Tag Archives: Feature

Not Even Almost Famous

I’ve gotten quite a few emails over the past two days about the Todd Snider piece, some from long time fans glad to high-five another, some from people who hadn’t heard anything of his later stuff and were thankful for the kick in the ass (you’re welcome!).

Emails like that always put a smile on my face. Although I’ve been writing for years I’m not delusional enough to think that my words set off beacons across the globe. I’m not even almost famous. But I do know that a lot of people are followers and loyal readers; some comment publicly while others drop a private message. And I do it not for the money or the fame, but because this is just another format in which I get to discuss music and film and comedy that I like, just like I’ve done all my life with my friends.

And it’s a passion I will most likely take to my grave. I still participate in mixtape swaps and share tips about new discoveries. Emailing a link to a great video in 2011 is almost as much fun as showing up at Brian’s house with the first Black Sabbath album, or the day Phil, Larry and I sat around the living room at Bristol Place getting our minds blown by My Aim Is True.

I’ve gotten to talk to a lot of artists over the years, and with the better ones – the ones who have conversations, not just talk to plug product – the subject often turns to collecting music and favorite artists that are underappreciated. I’ve found that in almost every case, that spirit of discovery still looms large in their heart, and the child-like enthusiasm for sharing the passion has never left them.

I thought this exchange from a 2002 interview with Peter Wolf captures it about as well as it can be. Despite worldwide game, Pete still loves to have friends over and spin records in an effort to turn someone on to a new song or artist. He lives for it. Me too.

Peter: The thing is, I don’t consider myself a historian or a record collector. I just consider myself a fan. There are people who will expound on this or that, but I just consider myself a fan. I still go see bands do this or that, grab the new Beck record, keeping up and seeing what’s coming down the pike, be it The White Stripes or The Hives, or going to see James Cotton. I’m interested in all of it.

Me: Well, that’s like why I started writing. I had this need…it wasn’t so much that “I know more about music than you do and I’m going to write about it to prove it.” More that I dig music so much and I love to write about it in hopes that someone reads it and gets the charge that I’m getting. Maybe they’ve never heard of who I’m writing about but the way I describe it gets them interested, and they play a record that they wouldn’t have played, and they get that same…bolt that I did when I first heard it. And then they turn somebody else onto it, and it goes on from there. That’s the big thing. I don’t get that immediate feedback that an artist gets through applause, or the validation that might be measured in sales, sometimes it’s just out there in the void. Did anyone read that? Did anyone give a shit? Or did somebody’s life change because they picked up a John Hiatt record or a Del Lords record after I wrote about it and say “Oh my God…

Peter: Did you like the movie Almost Famous?

Me: I thought that was about my life.

Peter: Yeah, yeah…I was surprised that it wasn’t more popular than it was. I thought it really kind of focused in, for somebody who would be fifteen now, on a mythic era. Or for someone who’d be thirty-five now, or fifty-five! I thought it really captured…it was a sort of valentine to the whole love of music and the records and the sacredness of it, and the innocence of it. And the exploitation of it! I thought it was a really well put-together movie.

There’s a lot of people who bitch about the current state of music and how there aren’t any good bands anymore. I don’t think that’s true, but I do agree that the shifts in popular culture mean that many bands don’t have the outlet that they once did. There are probably some great bands trying to get a foothold, and the radio doesn’t care about them nor does the record industry. But somewhere, a bunch of people are groovin’ to them every Friday night.

So you have two choices. Bitch about the past and do nothing about it…and sound like your parents when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones came out. Or follow Peter Wolf’s example, and share your knowledge and your passion and your information as much as you can. Have an old school record party. Write a blog. Make some mixtapes.

Pay it forward.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Editorials, Music

At The Movies: First Take

And so it begins, again

The latest incarnation of the classic film review show is called Roger Ebert Presents: At The Movies, and the first episode hit the airwaves tonight, back on PBS stations where it belongs. The format is largely the same – two critics discussing films – although they have added some additional resources focusing on issues like classic cinema and film as social impact. And yes, those seats are once again in the balcony.

The critics are Christy Lemire (from the Associated Press) and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (Chicago Reader, blogger for Mubi.com). Skewing even younger than the roundly trounced Two Bens model, the rapport between the two seems comfortable, although time will always tell in that regard.

I immediately liked Lemire, who looks like a cross between Natalie Portman and Meredith Viera. She’s well-spoken, makes and defends her points well, and looks comfortable in the lead role. And I’ll play both sides of the gender coin by saying that it’s good to finally see a woman as a regular on this show, and she is as attractive as she is smart. I’m not yet sold on Iggy; he tends to tangent into a review of a different film in an effort to validate his points on the one he’s reviewing, and he sometimes doesn’t find his way back to close the loop.

They’re off to a funny start – he likes everything, she didn’t like anything.

The one side featurette was interesting, as Kim Morgan was shot in a hazy black-and-white motif discussing The Third Man. Her analysis touched on the famous score, the use of angles, lights and shadows, and (of course) Orson Welles and one of the most famous movie entrances in film history. Morgan’s review was probably the highlight of the show, and if the idea is having her discuss a classic film every episode, well…thumbs up from me.

Video: Kim Morgan on The Third Man

Lem made an odd comment afterwards (“she would not steer us wrong“) which made me wonder how an AP critic could have gone this long without having seen the film, but it was probably bad phrasing. And Welles made another appearance of sorts, as someone imitating his voice narrated a video that gave viewers a peek behind the scenes to meet “the new guys”, as it were.

Speaking of famous voices, much has been made about the part of the show where Roger will join in using a specific computer program that “speaks” hs voice as he types. In the course of his long career, Ebert has probably used every viable word in he English language, so inflection aside, this looked interesting. A few months ago a Youtube clip showed this process, but the heavily digitized voice sounded like Stephen Hawking; an electronic monotone just like you’ve heard from every talking computer in sci-fi history. I figured they were keeping the real thing under wraps for the show’s debut.

When the big moment arrived and Roger started to “speak”, I was horrified – “he sounds like Schwarzenegger!” I exclaimed. Thankfully the next words I heard were “this is Werner Herzog reading Roger’s words”. I don’t know if this idea is a placeholder while they continue to work on the Ebert voice application, or a creative decision to use guest narration, but I really hope it’s the latter. What better tribute for a great writer than to have a parade of actors, directors and other film giants bring them to life every week?

But idiosyncracies aside, I’m thrilled to have the program back on the air and look forward to watching it every Sunday. The closing credits included two nice touches – a clip of the original program’s intro featuring a very young Roger and Gene Siskel, and the production company’s title card with an animated Roger in an homage to Harry Lime’s famous entrance. And I will never tire of seeing this wonderful video that will open and/or close each episode.

Roger Ebert’s journal and website

At The Movies official website

Outguess Ebert – nail all 24 Oscar winners and win a share of $100.000!

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorials, Film/TV, Reviews

Stand Up Wit…Joan Rivers

I finally got to see the new Joan Rivers documentary, A Piece Of Work. While not a perfectly objective film – key people involved are her friends and she had suggestive input to the content – it paints what I believe to be a fairly honest picture of a driven artist who won’t take her hand off the throttle. Part of that drive is to maintain control and keep the cash flow coming in. Part of it is the fear that not doing so would make her irrelevant…but then she’s been fighting that battle since the beginning.

Since I’ve always known her as a comic first and foremost, I’m not certain just how many people perceive her more as the QVC hustler, the red carpet maniac or the poster child for plastic surgery. None of those are complimentary, but if  we learn anything from A Piece of Work it is that Joan will do just about anything for a paycheck. Of course, she sees it for what it is – a paycheck – and in fact the film opens with a shockingly vulgar routine about her daughter passing up just such an opportunity.

Through a combination of photos, clips and footage we get a high level overview of her career – the struggle to get started, the star-making opportunity with Johnny Carson (and the backlash when she launched her own show at Fox); her difficulties with and love for her family and how those ties both helped and hurt her chances. This isn’t a life arc, it was filmed as a year in the life, with anecdotes. While it’s done well, I was hoping for more focus on the backstory; certainly there are hundreds of people who could have provided recollections and insight. We do get a few talking heads, from Don Rickles and Kathy Griffin to staff and management people. Why so few?

Video: Official Movie Trailer

You’ll probably learn more about Joan Rivers by reading her books, but that’s her window. The documentarians neither canonize nor attack her, which allow you to see her insecurities as exactly what they are – fuel for the fire. Comedians have to deal with rejection every time they walk on stage. Rivers has dealt with so much throughout her life that it’s amazing she’s still in there punching. But then you see her take the stage, and it’s as if an appliance was suddenly plugged into a socket. She’s fearless and tireless, but most importantly, she’s funny.

Rivers is 77 years old, but her schedule would exhaust a soccer mom half her age. Her recent victory on Donald Trump’s boardroom reality show gave her some extensive network visibility, and a recent announcement has her starting a reality show with her daughter and grandson. This movie was nominated for Best Documentary by the Broadcast Critics and if the Academy follows suit with an Oscar nod, that’s another a couple of months of top rung publicity. There are some painful moments in the film dealing with loneliness and rejection (both personally and professionally); it would be nice to see her get the recognition she deserves and have her name once again be primarily associated with comedy.

Go see the film – but also go see the legend herself.

Official website for the film

Joan Rivers’ official website

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Film/TV, Reviews

Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #9

Normally when a band gives itself four stars, it’s unwarranted. Not this time.

Craig Fox, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler might have been on hiatus from The Greenhornes, but they’ve been actively peppering your album collection as members of The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs or backing up Loretta Lynn with Jack White on Van Lear Rose. You can have the Animal Collective; I’ll take Brendan Benson, Jack White and the collaborative Venn diagram between Cincinnati and Detroit that’s released some of the most vibrant music of the decade.

Their marriage of 60s blues rock and garage pop is revered in the same circles that bow to The Lyres, The Chesterfield Kings and a serious chunk of the Underground Garage playlist. Basically anyone with a solid rock’n’roll pulse.

Video: “I’ve Been Down”

Eight years after their last album release, the boys are (finally) back in town, and Four Stars kicks ass from jump street. While “Saying Goodbye” blends the early Who (right down to the Keith Moon drum fills) and The Kinks, the standout is the organ-drenched “Better Off Without It”. My immediate first impression, oddly, was Wilco circa Being There; a pure garage-pop-psychedelia-blues hybrid that makes me turn up the volume and hit the replay button again and again and again. And my god…Craig Fox’s voice?

Easily one of the best songs of the year – listen for yourself!

Yet another example of the great music sailing under most people’s radar. If you’re not already hooked into these guys, catch up now and stay focused.

The Greenhornes website

The Greenhornes on MySpace

Jack White’s Third Man Records

Lost a few people over the past week; Hall of Famer Bob Feller, Captain Beefheart and Blake Edwards. And yesterday, sadly, Steve Landesberg lost his battle with cancer. I recently paid tribute to the man on his birthday, but like just about everyone, I had no idea that he fudged his age until today.

So a belated 76th birthday, Steve, not a 65th. RIP regardless.

2 Comments

Filed under Music, Reviews

Awards Time Again

Tomorrow is December 1st, a date that wakes up even the most lethargic among us to signal that The End Is Near! Of the year, anyway.

And with the end of a calendar year starts the cycle or awards, lists and kudos as entertainment organizations pat themselves on the back and critics try to rewind and review the outstanding efforts of the past twelve months. Every year it seems like the award ceremonies multiply like rabbits. And while I respect and have interest in several of them, you can count the first tier on one hand. At the top is the Academy Awards, with the Golden Globes slightly behind. Slightly behind are the NY and LA Film Critics Association along with the biggest up-and-comer of recent years, the Independent Spirit Awards (which eschews the Titanics of the world and focuses on the smaller efforts).

No disrespect to the many other cities presenting awards, but NY and LA are the face cards in this deck, the honors that bring the biggest recognition and influence the voting for the aforementioned two majors. And someday soon the Online Film Critics Association will be just as important, because let’s face it – the print media is a shell of its former shell.

This year’s Oscars will be hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway, proving that even a veteran industry knows it has to market to a new generation. I would much prefer the humor and irreverence of Ricky Gervais or Eddie Izzard – even one final rodeo for Billy Crystal – but I’m sure the pair will do a decent job. But if anyone besides Jon Hamm hosts The Emmys, I will plotz.

For those of you who enjoy these ceremonies like I do, here’s a list of upcoming events starting with tonight’s list of nominees for the Independent Spirit Awards.

  • Nov. 30 Film Independent Spirit Award nominations announced
  • 

  • Dec. 1 Academy Awards official screen credits forms due
  • Dec. 2 National Board of Review announces winners
  • Dec. 3 British Independent Film Awards
  • Dec. 3 International Documentary Association Awards
  • Dec. 11 Boston Film Critics announces winners
  • Dec. 12 AFI honorees announced
  • Dec. 12 Los Angeles Film Critics Association announces winners
  • Dec. 13 New York Film Critics Circle announces winners
  • Dec. 13 Broadcast Film Critics Association nominations announced
  • Dec. 14 Golden Globe nominations announced
  • Dec. 14 San Diego Critics Association announces winners
  • Dec. 15 Toronto Critics Association announces winners
  • Dec. 16 Screen Actors Guild Award nominations announced
  • Dec. 18 Houston Critics Association winners announced
  • Dec. 19 Satellite Awards
  • Dec. 20 Chicago Critics Association winners announced
  • Jan. 3 Online Film Critics Society winners announced
  • Jan. 4 Producers Guild of America nominations
  • Jan. 4 Writers Guild of America nominations
  • Jan. 8 Palm Springs International Film Festival
  • Jan. 10 Directors Guild of America nominations announced
  • Jan. 11 National Board of Review ceremony
  • Jan. 14 BFCA Critics’ Choice Awards winners announced
  • Jan. 14 AFI Awards
  • Jan. 15 L.A. Film Critics Association Awards ceremony
  • Jan. 16 Golden Globe Awards
  • Jan. 18 BAFTA nominations announced
  • Jan. 22 Producers Guild Awards
  • Jan. 25 Oscar nominations announced
  • Jan. 27 Santa Barbara International Film Festival
  • Jan. 28 Visual Effects Society Awards
  • Jan. 29 Directors Guild of America Awards
  • Jan. 30 Screen Actors Guild Awards
  • Feb. 2 Costume Designers Guild Awards
  • Feb. 5 Writers Guild Awards
  • Feb. 5 Art Directors Guild Awards
  • Feb. 5 Annie Awards
  • Feb. 12 Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation
  • Feb. 13 BAFTAs
  • Feb. 26 Independent Spirit Awards
  • Feb. 26 NAACP Image Awards
  • Feb. 27 83rd Academy Awards (2011 Oscars)

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorials, Film/TV

T.G.I.F. – Ten Smiles of the Week

Barry Levinson’s great film Diner remains one of my favorite movies, ever. Wonderful cast – Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, Paul Reiser, Kevin Bacon and many more – and although the coming of age story predates my own, I can identify with the feeling of juggling hope and hopelessness one encounters when transitioning into a more responsible life. Music geeks will identify with Shrieve; his obsessive knowledge of the tiniest fragment of information on a record, his frustration when his wife can’t follow his complicated system and misfiles his albums after playing them.

Bacon plays an irreverent, drunken guy who just doesn’t take anything seriously; he’s in it for the laughs. When something great happens, he often declares that it’s the “smile of the week“.

I’ll take a slight liberty with his phrase for my TGIF theme this week and list ten things that brought a smile to my face during a week when I really needed it. So enjoy these Ten Smiles Of The Week

(01) Australian comic genius Jim Jefferies

(02) Gov’t Mule playing Neil Young‘s Rockin’ In The Free World

(03) What Tina Fey really said during the Mark Twain Award ceremony.

(04) Rich Vos killing at the Jim Florentine Roast

(05) The Futon Critic‘s list of remaining TV episodes.

Great album!

(06) Brendan Benson and The Posies playing “September Gurls

(07) Newly revised NFL logos (don’t miss page 2 as well)

(08) How to make millions…by farming!

(09) Titus Welliver, who makes any show better just by being in it.

(10) Daniel Stern and Ellen Barkin in that scene from Diner.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Film/TV, Music

R.I.P. Not Lame Recordings

The mark of quality

This is a very sad day for music lovers everywhere.

After more than fifteen years of bringing the best pop music bands from around the globe to the doorstep of pop music lovers, Bruce Brodeen has announced that he will close the doors, both real and virtual, at Not Lame Recordings. Both a label and a distributor, Not Lame was synonymous with powerpop music and its related archetypes, and the shop for any serious powerpop fan.

Video: Bruce’s closing message

I was first turned on to Not Lame by Gail McGear of The Poptarts who I knew from my Syracuse days. She was over the moon about discovering a company that seemed to have been designed just for her, featuring a treasure trove of powerpop bands both familiar and obscure. I quickly found that she was not exaggerating one bit, and like her, I told others that shared the same passion for music. What made it special was that the guy who ran it was as big of a pop geek as I was. His enthusiastic blurbs about the various bands communicated that same joy that their music did. The phrase extremely highly recommended became a permanent part of the lexicon.

I first met Bruce in person over a decade ago during a business trip to Colorado. We had a casual online relationship from emailing back and forth a few times, and getting together for a beer turned into a lengthy conversation about music and an invitation to tour Not Lame headquarters (translation – hanging out at his house for a little bit). If the wall to wall stacks of CDs didn’t tip you off, his energy and enthusiasm made it clear that here was a man who found the perfect situation. And for a long time, despite the hard work it was never work to Bruce – I knew he felt blessed to be in the position he was in.

From that day forward, Bruce and I were simpatico.

What started out as a simple paper catalogue morphed into a magazine-sized brochure and eventually a fully functional website with bios, sound clips and recommendations. I would have to type all night to list the bands I discovered through Bruce’s company, and I have had several musicians tell me over the years that the exposure they got from distributing through Not Lame not only made them more money but helped build a fanbase that enabled them to continue to tour and record. Not Lame released brand new music on its own label but also issued lost archives from classic regional bands and coordinated the cream of the powerpop stable for brilliant tribute albums. Their box sets were first-rate productions that rivalled the output from the major labels. Not Lame, although small in size, was a player.

Read about Not Lame’s history.

But as anyone who has a pulse knows, the music industry all but collapsed over the past decade, impacting small businesses even harder than the big conglomerates. Over the years there were many times where others would have pulled the plug and walked away. Piracy through high-speed disc copying and illegal downloads became both commonplace and easy to do. Tough economic times kept money in wallets – if there was any money to keep – and events that would bring attention to these bands scaled down. Competition arose, of course, and the ability for bands to host and facilitate their own transactions through social media and technological advances caused many to not see a need for a vendor in the relationship. All of these things led to dwindling sales and less frequent purchases. (I know this firsthand, as my own orders trickled to once, maybe twice, each year.)

But Bruce felt a loyalty to both his customers and the bands that were counting on him. A good businessman, Bruce is also a true die-hard fan of the music, and that emotional investment probably kept him in the game a lot longer than had he been a CEO reading a balance sheet with antipathy. So he made adjustments, moving away from expensive and risky label projects and focusing on distribution and community cultivation. But even through his best efforts, there just wasn’t enough of a consistent, dependable market to maintain the business, let alone grow it.

So now it is time to move on. Not Lame will close, but Bruce will channel his passion and business smarts into a new project. He’s already helped lauch the Rock and Roll Tribe, and you can click here to sign up for information about Pop Geek Heaven, and get ready to start that brand new journey in 2011. And as long as Bruce is involved, I know it will be a worthwhile adventure.

I’m all in.

Still time to place some final Not Lame orders

8 Comments

Filed under Editorials, Music