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IN MEMORIAM: Letters To Batman

June 13th, 2017

BIGGLEE: Talk about oddball Bat-items! Here is the cover and some interior samples from a 1966 tome called FUNNIEST FAN LETTERS TO BATMAN! Created at the height of the ’66 BATMAN TV-show craze, this book collects the zaniest letters written to Batman, Robin, or the comics and TV crews that whip up his wild adventures! The best letters are from kids, of course, asking ol’ Batman for money, a weekend visit, advice, or even the use of the Batmobile! Several similar-themed books were done at the time, including KID’S LETERS TO PRESIDENT KENNEDY, KID’S LETTERS TO THE FBI, and LOVE LETTERS TO THE MONKEES, but this was the only edition devoted to the Caped Crusader! MORE

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

June 12th, 2017

Photo by Dan Burn-Forti

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally published on April 28th, 2012.

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

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

As a producer, Lowe made his mark helping Elvis Costello & The Attractions craft a diverse, high-octane run of five straight albums in five years, including their unexpectedly sincere take on one of Lowe’s Brinsley Schwarz-era hippie goofs, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Known as “The Basher,” for his no-nonsense approach to both work and play, Lowe wasn’t messing around, although frequently it just seemed that way. By the mid-’80s, despite a few minor hits and continued successful production work, Lowe was losing his way. His records lost their snap. The jokes were growing stale. The snappiest of that run, 1990’s aptly named Party Of One, was nevertheless the end of the line for Nick the Knife.
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STILL THE MAN: A Q&A With Joe Jackson

June 9th, 2017

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Photos by JACOB BLICKENSTEIN

BY KAY NOTHSTEIN After a nearly 40 year career, Joe Jackson — the witty, often wry and insightful Brit singer-songwriter of “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” fame — is still going strong. Who knew? Probably his dedicated fanbase who consistently fill his shows. But not me. I left Joe Jackson in the late ‘80s somewhere between Big World and Blaze of Glory for no particular reason other than I was probably just listening to other things. In the course of nearly four decades, Jackson’s put out 20 studio albums, composed a symphony, won a Grammy, wrote a book, reinterpreted the work of Duke Ellington (with Iggy Pop and the late Sharon Jones as guest vocalists) and for the past three years has been writing a monthly blog featuring music essays on his website. That’s a lot to miss out on. But in the past few months I’ve been catching up with the prolific and ever-evolving Mr. Jackson.

It all started a few years ago, picking up a copy of I’m the Man in a second-hand store and realizing on first listen how great the album is, especially “It’s Different for Girls.” I listened to that song over and over again for the next several weeks and fairly regularly ever since. Then at the beginning of this year I was trading “Songs of the Day” with a friend. I’d text him something I was listening to and he’d send me his pick, continuing back and forth for a couple weeks until one day I thought of Joe Jackson. But instead of the usual one-off I sent three, all from the early albums that I knew, and all being a bit of a personal message to this former partner/current friend. I sent “It’s Different For Girls,” “Breaking Us in Two,” and “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want).” Kinda summed up my feelings on the phases of the relationship and got me wondering what Joe Jackson had been up to since I saw him play the Spectrum Showcase sometime around 1988. So I texted a friend who I went with to that show and asked him what he knew. He said he’s been seeing him on every tour since (there’s been other tours?) and that Joe Jackson also had a website and a well-written blog that I might enjoy (he writes more than lyrics?).
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REVIEW: Timber Timbre Sincerely Future Pollution

June 7th, 2017

TImberTimbre

 

Timber Timbre fuckin’ rule. I should get that out of the way at the outset, I’m a huge fan and have been for years, ever since they put out Creep On Creepin’ On, an album I’d been waiting to hear my entire young-adult life. I heard them on a college radio station for the first time, driving through Vermont first thing in the morning with a fever developing. “Sparrows at your window / Starlings at your door / Magpies wherever we go.” Freak Folk. Blues. Psychedelia. These are the Wikipedia tags for what Timber Timbre do, but listening to them you get the feeling that while this is correct, trying to get to exactly what they are is difficult because they sound like so many things but ultimately just like themselves. Their sound is incredibly specific, so much so that it sounds like they should have always been around. The low, seductive male vocals speaking of different, more Lynchian worlds, love stories in the dark south of William Faulkner, now inhabited by ghosts and haunted Cadillacs.

Their new album, Sincerely Future Pollution, seemed at first like a bit of a departure. They had made the classic move, it seemed, of going electro. And it’s true, listening to the singles Sewer Blues, and Grifting, they seem like a band falling out of love with their guitars. But listening to the album as a whole it becomes clear what they’re really up to. First of all, the whole thing remains deathlessly retro. Whereas some bands introduce synthesizers in an effort to appear more cutting edge, Timber Timbre have brought their sound only up to, perhaps 1986. There are the classic sawtooth synths, analog drum machines, funky-wah basslines and vocoder. What they do with these is bring out the inherent creepiness in these tools, their inherent oddness and unreality brought out by removing them from the context of generic pop. They create a similar atmosphere to Pink Floyd and Bowie, managing to summon menace over funk-bass grooves. They talk about the future through this lense of the past, notably on the track “Western Questions”:

Hollywood halo/ the UFO light oozing from every screen
Western questions, desperate elections, campaign Halloween
We relax with our love life published, slip into something obscene
We got slime and flamingos, take the number but please don’t forget about me

Timber Timbre slip on this decadent synthetic veneer in order to warn us, in order to become prophets of slime, slime coming up from the sewers, permeating society. It comes up again and again, this image of pervasive, decadent corruption in America. And what better period to draw your palette from than 1986, cocaine, Ronald Reagan, and Wall Street, coming like smiling, evil ghosts out of the past. It’s a different haunted landscape they sing from now but one every bit as terrifying. – JAMES M. DAVIS


TIMBER TIMBRE + OHTIS @ BOOT N’ SADDLE THURSDAY JUNE 8TH SOLD OUT

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FUNNY OR DIE: Q&A W/ Comedian Chris Gethard

June 6th, 2017

CHRIS GETHARD

 

BY ERIN BLEWETT Comedian/actor/writer Chris Gethard has struggled with, and prevailed over, many unfunny things: manic depression, substance abuse, suicidal ideation. When he finally got a handle on his issues and started discussing them candidly in his stand-up act — striking just the right balance of humor, heartbreak and insight — things went next level. Exhibit A is Career Suicide, his hilarious new, Judd Appatow-produced HBO comedy special. Straight outta West Orange, NJ, Gethard got his start with the Upright Citizens Brigade where he birthed The Chris Gethard Show, a gonzo blend of meta and improv that caught the attention of Funny Or Die’s leading lights: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Zach Galafianakis. Gethard starred in Mike Birbiglia’s latest film Don’t Think Twice, about a sad sack troop of improv comedy shouldabeens. He plays Todd on Comedy Central’s Broad City. His other TV credits include Inside Amy Schumer, The Office, Parks and Recreation and Louie. In 2012, Gethard published a collection of personal essays called A Bad Idea I’m About to Do, and turned the titular essay into a beloved segment on public radio’s This American Life. In addition to all that, he is the host of the popular Earwolf podcast Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People. He is currently in the midst of his Beautiful/Anonymous stand-up tour which stops at the TLA on Friday. Last week, we got Mr. Gethard on the horn. DISCUSSED: Andy Kaufman, suicide, heroin, the lie that mental illness and creativity are connected, the terrible social cost of Trump jokes and the secret of comedy.

PHAWKER: You have spoken out against the practice of romanticizing mental illness as the source of creativity, citing your own fears that medicating your manic depression would kill your art and how it resulted in you suffering from a condition that could be effectively managed with meds and therapy. And that you were in fact a better, more productive and creative artist when you finally got your demons under control. All true in my experience, but would you agree that creative types seem more prone to depression and addiction and other mental health issues than non-creative types? And if so, why do you think that is?

CHRIS GETHARD: I don’t know the statistics, but I will say a couple things. One, I think that creative people by nature are putting stuff out in the world so they’re probably talking about it more. My guess is that there are probably a lot of people who suffer quietly who aren’t talking about it because they aren’t people that write songs or jokes or paint things that put their issues on display to the world. I think there is something valid to be said that artists are people who spend their time processing the world and commenting on it via creativity and I think there is probably some validity that people who are prone to making art are also prone to feeling like outsiders. I would also say that I bet there is not a higher percentage of artists who are depressed, it’s just that their lives involve being more public about it. I bet it evens out when you get behind closed doors.

PHAWKER: Excellent. So, in your stand up you’ve also riffed — quite effectively, I might 1473723569-chris_gethard_ticketsadd — that contrary to conventional wisdom, suicide isn’t cowardly, it’s sad, “and nothing but.” But I’m just curious as to what your thoughts are about the notion that people should have the right to end their lives at the time and place of their choosing? An odd question to ask a comedian, I know, but you started this…

CHRIS GETHARD: Yeah, I know I’ve opened myself up to this. I definitely think my opinions come from a mental health perspective and there are certainly who suffer from physical conditions who are in a great amount of pain where suicide takes on a different meaning to them. I think there are people who view it as a humane medical procedure for people who are in great physical suffering. That is something that I do think very differently about it as opposed to people who are driven to it by mental illness.

PHAWKER: Ok, continuing on- you host the podcast Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People where you select a random caller and give him or her an hour to say more or less whatever they want. What is the most beautiful story you have come across in the process and why is it so moving to you?

CHRIS GETHARD: Hmmm, that’s a very good question.

PHAWKER: Take a second, think about it. I know there’s been a lot.

CHRIS GETHARD: Yeah, there’s been so many to process. You know, I think at the end of the day I’ve heard from a lot of people who have dealt with some hard stuff and there’s one that jumps out. There was a young lady who called and told me she had been addicted to heroin for many years. And she really went in. She told me about many of the really grim aspects of living that life, but she also told me that now she’s on the other side of it. She’s working a job, her job isn’t easy but she’s really proud and she holds her head up high. That is one that jumps out to me because I’ve lost a few friends to heroin and it is such an epidemic especially in the area I grew up. Hearing her say that she went very deep into something that’s that scary and that brutal and is ok now, that really shook me up emotionally. I also think that that was a story that made me feel really proud to have the podcast be what it is because I think a lot of times someone falls into that world and we go ‘Ok, they’re a drug addict.’ And we write them off and we judge them. It’s rare to get to hear from somebody who is willing to say to you, ‘No, I can actually tell you what it was like to live it and it was much harder for me on the inside than those on the outside. Even though that was incredibly difficult as well.’ That is the one that really stood out to me. I have enough personal experience seeing people fall into that specific drug addiction and hearing from her and hearing that she was ok and how she fought through it. That one is very special to me.

PHAWKER: Do you find that you have trouble getting people to talk for a whole hour or does it just kind of flow naturally?

CHRIS GETHARD: No, I have trouble getting people to shut up if I’m being totally blunt about it. I think that as the reputation of the podcast has Chris-Gethard-Beautiful-Anonymousspread, it’s definitely taken on this life of its own and people are ready to share some secrets and get into it. Getting hem to talk for an hour is not the problem at all.

PHAWKER: This question is a little like ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?’ but I’m going to ask it anyway: What is the secret of comedy? What is the secret of making a roomful of strangers with completely different lives and life experiences and world views all react to a series of precisely arranged words in the exact same way: with involuntary laughter?

CHRIS GETHARD: Well, I think at the end of the day it all comes down to honesty. If you can make something that feels true then you can get a crowd to laugh. I try to do stuff that’s very honest and wears my heart on my sleeve. I’ve managed to get a couple laughs that way and a lot of times people are surprised that my favorite comedian growing up was Andy Kaufman. All he does is he goes really deep into characters and people are like, ‘Well you’re all about honesty and he’s all about this antagonistic character stuff, how does that work?’ The one thing I always think about is that the reactions he was getting were so honest and he’s getting real reactions from the room. I think at the end of the day- the common shared quality to that is the sense of honesty and creating something that feels real to some extent.

PHAWKER: I definitely get that. I’m going to bring it back to the subject that none of us can seem to escape. Is Donald Trump a goldmine for comedians or do you think the Age Of Trump is such a terrifying and anxiety-riddled shit show that nothing will be funny until it’s over?

CHRIS GETHARD: It’s definitely the second one, for sure. I know I’ve talked to a lot of comedians and many of them have had the experience where people have said, ‘Well at the very least, you’ll get a lot of jokes out of this now.’ And every comedian I know says that they would give back all of those jokes if we could live in a world that is a little more stable and a little less scary than this one.

PHAWKER: Do you have anything you’d like to add or any final thoughts?

CHRIS GETHARD: I think in general I would just say that TLA is a really big venue and it would be really depressing if it was empty so I really hope people buy some tickets and come on out. I think we’ll have a bad time.


CHRIS GETHARD’S BEAUTIFUL/ANONYMOUS LIVE @ THE TLA ON FRI. JUNE 9TH

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CINEMA: Release The Bats

June 5th, 2017

Nick Cave One More Time With Feeling

 

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have announced the return to US cinemas of One More Time With Feeling, the acclaimed feature film about the making of their album Skeleton Tree directed by Andrew Dominik. The film will screen in select cities in the USA around the band’s live shows from May 2017. One More Time With Feeling probes the deeply personal circumstances surrounding the making of the band’s 16th studio album Skeleton Tree, and features live performances by the band in the studio. It is the first ever non-animated black and white film shot in 3D. One More Time For Feeling screens Thursday June 8th for one night only at Ritz Five @ 7 PM.

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TONITE: Something Wicked This Way Comes

June 5th, 2017

Nick_Cave_by_Pete_Troshak3

Photo by PETE TROSHAK

EDITOR’S NOTE: This concert review originally posted on March 20th, 2013

If you heard a distant rumble or saw a flash of light on the Northwest horizon last night around 9 p.m., that was Nick Cave, like a bat out of hell, smiting Glenside to a crisp as per his satanic majesty’s request. And it was good. Very good. How could it not be? Everyone knows Heaven has better weather but Hell has all the best bands. Cave looked and sounded in peak form (good hair, great suit, whipped himself about the stage like an electrocuted Elvis), and his voice contained multitudes. Deep, dulcet, and strong like bull. Part angel-headed hipster, part Pentecostal preacherman, part medicine show barker, part lounge singer lothario. All pomade and sweat and jive and Old Testament gravitas.

So too, The Bad Seeds, who these days paint within the lines and with much more subtle strokes thanks in no small part to the addition of The Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis a decade back. With his enchanted fiddle on “God Is In The House,” magic flute on “We No Who U R” and his chiming, incandescent, Velvetsoid guitar thrum on “Jubilee Street” Ellis made grown men cry in their souls — this grown man, anyway. Prior to Ellis, the Bad Seeds seemed to come with only two settings: Mellow and Maelstrom. Last night they mapped out all the emotional peaks and valleys in between with nuance and precision.

Cave was wickedly funny. During the gangsta-rific “Stagger Lee,” he mocked a loutish woman up front whose incoherent shouting marred more than one song. “Where the fuck is my husband in this fucking place?” he whined, though it was unclear if he was merely mimicking her outbursts or pleading with the missing husband to come fetch his trainwreck wife and spare us all this indignity. When some goober shouted out repeatedly that the stage volume was “too soft” (get a Q-Tip, Goob, they were loud as fuck) Cave silenced him with “‘Too soft?’ You deaf cunt!” Ah, good times. Glad to see that Cave still doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

After opening the show with a handful of long, slow-burning potboilers from the new Push The Sky Away, Cave and co. released the bats and let rip with the classics (“The Mercy Seat,” “Deanna,” “Red Right Hand,” “The Weeping Song”) as well as some deep-catalog nuggets for the devout (“From Her To Eternity,” “Your Funeral, My Trial” and a hellfire-and-brimstone “Tupelo” for an encore). But the real revelation last night was “Higgs Boson Blues,” a song that, sequenced eighth out of nine songs, gets lost on the new album which suffers somewhat from an overabundance of meditative midtempo-ness.

On record, the song is largely notable for the metaphysical cleverness of its title, but last night “Higgs Boson Blues” was a long, sweaty noir-ish hallucination that somehow combined Lucifer, Robert Johnson, the Large Hadron Collider, speaking in tongues, Hannah Montana crying with the dolphins, the assassination of Martin Luther King at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, and the God Particle into a dream narrative whose surreal profundities, as they are wont to do, defy literal explanation. But it all ends satisfyingly with Miley Cyrus floating face down in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake like William Holden at the beginning of “Sunset Boulevard.” Let us pray. – JONATHAN VALANIA

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS @ THE ELECTRIC FACTORY JUNE 5TH

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GOD OF THUNDER: A Q&A With Gene Simmons

June 2nd, 2017

gene-simmons-kiss

 

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA In advance of his performance at the Trocadero tonight as part of the Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con nerd jamboree at the Pennsylvania Convention Center (June 1-4), we got Gene Simmons, commander in chief of the Kiss Army, on the horn. DISCUSSED: Trump, Russia, comic books, codpieces, Beyonce, Nirvana, his $300 million net worth, Elvis, Schvetty Balls, Les Paul, Donna Summer, the Jesus Of Rock, Helsinki, The Beatles, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Kant, Wizard World, the death of rock, inspiring This Is Spinal Tap, why he got himself fired from The Apprentice, the mechanics of capitalism, how supermarkets work, and the prospect of making peace with Terry Gross (Hint: Don’t hold your breath).

PHAWKER: Before we get started, in the interest of full disclosure, you should know I’ve been a member of the Kiss army in good standing since 1976.

GENE SIMMONS: Wow.

PHAWKER: You’ve always been my favorite. I remember spending many hours looking at the cover of the Kiss Alive 2. You were legitimately scary, everybody else the band kind of just looked like weird clowns and transvestites from outer space. But you were intense, I just wanted to put that out there. Don’t tell the other guys I said that, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. So, what can the fans expect from your show at the Trocadero in Philadelphia?

GENE SIMMONS: What happened was Wizard World was aware that I’m a comic book geek and that Kiss in particular and I have had a long and proud relationship with comic books going back many decades. I mean the first comic book event that I went to was a sci-fi comic book convention called Luna Con in New York in 1968. This was before there was even a Comic Con. And through the 70’s, we had our Kiss comics, which became the biggest selling comic books of all time, at that point. And through various decades, we’ve had everybody from Image to IDW, and now finally Dynamic is putting out Kiss comics. And so every month, there were kiss comics coming out and including my own comic book company called “Simmons’ Comics Group” which puts out Dominatrix and Zipper as well as Gene Simmons’ House of Horrors. So, Wizard World asked me toKISS Marvel do five of their conventions, and I said sure. Question and Answer, talk comic books, all of that stuff. And then they had asked me if I would play a few tunes. And I thought, well gee that’s interesting, I never done a solo tour anywhere but maybe I could put a band together of some rockers I know who love this thing and take over a concert hall someplace and do some obscure Kiss tunes that Kiss will never play, and have never played. And that was interesting to me. So that’s sort of what happened and we’ve done two out of them, I think I have three more to go and they’ve been an awful lot of fun. It gives me the chance to kind of step out of the Kiss boots and get up on stage and just have a lot of fun and some of the things that we do with the Gene Simmons band is bring people up on stage and if you think you can sing, you can hold your own against me on stage we pull you up, and if you think your kid, or child, is a rockstar, send your video of your child singing, performing, or doing whatever to WizardWorld.com and if they’ve got the goods, I’ll pull them up on stage. It’s a lot of fun, people just love it and so do I. it gives me a chance to kind of get much closer, because you know around Kiss, it’s tough to get close to us. There are bodyguards between the stage and the audience, there’s that moat, and with the Wizard World relationship, I get a lot closer to people and it’s actually a lot more fun for me to.

PHAWKER: Excellent, so you guys are on tour and Europe right now, I believe your last show was a couple of days ago in Moscow, or in somewhere in Russia? Yes?

GENE SIMMONS: Yes, we played in Moscow, the first show on May Day. Which is when the Russians bring out all of their missiles and stuff, and we played at the Olympic Stadium there in Moscow, a lot of fun. If you go to Kissonline.com you can see photos and stuff, and I’m sure you can go to Google or someplace and get photos. Packed house, everybody had a ball. Right now we are in Helsinki, Finland and you can actually Google this. The international railway station, in Helsinki there is this huge arc, and on either side of this arc are these fifty foot high statues made out of stone. And what the city of Helsinki has done is paint our face makeup on the statues, really quite something. I was just out there, we took some photos and it just, I’m dwarfed by these huge statues, and of course people immediately got that I was one of the guys. And so everybody crowded around and did photos, but when I first approached it I went ‘What the hell, you started a rock band and all of a sudden you’re on Mount Rushmore.’

PHAWKER: Nice. So tell me, what is a typical day in the life of Gene Simmons. Do you wake up at the crack of noon?

GENE SIMMONS: Well there are no typical days. Almost every day is different, because at the same time I am running two different film companies and I’ve got my real estate venture and a lot of Kiss Cartoon2other projects happening at the same time and Kiss has lots of projects. So sometimes — when my partners are overseas when I’m in America — I have to hop on the phone in the middle of the night because it’s noon of the next day for my European partners or in Japan. And so, every day is different. Today, we woke up, uh, I don’t know about 10 AM Helsinki time, and went out there at 11 AM to take photos of the big statues and then, you know, running the gauntlet between the fans. They know exactly which hotel we’re staying in so as I leave, you know, you got to do what you got to do. Be nice to the fans, sign this poster this photo and so on. But it’s a real tug of the heart when you are sitting in the restaurant, we sat outdoors because the weather was pretty good, and a few people came over. One guy in particular very young, he had to go back to school, he told me. And he started shaking and said, ‘You are the reason why I am playing music’ and you know all of this stuff. And it’s a real, it puts a lump in your throat when you realize that yeah you can put out a song or two here and there that people might like but it profoundly impacts people’s lives and that’s an amazing thing.

PHAWKER: So, Kiss turns 42 years-old by my calculations.

GENE SIMMONS: Forty-three.

PHAWKER: Forty-three, congratulations. Is it safe to say that you don’t agree with the premise that rock and roll is the young man’s game?
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CINEMA: I’m With Her

June 2nd, 2017

Wonder Woman Poster_

WONDER WOMAN (2017, directed by Patty Jenkins, 141 minutes, USA)

the-geek-300x300BY RICHARD SUPLEE GEEK SPACE CORRESPONDENT Wonder Woman has a lot riding on it. It has to singlehandedly save the DC Comics’ Extended Universe from an advanced state of cinematic suckitude while simultaneously adapting DC’s third most popular superhero of all time without pissing off 75 years worth of comic book geeks, proto-feministas and latter day riot girls AND be a better female superhero film than Supergirl (1985), Tank Girl (1995), Catwoman (2004), and Elektra (2005). For years studio execs were able to say “the audience doesn’t want female superheroes, look at how bad Catwoman and Supergirl bombed.” But the fact is Catwoman was a shitty movie. Fans stayed home because the movie was crap, not because Catwoman had a vagina.

So I am happy to report that Wonder Woman pulls off that impossible hat trick. Director Patty Jenkins and writer Allan Heinberg have created an electrifying hybrid of war movies like Saving Private Ryan and Fury with epic fantasy fare like Lord of the Rings. Gal Gadot crushes it as Wonder Woman/Princess Diana, who hails from the land of Greek mythology. She grew up on an island of Amazons where she was indoctrinated with stories about the corruption of men and taught that defeating Ares, the god of war, will bring peace to all of mankind. Diana is charmingly naive about the ways of the outside world which makes for moments of high comedy culture shock and Gadot balances the lack of “real world experience” with a competent, intelligent hero in her portrayal. Her training completed, Diana leaves the paradise island of Themyscira on a mission to kill the god of war.

Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is from the real world. He is an American spy attempting to return home with Germany’s latest chemical weapon formulas when he crash landed on Themysica and picks up Wonder Woman on his way home. The heart of the film is Diana learning about the world and coming to grips with repressive gender roles and racial strife and the mystery of why generals are not on the battlefield beside their soldiers, all the while taking newfound delight in the taste of ice cream and other modern wonders.
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BEING THERE: Real Friends & Have Mercy

June 2nd, 2017

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Photo by ERIN BLEWETT

“Whether you guys fuck with this or not, cheers to you guys,” Broadside frontman Ollie Baxxter purred at an utterly captivated crowd at the Theater of the Living Arts on Thursday for an epic evening of sweaty pop-punk. The crowd was raging in the pit during the Richmond, VA-based pop-punk group’s set, and it was at that moment I realized I could never be The Girl That Moshes as I ran away from the actual Girl Who Moshes, using my camera as a shield. (In retrospect, not my best idea.)

Next up was Tiny Moving Parts. Even if you’re skeptical about the nasal vocals, interchangeable buzzsaw guitar riffs and sugary sweet lyrics of longing that characterize the pop-punk genre, Tiny Moving Parts will seize and fill you with the infectious energy that the band exudes from every pore. Tiny Moving Parts frontman Dylan Mattheisen gave his all to the point that by the third song in the set he was visibly dripping with the sweat that invariably accompanies a soul-baring set. Tiny Moving Parts put on a solid show. Nothing more, nothing less.

Finally, the set I had been waiting for all night arrived as Have Mercy took the stage. The pop-punk growl of singer Brian Swindle [pictured, above] is unmistakable and truth be told sounds like he’s running a cheese grater on his vocal chords. Somehow, it works for him. Have Mercy appears to be on the road to redemption with the release of their third album, Make The Best of It, after weathering the storm of disapproval that accompanied 2014’s A Place Of Our Own. They quickly won the crowd over with high-octane renditions of tracks new and old like “Let’s Talk About Your Hair” and “Disagree.”

After Have Mercy ripped my heart out and sewed it back in again, headliners Real Friends took the stage amidst a makeshift living room stage set made of vintage lamps and comfy chairs. The group made quite an arrival, practically catapulting out of the wings, and then proceeded to run around stage non-stop for the duration of their set. Their sound is the one you loved when you were sixteen, but it somehow sounds even better when you’re twenty years old. The night was riddled with lyrics expressing the anxiety of twentysomethings with no fucking clue how to transition from adolescence to adulthood. Perhaps Broadside’s Ollie Baxxter said it best: “The reality is you’re supposed to feel incomplete. Cherish the people that keep it real with you and it’ll be fine.” – ERIN BLEWETT

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MILESTONED: It Was 50 Years Ago Today

June 1st, 2017

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FRESH AIR: Giles Martin says he included outtakes and raw performances in the new box set to show “how human the making of Sgt. Pepper was.” The original album was produced by Martin’s father, George. MORE

ROLLING STONE: The surviving band members and their legatees have authorized the reconsideration of a major canonical work: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, originally released 50 years ago on June 1st, 1967, in England, and the following day in the U.S. The new Pepper comes in various packages: single and double CDs, a deluxe box of four CDs and two DVDs (containing videos and 5.1 surround Cover-shoot-for-Sgt-Pepper-2mixes of the original album), as well as a double LP that, like most versions here, includes several of the album’s original developing and alternate tracks. All editions feature a stereo remix by Giles Martin (George Martin died in 2016, at 90) and Abbey Road audio engineer Sam Okell. The ambition might seem a bit of a risk or even redundant. After all, Sgt. Pepper has been considered by many as not just rock’s greatest moment, but also as a central touchstone for the 1960s – an exemplar for a generation that was forging new ideals, and granting themselves new permissions, including the use of psychedelic drugs. The Beatles had already done a lot to make that change possible, but Sgt. Pepper – coming along at a time when many thought the Beatles superfluous, in the face of other new adventurous bands and records – crystallized it all. Langdon Winner later wrote in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll: “For a brief while, the irreparable fragmented consciousness of the West was unified, at least in the minds of the young.”

Additionally, Sgt. Pepper’s groundbreaking sonics – its mix of pioneering textures, complex composition and inventive recording techniques –also won the album standing as a legitimate art form that revised and extended classical music’s archetypes. (This achievement also imbued much of rock itself with a new prestige and aspiration.) In part, the unprecedented acclaim resulted from Paul McCartney’s insistence on the album as a conceptual song cycle that existed as a whole entity: The Beatles, posed in ornate Victorian brass-band military costumery on the cover, were playing a fictional band, singing from perspectives free of any indebtedness to their prior musical sensibility and well-established images. (Ringo Starr later described it as “a bunch of songs and you stick two bits of ‘Pepper’ on it and it’s a concept album. It worked because we said it worked.”)

But that was 50 years ago. A lot changed – including the Beatles, who ended acrimoniously in 1970. What can we learn now from Sgt. Pepper’s new incarnation? As it turns out, Giles Martin reveals considerable new wonders – particularly in his stereo remix of the original album (which appears in all the new editions, and as a standalone disc and digital download). The remix, in fact, provides a long overdue epiphany. Martin observes in his liner notes: “The original Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was primarily mixed as a mono album. All care and attention were applied to the mono LP, with the Beatles present for all the mixes. … Almost as an afterthought, the stereo album was mixed very quickly without the Beatles at the sessions. Yet it is the stereo album that most people listen to today.” In other words, popular music’s most elaborateCover-shoot-for-Sgt-Pepper-3 and intricate creation – and one that helped end the mono era – wasn’t made to be heard in stereo. MORE

NEW YORK TIMES JUNE 18, 1967: With one important exception, “Sergeant Pepper” is precious but devoid of gems. “A Day in the Life” is such a radical departure from the spirit of the album that it almost deserves its peninsular position (following the reprise of the “Sergeant Pepper” theme, it comes almost as an afterthought). It has nothing to do with posturing or put-on. It is a deadly earnest excursion in emotive music with a chilling lyric. Its orchestration is dissonant but sparse, and its mood is not whimsical nostalgia but irony.

With it, the Beatles have produced a glimpse of modern city life, that is terrifying. It stands as one of the most important Lennon-McCartney compositions, and it is a historic Pop event. “A Day in the Life” starts in a description of suicide. With the same conciseness displayed in “Eleanor Rigby,” the protagonist begins: “I read the news today, oh boy.” This mild interjection is the first hint of his disillusion ment; compared with what is to follow, it is supremely ironic. “I saw the photograph,” he continues, in the voice of a melancholy choir boy:

He blew his mind out in a car
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed
A crowd of people stood and stared
They’d seen his face before
Nobody was really sure If he was from the House of Lords.

“A Day in the Life” could never make the Top 40, although it may influence a great many songs which do. Its lyric is sure to bring a sudden surge of Pop tragedy. The aimless, T. S. Eliot-like crowd, forever confronting pain and turning away, may well become a common symbol. And its narrator, subdued by the totality of his despair, may reappear in countless compositions as the silent, withdrawn hero.

Musically, there are already indications that the intense atonality of “A Day in the Life” is a key to the sound of 1967. Electronic-rock, with its aim of staggering an audience, has arrived in half-a-dozen important new releases, None of these songs has the controlled intensity of “A Day in the Life,” but the willingness of many restrained musicians to “let go” means that serious aleatory-pop may be on the way.

Ultimately, however, it is the uproar over the alleged influence of drugs on the Beatles which may prevent “A Day in the Life” from reaching the mass audience. The song’s refrain, “I’d like to turn you on,” has rankled disk jockeys supersensitive to “hidden subversion” in rock ‘n roll. In fact, a case can be made within the very structure of “A Day in the Life” for the belief that the Beatles — like so many Pop Cover-shoot-for-Sgt-Pepper-6composers—are aware of the highs and lows of consciousness.

The song is built on a series of tense, melancholic passages, followed by soaring releases. In the opening stanza, for instance, John’s voice comes near to cracking with despair. But after the invitation, “I’d like to turn you on,” the Beatles have inserted an extraordinary atonal thrust which is shocking, even painful, to the ears. But it brilliantly encases the song and, if the refrain preceding it suggests turning on, the crescendo parallels a drug-induced “rush.”

The bridge begins in a staccato crossfire. We feel the narrator rising, dressing and commuting by rote. The music is nervous with the dissonance of cabaret jazz. A percussive drum melts into a panting railroad chug. Then

Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
Somebody spoke and I went into a dream.

The words fade into a chant of free, spacious chords, like the initial marijuana “buzz.” But the tone becomes mysterious and then ominous. Deep strings take us on a Wagnerian descent and we are back to the original blues theme, and the original declaration, “I read the news today, oh boy.” Actually, it is difficult to see why the BBC banned “A Day in the Life,” because its message is, quite clearly, the flight from banality. It describes a profound reality, but it certainly does not glorify it. And its conclusion, though magnificent, seems to represent a negation of self. The song ends on one low, resonant note that is sustained for 40 seconds. Having achieved the absolute peace of nullification, the narrator is beyond melancholy. But there is something brooding and irrevocable about his calm. It sounds like destruction. MORE

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ARCADE FIRE: Everything Now

June 1st, 2017

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

May 31st, 2017

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FRESH AIR: Humorist David Sedaris admits that his latest work, Theft by Finding, isn’t exactly the book he set out to publish. It was originally meant to be a collection of funny diary entries, but then Sedaris’ editor had a suggestion that changed its course. “My editor said, ‘Why don’t you go back to the very beginning and find things that aren’t necessarily funny and put those in as well?’ ” Sedaris says. “Soon those [entries] outweighed the funny ones, and the funny ones seemed almost over-produced, so I got rid of a lot of them.” The result is a collection of moments pulled from the diaries Sedaris wrote between 1977 and 2002. Theft by Finding includes major turning points in Sedaris’ life: the NPR broadcast of excerpts from his SantaLand Diaries collection, meeting his longtime boyfriend, Hugh, and the death of his mother. But most of the entries are quieter moments in which Sedaris writes about cleaning houses for a living, doing drugs and observing patrons at IHOP.Though Sedaris has published personal stories and books based on his journals before, the idea of pulling from decades-old diaries took some getting used to.”Publishing a first draft of something you wrote when you were drunk and 21 — I’ll do it if it works and it’s inviting on the paper, but a lot of the entries in this book, they’re like three lines long,” he says. “I might’ve written four pages that day, but of those four pages the only thing that might be of interest to someone else are these three lines.” MORE

NEW YORK TIMES: Once Sedaris reaches Chicago, the diaries shift and mutate. In the ’70s and early ’80s, still in Raleigh, they function as a stress vent. Now they feel like limbering-up exercises for the kind of writing he’s going to do. The entries about the IHOP he frequents, and the rotating cast of flinty waitresses and damaged customers, feel like tracks off an early EP of a beloved band. I felt another warm jolt of camaraderie when I read how Sedaris was happy to discover that David Lynch used to eat at the same Bob’s Big Boy in Los Angeles for years. I remember discovering that same nugget of information about Lynch, and how it somehow justified my eating nearly every breakfast during the ’90s at the House of Pies in Los Feliz. MORE

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