Sunday, February 27, 2011

Big Yellow Taxi

My ignorance of popular music recorded before 1990 has brought me here to apologize to Joni Mitchell. Much like the many years I spent thinking the Black Crowes were actually capable of writing a hit song like Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle," I have for a long time believed that the hit song "Big Yellow Taxi" was a song written and recorded by the Counting Crows and sometimes sung with Vanessa Carlton. Wrong. This song was written by Joni Mitchell in 1970, but has been covered by many artists (including Bob Dylan) in the time since her original recording and did not become a bona fide hit again until the Counting Crows version came out in 2002.

Normally this is where I'd post an audio version of the original song, to pay homage to Joni Mitchell for the many years I've spent not giving her credit, but instead this is where I'll post my favorite cover version of the song since hers is not the best in my opinion. The first time I actually heard "Big Yellow Taxi," it was by Billie Joe Armstrong's other, non-Green Day band called Pinhead Gunpowder. It was recorded in 1994, but I probably didn't hear it until 1999 when Napster made it possible for a 14 year old kid with no money to listen to something other than what the radio or Mtv wanted me to hear.

Friday, February 25, 2011

American Idiot on Broadway

Ever since I was the one and only blogger in America to break the news that American Idiot would be on Broadway, I felt compelled to see the show and praise the world with my opinion. So here it is.

First and foremost, I want to confirm what most people are probably thinking. There is absolutely no legitimate reason why this show needs to exist. For me, the only true purpose it serves is providing Green Day fans the surreal but awkward moment that occurs when they first realize their hero Billie Joe is actually acting. And I don't just mean acting as in "playing a character," I mean the full fledged over-the-top acting common to musicals. I mean the kind of stage acting that includes having fake background conversations and silly choreographed jumping around. Once this initial jolt wears off, you realize his presence is not so far fetched. In fact, he plays a character called "Jesus of Suburbia," an anarchist drug dealer who appears on stage for maybe 20% of the show and has very little dialogue. You get the impression this was not much of a stretch for a guy who regularly plays 2 hour concerts in sold out stadiums. This spectacle is the 20% of the show I would recommend to anyone. The rest of the show...well, have you seen the film Across the Universe? If so, you know that it was a 2 hour cliche'd farce about some kids having some identity trouble in post-Watergate, Vietnam-era America. Along the way they sing Beatles songs that contain a word or phrase relevant to the manufactured plot, but not at all relevant to the intent of the songwriter. Here's an example: The main character's name was Jude so that it would make sense to sing "Hey Jude." The whole thing begs the question, "am I watching this story because I like the songs? or do I like the songs because they compliment the plot?" If given a chance to think about it, 9 of 10 people would choose option 1. I think I saw this film on opening night though, so my audience is as much a reason for the films existence as the songs themselves. Such is American Idiot.

The non-Bille Joe Armstrong 80% of Broadway's American Idiot is Across the Universe set in post 9/11 America and containing worse music. It is for the hardcore fan of the American Idiot album and fans of stubborn attempts to create a plot out of songs that while written with a common theme in mind, were not written as a cohesive storyline. It is about 3 kids who play in a band together. Then one gets a girl pregnant and has to quit the band, another goes to Iraq and loses his leg, and the third--the primary character--falls into a deep, drug-fueled, depression. Every couple of scenes, Billie Joe's character stops by to be a bad influence and sell some drugs. The story is told by each of the three men through the lyrics of songs from both the American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown albums, and the acting and musicianship is generally very good throughout the show. If the play is not amazing, it is not for lack of decent acting. But the plot... As if the thematic parallels to Across the Universe--which we've established was an awful exploit of good music--were not enough, one scene in the play is a complete ripoff of THIS scene from the film. And that's really all I can say. In 2004 I listened to the American Idiot album exactly one million times and not once did I hear a story about a kid going to Iraq and having his leg blown off. But that's art, right?

Overall, though I'm sure this post has seemed overly negative, my only issue is with the plot. And since I'm convinced American Idiot was not written with Broadway in mind, I can forgive it. This is not high art, nor do I believe it was meant to be. I am not breaking any new ground by criticizing this, and my having gone to see it despite knowing it would lack a story illustrates the very reason it exists. The point is that this show does not NEED to exist on any artistic level, but I am glad that it does if only because I am a fan of Green Day, and I don't know if I would ever have gone to Broadway without its existence. The set is fantastic, the theatre very nice, and the overall atmosphere is very self-aware. It is not as if the producers of the show do not know that the plot rarely makes sense and is not important.

So will you like it? If you liked the album, yes. If you didn't like the album but would pay $75+ to see Billie Joe act, yes. If you are a fan of Broadway musicals like Rent, but have no idea who Green Day is, no.

Monday, February 14, 2011

You Know You're Right

We can agree that all musicians probably leave behind a veritable trove of unpublished, unpolished recordings. It's in the nature of being a recording artist to try, and eventually scrap, failed attempts at new music. As such, rarely will an artists' work receive a posthumous release, unless said artist is someone whose legacy demands it, or whose legacy includes a crazy bitch-wife trying to make a buck.

The two examples of gigantic posthumous recordings I can best remember were both created as ways to sell larger boxsets or compilations. Those are the Beatles' "Free as a Bird" from the 1995 Anthology release which included the late John Lennon's vocals, and later Nirvana's "You Know Your'e Right" from their 2002 self-titled Best of compilation which included lyrics sung and written by Kurt Cobain.

Of the two, I have to admit I like the Nirvana song much better. But both songs have their own wikipedia pages revealing the story behind how the recordings came to be, and both are worth looking over.

Free as a Bird
You Know You're Right

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Bens

In 2003, piano pop stalwart Ben Folds put together an 8 show tour through Australia in which he asked up and comers Ben Kweller and Ben Lee to support. Together as supergroup "The Bens," the trio recorded a 4 song EP to be sold exclusively on the tour, all 3500 pressings of which sold out. The album was later given an internet store release. So were The Bens any good? Critics thought so, but then again the group never recoded together again.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Who is Harry Nilsson?

The title of this documentary might imply that the name Harry Nilsson is one that pops up a lot in popular culture but is not widely known. This was exactly my experience with Nilsson prior to watching this documentary. Fun Fact: The only reason I knew the name was because I once googled "The Puppy Song" after watching You've Got Mail. I only became aware of this film when my dad asked me "find it" for him. It's available for free streaming if you've got a Netflix account.

I had no intention of actually watching it too, but I couldn't stop. This isn't a puff piece about some genius musician that was under-appreciated. While it is true Harry Nilsson wrote many hits from the 70s you've heard of and like, this is a vivid portrait of a very complex man with a documented history of alcoholism and self-destructive behavior which is contrasted with his being a loving father, husband, and activist. In other words, my favorite kind of documentary.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Good Will Hunting

One of the many reasons Good Will Hunting is among my favorite films of all time is the brilliant performance by the otherwise off-the-wall Robin Williams, also known for such films as RV, Old Dogs, and Flubber.

But even Matt Damon and Ben Affleck couldn't fully contain Robin's over-the-top twitch. THIS SCENE starts off innocently enough, but watch Williams as he briefly abandons just about everything we know about his character up until this point and replaces it with his animated schtick.

Beyond the Lighted Stage

If the mark of a good documentary is its ability to hold one's attention despite a lack of interest in the subject matter, then the Rush documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage deserves a spot in documentary pantheon of any music enthusiast, especially anti-Rush music enthusiasts.

I was never the biggest Rush fan. I've consumed less than a quarter of their entire collection and mostly stick with the hits. I had never been exposed to the geek culture associated with the band and I'd never really done any thoughtful analysis of their literary lyrical content. From afar I've simply admired the sound they can produce with just 3 members. To be honest, I have always assumed that their talent must be accompanied by an obscene amount of Canadian pretentiousness. And yet, every time Palladia runs this film I watch it. I can't help it, these guys are cool.

The truth, as this documentary points out, is far from my assumption and yours. Specifically worthy of your attention is the career arch and mind of Neil Peart, arguably the world's greatest drummer. The guy is absolutely fascinating. Despite his fame he is a fiercely guarded and infinitely neurotic person scared to death of the spotlight and social interactions, a true anti-hero of the rock and roll world you might be used to hearing about.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hello Again, Old Friends

Most days I'd like nothing more than to write blog posts with the relative frequency I was once afforded. Because you see there are things, strage things, unimaginable stories, thoughts, and pop culture insights floating around in my brain that I'd love nothing more than to sit down for two free minutes and share with the world. But while I'd sit there for five minutes thinking of how to stop starting blog post sentences with prepositions or using the word 'however' 8 more fucking times, people are moving up in the world. So I've devoted 2010 to "doing it." Doing what? I don't know. Being better, I suppose. Moving up. Moving on. So, where am I?

1. I'm working. A lot. Somehow, an upside of working in the financial industry at this time is that nobody knows what the hell is going on. One minute we couldn't be more busy, the next we're all doomed and heading for a crash. With that in mind, our company took the conservative route by not hiring enough people and letting a lot of people move on to other departments. In turn, the market did well enough for us to become busy, and bam. Overworked. It's okay though, with being overloaded comes unlimited overtime, and with unlimited overtime comes more money. As an outcome, no more credit card debt. Also, company softball.

2. I'm being proactive. I'm learning to cook and to eat more economically and responsibly. I'm working out harder and smarter than I ever have before, seeing a chiropractor once or twice a week to fix the severely incorrect curve of my neck that's troubled me since middle school, and trying out recipes that reinforce all the other good habits I'm trying to keep. I'm finding that doing this all requires discipline and time, two things I'm working on making more of for myself.

3. I've moved! Sort of. I'm at an apartment in "downtown" Marlton, NJ with Ashley, and it's fantastic. Living on my own, I mean. The being so far away from work part has made my daily commute a living hell, but I've tempered that by staying at my parents house twice a week. Once because I need to play hockey near their house, and another just to save on gas,tolls, and sanity. Living on my own again for the first time since college is...just like college, only with way less drinking and much more responsibility. We're in a low rent situation, get-out-of-it-if-we-want-to situation, which is perfect for us. Only occasionally have Ash and I looked at each other with "now what?" look on our faces, and for the most part our living together has been an outrageous success full of shared responsibility and sacrifice for the overall greater good of our relationship.

4. I'm writing and researching. Not for blog posts or livejournal entries, but an honest to God business plan for what will one day be a bakery called Beachy Cakes. The ownership details are still hazy, and the implementation of such a plan is probably years off, but it WILL happen. If I need to own it in order to get Ashley's dreams off the ground, so be it. But I plan to make no money off of this venture until it makes sense that I be making any money other than the money I invested. I certainly am not the talent when it comes to cake making. Instead, and yes this is presumptuous, I consider myself the business and strategy specialist, at least of the two of us. Will it be a proprietorship? Partnership? LLC? All of this has yet to be decided. A store front? If so, where? How about a home-based business? To be decided, as well. The research takes time, but it seems like a worthy and efficient way to launch the career of my best friend, and the one of us who has any tangible marketable talent.

So, there's that. In lieu of long-winded, semi-researched blog postings, your'e most likely to find my ramblings boiled down into tweets and facebook status updates. Unless business slows down, although I think I'd rather it never slow down.

Let's DO IT, everyone. Let's all be better people in 2010 and beyond.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Dana Carvey Show

By now we're all well aware that the internet is the only place the following can happen in a 10 minute period:
- Read AV Club's interview with Louie CK, where you learn CK wrote for a sketch show you'd long forgotten, The Dana Carvey Show.
-Immediately Google "Dana Carvey Show"
-Confirm via wikipedia that he was, in fact, lead writer for the show, but also discover that entire first and only season exists for free on Hulu now.
-Halt productivity.

The Dana Carvey Show was a sketch comedy on abc that ran for only 7 tenths of a season in 1996, and it was hilarious. How do I know it was hilarious? I was 11 when it aired and I have fond memories of it. That's enough, right? Also, I specifically remember feeling uncomfortable watching it with my mom around which means that I toughed it out through the awkwardness (because it was funny) and she toughed it out through the jokes that were inappropriate for an 11 year old at 9pm on a Tuesday because she understood that I'd one day have an affinity for inconsequential pop culture.

Though Carvey himself left his stamp on the show with his trademark impressions like the Church Lady and Paul McCartney, the real talent resided in the rest of the credits, where people like CK, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, and Robert Smigel were creating some of the funniest, subversive sketch comedy that couldn't have been seen anywhere else on tv at the time. Possibly too subversive, though, as sponsors began running away from act 1 scene 1 as Carvey's Bill Clinton breast fed babies and animals (hard to explain).

Every episode, including the unaired, are available in full on Hulu. Definitely worth checking out, if only to see the careers of Carrell and Colbert launch.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dropkick Murphys - Barroom Hero

"Face down in the gutter won't admit defeat though his clothes are soiled and black, he's a big strong man with a child's mind, DON'T YOU TAKE HIS BOOZE AWAY..."