Saturday, August 11, 2007

Talking Music

A music meme I found on The Sapient Sutler.

First Record Bought:
I've been listening to music since I was a kid, and the first music I bought was, of course, fairly unsophisticated: the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack and That Was Then, This Is Now: The Best of the Monkees, bought in the same purchase in 1986 when I was 10 years old. A month or so later I bought "Weird Al" Yankovic's Dare to Be Stupid. I listened to those for months alongside tapes made from my mom's Simon and Garfunkel and Cat Stevens records. To this day, I'm still astonished to find that I can remember all the words and sing along with Stan Bush's "The Touch."

First Concert:
I've only been to one concert in my life: Siouxsie and the Banshees in 1995. Spiritualized opened for them.

Favorite Music Movie:
The Last Waltz.

Favorite Music Book:
Right now, I'm reading Chuck Klosterman's Fargo Rock City, and I'm enjoying that. I also like High Fidelity, which is about being a music fan. I remember being very inspired by Ray Coleman's Lennon in high school, and recently I enjoyed Peter Ames Carlin's Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. But I still think the one I'm closest to and love the most is Bebe Buell's Rebel Heart: An American Rock 'n' Roll Journey. I've read it a few times and I love it.

Favorite Songwriter:
Bob Dylan's probably the best; not only does he write tremendous songs, but there are so many others who have covered his songs and done their own incredible versions. It's almost like they can't be ruined; a great song is a great song. I also love Lennon, of course, though I think he petered out in the mid-seventies. David Bowie, naturally, and Brian Wilson are also pretty transcendant.

Favorite Producer:
Tony Visconti. He produced some classic Bowie albums, and one of the greatest rock albums of all time, T. Rex's Electric Warrior. I just always like the stuff he produces, even Morrissey's last album, which I seem to be the only fan of. I also like Brian Eno, Ken Scott, of course Brian Wilson, and Hugh Padgham up to a point.

Favorite Record Label:
Rykodisc; they did the great reissues of David Bowie's albums and Frank Zappa's albums.

Favorite Music Magazine:
I'm not thrilled with music magazines, but I like the British ones best: Q, Mojo, and Uncut. Mostly it's because of the free CDs.

Favorite Bassist:
Whe I think of the bass, right away I think of that heavy, quick bass in "I Get Around." Brian Wilson, of course. I like Herbie Flowers and Rick Danko. Among today's bands, it's Maya Ford, because I'm all about the Donnas. Jackie Fox was great, too. And Gene Simmons, of course.

Favorite Album Cover:
Pick a David Bowie cover from the seventies. I'd say Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs are pretty great covers. Really, I like too many album covers to name. Maybe I'll do a post about that some time.

Favorite Teen Idol:
Tiffany. She was the teen idol from when I was 11 and 12, and even though I don't have any of her music, I just love Tiffany. When she posed for Playboy in 2002, I left her some feedback on her website, and she wrote back and thanked me. And even though I was 25 at the time, it still thrilled me. Okay, full disclosure--I have, like, three of her albums.Artist Who Broke Your Heart:
Almost everyone sucks after a while. Some of them get it back, some don't. I just enjoy the music while it's any good and leave it at that.

Artist You Will Always Believe In:
In Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman makes an interesting point I hadn't thought of before. He talks about people like Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones and basically says that people have given them a free pass because of past greatness, and that anything they put out is always going to be called great simply because nobody expects great music from people their age. Therefore, if it's remotely good, people will overpraise it. I guess that sums up a lot for me; I don't think anyone's music is always going to be completely interesting. I fucking hate the new Paul McCartney album, but I haven't liked any of the music he's recorded since, at best, 1972. I think if someone had shot him in the head in 1972, it wouldn't have mattered to the musical landscape and, frankly, some people might have led richer lives for not having to listen to all of that crap. But hey, John Lennon's music started to suck around 1973 or 1974, and it's only the fact that he had some decent singles out when he was killed that reverses the fact that his music had started to peter out. I wish Rod Stewart had died of a heart attack seconds after recording his last Mercury album, so you could still remember him as a great rocker and not as an idiot. David Bowie's new stuff ranges from decent to good, but it doesn't touch his seventies stuff. A lot of his eighties music is unlistenable; his early nineties stuff is worse. Bob Dylan is usually good, but what do you really expect from Dylan? It's not like his music ranges so much in style that this is going to be the album where he experiments or changes his sound. Dylan's not going to make that letdown where he stops rocking and starts crooning--he's incapable of doing either. I guess the only artists who never disappoint me are Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, and it's because they make the same album over and over again--some songs are good, some aren't, but they're nice to listen to. No one can keep it going forever.

Singer Who Makes Your Skin Crawl:
Rod Stewart. Paul McCartney. I can't stand Michael Buble or Michael Bolton. The sound of Celine Dion's voice makes me wish I was dead.

Singer Who Makes You Swoon:
I don't know if I swoon, but there are a lot of Beach Boys songs I consider the closest thing I've heard to heaven. And Kate Bush is always going to take me away, too.

Favorite Sound:
The end of the Beach Boys song "Surf's Up," when the harmonies are building, all ending in that one moment of sudden, dark silence. The end of Genesis's "Carpet Crawlers" does the same for me.

Album You Will Always Defend:
I certainly think that anyone who doesn't appreciate Bat Out of Hell is someone who just doesn't get what passion is about, but that's not my problem. It's all subjective, anyway.

Album You Own That No One Else Does:
I don't know what people own anymore. I'm more interested in what I don't own and still want to find.

Classic Album You Own but Don't Like:
In a music collection as big as mine, there are bound to be some classics I don't like. Frankly, I never thought Nevermind or In Utero were that good, much less classics. And though I've softened on a lot of the Doors over the years, I don't think any one of their albums is that great.

Artist You're Supposed to Like but Don't:
Well, I guess Nirvana would be one, since people in high school when they hit the radio are supposed to be permanently stamped with it. Actually, I fucking hated grunge music, and they only group I liked that I guess are grunge was Hole. So, my generation's music is stuff I don't like. I also hate the punk wannabes; I think Green Day fucking sucks, no matter how many people try to convince me their the voice of today's concerns. Just like R.E.M. was, right? I hate when people become icons and think they can tell us how to feel.

Song You Can't Stand by an Artist You Like:
Every song off of David Bowie's album Never Let Me Down. It has Mickey Rourke rapping on it, for chrissakes.

Band That Should Break Up:
Who knows? I mean, I hate a lot of the emo bands, but they're so irrelvant to my daily life that it doesn't matter to me if they live or die.

Band That Should Re-form:
All I wish is that Justin Hawkins would go back to the Darkness. I'm not interested in them without him, and I loved their two albums.

Guilty Pleasure:
Look, I like Hilary Duff, Ashlee Simpson's first album, Lindsay Lohan's first album, Britney Spears, and Jessica Simpson. Why should I be embarrassed about listening to them when people aren't going to be embarrassed for listening to shit I think is ridiculous, like Lilly Allen, Amy Winehouse, Avril Lavigne, and Fergie? I've never liked the concept of a guilty pleasure. Why should you feel guilty about something you enjoy? You know what a guilty pleasure is for me? Marijuana. Because it's a crime. Otherwise, who cares?

Concert You Wish You'd Seen:
I have no idea.

Dream Collaboration:
I still want some real producers to get their hands on Jessica Simpson. I still think she has it in her to be this generation's Dolly Parton, but her managers think mediocre is okay and she settles for less. I'd love to see what someone like Jim Steinman could do for her, frankly, because I think the over-the-top quality would play to her strengths.

Friday, August 10, 2007

I've Linked Everything (Plus Friday Five)

Scarlett has apparently been in Louisiana recently recording her album, Scarlett Sings Tom Waits, which I hope will not be a total disaster because she's golden and everything she does is rife with potential for me to spend money on it.

I, however, am going to WizardWorld Chicago today, and therefore won't be around to do any throwing down or any such thing. So, here's a combination links post/random observations/and Friday Five while I'm off supporting Becca's art career.

First, the Friday Five. Just because I was in the mood to hear them again, I put up five tracks from Hilary Duff's new album Dignity, which I reviewed yesterday. They were basically the ones I liked best.

1. Between You and Me
2. Outside of You
3. All Work, No Play
4. Never Stop
5. With Love

Yes, it occurs to me that many of you are not interested in hearing them, but hell, it's my blog, so there.

I see that Carla Gugino is playing Sally Jupiter in the Watchmen movie, which is certainly the kind of dead-on, age-appropriate casting we've come to expect from Zach Snyder. I can't wait to see his next movie, King Lear with Orlando Bloom.

* Splotchy offers some free movie titles, horror and romance.
* The Last Visible Blog has a sadly typical story of comic book stores.
* Ken Levine awards his favorite shows.
* Zaius Nation has a great collection of Mae West quotes.
* It's Star Wars. With hippos. At the Skullcave.
* Final Girl unearths a quote that makes Rob Zombie look like a hypocritical ass.
* Semaj has something to say about Sir Elton John becoming the newest elderly celebrity dickhead acting like an old crank. Elton John a hypocrite? Yes, always.
* At Exquisitely Bored in Nacogdoches, there's a video of one of my favorite pretty tunes, Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk", and notes on another Beatles classic.
* Zaius Nation has some nice pictures of Supergirl.
* Speaking of pretty girls, Becca has this week's sexiest pictures of Aria Giovanni ever. And, ladies, she wants you to check out Kurt Russell's penis. I didn't need to see that.
* Cracked: The 5 Stages of Online Dating

Here's a terrible picture of me at WizardWorld in 1999, at the tender age of 23. That's Claudia Christian next to me. I'm a little uncomfortable because I feel bad making her sidle up to a homonculus such as me. Still, looking forward to meeting someone else today. Maybe I'll have some pictures up this weekend.
* Angry Ballerina wants to know what the fuck Susan Atkins is doing with a website.
* Chance has some info on why kids eat junk.
* Jess Wundrun has a hilarious take on the major difference between Keith Richards and Alberto Gonzales.
* Wonkette makes me want Rudy Giuliani's daughter; surprise, she's an undisciplined party rat who can't hold her liquor, like every young girl these days.
* Dr. Zaius has something to say about this week's Democratic debates. So does Dr. Monkey.
* Dr. Monkey also talks the Kuhns, the Fisher-Price recall, the 6th of August, 2001, and Mitt fucking Romney and his fucking worthless kids.
* Robert Scheer talks about the surveillance bill and our imperial president.

And finally, here's a couple of thank you's.

Thanks, Exquisitely Bored in Nacogdoches for my third Thinking Blogger Award!And thank you J.D. for my second Power of Schmooze Award!I'm bowing out of passing it on, because I've passed both on before. But I do like the honors, and I thank you.

Here Comes Johnny Yen Again has my favorite post this week. Just some pictures of the Sears Tower. I love my town!

Have a nice weekend, y'all. I'll probably be back here on Saturday.

And remember; no matter what certain lesbians, fake science heroes, apes, and rubber-suited monsters tell you, chicks dig Daleks. Won't you consider voting Monkerstein in 2008?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Give Me Your Dirty Love

The City of Baltimore is proud of its rich musical heritage, and is honored to claim the prolific composer, musician, author, and film director Frank Zappa as a native of our fair city; and

WHEREAS, Frank Zappa’s artistry involved many musical genres, including rock, jazz, electronic, and symphonic music, and his lasting impact has left an indelible mark on the art and all those who attempt to follow in his footsteps; and

WHEREAS, Frank Zappa has received world-wide recognition for his talents and innovation and defense of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States of America; and

WHEREAS, representing the Zappa Family, Dweezil Zappa is here today to embody his father’s music and legacy on stage for the first time in Baltimore, making this an appropriate day to honor Frank Zappa’s memory and his many great accomplishments.

Happy Frank Zappa Day!


Hilary Tuff

The idea of credibility in music is one that seems inherently phony to me. It's easy for me to dismiss Good Charlotte and Panic at the Disco and Fall Out Boy as being a bunch of poseurs, and they are, but at the same time, most music is about a pose. Most music is really performing; most singers are actors who've created a persona. So, when I call those bands poseurs, what I really mean is that they're bad actors; I reject their personae, and I also reject their shitty music. That's really the key. I mean, I know the Killers are a bunch of poseurs, too, but I love their music, so the pose is irrelevant to me. Shit, no band today really knows how to pose and be rock stars, anyway. There are no Marc Bolans and Freddie Mercurys and David Bowies around these days. But those guys backed up the pose with great music; today, it's more about the image than ever. It was the punk movement that capitalized on the idea that they were writing about reality, about their own lives, which is especially funny when you consider the way the Sex Pistols were created--guys who were hired because they looked like what an older man considered punk and knew he could sell as punk. All music is commercial and it's all fake in some way or another. Thanks to Kurt Cobain killing himself and lending grunge disaffection a sort of mystical quality, people who were in their teens when that movement had the shit marketed out of it still expect their music to be genuine, when it never really was. That's why Kurt Cobain killed himself, isn't it?

Anyway, credibility. I don't really get the need for it. If you don't write your own music, you're somehow hard to take seriously, unless of course you're Dean Martin or Elvis Presley or someone like that. And if you're deemed too young to be singing about love or sex, your music is dismissed. But, you know, you don't really believe that Bob Dylan lived the kind of life that he sings about, do you? Even considering how young he was when he started recording? Of course he didn't; he's not a journeyman poet, he's a guy who listened to a lot of country music and had the good fortune to start recording when folk was hugely commercial. And none of that invalidates the fact that he's one of the best songwriters in human history. Hell, do you also think that Bruce Springsteen was a blue collar worker? Or that Bob Marley shot a sherrif? Or that Johnny Cash was in Folsom Prison? He was in the frigging Army when he wrote that song.

Credibility means about as much to me as someone's ability to sing live: nothing. Anyone can sing about anything, all that matters to me is how genuine the song seems. This is why rock journalism is its own subcategory of pointless--it tries to read something personal into music that is or isn't personal. For the last near-decade, journos have been obsessed with poring over teen pop to try and find motivations and confessions and cries for help in it. I remember reading an interview with Britney Spears around 2002, whenever Britney came out. The reporter was asking her questions about "I'm a Slave 4 U" and "Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" as though she had written them on an acoustic guitar and thought deeply about their meaning. And she scrambled to come up with a bullshit answer to a bullshit question that wouldn't have been asked if the reporter knew what he was doing; what Britney should have said, if she were smarter, was: "Do you really think any of that shit is real? Someone wrote the songs, I performed them because I felt like I understood them/they were pretty/I wanted to convey the emotions of the songs/someone paid me to."

Rock journalists who believe that the lyrical content of pop music has anything genuine to say about the singers 100% of the time are the same people who believe that everything they see in movies is real, that fictional takes on history are accurate, and that Tom Cruise really is that cocky hotshot he plays over and over again.

Admittedly, this is a weird way to start my review of Hilary Duff's new album Dignity. But I'd like it clear that I don't expect the lyrics themselves are revealing of Hilary Duff's character, but that you can tell a lot about where a person is in their life (and by life, I really mean her pop persona) by what they choose to record.

It's been almost exactly two years since I wrote about Hilary Duff's last album, Most Wanted, a compilation which, at the time, I felt solidified her identity as a pop singer and moved her into a more adult direction. At that time, many people felt that it would be her last record for Disney's Hollywood Records; that they would drop her the same way Disney dropped her from television. But, frankly, Hilary Duff makes way too much money for Disney to completely dismiss her. Maybe one day, when Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers and Corbin Bleu and Jesse McCartney take off, they can drop the Duffster, and if you couldn't tell that was a big heaping pile of sarcasm, I need to do a better job. In the still-lucrative world of teen pop, I still think Hilary Duff is about as good as it gets, and I'm not sure why that is. She projects something to me that is very likeable and very energetic, and I like her much better than a lot of the others. My hatred for Avril Lavigne is pretty well-documented, but the reason seems obvious to me: she builds herself up by tearing people like Hilary Duff down, when she's just as fake and just as commercial, but in a completely different way. Anti-commercialism is just as commercial as commercialism; the only thing is, now the kids don't know it anymore. They genuinely think that being anti-commercial and dark and disillusioned is, well, genuine, when it's just a different kind of commercial and just as readily marketable as bubblegum and girl pop.

That was a tangent.

Duffster. I love her. Her first album, Metamorphosis, was a vehicle for the star of Lizzie McGuire. It was sugary and sweet and at times just downright bad. There were a few good songs (including her biggest hit, "Come Clean"), and some terrible ones (please let me one day forget "The Math" even exists). Her next album, Hilary Duff, was a more complex and dramatic role, and one that seemed to confuse a lot of her fans. For the most part, she'd left teen pop behind and was interested in somewhat more mature explorations of identity, betrayal, romance, and even paranoia. A lot of kids these days sing about how nobody knows the real them or how they have to project an image to the world that isn't real. It's possible this has been going on for long enough that it's no longer a cliche and something that really does hit with kids. I'm not so far removed from high school to have forgotten how much you're encouraged--even demanded--to be something you don't want to be. I've not forgotten how hard it is to share who you really are when you know you'll be ridiculed and humiliated because of it. Kids relate to this all too well. It's the same reason I related to Billy Joel so much as a teenager (and still do): because his music, though poppy and seemingly inconsequential, describes a feeling of dissatisfaction and anger and loss and betrayal and paranoia that seemingly shouldn't exist. In Billy Joel's songs, he's very often confused as to why he's so dissatisfied. There's something hollow in American life, and kids are reacting to it earlier and earlier.

On Most Wanted, a compilation that Hilary used to change her direction, she sounded her most assertive ever. A few new songs, some remixes, some subtle changes to recorded songs, and she was able to create a better picture of her strengths and how she wanted to project herself. If Metamorphosis was a pop vehicle for an ingenue and Hilary Duff was a darkier, edgier dramatic role that was not well-received, Most Wanted was a genuine star vehicle. She repeated herself, she changed her image, and ultimately I looked at her with more respect. In the realm of teen pop, which has included a lot of good and bad music, Most Wanted is a great fucking album.

Since then, she was rumored to be retooling her sound. Joel Madden had produced three of the new songs on Most Wanted, and those songs in particular pointed Duff in a more interesting direction (two of those songs were singles, the transititional "Wake Up" and the very good "Beat of My Heart"--the third song, the sublime and completely misinterpreted "Break My Heart," was the best one). But, since the two broke up, she seems to have scrapped whatever she and Madden were working on and decided to make an album about heartbreak. But Dignity has a bit of an edge to it, a sorrow that overlays its harder songs and gives them some depth. I guess tanning, dying her hair, and doing her makeup dark is a part of that, superficial though it is. Hey, it's part of growing up.

The sound is, overall, pretty good, too. Now that pop music has moved away from repeating New Wave, it's repeating music from the late eighties, when everything was just bland. Dignity manages not to be bland, thankfully. And it does have my hated nemesis, Kara DioGuardi, all over the damn thing. Still, she wrote most of Ashlee Simpson's Autobiography and Lindsay Lohan's Speak, which were also two albums I liked very much, so on occasions she's got some creativity in her. I said begrudgingly.

Right off, this is a signal that Duff genuinely has a new sound. There's this blaring, weird sound that approximates a sort of Orientalism. I think she's trying to unsettle before the driving bass and guitar sounds come in. She also sounds more confident than she has in a long time; this is right off an assured vocal read. Dense, layered, kind of dark, and kind of hurt; this song does seem written about Joel Madden. It's about a relationship that is over but still conjures resentment, but not in an angry way. Hilary Duff's act has always been that she's not going to let anyone hurt her, and if anyone does, she won't let that change her basic personality. She knows that it's over, and she doesn't even really feel bad about it because she understands why it happened. It's interesting that it's not angry, or resigned, but accepting. Good production; it's big, but it does sound a lot like Lindsay Lohan's "Rumors." Hilary actually does dark pretty well, I just wish she'd get deeper with it, experiment with it more.
Self-aware lyrics: "But when no one's around, there's no kindness in your eyes. The way you look at me is just not right."

Very 1987 or 1988, this tries for a club sound (as does the whole album, really). There's a rumor, of course, that this song is about Nicole Richie, especially with lyrics like "Money makes your world go 'round" and "You'd show up to the opening of an envelope" and "Where's your dignity? I think you left it in the Hollywood Hills." It could be, it could not be, who cares? It's an attack on girls like her, who are famous just for being famous; it's a lot like a song I hated on Hilary Duff, "Haters"--and like another song on that album, "Mr. James Dean"--which are attacks on/reactions to famous people who are self-destructive or not of any real substance (in relative terms of fame, I suppose). This one actually handles it pretty well, managing to not sound bitter but merely observational and slightly sarcastic. I like it. Duff gives good sarcasm.
Self-aware lyrics: "It's not news when you've got a new bag; it's not news when somebody slaps you; it's not news when you're looking best."

This was a single that I guess did well on TRL (I barely ever saw it on MTV; mostly I heard it on her perfume commercial which turned me on for all kinds of inappropriate reasons). This song is kind of sexy, definitely a come on. It also sounds calculated, designed to be a single; it's one of those songs that is made to sound like other songs--a little Britney, a little Lohan, a little Christina. But that doesn't diminish it from what it is: a strong pop single. This is the kind of thing Duffster really acts well in her music: she pretends to be really tough and impenetrable, but really she wants to be her own person and the man for her will understand when she's tough and when she needs to be slowed down. And, it's implied, that man better be worth her time and her interest.
Self-aware lyrics: "I can tell you, baby, that you're right when you're right and you're wrong when you're wrong."

Another of Hilary's regular themes--messing with a boy who's going to fuck her over, but being too passionate to resist. What that theme implies is an interesting idea that she's not going to close herself off to the possibility of being loved just because she might get hurt by it. It's stunningly mature for someone her age to be singing about these kinds of things, and this is what I meant by her being dismissed because she's young. As if no one young ever figures shit out, even if she didn't write it. It's all in the read and how she sells it. I don't mean that cynically, either, I just thing it's stupid to say that because she's young she can't sing about this shit. Most singers are playing a character, anyway. That said, Hilary Duff does have a bit of a detached quality on this song, as though she hasn't lived it quite well enough to sell it. But that's okay, too, because it sounds vulnerable, like she's convincing herself, which is also kind of sophisticated. Production-wise, though, it's only okay. An album track.
Self-aware lyrics: "There's something really missing in your kiss; I'm smarter than this, I know better than this, but there's something that you've got that's tough to resist."

Well, I guess she can be applauded for experimenting. This track just slows the album down, breaking a flow that had been working until this point. Another attack track that, if you think about these things, does seem squarely aimed at Lindsay Lohan (especially since Lindsay Lohan covered Stevie Nicks's "Edge of Seventeen" and used to like to describe herself as a gypsy). There are some very nasty lyrics that Duff seems uncommitted to--I guess the whole endeavor of Dignity is to remain dignified, but a song like this needs some real hate infused in it. Ultimately it goes nowhere and is almost a little embarrassing. And, oddly enough, Kara DioGuardi didn't even touch this song.
Self-aware lyrics: "Her kind isn't very hard to find, she lets you think that she found you first, that's how it works."

Duffster channels the Cars, Belinda Carlisle, Devo, and the Fun Boy Three on this track. It's a little too consciously trying to sound like late period New Wave, but it's fun and has a great bridge. It's mildly infectious; why the hell wasn't this one a single? Really well-produced and fun to listen to. I love it. It doesn't really fit in thematically, unless it's supposed to be either a fun memory or glimpse of a future happiness, but who gives a shit? It's a break from the seriousness, and a great antidote to the previous song. She can still do bouncy synth-pop.
Self-aware lyrics: "Baby, don't stop, cuz I'm here to turn the corner with you, when we're together there's nothing that we can't do."

Has Hilary been listening to Portishead recently? This sounds like an attempt at trance pop, complete with scratchy record hisses and pops. She sounds far removed from her bubblegum origins on this one. And there's a nice groove and just the right amount of orchestral strings for the hell of it. It attempts to uplift, and it kind of works. A little precious, maybe, but hey, why not? You could have a nice afternoon getting high to this one even though, ironically, she tells you life isn't supposed to be one big high.
Self-aware lyrics: "I still do hide from my feelings myself, but I'm trying hard these days."

Pure pop pastiche, and I mean that as a compliment. You know those people who are consciously trying to sound like an ELO pastiche? That sort of thing, though she can't quite pull it out completely. But it's there, touches of that ELO bounce right there with ELO's pastiche of the Beatles (there's even a tuba in it). I love it, it's infectious. This album is getting downright light, and I like it. It's interesting, too, because the lyrics are more of Duffster's usual warning not to mess with her if you're involved elsewhere and not willing to be serious. But she does it in that interesting Billy Joel way. Not too silly, but a little bit, and that can only be a good thing here.
Self-aware lyrics: "My loves' not up for negotiation; 'hello' doesn't mean an open invitation."

I was wondering when we'd get to the anti-paparazzi/anti-stalker song. This one is saved by Duff's trademark light sarcasm and deadpan playfulness. She's saying "Stop watching me," but not in an angry way--in fact, it's remarkable how not cruel this song really is. It's pointed, but not mean. She's just presenting her case that she's a normal person and not especially interesting and not worth obsessive attention. The attention isn't flattering--"you're just scaring me." I don't know if this is detached or realistic, but it's interesting.
Self-aware lyrics: "Don't you have better things to do with your life than hang around and stare at me and complicate mine?"

Young girls today specialize in these songs about getting over a guy and not letting him ruin their lives. It's a cliche now, actually. It fits here thematically, but it's disappointing to see her go back to the well for it, especially after the bounciness of the last few songs. Everyone always wants to sing about how happy and defiant they are despite a guy dumping them. Granted, she just went through a major break-up, but still, girls need to figure out a way to self-actualize. We're back to dark and slow, and the production isn't bad. There's a surprising mournful quality that I kind of like.
Self-aware lyrics: "If it were up to you I'd be in my bed crying, but I'm happy now and I know that makes you mad."

It's hard to criticize Duff here for being detached when this song is about detachment. There's not much to say here. She does seem confused as to why she should be so detached and afraid, with no real reassurance, but it's dramatically interesting. The production sounds weirdly like someone's idea of a James Bond theme.
Self-aware lyrics: "Why can't I just fit in? Why can't I do what everyone else does?"

The sound of Hilary Duff trying way too hard. And it's smarmy. The production is not bad, a little busier than I'd like. She also has problems hitting the higher notes, so there are a lot more overdubs on this one. It's been pretty obvious for a long time that Hilary is being overdubbed by her sister Haylie, especially on the high parts. Hell, in one of her songs for The Lizzie McGuire Movie, I'd bet real money that Haylie does at least half of the singing on the song "What Dreams Are Made Of." This isn't really a bad song, but it sounds like it's trying to consciously sound like earlier Hilary Duff. I like the music in the refrain. It doesn't kill the album, it even fits the theme. It's supposed to be, I think, a reaction to someone else's self-absorption.
Self-aware lyrics: "I can be something beautiful, I guess you'll never know."

As we're wrapping towards the close, Duff accepts some responsibility for her feelings here and admits that she's not the easiest person to love. It's almost as if she's saying that she's changed too much to make it easy on anyone, and like she blames herself in part for failed relationships, which is a very mature concept for a musical genre that tends to see men as aggressors and women as innocent victims. Too bad the music is kind of silly--there's actually a guitar solo in it, which is so out of place it isn't even funny.
Self-aware lyrics: "I guess I blamed you for everything wrong; I don't know why it's so hard to tell you."

I know this one was a single, too. Here she presents herself as a changed woman--a little wiser, a little tougher for wear. She promises not to be so easily fooled in the future, but still open to love. She even offers the possibility of future reconciliation, even as she warns potential partners that they're going to have to work a little harder and give a little more because she's already been burned. It's a kiss-off, something else she does really well. And that little sarcastic break, where she says in a "by the way" manner that she's found someone else already is fucking brilliant. It's a great album close--it ends with assertion and self-realization, and then it suddenly stops.
Self-aware lyric: "Since you left me for dead, finally every tear has dried; I've wiped you from my life."

I think the most you can ask for with a lot of pop artists is that every album represents some sort of growth; like any art, the artists needs to grow and present work that reflects that growth, otherwise what's interesting about it? Duff has grown with every album and, on Dignity, presents her most mature and sophisticated statement yet about what it's like to be a young girl with celebrity attention, real desires, romantic fears, and societal pressures. This one, more than any of the others, presents a real dramatic flow from song to song, blending from one to the other instead of pausing for effect. I think it's her best album so far, and it's telling to me that she has a writing credit on all but one of the songs here. She says in the album notes to Hollywood Records, "thank you for letting me make the album I wanted to make." And this does feel, for the first time, like it has her personality firmly behind it. I eagerly await the next session with Hilary Duff, and I hope it doesn't take two years this time. Still, however long it takes, I'll wait for it.

Previous reviews:
Hilary Duff
Hilary Duff: Most Wanted

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Film Week

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

This is one of the most bizarre movies I've ever seen. It's directed like a giallo or a rip-off of a giallo. Klaus Kinski stars as an escaped former Nazi who is in hiding in New York. Apparently he initially fled to Buenos Airies and spent time there as some kind of hospital functionary who couldn't stop euthenizing patients. Now he runs a little apartment building in New York, where he rents only to pretty young women and spies on them from the crawlspace. And he occasionally murders them. He also breeds rats to freak them out with (although they don't really do anything scary), and spreads his own blood on bullets and plays Russian roulette every night, assuming that if God wanted him to die, he would. He sees this as license to go on being weird. Here's what saves this movie: Klaus Kinski plays the role with complete and utter commitment; which, with Kinski, is to say that he wanders through the movie looking utterly witless, but that's how he does it, ladies and gentlemen. The movie's not really scary, but it is genuinely creepy, and if I really had to come up with a complaint, it's that the movie is just too short. One second, Kinski's fine, the next, he's raving, wearing smeared lipstick and running around killing everyone. It feels like they removed 30 minutes in the middle somewhere. Still, I'm glad I saw it. I haven't seen anything this genuinely weird in a very, very long time. ***1/2 stars.

I think it's really saying a lot when I tell you that, hands down, this is Greta Garbo's greatest movie and her greatest performance. Garbo may be the best actress in movie history--her or Elizabeth Taylor--and this movie leaves all of her most remarkable achievements behind. Garbo plays the ruling Queen of Sweden in the 17th century. She's remarkably promiscuous (ah, the pre-Code days), but she's being pressured to marry a noble war hero whom she doesn't love. Walking among her people disguised as a boy, she instead falls in love with the Spanish ambassador, played wonderfully by John Gilbert. I still don't get why he didn't have a great career in the sound era, as he does an excellent job here. Certainly he was one of the finest silent actors. Their love brings Christina a lot of pain; she can't marry him, and her people--though they seem devoted to her rule--are violently opposed to her marrying anyone who isn't Swedish. What Christina wants, though, is to be who she is, even as she's had to become more like a man to rule her late father's kingdom. That's the real struggle here--she couldn't be a normal child, or a normal woman, or even a normal king (she's referred to as "king" a number of times formally; this formality and position even supercedes people seeing her as female). There are so many delicate, yet vibrant scenes of Garbo aching to be a woman and not a queen. There is one scene in particular that may be her finest work on film, where she touches and holds the room in which she and Gilbert fell in love, just to remember every detail: "In the future, I shall live a great deal in this room." This is a gorgeous, riveting, sophisticated movie, one of the best I've ever seen. I can't say enough about it, really. Garbo's absolute best. **** stars.

After seeing the book around all of my life, and being told several times by my mother and sister to read it, I finally tackled Jean M. Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear last year. Actually, I tore through it. I loved it. It was one of the best books I'd ever read. Naturally, I had to see the movie. All I remembered is that Daryl Hannah was on the cover of Starlog in white makeup, trying to watch it once a long time ago on Lifetime, and that I'd often heard it was supposed to be terrible. Actually, I quite liked the movie. Not as much as the novel, to be sure, but this is a different entity (even though they changed the ending slightly, which is my one reader's reaction to it, and it still didn't mar the movie at all). I would never have thought of Daryl Hannah for Ayla, but this is one of the few movies I truly liked her in. I think Hannah never quite got the chance to do the kinds of things she would've been good at; they tried to smash her into romantic comedies, despite the fact that she's kinda gawky and not really conventionally beautiful. Here, she was excellent. I also thought James Remar outdid every performance of his I've ever seen as Creb, not overdoing the kindly and wise bit. The film itself was done in such an interesting way, and I'm so glad they opted for some narration and subtitles in conveying the way the Neanderthals communicate with one another (grunts, simple words, some signs) instead of just going with dialogue. It's one of the few movies about prehistoric life that really feels both alien and familiar; there are a couple of modern touches thrown in, but not in a way that feels too false. Maybe that's because director Michael Chapman (one of the great cinematographers of his time) chooses not to be realistic; he's conscious of the fact that he's making a movie, and that tone feels like the right choice. It's a movie version of the past, and a movie version of one of my favorite novels. I loved it. Great cinematography by Jan de Bont, too, and a great score by Alan Silvestri (how often do you hear one?). A real lost classic of a time being overlooked by film historians and even film buffs. **** stars.

What an odd movie this turned out to be. This tells the story of a boy born with a superhuman sense of smell who yearns to "capture scents," eventually leading him to learn to create perfume. His secret ingredient? Beautiful young women. This movie had the potential to be supremely goofy, but there's something about the tone of director Tom Tykwer (of Run Lola Run) that makes it sort of heightened, like a fairy tale. You can't tell this type of story seriously, I think; it takes a European director to understand the almost classical manner of the story and the characters. As it was, I thought it was very good, sort of like a Ken Russell film or something directed by Walerian Borowczyk. The real problem is that the movie is about scent, and you can't smell a film. The imagination can only take you so far. Of course, in this movie, perfume is really a metaphor, anyway. I enjoyed it and, rare for modern movies, I had no idea where it was going, and that's exciting. Perhaps it's a little too long. I don't know that I can recommend it to anyone who doesn't have the same sensibility for the bizarre that I have, but I really, really liked it. ***1/2 stars.

WHORE (1991)
I remember this Ken Russell movie causing quite a controversy when it came out (it was one of the early NC-17 movies; nowadays it would easily be an R). There's no real controversy, though, and it's a rather ordinary movie. Theresa Russell stars as a prostitute, and she tells her story directly to the camera, flashbacks and all. It does an excellent job of humanizing prostitutes and deglamourizing the backstreet sex industry, and manages to be a decent character piece at the same time. It's not exactly fun or enlightening or even incredibly good, but it's an interesting little movie. It starts off so badly, too; I think Ken Russell may have purposely decided to make this look like any sleazy sex movie from the same time period, and then tried to surprise the audience by being interesting. It kind of works. I liked it, but I don't feel the need to ever see it again. And Ken Russell has done a lot of other movies that went further and that I just thought were plain better. *** stars.

BECKET (1964)
This epic tale of Thomas Becket and King Henry II came out at a time when Hollywood had been making spectacles like this for about a decade (reaching their pinnacle, in my opinion, with Ben-Hur and the independent film Spartacus). This one changes the playing field a bit by being vulgar, irreverent, and energetic, all while managing to tell an excellent story of duty, devotion, faith, and politics. Richard Burton stars as Becket, a lone Saxon noble in an England ruled by Normans; a close friend of Henry (the film implies there may be even more to it than that), he becomes Chancellor of England and, finally, Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry, of course, counts on Becket to be his man, but Becket finds God a higher calling that he cannot ignore or subvert to Henry's interests. Peter O'Toole plays Henry as a true vulgarian, a man who hates his children, his wife, his mother, and most other people, but who loves Becket fervently and feels personally betrayed when, as Becket puts it, "I loved God more than I loved him." One thing the film especially gains retroactively is that, four years later, Peter O'Toole would play an older Henry in one of my favorite films, The Lion in Winter, itself a fairly vulgar, irreverent, and energetic film. O'Toole plays the character much the same way in both; that is to say, excellently. He often excels at making historical figures into believable human beings, flaws and all; seeing the two films together would be an excellent time, watching the same character in both. Burton here is much more subdued than usual, and that does present a slight problem. After his installment as Archbishop, he becomes pious--not irritatingly so, but he does become calmer, and some of the excitement of the first hour is lost. The second hour (it runs 2:45 or so) has some pacing problems that are made up for, I thought, by the high drama of the last 45 minutes. It's an exhausting movie in a way, but it's a good way; it's about a friendship torn about by opposing duties, and most men have something similar (though on an admittedly less grand scale) happen in their lives, and the emotions are recognizable. It's a sad movie. But powerful and excellent. **** stars.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Health Report: Week 34

Well, it turns out I won't be able to make it into the next semester; I can't get any loan money for 2007, and will have to try in 2008. Most of the people I know seem to think that I should go all the way and become a professor, but I did find out that I'm very close to being able to teach middle school level English and history, and that sounds kind of interesting to me. It's the same reason I went out for that motivational speaker position; I kind of feel like someone needs to warn these kids about life and the future and all that. I want to reach kids when they're younger and try to make them interested in something because, Jesus, these kids need to not let things like President Bush happen.

So I'm thinking of trying for something like that. I think I'd like that. And since there's nothing else blowing my skirt up these days, it seems like the way to go. As I said last week, I can write and teach, right?

I've been eating a bit of junk this week, what with Becca being on vacation and me being lazy. I have, however, been exercising regularly and relentlessly. I found this workout in Prevention magazine that mainly involves walking, but also works the arms and the abs, so I've been doing that every other day (on alternate days I either walk, swim, or do my bike). It's pretty tough, especially for someone as fat and tired as me, and I sweat like a rapist, but it makes me feel energized throughout the day. Hopefully, it's burning some fat and working in some muscle. My legs are feeling stronger and more muscular every week, which is awesome.

Now, my belly... go away, please. I know it takes time and all, but I just want it gone, dude.

And I'm continuing to expand my tastes. For example, I tried guacamole for the first time this week. Never had it before. It was really, really good. I know, I know, everyone's shocked when I tell them this but, seriously, I have limited experience with food.

And... well, that's it. Anticlimactic, I guess, but it's been pretty quiet.

America Is Now Officially a Fascist State

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 is the law that lets our government use things like wiretapping, physical searches, access to business records, and trace devices to gather intelligence on foreign powers. In 2005, the New York Times reported that the Bush administration and the National Security Agency were wiretapping American phones without warrants since 2002. Then Bloomberg said it had been happening since 2000. The American government spying on its own people. This is a criminal act. The Bush administration asserted the legality of this program, even while acknowledging that it did not follow FISA guidelines. The Bush administration didn't admit to commiting crimes; they simply invented a law to protect their wrongdoing, claiming that illegally wiretapping American citizens without authorization was allowed by the Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution. When Congress passed Bush's emergency measures, they gave him the power to do whatever the fuck he wants. Just after 9/11, Congress authorized the unelected president to do whatever the fuck he said he had to in order to protect those scared little fuckers from international terrorists, and to "use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks."

And it was around that time that they started checking your library records and listening in on your phone calls.

But there's a problem: FISA allows for surveillance on foreign powers and not US citizens (or corporations). However, it defines "foreign intelligence information" to mean information necessary to protect the US against actual or potential attack, sabotage, or terrorism. And that's a little too open to interpretation when someone like Bush is in charge. Apparently, he's using this as a license to spy on everyone because, like all people in power who know they're doing things that are terribly wrong, he's afraid that someone's going to figure it out and take him to the one place all privileged white men fear so pervasively that the mere mention of it makes his asshole pucker up tighter than a snare drum--prison. Where there's black people.

The FISA court even ruled against the Bush administration, becoming one of the few organizations in this country to admit that Bush and Co. are criminals. I mean, they did break the law, "repeatedly and consistently," so that does, by definition, make them criminals. A court said so.

So Bush has retaliated, as the small-minded often do when told they're wrong. He's once again fooled enough people into thinking that we're under the constant threat of attack and that he's the only man who can save us. And Congress and the Senate have now changed FISA to make it completely unconstitutional.

Yes, unconstitutional. Because it basically invalidates the Fourth Amendment. The government is now legally able to perform previously illegal searches and seizures whenever it feels like. And that is against the Constitution of the United States. Enough Senators and Congresspeople felt that this country was in so much danger of being overrun by brown people that they signed a bill into law that was blatantly, completely, and irrefutably against the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

In short, George W. Bush has once again wiped his ass with the document that guarantees our freedom. And the rest of the federal government has once again let him. Let him? Hell, they've encouraged it.

So now Alberto Gonzales--not only a liar, but a pretty bad one--can wiretap and search and seize at his own whim. The government can read your emails whenever it likes, and look at which websites you visit. No need for court approval, no court oversight, no rules or regulations. Just because it feels like it. The government doesn't even have to tell you that it's spying on you; no warnings. We've now become one of those countries we were always told we weren't: a country where you have to fear that stating an unpopular opinion or criticizing the government will get you dragged out of your home in the middle of the night and sent to a prison where you will most likely never see the light of day again. And they can torture you, too.

Because they can use any and all data gathered from you and use it any way they want to now. You now have no legal protection against illegal searches and seizures, or against being picked up and held indefinitely without charge. Shall I repeat that? You now have no legal protection against illegal searches and seizures, or against being picked up and held indefinitely without charge. You no longer have the right to see a lawyer. If someone claims you're a national security risk, you will no longer have any constitutional rights. Your medical and financial date is no longer protected. The government doesn't have to release any of the data they have on you, so if you are picked up and held without charge and don't see a lawyer and are tortured and given no access to doctors and are actually released, you can't sue the government for it. Because it is no longer against the law.

Oh, and we can't impeach Bush or Cheney because of the FISA ruling... because the laws they broke have been invalidated.

I know it's the resort of people who aren't smart to compare someone evil to Hitler... but things are looking awfully Germany, 1932, around America these days.

And the worst part is that, like in Nazi Germany, this has all been happening little by little over the years. In pieces, so you won't notice it happening overnight. Fascism is slowly becoming the norm in government, and very soon it will be too late. Soon, there will be another terrorist attack, and Bush will have the spineless legislative branch give him emergency powers to declare himself dictator. And America, ever vigilant of having its freedoms broken down, will wonder when the season premiere of Gray's Anatomy is. Because as long as there's something shiny, America won't notice anything.

I hope I'm wrong.

All I know is that, with the passage of this bill, fascist legislation has finally been passed in America. A law that directly contradicts the Fourth Amendment has passed. And some of the people we voted for in the hopes that they would check Bush and Cheney's rise to power and end this senseless war actually voted for it. And those of us who have played by the democratic process have been burned once again.

Is there anything left for us bloggers to do but sit and wait until someone in the government decides we're too dangerous to let go unpunished? Because they're going to make criticism of George W. Bush a crime. If you're not with him, you're a national security risk. This is what has been pathetically signed into law by a country that is getting more scared and more small-minded by the second.

At least it's temporary. Just like the USA PATRIOT Act.

Nyah-nyah, got your freedoms!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Uncanny Valley

Builders made you humanoid, prettier than any droid,
With the finest positronic brain;
Too many functions to perform, your circuits are no longer warm,
Power's always on and being drained;
They say you're user-friendly,
You're low on virtual memory.

In love with a robot in love with me,
A robot cannot love--so why do we?

In spite of patches you download, your operating system's old,
All your software's running out of date;
When I think you've let me in, a system crash occurs within,
And anyway, it's not like we can mate;
I wish you could reprogram,
But do you give a goddamn?

In love with a robot in love with me,
A robot cannot love--so why do we?

You're only one device, I'm a complicated man, waiting for your call;
You just don't understand the things that make love work,
Robot hearts large or small,
They can't feel, not at all

And it occurs to me that I could change your registry,
To find the life for us that I've foreseen;
To give you feelings humanoid, no longer just a pretty droid,
Release the ghost inside of the machine;
Network gets by without you,
But I can't live without you!

In love with a robot in love with me
A robot cannot love--so why do we?

5 August 2007

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Song of the Week: "I Don't Care Anymore"

Well, sometimes it's hard to. Damn, Phil Collins was a dark, angry motherfucker there for a while. Listen to this song and the Genesis song "Mama," and you'll know what I mean.

WALL-E: The Pixar Movie I Most Want to See