Thursday, September 2, 2021

TV Snide: For August 2021

TV of the Month: The White Lotus - Season 1 (HBO Max): nobody has ever gotten into the mind of a beach resort as well as this show. Steve Zahn, Connie Britton, and Molly Shannon are the biggest names of a powerful ensemble that digs into the class warfare that happens when the layers of the onion are peeled at a Hawaii resort. Jennifer Coolidge of Mrs. Stifler American Pie fame needs to be guaranteed a bunch of awards as the loony, spacey older single woman, and Murray Bartlett plays the best hotel manager since John Cleese in Fawlty Towers, and is even clearly inspired by the master comic Cleese. It’s like an Agatha Christie novel if she included hilariousness and shocking sex in her oeuvre. 5 out of 5 stars

Novel of the Month (tie): Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid: In any other month, this would be atop the pop-culture list by a mile. But this was an extraordinary pop-culture month. Reid’s follow up to her legendary Daisy Jones and the Six is likely her masterpiece. It centers on the biggest party of the year in Nina Riva’s cliff-side mansion but, in doing so, unveils the story of the Riva family through generations. Mick Riva is the centerpiece as the Frank Sinatra-like figure who has commitment issues with his wife June and their children. The kids - Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kat - are all surfers who make their way to the end of the story the best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt. 5 out of 5 stars 

Novel of the Month (tie): The Final Girls by Riley Sager: This is the first of three horror-thriller books already out from someone who has already vaulted near the top of my favorite authors. A true page-turner that would could make for the best film of the genre in years, it twists and turns through multiple mass killings, all of which have one thing in common: a lone survivor. The premise is perfect and the sociological commentary of our modern obsession with the news cycle and niche communities of people obsessed by some of those news stories and the characters involved is truly scary in real life, as it is in this fiction. I can’t wait to read Sanger’s next two thrillers. 5 out of 5 stars

Outer Banks - Season 2 (Netflix): This heart-pounding young-adult-aimed show keeps satisfying as one of the best things on these days. The lower-class Pogues continue their quest to get back the gold that’s rightfully theirs, but the rich folks keep foiling them at every turn. The biggest cliffhanger yet leaves us waiting (probably for at least a year) at the end of the season’s final episode. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Bridge and Tunnel - Season 1 (Epix on Sling TV): Edward Burns was one of my favorite indie rom-com actors and directors in the 1990s. He's back now as the dad in this story of kids home from college in Long Island and trying to figure out what's next in life, possibly in nearby NYC. 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, August 13, 2021

TV Snide: For July 2021

Novel of the Month: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain: Billy Lynn is on a victory tour for two weeks with his Bravo Company, which has won a major and treacherous battle in Iraq. Most of the gripping tale centers on the gang’s visit to a Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving, where they negotiate tricky deals with stadium employees, fans, a cheerleader named Faison, and a Jerry Jones-like Cowboys’ owner, who is seeking the rights to their story to option as a movie with Hillary Swank. I’d been wanting to read this for a while and glad I did (it's also a 2016 movie). 4.5 out of 5 stars

TV of the Month: McCartney 321 (Hulu): This series is an extended conversation between Sir Paul and music producer Rick Rubin and it sheds still more light on why McCartney is truly to pop music master, who I can't imagine will ever be topped in terms of one human being so perfect (as well as so darn cool) at musicial creation. 5 out of 5 stars 

Never Have I Ever - Season 1 (Netflix): This coming-of-age story of Davi, an Indian-American girl in the Valley, is really cute and touching, and good for middle schoolers as well. Highlights of the season include the Model U.N. conference that ends up in drunkenness and a proposal for one country using nukes against another, the finale that leaves us in big anticipation for Season 2, and, of course, the narration by my favorite athlete of all time, John McEnroe (who I’ve oddly been dreaming about lately as a character from my childhood hometown of Edwardsville). 4 out of 5 stars

I Am Greta (Hulu): The impressive tale of 15-year-old Greta Thunberg’s quest to get world leaders to take notice and do something … anything, about climate change. The cameras follow her from starting out with simple one-person strikes in Stockholm to a rough boat ride all the way to New York, all the time battling her Asperger’s condition and the malaise of leaders and the public. But her messages touchingly begin to take hold. 4 out of 5 stars

Space Jam: A New Legacy (HBO Max): A big loud mashup of every pop-culture character under the sun, this is pretty entertaining but I can’t say it’s actually all that funny or even all that creative, but worth a couple hours with the kids. 3 of of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Little Richard was the rock pioneer and his hits remain classic

Little Richard, the self-proclaimed “architect of rock’s roll,” died just over a year ago, back on May 9, 2020. I recently re-revisited his story by reading great obituaries in Classic Rock Magazine and Mojo Magazine, and here are some of the things to know about LR:

  • Tutti Fruity, Good Golly Miss Molly, Lucille, Rip It Up, Keep A Knockin’, and Send Me Some Lovin’ are absolutely must-own party rockers for anyone’s collection.
  • Tutti Frutti’s original lyrics were “Tutti fruity/good booty/If it’s tight, it’s alright/if it’s greasy, makes it easy,” which were a visually too racy and had to be changed.
  • His real name was Richard Wayne Penniman.
  • All the biggest stars covered his songs, and Elvis even declared, in 1969, that Little Richard was the greatest.
  • He always felt more like a girl and was picked on heavily for it throughout his childhood.
  • His route to superstardom was routed through the carnival circuit, where he performed in drag, even still wearing a velvet gown when he later started performing with his new stage name of Little Richard.
  • His famous thin moustache was actually drawn on with pencil to cover a scar on his lip.
  • He always said he taught Paul McCartney everything he knew. Long Tall Sally was the first song young Paul ever sang in public, and, of course, Richard taught him Paul’s patented “wooooooo.”
  • Some scary incidents at the height of his career while touring Australia with Gene Vincent caused him to retire prematurely and focus on God and gospel music.
  • He was eventually swayed back to rock and twice played with The Beatles opening for him.
  • He presided over the marriages of Cindi Lauper and also Stevie Van Zandt.
  • When Jeff Tweedy met him after his show, LR said, “Wasn’t I wonderful?”


Monday, July 12, 2021

TV Snide: For June 2021

Graphic Novel of the Month: Criminal: Vol. 1, Coward: Ed Brubaker is my favorite graphic novelist that I’ve discovered this year. This is noir crime in which the antihero tries to save his girlfriend and her daughter and tries to get away with multiple scams. He’s not very good at any of it and the blood sprayed around is epic, but somehow there’s still a likable heart to the whole thing. Looking forward to reading more of this series. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Movie of the Month: Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade (Pay Per View): Somehow I never saw this, the third installment of the Indy films. With a focus on Harrison Ford’s relationship with his father, played by Sean Connery, you really can’t go wrong. The laughs and the thrills are a mile a minute, as bumbling Nazis fall rapidly by the waysides. None of these movies will ever beat the original, Raiders of the Lost Ark, but this comes as close as can be expected, with a nice added touch of medieval lore thrown in for good measure. 4.5 out of 5 stars 

Thelma and Louise (Sling TV): When Brad Pitt is the fourth or fifth best thing in a movie, you know you’ve you a good one. With the music of the Eagles leading them on a deadly girls road trip across the Southwest U.S., Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis kick some serious butt in the fight against idiot males. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Produced by George Martin (SlingTV): The story of the Beatles and the swinging 60s told through the eyes of a kid who got thrown into the role of head of Parlophone Records and really didn’t know much else but classical music is great. Martin's unique perspective was a cherry on the top (and maybe more) of the Fab Four’s cannon. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Weekend at Bernie’s (Hulu): Andrew McCarthy slums it with this nobody cast in what is actually a classic physical comedy from 1989 that I had somehow never seen. The goofiness is nonstop but it’s endearing and pretty funny. 4 out of 5 stars

All of Me (Sling TV): Steve Martin was my hero after The Jerk, his many Saturday Night Live guest appearances, his standup albums, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, and The Man With Two Brains, but I never saw many of his other movies. This one is as silly and ridiculous as it gets, but Martin and Lily Tomlin have great chemistry (they better, Tomlin dies and goes into his now almost-bipolar body). 4 out of 5 stars

Lethal Weapon (Sling TV): Long before Mel Gibson was outed as an anti-Semite, he was tough guy cop Riggs, a guy with a potential death wish after his wife dies. Gibson and Danny Glover get roughed up along the way to exterminating Gary Busey and his band of heroin kingpins in some fun action-adventure. 4 out of 5 stars

Friends: The Reunion (HBO Max): Considering I’ve only seen a dozen or so episodes of this show, you may wonder why I watched this. I don’t know the answer to that, but it strikes me that this is about like the show itself: relatively mindless drivel yet still compelling because of its ridiculously likable cast and perceived voices of a generation (although who would ever take Friends over Seinfeld, it probably goes without saying). 3 out of 5 stars

Friday, June 25, 2021

A clarion call for women in rock

Puncture was a great music magazine in the 1990s and some of its former editors have released an impressive compilation titled Now Is the Time to Invent: Reports from the Indie-Rock Revolution, 1986-2000. I highly recommend it, and one of the best pieces I've read so far from the early part of the book is Terri Sutton’s essay from 1988. 

Here are my favorite nuggets of insight from it:

  • The author used to be in love with Paul Westerberg of The Replacements, partly because he seemed so normal and attainable, but mainly because there weren’t many female idols and mentors and she saw herself in him.
  • Even at the few women-owned record labels at the time, their rosters were all male. “On part, women finding women singers annoying can be traced to culturally-induced self-hatred and insecurity.”
  • Sutton offers a litany of common-sense ways to get girl rockers more exposure, and all of the tactics (like finding the right fanzines to read and asking record store clerks which females are putting out great music) have come a very long way since this article was published. Cool to see at least some areas where the human race has evolved!

 

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Best Magazine Reads: Robert Pollard of GBV in The Big Takeover

Now that Magnet Magazine seems to have finally been laid to rest, the best source for finding the best music is easily The Big Takeover. It recently had a massive two-part interview with my hero Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices. Here are some nuggets from part two, which had magazine staffers asking questions they’ve always wanted to ask the rock legend.

  • Pollard has released around 2,400 songs.
  • He was mostly into arena rock in the 1970s and didn’t become “enlightened” until late in the decade when he discovered bands like Wire and Devo.
  • Among his favorite record stores in the U.S., Pollard mentions St. Louis’s “the Euclid stores” and Planet Score.
  • Basketball was the favorite for the three-sport star.
  • His experience as a teacher translated to the stage in that he has to maintain energy and keep the kids in the audience excited and attentive for long periods of time.
  • He says he's too shy to ever do a solo acoustic guitar tour. He also notes that he was once the only guitarist in the band, in the 80s, which is interesting because he’s only been the singer on stage since the 90s.
  • He writes his songs and does his art collages in the dining room of his house.
  • Pollard’s favorite cover of one of his songs is Glen Campbell’s version of “Hold On Hope,” a tune Pollard says he didn’t even like much until Campbell changed his mind about it.
  • He became quickly disenchanted with his brush with a major label (TVT), which wouldn’t let him use his own art on the covers (he hated the art on those covers), forced his vocals to always be pitch perfect, and even told him (at 40 years old) to write songs about summer, cars, and girls.


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Why The Beatles still matter

The last section of essays in the fabulous Read the Beatles collection, released in 2006 and edited by June Skinner Sawyers, is all about trying to answer the question of why the band lives on as strong as ever.

There are many viewpoints expressed. Music journalist Toure offers the perspective that, having been born a year after the Beatles’ dissolving, he didn’t get to live through their soap-opera-like existence but still eventually found the story of the Beatles so crazy that it helped him dig deep into understanding the band’s brilliance.

Tom Piazza is a writer from the Southern U.S. who says the Beatles burst on the scene as a fun antidote to the grim imagery of the sparkling Kennedy being replaced by earlier-era-like LBJ and that image stuck with them even as they morphed throughout the horrific days of Vietnam. He says they also brought the old sounds of jazz and R&B and blues into their music and helped America discover itself.

Biographer of Enlightenment writers Paul Mariani views the Beatles as cartoon editions of the likes of Hobbes and Bacon and Locke, but still every bit as worthy and exceptional as all of them.

Greg Kot, who once taught me in a rock journalism course and is famed for his writing at the Chicago Tribune and his musings on the Sound Opinions podcast, makes the case that the Beatles touched on so many genres and types of music - in ways nobody else could ever replicate - that their legend and style is impossible to equal. He notes that most bands opt for replicating the likes of the Velvet Underground and new wave bands, whose music tends not to venture too far afield from one song to the next.   

Jazz writer Ashley Kahn recalls how John Lennon said nothing changed by the end of the 60s era (he was then 30 and everybody just had long hair) but what hasn’t changed is the simple idealism throughout the band’s songs that remain something humanity should hope to achieve some day.

Colin Hall is the custodian of “Mendips,” the house on Menlove Avenue in Liverpool where John lived from ages 5 to 23. He tells stories visitors have told him over the years and movingly writes about what the house is like and the meaning it brings to Beatles fans.

Musician Steve Earle compiles the 10 most important Beatles songs and defies anyone to look at the list before ever trying to compare Oasis with the Beatles. It’s probably the weakest essay in the collection and even mentioning Oasis in the same breath cheapens it considerably.

Music journalist Anthony DeCurtis talks about his personal meetings with Yoko Ono (whom he has erotic dreams about), George Harrison (who asks him how Paul McCartney is doing), and Paul (who walks around New York with the writer after 9/11 in a bit of a personal quest by the Beatle to keep the city alive during some dark days).

Poet Wyn Cooper writes about how the Beatles forced him out of living in his small world to want to go out into experiencing a larger world.