Thursday, June 19, 2008

He's Just No Good At All

Talking with a former bandmate, who was happily watching an old Werner Herzog doc—Australia! Bugs! What could go wrong? (Well, see my review of another film.) But it got me excited again about seeing his new crazy Antarctica movie. The underwater Antarctica footage in Wild Blue Yonder was indeed pretty great—the problem was that it had Brad Dourif talking over it instead of Werner Freakin’ Herzog, making scary German pronouncements. What do these jellyfish dream in their frozen depths? Do they despise us?

But that made me look him up on IMDB to get some details, and I just about had a heart attack. Herzog’s remaking Bad Lieutenant! Supposedly. Or not remaking it, as he insists. He’s making a movie about a character sorta similar to Harvey Keitel’s indelible monster in Abel Ferarra’s cult-classic 1992 sleazefest, but doing different stuff. Yes, well, okay, Werner, but you clearly signed on to that particular title for a reason, and I’m anxious to see what it might be. Something tells me it won’t be wholesome good fun. Too bad it’s Nicolas Cage, but on the other hand, he’s got some skills, and he could atone for a lot with one memorably horrifying performance.

(Funny that Bad Lieutenant and The Piano were only a year apart, now that I’m thinking about it. It was the Golden Age of Naked Keitel!)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Don't Be Without One!

On my drive to work, just before I arrive at the mighty Borders #653, there’s a giant hideous electronic billboard, which cycles through a number of ads in regular succession. This of course is a massive technological leap forward from the basic Stuff Painted On Wood system that was the basis for the traditional billboard, and indeed for just about every sign since the first Trespassers were warned about their imminent Prosecution, and the first Employees were admonished to Wash Hands. This crazy electric thing of course has to cost a lot more, and thus is automatically cooler, in a very lame and sad kind of way. We’re supposed to feel like we’re living in Blade Runner—and why would that be a good thing, anyway?—but ads are just…ads. Banal or oppressive, no matter how much processing power goes into them.

Except when somebody exercises poor judgment. Then you might get something disturbing enough to be entertaining. One of the paying customers for this particular eyesore is some sort of dentist’s office, and he or she or they want to make you feel insecure about your hideous teeth, and think about how much more successful and loved you’d be if they got cleaned up and straightened. But the slogan they’ve chosen is a problem: “Teeth,” it says. “The Ultimate Accessory.” Wait, accessory? Yeah, I guess, if you’re some kind of war criminal, or marauding Viking! And the woman on the sign looks so happy; it’s very unsettling to think about the enormous necklace of molars that she’s wearing, even if you can’t quite see it in the photo.

Song of the Day
“Something to Look Forward To”

I have to say: this is going pretty well! My first two randomly selected songs have been entirely awesome, and the casual reader could very well conclude that I’m just being totally and painfully Hipper Than Thou, at least for Perrysburg OH. But fear not—my hard drive is plenty well-stocked with the bizarre and the determinedly square, and anybody who keeps checking will see some of it eventually. (I’m promising myself that I’m going to exercise the Executive Song Veto only in the direst cases, or what’s the point?) So stick around and you’re bound to see some 10,000 Maniacs, or perhaps “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

So here’s Spoon, meanwhile, with a tight little tune. Probably my favorite song on my least favorite album of theirs, if that makes any sense. Kill the Moonlight is where they stripped their ultra-cool pop down to the bone, and even if you feel forty-seven percent more With It while it’s playing, sometimes you feel like it’s a bit…ungenerous. So it’s appropriate that we’re looking at this particular song, a paean to the pleasures of delayed gratification. Two minutes, seventeen seconds, on an album where no song hits four minutes. Britt Daniel, in his breathy little Soulful White Guy yelp, warns somebody named “Carole” not to get ahead of herself, because he’ll take it “anywhere you let me go.” Not sure if this is meant to be some kind of Reverse Psychology gambit that’s actually supposed to get Mr. Daniel laid sooner rather than later.

But here you’ve got the essence of the Spoon sound, for better or for worse. That beautiful little stripped-down groove, for a few bars with just a little piano and that falsetto croon, then some stinging little guitar hits and you just know it’s building up to something, then at forty seconds it just unfolds for a second, all that funkiness relaxing into the Big Rock arpeggios, and you’re nodding your head, you’re happy, and here’s the chorus, and…wait, that was it? More drum and bass, no melody to speak of, no big payoff, and you’re left wondering if that was supposed to be the point, if you’re a sap for wanting more. “So many things we could say,” as Britt says, but “some things are best left unsaid.”

Also, only a Spoon song would include a line about “your Chicago Manual of Style.” Though at that point Daniel is laying on the Soulfulness so thick that I had absolutely no idea that that was what he was saying until just now. Huh.

Monday, June 16, 2008

All Manner of Things Shall Be Well

Hi. Hope everybody’s okay. I want to join Holden in wishing everybody a truly blessed Bloomsday. Seems like as good a day as I’m likely to find to resume my quaint electronic scribblings. You may consider this a Relaunch, if you like—the Genesis of Good Lieutenant 2.0.

Hadn’t done a whole lot of this sort of thing lately. Maybe you’d noticed. I guess you presumably know me, if you’re reading this, so you know that I’m a decent writer but a wildly erratic one. And it seems as if I haven’t written anything that I wasn’t literally forced to write for some months now. I won’t say that I ever had any kind of method or system for any part of my life, let alone for writing, but whatever working compromise I had in place pretty much evaporated after last fall or so. I was making it up pretty much day to day, and this site was the least of my worries.

But I’m on to the next thing, now. No more Undergraduate Studies. (Vast relief.) No more Toledo. (Bittersweet.) Playing music again, reading the occasional novel. (Astounding.) It would be great if I could get some sort of full time job before I have to start paying loans back, but otherwise I have very little to fear or fret over, and I’m calming back down and backing away from my frenetic, chaotic school persona. Trying to reclaim the state of mind where writing stuff like this can be the purest kind of fun.

Anyway, I think I’m going to retool, like a sitcom adding a friendly robot and a cute kid. There’ll be a (much) more regular posting schedule, so it might actually be worth your time to check back here. I’m honestly going to shoot for every day, or at least five times a week or so. And I’ll still write whatever pops into my damned fool head, but as we corporate types like to say, I’m going to focus on my core competency. Which seems to me to be the music writing, though maybe you secretly think my musical taste sucks. (Thank you for sparing my feelings. I am delicate.) I’m always listening to something that I have deeply compelling opinions about, or think that I do. But it wasn’t just laziness that kept me away from sharing them—I’d just get scared by the size of the projects I kept thinking up, and go play video games instead. So I’m going to start with the small things, with the details wherein I’m told the devil is found, with the basic fundamental atoms of the musical universe that I’m stuck in. With the songs, basically.

I pledge to write about a different song every post. I’ll let iTunes select them at random, though I may exercise some kind of executive veto. Since I have about thirteen thousand of them in this lovely little machine, that should last us a while. And I’ll just set out writing in whatever direction the day’s song points me. That could be almost as many directions as I have songs. There are songs in this computer that I love, that are sacred texts to me, that I can subject to note-by-note close reading, and there are songs that I may have never heard before. Of course, there are plenty of songs here that I don’t even particularly like, which might present the most interesting challenges. Why are they here? Did I like them once, or never? What’s my relationship with them? Every one of these tiny little digital texts has intersected with my life in one way or another, and flipping through them in no particular order might leave us with some kind of Autobiography by Record Collection. (Which is all very Nick Hornby, of course. But there’s a reason guys like me read that book. He is Us.)
Right now I’m hearing “Tonight the Sky” from April, the new Sun Kil Moon record. It’s a terrific song, one of the best examples of Mark Kozelek’s Epic Midwestern Sentimentalism; "Tonight the Sky" totally earns its ten minutes and twenty-one seconds of throbbing and droning guitar. But that can’t be my Song of the Day. That would be cheating. Now I’m going to pick one at random, or let the computer pick it for me.

Deep Breath. Here it is.

Song of the Day, Inaugural Edition
“These Days Nothing But Sunshine”
The Clientele

Sigh of relief. I was so worried that the first one would be lame, and make me feel embarrassed about the whole thing. But this is good. I love the Clientele. Frail, literary, melancholic, extremely British. All their records seem to have been recorded on rainy days, which makes it funny that we’ve got the one with sunshine in the title. And it’s a lovely tune, one of the better ones on the somewhat poppier God Save the Clientele. I can’t find the lyric printed anywhere on the Internets, which is unusual, but I guess they aren’t exactly scaling giddy heights of fame. But it seems like a gentle song, a reassuring one, like its title. What stands out the most, really, is the shimmering pedal steel, which the album notes tell me is played by one Pete Finney. Who isn’t actually a member of the Clientele, ironically. But some quick research tells me that he’s apparently a Nashville veteran, appearing on albums by Patty Loveless, Allison Moorer, and somebody named Lonesome Bob. But he’s got one foot in Indie World, too, as we see—he’s on the new Bonnie “Prince” Billy record! I should get that album. Damn. I was at the record store today.

I did buy My Morning Jacket, though, and the new documentary about The National, which is exciting. Even more exciting, it comes with a 12 song bonus disc. So I’ll no doubt have some notes on those in the next week or so. But for now I’ve just decided to be glad to be back.