Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Tattooed Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

Image result for tattooed girl joyce carol oates
Joyce Carol Oates is not my favorite writer, but for all the repetition of her themes of fragile women being imperiled by evil masculine forces they masochistically desire, she does occasionally publish something both compelling and well written. I detested Beasts and The Falls since she exercises her familiar dreads in contrasting lengths, the first book a slender novella, the latter a literal brick, both books sounding rushed, fevered, and breathless, as first drafts of novels usually do. Or a finished Oates novel, for that matter. She does hammer that nail effectively and brutally as often as not, however, as she did with  her novels Black Water and  The Tattoo Girl", with the right configuration, her usual wit's end prose style and fascination with fragile psyches and marginally psychotic psychologies get as intense as fiction is ever likely to get. Zombie is a rather potent little psychodrama, and it's the kind of writing Oates excels at. She gets to the heart of the fringe personality better than anyone I can think of. The Tattooed Girl, from 2003, is likewise a well shaped melodrama. She depicts the thinking of women who allow themselves to be beaten and killed with seemingly scary exactitude. Oates can also be a bore, evident in We Were Mulvaneys and The Falls. My fascination with her continues, though, since it's impossible to tell when she publishes another novel that will be gripping and unnerving. I agree with the assessment on Oates. She writes so much that she's almost as undercooked and sometimes awful as she is brilliant. Producing novels at such an assembly line clip seems a compulsion. We Were Mulvaneys read like it was meant to capture some of the weepy women's market and I put it down, and Beasts was a novella of abuse that was better left in the manila envelope, as it was a flat litany of sexual assaults that she's done better before. But just as you think Oates is all used up, she surprises you. The Tattooed Girl was an amazing book, as was The Falls, with their portents of violence, domination, skewed rationalization of unworthy deeds. She has made an art of the dystopian personality, and it is here that she gets greatness. She merits a bit of respect, although you wish she'd stop trying to win the Nobel Prize so obviously with her tool-and-dye production and take longer to write a novel a reader didn't have to rationalize about. Editors hold much less sway in the preparation of a book, it seems. It's not just a matter of writers who write quickly getting away with redundant excess and awkward passages, such as Oates and Stephen King. Those who take their time also seem to avoid the more severe markings of the editor's blue pencil . 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Huffington Post Rips Down an Article Sharply Criticizing Spotify — Here's the Original

The Huffington Post Rips Down an Article Sharply Criticizing Spotify — Here's the Original:

This is worth reading because it makes the case convincingly that musician creators are getting the short end of the stick financially from having their music featured on the Spotify streaming service. The caveat is that I find the author's recollection of the conversation with a Spotify executive about the financial relationship between the service and the creators who make their content reads a little pat. The executive comes across as too stereotypically dense and clueless and the narrator shows himself as a guy who too easily comes up with fast and stunning bits of pithy truth telling from which there is no response. It comes off as stunningly cliched TV drama, and I think Huffington Post was on reasonable grounds to doubt the veracity of the author's account of the meeting. Still, it's worth a read to glean the essential truth herin, that deserving artists are being cheated by the service . Spotify , from what I understand, is "making bank", as the kids say, and can well afford to pay these good people what their work is worth. Also, checking out the author's"I Respect Music" Website can help, perhaps, move the needle in the right direction.

The sublime "The Shape of Water"

Image result for THE SHAPE OF WATER"The Shape of Water" , directed by Guillermo del Toro, is a splendid Beauty and the Beast story, succeeding to be sweet, menacing, hopeful, thrilling and finally affirming in. Some of us might blanche at the story book particulars this movie obviously--it's hard to do anything fresh with his done-and-done again idea, no?--but del Toro is skillful in balancing the needed balance between the sweet and the dour, the joyful and the threatening. Additionally, this is very much an adult film, not for kiddies, as the characters have very real emotions that are expressed in very real language. 

That is, there is no shortage of f-bombs. Also done especially well is the handling of the sexual element that's usually obscured by sentiment and courtly sentiments; del Toro brings this aspect,and the entire premise,into a world we recognize, in this case the early 60s,in Baltimore. Time, place, premise and the use of nicely chosen incidental details and art design set up the way the tale is conveyed . Most importantly,there is a human connection here, with the theme of loneliness being a primal driving force to seek love or revenge superbly embodied in fully rounded characters. 

Visually, this is your typical del Toro production, with deep, rich , dark color scheme, seamless editing, controlled and effective contrast between the more human and banal world of the 60s and the more fantastical ,menacing interiors of the more sci-fi sequences. Stand out performances from Michael Shannon, a grand and messed up baddie, and Richard Jenkins, who seems incapable of doing bad work.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

These chops don't cut deep enough


Patrick Yandall would one of those jazz-inflected guitarists I would usually go nuts over.The qualifier "usually" gives you a hint of what I thought   of his new album A Journey Home. The San Diego-based musician is a veteran of the scene, active since the ’90s in many bands and collaborative efforts, and has released 20 albums of his music. His productive longevity is understandable, considering that Yandall is an excellent guitarist, potentially a great one. He is a master of groove, tone, and feel, a fret man able to fill space with Wes Montgomery-like octave chords, punctuate the beats with short blues riffs and , and, when the feeling merits, let loose with an impressive flurry of runs. In its best moments—and there are many sweet spots on this disc—his soloing transcends the often repetitive and simplistic structures of his self-penned material. After the fact, the grooves lack personality; they are placeholders, more or less, existing less to push Yandall  than they to keep his chops from getting too hairy for the average listener.  The guitarist restricts himself , keeps himself in check, careful not to offend. The conservative approach creates conservative results.In another discussion, we might call it being chintzy with the available bounty. A guitarist as technically gifted and as fluidly expressive as Yandall ought to be leaping over such barriers and cutting loose for real on a track or two. Stronger, more varied, more intricate compositions would aid toward that goal, if Yandall were so inclined. The songs on A Journey Home are simple, hardly a sin, and there are some good melodic ideas here,.But there is a formula smooth-jazz/light funk motif they fall into, with incidental keyboards, synths providing a few pale shades of color, an occasional piano solo (played by Yandall, who, as I understand, plays all the instruments). The drum tracks, honestly, are without soul. The burden falls to Yandall’s obvious virtuosity, which raises to the occasion on several tracks, especially on “Passion,” a Latin groove where the artist unleashes what he can do; hot riffs, screaming ostinatos, raging note clusters.  But alas, it is too short a solo, as it fades and we return again to the album’s steadfast sameness, waiting for another moment when the guitarist steps into the spotlight again. You might find yourself fighting an urge to fast forward through a mostly indifferent set of rhythm tracks to find some places where the music starts to cook again. Well, the guitarist anyway, if not the actual tunes to composed to hang his virtuosity on. Agreeably, Yandall,  does a good turn with the last track . a stone cold blues shuffle, “Blue Jay Blues,” highlighting a glorious walking bass, and a pulverizing solo from Yandall, with brief and sharp assertions, serpentine runs weaving between the one-four-five beats, some bittersweet BB King-like vibrato. This track is a rousing, strutting jam. One wants more.This ought to have been an outstanding album. As is, it is only good one, buoyed by Yandall’s spirited playing. A musician this gifted deserves the energy and inspiration an actual band of musicians can provide, and the improvisatory possibilities better material can provide.
(This was published in slightlydifferent form in the San Diego Troubadour. Used with kind permission)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Show some grit for the MC5

(In the spirit of Lester Bangs, exaggerated even by his standards, I wrote this fever dream as a tirade demanding the induction of the MC5 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It occurs to me that the 5, in their prime, could give a damn about such a corporately bestowed honor. Still, I thought this should have a home on this blog as  well.-tb)

Image result for mc5This is important shit , folks: To this day , the MC5 are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame despite the impressive argument that they have been one of the most influential and , ergo, most important rock and roll bands in history. In any event, here is a choice cut not discussed much even my 5 aficionados , James Brown's "It's a Man's World". Agreed, the song is more than patronizing and winds up placing women on the damnable pedestal and back in the kitchen at the same time, but you have to hand to these guys for their odd choice. They loved black music and their choice of a song only JB could pull off is a classic punk gesture: "Fuck you guys, we're gonna play this goddamned song because WE WANT TO." Vocalist Rob Tyner did not, as has been remarked around a trash can full of burning rubber, give a FLAT FUCK if he sang worse than a horse thief gagging at the end of a dirty rope of justice. Rob Tyner sang like a man who had his head wrapped in a thick sheet of bubble wrap and then had his noggin stuffed into a burlap bag that reeked of diesel stained wagon timber and mildewed hemp. He sounded like he'd swallowed his fist in a freak accident that might have occurred when he he was chewing on his knuckles in machomechanical panic while watching an astroid streak a fiery, smoky path to Cobo Hall. When he wrapped his crackling squawk to  It's A Man's World, satellites stopped broadcasting and Gabriel drove over his trumpet in a huff of overriding despair. His was the voice of percolating whiteness, personified grieving love handles with a microphone. There was a time when an attitude like that would inspire otherwise stoned and clueless teens , all of them too late for the absurd counter-culture vanities of Haight Ashburyand Greenwich Village, to yell "fuck yeah" and babble their rendition of dumb cliches about offing the pigs and serving the people. So yeah, the MC5 were really punks, macho black bad boy wannabes and crazy mofos in their right who were willing to stick it in your eye." Hah. Hit me again." The rest of the guys crammed their guitars into the cones of their amps and ground their strings against the microphone stands.The drummer, Dennis Thompson, rattled on over the snare, performed an encyclopedia's worth of imagined sexual amnesia drills over the head of the snare drum and punched a hole in the base drum with nothing other than a random disease he picked up for kicks at the last Room Temperature Ale House he was located  within. Some one in the middle of what was left of the audience that wasn't yet unconcious, bleeding or deceased hooted. "SUCK MY DICK" countered Tyner, "GAG ON MY GOODNESS, JARHEAD." After that, it started to get weird.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Name Brand Kvetching


Image result for street hassle lou reedLou Reed’s Street Hassle or David Bowie’s Station to Station, which album do prefer, love more, pick if you were going to be stranded on a desert island? A question to that effect appeared on one of the odd corners I visit on the internet looking for intelligent conversation on art and matters of concern that cannot be calculated by conventional metrics of worth. So, an interesting question, even if the choice between two superb albums makes one asks why these two, which are wildly dissimilar in their respective greatness. Compare and contrast? Perhaps Reed’s album New York, his inspired two-sided screed against the insoluble cruelty that inhabits the deeper and darker corners of a great city, compared and contrasted against Bowie’s Tin Machine project, an angular, Cubist kind of hard rock rage highlighting Bowie’s theatrical pronouncements against human creation of a misery index set against and appealing assault of shrapnel percussion and blood splatter guitar work? A more focused conversation, perhaps, but I remained with the question that was posted.I would choose Street Hassle if one desires street credibility and genuine amounts of poetic brilliance, both of which Reed despite his well-known habit of overestimating his overall musical genius. His musical punch was from his words wedded with the simple, scraping movement of his chords wedded with his especially acute and minimalistic detailing of lives in the streets, the doorways, the alleys of New York and its vast underbelly of fallen souls. Reed, at his best, had a feel for the characters in these unapologetic environs--sympathetic but not glorifying, poetic but not conventionally "beautiful" by more timid sensibilities--and on Street Hassle his greatest virtues, as such, are in full force.  Reed was a writer before anything else, living in the shadows of a city that punished its geniuses with poverty, drug addiction and the contempt of the public, the authorities, and even the cast of good souls charged with taking care of them. This was fine with Reed and many of his cohorts; he was a man in the city, a maker of an invisible scene where the atonal heart of the experimental arts were in a social sphere so on the outs with whatever the hip community imagined itself as being that even the most vocally revolutionary of the millionaire rock and rollers and painters and filmmakers of the period wished they would simply evaporate and vanish in a dissipating gust of steam. Reed, Herbert Huncke, Burroughs, Henry Miller, in the belly of the beast, writing poetry, drinking, talking, painting at the outskirts of high towers of a city that provided with cold water flats and long, cold shadows to hide within. This is what Reed saw, wrote about, live amongst.


Bowie wanted some of that, to be all of that, but he was a tourist and didn’t stop being a mere borrower until Station to Station. Bowie coveted that kind of brutalism, evident in his band Tin Machine, which tried to be street, noisy and savant gardish in the shrieking sense of the Velvet Underground but which were undermined by Bowie's autodidactic habits and Anthony Newlyesque vocalisms, reminding you that he was, above all else, an actor. Bowie’s overt theatricality often made me roll my eyes, but he was a man who knew how to turn what can be used against him critically into an asset that elevates his art when his inspiration moves him to do so. He was a far superior synthesizer of many styles and moods and texture and had a genius for texture and color in the studio. Philip Glass, Brian Eno, funk, disco beats and plenty of chomping, comping guitar made this a revolutionary fusion masterpiece; Bowie, as well, reined in his persona to a dimension that suited him, that of a post WW2 soul,,, weary unto death, a witness to yet another large and irreparable crack in the foundations of a great and honored culture and attending traditions. Bowie was always musically more ambitious than Reed. That's pretty self-evident and not really worth the bother to point out unless your preference is competence over the kind of brutalism Reed specialized in. Reed's lyrics, in my view, have a substantial edge over Bowie, who was plagued by a prevailing sense of who wanted to sound like. 

The atmospherics and production garnishes of Station to Station did free Bowie from any obligation to sound like he was trying to say anything that could be interpreted as philosophical. His words became more diffuse, full of associative leaps, ellipsis, images that were and remain private mysteries so far as what they reference but which provide a rich and vaguely mystical and definitely European tone to the inspired constructions he released from this point onward. As a lyricist, as a writer, as a storyteller, Reed was the authentic genius here; he was a blend of a mind that made equal use of his library card and his street smarts and provided a skill to be expansive while maintaining a hard, stripped-down veneer. Bowie the tourist became Bowie the innovator with Station to Station and, in his way, achieved parity with Reed as an expressive artist.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Zsa Zsa Gabor Deserved all her Close Ups

One year ago today actress, comedienne, professional celebrity Zsa Zsa Gabor died at the age of 99. Although my memories of her are mostly for being a go-to punch line for nearly six decades, she was in Orson Well's noir masterpiece "A Touch of Evil" and in John Huston's "Moulin Rouge". Not bad at all. And she had a solid grasp of her own absurdity as a Professional Celebrity. She wasn't just the punch line of jokes about her, she created the set up. If someone wanted to insult Gabor by citing her many marriages, her superficiality, her rampant materialism and heedless self -regard, she likely would make a move worthy of Cyrano and turn the game around, insisting that slights and curses at her expense be at least as good as as though she'd furnish herself. She was tougher than the public suspected. We tend to lavish praise and critical analysis of performing celebrities who create personas on which they could hang and adjust their aesthetic, whether that be Madonna, Lady Gaga, Bowie or Prince. Zsa Zsa Gabor certainly deserves some of that.Her self-creation is worth a tip of the hat and a round of applause.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

WE DISCUSS OUR DIFFERENCES IN A BAR AT THE EDGE OF THE WOODS

for Jill Moon 

"Well yes", I said to her," I do dwell on the absurd in life, but mostly I like the problems our use of language gives us to solve . Things we say that are meant to clarify the metaphysics latent in awkward pauses in small talk, or worse, where there is no trivia left and a sense of embarrassment starts to come over us, as if we're naked, are concepts invented on the fly, with the perspiration still burning our nostrils, word structures that have terms enjambed to the degree that the brain , the outer periphery of the human capacity to feel ashamed and to blush, stops digging itself deeper into a metaphorical hole and instead convinces itself the world is more a cartoon, something rendered by an unseen hand and the will that guides it, than cartoons themselves." 

She tilted her head, her shoulders arcing in the same direction, her posture a hard question mark of unconvinced arms and ready hand gestures of another version of this same moment, saying finally, but not finally "I cannot consider myself as a badly drawn and poorly scripted caricature of stammering awkwardness.I am a painter and I paint things that are not there , even in spirit. " She picked up a pencil and drew an apple, making it appear fresh and shining under an undisclosed ray of sunshine or tolerant light bulb.

"This," she continued, placing pencil down, "represents an idea of a fruit that does not exist. It is a lie , posing as a portrait of a fresh apple. But there is a lie in this thing that is already a fabrication, which is that this apple is extraordinary for being an apple and that it is a thing for all time and will always be as such. But this apple is already rotten , shriveled with skin like snake hide, or it is eaten , conceptually,and made into another idea of energy, an expression on another note pad, configured, perhaps, as a box of cherries or a glass of wine , or perhaps a dung heap, a representation that fails as representation...." She paused and lit a cigarette while I check for messages on a phone I paid too much for. She pointed t the phone. "There's no one out there" she whispered, "there are no messages from your friends. They are ghosts of conversations you only dreamt...of..."


There's too much cogitating in here said Romulus, who'd been in the corner doing a Sunday crosswords before realizing he didn't knew enough angry words to fill all the boxes. 


"What's a ten letter word for Migraine?"

The melting pot, Euro style


A Droite!--Big Boss Bubeleh
Yael Gmach and Vlady Yarovinsky, a North County duo performing and recording under the rubric Big Boss Bubeleh, are a flavor quite apart from what one would expect from local original music. Avoiding the obvious choices of styles, flavors, and stances that local original artists might assume, these two dig into the roots music they obviously love, an intoxicating alchemy of Gypsy jazz, torch songs, blues and swing, as well as calypso and assorted Latin references. And, to be sure, the grainy textures of American music one recollects from the Ozark Mountains to the Mississippi River.Their new release, A Droite! (a French phrase, “on the right; to the right”), brings this myriad of influences to fruitful perfection, a selection of 14 original songs that, through uncluttered instrumentation and a natural feel for the varied grooves and uncommon weave of genres, makes it easy to willingly suspend disbelief and imagine, for a while, being in an Bohemian cafe on a side street of an East European capital, getting lost in the tales and bitter sweet melodies.
Especially effective is Yael Gmach’s wonderfully adaptable vocals, at once making one think of a Dietrich-like chanteuse from the film Blue Angel, a playful, bubbling style with eccentric elongation of syllables and vocal emphasis where you don’t expect them. Her voice is a low, seductive rumble, a hook that brings you for a full measure of Old-World emersion, particularly on the song “Recalling,” an ironic recollection lessons learned in an enticing minor key, wonderfully supported by Vlady’s precise guitar work and the lyric, ironic musical elaboration by guest violinist Marguerite-Marie Sort.“Coffee” continues the sweet otherness of this duo’s marvelous world view, a more traditionally folkie number with Yael—in another gloriously alluring accent—lists the tribulations and work ways of doing what one must do on a daily basis only to come to the reward for one’s efforts: a cup of coffee and the caffeine therein. The epiphany of this odd lyric is that a cup of coffee, for all the energy and nervousness it might jolt the nervous system with, is merely coffee, a drink over which the life’s lessons, if any, can be pondered. Again, Sort’s violin commentary over Yael’s wide-eyed vocals lures you even deeper, closer into this unique world.
Relateably exotic, honestly off-beat, funny, and ingratiatingly wise in ways that suggests a intimate sharing among friends, Big Boss Bubeleh’s A Droite! has an effortless and persuasive eclecticism that makes this one of the most delightful entertainments I’ve encountered for a good while.
(This originally appeared in The San Diego Troubadour. Used with kind permission.)


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

from 1978, MY AIM IS TRUE by Elvis Costello

Image result for my aim is true elvis costello ted burke
MY AIM IS TRUE--Elvis Costello
Among the miscellaneous debris The Seventies have given rock and roll is the chance for a new artist to regurgitate and , at times, imaginatively retool the many over-incubated cliches of Pop and rock music .Older critics who long for their heyday (first cigarette, first sexual encounter, first visit to the doctor’s office without informing one’s parents) as something in the vanguard of the movement, a ...fresh and invigorating voice that outlines the future of rock and roll.. ." We seem stuck in a state, perhaps permanently, where we have given way to unavoidable nostalgia and have taken to wallowing in recollections of an Ideal Past. This is Fall-From-Grace stuff, a perverse funk for a generation that barely has the right to call itself middle age; as it has for some years now, we continue to search for the next Dylan, the new Hendrix, the next Beatles; overpraise and hyper critical rejection are the two polarities the new blood is greeted; the middle position did not hold in these surmising discussions. Bruce Springsteen combines elements from Phil Spector records, old rhythm and blues tracks, and basic 4/4 backbone of rock and roll ,wrapping a Dylanesque ,free-associating surrealism around it.

 The result is a pastiche of styles that sounds forced.The motivation is obvious to a disinterested observer, but Springsteen’s movements do not move me beyond recognizing that his is influences will remain hipper than he could hope to be. What constitutes the ephemeral, mystically conferred essence of hip on someone, I admit, is a mystery that is and will remain the subject of engrossing discussions and debates that will not find resolution. But I know it when I see/hear/read it, and Bruce Springsteen appears fated to remain an earnest hipster, another face in the chorus protesting the same hard knocks and cold soup. Patti Smith wants to merge early Sixties rock, ala Stones and "Louie Louie" with the legends of dead poets, sounding in the end merely silly. 

Tom Waits combines black jazz hep jive with Jack Kerouac, and sounds stupid.From this parade of pretenders, the more jaded among us are leery of anyone trying the same thing. My Aim is True by Elvis Costello, takes one by surprise. Like Springsteen, the backbone 01 Costello's music is old rock and roll. But apart from that, they differ radically. Springsteen has a tendency to stretch his material to the breaking point, pouring crescendo upon toughness, and Costello's sing• crescendo. verse upon verse, ing, similar to Springsteen's trying to create an epiphany but more tactful, is full of that never culminates into pro- bouyancy, emotion and conviction. Costello, though, is without any overkill. What he loves about tin pan alley, the Brill Building , the hack songwriters of all callings, genres, convictions, was their mastery of craft. Mr. Costello knows when to weave narrative elements and spare details that contain a beginning, middle, and end. His sense of poetic irony, though influenced by Dylan and John Lennon, is entirely his own. He doesn’t mistake a song's verses occasions for wildly opaque analogies. or repeated and ineptly expressed philosophy. Instead, his stanzas are vivid items that logically follow one another in tone, temper, plot.  One leaves these songs understanding the situation. What is understood is that Elvis Costello is angry with many people and that these songs are his chance to let them and the world know why he's ticked. It's an exhilarating feeling,  seductive and alluring.

The stripped down to a vernacular (songs number twelve in all on the disc, unusual for a rock disc, and each exist as polished lyrical gems of a cynical, penetrating working class intelligence. Costello's strength, a virtue that Springsteen, Smith and Waits lack, is his ability to use rock cliches for their full value. Instead of brandishing them like a set of museum pieces that one is supposed to bow to in historical awe and respect, Costello gets the heat to the meat. The make takes ownership of them and does with them as likes.The rockabilly stuff is done with a verve that equals Buddy Holly, his use of reggae captures the required anguished, sinister mood, and his boogie material does a lot more than plot the course for the band. His lyrics, though, are imbued with a seventies sensibility, an awareness of absurdity , works minor miracles with the clichés. Though not notable for originality, My Aim Is True is honest work where the songwriter makes innovative use of what he's borrowed. Elvis Costello has an intelligence that can develop into something more complex and rewarding. My Aim, for now, suffices as an excellent example of how old forms may be revitalized, even reinvented from scratch, with the basic elements and energy renewed, if for a time, and be metaphorically capable of making the vulgarity , self-seeking and tangible afflictions that make life a cruel waiting room all melt into air and make you happy for the voice you hear next to you and the voice he or she is singing, grateful for the breath your taking, and feeling fully alive , if briefly, knowing that you and yours are not the only ones seeking transcendence. That is what great art does, if briefly.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Two short tales of two snap shots with no moral of the stories (so far)


This, I believe, is the best photograph I have ever taken. A black and white photo of a tv screen with the sun-glassed mug of the late George Michael toothfully smirking into the drive-through vacuity of a southern California Mexican restaurant isolates the compulsive idiocy of our look-at-me ethos that will have us all buried in the walls of suburban condos, with only a thin sheet of drywall separating us from the waiting hell of dry donuts and porno jazz soundtracks in an empty food court.
__________________________________



Image may contain: 1 person, sitting and indoor
Over the years I rode the bus several times a week with this fellow, who, I realized, was bit of bore who liked to engage in a form of passive-aggressive bragging, dropping odd things about himself in conversations he lured other bus riders into. This included exaggerating his abilities absurdly. He wrangled me into listening to one of his bits of grandiloquent self-praise once and mentioned he was multilingual. I said "Really", honestly not caring. He went on, offering more non-essential information,'Well actually, I sing in 6 languages." 
"Do you speak and read 6 languages?" He paused, then continued, seeming annoyed. 
"No , I sing opera and I sing in Latin, Italian, French, German..."
"And you don't speak or write or read in those languages?"
 "No, but what I do is an unusual skill..." Now i wanted to end the conversation. "So you're singing phonetically is what you're telling me..."
"Yes". "Well good for you, that must be hard t do, but it's not so special. Kinda so what?, in fact. " He rose out of his seat a little. 
"Sit down, Mr. Souffle" I said. 

He sat , I got off the bus. In the intersection two guys had gotten out of their pick up trucks during the red light and we punching and grabbing each other awkwardly. When the light changed, they got back into their trucks and sped away, presumably to the next traffic light for round two.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Justice League is a fun super hero film and Zack Snyder is a great director. There, I said it


Justice League
Well, yes, this is too predictable, perhaps, but I saw Justice League, directed by Zack Snyder, and yes, predictably (perhaps) I enjoyed the film quite a bit. I will skip the usual apologies fans of the film have made in the face of (predictably) negative reviews to the work, the "it's not a perfect film, it has some problems, but it's lighter, has great character interaction and there is good humor in it to..." I read that so many times this last week in comment sections following printed and on line reviews that it's become something like the lines of dialog in a favorite movie you see over and over and over again and yet again after all those times, where your lips move in sync with the characters on the screen as they mouth them. I say that because that while I agree with the sentiment, my principle reason for enjoying the film is because I think Zack Snyder makes enjoyable comic book movies; he understands comic book aesthetics more profoundly than any other director currently working , definitely more profoundly than critics and a good many comic movie enthusiasts give him credit for. 


Without going into his body of work for a lengthy, film class lecture kind of thing where you might think that I expect you to take notes , I'll assert plainly that Snyder succeeds, to my satisfaction, because his movies resemble the florid, visually stunning, sense jarring, thematically complex and often incomprehensibly plotted graphic novels that have emerged as a seriously considered format in the industry. Man of Steel, Sucker Punch, Batman v Superman , derided by reviewers and crabby fan boys for being too long, too slow , too dark in tone , theme and actual color scheme and and unrepentantly grim in pessimistic in outlook, are elements that have impressed me with what's going on with the level of storytelling across all the comic book publishers of note, but DC especially.

One of the reasons I like Zack Snyder movies, especially his comic book adaptations, is that they play on the screen fairly closely to the experience of actually reading comic books. Flashy cuts, extended action sequences that are supposed to be at high velocity but which are slowed down effectively to create tension, stunning , effects laden vistas that provide the grand off-planet elaborations of a Jack Kirby--Snyder pretty much does all this and does in a dark/grim tone that has been the DC Comics world view for decades. Plot holes, lack of Strindbergian depth in characters, murky plot lines, unclear villian motivation? The lauded comic books from which Synder draws his ideas are guilty of all this, famous for it actually. What he does with Justice League, even in its comprimised and truncated state, is wonderful entertainment, a fast headlong dive into action, banter, visual splendor, with out a wasted moment. There are faults to find, sure thing, you betcha , you bet, but an application of an over prescribed skill, the willing suspension suspension of disbelief, helps the more finicky among us to enjoy the film while it's playing. I recieved my money's worth.


 He has, of course, taken liberties with canon and adjusted his  borrowings to fit the more narratively  constricted needs of movie making--absolutely no one can afford to adapt a comic book story line in its entirety-- but he has done so with flair and daring and has, I believe, constructed a credible, compelling, dark and grim DC universe, reflecting that company's house style, and brings us, at last, to Justice League, a lighter, yes, a faster paced, yes, a funnier, yes, movie than than the filtered strains of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche pessimism that characterized the previous films he directed. The films are an evolution of circumstances, from being hopelessness and dispirited and becoming  to actual hopeful  and  revitalized spirit .

 In short, spoiler free if you haven't seen the previous Snyder DC adaptations, these are superheros who have something to fight for,  to defend and protect the world with a conviction that, I think, is effortlessly conveyed here. Justice League moves quickly , with swiftly conveyed introductions of Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg as the team is brought together for the first time, the action sequences have a balletic beauty only Snyder accomplishes, and the interaction among the heroes , especially in how   they learn to work as a team and in the dialogue, yes, full of jokes, is attractively presented, without a sour note being heard. Justice League, I am offering in this belated note, is a good time at the movies, a super comic book movie who has, to my thinking,brought that adolescent experience of 'theater of the mind" while reading new or old comics under the bed sheets, with a flashlight, to the screen. He , like many of us, remembers that experience and does wonderful work here and else where to bring to movie theatres where you all should be , right now, watching Justice League and having a raging good escape from what  is inane and ugly in this reality.


Ironically, it's been a common complaint with Synder's super hero films, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman especially, is that they are too long and leaden in pace, and yet the relatively two hour running time of Justice League has drawn the reverse complaint, too short and too rushed, just as fervently. Obviously the nearly three hour lengths of the first two films bothered me not at all since I'm inclined to appreciate Snyder's dually Wagnerian, eye popping aesthetic, but I do think that the shorter two hours for Justice League works much to its advantage. That is to say,this film had a briskness that prevented it, for me anyway, from seeming weighed down at all. Plot inconsistencies , not enough background on the new characters, an underexplored method toward Superman's revivification --all common complaints of the new picture and, perhaps, they have merit worthy of longer discussion. 


But since this is a comic book movie geared, I'm sure, to emulate the tone and thematic depth of the DC print versions of these characters--Snyder and company are adapting a Superman and Batman et al, not Tolstoy , not Faulkner--I picked up on the dynamics of the action, which are, of course, very comic booky and an element that made this a pleasurable experience. And since this an origin story involving the creation of a long standing fictional institution and the introduction of three additional heros DC and WB want to make into stand alone franchises, we have to consider exactly how much time to dedicate to the narrative side streets and background information for the birth of the JL and who and what the new characters are about. My guess is that had what hard core fans of the individual characters considered to be a deservingly full introduction been included, the movies run time likely would have pushed past three hours. The movie would have been a slog and weighty , too much so even for my Snyder-tolerant mind set. Movies, especially super hero movies, should move, if nothing else.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Monkee Bidness


Image may contain: 3 people, people on stage, people playing musical instruments and indoor
'I disliked The Monkees from day one because at the time I was a serious teen who wanted to be Rolling Stone rock critic and considered "our music" done by "our artists" to be a new art for; following, I put together my own home made aesthetic criteria , actually a free floating borrowing of a half dozen other critics opinions and tastes, convinced that it was my duty to protect and preserve the one true and undiluted thing , the music. Let me beat to the punch regarding that last sentence: I was indeed full of myself, intoxicatingly so. Nonetheless, The Monkees were the antithesis of that; my friends and I howled and mocked and denounced the fellows as much as we could, but they sold records anyway. The synthesis of this dialectic, I suppose, was that counter-culture ideas, attitudes and styles, from fashion, music, politics and the like, had been absorbed by mainstream culture. I think Marcuse referred to the process as "repressive tolerance", the notion that the System can neutralize radical impulses in a restless and dissatisfied population merely by allowing their rebellion to express itself through institutional channels. What i do recall is that Frank Zappa, the maestro of rock avant garde and someone the pure of spirit thought was far above the temptation to sell out, appeared as himself in their one feature film "Head". It pays to remember that the Mothers of Invention were not a hippie collective in which everything was done collaboratively. The band, rather , was a business concern of Zappa's and the musicians were on salary to play his music the way he wanted to hear it. Zappa the entrepreneur appreciated , no doubt, the conceptualization and execution of the Monkees as a product created to fill an under served niche even as Zappa the serious artist dismissed their tunes.




Even in movies, the dead should remain dead


Saw’s Billy the Puppet; Han Solo; Superman; and Colin Firth as Kingsman’s Harry
So little of what passes as cultural commentary on the internet is trivial and distracting like an itch you can't scratch that it comes as (very) mild surprise that one of the opinioneers delivered a grouse worth considering. An uncredited scribe in The Guardian mentioned and elaborated on an element of many super hero films that is , perhaps, killing interest in the genre: viewers cannot depend on a character remaining dead if he or she gets killed . The story makes the point that there have been so many deaths-and-miraculous-resurrections of characters that a viewer's willing suspension of disbelief refuses to kick in; it becomes more a matter of plot mechanics than catharsis.

It is one thing that Superman, presented to us as deceased in Batman v Superman, reenters the action in the upcoming Justice League  , since DC has generally made sure the Man of Steel was represented on screen in Christ like terms since the  beginning. It just makes sense just to remain consistent with the analogue and to consistent as well with the comic book canon; Superman simply must come back from the dead. Every dead character returning to the narrative fold, though, kills the fun of these things. Which brings up the point this piece strongly suggests, the nagging question as to why audiences continue to bother showing up for these things. I know it's been predicted often,  but there is a tipping point for this material. We're saturated ,carpet bombed, pummeled with creeps in capes destroying fictional cities and a fantastic and devastating fall off in attendance looms sooner than Hollywood might think. This is to say the studios need to diversify their crops.



Sunday, November 5, 2017

"Forever Changes" was released 50 years ago!

Chickenbone Slim's "The Big Beat" (album review)

THE BIG BEAT--Chickenbone Slim
Chickenbone Slim is the alter ego of longtime San Diego bluesman Larry Teves, bassist, vocalist, and songwriter who many remember as the leader of the popular area blues band the Boogiemen. The Boogiemen was a crackerjack jump blues band in the style of Little Charlie and the Nightcats and, a bristling, swaggering bunch of dedicated blues hounds filling taverns throughout the county with their combustible, guitar and harmonica-driven approach to hard blues swing. The Boogiemen are no more, alas, but Teves is on the scene again in the guise of Chickenbone Slim, with a new disc, The Big Beat, which continues the blues orientation.   

As expected, there is a difference in this recent incarnation, which is that Chickenbone is more than the brawny bluster of riffing over the changes and singing about drinking, smoking, and driving around looking for kicks; the blues are here—the backbone of the Teves-penned songs—but there has been growth. Life has happened, experiences have changed tone, and responses and reactions cut a bit deeper. These are songs from one who’s been through a few situations, has fought his way out of some tight spots, problematic circumstances where it’s something different each time that rocks this blues man’s world. Following suit, the bluesman Chickenbone goes for a broader musical palette, beginning with the swerving, off-kilter strut of the title song “The Big Beat.” A seasoned narrator finding similarities in following the drummer’s accents and the flow of one’s bliss, a message underscored and firmly moved forward with the brash harmonica punctuation from multi-instrumentalist Jon Atkinson. The mood becomes more laconic with the strutting and stirring ‘Long Way Down,” a rueful recollection of paying the cost to be the boss, the popping rhythms nicely framing the spare, stinging, and appealingly gruff guitar work from Scot Smart. “Hemi Dodge” goes the other way stylistically, a country jaunt, a road song braced on lonesome harmonica moans and Chickenbone’s sly, galloping guitar.

Chickenbone intones the song in a comically talk-sung manner, a deadpan that very much made me think of a man sharing the wisdom of his experience mere minutes after his most recent disaster. Folk, funk, swing blues, and the swampier varieties of soul and funk inform this refreshing variety of styles. Chickenbone Slim, nee Larry Teves, brings us the blues from neighborhoods where most of us actually live. He plays a rangy kind of music, writes songs with the terse and sharp wit of someone who knows the meaning of living paycheck-to-paycheck. It’s punchy; it’s full of inescapable hooks, cutting guitar and gold-toned harmonica wailing. The Big Beat makes you glad you got out of bed and poured that first cup of coffee.

(This originally appeared in The San DiegoTroubadour. Used with kind permission.)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan

I
t's not enough that we have the same first name and the same Irish second initial, my attraction to Berrigan's poems was the rather unbelligerent way he ignored the constricting formalities in poetry and rendered something of a record of his thoughts unspooling as he walked through the neighborhood or went about his tasks. "Where Will I Wander" is the title of a recent John Ashbery volume, and it might well be an apt description of Berrigan's style; shambling, personal, messy, yet able to draw out the sublime phrase or the extended insight from the myriad places his stanzas and line shifts would land on. The world radiated a magic and energy well enough without the poet's talents for making essences clear to an audience needing to know something more about what lies behind the veil, and Berrigan's gift were his personable conflations of cartoon logic, antic flights of lyric waxing, and darkest hour reflection , a poetry which, at it's best, seemed less a poem than it did a monologue from someone already aware that their world was extraordinary and that their task was to record one's ongoing incomprehension of the why of the invisible world. Things To Do In New York City:

"Wake up high up
frame bent & turned on
Moving slowly
& by the numbers
light cigarette
Dress in basic black
& reading a lovely old man’s book:

BY THE WATERS OF MANHATTAN
change

flashback

play cribbage on the Williamsburg Bridge
watching the boats sail by
the sun, like a monument,
move slowly up the sky
above the bloody rush:
break yr legs & break yr heart
kiss the girls & make them cry
loving the gods & seeing them die
celebrate your own
& everyone else’s birth:
Make friends forever

& go away "  --Ted Berrigan

Thor: Ragnarok is the distraction we require


Image result for thor ragnarok
Thor: Ragnarok nearly lives up to the hype, with the accent being on Marvel's patented triplicate move, slick action, lots of jokes and a particularly intense emphasis on making sure the movies from their studio tie into together. It wouldn't be unfair to say that the movie would be incoherent for plot and character if one hadn't seen a long string of other Marvel brand films, in the right sequence. Perhaps part of the promotional hype should have been for Marvel to own the potential impenetrability of this film's core rationale for those other less familiar with this connected universe and provided for them a list of titles to view beforehand. All the same, Thor and Hulk seem less Avengers than they do Hope and Crosby of the 'Road" movies. Is the ramped up comedy a good idea? Yes, since is this is only good Thor movie of the three that have been made. The laughs were honestly achieved from character interaction , personality clash, the whole shot, and the humor were managed much, much better than the repetitive joke-fight-joke-joke-fight tedium of Civil War. Marvel movies are Disney movies, after all, and franchise films are required in this studio to very much resembling in style and tone what was made before; for them, judging their movies becomes how well the individual directors made the house style entertaining and just a little different. The present movie is an inspired variation on the formula.

For special effects set pieces, this effort is among the best of the year, diluted a notch or two for crowding too many into this two-hour movie. It works much better than the previous EF fiesta Valerian, which I thought was merely busy despite the amount of money spent constructing that confounding mess. Thor: Ragnarok has the benefit of character recognition--despite what I've already said about potential plot incoherent, the host of characters are known commodities, and well portrayed, full of plausible quirks and comic nonchalance. Matters move along briskly, the spectacle builds well, and the decision to use the design ideas of comic book genius artist Jack Kirby and Thor co-creator is a way to differentiate this picture from the three tepid films in this franchise. It has the psychedelic visual style of Kirby used to good and effective measure here. 

This isn't the game changer for the Marvel Universe that fans are hoping for--for all their polish, crafted fury and a sense  of ongoing wit, Marvel films have fallen prey to a lurking Disneyism that has all but infiltrated the rebel spirit of the comic book ethos and has made each hit they produce to be otherwise indistinguishable from the one    before it. Spectacular effects, superb editing, snappy dialogue, in that order or similarly changed   up to minuscule degrees, are what dominate this connected universe, and there is a mounting tedium in their ongoing slate of releases, which explains why the punchlines are ramped up in this production and that the small amounts  of self-reflective dread and existential moments are removed or reduced to all but inconsequential plot requirements. If that's the case, it works on its own terms, a distraction from real-world headlines that inform you that the world is filled with awful people doing hideous, heinous, ugly things to other people. This was a hoot, a laugh, a nail-biter, the entertainment we need. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

MOHAVISOUL: Hometown Blues (album review)


You may find yourself scrutinizing the information on the sleeve MohaviSoul's new release, Hometown Blues, to see if any members hail from regions that would qualify them as authentic mountain folks. It turns out to be a case of simulacra, but it is worth remarking that this ensemble has a sound that is not what you'd find in the usual soundtrack of a surf-and-sun , postcard-perfect day. MohaviSoul is making music that's catchy and obviously, honestly informed by a love for the Old Schoolers and the legacy they left for the world.

Neither laboriously beleaguered  nor overly sunny, these are stories about the simple ironies and unexpected pains and pleasures a life brings us. MohaviSoul is a bluegrass band, storytellers of woe and joy and love found and lost as their heroes seek fortune and adventure and a better chance around the bend. Formed in Ocean Beach, the beach area’s last outpost of the ’60s idea of being distinct and true to one’s one Thing, the interplay of guitars, fiddle, and dobro are bittersweet counterparts to the plaintive vocals of guitarist Mark Miller and mandolin player Randy Hansen, both of whom are also MohaviSoul’s principal songwriters. They are palpable rustic; their chords and taciturn lyrics seemed to have been written in the dusty patina that would fall on the old,  corroded truck these metaphorical minstrels would use to drive state to state  searching for another day's wage. 


The tunes are sufficiently rustic and soulfully rendered, a sequence of tales reminiscent of depression and dust bowl days; long, dry highways; train whistles; large regrets; and small joy. There is a strong, persistent sense that one shoulders their burden and moves onward, stoic, strong, accepting of what one has been handed throughout their adventures before and afterward. There is, as well, a remarkable lack of the pessimism one would expect from a genre predicated on a world view that borders on the bleak and despairing. The allure of bluegrass and mountain music and the appeal of Americana music in the largest sense are the tales of indomitable spirit and the willingness of the heroes to persevere and greet the next day, lessons learned, with a song and a strong, purposeful stride.

Superbly backed by the interlocking and buoyant mandolin from Hanson; the banjo work of Jason Weiss; and the subtly bittersweet colors, tones, and accents given us by special guests John Mailander on fiddle and Will Jaffee on dobro, the songs of Miller and Hanson are clear and poetically plain spoken, oftentimes declaring that whoever is listening to the varied tales of hardship, heartache, and the lot needs to heed the simplest advice: don’t sweat the chump change. “Gettie Up,” sexy as it sounds but more practical than it is randy, tells us to get on the beam when life becomes the trudge, while “Stay Tuned,” a spritely, rollicking ramble, simply and subtly warns us to be pleasantly surprised when different and better outcomes result from what at first appears to be a grim and final dead end. MohaviSoul’s music is swiftly seductive, full of foot tapping, shoulder moving tempos, simple music accomplishing profound emotional effects. 

(This originally appeared in slightly different form in the San Diego Troubadour. Used with Kind Permission).