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music friday: 2002 flashback

(I’m on vacation, so here’s something I posted back on December 3, 2002. It refers to an open letter written by Maya Price … it was a hot item on the Internet for awhile, and was mistakenly attributed to Joan Jett.)

Pink
Maya Price recently wrote a punchy, well-needed open letter to Rolling Stone taking them to task for their pathetic "Women in Rock" material. Unfortunately, like so many critics who have more opinions than taste, Price (a woman rocker herself), proceeds to destroy her own argument with a bitchy side trip into Pink Trashing:

And could someone please explain to me why people keep insisting on referring to PINK as rock? Wasn't she doing the white girl hip hop thing a minute ago? Yeah, she performed on the Aerosmith tribute show --big deal..she was on the Janet Jackson tribute show just before that--Whatever's trendy. WHO CARES. She's a Spice Girl reject.

I don't care if Maya Price is a woman, I don't care if Maya Price is a rocker, I don't care if the target of her screed (Rolling Stone) needs to be attacked. There is simply no reason to listen to someone who can't be bothered to figure out the difference between Pink and Britney, Shakira, or that GrrlPink wannabee, Avril Lavigne. Price's comments are as uninformed as are those of the magazine she attacks: she assumes, like oh so many more-indie-than-thou fans before her, that Pink must suck because she's popular, that it's appropriate to paint every young female popstar with the same brush of contempt, that Pink's willingness to embrace a cross-cultural musical world is only evidence of her white girl quasi-trendiness. Of course, in falling all over herself to trash Pink for making music with Aerosmith and Janet Jackson (as if there's something wrong with that), Price neglects the most crucial influence on Pink's recent recordings, Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes fame. Perry, for all her failings (and I'm not a big fan of hers), would seem to represent exactly what Price is looking for: a strong female rock presence who many years ago hit the peak of popmusic stardom with "What's Up," rejected the pop world, left her band, formed her own label, and now works at making personal music of import to herself and others like her, and also lends a helping hand to new artists like Pink. But Price leaves Linda Perry out of her argument, because Perry would spoil the "Pink sux because she's cute, white, and popular" view. Many of us have heard some variation of what I think of as the "Parent's Argument" (after my own past life as a teenager involved in the generation gap): "how can you listen to that stuff, it all sounds the same!" It's the worst kind of stupid argument, because it's not only uninformed but proud of that gaping lack of knowledge. "Man, that 'N Sync sucks, I've never heard their music, why bother, it sucks!" Whether it be disco or punk or rap or new age or whatever, people who have no idea what they are talking about make blanket assumptions as if the absence of understanding actually makes them a better critic. Does Rolling Stone fail miserably at covering women in rock? No question. Would it be nice if the whole world knew about Sleater-Kinney? I think so. Does Maya Price know what she's talking about? Nope.

(That was nine years ago. I was, myself, too unkind to Britney, Shakira, and Avril. Here’s a little addendum, from 2009, taken from Pink’s Funhouse Tour.)


kindle fire

Tablets are still in that vague “do I really need one?” zone for me. They seem pretty cool, and I’d love to have one to play with. But I spend more time than most people on my real computer, and thanks to Sprint’s unlimited data plan, my phone covers my away-from-computer needs. So a tablet is nowhere near a necessity.

As the rumors began last week about the Amazon tablet, I asked my wife at what price would a tablet become an impulse buy. Obviously, I didn’t mean like when you buy a magazine for $2.95 at the checkout line in the supermarket. I meant, at what price would you consider a tablet, even though it’s a luxury, not a necessity. She said maybe $150-200.

Since the rumored price of the Amazon tablet varied, with the lowest predictions being around $299 with perks, and since I really had no reason to get a tablet except for Boys with Toys syndrome, I figured she was right, and that this tablet wouldn’t be for me.

So today, the big announcement came. It’s called the Kindle Fire, and it will cost $199.

JR Raphael said some of the things that crossed my mind:

Amazon's Kindle Fire may be based on Android, but it is not an "Android tablet" in the way we normally think of the term. If you're expecting the full-fledged tablet experience, you may be in for a disappointment. …

[T]his isn't to say the Amazon Kindle Fire is a bad device; it's just a different kind of device than what most of us envision when we hear the term "tablet." Ultimately, it's a media consumption slate that also runs some apps and has a Web browser -- a gadget that falls somewhere between an e-reader/media player and a fully functional Android tablet. …

All considered, if you're looking for a simple slate with an intuitive, easy-to-use interface -- and affordable price -- Amazon's Kindle Fire may be an interesting new option. But if you want the kind of experience and versatility you see on other tablets, you're probably looking in the wrong place. Make no mistake about it: For all practical purposes, the Kindle Fire is an Amazon media device, not a Google Android tablet. We're talking about a whole new platform.

What is odd, at least to me, is that the above makes a lot of sense, yet it also explains why I’ve already pre-ordered a Kindle Fire. As I told my wife, what has convinced me is precisely that it lacks many functions I expected. The price is right, and it doesn't really duplicate stuff my phone does. It leaves my phone to do what it does best, and takes the Amazon “experience” and does it better than my phone does.

I still don’t know what I’d do with a tablet. But I do know what I’ll do with a Kindle Fire, and I know that I won’t expect it to be a “real” tablet. I suspect, come November, if people ask me if I have a tablet, the correct answer will be, “no, I have a Kindle.”


#46: evil dead ii (sam raimi, 1987)

(This is the fifth of 50 pieces I’ll post here over the next several months. They originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

Jeff Pike has stolen a bit of my thunder on this one, as he recently posted an excellent essay on the film (and the work of Sam Raimi overall) on his blog. I’m stealing a couple of his points here, first, that Raimi’s career has an interesting trajectory (from horror gore fests to the Spider-Man franchise, and back to his roots with Drag Me to Hell), and second, that while people may argue whether this movie is a sequel or a remake, the important thing to note is that Evil Dead II is a comedy.

I’ve often wondered why Raimi was handed Spider-Man. That first of the three blockbusters cost $139 million to make. To that point, Raimi had made dirt-cheap films, and then he had made low-to-medium budgeted films, none of which were exactly box-office successes. The story is that various directors were proposed as the project bounced around, and that Raimi finally got the job in part because he loved comic books, which strikes me as an odd reason to give a director $139 million. That none of the Spider-Man movies are anywhere near as good as Evil Dead II (or Drag Me to Hell, for that matter) doesn’t prove the studios were wrong, because those Spider-Man films made a ton of money.

As Jeff points out, the key reference point for Evil Dead II is the Three Stooges. While the special effects are very good, especially given the low budget, one of the best special effects is simply Bruce Campbell as Ash. When Ash’s right hand is taken over by the dark side, Campbell becomes all three Stooges, fighting with himself … all that’s missing are goofy sound effects and Curly saying “Whoop Whoop Whoop!”

None of this would matter if Raimi and Campbell didn’t approach the material with affection. The effects are thoughtful (and gory) (and funny); the horror is scary (and gory) (and funny); Bruce Campbell is Bruce Campbell (and gory) (and funny). It helps to be able to stomach a comedy that is unrated due to gore, and it doesn’t hurt to be a part of the Bruce Campbell cult. Evil Dead II is not a movie for everyone. But for some of us, this is Sam Raimi’s finest hour.

 

 

In the comments, one person said the Evil Dead movies were “something of a bravery test in my peer group around 17-18.” Another called the first film in the series “possibly the most surreal horror film ever made”, after which someone else admitted to getting a bad scare from that one.


the further adventures of customer service

Or, what Netflix could learn from Baseball-Reference. com.

I sponsor several pages on the Baseball-Reference website. Some are gifts, some have sentimental value, most were chosen on a spur-of-the-moment basis. I like supporting the site, which is invaluable for baseball fans, and, to be honest, it hasn’t really cost that much (for instance, I only paid $2 to sponsor the Marshall Renfroe page for a year).

As an annual sponsorship nears its end, the site emails me to let me know I can renew. If I understand the way it works, if I don’t renew, the cost will be higher for the next buyer (on a sliding scale where the price gets lower the longer the page remains available). Anyway, the two most recent renewal notices brought something to my attention: pages are a LOT more expensive than they used to be.

Two years ago, I sponsored the Rich Aurilia page for $15. Last year, I renewed for $10. This year, it will cost me $55 to renew. Last year, I sponsored the Darrell Evans page for $10. This year? $85.

Needless to say, I won’t be renewing at those prices. But I wondered, why these large increases for players who wouldn’t seem to have increased in value over the last year. So I contacted customer service.

I got a timely reply, explaining that the cost of a page is based on the traffic it gets, and that there was a bug in their software that was undercounting those page hits. The bug was fixed, and what would have ordinarily been a gradual increase in the cost of pages was instead instantaneous.

I don’t know … I realize to some extent, this is no different than Reed Hastings saying he screwed up. But it felt different. I didn’t get a sob story, I didn’t get a rude dismissal, I didn’t get any “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” I just got a clear explanation. I don’t have to like the price increase; I don’t have to pay it. But now I understand it, which is how it should be.

Look for me on the Marshall Renfroe page.


the hour (season finale), terra nova (series premiere)

These shows have nothing in common, but we watched them both tonight, so I’ll say a few words.

Terra Nova isn’t quite bad enough for me to give up yet, but about 20 minutes into the 2-hour pilot, my wife asked how I would make it through 120 minutes when I was already making fun of it after 20. There’s a pretty simple equation here: dinos good, family bad. The dinosaur effects are fine, and there are some Dinos Attack! scenes that are pretty exciting. But this being Steven Spielberg, it’s really about Family, and this family is about as interesting as the Robinsons of Lost in Space. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to stick with this show if the ratio is 7 parts Family to 1 part Dinos Attack, but it sure feels like that’s the direction the show is headed. Grade for premiere: B-.

The Hour is a BBC show that just finished its first season on BBC America. It was a six-parter with plenty of good acting, good plotting, good atmosphere (it takes place during the Suez crisis in 1956). It has an interesting cast (Dominic West, ex-McNulty from The Wire, Oona Chaplin, and, in the lead female role, Romola Garai, who is exquisitely real looking). It’s not as good as Mad Men, to which it was compared (foolishly, I think), but it’s close enough to count, and yes, it’s coming back for a second season. Look for it when it hits your favorite streaming site … six episodes, come on, you can knock that off in an evening. Grade for Season One: A-.


what i watched last week

My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964). The stage version of this Lerner and Loewe musical opened in 1956. They then worked on the film musical Gigi, which bears some similarity to My Fair Lady, a similarity noticed by some critics. When the film version of My Fair Lady came out in ‘64, I wonder if people thought of it as being too similar to Gigi? The real question is, why do I place Gigi near the top of my list of favorite musicals, yet find My Fair Lady OK and nothing more? Part of it has to do with length: My Fair Lady runs 51 minutes longer than Gigi, and it’s noticeable. The damn thing never ends. The never-ending list of memorable songs helps a lot, and Audrey Hepburn is just fine once Eliza learns to be a “lady” (could there be a weirder concept than having Audrey Hepburn play a Cockney flower girl?). Rex Harrison gives the impression of being someone who has been playing Henry Higgins for a lot of years. I thought he was tiresome; he won the Oscar for Best Actor. #768 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949). Delightful and mean in equal portions, this film about a man who kills half a dozen people who stand between him and a Dukedom would seem to have been a bit much for the time it was made. The murderer, who is also the narrator and, in the absence of any other candidates, the hero, is very matter of fact about his work. And, it must be said, his dalliance with a childhood friend is pretty damn hot, considering we don’t “see anything” in modern terms. The movie is usually remembered as the one where Alec Guinness played eight different roles, and yes, he’s very good. But it’s Dennis Price as the aspiring Duke who drives the film. Price acts upper class long before he has actually ascended to that point, never realizing that he is just like the people he kills. This is not a laugh out loud movie, unless you find British witticisms unbearably funny, but it’s a good movie, which is even better. #225 on the TSPDT list. 8/10.


boardwalk empire, season two premiere

The key question Season One asked was, “how much sin can you live with?” Season Two’s first episode doesn’t stray far from that question. No one is free of sin, everyone probably thinks there is a line they won’t cross, and everyone is probably kidding themselves. It’s fun to see how the actors are used in Boardwalk Empire. As Alan Sepinwall notes, when you cast Michael K. Williams in a part, you know the audience will think of Omar. So when Chalky White is put in a frightening position, it strikes us especially hard, because we think Omar wouldn’t put up with it. (It’s something like when Clay manhandled Gemma in a recent episode of Sons of Anarchy … Katey Sagal seems so strong, we forget she can be scared, just like anyone.) Gretchen Mol has had so many rumors follow her career that there is an extra touch of creepiness when she talks about kissing her baby son’s winky when she changed his diapers. And, of course, you have Steve Buscemi in the Tony Soprano role, which really needs no further comment.

Somehow it all works. I’m still not convinced this is a great show … the A- I gave Season One seems about right … but it manages to recreate a period without the fetishized feeling of Mad Men (a better series, but one which has a more complicated relationship to its time period), and if it’s slow moving, well, that really doesn’t bother me, or I wouldn’t have stuck with Rubicon. Like all the best season premieres, Boardwalk Empire launched the new season by building on the past while creating interesting scenarios to play out in the future.

Lastly, as I noted after the end of Season One, the production values seem closer to what we get in movies, and movie fans who consider watching TV to be a form of slumming would probably like Boardwalk Empire very much. But that’s not my problem. I’ll just enjoy listening to Kelly Macdonald talk. Grade for season premiere: A-.


#47: my family/mi familia (gregory nava, 1995)

(This is the fourth of 50 pieces I’ll post here over the next several months. They originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

This really does fit into the “favorite-not-best” category. I’m aware of this film’s flaws … as many times as I’ve watched it, I’m probably too aware of them. But it works for me, which puts me in a forgiving mood.

My Family (I’ve never been sure of the title … I’ve seen it many different ways, and the bilingual version is on the actual movie, but it’s usually referred to solely under its English title) pulls at your heartstrings so often you’ll need to come up for air. And I don’t usually like these kinds of movies, which too often take the cheap way to eliciting our emotions. My Family works for our responses, though, and while it is excessive, it doesn’t get cheap. It builds to one crescendo after another … immigrants are torn from their families, people risk their lives to save their families, various people’s lives take a wrong turn, which affects their families … you get the point.

I’m not sure why the movie works so well for me. The writing isn’t always great, but the overall ebb and flow (and flow and flow) allows us to get caught up in the emotionalism because we connect so closely to the characters in the family. It doesn’t hurt that there are some excellent performances in the film, with an iconic Esai Morales and the reliable Jimmy Smits being the best. There are also a lot of “hey, it’s that guy” moments, some involving pretty famous people. When Jennifer Lopez made this film, she was famous mostly for In Living Color. Constance Marie, who later spent several years playing George Lopez’s wife on TV, makes her film debut here. There’s Benito Martinez from The Shield, and Jenny Gago who was a beauty queen in Under Fire, and Michael DeLorenzo just as New York Undercover was making his name, and Scott Bakula and Mary Steenburgen, and Elpidia Carrillo from Predator.

Yes, there are flaws. The spoken narration from Edward James Olmos’ character tells us too much, and is too obvious, although at times it adds a nice touch of humor. The structure of the film is a bit of a mess; they’re trying to cover six decades in two hours, resulting in something more episodic than you’d like (it cries out for the HBO Mini-Series treatment). But something is going right, when a film that represents much of what I dislike about movies becomes one of my favorites.

 

 

This was the first of my posts that received no comments. I have no idea why … the group participants were a chatty bunch for the most part.


music friday: lucille bogan, “shave ‘em dry”

Wednesday, Ann Powers gave the first annual Jane Scott Memorial Lecture Honoring Excellence in Rock Journalism at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The talk was streamed on the Hall’s website, and I was hoping I could link to it here, but as of now, as far as I can tell, the speech has not been archived, nor can I find the text for the talk. Hopefully one or both will turn up. Ann (I’ve had some discussion with students about how it’s not appropriate to use first names when writing about authors, etc., but I’ve known Ann Powers for 20+ years and it’s hard to get out of the habit in her case) does have a blog post on the site where she suggests some of the areas she would eventually discuss in her lecture. She embarks on a “quest to understand how rock and roll, and really most of American music, became the main metaphorical space where we pursue ideas about sexuality, and flesh out our emotions.”

I don’t want to be too specific about her lecture, because of the odd way I experienced it. We had the live feed going, but I was also making dinner, going in and out of the room, and so I didn’t always get specific points she was making (although I did enjoy when she tried to get the audience to shimmy). The feed was also interrupted on a couple of occasions by advertising videos. These popped up unannounced, and as far as we could tell, they didn’t pick up her talk where it left off … whatever she said during the commercials was lost to us. Point being, I don’t trust my initial take, because I didn’t get to experience it fully. But I did get a lot of out of what I heard, most notably that dance, as well as music, was crucial to the beginnings of rock and roll. As she writes in the above-mentioned blog post:

Rock and roll, as I see and hear it, began more than a century before Elvis sang “Hound Dog,” in the sung dances of African slaves working to preserve their culture under the oppression of industrialized labor. There was a seed of sensuality, of hips and shoulders connecting with spirit, in those ring shouts. It cross-pollinated with other secular celebrations of the mind-body connection and lived on in social dances and the music invented to serve them. Music and dance together formed a new lexicon; lyricists found the words to help it along.

She provided a Spotify playlist of the music she featured during her talk, and it’s a good one:

http://open.spotify.com/user/akpowers/playlist/5Era6NuHTwM3N7mQzYUl9y

The most amazing song for me was “Shave ‘em Dry” by Lucille Bogan. Bogan recorded as early as 1923. As the website Red Hot Jazz Archive explains, “While many of the Classic Blues singers of the 1920s tackled risqué and controversial issues in their songs, Bogan almost exclusively focused on explicit sexual themes, like prostitution, adultery and lesbianism, and social ills such as alcoholism, drug addiction and abusive relationships.” Here are some sample lyrics from “Shave ‘em Dry”:

I got nipples on my titties, big as the end of my thumb,
I got somethin’ between my legs’ll make a dead man come,
Oh daddy, baby won’t you shave ‘em dry?
Want you to grind me baby, grind me until I cry. …

Now if fuckin’ was the thing, that would take me to heaven,
I’d be fuckin’ in the studio, till the clock strike eleven,
Oh daddy, daddy shave ‘em dry,
I would fuck you baby, honey I’d make you cry. …

A big sow gets fat from eatin’ corn,
And a pig gets fat from suckin’,
Reason you see this whore, fat like I am,
Great God, I got fat from fuckin’.

As Ann noted, the Rolling Stones certainly heard this version of Bogan’s song (think “Start Me Up” with the fade-out lyric, “you make a dead man come”). I’m reminded of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down” (“The stuff I got'll bust your brains out, baby, hoo hoo, it'll make you lose your mind”).

You can hear “Shave ‘em Dry” on the Spotify playlist, or you can watch this YouTube video:


two series premieres: person of interest, and prime suspect

Just a couple of brief comments, having just watched these shows. Person of Interest has an intriguing premise (my wife described it as The Equalizer Meets Minority Report, but the main thing is that, intriguing or not, it will remind you of other things). It’s no Rubicon, a far better show, but Person of Interest has potential.

Prime Suspect is a more traditional show. It borrows the title and the main character from the famous British series starring Helen Mirren, but beyond that, it’s more like Saving Grace than the Mirren original. Which is fine … we don’t have to spend any more time comparing the two versions, because they aren’t enough alike to warrant that kind of attention. Maria Bello is excellent, the rest of the show is tolerable.

Both shows threaten to become Just Another Procedural, and I know those shows are popular, but the truth is, I don’t watch them (that’s not a value judgment, just an indication of my taste preferences). So when I try to figure out if I’ll be watching either of these series a month from now, I can’t say “yes” with any certainty. My guess is that, in the absence of characters that interest me, I’ll jump ship on Person of Interest, and that Maria Bello will keep me watching Prime Suspect. I don’t expect either show to become one of my all-time favorites, although again, Bello’s Jane Timoney might become a favorite character that keeps me around, the way I still watch House.

Grades for series premieres: Person of Interest, B-Prime Suspect, B.