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Archive for December, 2012

12SOUNDTRACK: FRANK OCEAN-“Bad Religion” (2012).

frankoI didn’t know anything about Frank Ocean until I started looking at all of the  Best Albums of 2012 lists.  He was on everyone’s list and was pretty near the top of all of them.  So it was time to check him out.

It  turns out that he’s affiliated with the Odd Future collective, whom I’ve talked about in the past.  But he’s also been on a lot of big name records.  Channel Orange is his debut album (that’s not a mixtape) and the big surprise seems to be that this song (which he sang live on Jimmy Fallon) is about a male lover.  And I guess that’s progress.

So Ocean sings a slow R&B style, and I have to say his voice reminds me of Prince a lot.  Which is a good thing.  I really like this song.    It has gospelly keyboards (but in that Purple Rain kinda way).  And a really aching vocal line.  It’s really effective and it’s really simple.  And I think that’s what I liked best about this song and others that I’ve heard–he’s really understated.  Crazy, I know.

Now I do not like R&B, it’s one of the few genres that I just don;t get.  And yet there’s something about this album (the tracks I’ve listened to) that is really compelling.  It’s not awash in over the top R&B trappings, and it doesn’t try too hard.  It’s just Frank  (not his real name) and his voice over some simple beats.  A friend of mine recently said that all of a sudden she “got” this album, and  I think I may have to get it as well.

[READ: December 30, 2012] McSweeney’s #12

At the beginning of 2012, I said I’d read all of my old McSweeney’s issues this year.  I didn’t.  Indeed, I put it off for quite a while for no especial reason.  Now as the year draws to an end, I’m annoyed that I didn’t read them all, but it’s not like I read nothing.  Nevertheless, I managed to read a few in the last month and am delighted that I finished this one just under the wire.  For those keeping track, the only issues left are 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 10, 38, (which I misplaced but have found again) and 42, which just arrived today.  My new plan in to have those first four read by Easter.  We’ll see.

So Issue #12 returns to a number of different fun ideas.  The cover:  It’s a paperback, but you can manipulate the front and back covers to make a very cool 3-D effect (by looking through two eyeholes) with a hippo.  The colophon/editor’s note is also back.  Someone had complained that he missed the small print ramble in the beginning of the book and so it is back, with the writer (Eggers? Horowitz?) sitting in Wales, in a B&B, and hating it.  It’s very funny and a welcome return.

As the title suggests, all of the stories here are from unpublished authors.  They debate about what exactly unpublished means, and come down on the side of not well known.  And so that’s what we have here, first time (for the mos part) stories.  And Roddy Doyle.

There are some other interesting things in this issue.  The pages come in four colors–each for a different section.  The Letters/Intro page [white], the main stories [pink], the Roddy Doyle piece (he’s not unpublished after all so he gets his own section) [gray] and the twenty minute stories [yellow].  There’s also photographs (with captions) of Yuri Gagarin.  And a series of drawing that introduce each story called “Dancewriting”–a stick figure on a five-lined staff.  They’re interesting but hard to fathom fully.

LETTERS (more…)

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 130,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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[WATCHED: November-December 2012] Sherlock & Elementary

sherlockThis has been the year of Sherlock Holmes for us.  We loved the first Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes movie.  Sarah loved the second one (I fell asleep, but I don’t blame the film).  And then U.S. TV began airing Elementary this year.  It’s a contemporary version of Sherlock Holmes in which Watson is played by Lucy Liu–she is his “sober companion” trying to keep him off drugs and alcohol.  I kind of like this conceit–it’s a fun twist on Watson, and yet it loses some of the interplay that is fabulous between Watson and Holmes, especially since Holmes (played by Johnny Lee Miller) seems to be trying to get away from Watson.  Nonetheless, the show is quite enjoyable and is quintessentially Holmesian.

elementryA back story note: Sarah and I do not like police procedurals.  We don’t watch anything with any of the initials: SVUL&ONCISCSIER5-o, none of it.  Even if t he show is supposed to be awesome, as soon as I hear “police” I refuse to watch it.  And yet here we are hooked on Holmes.  So what is it about these shows?  Well, they focus on little clues (impossible clues, frankly).  They rely on being really smart.  And, this may be the key, they don’t rely on guns, police, judges, or any other tropes of police shows.  They’re like puzzles…puzzles that you don’t mind not being able to figure out yourself because Holmes is so damned smart.  I guess these are technically mysteries rather than cop shows, and that’s pretty cool. (more…)

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[WATCHED: Summer 2012] Great Expectations

300px-Great_expectations_titlecardSometime after I read Great Expectations, PBS aired this BBC production.  I don’t know if it’s a movie or a mini series and I don;t really care, so I’m calling it a movie.  So I thought I’ll just wait until after I watch the movie and then write my post about both.  And now here were are, several months later.  Sigh.

Anyhow, this movie version of the book was outstanding.  One of the main criticisms leveled at movie versions of books is that your own imagination makes things far “more” than any film could.  For instance  monsters in your head are far more scary than any special effects could make them.  But the opposite was true here.  I never would have guessed that the people in the book could be so horrible, that the squalor could be so extreme and that the atmosphere could be so stifling–I assume years of good breeding made me forget just how bad things used to be

Part of the fault also belongs to Dickens–he was writing for a contemporary audience–for people who didn’t need to be told, for instance, how old Pip was (they would just know) or how old he would need to be to receive his inheritance.  The story was serialized in a magazine, so it was very current.  And so those of us with a great remove from daily life in 1850 don’t always get the details we need.  This is not to say that Dickens himself was not a master writer or an evocative picture creator.  He often includes lots of details they are very helpful, but some things are left out.  So the movie filled in gaps and details that I didn’t know, and they brought the book to life in a way that reading it alone didn’t.  Again, no disrespect to the book–it’s the same way that seeing Shakespeare is better than reading him).   (more…)

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greatSOUNDTRACK: PHINEAS AND FERB-“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” (2010).

pfholidayThis song takes the music of We Wish You a Merry Christmas and modifies it to fit the show.  Several characters get a verse, with my favorite coming from Isabella:

Oh, come tell me what’cha doin’ / All my relatives just flew in /From Mexico and Jerusalem / For the holidays
Both Christmas trees and menorahs / It can be confusing for us  / When we break into a chorus / Of “olé” (¡Olé!) and “oy vey” (¡Oy vey!)

Although I usually find Doofensmirtz’ lines to be the best, I don’t care for his verse–it is forced and not terribly funny.  But that is more than made up for with the end as it revisited the beloved figgy pudding:

All: We wish your every endeavor
Makes this the best Christmas ever
And we’re all so glad that we will never
Mention figgy pudding…

Dr. DoofenshmirtzOh, great. Well now we’ve mentioned it.
Major MonogramYou know, no one would have noticed if you’d have just kept your mouth shut.

We recently added the entire Phineas and Ferb Holiday Favorites album to our Christmas music collection.  Thanks, Swampy.

[READ: end of 2011-beginning of 2012] Great Expectations

I started this book over a year ago–Christmastime 2011 and I finished it in January of this year.  And I imagined writing a grand, eloquent post about the book, so I bided my time, and have now delayed for almost a year and have basically forgotten everything significant I thought about saying about it.  Never put anything off in the hopes that genius will strike.

So I read this book because my former coworker Stephanie talked about how much she liked it.  I had never read any Dickens before (possibly Tale of Two Cities but that would have been in High School and doesn’t count).  And Nick Hornby raves about Dickens in the pages of The Believer, so it seemed like a time to try him out.  Back when I was in college I joined a book club and received The Oxford Illustrated Dickens–30-some volumes of all of Dickens’ work in beautiful hardcover editions.  And I have lugged them with me to all my homes.  And now I have finally read one.

I was as surprised by how surprised I was by the story.  I knew the very basic outline and character names (thanks South Park), and from what I knew of Dickens, I thought I had the whole story figured out pretty early on.  But no, there was more afoot than I would have ever guessed.

So, the story: Phillip ‘Pip’ Pirrip is a blaksmith’s apprentice.  He was orphaned as a young babe and is currently living with his (terribly mean) older sister and her husband, a kindly blacksmith named Joe Gargery.  One dark and spooky night (as only existed in 19th century England), Pip is out in the swampy foggy graveyard visiting his parents’ graves when he hears a fight.  Two convicts have escaped from a prison ship and are fighting amidst the marshes.  The “winner,” spies Pip and threatens him–unless he brings a nail file and food, he will kill the young boy.  Pip is freaked and runs home to steal one of Joe’s files and a piece of pie that his sister has baked.  The next day the police capture the criminals, and the one whom Pip helped gives Pip a long look and says that he stole the pie, which lets Pip off the hook from his sister’s wrath.

Meanwhile, up the road a piece, there’s an old dilapidated house with an old dilapidated woman living in it.  She is Miss Havisham.  The delightful thing about Dickens is that Miss Havisham is crazily over the top and yet, because of the time it was written, she is totally believable.  (She may indeed have been based on someone Dickens knew).  No one like Miss Havisham could exist now–she would be institutionalized in a heartbeat, but back then, this woman could be head of a household and have servants and simply be spoken of as a bit odd.  For odd she is. (more…)

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grantladn4SOUNDTRACK: PUBLIC IMAGE LTD-“Poptones” and “Careering” on American Bandstand (1980).

abThe Dick Clark article below alerted me to this bizarre gem–PiL “playing” on American Bandstand.   The article talks about John Lydon ignoring the lip synch, climbing into the audience and generally disregarding the show’s script. The video suggests something sightly less sinister (although maybe for 1980 it was outrageous–do you really cross Dick Clark?).

Dick Clark himself announces the band nicely, and then the crazy off-kilter bass and simple guitar of “Poptones” kick in.   Lydon runs into the bleachers with the kids (most of whom are dressed in New Wave finery not unlike Lydon).  They shriek with glee when he comes nearby (do any of them know who he is?  I have no idea).  When Lydon’s spoken rambling come in a little later you can’t help but wonder what the hell they are doing on AB.

Then, Lydon starts grabbing people from the audience and pushing them towards the stage–something I believe was unheard of on AB.  The fans dance around to the impossible-to-dance-to “Poptones.”  The song ends and Dick asks John if he wants the kids out there for song two.  Yes, song Two!  He does and John faux lip synchs through “Careering,” avoiding cameras at all costs and dancing with the kids–one of the most egalitarian performances I can think of from Lydon.

And listen for Dick asking Jah Wobble his name (reply THE Jah Wobble) and him saying, nice to meet you Wobble.  What a surreal moment–wonder what Dick thought of it.

Enjoy it here:

 

[READ: December 28, 2012] Grantland 4

Grantland continues to impress me with these books (and no, I have not yet visited the website).  My subscription ran out with this issue and I have resubscribed–although I take major issue with the $20 shipping and handling fee.  I even wrote to them to complain and they wrote back saying that the books are heavy.  Which is true, but not $5/bk heavy.  The good news is that they sent me a $10 off coupon so the shipping is only half as painful now.

This issue’s endpages were “hypothetical baseball wheel-guides created by JASON OBERG–they were pretty cool and a fun idea.  They look very retro, but use contemporary batters, pitchers and catchers.  I’d like to see them for real.

Each issue makes me like sports a little bit more, but not enough to actually watch  them.

(more…)

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grantladn4SOUNDTRACK: BAD RELIGION-“Fuck You” (2012).

badrelIt’s hard to believe that Bad Religion has been around for thirty years and has never written a song called “Fuck You” before.  Typically they write songs with more profound lyrics.  So I guess this is kind of lazy.  But it’s still fun.

Bad Religion write (mostly) blistering punk songs in under three minutes   They have of course written longer songs, but mostly they do these quick tracks.  Despite the blister, Bad Religion also love harmonies and backing vocals–and for a punk band, they are quite melodious.

After all these years, the band still sounds good.  It’s true that it’s kind of hard to tell when certain songs were recorded as a lot of their music sounds similar.  However, on this track I think the middle slower part sounds like it might be a newer, fuller sound.  But still, when you get to the chorus, it’s hard not to recognize that old time Bad Religion.

[READ: December 26, 2012] “Denny Coughlin”

I have come not to expect too much from the fiction in Grantland.  It’s usually a fine story but not much more.  And that’s okay–I don’t think sports stories can be all that original–you either win or lose, right?

This story did things a little differently   It’s about prisoners playing hockey.  I didn’t even catch on that they were prisoners right away–I liked that the story doesn’t spoon feed the details, it just got right to the action.  Anyhow, in a prison in Walpole, MA, the prisoners from Southie would face the guys from Charlestown twice a week in the yard.

There were only two rules.  1) No injuries–if you get hurt, tend to yourself.  The guards are sick of people in the infirmary.  And 2) the ball is in play wherever it goes, even under the bench that the guards sit on.  The guards know to get up if the ball goes there. (more…)

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