music friday

Santana, Oakland Coliseum, 1977. Third-billed for a Day on the Green headlined by Peter Frampton, with The Outlaws playing before Santana and Lynyrd Skynyrd playing after them. Santana had moved beyond their initial popularity; although they still had an audience in the mid-70s, their comeback didn't arrive until Supernatural in 1999. They were good at this show, although I confess it was Lynyrd Skynyrd that I really wanted to see, and they delivered. Here is part of that show ... look for a young Sheila E. (The drummer is Graham Lear ... rumor is Carlos chose him because he looked like Woodstock star Michael Shrieve.)

Graham Parker and the Rumour, Old Waldorf, 1979; Warfield, 1982. We saw them twice, once in a small club, once in a mid-sized hall (I think he'd broken up with The Rumour by then). The 1979 show came on the heels of Squeezing Out Sparks, and it was terrific ... Parker was a dynamic performer, especially up close. It was later released as the album Live in San Francisco 1979. Here is the show as it was recorded off the radio:

The Time, Civic Auditorium, 1982; Oakland Coliseum Arena, 1983. Both shows were as opening act for Prince. Holy moly, they were a great band, easily one of the handful of best "opening" bands I ever saw. The 1982 show was bittersweet for me ... I'd seen Prince the year before and found the crowd to be as diverse and wonderful as any I'd ever experienced, but in '82, I had my pocket picked. (Greil Marcus was at the first Prince show, and described the crowd as "the most excited and diverse crowd (black and white, punk and funk, straight and gay, young and old, rich and poor) I’ve been part of in a long time".) Here is The Time from late 1982:

Beck, Shoreline Amphitheater, 1995. The Bridge School Benefit was an annual charity concert put on by Neil Young and his then-wife Pegi. They ran from 1986 through 2016. The shows were mostly acoustic. Although the shows featured top acts, and although the venue was only about 45 miles from our house, we only attended two of them (not surprisingly, the ones Bruce Springsteen played). In 1995, besides Young and Springsteen, the roster included Beck, Emmylou Harris and Daniel Lanois, The Pretenders, and Hootie and the Blowfish. Beck was between albums in 1995. Here is his closing number from that night:

synchronic (aaron moorhead & justin benson, 2019)

A film I'd never heard of, from film makers I didn't know, which means Synchronic was a good Geezer Cinema choice, since one of the best things about that project is I get to see movies I might otherwise have missed. It was written by Benson, with cinematography by Moorhead, and both worked on the editing while directing. The two have done several films together, and have a bit of a following.

On Twitter, Moorhead described the film as "our weird movie about paramedics & designer rugs & the nature of time & dogs & New Orleans & death & cavemen & pirates & how the past sucked & friendship & burnt bodies & sad handshakes". That's actually a very good description, because one, it's accurate, and two, it tells you nothing about the movie. And since Synchronic benefits from spoiler-avoidance, I'm stealing Moorhead's tweet here. It's an atmospheric film, which lends itself to the mysterious unfolding of the plot. And I'm going to say something about that plot in a second here, so spoiler alert and all that.

It co-stars Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan. I've found Mackie to be reliable ... at least, I usually like the films that he is in (The Hurt Locker, Detroit, Half Nelson). He gives Synchronic some life to go with the atmosphere.

Here's where the spoilers come. Synchronic deals with time travel, and it appears that Moorhead and Benson wanted to address the problem of race in America. Mackie (Steve) and Dornan (Dennis) are paramedics, and there are a couple of references to the way Steve is treated as opposed to Dennis that offer a bit of insight. But when Steve starts time traveling, Moorhead and Benson seem a bit too proud of the fact that they are showing how tricky it would be for an African-American to go back in time, considering how Blacks have been mistreated throughout our history. It's not a particularly unique take ... the television series Agents of SHIELD and Timeless both addressed the topic, and were at least as interesting and pointed as is Synchronic.

Synchronic takes place in New Orleans, and it feels real ... it was shot there, and Mackie was born there. It is far from a failure. But it's slow-moving, and not to its advantage. A decent movie, not a great one.

see ya later, alligator

I am not a fan of the Democratic Party, although I am inspired by some Democrats (like our Representative, Barbara Lee). I've said for some time now that I can't wait to complain about Joe Biden and the Democrats. But that can wait.

My first vote in a presidential election came in 1972, when I voted for George McGovern. These were formative years for me, and so I thought, with some reason, that Richard Nixon was the worst president in my lifetime. Later, friends who came of age a bit later than me tried to convince me that Ronald Reagan was, if not the worst, then at least the one who created the most damage. George W. Bush was hopeless. But I still held out for the nefarious Tricky Dick.

And then came Donald Trump. Four years later, it's no contest. That man was not just the worst president in my lifetime ... he is the worst president of all time.

And so, on this day when Joe Biden will become President of the United States, I am happy. It won't last long ... the further we get from the Trump Era, the more distant his perfidies become, the more I'll find myself frustrated with the Biden administration. But hey, give the man his honeymoon. We all need to take the time to breathe a sigh of relief.

i'm thinking of ending things (charlie kaufman, 2020)

There's no use hiding the facts: I'm Thinking of Ending Things is maddeningly obscure, and yet if you are in the right mood (as many critics were), you may find you love the movie. I'm here to confess that I did not love it.

Charlie Kaufman has made a career out of hard-to-categorize writing that challenges audiences while always suggesting big themes underneath the odd surfaces. He won an Oscar for his screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Early on, he worked on TV series like the bizarre Get a Life and the controversial Dana Carvey Show. When I try to get a handle on Kaufman, I find it useful to think of those series, which were off the wall at times in sneaky ways. I've liked some of the movies based on his screenplays, especially Adaptation. But in 2008, he started directing his work, with Synecdoche, New York, which I most definitely did not like. I wrote, "There are films that reward multiple viewings; I’ve watched a lot of them. But there is a difference between something that gets better every time you see it, and something that is incomprehensible on first viewing." I'm Thinking of Ending Things is the latter.

I know there is an audience for this, that many people like the puzzles a movie like this offers, that the uncertainties of the narrative might reflect the uncertainties of the characters, or even of life itself. But I prefer to have something to latch on to. I don't need my hand held, and I often enjoy flights of fantasy that take off from seemingly mundane beginnings. And I'm Thinking of Ending Things does strike one as mundane at first glance. But when I don't like this kind of movie, it's usually because I think the film maker is purposely obscure, that they are uninterested in anyone else understanding what they are doing. I can't say Kaufman is the only person who understands I'm Thinking of Ending Things ... for one thing, it's based on a novel, and I assume the author also "gets it". But I get the feeling Kaufman is happy to have each person in the audience come up with a different "meaning" for his film, and part of me thinks that's an excuse for not being clear enough in the first place. So while you might find pleasure in a movie where it's not clear if some or all of the characters are real, where it's not clear if the entire movie is or is not a fantasy, where it's not clear what's going on from one shot to the next ... well, I didn't get that pleasure from I'm Thinking of Ending Things.

Stars Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley are excellent. Co-stars Toni Collette and David Thewlis are less so, although I think their (over)acting is what Kaufman wanted. The cinematography from Lukasz Zal (Ida) is appropriately gorgeous and spooky as needed. Even someone like me, who was ultimately disappointed, found things to like. The one thing that should have appealed to me (Buckley's character offers a take on A Woman Under the Influence that is taken verbatim from Pauline Kael's review) just felt like a stunt. And I want my stunts to offer more fun than I got out of watching this film.