News and Notes
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead
Thirty years before he helped pen the screenplay for Shakespeare in Love, Tom Stoppard wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. It re-imagines Hamlet through the eyes of two minor characters who, despite a hilarious examination of destiny and free will, cannot escape their titular fate. Guildenstern sums up their dilemma, and perhaps our own, when he cries, "But for God's sake what are we supposed to do?!"
The Road To Ensenada
Songwriters fall in love and lose their edge and get it back with interest when the romance is over. Lovett's breakup with Julia Roberts was civil, even according to the one-sided story he's telling: she was lovely, he was charming; she was sweet, he was a gentleman; she said things, he said things; that was that. Funny, oblique and still audibly heartbroken -- like the man says, "It ought to be easier / To leave when you know that you have to go."
The Mysterious Stranger
This is Mark Twain's unflinching attack on the hypocrisy of organized religion -- the "moral" order that protects power, wealth, and the status quo of human misery and oppression. A princely young gentleman named Satan appears in a remote Austrian village in 1590 and performs a series of magical feats. Lives are changed and mayhem follows -- witch trials, mass hysteria, and radical redistribution of wealth. Satan exits with a brief explanation, "Your universe and its contents ... are so frankly and hysterically insane ... a grotesque and foolish dream."
Two Cents Plus Tax
NYC's Versus play electric guitars and sing--just like a million other rock bands. But they play their guitars and sing unlike anyone else. They haven't found a new form of music, merely breathed life into an old one. Mixing infectious sound and gorgeous songcraft, Two Cents Plus Tax will make your head spin like a new love.
Lovely Kate Winslet plays Julia, a sad, irresponsible, English mom, broke in Marrakech with her two unnaturally precocious daughters. (Think Eloise in a hashish hotel with an absent hippie mama.) Indulging in her own spiritual and sensual adventures, Julia misreads her children's self-reliance and trouble inevitably follows. Relish the exquisite North African scenery backed with a soundtrack that mixes spicy Moroccan folk music with nostalgic late-Sixties road rock.
True Zero Hook
Small (they tacked on "23" to avoid a lawsuit) elegize the Chapel Hill Sound with this album's impossibly wise "Chopsocky." Fun, with moments of drama, and drenched in catchy but not obnoxious guitar riffs, True Zero Hook offers a club band at their peak, pausing to look back.
Intelligent. Funny. Printed in Iceland. Dave Eggers' white perfectbound magazine is quickly becoming a literary juggernaut, gaining popular and critical momentum with every issue. And while the printed version has an online companion, well worth a daily visit, you just don't get the same depth. So check it out online, then head down to a McSweeney's-friendly bookstore to pick up a copy. The current issue includes fiction from Steve Amick, poetry from Rick Moody, essays from Lawrence Weschler, and the oddest bits and pieces you've ever laughed at.
In Jesus' Son, Denis Johnson offers an interconnected series of ten stories that will make you anxious and strung-out and sleepy. Your heavily medicated host, Fuck Head, carries his troubles from a rain-slicked freeway overpass to the rehab ward at Seattle General. "Car Crash While Hitch Hiking" has my vote for the best short-story title ever. Make sure you read this book before the movie comes out.
Recently, I saw a Chagall painting in person for the first time. It wasn't one of his more famous paintings, yet the moment I recognized the bold colors and distinctive figures, my heart started racing. Feelings echoed or perhaps at least hinted at by the following scene from the 1987 movie Moonstruck, starring Cher and Nicolas Cage:
Loretta: What's that?
Ronny: This was done by Marc Chagall, and as you can see, he was a very great artist.
Loretta: It's kind of gaudy.
Ronny: Well, he was having some fun.
"Yesterday, just before lunch time, in the church square of our town, a cat was trampled to death by a pachyderm." At first, it's just a blurb in the Dead Cats column of the local paper. Then, before long, just about every person in town has turned into a rhinoceros. Everyone that is, but Berenger, who takes the whole thing kind of personally. Absurd? Yep. Through exaggeration, repetition, and comedy, Ionesco shows us the ridiculous side of the world in which we live.
Set in contemporary Vietnam, this cinematic tone poem offers vignettes from five overlapping lives -- a pretty vendor of lotus blossoms, a sensitive cyclo driver, a sloe-eyed prostitute, a street kid, and a chain-smoking ex-Marine searching for his daughter. The film opens with a landscape of white lotus shrouded in morning mist and closes with a tropical shower of red blossoms raining down on lovers. In between, there is beauty and kindness in unexpected places.
Galaxie 500 started at Harvard in the late '80s and shimmered brightly for a couple of years before splitting up. Today, their debut album, captures a low-speed collision between the Velvet Underground and Big Star, with original gems like "Temperature's Rising" and "Tugboat," plus a haunting version of Jonathan Richman's "Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste." Pick it up alone or as part of the box-set retrospective of the band's sadly short career.