News and Notes
In 1966, after riding a wave of surf music to the top of the charts, the Beach Boys threw everybody a curve. Pet Sounds swept listeners off their feet with its lush orchestrations, layered sounds, and state-of-the-art audio effects. Ultimately, songs like "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" offer both a glimpse into Brian Wilson's troubled mind and a reminder that, in their prime, the Beach Boys were truly ground-breakers.
A harrowing film about a Danish family's dark secret. Shot with a handheld camera, The Celebration gives the illusion of offering a simple home video of a birthday party gone awry. Every character in this film is in pain, and the superb cast of actors portray that pain with excruciating accuracy.
The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3
Usually, "rare and unreleased" collections are for die-hard fans who already own all the artist's albums. That's not the case here, as this triple-disc set may very well be superior to Dylan's Greatest Hits packages. The waltz version of "Like a Rolling Stone" aside, most of the alternate takes improve on the originals, and the previously unreleased tunes hold up nicely against the best songs in Dylan's catalog.
deluxe rubber chicken
Hot out of SUNY-Buffalo's Electronic Poetry Coop, the latest issue of drc includes works by a diverse group of poets: Ficus strangulensis, an industrial chemist; Uncle Eddy, a 10-year-old from Indiana; Robert Creeley, Bollingen Prize-winning poet; and Coyle and Sharpe, old-school radio pranksters. Don't miss David Daniels' visual epic "The Deluxe Big Bozo," a 40" single-page poem that iconographically celebrates the tragic greatness of paradise in the USA.
In 1962 François Truffaut sat down with Alfred Hitchcock for an extended interview covering Hitchcock's entire career, film by film. First published in 1967 and then again in 1983, the book is instructive and entertaining to moviemakers and movie aficionados alike. Truffaut brought boundless enthusiasm and his broad cinematic knowledge, which encouraged Hitchcock to bring both candor and wit and ultimately kept the proceedings lively despite the language barrier.
All the King's Men
When he wrote All the King's Men, the story of a good man corrupted by power, Warren said he was inspired by Greek tragedies and the real-life foibles of Louisiana's infamous governor, Huey Long. A poet and novelist, Warren crafted one of the most beautifully written books of the 20th century, a deserving recipient of the Pulitzer Prize. His morality tale is perhaps more powerful today than it was when it was first published 50 years ago.
Deceptively quiet, Emmylou Harris's collaboration with producer Daniel Lanois offers up songs at once both lush and spare. The songwriters range from Jimi Hendrix to Bob Dylan to Gillian Welch, with Neil Young gently crooning along on Lucinda Williams' sorrowful "Sweet Old World" and the title track, his own composition. Each time I listen to Wrecking Ball, I discover new moments -- new stories -- emerging from its depths.
32 Short Films About Glenn Gould
Hauntingly beautiful music. Erudite discussions. Self-referential lunacy. All present in these disjointed episodes about a genius and the personality he reveals when not seated at a piano. Despite the title, 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould is not much on biography. It's more an astounding study of character, and by the end of it you'll no doubt appreciate that birthdate and cause of death are two of the least important facets of a person's life.
Breaking the Code
With his special knack for quirky speech and brilliant portrayals of eccentrics, Derek Jacobi breathes life into the character of mathematician/cryptographer Alan Turing. Instrumental in unlocking the secret of the German Enigma machine, Turing was later persecuted for his unapologetic homosexuality in post-WWII England. While his contribution to the defeat of the Nazis remained classified for years and his prototype Turing Machine was not realized till after his suicide, he is now celebrated as one of the early geniuses of the digital age.
Remember the Alimony
On Remember the Alimony, San Francisco-based alt.country band Joe Buck remembers the irony, which helps their urbanite audience digest their "thundering tonk" with a shit-eating grin. Case in point: at their record release party a few months back, the Joe Buck boys hired the UC Berkeley marching band to open the show with the national anthem, and then accompany them in a cover of the theme song from Midnight Cowboy, "Everybody's Talkin." In your living room, you'll pine along with front-man Dave Munro for his lost, wheezing love on "Asthma Inhaler": "An asthma inhaler / and an empty bottle of rye / that's all that I got / now that you've left my side / If ever up in that Great White North / you get short of breath / come on back for the asthma inhaler / that you left."
Black Hawk Down
Neither a chest-pounding exaltation of the military, nor a cynical denunciation of combat, Black Hawk Down is just a gripping story of a mission gone awry. Set in 1993, during the United States' short-lived intervention in Somalia, Bowden's book describes 24 harrowing hours in the lives (and deaths) of young Rangers, elite Delta Force "D boys," and veteran chopper pilots, all trying desperately to extricate themselves from Mogadishu's toughest neighborhood. Bowden's even-handed approach is perfectly suited to his story -- the details of combat speak louder than any writer's spin ever could.
From Lisbon, Portugal, comes this masterpiece of ambient guitar -- an exercise in pure bliss. Droning guitar
oscillations overlap in ecstatic harmonic resonations, to later be precisely looped, processed, and edited over
the course of a year
on a personal computer. It sounds like a liquid distillation of My Bloody Valentine's revelatory
Loveless (the cover is
an homage to that record), and has the heady, soundscape qualities of No Pussyfooting
by Fripp and Eno, except that it's more lush, more beautiful, and thoroughly modern-sounding. Rafael Toral will change the way you perceive the guitar, and lull you to a sweet sleep while he's doing it.
Possibly the greatest Australian New Wave musical comedy ever made, Starstruck boasts a killer soundtrack featuring The Swingers, a little-known but much-loved band from New Zealand. The film also offers some delightful choreography, not the least of which is an all-male water ballet performed with inflatable sharks.
Guns, Germs, and Steel:
The Fates of Human Societies
Scientist Jared Diamond attempts to answer a question posed by a New Guinean friend: Why do folks of European origin seem to have the most cargo? Literally. Diamond explores the historical patterns across all inhabited continents, focusing on the domestication of food and livestock; the corresponding evolution of infectious diseases; the spread of writing, metallurgy and tool technologies; and society's evolution from small tribes to far-reaching kleptocracies. I can't vouch for his science, but his arguments are thoughtful and make Guns, Germs, and Steel a very compelling read.
The Fillmore Concerts
I have this dream: I'm in the desert, sitting in a cool, dark bar with a bucket of ice cold beer and a few other choice pharmaceuticals. The jukebox has both discs of The Fillmore Concerts and I have a pocketful of quarters. I play the full 57 minutes of "Whipping Post" and "Mountain Jam" over and over again. It's that kind of music.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
With one broad stroke, Eggers is forgiven for fathering the glut of precocious / pretentious writing that seems to make up 90% of today's "cultural" zines, journals, novels, and websites. The writing is strong, clear, and (gasp!) actually conveys emotion without relying on the crutch of irony. Finishing the book on a fully-packed airline flight, I found myself wiping away tears as my next-seat neighbor struggled out of his safety belt.
For most artists, a 42-song debut might be a little ostentatious. For Athens, Georgia's Jack Logan, it's almost not enough. Bulk was culled from a collection of over 600 songs, recorded over nearly a decade with a rotating cast of "enablers." This kind of furtive home recording may seem a little odd, but Logan manages to come across with what one reviewer calls a "rare purity of motive." The songs shine, and the lo-fi sound offers just the kind of simple charm that so often escapes polished, studio recordings. (TR)
Mel Brooks dug up the corpse of Mary Shelley's classic and stitched it to a new story by Gene Wilder. With electricity provided by Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, and Cloris Leachman, Brooks brought to life the perfect parody. Apparently the director's own brain was used to make his creation abnormally funny.
Thanks to repeated live and recorded coverage of "Killing Moon" by a popular rock band, Ocean Rain has enjoyed a well-deserved dusting off. Here, singer Ian McCulloch hits his stride, swaggering from heavy-hearted croon to energetic stutter, all the while backed by soaring string arrangements and Will Sergeant's agile guitarwork. The band's debut collection, 1980's Crocodiles, is a fine prologue to Ocean Rain's climactic glory, but sadly the four albums that follow are little more than a drawn-out denouement.
Up in the Old Hotel
Joseph Mitchell may not be the most famous of the New Yorker's storied stable of writers, but his imprint is indelible on the magazine today. His subjects ranged from Bowery bums and street preachers to Mohawk Indians who helped build the great bridges and skyscrapers of the U.S. and Canada. In an elegant and clear style developed over years as a newspaperman, Mitchell relaxes with his subjects and allows them to tell their stories. Joseph Mitchell's New York City is long-gone, and that's what makes Up in the Old Hotel so vital.