, apparently now, the legislative branch). If this is the case, the only real question left to ask is what kind of person are you?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


The first book jacket I remember that inspired me to buy a book outright was Underworld by Don Dellilo (as a hard cover!). At the time, I had no idea who Delillo was, and, sadly, to this day, still haven’t read it (outside of an excerpt in an anthology), even though I have managed to read other books by him (hey, it’s really long!). Below I’ve listed the best cover induced buys, along with links to the best place to glimpse the covers. I’ve split the list into two categories: Authors I Was Familiar With When I Bought the Book and Authors Who I Had Never Knowingly Heard Of at the Time. Many of these books I still haven’t gotten to, so I invite comments from others who may have bought a book based on one of the covers mentioned and would save me the effort. I’d also be interested in other examples of covers that you found particularly compelling, and, of course, any examples of the rope-a-dope.

Authors I was Familiar with When I Bought the Book:

  1. The Inferno of Dante, by Robert Pinsky
  2. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
  3. Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez
  4. The Sweet Hereafter, by Russell Banks
  5. All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing, by Cormac McCarthy
  6. Them (as well as the rest of The Wonderland Quartet), by Joyce Carol Oates
  7. The Ice Storm, by Rick Moody
  8. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami (and, seriously, any of the Vintage Paperbacks)
  9. V. and Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
  10. Selected Fiction and Selected Non-Fiction, by Jorge Luis Borges
  11. The Early Stories, by John Updike (Hardcover, only. A friend pointed out the binding of the hardcover, and he was right—beautiful.)
  12. The Simple Art of Murder, by Raymond Chandler
  13. Metamorphoses, by Ovid, translated by Charles Martin
  14. The New Testament, by God and Jesus, translated by Kevin Lattimore (if you can find the Chip Kidd designed hardcover, get it. Absolutely beautiful and chilling.)
  15. The Koran, by Mahomet (with help from God), translated by A. J. Arberry

Authors who I had Never Knowingly Heard of at the Time of Purchase:

  1. Riders of the Chariot, by Patrick White
  2. the dis-inherited, by Han Ong
  3. Afterburn, by Colin Harrison
  4. Cloudstreet, by Tim Winton
  5. The Town that Forgot How to Breathe, by Kenneth J. Harvey (extra points for the texture of the cover)
  6. Out, by Natsuo Kirino
  7. The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead
  8. Blindness, by Jose Saramago
  9. The True History of the Kelly Gang, by Peter Carey
  10. Number 9 Dream, by David Mitchell
  11. Provinces of Night, by William Gay (one of my most inspiring finds)
  12. Gould’s Book of Fish, by Richard Flannigan (one of the best books I’ve ever read. never would have found it had it not been for the great cover)
  13. Various Antidotes, by Joanna Scott
  14. Life and Fate, by Vasily Grossman
  15. Headlong, Michael Frayn
  16. Gulag, by Anne Applebaum
  17. Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin
  18. The Spider’s House, by Paul Bowles
  19. Natasha’s Dance, by Orlando Figgs
  20. Titan, by Ron Chernow
  21. A Dance to the Music of Time, by Anthony Powell (I’m talking about the entire University of Chicago Press set. It was a graduation present, and it is stunning)

There are some heavy-hitters on that second list. It’s depressing to think that I may not have added these books to the library if it weren’t for their covers. God bless, advertising.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Contest! A Plug!

Two things today:
1. CONTEST: Here it is! The first ever 15 Feet contest! Click here for a link to what has to be the most B-Spectacular preview ever, starring Sylvester Stallone in, you guessed it(!), John Rambo, in, wait for it… John Rambo! I don’t know what’s more awesome: the fact that most of the movie looks as if it were filmed in the backyard of his Miami home, or the awesome (!) foreign language of the webpage (is that Russian?). Here are the rules: You write the script! (Seriously, the entire movie is featured in the craptastic (!) trailer). The script can be no longer than a hundred words (because it’s Rambo), but must include the following brilliant lines of dialog (in whatever order you think fits—ellipses a requirement). :


“Long time…”

Burma z'a warzone…”

This exchange: “Bringing any weapons…”, incredulous response of your choosing, followed by “You ain’t changin’ nothin’…”

“S’not my business…”

“You’re gonna make it!...”

“When you’re pushed… Killin’ s’as easy as breathin’…”

Submission's can be submitted as comments on this post, or you may email me directly. Winners will be chosen by me and will receive my heartfelt thanks for participating (hey, I'm borderline broke, cut me some slack).

2. PLUG: Please visit my friend (and fellow UVA MFAer) Gina’s blog, The Dropcloth. Not only does her blog have a way cool name, it’s full of beautiful language and observations. (Jealousy x2) And yes, she is as pretty as she sounds.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Thoughts

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A large, all-powerful, entity decides to destroy the earth but is stopped by its son, who, after walking briefly among the humans on earth, rebels and sacrifices himself so that mankind can live on. If you skipped the post title and guessed this was the plot to Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, you get a gold star (acceptable answers could have included Battlefield Earth and The Bible). Perhaps because the first FF film was so atrocious (the Fantastic Four, in hindsight, have one of the worst origin stories—what worked so well in the sixties seems ridiculous today now that we have astronauts from several countries living it up on space stations), or perhaps because I saw the movie with someone who was under ten, I have to honestly admit that I wasn’t as disappointed in this movie as I have been with other sequels this summer; and that, in fact, I might be willing to admit (under duress in Gitmo) that I was pleasantly surprised. The plot for the film is loosely (stress loosely) based on the classic Stan Lee and Jack Kirby epic that ran between issues 48 and 50 of The Fantastic Four comic book, in which readers were introduced, with great destruction (to New York and hyperbole), to the world devouring Galactus, and his noble herald, the Silver Surfer. The Marvel Universe may have been created during the 60’s, but it was the Silver Surfer who was the ultimate Summer of Love hero: a vagrant so angsty he wandered the universe with his “cosmic powers” (which, loosely defined, meant that he could shoot large doses of LSD out of his hands) and shacked up on various planets to ponder the meaning of existence while continuing to battle the fascist elements of the universe that refused to play it mellow, eventually finding a way to bug out to other worlds when things got to “intense”. Too bad he never made it to San Francisco! In the film, director Tim Story replaces the Surfer’s more existential behaviour with that of a bewildered Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburn, awkwardly, on voice) who acts as if he’s just awoken from The Matrix. Apparently, kids can handle the destruction of the earth, just not their place in the universe. The cast returns for their paycheck, with only Chris Evans (as Johnny Storm) bringing any effort (or body hair!) to his part (side bar: I predict that Chris Evans will either be the next Harrison Ford, or co-star with Matt Leinert in One Night in Paris 2—but at this point it’s a toss up). There has been a lot of complaining about the amount of product placement in the movie (here’s looking at you Dodge), but which was never been beyond the realm of The Four (Reed Richards has always been a benevolent uber-Gates, with no desire to rule the world), and The Four have always been the corporate man’s super team. Still, true honesty must compel us to recall the past and admit to how we saved pennies for that Big Gulp with the Superman IV: A Quest for Peace picture on it, and how we remember desperately trying to hold tightly onto that giant plastic cup as it sweated its way out of out hands as being one of the most awesomest days ever (okay, maybe that was just me). In America, a nation full of broken and denied marriages, the Fantastic Four are somewhat archaic in their existence (remaining a "traditional" family at all cost). Their legacy is that they were the “first family”, the beginnings of a universe that would take us into modernity, the super-hero link between the cookie-cutter 50’s and the turbulent mutant 60’s; facts that, as I watched my girlfriend’s cousin remain, literally, on the edge of his seat throughout the entire film, I realized was a good thing. Perhaps those of us who’ve grown up with comics should spend less time complaining about the films that haven’t grown up with us and assimilated our collective cynicism, and remember that comic books, if they are to survive as an art form, are first, and foremost, a child’s gateway to the unknown.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Prelude: Humor and Rock and Roll. (Nick Cave)

Before we can get to “The Mercy Seat”, some things have to be said:

It was with four albums under his belt that Nick Cave (along with loads of help from The Bad Seeds), recorded what would be a breakthrough album for him, 1988’s Tender Prey. On four previous Bad Seed records, as well as on numerous goth-punk Birthday Party (band) records and EP’s, Nick Cave struggled to find his funny bone. But, as is often the case, youth mistakes bitter cynicism for humor, emphasizing the hypocrisy of adults and advocating a malevolent anarchy as a way to invite retribution upon those who are the perpetrators of our suffering (generally our parents and their system of government, but also that popular jock who won’t stop messing with us, or the affection of the disinterested). Youthful narcissism historically collides with an ambivalence about things worldly, otherwise how does one go about explaining the ingrained bitterness and depression of teenagers and young adults? Sure, one might claim that the Birthday Party song “Big-Jesus-Trash-Can” is an example of Cave finding the funny, but only in the title. Cave himself has talked extensively about his desire to find a kind of bliss through music—expressed in his desire to write the perfect love song (he even taught a class on it in Italy). But humor requires a certain amount of resignation, a sense that things are the way they are and what can you do but hang on to the bitterness and shrug and laugh. Richard Pryor’s comedy relied on the fact that he had, begrudgingly, accepted of the fact that he was black man in a white man’s world (seriously, watch The Toy), and, to top it off, he was also an addict (hilarious!). John Stewart (and, to an extent, the legacy of Jewish humor in general) of The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report are our best contemporary examples. Stewart’s hilarity comes fast and furious from his existential desire to get through another day in a system he can’t help but resign himself to being completely fucked, while Colbert has so ingrained his sense of humor with the monster in the machine, that he’s created a character, who believes so unflinchingly in the big lie, that he has to be making fun. Humor rarely results from activism since there is nothing funny about failure and misery, which seems, more and more, to be the purview of the activist. If anything, a comedian is an activist who’s decided to stop wasting their time and has embraced the depression the activist so vigorously fights to change. In short: a comedian is an activist who makes sure you can still read his protest sign in the trash can. A comedian can only access their funny bone once they’ve given up things in a way that allows them to participate in society and seek to eek out their small, insignificant, place in the world. It is to this end that the comedian will relentlessly direct their efforts (hello, Larry David). Musically, it is the resignation to suffering (as opposed to an obligation to rage), a belief that things are the way they are and that life is just getting through each day, a view of purpose ingrained on the foundations of early Rock and Roll, which itself can be traced back to the Blues, and then back to slavery itself. It is amid these slave narratives and southern gospel gothic roots that Nick Cave found his inspiration, an Australian who believes devoutly in God, but isn’t above comparing our time on earth and its narrative in the service of an, at times, “punitive, jealous, bloodthirsty, angry, mean-spirited, small-minded God”. Sounds a bit like a slave master to me, or, better yet, the beginnings of a good joke. Oddly, Rock and Roll’s path to popularity was inverted. It was only later, when white parents started hearing these songs in their homes, that Rock and Roll music reacted their attention and became activist. Still, any rocker who is interested in the humor of life must eventually come to terms with the same things a comedian does and hereby returning to those early sonic roots.

If there is one thing Cave maintains, it is that he is, above all else, a comedian. However, while with the Birthday Party, Cave was more anarchist than activist—too young to give up (what, exactly? who knows)—and it took several albums to move beyond those Birthday Party impulses (as well as those fans—something he’s still striving to do, read here), and although Tender Prey is no way Cave and the Bad Seed’s best album, it is the first that produced a handful of songs that Cave still explores to this day, most notably, “The Mercy Seat”, a song that has evolved from its initial creation, and, in all likelihood, is Cave’s best.

There, we can now begin.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

In praise of things Scarlett! (Sarcastic)

Thank the Gods! Just in case you’ve been missing Scarlett Johansson and wondering what happened to her after Justin Timberlake ran her off the road for cheating on him (did anybody other than me find it peculiar that Justin went from “crying a river” , to driving a cheating girlfriend off the road in a fiery explosion? When, exactly, does that switch happen? How many relationships can your average pop star be in before they go crazy? Discuss). Thankfully, we can all relax now that we know Ms. Johansson is continuing her run of stellar career choices by considering a role in, wait for it… Monopoly: The Movie! See that was not a typo. I can’t say I’m surprised. If a Hollywood exec asked me what recognizable actress would agree to be in a movie based on Monopoly, I wouldn’t hesitate in suggesting Johansson, as she’s demonstrated a relentless ability to say yes to whatever suggestion might be on that paper before her vacant stare (like, for instance, a music video directed by the dude who directed John Q). If you doubt me, need I remind you that, since hitting legal age (thereby eliminating Ghost World from the list), Ms. Johansen has appeared in such crap gems as Scoop, The Black Dahlia, and The Island. It’s about time we all came to terms with the fact that all the good will she had staring opposite Bill Murray in Lost in Translation (because, let’s face it, it was his movie) is officially used up. I can’t think of a single good movie she’s been in. Wait... my imaginary assistant is insisting Johansson was in The Prestige, I'll have to remind him that the only important thing in that movie was whether Christian Bale or Hugh Jackman had the biggest penis—wait, my bad, I meant magic trick…silly me. But, man, I loved that movie! For the tricks, I swear… Moving on... (Ahem) You may think Johansson is a good actress, but that’s because anytime you’ve stopped to seriously consider it, she's deftly sought to pose (artfully!) nude in magazines like Esquire or Vanity Fair (classy—take that Meryl Streep!), while accepting meaningless awards like “sexiest female in the world” (it's good she has a sensible view of herself). Not quite the Oscar is it? But, seriously, where’s the talent? Heck, where’s the movie? Sure, I’m being catty, but, as a film fan, I’m frustrated as hell by the complete lack of female talent, especially seeing as how Hollywood and its publicists insist on force feeding me garbage. You can’t convince me that there aren’t actresses out there better than Johansson. I see better female acting in a single line from any one of the ladies on Deadwood (especially from Robin Weigert’s Calamity Jane, who practically brings me to tears every time she opens her mouth), than in the entirety of The Black Dahlia; and that was based on one of James Ellroy’s best novels, and he’s a guy who can actually write good dialogue. Can we please instead spend our time celebrating the good female actress trying to find work, women like Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Rachel Griffiths, Helen Mirren, and Cate Blanchett. Hmm, maybe that’s the problem. Half of the women on that list are from Australia. If you take Meryl Streep off the list (and I didn’t even include her, because, well, come on…), where are the American female actors? On television I guess. There is Rachel McAdams (see above Vanity Fair link for more), who I’d take her over Johansen if I wanted real acting in a heartbeat. Perhaps it’s a good thing Johansen is there to fill these crap roles, I don’t know what I would do if I saw any of the above mentioned actresses in Monopoly: The Movie. In short, I guess I should thank you Scarlett, for maintaining that long standing Hollywood tradition of force feeding the public talentless studio faces; and, as long as your bustline is prominently displayed, all must be right with the world because it sure as hell hasn’t changed much. So, remember the lips--keep them pouty! Here’s to hoping you keep the streak alive by making another non-impression in that famous American literary masterpiece, The Nanny Diaries. Bravo!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Best of N.E.

Before getting into Nick Cave, I realized I should probably close the door on New Edition. So, here they are: the five best albums by former members of New Edition. I’ve also taken the liberty of compiling 2 playlists (one dance, one sexy-time), and in an effort to build a friendly blog community, I will happily burn copies for interested readers, providing I am provided materials and postage. Send me an email if interested:

Honorable Mention: Ralph Tresvant, Ralph Tresvant. Poor, Ralph. I’ve gone back and listened to this album and can’t help feeling nostalgic; but when the best an album can do is make you remember that eighth grade talent show where a dude won by dancing poorly to Black Sheep’s “The Choice is Yours”, while doing the occasional random back flip, one must seriously re-consider how good an album it is. Songs worth checking out: “Sensitivity”, Tresvant’s masterpiece sung over a classic Marvin Gaye sample. If you feel like entertaining memories of House Party 2, listen to “Stone Cold Gentleman”, close your eyes, and think of silk pajamas. Oh, honorable mention to any album by Boyz II Men.

5. Johnny Gill, Johnny Gill. I’ll say this about the NE boys: they sure do know how to title an album—you know, just in case you didn’t know the name of the guy dancing third from the right. Gill has been the most prolific former member (recording, or participating in the recording of, at least 8 albums), and this is his impressive debut, by the groups least known (at the time) member. “Rub You the Right Way” was the big single and holds up pretty well today (a fact I’m reminded of every time I hear it on pop radio when I’m driving through Knoxville, an impressive feat for a song over 10 years old—we’re talking an Ace of Bass like stretch). R&B fans are aware that this was also the album that featured “My, My, My”, the sex-up about speechlessness only the best kind of R&B singer could have pulled off (and, yes, that is Kenny G on sax in the background). Other songs: “Fairweather Friend”, “Lady Dujour”, and (personal favorite) “Giving My All To You”.

4. Provocative, Johnny Gill. This album would be higher if it had any impact at all on music. Unfortunately, while being a great example of Gill’s party floor bravado, as well as a textbook demonstration of his ability to gravely rake his vocals across the coals while still being able to hit the high octave in seamless transition (not to mention the first shimmerings of the 70’s neo-soul revival) nobody paid attention. The small hit (“The Floor”) was too hard for white suburbia (and, yes, I realize how that sounds now, but if you think back, Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, and New Kids on the Block were the extent of R&B dance in the early 90’s—not very hard). I’ve often felt that, for a while, Gill was the closest singer we had to Otis Redding. When he’s on, he’s like Otis on Red Bull, but he lacks that working class weariness Otis carried everywhere he went. Gill could belt the gospel and charm the panties off the ladies, but his voice was too big to ever pull off tired (ala, “(Sitting) On the Dock of the Bay”). Still, for my money, Provocative remains one of the best R&B albums of the 90’s. Songs to hear: “The Floor”, “Provocative”, “A Cute, Sweet Love Addiction”, “Mastersuite”, “Tell Me How You want It”, “I Got You”.

3. Bobby, Bobby Brown. This album leaps Gill’s on the strength of sales alone. Make all the jokes you want, but (with exception of that now icky Whitney duet) this album is a good—if not great—follow-up to one of the biggest R&B albums ever. A perceived second album flop at the time, this is an album that never got the respect it deserved. There was no way Brown could top Don’t Be Cruel (something he’s probably known his entire life, hence the longest personal breakdown ever recorded—don’t be surprised if you see him on Flavor of Love in the future, wearing drag and a bowler hat—as if Flava would even notice), so rather than repeat himself, he went for unadulterated pop. One has to wonder if Whitney had anything to do with this image overhaul since this was the same guy who had been arrested for simulating sex on stage and wearing parachute pants with V-chest jackets. As much as I told myself when it came out that I didn’t like the album as much as its predecessor, I find that I listen to the tracks on this album more, which isn’t to say it’s better, as much as it acknowledges the evil powers of pop music. With exception of the highly motivated single “Humping Around” (oddly, not about humping at all), Brown went radio friendly, and it is eerie how inviting these cuts still feel (no “My Prerogative” in your face and daring you to leave). The tracks on this record are so slick and clean, listening to it is like taking a shower on a beach. Songs to remind yourself how good this album is: “Humping Around”, “’Til the End of Time”, “Get Away”, “College Girl”, “Good Enough”, “Pretty Little Girl”

2. Don’t Be Cruel, Bobby Brown. Let the arguing begin. Between those wailing operatic bookends, Bobby Brown (with big help from Teddy Reilly) produced one of the biggest R&B albums of all time. Part bad-boy-band-NE, part R&B pop radio, Brown created the closest follow-up to Thriller most of us were dying for. The album was so big it secured Brown that pivotal role in the sequel to Ghostbusters (they wouldn’t have beat the pink-goo if Brown’s doorman hadn’t let them into the building—simply, heroic). Take a listen to any one of the album’s 6 top 10 singles: “My Prerogative”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Every Little Step”, “Roni”, “Rock Wit’cha”, and the Ghostbusters track included on the remix album, “On Our Own” and tell me the late 80’s would’ve been a better place without these songs. Also check out: “All Day, All Night” “I Really Love You Girl”

1. Poison, Bell Biv Devoe. Look, sometimes other things have to be considered when making a list like this, and although it may seem unfair to put an album at the top for two songs, especially when those two songs haven’t aged as well as some of the songs on other albums, I feel there is a perfectly legitimate reason why Bell Biv Devoe’s Poison is the best (most significant) post NE album. If the boys don’t get credit for not titling their album after themselves (they waited to do that for their awful third album—see earlier post here), they should be given credit for inventing the current strand of hip-hop that pervades the airwaves in the like of Akon and T-Pain, an influence that can even be seen in late 2-Pac (All Eyez on Me is like Poison with guns and naughty words, recorded with Suge Knight and one of Rob VanWinkle's ankles). What did BBD do, exactly? Well, with two songs “Do Me”, “Poison”, they made sex, drinking, and smoking dope, nasty; more importantly, they made it digestible for white America. BBD invented a sound by finding a way to synchronize the raunch-rap of Ronnie Devoe and Michael Bivins with the smooth street vocals of Rickey Bell. I can’t remember a dirtier song about underage sex than “Poison”. And they did it without profanity (a huge plus back in the day when stores were being busted for selling 2 Live Crew records). There wasn’t a dirtier album out there without a warning label, and the album may sound silly in places now, but it was a huge breakthrough and its impact is still being felt. Songs to discuss: “Do Me”, “Poison”, also take a listen to “When Will I See You Smile Again”, and check out “Word to the Mutha”, the first of what would be three NE reunions, on their re-mix album. Good Stuff

As promised, the playlists (but remember sacrifices had to be made in order to make the cut and not all songs are form the albums listed above):

PARTY: The Floor (JG), Humpin’ Around (BB), Provocative (JG), Do Me! (BBD), On Our Own (BB), Poison, (BBD), My Prerogative (BB), A Cute, Sweet Love Addiction (JG), Every Little Step (BB), Fairweather Friend (JG), Don’t Be Cruel (BB), I Got You (JG), Get Away (BB), Stone Cold Gentleman (RT), Word to the Mutha! (NE), Hootie Mack (BBD)

SEXY: Rock Wit’cha (BB), My, My, My (JG), Sensitivity (RT), Roni (BB), There U Go (JG), One More Night (BB), Someone to Love (JG), Good Enough (BB), ‘Til the End of Time (BB), Let’s Get the Mood Right (JG), All Day All Night (BB), Tell Me How I Want It (JG), Colleg eGIrl (BB), Mastersuite (JG), Giving My All to You (JG)

Friday, June 15, 2007


Spreading a little internet love today. Two things:

  1. Steven Grant wrote one of my favorite comic book mini-series of the eighties, the five-part Punisher: Circle of Blood, which featured, as I’m sure he knows better than anyone, the iconic cover artistry of Mike Zeck (why Zeck isn’t getting more cover-work, I don’t know). He also wrote the first hardcover graphic novel I ever saved up yard-work money for (Punisher: Return to Big Nothing). Currently, Mr. Grant is responsible for the most insightful weekly column on comic books and politics, Permanent Damage. He’s one of the few writers on any of the major comic web-sites who writes for an adult audience and takes both comic books and the comic industry seriously. His language is frank and, as someone who keeps up with comic books (but gave them up long ago due for financial reasons), I can’t help but think that this gets him into trouble with the big two (Marvel and DC). Grant is most popular for his crime work, and current popular contemporary greats—writers like Ed Brubaker and Brian Michael Bendis—owe him a lot. In addition to being able to make astute comparisons between the American and Japanese models of graphic storytelling, Mr. Grant also offers up insightful takes on contemporary political issues. I’d say he leaned a left if he didn’t so often take on the Democratic Party (but, come on, when was the last time Democrats were left?). Click this link to see what I’m talking about and be sure to check in every week (even though I disagree mightily with him about Pirates 3, or The Sopranos finale).
  2. I’m including a link to a website that provides the lyrics to Nick Cave’s masterpiece, “The Mercy Seat”, a song I will breakdown over a few posts next week. This link is mainly for people who read this blog on a regular basis (if there are any of you out there?), so you can familiarize yourself with the song. IMPORTANT: The second line of the song should read “And put me in Dead Row”, not “Death Row”. It sounds nit-picky, but such a change is important to the universality to the song and is crucial to its meaning. Also, you can click here to see Cave shred his voice through the song in concert, or here to see him (I guess on the BBC) talking about the strength of the song and its versatility as well as watch a great (but slightly different) version of the song, and then click here to see an example of what Cave really meant by versatility, not to mention his hilarious introduction to Japanese television.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ocean's 13: Toughts

Warning: The following piece contains an unusual amount of bracketed thoughts (but, then again, so does the movie). Huzzah, George Clooney and Brad Pitt are backs as… George Clooney and Brad Pitt (because, seriously, character names? come on) in Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 13! Thank God. If there is one thing these three have been able to do with mixed results in the Ocean series, it's coaxing the audience down the thin line of Hollywood dreamland cool, while managing our seething jealousy: an unavoidable tendency to covet membership (even if it’s only as Scott Caan), and the desire to strangle them for their beauty, money, and throwaway life-style (oh, $37,000 is a hilariously low number to you, buddy, but is more than I’ve ever made in a year). Ocean’s 12 was such a slack effort, any cool the crew had was lost amid the self-awareness of everyone involved (we should never be expected to think Casey Affleck is cool, never). Thankfully, George and Brad's time spent abroad advancing the causes of suffering nations resulted somber reflections of their homeland (Hollywood) and inspired them to mend some damaged fences—in short, to take another stab at the whole Rat Pack thing. God bless celebrity guilt. It’s refreshing to go into a sequel (particularly the third in a series) where the principles feel like they have to earn their money, something that has been absent this summer. So they’re back, properly humbled, and working hard to steal Al Pacino’s reputation as a dynamite hotel magnate. Oh, and a lot of money. Why? Apparently Al was mean to Elliot Gould, which made him sleepy, which made George, Brad, and the boys very aghast, and which, calmly (no voices raised here, even from Pacino), turns to indignation, a kind of snobbery of thievery, when Pacino refuses to make things right (or as they say in Vegas: a “Billy Martin” (?)—whatever it doesn’t really matter). In fact, much of what happens in the film doesn’t matter, but it sure looks cool and goes down like a sweet sorbet. An Example: A brief scene in which Clooney, Pitt, and Damon (forgot about him, he’s big Mr. Bourne now so he gets the most face time with the big two—consider him 2a) are discussing strategy in an athletic store while they are trying on a bunch of ski jackets (Clooney’s fumbling of the zipper while attempting to dole out strategy is a subtle comedic gem), a small detail whose only purpose is as payoff for a joke several minutes later when the boys navigate the air-conditioning shaft of Pacino’s hotel in an effort to prove to Andy Garcia (the characters just keep coming!), who I’m guessing from the previews is the thirteenth Ocean (or was that _____’s Dad?, but then that would be fourteen? did they just sequel a sequel during a sequel?—head splitting), that Pacino’s valued five-star diamond collection is impossible to steal, a perfect way to induce a chuckle for those who were paying attention but wouldn’t stop the film dead if you missed the set-up, which is not only happening at this moment as you read this sentence, but happened a lot in 12. In short, if you made your way through that half of this piece and it made sense to you, then you probably won’t like the movie. If you just went with it, and can handle man-on-man beauty, then you might be ready for Ocean’s 13.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Grinderman: Thoughts

My face is finished, my body's gone.
And I can't help but think standin' up here,

in all this applause and gazin' down,

at all the young and the beautiful,

with their questioning eyes:

That I must above all things love myself.

That I must above all things love myself.
That I must above all things love myself.

No, that isn’t Christina Aguilera singing words of self-affirmation, but Australian rock-genius Nick Cave, fronting his new side-project, Grinderman, who appears to be having a mid-life crisis and is feeling the urge to prove something to the youth who’ve seen enough Super Bowl halftime shows to seriously question the ability of a 50-ish musician’s ability to rock. But unlike most rockers over 50 (here’s looking at you Aerosmith, U2, Stones), Cave isn’t going quietly into adult radio, or seeking to find his youth on the counter of Starbucks (hello, Paul McCartney). Affirmation itself has always been a hallmark of Cave, although never with his audience—that gathering of sycophants—as much as with his own soul, scorned lovers, and God. But now, the above lyrics spoken like a mantra at the beginning of the best song on Grinderman’s self-titled new album, “No Pussy Blues”, Cave confronts the youth besieging him and senses a landscape fraught with decades, separating him from the generation that has made the music of Paris Hilton and Lyndsay Lohan popular; an audience in no way interested in the things he’s interested in (the old poets: Dylan Thomas, Yates, Elliot; and the old gospel blues singers of the American South)—the rub being that the population curves towards youth and the fact that rock and roll will always be the gospel of the young, while old fans from his Birthday Party days are now buying SUVs, sipping lattes, and discovering that new Paul McCartny album at Starbucks. Cave may be old, but he can still write a song like “Love Bomb”, that blows your ears off with an electric sound framed as a personal crisis cum rock gospel in the age of Terror. But Cave is getting old, and, according to Grinderman, the young girls (the bread and butter of the music industry) are skeptical of his oddly thin and narrow frame, unimpressed by his existential intelligence, and wondering what’s so cool about the old dude. As much as “No Pussy Blues” is about a man’s frustrated attempts at copulation with a woman who never seems to “want to”, it’s also a song about the music industry and the hoops musicians jump through to remain virile in a market of teenyboppers. For a man Cave’s age (and, to be honest, looks), such things (virility, seduction, need) ooze creepiness (something Cave has never lacked), but now he’s got a bad-ass mustache and a kicking electric guitar—so fuck those Bad Seed violins and pianos, there’s nothing youthful there (it’s practically classical music), for now the plan is to rock out on electric riffs of thrash rock. Grinderman is Cave (and, who are we kidding, most of the Bad Seeds) rousing call to clean house. The moral being we’ve got to fuck it up to fuck. We have to leave church for the bar next door, have a beer, punch a stranger in the face, and maybe then we’ll get somebody’s attention. There are, of course, other songs on this album, none of them long (the album clocks in around forty minutes): “Honey Bee (Let’s Fly to Mars)”, is a dancabilly plea for a love escape to Mars with an odd vocal buzz that doesn’t intrude because you’re having so much fun; “Depth Charge Ethel”, is a metal-meth-rave for gothed-out ghosts shredded with early 60’s Motown do-wop razors; “(I Don’t Need You to) Set Me Free” is the closest thing on the album to the Bad Seeds, the piano and strings making their only appearance and sounding like something straight off the Nocturama cutting room floor (a good thing). Cave is aware of the humor (but isn’t he always) associated with such testosterone fueled rock coming from a man his age, sending himself up in “Go Tell the Woman”, a beatnik slink-a-thon praising life over routine, a call to “action” in the most literal wink-wink manner—be sure to observe the smirk between the lines. This isn’t Cave’s most sophisticated album (that would be The Boatman’s Call or No More Shall We Part), but it’s his most danceable album since… well, never, really. Again, not his best album, but a pretty good testament to the rejuvenating powers of rock and roll.

Oh, and if you want to see an amazing performance of "No Pussy Blues" click here.

Song I advocate paying money for it's so good: "No Pussy Blues"

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


It’s amazing the way people behave when they don’t get what they want. Is it any wonder video stores organize their shelves by categorical grouping in order to help us make up our minds, while any movie that offers a complicated experience and happens to be in a different language gets dumped into foreign? It’s a sad fact that no American film studio could have made Hot Fuzz, or Shaun of the Dead, too many mixed signals. Americans want an action, drama, comedy, family, horror, sci-fi experience, and don’t even think of mixing the ingredients, or boy o boy. As defined as an American audience wants our entertainment, one could say we also want our endings to conform even more to categories: final, sad, jubilant, funny, resolved, etc. Case in point: The Sopranos, which ended its wonderful six (and a half) season run this past Sunday. I happened to catch the finale at a local sports a bar, where I was watching my Spurs dismantle the Cavs, and I couldn’t help, like most of the people there, constantly glancing up at the other screens that were playing the final episode on mute (a surreal sight). Since I don’t have cable and hate the rigid conformity of weekly appointment television, any show I find myself interested in I try to wait for the DVD. I didn’t want to spoil the final episode, but who am I kidding--I read TV watch columns on shows I’m interested in just so I am up to speed when I eventually sit down to watch them (Lost, Veronica Mars, My Name is Earl, 24, Anything by HBO). It was in this environment, announcers railing against the early foul troubles of LeBron James (French for The Bron James), when two things struck me concerning The Sopranos. One: the Sopranos has always been a quiet show (think back to when Tony first walked down his driveway, or when he first saw his ducks take flight—or, come to think of it, every season finale of the show since its conception), and, while the mixed simile and metaphor has always been a staple on The Sopranos, talk has never been one of their métiers (they leave that to Deadwood). So it makes sense to end the show in silence. A tactic that, for me at least, cements The Sopranos as the most literary show in the history of television (Deadwood being most beautiful, and The Wire the most important). And by literary I mean literary in the sense of a good Raymond Carver or Alice Munro story—stories that may have the rumblings of an earthquake, but never level a home as much as send spidery cracks up the walls. The overall response from people concerning the finale seems to be one of personal offense: the unbearable tension (“I think I swallowed my tongue!”) that built prior to that last fade to black cut (“No! My cable!”). But let’s examine our assumptions. We knew the end was coming, and, as was typical in these situations, each minute that built towards the ending tightened the strings incrementally Watching AJ escape from his burning SUV—was this a hit? (at least in the bar, with no sound, it reminded me of DeNiro's narrow escape in Casino)—was an ingenious way to rope the audience into thinking the violence would only escalate, when, if you go back and watch it, it’s such a pathetic blaze, so lazy in its desire to burn, one couldn’t help but think of AJ and his own morose march towards adulthood and realize there was never any real danger there. Perhaps rather than blaming David Chase (who has fiercely maintained his stance that the finale would not be melodramatic or histrionic in the slightest), we should blame ourselves for our outrage. The heightened ratings for the finale illustrate that a good portion of the people who tuned in where either ignorant of the seasons developments, or weren’t regular watchers. So naturally there would be a collective sigh of frustration at something in which you were told was going to be special, even though you had no idea what really made it special in the first place. Nobody wanted to go into work the next day without an opinion, no matter how unfounded that opinion might be. Second: Tony Soprano is the mob boss of Jersey! There were only two ways Tony could have died: as a young captain (ala Vito or Bobby: a “cost of doing business” sacrifice between the real bosses), or rotting in jail as an old man (ala Gotti, Johnny Sac, or Uncle Junior). For men like Tony, their lives are a prolonged existence between these two points. And since Tony (the boss not a captain) wasn't exactly exactly “old” jail wasn’t an option. Two words why Phil died and not Tony: “acting boss”, a title that easily removed once Phil demonstrated his unwillingness to focus on business. Still, we’re dealing with violent people, and what should have been in our minds since the beginning, what we have to remember about The Sopranos finale (and the show in general), is that anytime Tony went into the wild, venturing outside of his home (but even there) his life was in danger. We programmed ourselves to think that as long as HBO and David Chase wanted to have their show, regardless of what happened, Tony would never be whacked. It was the finality of the series ending that got our minds racing towards Tony’s death, but that’s our fault (more specifically, the casual observers) and not the show’s creators (more specifically, the artist’s). Still, this is the mob, and Tony is, and always has been, a candidate for a violent end. Credit Chase for playing on those expectations with his well (referenced and) placed unnamed characters in that final scene, who reminded us of these things: the shifty guy at he counter who goes to the bathroom (ala Michael Corleone--seriously the number of Scorsese and Godfather references alone...), the appearance of the loud black youths (a favorite tool in Tony’s arsenal when dealing out a big hit and wanting to remain above suspicion), anyone of whom could have been an assassin sent for Tony. But that’s the life of a New Jersey mob boss (evidenced by Phil’s brutal, yet comical slaying earlier in the episode), anyone who you cross paths with can take you out at any time. Bravo to Chase, the artist, for reminding us that life is always happening and doesn’t stop just because someone changed the channel.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Knocked Up: Thoughts

Much has been overstated about the hilarity of Judd Apatow’s new comedy Knocked Up, a movie about slacker-Jew Ben Stone’s (Seth Rogen) lucky (and fertile) encounter with a woman, Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl), who is well out of his league. This isn’t to say that there isn’t any funny in this movie, there is (with lines like: “You look like Robin Williams’ knuckles”, and a solid performance by super wingman Paul Rudd, you can make lots of funny), or that it isn’t a good film (probably the best so far this summer), but to anoint Knocked Up as the “comedy of the year” seems premature since Apatow’s (and Rogen’s) other film Superbad has yet to hit theaters (“I am, McLovin.”). My money’s on Arrested Development’s Michael Cera, who I believe has the superbadpower to mint comedy gold. Sure, funny exists in manageable helpings in Knocked up, but so does a fair amount of seat squirming seriousness. Apatow comes out swinging, establishing right off the bat that Ben (Rogan) is living the life: staging American Gladiator-type bouts with his stoner friends and chilling in a marijuana filled gas mask; while Alison (Heigl), recently promoted and working at E!, is feeling the pressure from her boss (Alan Tudyk) and his assistant (the hilarious Kristen Wiig, who perfects a new kind of aggressive-passive-aggressiveness) to remain thin (but busty!). We’re also introduced to Alison’s control-freak sister Debbie (Leslie Mann, Apatow’s wife) and her dislocated husband/dutiful father Pete (Paul Rudd—again, more on him later), who are themselves a couple that married due to an unplanned pregnancy (hey, it’s Hollywood!). In his two comedies, Apatow has chosen to abandon the age old comedic tactic of casting William Atherton as Alison’s narcissistic boss who waits to catch her in full pregnancy (something she tries to hide all film), or Rob Lowe as the “perfect” gentlemanly match (only secretly narcissistic) for Alison to be Ben’s main competition. Instead Apatow relies on life to be the instrument of tension: When will Alison realize she’s better than Ben? Will Ben grow up, and will he ever be good enough for Alison? It may be a bit King of Queens of Apatow to think someone of Alison’s beauty (and who is so integrated into Hollywood) would ever give a second thought to a lifetime of bongs and celebrity nudity (Ben and his buddies métier), but pregnancy and the idea of raising children have long been the foundation for such things (as well as the development of the infamous shotgun, later used to hunt fowl). What Apatow is going for, is a film about the way children (more importantly, the responsibility they bring with them) can prolong our willingness to entertain bad ideas or bad relationships, and how we, as adults, can poison children with our own insecurities: a tension brought to the surface by Debbie and Pete. If indeed there is a “villain” to be found in this movie (the person who threatens the happy ending) it is Debbie, a woman so controlling (get it!) she drives her husband to an underground fantasy baseball league: a sin so mighty in sitcomness that Pete finds himself banned from the house for, of all things, not having an affair, something Debbie feels is less “mean”. Poor Pete. Debbie is a terror of a woman (shades of Tea Leoni in Spanglish, only, thank God, more funny); she berates her husband, calling him names even as he displays obvious affection and responsibility towards their two kids—who, by the way, are incredibly talented actors (Apatow and Mann’s real-life offspring), their tiny characters fascinated with murder and blood (disturbing thoughts for a child to pick up, and our first clue that children are more attuned, if not completly understanding of parental tensions. Debbie even uses her class status (wealthy, bitchy, white-woman) to berate and humiliate a (working class, black) bouncer who has the good sense to not allow her (or her 8 month pregnant sister) into a club, only feeling bad about it when the bouncer appeals to her liberal guilt by explaining he’s only allowed to let 5 percent blacks into the club. Debbie is a train wreck, insecure, malicious, vindictive, judgmental, Alison’s sister/role model--is it any wonder Alison has second thoughts about marrying shlubby Ben? All of this is a good thing however, since it forces Ben out of the celebrity porn business and into the cubicles the rest of adult America live our lives in (which doesn’t really answer Alison’s concerns in any particular way, but gosh it’s cute he tried so hard). See, serious stuff. Thankfully, Ben’s cabal of stoner buddies are always good for a laugh, like when they discuss the origin of pink-eye (your elementary school memories will never be the same). And, thank the God’s for Paul Rudd, the man who has introduced us to Sex Panther cologne, porn stashes, and who, in Knocked Up, makes a room full of chairs hilarious. Watching Rudd’s Pete, in a Vegas motel room with Ben, selling the audience on his claim that his marriage problems are a result of his inability to accept all of his wife’s love (the typical cliché, male emotional immaturity, not that she’s a ball-breaking shrew), while at the same time trying to eat his hand (“It taste like a rainbow!”). I couldn’t help but think of Tom Hanks, trapped in a rug wedged in a hole in The Money Pit, and wonder why this guy hasn’t become a bigger star yet. Perhaps it’s because (as my girlfriend said) he’s too good looking for the comedies he’s in, and lacks that inherent goofiness and oddball air that seems to ooze from the pours of actors like Rogen or Will Ferrell. He’s the good looking dork. In fact, he’s a better looking than Tom Hanks. Somebody get this guy a volleyball and a box of chocolates.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Ugh, complications have lead to a dearth of posts. Hopefully things will be back on track tomorrow. Still here is a list (not necessarily in order) of what is coming up:

Thoughts on Knocked Up
Thoughts on The Road
Thoughts on Hostel
I am a Republican
I am a Democrat
An introduction to Melville
And the first ever 15 Feet contest!! No purchase necessary!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: Thoughts

Stuff to do today, so I'm neglecting the usual links:

The first Pirates film benefited from low (almost non-existent) expectations. Disney, clearly with one eye on the film and the other on their feud with Michael Eisner, was distracted just enough to allow Jerry Bruckheimer to hire that guy who made The Ring (Gore Verbinski) and allow him to cast Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow (as opposed to, say, Tim Allen). Depp, who had clearly spent too many years in France (how else does one explain Chocolat?), had the good sense to recognize that the idea of making a movie based on one of the most overrated rides in all the lands of Disney had to have been a joke, so why not have a laugh (seriously, shouldn’t Space Mountain have been the first choice, followed quickly by The Hall of Presidents: War on Terror). And us moviegoers were fortunate Disney, once they started paying attention to what Verbinski and Depp were doing, allowed fiscal minds (accountants) to prevail: re-shoots would have been a bitch. Those were good times: Depp had finally created a character as iconic as his pale barber with the hand problems, we believed Orlando Bloom could act, and it was good to see Natalie Portman working again. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, through a freak accident (radiation had to have been present), functioned the way a good Disney ride did: it kept you cool, moved at a brisk and accelerating pace, and made you want to buy a t-shirt after. The film made two things clear: with regard to acting, Depp could be right about his flourishes every now and then, and with directing, Verbinski was the reason The Ring was better than it should have been. I’m not sure what happened in the second movie, but I remember emerging from the theater much the way Neo emerged from that energy pod in the first Matrix film: frightfully exposed, somehow drained of energy with a slight body ache (concentrated in the lower back), and facing a large machine covered in blinking lights (in all likelihood a Rav-4). And once free, like Neo, I reflected on my time in the Matrix (I mean, Prates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest) as being trapped in a highly stylized and artificial world that seemed real, but carried an unexplained hollowness; and that, the more time I spent with the film, the more I began to question its believability and became willing to do anything to escape—damn the nine bucks. Believability shouldn’t be a concern when discussing a summer movie in which the Big Bad wears squid tentacles for eye-liner, but is it completely unreasonable to expect some kind of order in the universe, even if it is just a summer ride?

It isn’t a revelation to say that Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is no better. I’d tell you what the movie was about, but I hardly know. So much talk about deals, followed by talk about breaking deals, that I couldn’t help but feel that familiar ache in my lower back (the film is nearly 3 hours). But I had already left the Matrix/Pirates universe once and, upon reentering, found myself less than sympathetic to the beautiful artifice I had known. Who couldn’t help but look at the smeared tans on the actor’s faces and not be emboldened by the falseness of it all? And so soon after Shrek and Spider-Man? Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us. Fool us thrice, shame on… studios and toy companies and cereals? This shouldn’t happen. With a list that includes Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Chow Yun-Fat, Natalie Portman (nay, Kiera Knightly), and that skinny guy from the British version of The Office—not to mention Verbiski, who despite the creaking plot, can still stage a beautiful shot—it couldn’t be that bad could it? Yes, yes it could. Many people have blamed Bloom for all the dead air (sans Depp), when the real people to be blamed are the teenage girls who spend so much money and fawn over his newest hair-style. He’s such a non-factor in this film that, at the beginning of the film, Verbinski has to be reminded that he's left Bloom submerged in a giant washbin, and it’s no pun to say that it takes a near death experience to make Bloom come alive as an actor. Knightly is fine, even when plagarizing Mel Gibson's freedom speech in Braveheart. And I’ll swear till I’m dead that Geoffery Rush is a pirate who merely plays an actor in his spare time. But it is the plot that is the elephant in the room, and when, towards the end of the movie, the filmmakers decide to shoot their most charismatic character (the monkey) out of a cannon, FOR NO APPARENT REASON, the end is nigh. Is it then hypocritical to think that there may be life after death? If more of these films are made (and, well, come on…), I suggest abandoning the long adopted Star Wars model of “trilogies”, and take a page from Star Trek, or Spider-Man, or, better yet, James Bond: single episodic films that offer a complete adventure, with Depp the unquestioned sole lead of import. At least with this tactic the audience can easily cleanse our pallets after a bad apple and say, “Here’s hoping the next one doesn’t suck.”