05 May 2010

The Windmills Of My Mind

I love Nico's "These Days".   Jackson Browne apparently wrote that song and plays guitar on it.  I thought it was put to good use in The Royal Tenenbaums.   And "We Both Go Down Together" is a really good song by The Decemberists.  "Here we stand on the cliffs of Dover..."  I have a cd I made with a bunch of random songs on it from the summer of 2007.  2007 is when I made it, not when the songs were released.  It has "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" by Genesis, and "Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta" by the Geto Boys.  Or is it Boyz?  Don't matter.  That song has some serious language in it.  I can't play it in front of nephews; that's for sure.  I had to look that one up after I saw Office Space.  "Give Up The Funk" by the P-Funk All-Stars is such a good song.  It feels really good listening to that song.  I feel like bopping my head up and down like Huggy Bear.  I hope that's not racist.  Right now I'm listening to Patty Loveless' "Blame it on your lying cheating, cold dead-beating, two-timin' double-dealin', me-mistreatin' lovin' heart."  I love the energy of that song.  Throughout the cd I also have some Dusty Springfield "Windmills of my mind..." and a song about making pies all day and a song about a girl who's mother works at the Motel 6, now she gets free guitar picks and that's how she learned to play and sing.  She is Catie Curtis and that song is "Memphis".  I recently wrote a blog about Joni Mitchell calling Bob Dylan a fake and a phony and a plagiarist that got alot of responses (11!).  Somehow I'm connecting the melding together of other people's work to create something new with the Joni/Bob argument and that's what I made with this cd.  It provokes different emotional responses from me and I don't really care if they all fit perfectly together.  Which made me think of Neil Young.  I think Neil just does what feels right and when his muse is gone, he's gone.  This cd came from an unconscious place in me.  Or maybe a drunken place.  Along towards the end is "Peek-A-Boo" by Siouxsie and the Banshees and then Rufus Wainwright's "Hallelujah" which seems to be required playing anywhere you go lately.  Local band Donna the Buffalo has a song called "No Place Like Right Time" that is laid back like "Memphis" and "Making Pies" by Patty Griffin.  People talk about Dylan as the preeminent poet of our modern time.  My friend D.J. thinks its Bruce Springsteen.  And when he says this he usually refers to "Blinded by the Light", a song with such non-sensical lyrics that who knows what Bruce is talking about.  I think The Raven is a good poem.  Maybe one of the best.  How did Poe get all those lines to rhyme?  Must've taken alot of work.  It's a story in a poem, which is nice, but not quite the same as The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot.  Poe was a prolific writer and I don't know that The Raven had to be dredged out of him with the same earnestness that Eliot put into Prufrock.  What is a poem supposed to do?  Provoke a response?  Create an image?  Recreate life?  I say a little of all of the above.  If it doesn't provoke a response, or any feeling whatsoever, then is it serving itself?  e e cummings was a good poet but lots different than Robert Frost.  I think Emily Dickinson had it write (whoops - right) when she said poems are foolish when compared to a tree.  I think that's what she meant.  The cd that I made feels like poetry to me; something good that washes over me with no particular agenda.  Parts of it, like making pies, make me think about the creation of life.  Other parts, like giving up the funk, make me feel life.  My favorite quote about poets and poems and my life philosophy:  "And the poets down here don't write nothing at all - they just stand back and let it all be."  After all, who can really add anything to a beautiful summer day like today to make it more spectacular nature-wise?  I can't.  But that's just me.  I like to stand back and let it all be.

04 May 2010

Tin Soldiers And Nixon's Coming....

A fairly benign pic at first glance, this is Kent State, where a dead student's body once lay.

On May 4, 1970, the Ohio State National Guard opened fire into a crowd of student protestors and killed four people.  My friend D.J. and I were roommates in 1986-1987 when we were students at the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.  D.J. had a Crosby Stills Nash and Young t-shirt that he wore quite a bit from a concert he went to the summer before I met him.  We all liked CSNY, our crew.  D.J. would make mix tapes for the afterhour parties and he always played "Ohio" because he liked to point at me when they sang "and Nixon's coming."  I looked (look) like Dick Nixon apparently.  Eventually D.J. would marry Eva, whose father (I swear) was a dead-ringer for Henry Kissinger.  I think he must have thought it was fate that we should come together.  I'd been fascinated by Nixon, even before Watergate, and when I was all of six years old I did a Nixon impersonation.  Weird kid, right?

1986 was the beginning or maybe the middle of a cultural revival of the Sixties.  The Grateful Dead found their way back into the mainstream and the neo-Hippie movement was in full swing.  The good kids that we were, being young and all, we were Liberal and anti-establishment.  Mostly we liked to do stuff the kids in the Sixties did but I think we had more fun and didn't take ourselves nearly so seriously.  Which was easy for us.  We didn't have Vietnam, or the murders of 1968, or the cultural schism between the Hippies and their parents to deal with.  And we had no chance of being shot on a collge campus.  My only link to those kids who got shot at Kent State was the Neil Young song, my relationship to the political ghost of Nixon, and the hopes and dreams I had for a society in which people are free from prejudice.

In 1990 I got a call from my buddy Eric and he said that CSNY was going to play a concert at Kent State in two days.  I lived in Buffalo at the time and high-tailed it down to Edinboro.  It was Friday, May 4th, the twentieth anniversary of the shooting.  We probably got drunk that night but for sure me, Eric, and Johnny (and maybe George) drove to Kent State in the morning.  There was no concert, that was pretty obvious, and there was actually not much going on.  I was wearing my Phi Sigma Kappa hooded sweatshirt while I was walking around the campus and I remember someone taking my photo.  I wonder where that photo is?  It was a rare moment we get sometimes in life where who we are brings us to where we feel we should be, even if it's only for a moment.  The song that had played so many times at the after hours parties became a reality that morning.  People were shot and killed here.  My significance to the event, my trek to see CSNY, seemed like a small, selfish act.  It reminded me of Abraham Lincoln and what he said at Gettysburg:

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.  But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

It was a somber ride back home.

03 May 2010

I'm A Big Fan

In the week leading up to Iron Man 2 comes the anticipation and dread: how is it going to be?  Is it going to be The Dark Knight or Spider-Man 3?  That is not a fair comparison at all.  One was close to a masterpiece and different and the other, well, what a mess.  With great power comes great responsibility.  With great anticipation comes the possibility of a great letdown.  Poor Jon Favreau must be under a lot of pressure.  If you have read this far and wondered, why are you so concerned about this?  It's only a movie!, please move on!  Haha.  This post will bore you.  But for those who really like superhero movies....

I was indifferent to Daredevil and thought it was just plain awful.  Loved the book, didn't like the movie.  Ben Affleck with his hair in his face the whole movie, the flirtatious martial arts scene with Elektra on the see-saw, the constant night-blindness and too-close-to-see action ruined the movie for me.  I don't have a sacred cow fetish for the heroes.  I'm not a strict tradionalist but I want the movies to make some sense.  I could take The Fantastic Four even though the movie was miscast and Reed was a pussy.  Reed Richards is a smart guy, not a doormat.  Jessica Alba (I can't believe I'm saying this) didn't look super-hot in that movie, nor does she come across as the science-ey type, but I sucked it up and watched and was entertained.  I liked the Silver Surfer in FF2.  Not bad stuff. 

Ghost Rider is a movie that I didn't hate.  I had no expectations for it: it was cheesy, over-the-top, and light but it was entertaining.  Maybe because I watched it with my nephews. It's hard to be a cynical old bastard when they're sitting next to you.  Superman Returns, Hulk, The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man 3:  those movies got to me in a bad way.  They left the comic behind somehow.  S-M 3: Peter Parker playing bad like he's on his was to an emo concert; Harry vascillating between being a good guy and an enemy; Topher Grace playing Eddie Brock like he's a smoother version of Eric from That 70's Show:  that's not who these guys were in the books.  More than anything the architecture of Spider-Man 3 was just way off.  The light touches that Raimi added in Spider-Man 2, Peter walking down the street to "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head", the "oww, I hurt my back" reference to Tobey Maquire's alleged stalling to step onto the set of S-M 2, the scene in the coffee shop when Peter throws himself over Mary Jane:  Peter was real.  He was kind of a buffoon in S-M 3 and it killed the movie.  And why did he keep taking his mask off? 

Try to get too cute and the lions will eat you.  I could put up with Nick Nolte's howling in Hulk, and Ang Lee's pretension to create an art house film out of a comic-book movie, but that doesn't mean I had to like it.  Which I didn't.  I also don't want to see a soldier, a regular guy, going toe-to-toe and hand-to-hand with the Hulk.  The laws of the Marvel Universe must apply.  If the Hulk could crush Spider-Man, or Iron-Man for that matter, then please don't have him fight some guy Spidey could backhand in two seconds flat.  And why was Bruce Banner wearing a bicycle helmet around the office?  Not dorky enough just to be a scientist?  Which gets to the architecture problems with Hulk:
First, the name.  Just Hulk.  Remember:  too cute equals lions.  Ang Lee cited influences from King Kong, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Beauty and the Beast, Faust, and Greek mythology for his interpretation of the story, but guess what: there's a whole comic book about the guy!  Why not base it on that?  When an interviewer asked him if he had read the comic books as a kid, Lee said, "No. I did see a little bit of the TV series in the late 70s (cheesy fun but a weak facsimile of the books), but I didn't pay any particular attention to it. But then when I came to the States, I found that there was such a character in the comic books (Really?!  The Hulk was a character in the comic books!). Then when I saw the big green guy it clicked right away. I saw it as a psychodrama." 

Lee's partner discovered a book in which David Banner, Bruce's father, returned and after that the movie became a father-son story about experimenting with Bruce's DNA and yada yada yada, we're three steps away from the source material and the Hulk is getting attacked by overgrown poodles.  Fans take this stuff seriously, maybe as seriously as Twilight fans take their stuff or as the leave-Britney-alone guy takes Britney Spears.  We want one thing:  Do Not Screw Up Our Movies!

Two years ago when George Lucas was making the rounds promoting Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Lost UFO's, or whatever he called that movie, he sounded bitter.  "I've learned (I'm paraphrasing) that no matter what you do, people aren't going to like it."  Apparently he was jaded from his experiences with the second round of Star Wars movies and their rejection by the adult fan base. Remember: cute equals lions.  Someone get the lions and feed them Jar-Jar Binks already (tastes like jerked chicken!).  These were not good movies.  People didn't take down their expectations from a jar on the top shelf and say, Ahhh, this is what the movie is going to be, and when it wasn't they were disappointed.  He had a chance to create The Godfather Part II of movie serials but he didn't have it in him.  That's where the disappointment lies.  Lucas reminds me a little of Jay Leno: a guy that became wildly successful with nowhere to grow.  His empire expanded while the thing that got him there shriveled and shrank, and he's left with nothing but memories of his sled Rosebud (or was it Sleddie?)* and his billions of dollars.

A lot of bad superhero movies have been made.  Superman IV: The Quest For Peace consistently comes out on top in the internet searches, but there is also Catwoman, Batman and Robin, Steel, Barb Wire, Supergirl, Judge Dredd, Captain America and who could forget (the original bomb!) Howard the Duck.  But of all these movies Spider-Man 3 has to be the worst.  And do you know why?  Because I cared.  All that being said, Iron Man 2 arrives soon.  On Friday I'm gonna open my mind, leave my expectations at the door, walk into the theater, sit in the dark and wait to be dazzled.  No pressure guys!

*Please note that the "Sleddie" joke was stolen from last week's episode of 30 Rock.  Please don't tell Joni Mitchell.

02 May 2010

Joni Bitchell?

Joni Mitchell has always bugged me as some sort of self-important artist.  I remember seeing her in Rochester, maybe with Bob Dylan, and she was getting pissed off that the crowd (the nerve!) was still finding their seats when she was performing.  Last week she came out and called Bob Dylan a phony in an interview with the L.A. Times:

LA Times: As well, you've had experience becoming a character outside yourself [Mitchell caused controversy when she appeared as an African American male on the cover of her 1977 album, "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter"].The folk scene you came out of had fun creating personas. You were born Roberta Joan Anderson, and someone named Bobby Zimmerman became Bob Dylan.

Joni Mitchell: Bob is not authentic at all. He's a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I.

So everything about Joni is truly original and Bob (it's not even his real last name!) Dylan is a phony.  Interesting.  This article questions what plagiarism actually is.  Dylan, with no apologies to anyone, lifted the melody for "Blowing In The Wind" in 1962 from the old folk song "No More Auction Block," a song that had long passed into the public domain.  Dylan copped Woody Guthrie's persona for years before he moved to Greenwich Village from Minnesota.  The genius of Dylan, the turns of phrases that he collected, was that he made much of the stuff his own.  There is a snippet of vocal on the Bob Dylan Bootleg album where he is a dead ringer for Woody, not just in tone, but the remark and the words themselves.  The folk scene of the 1960's, not that I am any sort of expert, was artists doing old, standard folk songs.  It's what folk songs are.  You might as well bust Joseph Campbell for writing about mythology or George Lucas for writing Star Wars

If you've read my blog beyond this post you will see lots of stuff lifted from somewhere or someone else.  "Are You There, Vodka?"  The Pop Culture thing I like to do towards the end of the week is not an original idea.  What is an original idea?   Is Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger not truly his?  He didn't write all those songs, but look what he turned them into:  something truly unique with his signature on it.   Sometimes I think that Neil Young could be the only true original artist alive today (with, I suppose, apologies to her Heiness Joni Mitchell - who's real name is Roberta Joan Anderson - but I guess that's okay).  He's the only guy weird enough to come up with the stuff he comes up with.  So Joni (if that is your real name): gfy!

Cheese With Whine

So I broke my leg, which I'm sure you heard about.  I had my DishTv service suspended because, come on, $65 a month and nobody's home.  Paying bills is not my forte, as the first George Bush would have said, but I only owed a handful of money on it, a little more than a full month.  I get my most recent bill a few weeks ago and just opened: $415.19.  Curious, no?  It turns out they wanted to charge me for the equipment I still have hooked up in my house and if I returned the equipment my amount owed would drop back down to the handful I owed them.  I thought, what a strange way to do business?  To get service restored I had to pay two months in advance.  Also curious because I just paid for a month in advance and wasn't even home to watch the damned thing.  But this post is not about DishTv and their payment policies.  It's about the Roger Moore - James Bond movies.

G4 is the only channel that is coming through my cable box that is not about baldness, losing belly fat (are you cussing kidding me with that shit?), or buying stuff.  G4 is a guy's channel, allegedly, with stuff like "Expand Your James Bond Dictionary."  Example:  I've got James Bond syndrome.  I prefer exotic women to white women.  Pretty gay, right?   G4 comes in because it's being offered free this month as some sort of gimmick.  So, tv whore that I am, that is what I watched last night from 8:30 until after three in the morning.  I grew up in the 1970's, before I knew that someone named Sean Connery even existed.   Someone should have lent Connery Lloyd Bentsen's line about Dan Quayle not being Jack Kennedy, because you, Mr. Moore, are no Sean Connery.

For Your Eyes Only, Moonraker, A View To A Kill, and Octopussy all aired back to back.  I liked these movies as a kid.  I remember going to see Moonraker and being excited about the space shootout.  It had the great Richard Kiel as Jaws but the endless slapstick is hard to take as an adult.  In the beginning of View, Bond escapes on a pair of skis while California Girls plays in the background.  Where is this music coming from?  His pursuers crash into each other and sink in the water which Bond of course glides right over and at the bottom of the hill there awaits a submarine with a beautiful girl in it.  They have five days to themselves before they get back to London or wherever and we all know what James Bond will do with a girl in close quarters for five days.  The endless sight gags were tough to take.  View had a police captain (overweight of course) chasing Bond in a hijacked firetruck through San Francisco.  When you see the bridge go up, you know Bond will make the jump with the fire engine but the cops won't.  Then the police captain is cursing his guys, saying they're gonna pay for their damaged cars at one hundred dollars a month.  When Bond is racing through Vienna in a souped up gondola, you just know he's gonna sink the boat of the couple kissing romantically.  Sure enough, he cuts the boat in half and the paddle guy is still paddling as he sinks into the water.  In two of these movies we had double-takes from a camel and a pigeon as Bond does some fancy driving, first in a terrain able gondola with wheels and then a rickshaw through an Indian market.  Speaking of which, he hurts one guy by pushing him against a bed of nails, to which the Yogi yells, "Hey, get off my bed!", then he grabs a sword from a sword swallowers mouth to defend himself and pushes that guy onto a bed of hot coals.  What is my point to all this?  Thank God Daniel Craig came back and put some real life back into Bond.

Octopussy was probably the best of the lot, maybe because of the endless t and a.  It has Maud Adams, yeah, but Magda (Kristina Wayborn) was way hotter.

So that's my really lame blog post for the day.  When you're up til three a.m. faced with the fact that you're a tv junkie, you have alot of time to reflect about things that aren't a) oil slicks, b) enforcement of immigration laws, c) car bombs planted in Times Square, or d) the systematic dismantling of the American capitalist system.  Thank God for cheesy James Bond movies.

4 AM And Nowhere To Go

What do you do at four in the morning when you can't sleep?  Get up and make a cup of coffee?  Turn on the tv?  Lay in bed and listen to the tickticktick in your head?  I wish I had that luxury.  What I hear (until the birds come out) is the remnants of a Rob Zombie concert at least five years in the past that makes my brain think I am sleeping next to a low roaring ocean.  It was Ozzy, and Priest, and (my personal favorite of the day) Rob Zombie and it was a good ninety degrees out.  It was one of those shows with a million bands, scorching sun and blacktop.  I remember wondering how cool the kids wearing black denim accessorised by silver chains thought they looked when the rest of us took cover under the tiniest slice of shade.  I don't begrudge Mr. Zombie (if that is his real name!) my hearing, not even on a beautiful May 1st morning like this in Western New York.

I started to hear the birds around five and then I noticed how light it was getting.  Definitely not nighttime anymore.  I left the windows open last night and had gone outside several times to do what guys and dogs sometimes go outside in the middle of the night to do: pee.  The moon was full, the stars were bright, and the clouds were scarce.  It was beautifully warm out.  Eventually I settled down on the couch and hugged my pillow and thought of a girl I used to know.  The thoughts and stress that had been banging around my head slowly subsided and I finally relaxed and let go of my awakened state.  When I opened my eyes again it was 7:20 and an absolutely beautiful morning.  Sometimes I don't mind starting my day at four o'clock.  It is crazy early when you have no reason to be up but after lying in bed for an hour what the heck is the difference?  But not this day.  This day I went back to sleep and woke up thinking about pancakes.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote a great piece about breakfast, what he called his psychic anchor of the day. He had been invited to the White House for breakfast by Jimmy Carter, a meal that, for Hunter, had a measure of solemnity to it.  To wit:
"I like to eat breakfast alone, and almost never before noon.  Breakfast is a personal ritual that can only be properly observed alone, and in a spirit of genuine excess.  The food factor should always be massive:  four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crepes, a half-pound either of sausage, bacon or corned beef hash with diced chilies, a Spanish omelette or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of key lime pie, and two margaritas...for dessert.  All of which should be dealt with outside, in the warmth of a hot sun, and preferably stone naked."    

That is a mighty fine breakfast, more of a Las Vegas breakfast, but mighty fine indeed.  I'm gonna have to try the diced chilies in the corned beef hash.  Maybe the best breakfast I ever had was when me and my pal Ralph decided to drive to the ocean one crazy summer morning.  We stopped at a rustic motel for the night (I say rustic, Ralph says rat-trap) and the next morning I drank a beer under the cool of a pine tree, my elbows leaning on the roof of the car, in a state of wonderment that I was waking up in the Adirondack Mountains.  We drove into Lake Placid and had breakfast on a deck overlooking the lake.  I don't recall what I had but for sure it didn't matter.  It was a vacation breakfast and I was eating it outside.

These are the things I think about when I am up at four a.m.  I finally got around to eating four eggs, sausage, corned beef hash, Simply Potatoes homefries and a double espresso in that cool coffee mug.  And now I'm hungry again.