Month: February 2012

The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man.

If all you’ve ever heard of the band Genesis are the pop hits from the Phil Collins-led era, watch this and prepare for your brain to explode.

And then watch this next video, and observe that rarest of things — someone who somehow managed to transition from prog rock to insane mainstream music stardom without stripping their work of any of its depth or meaning. The idea of a phone booth that does what this one does to Peter at the end of the song is, I think, a simple but brilliant metaphor for the inability to communicate with someone who’s right in front of you. And Manu Katché is a beast on the drums.

(Side note: check out Manu’s solo work if you want to hear some really good modern jazz.)

As much as I think Phil Collins is also a hell of a drummer and has written some great songs (I’m not kidding; “Please Don’t Ask” from Duke is such a nakedly honest song about the dissolution of a marriage, it’s hard to believe it was written by the same guy who gave us catchy nonsense like “Sussudio”, while “Mama” has a psychotic energy about it that’s weirdly effective), Peter is on a whole different level.

Phil has admitted it himself, saying of his former bandmate, “He writes songs I wish I’d written.” If Phil hadn’t already earned my respect for his drumming on Peter Gabriel’s 3 (aka Melt), Brian Eno’s Another Green World, John Cale’s Helen of Troy, and John Martyn’s Grace and Danger, he’d get it just for that bit of humility. It kind of helps to balance out the way he took the drum sound created on Melt and appropriated it for his own far less adventurous music. That’s always seemed a little sketchy to me, even if it doesn’t quite qualify as musical theft.

Oh yeah — this blog turned four years old a few days ago. It’s the first birthday I’ve missed so far. It completely slipped my mind. Apologies, and happy belated birthday, blog of mine. I hope you like the socks I got you.

The tuba and the frog.

I’m posting an end-of-the-month progress report at the end of the month said progress report is meant to represent. When was the last time that happened? It feels a little funny to be on time again.

A few things to mention about this one.

The initial idea was to have the intro be one of those real-time in-studio music videos, but I haven’t yet got around to making another one of those. The progress report itself addresses how it almost-but-didn’t-quite happen.

The trade-off is, there’s some footage of a few unreleased songs being broken down a little on the mixing board. I haven’t shot any video of that sort of thing in a long time. In the past I was limited to shooting so you could see my face but not my hands, or doing it the other way around. To get everything in the frame, I needed to place the camera far enough away that the sound suffered.

Now I have two little Flip cameras instead of one, allowing me to shoot two angles at once. For about five seconds I toyed with the idea of showing the mixing segments in split-screen, but I thought it might be a little easier on the eyes and brain if I just cut back and forth between the two angles at the appropriate times. So I stuck with that approach.

There were other songs I meant to include some footage of, and I would have, if I hadn’t run out of recording time on both cameras halfway through and then been too lazy to set everything up again for the second go-round. Probably better not to reveal too many secrets before their time anyway.

The skewed public domain film content comes from three shorts this time, all of them about as different from one another as possible.

Of the three, the 1903 silent version of Alice in Wonderland has to be the most interesting. The print is in terrible shape. The “restored” version I’ve seen isn’t much better than what’s here, aside from featuring some colour tinting not present in my black and white copy. Flawed as it is, there are some pretty cool images there. I like the bit when alice encounters the deck of cards and they start chasing her. A strange, sobering thought: every person involved in any aspect of making this film is now dead, even down to the children who play the walking cards.

Watching it now is a little like opening a time capsule.

Elliott, true to his word, made it clear he wasn’t coming back until he got a brand new intro song. I did what I had to do and got a few of the other guys to help me out. In a show of appreciation, after turning in a number of pretty laid-back segments and threatening to turn into a music critic, Elliott responded to claims that he’d lost his edge by getting back to some of the good old-fashioned bitterness he used to let loose with when these video progress reports were young. I think this might be the most confrontational work he’s ever done in front of the camera.

What he’s got in store for future videos is anyone’s guess. I figure as long as I give him a new theme song every few months I should be able to keep him happy.

And I forgot to make a note of the snippet of “Lose My Breath” by My Bloody Valentine that shows up around the halfway point in the end credits. I’d go back and fix that, but I don’t feel much like waiting another three hours for the video to process all over again, and then another two for it to upload here. Apologies to Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher.

On an unrelated note, I reactivated my Facebook page a week ago so I could tell people CDs were available again at the usual places, since I’m pretty sure most of my contacts there aren’t regular visitors here. It took about five minutes to remember why I spent four months Facebook-free. Once I finish sending a few more private messages I’m getting rid of that shit all over again and staying away until the next album is finished.

Long ago, and oh so far away…

It’s about time I made another one of those videos where I film myself in the act of recording a song piece by piece and then edit it into something that resembles a music video. I’d also like to write something long and profanity-laden about what can happen when you make the mistake of leaving your artistic legacy in the hands of someone who has no understanding of your art and no interest in acting in any way that actually honours you or what you did while you were alive (even though I already kind of did that way back in this blog’s infancy). Not that I would know from personal experience, since I’m not dead yet, unless someone is playing out a very elaborate practical joke at my expense. It’s just a good excuse for an extended rant, and I think I’m overdue for one of those.

Neither of those things will be happening just yet, though. Right now, I think some Karen Carpenter is called for.

Say what you will about the Carpenters. A lot of the songs and arrangements were and are undeniably cheesy. But that voice cuts through all the bullshit. There’s never been another like it.

Whoever made the decision to force Karen out from behind the drums to sing in the spotlight should be shot. And if they’re no longer living, they should be brought back to life, berated, and then shot. She was comfortable behind those drums, and she could play the hell out of them. No less a musician than Buddy Rich said she was one of his favourite drummers. Maybe, just maybe, if she had been allowed to carve out an identity as a drummer who sang instead of a singer who sometimes played the drums, she would have felt more secure, and she’d still be here.

It’s a big “if”. But it’s something to think about.

As unusual as the Todd Haynes film Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story is, if you can get past the novelty of the entire cast being made up of Barbie Dolls I think it probably captures more of what Karen’s life was really like than any authorized biography or TV movie ever has. I made the mistake of watching it for the first time a few years ago just before I went to bed, and I had a hell of a time getting to sleep.

That’s right. A film with Barbie Dolls in place of people almost gave me nightmares as an adult. I’m not sure what that tells you, but you’ve just been told.

This cat is not impressed.

It’s good to know the Grammys are still all about hype and hypocrisy, instead of functioning as a forum that celebrates music that actually says or does something. Just once, I’d like to see somebody get up on that platform and say what they really think, instead of chopping off their own balls, backtracking, and being contrite in the name of playing the game.

I was never a die-hard Bon Iver fan (I liked For Emma, Forever Ago, which I didn’t end up hearing until some time after the initial hype had come and gone, while what I’ve heard of the most recent album doesn’t do a whole lot for me). If I had been, I don’t think I would be anymore. Justin Vernon doesn’t have much credibility left with me at this point.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, the short version of the story goes something like this. In a recent interview, he talked about how the Grammy Awards are a bunch of bullshit. He said if he ever won one, he would tell everyone what a joke the whole thing is, and stress that none of them should be there celebrating artifice and mediocrity.

Then he was nominated for two Grammys and all of that was forgotten. He was grateful and excited. He licensed one of his songs for use in a whiskey commercial after denigrating other artists who do that sort of thing. He briefly reverted to something like his original attitude when he said he was rejecting the opportunity to perform on the show, because there was a stipulation that he collaborate with some other nominated artist, and he thought that would compromise his music (though he had no problem collaborating with Kanye West in the studio). He still allowed his music to be used in a commercial for the Grammys. Somehow that wasn’t a compromise.

When he accepted his award(s), there was a brief mention of making music for the sake of making music slipped in with the usual thanks, so quick it was easy to miss. No mention of how it’s a bit of a joke to win for “Best New Artist” in 2012, when your first proper album came out in 2007.

Seems to me this is a case of trying to have it both ways — claiming to be all about the music only to turn around and embrace the very commercialism you rail against. Then again, few people seem to have the integrity or the courage to stand up and run with what they believe — or what they claim to believe — and speak the truth when presented with a Big Moment that involves a lot of people listening and watching. So it’s no real surprise at all. Just disappointing.

On the bright side, I don’t even have the ability to watch TV at the moment, so I didn’t have the chance to catch the show as it happened.

Speakers are speaking in code.

After a bit of a drought, the box of CDs at Dr. Disc is full again. There are copies of the most recent eight albums in there, if there’s anyone left in the city who wants that stuff. I should be refilling the box at Phog in the next day or two, assuming that one’s empty too. I couldn’t say for sure, because I haven’t been there in a while.

After not getting so much as a low-level throat infection for two years, I got one of those colds that clogs up my entire head and makes everything sound like it’s being heard through a thick wall of cotton. So that put a serious damper on the musical momentum I had going. Seems to be on its way out now, after a week of muffled hearing, and I aim to get back in the swing of things with renewed vinegar. The extra-fragrant kind.

I wish like hell I could remember a song that was in one of my dreams last night, but it’s not coming back. I do remember the melody to the one Massari was singing with two female backup singers. When you remember Massari instead of the real keeper song, well…either something isn’t quite right, or your brain has a very strange sense of humour.

Pick a personality.

I just found out Ben Gazzara died. That ain’t right. Too many talented people are disappearing.

Ben had a very long and varied career in film, theater, and television, spanning more than fifty years. In the 1990s alone he acted in almost forty films. He was one of the great character actors, turning up in small but essential roles in movies like The Big Lebowski, Buffalo ’66, and The Spanish Prisoner.

He was also a great leading man. He could play the villain or the protagonist with equal aplomb. He’s probably best known to the casual cinephile for his scenery-chewing turn as satanic bad guy Brad Wesley Road House. I’m pretty sure there’s a picture of that movie beneath the phrase “guilty pleasure” in the Universal Glossary of Phrases.

For me, Ben is synonymous with the fearless films of John Cassavetes, which were as far away from Road House and Hollywood conventions as you can get without abandoning narrative altogether. He had a leading role in Husbands and more of a supporting role in Opening Night. While those are both up there in the pantheon of the best work either man ever did, for my money the definitive Ben Gazzara performance is in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, one of the least-loved and most misunderstood Cassavates films.

Ben is the axis that whole movie spins around. His character, Cosmo Vitelli, is somehow classy and sleazy at the same time. He runs a strip club but considers himself an artist, writing all the performances and trying to keep his dream alive in the face of massive debt and interference from odious criminals.

Gazzara hated the character he was playing. He wasn’t able to make an emotional investment in the film until Cassavetes explained with tears in his eyes that the whole thing was an allegory for their lives. Cosmo and the strippers were the director and his actors. The gangsters were Hollywood business people who cared only about money, perverting and destroying art, stomping on the dreams of the artists without a second thought.

That’s some pretty heavy shit for a movie that, on the surface, seems to just be a story about a small-time club owner trying to find a way to erase his debt so he doesn’t lose the one thing he cares about.

The acts that take place in the club are not simple stripping sessions. They’re more like a bizarre sort of performance art. They’re hypnotic in their awfulness, and they’re meant to be. Cosmo is oblivious to the reality that he’d probably be a lot more successful if he wasn’t running a strip club where half the girls don’t even take off their clothes and the main attraction is an overweight, ostentatious master of ceremonies who sings songs (not very well) with no musical accompaniment.

Cosmo loves what he does. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. He’s going to find a way to do it no matter what.

Kind of sounds like Cassavetes.

With a title like The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, people were expecting an action-packed shoot-em-up. That’s not at all what they got. It’s not an “easy” film, but that’s kind of the point. It’s not supposed to be. Every time a little action hits the screen, Cassavetes finds a way to deflate it and drain all the colour out of the world these people are living in. It’s fascinating to watch.

Anyone who only knows Ben Gazzara from Road House or The Big Lebowski should track down Husbands and Chinese Bookie on DVD to see what he was really capable of when he was given a part he could sink his teeth into. If there is some sort of afterlife, Ben, John, and Peter Falk are probably talking about making another movie together right now. Maybe a sequel to Husbands, catching up with their characters a few decades down the road. If anyone could have made a sequel that actually meant something, it would have been those three.

As for me, I think I’m going to wait until the end of February to make the first video progress report of the New Year. I’ve skipped a few months already. I’ve said I didn’t plan on making a habit of it. That’s still true. But like I said before, if I’m going to put together a progress report, I’d rather it be something that has some meat on its bones. If I made one for January, it would be pretty slim. It would also be pretty late.

Better to make the first video progress report of 2012 count. So I’ll make it in a few weeks when I have more to say. With a little luck and knee grease, I’ll have the second disc of THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE done by then too.