31 July 2007

Michelangelo Antonioni Is Dead

Still from 'Blow-Up' (1966)

7/30/07 is going to go down as a black day for cineastes everywhere. On the same day that Ingmar Bergman passed into history, another legendary director, Michelangelo Antonioni, died in Rome at the age of 94. Antonioni was part of a generation of pioneers including Rossellini, Pasolini, Visconti, and Fellini that elevated Italian film-making to the forefront of global cinema during the 1950s and '60s. His two landmark films 1960's L'Avventura (The Adventure) and 1966's Blow-Up pushed the medium into more expressionistic territory, exploiting the uniquely visual nature of cinema to loose himself from the strict demands of narrative storytelling. Antonioni, along with Jean-Luc Godard and (again) Federico Fellini, realized the hallucinogenic possibilities posited by critic Alexandre Astruc when he advanced his theory of the camera-stylo (camera-as-pen), developing a signature style that remains the lingua franca of the cinematic avant-garde (e.g. David Lynch, Guy Maddin, David Gordon Green).

Mr. Antonioni's obituary in the New York Times may be accessed here.

Update: In observance of Mr. Antonioni's death, the Village Voice has re-published on its website an outstanding survey of the his career penned by critic J. Hoberman in anticipation of last year's retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

30 July 2007

Ingmar Bergman Is Dead


Ingmar Bergman has died. The legendary Swedish filmmaker (the 'Swedish' is in there to inform you of Bergman's nationality; the phrase is both apt and operative without it) passed away Monday at the age of 89, leaving behind an indelible stamp on the world of cinema matched only by the most accomplished of his peers. Bergman, who was also an accomplished theater director and writer, helmed roughly 50 films in his lifetime, including such divisive masterpieces as Wild Strawberries, Scenes From a Marriage, Cries and Whispers, and Fanny and Alexander. His style, though it defies neat categorization, is often described as 'Nordic'; one assumes this refers both to his unadorned, though hardly spartan, visual style and the heavily philosophical slant of his work.

Inevitably, the item in Bergman's ouvre that will command the most attention on the occasion of his passing is also the film that first established his reputation as a master filmmaker, and remains his most beloved work - The Seventh Seal. Set in plague-ridden medieval Sweden, the film is concerned with a knight, Antonius Block, who, following a ten year absence owing to his participation in the Crusades, is attempting to return to his wife and home. Along the way, Block (played by Max Von Sydow) and his companions are confronted by scenes of a society seemingly in its death throes, reeling from an apocalyptic cocktail of hedonism, religious fanaticism, and fatalism.

The film's classic set piece, referenced in the above photograph, is the chess match between Block and Death (vividly personified by actor Bengt Ekerot). Death, already abound in Sweden, has come for Block as well; the game is knight's desperate attempt to play for more time. If The Seventh Seal is a rich meditation on the nature of man's struggle with his own mortality, the chess match is the sweep of life's second hand made palpable, the seconds turning to minutes turning to hours draining away to reveal an inevitable terminus.

In the New York Times' outstanding obituary, Bergman is quoted as saying "When I was young, I was extremely scared of dying. But now I think it is a very, very wise arrangement. It's like a light that is extinguished. Not very much to make a fuss about." Transcending what film historian Peter Cowie characterizes as "the fear of Death, rather than the fact of Death" - this is the triumph that lies at the heart of The Seventh Seal, and, it seems, a fitting epitaph for Mr. Bergman as well.

2007 Floor Hockey World Championships Tonight on the Ocho

Do you have an agent?

You may or may not be aware of this, but yesterday, the San Jose SaberCats (no space = dynamic!) bested the Columbus Destroyers in a 55-33 rout to win their third ArenaBowl (meme alert) title in six years*. The ArenaBowl, apparently in its twenty-first (!) edition, serves as the championship for the Arena Football League (this AFL, not that AFL), a football...league that plays its season during the spring and summer in indoor venues. Essentially, it operates under the twin premises that a) there is a segment of the American population so starved for football that they'll watch anything approximating the game during the NFL and college offseasons, and b) this population segment is large enough to sustain a spring/summer league playing a bastardized version of football in arenas built for hockey and basketball. Since the AFL is still kicking, one must assume that these assumptions have been borne out to a significant degree.

A further boon for the AFL and its acolytes is that ABC/ESPN/Disney/Whatever owns a substantial slice of the league, guaranteeing television exposure for events like ArenaBowl XXI. (That's right: ArenaBowl = ESPN; Stanley Cup = Versus). Whether this is a plot by the World Wide Leader to get in on the ground floor before Arena Football becomes yooo-ge (Mike Francesa style), or plug that Saturday afternoon hole in the ABC schedule is unclear. What is clear is that you and I did not watch ArenaBowl XXI - you because you've never heard of Arena Football, and I because a) I am still pissed off about the New Jersey Red Dogs, and b) I was busy watching MLS highlights.

Now it would be easy to just trot on over to ESPN.com and check out their recap of ArenaBowl XXI, but can we truly rely on the AFL's house organ to give us the inside dope? F**k that s**t. From the New York Times' extensive and ArenaBowl coverage:
San Jose Wins Third Title

Published: July 30, 2007
Mark Grieb completed 24 of 29 passes and threw four touchdown passes to lead the San Jose SaberCats to a 55-33 victory against the Columbus Destroyers in the ArenaBowl title game in New Orleans yesterday. The SaberCats (16-3), the most successful Arena Football League franchise this decade, capped a three-and-a-half-month winning streak with their third Arena League championship in six years. The Destroyers (10-10) won three consecutive road games to get to the final.
Apparently, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. himself vetoed the special pull-out ArenaBowl XXI Commemorative Section w/ Gold Foil Hologram Cover, asking rhetorically "what do you think this is, the Major League Lacrosse All-Star Game or something?" Indeed.

*Indeed, winning ArenaBowls has apparently become so commonplace in San Jose that as of this writing, the SaberCats' WebSite had still not been UpDated with the news.

29 July 2007

No Country For Old Men

Overheard at 151 Saturday night:
Stella Artois $6

27 July 2007

I've Got the Hot Chip Remix to Prove It

T-t-totally duuuuude!

It's Friday, it's overcast, and I've got tickets to see the Mets tonight. Hit it.

The Boggs - "Arm in Arm" (Hot Chip Remix)

26 July 2007

Better Than Hoobastank Must Have Been Trademarked

Mind if we dance with your dates?

According to the Billboard Hot 100, "Hey There Delilah" by Plain White T's is the reigning No. 1 single in the U.S.A. Sounding like a cross between Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)", James Blunt's "Beautiful" and, uh, the verses from Wheatus's "Teenage Dirtbag", this charmer has apparently weaseled its way onto the summer playlists of America's suburban 12-18 set, dislodging personal fave "Umbrella" (ella, ella, ella...ay) from the top of the charts.

Now this song isn't a crime against humanity or anything: it's the usual type of breezy trifle that succeeds by placing a teenager's emotional palette in high relief, removing all traces of subtlety and complexity. Imagine if someone re-staged Romeo and Juliet to run half an hour with commercial breaks and you pretty much have the basic DNA of every doe-eyed-boy-with-an-acoustic-guitar hit ever made. From a career/financial perspective, it's too bad for (the?) Plain White T's that "Delilah" didn't hit it big in time for prom/graduation season when it could have built some real summer-dominating momentum. Now instead of becoming the signature track of the Class of 2007, it's probably going to end up in that Fastball/Semisonic "oh, yeah that song" purgatory. (Word to your moms - "Closing Time" was ill.)

None of the above paragraph constitutes an endorsement of "Hey There Delilah" on my part; I find the song mystifyingly awful and yet another totemic reminder that my generation's heyday as pop tastemakers pretty much peaked with, uh, N'Sync and Korn. I'm just saying that as a phenomenon/cultural signifier, I can appreciate What's Going On Here. I'm not Down With It Or Anything.

A closer inspection of the lyrics, broken down point by point:
  • "What's it like in New York City?": Ah, the New York City reference. Our first clue that "Delilah" has fled small-town Nowheresville, leaving behind, whether by accident or design, Mr. Plain White T. The initial Big Apple namecheck is followed up a few lines later with "Times Square can't shine as bright as you" - a safe generic landmark universalizing the song for kids from Toledo. It's a 50/50 bet whether or not Mr. Plain White T actually visited NYC prior to penning this song.
  • "I'm right there if you get lonely/Give this song another listen" Ah, the ol' song that knows it's a song trick. The key to a lot of pop songs is the "I wish some boy would say that to me" factor; by acknowledging the fact that this song was written expressly for "Delilah" in the lyrics, Mr. Plain White T makes the connection explicit. He wrote a song for "Delilah" and now Teenage Girl is listening to it on Z100 in her PT Cruiser. The metaphysical ramifications of this situation boggle the mind.
  • "Oh it's what you do to me" 4x in the chorus: See also: John Mellencamp, "Hurt So Good".
  • "Someday I'll pay the bills with this guitar": Another meta-moment, as the listener assumes that No. 1 Hit Record = Bills Paid With Guitar.
  • "I'd write it all/Even more in love with me you'd fall": The only really embarrassing lyrical construction devised to fit the song's inane "moon/June/spoon" rhyme scheme. One feels that if Mr. Plain White T had availed himself of a rhyming thesaurus for five minutes, he could have come up with a tighter lyric, like "We'll have the life we knew we would/My word is good". Or something.
  • "Our friends would all make fun of us/And we'll just laugh along because we know/That none of them has felt this way": Left unsaid is "Of course you, Listener, know exactly what I'm talking about, even if no one else understands." Teens (like everybody else) like to feel that they are the center of the universe, and this naked appeal to their emotional narcissism is always a deft little touch.
  • "Two more years and you'll be done with school": Ah, "Delilah" has left because she's in college. This is also the point where those of you older than 22 years of age who really like this song can go hang your heads in shame. Unless you think Mr. Plain White T means grad school.
A final note: Plain White T's is pretty much the worst band name I have ever heard, outside of The Music (who apparently learned about the importance of Google only after printing up the t-shirts). Really, they should have called themselves The Expiration Dates or something. The most frustrating thing about the name is that it makes use of the possessive apostrophe nigh impossible. Plain White T's'? Plain White T's's? Either way, you look like an idiot for trying.

Anyway it seems that Plain White T's are already gearing up for the inevitable package tour with Gym Class Heroes and Sum 41; text me if you want to catch their July 29th show at Great Adventure:

25 July 2007

The Word Allegedly Is Implicit Throughout

Apparently not this guy

So one of the most infamous non-fiction criminals in recent New Jersey history was captured this week. The so-called Hat Bandit robbed 18 banks in Central Jersey over the course of a year and a half, earning his media-friendly appellation via his habit of wearing a different chapeau to each heist. His modus operandi was to strike mainly on the weekends, never producing a weapon, and never attempting to obscure or conceal his face. This brazenness coupled with his non-violent tactics typified the charm of the Hat Bandit. He was widely perceived as a "gentleman bandit," as the Star-Ledger's Mark DiIonno aptly put it: an everyman indistinguishable in a sea of middle-class middle-aged white males who managed to vex the authorities for months on end despite, or perhaps because of, his ordinariness.

In the end though, it turns out that the Hat Bandit was not quite the criminal mastermind he was made out to be. Rather than de-materializing into thin air, he apparently just drove away in a black Nissan Altima- a detail the police claim to have had already known. His arrest was expedited when a bank teller at the location of his final heist, a Bank of America on Route 22 in Union, surreptitiously followed the Hat Bandit into parking lot and was able to catch part of his license plate number. Thus able to pare down the pool of suspect vehicles from an initial 14,000, the police traced the Altima to the Hat Bandit's girlfriend, who promptly flipped, telling authorities that she had seen her boyfriend recently counting out large amounts of currency. Thus HB's life on the lam came to an abrupt end when he was apprehended at home in a Monday morning FBI raid.

James G. Madison, 50, of Maplewood was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Newark on charges stemming from the Union BoA robbery, and is alleged to have carried out the 17 preceding heists credited to the Hat Bandit. Far from some disaffected suburban lawyer, stock broker, or Big Pharma exec carrying on a romantic double life as an outlaw, Madison has a violent criminal past: in 2005 he was paroled after serving 18 years in prison for an aggravated manslaughter conviction stemming from the 1987 slaying of his girlfriend in their shared North Plainfield apartment. Madison adamantly denies that he is the Hat Bandit, protesting that he doesn't "wear hats."

If this guy is indeed the Hat Bandit, I am profoundly disappointed, hoping as I was for some absolutely psychotic hedge fund manager or dentist giving monogrammed silk handkerchiefs to a harem of mistresses while balancing a trophy wife, a mortgage on a McMansion in Chatham or the Caldwells, a mortgage on a shore home in Mantoloking, a son at Pingry and a daughter at Princeton, and lease payments on a Porsche Cayenne, a Lincoln Navigator, and a BMW Z4 roadster. Or at least someone hellbent on constructing an orphanage. But no, it turns out that this guy is probably just some douchebag who had an incredible run of luck and finally got caught in an incredibly obvious manner. To make matters worse he's a convicted killer, thereby eliminating any chance that Paul Giamatti will be playing him in a mildly amusing Coen Brothers comedy (which is fine, they probably would have just transplanted the story to some more homogeneous Midwestern setting anyhow).

Well, anyway, while I can't say that I regret the end of the Hat Bandit's run, I will miss following his exploits in the local papers. For a while the whole deal had a kind of Bonnie and Clyde/Dillinger folk hero quality, but now all of the major questions have been answered and the mystery has been bleached out of it. We know who he is, what he was doing when he wasn't robbing banks, and most importantly, when the law was finally going to catch up with him. Allegedly.

24 July 2007

Just Can Get Enough

Homeless, please help

If you have listened to terrestrial radio in the past, oh, five years, you know that "certified pre-owned" vehicles are all the rage right now. What these are, of course, are used cars, but dealerships have gotten wise to the idea of making a buck by selling the same car twice, and they realize the best way to do this is to convince you, the purchaser, that because they are an authentic BMVWillac dealer, they would never risk their reputation (or BMVWillac's) by selling you a lemon. In fact we are assured that each vehicle has been through a rigorous 1,711-point inspection, and that the previous owner drove the car exclusively on roads made of velvet and changed the oil every 50 miles or so. In fact, it may be superior to a new car, because, hey, somebody drove it before you did, and they're still alive, right? Survivability guaranteed!

There are no known certified pre-owned programs for used CDs, but if there were, I can think of two major artists who would be well served by participating. Since joining LaLa.com, a sort of clearing house for trading in your used CDs for other people's used CDs, I have requested roughly 100 CDs and executed 112 trades (CDs sent + CDs received) and I have never had requests fulfilled faster or more often than those for Depeche Mode or Steely Dan albums. I'm telling you, it's like people are sitting there, index fingers cocked and ready over their left mouse buttons, just waiting until another sucker member requests Some Great Reward or Can't Buy a Thrill. You can almost hear the sonic boom these people create flying to the mailbox.

I've experienced this supply/demand imbalance myself, you see. I received two copies of Steely Dan's The Royal Scam; one arrived more than 14 days after it was requested, which is the threshold at which you are supposed to report a CD as never having arrived, and another user can send you another copy. This process protects you from being assessed the nominal $1 plus 75 cents shipping charge incurred for each album sent to you, in case the goods are damaged or don't arrive at all. Of course, the replacement album was on its way within an hour of reporting the first copy overdue, and then I waited and waited and waited for weeks to offload the extra. The market, it seems, is saturated.

But what is it about Depeche Mode and Steely Dan that make them eminently recyclable? Both groups are extremely popular with enduring critical legacies, and in any case it seems to make little difference if the requested album was a classic (Black Celebration) or a dud (Songs of Faith & Devotion).

In the case of Depeche Mode, I think there are three key reasons for this seemingly undeserved bargain bin-dom:
  1. The people who lapped up Depeche Mode albums in their heyday are getting old. They're generally offloading CDs anyway, and since their fandom and DM's creative/commercial peak coincided with the ascension of the medium, they have a lot of CDs to offload (most of my LaLa copies are first pressings). I bet a lot of it is the embarrassment factor as well; in the mid-'80s DM was usually associated with uncool goth-y behavior and open fandom could make someone a ridicule magnet (apparently Cure fans received similar treatment). I'm sure that more than a few thirtysomethings have parted ways with their DM collections after being teased by a spouse/significant other.
  2. Depeche Mode's catalogue is in the midst of a significant reissue campaign (perhaps this is the music industry's equivalent of certified pre-owned: selling people the same album twice). I mean, once you have an awesome remastered CD/DVD two disc set of Speak and Spell, what the hell do you need your old and likely scratched up CD copy for? Personal disclaimer: I'm guilty of this wasteful and patently ridiculous consumerist behavior too.
  3. Songs of Faith & Devotion. This album probably accounts for at least half of the used DM albums currently in circulation. It's a turd, and I would get rid of it if I possibly could (see Royal Scam above). Chris Ott cites SoF&D as the 16th most common used CD in his anecdotally-assembled used top 50; if anything, it probably should be higher.
With Steely Dan, I would say the problem is that all Steely Dan albums sound pretty much the same. They're all great (at least the '70s releases) but if I played you a random assortment of Dan albums, I don't think that anyone outside of a superfan could tell me with any degree of accuracy which albums came when chronologically. It's also hard to imagine a lot of people having especially strong feelings about Steely Dan; most of it sounds like an extremely clinical examination of the outer limits of sarcasm set to a now-unfashionable brand of jazzpop. Old people, well, they need room I guess, and just like ma selling your comic books or baseball cards, they sell their CDs. Still, it's tough to imagine someone tossing aside copies of the White Album like they do Pretzel Logic.

Anyhow, here's a toast to used bin dwellers past, present, and future:

23 July 2007

Raining Blood

Remember, it could be worse

And so a glorious weather weekend gives way to an absolutely shitty Monday. Sigh.

For all New Jersey OGs and booster club members, you will take delight in knowing that there is in fact an Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist. Currently, the hottest spot in the state is Wildwood, NJ, clocking in at 67 degrees Fahrenheit; the coolest is Walpack, way up north in Sussex County, at a clammy 58. Interestingly, Walpack, with 41 recorded residents, is one of only four New Jersey municipalities that had a population in double digits as of the 2000 census.

New Yorkers, never fear: from the New York State Climate Office, a summary of the NYC climate for the period beginning January 1, 1876 and ending August 1, 2002. The greatest amount of rain fall recorded in Central Park for July: 3.75 inches in 1997. According to AccuWeather.com, there is a 92% chance that the City will receive 0.57 inches of precipitation in the next 24 hours, falling well short of both the monthly record and the record for July 23, set at 2.41 inches.

The rest of the week is going to be more like July, partly sunny (which sounds better than partly cloudy - is it going to be a 60-40 sun/clouds split or something?) with highs in the upper 80s.

But for today, bring one of these:

in case it starts doing this:

but whatever happens, don't do this:

20 July 2007

No Coke Only Pepsi

I think they're serious

So, Cheeseburger. Their album, it's called...Cheeseburger. You can visit their Myspace, you can visit their website.

Anybody who calls their band Cheeseburger deserves a listen in my book. Here, have an MP3:

Cheeseburger - "Derby Day"

That's enough of this street teaming bullshit. Now, a spoonful of sugar, courtesy of Stan Bush:

19 July 2007

We Rollin' They Hatin'

Jon-a-than! Jon-a-than! Jon-a-than!

Man, it finally happened: I got around to watching Rollerball. I would like to say, "Why the fuck didn't any one tell me to watch this movie?" but in all fairness my friend Chris actually loaned me the VHS back in college. I tried watching it then, but for whatever reason I only got about twenty minutes in, and then I probably went downstairs to play Mario Kart or something.

For those of you who have no idea what Rollerball (trailer) is, the simplest way of explaining is to say that the film is probably the world's only sci-fi dystopian sports movie. It is centered around the exploits of Jonathan E., played by James Caan, the Michael Jordan-figure of the eponymous sport, Rollerball. The game itself, played on roller skates, seems to be a bizarre mix of roller derby, chariot racing, and um, roulette or Cross-Fire or something. What's most important to know about Rollerball is that it is ultraviolent, complete with maimings, motorcycle explosions, and, by the end, buckets of death.

The action takes place in the Houston of the future, which is to say the Houston of the future as it would have been envisioned when the film came out in 1975, so it looks like, oh, say, 1981. Well, apparently a lot has changed in six years, as democracy, as is usually the case in these movies, has failed, and the world has been divvied up by sinister Corporations, each tasked with controlling a particular sector of the economy, such as Food, Transport, Luxury; Houston is predictably governed by the Energy Corporation. It probably goes without saying that these Corporations are totalitarian in nature, micromanaging every aspect of their citizens' lives while promulgating a completely incoherent ideological amalgam of laissez-faire capitalism, Marxism, fascism, and even some good old feudalism.

The central thrust of the story is that the Executives who make up the Energy Corporation's ruling caste have decided that Jonathan E. must retire from Rollerball. When Jonathan demands an explanation, the Suits (as I will henceforth refer to them) refuse to elaborate; much of the Corporation's governing philosophy can be summed up as "Because I said so." Following the well-trod path of prior dystopian heroes (see Smith, Winston or Montag, Guy), Jonathan begins to question the very foundations of the society in which he so comfortably lives, defying the wishes of his superiors by continuing to play Rollerball as Houston mashes its way through the playoffs. (Do present day Houston sports fans chant "Hous-ton, Hous-ton" in a zombie monotone at sporting events? These are the questions, folks - I just ask 'em.)

The Suits don't take this passively, of course; their main response is to keep ratcheting up the pressure on Jonathan by stripping the game of Rollerball of what few rules it apparently has. For the semi-final game against Tokyo, it is declared that there will be no penalties called (this serves to maximize the out and out "I'm just going to stomp this guy's face with my roller skate for five minutes" factor) and limited substitutions, which means the strategy subtly shifts from figuring out crafty ways to put the metal ball in the pipe (which serves as the goal), to wearing down your opponents by severely injuring as many of them as possible. As you can see, the death-and-dismemberment quotient rises rapidly:
Some thoughts about Rollerball:
  1. For all of the things that could make this movie seem cheesy and horribly dated (the Shag Carpeting of Tomorrow, the piggybacking on what apparently must have been a mid-'70s roller derby craze, the city of Houston), it is still astonishingly effective, both as a fantastic sports movie and a pessimistic treatise on the future. The action sequences are particularly thrilling (Norman Jewison films his fictitious sport like it was the chariot race from Ben Hur), and James Caan invests Jonathan E. with a surprising amount of depth, giving what is probably his best performance aside from The Godfather.
  2. Grown men will always look ridiculous on roller skates, no matter how much body armor they are wearing, or how many spikes are protruding from their football helmets.
  3. The "No man is bigger than the game!" angle eerily prefigures the Barry Bonds steroids saga. If only Bud Selig's solution was to eliminate the rules of baseball and turn the game into a bloody melee of bat-wielding psychopaths.
  4. We need a Rollerball font, now more than ever:
I guess the biggest question I have about the movie is why hasn't anyone attempted to start their own Rollerball league? I mean, Spike TV carries fucking dodgeball! Come on!!! In a world where Ultimate Fighting is fast on its way to becoming a legitimate mainstream sport, there is clearly a market for a game that combines the brutality of Fight Club, the going around in a circle of NASCAR, and the helmets of football. The leg work has already been done: apparently there are already actual rules (!) and everything.

So I say to you, teach not your children the baseball, the football, the basketball - the silly games of our terminally ill bourgeois society. Instead, buy them a pair of skates (or rollerblades, if you subscribe to the horrendous 2002 remake), and raise them on Rollerball, the sport of the future! I guarantee you we will be bigger than hockey within...well, we may be bigger than hockey right now!

Laugh now, but when Rollerball is on the fall FX schedule, just remember: I told ya so.

18 July 2007

To Treat Me Like You Do

Not as good as "True Faith"

So a couple of days ago, I wrote about how I'd gotten two books, yadda yadda, and in talking about the Factory Records book, I mentioned the sleeve for the 12-inch version of New Order's smash 1983 single, "Blue Monday" [video]. However, at that time, I didn't post a photo link to the sleeve itself. So, as you may have already have figured out, I posted it above.

So let's talk about "Blue Monday."

Interestingly enough, "Blue Monday", famous though its original incarnation might have been, may be more familiar to members of my (our) generation due to a very faithful cover by these guys:

Yup, these douchebags (Orgy, as if you didn't know) managed to take their version of "Blue Monday" [video],the second single off of their regrettably titled debut, Candyass, all the way to no. 4 on the Modern Rock charts in 1999. (In fact, 1998-99 was an extremely auspicious time for young bands trying to break through with covers of '80s pop standards - you may remember another set of up-and-coming douchebags hitting it big right around the same time:)

Anyways, if you had K-Rock (the Rock is Back, btw) bumpin' in yo Taurus or your LeSabre (R.I.P.) around that time, Orgy's "Blue Monday" was a fixture, sounding vaguely familiar, but since Kurt Cobain outlawed "gay" '80s synthpop, no one knew that the song wasn't originally theirs to begin with. Henceforth, as Orgy's stock inevitably declined (say, anybody remember Incubus?), their hooky one-hit wonder faded from memory, gone but never quite forgotten.

Luckily for me, my ignorance was never publicly exposed, like one of those kids apocryphally quoted as saying "Wow, this old dude is covering Nirvana!" during David Bowie's 1995 tour opening for Nine Inch Nails. I just wised up at some point, I don't exactly remember when, so it must not have been much of a "Eureka!" moment.

I also don't remember when I bought my first New Order album, but I do remember that it was Power, Corruption & Lies (which also has a terrific sleeve) and that I was already in college at the time. PC&L is a fantastic sophomore record, marking the consolidation of New Order as a unit distinct from the Joy Division legacy (here, here), and massively influential in its own right. "Blue Monday" was not initially included on PC&L, as per the British custom of omitting material from albums that had already been released in other formats. However, because the singles didn't always, or often, make their way to the American marketplace, the hits would often be inconspicuously tucked into U.S. releases to promote sales (hence the U.S. and U.K. versions of The Clash's debut album, or the total mish-mash that is The Beatles' early discography). Nowadays, I imagine that all CD issues of PC&L include "Blue Monday", as mine does.

My personal feelings about the song itself are complicated. First, there is the taint-by association with Orgy, though oddly enough I can listen to George Michael's "Faith" without vomiting in my mouth. Secondly, there is the fact that there are no fewer than four songs in the New Order catalogue itself that sound like "Blue Monday", either by accident or design. Two of these are on PC&L, "5 8 6", which basically chops the main "Blue Monday" beat/synth-line into a far from unrecognizable new configuration, and "The Beach" a straight-forward instrumental reworking of "Blue Monday" which was the single's initial B-side. "Everything's Gone Green", an earlier single released in December 1981, is essentially a rough draft of "Blue Monday", with an extremely similar vocal melody during the hook, an identical beat, and the same shuffling synth. Rounding out the quartet is "Blue Monday 1988", a superfluous remix produced by Quincy Jones and released as an A-side in the eponymous year. Finally, the song is long and extremely repetitive, meaning that, while it's great on the dancefloor (although I don't believe I've ever heard it on an actual dancefloor), it's a complete momentum killer when simply listened to in situ. Nowadays, I listen to my New Order Singles compilation far more than PC&L, and I say with little shame that I usually skip to "Confusion" every time.

In defense of "Blue Monday", it must be acknowledged that the track is a brilliant sythpop single, conveying the ability of electronic music to communicate as broad an emotional palette as more organic pop forms. Joy Division had shown the way, both on legendary single "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and, to a greater extent, "Atmosphere" [video], but "Blue Monday" kicked open the door, expertly marrying the New York dancefloor sound to their underlying post-punk aesthetic, a formula which would yield a slew of classic singles between 1982 and 1987 - a run matched perhaps only by The Beatles at the height of their powers. Certainly others approximated New Order's success, most notably Depeche Mode and, to a lesser extent, The Cure (who, to be fair, really only dabbled in synthpop qua synthpop), but it's debatable as to whether these peers scaled the same aesthetic heights.

I should also make it clear that the critical consensus on "Blue Monday" relative to the rest of the New Order catalogue and pop music as a whole is a little bit murky. In Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, New Order only rates one entry (against a modest six for U2), "Bizarre Love Triangle" at No. 201. In a poll of the 100 greatest singles of the 1980s conducted on the venerable I Love Music message board, a site frequented by critics, artists, pop enthusiasts, and other such cognoscenti, New Order placed six times, with "Blue Monday" appearing only behind "Temptation" among their entries. The New Musical Express placed the song 20th in a 2002 poll of the 100 greatest singles ever.

Reaction to "Blue Monday" at the time of its release was also mixed. In the 1983 Village Voice Pazz & Jop singles poll, the song doesn't place at all, although PC&L reaches No. 23 on the albums side. The NME was, perhaps unsurprisingly, more excited about "Blue Monday", slotting it at No. 5 for the year, behind "Billie Jean", a James Brown song I've never heard of, an inferior Elvis Costello track (included no doubt for its anti-Thatcherite political content), and, erm, The Birthday Party's The Bad Seed EP, which I own, and can tell you is not better than "Blue Monday".

My personal favorite New Order single is 1987's "True Faith" [video] (complete with iconic dichromat leaf sleeve); running neck-and neck for second place are debut single "Ceremony" (1981) and "Bizarre Love Triangle" (1986).

For people who subscribe to the adage that writing about music is like dancing about architecture and are interested in having a listen to New Order for themselves, I strongly recommend 1987's Substance compilation, which covers the most fertile period in the band's distinguished career. While there certainly were peaks following Substance's issue (most notably 1989's Ibiza-influenced Technique album and the singles "Touched By the Hand of God" [video], "Round & Round" [video], and "Regret" [video]), the big hits are mostly there, with a number of tracks appearing in superior mixes not to be found on later compilations. Additionally, for the more adventurous, I recommend 1988's companion Joy Division retrospective, also titled Substance (another example of Factory's concept fetish). While the band only recorded two proper albums prior to Ian Curtis' suicide, 1979's Unknown Pleasures and 1980's Closer, only Substance compiles the trio of singles that mark Joy Division as a legendary and influential group: "Transmission", "Atmosphere", and "Love Will Tear Us Apart" - the latter of which may be the greatest rock and roll side ever laid to tape.

17 July 2007

Crime and Well, You Know The Rest

Big shit poppin

So anyways, yesterday afternoon, I get this idea in my head - "You've never read any Dostoyevsky. Why don't you do something about that?" So I hops in my Passat and I cruises on down to the local Borders, determined to pick up Crime and Punishment (why Crime and Punishment, you ask? Because the Penguin Classics edition has a cool painting of a bad ass pilgrim-looking dude on the cover - probably a portrait of Dostoyevsky himself, but since I'd never read any of his books, how the fuck would I know what he looks like? Kind of putting the cart before the horse if you ask me.)

At Borders, I head over to the literature section, which is a comparative backwater set to the side of the store - guess they need all that room for anime and Garfield treasuries right there in the center. I make my way to 'D', and sure enough, there's all the Dostoyevsky that I could ever want, and there's my Penguin Classics edition, ready to gussy up my bookshelf with some serious reading cred. Also, I pick up Tolstoy's War and Peace. Why, you ask? Because he's Russian too, and what the hell, while I'm at it, et. al. Good thing they didn't have any Turgenev. People who visit me are going to think I'm so smart. "Hell yeah I read the shit out of that book now let's put on our thinking caps and nerd it up." Good times.

Interesting side note: Borders always has a pretty hefty line to check out. You would think that where I live would be the most well read place in the world, because it seems like half the goddamn town is in line sometimes. Also, I don't read Harry Potter (but until today, you could have said that about Dostoyevsky), so I don't know who Severus Snape is, but I do know that if I was getting someone a Borders gift card, I would choose Severus Snape: Foe. I guess we'll all know what side he's on come July 21st. Seriously, I wonder if people were this psyched about the Bible when it came out. "Wow, thanks Ezekiel. You know, not all of us got to the part where he comes back from the dead yet, but hey, I only waited like 2,000 years for this thing to come out, you jerk ass."

While I stand in line, I think of all the ways I can insert the fact that I am reading Dostoyevsky in conversation:
You: Oh hey what's that book you have there?
Me: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I mean, what the hell, I read Crime and Punishment this summer, so I figure I deserve to spoil myself!

You: Can u believe President Bush pardoned Scooter Libby?
Me: You know, it's like Dostoyevsky says, if you can't do the time, don't do the crime.

You: I just went to Russia.
Me: Transformers was totally awesome.
"Yeah," I sneer to myself as I hand the cashier my Borders Rewards keychain, "being well read is going to be totally rad."


My homeboy Jorge sent me this hilarious take on the iPhone.

This piece in Slate showcases a memorandum from the Nixon White House illustrating the similarities between Tricky Dick and Ricky Henderson.

The New Republic continues to fight the War of Ideas(free registration required) so your head don't 'splode.

16 July 2007

The Undisputed Truth

my Bob Dylan records, let me show you them

So, for Christmas last year, I got two pretty great books, albeit they are great for different reasons. The first, which this post is not really about, but in good faith bears mention and recommendation, is Factory Records: The Complete Graphic Album, a sturdy coffee table book cataloguing the complete visual design history of Tony Wilson's Factory label. Mr. Wilson was an acknowledged concept addict, and he and his compatriots made history with not only some of the most fantastic pop music ever set to wax (Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays et al) but some truly lavish sleeve designs. Most famously he ordered a sleeve for New Order's legendary 1983 single "Blue Monday" made to look like a computer floppy disk - the special die cutting required to achieve this effect ensured that every copy of the record would be sold at a loss. Needless to say, if you like pop music and the postpunk era, or if you're just a fan of graphic design, this is well worth your entertainment dollar.

For a somewhat different perspective, Rolling Stones' The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time gives you precisely what it advertises, only briefly pausing during the introduction (penned by no less a Last Supper attendee than Little Steven Van Zandt) to acknowledge the possible validity of opinions other than those contained therein. The list itself, the aggregated result of thousands of individual "expert" opinions, is in many ways predictably bland: The Beatles place no fewer than four albums in the top 10 - The White Album, Rubber Soul, Revolver, and number one on the list, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Abbey Road, sadly, is merely top 20 material). This isn't meant as a knock on the Fab Four, but presumably the principal purpose of lists such as this is to provoke conversation and promote a reassment/codification of the cannon (not to mention sell magazines and books, duh). The RS 500 is, on that count, about as provacative as Mitt Romney's suit-tie combination.

But of course a list of 500 albums is going to have room for a few, let's say, curious inclusions. The RS 500 is a product of its times, and like Rolling Stone magazine itself, is less concerned with shaping its readership's tastes than affirming them. Hence the following:

139. U2, All That You Can't Leave Behind
This selection, one of five picks for U2 (that's right, 1% of the list) is rated higher than both War (no. 219) and Boy (412).
Ahead of: Blondie's Parallel Lines (140) and OK Computer (161).
If this list was published today: not included.

270. Eminem, The Slim Shady LP
When this list was initially issued, Eminem was arguably the biggest male pop star on the planet. Certainly inclusion in the RS 500 was better and cheaper than a couple of gift baskets.
Ahead of: The Marshall Mathers LP (298)!, The Eminem Show (313)!!, Station to Station (319)!!! WTF OMG
If this list was published today: all three of Em's LPs wouldn't make the Blender 10,000.

312. No Doubt, Rock Steady
This is the one with video with the Jet Skiis, right?
Ahead of: again, Station to Station (319), Daydream Nation (325).
If this list was published today: Probably wouldn't be ahead of Station to Station and Daydream Nation.

480. D'Angelo, Voodoo
Bootknockin' music by this guy:
Rumor has it that he doesn't have those ridiculously fictitious abs anymore.
Ahead of: Gang of Four's Entertainment! (482); Pearl Jam's Vitalogy (484). (Obviously this list is heavily skewed by the number of participants who were in 8th grade in 1995.)
If this list was published today: Excuse me, you're in R. Kelly's spot.

Another defect of the RS 500 (unless you think that Eminem rates the same number of entries as, say, Elvis) is the somewhat mystifying decision to consider Greatest Hits albums for inclusion. For a list ostensibly dedicated to the greater glory of the LP format, counting these career-culling comps is akin to including a Olympic sprinter in a wheelchair race. Further compounding the confusion is the fact that in the Editor's Note, Joe Levy tacitly acknowledges the absurdity of this stance, noting that several Greatest Hits comps included on the original list published in the magazine were excised from the version that appears in the book because they "simply repeated material appearing elsewhere on albums that made the list." Even this trimming doesn't fully eliminate overlap: hence the appearance of The Immaculate Collection as one of four Madonna entries, and Legend as one of five (ugh) for Bob Marley.

All in all, the RS 500 is recommended as a record of Baby Boomer-ism, a trojan horse designed by an allegedly youth-oriented publication to perpetuate a middlebrow bourgeois notion of "good taste" comprised mostly of commendible-if-safe inclusions peppered with the odd nod to Kids Today and, uh, rap album (Public Enemy= Important Socio-political Document). Act accordingly.

The RS 500 may be viewed in its entirety here.

15 July 2007

The Fire Next Time

Yeah I know all about that

Released in 1995, director Mathieu Kassovitz's La haine (Hate) is a portrait of life in the banlieues, the ghettos heavily populated by North African immigrants that ring France's major cities. The film, shot in razor sharp black and white, strongly parallels the work of Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing) and Tony Kaye (American History X), both in substance and in style.

The film's principal concern is with the conflict between its disenfranchised protagonists - Vinz, a Jew, Said, an Arab, and Hubert, an African - and the police. An acquaintance of the three - it's never clear how close they actually are - has been savagely beaten by police and is hospitalized in critical condition, sparking off a destructive series of nightly riots. The banlieue itself is a moonscape, filled with remnants of Brutalist architecture, burning automobiles, and storefront windows bereft of glass.

Mr. Kassovitz's personal sympathies are clear - the police, either bedecked in militaristic riot gear or sinister plainclothes (complete with armbands) operate like a gang unto themselves, seemingly concerned only with enforcing and maintaining their empty authority. They are the manifestation of an uncaring state, perplexed by the problems presented by the ghetto-ized, underemployed "un-French" Other, and seemingly unconcerned with persuing any other solution than tramping the dirt farther down. Where Mr. Kassovitz differs from most cinematic polemicists however is in his unromanticized treatment of his banlieue denizens. His characters are anti-social petty criminals, unyieldingly recalcitrant in their dealings with authority even when authority acts with good reason and in a reasonable fashion. Kassovitz understands the potentcy of the truth, and equipped with this knowledge he has no need for martyrs. The system is failing these youths and this failure manifests itself not only in their environment but extends to their psyches as well.

La haine has gained greater currency in recent years due to the series of intense riots that rocked the banlieues and captured international attention in the fall of 2005. Americans took particular note; since 9/11 we have developed a keen interest in Europe's struggle to accomodate (or not, as the case may be) its growing Muslim population. In many quarters here, the riots were taken as further evidence of the fundamental incompatibility of Muslim values and those of the west. Interestingly, Mr. Kassovitz's film does not address religion; what is at issue in La haine is a lack of opportunity and furthermore a lack of acceptance. In America we are accustomed to the idea that immigrants arrive in waves, initially concentrating in ethnic enclaves, relying on one another to succeed economically, and gradually obtaining imperfect acceptance as Americans. In France, where economic opportunity is not as abundant (due, in large part to highly restrictive labor laws) and where French identity is not necessarily conferred based upon acceptance of a set of shared ideals, the post-colonial wave of immigrants does not appear to have made it past the beach.

Mr. Kassovitz, commenting on the 2005 riots for his blog, sharply criticized Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior, for his infamous comments dismissing the rioters as "scum" who should be washed out of the banlieues "with a fire hose." Interestingly Mr. Sarkozy responded via letter, and the resulting dialogue can be accessed here. In May of this year, Sarkozy, head of the conservative UMP party, defeated Socialist candidate Segolene Royal to succeed Jacques Chirac as president of France.

14 July 2007

Like Asking Questions In A Letter

I can't live if living is without you.

So I watched The Rules of Attraction last night on demand at about 2:00 in the morning. Five years on, here are the five choicest quotes from this vastly underrated and underappreciated piece of cinema (a claim which is sure to raise hackles in certain quarters, especially with the party-who-shall-remain-nameless whom I first conned into watching it with me after renting it from the ol' Video Library).

Rupert: Unless he's got a crack pipe stuck to his lips, I gotta assume he's 21 jump street.

Sean Bateman: What about the cash, Marc? What about the fucking cash?
Marc: What class? Who teaches that, man?

Rupert: You want some coke?
Sean Bateman: Um. Sure.
Rupert: Then buy your own, bitch!

Paul Denton: Do you have any E?
Harry: That shit makes your spinal fluid run backwards.

Lauren: Abstinence is 100% safe, which is less of a percentage than...
Lara: Whatever, I don't care, I don't major in math.

13 July 2007

Cock Back the MAC and Put One In Your Ribs

noooo Gary Cherone dont do it

There is something uniquely enjoyable about being called a moron by an individual who doesn't bother to use the proper construction of the word "you're" as in "you're a moron", not "your a moron", which implies possession of said moron, given an extraneous article here or there.

We major.