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music friday: drummers

In honor of the passing of the immortal drummer Hal Blaine, here are five of my favorite drummers.

Keith Moon, "Happy Jack". My personal standard for rock drummers. I don't know who did it first ... hell, this wasn't even the first time Moonie did it with The Who (see "My Generation", for instance). But on this track, the drums take over when you'd normally hear a guitar solo. I am not an expert on drumming ... I think some aficionados think Moon was a sloppy drummer. Fuck them. Tbis is rock and roll, and Keith Moon is the Little Richard of the drums.

Buddy Rich, "West Side Story". Again, an expert can correct me on this, but Buddy Rich always seemed to me to be the greatest drummer of them all. I mean, I'm not a fan of his music (that's OK, he didn't like rock and roll, either), but holy moly could he play. This medley is one of his most famous ... if you click on the link and see the performance lasts for 15 1/2 minutes, you might decide to find something else to do, and I doubt it would help if I told you the last 9 minutes are a drum solo. But you won't be sorry ... this ain't "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida", or even "Toad".

Billy Cobham, "Birds of Fire". Funny that I've included two jazz drummers on this list. Jazz isn't my genre, for the most part. But I am not the only rocker who was blown away by The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Saw them in concert in 1972 ... might have been the loudest show I ever attended. Billy Cobham was a monster.

Janet Fucking Weiss, "Youth Decay". A few days ago, Rolling Stone posted a piece called "Fred Armisen: My 5 Favorite Drum Songs". Armisen's Sleater-Kinney selection was "Get Up", and I thought that was a delightful choice ... I've always loved it, especially in concert, especially the very end. It is not a typical Janet Weiss performance, though ... usually she's more in the Keith Moon/John Bonham overpowering mode, whereas here ... well, I'll just quote Armisen:

This is a very emotional song, but Janet Weiss plays this weird disco beat that just builds and builds. It’s kind of an emotional beat, which is kind of a hard thing to do. It’s hard to express yourself with just drums. The song is uptempo; it’s also melancholy. It’s this melancholy, driving beat that builds all the way through to the end. It doesn’t just use the snare drum, it uses the floor tom on the four, which I really love. It’s kind of a challenge to be in a band when you’re not the singer and still try to put your own signature on a song. Janet Weiss does that here.

Nonetheless, "Youth Decay" is one of my favorite S-K songs, and probably my favorite Janet performance. Especially the end. And did I mention, I'm all about a forked tongue and a dirty house? As for her nickname, I give you this:

Hal Blaine, "Be My Baby". The reason for this post. What Chuck Berry's lick on "Johnny B. Goode" is to rock and roll guitar, Hal Blaine on "Be My Baby" is to rock and roll drums. And it's one of the reasons I've been known to call Mean Streets the greatest rock and roll movie of all time.

what i watched

Kiki's Delivery Service (Hayao Miyazaki, 1989). You might say this was recommended by my grandson. His parents are pretty strict about what he is allowed to watch, and Kiki is on that list. So he has seen it several times, as kids often do. It might not make my Top 5 Miyazakis (Princess MononokeNausicaä/Totoro/Spirited Away in any order, and pick-'em at #5 ... sure, make it Kiki), but since I've never seen one I didn't like, that's not exactly a thumbs down. (His mom said he was too young for Mononoke, and I suppose she's right.) We watched the American dub with Kirsten Dunst (whose nickname in real life is apparently "Kiki") and Phil Hartman ... Pamela Adlon was apparently in there, too, but I wasn't listening for her. I'm on record as being fine with dubbing in animated films if it's done well, and it's just fine in this case, plus the six-year-old understood what people were saying. (On the other hand, we watched it with him once in Japanese with English subtitles ... he couldn't read the subtitles, but he had already seen the movie enough times that he knew what was going on.) Miyazaki movies are real problems for me and artificial intelligence recommendation engines, since those systems assume I love animation because I give Miyazaki such high ratings. The machine can't tell the difference between Spirited Away and Shark Tale.

The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997). This was recommended by Bright Wall/Dark Room. I had seen it long ago, but only remembered the keys scene. I don't know why, but I also thought I remembered being unimpressed, so I'm glad I watched again after all these years, because it is very good indeed. The casting director was Avy Kaufman, who has a ton of credits to her name ... she did a great job here. Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, and Sigourney Weaver were the biggest stars, but everyone was good. And the kids, many of whom are stars now, were also brilliantly cast: Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Katie Holmes. Also worth mentioning is Adam Hann-Byrd, very unsettling in his part ... he has gone on to be a writer. The kids aren't just well-cast. Lee draws realistic portrayals from them all (writer James Schamus, or even Rick Moody, who wrote the original novel, surely deserve some of the credit, as well). #972 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time. The actors weren't the only ones who were cast, as this short clip demonstates (I believe the narrator is production designer Mark Friedberg):

I've only seen a few Ang Lee films, but this ranks with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at the top.

shameless, fiona finale

Myles McNutt has been recapping Shameless for The AV Club for the last four seasons ... he may have been doing it elsewhere before that, I've been reading Myles seemingly forever, I think he was still a grad student when I started, he's now a professor at Old Dominion. He has been the most reliable writer regarding the show for some time, and he's been frustrated with Shameless for a long time. Here is how he described the series after the Season Six premiere, which marked McNutt's debut for AV Club:

But unlike a family sitcom like The Middle, the stakes are high on Shameless. In this sense, it’s a distinct televisual artifact, unlike any of the premium—or even basic—cable shows around it. It is at its core a family “soapcom,” adopting the dense serialization and action/consequence plotting of soap operas but within a more tightly focused character structure seen in sitcoms. The “plot” as it were rarely extends beyond individual situations, and is almost always driven by characters and their relationships. It’s created one of my most dysfunctional television viewing experiences, as I find myself wanting to spend time with the Gallaghers like they’re a sitcom family, whilst simultaneously spending entire episodes watching through my fingers as they flirt with tragedy at every turn.

McNutt is referring in part to the claim (by Showtime and by show honcho John Wells) that Shameless is, at its core, a comedy. McNutt, rightly, says that is nonsense. This season he has stated more than once that Wells doesn't understand his show's strengths and weaknesses the way, well, Myles McNutt does. Since I agree with Myles, I've found his writing invaluable over the years as Shameless has fallen from its heights, much like virtually every Showtime series. Here are some of the things I've said.

First, a clip from Season One:

Season 3:

Season Three still only gets an A-, but Rossum gets her third straight A+. C’mon, folks, watch this show before I have to make up an award for it.

On the Season 4 finale:

Shameless is a character study, and one reason Season Four was the best yet is that we know these characters, but they are still evolving, so we see them in more depth. And their circumstances change. From the beginning, Shameless promised to be a show about the lower classes that felt real even as the plot got silly. As Paul Abbott, who created the U.K. original, said, “It’s not blue collar; it’s no collar.” The essential core of Shameless is the extended Gallagher family, and again, it’s the combination of deep characters and their interesting evolution that carries the core.

Season 7:

Showtime always lets their shows run for too long. That would seem to be a problem here, but somehow, Shameless is still very good. The changes in the characters over the years are believable (at least within the cockeyed world of the show), Emmy Rossum deserved more than one of those awards named after her, and I’m glad it’s still on. Oddly, the least-interesting character is the one played by William H. Macy, the de facto star. Macy is excellent, his character is not.

Early in Season 9:

Shameless has never been a comedy, despite the many funny scenes over the years. And William H. Macy gets Emmy nominations every year, while Emmy Rossum has never gotten even one for playing Fiona. Yet Macy plays Frank, the least-interesting character on the show, a character that should have been dumped many seasons ago.

Season 9 has too much Frank, as have too many recent seasons. Meanwhile, it seems like the writers no longer know what to do with Fiona. I don't blame Rossum for announcing she is leaving the show.

Also from Season 9:

Shameless has been on a downward spiral for a long time, now. It took longer than usual for a Showtime series, but it's barely worth watching now. I'm sticking with it until the end of the season ... I feel I owe it to Rossum. But it's a shadow of its former excellence.

As can be seen, I loved the show for a long time, and was still optimistic as recently as Season 7. But it's been a downhill slide ever since, and the only reason I've kept watching is to see Emmy Rossum's final episodes. Rossum is moving on, and her character has been written out of the show ... the last we see her, she is on her first plane ride, going who knows where. The idea that the show can continue without Rossum is delusional, although it still has a following, and Showtime isn't going to let a popular show exit until it has drained everything. But then, Rossum has always taken a back seat to William H. Macy. It's not his fault that he's the most famous actor on the show, and he does wonders with his character. But neither he nor his character belong at the center of Shameless ... that's Emmy Rossum and Fiona.

The plotting has become positively careless the last couple of seasons. In that respect, it reminds me of The L Word, which ignored character continuity whenever they decided to try something new. I have to return to Myles McNutt again, because he has obsessed about this ever since it happened, and since I share his obsession, it deserves mention. In one of the many goofy plots on Shameless, Carl gets married to Kassidi. Once the character has served her purpose, the powers that be decided something needed to be done. And so, in the first episode of Season 9, someone who wants to impress Carl offers to take care of Kassidi, telling Carl not to worry, no one will ever find the body. Kassidi never returns, and we can only assume she has been murdered. After which, she is never mentioned again. It's as if she was never on the show, that she had never married Carl, that she had never been murdered. This is the worst example of how Shameless ran off the rails. Sadly, it's not the only example.

Myles is a better man than I. He finished his final Season 9 recap by writing, "As much as I don’t blame anyone for bailing on the show along with Fiona, I’m sticking it out to see just what exactly John Wells thinks Shameless without Fiona looks like. It’s certainly going to be an adventure." As I said on Twitter, I might keep reading Myles' recaps, but I doubt I'll still be watching the series ... at this point, his recaps are better than the show.

what i watched

To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett, 1990). This was the latest "Movie of the Week" from the Criterion Channel as it leads up to its grand opening next month. It had an interesting tone ... Burnett shows us a typical African-American family, tosses in a bit of magic realism, and then Danny Glover takes things in another place entirely. Glover plays an old friend of the family who comes to visit. He brings some of the old ways and old beliefs with him, and it's appealingly nostalgic at first, but Glover is also oddly ominous from the start. He's a bit like Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt, where his outward demeanor hides something darker. Burnett never lets To Sleep with Anger become a horror movie, but Glover brings it close. He's great. This is the second Charles Burnett film I've seen, along with Killer of Sheep, and he is far more unheralded than he should be.

The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979). I wrote about this movie in 2010, and my thoughts haven't changed much, so I'll quote that earlier post and then add to it:

I wonder if people can predict in advance what movies will become cult favorites in the future? Usually, when the film makers try to achieve this in the process of creating a movie, they try too hard, they pour on too much self-indulgent irony, and they fail. Walter Hill, director and screenwriter for The Warriors, never seemed much interested in making a cult classic … his specialty is “guy films,” often with little or no irony. Nevertheless, this cartoonish New York City gang movie, which draws on work by the early Greek historian Xenophon, has many elements which, in retrospect, would seem to ensure cult survival, starting with the part about it being a cartoonish gang movie. Hill has a fine eye for composition … when the gangs hurriedly escape the big meeting at the beginning, the visuals are mesmerizing (Kael compared it to Griffith’s work in Intolerance, a nice piece of hyperbole) … and since the characters are more iconic than “real,” the acting is less important than the look of the film. It’s all a bit of a mess, but once you’ve seen it, you won’t forget gangs like the Baseball Furies, or the crazed eloquence of Cyrus in the opening sequence, or, of course, David Patrick Kelly clicking the beer bottles together and inviting the Warr-i-ors to come out to pla-ay. We watched Hill’s “ultimate director’s cut,” which adds superfluous comic inter-titles, as if we couldn’t already tell the movie was more like a comic than like real life.

I watched it again because I came across the "original" version, minus the comic inter-titles, which I didn't like in the first place. I recommend this version if/when you can find it (I found it On Demand). One thing I noticed this time is that the movie can't really live up to its first amazing 15 minutes. But then, not many movies can.


I'm going to have cataract surgery.

Saw an ophthalmologist today. I can skip most of the details because 1) I don't really understand them, and 2) he dilated my eyes and my computer monitor is still too bright for me to look at for more than a second or two. I know very little about my physical self, and when I looked up cataract surgery, I just wanted to know if I would be put to sleep or not. (The answer is no.) Now I know that the doctor is going to replace a part of my eyes, and when he is done, I not only won't have cataracts any longer but my vision will be changed ... in a good way. I may not need contacts or glasses any more, or I may need glasses but a much weaker prescription. I have worn glasses for more than 50 years, and contacts for almost 40. I've always been extremely near-sighted. The notion that I'll be able to see "normally" was unexpected. And given that, according to my wife, for the last several years I say "I can't see" about ten times a day, the difference should be interesting.

So watch this space. I might even look at it myself, once it quits blinding me with its light.



Recovering files from my old computer and transferring them to the new one, I came across my dissertation. Here is the abstract:

Substituting action for the logical deduction that had become standard for the detective genre in the wake of Edgar Allan Poe, hard-boiled fiction offered a world where heroes acted with a fury that mirrored the chaos they were opposing. Early works validated the usefulness of individual chaotic fury in opposing social chaos, but Dashiell Hammett attempted to use the genre to critique notions of chaotic heroism, while Raymond Chandler steps back from the more radical claims of Hammett’s work, which implicates the detective as well as society as a whole. Chandler’s heroes are always disillusioned not by something as grand as “society” but rather by something quite specific: women, who are desired as damsels in distress but who are eventually exposed as representatives of chaos. In the post-war era, the massively popular Mickey Spillane reduces the art of his forebears to a stripped-down, violent neo-fascism that largely ignores Chandler’s romanticism and completely overturns Hammett’s critique in a celebration of the chaotic fury which Hammett condemned. Even more than in Chandler’s work, Spillane places women at the center of society’s corruptions; unlike Hammett, Spillane allows his hero mostly unqualified success. Robert B. Parker gives his hero a regular and significant love interest, refuses to accept the demonization of women, and attempts to recognize women as partners, if not full-fledged heroines, in his adventures. The novels of Sara Paretsky extend these changes in the genre’s attitudes towards women, merging a feminist vision of women in the late twentieth century, working communally towards common goals, with a vision of the individual on whom society calls when chaos threatens. Rather than rejecting the entire tradition out of hand, Paretsky synthesizes the notion of empowered women in a community, with the individualist notions of the heroes in the genre’s past, attempting to extract the power that comes to those who harness chaos without losing sight of the needs of the oppressed.

managing expectations

We attended last night's MLS season opener for the San Jose Earthquakes. Last season the team was just awful, winning only four games all year. During the off-season, their primary move was to hire the respected Argentinian coach Matías Almeyda, who has worked on three occasions with teams fallen on bad times (River Plate, Banfield, and Chivas) and took part in a turnaround. He would seem to be the perfect new manager for the Quakes, so much so that it was surprising he even came here at all.

My nephew is the most knowledgeable person in our family when it comes to soccer. He's the right age, growing up as the sport was blossoming in the States ... as a little tyke, he attended the very first Major League Soccer game ... and, unlike most people, has managed to turn a passion into a full-time job, currently with Toronto in MLS. He often suggests to me that managers aren't nearly as important as we think, that it's the players that matter (I'm simplifying here). I decided this meant the 2019 Quakes might make an interesting study of that concept. They were a bad team, and while they mix-and-matched a few players, they didn't sign any big stars outside of Almeyda. If managers lack importance, the Quakes aren't likely to be revived.

Hard to say after one game if the revival is taking place. MLS rules (and the reluctance of the San Jose front office to spend lots of money) mean Almeyda probably hasn't been given the kind of money he could use to rebuild the roster, although that is mere supposition on my part. Last night, the Quakes' play looked more positive, and a goal in the 11th minute gave fans some hope, but eventually, San Jose lost, 2-1. Their defense was erratic, and while the offense had plenty of possession, they rarely seemed like they were on the verge of scoring.

Almeyda has said from the beginning that recovering from a four-win season takes time, and he found some positives in the defeat. But mostly, the game reminded us just how far the team has to go. And outside of the never-give-up spirit the team showed (not something we saw too often last year), I can only say of Almeyda's influence so far that the Earthquakes will probably win more than four games in 2019. Here are some highlights, including a look at Matías, who if nothing else is the best-looking coach in the league:

And here is the view from our seats:

Avaya 2019 opener

music friday: 50 years ago at fillmore west

A momentous night for one group of fans. First, to get the opening acts out of the way. The Sir Douglas Quintet are listed as the first act, but there is some evidence that they were replaced by Frumious Bandersnatch. The Quintet, one of the essential Tex-Mex bands, had a sizable hit in 1965 with "She's About a Mover". Later in the 60s, they moved to the Bay Area. Their 1968 album Sir Douglas Quintet + 2 = Honkey Blues was a favorite of mine, with song titles like "You Never Get Too Big and You Sure Don't Get Too Heavy, That You Don't Have to Stop and Pay Some Dues Sometimes". In late 1968, they hit again with "Mendocino", which prompted an album of the same name that was released the month after this show. Doug Sahm was the main man, with legendary Augie Meyers on Vox organ. Since I'm not sure if they even played at this show, I'll cut this part short. Here they are on Hugh Hefner's TV show, Playboy After Dark:

Frumious Bandersnatch were a local band that barely recorded ... the little that they did put out wasn't released until 1996. Here is what they sounded like:

Pentangle was the second supporting act. Pentangle was something of a supergroup of musicians from the British folk scene: Bert Jansch and John Renbourn were established recording artists, and in Pentangle they were joined by singer Jacqui McShee and a rhythm section of Danny Thompson and Terry Cox. Their debut album, The Pentangle, was released in May of 1968, and got a lot of play, at least in our neck of the woods. Here they are in 1968:

I've really buried the lede here. I mentioned this was a momentous night, and it was, for headliners The Grateful Dead. This was the third show in a four-night stand, and those concerts were the source for their first live album, the classic Live/Dead. None of the shows from March 1 made it onto that album, but that concert made it onto a 10-CD box set, Fillmore West 1969: The Complete Recordings. It included an encore of "Hey Jude". Here is a lo-fi audio recording of that show:

And if you don't have time for the whole show, here's "Turn on Your Love Light" from Live/Dead: