D.C. Music Scene – Documentary

This movie looks really interesting.  It’s about the Washington Music scene in the 80’s.  I’ve listened to music from this scene throughout my whole life.  Minor Threat’s Out of Step and then Complete Discography were especially important to me when I was really young.  I was soon onto Fugazi and other bands.  It looks like they have all the players involved, so there is a good chance that the film will be decent.

How Actors Memorize Their Lines

deadwood460

As I’ve been reading Behan plays, I started to think about the challenge that actors must have learning dialog, especially if they are playing a large part in something.  The way that my mind works I have trouble remember song lyrics, especially to cover songs, so I can’t imagine the work that must go into learning the dialog for an entire play.  I also was thinking of the TV show Deadwood, where they often would get pages of dialog the day of a shoot, due to creator David Milch writing dialog often up until the very last minute.  (Deadwood is one of my favorite shows ever.  The dialog is really complex.  At times it is like Shakespeare with swearing.  Actor Ian McShane, in particular, would have to give whole speeches, soliloquies sometimes, that he had only gotten the morning of the shoot.)  So I decided to google what actors do, in hopes of learning tricks to make learning song lyrics easier for myself.  Out of the articles I read, I found the one that follows the most interesting, not only because it interviewed stage actors in Chicago, but also by total coincidence it talked about Deadwood and how those actors dealt with Milch’s writing style.  Here is the article:

How Actors Memorize Their Lines

Mad Max: Fury Road – Official Main Trailer

I heading out to play a gig in Amarillo in about an hour.  It’s Saturday night so I thought I’d post something fun. I’m really looking forward to seeing the above movie.  George Miller, who created Mad Max and directed the first two movies, and co-directed the third, is back at the helm. He created a world so vivid in the original trilogy that it is still with us, despite there being a mountain of post-apocalyptic movies, books, and TV shows that have come out since.  The Road Warrior, especially, is more than an action movie, as it touches upon the primal.  Hopefully this new film will be batshit insane.  The trailer makes it look like it is full of strange, brutal, and original imagery.

Thoughts On Better Call Saul and Big Ideas in Entertainment

I found myself rewatching Breaking Bad this morning, starting at the beginning.  It’s amazing how entertaining this show is given that this will be the third time I’ve seen this season.  Also, as almost everyone knows, for a show this entertaining it sure was able to deal in some really heavy themes.  I think that is what makes it so great, that it works on different levels, from base entertainment to American tragedy.

I finished Better Call Saul the other day.  Seeing the whole season now has made me want to watch Season 2.  There were several times in the first season that I wasn’t so sure about the show.  The acting has always been excellent.  I’m used to modern TV shows taking a little time to develop and find their voice.  After the amazing ride of Breaking Bad I determined that I was going to give Vince Gilligan the benefit of the doubt, even when the show was slow.  Several seasons of Mad Men have taken a little time to develop, only to pick up steam in the second half and be unbelievable.  Modern TV, when its at its best, can have almost the detail of great literature.  Mad Men definitely falls into that realm.  I think what Better Call Saul ended up doing throughout the season was great, but it really took me the full season to become invested on an emotional level, where Breaking Bad had an opening episode that hooked you from the start.

I think that any kind of art form has to work on an emotional level first.  If it can expand your mind, deliver big ideas, on top of that, all the better.  I want to get something more than just being entertained out of something if possible.  However, I think if a writer, musician, painter, can pull you in on some way that is emotional, especially if they have a big idea, it is going to have a far greater chance at affecting how people think.  George Orwell is brilliant not only for his ideas, but for his clarity and readability too.  Even if he is talking about something highly intellectual, I am always struck at how the way he writes pulls you along with him.  It’s almost as if you are arriving at the conclusion with him.

That doesn’t mean that every moment of a book or TV show or whatever has to be easy.  I like to be challenged.  I like to hear that weird soundscape in the middle of an album of pop songs, for a show like Mad Men to take its time developing characters so the emotional payoff is bigger by the end, to see a play that has an act that sets the stage for later. Only fools need everything spoonfed to them.

I just got done reading Voltaire’s Candide.  It was written in the 1700’s.  There is a reason, beyond the big ideas contained within, that it has lasted several hundred years.  It is highly entertaining as well as being highly intelligent.

One thing I realized is that one will never ever read every book that is ever written.  One will never hear every piece of music ever created.  One will never see every show that or movie that has ever been made.  Therefore you must choose what you expose yourself.  It’s fine to watch or listen to things that are escapist at times.  The brain needs downtime if it is going to function on a higher level at other times.  But one should seek things out that help to understand the world around you.  If you are looking to understand something in a very specific technical way, then that is a different matter.  However, if you are looking for some kind of broader understanding of the world, there is no reason that one can’t enjoy oneself while doing so.  If you are interested in something, or some idea, or just looking for new ideas, the chances are there is someone that has communicated what you are looking for in a way that is enjoyable too.  A great journalist, dramatist, or songwriter, can do more than one thing at a time.

Nick Hornby, Eraserhead, and Light in the Darkness

The plain state of being human is dramatic enough for anyone; you don’t need to be a heroin addict or a performance poet to experience extremity. You just have to love someone.

That’s the real con of shock-art: it makes out that it’s democratic, but it’s actually only of those who can afford it.  And some of us, as we get older, simply find that we don’t have that much courage to spare any more.  Good luck to you if you have, because it means that you have managed to avoid more or less everything that life has to throw at you, but don’t try to make me feel morally or intellectually inferior.  

– Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby is a writer I respect.  I have read several of his books, seen several movies that are either based on his books or that he has contributed to.  I’ve also found some great music through him.  The first time I heard Rod Stewart’s Mama You’ve Been On My Mind, one of my favorite recordings, or Teenage Fanclub’s Ain’t That Enough, another song I love, it was because they were featured in his Songbook.  Any intelligent music fan should read that, even if they don’t agree with parts of it, because it is intelligent writing about music.

However, Hornby has been on my mind lately as I think about art as a whole.  The second quote is from a chapter in Songbook where he is criticizing Suicide’s song Frankie Teardrop.  I’ve never heard that song.  However, he compares it to the movie Eraserhead, which I love.  Basically he is saying as he grows older there is no place for dark disturbing pieces like the song.  He has also had other quotes, like the other above quote from How to Be Good, another book I really liked, where he seems to be making the case that the everyday is more dramatic than the kind of art that is more extreme, that features more extreme existences.

Although I think one can make the case that the everyday is dramatic, noble, something worth writing about, that it can even be subversive given the right context, I don’t believe this negates darker works or makes them any less valid.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more I disagree with Hornby on especially something like his second quote above.

Now before I go any further, this doesn’t mean that things that are normal, full of joy, and happy aren’t worthy subjects of art. I think that they are.  But I also think that anything can be a valid subject for art, given that whoever is creating it is talented and looking for truth.  The dark and extreme have created many of our masterpieces. Look at the history of literature old and new: Macbeth, Candide, The Stranger, The Road, Slaughterhouse-Five, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Divine Comedy, Heart of Darkness, and on and on.

Whether or not you agree that all of that all of the above are worthy, I can’t imagine anyone of intelligence wanting a world that was without those.  Why would someone not want the same in music, in film, in art?  Such works give us a way to interpret the world as some of it unfortunately is.  They can critique the world and ask that it be better.  They can also provide a light in the darkness, as there can be a happiness in feeling that some other soul sees something the way that you see it.  Certain kinds of darkness can actually be comedy. They can help us to laugh at the things that we are afraid of.

As I look out at the modern political world, even if in my personal life there is a great deal of joy and happiness, even if I see good in the world, even if I see that long term there are reasons for hope, I can’t help but feel a good deal of modern life feels closer to Eraserhead than a feel good rom-com.  As multinational companies destroy the planet, as the prison industrial complex keeps many minorities and poor people disproportionally in jail, as people starve while others live like they are in the guilded age, especially because now we can see with ease what is going on all around us, I can’t help but feel the world to be an absurd surreal place at times.

Modern culture is so often full of meaninglessness, often in the guise of things that are supposed to make us happy, but rarely do.  Most people want to be happy, but many are not.  Many want light, but spend too much time in the cave.  In order to reach that light first one must find their way through the darkness, learn what is holding them back.  You can close your eyes if you want, but that isn’t going to change anything.

Trailer from Eraserhead:

Rihanna and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka

Ever since I got interested in the work of Kanye West, I have been paying attention to projects he worked on.  Earlier this week I listened to the new Rihanna single Bitch Better Have My Money.  I’m on the fence about it, but part of the problem is that I can’t take it too seriously.  (Not that it’s necessarily meant to be taken seriously.  The deep voice at the end gives you the sense that they were laughing while making it.)  Whenever I hear it I remember the above scene from the blaxploitation parody I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.

Add on:  I don’t like the snarky way in which so much work is disregarded on the internet.  However, when you title a song as ridiculous as the new Rihanna single, with the movie scene up above out there, it might be fair game.  I feel on the fence about it for the following reasons.  Unlike a lot of modern pop, if you listen to the song on headphones it actually sounds like a human singing, despite there being some doubling and vocal effects.  That is net positive.  I like the idea of the song flipping the script on the word bitch, when sung by a female.  It’s pretty clear that she is singing about a male.  But the lyrics also dabble in a kind of throw away consumerism that is troubling in modern pop music.  The melody is also average.  However, one other thing that I do like about it is the fact that the arrangement is not overtly complicated.  Although it is synthetic, like a lot of modern pop, which doesn’t bother me in and of itself, there is space allowed into the sound.  It’s not so dense and compressed that it the music sounds indistinguishable from everything else that is out there.  

Old School Austin Groove Premiere

Today the video for Old School Austin Groove premiered.  It’s a song that is part of the soundtrack for the movie Crazy Carl And His Man-Boobs: An Austin Love Story.  Both were filmed by Beef & Pie Productions and you can stream the movie in full for free here.  The song was written and performed by Shawn Sahm and Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell.  That is Keith Langford, of Shinyribs and the Gourds, holding down the rhythm with myself.  The Crazy Carl movie is actually a really great documentary about Austin, despite its seemingly bizarre subject matter, though the title character himself is an interesting character study with a lot of heart for anyone interested in the strange thing we call humanity in general.  A must see for anyone that has any interest in the city of Austin past, present, or future.

The recording session and the filming of the video were great fun.  If I said any more someone would kill me…