Saturday, February 26, 2011

Threnody to the Victims of Freaky Trigger

The 1996 The Simpsons ep. Homerpalooza (which can be viewed here) is a bit of shambles overall but it has a great flashback-centered segment that speaks to almost everyone who's ever felt anything for popular music, one of whose apotheoses is Freaky Trigger's Popular. Here's my abbreviated version of the script for that segment (building on the summary provided here).

Bart: Dad, please, you’re embarrassing us.
Homer: No, I’m not…. Grand Funk Railroad paved the way for Jefferson airplane, which cleared the way for Jefferson starship. The stage was now set for the Alan Parsons project, which I believe was some sort of hovercraft.
Bart: Dad! No one cares about any of your stupid dinosaur bands! You have the worst, lamest taste in music ever.
[turns off the radio]
Homer: I’m just trying to party with you guys.
Bart: Homer, first of all, it’s “par-tay”, and second, we wouldn’t “par-tay” with you if you were the last dad on Earth.

Troubled by being mocked in this way, Homer decides to visit his old favorite music store, formerly named “Good Vibrations” but now renamed “Suicide Notes”. He asks a store clerk where he can find the latest Bread releases and is surprised when the clerk directs him to the oldies section, which to his relief has all the Bread, Styx etc. that he requires. Homer glances up to the posters on the wall.

Homer: Now, here are some of your no-name bands. Sonic Youth? Nine Inch Nails? Hullabalooza?
Clerk: Hullabalooza is a music festival; the greatest music festival of all time.

Homer leaves and walks the street, dejected.

Homer: Why do you need new bands? Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974. It’s a scientific fact.

Flashback to the darkest 1970s, where a group of cool/popular/Dazed and Confused-like teens are installing a strobe light in their custom van: Quadraphonic sound, a waterbed, and now a strobe light. A relatively uncool teen Homer looks on.

Head Cool Teen (think Matthew McConnaghey in D&C): Gentlemen, say hello to the second-base mobile.

In a series of strobe flashes (an end of Looking for Mr Goodbar reference - amazing!) teen Homer tries to sidle up to and join in with the cool teens, but he's brushed off. Being an uncool teen wasn't any easier in the '70s than it is now - adult Homer is, to some extent, kidding himself now about how happy he was back then.

Homer (VO): Back then, we didn’t care what anyone thought and the chicks found that irresistible…. But most of all, I remember the music…

Cut to Teen Homer and Teen Barney, in Teen Homer’s room. They butcher “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”, singing in front of a mirror into their hair-brush microphones when Homer’s dad Abe interrupts them.

Abe: What the hell are you two doing?
Teen Barney: It’s called rockin’ out
Teen Homer: You wouldn’t understand because you’re not “with it”.
Abe: I used to be with it, but then they changed what “it” was. Now, what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s “it” seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you [points finger at Teen Homer].

But Teen Homer just glazes over and looks at himself in the mirror in his 1970s pomp.

Teen Homer: We’re gonna keep on rockin’ forever [echoes]… forever… forever…

Cross-fade to adult Homer, at night, looking at his reflection in the mirror in his and Marge's bedroom, disconsolate. Marge sits up in bed.

Marge: What’s wrong, Homie?
Homer: [sighs] I went to the record store today and they were playing all that music I’ve never heard of. It was like the store had gone crazy.
Marge: Hmm. Record stores have always seemed crazy to me, but it doesn’t upset me. Music is none of my business.
Homer: That’s fine for you, Marge, but [sitting on the bed] I used to rock and roll all night and party every day. Then it was every other day. [lies back on bed] Now I’m lucky if I can find half an hour a week in which to get funky. [pause] I’ve gotta get out of this rut, and back into the groove!

For the rest of the show Homer takes Bart and Lisa to Hullabalooza.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The End of Oscars (as) History?

My article arguing that eliminating Testimonial Awards from the Academy Awards Telecast is a Depressing Mistake has now been published here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Birthday Girl

A scene from the flawed but delightful Birthday Girl (2001), dir. by Jez Butterworth, rearranged slightly and rescored with a fragment of some vaguely U2-ish music o' mine from 2005. It's slightly agonizing to be reminded of how expressive Kidman's face used to be (though released in 2001, BG was shot in 1999).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

New Radiohead

The second half of Kid A and the first half of Hail to the Thief having a baby = can’t keep my eyes op….zzzz. I don't want to pull a Nick Hornby, but this music does produce a very specific, 'shutting-down' physiological response in me. I hope that Radiohead intended this - a last-thing-at-night-on-the-ipod record. I listen to a lot of minimalist music, and it very rarely affects me this way. Wake us up please Ms Welch:

Update Feb. 20: OK, King of Limbs sounds a lot better and more interesting through headphones (or, I assume, loud through really good speakers) than it did at moderate volume through computer speakers. In general, it does seem to me now that there's enough here to reward rapt attention to micro-details over months. Not the sort of thing most (or even any other) bands can count on of course, but it's good to be Radiohead! For myself, however, I think I'll always struggle to stay awake through KoL. Since I'm always in the market for a good soporific/anti-insomniac, I'll regularly use it that way; late at night on ze ipod. For music that's to be consciously enjoyed, however, I'll have to look elsewhere. Catching up with Florence (does she remind anyone else of Jenny Lewis? doesn't her presence kind of fuse Lewis with the Watson Twins' height and quasi-hauteur?), processing the new PJ Harvey, getting into both Anna Calvi and The Pierces, looking forward immensely to the new Lykke Li... all these clever, intriguing, striking gals. Is it just my imagination or is pop music overall, and at every level overwhelmingly female these days (and certainly much more that way than it's ever been before)?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kiss Me Moody

Some moody music by me set to images from the beginning of Robert Aldrich's disturbing, bonkers masterpiece, Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Our sequence ends just as Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) wakes to a female face - that of his secretary, Velma (Maxine Cooper). Of course, KMD concludes with Mike and Velma staggering into the Malibu surf as (perhaps) the world ends. It's one of the greatest endings and most potent (and widely imitated) set of images in all of cinema.

Cooper died on April 4, 2009, but the Oscars broadcast in 2010 did not see fit to include her in its In memoriam reel. While Cooper never became a star, she's crucial to one of the greatest American movies and had small parts in a couple of other films for Aldrich. In my view she should have been included. A closely related argument will be able to be made vis-a-vis Gaby Rodgers whenever she dies. Who cares if she didn't do much beyond KMD? She was the spooky Lily Carver, the gal who opens the box, who has one of the only truly iconic deaths in Hollywood history. That should be enough.

Simply as a matter of Hollywood's self-interest, you'd think that the Oscars would always jump at the chance to squeeze a couple of seconds from the end of KMD into their broadcast. It's arguably the most important representation of LA on film ever. Maybe some Griffith Observatory shots from Rebel Without a Cause or various films' Bradbury Building shots are its equal. Maybe.

One would think too that

  • Generally building film literacy
  • Possibly firing the imagination of some precocious 8 year old somewhere who'll be the next Lynch or Tarantino
  • Reassuringly reminding the non-star majority of the Academy that non-stars who play important roles in great films can be immortal
would be ample, subsidiary motivations for the Oscars to officially remember the likes of Maxine Cooper and Gaby Rodgers. But apparently not. Bozos if so.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gaga's Born This Way. My 2c.

Simultaneously hectoring and pandering, lyrically inept, poorly performed (since Gaga's lyrics on this one are supposed to be very important to her, it's staggering that her diction here is easily her worst, i.e., of all her singles - compare Gaga with, say, Loretta Lynn when she's got something to say about 'god making no mistakes'),[1] musically pedestrian (at best), busy but hookless with cluttered/muddled/airless production.[2] In sum, this is a genuinely bad, reputation-deflating record a la, say, Michael Jackson's Bad single or Oasis's D'you know what I mean? I imagine that the BTW album will be more the sort of tepid-by-comparison-with-previous-triumphs disappointment that MJ's Bad album was than a laughable fiasco like Oasis's Be Here Now, but who knows?

Avoid in favor of contemporary wonderfulness such as:


Update March 1, 2011: Born This Way's vid. has dropped. It uses about two minutes of Herrmann's Vertigo score for an intro.. I can't decide whether I'm angry about that or not! At any rate, it's a complete mismatch with the (somewhat grotesque) images, which are heavily indebted to Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle. Moreover neither the Herrmann nor the Cremaster-meets-Transformers -meets-The Jackson's Can You Feel It images seem to have anything much to do with Gaga's own musical contribution. It's all a little bewildering. Realistically, too, Gaga's song just drowns in this mass of allusion and overdone ornamentation: you'd need to have written something as assured as Life on Mars or Station to Station or Somebody to Love or Cloudbusting or Paranoid Android to survive it, and BTW isn't close to that level. I do suppose that we have to give Gaga credit for her obsessions: she referred to Vertigo and other Hitchcock films in the lyrics to Bad Romance, and here we go again.

Update April 16, 2011: Gaga's next single, Judas has dropped. Bloody hell, what a horrible mess - Bad Romance sped up minus the hooks. Gaga appears to have completely lost her way both musically and lyrically - she needs to take a break from the music business to recharge, find herself is my guess. Judas also features the same cluttered/muddled/airless production as BTW. Awful. Can't wait for the inevitable, overbearing video. :(

Update May 5, 2011: Judas's vid. has dropped, and while it's an overblown/incoherent mess, it at least gets through its business without too much faffing around. To me at least it feels like a net positive for the song. It's being reported that the vid. cost $10 Million = Gaga does her bit to keep the economy moving perhaps! Can't see her accountants being amused.

[1] Note that Lynn's use of 'God makes no mistakes' is relatively coherent: it's part of a broad embrace of the (admittedly unsatisfying) Book of Job defense against the so-called 'argt from evil' (to the conclusion that the God of monotheist tradition does not exist). Gaga's use, by way of contrast, is completely incoherent: she doesn't want to get God off the hook for 'evil', as it were, rather she wants to encourage a specific attitude of acceptance/tolerance/don't try to overcome/cure anything by humans. But that's a stupid non sequitur: someone can think that all manner of hardships are God's deliberate testing of us and still think that overcoming/curing/struggling against/preventing future instances of that hardship is an appropriate response (i.e., what constitutes passing the test), and that passively accepting that that's just the way things are and ever will be is inappropriate (i.e., constitutes failing the test). More generally, Gaga's insinuation is an instance of the naturalistic fallacy-mongering that's one of the banes of much modern gay-rights activism (cf., 'born this way', 'we're here, we're...', 'love doesn't discrim., neither should the law', and so on). Insofar as this fallacy-mongering is strategic, it's contemptible, and insofar as it's sincere, it's idiotic.

[2] How compressed and loud is BTW? I'm no audio-maven but the whole thing sounds like 'bricked' static to me. I therefore expect that a formal frequency analysis will be very telling in this case.

Saturday, February 05, 2011


A vaguely New Order-ish piece o' music I laptopped up back in 2005. Visuals are iTunes visualizer via CamStudio.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Pushing Ahead of the Dame

A great blog listening to Bowie's songs from the beginning to (so far) Iggy's The Idiot. Next stop Berlin proper. The blog's entry for Baby provides us with our alluring image of the future from Logan's Run (1976), a dreadful film with some semi-interesting ideas (Jenny Agutter's Jessica first appears out of a Grindr/Chat-roulette teleporter that one tunes like an analogue radio!) and some nice images, that Spielberg and Lucas made instantly obselete only a year later.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

One of Us and Exposure

A late Abba single, One of Us has an interesting intro. and arrangement more generally. By 1981 Abba were trying to move with the times and use more electronic keyboard or sampled bass, which tended to be a real loss from the sinuous bass guitar of their peak records. I'm not sure what the technical details are for the bass in One of Us - it's part actual guitar, part keyboard-played sample I think - but for this song at least Abba's new approach worked very well:

I believe, however, that Abba may have stolen a bit of the bass and also the intro. sound more generally from the 1978 Gabriel/Fripp song, Exposure (whose more ingenious features, e.g., different instruments play in different time-signatures, also evidently inspired a lot of early Simple Minds):

What do you think?