A discussion of “Candle in the Wind”

August 29, 2009

Gordon Winslow: Of course she didn’t know who to cling to when the rain set in…if she’s a freaking CANDLE! Candles don’t have arms or a brain. He may as well have written “Seems to me you lived your life like a log.” It would have made just as much sense. What a terrible simile.

Jason Austinite: I have always interpreted those as separate statements. She lived like a candle in the wind. End of simile. She also never knew who to cling to when the rain set in. Anyhoo, the song has much better lyrics than “Crocodile Rock.” Or “Cheddar Cheese Girl.”

GW: That’s a generous interpretation. I don’t buy it, but let’s say you’re right. What does it mean? The only hint is that she, like a candle, burned out, but a candle in the wind would blow out, not burn out, so what’s the wind got to do with it?

Also, candles don’t snuff themselves. Maybe Bernie Taupin is a conspiracy theorist and meant to write “blew out” instead of “burned out,” with the wind representing the Kennedys.

Foley: Actually… Gordon… A slight wind (not enough force to “blow out” the flame) would cause the candle to “burn out” at a much quicker rate. Increased oxygen -> hotter flame –> candle wax melts quicker and candle burns out at accelerated rate… OMG this is a stupid conversation… killme… killme now

GW: Excellent point, Foley. If we combine that with Jason’s interpretation, we have a working simile. I still have problems with it, but at least it approaches making sense.

I still like my Kennedys theory, though.

Jeff: She lived her life like a candle in the wind. She would flicker, constantly changing depending on outside factors – but not necessarily blow out. To me it signifies something that never set. Not knowing who to cling to is separate – reiterating her lack of foundation when trouble sets in. Her “candle” that blew out at the end of the chorus is completely different. You need to get a job.

KT: LMAO @ status message.

KT: Ha, and ensuing conversation.

Elton John – “Candle in the Wind”

Misfits (Actually Glenn Danzig solo, but generally credited to the Misfits) – “Who Killed Marilyn?”


A Few Words on Les Paul

August 25, 2009

If it’s true that the most important thing a man leaves behind is his name, then Les Paul left behind a legacy that will be around for a very long time.

August 13th, 2009 marked the end of one of the most inspiring lives in the history of American music.  Les Paul, father of the modern electric guitar and inventor of much of the equipment and methods of modern recording, passed away at the age of 94.  He died of complications from pneumonia, but up until his final weeks, still mantained a weekly gig near his home in White Plains, NY.

Born Lester William Polsfuss, on June 9, 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Les was already a semi-professional guitar player at the age of 13.  He played and toured with music legends like Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby.  In the early 1940’s, Les built his first prototype solid-body electric guitar, which he called “the log”.  Gibson Guitars first declined his design, but came back to Paul after some refinement and after the competition, Leo Fender, released the first mass produced solid-body electric guitar, the Fender Broadcaster.

In 1948, Paul began experimenting with recording techniques.  Using two disc machines, he created the first multi-tracked recording, paving the way for modern studios.   The same year, however, Les Paul nearly lost one of his most important assests.  After suffering a near-fatal car crash, Paul nearly lots his right arm.  Accoring to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Paul “shattered his right arm and elbow, and he also broke his back, ribs, nose and collarbone.”  Rumor has it that the doctor wanted to amputate his arm, but Les told him to do his best to set in a position that he could still play guitar and leave it.  After a year and a half of recovery, he was able to play again.

In 1952, in the midst of his comeback, he  created the first 8-track tape recorder, the Gibson Les Paul Standard, and the Gibson Les Paul gold-top.  Pretty good year, I would have to say.  Of all his inventions, Paul had this to say in a New York Times interview: ““Honestly, I never strove to be an Edison.   The only reason I invented these things was because I didn’t have them and neither did anyone else. I had no choice, really.”

In 1978, Les Paul was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 1988, the Rock  and Roll Hall of Fame.  Toward the end of his life, Paul suffered arthritis and several other health complications, including a quintuple-bypass heart operation.  Through all of this, Les Paul continued creating music and new inventions.


David Bowie: The Thin White Duke of Anachronism

August 21, 2009

knights_tale

A Knight’s Tale, starring the late Heath Ledger, is a love-it-or-hate it film. I fall in the “love” category–I thought it was well acted, clever, and, above all, charming beyond belief. Repeat viewings have only enhanced my appreciation.

One of the things those that fall into the “hate” category complain about is the film’s use of music. Rather than make some probably-futile attempt at recreating Medieval music, A Knight’s Tale instead sets its saga of action and romance to a soundtrack of 1970s (mostly) rock.

It is a bit jarring, upon first viewing, to see a crowd of rowdy peasants singing along with “We Will Rock You” as their favorite knights are about to joust. But it’s not a mere gimmick.

The scene that clues the audience in to what writer/director Brian Helgeland is up to is also perhaps the most memorable scene in the movie. To set the scene (very minor *spoiler*), the ill-born William (Ledger) is pretending to be a nobleman, and gets a chance to attend a dance with Lady Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon).

Not knowing how to dance, he has to fake it, with assistance from Jocelyn. As they begin to dance, the band strikes up period music. This music morphs into David Bowie’s “Golden Years” as the room takes up the dance.

The dancers aren’t hearing “Golden Years.” They’re hearing the period music, which would have had the same effect on their ears and feet as “Golden Years” has on ours. The jousting fans aren’t actually chanting “We Will Rock You,” but rather a fourteenth-century equivalent that we can never know.

(If the film clip gave you a hankering for the full-length version, you can listen to that here.)

inglorious_basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Inglorious Basterds, also puts Bowie to memorable anachronistic use. The film’s soundtrack is mostly comprised of a score that references the period and Tarantino’s influences in making the film, but in one powerful, crucial sequence, he uses Bowie’s “Putting Out Fire.”

It’s a tremendously inspired creative choice. It will do to “Putting Out Fire” what some of Tarantino’s other films did to a number of obscure songs–be prepared to hear it a lot in the near future.

Why is David Bowie the go-to guy for anachronistic music? Was Tarantino inspired by A Knight’s Tale? I have no idea.

Notes:

  • Technically, “Putting Out Fire” is “Cat People (Putting Out Fire).” It’s from the 1982 film Cat People starring Nastassja Kinski.
  • Bowie re-recorded “Putting Out Fire” for his hit 1983 album, Let’s Dance. It’s not nearly as good, but it does have Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar for those of you who like Stevie Ray Vaughan. You can hear that version here.
  • My review of The Inglorious Bastards, the 1970s Italian war movie that inspired Inglorious Basterds, can be found here.

Album Review: Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

August 17, 2009

I really don’t know very much about French pop music outside of Serge Gainsbourg/Brigitte Bardot and Alizée (the latter for hotness factor alone; I couldn’t even hum one of her songs).  But a prerequisite in French pop is not necessary to listen to and enjoy the latest record by French band Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.  Indeed, if their press didn’t constantly mention their Frenchiness, I would have never known they were French at all.  French.

In their album title and in the title of the lead-off track (“Lisztomania”), Phoenix reference an 18th and 19th century composer, respectively, one considerably more famous than the other.  However, Franz Liszt was one of the first pop stars of his time, greeted at concerts by squealing women in an age where such things were uncommon.  So, what do these two composers have to do with this record?  That’s a difficult question to answer.  While the lyrics of all of the songs are in English, their brief, fragmented statements do not easily reveal an underlying meaning apart from some common themes of past, present, and future.  Looking to the music may be the best way to discern the meaning behind the references.  Mozart was a rigid perfectionist, and some of that comes out in the meticulously produced pop of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.  Phoenix have crafted obsessively arranged little pop tunes in which each stacatto piano or synth piece weaves intricately into the accompanying guitar stabs, bouncy drum rhythms, and vocal yelps of frontman Thomas Mars.  It’s those same yelps that seem to point towards the Liszt reference.  Liszt was known in particular for his fiery interpretations of Mozart’s songs, among others, consciously adding his own emotions and disregarding classicist formality to make an impact with his audience.  Viewed in that respect, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix comes off as a philosophical exercise in striking the balance between tradition and growth, reason and emotion, respect and fame.  Phoenix themselves have evolved through several different identities since their 2000 debut.  This record appears to be their approximation of making music that remains respectable to purists while still making an effort to break into the mainstream.  Of course, I could be wrong about all of that.

Overall, this is a good record, and it contains many enjoyable songs, with “Lisztomania”, “1901”, and “Lasso” being the standouts.  However, it seems to me that the meticulous structure of the songs wins out a little bit over the emotion, making for fun but slightly mechanical pop that is easy to respect and enjoy, but not quite as easy to fall in love with.

Phoenix – “1901”

 

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Album Review: Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

August 14, 2009

Before this review begins, I think everyone should take just a moment to bask in the glory of that album cover, featuring Neko squatting in battle pose on the hood of a Mercury while wielding a longsword.  Pure awesome.

Neko Case is an artist who refuses to remain stagnant.  In an alternate universe, it is not difficult to imagine Cases’s career going in a different direction, with Case playing up her red-headed beauty and deep, resonant voice into a vampy, country-fried burlesque goddess.  While any red-blooded male may lament the fact that her career has not followed that path, Case herself is far too intelligent, talented, and ambitious to pigeonhole herself into such a stifling role.  With each subsequent release following her debut album The Virginian, Case has evolved as a songwriter, gradually eschewing the confines of genre and conventional song structures.  Her last release, 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, saw Case testing the waters of the sound that would come to make up her follow up, while still tenuously clutching on to the alt-country comforts that have permeated her songs since the beginning.  Now, with the release of Middle Cyclone, Case has completed her metamorphosis, emerging from her cocoon a more complex and beautiful creature, fully equipped with colorful wings to carry her listeners into flight.

You’ll have to excuse the nature imagery.  It must be infectious, for, as on Fox Confessor, Case’s lyrics have become increasingly complex and poetic, and she often uses man’s struggle with nature as metaphors for her stormy, mostly feminine protagonists.  Opening song “This Tornado Loves You” imagines a twister as an angry, searching lover whose rage at losing the object of its desire is the cause of vast destruction (“I carved your name across three counties, and ground it in with bloody hides”).  “People Got A Lotta Nerve”, like a sequel to “The Tigers Have Spoken”, uses the perspective of a murderous zoo animal as a stand-in for an unapologetic woman (“I’m a man eater, and still you’re surprised when I eat ya”).  While Case’s powerful songwriting anchors this album, the standout track is actually a cover of the 1974 tune “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth” by Sparks, featuring intense percussion and huge, choir-like backing vocals.  The song highlights Case’s voice, as well as the themes and adventurous arrangements that permeate the album’s other tracks.  The instrumentation on Middle Cyclone stretches past Case’s previous comfort zone of acoustic and slide guitars, introducing strings, music boxes, pianos and other instruments that provide a dark undercurrent to Case’s often haunting lyrics.

With references to elephants, killer whales, ants, and a variety of birds, it still comes as a slight surprise that the final track on the Middle Cyclone consists of nothing but a thirty minute recording of frogs chirping in Case’s backyard.  While this choice has been derided by many critics (the single closing track is nearly as long as all the other tracks combined), it serves as an oddly peaceful finish to this stormy album, a fitting reminder that after all the violent storms and crushing human relationships have ended, nature and life itself will continue to flourish and grow.  It’s a defiant statement by an artist who refuses to conform to expectations, and Neko Case continues to flourish and grow with each release.

Neko Case – “People Got A Lotta Nerve”

Neko Case – “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth”

 

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New Music: Girls – “Lust For Life”

August 13, 2009

Here’s a great little summer tune from San Francisco duo Girls.  Thankfully, it is not a Jet-style rip off of Iggy Pop.

Girls – “Lust For Life”

FYI, Girls will be playing at Emo’s on 8/14, opening for Los Campesinos! along with the Smith Westerns.  Those are three really good bands.  I would recommend getting yor butt out there to hear some great indie rock.  But that’s just me.  You do what you like.

The Smith Westerns – “Girl In Love”

Los Campesinos! – “This Is How You Spell ‘Hahaha, We Destroyed The Hopes And Dreams Of A Generation Of Faux-Romantics'”


Comic Review: Richard Stark’s Parker: Book One–The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke

August 12, 2009

Darwyn Cooke's The Hunter

[Note: This review was originally posted at my other site. Its target audience is readers of the books upon which this graphic novel was based. However, since this may well turn out to be the graphic novel of the year, I thought perhaps the music and pop culture fans who drop by this site might also be interested in my fanboy take.]

This writeup is later than intended, so by now you have likely read numerous reviews from comic book people, crime fiction fans, and Parker readers. If you’ve been reading the same reviews I have, they all say the same thing–Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of The Hunter is fantastic.

The reviews are right.

Darwyn Cooke’s The Hunter (The Hunter from here on out) is to Parker readers what The Dark Night is to Batman fans. It’s the adaptation that gets it, the adaptation that takes everything you knew about something you loved in one medium and proves that it can be done in another.

Such an achievement takes time, far beyond the time for the adapter to give the source material however many reads it takes and make his creative choices. To be done right, certain works, especially series works, generally need to percolate through our popular culture for awhile in order for the works’ admirers to be able to say, “This is what it means to us.” It is tapping into that general consensus, far beyond the original version in whatever medium, that makes a truly great adaptation of something that has become much bigger than originally intended.

This is why the Lord of the Rings films were a huge success. Peter Jackson understood what the lovers of the books had in their heads and was able to translate that to film.

Like Peter Jackson, Darwin Cooke gets it. He captures the spirit, traps it in a book, and sells it at your local comic book store.

huntersketch

In The Hunter, Darwyn Cooke stays extraordinarily close to the text of the original novel. That, in part, helps capture the spirit.

Mr. Cooke also, through visual choices and shrewd editing, makes The Hunter even more efficient than the legendarily-efficient original. There is barely a wasted word or frame in the entire 140 pages. That, also, is part of capturing the spirit*.

These things alone would not have been enough to make the comic more than an interesting novelty. Also needed was illustration to match the images in our heads, pacing to match the accelerated-decelerated rhythm of the original, and writing to match the prose of the Master. All are achieved, and one more piece of the spirit is captured.

But it’s finally getting the character right that makes The Hunter a masterful adaptation. Mel Gibson was not Parker. Robert Duvall was not Parker. Even Lee Marvin was not Parker. This is Parker.

A bravura performance, and one that we can hope will expand the audience for the Velvet Underground of crime protagonists**.

Yes, fellow Parker readers, you need this.

parker_logo

*Also, occasionally to its detriment. If you haven’t read the novel, you will likely have no idea how it is that Lynn ends up naked with Mal prior to her plugging of Parker.

I guess I’ll use this minor criticism to bring up my other two criticisms. First, Parker looks too conventionally handsome, a complaint I’ve read in other reviews and in e-mails and comments here. That’s a matter of interpretation, so I’ll let it slide while noting that the plastic surgery in the next volume presents an opportunity to correct this.

The lax copyediting, on the other hand, is not excusable in a major book that’s been hyped for a year. I hope they fix the errors in the second printing, and are more careful with the next volume.

**I’ll update this when I find the exact quote, but it’s a reference to someone saying that the Velvet Underground may not have sold a whole lot of records, but nearly everyone who bought one founded a band. The influence of Stark and Parker goes far beyond sales figures.

Update: You can see the first twenty pages or so here.


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