Wednesday, July 8, 2015

T-Shirts, Be Gone!

The missus adores what I regard as some highly unworthy acts. I have never been terribly impressed by Todd Rundgren. She, and many of her closest friends, regards him as The God Who Walks Among Us, though, in fairness, the phrase is actually my own. She regards The Tubes, whom I like considerably less than I like Todd Rundgren, and whom I in fact don’t like very much at all, as indescribably wonderful — indeed, as The Greatest Live Band Ever.

When she was in this country for a few weeks last month, I took her to see the latter act in San Juan Capistrano. The opening act was Casey Jones & The Railsplittrers, apparently from southern California’s Inland Empire. They reminded me of a bit the Bay Area comedian Rick Reynolds did in the early ‘90s about performing at San Quentin, seeing in his audience a bunch of inmates with their hair in curlers, and wondering, “How special does the evening have to be for them to want to look their best?”

Well, how big a gig do CJRS need to change out of the T-shirts they’d wear to rehearse in on a day they weren't going to bother to shave either?

My guess is that what they think their ultra-casual self-presentation says is, “We’re all about the music, man.” What it says most clearly is, “We’re an anonymous opening act, and don’t deserve your attention.” The sad thing being that they were actually pretty good. Their vocal harmony on The Beatles’ “Because” (Abbey Road) was glorious, in fact.  The bass player played with considerable enthusiasm, but there were times when, because he was playing eighth notes with his bass drum foot, all I could see was the drummer’s ample flab jiggling. I could not later unsee it. 

In 1964, when The Rolling Stones took to misplacing their uniform jackets and coming on stage mismatched, it was revelatory, and maybe even thrilling. The audacity! It was pretty nervy of Bryan Adams, in his own mid-80s heyday, to wear nothing but plain white T-shirts on stage. In the 21sst century, dressing ‘way, ‘way down isn’t audacious or revelatory. It’s par for the course, and very, very boring.

You honor your audience by dressing up to perform for it, though I appreciate that throughout most of the rock era, it’s been the audience that’s supposed to honor the performer. (Your top headliner takes the stage when he or she damned well pleases, and becomes visibly miffed if the audience doesn't abandon its comfortable seats to come stand reverently before him the whole show.) The performer honors his or her own music by dressing up to play it. I’ve been saying all those since the mid-1980s, when I said it in Creem. Don’t make me keep saying it, OK?

Monday, July 6, 2015

On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Dunder! Off, Blitzer!

[Note: I wrote this in 2014, before Jeremy Paxman's abdication.]

The United Kingdom’s deputy prime minister has castigated BBC interviewer Jeremy Paxman for treating politicians, at whom he sneers with unashamed disgust and addresses in a tone that suggests he’s just barely able to bring himself to speak to them, as “rogues and charlatans.” (And your point is…?) He couldn’t be more brusque or confrontational, but is as hard on the far-left-of-Labour George Galloway, for instance, as on the Tory David Cameron. Interviewing the former after the voters of a particular locale in the north of England elected him to represent them in London, Paxman repeatedly demanded whether Galloway was proud of having got rid of "one of the very few black women in Parliament."

You might wish to think of Paxman as the anti-Wolf Blitzer, the inoffensivest man in American news, and a man whose inoffensiveness I find deeply offensive.  

I don’t disdain Blitzer most for having begun his career as a de facto PR man for the conservative Israel lobbying group AIPAC, or for his apparent empty-headedness, or even for his keening voice, nearly as fingernails-across-a-blackboardish as Chris Matthews’. (Ever bleating at the top of his register, he might be heard as the anti-Henry Kissinger no less than as the anti-Paxman.)

I don’t disdain him most for telling Barack Obama, when he interviewed him for the unrequited runup to the bombing of Syria, to look into CNN’s camera and tell Bashar al-Assad just what he needed to do to keep American bombs from raining down on him. It’s been years since I admired Barack Obama, but I admired him at that moment, for not getting up, ripping his lapel mic off, and saying, “Are you fucking kidding me? What is this, couple counseling?”

Nor do I disdain Wolf Blitzer most for having (mildly!) demanded assurance, in the wake of the WikiLeaks disclosures, “that the Government [take] the necessary steps to prevent him, the media generally and the citizenry, from finding out any more secrets,” as one of my heroes, Glenn Greenwald, put it with such wonderful astringency. Some journalist, the Wolfster, decrying revelations of government malfeasance!

I don’t disdain him most for his inability to smack down that shameless blowhard Michael Moore as he deserves, or for failing to make mincemeat of Michele Bachmann. No, that for which I disdain Wolf Blitzer most is his coverage of the 2012 Republican convention. I think of him gasping excitedly in his uniquely annoying high-pitched way as the cameras showed us the family of the unspeakable Paul Ryan, possibly the vilest man in American public life, and how he gushed about the proud look on Mama’s face.

I know CNN is supposed to feign neutrality, but how I would have loved at that moment if Wolf had mused, “Imagine how it must feel to have given birth to the evilest man in American politics! Imagine the poor lady’s shame!”

Not the Wolfster, though. Fair and balanced to the end, even if not on Fox, is the Wolfster — and, if you ask me, one of the great wastes of space in American electronic journalism.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

…and I Say, "Go! Go! Go!"

As you’ve read here before, I have a hard time loving those who sing in someone else’s voice. Amy Winehouse sang in Sarah Vaughn’s and Dinah Washington’s. What made her a lot more notable for me than Janis Joplin, for instance, was that she sang her own songs, songs commonly full of anguish and self-condemnation, with as much feeling as great skill.  I’ve just come from seeing the new documentary movie about her, and recommend it with all my might, whether Winehouse’s music meant anything to you or not. No fewer than three times I very nearly burst into tears. One moment had the hair on the back of my neck stand up straight. I can’t remember the last time I saw anything half as powerful.

There are many scenes in which Winehouse’s pain, dread, or shock is written so eloquently on her face that you can hardly believe they’re not re-enactments. You won’t believe your eyes. The great irony is that, without use of a lot of footage shot by paparazzi, the film would be unable to convey how UK paparazzi — even bloodthirstier than their American counterparts — hounded her merceilessly. I’ve heard a hundred rock stars and actors say that they find fame onerous, but never completely believed one until now. And Winehouse doesn’t just bemoan her lack of privacy, but states quite plainly that she’d have traded her gifts for the ability to walk down the street without harassment.

I didn’t leave quibble-less. The film leaves unclear why Amy Winehouse’s scumbag husband Blake Fielder-Civil was imprisoned, and then later shows him as a gloating talking head, telling the interviewer how, because he’s reasonably good-looking and goes to the gym regularly, he figures he can do better than Winehouse. And yet the accounts I find on line portray him as having been devastated by her death.

The audience at the cineplex in West Los Angeles was remarkable for its superannuation. I don’t think there were two people in it under 55. If she’d lived, Winehouse would be 31.

The film wasn’t the only wonderful part of the afternoon. Feeling part of an audience that was being addressed with respect was quite wonderful too. I wanted to see each of the four movies for which previews — in none of which anything other than William F. Buckley blew up — were shown before Amy, the David Foster Wallace one, the Marlon Brando in his own words one, and especially that about the famous television debate between the unspeakable William F. Buckley and one of my personal heroes, Gore Vidal.

A film about David Foster Wallace, the (serious!) author. Sometimes you get the impression there’s some small glimmer of hope after all.