The Year in Music, Part 1

Despite 2005 being a year of financial fear and loathing, I seem to have managed to acquire quite a few CDs. So I figure I might as well write about them. I may be able to use them as a deduction.

Today’s selections are two albums that just seem to go together: Gimme Fiction by Spoon and Get Behind Me, Satan by the White Stripes. They share, for one thing, a color scheme; Gimme Fiction’s cover could just as well be the cover of a White Stripes album, which by law may contain only red, black, and white. They also share a certain dryness of sound, which comes across as perversely retrograde in the digital era, and a reliance on piano on the low end. And while I can’t call either one a bona fide classic at this point, both hint at depths that may reveal themselves more fully in the future.


Vigoda Outlives Another One

I am saddened to report that we recently lost one of the great character actors, Vincent Schiavelli, who died of lung cancer on Dec. 26.

You may think that you don’t know who Vincent Schiavelli was, but you’re wrong. Study the photo above and you’ll recognize him from such movies as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Night Shift (or from such lesser work as Death to Smoochy, 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up, or The Gong Show Movie). He also had an extensive TV resume, including an especially memorable role as Latka and Simka’s priest on “Taxi.”

The Ache in Spades

There’s a quality in certain music that I like to call the Ache. Those who have a gift for it can express all the delicious complexity of human life — the love, the loss, the longing, and all those things starting with “L” — in a three- or four-minute song. Sinatra had it. Billie Holliday had it, and Hank Williams, just off the top of my head.

I’m in the mood for the Ache these days, so it’s a damn good thing I recently acquired the 4-CD boxed set called The Immortal Soul of Al Green. Al has the Ache in spades. It’s only one of his modes, of course, alongside the preacher and the swaggering sex god. But when Al really reaches for the Ache on a song like “Simply Beautiful”… well, time stops, space disappears. It’s magic. (more…)

Fu: Winter Solstice, Awakening

The pulsing of thunder deep down in the earth is hardly noticeable.

The circle is closed. The end and the beginning meet one another in the winter solstice. The thunder, hidden in the earth, indicates that movement is coming. It cannot yet be heard, only felt. So it is also with the return of light, symbolized by the strong bottom line. Days are lengthening again, but this is noticeable only after the seventh day.

Fu is about the triumph of life, created by the interaction of heaven and earth. Light will always defeat darkness, which is why progress will be guaranteed with every movement.

The wise rulers of the past interrupted all activity on this day. This is a time of silent awakening.

-Frits Blok, I Ching: A Spiritual Guide, Chapter 24

(For another interpretation of hexagram 24, see the Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn.)

The War on Christmas Music

There’s a lot to like about the holiday season: time spent with family and friends, plentiful food and drink, groovy twinkling lights. But one thing I hate about it, and don’t seem to be able to avoid, is Christmas music.

My policy on this is very simple. If it’s a holiday, then it’s meant to be celebrated and enjoyed, and that means listening to good music, not sucky music that happens to be seasonally appropriate. There is holiday-themed music that doesn’t suck, but not much; “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong’s version of “Winter Wonderland,” and precious few others make my list. Of course you can get into the parody or anti-Christmas genres — or you can listen to Santa Doesn’t Cop Out on Dope six or seven times — but on the whole I’d rather just forget the whole thing and listen to whatever I’m going to enjoy the most.

With that in mind, I’m thinking I’m going to spend some time focusing on the year’s best music. But first, I’d like to talk about a few albums from 2004 that I was a little late in gaining appreciation for.