Friday, September 24, 2010

Excerpt From Advanced Genius Theory: Joe Walsh

As a kid, I was fascinated by the weird noise in the middle of Joe Walsh's single "Life's Been Good." To this day, I still don't really know how it was made, but I like to think that it is what Walsh hears inside his brain, sort of like the way kids in Charlie Brown specials hear adults. Much later I discovered the James Gang, the best American rock trio of all time, which made his participation in the Eagles confusing. He was so great in his own band and as a solo artist, so it made little sense that he would join a band where he would be relegated to writing a couple of songs, playing an occasional solo, and being a backup singer. At one time I thought that maybe that arrangement was pretty good for him: He got to be in one of the biggest bands in the world without having to be the front man, which would leave plenty of time for his true loves, drinking and doing drugs. Since the Theory came to me, however, I've realized that the problem was that I was trying to make sense out of someone who makes no sense. You could go out of your mind trying to figure out why one of the greatest rock guitarists ever would make an album called Got Any Gum? There's just not a satisfactory answer to it. Sadly, though I'd like to say that his behavior is attributable to Advancement, I really can't. True, he did go solo, join another band, abuse drugs, and clean up, which is commendable. But he doesn’t quite make the cut, and belongs in either the Refined Overt class or perhaps the Authentically Weird class.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Annoying Critics' Tricks: Woody Allen Version

A.O. Scott has reviewed Woody Allen's latest movie in the NY Times. Here are the annoying parts:

"The metaphysical pessimism that constitutes Mr. Allen’s annual greeting-card message to the human race — just in case we needed reminding that our existence is meaningless — is served up in “Tall Dark Stranger” with a wry shrug and an amusing flurry of coincidences, reversals and semi-surprises."

Note that he brings up Allen's record of making a movie each year, which is an implicit criticism of the director. It is to be understood that he makes movies too fast--we don't know how fast a movie should be made, but we know one per year is too fast! He goes for a double by pointing out that all of his movies are the same, because Scoop, Match Point, Vicky Cristian Barcelona, Small Time Crooks, Everyone Says I Love You are basically identical. Except they aren't, but why think about it more than you need to when you can take a cheap shot?

"At this point in his career — 40 features in about as many years — Mr. Allen has both mastered his craft and grown indifferent to it. Does he take any pleasure in making these movies? Does he expect the audience to take any? It’s hard to say, since he seems to make films, and we seem to watch them (at least those of us who still do), more through force of habit than because of any great inspiration or conviction. Given the nonexistence of any controlling moral order in the universe, what else can we do? And what else would we want him to do"

Ha ha ha ha ha! The annoying trick used here is to imagine that Allen has become indifferent to making films. What is the evidence? Certainly not that he chooses to uproot himself from his New York home to shoot films in other countries because he can't get financing in the US. If he were truly indifferent, he would allow US financiers to give him notes, thus making it possible for him to stay at home where he is happiness. The other annoying trick is that Scott pretends to know why "we" watch Woody Allen's movies. I don't watch them out of habit, unless watching movies that I know are going to be at least decent and sometimes great. Scott watches them because he gets paid to!

"Since Mr. Allen is a notoriously nondirective director of actors, the performances in his movies tend to be all over the map, and “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” is more scattershot than most. Mr. Brolin, angry and sweaty, with a bad haircut and a wardrobe stolen from a graduate student’s closet sometime in the late 1970s...."

There's that indifferent Allen letting his actors go wild. If only he cared more, maybe some actors in his films might get recognized for their work with, oh, Academy Awards nominations. But wait! Lots of actors have been nominated and even won for their work in his movies. Of course, that's before he let his actors sweat and have bad clothes. Wait, is that a criticism of the movie? The hair and clothes?

"The more ridiculous manifestations of faith — notably Helena’s spiritualism, which leads her into romance with the owner of an occult bookshop — are more charming and more persuasive than the earnest pursuits of love and success that drive most of the people in this overcrowded movie. For the most part, everyone struggles through, with at best mixed success. The audience included."

Here he goes lumping himself in with everyone else. Don't say "the audience," when you mean "the paid reviewers whose preconceptions need to be overcome for them to enjoy the film." But I guess it's a hard habit to break.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tom Waits and the Internet: Death of Wonder

I just got finished reading a book about Tom Waits, "Lowside of the Road" by Barney Hoskyns. One line struck me, and luckily it is in this review, so I don't have to type it:
As Hoskyns points out, "Waits's deepest conviction was that truth was overrated." He quotes the singer ranting about a "deficit of wonder in the world. We live in an age when you can casually say to someone, 'What's the story on that?' and they will run to the computer and tell you within five seconds. That's fine but I'd just as soon continue wondering." On this occasion, I'm with Tom, and despite all his efforts, by the end, I've a suspicion Hoskyns is, too.
I disagree with Waits and the reviewer.  I think being able to look up things that have easy answers just gives us time to wonder about stuff that is more interesting, mysterious, magical, etc. For instance, the very thought of being able to find answers that quickly should inspire wonder. Pretty good book, though. I found it on the Internet.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Excerpt From Advanced Genius Theory: Roy Orbison

No one is more revered by great musicians of a certain age than Roy Orbison. Luckily before he died he got to play with many of them—Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen—for a show that will definitely be a part of your next PBS pledge drive. Orbison’s great claim to Advancement, as opposed to plain greatness, is his look: all black clothes, dark sunglasses, and ragged, black hair that looked like a crooked wig (which it may have been). He was also in the Traveling Wilburys, which is another notch in the win column. But what intrigues me is that he wrote maybe 10 of the greatest songs in the history of rock’n’roll, but growing up I thought the only song he ever did was “Oh! Pretty Woman,” a perception he helped along by playing only that song on TV appearances. This is very similar to Lou Reed’s playing nothing but “Walk on the Wild Side” for about 15 years. I can only imagine how frustrated Tom Waits must have been watching Orbison play that song to Johnny Carson for the ninetieth time, especially since a lot of kids were probably wondering why some weird old guy was covering a Van Halen song. I don’t think, though, that Roy Orbison is truly Advanced, even though he was such an inspiration to so many Advanced Musicians. Ultimately I think he was just an angst-ridden, slightly mysterious nerd who wore black because it was a way for him to seem cool. I guess you could say he was the Trent Reznor of his time, only without all the weightlifting.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Jeff Beck: A Reader Weighs In

I got an email from a reader named Julian, who takes issue with the issue I took with Jeff Beck. I have to admit, that I had not given a ton of thought about Beck before dismissing him. After reading Julian's email, I have to say that I might have missed out on something. Here's the email:

Let me get to the point. Jeff Beck on your blog is in a top 10 worst category . I suggest, instead, he reached the level of Lou Reed. He is one of the most advanced musicians (or guitarists, not necessarily the same) of our time. Why?

First, your reaction right now, which is likely, "No way in Hell!" I imagine other readers would share this sentiment. But let me make a case (as briefly as possible).

In the 60’s, Jeff plays in the Yardbirds, and unlike Clapton, he goes 'Hollywood', loving every minute of fame (they kick HIM out). Following that, he gets Rod Stewart to make an album at least as good as Zeppelin I (Truth). How good? Jimmy Page steals much of the material for Zep I. Any artist would duplicate his initial masterpiece (as Page did with Zeppelin II), but Beck switches gears. To make a long story short, after a bit of time, he ventures into fusion, which is weird, and cool. During this time, he plays with Stevie Wonder. Perhaps a clear early sign of advanced potential is that he gets asked to join the Rolling Stones and turns them down. OK, snobby overt folks could say this is a sign of his great love of making pure music. But the stage is set. At this point (mid to late 70’s), he is seen as a serious jazz player, having seemingly banked his reputation on serious music

Then, in the 80's he puts out Flash which is destroyed by every critic. It is a big pop, drum machine sell-out. But, the album (as you say in the context of the 80's) is actually his best in a decade, and he clearly kicks major a**. He admits at the time and to this day that he wanted a big hit to make lots of money (not an overt stance at all). He's dead as far as anyone is concerned, and he goes to work on cars for a couple years. Out of nowhere, he puts out Guitar Shop (around 1989?) and everyone (critics and public) flips out because this is an incredibly perfect album. If I remember one review, it said only this, "put down your magazine and go buy this album". All his irritated fans are back now.

So what does he do? He works on cars again. He tours a bit, sure, but spends much of the early 90's building cars. Then he comes back with a couple Techno albums. Techno? These go nowhere. In the techno period, he does an obscure 50's tribute album to Gene Vincent, but DOESN'T put on Be-bop-a-lula, Vincent's biggest hit.

A series of live albums and then the odd recent release in which he plays an opera tune, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and I Put a Spell on You. Let's not forget covering Jeff Buckley (not cool according to overters). While everyone was expecting a guitar showcase album, he put out an odd, eclectic piece.

He wears sunglasses and a sleeveless leather vest (which may be even cooler than a leather jacket). He has a mullet.

He is a 2x Rock and Roll HOF inductee, yet he plays at 2,000 seat theaters. Everyone today acknowledges, it seems, that he is THE guitarist of our era, another crazy shift in thinking by the media/critics.

There are over-rated guitarists, and clearly, Clapton heads that field. There are annoying guitarists that (like you said) are soulless and nothing without pedals. Jeff, however, is so odd in terms of career and talent and thinking that he really needs special consideration. Is there a greater irritation to fans than NOT playing music and working on cars?

Written off dead, written off as just a guitar noodler (err, even by talented authors), he is truly ahead of me, you, and I think, everyone. I still can't figure out the techno albums and I am putting them on as we speak in an advanced state of mind. Maybe I can figure out what his last release is all about (Emotion and Commotion).

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Annoying Critics' Tricks: NY Times Review of Stephen Hawking's “The Grand Design”

I wrote a while ago about the annoying habit some critics have of saying that a work of art would have been better had the writer/singer/director/etc. had only changed it in a way that the critic approves of. In other words, "I would have liked it more if it were more like I like it." In his NY Times review of Stephen Hawking's "The Grand Design," Dwight Garner uses another trick critics use that I think is unfair. He writes:
The real news about “The Grand Design,” however, isn’t Mr. Hawking’s supposed jettisoning of God, information that will surprise no one who has followed his work closely. The real news about “The Grand Design” is how disappointingly tinny and inelegant it is. The spare and earnest voice that Mr. Hawking employed with such appeal in “A Brief History of Time” has been replaced here by one that is alternately condescending, as if he were Mr. Rogers explaining rain clouds to toddlers, and impenetrable.

“The Grand Design” is packed with grating yuks. “If you think it is hard to get humans to follow traffic laws,” we read, “imagine convincing an asteroid to move along an ellipse.” (Oh, my.)

What I find unfair is that he says the book is "packed with grating yuks" and then gives us one example that isn't particularly grating. I find his commentary, "oh, my" (don't leave out that comma, smart guy!) much more grating than the joke itself. I understand that the there is limited room in the review for other examples, but if you are going to assert that something is "packed" with something awful you need to provide more evidence for the reader. Otherwise leave out the assertion.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Labor Day Special: My Role in the Jobless Recovery

I have long believed that it takes only one jerk to ruin something for everybody: the cigar smoker in a bar, the neighbor who lets his dogs bark all night, the hacker who sends out a computer virus, and so on. So it came as no surprise to me to find out that the current "jobless recovery" is the fault of just one jerk. But it was a bit of a shock to find out that the jerk is me.

Paul Krugman, professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University and op-ed columnist for the New York Times, was the first person to recognize that our economy's frustratingly weak job market could be attributable to my being a jerk. "He [me] is almost impossible to reach because his apartment is in a cell-phone dead zone, and he refuses to get a land line" Mr. Krugman opined. "This alone," he added, "has cost 10,000 manufacturing jobs in the Midwest."

Almost immediately after that editorial hit the stands, the press ran with the story. James K. Galbraith wrote, "He [me] is such a know-it-all…15,000 textile jobs gone." The Economist ran an article detailing how my insistence that the Beatles are underrated led to the loss of 67,000 jobs in the steel industry. And USA Today ran a pie chart showing that my habit of correcting people's grammar was the single biggest obstacle to job creation.

And it wasn't just the press: Greg Mankiw, the former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said, "I'm on record as stating offshore outsourcing is a 'good thing' and 'just a new way to do international trade.' But for that to be true, he [me] needs to stop monopolizing conversations at dinner parties. Then the positive effects of outsourcing could be seen." Former Treasury Secretary O'Neill said in an interview that even though President Obama is not doing everything that could be done, "things would not be so bad if he [me] would pay for dinner just once."

I can't quite figure out how I'm having such a big effect on the jobs market, but these people know a lot more about economics than I do, so I'm just going to have to take their word for it that I'm the jerk.

I sincerely apologize, Happy Labor Day.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Advanced Genius Theory: Hearts and Minds

Here is a nice example of someone embracing Advancement and finding some good stuff out there he might have missed otherwise:
More than any other contained period, Summer 2010 has been a musical exploratory explosion for me on a personal level. So much wonderful music abounds in the wings and unforeseen sharp corners. I do give credit where credit is due, so I'll admit that part of that is from having a roommate with good music taste. I have to give credit to Jason Hartley for his wonderful book "Advanced Genius Theory," which explores music made by stars that most people perceive as crap. (Lou Reed and Bob Dylan's careers during the eighties.) Anyway, in a nutshell the book says to take all music on a positive level from the beginning. Find what is good about it before you focus entirely on the bad. It's a wholly optimistic way of looking at music.

So this summer I started to open my mind to the fact that there is more out there than the handful of bands I couldn't go without. The songs on this week's playlist are reflections of that. They're the wonderful discoveries that eased the stress of a high-drama filled summer. For some people, music is the noise in their lives backgrounds. For me, music is my life's soundtrack. Occasionally bitter, often sweet, it's honest, true, and sounds fantastic. Summer 2010, I bid you adieu. It was entirely unique and special, and now that it's over, I have these songs to remember it by.
Go here to see what songs he's talking about.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

“On the Inevitable Decline...” : The New Yorker

“On the Inevitable Decline...” : The New Yorker

Title: On The Inevitable Decline Into Mediocrity of the Popular Musician Who Attains a Comfortable Middle Age

Poem: O Sting, where is thy death?

Remember that your poetry is not good enough for the New Yorker. Also, this is so Overt I can hardly stand it.