Phawker

You Report, We Decide

News, Media, Politics, Music, Culture, Gossip, In The 215 And The Great Beyond

Archive for the 'News' Category

CINEMA: Being Val Kilmer

Thursday, July 22nd, 2021

val_xlg

VAL (directed by Ting Poo & Leo Scott, 109 minutes, USA, 2021)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC  Val is culled from 40 years of footage shot by Kilmer who was never apparently without his trusty video camera, obsessively documenting everything from his highschool stage plays to his recent victory over throat cancer. While enticing the casual viewer with peeks of his time on such iconic films as Batman, Top Gun and Heat, this doc pulls back the curtain letting fans in on the psychology behind his approach to acting, while painting a intimate, tragic and ultimately hopeful story in the process. While I’ve never been the biggest Kilmer fan, I was lured in by the film’s trailer that carried an immense emotional weight with its depiction of him overcoming cancer, while teasing the prerequisite beats of the actor’s greatest hits.

Narrated by his son who sounds uncannily just like his father here, and actually had me doing a double take, the film’s story plays out in a circular fashion. The film starts in the present and then jumps to Kilmer’s childhood and eventually catches the audience back up to Kilmer’s being diagnosed with cancer while on tour performing his one man show Citizen Twain, raising funds for a film on the iconic writer he hoped to make. The film has Val digging into the tragedy that would color most of his life and career: the death of his 15-year-old brother Wesley who drowned during an Epilptic seizure while under the supervision of his father. As children, Val would be in front of the camera while his brother Wesley was the creative force behind their early childhood shorts. This love of cinema would eventually lead Val to New York and Juilliard where his first big break awaited him, starring in an off Broadway production alongside a very young Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon.

This story presented here is dripping with a rare humanity thanks to how directors Ting Poo and Leo Scott chose to present the star and his footage, which is not as self serving as you’d probably expect. Kilmer has always rubbed me the wrong way because of how arrogant he came off in interviews and press.This film tears away this pretentious exterior by not simply giving us the literal method behind his tortuous acting process, but showing our subject warts and all, in ways most would never dare. The doc not only digs into Val’s difficult reputation as an actor and his strained relationship with his father who never forgave himself for his son’s death. It also tackles Kilmer’s divorce from Joanne Whalley, which Kilmer partially faults his all consuming preparation for his turn as Jim Morrison in The Doors. We witness all of these events play out narrated with a sobering and sometimes humorous perspective that has the actor owning every second of it as it plays out on screen.

Being a comic book fan, for me the one of the most striking moments was Kilmer deconstructing his time on Batman Forever, which was one of the actor’s more absurd and commercial roles. After Kilmer, predictably, laments how hard it was pushing a performance through the rubber suit and how he craved for more creative endeavors as an actor, we cut to Kilmer and Welsy’s take on the caped crusader as kids to further show how personal the role was to him. This segues into a very profound statement from Kilmer about his REAL disappointment in the role, was because “every boy wants to BE Batman, (but) they don’t necessarily want to play him in a movie.” It’s a rare perspective only granted by time, age and survival that illuminates Kilmer’s outlook allowing him to riff on these kinds of meaningful observations filled with heart and introspection.

The most surprising thing however is through all of this strife and tragedy presented here, Val still attempts to leave the viewer with a sense of hope, both for the film’s subject and life in general. Throat cancer may have robbed Kilmer of one of his most precious tools to an actor, his voice, but that hasn’t robbed him of his self expression. Nowadays when not on the pop-culture convention circuit meeting fans to make ends meet, Kilmer spends his time with his children, collaging or painting, which led to him opening a small gallery that also functions as a gathering space for like-minded creatives. Probably be the best way to describe the style of documentary is a cinematic collage, since it incorporates all of these different forms of media and perspectives and it works flawlessly.  At the end of the film you can’t help but root for him, you may not have to love him, but the doc takes the harder path of helping you to understand the enigmatic actor and that is what ultimately won me over.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

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

Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

Screen Shot 2021-07-14 at 12.41.24 AM

 

FRESH AIR: In a new book, two New York Times journalists report that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg often doesn’t see the downside of the social media platform he created. In their new book, An Ugly Truth, Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang write that Zuckerberg tends to believe that free speech will drown out bad speech.

“[Zuckerberg’s] view was that even if there were lies [on Facebook] — lies from a politician such as Donald Trump — that the public would respond with their own fact checks of the president and that the fact checks would rise to the top,” Frenkel says.

Frenkel, who is based on San Francisco, covers cybersecurity for The Times; Kang is based in Washington, D.C., and covers technology and regulatory policy. Their book focuses on the period between the 2016 presidential campaign and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — a time in which Trump became one of Facebook’s most profitable users.

“Trump had over 30 million followers,” Frenkel tells Fresh Air. “He not only managed to bring audience and relevancy to Facebook, he created this constant sort of churning stream of information that people couldn’t help take their eyes off of.”
Article continues after sponsor message

Following the 2020 presidential election, the Facebook platform became key in the “Stop the Steal” effort to challenge the election results, with users posting photos of assault rifles and openly discussing how they were going to bring guns to Washington on Jan. 6. “I had never seen a Facebook group grow so quickly, adding thousands of users within hours to this group in which they were sharing all sorts of falsified videos and documents about election fraud,” Kang says. “It’s very clear from our reporting that Facebook knew the potential for explosive violence was very real [on Jan 6].”

Kang and Frenkel say that the company debated having Zuckerberg call Trump to try to defuse the Jan. 6 rally ahead of time, but it ultimately decided not to do so. After the insurrection, Facebook suspended Trump’s account for two years, saying it will reinstate him only if “the risk to public safety has receded.”

Kang notes that the fact that Trump is no longer in office has helped Facebook avoid an extensive discussion of the ban. But political disinformation remains a problem for the social media platform, which has nearly 3 billion global users.

“There are elections coming up in a number of countries where the current head of state is very active on Facebook and uses Facebook much in the way that was modeled by Donald Trump,” Kang says. “Millions of people all over the world are being affected in democracies that are being threatened by populist leaders using Facebook.” MORE

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

CINEMA: Kiss Of The Spider Woman

Friday, July 9th, 2021

black_widow_ver20_xlg

 

BLACK WIDOW (directed by Cate Shortland, 133 minutes, 2021, USA)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC While all her male Avengers counterparts launched with their mandatory solo vehicles, the Black Widow standalone film has quietly languished in development hell ever since it was teased circa 2010’s Iron Man 2. I honestly thought the film had lost any relevance it once had,  given that’s she perished in Endgame, and we are now neck deep in the new batch of heroes who have stepped in to fill the vacancy left by their battle with Thanos. But after a decade in development limbo and a lost year of delays thanks to COVID, we finally have the Black Widow film and that long gestation process has birthed a film that I don’t think could’ve have been made or released by Marvel before now, largely due to its dark themes and unflinching take on the character.

Black Widow is a prequel of sorts, and is basically a bottle episode of the MCU. The film begins in Ohio, in 1995, when Natasha’s “father” Alexei (David Harbour) comes home after work and announces to his “wife” and two young “daughters” that their deep cover mission in the American suburbs is over and they must escape back to Russia.  We soon discover the girls were nothing more than props in this ruse as the credits roll to an orchestral version of Smells Like Teen Spirit and they are cast aside. The next time we see the young “sisters” they are pulled from a shipping container dirty, crying and then separated. We then jump to right after the events of Captain America: Civil War, where Black Widow receives a box from Yelena (Florence Pugh) that leads her to Budapest, to her long lost “sister,” who’s on the run from Widow’s previous masters.

Yelena alerts Natasha that the man who once ran the Red Room, the shadow Soviet organization that trafficked in and trained young girls in the Black Widow assassin program, is still very much alive and active. Natasha was tasked with killing Dreykov (Ray Winstone) to prove her loyalty to  S.H.I.E.L.D. and it’s here we discover that because Natasha had broken through the psychological conditioning of the Red Room. To keep this from happening again Widows were conditioned through a powerful drug regimen as well. Yelena sent for Natasha when she was freed by an older rogue Widow, who she was tasked in killing.  It’s during this mission that Yelena is freed, but it’s immediately after killing her target that she fully comprehends the gravity of  what she has just done, i.e. killed her savior. The sisters then set off to find their lost “dad” and go on a family trip into the underbelly of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to take down the Red Room once and for all.

While Marvel is known for action that relies heavily on comedic beats to offset the tension, we quickly discover one thing is off limits in this film and it really locks the tone for the piece. I mean aside from that opening, where we essentially witnessed human trafficking of young girls. When the two women rescue Alexei from prison, who is the comedic relief here, he immediately jokes that the reason Yelena is giving her “dear old dad” a hard time is simply because it’s her time of the month. Yelena then launches into why she can’t have a period, graphically describing the Black Widow “graduation ceremony,” i.e. the forced hysterectomy she endured as part of her conditioning. Like I said, “dark themes” and “unflinching takes.”

I’ve been a huge fan of Florence Pugh since her turn in Midsommar, and here she’s a force of nature on screen. Not only does she have the requisite action chops, she kills when she fires off a volley of  Marvel’s trademark meta-comedic one-liners, just like the boys. David Harbour here is pretty damn great as well as the Russian super soldier, the buffoonish Red Guardian. I just love how Harbour adds depth and sadness to what was meant to be a knock off Captain America, who has no doubt seen better days.  While Johansson long ago established her ass-kicking action bonafides, she finally gets some real time to inhabit the character’s skin and explore Natasha within some quieter moments without having to struggle with the fragility of the other male egos on screen. We are treated to some rather genuine moments of introspection on screen as we see her make peace with her past which gave her the strength to sacrifice herself in Endgame.

I personally think if this came out any sooner, it might have been diluted in some way or Black Widow would have had to have Captain America show up for a two-hander in the third act. Instead we get what is arguably the darkest character film in the MCU and a film I know some will sadly write off simply due to the fact that there’s a woman superhero in the forefront of the poster. But this story really isn’t for them. The film also has a much more complex relationship with death and consequence given our protagonist and where she ends up in Endgame. This plays off her recurring themes of unfinished business about having a lot of “Red in her ledger.” Black Widow was worth the wait and actually does this character and her shadowy world justice, while taking care to finally give her the narrative arc she desperately deserved. Also while this is a very self-contained plot, stick around for those credits, because there are some repercussions for an upcoming Disney plus show. Hint: we just might have our new Black Widow in Pugh.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

The Greatest Modest Mouse Story Ever Told

Tuesday, June 29th, 2021

Isaac Brock

 
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally published on March 30, 2015.

Buzzfeed LogoBY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR BUZZFEED: Most people don’t know it, but there are actually five, not four, time zones in the United States: Eastern, Central, Mountain, Pacific, and Isaac time — as in Isaac Brock, singer, guitarist, chief songwriter, and all-around mastermind of the very popular underground major-label rock band Modest Mouse. The Isaac time zone is usually situated within the city limits of Portland, Oregon, where he resides, but point of fact it’s located wherever he’s standing at the moment. Isaac time is kind of like bullet time in The Matrix, only slower. Or better yet, it’s like that scene in Interstellar where they explore that water planet orbiting a black hole for 20 minutes, and by the time they get back to the ship, 20 years have passed on Earth.

If you want to experience it for yourself, you really need to go to Portland. Once you arrive, proceed directly to the Ice Cream Party, a three-level mid-century modern structure situated in Portland’s Goose Hollow neighborhood in the shadow of Providence Park soccer stadium that serves as recording studio, rehearsal hall, storage space, living quarters, and band hangout — it is, in short, Modest Mouse’s Batcave. As instructed, you type in the secret code into the keypad and are ushered in by one of Brock’s henchmen, and then you wait and wait and wait, because, well, time is irrelevant to Isaac Brock. Always has been.

His manager, a very nice and helpful fellow named Juan, says Brock called to say he’s waiting for a locksmith and is going to be late. A locksmith for what exactly he does not say. So you do what the rest of the band are doing: hang around a table in the center of the Ice Cream Party, shooting the shit, nipping beers and coffees. Some are smoking cigarettes, others smoking something stronger. (Marijuana is technically legal in Oregon, but won’t be available at state-sanctioned shops until July, not that anyone’s waiting around.) […]

Brock, 39, finally shows up a couple hours later in a beanie and a hoodie, bleary-eyed and red-nosed,a devilish grin splitting his ruddy, lived-in face. He’s been fighting a nasty cold for weeks, he says, and the cold remedy he’s been pounding has rendered him out of it. “I’m sorry, my brain is so unbrainly right now,” he says. He speaks with a slight lisp. (“I like hearing him talk, doesn’t he have the coolest speaking voice?” comedian Fred Armisen texts back when asked about Brock’s appearances on Saturday Night Live and Portlandia. “I mean singing, too, obviously, but I can listen to him tell a story all day.”)

Modest Mouse are supposed to start rehearsing for their impending tour around 2 that afternoon, but it’s almost midnight by the time they finally plug in and start playing. It is not long before someone points out that midnight is a crazypants hour to start rehearsing, and they give up after 30 minutes or so. But not before nailing the positively epic chorus of “Of Course We Know,” the grand finale from the new, eight-years-in-the-making album Strangers to Ourselves.

The next day I show up at the appointed hour of 2 p.m. and join the other knights at the round table and start all over again. Coffee. Beer. Mary Jane. Rinse and repeat. A couple hours later, Juan taps me on the shoulder and says Brock is on his way, that he fell asleep putting on his socks. This sounds plausible, I tell myself, because I want to believe. Eventually he shows up and I get time to ask Brock questions. Lots and lots of time. Because I’m now standing in the Isaac time zone, where every minute is like 20 years back on Earth.

“Even when I was a kid, I always showed up late for school every day,” says Brock, his tone somewhere between a shrug and a boast. “It got to the point where they had my late slips filled for every day of the school year in advance, so all they had to do was fill in what time I got there.”

Some rock stars are happy to hit their mark and feed you their talking points like trained seals. Brock despises craven self-promotion and easy answers, preferring instead the gentlemanly arts of wit, whimsy, and conjecture, preferably of the surreal variety, wherein no point is ever arrived at until at least five or six fascinating detours from the subject at hand have been explored. Sometimes the point gets completely lost and we have to send out a search party. And that takes time. Lots and lots of time. Twelve hours straight, to be exact. It’s like mainlining Modest Mouse. MORE

MODEST MOUSE PLAYS THE MET PHILADELPHIA AUGUST 5TH @ 8 PM

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

HOW TO GROW UP TO BE A DEBASER: An Intensely Personal Q&A w/ The Pixies’ Black Francis

Thursday, June 17th, 2021

pixies - 011 CROPPED

Photo by NOAH SILVESTRY

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the complete and unabdridged version of my 7200 word Q&A with Black Francis of The Pixies’ for the cover of the March 2014 issue of MAGNET MAGAZINE. Enjoy.

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA The year is 1988. I’m a college DJ stranded in the middle of Pennsyltucky. Entranced by the naked boob on the cover of Surfer Rosa, I slap it on the turntable and…they had me by the first 20 seconds of “Where Is My Mind?” They never really let go. Shortly thereafter I got a gig working for a Pennsyltucky daily. They asked me one day if I wanted to interview some guy named Black Francis from the Pixies. Would I? Man, this was a dream come true! I could finally learn the WTF of lyrics like, “He bought me a soda, he bought me a soda/ And he tried to molest me in the parking lot.”

When I got him on the phone, he was no doubt bone-tired from endless touring and weary of answering stupid fanboy questions. He insisted I call him Charles and pretty much refused to give me a straight answer to any question. “Who cares?” he’d say. “We just try to make cool rock music.” I remember thinking: what a dick.

It’s 1993. In the wake of a dispiriting trail of tears across North Ameria as U2’s opening act, and years of low-intensity inter-band strife, Black Francis breaks up The Pixies via fax,PIXIES MAGNET COVER rechristens himself Frank Black and proceeds to release a steady string of increasingly irrelevant solo albums. Kim Deal managed to land on her feet, but after a few seasons of success, the Breeders’ career collapses under the weight of the Deal sisters’ substance abuse and related baggage. Joe Santiago managed to eke out a living scoring films you never saw along with the occasional episode of Weeds and the second season of Judd Appatow’s Undeclared. And the drummer gave up music to become…wait for it…a magician.

In some ways — ways he is still not fully ready to cop to — Black Francis suffered the most. Breaking up the Pixies was Black Francis’ original sin. The world — at least the part of the world that had any bearing on the life of Charles Kittredge Thompson — loved the Pixies and decided that he would be punished for his sins with a long twilight bar band exile of dwindling record sales, half-full concert venues and diminished cultural relevance, despite making music that was, almost without exception, as good, if not better in it’s own way, than his Pixies work. “Everything I do as a solo artist will always be overshadowed by this other band called the Pixies,” he says in the documentary Loud Soft Loud. “It doesn’t matter what I do, it’s always going to end in tears.”

The cold hard fact is, people like bands, not songwriters. A band is a narrative – with archetypes, the cute one, the funny one, smart one, and so on — a songwriter, in the public’s imagination, is just some guy who bangs out jingles to make the mortgage every month. Barry Manilow is a songwriter, The Beatles are a narrative. People love good stories more than they love good songs. Frank Black didn’t have a good story.

It would take him a decade to figure that out.

_______

Fast forward to 2004, my roommate from college — who was zonked on acid, as was I, that night at the Ritz (August 4th 1989, to be exact) when the Pixies did “Wave Of Mutilation (UK Surf Mix)” and the Earth stood still and then hand of God came down in a ray of pure white light and gave Black Francis a handjob, I swear to you this really happened — calls me up one day to say the Pixies are getting back together. “Just when I stopped caring,” I said. That wasn’t entirely true, not for me or anyone else. The shows sold out in minutes. I was giddy when I saw them in Camden and I know I wasn’t alone. And contrary to what people who weren’t there the first time around said, they were as good as they ever were. The classic songs PIXIES MAGNET COVER seem immune to the ravages of age, and besides the Pixies’ strange allure was never based on the hormones and hair of youth. Yeah, they were fatter and balder, but, having settled or set aside the irreconcilable differences of the past, and worked through the addiction-rehab-divorce craziness of middle age, they were also wiser.

And so was I.

Black Francis was right all along. Who cares about all those painfully literal fanboy questions and all that soap opera he said/she said jive? The Pixies are just trying to make cool rock music. Sometimes that’s enough. Besides, the only thing worth knowing is this: If man is five, then devil is six and God is seven. Or to put it another way, the Pixies were just four hard-working kids from Boston whose monkey died and went to heaven.

Something happened while they were away. This cult band with its weird, noisy songs about UFOs, incest and broken faces became more famous in death than they ever were in life. They’d become part of the great collective alt-rock unconscious — like mid-period Cure or the first Violent Femmes record or Thurston Moore’s haircut. By 2004, Surfer Rosa was on every punky bar jukebox. Jocks cranked “Wave of Mutilation” as they raced by in Daddy’s car, flipping-off the nerds. And every cool chick bass player worth her salt had played “Gigantic” until her tits practically fell off. When I saw the Pixies reunion, 20,000 people sang along with every word of “Where Is My Mind?” Judging by the median age of the crowd, most were still in short pants when the song first came out. It would seem that the Pixies have become, dare I say it, folk music. Hell, the following year they did a reverse Dylan — they went acoustic Newport.

By 2012, the re-united Pixies had been together longer than the original band’s seven year run. Then came news that Kim Deal had left the band. The reason for her departure was never explained. Then came news the Pixies were going to carry on with plans to record new music without her.

The morning after the day that Kim Deal quit the Pixies, Black Francis shaved off all his pubic hair. To signify a new beginning, he would later tell me.

_________

Everyone’s always trying to get backstage, it is the Valhalla of the concert experience — the mythical lodge of ecstatic feasts forbidden to mere mortals but anybody who’s ever actually been there will tell you ain’t missing much — a sweaty coldcut plate, warm beer, crab couch, the prevailing sense that you are overstaying your welcome. All of which pretty PIXIES MAGNET COVER much sets the scene in the Pixies dressing room backstage at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia.

Guitarist Joey Santiago and a pretty middle-aged blonde are sitting on the crab couch sipping beers. Turns out she went to elementary school with Santiago in the Boston area, where she still lives, and just saw the Pixies for the first time when they played Boston last week. She just happened to be in Philly visiting her son who goes to college here. One friend request later here she is. This is what passes for groupies backstage at a Pixies show these days: Someone’s mom.

Cocksucker Blues it ain’t.

I always thought of the Pixies as harmless looking people making dangerous music. But off stage the band members are, by their own admission, well, boring people. Put it this way, if they had a reality show, nobody would watch it. But who am I to judge? I am currently trying square my relative boredom backstage with the Pixies with the fact that if the 1989 version of me would probably never stop masturbating over the fact that he was even here.

Drummer Dave Lovering is in warm-up mode, his head covered with a towel, tapping out paradiddles on anything that doesn’t move, not talking to anyone. In an adjoining room, Black Francis and new touring bassist Paz Lenchantin are doing vocal warm-up excercises that sound. Through the wall it sounds like a cross between bad opera and the Muslim call to prayer.

Paz is filling the big shoes of the dearly-departed Kim Deal, and has well as her replacement, Kim Shattuck, frontwoman from the Muffs, who parted ways with the band back in November somewhat acrimoniously.

Paz is so cool, if anyone can solve the I’m Not Kim Deal problem, it’s her. Tonight she is wearing a brandy-color velveteen mini dress a friend sent her from Paris — the kind Marianne Faithfull used to wear back before the Mars Bar Incident. She added the white frilly color and cuffs to set it off. Smart girl. Born in Argentina, her family moved to Los Angeles when she was four to escape the brutality of The Dirty War. She’s not just a pretty face, she’s got chops. She played bass in Billy Corgan’s Zwan and Manfred from Tool’s Perfect Circle. She played bass on Brightblack Morning Light’s sultry, self-titled 2006 LP. (All rubbery Rhodes clangor, tremolo-ripple bass, woozy slide guitar, sex-fogged vocals and whole lot of crystal blue persuasion, it is arguably the best fuck-music album since MBV’s Loveless.) Until signing on as the Pixies touring bassist in early December, she was bass player for LA’s bluesy psychonauts The Entrance Band. Tonight marks her sixth show with the Pixies.

When Black Francis emerges from the practice room there is a discernible bounce in his step. He gathers the band around for a combined setlist discussion and pep talk. Throwing air PIXIES MAGNET COVER punches at an imaginary foe, rockem sockem robot-style, he giddily calls out the first three songs of tonight’s set, punctuating each announcement Ralph Kramden-style with a cartoonish Pow!

“Bone Machine.” Pow!

“Debaser.” Pow!

And then, as per Paz’s request, “River Euphrates.” Pow!

(Frankly, it’s a strange display,Everyone laughs a little too hard. I can’t tell if they are trying to convince me that they are having fun or just themselves. Either way, they are trying too hard.)

Having seen the Pixies a half a dozen times since 1988, I feel qualified to say the Pixies are as fierce a live band these days as they ever were, absent Kim Deal’s velveteen vocals and infectious yet slightly unsettling perma-grin. The sold out crowd is surprisingly young and, best I can tell wondering the cavernous Electric Factory, way into it. But for reasons unclear they walk off at the end of their set and never return for an encore. This is highly unusual. To the best of my knowledge, the last band to not do a encore was Great White back in 2003. And that was because the club burned down in the middle of their set. I make my way back stage to find out what happened. When I knock on the dressing room door, the Pixies’ manager opens the door a crack and shakes his head ‘no’ and then closes the door in my face. I step outside to grab a smoke and a few moments later the stage door explodes open and Lovering brushes past, bounds down the stairs, lights a smoke, pulls the visor of his hat down low and turns his back to the exiting crowd and scrolls through his text messages and emails, clearly in no mood for company or conversation. I guess there are some things about being a Pixie that we will never understand.

I head back to the dressing room, which is now admitting guests. Black Francis pours me a tall glass of wine and refills his glass and, unbidden, explains why there was no encore tonight. “The crowd didn’t earn it, I’m old school that way, i’m Vaudeville,” he says with a shrug. “I find that when the audience is younger, wants you to hold their hand and smile and kick the beachball around and we don’t do that, we don’t do jazz hands.”PIXIES MAGNET COVER

We are not scheduled to sit down for a one-on-one interview until they play Newark in a few days, but a couple more refills later, Black Francis is ready to talk. Right now. Somewhat flummoxed, I tell him I don’t have my questions or my recorder, and my iPhone is almost dead.

“I have an cassette recorder, we can use that,” he says.

A cassette recorder? How would I play it back afterwards?

“I’ll give you the recorder, you can have it,” he says.

This is actually quite perfect. I can’t think of a better person to ask why Kim Deal quit the Pixies than Black Francis with half a bottle of wine in him. We duck into the empty dressing room next door. He takes the one chair and I sit on the sofa, which turns out to be very low to the ground. He looms over me. It’s a small, bare room and Black Francis is using his outdoor/half-a-bottle-of-wine-voice. He booms in the close quarters. He’s wearing a gray, military tunic-style overcoat, not unlike the kind you would expect a North Korean soldier to wear in winter. In the dimly lit room, with his shaved head, considerable girth and that tunic, I feel like Martin Sheen be lectured by Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.

(“Are you a rock critic or a music journalist, Willard?”

Um, both?

“You’re neither, you’re a delivery boy sent to collect a bill by clerks.”)

Look, I get the feeling the publicist or the manager says to writers ‘don’t ask about this, don’t ask about that’,” he says. “Fuck that, ask me anything you want.

OK, let’s talk about the Kim Deal leaving the band. What’s you’re side of the story?

“Well, it’s very simple, she’s been reticent for a very long time to make a new record,” he says.PIXIES MAGNET COVER

Now why do you think that was?

I don’t really know. I can speculate. I’m sure some of the reasons were personal and some of the reasons were common sense, like, “Ah, we got a good thing going: if it isn’t broke, why try to fix it.” “Let’s not make that bad move, the comeback record.” She either wanted to or didn’t want to. It wasn’t that big of a deal for us. It was frustrating to me personally at times because I wanted to do that. At the end of the day I just embraced her reticence. But she started giving us a couple of clues with things that she said.

Such as?

“‘Maybe Joe and Charles should makes some demos with Gil Norton.’”

So fast forward, it’s the fall of 2012, your all in a recording studio in Whales with Gil Norton behind the board. Then what happens?

We got to Whales, we got to work, but it was a little slow going, and she was very…my impression was that she was very stressed, or unhappy, or whatever for whatever reason. As everyone would be. People have things going on in their life that doesn’t always…it’s easy to take things personally sometimes but when you get to the bottom of it. They got stuff going on in their life, it’s nothing to do with you.

So we were doing things in a very meticulous kind of way with Gilmore, which he loved, because he was meticulous. Some drums, now some bass. So after we’ve done the four or five big songs that I have tweaked out with Gilmore at his house and kind of brought them to a certain level. Once she saw that we had every intention of going beyond this little batch of four or five songs, that we were going to have a full record, that’s when she decided, “okay, I’m out.”

So, it was too much, whatever the reason. She came to the coffee shop – and to her credit, I mean when I broke up the band for the first time, I just fucking sent a fax to the manager saying, “copy this fax and mail it to everyone, I’m fucking out of here. No confrontation, no discussion, no face-to-face, no let’s kiss and say goodbye; none of that. Just total I’m out, I don’t want to deal with this. She had the balls, anyway – she knew we had our espresso at a certain time of the day, probably earlier than she would have her espresso. So she comes in – we’re drinking our espresso – gets her cappuccino: “I’m flying home tomorrow.” So we were just like, “ugh!” Joey and I didn’t want to get in an argument, so I got up and Joey followed me for different reasons. I wanted to go drink and he wanted to go to the music store and get a slide. Then he went to the bar with me to drink. We just didn’t want any confrontation. So she enjoyed a better rapport with David, so we knew that David would talk to her and maybe change her mind or whatever, or find out what the reason was. We never got to the bottom of it. She called me finally from the airport. She called me right as she was getting on the plane on my cell phone to talk. I think by that point I had calmed down enough to just say, “look, do whatever you have to do, call us when you get to wherever you are, and if you’re interested in coming back…” But she didn’t want to do that, she just kind of left. But she did communicate again, she said, “Hey, if you need any more bass…” But it wasn’t quite…from our point of view it wasn’t committed enough.

I mean, to her credit, she stuck it out on this whole revue thing as long as she could. But when it got to he point where we were going to do it all again — record new content, do all the interviews, do all the radio shows, do all the publicity, do videos, all that full shebang. I think she was just like “It’s too much man, I’m out of here.” But I don’t know, why did she leave? To me, she was unhappy with the situation or unhappy with her life or whatever, just not happy. I mean when someone’s not happy, they don’t want to be wherever they are, whatever it is. It doesn’t matter what it is. If you’re not happy, you don’t want to be there.”PIXIES MAGNET COVER

You guys never got as far as cutting vocals before she left?

No, and really, I think that was the real commitment. Whether she knew it consciously or not, I think that’s when it starts to turn into something else. Anybody can come in and play some bass. Can you tell if it’s Kim Deal or not? Not necessarily. A lot of people aren’t going to be able to tell the difference. So, but as soon as the voice enters, just one little line, just one little note, a whole door opens. The whole person – and in her case, she’s a very charismatic person – her whole thing just fucking comes into the room. You can’t remove that, you can’t erase that. There’s no fucking engineer in the world that would do that. “Erase the fucking Kim Deal vocal part? No fucking way, whatever you tell me to do, this is going in a fucking vault.” It’s like The Beatles’. “Erase that.” Yeah right, we’ll erase that, you’re the fucking Beatles, we don’t’ erase anything you do, you know what I mean? I don’t know if she knew, but she must have self-consciously known, having her voice is really what it’s all about. That really just represents.

But the doors still open if ever she decided to change her mind and wants to be in The Pixies again?

Yeah, I don’t think that will ever happen, personally. I think she’s done with it. But, you know, you never know. I can’t say if she called tomorrow, I wouldn’t be like, “oh wow, really.” Yeah, who knows.

What was the last time you spoke with her?

The last time I spoke with her was when she was getting on that plane.

Was the reunion era less frictional than, say, the initial era? As far as interpersonal stuff.

Yeah, in general. I mean, everyone is much more older and much more sober…

Can we go back to 1993, to just before you hit SEND on the fax: why are you fed up? Why do you want to burn The Pixies?

I don’t remember exactly what I said in the fax, but you know, I was in tour all the time. I was trying to hold on to this relationship I had going on. The constant touring schedule was interfering with that and there was some animosity between Kim and I that had just settled into an icy coolness.

A cold war? No shooting or hand to hand combat, just hostility and undermining each other at every opportunity?PIXIES MAGNET COVER

A cold war. I mean, not like aggressive, but definitely passive aggressive. It just wasn’t that much fun for everybody. Looking back now, what we needed was somebody in our world who was savvy enough to just go, “Look, these kids are, like, kind of tired. They’ve been doing a lot of work. And they probably need to have a little vacation. They need to take six months off and stop doing whatever they’re doing so they can catch their breath. Then they’ll pick up where they left off.” If someone had said that to us, advised us… “look, don’t throw the baby out of the bath water. Just chill out. Go on fucking vacation. Take a year off!” – we never would have lasted a year – “Take a year off!” If someone would have just said that to us, I think we would have done that and we would have just continued. We would have worked it all out. I don’t know what the other guys were doing, but I was just smoking dope 24 hours a day. I was young, I was cocky. What did I want to do? Touring was okay, but what I wanted to do was go hang in a recording studio and experiment and try to figure out how it all worked. The record company was like, “yeah, whatever you guys record we’ll put out.” So it just kind of fed that. Then that kind of interfered with touring. The agents were constantly encouraging the live touring, which the band I think was kind of into. But I was always interfering: “No, let’s stop the tour and go cut another record.” But nobody’s saying, “hey, let’s just chill the fuck out. Give these guys a little vacation.”

So, I’ve been in bands, I know what happens, I know that when you’re overworked and A. you’re young an dumb B. there’s alcohol and substances involved, C. you’re exhausted and you lose perspective. There are these slights that never get resolved, they get internalized, these little petty grudges just linger and simmer and you forget after a while why you’re angry with each other, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are angry with each other. Is that about right?

Yep.

I’m not going to make this whole thing about Kim Deal, but I would like to give you the opportunity to respond to this narrative that’s emerged that you were doing the lion’s share of the heavy lifting. Writing all the songs. Singing them. And yet Kim was the one that got all the adulation. People really liked her — she smiled, she had a dreamy voice…

…she’s got charisma.

Right, she’s got charisma…and you somehow resented that. Is there any truth in that? Or is that just kind of people projecting.

Well, there’s truth in it in the sense that the narrative that narrative you referred to, those kind of narratives can be hurtful if they’re not factual. So I’m resentful of the narrative. That resentment can start to effect your interpersonal band situation. The fact of the matter was that I was the writer, we had a band, we had a little thing going. One time, Kim walked into rehearsal we were not psychologically prepared. She just showed up to practice one day, probably because she had to get her nerve up and say, “oh, I have a bunch of songs, also.” We had never heard about these other songs before, it was out of the blue. So the way she did it was a little like, “Woah!” But we went along with it. But the thing is, we’re rehearsing with shitty amps in a really loud rehearsal space. We’re probably bonked out of our mind on marijuana and we’re trying to make some sense out of a din. So she brings in all these new songs or chord structures or whatever and of course it didn’t click. So the rest of the band and I talked about it and went, “Yeah the new stuff she brought in today seemed kind of different. It didn’t seem to really work.” Now whether it was really good or not, who knows? It was a fucking cacophony [when we tried it.] So we just went, like, “Kim…” And she was very bashful and said, “Oh that’s okay, don’t worry about it.” So, that was put aside.

When was this, roughly? What album?PIXIES MAGNET COVER

This was around Surfer Rosa or maybe after Surfer Rosa. Somewhere in there. I remember a couple years after we were touring around in England. We were doing something at the BBC and she was listening to mixes in another room in the studio complex of her new record for her new band. She invited us down to hear them. So we went down and we listened to them. So really, the fact of the matter is that she was putting together the first Breeders record while The Pixies were going and nobody had a problem with it. She didn’t have a problem with it; we didn’t have a problem with it. That’s the way it was going on. She didn’t really find a receptive space for her material within the band until she started her own thing, and we were all like, “Cool.” So that’s really all that happened. So people that are writing about it trying to figure out…Again, it’s a narrative. “oh, that’s Charles, the guy who screams TAAAAAAAAAAMMMME!!! He’s not letting her write the songs.” And that’s not exactly right. That’s not exactly how it went down. So, you know, who knows what would have happened if we were able to get some vacation time in.

It seemed early earlier on that you guys sang a lot more than you did on the last two records. Was there a conscious decision to stop doing that?

I think that there was probably iciness between us two and then there was probably Gil was trying to always force it or something. He’s trying to force these two people to sing together…

You didn’t really want to?

I don’t think I was against it, I think…you know, people were barely showing up at the sessions and the whole thing starts to turn into the Charles Thompson Show.

By what album?

Bossanova and Trompe le Monde, those two records. It starts to turn into me hanging out at the studio for hours and hours and hours with Gil Norton because I had the studio itch.

And those guys just rather not? Or they already did their parts and they let you finish the record?

I think if you’re not the writer there’s only so much time you can put into the studio. You’re like, “look, I got other shit to do than listen to Mr. Stoner here try to it yet again a different way.”

When did you first start smoking pot?

That was with The Pixies, I think. Not really until I started touring. I didn’t touch it when I was in college, not really.

For what reason? It just didn’t interest you?

I think I was fearful of drugs and alcohol, so I never really went there. I think the first time that I got drunk was with Joey when we were in college. I vomited in the toilet. I was a very goody-two-shoes when I was a teenager. But I think once I discovered pot, I was like, “oh, I like this a lot.” I smoked it quite heavily throughout the whole Pixies.PIXIES MAGNET COVER

Do you think this aided you in your creative endeavors?

I don’t think ever wrote a great song when I was high.

When was the last time you got high?

I haven’t really smoked in about ten or twelve years. I got kids now, and stuff, it’s too hard, you know? It’s too hard to negotiate that when you’re baked.

What about psychedelics?

Yeah, sure, we used to do mushrooms quite a lot. We would go on college radio stations and if it was the fall tell people that if they had mushrooms, bring them to the show. We did them a lot. But ‘shrooms never worked out for me. I had a beautiful experience the second time with our lighting guy walking around Cleveland. But when you’re on tour, hanging out in bars and nightclubs, tripping it’s not fun. People’s faces melting, it was just a paranoid bummer so eventually I stopped altogether.

What about LSD?

Couple times. Once I went to a midnight movie and took and one time I was in Vegas and went to see Redd Foxx on acid. But I think I never got over if it doesn’t grow out of the ground, I don’t want to touch it. Cocaine, ecstasy, heroin. I remember somebody giving me a hit of ecstasy like 25 years ago and it didn’t do anything.

So while we’re dealing with the Kim controversies, can we just talk about the Kim Shattuck situation?

Yeah, there’s not much to say, but yeah, sure.

Was she not cutting it music-wise or personality-wise? Or was it the way she was carrying herself on stage? What was the unhappiness?

Yeah, it’s tough being in a band with new people, specially when you’re coming in to replace someone who’s been there for 28 years or whatever. It was a lot of pressure. But, you know, what can I say, it just wasn’t working out. I think we all tried to make it work; she tried to make it work; we tried to make it work, it wasn’t working out. We tried to make it work again and, in the end…

I want to give you an opportunity to respond to the one thing that she seems to put out there: at one of the LA shows, she got excited and jumped into the crowd and you guys didn’t like it, she says, and then the next thing she knows, she’s fired. Is it as simple as that?

No, certainly not. That would have been in the first week of shows that we performed in Los Angeles, and she remained with us until three months later, or whatever like that. So, it PIXIES MAGNET COVER wasn’t about that. Is it true that we didn’t care for the demeanor she was projecting? Yeah, but it was an honest mistake – well not a mistake. She wouldn’t have known there was some kind of rule. We wouldn’t have known there was some kind of rule about certain body language or stage demeanor. But, when you’ve been in a band for a long time, you don’t realize there are unwritten rules until some newbie comes in and starts breaking the rules. And you’re like, “Woah, woah, woah, we don’t do it like that! We do it like this.” So, in a way, it was kind of cool that she sort of barged in, so-to-speak, and start doing things that are natural to her. And then we suddenly realized that’s not who we are. There was a certain identity awareness that had occurred within our own band. So we told her no, don’t do it like that, do it like this. And she did, she changed it up. You know, she was just a different kind of personality.

So it was personal not musical, or was it musical as well?

I would say it was probably both. I think personality wise, she’s very West Coast, she’s very extrovert. We’re very East Coast, very introvert. That’s my thinking on it. Now, in terms of her playing, my call was that…the first few times I met her, I really liked her, and I thought, “well, she’s not a bass player. But neither was Kim Deal,” so maybe that’s the magic right there: someone who’s not a trained bass player. So, that was kind of perfect, that she was rough and ready like us. She’s kind of cut from the same cloth. She’s the same age as us, she’s sort of the same kind of player as us, and she’s not a bass player, just like Kim Deal. “Dut I’ll play the bass for ya!” Perfect.

So it worked with my narrative, it worked with my little story. The problem with that is that we were a seasoned band playing a certain way, doing things a certain way, playing things a certain way. David, has the most physically demanding job in the band, he’s the drummer. So, he’s had to keep himself in shape, and practice his paradiddles or whatever he does to keep himself in shape. And I think at this stage in the game, he was like, “Look, I don’t want to play with some lead singer/guitarist, who’s picked up a bass. It’s not happening for me. I need to have someone who’s in the pocket. I need a real bass player. I worked really hard, I finally got to where I am, now you’re giving me some chick who doesn’t even play the bass.” So I think it was frustrating for him. Maybe I didn’t notice at first. I was like, “Oh that’s great, and she’s hitting the notes! She’s singing the harmonies.” Life is beautiful, right? Isn’t she awesome? And Dave was like, “No, that’s not fucking awesome.” It took me a long time to figure that out, but eventually, I was like, “Okay, I get it. He wants someone that’s slamming down on those eighth notes with him, 100%, and that makes for a better audio visual picture. If the drummer is just on the bottom, and everyone is above him, it’s a wobbly building, and it’s like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. You get the two-rhythm section, maybe even the rhythm guitarist down there on the bottom, and you start to have a really solid structure.

So I’ve been listening to the new EPs and I think the material is really, really strong. These tracks could hold their own on Bossanova. And in some ways, I think the songwriting is a lot more fully realized and sophisticated than a lot of the old stuff. The chorus to “Indie Cindy” — it’s got that beautiful, soaring groove and your vocals are about perfect. As someone with 28 years of Pixies fandom under my belt, I feel qualified to declare that prime-cut, top-shelf Pixies. OK, so maybe there’s no “Where Is My Mind” or “Wave Of Mutilation” in there, but I fail to see how the editors at Pitchfork can justify giving it a 1 out of 10 rating. That’s not a fair and balanced critique, that’s somebody with an agenda. And I think what’s going on here is they are sort of recasting you guys into this old narrative where you are the ‘bad guy’ and Kim is the ‘good guy’ and ‘you chased her off again. We love Kim Deal and we want her to be in the Pixies and we want her to be on these new songs, so now we’re mad at you and we have to punish you for being that bad guy again. Here’s a one review, fuck you.’

Yeah, it’s like a whole Lester Bangs kind of thing. It’s like, “fuck you!” you used to be the fucking king, but now you’re a fucking piece of shit. It’s that kind of thing. I get it, it’s cool. I’d rather play in a band than have to do that shit, but I get it. It’s kind of like if you’re not going to do something, you’re just going to critique and talk about stuff. I get it if you want to be like the guy from Pitchfork. The Pixies have a comeback record? Alright, 1/10.

That’s ludicrous.

Yeah, you know, it’s cool.

That’s not cool. That’s not judging the work on it’s merits or lack thereof. That’s a temper tantrum.PIXIES MAGNET COVER

Yeah, but it’s always been like that. Even back in the day with the NME.

As I recall they were always tripping over themselves to kiss your asses.

Until they made the editorial decision that, “Now we will remove their crown.”

Well, that is the way British music papers work: One week you’re the savior or rock n’ roll and the next week they are crucifying you.

Yeah, I’ve been through that. So I learned to accept it. I’m not really offended by that. Especially when I don’t make an effort to read this stuff. It’s more of a bummer for the tour manager to come to you and say, ‘Yeah it’s a little soft today out there, a little quiet. We only about half sold the room.’ You know, ‘Hey, the promoters move the show to a smaller venue’. When you start to hear that kind of stuff, that hurts more than a review, you know what I mean?

Assuming you are speaking from experience, when you were deciding you were going to break up The Pixies, had you thought it through, did you tell yourself “I’m not going to be able to operate at the same level I’m currently operating at. I’m going to have to start over again, back to playing bars.”

Probably not. I must have been way too cocky to have that kind of thought process. Yeah, I probably thought it was all going to just continue and I was going to become great or something. I had a good time doing what I did. You know what I mean? I got to earn my dues so I could play my blues. But yeah, I didn’t have any kind of vision. I just continued. I learned pretty quickly. I became humble pretty fast.

Was there a point afterwards that you thought, “Why did I do that?” Did you regret splitting up the band at any point?

No, I held on to that story for a really long time. But I was able to let go of that story because I was breaking up with my wife and that probably had something to do with that. That big part of my life was ending and I was more open to change. I was going to a therapist, and I was becoming older, and I had to confront all these new things I never had to confront before. I had to learn how to talk to women again. I had to go through all this shit. Then you become a lot more open to stuff. “Hey the Pixies are getting back together again!” I didn’t say that. But then I thought, “Well, you guys want to get back together?!”PIXIES MAGNET COVER

“Where is My Mind?” is pretty much the unofficial theme song of Fight Club and that movie is easily one of the coolest, most radical and most beloved movies of the past 15 or 20 years. Are you happy with the way the song was used in the film?

Yeah I like it fine, I thought the placement of it was very rewarding and dramatic. What’s not to like? The song has turned into its own small business. I get a lot of requests to license the song and I say yes to almost everybody.

What have you said no to?

There was a pornographic film that was being made that was pretending to be something other than a pornographic film and it was very plain to us that it was just a pornographic film that for some reason wanted to license the music. And I think I said no to that. When we started making music there was a huge aversion to all that. And I admire people like Tom Waits who have basically no to everything and say “No, fuck you. Nobodys going to put my music in their stupid shit and I’m sticking to my guns.” And I admire that at the same time I also admire someone like Iggy Pop that’s like “I don’t give a fuckin shit what you do with my song, that’s not why I made it, that’s not why I recorded it, that’s not why I made the record, but if someone wants to give me money to sell sausages I don’t give a shit.” And I understand that too and I’m stuck between the two.

Did you ever meet Kurt Cobain famously said he was just trying to rip-off the Pixies when he wrote “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Did you ever meet him or have a conversation with him?

Nope, never.

The Pixies have been covering “In Heaven” from Eraserhead for almost 30 years. Have you ever met David Lynch?

Nope. That was a mistake on the part of our old manager. We had heard from [Lynch’s] people, I can’t remember what movie it was [reportedly it was Lost Highway — The Ed.], but they were playing this song from Bossonova, I think “Cecilia Ann,” on set as some temp music for the mood of the scene and they wanted to use it in the movie.

They weren’t necessarily trying to like get away with anything but at the same time their position was like ‘Look, little tiny artsy band we’re the big fuckin, we’re in Hollywood here making a movie, even though it was David Lynch, we want to use this for the movie but were not going to pay for it.’ Obviously they loved the song they were using it already. Our manager took the position like ‘Screw you guys, you don’t want to pay us?’ I get that. It’s like an old school New England like ‘Fuck you, you ain’t givin me zero, no give us a least a token, something! Don’t just do that.’ So he was like, ‘Take a hike. We don’t give a shit,’ and I get that. But now when I think about the origins of the band and our direct connections with David Lynch in terms of us singing a song from the Eraserhead movie. And I remember all of us going to see Blue Velvet together as a band after band practice, all four of us sitting there in a movie theatre together. David Lynch was a revered figure in my world and the manager should have just let that one slide. It is a David Lynch movie after all and that’s forever.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

FROM THE VAULTS: A Man Called Francis, Part 2

Thursday, June 17th, 2021

francis

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview first published on October 19th, 2006.

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA Welcome to part two of our bazillion-word interview with esteemed jazz critic Francis Davis, wherein our man Fran will be talking non-smack about Coltrane in Philly, Sun Ra on Uranus and the pre-historic beginnings of Fresh Air. If you are just finding us for the first time, you can find Part One here, along with his illustrious CV. When we last left our hero, he was beaten, bloodied and long haired, handcuffed in the back of Philadelphia Police Department paddy wagon charged with aggravated assault and battery on a police officer. In other words, it was the 60s.

Phawker: Okay, so you bust out of prison. It’s you, Tom Waits, John Lurie and Roberto Benigni wading through the swamps of Louisiana. No wait, that’s Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law. Jumping forward, how did we decide to become a jazz critic?

Francis Davis: Slowly. In 1978, Terry Gross, who, as you know, later became my wife asked me to do a regular jazz segment on Fresh Air. She had a three-hour show in those days. And she needed to fill a lot of time. And she asked me to do a feature on jazz, on out-of-print jazz in particular. I wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t a show by some old white guy in his basement. Like, ‘this record’s really rare.’ I wanted to do a history of jazz paying attention only to the gaps. So I started writing the scripts and working hard to deliver them as if I was just saying these things off the top of my head. And then I got laid off at the record store I worked at which, you know, put me on employment compensation and gave me a lot of time. Terry and I went to England in ’79, and being out of my country for the first time I had kind of metamorphosis in a sense that you had no history. You could be anybody you want to be because nobody knows who you are. [And that was very liberating] So I really started wanting to write when I came back. And I did a few things for the Courier-Post, most of which were not jazz pieces. They paid very badly, but the great part about it was that they didn’t care if you knew something about it or not. As long as there was a Jersey connection, and as long as you remembered to mentioned what high school the person went to.

So I had all this time. I didn’t have a lot of clips, but I had a lot of the scripts, which were very good scripts actually. You know, a little over-written, but it goes with the territory when you first start to write… And I was on unemployment compensation, so I was getting a check every week and I could just sit and write. And do, like, 20 records reviews a day. And sometimes I did. So I built up this body of work and eventually people noticed me…

Phawker: Were you as interested in pop music or rock and roll as you were in jazz?

Francis Davis: Yeah, at one point I was. But writing about music for me meant writing about jazz, you know. And the other thing is that insofar as pop music is youth music, there has to be a point at which — and this certainly isn’t true for Bob Christgau — but for most of us there has to be a point at which keeping up with it, as I put it in the intro of Like Young, becomes as absurd a notion as keeping up with sex, or something. By the way, everybody hates the Killers new CD. I kind of like it, but anyway.

Phawker: How long was your little segment, about five minutes or so?

Francis Davis: Well, that’s what we always joked about. No, it was supposed to be 20 minutes, but because we had all the time in the world to fill, it was ‘Hey, 37 minutes? Fine! The guest isn’t here yet.’ And the show was live in those days too. They had very few things on tape.

Phawker: Was it called Fresh Air then?

Francis Davis: Yeah, my segment was called Interval. And you know, part of the time would be taken up by playing records. I didn’t excerpt records. I played complete tracks. That’s one thing I never liked about reviewing for NPR shows. I don’t know what you get from playing 30 seconds of something. Getting back to your question about pop, I’ve written about pop but usually just because something had interested me for years and years, like the piece I wrote about the Velvet Underground.

Phawker: Where did the Velvet’s piece first appear?

Francis Davis: The Atlantic Monthly. But that was because Bill Whitworth, the editor, asked me if I’d be interested in writing a piece about the Rolling Stones, who were mounting one of their many tours at the time. This I guess this is ’89 or ’90. And you know, no I wasn’t.

Phawker: Didn’t you call them ‘blown-out satyrs’?

Francis Davis: That’s the first sentence of the piece. I think I can write on a very personal level about pop. But I don’t think I have the kind of weight of authority that I have when I’m writing about jazz. And it’s the same thing. Bob Christgau has written about jazz but I think pop critics are treading on very dangerous territory when they write about jazz. And even Bob’s got stuff wrong. I don’t mean factually wrong. Its something I just disagree about. I think opinion is non-negotiable. It’s my way or the highway. But no, I don’t feel the need to sort of share my opinion with’ about the new Beck record, which I haven’t heard, as I do to share my opinion of the new Ornette Coleman record.

Phawker: Just to finish up the Terry thing. Is that how you guys met? Through the show?

Francis Davis: No, I think the first time we met was in the store. I dunno, the first or second time. And I remember we had a conversation about Ella Fitzgerald and about Paul Desmond. Because I really loved Paul Desmond. And she was surprised given my taste for, like, free improvisation and so on, that I liked Paul Desmond. I want to write a piece about Paul Desmond by the way.

Phawker: I don’t know anything about Paul Desmond.

Francis Davis: Paul Desmond was the alto saxophonist in the Dave Brubeck Quartet. And in a way one of the whitest players that ever lived. But in a sense he was the token black in the Brubeck Quartet. At least until before they hired a black bass player. He was a very ‘black’ player. I mean, there are many, many tenor players, including white tenor players, who were influenced by Lester Young. And the influence is kind of transparent. Because Desmond’s playing another instrument, an instrument in a high register, its not as obvious. But Desmond is so far behind the beat and so Lester Young-like, but in a good way. Anyway, but that’s how we met.

Phawker: And you sort of hit it off from there and the rest is history?

Francis Davis: Well, she knew I knew a lot about jazz and wanted to do a whole strip of different music features. There’d be one on jazz, there’d be one on folk music or something, and actually I was the only one who did it for a long time because people would lose interest. In fact, I think in the end we weren’t getting paid anything, or maybe $20 a throw.

Phawker: Lets jump ahead. You have been working on a Coltrane book for 10 years…

Francis Davis: Yeah. Fitfully. It’s long overdue. I don’t mean it’s long overdue in the market, I mean, in terms of the contract, it’s long overdue. Yeah, I have a very indulgent publisher. It’s a straight bio. But the publisher would be horrified to hear it described as a critical biography because they always fear that. In the marketplace that means it’s a kind of dense book that’s not really a biography but really a book of criticism. But you know, these things weave in and out. And I don’t know how you can write a biography of an artist without it being a critical biography in some ways. There have been numerous Coltrane biographies, but I think what’s missing, really, is Philadelphia. Because there were a lot of people, there still are a lot of people here, who are kind of important to the story who nobody really bothers talking to very much.

Phawker: What role do you think Philadelphia played in his art?

Francis Davis: Well, what was he, 18 when he came here? I dunno, he had finished high school. He studied at the Granoff School. I think in Philadelphia there were two things that had an impact on him. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a Philadelphia sound. I think there’s a Philadelphia mind set, or sensibility or attitude or whatever. The other thing, the thing he became caught up in, musicians will tell you, and it’s funny, some people intend it as a criticism, that there was an obsession with technique in Philadelphia. And it’s funny, with Coltrane that technique becomes a form of mysticism. It’s almost as if like, the deeper you get into chords, the better of a musician you are, the better person you become. It’s such a discipline. Its almost like this zen kinda that. And that’s Philadelphia. And Coltrane came to epitomize that.

Phawker: When was Coltrane here?

Francis Davis: Well he got here about ’44, ’45. Again, he didn’t come here for the music. He caame here for the work, along with his mother, who had recently been widowed. When he left it’s kind of hard to say. He left gradually. He maintained a residence here. Which is still there, but I’m not sure when he last actually resided here. But he was gone by ’57. He joins Miles [Davis] by ’55 and he’s kind of gone by then really. Sometimes you read things and you think Coltrane lived his whole life here or something, because Philadelphia is very possessive and it has a king-sized inferiority complex because of its proximity to New York.

(At this point, Terry calls and Francis excuses himself to make a dinner date with his wife at Zeke’s Deli. If you go, try the whitefish. Dynamite whitefish. Lastly, apologies for false advertising, there was a fairly lengthy Sun Ra discussion that must have wound up on the cutting room floor. We’ll look for it and slap it on the end if we find it [We never did.–The Editor]. We blame the intern. That’s the beauty of having an intern. At Phawker our motto is: We’ll get it right, eventually.)

Screen Shot 2021-06-17 at 12.48.06 AM

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

FROM THE VAULTS: A Man Called Francis

Wednesday, June 16th, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally published back in 2006. It’s still a fascinating read.

Welcome to the second installment of our Grumpy Old Men series, wherein we learn from our elders and soak up their salty yarns like Bounty Quicker Picker-Upper. Yesterday we had Robert Christgau, today Francis Davis. Tomorrow? The Pope. What’s that you say? You never heard of Francis Davis. Oh buddy, it’s good thing youfrancisart.jpg found us! Check out his CV:

He has written about music, film, and other aspects of popular culture for The Atlantic since 1984 and was appointed lead jazz critic for the Voice in 2004. He was jazz critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1982 to 1996, jazz editor of Musician from 1982 to 1985, and a staff writer for 7 Days from 1988 to 1990. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Arts & Leisure and Book Review sections, The Nation, Connoisseur, Rolling Stone, Wigwag, The Oxford American, Stereo Review Sound & Vision, High Fidelity, the Boston Phoenix, The Absolute Sound, ARTicles, Cadence, Down Beat, Jazz Times, Elle, Audio, The World & I, The Wire, The Black American, the Village Voice Rock & Roll Quarterly, The Washington Post Book World, The New York Times Book Review, and The Times Literary Supplement (London).

Yow! He is also married to Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. We talked to him about his 10-years-in-the-making John Coltrane bio, Sheets of Sound, what it’s like to get beaten up and thrown in the hoosegow by the Philly cops for being a smartass hippie back in the Sixties, and who’s on top in bed. Just kidding. He wouldn’t answer that question.

PHAWKER: Say your name please…

FRANCIS DAVIS: Francis Davis.

PHAWKER: You’re Philly-born and -bred. Lived here your whole life.

FRANCIS DAVIS: Yeah.

PHAWKER: Where’d you grow up?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Southwest Philadelphia. Around 58th and Elmwood Ave.

PHAWKER: And what kinda neighborhood was that back then?

FRANCIS DAVIS: At the time it was a very ethnic, Catholic neighborhood: Italian, Irish and Polish. In fact, many of the kids who I went to school with who were Polish still had parents who spoke, you know, Polish. Spoke Polish? Is there such a language? [laughs]

PHAWKER: Are you Irish stock 100%?

FRANCIS DAVIS: No. But Celtic. I guess my father was Welsh.

PHAWKER: And your mom?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Irish. Very Irish.

PHAWKER:
And where did you go to high school?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Bartram. It was an integrated high school, which was very rare in Philly at the time. Well, I believe, anyway. And this would have been 1964 when I graduated. So not only was it very integrated, it was also the height of the civil rights era. So it was kind, of you know, hip for black kids to invite white kids to the parties and vice versa. Not that I, you know, threw any parties myself. We also had a great influx of Jewish kids, and then we even had an Indian kid, who wore, you know, a turban. And the black kids used to call it his doo-rag. So you know, I think now to find such a high school you’d have to watch a television show. I mean I think they’re only high schools like that on TV. And we had, like, hoods and National Merit Scholars.

PHAWKER: And is that what first opened you to black culture and music and things like that?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Well, to jazz, in a way. At that time there was a commercial jazz station in Philadelphia: WHAT-FM. In those days, not everybody had a FM radio yet, you know. And certainly kids’ radios tended to be transistors, which were little AM radios. So the hip thing to do was to listen to FM. In particular to listen to WHAT-FM, the jazz station, 96.5 I recall. So it probably was black kids who first taught me about that, including a kid I went to school with who was Bill Cosby’s cousin.

PHAWKER: How old were you?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Seventeen. I was reading Saturday Review and Evergreen Review and things like that. And they covered jazz in those days. There was a critic that I liked named Martin Williams, who I especially liked who also wrote for Evergreen Review and Saturday Review. Because I was reading poetry I knew about the then-named Leroi Jones, who, you know, I knew him as a poet before I knew him as a jazz writer or jazz critic. But anyway, it was a short step from reading them and those magazines to buying Down Beat and a magazine called Jazz and so on … and I noticed there were people I was reading about who weren’t being played on that station. So I would save my pennies, sometimes literally, and buy, usually cut out records that were on sale for $1.98 or so by Cecil Taylor or Ornette Coleman. So between that station and stuff I was buying I was hearing lots of stuff. And that’s how I started.

PHAWKER: And what got you into reading these fairly mature literary magazines as a teenager?

FRANCIS DAVIS: I don’t know. I always read. When I was a kid I was never treated like a kid in my family. In the house where I was growing up, I was the only male in an otherwise female household with my mother, my grandmother and an aunt. In some ways I was a little bit spoiled. My grandmother lost her son in World War II and I was named after him. And in some ways, this is sort of a a black concept, in some ways I was the replacement child for her. And also because grandmothers spoil ya anyway. But the person I was named after was smart. He was the only person in the family that had graduated from high school. Because I had his name, it was just assumed that I would be smart, too. There were never kids books around, per say. So the books I read when I was a kid were, you know, the same things my mom was reading. Which meant a lot of Mickey Spillane. I was fascinated by the look of type on a page. When I would write stuff on my own, if it wasn’t for school, I would get a piece of loose leaf paper, which was wide ruled, and do two lines in each one because it looked more squished together, like typeface.

So, you know, I was just interested in writing. My senior year in high school I got a job at the Free Library branch at 51st and Kensington. Essentially it was a minimum wage thing where you put books away. That was all you were allowed to do if you weren’t union. But during the summer it was a dream job because hardly anybody came into the library. So there’d be three or four to put away and then I had all the time in the world to read. And I could also check any book out that I wanted and not have to worry about bringing it back. There was one stretch in particular when I was a senior in high school. Right around the time of the Kennedy assassination. My grandmother died not long after that. And there were a lot of arrangements to be made. Relatives were coming from different places and nobody was paying much attention to whether I went to school or not, so I would just stay home and read. And I know that in my senior year of high school and the beginning of freshman year of college, I read probably 90 percent of everything I’ve ever read. [Laughs] That’s when I read Lolita, The Invisible Man, Rabbit, Run, etc. Pretty much everything Norman Mailer had published up to that point. And I was just digesting all this. And I was just reading these things the way people watched television shows, you know. And also not having to do papers on them or anything or discuss them in class. Again, I probably started reading say, Saturday Review, because a writer who I had read and liked was on the cover. And Evergreen I started reading because in the very first issue Norman Mailer had a piece in there. And I was kinda obsessed with Mailer back then. Especially the way he wrote about writing, how he changed this word and replaced it with another word because it was more masculine, and so on. So I started to write a novel myself. It was more or less The Great Gatsby, but with teenagers, you know?

PHAWKER: What was it called?

FRANCIS DAVIS: It had various titles. The one I remember was Let Him Be Foolish. Never finished it, by the way. It started out as a short story and became a never-ending novel. It just got longer and longer. I’m glad it no longer exists.

PHAWKER: So then you went to Temple?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Yeah, yeah. I started at Penn State. Then I went to Temple.

PHAWKER: Oh, freshman year you went to Penn State?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Yeah then I transferred to Temple. You know, Penn State seemed too rural to me. I had never been out of the city in my life. And I was used to having, like, a newsstand at ever corner. At Penn State there weren’t even corners. I used to get lost trying to find a classroom that I had just been to a few days before .

PHAWKER: There’s no grid to follow.

FRANCIS DAVIS: Yeah, to orient myself. It was also, at least in the fall of 1964, Penn State was overwhelmingly white. And suddenly I was with all these kids from small towns from Philadelphia who were the most casually racist people. They were not bad people, but the racism was just something I wasn’t used to.


PHAWKER:
And what was this sort of racial mix at Temple?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Well, it was still largely white. I had classes that didn’t have a single black person in them, for example. But it wasn’t quite like Penn State. And I guess gradually it got more integrated. It’s funny, I think sometimes there’s this perception of Temple having a much larger black enrollment than it does because it’s in North Philadelphia and because of the basketball team and because of WRTI, the jazz station. But it was predominantly white when I got there. But I don’t think, outside of a historically black college, that there would have been a college I could have gone to that wouldn’t have been predominately white at the time.

PHAWKER: Tell me a little bit about what you remember of white flight in the city and how the whole city changed in that whole time period you described.

FRANCIS DAVIS: Well I never witnessed it. It was just a fait accompli. If I went back to my neighborhood today, you know, it would be completely black. I should clarify: there’s West Philadelphia and there’s Southwest Philadelphia. Back then it was very Italian, so much so that if you weren’t Italian… (laughs). Forget being black. If you were Irish or Polish you were taking your chances walking through there. Cause there were always great rivalry between the Italian kids and the Irish kids. But you know, within a few years those neighborhoods were black, predominately black. But its not like I witnessed it. I was gone by then.

PHAWKER: Your dad is out of the picture?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Yeah, yeah, I never really knew my father.

PHAWKER: Do you recall that big race riot that happened in North Philly in ’64? From what I’ve read it was crazy. It went on for three days!

FRANCIS DAVIS: Yeah yeah. Well, you have to remember that it seemed, between that and the next year, that there were riots all over the place.

PHAWKER: What was your reaction to all of that?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Well, dismay. Dismay. And I wouldn’t have been able to articulate why at the time. But I think looking back everybody had a sense, that the civil rights movement was relinquishing the high ground. Relinquishing the moral high ground. And certainly I think in retrospect, whatever other benefits it had, that was also true of Black Power. I mean, the moral high ground is very important. I couldn’t articulate it any better at the time. But, you know, sadness. But also comprehension. The Phillies’ ballpark used to be at 21st and Lehigh. So, I’d seen enough of North Philadelphia to know why people were fed up. I don’t know if it was smart to do what they were doing, nevertheless I could understand, you know?

PHAWKER: Okay, so you graduated from Temple.

FRANCIS DAVIS: No, I never graduated. I dropped out. After about five years. [laughs] It was the Sixties. That’s how I usually explain it.

PHAWKER: Ok. Tell me, when did you get Sixties-fied?

Francis Davis: Well, I dunno. Just in terms of the academic career. I had a habit all along of only paying attention to and going to classes that I was good in and blowing off the rest. And you know, essentially I was very good in the English courses, the history, political science, and religion courses, because mostly what you did in religion was read novels anyway, you know. Temple had a great religion department back then, by the way. I believe it was the first secular religious deptartment in the United States. It was headed by a guy who turned out not to be all what he was cracked up to be, named Phillips, I think his first name was Bernard. But he was DT Suzuki’s translator. Suzuki is the guy who exploited…the Salinger collection Nine Stories. He was pretty lofty academically, but he wasn’t a good classroom teacher. But they had great people in the department. I remember a guy named Murray Goldman who was, in addition to being a religious professor, he was a Jungian psychiatrist, a rabbi and a songwriter, you know, who wrote songs for a short lived band that had Kevin Bacon’s brother in it. It was called Good News. So Murray would be in class and he’d quote like George Santayana and Otis Redding in the same sentence. That blew me away.

PHAWKER: But you dropped out..

FRANCIS DAVIS: I dropped out. It’s sort of like I dropped out gradually. I stopped going to classes and then I didn’t enroll for the next semester. And I was able to get a job in a bookstore. It’s not like we had a lot of money in my house, so that helped. And it’s not like I thought of…this is a long digression and I won’t get into the details, but I got arrested one night in 1968.

PHAWKER: C’mon, it’ll up your street cred.

FRANCIS DAVIS: Well, I got arrested essentially for questioning the cops. We were in West Philly at the time. They were stopping people and searching people who they thought looked ‘suspicious’ and very often that translated into anyone with long hair, really, cause they thought they’d get a drug bust or whatever. So, I actually got along really well with the cop who stopped me and searched me, we were kinda joking together, I think we smoked a cigarette together or something.

PHAWKER: You had long hair?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Yeah. So I made the strategic mistake of calling the precinct and complaining about the policy when I got home. Because the cop had more or less told me that’s what the policy was. So they sent cops to my door. And there was this whole charade of like, ‘Did somebody here call for the police?’

‘No, I called the police station.’

‘But did somebody here a call for the police?’

‘No, I called the police station.’

And so on and they kept inching their way in the house. I probably wise-cracked or something. And they beat me up. And if they touch you they have to charge you with assault and battery. It was a bad case because they had charged me with assault and battery — ‘aggravated A and B’ as they put it — you know, on a police officer, but they forgot to charge me with anything else. So its just like, ‘So what happened? You just went up to a cop and started punching him? That’s hard to believe.’ But anyway, that night, my mother in a panic called a lot of people including my boss at the book store and my Uncle Frank the truck driver, and one of my professors, who called two other professors from Temple, so they were all there at my arraignment.

PHAWKER: So what happened? Did the case get dropped?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Yeah. I’ll tell you what was really funny. One of my character witnesses was to be one of my professors, who as it turned out had gotten arrested for picketing Hubert Humphrey because he wasn’t radical enough — boy, those were the days. Anyway, weird twist of fate, his arraignment is the case right before mine. And the judge was not very sharp, definitely a patronage hire. He had a hard time trying to keep everybody straight standing before him in the courtroom. And he points to my professor. ‘And who are you?’ And Henry had just been sentenced by him, just a few minutes prior. Like you know, a fine or something. So he says ‘I’m his professor.’ And the judge says, ‘Professor, huh? I just had a professor in front of me and I found him guilty.’

PHAWKER: And he didn’t even recognize him? Was this guy senile or he didn’t see that well or what?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Senile.

PHAWKER: Turns out, justice is blind. Just to clarify: the cops worked their way into the house and you were being cocky and what? One of the cops just punched you in the face?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Yeah. Of course I didn’t hit them back.

PHAWKER: So how much of a beating did you get? Was it more than one punch?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Yeah.

PHAWKER: They beat on you for a while?

FRANCIS DAVIS: Yeah.

PHAWKER: And then took you off in handcuffs. And charged you for assault and battery. God bless America.
FRANCIS DAVIS: It’s tough being in the paddy wagon in handcuffs because there’s nothing to hold on to.
PHAWKER: Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard about that.

FRANCIS DAVIS: You’re banging around every turn and stop. [Laughing] And you just pray they locked that back door.

End of Part One. Tomorrow: John Coltrane, Sun Ra, climbing to the top of the jazz crit-ocracy and meeting a cute little feminist radiohead named Terry.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

EXCERPT: One False Move

Thursday, June 3rd, 2021

john-Fetterman_lede

 

BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE It’s the Ides of March, a date that lives in infamy, the day that Julius Caesar was betrayed and butchered by members of the Roman Senate — friends, Romans and countrymen, to a man. That was back in 44 BCE, and it’s been a bad-omen day ever since. But John Fetterman, the hulking lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania and, as such, the president of the state Senate, which he’s moments away from gaveling into session, isn’t sweating it. After all, he gets Et tu, Brute’d by the Republican-controlled Senate on a semi-regular basis.

At this moment, he’s posing for a staffer’s camera on the sun-drenched balcony adjoining his office in the state Capitol complex, unfurling a bright yellow Gadsden Flag — retrofitted with marijuana leaves and the motto “Don’t Tread on Weed” — in the yawning chasm between his meaty outstretched paws. The pro-pot flag, along with a half-dozen or so homemade rainbow pride flags that, draped over his shoulders, make Fetterman look like a Roman emperor crossed with Wavy Gravy, were sent to his office by supporters from all over the U.S. and points beyond, one from as far away as Australia. “I don’t want to hang any today just because they’re going to be taken down in an hour,” Fetterman says by way of explanation for the photo session, the pics from which he’ll blast out on social media. “But I do want to thank everyone.”

The flags are replacements for ones that had been hanging from his balcony since his first year in office in 2019. The display so irked the Republican majority of the state legislature that they tucked a provision into a budget bill prohibiting the display of “unauthorized flags” on the exterior of the Capitol. In January, when Fetterman politely refused to comply, maintenance workers, at the behest of Republican leadership, confiscated his array.

“The GOP collectively shrugged when a couple of its members were photographed down in D.C. on Jan. 6th, but my pride and weed flags are a point of outrage for them?” Fetterman complained to a reporter from NBC News at the time. All in all it was just another skirmish in the hyper-partisan forever war currently raging in the ornate chambers of the state capitol.

Though he arrived here today in a black SUV chauffeured by his two-State Trooper security detail, dressed in a sweatshirt, board shorts and running shoes, he has since changed into the crisp, undertaker-black suit and azure tie he wears when he presides over the Republican-controlled state Senate. Of that august body, know that, in the immortal words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “nowhere will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Beneath the towering gilded splendor of the statehouse rotunda is where the rancid sausage-making of the state legislature takes place. It is a nary-splendored thing, a joyless, dreary enterprise, peopled with faceless hacks, bullies, crooks, cowards and bad-haired mediocrities in short sleeves and boxy, traveling salesman-blue suits, hailing from sleepy Pennsyltucky backwaters like Lockhaven and Knobsville, Shickshinny and Hokendauqua, their countenances plastered with the dead-eyed glossy headshot perma-grin of the damned.

Harrisburg is the place where good people go to become less so. Power invariably corrupts and almost everybody leaves this town in tears or handcuffs. This is not hyperbole. The PA General assembly — the largest full-time state legislature in the Union — is ranked the 5th most corrupt in the nation, and 39th for gender diversity by a nationwide quorum of statehouse reporters. Bi-partisanship? We haven’t had that spirit here since 2012, when Republican Speaker of the House John Purzel and shared a prison cell at Camp Hill with Democratic Speaker of the House Bill DeWeese.

Back in January, during a heated dispute about seating a newly-elected Democrat, even though his election had been certified, the Republicans used an obscure parliamentary maneuver to have Fetterman removed from the Senate floor. Just like that that President of the Pennsylvania Senate was rat-fucked out of power — for a day, anyway. As Caesarian back-stabbings go, this would rate a mere flesh wound, but the message it sent was clear: This isn’t a state house where the people’s business gets done, it’s a circus of cruelty.

Small wonder he wants out of the clown car. MORE

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

CINEMA: Un-Viva Las Vegas

Thursday, May 20th, 2021

army_of_the_dead_ver19_xlg

ARMY OF THE DEAD (directed by Zack Snyder, 148 minutes, USA, 2021)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Of all the bizarre announcements that came from Netflix’s blank-check spending spree a few years back, when almost every A-List director got some insane vanity project green lit, was Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead. This was a project he had been working on since 2004, which incidentally was when he did the impossible and remade Dawn of the Dead — George Romero’s classic deconstruction of consumerism aka his “zombies in a mall” epic — and actually knocked it out of the park. Since then he’s gone on to be the driving creative force of the DC universe and in the process become one of the most divisive personalities in comic book cinema thanks in part to the infamous phenomenon that was the #ReleasetheSnyderCut movement. It’s only been a matter of months since that four hour Justice League magnum opus hit HBO Max and now, Army just hit Netflix and could easily be one of his best films to date.

Army of the Dead is an old fashioned heist film that traffics in the zombie genre to up the ante and enrich its world building. In this alternate history a zombie military asset from Area 51 escapes while in transit and spreads its plague across the Nevada desert, until the undead eventually overrun Las Vegas. The city is then quarantined and walled off with shipping containers after a failed military campaign to cleanse Sin City of the undead scourge. To celebrate the Fourth of July a few years later the president plans to nuke the city and take it back once and for all. I can only assume this unnamed president is Trump because that would be the only explanation for the bizarre Sean Spicer cameo. Now this is where our hero Scott Ward (Dave Batista) comes in. He’s a down on his luck veteran who, after fighting in the zombie war, currently flips greasy burgers for a minimum wage. Scott  is recruited by a somewhat suspicious casino owner – Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) to get a crew together, venture into Vegas and recover $200 million from his casino vault before it gets nuked.

With the zombie craze having run its full course three times over since Dawn, Snyder instead looks outside of the sub-genre cribbing from Aliens for the film’s narrative engine and Richard Matheson’s novel I am Legend for its mythos to deliver one of his most focused and enjoyable films to date. It’s the rare Netflix action film that doesn’t feel like it was written by an AI, but Dead moves rather organically delivering its action beats and gore at an enjoyable clip, even throwing a few curve balls our way. Coming in at two plus hours, it’s actually one of the shorter Snyder films that while imbuing our humans in peril with their motives and backstories, surprisingly does the same with their undead counterparts. Pulling another page from Romero’s playbook here, we have zombies with genuine character arcs and societies that have evolved in their time while in Vegas developing their own social hierarchy.
My only knock on the film would be that while visually it’s your standard gorgeously shot sun-drenched action film in the desert, sometimes Snyder, who is also credited as Director of Photography, experiments with a really shallow depth of field. This happens primarily in dialog heavy scenes with varied degrees of success. Sometimes it works and others it’s painfully distracting as the characters fall in and out of focus while attempting to deliver performances. Dave Batista who is usually the supporting heavy or the comic relief really makes a decent action hero here and does his best not to get upstaged by an impressive supporting cast including the likes of Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana De La Reguera, Theo Rossi, Garret Dillahunt and Tig Notaro. It’s just the kind of eclectic ensemble expected in a heist film, where the lead is as good as his crew.

This genre film has the requisite pulse-quickening action and nauseating gore, but surprisingly it has a heart as well. When Batista has to rely on his daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) who works in the quarantine area outside of Vegas to get him in, we soon discover she’s been estranged since witnessing him killing her mother and his wife when she was turning into a zombie; which had to have done some real damage to both of their psyches. This offers a bit more backstory for the actors to chew on and bit more depth for the audience to appreciate as the story progresses and we see how that event shattered both of their lives and their relationship. It’s that thought and character development that takes this high concept idea that could’ve been sheer novelty and gives it enough depth and heart to not only work, but show that Snyder still has it as the film ebbs and flows from family drama to heist film to adrenaline soaked crowd-pleaser.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

BILLY F. GIBBONS: Desert High

Thursday, April 22nd, 2021

“Desert High” is one of the more idiosyncratic and evocative tracks from Hardware, Billy F Gibbons’ third solo album, out June 4 from Concord. The song, available now, takes the form of a narrative tone poem with mysterious instrumental accompaniment. It clearly derives inspiration from the high desert location of Escape Studios where the Hardware recording sessions happened last summer. The album was recorded by Gibbons along with drummer Matt Sorum and guitarist Austin Hanks. Both Sorum and Hanks, it should be mentioned, are based in the California desert these days with Gibbons front and center.

The song, which is recited by Gibbons with his gruff, yet lyrical, delivery cites desert imagery that is specific to the area around Joshua Tree, California. The companion video for “Desert High” finds BFG cruising a dusty desert landscape in a clapped out ’65 Dodge and was directed by Harry Reese and produced by Matt Sorum who also brought “West Coast Junkie,” the album’s previously released track, to the screen.

Apart from scorpions, cacti, snakes and eagles, the song makes reference to three illustrious musical souls, two of whom are long departed and the other still very much with us. In the song, Billy says/sings:

“The desert toad takes me for a ride
The Lizard King’s always by my side”

The Lizard King is, of course the alter ego of the late Jim Morrison of the Doors. It should be noted the venom of Bufo Alvarius, species of desert toad is a powerful natural psychedelic. The Moving Sidewalks, Billy’s pre-ZZ Top band, shared concert bills with the Doors in the late ‘60s as they did with the Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Jeff Beck Group (with vocalist Rod Stewart).

Later, in “Desert High,” Billy recites:

“The Joshua Tree
Gram died in room eight and left it all to Keith
Just a couple of miles from the salt and sea”

“Gram” cited in the song is Gram Parsons, one-time member of the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and Rolling Stones (“Wild clip_image003Horses”) collaborator. “Keith” is, of course, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Parsons did, in fact, die in Room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn on September 19, 1973. He, of course, survives and took it upon himself to induct Billy along with the rest of ZZ Top into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2004. Richards’ friendship with Gibbons dates back many decades to the notorious string of concerts in Hawaii in the early ‘70s when ZZ Top shared the bill with the Stones. When ZZ Top showed up in Honolulu in their western regalia, Stones’ management thought they had mistakenly booked a country band, but their concerns were immediately assuaged when the ZZ Top took the stage and rocked out. “Salt” and “sea” is an oblique reference to the Salton Sea, a man-made inland body of brackish water that lies just 45 miles south of Joshua Tree.

Billy commented on the release of “Desert High,” “The song is, perhaps, not typical of Hardware as a totality but it gives indication of the album’s desiccated sonic sensibility. The desert is a truly mysterious place and we were privileged to have spent all that time there absorbing the heat, the vibe and cranking it out. It’s where natural background is at its most raw and untamed. We suspect what we’ve done is something of a reflection or, perhaps, a mirage, that relates.”

PREVIOUSLY: It is a well-known fact that only two things will survive the coming apocalypse: cockroaches and Keith Richards. A betting man would add ZZ Top to the list. After 40 years of chrome, smoke, and BBQ’d blooze licks, their party-time ubiquity shows no signs of diminishing. Wherever there are men on scaffolding, they will be there. Wherever Harley meets Davidson, they will be there. Wherever stripper meets pole, they will be there. Wherever a Don’t Mess With Texas sticker meets a mud-caked pickup truck bumper, they will be there. They were beardos before it was cool, and they will remain so long after the hipsters have moved on to handlebar mustaches.

The Top are on the road in support of their first new album in nine years, the thoroughly butt-kicking, Rick Rubin-produced La Futura, wherein, amid other strokes of bawdy genius, they rhyme “chartreuse” with “big caboose.” And they ain’t talking about trains, my friend. Friday night, they set up shop at the Keswick with three matching tour buses (one for each band member), plus an official tour dog named Gizzmo. MORE

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: Republican Bill Of Rights

Monday, April 19th, 2021

IMG_6792

 

BY WILLIAM C. HENRY In recognition of Republican Jim Jordan’s tireless, and often successful, efforts to SMUSextinguish the remaining embers of American democracy, I feel it only fitting and proper that I make public what is purported to be the final draft of Jordan’s soon to be proposed twenty-eighth amendment to the United States Constitution. It is to be titled “The Bill of Republican Rights” (co-signers include Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Rick Scott, Tom Cotton, John Cornyn, Josh Hawley, Ron Johnson, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio). With full acceptance of Republican party racism, bigotry, xenophobia, gullibility, and armaments worship, the following rights of Republicans shall never be infringed:

1. The right to spew hate speech and propagate white nationalism.

2. The right to decree that the phrase “well regulated militia” does not exist in the English language.

3. The right to elevate QAnon to god-like factual infallibility status even though not a single Republican knows who or what he, she or it actually is … nor shall they ever be forced to acknowledge such.

4. The right to abridge the voting rights of all non-white American citizens in any manner they see fit.

5. The right to turn any health emergency into a purely political conflict including, but not limited to, the right to flagrantly disregard the conduct and precautionary recommendations–or mandates–of scientists, healthcare professionals and/or governmental authorities even if doing so will knowingly place one’s immediate family, close relatives, friends and untold numbers of other Americans they may come in contact with in danger of dying, and the entire national healthcare system at risk of total collapse.

6. The right to falsely claim “election fraud” whenever the Republican candidate loses.

7. The right to riot against any “Democrat-controlled” legislature or fairly elected Democrat office holder.

8. The right to hold all elected or appointed Republicans in positions of governmental authority “not responsible” for any of their actions.

9. The right to create and maintain an entirely two class society of haves and have-nots including making it a federal crime to be poor.

In keeping with their recognized inability to walk and chew gum at the same time, the Senate Republican caucus is scheduled to initiate action on the Jordan amendment just as soon as it gets the go-ahead from the former president. Jordan is said to have voiced his preference that said permission be granted before the ex-president starts serving time on his tax and loan application fraud convictions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up late 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.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

WIRE FROM THE BUNKER: Meet Peter Case

Tuesday, April 13th, 2021

71ZyRWs6IsL._SL1050_

 

Houlon2BY JONATHAN HOULON FOLK MUSIC EDITOR My contempt for radio – particularly the local variety – has been well-documented in these pages.  But at the risk of belaboring the point, let me say:  fuck you very much.  It wasn’t always like this.  1986:  I’m driving my folks’ American Eagle station wagon down the Pike in Rockville, Maryland, possibly on my way to chess club practice, most definitely not en route to rendezvous a non-existent crush, when a song came on the radio that compelled me to pull over and listen.  The ‘80s were a tough time for those of us utterly perplexed by the popularity of such bands as U2 and REM:  soul-free drivel with god-awful front men.  Don’t get me wrong.  The 90s and the rise of phony indie rock were possibly worse and, in this century, the album itself has tragically been put to rest.  But what I heard that day in 1986 sounded completely new but completely old as well.  A way forward with a steady look to the past.  I patiently waited for my favorite DJ, Weasel, on WHFS 99.1 FM out of Annapolis, to pronounce the credits in his endearingly rodent-like voice.  The song that had so gripped me was, he said, “Echo Wars” from Peter Case’s eponymous debut on Geffen Records.  I turned the wagon around, cruised over to Waxie Maxie’s and picked up the record (that’s what they were called back then without the now preposterous “vinyl” modifier).  I’ve been stalking Peter Case ever since.

Case has a new book out called Somebody Told the Truth which is a compendium of lyrics and stories from his incomparable career.  One of the tales concerns Peter dreaming a song called “Hothouse Madman” which he would later revamp into “Echo Wars” with 61p0BmvfZ0Lthe help of T-Bone Burnett who produced the aforementioned Geffen debut.  But if you really want to get a sense of Case’s incredible journey, you must start by reading the memoir of his early years, As Far as You Can Get Without a Passport, in which he recounts running away from his hometown of Hamburg, NY, while still in his teens and landing in San Francisco around 1973 as a street singer.  Case was pretty much “homeless” back then tho this was before Reagan actually invented the homeless.  I once heard Peter say that Bob Dylan moved East and went straight to the top whereas he moved West and went right to the bottom!  Somehow, Case converted his busking skills into joining the legendary Nerves who would tour the country with the Ramones in ’77 and were also responsible for “Don’t Leave Me Hanging on the Telephone” which Blondie struck gold with a year or two later.  As if that were not enough to establish a legend, post-Nerves, Case put together the Plimsouls who were enormous in LA in the early ‘80s and wrote the power-pop chestnut “A Million Miles Away” which earned a spot in Valley Girl of all places.

All of this is cool as fuck, of course, but it’s decidedly not what makes Case exceptional.  Rather, it’s his solo career which began in ’86 and continues to this day.  On the back cover of Somebody Told the Truth, musician/scribe Sid Griffin writes that Case “has the musical goods to be mentioned in the same breath as Phil Ochs, Dave Van Ronk, and Liam Clancey.”  Impressive company, to be sure.  But listen, Long Ryder, I’ll see you those folk legends and raise you three:  based on the music he’s made for the past 35 years as a solo artist, I would argue that Case must be mentioned in the same breath as Bruce, Butch, and, yea, Bob himself.  He’s that good, friends.  Most importantly, Case has just released a new record, The Midnight Broadcast, which to these ears couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time.

The Midnight Broadcast is an imagined radio program of sorts but not of the lifeless variety that has so turned me off to 51BY8ZX6K2Lthe actual form.  Ross Johnson – whose name I last came across on Alex Chilton’s genuinely unhinged Like Flies on Sherbert – plays the DJ and is compared in the materials accompanying the record to the voice of Finnegans Wake.  The term “Joycean” gets thrown around a lot by those without the actual background to know what that means.  The easy take is “stream of consciousness” and, yes, that applies to the The Midnight Broadcast which is certainly Case’s most untethered (or stream-like, if you will) effort to date.  But the more interesting take is from the Wake itself in which Joyce leans on a Viconian, i.e. cyclical, account of history in which past, present, and future collapse.  Case achieves precisely this with his Broadcast:  his voice – which is mic’d just perfectly in terms of capturing its humanity (i.e. it’s life force AND death rattle) – rings ancient and current at the same time.  And in this era in which the stature of the album has been demolished by streaming, Case points a way to the future:  a wider net, a broad cast.

The record’s repertoire ping pongs in Joycean fashion between the past and present.  It begins with “Just Hanging On” which Case composed in 1970 at the tender age of 15 with an already older man’s perspective.  He sings, “Since I was born I’ve been fighting time // I see the time passing and it eases my mind.”  “Hanging On” first appeared on Case’s best record from this century, 2006’s Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John, where it fit comfortably alongside the other solo acoustic numbers that populated that fine collection.  I heard Case play an astounding version of the song on piano shortly after Sleepy John was released and here it appears in that comforting gospel form but still creates, via its theme of precariousness, an unsettling start to the Broadcast.  Case also essays Mance Lipscomb’s “Charlie James” which likewise ping pongs to his own past:  thumbing his nose at any notion of commercial marketing, Case somehow slipped this Texas blues onto his second record for Geffen, 1989’s Blue Guitar, as the lead-off track!  Take that, David!  There it was ghost-like, here it is almost jaunty.  Again looking backwards from the present, Case gets around to praising Sleepy John Estes with his take on the late bluesman’s “President Kennedy” which itself reminds me of “I Shook His Hand,” a standout from the Geffen debut, which, tho not strictly about JFK, certainly brought him to mind. You get the point.

The Midnight Broadcast was recorded at the Old Whaling Church in Martha’s Vineyard.  Kudos to producer Ron Franklin for the loose-limbed but in your face sound achieved throughout.  Joyce is certainly a reference but, in a way, Moby Dick, may be the more accurate pointer.  Ishmael’s neither here-nor-there-ness permeates the proceedings.  Just as neighboring Nantucket provided a transition between life on land and life on sea, here Case gestures in both directions.  Songs such as “Grey Funnel Line” (an absolutely gorgeous number), “Farewell to the Gold” (most famously cut by Nic Jones on the seafaring Penguin Eggs) and “Captain Stormalong” are maritime through and through.  But the racetrack of “Stewball” and dusty environs of “When I Was a Cowboy” are as land-locked as you can get with or without a passport.  No matter.  It’s all of a piece and you don’t need my limn to love it.

The Broadcast will surely send you back to Case’s catalogue if you’ve never heard him before.  But here’re a few to get you started.  I’ve gotten some hate mail for including amongst these Wires from the Bunker YouTubes bereft of an actual video component.  I can dig:  music and lyrics are simply not enough to capture your wandering eyes.  But that’s ok.  By limiting myself to tracks with an actual moving picture, I was able to confine my choices to five in what otherwise would have been an impossible task of reduction.  I really love Peter!

“Put Down the Gun”:   As good as his debut was, Peter’s sophomore effort, The Man with the Blue Post-Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar (yea, Case was working the long album title angle while Fiona Apple was still in short pants!) was even better.  Sometimes described as a record about homelessness, 1989’s Blue Guitar contains many of Case’s finest songs and is considered by many to be his best album.  Songs like “Hidden Love,” “Poor Old Tom,” “Two Angels” and “Put Down the Gun” on their own justify Case’s reputation as a songwriter’s songwriter as do opening lines like this:  “On the hills outside of town there’s a hiding place // where the green fields sway with lavender, mustard, and Queen Anne’s lace // where the silent clouds go sailing in a sea of Dutchman’s blue // and the lonesome tracks by the railroad cut make me think of you and a train we missed.”  Yea, not exactly what you’d expect from a song that really should be the rallying cry for gun control.  But the truth is Case is talking about a lot more than guns here:  he’s got his eye on everything that separates us and prevents constructive discourse.  As always, his unerring sense of melody is the great connector.

“Dream About You”:  After making as good a case (sorry, had to do it) as anyone that he invented what is now called “Americana” with his first two records, Case veered back in a more pop-oriented direction with his third LP, 1992’s Six Pack of Love, an album that he himself now largely disavows.  “Dream About You” to my ears sounds like something Lennon would have come up with had he lived into the ‘90s.  Case may, in fact, be Lennon’s only rightful heir.  It’s not just the vocal resemblance – Case has a Lennonesque way of sounding both boyish and sneeringly wise at the same time – but also that pop offerings like this one better honor the legacy of the Beatles than anything Noel or Liam ever came up with or ever will.  Case’s pop chops are second-to-none when he chooses to exercise them.  How Geffen managed to not make this a hit is a real head-shaker.

“On My Way Downtown”:  After his three-album stint on Geffen, Peter moved over to the venerable folk label, Vanguard, and released some of his strongest work to date.  His 1997 release, Full Service, No Waiting, is considered by many fans to be the equal of Blue Guitar if not superior.  As usual, the songwriting leads the way.  “Green Blankets,” one of Case’s hardest hitting songs about his early SF days, starts with this doozy: “Out in street it isn’t so bad or all that it’s cracked up to be.” Hmmmm.  “Crooked Mile” may well be – along with “I Ain’t Gonna Worry No More” from the Sleepy John LP – Case’s song of songs but my own favorite from Full Service is “On My Way Downtown” in which Case’s sly sense of humor (never jokey in the way that sinks so many of his peers) is on full display.  Poking fun at himself, he sings:  “I’m going out tonight going way downtown where my friends who died still hang around” and later “the girls are smoking cigarettes and chewing gum // they just get scared when they see my come.”  Hah!  This beautiful evocation of the past is supported by the celt-a-billy (Case’s own description) sound arrived at during his Vanguard period.  This much more recent video should give you an idea of what Case is capable of in live performance:  (1) he’s an incredible picker and (2) even sitting down, he rocks as hard as anyone around.  Stance is the issue and Peter’s is rock-folk vs. the more typical and less rawkin’ way around.

“Brokedown Engine”:  1993’s Peter Case Sings Like Hell was an initially self-released offering that served as a bridge of sorts between the Geffen and Vanguard years (the latter would actually pick it up for official release at a later date).  On this record, Peter truly brought it all back home – specifically to his street singing solo days with mostly folk and blues covers with one original thrown in for good measure.  Sings Like Hell in its immediacy and repertoire can really only be compared to Dylan’s debut.  I am particularly grateful for Case’s take on songs by Jesse Winchester and David Allan Coe, both of whom I was aware of but didn’t really appreciate until Case shined a light.  “Brokedown Engine” (shown here in a later performance at Case’s home club, McCabe’s Guitar Shop in LA) by Blind Willie McTell demonstrates why Case is the exception that proves the rule when white performers attempt to sing the blues.  Such well-meaning efforts tend to lack groove at best and veer into rank cultural appropriation at worst.  “Artists” such as Clapton, Mayer, Plant, Healey, Cray, Bonermassive, Trout, and, yea, even Stevie Ray Vaughn may play and sing the blues.  Case inhabits them.  Check out his harp work here.  Lawd have mercy!  And if that ain’t enough to convince you, see also his takes on Memphis Minnie’s “Bumblebee” and Leadbelly’s “Thirty Days In The Workhouse.”  Peter Case is the real deal, man!  

“Early Roman Kings”:  This video brings us up to the Broadcast where Case offers this more recent Bob cut from Tempest as well as a haunting, program-ending version of “ This Wheel’s On Fire” from the Basement Tapes.  On 2015’s Highway 62, Case cut a remarkable version of the Nobel Laureate’s very early composition “Long Time Gone” and throughout the years has peppered his sets with Dylan songs such as “Black Crow Blues” and “Pledging my Time.”  Since Jimmy Lafave’s passing a few years ago, Case might just be the best Dylan interpreter left standing.  I recall seeing him perform “Mr. Tambourine Man” at the late lamented Tin Angel on the day that Jerry Garcia passed.  The performance was “laser-focused” (a term that I keep hearing these days and have no idea what it means) and reduced this drug-store vaquero to tears.

To put a cap on it, I’ll quote another one of Peter’s great opening lines:  “I was standing on the corner of walk and don’t walk.”  Yes, my trusted friend, that’s about the size of it right now.  So we’ll just have to wave from across the street (or the continent itself as the case may be) in salutation and look forward to a warm embrace somewhere down the line.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

CINEMA: Destroy All Monsters

Friday, April 2nd, 2021

godzilla_vs_kong_xlg

GODZILLA VS KONG (Directed by Adam Wingard, 113 min., USA, 2021)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC The original King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) was a weird East meets West affair that simultaneously exploited Japan’s burgeoning obsession with professional wrestling and celebrated the 30th anniversary of Godzilla’s corporate overlord, Toho Co., Ltd, by having the two larger than life icons duke it out on the big screen. Now almost 60 years later, we are getting an American-produced rematch that wants to be the Batman Vs Superman of the Legendary Monsterverse. The primary difference here is that director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) fully embraces the humorous, weirder, more sci-fi elements of these films instead of plumbing the darker depths that the franchise has trafficked in thus far.

Kong Vs Godzilla picks up more or less where King of Monsters left off, with humanity struggling to come to grips with their newly-diminished standing in the food chain. Godzilla, who was once believed to be humanity’s protector, is on a world wide rampage. Apex Cybernetics, the military-tech giant, is desperately searching for an energy source to power a new weapon that will rid the earth of the giant lizard once and for all. The quest for said power source leads us to Kong, who has grayed up a bit since we last saw him in 1973. Skull Island, no longer the paradise it once was, has become a stormy wasteland, but they don’t know where else to hide the giant ape from Godzilla, who we discover is his natural enemy, as they are both categorized as apex titans. Leaning into Bill Randa’s (John Goodman) “Hollow Earth” theory from Skull Island, a group of scientists hope to relocate Kong in the subterranean Shangri La and, in the process, find a fabled source of ancient energy to kill godzilla.

Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) leads the charge for team Godzilla alongwith Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), an Apex whistleblower who is also trying to understand the reason behind Godzilla’s recent rampages. Even though Brown is relegated to a rather conspiracy-ridden Stranger Things-esque storyline, she has the chops to hold her own on screen.  Leading Team Kong, strangely enough, is a rather timid Alexander Skarsgård as Nathan Lind, who is playing against type as the Hollow Earth expert and ex Monarch employee recruited by Apex to escort Kong into the Earth. Oddly enough, the humanity and heart of the film lies in Kong’s story. We discover during his journey that Jia (Kaylee Hottle) a young Iwi, has taught Kong sign language and by doing so has given humanity a voice in this battle. This isn’t something completely new, since in the Toho films humanity was able to communicate with Mothra through her tiny, twin fairies.

There are two kinds of fans of American Godzilla films. Those that love the monster-on-monster madness that the franchise offers and was the bread and butter of the Japanese films, and those that can’t seem to wrap their minds around the fact that not every film keeps with the more arthouse trappings of 2014’s Godzilla, Gareth Edwards’ brooding but bedazzling masterwork. While the first film in Japan was also was more of an art film, deconstructing the horrors of atomic war, with each subsequent entry (32+ films in total so far) after, it strayed farther and farther from that path to court the younger fans who showed up year after year for Godzilla ’s latest smash-’em-up adventure.

While I hate that every film these days is trying to unlock some shared universe a la Marvel, Wingard delivers a film that with its two concurrent storylines feels like it could almost topple over at any moment, but it surprisingly doesn’t thanks to its  unrelenting all-action/no-exposition momentum. Keep in mind we are four films deep at this point and it appears to all have been working up to this spectacle powered by Bayhem-esque explosions and awash in neon hues as the fate of the world once again hangs in the balance. High art this isn’t, but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun, and might be the one that for me really captures the absurdity and glee of those later Godzilla films in the Toho canon. As far as Legendary’s films go this entry feels more in line with Kong: Skull Island, its loud, its bombastic and completes the franchise’s transition to popcorn tentpole, dropping all the arty pretension of King of Monsters, which no doubt will upset those looking for another dark dissection of the follies of man vs nature. Instead we have hover ships flying inside the earth and the savior of the human race is a giant monkey who speaks sign language and has a magic glowing axe. I loved every second of it.

GODZILLA VS KONG IS NOW STREAMING ON HBO MAX

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]
Cost of the War in Iraq
(JavaScript Error)
To see more details, click here.