Saturday, April 30, 2011

Grade 9 Summer Soundtrack, Track #1

“Downtown,” Mrs. Miller

Best to kick off with a larf, I always say, and this catastrophic recasting of Petula Clark's cheesy crowd-pleaser always gets me giggling.

Someone from Winnipeg must have requested it from the local pop station, because in 1979 Mrs. Miller was experiencing something of a resurgence, and “Downtown” was all the rage on morning shows. It had been recorded over a decade earlier, and the DJs were now selling the urban myth that had grown like mold around the track: that this was a vanity project gone monstrously awry. It seems, at least from this article, that although Mrs. Miller had dabbled a bit with self-produced records, this was most definitely not that.

In fact, given the illustrious career that followed this release (Ed Sullivan, fer crying out loud!), there is no question that at some point Mrs. Miller was very much in on the joke. Did she know it from the get-go? Listen, and decide for yourself.

Next song...

Friday, April 29, 2011

This Year's Summer Soundtrack: This Is Me In Grade Nine

To my godson —

Well, here you have it: this year's summer soundtrack. I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel, I know. I can't imagine there are too many tracks here that you're likely to enjoy. Heck, I've included one or two tracks that even
I no longer enjoy. But it's been, what, seven or eight years of this? You're 17, dude! Time for you to send me a mixed CD.

But enough of the
faux apologies — let's rock 'n' roll. As the Barenaked Ladies once sang, "This is me in grade nine."

First song...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Music Shorts

The very first CD I ever bought was Robbie Robertson's self-titled solo album.

Actually, to tell the truth, I can't remember the first CD I purchased, but this could have been it. When I went shopping for stereo components there were three CDs in constant rotation at every store I visited, and each CD had exactly one song that received the “nudge it to 11” treatment, the better to illustrate the newfangled medium's bootstrap lows and crystalline highs: Sting, Nothing Like The Sun (“Englishman In New York”); Tracy Chapman (“Fast Car”); Robbie Robertson (“Somewhere Down The Crazy River”). I bought all three.

Anyway, I recently pulled out Robertson's old disc and gave it another spin. Although Robertson's swanning-about in “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” retains its off-kilter charm, I don't think the rest of the album has dated very well. More often than not, I found the other songs irksome with strung-together cliches and non-sequiturs.

Showdown at Big Sky
Darkness at high noon
Kiss tomorrow goodbye
That day may be soon

Exactly. Robertson has a catchy way of bending a guitar string and getting the sound he wants for the song he's built, but the album as a whole doesn't achieve much depth of perception.

Last month's How To Become Clairvoyant improves on that, by quite some. It's a confessional, along the lines of James Taylor, bordering on Jackson Browne. Musically, it's as finely crafted and highly polished as his previous solo albums. I'm not placing any bets on how well the album is likely to age, because I don't care: it's plenty good enough for right now. (Burgeoning musicians will definitely want to give the bonus tracks a spin, to confirm the plainest truth known to the pros: even adepts like Robertson and his partner-in-crime Eric Clapton approach the most intricately layered song with a super-simple acoustic lay-down first.)

Bruce Cockburn does what he does on Small Source Of Comfort. The new album continues to feed the sense that things are wrapping themselves up, if not necessarily on a global scale, certainly on a personal one for the aging singer. Nearly half the songs are instrumental, suggesting they may be communicating something more profound than the frustrated pleas of his lyrics.

Finally, ever since my uncle came home one Christmas with a Kurtzweil synthesizer for the kiddies to play around with, I've been a sucker for spacey dance tracks. Cut/Copy expands the tradition of Human League-type digital noodling to pleasing effect; anyone with happy memories of pretty young depressed things dressing up in black and getting a few pallid jollies in clubs that stuck with Depeche Mode, Erasure and Soft Cell should get a big kick out of Zonoscope.

I can't for the life of me recall exactly how I stumbled across Charanjit Singh's Synthesizing: Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat, but it really is quite the remarkable artifact. Recorded in 1982 (much of it in a single take) this album is one of those stunning moments when lightning strikes and leaves a charge that reverberates decades later. More than a curiosity, it is actually something of a game-changer, with its catchy Hindustani worldbeats and synthesizer manipulation. Widely available for pennies a glass at the usual legal download sites, and highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cage Match! Paul Simon vs. David Byrne!!

I've been listening to So Beautiful or So What, Paul Simon's latest CD, and thinking, “This is absolutely brilliant. But do people care?”

The question is a hold-over from a snide discussion I initiated at a party, back when Graceland was all the rage. I was single at the time, and noted that my married friends all had and loved and played the album at soirĂ©es like the one I was at. Single hipsters like myself, on the other hand, preferred the stylings of David Byrne, who was just as fond of setting free-association lyrics to “worldbeat” textures. Both men had voices that communicated a forced innocence, but Byrne's was so patently false it was actually menacing — and sexy. “Menacing” and “sexy” were qualities a single young guy aspired to; Simon, on the other hand, was unabashedly sweet.

A quarter-century later, I have to admit that Graceland has probably edged out Stop Making Sense in my rotating playlist. It's also worth noting that I've been married for 17 of those years. So does Simon garner any of the breathless reverence that Byrne still does?

Nope. But it's only a matter of another week or two before So Beautiful or So What catches up to and supersedes Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.

Jim Fusilli ponders Simon's legacy issue, here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mr. Hockey

My wheezy old laptop from '98 finally fell apart. That was my "composition" computer. I didn't hook it up to the internet; I just used it for word processing, and that was it. I haven't yet replaced it, so ... you get a picture of Gordie Howe, circa 2001, courtesy of GQ and my scanner. Enlarge and enjoy.

Speaking of hockey, I'm having trouble enjoying the first round of playoffs. The teams I really want to see play each other have another round or two to go, and in some cases they're looking like they might not have it in them to get that far (I'm talking about you, Vancouver).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Leadership You Can Trust — To #*@% You Up

I can't quite shake the feeling that if I don't engage in last night's Leader's Debate, I'm not engaging in my country's political culture. But really, what was there for a viewer to engage in? The three stooges in Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition leveled their accusations against the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister serenely shrugged and said, They're wrong. I gave 'em exactly what they asked for, but they just want to call another election. Those three sad souls, oh me oh my, could only gawp in disbelief and repeat platforms that haven't exactly been selling themselves.

Any elementary school teacher could tell you exactly what's going on here. There isn't a classroom that isn't blessed with the presence of one smug, supercilious little prick (equal opportunists should feel free to substitute the female anatomical counterpart) who wheedles and whines, bullies and cajoles, threatens and presumes, pokes, pinches and gropes anyone of either gender within reach, and in general behaves execrably — in the playground. Back in class, should one of the victims be foolish enough to raise the issue with the teacher, said cretin will don the most innocent look imaginable, and say the same thing over and over again: that's not at all what happened. If you'll just review the facts, you'll see that I'm the one being put-upon here. It's just that nobody likes me because I'm the only one in class who's nice all the time. Everyone in the classroom, including the teacher, wants to string this kid up from the highest limb. At the end of the day, however, most will just give this stinker a very wide berth and manufacture what fun they can from the classroom resources he can't be bothered with.

If there's a weakness in my metaphor, it's in portraying the Opposition as victims. Although there were moments when I felt some pity toward the physically infirm Jack Layton, for the most part the only thing these jokers fell victim to was their incapacity to engage — the Prime Minister and his pathological evasions, or the voters and their very real desire not to let any one of these asshats call all the shots on Parliament Hill. If we have to deal with the people we're given, then we'll accept a minority government, thank you.

But we never want to see the “Who? Me?” kid get his way.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Anniversaries, Stark & Beautiful

I've lost track of who's responsible, but someone tweeted, "Wanna feel old? Kurt Cobain died 17 yrs ago."

Actually, if I ever want to feel old, I'll just take one of my daughters for a ride in the car. The conversation usually goes like this: "Hey, Dad: remember that time you took me to the store, and I did this, and you said that, and I said this? Remember that?"

You lost me at "store," sweetie.

Cobain I remember, of course. The anniversary of his suicide is something I take note of as well -- because he shot himself just a few days before I got married. Now, whenever someone makes a comment like the one that kicked off this post, I think, "That's right! Book the restaurant, buy the flowers, etc." Nasty, perhaps, but true.

Babies were born on March 8, 2011 and on September 11, 2001, for that matter -- any day of infamy you care to name. So it goes. The dire and the delightful coexist, and seemingly require us to remember.

I just want to make sure I don't neglect delight.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Steeping, Composting, What-Have-You

I've been scrambling after loose threads lately, hoping to pull them together for one of my rare Unified Field Theory posts. One thread that keeps showing up is movie-biz guru Robert McKee, whose reiterations of Aristotle's Poetics continue to surface in some of the most unexpected venues. This surprises me, because I wondered if Charlie Kaufman hadn't pulled a George Lucas with the popular lecture-man. When someone takes hold of a teacher so boldly (and, one could argue in both cases, so badly) as Lucas did with Joseph Campbell and Kaufman did with McKee, other disciples of the ubiquitous lecture-man suddenly go into hiding, and claim other influences. At the moment, however, McKee remains very much in the various iterations of the written word.

Here's a link to an interesting mull-over the art and business of story telling, which touches on McKee, by the once-prolific Michael Blowhard. Philip Lopate eruditely tackles the thorny issue of adaptation here. Reading Lopate's thoughts, it struck me that such a subtle cross-pollination has been occurring, not just between the genres of novels and movies, but between many other platforms as well, including . . . video games. Here is some excellent pondering by Michael Mirasol (one of Ebert's "far-flung correspondents") on the worthy influence of video game artistry.

And, finally, author Steven Pressfield is an outspoken fan of McKee. The two have reciprocated blurbage -- McKee wrote the forward for Pressfield's War Of Art, a book which underwhelmed me five years ago, but has stuck in my craw discomfitingly enough to force me to rethink my original opinion. I still have difficulties with reading it, but Sunni Brown's visual summaries of the book cut through a heap of that. They're well worth a closer look -- go here, and give it some thought of your own. If you feel like posting your reactions, hit the "comments" below.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Canada! How Does It Work?

I've linked to it on my The Facebook page, but it bears a link here as well. Word for word, Michelle Dean gives the most incisive — and entertaining — survey and analysis of the current Canadian political quagmire, for The Awl, here.

Dean quite properly leads with this photo of our penultimate Conservative Prime Minister, Kim Campbell: