Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cool Music for a Sunday Afternoon

Here is the great John Coltrane Quartet from a TV appearance in 1963. That's Coltrane on sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, Elvin Jones on drums, and well-known jazz critic Ralph Gleason digging it all from the sidelines. The tune is the Mongo Santamaria composition "Afro Blue."

Thinking of Warmer Climes

As the temperature begins its slow descent here in Dillon (actually, not so slow-- it seems like we went from highs in the sixties to the thirties without any intermediate steps), I'm remembering warmer spots like Santa Monica. Here are three pictures taken on my last visit there in March.

I really like the pier at Santa Monica-- there's an old midway there with rides and souvenir shops and restaurants, with a great view of the ocean and surrounding beach.

This is actually the Venice pier, a little ways east of Santa Monica. Certainly looks like a nice spot to sit and read a book or catch some sun. I wonder when I'll get back there?

Sunday Funnies

I always enjoyed Linus's commitment to the Great Pumpkin. Too bad that there seem to be more people like Lucy in the world these days. Or maybe that's just the curmudgeon in me coming out.

A Sunday Quote

Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) was one of the great American intellectuals of the nineteenth century, no doubt because she followed her own advice:

"Be what you would seem to be - or, if you'd
like it put more simply - a house is no home
unless it contains food and fire for the mind
as well as the body."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tom T. Hall Rules!

I partly picked this clip because it reminds me what it was like to listen to vinyl records (lots of pops and clicks), but also because it's such a great song by the wonderful Tom T. Hall. Be sure to listen all the way to the end for a great final punchline in the spoken outro...

My Houseguest

My friend Bill found a stray cat a few days ago and while he tries to find it a permanent home, he asked me to take care of it. I agreed, mostly because I spotted a mouse a few days ago and I figured she'd catch him or scare him away. But it hasn't been easy, as it turns out I'm allergic to the little gal. Naturally, I don't know her name, but I've been calling her Marlowe after the cat owned by Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye, mainly because she's always hungry, just like her movie counterpart. She's very affectionate, but every time I pet her, or let her climb up on my lap, I end up with puffy eyes, sneezes, and itchy hands, so this won't be a long-term relationship. If any one reading this lives in or near Dillon and would like a nice cat, let me know.

Saturday Morning Cartoon

Here's a cartoon I had completely forgotten about-- Dick Tracy. But after stumbling across this episode on YouTube, it all came back to me (especially the villain Flattop). This is much more antic than the comic strip, in keeping with the tastes of its Saturday morning audience, no doubt. Check it out:

Quote of the Day

I tend to think that H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) generally expressed a clear-eyed view of reality, though it often came across as acerbic or pessimistic. You'll see what I mean from this statement:

"It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything.
I am strongly in favor of common sense, common
honesty, and common decency. This makes me
forever ineligible for public office."

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cool Music

I just picked up the last album by the Seattle band Visqueen called Message to Garcia (there's a Western New York link in that title; anyone know what it is?). Here's a live version of the first cut off the lp:

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

In the image above, processed through a couple of distorting filters, there are five (really, five) figures visible. Can you name them all? Put your guesses in the comments section.

Last week, I asked where a picture of Tom and Sara was taken, and who was lurking behind them. We have a split winner, as Lil Sis correctly guessed that Ben was behind them, and Mom recognized the Niagara River as the background. Make sure you guess on this week's quiz, and encourage others to play too!

Soup Diary 101029

When I was in Bozeman a few days ago I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a Baja Fresh Mexican restaurant had recently opened there. Some of you may recall that a few years back I discovered that the Chicken Tortilla Soup offered by Baja Fresh, at outlets I visited in Los Angeles and Seattle, was outstanding. In fact, it was by far the best soup I've ever had at a chain restaurant. So, needless to say, I stopped at the Bozeman shop. When I first came in and perused the menu, I was immediately crestfallen: no soup was listed on the big board behind the cash register. I had just resigned myself to the prospect of a taco lunch (good, but not the same) when I noticed a flyer posted on the front of the register: "Introducing: Chicken Tortilla Soup." Saved! I ordered a bowl (it only comes in one size and my taste buds began to bead with anticipation. When my food arrived (I actually added a couple tacos to make a meal), I was somewhat taken aback. In the other Baja Freshes (Bajas Fresh?) I'd frequented, the soup came as it appears in the picture above, in a cardboard cup. But in Bozeman it comes in a wide, deep plastic bowl, and no lie, there must've been close to a quart of soup in there with not one but five slices of avacado (one of the highlights of this concoction. Woo hoo, score! So I was on a real winning streak, right? New Baja Fresh in Bozeman, yes! They carry the soup, Yes! It comes in monster size, YES! But the story, somewhat unfortunately, does not end there. Despite the plentiful avacado, the soup was kind of bland. Maybe at a new outlet like this one, they hadn't quite mastered the special recipe employed at other locations. Or maybe, because I was eating an early lunch around 11:15, it hadn't had time to cook down enough to release all the flavor I remembered. So in the end, a mild disappointment, but only mild. I'll go back next time in Bozeman, a little later in the day perhaps, and fully expect soup nirvana. In fact, it will probably take three or four less-than-stellar bowls before I give up on it, because I know what it can be, and I crave that experience again. In fact, I'm expecting to be in Seattle next month, and I'll probably make my way to the Baja Fresh there-- and they have established a track record of quality, so it shouldn't be too long before that savory broth is flowing down my throat again, even if it's in the smaller portions I'm used to. After all, even a little taste of heaven goes a long way.

More Friday Family Blogging

Sorry if this is a repeat. I found this in my file of photos I'm working on PhotoShop, so if I did post it before, it may not have looked like this. That's Ben amongst the bulrushes (or something like bulrushes).

Friday Family Blogging

Maria and Sara horsing around. I can't believe this was taken over three years ago. I wonder if I'll recognize the girls when I see them next month (it's been a year since I was out to visit).

Friday Philosophy

Jane Addams (1860-1935) was one of the most prominent progressive activists of late nineteenth/early twentieth century. She is best known as the founder of Hull House in Chicago, a settlement house that provided a wide range of services to the immigrant community. I guess this statement pretty much sums up her philosophy:

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious
and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and
incorporated into our common life.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Early Love

This isn't the greatest work by the L.A. band Love (that would be the material-- yes, all of it-- on their classic album Forever Changes), but it was their first hit. Groups like the Byrds and Doors were contemporaries on the Sunset Strip, and though they are more famous, Love deserves to be mentioned in the same breath (I think, anyway):

The Last Movie I Saw

I'm starting to wonder if there's anything in the long history of cinema that can possible match the totally unexpected awesomeness (and I mean that in the undiluted, pre-Spicoli sense) of Clint Eastwood's late stage directorial career. The man was always a fine entertainer, both behind and in front of the camera, but I can't imagine anyone would have predicted what has to be the most sublime run of movies produced by any individual filmmaker over the past fifteen or twenty years. I'd argue that even his earliest directorial efforts betrayed a clear willingness to stretch himself thematically (Play Misty for Me, Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man), even if his abilities weren't quite on a par with his ambitions. That clearly is no longer the case, and Hereafter is just the latest piece of evidence. It's not that the movie is without flaws (the ending is a bit contrived), but the construction of the film-- its deliberate pace and thoughtful execution-- make that almost irrelevant to its ultimate impact. The subject-- what happens after we die-- is potentially a bleak one, especially since Eastwood and writer Peter Morgan do not approach the premise from a religious or fantasy perspective (which is not to say those elements are entirely absent). But the care that goes into expressing the emotional need of the protagonists (of three ultimately intertwined stories) to come to terms with the connection between life and afterlife proceeds so calmly as to allow the viewer to absorb and process the ideas without being distracted by arbitrary or artificial dramatic highlights. Just a really, really good movie that may be worlds away from The Outlaw Josie Wales, but is just as satisfying if you give it the chance.

Yet Another Captain Renault Moment

I'm shocked-- shocked!-- to discover that the main push behind the adoption of Arizona's draconian immigration law came from private business interests that saw an opportunity to make a lot of money from its enforcement. NPR reveals as much in this investigation.

By the way, if you don't know the reference in the heading to Captain Renault, check out this short video clip from the classic movie, Casablanca (Captain Renault is the character with the whistle):

A Thought for Thursday

Here's something to think about from the theologian-philosopher Reinhold Neibuhr (1892-1971), one of the most prominent public intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century:

"The preservation of a democratic civilization requires
the wisdom of the serpent and the harmlessness of the
dove. The children of light must be armed with the
wisdom of the children of darkness but remain free
from their malice. They must know the power of self-
interest in human society without giving it moral
justification. They must have this wisdom in order
that they may beguile, deflect, harness and restrain
self-interest, individual and collective, for the sake
of the community."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cool Song

Here's a song off my favorite Dolly Parton album, The Grass is Blue from about ten years ago. This was something of a return to her roots after years of Hollywood and Nashville pop moves. Check it out:

Three Photos: Las Vegas

Here are three more photos taken on my last trip to Las Vegas. The first is the scene at the Peppermill Restuarant at about 3:00 am (the place was hopping!). By the way, the place really does have a reddish/purplish glow to it-- that's part of its charm.

This is the futuristic walkway outside of Bally's Casino, leading down to the Strip. I think this is the only place that I've ever seen a moving sidewalk outside of an airport.

The blur of traffic on Tropicana Ave. racing by New York New York and Excalibur. This was taken around 5:00 am-- another example of the city that never sleeps (the the sidewalk is suspiciously empty).

Quote of the Day

The World Series starts today, so I chose this line from the venerable poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) for today's quote:

"I see great things in baseball. It's our
game - the American game. It will take
our people out-of-doors, fill them with
oxygen, give them a larger physical
stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being
a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these
losses, and be a blessing to us."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Video Followup

Well, lo and behold, the song composed by Jeff Tweedy and performed by Mavis Staples which prompted the quote I posted earlier today actually has a video on YouTube. So here it is:

This Week's Top Five

There's a fairly lengthy introduction to this one on the recording, so without further ado...

Today's Quotation

Sometime back, I featured a week's worth of quotes about music, and today I read something that deserves to stand with any of those comments artists and philosophers who spanned the centuries. This was something Jeff Tweedy of the great contemporary band Wilco said in a recent interview with Mojo magazine (it was actually a dual interview with Tweedy and Mavis Staples, whose new album he produced), and it really rings true to me:

"... my theory [is] that all music basically says
the same thing, which is: you're not alone. Even
a kid in his room listening to the most abrasive
punk rock or heavy metal, what they're really
getting out of it is, 'We're in this with you.' Some-
where down deep there's a communication
happening that's sustaining..."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Battle of the Bands Tune

I have to admit that I'm not really much of a Yes fan. But this song is kind of catchy, and it did win a Round One contest on the Battle of the Bands unfolding on Dr. John's Record Shelf, so here they are...

Doonesbury Anniversary

Doonesbury is one of my favorite comic strips, and in fact one of the greatest strips of all time (I know it made the top ten in the poll conducted by The Comics Journal a few years back). This year Garry Trudeau's creation is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and various tributes are starting to pile up. I thought I would mention that you can find a list of the strips 200 greatest moments ( the best, most significant, most memorable of its long run-- including the classic seen above) at this site. If you are as big a fan as I am, you'll probably remember most of these from when you first read them; if you aren't familiar with Trudeau's work, then this will serve as a wonderful introduction.

Battle of the Bands Update

The Guess Who

Round One of the Battle of the Bands on Dr. John's Record Shelf continued last night, with The Guess Who (seeded no. 3) knocking off Genesis (14), while Yes (11) scored an upset over T. Rex (6). Our goal is to ultimately determine the greatest British (or Commonwealth) band of the era 1960 to 1974, and we're more than halfway through the first round.


The songs in competition last night were "No Time" by the Guess Who, "Roundabout" by Yes, "Bang a Gong" by T. Rex, and "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" by Genesis.

This week's winners join the Kinks, Badfinger, the Bee Gees, Jethro Tull, the Band, the Troggs, the Easybeats, Buffalo Springfield, Free, Manfred Mann, the Rolling Stones, Mott the Hoople, The Who, Sweet, the Moody Blues, and the Tremeloes in moving into the next round. If you'd like to cast a vote for upcoming pairings, you can find the full brackets here, here, here, and here (just leave a comment here with your selections-- you can vote for some or all of the pairs).

Thought for the Day

I know many people would prefer that actors and musicians and other artists would just butt out of politics. I happen to think we should want to hear the views of creative, talented people. It doesn't mean that you always have to take them seriously. But in this instance, I think Orson Welles (1915-1985) was on to something with this comment:

"Popularity should be no scale for the election
of politicians. If it would depend on popularity,
Donald Duck and The Muppets would take
seats in senate."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Classic Country

The Stanley Brothers, Ralph and Carter, were giants of country music, though they were never big stars in terms of mass market success. Hard to believe in light of the success enjoyed by the various "hat" acts out there today. But this stuff is the real deal:

The Last Book I Read

I tend to lean, in my personal tastes, towards the alternative side of things: alternative music, independent film, abstract art, maverick journalism, etc. It never occurred to me, but the roots of that may be in my formative years as a sports fan, since I grew up on the American Football League and was a big fan of the American Basketball Association when each was challenging the hegemony of a more established league. In the case of the latter, it was kind of hard following teams like the Kentucky Colonels and Virginia Squires while living in what, at the time, was an NBA city (Buffalo-- though I was a Braves fan, too). It just seemed, from basketball cards and the few brief glimpses I got of their games, that the ABA was much more colorful, and not just because of their red, white and blue ball. I was intrigued by players like Artis Gilmore, Willie Wise, Mack Calvin, Zelmo Beaty, and Louie Dampier-- I mean, those names alone made them seem flashy to me (more so than more dully-named NBA stalwarts like Bob Kaufman, Walt Frazier, and Dave Cowens). But when the ABA folded in the mid-seventies, it was like they disappeared forever, though several of the teams were absorbed into the NBA, as were virtually all of the league's best players. So when I spotted Terry Pluto's oral history of the ABA, Loose Balls, I was excited to revisit those years when I actually cared about things like the three-point shot (invented by the ABA). The book is good, not great, and doesn't quite live up to the cover blurbs promising a broader traipse through the cultural landscape of the seventies. But one certainly gets a good idea of what it was like to play in a rebel league, and the machinations the owners and managers went through to keep the operation afloat for about ten years. In fact, the greatest strength of the book is in how it reveals the incredible risks inherent in running a professional sports team on the cheap (one indication of this is that only three teams played in the same cities every year the ABA was in existence). The other, more inspiring, message is how the players pulled together-- many of them denied a shot at the NBA for arbitrary reasons (too small. too young, etc.)-- and took great pride in proving themselves the equal of their NBA counterparts (which was very evident the year after the merger, when the NBA All-Star teams were dominated by former ABA players). In the end, it's not a great sports book-- it never transcends it's narrative, making it a likely tough go if you don't already have a fair amount of affinity for the subject. But for me it was a revealing trip down memory lane, and I'm glad someone made the effort to collect and share these stories.

Sunday Funnies

Doonesbury is pretty good today, and timely with the upcoming election. I know (and understand why) voters are frustrated, but I wish they'd actually think about how things got this way instead of being swayed by those who just want to fan the anger. Change can be a good thing, but it doesn't guarantee anything-- especially if it's motivated by ignorance.

A Sunday Quote

Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) was an American minister from the pre-Civil War period. Mostly remembered now as the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom's Cabin), he was a pretty influential figure in his own time. Here's a line of his that gives an idea of his thinking:

“Never chase a lie. Let it alone, and
it will run itself to death. I can work
out a good character much faster
than anyone can lie me out of it”

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cool Song

This was my favorite song off the last album by the New Pornographers, Together; and here they are doing it live. Check it out:

Three Pictures: Fall Foliage

I drove up to Bozeman today to do some shopping, and stopped along the way to get a few pictures of the autumn leaves changing along the banks of the Jefferson River.

These were taken just south of a little crossroads called Silver Star, looking east toward the Tobacco Root Mountains. It was kind of overcast, which accounts somewhat for the bluish tinge in the mountains (the sun was just rising up from behind them).

By the way, the new logo at the head of the blog is also from this sequence of shots, looking upriver from the same spot where I took this last one looking downriver (the Jefferson is one of the three rivers that converge about forty miles from this spot to form the mighty Missouri).

Saturday Morning Cartoon

Directed by the inimitable Tex Avery (those of you old enough will recognize his over-the-top style even if you don't remember that name), here's a classic Droopy Dog cartoon from the 1940s-- so classic that this was still popping up frequently on the cartoon shows I watched on TV 20-30 years later:

Saturday's Quote

One of my favorite novelists is the Chilean Roberto Bolano (1953-2003). This line will give you some idea of what makes his work so compelling, but certainly has broader implications than that:

"But every single damn thing matters!
Only we don't realize. We just tell ourselves
that art runs on one track and life, our lives,
on another, and we don't realize that's a lie."

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Great Movie

It's got plenty of competition, but this may be the best sequence from my favorite movie of the past thirty years, Local Hero, directed by Bill Forsyth. It's the story of a mid-level Texas oil executive (played by Peter Riegert) who goes to a remote part of Scotland to buy a scenic bay where a processing terminal is to be built. Of course, that description only hints at what the movie is really about, but you'll get a strong sense of its richness from this five-minute clip-- hopefully it will make you go find a copy of the whole movie to watch:

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

Continuing our Rosiek theme, here's a nice picture of Sara and Tom that prompts two questions: where was it taken, and who was standing behind the couple before I cropped this? Place your guesses in teh comments section.

Two weeks ago I wondered where a picture of Gerik was taken, and his mom nailed it: Theresa and Dan's backyard. Congrats to Lizzie. But let's see if I can get more than two guesses this week, huh?

Soup Diary 101022

A few words about buffets: they are almost always disappointing. The appeal, of course, is that you can really fill up on a lot of different dishes-- you really don't have to decide on just one thing to eat. In Las Vegas, all the casinos have buffets, some of which are pretty fancy, offering all kinds of exotic items. But in the end, they are almost always disappointing. The reason is because it is virtually impossible to just stick to the good stuff, as the temptation is too strong to try a bit of everything and inevitably very little of it lives up to expectations, and by then you're too full to go back and have a little more of the stuff you liked. In fact, my experience is that the salad bars tend to be the best part of the buffet, because they're hard to mess up. After our visit to Red Rocks Canyon, Bill and I stopped at a new casino/resort on the western edge of the city to check out the buffet. It certainly had a nice clean atmosphere, and as usual, a couple of things were pretty good (the roast turkey, for example, was fresh out of the oven, and they had some really nice calzones in the Italian section) but while I left full, I wasn't really all that satisfied-- not like the Ellis Island dinner I wrote about yesterday. Actually, one of the highlights turned out to be the soup. They had New England Clam Chowder (which I don't like) and Chicken Noodle, which, under the circumstances, had every reason to be very ordinary at best. But in fact it was very hearty, with huge chunks of chicken (bigger than any I spotted in the chicken enchilada from the Mexican station) which were more plentiful than the noodles, a real (positive) oddity. You know, that soup might just be enough for me to give in and go back to a buffet next time I'm down there, even though I usually find myself swearing them off immediately after every visit.

More Friday Family Blogging

Here's another shot from that aforementioned New York trip (last post). Here are Tom, Sally & Natalie on the ferry to Ellis Island.

Friday Family Blogging

Back in the summer of 2007, I traveled to New York City with the Rosieks, and we had breakfast in this bright cafe somewhere on Sixth Avenue in midtown. Do any of you in the picture remember this?

Friday Philosophy

This comes from a fella named Theodor Geisel (1904-1993), though many of you might recognize him instead by his pen name: Dr. Seuss:

"I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.
Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living,
it's a way of looking at life through the wrong
end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and
that enables you to laugh at life's realities."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Classic Luna

Here's a video of the late lamented band Luna, who broke up about five years ago, but certainly linger in my memory. Luckily Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips still perform (I just picked up their new CD 13 Most Beautiful, comprised of tracks to back some screen tests shot by Andy Warhol, which is pretty good too). Check it out:

Soup Diary 101021

You know that, with the wide array of restaurants at our disposal in Las Vegas, that I was going to sample some of the local soups, right? On our first day we went to Ellis Island Hotel and Casino, a kind of a divey place off the strip that seems to cater mostly to locals. Despite it's less than glamorous facade, it houses one of the best restaurants in the city, renowned for both the quality of the food and the extremely low prices (maybe they figure on people saving enough on their meal that they'll be tempted to hit the gaming tables afterwards-- that did not work with us, by the way). One of their primo deals is a full steak dinner for like six bucks, and it is a steal. It comes with soup or salad, and naturally I went with the former, which on this visit was chili bean. Now in most places, chili bean is just watered down chili, but at Ellis Island, it's actually something of a treat. True, it was more brothy than a true bowl of chili, but that broth was outstanding, rich and beefy, so that you hardly noticed the relative absence of beans or veggies to thicken things up. Followed by steak, mashed potatoes and gravy with green beans, and some peach cobbler for dessert (ala mode of course), this was a truly first rate meal-- not exactly gourmet, perhaps, but I can't imagine enjoying the fare at some fancier place any more than this.

Three Pictures- Black and White Vegas

These three photos were taken on the plaza in front of the Bellagio Hotel. The Bellagio is famous for its water show-- loud music with coordinated jets of water shooting into the air. It's cheap entertainment, and draws a big crowd, some of which you see above.

If you can ignore the lights and traffic of Las Vegas Blvd, just a few feet away, you can sort of imagine you are hanging out near a pool in some fancy Italian garden on a warm summer evening. But, frankly, it's pretty hard to maintain the illusion for more than a few seconds.

Okay, I know this isn't actually black and white, but I'm thrilled with the way it turned out. These are folks strolling through the plaza with the streetlights casting some great shadows.

Thought for the Day

Something to keep in mind as the election season heats up over the next couple of weeks. This is courtesy of that noted political commentator Groucho Marx (1895-1977):

"Politics is the art of looking for trouble,
finding it everywhere, diagnosing it
incorrectly and applying the
wrong remedies."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Funny Scene

I got a lot of laughs out of the TV show Cheers over the years it was on (originally, and then again in syndication). I don't think any were bigger than those elicited by this classic scene, when regular Cliff Claven returned to the bar after a brief stay in the hospital:

Red Rocks

On our recent trip to Las Vegas, my friend Bill and I spent about half a day wandering around Red Rocks Canyon, just west of the city. Here are a few pictures I took while there.

There's some starkly beautiful landscapes in the park, which is mostly desert in the center, by ringed by the titular rocks, as seen in these shots. The interplay of light, shadow and color make it a great place to take pictures.

One of the interesting things about Red Rocks is that it is close enough tot he city that people bike out to ride its trails. We passed dozens of folks on their two wheelers as we drove out, but once we got there, it was easy to wander away from any crowds to just enjoy the natural wonders.

I'm still in the process of going through the hundreds of pictures I took on the trip. No doubt I'll eventually post some more from Red Rocks as I get a chance to review them all.

The Last Movie I Saw

I can trace my interest in film as something more than mere entertainment back to a series produced by the critic Richard Schickel for PBS back in the early seventies called The Men Who Made the Movies. In that series, Schickel interviewed a number of the greatest directors from Hollywood's Golden Age (a few of whom were still active at that time), including Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, Raoul Walsh, John Ford, and several others. Each episode traced the course of one man's career, with plenty of clips and attention to the common themes that ran through their work. Later, I would learn this was an auteurist approach to the subject of movies; that is, a strong director, whether he actually wrote the script or not, exercised the greatest influence over how a film turned out and their work could be recognized by certain signature elements that were somewhat consistent from one project to the next. Not every filmmaker was an auteur, but those who were, were largely responsible for the greatest movies ever made. It's easy to see how such a series could emerge from the early seventies, as that was in many ways the second Golden Age of strong directors. Guys like Ford and Hawks made their reputations in the thirties and forties; the 1970s saw a younger generation of guys like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Bob Rafelson, and lots more reassert that strong directorial voice in the best films of their generation. Sadly, the movie industry has moved away from a system that promotes that level of artistry-- not totally, but in large measure-- and so today's auteurs, especially in relation to big budget studio projects as opposed to small independent features, are few and far between. One of the exceptions is David Fincher, the director of The Social Network and before that, movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Zodiac, Fight Club, and Seven. If you know those movies, you know that each features a character or characters struggling to figure out how they fit into a world that is largely alien to them. The Social Network, based on the story of the founding of the Facebook internet community, may be Fincher's definitive statement on that theme. What's most remarkable about the movie (and a mark of Fincher's other work) is how the strong characterizations propel the story forward. In this case, that's essential, since the narrative "action" revolves largely around guys sitting at a computer terminal and typing. Yet the film is nonetheless exciting, because Fincher has mastered the art of depicting the inherent tension and conflict that exists in so much interpersonal communication; or, in the absence of such communication, the even greater skill of visually depicting the internal struggles of his characters. It helps that he has access to talented actors like Jesse Eisenberg here, but the fact that these traits are in evidence across his body of work strongly suggests this as the defining characteristic Fincher's autuerism, as much as Frank Capra's commitment to homespun individualism or Hawks' to his characters focus on getting a job done (not their only traits, of course, but certainly among their strongest). It's gratifying to know that it is still possible for someone working in the mainstream to aspire to and actually create great movies that reflect such strong personal visions, no less than what we expect from a a great painter or novelist. I may have written this before (after seeing Benjamin Button), but Fincher has solidified his spot on my very short list of directors whose work I'll go see regardless of what it's about, since I know he's going to make it both compelling to watch and intellectually stimulating.

A Wednesday Quote

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was an English philosopher, a contemporary of Shakespeare's (and one of the candidate's offered as the actual author of the latter's work). Here's something that he produced under his own name:

"He that gives good advice, builds with one
hand; he that gives good counsel and example,
builds with both; but he that gives good
admonition and bad example, builds with
one hand and pulls down with the other."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Boy, Do I Like This Song

When Sleater-Kinney broke up a few years ago it was a sad day for rock and roll. But now Corin Tucker has returned to recording after taking time off to raise her kid, and the results make the long wait seem almost worthwhile (Janet Weiss continues to make good music with Quasi, while Carrie Brownstein apparently has something coming out soon too). This is just one of my new favorites off the album 1,000 Years by the Corin Tucker Band:

Another Captain Renault Moment

I'm shocked-- shocked!-- to find out that another Tea Party gasbag is nothing but a sniveling hypocrite. Matt Taibbi reports on the details here.

A Classic Top Five

On this week's Dr. John's Record Shelf, we had no Top Five list (mainly because I only returned to Dillon a few hours before I went on the air and didn't have time to come up with something). The feature will return to the airwaves next week, but for the blog I thought I'd go ahead and share an old edition of the feature, which originally aired back in the late summer of 2008:

Today's Quote

Today's quotation is from the eminent art critic Clement Greenberg (1909-1994), and relates to how tastes are often shaped by something other than aesthetic concerns. Funny that he picks on Raphael here, since Greenberg was most famous as an advocate of modern movements like abstract expressionism:

"One of the afflictions of art and of taste is the untruth you may tell yourself about the operations of your taste, or let's say, the results of your taste and the untruth you may tell to others. You're told that Raphael was a great painter and you can't see it yourself, but since you've been told it, you've read it everywhere and so forth, you look at a Raphael and you may look at a failed one and say, "well, it's got to be good because Raphael is so famous, the authorities say he's so good." That's one of the worst ways in which to begin or to continue looking at art."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Battle of the Bands Winner

Jethro Tull was one of the groups that will be moving on to Round 2 in the Battle of the Bands unfolding on Dr. John's Record Shelf. This is the song that helped them squeak by Thin Lizzy:

Some More Vegas Photos

I've been going down to Las Vegas once or twice a year for over a decade now, and I don't think I ever saw as many street musicians as on this last trip. I wonder if some local ordinances have changed, or if the casinos are looking for any kind of cheap entertainment to draw gamblers close.

The buskers were mostly on the walkways crossing the major streets (mainly Las Vegas Blvd.), and frankly, they did not seem to command much attention from those strolling past. I remember back in New York that many of these performers could draw a little crowd, but in Vegas they seemed as ignored as the Mexicans handing out strip club tickets.

By the way, all of these photos are of the "hip shot" variety, where I was just walking around with my compact snapping things without actually framing the shots. It's a real hit or miss way of taking pictures, but sometimes captures interesting composition and lighting that one would never employ consciously. Even though the percentage of good images is extremely low, it's a lot of fun, especially in a place as busy and active as Las Vegas, where everything is on the move.