Sunday, May 28, 2017

Professional writers work for free

 
Impact over legacy has been with us since print media brought literacy and books into the marketplace. The original class of professional writers , like Addison and Steele, Oliver Goldsmith, and others rather enjoyed the relative speed they could bring their views on issues and manners to the literate population; what would last among those pages seems an afterthought, as few of these writers seemed determined to write for the ages. That is likely what saved their pages from being consigned to  a pile of dry, burning leaves, that they wrote well of their time rather than attempt future generations. Print and web values are not so opposed--clean copy, correct spelling, correct useage, a style one is in control of used to highlight sound insight and convey new information are what readers of either print or blogs prefer.

 What is developing, I suspect, is that bloggers , at least those disposed to insist on standards for their preferred soapbox, are still translating those old concerns into their own jargon. One's own tongue is needed to make the fussy notion of "rules" a good fit. Also, the sheer surfeit of bloggers makes the situation for decent writing seem hopeless and makes one dread the suitable saw "quantity drives out quality".

 I think the situation is less dire than that, concerning the state of English prose; it's been a fact that most of us inclined to write are not masters of the language we speak when it comes to writing it, and that the best of us, the most persistent word drunks in our midsts, soon enough become the ones who are the most read. Add to that these same folks are the ones likely to continue writing their blogs while most others will be abandoned and eventually deleted from their servers. Of course, we should remember that the technology is fluid and that blogging itself may soon join chat rooms as a quaint thing that is no longer a draw for most.

Alienated

Image result for alien covenantI have to say that I enjoyed Ridley Scott's Aliens prequel Prometheus, proposed as a first step in the franchise that would establish the beginnings of this sci fi saga up to the point where we first meet the fabulous action-babe Ripley. Scott's return to the franchise, and to space operas in general, was a joy to behold, with great acting, stunning special effects , a fascinating premise and , yes, a general feeling of creepiness as the hoary warnings against corporate greed and attending evil are made tangible yet again. Not a perfect film, but the scale and power of the storytelling, albeit incomprehensible at times, made it an entertainment worth revisiting. Not so much for the follow up effort, Alien:Covenant, again directed by Scott. Where Prometheus added some new twists to the Alien mythos, this new effort offers little that is intriguing ; it is a make work project. We do discover the origins of the Xenomorph and are expected to marvel at their many manifestations , different kinds, shapes, purposes. But there is something dispirited about this film. There is no spectacle to speak of, no real wow factor, conditions not improved by the pacing, which is strangely led footed. Especially surprising for a director of Scott's calibre: an inconsistent director for quality, even his worse films had a great veneer and, most of , all moved well. Covenant sort shuffles along and wanders through some very familiar territory, that of an exploratory ship landing on an uncharted planet with a certain set of expectations only to discover some quite, quite horrible. Not to give too much away, but anyone familiar with past efforts in this series will know when to start the Alien countdown, when crew members begin to die horribly , one by one. Covenant feels like a place holder film, a middling and trudging action film that works best only furthering plot elements introduced in the previous film. Scott has three films in mind for this current edition of the sequence, and there is a cliffhanger, of a kind, waiting for us at the film's end, a twist so dire and dreadful that you can't help but wonder how the surviving crew members  can rise above the fatal circumstances we see them in before the credits role. By movie's end, Alien: Covenant seemed to have been created , in   terms of  narrative, to deliver us to the cliffhanger at movie's end and to hook us for what I hope will be the last  of this . 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sgt. Peppers is 50 Years Old


(Excerpted from an older post in 2007)

Like it or love it, Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is among the most important rock albums ever made, one of the most important albums period, and forty years after it's release, it is time to assess the album free of the globalizing hype and mythology it's biggest supporters have honored it with, and to veer away from the chronically negative reaction those less in love with the Beatles and the disc have made a religion out of. 

It is, in my view, important for any number of reasons, production and songwriting among them, and for me it's not just that Lennon and McCartney have set the standard on which such things would be judged against from now on, but that they've also given us the examples with which rock critics, paid and unpaid, by which we can tell who 
is being pretentious, phony, unfocused, incoherent, just plain bad. 
Sure enough, the best songs have survived--"A Day In the Life, "Getting Better", "Good Morning, Good Morning", "Mr.Kite", but sure enough the less accomplished songs, all manner, pose, nervy and naive pseudo mysticism and intellectuality as in "Within You Without You" and "She's Leaving Home", are hardly played anywhere, by anyone, unless one tunes in an XM satellite station where the play list is all things Beatles, without discrimination.

What the Beatles did with the song craft, the central genius and downfall of much of Pepper's legacy, is that they've introduced thousands of forthcoming arty rockers to new levels of sophistication and fantastically dull pompousness. I love the Beatles, of course, that's the standard qualifier among us all, but this is the album with which rock criticism was finally created. Lovers and Haters of the disc finally had a rock and roll record that might sustain their liberal arts training. Sgt. Pepper also gave us brilliant and much less brilliant rock commentary. Here you may pick your own examples.

The reasons Beatle fans in general (rather than only) "hipsters" prefer Revolver to Sgt.Pepper is for the only reason that really matters when one is alone with their CD player or iPOD; the songwriter is consistently better, the production crisper, the lyrics succeed in being intriguingly poetic without the florid excess that capsized about half of Sgt.Pepper's songs, and one still perceived the Beatles as a band, guitar bass and drums, performing tunes with a signature sound that comes only after of years of the same musicians performing together. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

the half- baked nothingness of Billy Joel

The awfulness of Billy Joel, explained.:


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Slate contributing editor Ron Rosenbaum asks rhetorically early on in his hissing hate note on Billy Joel about why he should spend a column excoriating the songwriter at length after the artist has been maligned by critics and snobs alike for decades already? Well yes, why another hate jerk off at the expense of the much and justifiably maligned Billy Joel? The author needed something to write about that would less use of brain power and more use   of embedded knee jerk responses to Billy Joel's name. This wasn't an overview of a bad musician's career, it was an allergic reaction with a vocabulary. Rosenbaum couldn't help himself, Joel is that rash he was incapable of not scratching.  Truth needs to be told, though. Billy is a bit better than naysayers would have you think. A bit better, not a whole lot better.  

Billy Joel is a mixed blessing. Effective and versatile vocalist, a genuinely gifted writer of not so obvious pop melodies, a frequently maudlin, pretentious lyricist (although he redeems himself when his pop sensibilities rule over his desire to Be Meaningful), a technically proficient pianist, a smarmy hambone. One may not like him on principle--I don't care for him--but I have t admit he's done some work that merits a second and a third listen. He's a cross between Harry Chapin and Elton John, I guess, with a strong after taste of the worst brands of smugness that typifies pop music in general. 

What sinks Joel is his lack of any ironic sense of himself and the material he writes to address foul matters brewing in the world; despite his working class roots, the idea of an unfathomably successful pop star sing a catchy-hummable, all so meaningful ballad to the laid off factory workers of "Allentown" informs us that his protest songs are not about the poor nor the destitute, but in making Billy Joel feel good about himself and looking good to the fan base at the same time.

Joel's sins of pretentiousness are numerable over a long career , something I noted with his first hit "Piano Man", a bloated imitation of  Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man" , to the point where I stopped paying attention to him altogether with the name-checking orgasm that comprised the hit "We Didn't Start the Fire". The obviousness of his conclusions, the cartoon likenesses of his characters, the cliched contours of his examples, the barely concealed arrogance of his narrative air are the kind of thing that makes the smart people like you, I and Rosenbaum slap our foreheads and make us desire to grab either a gun or a cold beer. Unlike Rosenbaum, I am simply unwilling to get up the steam needed to pillory Billy Joel yet again. I will forgo the oratory and leave my summary judgement on BJ's body of work as this, a skilled journeyman with delusions of being something greater.

Monday, May 15, 2017

These Blues Blow

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Blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa seems to be the white blues guitar saviour of choice for this part of the 21st century, a situation that has me tipping my hat to his technical acumen , his taste in guitar heros, and the obvious work he put into his woodshedding to have those fancy chops at his disposal on demand. It's just too bad that all I get when listening intently to his long and frequent solos is the work involved in the effort to get all this text-book perfect. This is superhuman execution without the superhuman passion that makes this otherwise simple and potentially repetitive music larger than life. No fire under all that smoke. At a younger ,less discriminating age , I might have been a fan, excited by his melodramatic playing and the authenticity of his rasping growl of a voice. No so much these days, not after a lifetime debating the merits and demerits of Clapton, Winter, SRV and the legions of other guitar heroes that populated the sports arenas off American cities in the 70s, Bonamassa seems no more than the advanced student who's perfected every cliche he could from the generation previously holding court without working on is own style that might, in turn, generate some licks that themselves might become cliches. What's the point, I suppose , is the enlightened way to take all this in, or ignore it outright. The last white blues guitar slinger to give me the figurative kick in the head was the late Gary Moore. Moore was the last of the great ones, I think,less so for the originality of his chops--save for the speed tested relish and elan of his riffing,little in the way of his velocity seemed new. Moore mattered , or at least impressed the Dickens out of me, because of the obvious glee with which he took command of the blues-rock form. He might not have invented it, but he certainly ownership of it. He knew what to do with the prize he commandeered. Joe Bonamassa just bores me with all his pro forma shuffles, boogies, rockers and rave ups. Slick, well constructed, and stiff as Disney robots. Technique without spirit, that distinguishing attribute that gives mastery of complex concepts a personality that distinguishes it from other virtuosos-in-waiting, isn't art but merely mechanics.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

"Toku Do"-- jazz guitar with Larry Coryell


Image result for toku do larry coryellThe late Larry Coryell recorded about 100 albums in his career, an amazingly prolific guitarist indeed, but as with the case of a gifted improvisers with a desire to stay engaged with their art through on going collaborations, not every disc clicked with me. Toku Do is one of those gems, however, a crisp and swinging set of standards combining Coryell's fabled swiftness of phrase with a on going feeling of melodic invention and and snappy delicacy of touch. There is, in fact, an uncharacteristic lightness of touch for Coryell, a musician who's hard attack at times spoiled a splendid phrase or a quicksilver run. Here, is lines are fluid,smooth, not slick. When he wanted,his technical mastery was matched  by transcendent     grace. More than one guitarist has mentioned that when playing with him on tour, it wasn't unusual for them to marvel at Coryell's inventions, running through ideas no other guitarist could create. Yes, he was that good, and Toku Do is the proof.These are fine readings and reinterpretations of Monk, Ellington and Rogers and Hart, with Coryell weaving, pirouetting, and other wise coaxing delightfully animated extemporizing from the classic material. The band of Stanley Cowell on piano and Buster Williams and Beaver Harris on bass and drums, respectively, keep matters effectively swinging and rhythmically nuanced--Cowell is a sterling foil for the leader, providing richly shaded color and brightly elaborated solos of his own to the session, with Williams and Harris making sure all of this has a heartbeat the swings gladly.

Friday, May 12, 2017

the neat turns of "Colossal": suspending disbelief in unexpected ways


Image result for colossalJust got out from seeing Colossal, a fine indy film written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo. The premise is this: a young woman loses her job and boyfriend in NYC and, unable to find work and broke as well, moves back to her home town to stay in her parent's empty house. At the same time, a giant monster begins to destroy Seoul , Korea . The woman realizes after a while that she has a mysterious but very direct connection with the monster destroying a city a half a planet away. Science fiction, romantic comedy and psychological thriller in a well executed fusion of what would conflicting genres, writer and director Galondo does not merely mash together disparate kinds of pop culture, but instead weaves them together. 
Without going into tidbits that would spoil the film, I would just add that the script is as tightly constructed as it is wildly imagined and it requires to suspend our disbelief a little further and, in a more challenging aspect, to suspend it in ways not usually demanded of us as viewers. Think of this: if one's actual life seems to slip, merge, evolve and abruptly change tones, perceptually, from being a comedy, tragedy , romance and soap opera in the course of month, a week, a day, why wouldn't this also hold for a fictional , more fantastical world? 

Colossal does , I promise, contain all the elements I've mentioned, and they are pertinent to the story being told, but this a narrative with the varied genre restrictions removed. For all that seems fantastic and scary, the players and their situations and how they respond to the changes that happen to them are, (ahem) human, all too human. Odd, quirky and defying genre expectations, this is splendid and engrossing story, with a perfect ending to seemingly unresolvable complications that you didn't see coming. Fine performances by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis.