Friday, November 28, 2008

Conversation Fodder: PASTE's "Best Of 2008"

Just in time for the US American Thanksgiving, Paste magazine delivers its Best Of 2008 issue. I believe I'll be letting my subscription lapse, but this yearly ish is worth picking up, if only to inform my heated debates with younger nephews at the extended-family dinner table.

Last year Paste proclaimed Boxer by The National to be the album of the year. Prior to that, I was too deep in retro-yearning to notice The National. I downloaded the album from eMusic, and was happy for the experience. We shall see what I make of She & Him when my downloads refresh in another week.

More anon.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Right To Bear Pocket Knives

I wouldn't want it to take precedence over my first request of the forthcoming administration, but this petition for the right to bear pocket-knives seems sane to me. Since 9/11 I've surrendered three of these babies just because I forgot to remove them from the (equally lethal) ring of keys before leaving for the airport:

Sunday, November 23, 2008


A flaming meteor over the skies of Edmonton wasn't quite the spectral sensation I proposed. Even so, had I witnessed this I am sure I would have soiled myself. Ever since I watched If You Love This Planet (w) I hold my breath every time an airplane passes.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Trailer Trash

Via Occasional Superheroine: a scene-by-scene breakdown of the latest trailer for the forthcoming Star Trek movie. I wish I could say all this flashy, booty-n-bra stuff makes me hopeful for the current triage being performed on the Franchise's corpse, but ...

Oh, alright: I've been dissing this thing since it was a rumor!! It's fun to be a Trekkie Grinch!

The Rest Of The Platter

So: is Randy Newman sending Jackson Browne a shout-out, or a put-down? I think it's the former, while John Mellencamp gets the latter (although Newman doth protest). Me, I like 'em both, in no small part because they're lamenting the same decline of national character that Newman does. Mellencamp and Browne are selling their latest on eMusic, and I was quick to hit "download." Neither disc is likely to win new fans for either artist, and it's conceivable that in Mellencamp's case he might just lose a few for sticking with a stripped-down acoustic aesthetic.

T Bone Burnett is the knob-fiddler for Mellencamp (e), and I'm told he utilized a "new technology" that makes it sound like Mellencamp and his crew are in my living room. That isn't quite the effect I'm getting with the eMusic mp3 files, but it hardly matters. Even if I had the DVD it wouldn't help: I'm one of those dinosaurs who hasn't invested in SurroundSound because I haven't invested in a large-screen TV. I'm also keen to retain good relations with my neighbors. But getting back to Mellencamp, there is an intimacy to this recording that adds weight to some already very melancholy songs, and it is receiving a fair bit of play in this house.

Although not quite as much as Mr. Browne (e). There's very little for me to say regarding his latest offering: he's not breaking new ground, and you either like Jackson Browne or you don't. Mr. Newman likes Jackson, and so do I.

Other Tunes: this is the first I've consciously tuned-in to Eagles Of Death Metal (e), who are anything but a death metal act. I wasn't aware of their commercial background, or their being on the receiving end of some typical Axlrosean abuse (wiki), but their on-stage pairing with Guns 'n Roses strikes me as being as boneheaded a mis-match as Joe Jackson's early pairing with the Rolling Stones. Personally, I'd love nothing more than to see Peachfuzz open for EODM at House of Blues. EODM are more in sync with the nouveau-retro stylings of the Dandy Warhols, Marah, My Morning Jacket or The Kings of Leon. Quite a swath, wouldn't you say? I think EODM are a pleasant kick, however -- the songs are all catchy, and remind me of Tones On Tail at their most mischievous, or early INXS at their snappiest. Lyrically, the songs are as prurient as the album-title suggests. I suppose it's possible the material is strictly the by-product of feverish speculation; if not, there are probably one or two band-members who might want to talk to a professional about obsessive-compulsive behavior before it runs away with them, or they convert into Jehovah's Witnesses. Not that the latter is a bad thing.

Finally, there's Mark Farina, another first for me. I may not know from "funky instrumental Hip-Hop, downtempo, Soul and blunted beats" but I know what I like. And this is likable, but probably fated for a short shelf-life on my 'pod. When it comes to atmospheric music, I'm just not that kinda guy. The Grails' Doomsdayers' Holiday (MC) is a little more my speed, but even so, if you're using electricity to make all the noise, I almost always need some vocals to pull me completely in. Otherwise, it's just something that papers the wall -- and in my house, that is quickly disposed of.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Orphans Of God

"We will always be remembered as the orphans of God."

In response to my cochlea's post-funeral yearnings, I have turned to Orphans Of God, the tribute-slash-fund-raising extravaganza that came out in response to Mark Heard's death (and concomitant medical bills). This 12-year-old item is not new to me, but I returned to it after the revelatory experience of Buddy Miller's MH cover, "Worry Too Much." Miller's cover was a revelation because he did nothing to alter the song: the delivery is the same, the emphasis, the pace -- all the same as Mark's. It's just the voice that's different, and that was enough for me to hear the lyrics anew.

As I tried to gage my response to Miller's singing, I began to wonder if Mark was always the most appropriate performer of his own material. A song like "Worry Too Much" slipped under my radar when I first heard it because, frankly, after ten-plus years of listening to Mark's albums I tended to think his chorus was spot-on: he did worry too much. That was just a given. Hearing someone else sing the song, I actually felt the impact of the words for the first time. I realized what is at stake for anyone who sings them with conviction: basically, everything the singer believes -- or hopes -- is sacred.

Orphans Of God is a mixed bag of tricks that holds many such moments for me, as well as many moments I simply don't "get" (they were recorded nearly 15 years ago, and what once sounded au courant now seems to land a bit wide of the mark) and a few that set my teeth right on edge. I'm tempted to call out the chief offenders, if only to add to the interpretive controversy. One Amazon reviewer thinks Ramona Silver's cover of "Remarks To Mr. McLuhan" is a waste of time, but for me it's a delightful highlight: a short, creative riddle, layered with meaning and media -- and it sounds gorgeous.

So I'm not going to shit on any of the contributors because all of them were living and performing on the fringes of the scene long before the scene frayed to the point of becoming one enormous below-the-poverty-line fringe. These people Google themselves (maybe not Olivia Newton-John. Or maybe she does) so to them I say, "Thanks for doing this, and God love ya." Particularly noteworthy performances include: Pierce Pettis, Brooks Williams, Victoria Williams, Carolyn Arends and Ashley Cleveland. Through their voices we hear the angst and even some of the humor that informed Mark's best work.

But my personal award for head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest performance goes to:

Colin Linden -- singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer extraordinaire -- for his soulful rendering of "Dry Bones Dance."

Links: here are some more of my thoughts on Mark Heard; here is Colin Linden's website; finally, Orphans Of God eMusic, Amazon. Also: the lyrics to "Orphans Of God" and "Worry Too Much".

Friday, November 14, 2008

Some Words In Defense Of My Fragile Feelings Of Relief

The end of an Empire
Is messy at best
And this Empire is ending
Like all the rest

I've been told my taciturn response to the recent US election of Barack Obama is noteworthy. I naively imagined the overabundance of public chatter more than made up for my personal silence. But since silence on significant issues of the day is not something I want to be “noteworthy” for, here goes:

US Americans, I am happy for you. In fact I'm happy for everyone. I know the hip thing to do for those of us who take joy in Mr. Obama's victory is to forward a bunch of links from The Onion signifying that we know we know we KNOW this isn't as big a deal as we're making it out to be. Guilty as charged. But c'mon: this is a big deal.

Some observations from my perspective as Canadian solipsist: First, the issue of race seems like a non-issue, so long as I don't reflect on it. But if I thought of what my country might be like if our population had the moral fiber to give someone like, say, Elijah Harper the PMO, well ... that would be a very big deal, indeed. It would also be cause for considerable celebration. But things get thorny when we mull over these issues, so let's avoid them altogether and skip straight to politics.

I don't know which Canucklehead wag said it first, but the general consensus among the chattering classes up here is, “Things have finally moved from worse to bad.” Most observers of American democracy concede that in the main both parties seem to exist primarily to serve corporate interests and only secondarily to manage them. Even so, if there had been such a thing as a “global democracy,” and this fantasy global electorate had been able to exercise a vote eight years ago, George W. Bush would never have been given so much as a tourist's pass to the White House.

The rest of the world does not "get" Americans, it is true: one need look no further than the ill-fated letter campaign of four years ago for evidence of this. And I have to wonder just how deeply we comprehend our own democracies (those of us who live in them) and the leaders we elect. Last time I checked, Elijah Harper was still retired and our Prime Minister was dredging up dirty oil in his back yard. But I digress.

Jesus Christ it stinks here high and low
The rich are getting richer
I should know
While we’re going up
You’re going down
And no one gives a shit but Jackson Browne

For the last two years whenever anyone asked me who I thought the next president should be, I gave them the same formulated answer: I didn't think it mattered so much as that the next president be a clear winner. I figured the US could, and probably would, muddle through another administration of "business as usual" but I couldn't see how it would survive another hung or stolen election. This concern only grew in magnitude when Barack Obama won the Democratic candidacy.

But then John McCain brought forward his running mate, and I thought, “Just how much contempt can a person demonstrate toward voters before people start calling for the guillotine?”

Please. I hope the jaded and worldly-wise can forgive some of us our feelings of elation, even if said feelings are incommensurate with the grim “new” reality.

The man given charge of the last eight years seemed to take a special delight in tormenting not his potential enemies, but his friends: hectoring the Jew to join the Presidential Bible study, giving the German Chancellor a “friendly” shoulder-rub — and always with the nicknames. Eight years devoted to having his way with the nation that voted for and supported him, and taking the rest of the world down a peg ...

The new President will need something considerably more audacious than hope to rescue what tattered worthy scraps still reside within the catastrophe he's inherited. God help him. God help us all. And maybe, while we're at it, we can stow the God-talk for a bit and roll up our collective sleeves and do the real work for a change. Let us at least stop torturing our prisoners of war — that would be the Christian place to start, I think.

Lyrics courtesy of Randy Newman.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Frisbee: The Life & Death Of A Hippie Preacher

In the surreal environs of mid-60s California, an elfin naif by the name of Lonnie Frisbee walks out of the desert and into conservative evangelicalism. Serving as a one-man catalyst for charismatic phenomena, this bizarre little man inexplicably generates a series of conservative charismatic religious movements which continue to ripple throughout the world to this day. By 1993 Frisbee has died of AIDS in near-obscurity, while the religious figureheads who capitalized on his appearances grow to be well-known "pillars" within American christendom.
Frisbee, doing some dunkin'
Filmmaker David DiSabatino's provocative documentary is a straight-forward bit of business that untangles what it can from a rather twisted sub-narrative in recent American church history. His technique is rudimentary -- people talk as the camera rolls -- but his approach is strangely unique. DiSabatino is genuinely friendly with his interview subjects, and (I'm guessing) sympathetic to Pentecostal Christianity. Fortunately, while his love and loyalty to these people and their church is evident, his deeper love is for the story and its complexities. The camera lingers over little details that speak volumes: during an enormous sea-side revival, a young preacher's hand rests on the bare thigh of the girl he is baptizing.

Watching the footage of Lonnie Frisbee's Crystal Cathedral funeral, the viewer quickly gets a sense of how relieved these people are to have him gone from the scene. No-one knew what to do with Lonnie Frisbee, with his cultivated naivete, the strange occurrences that happened wherever he showed up, or his sexual history and yearnings -- least of all Frisbee himself. DiSabatino restores some much-needed humanity to a narrative that is often methodically purged of just such character.

A quick end-note: potential viewers whose lives have crossed into and out of this sort of church experience should be forewarned: the skeletons in your closet will certainly have something to say about all this. Book your shrink in advance. And it seems DiSabatino is working to release a documentary on the life of the late Christian rocker Larry Norman -- despite the Norman family's very personal (and legal) antagonism. If this is any indication of the film's potential, I can't wait to see it.

Links: Lonnie Frisbee wiki; DiSabatino's Frisbee site is here (hey -- the soundtrack cooks, too!); and here is my brief obit for Larry Norman.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Awaiting Quantum of Solace

Paid movie critics seem to be leaving Quantum of Solace in a state of shock, wringing their hands and wondering whatever happened to the "classy" James Bond of yesteryear.

It's always fun when critics whine. Here is David Edelstein, just warming up on the theme song: The movie opens with a car chase that’s a hash, but nowhere near as ghastly as the theme song that follows, an anti-fusion of Jack White’s caterwauls and Alicia Keys’s breathy soul stylings called “Another Way to Die.” Worst Bond theme ever? Let’s just say Madonna is now off the hook for “Die Another Day.”

Here is Anthony Lane, on the film's title: Impact is what “Quantum of Solace” is about. The title is too frail by far. Someone should have called it “Total of Wreckage.” Or “Batter of Ram.” Lane continues in this vein, but then goes on to ponder how this film managed to haunt him beyond the exit door.

Even as prone as I am to nostalgia, the "standard" of former James Bonds strikes me as too shaky a proposition to merit serious consideration. For the most part, Connery and Moore capably justified a trip to the cinema, where the other three struggled to distract. I suspect Lane's observations are closer to the money -- my money, at least. Daniel Craig remains firmly in step with Connery, enticing me and my wife to join the theater queue.

Links: Metacritic is underwhelmed; my wife and I spent a date on Casino Royale and enjoyed ourselves.