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Sporadic Reviews: Old No. 1 – Guy Clark

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Does this ever happen to you? You’ve owned a piece of music1 in your library for a while, and you like it, but your relationship to the songs is tenuous, ephemeral, noncommittal. And then for whatever reason, you rediscover that particular artifact, and it grips you, forces you to play it over and over, compels you to swirl the songs in your ears. Is it that certain music takes a few plays before it sinks in? Is it a factor of your changing brain? The music is the same, but your response to it has altered, deepened.

Last week, a song came on my iTunes shuffle while I was photostrolling, a song from Guy Clark’s Old No. 1 LP. I had added this album to my library July 15th, 2008, the same day I added Nigeria 70 Lagos Jump, Ry Cooder’s I, Flathead, Alejandro Escovedo’s Real Animal, and had played Old No. 1 a few times since then, but I couldn’t say it was a particular favorite of mine. I had played it five or six times, and particular songs shuffled a few more times than that, but nothing more.

However, last week, that particular song smacked me2 and would not relinquish its hold on my imagination. So I was compelled to listen to it a few times, and then enticed to listen to the entire album multiple times. Great tunes through and through. My favorites are L.A. Freeway, She’s Ain’t Going Nowhere, A Nickel for the FiddlerDesparados Waiting on the Train, Like a Coat From the Cold. Maybe others too. The shaggy-dog story on Texas, 1947, about putting a nickel on the train tracks as a six year-old boy has some great lines, as does That Old Time Feeling. What I’m saying is there are no skippable songs on Guy Clark’s debut album, Old No. 1

Maybe I’m about to start my mid-life crisis, though only if I concede to not living past the age of 120, maybe it is because so many of my formative years were spent in Austin, or maybe because I’m such a fan of Townes Van Zandt, but for whatever reason, I am adding this album to that best albums of 2014 post that I will probably never get around to writing…

Guy Clark Old No 1

Guy Clark pushes a fading, black and white photograph across the table. In it, a man leans against a 1939 Packard, foot propped up on the bumper in the dusty streets of Monahans, Texas. “Jack Prigg” reads the inscription on the back. He’s smiling and sharply dressed in a black suit, a gleam of success in his grin. The image is striking for its sheer contrast to the portrait of Prigg immortalized in Clark’s “Desper­ados Waiting for a Train,” the old, busted oil-driller crying at the kitchen table to broken memories and songs. “Well, that must have been a Sunday,” laughs Clark, looking at the photo as he carefully takes a toke from the last vestiges of a joint and lets loose a rattling cough.

The workshop in the basement of Clark’s west Nashville home collects such memories. His father’s Randall knife sits on the workbench alongside his tools for making guitars. Behind him, shelves of cassettes with handwritten labels display a country songwriters hall of fame. A black and white photo of Townes Van Zandt, his haunted eyes somehow tracking around the room, stares down from the wall. Clark pinches a clump of tobacco and begins rolling a cigarette. The 71-year-old songwriter’s eyes sharpen as he takes in the room, his lips pursed together between the faint stains of yellow on his white mustache and goatee.

“Shit, I’d go back to Texas in a second if I could break even,” he says. “But the music business is here, and if I could just pay back what they’ve given me, or advanced me, I would love to live in Texas. At this point, though, I don’t know. I’m too fucking old to move back, pack all this shit up.”

Clark’s lack of sentimentality is deceiving. What the songwriter submerges in person surfaces in the deeply personal poetry of his songs, from “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” to the elegy for his father in “The Randall Knife,” and the title track of his new album, “My Favorite Picture of You,” an ode to his wife Susanna, who passed away last year after an extended decline from cancer.

Guy and Susanna’s marriage stands as one of the great relationships in music. As strongly devoted as it was tumultuous, their union and the art it produced became the locus for a new community of songwriters that emerged in the Seventies, a wave of scrappy expatriate Texans overtaking Nashville that included Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, and most notably, Van Zandt, whose lifelong friendships with both Clarks remain inextricable from the couple’s relationship.

Those days feel impossibly far away in the quiet of Clark’s house as he draws slowly on his cigarette.

“If you want good friends, they’re gonna cost you,” he notes as he exhales a thin line of smoke.

(click here to continue reading We Were From Texas: Guy Clark and the high price of inspiration – Music – The Austin Chronicle.)

from Thom Jurek’s review at Allmusic, where I learned that Steve Earle played on this album…3

If only every country songwriter could release a debut album as auspicious and fine as this one. Houston’s Guy Clark, well known to the outlaw movement for his poetic, stripped-to-the-truth songs about ramblers, history, the aged and infirm, the drunken, the lost, and the simple dignity of working people who confront the darkness and joy of life quietly, issued Old #1 when his compadres had already been making waves with his songs. Jerry Jeff Walker had already cut “L.A. Freeway” and other tunes by Clark, as had Gary Stewart, Billy Joe Shaver, and others. But the definitive versions come from Clark himself. On this disc with help from Emmylou Harris, fellow Houstoners (a young) Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell, guitar wizards Chip and Reggie Young, Mickey Raphael on harp, pianist David Briggs, fiddle boss Johnny Gimble, and the angel-voiced Sammi Smith, Clark executed a song cycle that is as intimate and immediate as it is quietly devastating with its vision of brokenness and melancholy, loose wild times, and unforgettable characters.…Old #1 was unequaled in 1975 for the depth of its vision and the largeness of its artistic and empathetic heart; only Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run came close to it in terms of aesthetic merit.

(click here to continue reading Old No. 1 – Guy Clark | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards | AllMusic.)

I’d rather listen to this album a million times more than having to plod through Born to Run again.

Footnotes:
  1. album, usually, but sometimes a particular song, or artist []
  2. Desperados Waiting for A Train []
  3. Steve’s first known professional recording was with Guy Clark on Guy’s 1975 album Old No. 1. Steve sang back-up vocals (along with Rodney Crowell, Sammy Smith, and Emmylou Harris [“The first time I met Emmylou, she came in to sing on Guy Clark’s first album. She gave me half of her cheeseburger. I wasn’t the same for weeks.”]) on the song Desperados Waiting For A Train. Steve toured with Guy from early ’75 until late ’76. Steve also may have appeared in Robert Altman’s 1975 film, Nashville (he was part of a large crowd scene in Centennial Park, but it’s not clear whether he actually shows up in the film via []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 24th, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Quick, shallow review of The Untouchables

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Not only a quick, shallow review, but also will probably be disjointed since I watched this film on my iPad while on my treadmill, over a period of 3 days. Anyway, how did this film get such good press? Full of gangster clichés, Chicago tropes, and populated by Kevin Costner’s usual Bloomingdale’s store mannequin style of acting. There are an insane amount of continuity, factual and editing problems, enough to start me laughing eventually. Even the famous scene, so beloved by News America’s thuggish CEO, Paul Carlucci, doesn’t get explained – if you didn’t know before hand what was going on, you were not informed. Why does De Niro’s Al Capone suddenly start beating his own guy with a baseball bat? Doesn’t seem to be very emblematic of teamwork to me. Were there a couple pages of script that got cut out?

Untouchables

Somewhere in Chicago under the El

I watched the entire movie, so it wasn’t horrible, but it boggles my mind that The Untouchables allegedly propelled Kevin Costner to film star status.

My Netflix rating: two stars out of five.

Only Don't Tell Me You're Innocent
Only Don’t Tell Me You’re Innocent

As an aside, has Kevin Costner ever been in a good film, a movie where his acting was the essential ingredient? I can’t say I’ve seen one, but then I haven’t ever sat through either of his big films: The Bodygaurd, nor Waterworld. I did watch about 15 minutes of The Bodyguard once on television, but decided I needed to trim my toenails instead of wasting more time with that dreck. Waterworld might be more fun to watch, albeit not in the way Costner intended. Waterworld was famous for a minute for being an expensive flop, full of closeups of Costner’s face, but empty of plot.

Speaking of Waterworld, some fun gossip collected by IMDb

  • It is rumored that director Kevin Reynolds and Kevin Costner had a huge squabble over the film, resulting in Reynolds walking off the project and left Costner to finish it. Reynolds was quoted as saying that “Kevin should only star in movies he directs. That way he can work with his favorite actor and favorite director”.
  • The script underwent 36 different drafts which involved six different writers.
  • Joss Whedon flew out to the set to do last minute rewrites on the script. He later described it as “seven weeks of hell”.
  • The 1,000 ton floating set did not have any restrooms, nor were there any on any of the 30 boats used by the cast and crew. The result was that filming had to halt so those in need could be ferried to a barge anchored near the shore which had several portable toilets on it.
  • Widely considered to be one of the biggest box-office bombs of all time. Although it grossed $255 million from a $175 million production budget, this does not factor in marketing and distribution costs, or the percentage of the gross that theaters keep (which is up to 45% of a film’s box office takings). The film came to be nicknamed “Kevin’s Gate” after Heaven’s Gate (1980) and “Fishtar”, after Ishtar (1987), two previous mega bombs.

Written by Seth Anderson

February 15th, 2014 at 9:13 am

Posted in Film

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2013 Year End Music Reviews – David Bowie- The Next Day

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David Bowie – The Next Day

Rating: B+

Anytime an artist of David Bowie’s stature releases a new album, there is discussion of it. Endless discussion. All the rock snobs want to trip over their tongues praising the new release whether or not the new work even deserves it.

Unfortunately, for me, The Next Day doesn’t come up to the standards of David Bowie’s string of near-perfect albums, and thus suffers in comparison. It’s pretty good, though when I want to hear a Bowie album, I still queue up Low, or Heroes, or Station to Station, or Ziggy Stardust, or you get the idea. That said, if you are familiar with those other, better albums, The Next Day is quite listenable. There are no obvious duds here. Who knows, maybe in a couple of years, it will have burrowed deeper in my brain. Sometimes music takes a while to get embedded.

Rob Sheffield:

The Next Day has a strong connection to the late-1970s period when Bowie and producer Tony Visconti made their Berlin trilogy of Low, Heroes and Lodger. It also has the low-register guitar attack of Scary Monsters. The songs are in the reflective mode of his excellent (if crazily underrated) midlife LPs: Earthling and Hours in the late 1990s, Heathen and Reality in the early 2000s. The sharp-edged guitars suit the tunes – wry, soulful, adult, resistant to maudlin hysterics or overwrought sentiment.

“The Next Day” sets the tone right from the opening moments, rocking out as Bowie snarls, “Here I am, not quite died/My body left to rot in a hollow tree.” Even though he sings, “I can’t get enough of that doomsday song,” Bowie has never sounded further from doomsday. Instead, he ranges from a furious anti-war rant (“I’d Rather Be High”) to compassion for doomed youth (“Love Is Lost”) to marital love (“Dancing Out in Space”). The album ends with the spaced-out electronic drone of “Heat,” as he repeats the words “I tell myself/I don’t know who I am.”

Though he sings most of The Next Day in his staccato rock voice, Bowie holds back his torch-song theatrics for two big ballads, the goth doo-wop of “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die” and the majestic New Romantic love song “Where Are We Now?”

(click here to continue reading The Next Day | Album Reviews | Rolling Stone.)

Cole Morton recounts how producer Tony Visconti wandered around Manhattan listening to the rough mixes on his headphones:

Still, Tony Visconti thought his friend had given up writing songs, so was “totally surprised” to receive an email from Bowie in November 2010, while he was producing the Kaiser Chiefs’ album in London. “He said, ‘When you get back, do you fancy doing some demos with me?’ This was the first time since Reality [in 2003] that it was even suggested that we do anything in any studio, so I was quite taken aback. There was no preamble, no warning. It was really weird.”

A few days later, Visconti found himself in “a small, grimy room” at 6/8 Studios in Manhattan, close to Bowie’s home. “Sterling Campbell was on drums, I was on bass, David was on keyboards, Gerry Leonard was on guitar. By the end of five days we had demoed up a dozen songs. Just structures. No lyrics, no melodies and all working titles. This is how everything begins with him. Then he took them home and we didn’t hear another thing from him for four months.” Why was that? “He wanted to listen and be certain he was on the right track.” They returned at last to a more upmarket studio called the Magic Shop, also within walking distance of the Bowie home. Now the drummer Zachary Alford and bassist Gail Ann Dorsey were involved. The guitarist Earl Slick joined in later.

“We only recorded for two-week periods and then we would take months off again while David analysed it all,” says Visconti. “I was walking around New York with my headphones on, looking at all the people with Bowie T-shirts on – they are ubiquitous here – thinking, ‘Boy, if you only knew what I’m listening to at the moment.’ ” Everyone involved in the project had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
“For the older members of his tribe, we didn’t really need to do that.”

(click here to continue reading David Bowie is healthy and may even sing in public again, says Tony Visconti – Telegraph.)

Written by Seth Anderson

December 16th, 2013 at 10:24 am

Posted in Music

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Cat Power’s Bright Side : The New Yorker

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Cat Power is usually interesting, I like this album so far, on first listen.

Sasha Frere-Jones writes:

“Sun” finds Marshall returning to an approach she’s successfully used before—reduction and focus. In the past few years, especially in live performances, she has sung in a loose, dynamic way over the work of accomplished professionals. These shows have been compelling but sprawling. “Sun,” by contrast, is basic and compressed; it relies on repetition rather than risk the peaks and valleys that a clutch of virtuosic musicians make possible.

Though not professionally trained in any particular instrument, Marshall played and sang everything on the album, except for a few moments, in one song, of guitar and drumming, provided by Judah Bauer and Jim White, and a noticeable vocal cameo by Iggy Pop. These days, music that is recorded by just one person often takes on the aesthetic of the loop—computer technology makes it easy to set up a repetitive phrase and then play along to it. Creating an unpredictable feel can be tricky when the solid next step has already been constructed, and the album occasionally reflects this problem. Yet this style of working is conducive to making propulsive beats, and much of the album could be danced to.

Marshall’s chosen instrumentation for “Sun” is roughly that of a traditional live rock band, with drums and piano at the forefront, and guitars and synthesizers trading off in accompaniment. Unlike her last few albums, “Sun” has very few songs that use isolated vocal performances. Marshall’s voice, which is her strongest asset, is heard mostly in multitracked harmony with itself, small ensembles that make the songs more general than intimate. The resulting sound is less of a person conveying stories or feelings than of a volunteer choir chanting hymns. It turns out that, if you leave Chan Marshall alone with her gear, you get more songs and less Chan Marshall. After being the center of her own work in a fairly traditional way, Marshall has built an album that seeks to catalogue problems and ideas rather than frame her own voice.

(click here to continue reading Cat Power’s Bright Side : The New Yorker.)

Written by Seth Anderson

September 11th, 2012 at 7:49 am

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Dirty Dirty Dirty

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Nobody wants to be on The List, of course, but at least TripAdvisor seems to have more credibility than a site like Yelp! who allows the process to be subverted by financial concerns.1

Rooms 75 cents

Those are just a few excerpts from reader-generated reviews of various hotels in Britain, culled from the “2010 Dirtiest Hotels” lists published recently by TripAdvisor.com, the online network of travel sites. TripAdvisor says it has reviews of more than 450,000 hotels around the world.

In the United States, hard-hitting online travel reviews cause a lot less commotion, even though TripAdvisor’s reviews of the “dirtiest” hotels in the United States are just as blunt as the rest of the worldwide lists. (“Sleep in your car, not here!” warns LuckyDude, Chicago.)

Web sites using online reader-generated commentary are rewriting the rule book for travel reporting, and no site has as much impact as TripAdvisor, which is owned by Expedia and is one of the biggest online reader review sites. So it was a good time to talk with TripAdvisor’s chief executive, Stephen Kaufer.

The dirtiest hotels lists are a tiny part of what TripAdvisor does, of course. But Mr. Kaufer was happy to address the criticism.

“You bet, if you’re a hotel on that list, it is not a good sign for your business,” he said. “We have advertisers who call us up after they see one of their chain properties on the list and say, ‘Come on, I spent money with you advertising, and you put the property on the list?’ The sales guys tell them, ‘The editorial team looks at all the reviews; they look at what the guests say on the site — and one bad review does not get you on the list. But when it’s consistently ranked as a bad hotel by lots of people saying terrible things, hey, we are not shy.’ ”

“Please believe me,” he added, “we are careful about the lists, so a hotel isn’t named just because there are four bad reviews. We are dealing with someone’s reputation. It’s the ones that are consistently bad that make it — and I challenge any curious ind

[Click to continue reading On the Road – A TripAdvisor List That No Hotel Wants to Be On – NYTimes.com]

Surprisingly, the Hooker Hotel Radisson near Dallas Love Field did not make the TripAdvisor 2010 list, though the reviews of that shit hole are nearly as bad as they should be.2

Footnotes:
  1. Or so it seems []
  2. Obviously, I’ve stayed there recently, and I’ll tell you about it sometime. Quite the story []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 9th, 2010 at 5:16 am

Yelp is Fucked

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Too many allegations of manipulation: I’d be surprised if they survived the year without substantial changes to their business model. Too much controversy: I know I would never look at a Yelp review on my iPhone without wondering if it wasn’t paid for. Until Yelp address this article directly, and credibly, they will not be trusted again. I know I’ve deleted their application off of my iPhone.

Monica Eng investigated the local Chicago variation of the story:

With the Web site Yelp still responding to allegations by San Francisco businesses that it manipulates the prominence of positive and negative reviews, some Chicago merchants are adding to the heat.

They allege that Yelp representatives have offered to rearrange positive and negative reviews for companies that advertise on the site or sponsor Yelp Elite parties.

Ina Pinkney of Ina’s restaurant in the West Loop said that last summer a Yelp salesperson offered to “move up my good reviews if I sponsored one of their events. They called it rearranging my reviews.”

The owner of More Cupcakes, Patty Rothman, said that last fall a Yelp Chicago staffer walked into her Gold Coast shop and “guaranteed us good reviews on the site if we catered one of their parties for free.” Offended but resigned, Rothman complied. And just as promised, positive reviews bloomed for the business right after the party, Rothman said.

Other Chicago businesses told the Tribune of similar experiences but asked to remain anonymous.

Since the allegations were first reported in a San Francisco alternative weekly in mid-February, Yelp’s CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has been taking his side of the story in this controversy to the Web, the media and even Twitter.

[Click to read more of Chicago proprietors add to Yelp allegations — chicagotribune.com]

In other words, standard operating procedure. Pay for good reviews to be at the top, or else, your business will suffer. A Yelp mafia. “You wouldn’t want your pretty place to be messed up, would you?!”

Kathleen Richards of the East Bay Express started all the hair-shirtery:

During interviews with dozens of business owners over a span of several months, six people told this newspaper that Yelp sales representatives promised to move or remove negative reviews if their business would advertise. In another six instances, positive reviews disappeared — or negative ones appeared — after owners declined to advertise.

Because they were often asked to advertise soon after receiving negative reviews, many of these business owners believe Yelp employees use such reviews as sales leads. Several, including John, even suspect Yelp employees of writing them. Indeed, Yelp does pay some employees to write reviews of businesses that are solicited for advertising. And in at least one documented instance, a business owner who refused to advertise subsequently received a negative review from a Yelp employee.

Many business owners, like John, feel so threatened by Yelp’s power to harm their business that they declined to be interviewed unless their identities were concealed. (John is not the restaurant owner’s real name.) Several business owners likened Yelp to the Mafia, and one said she feared its retaliation. “Every time I had a sales person call me and I said, ‘Sorry, it doesn’t make sense for me to do this,’ … then all of a sudden reviews start disappearing.” To these mom-and-pop business owners, Yelp’s sales tactics are coercive, unethical, and, possibly, illegal.

“That’s the biggest scam in the Bay Area,” John said. “It totally felt like a blackmail deal. I think they’re doing anything to make a sale.”

[Click to read more: East Bay Express | News | Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0]

Sepia

I wonder if my review of Sepia was buried for this exact reason [my Yelp review]. If you peruse Yelp’s page for Sepia, most reviews on the front page are raves, not the negative reviews like mine, and so many others.

The New York Times was interested too:

Local news outlets have raised questions about the company’s practices, including a recent article in the East Bay Express, an alternative weekly, with the provocative headline: “Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0.” It reported that Yelp sales representatives had promised to move or remove negative reviews for advertisers.

Mr. Stoppelman said that Yelp does not move negative reviews for advertisers and applies the same ranking system to all companies on the site. Many advertisers, including Mr. Picataggio of Tart restaurant, have negative reviews.

Some of the confusion may come from the fact that advertisers, who pay $300 to $1,000 a month, are allowed to choose which review shows up at the top of their profile page and block ads from competitors. For other businesses, the first two listings a reader sees could be an ad for a competitor and a one-star review.

“If there’s no clarity about that process at all, it exacerbates the suspicion,” said Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and the former general counsel of Epinions, another review site.

Yelp’s lack of transparency does not affect its relationship with businesses alone. It also risks eroding users’ trust in the site. Eric Kingery, an engineer and frequent Yelp user in Chicago, discovered that a review he had written of a jeweler disappeared. “It just makes me suspicious of the impartiality,” he said. “It is a very useful service, but this kind of harms the integrity of the site.”

[Click to read more of Review Site Draws Grumbles From Merchants and Users – NYTimes.com]

Like I said, would be surprised if Yelp survives all this negativity without substantial changes to their methodology and business practices.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 8th, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Netflixed RocknRolla

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Netflixed Guy Ritchie’s RockNRolla


Starring Thandie Newton and Gerard Butler, director Guy Ritchie’s crime thriller follows a variety of crooks from London’s underworld who set out to nab millions of dollars left for the taking when a Russian mobster’s real estate scam falls apart. The first part of a planned trilogy, RocknRolla co-stars Jeremy Piven, Ludacris, Tom Wilkinson, Gemma Arterton, Jamie Campbell Bower, Mark Strong and Idris Elba. [Netflix RocknRolla]

Other than the momentary shock at hearing Idris Elba1 speak with a non-Baltimore accent2, a typical Guy Ritchie film. Enjoyable fluff, a few cringes at clumsy dialogue, several over-the-top stylistic editorial elisions, and some excellent soundtrack choices3. If you’ve seen any other of Guy Ritchie’s films, you know what to expect: no new ground is broken here. I’ve seen worse, and better. Still, watched the entire movie, despite its lack of depth. Not every film is worthy of Criterion Collection status.

As Roger Ebert concludes:

“RocknRolla” (which is how they say “rock and roller” in the East End) isn’t as jammed with visual pyrotechnics as Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock and Smoking Barrel” (1998), but that’s OK, because with anything more happening, the movie could induce motion sickness. It never slows down enough to be really good, and never speeds up enough to be the Bourne Mortgage Crisis, but there’s one thing for sure: British actors love playing gangsters as much as American actors love playing cowboys, and it’s always nice to see people having fun.

[From RocknRolla :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews]

‘Nuff said.

Footnotes:
  1. famously Stringer Bell of The Wire []
  2. some sort of Cockney dialect []
  3. like The Clash – Bankrobber; Lou Reed – The Gun; The Sonics – Have Love Will Travel []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 9th, 2009 at 11:40 pm

Posted in Film

Tagged with , ,

Flat N All That Boyee

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“Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America” (Thomas L. Friedman)

Matt Taibbi is not going to get invited to Tom Friedman’s 12,000 square foot mega-mansion anytime soon after publishing such a fun evisceration of Friedman’s “green” book, Hot Flat and Crowded. Especially when Mr. Taibbi’s review veers on tangents like:

I’ve been unhealthily obsessed with Thomas Friedman for more than a decade now. For most of that time, I just thought he was funny. And admittedly, what I thought was funniest about him was the kind of stuff that only another writer would really care about—in particular his tortured use of the English language. Like George W. Bush with his Bushisms, Friedman came up with lines so hilarious you couldn’t make them up even if you were trying—and when you tried to actually picture the “illustrative” figures of speech he offered to explain himself, what you often ended up with was pure physical comedy of the Buster Keaton/Three Stooges school, with whole nations and peoples slipping and falling on the misplaced banana peels of his literary endeavors.

Remember Friedman’s take on Bush’s Iraq policy? “It’s OK to throw out your steering wheel,” he wrote, “as long as you remember you’re driving without one.” Picture that for a minute. Or how about Friedman’s analysis of America’s foreign policy outlook last May:

The first rule of holes is when you’re in one, stop digging. When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.” First of all, how can any single person be in three holes at once? Secondly, what the fuck is he talking about? If you’re supposed to stop digging when you’re in one hole, why should you dig more in three? How does that even begin to make sense? It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if the editors over at the New York Times editorial page spend their afternoons dropping acid or drinking rubbing alcohol. Sending a line like that into print is the journalism equivalent of a security guard at a nuke plant waving a pair of mullahs in explosive vests through the front gate. It should never, ever happen.

Wisconsin countryside

before even tackling the ridiculousness that is Tom Friedman’s latest tome:

Many people have rightly seen this new greenish pseudo-progressive tract as an ideological departure from Friedman’s previous works, which were all virtually identical exercises in bald greed-worship and capitalist tent-pitching. Approach-and-rhetoric wise, however, it’s the same old Friedman, a tireless social scientist whose research methods mainly include lunching, reading road signs, and watching people board airplanes.

Like The World is Flat, a book borne of Friedman’s stirring experience of seeing IBM sign in the distance while golfing in Bangalore, Hot, Flat and Crowded is a book whose great insights come when Friedman golfs (on global warming allowing him more winter golf days:“I will still take advantage of it—but I no longer think of it as something I got for free”), looks at Burger King signs (upon seeing a “nightmarish neon blur” of KFC, BK and McDonald’s signs in Texas, he realizes: “We’re on a fool’s errand”), and reads bumper stickers (the “Osama Loves your SUV” sticker he read turns into the thesis of his “Fill ‘er up with Dictators” chapter). This is Friedman’s life: He flies around the world, eats pricey lunches with other rich people and draws conclusions about the future of humanity by looking out his hotel window and counting the Applebee’s signs.

Friedman frequently uses a rhetorical technique that goes something like this: “I was in Dubai with the general counsel of BP last year, watching 500 Balinese textile workers get on a train, when suddenly I said to myself, ‘We need better headlights for our tri-plane.’” And off he goes. You the reader end up spending so much time wondering what Dubai, BP and all those Balinese workers have to do with the rest of the story that you don’t notice that tri-planes don’t have headlights.And by the time you get all that sorted out, your well-lit tri-plane is flying from chapter to chapter delivering a million geo-green pizzas to a million Noahs on a million Arks. And you give up. There’s so much shit flying around the book’s atmosphere that you don’t notice the only action is Friedman talking to himself.

[From Flat N All That]

If you need a laugh today, or you are amused by graphs charting the size of Valerie Bertinelli’s ass, read the whole article.

Written by Seth Anderson

January 20th, 2009 at 8:10 am

Netflixed: The Dark Knight

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“The Dark Knight (Two-Disc Special Edition + Digital Copy)” (Warner Home Video)

Liked this blockbuster less than I had hoped.


Batman (Christian Bale) teams with Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to continue dismantling Gotham City’s criminal organizations in this sequel to Batman Begins. But a psychotic new villain known as the Joker (Heath Ledger, in a Golden Globe-nominated role) threatens to undo all their good work. The star-studded cast includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Caine and Eric Roberts. [Netflix: The Dark Knight]

You Can Spend Your Whole Life

Sort of boring, actually. I may be an art-house film snob, but I still appreciate big Hollywood spectacular films, if they are done well. This edition of the Batman series was snoozey, and not very compelling.

Actually, the most fun part was playing GWC1 for various Chicago locations. I didn’t see me on the roof in the helicopter scene2, but several scenes were filmed five or ten minutes away from us, pretty much every one with an El track visible in fact. I’ve seen worse movies, don’t get me wrong, but there’s no fracking way The Dark Knight deserves its current ranking of #5 on IMDb’s 250 greatest films of all time. Despite all the hype generated about Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker, I was underwhelmed by that as well.

Footnotes:
  1. Guess Where Chicago []
  2. we happened to be drinking cocktails on our roof deck one evening while several helicopters whirred by for a few hours []

Written by Seth Anderson

January 9th, 2009 at 9:42 am

Posted in Film

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The Name of This Band is Talking Heads

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Another Quickie review1


The Name of This Band is Talking Heads

Awesome, if you like Adrian Belew’s electric guitar caterwauling on top of Talking Head classics. To be fair, only on a few tracks. Three thumbs up2

All the tempos have been quickened, and the rhythm section locks in. I posted some YouTube footage from this tour a while ago, the files might still be accessible.

Extended to 33 songs from the original release, spanning 2 hours and 36 minutes of funk, Afro-pop, and quirkiness.

Sean Westergaard of AllMusic writes:

The sound is crisp and clear, with tight drumming, a great punchy bass sound, and clearly separated guitars that allow you to really hear what complementary (and fine) players David Byrne and Jerry Harrison were. Byrne is the über-geek with a totally unique delivery (especially on tracks like “Who Is It?,” “Artists Only,” and “Stay Hungry,” not to mention his nervous stage announcements), but they all play with the raw energy of a young band on the way up. The bonus tracks are all excellent. There is no sense whatsoever that they were simply padding things for a longer running time, and it’s just great hearing live versions of songs like “Mind” (with extended guitar solo), “The Big Country,” and “The Book I Read” that have never been readily available in live form.

As fantastic as the first disc is, the second one is perhaps even more exciting. The expanded band (ten musicians and two backup singers) is amazing, not only adding power and punch to the Remain in Light material, but in most cases surpassing the studio versions (no mean feat). These live versions of “The Great Curve,” “Houses in Motion,” and “Crosseyed and Painless (all prominently featuring Adrian Belew) are nearly worth the price of admission alone, but the bonus tracks here are just as exciting. The original release had no overlapping songs on the two LPs, with the large version of the band sticking solely to tunes from Remain in Light and Fear of Music. Now you’re treated to arrangements of “Psycho Killer,” “Stay Hungry,” and “Warning Sign” as performed by the expanded lineup, not to mention live versions of “Animals,” “Cities,” and “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On).” The band is on fire throughout the performances, and fans of Belew’s guitar playing will practically be giddy with ecstasy. These are some of his finest performances strictly as a guitarist, and although Remain in Light was the only studio album he played on, he beautifully adds his own touches to “Stay Hungry” and especially “Psycho Killer.” Byrne also contributes some cool guitar, sometimes using a great delay sound, and again, the clear separation of instruments lets you really hear the details.

Footnotes:
  1. for Musebin []
  2. umm, well, two thumbs, and your neighbor’s thumb too for good measure, because you will probably want to play this album with the volume turned way up []

Written by Seth Anderson

November 24th, 2008 at 9:07 am

Posted in Music

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Ethiopiques 19

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Another Quickie review


“Ethiopiques 19” (Ethiopiques (Buda Series), Mahmoud Ahmed)

I don’t have every album in this series1 , but every CD except one has been a great addition to my African music library. My favorite song on this album, called Tezeta, has a simply stunning bass line, along with a moody vocal, sort of like a Hazzan2, though in Ethiopian. Great sax too.

Tezeta means nostalgia, a bittersweet longing for the past, btw, and is a frequent song subject. In fact, there is an entire Ethiopiques album devoted to it.

Footnotes:
  1. estimate without counting that I’ve picked up slightly more than half of the 23 titles, mostly from my pals at Aquarius Records in San Francisco []
  2. cantor []

Written by Seth Anderson

November 17th, 2008 at 9:44 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Forca Bruta

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Another Quickie Review


“Forca Bruta” (Jorge Ben)

The guitar rhythms circle around a moving middle, makes me move my belly button in concentric ovals in my chair. Huge thumbs up.
From the Amazon blurb

First time on CD in the US – and first time in the world in over 15 years! A groundbreaking album from the young Jorge Ben – one of Brazil’s most soulful singers ever – heard here at a pivotal point in his career! Forca Bruta is a record forever transformed Brazilian music with its unique blend of samba and soul – and it features some tremendous rhythm work from Trio Mocoto – who bring in a wide variety of percussion techniques to make the whole thing groove. There’s an earthy, laidback feel to the whole set – one that makes the album feel like a spontaneous expression of genius, even at the few points when larger orchestrations slide into the mix. The album’s easily one of Jorge Ben’s greatest – and it’s a much-heralded Brazilian treasure that’s finally getting reissued!

Written by Seth Anderson

November 16th, 2008 at 1:06 am

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Bluesy Burrell

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Quickie review:


“Bluesy Burrell” (Kenny Burrell)

Originally labeled as being a joint release with Coleman Hawkins, he plays on nearly half the songs. An album that encourages dimming the lights, and lighting up. Too bad I gave up my smoking habits.
Thumbs up.

Written by Seth Anderson

November 16th, 2008 at 12:43 am

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Musebin sounds cool

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I requested a beta invitation to Musebin.

Musebin wants music reviewers to cut to the chase, big-time. Never mind that girl you made a mix for in high school. Other music fans want to know what you think, and they want it now. In 140 characters or less.

Musebin is a response to technology-related shifts in music criticism. Like Twitter, it limits each album review to a single, 140-character line. And like Reddit, it allows users to rate those reviews up or down using Yea or Nay buttons. The result: a fresh and compelling way to share opinions and be entertained while discovering music.
“It’s a reaction to the wordy, wordy MP3 blogs and people craving really concise content,” explained Musebin COO Adam Varga.

[From Musebin: Twitter-Style Music Reviews with Reddit-Style Ratings | Listening Post from Wired.com]

CDs shelf one

Sounds perfect for me – I’m fairly reticent here on my blog, I’ve used Twitter long enough to be familiar with the medium and its restrictions, and I’m a big consumer of music.

I’m probably going to start practicing here whether I get a beta invite or not, so be prepared for a plethora of short, succinct reviews of albums. Kind of a tune-up for all those best of year lists that are going to start appearing.

Written by Seth Anderson

November 15th, 2008 at 10:57 pm

Posted in Music

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Brighten the Corners Reissued

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“Brighten the Corners: Nicene Creedence Edition” (Pavement)

Matador Records is re-issuing Brighten the Corners, Pavement’s penultimate album, with a second disc of goodies, and more.

Our latest edition of Buy Early Get Now is perennial favorite, Pavement’s classic album Brighten The Corners!

Buy Early Get Now and receive the 2 CD deluxe edition in an embossed and die-cut slipcase, with a 62-page perfect-bound book AND a stream of the album, two bonus tracks and a whole vinyl LP containing an unreleased live show. That’s right. A free LP if you Buy Early Get Now. The bonus live LP was recorded during the first Brighten tour and scheduled for release as OLE-324 in July 1998, but was then shelved… until now.

[From Matador Records ]

I assume this bonus LP will eventually be released in the future in other formats, but maybe not.1

Pavement is intertwined with my memories of the 1990s, they were by far my favorite contemporary band, eclipsing even the mighty Sonic Youth who had already started their decline by then. Pavement rewards multiple, concentrated listening, their lyrics were comprised of obtuse bits of American indie subculture, and whatever else was on our bookshelves. In my own iTunes rating scheme five songs are classics, 4 star songs that are always included on my iPod2.

Clicking around to read contemporary reviews of the album, stumbled on this gem from Pitchfork. I imagine the reviewer3 smoking a big bowl of something interesting, and then being unable to write anything coherent about an album he loved, but still typing something anyway on his laptop. Err, or something. I simply don’t know what you are implying.

Still shocking the music world with their wacky, off-kilter brand of music, Pavement come back hard in 1997 with Brighten The Corners. Having never released an album that was even remotely bad, Pavement continue to awe with songs like “Shady Lane” and “We are Underused.” Yeah, it’s a fact. Stephen Malkmus and company pretty much got it goin’ on.

When this disc opens with “Stereo,” you’re immediately compelled to grin. And grin you do. For the duration of the album. A natural high, the tracks roll on. “Transport is Arranged,” “Date With Ikea,” “Old to Begin.” Each one somehow ultimately more awesome than the last. Stuck in a joyous stupor, your only option is to go limp and let the music move you.

Luckily, the disc ends and after a few minutes of continued incapacitation and twitching, you’re able to move again. Best not put it on repeat.

Actually, Robert Christgau wasn’t much deeper in his rave:

Brighten the Corners [Matador, 1997]

Mature or die is the whole of the law. So of course there’s no longer much insurgency in their ill-mannered sounds, now deployed to serenade a self-sustaining subculture and celebrate a band’s collective success. Moderate tempos that once breathed psychedelic wooze turn reflective if not thoughtful as lyrics reference the material emoluments of middle-class life. Yet it’s still exciting, because it isn’t dragged under by the nagging disappointments that generally dull such music (and security). As convinced ironists, Pavement never expected anything else. Closure is a chimera–they’ll drink to that. Onetime insurgent Thelonious Monk–they’ll drink to him, too. A man known for his brilliant corners. A

At least neither reviewer4 uses the word, angular.

Footnotes:
  1. Only available directly from Matador, not the Amazon link, btw []
  2. Stereo; Blue Hawaiian; We are Underused; Starlings of the Slipstream; and Fin, in case you were curious []
  3. Ryan Schreiber []
  4. nor myself, up until this point. Doh!! []

Written by Seth Anderson

November 10th, 2008 at 11:19 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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