Friday, November 9, 2018

HAMMERED SHIT


Save your cash on and skip the slow-moving, turgid and criminally inane Thor: The Dark World. It is an improvement over the first Thor film, but there is a lethargy in all the action scenes. Nothing seems crisp or crucial in the physical battles, although there is some good GGI of London smashed to pieces by the invasion of the Dark Elves. Chris Hemsworth as Thor talks like a bad High School drama student who is trying to force his voice into a lower register--he sounds like he's trying to suppress a burp while he speaks--and there is a frown on his face through the film that makes him look as though someone gave him a shot of castor oil. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is inexplicable anyway you look at-- he fluctuates between glee, sorrow, and rage raggedly, scene to scene. Plus he is incapable of not looking like Data from Star Trek: Next Generation. They've thrown a lot of things in the air for this juggling act, and too many things hit the stage they're playing on.our money on the visual laxative otherwise known as Thor: The Dark World. Anthony Hopkins appears rumpled and ready for a nap, while Natalie Portman, consistently the least charismatic actress I can think of, moves through this movie in a variety of self-loathing postures, as though in pain realizing everyone she knows will see her in this expensive, flailing wind-up toy of a film. I think a Thor movie could be entertaining if there was the right cast, director and script, a crew that had a feel of the source material, ie, the Marvel comic book, not the original Norse legend. This is an efficient, professional bit of filmmaking and does provide a moment or two of entertainment, but the cast is so indifferent--either phoning it in or gnawing the scenery--and the plot points so diffuse, distracted and pitifully predictable, in blockbuster terms, that what we have is an expensive, noisy apparatus utterly without charm. What's missing is the grace, energy and, yes, basic good humor and humanity of the original Kirby/Lee comic book tales. Jack Kirby had an extraordinary visual imagination and a capable rendering of his version of Asgaard could have been simply magnificent, magical even. The comic book version of these characters, with and without Kirby, had a verve that seemed to sock you in the face straight from the page. As fine as this movie's production values might be, there never seems a time that the enterprise seems to rise above a very competent reenactment ritual. What they settled for were computerized variations of Shangri La from Lost Horizon. Worse, the make-believe city resembled a cross between Hearst Castle and an M.C.Escher painting. That, combined with the sluggish momentum this movie is barely capable of, is quite enough to make you calculate how much you worked to make the money for the ticket you bought to see something that finally made you feel like a moron for seeing.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

DEEP THOUGHTS

Well, you must stop sometimes so you can appreciate what the senses have given you as you go your way through the world. You must stop in order to write about the need to pursue the seductive logic of never stopping. But you must stop before you go forward, as the brain absorbs only so much; you stop, you breathe, you think, you connect what has happened recently with the narrative of a life already recorded. This engages you with the world, truly, this is where the poetry comes from, not gushing hot lava adjectives and verbs while writing that the world is made more real by moving forward, without apology, without pause or reflection, following the string where ever it leads. But this is not poetry and it is not lyricism. Self-acceptance is one thing, but it seems to me that changing oneself is required in order to maintain a level of sanity that can return you sanity after the battering, high and low and in-between, human existence brings us. We cannot remain stubbornly the same as a means of spiting those who attempt to add us to their particularized set of neurosis; learning how to change is an essential skill. Perhaps “change” is the wrong word, as its been co-opted and poisoned by every fad pop-psychology has heaped upon our mass-mediated culture. More appropriate, more useful, perhaps, would be “grow”. Screw trying to change yourself into an internet meme, our tasks is to remain teachable and to grow into new experience, to learn, to become wiser and more full of the love for the world as well as love for ourselves. Too many of us pay a sorry price for having an excess of one or the other. We can grow into ourselves into the world we find ourselves, as individuals, as citizens, as members of a community. I realize the phrase “To thine own self be true” is a cliché that makes many cringes, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bad way to go. It’s a matter of how we do it. Besides gaining knowledge through experience, we should be able to gather wisdom as well. Or one would think. The writer in those times they stop agitating the gravel and take pause to reflect, meditate, consider the thingness of the world they’ve blazed through a little too quickly, there arises the sense that one forgets that they are a writer, the self-appointed priest of making things happen on the fly; the writing becomes about the world , the people, the places, the things that occupy the same space as you, the same patch of land your visiting. It becomes less about the writer, the seeker of knowledge attempting to gain knowledge through velocity, the impatient explorer more concerned with inflaming their senses rather than being genuinely curious about and teachable within the world. You have to stop, take a breath, create a language, a poetry, a prose style that convinces the reader that they’ve actually encountered something extraordinary in their travels through hill and dale, river and inlet, village and burg, that they’ve actually learned something they didn’t know before. Otherwise, I believe, nothing is revealed because nothing was learned and, despite all manner of ranting and such protests defending one’s unique view, that view is forgotten, and another opportunity is lost to move a reader in ways you might not have expected.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

MARTY BALIN


Marty Balin, co-founder, lead singer, and a principal songwriter for the iconic ’60s band Jefferson Airplane, died September 27, 2018, at the age of 76. The cause of death hasn’t yet been disclosed. It’s always sad when a musical talent from your prime music listening years passes on, and although natural as it is to reflect upon morosely, I found myself smiling, remembering why I liked him beyond his psychedelic pedigree. During the infamous Altamont Rock Festival of 1969, when the Rolling Stones were convinced to headline a hastily and badly planned “West Coast Woodstock” at a motor speedway, it was obvious from those in the know that the fete was doomed to disaster; the producers had the monumentally bad idea to hire the Hells Angels as security. To wit, when audience members crowded the front of the festival stage during the Jefferson Airplane’s performance, Angels “security” began beating up unfortunate attendees. Seeing this, Balin left his microphone and jumped into the crowd to intervene in the beating. Balin received a beating himself from the hired help. He was knocked unconscious. Nothing about Altamont turned out right, with the death at the hands of the Angels security of a young black man. But my respect for Balin grew immensely. Balin jumped in, man, was my refrain for years when speaking of the unique vocalese of the Airplane’s singing partnership. He stepped in, he stepped up, he took a fist in the face to do the right thing.

Born Martyn Jerel Buchwald on January 30, 1942, of immigrant parents in Cincinnati, Ohio, Balin changed his name in 1962 and did some early recording for Challenge Records. Later, he moved on from pop-rock and became a folkie, leading a folk music foursome called the Town Criers. In time he moved to California’s Bay Area, knocking around as guitarist and folk musician, eventually meeting fellow Jefferson Airplane co-founders Paul Kanter and original lead vocalist Signe Anderson. After some gigging around area clubs and venues, lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, bassist Jack Casady, and drummer Skip Spence joined the troupe, and soon afterward they released their 1966 debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. The nascent band earned a growing popular following and later gained national attention in 1967 after Anderson left the band and was replaced by Grace Slick and the release of their second album, the classic Surrealistic Pillow. This was the classic formation that remained intact for their best and most creative period.

Jefferson Airplane was a side of psychedelic rock I found most appealing, being in their short-lived prime a volatile and imaginative forced marriage of folk tradition, jazzy “mystery chords,” Joycean/ Eliot verifying, and bracing harmonies provided by the bulldozing Grace Slick and Balin’s bittersweet tenor. Their albums were a fascinating, eclectic mess, indulgent and snotty and harsh; I would put them, along with the Stooges, MC5, and the Velvet Underground, as stylistic forerunners of the punk rock anti-aesthetic. Balin was the ballast for the band—a balladeer, a genuine folk singer, a romantic who never abandoned his tendency for the oddly effective lyric that emphasized an actual relationship rather than a worldview. He was the sensual, intuitive romantic that balanced Slick’s jagged surrealism and Dadaesque wit. Even as the jarring exponents of what was called “acid rock,” the musical evocation of the hallucinogenic LSD trip intended to expand consciousness and such, Balin’s strongest songs, lyric, disarming, reasonably center in relatable emotion and sentiment, was something of the sane center of a band otherwise committed to the vagaries of extreme experience. A jangling folk rocker with “It’s No Secret,” an able writer of street-action anthems like “Volunteers,” the loneliest of the lonely true hearts in “Coming Back to Me,” or a perplexed consciousness sussing through confounding circumstances with angular hard rock tempos, Balin was an essential presence and creative force in a great but generally unstable band. Both the quality of his songwriting, both alone and as a collaborator, and the sincere, crooning anguish of his vocals was an irreplaceable weave through Jefferson Airplane’s discography between 1966 through 1969: five studio albums and one blistering live set, one of the strongest of any American rock band from the period.

I liked this band up until 1969’s Volunteers album when Paul Kanter’s sci-fi libertarian fantasizes turned J.A. into a plodding monstrosity of ego and half-measured music. Those among the readership who followed the career arc of this band through the ’60s and the ’70s will recall, perhaps stifling a gag reflex, the slew of Jefferson Starship albums that evolved from the original band. It will suffice it to say for this short note that the best thing the Starship ever did was recording and releasing Marty Balin’s vocal on a fabulous Roger Cook song “Miracles.” This is a case where a vocalist takes possession of a song he didn’t compose and makes it his alone. Balin turns it into a sensuous, radiant ode to the act and the sensual philosophy of romantic sex with your partner. It was a refreshing difference of how a male talk of such things.It was the best thing Jefferson Starship ever did, a masterpiece of pop-rock sexuality that rose to canonical heights over the increasing vapidity and knuckle-headed irrelevance. The band, or at least the management and record company, hung their heads in shame all the way to the bank, and it remains, I suppose, the supreme irony of things that a band beginning as Jefferson Airplane, counterculture revolutionaries singing of a society without pretense, class structure, false morality and, by implication, cash, evolved into the Jefferson Starship, a cash cow for corporate interests. So yes, money changes everything. That said, it should be mentioned that the guitar work of Jorma and Jack Cassidy’s basslines were among the best teams of the era. And Balin was a fine musician, singer, and songwriter who might have done better if he had a less dicey means to bring his music to the public.