Friday, June 8, 2007

Pretty vs. Ugly: the debate...music style

Before I start this post, I must make amends for an earlier post. I credited the quote "I'd never join a club that would have me as a member" to Woody Allen, which was incorrect. It now occurs to me that it was in fact Groucho Marx who originally said this. My apologies.

Now, Doc has just seen the new movie "Knocked Up", and he tells me it's the "Eric The Intern" life story. I have heard this before. Seth Rogen, the star of the movie, was in "40 Year Old Virgin" and a TV show called "Undeclared", and all my friends were calling me saying they saw me in a movie, or they saw me in a TV show, and I HAD to see 40 Year Old Virgin. Doc's point was that I was just like this character, partly because of backyard wrestling and obscure pop culture references, and partly in that I am a fairly ugly man who is somehow still able to score unreasonably attractive women. This may be slightly true. My girlfriend right now is without a doubt disproportionately attractive when placed next to me. And over the course of my life, I would suggest that the others (all four of them) have for the most part been far more attractive than I. For a real look at how this can be done, Knocked Up is not the best way, there's a great movie starring Donal Logue called The Tao Of Steve. A wonderful guide to women based on the teachings of Steve McQueen, I higly recommend it to all the other unsightly men out there.

Then I got to thinking. Rock stars can sleep with hot wome all the time, whether they are attractive or not. Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler, these are terribly offensive-looking men, but they have managed to score incredibly attractive women all over the world in the past four decades, decades in which they got progressively uglier and uglier. Hell, Ric Okasek married a supermodel, and human beings don't come less attractive than that man. Even Barry Manilow, who is by no means a rock star, has a ridiculous list of conquests, all women who are willing to overlook the fact that he looks suspiciously like a rat simply because he sings music they like. And then they buy his music!

This is something men don't do. Much as we'd like to sleep with the likes of Britney Spears and Shakira and Jessica Simpson, in no way does that make us more likely to purchase their albums. The only man who will buy those albums is one with horrible taste in music. But not just because they're hot. I think what ends up happening with women is one of two things - they really like a band, so they end up thinking the band members are attractive, even if those band members are Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Or, they think the lead singer or the guitar player is hot, so they end up liking the band no matter what they play, like Bon Jovi or My Chemical Romance or Rock Star Supernova.

But then yet another thought occurred to me. When a band has an unusually attractive singer, it can change their music, just like having an ugly singer might change their sound as well. Bon Jovi, for example, ever really started out as a GREAT band, but it was only after Jon Bon Jovi became the "sex symbol" guy that he is now that they began to really suck, making music for women only, and singing love ballads. Although Steven Tyler is hideously ugly, he has become a sex symbol of sorts, and Aerosmith's music has suffered immensely as a result. Remember "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing"? No man alive could like that song.

There are some bands however, that, try as they might, will never achieve sex symbol status. The Who, for example, were overall so ugly as a band that there was no chance they would ever appeal to any women other than those who are the musician groupies. So what did they do? They kicked ass. They made the best rock music they could and then continued making that music, and never wrote songs to get them laid or to get their posters put up on the walls of the rooms of fourteen-year-old girls. Perhaps the best thing that could have happened to the Who was their overall ugliness. Led Zeppelin as well. An ugly band that never stopped being awesome. AC/DC.

What about the Beatles? I know, they managed to do some awfully impressive stuff despite their sex symbol status and the screaming hotties. But look at their post-Beatles careers. John Lennon, away from the three guys with similar haircuts, was actually fairly homely. He scored himself a homely woman, and made some brilliant solo music. McCartney, on the other hand, coasted on his excellent Beatles career with some good music initially. Then, he realized he was an attractive man, and he made Silly Love Songs. Frankly, I'm amazed Ringo didn't have the greatest post-Beatles career of them all, being the only truly ugly one.

The greatest ugly artist of all time: Bob Dylan. The greatest pretty (male) artist of all time: Uh...solo George Harrison, I guess. Unfortunately, the same doesn't go for female artists. The reason being that if you are ugly AND a female singer...there's not much out there for you. You have to be EXCEPTIONALLY good to make it if you are homely and female. You have to be at least good enough that they can make you up on your CD covers so you look at least passable...like Carly Simon. The truly great unattractive female artists are few and far between - Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald...uh...there aren't many. Whitney Houston was gorgeous. She isn't now, thanks to the crack and Bobby Brown, but you can bet that by the time she cuts her next album, she'll be out of rehab and attractive once more. Not that she was ever a relevant artist. She might have had the best voice in the world, but she used it for evil.

All this being said, how did Rita McNeil ever become a star? I'm no expert or connaisseur, but her voice is not very good is it? And certainly not good enough to make it worth looking at her. Now, if she sang like Janis Joplin, I'd be at every concert.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Roger Waters...sensational!

I am not much of a Pink Floyd fan. I get that it's wonderful music, I understand those people who become obsessively devoted to the band, but I just don't ever get in a mood where I want to listen to them. I find them too boring and mellow, and it makes me sleepy. (With the exception of The Piper At the Gates of Dawn, which I absolutely love.) I did, however, want to see Roger Waters. Even though I don't care a huge amount for Dark Side of the Moon, I just wanted to get in there and see it. It's something I want to be able to say I did. Even if I really dislike David Wells, I still want to be able to say I was there when he pitched a perfect game. (I wasn't, by the way. But I did watch on TV. I also saw a David Cone perfect game and Nolan Ryan's 7th no-hitter, all from the comfort of my couch.) But Roger Waters doing Dark Side on DVD is not the same as in person.

The place was jammed. Full house, completely sold out, and people turned out early. It's great when there is a beer tent open before the concert, something we've never had before. Of course, it's just up because the hockey season went so long, and it will likely be taken down soon. But with any luck, Scotiabank Place sold enough beer and made enough money doing so that they will attempt to open the beer gardens for the other shows we have there during the rest of the summer. Lots of Senators jerseys, but 99 percent of the people there chose the concert over the game - a wise decision, as it turned out. The game was being broadcast in the bathrooms, and throughout the show people were checking their blackberries and cell phones for the scores that were being sent to them from people "on the outside".

But when Roger Waters played, it all stopped. There was no score-checking going on during that show, because it was phenomenal. Dark Side of the Moon in the second half was something people just had to see, but the first half was the coolest part for me. He had inflatable pigs and spacemen, fireworks and explosions, confetti and lights, and a ton of great visuals on the big screen behind him. He played some of his hits - Mother, and Shine on You Crazy Diamond, and a few others. But the best moment for me was when he played his newest song, Leaving Beirut. He told a story about when he was hitchhiking through Lebanon, and was taken in by a kind local family. The whole story was played out on the big screen in a graphic-novel sort of format, like a comic book. The song questions whether, given the recent violence in Lebanon, that family is still alive, and what puropse the culture clashes and all-out wars of recent years really serve. A powerful statement and a terrific song. It's nice to go to a show like that and see something new, like when the Who played songs from Endless Wire at their show.

The one complaint I have about the show is that so many of the visuals involved cigarettes and people smoking. Not on a moral level - there were tons of boobs too, and I had no problem with that. Just that given my intake of beer and the fact that I was very much into the show, I really wanted a smoke almost constantly. And of course, at intermission, there was a twenty-minute lineup for the smoking section, and it was only a fifteen minute intermission. I missed the very beginning of Dark Side of the Moon. I also left before the encore, since I had to get up for work at 3:00 this morning. Anyone know what the encore was?

10 great albums, part two...or...20 great albums, the finale.

Lots of people have responded to my list of 10 forgotten albums. Although most on my email...do you have to have a blog to comment on a blog? I have no idea. I was thrilled and amazed that some of you actually listened to most of these albums and that a couple people really liked The Coup. I'm fairly happy now. Some have requested some more material, so I will make another list, this one more brief.

1. Gram Parsons - GP/Grevious Angel - This is actually two albums, but comes packaged as one on CD for the benefit of people who want to enjoy his whole solo catalog. Gram Parsons, aside from being a former husband of Emmylou Harris, is the guy who put the "country" into the "country-rock" sound of The Byrds, and his solo stuff is absolutely brilliant in a sad and depressing sort of way. Best tracks here are "Streets of Baltimore", "Return of the Grevious Angel", "In My Hour of Darkness" and "We'll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning". Sidebar: Parsons had one of the most rock and roll deaths of all time - well, sort of. He died of a drug overdose. But his family wanted the body flown back to them, against his wishes. His friends therefore stole his body from the airport, carried it out to the Joshua Tree monument in the desert, and burned his corpse. Some of them served actual jail time for it.

Also see: The Gram Parsons Anthology - two discs of brilliance with the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, International Submarine Band, and solo.

2. Jurassic 5 - Quality Control - the Jurassic 5 are the best rap group to come out in the last ten years, and they have steadily avoided the mainstream and airplay by sticking to their craft. Not many people know this, but the Black Eyed Peas used to be cool also. They had two really fun, great albums, and then decided to seek commercial success by doing duets with the likes of Justin Timberlake. Now they're rich, but they are no longer good. This is a decision many people make, and it's a great tribute to J5 that so far they have not.

Download: "Jayou" from the Jurassic 5 EP might be the greatest dancy hip-hop tune ever.

3. Toots and the Maytals - Funky Kingston/In The Dark - just like the Gram Parsons disc, this is two albums released on one CD for people who want to get a full taste. Toots Hibbert and his backup singers, the Maytals, were the very best rocksteady act to ever live. Rocksteady was one of the musical genres that bridged the gap between ska and reggae. In fact, the word "reggae" comes from Toots, a song on this volume called "do the reggay". They then became sort of (in a way) the antithesis of Marley and the Wailers with their "bald-head" reggae style, the opposite of the Rastafarian style. The best track to seek out, however, is what I believe might be the greatest cover song ever recorded, the Maytals' version of the John Denver tune, "Take Me Home, Country Roads".

Also find: Desmond Dekker - the best of...listen to "The Israelites" and "Honour Your Mother and Father".

4. The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow - OK, here's my feeble attempt at gaining some indie music credibility. After the Shins were mentioned in the movie Garden State, they became a major player on the college music and indie scene, and deservedly so. Very well-crafted songs and an extremely listenable album with no weak tracks. I don't really look at track listings, and I'm too lazy to get up from my computer to grab the CD, so I will only say check out tracks #5,6, and 9.

5. Captain Beefheart - Safe As Milk - A protege of Frank Zappa's Don Van Vliet was given the name Captain Beefheart by Zappa because of his constant long face and pessimism. But he made some unbelievable music. Apparently he had a five-octave vocal range, which beats mine by four octaves. Most would say that "Trout Mask Replica" is his magnum opus, but it's damn weird. And about as inaccessible as any album ever made, with the possible exception of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. It is an unbelievable work, but Safe As Milk is actually listenable, beginning to end, with a seriously warped blues influence.

6. Howlin' Wolf - The London Sessions - The greatest vocalist in the history of the blues, Howlin' Wolf cut an amazing album with the likes of Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts. There may be no blues tune more uptempo and fun than Rockin' Daddy.

Sidebar: Half the tracks on the London Howlin' Wolf Sessions are available on the CD "Muddy and the Wolf", which is a solid introduction to both Muddy Waters AND Howlin' Wolf and costs about 6 bucks.

7. Glenn Gould - A State of Wonder - The finest pianist ever to come out of Canada, doing his finest work. Twice. Gould was a weirdo, but nobody ever played Bach's Goldberg Variations the way he did. The first time he recorded them was as a young man, and the music reflects his aggressive nature and his desire to dominate the piece. I think it is the best version there has ever been. But the second version, the one he recorded much later, with the value of many years behind him, is a much more heartfelt performance and a more nuanced piece. It's a terrific examination of an artist at different points in his career.

Also watch: 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould - a wonderful Canadian film about a Canadian pianist played by Canadian go-to-famous-guy actor Colm Feore.

8. The Specials - The Specials - After reggae took over from ska in Jamaica, ska experienced a brief revival in the UK with groups like the Specials and the Selecter. The revival coincided with punk, leading to a bit of a punk-ska crossover, that would be further explored in California fifteen years later with groups like Sublime. The Specials are the first and still one of the best second-wave ska groups, and this debut album contains many classic tunes. Message to You Rudy, Concrete Jungle, Monkey Man, Too Much Too Young, and many many others.

9. Bix Beiderbeck - Vol. 1: Singin' The Blues - The greatest cornet player in all of jazz (after of course the great Louis Armstrong). Although he and Louis had much different styles, and it's tough to compare them, Beiderbecke was nearly Armstrong's equal when it came to improvisation. He made dozens of absolutely terrific recordings, and this is really a compilation of some of the best. He died when he was 28, poisoned by the bad liquor that circulated during prohibition.

10. The Very Best of Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys - There are not really many traditional bluegrass "albums" that have survived until now. The best one can hope for is a great compilation, and this is one of the best. Bill Monroe invented bluegrass. The style of playing, the name of the music, and he is still one of the best to ever play it. The best songs here are Blue Moon of Kentucky, Mule Skinner Blues, and Uncle Pen, but there are 20 plus tracks to listen to, all fantastic.

Also check out: The soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou?

I don't know why anyone wants to know this - in this era of getting our music from the computer, of downloading and ipods and so forth, does anyone really listen to actual ALBUMS any more? Why put on Beggar's Banquet, and listen to it beginning to end, when we can just download 200 of our favourite Stones tunes and crank up the ipod in the car and away we go. I may be one of the last few who truly believe that one of the best things in life is to put The Court Of the Crimson King on the turntable, crank it up, and enjoy a glass of whiskey. This list is for the eleven people left alive who still agree with me.

With mixed emotions, I bid farewell to our Cup quest...

The Anaheim Ducks are a truly great team. There really is no shame in losing to a team of that calibre. Even without their biggest, toughest defenceman, they were a better team than Ottawa in the Stanley Cup finals. And with both Pronger and Niedermayer, they were just fearsome. Two of the top three D-men in the league on one team? Only Niklas Lidstrom can compare to these guys. I suppose what they say is true...offense wins games, defence wins championships. Ottawa clearly felt the loss of Zdeno Chara in a big way, as their defence was no match for that of Anaheim. Every time Wade Redden touched the puck in this final, I cringed a little bit. He was great in the first three series, against fast, offensively-skilled teams. But against the tough forecheck in Anaheim, he seemed to be coughing up the puck every time he touched it. Chris Phillips played fairly well, but I think we're all going to remember the big play in Game 5 where he scored on Emery. For a goal like that to prove to be the Cup winner is bizarre and kinda sad. But no one scared me handling the puck as much as Ray Emery. The big difference between him and say a Brodeur is simply the ability to help the defence by handling the puck. And the difference between him and Hasek is that when Hasek plays the puck and screws up, he can recover faster.

What I'm going to remember however, is not the way the Senators barely showed up for the final, it's the way they crusied through the first three rounds and the way this city responded. An unbelievable sense of community and celebration was created by this Cup run alone. I have never seen the city that way, and I have also never seen Elgin street as jammed and as fun as it has been these past few weeks. Even Canada Day, the greatest day of the year in Ottawa, might pale in comparison, on Elgin Street anyway. Just imagine how crazy it's going to be when we win the Cup next year!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Movies, books and the spoiling spoilers who spoil them

I just finished reading Crime and Punishment. I know, I know, sounds nerdy...and it probably is...but as far as the classics go, it's actually a page-turner! Very tough to put down, so I finished it in less than eleven weeks. Doc tells me that Russian novellists like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy used to get paid by the word, which is why they would write nine-hundred page novels. I think this may be an "urban legend" of sorts, since most of them appeared in serial form in the publications of the time, like Dickens and Hardy did in England. But it's not hard to believe that this was the case, since there is an awful lot of superfluous writing in the works of Tolstoy. But Crime and Punishment is actually, despite it's 600 page length, a rather tightly written book where virtually no story tangent is out of place, and all are necessary for the overall vision of the novel.

I was smart this time, however. Every time you pick up a classic novel, the people who have printed it, or translated it, will have included a foreword and an afterword. But it has become very clear to me that you should never read the foreword until after you finish the book. The people who write and include these things write them assuming that OF COURSE you've already read this book, and you're now re-reading it, and here are the things to look for this time around. In doing so, they completely give away the ending to said novel. In fact, once you've read the foreword, very often it's like reading the Coles Notes of the book, and THEN the book itself. Not much drama in that. Don Quixote, The Razor's Edge, Anna Karenina and The Mill On The Floss have all been ruined for me in some measure by reading from the beginning of the book. Well, no more.

But movies do this too. Have you ever watched a trailer where you got the basic jist of the movie...OK, let's say The Godfather, just cause everyone knows it. So, you watch a trailer for the Godfather, and you learn it's a movie about a mafia family, where some brutal stuff happens, and the life of the Godfather is put in jeopardy. You learn it involves Brando, Caan, Duvall and Pacino. So you say, I want to see this movie (assuming of course that you have not seen it before). But in the trailer for the film, you have seen the scene where Pacino sits in the big chair, and his wife looks into the room to observe a man kissing his ring. This is a huge scene. It's the one that in itself explains the whole movie, if you see it in context. However, you didn't get that from the trailer. It was just a neat scene they threw in. But halfway through watching the Godfather, you realize what that scene in the trailer meant. Of course, you're still going to watch the rest of the movie, because it's great, but when you get to that scene, it'll be sort of anti-climactic.

I get it, of course - not that many people have seen Taxi Driver, but they know "you talkin' to me?" How many people have seen Citizen Kane, and how many MORE people know what Rosebud meant? And how many people know about fava beans and chianti without having ever seen The Silence of the Lambs?

This is what irritates me. Imagine a trailer for Psycho that involved Norman Bates dressing up as his mother. You still wouldn't fully get it when you watched the trailer, but six minutes into the movie the ending would be ruined for you. That scene of Kevin Spacey walking normally in The Usual Suspects? Not good for a trailer, no matter how good it looks. Fortunately, most trailers don't do this, just the bad ones. And the trailers you see for old movies. You can pretty well discern the entire plot of Gone With The Wind or Casablanca from watching a few of those "we've got classic movies" commercials on TCM. I guess at a certain point, the people who put stuff together assume that everyone alive has read A Tale of Two Cities and Madame Bovary, and that they have already seen Citizen Kane and The Bridge on the River Kwai. So...just bury your head in the sand until you do get to them, I guess.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Rasslin' vs. hockey

The guys at Provincial Championship Wrestling here in Ottawa need a new booking agent. Of course, it's not their fault that the Senators made the finals. It is, however, their fault that I missed the first Ottawa victory of those finals. But it was a good time, nonetheless. Eric, their ring announcer, said there were a little over 70 people there. Which, considering that night's competition, was pretty good. And I would like to think we put on a pretty good show. Having never actually wrestled "professionally" before, I wasn't sure I could put on a good show, but I was assured that the sumo match between myself and the Wild Ace was highly entertaining and very funny. He was in a dress, I was in a diaper, and we threw each other around for a few minutes. I mocked his emasculation, he low-blowed me, and I won by disqualification. Sweet. Although it isn't Game Three of the Stanley Cup finals, the PCW is by and large quite entertaining, and they certainly have their hardcore cadre of fans who won't miss a match for any reason. Stanley Cup be damned! And it really is like small-scale WWE in a way - fans make signs, the set-up is similar, and it's virtually the same wrestlers every event. And they're getting a fan following in town, too. One of the guys, The Hickster, a gigantic man who comes in to the tune of Thank God I'm a Country Boy and wears a straw hat and overalls, was requested to appear at the Tim Hortons on Merivale for Camp Day. Not that this is an event that is exclusive only to the biggest celebrities in town - I mean, they ask ME to do it too - but it's a sign that PCW is really coming along. That and the fact that they now have their own wrestling ring. Which is a real pain in the ass to set up. But it works, it's good, and so is the show!