“Wolf of Wall Street” (2013) dir. Martin Scorsese


Finally finished “Wolf of Wall Street.” Yes, watching a film over 4 days is not the ideal way to experience cinematic art, but when you have two kids, work overtime on a regular basis, have a hobby as a media mogul, and you’re trying to watch an extremely depraved 3-hour film while said kids aren’t in the room (had this film not cost $100 million by a major Hollywood studio, it would’ve easily gotten an NC-99) … well, I’m not going to beat myself up too much.

My verdict? Totally f–king awesome! As much as I enjoyed it, I can’t help but worry about Martin Scorsese. He’s 71-years old and this film is more insanely alive than 99% of most movies being made these days. It’s like someone hooked the man up to jumper cables while he directed this. If you liked that 20-minute sequence in “Goodfellas” where the coked-out Ray Liotta character believes helicopters are following him, well … this is a 3-hour version of that scene.

Leonardo DiCaprio delivers one of the most ferocious performances in movie history. The only performances that come close in terms of energy and intensity are Andy Griffith in “A Face in the Crowd,” Eric Bogosian in “Talk Radio,” Ryan Gosling in “The Believer,” Brad Dourif in “Wise Blood,” Timothy Hutton in “Ordinary People,” Josh Lucas in “Wonderland,” and Eric Roberts in “Star 80.” Apparently, DiCaprio modeled his performance on Malcolm McDowell’s turn in “Caligula.” Jonah Hill nearly matches DiCaprio in terms of insanity and high comedy.

This is the film Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” should’ve been, but wasn’t. “Wall Street” was a good movie, but suffered from too much Stanley Kramer-style moralizing on Stone’s part. Yes, greed/drugs/infidelity/etc. are bad. We all know that. But you don’t have to have characters articulate this ad nauseum. The characters in “Wolf of Wall Street” are all creeps and lowlifes, but Scorsese has the balls and intelligence to let the bastards hang themselves with their own behavior. None of these people likely had too many dark nights of the soul when committing said behavior and it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

Of course, Scorsese runs the risk of some knuckle-dragging simps thinking said behavior is cool because someone isn’t beating them over the head with a moral message. And yes, some idiots will likely flock to Wall Street as a result of this film. But these souls are already too far gone and will either drop dead or wind up indicted if they try to live their life like this movie.

I’m just curious why some people love “Goodfellas,” but despise “Wolf of Wall Street” on moral grounds. There’s no difference between the mobsters in “Goodfellas” and the brokers in “Wolf of Wall Street,” but maybe the fact that the criminals in “Wolf” are white collar criminals maybe hits too close to home. Who knows? Who cares? “Wolf of Wall Street” is a modern classic, nonetheless.

“Sloop John B” – Me First and The Gimme Gimmes


Just heard this in the kick-ass Martin Scorsese film “Wolf of Wall Street” during the scene where Leonardo Di Caprio’s character freaks out on drugs and starts acting out. Yes, I realize that’s pretty much the entire three hour film, but this particular freak-out was very memorable, especially due to this amazing cover by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. If you’ve been paying attention to Dave’s Strange World, I posted their punk cover of the Dixie Chick’s “Goodbye Earl” earlier this year, which is equally killer. Love the nod to the Ramones’ “Teenage Lobotomy” at the beginning.

“Winona” – Matthew Sweet


To put Matthew Sweet’s paean to Winona Ryder from his breakthrough 1991 album “Girlfriend” in perspective, you must go back to 1989. It may be hard to believe these days, but at one point in the late 1980s/early 1990s, Winona Ryder was THE hot and very talented young actress of the day. While Julia Roberts got most of the mainstream buzz during that period, Ryder won the hearts of the hipster nerd crowd. And the movie that cemented this obsession was the 1989 film “Heathers.” Unlike other teen films of the era, “Heathers” was overtly nasty and cynical and seemed to make mincemeat of the John Hughes films that gained popularity during the 1980s. And Ryder, the star and heroine of “Heathers,” was the one hot girl of the era that hipster nerds thought they possibly might have a chance of charming. Never mind the fact that in real life Ryder dated Hollywood studs-du-jour Christian Slater and Johnny Depp (this was “21 Jump Street”-era Depp … long before he became … well … the Johnny Depp we all know and love today) and that she wouldn’t fart in our general direction even after consuming two beef burritos from Taco Bell, “Heathers” dammit … gave us hope … or at least played into our delusions that a very cute girl would embrace us outsider misanthropes.

Of course, if anyone had suggested back then that 25-years later Johnny Depp would be one of the biggest movie stars in the world, both loved by the critics and audiences and that Ryder would be relegated to barely noticed supporting roles, most would guffaw at the thought. But … that’s reality. Which is unfair to Ryder. She’s had her struggles over the years, but she’s still a damn fine actress. Her supporting turn in “Black Swan” in 2009 deserved an Oscar nod, but got lost in the buzz surrounding Natalie Portman’s and Mila Kunis’s performances.

In any case, Sweet’s ballad may seem a little silly today, but it’s an accurate reflection of the psychic crush many had on Ryder back in the day.

“House of the Rising Sun” – Marianne Faithfull


One of the most underrated singers of the rock era is Marianne Faithfull. Sure, she got lots of props in the late 1970s when her voice, scratchy and scary from years of hard living put the fear of God into many (she came off liked THE last woman you’d ever want to pick up in a bar). But her earlier career … pre-hard living … doesn’t get nearly enough respect. As much as I love Faithfull with that late 1970s and beyond whiskey and cigarettes-voice, her earlier stuff is damn good. The fact that critics don’t have much use for it is why I’ve given up on rock critics. They can lead you to some good stuff you wouldn’t otherwise hear of, but ultimately, you need to trust your own ears and heart. While I prefer the Animals’ more famous cover, Faithfull’s version of “House of the Rising Sun” is particularly good.

For some perspective, I’ve posted Faithfull’s late 1990s cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me.” I love this cover, but it’s VERY different in style and tone to her material more than 30 years prior.

“I Will Always Love You” – Alex Chilton


In celebration of Holly George Warren’s mammoth (and from what I’ve read so far, pretty damn excellent) biography of Alex Chilton “A Man Called Destruction,” this is Chilton’s notorious drugged-out cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” from a 1975 live on-air performance for WLYX-FM in Memphis. Chilton ad-libs he took his last 35 mg of valium before coming on the air and this seems to be no fictitious boast given Chilton’s downward spiral at the time. Still, there are moments of brilliance here.

“Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine” – The Nightwatchman


From Tom Morello’s kick-ass band The Nightwatchman, “Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine” is a great song about getting off your ass and fighting for what’s right. It’s what a collaboration between Lou Reed and The Clash at the peak of their powers might sound like … only better.

“History’s not made
By presidents or popes
Or kings or queens or generals
Or CIA kingpins runnin’ dope
History’s not made
By nine robed men
Or billionaires or bankers
It’s not made by them!”

As Graham Parker once said: “Get started! Start a fire!”

“Was I Right or Wrong?” – Lynyrd Skynyrd


No disrespect to “Free Bird” or “Sweet Home Alabama,” but THIS is the song Lynyrd Skynyrd should be most famous for. The premise is not original: artistic misfit not respected by his father leaves home, makes it big, returns home to get respect from his father only to discover his father is now dead. But it doesn’t mean it still doesn’t cut very deep. This is a demo version of the song that’s rawer and arguably more powerful:

“When I went home to show ’em they was wrong
All that I found was two tombstones
Somebody tell me please was I right or wrong
Oh, such a sad song
First I got lost, then I got found
But the ones that I love are in the ground
Somebody tell me please was I right or wrong.”

“Frankie Teardrop” – Suicide


Out of the blue … and into the black. This is the most horrific song I’ve ever heard. The premise is not original: a young man with a wife and child can’t afford to support his family … so in desperation he murders them and commits suicide. The strange thing about this song is how little is expressed in the lyrics.

While your typical death metal band would go into graphic detail about the murders, “Frankie Teardrop” provides very minimal detail about what happens. The musical background is a monotonous synth riff played over and over again. What makes this song so painful to listen to is the twitchy way singer Alan Vega spits out the lyrics (which sound like he’s reading from a newspaper). Vega then expresses the most bloodcurdling screams you’ll ever hear. The screams are so frighteningly intense, they must come from a place that’s inconceivably dark.

It’s a song that forces you to question why anyone would subject themselves to the most horrific art. The fact that the lyrics and music are so minimal is a reduction of dark ideas into their evil essence.

Author Nick Hornby wrote an excellent essay about this song in his book “Songbook” where he advised: “Me, I need no convincing that life is scary. I’m forty-four and it has got quite scary enough already … Friends have started to die of incurable diseases, leaving loved ones, in some cases young children, behind. My son has been diagnosed with a severe disability, and I don’t know what the future holds for him … So … please forgive me if I don’t want to hear ‘Frankie Teardrop’ right now. He later concludes: “That’s the real con of shock art: It makes out that it’s democratic, but it’s actually only for those who can afford it. And some of us, as we get older, simply find that we don’t have that much courage to spare anymore. Good luck to you if you have, because it means that you have managed to avoid more or less everything that life has to throw at you, but don’t try to make me feel morally or intellectually inferior.”

Even though I am 100% in agreement with Hornby, I’m not quite ready to dismiss “Frankie Teardrop.” Let’s just say that it’s a song I greatly admire, but can only listen to every couple of years.

“Switchblade” – Link Wray


From the 1979 album “Bullshot,” here’s another nasty, disreputable slab of menace from the incredible Link Wray. Aside from the title spoken at the beginning, “Switchblade” has no words. However, trust me when I say that this track is far more volatile than even the crudest Marilyn Manson song. This is dangerous stuff, even more so considering Wray was around 50 years old when he recorded this.