The new EP by Chicago-based Man Fighting Bear (“Three Songs”) sees them sustaining the moody vein of their terrific 2015 album “Waiting” and they continue to impress. While “Waiting” had the vibe of a post-John Cale Velvet Underground mixed with King Crimson and Nick Cave, “Three Songs” reminds me more of “154”-era Wire, especially on “Sand Turns to Glass” and “Stars Align.” Equally melodic and edgy, there’s a sense of eloquent dread permeating these songs that remarkably never lapses into nihilism. “Three Songs” oftentimes takes you to the edge of despair, but always holds out hope for something better. “Three Songs” is emotional without being maudlin, realistic without being cynical, and hopeful without being naive. It’s tremendously mature and very cool. Dave says “Check it out!”
300 years ago when I was a college student, I had an apartment-mate who had a stellar collection of South American music. I heard a lot of great tunes that year, but the standout record was an album called “Que País É Este” (translation: What Country is This) by a Brazilian band named Legião Urbana (translation: Urban Legion). Many of the songs would be classified as punk, but there were also elements of folk, classic rock, pop, reggae, and country. If I were to say who they sounded like, I would say the Clash, R.E.M., Social Distortion, the Cure, the Replacements, the Smiths, Bob Dylan, etc. However, comparing them to anyone would diminish the fact that Legião Urbana sounds like Legião Urbana. They sound like everyone and no one else.
I meant to tape a copy of that album before the end of that school year, but didn’t get around to it because I always assumed I could take care of it quickly. But … I didn’t.
I searched for this album for years and couldn’t find it. Part of the problem was that I thought Legião Urbana was an Uruguyan band. Spanish is the primary language in Uruguay, but Portuguese is the primary language of Brazil. It also didn’t help that I couldn’t remember the name of the band, only a wrong English translation (“Urban League”). To make a long story short, I finally found the album today on Spotify … and it’s better than I remember. Much better.
The only album I can compare it to is the Clash’s “London Calling,” in that it combines a diverse mix of influences to create brilliant, punchy, unforgettable songs. Much of it (especially the first side) sounds punk, but there are melodies, hooks, and acoustic instruments.
Side two is where it really gets diverse, the centerpiece of which is “Faroeste Caboclo,” a nine-minute epic about a poor man who moves from the country to the big city, gets involved with crime, suffers tremendously for it, temporarily finds redemption, but then gets sucked back in. You can read a synopsis of the song here:
I don’t understand a word of Portuguese, but it’s a beautiful song that starts off as a folk ballad and then rises in intensity with electric guitars slashing away. It’s an epic track that is the equal of other rock epics like The Who’s “A Quick One,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland” and Green Day’s “Jesus of Suburbia.” Actually, lead singer Renato Russo intended this to be his “Hurricane” (Bob Dylan’s classic song about boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter).
“Que País É Este” is an amazing, classic album from start to finish. It’s already legendary in Brazil. It should be legendary worldwide. Dave says “Check it out!”
I just finished this remarkable and thoughtful 7-part Audible podcast by Welsh journalist Jon Ronson about the multiple and seismic cultural effects of free internet porn sites like Pornhub during the past 10 years. Neither a fire-and brimstone anti-porn jeremiad nor a mindless “happy-happy” “sex-positive” screed, Robson displays a humanity towards this subject that is unique.
Probably the most shocking revelation is the podcast’s conclusion about declining teen pregnancy and sexuality rates in recent years. Progressives think it’s due to better sex education in schools. Conservatives argue that it’s due to young people of possessing finer “morality.” Both of which could be partially true. But if you buy either argument, you need to also consider that erectile dysfunction has skyrocketed 1000% amongst young men during the past 10 years, in addition to the “growth” industry of “real sex dolls” during the same period … which is, yes, the exact time frame of readily-available free streaming internet porn. Fewer teen pregnancies is, of course, a good thing. But if the reason for this is porn addiction amongst young people, this is not good to say the least. When healthy young men on a porn set need to look at Pornhub on their phones to provide the “motivation” to have sex with very attractive real women, you know there’s a problem.
Dave says “Check it out!”
Believe it or not, this was a Top 20 hit in the US and a Number 2 hit in the UK back in 1970. Two of the key members of Hotlegs (Kevin Godley and Lol Creme) later became pivotal members of the band 10CC (“I’m Not in Love,” “The Things We Do For Love”) and then later went on to greater fame as music video directors in the early MTV era (The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” and Duran Duran’s notorious X-rated “Girls of Film”). Note the “neanderthal” women who appear later in the clip are wearing knee-high leather boots. My only question is why didn’t the notorious SF punk rock band Flipper record a 4-hour version of this song?
Some random thoughts on “Author: The JT LeRoy Story,” which I finally caught up with on my day off today:
1. “Author: The JT LeRoy Story” is the best film I’ve seen in 2016 … a funny, shocking, thought-provoking, ultimately, devastating experience.
2. I’m not a fan of altering folks to “trigger warnings,” but if that phrase means anything to you, there’s about 9 billion of them in this film, so the easily disturbed or traumatized should steer clear. For further context, watch the attached trailer.
3. When I first heard that “JT Leroy” was a literary hoax in the mid-2000s, I wasn’t surprised. I’m not saying I knew it was a hoax back then. But everything about LeRoy’s backstory seemed too “on the nose” to be believable. Prostitute mother: check, child/teenage prostitute: check, HIV-positive: check, Southern Gothic abusive religious grandparents: check, transgender issues: check. And the publishing world, multiple celebrities, and the public bought the LeRoy backstory hook, line, and sinker.
4. The big question … why did so many people buy the LeRoy hoax? I think it’s because in a heavily-edited / crafted celebrity culture and “reality-TV” world that’s anything but “real”, we’re forever on a quest for “authenticity.” For some reason, we seem to equate suffering with authenticity. And because we all want to root for the underdog and LeRoy’s backstory was so horrific, there are many who desperately wanted to believe it was true. Because of this belief, many overlooked the fact that LeRoy would only do interviews by phone, the fact that the voice of the actress playing LeRoy in public (Savannah Knoop) and the person doing the interviews over the phone (Laura Albert, the real writer behind JT LeRoy) had different voices. Many people will ignore cold, hard facts when they desperately want to believe something is true. You and I could point fingers, but we ALL (in either a moment of weakness or delusion) have believed something that fit some narrative that most of the people around us called “BS” on.
5. Regardless of whatever you think of Albert … the real writer behind JT LeRoy’s stories/novels … the books she wrote were labelled “Fiction” … not “Non Fiction” or “Memoir.” If the stories moved or haunted you, the work should stand on those merits, and not whether Albert invented a backstory for the person you thought was the author.
5. I have a newfound respect for “Deadwood” creator David Milch, Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan, director Gus Van Sant, and Courtney Love. All of them either knew the real story before it came out and/or were supportive of Albert after the hoax was revealed. All of them recognized the real Albert as a talented writer and more importantly, as a human being worthy of support and love.
6. The final revelation about the source of Albert’s painful past (obesity, mental illness, parental neglect/abuse, literary fraud) is like a body blow, but sadly puts her entire life (and subsequent writing and lies) into context. Yes, maybe even THAT might be false given everything we’ve witnessed, but I don’t think so. And even if it were, you don’t lead a life like Albert’s if you’re well-adjusted or had a healthy upbringing or vision of self-worth.
7. The fact that Albert is on camera painfully revealing about her life and how the LeRoy hoax came into being … and the fact that she has the audio tapes to prove it (she literally TAPED every conversation she had during that period, including many embarrassing ones with celebrities) leads to many astonishing moments.
8. The fact that this wasn’t shortlisted for the Best Documentary Oscar is total bullshit. Hopefully, the Academy will nominate it for Best Picture instead, but I’m not holding my breath.
Do yourself a favor and check it out. Director Jeff Feuerzeig has put together not only the best film I’ve seen in 2016, but possibly one of the best films I’ve ever seen. It matches Terry Zwigoff’s notorious 1995 documentary “Crumb” for its audacity, daring, and sensitivity.
Legendary Entertainment Weekly … now Variety … film critic Owen Gleiberman’s memoir “Movie Freak” is the best memoir of an arts critic I’ve ever read. As much as I love and admire Roger Ebert’s memoir “Life Itself,” Gleiberman’s memoir blows Ebert’s excellent book out of the water. The reason? Gleiberman’s brutal self-analysis of his faults, not only as a human being, but his chosen profession as film critic. Near the end of the book, Gleiberman recounts a crucial point before he married his wife, when she threatened to leave him over his indecision to one day become a father. I’ll quote Gleiberman here:
“It dawned on me that so many giants in the world of film criticism … did not have children … What was it about film critics and children that did not mix? The obvious answer is that movies can grow into an obsession that fills that space … A person could become obsessed with any art form or with other things that were just art. But movies had seduced me because they were the art form that seemed to be the most vivid reflection of life. The most perfect imitation of it. The seduction -the insane glory- of movies is that you could watch them and actually believe that they were life.
But of course, they were not … I’d always though of movies as a life force that infused me, and I hadn’t changed my mind. But now I saw that they were also something else. At the movies, you drank in an alternative existence that did not, in fact, exist … I wasn’t just a man who loved movies. I was a man who worshiped undead images as if they were alive. I lived under their spell. And maybe that me undead as well. Movies had saved my life, but now my life needed to be saved from movies.”
This is one of the best statements about what it’s like to view life as an outsider, instead of participant. It’s safer to stand in the background and comment on life as it happens than to dive in and f–k up. And trust me, Gleiberman painfully recounts his many f–k ups in “Movie Freak,” but his admissions are liberating instead of depressing. This was obviously not an easy book to write, given the ferocious self-analysis, but Gleiberman pulls it off with a great sense of humor and zero self-pity. The book hit home for me in a lot of ways and will be one that I will revisit in years to come. And if you’re fan of Gleiberman’s writing, he recounts his favorite films and past reviews in a way that’s a total blast. I loved this book so much that I read it twice to be sure that my initial reaction was accurate before I reviewed it. I’m happy to say I loved it even more the second time. Dave says “Check it out!”
Local H are a terrific example of a band that had one hit album (1995’s “As Good as Dead”), never achieved the same commercial success again, but stayed in the picture creating a later body of work that equaled, if not eclipsed, their best-known effort.
“12 Angry Months” from 2008 is a 12-song concept album about a difficult romantic breakup spread out over the course of a year. The central theme is not only the range of emotions that accompany such a breakup, but the fact that the other party thrives and excels after the breakup. It effectively portrays every conceivable emotion and stage that such an event encompasses: anger, sorrow, bitterness, jealousy, overcompensation, pettiness, despair … and … centered, but pointed self-analysis.
I don’t want to give away all the highlights, but here’s a few of my favorites:
The opening song “January: The One With ‘Kid'” starts off melancholy, the narrator sadly asking the now ex how their mutual friends will be divided up and then shifts mid-track into a brutal, angry punk screed cataloging of which albums / CDs belong to which party. Yes, this is petty, but in a breakup, even if you know a split is coming, the eventual break can still be a shock to the system and one does not always act in the best of ways.
“February: Michelle Again” chronicles the pain with having to discuss the breakup with friends … endlessly.
“May: The Summer of Boats” is a relatively calm, but painful track with the narrator dealing with the news that his ex is moving to another city. Key lyrics: “Life was perfectly sad … It’s perfectly sadder now” and “You’re moving on to Salt Lake … and no one will ask why.”
“June: Taxi-Cabs” is the inevitable next scene, with the narrator self-medicating, partying, and engaging in one night stands to block out the pain. Key lyrics: “Welcome back, hijack a stool, your favorite bar with souls you know. And forward fast to 4 a.m., a Nilsson disc covered in blow.”
“August: Jesus Christ! Did You See the Size of that Sperm Whale?” is what happens when one encounters the ex … looking great and doing much better than the narrator is. And of course, the narrator disparages the improvements his ex has made, spitting out ‘And to think I used to f–k you!”
“September: Simple Pleas” is the inevitable come down from such anger. A rare moment of self-awareness and acknowledgment of despair. Key line: “I always said you were too good, I always said you were too good, I always said you were too good … and now you believe … I think I always knew that you were gonna leave.”
“December: Hand to Mouth” is the epilogue where the narrator fully comes to terms with what has happened over the last year. The narrator may not be happy, but you sense there’s been growth and that he might handle things differently the next time he’s in a relationship. Key lyrics: “You’ll learn what really matters … you’ll know what really counts … you’ll hear the chitter-chatter they say … when you’re living hand-to-mouth.”
I may have painted “12 Angry Months” as a painful album. In many ways it is, but it’s also hysterically, blackly amusing. This is the musical equivalent of Woody Allen’s brilliant 1992 film “Husbands and Wives” … caustic, brutal, embarrassing, heartbreaking, and very funny at times.
I’m not bulls–ting when I say Darius James is one of the most brilliant satirists alive today. His pseudo-play / screenplay “Negrophobia” from 1992 is one of the most brutally funny and devastating looks at American racism and popular culture ever written. His 1995 book about Blaxpoitation films “That’s Blaxploitation!” is one of the most irreverent and hilarious paracinema books ever written. Seriously, even if you don’t have any idea who James is, throw a buck or two his way via the GoFundMe account above.
My favorite film review ever … Darius James on the 1972 Fred WIlliamson film “Hammer”:
“For the past twelve years, I’ve had this recurrent dream: upon entering the lobby of a fleapit 42nd Street muliplex with cum-stained carpets, I’m approached by two toothless dwarves bundled in fake-fur coats. The grin and ask if I want a blow job.
Standing at the concession counter, where the popcorn machine pops, popcorn that smells like urine, I stare at the movie posters hanging on each of the doors along the hallway, trying to decide which film I want to see.
Most are lurid Italian shock-u-mentaries, but, among the many titles is Fred Wiliamson’s dockworker-turned-prizefighter feature ‘Hammer.” And it’s the door I dare not enter.”
Just saw “Hail Caesar!” … Absolutely loved it! If the Coen Brothers’ brilliant, but ultra-bleak 2009 film “A Serious Man” was about an absent, or indifferent God, “Hail Caesar!” concerns the opposite. Easily their sunniest, most upbeat film … “Caesar” could be the first Coen Brothers film that could be screened in churches. Of course, it won’t be, because it’s the Coen Brothers and it’s highly irreverent, off-kilter, and weird. But … it’s the first film in their 32-year filmography that indicates their hearts are not as black as they’ve always implied. I’m a religious skeptic these days, but if there is a God, you could do a lot worse than Josh Brolin’s Eddie Mannix character. Trust me, this is a VERY deep film if you analyze it, but it’s done with such a light, goofy touch, it’s incredibly entertaining and fun even if you don’t dig deeper. There’s even some affectionate digs at Hollywood liberalism gone amok … with George Clooney front and center gleefully sending himself up. Critics and audiences have been lukewarm about “Caesar,” but you need to remember that “The Big Lebowski” had the same reaction when it first came out and is now one of the Coen’s most beloved films. Mark my words, “Caesar” is one for the ages.