Archive for June, 2003

June 30th, 2003 Comments off

Went out to see “The Hulk” last night. What an absolutely horrible movie. I guess I understand that it’s been getting mixed reviews (I can’t bring myself to read movie reviews; there’s simply no Pauline Kael out there these days making it worth my while), but I’m not at all sure I understand where the good side of the mix is coming from.

Well, OK, I guess the animation is pretty good. I admire Ang Lee’s attempt to capture the feel of a comic book with all the split screen stuff (though I neither think it was necessary, nor particularly effective). And, unlike some of the folks I went with, I wasn’t bothered by the fact that you’re 45 minutes into the film before the Hulk shows up — at least I wasn’t until I started looking at that 45 minutes as just another chunk of time lost to this dog.

My main problems with the movie derive from the horrendous performances of Sam Elliott and Nick Nolte (who, to be fair, didn’t have much of a script to work with) and from the fact that once the Hulk does show up, the plot pretty much takes a back seat to the effects and the action. It’s much the same problem that I’ve seen in a lot of current big action films (the second X-Men film is one notable recent exception — and actually I think most of the Marvel Comics-based movies have been pretty good). I use the term “action porn” to describe these movies. As in porn, plot is either non-existent or silly, serving only as a mechanism for binding what really drives the film, in this case big action scenes. And, look, that stuff may have its place. Certainly, it’s exactly what one should expect in a Vin Diesel vehicle. I just feel like Ang Lee and Marvel Comics, who have a track record for making smart films and smart comic books, can do better. (Never mind the Matrix folks, who made a great first movie then completely ruined the whole thing with the worst sequel since Police Academy 7.)

So will I go see the Spider-Man sequel next year? Yup. The first one was good and I have high hopes for the second. I’ll probably hit that Punisher movie when it comes out, too. And whatever else Marvel produces until things start falling apart for real (please, Marvel, get Captain America and Fantastic Four movies in before that, though — and no using Vin Diesel as the voice of the Ever Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing, OK?). But I won’t see a Hulk sequel no matter how much money this one makes. They’ve lost me on that front. Sorry.

One more note from my trip to the movies last night. Disappointing, but true. It comes from the Eventually Mike Myers Was Bound To Do Something To Make Me Hate Him file, and it’s called “The Cat in the Hat.” Saw the trailer for the latest pop-cultured-up Hollywood desecration of a Seuss masterpiece before “The Hulk,” and, well, I guess I’ve said what needs to be said. Except this: Mike, I’ve really dug everything you’ve ever done. I really do think you’re the second funniest man on earth (after Mr. Murray, of course). But this shit is just too much. Leave the making a fool of yourself while destroying wonderful children’s literature gig to Jim Carey, who was never worth half a damn to begin with, and make something funny and original, like “So I Married an Axe Murderer” (brilliant stuff; no, I’m not being sarcastic) or, if ya need to be cute, something like “Shrek,” which was clever if a bit overwrought. Just please stop ruining you for me.

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June 24th, 2003 Comments off

This, in case anyone has been wondering (you have, haven’t you?), is why I only go to the latest possible show on a Wednesday or Thursday night three to four weeks after a movie is released. (You might have to scroll down a little bit, ’til you see Henning’s post that begins “Dear little kid … .”) OK, here’s the deal (this isn’t directed at Henning, it’s for everyone) people, the vast majority of people, are jackasses. People stop in doorways. People chat at the top and bottom of escalators. People wear hats in theaters (I’m not even doing the whole men wearing hats indoors thing today). People cross between the lights. People are just friggin’ insufferable.

I’m walking into Cumberland Farms in Florence one night last week (normally would have gone to Coopers, since I hate, hate, hate Cumberland Farms, but I was picking up takeout at the Greek place next door and they didn’t have any ginger ale — and I needed ginger ale, ’cause sometimes you just bloody well need ginger ale) — wait, where was I? — oh, right, right — so I’m headed for the door and this guy is walking out, and I’m like half a step away as he comes out, so I reach for the handle, figuring he’s gonna set me up (because that’s what you do, right?) only he doesn’t. He just lets the door go. And the tips of my fingers miss the handle by less than an inch. Entirely involuntarily (OK, maybe not entirely) I say, “Thanks a lot, jackass” and immediately brace for a confrontation, maybe a fight (though, really, honestly, I’m not trying to pick one), ’cause I’m certainly not expecting an apology. Do I get so much as a “Fuck you, buddy”? No. I get a big old jackass just continuing about his day like he couldn’t possibly give a shit about the world around him. Why? Because he couldn’t possibly give a shit about the world around him, that’s why.

Now, the question becomes what do you do in response to living in such a world? You can’t go around letting doors close on people, can you? I don’t know. I can’t. I see someone coming, I hold the damned door. And on the odd occasion when I don’t see someone coming until it’s too late, I apologize, ’cause I want them to know that even though I kinda left them hanging, I didn’t do it to screw them, I just messed up.

OK, so then what? Do you go around calling everyone who ever lets a door close on you, or sets up camp at the bottom of the escalator, or tries to push their way onto the elevator before they give you a chance to get off, a jackass? Yeah. But under your breath. Or in your head. ‘Cause otherwise you end up like Larry David (you do watch Curb Your Enthusiasm, right?) and, way, way, way too often, like me, going around getting into pointless confrontations with total strangers. That is, until someone clocks you good, or worse, puts a bullet in you.

But even if you could say something to all these people without getting hurt (or just messing up your karma in an utterly stupid way) you wouldn’t be solving anything. I guarantee that jackass at the Cumberland Farms heard me. And I guarantee he knew what I was talking about. But I also guarantee he let another door close on another person within days or hours of that happening. Why? Because he’s a jackass and that’s what jackasses do. And the world is full to overflowing with jackasses who walk around acting like jackasses and never caring one bit about it.

Is Henning’s new little friend really gonna end up an alcoholic wife beater? Probably not. The truth is that he’s probably gonna end up a stock broker or a chiropractor or something. And he’s probably gonna take his salary and go to the movies and sit behind people and talk loudly. Then he’ll teach his kids to do the same. And they’ll go around letting doors close on people and waiting ’til they get to the front of the line at the crowded deli during lunch hour to start thinking about what they want to eat.

Why? Because that’s how it happens. Jackasses beget jackasses who beget jackasses. And the world keeps spinning. And people like Henning get annoyed at movies and write open letters on their blogs. And people like me do everything we can to avoid the rest of humanity to as great a degree as possible, which is never enough. And we get angrier and angrier and less and less interested in social interaction. And then one day our heads (or, more likely, our hearts) just explode, and we leave the world for the jackasses to inherit. And then the jackasses have a great big jackass party at the bottom of some escalator somewhere and everyone is happy because no one has any idea that they’re surrounded by jackasses, because they’re too damned busy being self-involved, utterly annoying jackasses to notice anyone else. And they don’t care if they can’t hear the movie, because they’re too damned busy talking about nothing (on their cell phones) to really even notice that there’s a movie playing to begin with.

Geez, Henning, thanks for pissing me off.

“It is what it is. You are what you it. There are no mistakes.” — Tom Robbins. Someday that little mantra’s gonna work for me (just like someday this whole Zen thing is actually gonna sink in and I’m gonna stop getting worked up about nothing) but apparently it ain’t today.

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June 18th, 2003 Comments off

OK, so I know I’m late getting to this, but it’s all Barbara Flaska’s fault. I rely on her to hip me to this stuff. And then she goes and doesn’t blog for like a week and I’m cut off from the world of music criticism. Please don’t abandon me any more, Barbara.

Anyhow, she’s back, and she points us to the difficulties critic Phil Freeman has been encountering for having had the audacity to write an actual piece of music criticism. That’s right, Phil panned the new Metallica disc in the pages of Cleveland Scene, and he’s getting bashed in the skull for it.

You’ve gotta read the review first and then scroll down on Phil’s blog to see what happened (it’s in a post from June 6). Absolutely absurd. I’m certainly not someone who sees eye-to-eye with Freeman on music all the time (he’s dead right about the wonders of the new Radiohead, but what anyone hears of value in Coldplay, for instance, is a complete mystery to me — in fairness, I’m sure Phil would have a similarly befuddled reaction to my taste if he were in any way aware of my existence), but I agree wholeheartedly with his assessment of what’s behind the attack on his Metallica review.

I haven’t heard the record (and I hope I never will), but I don’t need to hear it to recognize that Freeman’s review is fair. Fair doesn’t equal positive; it equals thoughtful. Freeman knows how to hurl a zinger, for certain, but he’s not one of these slam critics who just shoves insult after insult out there and calls it a negative review. The guy thought about the record, he sized up why (in his opinion) it doesn’t work, and he spelled out what he thinks is wrong with it. That’s the definition of a fair review.

But Freeman’s right. A lot of publicists (major label publicists, mostly, but I can think of a couple of indies, too) don’t want fair reviews. They want raves. Actually, what they want is for you to lift a few nice little lines from their press release, engage in a bit of your own verbal fellatio and slap five stars at the end of the thing next to your name. And the real problem, as Freeman notes, arises from the fact that there are all these writers out there who are more than happy to do it. Promo whores. The music journalism equivalent of the alleged film critics whose names are forever attached to the glowing quotes you see in ads for movies that can only suck. So when they run into an actual critic, they freak the fuck out.

Makes me very glad I’m not a critic, because, man, I can’t even begin to express the ratio of shit to quality music among the stuff that shows up in my mailbox. Fortunately for me, I’ve carved out a career as a writer of features and think pieces (if I can be so egomaniacal as to call some of my work that) rather than a writer of reviews. Chances are, if I’m writing about something in a newspaper it’s because I think it’s good. I can be thoughtful and positive. I try to temper my recommendations with honesty (take that Kathleen Edwards piece — I say the record is good, but point out what I think is wrong with it, too), but it’s unlikely anyone’s gonna get mad at me, because ultimately, I’m saying, “Hey, this is worthwhile.” If I were being assigned reviews, I’d eventually end up in the same boat as Freeman. Or maybe not. Because if I had to spend enough time with bad records to write pieces about them as thorough and thoughtful as Phil’s Metallica review, I’d be out of the music journalism business within a couple of weeks. I’m not exaggerating.

Here’s the thing that both publicists and fans should recognize: Freeman’s the kind of music journalist who should be encouraged and lauded for his work, even if you think much of what he says is complete shit. Because he’s not making any statements, positive or negative, lightly. And because he’s not someone whose opinion a reader can simply discount because he loves or hates everything that crosses his desk. Editors ought to seek out critics like that. Publicists ought to realize that a degree of toughness means that if a guy like Freeman says a record is good, people are gonna believe him. Publicists should also recognize that music journalists owe them nothing by way of what they write. I believe we all owe it to publicists to return their calls and emails, to be polite when they are polite, to say, “You know, I’m just not gonna be able to write about that band,” or “You know, I wish you luck, but I just don’t think that’s something I have time for/care about/find exciting …,” to give them a heads up, as Freeman does, when we write about one of their acts, and to thank them when they help us out by getting us a promo, setting up a review, getting art to our editors quickly when we forget to ask until 10 minutes before deadline, and whatever other kindnesses they afford us. But that’s it. What we write is between us, our editors and our readers. And being honest with the readers, even if honesty doesn’t always please them (it doesn’t), has to be the top priority.

Music journalists need to remember that we’re writing not for publicists, nor bands, nor concert promoters, and certainly not for record labels, but for our readers. And as long as you believe what you’re doing is being honest with your readers about whatever your subject is, and as long as you’re actually taking time to try to say something useful and thoughtful about that subject, you should never have to worry about what those other parties make of your work. It isn’t that way, of course, thanks to tons of promo whores, a few spineless editors, and an array of magazines that live to stroke their advertisers, but that shouldn’t change the way a good critic writes. All it should, and does, change is the way such writers are received by the industry they cover and many of the possible outlets for their work. That is, write honestly, do the right thing, and now and then you’re gonna face a shitstorm, plus you’re never gonna get work from the Entertainment Weeklies of the world (as if that were something any self-respecting writer could possibly want anyhow). It’s a lousy price to pay, but it beats the hell out of betraying yourself and your readers.

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June 10th, 2003 Comments off

OK, so my question of the moment is who had kidnapped the real Scott Brodeur and replaced him with an evil elf? I mean, that’s the only explanation I can come up with for the stuff that’s been showing up on Scott’s blog the last couple of days. Well, not all the stuff. Actually not even most of it. Most of Scott’s many posts over the last few days have consisted of the usual bits of wit and wisdom paired with some rather interesting links. But, and this is a big but, there have been a couple of posts that have simply left me scratching my head.

A little background for those who don’t know him: Scott’s a guy who knows an awful lot about music. Has worked as a critic (for at least one major newspaper). Plays in a terrific local band. Digs all the good, good indie rock. He was one of the first Josh Rouse fans I ever knew. (I remember a conversation back when he was working upstairs from me where he kept wanting to talk about Josh and I kept wanting to talk about Lambchop — the two acts are related and have recorded together — and we never quite got on the same track, but I walked away thinking, “Damn. I like Josh OK, but if Scott’s this into him, I’ve gotta listen closer.” I did. And he was right. The guy’s amazing.)

Anyhow, the first clue I got that something was amiss with Scott came yesterday, when his blog led me to some extremely exciting news about a pending Whiskeytown reunion. (Actually, his post about the reunion came just in time for me to sneak a line about it into a feature I was writing on Kathleen Edwards, who’s a big Whiskeytown fan, as you already know if you’ve heard her record “Failer.”) Scott and I have long had different opinions of Ryan Adams’ solo work. Specifically, Scott’s a huge fan of Adams’ records, while I think they’ve been largely mediocre with a few moments of brilliance overbalanced by a number of moments of utter awfulness (“Sylvia Plath” has to be one of the worst songs ever committed to tape — and I think Adams knows it). In fact, comparing the quality of Adams’ solo stuff with the quality of the stuff that’s been produced by his once and future Whiskeytown bandmate Caitlin Cary, I’ve concluded that she must have been the real genius of that band (or, at the very least, that the band was a case of the whole being far greater than the sum of its parts).

I was certain, though, that while we disagreed on Ryan Adams solo stuff, Scott and I shared the belief that it wasn’t up to the level of what he did in Whiskeytown. Then Scott says this: “Actually, while I always liked Whiskeytown … I have enjoyed Adams’ recorded solo music more.” Reading that, I couldn’t help think, what the hell is with this guy? Come on, Scott. I know you dig the guy, but do you really think any of his solo output is even half as good as “Strangers Almanac”? Can you really believe that? My conclusion yesterday was, OK, so I think Scott’s got this one wrong. But he knows his stuff, so he must be hearing something in Adams that I’m not. Either that or I’ve started to believe Whiskeytown was better than they were. Either way, I figured I needed to go back and relisten to something just to see what’s going on.

Today I’m thinking not so much. Here’s why. Today, Scott comes in with a post regarding Evanescence, perhaps the most godawful band I’ve ever heard. Only Scott isn’t so sure. He points to the band’s incredible popularity and wonders what’s driving it. “Is it the music?” he asks. “Is it the fairy-like persona of beautiful lead singer Amy Lee? Is it the power of major-label marketing?” And now I know we’re not dealing with the real Scott anymore. I know for certain that the real Scott would never need to ask if this band’s popularity has to do with it’s music. Music? Music? What music? This band wouldn’t know music if it fell on it from out of a tree. This band only qualifies as a band because it has managed to put a record out. This band is as pure a construct of music industry marketing as NSync or Britney or April. It has not one single damned thing going for it outside of the fact that Amy Lee is indeed gorgeous and major labels know how to package gorgeous.

Look, I’m certainly not one to overestimate the intelligence of the American record buying public. People are rubes. If you can buy the support of the radio stations and MTV and the right magazines (which, of course, you can) you can get Americans to accept just about any half-talented band as an artistic force to be reckoned with. But I refuse to believe that anyone, anywhere who has an functioning ear, could possibly be stupid enough to truly believe Evanescence has anything whatsoever going on musically.

And, yeah, Scott never argues that this band is talented. In fact, by not answering his question, he may well be expressing the same opinion I am, only with less invective and without giving himself a heart attack in the process. But, I’m nonplussed by the mere fact that he’d pose the question. And, combine this with the Whiskeytown thing, and I can only conclude that something horrible must have befallen the real Scott. Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, set things right soon, please. Give us the real Scott back, the one who’s disappointed with the new Liz Phair record and loves Josh Rouse. The one who shouldn’t give half a crap what anyone thinks about Evanescence.

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June 5th, 2003 Comments off

Went to Newbury Comics yesterday afternoon looking for the new Gillian Welch CD, “Soul Journey” (fine disc — or so it seems on two spins — but what a friggin’ awful title; this, I suppose, it one of the pitfalls of doing things on your own, no A&R guy to tell you to add a chorus to some song that doesn’t need one because it’ll sound like a single that way, but no A&R guy to tell say, “That’s one sucky record title you’ve got there”) and any Appendix Out discs I could get my hands on. A friend recently got me listening to Alasdair Roberts, who fronts Appendix Out, and his stuff is fairly amazing. Bit like a Scots Will Oldham (not surprising, given that he idolizes Oldham/made an EP with Oldham and Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia a couple years back). I picked up the only Appendix Out disc they had in stock, “The Night is Advancing” and so far (one spin) I like it a good bit.

Of course, none of this has much if anything to do with where I was going when I started out here. And I don’t feel like writing some clever transition, so I’ll just make an abrupt left turn.

I’m in the store and I’m listening to something playing over the house system that’s just awful beyond all belief. Covers and traditionals rendered in faux down-home style. Like the singer thinks he’s Dylan, but he’s totally missing the point. And I’m thinking, “Christ, this sounds like John Mellencamp. But it can’t be. He’s too talented to make a record like this. Hell, even in his worst moments he’s way better than this.” As it happens, I was wrong about that last bit. In his worst moments, he sounds like a totally spent roots rocker who can’t figure out what to do with himself — nor even that he ought to have quit while he was ahead. It’s a brand new record. It’s called “Trouble No More.” And I hope beyond hope that I never hear a note of it again.

I kid you not, this disc chased me right out of the store. I was all set to do some shopping around, maybe locate a few other discs I’ve been meaning to check out. But after about 20 minutes of Mellencamp murdering songs like Skeeter Davis’s “End of the World” (OK, not the worst version of that song I’ve ever heard, but pretty bad just the same) and Lucinda Williams’ “Lafayette” (my heart breaks for poor Lucinda), I just brought my selections to the register, paid up and booked it out of there as quickly as I could. And please don’t get me wrong, I actually dig John Mellencamp (liked him when he was John Cougar, too). I think he’s made some remarkable records in his career. But yikes. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an immediate, negative reaction to a record by an artist I otherwise enjoy. My advice: Don’t buy it. Don’t listen to it. And if you dig Mellencamp but you’re not the kind of rabid fan who’s just gonna adore everything he does, avoid it. It’ll ruin the guy for you.

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