Thursday, March 31, 2005

Santa Monica

One of the coolest byproducts of surfing the "blogoverse" (or whatever the heck it's going to end up being called) for me is discovering music that I would otherwise never get a chance to hear, enjoy, and embrace.

Discovering the music of the ever-delightful Last Girl on Earth was a grand treat (see here for more about that) and this CD is another welcome addition to my ever-burgeoning music collection.

Years ago, a wonderful record by Nick Lowe was re-titled Pure Pop for Now People because the American record company thought the original British title, Jesus of Cool, might have proven problematic here in the States (can't imagine why...:-) Whatever the origin, I love the phrase...pure pop for now people...and I like to use it to refer to rockin' pop records that I really like.

Ric Seaberg's Santa Monica is, in all of the positive aspects of the phrase, pure pop for now people. It's sunny and warm...with wordplay that is often witty (and sometimes delightfully silly) and occasionally sweetly poignant...and it rocks with easy, melodic aplomb from the tasty lilt of the clever title track through the funny "Jesus Didn't Have a Car" and the bittersweet "Family Asshole Void" all the way to the lovely Christmas song that is the unlisted 16th track on the disc.

If cornered to describe it, I would say to try to imagine a less acerbic Warren Zevon fronting a harder-rocking version of Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band...Seaberg is no copycat, I'm just trying to get across the touchpoints that come into my head as I groove to his music. Pure...rockin' and engaging...pop indeed.

* * * * *
My new best buds at CDBaby, a very cool site with a wealth of indie music in all genres, sold me my copy of this disc and my hat's off to them (you should drop by and check them out...but, just so you know, if you're an adventurous music fan you might be there for a while...)

(FYI: Their listing for this disc, including samples, is here.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Elvis Costello: Artist's Choice

Going into a Starbucks can be a somewhat disorienting experience for someone like me who doesn't drink coffee. When the line is long and the machines are all churning out their hot, frothy brews, the air is thick with steam and caffeine and the potent, pungent aroma of java that is nothing like the "cup o' joe" you would find at a corner diner.

I would skip the experience altogether save for one thing: they have music.

They have tasty compilations that you can't easily find anywhere else. Like this one: the latest in Hear Music's "Artist's Choice" series wherein artists select "music that matters to (them)"...a brief glimpse into their personal influences and record collections if you will.

Costello's choices for this shimmering 18-track collection are eclectic (a man after my own heart) and delightfully surprising. He harkens back to the great Louis Armstrong ("Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)" and Muddy Waters ("I Love the Life I Live") and forward to 2004 with cuts from Rilo Kiley's cool disc More Adventurous ("Does He Love You?") and (wife) Diana Krall's smoky cover of Costello's own "Almost Blue" from the lovely The Girl in the Other Room.

Along the way he samples familiar cuts from wonderful artists like Aretha Franklin (the immortal "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man") and Joni Mitchell (the wistful "The Last Time I Saw Richard") and well as lesser known tracks from other artists (Paul Simon's "Peace Like a River" from his 1972 solo disc and "You Ain't Livin' Till You're Lovin'" a duet by the classic team of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.)

Clifford Brown, Fleetwood Mac (pre-Stevie and Lindsey with "Oh Well, Part 1"), The Band, Nick Lowe, Lucinda Williams, George Jones, Dusty Springfield, Joe Tex, and Randy Newman (the devastating "Real Emotional Girl") are all given shout-outs by Elvis along the way.

The disc closes with Freda ("Band of Gold") Payne's earnest Vietnam-era anti-war song, "Bring the Boys Home", because Costello feels it has a resonance to today's headlines.

This is a grand little collection and I'm glad I braved the coffee fumes to obtain it :-)

Sunday, March 27, 2005

All-Star Superman

Every few years or so, DC Comics lets someone take a crack at spiffing up the image of Superman...trying to make him "cool" (and, I guess, therefore somehow more relevant to modern comic book readers more enamored of "edgy" anti-heroes like Wolverine and The Punisher.) It never works.

Someone who dresses like Superman (in bold primary colors with an emblem instantly recognizable by almost everyone on the planet) and who stands for things like truth, justice, and always doing the right thing...someone who possesses world-shattering power and yet refuses to kill or to try to bend others to his will...someone like that will never be "cool". And I'm okay with that.

This summer, writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely, promise a new take on the Man of Steel...not one that tries to make him "cool" but one that embraces his iconic, inspirational, heroic, and utterly human ideals. All-Star Superman, which will be free of the decades of continuity of the other Superman comics (wherein, for example, Clark Kent and Lois Lane have been married for some years now), promises to be a welcoming place for both long-time fans and those who haven't picked up a Superman comic in years.

I'm looking forward to it.

Superman (c) 2005 DC Comics

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Da Vinci Code

Okay so I'm very late to Dan Brown's little party. This book has been sitting in my ever-burgeoning "To-Be-Read" pile for a while now...several people in my circles of family and friendship read it and kept encouraging me to do so as well...but I didn't feel called to it (I never force myself to read anything...every book has its own time...I started what ended being one of my all-time favorite books* twice over the course of a year or so before it was the right time and I was swept up into it the third time I picked it up.)

This book keeps cropping up in the news (various folks trying to ban and/or discredit a book will tend do that) and late Wednesday night (casting about for something to read before going to sleep) I just decided to read the bloody thing and see what all the fuss was about.

And now I have.

It's a great yarn...for all of its religious, historic, and artistic touchpoints (and affectations?), it is at its heart an almost pulpy thriller (and I don't say that in a negative way...nothing wrong with a good thriller)... and Ron Howard will hopefully make a good movie out of it (though it is densely packed with twists, turns, characters, and information and so, as is most often the case, much will have to be jettisoned in the transition from the page to the screen.)

I understand that it's provocative...purposely so I presume...but I'm not sure why so many people find it so very threatening. It's a informed with much research and filled with much speculation to be sure...and I'm not sure why anybody's faith should be threatened by a work of fiction (it kind of reminds me of the furor that cropped up around Oliver Stone's film JFK...whatever delusions of grandeur the director had it was just a movie but some people seem to take it for more than that.)

It wasn't a waste of's an entertaining enough book...and now another volume is removed from my pile (of course, two more were added earlier this week...)

*Gabriel Garcia-Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Angelina Jolie

Is this the "sexiest (famous) woman in the world"? The readers of the American edition of FHM seem to think so (this year anyway). The erstwhile Mrs. Billy Bob Thornton came in first when the 15 million votes were counted in the magazine's annual poll.

The rest of their top ten were (in order): Jennifer Garner, Paris Hilton, Charlize Theron, Halle Berry, Alyssa Milano, Teri Hatcher, Pamela Anderson, Scarlett Johansson, and Lindsay Lohan.

Apparently the readers of the American edition of FHM are an extremely fickle lot...last year's poll-winner, Britney Spears, didn't even make the list of 100 this year. (But then People Magazine's annual "sexiest (famous) man alive" list fluctuates wildly from year to year as well...)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Once upon a time, I thought that the Eagles were relatively cool (of course, this is coming from someone who also once thought that Chicago [the band], Kool and the Gang, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive were pretty cool, too...hey, stop that snickering, we all get to be young and foolish at one point in our lives!)

Some of their cuts..."Already Gone", "Hotel California", "Take it Easy", "Tequila Sunrise", their stately version of Tom Waits' "Ol' 55", the oft-covered "Desperado"...still resonate with pure pop wonderfulness (others...oh let's say, "Lyin' Eyes" and "Witchy Woman"...haven't aged quite as well but they still have their moments.)

The Eagles aren't that cool these days, of course...they've turned into a big nostalgia-hawking enterprise designed to vacuum up as much baby boomer money as they possibly can (but again, as I said with Cowboy Hootie a few posts back, people gotta eat...and staff their mansions and buy fuel for their private jets and I'm not gonna bag on them too much for grubbing up the dough.)

Since they buried their disagreements and got back together, the boys in the band have been going to the bank on overpriced concerts (I saw them live back when they were much younger and they were a boring, "we're-just-gonna-stand-here-and-strum" live act even then, I'm doubting they've gotten much more animated with age and I'm just not in that "it's-wonderful-just-to-be-in-the-same-arena-with-them" camp for any performer...if you're charging $100-150 [or more] a ticket, my friends, you'd better be putting on a show...but hey, that's just me :-) and repackaging of their old stuff.

Their first two greatest hits discs were already among the best selling records ever but since then they've added a bloated 4-disc box set (Selected Works 1972-1999), a pretty tight 2-disc collection (The Very Best of the Eagles...which, in the name of full disclosure, I bought and enjoy) and now this "limited edition" repackaging of the band's 6 studio albums plus their first live album.

9 discs with a list price of $130 (including a disc featuring just the holiday single "Please Come Home for Christmas" and "Funky New Year", the latter being anything but "funky" but we'll let that go by presuming it was supposed to be tongue in cheek) doesn't sound like much of deal to me...any halfway decent shopper could probably buy these discs individually for little more than half that price...but if it keeps the faithful happy (and allows the fellas to make their mortgage payments) it's cool with me.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Baseball: a film by Ken Burns

I'm not a hardcore baseball fan (pro football is my sports addiction of choice) but I do enjoy the game. And almost every year about this time, I'm drawn back to Baseball, Ken Burns' epic, elegant valentine to the national pastime that was first broadcast as a PBS mini-series in 1994.

Like The Civil War before it and Jazz after it, Burns lovingly explores baseball's history, poetry, and social impact with vintage photos and film along with interviews with people involved with the game (players, managers, broadcasters, etc.) as well as historians, social commentators, and famous fans (such as Billy Crystal, George Plimpton, and George Will) along with dramatic readings by an impressive host of celebrities (including Gregory Peck, Anthony Hopkins, Ossie Davis, Jason Robards, Paul Newman, Studs Turkel, and many others.)

The whole thing is anchored by the stately narration of John Chancellor.

It is indeed a valentine to the game (some complain that Burns plays fast and loose with some facts but I'm not in a position to argue that one way or the other) but, that said, it doesn't shy away from the darker aspects of Baseball's history (racism and segregation, cheating players, greedy owners, onerous contracts, etc.) and the less-than-heroic aspects of great, but still undeniably flawed (that is to say, human) players such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Mickey Mantle.

In each of Burns' big projects (this clocks in at 18+ hours broken down into 9 "innings" covering roughly a decade each...excepting the first "inning" which covers 1840-1900) one of the talking heads becomes the breakthrough commentator. With The Civil War, it was puckish historian Shelby Foote...Jazz had earnest musician/teacher Wynton Marsalis...and in Baseball it was John "Buck" O'Neil:

O'Neil (who, in the name of full disclosure, I have to admit to having a special fondness for because he strongly reminds me, in many ways, of my maternal grandfather) is a stately, wise, and charming focal point for the series who lived the game for decades (he was a star player and manager in the Negro Leagues and later he became a coach for the Chicago Cubs) and provided fascinating insights and anecdotes that helped make the series come even more alive.

It's a lovely, engaging series...just the thing to savor as springtime...and the baseball ready to bloom into vibrant life once again.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Faye Dunaway and "The Starlet"

Jeez. I know that Hollywood is viciously unkind to older actresses and that those actresses want and need to find gigs wherever they can but still...

Faye Academy Award winning actress...should be able to find something more suitable to her stature and talent than being a judge on a cheeseball reality show on the WB.
None of the contestants on The Starlet seems destined to do much in the business beyond this lame show (the last episode I bothered to watch...and it will be the last episode I watch as the outcome of the show holds not the slightest bit of interest to me... had the young ladies all stressed out and weepy because they had to re-create a girl-on-girl kissing scene from some silly TV movie) but there is Ms. Dunaway (alongside of fellow judges, Vivica A. Fox and some casting guy whose name escapes me...and no, I'm not interested enough to go look it up) dutifully sharing wisdom with them (I'm betting none of the contestants really know who the hell she is) and dismissing the losers with sober readings of the show's unfortunate catchphrase: "don't call us...we'll call you."

I really hope (but don't expect) that the networks will finally accept the fact that
American Idol is an anomaly in its success and stop trying to clone that success with half-assed knockoffs. The Starlet joins a long list of other AI wanna-be's (Arsenio Hall's Star Search, American Juniors, Next Action Star, Fame, Road to Stardom with Missy Elliott, etc., etc., etc.) that have flamed out in the attempt to catch that elusive ratings lightning in a bottle...only this one has the unfortunate side-effect of taking an Oscar winner along for its ride into inevitable oblivion.

Friday, March 18, 2005

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

There was a time when music critics would have anointed Bright Eyes's frontman Conor Oberst...with his earnest, ragged voice (self-mocked at one point with the couplet,"I could have been a famous singer, if I had somebody else's voice"), the sparkling seriocomic wordplay of his lyrics, and his powerful feel for enticing the "New Dylan".

Luckily for Oberst, the critics finally got hip to the fact that nobody was looking for a new Dylan since the old one was still alive and kicking and still making good to great (and sometimes even downright wonderful) records and so, reluctantly one supposes, they stopped anointing people.

This collection is ragged, heartfelt, wryly poetic, insanely catchy and utterly engaging...from the wistful opening of "At the Bottom of Everything" to the controlled cacophony of the coda to the closing rocker "Road to Joy".

Extra points for bringing in the peerless Emmylou Harris to sing harmony on three cuts.

Cool beans all the way round.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Favorite Movies of the 90's

I found this one on PSoTD (and, of course, I couldn't resist playing too...)

In alphabetical order:

American Beauty (1999)
Fargo (1996)
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Gods and Monsters (1998)
Goodfellas (1990)
JFK (1991)
L.A. Confidential (1997)
Malcolm X (1992)
The Player (1992)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Quiz Show (1994)
Rushmore (1998)
Short Cuts (1993)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Wag the Dog (1997)

(I tried to limit it to 10 but found that I couldn't...)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Hearts in Mind

There's no such thing as a bad Nanci Griffith album.

Some (personally I return to Late Night Grande Hotel, Flyer, Storms, Clock Without Hands, and Other Voices-Other Rooms regularly and they always make me happy all over again) are definitely better than others (Dustbowl Symphony or Blue Roses from the Moons? Not returned to very often...) but none of them are bad.

It doesn't appear that Nanci...with her pristine, lilting twang, her sure handed songwriting skills, and her ability to often (though admittedly not always) pick interesting songs from other songwriters to interpret (not to mention her ability to find and work with extremely skilled players, canny producers, and cool guest artists)...would know how to make a bad album.

Hearts in Mind
is therefore, of course, not a bad album. It does try the faith and patience of true believers (like yours truly) by opening with 6 straight somber, stripped down ballads (including "Beautiful", Griffith's charming valentine to her stepfather, Julie Gold's ponderous 9/11 elegy "Mountain of Sorrow", and the too-precious-by-half "Back When Ted Loved Sylvia", guitarist and production manager Le Ann Etheridge's ode to poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.)

But things pick up after that and are humming along nicely by the time the sprightly "I Love This Town", with harmony vocals by Jimmy Buffett, gets feet to tapping.

This collection is dedicated to "the memory of every soldier and ever civilian lost to the horrors of war" and several of the tracks...including "Big Blue Ball of War", "Heart of Indochine", and "Old Hanoi"...address that theme (to sometimes awkward...if still heartfelt...effect.)

It doesn't stand with her best work but Hearts in Mind isn't bad. But, of course, it wouldn't be...because (you were paying attention earlier, weren't you? :-) there's no such thing as a bad Nanci Griffith album.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Incredibles DVD

I'm so jazzed. I loved this movie in the theater and I love it almost as much on DVD. Some of the experience is lost on TV (at least for those of us who don't have big honking flat screen doo dads :-) because portions of this delightful animated adventure features widescreen action that filled the movie screen to grand, eye-popping effect...but it's a minor quibble because at its heart this movie is about the characters (spandex-clad super-heroes and super-villains that they be) and their amazing, fantastic, bittersweet, grandly heroic, utterly human lives and this DVD showcases that wonderfully.

I haven't explored all of the generous bonus features of the 2-disc set yet (I just got the thing from my good pals at Costco online) but the short cartoon I have seen..."Jack Jack Attack" a hoot (and it fills in some continuity from the movie featuring the youngest Incredible and his harried, ditzy babysitter.)

So cool.

Friday, March 11, 2005

...they say it's your birthday...

You say it's your birthday

It's my birthday too--yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.
(John Lennon & Paul McCartney)

Okay, I freely admit that I love birthdays. Birthdays of people I know and care about. Birthdays of people I barely know but want to wish well just the same.

And yes, especially (the kid in me never having completely grown up any evidence to the contrary notwithstanding :-), my own birthday (getting older is not something to be afraid's one of the goals in life to get as old as possible while staying as healthy and lucid as possible.)

Sunday March 13th is my birthday...if you're cruising by the blog on Sunday and feel like sharing some long distance good cheer, leave some "many happy returns of the day" for your friendly neighborhood birthday guy :-)

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Darius Rucker's Burger King Commercial

Would you buy a Whopper from this man?

But hey, I'm not gonna be a man Hootie has got to make that paper, too.

Though, that said, I can't believe that Mr. Rucker has spent all of that Cracked Rear View loot and really needs to shill burgers in this odd little fantasia of a commercial (that Burger King character is one creepy son of a gun, they really should rethink using his weird mug in their TV advertising)...but stranger things have happened.

(At least Burger King stopped showing the ad with Omarosa...I'll take Cowboy Hootie over that "lady" any day...)

Monday, March 07, 2005

Get Lifted

If you take on a stage name like "Legend", you'd better have the goods to back it up (or otherwise be prepared to take a lot of well-deserved ridicule for your hubris.) John Legend (aka John Stephens) has the goods... for the most part.

Legend doesn't have the most distinctive of voices but it's quite nice and he uses it well on this collection of "neo-soul". Executive producer Kanye West and Snoop Dogg make notable appearances on a couple of tracks but the focus is squarely on Legend and he revels in it.

It's a solid, soulful effort and I'm looking forward to what Mr. Legend will come up with in the future.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Be Cool

Get Shorty was a cool, fast-paced, sparkling little was a minor gem that had sly wit, broadly drawn but engaging characters, and just enough action and intrigue to hold your attention through it all with John Travolta (the modern epitome of screen cool) deftly holding the center.

Be Cool, the sequel, has...John Travolta.

It's not a completely terrible movie...there are some genuinely amusing moments sprinkled throughout and Travolta, even though at times he seems to be phoning his reprise of the unflappable Chili Palmer in sometimes, is still cool...but it's lazy and poorly-paced and bloated (with too many characters and too many "clever" plot twists.) It's not even close to being as sharp and consistently engaging as its predecessor.

Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000 of OutKast) has a few funny moments and I guess there's some amusement to be had in The Rock's arch portrayal of a gay bodyguard who, this being Hollywood, wants to be an actor but overall the level of humor is nothing to write home about (an in-joke about the weakness of sequels early on is proved to be true by much of which follows.)

Pity poor Vince Vaughan, stuck in the role of a white guy with delusions of being some kind of black "gangsta"'s the kind of performance that will either come off as inspired lunacy or as gratingly annoying.

It wasn't inspired lunacy.

A couple of extended sequences...Travolta and an under-used Uma Thurman dancing during a performance by The Black Eyed Peas and Sergio Mendes and co-stars Christina Milian and Steven Tyler dueting on "Crying" during an Aerosmith concert...looked more like music videos than parts of the overall narrative.

It's one of those movies where you get the feeling that the folks onscreen had more fun making it than the audience does watching it.

(But hey, the trailer for Batman Begins that was shown beforehand was pretty cool...not worth the price of admission...but pretty cool :-)

Friday, March 04, 2005

Which Peanuts Character Am I?

Yeah, I was always wondering about the answer to that burning question...

You are Schroeder!

Which Peanuts Character are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

It would probably be cooler to have been Snoopy...but I know that he's a much more fanciful fellow than I am :-)

Thursday, March 03, 2005


Now that the Oscar season is over I'm finally getting a chance to catch up on some of the nominated films ($7.50 for a matinee! It's no wonder that my personal movie theater attendance is down of late...)

This is, as I had heard, a wonderful little movie. I have a strong fondness for character-driven stories with strong dialogue, complex characters, and an unwillingness to settle for glib answers and pat resolutions. "Sideways" certainly fits the bill on all of these counts.

Paul Giamatti's performance is indeed as deliciously layered and subtle as I had heard and Thomas Haden Church is more than fine as well. I didn't like their is a pompous, neurotic, self-loathing borderline alcoholic (and a liar and a thief to boot), the other is a immature, self-centered manipulator (and, again, a willful liar to boot)...but I found them compelling to watch despite (or maybe because of) that fact.

Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh, both giving delightful life to their characters, are more sympathetic in vital supporting roles.

I'm actually looking forward to seeing this movie again when it comes out on DVD because, despite some very beautiful locales, it's emphasis on character and quiet moments may be given an interesting new dimension when brought down from the expansive canvas of the movie screen to the intimate space of the television screen...we shall see.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Old Friends...Live on Stage

Sometimes you really can't go home again. When Simon and Garfunkel made their surprise reunion at the Grammys a couple of years it didn't seem like that happy an occasion to me...the two of them looked uncomfortable (in the spotlight with each other) and time had diminished their voices the way time will always do (though, that said, they sounded fine.)

This 2-CD set is more of the same. The guys are in fine (if not glorious) voice and all of the old hits are dutifully trotted out (teaming with the Everly Brothers for a sprightly take on "Bye Bye Love" is a nice bonus) but I'm not sure what the point is (beyond the obvious financial considerations...Simon's last couple of albums didn't exactly burn up the charts and Garfunkel...well let's just not go there...) The 1982 reunion concert album..."The Concert in Central Park"...was more fun (though itself still not essential S&G listening) and their original recordings still exist in all of their youthful glory.

Still, if the fellas just needed a few more good pay days (from the concert tour that this album chronicles) , more power to them...maybe we'll see them together again in another couple of decades trotting out "Mrs. Robinson" for us bald and/or blue-haired baby boomers who will be ready to (soft) rock again.