Saturday, March 07, 2015

Ranking Al #150-136

150. "Party in the CIA"
(Parody of "Party in the USA" by Miley Cyrus; from Alpocalypse, 2011)
I remain disappointed in this one. Being 100% subjective with this one, "Party in the USA" is a truly great pop song. But the way it was handled was disappointing to me; the accompanying music video, for instance, is generic and pointless, when I couldn't hear the song without imagining something much more colorful and splendid. I appreciate Al trying to parody what was a monster hit, but the parody doesn't really add anything. It's not that funny, and he doesn't even replicate the sound of the original very imaginatively. I guess you could argue that juxtaposing the bubblegum pop sound with serious subject matter is an attempt to be subversive, but the comedy itself is so lazy that it's like discovering an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures you've never seen before and then thinking "Huh. Why did I ever like that show?"

149. "Taco Grande"
(Parody of "Rico Suave" by Gerardo; from Off the Deep End, 1992)
These days, a debate rages on about whether or not this one is slightly racist. Al raps this in a cartoon Mexican accent as he sings about his love for Mexican food; it also features a break by Cheech Marin which had to be written out phonetically when Al discovered that Cheech didn't actually speak Spanish. At the time, it took the piss out of a song that was omnipresent, yet seemingly hated universally. Every time I ever saw that ridiculous "Rico Suave" video with another person, they would laugh and wonder out loud what the hell they were watching. There seemed to be an element of culture shock to that reaction, though, and maybe that's what people have seized on with this Weird Al parody: that it seems like a racist overreaction to the original. I always took it as just another of his food songs, but again I have to concede that it's not for me to say what's offensive to another group of people.

148. "The Night Santa Went Crazy"
(Original; from Bad Hair Day, 1996)
Apparently this borrows stylistically from Soul Asylum, but it reminds me more of those Christmas songs by Greg Lake and the Kinks. The music's kind of nice, but it just doesn't do anything for me, really. It hits a little too close to those country Christmas ballads that I hate so much, and, as weird as it seems like it would once have been to say this, a violent murder ballad about Santa Claus seems obvious and, well, old hat.

147. "Gump"
(Parody of "Lump" by The Presidents of the United States of America; from Bad Hair Day, 1996)
The problem with this one really is that there's just no joke beyond "Forrest Gump was a thing that existed and was very popular."

146. "The Plumbing Song"
(Parody of "Don't Forget My Number" and "Blame It on the Rain" by Milli Vanilli; from Off the Deep End, 1992)
There's also a little of "Girl You Know It's True" in there. Milli Vanilli were so huge in the late eighties that I thought they'd never go away until that technical error happened. Al gets their sound fine, but just turns it into a silly song about plumbing that's not particularly funny. Today it just sounds more nostalgic to me.

145. "Inactive"
(Parody of "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons; from Mandatory Fun, 2014)
The lyrics are pretty funny--a sort of grand meditation on the couch potato consciousness--but I hate the music. Not that Al doesn't replicate it very well, but I hate this modern alternative sound where flights of drum machines and insistent percussion are meant to make emotional statements. It just all sounds like tones to me. I appreciate that some people really dig it, but it's not my sound.

144. "Bedrock Anthem"
(Parody of "Under the Bridge" and "Give It Away" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers; from Alapalooza, 1993)
I suppose your mileage on this varies according to how much you like The Flintstones. I think it works, but only just. For what it's worth, I don't think "Give It Away" has really stood the test of time, and that kind of sinks this one a little bit.

143. "Ode to a Superhero"
(Parody of "Piano Man" by Billy Joel; from Poodle Hat, 2003)
I'm predisposed to like this song because it's a Billy Joel song and it's about Spider-Man. And I do like it. I don't think it's very fresh--a parody of "Piano Man" in 2003"?--and I don't think it does much more than tell the story of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, but I do think it's cute. I feel like he was sort of trying to replicate what he did with the far superior "Yoda."

142. "Angry White Boy Polka"
(Medley; from Poodle Hat, 2003)
Weird Al's polka medleys are something I love unequivocally and unironically. I'm not entirely sure why I found this to be my last favorite one. Possibly it's because, other than his usual vocal harmonies and additions of sound effects and horns, I don't think he does anything that interesting with the songs he puts together here (although I like the lounge thing he does to the Strokes' "Last Nite"). Perhaps it's because I don't think he had a strong set of songs to work with at all. (The list of songs is here.) It's a little sleepy, but even a sleepy Al polka is wonderful.

141. "Buckingham Blues"
(Original; from "Weird Al" Yankovic, 1983)
It's impossible to overstate just how much mania there was in the early 80s over Prince Charles and Princess Diana. One of my earlier memories is watching their wedding on television; everyone was watching the damn thing and talking about it. Yes, I grew up in a mainly white yuppie suburb during the Reagan years. This song always reminds me of the time they were breaking up and having affairs, right before the divorce, when they were on the cover of People almost constantly; I've always remembered a great letter from a reader begging for no more of them, saying "If I have to see them on the cover one more time, I'm going to up Chuck and Di." So I think song gets at the fatigue we all felt at their fame.

This song wins points for me simply for being a hard blues song with an accordion lead. Weird Al's first album has more accordion on it than there is flute on any Jethro Tull album.

140. "I Think I'm a Clone Now"
(Parody of Tiffany's cover of "I Think We're Alone Now" by Tommy James & the Shondells; from Even Worse, 1998)
I was all about Tiffany in 1987 and 1988. The intensity has dulled, but I continue to love her. I even got an email from her once that just set my heart on fire. I did that thing where I bought her 45s and hung the sleeves on my wall. She and Alyssa Milano were my big pre-adolescent crushes. So it was exciting for another of my favorite artists to cover her when I was 12. And what can I say? It's a cute song. It doesn't add much; it really just comes from a supposition that cloning is inherently hilarious. I think it's kind of too bad there was no video for this one with twin Als, playing out like the world's silliest sitcom opening sequence.

Interesting trivia: between this and "Alimony," Al's parody of Billy Idol's cover of Tommy James' "Mony, Mony," that makes Even Worse Al's only album with two parodies of two covers of one artist! Gloriously weird.

139. "When I Was Your Age"
(Original; from Off the Deep End, 1992)
It's an original, but I think the music owes something to an early 80s Don Henley kind of sound. You could almost pair this with "Dirty Laundry." The song's narrator is pulling one of those guilt trips that everyone's grandfather or great grandfather likes to pull, only taken to hilarious extremes. My Dad still does this, especially to my 20 year-old sister. And I'm sure his father did it to him, and so on. Certainly my Grandpa Davis and my Grandpa Miller (my maternal great grandfather) said stuff like this. The familiarity just makes it work. My favorite line: "If we were really good, we didn't get dessert."

138. "Germs"
(Style parody of Nine Inch Nails; from Running with Scissors, 1999)
Al gets the sound of industrial music quite right, but making it a song about a germophobe singing about his germophobia is pretty inspired. Industrial is somehow exactly the right kind of music for conveying that.

137. "Waffle King"
(Style parody of Peter Gabriel; from Alapalooza, 1993)
I don't have much to say about this one. The music is imaginative and well-constructed, but sounds a little locked in its time period. But the idea of a guy becoming full of hubris over making really good waffles is the kind of funny idea that only becomes funnier as this mundane accomplishment is launched to heights of glory. I love the sarcasm on display.

136. "Talk Soup"
(Original; from Alapalooza, 1993)
E! commissioned this from Weird Al, asking him to record a theme song for their show Talk Soup, and apparently they liked it, for whatever reason they ended up rejecting it and Al put it on an album instead. His fascination with TV, particularly the odd panoply of bizarro news, has long been documented on his albums. I don't necessarily find the oddities of talk shows that compelling, but I do remember that this was a time when those things were exploding (basic cable really just made everything louder). Interestingly, this one sounds a little Peter Gabriel-inspired, too. This song, "Waffle King," and "When I Was Your Age" all have similar, horn section-drive sounds with that little bit of 80s sleaze. They all sound like they could be on a hit Don Henley album in 1985. Sorry to use him as an example again, but here we are.

Until next time.

Friday, March 06, 2015

This Week in Neat-O

:: Bar Talk is a short film based on a story by Joe R. Lansdale. It proves my point that there need to be a lot more short films based on stories by Joe R. Lansdale.

:: "Her Name Was Emma," a short horror story from a Redditor that... it really works.

:: "Fantastic Breasts and Where to Find Them," a slam poem by Brenna Twohy that really got me. She starts with the point that she prefers erotic Harry Potter fanfiction to porn, and then goes into an excellent explanation of why, and effectively argues that Potterotica is much more humanizing for women than pornography is. Not seeing an untruth here.

:: 50 Shades of Buscemi is the movie I'd rather see.

:: I always try to have something Weird Al-related in these posts, so here he is on the new episode of Vanessa Bayer's Sound Advice.

:: John Green and Mental Floss share 43 Words Invented by Authors.

:: "A Death," a new story by Stephen King in The New Yorker.

:: Also at The New Yorker: "Kino," a new story by Haruki Murakami.

:: Read the Letter Written by 15 Students Who Refuse to Pay Their Student Loans

:: Aside: Agent Carter was so wonderful that it only makes the deficiencies with Agents of SHIELD that I had been previously willing to overlook much more glaring and, sadly, impossible to ignore. Also: not going to forgive you for killing off Agent Triplett. Sure, we need all of the angsty, wangsty white guys from the UK we can get, but two black guys? No, that's too much.

:: Last week's Dakota Johnson-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live wasn't tremendous, but it was the first episode I've enjoyed all the way through this year. Well, almost all the way through; Update still sucks, but a return Riblet appearance saved it, and I don't think I really need to see another Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett film. I've not seen much of Dakota Johnson, but she seemed to be game and had a sense of humor and seems to think 50 Shades of Grey is as ridiculous as all right-thinking people do, so I had fun with it. Anyway, here's a sketch that didn't make it to air.

:: What if Wes Anderson directed X-Men? Kind of wouldn't mind seeing a Marvel movie in this style, just to have something different. Not that you asked, but for some reason my favorite detail is Cyclops' tie under his jumpsuit. Didn't notice it until halfway through and it just made me laugh.

:: The Oscars without dialogue is just hilariously tense.

:: Hall + Oates + Metallica = smooth darkness. Didn't realize how much I needed that.

Harve Bennett 1930-2015

It makes me sad indeed to be writing about the death of someone involved in Star Trek for the second week in a row.

Harve Bennett was the producer who rescued Star Trek after the first movie cost Paramount more money than it wanted to spend for the kind of box office it ultimately garnered. They asked Bennett if he could produce a cheaper, more profitable movie, and he gave them the best one: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That was the movie that made Star Trek a viable film franchise, and without those movies, I think it's fair to say we might never have seen Star Trek: The Next Generation. Bennett went on and produced Treks III, IV and V, as well.

The reason Star Trek II works so damn well, of course, is the characters. Bennett went back to the original episodes and figured out what made the show work so well; he sized up its strengths and created movies that would play to them, honoring the characters and the tropes that made Star Trek what is was, rather than trying desperately to reinvent them for the Star Wars audience. The film's director, Nicholas Meyer, was anxious that Bennett wasn't always getting the credit he deserved for shaping the film, going back to the origins of the characters, and deciding to bring back Khan.

Bennett, Meyer, and Leonard Nimoy really had so much to do with creating the film's narrative. And it's one of the narratives that turned me into the Trek fan I am today and have been for damn near 30 years.

Jeez, I hope I'm not back here next Friday writing about Nicholas Meyer.

The Star Trek series... well, as much as I enjoy the JJ Abrams movies, I've said many times that I don't consider them actual Star Trek, but fun space adventure movies. They don't work as Star Trek. I think what the series really needs now is another Harve Bennett; someone who can go in and assess the strengths and figure out why it worked and what will make it work now, rather than just updating it and turning it into a series of action movies.

The work of someone like Harve Bennett is so easy to take for granted, but so integral. I thank him for what he did and for giving us Star Trek II.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

If Only We Had Taller Been

I've never come across this before, but I'm so glad to have heard it now.

This is Ray Bradbury in 1971 at a Cal Tech symposium, the day before the launch of the Mariner-9, reading a poem about his hope for our continued space exploration. And it's beautiful.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Film Week

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

It's a perfectly nice movie that's entirely predictable and somewhat of a disappointment. This is a weird position to be caught in on this one. I mean, this is a Disney sports movie through and through, embracing each and every tired cliche of the sports movie genre to the point where you could set your watch by every plot turn. I mean, since it's about Jamaicans, you can even predict what music you're going to hear. But the movie's just so damn sincere and the performances are better than a by-the-numbers movie deserves. Leon, Doug E. Doug, Malik Yoba and Rawle E. Lewis are all so likable, and as their coach, John Candy gives one of his best (and, tragically, last) performances. They're all good and the movie's pleasant, but I wish the movie had risen above its cliches. **1/2

I'm not generally a fan of exorcism movies, but this one really grabbed me. Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgewick are getting a divorce, and one of their daughters buys a strange box at a yard sale. The box, as it happens, contains a dybbuk that possesses the younger daughter in ways that involve, alternately, slow burn scares and jump shocks. It's nothing you haven't seen before, it's just done really, really well and with characters real enough that it makes the whole thing--based on a supposedly true story--feel immediate. Matisyahu adds an interesting presence to the proceedings as the son of a Hasidic rabbi who intervenes. Regarding the true story, I have to share a great line from Roger Ebert's review: "Whether the real box caused the phenomena on display in the film I somehow doubt, but I don't want to open it in order to find out." ***

For a Ken Russell movie, this is surprisingly straightforward. I mean, yes, there are moments of psychedelic, bloody, sexualized, naked nun weirdness that you more or less expect from Russell, but the main body of the story is oddly matter-of-fact in its supernatural elements. Based on a Bram Stoker novel, the story concerns a young archaeologist (Peter Capaldi) who finds a strange reptile skull from the Roman occupation of Britain, a young lord (Hugh Grant) descended from the family who might have killed it, two sisters (Sammi Davis and Catherine Oxenberg) who are threatened by it, and a mysterious, serpentine femme fatale (Amanda Donohoe, as fatale as it gets) who worships it. I found myself wrapped up in it from start to finish. I completely embraced its style; it's a bit like a horror movie from the 1930s in its style, but with a creeping strangeness all around the edges that occasionally bleeds through and then comes in big at the climax. It ends on a funny line, too. I think sometimes Russell's works get a bad rep because people don't get that so much of the humor and absurdity that seems unintentional is actually quite intentional. Of course, liking all of that is entirely subjective, but generally I like it. ****

A lot of pointless bluster for a movie that has nothing much to say, and to the extent that it does say something, I have a lot of problems with it. I knew this was going to be bad when the opening word crawl characterized the Spanish Inquisition as "punishing men who dared to dream." So the movie only sees Christopher Columbus as this noble seeker of knowledge who, to the extent that trade entered into it at all, promised ease of trade merely as a way to get his important journey of scientific curiosity financed. Much of the big dialogue reflects that, so the filmmakers clearly think that Christopher Columbus--murderer, slaver, conqueror--had benevolent intentions that were perverted by others and, I guess, he had no power to stop it. What especially makes this hard to bear--besides, you know, the actual history of what happened--is that the film is so deadly dull. It's an overlong, tedious nightmare; it feels like it was cut down from a 10-hour miniseries and is accordingly incomprehensible. And Gerard Depardieu is totally miscast; he can't carry the film at all, especially when he's constantly flying into histrionic rages or just moving all the time and prognosticating in his thick accent. Depardieu's not a bad actor, he's just not a very good one in English. Why director Ridley Scott had to have him so bad (and Scott's participation in this film hinged on this casting point) is beyond me, especially when the film is full of potentially better Columbi (particularly Armand Assante, who is generally good here even though he's directed to glower and growl most of his dialogue in his later scenes when you just wish the movie would goddamn end already). Further hampered by a terribly inappropriate Vangelis score and a lack of plot, this is that kind of a movie that just makes you feel relieved when it finally ends. I know a lot of guys think Ridley Scott is some kind of genius, but this is exactly the kind of overblown bad movie I associate with the guy. There are little moments in the movie that are glossy and pretty to look at, and once again I say that Scott's the kind of director who would be relegated to music videos and perfume commercials if he didn't luck out every so often with a decent script. *

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Ranking Al #165-151

Alright, let's finally get this list started.

165. "Gotta Boogie"
(Original; from "Weird Al" Yankovic, 1983)
As much as I hate for the bottom song on my list to be an original, I just can't escape the fact that this is my least favorite song in Weird Al's entire library. The joke is too juvenile for me--a guy's got a "boogie" on his finger, and the song has a boogie beat, and as surprisingly fun as it is to hear boogie music done on an accordion, it's just a nothing of a song. The definition of filler.

164. "I Was Only Kidding"
(Style parody of Tonio K.; from Off the Deep End, 1992)
I find very few things tiresome about Weird Al, but at the top of that very short list is songs like this, where he gets angry and sarcastic about relationships. I'm probably taking it too seriously, and the jerk in the song does get his comeuppance in the end, but I just find it tasking. What this also comes down to is the music itself, which I don't much care for. Not my kind of stuff. I do love that Al does these style parodies, where he showcases his musical tastes by writing a song in the style of another artist or a group. I haven't heard much by Tonio K., but it really just sounds like he's not for me.

163. "Young, Dumb & Ugly"
(Style parody of AC/DC; from Alapalooza, 1993)
As Al's style parodies go, this is one of the times where he didn't nail it. It's meant to be in the style of AC/DC, but I don't think you'd get that just from listening to it. Al doesn't capture the sound that made AC/DC special, particularly in the Bon Scott and very, very early Brian Johnson era. He doesn't even try to nail Angus Young's signature guitar style, which is too bad, because I think he could. He's a very talented mimic. One of Al's strengths--one of the things that elevates him from "just a parody artist"--is his ability to deconstruct and reconstruct so many musical styles. But this one just sounds like a generic heavy metal song, with Al's vocals particularly strained.

162. "Toothless People"
(Parody of "Ruthless People" by Mick Jagger; from Polka Party!, 1986)
Not much going for this one, but to be fair, the original song just isn't very good. Didn't even crack the Top 40. In fact, the song was such a non-hit that Al almost didn't record the parody, but felt it would be insulting to Mick Jagger after having asked his permission. Nothing much to say about it, except that my Dad sure thought it was funny back then. (My Dad was the only person in my life who really thought Weird Al was as funny as I did, and listening to Al with him is part of my warmer childhood memories.)

Aside: anybody else here like the movie Ruthless People? One of my favorite comedies, but no one seems to remember it much these days.

161. "She Never Told Me She Was a Mime"
(Original; from Alapalooza, 1993)
This one starts off kind of dull and then fades into the background. It's just filler built around the premise of mimes being annoying, but I don't hate mimes like most people seem to, so I never really found this one funny.

160. "Stuck in a Close with Vanna White"
(Original; from Even Worse, 1988)
Same criticisms as the previous entry, minus the stuff about mimes. It's just silly, but not in a good way.

159. "Alimony"
(Parody of Billy Idol's cover of "Mony, Mony" by Tommy James & the Shondells; from Even Worse, 1988)
Al's vocal performance on this song is great, but I've never cared for either version of "Mony, Mony," and this version--in which a guy complains about the debt slavery he's in because he owes so much alimony--has really lost its humor in a world where MRAs misogynists make the same arguments with passionate seriousness.

158. "Girls Just Want to Have Lunch"
(Parody of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper; from Dare to Be Stupid, 1985)
Al's label demanded he record a parody of the Cyndi Lauper hit, and you can hear in the final product that he did so quite begrudgingly. It's a joyless parody, purposely sung in an annoying vocal style, and the lyrics are kind of mean-spirited. Al himself hates this song, so I feel like that's a blessing to shove it near the bottom of this list.

157. "Good Enough for Now"
(Original; from Polka Party!, 1986)
This sort of falls into that "Al says horrible stuff about women and even though it's part of the joke that the song's narrator is horrible, Aaron is still uncomfortable with it" category. Al does nail the country love song sound, complete with its often bizarre, honest lyrics. One line does genuinely make me laugh: "You're sort of everything I ever wanted."

156. "Addicted to Spuds"
(Parody of "Addicted to Love" by Robert Palmer; from Polka Party!, 1986)
Another so-so parody of a so-so song, this one focused on a guy who can't get enough of potatoes and the foods made from them.

155. "She Drives Like Crazy"
(Parody of "She Drive Me Crazy" by Fine Young Cannibals; from UHF, 1989)
The original song was inescapable for several months--my Dad particularly dug it--so I guess it was inevitable that Al would do a parody. It doesn't really add anything, though, except for the very, very tired comedy trope of the terrible woman driver. (Pretty much the only time I thought that kind of thing was funny was when Bob Newhart did it.) I hate the original, and except for Al's falsetto delivery, nothing much is interesting about this one.

Aside: I do enjoy Kermit the Frog's version of the song, but it's impossible for me to not like Kermit singing anything.)

Note: we've now passed the songs that I will flip past every time I listen to their respective albums. While the next few aren't favorites, they don't actively irritate me.

154. "I'll Sue Ya"
(Style parody of Rage Against the Machine; from Straight Outta Lynwood, 2006)
Al gets the sound of Rage Against the Machine right, and it's a funny idea to juxtapose that music with a song about frivolous lawsuits, but I think it's funnier in concept than in execution.

Aside: I tend to bristle when people bring up the woman that sued McDonald's over the hot coffee in 1992 as an example of a frivolous lawsuit. That coffee was 190 degrees; she had third degree burns and then lost 20% of her body weight while spending eight days in the hospital getting skin grafts. She was partially disabled for a couple of years. That doesn't sound frivolous to me.

153. "Phony Calls"
(Parody of "Waterfalls" by TLC; from Bad Hair Day, 1996)
It replicates the sound of TLC's smash hit. Unfortunately, I've never cared for TLC. And I don't think prank phone calls are that funny, so this doesn't really do much for me.

152. "I'm So Sick of You"
(Style parody of Elvis Costello; from Bad Hair Day, 1996)
Weird Al finds the trope of a man stuck in a terrible, hate-filled relationship incredibly funny. It works in this song, though, because he gets the sound of early post-punk Elvis Costello exactly right (a sound I love), and this is pretty much as nasty as Elvis Costello generally is to me.

151. "The White Stuff"
(Parody of "The Right Stuff" by New Kids on the Block; from Off the Deep End, 1992)
The original song was pretty prevalent among my generation--my cousin loved them in a big way--and I admit, "The Right Stuff" has a weirdly addicting beat. I prefer Al's version, because you don't have to listen to any of those kids singing. This one's more cute than anything--a man extolling his love of Oreo cookies--but it's cute in a nice way.

Boy, can you tell that Polka Party! and Off the Deep End are my least favorite Weird Al albums?

Until next time.

Last Night's Rebels Star Wars'd So Hard, You Guys

RuPaul's Drag Race finally premiered its new season last night. But the other most exciting thing on TV for me last night was the first season finale of Star Wars Rebels.

Spoilers and such coming immediately.

The whole thing was this exciting explosion of... I don't know how to say it, but... Star Wars-ness. Kanan's duel with the Inquistor. Imperial Star Destroyers. Grand Moff Tarkin. And then, right towards the end, the appearance of other Rebels besides the crew of the Ghost, which is probably the first step towards really uniting the individual cells and starting a concerted campaign of rebellion.

That group of Rebel ships coming out of hyperspace excited me alone, particularly with the season's second appearance by Senator Bail Organa. But then... then this.

My dreams for this show come true: Rebel coordinator Fulcrum is, in fact, Ahsoka Tano.

Ahsoka freakin' Tano!

Ahsoka is back!

God, I love Ahsoka. She's one of my favorite Star Wars characters of all time, and here she is, in the leadership of the rebellion against the Empire. I am so disgustingly happy about this.

But then... since the Inquisitor and General Kallus have failed to get the Rebels under control... this.

Darth Vader, y'all. Darth Vader.

So far, Vader's appearance on the show amounted to a single cameo in the very first episode, in which he charged the Inquistor with tracking down "the Children of the Force," aka Force-sensitive youngsters who could be trained to as Jedi and cause problems for the Empire. But now, here he is again, in the flesh, not saying a word, but dominating all with his presence and that rasp.

Is Vader going to be regularly on Rebels? And if so, will James Earl Jones voice him, as he did in the premiere episode? God, this is exciting to me.

And the parallel here... Anakin on one side, Ahsoka on the other. The master and the apprentice.

I can not wait for season two!

Monday, March 02, 2015

Muppet Mondays

I love that someone put this together.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Song of the Week: "You Are Not Alone"

Leonard Nimoy released five albums between 1967 and 1970. I didn't really realize that until I heard him interviewed on a Chicago radio show (Brandmeier, maybe?) and they asked him about it. He laughed it off as not exactly an old embarrassment, but as a sort of "Ugh, why did I think that was a good idea?" sort of thing. He had a good sense of humor about it. The host asked him if he'd ever heard William Shatner's cheese classic The Transformed Man, and Nimoy laughed harder, saying he hadn't realized Shatner had also had an album. "If it was as good as mine were," Nimoy joked, "they should have burned it."

I have all of Nimoy's albums, and while I don't share his assessment, I do think that as a singer he's a terrific actor. I don't think they're embarrassing, but they can be very earnest and Nimoy's vocal range almost doesn't exist. His first album, Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space, sees Nimoy in character as Spock, doing space-themed songs. His second album, The Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy, continues this, with one side as Spock (including the kinda stupid song "Highly Illogical" and a dialogue between Spock and Nimoy examining their differences--real Birdman kind of stuff), and the second side as Nimoy (performing covers and the infamous/wonderful "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins"). This theme was dropped for albums three through five.

After reading Nimoy's autobiography I Am Spock back in the nineties, I was interested in his struggle to maintain the character of Spock; it sounded intense and alienating, as he used the persona to distance his inner life from the demands of fame, but also needed to be in character all the time to a certain degree, to the point where he admits in the book that he was too often detached from his home life, as it took him most of the weekend to cycle down and just be Dad. In that respect, his first two albums--cash-ins though they are--represent a sort of attempt to address Spock himself and separate Spock in his mind. (In I Am Spock, he even writes in-character and has conversations with him, using the character's logic to explain ideas and, in the process, examine himself.) To quote the Vulcan: fascinating.

So, as a tribute to the man, this week I present "You Are Not Alone," from his first album which is, in my mind, kind of fantastic. It's sincere in the way only the late 1960s are.

Goodbye, Mr. Nimoy.