Thursday, June 01, 2006

Paul Gleason 1944-2006


One of my favorite character actors, he died at the age of 67 from mesothelioma. Though he inspired two classic questions ("Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?" and "Where the hell is Beaks!"), let us all remember the important lesson he taught us: you mess with the bull, you get the horns. Posted by Picasa

A Handy Guide for My Eleven Year-Old Sister and Her Fucking Ignorant Friends

Dear Audrie,

We had a conversation the other day that did not make me proud. We were talking about music, which is always a mistake with someone as young and (through general inexperience) ignorant of music history as an eleven year-old. I feel compelled to record, just for future reference, a rebuttal to the very wrong things you said. Just so you and all of your friends know.

Monkey, you have to accept it: punk music is dead. It's been dead since, at the very latest, 1980. Most people say 1978, which is about when post-punk started. We'll talk about post-punk at a later time, I'm sure. Now, I know every generation thinks that they invented everything, but to claim that there is a resurgence of punk music betrays a total lack of understanding of the real stuff. Maybe you've just never heard real punk music. I'm guessing that's it. The stuff you see on MTV and hear on KISS-FM, that's not real punk. That's something that today's poseurs call "emo," but is actually shitty pop-punk. And pop-punk is about as awful as rap-rock. Punk music does not get played on a constant rotation with hip hop, Ashlee Simpson, and every fucking Mariah Carey song ever. You need to branch your interests out. You're old enough.

On that note, here's some suggestions.

NOT PUNK: Panic! At the Disco
PUNK: Richard Hell & the Voidoids
Now, there are a lot of bands more seminal than the Voidoids, but I picked them out because their signature song, "The Blank Generation," is the defining punk song. In my opinion. Richard Hell is a real punk. If you like him, check out Television, too. I don't know what the hell Panic! At the Disco is, but I've seen their video, and except for superficially pretending to be Alex from A Clockwork Orange (a music video motif that really has to end now), there's nothing punk about it. They're too stupid to know that the theatricality they're ripping off is from glam rock, and was later used by some new wave bands. New wave is what these fake punks are really ripping off. They don't know thing one about the punk attitude, and neither do you.

NOT PUNK: My Chemical Romance
PUNK: The Heartbreakers
Johnny Thunders, lead singer of the Heartbreakers, came out of another great band, the New York Dolls, which was a proto-punk band that bridged the art rock of the Velvet Underground and the punk explosion of the Sex Pistols (with a little glam thrown in for good measure). "Born to Lose" and Johnny Thunders's solo song "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" are important punk songs. My Chemical Romance is called a punk band by a lot of MTV losers and idiots like Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan, but they're really a pop band. Their music is weaker than American beer (trust me on that). And the trappings they've ripped off are mostly from goth music, which makes no sense given their ridiculous sound.

NOT PUNK: Simple Plan
PUNK: The Buzzcocks
Forget the fact that Target is ripping off all good music to sell things: "What Do I Get?" is a classic punk song. The Buzzcocks may have been iffy in quality, but that's the beauty of punk music; it's rough, tough, and genuine. If you think Simple Plan and their "sorry I can't be perfect" suburban whining are punk, then you probably think that Hilary Duff's half-gloves and Ashlee Simpson dancing on a table in a laundromat are punk, too. And you're wrong. Simple Plan is one of the most pathetic bands to come along in... well, ever.

NOT PUNK: The Donnas
PUNK: The Runaways
30 years ago, the greatest chick band of all time--Cherie Currie, Sandy West, Joan Jett, Jackie Fox, and Lita Ford--were belting out tunes about rocking, partying, fucking, and telling people where to go. They were defiant and tough. And that's nothing against the Donnas, because the Donnas are sort of the heirs to the Runaways. But they aren't a punk band. They're an awesome hard rock band. They sound more like AC/DC than anyone else, even if they are starting to get overproduced. Good, but not punk.

NOT PUNK: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
PUNK: X
Exene Cervenka vs. Karen O? No contest. Karen O may be hot, but she's little more than yet another Kim Deal (alternative rock) wannabe, crossed with a steal from Eva O (goth rock). The Yeah Yeah Yeahs sound so much like a Siouxsie and the Banshees cover band, Siouxsie should sue them. If you want hard chick-fronted punk rock, it's X every time. They were the definitive LA punk band.

NOT PUNK: Fall Out Boy
PUNK: The Ramones
The Ramones may have declined over the years, but they have arguably three albums everyone should listen to (The Ramones, The Ramones Leave Home, and End of the Century) and one of the five best live albums of all time (It's Alive). They took surf rock and crossed it with punk to create some of the best music known to man. Fall Out Boy is just an embarrassment. They're based on a Simpsons joke, their music is the most forgettable (I think, I can't remember) I've heard, and they are so fucking soaking in adulation that their smugness has been released into the atmosphere and is affecting flight patterns. Don't ever listen to them again.

NOT PUNK: Avril Lavigne
PUNK: Patti Smith
Patti Smith's version of "Hey Joe" is the essence of punk rock: edgy, revelatory, and fearless. Avril... well, she wears a tie, that's punk, right? Of course not. She's a poor version of Fiona Apple, which is really saying a lot. Avril's music is the polar opposite of punk: weak, whiny, and desperate to be loved. The 30th anniversary edition of Patti Smith's album Horses came out last year. In 30 years, I don't think that many people are going to be listening to Avril. Do they even listen to Exile in Guyville or Jagged Little Pill anymore?

NOT PUNK: Good Charlotte
PUNK: Sex Pistols
Did the Sex Pistols ever sing a song that sensitively urged people not to commit suicide? Hell, no. They would've been urging people to do it! Seriously, this is a no-brainer. Just because Joel Madden dresses like a Tim Burton fan and jumps up and down doesn't make him a punk. It just makes him the world's worst Black Flag imitator.

NOT PUNK: Green Day
PUNK: The Clash
This is the one you'll hear the most resistance to. But Green Day ARE NOT PUNKS. They can imitate the attitude, sure, but they're just posing with it. They're doing it because it's what's commercial right now. Here's the thing about Green Day; they started back in the early nineties, during the so-called ska revival. They had a minor hit, "Basket Case," that was kinda listenable. And then no one cared. The ska revival bands either sank to nothing, like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, or they had to reinvent their sound. No Doubt, for example, had a really shitty album of what sounded like They Might Be Giants outtakes (and where are they when they're not recording albums for children?), and then turned to reggae, one of the origins of punk music. Green Day become a lameass pop band, putting out another hit, "Time of Your Life," which was as far from punk as you could possibly get. That was something like 1998. Now, more than a decade after "Basket Case," they've come back with their Tommy ripoff, American Idiot. And with the exception of the title song, I hate everything I've heard from it. It's pretentious, which you expect with these kinds of things, but it's also weak and pointless. Sorry, babe, it just ain't punk rock. Just because a bunch of guys wear makeup and ties and don't comb their hair, it doesn't make them punk. It's a look they're ripping off. You listen to London Calling and tell me you still think Green Day is punk, alright?

So, that's my rebuttal. Sorry I got so irritated by what you said, but the simple fact that you don't know anything that isn't on MTV just bugs the hell out of me. There's some great music around today if you look for it: Franz Ferdinand, Sufjan Stevens, Hal, the Arcade Fire. Listen to them for a minute. Get the poison MTV has worked out of your brain. This is your big brother talking, remember?

Alex Toth 1928-2006


Alex Toth grew up in New York City, the son of artistic and musical parents. His house was always filled with music, and his mother in particular would draw. Toth took after her, beginning to doodle at the age of three. He spent his childhood listening to the radio and trying to draw characters based on the voices he heard. Against his parents' wishes, he enrolled at the High School of Industrial Arts to study illustration.

Toth began his career as an illustrator at the age of 15. His dream was to do a comic strip (his heroes included Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond, and Hal Foster), but considered strips a dying industry and went into comic books instead. His first job was at Famous Funnies. When he graduated high school, he worked for DC Comics, drawing stories featuring, among others, Dr. Mid-Nite, the Atom, and Green Lantern. He did end up on a comic strip after all, drawing Casey Ruggles, written by Warren Tufts. At age 26, he went into the Army for a two-year stint, were he did another strip, Jon Fury.

When Toth returned to the States in 1956, he took a job with Western Publishing, where he specialized in doing comic book adaptations of movies and television. His most famous work was on the comics version of Zorro, which is still exceedingly popular. In 1965, took a job designing characters and drawing storyboards for Hanna-Barbera. He stayed on and off until 1982. At the cartoon studio, Toth did his most famous work, designing characters for Super-Friends, Jonny Quest, and the character he is most often credited with creating, Space Ghost. He also continued to illustrate stories for DC Comics and Warren magazines (including Eerie, Creepy, and The Rook).

Today he is revered as one of the greatest comic artists who ever lived; he was inducted in the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1990. He disliked modern comics, in particular painted ones, feeling that modern artists didn't know how to tell a story. He also lamented the loss of the fun, innocent past of comics, which he felt had been sacrificed to pointless nihilism and mature content in a misguided attempt to capture adult readers. Toth never lost his compulsion to doodle; he would often sketch in the margins of letters he sent back to his fans.

Alex Toth died earlier this week, on Saturday (27 May), collapsing at his drawing table at age 78. It's the way any true artist would want to go. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

A STOLEN LIFE (1946)
The forties may be my least favorite period of movies. So much melodrama, so many overblown films. This one is both melodramatic and overblown--a danger if you like Bette Davis, which I do. Davis gives an incredible performance in this film, considering the challenge involved: she plays twin sisters who both love the same man (Glenn Ford in a rather weak, hammy performance). The trick photography is sophisticated; the seams never show. Besides, you're more distracted by the weakness of the story, as the nice girl demurs to the bad girl, and the nice girl attempts to take her sister's place. It's over-the-top, and neither character Davis plays is strong enough to yield this much focus. **1/2 stars.

DILLINGER (1973)
John Milius is a director with some visual talent, but his stories always seem written by a twelve year-old. Don't get me wrong, his The Wind and the Lion and Conan the Barbarian are two of my favorite movies, and this movie is highly watchable, but there's never much emotional depth. Here Milius wants us to delight to the adventures of John Dillinger and his gang as they rob banks and have incredibly violent showdowns. And that's about it. He doesn't have a point to make, or any kind of reason for telling the story; we don't even know whose side he's on, Dillinger (played with typical underrated excellence by Warren Oates) or G-Man Melvin Purvis (a nicely understated Ben Johnson). A movie about Purvis would've been more interesting; he also ran down Machine Gun Kelly and Pretty Boy Floyd (shown in the movie). Maybe a movie about how the 1930s were the last gasp of the Old West mentality, where cops simply formed a posse and went out and slaughtered the bad guys. Richard Dreyfuss has an early role as Baby Face Nelson, and Harry Dean Stanton is as excellent as ever, one of my favorite actors (I even wrote a screenplay once with Stanton in mind as the lead, if only, if only). Stanton's death scene is met with a sort of simplistic grace: "Things just ain't workin' out for me." Frank McRae sums up the attitude of the characters with the line: "I'm already a murderer; might as well be famous, too." *** stars.

THE NEW CENTURIONS (1972)
Forgettable pap about cops starring George C. Scott and a very, very good Stacy Keach. * star.

THE NEW WORLD (2005)
A surprisingly excellent film about Pocahontas, John Smith, and (finally getting his historical due in a film) John Rolfe. I don't have this worship of Terrence Malick that a lot of people do; in fact I think Days of Heaven is overrated, though Badlands was pretty good. But this movie... wow. It's surprisingly tasteful and understated, the filmic equivalent of a pastoral symphony. It seems as though nothing happens, but the pacing is excellent and the story is very full. It doesn't have a puffed up sense of ego; it's not purporting to tell the American story, and it doesn't have the look or feel of an epic. There's no self-importance. It's just a simple depiction of emotions, of the meeting of two peoples, told as a series of images with musical accompaniment (James Horner does an unusually good job, but the best music in the film is Mozart or Wagner). It's mesmerizing. If not for Brokeback Mountain, I'd say this was the best movie of 2005. Hell, it might be better. I've got to think on that. **** stars.

STRIPTEASE: THE GREATEST EXOTIC DANCERS OF ALL TIME (2004)
Not so much a documentary as a roll call. But fuck it, it's got lots of great archival films of classic strippers in action. Tempest Storm hypnotizes me as always, but I found the film of Sally Rand to be the most beautiful. *** stars.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Breakfast Chemistry

Let's face it: I'm fat. And I need to lose weight and get my blood pressure down. I've been experimenting with some of the healthier breakfast cereals. You know, the ones that old people eat when they've made the decision to trade quality of life for prolonging it. But seriously, is it worth being alive if you have to eat Smart Start: Healthy Heart, a cereal of oat flakes garnished with... clusters of oat? Mm, oat-frosted oat, where do I sign up?

Anyway, I've figured out a good mix. I bought Quaker's Puffed Rice, which is so plain and bland it isn't funny. I was going to buy some bananas to put in the bowl with them, but then I thought of something else. Pour Trix on it. That livens Puffed Rice right up. The key is to have more Puffed Rice than Trix.

Also, I have something that my local diner should put on the menu. I always like to have eggs at breakfast, but I've also been ordering pancakes lately. I suddenly decided to put the pancakes on top of my eggs over easy and eat them as one. It's hardly an original idea, I know, but it tastes damn good. I think they should sell it like this: two eggs over easy between two pancakes. Becca came up with the name: Sunrise Sandwich.

That's good stuff.

In Honor of Sir Paul's Divorce and Upcoming Birthday

Apologies to Lennon/McCartney. At least Lennon. Like he had anything to do with it.

Now that I’m older, gray in my hair,
Many years behind,
I’ll sit ‘round the house in silk pajama pants,
Drink all day and sit on my hands.
Then I’ll go out till quarter to three,
Just shut up and pour.
Nobody needs me, nobody feeds me,
Now I’m sixty-four.

Now you’ve left me too,
I need a new young girl,
‘Bout nineteen will do.

I’ve got a billion squirreled away,
My daughter is estranged.
No one’s ever punched me in my smirking face,
Not even for Red Rose Speedway.
My music’s designed for maximum smarm;
Look, there’s nothing more.
Nobody needs me, nobody feeds me,
Now I’m sixty-four.

Every summer I could watch a little chippie
Graduate, make her call me "dear;"
I like them young and strange.
Grandchildren on my knee,
Just to make some change.

I’m overrated, think that I’m great,
Though my music sucks.
John’s the real genius, and his music thrived,
But fuck you all, ‘cause I’m still alive.
I married a young girl, I’ll do it again,
‘Cause old girls are a bore.
Nobody needs me, nobody feeds me,
Now I’m sixty-four.