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Archive for March, 2013

wz1 SOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-Off the Deep End (1992).

Weird_Al_Yankovic_-_Off_the_Deep_EndIt was this “Weird Al” album that brought me back into the fold.  His parody of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (“Smells Like Nirvana”) was hilarious.  And the video was even better.  It was enough for me to get this album (the cover of which even parodied Nevermind) and was a huge seller for Al.  This great cover makes the rest of the parodies seem so strangely one-hit wonderish (which is, of course Al’s bread and butter), but when you read the other parodied songs, it’s so amusingly “who?”

We have  “I Can’t Watch This” (“Can’t Touch This,” MC Hammer).  This parody is pretty funny as his TV stuff is usually very good.  “The White Stuff” (“The Right Stuff” New Kids on the Block–really??) is very very funny.  It works on a parody level and it works so well internally including the way the O-O-O-OREO fits in in both respects.  It’s probably his best overall parody for a song whose original I dislike.  “Taco Grande” is a parody of Rico Suave” (does anyone remember that song?).  This song also happens to be a favorite of mine–the way he says “Taco” in an oddly sexy way makes me laugh every time.  And, internally it works really well, too.  “The Plumbing Song” is a parody of Milli Vanilla.  While the plumbing  jokes are good, the actual chorus, the “punchline,” really doesn’t work.  Just like Milli Vanilli.

The originals are quite strong on this disc, too.  “Trigger Happy” is a Beach Boys style parody which actually is quite relevant in the big gun debate of 2013.  “I Was Only Kidding” is one of his anti-romantic songs, in which he says all of these romantic things and then takes it back.  It’s pretty funny, even with the Wayne’s World joke.  Wikipedia suggests that it’s a style parody of Tonio K, but I don’t know who that is or what he sounds like.  “When I Was Your Age” sounds a lot like a song from the UHF soundtrack–that same musical style, I wonder if the band works on the music together. It’s a funny song that’s all about old people yelling about how easy young people have it.  It’s a good one.

“Airline Amy” is an original song about a stewardess which doesn’t really do much for me.  But the final song on the disc “You Don’t Love me Anymore” is just outstanding.  It’s a funny acoustic ballad, an anti-romantic song with some very funny lines.  The video parodies Extreme’s “More Than Words,” even though the original song wasn’t a parody of that song (but since people thought it was he made the video reflect it). The video is awesome.

And of course, the polka medley is wonderful.  There’s such a weird mix of songs, and this one really dates the record (not in a bad way).  The previous medleys mixed a lot of different eras, but the songs in this one are of a very specific time: “Cradle of Love,” “Tom’s Diner,” “Love Shack,” “Pump Up the Jam,” “Losing My Religion” (the second R.E.M. nod from Al), “Do Me” (I don’t know the original but I love that he throws in a yodel at the end of it), “Cherry Pie,” “I Touch Myself,” “Dr Feelgood” and the unforgettable “Ice Ice Baby.”  It May be the only place where Metallica and “The Humpty Dance” play next to each other, too.

In a final nod to Nirvana, Al tossed in a 5 second piece of noise after ten minutes of silence which he called “Bite Me” (because Nevermind had a very noisy song called “Endless, Nameless” after some 30 minutes of silence).  My friend Matt has a very funny story about not knowing that “Bite Me” would come on and getting the crap scared out of him by it.  Al makes us laugh in many different ways.

[READ: February and March 2013] The Weird Zone series

wz2Readers will know that Clark and I love Tony Abbott.  We keep looking for his older, somewhat harder to find series, and this past month the library came through with The Weird Zone, eight books set in the small town of Grover’s Mill.  There’s a Secret Government UFO testing base at the north of the city, a dinosaur graveyard to the west of the city and Humongous Horror Movie Studio to the east.  Living in this weird triangle between these oddities can mean only one thing–Grover’s Mill, is known to the kids as the Weird Zone (their school is even call W.Reid Elementary).  The adults in town don’t seem to realize what’s going on (although, clearly they must) are called Zoners.

The Humongous Horror Movie studio is run by Mr Vickers.  His kids, Sean and Holly, are two of the five protagonist.  Although it’s a little funny that in book one, Sean is away at camp.  Mr Vickers makes a horror movie every week–they are terrible  but he shows them at the drive in and people come (perhaps because of the huge searchlights he waves around through the sky).  But having this crazy creature shop in town means that things are very rarely normal anyway.

In Book One, Zombie Surf Commandos from Mars!, Liz Duffey, Holly Vickers and Jeff Ryan are enjoying a day at the beach of Lake Lake (named after someone named Lake) when a tidal wave surges forth from the water.  Riding that wave are a bunch of Martian zombies.  They march after the kids looking for brains! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “Me Ol’ Bamboo” (1968).

bamboo  rickymarsThis song comes from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the movie.  It is a strange little set piece in the early section of the film.  In terms of the movie it is utterly absurd: Caracticus Potts (Dick van Dyke) is looking to make some quick cash.  He heads to a carny circus (that has just popped up) with his crazy haircutting invention.  A brawny guy sits down and gets a terrible scalping.  Potts runs away through various parts of the circus and ultimately ends up in the chorus-line-type set up with a dozen or so guys getting ready to sing this song.

When the song starts Potts is able to follow the routine fairly well, although he’s always a step or two behind. But by the second verse he is now in charge of the song, singing extra lyrics and then doing a bit of a solo routine which the other guys then follow.  Now, I realize it’s a musical and as Clark asked the unasked question, “how do she know the song they sing when she is hearing it for the first time?” But even in the logic-defying world of musicals, shoehorning this set piece into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a stretch.

And yet, if you’ve been reading, you know we watched this weeks ago and I can’t get it out of my head.  The song (weird as it is being about a bamboo pole) is really catchy.  And the dance routine is, simply, amazing.  I don’t know much about Dick van Dyke’s performing skills, but man he knocks it out of the park.  And, more amazingly, there are some really long takes before they cut away.  And ensemble of 12 or so doing a very complicated routine for more than a few measures is really impressive.

The more I watch it, the more impressed I am and the more I understand why they shoehorned it in.  Check it out:

[READ: February 22, 2013] Ricky Ricotta Books 4-6

This is the second set of three Ricky Ricotta books.  They don’t vary all that much from the first three–Ricky and his Might Robot get in trouble, and then they save the day.  What I did like was that Pilkey adds some valiant assistants who add a new dimension to the rather simple story.

In Book 4 Ricky and his Robot are bored of playing hide and seek so they decide to go skateboarding   The Robot uses the Ricotta’s minivan as a skateboard and of course, he crushes it.  His parents hold them responsible for paying for it (which Ricky calculates will take 259 years).  Meanwhile on Mars, Major Monkey hates living on a cold, dead planet and he wants to take over Earth.  But he has been watching what’s been going on down there and he knows what happened to the three previous villains (I though that was a nice touch).  He also knows that the Mighty Robot has stopped all of their plans.  So he sends a decoy to distract the Robot.

The decoy says that Mars is in trouble so the Mighty Robot flies off to help.  But when he gets there he is trapped by Major Monkey’s ambush and he is stuck on Mars!  Then Major Monkey flies aback to Earth knowing no one can stop him. (more…)

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2003_12_15_p139SOUNDTRACK: TELEKINESIS-“Ghosts and Creatures” (Live at SXSW, March 21, 2013).

telekinesis

Telekinesis is, as far as I can tell, the brainchild of one guy (NPR points out twice in three paragraphs that the singer/songwriter is a drummer).  He has some special guests playing with him in this set (although nobody terribly famous–the keyboardist from Wild Flag (the only one in the band who I can never remember).

In a typical Telekinesis show the drums are up at the front of the stage.  That’s true here, too.  In this case the singer is standing, just playing maracas (and presumably the bass drum) for the first 2/3 of the song.  But by the end he sits down and starts pounding along with the song.

This song is a an interesting mix of dark (the keyboard’s minor chords) and bright (the guitar picking).  I enjoyed the way the song built over the course of its four minutes (including a cool break where it was just the keyboard).  At first I didn’t think there was much to the song, but after three listens I really got into it.  The harmonies were really good and there was some cool intricacy going on. I think watching the video helped as well (the bass player is really into it).

You too can watch it here.

[READ: March 26, 2013] “Recuperation”

This is the final uncollected story that I read from Roddy Doyle (okay, that Wikipedia list is clearly old as I see that both this and “Teaching” have since been collected in Bullfighting).  Oh well, that’s alright, then.

In this story, an old man goes for a walk.

And that’s it.

coolockWell, not entirely of course.  The man was told to go for walks by his doctor.  He needs the exercise and as he doesn’t golf or go to golf clubs or join groups, the doctor says he should go for a walk.  So the man walks around a nearby neighborhood, knowing that no one will stop and talk to him. And Doyle knows his area of Dublin, so we get a very detailed walkabout as the man traipses around Coolock in Dublin (by the Cadbury’s and the Classic Furniture). (more…)

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vonlastintSOUNDTRACKSURFER BLOOD-“Demon Dance” (Live at SXSW, March 27, 2013).

surfer blood

I’ve liked Surfer Blood since I first heard them.  They write catchy, mostly short, poppy songs.  And usually after a few listens, the hooks really grab you.  The strange thing about the band is that the hooks aren’t always readily apparent, which makes their songs sound kind of samey sometimes.

Of course, samey isn’t a bad thing, necessarily.  Surfer Blood is quite distinctive and I tend to enjoy everything they do.  This new song sounds like their other stuff, which is fine.  But the most distinctive thing about the band of probably their singer who sounds like a less-affected Morrissey.

Having also listened to the song from the album I can say that the singer is far harder to understand live, so maybe live is not the best way to hear a new song from them, but for an old favorite, Surfer Blood has a great energy live.

Watch the show here and hear the studio version here.

[READ: March 27, 2013] The Last Interview and Other Conversations

Melville House has published a number of these “Last Interview” books, and as a completist I feel compelled to read them.  I have read criticisms of the series primarily because what the books are are collections of interviews including the last interview that the writer gave.  They don’t have anything new or proprietary.  The last interview just happens to be the last one he gave.   So it seems a little disingenuous, but is not technically wrong.

There’s so far five books in the series, and I figured I’d read at least three (Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace and Roberto Bolaño–the other two turned out to be Jorge Luis Borges–who I would be interested in reading about and Jacques Derrida (!) who I have always loved–I guess this series was tailor made for me).

At any rate, these interviews are from various times and locations in Vonnegut’s career.  There are six in total.  I don’t know if the titles they give here were the titles in the original publications but here’s what’s inside:

  • “Kurt Vonnegut: The Art of Fiction” from The Paris Review, Spring 1977 (by David Hayman, David Michaelis, George Plimpton, Richard Rhodes)
  • “There Must be More to Love Than Death” from The Nation, August 1980 (by Robert K. Musil)
  • “The Joe & Kurt Show” from Playboy, May 1982 (by Joseph Heller and Carole Mallory)
  • “The Melancholia of Everything Completed” from Stop Smiling, August 2006 (by J.C. Gabel)
  • “God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut” from U.S. Airways Magazine (!!!), June 2007 (by J. Rentilly)
  • “The Last Interview” from In These Times May 9, 2007 (by Heather Augustyn) (more…)

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2007_04_02_p139SOUNDTRACKMETZ-“Wet Blanket” (Live at SXSW, March 20, 2013).

metzIt’s amazing how much different two bands can sound (comparing Haim from yesterday to Metz from today).  Obviously, they play very different styles of music, but Metz is just three guys and they are loud and bass heavy and raucous. Whereas Haim, with their four members, have practically no low end at all.  It’s an amazing look at how different bands can be while playing basically the same instruments.

Anyhow, Metz are a noise rock trio from Canada.  I’d never heard of them before this song.  There’s a lot of noise as the song opens, but once the groove starts, it’s fast and heavy with pounding drums and a persistent, fast bass.  The band, who are dressed nicely (the singer guitarist has a button down shirt open over his T-shirt), are really abrasive and punky.  And the singer/screamer is a wild man–climbing on the bass drum to wail his solo, feedbacking the guitar from the amps and not even playing the guitar as he screams into the microphone (but there is noise, so I wonder if he has an echo effect on).  At one point someone in the audience even holds the microphone closer to him while he screams as he seems to be having trouble with it.

It’s an intense set and I’d like to hear more from them.  Their debut came out last year (on Sub Pop).

You can watch this song here.

[READ: March 26, 2013] “Teaching”

Another story from Doyle, this one is a dark story about being an old and near-retirement teacher (Doyle was himself a teacher).

The story opens with a girl saying that he, the teacher, knew her mother.  This has been happening more and more now that the students he taught when he was young have had children who are now as old as they were.  The girl says her mom fancied him and he makes a poor joke wondering if the girl can believe it, but he’s just made uncomfortable by the exchange.

In fact, he mostly just seems to want to try to get through the day.  It’s only September and he has a whole school year ahead of him.  He never drinks at school, that is a rule he will always abide by, but that doesn’t mean he won’t drink after school.   Which he does.  Although to describe him as an alcoholic (which I guess he is) kind of takes something away from the thrust of the story.  The alcohol is a part of who he is but it doesn’t impact the story, exactly. (more…)

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stringer SOUNDTRACK: HAIM-“Falling” (Live at SXSW, March 17, 2013).

haim

Haim are three sisters and a drummer.  The sisters play guitar and sing, play bass and percussion and play keyboards.  And yes, they look a lot alike (an a lot like Alanis Morrissette).  But they sound very classic rock–kind of like Heart, with a more modern, noisy twist.

I didn’t really care much for the sound of this song–it seems kind of anemic to me.  The sisters are all quite talented and when the lead singer/guitarist started wailing they were really good.  But the overall feel of the song seemed more high school than rock show–like they couldn’t get the mix right, like the keyboards (which were little bopping notes, rather than waves of music) were the main force behind the song–which I don’t think is true.

Maybe they’d sound better on record, or if they had a better mix on stage.

[READ: March 26, 2013] Like Shaking Hands with God

I had been reading a lot of Vonnegut, but I got a little burnt out by him.  However, when I was checking his bibliography all those months ago, I found that Princeton University had a book that I couldn’t find anywhere else.  Well, given my new employment situation, it was time to take advantage of that connection.  So I went to the Firestone library and grabbed this book (and a few others that I didn’t see elsewhere).

It’s a lot of fuss over an 80 page book, but I’m glad I read it and it did get me back in the mood to read more Vonnegut (I have five books of his left to read, although I believe more posthumous stuff seems to come out all the time).

This book is essentially a transcription of two conversations that Vonnegut had (one public and one private) with the author Lee Stringer and the moderator Ross Klavan.  The first conversation occurred on October 1, 1998 at a bookstore in Manhattan.  The second was a private affair in January 1999  (which was of course, recorded), in which they followed up on some of the same ideas.

Stringer had written one book (Grand Central Winter) when the first conversation took place (he has written two more since).  Stringer says he always admired Vonnegut and Vonnegut talks about how much he liked Grand Central Winter (which Vonnegut wrote a forward to).  GCW is nothing like Vonnegut’s books, it is a serious book about being homeless (Stringer himself was homeless for a long time) and it is real and gritty.  It sounds good, although maybe a little too gritty and real for me. (more…)

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unescoSOUNDTRACK: GASHCAT-“Morning Sun” (live at SXSW, March 28 2013).

gashcat

When I first heard that the Grateful Dead had two drummers, I thought, “Wow these guys must rock hard.”  Which is not true at all.  Gashcat have two drummers and while the band is not heavy, they rock hard.  “Morning Sun” is a non-stop frenetic blast of bouncy folk pop.

They lead singer/screamer uses an acoustic guitar, and there are two old- school keyboards (for both backing music and spacey effects).  They main drummer drums and the secondary percussionist pounds along with him, using a big drum and an occasional tambourine.

This is the first I’ve heard of them and while the song doesn’t make me want to run out and buy more, they’d be a great opening act to see live.  They remind me of the Waterboys on speed.

You can watch the video here.

[READ: March 25, 2013] “Brilliant”

When I started reading Roddy Doyle books again recently, I decided to see what else he had written.  And Wikipedia listed several “uncollected” stories (several of which have by now been collected).  The final story on the list was this one, “Brilliant” which was written for St. Patrick’s Festival Parade 2011 & Dublin UNESCO City of Literature.  I don’t know exactly what that means although I understand that the Cities of Literature “promote the social, economic and cultural development of cities in both the developed and the developing world.”  So clearly Doyle was writing on behalf of a cause.

It starts out very oddly:

Poor oul’ Dublin.
Dublin was a city on the west coast of –
East.
Dublin was a city on the east coast of Ireland.

That interrupting East is never explained, although it does go on through the story, correcting the narrator who can’t tell east from west.  The story proves to be more in the vein of Doyle’s children’s stories.  There’s no poo but there is a flying dog.  In this case the dog is “The Black Dog of Depression,” an expression of Winston Churchill’s that I was unfamiliar with, although I also just read it again in an issue of The Walrus (weird serendipity, that). (more…)

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