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VIVA LA RESISTANCE: Q&A W/ Henry D’Arthenay Of Venezuelan New Wavers La Vida Boheme

Friday, July 14th, 2017

LA Vida BOHEME

 

BY ERIN BLEWETT Present day Venezuela is a miasma of deprivation, violence and mayhem that has become the de facto legacy of deceased socialist leader Hugo Chávez. Citizens are being kidnapped for profit by criminal syndicates and killed with shocking regularity for speaking out against the government Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s successor. Venezuela’s beloved La Vida Bohème is known for their high-octane, politically-charged, nouveau New Wave music which eventually got them declared as conspirators against the government on live television. Soon after, their tour manager was kidnapped and their booking agent murdered. As a result, they are now living in exile in Mexico.

La Vida Boheme will be in the City of Brotherly love this weekend when they headline WXPN’s NUEVOFEST at FringeArts on July 16th. The festival is an all-ages, outdoor concert. Doors are at 1 p.m. and the shows will begin at 2 p.m.  This year will be the biggest NUEVOFEST to date with eight  bands performing that will represent Venezuela, Chile, Colombia and Puerto Rico. Also on this year’s bill is Manchester Mariachi from East Los Angeles which plays mariachi versions of Smiths/Morrissey songs. In advance of their appearance at NUEVOFEST, we sent La Vida Boheme’s Henry D’Arthenay a set of questions asking him to explain what exactly is happening in Venezuela these days, what exactly went down with the band’s booking agent and tour manager and why they are currently living in exile. Here’s what he had to say:

PHAWKER: Please explain what exactly is going on in Venezuela for the benefit of American readers who la_vida_boheme-650may have no clue. Why is there so much unrest, economic misery and anti-government protest?

HENRY D’ARTHENAY: Venezuelans have taken the streets to protest the government of Nicolás Maduro and, by consequence, the legacy of Hugo Chávez. You see, our average life in the country from a really long time includes: scarcity of food and medicine, a rampage of violence and insecurity which has made Venezuela the second country with more violent deaths in the world, no separation of power as the political party of Maduro rules the institutions of the country in a biased way (always to their convenience, to the point that when the opposition won congress the government immediately has used the Supreme Court to bypass congress), people are being judged in military trials instead of civil courts and the ties of our government with drug trafficking is, not only concerning, but quite an open reality: the nieces of the president (who controlled the national airport of the country) were captured in Haiti by the DEA trying to traffic 80 kilos of cocaine to the US and Europe.

This crisis happened because our government is corrupt and managed to bankrupt an oil country in record time. We have the worst inflation in the world (800%). They are willing to do whatever it takes to be in power even if it means taking the country down to save their asses (ironic how short minded they are, right?). They have choked the production within the country of food and are unwilling to accept humanitarian help from other countries, in spite of the country going right now through a deep malnutrition crisis (especially with newborns and small children). In more than 80 days of protests there has been almost 80 killed, most by the unlawful use of force by government forces (military and policemen). A big majority of the people killed have been kids that don’t even reach 30 (17 year olds, 22 year olds: young people who wanted a brighter future, or a future at least…a future which has been taken by force from them).

As you can see, we are in the streets defending ourselves from tyrants, defending our right to live freely and become whoever we want to become (political opinions aside: just being able to live without being killed and to buy food with the money we make would be such a huge step for us).

PHAWKER: Even though the band is currently living in exile in Mexico, can you tell us what daily life is like for the average Venezuelan? What was your daily life like before you left in 2014?

HENRY D’ARTHENAY:  It’s hard for me to see it as exile. I want to come back to Caracas as soon as possible, personally, to see my family, protest and sort my life out there (something which was kind left on hold because of the band, the situation of the country and our leaving of the country). I can come back…what I don’t know if what I’ve been saying could generate when I enter the country once again. Last time I had to enter through the border with Colombia because I didn’t know if I was subject to any flag in my passport since during that year the vice-president of the country declared me as a conspirator against the government in public tv. In the end it was a smokescreen, but I don’t know if that stills stands just as a smokescreen today as the band is more in the public eye nowadays.

Day to day life in Caracas is more surviving than existing. You have to learn to go with the flow of the La-Vida-Boheme-La-Lucha-Portada-960x960anarchy that rules the country. My most recent memories from being there I can sum up in my last year there: Long clinic days with my mom, a night after playing a show driving really fast because I was being chased by a car really near my the girlfriend’s house, not finding certain medicines and trying to reach out to people who might have them for my mom, at least three days a week without water, maybe twice a week without light, social unrest: protests and barricades blocking the way to the clinic from time to time, hearing news of friends being kidnapped, hearing news of friends being killed, postponing things the band was going to do because of Chávez death, spending a whole month hearing the late Chávez sing rancheras simultaneously in all radio and tv stations (which is very expensive) while seeing the garbage accumulate in the streets I roamed, less concerts by the week, less places to go which you can consider safe, stuck in home, being a nurse and an internet activist (which in hindsight was very weird, didn’t slept well maybe for months). It’s also hard to speak of daily life in Venezuela as, sadly, has been changing every day for the worse since a long time. This outburst of protest gave us back a lot of life and courage that we all needed as the country’s situation can quickly drive you to despair.

PHAWKER: Given all the shortages and deprivations of life in Venezuelans tell us about some of the challenges of trying to get your mother medical treatment when she was dying of cancer. (Our condolences, by the way.)

HENRY D’ARTHENAY: Thank you, but It’s ok, it’s the cycle of life: we live we die. It’s in the contract we sign when we get pushed out into the world. The hardest part of my mother’s last years on earth was achieving  peace of mind in an environment which is everything but peaceful. My dad, God bless him, had to go though all kind of odysseys to get some of the medications which were absolutely necessary (anti convulsion pills, for example). He always managed to get them no matter how far he had to go or how long he had to stay in long lines to get them.

Cancer, and I think this is a global thing, generates a big community around the people affected by it, and thanks to that community of people going through similar hardships we were able to help each others out when ever something was missing. I also used a lot of my contacts with the band (mainly non profit organizations) which devote themselves in some way to helping out people going through any medical condition by helping them get their medicines to help our every time it was truly impossible to get them at a drugstore.La Vida Sera

It was especially scary for my mom each time we had to go to her chemos and there were barricades and protests on the way, sometimes we encountered face to face with them and were able to go through because of some of the kids knowing the band and also seeing that I was in a different situation with my mother. Biggest challenge, I believe, was maintaining good spirits in the midst of it all. Me and my mom really achieved that thanks to Twin Peaks, by the way, it became our escape from our hardships.

PHAWKER: Your tour manager was kidnapped and your friend and former booking agent murdered. Can you explain what happened and why? Is kidnapping and extortion a big problem in Venezuela these days?
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CINEMA: On The War Path

Friday, July 14th, 2017

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WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017, directed by Matt Reeves, 140 min, U.S.)
LOST IN PARIS (2016, directed by Dominique Abel & Fiona Gordon, 83 min, France/Belgium)

Buskirk AvatarBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC I remember how perplexed Charlton Heston’s Taylor was back in 1968 when he made the realization that the planet he and his men landed on was ruled by apes. As the third of the rebooted sequels touches down in blockbuster season I find myself similarly flummoxed by glowing reception of War For the Planet of the Apes, a terribly turgid, self-serious, gloomfest.  Have the critics all exchanged brains with gorillas, like in the mad scientists films of the 1940s?  If you loved the endless battles, one-dimensional characters and the over-written plotting of that recent Hobbit trilogy, I guess you’re in for CGI smothered treat.  Me, I’m feeling like pounding the sand beneath the Statue of Liberty on some barren and rocky beach.

How’d things go so wrong?  The opening chapter, Dawn, back in 2011 got off to a fresh start, with James Franco bringing a human dimension to the story, a smaller-scale drama about the scientist responsible for first increasing the intelligence of our primate friends.  By the end of the film it built to a climax of marauding chimps laying seize to downtown San Francisco and finally taking off across the Golden Gate Bridge for the wilds of Marin County (presumably taking over there one hot tub at a time.) Rise in 2014 found the apes struggling to live peacefully among humans, who are mentally regressing as a result of the same virus that is giving the apes increased intelligence.  With War it’s the final showdown with an all-out conflict waged to decide whether ape or man will rule the planet.

The ape leader Caesar (content with his slave name?) is motivated to fight this battle by the easiest of all writer’s devices, the old “this time it’s personal” gambit after the murder of his wife and kids at the hands of The Colonel (Woody Harrelson shamelessly attempting to channel Brando’s Kurtz from Apocalypse Now).  This opens the first of three acts, each pilfering a different genre.  Before long Caesar and his rag tag crew are (semi-ludicrously) off on horseback for a old time western trip through the woods. Then Caesar is captured for a shout out to the prison movie genre and finally the climactic war movie finale, featuring extended battlefield action without strategy or creative staging, just ape to man clashes that hold out for a long as a CGI budget will allow. I miss that generation of film makers that fought in WW II and used the experience to try to convey the horror of war that they knew first hand. War on the other hand is part of the tradition that portrays war merely as violent, spectacular and oddly sterile. I don’t think the audience is well-served by this illusion.

The most interesting element about the film is the hand played by its makers that national disgust with the state of the nation and its citizens is so high that audiences will have no trouble siding against their species and rooting for the apes in this apocalyptic showdown. I think they made the right bet but the film doesn’t go very far in making us have mixed feelings about our extinction, the humans on view are a pretty unlikable bunch. Still, it’s a little shocking how quickly the film gets us to sell out of fellow Homo sapiens, maybe all that dismal climate change news has us convinced mankind’s fate is a lost cause anyway.

It seems that for many critics, Andy Sirkis’s motion capture performance beneath the Caesar animation is some kind of breakthrough. It all feels too deliberate to me, a sort of hyper-expressiveness that draws too much attention to itself to feel real. And the character himself, not conflicted, singularly motivated and as solemn as Moses in a silent Biblical epic, might be admirable but certainly not memorable. And like a silent melodrama, War has a young mute orphan on hand for extra poignancy and a secret identity to tie her to the ’68 original, just one of a handful of ways the film attempts to close the loop between the rebooted trilogy and its original Roddy McDowell-led franchise.

And what an oddball franchise the original was, with its groundbreaking make-up, weird pagan design and an avant score, holding together time travel, racial metaphors, an anti-nuclear bent and a violent revolution. This latest trilogy adds up to something much less, just the regular mundane bludgeoning these modern epics deliver, inhibited from doing anything truly daring on a 150 million dollar budget. At that price, War of the Planet of the Apes may deliver what audiences want but it lacks the imagination to deliver the originality the blockbuster genre so desperately needs.

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If the widely-acclaimed Apes saga can’t thrill me, what does? At the expense of going full-on film snob, how about the French-Belgian comedy team of Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel? In their fourth feature, Lost in Paris, the pair further refines their outrageously clever brand of physical comedy and ingenious production design, like a merging of the acrobatic skills of Buster Keaton with the handmade quaintness of Wes Anderson.

In their latest, Fiona (who resembles Pippi Longstocking’s geeky sister) is a Canadian librarian who comes to save her beloved and aunt from being forced into a retirement home (“I’m only 88!” she argues.) Stepping back for a selfie with the Eiffel tower, she falls in the Seine River and emerges without her back pack, penniless, wet and without her belongings. A homeless man (the slender dynamo Dom Abel) finds the backpack, changes into her clothes and then falls in love with her at first sight. Fiona is not interested but engages his help to find her runaway aunt as she lives the vagabond life in Paris.

Both Gordon and Abel have lovely, lanky bodies and the expressiveness of dancers as they awkwardly navigate a world that can plunge into near-disaster at any moment. Searching for Fiona’s lost aunt, the pair narrowly skirt death by drowning, falling, and cremation as they dazzle us with the intricate gags that fall into place so naturally. It would all collapse into its own whimsy if Gordon and Abel were not so brilliant with their comedic designs and their willingness to look into the abyss from time to time. Like their earlier films, Lost in Paris is both unique and personal while providing a connection to timeless talents like Chaplin and Jacques Tati that makes the film feel like a longtime classic. It’s a deliriously impressive feat.

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CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: #TreasonWeasel

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Donald Jr. TIME I Love It_large

 

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CINEMA: Blackmail Is My Life

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

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NEW YORK TIMES: Roger J. Stone Jr., the subject and star of “Get Me Roger Stone,” struts through this documentary with peacock feathers fully fanned. He’s first heard from a perch in some luxury digs, dressed in a tailored chalk-stripe suit with an olive martini at the ready. “My name is Roger Stone,” he says, “and I’m an agent provocateur.” The scene suggests James Bond cosplay, although it’s worth mentioning that the definition of an agent provocateur isn’t a supercool British fantasy spy but someone who persuades others to do wrong.

So, who is Mr. Stone persuading? It’s an inevitable question given his relationship with President Trump and how Mr. Stone’s name just keeps popping up in the news churn. […] Whatever else, this is killer timing for Netflix, which is releasing “Get Me Roger Stone” on Friday in theaters and via streaming. That’s especially true because in any other year and perhaps under any other administration, this documentary — the directors are Daniel DiMauro, Dylan Bank and Morgan Pehme — might have disappeared into the ether. But topicality is all or at least a large part of the movie’s draw. A sometimes illuminating, often slapdash and frustrating affair that mixes on-the-scenes bits, found material and original interviews (with the likes of Jeffrey Toobin), it opens with Mr. Trump accepting the presidential nomination in July 2016 and ends soon after his election. Much of the rest is a chronological march through Mr. Stone’s life, which is studded with scandal and boldfaced names like Roy Cohn.

As it maps the road to Trumpville, the movie offers glimpses of Mr. Stone’s youth, including an oft-repeated story about a light-bulb encounter with Barry Goldwater’s book “The Conscience of a Conservative.” An ideological true believer is born who backs legal pot and has a few Nixon-theme bongs that he likes to show off along with his other Nixonian paraphernalia. After a brush with Watergate, Mr. Stone pokes around here and there; works for both of Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaigns; and helps establish a firm that grew into Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, one of a number of companies that earned the nickname “the torturers’ lobby” for repping countries condemned as human-rights abusers. MORE

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ALBUM REVIEW: Cactus Blossoms You’re Dreaming

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

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Cacti are rare in Minnesota, about as rare as brothers who are able to shake off the competition for their parents’ affection and join their voices in harmony. Brothers Page and Jack produce classic rockabilly-inflected twang-pop akin to the Everly Brothers. In standard arrangement, their band The Cactus Blossoms opens portals to foregone decades where life was every bit as complicated but more was put into maintaining the facade of simplicity.

On You’re Dreaming, “Change Your Ways Or Die”, with its wailing guitar slides and Desperado riffs, summons up images of loners struggling to make their way out West to claim a plot of land and start a life. In “Mississippi” the brothers’ voices meld over tremolo guitar and a four-piece drum kit, singing of an angel waiting on the shores of the river and spelling out M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P, pivoting the final “I” to the next line about watching the sun sink towns. These songs ring earnest as their predecessors. The difference tcbtpcreditsis that Jack and Page live in the age of the internet, where distractions and unpleasant truths abound. Despite these shackles of their time and circumstance, The Cactus Blossoms maintain an innocence and unity in their songs. They have a way of creating self-contained worlds like those of classic Oaters where the world was as black and white as the images on the TV.

In our technology and information saturated era, The Cactus Blossoms are escapist and surreal, tapping into a way of playing music and writing songs that had its heyday decades ago. Hmm. Media that delves into the past to express the surreal tension between facades of simplicity and life’s complexities. That sounds familiar. Let me just meditate on it for a second. Try to catch the big fish. Oh right, The Cactus Blossoms’ songs have that glossy, dreamy quality of David Lynch films. Listening to some tracks they’d just recorded a few years back, Jack told Page that they’d be getting a call from Mr. Lynch himself. It was a joke. A dream. As farfetched as a third season of Twin Peaks almost twenty years after season two. Well, life can often work like a funny dream, and they got that call, appearing at the end of episode 3, season 3. Jack told me that, on set, he shook David Lynch’s hand, and Lynch transferred him some of his creative energy a la Michelangelo’s The Birth Of Adam. Another joke. Another dream. Jokes, dreams, and serious faces. That pretty well sums up The Cactus Blossoms. — DILLON ALEXANDER

THE CACTUS BLOSSOMS + A.M. MILLS @ JOHNNY BRENDAS TONIGHT @ 9 PM

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SECOND OPINION: ‘Baby Driver’ Ain’t All That

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

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WASHINGTON POST: Nominally, “Baby Driver” takes place in Atlanta, but it really exists in the imaginative world of Edgar Wright, the British filmmaker whose previous films — “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” — brim with equal parts sophomoric humor, boyish kicks and grating self-satisfaction. This often clever but ultimately appalling piece of genre inversion has originality on its side: It’s a Tarantino-esque heist film re-conceived as a jukebox musical. But that novelty soon wears off as it becomes clear that it’s less written than reverse-engineered to live up to its title. It’s about a Driver, whose name is Baby, and who likes to pose and mouth along to retro-hip songs by T. Rex and Martha and the Vandellas. It’s got style and swagger to burn, and some of the set pieces are ingeniously staged, but it panders to the lazy affectations of a generation raised on lip-sync battles and late-night karaoke culture.

Played by Ansel Elgort, who spends most of the movie hiding behind a perpetual scowl and vintage-looking shades, Baby is a getaway driver in the tradition of the Ryans (O’Neal and Gosling), a man-child of few words who, we learn, has been dragooned into service by a criminal ringleader played with hambone brio and bluster by Kevin Spacey. “Baby Driver” belongs to the subgenre of “one more job, then I’m out” crime pictures, whose fascination with violence, depravity and thuggish escapism are offset by a protagonist who’s dutifully reluctant and guilt-stricken. Wright goes out of his way throughout “Baby Driver” to prove the title character’s ethical bona fides: He falls in love with a truehearted diner waitress (Lily James), and when he carjacks an elderly woman, he makes sure to return her purse before tearing off. The butt of merciless jokes from his fellow miscreants (played by Jon Hamm, John Bernthal and Eiza González), Baby uses his ill-gotten gains to take care of his deaf, wheelchair-bound godfather, played by CJ Jones. The virtue signaling is as flamboyant and unsubtle as the production numbers in “Baby Driver,” in which every scene is a set piece of extravagant staging and skintight editing. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: Maximum Overdrive

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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: Hail To The Thief

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

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BY WILLIAM C. HENRY The stench is unmistakable. The rot is conspicuous. The entire fetid, rancid atmosphere is stomach churning. You’ve just crossed over into the Trump administration. So, how do you begin to describe a political pestilence? How do you put words to political gangrene? How do you assign SMUSan order of disgust to the symbols of political heinousness? By now you’ve no doubt guessed that I’m no fan of Donald Trump. Well, not only am I not a fan, I’m a proud despiser. As far as I’m concerned, he hasn’t a single redeeming quality. Not one. So, now that you know precisely where I stand, allow me to illustrate more than a few of the exceedingly repugnant reasons for my revulsion.

At the top of the Trumpian trash heap is the unassailable fact that he is the exact opposite of his claim to being a “people’s” President. In fact, Trump is a megaphoned, braying-from-the-barn, plutocratic corporatist yearning for the opportunity to lead an absolute dictatorship. Did I mention that he’s not very smart either (in intellectual terms he tends toward the moronic)? Everything he’s achieved he’s done so through inheritance, bullying or bankruptcy fraud. The foundation of his fortune rests upon the skeletons of stiffed contractors and the remains of the interminably litigated who dared to question any of his fraudulent, protracted, man-handling, law-circumventing means. In essence, he’s a pathologically lying sociopathic brat, thief and phony whom very few people (other than possibly Melania) have ever had the guts or common decency to contradict. Without slumlord daddy Freddy Christ (yeah, that was his real middle name) Trump Sr.’s bequest(s) he’d most assuredly be in prison, waiting on table/busing dishes and/or living off welfare somewhere on the streets of the Bronx, Brooklyn or Queens.

And since America is (or at least was semi-intended to be) first and foremost a democracy (actually a republic) dedicated to equality, freedom of dissent, and “one man, one vote” (except for renters, Native Americans, women and blacks) — with a mighty middle finger salute to the not always brilliant and fair-minded founding fathers for their atrociously indefensible decision to create an Electoral College — permit me to rant on with names the likes of Duterte, Putin, Erdogan, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. I’ll refrain from clinically depressing you with even blips from their abhorrent biographies, but suffice to say these fellows are some of the most execrable and urinable despots on the face of the earth. They’re also some of Donald Trump’s most admired and extolled world leaders, an appreciation he has expressed publicly and assertively trump illmawherever and whenever possible from day one.

And, of course, there’s the fact of Trump’s barely veiled desire to re-criminalize poverty. Given his druthers he’d remove the governmental sector from “succor” completely. If you’re poor, homeless, female and/or infirmed and in need of said “succor,” you’d best pray you’ll be able to find it in, 1) the private philanthropic sector, 2) your church, 3) the generosity of friends and relatives or, 4) the lottery. In Trump’s land of “equal” opportunity and benefit, if you should happen to find yourself facing any one of the aforementioned four, you brought it on yourself. Believe me, this fear-mongering wannabe autocrat wants you to know in no uncertain terms that the Trumpian state isn’t a welfare ATM; on the contrary, the government “dole” is there solely to benefit those with the power and position to manipulate it. So far he’s had two tries at dismantling and replacing Obama’s sincere and principled efforts to provide a “healthier,” more affordable system for all of America’s 50+ million previously uninsured with an enormous tax break for America’s wealthiest. P.S. In keeping with the topic at hand, it’s also worth remembering that Barack is the “black” President whose birthright to hold the Presidency Mr. Trump so bigotedly questioned. But, make no mistake, he really does care about all those “angry white voters” who put him in office. Sure he does.

And just as there is no room for compassion or welfare in his government or “governing philosophy,” there is no good/bad or right/wrong in the mind of Donald Trump or his boot-licking advisory ilk. There is only winning or losing, period. No one is allowed to question or “disagree” with Trump. The toady sycophants in his inner circle and beyond know that to do so would constitute employment suicide or, at the very least, complete isolation and/or abandonment. The fear of contradiction is palpable. Blasphemies such as disagreement or the positing of alternative opinion don’t exist. All that matters is what Trump “believes” to be true, and how such “facts” can be manipulated to his benefit. Truth is inconsequential. He is and will always remain an emperor in his own mind surrounded by lackeys too cowed and selfish to inform him of his maleficently insipid nudity.trump illma

Of course, no appraisal of the Trumpster would be complete without a condemnation of his hatred of the media and his desire to have you hate them as well. Many Presidents have felt “uncomfortable” with the media, and many have bristled at the way they were covered, but none has displayed the visceral hatred towards the media as has Donald Trump. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that were the opportunity to present itself he would hastily ban all privately owned media and establish an official “office of state propaganda” to disseminate the Trumpian version of truth with heavy emphasis on his “instinctual” bases of fact. It’s the Trump rendition of the ’30s Hitler/Goebbels governing philosophy: repeat the big “fake news” lie over and over again until it becomes truth in the minds of the mindless faithful. Fortunately for the rest of us (so far) America’s independent private media is and remains literally the single most formidable bulwark of protection between Trump’s dictatorial dreams and the unimaginable horror of its reality.
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This Will Go Down On Your Permanent Record

Monday, July 10th, 2017

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an excerpt from THIS WILL GO DOWN ON YOUR PERMANENT RECORD, the imaginary novel about the Violent Femmes’ classic 1983 self-title debut I am working on.

meavatar2BY JONATHAN VALANIA The year is 1984. I am sitting Indian-style on the floor in my freshman year college dorm room along with a half dozen other self-styled punk-rock refugees from the stultifying conformity and bourgeois pieties of mainstream campus life. Incense burns to mask the sweet leafy odor of burning marijuana from the nostrils of our RA, or resident administrator, the closest thing to a sheriff on the first floor of Burnside Hall at Moravian College. Crumpled cans of Piels litter the floor. The ashtray overflows with clove cigarette butts. On the turntable is the debut album from The Violent Femmes. My jaw gapes in amazement at the rawboned simplicity and irresistible catchiness of the music and the brutal honesty and taboo-tweaking transgressiveness of the lyrics. The music sounds like the Velvet Underground at a campfire hootenanny. The singer talk-sings about unspeakably naughty things with a snarly Lou Reed-ian bleat. This is, I remember thinking, the most painfully, exhilaratingly confessional songwriting I have heard in my 18 years on Earth. I can’t help but think he is singing my life back to me. Better still, he is singing his own life back to me, and that means I am not alone in thinking the things I’m thinking and feeling the things I am feeling. I am fed up. I am horny. I am confused. I am lost. I am on the verge. I am half a boy and half a man. I am teenager, hear me roar.violent-femmes-4fe03b03e8b7f

My roommate, a self-styled jazz drummer and an insufferable musical snob who prized virtuosity above all things, is not impressed. “These guys can’t even play their instruments,” he scoffs.

“I know, isn’t it awesome?” I say.

The year is 1981. August 21st, to be exact. Beneath of the marquee of the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee, three grinning weirdos decked out in retro ragamuffin thrift store finery are entertaining the line of people outside waiting to see The Pretenders, with little more than an acoustic guitar, a mariachi bass and a snare drum. They call themselves The Violent Femmes. The front door opens and out comes James Honeyman-Scott, the erstwhile guitarist of The Pretenders. He stops and listens for a few moments, before grinning and walking off to purchase cigarettes at the drug store next door. On his way back he stops again to listen for a few minutes. At the end of a song he calls out to the band. “You blokes sound just like this band in the UK called The Stray Cats.” The three buskers exchange shrugs and puzzled glances. ‘Not only did we not know who the Stray Cats were, we didn’t know who The Pretenders were,” says Violent Femmes drummer Victor DeLorenzo.

Honeyman-Scott disappears back into the theater only to re-emerge five minutes later with the rest of the Pretenders who promptly lean up against a car parked in front of the theater and assume arms-folded airs of bored expectation. The buskers quickly disarm their newest audience members with a long-since-discarded song called “Girl Trouble,” which features the profane yet catchy refrain of “Have mercy on me, I’ve got girl trouble up my ass/don’t tell me no jokes ‘cuz I ain’t gonna laugh.” The Pretenders laugh hard. “Hi, I’m Chris,” says Chrissie Hynde, introducing herself. “Do you guys want to open for us tonight?” After a summer spent busking in doorways and on sidewalks, playing house parties and faking their way into a Tuesday night residency at, of all places, a jazz club, The Violent Femmes have been officially discovered.

In less than a year, the Violent Femmes will record their self-titled debut and in the process unwittingly create a masterpiece of teen alienation and post-adolescent psychodrama with the same trans-generational reach and undiminished cultural potency of Rebel Without A Cause, Romeo & Juliet and The Catcher In The Rye. The album indelibly mapped the frantic vicissitudes of teendom — the nihilistic angst, the desolate anomie, the hormonal riots — and scored the late-night dorm room soundtrack for a million private rebellions. These are the fight songs of James Dean’s James Stark and J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield. They contain multitudes. The entire social history of the motorcycle gangsters, the young-gordon-ganobeatniks, the greasers, the mods, the rockers, the surfers, the hippies, and the punks fight and fuck and laugh and cry inside these songs. The Violent Femmes debut is an undeclared concept album about the gloriously juvenile delinquency of a rebel with an urgent cause: sex with someone other than his left hand.

Please Lord, just this once.

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and nearly impossible to quantify, but by every objective measure, Violent Femmes is a perfect album, beginning to end, from song selection (the vast array of songs in the Femmes repertoire was whittled down to the choicest chestnuts) to sequencing (which gives shape to the ‘Road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom’ narrative arc of the lyrics) to the production values (invisible, like all the best production it is heard, not seen) to the cover art (an arresting image of a child in white peering into the shuttered window of an old decrepit house, i.e. innocence peeping into the abyss of experience). And it endures. The Femmes reliance on acoustic folk instrumentation and their antediluvian disregard for the modern miracle of electricity afford the songs of their debut an enduring timelessness that transcends the generational barriers that maroon lesser works in their era of origin.

In its earliest incarnation, rock n’ roll was a revolution, no less disruptive to the status quo than the printing press or the Internet. But by 1983, the year the Femmes debut was released on Slash Records, rock n’ roll was no longer a revolution, it was a rite of passage. If the songs on Violent Femmes perennially ring true to post-adolescent ears, it’s because they were written by a member of the tribe. Gordon Gano graduated high school just a few weeks before the Femmes started in the summer of 1981. All of the songs on the Femmes debut were written by Gano between the ages of 15 and 18, which is how old he was when they cut the first album. He met Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie in the spring of his senior year, after Ritchie was advised by a fellow Milwaukee music scenester to check out the “pint-sized Lou Reed.”

Gano asked Ritchie to back him up on bass during the talent portion of Gano’s induction into the National Honor Society. Breaking his promise to play a “nice” song, Gano instead performed the libidinous “Gimme The Car” much to the apoplexy of his teachers madly waving their arms from the wings trying in vain to get him to stop. Afterwards, Gano was summarily booted from the National Honor Society. This story is more than just amusing anecdote, it typifies the irreconcilable polarities that animated Gano back then, enabling him morph back and forth from church-going honor roll-making good boy to the pill-popping sex-mad reprobate of his songs with relative ease. But over time, it became harder to switch it on and off, to go to the dark side and then run to the light. And by then the stakes were much higher than a short-lived honor society membership. DEVELOPING…

RELATED: My Inquirer Q&A w/ Violent Femmes’ Brian Ritchie

THE VIOLENT FEMMES + ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN @ THE MANN JULY 11TH

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CONTEST: Win Tix To See The Violent Femmes + Echo & The Bunnymen @ The Mann Center

Monday, July 10th, 2017

Femmes + Bunnymen

 

The Violent Femmes self-titled 1983 debut is a deathless classic, a lightning-in-a-bottle masterpiece of teen alienation and post-adolescent psychodrama with the same trans-generational reach and cultural potency of Rebel Without A Cause, Romeo & Juliet and The Catcher In The Rye. The album indelibly mapped the frantic vicissitudes of teendom — the nihilistic angst, the desolate anomie, the hormonal riots — and scored the late-night dorm room soundtrack for a million private rebellions. Thirty three years later, the album’s power to provoke, amuse and connect with succeeding generations of angst-ridden post-adolescents of all ages remains undiminished. In the interim, the Femmes recorded eight more albums of varying critical prestige, toured their brains out, broke up in 2009, reunited in 2013 and have been at it ever since. Last year, the Femmes released We Can Do Anything, their first LP of original material in 16 years. A worldwide tour in support of the new album, which represents a return to the raw, stripped-down immediacy of the debut, brings them to the ” target=”_blank”>Skyline Stage of the Mann Center tomorrow night with Echo & The Bunnymen. We have a couple pairs of tickets to give away to some lucky Phawker readers. To qualify to win, send an email to Phawker66@gmail.com with the correct answer to this VF trivia question: In song, Gordon Gano (in)famously took pills for the following reasons:

I take one, one, one ’cause you left me
And two, two, two for my family
And three, three, three for my heartache
And four, four, four for my headaches
And five, five, five for my lonely
And six, six, six for my sorrow
And seven, seven for no tomorrow

What was eight for?

Include the magic words THIS WILL GO DOWN ON YOUR PERMANENT RECORD in the subject line along with your full name and a mobile number for confirmation. The 37th and 64th persons to email us with the correct answer win. Good luck and godspeed!

RELATED: Excerpt From My Imaginary Novel About The First Violent Femmes Album

THE VIOLENT FEMMES + ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN @ THE MANN JULY 11TH

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David Letterman And Al Franken Team Up To Take On The Flat Earth Society Of Climate Science Denial

Monday, July 10th, 2017

ASSOCIATED PRESS: David Letterman and Sen. Al Franken were both feeling frustrated about pessimism around the topic of climate change — so they got together to talk about it. Thankfully they invited some cameras along, too, with the help of Funny or Die and the Primetime Emmy Award-winning “Years of Living Dangerously.” The fruits of their conversations can be seen in the digital series “Boiling the Frog with Senator Al Franken.” Their talks run the gamut from serious to funny as they take on everything from coal and carbon prices to Letterman’s retirement beard in the six 5-minute shorts that begin rolling out Monday on funnyordie.com and its Facebook page with a new installment each week.

For Sen. Franken, it’s an effort to “fight back” against the creeping apathy and disregard toward science and climate change. “Since taking office, President Trump has decided to disregard science in order to repeatedly put the short-sighted interests of his friends in the fossil fuel industry ahead of the safety of our planet,” Franken said. “We hope to bring some much needed attention to this critical issue and ultimately, to help encourage people in Minnesota, Dave’s home state of Indiana and all Americans to make their voices heard and join the fight to combat climate change.” MORE

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CINEMA: Maximum Overdrive

Friday, July 7th, 2017

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BABY DRIVER (2017, directed by Edgar Wright, 112 minutes, USA)

CHRIS MALENEYBY CHRISTOPHER MALENEY When Youtube first began playing adds for Edgar Wright’s new crime and car flick, Baby Driver, I will admit I was a little upset that they seemed to have made a glaring omission by not including Simon & Garfunkel’s eponymous song anywhere in the trailer. “Just where do these jokers get off?” But, before I could take to social media to bemoan the state of modern cinema, I decided to do a little digging. What I found there more than satisfied me. In fact, it whet my appetite, because no matter what kind of musical background you hail from, you’re almost certain to find tunes you’re familiar with, and maybe even something to expand your horizons. This movie is all about the music. Driving music, dancing music, even ‘hex music,’ as one character puts it; if this movie doesn’t win awards for sound design, it is a criminal oversight.

And what is it about crime movies that makes them often so sharp, so well-written? This is one of the best written movies I’ve seen in a long while. It’s like the early Tarantino films, when they weren’t dragged down by the excessive swearing. It’s like an early Guy Ritchie without the Cockney accents. This movie is the unholy lovechild of Drive and The Commitments; the babyfaced protagonist exudes the effortless teenage cool you almost had, and the taste of a true musical gourmand.

While the plot is fairly straightforward, with castaways and criminals all trying to find some escape from the lethal thrall of capital by amassing enough of a fortune to drive away from their problems, the characters feel real, even at their most outlandish. Their problems certainly are real, and they suck you in and earn your sympathy. The line between villain and hero is clear, but it can be crossed back and forth. Redemption, the film tells us, can be earned, but not if you go looking for revenge at the same time.

Baby Driver really has to be seen to be understood, and probably on the biggest screen possible. The colors are bright, the visuals are clever, and the camerawork is dynamic. Violence and meditation punctuate each other perfectly in this fast-paced joyride. You can break it down on a symbolic level, of course, but you don’t have to. It stands just as well on its own as a well-written, well-acted, and well-directed addition to the library of crime cinema.

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CINEMA: Growing Up Spider-Man

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

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SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING (2017, Directed by Jon Watts, 133 minutes, USA)

the-geek-300x300BY RICHARD SUPLEE GEEK SPACE CORRESPONDENT I bought my first my first Spider-Man comic book last century. I watched the Spider-Man cartoons every saturday as a kid. I own three Spider-Man T-Shirts, five Funko Pop collectibles, and wrote at least three poems (one of which made my creative writing thesis) focused on the character. However, I was not excited about Spider-Man: Homecoming. Sure, Tom Holland’s Spidey was amazing in Captain America: Civil War (2016) but I didn’t care. He was every bit the adorable nerdy smartass that Peter Parker is in the comics but I didn’t care. I didn’t think the movie would be bad, I don’t hate director Jon Watts and I applaud Sony and Marvel coming together to share their toys and make billions of dollars for both companies. But Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man (2002) was the first superhero movie I saw in theatre. The sequel (2004) was considered the best superhero movie of all time (for a while, anyway). The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) saw Andrew Garfield embrace Peter’s nerd. This is the 6th Spider-Man film in 15 years and the 3rd reboot. Basically, I was tired of Peter Parker. I was advocating for Miles Morales (a new Spider-Man from an alternate universe) to head the new film. Hell, I would have been happy with Ben Reilly or Kaine (two clones of Peter Parker from one of the most hated Spider-Man comic books of all time). I just didn’t see how Homecoming could add something new to Peter. The only benefit I saw is more money for Sony and Disney.  (Plus Robert Downey Jr. gets another film to be Iron Man in, which is never a bad thing.)

Thankfully, I was wrong. Homecoming isn’t a regurgitation of the same old Parker story that keeps getting retold in reboot after reboot. It updates that story. Peter Parker is now a Millennial. He keeps a video blog, texts Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan and goes to an elite private school on scholarship where even his bully is a nerd. Tony Revolori’s Flash Thompson is no longer a high school quarterback who stuffs Peter in his locker like every cliché jock. Instead, he is a Big Man On Campus jealous that Parker is out performing him in class and on the Academic Decathlon team. And because this is 2017, a New York school is no longer going to be all white and it is nice to see that reflected in film.  The off-white casting of Flash, as well as Peter’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and love interest Liz (Laura Harrier) rep the newfound diversity of Parker’s classmates.  Likewise, Marisa Tomei plays an Aunt May who doesn’t look more like Grandmom May for a change.

Homecoming’s biggest addition to Spider-Man is joy. Both Maguire’s and Garfield’s Peter Parkers were depressing as hell. Uncle Ben died, Peter’s best friend fathers died after trying to kill him, and his first love died. There is even a meme of Toby/Peter crying that is still used. Yes, the source material has all these events but they are spread out over 50 years. Holland’s Peter Parker had fun. He begins the film geeking out about meeting Iron Man and Captain America. He even makes a reaction video. He flood’s Tony Stark’s voice mail and text box everyday for more Avenger missions. During patrol he does backflips to impress people. This Peter Parker is what happens when you give a 15-year-old superpowers. It also looks believable. Tom Holland was able to do his own flips and other stunts due to his theater background. He is also the youngest to play the traditionally teenage hero. Yet this Peter Parker still has a sense of responsibility. He stumbles onto the film’s plot as some ATM robbers who had enough firepower to blow up a corner deli does so. Peter tracks the weapons back to the people selling the super weapons. Even after Iron Man tells Spidey Vulture’s high tech  is too dangerous for the kid to investigate he feels obligated to continue. As the film’s title will suggest, Peter also has to deal with High School obligations such as visiting Washington DC with the Decathlon team and attending the upcoming Homecoming dance.
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OKNOTOK: An Oral History Of OK, Computer

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

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ROLLING STONE: The June 15th Rolling Stone cover story took an in-depth look at Radiohead‘s OK Computer in honor of the album’s 20th anniversary. The band let us hang backstage over the course of two days at the Berkeley Greek Theater as they shared memories from that tumultuous and wildly innovative time in their lives, and a week later Thom Yorke sat down with RS at an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles to chat some more. All in all, the members of Radiohead spoke on the record for more than seven hours in anticipation of the upcoming OKNOTOK reissue, which contains a remastered version of the LP along with a bonus disc of B sides and outtakes. We couldn’t begin to fit everything they told us into the main story, so here’s an expansive oral history of OK Computer put together from the many, many outtakes. It features all five members of the group along with their producer Nigel Godrich, tourmates Michael Stipe and Alanis Morissette, art director Stanley Donwood, filmmaker Grant Gee, and actress Jane Seymour, who owned the house where they recorded the album. MORE

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