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Archive for April, 2012

TONIGHT: Mr. Quintron & Miss Pussycat

Monday, April 30th, 2012

“Mr. QUINTRON is a very eccentric concert and nightclub organist from New Orleans, Louisiana. He plays music on a custom made Hammond / Rhodes combo synthesizer / organ (which he’s got all built up to look like a car with real working headlights) backed by raw simple drum machine beats (think 808 boom chika boom through one BIG speaker with all the treble turned down) and his own patented invention THE DRUM BUDDY – a rotating, light-activated analog synthesizer which is played much in the same way that a DJ spins and scratches records. Of course lets not forget about MISS PUSSYCAT who plays maracas and sings backup as well as entertaining all age groups with her highly amusing technicolor puppet shows. The Quintron / Miss Pussycat experience is one of barely controlled electronic chaos, “Swamp-Tech” beats, small explosions, incredible clothes, and entertaining puppet stories. You can see them perform regularly at the Spellcaster Lodge in New Orleans, Louisiana or on one of their many tours around the world. This act somehow has equal relevance in sleazy nightclubs, pizza restaurants, and university lecture halls.”

MR. QUINTRON & MISS PUSSYCAT PLAY KUNG FU NECKTIE TONIGHT

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NPR FOR THE DEAF: There Will Be Blood

Monday, April 30th, 2012

FRESH AIR

When Sissy Spacek started her film career, she was told to lose her heavy Texas accent. But her famous drawl became one of her greatest assets when Terrence Malick cast her in his 1973 crime drama Badlands.Spacek played Holly, a teenage girl from South Dakota who became an accomplice on a cross-country murder spree. The film, which also starred Martin Sheen, was narrated in Spacek’s distinctive Southern voice.How she got the role remains up for debate. Spacek says that Malick remembers auditioning one of Spacek’s friends, only to become charmed by Spacek herself after she interrupted their meeting. Spacek says she remembers the story a bit differently. “I just had a meeting and showed up at his house,” she tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “He would give me little pieces of paper that he would pull out of his pocket. And I would unroll them, and it would have a line of dialogue on [it], and he would ask me to read them. And when I did, he would just laugh. And that was always a good sign with Terry.” Spacek was cast in the movie immediately. She details what it was like to work with Malick — as well as other directors like Robert Altman, David Lynch and Brian De Palma — in her memoir, My Extraordinary Ordinary Life, which traces the four-decade career that has seen her star in such landmark films as Coal Miner’s Daughter and Carrie. MORE

RAINBO (AKA SISSY SPACEK): John, You Went Too Far This Time

PREVIOUSLY: Terrence Malick averages about one film every seven years, but it’s always worth the wait — he is widely regarded as a director’s director and A-List actors wait in line to work with him. He has not made a film that critics don’t consider great. His new one, Tree Of Life is no exception. If you like that, you’ll like Badlands, Malik’s bleak, beautiful 1973 directorial debut, starring a young and very James Dean-esque Martin Sheen and the always-great Sissy Spacek as young lovers on a killing spree across the American prairie. Set in the Badlands of Montana, it’s a twisted American fairy-tale about growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, pointless rebellion, the fine line between infamy and celebrity, and the blood that stains the vast open spaces of the American West. Kit (Sheen) and Holly (Spacek), want to be Romeo and Juliet but the law and the land won’t let them — and so, there will be blood.

Badlands is based on events that took place between 1957 and ‘59, when 20 year-old Charles Starkweather and his 14 year-old girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate [pictured, below left] went on the most notorious killing spree in American history since Bonnie and Clyde, starting with Fugate’s family. However, the the Starkweather-Fugate rampage was a lot less romantic and a lot more brutal than Malick’s script. Starkweather murdered Fugate’s mother as well as her stepfather and infant half-sister. When they finally were caught after killing eleven people in all, Starkweather blamed several of the murders on Fugate. The story of Starkweather and Fugate was the inspiration for Nebraska, arguably Bruce Springsteen’s best album. In 1994, Oliver Stone basically re-made Badlands as a post-Reagan pre-Millenial acid trip and called it Natural Born Killers. MORE

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HOODWINKED: Thank God We Stood By And Let The Diabetes Delivery Lobby Kill A Painless Soda Tax & Plunge Homeowners Into A World Of Pain

Monday, April 30th, 2012


DAILY NEWS: If the city’s property-tax valuation overhaul happens, Candace DiCarlo already has a real-estate agent lined up to sell her South Philadelphia home. “It’s going to drive people out. They’re going to ask me now to pay $5,500 a year [in property tax],” said DiCarlo, 59, a self-employed artist who lives on Broad Street near Washington Avenue. “I feel like I love the city and it doesn’t love me back.” Community groups have warned that many homeowners could wind up with rude sticker shock when the Nutter administration moves to a tax system that relies on the market values of properties, an effort known as the “Actual Value Initiative.” DiCarlo could be one of them. She bought her home for $185,000 in 2001, but values in her neighborhood have risen. She thinks that her home could be assessed at up to $500,000, sending her tax bill well above the $2,275 that she currently pays. And, while there are tax-protection programs on the books, most are for the very poor or for seniors. “I make a living,” said DiCarlo. “I’m that middle section that gets squeezed every time. Do I give up my health insurance or what do I forgo so I can pay an extra $3,000?” MORE

PREVIOUSLY: And so [Nutter] boldly revived the soda tax. He hoped to raise $80 million for the School District, no matter what it cost him politically. After Ackerman found a way to save full-day kindergarten, he nonetheless remained resolute. (His backup plan for the soda tax, an additional 10 percent property-tax hike, was equally unappetizing.) […] Concern didn’t begin to describe the mood in Council Thursday, where rivals Bill Green and Jim Kenney repeatedly agreed on how much they disagreed with the mayor’s requests. After hours of arm-twisting and team-switching, it was Nutter who emerged most bruised. He briefly had the votes for the soda tax, but the fragile coalition fizzled. In the end, Council approved a one-time 3.85 percent property-tax increase, raided the surplus, and hiked parking-meter fees rather than touch soft drinks. MORE

PHAWKER: An extra 25 cents on the cost of a Diabetes-inducing beverage that would fund school buses and all-day kindergarten is unacceptable? How could any reasonable person, who’s name is not Coke or Pepsi, oppose this?

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THIS JUST IN: My Morning Jacket @ The Mann

Monday, April 30th, 2012


with special guest
BAND OF HORSES
Fri * Aug 17
The Mann
Fairmount Park * Philadelphia
Tickets On Sale Friday, 5/04 at 10AM!

PREVIOUSLY: Opening for a band that draws seven or eight times as many people as you do seems like a no-brainer, after all if you win over just a quarter of the crowd, you’ve more than doubled your draw in this market. The downside is nobody shows up for the opening act at the Big Rock Show — never have, never will. Tuesday nigh at the Mann was no exception when Neko Case opened for My Morning Jacket and delivered a game, but faintly glum set to mostly empty seats, which is too bad because she is worthy of a capacity crowd.

Which is not to say that those seats weren’t completely filled with stubbly, red-eyed young men, and the women who go to concerts with them, by the time My Morning Jacket took the stage and kick-started a sweaty, fist-pumping, three hour hoedown of southern-fried beard-rock, soul power and even a little reggae carpetbaggery. Ten years on, the band’s star continues to rise — last time through they played Penn’s Landing, before that the TLA, and the days when they still played The Khyber are many beards ago, back before the truce between indie rock and the Jam Band Nation was declared at the Bonnaroo Line. The reason is simple: live they are an unstoppable force of nature.

Fronted by the irrepressible Jim James — fuzzy-faced, Buddha-bellied, rocking a cape and a Cousin It haircut, whirling about the stage dervishly with a towel over his head — MMJ made it abundantly clear they were playing for keeps, slathering bruising he-man riffage and bombastic beats with ethereal harmonies, sounding like Lynyrd Skynyrd if it swallowed Big Star whole.

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DR. DOG: Lonesome

Monday, April 30th, 2012

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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: Pit Bulls & Cocky Moms

Monday, April 30th, 2012

BY WILLIAM C. HENRY The political over-importance and consequent over-propagandizing attached to Hilary Rosen’s recent questioning of Ann Romney’s work record brings to mind a previous column I authored concerning birthright/inheritance and the hyper-critical role it plays in determining one’s economic future — and the fact that this whole child-rearing “choice” kerfuffle only serves to further emphasize the point. How so? you ask. Well, because today’s moms’ “choice” of child rearing methods is determined almost entirely by economic status rather than any altruism or feminism on their part, and is but another example of the overriding influence that something none of us had anything whatsoever to do with has on determining the very availability of one’s “choices” in life. Perhaps more importantly it also highlights a far more serious reality which all this inane Rosen/Romney pettifoggery should have been replaced with in the first place, namely: the unconscionable Republican obstructionism that has refused to address, express any concern over, or, for that matter, even acknowledge the existence of, the spreading plague of economic disparity in America and its debilitating effect on anything and everything child-related in this country.

Ultimately, when it comes to deciding whether or not to stay home with the kids, the vast majority of American single moms (be they of the soccer variety or otherwise) are left with little real “choice.” In fact, if they themselves were born into a poor or lower-middle class environment — and it now appears that sooner rather than later just plain “middle” will apply as well — their future educational and consequent workplace/income opportunities have already been disproportionately altered.

There is a ton of statistics bearing on the subject but only a few that really matter here. According to the most recent studies the United States ranks 4th among developed nations in number of households (34%) functioning with a single parent or guardian, and 3rd with respect to the number of single parent households where the single parent works outside the home. Generally speaking, single parents (and they are overwhelmingly women) of below average economic means are faced with two equally undesirable “choices”: 1) Apply for and receive the 5 year TANF (the Clinton re-election ploy that has failed miserably) and pray you can obtain qualified expert legal assistance to guide you through the labyrinthine federal and individual state exceptions to the 5 year limitation rule; or, 2) Try to land a job outside the home that will provide sufficient income to pay for daycare and all the other assorted necessities of daily life (a rather daunting prospect considering that in today’s economic climate they’ll be competing with recent college grads for spots behind McDonalds’ grills).

And, it isn’t just single moms who’s child-rearing “choice” is often extremely limited.  These days most two-parent households that wish to achieve and maintain a decent standard of living for their families are left with the unavoidable but not altogether disadvantageous “choice” of both dad and mom becoming breadwinners. Furthermore, more and more studies are showing that a mom’s working outside the home in and of itself can have little bearing on the ultimate happiness and development of the children. It’s not so much the “choice” that matters, but rather the attitudes and adjustments the parents make in accommodation of that “choice.”

So, do me a favor, Ann — and no one, certainly not I, faults you for electing to be a stay-at-home mom given your circumstances — please don’t you or Mr. Romney and his political party attempt to parade your particular “choice” as some sort of badge of honor. No doubt your husband, and in all likelihood your children, thank you profusely for your efforts. It was a grand gesture on your part, but you were very lucky my dear. Your particular stay-at-home “choice” is actually a privilege granted primarily to those well-married moms at the upper end of the economic spectrum. Unfortunately, “stay-at-home” is a selection all too often missing from the list of “choices” available to those in the middle and at the opposite end. You were born with a platinum spoon in your mouth, and you’ve remained extremely well sated ever since. The vast majority of American moms weren’t, nor will future ones ever be, quite so fortunate.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up early stage septuagenarian who has actually been most of there and done most of that. Born and raised in the picturesque Pocono Mountains. Quite well educated. Very lucky to have been born into a well-schooled and somewhat prosperous family. Long divorced. One beautiful, brilliant daughter. Two far above average grandsons. Semi-retired (how does anyone manage to do it completely these days?) and fully-tired of bullshit. Uncle of the Editor-In-Chief.

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Q&A w/ Nick Lowe, Elder Statesman Of Pure Pop

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Photo by Dan Burn-Forti

BY ED KING ROCK EXPERT Nick Lowe’s 45-year career as a singer-songwriter, record producer, and all-around musical instigator is a one-man Village Green Preservation Society, to quote the Kinks’ 1968 mission statement. After brief spell in a Cream-influenced psychedelic rock band, Kippington Lodge, Lowe and his fellow UK mates, including future standouts in the late-’70s new wave scene, got an early start on “preserving the old ways” in the Americana roots-rock band, Brinsley Schwarz. A big push to launch the band in the States flamed spectacularly, and in the US their records would be left for music nerds to dig out of the far reaches of used record bins for the next decade.

In 1976, following the demise of the Brinsleys, he hooked up with veteran Welsh musician and producer Dave Edmunds and carved out a role for himself “protecting the new ways,” as house producer for fledgling punk/new wave label Stiff Records. His “So It Goes” b/w “Heart of the City” was the first single on Stiff, and it heralded the artist’s devil-may-care approach to writing subversive takes on AM Top 40 hits of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. His solo output at this time peaked with his second album, Labour of Lust, on which he was backed by Edmunds and fellow members of Rockpile. The single from that album, “Cruel to Be Kind,” with the shaggy video including scenes from his wedding to Carlene Carter, is the most vibrant expression of the new wave era’s cheerful sense of fatalism. He must have been a good fit for the June Carter-Johnny Cash clan.

As a producer, Lowe made his mark helping Elvis Costello & The Attractions craft a diverse, high-octane run of five straight albums in five years, including their unexpectedly sincere take on one of Lowe’s Brinsley Schwarz-era hippie goofs, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Known as “The Basher,” for his no-nonsense approach to both work and play, Lowe wasn’t messing around, although frequently it just seemed that way.

By the mid-’80s, despite a few minor hits and continued successful production work, Lowe was losing his way. His records lost their snap. The jokes were growing stale. The snappiest of that run, 1990’s aptly named Party Of One, was nevertheless the end of the line for Nick the Knife.

A few years later, financially secure thanks to a Curtis Stigers cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” being included on the soundtrack to Whitney Houston’s schlock smash, The Bodyguard, a mature Nick emerged. He was done chasing pop stardom, done with dick jokes. He embraced his pop classicism on albums like Dig My Mood, The Convincer, and At My Age. His latest album, The Old Magic, goes even further in this vein, skirting the raunch of rock ‘n roll, soul, and country music for something more akin to early ‘60s dinner club pop balladeering. The new album has been a tougher sell for me than his last few gems, but Lowe’s craftsmanship and comfort in his own skin are impressive. Over the phone, Lowe was as warm, open, and engaging as his music might suggest. He made a couple of mentions of the thrill of meeting and playing with one of his own heroes, the recently deceased Levon Helm, and his new musical friends, Wilco. A thrill’s a thrill, whether it’s the thrill of looking backward or the thrill of looking ahead.

PHAWKER: I was looking at your tour schedule and was saddened to see that this coming Saturday you were supposed to play a Midnight Ramble show with Levon Helm. I know you’d appeared with him on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle, which I didn’t get to see. Had you met Levon before, say in the Brinsley Schwarz days?

NICK LOWE: Yes, I sure did. The Brinsleys had a house just outside of London., where we all used to live together. One day some people phoned up and said the Band, who were doing a big show at Wembley, in 1972 or ‘73, needed a place to rehearse. These people said, “Can they come out to your house and rehearse?”

They hadn’t played for a while. We just couldn’t believe it, we were such big fans. Anyway, they all turned up, they played on our equipment, you know, ran once through what they were going to do on the show, and off they went again. I might have said, “Hello.” It was a huge thrill.

PHAWKER: When you played with Levon on Spectacle was that the only time you’d performed with him?

NICK LOWE: No, we did a Ramble. I got to play with him a bit more; we did some old rock ‘n roll numbers. He’s just one of the greatest rock ‘n roll drummers. Yeah, that sounds really silly to say that, but it’s so rare to hear drummers that can play rock ‘n roll properly. I got to play some old rock ‘n roll numbers with him, and that was a real great thrill for me.

PHAWKER: Growing up, a lot of your work was the soundtrack to my teenage years: the stuff you did with the Rockpile gang, the various Stiff singles, and the albums with Elvis Costello. From that period do you have a favorite recording experience?

NICK LOWE: Oh, well there are many, but the thing is you have to go for the first one that occurs to you. I would think that one of the – well, there are two, I suppose, but they’re similar, they’re both with Elvis. We used to record in a very, very funky, old studio, because it was so cheap. For a while everyone recorded hits there: “Sultans of Swing,” “Roxanne”… It was a tiny, tiny funny little place, but it had a great sound.

The experience that comes to mind would be “Watching the Detectives.” We just couldn’t believe that we’d made a record like that in that room. It was almost like none of us had anything to do with it, you know, we just turned up and out came this incredible record. And I still can’t quite believe it when I hear it on the radio.

Also “Alison.” We did “Alison” in the same studio. The recording of “Alison” is a rough mix. Sometimes, especially in the old days, you’d do a rough mix at the end of a session. You’d just throw up a quick rough mix and you’d take it away and listen to it. “Alison” was one of those, just a rough mix at the end of a session. We could never get anywhere close to that whenever we tried another mix. We’d mix it again and it sounded like a different song. It was a real mystery.

PHAWKER: Sticking on the production theme, on your new album,  The Old Magic, and your previous 4 albums, took a real turn for you, with a natural, restrained production that works great. I was thinking, compared with your earlier dynamic, sometimes crazy productions do you still feel there’s a common thread in your production work when you put together a record.

NICK LOWE: I do, actually, yes, I do. I suppose with my advancing age I’m not quite so interested in tricks in the studio, sort of wham-bam-thank-you-m’am. But I still like a natural feel and sound, like a human being. I know that, unfortunately, the general public don’t really like records like these. They like something that sounds like it’s not going to have too many surprises. That homemade, handmade feel. Luckily, many people do like this, but I’m afraid we’re in the minority.

PHAWKER: You’ve crossed paths with Wilco a lot in the last year: you showed up with them on Austin City Limits, the “Sensitive Man” video, and you’ve got the Autumn Defense opening some shows. Is there a possibility of you doing something with Wilco in the future, like an album?

NICK LOWE: Well, who knows? I certainly did make some new friends touring with them. They’re very nice fellows, really great musicians, music lovers…and their audience are very musically literate. I didn’t know how it was going to go opening for them, you know, a guy on an acoustic guitar. Their audience liked what I did.

As to us doing something in the future, there are plans, vague plans. It’s all rather up in the air at the moment because we’re both touring so much. I would be very, very happy. If nothing else they’re very agreeable people just to hang around with. I’d enjoy that.

PHAWKER: I’ve read a lot of interviews with you, listened to many interviews, and everyone wants to ask about your legendary former in-laws, but I’m not sure if I’ve heard stories about your own parents. Were they musical? Did they support your early musical efforts?

NICK LOWE: Yeah, my Mom was very instrumental in getting me interested in music when I was a kid. She was a pretty good singer, and she also taught me to play the guitar, but very rudimentary, just a couple of chords. We used to sing together and play together. She taught me to sing harmonies. We played old Lonnie Donegan stuff, who was so inspirational to my generation of musicians.

In other ways she had good records: Sinatra and Nat King Cole and Peggy Lee. Show music: South Pacific, My Fair Lady, that sort of thing. I loved all that music. Also, most importantly, she had 2 – I don’t know where she got them – she had 2 Tennessee Ernie Ford records. When I heard that stuff I really thought that was special, and I still do.

PHAWKER: You’re a relatively new father; your son is 7. What kind of music dad do you think you are? Are you force-feeding him stuff? Steeling yourself for the day you come home and find him listening to Pink Floyd?

NICK LOWE: Oh, there’s much worse stuff than Pink Floyd. Ah, he’s definitely musical, he definitely is. He’s got a drum kit and can catch a groove. He’s a very good singer. He listens to the stuff that me and his Mom listen to: rock ‘n roll, gospel, early ‘60s pop records. He listens to quite a wide range of stuff, actually. But he finds his own stuff, stuff he thinks is great that I can’t listen to. Real modern pop music. He loves it, and that’s good enough. Kids aren’t supposed to love all their parents’ records, but he does like the stuff we like.

PHAWKER: So as I said, I’ve grown up with your music and a cool thing that I appreciate with your career – and it’s more than just longevity – is I feel you have grown up with me. You’re still kind of setting the pace ahead of me. I can still listen to your music for guidance and comfort. I wonder if there’s an artist from your youth who you feel is still here for you today, as you’ve matured?

NICK LOWE: Ah, that’s a great question. Well, Otis Redding comes to mind. Sam Cooke. And Merle Haggard, he’s always, always there.

Nick Lowe & Band appear at the Keswick Theatre, Glenside, PA, on Sunday, April 29.

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CINEMA: The Unkown Soldiers Of 20th Century Pop

Friday, April 27th, 2012

 

BY JONATHAN VALANIA A little known fact outside of musician circles is that the instrumental tracks of many of the most beloved and iconic pop songs of the 1960s — The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” The Mamas & Papas’ “California Dreamin’,” The Monkees’ “Mary Mary,” Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” to name but a few — were not performed by the artists credited. In reality, it was a crack team of Los Angeles session players who came to be known collectively as The Wrecking Crew that is responsible for what has become the soundtrack of our lives.

Rarely credited on album sleeve liner notes, the Wrecking Crew players would show up at the studio, lay down their parts, collect a check for union scale, and then race off to another studio to lay down the indelible riffs, grooves and hooks that would score a million wedding receptions, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, graduation parties and, really, any place where generations come together and both young and old can all agree, like they will agree on anything again, with a nod of the head and a shake of the hips: these songs are deathless.

It was a good gig while it lasted, with many of the Wrecking Crew pulling down upwards of a couple hundred grand a year. But by the late 60s the times had a-changed and bands insisted on performing their own instrumental tracks and work for most of the Wrecking Crew dried up or, in session player parlance, ‘the phone stopped ringing’ and some of the greatest players of 20th Century pop music faded into the twilight of obscurity, forgotten and unknown. Enter Denny Tedesco, son of Tommy Tedesco [pictured, below left], one of the Wrecking Crews’ most gifted and prolific guitarists, who played on everything from “The Batman Theme” and the “The Green Acres Theme” to just about every hit from the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, Phil Spector, the 5th Dimension, the Monkees, and Elvis Presley.

As a tribute to his father who passed away in 1997, Denny vowed to tell the story of the Wrecking Crew and assembled most of the surviving members to share their war stories on camera. The resulting documentary, The Wrecking Crew Movie, a must-see for anybody who likes music, will be screened tomorrow at 5 PM at the Annenberg Center as part of the XPN Music Film Festival. Denny Tedesco will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A session.

PHAWKER: When and how did you figure out that your dad wasn’t like the other dads?

TOMMY TEDESCO: Not until high school. When he did his own Jazz album and I heard his name on the Jazz station I started getting hip to him as a player and not just a dad. Even though I knew he played guitar with lots of groups and tv shows, I never realized the impact he had made.

PHAWKER: How does a teenager possibly rebel against a cool cat session player father?

TOMMY TEDESCO: It was tough. You couldn’t get anything by him! He knew way too much. He had ears like an elephant in the studios and at home. He could hear you on the phone in the other side of the house and bust you before you got out the door. He could see in our eyes, what we were up to and he would bust us with comments, like, “There they go again, staring at the ceiling”. We thought we could get away with smoking the pot, but never did.

He didn’t do any drugs but was always around it. His drugs of choice was cigarettes, coffee and pasta. But there were times, I could be up front with him knowing he would be there to listen. I remember coming home from college and asking to go to dinner with just the two of us. I told him why I was broke and other things. He wasn’t there to judge and I knew that. The great thing was telling him how I got away with an escapade in High School and how I got away. I think he was actually proud of me with that one…I got one on him finally.

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We Know It’s Only Rock N’ Roll But We Like It

Friday, April 27th, 2012


Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, The Hives, NYC last night by GENE SMIRNOV

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CINEMA: The Craven

Friday, April 27th, 2012

THE RAVEN
(
2012, directed by James McTeigue, 110 minutes, U.S.)

BY DAN BUSKIRK

At one point in the silly speculative fiction fantasy that is The Raven, a character is describing the town drunk Edgar Allan Poe. When he is asked about what kind of writing Poe contributes to the newspaper he replies, “Criticism, you know the easy kind.” Critics learn to take such passing jibes in stride, but you can see why The Raven’s writers are so touchy on the subject, at every turn their film is preposterous in ways sure to wake the film critic in everyone.

Not that the premise doesn’t promise some preposterous fun. Just slightly more ludicrous than the forthcoming Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, this high-concept thriller from the director of V for Vendetta could efficiently be pitched as “Edgar Allan Poe, Criminal Profiler.” Since Poe is often credited as the father of detective fiction, there’s a bit of historical thread on which to hang this idea, slender though it might be. One can imagine some pulpy fun might be made of the sullen drunk Poe being dragged from crime scene to crime scene but the filmmakers don’t bring much imagination to the idea, instead shoehorning Poe into the most pedestrian of serial killer dramas.

Things go wrong right out of the gate, starting with the casting of Lloyd Dobler, I mean John Cusack, as the cursed horror writer. Early casting hoped to snare the unpredictable Joaquin Phoenix, but John Cusack? There’s a reason Cusack has nailed a couple of iconic, goofy everyman roles in light comedies, that’s the type of presence he naturally exudes. This quality is about 180 degrees from the disturbed, Peter Lorre-type of energy we would expect the absinthe-addled, financially-troubled poet Poe to embody. Drunkenly lashing out at fellow bar patrons, the broad-shouldered Cusack looks too healthy and fit to channel the self-loathing despair the character is so sorely demanding.

So Cusack’s performance is a wash, but we can see early on that the film’s whiz-bangy super-hero tone isn’t going to take Poe too seriously anyway. Instead, the film is an action- mystery, with 19th century detectives enlisting Poe to help them stop a madman who is basing his murders in a “greatest hits” of Poe’s most ghoulish literary slayings. Just the film’s conception seems like it is a little under-impressed by Poe’s superior sense of the dramatic, they don’t trust Poe’s climaxes to deliver the goods, they’re instead going to use all his climaxes in one film. The script’s author’s, Hannah Shakespeare (how far the acorn has fallen from the tree) and actor and first-time screenwriter Ben Livingston, have not out-thunk the master, each of their police-barging climaxes build from nothing and advances solely through coincidence upon coincidence.

Shakespeare & Livingston’s tepid writing (which briefly comes to life when Poe quotes Poe) isn’t helped by McTeigues’ over-anxious direction. It is like he is so worried we might feel alienated by the period setting that he refuses to give the gaslight-era a leisurely moment. I lost faith with McTeigue early on when he botches the depiction of Poe’s most famous instrument of torture: the swinging blade of the pendulum. With no warning, we are thrust into the set-up just in time to watch the pendulum swing once before hitting its victim. Gone is the tick-tick-tick anticipation of the blade dropping closer and closer, it’s “bang!” Cue the C.G.I. blood and cut back to the detectives furrowed-brow. No possibility of drama survives un-quashed, and it seems cruel to point out that McTeigue was second-unit director on both the soul-sucking Matrix sequels as well as Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, one of the most ponderously bad blockbusters ever unleashed.

Throw in Poe’s weepy doomed romance with a blonde with perfect teeth and a vacuous fashion model charm (a flavorless Alice Eve) and you have a film that is not working on a lot of levels simultaneously. The only element that comes of unscathed is the location: Serbia and Budapest do a fine job of suggesting the Baltimore of the 1800s. The rain-swept eastern European locations hint at the morose atmosphere of Poe’s haunted work with a profound sadness nothing else in The Raven can approach.

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GALAXIE 500: Decomposing Trees

Friday, April 27th, 2012

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JUDAS PRIEST: Even More Nauseating Testimony

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

 

INQUIRER: In 1999, the altar boys there included the 10-year-old son of a Philadelphia police officer. In a photo shown to jurors, the boy wore a blue sweater vest, a light-colored crew-cut, and a smile. “Mom always said I was a cute kid,” he testified. Earlier that school year, the man said, he had been sexually abused by another priest at the parish. (That priest, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt faces a separate trial because he belongs to an independent religious order. So, too, does a former schoolteacher at St. Jerome’s also accused of raping the boy.) Avery, he said, told the altar boy he had heard about his “sessions” with Engelhardt and proposed his own. “I tried to act like I didn’t know what he was talking about, but when he mentioned that, my stomach turned,” he testified. Twice in the ensuing weeks, Avery forced him to strip and engage in oral sex in a room near the church sacristy after he served a Mass with the priest, according to his testimony. He told no one about the abuse. “I was scared,” he said. “I thought I did something wrong. And it was a priest.” Within a year, he said, he began drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. By high school, he graduated to prescription medication and eventually heroin. He has since spent time in nearly two dozen drug treatment programs, he said. MORE

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SIDEWALKING: Here Comes Johnny

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

34th & 8th Avenue, NYC, 3:29 PM  yesterday by JONATHAN VALANIA

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