Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Show Review: Sonic Boom, Black Marble & Soft Metals @ The Casbah

Black Marble were last night's highlight

Show Review:
 Sonic Boom,
Black Marble
 & Soft Metals
@ The Casbah

  What constitutes a scene in a small to mid size American or European market?  I've said before that such a scene is rarely going to tally above 50 people, and that these 50 (in each city) are the critical early adopters that can make a difference for a new band- but who are those people?  I think... the inner core members of any scene are the people who make a living (or are trying to) from the music they support.  So: Venue owners first, bookers second, musicians third.  That's the inner core of any specific geographically based scene.  Surrounding them you have the significant others, friends and "followers" of those three categories of people.  Then you've got people who are financially involved in music and art in that area, but aren't necessarily dependent on local shows for income- so- music journalists/freelancers, record label employees and art professionals/students in other disciplines.  And then finally you've got the hard core fans of music- people who are interested enough in music to go see a new band on a weekday night.

Soft Metals: Great sound, need to work on the live show.

 I think traditionally when people talk about a scene, they are only considering that last group- hard core fans, but in fact when you consider this "Magic 50" number- hard core fans are probably a minimal part, and they are far out weighed in importance by both the first and second groups (and their friends/followers.)

 The highlight of last night's show for me was Black Marble- they have a sophisticated synth pop sound that seems ear marked for bigger and brighter things in the future (though having an LP on Hardly Art ain't bad in my book.)

 Soft Metals, who just released an LP on Captured Tracks- need to work on the live show- it was too static- they have a lot going for them on wax but I don't think the live show is going to convert many idle watchers into fans.  Great record though.

  Three Nights at the Con heads towards the end tonight with Milk Music and Colleen Green- at the Casbah. Should be fun! Check it out.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Show Review: Neil Hamburger, Comedy Icon

Neil Hamburger/Gregg Turkington

Show Review:
Neil Hamburger
@ The Casbah, San Diego, CA.

  I've been meaning to see Neil Hamburger forever.  Hamburger is a character played by Gregg Turkington- Turkington used to be a fixture in the San Francisco indie/diy scene- and had his own record label, Amarillo Records.  The character Neil Hamburger is often compared to the Andy Kaufman character Tony Clifton, and while that may be a stretch, it's not a stretch to consider Hamburger a lineal descendant of Andy Kaufman, in the exact same way that Tim Heidecker is obviously inspired by Kaufman's comedic heritage.

 The timing of this show is funny because Drag City released a new Andy Kaufman record this week, and the Pitchfork album review had me thinking about Kaufman, Heidecker and Turkington/Hamburger prior to seeing Hamburger perform last night.  The one sentence summary of Neil Hamburger is that he's a "bad on purpose" comedian, and that this performances are as likely to provoke boos vs. applause, but now going on 15 plus years with the routine, obviously any crowd who shows up to a performance is not only going to not boo, but will certainly applaud and be excited to see a living legend of Alt Comedy.

 Another funny correspondence between the show last night and the wider Kaufman inspired legacy of alt comedy came as I waited for the show to begin- I was looking at my Twitter feed and I subscribe to Patton Oswalt- another alt comedian who takes his indie/diy heritage seriously (or at one point, see the Comedians of Comedy to hear him break it down for ya'.  So he was in San Diego for Comic Con, and while I'm waiting for Hamburger I see that he posted a picture on twitter that is the view from his 20th story hotel room, looking down on Comic Con attendees like a lord regarding his serfs.

  What goes for musicians goes for comedians as well, and it was hard not for me to appreciate Hamburger for "keeping it real" and lose a little respect for Oswalt at the same time- even though I still like the guy.  Hamburger's performance was as I expected it to be based on youtube views etc- awkward timing on the jokes and alot of tasteless celebrity bits.  Fucking hilarious though. Hamburger is a real treasure.

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954) d. Hiroshi Inagaki

Toshiro Mifune in Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954)

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954)
d. Hiroshi Inagaki
Volume One of the Samurai Trilogy
Spine #14

  As I mentioned the other day it's a mistake to think of streaming video as some kind of monolithic, unchanging edifice.  Not last month I wanted to watch Samurai I: Murashi Miyamoto because it has a low spine number and I was thwarted.  I went so far as to go to Amazon Instant Video and put it on my to watch list- but it would have cost four bucks.

  Then, in early July Hulu Plus updates the Criterion Interface and blammo- there is Samurai I: Murashi Miyamoto, staring me smack in the face.  It really makes me think I should watch all the Hulu Plus Crtierion Collection Titles with low spine numbers- there is something about the first 100 of any collection of titles that really sets the tone for the future.

  Soooo yeah... never thought I'd be one of those guys who watched Samurai movies but here I am.  The notable aspects of the Samurai trilogy are one) they are star making performances for Toshiro Mifune who is "the man" of 50s and 60s Samurai pictures and two) Musashi Miyamoto was a real dude who wrote a read-until-today book of Zen buddhist philosophy and military strategy.  Chapter 1 is about his awakening, during the film he is transformed from a wild eyed bandit to a zen buddhist master samurai thanks to the helpful guidance of a Buddhist monk, who does helpful things like hanging him from a tree for a week and locking him a prison cell with a library of books for three years.

  But at the end he walks out enlightened, so it is all worth it.  The depth of the spiritual awakening experienced by Miyamoto belies any facile "the Samurai movie is a Western" comparisons.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Marius the Epicurean by Walter Pater

Epicureanism is a philosophy based on the teachings of Epicurus, that's him above. Epicureanism is typically  summarized as a love of pleasure, but it's more complicated then that.

Book Review
Marius the Epicurean
 by Walter Pater
p. 1885

  I'm calling shenanigans on the inclusion of this title in the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list.  Really?   Marius the Epicurean is one of the 1001 Books I simply must read before I die?  How so?  I read the accompanying essay in the 1001 Books book, and I read the book itself, but I am left flabbergasted that someone thought this was a book that everyone needs to read prior to death.

  Marius the Epicurean is a young Roman living in the second century AD, 161-177 AD to be exact.  The "plot" is basically a coat hanger for the author, Walter Pater (who is known as a historian, not a novelist) to explicate on various ethical, religious and philosophical themes.  I suppose that as a piece of early experimental fiction it is worth noting, but you've already got Ben Hur and The Temptation of Saint Anthony in the same 10 year time span, the former is a better novel set in a similar time period, and the later is a more experimental novel set in the same time period.

 At least Marius the Epicurean is short and easily tamed.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Portrait of a Lady (1880) by Henry James

Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich starred in the 1996 movie versin of The Portarit of a Lady by Henry James.
Book Review
The Portrait of a Lady
 by Henry James
p. 1880 serial us/uk
p. 1881 book

Guide to 19th Century American Literature

Book Review: The Awakening by Kate Chopin ,1899,  9/26/13
Book Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, 1885, 10/15/13
Book Review: The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James ,1880 , 7/16/13
Book Review; Ben Hur by Lew Wallace,1880  6/13/13
Book Review: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott,1869, 3/9/13
Book Review: The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne 1860, 9/19/12
Book Review: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe 1852, 9/12/12
Book Review: The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne,1851, 5/30/12
Book Review: Moby Dick by Herman Melville 1851, 8/27/12
Book Review: The House of the Seven Gables,1851,  6/21/12
Book Review: The Pit and The Pendulum  1842, 3/28/12
Book Review: The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe, 1844, 3/27/12
Book Review: The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, 1839, 3/20/12
Book Review: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, 1826, 6/18/12

 Man I was so wrong about Henry James.   Now, having read what came before, I am in a position to appreciate James' role as the first modern novelist.  This much is clear from the intro where James discusses the position of the marriageable young woman as the central figure of the novel as an art form.  He's right, and the only other authors he name checks in this preface are George Eliot and d Ivan Turgenev, and, uh... he's a brilliant prose stylist, equally adept at describing inner thoughts and outward appearances.  His theme of New World vs. Old World in the context of the traditional marriage plot is as fresh thematically as anything- certainly more so then other proto-modernists like George Eliot let alone the Russians who are is his nearest competitors.

Nothing captures the essence of Isabel Archer like the cold, dead eyes of Nicole Kidman.  Good Job Jane Campion- you realize the only movie she's made since is In The Cut with Meg Ryan.  Yeah. Career ender.
     And of course, Henry James is an American who conquered London with his work- the first such novelist to ever do this.  I believe this is the first novel I've read chronologically that describes specific characters as being "modern."  He's like a blast across the bow of the Victorian literary establishment.  I haven't read enough secondary works to be able to speak with authority on the subject but I saw it with my own eyes- one of the benefits of the chronological method I've taken with this project.

  Isabel Archer- she's so REAL.  Reading The Portrait of a Lady the reader is drawn into her charms in a way that escapes the stereotypes and cliches that dominate Victorian literary female protagonists.   At the same time, The Portrait of a Lady is a book calculated to appeal to that very same Audience- it is a book with a standard Victorian marraige plot.  Only here, in The Portrait of a Lady you get a lengthy second and third act where it is made painfully, painfully, painfully clear that Ms. Archer has made a bad choice.  And she pays for it, and there is no happy ending.

 Welcome to the Modern World- Henry James was there in the 1870s.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Kwaidan (1965) d. Masaki Kobayashi

Still from Kwaidan, this shows the Woman in White and the woodcutter

Kwaidan (1965)
d. Masaki Kobayashi
Criterion Collection #90

  This film is a compilation of four traditional Japanese ghost stories adapted for the big screen.  The source material are the writings of Lafcadio Hearn, a folklorist of Greek-Irish ancestry who emigrated to the United States and then moved to Japan n 1869.  There he adopted a Japanese name and became a citizen.  Each of the four tales centers around ghostly visitations.

  The first story "The Black Hair" is about a Samurai who leaves his wife in Kyoto because he can't make ends meet.  His second wife is a wealthy noblewoman, but he tires of her and returns to Kyoto where he experiences a full reconciliation with wife number one only to find upon waking up the next morning that she is a corpse.
This is another still from the film Kwaidan and it's quite easy to see here how the director makes his stills look like paintings.

  The second episode, "The Woman In White" concerns a hunter who sees a ghostly woman take the spirit of his friend when they are marrooned in the wilderness during a snow storm.  The spirit spares his life but makes him promise never to tell anyone about his experience.   Ten years later, he is happily married with three kids, when he tells his wife the story after thinking that she resembles the Woman in White.  As it turns out, he's married to the Woman in White and she is pissed off that he broke his promise.

 Hoichi the earless is about a talented blind musician who lives in a monastery.  One night he is visited by a spirit who summons him to serenade the spirits of a deceased royal lineage, in a grave yard.  When the temple priest finds out they explain that he needs to resist their calls the next time the spirit shows up, and they inscribe him with sacred text to make him invisible to the spirit...only they forgot the ears.  You can guess the rest.

  Although the narrative is not particularly moving, the director uses color like a painter, and it is hard not to stop the film just to appreciate the cinematography as one would a painting in a museum.  Unfortunately, Kwaidan is almost three hours long and it is a slow, slow, slow three hours.  I'm not saying I didn't appreciate it the film, but it took me three days to finish it up- watching one hour a day.

  The Criterion Collection has already been a brief education in Japanese cinema with literally dozens of films left to go.  I can't say that I've ever been interested in the subject of Japanese cinema but it appears that the Criterion Collection has decided that yes, I am interested in Japanese cinema.

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