Sunday, December 30, 2012

How the West Was Dumb, Dept.

Saw this today after an endless stream of godawful trailers.  Wow, different target demo from The Hobbit, I tell you whut.  One that the studio believes loves horror, crap comedies and Big Guns. was good.  For the first half of the film, Christoph Waltz pulls focus by dint of his onscreen charisma, talent and characterization.  Jamie Foxx is very good as the slave-turned-bounty-hunter.  Leo DiCaprio also very good as the genteel/brutal Mississippi slaveowner.  Samuel L. Jackson great as an éminence grise of a house slave.  And there are a bajillion recognizable (and less so) cameos, from Russ Tamblyn and Franco Nero to Don Johnson and Bruce Dern.

What keeps it from greatness?  The soundtrack was...odd.  Spaghetti western score meets hip-hop and the world's least adroit Jim Croce song placement.  Like, I know QT has a thing for '70s pop, but "I Got a Name" was a complete and utter failure in its slot.  He might as well have used "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown."  Ugh.

There was also a strange emphasis on slightly fey characters for the worst of the villains that might be characterized as homophobic or at least a throwback to the late '50s-late '70s when the villains were gay because, YOU know, those nancies are psycho!

But, really, the thing that turned me off most was one of Tarantino's calling cards: gratuitous violence.  Now, in a film about slavery, it would be odd and out of place to have smiling slaves and gentle overseers.  And Tarantino does not stint at showing those things besides busting one's back in the southern sun that made slavery a brutal, dehumanizing institution.  For the first two-thirds of the film, there had been some non-slavery violence, but really nothing out of the norm for the period and genre.  And the film had been trotting along as a pretty good Western, actually.  With comic relief and period color and interesting characters.

Then, in the last half hour or so, the gorefest commenced, and the bodies piled up alarmingly quickly, all dispatched in vivid closeups and at disconcerting angles.  Not cartoon violence, like The Bride's decimation of the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill Volume 1, but rather graphic, realistic violence at close range.  (By contrast to which, there is no sex at all in this film.  A very occasional reference to some aspect of sex, two very non-erotic scenes of nudity and that's it.  Which makes me wonder about the auteur a bit.)  Because, as enjoyable as aspects of Tarantino's films are, the inescapable bouts of gratuitous, explicit, screensplattering carnage are tired.  So very, very tired.  It's one thing to show the violent side of slavery--that's real and necessary for a film such as this.  It's quite another to have the walls literally painted red.  It's not really entertaining, and, if anything, destroys the rhythm and mood of the film.  Like a triple-bacon cheeseburger after three courses of nigiri.

So, a qualified recommendation for this film.  The acting is enjoyable, the story not strikingly original (then again, it is Quentin "slavish hommage to my favorite genres" Tarantino) but engaging and the characters vividly drawn (especially DiCaprio's henchmen).  But the odd soundtrack choices a real disappointment, the veiled homophobia disconcerting and the violence boring when not repellent.
I wish he'd learn to holster that particular gun, because this could've been a really fun Western, spaghetti or otherwise, without it.

Oh, and could someone explain the final moments' flashback to a scene we'd not seen earlier regarding Django as the "fastest gun in the South" and especially Django's dressage bit?  Because, unless there's a sequel planned in which those two points are principal plot elements, it was the strangest derail I've seen for a film ending since the stupid breakdancing that concludes Tim Burton's abortion of an Alice in Wonderland remake.

Monday, December 17, 2012

You're Getting to Be a Hobbit with Me, Dept.

Here are a few notes for you on The Hobbit:
  • Your sobsister saw it today in 3D HFR (high frame rate).  In my case, at least, I did not experience seizures, blackouts or pruritus ani from watching a film at 48 frames per second versus the 24 fps to which we as a species are accustomed.  I didn't notice, as a few had noted, that the high frame rate made effects and props seem less real in the same way HDTV was supposed to reveal how crap TV sets are.  It does afford one a more-unmediated view in the sense of showing how the actors might look were they standing in front of you.  In some ways, it's a bit like the difference between filmed and videotaped TV shows, particularly when video was still relatively new.
  • The longueurs reported may be in the eyes and wristwatches of the reviewers.  I was into it.  I liked the slower exposition and extra detail that are necessitated by taking a single book and turning it into a trilogy.  I am, however, in the target demo's sweet spot, so YMMV.
  • Martin Freeman is quite a good Bilbo.  I wondered whether I would carry over his Watson from Sherlock.  And then, as the credits rolled, I saw that Benedict Cumberbatch is in the film.  Can we get Matt Smith and John Barrowman in there somehow for the full-body BBC nerdgasm?
  • As you might imagine, love the dwarves.
  • Tim Finn sings the outro song, composed by him.  All Kiwi all the time, that Peter Jackson.
  • There are some eye-popping set pieces in this film and some amazing (virtual) camera movement.  I can't begin to imagine the work involved in realizing some of these images.
  • I will be interested in seeing how the rest of the book is stretched into two more films, though.  As The New Yorker's film critic somewhat peevishly noted, it's 45 minutes into the film before we see young Bilbo, as we're first shown the fall of Erebor and the older Bilbo and young Frodo on the eve of Bilbo's departure at the start of LOTR.  Fuck him.  I enjoyed it.  And I will likely enjoy seeing all the other cool backstory that Jackson and his crews will share with us.  Again: SWEET me SPOT.
Go see it.  Interesting run of trailers preceding it.  Including Man of Steel, which looks really good.  Supes never my favorite character, but this looks to have some chew to it.  Star Trek: Into Darkness ditto.  Two sci-fi flicks--Oblivion, After Earth--featuring, respectively, Tom Cruise and Will/Jaden Smith in returns to a way-future, way-hostile Earth.  The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp as Tonto, who actually does call the LR "Kemo Sabe" (and Helena Bonham Carter is in it, despite not being directed by Tim Burton, FTW!).  And two animated flicks: Epic and Escape from Planet Earth with, respectively, a too-thin teenage girl lead and a gang of "wacky" aliens who'll doubtless invoke plenty of pop culture references for all ages--pass.

Oh, and 2013 is also bringing us Iron Man 3, World War Z, The Wolverine, Spielberg's Robopocalypse, Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim and prequel 300: Battle of Artemisia.

I take my escapism neat and big.  Truly, this is a golden age for fantasy/superhero/sci-fi fanboys and -girls beyond imagining 20 years ago.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Macarena for Bosnian Orphans, Dept.

Something I did not know before watching this video, itself a bit mid-’80s but also surreal: that large groups of people know how to dance Gangnam Style and will do so before a camera.  Not since ‘86’s pandemic of Los Angeles crowds walking like Egyptians has a Caucasian group reached across ethnic lines so enthusiastically to assume the identity of an ethnic Other.

It was, I believe, Martin Luther King Jr. who said,

“We are the world.  We are the children.
We are the ones who make a brighter day.
So let’s start giving.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I'm Bi. Curious?, Dept.

Missed Skyfall in its blow-your-face-off IMAX incarnation, unfortunately.  But saw it.

I was influenced by surprisingly good press.  Usually, the 23rd film in a series isn't very good...oh wait, I can't generalize to all those other 20+-film megahit franchises that don't exist in the global market.

Daniel Craig is the anointed successor to Sean Connery.  The others may have their adherents.  I do not number myself amongst them.  And very much not of panto spy Roger Moore, whom I can no longer imagine going through his shtick without hearing "Yakety Sax" for soundtrack.

Skyfall hit all the marks.  Action.  Love.  Loss.  Locales.  Humor.  Molten love interest in the form of Bérénice Marlohe.  It moves the Big Story forward.  The Mission: Impossible series tries to do that too, but as I don't relate to Tom Cruise's characters as any more or less real than his public persona, it all takes on a kind of flatness for me.  His character (what's his surname? Falcon? Neutrino? Thrust?) had a wife or someone who died or lived but thinks he's dead? or knows he's alive?  I don't care.  At all.  I didn't even remember he was married or engaged or petting above the waist.  So, I'll consider his films not to have met their half of our brief contractual relationship.  At the end of The Empire Strikes Back, I pretty much carried away that Han was encased in carbonite, to offer one particular benchmark for mainstream film series to hit.

So, Skyfall.  I neglected to mention (on purpose!) the Villain.  And gratefully it's not Sociopathic Eurotrash or Ethnic Megalomaniac.  But a proper, unhinged bad guy with a backstory that folds neatly into the theology and none of the "threatens to flambé Canada with a laser scalpel from space" Mooreiana.  I know...the co(s)mic scale of the mid-period Bonds gave them a sort of Barbarella camp, but I like martini Bond rather than drink-that-looks-naked-without-at-least-one-paper-umbrella Bond.  Javier Bardem, blonde and fey (or as Entertainment Weekly had it, "sexually ambiguous,") is restrainedly over the top, moving the Bond Villain closer to a Heath Ledger Joker.  I do wonder what motivated the decision to have the character exhibit a bit more polymorphous perversity.  Bardem's character range is popularly defined by the gamut of macho running from Vicky Cristina Barcelona's irresistible lover to the brutality of his hired killer in No Country for Old Men.  By contrast, he appears to play on both teams here, melding the omnivorous lover and stone killer, in his critically and popularly well-received interpretation of Raoul Silva.

Shanghai has a dazzling turn in the film's mid-section.  It's so interesting to see it portrayed as this glittering exemplar of exotic modernity.  Your sobsister was there in the early-mid '90s, when it was just just beginning to shed its Mao-era skin and lay down the foundations for the transformation east of the city across the Huangpu River.  It was the summer that sunglasses and sidewalk ice cream shops seemed to be every where.  In Skyfall, it takes on a Blade Runner-ish LED gloss reflected on new buildings, new windows, new walls.

So, go.  Run like the wind if you've not seen it yet.  Escapist fare with some chew to it.  And a finale not in space or astride a volcano but in raw Northern countryside familiar to Bond.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tears in Heaven, Dept.

From the Netflix film summary:
Austin and Julie Locke are devastated when they learn that their young son, Dax, has been diagnosed with cancer. But with courage, determination and faith, they decide to give Dax one last Christmas -- even if it has to be in October.

I don't know about y'all, but I turn to film and television for entertainment rather than opportunities to peek into shattered lives.  Was this on the Bringdown Channel?  Or possibly PlathTV?  *ha ha*  No, no.  It aired on gmc, which, like KFC, hides its product behind a bland initialism.

gmc, the Gospel Music Channel--it probably lowercases its logo because that's just how humble and Christlike they are--was founded by the son of televangeli$t Rex Humbard as a "a positive, entertaining alternative to broadcast television," according to his business partner.

So, if you've ever had a hankering to have yourself a Touched by an Angel or Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman marathon, call your local cable provider and snag yourself some "Uplifting Entertainment™."

And if you happen to like Movies with Messages, you'll be shittin' in high cotton, cousin, with gmc's upcoming premiere Christmas Angel about the dilapidated and abandoned house next door to the telegenic little blonde narrator girl maybe being occupied by an angel who grants wishes?  Or perhaps you'd like to tune in for gmc's world premiere of its series I Forgive, in which viewers get to vampirically feed off the emotions of reg'lar folks as they forgive, on semi-national television, people who did unconscionable shit to them like murder their son.  Why?  Because the show offers "a welcome and much needed alternative to the often sensationalistic, exploitive and negative reality genre."

I guess the irony meter was broken in the marketing office the day that copy flew out the door.

Anyhoo, back to The Heart of Christmas.  It stars Candace Cameron Bure, who used to be DJ Tanner on Full House and is currently the sister of Rapture-lovin' Jesus-botherer Kirk Cameron.  She doesn't play the mother of the afflicted child, but, instead, a Woman with a Career who's Too Busy to spend time with her husband or go to her daughter's soccer games or take her son trick-or-treating--she will Be Moved by the family's story, okay? and probably change her selfish, ungodly, feminazi ways.

This made-for-TV film--"based on a true story of hope and compassion," according to the manufacturer--is apparently inspiring in that the family's community gathers around it in its time of trouble, much like George Bailey's in It's a Wonderful Life.  The only difference being that that's a nuanced film classic, and this is extruded product like Play-Doh stars.

One reviewer writes:
"I highly recommend this movie, please be prepared to cry as it is very very sad. I think it was extra hard for me because I've buried two of my children."

And I think: You've buried two children, and you watch movies about children dying of terminal diseases?  Me, I might watch some Star Wars or maybe Astaire-Rogers musicals, but I haven't walked a mile in that reviewer's shoes. 

So, yeah, The Heart of Christmas.  For when you want to celebrate the birth of humanity's savior by watching a film about the random yet relentless impact of disease on a young boy's life...sorry, about how a little boy played his role in God's Plan by dying of leukemia and inspiring people and stuff.  Enjoy.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Some Mistakes Were Made, Dept.


I'm a former military officer who thinks it pretty reasonable to have an affair with the head of the CIA with the expectation that no-one will ever find out about it.

I'm a married mother of two who sees nothing wrong with writing a series of threatening anonymous emails to a family friend of my married lover because I feel threatened by her.
I'm a journalist who needs a ghost-writer to actually write the biography of the man I'm bedding.

And I'm a highly educated academic who pretty much always wears sleeveless tops so you can see my cut bi- and triceps all the time.

From Bismarck, North Dakota, ladies and gentlemen, little Paula Dean Kranz! Watch as she attempts to dismantle her life from the inside out! 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

On Assignment, Dept.

So, a week after seeing Cloud Atlas, I watch another film that burns through a series of movie genres and features an actor playing multiple roles.

In contrast to the former, however, Holy Motors does not take pains to make its point clear to the viewer.  In fact, it seems somewhat indifferent in that regard.  It merely offers images and stories and seems to say, Work with that, 'k?

I don't really want to offer too much detail about the film.  Although, given the fact that it's only here for one week, I wonder how many readers will even find it at their multiplex anytime soon.  Aside from the fact that it has stiff competition for moviegoers' entertainment dollars, opening, as it does, the same weekend as Skyfall and Lincoln, two films that are its polar opposite in terms of setting and meeting audience expectations.

That said, more than a few critics are touting Holy Motors as film of the year.  I think it unlikely it'll accumulate The Artist-level Oscar™ buzz--though both films are built around a love of cinema--simply because, as noted, it doesn't make things obvious or comfortable for the viewer, and a leading man who sheds his characters like a molting snake doesn't leave much for an audience to identify with.

What I will share is that Holy Motors will leave you guessing even as it doesn't demand that you "get" the film to have enjoyed it.  And fans of Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face will get a treat.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Wait for the Book, Dept.

Okay.  So I gave Cloud Atlas the best shot I could.  Watched it in a sparsely attended Thursday showing at an IMAX theater.

Eyecatching movie.  Poor adaptation.  E for effort.  Would not watch again.

Sorry, kids.  I read the novel on which the film is based in order to watch the film with a clear and recent sense of its source material.  And I feel that for someone who hasn't read the novel, he or she is getting some odd, truncated, oversimplified version of the story, like relating Joyce's Ulysses in the form of an org chart or PowerPoint presentation.

Basic background: The book comprises six novellas involving people in six different times: a notary aboard a Hawaii-bound ship leaving the Antipodes in the 19th Century; a British composer in Bruges in 1931; a reporter in California in 1975; a British vanity press publisher in the current day; a clone restaurant server in mid-22rd-century New Seoul; the half-literate survivors of The Fall in 24th-century Hawaii.  Their stories interweave.  In the book, each narrative is cut in half and resumed after the furthest-future story is told in its entirety.  In the film, one flits from moment to moment to scene to scene.

[SEMISPOILER ALERT: Basically, eight actors play most, if not all, of the principal roles.  So, we see Tom Hanks as a scheming doctor in 1, a hotel manager in 2, a thuggish memoirist in 3, an actor in a film-within-a-film in 4 and the protagonist in 5.  Lotsa makeup.  Lotsa weird, unconvincing prostheses.]

I feel that the filmmakers feared that the translation from complex text to film would be too far a leap for audiences with no context outside what they're shown because they've changed the book in fundamental ways that either (i) pander to the audience (kewl CGI chase scenes!!) or (ii) try to make the connections between the six novellas really obvious.

And that's my problem with it.  The source novel by David Mitchell is 500+ pages long and moderately complex in its statement and recapitulation of themes and images and words.  In order to make this comprehensible for an audience that does not have the benefit of a text through whose pages it can retrace its steps and remind itself of names and events, the filmmakers chose to take the basic theme--the continuous transmigration of souls (limited by the author to the character bearing the comet-shaped birthmark in each story)--and expand it to every single character in each novella.  So that everyone shows up reincarnated in every story.  Which was not the author's intent, at least that I could read.

The film sorta kinda ends up being about love transcending the specifics of one time or place, but also sorta kinda  about the same eight people's imprisonment in an unbreakable cycle of reincarnation.  Which are not the same thing.

Also, major changes were made, presumably to make the film more accessible, so that, for example, the subtle and engrossing story of the intellectual and spiritual awakening of Sonmi-451, the cloned server, becomes a whiz-bang antigrav shoot-'em-up, complete with a studly hero who saves this weak female who is also a Vessel of Wisdom.  Urgh.

Even at almost a three-hour running time, the film contains a fraction of the detail that the book offers.  Thus, the weaving relationships between the young composer, the established composer whom he serves, the composer's wife whom he beds, the composer's daughter whom he despises, themselves a mirror of contrapuntal themes of music, are elided in favor of a simpler story.  The fascinating backstory of how the corpocratic New Seoul came to be and of how Sonmi slowly achieves self-actualization are dropped in favor of a flashier, more traditional sci-fi narrative.  The far-future story, narrated in a post-apocalyptic pidgin that's reminiscent of the speech in Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker, is fascinating on the page, but unintelligible on the screen (and not just because some scenes seem to have had the directorial instruction: "Mumble!").

Can I recommend it?  It's intellectually, formally and artistically ambitious, certainly, which one doesn't hear much in discussing $100M films.  It's visually engaging, especially in IMAX.  The whiplash editing has its own advantages over the ordered structure of the book and creates its own rhythms and juxtapositions.  So, yes, I'd say see it as a film experience.

But read the book first.  Really.  That's Cloud Atlas.  The film is Cloud Atlas: The Anime.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Everything Old Is New Again, Dept.
Here's what I love.  Culture as a virus.

So, "Dat's de Way to Spell 'Chicken'" was written in 1902 by Sidney Perrin, a very successful African-American composer of what used to be called "coon songs."

Yes, in the ragtime/pre-WWI days, a hugely popular subgenre of American music was the coon song.  Which, as you might guess, portrayed African-American life in the United States in unflattering caricature.  Sort of like rap, in that white people loved it, black people performed it (although there were a number of white performers) and it contributed to ensuing decades of validated bigotry ("Yo, they call each other 'nigger' all the time, man!").  The only difference being that, in those unenlightened days, though "nigger," "darky" and "coon" were liberally thrown around, they didn't have quite as many brand names to flaunt and "bitches" and "hoes" had entirely different meanings.

Anyhoo.  So, this song, which plays on the stereotypical love of African-Americans for the yardbird, features the following chorus in dialect:

C, dat's de way to begin,
H, dat's de next letter in,
I, dat am de third,
C, dat's to season the word,
K, dat's a filling in,
E, I'm near the end,
Dat's de way to spell chicken

So, we have an image of the African-American that is of an early-20th-century piece with razors, loaded dice and watermelon three meals a day.

Fast forward a hundred years, and we have this little bit of primary school theater.

Culture is a virus.  It mutates and finds new hosts.  Who will be singing the chicken song on our first extraterrestrial colonies?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

For Your Life, Dept.

So, your sobsister caught this today, the one day the film was screened in Milk Chocolate City ("limited engagement," indeed).  Oddly enough, at the local "art film" theater rather than the multiplex four blocks away.

The audience comprised mostly men old enough to have seen the band in its heyday, although women in singles and in pairs were scattered around the theater.  Those younger than 40 were thin on the ground, but they were properly reverential.

Here's a question: How can you sit through a two-hour Led Zeppelin concert film and not even bob your head?  I don't mean the vigorous air drums that the girl with fuchsia hair was playing in the third row, right.  Just, you know, some recognition that powerfully rhythmic music is being performed in front of you.  Is it the distance created by the medium of film?  Are they observers rather than participants?  Yet, these same people applauded each number at its conclusion, so the fourth wall had been breached.

(Related but irrelevant: I remember reading a Moon Mullins comic strip in the New York Daily News around the time of Nixon's trip to China.  Strip regulars Emmy and Lord Plushbottom are discussing it.  And the final exchange was, to the best of my recollection: "He's gone to look for a chink in the Great Wall." "Well, that might be the problem."  Them wuz the days.)

At any rate, they raged, raged against the dying of the light, alright, essaying their setlist with a ferocity that simmered at the start and flared a third of the way in.

They crushed "Kashmir," the song that drew the loudest applause of the night in the theater.  "In My Time of Dying" and "Nobody's Fault but Mine," their sideways tributes to the country blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Willie Johnson are glorious.  "No Quarter" is the spooky Tolkienesque tale I always imagined illustrated by Frank Frazetta.  And a premiere of sorts: the first live performance of sobsister fave "For Your Life."

Truth be told, I would've been ecstatic with a show comprising only deep cuts.  "Stairway to Heaven" and "Whole Lotta Love" and "Dazed and Confused" were fine, but lacked the fire of the other material, perhaps from overuse or, as singer Robert Plant put it, because they're the songs one has to do.

In this vein, for all the love I have for this band, I can see why Plant didn't and doesn't want to re-form the band on more than a one-off basis.  They compete with their younger selves every time they play.  Plant was 32 when the band broke up after drummer John Bonham's death.  He was 20 when it formed.  Does he still want to sing those songs in the same way?  (Apparently not, given the projects on which he's embarked in the past five years: albums with Alison Krauss and with the Band of Joy that tap deep into acoustic Americana.)  And I think he recognizes that people coming to a Led Zeppelin show want to hear "Stairway to Heaven" like on the record, not some reimagined version à la Dylan.  His desire to avoid that treadmill for his remaining productive years is understandable.

I had the pleasure and good fortune of seeing the band on what turned out to be their final U.S. tour.  June of 1977 at the Garden.  Three friends and I had "won" the right to buy floor seats (rear right) in the mail-in lottery that was conducted.  They were like unto gods on the stage, assisted by a sound system that must've been audible across the Hudson.  So, 35 years later, Circle of Life!  But, much as I love them, I don't need to see them live again.

I will revisit this concert on DVD, though, because, you know, they brought it.

As the walls of NYC once read, Zep Rules, OK?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Let Us Now Braise Famous Men, Dept.

Oh my God.  The semiotics of Mitt Romney’s “shopping” cart.  Because he “shops,” you know.  Just like any old multimillionaire.

Some spring water.  Oh, and some Pepsi doubtless stripped of the devil’s twitchin’, what we here in the Mission Lands call ka-fe-yin.  It obviously can’t endorse too many brands at the expense of other brands whose boards might have big purses and small brains.  It’s the Potemkin shopping cart.  I’m surprised he didn’t buy the display food they have in furniture showrooms.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be Mitt Romney.  The self-referentiality of recognizing that one is a construct.  The realization that one’s own personality and thoughts, well, aren’t really primetime material right out of the box, right?  The knowledge that, even should he *God forbid* not lose, he’s really alotalot of people’s second choice.  Maybe third, were Spermin’ Herman Cain’s rapturous self-appraisal today anything but a madman’s oregano-scented ramblings.

The auto-da-fé of our democracy.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Oy Gevalt, Dept.

The Osmonds, “Fiddler on the Roof medley”

To quote from Gold Diggers of 1933, “Remember my forgotten man…”  So very absent from the RNC Tampa clusterfuck were the standard bearers for unthreatening Mormon masculinity: The Osmonds.

This video clip leans toward the mindblowing, as it’s basically five young Mormon American men singing songs associated with an aged Russian Jew while executing Motown-ish choreography.  Are we a fucking melting pot or what?

But once you get past the polyester and 1,000-watt grins, there are some cool vocal harmonies in there.  They occasionally sound like the Hi-Lo’s doing a Fiddler medley.  To the screams of tween girls.

So, why is Mitt Romney turning his back on these avatars of Mormon culture?  Is he a self-loathing Mormon?  What next, airbrush the King Sisters out of American cultural history?  I would hope not, especially given performances like this one: four wholesome Mormon girls applying some close harmonies to a song extolling the delights of coffee.  “Whoops, Mister Moto” indeed.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Wake, Bake and Make Good, Dept.

Not to give the impression that this it's always 4:20 chez sobsister, but here's a little something for all of you listophiles.

Here in Milk Chocolate City, there are a number of lists and rankings that everyone waits for and bitches about and strives to make.  The AmLaw A-List, for example.  Or Washingtonian's 100 Very Best Restaurants.

Well, move over, Rover, because a new list has hit the streets: The Marijuana Policy Project has just released its inaugural Top 50 Most Influential Marijuana Users list.

It should come as no surprise that BHO tops the list.  Actually, our last three presidents are on the list, as are a number of celebrities, some unsurprising (Cheech, Chong), some more so.

But it's not a list of famous stoners.  As MPP notes, "...the 2012 'Top 50 Most Influential Marijuana Users' list is meant to identify people who have used marijuana and achieved high levels of success or influence."

So, corner those bowls--always in moderation, gentle readers--and you too may tread the corridors of power some day.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Straight Dope, Dept.

As crap as BHO's been on decriminalization/legalization, I'm guessing that policy under a Mittens "caffeine is Satan's sex lube" Romney administration would be much less...umm...rational on the topic.

I mean, it's bad enough that Barry's rolled and torched his share of bombers but hasn't translated those Precious Moments™ into real drug policy reform.  And I realize that privatized correctional services are the dotcoms of the 'teens, the jail doors slamming with a satisfying ka-chinnng.  But, hey, how about we make the people at ONDCP go out and find real jobs?  'Cause here's what they have to say about Mary Jane--how many factual errors, mistruths and unsupported generalizations can you find, kids?  Okay, now try the second paragraph.

I think we can do better.  Because that thing is like the Joe Isuzu of policy papers.  Now multiply that by The Angel Moroni Told Me So.

See what I mean?

(inspired by the ever-fab Miz Red)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Making a Spectacle of Yourself, Dept.

So, I watched the Olympic opening ceremonies this afternoon.  Well, not the parade of athletes.  Because life's too short.  But the "creative" part.  As far as I can tell, this was the general scheme:

In the first of three parts, the hobbits are happily playing in the Shire until the orcs come up from underground, led by their imperious, cigar-chomping lord, Sauron (Kenneth Branagh), and raise foul smokestacks and look generally disgruntled and rhythmic.  But they forge the gold Ring, which flies into the sky in The Hobbit III - Ka-Ching and joins the four other Rings of Marketing Power.

In the second part, England says "Eat shit and die" to Republican viewers of this broadcast by producing the largest mass propaganda piece I've seen outside North Korea.  It's called "Socialized medicine rules, and you, my friend, drool."  So, all the well sick children are wheeled out by energetic health care providers for whom they didn't have too wait all that long, all things considered, and their beds light up, and everything's all jitterbuggy, mostly by the non-Anglo Saxon Britons in the ensemble.  But then a 100-foot Voldemort shows up, the crowd goes wild and Warner Bros. says, "C'mon, we can do a Robin trilogy, can't we?!"  But then, Mary Poppins and her revenue streams show up and kick Voldemort's ass by caring for children, apparently finding the work-life balance that everyone craves.

In the final leg of the stool, a Black Briton has an East Side Story-kind of thing with a biracial girl who's more charismatic than he, to the extent that he has to wear a comic hat to distinguish himself.  And their story introduces "Danny Boyle's Frenetic Goulash of Popular British Culture."  I really would have liked it in a different execution.  It was like Glee: The Quadrennial.  That said, I can only imagine Her Majesty got as nostalgic as I did when we had Keith Prodigy 10 times larger than life filling the screen declaiming "Firestarter."  And I did enjoy the snippet of "Born Slippy," my fave from Boyle's Trainspotting soundtrack.  "Lager lager lager!" underscores the importance of the Olympic spirit.

Then, more stuff happens, and Arctic Monkeys play a John song because the show's going to end with Paul and one of his songs, and it all has to balance out.  But, why "Hey Jude"?  Really only for the na-na-na-na-na-na-nas?  Didn't he have another song in the book that might have some relevance to the occasion?  "Hi Hi Hi" would have spoken to altius in the Olympic motto.  There.  Done.

At any rate, to the photo above.  I love the caption, all the more so for the shots of Kate Middleton looking like she's dead bored and when will she get to say, "May the odds be ever in your favor"?  QEII held up well, but she was not amused by silver confetti that made her look like a homeless woman at a snowy bus stop.

We were similarly unamused by the musings of Matt Lauer and his work wife, Meredith Vieira.  Can you imagine having to script meaningful things for them to say?  Again, it's like North Korean propaganda.  Except more empathetic.  Lucky people elsewhere got to see it without commercial interruption and, more importantly, without Mattedith.

And how did they do a British Olympics without Sir Elton?  Ouch.  Good for funerals, but otherwise...  

I am looking forward to Rio's opening ceremony in 2016, though.  That'll be a firestarter.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Fiction Imitates Life, Dept.

Right, so I'm at the local multiplex about to watch Prometheus (short review: gorgeous visuals in parts; worth the 3D; what does it say when the most compelling character is an android?; unsatisfactory ending), and the previews are unspooling.  One is for a comedy starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn as local doofuses who form a neighborhood watch group and end up encountering aliens.  No, not Manuel and Rosita, but, you know, aliens.  Foreign entities who do not share our way of life or thinking and most likely are hostile.  So, at one point in the trailer, the four doofuses and chick (including the always-watchable Rosemarie DeWitt from United States of Tara and Richard Ayoade from The IT Crowd ) come upon an alien.  They're somehow armed--shades of George Zimmerman--and kill the alien.  After the alien is down and for bonus comedic effect, Stiller and Vaughn keep shooting it as it lies on the floor.  One takes a few shots.  The other a shot.  Two beats.  Another few shots.  Repeat until hilarity ensues.  Don't hold your breath, though.  Then--shades of U.S. troops in Afghanistan--they pose for pictures with the dead alien.  Making the corpse do "funny" things, possibly because the film isn't having much success on that front.  I was confused: Was this (a) another yukless crapfest from Stiller or (b) some deep critique of American interventionism in global affairs or of the nation's love affair with handguns or of our national tendency to create and demonize an Other? 

20th Century Fox pulled the trailer temporarily in late March after noticing that maybe possibly its resonance with a story that was all over the media might hurt box office.  They needn't have.  The answer to my question is, of course, (a).  A quick two and out.  And retroactive irony quotes to "comedy."

They changed the title to The Watch, btw.  Because Neighborhood Watch wasn't testing well with young black males in Florida.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Amateur Music History Dept., Dept.

Right, so your sobsister is reading Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography.  I think it should be made compulsory reading in every school in this country, me.  But, then, I think that Fleischer Popeyes and Betty Boops should be publicly screened on the sides of buildings 24/7.  So, my idea of pedagogy might vary somewhat from yours.

At any rate, the reason I mention this book, other than as a recommendation to all those within range of my wobbly tenor, is that it is full of Interesting Information, of which the following is one bit.  In his chapter titled "Music, Please," Ackroyd describes and discusses the itinerant singers and "flying stationers" who would take up their positions on streetcorners and sing or tell their tales in short and sell the broadsides that contained the lyrics or the stories.

He writes:
Then new songs, together with an old ballad for company, would in turn become part of a "long song" which comprised several ballads printed together on a roll of paper.
And that put me in mind of Jethro Tull's "Life Is a Long Song," off the Living in the Past album.  Ian Anderson, who wrote it, has not discussed publicly, to my knowledge, his intent for the phrase "long song" in that number beyond what it reads on the surface, i.e., "Life is a long song, but the tune ends too soon for us all."  However, armed with my small, new-found bit of knowledge, itself always a dangerous thing, I'll imagine that Mr. A (no relation to Steve Ditko's rather uncompromising protagonist) meant that life is a collection of ballads sad and happy, lurid and loving, sold at the end of a long stick by a glowering man.  The fellow upper-left is "The Long-Song Seller," one of the working-class Londoners who speak, perhaps for the first time in print, in Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1 (available to read here thanks to Tufts); the print is by H.G. Hine and W.G. Mason, its original caption (which appeared at bottom) was "Two under fifty for a fardy' !", to quote Mayhew, "As if two hundred and fifty songs were to be sold for a farthing."

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Inevitable 4/20 Post, Dept.

Remember when smoking marijuana was a furtive, shameful thing?  Like masturbation, only with less Kleenex.  No more, my brethren and sistren.  Exhibit A: today's Wall Street Journal features an article--"High Expectations: Marketers Hope for Buzz on 4/20"--that pretty much tells me that torching a fatty has become as mainstream as cheating on your taxes or Googling your ex-girlfriends.

When your sobsister was in the Wonder Years (ages one through 12, not the TV show), I remember talk of marijuana legalization in these here United States.  The Big Tobacco Companies were rumored to be retooling their assembly lines to produce endless files of joints soon! maybe next year!  That this entrepreneurial foray into the world of mass-produced entheogens did not take place then does not preclude its occurrence now or soon.  I think we may have turned a corner as a nation on pot smoking in much the way that we did on gay marriage or homosexuals in the military.  Sure, there's a flock of people against any or all of the preceding, but there's also more Main Street acceptance led by the cessation of media demonization (for the most part) and its inverse, media glamourization.

And as the cited article reveals, it's all about the Benjamins.  And as the wedding and catering industries were touted as beneficiaries of the advent of gay marriage, so will the eyedrop and snack food industries benefit from decriminalization/legalization of weed.  Porn drives technology advances, and entrepreneurialism liberalizes society.  Discuss.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Walking down the Emerald Aisle, Dept.

Oh, there a group of people you can't make unruly and loud...?

Today, I remembered upon stepping outside my building at noon, is St. Patrick's Day.  Faith and begorrah, sure and the young folk were stumbling up and down the boulevard already!  The Irish rainbow of Kelly green, forest green, lime green, hunter green, olive green, pistachio and chartreuse made it easy to spot these weavin' wannabe sons and daughters of the Auld Sod.

This day brings out an odd "naughtiness" in grown men and women--"look at us! we're *tee hee* sozzled! in public! downtown! and it's okay!"  Your sobsister is not much of a drinker, having learned not to overindulge in spirits by only a few occasions when the room spun the night before, and I wished myself dead the morning after.

In that spirit, I'd like to launch my campaign today to encourage revelers to Smoke the Green, Don't Wear It™, to remember Saint Pádraig.  Wean yourselves from the teat of demon rum, brothers and sisters, with judicious application of the emerald herb.  Your head will thank you for it tomorrow.  Sláinte!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Get Off My Lawn!, Dept.

So, I'm reading the Washington City Paper, which is a shadow of its former self--whole 'nother story--and I turn to the concerts section--to be precise, shows coming to the 9:30 club and other venues, all promoted by the same organization.  Historical context: the 9:30 had been a premier venue in Choc City for years.  Back when it was at 930 F Street, in a poky space with shitty sightlines, it hosted great acts.  Then it moved up to V Street back when there was no "U Street Renaissance," and the neighborhood was...sketchy.  To say the most favorable thing at hand.  But, still, it had been this town's venue for the hottest acts.  Not arena acts, mind you, those still went to the MCI, now Verizon, Center.  But all the alterna-rock acts, back when "alternative rock" was a thing.  I saw Portishead/Tricky/Massive Attack there, Lou Reed, a double bill of Bad Brains and Living Colour, etc., etc.

I haven't been there in some time (which also means I've missed The Books and St. Vincent there in the last year; vide infra), but I checked the venue's page in the City Paper today to see what was up.  The 9:30 itself is featuring bands I will not be paying cash money to see.  Fatboy Slim?  Mickey Hart Band?  Rusted Root?  Ah...thanks, but I have to wash and set my hair, coincidentally on each of those three nights.  Then I check to see what the 9:30's promoters are featuring in other venues.

Well, at Merriweather Post Pavilion, which is an open-air venue out in the wilds of Northern Virginia and an utter bitch to leave after a concert, we have Rob Zombie and Megadeth, with Metallica, Iron Maiden and Godsmack tribute bands on a second stage.  Hmm.  Fail.  Sarah McLachlan with The National Philharmonic (full-page ad earlier in the tabloid that looks like it's touting a feminine hygiene product--huge head shot of Sarah M. with some sort of flowering shrub intruding stage right).  Hmm.  Fail.  A two-day "rock festival" featuring, sweet jebus, Night Ranger and Kix on the first day, then Cinderella, Ratt (L.A.'s heavy metal rodents!), Queensryche, Skid Row, Warrant, Quiet Riot, Dokken, Stryper ("and more!").  Hmm.  Incredible fail, but I would love to see who shows up for this event.  Then, Lady Antebellum with Hootie emeritus Darius Rucker as opening act.  (Ghod.  Can we just agree that country music died with Tammy Wynette and suspend the genre entirely?  Because every cowboy-hatted nitwit and aerobicized crossover wannabe and jingoistic turd blossom can kiss my Yankee ass.  For reals.  My musical tastes are more catholic than the Pope, but the one genre I will not abide at all is fucking Contemporary Country.  What exactly is the point of Lady Antebellum?  Two Pretty People and a Third Guy performing meds-time music for Atlanta suburbanites who wish the Confederate army hadn't been quite so crap?  If the South is ever to rise again, it needs to think about mass-producing music that isn't the aural equivalent of Cream of Shit soup.)  Mega-fail.  And, finally, here come The Beach Boys!  Brian Wilson and Mike Love somehow appearing on the same stage without one or both trying to kill the other to claim final title to the Beach Boys Legacy.  I think of Wilson and the undertalented Love as the musical equivalent of the duochromatic aliens on the Star Trek episode, "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield."

My point is--and you should see the bills come summer at the various amphitheaters in the Greater Choc City region: all of them dream double- and triple-bills.  In 1978.--that large-scale music, if these coming attractions are any indication, has come to a standstill and may even be regressing.  "Devolving," to quote the Brothers Mothersbaugh and Casale.  The 9:30 used to have dynamite bills in the '90s.  I fantasized about working there just to have access to all the shows.  Now?  I haven't set foot in the venue in 10 years.  Not to say no good acts ever come there.  But, the Books and St. Vincent shows I mentioned above really were the only two shows I wished I'd seen in the last year.  I've reality-checked myself to see if this isn't simply curmudgeonly "there were giants in those days" nostalgia.  Nope.  So many of these acts are, at best, pleasant? inoffensive? I mean, Housse de Racket, Trampled by Turtles and The Wombats, to name three upcoming dates at the 9:30, are, from what little exposure I've withstood, how can I put it...? "competent journeyman outfits."  Yes.  I would certainly not pay to see them, and I can't guarantee that I would stay in the vicinity of one of their performances at a county fair or some such similar setting.  Now, I know there were duff acts at the Fillmore and CBGB and Max's and other legendary venues.  But this is just sad.  It's as if quality music is all below the radar, being made in tiny venues and out-of-the-way clubs, and the bigger venues are featuring crap or nostalgia or, occasionally, both, whipped together with a cucumber foam on top.

So, what's my takeaway and, by extension, yours?  There is more astonishing music than you will ever have the chance to hear recorded before 1970.  Hell, before 1940.  Or even sub-genres after 1970.  Post-punk.  Trip-hop.  Krautrock.  MPB.  Afrobeat.  Drum and bass.  Unless you feel the need to spend the evening in the crowded confines of a club listening to the forgettable for the sake of social engagement, invest the equivalent of a concert ticket on a year's subscription to MOG or Spotify and plumb the depths of recorded music.  I'm not advocating an eremitical lifestyle.  Necessarily.  But just listening to all the good stuff on Blue Note would take the better part of a year.  Without repeating.  Multiply by all the great jazz labels, then all the great R'n'B labels, then all the great blues labels, then all the great disco and funk labels, then contemporary classical and electronica...  You see my point?

Here, I'll leave you with something nice.  Cole Porter singing his own "Anything Goes."  Call it sherbet to cleanse your palate of the wretched musical diet on which you've been living.  No, no.  No need to thank me.  It's a public service.

Monday, March 05, 2012

BAM!™, Dept.

This is what Food Network’s come to?  Nonstop Guy Fieri?  Jesus, I watched so much of this network back when Emeril ruled the roost with his “twenny or thirty cloves’a gaah-lic” bit.  It’s always been cult o’personality at Food Network, but at least those personalities didn’t make me want to slap them, and they would cook food that I cared to make and eat.  When Food Network actually spun off a show starring Paula Deen’s personality-free sons, I knew it had jumped the shark’s fin soup.

‘Cause you know Julia Child would’ve been a better chef, citizen and educator if she’d punked out her hair and rocked out a “vintage” bowling shirt.  Lesson 1: At Food Network, we broadcast, we don’t narrowcast.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Beyonce the Valley of the Dollars, Dept.

It's so interesting to me.  The unavoidable media spectacle of Beyonce, Jay-Z and "Blue Ivy Carter," a name they are claiming as intellectual property before the competent authorities because apparently a cottage industry would otherwise arise using that name or variants thereof to sell all matter of domestic convenience ware, much of it related to infancy.  And I don't know which is worse: (i) that people would seek to capitalize on someone else's fame so nakedly and exploitatively, (ii) that Jay-Z and Beyonce would seek to use the birth of their child to further their individual and joint brands or (iii) that anyone would buy something branded "Blue Ivy Carter" because they thought it would improve his or her life.

Then I thought, this is Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher for 2012.  In both cases, extremely popular but not terribly profound artists.  On some level, a truer affirmation of an African-American aspirational narrative than Barack Obama's.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Greeks Had a Word for It, Dept.

"CHORUS: So that one should wait to see the final day and should call none among mortals fortunate, till he has crossed the bourne of life without suffering grief."
Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus (Hugh Scott-Jones, trans., screenshot Loeb Classical Library edition) © 1994 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

In reading about the death of Joe Paterno, I saw someone posted the short version of the preceding, "Count no man happy until he is dead," which is Herodotus, from his Histories (I.32)  And very much so in Paterno's case.  Never thought twice about him till the paedo story broke.  Discussing this yesterday, I was hard-pressed to think of someone who went from the top of his or her profession to disgrace then death in such a short period of time.  Not even Michael Jackson, who was, after all, acquitted, even though the stink of suspicion lingered in the nostrils of those who weren't his devout fans.

We take the ancient Greek word "hubris" to mean a downfall following arrogance, particularly by the powerful.  The original, according to the hive mind at Wikipedia, referred to the gravest of crimes in Greek society and included "sexual crimes ranging from rape of women or children to consensual but improper activity, in particular anal sex with a free man or with an unconsenting and/or under-aged boy."

A bespoke term could not have been better crafted than "hubris" in its multiplicity of meanings to describe the rise and fall of Joe Paterno.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Fruit a Short Distance from the Tree,  or I Pee, You Pee, We All Pee for IP, Dept.

Shuggie Otis, Freedom Flight

Johnny Otis, the Greek-American bandleader, singer, musician and silver-eared A&R man, the "godfather of R&B," who died two days before one of his greatest discoveries, Etta James, wrote "Willie and the Hand Jive," some good video of which is on YT here.  He was also the father of Shuggie Otis.  Who wrote, sang and played an orchestra of instruments on this his second album, best known for the later Brothers Johnson smash "Strawberry Letter 23."  Which he recorded when he was 17.  Justin Bieber would have to demonstrate an ability to understand human speech universally or outline a convincing unified field theory that succeeds where Einstein fell short, to even be allowed in the same room with him.  Shuggie Otis isn't as well known as he should be.  Nor, among most Americans, are his late father and the first-tier musicians his father promoted or employed and with whom Shuggie played hot blues guitar as an adolescent.

Go to MOG or Spotify or whichever service you frequent, and check out this album if you're unfamiliar with it.  The Johnny Otis talent tree stretches through his progeny to the many stars he first boosted.  Little Esther Phillips. Big Jay McNeely. The aforementioned Miss Etta James. Jackie Wilson. Hank Ballard. Little Willie John.  And it's all out there.

Oh, and you'll pry my Internet out of my cold, dead hands.  If SOPA and PIPA can even potentially threaten my ability to link to someone else's intellectual property in a way that honors and promotes the original work, then they and their lineal descendents in Congress must be attacked by wolverines with migraines.  The people whose work I enjoy on Tumblr, for example, thrive on access to other people's intellectual property, as well as work in the public domain, to create recontextualized worlds.  Worlds that use the words and works of other to express an individual sensibility, personal and private, serious or giddy.  It would take a narrow view indeed to view the survival of an outmoded business model as more important than the public's ability to freely display consumable copies--that horrible word--of cultural artifacts.  Not to profit from the act, but to share the work in a way that introduces others to one's passions and inspires them to learn more about a thinker or artist or relief worker or honest politician.  I can't count the number of bands, films, strips, books, poets I've been introduced to in the course of years on the Internet.  Many of whose work I've then obtained at my own expense.

How is this not considered valuable and real for an industry, compared to the imaginary billions claimed to be lost that never existed in the first place?  If you tell someone, here's a dump of a new album by band X, free, and that person says, sure whatever and listens to it or not, it's not at all the same as that person counting as a lost sale.  Were it not free, most people would not be filling their hard drives with five thousand songs they'll never hear.  It's the opportunity, not the desire.  Yes, some artists lose money because of their popularity.  That's unavoidable.  But the others cannot be counted as lost sales.  To legislate on the basis of those imaginary economics is disingenuous beyond the horizon line.

So, yes.  Fuck that noise.  Keep the Internet free.  Keep its users free to reshape the notion of "intellectual property" into as-yet-unknown formats that will honor creator and empower consumer at the same time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Baby First, THEN Bathwater, Dept.

SOPA/PIPA?  Fuck that noise.  I believe in intellectual property rights and would not want my shit being peddled for fi' dolla' by a Nigerian on Canal Street either.  That said, the Congress is--mirabile dictu--entirely wrongheaded in its approach to piracy prevention.  Break the Internet rather than have the entertainment industry adopt a 21st-century business model?  Well, heck yeah!  I mean, Sen. Patrick Leahy can't yawn without us seeing Hollywood's waggling fingers (three of his top five contributors? Time Warner, Walt Disney Co., Vivendi).

Call your senator or representative and tell them to pull their snouts out of the trough and do so some serious thinking about legislation that protects IP rights without shutting down the principal medium of dissemination for the same assholes who are serving them their slop.

Here are Google's talking points, and here's the Electronic Frontier Foundation's info on the 1/18 blackout and other topics.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Domino Theory, Dept.

And hot on the heels of my report of Melody Records' imminent closing, your sobsister learned this morning that the last decent Barnes and Noble in town closed over the weekend.

Me, I'm not generally a fan of B&N.  The stores tend to stock the obvious and not very much of anything else.  The difference between B&N and the late, lamented Borders always seemed to hinge on selection.  Both had wi-fi and coffee bars and a high degree of tolerance for people with ample leisure time and little inclination to pay cash money for their reading material.  But only Borders seemed to take time and care in its selection, going beyond the lazy man's "five Shakespeares and a Mamet and call it a theater section" to offer what FM radio calls "deep cuts."  With the exception of the Georgetown B&N.  Motivated perhaps by its proximity to the university and by its literate, affluent neighborhood clientele, the Georgetown store stocked its three floors thoughtfully, so that poetry and essays and theology and all the other categories that don't have a Stephen King or Nora Roberts to keep the pot boiling weren't shunted off to a corner with a few lonely specimens to represent them.

So, D.C. is now down to one-and-a-half B&Ns for its chain bookstores (and, no, I don't count "Books-A-Million"--which offers a selection that crosses the county line from "Pathetic" to "Insulting"--unless you're a real big fan of the "Left Behind" series, in which case you're shittin' in tall cotton, cousin!) and one decent indie bookstore, Politics and Prose.  Oh, and good luck if you don't live in Northwest D.C., hon.

But the upside?  We've got more cupcake and frozen yogurt outlets than the Duggars have neglected children!  Sometimes you can even buy them both in the same store!  Can you stuff froyo inside a cupcake?  Dibs, I thought of it first!  Excuse me, what's that now...? Books? Music?  We're talking about never having to walk more than two blocks in any direction for froyo!!  Honestly...

Monday, January 02, 2012

The Day the Music Died, Dept.

D.C. is diminished now, in a way that speaks to unwelcome but, perhaps, inevitable change.

The last good record store in this minor-league town is closing.  Melody Record Shop, just north of Dupont Circle, is shutting its doors after 34 years as a family-run business.  And as they say on their Web site and on a sign at the store, which I passed today, "While we wish that we could continue indefinitely, technology, the internet and the economy has taken its toll, and we have concluded, unfortunately, that it is not possible to survive in this environment."

A few years back, I started shopping at Melody after a long hiatus shopping, first, at Tower Records, during its years here, then online and in second-hand stores and shows.  I was working in the neighborhood and had a bit of extra change for an occasional CD buy.  I was instantly reminded of the serendipity of the well-curated record store.  How you might find this that you'd been looking for, but then see that that you'd read about in a music magazine or online, oh, and I didn't know this compilation existed...

It's just not the same online, and I don't know if some upcoming online retailer will be able to provide as satisfying an experience as a good record or book store visit.  I can't imagine that, outside a holodeck, one ever could.  Sure, you can have predictive algorithms that guess, based on your buying/viewing patterns and those of others with the same taste/income/location as you, similar but yet slightly different selections that you might find enjoyable and why don't you just click through and prove us right, okay?  But it's not at all like walking into, say, a good book store and feeling the cool weight of all those fresh pages behind crisp covers in a slight mantling of seasonally appropriate indoor temperature and maybe some inobtrusive-but-really-cool music playing in the background.  Scent of well-brewed coffee optional.  The preceding hits the customer on so many different cognitive and sensory levels, that she or he wants to embrace the book store experience and is lubed to look for something to take home.  Compared to the customer sitting on her living room couch staring at a screen, maybe the same screen she stared at for nine hours at work.  Not even vaguely comparable, even if Jesus crafts your online customer environment.

But I can see why Melody Records will close, probably by the beginning of February.  I use MOG and Spotify to listen to almost anything I want.  I have to really need the physical package or its superior sound before I'll buy the CD.  And I'm a minor collector, at least for certain artists and styles.  So, there aren't that many classical music shoppers in D.C., I guess, or of show and film music or of international music, to name three of Melody's strengths, to support a store.  And the store has always had good buyers.  If I saw something in MOJO, there's a decent chance that Melody might've had it.  Or, of course, they'd've ordered it.

I'm not one to say that it's the customers' "fault" that a store like Melody fails.  Not enough people saw the benefit of what it offered, despite the store's efforts.  It was hit hard after the world markets crisis, or so it seemed to me, as it appeared to resist carrying any kind of inventory despite its shelves looking a bit bare.  But it built back up in the intervening three years, if inventory is any measure.  It expanded its vinyl selection considerably, to where, any given week, they had a fine and sizeable selection of new and catalog discs.  I guess there just isn't that much disposable income out there.

Or maybe its time has simply come and gone.  Vinyl and box sets will be available in a smaller marketplace, direct order or boutique retail, but the broad-gauged music store may really be on the downward slope to extinction.  To join "software stores" and "virtual reality arcades" as business environments of a bygone era.  The publishing industry might've gone this way, except there was never a big enough market or an easy enough system of content extraction to have a Napster of novels, besides even short stories aren't singles.

In 1982, I saw my first CD, a Fleetwood Mac disc, in a longbox, on a small display with some other titles, visible as I walked into Melody, then half a block south.  I'd heard, maybe read, about CDs, but this was the first time I'd seen one.  I picked up the longbox, turned it around, saw its price (expensive) and put it back down.  Interesting but by no means compelling enough as a concept to carry me to inquire regarding this new format and its players.  But like most of the unfortunate crewmen aboard the Nostromo, Melody Records already carried within it the thing that would eventually destroy it.

And, so, adieu to this minor D.C. institution.  I'll miss that blind date with serendipity that was every visit to the store.  A Miles set I'd never heard about or that Nigerian compilation I saw advertised in The Wire or a Busby Berkeley DVD set.  The tangible has its charm.  To lose the tactile pleasure of possession is an unfortunate and incidental cost of our progress.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

PSA, Dept.

In writing a friend to offer her my New Year’s greetings, I used a phrase along the lines of wishing you a happy '12 that I slowly realized is perilously close to wishing you a happy 12”.

So, please, as you send out your New Year’s messages, particularly to older relatives, members of the clergy and prospective employers, double-check to ensure that you are not wishing any of them a happy/enjoyable/fruitful twelve inches.  Unless that is, in fact, your intent.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
Dragging Charlie over the Cold Cuts, Dept.

A new year, and the opportunity to walk down Memory Lane.  Hey, who remembers Plato's Retreat?  C'mon now...New York City's leading on-premises (hetero) sex club in the late '70s?  No?

Well, as a wee child, I remember two things about Plato's Retreat, a place that vanished after the city closed down sex clubs post-AIDS: (i) their TV commercial (below), which I can only imagine aired late at night on one of the local channels in the middle of '30s musicals and Japanese monster movies (my staples) and (ii) the fact that they served a hot and cold buffet.

As you view the commercial, tell me you would even vaguely consider eating in a place like that.  "Hey, cocktail franks! Whoops, sorry, buddy..."  There is so much about that place that fascinated/repelled me then and now.  Netflix carries a documentary titled American Swing that chronicles the rise and fall of Plato's.  Should I watch it, I will report on my findings.