Saturday, October 26, 2013

Hope for the Quentin guy?

On the subject of" the film Pulp Fiction", I will say again that I think that film is a masterpiece, sheer inspiration in ways of writing, editing, acting. Everything that Tarantino does in the film is      fresh and alive, a lively recasting of venerable Hollywood genre. The essential problem is that he uses the same tact over and over; directors are allowed to repeat certain things they do, since that is the essence of having a style. But the point of having an identifiable  style is being able to do different and unexpected things within the recognizable framework.
Howard Hawks, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and  auteurs too numerous to mention made movies which are praised for being individually stylish and avoiding being declining versions of earlier work. What attraction is how a director or an author's style is adapted toward the story at hand and the genre specifications that frame the narrative; if everything is working the way it ought to, a viewer or reader loses track of stylistics and suspends their proverbial disbelief.

A competently managed style eases the audience through the "fourth wall" and engages them in the story. Tarantino has it reversed, a condition not unlike what plagues a two generation of  able fingered rock guitarist, where the  structure is meant to serve the flashy pyrotechnics.   What Tarantino repeats himself, in a succession of films, that threaten to downgrade his method from "style" to mere shtick. Audaciousness quickly becomes an indulgent rut an artist can't climb out of.

 I would argue that virtually all of Tarantino's movies are reboots, in his case , the rebooting of a genre, be they crime stories, samurai tales, a war film, a western. Doubtless he'll resurrect the Hollywood musical, do a spy film and present us with super hero movie.  Those genre revivals, though, needn't be the over packed, eager to please student projects his last three films have been. As he did with his wonderful adaptation of Elmore Leonard's crime novel "Rum Punch" in the form of "Jackie Brown", Tarantino has the ability to let the tale advance without the worrying , hovering , obvious obsession to make the scene more clever than it needs to be. Many were disappointed when"JB " came out because it wasn't another "Reservoir Dogs" or  "Pulp Fiction"; I liked the way he scaled back his style, letting Leonard's plot unwind, allow the characters to have breathing room in the film space they inhabited,  letting the conversation ring stylish, idiomatic and true.

 What would be interesting is if Tarantino became bored with his established approach and challenged himself.  None of this means that QT needs to stop being the QT we were first attracted too--genre jumper, dark humorist, writer of quotable dialogue. What it means is that there is a wish that he soon acquires the most important trait any artist with serious ability can apply to a project he or she is working on, the sense of knowing when to stop, of knowing when enough is enough.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Teen Age Waste Land

I was a guitar obsessive for years over a slew of players--Larry Coryell, Leslie West, Ritchie Blackmore -- and there were parents, friends and the less friendly alike who thought that I would be better off with a more purposeful hobby. Building ships in bottles,say, or collecting bottle caps with cork linings.But I was in my teens and early twenties, after all, and matters of family, work, sobering up , and career change would eventually consume the time I would otherwise have spent waxing on , 24/7, about my favorite guitarists.

 In the meantime, I gloried in the fretwork of the string bending maniacs I called heroes, I read all their interviews, I bought whatever biographies were published, I owned each album these guitarists released in bands or as soloists, and my various apartments , through the years, were filled with the galvanic crash of frantic guitar music. Notes swarmed like bees over the lights. I was a fan, again, an obsessive, caught in the grip of having to have it all. I was also growing up and becoming slowly, faintly, conspicuously bored with my efforts to be definitive in my peculiar music world. I wanted something more. A life, perhaps. Some are not as lucky.

The sad part of the story is that I know some fellows, from a variety of circumstances, who are my age, late forties, and rattle on about their musical agendas at the drop of a beret. I did an interview with Ozzie Osborn in the early eighties for a weekly when Black Sabbath were coming through town, and an acquaintance named Roy couldn't get over the fact that I was the undeserving son-of-bitch among his associates who'd received an audience with his Ozziness.Roy complimented on this fact, saying that I must be something special to get the interview --"You met Ozzie, Man, that's doesnt jus happen, bro, you met Ozzie, I mean , The Oz, the god-damned Oz shook your hand , bro..."-- and then would kneel , valet style. Of course, being a young asshole myself, I got a kick out of that, but he kept it up for weeks, months, months turned into years, a decade passed, friends got married, had kids, other friends died of many different things, life became full and complicated, and close to twenty years later, around the time I turned forty, I was in the local market when Roy turns up in the aisle pushing a cart, thick around the middle, hair long, grey and thinning.

"Hey, how's the Oz man" was the first thing he said. I said I was okay, and after the expected pleasantries, he asked me what I thought of Randy Rhodes, Osborne's guitarist who was killed in a plane wreck. Not much, I said, I liked Van Halen better.

"But Randy played with Ozzy, man" he said," and you met Ozzy. Where's that at? Randy Roades played behind Oz and he could..."


Sunday, October 6, 2013


 The Guardian continues to give Jonathan Franzen novelist room to vent; this week he opines at length that modern life is horrible, awful, far, far inferior to the good old days when he was young and the internet was only a dream fools had after a  tequila binge.

I was born in 1952, and 'though being somewhat older than Franzen, I think he's become a tiresome, humorless prig who views modern life through a filter that renders repetitive results. It's a natural instinct to resent and resist change, but truly smart and creative people cease with a protest that will not be heeded and adopt to the changes times and technology have brought us. 

Often enough, the writers, poets and playwrights and publishers and book retailers who embrace the means available to them find themselves doing more interesting work; it means that they are engaged with the world that swirls about them and are fearless enough to interrogate shifting assumptions and remain relevant to readers who, I think, like to read writers with stylish prose styles wax poetic on the doings of human contradiction and convulsion. 

Me, I love the internet, and I haven't had to give up the things I love, ie, literature, movies, poetry, jazz and blues, writing. The social sphere has been changing for the last 30 years, and I prefer being in on the conversation. Franzen continues to mumble about his fabled good old days, he continues to rue the dawning of the 60s and all the decades since. What a pathetic sight, a premature elder alone in a room with the shades drawn, the floor littered with crushed party hats and shriveled balloon skins. It was a great party, Jonathan, but it's over. Much fun and sadness has transpired since then. Did you miss all that.?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Holy Fucking Shit

 If you've been thinking that the satirical web site The Onion has been more strident and less funny in their lampooning of American mores, you're not alone.  Slate's Farhad Manjoo describes their busier, faster, louder, more extreme version in an article in Slate.  It's a good dissection of a funny magazine in the process of losing what makes it funny. For me, the Onion peaked shortly after the 9-11 attack, when the web site called their mock-coverage of the catastrophe "HOLY FUCKING SHIT!" It was a brilliant and angry poke in the eye at the media that tries to give a dramatic reading to events however inane or tragic they happen to be; there was no convenient narrative axiom like "America Under Attack" with which to make unfolding events barely comprehensible in an entirely false light. I pulled up the Onion , wondering how a site dedicated to the idea that there is nothing too cruel or horrible in human cruelty that cannot be made fun of, would react to what seemed like the end of the world. React they did, and I laughed, a hard, extended laugh, an hysterical series of gulping guffaws and belches that left me breathless, near tears. The Onion cut away a veneer and and gave us a headline that was hysterical , stupified and terrified with the revealed truth that suddenly, brutally, absolutely we thought we knew for certain mattered. The Onion took the whole shooting match.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Absent Lovers --King Crimson

Absent Lovers-- King Crimson

Double cd set of a 1984 concert in Montreal, during their Beat, Discipline, & Three of a Perfect Pair trilogy of releases. This grouping is one of Fripp's best lineups, with Adrian Belew, Tony Levin on bass and stick, and Bill Bruford on drums, and what we have is something sounding no less than a more muscular Talking Heads (check out "Man with an Open Heart"). One needn't choke on that if Heads aren't their idea of heaven, because the abrasive textures, the angular riffing, gamelan rhythms, and swarming-bees improvisations abound aplenty here. Tasty. Crankier, spookier, harder, this is the goth side of Crimson, though there is little in the alternately playful/deadpan visage of the band's characters that gives you any hint of just how serious you need to take them. Hint: just seriously enough. Below is one of the great rock guitarists, for sheer whammy bar genius-- no one does six-string torture bends like him, save the sainted and departed Jimi-and I admit, I'm a sucker for his Kerouacian lyrics. Kerouac has not been my idea of anything brilliant--in fact, I think he's an absolutely horrible novelist-- but Belew is someone who picked up on what was trying to be done and made art out of it. 

If a failed novelist who would rhapsodize in huge portions of his best-known fictions with a careless application of jacked up modifiers and agitated adjectives in conspicuous attempts to intensify the experience for the readers, Kerouac, all the same, had a talent for loose, open -form free verse poetry; although not as sharp as some of his contemporaries--Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure--Kerouac 's verse had a snap and rhythmic sizzle that was as jazzy as he tried to make his prose. Belew picks up on this vibe and writes in a way where the words bounce, race, and arrive on, after and before the morphing rhythms that Bruford and Levin put across. 

Choppy rhythms and jerky pops and beeps; truly a band of great surprise. Fripp is the great Bringer of Chaos, and what's impressive is that he's been able to provide an art-context for his unique music and idiosyncratic aesthetics apart of the usual lockstep spheres and institutions that crush true innovation with the same avant gard template. Note: this is a 1998 release that Fripp and his DMG company have been sitting on for years. Somethings are worth waiting for.  Another note: disc one is a cd-rom that is clunky and hard to navigate. There is a video, apparently, that comes among its features, but I've skipped it after trying too long to access it, and landed straight on the audio portion of the show, which, I hope I've made clear, is wonderful and wild.