News and Notes
Loneliest in the Morning
After releasing her debut album under the moniker Broken Girl, Julie Doiron has put out her latest record under her own name. And while it's a brave step to come out from behind a band name, Doiron has crafted an album drenched in feelings of exposure, of being unsure of oneself. Her spare guitar is augmented by bits of piano, percussion, and mellotron, courtesy of producer Dave Shouse of the Grifters.
Shepard, best known for his plays, has also published several collections of monologues, poems, and short autobiographical fiction. Motel Chronicles, the second such collection, is a quick, breezy, fun read.
"Me and Tim Ford stole a car once in San Bernadino. One of those early Austin Healeys with red leather tuck
and roll and wire wheels. It was just sitting there with the keys in it behind an A and W Root Beer Stand.
At first we were just going to drive it around for a while then leave it on the other side of town but we ended up heading for Mexico instead. Tim had this idea that we needed to get some false ID so we could drink in bars and buy beer in liquor stores without getting hassled. He said he knew about this guy in Tijuana who forged the date of birth on your driver's license and that there was no way of telling it from the real thing. He said it was cheap too."
Already known as a great Internet search engine, Alta Vista recently expanded its offerings to include free email and translation services. The latter allows you to convert text or entire web pages from English to French, German, Italian, Portugese, Spanish, and vice versa. Not only are the translation capabilities something of a marvel, they can also be downright entertaining. Try translating your favorite web page into a foreign language and then back into English; the results are inevitably strewn with bits of found poetry.
They are here again,
the locusts I baited my line with
in the summer we married.
The light is filled
with the song the ground exhales
once in seventeen years.
And we are here with the wear
and the knowledge of those years,
understanding the song
of locusts no better than then,
knowing the future no more than they
who give themselves so long
to the dark. What can we say,
who grow older in love?
Marriage is not made
but in dark time, in the rhymes,
the returns of song,
that mark time's losses.
They open our eyes
to the dark, and we marry again.
Written by Shel Silverstein and David Mamet, this little comedy followed on the heels of Mamet's darker House of Games. The cast includes several performers from that earlier film, including Mantegna, Bill Macy, Ricky Jay, the late J.T. Walsh, and several other Mamet stand-bys. The story follows a humble shoe-shine man (Ameche) who agrees to take a murder rap and ends up enjoying his last weekend of freedom in Lake Tahoe under the watchful eye of a sentimental mobster (Mantegna). Perhaps the best part is that the movie maneuvers deftly around the usual gangster cliches.
Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra
From Birmingham to Cairo and many points in between, the artist formerly known as Herman Blount blazed a trail through the jazz world, enchanting and confounding audiences and critics all over the planet. In Space is the Place, Yale professor Szwed details Sun Ra's development both as a musician and as a resident of the planet Earth. And while the book slows down occasionally, particularly when Szwed details some of Ra's more oblique philosophies, in the end it's a fine companion to the rapturous music of Sun Ra and his Arkestra.
This is a supergroup record from Chicago's rock/dub/experimental underground: Tortoise founder/engineering whiz Bundy K. Brown, all four Red Red Meat members, and the three guys in Rex. The hybrid-group exercise is an unqualified success: the very place where hardcore blues-based sound, contemporary cut-and-paste and lo-fi sampling techniques, exploratory jamming, and subtle songcraft collide. The two bands generally reign each other's most addled, wankful tendencies in, while not denying a mutual love for experimentation that's listenable, playful, highly enjoyable.
An Amateur's Guide to the Night
Coach remembered a fall night, a Friday-night game night, long ago, when he had put Daphne on the playing field. It was during the ceremonies before his unbeaten squad had taken on Ignatius South. High School. Parents' Night. He had laced shoulder pads on Daphne and draped the trainer's gag jersey--number 1/2--over her, and balanced Tim-somebody's helmet on her eight-year-old head. She was lost in the getup, a small pile of equipment out on the fifty-yard line. She had applauded when the loudspeaker announced her name, when the p.a. voice, garbled by amplification and echo, had rung out, "Daughter of our coach, Harry Noonan, and his wife--number one-half, Daphne Noonan!" She had stood in the bath of floodlights, shaking as the players and their folks strolled by--the players grim in their war gear, the parents tiny and apologetic-seeming in civilian clothes. The co-captain of the team, awesome in his pads and cleats and steaming from warm-up running, had palmed Daphne's big helmet and twisted it sideways. From behind, from the home stands, Coach had heard, "Haaa!" as Daphne turned circles of happy confusion, trying to right the helmet. Through the ear hole her left eye had twinkled, Coach remembered. He had heard, "God, that's funny," and "Coach's kid."
The two-dimensional user interface has been with us for about 15 years, and ever since Windows 95 banished the DOS prompt to obscurity, most users have taken the "desktop" metaphor to heart. Of course, it's unlikely that the evolution will stop there. And as the march from punch cards to immersive virtual reality continues, a probable next step is 2-D representations of 3-D space. The folks at Plumb Design have begun that step by providing Thinkmap, a kinetic 3-D interface for databases. The first two examples, a Visual Thesaurus and the Smithsonian's Revealing Things exhibit, are not only well-engineered online resources, but very possibly a glimpse into the future of UI.
While the often overwhelming violence of his films is not for everyone, John Woo remains a consistent innovator in the otherwise stale genre of action movies. His American-made offerings (Face/Off, Broken Arrow) are tame in comparison to his Hong Kong masterpieces, which often elevate kinetic sequences of carnage and mayhem to something similar to ballet. Check out Hard Boiled and The Killer to see the best that this artist has to offer.
The quintessential art-house film, Blowup is a popular target for post-modern pot shots. And though Antonioni's cynical rumination on swinging-60's London may be a bit dated, there are still several elements that remain engaging today. The movie follows fashion photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) as he meanders through a typical day of terrorizing models, snapping gritty working-class scenes for his "book", shagging groupies, smoking herb, and just being generally arty and affected. The conflict comes in the form of a murder that Thomas has unwittingly photographed and young Vanessa Redgrave's entreaties for the return of the negatives. The resolution comes in the form of a troupe of mimes playing tennis. Bottom line: Blowup is funny and fun and, at the end of the day, European moral ambiguity is still refreshing when it doesn't hammer you over the head. Carlo Di Palma deserves special notice for his work as director of photography.
The kings (and queen) of ultra-sweetened pogo pop are back with their sixth platter. (Third for their own Merge label.) Promotional materials claim that the band invested $122,000 in a vintage steam organ. "If the songs sounded good when played on the organ they were judged album-worthy." I don't know the blue-book value of the average steam organ, but at any price it sounds like a bargain. The band mixes its trademark blend of soaring guitars, urgent rhythms, and irresistable hooks with subtly effective organ and piano, the end result being a more grown-up work that amply rewards repeated listening.
Double Nickels on the Dime
When I was a freshman in high school, I wanted to go see Billy Bragg play the 9:30 Club in D.C.. My parents nixed the idea since it was a Tuesday night, D.C. was a long way from our house, and finally there just wasn't a precedent for that sort of thing. I sulked for awhile, bemoaning the fact that I had been cruelly forbidden from seeing my beloved socialist folksinger open up for some punk band from San Pedro. That is until a few days later when I heard that the lead singer of that band was killed in a freak car accident. Of course the band was the Minutemen and the singer was the late D. Boon. Almost immediately my regret about missing Bragg dissolved into a greater regret about having just barely missed out on something that I would never be able to hear again. And years later, when finally I began to buy and listen to the Minutemen, I realized how inadequate that regret ultimately turned out to be. Boon is one of the truly great songwriters. And this double album is his masterpiece.
Truman Capote: A Study of the Short Fiction
Professor Garson was the finest teacher I ever had, and this book will give you a small taste of why. Her analysis of Capote's often under-appreciated short fiction not only lends insight into a complex writer, but also serves as a reminder that, unlike the current fad of theoretical acrobatics, the best criticism is usually clear, enjoyable, and inevitably produced when a scholar discusses the works she truly loves.
Turkish Women at the Bath
A "lost" classic of late Sixties jazz, this charming session brings together the fiery, refined tenor sax of John Gilmore; ruminative acoustic piano of Chick Corea; heavy, hefty-duty bass of Walter Booker; and leader Pete "LaRoca" Sims. Producer/label-head Alan Douglas apparently showed LaRoca the infamously voluptuous, decadent Ingres painting "Turkish Women At The Bath," and asked the drummer to base a record on it. LaRoca and crew incorporated tastes of modal, Far Eastern-influenced sounds into their music. Sun Ra sideman Gilmore gives typically brilliant performances in straight-ahead and spiritual, out-there playing, blowing long, lost notes of devotion and joy.
La Femme Nikita
Here we meet director Luc Besson, patron saint of beautiful, rebellious, and ultimately lethal young women. Anne Parillaud is the title character, a drug-addled teen who is spared a sentence of life imprisonment to become an expertly trained goverment assassin. Things get wacky when Nikita can't learn to juggle her newly fulfilled domestic life with the heavy emotional toll of surveiling, subduing, and terminating various enemies of the state. Look for Jean Reno in a fascinating precursor to his role as Leon, the cleaner, in Besson's later (and less interesting) film, The Professional.
The Sirens of Titan
Beatrice suddenly turned her back on the painting, walked out into the courtyard again. The idea she
wanted to add to her book was straight in her mind now.
"The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody," she said, "would be to not be used for anything by anybody."
The thought relaxed her. She lay down on Rumfoord's old contour chair, looked up at the appallingly beautiful rings of Saturn -- at Rumfoord's Rainbow.
"Thank you for using me," she said to Constant, "even though I didn't want to be used by anybody."
"You're welcome," said Constant.
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Every couple of months a new musician lands in the spotlight. And every couple of years one of those musicians is annointed as "the next big thing." For the indie-rock set, the mantle is in the process of being passed to Neutral Milk Hotel. Perhaps the key is to produce music that is both beautiful and strikingly original. If so, Jeff Mangum's soaring, lyrical pop tapestries fill the bill admirably. The highlights here are "The King of Carrot Flowers," "Oh Comely," and the energetic title track.
Growing up male, Jewish, and a New Yorker in the 1970's necessitated an affinity with, if not idolatry of "Annie Hall." To my pubescent mind, the film seemed to present a workable blueprint for living: cynicism, prurience, artistic integrity; it was all there for me to emulate and refine, to assimilate into my own personal style and sense of who I was in the world. Sad to say, some 20-odd years later, Woody Allen, the man and the artist, has lost for me his luster. In fact, at this point, I'd sooner listen to what, say, Ronald Reagan has to offer up on life than Woody. Still -- Annie Hall -- the funniest movie I've ever seen.
Steady Diet of Nothing
Fugazi embodies most of the best aspects of "post-punk" music: intelligence, political savvy, and loud, driving riffs that don't rely on distortion to convey power. While their albums don't come close to capturing the energy of their live sets, Steady Diet offers a nice taste of the Fugazi experience.
For over a decade, McGonigal put out this insanely dense magazine called Chemical Imbalance that, as he explains in the final issue, "attempted to mix art, writing, comics, and music stuff at a time when this seemed like a good new idea." Fact is, it's still a good idea, and the world is a duller place now that Imbalance is just a memory. Luckily, McGonigal goes on, contributing insightful, enthusiastic features to outlets like Raygun and CDNow. For a taste of the glory that was CI, write McGonigal for a copy of the last issue -- the one with the 24-track CD that includes cuts from Low Barlow, The Grifters, Built to Spill, and a whole bunch of other cool bands that I'd know little or nothing about if it weren't for Mike. Chemical Imbalance, Vol. 3. #1 w/CD, $10,
Soderbergh busted onto the scene with 1989's Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Since then his work has been a mixed bag, sometimes big (Kafka), sometimes small (King of the Hill). Along those very same lines, Schizopolis is about as mixed as you can get. Shot on a shoe-string budget, with Soderbergh and his wife in all the main roles, the film is a surrealistic comedy about.. um.. er... about... oh, you'll just have to see it for yourself. The scene where Soderbergh (as a dentist) falls in love with "Attractive Woman #2" is painfully hilarious. Definitely worth a rental.