Another glitch in the Matrix

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why, Whatever Else on January 31st, 2006 by bill
Some strange coincidences do occur in this world. For instance, I just finished Walter Tevis' novel The Man Who Fell to Earth. This book was written in 1963, 12 years before David Bowie starred in the movie version, and 9 years before Bowie wrote the song "Five Years," in which he said that we have "five years left to cry in" before the world ends. Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across this passage: Newton looked down at him. "Do you think there'll be a war?" [Bryce] held the cigarette speculatively, then flipped it into the lake. It floated. "Aren't there three wars going on now? Or four?" "Three. I mean a war with big weapons. There are nine nations with hydrogen weapons; at least twelve with bacteriological ones. Do you think they'll be used?" Bryce took a larger sip of gin. "Probably. Sure. I don't know why it hasn't happened yet. I don't know why we haven't drunk ourselves to death yet. Or loved ourselves to death." The Vehicle was across the lake from them, but could not be seen for the trees. Bryce waved his glass in its direction and said, "Is that going to be a weapon? If it is, who needs it?" "It's not a weapon. Not really." Newton must be drunk. "I won't tell you what it is." And then, "After how long?" "After how long what?" He felt high, too. Fine. It was a lovely afternoon to be high. It had been a long time. "Until the big war begins? The one that will ruin everything." "Why not ruin everything?" He tossed off his drink, reached over to the basket for the bottle. "Everything may need ruining." As he took the bottle he looked up at Newton, but could not see his face because the sun was behind him. "Are you from Mars?" "No. Would you say ten years? I was taught it would be ten years at least." "Who teaches things like that?" He poured himself a glassful. "I'd say five years."

A bad day at the movies

Posted in Moving pictures on January 28th, 2006 by bill
I haven't written much about movies on this site, mainly because every movie that comes out now gets reviewed a thousand times, and who needs more? But yesterday I had an experience at the cinema so unpleasant that I want to share it, just to make sure no one else suffers the same fate. It was Friday afternoon at the end of a not very good week, so I decided to treat myself by taking in a matinee of Woody Allen's latest film, Match Point. What little I had heard about this film had led me to believe it was a romantic comedy involving tennis. I figured at worst I would get to spend two hours ogling the sublime she-creature we call Scarlett Johansson. And there were some good opportunities for that, including a love scene in the rain and a scene of her angry and braless that made a strong impression. But what I didn't expect was that— WARNING: I am about to give away everything about Match Point (it would be generous to call it "spoiling"). So if you're a purist who wants to see this movie without knowing where it's going, read no further. On the other hand, if you're a thinking, feeling human being who wants to avoid a dreadful shock, read on. What I didn't expect was that it turned out to be an emotionally wrenching drama where Scarlett's character ends up getting mowed down with a shotgun. And not just her, but also the old lady who lives down the hall from her. Thankfully, you don't actually see it happen; but still, this is not what I was looking for from this film. Now, I have no problem with a movie that takes unexpected turns. A while ago I wrote in praise of David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, which starts as one kind of movie and ends up as a completely different one. But there are two key differences: 1) I expect that kind of thing from a twisted fuck like David Cronenberg, and 2) the movie is called A History of Violence, so you're prepared going in. I can see how you could argue for Match Point's legitimacy as a work of art. Woody's taking a pretty bold risk with this plot, and to his credit he doesn't cop out at the end. (Through sheer luck, the killer gets away with it.) I just wish I'd been prepared for it. I spent the last half-hour of this movie with my arms wrapped around me in the defensive posture I usually reserve for watching episodes of The Office. As traumatic film experiences go, the only thing I can think of that was worse is Requiem for a Dream, which remains on a level all its own. And in truth, the horror of Match Point feels less like an artistic statement and more like gratuitous shock value. If Woody just wanted to make a point about the role chance plays in life, there were other ways to do it. There's something sadistic about this film, and I'm not going to forgive him for it anytime soon.

The Year in Music, Part 4

Posted in Dancing about architecture on January 25th, 2006 by bill
1498.gif32dyfyd-original.jpg Brian Eno, Another Day on Earth John Cale, Black Acetate These two geezers have nothing left to prove to anybody; they could have retired to their country chateaus long ago, quite satisfied with their accomplishments. Come to think of it, their careers have been almost exactly parallel. Both first made a name for themselves in a vastly influential band that they left after two albums (Roxy Music for Eno, the Velvet Underground for Cale). In both cases, the band never sounded quite the same again, which is not to say that Roxy and the VU's later albums were worse — just different. Cale and Eno were X factors who lent unique qualities to Roxy Music, The Velvet Underground and Nico, For Your Pleasure, and White Light/White Heat. Their contributions were musical, certainly — Eno with his synthesizers and tape machines, Cale with his viola, bass, and vocals — but also conceptual. Both are musical strategists with adventurous, and therefore restless, minds. This explains why they left their bands so soon, although the heavy shadows cast by Bryan Ferry and Lou Reed may have had something to do with it. In the 70s, both Eno and Cale made a series of acclaimed solo albums while also finding time to produce landmark records by other people. Cale specialized in debut albums, which he produced for the Stooges, the Modern Lovers, Patti Smith, and, strangely enough, Squeeze. Eno, of course, produced Devo's first album and beloved trilogies by David Bowie and Talking Heads. In the 80s, Eno made a bazillion dollars by producing huge-selling albums for U2, while Cale kind of dropped off the radar (mine anyway). According to the All-Music Guide, he released a bunch of albums that I've never heard — they could be great for all I know — and produced Happy Mondays' Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out). In 1990 the two men, who had previously guested on each other's solo albums, released a collaboration called Wrong Way Up — an excellent, if a tad slick, pop album that never got the attention it deserved. Around that same time Cale made the similarly underrated Songs for Drella with Lou Reed, and Eno released the uneven Nerve Net, which was the last thing I bought by either one of them. Then, next thing you know, it's 2005. How'd that happen? When I heard last summer that Eno was releasing a new album of vocal songs, his first in a long time, I got moderately excited. I've always loved his voice; it's technically not the greatest, but it has a certain character that I find friendly and appealing. And sure enough, Eno does sing on Another Day on Earth, but despite my best efforts, I've never quite fallen for this album. It's perfectly fine, and has some great songs like "Bottomliners" and "Just Another Day," but it's hard not to compare it to, say, Taking Tiger Mountain. Which is unfair. Asking Eno to make another Tiger Mountain is like asking Bowie to make another Ziggy, Bob Dylan to make another Blonde on Blonde, or the Stones to make another Exile on Main Street. It can't be done. So comparisons aside, my complaint about Another Day is that it's too clean, too digital. It makes one nostalgic for the gloriously analog days of yore. Which brings me to John Cale's 2005 release, Black Acetate. Cale's always been a contrary character, by turns lyrical and abrasive, classically trained but with a fondness for, as he called it on 1975's Slow Dazzle, "Dirty Ass Rock'n'Roll." On Black Acetate he uses all the latest technology — I'm told he learned Pro Tools in San Francisco, at the same place Cecil did — but ends up sounding wonderfully scruffy and retro. Like Eno, Cale doesn't have the greatest voice, and he does strange things with it here: the falsetto on "Outta the Bag," the choked, raspy vocal on "In a Flood." But somehow or other it all works — for me, anyway. Your mileage may vary; but how you feel about this album will pretty much depend on how you've felt about Cale all along. At 63 he's the same curmudgeon he was at 30, and Black Acetate can legitimately take its place alongside Fear or Helen of Troy. So give Grandpa his props.

An old joke made new

Posted in Whatever Else on January 16th, 2006 by bill
Two cowboys — we'll call them Roy and Butch — are out riding on the south 40 one day when they stop to take a piss. They are whizzing happily into some bushes when a rattlesnake lunges out and bites Butch right on the tip of his penis. Butch yelps in pain and surprise and falls to the ground. "What happened?" asks Roy. "Damn snake bit me right on the johnson!" yells Butch. "What do I do, man?" "I'll Google it," says Roy. He runs over to his horse and grabs a laptop out of his saddlebag. Fortunately, he is able to get online right away; the agricultural megacorporation that employs them provides a strong signal everywhere on the ranch so they can track their cattle via satellite. Roy types in "snake bite treatment" and within seconds brings up an illustrated PDF showing how you cut open a snake bite wound and suck out the poison. This must be done almost immediately, it says, or the patient's hope of survival is slim. Roy studies the PDF silently for a minute, and Butch finally speaks up. "So what does Google say?" Closing the laptop, Roy says gravely to his friend, "Google says you're gonna die."

Let us now hail Van Vliet

Posted in Somebody's birthday on January 15th, 2006 by bill
indextender.jpg Please take a minute out of your busy schedule today to salute the late Captain Beefheart. Don't get me wrong; the man who was Captain Beefheart, Don Van Vliet, is still with us and turns 65 today. But there's been no Captain since 1982, when Van Vliet decided he'd had enough of the Long Plastic Hallway and gave up the music business to become a painter. Which seems to have worked out well for him; he's been far more successful in the art world, at least in standard career terms. But still, we miss the Captain, don't we? From psychedelic space boogie to avant-garde art-skronk, he stomped a terra all his own. I don't think he'd mind me sharing with you a song from his out-of-print album Lick My Decals Off, Baby: I Love You, You Big Dummy

Bowie Quiz Answers

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why, Somebody's birthday on January 14th, 2006 by bill
B00001OH7T.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg I found myself listening to Young Americans yesterday, and being amazed by it. It may not be Bowie's best album—I'd give that to either Ziggy Stardust or Station to Station, although it's hard to ignore Hunky Dory, and Diamond Dogs begs to be included in the conversation—but in a way it's his most remarkable. Here is Bowie in 1975, coming off the noisy art-rock of Diamond Dogs, right in the middle of his cocaine psychosis era, and he decides he wants to make an album of Philly soul. He's out of his depth, out of his idiom, out of his country, and out of his mind; and yet somehow he pulls it off. Crazy. Anyway, without further ado, here are the answers to the birthday quiz: 1. What was David's original last name, and why did he change it? David Jones; to avoid being confused with the Monkees' Davy Jones. 2. Why are his eyes two different colors? In high school, he was punched in the face by his friend George Underwood, apparently in a dispute over a girl. 3. What was the first instrument he learned to play? Saxophone. 4. Name the author of the 1977 Melody Maker article excerpted here:
I remember David playing me 'Space Oddity' in his room and I loved it and he said he needed a sound like The Bee Gees, who were very big then. The stylophones he used on that, I gave him. Tony Visconti turned me on to stylophones. The record was a sleeper for months before it became a hit, and I played on "The Prettiest Star," you know. I thought it was a great song, and it flopped completely. But I never got the feeling from David that he was ambitious. I remember he'd buy antiques if he had a hit, when he should have saved the money.
Marc Bolan. 5. Which of the following people were at one time considered for the part David played in The Man Who Fell to Earth? a. Jack Nicholson b. Peter Fonda c. Michael Crichton d. Herve Villechaize e. Peter O'Toole f. Marlon Brando c and e (Michael Crichton and Peter O'Toole). 6. Which Bowie album had the working title "Planned Accidents"? Lodger. 7. Which album had the working title "Vampires and Human Flesh?" Let's Dance. 8. Which album did he tell a reporter was to be called "Revenge, or the Best Haircut I Ever Had?" Diamond Dogs. 9. The Rykodisc reissue of "Heroes" contained a previously unreleased and untitled instrumental which Bowie gave the name "Abdulmajid." What is the significance of this name? It's his wife Iman's last name. 10. Which early-period Bowie single was rereleased in the UK after the success of Ziggy Stardust and sold a surprising 250,000 copies? a. "Love You Till Tuesday" b. "The Laughing Gnome" c. "London Boys" d. "Rubber Band" b. "The Laughing Gnome" 11. The rhythm section of Tin Machine (and on Iggy Pop's Bowie-produced Lust for Life) consisted of two brothers who were the sons of a famous comedian. Name him. Soupy Sales. 12. Which member of Monty Python's Flying Circus is godfather to David's son Duncan (a/k/a Zowie)? Eric Idle. 13. Name the author of the poem excerpted here:
i listened to the record for 72 hours. day and night. watching tv and in my sleep. like station to station and low, heroes is a cryptic product of a high order of intelligence. committed to survival. the rhythum tracks are intel-disco. lysis-discos. the disintegration of brain into lingua the pulse of rhythum. high east coast wherein all the musicians play w/grace and taste. the title song is wonderful. it exposes us to our most precious and private dilemma. he has captured in this song that desperate moment when one will die for love. the track is pure. i am waiting for my man. but i love that song too and what we love we love repeated. the lyrics are really beautiful. one falls in love and gets lost in its swirl. one projects far aware and across the boundaries of space and placement. we are in dream alive. we are not planets away but separated by a room or wall of wire. thats all. heroes is the theme song for every great movie. made remade or yet to come."
Patti Smith. Who, by the way, spelled "rhythm" with a u on purpose, in case you were wondering.

The Year in Music, Part 3

Posted in Dancing about architecture on January 12th, 2006 by bill
3161545_go_200.jpgcitizencaind_flyer.jpg 50 Foot Wave/Golden Ocean
Julian Cope/Citizen Cain'd Question: To what extent does one have the responsibility to report the bad news, and to what extent is it better just to keep it to yourself? For instance, we have here two albums by artists that I've been quite fond of in the past, but whose latest work leaves me cold. Should I write about them, or in the interest of being positive, should I leave well enough alone? My initial instinct was the latter, but I decided to listen to them one more time through just to be sure, and doing so raised the question that I started with. The tone of both of these albums is overwhelmingly negative. On Golden Ocean, the first full album by Kristin Hersh's new trio 50 Foot Wave, she turns the volume up to 11 and screams herself hoarse on every song. This is seriously noisy stuff — and not the sculpted noise of, say, Throwing Muses' University, but aggressive, abrasive noise. It doesn't sound like Kristin's enjoying herself; more like she's going through therapy. A similar sense of foreboding hangs over Julian Cope's 2005 solo album Citizen Cain'd. In the 90s, Cope (or Copey, as those of us who are hip with the lingo like to call him) released a remarkable series of albums reflecting his obsession with the fate of Mother Earth. Those records — Peggy Suicide, Jehovahkill, 20 Mothers, and Interpreter — were suffused with a pop sensibility and leavened with a sense of hope; not so Citizen Cain'd, which is unrelentingly pessimistic. Song titles include "Hell Is Wicked," "World War Pigs," "The Living Dead," and "The Edge of Death." While it has its moments of brilliance, this cannot by any means be called an enjoyable listening experience. With Copey, as with Kristin, I find myself wondering, is it something in his personal life that's causing all this negativity? Or is he just reflecting the dire state of the modern world, or is it some combination of the two? The lyrics of Golden Ocean tend more toward the personal, and those of Citizen Cain'd more toward the political, but it's entirely possible that they're just two different expressions of the same underlying feeling. In general, I'm a lot more sympathetic toward an artist who's addressing a global situation than one who's working out their personal issues in public. When I hear somebody going through a Plastic Ono Band-style catharsis on record, I always think, "Well, that's nice for you. What about us, the audience? Why on Earth should we have to sit through this crap?" Which leads me back right to where I started. As an artist, if you're currently of the opinion that everything sucks, should you reflect that in your work, or should you bend over backwards to find something positive even in the worst of circumstances? It's not an easy question. I've always tended to believe the latter, mostly because I don't think there's some absolute truth out there for us to report on. Our perceptions color everything, and those depend on who we are, where we are, what we know, and what we had for breakfast. I myself had Peet's coffee and a chocolate chip muffin, and so am feeling fairly optimistic. Rather than rail on about these albums that I don't especially like, I'd rather put on University or Peggy Suicide and hope things get better in the future.

The David Bowie Birthday Quiz

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why, Somebody's birthday on January 7th, 2006 by bill
1965_DavidBowie.jpg January 8th is a big day for rock'n'roll birthdays. Elvis Aron Presley was born on this day in 1935, and Bill Graham in 1931. There will be a big to-do at Graceland today, no doubt, and a two-day concert is planned at the Fillmore to celebrate Graham's 75th. But to some of us, the one that really matters is David Bowie, who turns 59 today. To us, Bowie is more than just a rock star; he's the living embodiment of all we aspire to. Some people have Oprah, some have Donald Trump, some have L. Ron Hubbard, and we have Bowie. You're either on board or you're not, and if you're not, we really don't have much to talk about right now. For the rest of you, I've come up with this Bowie birthday quiz, and just to make it interesting I've decided to award a copy of the Reality Tour DVD to whoever gets the most right answers. Just email me at bill@thephilter.com by, let's say, Saturday the 14th; and remember, even if you don't know the answers, you could still win if nobody else enters. So without further ado: The First Annual David Bowie Birthday Quiz 1. What was David's original last name, and why did he change it? 2. Why are his eyes two different colors? 3. What was the first instrument he learned to play? 4. Name the author of the 1977 Melody Maker article excerpted here:
I remember David playing me 'Space Oddity' in his room and I loved it and he said he needed a sound like The Bee Gees, who were very big then. The stylophones he used on that, I gave him. Tony Visconti turned me on to stylophones. The record was a sleeper for months before it became a hit, and I played on "The Prettiest Star," you know. I thought it was a great song, and it flopped completely. But I never got the feeling from David that he was ambitious. I remember he'd buy antiques if he had a hit, when he should have saved the money.
5. Which of the following people were at one time considered for the part David played in The Man Who Fell to Earth? a. Jack Nicholson b. Peter Fonda c. Michael Crichton d. Herve Villechaize e. Peter O'Toole f. Marlon Brando 6. Which Bowie album had the working title "Planned Accidents"? 7. Which album had the working title "Vampires and Human Flesh?" 8. Which album did he tell a reporter was to be called "Revenge, or the Best Haircut I Ever Had?" 9. The Rykodisc reissue of "Heroes" contained a previously unreleased and untitled instrumental which Bowie gave the name "Abdulmajid." What is the significance of this name? 10. Which early-period Bowie single was rereleased in the UK after the success of Ziggy Stardust and sold a surprising 250,000 copies? a. "Love You Till Tuesday" b. "The Laughing Gnome" c. "London Boys" d. "Rubber Band" 11. The rhythm section of Tin Machine (and on Iggy Pop's Bowie-produced Lust for Life) consisted of two brothers who were the sons of a famous comedian. Name him. 12. Which member of Monty Python's Flying Circus is godfather to David's son Duncan (a/k/a Zowie)? 13. Name the author of the poem excerpted here:
i listened to the record for 72 hours. day and night. watching tv and in my sleep. like station to station and low, heroes is a cryptic product of a high order of intelligence. committed to survival. the rhythum tracks are intel-disco. lysis-discos. the disintegration of brain into lingua the pulse of rhythum. high east coast wherein all the musicians play w/grace and taste. the title song is wonderful. it exposes us to our most precious and private dilemma. he has captured in this song that desperate moment when one will die for love. the track is pure. i am waiting for my man. but i love that song too and what we love we love repeated. the lyrics are really beautiful. one falls in love and gets lost in its swirl. one projects far aware and across the boundaries of space and placement. we are in dream alive. we are not planets away but separated by a room or wall of wire. thats all. heroes is the theme song for every great movie. made remade or yet to come.

File Under “Also Noted”

Posted in Somebody's birthday on January 6th, 2006 by bill
Sydroom.jpg According to the information I have, Syd Barrett — born January 6, 1946 — turns 60 today. Much has been written about Syd, probably too much, and I don't have anything to add. Still, I wanted to make a note of it.

The Year in Music, Part 2

Posted in Dancing about architecture on January 5th, 2006 by bill
B000654OVK.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpggorillaz_th.jpg Handsome Boy Modeling School/White People Gorillaz/Demon Days These two albums have a lot in common: Both are the product of concept bands fronted by imaginary characters; both are follow-ups to highly successful debuts; and both were made by a core duo augmented by numerous guest stars. Handsome Boy Modeling School is the creation of superstar hip-hop producers Prince Paul and Dan the Automator, who for the purposes of this project wear fake moustaches and call themselves Nathaniel Merriweather and Chest Rockwell. The first Handsome Boy album, 1999's So...How's Your Girl?, was a star-studded mix of hip-hop, trip-hop, and comedy inspired by an episode of the Chris Elliott sitcom "Get a Life." White People is even more star-studded, almost ridiculously so; at times it seems less like music than a way for Nate and Chest to show off the contents of their rolodexes. (Wait a minute...nobody uses rolodexes anymore...I mean the contents of their Blackberries, or their cell phones, or their assistants' cell phones, or wherever high-powered producers keep their phone numbers these days.) Don Novello a/k/a Father Guido Sarducci reprises his role as Handsome Boy's most successful graduate, while Tim Meadows does a version of the Ladies Man on between-song skits. Del the Funkyhomosapien, reggae star Barrington Levy, and Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos all appear — on one song, "The World's Gone Mad." Julee Cruise, who we last heard from on the "Twin Peaks" soundtrack circa 1989, duets with uber-hip Pharrell Williams on "Class System." There's not enough room on the Internet to name everybody else who shows up here, but a partial list would include De La Soul, Mike Patton, Cat Power, Jack Johnson, the RZA, John Oates, and two of the guys from Linkin Park. With such a diverse cast of characters, you'd think this album would be running off in seven different directions at the same time. And you'd be right. White People veers wildly from style to style and from mood to mood, and as a result never builds up any momentum. Many of the individual tracks are quite brilliant — as on How's Your Girl?, the most atmospheric songs tend to work the best — but the throw-in-the-kitchen-sink approach makes the whole CD a frustrating listen that feels bloated at 60 minutes. Demon Days is considerably more streamlined and coherent, with a sense of seriousness that belies Gorillaz' status as a band made up of cartoon characters. That's 2D, Murdoc, Noodle, and Russel looking fashionably sullen on the cover, but the real Gorillaz are Blur frontman Damon Albarn and — this time out — Danger Mouse of Gray Album fame (replacing the aforementioned Dan the Automator, who produced Gorillaz' 2001 debut). Although not as guest-star-heavy as White People, Demon Days has its share of heavyweight contributors: De La Soul (again), MF Doom, Roots Manuva, Shaun Ryder, Neneh Cherry, and (all too briefly) Martina Topley-Bird. Dennis Hopper lends his voice to a spoken-word piece called "Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head," and if the result is a bit silly, still, one Dennis Hopper is worth five Jack Johnsons. On the whole, Albarn and Danger Mouse do a much better job than their Handsome counterparts of fitting their guests into what they're trying to do. Which is to create a portrait of a world in peril topped off with a message of hope, and make it so irresistably groovy that people actually listen to it. No easy task, that — but they pull it off, and what's more, they manage to do it without being obnoxious like U2. In a way, Damon Albarn has become the anti-Bono, continually trying new things and not taking himself too seriously. And after some initial skepticism, I've really come around to Danger Mouse (for an opposing viewpoint,see fuckdjs.com). Put together, his work here, on the Gray Album, and on the recent Dangerdoom album make some major strides toward justifying all the hype he's been getting. The verdict: If you can only buy one recent album by an imaginary band, make it Demon Days. Or better yet, have someone burn it for you; they've sold a gazillion copies of this thing, so I don't think they need your money.