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As you know, Adam West is gone.

Like a lot of people, West was a pop culture icon of my childhood thanks to the syndication of Batman. And whatever his qualities as an actor, he was perfect for the role – too perfect, perhaps, although West was able to reconcile himself with it. And that’s good.

Also, like a lot of people, he was my first Batman experience – in my case, it was the TV show that led me to read the comic books, rather than the other way round. And of course there will always be debate about how “authentic” West’s Batman was – after all, the whole show was meant to be ironic camp fun for 60s hipsters who laughed at Batman’s ultra-square demeanor.

And yet it wasn’t. While the show was essentially conceived as a sort of superhero sitcom, they were serious about Batman’s squareness, if only because he was meant to be the sane centerpiece of an insane crooked world of flamboyant supervillains, and a counterpoint to Robin’s youthful impulsiveness to do what feels right vs what is right – even if it’s a detail like pedestrian safety or being too young to legally enter a nightclub.

Here’s one way of looking at it – college-age hipsters watched it in the 1960s and laughed at Batman’s goody-two-shoes squareness. Primary school kids in the 1970s like me watched the reruns and saw Batman as the ultimate role model – the guy who stands for justice, defends the defenseless, obeys rules and laws (apart from the ones against vigilantism, of course, but who thinks of that when yr eight?), and generally does the right thing for the Greater Good of society.

In other words, we didn't see the irony – we saw the superhero we thought Batman was supposed to be. And we aspired to that. As you do when yr a kid.

Of course we grew up, and in my case I did see the goofy, hokey side of it all (and as Mark Hamill has pointed out, it says a lot that West was able to play the role for laughs and seriously at the same time).

By that time, too, we had The Dark Knight and characters like Wolverine, the first of many bad-ass superheroes who were perfectly fine with killing bad guys and delivering snappy one-liners while doing it – which Adam West’s Batman would never have done in a million years.

Don't get me wrong – gritty realism and graphic violence has its place in comics. I liked Frank Miller’s take on the Dark Knight, and it’s an aspect of the character worthy of exploration, and one that has been explored well, possibly to the point of ad nauseum. But it’s just one aspect of a multifaceted and contradictory character. And West’s Batman is arguably at the core of the character – he may be an orphan who dresses up like a bat to punch the crap out of criminals, but he is also grounded in a very clear sense of right and wrong, and there are lines he will not cross.

Naïve and oversimplistic? Probably. But why not? For my money, superhero stories don’t have to be “realistic” in order to be entertaining or meaningful. They also work as basic good vs evil stories where good generally wins, eventually – and does so on its own terms rather than stooping to the level of evil. And the “terms” can be generally defined as what we think of as ideals of morality, citizenship and justice – where crime never pays and the bad guys never get away with it, but ensuring that without breaking the confines of a fair and impartial justice system. The fact that the real justice system is neither fair nor impartial – to say nothing of the fact that vigilantism technically is by definition extrajudicial – is beside the point. Classic superheroes tended to operate according to the principles of that system regardless of whether the system itself did or not.

We need stories like that, just as we need stories that focus on what happens when the system fails us. Because I don’t think you can really appreciate the significance of the latter without appreciating the aspirations of the former.

Also, as Neil Gaiman intimated in a Riddler story, the former is just more fun. And it’s evident we’re starting to see a backlash at least in DC films that have gone for gritty realism vs Marvel’s lighter approach. I personally love the Nolan Batman films, but that was a specific cycle of films. There’s no need to make the whole universe like that. Anyway, you know you’ve gone too far with the Dark Knight angle when the Lego films are making fun of you.

I suppose some might point to Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin as proof that light-hearted cartoony Batman doesn’t work. I don’t think it’s a fair comparison, partly because Schumacher went against the expectations of franchise fans at the time who expected Tim Burton’s version, but also because the problem with Batman and Robin wasn’t the one-liners, overacting villains and cartoon sound effects – it was a bad story, too many supervillains, a very clumsy and forced attempt to shoehorn Batgirl into the franchise and Robin basically acting like a petulant jerk.

So, anyway, respect to Adam West for helping create a square, straight-edge Batman that we could look up to and yet not take too seriously, all at once.

Go West,

This is dF
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Chris Cornell is gone.

And of course I have to blog about that because the very first time I heard Soundgarden … I wasn’t that impressed.

Not that I thought they sucked. Far from it. I just didn’t quite get what they were doing.

This was 100% my problem. I was writing album reviews for the college newspaper at the time, and I was very heavily into punk and underground music at the time. The way it worked was, the local mall record store would let me take a couple of new records home to listen to, and then I would choose which one I thought made enough of an impression (good or bad) to write about, then bring them back.

One week, one of the options was Soundgarden’s Loud Love. I forget what the other album was, but I wrote about it instead, because I could at least get a handle on it. I really didn’t know what to make of Soundgarden – they were long-haired guys with no shirts on and they sounded (to me) like a heavy Led Zeppelin tribute band. I suppose they didn’t fit within my narrow punk aesthetic so I kind of blew them off.

Less than a year later, some friends turned me on to Nirvana’s first album, Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone from someplace called Seattle. I liked them a lot. Then someone else reintroduced me to Loud Love again, and I gave it another chance and THEN it clicked. I got it. And I was both amazed at the music, at Cornell’s vocals, and at myself for being so thick as to not like it on first listen.

I tended to do this a lot when I was younger. (Heck, I probably still do it now.) There was a long list of bands I didn’t really “get” the first time I heard them, but give it a year and I’d hear them again and go, “Wow, this is great, what was I thinking?”

Anyway.

Here’s a true story: I saw Soundgarden live when they were promoting the Badmotorfinger album. My best friend and I drove from Clarksville, TN to Nashville to watch them open for Skid Row. The played for something like 40 minutes and absolutely blew the roof off the dump. We danced in the aisle and as soon as Soundgarden finished their set, we got out of the building before Skid Row could get anywhere near the stage.

It’s probably the only time in my life I ever paid full price for a concert ticket just to see the opening band.



That’s Soundgarden, of course. As for Cornell himself, I admit I didn’t buy his solo stuff, but I did like the first Audioslave album – it was basically Rage Against The Machine with a new lead singer, but it blended perfectly.

Even his James Bond theme song was pretty decent. That was a surreal pop culture moment for me as well, having grown up with Bond films, where one of the big deals about any new film was who would they get to sing the theme song – at one time, it was a sort of a career signpost signaling you’d finally made it. That arguably stopped being true by the time The Living Daylights came out. Still, they didn’t give the job of singing the latest Bond theme song to just anyone. Anyway, Cornell wasn’t an obvious choice – if you were going to go with “former grunge singer does Bond theme” atall, I’d have thought Eddie Vedder would be yr go-to guy.

In any case, admit it – “You Know My Name” was arguably the best Bond song since Duran Duran’s “A View To A Kill”.

Anyway, he was one of the iconic singers of my college years, and I’m saddened and shocked to hear he’s gone so soon.

Say hello 2 heaven,

This is dF
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As you all know, Mary Tyler Moore is gone.

I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said – she was a TV staple of my childhood, and I do remember that final episode and what a big deal it was.

And with everyone talking about how revolutionary the show was in terms of featuring a female lead who wasn’t a housewife, I suppose it had some kind of background effect on me in terms of learning that women can be independent and have careers like anyone else. Which sounds obvious today, of course, but in 1970 this was still a new concept for many people. (So was the idea of putting a divorced female character on prime time TV, which was apparently the original premise, which CBS rejected.)

Anyway, among the tributes pouring in to MTM, some people have been posting covers of the show’s theme song.



The one I’ve known for years is, of course, the Husker Du version.



Then there’s the Joan Jett version.



You've probably heard both of those in the past week. 

But odds are you haven’t heard the Sammy Davis Jr disco version.



Or the Nashville Country version by Sonny Curtis (who. Incidentally, sang the original TV version).



Now that I’ve heard both, I still prefer the Husker Du/Joan Jett versions.

Yr gonna make it after all,

This is dF
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And so 2016 is done.

Here’s how a lot of people feel about it.







Here’s how I personally feel about it:

1. I do think that on some kind of objective or non-partisan level, 2016 wasn’t a great year, particularly for the West. After all, it was the year of a particularly noxious US election – easily the most soul-sucking and joyless of any election I’ve ever followed – bookended by the deaths of major cultural icons like David Bowie and Carrie Fisher, and punctuated by hate-fueled mass shootings, terrorism, and a deterioration of race relations, among other things. And it was a year where politicians successfully exploited fear, loathing and xenophobia to gain power, stoking higher and higher levels of fear and distrust between groups of people.

2. However, it’s fair to say a lot of this was artificially amplified by hyperpartisan broadcast media, blog sites and social media feeds packed with hyperbolic batshit negativity memes (which in itself is an objective indicator that 2016 was a drag).

3. So it’s weirdly appropriate that the “Fuck You 2016” meme shooting around the internet is itself a hyperbolic batshit negativity meme – for far too many people, that was their default setting in terms of media consumption and online interaction.

4. But it is hyperbole. This article from NPR and this article from WaPo make a good case for this. Also, this article from the Smithsonian provides historical perspective on the “worst year ever” meme. 

5. Granted, the extent to which it is hyperbole will depend on yr specific circumstances. For example, if yr just sad that yr candidate lost the POTUS election, that's just post-election blues amplified by the emo/fear aspects of this specific election. However, if you live in Flint, MI, or if yr an African-American whose family member was killed by police despite being unarmed, or if yr a Muslim who just watched a guy win the presidency by promising to treat you as an enemy of the state, or if yr hometown is Aleppo – etc and so on – then absolutely you’ve earned the right to say that 2016 was a terrible year. 

(On the flip side, if yr a Trump fan, a member of the KKK and/or a Wall Street player – or if you were simply someone who was not directly impacted by any of the above trends and/or don't really care about those who were – then 2016 may have been good year for you, barring any personal circumstances.)

6. In terms of historical perspective, 2016 was lightweight compared to – say – the years that contained political assassinations, the Holocaust, the Inquisition or the Black Plague. And as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, in terms of pure statistics, 2016 actually showed promise in a lot of areas. So like the NPR article mentions above, a lot of the dithering over 2016 is more about perception than reality.

7. Others have pointed out – and I agree – that calendars are artificial constructs for tracking the passage of time, so it’s kind of silly to treat 2016 as a bad year that we need to get out of the way. It doesn't work that way.

8. On a related note, people made a lot of hay about 2016 being a bad year for celebrity icons. I think that’s a combination of the relevance of specific icons and also the age at which some of them passed on – Gene Wilder and Leonard Cohen (both in their 80s) were sad but not too surprising, compared to relatively younger people like Prince, Carrie Fisher, George Michael and possibly even Bowie.

But sorry to say, we’re going to see more of that in 2017 and every year from here on in. The actors, musicians, artists and other heroes whose work meant something to us when we were kids are mortal like everyone else, and sooner or later, it’s time for them to go. Knowing this doesn’t make it less painful when they do go, obviously. The point is that 2016 wasn’t some cursed year – it just seemed that way in the context of all the other crappy things going on.

9. By the way, for the people who have been joking that they hope 2017 is the year that Death stops killing the good celebrities and starts targeting people who “deserve it” (Trump being on the top of the list, followed by Ted Nugent, Scott Baio, Mike Pence, Ann Coulter, etc): not funny. Not to me.

Bring it on,

This is dF

REBEL GIRL

Dec. 28th, 2016 12:02 pm
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And now Carrie Fisher is gone.

And somehow this pic just seems appropriate.



I don’t know what I can add to everything else being said about her. Obviously she was part of my pop culture landscape with Star Wars – Leia was one of the first female characters I saw onscreen who wasn’t a frail damsel in distress. She was smart, tough and funny.

Fisher was also a good writer (I’ve only ever read Postcards From The Edge, but it’s a very funny book), and a funny person. I also loved the fact that she brought her dog Gary along to interviews.



It’s sad that she’s gone, but it’s good that she was here. Not only did she embody one of the great female icons of my generation, she also did a lot of good works offscreen by talking about her addiction and mental illness issues. (One of my family members is a recovering alcoholic who has also been diagnosed as bipolar, so I’m not a disinterested bystander in the that regard.)

In closing, I’ll honor her request to report that she died the way she wanted to go – drowned in moonlight and strangled to death by her own bra.

A princess in a world full of dragons,

This is dF

EDITED TO ADD [29 Dec]: And a day later, her mom Debbie Reynolds has also passed, because that's how 2016 rolls. 

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Well, I can’t post something about George Michal and not do the same for Leonard Cohen, who did a Bowie last month by releasing a great new album on his birthday and passing away shortly afterwards.

The title track is very apropos – not just of Cohen’s passing, but 2016 in general.



It’s a high note to go out on – even this late in the game, Cohen still had a way with words and imagery. Helping things out here are the musical arrangements via son Adam Cohen, which are in some ways the kind of minimalist background typical of a Cohen album, but with some striking variations from the formula here and there. It’s made a lot of Best of 2016 lists, and it will likely make mine as well.

Ironically, when Cohen passed, most of the media focus wasn’t on the new album but his back catalog, specifically that song, which everyone knows thanks to Jeff Buckley’s cover version (which I blogged about ages ago – note that the YouTube links are all busted). I can understand that – after all, Cohen was one of the best singer-songwriters of his time, so it’s only right to focus on the classics that earned him that rep.

My own introduction to Cohen was via – of all things – the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, which featured two songs from his album The Future. I liked the songs, but even then I didn’t realize his songwriting reputation until the Tower Of Song tribute album came out. That album is a mixed bag, but it encouraged me to check out the source, and I’ve been an intermittent fan ever since – I say “intermittent” because to be honest, not every Cohen album is a winner, and a little Cohen does go a long way for me.

Still, if you need a song, he had a tower full of ‘em.

Here’s one my favorites that that isn't that one.



I’m sentimental if you know what I mean,

This is dF
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And so 2016 gets one more boot in with George Michael.

I have to confess, I’m one of the few people on the planet who wasn’t a big fan. Which is not to say I don’t think he was talented. He was a fine singer and a showman, and I can prove that with this video of him performing with Queen for a Freddie Mercury tribute/AIDS awareness fundraiser.



Sure, he’s no Freddie Mercury, but c’mon, no one was except Freddie. And in many respects Freddie was no George Michael.

That said, I was never really into Wham!, who I found to be a bit silly and pretty to be taken seriously. I’ll admit too that by the time I became aware of them, my musical tastes were more solidly in classic/heavy rock territory. And by the time George went solo, I was firmly in Punkville and turned off by Michael’s ubiquity. So … you know.

Now that I’m older and wiser (okay, older), I still can’t say I’m a fan, but it’s easier to see why Wham! were as big as they were, and why George ended up an even bigger pop star on his own. One thing I didn’t realize in the 80s was that Michael wasn’t just a pretty face being handed pro pop songs to sing – he wrote most of his own songs (both in Wham! and solo), and 30+ years later, his hits are still in circulation – one of them now being a staple Christmas song, albeit one that’s now going to have some extra emotional heft, seeing as how he passed on Christmas Day.

Anyway, here in HK he had his share of fans. And inevitably, one of the classic stories making the rounds here is the time that Wham! became the first Western pop group to play in mainland China.

It’s actually a fascinating story in terms of how they managed to land the gig (to include their manager screwing Queen out of the gig by portraying Freddie Mercury as kinda gay – hmmmm yes …) and how the audience had to be careful not to be seen having an unacceptably good time, etc.

Respect.

Guilty feet have got no rhythm,

This is dF
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I should probably post something about Fidel Castro, if only for posterity.

Obviously a lot of people are assessing his legacy via their own narrow political filters. For some people on the Left he was a symbolic hero with good intentions who gave Conservative Self-Righteous America the finger for decades – oh, and great healthcare system. For some people on the Right he was an evil, ruthless murderous Commie dictator (just like Obama) and not at all like (say) Vlad Putin (admirable) or Saddam Hussein (not a Commie, great terrorist killer).   

I think it's fair to say that Castro was all of these things. For me, however, Castro was mostly a cartoon character in American pop culture.

For context, I was born in 1965, well after the Communist Revolution in Cuba and the Bay Of Pigs incident. By the time I was aware of “the news” and the existence of geopolitics in the mid-70s, Castro was more a comedy staple than Terrifying Communist Menace On America’s Doorstep. Even with the Cold War still raging, Castro wasn’t an actual threat to America so much as an irritant for right-wingers annoyed that anyone could get away with setting up a Damn Commie regime just 90 miles off the coast of this great nation, etc.

So by the time I was aware of who Castro was, my image of him was more like this.

 

 

 

Of course, as I got older, I learned about the details of his regime, which are far more nuanced and complex than either side cares to admit. But really Castro has always kind of remained a television news character – like Reagan, Yasser Arafat, Mikael Gorbachev and others. So I didn’t take him all that seriously.

Which is probably why by the 1990s – like a lot of people – I thought the US ban on trade and travel with Cuba to be anachronistic and pointless. Sure, dictatorships are bad, and life under Castro was pretty bad for a lot of people.

On the other hand, by then I was very aware that the US govt has always been selective about which dictatorships are bad. And frankly by the 90s it was pretty clear that the US sanctions that were meant to isolate Castro and hasten the demise of his revolution simply weren’t working. At all. They weren’t working all the way up to the time that Obama put an end to them.

I guess that’s why on a purely objective level, it’s hard not to be impressed with Castro a little. He was a genuine cult of personality who started his own banana republic and defied the world’s biggest superpower right up to the end of his long natural life. The US couldn’t kill him (and don’t think they didn’t try). They couldn’t squeeze him economically. Nothing worked. (The going joke now is that the CIA finally got him by getting him to die of old age.)  

Still, yes, murderous dictator, etc. For all of the US’s hapless failings regarding its foreign policy on Cuba, no one should be glossing over the fact that Castro was pretty ruthless and heavy-handed as dictators go. You could argue that his predecessor Batista was worse, but let’s not pretend Castro’s opposition got off light.

Anyway, he’s gone, and now many Cubans are hoping that, with reformist brother Raul in charge, the country can move forward somehow and join the 21st century.

There is one hitch, of course.

Cuba libre,

This is dF 

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Gene Wilder is gone, as you probably know.

I should probably say something – partly because I’m a fan of many of his 70s films, but also because the very first film I remember seeing in a cinema was Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.

Or at least it’s the first live-action film I remember. My parents may have taken me to see a Disney film or two (which would have been either The Jungle Book and/or The Aristocats), but I have no memory of that. But I vividly remember going to see WW&TCF. I was six when it came out, and I remember the contrast between the darkness of Charlie’s world (especially the scene where Slugworth tries to recruit him as an industrial espionage agent) and the bright Technicolor world of Wonka, and I remember the fates of the bad kids, and the twisted horror of the psychedelic riverboat scene (which scared the hell out of me).

And of course I remember Gene Wilder alternately singing, chattering and shouting his way through the picture. Wonka was the first movie character to stick in my head. He’s been there ever since, though it wasn’t until I was older that I realized just how well-constructed a character Wonka was, and how a lot of that was down to Wilder’s brilliant performance.

And then came his work with Mel Brooks – The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein – and Richard Pryor (the first two films, anyway).

By the 80s, I’d lost interest in Wilder after he seemed to just want to do sentimental romantic comedies, a genre which has never really interested me. The Woman In Red in particular seemed to cement his image as the Lionel Richie of Hollywood comedy – politely inoffensive romantic man in a cardigan – at a time when I was getting into horror movies and punk.

But I still enjoy watching him in his 70s heyday. I used to joke that he was one of the Great Shouting Actors Named Gene of my generation (the other one being Gene Hackman). But it’s intended as a compliment.

Incidentally, one Wilder film I’d recommend that isn't a Wonka or Mel Brooks film is The Frisco Kid (1979). You may want to approach with caution because (1) it got mixed reviews and (2) I haven’t seen it for over 30 years. But I remember liking it at the time. If nothing else, you get to see a younger Harrison Ford play cowboy.

Pure imagination,

This is dF
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Elie Wiesel did it all the way up to July 2, 2016, when he passed away at age 87.

I felt like I should say something, even though I only read one of his books: Night, which I read way back in my college days (on purpose, not for credit). It’s a brilliant and harrowing book that somehow manages to compress all of the horror of the Holocaust into a compact 120 pages.

And I had already been exposed to that via a field trip to the Dachau concentration camp memorial site in the 1980s, which was a very intense experience. Wiesel made that look like Spring Break.

In fact, Wiesel wrote about his experience so well that I never had the nerve to pick up another of his books. It was like, “I get it, I get it.” But of course he was the one who had to live with the actual experience. And it’s remarkable that he took that experience and turned it into an inspirational crusade for justice and change, rather than bitterness and hate.

Respect.

So yeah, I may have to steel myself and check out some more of his books.

I will survive,

This is dF
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So you know Muhammad Ali is the latest celebrity casualty of 2016.

Which means, among other things, that he and Howard Cosell are together again.



I have to admit, I’ve never been a fan of boxing. But Muhammad Ali’s self-professed greatness transcended the sport. He was very much a part of my pop culture landscape as I was growing up, appearing on talk shows and the occasional sitcom. He even had his own Saturday morning cartoon for a bit.

And he was easily the most quotable sports figure of my generation outside of professional wrestling.

It’s interesting too that he was an Islam convert – which was controversial at the time, but arguably not as much as it would be in 2016 if some major non-white sports figure was to do the same. Certainly it didn’t prevent Ali from becoming a beloved pop culture icon. It’s fair bet that most Americans had forgotten Ali was a Muslim until Donald Trump inadvertently reminded them.

Anyway. Respect.

Like a bee,

This is dF
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You all know about Prince.

As a blogger I’m obligated to say a few things about this.

1. I should say up front I’ve never really been a fan of Prince in the literal sense. To be clear, I do like a lot of his music, and I have the utmost respect for him as a songwriter, musician, artist and general force of nature.

But I only ever owned a few of his albums, and none are from 1990 on. Prince was one of those artists that was so ubiquitous on the radio and MTV that it didn’t seem necessary to buy copies of his albums – I could hear him all the time anyway.

2. That said, this is my favorite Prince album.


Even though it was a major hit, I remember a lot of people put it down at the time – partly because it came across as a cheesy movie marketing gimmick, and partly because Prince turned the Batman and The Joker into a weird hybrid alter-ego that had nothing to do with the movie, which just seemed really egotistical even by Prince standards.

And yet the whole thing really is a weird kind of genius – the album and the videos are basically Prince deconstructing the whole Batman/Joker mythos and rebuilding it in his own image. io9 has a great write-up of what Tim Burton’s film would have been like if he’d gone with Prince’s storyline. I have to say, I'd go see that.

3. It’s always interested me that Prince was simultaneously heralded as a brilliant guitarist (which he was) and underrated to the point that he rarely made it onto any given list of the greatest guitar players. I suppose it was partly because most of the “great” guitar players are only really known for playing guitar, whereas Prince played lots of other instruments as well.

4. One of the benchmarks of any major pop star who writes his/her own songs is the extent to which people cover them. Famously, Prince has written hits for Sinead O’Connor and The Bangles. Lesser known covers include The Goo Goo Dolls doing “I Could Never Take The Place Of You Man” (with The Incredible Lance Diamond) and the Hindu Love Gods (Warren Zevon and ¾ of REM) doing “Raspberry Beret” (which I would link to if it existed on YouTube, which it doesn’t – see Item 7).

5. This sticker here?



Prince is basically responsible for that. It was his song “Darling Nikki” that set off Tipper Gore to start the PMRC and instigate a Senate investigation into “porn-rock” that eventually led to the music industry adopting that sticker.

Mind you, I’m not blaming Prince for that – I blame Tipper. But it goes to show how much Prince pushed at mainstream music’s boundaries. You know yr pushing hard enough when the Powers The Be who consider it their responsibility to set those boundaries decide to push back.

6. I know a guy who was in Minneapolis when the punk scene was raging in the early 80s. And to this day he resents that Prince made it big and got national attention and put Minneapolis on the pop culture map when there were more deserving local bands like Husker Du and The Replacements who should have been getting all the glory.

Of course eventually both bands got credit for being essential and influential. And both Bob Mould and Paul Westerberg have written touching tributes about Prince. So there’s maybe a lesson here about how being precious about yr little music scene only goes so far.

7. Anyway, it’s all been said elsewhere, but I have to respect a guy who did everything on his own terms and broke just about every rule he was supposed to play by to be a success at the time. Who else could change his name to an unpronounceable symbol and get away with it? Even his crusade against digital music (to include YouTube), while quixotic, was based on the well-intentioned argument that the artists should have control over how their music is shared and how much they’re compensated for that. 

8. This has nothing to do with Prince, but I thought I’d mention that he wasn’t the only influential music artist to die at age 57 that day.

Richard Lyons, one of the founders of Negativland, also passed away

Take me away,

This is dF


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George Martin is gone.

Not the bloke who writes the Game Of Thrones thing. The fifth Beatle.

You can probably get good recaps of his Beatles career here and here. And of course there was more to him than The Beatles.

But it’s only fair that everyone focuses on the Beatles stuff, because that whole story illustrates the importance of having a good producer in the studio who knows how to collaborate with a given artist and get the best possible results. Some bands don’t require producer intervention. Some do. The Beatles may or may not have needed it, but there’s little doubt they benefited from Martin’s input, and very likely wouldn’t be as influential as they are now.

At least some of that comes to the sheer innovation that Martin enabled. Think of it this way – as big as Beatlemania was, The Beatles would have likely gone the way of other teen-idol pop groups (here today, gone tomorrow) if they hadn’t evolved into something more serious and innovative. And Martin was the key to making that innovation work, not least because of the technical limitations at the time. In these days of Pro Tools, software effects and digital editing, it’s easy to forget how hard it is to record, mix and edit a musically complex song with a four-track mixer, analog tape and a razor blade.



And I’ve done both analog and digital audio production, so take it from me.

Anyway, Martin gets full credit from me for taking both The Beatles and pop/rock music forward into new and unexplored realms. Yes, rock as a music form has been in arrested development for a long time now. But Martin helped get it to where it is now. We need someone else like Martin to find the right artists to show us how to move forward again.

One other thing I’ll say about Martin: he also wrote the score to what is arguably my favorite Bond film soundtrack.



Not to put down John Barry, who did some awesome Bond scores. But Live and Let Die is the only Bond soundtrack with wah-wah.

BONUS TRACK: Martin also produced Cheap Trick’s fifth album All Shook Up, which tends to be underrated because it didn’t have a lot of radio-friendly songs compared to Dream Police, and it’s relatively more experimental. But it’s still a solid Cheap Trick album, IMO. Here's the opening track.



Hello goodbye,

This is dF
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I was smothered in business travel in Barcelona all last week, so this is old news I know, but I did want say something about Harper Lee’s passing.

NPR has as good a write-up about her and To Kill A Mockingbird as yr probably going to see elsewhere, apart maybe from this Bloom County tribute.

For myself, To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the great American novels, and also one of the very few “classics” that I had to read in high school that I actually enjoyed.

The novel is inspirational on at least two levels for me: (1) the content, of course, and its views on racism (which wasn’t all that distant a memory for the South when I read it in the early 80s – the KKK was still having annual marches in Franklin, TN at the time), and (2) the fact that it was Lee’s only published novel. Lee was proof positive that you only need to write one novel to be a novelist. In a way, it’s as well she didn't publish another one for most of the rest of her life – TKAM is a hard act to follow.

Go Set A Watchman probably proves that, not least because it was actually written before TKAM. I haven’t read it, but I’m aware of the controversy over it, both in terms of Atticus Finch’s character development and questions over whether Lee was in full control over the decision to publish it in the first place. Either way, I’m not aware of anyone saying it’s better than (or even on the same level as) TKAM – but then how could it be? TKAM has gestated for 50+ years as one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century. How do you top that?

Anyway, I don’t plan to read Go Set A Watchman anytime soon. I don’t feel the need to do so. TKAM’s legacy aside, prequels are almost always disappointing experiences, and frankly TKAM is such a great book in its own right it doesn’t need any fleshing out.

Which is why I do plan to re-read TKAM soon. It’ll be great to see if it’s as good and/or powerful as I remember. As I recall, it was a quite an intense experience.

Meanwhile, you may also know that Umberto Eco also passed away – which I mention mainly because I’ve never actually read any of his books. But he does get namedropped by some people I know, so if any of you have any recommendations of Eco books worth checking out (besides The Name Of The Rose – that’s a pretty obvious starting place), feel free to send them along.

Recommended reading,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
You don’t need me to tell you that Justice Antonin Scalia is gone.

You also don’t need me to tell you his death is already being tastelessly and heavily politicized by people who either loved or loathed him.

And you certainly don’t need me to tell you that the political ramifications of a Supreme Court vacancy during an election year are already shaping up to be epic.

Here are some comments from me to fulfill my bloggery/1st Amendment obligations:

1. I don’t have a lot to say about Scalia himself, except that (1) obviously I disagreed with many of his opinions (in terms of both his judicial rulings and his off-the-bench comments), and (2) love him or hate him, his judicial legacy has made the modern SCOTUS what it is today. History will decide whether his impact was for better or worse. 

2. For all that, Justice Scalia was living proof that when Republicans complain about “activist judges”, they mean “judges who don’t rule the way we wanted them to on politicized cases”. Because let’s not kid ourselves – Scalia’s SCOTUS decisions were often very rooted in conservative ideology, and he made it clear in his opinions – and especially his dissents – when his concerns were informed as much by the potential impact on the sociopolitical landscape and policies as the specific wording of the Constitution or a given law.

3. Whatever you may think about him personally, it’s worth mentioning that he and Ruth Bader Ginsburg – his ideological opposite – were BFFs. Let that be a lesson to us all.

4. I’m not surprised that Mitch McConnell and Charles Grassley don't want Presidente Obama to appoint a new justice before he leaves office. Yes, it’s a blatant stalling tactic in the hopes that the GOP will win the White House. But if it were (say) Mitt Romney wrapping up his final term right now, the Democrats would be saying pretty much the same thing.

However, Grassley’s claims that “it’s been standard practice over the last nearly 80 years that Supreme Court nominees are not nominated and confirmed during a presidential election year” isn’t actually true. So between that and the fact that we’ve got 11 months until the new POTUS is sworn in (and it will take at least a few more months to get a new Supreme nominated and approved), I’m thinking that’s probably too long to have a vacancy on the bench.

5. At the same time, it's possible this particular Senate would reject every single Obama appointee even if Obama still had another three years to go. So the outcome might be the same anyway. On the other hand, it's also worth mentioning that the GOP's current "no replacement under Obama" strategy could backfire on them – badly, and in multiple ways. That may not be a deterrent. But frankly there are very few upsides to taking the hardline on this. 

6. While all the POTUS candidates and/or their super PACs will certainly make SCOTUS balance of power an election issue, I’m not overly concerned with it for a couple of reasons: (1) three sitting Supremes are over the age of 75, so the replacement issue will probably come up during the next term anyway, either via death (God forbid) or retirement, and (2) liberals who have complained about the current bench being 5-4 in favor of Republican appointees up to Scalia’s death tend to forget that this is the same conservative-controlled SCOTUS that legalized gay marriage and Obamacare. So the Democrat vs Republican appointee ratio doesn’t always guarantee a predictable party-sanctioned outcome, is what I’m saying.

7. For the record, the odds of a recess appointment, in which Obama could constitutionally fill a SCOTUS vacancy temporarily without Senate approval (and which is how William J. Brennan got his start in SCOTUS), are not high – thanks, ironically, to a 2014 SCOTUS ruling that makes it more difficult for a POTUS to do that, or at least gives the Senate more control over the situation.

8. Vox has a list of who is most likely to be on Obama’s SCOTUS appointee shortlist.

9. Inevitably, there are conspiracy theories. Alex Jones – and everyone who takes him seriously – suspects that Scalia was actually assassinated, probably by Obama, because obviously.

Another suspect is Leonard Nimoy.

Okay, that one’s satire. BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S NOT TRUE, MAN!

Court is adjourned,

This is dF
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And now Bob Elliott of Bob And Ray is gone. Which is less surprising, as he was 92. Still.

Most people my age probably only know Bob Elliott as Chris Elliott’s dad in Get A Life, or they may be aware that he was part of the legendary team Bob And Ray but never heard or saw any of their stuff.

Which is too bad. When I was a teenager and first got interested in radio dramas and comedy shows, one of the first books I picked up from the library was a collection of Bob & Ray radio scripts. I confess I didn’t quite see the humor at the time – I was more into the Marx Brothers/Abbott & Costello brand of classic comedy at the time. Bob And Ray were much more subtle and dry – and even more so on paper. It’s really the deadpan delivery that makes their material work, as I found out later when I got a chance to hear some recordings of theirs.

Here’s a good example – and one that actually predicted the future (more or less).



Here in 2016, where election candidates are expected to include SNL guest slots in their campaign and the President is doing slow jams with Jimmy Fallon, it’s easy to forget how preposterous an idea this was in the early 50s.

Respect.

That’s entertainment,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Really.

Man, it’s been a rough month for famous pop-culture icons and rock musicians. But I guess this kind of thing is inevitable, of course, and sooner or later the casualties are going to start piling up.

Anyway, I have a few things to say about Kantner, and specifically Jefferson Airplane/Starship:

1. Thanks to AOR hits like “Jane” and “Stranger”, I was aware of Jefferson Starship before I was aware of Jefferson Airplane. Consequently, the first time I ever came across a Jefferson Airplane album – a hits comp called The Worst Of Jefferson Airplane – I thought they were either a parody band making fun of Jefferson Starship, or Jefferson Starship making fun of themselves. I blame Nashville FM radio and MTV for this.

2. Eventually of course I discovered Jefferson Airplane and “White Rabbit” and “Volunteers” and all that. I would argue that Jefferson Airplane has held up better than Jefferson Starship in the long term. That said, I still have a soft spot for “Stranger”. I’ve always liked that primal sounding drumbeat. 

The video is a bit naff, mind.



3. Kantner had nothing to do with Starship, the 80s version of the band. Which is nice to know because I never cared for Starship sans Jefferson. Granted, the 80s weren’t kind to very many rock bands that originated in the 60s or 70s. Still, I could go the rest of my life without hearing “We Built This City” or “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”.

Got to revolution,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)


David Bowie is gone. And it hurts.

Which is saying something, because I don’t usually get that emotional over celebrity deaths, even when I’m a fan of their work. But when a co-worker broke the news to me after lunch, I found myself getting teary-eyed at various points for the rest of the day.

Obviously I’m a fan, so that’s part of it. Bowie is one of those music artists who has always been around in my lifetime and – during that time – consistently releasing new music that still seemed relevant, if only because Bowie was constantly changing not with the times so much as ahead of them. (Yes, the 80s weren’t good to Bowie, but they weren’t really good to anyone whose career started in the 60s or early 70s. And Let's Dance is a better album than you may remember.) 

But part of the shock comes from the fact that Bowie had just staged one of the great music comebacks with 2013’s The Next Day after ten years out of the public eye, during which fans speculated that he was too sick to perform. And up to the release of last week’s Blackstar, he seemed so invigorated and alive – only he was dying, and fans suspected nothing.

It’s kind of a typical Bowie sleight-of-hand – as if it was all part of his latest artistic statement. Which, according to Tony Visconti, is exactly what it was – a parting gift from a man who knew his time was almost up and was determined to make art out of it.

Much has been made of the video for “Lazarus” (which is also a song from the off-Broadway musical Bowie co-wrote which has been playing since last month) being an intentional farewell message. I’d add that it’s a masterstroke because the title suggests (to me) that he wasn’t just saying goodbye, but adding, “I’ll be back” – as if he’s just gone back to his home planet for an extended holiday.

Which is possible.



Anyway.

You’ve seen, read and heard all the tributes and his life story by now. It’s true. All of it. And where it’s not true, it doesn’t matter. “David Bowie” was always a persona – or a series of personas – for David Jones, and that’s close enough to the truth for me.

Here’s a few extra personalized nuggets:

1. The first Bowie song I remember hearing (and knowing it was David Bowie) was “Fame”.

2. Growing up, I knew his songs via the radio, MTV videos and SNL appearances, but I didn’t really get into Bowie’s back catalog until I was in the military and had the cashflow to buy lots of records. The first ones I bought were Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs. To this day they're my two favorite Bowie albums.

3. I never did get to see him perform live. I did have a copy of his Glass Spider concert video on VHS at some point, but that’s not really a good example.

4. I did get to see his museum exhibit, David Bowie Is, in Chicago in 2014. I was glad I went at the time. I’m even more glad now.

5. This is my office cubicle, now.



I put the pics up there last month. I got them from Mojo, who did a cover story on the new album + the story of making Scary Monsters.

Well, I could go on. But I’ll stop here. It’s sad that Bowie’s gone, but it’s great that he went out on a high note. (Or so I’m assuming. I bought a copy of Blackstar this afternoon during my lunch break. I’m pretty sure I’ll like it.)

Ashes to ashes,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
You know that Lemmy is gone.

And it’s sad in the sense that really, it was a miracle he lived as long as he did. He wasn’t exactly in the same league as Keith Richards – no one is – but his reputation and his band Motörhead lent itself to the mythological and decidedly unhealthy Rawk lifestyle.

And yet Lemmy just kept on going to the point where you figured he was indestructible. According to legend, when he collapsed from dehydration during one show in 2005, his solution was to start adding ice to his Jack and Cokes. (Earlier this year, he switched from Jack Daniels and Coke to vodka and OJ for “health reasons”.) He certainly outlived at least two former bandmates.

Anyway, Lemmy was a true rock legend. Some people will point to his days in Hawkwind as the real highlight of his career. But to be honest I’ve never heard a Hawkwind record in my life. Motörhead was my first and only Lemmy experience (starting, obviously, with that guest slot on The Young Ones), and you have to admire the fact that he pretty much stayed true to his mission for 40+ years. For the last few Motörhead album releases, I’ve joked about how Motörhead has made a new Motörhead album that sounds like Motörhead – but really, there aren't many bands that can stick to more or less the same basic LOUD ROCK formula for four decades and still make it work (albeit with varying levels of quality).

Put another way, as standard as their rock blueprint may have been, you know when yr listening to a Motörhead album. They had their own sound, and Lemmy was a key reason why. He was like no one else in the business.

Also, he was mates with Samantha Fox.



That counts for a lot with me.

Anyway, let’s go with the obvious choice for the selected music video.



He knew how to die,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
I meant to post something about Dave Cloud, the underground Nashville legend known either for his karaoke performances at the Springwater Lounge or his garage-rock project with the Gospel Of Power, who passed away in February at the age of 58 from melanoma.

I didn’t actually find out about his death until four months after the fact, since Cloud’s stature as a music artist wasn’t exactly up there with, say, Lynn Anderson. The Nashville Scene covered it extensively, and he actually got mentioned in the obit sections of two British music magazines (Uncut and Mojo), but that was about it.

Anyway, while I was trying to think up a decent tribute post, I found out that he managed to complete one more Gospel Of Power album. It is out now on Fire Records.

Title: Today Is The Day They Take Me Away.

Which is the best title for a posthumous album, although it would be a mistake to read much into it. It’s named after a track on the album which was reportedly written before Cloud became ill.

Anyway, the album sounds more or less like you’d expect from Cloud: lo-fi garage with varying production values, and Cloud’s idiosyncratic delivery that always gets compared to Waits and Beefheart but is really more unique than that.  

In some ways it’s not quite as good as his previous studio LP, Practice In The Milky Way – a few of the songs are too samey in terms of subject matter (in one case, two songs are exactly the same but with different titles).

Still, it’s got a lot of great moments on it. This is one of them.

Listen.



It’s a good note to go out on. He will be missed.

BONUS TRACK: Apparently, according to the Bandcamp page, if you buy the vinyl version instead of CD or digital, you get a bunch of extra tracks. Which just makes sense. 

Get off of my cloud,

This is dF

 

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