Monday, February 28, 2005

Random Notes (post-Oscars '05 edition)

Chris Rock was okay. Not great but okay. Hosting the Oscars is a tough gig and in my lifetime the only ones who made it look easy were Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, and Billy Crystal.


Some of the nominees and winners must have felt like unwanted stepchildren...paraded out en masse onstage or made to give their acceptance speeches from the audience...but at least the producers kept the show moving.


Bless you, Morgan Freeman, not only are you a great actor but you know how to deliver an acceptance speech...short, sweet, take a bow, vacate the stage (note to all winners on all televised awards shows: if your agent/producer/interior decorator/second cousin on your mother's side needs some love send them some flowers don't bore the rest of us to death with laundry lists of people you don't want to take the time to thank in person for whatever the hell they did to help you win the award.)


One hopes that Beyonce got some extra swag for all of the singing, costume changes, and hairstyles she had to go through during the course of the evening.


Marty, it's cool man. Altman, Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Spike Lee, Bergman, Howard Hawks...the non-winners club is filled with some other pretty impressive names.


Yo Mr. Penn, they're just JOKES, dude. Jude Law is a big boy and I would hope that his ego is not so fragile that he needed your humor-deficient self to defend his honor (after apparently fuming about it for two hours.)


Annette Bening smiled radiantly and graciously in defeat but you just want to believe that should she and Ms. Swank ever share the nominee list again that Mrs. Beatty is going to have be held back from going all Tonya Harding on Miss Hilary.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Halle Berry

A couple of years ago Halle Berry won the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for "Monster's Ball".

This year Halle Berry won the Razzie for Worst Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for the unfortunate career detour pictured above (as a lifelong comic book fan, I refuse to speak its unholy name...)

A cautionary tale? You be the judge :-)

* * * * *

3/2 update: A bit of extra respect to Ms. Berry for being a sport (or at least for having savvy publicists) by actually showing up at the Razzies to accept her "award" (and to dis the movie.)

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Bring the Pain

Some people are apparently concerned that Chris Rock might say or do something that will utterly scandalize the delicate sensibilities of the people watching the Academy Awards (jeez, more than a year afterward the fleeting glimpse of Janet Jackson's nipple still has a lot of people's panties in a happened, the world didn't come to an end, get over it.)

It's not going to happen...Rock is a professional and he understands what works on whatever stage he's on (though, the fact that there's a possibility of something shaking the self-important pomposity off of the Oscar telecast...the fact that some people are even worried about, to my mind, in and of itself a good thing...let the censor sweat a bit with his finger hovering over the button.)

I revisited this special, Rock's breakthrough moment, and found that nine years later it's still just flatout funny. Even the dated bits...O.J., Marion Berry...still kill. Rock's laser sharp wit gleefully skewers...and, at the same time, insightfully illuminates...ages-old conflicts between people (racial politics and sexual politics alike.) The now classic "Niggers vs. Black People" bit was instantly recognizable back then (I'd heard variations on that theme from my mother and my aunts since I was a child) and it still rings hilariously, horribly, undeniably true now.

Chris Rock was 30 when he recorded "Bring the Pain"...he'd been on the comedy club circuit, made a couple of movies, spent time on "Saturday Night Live" without really leaving that much of an impression...and he had the fierce bearing of a man seizing his moment, literally stalking the stage with feral, unblinking, fearless, profane energy. The threshold between journeyman and star was being crossed even if Rock...and the audience...might not have known it in the moment.

Rock has moved on since that time...but this special stands as a milestone in his career...but not the sum total of his career.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Punch-Drunk Love

Adam Sandler's Barry is full of anger and quiet desperation (or perhaps, in honor of the late Hunter S. Thompson, it might be better to say full of fear and loathing)...a socially awkward milquetoast beaten down by life and his 7 overbearing sisters and given to sudden, explosive bouts of unadulterated, "Hulk Smash!" rage. Emily Watson's Lena is less well defined...but she falls in love with him from just seeing his photo and realizing, in the words of the Harry Nilsson song (as sung by Shelley Duvall from the soundtrack of Robert Altman's Popeye) on the soundtrack, that "he needs me...he needs me...he needs me..."

This movie is, at its heart, just a little (sometimes gentle, sometimes dark and decidedly off-center) comedy about love...all about the healing, redeeming, undeniable power of love...boy meets girl, boy realizes what's been missing from his life, boy breaks out of his shell and his rut thanks to the love of the girl...wrapped in a sometimes enigmatic package (bringing in the business of a randomly abandoned and rescued harmonium, vengeful phone sex blackmailers, an ill-conceived plan involving airline miles and "Healthy Choice" pudding, and the apparent symbolism of seemingly endless halls, 4 thuggish blond brothers, and the 7 soul-deadening sisters.)

Sandler is wonderfully understated...shy and vulnerable yet ready to explode (in more ways than one) at any moment; Watson is ethereal...hard to get a handle on yet enormously appealing and attractive just the same. I was rooting for the characters...but in a detached way, not having found much emotional connection to either of them.

There is always something about P.T. Anderson's movies that leaves me admiring them but not really becoming emotionally invested in them. It was true of Magnolia. Even true, to a lesser extent, of Boogie Nights (a movie I liked a great deal.)

And it's certainly true about this one.

(Hard Eight being an exception to this rule to an extent...but even there the characters, while nicely sketched out, seemed a bit remote and hard to connect with.)

I'll be the first to admit that maybe I just don't "get it" about Anderson's movies and leave it at that. I'm glad I saw this one...thanks again, Netflix...but I doubt that I'll ever feel the need to revisit it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Garden State

I love my Netflix subscription (okay, so maybe my feelings aren't quite that strong...but I do appreciate it a lot.) It's let me catch up with movies that I heard good things about but, for one reason or another, didn't get to see when they were in the theaters. Being laid up on a rainy day is, of course, a great time to kick back and watch a movie...and I'm certainly glad that I had this one on hand today.

Zach Braff's Garden State is everything I heard it was...warm, quirky, poignant, sweetly romantic. It's a lovely little movie...Braff is wonderfully low-key and Natalie Portman is radiant and adorable. It left me with warm buzz in my heart (and yes a happy little tear in my usually cynical eye.)

And it has a killer soundtrack to boot (gotta remember to add that CD to my wishlist before my birthday next month :-)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Godfather Returns

One of the byproducts of my recuperation (see here if you're interested in the details about that) is that I'm having a chance to actually read some of the books on my always burgeoning "to-be-read" pile. This one's been on the stack for a couple of months now but it turned out to be quite a page-turner and I finished it in just over a day.

The Godfather and The Godfather, Part 2 are two of the most accomplished pieces of filmmaking ever. They're layered with clever dialogue, intricate storylines, complex characters, stellar performances, gorgeous sets and scenery, and meticulous attention to detail, suspense, pathos, and even humor.

Mario Puzo's novel, The Godfather, is not quite as accomplished. Don't get me wrong, it's a fun atmospheric potboiler (said here with affection not derision)...but it's a bare skeleton of what Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola created for the screenplays of the films. More often than not, films made from novels are pale shadows of their source material...having to shed a lot of detail and characterization to fit the demands of an entirely different medium...but in this case the opposite is true.

Mark Winegardner's prequel/sequel, The Godfather Returns, sets a high bar for itself as it seeks to fill in the spaces left not from the book but rather from the two now-classic movies. The Godfather (the movie) covered a period going up to around 1954, while The Godfather, Part 2 covered the turbulent period from 1959-1962 (with flashbacks to young Vito Corleone's youth in the early part of the 20th Century.)

Winegardner fills in some of these spaces and, at the same time, fleshes out some of the vivid supporting characters from the films (giving more heft to motivations that weren't completely explored in the films due, one supposes, to time constraints.) Among these are Johnny Fontane (the blatant Frank Sinatra pastiche), Tom Hagen (the adopted ward of Don Vito, played with such subtlety by Robert Duvall in the films), the twin daughters of the late Sonny Corleone (felled by machine guns in a memorable scene in GF1), and the tragic/comic Fredo Corleone, the doomed bumbler who is given a conflicted sexuality to go along with his frustration at being overlooked in the family because of being...well..."not smart" (as the late, great John Cazale so passionately said in this portrayal of poor, sweet, dumb Fredo in GF2. )

And, of course, at the center is the towering, brooding, ever-scheming Michael Corleone, his father's son in ways he thought he never would be. His machinations are seen here reaching into the White House (through dealings with thinly-disguised versions of JFK, his father Joseph, and his brother Bobby) and even back to Cuba (with the attempted assassination of Castro.)

At 400+ pages, Winegardner's book is also a page-turner. He gets a big leg up by having so many characters who already firmly established in the readers' minds (it is impossible for anyone who has seen either or both of the movies, to get the image a young, sloe-eyed Al Pacino out of their minds while reading about Michael, for example) and he uses that advantage to weave a compelling story.

The final fates of characters like Tessio and Clemenza are revealed. Michael's wartime experiences are explored in an extended flashback while some of his many contentious relationships...his father, his wife Kay, his adopted brother Tom, his brother Fredo, his children Mary and Anthony...are given added depth and nuance. And the expected measures of double-dealing, murder, and controlled mayhem that one would expect given the characters and the lives and times they live in are all present as well.

It's a entertaining book...especially for those, like myself, who loved the first two movies (and who thought, Sofia Coppola's unfortunate performance and Robert Duvall's absence notwithstanding, that The Godfather, Part 3, while flawed and certainly not up to the standard set by the first two films, wasn't quite as bad as some made it out to be when it came out.)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

William Shatner

William Shatner is having the last laugh. After years of (well justified) ridicule for his acting tics, the erstwhile Captain Kirk has found a character to which he can bring not only his blustery, outsized persona but also some wonderfully subtle and poignant nuance: Denny Crane.

David E. Kelley's Boston Legal (a spin-off from The Practice) is a sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical, often engaging show about a high-powered legal practice. The writing is sharp (if occasionally a bit preachy) and the cast...Shatner, James Spader, Candice Bergen, Rene Auberjonois, Betty top-notch and firing on all cylinders.

Shatner is at the top of his game as the (yes) blustery Crane, pompous (self-important enough to think just the portentous mention of his name..."Denny Crane" all that's needed to inspire both fear and awe in opponents and co-workers alike) and yet sympathetic (and not just because the character is battling early symptoms of Alzheimer's.) It's a tour-de-force...showcasing, among other things, real emotional gravity as well as a deft sense of comic timing... and the good Captain already has two Emmys on his mantle to show for it.

"Denny Crane." Damn right.


Some things just ain't right. Warner Brothers is "updating" some of the classic Looney Tunes characters...Bugs, Daffy, Taz, Roadrunner, Wile E., and (relative newcomer) Babs...into the "edgy" futuristic super-hero types you see above. Not cool. (Yeah, I'm an unyielding traditionalist/grumpy old fogey about some things...and I'm okay with that.)

"Loonatics" (working title) is scheduled to debut this fall.

Thank the universe that the classic Looney Tunes cartoons are being given the deluxe DVD treatment they deserve (two great collections thus far) (of all ages) deserve to be able enjoy and appreciate the real deal and not this marketing department/focus group/"wouldn't it be cool if..." pretender to the throne.

(And yes, I's only a cartoon and it probably will not work and it's not the end of the world if it does...I just had to have my say and now I have and I'm done :-)

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Songs Chosen by her Friends and Fellow Musicians

Starbucks' Hear conjunction with partner Rhino Records...has wonderful taste when it comes to putting together CDs. This new Joni Mitchell compilation continues that streak.

Joni has been recycling her music in different ways, of late. Compilations...Hits, Misses, The Beginning of Survival, Dreamland, The Complete Giffen Recordings...and orchestral reworkings...Travelogue.

This collection is a bit different in that it's not Joni...or her record company...choosing the songs for inclusion but rather, as the song states, friends and fellow musicians choosing their personal favorites of hers.

Most of the songs chosen originated on her classic albums from the 1970's. Blue, arguably the definitive Mitchell album of that period, offers up both the yearning "A Case of You" (selected by Prince) and its title song (a favorite of Graham Nash.)

Some of the selections are her more familiar tunes. Bob Dylan's choice is the freewheeling "Free Man in Paris" while Herbie Hancock selected "Both Sides Now" (presented here not in the original version but rather in a latter-day, more knowing version...from Travelogue...backed by an orchestra.)

Robbie Robertson makes two selections: the sprightly "Raised on Robbery" from Court and Spark and the stark and wryly elegant "Coyote" from Hejira.

The jazzy Hejira is also represented with the tracks the uptempo stroll of "Black Crow" (chosen by k.d. lang) and the lesser-known "A Strange Boy" (offered up by Seal.)

David Crosby champions "For Free" (from 1970's Ladies of the Canyon)and Elvis Costello chooses the bittersweet "For the Roses" (again in an orchestral version here from Travelogue.)

A couple of the choices are a bit more daring: Chaka Khan finds common ground with the most recent composition on this disc, the lush and wistful "Two Grey Rooms" from Joni's 1991 underrated gem Night Ride Home while Steely Dan's Walter Becker selects the spare, wondrous "God Must Be a Boogie Man" from 1979's challenging and remarkable Mingus set.

Becker's Steely Dan partner, Donald Fagen, rounds out this interesting tribute collection with his choice of the atmospheric "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire".

No single disc compilation will ever do justice to the poetic majesty, musical daring, lilting, knowing voice, and lovely phrasing of Joni Mitchell, but this collection of songs chosen by her friends and admirers is a fine sampling well worth savoring.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Survivor: Palau

Every time I watch this show, I just shake my head in wonder. The contestants often act like they've never seen the show before...they get out to whatever remote location they're assigned to and they seem shocked...shocked I tell you!...that's it not Club Med. (I'm just sayin'... )

This group of "Survivors" seems, at first blush, no better or no worse than any of the previous casts (this is, what, the 10th edition of the show? I've lost track.) The giddy (and annoying) singer and the take-charge woman have, quite predictably, already been given the heave-ho (not sure why that blond guy drew short straw at the first elimination but I guess somebody had to.)

This season (going out on a limb here :-) I predict much whining about being cold, hungry, and living in proximity with rats, sharks, and other critters...many silly stunts...some smoldering sexual tension between hormonal hardbodies...lots of manipulative editing...and in the end, and much to Darwin's dismay, survival of someone who almost definitely will not be the fittest.

Game on.

No Such Place

Jim White may be a perfectly normal guy living a perfectly ordinary life. He may be perfectly normal...but the people he sings about certainly are not...instead, they live gothic lives orbiting life, love, and loss at odd, bittersweet angles.

In a better world, this record would have been a massive commercial hit when it came out back in '01 (one imagines that White might not care as much about that as I do.) In a better world, the irresistible pop hooks of the wryly wonderful "Handcuffed to a Fence in Mississippi" (twang and all) would have been blaring from every radio speaker in the land for many, many weeks and months.

In a better world, the achingly lovely murder ballad "The Wound That Never Heals" would be waiting in every jukebox in every rundown bar on the wrong side of the tracks in every gray little town...waiting for jilted lovers to play over and over as they drown their sorrows and cry their bitter tears. In a better world people of good cheer would join their voices in ragged, giddy glory as they sang along with the raucous "God Was Drunk When He Made Me" at the top of their lungs.

But it isn't a better world.

But, that said, this amazing record...a stark and moving and utterly engaging collection of vivid, evocative, haunting story songs blending country with hints of rock'n'roll, delta blues, electronica and whatever else occurred to White and his producers while they were making still a remarkable work and I can (and will) take solace in that while waiting for that better world to come along.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

American Idol

First, I will freely admit that I am an American Idol fan...I've watched nearly every episode since the show began. I cheered when Kelly and Ruben and my girl Fantasia won out. I was miffed when personal favorites like Tamyra Gray, Ryan Starr, and Latoya London got voted off before lesser talents did. I've snickered at Ryan Seacrest's smarmy "charm" (including and especially his stupid "Seacrest Out!" tagline) and rolled my eyes at Randy Jackson's incredibly tired urban hipster routine (if someone of his years really goes around saying things like "you did your thang, dawg" all the time he really needs a intervention from people who know and love's okay to be a grown-up, RJ.)

I've found it ironic that Paula Abdul (more testy than perky this season for reason...guess the Polyanna tag finally got on her nerves), a singer of decidedly limited range and ability, gives earnest advice to would be pop stars who have instruments far superior to hers. And I've decided that, while I often agree with him, Simon Cowell needs to stop reading his press clippings and stop trying so hard to live up to the snarky persona he's crafted for himself (or at least get better writers for his "impromptu" quips and insults.)

All that said, it's apparent that while AI makes for "good" television (in a decidedly "guilty pleasure" sort of way, of course), it is also part of the problem...and definitely not part of the solution...when it comes to the state of popular music these days. Short sighted, much more concerned with commerce than with art, and presuming that pop music fans have the attention spans of fruit flies (which, unfortunately, is too often true), AI is all about style over substance and, apparently, quite proud of that fact.

The "kids" (they've raised the age limit to 28 this season) aspiring to follow Kelly, Ruben, Clay, and Fantasia up the charts have to cope not only with the capricious whims of the judges (who will champion someone's uniqueness one week only to slam them for being too unique the next), the kareoke on steriods formula, the silly voting "system" that allows people to vote as many time as their redialing programs will allow (so that Seacrest can boast that "18 zillion votes came in this week"), and, worst of all, the hypocritical mixed messages about who and what the show is looking for.

Cowell, Jackson, and Abdul will blather on pompously that they're looking for someone "fresh", "original", "unique", "different" but, when push comes to shove, they shy away from traits like that (Jackson especially seems perplexed by anything outside of his comfort zone..."Dude, I wouldn't know that to do with that") in favor of those with perceived mainstream appeal.

The "kids" hear "be original...but not too original"..."be different...but sound just like whatever's hot on the radio now"..."be hip and fresh...but don't scare the old folks (rockers? hip hoppers? yeah thanks, but no thanks)".

They put the contestants through weeks of having to struggle through performing music older than they are (Motown, Bee Gees, Barry Manilow, Big Band, etc., etc.) and when it's all done they will put them through the pop "blanderizer" trying to purge any lingering hints of originality in favor of shaping them to fit into the myopic, anal retentive format of American pop radio with an eye towards having immediate success rather than building lasting careers. (Kelly...especially with her second CD...and Fantasia managed to have a great deal of their personality infuse their music despite the best efforts of their handlers...but they are exceptions that sadly prove the rule.)

I'll continue to watch...AI has a cheesy charm despite its shortcomings...but I'll also continue not to expect much from the show (which will allow me the luxury of being pleasantly surprised when and if some interesting music escapes the AI grinder with its integrity more or less intact.)

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Grammys

The Grammys opted for sentiment, of course. Given the opportunity, the Recording Academy will opt for sentiment almost every time. And thus, the fact that the late, undeniably great Ray Charles' last album,
Genius Loves Company, won 8 Grammys (including Best Album and Best Record) is not even remotely a surprise.

is a brave, heartbreaking, occasionally enormously moving has the feel of both a celebration of a man unwilling to surrender his soul even as his body was failing and a reverent wake as friends, fans, and musical disciples came to pay homage to Brother Ray one last time...but, putting sentiment aside, it was not the Best Album to come out last year.

But that's not really the point...the Grammys very rarely get that right...and one would have to be unnecessarily churlish to waste a lot of time and energy decrying the awards it got.

The show itself was better than most of them. The opening performance...with Black Eyed Peas, Gwen Stefani, Eve, Los Lonely Boys, Maroon 5, and Franz Ferdinand...was disjointed and chaotic but still kinda cool at times even though.

New Grammy darling Alicia Keys too often goes for the over-wrought performance these days but her duet with Jamie Foxx on "Georgia on my Mind" (a tribute to Ray Charles, naturally) was electrifying. Bonnie Raitt, the consummate soulful pro, later paid tribute to Charles and the other music industry figures who passed away in the last year with an lovely reading of "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" with Billy Preston's organ backing up Raitt's sweet slide playing.

Green Day turned the amps up to 11 with a rousing "American Idiot" while U2 dialed it down with a delicate version of "Sometimes You Can't Make it on Your Own" (with Bono offering a brief tribute to his late father, for whom the song was written.)

Newlyweds Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony were surprisingly chemistry-free in their over-staged duet (but perhaps that was a case of nerves as this was their first public performance together since their much gossiped about marriage.)

Joss Stone and Melissa Etheridge (bald as a result of chemotherapy) raised the roof with their tribute to Janis Joplin (though I had to wonder why Stone kept slinking off to the other stage while Etheridge was blazing through "Piece of my Heart"...even the director seemed perplexed.)

Host Queen Latifah exercised her credible jazz chops on "Lush Life" and "Baby Get Lost" while Usher and the aging but still game James Brown traded some funky dance steps (after Usher powered through an athletic number that owed much to both Brown and the pre-wacko Michael Jackson.)

The tribute to Southern rock...with Gretchen Wilson, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw (who later sang his inspirational "Live Like You Were Dying"), erstwhile Allman Brother Dickie Betts, and Elvin Bishop joining the current incarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd on a medley of four 30+ year old classic rock staples...was appropriately ragged, rambling, and heartfelt. While the gospel medley...with Mavis Staples, John Legend, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Ben Harper, and, especially, Kanye West was over-the-top and melodramatic...but rousing just the same.

(West, who tore through the anthemic "Jesus Walks" with a passion, needs to chill out about these awards though...he was still whining about not having won at the American Music Awards and he seemed visibly disappointed when Maroon 5 took the Best New Artist Grammy. Dude, get over it...nobody remembers who wins these things as soon as a few days after the show is over.)

The all-star tsunami aid version of the Beatles' "Across the Universe" was, again, a bit ragged but heartfelt. With Velvet Revolver and Alison Krauss providing the music, Bono, Stevie Wonder, Norah Jones, Brian Wilson, Alicia Keys, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, Tim McGraw (that guy was everywhere!), Revolver frontman Scott Weiland, and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler traded verses on the song (which is available as a fundraising download at iTunes.)

As these award shows go, this one was still wishes there was less forced "banter" from the presenters and fewer laundry lists of "thank yous" from the winners but some things are never going to change so it's pointless to lose sleep over them.

Friday, February 11, 2005

My Funny Valentine(s)

What's that you say? It's Valentine's Weekend and you're at a loss for what you want to burn on your honeybunny's super-special, "look, baby, I did this just for you" mix CD? You say you're not down with the unavoidable (and to some, unholy) Barry triumvirate (being Manilow, Gibb and his siblings, and, of course White) and you want to some cool, romantic tunes that won't be played to death by oldies station over the weekend and all day on Monday?

Well you've come to the right place, true believer! We here at Neverending Rainbow have a number of somewhat off-the-beaten-path love songs that we quite like and think might be a good place to start:

Feeling like gushing a little about the one you love with soulful (and almost but not quite corny) gushing? "Have I Told You Lately" does that trick sweetly. Rod Stewart's version is okay but you want the real stuff so go right to the source...Van Morrison's lovely Avalon Sunset disc...and be amazed by the devastatingly tender power of "The Man".

"My Funny Valentine" is probably the unofficial theme song of the day and, of course, there have been more versions of it than we would care to count. We nudge you towards Chaka Khan's reading (gritty and smooth at once...and again, it goes without saying, soulful as all get out) from the soundtrack of Waiting to Exhale.

Looking for a less familiar theme song? Seek out Across the Borderline...a wonderful collection from my man Willie Nelson...and cue up "Valentine", it's sweet and utterly disarming without being overly cloying.

Feeling wary but, deep down, still wistfully hopeful about love? Consider this:

...'cause I got 10 miles to go on a 9 mile road,
and it's a rocky rough road,
but I don't care
for life's nothing
if not a blind rambling prayer,

you keep your head held high,
a'walking and a'talking

'til the power of Love deliver you there...

That's Jim White's "10 Miles to Go on a 9 Mile Road"...from No Such Place...speaking to the hearts of jaded (but still wistfully hopeful) romantics everywhere.

Feeling connected to one who understands you like no one else can? Consider:

I'm going to take you to my secret place,
it's a place that you,
like no one else I know,

might appreciate.

I don't go there with anyone,
but you're a special case for my special place...

Joni Mitchell (in a duet with Peter Gabriel) on "My Secret Place" from Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm.

And if you're missing someone, then Warren Zevon left behind a bittersweet valentine, "Keep Me in Your Heart", just for you:

If I leave you it doesn't mean
I love you any less

keep me in your heart for a while

When you get up in the morning

and see that crazy sun

keep me in your heart for while

Sometimes when you're doing

simple things around the house

maybe you'll think of me and smile

You know I'm tied to you

like the buttons on your blouse

keep me in your heart for a while...

Or, if you want, you can just skip the words and luxuriate in the lush and romantic mood of the day with Miles at his most accessible and sublime on Love Songs.

And what about you, gentle reader? C'mon and share the love...tell us what would you put on your personal Valentine's Day mixtape?

* * * * *
Shameless cross blog promotion: A love story...appropriate enough considering the Valentine's Day posted at my other site, Bread and Roses

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The West Wing

Well, at least it's a little better than last season.

The show has shown fleeting flashes of its former glory this season...but those moments are few and far between and the overall feeling is one of watching a dear old friend die a painful death of a thousand cuts.

Last season, showing creator/chief writer Aaron Sorkin the door led to an awkward transition period wherein the characters lost a lot of their focus (and most of their once-sparkling wit.) The transition continues this season with abrupt shakeups in the West Wing staff (I realize that it was not likely that White House senior staff would stay together as a group for as long these folks had but hey we're working in a world where an unabashedly liberal Democrat/egghead economist...with a life-threatening medical condition to boot...could be elected and re-elected President of the United States, a little suspension of disbelief is not unprecedented) and a lack of smooth continuity.

The show has no center week it's inside politics and medical melodrama in the White House, the next its on the road again with the men who would President and their trusty sidekicks (Josh, Donna, and Will having absented themselves from the White House to do the campaign thing)...and it seems unlikely to find its way anytime soon.

Jimmy Smits, Alan Alda, and, especially, Kristin Chinoweth are all interesting additions to the cast but it's probably too little too late to turn the fortunes of the show around (and in any case I'm personally not that interested in seeing a post-Bartlet West Wing...the show was about his Presidency and when that ends the show should end as well.)

As much as I've loved the show in the past...and even though that affection is still strong enough to keep me watching now...I have to say that it may be time to put it out of its misery (it's too late to let it go out gracefully...that ship has sailed.)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Bigger is Always Better

Damn it. Now I'm going to have to learn to play air violin.

It's taken me years but I've mastered the intricacies of air guitar and now this CD has me wanting to spend the years and years it will probably take me to become a halfway decent air violinist. Itzhak Perlman couldn't get me to do it. Jean-Luc Ponty couldn't do it. Papa John Creach couldn't do it. Hell, even my man Charlie Daniels couldn't do (I'm always happy to play the devil's guitar whenever
"The Devil Went Down to Georgia" is cranking on my stereo.)

(Okay, the Chieftains almost managed to get me to do it...but I decided I wasn't Irish enough and, reluctantly, I content myself to playing air acoustic guitar with them and hoping they don't mind overmuch)

But playing this disc (as I have often in the past couple of weeks), I'm ready put aside years of intensive air guitar training and take up this new form of imaginary musical expression. Damn you, "Goddamn Violin Solo", damn you! What has this woman done to me?!

There I was innocently surfing the ever-expanding "Blogoverse" (we're not really going to let that term stick are we?) when I, naive and trusting soul that I am, wandered into the lair of the self-styled Last Girl on Earth and I was lost for a good long while (yeah, I'm a sucker for clever writing, witty asides, and good music...I'm weak that way.)

Clicking on a link there, my speakers gave forth with a rush of potent, percussive pop wonderfulness (a wistfully bittersweet rocker called "Lie, Lie, Lie, Lie") that seized me by the lapels (not literally...but you know what I mean...) and wouldn't let go...the coda, the aforementioned "The Goddamn Violin Solo" sealed the deal. Here, devil woman, take money, send me more music.

I love music in all of its myriad forms but I hold a special place in my heart for great, full-bodied pop music sung by women with grand voices and distinctive points of view...for insightful, acerbic and charming and songwriting...for hooks that grab hold of you and make you want to dance but don't, in the process, overwhelm the lyrics and the vocals. Check. Check. Check. And goddamn violin solos to boot. (And we won't even mention the sly shout outs to David Bowie and the Commodores...nods to the immortal "Brick House" catch my attention every time.)

Go here and check it out for yourself. If you like cool music, you won't regret it. Tell her I sent ya.

(Where'd I leave that bloody air violin anyway?)

* * * * *
Tracks in heavy rotation on MKW's music-playing thingees:
"Sunshine" (both mixes), "Lie, Lie, Lie, Lie", "Phat, Stoopid, Totally Def", "The Girlfriends of Dorian Gray", "Violin Girl", "Please Die for Me", "The Goddamn Violin Solo"

Monday, February 07, 2005

One from the Heart

There's sometimes wonderful good that comes from the most self-indulgent of's a paradox that both pleases and perplexes us.

The excess in question here is Francis Ford Coppola's visionary but unnecessarily expensive love story, One from the Heart, a film from the early 80's that I (and woefully few others) loved when it first came out. It's at once intimate and a gloriously over-the-top mess (said affectionately by yours truly, said more derisively by more than a few critics.) This film...which I've recently fallen in love with again thanks to a grand DVD full of fire and portent and shameless melodrama and enough neon to blind the populace of a small city. It's dazzling.

The good alluded to above is the film's absolutely amazing soundtrack...a song cycle that both compliments and transcends the movie for which it was created.

One of the key conceits of One from the Heart is that is a musical in which the actors onscreen (Teri Garr and Frederic Forrest as the star-crossed lovers) don't sing. Instead they act out the songs in understated ways while the voices of Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle fill the air...and the spaces.

...I can't tell if that's a siren or a saxophone...

The amazing songs...all written by Waits....give heft to the film's simple plotline of love lost and found anew (as tale as old as love itself, of course.) The singers become the thoughts of the troubled lovers made aurally tangible. In the movie the effect is showy (and occasionally distracting) but often devastatingly effective just the same.

On paper the pairing of Waits' gruff, gravelly growl with Gayle's pristine, measured lilt would seem too incongorous a match to work. But, beyond all common sense, it does indeed work. Waits' voice is modulated with a tenderness that a casual acquaintance of his music might not believe him capable of. And just as marvelously, Waits manages to elicit from the frustratingly-mannered Gayle something no one really had before...a truly soulful, subtle and substantive, series of performances that easily outshone almost the entirety of the rest of her often pretty but mostly vacuous (the sweet uptown stroll of "Don't it Make My Brown Eyes Blues" being a shimmering exception that proves the rule) recorded output.

As with most movie music, something is lost when listening to the music without viewing the images it was composed to accompany...but that loss is not all that great here with this music as the songs flow like bluesy operetta, telling the story in vivid enough strokes to stand on their own. Heartbreak-weary pianos and plaintive (are there really any other kind?) saxophones glide in and about the vocalists...the blues in waltz time (especially for dancers who don't seem to know that they do indeed know how to dance...and for lovers who almost forget that they're truly in love with each other.)

The music soothes and pleads as love is grows cool and comes back chastened and renewed...

take me home, you silly boy, because I'm still in love with you...

A story as old as time, bittersweet fodder for filmmakers and, most especially, for songwriters and poets and torch singers who always have and always will celebrate the imperfect majesty of love. Oh baby, this one's from the heart...

In Praise of Cassandra

(This piece was originally presented in my other blog, Bread and Roses, last summer but chances are anybody reading this now wasn't reading B&R then...and it fits in nicely with the theme of this here I'm re-presenting it here.)

I'm not the kind of guy who falls in love with famous people (my longstanding infatuation with Linda Ronstadt notwithstanding)...I'm just not that guy.

But if I were that guy...if I were...I would be in love with Cassandra Wilson.

I wouldn't be in love with Cassandra because she's beautiful (though indeed she is that) and not even because she's a smart and daring artist (though she is that as well), I would be in love with Cassandra Wilson because everytime she opens her honeyed, soft brown lips to sing, light and magic and wonder fill every fiber of my jaded being.

Jazz? Pop? R&B? Yeah, she embraces and embodies all of that...and, in the same instant, she will not be hamstrung by any of it. My Cassandra (if I were in love with her, she would be "my" Cassandra) would never allow herself to be hemmed in by arbitrary boundaries. Just call what she does music...sweet, sensual, soul-arousing, bittersweet, Heaven-sent magic given form, nuance, rhythm, and melody...and you'll be in the neighborhood you need to be in to find embrace and appreciate her.

Her husky, knowing, amazingly supple and wondrous voice finds wisdom, knowledge, and a world of experience, good and bad and in-between, in the hidden recesses of lyrics...her own and those of a who's who of songcraft (Dylan, Miles, Billie, Joni, U2, Hank Williams, Van Morrison)...and brings them to new, startling, utterly satisfying light for all to see and luxuriate in.

I'm not the kind of guy who falls in love with famous people. I'm not that guy. And so, of course, I'm not in love with Cassandra Wilson.

And I plan in love with Cassandra for many, many years to come.


recommended listening:

Blue Light 'til Dawn (1993)
featuring a stately, revelatory version of Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey" (with a dash of Jimi Hendrix's "Angel" thrown in for good measure) and a stark, haunting take on Robert Johnson's "Hellhound on my Trail" along with the sultry, self-penned title song.

New Moon Daughter (1995)
finding common ground and new nuance between diverse sources such as U2 ("Love is Blindness"), Hank Williams ("I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"), Neil Young ("Harvest Moon"), Hoagy Carmichael ("Skylark") and even The Monkees (a jaunty, soulful "Last Train to Clarksville") along with originals (the slyly sensual "A Little Warm Death" and the wistful "Solomon Sang").

Traveling Miles (1999)
the spirit of Miles Davis revisited, reinterpreted, and joyfully celebrated with originals, songs once covered by Miles (Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors"), and Miles classics with new lyrics by Cassandra

Belly of the Sun (2002)
more compelling originals interwoven with smart, sometimes unexpected covers (Dylan's sweetly yearning "Shelter from the Storm", Robbie Robertson's "The Weight", James Taylor's "Only a Dream in Rio", and even Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman")

Glamoured (2003)
another engaging, surprising collection features her songwriting collabrations mixed to wonderful effect with tunes like Sting's "Fragile", Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay", Muddy Waters' "Honey Bee", and Willie Nelson's immortal "Crazy"

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Chronicles, Volume One

It's in the voice. With Dylan, it's always in the voice. The words are very often poetic, sometimes straightforward and devastatingly incisive, sometimes willfully (maddeningly?) elliptical and obtuse but they are magical when delivered, just so, with the voice. His songs are that way and so, almost as a matter of course, is this engaging, meandering, earnest, silly, utterly and wonderfully Bob-like memoir.

Reading this book is like having a conversation with the man (or at least so I imagine...I'm probably wrong about this but I quite like the notion and so I will stick with it just the same) and the voice comes read it and you hear the unmistakable low rumble...nasal and knowing and acerbic and burnished by too many cigarettes and too many nights on the endless road preaching the gospel of a song-and-dance man to congregations of unabashedly adoring every word. The voice is in your can't shake it even if you want to...and the words make that much more sense because of that.

Ideas and remembrances, old loves and festering resentments, wry asides and clear-eyed self-examinations tumble on top each time for arbitrary chapter breaks or smooth transitions from one subject to the a way that seems, at first blush, to be utterly chaotic and without narrative thread. But, of course, it all makes perfect sense in the aggregate. Like the lives we all lead. Like a Dylan song.

* * * * *

Parenthetical addendum:

The death of Johnny Carson drew me back to this passage: "One night I turned on the TV and saw soul singer Joe Tex on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Joe sang and left. Johnny didn't talk to him--not like he did with the other guests. Johnny just waved to him from his desk. Carson used to like to talk to his guests about golf and things like that, but he had nothing to say to Joe. I didn't think he would have anything to say to me either. All of his guests tried to be funny, put on a happy face, not come unglued, be like Gene Kelly and go singing in the rain even during a big downpour. If I did that I'd get pneumonia. You had to act like everything was wonderful. Like Joe Tex, I'd never been much in the mainstream. I thought about how much more I was like him than like Carson. I shut the TV off."

I would hope that Johnny would have had something to say to Bob.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Something's Got a Hold on Me

I've never been much for, cold, or blended into arcane, frothy I've not spent much time in any of the one zillion (and counting) Starbucks locations springing up on the landscape like invasive, herbicide-proof weeds. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that I rather like the aroma of brewing coffee...and that, I'm told, I can brew a pretty good pot of the stuff push come to shove. I can also, I'm told, make a pretty dry martini even though that's something else I do not care to actually imbibe.)

But, of course, the good folks at Starbucks (I still think of
Battlestar Galactica every time I hear that name...this, of course, outs me as the geek I am but what can you do?) understand that there are folks like me...folks who eschew coffee, folks who prefer to brew their tea at home...and they found other ways to get into the wallets of said non-latte drinkers.

For me, the egress into my wallet is facilitated by music. I know nothing from their coffee creations but I have to tip my hat to 'em, those folks really know how to put together a dandy CD.
Case in point: Something's Got a Hold on Me, a sparkling collection of (sometimes criminally forgotten) R&B gems from the 60's and 70's.

This is soul music in the truest sense of the term...soul music that most of the young folks cluttering up the charts nowadays couldn't touch on their best days.
Some of the music is instantly familiar...Al Green's sultry "Love and Happiness", Jackie Wilson's snappy "Baby Workout", the Isley Brother's yearning ballad "Who's That Lady" (which would later become a huge hit after being reworked into a rockin' jam by the Brothers), Etta James' typically engaging reading of the title tune...invoking warm, soulful nostalgia from the first note to the last.

Some of the stars...Aretha Franklin (in fine voice laying down the blues of "Ain't No Way", a song written by her sister Carolyn), James Brown, Booker T. and the M.G.'s...draw you in instantly even though their cuts are not among the best known of their many bigger hits.

Though they never got the level of acclaim and success they so richly deserved, the other artists here...Ruth Brown, Bobby Blue Bland, the Sweet Inspirations, Arthur Conley, the incomparable Bobby Womack, Betty Everett (here smoldering through "You're No Good", a song that Linda Ronstadt...who's my girl...would cover to lesser effect and much greater acclaim), Lavern Baker, and Freddie Scott...are all showcased with searing performances that ably testify to their places in the R&B pantheon.

Something's Got a Hold on Me
is 16 cuts of pure soul wonderfulness.

My side of the Rainbow

The Neverending Rainbow will be a pop culture haven...a place to expound on that which engenders passion in my fickle soul to the degree that I want to share it with others who may or may not feel the same siren call.

I claim no special qualifications for this beyond my love for books, music, and movies, which stretches back into my youth (a time of wonder and shyness and openness to learning as much as I could about anything that crossed the threshhold of my perceptions.)

I have too many books (which is a silly phrase, of course...there's no such thing as "too many books", there's just not enough time to savor them all as quickly as one would like), a burgeoning collection of recordings (1,600 CDs..."Bach to rock", if you'll pardon a cliche), an eclectic collection of DVDs (and an active Netflix subscription), and once a month the good folks at DHL deliver unto me a large box of comic books (the 9-year-old in me never surrendering his affection for that particular medium.)

As I write this, I have no idea how often this blog will be updated...but I shall endeavor to keep it as fresh as possible.

Reccomendations are always welcome (I've been thrilled to be exposed to some amazing stuff by the opinions of other like-minded folks.)

Namaste, y'all.

* * * * *

Currently in my CD player:

"Bigger is Always Better" Deni Bonet
"True Love" Toots and the Maytals
"The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration" Bob Dylan and Friends
"Live from New York" Gilda Radner