Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Music Blog of the Infonistacrat!

I have another indispensable blog. Besides Dirty Harry's Place, Infonistacrat (whatever that means). He posts music that you can actually listen to, and/or skip songs you don't like. Lots of Alternative music, the kind that many people have a hard time finding examples of. Check it out. You can also get MP3s, but he reminds you this is only to introduce you to an artist, then you need to support the artist with your dollars.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

God, Man & Hollywood and Politically Incorrect Movies

I'm a member of The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), and they have a great collection of books they publish. One recent title includes God, Man, and Hollywood: Politically Incorrect Cinema from The Birth of a Nation to The Passion of the Christ, by Mark Royden Winchell. I'm not real sure what God has to do with Winchell's list of movies, he seems to focus more on the politically incorrect part. I don't think of Blazing Saddles as having anything to do with God myself. Winchell has a blog called God, Man and Hollywood (clever, huh?) where he is listing the movies, one a day. Great idea. Some of his picks are just dead wrong, (Crash? Being There?) but many are good choices to warm a conservative heart. Take a look. Buy the book.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight Movie Review

Finally! A second Batman movie that isn’t lousy. Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher both put out an entertaining Batman movie followed by a stinker. Christopher Nolan has followed Batman Begins with The Dark Knight, an intense, fast-paced, incredible movie. The villains in this movie are the Joker (Heath Ledger) and Two Face, A.K.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Heath Ledger is fantastic and fully embodies the roll. The ability to take an iconic roll and make it his is rare and his death is a great loss to Hollywood.

Unlike the Tim Burton movie where Batman appears fully formed and we see the beginnings of the Joker, in the Nolan series we see the beginnings of Batman and the Joker appears fully formed. The Joker gives various stories of his background, but they conflict. This Joker is just plain evil. And scary. Nicholson’s Joker was sociopathically evil, but Ledger’s Joker is sadistically evil. The difference being, a sociopath kills without caring, a sadist enjoys inflicting pain and death. Both seem a far cry from Caesar Romero’s simply greedy Joker from the TV show.

Going into the show, it’s good to remember the last scene of Batman Begins. Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman) warns of escalation. He fears Batman has upped the ante, and there will be an even bigger response from the bad guys. Things escalate quickly in The Dark Knight. The body count is astounding. The writing is fantastic. The screws keep tightening and everything that happens, appears a natural result of what just took place. Even surprises. In fact, what I thought was the end of the movie was only the beginning of act 3. And the screws got still tighter.

I tend to not be fond of over-the-top death plans such as the killing parade in Burton’s Batman. Even the nerve-gas vapor of Nolan’s Batman Begins pushes the limits. In The Dark Knight, there is mass chaos, but it’s pulled off in a completely believable way. Not to say there aren’t some over-the-top events; it is a comic book movie.

Two worldviews collide with Batman and Joker. Batman believes in the innate goodness of people. The Joker is out to prove people are rotten inside, and revels in bringing that rottenness out. Both are proven right.
Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhlemed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.
- Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago
We each have good and bad, and too many times we let situations dictate which way we go, when we should always strive to do the right thing. Harvey Dent experiences a traumatic event and he decides to give up and relinquish his decisions to chance. He becomes Two Face. Sometimes though, it’s hard to know what the right thing is. Batman makes hard choices. People get torqued. He is willing to make the sacrifice of his reputation and to live with his choices. A true hero.

The only minor complaints about the movie: The Dark Knight didn’t have as much humor as Batman Begins. With this much tension, a few laughs would have improved the overall experience. Also, much of the fighting is so quickly cut and is so closely shot that the audience can’t really tell what is going on. I know this is real popular, but I’m not a fan of this style. It is very visceral, but it seems like a cheap way to avoid choreographing a real fight scene.

Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox is great. He’s not in the film a lot, but he really carries scenes he’s in. Maggie Gyllenhaal as the new Rachel Daws is much better. The Dark Knight is one fantastic move experience.

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The Shelf has a really good review.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rip It Up and Start Again & Our Band Could Be Your Life Book Reviews

I’ve gotten back into music lately. It all started with this article. ALTERNATIVE ROCK. FORCED EXPOSURE IS GOOD FOR YOU: Overlooked and misunderstood, postpunk gets its due. By: Pasteur, Eric. Library Journal, 5/15/2008, Vol. 133 Issue 9, p38-42. This article prompted me to read Our Band Could be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 by Michael Azerrad and Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds. I also got Rhino’s four CD set, Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the '80s Underground, and a series of three individual CDs called The Postpunk Chronicles, also from Rhino. It has also spurred me on to hook up my turntable to a computer to figure out how to burn my 300 or so albums to Compact Disc. I should do a post on that.

Both book’s titles appropriately come from song lyrics. Our Band Could Be Your Life looks at one band at a time. Rip it Up and Start Again organizes by regions (Manchester, Leeds, Ohio, New York) and music styles. Some of the bands I had never heard of, some I had heard of but never heard, and some I am a big fan of. I wish these kinds of books came with a CD so I could hear some of the music being discussed as it’s being discussed. What I did was look them up on YouTube. (An entire side discussion: why are these songs available as bandwidth-hogging videos, but not as just music? Some “videos” are nothing more than a photograph of the album cover to look at while the song plays.)

The one thing that bothered me about both these books is the “my music is the purest and best” syndrome. I remember reading once about Kurt Cobain getting all depressed seeing a heavy metal kid wearing a Nirvana t-shirt. Lots of people get all upset when they find out their favorite musician likes something not in his particular subset. Rip it Up tells of Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) DJing a music show while still in the Sex Pistols where he showed a wide range of tastes. Punks got up in arms about it, calling Rotten a traitor.

Personally, I don’t get that mindset. I’m a music omnivore.

I enjoy almost all types of music. My favorites include all variations of the blues, 1950s Rock & Roll, 1960s psychedelic and 1980s alternative with a healthy dose of classic rock.

I missed out on much of the early 1980s indie music that is discussed in these two books. I was into heavy metal (with a little new wave) until 1985. Then a friend introduced me to REM, and that sent me in a whole new direction. (thanks Gibson!)

Many of the bands I like aren’t included or talked about much: The Call, the Rainmakers, Hoodoo Gurus, the Smithereens, Lone Justice, R.E.M., The Choir, the Del Fuegos, Violent Femmes, etc. And there is very little discussion of others that were pretty popular by the standards of “college rock”: Camper Van Beethoven, the Pixies, the Smiths, They Might Be Giants, the Psychedelic Furs (best name ever), etc. Perhaps this is because both books tend to concentrate on late 1970s to early 1980s, while I was really into this music in the late 1980s. Also, both tend to be concerned with independent labels more than major labels, so R.E.M. gets ignored because they got popular too fast.

There may be some dividing line between “Alternative” and “New Wave,” but I’m not sure what it is. I’m sure there is some distinction in the mind of the purist listener Once again, some use independent label vs. major label as a standard. Some bands like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark or New Order I always considered New Wave, but these books consider them Postpunk.

Our Band Could be Your Life gets a bit repetitive due to the format of covering each band individually. Every band goes on tour with a lousy van that breaks down. Each band has no money. They all have to decide if they want to go with a major label or stay indie. Azerrad focuses on hardcore.

For the most part, I don’t like the band as much after reading about them. Especially the Twin-Cities twin bands, The Replacements and Hüsker Dü.

Reynolds lets his politics get in the way about four times. Live Aid “fit all too neatly within the shared worldview of Thatcher and Reagan…who promoted private philanthropy over government intervention.” The horror! The very idea that you should decide on your own who to give to (or whether to give at all) instead of the infallible, omniscient, government taking your money and distributing it for you. And he blames Thatcher for unemployment. Really, where did all those “no future” punks come from?

The Left of the Dial CD set is fantastic. I don’t like every band (Throbbing Gristle, great name, lousy sound), but there are several great songs on here. In particular Lone Justice, the Smithereens, Concrete Blonde, the Church, Love and Rockets, Julian Cope, and the Hoodoo Gurus are all standouts. "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus is a fantastic song that I had never heard.

There are a few "religious" songs. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with "Mercy Seat" (Ultra Vivid Scene also had a song with that name). The Meat Puppets have "Lake of Fire" which was covered by Nirvana on MTV Unplugged. "Stigmata" by Ministry, and probably a few others I'm missing. And am I allowed to love a band called The Jesus and Mary Chain?

The Raincoats “Fairytale in a Supermarket” reminds me of the Clash “Lost in a Supermarket.” Speaking of the Clash, they aren’t included on any of these disks or books. Are they punk and not postpunk? I would say they are postpunk, but here’s the problem of drawing your lines to sharply.

I also find it interesting that most of my evaluations of a band have stood the test of time. I didn’t care for the Smiths or PiL in the 1980s, and listening to them again, I still don’t like them.

The Postpunk Chronicles series has some overlap with Left of the Dial (in fact one disk has that name), but many of the bands have different songs, which is good if you are looking for an education on this style of music. I hadn’t heard Mission of Burma, but hearing two of their songs, I’d say they’re pretty good.

Book Contents:

Our Band Could be Your Life: Black Flag -- The Minutemen -- Mission of Burma -- Minor Threat -- Hüsker Dü -- The Replacements -- Sonic Youth -- Butthole Surfers -- Big Black -- Dinosaur Jr -- Fugazi -- Mudhoney -- Beat Happening.

Rip It Up and Start Again: I: Postpunk -- Public image belongs to me: / John Lydon and PiL -- Autonomy in the U.K. : DIY and the British independent-label movement -- Tribal revival: the pop group and the Slits -- Militant entertainment: Gang of Four: the Mekons, and the Leeds Scene -- Uncontrollable urge: the Industrial Grotesquerie of Pere Ubu and Devo -- Living for the future: Cabaret Voltaire, the Human League, and the Sheffield Scene -- Just step sideways: The Fall, Joy Division, and the Manchester Scene -- Industrial devolution: throbbing Gristle's music from the Death Factory -- Contort yourself: No Wave New York -- Art attack: Talking Heads, Wire, and Mission of Burma -- Messthetics: The London Vanguard -- Freak scene: Cabaret Noir and Theater of cruelty in Postpunk San Francisco -- Careering: PiL and Postpunk's Peak and Fall -- II: New pop and new rock -- Ghost dance: 2-tone and the Ska Resurrection -- Sex gang children: Malcolm McLaren, the Pied Piper of Pantomime Pop -- Mutant Disco and Punk Funk: Crosstown Traffic in early eighties New York (and beyond) -- Fun 'n' frenzy: Postcard Records and the Sound of Young Scotland -- Electric dreams: Synthpop -- Play to win: the pioneers of new pop -- New gold dream 81-82-83-84: New Pop's Peak, the Second British Invasion of America, and the Rise of MTV -- Dark things and Glory Boys: the return of Rock with Goth and the New Psychedelia -- Raiding the twentieth century: ZTT, the Art of Noise, and Frankie goes to Hollywood.

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