Monday, May 26, 2014

The Couch Potato Returns! (Memorial Day Weekend, 2014)

Otto Preminger's Saint Joan - something of a disaster when it was released, this turned out to be pretty good. there certainly are things wrong with the film; it definitely feels like a filmed play, there's some obtrusive scoring during a couple of scenes, it has a really bad performance by Richard Widmark as the Dauphin and a rather silly coda. the surprise is what makes it worth seeing: Jean Seberg as Joan. her performance was roundly criticized back in 1957, but I thought she was fantastic. I'm not just offering the usual faint praise that you might expect in a situation like this ("really, she's not THAT bad!"): I think Seberg gives a genuinely effective performance here. she provides the soul of the film. the scene where she recants her confession near the end is absolutely heartbreaking. and the film itself is surprisingly enigmatic regarding who and what Joan really was. the tragedy it presents us with is that of an innocent who sacrifices herself for what turns out to be an unworthy cause (the Dauphin is, to put it mildly, a worthless, witless douchebag).

Fritz Lang's Man Hunt - a considerable cut above the usual WWII propaganda movies. Man Hunt features Walter Pidgeon as an English gentleman who decides to do a "sporting stalk" of Adolf Hitler in 1939 but gets caught by the Nazis, who, understandably, assume that he was about to assassinate Der Fuhrer. Pidgeon doesn't make the slightest attempt to at an English accent, so the film ends up playing as a plea for America to get off the fence and into the war (Man Hunt was filmed and released early in 1941, some months before the Pearl Harbor attack), ending, rather amusingly, with Pidgeon's character hiding in a cave(!) while being taunted by George Sanders' Nazi Captain. other than having an incredibly dumb closing scene (you can't escape that kind of thing in WWII propaganda films, even those that predate America's entry into the war), this was a lot of fun. though Joan Bennett is terrible as a Cockney prostitute (she wasn't an especially good actress to start with and the awful accent she adopts here makes it even more obvious), Pidgeon and Sanders are both terrific. the dvd has an ok commentary track, along with a short documentary about the making of the film.

Lewis Milestone's Edge of Darkness - here's another WWII propaganda film from 1943 and this one manages to make the Lang film look subtle. Edge of Darkness delivers its message like a truncheon to the head. of course, it'd be silly to expect nuance from a Warner Brothers film from that time period, and if you can get past the obviousness of it, Edge of Darkness is actually quite entertaining. it tells the story of an Nazi-occupied fishing village in Norway and the armed rebellion (led by Errol Flynn) that takes place there. the film plays around a bit with some rigged debates on the efficacy and value of rebellion, but all you really need to know about this film is that - SPOILER - the first shot in the concluding battle is fired by a priest who'd previously counseled the villagers to avoid violence!

Stuart Blumberg's Thanks for Sharing - an ensemble comedy/drama about three men dealing with sexual addiction through the 12-step program. Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow are in the most interesting segments of the film. Tim Robbins and Josh Gad are, unfortunately, stuck in the considerably less interesting segments. though i guess Blumberg deserves some credit for getting an actual decent performance out of Tim Robbins. the dvd has a commentary track, deleted scenes and a 16 minute "making-of" documentary, all of which are worth checking out (the deleted scenes especially if you want to hear Ruffalo do a pretty funny Brando impression).

December, 2001


here's some crap I recorded (employing an alternate tuning of my own devising) WAY back in December of 2001. enjoy!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday, May 13, 2013

my pop-culture (sorta) weekend, or: fuck you, av club!

i finished jennifer egan's "the keep" on thursday. it's probably the most purely enjoyable of her books that i've read so far, though -SPOILERS, SORTA- the big twist is problematic. not that i mind having the rug pulled out from under me, but in spite of there being hints along the way (ray and mick sharing an affinity for counting things is a big one), the book stops making sense once we find out who the narrator is. besides that big issue, if ray/mick doesn't feel especially guilty about killing danny for no good reason, then he's such a sociopath that nothing he says/writes can be taken at face value anyway. while howard's rant about the unreliability of all mediated forms of communication suggest that that may be the point of the book (which makes holly's fixation on ray even sadder than it already is), it's not much to leave a reader with. despite all these complaints, i did enjoy "the keep" (it probably helps that the perspective shifts to holly a few pages after the big reveal). but it is rather odd to read 4 books by the same author and still have no sense whatsoever of who that person is.

friday at work was jazz day for me. lots of sonny rollins, mostly from that amazing '54-'59 period when it seemed like the man's every visit to a recording studio resulted in a great album.

i run out for a quick break on friday afternoon and over in city hall park is a jazz trio employing one of my favorite line-ups: tenor sax, bass and drums. these guys play here frequently and i almost always stop and listen to a song or two. today i decide to buy a cd. the saxophonist is named igor lumpert and his album ("mineral mind") turns out to be pretty enjoyable. whenever i hear his trio in the park they're doing old jazz standards, but "mineral mind" is all original material. i'm initially disappointed when i listen and there's a pianist on the album (as i'd hoped it would be in the trio format) but the piano player turns out to be terrific. lumpert's pretty good himself, as both a player and composer of accessible modern post-bop.

i've been avoiding baby mama (what guy hasn't spoken those words at least once in his life? amirite fellas? hi-yo!) even though i like tina fey, mostly because i don't find amy poehler very funny. unsurprisingly for me, poehler was indeed the worst thing in the movie, but it turned out to be fairly pleasant otherwise with good/funny supporting performances from romany malco, greg kinnear, sigourney weaver, dax sheperd and steve martin. i listened to a bit of the commentary track after watching the film and discovered this fun fact: they originally wanted richard gere to play fey's strange boss. while i think martin did a great job, i gotta say it would have been interesting to see gere in the role.

the omnibus film paris je t'aime is mostly middling except for "place de fetes", the segment directed by oliver schmitz. for those five minutes it's a great movie.

and i started reading "rip it up and start again", simon reynolds history of the post-punk era. it's not especially well-written, but the stories regarding how the bands were formed and what drove them to make music are interesting enough to make the book readable in spite of the author's lack of talent.

i also saw robert bresson's pickpocket and masaki kobayashi's samurai rebellion, but i don't really have anything to say about either of 'em, other than that they were both swell.

Monday, April 8, 2013

i love music

i love music. unlike many other people who feel that way, i made a choice to actually take up an instrument in the hope of making a living as a musician. that didn't happen for me, but i still love playing music (ie: physically picking up and playing an instrument, as opposed to simply putting a cd on, dummy!).

it began in my last year of high school. i didn't receive much in the way of an allowance and had to get a part-time job in order to buy a bass. i started somewhat later on guitar. i was about 20 when i finally purchased a six-string.

in my early 20s i played bass in a few different bands, none of which got anywhere. by the time i was in my late(ish) 20s, i felt confident enough to try forming a band based around my own singing, songwriting and guitar playing. i was probably over-estimating my talents at the time. i was writing pretty good songs, but my presentation of them was terrible. i sang in the most godawful loud, blustery, faux-soulful voice it might ever be your misfortune to suffer exposure to and accompanied myself on a guitar amplified to the most perversely grating and unpleasant tone imaginable. looking back, it's hard to believe that i actually found people willing to play with me in a band. maybe they figured there was something so strikingly rotten about what i was doing that it was bound to make waves. obviously, they were wrong.

i essentially gave up on playing music with other people when i was in my early 30s. the band i was fronting at the time had completed its third demo, but then dissolved since the three of us could not see eye-to-eye regarding the band and where it should be going. to be honest, over the four-or-so years i'd spent playing my music with other people, i'd had serious problems regarding their creative contributions to my songs which made it fairly easy to close the door on that part of my life. for about seven years i resigned myself to the idea that i would not be playing music in much of any capacity beyond noodling on my guitar in private (and occasionally for friends).

sometime during 1999 i got the itch to do something with music again. something that wouldn't put me in the position of having to include other people. i bought a bass guitar and a drum machine late in the summer of '99, thinking that if i could record satisfactory backing tracks using my stereo cassette deck, i'd then go ahead and buy a tascam 4-track machine. after roughly a month's worth of experiments, i felt confident enough to set up a proper home recording studio. along with the bass, drum machine and tascam recorder, i also purchased a ZOOM effects board.

my lo-fi solo odyssey began in january of 2000. i was briefly encumbered by some (in retrospect) misguided ideas about keeping things as simple as possible (the rule was 4 tracks of instruments/vocals per song, with absolutely NO track bouncing), but by mid-february i had thrown that nonsense out the window and was experimenting with overdubbed vocals and guitars. during 2000 i recorded over 150 songs: some brand new, some written during my seven years of (not exactly but sorta) inactivity and some dating back to the period when i'd led my own band.

in december of 2000 after nearly 12 months of recording whenever the mood hit me, i actually needed to take a break from music again. i decided that after this interregnum (which lasted roughly three months), i would record only when i had enough ideas on hand to make an album's worth of songs.

and so from march 2001 to january of 2004 i kept my home recording activities confined to short bursts which generally lasted 1-2 weeks and which, as a rule, had to yield at least 40 minutes worth of music.

my interest definitively waned after january 2004. i made attempts to record material during the summer of 2004 and spring of 2005, but was unhappy with the results. in the spring of 2008 i wrote a half dozen songs and decided to record them while also finishing up the tracks i had lying around from '04 and '05. the work i did in the spring and summer of 2008 constitute my last completed "album". it's not that i'm lacking for inspiration, mind you. when i pick up a guitar, it's inevitable that i'll create the germ of a song within a few minutes. for some reason though, i never feel like doing anything with the ideas i come up with. it's not writer's block. more like writer's ennui. writer's laziness? old age? i dunno.

in any case i've decided to start posting my "albums", hopefully at the rate of 2 per year. which means that i should be done with this little project in about a decade. the music's offered under a standard creative commons license: free to anyone for personal use, but if it's employed in any context where money is generated, i want my share.

first up: october 2003. along with some notes on the recordings, i'll be including lyrics with the downloads. though i don't think they'll make my songs fully comprehensible, as lyrics are not especially crucial to what i try to accomplish as a songwriter. for me, songs are (more or less) finished once i get the structure and texture down. while the vocal melody is important, it's only one component part of the song. that's why i generally mix my vocals low, so that they're part of the overall texture without dominating the song. at least that's the idea.

enjoy! (updated with new notes and creative commons license)

Monday, April 1, 2013

relating to art, my so-called life...

last week in the av club's relating to art q&a i hastily posted things which, predictably, made a couple of people angry. i want to elaborate on what i wrote and make my point(s) a little clearer. certainly not with any hope of making those i angered any less irate though, because those idiots are a lost cause.

1... i never find art relatable. that probably came off as pseudo-nitzschean "i'm better than everyone else" boasting and i (sort of) understand why a blunt statement like that might rub someone the wrong way, so i want to add this: for me, art is generally an escape from the world as i know and experience it (don't misinterpret that as meaning my life is terrible, as i have lived a fairly comfortable existence and things are better than okay lately after a borderline disastrous six months in 2011). books and movies may deal with situations i've been in, but they don't come close to the way it felt when i was in them and i never expect them to. no paragraph in a book/shot in a movie can capture the intensity of what it feels like to have sex with someone you love for the first time or what it's like to be in a fistfight or what it's like to watch someone you care about as they're dying. a writer's approximation of what it is to be in love or afraid or lonely or sad or angry or happy can never be anything more than after-the-fact descriptions of those feelings. that can be beautiful and affecting in its own way, but it's NOT the real thing. i've always been acutely conscious of the difference/distance between art and real life and always will be, i think. attempts to replicate feelings and experiences in art are, for me, too far removed from the immediacy of actual existence to be anything more than a simulacrum, and a faulty one at that. deeply felt emotions are completely outside anything that can really be represented in words. have you ever read a passage in a book that conveyed the exact thing you felt the first time you were with a man or woman you truly loved? i honestly never have. because those words don't exist. and then there's my sense that art always limns human experience with the gift of hindsight. crazy, blundering, thoughtless, headlong rushes into disaster or ecstasy suddenly become explicable thanks to the magic of time, distance and language. again, i acknowledge that that has a value. but it most emphatically has nothing to do with life as i've lived it.

lastly, much of what i've come to love in books and movies comes from exposure to perspectives that i find completely unrelatable. i could never  enjoy movies featuring over-entitled middle class douchebags like the characters that writer-director nicole holofcener (walking and talking, lovely and amazing, friends with money, please give) favors if relatability was as much of a deal-breaker for me as it seems to be for a lot of people at the av club. that's a huge element of what's great about art, IMHO: it's a way of seeing the world through viewpoints that are alien to me. i have never read a book or seen a movie and said afterwards "that was ME on those pages/on that screen", and i don't ever expect to. relatability just isn't what i'm looking for in art.

hopefully these (clumsily expressed, i admit) ideas offer a slightly better explanation of what it is i feel on this particular subject. art definitely has an important function and value in my life, but relatability is not part of the equation for me.

2... i also did some carping about the old tv show my so-called life and i want to add this: i never felt that angela chase's big existential crisis on the show mattered or should even be taken especially seriously. big fucking deal that she felt conflicted about deserting her friends to run with a more popular crowd. a character who makes that particular decision deserves the utmost contempt imaginable no matter how much manufactured regret and/or shame the creators of that character have her experience about making that decision. attempting to legitimize weak (or destructive and bad) thinking by ascribing guilt or regret to the character who engages in it is often nothing more than a lame trick to con an audience into somehow accepting those weak (or destructive and bad) ideas as having (at least some) validity. more often than not, they don't. few people in life transcend the class or social barriers which are generally imposed from birth, but the few who manage to probably spend very little time regretting it when they do. i will admit here that whenever i find myself writing about my so-called life (not all that often, thankfully) i tend to conflate all the characters with angela and talk about wanting to beat them ALL up. honestly, i can't even remember the others now that i think of it (and am pretty sure i only caught a few episodes of the show anyway). one thing i clearly remember though: angela chase and her phony (so-called) dilemma always ticked me the fuck off.

it was probably a mistake for me to post my complaints about my so-called life on a thread started by someone who actually loved the show. if you want to have an ms-cl circle jerk on the av club boards, i promise to stay out of it. although i should add here that i plan to post somewhat less on the av club boards in the future. i'm tired of the sad fuckheads who take things like an evisceration of my so-called life to heart. i don't give a shit how much you liked this or any other tv show, you should not be personally offended if a total stranger posts a negative opinion about it on the internet. this is one of the embarrassing by-products of the "relatability" issue: otherwise intelligent adults who forge such intensely emotional connections with art that they take umbrage when others disparage it. grow up already. jeez.

i reject my so-called life and everything (i think) it represents. if someone wants to point out that my not being able to accept the show's perspective contradicts what i also wrote about how unimportant relatability is to me when it comes to art, then so be it (hey, we all contain multitudes). but there's something wrong if you're the kind of person who can't have this argument without getting angry and upset about it. even if we are on the internet that's no excuse for launching ad-hominem attacks on someone who disagrees with you about a stupid fucking tv show. seriously.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

don't look down


here's a tune i wrote and recorded in october of 2003 which is NOT on my youtube channel.

i wanted to put this up about a month ago, but for some odd reason, it's become impossible to add a video on blogger when you're using the google chrome browser. this morning i suddenly had the bright idea of trying to put the video up using firefox and VOILA! here it is.