October 1984 marked the release of U2’s fourth album, The Unforgettable Fire. To honor its 25-year-anniversary, the band has re-released the famous album, remastered by the Edge, along with rarely before-seen video footage. Check the video below to see Bono speak for a bit on the recording process of the album.
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Retribution Gospel Choir
Releasing: 26 January
This is the second album from Low guitarist Alan Sparhawk’s peppier, poppier other band. Stream versions of “Electric Guitar” and “White Wolf” over at the Retribution Gospel Choir MySpace.
01 Hide It Away
02 Your Bird
03 ‘68 Comeback
04 Workin’ Hard
05 Poor Man’s Daughter
06 White Wolf
07 The Last of the Blue Dream
09 Something’s Going to Break
10 Electric Guitar
11 Bless Us All
“Dedicated Thespian Has Teeth Pulled to Play Newborn Baby in High School Play”
“Embarrassed Teen Accidentally Uses Valuable Rare Postage Stamp”
“Retired Grocer Constructs Tiny Mount Rushmore Entirely of Cheese”
“High School Shop Class Constructs Bicycle Built for 26”
These waggish tabloid-headline song titles, and the whimsical lyrics that go along with them, can all be found on Strange But True, the 1998 collaboration between renegade songwriter/vocalist Jad Fair and alt-funsters Yo La Tengo. Each song consists of Fair singing and speaking mini-stories which expand on the title, backed by Yo La Tengo’s avant-indie-pop grooves and soundscapes.
Jad Fair has been a prolific artist and mischief-maker for over three decades now, starting in the ‘70s with Half-Japanese, a band he founded in Maryland with his brother, David Fair. Over the course of the last 30 years, the Fair brothers have been hailed as archetypal, out-there popsters/rock ultra-deconstructionists by critics and in-the-know fellow musicians (including Kurt Cobain, who was reportedly a big fan), while remaining relatively unknown by many mainstream music fans. Their sound is an intense, chordless (detractors would say tuneless) amalgamation of earnest singer-songwriterism and primal skronk, decorated with often-tortured lyrics about girls or monsters/imaginary creatures. The result is the kind of raw-nerve honesty (in both a sonic and lyrical sense) which compels some folks to listen more closely, other folks to run for the hills, and still others to wax hyperbolic over the genius inherent in such a nakedly unfeigned artistic emission.
Since in the past I’ve occasionally been faked-out by hipster-chic critic endorsements of various “underground geniuses”, I should make myself clear: I believe Jad Fair deserves a respectful ear not because of some kind of cool-kid/quirkier-than-thou fetishization of his “unschooled” music. Rather, it’s his obvious love for creating and exploring, his prolific output, and his utter fearlessness in expression that is most striking, and quite undeniable.
The 1993 documentary, Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King is a good place to begin for those who are intrigued. I also recommend the reasonably accessible, above-mentioned Strange But True as an introduction to Fair’s lyric and vocal style, though diving right into one of his solo albums, or any of the 25-plus Half Japanese releases, is a more completely immersive experience for those with a burning desire to go full-on Jad right away.
What was the first song you fell in love with, and what is your current relationship to the piece?
I was a big fan of the Beatles when I was a kid, and really liked “I Saw Her Standing There”. Beatlemania was so huge. It all seemed so modern, and so cool.
Who is your favorite “unsung” artist or songwriter, someone who you feel never gets their due? Talk a little bit about him/her.
Hedy West is one of my favorite singers. She was a banjo player and released some great albums. It’s difficult to find much by her.
Is there an artist, genre, author, filmmaker, etc. who/which has had a significant impact/influence on you, but that influence can’t be directly heard in your music?
Vic and Sade was a radio show in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and is by far my favorite comedy show. It was a 15-minute show which had five shows a week. The show’s writer was Paul Rhymer. He was a comic genius. I have all of the shows I could find on my iPod and listen to the show almost every day. I’m not sure how it influences my music, but I’m sure it does, because it has such a strong hold on me.
Do you view songwriting as a vocation/calling, a gig, a hobby, other…?
I used to make my living off of music, and song writing is a good part of that. For the past seven years I’ve focused on my art. My main vocation now is paper cutting. I’ve had six books published and several exhibitions.
Name one contemporary song that encourages you about the future of songwriting/pop music.
Amy Allison‘s song “What’s the Deal?” is great. She’s one of the best songwriters around. There are many musicians that I like, but it’s hard to find a good songwriter. Amy gets my vote.
As Fair notes in his answers above, as of late he has been concentrating on his visual artwork. Visit jadfair.org for lots of information on Jad Fair’s art, music, and other activities.
I have a post up about the end of anonymity over at Generation Bubble. As I was writing it, half of it got deleted in a Word Press malfunction, so I’m afraid it became a little disjointed as I struggled to reconstruct what I had had before. My overarching point is that Web 2.0 innovations encourage us to eschew online anonymity and stay logged on as our actual selves—fusing more completely our online and offline social lives. More important, when we conduct various transactions online, whether they are purchases or pleas for attention, they are associated permanently with that integrated identity, enriching the data that can be mined from it. Consequently, we begin to believe that we deepen our identity by contributing more data to the online archive, despite the fact that it is being exploited by the corporate interests who control the archives. We become more of person, with a more compelling identity, the more through our online presence mirrors our offline existence.
I argue that this is the completion of a trend away from the impersonal markets that once signaled freedom from sumptuary laws and class-based discrimination in the world of consumption, and toward the idea that what we consume should be precisely associated with who we are. An anonymous purchase is a pointless purchase.This begins as a nostalgic movement to restore communal meaning to a world made atomistic and alienating, to make social relations more relevant in a world that has been structured to isolate us (a complaint I’ve made a lot over the years here). But what happens when markets become non-anonymous is that we become reliant on consumption more than ever to mediate our relations with others, so that friendships happen only within the context of brand communities and branded social networks and shared affinities for the same products. (What economists Wolfers and Stevenson call hedonic marriage: “what drives modern marriage? We believe that the answer lies in a shift from the family as a forum for shared production, to shared consumption.”) The more transactions we make in the markets in which we can’t hide our identity, can’t pay cash, the more articulated our identities become. We “share” more and more in order to be.
It’s a shame that John Hughes died when he did. In self-imposed exile for most of the last decade, he was clearly talented and certainly had more to offer the world of entertainment than his flawless teen comedies of the ‘80s and the less successful remakes and family films of the ‘90s. Proof of such possibilities came back in 1987, in the form of his first “adult” effort, the holiday themed Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (recently re-released on DVD). Relying on the undeniable chemistry of comedians Steve Martin and John Candy, and trading on the Thanksgiving theme to explore issues of family, friendship, and loss, it marked a radical departure from the coming of age growing pains of his previous films. It also proved that Hughes could direct something other than slapstick and/or schmaltz. For all its physical shtick, this is one buddy film that relies less of humor and more on heart.
Our story begins the week of Turkey day. Advertising executive Neil Page (a nicely moderated Martin) is in New York, trying to wrap up an account before the holiday starts. Desperate to get home to his family in Chicago, he dreads the next few hours. Still, all he has to do is catch a cab, make his plane, survive the flight, and it’s a few fun days of wife, kids, and candied yams - that is, until he boards the aircraft. There he meets traveling shower curtain accessories salesman Del Griffith (Candy at his very best). A massive mountain of a man, this overly earnest passenger takes an instant liking to Neil and as they prepare to depart, they strike up a casual friendship. Then, disaster hits. O’Hare is snowed in and no flights can land. Neil and Del end up in Wichita, Kansas and with hotels all booked and no rental cars available, they have to figure out a way to get from the Midwest to Lake Michigan, less the miss the festivities all together.
One has to give Hughes credit - the premise for Planes, Trains, and Automobiles remains as unique today as it did 22 years ago. Sure, now we have cellphones and PDAs, means for any traveler to take the bullshit by the horns and improve their chances of getting home for the holidays, but way back during the waning days of the Reagan era, getting around during the madhouse that is Thanksgiving week was a challenge of low tech Herculean proportions -and the talented writer/director makes the most of it. Some of the material may be straight out of an old burlesque skit (Candy and Martin having to share a bed) and a few jokes do trade on the guys’ individual flaws (Neil marveling at Del’s cavernous underwear), but thanks to the shared experience that both of these divergent personalities have to go through, because of how their yin/yang archetypes play against and into each other, we come to identify and sympathize with their plight.
And then Hughes pulls out all the sentimental stops. Few can remember how devastating Del’s secret is now that it’s become part of cinematic common knowledge (don’t worry - we won’t spoil it here), but it stands as the kind of risk that the Ferris Bueller filmmaker wasn’t really known for taking. Most of his movies ended happily, narratives tripping over the occasional problem or personal pothole before reaching a kind of zany Zen optimism. But Planes, Trains, and Automobiles was different. It was mean to be serious and edgy. It was made to explore more mature elements in a person’s life. Martin’s harried ad man just wants his workday to be over so he can find his way back home. Candy, on the other hand, must cover up the truth so as not to look desperate or pathetic - and he does such a great job that when the reveal arrives, it’s stunning.
Indeed, this is the best these two ‘70s icons have ever been in a comedy. Both are poised, polished, and well moderated. Martin is more or less the straight man, forced to forage for laughs in hilarious putdowns of car rental agency personnel and his traveling companion’s cockeyed cheerfulness. Candy’s part is more complicated. Sure, he’s the fat man with quasi-questionable social skills (never, EVER, take off you shoes in a closed aircraft, John) and many of the jokes come at his physical expense, but this makes for a more meaningful finale. It’s a mutual discovery that both Neil and the audience have misjudged Del, elevating his human pratfall into something almost noble. It’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, especially since Candy was a genius at finding the complexities within the cliché. In a film that has basically two main focuses to lead us through the plotting, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles couldn’t ask for two better guides.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this film is nowhere to be seen on the new “Those Aren’t Pillows” Edition of the DVD. According to reports, Hughes shot almost twice as much film as a normal production does, leading to an initial three hour cut that is less a movie and more a montage of alternate takes, extended sequences, failed bits, and other character subtext. While this “holy grail” version of the film has long been coveted by fanatical lovers of the title, Hughes himself hinted it would never see the light of day. Not only was it a mess, he argued, but it was more or less “rotting” away in Paramount’s vault. Now, with his death, there is probably no call to see such a sloppy first attempt. At least this new disc has a few fun features, including three EPK like looks at the film itself, Hughes’ attempts at making movies for adults, and the talent that was John Candy. The sole deleted scene about airplane food is interesting, but not necessarily funny.
Hughes would go on to try another adult theme with the pregnancy-oriented She’s Having a Baby, starring Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern. It was not as successful for reasons that continue to remind us of how wonderful Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is. No matter what you think of Martin now (Pink Panther remakes? Please…) or how Candy eventually ended up, this was a pinnacle for all parties involved. It was the moment when Hughes was seen as finally casting off the angst of adolescent America and instead embraced the equally complicated complaints of 20 to 35-somethings. While we’ll never know if he had another classic in him (one can’t judge based on the silly scripts he contributed recently), it’s safe to say that John Hughes has a secure legacy in Hollywood laughfests. No matter the age bracket, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles stands as one of his very best.