the rock and roll hall of fame nominees

The nominees for the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been announced. Sister Rosetta Tharpe stands atop all the others, so of course, she's 15th in the fan ballots as I type this (The Meters are last), with about 1/8th the number of votes as Bon Jovi. I'd also vote for The Meters and LL Cool J ... they are also down on the fan vote list. I accept the inevitability of Radiohead, even though I don't care for them. I suppose I'd vote for Nina Simone, but not with the same enthusiasm I have for Sister Rosetta. Bon Jovi is running away with the early fan voting.

Last.fm keeps track of everything I listen to on streaming services (not including things like YouTube), and has done this since 2005. It often provides a reality check by showing me what I actually listen to, rather than what I like to say I listen to. I checked the 19 HoF nominees to see which ones I listened to the most over the years. The top five are:

The Moody Blues 
Nina Simone 
The Meters
Dire Straits
Radiohead

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who I say is the #1 nominee this year? She's 18th out of 19, with 5 listens in the past 12 years. In fairness, I usually listen to her on YouTube. (Last place is Judas Priest, who I have listened to 3 times since 2005. For reasons unknown to me, the nominee I have listened to the most times in 2017 is The Zombies.)

If I had one vote, Sister Rosetta would get it. Here's a documentary about her:

The Meters have always been a favorite of mine, for their records under their own names, of course, but also their work as the house band for Allen Toussaint. They also appeared on one of the greatest one-shot albums of all time, The Wild Tchoupitoulas. And Ziggy Modeliste is one of the handful of best drummers in history. Here they are with "It Ain't No Use":

LL Cool J was only 17 when his first album came out (it was great). Five years later, he topped it with Mama Said Knock You Out. The greatest hits album, All World, answers any questions you might have. Here's "Mama Said Knock You Out":

My other two selections are outside of my personal canon, but I think they belong in a Hall of Fame. Nina Simone is iconic for more than her music, but her music stands on its own.

Finally, there's Radiohead. I'm of the Nick Hornby school re: this band. But "Creep" is magnificent ... all by itself, that song belongs in the Hall of Fame. And Radiohead is definitely a case of my own taste preferences being mostly irrelevant. They belong.

As for the rest of the nominees:

In my youth, I listened to a lot of Moody Blues. I'm not that young anymore. Dire Straits was a breath of fresh air when they came out, but that didn't last long. Most of the rest are largely uninteresting to me, which doesn't mean much ... I could be missing something good. The Cars were a nice band with some fine singles that made for a solid Greatest Hits album, but I don't see them as any more than that. I saw the J. Geils Band many times back in the 70s and 80s, and was never sorry, but they aren't Hall of Famers.

A Facebook group of Christgau fans has a poll going, and the top five are The Meters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The MC5, LL Cool J, and The Cars. (Thanks to some cheaters, Warren Zevon actually came in third.) The Moody Blues are in last place, with only one vote (The Meters have 56).

Finally, Stephen Thomas Erlewine has some predictions over on Pitchfork. He thinks the "definites" are Radiohead, Eurythmics, Moody Blues, and Nina Simone. He lists nine acts "on the bubble", and says if he had to guess, Dire Straits would make it.


zabriskie point (michelangelo antonioni, 1970)

I once listed L'Avventura as my 17th-favorite movie of all time. I did not think as highly of L'Eclisse, and didn't think much at all of Red DesertBlow-Up was OK, and it was different than the famous trilogy, but I would never put it on a list of favorites. So I ask myself whenever I think about Antonioni, what exactly do I think makes L'Avventura better than the rest? And I don't think I've ever come up with a proper answer. The closest I've come is when I wrote, "L’Avventura’s greatness lies in part in the way the emptiness is ultimate rather than complete. Claudia’s journey takes us from a place of hope to one of pitiful acceptance, and that journey is key to L’Avventura. In the other films in the trilogy, the emptiness is there from the start; it is complete, and there is no journey."

Zabriskie Point looks like L'Avventura, once you get past the use of color. When Mark and Daria wander around the desert, they are photographed as mere specks in the vastness of nature, which is very much like the earlier film.

L'avventura

Zabriskie

So yes, Zabriskie Point is lovely to look at. But really, so what? There is no real attempt in the film to provide characterizations for anyone, no attempt at a coherent plot, no attempt, for that matter, at making any coherent points at all. The movie wanders around, and then one character dies and the other character imagines things blowing up. That's it. Antonioni shows contempt for America, contempt for young people in America, contempt for political people in America ... yep, he sure does hate America. But he never offers any reason for this hatred.

And hatred is too emotional a word, for Zabriskie Point is as drained of emotion as the desert is of water.

Antonioni doesn't even bother to cast actors in the main roles who can convey depth. The legend is that a casting director spotted the non-actor Mark Frechette and told Antonioni, "He's 20 and he hates", which was good enough for the Maestro. Daria Halprin has had an interesting life, but she's no actress, although she at least offers something approaching screen presence, unlike her co-star. (She did end up in a comments thread about the movie Revolution, in which she played herself. It's one of my all-time favorite comments threads, because the star of Revolution, Louise "Today" Malone", turned up!)

Antonioni made Zabriskie Point because an American studio was chasing the youth market, and hoped the director of Blow-Up could deliver. He didn't. At one point, Mark states that while he is ready to die for the revolution, he doesn't intend to die of boredom. He'll want to avoid Zabriskie Point, in that case. (In fairness, lots of people would say the same thing about L'Avventura.) David Thomson, who thinks it's a bad movie but who also loves the movie, thinks the ending "could stand alone -- it should -- as a magnificent short film", later adding, "we can believe that Antonioni could hardly speak or direct a word of English. But baby, when he blows the house up, you get the message. The film was a commercial disaster that began the ruin of MGM - truly, art is a wonderful thing." #958 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 5/10.

The big finale:

And a famous appearance by Halprin and Frechette on U.S. television: 

 


the last vacation post

Before our vacation fades completely into memory, here are the Top Ten Things to Remember About the Vacation:

10. Time Zones.

9. Sprint. Turns out unlimited roaming data and text is part of our normal plan. Turns out that's pretty cool.

8. Fanta Limón and jamón, as always.

7. Churros con chocolate. Breakfast of champions.

6. Ice cream after every dinner in Nerja. Robin settled on Choco Blanco, I usually went for Choco Naranja.

5. Ayo's.

4. We love to eat Mexican food at Juan's Place.

Juan's place

3. Estepona. We sat down at his desk, and I said my grandparents were from Estepona. Before I could continue, he interjected, "Hawaii". Apparently all those stories about the migration of the Andalusians to Hawaii are true!

2. Norwegian Air.

Norwegian

And the #1 highlight of our trip: Robin drives us from Málaga to Ronda in the middle of the night, via Transylvania.

Because some things are worth repeating, here is the view from our balcony in Nerja at 9:38 in the morning:

Nerja balcony morning


by request: the straight story (david lynch, 1999)

How time flies. It has been several years now since two friends and I created a group on Facebook wherein we listed our 50 favorite films over the course of a few months. I have tried subsequently to watch all of the films my friends chose that I hadn't seen, and with The Straight Story, I am almost completely caught up with the picks of Phil Dellio (still missing Comfort and Joy and 2/3 of the Apu Trilogy). Phil had The Straight Story at #41, and it's worth quoting a bit from his comments on the film:

If it weren’t for three films--well, two films and a TV project--the career of David Lynch would be pretty much without interest for me. I’ll give a pass to The Elephant Man ... I probably need to watch it a second time. So what do I like? On one hand, the two most obvious candidates--Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks--and on the other, the least obvious, which would be this. I can’t think of a more anomalous movie in any-one’s filmography than The Straight Story within Lynch’s. ... I find it as disconnected from Blue Velvet as Neil Young’s Trans was from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

I like this in part because to some extent, it matches my own feelings about David Lynch. Not in the details ... I'm not a fan of Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks ... but in the sense that Lynch interests other people far more than he interests me. My take on Lynch is perhaps best stated in my comments on Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale, which I liked more than I liked Mulholland Dr.: "Others will prefer their voyeuristic trash with a classier tone; they are welcome to go watch David Lynch movies."

I differ most strongly with Phil on The Elephant Man, which I think is far and away Lynch's best movie. But until The Straight Story, I found myself rating every David Lynch movie I saw (other than The Elephant Man) with the cursed 6/10 ... I didn't much like them, but I respected his ability to make films the way he wants to, with no regard for someone like me.

The Straight Story gets its title from the main character, Alvin Straight, on whose life the film is based. But it's also a perfect title for a movie that is indeed told to us in as straightforward a manner as anything Lynch has done. Lynch gets a terrific performance from Richard Farnsworth, who was dying when the film was made (this is his last movie). Alvin Straight's story is odd, no question: he decides to visit a brother who lives some distance away, and makes the journey on a John Deere lawnmower tractor. Along the way, Alvin meets up with various folks, some with odd stories of their own, others just good old solid Americans. Surprisingly, Lynch doesn't try to turn this into another story about the dark hidden secrets of the American psyche. Instead, he seems understanding of how these people live their lives, and there is very little mocking in the film.

It's a slow movie ... well, it's about a man traveling a long distance while riding a lawnmower, which kind of forces a slowness to things. But it never veers towards boredom, mostly because Farnsworth is so good, never seeming bored himself. It's a winning film.

I still think The Elephant Man is the best Lynch movie I've seen, but like Phil, perhaps I need to watch it again. In the meantime, The Straight Story is very good, a rare Lynch film I'd watch again with pleasure. #1000 (I guess something had to be on the bottom) on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 9/10.




creature feature saturday: the black cat (edgar g. ulmer, 1934)

Once again, as is often the case with these "Creature Features", the trivia behind the film is as interesting as what is on the screen. The difference here is that The Black Cat is actually a good movie.

I saw it when I was a kid, probably on our own local Creature Features show. All I remembered of it was that someone got skinned alive. Since that didn't happen until the last couple of minutes of the movie, I started wondering if I'd misremembered (I hadn't).

This was the first film to co-star Boris Karloff (here billed simply as "Karloff") and Bela Lugosi (they eventually made eight movies together). They are both good, if you like their acting ... Karloff is ominous but restrained, Lugosi is hammy. Lugosi is nominally the good guy here, as a doctor imprisoned during WWI (or something like that ... the movie isn't clear). Karloff did bad things during that war, and Lugosi has come to make him pay. (The actors' characters have names, but why bother with them? It's Karloff and Lugosi.) David Manners and Julie Bishop (billed as Jacqueline Wells) play American newlyweds, and are properly boring. Both lead actors have odd obsessions with Bishop's wife.

The movie is quite bizarre ... Kael accurately described it as a "nutty, nightmarish mélange of Black Masses and chess games, shadows and dungeons, Satanism and necrophilia." Karloff has a bunch of dead women hanging around in some form of suspended post-lifeness. One of them is Karloff's former wife. Meanwhile, Karloff has married Bela's daughter.

Lugosi has a deadly fear of cats ... the first time he sees a black cat, he recoils, pulls a knife, and throws it at the cat, killing it instantly. This is about as close as the movie comes to explaining the title, which was used mostly so Universal could say it was "suggested by a story by Edgar Allan Poe" (the film has nothing to do with Poe's story).

It all sounds silly, and it is, but it gets out of the way in 65 minutes, the two leads are good, and everything is atmospheric in that Edgar G. Ulmer way. Ulmer made a gazillion movies, almost all of them Grade-Z pictures, almost all of them with enough recognizable Ulmer touches that he became a favorite of auteurist film critics. The Black Cat is one of his best, but it was also a curse for Ulmer. During the making of the film, he began an affair with a woman whose husband was the nephew of the studio head at Universal. There was a divorce, and a marriage ... Ulmer and his wife, Shirley, remained married until his death. But he was blackballed, and was resigned to miniscule budgets the rest of his career. His best film was Detour, sometimes called the greatest B-movie of all time. The Black Cat doesn't reach those heights, but it is several notches above the average Creature Feature. And the scene where Karloff gets skinned alive is quite remarkable. 7/10.

 


music friday: tom petty

I've gone back and forth on whether to post this or not. I have no desire to dump on the favorite artists of others, at least not when I have no hatred for the artist in question. I don't have much to say about Tom Petty. I couldn't name the Heartbreakers ... for some reason, Benmont Tench's name sticks in my head, but I don't know the others without checking the Internet. For most of my life since the emergence of Petty, I've used him as a marker for a time when rock and roll music changed. When punk arrived, I would say, some of the people thought it was a tremendous reflection of true rock and roll spirit, while everyone else went to their Tom Petty albums and never listened to new music again. That's unfair, of course, to Petty if not to the baby boomers who never wanted to hear anything that didn't sound like what they'd already heard. (Of course, hip hop followed, becoming the true revolution I had imagined happening with punk.)

Chris Willman wrote in Variety, "Tom Petty may have been the least polarizing figure in rock history. Literally everyone else you could cite has a substantial 'not a fan' base, from Dylan to Springsteen, Bowie to Bono. And the very nature of the eternal Beatles-vs.-Stones debate attests that there will always be someone, somewhere, immutably meh on Mick and McCartney. But there’s an argument to be made that Petty almost never caused an argument, at least not among music fans."

I think Willman is onto something. It would be an exaggeration for me to say I was "not a fan" of Petty. But the very fact of his non-polarizing nature is a point against him, in my mind. People argue about Dylan and Bruce and Bowie and Bono because there is something larger than the mere ordinary about them. But everyone seemed to agree that Tom Petty was one of the good ones.

And, in fairness, with his death, many people have written eloquently about what his music meant to them, so I'm clearly in the minority when I am, if not meh, than at least not inspired by Petty.

The year Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they were part of a group that included The Ramones, Talking Heads, Brenda Lee, Isaac Hayes, and Gene Pitney. In my personal Hall, the Ramones and Talking Heads are in, you can make a good case for Brenda Lee, and Isaac Hayes makes sense. Not so sure about Gene Pitney, who is the only one of the group that I'd place below Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

As a nod to Petty on his death, I put together a 20-song playlist that we listened to in the car on a trip from Sacramento to Berkeley. Any artist who has 20 worthy songs to their name is pretty good (and some people were making lists with 50 songs ... as I say, my taste preferences don't really match the majority here). But that 20 was a bit of a cheat. I included five cover songs, and two ringers, one by Stevie Nicks and one by the Traveling Wilburys. I could only come up with 13 "Tom Petty songs" I wanted to hear. Which still isn't bad, but I can't say I think a baker's dozen good songs makes a Hall of Fame artist.

And I mean it when I say "good songs". "American Girl" is the only Tom Petty song I think of as a true classic. It was on his first album. He gets credit for longevity, but for me, he never cut a track better than the last song on his first album.

But picky, picky, picky. Tom Petty made plenty of good music, and touched a lot of listeners. There's nothing wrong with that.

We saw him in concert once, as a solo acoustic performer at the first Bridge concert in 1986. Honestly, we thought he was drunk. Maybe he was just having fun. He opened with "American Girl", tossed in "Blue Moon of Kentucky", and finished with "Twist and Shout." He did have good taste in covers.

Here are my three favorite Tom Petty song, a rather dull selection to be sure:

 


happy birthday, six and boomer

Sisters Boomer and Six are 11 years old today. They are Bengals, or at least Bengal mutts (the latter being my personal opinion). They are interesting cats ... Robin would get another Bengal in a second, while my experience with these two tells me I never want another. But as I say, they are interesting.

Here are a couple of photos:

Boomer and six

Boomer and six 2015


just pretend

When you are on vacation, you think about how you will change your life when you return. But when you get home, all you want to do is bask in the normality you had subconsciously missed when you were away. And so, within half an hour of arriving home, I ordered a pizza for delivery, and the next morning, we went to our usual breakfast place like we do every week.

And what do we really come home to? Donald Trump. Puerto Rico. Mass murder in Las Vegas.

And what did we leave? In Spain, a referendum on Catalan independence led to a police riot, leaving almost 900 civilians and 430 police officers injured.

When you are on vacation, you can pretend you are immune. But it's just pretend.