I’m Here

April 14, 2010

The other night, I suddenly remembered that Spike Jonze had a new movie out. Well, a short movie anyway. Everyone will probably only know him as the director of Where the Wild Things Are, and some  might remember his great feature role in the movie Three Kings. To me and to tons of fans of ’90s music videos, Jonze made some of the most amazing, groundbreaking clips ever.

He always made his concepts consistently better than the songs he chose, and hell, all I like is music. Up until Where the Wild Things Are, the only thing I knew about his personal life is that he dated Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Also notable: even though she was his ex at the time, she lead the project to soundtrack the movie. That soundtrack kicked ass.

So I roped Courtney into watching the movie, which premiered at Sundance this year, and is now available at http://www.imheremovie.com/. The reason I cannot recommend the film enough is mostly from the fact that The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein was the first book to bring tears to my eyes, and I’m speaking as a fourteen year-old boy. My mother was given the hardcover version by one of her college professors, and by the time I had grown up enough to emotionally interpret it, I realize I had scrawled “BAD MOMMY” into several pages with a red crayon as a temperamental three year old. Since my mother died over two years ago, this isn’t one of my favorite memories. Thankfully, the book’s theme is.

One thing, is for sure, Jonze apparently already has an affinity for interpreting children’s stories, as long as you can call The Giving Tree a children’s story, which is purely subjective. I haven’t seen Where the Wild Things Are, and it’s 2nd in line in my Netflix queue as we speak. But even if I’m jumping the gun, after all his past work, am I really in for any sort of letdown? Without spoiling I’m Here, I can tell you it contains a juxtaposition of The Giving Tree’s plot. Instead of a slightly paternal relationship between the man and the tree, we have a relationship between male and female robots living in a human society that pretty much matches our own. The main character Sheldon lives as a robot librarian, and besides a humorous segment near the beginning between he and an old lady on the street, that’s pretty much the extent of how robots are meant to serve humans in the future. It’s superbly blended into what seems like modern day Los Angeles and comes across as seamless.

The special effects are mind-blowing, but not in way you might think. Within the first few minutes, it’s fairly apparent District 9 has led us into an age of using CGI not as a crutch but as a guide. Sheldon and Francesca’s bodies are easily identifiable as human, but their eyes and mouths are unflashingly animated. It’s a cornerstone Spike Jonze moment: he wants us to connect to these humanoid robots, but he wants us to recognize that they move and talk like us first. When Sheldon first smiles at Francesca, it comes off first as surreal, but soon their facial expressions become emotional watershed moments throughout the entire film.

The very idea that someone bought into the idea that The Giving Tree was so emotionally potent in the first place made me happy, but Jonze took it one step further: he decided selflessness could bridge the gap between lovers as well. The relationship between the man and tree in the book was obviously unconditional, but I’m Here pushes it towards the boundaries of man and woman. It’s so risky in the first place, but it succeeds on this level. Applying that to my own relationship is so obviously relevant that by the movie’s end, I couldn’t help but be moved to tears. This is quite obviously one of the better films I’ve seen this year, and that says something when it’s condensed into some of the best 30 minutes you’ll ever spend watching something for free on the internet.

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Anyone read the new Rolling Stone with the Billy Corgan interview? No? Not reading magazines anymore? Print in general? I realize I’m probably the only one left in the country with a RS subscription, but occasionally it pays off with dividends such as this:

“Do I belong in the conversation about the best artists in the world? My answer is yes, I do,” he says. “I’ve been too productive for too long, and despite what anybody wants to strip away from me, I am influential. I am. So all the Pitchforks in the world can try to strip me of every ounce of dignity, but I belong.”

Ah yes, that’s the Billy I remember. Although it proves it’s been a dog’s age since we’ve heard him, what with the Pitchfork.com reference. I’d long given up on a real Smashing Pumpkins reunion, especially since he’s basically cursed every fan who has stuck around to listen to relatively mediocre work such as Zeitgeist, but I can’t help checking in now and then. Especially when sites like Pitchfork tear him apart for said curses, followed by 200 reader comments that put him through the meat grinder over his every word. That’s why I was thrilled to crack open RS #1100: my teenage idol, the guy who wrote songs to which I learned to play air guitar, the one true person who completely understood me and seemed to have written Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness with me in mind. Billy Corgan was without a doubt my hero in every sense of the word, and finally, in 2010, he was going to set the record straight! And after fifteen years, he would prove he wasn’t the laughingstock to a generation he’d never been exposed to in the first place!

Corgan subscribes to the fashionable idea that we’re building to a cataclysm, or at least a major vibrational shift, in 2012; he wonders what was really in the H1N1 vaccine; he fears that the United States is headed toward a Soviet Union-style economic collapse… But when pressed on details, he backs off: “I don’t want to be a dead hero,” he says.

Hmm. Well, for starters, the Bush years were disillusioning for everyone. The first year of Obama hasn’t created the change we all hoped would be instantaneous. And to top it all off, the paranoia created by Homeland Security could’ve been too much for anyone. Let’s back off and give Billy a break.

Corgan doesn’t go into much more detail about his spiritual adventures – he’s saving that for his book, where he hopes he can put them into proper context. Pushed to elaborate on his claim of psychic abilities, he snaps, “I can levitate to Jessica Simpson’s house, isn’t that enough?”

Yep. Alright. The piece is full of quacktard bullshit such as this. Thankfully, much of it is dedicated to the breakup of the Pumpkins in 2000 and then the quasi-reformation in 2006 (and then that incarnation’s subsequent implosion a year ago with drummer Jimmy Chamberlin’s final exit). Halfway through, I wasn’t sure I could take much more of Billy’s sarcastic insight on New Age spirituality. The actual interview is quite amazing and worth its weight in gold by going into detail on the conflicts surrounding the ex-Pumpkins: while they couldn’t get a hold of D’Arcy, James Iha and Chamberlin were both asked for comment, presumably as fact-checkers and to give their sides of the story, none of which make Billy look any better:

After Corgan told Chamberlin he was out, the drummer “unloaded” on Corgan, unleashing 20 years worth of pent-up insults. “So I was like, ‘Fuck you,”’ Corgan recalls. “‘Go ride around in a white van for the
rest of your life.'” Chamberlin becomes apoplectic when he hears Corgan’s account. “In the middle of the
last tour, Billy said it was the agent’s fault, then it was the band’s fault, then it was the fans’ fault,” the drummer says.

Totally fucking juicy shit. Sad, but juicy. With that, Corgan has but maybe six or seven inches of print left in the article to redeem himself. Does he? Of course not.

Chamberlin is sober now, but Corgan is convinced that his character hasn’t changed, that he is fundamentally “unhealthy.” “Jimmy is a destructive human being, and people who are destructive break things,” Corgan says. “I don’t see me reaching the highest levels of my creativity if I’m unhealthy and if I have unhealthy people around me.”

You don’t need to read the rest of the article to realize that Corgan is the unhealthy one. In many ways, you can’t blame him. He was abandoned by a psychologically unhealthy mother and raised an addict’s son. He cannot take criticism, no matter what. Even before the Pumpkins’ career zenith, he was shouting down local Chicago critics onstage and inserting their names into songs. But after unwilling to bring back the Pumpkins’ signature jet-plane-in-an-underwater-tunnel sound, isn’t it about time to just give it up? I’m not talking about trying to salvage what’s left of his fanbase, either. There isn’t much left. But what’s saddest, after all these years, all his accomplishments and the memorable lyrics and landmark albums and innovative sound and melodies, Corgan doesn’t want any of it back. I wanted it, at least I wanted it a few years ago, but my voice has been buried under message board cries for Corgan’s head for so many years now that, I’m sorry, I have to say that I’ve given up. I’m sure the internet these days isn’t a very pleasant place for any celebrity, but search Corgan’s name on Google and watch out, because you get just under as many hits as John Mayer. Speaking of which, that dude has been poised to keep that rank for a few years now, but like everyone knows, before John Mayer shat up the music world with douchebaggery, there was Billy Corgan.

Even Jessica Simpson knows that.

I’m Not Dead

March 6, 2010

The only reason I’m back doing this blog is to prove to myself that I can be disciplined enough to write. In order to become a writer, I realize that And that includes hearing other established writers talk about how they wrote for 4 hours a day NO MATTER WHAT. I am definitely not doing that.

Actually, there’s another reason I’ve decided to continue with this: turns out I have stuff to say about politics. Yeah, I know, hey guess what, I think I’m the only blogger about political stuffs! But I was thinking about something the other day. I’ve always found it weird that people who care about the arts or are into music or paint or obsess about The Godfather are usually left of the Nolan chart. I can’t paint or play an instrument, but I’ve always loved music and I’ve been writing even longer than that. so that kind of takes care of that, I guess. And I realize maybe I’ve been reading Rolling Stone since I was 16, so that’s also probably influenced my liberal agenda, but since I was young enough to understand what a hanging chad was, I’ve always found it important to support my beliefs, no matter how biased they might be. I’m not talking about “Hollywood” or “the independent music scene” or anything I’ve followed with an unhealthy interest. I hope I can nail this right, but my parents were both believers of civil liberties, diversity, and especially religious toleration, and I pretty much had this figured out by the first time I got drunk when I was 18.

Hopefully, by combining my interest in music with my passing interest in liberal politics, I can get this going. Like I said, I’m gonna have to make this a priority in order for it to succeed, even though I know it will not succeed. Otherwise, it’s a second failure. Half-drunk and awake at 12:48 in the morning doesn’t help either. Here’s song of the day anyways:

To foreshadow things, Obama rules and the tea party is ridiculous.

9. There were many long drives across the state in 2008 listening to The Midnight Organ Fight by Frightened Rabbit. A few life-changing events occured, and without going into much detail, I can think of no other voice accurately representing that nearing-thirty uncertainty than that of Scott Hutchison. Dude sings completely unsure of what he wants to convey in the first place – his wavering Scottish accent is a stiff example of why it’s not important to know “how to sing” via markers such as Chris Cornell, American Idol, etc. I’m not sure what I’m talking about, but the various vocal inflections in the song “Poke” are probably the best case in point:

To make a long story short, I obtained The Midnight Organ Fight under no legal terms and listened to it on my iPod for approximately 16 months, and I ashamedly have just now gotten around to buying it. Along with that, I pre-ordered Frightened Rabbit’s The Winter of Mixed Drinks, and it’ll hopefully be here Wednesday. And voila, the 9th best song of the year, from their yet-to-be-released album March 9th:

10. Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective has been loaded and deleted on my iPod exactly three times since January. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s either because I can’t get past track 5 without wondering: “Hey, I need reasons to hate why every indie blog has been cyber-fellating this since it was released 10 months ago.” Or maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking: “I really wonder why Animal Collective will most likely top every critic’s list this year when every song on this record relies on a circular harpsichord melody and processed and filtered and then processed again vocals.” Seriously, I’m not sure if it’s just because I’ve been listening to crazy art collages since I was 16 (thanks, Beck) or because electronic music came in the form of individual instruments hypnotically layered over each other since 1994 (Underworld is king). Basically, if you ever wanted to know about one of the most unspecial records of the year that you probably won’t stop hearing about, Merriweather Post Pavillion is exactly that album!

But after listening to this record exactly 6 times (my iTunes count says so), there is one song that stands out, and it’s the one I have to hear each time I start the record: track one. “In the Flowers” is not only one of the more remarkable songs I’ve heard this year, it makes my top 10 because it has cool sound effects and a hook that pays off at the 2:55 mark. It’s a nutty video with absurd visuals courtesy of your local community college’s AV club (or courtesy of Beck circa Mellow Gold and Odelay, zing) that actually accents the song quite nicely.

Voila, number 10 in my countdown of the best songs of the year. It drive me nuts to wonder, especially under the cloud of 9.6 Pitchfork review, why the hell anyone would treasure this record. Probably because this song has tortured and teased me into wondering whether Animal Collective is any good.

63 Records I Liked This Year

November 21, 2009

It’s the first list I’ll post, only because it’s big. And plus because I hope to have a huge end of the year Top 10 Albums of 2009 blowout. I know you’ll be there because you totally care about music, right? And you totally want to party? Sure. There are many, many more records I listened to and liked this year but they either 1.) were from 2008 and I hoped I could add them to this but I realized they were from December 2008 or even maybe November 2008 or 2.) they were overlooked completely at an earlier time (perhaps 2006) and I grew to love them in 2009 or 3.) they were from 1978-2008. There were many other records I listened to this year that were totally overhyped – I am just glad I won’t hear about Animal Collective or Dirty Projectors next year and I can start fresh in 2010 – and just didn’t make the cut but will be most likely make the cut during Rob’s New Year’s Hard Drive Cleaning! Although maybe I can devote a later post to how much I greatly like the songs and accompanying videos for both Animal Collective’s “In the Flowers” and Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is the Move.”

In the end, it pains me a great deal that I could not include records such as Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness at the Edge of Town and Hüsker Dü’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories and also finally discovering the greatness of London Calling, but alas, they are not of 2009, and also, I am not my dad. Voila:

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – Century of Self
A Place to Bury Strangers – Exploding Head
Antony and the Johnsons – The Crying Light
Arctic Monkeys – Humbug
Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
The Big Pink – A Brief History of Love
Blitzen Trapper – Black River Killer EP
Bon Iver – Blood Band EP
Brother Ali – Us
The Cribs – Ignore the Ignorant
Crocodiles – Summer of Hate
Dan Deacon – Bromst
The Dead Weather – Horehound
Death Cab for Cutie – The Open Door EP
The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
Dinosaur Jr. – Farm
Doves – Kingdom of Rust
The Drums – Summertime! EP
The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
Florence & The Machine – Lungs
Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
Heartless Bastards – The Mountain
The Hold Steady – A Positive Rage
The Horrors – Primary Colours
Japandroids – Post-Nothing
Jay Reatard – Watch Me Fall
Julian Casablancas – Phrazes for the Young
Jónsi & Alex – Riceboy Sleeps
Karen O and the Kids – Where the Wild Things Are Soundtrack
Kelly Clarkson – All I Ever Wanted
The Killers – Live at Albert Hall
The Low Anthem – Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
M. Ward – Hold Time
Mary Onettes – Islands
Mastodon – Crack the Skye
Megafaun – Gather, Form & Fly
Moby – Wait for Me
Monsters of Folk
Morrissey – Years of Refusal
Nirvana – Live at Reading 1992
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Higher Than the Stars EP
Passion Pit – Manners
Pearl Jam – Backspacer
Pete Doherty – Grace/Wastelands
Phantogram – Eyelid Movies
Rancid – Let the Dominoes Fall
The Raveonettes – In and Out of Control
Regina Spektor – Far
The Riverboat Gamblers – Underneath the Owl
Rob Thomas – Cradlesong
Silversun Pickups – Swoon
Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer
The Swell Season – Strict Joy
Them Crooked Vultures
Thursday – Common Existence
Various Artists – New Moon Soundtrack
Various Artists – We Are the Night
Wussy
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
Yim Yames – Tribute To (George Harrison)
The xx

This is my new blog

November 21, 2009

Well. Yeah. I have a blog now. And it’s only for music-related bullshit and music youtube links and album lists and album of the week and album reviews so don’t think you’ll be able to come here and see seductive pictures of me or Twilight news or recipes. Although it’s tempting to post recipes. I might actually make the occasional exception to post a recipe that actually turns out well. But again, this is only about music stuff and all sorts of other crap that anyone who knows me could probably care less about. So I’m glad you made it out here. Enjoy.