CULTURE TO GO
The last time I checked in on the war between jazz traditionalists and jazz innovators (which was a few weeks ago in a Midwest alternative newsweekly), trumpeter Lester Bowie was wondering aloud to an interviewer whether or not fellow trumpeter Wynton Marsalis--an outspoken critic of the free jazz movement Bowie helped forge--was "retarded." So yes, the conflict shows no signs of abating. But in trying to reestablish the value of formal experimentation in these conservative jazz times, music would seem a more effective tool than name-calling. The recent CD reissues of some of the earliest works of artists involved with Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) are thus welcome documents that do much to reclaim a crucial chapter in the history of jazz.
On Sounds, recorded in 1966, the Roscoe Mitchell Sextet includes Bowie and Malachi Favors (a trio that would become half of the Art Ensemble of Chicago) along with tenor Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, drummer Alvin Fielder, and cellist/trombonist Lester Lashley. This is jazz that anticipates the AEOC's playfulness, and seems to speak specifically from the Midwest--wide open expanses of silence, long rushes into dark and empty nights, short spates of joyous interplay punctuating lonely, relentlessly searching solo lines. In addition to the two long title pieces, there are two takes of a number called "Ornette," where the group runs through a vamp recalling the tune's namesake before pushing into new territory. It's a rare but telling glimpse at the roots of a revolution.
Pianist Muhal Richard Abrams's 1969 Young At Heart/Wise In Time features two long compositions, the first a solo which begins inside the piano, the player strumming out small clusters of notes that give way to tentative chords, a progression from the amorphousness of birth to first steps, then cocky swaggers and lustful swoons. The second piece features a young Henry Threadgill alternately riding and shredding melodies, spinning his alto around an elusive center alongside trumpeter Leo Smith, percussionist Thurman Barker, and the versatile Lashley on bass. Here the solitary youth becomes a social elder--a corollary to Abrams's evolution as soloist, bandleader, and AACM figurehead. It's music of great beauty and power, approachable and inviting, impassioned and exciting. Now that these recordings are back in print, here's hoping some of the army of young suits with horns who constitute our modern jazz world spend some time with this portion of their music's history. The scene would certainly be richer for it. (Delmark Records, 4121 N. Rockwell, Chicago, IL, 60618; (312) 222-1467) (Will Hermes)
The Keith Haring Journals
On a recent visit to Greenwich Village, walking past Keith Haring's "Pop Shop" boutique, I could only sigh at the cashier, the only human being in the store, flipping wearily through a magazine.
At first glance, Haring seems such a quintessentially '80s artist that his legacy feels stunted only six years after his death from AIDS. Are those half-hearted new Dodge ads featuring Haring's famous figures the limit of his influence? Where's the visually enticing biopic a la Basquiat? Will his crawling-baby hieroglyphics inspire a new wave of Pop art or remain a capitalistic stamp of '80s mass consumerism?
The Keith Haring Journals may not answer these questions, but it does offer insight into what drove the late artist. Unlike the posthumously-printed diaries of Andy Warhol (one of his mentors), Haring's pages eschew making detailed nightly records of cab fares and who's screwing whom. The Journals's contents are looser, more emotional and raw than Warhol's glossy, repetitive artwork and lifestyle. It begins with Haring as a naive 19-year-old Deadhead hitchhiking across the U.S. selling T-shirts. Starry-eyed and spouting newfound artistic manifestos, he moves to New York for art school and finds inspiration in the movements and rhythms of breakdancing and electrofunk, street graffiti, and the emerging video art explosion.
Even while observing first-hand his sudden popularity and subsequent international gallery exhibitions, product endorsements, and such, Haring remains startlingly level-headed, honest, and green. The entries document his sketch ideas and self-criticism (as well as critiques of other artists), his travel, and nightlife exploits. Something as potentially pretentious as a four-page, self-described "Big Chunk of Poetry" (a stream-of-consciousness, 'Happiness is... ' kind of thing) comes off as touching, revealing, and real. Haring's desire for more bridges between the elitist gallery world and everyday enjoyment of art is apparent in his passion for outdoor sculpture and public murals; perhaps this is the underappreciated legacy that his journals expose. (Matt Keppel)
Rebel Without A Crew
Maybe I'm a softy, but I wept at the end of Hearts of Darkness, that great documentary about the hell Francis Ford Coppola went through to make Apocalypse Now. After grappling with his own artistic limits for two hours, Coppola told the camera that the great film directors of tomorrow would be the kids running around their backyards with camcorders. Robert Rodriguez, the 28-year-old director of this year's slumber-party smash From Dusk Till Dawn, is very much that kid with a camcorder now grown up, and the point he makes in Rebel Without a Crew, his breezy self-help manual for beginning filmmakers, is different from Coppola's: "everyone has at least a dozen or so bad movies in them; the sooner you get them out the better."
Savor that "everyone" for a second: Rodriguez's democratic view of filmmaking is refreshing, not to mention grounded in experience. Rebel chronicles the funding, making, and selling-to-Hollywood of Rodriguez's break-out first feature, El Mariachi, a snappy little action picture shot in Mexico for a microscopic $7,000. You may have heard the story--how Rodriguez raised a chunk of the needed funds by checking himself into a drug research hospital--but it's a good one and it bears retelling. Here's a guy who wrote some fast food out of a scene to save a couple bucks, but eventually directed the film's sequel for $7,000,000 (Desperado, basically El Mariachi times a thousand starring Antonio Banderas). Rebel may be a one-day read, a how-to book padded out with a script, but for low-income, non-genius filmmakers like myself, it's inspiring as all get-out. (Peter Scholtes)
Naomi Shihab Nye and
Paul B. Janeczko, eds.
I Feel A Little Jumpy Around You: A Book of Her Poems & His Poems Collected in Pairs
Simon & Schuster
This anthology is high-concept, like a mountain. Of ice cream. The cherry on top is a tired thesis that goes something like this: Boys and girls are different. So very different. Boys suckle on baseball, paper routes, dad's motor oil--this according to co-editor Janeczko. Shihab Nye, his female counterpart, chimes in with the reminder that "less is silly to women," in that from the get-go, girls instinctively "honor the tiny, the tedious, the particular minutia." When they turn into women, they shop for condiments, know where the commas go, and can trade neck massages at parties without shame.
So go the ground rules for this 196-poem collection, arranged into his & her couples like wallflowers at a square dance. These pairings are meant to echo each other, to show that either sex can tackle subjects like eating apples with separate-but-equal insight. It's a daring project, this stab at gender-bending poems into some kind of argument about how boys and girls write their own galaxies into existence. To their credit, the editors managed not to print the work in blue and pink type. But for all the reckless theorizing about dicks and tits that is this book's reason for being, if it weren't for the authors' names tagged to the poems, odds are no reader could tell who wrote them.
I, for one, failed to detect in any of the poems a line break, a diction, a meter, a moment of punctuation that might finally end the gender war. Nonetheless, the foolish intent of this anthology shouldn't get in the way of enjoying some of the great work in it, moving and funny and right poems by Galway Kinnell, Li-Young Lee, Anna Swir, the obligatory Robert Bly, Jack Gilbert, and a host of lesser-knowns. Going into them, it's best to remember that Jumpy was published as a Simon & Schuster Book For Young Readers. Recommended audience: ages 12 and up. (Josie Rawson)
Inside Daisy Clover
Midnight Classics/Serpents Tail
Midnight Classics has published Inside Daisy Clover as a campy, late-night read on Hollywood in the late '50s--a marketing take that seems to sell short author Lambert (perhaps best known for his novel The Goodby People and for several screenplays, including I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and Sons and Lovers). It doesn't take long to see that this book could have become an American classic, and that Lambert's heroine--one of the first insightful teenaged girls who isn't all Pollyanna petticoats--is quite rare. Daisy Clover sits in the same tree as Catcher in the Rye's Holden Caulfield: a pensive smart-ass stuck in an oppressive age with a batch of glum, hypocritical adults.
The racy paperback describes Daisy's glittery rise to Hollywood fame through her less than impressed eyes. She has bounds of personality and singing talent, but no patience for being wrapped in ribbons and touted as Magnagram Studio's virginal child star. The studio head, Mr. Swan, is a dictator in the same ranks as MGM boss Louis Mayer, putting himself in the middle of his actors' most private affairs. Daisy supports this tyrant's business (not to mention her pathetic older sister and mentally unstable mother) with her talent, and supports herself with a fast-and-loose mix of vodka, benzedrine, and older men. By the age of 18, she's divorced, with child, and a has-been; at 24, she's set to make her big "comeback" in Atlantic City.
As a great cautionary tale, Inside Daisy Clover evokes the lives of many a Hollywood star (Jean Harlow and Judy Garland come immediately to mind). This book will likely incur a physical beating being carried from porch to bed to tub to kitchen: It's hard to leave it until you've consumed every page. (Amanda Ferguson)
Never underestimate McDonald's. As if spawning Britain's longest-running civil suit in history--the infamous McLibel trial--weren't enough, just last month the burger chain threatened to take legal action if the owner of McMunchies, a British sandwich shop, refused to remove the "Mc" from its name. Apparently, McDonald's claims to be the "registered user" of this prefix, thereby making half the centuries-old names in Scotland null and void.
McLibel and McMunchies are just a couple burger wrappers in the dumpster-full of dirty McDeeds relentlessly scrutinized and documented under McSpotlight. This site has so much dope on its target that it warrants its own search function; moreover, thanks to its innovative (and apparently much imitated) Webmasters, it also offers two kinds of "guided tours." One hooks you up to McDonald's own website, with commentary from McSpotlight running right alongside Mickey D.'s propaganda. Through a complex system of links, you can get McDonald's take on, say, "career opportunities," then jump to workers bemoaning their McJobs back in McSpotlight--a technique that throws into high relief the differences between corporate PR and corporate exploitation.
The guides for the tour of McSpotlight itself are none other than David Morris and Helen Steel, the defendants in the McLibel trial. In fact, it's the numerous facets of this case, from witnesses' testimony to reams of court documents to media coverage, that anchor McSpotlight; now that closing speeches are scheduled to begin October 21, it'll be worth checking in as this monstrous case begins winding down. This labyrinthine site has far too many other nooks and crannies to name here, though it's not all grim political/legal documentation--check out the RealAudio poem written by Ronald McDonald, a 61-year-old retired Scotsman, about the multinational that shares his name. McSpotlight seems to be a chiefly U.K.-produced affair due to the McLibel trial, but info and articles from around the globe offer crucial, international perspective on the junk food monger that's become one of the planet's most potent cultural and economic forces. (Julie Caniglia)
While tech-talk about the merger between TV and the Net is still just that, E! Online and Mr. Showbiz offer a Web-surfing alternative to channel surfing--and also cater to those needing a fix of Hollywood and Vine gossip. E! Online is the savvier of the two, posting plenty of chatty & catty commentary on Hollywood stars of both the shooting and falling varieties. "Tales From the Womb" gives an account of Madonna's life from her baby's perspective (it's a girl, folks), dishing about the Material Girl's new digs, impending home delivery, and scathing indictments on the "things and people she buys." Fans of TV's Talk Soup will be thrilled to find an online version here that takes print to task, along with highlights from The Gossip Show and the opportunity to "chat" with various celebs (via email, of course). There's a 'Toon test for the nostalgic, and for those who can't get enough Pamela Lee, a puzzle that's lets you, um, put the bombshell together. With areas dedicated to Melrose Place, Ted Casablanca's "Awful Truth" column, and topics such as celebrity stalkers, E! Online is an especially juicy corner of the Web.
Mr. Showbiz takes a more serious tack than E! Online; its staid design looks and reads more like a snazzy print mag. With less tongue-in-cheek 'tude than its entertainment counterpart, Mr. Showbiz sticks primarily to valuable straight information: best-seller book lists, box office receipts, a Sound Scan chart of the top 250 albums. There's also an option to create your own index so that when you log on,the information you've selected is readily accessed without plowing through its homepage's more extensive index. With an extensive archived review section, a "word of the day" vocabulary-building feature, and "The Water Cooler" (which allows users to vote on such crucial issues as whether or not Van Halen owes David Lee Roth an apology), Mr. Showbiz is for those who see themselves as a cut above the supermarket tabloids.
Unfortunately, neither site contains much in the way of video or audio clips, yet both are loaded with text that downloads at a snail's pace. Then again, these sites give you your dose of gossip when and how you want it, and there are no annoying hosts, cheesy puns, or drippy sentimentality of the type that colors TV's Entertainment Tonight. Until the Web and TV become one, you've got two choices: When you want the schtick, grab the remote, but if you like your gossip straight with no chaser--log on. (Vickie Gilmer)
Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy
Paramount Home Video
The Kids in the Hall, alas, have scattered to the four winds. Dave Foley now plays the lead on NBC's News Radio; he's going to be around for a while. Mark McKinney is having his last hurrah on Saturday Night Live. As for the other three guys, we've almost certainly seen the last of them. I wouldn't bet on any reunions, either--the Kids were never hugely popular, and their break-up was not exactly a orgy of hugging and weeping. (There has been, in fact, some talk about the hating of guts.) We're left with this final movie project and two questions: What made the Kids the finest sketch comedians since Monty Python? and, Why is Brain Candy such a disaster? Deep questions, basically unanswerable; but here's the answer anyway, abridged from my 20-page pamphlet on the subject.
For at least four decades comedians have been haunted by the notion that satire--the most politically responsible form of comedy--is their highest calling. But writing good satire is surpassingly difficult; it's much easier just to run around pissing on everything, as SNL and its epigones have always done. The Kids never fell into the satire trap. They didn't rely on parodies and celebrity impersonations; they specialized in character work and dramatic structure. So what happens when they get a shot at the big screen? They attempt a satire on big business, and they drag themselves through it like zombies, and it never comes to life, not even for a moment, because it isn't what they do. [Sigh...] Don't see Brain Candy. This is not the way you want to remember the Kids in the Hall. (Steve Schroer)
Linda Lovelace for President
This re-discovered 1975 feature starts with a shot of the world's most famous porn queen, standing naked (and "naked" is the right word here) in front of a gigantic American flag. On the soundtrack an out-of-tune male chorus drunkenly warbles "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and a title guarantees the film will offend everyone "regardless of race, creed, or color." If this doesn't strike you as a promising beginning for a political sex comedy, let's just leave it at this: Linda Lovelace for President makes Benny Hill look like Noel Coward.
Lovelace's campaign is managed by a Whitman Sampler of stereotypes--a priest, a Chinese Communist who does kung fu, a jive-talkin' hipster with a huge afro, a gay guy, a lesbian, a nearly blind bus driver played by Monkee Mickey Dolenz, a Nazi, and a Richard Nixon lookalike who spends the entire movie bribing little girls with candy--and thus perhaps not surprisingly, its political point, both as story and commentary, remains unclear.
Director Claudio Guzman, who later did made-for-TV movies for ABC, unsuccessfully tries for a semi-documentary feel, allowing plenty of room for weird, unfunny clichés and what you might call single entendres. Joe E. Ross, evidently desperate for work after the cancellation of Car 54, Where Are You? more than a few years before, plays a political fixer who says stuff like, "We won't mention that your candidate had a nose job if you don't mention that our candidate has six toes--on each foot!" By the time former JFK impressionist Vaughan Meader shows up as a fundamentalist minister, the movie has totally disintegrated into non-narrativity--wisely and to its benefit, perhaps. The tasteless Linda Lovelace for President is the perfect antidote to the naked posturing of this year's presidential candidates. (Available from Moore Video, P.O. Box 5703, Richmond, VA 23220-0703; 804-745-9785) (A.S. Hamrah)
Yo La Tengo
Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo
Odds-and-ends compilations rarely feature a band's best work, but surely that's the fun of them. There's a certain voyeuristic thrill in hearing all those weird B-sides, dusty outtakes, alternate versions, and obscure covers the band never thought to put on an album. But wait: Yo La Tengo is already weird, thoroughly alternative (even before alternative was big business), and have long made a practice of reworking other people's music (whether on their many EPs or their 1990 all-cover Fakebook album). What, then, is new about Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo, the group's 2-CD rarities collection? Well, the great thing about Yo La Tengo is, they sound new even when they're doing the same old thing.
In an indie-rock genre that demands originality, Yo La Tengo have defiantly flirted with life as the coolest cover band in the world. Out of the attics and onto Genius + Love come renditions of songs by Wire, John Cale, Beat Happening, the Urinals, the Velvet Underground (who YLT depicted in the film I Shot Andy Warhol), Daniel Johnston (with Johnston providing lead vocals over the phone), and the Ramones (with an easy listening version of "Blitzkrieg Bop"). In addition, the album features cuts from the band in all its moods and periods between '88 and '95: the early dream-pop ("Fog Over Frisco"), the Velvety dark minimalism ("Walking Away From You"), the disciplined Sonic Youth guitar noise ("Evanescent Psychic Pez Drop"), plus an entire second disc of instrumentals. Thirty tracks in all, Genius + Love may be the first rarities collection to satisfy both the needs of obsessive completists and of beginners looking for an accurate introduction to the group. (Roni Sarig)
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