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GEEK SQUAD: How Does DC Films Unf*ck Itself?

August 21st, 2018

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the-geek-300x300BY RICHARD SUPLEE GEEK SPACE CORRESPONDENT Marvel Studios has dominated the 2018 box office, raking in $3 billion from just two movies:  Black Panthe and Avengers: Infinity War. And their success isn’t limited to the huge, highly anticipated movies with 200 superheroes shoved into them. People were even talking about B-List characters Ant-Man and The Wasp.  Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Pictures’ DC Extended Universe is still fighting for relevance after Man of Steel (2013) launched the franchise with a whimper and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016) transformed the franchise into meme fodder. Last year’s Justice League was another failure. But DC is still making their films and hopefully they figure out how to make good films besides Wonder Woman (2017).

Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa, will finally hit theaters December 21st, starring Jason Momoa as the film’s titular submersible superhero. Admittedly, the first Aquaman trailer does look promising. But the same was said for the dumpster fire of a film Suicide Squad (2016). DC has to earn the benefit of the doubt before I get fully excited for a film. The next few years will see Shazam! (2019), Wonder Woman 1984 (2019), Cyborg (2020), Green Lantern Corps (2020) release with The Batman, The Flash, and a Superman all being worked on. These are the safe choices. Most of these characters were in Justice League.

DC also has a ton of films in various stages of development that may never see the light of day (with a Supergirl movie announced earlier this month). But there are three big ones that I think can save the DC Extended Universe after Superman has failed to do so.  Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker film (scheduled for October of 2019) should at the very least wash the taste of Jared Leto’s time as the clown prince of crime out of all our mouths. But that film might not even be officially part of the DC Extended Universe.  The role of Joker is every actor’s dream job and Joaquin Phoenix rarely disappoints.

Warner Bros. is also making a New Gods film. Ava DuVernay is set to direct Jack Kirby’s fictional mythology. Most people might not know who the New Gods are (outside of Steppenwolf, the main villain in Justice League). The New Gods are a quirky group of fictional deities who fought alongside and against the Justice League for decades. This classic tale of good vs. evil is ripe for a feature length film. And I am glad they are giving them their own focus instead of shoehorning them into Justice League again.

Birds of Prey is the non-Marvel superhero film I am most looking forward to. This team of women superheroes is set to star Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn (last seen in Suicide Squad). While her last DC’s film was horrible, most of that was due to writing and editing issues more than the cast. And this film is unlikely to positively highlight Harley’s toxic relationship with Joker. Outside of Harley Quinn the film will star the sonic scream superhero Black Canary, the bloodthirsty, crossbow-wielding Huntress, mute martial artist who can beat Batman in a fight Cassandra Cain (one of DC’s many Batgirls), and Gotham detective Renee Montoya. The casting for these roles are unknown but Jodie Comer and Vanessa Kirby are reported to be the front runners for Black Canary while Alexandra Daddario might be Huntress.

Margot Robbie is also producing the film due to her passion for the characters. And this is why I think Birds of Prey will be a hit. DC’s recent films appear to lack passion for all the characters. Suicide Squad was a cash grab trying to make it the next Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool but ended up being the world’s longest meme. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice was Zack Snyder’s hastily scribbled love letter to the 80s’ darker Batman comics. And Justice League was just Superman saving the day while DC hoped the legendary team will draw Avengers level sales with a quarter of the effort.

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POST MALONE: It’s Alright, Don’t Think Twice

August 21st, 2018

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ALBUM REVIEW: Ovlov TRU

August 19th, 2018

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Ovlov, obscurantist fuzz-rockers from Newtown, CT, have finally returned from their nail-biting, years-long hiatus. It was a widespread belief among their cult following that the band had broken up for good, their last new material being a couple of split 7-inchers back in 2014. It seemed that, after their impressive 2013 debut LP, am, Ovlov had reached a standstill that threatened to leave the band and their audience with just one truly successful LP to listen to on repeat forever, a fate suffered by many underground greats. A Greatest Hits collection released in 2017, however, was a beacon of hope that Ovlov hadn’t yet fallen of the map. Their brand new LP, TRU, showcases the big garage sound and memorable songwriting Ovlov fans have come to know well ever since their first EP, Crazy Motorcycle Jump EP, in 2009.

Actually, “memorable” doesn’t quite cut it; déjà vu is probably more accurate, as TRU plays through like an am part 2, an extension of Ovlov’s definitive LP. And I’m not knocking them for it – I think this is just what Ovlov fans wanted, because every time I get to the end of am, I think to myself, I wish this album were longer. TRU is an answer to all who have had that feeling, and it’s clear that this was Ovlov’s intention. The album opens with “Baby Alligator,” an allusion to am’s closer, “The Great Alligator,” which actually flows so well into the former, that you’d think they were on the same album. This wasn’t the first time the band have alluded to that song, either; the single on their 2014 split with Little Big League is entitled “The Great Crocodile”. TRU’s “Tru Punk” has a Minus-the-Bear-esque guitar hook, and is an allusion to am’s “Nu Punk”.

But, the am homage doesn’t end there. “Spright” actually uses a riff nearly identical to am’s “Moth Rock,” one of the album’s gems. One track that sticks out in particular as being unique to what Ovlov has done in the past – or even in the present – is “The Best of You,” which has a mathy rhythm, cleaner guitar tones, and drums closer to the front of the mix. And, in the song’s exhilarating outro, there is this beautiful shimmering reverb overtone coloring the fuzzy wall of guitars and crashing cymbals, a sound I’ve not heard in any Ovlov before. ‘Twas a very nice surprise. While so many bands sacrifice their signature sound in attempt to stay hip, Ovlov stay tru to their roots, and I don’t think anyone’s complaining. It’s too often the case that bands become stale if they don’t take radically new approaches to every album, but Ovlov have succeeded in producing a flavor that has an exceptionally long shelf life. – KYLE WEINSTEIN

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THE QUEEN IS DEAD: Aretha Franklin Dead @ 76

August 16th, 2018

ARETHA FRANKLIN, 1967, Atlantic Records publicity portrait.

 

FRESH AIR: Aretha Franklin was more than a woman, more than a diva and more than an entertainer. Aretha Franklin was an American institution. Aretha Franklin died Thursday in her home city of Detroit after battling pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type. Her death was confirmed by her publicist, Gwendolyn Quinn. She was 76.

Franklin has received plenty of honors over her decades-spanning career — so much so that the chalice of accolades runneth over. She was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2005. And Franklin sang “My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee” at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

The Queen of Soul rarely gave interviews, so we were delighted when she sat down for a Fresh Air interview in 1989. Franklin spoke about her father’s gospel influence, growing up with Sam Cooke, crossing over to pop music and more. Read Franklin’s edited conversation with NPR’s Terry Gross below and listen via the audio link. MORE

NEW YORK TIMES: Ms. Franklin had a grandly celebrated career. She placed more than 100 singles in the Billboard charts, including 17 Top 10 pop singles and 20 No. 1 R&B hits. She received 18 competitive Grammy Awards, along with a lifetime achievement award in 1994. She was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 1987, its second year. She sang at the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009, at pre-inauguration concerts for Jimmy Carter in 1977 and Bill Clinton in 1993, and at both the Democratic National Convention and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in 1968. […]

Ms. Franklin’s airborne, constantly improvisatory vocals had their roots in gospel. It was the music she grew up on in the Baptist churches where her father, the Rev. Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, known as C. L., preached. She began singing in the choir of her father’s New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, and soon became a star soloist.

Gospel shaped her quivering swoops, her pointed rasps, her galvanizing buildups and her percussive exhortations; it also shaped her piano playing and the call-and-response vocal arrangements she shared with her backup singers. Through her career in pop, soul and R&B, Ms. Franklin periodically recharged herself with gospel albums: “Amazing Grace” in 1972 and “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,” recorded at the New Bethel church, in 1987. But gospel was only part of her vocabulary. The playfulness and harmonic sophistication of jazz, the ache and sensuality of the blues, the vehemence of rock and, later, the sustained emotionality of opera were all hers to command. MORE

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KURT VILE: Loading Zones

August 16th, 2018

New video by producers James Doolittle and Laris Kreslins, makes Kenzo look like Do The Right Thing. Note cameo by Pissed Jeans frontman Matt Korvette as a PPA stooge. Nice.

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Q&A: Legendary Jazz Photojournalist Veryl Oakland

August 16th, 2018

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Miles Davis by Veryl Oakland

JOsh Pelta-HellaBY JOSH PELTA-HELLER Jazz In Available Light is a brand-new 328-page photo album of jazz from the 1960s through the 1980s, culled by jazz photojournalist and author Veryl Oakland from his own back pages. In many ways, the book is a sort of antimatter, a physical paradox: here is a current chronicle of a time past, published in print during a decidedly digital age, a daring declaration of the significance of a genre of music whose national popularity has waned to record lows, and — with the announcement from Canon earlier this summer that it would no longer manufacture film cameras — presented in a medium that’s in desperate danger of disappearance.

And if it’s a metaphorical wonder that the book exists at all, it’s a literal one as well: photojournalist Veryl Oakland suffered a catastrophic house flood in 1990 that nearly claimed his entire catalog, soaking VO_Coverhis collection of negatives, and crushing his three-decade-long career in photography under the inexorable weight of damp discouragement.

It wasn’t until Oakland revisited the films again, some twenty years later, that he realized they were still viable, and was moved to curate and publish this portfolio. The book is a sprawling anthology of images, a handsome and weighty tome featuring an impassioned and self-taught photographer’s life’s work, stylishly adorned with pull-quotes and anecdotes assembled from a career’s worth of his notes, articles, and recollections. It’s a transcendent and timeless document of jazz history, in all of its richest contrasts, in beautifully bound black-and-white glory.

________

PHAWKER: You spoke in the preface to the book about your first experience with jazz being an arbitrary encounter with a Salt Lake City radio station. Is that really the truth, or did you Mother-Goose that at all?

VERYL OAKLAND: No, that’s basically it, that’s what got my juices flowing. Just kind of a chance encounter, basically. It was the theme song of Wes Bowen’s All That Jazz program. It was “Blue Red,” by Red Garland.

PHAWKER: You spoke a little in the book about your own background growing up in South Dakota in the ‘40s and ‘50s, with influences from polka and big-band. With no prior exposure to bebor or hard bop at all, this must have been a radical departure or a sort of culture shock, the first time you heard it. Did you find hard bop and other types of jazz to be immediately accessible to you?

VERYL OAKLAND: It just kind of lit a spark in me. It was just something I hadn’t heard before, yeah. I didn’t grow up around anything like jazz whatsoever, in the Midwest.

PHAWKER: This must have been when, the mid-’50s or so?

VERYL OAKLAND: Yeah. I was born in 1940, so it would’ve been the mid-’50s, I guess.

PHAWKER: Did you sort of follow the evolution of jazz at that point through hard bop and free jazz, and did you found those other genres immediately resonated with you?

VERYL OAKLAND: Not really, no. Actually, what really got my juices flowing was I guess hard bop, because when I heard Red Garland — and then later Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers or Horace Silver — that was strictly hard bop at that time. So it was later that I was able, by doing research on my own, actually discover bebop, by going back to Diz’ [Gillespie], Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and those people.

PHAWKER: You shot with Sun Ra, who’s famous for his development of free jazz. Were you a fan of that music as it was developing then?

VERYL OAKLAND: If you trace him back to his early beginnings, I mean he goes all the way back to swing, and he was one of the stride piano players, in his early days. He really blossomed in a whole different realm of music, throughout his career. I tried to remain open. I guess a best description would be, a lot of people when they talk about Miles Davis, they either loved him when he started out and hated him later on . . . I guess I tried to remain open to everything that was coming down. So while I really did enjoy Miles with his original quintet — and then later with the second great quintet with Wayne Shorter — but I still listened to pretty much everything that the artists were doing, just trying to keep an open mind.

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Sun Ra Arkestra by Veryl Oakland

PHAWKER: Sun Ra was eccentric, and you wrote about some of that in your book — were you able to maintain a natural rapport with him? What was shooting with him like, and what do you recall from your interaction with him?

VERYL OAKLAND: Yeah he was very down-to-earth, I found him one of the most affable people I ever spent any time with. As far as his music, he had a way of connecting with everybody, because he didn’t put himself in a box, and he liked to make a whole presentation with his choreography and so forth, you know. As far as the individual, he was very open with me. When we spent time at his home in Germantown, he opened up for over an hour with me, just talking about his background. Really was a huge devotee of Fletcher Henderson, back in the swing era — actually, Fletcher Henderson’s band at the time was better-known and respected than Duke Ellington — and [Sun Ra] spent his early days with Fletcher Henderson, so he never stopped talking about him.

PHAWKER: You mention in the book that you guys shared dinner at a Thai restaurant that he liked?

VERYL OAKLAND: Yeah, in New York, yeah. He really was his own person. Like I mention in the story [in the book], he changed outfits every time for a different photograph, a little bit. It was something I didn’t even notice until later. It wasn’t anything that we talked about, it was just something that he made sure that he did. There was just something about him, he had his own way of operating, onstage and off.

PHAWKER: Philly’s a crucible for a lot of jazz history, actually . . .

VERYL OAKLAND: . . . it’s huge! I mean just in my book alone, I’ve either mentioned or have images of probably at least a dozen people who were impacted or grew up in Philadelphia, just a really rich jazz history in Philadelphia.

PHAWKER: I know you got into photography through your love of jazz, and that you were self-taught. There must have been some artists who seemed sort of larger-than-life to you then, and folks whom you may have wanted to approach for portraits early on. How did you go about doing that, or did you just wait until you had assignments for the journals you were shooting for?

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Rahsaan Roland Kirk by Veryl Oakland

VERYL OAKLAND: The one that stands out most vividly in my entire shooting career was Yusef Lateef. As I mention in the story about him, the first time I saw him I was really kind of blown away by the whole act that he had, the whole presentation. So that was somebody that I really wanted to explore, and get some up-close-and-personal photos of, and that’s what I tried to do after I reached out to him, the second time I saw him.

PHAWKER: In terms of the artists of whom you’d been a big fan — I know for example you were a big fan of John Coltrane and you mentioned in the book that you’d just missed getting to shoot with him, because he passed away before you were able to get the assignment. Were there other artists to whom, after that, you resolved to make a point to reach out?

VERYL OAKLAND: Yeah. That was a huge disappointment. You know, a lot of them . . . for example, Jackie McLean, I’d wanted to see and photograph him for a long long time . . . and it was actually just by sticking around awhile, eventually I was able to get most of the people I was really looking to shoot. I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head that I missed during those three decades.

PHAWKER: At what point do you remember feeling comfortable enough with your photography chops that you had the confidence that you’d do justice to the assignments you started to get? Do you ever remember feeling sort of “in over your head,” at any point, being a young self-taught and self-styled freelancer?

VERYL OAKLAND: I think when I started branching out to European and Japanese markets, I pretty much felt that I was ready to accept anything that came along. I was maybe six or seven years into it, early ‘70s. I felt pretty comfortable at that point in accepting just about any [assignment] that came along.

PHAWKER: Your M.O. was to use available light, and to be astutely observant as you note in the book for specific movements that artists made to generate drama on stage. While the live jazz photography was improv on your part, the portraiture was arranged. What was your approach to that, and specifically with respect to making a subject comfortable, or evoking or capturing essential elements of an artist’s personality?

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Buddy Rich by Veryl Oakland

VERYL OAKLAND: That’s a good question. I think you kind of tend to develop your own style. I don’t know if you notice but, for example, in a lot of different situations — whether it was confined rooms, or whatever the case might be — I resorted to wide-angle for the up-close-and-personal shots. And maybe photography purists would say “you can’t do that,” but personally I think it kinda adds to what I was able to produce.

PHAWKER: On the occasions when you only have a small amount of time with a subject, did you use any tricks to make them comfortable or “break the ice?”

VERYL OAKLAND: Sure. Yeah some were a little bit more difficult than others, but I don’t know that I had anything other than just a pretty easygoing personality. Let me put it this way: I didn’t wanna force them to do some kind of a pose that was too formal, or made them feel uncomfortable, or whatever the case might be. So maybe with some of the more difficult ones, it took me a few shots before I thought of something that might’ve made them a little bit warmer, or a little bit more loose. But I dunno, I didn’t really think about it. For the most part, many of the people that I spent some extra time with already knew a little bit about me. Or if they knew I was doing something for a particular magazine on assignment, then they were generally more open anyway.

PHAWKER: You mention in the book that you picked up some Nikon gear up front through a buddy in Japan. Did you stick with Nikon throughout your career?

VERYL OAKLAND: Yeah, I did. And in fact, after I began working for [the Japanese jazz publication] Swing Journal, virtually all of the equipment I got from that point forward came from there. So I wound up with I guess six Nikons, and I don’t know how many lenses.

PHAWKER: You started shooting in the ‘60s through about the ‘80s?

VERYL OAKLAND: I stopped shooting in 1990, and that was because of the flood. We had a major flood, and I lost what I considered at the time virtually all of the negatives that I had shot, to that point. And, it was a long period . . . I pretty much gave up, at that point. And then, it was like two decades later when I finally decided I’ve gotta find out really what I still have. And that’s when I painstakingly went through every negative strip, and that’s when I found out many of them had actually survived, and they were still usable. So that was a huge change.

PHAWKER: Were the images in the book printed from those strips?

VERYL OAKLAND: Yeah, there are a few in the book that are not exactly as I originally shot them, they had to be retouched and so forth. I don’t know if you noticed the big wide-angle shot of Shorty Rogers? That negative was pretty badly damaged. So there are a few that aren’t really up to my standards, but I needed to use them based on the stories, and so forth.

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Wes Montgomery by Veryl Oakland

PHAWKER: So after the flood, you were essentially demoralized, and stopped shooting?

VERYL OAKLAND: Yeah, basically, I thought that had just taken all the wind out of my sails.

PHAWKER: Was your equipment damaged as well?

VERYL OAKLAND: No, just the negatives.

PHAWKER: Did you ever make the jump to digital, or did you always stick to film?

VERYL OAKLAND: Never did. I don’t even know how to use a digital camera. [laughs]

PHAWKER: And so did you ever pick it back up, do you shoot at all today?

VERYL OAKLAND: No. No, basically when I stopped shooting in 1990, that was pretty much the end of it, right there. Actually the last photograph I took was the self-portrait that you see in the book. That was 1990.

PHAWKER: Do you still listen to jazz?

VERYL OAKLAND: Oh yeah, I follow everything about jazz.

PHAWKER: And so in the last 30 years or so since you’d stopped, you haven’t heard anyone that made you want to get back into the photography aspect again?

VERYL OAKLAND: Y’know, people have asked me that a number of times. Number one, I don’t still have the eyesight. And I don’t really have the drive anymore. I figured that what I shot was the legacy that I’d leave behind. I never really did have any interest to start up again. Part of the reason was that, you know, the loss of twenty years — from the time that I stopped shooting and then decided to put together the book — I would no longer have the continuity, so I felt that it wasn’t proper to start up again.

PHAWKER: As a fellow photographer, sometimes my friends will ask me if feel as though I’m missing out on “experiencing” a one-of-a-kind moment due to being too busy photographing it. Did you ever remember feeling that way, do you sometimes regret not being able to have sort of sat back and just enjoyed these legendary performers without “working” their sets?

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Chet Baker by Veryl Oakland

VERYL OAKLAND: Yeah, particularly when you’re doing writing. If your assignment involves doing some actual photojournalism of the entire event, you almost wish that you could kind of duplicate yourself and be in the audience to listen and then still keep your camera gear and keep shooting the whole time. But obviously you have to sacrifice one.

PHAWKER: Did you ever acquire a taste for any other subjects, or had you always stuck with live jazz and jazz portraiture?

VERYL OAKLAND: Nah, that’s really the only interest that I had! Some people might think that’s short-sighted, but actually I devoted my entire photography to just shooting jazz and blues artists.

PHAWKER: Why black-and-white?

VERYL OAKLAND: Basically I liked the medium because it seems more natural, and there are a lot of things that you can do with black and white in the darkroom that you don’t have the luxury of shooting color. And a lot of times, I mean, you see a vibrant color photograph and think that’s really great, and maybe you wouldn’t be able to duplicate that in black-and-white. On the other hand, there are more situations I think — particularly in jazz, and in low-light club situations — that you couldn’t get anywhere near what you can realize through black-and-white.

PHAWKER: It’s been said of Ansel Adams that much of his genius was in the darkroom. I know you did a lot of work printing your own film — did you find this to be a less-appreciated area of photography or place to curate the power of an image?

VERYL OAKLAND: Sure, and a lot of the tricks — not really “tricks,” but solutions that I came up with — were through trial-and-error, as far as, you know, what kind of developer to use. At the time, I was particularly fond of a paper made by Agfa that no longer exists, so it’s difficult to recreate some of the same images that I did before, without that. It was Agfa Brovira, they had a really nice high-contrast paper that allowed me to get some “pop” from the images.

PHAWKER: Given the dramatic changes in the landscape of professional photography over the past fifty years, if you were 25 today and considering photography for a living, would you make the same choices that you did back then toward a career in it, when you were considering it at that age in the ‘60s?

VERYL OAKLAND: That’s a good question. I would think that today it’d be much more difficult to do the same kinda things that I did in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Just access alone I would think would be a really difficult thing, access to the artists and their management. I dunno, not having been associated with the situation that closely lately, I don’t know that that would be the case, but it just seems like it would be very difficult today to have access like I had at that time.

PHAWKER: Did you ever connect with or meet Blue Note photographer Francis Wolff, or any of the other jazz photographers of that era?

VERYL OAKLAND: At different times I met different people. There’s a very well-known Hollywood photographer, Bruce Talamon — most of his career has been spent shooting stills for the major Hollywood movies, but from time to time I’d see him at different jazz festivals and we’d connect. When I was in New York I met people like David Redfern, from London — he did a book awhile back. I never met personally Giuseppe Pino from Milan, Italy, but he was personally one of my favorite jazz photographers, mainly because he took a lot of license to get artists in situations that were really kind of out-of-the-way and unusual, and he was also a very good black-and-white printer.

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Thelonious Monk by Veryl Oakland

PHAWKER: As you were compiling this book, you culled a lifetime of work, and it must have been difficult to make editorial decisions at time about what to include. Do you feel like there’s stuff on the cutting-room floor that you’d still want to publish?

VERYL OAKLAND: The reason I did that book was because, to my mind there hadn’t been anything done in that same manner. A lot of the jazz photography is mostly just photos and no stories, just maybe even not very much caption information other than ID. So I felt that this was something that needed to be seen.

As far as the stories, I think I got most of those. There’s another half-dozen or more that could’ve been developed. The problem is, the book is already larger than the publisher wanted me to do anyway — he wanted like 288 pages and I finally convinced him to go to 328 — so it was already well beyond what they wanted, what they’re comfortable with. I expect that maybe in a year or two that I may have some kind of a follow-up. I haven’t exactly decided yet how that’s gonna look. It may not be as many stories. But there are a lot of people that I had to leave out that I definitely want to include in some kind of a format. So I’m thinking — right now, I gotta rest a little bit — but maybe in a couple years or so I gotta think seriously about some kind of a follow-up.

Veryl Oakland
Veryl Oakland circa 1990 by Veryl Oakland

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CAT POWER: Woman (Feat. Lana Del Rey)

August 15th, 2018

From Wanderer, due out October 5th on Domino Recordings. She plays the Mann w/ The National on September 27th.

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DEFENDER OF THE FAITH: The Gospel Of Rock N’ Roll According To The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn

August 14th, 2018

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Artwork by CRAIG HORKY

mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA When Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn was growing up in suburban Minneapolis in the shag-carpeted ’70s, there was nothing musical about the family Finn, nothing at all. Nobody played an instrument. Nobody played records on the stereo. They did not even sing show tunes on long car rides. But when he was eight years old Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham choked to death on his own vomit, and that’s when he discovered the all-consuming, spell-casting, mood-altering, prayer-answering, life-taking power of rock n’ roll.

Up until this point he’d thought of rock n’ roll as nothing more than the interstitial music between the zany capers and wacky hijinks on The Monkees and The Krofft Superstar Hour. But judging by the trail of tears running down the apple-hued cheeks of his babysitter — a pretty neighborhood teen he had a secret crush on — this was an Important Cultural Moment, right up there with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination. His babysitter made him listen to Led Zeppelin A-Z that day and there would be no turning back. One day, he vowed with God as his witness, he would make pretty girls cry when he died. This remains a work in progress.

_________

It’s 3 PM on a yet another colder-than-a-witch’s-tit January afternoon in the Greenpoint neighborhood in hs-constructive-summer-finalBrooklyn, in the Year Of Our Lord 2014 A.D. The Hold Steady frontman is nursing a seltzer and lime at a back table at Lake Street bar, an old man dive short on old men and long on beardo Brooklandians getting a head start on tonight. Finn asked to meet here because he knows the owner — Hold Steady drummer Bobby Drake, who is presently re-stocking the bar in preparation for the coming happy hour onslaught — and, as the song goes, the drinks are cheap and they leave you alone.

He’s a little bummed at the moment. His friend Oscar Isaac didn’t even get nominated for his indelible portrayal of thwarted folk singer Llewyn Davis in the latest Coen Brothers film. “I think he got screwed,” says Finn emphatically. “He was mind blowing.”

The first thing you notice about Craig Finn when you get up close and personal is the kind, clear eyes hidden behind his trademark Clark Kent spectacles. Soft-spoken and courteous, dressed in a blue v-neck sweater over a crisp white oxford, his hairline making a slow northward retreat, Craig Finn looks more like the guy who would do your taxes than the fierce, suds-fueled, battle-hardened, 21st century defender of the rock n’ roll faith of his press clips. He knows this, of course. He gets it all the time. And he made his peace with it a long time ago. But that doesn’t mean that, deep down, it doesn’t still sting a little. Matador records honcho Gerard Cosloy famously dismissed The Hold Steady as “later-period Soul Asylum fronted by Charles Nelson Reilly.”

“I remember when that came out I was like ‘If I read that, I’d probably want to go see that band’,” he says when I ask him if he cares to respond. “Honestly, though, I was also disappointed because it wasn’t meant to be complementary and the dude’s label has put out some of my favorite bands. But you’ve got to let some of this roll.”

Finn is too nice of a guy to return fire so I’ll do it for him. Craig Finn — who, come to think of it, doesn’t really look all that different than Gerard Cosloy — has something that the Cos, for all his vast reserves of hipness and uncanny knack for recognizing what comes next before everyone else, will never have: the gift of the common touch. Like the Boss, from whom he is clearly descended, Finn’s never pulled a shift on the line, he doesn’t play beer league softball with the boys on Saturday afternoons, his hands are soft and he votes straight Democrat, hell he read Infinite Jest. Twice. But, like The Boss, he has an unshakeable belief in the transcendental power of a shit-hot bar band to set the working man free on a Friday night, if only until last call, and is more than willing, night after night, to shed the requisite blood, sweat and beers it takes to git ‘er done.

So word to Mr. Cosloy: Next time they ask you about Charlemagne, be polite and say something vague.
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INCOMING: Eight Miles High

August 14th, 2018

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EXCERPT: Stephen Miller’s Uncle Is NOT Having It

August 14th, 2018

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THE CUT: As White House adviser Stephen Miller continues to push forward brutal “zero-tolerance” immigration policies, the apparent napper’s uncle is now calling him out for hypocrisy in a blistering op-ed. Writing for Politico, he points out that their own family benefitted from the very immigration policies that the Trump administration is reportedly trying to reverse. Neuropsychologist David S. Glosser — whose sister is Miller’s mother — reveals that years ago, members of their family were able to immigrate to the U.S. because of “chain migration,” which allowed a relative to sponsor their entry into the country. MORE

POLITICO: Let me tell you a story about Stephen Miller and chain migration. It begins at the turn of the 20th century, in a dirt-floor shack in the village of Antopol, a shtetl of subsistence farmers in what is now Belarus. Beset by violent anti-Jewish pogroms and forced childhood conscription in the Czar’s army, the patriarch of the shack, Wolf-Leib Glosser, fled a village where his forebears had lived for centuries and took his chances in America.

He set foot on Ellis Island on January 7, 1903, with $8 to his name. Though fluent in Polish, Russian and Yiddish, he understood no English. An elder son, Nathan, soon followed. By street corner peddling and sweatshop toil, Wolf-Leib and Nathan sent enough money home to pay off debts and buy the immediate family’s passage to America in 1906. That group included young Sam Glosser, who with his family settled in the western Pennsylvania city of Johnstown, a booming coal and steel town that was a magnet for other hardworking immigrants. The Glosser family quickly progressed from selling goods from a horse and wagon to owning a haberdashery in Johnstown run by Nathan and Wolf-Leib to a chain of supermarkets and discount department stores run by my grandfather, Sam, and the next generation of Glossers, including my dad, Izzy. It was big enough to be listed on the AMEX stock exchange and employed thousands of people over time. In the span of some 80 years and five decades, this family emerged from poverty in a hostile country to become a prosperous, educated clan of merchants, scholars, professionals, and, most important, American citizens.

What does this classically American tale have to do with Stephen Miller? Well, Izzy Glosser is his maternal grandfather, and Stephen’s mother, Miriam, is my sister. I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, an educated man who is well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country.

I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses— the travel ban, the radical decrease in refugees, the separation of children from their parents, and even talk of limiting citizenship for legal immigrants — been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom. The Glossers came to the U.S. just a few years before the fear and prejudice of the “America first” nativists of the day closed U.S. borders to Jewish refugees. Had Wolf-Leib waited, his family likely would have been murdered by the Nazis along with all but seven of the 2,000 Jews who remained in Antopol. I would encourage Stephen to ask himself if the chanting, torch-bearing Nazis of Charlottesville, whose support his boss seems to court so cavalierly, do not envision a similar fate for him. MORE

VANITY FAIR: Meanwhile, as the border crisis spirals, the absence of a coordinated policy process has allowed the most extreme administration voices to fill the vacuum. White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller has all but become the face of the issue, a development that even supporters of Trump’s “zero-tolerance” position say is damaging the White House. “Stephen actually enjoys seeing those pictures at the border,” an outside White House adviser said. “He’s a twisted guy, the way he was raised and picked on. There’s always been a way he’s gone about this. He’s Waffen-SS.” MORE

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SOURCE: Five Habits Of Questionably Effective Racists

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

August 13th, 2018

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AMAZON: Siren Song is the autobiography of legendary music biz talent scout/label executive Seymour Stein, the founder of Sire Records and spotter of rock talent from the Ramones to Madonna. Since the late fifties, he’s been wherever it’s happening: Billboard, Tin Pan Alley, The British Invasion, CBGB, Studio 54, Danceteria, the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, the CD crash. Along that winding path, he discovered and broke out a skyline full of stars: Madonna, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Depeche Mode, Madonna, The Smiths, The Cure, Ice-T, Lou Reed, Seal, and many others. Brimming with hilarious scenes and character portraits, Siren Song’s wider narrative is about modernity in motion, and the slow acceptance of diversity in America – thanks largely to daring pop music. Including both the high and low points in his life, Siren Song touches on everything from his discovery of Madonna to his wife Linda Stein’s violent death. MORE

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WORTH REPEATING: The Paradox Of Tolerance

August 13th, 2018

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RELATED: Who Is Karl Popper?

RELATED: The Pardox Of Tolerance

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CINEMA: This Is America

August 10th, 2018

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BLACKKKLANSMAN (Directed by Spike Lee, 135 minutes, USA, 2018)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC BlacKkKlansman is the real-life story of how the first African American police officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department infiltrated the Klu Klux Klan. Starring John David Washington (son of Denzel) as Ron and Adam Driver as his partner, BlacKkKlansman proves to be one of Spike Lee’ most ferocious social commentaries to date cleverly disguised as a hilarious buddy cop movie. Lee uses the very relevant narrative to comment both on the backsliding of race relations in America and how it wasn’t exactly an accident that we got back here in the first place.

Set in the early ‘70s, at the tail end of the Civil Rights movement, the film introduces us to Ron (Washington), an ambitious young rookie who is first tasked with infiltrating the Black Power movement. When he realizes the movement isn’t peopled with the kind of violent radicals his superiors sent him to find and instead encounters a group of embattled minorities struggling for equality he cold calls the Klu Klux Klan after seeing an ad in the paper recruiting new members. Using a phone demeanor that would impress the bosses of the call center in Sorry To Bother You, Ron sets up a meeting with the local chapter of the KKK and uses seasoned Detective Flip Zimmerman (Driver) as the real-life incarnation of his racist caricature. Thanks to Ron’s gift of gab on the phone with David Duke, he quickly moves up the ranks in the KKK and in no time is nominated as chapter president. The investigation begins to attract some unwanted attention when they uncover not only the Klan’s ties to the military, but their plan to impress Duke on his visit to Colorado Springs.

Due in no small part to the daily horrors of the Trump presidency, Lee seems to have recaptured that spark that gave us the kind of scathingly frank commentary coupled with an intimate African American perspective invocative of Do the Right Thing. The director pulls no punches as the film ends with a grim montage illustrating how the KKK’s cycle of racism continues even to this day, ending with the Tiki torch-wielding Nazis descending on Charlottesville. This is the serious message Lee wants to impress on an audience in search of a light buddy cop comedy. Still, BlacKkKlansman is not simply a political statement, it is a funny and thought-provoking film that captures both the ugliness of hate and dogged beauty of the struggle for equality.

SPIKE LEE’S BLACKKKLANSMAN NOW PLAYING IN AREA THEATERS

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