Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reprise the Theme Song and Roll The Credits

When I was nine or so, my lifelong ambition was to be on SNICK's Roundhouse.  It seemed like such a perfect fit for me--I could wear babydoll dresses and floppy hats (neither of which, at nine years old and stick-skinny, looked good as on me as they did on the 20-somethings that populated Roundhouse) and I could sing and dance and be on TV.  More than being on TV, it was the singing and dancing part.  Especially the singing--the songs were the next logical step on my way to music geekdom, making that transition from Disney soundtracks to what would become the pop music I adored.

I was very fortunate to be a kid in the early 90's, when surreal and odd was in for children's programing.  The dad on Roundhouse had a chair that he could roll around the stage in and the sets rotated to become classrooms, living rooms, bedrooms, whatever was needed.  The loudspeaker was an actor with a cardboard speaker on his head.  The Adventures of Pete and Pete had two brothers with the same name, a payphone that wouldn't stop ringing and a squid for a school mascot. 

And let's not talk about the insanity that was Ren and Stimpy or Rocko's Modern Life

It was all so weird and clever, when kids were trusted to have their own worlds and not be talked down to or yelled at.  None of it was pandering, none of it thrived on the latest fashions or guest stars we would recognize (what 10 year old knows who Iggy Pop is?).  SNICK trusted us to be intellegent and creative in our own rights, and that's why those shows endure with my generation today.  Will Hannah Montana play well ten years from now?  Will anyone remember iCarley or The Wizards of Waverly Place

My guess is no.

If they revived Roundhouse right now, I would go audition on the off chance that maybe I could finally get a dream to come true.  Okay, so I'm not the greatest dancer, but I can learn a few steps and belt out a tune . . . and I finally rock a babydoll dress.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

From the Vault/Saddest Songs: The Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs Vol. 1

My friend Bix understood exactly how I felt about the Magentic Fields 69 Love Songs vol 1.  I had put "The Book of Love" and "All My Little Words" on a mix I made for him, and he came up to me with this wonderous look on his face, as though he couldn't believe I knew the Magnetic Fields too.  Because with all the white noise of music out there, between Lady GaGa and Nickleback and Katy Perry and Justin Beiber and all the other billions of bands overtaking the airwaves, it's almost wonderous to find someone who knows the same little band you do

He, like me, played that album over and over and over, terrified to listen to anything else by them for fear it wouldn't be as good.  "Then I heard "Papa Was a Rodeo," he told me one night over champagne at an art gallery in Brunswick Maine.  "And I played that one over and over.  And I knew."  He had this dreamy, sincere look on his face, as though the two of us were speaking the secret language only Magnetic Fields listeners understand.  Because there's something so intimate about the music that you swear you must be the only person on earth who feels the lyrics, and when you find someone else who feels them that same way, it's almost magic.

My sister Shaun, giver of all things wonderful and musical (including The Smiths and Siouxsie and the Banshees) gave me 69 Love Songs for Hanukkah one year.  I took to it instantly, playing it through headphones on my discman, laying on the inflatable mattress I slept on during visits home, mouthing along in the dark as though the words on my breath might somehow reach their intended targets in the universe.

69 Love Songs was my album for boys who had no intentions being for me what I needed or wanted them to be.  "Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side," "Absolutely Cuckoo" and "My Sentimental Melody," in that order, were all songs for Dwight, spelling out the ever-deepening emotional divide between us.  "Come Back from San Francisco" went on the first CD I made Michael, "I Don't Want to Get Over You" was for James, who I eventually got over and "Reno Dakota" was for Jay, who had a habit of vanishing for years on end, leaving me wondering if or when he might ever reappear. 

And like any good album, it grew on me.  I discovered songs that I'd skipped in early listenings now held a curious truth to them, like the cleverness of "Chicken With it's Head Cut Off" and I can't hear "All My Little Words" without picturing Jay Karns in the shower and Walton Goggins lifting weights.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I have realized something beautiful about Netflix Streaming.  Something more beautiful than being able to watch Archer in one sitting.  Something more beautiful than Blackadder

Netflix streaming will be the death of film nerds.

I am a film nerd.  And I can be a pretty arrogant one.  I mean, heck, I keep a blog about it.  My freakish knowledge of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and other formerly-obscure B-movies lends me a sort of superiority, especially when combined with my extensive background in literature.

No more.  And I couldn't be more grateful.

For as much of a film snob as I am (I've seen three movies this year because everything else looks so mind-numbingly dull that I'd be better off getting a lobotomy) I hate other film snobs.  I hate hearing people sneer, "Oh, well, Robert Rodriguiz doesn't really do grindhouse film because he has more of a budget then grindhouse directors had, which is why the original films look that way"  No, really?  Please, tell me more crap any idiot already knows.  Please, go on about how special you are because you've seen Rubber.

Now, with streaming, we can all see Rubber.

No more pawing through VHS tapes at Salvation Army in search of the Mamie Van Doren hosted "Teenage Theater" version of Ed Wood's The Violent Years.  No more buying pirated DVDs of foreign films from Kim's Video on St. Marks.  No more tape trading.  And with the death of all those activities goes the thrill of being able to turn your rubbery chin up at someone who's never even heard of Never Been Thawed.

And soon, former film snobs will be able to come out of their basement and into the light.  Instead of looking down their blackhead-addled noses at other people, they'll be able to converse with them about Poultrygist and Mother.  New dialogues will open up over Mountain Dew and Snowcaps.  We will all make in-jokes about Dr. Katz together and we will know what someone is referencing when they say "*Except this glove." The AV Club will go silent, and Nathan Rabin be forgotten.  My God, it will be beautiful.

But, with the good comes the bad.  Like that Charlie Sheen won.  Major League III is no longer avaliable for streaming.  He did it!  He finally did it!  You maniac!  You took away the greatest thing America has ever seen!

*The Critic "A Little Deb Will Do Ya"

Saturday, August 13, 2011

From the Vault: The Pretenders "Back on The Chain Gang" or, The Hardest Pop Song On Earth

I've been trying to get back into singing lately.  My friend and Odd Couple co-star Tio was a finalist for the local Idol competition, and I've been thinking about trying out.  I did a lot of singing in high school--musical theater, showchoir, chamber ensemble and all the terrible things that come with them.  That, and I never scored below a 5 out of 6 (usually getting a 6) at NYSSMA.

But a neck injury in college and a bout of infection that left me sounding like Tom Waits for six weeks when I was 22 more or less ruined my chances of ever being the screeching soprano in a metal band (or opera, whichever) and my descision to no longer persue musical theater left me with very few options for professional singing.  I don't play an instrument and there aren't a lot of karaoke options here, so I just sort of reduced myself to singing in the car and, occasionally, karaoke.

But I was listening to the Pretenders, and I was thinking about all my friends that do Idol every year, and thought that maybe I should get back into it.  I put "Back on the Chain Gang" on my record player, looked at my cat sitting politely on the couch, and, as I began to sing, I made a discovery.

"Back on the Chain Gang" is the hardest song in the world to sing.

My friend/writing partner Matthew makes fun of me for loving this song.  He calls out Chrissie Hynde as being a proto Natalie Merchant, a whispy little thing with a fairy voice.  Her voice is a little on the fey side, but what she does have is a master's control over it.  "Back on the Chain Gang" is riddled with grace notes, which less-talented singers usually gloss right over.  This explains why American Idol-type covers of The Pretenders always suck so monumentally.  Because they key isn't sliding up and down the scale, it's about hitting each one of those notes individually and moving to the next one.  It's a lot harder than it sounds.

This, by the way, coming from someone who routinely (and against her will) sang "Seasons of Love" from Rent, which a lot of musical theater types will agree is the hardest song in the genre to not screw up.  "Back on the Chain Gang" is a million times harder. Because not only are you trying to hit each of those notes, but you're trying to convey the same tough/tender/melancholy/hopeful tone of the song.  It's not about making it sound "pretty," it's about making it sound as real as Hynde makes it.

Maybe someday I'll get it . . . but for now, I'm having fun trying.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lyrics I Like: John Mellancamp "Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)"

"This loud Cuban band is crucifying John Lennon . . ."

What a great lyric.  It's probably one of my top ten of all time.  There's just this wonderful atmosphere around the whole song, you know what that band sounds like without ever hearing them.  The whole song is filled with great images like that--"the bone colored dawn," in the 3rd verse springs immediately to mind. 

I have loved this song since I first heard it in my early teens, thanks to VH1's Top Ten Countdown.  It easily ranks among my top favorite songs of all time.  Every time I hear it, I have to play it at least twice.  There's this beautiful longing to it that you don't hear very much anymore, this yearning that lacks violence or whining, a straightforward "Please, just look at me" that every lover, at one time or another, feels.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

All I'm going to say about Cowboys and Aliens is that it didn't have enough Walton Goggins.  Although, to be fair, a movie could be nothing but him standing there nude for two hours and I would have the same complaint.

(If you want the full review, just click that link up there and it will take you to Liz Ellis' The Insatiable Critic.)
But let's talk trailers.  For starters, I reiterate my previous hatred of James Franco.  He makes this face, and I can't do it because I'm on a blog and you're all out there (but come to my house and I'll do it for you) that I can only describe as his "Look Ma, I'm acting" face.

Secondly, I kept hoping Battleship was a joke, like Don't! or Werewolf Women of the SS.  But it's real.  It's real and it exists and it is so horribly stupid that I felt my brain leaking out of my ears and all over my refashioned western-style shirt.

I watched Breakfast on Pluto last week, driven by the fact that I love Cillian Murphy because he looks exactly like my dear friend/former boyfriend Geza . . . but I couldn't stop staring at Liam Neeson.  Man, he's sexy . . . but Battleship?  Really?  Look, I can forgive The Phantom Menace (we all make mistakes) but he conciously made the choice to star in a movie based on a toy no one I know has ever played.  I don't understand why he would do this.  It hurts me to think of all the sad reasons why. 

And that's what sort of bugged me about Walton Goggins part in Cowboys & Aliens.  He may not be a household name, but he's well-regarded by critics, has a small but insanely rabid fanbase (me) he got nominated for an Emmy (some say one show too late) and he has a damn Oscar . . . and the part he played seemed beneath him, like it was something he would have played in his early 20's, when he'd just arrived in Hollywood and would take any part they threw at him.  It seemed a little too dumb, a little too hick-like, for someone who consistantly tries to show his native South as anything but a hornets nest of poverty, ignorance and toothlessness. Even his role in Predators had more meat on it

I won't post the Battleship trailer.  Here's Werewolf Women of the SS instread.