Saturday, June 30, 2007

L'Chaim Mets!

New York Mets loudmouth catcher Paul LoDuca came under fire recently after criticizing some of his teammates for their poor relations with the media:

“I’ll do this (interview), but you need to start talking to other players,” Lo Duca announced loudly after he was approached by a radio reporter after the Mets-Cardinals series finale was washed out by rain. “It’s the same three or four people every day. Nobody else wants to talk. Some of these guys have to start talking. They speak English, believe me.”

I gotta side with Lo Duca on this one. It's high time for Shawn Green to start speaking with somebody other than the reporter for the Forward.

Friday, June 29, 2007

A Little More Conversation

One of the songs I expected to show up on my little survey of delayed hits was Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation," which catapulted out of obscurity in 2002 to become a Number One hit in England, whereupon it was quickly added to Elvis' 30 #1 Hits album -- it was actually hit number 31. "Conversation" was originally cut for Presley's 1968 film Live a Little, Love a Little, helmed by Norman Taurog, who in addition to directing such Presleyana as Tickle Me and Girls! Girls! Girls! also was responsible for Spencer Tracy's 1938 hit Boys Town and got his start directing silent comedies in the early 1920s. Alas, near as I can tell, "Conversation' never dented the American pop charts upon its rediscovery, or else it would have gone some 24 years between recording and hitdom.

Everyone knows the story of this song: A Dutch DJ going by the name of Junkie XL remixed it, adding some spiraling Joe Meek-like sound effects and playing the guitar lick over and over again, turning it into a Euro-hit. Nike used the remix for ads during the 2002 World Cup, and it went to Number One in both the U.K. and Australia in the summer of 2002. This is basically the story that Rolling Stone recounted when it reported on the unlikely hit.

The only problem is that that version of events leaves off the most important part. It wasn't Junkie XL who rediscovered "A Little Less Conversation"; it was David Holmes who put it into his soundtrack for Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's 11, which we were just talking about. That film came out for the Christmas season of 2001 -- well ahead of its rediscovery on the Continent.

The whole Ocean's soundtrack is fantastic, stretching from Debussy and Perry Como to Handsome Boy Modeling School, although Holmes' own jazzy hipster instrumentals might be the best things on there. Especially for a movie set in Las Vegas, it must have been very tempting to slide a little "Viva Las Vegas" in there, but no, Holmes dug up something even better. And he's gotten bupkis for it. Until now.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Better Late Than Never, Cont'd

When the Robin Williams vehicle Good Morning, Vietnam came out in 1988, it prominently featured Louis Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World" (a different but no less wonderful song from the Sam Cooke/Art Garfunkel "Wonderful World" we were discussing a few days ago) in a rendition that I would have sworn dated from something like 1955, although it was really cut in 1967. In fact, I assumed it was some kind of classic old hit -- it sure sounds like one.

But it hadn't been a hit at all. According to my Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, the final Top Forty hit of Satchmo's lifetime was the smash "Hello, Dolly," which entered the charts on, of all dates, February 29th, 1964, and went to Number One for a single week on May 9th. "What a Wonderful World," released three years later, went nowhere.

Until, that is, the spring of 1988, when with a little help from Adrian Cronauer, it broke through the Top Forty and climbed as high as a somewhat unimpressive Number 32. But that Number 32 hit had been recorded a full 21 years earlier, giving Louis Armstrong, although dead for over 15 years, the record for the longest wait before a song reached the Top Forty for the first time.

Oklahoma City Looks Oh-So-Pretty

Trivia Time: What song was covered by Nat King Cole, the Rolling Stones, and Depeche Mode? Why it's "Route 66," of course, written by Bobby Troup, and when I was ten I would have said he was best known as Dr. Joe Early on Emergency!, but I am no longer ten.

The fun thing about the Stones' version is that they've clearly never heard of half the towns in the song, so Mick ends up singing things like "It goes to St. Louie/Down through Missouri" rather than "Joplin, Missouri," and "Don't forget 'Nona." You can forgive him for that last one, because as you took Route 66 west, you actually got to Winona, Arizona, just before you reached Flagstaff, not afterward, so it's a mite confusing. But the proper geographics wouldn't have rhymed.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Mitt Romney Fights the War on Terrier

The Boston Globe has taken a look at serious Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's positions toward vacationing with the family dog:

The destination for this journey in the summer of 1983 was his parents' cottage on the Canadian shores of Lake Huron.... Before beginning the drive, Mitt Romney put Seamus, the family's hulking Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon's roof rack. He'd built a windshield for the carrier, to make the ride more comfortable for the dog.

Then Romney put his boys on notice: He would be making predetermined stops for gas, and that was it... As the oldest son, Tagg Romney commandeered the way-back of the wagon, keeping his eyes fixed out the rear window, where he glimpsed the first sign of trouble. ''Dad!'' he yelled. ''Gross!'' A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who'd been riding on the roof in the wind for hours.

As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway.

So Romney's way of dealing with the family dog on vacation was to strap it to the roof of the car. He put up a windbreak for it, which I'm sure made six hours in a crate, traveling at high speeds with ear-crushing wind howing past you, a real treat for the pooch. When the dog loses complete control of its bowels, the Mittster just hoses it down and continues on his merry way.

OK, I admit I stole this joke from a commenter on Time's Swampland blog: Mitt asked Seamus where he wanted to ride, and the dog said, "Roof!"

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Better Late Than Never

I can distinctly remember hearing the Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life" on the radio in the summer of 1976, not as nostalgia or a novelty hit but simply as a song whose shimmering horns and bouncy melody fit in with the other hits of the day (well, it was a lot better than most of the hits of the day, but you know what I mean). I have often wondered what genius at Capitol thought to pluck a fairly unrecognized track from a ten-year-old album and release it as a single, only to watch it sail into the Top Ten. (Earth, Wind & Fire's cover, from the hugely successful film of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, made it into the Top Ten two years later.)

That got me to wondering, what song waited the longest before making it into the Top Forty? It's a really impressive feat, to make a record that still sounds fresh and exciting years and years after it was cut.

Occasionally, a single will become a hit on a pure nostalgia trip, such as "Rock Around the Clock" did in 1974, when it was used as the theme song to Happy Days. The Beatles themselves had such a hit when "Twist and Shout" went to Number 23 in 1986, 22 years after it was first recorded, when it was used in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

But that's not really what I'm talking about. If we restrict ourselves to singles that made their debut in the Top Forty the longest time after they were recorded, we eliminate the above examples, as well as "White Christmas" (which made the Top Forty as late as 1962 in a version cut by Der Bingle in 1947), "Stand by Me," which went Top Ten on two occasions twenty-five years apart, and "December, 1963," which went to Number 14 in a remixed dance version in 1994, eighteen years after the original. We're left with the following possibilities:

* Tommy James released "Hanky Panky" in 1963; it flopped. Another label put it out a year later; it flopped again. Finally, Roulette put it out in 1966, and it became a Number One hit, three years after it was recorded.

* Charlene's "I've Never Been to Me," recorded in 1977 (when it squeaked into the Hot 100 at Number 97), went all the way to Number Three five years later in 1982, by which time she had presumably seen even more things that a woman ain't s'posed to see.

* The aforementioned "Got to Get You Into My Life," ten years after.

* Elvis Presley's "Guitar Man," cut in 1968, stalled at Number 43, then was re-released in 1981, when it went Top Thirty. Thirteen years later! Elvis must have been thrilled.

That's all I could find. Any more ideas?

Feist in Concert

So I saw Feist perform in Boulder, Colorado, last weekend, and I have to say my initial description of her as a poor man's Cat Power was somewhat apt. Actually, it would be more fair to describe her as a Canadian Cat Power; she has the same breathy voice, wandering melodies, and long, straight hair as Chan Marshall, but she's not nuts like Cat Power is, which I suppose is a good thing. She's also funny and amiable and unpretentious.

Feist has a surprising amount of showmanship in her, or showwomanship, bringing out some never-identified woman to tap-dance during one of the encores, inviting a fan up onstage to help sing a verse whose lyrics Feist had forgotten (the fan actually had a stronger voice than Feist and ended up adding some nice harmonies), calling the voicemail of the leader of her opening act, Grizzly Bear, whose van had broken down, causing them to miss the show, and asking the whole crowd to say hello. She got the crowd involved quite a bit with singalongs and even orchestrating a vocal chord, dividing the audience into three groups based on the first letter of their name. And her instrumentation buys into this try-anything notion, with everyone in her band moving among multiple instruments, including one guy on flugelhorn.

I still don't see how Feist is going to be some kind of huge star, contra the New York Times. The tunes, while solidly written, aren't hooky enough to become pop hits, which would also describe Cat Power, come to think of it. But hey, she's pretty good.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Devil in Disguise

Chris Truby, an itinerant third baseman who played with four major league teams from 2000 to 2003 and has been hanging on with various minor league teams ever since then, announced his retirement from baseball today. Most of you guys don't actually know this, but despite all of my celebrated endeavors, the one thing I am probably most famous for is something I wrote and posted in the Usenet newsgroup back in April of 2001. Someone had written a post deriding Gary Sheffield, Frank Thomas and Albert Belle for complaining about the size of their paychecks, and I responded -- quite fairly, I think:

When did Albert Belle ever complain about how much he was getting paid? Talk about a lightning rod for fans' complaints.

If somebody like Chris Truby was accused of satanic dismemberment, it would take about a week before people started saying, "I'm so sick of all these ballplayers like Chris Truby and Albert Belle with all their satanic rituals and the dismemberment and everything."

Ever since, among the baseball/Internet cognoscenti, any mention of Chris Truby is met with snickers about his diabolical nature and how his Dark Masters would help whatever team he was joining. Baseball Primer, probably the most popular baseball discussion site on the Internet, has a whole page up on this controversy, including a link to the original discussion. If you search for mentions of Chris Truby on Usenet, not even just on the group, you will find that nearly all of them reference his satanic connections. I thought my little joke would remain comfortably ensconced among the few hundred baseball nerds who frequented rsbb, and I guess it mostly has, but I cringed when someone posted that they had met Chris Truby, and came very close to mentioning the whole dismemberment thing to him.

So let me take a moment here to apologize to Mr. Truby, whom I singled out because he seemed like a completely random, not very well-known player who would serve to make the point. It wasn't because his name was an anagram for "Bury Christ," or because there was also a bass played named Chris Truby for a Christian rock band called Living Sacrifice.

Sorry, Chris. I'm sure you're a hell of a guy.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Radio Is in the Hands of Such a Lot of Fools

All this past week I have been driving my seven-year-old son Mark to camp just after lunch, and we have been listening to a noontime show on one of the radio stations called Barrel of Monkeys, wherein listeners call in and recommend a song that starts with the last letter of the previous song played, e.g., if the DJ spins America's "You Can Do Magic," you can call in and request "Crosseyed and Painless," then "Something Stupid," then "Drivin' on 9," etc.

Mark got really into this show for some reason, waiting and waiting for a chance for us to call in and request one of his favorite songs, like "You're So Vain" or "Should I Stay or Should I Go." But he doesn't know that many songs, so the conversation would go something like this:

"They need a D song. Do you know any D songs?"
"How about 'Dandelion' by the Rolling Stones?"
"OK, call up and say that one."
"Now they need an R song. Do you know any R songs?"
"How about 'Rip It Up' by Little Richard?"
"OK, call up and say that one."

So I would call, and occasionally get through, but they never played one of our selections until Friday, when, during Eric Clapton's "Running on Faith," I called up and suggested "Hi, Hi, Hi" by Paul McCartney, which has the added benefit of opening up the airwaves to an I song, which doesn't happen too often. I mentioned this to the DJ in hopes of selling the song, and he bought it. Unfortunately, he didn't play it until after Mark got out of the car to go to camp, so he didn't hear me on the radio.

Up to this point, the story has mostly been uninteresting and solipsistic, which has never stopped me before, but is also not what I like to do with OPC. But what was interesting about this is that I spoke with the DJ on my cell phone, he said he'd play the song, then he hung up. I figured that meant he was going to listen to a few more callers, and whoever had the best offer, he'd put on the air. But when he came back from commercial, he pretended to pick up the phone and talk to me, and there I was, on tape, recommending "Hi, Hi, Hi." He pretended to have a little conversation with my prerecorded voice, then played some McCartney.

It was fun, although a little disappointing that Mark didn't get to hear it -- yet also skeevy in a way. Nobody warned me I was being taped, and obviously no one ever said on the air that the callers were prerecorded. I understand that the DJ needs a few seconds to dig out the requested CDs, and once in a while I've heard him chat with a caller, and assumed that was when some assistant was running down the hall to dust off a Hot Tuna record. But I guess he was just making small talk.

A couple of weeks earlier I had been listening to this show when some joker got through and actually appeared on the air to request a song by Ambrosia, and not even one of Ambrosia's hits. I don't even want to think about how bad a song has to be to be worse than one of Ambrosia's hits. I actually turned off the station at that point, out of embarrassment for the DJ, who clearly did not want to spin some Ambrosia; I don't know what would have been more painful to listen to, having the DJ tell this guy that no, they weren't playing anything that makes Lobo sound like Iggy Pop, or having him play an Ambrosia non-hit. Neither is preferable to silence, that's for sure.

I wonder if that's when they went to the strategy of putting the callers on a delay. If so, I can't say I blame them.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Grandma Goes to Colorado

The great Roger Clemens (seen at right with two lesser members of Aerosmith) pitched for the Yankees today in Denver against the Rockies, who beat the Rocket and completed their three-game sweep of the Bronx Bombers. Clemens couldn't even get out of the fifth inning. Here he explains why:

"I was taking deep breaths on the mound. My mouth got dry a couple times," Clemens said. "That was the more difficult part. Heat or cold is not a big deal. The one inning a storm blew in and the wind changed direction. The wind hit my chest and caused me to throw the ball out of the zone. But I made the adjustment. Then, the wind started to blow straight out."

Then there was this spider that crawled across the mound, and you know how I hate spiders. Then I noticed one of the fans was wearing a derogatory T-shirt, which hurt my feelings...

There is no truth to the rumor that the Yankees plan to have Clemens make his next start wearing a shawl.

A Is for Apple...

You know that Terry Jacks took the wimp-pop classic "Seasons in the Sun" to Number One in early 1974, and you may know that it was based on a French song by Jacques Brel, for which Rod McKuen had written the English lyrics.

But did you know the Kingston Trio originally did the English-language version, back in 1963? I didn't. I bet it was pretty good, though.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Let's Go to the Videotape

On the DVD commentary for his 1983 film Videodrome, David Cronenberg (left) notes that he used the dying format Betamax for the pulsating tapes that a hallucinating James Woods (right) inserts into that gaping wound in his abdomen. Betamax tapes were quite a bit smaller than VHS, making them much more comfortable to slip inside your gut. If Cronenberg had waited fifteen years to make his movie, he could have used DVDs, and Jimmy Woods wouldn't have needed more than a little slit in his tummy.

Cronenberg also mentions that Woods was deathly paranoid about the hallucination-recording helmet that sinister eyeglass dealer Barry Convex (as brilliant as Cronenberg is, you wish he would enlist someone to help him with the names he comes up with; in addition to a lensmaker named Convex, he's also got a professor named Brian O'Blivion) has him wear. In fact, Woods refused to put it on that primordial virtual-reality headpiece at all, so in the scenes where you think you're seeing him wearing the helmet, you're actually seeing David Cronenberg himself. At least it was good practice for his cameo as the obstetrician delivering Geena Davis' ten-pound maggot in The Fly.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Don't Know Nothin' 'Bout Nothin' at All

Sam Cooke's delightful song "Wonderful World" was first recorded for Cooke's 1958 debut album but didn't become a hit until it was released as a single in the spring of 1960, by Keen Records, a label that Cooke had already left (for RCA) and which went rummaging through its vaults to find some more Cooke product to put out. The song is normally credited to the songwriting team of Lou Adler, Herb Alpert and Cooke himself, although on my original 1965 vinyl copy of The Best of Sam Cooke, it's credited to Campbell, referring to Barbara Campbell, a.k.a Mrs. Sam Cooke. At the time, Sam was still under contract to Art Rupe, owner of another of his old record companies, Specialty, where he had cut his gospel records with the Soul Stirrers. But Barbara wasn't, so she was free to receive all the royalties from "Wonderful World."

Rolling Stone magazine says that Adler, who was not just Cooke's producer but his roommate as well, wrote the tune, and Cooke worked up the lyrics; Alpert at that time was Adler's songwriting partner, which doesn't necessarily mean he had anything to do with "Wonderful World." Why the song wasn't credited to Campbell, Adler and Alpert, that I couldn't tell you.

Now we move ahead to October 1977, when Art Garfunkel releases his album Watermark, consisting entirely of songs written by the great Oklahoman Jimmy Webb. The first single, "Crying in My Sleep," as well as the album as a whole, flopped. So the record company hurriedly added a version of "Wonderful World" on which Artie sang with James Taylor and Paul Simon, and Watermark was re-released in the January 1978, and shortly thereafter the new "Wonderful World" became a Top 20 hit.

What's odd about that hit, though, is that somewhere, the three of them came up with another verse for the song. It's quite a good one, laced with double and triple negatives:

Don't know much about the Middle Ages
Looked at the pictures and I turned the pages
Don't know nothin' 'bout no rise and fall
Don't know nothin' 'bout nothin' at all
Girl it's you that I've been thinkin' of
And if I could only win your love
What a wonderful world it would be

My question is, who wrote that verse? On Watermark, the song is still credited to Cooke, Adler and Alpert. Did Sam just leave off that last verse when he initially sang the song? Or did he add it later? Did Barbara Campbell write it?

Here's my guess: The original "Wonderful World" had two verses, one of which was repeated after the middle eight. The Garfunkel remake needed to include three voices, though, and it would seem like an insult to the final singer to merely make him repeat a verse someone else had already sung. So I suspect that someone rewrote the final verse as it appears above.

And I suspect that person was Paul Simon. Go ahead, prove me wrong.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Blackbird's Way of Looking at 'Thirteen'

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections,
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
Brad Pitt whistling
Or just after.

OK, so I have now seen Ocean's 13, and I can report that the most exciting thing about it has been omitted all the reviews I have seen: Super Dave Osborne is in it!

In his review Roger Ebert complains that the film defies belief, which is kind of like whining that Wild Things was a little sleazy. Of course it's preposterous. The whole thing is preposterous. That's part of the fun.

I think you have to approach all the Ocean's Double Figures movies like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. There's that one installment when Bugs and Elmer Fudd are out in the middle of nowhere and Elmer is about to collapse, so Bugs produces some cake batter, and a spoon and bowl and an oven out of his "pocket," quickly bakes a cake, produces a minister from out of the woods, who then marries Bugs (who has donned a wedding dress, produced out of the same place he got the oven) and Elmer, who then proceeds to collapse face first into the wedding cake. (If anyone else remembers this sequence and can point me to the cartoon where it happens, please do so.)

That's what Danny Ocean's boys do. Brad Pitt shows up at one point as a hippie geologist, Don Cheadle as a sideburned Evel Knievel type in a red, white and blue jumpsuit (and remember, he's playing a British guy). Casey Affleck goes to work in a Mexican dice factory wearing a pasted-on Frito Bandito mustache; no one seems to notice. When they need them, the boys produce a flock of biting ants to stick into someone's bed, or the massive machine that dug the Chunnel under the English Channel. (At least they make a nodding acquaintance with reality on this latter point, discussing how they'll get the money to pay for it. The payoff in 13 is a bit murky; the plot is set in motion when the boys vow to get revenge for Elliott Gould and recover his half-ownership of a new luxury hotel/casino, which he has been cheated out of by Al Pacino. For the whole thing to make sense, Gould/Reuben will have to give them something like $100 million, just out of the goodness of his heart, which maybe is something he would do after all. But he certainly doesn't agree to any of that before their multi-million-dollar plan is in motion.)

You just have to go with it, suspend your disbelief for a bit, and everything will be fine. The odious French guy from 12 is only in it for a few fleeting minutes, and has, I think, one line. Plus you got Super Dave Osborne. What's not to love?

FOOTNOTE: According to the trivia section of the IMDB, Brad Pitt's cellphone ringtone is from "Thieves Like Us" by New Order, but don't be fooled: It's actually "Don't You Want Me" by the Human League.

Top of the Pops

I recently picked up a copy of one of Joel Whitburn's Billboard charts books (specifically The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 7th edition), which I find endlessly fascinating. The one I have lists as an appendix the biggest hit singles of the rock era up to 2000 (I got this at a used bookstore), and there is something that I find inexplicable about this. The top nine singles of all time by Whitburn's reckoning all date from the decade of the 1990s. Then there's "Don't Be Cruel" (by Elvis, not by Bobby Brown or Cheap Trick), followed by two more 1990s hits. Then those 1990s hits are followed by three more 1950s hits (none of them by Elvis), such that every single one of the Top Fifteen hits of all time dates from either the 1990s or the 1950s. Finally breaking the string is Olivia Newton-John's "Physical."

I've been trying to figure out why that would be; there must be something structural in the pop charts and the way people buy music that would have made the 1990s (and I'm guessing the 2000s) so dominant in this category. The only thing I can think of is that whereas every song released in the 1960s and 1970s made an effort to become a pop hit, many successful modern-day acts make no effort to dent the pop charts, leaving that field for pure pop acts like Mariah Carey. But I don't really know.

Consider this: "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was the biggest hit of 1964, a Number One single for an impressive seven straight weeks. But "I'll Make Love to You," by Boyz II Men, spent as many weeks at Number One in 1994 as "I Want to Hold Your Hand" spent in the entire Top Forty.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Nothing Says Lovin' Like Something From the Coven

I know what you're wondering: How did not one but two separate groups take the enormously meaningful ballad "One Tin Soldier" onto the pop charts in the early '70s? The song actually dates from the 1960s, when it was written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who would go on to write such hits as "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)" for the Four Tops and "Don't Pull Your Love" for Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds (whose name always greatly confused me -- it consists of one name that is almost always a surname, one name that is always a first name, one name that is almost always a first name, and one name that is always a surname, but now I've learned that it's actually three guys, Hamilton [a surname], Joe Frank [a first and middle name] and Reynolds [a surname], which is still pretty confusing.)

"One Tin Soldier" became a hit when it was cut by the Canadian pop group the Original Caste in 1970, when they took it to Number 34 on the American pop charts and Number One in Canada. This version is bland, earnest and self-important: very Canadian. It's probably not the one you know.

Then in 1971, Tom Laughlin asked a singer named Jinx Dawson to cut a version of the song for the enormously meaningful movie he was directing, co-writing and starring in, Billy Jack. Dawson sang with a band called Coven, whose quasi-Satanism seems almost comically opposite to the Godspell-like quasi-Christian message of the song. Coven's previous album was called Withcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls (that's it at above left, looking like the cover of a bad Jim Thompson novel) and included the non-hits "The White Witch of Rose Hall," "Dignitaries of Hell," and 13 minutes of chanting and Satanic prayers called "Satanic Mass." Go ahead and hate your neighbors, indeed. In addition, the bassist for Coven (which originated in, of all places, Indianapolis) was named -- no kidding -- Oz Osbourne.

Then came "One Tin Soldier." Coven's version is theone you know, a nastily delivered parable of peace and violence, although it wasn't much more of a hit than the Original Caste's version, reaching Number 26 in the fall of 1971 after entering the Top 40, appropriately enough, on the day before Halloween. That was the end of the line for Coven; their subsequent album, Blood on the Snow (as Count Floyd would say, "Ooh, scary, kids!"), flopped, so they put out "One Tin Soldier" again -- twice actually, neither version even reaching the Top 50. For Coven, there won't be any trumpets blowing come the Judgment Day.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Danny Boy

I intend to go see Ocean's 13 as soon as I am able, and I can't remember ever being excited to see a sequel whose immediate predecessor was as bad as this one's. As good as Ocean's 11 was, that's how wretched 12 was. I am ordinarily a big fan of George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh (not to mention people like Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, etc.), but Ocean's 12 was easily the worst Soderbergh movie I have seen, and let me tell you, I have seen Schizopolis. And Kafka.

One of the biggest challenges for Ocean's 11 was creating enough screen time for all eleven characters plus Andy Garcia as the bad guy and Julia Roberts as the girl (a problem that Maudlin's 11 sidestepped by including Johnny Puleo and the Harmonica Gang as part of the eleven, effectively turning five characters into one), and Soderbergh handled that fine. But in 12, everyone was back, plus they added Catherine Zeta-Jones (I think she was technically No. 12), Albert Finney, and extended cameos from Bruce Willis and Eddie Izzard, plus some French guy who got way too much screen time. They dealt with diminishing room for the original eleven guys by throwing them into jail for large parts of the movie.

How else did Ocean's 12 fail? I would warn you that some of these are spoilers, except that this movie was spoiled long before I saw it:

* Rather than stealing something of immense value, the 11 decide to bet some French guy that they could steal something of immense value. If they steal it, they win the bet and the French guy pays them $91 million. Huh?

* Despite the fact that the movie was already overloaded with characters, there were scenes in which the only person was that French guy, whom nobody cared about.

* Julia Roberts played a scene in which she was asked to imitate Julia Roberts. This didn't work.

* The first three-quarters of the movie, we come to find out later, is all a ruse; via flashback we find that they committed the heist before the most of the movie took place.

* And said heist consists, literally, of hitting the guy who has the object of immense value on the head and taking it from him. Seriously.

So why am I interested in seeing Ocean's 13? Because people this talented can't make a movie that bad twice in a row, and because Ocean's 11 really was fantastic, almost as good as Out of Sight, the best movie of the Nineties, which was made by many of these same people. Another blogger described Ocean's 13 thusly: "I kind of saw it as the movie that Ocean's Eleven might have been, had that movie not been so much better than it should have been," and I'll bet that's about right.

Gettin' Crazy, Anticipatin' Love and Music

On the radio this morning, I heard an ad for an upcoming show by a band that was touted as "the most rock & roll band in rock & roll." Who do you think that might be? Since we've been discussing this topic lately, I thought you might be interested.

Anyway, the announcer for this ad sounded like the same guy from thirty years ago who was always saying things like "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday" and "We're going to turn the coliseum into a giant mud pit" and "If it's too loud, you're too old." Nice to know that some things never change.

So who is the most rock & roll band in rock & roll? I would have guessed Creedence Clearwater Revival, or maybe the Ramones, although both of those groups are defunct. But no: It's the Black Crowes.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Bonny Sign

Glasgow, Scotland, sounds like it's a lot like New York City in one way only: Parts of the city's public spaces tend to get plastered over with announcements of local concerts, even (or especially) on places that read "Post No Bills." But Glasgow has fought back against this public scourge, in the process presumably disappointing dozens of erstwhile Bay City Rollers fans, by stamping a big CANCELLED across these lawless posters.

While that's certainly clever, it seems like a short-term solution as best, as fans will quickly figure out that cancelled doesn't necessarily mean cancelled. The city council will have to constantly be thinking of new ways to discourage fans by putting up stickers reading POSTPONED, SOLD OUT, and SPECIAL APPEARANCE BY CLAY AIKEN.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Straight Up

One mild kvetch I have with the Geoff Emerick book I've been discussing is that I believe he gives short shrift to Badfinger, a band he briefly produced. I don't cotton to people badmouthing Badfinger.

Emerick discusses the song that Paul McCartney wrote and produced for the band, "Come and Get It," then traces through their subsequent career, when they were produced by Emerick, George Harrison, and eventually Todd Rundgren, noting that only "dribs and drabs" of the latter material saw the light of day. He says the band never had another hit, apparently referring to the period following "Come and Get It," which is the only song he mentions (other than "Without You," which wasn't a hit for Badfinger but was later for Harry Nilsson).

But of course, for a while there, Badfinger was huge, and what's more, they were great. They followed "Come and Get It" with "No Matter What," "Day After Day," and "Baby Blue," all of which were Top 20 hits, three of them Top 10, within the space of two years. That's as many Top Tens as Jerry Lee Lewis had, or Nilsson, for that matter. Furthermore, the three later hits were all better than "Come and Get It," in my opinion, and when you can write a better pop song than Sir Paul, you're not doing too bad.

Farewell to the Bing

I don't have anything to say about the Sopranos finale -- I didn't even see it -- but I did want a chance to use that headline.

Say Uncle

Much like Donald Duck, Popeye had nephews too. His were named Pipeye, Pupeye, Peepeye, and Poopeye. No, I did not make this up.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

O No!

Maybe you already knew this, but right as the Beatles convened to start laying down what would become Abbey Road, John and Yoko were in a pretty serious car accident in Scotland and were laid up for a week while the rest of the band started work on the record. Eventually, John showed up, with Yoko close behind, as she had already begun by this time her habit of sitting (mostly silently) in the studio while the boys made records.

This time, after John was warmly welcomed back, he was followed by a troupe of deliverymen, carrying a bed that they set up in a corner of the EMI studio. And Yoko proceeded to plop herself in there, then and every day thereafter, clad only in a nightgown and occasionally a tiara, while her husband went to work.

In his marvelous book Here, There and Everywhere, studio engineer Geoff Emerick talks about how the individual Beatles would never share their food with other people in the studio -- not the staff, and not even each other. They each were fed what they wanted to be fed, and no one else got any. One day George Harrison had left a packet of cookies on the top of his amp when the band came into the control room to listen to playbacks of the song "The End." Suddenly, Harrison began staring agape at the floor of the studio, where Yoko had lurched out of bed and shuffled across the room, heading straight for George's amp. She took one cookie out of the wrapper and was popping it into her mouth when George screamed out, "That b#$%@! She's just taken one of my biscuits!"

Of course, since the Beatles were locked away in the control room, Yoko didn't hear a thing, and happily consumed the rest of the cookie.

Nature's Perfect Food

A molecular biologist (!), after years (!!) of painstaking research, has finally perfected the caffeine-laced donut (!!!). How lazy do you have to be to consider it a burden too great to bear to hold a cup of coffee in one hand and a donut in the other?

The Long and Winding Road

In the summer of 1969, as the Beatles were finishing their new album, someone suggested they call the record Everest, in part after a brand of cigarettes popular in the U.K. Paul McCartney, in particular, got very excited about the idea, and began a planning a trip to Tibet for a cover shoot to take place at the eponymous mountain. The other Beatles were into it at first, but then lost interest. First Ringo, then John and George began wondering if it was worth flying halfway around the world and scaling at least part of a mountain just to take a picture.

"Well," said McCartney one afternoon at the studio, "if we're not going to name it Everest and pose for the cover in Tibet, where are we going to go?"

Ringo answered: "Let's just step outside and name it Abbey Road."

And they did.

Talkin' Bout My Generation

It's one thing when professional athletes are younger than you... that started happening a long time ago. But this hurts: I am older than LeBron James' mother.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Let Me Tell You How It Will Be

Did you know that Paul McCartney played the slashing guitar solo on George Harrison's "Taxman"? I sure didn't. Harrison wrote and sang the song, of course, but after working on the solo to no avail for a couple of hours, Paul volunteered to step in, and polished it right off.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Boys Are Back in Town

Hey, how come nobody told me the Old 97s are in Peyton Reed's 2006 film The Break-Up? Vince Vaughn notes on the DVD commentary that he knew of the boys since "Time Bomb" was used over the opening credits of his film Clay Pigeons (I wonder if Janeane Garofalo, who was also in Clay Pigeons, got into the Old 97s at that point as well, or maybe it was she who suggested using them for those credits, but at any rate Janeane is a fan as well, since she had them on The Late Show when she guest-hosted for Dave Letterman), and that he thought they would work well in this film too. He asks Jennifer Aniston on the DVD commentary if she liked filming the scene, in which she goes to see the boys at the Riviera, and she replies, "I liked listening to the Old 97s." Good on you, Jen.

Chicago (where the film is very deeply set) has always been big for the band, and is obviously where the Empty Bottle of "Barrier Reef" fame is, although the Riviera looks loaded to the gills. Also, Rhett looks like he spent as much time on his hair as Miss Aniston did.

If you get the DVD, check out the bonus materials and go to the Three Brothers tour of Chicago, then go to the part at the Riviera Theatre, which is acutally hosted by the boys themselves. The movie itself is rather unremarkable, but the Old 97s, of course, are anything but.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Rock & Roll Smackdown: 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' vs. 'The Beatles,' a/k/a The White Album

It has become a matter of some dispute in the comments section of this entry as to whether the Beatles' 1967 LP Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is more or less rock & roll than the same band's 1969 LP The Beatles, popularly known as The White Album, because the cover is almost entirely white. Now there is a great deal of subjectivity to the concept of rock & roll, particularly in a comparative setting such as this one, but this blog is known for its fearlessness.

But what does it mean to be rock & roll? The are certain verities that go along with that phrase and are indicative of rock & roll music: a basis in the blues, danceability, electric guitars, speed, shouted lyrics, disdain for authority, concision, references to cars and lust, Mick Jagger on backing vocals, 4/4 time, uses of girl's names. You'll find that almost all songs by Chuck Berry and the Clash contain most of these elements. In grading out songs for their rock & roll-ness, we will add credit for any of these qualities; similarly, points off for wimpiness, references to classical literature, and the presence of clarinets.

Let us further stipulate that while being "rock & roll" is undoubtedly a good thing, it is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to quality music, or even to quality pop music. Notice that there are things that are certainly positive aspects of good pop music, such as originality and humor, that are neither rock & roll nor not rock & roll. We are not assessing quality here. For instance, the Rolling Stones' most rock & roll song might be "Rip This Joint," which is speedier, more danceable, and more concise than "Gimme Shelter," but is not nearly as good a song. Then again, hardly anything is. Art Garfunkel's "All I Know" is indisputably one of the greatest singles of what Casey Kasem used to call the Rock Era, yet it is not rock & roll at all.

I have developed the following comparative ten-point scale for grading out songs, with one point being not rock & roll at all, and ten points being totally rocked out:

1: "To All the Girls I've Loved Before"
2: "Baby I'm-a Want You"
3: "Toy Soldiers"
4: "The Rubberband Man"
5: "Stacy's Mom"
6: "Riot in Cell Block 9"
7: "The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide Is Press Coverage"
8: "Thunder Road"
9: "White Room"
10: "Fortunate Son"

OK, now on to the main event, which is to determine whether or not Sgt. Pepper's Lonely or The Beatles is the more rock & roll album. Here are the song listings in toto, with each song rigorously tested and compared with the above ten-point scale:

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band": 6
"A Little Help From My Friends": 7
"Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds": 7
"Getting Better": 5
"Fixing a Hole": 4
"She's Leaving Home": 3
"Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite": 4
"Within You Without You": 0
"When I'm Sixty-Four": 3
"Lovely Rita": 7
"Good Morning, Good Morning": 8 (Could have been a 9 except that the sax quartet has ever since wormed its way onto every single record produced by Jeff Lynne)
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)": 7
"A Day in the Life": 6

Well, that was a bit more rockin' than I expected. Now let's take a look at the competition, and I would recommend getting yourself a nice beverage at this point, because this is a really long album:

The Beatles
"Back in the U.S.S.R.": 8
"Dear Prudence": 3
"Glass Onion": 5
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da": 2
"Wild Honey Pie": 3
"The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill": 3
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps": 7
"Happiness Is a Warm Gun": 7
"Martha My Dear": 2
"I'm so tired [sic]": 6
"Blackbird": 2
"Piggies": 2
"Rocky Raccoon": 3
"Don't Pass Me By": 4
"Why don't we do it in the road? [sic]": 5
"I Will": 4
"Julia": 3
"Birthday": 6
"Yer Blues": 8
"Mother Nature's Son": 1 (Could have been a 2 except it was later covered by John Denver)
"Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey": 8
"Sexy Sadie": 5
"Helter Skelter": 9
"Long, Long, Long": 1
"Revolution 1": 7
"Honey Pie": 1
"Savoy Truffle": 6
"Cry Baby Cry": 4
"Revolution 9": -10
"Good Night": 2

How to assess the winner here? The average song on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely rates a 5.15; the average song on The Beatles rates a 3.9. In other terms, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely rocks roughly as hard as "Stacy's Mom," while The Beatles rocks like "The Rubberband Man." That doesn't seem quite right, but you can't argue with science. So on that simple measure, the poster yclept "Joe" wins the round.

And yet, and yet. If we look at the sheer quantity of rockin'ness, The Beatles has four songs that rock as hard as anything on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely, and ten songs -- a whole album's worth -- that rock more than the average Pepper tune.

So the verdict is obvious: The Beatles, a/k/a The White Album, is way too long.

Robert Bork Fights the Power

Highly principled conservative judge Robert Bork, who slipped and fell, injuring his leg and his head (no word on damage to his beard), while attempting to give a speech at the Yale Club last June, has now sued that august institution for $1 million plus punitive damages. With any luck, never again will elderly jurists be susceptible to falling down at the Yale Club.

A couple of years ago, I attended a most delightful wedding at the very same Yale Club; tragically, I was overserved alcoholic beverages, and spent much of the next day exhausted and with a terrible headache. Were I a principled conservative, this would have been cause for a lucrative lawsuit, but alas, I am not.

OPC's Coverage of the NBA Finals

I don't follow the NBA.

I used to follow the NBA fairly closely; I was a big Bulls fan when they were winning all their titles, then after Michael Jordan's second retirement, I joined an NBA rotisserie league, which kept me involved for a few years. After a couple of years of doing that, the Nets (at that point my hometown team) reached the NBA Finals two years in a row, and I dutifully although somewhat dispassionately rooted for them.

Now I just can't bring myself to be interested. The Nuggets are not very engrossing or good, and in this peripatetic world we live in, I don't think it's proper to adopt the teams in whatever town you find yourself moving to willy-nilly. I have already begun following the Rockies, and look what that's got me.

At any rate, I don't follow the NBA. Some of the bloggers I read, like Matthew Yglesias over at the Atlantic Monthly, write about the NBA regularly and with keen interest, and I find myself thinking, Dude, don't you know the NBA is over?

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Good Afternoon, and Good Luck: The Thrilling Conclusion

{Ed. note: Parts I and II of this series have already run, as has the introduction.}

Clooney and Heslov wolf down steak burritos from a local Mexican joint called Poquito Mas, which forces them to pause the screening but doesn’t halt their banter. When a studio exec mentions an interview concerning Murrow on NPR that’s available for download, Clooney cracks, “I’m gonna download this burrito in about ten minutes.”

“The commentaries I like the best are the ones that are very irreverent about subject matters that are very reverent,” Clooney says later. “People take themselves so seriously that it’s sometimes frustrating to listen to: ‘This is my character and this is what I was feeling.’ I’d rather just hear, ‘We did that shot because it was raining, and it was the only shot we could do.’”

After a break of about fifteen minutes, the headphones go back on. “I’ll tell you when I’m recording,” says Angie the engineer. “I’ll tell you when I’m talking,” Clooney responds.

Lerner spends much of the remainder of the film asking questions, about the real-life characters portrayed on the screen, Clooney’s decision to use only real footage of Joe McCarthy rather than have an actor play him, and the research that went into the film. DVD comments that seem to be answering a question that was never asked were probably prompted in this way, with the question later erased from the audio track.

Clooney is almost fanatically self-deprecating, ridiculing his own acting career at several points. “That’s me on the right,” he says. “You might remember me from the TV series Sisters. I played a character named ‘Falconer.’”

Heslov follows with a rookie mistake. “I can’t see your face,” he says, trying to keep the joke going. “It’s covered up by the word TARY,” the tail end of the COMMENTARY chyroned on the screen. “They won’t see that on the DVD,” Clooney says quietly.

It will be up to Lerner to edit that remark out, as well as all of his own questions. As the movie ends, he tosses out some stray questions for Clooney and Heslov to answer. He’ll have those answers to plug in to any gaps that might end up in the commentary. “If there was some dead space, or parts where they were just watching the film, we might take some responses from my Q&A to fill in,” Lerner says. “I won’t be cutting things they said; the only reason I would cut something is due to legal concerns.” He’ll rearrange snippets of dialogue in hopes of creating a seamless, free-flowing conversation. He compares it to making an audio documentary of the making of a film.

Three and a half weeks later, the track has been edited, mixed, run by legal and the studio, and transferred to a master for final printing. Although the process seemed to be completed at a two-hour session on a Saturday afternoon, it would be almost a month before there was a finished, usable product, something that another filmmaker may learn a few tricks from. DVD commentaries seem to be as popular among moviemakers as they are among movie fans. Church raves about Ridley Scott’s on Alien; Roach says he’s listened to UCLA film professor Howard Suber’s commentary on The Graduate countless times.

“If I’m going to watch one of those commentaries,” Clooney says after he’s laid down his own track, “I’m gonna want to know how some of those shots are done. But you also want them to be fun. It’d be fun to hear Altman not talk for five minutes, you know? Because you’re watching it thinking he’s watching it and he’s gotten caught up in his own story. That’s cool. I love that.”

Teen Titans

One of the obsessions of this blog is the youthfulness of many of the people who have created the rock & roll we have come to enjoy over the years. Reading Here, There and Everywhere, the memoir of Geoff Emerick, who served as sound engineer for the Beatles in the latter half of their career, I started wondering how much of this was influenced by the British style of schooling. Here in the U.S. we tend to keep kids from entering the working world until as late as possible, usually by sending them backpackigng through Europe or enrolling them in dental school.

In England, by contrast, they kick a lot of kids out of school and force them to make their own way in the world in their mid-teens. This has resonance not just for, say, the guys in the Clash, but even for technicians like Geoff Emerick, who went to work as an assistant sound engineer for EMI Studios at the age of fifteen.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Worst Thing They Call Him Is the Fat Man

Just in case anyone is interested, I have a new essay in the current edition of Bookforum on the life and legacy of Fats Domino, who is the subject of a new biography, Blue Monday, by a writer named Rick Coleman. The gist of my piece is that Fats was apparently too nice a guy to warrant a rip-roaring Jerry Lee Lewis-style rock & roll biography. (Because I referred to the Killer in the piece, I was able to use the word "uxoricidal.") It's not that Domino was without his vices -- he ate too much, drank too much, missed a ton of shows, and apparently fathered at least one child out of wedlock, in addition to his wife's eight -- but still, he's such a sweetheart that no one want to say anything bad about him, least of all Coleman.

In the same issue (and similarly available on the Web site) are a wonderful essay on the Belgian mystery writer Georges Simenon by Luc Sante, and brief pieces on the intersection of fiction and film by the likes of Elmore Leonard, James Ivory, Barry Gifford and Alexander Payne. (I love me some Alexander Payne.) I swear, it's a wonder they still let me write for that magazine.

The Modern Age

Listening to music has become so much easier in these early days of the 21st century, in ways that are rarely commented upon. The other day, I was listening to the radio in the car and heard a hilarious little song performed by someone who sounded like John Prine and a woman whose voice I did not recognize, although I reached my destination before the DJ got around to saying who the singers were and what the song was. If I had arrived somewhere with a computer boasting Internet access, I could have checked the radio station's Web site, where all of its recent songs are listed, but that wasn't an option either. So I made a mental note of one of the song's more distinctive lines -- "Swears like a sailor when she shaves her legs" -- and filed it away for later use.

When I did finally get access to the Internet, I typed that line into Google along with the word "lyrics," and lickety-split found out that the song was called "In Spite of Ourselves," from an album of the same name, and about two more clicks ascertained that it was indeed John Prine alongside Iris DeMent.

But the story doesn't end there. While at the computer, I called up the Web site for our local library system, spanning about ten branches throughout south suburban Denver, and found that In Spite of Ourselves was on a shelf somewhere and available for my use. I quickly put in a request for it, and the very next day, I got an email indicating that the record was on hold for me at a branch library five minutes from my house. Within hours, the song was on my iTunes. The whole transaction took about two days, was absolutely free, and didn't require me to actually ask anyone if they knew what this song might be. It's a wonderful world we live in.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Cast a Cold Eye/On Life, On Death/Horseman, Pass By!

I wish to call your attention to a review in this week's New York Times Book Review by Eric Banks, a good friend to OPC, on the late filly Ruffian, who won all ten of her races before breaking a leg in a match race with reigning Kentucky Derby champ Foolish Pleasure in 1975. Eric points out that this was sort of a last gasp for a certain age of horseracing; I was a young lad then, and like most young people I assumed that the world had always been the way it was at that moment and would always be that way, and when the heroics of Secretariat in 1973 were followed alomst immediately by the distaff legend of Ruffian (left), who began winning races the very next year, in 1974 (when I first subscribed to Sports Illustrated, in the spring of 1975, the very first issue I received featured Foolish Pleasure on the cover for his Derby victory), I assumed that the world of thoroughbreds would forever be as exciting and popular and as populated by mythmakers as those couple of years. I was wrong.

This age had a final period of vogue in 1977, when the selfsame Sports Illustrated named teenage jockey sensation Steve Cauthen as its Sportsman of the Year -- is it even possible that a jockey would be mentioned for such an honor now? In Grantland Rice's autobiography The Tumult and the Shouting, the great sportswriter devotes an entire chapter to the great polo players he had known, and I literally could not make sense of what he was talking about, with the great stats these guys had put up with the ol' mallet, and I follow sports about as much as anyone I know.

Sports come and sports go, and it's possible that thoroughbred horseracing is going. Steve Cauthen, for his part, now rides in England.

Monday, June 4, 2007

I Read the News Today

Back in 2003, when I was tabulating the votes for Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of All Time, it looked for a while as if the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds was going to come out on top. I thought this was a fantastic outcome, not just because Pet Sounds is a delight, which it is, but because it was nosing out the most obvious choice for the top honors, the Beatles' 1967 LP Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. For a while, it seemed as if everyone was listing Pet Sounds somewhere in their Top 50; I'm pretty sure James Hetfield, of all people, gave it some love.

But in the end, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely won out, and I'm sure music fans around the globe were astonished when they read "Rolling Stone names as the greatest rock & roll album ever made, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heartzzzzz....."

I was reminded of all this in reading Aimee Mann's rather lefthanded tribute to this record in yesterday's New York Times, in commemoration of the album's 40th birthday. Mrs. Michael Penn describes it as her favorite album when she was growing up, but allows as to how she never listens to it now. (If she did listen to it once in a while, maybe she wouldn't have blown the lyrics she quotes from "Getting Better": "I was cruel to my woman, I beat her," she cites, but it's really "I used to be cruel to my woman....") At the same time it's kind of refreshing to see someone take on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely from a measured distance, neither as a museum piece that was must be revered nor as something that should be spit on, as the likes of Jim DeRogatis would have it.

As I alluded to a little while ago, I recently listened to this LP all the way through for the first time in a while when I was dumping it into my iTunes, and I was struck by how, between the production honed to a fare-thee-well, the circuslike atmosphere and the wide-ranging instrumentation, this greatest of all rock & roll albums isn't very rock & roll. Nothing rocks out like the band's "Yer Blues" or "Got to Get You Into My Life" or "Day Tripper." "A Day in the Life," the consensus best song on the record, is pretty awesome in its own way, but nobody would ever compare it to Bee Thousand.

And I think because of that, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely has always remained kind of sui generis, and the attempts to imitate it have largely fallen flat, like the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request or the entire career of Jeff Lynne. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely is the road not taken for rock & roll, which is part of why it stands out so strongly from its peers. It certainly was groundbreaking at the time, although anyone who thinks the Fabs invented the concept album really needs to go listen to Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours; in fact, that's good advice for anyone, as Frank's always worth hearing, and that's his best LP.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely
? It's really quite good, and a lot of fun to listen to if you take a bathroom break during "Within You, Without You." But somehow, I suspect that not many people, and here I am including Aimee Mann, are actually listening to it these days.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Bad Writing a-Go-Go

Here's part of the intro to Denver Post movie critic Michael Booth's review of Knocked Up:

Writer and director Judd Apatow makes movies that advertise red-hot pepper flakes on the outside, and deliver talcum powder. Crass and caustic jokes rub the tongue raw, only to be followed by a big drippy orange Creamsicle of self-improvement, hope and monogamy.

Wha? How exactly is one able to compare red-hot pepper flakes and talcum powder? Is it the differing colors? Does Booth think people are applying red-hot pepper flakes topically?

And does he really think Judd Apatow wants to rub our tongues raw? If my tongue was ever rubbed raw, I'm sure I'd need more than a Creamsicle.

God Is Seven

This morning in the car my son Mark was singing along to one of his favorite songs, the Pixies' "Monkey Gone to Heaven." He doesn't ever seem the slightest bit put out by the whole "If man is five, then the devil is six and God is seven" part (not that that section makes a whole lot more sense than the rest of the song), because I think when you're seven years old, you kind of expect to run across many things in this world every day that are completely baffling.

Whereas when you get to be my age, the world is still mostly nonsensical, but by then it's just kind of irritating.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Pause That Refreshes

My very favorite pause in popular music right now comes near the end of the chorus of Mary Gauthier's 1999 song "I Drink." Miss Gauthier, for the uninitiated, is sort of a female John Prine, singing her wistful lyrics as slow as a 90-year-old grandma in a Buick LeSabre, which makes the trek toward the final line of this Dorothy Parker-ish chorus seems like forever. It goes like this:

Fish swim
Birds fly
Daddies yell
Mamas cry
Old men
Stop and think
. . .
. . .
I drink.

The irony here is that Gauthier doesn't drink, at least not anymore. Back in 1990 she opened a restaurant in Boston called the Dixie Kitchen, and after the opening-night party got a little bit raucous, she got picked up on a DUI, and decided that her drankin' days were over. Fortunately, she remembered them well enough to write this song. Hey, here she is now:

Friday, June 1, 2007

Heavy into the Bouzouki

On the Decemberists' terrific album The Crane Wife, two separate band members are credited with playing the bouzouki. That's a lot of bouzouki.