Wednesday, May 26, 2010
But apparently that doesn't stop people from trying.
Let's not even talk about acts that try to make a “comeback” twenty years after their musical genre went the way of the dinosaur (I actually saw a listing a few weeks ago for a Toronto concert date with DJ Jazzy Jeff, if you can believe that. No Fresh Prince, though, curiously).
No, I'm talking about the acts who have been diligently plugging away for the last fifteen to thirty years, endlessly rehashing their greatest hits catalogue in an effort to keep those royalty cheques flowing and maintain a stable of willing groupies who “just want to be close to the music” no matter how many times “the music” might soil its Depends and forget its bandmates' names.
Or, even worse, those pitiable creatures who try very, very hard to adapt to the modern era: those who refuse to admit the wheel worked just fine as it was, and desperately attempt to reinvent themselves every two years or so in their ongoing battle against time and artistic irrelevance.
There are a few artists out there who have managed to trump the curve and stay on top long past their shelf date, and I'll give them kudos in a minute, but first let's have a little fun at the expense of Aging Rockers Who Should Know Better.
Okay, I know it's kind of in vogue to make fun of the Masters of Puppets, especially after the trainwreck that was “Some Kind of Monster”. I was made to sit down and watch that embarrassing display in which the bandmates come to terms with one another's infantile insecurities while drinking herbal tea and painting each other's toenails. Okay, I may have made that last part up, but if you've seen it you know what I'm talking about. The Wiki page for SKOM states that fan reactions to the film were “mixed” with many fans poohooing the effort as nothing more than “a glimpse inside the world of insecure rock stars struggling to come to grips with age, maturity, and diminishing popularity”, and of course that's what we're here to talk about.
Anybody remember the last time Metallica released an album someone wanted to hear? Maybe you have to be a big fan of the genre to really “get” what they were trying to do when they recorded St. Anger, but frankly it sounded like somebody gave a bunch of speed to some rabid ferrets and locked them in a garbage can for an hour and a half. I'm sorry, that's not fair: I should have said rabid whiny ferrets. Maybe Metallica has released something worth listening to since then (I hear a lot of fanboys screaming Death Magnetic for some reason) but you'd be hard-pressed to convince me. As far as I'm concerned, these guys should have had their Rocker cards revoked around the same time Lars launched his jihad against teenagers who refused to pay twenty bucks for their latest shit shingle and instead “stole” the track from the internet. The way Lars went off the handle you'd think these kids had been running train on his wife, rather than helping themselves to yet another copy of “Enter Sandman”. Just kidding – Lars doesn't have a wife. Anymore.
You know, I used to be a really big fan of Green Day. When Dookie was released in 1994, it introduced me to a whole world of music I'd never encountered: it was a short trip from Billy Joe Armstrong's misanthropic whining about masturbation and mean girlfriends to the Ramones' poppy-yet-frightening “I Don't Want To Go Down To The Basement”, and from there the sky was the limit. Dookie itself stays in regular rotation on my iPod to this day, nearly twenty years later. But somewhere along the line, these guys didn't just lose the thread: they lost the whole punky sweater.
I'll grant them Insomniac; there were some decent tracks on that album. I'll even go so far as to look the other way when Nimrod comes calling, even though I'll never forgive them for “Time of Your Life” (Good Riddance indeed). But after that they just seemed to lose faith in the silly pop-punk sentiments that made them popular to begin with, instead cultivating a sort of left-leaning trendy political posture that culminated in the insufferably saccharine “Wake Me When September Ends”. Some nameless stand-up comedian I saw on MuchMusic probably put it best when he said “we've got all these young teens wondering what they should think about Iraq and foreign policy and whatnot, and the answer they're getting is 'I know, let's ask the guys who made Dookie'”, and while I know he was attempting to make a joke, I think the sentiment rings true. When the songs that made you popular start giving way to highbrow experimentation that alienates even your die-hard fans, it's time to hang up the electric guitar, grow a big beard and rename yourself Yousef Islam.
The unrivaled Godmother of Modern Pop is starting to get pretty long in the tooth these days. That's a polite way of saying that with each passing year she's looking less and less like the sex goddess she was in the '80s and more and more like Kim Cattrall on the home stretch of a week-long meth binge. That's to say nothing of her music – once groundbreaking and controversial, it's become a homogenized mess of bad dance tracks set to videos featuring the creaky starlet attempting to rekindle some of her Viking-boob sex appeal, but instead single-handedly murdering pubescent boners the world over. And what the fuck is with the accent? I know she was married to Guy Richie for a while but I'm pretty sure you can't catch British.
In a way I can't fault Madonna for trying to keep up with the Jonses (or in her case, the Britneys, the Christinas, the Kellys, what have you) because she really was the forerunner that paved the way for the successes enjoyed by the rest of them. “Uncle” Neil Young has stayed musically relevant partially by collaborating with his younger proteges (oh, and being cool and talented as hell to boot); Madonna's trying to do the same thing, but what kills her is her public face. Not just literally either – though I could stand to never again stare into the abyss that is her tooth gap – she's taken the focus away from her music and placed it squarely on her bizarre personal life. The Kaballah thing, the rampant adoption of African children, and of course the aforementioned affected accent: these have taken the place of the genuine musical talent she once commanded and changed her from influential entertainer to conversational oddity. And now she's rehashing “Like A Prayer” for the Haiti relief effort. While some people might call that charity, I can't help but call it the last-ditch effort of a fading starlet to remind the world that she used to matter. Time to hang up the pointy bra, Esther.
If there was ever a band that proved beyond the shadow of anyone's doubts the staying power of the Beatles, it's got to be Oasis. The obviously-derivative Brit Pop pandering that began with the deceptively catchy Definitely Maybe and slightly improved upon for 1995's (What's the Story) Morning Glory somehow turned into a fifteen-year romp through John and Paul's catalogue, up to and including ripping licks and melodies directly from the Fab Four, and the curious – and pompous – living homage spawned by Noel in the form of his son “Lennon”. I've said before that I actually liked Morning Glory but I'd like to couch that sentiment now in the hard fact that I was eleven when the album was released and hadn't yet discovered good music. I have no idea how they've managed to extend a musical career that started grating like Johnny One-Note playing the kazoo somewhere around 1996 into a fifteen-year long escapade through mediocrity, and part of me wonders how much of my soul I'll lose if I ever figure it out.
And before certain music nerds leap upon me like I was a wounded gazelle on the Serengeti, I am aware Oasis has finally broken up (for now), but it literally took Noel Gallagher getting body-checked over a monitor in my home town before they finally got the point that people are tired of listening to their nasally Liverpudlian yammering, their schlocky overproduced records, their constant public arguments and bar brawls, and everything else they've done to live directly into the bullshit rock and roll cliche they probably always were. Do me a favour: go back to Liverpool and take up basket weaving or something, the both of you, and now that you mention it, no – I probably wouldn't say that to your faces, because I like mine where it is.
THE ROLLING STONES
Oh sweet baby Jesus on the cross, haven't we had enough of these guys yet? I will be the first person to stand up and wax poetic on the Stones' undeniable contribution to music throughout their staggeringly long career, and they are the only band on this list that I still really like to this day. But I'm torn as to whether I should applaud the fact they're still touring at their age (both Mick and Keith are sixty-seven) or castigate them for hauling their arthritic asses out on stage to play “Jumping Jack Flash” again and again for forty-three years and not bowing gracefully out to make way for other acts. On the one hand it is genuinely impressive they've been able to keep up this pace for almost twice as long as I've been alive, and to be fair I'd probably rather watch Mick wobble anaemically around the stage asking us to guess his name than I would sit through some abominable indy-hipster show where the band won't play their hit because they're trying to be “ironic”. But on the same token, I could probably never hear “Ruby Tuesday” again for the rest of my natural life, and you'd have to jackhammer the smile off my corpse.
I'm standing way out on a limb by myself with that statement, though, if legions of classic rock fanboys are to be believed. You can't walk around on a summer's day in my parents' neighbourhood in suburban Ontario without seeing at least one lame middle-aged Weekend Warrior drinking Molson Ex on his front porch and screaming along with Mick about his lack of satisfaction. Actually, I think I can lay the blame for the Stones' lack of regard for their own expiration date squarely at the feet of these balding, pudgy also-rans who are still desperately trying to hold on to the golden age that was nineteen-seventy-whatever when they still had a thirty-inch waist and hadn't yet succumbed to Yuppiedom. It's over, guys. Time to grow up and embrace the lame: go buy yourself a Best of Michael Buble album, a minivan and a pair of elastic-waisted jeans. And as for the Stones? Well, you guys got blasted off stage a few years ago at SARSfest by another group of septuagenarians and Justin Timberlake of all people. If that isn't the writing on the wall, I don't know what is. I might remind you, Mick, that you once said you'd rather be dead than singing "Satisfaction" by the time you were 45; have you looked at a calendar lately? You've had a good run – better than most – so don't ruin it by overstaying your welcome. Besides, I hear Shady Oaks Retirement Home has a shuffleboard table. And shuffleboard is awesome.
Of course, not every long-running act inspires the kind of vitriol I've just spewed all over your screen. Contrary to popular belief, I do actually like some things.
Leonard Cohen has been releasing consistently good music for the last eight hundred years at last count, and while his voice has been progressing slowly from angelic coffee-house folk to scary Tom Waits growly growl, he's still prolific and entertaining and knows how to play just enough big songs to keep people plugged in without driving them to throw their hands in the air in frustration and just go buy the Greatest Hits collection.
I mentioned Neil Young earlier, and I'll mention him again if I damn well please, thank you very much, because he's wonderful. I was never a huge fan of his Granny-Man singing voice, but his songs are just as telling and important now as they ever were and for some reason I never tire of seeing him go onstage with Eddie Vedder.
And then there's Tom Petty, who is releasing a new album with The Heartbreakers this year, and I'm almost-unduly excited. While I could happily erase “Free Falling” from my memory, old Tom has an incredible back catalogue of work that is just a little less Southern rocky than the likes of The Boss or Steve Earle (two other favourites) which titillates my oft-maligned pop sentiments. His Dylan-esque vocals and the general tightness of The Heartbreakers as a band bring to mind what Bobby Zimmerman might have been like if he hadn't got batshit insane and instead kept making good music. The 2010 tour in support of Mojo will be coming through Toronto at some point, and there's a distinct possibility I'll go see it, if only to prove you haters wrong by illustrating that I'm not completely full of bile and cynicism. I'll even sing along if he plays “Free Falling”; I promise.
So there you have it. Music always comes down to a question of personal taste, and while mine probably doesn't match up with yours, I hope you find something in this article to agree with. Because at the end of the day, we all need to come together on common ground and take a stand against music that's starting to smell up the place. So let's all remind the Red Hot Chili Peppers that nobody gives a shit about California. Seriously. Enough.
Friday, May 21, 2010
This morning, while I scoured the internet for amusing content to write about, I had an interesting conversation with Lu Galasso over at Inching Towards Mediocrity. We were discussing the nature of artistic talent, and he wondered aloud why so many successful actors and actresses in this day and age seem to believe that just because they're good on screen (or at least financially successful thespians) means they're entitled to shoehorn themselves into a recording career. Upon reflection I had to agree with him: while they're both “artistic” pursuits, acting and singing haven't been synonymous for probably decades. Sure, guys like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin could do it, but those guys form the basis of what we define as “cool”, so that's a pretty high bar to set for today's lackluster “talent”.
Unfortunately, in the present day, the prevalence of post-production engineering software like ProTools allows even the worst of us to sound passable through the speakers. But no amount of EQ fooling about can mask a distinct lack of talent in today's round-up, featuring my personal top five actors or actresses who should never have been allowed into a studio.
Before I get to the good part (the castigation you've come to know and love) I'll preface it by saying there are a few artists you're not going to see on this list. While I think we can all agree “Will2K” was unfathomably embarrassing, the Fresh Prince got his start as a musician, not an actor, so he doesn't make the cut (also, “Parents Just Don't Understand” was awesome, so I'd feel bad giving him shit for his later efforts). No, this list is dedicated to people who “made it” as on-screen performers before they made the ill-informed decision to go into the studio. Ready? Good. Here we go. In no particular order:
Bill Paxton, “Martini Ranch”
As an actor, Bill Paxton's career has been remarkably noteworthy: he's been appearing on screen since the early 80s, the highlight of which my generation will remember as his iconic performance as Private William “Game Over Man” Hudson in James Cameron's Aliens. Other performances of some distinction include storm-chaser Bill Harding in Twister and love interest Simon in True Lies. I like all three of those movies, and I like Paxton on screen.
What I don't like is Paxton in the studio. His two-man outfit Martini Ranch, formed in 1982 with singer/guitarist Andy Rosenthal, has been compared to Devo in terms of sound, but frankly the few tracks I managed to sit through without clawing off my ears embodied everything I hated about mid-80s new wave pop. Check out this unbelievably over-budgeted music video for the “hit” song “Reach”, from the EP of the same name (thanks to correspondent James “Jimmy-Jim” Herbert for the video link):
If you managed to watch the entire thing, I tip my imaginary cap to you, because I got bored around the same time the song finally started. The video tries desperately to tell a story – I guess “Thriller” was still fresh in everyone's minds, because Bill and Andy pulled out all the stops on “Reach”, even going so far as to hire James “I'm The King Of The World” Cameron to direct it – but in a battle royale between Jackson's zombie backup dancers and Bill's ambiguous Deadwood-meets-Culture-Club pseudo-actors, my money's on the Moon-walking dead (too soon?).
Oh, and did anybody else notice Bill's incredible teeth? That's either several thousand dollars worth of dental work, or else his biological parents were Tom Cruise and a shark.
And an interesting aside: they're making a musical (called “Musical”) to be directed by Carl Weathers, coming to a direct-to-DVD bin near you this year. Sort of like Frailty.
Lindsay Lohan, Solo Artist
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Does anybody else remember that sweet, demure young lady who befriended a wayward Volkswagen all those years ago? Actually I just looked it up on Wikipedia; apparently “all those years ago” translates to “five years ago” - Hollywood's ability to chew up and spit out young starlets with such incredible efficiency never ceases to amaze me. And further – what the hell is wrong with Disney? What monstrous designs are wrought in the Magic Kingdom that bring about the kind of Beauty-to-Beast transformations we've seen in Lohan and her ilk? Something is rotting in the state of Mickey, I tell you that much.
Interestingly, much of Lohan's “musical” career revolves around her constant run-ins with the paparazzi. Here's a tip Lindsay: if you don't want people spreading “Rumors” about you, maybe you ought to lay off the coke and Cristal every now and again.
As with the last one, if you managed to get more than a minute into this uber-pop club-a-dub-dub shit festival, I applaud you. Ironically.
According to a recent press release, Lohan isn't going to stop until she becomes a legitimate pop star, whatever the hell that means. In fact, she's even recorded a song to that effect, cleverly titled “Can't Stop, Won't Stop” which was recently “leaked” to the internet. She denies leaking it herself, but let me be the millionth person to call bullshit on that obvious press op. Heads up Lindsay: if you wanted to record a decent album, you should have done it before you went to rehab – albums always come out better when you're messed up. Don't believe me? Ask Mick Jagger, if you can keep yourself from leaping gamely on his Jumping Jack Flash for five seconds.
Bruce Willis, Solo Artist
Of all the actors on this list, I didn't see John McClane on it. Apparently I was wrong: action man Willis, like honourable mentions Kevin Costner and Keanu Reeves, has also dipped his toe in the Pool of Bad Ideas and released not one, but two albums. And a best-of. How you can do a Greatest Hits record (pithily entitled “Classic Bruce Willis”) when you've only released two albums? Two cover albums, no less? The great George Carlin once said that white people have no business singing the blues – it's their job to give people the blues, not to have them – and I tend to agree. Listening to Willis stumble soullessly through the Motown classic “Respect Yourself” was almost as embarrassing as his performance in Armageddon. Almost. See for yourself:
If he mixes drinks as shoddily as he sings that song, not even I would drink at that bar. How about you respect yourself, Bruce, and never do this again?
The worst part is Bruce once showed promise as a musician, or at least as a kitschy William Shatner-esque musical parody. Anybody ever see Hudson Hawk? His rendition of “Swinging on a Star” is still in my head, ten years after seeing the movie for the first time. Stick to covering Bing Crosby and maybe we'll talk, but for the love of your remaining hair, leave Motown alone.
Paris Hilton, Solo Artist
Two-point-three million copies sold. Aside from the sky rolling up like a scroll and four fellows on horses showing up, I'd say that's as clear a sign as any that we're in the End of Days. You can fill in your own Whore of Babylon joke here (highbrow humor alert!), but I think we can all agree that in terms of Being Famous For Nothing, Paris “That's Hot” Hilton tops the list.
But Being Famous For Nothing isn't easy. It's hard to find something to stick with – and therefore Paris has tried her hand at more jobs than lovers (ooh, snap) – she's gone from model to actress to singer with a host of other projects in between including a book deal of all things. Yeah, I was pretty shocked too, until I found out it was an autobiography, which basically involves a ghostwriter sitting down to listen to a few days of her whore-ramble before transcribing it into something vaguely literary, probably with a pink cover, and selling it for an outlandish price to vacuous wannabe socialites. And the cycle starts anew. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
Take “Stars are Blind”, the hit single from her debut album Paris: an abysmal blend of dance-hall sentiments, saccharine pitch correction and reggae. Yeah, you heard me.
Bob Marley is spinning in his grave so fast, they're going to find his corpse in China. I didn't think I'd heard it before, but upon listening to the track for this article, I suddenly recalled being subjected to it when it came out in 2006; I can only assume I went out and dosed myself with rohypnol to erase the ear-rape from my memory, leaving me groggy with only a vague sense of having been aurally violated.
Why, why, why do people keep falling for this shit? At least other pop stars can hold claim to being marginally attractive: this woman looks like somebody stuck a Barbie doll in Omri's magic cupboard (obscure literary reference) and then dumped the result in a vat of fake tanner, hair dye and entitlement. In fact, the only picture of Paris I've ever been able to find even vaguely arousing was this one:
and for that I have a middle-management position in Hell reserved for me. Don't worry; if there's any justice in the afterlife, Paris will be getting me coffee for eternity to make up for all the years she should have been doing just that on Earth. Get the fuck out of the studio and learn to type, you evil harlot.
Jada Pinkett-Smith, “Wicked Wisdom”
Rounding out our list is one of the more curious examples of poor studio decision-making I encountered in my research: Jada Pinkett-Smith, better known as Mrs. Fresh Prince. Yes, I can definitely see why Will2K married this gem: she does all the same things he does (acting, music, etc.), except she sucks at all of them. When Will Smith wakes up one morning to find that he's finally been rendered culturally irrelevant, he can at least take solace in the fact that he's still superior to the woman brushing her teeth beside him in the bathroom.
In addition to her stunningly mediocre acting (to be fair she looks good beside Keanu Reeves – then again, who doesn't?) she also fronts a stunningly mediocre heavy metal band called Wicked Wisdom. The best way I can describe it? Amy Lee fucked Janet Jackson and they had a miscarriage. Don't believe me? Check this out:
Thank you Jada; I am, in fact, bleeding all over you. From my ears.
The amazing part is Ozzfest head Sharon Osbourne found something redeeming about this decidedly boring, pedestrian act and decided to put them on the OzzFest lineup in 2005, much to the chagrin of OzzFest fans, many of whom showed up to the band's performance just to turn their backs to the stage. Granted, they were probably there to see Korn, so their musical taste is already suspect, but when Korn is the lesser of two evils, you know you're experiencing a very special kind of hell.
To paraphrase Dylan Moran, this sounds like a million fire engines chasing ten million ambulances through a war zone, and it made the empty chair next to me hemorrhage.
Oh, and did I mention they played eight dates in 2004 opening for Britney Spears? I. Rest. My. Case.
What Did We Learn?
Simply put, trying to find existing celebrities who foray into music and achieve some degree of success is like trying to find the cleanest part of a dirty ass. Thankfully, a few surprisingly-decent performers lent some credence to the idea that a Jack (or Jill) of all trades still exists in today's fetishized celebrity culture.
A lot of you might have been expecting to see Steven Seagal on my list – in fact, he was the first one I wrote down. And then I listened to some of his band's work, and I was shocked: not only is it slickly-produced and well-written, the Man of Peace Who's Ready For War can actually sing. I'm sure if he pushed his vocals beyond his half-octave range he'd sound patently silly, but he knows just where to stay to make himself come off legit. If you want to renew some of your faith in the “best and brightest” of entertainment, here's the music video to Steven Seagal's runaway hit* “Girl, It's All Right”. Maybe, just maybe, it is.
Alex James is the head writer at State of Affairs and can regularly be found
singing show tunes in his shower being a bad-ass rock star on stages across Toronto and the world.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Certain names have become synonymous with country music: Cash, Rogers, Nelson, and Jennings are just a few. But none are so entwined with country music as the name "Williams". For three generations, the Williams family has been entertaining us with their personal brand of Country music. From the iconic Hank Sr, who penned more than one hundred and seventy-nine songs, down to his son, whose music was conventionally more mainstream, right on throughout to Shelton Hank Williams, better known as Hank III.
HANK III - DICK IN DIXIE
Hank III is definitely not his father’s son. While Hank Jr. embraced mainstream and "Pop Country" blending of country, rock, and blues, his son has absolutely not. Hank III's music is completely unique: he combines punk, metal, hardcore, rock and country to create a hillbilly hell ride for his fans.
Life hasn't been easy for Hank. Three years after a one-night stand in 1995, Hank Williams III was served paternity papers on stage while opening up for the legendary underground band Buzzov•en. In order to own up to his responsibility, Hank signed a deal with Curb records. Three Hanks: Men With Broken Hearts was issued shortly thereafter, splicing together recordings to make it seem that three generations of Williams men were singing alongside one another.
Hank has never had much love for Nashville, and the Nashville establishment will find little to love about Hank III's sixth album "Damn Right Rebel Proud" – especially since it opens with a proud middle finger to the institution that still denies his granddaddy membership (and didn't have much time for Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck or his own father Hank Jr., either). This has been a point of contention most of Hank's life, and although mainstream country has rejected him, Hank is still patient with anyone who stops him and asks about his family.
In March of this year, Hank released his eighth studio album, “The Rebel Within", is now touring, and will be in Toronto playing at the Opera House on June 4th. So shine your spurs, get out your best cowboy boots and get ready for a night of redneck revival.
HANK III - MAKING OF DAMN RIGHT REBEL PROUD
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Welcome back to another instalment of Turning Down The Suck, featuring everybody's favourite guest writer Alex James – that's me, for those not paying attention. I know my poor maligned blog State of Affairs has been...well, maligned recently, and I'm working on remedying that, but until the blog post detailing my recent exploits in England is finally finished, this will have to tide you over.
Van Der Sweet called me this morning begging for content, and after extracting a sizable ransom from him in the form of a nice big bottle of Forty Creek Rye (official State of Affairs libation), I agreed to put something together – when I realized the writer's block that has plagued me for weeks at SoA transferred cleanly to every other blogging project to which I'm attached. So I started asking around for topics, and Lu Galasso of Inching Towards Mediocrity suggested a top five list of Songs To Murder Your Family To. I won't delve too deeply into the psychological chasm that is Lu, but suffice to say I figure he's already put together that play list. I just wish I knew how to contact his mother. In either case it got me thinking: brutal murders set to music immediately led my train of thought to noted writer and director Quentin Tarantino.
Say what you want about old Quentin, the man knows his music. I'm not an enormous fan of his movies, though I was in high school, but I was always impressed with his ability to pick unusual, often obscure musical numbers for his soundtracks and make them memorable. In his own words (courtesy of an interview on the fantastic compilation album “The Tarantino Connection”:
I hope you enjoyed that video; it only took me three goddamn hours to put together. You're welcome.
I've always been a fan of movie soundtracks, as I've mentiond before, and Quentin is definitely the last word in setting film to music (at least in my opinion). So to assuage your Alex James withdrawal symptoms and for your reading pleasure, I have compiled my top five favourite songs, in no particular order, Tarantino ever put in a movie.
#5: Misilou (Dick Dale and his Del Tones) from the film “Pulp Fiction”
It's like the man said: opening your movie with this song throws down a gauntlet that essentially says “we're big”, and boy, were they ever. Pulp Fiction was released in 1994 to enormous critical acclaim: I'm sure casting the likes of Christopher Walken, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel and the indomitable Samuel L. “Motherfucker” Jackson in the same flick probably helped. This is the one Tarantino flick I still genuinely love to this day, and in my opinion represents the apex of his career – too bad it was only his second film. “Misilou”s surf-guitar riff became synonymous with the box office hit (Lu refers to it as “the Pulp Fiction song”) and was one of the first licks I ever learned to play on guitar. To this day, I can't help but scream “hup-hup-HAAAA” every time I hear this on the radio.
#4: Tender Trap (Frank Sinatra) from the film “True Romance”
Okay, so QT didn't actually direct this one – in fact it was his first-ever screenplay – but it ranks high on my Tarantino Projects list because Christian Slater is one of the few men ever to make me question my heterosexuality. Oh, and that Arquette woman is pretty, too. Anyway, as would become the standard with most Tarantino films, True Romance featured an all-star cast spending a solid hour and a half murdering each other when they aren't fucking one another's brains out, so this one gets a win from me. I'm at a bit of an impasse telling you who actually recorded this song for the movie; it's originally attributed to Ol' Blue Eyes, which is why I credited him in the title, but I don't think it's him singing on the record, and Brent is at work so I can't ask him (because he'd know). I tell you what, my friends – I'm a bit of a closet romantic, and one of the few men who can bring it out in me is Frank Sinatra. This song plucks the brittle, rusting strings of my black little heart. Now that I've declared my love for not one, but two men, let's move on.
#3: Dark Night (The Blasters) from the film “From Dusk Till Dawn”
Okay, I don't usually like vampire movies. I've said this before. But this was one of the strangest vampire movies I've ever seen, in that I don't actually think it was supposed to be one. Tarantino wrote the script for this one, and anybody who's seen it will probably agree with me when I say the first forty minutes of the flick is the pretty standard “crime movie, run-for-the-border” fare we've come to expect from QT. Then, suddenly, the script takes an abrupt right-angle drop into What The Fuck Ville when Salma Hayek's stripper character (who I sincerely wish would have been referred to on-screen by her credited character name “Satanico Pandemonium”) inexplicably turns into a lizard-headed bloodsucker and initiates a bloodbath of – well, Tarantino-esque proportions. My friends and I have often wondered if they didn't run out ideas in the second act, when director Robert Rodriguez and QT shared a joint and inspiration struck: “I know, let's add vampires!” Anyway, the track “Dark Night” by California blues-rock outfit The Blasters hits all the right notes: the perfect blend of the macabre and the redneck. Tell me you don't want to squint hard into the sun and load your six-shooter while listening to this. If you say “no”, you're lying.
#2: Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood (Santa Esmerelda) from the film “Kill Bill Volume 1”
I'm going to go on record saying I really didn't like the Kill Bill movies. Not to say they were bad, overtly; I'm just not a fan of that kind of corny seventies kung-fu flick Tarantino seemed bound and determined to “pay homage to” (better known as “ape for ideas and style”). As usual the cast was fantastic and the music was well above-par, but there was just something about it I didn't dig. I don't mind tongue-in-cheek, or so-bad-it's-good, but this movie seemed to get lost somewhere in between the two, and the result was decidedly sub-par in my opinion. But as much as I can't stand kung-fu flicks, I love interesting covers of well-known songs, and this Latino'd-up version of the Animals classic really stuck a chord with me. I love the original song, and I really liked the spicy flavour Santa Esmerelda brought to their version (the only one better is the Gypsy Kings doing “Hotel California” in The Big Lebowski, which, incidentally, is a way better movie than Kill Bill).
#1: Stuck In The Middle With You (Stealer's Wheel) from the film “Reservoir Dogs”
Come on, you all saw this coming. At least, anybody who's seen Reservoir Dogs saw it coming. This is perhaps the quintessential expression of what Quentin calls the importance of putting the right song in the right sequence, which he explains here:
I remember the first time I watched Reservoir Dogs; my high school friends who were all considerably older than me were appalled that I hadn't seen it yet, and they damn near had multiple aneurisms when I said I'd not seen anything by QT at all, so they tied me to a chair and forced his entire repertoire to date down my throat, beginning with this flick. The now-infamous scene in which Michael Madsen's Mister White chops off a cop's ear with a shaving razor before dousing him in gasoline (for those who haven't seen the movie, he doesn't actually get to light the guy on fire: Tim Roth shoots him first. Spoiler alert!) quickly became my favourite in the film, partly due to a maladjusted sense of humour on my part, and partly because Stealer's Wheel is just so darn catchy. I may have gotten into considerable trouble when my best friend and I reenacted this scene for our high school's talent competition. Apparently the principal wasn't a Gerry Rafferty fan. Yeah, that must have been it.
What Did We Learn?
I said it before and I'll say it again now: you can say what you like about Quentin Tarantino (and I have) but he still knows how to script a soundtrack. I haven't watched most of the movies I've listed here in years, but their play lists still live on my iTunes in regular rotation, and I think that says something about Tarantino's ability to make other people famous. Hey, he resurrected Bruce Willis' career, didn't he?
Alex James is the head writer at State of Affairs and can regularly be found chopping bits off people he doesn't like while listening to Sounds of the Super 70s.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Sometimes I forget about those few years when a girl doesn’t know any better and thinks that fairytales exist in real life: truly believing your prince will pick you up on his flying carpet, that true love is as simple as the shoe fitting, and strangers that lurk in the Forest are romantic. I had given up my princess dream the year I realized I more closely resembled the evil stepsisters than Cinderella, or Ursula the soul-sucking sea witch than Ariel.
A recent trip to Disney on Ice (the Princess edition) and a series of Disney movie marathons have softened my edges once again. A few days ago I was at a friend’s house, probably drinking too much, when we started playing around and downloading our favorite Disney songs. It almost instantly put me in a good mood - that’s when I remembered the Disney magic. Soon enough I was back in 1994, when Beauty and the Beast came out and Belle (the first Brunette princess) changed my life. Suddenly, I was convinced otherwise of my cynical outlook. Here are just a few of my Disney Princess dating parallels and swoon-worthy moments.
The Little Mermaid- Kiss the Girl
Performed by Sebastien and a variety of water creatures.
I once went on a date while I had strep throat. If you know me then you know how hard it is for me to be silent...ever. Subsequently he did most of the talking, and while he was blabbing on and on about kinesiology I blacked out… I cannot recall if it was boredom or a fever. The date did not end with a goodnight kiss.
Aladdin- A Whole New World
Performed by Princess Jasmin and Aladdin aka Prince Ali
In university I had a boyfriend who would invite me over to take hallucinogenic drugs and make out - it really was a whole new world! I guess that’s the closest I ever came to a magic carpet ride.
Cinderella- So This is Love
Performed by Cinderella and Prince Charming
Since Prince Charming is the ultimate lover, I don’t know that I have anything to compare to him. I do remember a shoe salesman at Barney's who gave me special feeling when he slipped a pair of Chanel pumps on my feet.
Sleeping Beauty – Once Upon a Dream
Performed by Briar-Rose aka Princess Aurora and Prince Philip
A few summers ago I met this Banjo-playing-freeloader in Union Square. Just like Prince Philip, he wore a cape and liked to follow me around without my knowing. In a twisted way it was flattering and romantic.
Beauty and The Beast- Something There That Wasn’t there Before
Performed by Belle and The Beast
Like I said, I have wanted to be Belle since I first laid eyes on that French Damsel. Again, I have nothing to compare, but possibly a lesson can be learned from this love. Wait it out with the ugly ones: sometimes they turn out be handsomely rich!
Thursday, May 6, 2010
"I started in 1990, putting out a NOFX 7", 'cos no one really wanted to put out our records. That was the only game in town - if you wanted to put out a record, you had to put it out yourself" - Fat Mike
And little by little Fat Wreck grew. From "The Longest Line" which cost about $14,000 to record press and copy the first 5000 copies, the next band Mike signed was Lagwagon. He figured Lagwagon was a safe bet because they sounded "a little bit like NOFX", and their first album sold 2,500 copies. They're albums are now selling more than 200,000 worldwide. Mike also recouped a $50,000 advance to Chris Hannah and Jord Samolesky of Propaghandi for their record label "G7 Welcoming Committee" in months. Not bad investments at all.
"I think there's a huge difference between our label and majors. We treat our bands like family, we put out records because we like 'em and we have a lot of bands that we lose money on. We don't care as long as it's a good record." - Fat Mike
One of the things that makes Fat Wreck unique is the fact that they only sign one album deals for the bands on their label, so if a bands first E.P. is successful and they decide to move under the umbrella of a "major" label, they're free to do that, with no hard feelings or broken contracts. In fact they did a compilation of 101, 30-second songs from Fat Wreck bands and friends called "Short Music for Short People" which I am proud to say littered my High school locker floor. No one believed an album like that would make any money, but Mike says he's sent the bands over $2000 each for their 30-second efforts.
Well, Mike has shown that with some hard work and "Doing right" by people will get you far in the music industry. He's carved a nice piece of the major record label's dwindling profit margin for himself while at the same time supporting young up and coming acts and giving bands who have been on the scene since '83 reconnect with fans who may have never had the chance to see them. As well, Fat is involved in all sorts of charity projects, pumping out compilation records for the likes of PETA entitled PROTECT: A Benefit for the National Association to Protect Children, and most famously Rock Against Bush. Fat Wreck is also one of the only record labels to encourage new artists to release 12" and 7" records as well as re-releasing old albums that were only available on CD. On December 8, 2009 20 years of business Fat Wreck with the release of the "Wrecktrospective" a 3-disc compilation. Disc 1 is composed of the label's greatest hits, disc 2 is composed of unreleased demos and rarities, and disc 3 is composed the Fat Club 7" series in its entirety.
"On majors, if you're not selling hundreds of thousands of copies, you're gone. And I really don't care about the money. I want to do right by the bands. When I'm older, I want a bunch of friends, not stacks of money."-- Fat Mike
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Having said that, I’m not completely oblivious to the endless, and occasionally unwarranted, hatred aimed at the band. While I do think some of it is at least slightly misguided (sure, Bono can be an insufferable egomaniac, but if that’s your sole purpose for hating somebody, you should probably also hate every lead singer of every band that’s ever existed) occasionally the band doesn’t do itself any favors, and seems to invites criticism.
On that note, here are five U2 SONGS that make me, an avid U2 fan, really-sort-of-kind-of-hate-the-band:
1. ELEVATION (All That You Can’t Leave Behind, 2000)
It’s not just that this is a weak song in U2’s canon. It’s not even the fact that it contains what may well be the most inane and meaningless lyrics ever put to music (“a mole/digging in a hole”…really, Bono?)
No, what really irks me about this single from the band’s “comeback” 2001 record is that they’ve insisted on keeping it in their concert setlists, for every tour since.
Oh well. At least the one-two-three punch of this, Beautiful Day and Vertigo allow me time to go to the bathroom and raid the beer tent. So I suppose it does have some kind of purpose – if you can call clearing out a stadium for four and half minutes a purpose.
2. ELVIS PRESLEY AND AMERICA (The Unforgettable Fire, 1984)
Apparently at some point during the production of U2’s 1984 classic album, Brian Eno thought it would be a good idea to let Bono improvise lyrics over an ambient base. Unsurprisingly, he gives us this:
You know "S" "O" "N" "G", why
You're going go join to God
You know "S" "O" "N" "G", why
Give away some him no lie
Give away some my de day no
Somewhat surprisingly, Eno returned for their next record.
3. MIAMI (Pop, 1997)
U2’s “Pop” album is a strange beast. Desperate to step away from the signature sound they had created, the sound that defined their previous albums, the band decided to try their hand at techno (I guess a folk album just seemed too “out there”).
Here's how it turned out.......
And they decided to never experiment, or to acknowledge this album, ever again.
4. ELECTRICAL STORM (Best of 1990-2000, 2001)
There seems to be an unwritten rule in the music business (or “biz”, as those of us “in the know” call it) that every greatest hits album has to include at least two brand new songs. What this means, dear reader, is that every greatest hits album has at least two songs on it that were recorded at the last minute to fulfill contract obligations instead of “for the art” – meaning of course, that there will be at least two songs on the record that fucking suck.
This song, utilizing every U2 trope that Bono has patented, from shimmering guitar licks to nonsensical wailing, simultaneously remind me of not only why I love the band, but also why I sometimes fucking hate them. Thanks, guys...
5. THE ENTIRE MIDDLE THIRD OF “NO LINE ON THE HORIZON” (No Line on the Horizon, 2009)
After the debacle that was their (inexplicably) Grammy winning 2004 album, “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” (if you’re wondering why none of those songs made the list, it’s because I only have five fucking spots) U2 returned to the studio and promised their fans a new direction, a different sound, more experimentation, and blah blah Africa blah blah sunglasses blah.
To their credit, what we ended up getting was modestly experimental – which is to say, it was experimental by U2 standards, and certainly experimental when compared to that sack of boring shit Atomic Bomb disaster. By most music standards, however, it was a fucking U2 album: five seconds of Moroccan drums, a song title with a hyphen in it, the works.
Still it wasn’t bad, and I’m actually quite fond of it – or, at least I’m fond of the opening third, and the closing third. The middle third, (or Act II if this were a play designed to alienate the entire audience right before the second intermission) was unforgivable horseshit.
Leading off this Bono-fied mess (ha!) was the inexcusable train wreck of a first single, “Get On Your Boots” – a bizarre mishmash of pointless lyrics barked in the style of Elvis Costello’s “Pump it Up,” and an aggressively obnoxious guitar riff.
Following was the album’s third single “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” whose title alone should clue you into its quality (or lack thereof). And, capping off this trio of banality? U2’s misguided attempt at funk, which could have been adorably charming, but wound up being a bombastic and embarrassing fail.
Then Bono resumes proselytizing about dying soldiers in Afghanistan or something, and we’re back on track. Or, at least as much as the current iteration of U2 allows us to be.
So there you have it. Five reasons to hate U2 - or, for the majority of you, five MORE reasons to hate U2. Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on - U2 lover or not - we can all agree on two things:
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb fucking sucks, and Bono really shouldn't improvise lyrics. Ever.
Lu Galasso can be found regularly on his blog 'Inching Towards Mediocrity.'
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
5. Eaglez n' Ravens - This Is Angoon
What the hell is this?: A bangin' ass song from Alaskan rapper duo Eaglez n Ravens where they talk about how hard it is growing up in an Alaskan village where everyone apparently gets hammered and kills each other. I know a softy when I see one, and that heavy fellow is one big softy.
Favorite line in the song?: The guy on auto tune probably said some hard ass lyrics but I can't understand a word he's saying. I'm going to have to go with "All you hear is what's that sound? Just another good person hitting the ground." then the slow look down always gets a laugh out of me.
Other notable mentions: 2:27 has a pretty good gangster stare down. Actually the whole thing is rocking so watch it. It was filmed in a day and edited on window's movie maker. So g.
4. Reh Dogg - Why I Must Cry
What the hell is this?: Well, I'll let Reh Dogg explain it himself "This music video is about a man whom befriended a fatherless ghetto boy. The boy stole from him time and time again. This video also speaks of a man who fathered twins with a woman he felt no love for. This song is highly emotional and it's not about how well the singer is it's about expression of hard times." Times are really tough it seems for poor Reh Dogg.
Best part of the video: There are so many parts that just don't make sense and this was truley hard to decide but i'm going to have to go with 1:42 with the awkward roll to the gun. Runner ups include 2:18 when he's at a batting range for some reason or Reh Dogg in a go kart at 2:44. Very artistic.
3. Bangs - Take You To Da Movies
What the hell is this?: The opening line explains exactly what the song is about and for... girls who enjoy going to the movies. Bangs is from Australia but moved there from Sudan. My friend who lives in Australia told me he saw Bangs live one time and he played this song 3 times in a row and was throwing popcorn in girl's faces which they loved.
Best part of the video: Everything. It's all green screened with basically images they found off of google.
Favorite line in the song: "hold the popcorn and the drink let me pay the money so we can get in" lyrical brilliance.
2. R.A.E.D - No Way
What the hell is this?: I...I don't know. It's like guido core meets verbal diahreah. It's confusing, frightening, and hilarious.
Best part of the video: I seriously have no idea what's going on.
Favorite line in the song?: All I can understand is "No Way". So it's pretty easy to pick that.
1. Insane Clown Posee - Miracles
What the hell is this?: Idiocy at it's finest. Simple as that.
Best part of the video: There's so many epic parts. From one guy explaining off topic about how a bird tried to eat his cell phone, from wondering how magnets work. Magic everywhere in this bitch.
Favorite line in the song?: Water, fire, air and dirt, Fucking magnets, how do they work? And I don't wanna talk to a scientist, Y'all motherfuckers lying, and getting me pissed.