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Friday, August 26, 2005

 

Twin Cinema

Wow. I got it three days later than planned, but the new New Pornographers album is even better than I imagined. If you're interested, and you should be, there's an extra song available with the album download (and separately) at iTunes. Also worth checking out are the exclusive New Porn and AC Newman tracks on the Matador at 15 compilation album.

It strikes me that, in terms of their voices, A.C. Newman is to Mark Breen as Dan Bejar is to Steve Maleski.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

 

Thank You, France

I consider myself reasonably well informed about pop music, at least for a non-critic. I know I've been left far behind by the last couple of years of iPod snob culture, as described by the dumbest Bill Murray, but I hold my own fairly well thanks to sites like Pitchfork, a subscription to The Big Takeover and friends who are passionate about rock, hip hop, reggae, etc. A three-year stint as a d.j. at a local pirate radio station also helped. I've become much more selective about my actual purchases in the last decade, but I still know my Broken Social Scene from my Futureheads from my MF Doom. I sometimes feel I know the basic contours perhaps a bit too well--it's hard to get completely excited about a hot new band when I can decode their record collections on first listen.

When it comes to jazz, though, I'm close to a novice. Like many people, I bought a few cool jazz classics during college, usual suspects like Kind of Blue and A Love Supreme. A record or two a year since then, but with no rhyme or reason. Then, a couple of years ago, my wife and I rented Ken Burns' multi-part Jazz documentary. Sure, in some ways it's a facile, musically conservative greatest hits overview. But it provided me with a key, one that has opened dozens of doors. My prior ignorance has proved essential to my current delight as I discover every new Bix Beiderbecke, James P. Johnson or Jimmy Rushing. While the genre's creative peak may be neccesarily limited, from, say, Armstrong's fanfare on West End Blues to some nebulous point in the late 60s or early 70s, the amount of work available within those brackets is almost overwhelming. There are individual jazz musicians who give me that feeling.

Duke Ellington, for instance. Like Louis Armstrong, he's very nearly a musical genre unto himself. Take a look at his AllMusic discography and you tell me where to begin. Fortunately, it seems you can't go wrong. I took some shots in the dark with a live disc of Cotton Club recordings from 1928, a 3-disc collection of his early 40s band, and a single-disc career overview that covers so much ground over a 45-year span it's almost incomprehensible.

That's why I'm grateful to the French, or at least one label, Masters of Jazz. I recently got this 13-disc, 256-track collection brand-new for $25 at a local used record store. It covers Duke's work from 1928 though 1948, from his "jungle" accompaniments for the Cotton Club dancers to his more ambitious and complex suites from the mid-1940s. Each disc covers a particular aspect of his music: Ballads, Composer, Blues, New York, Swing, etc. Is this why reviewers gave the set weak marks? AllMusic granted 2 out of five stars. With no point of comparison, I don't know if there are problems with the audio fidelity. I don't know if superior, contemporaneous versions of these tunes exist elsewhere. I don't know if critics were bothered by somebody slapping together a bunch of Ellington mix tapes based on arbitrary conceits, or if the set simply paled in comparison to the official 27-disc commemorative set RCA released the same year. All I know is that this music is brilliant. Some of it is good enough to make you cry, giggle, become sexually excited, angry, happy, and mournful all at once. There's the way Duke's plunking piano segues into the confident swing of the brass on a relative trifle like 1935's "Tootin' Through the Roof". Cootie Williams' wah-wah trumpet solo on "Echoes of Harlem." On and on through nearly 14-1/2 hours of music. The extensive liner notes seem serious enough. The themes and track selections seem well-reasoned, at least to me. And let's face it, the packaging rules, with each CD's spine spelling the guy's name when they all sit in the slipcase. If you see this collecting dust on a box set shelf somewhere, and you're anything less than a jazz expert, buy it. It would be a steal at $50.

Now I'm just waiting for someone to come along and tell me this is actually a set of knock-offs done by an Ellington tribute band from Estonia in 1978.

 

I Blame Dean

Scout Taylor-Compton, who plays Dean Forrester's little sister Clara on my favorite show Gilmore Girls, has vanished and is thought to be a runaway.

UPDATE: Annoying little sister located. I still think Dean is behind it. You can't trust that kid.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

 

Muzak of My Mind

I used to have ideas. Developed thoughts. Cogent arguments. I could appreciate nuance, complexity. Somewhere along the line, however, I seem to have misplaced my faculties. I can't blame drugs. (My wife won't let me do them.) I can't blame TV for sucking out my soul. (We don't have one.) I would love to blame my children. They're small, loud, exhausting creatures with fixations on Bionicles and goats. What's more, if I stuck by that thesis, at 2 and 6 they're incapable of refuting it online. But somehow I suspect that even without their influence, my mental state would still be approaching that of a long-time whippet abuser. This is how bad it is: I can't even get through the fucking new Harry Potter book, something designed to slide behind your eyes, skim the surface of your brain and slip out your ear like butter coated in Astroglide. Comic books, which used to be a pleasant hobby and respite from Melville and Dos Passos novels, now take every last ounce of willpower I have to get through 22 whole pages of steroid-enraged man-boys slapping each other. I find myself renting less movies to play on the computer and more TV shows, mostly because they're shorter. I could say that I work hard, I have chores to do and kids to raise, so of course I'm going to have less time and concentration than I did in college, or when my wife and I had all day to kill and no one to answer to but each other. But that explanation provides no entertainment value. So I've got other theories:

1. My natural laziness has asserted itself, thoroughly beating down my intellectual curiosity and analytical abilities. Back at school, Dave and I had a sign over the door that said "Work Less". We cultivated an aura as a joke which I basically live for real now.

2. Lead poisoning. We really need to get those windowsills repainted. Sure, I don't remember eating any paint chips, but might that itself not be evidence? I have a hard time remembering anything older than about three months ago.

3. Excessive masturbation. There must be some side-effects, right? It can't be all good.

4. This goddamn Internet. It's a wonderful, revolutionary tool that happens to combine the worst elements of drugs, TV and screaming pre-schoolers all in one. I essentially spend all day at work staring into a glorified remote control unit. "I really need to finish up the Flubberdubber File, but hey, let's see if there's any new entertainment news at Reuters! Has myDD broken down new polling data from an Idaho state senate race? Maybe there's a new review of the Spoon record I haven't read yet. Wow, look at those people making each other mad on that message board. Oh, look, it's 5 o'clock."

I think the real answer has more to do with the reason why my ass is just a little flabbier and my stomach just a little paunchier than it was 10 years ago: lack of exercise. My dad has a serious heart condition, and because it worries me, I love to give him shit about his activity level. Get off the couch. Take a walk. Well, annoying son, heal thyself. All my atrophied brain needs is a disciplined mental exercise regimen, and that's what this here blog is for. By the time I'm done building this mountain of judgments with Dave, Hil, etc., I'll be able to pull train cars and kill old Nazis with the power of my mind. And you can say you were there back when I was a dissapated moron.

 

The Dumbest Bill Murray

This guy is out of his mind. You shouldn't listen to anything he has to say. I think he's referencing the horrendous AC/DC covers album by Mark Kozelek from Red House Painters (and in a positive way!). Chump.

 

Bill Murray is the new Little Bobby

I heard on Howard Stern this morning that the RZA and some other members of the Wu Tang Clan have started a trend where they call everyone Bill Murray. For example, if you come across a friend in the street you'd say, "What's up Bill Murray?"

This is similar to a trend that never made it beyond my group of friends in college. Just to annoy him, we used to call our friend Robert "Little Bobby." To annoy him further, we started calling everything Little Bobby. If you were eating dinner, and wanted the salt, you'd say, "Would you pass me the Little Bobby?" Or you could ask "How's that Little Bobby taste?"

Fun.

 

Jack Kirby Haiku Wednesday

reveal yourself to
Ego, the Living Planet
and face your doom, ant

The Last Boy on Earth
raised in bunker “Command D”
outside, the beasts rule

i can escape from
all traps but my heart is bound
by you, Big Barda

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

 

What's the Upper Limit on Selfishness?

Wide coverage today of a decision in California's Supreme Court affirming equal parental rights and responsibilities for same sex couples.

The story got me thinking about the woman who tried to get out of making child support payments. Not only was she trying to screw her kids out of child support, she was willing to throw all the other same-sex parents under the bus just to hold on to her money. It really seems like an astonishing level of selfishness.

On the other hand, maybe it just shows that our supposed deep differences don't mean much compared to the universal love: money.

 

Comments I have heard while 9 months pregnant

[Upon walking into a restaurant]
Peals of laughter from two women in the corner, followed by, "Oh no. Look at that. Not another one."

From a two-year-old, said while pointing at my belly: "Open. Open!" She then looked down my shirt to see if the baby could be seen from there.

This exchange with the guy who changed the oil in my car:
oil change guy: "So it's a boy?"
me: "Actually, we aren't finding out until the baby is born."
ocg: "Oh...sorry...then I won't tell you."
(he felt that it was clear to anyone by the way I'm carrying that it's a boy)

Man next to me in line in the grocery store (this comment was directed at my husband, even though I was standing right there).
"When she's driving on the freeway, can she drive in the carpool lane?"

Shouted at me by the woman working for the parks department as she emptied the trash can:
"So you're having a boy?"

Various neighbors, while making the sign for giant belly:
"Wow."

That's just a sampling from the last week. While I appreciate that this is a wonderful event that people are excited about, many times it seems that people are a little surprised to see something so giant and unwieldy walking around in broad daylight. Also, it goes against years of my training as a female to have people comment on how large I am. If you are a man, imagine people coming up to you all day and saying, "You really haven't set the world on fire with your career, have you?"

 

My Demented Obsession

I have a somewhat embarrassing obsession with a local commercial radio station here in San Diego (www.fm949sd.com if you're curious). The reasons I'm embarrassed are several: I'm now old enough that I'm a fan of dj's who are in some cases my contemporaries, I have a bad habit of conducting email conversations with the mid-morning dj when I should be working, I have strong opinions about the relative quality of radio ads that no normal person should have, and I've come to like sublime enough to buy one of their cd's. I could go on (and probably will).

Embarrassment aside, this is most likely the coolest commercial station in the United States. They already played a song off of the New Pornographers album that will be released today and one day last week I heard both "uptown" off of Dirty Mind and "Gimme Danger" off of Raw Power within a few hours. Yes, occasionally I have to suffer through something by Incubus, but on the other hand the music director did once respond to my anti-Incubus emails with an admission that their lyrics were probably written down, eaten by the singer and then vomited back up only to be eaten again. It made sense at the time.

 

1975: Jim Aparo


The recently deceased Jim Aparo is my all-time favorite superhero artist. Not coincidentally, he was also among my first--certainly the first whose particular style I noticed. He was introduced to me in early '75 (cover date April, but comics advance-dated by 3 months or so back then in order to get more time on the newsstands) via two Batman books: Detective Comics #446 and Brave and the Bold #118.

The former was part 3 of a 5-part storyline in Detective called "Bat-Murderer". That's a familiar title to current Batman readers, who bought a crossover event by the same name a couple of years ago--only given today's comics, it was something like a 26-part story crossing over into 6 or 7 different Bat-comics for the better part of a year. Of course I had no idea what was going on in the plot--Batman had been framed for a killing, and was tracking down clues to exonerate himself, leading him to "Silversmith", a new villain who wouldn't have been good enough for the 1960s Batman TV show--but that didn't matter. Aparo's art carried the book with deep shadows, heavy use of zip-a-tone shading and dynamic figure drawing that seemed to leap out of the page. It took years for me to realize that Aparo was working in a fairly close approximation of the art style of Neal Adams, who had revolutionized the look of Batman (and all of comics) a few years earlier with his more "realistic" portrayal of the human form, dramatic use of lighting, extreme perspectives and less restricted panel layouts. Well, for my money, while Adams gets all of the acclaim and $75 hardcover retrospectives, the self-professed "self-taught" Jim Aparo quietly took Adams' ideas and improved upon them. Adams' pages tend toward incoherence--each face, shoulder, power ring or whatever is expertly drawn in great detail, but there's rarely a sense of motion, life or connection between panels. Everybody looks like they're made of polished plastic. It's easy to see how Adams' glossy style could inspire a genration of of readers to become artists, but there's something unavoidably goony about his work that has always bothered me.

Aparo didn't suffer from that problem. His stuff looked just as great as Adams on the surface, but with more grit, and his characters moved more gracefully through more believable worlds. he even did his own lettering, a subtle thing, but one which gave his art a satisfying cohesiveness. I was terribly let down the following month when the "Bat-Murderer" story continued with the art of Ernie Chua--a 180º turn into some of the blandest art of the decade. Years later, I discovered Aparo's work on Phantom Stranger and the Spectre--two more characters he had inherited in part from Adams--and my appreciation only grew.

Luckily, Aparo was still on Brave & the Bold every month. But that's a love-letter for another time.

Monday, August 22, 2005

 

Mountain of Prejudgment


The New Pornographers' "Twin Cinema": The leadoff single is predictably awesome, and they killed at the show I went to in Northhampton in June (even without Neko Case present.) The record's out tomorrow. I wish it were today.

UPDATE: Pitchfork gives it a 9.0 and calls it their best record. Now I wish it came out yesterday.

Newt Gingrich's chances in 2008: He sums them up nicely himself:
"The sheer reality of the long war — I call it long war deliberately — (is) we're going to be fighting the irreconcilable wing of Islam for at least 50 to 70 years," Gingrich said in a speech to the National Press Club.
"And ... my biggest complaint is nobody has yet to stand up and say this is going to be really hard, this is going to take a long time," he added in response to questions after the speech.
Gingrich, 62, asked about his possible candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, continued to encourage speculation. "Who knows? It's a long way from here," he said.
A vote for me is a vote for seven decades of brutal, unrelenting war between civilizations! Take that, Chuck Hagel. I think Newt looks in the mirror and sees Winston Churchill. I look at him and see a creepy, pudgy little asshole more responsible for the current sorry state of US politics than any other person alive. That he has taken to decrying "negative" politics makes me want to pee on him.

Kanye West's "Late Registration": Gold Digger + Diamonds (from Sierra Leone) + Sasha Frere-Jones New Yorker review + MTV interview = my $15.

Plastic Man Archives #7: One can safely expect this to entertain me and my six-year-old just as effortlessly as did the first six volumes. And just look at that cover up there. It rules.

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