world cup blog peeks out from under the covers

I'm gradually waking up the World Cup blog. I've posted a few things recently, including one from today that ranks the competing nations by "degree of civil liberties and political rights". Check it out to see the results:

Human Rights Soccer

Spoiler: Sweden is #1.

Another Spoiler: The opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia will be the worst match by this method.

20 faves #13: patti smith, horses

13th of 20, roughly by chronology.

I'm up to 1975 now, which means punk is beginning to rear its head. Patti Smith is not only the first punk artist on my list, she was the first punk artist we saw live, in 1976. (It occurs to me that we saw all of the last 8 artists on the list in concert, at least once and often more than once. The joys of being an adult with a coupla bucks in your pocket.) More than half of the remaining albums are punk, or rooted in punk. This emphasis (some would say, over-emphasis) on punk means a couple of powerful genres won't make my list. Disco never struck me as an album-oriented art, so that's not a big loss (if you need some disco for the soundtrack, play "Don't Leave Me This Way" by Thelma Houston). And hip-hop disappears under the punk onslaught (the last two hip-hop albums I cut were It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and Paul's Boutique). I've made it this far without saying anything about why Horses matters so much to me. Perhaps the accompanying video, which features a couple of songs from Horses being performed 40 years down the road, helps explain it.


music friday: 1988

The La's, "There She Goes". #13 on Rolling Stone's list of the greatest one-album wonders.

N.W.A, "Straight Outta Compton". The first single from the first album (if we ignore N.W.A. and the Posse, which we probably shouldn't) by one of the most influential bands of all time.

Tracy Chapman, "Fast Car". From the always reliable Wikipedia, a story about Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Tribute:

UB40 were finishing their set on the main stage, and [Stevie] Wonder's equipment was set up, plugged in and ready to be rolled on after a 10-minute act on a side stage. He was about to walk up the ramp to the stage when it was discovered that the hard disc of his synclavier, carrying all 25 minutes of synthesised music for his act, was missing. He said he could not play without it, turned round, walked down the ramp crying, with his band and other members of his entourage following him, and out of the stadium.

There was an urgent need to fill the gap he had left and Tracy Chapman, who had already performed her act, agreed to appear again. The two appearances shot her to stardom, with two songs from her recently released first album, "Fast Car" and "Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution". Before the concert, she had sold about 250,000 albums. In the following two weeks, she was said to have sold two million.

Here's what I don't get. "Fast Car" was the first single from that debut album, and it had been out for a couple of months by the time of the Mandela concert. Chapman played three songs in her scheduled appearance. None of them was "Fast Car". What was she saving it for? Luckily, she still had it in her back pocket when she had to return to the stage to cover for Wonder, and the rest is history.

My Bloody Valentine, "You Made Me Realise". I should also provide a link to one of the legendary live performances of this song. "You Made Me Realise (30-minute 'Holocaust' version)"

Cowboy Junkies, "Sweet Jane". Lou Reed has said this is his favorite cover of this song. Guess he never heard the Mott the Hoople version. Nice to see Johnny Carson enthuse over Cowboy Junkies in the video I linked to for them.

Boogie Down Productions, "My Philosophy". Early "Political Rap". Thirty years down the road, they are less influential than N.W.A, and somewhat overwhelmed by what the last group on this list was doing at the same time.

Lyle Lovett, "If I Had a Boat". I could be wrong, but I think people consider Lovett to be on a par with the likes of John Prine, who introduces Lovett in the video. A long career with plenty of album and single releases will do that. Me, I think Prine is a national treasure, while I tend to best remember Lovett as an actor in things like The Bridge.

Roxanne Shante, "Go on Girl". From the soundtrack to Colors. Roxanne, who started when she was 14 and was a major part of the famous "Roxanne Wars", is as influential as anyone on this list. KRS-One rapped "Roxanne Shante is only good for steady fucking". The reply:

Now KRS-ONE you should go on vacation
With that name soundin' like a wack radio station ...

So step back peasants, poppin' all that junk
Or else BDP will stand for Broken Down Punks
'cause I'm an All-Star just like Julius Erving
And Roxanne Shante is only good for steady servin'

The House of Love, "Destroy the Heart". Even after pouring over the Internet, I feel like I know nothing about this band. I'm pretty sure I'd never heard of them until this song ended up on the list. (A quick look at tells me this is the first time I have listened to them.)

Public Enemy, "Don't Believe the Hype". I guess hip-hop had arrived by 1988, since four of these songs fit the genre. For all of P.E.'s greatness, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is their best, a true milestone. Nothing on this list, including all the ones I said were influential, come close to the importance of that album.

(Sorry, no My Bloody Valentine.)

throwing it back to 1976: randy newman and ry cooder

On this date in 1976 (the Bicentennial year!), we saw Randy Newman and Ry Cooder at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts. Newman wasn't pushing an album, far as I can recall ... Good Old Boys was a couple of years old, Little Criminals was still a year away (Cooder would play on both of those albums). Newman was 32 years old, Cooder 29. Cooder released Chicken Skin Music later in '76, so I imagine he played some of those tunes ... clearly my memory is shot, I can't even picture Cooder in my mind from that night.

We enjoyed Newman ... only time we saw him, but whenever I see him on TV or YouTube, his personality reminds me very much of that night.

They both appeared on the soundtrack to one of my very favorite movies, Performance, back around 1970. Here are a couple of examples. First, the opening of the film, which features a few bars of Newman singing "Gone Dead Train". Note: some S&M sex in the clip, if you click on it.

Performance opening

And "Hashishin" by Cooder and Buffy Sainte-Marie:

Might as well include the most famous song from the movie:


by request: avengers: infinity war (anthony and joe russo, 2018)

It feels a bit picky to complain about a movie that succeeds on so many levels. It probably deserves the $1.9 billion and counting that it has collected at the box office. It ran for 2 1/2 hours without being boring ... the only break I took was when my old-man body had to pee (thanks to the great app RunPee, I knew when to go and what happened while I was gone). And some of my complaints are personal, based on taste preferences more than anything concrete. (As an example, I like non-stop action movies when they feature actual human beings ... The Raid movies, for instance ... but am not as impressed by movies where the action is largely CGI superheroes flying around and beating the crap out of each other. Or, as I said about The Last Jedi, "lightsaber fights are boring, especially when you consider what is being done in movies like The Raid films.")

Infinity War has more emotional depth than is usual for these movies. Josh Brolin as Thanos in particular is more than just another Big Bad. But at some point, enough is enough. (I realize that any movie that makes close to $2 billion clearly hasn't reached saturation for most people.) Because Infinity War is partly the culmination of previous films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a large number of important characters turn up. This is especially the case with the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, who meet up and instantly double the number of key characters. (Not to mention Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, and others.) There are simply too many characters in Avengers: Infinity War. Crucial characters like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, 5 minutes screen time) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, 4 minutes) are barely around long enough to make an impression. (If you're a fan of Hawkeye, spoiler alert: he's not even in the movie.) Then there are the actors, some of them truly great, who were in Infinity War and I didn't know it until I saw their name in the credits: Idris Elba, Benicio Del Toro, and Carrie Coon come to mind.

Having said all of this, I can safely say that if you are a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you will like Avengers: Infinity War. You will probably see it more than once. For me, almost all of the movies in the MCU run together ... I give them all the same rating, with the exception of the Guardians movies, which I didn't like, and Black Panther, which I think is a great film. This doesn't mean I don't like the movies ... that "same rating" I give them is 7/10. But I don't care about them in the way I feel I should about a $2 billion success.

I could best express my position in all of this by noting that my 2nd-favorite part of the MCU (after Black Panther) is the TV series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. There are people with superpowers on that show, but the reason it's still around after five seasons is because it has real human characters that you get to know in depth.


20 faves #12: derek and the dominos, layla

12th of 20, roughly by chronology.

Eric Clapton's work with Cream solidified his reputation. His long career has entrenched his work in the rock history books. A man who plays guitar as good as Clapton is always going to have tracks here or there that amaze. But I'd say the title of his 1989 album describes much of his career: Journeyman. (Christgau wrote, "What did you expect him to call it--Hack?") Which leaves Layla. The Dominos blend seamlessly with Derek, Duane Allman gives the sideman performance of all time, and Clapton's pain leads to an anguished work of art that never got old. One of only two non-compilation "double albums" on my list ... it makes great use of the extra space.


divines, watchmen

Film Fatales #40: Divines (Houda Benyamina, 2016).
Divines is an interesting movie, for me anyway, because it takes place somewhere I know little about (French suburb), and the lead actor, who happens to be the director's kid sister, is the best thing in the movie. It's also a different kind of gangster movie, much more a female buddy movie.
The buddies are Dounia (played by Oulaya Amamra, Benyamina's sister) and Maimouna (Déborah Lukumuena). They are low-level hustlers who want to join a gang led by Rebecca ... with Dounia as the primary instigator, they work their way into the gang. What follows isn't particularly original, nor does the fact that many of the primary characters are women seem to make a lot of difference. It works because the writing is good, because the acting is especially good, because the locale is intriguing. Cinematographer Julien Poupard adds a lot to the power of the film, working closely with Benyamina (this interview offers an up-close look at their work together), resulting in a film that, as Poupard says, colorful but not to colorful. He also mentions the influence of Mean Streets, which hadn't occurred to me but which makes perfect sense.
Divines won awards at several festivals, and won César Awards for Most Promising Actress (Amamra), Best Supporting Actress (Lukumuena), and Best First Feature (Benyamina). Promising ... that's a good word to describe Divines, which makes one look forward to the future work of Benyamina et al. But there is no need to wait, for Divines is already a solid accomplishment.
By Request: Watchmen (Zack Snyder, 2009).
I've been trying to find something to say about Watchmen since I saw it last week, and I'm drawing a blank. It kept my attention for its long running time, and it was often visually dazzling. (I've read the graphic novel, but it was so long ago I can't rely on my memories for comparison purposes.) But it also wasted Carla Gugino, and while I could tell Snyder was reaching for grandeur and meaning, I was mostly impressed by the amazing mask worn by Rorschach. It's the damnedest thing ... the only thing I can compare it to is the rotoscoped faces in A Scanner Darkly.

 (Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)

20 faves #11: john lennon, plastic ono band

11th of 20, roughly by chronology.

How appropriate the I finally move beyond the 60s with the album that did what it could to end the 60s. This album was part of a two-pronged attack ... the major part, to be sure, but Jann Wenner's interview with John Lennon, which ran in two issues of Rolling Stone, was amazing at the time, with Lennon pulling some of the same tricks he did on the album, basically trashing everyone but himself and Yoko. It's ferocious on the page, although if you hear the audio, he sounds much nicer, somehow. For me, there are the post-Beatles solo albums, a few good, mostly not, and there is Plastic Ono Band, which dominates them all to this day.

Plastic ono band