Monday, January 20, 2020

Time for the Star Wars universe to come to an end for me?

So I’ve now seen all nine ... count em, nine ... Star Wars films, and also the two loose-end ones, Rogue One and Solo.

The new ones certainly can’t compare to the wonder of the original three, but the final chapter, The Rise of Skywalker, does justice to the franchise. It wraps up most of the loose ends and offers a good share of unexpected moments.

These kind of action flicks usually bore me to sleep, so why is Star Wars different? It must be the focus on character. People my age (in our forties) have known these people and creatures our whole lives.

I’m not that into superhero movies and part of that reason may be that I really haven’t known most of the characters my whole life. Many people have, which possibly explains their popularity, but not me. I was more into Archie comics than Batman and Superman ones when I was a kid. The core characters of Star Wars feel more like Archie characters to me than Superheroes.

Archie as Luke Skywalker. Reggie as Han Solo. Betty and Veronica as princesses Leia and Rey. Jughead as C-3Po?

The Star Wars universe will no doubt continue on somehow, quite possibly without me. But it was great while it lasted.

The Rise of Skywalker: 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, January 17, 2020

My favorite (130+!!!) music releases of 2019

Biggest Disappointments: I love the pop-metal band Black Mountain, but the album Destroyer is their least excellent. And it's not like Death Cab for Cutie's The Blue EP is that bad, it's just really boring. Kayne West's Jesus is King is unlistenable. Nowhere near the bad factor of Kanye, but shocking nonetheless because her releases are always excellent: Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police is mostly a drag.

Best EPs: Glitz from Kingdom of Birds is probably the best EP of the year, if for no other reason than it's the band's debut and it hits with a freaky punch. Bandcamp group The Convenience has some catchy, tech-tinged short releases that span a wide spectrum of pop styles. Pip Blom's Come Home is a must-have haunting punk rocker. Sunflower Bean's King of the Dudes is all over the place, sounding like riotgrrrl and Pat Benatar and Madonna all in one EP. Spencer Tweety offers a lazy little pleasure with Sleep is My God. Jonathan Rado of Foxygen brings his Syd Barrett weirdo-ness to Polyvinyl 4-Track Singles. Waxahatchee's Great Thunder is another powerful emotional blast from one of the best artists around. Mudhoney's Morning in America is a shot of 90s-like protest punk for the Trump era. Abbie Ozard's Growing Pains is a great slice of lo-fi bounce pop, and so is Charly Bliss's Supermoon. Sports Team's Making Hay is a sloppy Britpop insta-classic harkening back to the early 2000's of The Libertines.

Best Uncategorizable Release: Superchunk's acoustic version of its classic 1993 Foolish album. These are such beautiful songs and done considerably different than the original rocking takes.

Best Reissues: The Replacements' Dead Man's Pop is somewhere between a release of new old materials and a reissue of alternate versions of mostly songs from the Don't Tell a Soul era. Plus many essential concert cuts from late in their tenure as a band. Whatever you want to call it, it's perfect. Even though I'm beginning to seriously question which remaster versions of The Beatles' albums I should have in my collection, all the extras on this latest Abbey Road release are tons of fun. As if those weren't enough reissue bounty, Dinosaur Jr. remastered and included bunches of live tracks and other goodies in the release of four classic 1990s album packages, including my all-time fave Dino Jr. release Green Mind. And for any old hippies out there, this obscure release by some guy from the 1960s, Jim Sullivan, called If Evening Were Dawn (huh?), is pretty darn perfect.

131: Charli XCX: Charli (she's no Taylor Swift or even Carly Rae, but this is catchy enough top 40 junk to want to hear again and again)
130: Petite League: Rattler (this is throwback lo-fi that gets the nerves rattling in a good jittery way, with insightful lines throughout, like "blood on the grass will help the grass grow")
129: Sacred Paws: Run Around the Sun (a minor little Scottish bounce-sunshine-pop release that is very enjoyable to listen to)
128: Pinegrove: Skylight (not the most exciting release, but really nobody is doing country-emo as well as these guys, who are trying to hang together through some rough #MeToo moments)
127: Jay Som: Anak Ko (she has been one of the most hyped indie artists in the past few years, but this is by far her biggest and best leap forward, into a sort of Yo La Tengo realm)
126: White Reaper: You Deserve Love (the second bubblegum-punk release from this Louisville band shows that rock really will probably never die)
125: The Bird and the Bee: Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2 (A Tribute to Van Halen) (this doesn't work as well as the pop band's pitch-perfect takes on Hall and Oates, maybe because it's more of a stretch, but cheeseball classics like "Jump" and "Panama" are loads of fun redone)
124: Belle and Sebastian: Days of the Bagnold Summer (one of B and S's slighter releases, but for a movie soundtrack, it's pretty good and effectively mixes new recordings of old hits with lots of new tunes)
123: Ben Lee: Quarter Century Classix (a mellow touch is added to many of the great indie-rock classix that also happen to be many of my favorite tunes, from the likes of Dinosaur Jr., Archers of Loaf, and even the wonderful and sadly obscure Smudge)
122: Weezer: Teal Album (there is nothing innovative here, other than proving that Weezer might be the best covers band in the land)
121: Mike Krol: Power Chords (a lo-fi but big-sound slice of one guy's rocking bedroom mindset, with a handful of real standout tracks, like "What's the Rhythm" and "An Ambulance")
120: Filthy Friends: Emerald Valley (all-star band with member of Slater-Kinney and R.E.M.; nuff said)
119: Dick Stusso: In Heaven (a nice mellow treat from an Oakland country troubadour with a real glammy tendency)
118: Mikal Cronin: Seeker (somewhere between late Led Zeppelin and Beatles pop, fused with a proggy sound. Tough to describe but highly likable)
117: Titus Andronicus: An Obelisk (the sixth album from this ever-evolving band of scofflaws sounds like a more rowdy Hold Steady heading into an early Paul Westerberg phase)
116: Lala Lala: The Lamb (low-key indie rock that haunts a little more with each new listen)
115: Girlpool: What Chaos is Imaginary (I never like all the songs on these LA indie-poppers' albums, but I always like enough a lot to get them into my playlist rotations. The same continues here)
114: The Regrettes: How Do You Love? (rowdy L.A. popsters who bounce around the new-wave spaces occupied in earlier times by the likes of The Strokes and The Cure)
113: Snoop Dogg: I Wanna Thank Me (this album is long and all over the place, but Snoop never fails to find the best funk grooves going today)
112: Halfway: Rainlover (this is the sixth album from an Australian band I had never heard about, but these are pretty epic and alt-outback pop soundscapes)
111: Tahiti 80: The Sunshine Beat, Vol. 1 (these French dance-popsters were one of my fave bands of the early 2000s, but they've evaporated over the past decade. The name of this album thankfully seems like a hint that they've returned for good)
110: Telekinesis: Effluxion (this indie-rock band hadn't released an album since 2015, and it's another lo-fi pop pleasure)
109: CAAMP: By and By (a pretty little bluegrass and folk gem from this new Columbus, Ohio-based band)
108: Craig Finn: I Need a New War (the Minneapolis songwriter carries on the flame of Paul Westerberg as that city's great storyteller rocker)
107: The Get Up Kids: Problems (I haven't been into these Kansas City emo forefathers since the band's early days, but this is a great new entry into their catalog)
106: Patience: Dizzy Spells (this former member of Veronica Falls has one of the most beautiful, ethereal, mesmerizing voices in rock today)
105: Ruby Boots: Don't Talk About It (when you need a fix for some Drive-By Truckers-like female-led country-pop sounds, this is a very catchy option)
104: Lizzie No: Vanity (this country rocker is a mash up - gotta love the line "even the punks are getting married now," which sums up the feel of the album - that is continuously joyous)
103. Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell! (she started as a bit of a novelty and released a lot of stuff I didn't care for, but this album finally has lots of intriguing songs)
102. King Princess: Cheap Queen (a tasteful mix of Lady Gaga and other eccentric top-40-type pop performers)
101. Cass McCombs: Tip of the Sphere (someone's been listening to the desert wandering sounds of the Meat Puppets, with some Doors psychedelia and Blake Babies pop thrown around for good vibes)
100. Echo and the Bunnymen: The Stars, The Oceans and The Moon (a remix of many of their hits plus a few new songs, so more for diehards, but I guess sign me up to that club. This is what Jim Morrison would sound like if he were still alive)
99. Bob Mould: Sunshine Rock (Mould's 13th solo album is on this list because it's Bob Mould, and there are also a handful of some of his best tunes sprinkled throughout)
98. William Patrick Corgan: Cotillians (county hoedown Billy Corgan? Sounds awful, right? But this is mostly a mellow affair with a few alt-country asides and, you know what, I'm realizing most of the Smashing Pumpkins' mellow stuff is my favorite)
97. The Long Ryders: Psychedelic Country Soul (turns out that an older, wiser and more mellow Ryders is pretty darn great)
96. Golden Daze: Simpatico (a sprawling maze of shoegaze music that is gorgeous and wanders in a way that makes this band’s name the most accurately descriptive around)
95. Robert Forster: Inferno (the former Go-Between kiwi offers up one of my favorite of his solo efforts)
94. Cassia: Replica (lacking any new Vampire Weekend music before their latest tropical indie dropped, this was a great substitute. They sound identical to VW, both a plus and a minus)
93. Son Volt: Union (Uncle Tupelo's Jay Farrar returns with another great batch of heartfelt country rock)
92. Sonny and the Sunsets: Hairdressers From Heaven (a typically great release from a musical wanderer I would classify as a creator of indie-pop alien tunes)
91. Jonathan Something: Outlandish Poetica (a lot of fun from a new artist who crunches between Strokes-y and folky)
90. Ex Hex: It's Real (not anywhere as great as its debut - which was my top album of 2014 - but still a worthy addition to the pop-punk cannon)
89. Pete Yorn: Caretakers (I keep wanting to not like this Hollywood-looks, no-substance songwriter, but this is one in a long line of his simply enjoyable pop albums)
88. Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real: Turn Off the News (Build a Garden) (Willie's son sounds uncannily similar, just add big rock hooks instead of country finger-picking)
87. Beatenberg: 12 Views of Beatenberg (for those who think one Vampire Weekend album in 2019 wasn't enough, this South African pop band offers a bunch of sweet further listening)
86. Tacocat: This Mess is a Place (a great blast of Seattle pop-punk)
85. Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated (not as surprisingly good as her other albums, winners like "Julien" and "Party for One" are undeniable pop smashes)
84. Swervedriver: Future Ruins (it's always a good year for rock when space-blasting Swervedriver shows up with its unique blend of psych pop)
83. Bill Janovitz: Covers of the Weeks, Vol. 1 (now I'm finally beginning to understand the appeal of the "sings the classics" releases of Rod Stewart and Tony Bennett; 90s heroes are now starting to do it; like with Evan Dando's new release, Janovitz puts a unique Buffalo Tom spin on new classics like "Little Mascara" and "Slip Sliding' Away")
82. Durand Jones and the Indications: American Love Call (these Bloomington future stars fill the need for soul pop somewhere between Smokey Robinson and Charles Bradley)
81. The Broken West: The Dutchman's Gold (this L.A. band is back with a sunshine mix of soaring pop in the vein of Soul Asylum, Matthew Sweet, and The Church)
80. The Hold Steady: Thrashing Through the Passion (this is a bit of a nondescript HS release, but that's still better than 98 percent of other bands' best albums)
79. Chris Koza: Sleepwalkers, Pt. 1 (in the absence of a Nada Surf album this year, this is a very formidable replacement)
78. Hatchie: Keepsake (this album shimmies all over the place, with "Obsessed" being in the running for song of the year)
77. Peter Perrett: Humanworld (this is one of my favorite new rock discoveries, even though he's been around forever and is lucky to be alive after his punk exploits with The Only Ones)
76. Lloyd Cole: Guesswork (even incidental albums by Cole have "perfect skin." And when you dig in deeper on repeat listens, it pays off)
75. Willie Nelson: Ride Me Back Home (Willie's 69th album is ... well ... what more can one say? He's just so damn prolific ... and great)
74. Mac DeMarco: Here Comes the Cowboy (a slow-grower helping of mellow gold)
73. Jesse Malin: Sunset Kids (this alt-country power popper has been on a late-mid-career hot streak for several years and this might be his catchiest yet)
72. Juliana Hatfield: Weird (17 solo albums in, I consider Juliana true pop royalty, and this is just another group of perfect tunes)
71. Martin Frawley: Undone at 31 (this breakup album follows in the grand talking/singing tradition of Lou Reed and Pavement)
70. Murray A. Lightburn: Hear Me Out (if you’re longing for the days when Morrissey was any good, you need this album)
69. Stella Donnelly: Beware of the Dogs (a Welsh-Australian who fits the mold of other great lo-fi rockers like Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy)
68. Jamila Woods: LEGACY! LEGACY! (this is my favorite soul release of the year, with beautiful Digable Planets-like beats and grooves throughout)
67. Bleached: Don't You Think You've Had Enough? (these rocking ladies have been churning out some great guitar crunch and sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs tunes over the past several years)
66. Weezer: Black Album (the 13th album from these emo lifers doesn't disappoint, and this may endear the band to future generations with a smart Fortnite tie-in)
65. Ariana Grande: thank you, next (this is the first release of Grande's that's really caught my eye, and it includes an amazing volume of good-mood, dance, and soul)
64. Dumb: Seeing Green (this is post-punk lo-fi pleasantness that winds its way into your head until said head is bopping back and forth and all over the place)
63. The Lemonheads: Varshons 2 (Evan Dando's unmatched musical taste shines through in this great covers album, with songs originally by Yo La Tengo, Paul Westerberg, The Jayhawks, and many others)
62. Meat Puppets: Dusty Notes (it's always a good year for keeping rock alive when these underrated peyote-freak-desert-punker legends release an album)
61. Paul Weller: Other Aspects (Live at the Royal Festival Hall) (this is a lot of music, but it's well worth absorbing. Weller is having a serious late-career resurgence)
60. Pottymouth: SNAFU (the best punk-pop record of the year is delivered by these ladies from Massachusetts, "Starry Eyes" might be my favorite song of 2019)
59. Flaming Lips: King's Mouth (Music and Songs) (this is the best Lips release in years, harkening back to their mid-career run of albums like Yoshimi and The Soft Bulletin. Straight out of an early Pink Floyd weirdo psych trip)
58. Taken By Trees: Yellow to Blue (this is my favorite downcast-but-upbeat female artist; all her albums, including with The Concretes, are immaculate)
57. Sleater-Kinney: The Center Won't Hold (a lot of people slammed this album as being their worst, but I'm not so sure it won't eventually be my favorite)
56. Spiral Stairs: We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized (always compared to his Pavement buddy Stephen Malkmus and having no chance to live up, but you know what? This is a great album)
55. Brett Newski: Life Upside Down (this folk punk has been opening for the Violent Femmes and falls somewhere between Tom Petty and Jack White)
54. Martin Devaney: Plaid on Plaid (there seems to be a recent run on Tom Petty-soundalikes, add in a sprinkle of Ben Kweller and the fact that Devaney's "the unofficial mayor of St. Paul" and you've got some of the best pop around)
53. Josh Rouse: The Holiday Sounds of ... (this is one of the best holiday albums in recent years)
52. Sturgill Simpson: Sound and Fury (a little bit of a letdown, as the first side ventures into mediocre Elton John territory, but the latter half of the album is rip roaring and ZZ Top rocking)
51. Duff McKagen: Tenderness (this makes a case for the former bassist of Guns n' Roses being a much bigger creative part of that band's success than previously known)
50. Sebadoh: Act Surprised (one of my top 3 1990s indie-rock bands is back with a powerful release that offers a lot of catching up on Sebadoh)
49. Netherfriends: A Love Album (a weird little piece of Weezer-like indie pop meshed with hip-hop rhythms and beats. Fun but NFFW)
48. The Raconteurs: Help Us Stranger (this hard-rock blast is the long-desired first new music from Jack White and Brendan Benson's awesome supergroup in 11 years)
47. Pixies: Beneath the Eyrie (this one was not immediately likable but was a grower and shows lots of flashes of the earliest best moments of these Bostonians)
46. Miniature Tigers: Vampires in the Daylight (this little band that could keeps churning out great power-pop classics)
45. Liam Gallagher: Why Me? Why Not. (this might be the most shocking album of the year. It's excellent and possibly better than any album-in-full ever by Liam's old group Oasis)
44. Jeffrey Lewis and the Voltage: Bad Wiring (like Daniel Johnston in tune; these jams run the gamut from U2 arena rock to Sebadoh's "gimme indie rock")
43. Pinky Pinky: Turkey Dinner (young L.A. all-girl garage rockers bring an album of pop-weirdo delights)
42. Tierra Whack: Whack World (a batch of 1-minute hip-hop soul songs explode this Philly female freak onto the music scene; love how each song has a great hook but never overstays its welcome)
41. Deer Tick: Mayonaisse (great country-pop-rock never goes out of style, and this band always brings it flawlessly)
40. Tegan and Sara: Hey, I'm Just Like You (not one of the best T and S releases, but consistently likable new-wave pop through and through)
39. ZAC: ZAC (as much as I don't want to like this 1980s Strokes-sounding pop outfit, I just can't stop listening to it)
38. Proper.: I Spent the Winter Writing Songs About Getting Better (seriously unlikable young narcissists - the perfect Millennial emo rock band makes perfect snot rock)
37. Glom: Bond (much like Dude York's brand of pop - see way up in this list - this band makes the case for continuing growing appreciation of the wonderful influence of 90s indie rock)
36. Post Malone: Hollywood's Bleeding (this album is much more than the megahit "Sunflower" and is my favorite hip hop release of 2019)
35. GospelbeacH: Let It Burn (hey, if we can no longer have Tom Petty, at least we have these California sunshine merchants)
34. Comet Gain: Fireraisers Forever! (I love this obscure little British band that has been putting out a ton of great, catchy songs)
33. Guided By Voices: Sweating the Plague (GBV's third release of the year took a turn for the hard rock and almost prog, with not a lot of the usual pop catchiness but a definite great addition to the cannon)
32. Ryan Traster: Choses Obscures (fitting in snuggly between Kurt Vile and Silver Jews, this is a welcome new artist to the genre of stoner laid-back rock)
31. The Ocean Blue: Kings and Queens/Knaves and Thieves (never been a big fan of the long-time group that seems British but is from Pennsylvania, but this is beautiful morning-dew 80s new wave)
30. Harry Styles: Fine Line (this famous boy bander keeps straddling the line of cheese and excellence, but the diversity and pure interesting-ness of this release borders on sublime)
29. Sure Sure: Sure Sure (this self-producing L.A. band plays by its own rules, creating music, touring, and now it's released a full length to go with its string of dreamy and bouncy pop singles. Best new band candidate)
28. Jenny Lewis: On the Line (she keeps putting out great music in the Laurel Canyon and racy fashion of Fleetwood Mac, and who couldn't use more of that more often?)
27. The New Pornographers: In the Morse Code of Brake Lights (don't know what the title means, but this is a typically great Pornos release, with some shades of early GBV increasingly creeping in)
26. Cigarettes After Sex: Cry (not as shockingly beautiful as the 2017 debut, but there's still no new band that's better to listen to while reading the Sunday paper)
25. Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center (long-time fave Conor Oberst is joined by Phoebe Bridgers to combine their conversational writing styles into one of the year's best pop collections)
24. Wilco: Ode to Joy (this is way down the list compared to most Wilco albums on my year-end lists, but it is a valuable and interesting addition to the band's cannon, and quite possibly a very slow grower)
23. Kiwi Jr.: Football Money (this is a joyous release for fans of Pavement, complete with Ren and Stimpy and other pop-culture references, and even an oddly Hall-and-Oatesian bent ... maybe)
22. Guided By Voices: Warp and Woof (an embarrassment of GBV riches occurred this year. It was only April when the band's SECOND long-player of the year was released!, a harkening back to the sound of the early days of the band)
21. Beck: Hyperspace (a grand return with a handful of instant Beck classics and a few less catchy numbers)
20. The Who: WHO (despite one or two stinkers, this is a surprisingly excellent album, with sounds that span the earliest and best Who style all the way through when things were winding down with 1982's It's Hard)
19. Courtney Barnett: MTV Unplugged in Melbourne (this was a surprise release at the end of the year. It would have been understandable if it were a throwaway, but it's every bit as amazing as everything else Barnett has ever done, which says a lot)
18. Bill Callahan: Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest (weirdo contemplative dad music from one of the greats of the 90s, the artist mostly known as Smog)
17. Charly Bliss: Young Enough (such a great collection of pop songs; rock will never truly die for people who like rock that explores all the best notes in new and exciting configurations, like this)
16. Idlewild: Interview Music (this is a gorgeous release from my favorite Scottish band of the 2000s, a truly perfect indie-rock album)
15. Bruce Springsteen: Western Stars (you're either a Bruce or Billy Joel fan. I've always been a Joel fan, but this is possibly the most beautiful thing I've ever heard Bruce make across an entire album)
14. Taylor Swift: Lover (I don't know if it's egged on because I have a Taylor-obsessed 6-year-old daughter, but this in undeniably perfect pop, even if maybe not as perfect as 2017's Reputation)
13. Yola: Walk Through Fire (this is by far the best alt-country release of the year, but you'll listen and realize it transcends many genres and various-decade styles)
12. Michael Kiwanuka: KIWANUKA (this British songwriter has really deep performances that remind me a lot of the most soulful parts of early Lenny Kravitz, mixed with a little Charles Bradley)
11. Prince: Originals (it's so fun to see The Purple One back on this list; this is a jam of many of the greatest hits he wrote that became big for other artists)
10. Foxygen: Seeing Other People (these weirdos are putting together the funkiest freak-o disco of the decade. Tough to categorize, but maybe like The Strokes meet the Bee Gees; a side note is that I love riding my bike to this release)
09. Guided By Voices: Zeppelin Over China (this is a lot to take for even the biggest GBV fans, but at the same time 32 new tracks from the master, leader Robert Pollard, is like a lot of Christmas morning)
08. Stephen Malkmus: Groove Denied (the former Pavement frontman bills this as some sort of electronica release, and it does start off like that, but repeated listens slowly got me hooked. It borders on weird but pays off big-time for those with a little patience)
07. A.A. Bondy: Enderness (I dub Mr. Bondy in a category almost to himself - well, maybe with Cigarettes After Sex - called "Slow Rock." When I couldn't sleep in Dominican Republic many years ago because of all-night partiers, his music on headphones got me through the wee hours and well rested. So glad he's back)
06. Dude York: Falling (kind of like Yuck before them, this band takes 90s indie-rock and slams it into your veins so hard that it can't help but keep the power of that era alive)
05. Alex Cameron: Miami Memory (like Lloyd Cole if he were from Australia and writing the most hyper-sexualized lyrics in the world of new wave)
04. Alex Lahey: The Best of Luck Club (this is post-Courtney Barnett awesome rock doing better than Courtney Barnett at Courtney Barnett)
03. The Avett Brothers: Closer Than Together (this is the most powerful AB album since I and Love and You, which was my top release of 2009. This is so good that I thought many of the songs were classics from their back catalog, but they're not, they're just incredible new stuff)
02. Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride (how can this welcome return of the finest tropical-indie band ever not be number one? Well, see the next album on this list. Otherwise, this is an epic in the same way George Harrison's double album after the Beatles broke up and many other double albums that this one matches as among the best ever)
01. Purple Mountains: Purple Mountains (leader and former Silver Jew David Berman died on August 7 by suicide, and there's no doubt that this album was a goodbye letter for a deeply unhappy man. Tough to say, but it likely would have been just as beautiful, haunting, and jaunty were Berman still with us)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Liz Phair’s 1990s’ Horror Stories don't start out horr-ible enough

Liz Phair is definitely one of my favorite 10 things about 1990s' rock. And that’s saying a lot, since those were the formative years when I was ages 20 to 30. She produced at least three of the decade’s great albums before falling off a cliff into Top 40 trash pop.

So Horror Stories is definitely a book I looked forward to for understanding how some of that magic emanated out of Chicago’s Wicker Park, where I spent a small amount of time myself in that long-ago decade.

Phair starts off defining that her book is not so much her personal story as it is a series of little horror stories that make up and can define a life, which sounds promising because that’s a good way of describing what her best songs are like.

One such story begins the book. It’s a memory she has from college when lots of girls discover another girl, passed out so drunkenly in a bathroom that she has soiled herself and the floor. Nobody does anything about the poor girl and that flash of lacking empathy still haunts Phair. It’s really not much of a story. We don’t find out if the girl died or what ever happened to her or even who she is.

The next story starts very slowly and builds to make a case for Phair’s maternal senses. She wishes she would have adopted a lonely dog on Mulholland Drive in L.A. and she wishes she would have saved a little boy being beaten by his rotten father on a beach while helplessly watching from a far-off cliff above. The moment of the beating is when the story takes on poignancy.

These sorts of stories seem a little like a cop out. Anybody who’s a halfway decent writer could jam out several little vignettes or memories of their past just like these ones. It’s kind of what a life, any life, really is. The difference that makes the book worth reading is that they are Phair’s stories. It further helps that she is an artist who has always been wrapped in quite a bit of mystery, leaving her fans to cobble together her story based solely on her lyrics, which are mostly relatively cryptic.

The opening stories are not as exciting as I had hoped. I’ve gone from wanting to buy the book to putting it on hold in my digital library queue and hoping I get more into it when it arrives. For now, there’s still always those great first three albums (Exile in Guyville, Whipsmart, and Whitechocolatespaceegg).

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Once Upon a Time vaults towards the top of my list of Brad Pitt favorites

In looking back at all times I've mentioned Brad Pitt on this website, it's amazing how many great films he's almost been in. That said, after seeing two Pitt classics over the past several days - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Moneyball - it's amazing just how many classics in which he has accepted roles.

Hard to believe he's now been acting in movies for about 30 years and, with that output, there's a good chance I'm missing something here. But these are my favorite BP roles. In my top three, he is just about the coolest actor around (right up there beside George Clooney):

1. Fight Club
2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
3. Ocean's Eleven
4. (Tie) 12 Years a Slave and True Romance (maybe both better than all these above it, but Pitt's roles are supporting ones)
5. Moneyball
6. Inglorious Basterds
7. Seven
8. The Departed
9. Interview With the Vampire
10. A River Runs Through It
11. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
12. Kalifornia
13. Ocean's Twelve
14. Burn After Reading
15. The Big Short
16. Killing Them Softly
17. Snatch
18. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
19. The Tree of Life (yuck)

Ones I still should see:
  • Legends of the Fall
  • World War Z
  • 12 Monkeys
  • Thelma & Louise
  • The Devil's Own
  • Babel
  • The Assassination of Jesse James
  • The Counselor
  • Fury

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Elton John's best 25 songs and Rocketman review

One thing that's tough to do when you have a full-time job and little kids is go to the movies.

With a week off between my last job and my next job, I was able to not only sneak in a movie yesterday, but also a great 12-mile roundtrip bike ride to and from the movie in Wheaton, Md.

I've always been an Elton John fan, so the new Rocketman seemed like a good way to spend two hours. While I wouldn't consider myself a mega fan (I've never seen him in concert, for instance), I do think he has at least 30 major classic songs, which puts anyone in Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame territory in my book.

Taron Egerton as Elton is a true superstar-making performance. One of the best moments of the movie is when the story of little-boy Reg suddenly blasts onto the screen as grown-up Elton/Taron. It's an electrifying moment when I knew we were in for a good ride. The actor sings all the songs, which he does indistinguishably from the real Elton. It is impossible to take your eyes off Egerton throughout, even through some occasionally bad writing and sometimes-exhausting musical sequences.

The story is mostly well told, with Elton telling the story of his life from a chair in an addicts' anonymous meeting. The awful parents, the child prodigy, the ups and downs with his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, the ups and downs of his romances, and his drug and alcohol extravagances. I would have liked to see a little more of his life with other celebrities and rock stars, but I guess the point is that Elton is pretty introverted for an extrovert.

I also would have liked to learn more about Elton. Some of the facts and chronologies had to unfortunately take a hit for the sake of Hollywood and mass-public whims. What about his British mansion where he's lived since 1975? I guess that mostly came after the bulk of the film's time period, although the movie made it seem as if he was sobered up in the 1980s when he resurfaced for big hits like "I'm Still Standing," when, in fact, he was reportedly a huge cocaine addict throughout the 80s.

The one thing I definitely learned was that he took his stage name "John" from John Lennon. I would have liked to learn more little anecdotes like that. It would have made the film just the little bit more of clever that it needs.

4 out of 5 stars

As a bonus, here are my 25 favorite Elton John songs. Oddly, these are all pretty much classics, but after this list, Elton's quality drops precipitously:

25: Blue Eyes (1982)
24: Funeral for a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding (1973)
23: Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word (1976)
22: Madman Across the Water (1971)
21: Nikita (1985)
20: Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters (1972)
19: Philadelphia Freedom (1975)
18: I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues (1983)
17: Honky Cat (1972)
16: Border Song (1970)
15: Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting (1973)
14: Tiny Dancer (1971)
13: Bennie and the Jets (1973)
12: Candle in the Wind (1973)
11: Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me (1974)
10: Levon (1971)
09: Don't Go Breaking My Heart w/ Kiki Dee (1976)
08: Someone Saved My Life Tonight (1975)
07: Your Song (1970)
06: Crocodile Rock (1973)
05: Daniel (1973)
04: Little Jeanie (1980) - even with its ridiculous line "I want you to be my acrobat," this is a favorite song from when I was 9 and 10 years old, owner of the 45 still
03: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
02: I'm Still Standing (1983)
01: Rocket Man (1972)

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Roger Corman is a punk rock movie all star

Roger Corman is a genius filmmaker.

Anyone interested in pop culture should check him out. I would sum up his ethos as somewhere between the Dead Milkmen song "Bitchin' Camaro" and The Warriors (one of the 1970s' best and most unheralded movies, all about what gang warfare was like before guns made it much less interesting).

A couple of films associated with Corman (if not directed by him) are about to leave Hulu, and I couldn't highly recommend a film any more than Suburbia. It's the tale of a girl who witnesses a baby she's caring for mauled by a wild dog and a couple of boys who run away from their violently alcoholic mom. They end up in an abandoned tract home in L.A. with a bunch of mosh-pitting punks (including a very young Flea, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist) who have suffered similar abuse at the hands of the families they have left.

It is an absolute stone-cold classic that I can't believe I hadn't seen.

Of lesser importance and quality is Rock n' Roll High School, the legendary entrance (and exit?) into film of The Ramones. It's far less of a compelling story than Suburbia, but it is indeed a ton of fun. The principal and the lead student rocker played by P.J. Soles are particularly captivating. Also, how did I never see that before!?

Suburbia - 5 out of 5 stars
Rock n Roll High School - 3.5 out of 5 stars

The next batch of Corman films I need to see include:

  • The Haunted Palace
  • The Pit and the Pendulum
  • House of Usher (can't wait to see how he handles the inimitable Edgar Allen Poe in all these horror takes)
  • the Intruder
  • The Masque of the Red Death
  • The Raven
  • Death Race 200
  • Grand Theft Auto
  • The Trip
  • Piranha

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Authors fail to understand the public's love of presidential scandals

I'm trying to clear out some of my grad-school books. As part of this project, I figured it would be good to revisit and review, for one last time, some of the books I used extensively in my thesis on whether personal scandals helped or hurt voter turnout in presidential elections.

Peep Show: Media and Politics in an Age of Scandal by Larry Sabato, Mark Stencel, and Robert Lichter, reports of a time during the Clinton Administration when the line between public and private was blurring more than ever in media coverage of politics. They found that responsible media was fooling itself into not printing some scandals while seemingly arbitrarily covering other ones. They wonder if some mainstream reporters are simply lazy and bad investigators.

One striking passage early in the book makes a claim that my thesis found not to be true at all:
"The fidelity of elected officials and other personal matters are of little concern to most Americans, despite the attention such stories get in the news."
The authors do back this up by noting that 80 percent of those polled disapproved of coverage of Clinton's extramarital affairs. But Sabato and company failed to wonder if these people could have actually been lying. And what about all those everyday, water-cooler conversations about Monica Lewinsky, Clinton's "I didn't inhale," and the poor academic grades of Bush and Gore?

I largely disagree with the authors' findings in this book and contended in my thesis that Americans did indeed care about sex, drugs, and rock n' roll-type scandals and that they drive higher turnout in presidential elections.

People say Clinton's mistake was the lie, but they certainly discuss the sex a lot more than the lie. What I thought was good from this salacious turn by the media is that it shouldn't have ever been the media's job to offer a "zone of privacy" to public figures (as they had for many years) who have done scandalous things in the past; it's more the politician's job not to run for office in the first place if they've done those things.

The authors also claim the public will tune out personal scandals. But all these years since this 2000 book was published, it doesn't seem like that's holding true at all. People are chomping at the bit for the next scandal to sink their teeth into. Even with the seemingly daily scandals of the Trump Administration, the public still has great interest in reading all about it, and those scandals may drive massive turnout from both sides of the political aisle, potentially resulting in Trump winning reelection in 2020.